Not just another bike mechanic

Victoria Triathlon offers mix of talent

Saanich’s largest annual sporting event, Subaru Saunders Half Ironman, hits 18th straight year

Matt Patriquin remembers the first triathlon he ever did.

It was four years ago this weekend at Elk Lake.

“Even though I hadn’t done one before, I picked the half-iron,” he recalled over coffee on a break from his day job at Fort Street Cycle.

While he admits tackling such distances – a 1.9-kilometre swim, 90K bike ride and 21.1K run – might have seemed to some a brutal way to break into the sport, it gave him a taste of what he could accomplish in this multi-discipline fitness test.

“You get bitten by the ‘tri bug’ and once you’ve done one, it’s just a matter of when the next ones will happen,” said Patriquin, a Saanich resident. “I don’t know of anyone who has done a triathlon who doesn’t want to do it again.”

In the time since, he’s racked up about 20 or so races, including last month’s Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon, where he finished fifth overall and first in the highly competitive men’s 30 to 34 age class. His time of four hours, 26 minutes, 47 seconds was close to his best half-iron time, set last year at the Saunders Subaru Victoria Triathlon centred at Elk Lake.

Improving one’s performance is a big motivator for most triathletes, Patriquin said, whether at the elite level or competing in their age group, as he does. “I always want to go faster than the last time out,” he said.

The 30-year-old has different goals than say, the elite athlete shooting for a possible Olympic team berth. The ultimate summit for him is Kona, Hawaii, home of the Ironman World Championships.

His immediate goal in preparation for this weekend’s 18th edition of the Victoria Triathlon – the second stage of the five-race Subaru Western Triathlon Series – was to secure one of the 20 spots held for this summer’s sold-out Ironman Canada race in Whistler.

His progress toward that goal was hampered last week, when he was struck by a car as he rode on Admirals Road. He suffered nasty abrasions to his left arm and leg and has a sore hip that he said could bother him in the run. Nonetheless, he hopes to be at the start line at 6:45 a.m. Sunday, ready to dive into the cool water of Elk Lake.

Patriquin is among a field of roughly 1,000 athletes of varying levels competing in one of three separate races that day.

Besides the half-iron category, sprint and Olympic distance events will also be contested – by both individuals and relay teams. That variety has helped make triathlon more accessible.

Paul Regensburg, who came to Victoria in 1999 to start the national triathlon centre and serves as the Subaru series director, said the sport’s profile has definitely changed over the years.

“Fifteen years ago I had to explain to people what was in a triathlon. Now pretty much everyone knows someone who’s done one,” he said.

While the range of athletes competing this weekend is fairly wide, top names confirmed among the men include Andrew Russell of Victoria, who won two international events last summer, and Penticton’s Wade Carlson, who won the Olympic distance at Shawnigan last month. On the women’s side, Karen Thibodeau of Canmore, Alta., who finished second in the Ironman Canada last year, and Victoria’s Janet Nielsen, who placed second at Elk Lake last year, are among the favourites in the half-iron.

Regensburg said Victoria was one of the first longer-distance triathlons in Canada, other than Ironman, which has been in this country for 30 years. Many athletes who target Ironman, however, have used this race as a training vehicle, he said.

Some elite athletes, such as Sara Gross (second at Ironman Brazil recently) and Olympian Brent McMahon, are resting somewhat by competing as part of a relay team for the Victoria race.

Regensburg points out that this race is Saanich’s largest annual sporting event, attracting not only hundreds of athletes, but many of their family members and friends to the race course.

There are plenty of opportunities for spectators to get close to the action. The Hamsterly Beach area at Elk Lake is the transition point for both the bike and the run portions of the event and promises a flurry of activity. There are also innumerable points where well-wishers can cheer athletes on around the Elk/Beaver Lake chip trail and West Saanich Road for the cycling leg.

Competitors always enjoy hearing the cheers and the positive comments along the route, Patriquin said.

It’s all part of the experience, of which the camaraderie and support from fellow athletes are a big part, he added. “Even the people in your category who you’re racing against, we’re all good buddies and we can all appreciate a good performance.”

After 20-odd triathlons Patriquin feels qualified to make that judgment, especially about himself.

“I know what’s involved in having a successful day and what can cause you to have a bad day.”

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