Organizers overcome last-minute cycling route change

Triathlon: Event expected to raise around $12,000 for KidSport Okotoks

By: By Ian Tennant

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 09, 2014 12:58 pm

Competitors in the Natural High Triathlon had to first swim 500m in the lake at Crystal Shores on Saturday. Male contestants are seen here at the start of their race, which called for two laps around a circle marked by buoys.
Competitors in the Natural High Triathlon had to first swim 500m in the lake at Crystal Shores on Saturday. Male contestants are seen here at the start of their race, which called for two laps around a circle marked by buoys.
Ian Tennant/OWW

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Completing a rigorous test of swimming, cycling and running in one day is a big accomplishment, but organizers of the Natural High Triathlon may have realized a bigger accomplishment by just making sure the event took place Saturday.

A number of major hurdles were thrown at the team of volunteers assembled by Natural High Fitness & Athletics, none bigger than the literally last-minute change to the cycling route.

That alteration may have contributed to nine crashes involving cyclists, something “that’s never happened before,” said Andrew Gustafson, owner and managing director of Natural High Fitness & Athletics.

There were no serious injuries resulting from the nine accidents — just “some road rash,” said Gustafson — even though one cyclist collided with a truck and another ran into a town bylaw officer.

Town officials could not be reached for comment.

Gustafson had just completed his safety briefing for triathlon competitors at around 8:15 a.m., including information about navigating construction traffic and steel plates on Ranch Road, when he was told that a construction crew had just placed cement barricades across Ranch Road. A portion of the road behind the barricades was subsequently dug up.

Gustafson delayed the start of the women’s 500m swimming event at Crystal Shores lake while his team huddled to come up with an alternative route for the cycling portion of the triathlon.

The original plan, proposed by the town’s bylaw officers, Gustafson said, had cyclists heading west on Milligan Drive through the intersection with 32nd Street and on to Ranch Road. After a couple loops on Ranch Road the cyclists would finish their 20km ride at the Crystal Shores Beach House before dismounting for a five kilometre run.

As it turns out, a stretch of Milligan Road to the beginning of Ranch Road is roughly two kilometre. Cyclists were told to head west from the Beach House to the mouth of Ranch Road and back, a total of four kilometre, and complete that loop five times.

Gustafson acknowledged the last-minute route must have been “a real headache for the community” as drivers tried to turn north from Milligan Drive on to Crystal Shores Drive, 32nd Street and Crystal Green Rise.

But it was also a major headache for volunteers, he added, who had to be pulled from the Ranch Road section to monitor another road they were not trained to cover, and for the town’s bylaw officers who were helping with traffic congestion.

“It’s not fair to them (volunteers), and it’s not fair to the community and it’s not fair to the cyclists,” lamented Gustafson.

Normally, with a longer route cyclists are more spread out and it’s easier to allow drivers to cross Milligan Drive, Gustafson noted. The road race had to be stopped a couple of times to let motorists through at key intersections.

Triathlon organizers were also up against the clock, required to vacate the Crystal Ridge Beach House and parking lot by noon. With that deadline in mind, and the delay caused by the last-minute cycling route change, Gustafson started the men’s swimming event immediately after the last woman exited the lake. The normal 10 to 15-minute gap between swimming events was abandoned, resulting in “all the bikers on the road at the same time.”

Gustafson said hindsight is 20-20 and maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to start the men’s swimming so soon after the women, resulting in cyclists bunching up on Milligan Drive. Many cyclists were also not sure whether to pass slower riders on the left or the right.

To further add to their troubles, Gustafson arrived early Saturday morning to find a few cars still parked at the Beach House so volunteers had to set up the staging area, where competitors grab their bikes after the swim, around the vehicles.

“If there are 100 things that could go wrong, 90 of them did,” joked Gustafson on Monday.

Then another crisis emerged: the barbecue Natural High Fitness had hired did not show up. A quick call to Okotoks Rentals and another barbecue was delivered, allowing organizers to feed contestants 370 free burgers, which in turn raised $1,200 for KidSport Okotoks.

“At the end of the day we got a ton of compliments on the race,” said Gustafson, and “we did a good job for our charity.”

He said the final total to be donated to KidSport Okotoks, which helps local athletes purchase sporting equipment or pay fees, should be around $12,000.

The confusion over the cycling route prompted Gustafson on Sunday to start planning a new route,

“So next year we’ll go out in the country again,” he said, hopeful the triathlon will get approvals from the province, the MD of Foothills, and the RCMP to use Highway 2A.

As for the triathlon itself, the men’s winner was Vincent Lachance with an overall time of 52:48.8, nearly seven minutes faster than second-place finisher Dave van Reeuwyk.

On the women’s side, Sarah MacArthur claimed first place with a time of 59:47.5.

For the Try A Tri event — where competitors tackled a 250 metre swim, a 10 kilometre bike ride and a 2.5 kilometre run to determine if a full triathlon is in their future — Parker Young was the top male with a total time of 30:40.7 and Kathyrn Strilchuk the top female at 42:50.5.

The triathlon for kids aged 10 to 13 years old had contestants swimming 200 metres, riding 2.5 kilometres and running one kilometre. The top female was Abby Young with an overall time of 17:01.7 and the top male was Nate Kornelsen with a time of 16:27.0.

For kids aged six to nine, their triathlon consisted of a 75 metre swim in chest-deep water, a 750 metre bike ride and a 750 metre run. The top two finishers were Evonne Henning with a time of 9:54.0 and Jacques Henning at 10:23.2.

Natural High captured the team portion of the triathlon with an overall time of 1:01:12.42.


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