Race into the high country

With the recent explosion of interest in adventure sports, its no wonder that the triathlon scene has upped the ante, drawing experts and first-timers alike to challenge themselves on trails, at altitude, or at both. Thousands of feet of available vertical gain and gorgeous scenery make Colorado an ideal setting in which to hold mountain triathlons. Whether youre a novice triathlete or a seasoned veteran, youll undoubtedly find a race that will motivate you to push yourself to a higher level this summer.

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.XTERRA Triathlon July 23, 10 a.m. Keystone Resort. Triathlon: 1K swim/26K mountain bike/10K run. Short course triathlon available as well: .5K swim/12.5K mountain bike/3K run. $40 (short course), $75 (long course) plus $5 USA Triathlon one-day license. $150 for two- or three-person teams. No race day registration, although on-site registration is allowed the day before the event for a $10 late fee. 970-496-4065, register online TK.

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This is the third annual XTERRA event to be held at Keystone Resort. As part of XTERRAs larger series, which culminates in the 2000 XTERRA World Championship in Hawaii, this race is expected to draw a number of pros who hope to qualify for the series finale. Last year, almost 500 competitors showed for the event.

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The scenic course goes up to just over 10,000 feet, with about 2,500 feet of vertical gain on bicycle. The fairly flat running course skirts the side of a canal and weaves through trees, with several river crossings.

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Awards will be given for top finishers in both the triathlon and the duathlon -- last year, these included mugs and medals. A $5000 cash purse will be divvied up between the top five male and female finishers in the full-length triathlon.

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XTERRA University, a clinic hosted by pros, takes place before the event and is an open forum for questions about off-road triathlons. XTERRA Sports Festival takes place at the starting and finishing area of the race, and is complete with climbing wall, demo booths and an obstacle course for children.

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Pagosa Lakes Triathlon. August 12, 8 a.m. Pagosa Lakes Recreation Center. 7.5M run/15M mountain bike/.5M pool swim. $45/team; $25/individual. Call 970-731-2051 to register.

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Pagosa Lakes, located 60 miles east of Durango, hosts its ninth annual triathlon. The Pagosa Lakes Triathlon welcomes both individual athletes and teams of three, with one person to compete in each event. In past years, swimmers as young as 12 have competed as part of a team to beat their elder counterparts.

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While the course itself is pretty flat, the fact that this triathlon is held at 7,500 feet means that competitors should be fit and ready to deal with the altitude. The mountain biking portion of the course, which involves two or three technical sections, follows the same loop trail as the run, though bikers cover the course in the opposite direction and complete two loops. During this circuit, participants drop into a canyon in the San Juan National Forest, for breathtaking scenery. About 80 triathletes are expected to compete, including almost all of the race organizers, according to race director Ming Steen.

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An awards ceremony follows the race, during which plaques and ribbons are handed out, along with bowls thrown by a local potter for the first through third place in the different divisions. Door prizes, free lunch and free dinner for the participants round out the event.

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Tri-It High Triathlon. August 26, 8 a.m., at the recreation center in Leadville. 1K pool swim/30K bike/10K run. $30 pre-register, $40 day of race (prices subject to change), but race will likely be full. Call 719-486-4226 and leave your address or register online at RockyMountainSports.com.

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Though this race doesnt involve much vertical gain, the Tri-It presents a formidable challenge to participants.

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The thing about it is that its at such high altitude -- that makes it a tough race, warned last years race director, Susan Fladager. We did have one athlete faint last year. Beginners really should be aware of the altitude.

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Competitors start off with a pool swim and then head for their bikes to spin down around Turquoise Lake, then back up to the recreation center. Though the biking portion takes place on a paved road, the road itself is not in the best shape, Fladager says, and racers should be ready to ride through some rough and broken-up spots. Riders should be at least of intermediate ability level to be comfortable on the course. The run covers a portion of the bike course, but then veers in a different direction, offering beautiful views of Mt. Elbert.

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The Tri-It High Triathlon is limited to around 80 competitors, which makes pre-registration an almost guaranteed necessity for those interested in racing. All ages are welcome to enter. T-shirts are given to all racers, and medals and ribbons will be awarded to top finishers. A raffle and food for the athletes follow the race.

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Aspen High Country Triathlon/Duathlon. August 26. 7 a.m. Aspen. Triathlon: 800-yard pool swim/18M bike/5M run. Duathlon: 18M bike/5M run. $50/tri; $40/du. 970-920-5140. .

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Now in its eighth year, this triathlon is notable in the state not only for taking competitors up to the Maroon Bells, one of the most scenic places in the country, but also for its superior post-race party. Apparently, this party trumps the festivities of some of the more famous races. With generous libations -- wine, beer and food along with a mug, water bottle, T-shirt and Kenneth Cole bag included in the entry fee for each competitor, triathletes who participate in this race can rest assured that they are getting their moneys worth.

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Partying and freebies aside, the Aspen High Country Triathlon and Duathlon promises to challenge competitors not merely due to its starting altitude of 8,000 feet the race also gains 2,000 feet during the road biking segment, although the run is thankfully fairly flat. The race is appropriate for well-conditioned individuals who can cope with some rather difficult high altitude road biking sandwiched between a pool swim and a five mile run. With great scenery and a generous goodie package, its no wonder that this triathlon has filled up quickly in the past two years, reaching its maximum of 300 competitors early. Sign up now to reserve a spot.

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Avon High Country Triathlon. September 10, 7:30 a.m., Avon. 800-yard pool swim/14M bike/5M run. $45 (plus a $5 USA triathlon one-day member fee for non-members). Limited to 200 participants; expected to fill up before race day. Call 970-748-4060 to receive a registration packet. Email MMullins@Avon.org

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The Fourth Annual Avon High Country Triathlon sticks to the roads, and due to its relative mildness, race organizers believe that it is appropriate for first-timers who have trained enough to endure the killer bike section. The event boasts a new course for the biking segment this year, which involves some serious vertical gain during the first four miles of riding. Competitors will start at around 7,500 feet and top out around the 9,000-foot mark. The run will be significantly milder, with a mere 400 feet of elevation gain. Racers can comfort themselves while they struggle to keep the pedals moving by taking in the beautiful scenery of Avon.

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Free T-shirts for all competitors and awards for top finishers are part of the fun, as is the post-race free outdoor concert by Hazel Miller. Competitors and spectators can wind down while munching on goodies available from food vendors while they kick back and take in the music.

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Tri-Glenwood Triathlon. September 10, 6:30 a.m. Glenwood Springs. .5M pool swim/15M bike/5M run. $35 (unless youre really young or really old). Single-event USA Triathlon registration $5. 970-945-7724, .

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The Tri-Glenwood race wins kudos for benefiting Colorado Animal Rescue. Held in beautiful Glenwood Springs, the race starts out with a swim in the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. Competitors then move to the road biking portion of the event, which takes them west along I-70 through the final portion of Glenwood Canyon. The running segment involves running on the streets of Glenwood Springs as well as along the Roaring Fork River on a new bike trail.

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Race director Charlie Wertheim encourages first-timers to try out the sixteenth running of the Tri-Glenwood; in fact, it was his first triathlon. After recently moving to Glenwood Springs in 1993, Wertheim saw a neighbor wearing a race T-shirt, which piqued his interest. Wertheim entered the race in 1994 and has been hooked ever since.

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Its easy -- its a great race for beginners. We give awards to the fastest first-time male and female.

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The top finishers are awarded pottery -- a mug or a bowl specially made by a local potter for the race. In addition, race organizers raffle off donated goodies and gear at the meeting the night before the race. For a small fee, racers can also gather at the hot springs pool for a pre-race dinner. Following the triathlon, a local business caters a picnic during the awards ceremony, which is free to the racers.

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Olympic hopeful triathlete Jennifer Gutierrez has participated every year since Wertheim has been the race director. He expects her to participate again this year, schedule permitting. The Tri-Glenwood is limited to 275 competitors and will most likely fill up fast -- last years event sold out. Competitors must be at least 15 years old to enter.

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True Grit Triathlon. September 16, 8 a.m. Ridgway State Park, three miles north of Ridgway (20 miles south of Montrose on 550). 1.5K swim/40K off-road bike/10K run. 23 participants last year. $40. Contact Ben Blouse, 970-626-2007 or Email triathlon@independence.net

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The 40 kilometers on the mountain bike course are going to be wild. We have an incredible area for it, raved co-race director Ben Blouse. Weve got some really top level mountain bike people who are designing the course for us. I got some of the best people I could find to design it.

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Before sampling this wild ride, however, participants in the third True Grit Triathlon will swim for 1.5 kilometers in the Ridgway State Park Reservoir, a pristine lake that Blouse boasts is cleaner than most peoples tap water. The race does not include tremendous vertical gains, but it does start at 7,000 feet, making it a serious undertaking for novice triathletes.

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Along with co-director Pam East, Blouse intends for this years True Grit to far surpass its first two incarnations. The first year, Blouse and a buddy dreamed up the race and completed the course as its only two participants. Last year, last minute planning yielded only 23 participants. This year, however, the race is limited to 400 competitors, and Blouse hopes to see it full.

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Its a challenging racecourse, Blouse says. The guy who won it last year remarked that it was so neat that he was actually running with deer during the course. This year, it is one gorgeous run. It goes up a hill and down it, and then follows the river trail all the way to the town of Ridgway. (Plus), youve got the backdrop of the San Juan Mountains. You cant beat it.

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Named in part for the movie True Grit, which was filmed in the area, its only appropriate that one of the races sponsors is the John Wayne Cancer Institute. The town of Ridgway has gotten behind the race 100%, with assistance from Tammee Tuttle of the True Grit Caf and Sue Stern, who is helping with organization. The race is sanctioned by USA Triathlon and offers T-shirts and awards for competitors. With camping available at Ridgway State Park and the promise of gorgeous autumn hues, Blouse encourages families to make a weekend of the event.

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Tenderfoot Triathlon/Duathlon. September 23, 7 a.m. Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, Centennial Park. Triathlon: 1K pool swim/40K bike/10K run. $40 for single, $80 for team. Duathlon: 40K bike/10K run. $35 for single, $60 for team. 719-539-6738. Email RockyMountainSports.com

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As this event takes place toward the end of the triathlon season, it involves longer distances than some of the other races -- athletes should be well prepared by that time for the challenge. The race begins with 20 laps in the Salida Hot Springs Pool at Centennial Park. From there, competitors bike on country roads over a fairly flat course, followed by a similar run. Despite its relative lack of vertical gain, this race is not for beginners due to its sheer length and fairly high altitude. Experienced racers can expect a fun and scenic event.

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Its a beautiful time of year and were in a beautiful setting, says race director Donna Rhoads, who is also the pool supervisor for the Salida Hot Springs Pool. Its a great place to bring the family for hiking, mountain biking and river rafting. Salidas a cute little town.

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Open to individuals, teams of two, and teams of three, the price of the race depends on the event. The limit of 72 triathlon entries and 100 duathlon entries means that interested racers should sign up early. Free food for competitors will be available during the post-race festivities at Centennial Park. T-shirts for all and awards for top finishers are included in the race entry fee.

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