For the last 30 years, the Heart of the Rockies Triathlon (formerly known as the Windermere Loop Triathlon) has graced the shores of Lake Windermere and for race director Bruce Stroud, the best part has been seeing the evolution of the participants.
“The most amazing thing, after running it for 30 years, is that I am now — as a result of starting the Young Hearts Triathlon — getting the grandchildren of competitors I had in the ’80s [participating],” Stroud said. “That’s pretty amazing.”
Stroud first started the event in 1983 after attending his first triathlon in Red Deer Alberta. After returning home from what was described as a bit of a messy event, Stroud decided the Columbia Valley needed a triathlon of its own. The first event was by his own admission pretty unorganized, but with only 56 participants the need for bike racks, transition areas and electronic timer devices wasn’t as urgent.
“We sort of stumbled along… there weren’t a lot of rules,” Stroud said. “It was a very low-key event, but it was a start.”
In 1984, what remains an integral part of the event to this day was introduced — the team relay — which was held on a separate weekend. Seventy-five teams signed up for that initial event, which alleviated some of the physical strain on participants by assigning different team members to different sections of the triathlon. By 1991, Stroud had 156 relay teams take part.
The original course actually required the swimmers to be bussed to the starting location of Timber Ridge Beach, which caused all kinds of problems before the route was changed in 1993 to an out-and-back format as opposed to a straight-ahead swim.
The original course saw swimmers exit the lake at the original Lakeside Inn and begin their cycle through Invermere and onto Westside Road before turning onto Highway 93/95. The 12-kilometre run would then begin at the Windermere Loop Road and continue east, running along the foot of Mount Swansea.
“The Windermere Loop was a little unwieldy, using Highway 93/95 and being on the long weekend,” Stroud said. “From there, we’ve seen so many changes to what we now believe is an incredible course.”
Fast forward a number of successful years to 2006 when the Heart of the Rockies Triathlon was born. Stroud said a number of athletes had been clamouring for an official sanctioned Olympic-distance race so the decision was made to change the event to the Heart of the Rockies Triathlon after 23 years.
“While on a training ride around the lake one beautiful summer day, looking across the lake from Westside Road on to the Fairmont Range, an appropriate name for this new triathlon hit home,” Stroud explains on the triathlon’s website. “It was that slogan, ‘In the heart of the Canadian Rockies,’ that inspired the name of the new event, which became known as Heart of the Rockies Triathlon. I’m not sure if Invermere is geographically located in the ‘Heart of the Canadian Rockies’, but it is for me.”
Along with the new name came a host of other changes. The start and finish lines, and the transition areas, were moved to James Chabot Provincial Park. For the past three years, the event has also featured a kids’ event called the Young Hearts Triathlon for children aged five to 15 and, in 2010, the current course was established to avoid some of the pitfalls on the previous course, which included a railway crossing. The final addition came in 2011 when the half-distance sprint event was also added and Stroud feels that where the race is now is where it should stay for a number of years.
“I think we have the standard course now that people can come back to year after year,” Stroud said.
For the upcoming event on Sunday (July 15), Stroud said he has 179 children signed up for the Young Hearts section, 40 relay event teams and about 210 individual participants. Adult participants are welcome to register right up to the morning of the event and Stroud encourages everyone to participate either as a racer or a spectator, and said the event caters to athletes of all skill levels.
“The whole thing is bringing these people together and providing them with an objective,” Stroud said. “We don’t put the pressure on like a lot of these races… there’s a familiarity — we’re not eliminating anyone, the athlete, the family and the spectators are all together.”
For more information on the triathlon, visit the official website www.heartoftherockiestri.ca.