Grand Columbian Triathlon

(by Elisabeth Tutsch)


3 Races (Half Iron, ITU Long Course, Iron)

3 Racers (from Yakima)

1 Great Day


JoDee Peterson, Kate Soldano and I went to the Grand Columbian Triathlon together for the second year.  This year, we all raced the same distance: half iron.  We swam 1.2 miles, bicycled for 56, and ran for 13.1.


Located around the Grand Coulee dam, athletes swam in the clean water of Banks Lake next to the dam, rode through rolling wheat fields and across the top of Coulee dam, and ran along the Columbia River on a gravel trail below the dam.  This year’s Grand Columbian Triathlon attracted a competitive field of elite athletes from around the world.  The bikes to lust for were world class!


Three hundred fifty-three people signed up for the half iron distance.  Before the race start there were flurries of butterflies from the Yakima Three. Someone had to make a last minute dash to the hotel for some forgotten swim goggles.  Someone else had to make several pit stops.  The third just stood shaking and when asked if she was cold, said nyah, just nerves.  Huge thanks to my very own Greg for running for goggles, collecting pre-race wear and standing on hand to cheer and return race wear at the end.  As Pat Miller says, “Endurance runners are a dime a dozen, but competent support crews are priceless.” 


We waited until the very last two minutes to get in the water.  Just enough time to make sure the goggles fit without water seepage.  Too soon, the race announcer said, “I leave you in the hands of the starter,” and then we were off.


Turns out, the water was a comfortable temperature.  There were the usual thrashing bodies and rubberized wetsuit body bumps, but a pretty smooth start overall.  I didn’t even get wildly off course between the first and second buoys like I did last year!  Rounding the second buoy there was this amazing current pushing us forward.  Rounding the third buoy on the home stretch to the finish line I saw a pollywog popping up to sight the finish line.  Look again – it’s KATE!  Paddle, paddle, paddle, I passed her.  Paddle, paddle, paddle, she passed me. Look, the pollywog is sighting again!  Paddle, paddle, paddle - we leapfrogged each other clear to the shoreline and ran up the bank to the transition area together.


Finally, out of the wetsuits and on to the bike.  Unfortunately, this race I was under trained. Again!  The only remedy was a strategy to dial back the bike so as to leave enough juice for the run.  The bike was a suffer fest and featured a steep grade, followed by unrelenting rollers, and then a gradual 3% grade for 10 miles into a persistent head wind with cross winds for relief.  Kate rocketed past me about 3 miles into the bike.  I vaguely remember a tail wind, but those parts went by so quickly I can’t say for sure there was any tail wind.  Finally, the dam.  What a view!  And then a blessed down hill to the bike run transition.  Bike time 3:17 (23 minutes slower than the last half iron this summer but that was the strategy, right?).


Transition with wobbly legs is hardly graceful and I added flair with an unintended back wheelie which very narrowly missed being an endo over the handlebars.  The spectators gasped approval, but I rallied and managed to hand off my bike to the smiling volunteer without shedding blood.


And then the run!  Downhill for a mile, and then a mostly flat out and back course on a forgiving surface.  Would my strategy hold up?  First mile finished in 7:10, but that was downhill and here we are on the flats.  Can I run?  My legs felt fresh; the second mile clocked in at 7:40.  Yikes!  The strategy worked, but I thought I better save some for the end.  The third mile finished in 8:06 as I settled into a sustainable rhythm.  My strategy held and I picked up runners who had passed me on the bike.  The miles clicked off.  I felt strong.  I saw JoDee – she was rocking the run too!  The last mile was straight uphill and hurt, and then it was over.  Run split:  1:45:23 for an overall finish of 5:43:56, third in my age category, 17th overall.


Kate finished 5:58:07, second in age category.  JoDee finished 6:28:45, respectable tenth in her category and a 13 minute PR over last year.  Margaritas with very salty rims drunk with chips and salsa were the last event of the day.