Life on Two Wheels: 67-year-old Lydia Young at the 106° West half-Ironman
September 30, 2016
Editor's note: For countless Summit County residents, a bicycle is more than a machine — it's a lifestyle. Every week during the summer, we'll ask our most adventurous residents, "Where has your bike taken you?"
When Lydia Young was about 8 or 9 years old, she and her family took a road trip across Colorado from their hometown of Walden near the Wyoming border. The trip took them through Summit County and past the soon-to-be basin of Dillon Reservoir. At the time, the reservoir didn't exist — Denver Water turned the large, flat valley at the heart of Summit into a lake in 1963 — and she vividly remembers the cabins, homes and businesses of Old Dillon wheeling to a new site on the reservoir's edge.
"I have this picture in my head of these houses on wheels, of them getting ready to move the houses away from where the reservoir would go," Young remembered. "I've always felt like, 'This is my lake, my water,' and when I heard they were having a swim on Lake Dillon. I wanted to be there."
At 67 years old, Young became the second-oldest competitor (and oldest female) at the inaugural 106° West Triathlon, the first half-Ironman in Summit and the only event approved for an open-water swim on her lake. And so, when the triathlon made its debut on Sept. 10 under perfect, crystalline skies, the 10-year resident of Summit Cove had to be there — even if it meant finishing the 1.2-mile swim with a 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. There was the option of a quarter-Ironman, but why take the easy route when she never has before?
"I learned a lot about nutrition, I learned a lot about myself and what I can do," Young told me on another crystalline day, two weeks after the triathlon, when we met in Frisco. "My friends told me, 'Do it until you're not having fun. If you get in for the swim and get out, and that's when you decide to quit, that's fine.'"
The retired first grade teacher paused and smiled, a sweet, charming, disarming reflection of the hard-as-nails single mother who picked up masters swimming in Denver when her son was 3 years old, met her current husband, Warren, on a bike trip to Canyonlands in Utah, and competed in her first triathlon when her son went to college and she retired from teaching. It's been one thing after the other, after the other for Young, and she wouldn't have it any other way.
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"But then you get there and you get into the groove of things," Young continued. "I said, 'I'm going to keep running until they tell me I can't anymore.'"
Final finisher, final Ironman
Before diving into the reservoir, Young dove into the wild, time-consuming world of training for her first half-Ironman.
"It really does rule your life," said Young, who cut back on swimming with the masters group at Breckenridge rec center to focus on biking and running. "I'd been up to Montezuma, I know where every hole is at in that road, so I kept working at it."
Young knew she couldn't just get off the couch and finish the half-Ironman, let alone compete. After that first triathlon in her early 50s — she split the swim, bike and run with her 70-year-old mother and another friend — she tempted a half marathon in Moab, where she and her husband spend time when they aren't in Summit Cove. The race, dubbed the Thelma and Louise Half Ironman, was a last-minute decision.
"I thought the night before the race, 'I should go and do this,'" Young said. "I was the last person to make the time cut off, but I made it, and I actually sort of enjoyed it. It was so pretty — the canyons and this drum group and the echoing off the walls."
She admits that she bonked and bonked hard at the Thelma and Louise, but that experience convinced her to take training more seriously the next time she wanted to run or bike a long distance. From April to September she spent more time in the saddle and on the trail than ever before, and when the half-Ironman arrived she was simply ready to finish.
"I was exhausted," Young said. "My body just can't take this anymore, but part of the upside of training is learning more about yourself. I learned so much about nutrition — I didn't want to bonk like I did at the half-marathon in Moab — and it helped."
It made 70.3 miles slightly easier, but not by much. Young remembers how windy the second bike lap felt, and it was the only time she considered calling it quits. She felt energized when she started the run leg, but the cut-off time was fast approaching and the race director, Travis Dray, warned her she had little chance of making it.
"I said, 'I'm going to be 68 years old. If I don't do this this year, there's no way I'm going to make it next year,'" she remembered. "I'm not going to collapse, but I am going to finish."
And she did. After 8 hours, 55 minutes and 49 seconds on the lake, road and recpath, Young crossed the line at the Dillon Marina as the final finisher. She didn't cross alone: On her final running lap, she was joined by a bike paramedic, then another, and then finally a trio from the last aid station.
"I just have a hard time accepting that I got this old. When did this happen?" Young said before beating me outside for photos in her hard-earned 106° West gear. "I guess it's partly being stubborn. But, even with swimming, no matter how hard I train I'm just not getting faster. I go to these national meets with my girlfriends — the husbands don't come — and it becomes a girl's weekend. You get in there and think, 'I'm not a very competitive person,' but then you start saying, 'I have to do my best.' That's partly the teacher in me."
Will she do it again? Another smile.
"This was my first, last and only half-Ironman."
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