Front Range

Training Mecca

Elite triathletes from around the world flock to Boulder for more than the elevation advantage.

September 2012

You probably wouldn’t look twice at Mirinda Carfrae if she sat down next to you at a Boulder cafe. At five feet three inches, the muscular 31-year-old appears to be just one more exceedingly fit Front Ranger. In reality, she’s a world champion Ironman athlete who can, in succession, swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a marathon faster than almost any other woman—and all but a handful of men—on the planet.

The People’s Republic has become one of the largest bases for championship-caliber Ironman prepping in the country. For three decades, more male winners of the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii—held annually in October—have trained in Boulder than anywhere else. Last year, Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington, who both train in Boulder, took first in the men’s and women’s competitions, beating out 1,296 and 475 competitors, respectively. Carfrae, an Aussie who began training in Boulder in 2005, placed second.

So what is it about Boulder that draws the sport’s best? The boost in blood chemistry (an increase in red blood cells helps carry more oxygen to your muscles) attributed to working out at higher elevations is only part of the answer. What sets Boulder apart, local Ironman athletes say, is the training infrastructure: clubs with 25- and 50-meter pools that cater to serious swimmers; well-maintained roads with mountain climbs that are safe for cyclists; top-quality sports massage centers; and access to seasoned coaches and trainers, like six-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott. “You don’t feel like you’re out of the ordinary being a professional athlete here,” Carfrae says. “We’re not freaks of nature. We’re the norm in this population.”

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Tips for getting into triathlons

• Join a group.
“I encourage people to try and train with others,” Carfrae says. “It’s always nice to be part of a team.”

Start short
Try s
print triathlons—about a ninth of the distance of an Ironman. 

Don’t expect too much
“Just try and enjoy the race and finish it,” says Paul Ambrose, who won Ironman Australia in May. 

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5280.com Exclusive: Where to Train Like an Ironman

Whether you have Ironman aspirations or just want to learn how to train at an elite level, these Boulder spots will get you started. Who knows: You could be lifting weights next to a world champion.

Flatiron Athletic Club: Six-time Ironman champ Dave Scott teaches swimming classes in this triathlete-friendly gym’s 25-meter pool. $85/month membership, $20/day nonmember fee; 505 Thunderbird Drive, Boulder, 303-499-6590, flatironathleticclub.com

Boulder Aquatic Masters: An $80 monthly membership to this swim club buys you access to pool workout sessions for various skill levels plus unlimited admission to seven swimming areas, including the Boulder Reservoir and the city’s only 50-meter pool, Scott Carpenter Pool. bamswimteam.org

Fuelary (previously AllSports Recovery Club): Head here after your workouts for compression boots, ice baths, massages, chiropractic treatment, and more techniques to stay loose, prevent injury, and better recover from tough sessions. Prices vary depending on service; 2000 30th St., Ste. G, Boulder, 303-442-4488, allsportsrecovery.com or fuelary.com