Steamboat Lake Sprint Triathlon pushes competitors to the limit |

Steamboat Lake Sprint Triathlon pushes competitors to the limit

— They had completed longer triathlons, and not just by a little bit.

A group of four Houston-based women came to Sunday's Steamboat Lake Sprint Triathlon unsure of what to expect. They'd begun training together years ago and started competing together in events near their home, as many as five or six each year as they pushed one another and learned the sport.

That all cumulated in one of the longest versions of the race many dedicated triathletes are ever likely to attempt, a half-Ironman with 70.3 miles of swimming, cycling and running.

Nothing quite prepared them for Sunday at Steamboat Lake, however.

"It was incredibly difficult," said Christine Dodson, who, along with Jennifer Draper, Monique Boling and Lagenia Clark, is a member of the Houston training group.

"We've done big races before," Dodson said, "and this was right up there with them."

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The Steamboat Lake Sprint Triathlon stormed back into North Routt County on Sunday, again filling the reservoir with eager early morning swimmers, Routt County Road 129 with cyclists and the trails around the lake with runners — in all, 232 finishers covering 16.36 miles of course.

The numbers were down considerably for the fourth-year race, Sunday's numbers seeing a 22 percent decrease from last year's high of 299.

The top times were slightly slower, as well, but there was no shortage of competition. Just 15 seconds separated the top three men: Erik Nau, of Fort Collins, took the victory in 1 hour, 7 minutes and 32 seconds, ahead of two Boulder triathletes, Eric Kenney, second at 1:07:39, and Billy Edwards, third in 1:07:47.

The women's side was close, as well, and it also was dominated by local athletes. Retired Steamboat professional triathlete Heather Gollnick won the race for a second consecutive year. She finished in 1:15:47, helping lead the way for a large contingent of athletes she trains in her Ironedge Triathlon program.

Among the first of those was local Andrea Wilhelm, who won the Steamboat Marathon last month. She finished within 25 seconds of Gollnick, in 1:16:10. Fellow Steamboater Pearson Smith was third, in 1:19:41.

But slower times and fewer contestants didn't ruin the experience for the Houston contingent.

The altitude came the closest to ruining anything for them.

One of their group, Monique Boling, recently purchased a vacation home in Steamboat Springs, and that helped push her group of friends to pick a triathlon in the area as their first destination event.

Early and often Sunday, they questioned just how good of an idea it was choosing a location 8,000 feet above sea level.

"We were all feeling constriction in our chests. I don't have asthma, but I was wheezing," Clark said.

"No one could breathe," Boling added.

But problems like "struggling to breathe" sometimes seem trivial to triathletes, and the group pushed on, Draper and Clark eventually earning, respectively, the second- and third-place spots on the Athena podium.

Clark said she pulled inspiration from thoughts of her two children, both dealing with a debilitating disease. They all found some stimulation around them, as well.

"When it got really hard, you could just look around at the beauty of this place, and it gave you a little motivation," Dodson said.

It was worth it, they said. It was something that in the end, they were happy they did, and something they said they'd recommend.

They may have learned a lesson, however. Their next planned destination triathlon is in the Caribbean.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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View full results from Sunday’s Steamboat Lake Sprint Triathlon here.