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With all the hubbub this week over the outgoing Super League Triathlon (canceled Monday) and returning Ironman Canada triathlon (confirmed Tuesday for 2020), one might forget that the only remaining single-day triathlon in 2019 happens this Sunday morning.
It's called the Peach Classic Triathlon, and it's been a Penticton staple for 37 years. And that, says race director and local endurance sports guru Steve Brown, makes it the longest running individual triathlon in the province.
And you still have time to sign up. Though online registration is now closed and early bird prices are a thing of the past, you can still get in by going to Peach City Runners at 214 Main Street before 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Then show up at the event's Rotary Park HQ and transition area by 6 a.m. the next morning.
The current guise of the Peach Classic has something for virtually every level of performance athlete. The "Standard" distance encompasses a 1.5-kilometer swim, a 40-kilometer bike ride, and a 10-kilometer run. The "Sprint" distance is precisely half that length. And the recently introduced "Aqua/Bike" discipline eliminates the knee-knocking run portion altogether, asking competitors to cover a 1.5-kilometer swim and a 40-kilometer bike ride.
Participants enjoy a fully-supported morning, with plenty of first aid stations and traffic control personnel where it's needed. Afterward, everyone gets lunch, a gift, and a finisher's medal at a fun-filled post-race award ceremony.
And the course is straight-up gorgeous. The swim takes you along the Okanagan Lake shoreline from Rotary Park to the SS Sicamous. The bike sends you into the glorious Naramata Bench. And the run sends you in the same direction, but this time along the scenic KVR Trail. There's not a bad spot on the route.
"It's been around for 37 years," said Brown this morning during a walk down memory lane. "It was started back in the day by people like (athlete turned race announcing legend) Steve King, and Lyn Van Ert (now Lynn Van Dove) in '83. Lyn was also one of the originators in bringing Ironman to Penticton. No one had really heard of the triathlon 'til she started it."
"It was originally called the Beach Classic. Back then, the swim started at the Sicamous and came out where 'The Peach' is now. The bike course ran out through the industrial area and turned around near Okanagan Falls. And the run course, as I recall, used to go out the highway, up Sage Mesa (an absolutely brutal hill), across the West Bench, and back down."
Brown was involved for a period of time, but stepped away for several years. Then four years ago, he got together with current Granfondo race director Jeff Plant and bought it from the Peach Classic Race Society. "They'd just run out of money and resources," he says.
Recently, Peach Classic registration has hovered near the 320 mark, a decent number but well short of the event's heyday of 700 to 800 athletes. And that, says Brown, is a function of too many competing triathlons in too many other towns. "We've lost quite a few athletes, many of them from Alberta."
But this year, registration has already surpassed the 350 mark. That's getting closer to the 500 organizers would like to see. At that point, the tremendous costs of holding a fully supported modern triathlon are more easily offset.
"Just this year alone, the cost between traffic management, porta-potties, fencing, medals, the food, all the stuff that goes into it, has jumped up around $6000 from last year. So we'd like to attract more people or we'll have to jack up the prices or look at other options."
Brown also had some opinions on the returning giant known as Ironman Canada. He wasn't happy the announcement ceremonies didn't include speakers from the local endurance sport community. And he'll be downright bitter if the event doesn't stick the aforementioned Steve King in the announcer's booth.
"Steve King needs to be the main announcer. If not, they're going to face massive blowback from the athletes and local volunteers."
"But Ironman has a cookie-cutter approach to their races. They want to hear the word Ironman as much as possible. Steve King gives the athlete's life story as he crosses the finish line. The athletes love to hear it. But they're only interested in 'You are an Ironman.' They say they've learned some lessons, and I hope they learned that one."
And he cautions people to moderate their numbers expectations.
"I keep seeing people bandying around numbers like 3,000 in the first year. The reality is that Ironman never had 3,000 people here."
"There are a lot of races across North America now. It's watered down a bit. Now, a lot of them will stay closer to home."
"But if and when they end up with a full (triathlon) and a half (triathlon) - and that's not going to happen in the first year, by the way - then you'll probably get good numbers. Maybe 2600 or more."
Brown also weighed in on the demise of Super League, saying he's not terribly surprised.
"Nobody understood it. I'm involved in the sport and I never understood it. They seem to love that stuff in Australasia and Europe, but the reality is that Ironman dominates North America."
For more information on the 2019 Peach Classic Triathlon and the supremely beautiful course upon which it unfolds, head to the website.