The success of the ITU World Championship Triathlon in 2009 in the District (above) inspired the launch of the D.C. Triathlon the next year.
In addition to swimming, biking and running, triathletes in Washington have been participating in a new activity recently: complaining.
That’s because two major triathlons in the area have been canceled, wreaking havoc on the schedules of people like Nicole Weidensaul of Locust Grove, Va. “I plan my race season a year in advance,” says the 34-year-old. Her favorite distance is the half-Ironman, so when a new event — the Ironman 70.3 National Harbor — was announced so close by, she made it her goal for August.
But apparently, not enough other people did. Chuck Brodsky, CEO of the company producing the race, says there weren’t enough entrants to keep the books balanced. So Weidensaul and about 1,400 other athletes got emails this month telling them the race was off. “It completely blindsided me,” says Weidensaul, who hasn’t been able to find a different race that works with her timing or her budget.
And it freaked out fellow triathletes who were still digesting the news that the third annual D.C. Triathlon, which was scheduled for June 17, was also a goner. The problem wasn’t participation but permits, explains Brodsky, who was also behind that event. In previous years, the D.C. Tri had received an exemption from a National Park Service rule banning races on the Mall in June. When that didn’t happen this year, the tri was axed forever.
The D.C. Triathlon Club and the YMCA National Capital’s YTri club were in the middle of training programs for the D.C. Tri, so they had to scramble to find a replacement race. They settled on a Maryland event in July.
An even larger issue, however, is what these cancellations mean for the future of triathlons in the area. Brodsky’s Washington Sports & Event Management was responsible for every tri in the city. Now, it’s going in another direction. “We have no plans to produce triathlons going forward,” says Brodsky, who still hopes to launch other physical fitness events.
It’s always been a challenge to put on triathlons in urban settings, particularly D.C., which requires dealing with local and federal authorities. But it’s gotten harder to put on a race anywhere, Brodsky says, as the number of triathlons has multiplied while the number of athletes has plateaued.
Blogger Ray Maker, who posted a detailed account of the Ironman 70.3 National Harbor’s demise — focused on the lack of communication with athletes — can’t help but wonder about the Nation’s Triathlon in September. The seven-year-old event that’s now the only triathlon in town was originally a Brodsky production, but it was sold this year to Competitor Group. (Brodsky’s team has an agreement to assist.) “Are those permits in place?” Maker asks.
According to Molly Quinn of Competitor Group, “everything is full steam ahead,” including a new clinic series. There’s no reason to doubt that it won’t continue to be successful, says Ryan Troll, president of the D.C. Tri Club (the third-largest club in the U.S.). “The city of D.C. can and will sustain at least one triathlon,” he says.
He admits it’s unlikely the city will get another tri soon, given the difficulties in permit wrangling. The club’s even considering moving its practice triathlons from Hains Point to Virginia so more members can participate.
Although it’s nice for athletes to be able to roll out of bed and find themselves at the start line, Troll doesn’t think downtown races are necessary for the sport to thrive. “The energy is still here,” he says. Even if a few races aren’t.
“If people want to race, there’s no excuse not to,” says Greg Hawkins of Set Up Events, which organizes the Maryland Triathlon Series and Virginia Triathlon Series, offering dozens of races within a two-hour drive of D.C., including the General Smallwood International in Indian Head, Md. (the mid-Atlantic club championship).
Set Up Events also has a new sprint tri scheduled for National Harbor in September. Hawkins vows that this race will change public perception of the venue, which hosted the disastrous Hot Chocolate run and now seems cursed after the cancellation of the 70.3 race.
Also in September is the SavageMan Triathlon Festival in Deep Creek Lake, Md. The weekend event consists of an Olympic distance race on Saturday, followed by a notoriously difficult half-Ironman distance race on Sunday. Founder Kyle Yost says the shorter course isn’t nearly as “extreme” as the one on Sunday, so it’s good for beginners. Best of all? There are still spots available.
But Who’s Counting?
When triathletes say “70.3,” they’re talking miles of swimming, biking and running combined. It’s half the distance of a full Ironman.