Ironman debuts at Elk Lake this weekend

Saunders Subaru Ironman 70.3 Victoria Triathlon happens Sunday out of Saanich

Vancouver athlete Elliot Holtham won the half-Ironman race of the Saunders Subaru Victoria Triathlon in 2013 at Elk Lake with a record-breaking time of 3:48:41. This year the race is officially operating under the Ironman banner.

It’s a new name, but it’s the same race – for now.

The everlong Saunders Subaru Ironman 70.3 Victoria Triathlon will snake through all three Saanich municipalities on Sunday: Central, North and Saanich proper.

Among the hundreds of hungry athletes is a deep field of elites, though the race is still without the substantial prize purse that goes along with the Ironman name. That may come in future years, as will a few other tweaks since Ironman purchased the five-race Western Triathlon Series in May.

One of the key changes for the Victoria race this weekend is the creation of 75 qualifying spots for the Ironman 70.3 North American Championships in Mt. Tremblant, Que., on Aug. 17.

“It’s a key qualifier for a lot of athletes that want to go to the world championships,” said Keith McGonigal, Ironman’s operations manager for the Western Tri Series. The Bend, Ore., resident has been based out of the new LifeSport building at Elk Lake during the transition. He expects an extra 50 to 65 additional entrants on top of the 330 who participated in the 2013 Victoria Triathlon, though the prize purse is rather modest compared to other Ironman 70.3 (mile) events.

“We’re trying to focus on making sure we’re prepared for the increased number of athletes. It means increased support on the water, medical support, and other areas,” he said.

“We didn’t think it was fair to the athletes who had already set their schedule to bump up the prize purse (so late in the season), but we’re certainly considering it for 2015.”

As it stands, the top three males and females will receive $1,000 for first, $600 for second and $400 for third.

Still, the race will bring out hometown boy Brent McMahon, LifeSport’s star pupil, a favourite to win after he took the Boise and Hawaii 70.3 races in the past two weeks.

Joining the elite field for the 19th year of the race are Andrew Russell, who was second among the men last year, and the 2013 women’s winner Karen Thibodeau, as well as local threats Stephen Kilshaw and Janet Nielson.

Race numbers for Sunday are consistent for the shorter sprint and Olympic distances, which were 236 and 245, respectively, in 2013. It’s rare for Ironman to run a sprint or Olympic distance race, he said, and it’s even more rare to have them on the same day.

“Not much is going to change right now; we just want a successful event,” McGonigal said.

LifeSport, which continues to operate as an elite Triathlon coaching business, created the Tri Series, but sold that part of their business to Ironman. It meant cutting ties with four employees who are dedicated to the race series, though they’ll remain in LifeSport’s snappy new building at Elk Lake.

“(LifeSport) is helping to operate the race in conjunction with Ironman this year, but we do hope to carry on as the official coaches of all five Western Tri Series events for many years coming,” said Paul Regensburg, co-owner of LifeSport. “We built these races and we know them.”

Regensburg and LifeSport own the two-storey office space where Elk Lake Restaurant once sat. It overlooks the starting line of the Ironman 70.3, as well as the starting line Self Transcendence Triathlon (Aug. 3).

There was a possibility that Ironman would lease a 1,400-square-foot loft space in the new LifeSport building, but that opportunity is still open to a new tenant, Regensburg said.

reporter@saanichnews.com

••••

LifeSport explained

Ironman’s recent purchase of the race series’ parent company, LifeSport Properties, means the long distance triathlon previously known as a half-Ironman can now use Ironman’s official 70.3 branding, which refers to the number of miles covered in the race, a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56-mile (90 km) bike ride and 13.1-mile (21.1 km) run.

Victoria is the second of five races in the Western Triathlon Series with coming dates in Saskatoon (June 29), Vancouver (July 13) and Banff (Sept. 6).

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