Updated: Jul 15, 2020
Four exciting endurance challenges - two sprint triathlons, two Gran Fondo bike events
One goal I set for myself when I decided to relaunch was to shock my body into thinking it was a lot younger than my chronological age (late 50s). I already had been running for 30+ years and about 15 years ago turned to biking over reasonably long distances (let’s all agree that running is generally boring and a good bike ride is a nice change). I tried my first Gran Fondo biking challenge in 2016 and my first sprint triathlon a year later. Participating in these events has now become part of my relaunch – and the more interesting the better!
I chose the Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo as my “dive into the deep end”. It is a Gran Fondo event that is highly regarded, and if you regularly read my blog, you know I love British Columbia. It also meant that I would be able to ride my bike along the Sea to Sky Highway, which is one of the most beautiful coastal drives in this hemisphere.
If you have never traveled from Vancouver to Whistler along the Sea to Sky Highway, you are missing something. It is 75 miles of big sky, big trees, big water and lots of “oohs” and “aahs”. That is in a moving vehicle, so imagine doing this on a bicycle – nirvana comes to mind!
The great thing about the bike route (and I guess I am being glass half-full guy here) is that it is gentle for the first 60% (from an elevation perspective) and then begins a gradual climb over the last 30 miles. The finish is pretty exhilarating as you roll into Whistler with thousands of spectators cheering wildly. The after party is a blast with burgers, beer and music in a fantastic outdoor space.
My first sprint triathlon was a good “beginner” event in Lavalette, NJ, which is south of Asbury Park and a bit north of Seaside Heights. As an introduction to the sprint tri, this is a perfect event as it is fast and flat with a very easy transition area. The swim is in a fairly docile bay and the bike and run are on courses that are flat as a pancake. The open water swim was an interesting challenge for me because the wind was strong from the west and the swim is point to point going north, so I was always trying to breathe above the whitecaps.
One of the most interesting Gran Fondo events in the Mid-Atlantic region is the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, which departs from Harrisonburg, Virginia. This event offers five courses in a day that range from 36 miles to 110 miles, encompassing elevation changes of 2,200 feet to nearly 10,000 feet. The traffic flow during the event is mild, but you are very likely to get caught up in horse and buggy traffic making its way to Sunday religious services.
The signature route of this event is the Alpine Loop, which is a grueling 110 miles and nearly 10,000 feet of elevation change. I would not recommend this route if you are not practiced at climbing or great distances. My entrée in 2018 was the Mt Solon Metric Century, which is a more gentle route encompassing 3,500 feet of elevation. This year, I graduated to the Shenandoah Mountain Adventure, which stretched my personal best (Vancouver to Whistler) by a few miles and a few feet of elevation. There are several stretches of seven to ten percent grade on both climbs that burn the legs, so also not a course for beginners!
A very picturesque location for a triathlon is the Smithsonian National Research Center, which hosts the Tri for the Chesapeake in September. The event is ideal for beginners – the course is relatively easy with a limited number of participants (400 the day I competed). The swim is in a sheltered cove of the Chesapeake Bay and is an out and back half mile that is not much of a challenge, unless you have no open water experience in salty water (which I do not).
The event does have a challenge in that it is not flat. The ride and run courses are more than undulating with some serious climbs on both. The biking course includes a segment on highway that is a bit distracting and the run course meanders around cornfields over terrain that is more like a cross country course than a sprint challenge course.
I would do any of these events again, but will look for other interesting prospects to report on in the future. Any suggestions from my readers are welcome.