After Mother Nature wiped out the course last July with severe thunderstorms that featured wind gusts in the 103 mph range, the Grand Haven Triathlon will be making its triumphant return to the Lakeshore on Sunday. The event, now in its 13th year, is a part of the West Michigan Triathlon Series.
Race director Ron Knoll expects a strong showing this year, after seeing a bump in early registries last summer before the event was ultimately canceled.
"We're expecting 300-350 athletes when it's all said and done," he said. "I would guess somewhere around 325 would be a reasonable estimate. We had 280 initial entries last year before the storm struck Friday morning. We usually have another 50 or so athletes join during those Friday and Saturday sign-up sessions, so we probably would have been close to 325 last summer."
A big reason for that strong showing is the community that surrounds the event.
"The camaraderie within the triathlon community is amazing," added Knoll. "Everyone is supportive of one another and we all just want to see each other succeed and finish the race. As impressive as the elite performers are to watch, I think I enjoy seeing the first-timers push themselves to the finish line and accomplish something that they've never done before."
There are four options for individual competitors for Sunday's event:
Sprint Triathlon: 500-meter swim, 12.5-mile bike ride and 5K run
Olympic Triathlon: 1,500-meter swim, 25-mile bike, 10K run
Sprint Duathlon: 5K run, 12.5-mile bike ride and 5K run
Olympic Duathlon: 5K run, 25-mile bike ride, 10K run
Athletes are also allowed to create relay teams.
Those interested can register online at www.grandhaventri.com until 11:59 p.m. Friday.
The Tri-Cities YMCA will host in-person registration Saturday from 1-5 p.m.
TAKE YOUR MARKS
The first race kicks off at 7:45 a.m. with the Olympic Triathlon, while all other races will begin at 8:15 a.m.
The transition area opens at 5:30 a.m. and closes at 7:15 a.m. The transition area is located in the grassy field at Mulligan's Hollow, adjacent to the YMCA parking lot. Athletes can pick up their race materials, timing chips, get body marked and receive final instructions from the on-site announcer during that time frame.
There is no race day registration allowed, and there will be no parking allowed in the YMCA parking lot. The Grand Haven State Park parking lot opens for athletes and spectators at 6 a.m. If you don't have an annual state park sticker or license tab, you need to purchase a one-day pass.
Due to beach traffic concerns, some of this year's course will be changed from its previous layout.
"We will no longer be biking on Harbor Drive and Grand Avenue," said Knoll. "We worked with the city and their concern was that we would be interfering with beach traffic and causing potential accidents. So, to counter that, the bikes will exit the back of the YMCA and take Sherman to Sheldon Road and take Sheldon Street south.
"We will have police officers, ham radio operators and volunteers at the intersections to make sure there aren't any issues with oncoming traffic."
The swim will still start at the beach, with participants entering Lake Michigan, and swimming parallel with the shoreline in approximately 6- to 10-feet-deep water. Once exiting the water, the participants run a half-mile on the boardwalk to the transition area at the Tri-Cities YMCA.
After the athletes switch from the biking portion of the race to the final leg of the race, the run course will also exit the YMCA rear parking lot and be taken to the scenic boardwalk.
BEAT THE HEAT
With temperatures in the 90s this past weekend, the concern about extreme heat began to rise, as well. However, the forecast for the triathlon appears to be much more friendly than anticipated.
"It sounds like we're going to have a reprieve from the hot weather," Knoll said. "The last forecast I saw called for partly sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s. That's a lot better than having to battle 90-95 degree heat.
"Regardless of the temperature, we will have multiple aid stations with water, ice chips and Gatorade for the athletes. The ice chips really help bring your core temperature down, because heat usually leaves the body from the top of the head. For those athletes that are wearing hats or beanies on their heads, ice chips can be a welcomed relief from the hot weather."
The triathlon and duathlon is a massive undertaking, utilizing more than 200 volunteers to make it a reality.
More volunteers are needed to help monitor the run and bike courses, as well as supervise the packet pick-up at the YMCA on Friday and Saturday.
If you are interested in volunteering for the event, visit www.grandhaventri.com/volunteers.html. All volunteers will receive a free mesh event shirt and a burger or hot dog at the post-race picnic.
"The volunteers are the ones who make this all possible," added Knoll. "Without them, this event wouldn't run nearly as smoothly as it does. We're hoping to have a few high school and college students help out during the event, too. It makes for an excellent service hours opportunity and gets them involved in the community.
"Volunteering is also a great way for businesses and local clubs to promote their brand and reach out to members of the community."
Those interested can contact Justin Johnson at 616-437-2524 or email him at [email protected]
For further information on Sunday's event, including course maps, rules and procedures, sponsorship information and results, visit www.grandhaventri.com/home.html.