For nearly 30 years, triathlons have been an established part of any Huntsville summer, from the Canadian National Championships and World Cup races of the early 90s, to the Subaru Chase Series throughout the 2000s, and the Ironman 70.3 held at Deerhurst over the last nine years. Hundreds of thousands of visitors have made the trek to Muskoka during this time to cheer, train and compete on the course affectionately known as “the Beauty and the Beast”, all the while enjoying the many amenities the town has to offer.
But next summer will be different, as the event returns to downtown Huntsville for the first time in a decade. It’s a race weekend that promises to be the one of the biggest and best yet.
Paying homage to the roots of triathlons long past, the updated route will shadow the original course of the Subaru Chase Series with the bulk of the race, including the swim, bike and run transition areas, moving from Deerhurst Resort to the Canada Summit Centre. It’s a change that many anticipate will have an immediate and significant positive effect on local businesses and residents.
“At the end of the day, with the town being the primary stakeholders here in terms of the support they provide from a financial perspective and a staffing level, you want to get the best bang for your buck,” says Community Liaison Director Jon Morton. “A downtown event is a really good way to do that. You get the businesses engaged, you get residents engaged, and you want the event to be where the people are, not ten minutes outside of town. It will be a positive thing for all of the stakeholders involved, the athletes, the residents, everyone.”
The positive community engagement is a sentiment echoed by TriMuskoka president Rich Trenholm, who has been a longtime advocate of bringing the event back to the heart of historic downtown Huntsville. After years of lobbying, the tipping point came this year as a result of planned MTO construction along Highway 60 next summer, effectively eliminating the previous run course out of Deerhurst.
“We’ve been pushing for it for quite some time, to bring the race downtown for more community engagement, more of a community feel, all the while reestablishing the historical downtown finish from the Subaru Chase. There was more of a festive feel then compared to recent years, where social activities were downtown, but most of the race was quite removed and only part of the run came through the downtown core.”
The new course will also eliminate some of the more difficult parts of the bike and run sections, opening up the event to a wider variety of participants while still keeping true to the Ironman tradition of challenging athletes. In particular, the last 15 km on the bike has gone from being one of the most difficult sections of the race – consecutive steep inclines that athletes had to grind through leading back to the transition area at Deerhurst – to being primarily downhill on the new course, giving riders a chance to spin out their legs and keep them fresher for the run portion.
“The course is still tough, but it’s a little bit easier than past years, so hopefully that will intrigue some athletes to come and try Muskoka,” says Race Director Nick Stoehr, who has been overseeing the Muskoka 70.3 since 2011. “We do have that reputation to be a little bit of a harder Ironman course than others, which has always brought some of the athletes out looking for that ultimate challenge. But being a little bit easier this year, taking some of the hills out of the run course and making the last bit of the bike course a little easier, will help athletes continue on and finish their day.”
After the record number of registrants at last year’s 70.3 event, which came on the heels of the cancelled full Ironman despite a signed three-year contract between the Town and Ironman Canada, Morton hopes this summer will continue to rejuvenate the triathlon experience in Muskoka.
“Muskoka is a premiere destination, in Canada and the world, for tourism in general,” says the Community Liaison Director, who himself moved to the area five years ago after previously competing in endurance sports in the region. “It’s a beautiful location to see nature and enjoy the outdoors. On top of that, we have this world-class triathlon event here, and the town has a history of hosting such events. It’s a place that people want to see in general, and that athletes and competitors want to race in.”
The success of this particular event, as always, will come down to the support lent by local businesses and volunteers. For those interested in getting involved, there is a link on the Muskoka Ironman webpage which will become active in the new year. This link will connect volunteers directly to Race Director Stoehr, and will allow residents to pick and choose what they would like to do – from registration, working on the course, or being at the finish line.
“Without the volunteers and captains and community support, we couldn’t put on an event like this, there’s absolutely no way,” says Stoehr. “Year after year, the people of Huntsville, Muskoka and Lake of Bays have offered tremendous support to the event. We truly appreciate all of our volunteers.”
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