New Mexico #49
July 29, 2012
Lake Cochiti Tri
As the US portion of my journey wound down the newness of racing did not get old as I went to state #49 in New Mexico from New Jersey. Earlier in the year I leaped frog over the 49th race state and made travel plans for the final milestone on my US journey in Maine. At that point I finally ran out of frequent flyer points and free hotel night stay points but never did I run out of motivation or fun to race. Bought a ticket on Delta to get a non-stop flight out of Twin Cities into Albuquerque for the Lake Cochiti Tri.
On a crowded concourse at the airport a vaguely familiar face headed towards me, Sophie Quinn, the wife of Jamie Quinn who we met while all of us lived in Thailand. They now lived in London. Jamie and I corresponded via e-mail almost weekly about running and triathlons. Recently we discussed meeting up together in Europe the following summer to race but still had not committed yet. Ironman France in Nice seemed to be the likely choice.
Amazingly Sophie recognized me. Neither one of us expected this chance meeting 4,000 miles from her home. Disappointingly, we were both scrambling to make our flights. Mine to Albuquerque and hers to London. We smiled. Said “Hello”. Exchanged hugs (she was in America, so she had no choice). Then quickly proceeded to get to our respective flights’ gates. By the time I arrived at the gate and before I could e-mail Jamie, Sophie already let him know and he reached out to me. A small world with some big hearted friends.
The Delta planes were full for the flight to Albuquerque and on the return flight to Twin Cities. Over the past four years I flew little for work. I was dropped from United Airlines 1K frequent flyer status and never had the chance to earn enough miles on any other carrier. I re-learned how tedious standing in line and how tight seats were in the back half of a plane as an economy flyer. I was almost on the edge of humiliation. Still, I arrived at the same time as the other passengers. The experience kind of felt like being at the back of a peloton, lost in the crowd but still earning the same time as the front of the pack.
When flying into Albuquerque we undeniably entered a desert, a familiar feeling after living in Arizona for seven years. The landscape outside the city appeared in earth tone colors carved out by winds, heat, and water. The desert felt like home. Told Chris the city looked and felt like Arizona home with the bright sunny skies, minimal clouds, tall mountains, earth tones, and starry skies at night. Combine the views with the feel of my leathery brown and dry skin, dry air, and hot fiery winds, that’s what home in the desert felt like. And in the middle was the city jungle of Albuquerque. Tall buildings in the city center with spralling office complexes on its edges and some green cool sport fields.
Saturday morning drove to Santa Fe, an easy 75 minute trip north out of Albuquerque. I toured the Roundhouse, New Mexico’s State Capitol building. This is the only round shaped capitol in America yet it came complete with a traditional formal Rotunda lined with elegant Travertine marble. The interior prominently displayed the Great Seal of New Mexico that included the beautiful blue turquoise stone native to the area.
After touring Santa Fe I headed to Lake Cochiti State Park to get checked-in for the next day’s race. From there I found a restaurant at the Cochiti Golf Club locally referred to as “Heaven with a zip code.” The north side of the restaurant was designed to allow for an expansive view of the golf course greens and desert vista earth tones. The yin and yang of a country club lifestyle in the desert of the vast southwest of the US. The waitress who was working the room was talkative, friendly, and provided wonderful customer service. She experienced a great perk, the best work views in the whole state. She nodded in agreement. Arguably better than staring at a computer screen inside a windowless office building. She was not financially well off but rich in where she worked with a highly valued work ethic and overwhelmingly friendly demeanor.
The night before the race I thought about the contrast of racing in New Jersey on one weekend then racing in New Mexico the next weekend. The differences were staggering. Imagine walking along a sandy beach of one of the Earth’s great oceans at sea level the day before one race to walking in the state capital beside the southern end of the Rocky Mountains at 7,200 feet above sea level the day before another race. Imagine running in the shade of deciduous trees for 6.2 miles to that of spending all morning in the direct sun with a natural tree no closer than as far as the eyes could see. Imagine racing in a state with a population density of 1,218 people per square mile one weekend, then a mere 17 people per square mile the next. Imagine a rolling landscape covered with trees and houses drenched with 46 inches of rain annually to a landscape of dry creek beds filled with jagged rocks and craggy mountain tops that get less than 14 inches of rain each year. Imagine that reality of the contrast racing in New Jersey to racing in New Mexico in a mere span of seven days.
I drove up to Lake Cochiti on Sunday morning. We racked our bikes and laid out our race gear under the moonless and cloudless dark sky. Few competitors could see their bike rack numbers in the transition area that matched their bibs without a flashlight. I left mine behind after carrying it to all the other races this year. I was trying to travel light and instead traveled too light with no light. Once the sun popped over the mountains the challenge switched to too much light and brightness. I swam with tinted goggles and rode with polarized lens to minimize the glare caused by the sun.
We started the race at an altitude of 5,400 feet. Higher in elevation than Boulder, Colorado. With the climbs we added another 200 feet. I felt lightheadedness when walking and when first warming up. However, these symptoms were a combination of altitude, dry air, and heat. Once the race started I breathed as heavy as in any other race when redlining the effort.
Competitors swam in Lake Cochiti, a reservoir created by the dammed up Rio Grande River. The water was also cool enough to wear my new TYR wetsuit. My previous wetsuit ripped out in June of 2011 but continued to swim in the repaired suit for the rest of the season in five of the wetsuit legal races due to a sizing discrepancy on the ordering chart and multiple delays on shipments.
The swim in Lake Cochiti went great. The water was clean, clear, and calm. The three best “C’s” of racing in water. We swam two loops to cover the 1500 meters of the Olympic distance swim leg. As we exited the water we hobbled over a short but uneven and painful rocky terrain into the transition area. Once the wetsuit came off the sun and dry air caused goosebumps to appear on my skin. The chill lasted two minutes until all the water drops evaporated. Then the body turned hot. I grabbed my bike and almost immediately started a brutally steep but short climb out of the transition area at the start of the bike course. My body was already drenched in sweat and my lungs strained for oxygen. Welcome to racing in the desert at altitude.
After the initial bike hill climb, we rode another six miles on Dam Crest Road. The road was made up of lose top gravel on old pavement. The surface was too loose to be blacktop and not enough rock to be classified as a gravel road. We turned right onto Highway 16 then turned right again a couple of miles later as Hwy 16 ended in a “T” at Highway 22. We lost elevation in this stretch of highway and gained it all back during a big climb from below the dammed up river bed to the park entrance on Highway 22. We rode two loops to cover the 40 kilometers of bike course. Riding across the dam during the second loop we could look down into the valley on Highway 22 and see the bikers bottoming out and moving into the climb phase. Everyone almost looked like slowly moving ants. While I empathized with their pain, I dreaded what waited in another ten miles. After the second loop, I was convinced the Mountain goats would have been breathing hard when doing the four steep mile long climbs here. All of the racers accomplished a challenging course by completing this race. And our quad muscles reminded us of it for days afterwards.
After the climb the last portion of the bike sent us swiftly into a nose dive screaming quickly into the transition area. I found myself in a scary position to ride the breaks and pull my feet out of my shoes locked in the pedals. On a positive note, with the stress of being fast and safe, there was no more brain space to think of how painful the run up the hill was going to put on my recently burning quads.
Once up on the dam after the climb out of the transition area the run was flat but far from easy. I pushed the pace under the hot sun in dry air. I tried to catch a 55+ year old age-grouper who passed me on the bike but I fell short less than a minute. A combination of not being a strong enough cyclist with too much racing and too much traveling over the last five weeks.
After the race I met George Dallam, a tri coach. USA Triathlon's first national team coach and longtime coach of Hunter Kemper. George played water polo on a scholarship at University of Arizona in Tucson until the program was cancelled. A casualty of Title IX and college coaches politics. George knew early pioneers and current people in the triathlon world. He participated in the Lake Cochiti to keep his own racing skills current.
Another triathlete I met included Kurt, originally from Illinois but now a desert resident. He was on his own journey to compete in all the triathlons in New Mexico. He also planned on racing in the Chicago Triathlon for the first time later in the season if his scheduled worked out.
Everyone at Lake Cochiti enjoyed themselves on race day. A few competitors had camped overnight on the park’s grounds and best appreciated their easy access to some shade after the race. Pulled the wheels off the bike and stuffed all the gear into the trunk of the rental car. The wetsuit was already dry from the desert conditions. Headed back to Albuquerque for a quick shower then to the airport bound for Twin Cities to work the next day.
With a six week planned race break, my US journey entailed only one more triathlon but three special celebrations. My wife the swimmer, and me the runner, were scheduled to fly into Maine in mid-September where we biked together for a week 25 years earlier.
Results: 10th overall. 1st in age group.