Steamboat Springs athlete takes on Patagonman extreme triathlon
December 20, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Extreme triathlons provide opportunities to see the world’s most beautiful places at the price of a rigorous expedition.
The last time Steamboat Springs triathlete TJ Thrasher did an Xtri was the Alaskaman Triathlon in July 2017, a part of the Xtri World Tour, but a last-minute opportunity to compete in the Patagonman Xtri inaugural race is what called him this December.
The Xtri World Tour offers 10 races around the world that usually feature similar conditions — cold swimming water, unpredictable weather and about the same distance traveled. The distance mirrors an Ironman, where athletes swim 3.8 kilometers, bike 180 kilometers and run 42.2 kilometers.
“What makes that group of races unique is that they're all point to point instead of being looped like Ironman,” Thrasher said. “You literally start out in the ocean, swim back to shore, you take a road across Chile from west to east and finish up by running on a trail run.”
Extreme triathlons have drawn enough attention that races sell out quickly, forcing athletes to enter a lottery system.
The Patagonman, set in Chile, had already filled its spots by the time Thrasher looked it up.
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He entered the lottery and earned a spot after a few cancellations. It helped that he had an eighth-place finish in Alaska a year ago.
But he would only have three months to train.
“It was a shorter time frame than I would like,” Thrasher said. “It was the first major event I didn't have either a coach or a nutritionist. I fell back on the knowledge I had gained, and a local doctor helped with physical well being.”
Thrasher previously struggled with the frigid swim in Alaska, so he focused on training in cold, open water at Bald Eagle Lake in Steamboat Springs, swimming in water that got as cold as the high-30s before freezing.
Living in a mountain town adds to his advantage since he trains at a higher elevation than many other Xtri athletes.
“Participants come from environments that don't have that much elevation gain for them to train a lot,” Thrasher said. “For me, it makes it a little less extreme because that's what we do here often.”
The race had its small kinks. The high winds prompted a rerouting of the swim and made for a frustrating bike ride through the mountains. The roads, which were heavily deteriorating, were made of paper stones, also making for a bumpy ride.
“I actually had a water bottle jump out of my holder,” Thrasher said. “It left me without water for an hour because it (the race) was unsupported. Because of that, I got behind on hydration and that carried into the run. That’s probably maybe why I didn't have quite the run I was hoping to have.”
Depending on temperatures, Thrasher likes to hydrate with 2.5 gallons over the course of the race and keeps Honey Stinger waffles and chews handy for every 30 minutes. Ideally, he wants to average 50 grams of carbohydrates per hour for optimum fuel.
His wife, Tasha, was his support aid throughout the race. She helped prepare him at the transitions from swimming to biking and biking to running. She met with Thrasher at kilometers 45 and 135 on the bike ride then had the option to join him during the last 10 kilometers of the run.
Thrasher finished at 12 hours, 20 minutes and 11 seconds as the 19th male and 21st overall finisher. There were 158 athletes who started the race, but only 145 finished. The field included professional Xtri athletes like world champion Allan Hovda, who took second overall.
Placing isn’t what’s important to Thrasher — it’s the camaraderie that comes with it. The Patagonman brought athletes from 45 countries together on a rigorous journey through Chile’s Patagonia.
“Some pretty amazing people to be around,” Thrasher said. “They all support each other in as many ways as possible. People are helping people fix bikes and come up with missing nutrition. It’s lifelong friends and moral support. It's unique to any type of event that I've done.”