Trained athletes will always have their place in the Great Race, but organizers say one of the key attractions of this year’s event is that it appeals to the “everyday man.”
Jim Hanley, one of the race’s creators, said the triathlon team event provides residents a chance to ditch their couch and TV remote for a few hours in exchange for a bike helmet, running shoes or a life jacket.
“We definitely have the athletes who know how to train, but when we first started this, we figured this would be a great way for friends, family and co-workers to compete,” Hanley said. “Our goal was to get the every-day guy out off the couch. I am most happiest when I see the races between friends, neighbors and co-workers.”
As the triathlon enters its 34th year, Hanley said he never expected the race to go on for as long as it has.
Despite its tradition, organizers are constantly tweaking the event each year. Some of the more recent changes include using digital race technology to improve the accuracy of timing and the creation of a short course in addition to the traditional course.
Hanley credits the creation of a short course with renewing interest in the race. The traditional race includes a 10-kilometer run, 20-kilometer bike course and a 4-mile canoe or kayak course. The short race is half as long.
With up to 700 four- , three- or two-person teams expected, Hanley said the short course is more popular by an estimated four-to-one margin.
“Some of the older people were saying that the longer course was getting to be too long for them, so we decided to make the short course,” Hanley said. “When we did that, we saw a surge in team registrations.”
Part of the race’s popularity is due to its community ties. Each year, close to 8,000 people line the sides of the course, Hanley said. Some come to support a specific participant, some come for the after-race party and others come to see old friends.
The stretch of Route 38A near the entrance to Emerson Park as well as the beach inside the park are the two most popular areas for spectators. The change-over zone for runners and bicyclists is near the park entrance and the finish line for the last stage of the race with the canoes and kayaks is in the water just off the beach.
“This has turned out to be a community event as well as an athletic event,” Hanley said. “High schools have their reunions during the race and friends come back and see each other. When we first started this, we figured there would be friends and family coming to show their support.”