Thick steam rose off Stockade Lake early Saturday morning as stocking-cap and hoodie clad athletes began to wheel their bikes toward the bike racks and meticulously set up their transition areas. The outer gear of spectators, athletes, and volunteers alike mimicked the gear of those who dared to take on the only 70.3 distance in South Dakota last year. This time around, though, once the sun crested the bank of trees that surrounded the lake and the athletes had donned their wetsuits, temperatures began to rise quickly, and athletes mentally prepared for ideal racing weather. Before participants knew it, the race director had given them the short countdown along with a loud, punctuated, “Go,” and the 2nd Annual Wildlife Loop Triathlon was underway.
The Wildlife Loop Triathlon has features like none other in the Great Faces, Great Places state. Nearly the entire race took place in Custer State Park and featured the combination of rolling hills, steep rock faces, and thick evergreens that photographers use to showcase in tourist brochures and websites. As one Coloradan stated, “It’s beautiful!” The breath-taking scenery worked well to mitigate the pain caused by a tough and long course.
Ironically, many a racer included the phrases “hardest bike course I’ve ever ridden” in the same sentence with “I’ll do it again.” Our photographer, who stationed himself at the end of the bike course, also reported that he heard a litany of choice words regarding the difficulty of the bike course from many an athlete at that point in the race.
The fittest of the fit showed up for this event. A great deal of the field donned their spandex with confidence thanks to the serious lack of body fat and immense amount of muscle on each participant. This was no slacker’s race. Jared Milam of Superior, Colorado took home the fattest prize purse with a time of 4:07:45. We’re guessing his bike split of 2:33 had something to do with this incredible time. Kosuke Amano of Fort Collins, Colorado took second in 4:16:55, and Josh Terwoord also of Fort Collins, Colorado took third with a time of 4:19:00.
The women’s race was equally as competitive. Amanda Hunter of Billings, Montana was the first woman out of water and onto her bike and first on the run. We’re pretty sure there’s titanium somewhere under Hunter’s skin. She had one cyclist go down in front of her, and then she went head-over-handlebars in the process of avoiding him. She dusted herself off, checked her bike, and then pedaled on to transition. (Incidentally, our sources tell us that after the race Hunter received a ride to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a concussion and received three stitches). Unfortunately, Hunter’s mettle only lasted so long. On the run Wendy Mader of Fort Collins overtook her and ultimately took home the women’s prize purse with a time of 4:59:20. (Mader has a pretty vivid account of the event at her blog.) Hunter came in second at 5:12:46, and Jennifer Reiter also of Billings came in third at 5:18:57.
Have we mentioned how strong these athletes were? Seven athletes kept their bike times under three hours on the toughest bike course for hundreds of miles.
This year’s race did have a couple of small hiccups. About a week before the event, race director Brandon Zelfer received word that the chip timing company he contracted with had double booked themselves for the weekend and would be backing out of his event. Zelfer scrambled to find another company. In the end, volunteers with stop watches served as a substitute for chips and timing mats. Additionally, due to some miscommunication with volunteers, participants ended up cutting a couple miles off the run, so participants consistently ended up running around 11.3 miles versus the traditional 13.1. However, no one complained too much. The bike course takes that much out of the legs.
We look to see small tweaks in the 2016 Wildlife Loop that will only make this 70.3 even better. A great deal of out-of-staters took on the 2015 challenge. We see no reason why South Dakotans can’t amp it up a bit and show up for 2016. With such a fat purse, we expect to continue to see great competition in the coming years. Beauty and bucks will keep the athletes coming.