Try the Tri

Santa Fe has all the right ingredients for a strong triathlon culture, but still hosts few triathlons

Lopez was disappointed to see the triathlon cancelled last year. (Courtesy Silvio Lopez)

Last September, Silvio Lopez left his house off of West Alameda to go on a long ride, taking the 45-mile Galisteo Loop, via Hwy. 14. Lopez, a 42-year-old systems administrator and avid triathlete, often spends 15 hours a week in the pool, on the bike, running, or lifting weights. He was happy to get out and enjoy the gorgeous weather, if also a bit disappointed. The eighth annual Santa Fe Triathlon scheduled to take place that day had been cancelled. Employees at the City Parks and Recreation Department cited difficulties with redirecting traffic for the road portions of the race, but rumors circulated that there was simply a lack of interest.

This seemed hard to believe. Though the city has most of the elements of a triathlete's paradise—high altitudes, miles of near-empty roads and trails, as well as three impeccably run public pools—the tri scene in Santa Fe can sometimes feel like the hip-hop scene in Kuala Lumpur: robust, but a little lonely. Santa Fe has no dedicated tri club, and so most multisport athletes do their structured interval runs or tempo workouts with groups like Santa Fe Striders or the New Mexico Spokettes. Otherwise, they train alone.

"In 15 minutes, I'm at La Tierra. In 25 minutes, I'm at Dale Ball," Lopez says. "I regularly go on amazing rides and runs, right from my doorstep, but it would be nice to have our own tri club here, and to have a community that's organized and active."

Michael Dunn promotes the Toughman NM 
at Cochiti Lake as an in-state option. (Curtis Guillen)

At the same time that Santa Fe triathletes have felt the pang of loneliness, the sport has been enjoying an astonishing period of development and growth on the national level. Membership for USA Triathlon, the sport's governing body, has more than doubled in the past 10 years, and the Southwest region is particularly well-known for some of triathlon's biggest annual events, including the Ironman triathlons in Tempe, Arizona, and Boulder, Colorado. In-state races, however, are few and far between. In 2014 (the latest year for which these numbers are available), Arizona hosted 50, Colorado had 87 and Texas 223, while New Mexico clocked in with just 18.

Lopez sometimes works out with Black Dog Triathlon club in Albuquerque. Though the club has grown by about 20 percent in the past five years, Black Dog vice president Michael Dunn says his group faces similar problems.

"We've got the best trails, the best roads, the best weather, but at events, the turnout is just not as much as it should be," says Dunn, a 36-year-old real estate agent who also promotes the annual Toughman NM triathlons at Cochiti Lake. "I see a lot of people that will travel to Colorado, Arizona or Texas to go do these Ironman-branded events. I think the sport is definitely growing in our state, but I don't know if it's growing as fast as I would like."

There are reasons to be optimistic, however.

At the moment, no one is more eager to see Santa Fe's homegrown triathlon scene grow than city Councilor Joseph Maestas. A multisport athlete for the past 30 years, Maestas took part in the Las Campanas Compadres and Socorro Chile Harvest triathlons last year, and placed third in the 50-54 age group at the Santa Fe Triathlon in 2014.

"I love it," says Maestas. "I love the training aspect of it, the competitive nature of it, the tapping into the true potential of your body. It's also got great economic potential. The city government can do a lot more to frame the city's marketing strategy around outdoor amenities. We're not just a great site for a triathlon, but a great locale for high-altitude training."

Maestas adds that he's eager to take part in local races again this year, including the Santa Fe Triathlon, which is set to take place on Aug. 13.

"I just bought a time trial bike," he says. "I'm anxious to get it out there."

Where to Race

Summer is the high season for triathlons in New Mexico. Here are a few events to watch out for:

Socorro Chile Harvest Triathlon
Saturday, July 30

XTERRA TRI the Torture
Saturday, Aug. 6

Toughman NM
Cochiti Lake
Sunday, Aug. 21

Las Campanas Compadres Triathlon
Santa Fe
Monday, Sept. 5

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong date for the City of Santa Fe triathlon. 

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