Racers from all over western Canada and beyond are set to descend on the valley on July 12 for Heart of the Rockies, an annual triathlon.
While some competitors will be swimming, biking and running in Invermere for the first time, many others have made the event a regular part of their summer plans for years. Amber McKain, a participant from Calgary, said she is looking forward to her third appearance at Heart of the Rockies.
“I train every single day,” McKain said. “For the past four weeks, I have been training about two to three hours a day.”
McKain first decided to sign up for Heart of the Rockies in 2013, when she was looking for something healthy she could do, while also avoiding the temptation of the Calgary Stampede. She had never done a triathlon before, but she loved spending time in Invermere, so she decided to sign up for the sprint triathlon (a half triathlon) and give it a try.
“It was really amazing and inspiring, just being around so many athletes,” McKain said. “I did not train enough for it that year, but I absolutely loved it and it really motivated me to sign up again.”
Weeks after she completed the sprint, McKain received a letter from race organizer Bruce Stroud, telling her how honoured he was that she chose to do his race as her first triathlon. Along with the letter, he sent McKain a gift card to buy a new pair of running shoes for her next race.
“It was actually so amazing,” McKain said with a chuckle. “I did go out and buy those runners. I set a goal the next year to take 17 minutes off my time, and I happily did it 19 minutes faster in those runners.”
This year, McKain will be doing the Olympic length triathlon for the first time. She said she is looking forward swimming in the pristine lake and hearing locals cheer her on as she cycles through town.
“It has been amazing, because everyday for the past eight months, I have woken up knowing that I have this goal,” McKain said.
Kenton Wilkinson, another annual Heart of the Rockies participant, inherited his love for the event at a young age from his father, Joel Wilkinson.
“My dad has been doing it for 25 or so years,” Wilkinson said. “I grew up watching him. Once I got old enough and good enough to do the longer races, I started to do this one.”
Wilkinson said part of what keeps him coming back is the natural beauty surrounding the course.
“Some races I have done are kind of bleak and flat, and they are just on highways in the prairies,” Wilkinson said. “This race is really special.”
He said one of the big differences racers can expect with Heart of the Rockies is the swimming portion, which allows racers to take to Lake Windermere.
“The swim is always chaos, no matter where you do it, but it is nice to do it in a clear lake, where it is warm and it is not super deep,” Wilkinson said.
Like McKain, Wilkinson said a big reason he is so attached to the event is the close-knit, welcoming atmosphere created by the organizers and the participants alike.
“It is nice to be able to know the organizers, so we can show up and talk to them, as well as the other racers who have been coming back for years,” Wilkinson said.
According to Wilkinson, Heart of the Rockies is all about camaraderie and support among the participants.
“This is more like the old days, as my dad would say, where you show up and hang out with the people, and then go and challenge yourself in the triathlon,” Wilkinson said. “After, it does not matter what place you got. It is all really positive.”
To learn more about Heart of the Rockies, check out heartoftherockiestri.ca.