Accepting the challenge
Desert's Edge Triathlon pushes athletes to the next level
Jessica Hauscholz trudged along the running course Sunday, her face etched in pain.
She groaned, wiped sweat from her forehead and wheezed as she gulped in oxygen.
There was also a determination factor with only a few hundred yards to the finish. But that finish wasn’t for her, she had another 5K loop around the reservoir to go in the Olympic triathlon distance.
There was one thing that was nowhere to be found — doubt.
Stopping was a laughable notion for the Grand Junction High School graduate.
“I think it comes down to grit. That’s the word that comes to mind,” she said with a tired smile.
As she mingled with other triathletes, rehydrating and recovering from a grueling day at Highline Lake State Park, the 35-year-old Hauscholz had the look of satisfaction that comes only from accepting, and completing, a demanding physical challenge like the Desert’s Edge Triathlon.
For her, getting through those final miles was ultra-tough, but it’s just part of the challenge.
“It was perseverance and determination. Just remember, race your own race and keep moving forward no matter what,” she said.
For every triathlete who comes to the Desert’s Edge Triathlon in hopes of winning or hopping onto the podium, there are many others who accept this physical and mental challenge with the goal of finishing. The finish line is where these competitors let that special feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment wash over them.
Hauscholz, who now lives in Denver, has learned how to be mentally tough as the unrelenting physical demands pound away on her body.
“I just remind myself to keep moving forward and stay strong. I tell myself that I’m stronger than I think I am,” she said.
Staying strong and determined is what finishing a triathlon is all about.
Competitors either raced a sprint distance — 750-meter swim, 13.2-mile bike and 5K run — or the longer Olympic distance, which consisted of a 1,500-meter swim, 24.8-mile bike and 10K run.
With each finisher, there were smiles and jubilant greetings from supporters. For the racers, there were those tired smiles, a search for shape and guzzling cold water.
Pat Butler from Lousiville made the drive to the Desert’s Edge Triathlon.
As he drank water and sat slumped on a picnic bench, the look of satisfaction had not quite taken hold of the 58-year-old.
“I’ll be darned if that’s a 5K course,” he said.
Then he made sure of his exact meaning.
“It was longer, definitely longer.”
With around 50 triathlons to his credit, Butler, like all the competitors, enjoys the challenge.
“At this point in my life, it’s just something to keep me motivated, something to train for,” he said, then smiled after another gulp of water. “But I’m usually under-trained for whatever race I do.”
There were a variety of ages who competed.
For 15-year-old Isabelle Currat of Lakewood, it was her second time racing at Highline after competing last year. At the encouraging of her step-mom, Currat took up the sport, and she enjoys it most of the time.
“I hate biking with all my heart,” she said with a laugh. “But when I get into the water for the swim, I’m like I’m committed for this for the next hour and a half (sprint distance). It doesn’t matter who passes me, I’m just going to finish.”
With the September temperatures still creeping into the 90s, it made for an extra difficult day during the run section, which comes last.
“It was very hot today, it was really rough this year,” Currat said.
As finishers straggled in, there was rarely a look of disappointment with their time. Finishing was the real victory.
There were lots of veteran triathletes that came to Highline to compete in one of the final triathlons of the season. That’s one of the appeals to many who compete in this event.
“This course is awesome. It’s a fun end-of-the-season race,” said Wes Smith, 27, of Denver, who won the men’s sprint distance race.
One first-time triathlete is now looking forward to more races. Nikki Cunning, 21, is actually preparing for her first collegiate triathlon as part of the Colorado Mesa triathlon team.
She completed her first triathlon ever, but is on the Mesa triathlon team. But as a veteran of the university’s cross-country team and Nordic ski club team, she offers a logical reason.
“I just kinda wanted to do something new, and I’m loving it,” she said.
The finish line was a joyous area every time a competitors came across. Currat smiled when asked what it feels like to cross that finish line.
“It’s such a relief. It feels like you accomplished something,” she said. “It feels good that I did it.”
Long after the final competitor finished, many triathletes remained, swapping stories about the race, the course and the finish. They laughed and smiled, and even offered a grimace or two when looking back at the punishing challenge they just overcame.
It was a challenge that had no chance against their determined effort.