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Terry VanderWert

Triathlon Across the USA: State #22 – New Mexico

Triathlon Across the USA: State #22 – New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico; September 20, 2014—City of Santa Fe Triathlon

Reports of wildfires in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado during early July 2018 brought back memories of our trip to the area in 2014. Part of the trip for the New Mexico triathlon routed us through Colorada for visits with friends and family.

Planning the New Mexico Triathlon

In early July 2014, Joy and I were talking with our friends, Steve and Lori.  We had visited them at their Colorado Springs, Colorado home around the time of the Colorado triathlon.

They had made the 1-1/2 hour drive to Englewood, Colorado to attend the event along with my parents. However, we had never taken the opportunity to visit their cabin in southern Colorado, despite more than one invitation.

This time was different.  Our calendar was clear for the period around the New Mexico triathlon, an event yet to be checked off our ‘to-do’ list.

Joy and I were certainly interested in visiting Santa Fe. We had yet another invitation to visit our friends’ cabin, which was a little over 150 miles north of Santa Fe. After that, we could visit my parents in the Denver area.

It was a straightforward decision.

Getting To Santa Fe

We started the roughly 2,500 mile (4,020 km) round-trip journey on Wednesday, September 17th.  Our first overnight stop, a bonus for this road trip, was in Bennington, Nebraska, home of our son and daughter-in-law and their daughter, Mari Lyn.

For the remaining distance to Santa Fe, we followed the less traveled route of US highways, avoiding the Interstate highways and their often heavy truck traffic.

It turned out to be a tremendous choice. Not only was this route about 100 miles (160 km) shorter, but the traffic was much lighter. Besides, traveling through the smaller towns was also a much more entertaining.

We arrived in Santa Fe at about 9pm, ate dinner at a chain restaurant next to the hotel, and crawled into bed for welcomed sleep.

First, Some Sightseeing

After breakfast the next morning, we headed to the historic Santa Fe plaza, where we hopped on a bus for a guided tour of the city. The tour took us past the Loretto Chapel (which we visited after lunch at the Thunderbird Bar & Grill on the plaza), through the art district of Santa Fe, and into the surrounding areas of the city.

Examples of displays from the Santa Fe art district (top/bottom left) and the mysterious spiral staircase at Loretto Chapel (right).

Later in the afternoon, we popped over to the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, the headquarters for the triathlon. I picked up the race packet which, of course, included the race t-shirt for my collection and race course maps.

Steve and Lori arrived at the hotel about the time we returned to the hotel from packet pickup, in time for some authentic Mexican cuisine. While Mexican is not my usual pre-race meal choice because of the spice, I couldn’t pass it up.

7th Annual City of Santa Fe Triathlon

There was one surprise between the time I registered for this triathlon and we arrived in Santa Fe—the altitude.

In mentioning my plans for the New Mexico triathlon, a colleague asked if I knew the altitude of Santa Fe. I responded that I did not.

I then learned that Santa Fe is 7,250 feet (2210 meter) above sea level. I had been to Santa Fe several times previously for business. However, I had never considered that its elevation is 50% higher than that of Denver, the ‘mile-high city’.

The City of Santa Fe Triathlon was a reverse triathlon, the second of this type in which I had taken part.  In the reverse triathlon, the three legs occur in reverse order, or as run-bike-swim, compared to the conventional order of swim-bike-run.

Distances for the three legs of this USAT-sanctioned event were:

  • Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)
  • Bike: 12 mile (19 km)
  • Swim: 0.25 mile (400 m)

This race was also the first one at which I adorned the bracelet, color coordinated to my triathlon suit, that my granddaughter, Kate, had made for me.

My granddaughter, Kate, made me a bracelet, color coordinated with my triathlon suit, for the New Mexico triathlon.


Race day morning was a comfortable, with the temperature in the low 60s °F.

The run started fast, at more than 7.5 miles per hour. The fast start was in part because the course was downhill and in part because all racers began together. Even though I tried to start at a pace I thought I could maintain throughout the run, I started much too fast, even without considering the altitude. The result was a lot of walking later in this leg.


The bike portion took us away from the city center into streets with little automobile traffic. The course was also hilly and, once again, I felt the effects of the altitude.

At one point, while climbing a hill, I felt light-headed. I was sure that I was going to end up walking the bike up the hill. However, I slowed down, avoiding the need to walk. I even picked up few places in the bike leg.


The swim leg took place in the eight lane, 50 meter long indoor pool of the Community Center. At the end of each length of the pool, we ducked under the lane divider to cross into the next lane and swam to the other end in this lane.

About the only thing that I like about the reverse triathlon is the swim at the end. While probably not great for the pool water, the swim washes off the sweat and dust accumulated during the first two legs of the race.

As a result, I exited the pool refreshed.


There were only three participants in my age group.   This meant that despite a slow run and bike, I finished with a podium place and medal.

The medal for this race was actually a laser engraved wood plague. You can see the medal, #4 in the post titled ‘5 Unique Triathlon Medals; They are No Longer Just Metal’.

After the Triathlon

It was then on to Steve and Lori’s cabin. Our home for the next four days was in the Malcolm Forbes Wagon Wheel Creek Estates, a few miles northeast of Fort Garland, Colorado. In July 2018, the area was evacuated because of the threat of wildfires.

Getting to their cabin from the main highway involved an 8 mile, 20 minute trek up a rugged and windy gravel road. On the way to 10,000 feet elevations, we passed cattle and mule deer. Cattle graze on the property as a source of income for the homeowner’s association.

Our friends’ cabin in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Fort Garland, Colorado, our home for four days after the New Mexico Triathlon.

After a relaxing four days, which included a trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve during one day, we headed toward home. On the way, we stopped for overnight visits with my parents in Parker, Colorado, and , for the second time on this trip, with our son and his family in Nebraska.

Another memorable trip with a host of new experiences.

Race Firsts

  • First race at over 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) elevation (Santa Fe is 7,250 ft elevation).
  • First reverse triathlon above 1,500 ft elevation (Mesa, Arizona, venue of the previous reverse triathlon, is 1,243 ft. elevation).
  • First triathlon with an Age Group award produced from wood.

Have You Done a Triathlon in New Mexico?

What triathlon(s) have you done in New Mexico? Is there one you recommend for other triathletes age 50 and over?

Share your comments below.


“At Age 70, I Had 19 Days To My First Triathlon” – Pat Johnson’s Story

“At Age 70, I Had 19 Days To My First Triathlon” – Pat Johnson’s Story

The Villages, Florida – Can you prepare for your first sprint triathlon in less than 30 days, even at age 70?

According to Pat Johnson, you can. She did it and is now an advocate for seniors to compete in triathlon.

Pat’s story was first published on June 24, 2018. Recently, I contacted her for an update on her triathlon journey. Now approaching age 77, Pat remains active in triathlon and is still enthusiastic about it as a way for seniors to stay fit.

This post, updated on February 8, 2021, combines the story of Pat’s first triathlon and her experiences with the sport over the past two-and-a-half years.

Pat Johnson’s First Triathlon at Age 70

Pat Johnson’s triathlon story begins with a conversation she had a few years ago with her then 35-year-old niece, Barb. Barb told her Aunt Pat about her goal to complete an Ironman triathlon before age 40. Excited by the idea of doing a triathlon, Pat committed to complete a shorter, sprint triathlon by age 70.

Fast forward a couple of years and Barb had completed the Ironman triathlon well before age 40. Meanwhile, the deadline for Pat to complete her first sprint triathlon was quickly approaching.

“19 Days To Get Ready for My First Sprint Triathlon”

Pat did not even know where she could do a triathlon.

“I knew I was going to have to practice swimming in order to complete the triathlon. So, I contacted a guy who also lives in The Villages and was part of the masters swimming program called VAST (Villages Aquatic Swim Team).”

Her swimmer friend told her about triathlons regularly held in Clermont, Florida. She said, “I found out that the next triathlon was in 19 days.”

Undaunted by the short time until the race, Pat registered for it, her first sprint triathlon.

The next morning, while waiting between pickle ball games, Pat casually mentioned to another person that she had signed up for a triathlon in Clermont.

Much to Pat’s surprise, the lady replied “Oh, no. That’s the worst place to do a triathlon. There are hills.”   

Pat, a Wisconsin native, admitted, “Until then, I did not even realize that there were hills in Florida.”

This fellow pickle ball player took Pat under her wing and helped her prepare for her first triathlon. She even provided swim goggles and clips for her bike pedals.

Nineteen days after registering for the Central Florida Triathlon Series Race 3, Pat completed her first sprint triathlon, fulfilling the agreement she had made with her niece.

Ironically, the person who helped Pat, Donna Maguire, had been thinking of giving up triathlon. Instead, she started The Villages Triathlon Club. Since then, Donna has completed many triathlons, including at least one Ironman.

Catching the Triathlon Bug At Age 70

Pat had planned to do only one triathlon. However, like so many of us, she caught ‘the bug’. As of this update, she has completed 21 triathlons. And she’s not finished.

Pat Johnson prepared for her first sprint triathlon at age 70 in less than 30 days. Since then, she has created a collection of finisher medals.  Included is one from Pat's first sprint triathlon.
Pat Johnson has earned a fine collection of triathlon medals.

Racing with Sally Edwards

Most who have completed a few triathlons have been asked to name their favorite.

For Pat, the ‘Girlz on Fire’ triathlon in Clermont, Florida has been her most memorable. This race was particularly special in that she could not only meet, but compete alongside, Sally Edwards, a triathlon icon.

At the conclusion of the race, Pat posed with Sally while Sally signed her book “Triathlons for Women” which Pat had purchased earlier and brought with her to the race.

Sally Edwards book signing.  Pat first started her triathlon journey at age 70.
Sally Edwards with Pat Johnson signing Pat’s copy of ‘Triathlon for Women’.

Racing in the ‘Girlz on Fire’ Triathlon with Sally Edwards was one of the highlights of my triathlon career. 

Pat Johnson

Speaking of the ‘Girlz on Fire’ triathlon, Pat said, “There were only two people in my age group. As she often does, Sally purposely stayed back so that she could cross the finish line with the last finisher as a show of support. She is really a sweetheart. When you meet her, you feel like you have been friends forever.”

Pat Johnson (first place) and Sally Edwards (second place) at the awards ceremony of the Girlz on Fire Triathlon in Clermont, Florida.

Some Triathlons Are Challenging Even With Experience

Pat, who is approaching age 77, will soon enter her eighth year in the sport. She has no plan to stop “Tri-ing”.

Over the past two years, Pat has volunteered at an Extreme Triathlon each year. She has also completed two triathlons.

The first race she completed was at the Daytona Speedway. According to Pat, this triathlon was “amazing”.

“Running on the speedway track was a wonderful experience.”

In contrast, Pat refers to her last triathlon, one in Crystal River, Florida, as her worst.

“During the swim portion, I was near a swimmer who kept cutting me off each time I tried to pass them. I am sure it was unintentional, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating.

“The bike portion was even worse. The rear brake rubbed on the wheel throughout the course. I couldn’t get my bike to go any faster than 14 miles per hour. I had picked up my bike from the shop too close to the race to give it a test ride.

“By the time I got to the run, I was really down. Since I walk instead of run, I think I was the only one still on the course. I felt humiliated. While I was continuing the last leg, other racers were already leaving, since there was no awards ceremony because of COVID.”

A Personalized Approach to Training

Pat has developed her own training approach, one that works well for her. Since she has problems with her back, she runs very little. Instead, she trains in race walking, which she uses during the run leg of the triathlon.

Pat describes her approach to her run leg as “race walking with a tiny bit of running. I get excited near the finish, so I save just enough juice to run across the finish line.”

In any week, Pat will go on at least one 10 to 12 mile bike ride along with a few shorter rides. She also takes advantage of the wonderful lap pools in The Villages with two to three swims per week.

Pat developed her open water swimming by connecting with another local triathlete, Lorri, who lives on Lake Weir. Lorri has a daughter who is an accomplished swimmer. Lorri’s daughter provided “a couple of great big yellow ducks” used to practice sighting, a skill important to staying on course in an open water swim.

Advice for Seniors Thinking of a First Sprint Triathlon at Age 70

Pat is an outspoken advocate for seniors to stay fit. 

“If you have the slightest inclination to do a triathlon, go for it.  Meet people who are involved in triathlon and ask them for advice. You will find them eager to help you on the journey.”

Pat is living proof of the ‘no excuses’ lifestyle. If you were going to use the excuse of not having enough time to prepare for a triathlon, perhaps you need to think again. Pat had less than 19 days to get ready for her first triathlon.

Even if you cannot complete the three legs of a triathlon, there are plenty of races that include a relay option. In these, each team member performs one leg, the one with which they are most comfortable, capable, and prepared.

Applying Faith in Triathlon

Triathlon has given Pat Johnson an opportunity to stay fit and meet new friends. It has also provided her opportunity to put her faith in Jesus Christ into action.

Pat’s Christian faith goes with her on the racecourse. She starts each competition with a personal prayer for God’s guidance during the triathlon.

“One of my favorite promises from the Bible is Philippians 4:6-7.” This verse says:

‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.’

Triathlon for women and cross following first triathlon at age 70
Pat Johnson proudly wears a cross symbolizing her Christian faith with one of her triathlon finisher medals.

After the particularly difficult Crystal River Triathlon mentioned above, Pat stopped to reflect.

“As I said, this was my worst experience with a triathlon. What I learned from it was that I hadn’t relied on the most powerful source available to me. My LORD!

“I was so wrapped up in self pity that I didn’t use the power that we all have when we have Jesus as our advocate.

Philippians 4:13 says ‘I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me’.

“Hopefully next time I will keep my focus where it should be.”

Do You Want To Do Your First Triathlon at Age 50? 60? 70? 80+?

Would you like to complete your first triathlon as a senior triathlete? What help can we provide?

Tell us in the Comments section below. You will find plenty of support from this wonderful community.

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