The TOUGHEST race in the most BEAUTIFUL place

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( A dual story by Roger and Bessy, Bessy’s personal story is in italics)

As the title states, that is the motto for the June Lake Triathlon held right next to the well known Mammoth Mountain.  It sounds so cheesy but it does make sense when you do the race.  To me this is quite a remote area, so rarely am I up for something that requires 7+ hours of sitting in one place just to get there – cause that is the same time to finish a Half Ironman!  The first thing that motivated me to try it was that my wife Bessy from XTERRA Wetsuits had to do an expo there, where I would also help her out.  This race has been only Kids, Sprint, and Olympic distance, but this year they added in a Half.   Being at 7000 feet of elevation,  many San Diego Tri Clubbers decided to use this race as prep for IM Tahoe, so having people you know in the area is also a motivator.

We arrived Thursday night so we can get a Fri morning workout to acclimate us to the high altitude – an easy 10 mile run, where you get to see how it affects you rather than seeing yourself go 1:30 min per mile slower during the race.  After that we went to work the expo at the bottom of the ski resort, meeting all the participants and the locals who gave tips on the race.  After the expo the athletes take a ski lift up to a mountain chalet for a catered athlete welcome dinner. So many people came by asking me to fix their stitching tears, ankle rips but sorry, I didn’t bring my patches/sewing machine with me this morning… maybe I should learn how to do that.

Being 2000 feet higher now, this was an ideal location for the course talk where the race director pointed out specific segments in the view in front of us, rather than using a map. We both start feeling a headache grow stronger the closer we are to the peak.

1072127_10101648372854463_196223139_oIt was difficult to identify the run, as it was mainly trail, but we got a chance after to preview the bike via car, and it turned out to be similar to that of the Great Western Loop.  As I was working, this race was not an “A” race for me, and I also was fearing the swim as many were saying the water was cold.  Turns out that should have been the least of my worries.

Race Morning we wake up at 5am, we are 5 minutes away from the beach Expo & Transition, Roger’s Half Iroman starts 7am, my Olympic stars 8am. But I have to host the last minute 6am-7am XTERRA Wetsuits Expo pre-race! I take DayQuil to relieve the lingering chills/headache. As a vendor we got to drive up to transition, all other participants had to park 2 miles away and shuttle in. I just take out race stuff and a banner, I don’t want to leave bins of gear on the beach while I race. It’s early so I park in front of transition, set up my expo table and then rush over to set up my race transition. We hit the beach front expo and to my delight a coffee stand  – score!  A warm cup of joe helped ease the fear of the cold water; if only all tri’s had coffee at the start. 

The announcer calls me out, I need to move my car out of the ambulance/USAT Official VIP parking spot. Vendors have to park 1/4 mile away from transition.  Roger’s setting up transition, so I just run over and amaze myself at how I get this Ford Expedition out of the tight spot I’m in, into Vendor Parking.  As I’m running back to setup my transition, the announcer calls me out again there’s a last minute packet pick-up customer that arranged to hold his wetsuit for race morning looking for me. I run over to the announcer to tell the wandering customer to go to packet pickup and reunite him with his suit.  Finally my transition is setup, I grab my ZipFizz, head down to sunscreen & zip up Roger beside the Expo Tent, and zip up other Half Ironman racers who are going into their warm-up.1074506_10101648408767493_2117027694_o

I get in the water to warm up, and it turns out that the water was warmer than the air.  Another element to ease the mind is that was crystal clear that you can see the bottom.

A man comes up to me, says he’s looking for an XTERRA Wetsuit, he’s racing his first triathlon today, Olympic distance. Instead of using his blue surf suit… “I don’t want to stand out as the only one not in a Black and Yellow suit.” He says he’s a Large, I remember I do have a Large in the wetsuit bin in the car. It’s 20 minutes until the Olympic race starts, so I will have to run. I guzzle half the ZipFizz on my sprint to the Vendor Parking Lot, grab the iPad, Square, Vortex Full Large, Racebelt, Meshbag and sizing chart, and haul back to the patient newbie.

The course had multi buoy set ups for the differing distances that started 1 hour apart but it was well indicated where to turn.  The Half consisted of 2 laps with a run out and back in – so those Bill Gleason / Jim Vance open water workouts really helped, as most people were just trudging along as if they were swamp thing.   This race was mass start by gender, so females went out after 5 minutes… so when I was “chicked” twice on the swim I began to think I was doing terrible.

As the customer walks away with the wetsuit race-day bundle, I run over to my transition, throw the iPad stuff in my Transition Backpack, and do bathroom & warm-up with just 5 minutes left for the Olympic gunshot. The water is clear like Bahamas and feels like 68 with a full wetsuit – Thank Goodness! We were mentally preparing for 60.

I  get on the bike only to see about 5 riders doing the Half, which made me feel even more slow as I thought the whole pack was far ahead considering those females passed me on that swim… then again that was their first lap.  It started to get lonely onto the 2nd bike lap where I now see the Olympic distance racers enter and still no Halfers, but alas finishing on my bike I see them 1-2 miles ahead out on the run!  I felt as if I was in last place but the run was my strong point so I thought let me at least finish with a non-embarrassing time.  I go on the attack! This is were the real tough part comes in, the rugged trail course had 1350 feet of elevation gain which was mostly through the Olympic course, so running becomes hiking.  The down hills were very technical, you couldn’t make up much time that was lost on the climbs.

1074506_10101648408772483_1553802430_oI cross the finish line at 11:30 coming in 7th Female Overall and 4th in AG, and my lips are flaking of dehydration since halfway through the bike. I sit and drink calculating how much effort/time I need to have the Expo setup by Noon. I walk over to transition, clear up my stuff, put on the XTERRA Wetsuits shirt and bike over to the car at Vendor Parking Lot. I drive down as close as I can in the line-up of cars waiting to get through, while the crowd of parents checking-in their kids for the Kids Tri starting at Noon, are all anxiously crowded around body marking. I don’t have time to wait, so I just pull out the essentials and leave them on the side of packet pickup, flip a K-turn and park back in my Vendor Parking Lot spot.  Post-Race, starving, dehydrated, this 1/4 mile run feels so far. Thankfully one of the packet-pickup volunteers helps me take my stuff across transition to the beach Expo in time. I’m pleasantly surprised that my Expo neighbors put up my tent and banner, and I tell the spectators using it for shade that I need the space now for my afternoon Expo. The wind is so strong the rocks at each corner are moving. I eat my emergency Perfect Food Bar in my bag.

To my surprise I start passing familiar faces  – people who were expected to go faster than me.  Out of the Olympic course and the next 7 miles into an arid desert terrain.  I am glad that for a small race it was so well supported with cold water and Heed in this section.

great post race food.

The finish is on the beach through soft sand that there was not much chance to bolt through the finish in a sprint.  I remember from last years’ Super Frog race where the winner Lance Armstrong was quoted as saying “who the hell thought of this run course?”  Well now knowing there is harder, there is no reason to fear the frog if you decide to do it this year.   I finished the Half race in 5:18 to come in 14th over all Half and 2nd AG by complete surprise.  The run (-.3 mi) and bike (-4mi) was a bit short from official distance, but I am sure with the elevation gain and difficulty the times of every racer correlate to the one of a correctly measured, flat 70.3.  Onto T3, which is back to working the expo on the beach.  The wind picked up so I had to lift and tie large boulders to hold our tent down, causing me to nearly faint as I needed food quick ( I only had 1L coca cola on the bike and 1 gu on the run).  Thankfully there was a free BBQ catered buffet of healthy foods for the racers post race.

Post race massage on the beach, screw my AG medal, this is my reward. You can see from here how clear the water is.

I go to relax under the tent on the beach, as if I am in a Corona commercial relaxing in the Caribbean.  Even better there was a massage tent nearby and I took advantage, it was so good that when they called my name for AG awards I decided to continue on with the massage. When Roger comes back, he’s in charge of last minute customers and Expo takedown. I snag the last spot at the Massage table, Roger’s BDay present to me!

Whispering Pines had a hot tub jacuzzi which is a perfect appetizer for a local pizzeria dinner. We go to dinner in our JUNE LAKE TRIATHLON t-shirts to represent and the Pizzeria owner is in the local Chamber of Commerce supporting the tourism that the triathlon brings. We finish our dinner chatting to the owner about living near a huge resort like Mammoth & excitement the Village has that this year the ski lift will reopen, unlike the mandatory closure Mammoth Resorts enforced last year.  They’ve been doing Winter Triathlons since most of the June Lake Loop is closed to traffic during Winter months.

It was certainly the toughest race in the most beautiful place!  The next day we decided to do a trail jog with 1700+ feet of climbing to come close to the summit (only hit 8900′), from this you can gauge how difficult the trail run from the race was.

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2 thoughts on “The TOUGHEST race in the most BEAUTIFUL place

  1. Yes June Lakes Tri is the “toughest race in the most beautifulest place” great job Alana and the High Sierra Tri Club. I volunteered this year while my husband raced the Half we have been doing this race since it’s inception, we love it! Joe and I just took Directorship of the Auburn Tri, known as the World’s Toughest Half. It also has an International and a Mini. In 2014 we will be offering the World’s Toughest Aquabike. Our race is tough as well, hence the name. Come out next year and “tri” Auburn Triathlon’s World’s Toughest Half or International or Mini. It’s the bike on our course that makes it tough but we will be changing the run so that it goes back into the American River Canyon on parts of the Western States 100 trail bringing back the World’s Toughest to live up to it’s name. Not to compete, do both, as they are both great races, different from the same ol same ol dime a dozen tri’s out there.
    And speaking of Lake Tahoe IM. High Sierra Tri club and Tahoe Peak Endurance, LLC are partnering with an Altitude Training Camp at Tahoe in Aug. A stress free fully supported training on the LTIM course, half the distance, perfect time to test out the pace, gear, clothes, nutrition at altitude. Go to http://www.tahoepeakendurance.com/Camps.shtml for more info. Loved your race report!!!

  2. rudy dressendorfer says:

    The RDs of Auburn’s Toughest Half and June Lake’s “Toughest” Half are best friends. Truly, they are not competing for the distinction of whose is tougher. The triathletes can decide for themselves.

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