Costa Rican triathlon racer lands in Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

Costa Rican triathlon racer lands in Steamboat Springs

Dave Shively

Mónica Umaña forgot her wet suit for the 2007 Steamboat Springs Triathlon on August 26 but earned a fourth-place female overall finish.
On July 15, Costa Rica’s Mónica Umaña, No. 24, took the 23rd overall female spot at the 2007 Pan American Games triathlon event, which ran along Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana Beach.

Steamboat Springs — Triathletes like Mónica Umaña don't loaf around much. — Triathletes like Mónica Umaña don't loaf around much.

— Triathletes like Mónica Umaña don’t loaf around much.

The 29-year-old native of San Jose, Costa Rica, has an “offseason” that lasts all of two weeks before she begins her base cardio training for another season of triathlon competition. Her racing endeavors take the powerfully petite woman with the welcoming smile around the reaches of the Western Hemisphere.

Before she looks ahead, she can look back at a year highlighted by memories of racing along Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana Beach at July’s 2007 Pan American Games or sprinting through ancient olive groves in Andalucia, Spain, at the Ibero American Championships.

But the race that capped off a breakthrough year for the Costa Rica national triathlon team member was her finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships on Nov. 10 in Clearwater, Fla. Umaña took 16th place in her age division.

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With the finish, Umaña is now looking to move beyond Olympic distance triathlons, typical of the international games, to the longer distances of the 70.3 “half Ironman” races (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, 13.1-mile run).

“I feel like if I am doing a sprint distance, there’s not enough time to really warm up,” Umaña said. “I finish, and I feel like I could do more … you get older and your body becomes more adjusted to support longer distances.”

Umaña thinks she probably could have done more after this summer’s Steamboat Springs Triathlon, especially if she would have remembered the wetsuit she left behind for the frigid swim across Lake Catamount.

Umaña still posted a fourth-place overall female time in 1 hour, 48 minutes, 4 seconds. This would qualify Umaña’s time as the fastest from a Steamboat Springs local – that is, if you consider her one. Umaña first arrived in Steamboat at the end of 2005, when the town was buried in a certain champagne fluff she hadn’t ever seen growing up in San Jose.

“The snow was blowing on Rabbit Ears (Pass), and you couldn’t see – it was like driving through a tunnel,” Umaña said of her first snowstorm experience after she had met Steamboat’s Joe Frisch at a swim competition in Costa Rica and flew stateside for a visit.

Umaña can’t exactly set down roots with her constant international competition and business schedule. With a bachelor’s degree in human nutrition and a master’s in physical education from the Universidad de Costa Rica, she keeps up with the clients of her online nutrition consulting business from abroad, but often has to fly to Costa Rican race sites to set up the meal stations her business designs.

In the time she does spend here, Umaña has stayed busy with training and passes down a little race knowledge with the Horizons Specialized Services swim program.

“I’ve seen her work with clients, and she’s great,” said Ginny Cannon, Horizons’ day program coordinator for Routt County. “She’s been excellent with our clients. She’s a unique person, and it’s obvious she has good skills and is able to teach those skills.”

Fellow competitors in local races have also learned to watch out for Umaña. At the Sept. 2 10K at 10,000 Feet run, despite having car troubles, Umaña rode her bike to the Rabbit Ears Monument start and managed a second-place overall female finish.

Since her career competing for her nation began with a 2003 trip to the World University Games in South Korea, the Federacion Unida de Triatlon Costa Rica has funded everything from a first-place finish at the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games to competitive bids around the globe up to the level of her multiple Pan American Games appearances. But the national support for the current Olympic-qualifying cycle concluding with the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games ends there. The cost for competing and gaining Olympic qualifying points at 10 ITU Triathlon World Cups (only four of the 15 of which are in Latin or North America) is left to the individual Costa Rican athlete and his or her sponsors.

So Umaña will continue racing locally and at whatever events she can for the national team abroad while training with the longer “half Ironman” podiums in mind.

If anything, another talented world-class athlete finding Steamboat as a cross-training haven can provide the outsider’s perspective of just how fortunate local racers are to have safe, abundant and wide-open training spaces.

“I feel so safe here riding my bike,” Umaña said. “Because of security you could never ride alone in Costa Rica or your bike might get stolen. For a 90K ride, you’d have to drive an hour from the city, and in San Jose, it was just four-mile loops on the highway – but a very quiet part of the highway. … Here I can just get on my bike and ride.”

– To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253 or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com