106-Degree West Half Ironman debuts in Summit County Sept. 16, 2016 | SummitDaily.com

106-Degree West Half Ironman debuts in Summit County Sept. 16, 2016

106-Degrees West Half Ironman

What: The inaugural Half Ironman in Summit County, with a 1.2-mile swim on Lake Dillon, a 56-mile road ride to Montezuma and a 13.1-mile run around the lake for a total of 70.3 miles

When: Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016

Where: Dillon Marina starting line

Cost: TBA

Online registration for the triathlon opens on Nov. 6. The start list is restricted to 2,500 competitors. For more information and to pre-register, see the official 106-Degree West website at http://www.106westtri.com.

After nearly a decade of planning, thousands of triathletes will finally get to test their nerve in the chilly waters of Lake Dillon.

On Sept. 10, executives with Colorado-based event producer Human Movement announced the 106-Degree West triathlon — a race of quarter and half Ironman distances — set to debut Sept. 10, 2016 on the shores of Summit County's largest reservoir.

The waters there have been off-limits to swimming for decades, due solely to consistently low temperatures, but, when Human Movement CEO Jeff Suffolk first drove through the area in the mid-2000s, he knew it was a perfect venue for a triathlon — the sort of destination event that attracts athletes from across the nation and world.

"This is the most beautiful county in the world," he said at the announcement, held at Dillon Marina Park Pavilion overlooking the lake and Peak One. "It has this exclusive body of water, and, with my background in these events, it just felt perfect. It was a perfect formula for a proprietary endurance event that will throw down an epic gauntlet for athletes."

It's also the first contest with a distance of this length to make a home in Summit, and Suffolk predicts it will draw a deep field. That isn't to say top triathletes will notch record times: With a starting altitude of 9,000 feet, he expects humbling results on the bike ride from Dillon to Montezuma and, of course, the intimidating swim in a frigid, high-alpine lake.

"We won't have fast finishers, hence our motto, 'It won't be pretty, but it will be beautiful,'" he said to laughs from the crowd. "But this is a huge dream for us. We have favorite events, ones we've been producing for the past decade and a half, and this is one I'm very much looking forward to."

First of its kind

Even before the starting gun, 106-Degrees West is already racking up a slew of firsts. When it debuts next year, it will unseat Human Movement's other local multi-sport event, the Rocky Mountain Triathlon in Silverthorne, as the world's highest tri.

Athletes begin at Dillon Marina with a 1.2-mile swim on the northern edge of the lake. Wetsuits will be mandatory: The water hardly gets above 65 degrees, even in the heat of summer. After the swim, competitors hop on bikes for a 56-mile road ride from Dillon to Montezuma, climbing another 1,300-some-odd feet along the way before descending back to Dillon for the final leg — a 13.1-mile shoreline run to the edge of Dillon Reservoir Recreation Area before finally reaching the finish line in downtown Dillon. All told, the collection of 2,500 athletes will cover 70.3 miles without ever dropping below 9,000 feet.

But, for Ironman competitors like Bob Babbitt, that's part of the appeal. The USA Triathlon Hall-of-Famer attended the announcement to represent Challenged Athletes Foundation, the event's nonprofit partner. He's competed in hundreds of triathlons and Ironmans since tackling his first endurance race in 1980, and, like many, he's drawn to the torturous beauty of destination courses.

"People are willing to go through hell to reach heaven," he said. "They're willing to work hard, know they will be in cold water in Lake Dillon at 9,000 feet, but, while they're doing it, it's just beautiful."

He likens 106-Degree West (named for the longitude of Lake Dillon) to a duo of signature Ironman events: The Escape From Alcatraz Ironman in San Francisco and the original Ironman at Kailua-Kona Bay in Hawaii, now the site of the Ironman World Championships.

Both events are known for eye candy — the imposing specter of Alcatraz and the gorgeous island vistas of Kona — but they're also known for incredibly tough courses. The swim to Alcatraz and back is brutal, held in choppy waters nearly as cold as Lake Dillon, while the World Championships are hot, windy and muggy.

"If you're a triathlete, you're looking for the next bucket-list item," Babbitt said. "You want the hottest and windiest or the one with the coldest water. You come to Dillon, and you'll get the highest-altitude triathlon in the planet."

A lake at the heart

Suffolk and the Human Movement crew are banking on the bucket-list mentality. And, they've already won at least one convert, Eric McElvenny. The San Diego-based athlete and retired Marine lost his leg to an IED in Afghanistan, and, shortly after returning home, he dove headfirst into the Ironman realm. The first one was a struggle, but, ever since then, he's been hooked. He has completed four Ironmans and 10 Half Ironmans, including the Ironman Boulder and Ironman Canada in Whistler, both of which are at altitude. The races become mini vacations for his wife and two children — and he can't wait to bring them through Dillon.

"This is going to be cool, and the town of Dillon is just a beautiful place," said McElvenny, who's an ambassador for Babbitt's Challenged Athletes Foundation. "It's not going to be great or easy, but those are the memories you really hold onto. When you struggle to do something, you grow. Fear of the unknown can motivate you."

Along with triathlons, Suffolk's company specializes in a realm he dubs "active entertainment," events like the Dirty Girl Mud Run in Copper on Sept. 12 and a slate of fun runs, obstacles races and more. They all play with the concept of fear, but, again, he believes the rewards are worth the pain.

"The events that are the classics have one thing in common, and that's their proprietary nature — the Alcatraz's of the world, the Kona's of the world," Suffolk said. "They're events that only happen once per year, and they become musts for anyone who's rode a bike. This is the future of our industry, these proprietary events like 106 West."

The key to it all was earning swim rights on Lake Dillon. This required dozens of meetings with Denver Water, Summit County, the town of Dillon and other local stakeholders, all spread over the past decade. Plans kicked into high gear about two years ago, when Suffolk met with Dillon town manager Tom Breslin to fine-tune the details. Breslin warned Suffolk to "be patient" — reservoir officials have denied serious proposals for recreational swimming several times over the years — but, just a few weeks ago, Denver Water approved the swim leg. The triathlon was in business.

"Being patient isn't always easy, so that was the biggest challenge," Suffolk said. "It will be a decade in the making next year, but it was worth it."