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Pagosans fare well at St. Croix triathlon

How would you spend 17 hours of a day if you could do whatever you wanted?

Have you ever considered racing in an Ironman Triathlon? There are now quite a few around the world that you can choose from.

What exactly would you be doing if you entered an Ironman? They consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon. Most Ironman events have a strict time limit of 17 hours to complete the race. That means if the race starts at 7 a.m., all finishers must complete their marathon by midnight.

Not your idea of the best way to spend a day? How about starting more slowly (but still challenging) and just doing a half Ironman. This involves a 1.24 mile swim, a 56 mile bike race, and a 13.1-mile run. This is what five of our local athletes chose to do on May 2 on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. These athletes are Kenny Daniels, Margie Nigg, Morgan Murri, Jennifer Riekenberg and Robbie Johnson.

Murri completed the race in 5 hours and 44 minutes, finishing 16th in his 45-49 age group. Johnson completed the race in 6 hours and 18 minutes, finishing 15th in his 50-54 age group. Riekenberg completed the race in 6 hours and 32 minutes, finishing 10th in her 45-49 age group. Nigg completed the race in 7 hours and 26 minutes, finishing 11th in her 25-29 age group. Daniels completed the race in 7 hours and 50 minutes, finishing 17th in his 55-59 age group. For all of them except Robbie and Jennifer, this was a first-time triathlon.

The St. Croix Ironman 70.3 Triathlon is one of the premier destination triathlons in the world!? It combines the beauty of the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands with the challenge of an unforgettable course.? The crowning feature of this race is the legendary climb on the bike course which is appropriately named “The Beast,” a 600-foot elevation gain over 7/10 of a mile at grades between 14 and 21 percent.? It is such a legendary hill that the race is nicknamed “The Beauty and the Beast.” Tom Guthrie, race director, puts the “Beast” in perspective by saying “imagine riding a bicycle up the Washington Monument.”

An interesting side note: Jurgen Montgomery, also a Pagosa Springs athlete, accompanied the competitors to St. Croix. The day before the race, competitors competed in a “Challenge the Beast” competition: a one-mile race to the top of the hill. Jurgen joined this race, and won it!

Nobody has ever called the Ironman 70.3 St. Croix easy and the 22nd version of this classic redefined just how difficult this race can be. Race Director Tom Guthrie called the conditions “as hard as we’ve ever had ... truly. We always have heat, wind and hills; sometimes we have overcast, but not today. Today was brutal.”

“Brutal” is pretty accurate to describe the heat. Our athletes left Pagosa when nights were still freezing and daytime temperatures cold. Race day in St. Croix saw the mercury hit 88 degrees. With the extreme humidity, the “real feel” was in the high nineties. And wind? The wind that puts big smiles on the faces of wind surfers and kite boarders is not very welcome by bicycle racers. Kenny described the wind as “bicycling into wall.”

The name “Ironman Triathlon” refers to both the original Ironman triathlon and the annual Ironman World Championship. Also called Ironman Hawaii, the world championships of the event are held annually in Hawaii and requires competitors to qualify in one of a series of other Ironman races or some Ironman 70.3 races (which are half the distances of a full Ironman).

The 2010 St. Croix Ironman 70.3 remains one of the very few 70.3 distance races where qualifying slots are available for the Ironman World Championships (Kona). This race draws the best pro triathletes from around the world.

Our local athletes were able to pit their athleticism against the best of the best. My deepest admiration goes to these hardy souls for choosing long, hard hours of training over beer and chips in front of the telly. All of them ran in snow, slush and freezing conditions while training for St. Croix. Towards the latter part of their training, they were wearing layers upon layers of clothing while spinning indoors to coax the body to learn to function in hot and humid conditions.

Way to go Pagosa athletes!