By Phil Lindeman
For Robye Nothnagel, the best way to preserve the memory of her friend Laura Genelin is to do what Genelin loved most: run, bike and swim like a maniac.
Nothnagel will oversee nearly 200 competitors this Saturday for the LG Tri, a race in Eagle dedicated to Genelin, a local triathlete who died of colon cancer in 2008. At just four years old, the event has grown from a small collection of friends into an expansive community event, and one of the most inviting sprint triathlons in the Central Rocky Mountains.
“We always wanted to have this race in Eagle,” says Nothnagel, the race organizer and a longtime Eagle resident who designed the route. “It belonged here. It took us a while to tweak the course, but it works perfect. It’s a nice loop people enjoy.”
And the race has grown steadily since its first year, attracting roughly 50 more racers in 2012. The course is improvised from one Nothnagel devised while training in 2007 for one of her first triathlons, Tri for the Cure, a short-distance race in Denver. The LG Tri starts with a 500-yard swim at 7 a.m. in the outdoor Eagle Pool, followed by a relatively flat, fast 12-mile bike ride from the pool-based transition area, leading up Brush Creek Road to Adam’s Rib and then back to the pool. The race finishes with a five-kilometer running loop from the pool, down the Eagle Ranch Road bike path, and back to the finish.
Although Nothnagel wasn’t a full-blown triathlete like Genelin, the two met when Nothnagel was training to get in shape after having twins. Genelin had also just given birth to twins, and the two bonded over their shared experience.
“She was a tiny little thing,” Nothnagel remembers of Genelin, who left behind her twins and an older daughter when she died in her mid-forties. “I felt like I had gained so much weight when I was pregnant, but here she was, this cute little petite thing. We really connected over that and racing came afterward.”
Shorter courses, same competition
Summer is peak season for triathletes across the state, and along with the LG Tri, Eagle County is home to a number of sprint races, known for shorter distances and ideal for beginners looking to break into the sport. There are the ultra-competitive XTERRA sprint races – including Beaver Creek’s mountain championship edition on July 14, a favorite of multi-time champion Josiah Middaugh – and the Bec Tri, an Aug. 4 race held in Avon to honor Becky Yarberry, a local nurse who was killed in a 2007 auto accident at 27 years old.
There’s quite a bit of overlap between the Bec Tri and LG Tri. In many ways, they’re sister races: Both benefit the Vail Valley Charitable Fund, both opt for a sprint format and, on average, both boast more female than male competitors. Nothnagel, who has always been race director for the LG Tri, even held the same position for the Bec Tri last season when the VVCF took over as race organizers. Despite Nothnagel’s connection to the organizational side of both triathlons, she had never raced on a team with either Yarberry or Genelin.
Claire Christiansen, a former participant and longtime volunteer with the Bec Tri, took over from Nothnagel as race director this season. Now in its fifth year, the Bec Tri is slightly older than the LG Tri, and its spirit is much the same: Introducing new participants to the triathlon format, while giving friends of Yarberry a way to remember a “wonderful spirit,” Christiansen says.
“She was a person who had an incredible heart. She was a nurse, after all, and it’s what she did,” says Christiansen of Yarberry, although Christiansen admits the two didn’t know each other well.
While the Bec Tri’s bike portion is short at just over nine miles, it boasts one of the only open-water swims for a sprint triathlon, starting with an early-morning dip in the 65-degree waters of Nottingham Lake – not quite cold enough to require a wetsuit, but pretty close. It’s only a 400-meter swim, but Christiansen credits the allure of the lake as a major benefit, and says many racers cite it as a reason to return each summer.
“I love that this (race) has an open-water swim,” Christiansen says. “It gives people who want to pursue racing a taste of the real lake experience. There’s that adrenaline rush of being in cold water.”
A culture of giving
A sterling reason the LG Tri and Bec Tri have hooked a large number of racers is the shared format: The shorter distances are less intimidating and invite the kind of friendly competition that can get lost in the rugged, intimidating world of full-length mountain triathlons. Despite the shorter distances and laxer competition, Christiansen is still hesitant to call the Bec Tri a “beginner” race; instead, she uses the term “beginner-friendly” – a cryptic allusion to the overall difficulty of any triathlon, particularly in an athletic hotbed like Colorado.
“We have so many talented athletes around the region, this race always gets competitive,” Christiansen says. “It will never be a destination race, though. This is a homegrown race.”
And the homegrown angle traces directly back to the VVCF, a local nonprofit that helps local families find funding for medical emergencies. Although the VVCF is small compared to something like the Susan G. Komen foundation – which organizes the majority of big-money breast cancer events across the nation – it means smaller funds go further. According to Nothnagel, the LG Tri has raised roughly $35,000 for VVCF in four years, growing by about $1,000 each year. A post-race silent auction brings in an additional $1,500 from donated Epic Passes, golf passes and hotel stays.
Along with the improvised courses and philanthropic angle, the LG Tri and Bec Tri are known for attracting hordes of volunteers. Nothnagel expects 50 volunteers for this Saturday’s race, splitting duties between timing, closing roads and helping in the transition areas. The Bec Tri sees a similar amount of community help, and on race day, Christiansen always finds familiar faces at the starting line.
“This race is a friendly, supportive environment,” Christiansen says. “It can be competitive for people who want that, but you’re racing right next to friends and people you see every day.”