In order to get out triathlon fix for the year the GeekGrl and I registered for the Storrie Lake triathlon in Las Vegas New Mexico. The last time we had done this race was the last time it was held under the old race management. The race was shut down but then resurrected a few years later by different race management.
Storrie Lake used to be one of the more popular triathlons in New Mexico, hitting entrant numbers above 200, which is not the biggest race in New Mexico but in the top three. However, drought hit the state and lake levels plummeted so the triathlon became a duathlon at the last minute and that pissed a lot of people off. Many didn’t show but the race took place anyway. The next year there were few entrants and though recent rain storms put the lake back up to swimmable levels it also washed a lot of crap out onto the roads, which lead to many of the racers having flat tires. This again turned many of the local triathletes off and so the final year it ran under the old management, the year the GeekGrl and I first ran it, the number of participants was abysmal and so the race shuttered its doors.
Last year new race management breathed life back into the race and apparently had descent numbers and so the GeekGrl and I decided to give it a try and figured we’d meet up with many of our old multisport friends. However, it was not to be. The drought in New Mexico persists and the lake levels continued to fall all summer and once again the Storrie Lake Triathlon was changed to the Storrie Lake Duathlon and participation was minuscule.
The whole experience was pretty surreal and somewhat depressing. The triathlon scene has undergone a serious change in the few years that the GeekGrl and I have been absent from it. First of all it was just odd being around multisport people again after spending so much time among marathoners and ultrarunners. The triathlon culture is shockingly, I would say desperately, a culture of gear, gear that is intended to shave milliseconds off your race time. However, the really bizarre thing is that most of the people using said gear could shave minutes or even hours off their times depending on the length of the race and still be solidly mid-pack. This is not intended to be a slam against those people in particular. The GeekGrl and I fall into that category when it comes to our multisport predilections. We both have expensive race bikes and wheel sets, skin suits and speed laces, we even have aero helmets (though I was too embarrassed to wear mine and I don’t know why the GeekGrl didn’t wear hers). The thing that was jarring was, in a sense, seeing it from an outsiders perspective.
We “grew up” in the sport of triathlon as adult athletes and so we were eased into the gear culture and it just seemed normal. When I first started running marathons it was different but there is less gear needed anyway and there are a lot of triathletes who run marathons so the triathlete vibe is still well represented. However, when I first started ultrarunning I remember describing it like showing up at a homeless encampment. If anything it was the anti-gear culture, ultrarunners are antitriathletes. It became funny to me when a triathlete would come to an ultra because invariably they would be decked out in arm sleeves, leg sleeves, compression shorts and it always seemed like every bit of gear, no matter how small, had the Ironman name and logo plastered all over it. I used to look at them and say to myself, “all that Ironman gear won’t protect you from this.”
Anyway, big culture shock in many ways but once the race began it did end up feeling pretty familiar and pretty comfortable…in a manner of speaking. As far as the racing went that was anything but comfortable. I was doing the sprint distance and holly crap, I had forgotten what it means to actually sprint for over an hour, sprinting on a run, sprinting on a bike and then once again sprinting on a longer run. In all honesty I would say I was pretty much done in the first mile or less and the rest of the race was me drawing ragged breath just trying to hang on.
I did hang on for a second place Clydesdale finish, that was later revoked because the USAT rules for Clydesdale weight had changed earlier in the year and neither of us were Clydesdales any longer. However, this change of fortune landed me in first place in my age group. However, I should remind you that there were maybe 30 people, men and women, in the race so there may have been maybe two or three guys in my age group…maybe none, I haven’t bothered to look at the results.
In any case, the experience was kind of depressing because first of all the entirety of Northern New Mexico is just dry as a bleached bone and in places where there used to be a thick undergrowth of native grasses there is just burnt up weeds and red dirt. It has probably been four years since the GeekGrl and I have actually driven north of Santa Fe on I-25 and it has changed dramatically for the worse. The other thing that was depressing is the race announcer basically spent the entire time talking about how triathlon in New Mexico was dying and local athletes weren’t supporting the sport and we should stop supporting ironman races and save the hard working local races.
I can’t say that I disagree with him but just looking around at this one race it seemed like trying to breathe life back into a corpse. Initially I felt responsible for the apparent death of amateur multisport in New Mexico but then I had to remind myself that me and the GeekGrl are just two people and what I was seeing appeared to have been a mass exodus. However, it was just one race that had been chopped from a triathlon to a duathlon, hardly a representative measure of the health of multisport in New Mexico but truth be told, I’m kind of afraid to travel the old roads again and see where things actually do stand. I fear it may not be good.