Beginner Tri for MS kicks off triathlon season in Saanich

Sunday's event at Commonwealth Place is the first of four triathlons in Saanich this summer

The Saanich triathlon season opens this weekend with the Beginner Tri for MS at Saanich Commonwealth Place on Sunday morning.

It’s the first of four triathlons in Saanich this summer including the Subaru Ironman 70.3 on June 12, the Xterra cross triathlon on July 10 and the region’s oldest triathlon, the Self Transcendence Triathlon and Duathlon on July 31.

That excludes St. Andrew’s School’s Tin Man Triathlon, for students of John Stewart’s triathlon class, and the Kids of Steel Triathlon in the summer.

All those are in Saanich only, and yet it wasn’t long ago there was only one triathlon in the region, the Self Transcendence.

After 36 years, the Self Transcendence looked to have run its last lap around Elk Lake in 2015. The triathlon’s volunteer organizing committee, many of them in their elder years, cited burnout. Most are Sri Chimmoy Centre disciples led by race director Sumitra McMurchy, who made the tentative announcement one year ago that the 2015 edition would be the last.

By race day, however, the crew sang a different tune, announcing the race would indeed be back for 2016.

“I guess you could say that it is an example of Sri Chinmoy’s adage to ‘never give up,’ McMurchy said. “We are a small group here in Victoria and despite tremendous help from volunteers in the local community and from other Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team members in Seattle, Vancouver and other parts of Canada, we felt after organizing the race for 36 years, it was getting to be too much for us.”

Rumours abounded of several groups ready to jump in and take over the race, which offers Olympic (1.5 kilometre swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run) and sprint distance (half Olympic) triathlons and a duathlon (bike, run, bike), as well as a junior age triathlon. However, it was unlikely the new organizers would be able to match the triathlon’s status as a grassroots, non-profit race.

In particular, it would be hard to match the popular Finish Line Cafe, a free buffet for competitors that offers made-to-order pancakes, fruit, granola, muffins and more.

In the end, members of the Sri Chinmoy centres in Seattle and Vancouver are stepping up to help continue what is likely Canada’s longest-running triathlon, taking on a more active role in the organizing of the race.

This year the Self Transcendence is seeking stories of inspiration from triathletes new or experienced, in an effort to reach out to the local triathlon community.

“Competition often inspires us to do our best – it is the collective effort that can be very inspiring. That is the atmosphere that we try to establish in our race,” McMurchy said.

For those looking to entertain the idea of a long-distance triathlon, the Beginner Tri at Commonwealth Place is an easy start.

The non-timed, non-competitive event is designed as a stress-free simulation with a 500m lane swim in Commonwealth, a 17.5-km bike (two 8.75-km laps) around West Saanich and a four-km out-and-back run/walk to Beaver Lake.