As a professional long distance triathlete, my dream is the same as most pros in my shoes: to make it to Kona someday. How do I get there? Well, I have to be really good! Only the top 35 female long distance athletes will qualify. More specifically, to make it to Kona as pro, I need to race the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events and accumulate enough points from these races to qualify. That's at least 2 Ironman events and a handful of Ironman 70.3s each year. AND I'd need to have outstanding performances in all of them (we're talking top 5 or better). You would think that I would forego Ontario based events and just focus on these races, but I don't.
Here are a few reasons why I have included Ontario races in my schedule and will continue to include them moving forward:
1. They prepare you for your longer "A" races. As a coach and an athlete, I know that you can't go into your "A" event completely prepared if you haven't done any other races within the previous 2-4 weeks. My best Ironman 70.3 events have always been preceded by a race 2 weeks before. Local sprint races are great to dust of the cobwebs, test out equipment you have only used in training, practice transitions under pressure, calm your nerves, etc. For Ironman 70.3 Calgary on July 24th I will compete at both MultiSport Welland Long Course and Gravenhurst Olympic to get myself in a good position to be fit and prepared for Calgary.
2. It's convenient. Nothing beats being able to sleep in your own bed, eat home cooked food, drive familiar roads to a race. Compare that to having to travel far distances or possibly even fly. Or having to sleep in a hotel you've never been to before. Having to rely on unfamiliar food, surroundings, language barriers, terrain are some other possible obstacles. Why travel so far for a race when you have the option to race somewhere close by?
3. The Community. If you compete at enough local races, the race crew, the athletes and even the volunteers start to become familiar. It feels like you are part of a big family. People saying "hi" every time you turn around, spectators calling out your name to cheer for you when you are out on the course (and not just because it's on your bib). Even people you haven't seen in ages are friendly and chatting (more so after the race though!). The point is that the atmosphere is just right to give you a bit of a boost. Think "home court advantage" for a sports team. I have been to races where I knew absolutely no one. It wasn't the right energy for a race, it felt more like a big training day. I crossed the finish line, no friends or family or familiar faces. After the event, I got in my car and drove back to where I was staying, packed up my bike, then flew home the next day. Not a great experience.
4. Less of an expense. Ontario race: gas + maybe a hotel + race registration = $75 to $350. Compare that to some races that include paying for a flight or gas + hotel + food + race and you are looking at a minimum of $1000! Enough said.
5. You can train on the course if it's an "A" race. Instead of heading to the States for a late season half-ironman, I am targeting Barrelman as my half-ironman distance event for the end of summer. This means that I can train on the course before the event. Familiarity definitely helps performance. And, more importantly, calms the nerves. It's hard to be able to fit in driving the course before a half-ironman when it's a far-away destination, let alone get experience biking on it. The unfamiliarity of a race venue can be nerve-wracking!
6. Getting into (or back into) the sport. A local race is a great way to get into the sport of triathlon. If you are intimidated by triathlon or new to it, the last place you want to compete in your first event is at a massive event. At a local race, you find tons of people who are new to the sport. I remember racing Multisport's Toronto Triathlon and race director John Salt asked who was doing their first race and almost 50% of the athletes raised their hand! The athlete who has been out of the sport for awhile (injury or life circumstance or growing a family) can very easily get back into things with a local race. After my knee surgery, the Multisport Bracebridge event provided the PERFECT atmosphere for getting back into the sport. There were some super fast athletes who I knew could push me, but there was a "this is so fun" mentality to most athletes that put me at ease. You just don't find that at some of the larger international events.
There are many, many other reasons: you recover faster from a race you don't have to travel far to get to, you support your local triathlon community when you race there, the ability to make friends and find training partners, some inter-province club competition...and I could go on! The point is, that while the experience of competing and finishing an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 event is great, it's just as great to compete and finish a local race! Look for me at Welland, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Toronto and Barrelman this year.