Challenge St Andrews – My Reflections

Our triathlon in St Andrews will forever be known to me as Challenge St Andrews as that’s where it all started on the day that Scott & Tressa signed the contact with Felix and Kathryn to be Challenge St Andrews. We felt on top of the world, a major branded race in St Andrews, all we had to do now was figure out how to pull it off.

The amazing Clayton Clark and Ellie about to cross the finishing line of the 2013 Tri St Andrews.

Exciting times indeed, little did we know what lay ahead in terms of weather issues, working with Professional athletes and World Champions racing with us but before I explore this let’s take a couple of steps back.

A few memories along the way.

In 2013 we ran a test event in 33 degree temperatures with a humidex of 40, it was stinking hot, but the day prior to this we held TriCanada Junior Nationals, draft legal on a multi-lap closed road circuit around St Andrews. TriCanada said that no-one would come to NB to race but in the end every Province was represented except BC. Visually this was the most exciting event I have ever organized, full credit to the officials and volunteers who helped us pull this off in downtown St Andrews.

In 2014 in our inaugural Challenge St Andrews we were stressed enough about hosting a field of professional athletes but throw into the mix Mirinda Carfrae. In 2014 Mirinda was the Hawaii Ironman World Champion and with her partner Timothy O’Donnell also racing the stress went to another stratosphere. It still seems very surreal to me the idea that I was giving them a race briefing on our very first Challenge St Andrews race. Triathlon legend Karen Smyers also raced with us, the coolest person in town that year, telling us that her race taper was 3 beers 3 nights from the race, 2 beers 2 nights out and 1 beer the night before. To make matters worse we woke on Saturday morning to Hurricane Harvey and the devastation it was causing in the community. Trees had fallen on buildings, roads were blocked, the rain was pouring down and the wind was howling. Electricity in the Algonquin was out and we simply did not know if the race would happen or not. It was a question of waiting it out and seeing if we could set up in time for race start bearing in mind that whatever we did we had to re-open the highway at 12.30pm on race day. Mercifully no-one in the local community was hurt or injured by the storm so this was a huge plus as if there had been a fatality in town we could not in good conscience have started the race.

We spent the day working on Daryl Steeves’s critical path analysis, planning on what we needed to do and when we would need to do it to make the race happen. Periodically athletes would offer their support to help us, potentially giving up their own race to make it happen for the other athletes. The spirit of the athletes was amazing and not one single person asked what we were going to do, they simply let us get on with planning. I will be forever grateful to Daryl for his input.

So this was Challenge St Andrews year 1 with a world champion and a field of top quality professional and age-group athletes in attendance. We were learning on the fly and we wanted to get it right first time out of the blocks. Did I mention that Olympic Triathlon Champion Simon Whitfield was with us as well?

At 10.30pm as we sat in the hotel conference room we could see a break in the clouds and we knew that by midnight we could start to rebuild the course. Legend has it that about 100 people from the town came out to clear the course and set everything up, the truth is not nearly so romantic, I think there were maybe 12 of us total and the team threatened to walk off the site if I didn’t go to bed – they said that 1 of us needed to be fresh. So I went to our hotel room, showered, shaved lay down for 10 minutes and then went and joined everyone again.

As 4.30am rolled around and dawn was just around the corner the course was ready, the roads re-opened, the buoys back in the water, trees cleared from Katys Cove, racking and fencing all re-erected again. With all the Challenge branding back in place athletes started to emerge to see if there would indeed be a race. I am so proud of everyone involved that we started bang on time at 7.00am with our professional men.

All my Team Leaders and Scott & Tressa all worked for roughly 39 hours without sleep, from 7.00am on Saturday morning to 10.00pm on Sunday night – what a weekend, what a team.

2017 was the year of the fog, it teased us, clearing just enough to give us hope and then dashing our hopes by rolling back in. I’m sure my face showed the stress but while the athletes only saw the fog I had 2 other major issues to deal with. A truck had made its way onto the closed section of highway and the timing mat batteries had depleted just as we were about to start the race. The fog was just another factor to deal with. After the rolling start swim was over the fog lifted, the sun came, out and it was a glorious race day.

2018 was the year it all came together for us as organizers after 6 years of trying. We had zero stress or issues on race day, by far our most enjoyable race. I had to fly back to Ireland for my aunt’s funeral a week before the race and arrived in St Andrews on Friday morning of race weekend and went straight down for a swim before throwing ourselves into the event. Thanks to our amazing team I was able to be away for a full week prior to the race and everything went as smooth as possible.

Personally & sadly I feel Challenge missed a golden opportunity in North America as they went from 14 races in the US & Canada to zero, as I write they have 1 new race for 2018 in Florida as Ironman continue to dominate. I have raced 5 Ironman events in my life but I have raced dozens and dozens of local events or independent events. A monopoly is not good for our sport and buying up races and closing them does not help develop triathlon. Mooseman is gone, Timberman is gone, Beach2 Battleship is gone and how many others that we have forgotten about. Support the independent races, go to Pumpkinman, SavageMan, Sommer Sports in Florida, the Multisport Tri Series in Ontario, Lobsterman and so on. Race in your community, these events are the lifeblood of our sport with enthusiastic race directors and volunteers but we need to look beyond Ironman to what events we have locally because once they are gone they are gone. You could probably race the entire series in New Brunswick for the price of 1 full Ironman.

This event would never have been the success that it was without the loyal support of many key people who were with us right from the start and I am forever indebted to these guys. I said it at the awards banquet this year that this is a world class team on a level with any other race in the world. Christina and Sean Randall are simply superstars, legend has it that Christina had Sean out in the boat setting up the swim course during Hurricane Harvey so that it would be ready for later that morning in 2014. Our swim course was never 1899m or 1901m, it was always 1900m, as a Race Director who could ask for more.

Daryl & Ellen Steeves have been with us from the start of St Andrews and we would never have pulled off the race after the hurricane without Daryl’s masterful Critical Path analysis that we worked on all day during the hurricane and through the night leading up to race start.

I love working with Lisa Flewelling, she kept telling me that this (every) year would be her last and every year she kept coming back because something just wasn’t quite right and it had to be just right. I thought I’d lose her every year and she was with us right to the end and our perfect bike course in 2018 – best to stop while we’re at the top Lisa.

Other people along the way contributed enormously, Colin Parewick, Heather Redding and Glenn Millican who worked tirelessly every year to pull the race off. I know I will forget people but we love everyone who helped along the way – the success of this event over 6 years is due to you all.

Linda McLeod was with the race every year representing TriathlonNB and I thoroughly enjoyed working with Linda every year.  We butted heads along the way a few times but always remained friends and its fair to say that she and her team shared the stress of the race in the early years with Junior Nationals and World Champions racing in our backyard. Their passion and enthusiasm for the sport is wonderful.

It was also great to have Steve King and his wife with us for 2 years. Steve is a legend in our sport and a mastermind of triathlon, his commentary was first class and Steve is the reason why I registered for Challenge Penticton but that’s another story. After Steve’s tenure at the race Mark Stein took over the race commentary. Mark is a class act and I look forward to working with him in future races, his commentary lights up an event.

Scott Thomas took up the mantle of master of ceremonies at our Pasta Party and Awards evenings and of the numerous banquets I have attended over the years Scott brought a wonderful unique comedic perspective to race weekend.

Many people may not know Clayton Clark, but this photo sums up the whole ethos of Triathlon and embodies the whole spirt of the sport for me. Clayton never got to do his Ironman but he sure rocked St Andrews in 2013 with Ellie in his arms.

Love this photo so much its worth putting in twice.

Milestones along the way – Helena celebrated her 50th birthday on race day and Daryl celebrated his 60th in the Algonquin, memories I’ll not forget in a hurry.

 

 

To all our sponsors over the years we couldn’t have done it without you. Mike Davis from Radical Edge has been with us from the very start and he has provided bike course support for athletes each and every year making sure they stay rolling.

John Acheson from Running Room is the hardest working man in the running community and he and Kris Acker have pulled us out of so many holes over the years, always ready to step in and lend a hand or equipment whenever needed.

Hammer Nutrition were a major part of our race and one of the most emotional evenings of our race history was when Ryan Correy proposed to Sarah at our Awards Banquet. Sadly a few short years later Ryan was taken from us all too soon but check out his FB page or read his book, A Purpose Ridden and find out what an action packed life well lived looks like.

In 6 years and all the pressures & stress, the ups and downs, the sleepless nights I don’t think there was ever a word spoken in anger between anyone mentioned in this blog, that is a wonderful testament to the team of New Brunswickers who gave up their time to set up this world class race.

As you read this I hope you can see that this race for me was not so much about the race as it is about the people. The biggest reward I have from St Andrews is the friendship developed with Scott & Tressa and their family as well as Gerald & Diane Ingersoll who open their house to us each year and keep us fed and watered throughout race week. This is what the sport is about, the people, the athletes and the volunteers. Kudos also to Scott & Tressa for taking the huge leap to bring this event to NB.

Thank you.

Garth

 

 

 

Advertisements