Triathlon reaches finish line after 37 years

Organizers announce Self Transcendence Triathlon won't return to Saanich in 2017

John McManus takes part in the cycling portion of the 2015 Self Transcendence Triathlon. McManus was the volunteer webmaster for the Self Transcendence Triathlon

What is believed to be the longest running triathlon in Canada has now come to an end.

Organizers for the 37-year-old Self Transcendence Triathlon at Elk Lake have officially announced that 2016 was the last year for the race.

It comes as somewhat of a surprise, as race director Sumitra McMurchy had previously declared the 2015 race would be the last, only to see the event bounce back for 2016 as ‘the triathlon that wouldn’t die.’

The main reason for the triathlon’s end is that McMurchy is in her late 80s, and most of the small organizing team – who are all members of the local Sri Chinmoy Centre in Oak Bay – are ready to move on from the race they’ve been running since 1980.

It’s unlikely that it will come back, at least not as the Self Transcendence.

“It’s been a very hard decision,” said the race director, who is unable to pass the responsibilities on due to a number of factors. “We are very grateful for all the volunteers, the kind words, and the happy participants over the years.

“The hardest part, without speaking for the rest of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, is losing that contact with so many people in the community.”

It was only with the help of members from neighbouring Sri Chinmoy centres in Vancouver and Seattle, that the 2016 race happened.

When the race started in 1980, just six years after the first triathlon in San Diego, it was one of many extreme physical endurance events created and executed by the international Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team. There are very few Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team events remaining around the world. Most, including a 24-hour race once held in Victoria, are long defunct.

“We never put this race on thinking it was a business or to make money out of it,” McMurchy said previously.

The name for the race came from Chinmoy, the spiritual leader who taught meditation and also believed in the self transcendence that occurs through feats of physical endurance. Chinmoy, who died in 2007, even visited Saanich for the triathlon’s 20th anniversary.

While it was highly anticipated by local athletes, the Self Transcendence Triathlon and duathlon at Elk Lake also had its challenges.

Its marquee event was the Olympic-distance triathlon, a 1.5-kilometre swim, 40km bike and 10km run. It also offered a sprint triathlon (half the Olympic distances), a junior-aged triathlon and a duathlon (running, cycling, running). In total, the not-for-profit race needed about 320 participants to break even. Some years it would exceed that number.

It also depended on about 100 volunteers each year.

From the start, the picturesque 10km running loop around Elk and Beaver lakes fit perfectly with the Olympic distance and set the triathlon up for success. The sandy launch of Hamsterly Beach is an ideal swim start and the large grassy area easily accommodates hundreds of bicycles for the transition area. The same Hamsterly Beach has been home to the Subaru Victoria Triathlon 70.3 (half Ironman) for more than a decade although that race used Beaver Lake as a staging area this year.

Among the biggest costs was the $6,000 for third-party traffic control on the 40km bike route, and out-and-back loop that followed Brookleigh Road to Oldfield and West Saanich Road, then ran up to the airport and back.

Without the bike route, an event is much more manageable, which is why the organizers are seeking feedback from former and would-be participants about a swim-run aquathon, possibly for Aug. 6.

However, McMurchy says even an aquathon event is looking unlikely.

If it did happen this year, the annual triathlon would have taken place on July 30, the Sunday of the long weekend.

“It was 37 wonderful years and I just want to thank all the supporters and volunteers, the people who do the shirts, the printing, the massage therapists, the registration, the markers, the marshals, the St. John’s Ambulance volunteers, the CRD, the sponsors who give in kind, the list goes on and on,” McMurchy said. “Above all, I thank the athletes.”

For more information visit victoriatriathlon.com.

 

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