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The Ingonish Triathlon: A small-town race in the heart of Cape Breton

"It doesn't get much better than this."

“It doesn’t get much better than this,” says race director Daniel Murray, referring to the great feeling of having just finished a tri-in this case the Ingonish Tri-and relaxing with a beverage in hand at the post-race barbecue on the grounds of the Cabot Lodge overlooking the ocean.

The reasons for Murray’s sense of satisfaction are many. The race is at Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia, part of the 16-kilometer Ingonish area on the Cabot Trail, bordered by the Cape Breton Highlands National Park on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The transition zone is in a big empty field with plenty of parking nearby. The swim is in Freshwater Lake beside the ocean. The bike route on the Cabot Trail is also beside the Atlantic, and riders have a great view of the fishing boats. Cyclists ride alongside the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and staff from the park provide lots of equipment and volunteer support on race day. Runners head out past the Highlands Links golf course, one of the top courses in the country, and along the Middle Head Peninsula.

The event, traditionally held the last Sunday in June, offers Olympic, sprint, try-a-tri and team categories. The size of the field ranges from 80 to 120 participants depending on the weather. Many come from the Sydney area, two hours away. Others are from Halifax, a five-hour drive. And usually there are a few competitors from other parts of Canada.

Allan MacKenzie lives in Coxheath, 1½ hours away from Ingonish. He’s training for this year’s Subaru Ironman Canada and competed at the Ingonish Triathlon last year. He says the venue and the volunteers for the Ingonish tri keep people coming back. “There aren’t too many spots in Nova Scotia warm and calm enough for a swim in June, but the sheltered Freshwater Lake is one of them. And in Ingonish they come together when it counts-it’s a tight-knit community where everyone helps out. So they have lots of cheerful volunteer help on race day.”

Race director Murray, a high school teacher and sports coach who is also a provincial cross-country ski coach, says the Ingonish Triathlon (formerly Heart of the Highlands Triathlon) is an example of a small-town success story. “Most of us have never even seen an elite triathlon, but we put on a very professional event that has made a big impact locally. Plus, it has served as a springboard for fitness enthusiasts in Cape Breton to get involved in the sport.”

Despite the challenges of organizing and attracting participants to a race held a fair distance from the nearest urban centre, Murray is a strong advocate for the rural triathlon experience. “Canada has all sorts of unique rural triathlons which enrich the sport by providing beautiful venues and a friendly small-town experience. In exchange, those triathlons contribute tourism dollars to the economy of rural areas and promote healthy living in those communities.”

There is plenty of accommodation in Ingonish-hotels, bed and breakfasts, and campgrounds-for triathletes who want to build this triathlon into their holiday plans.

For more information, please check out the Triathlon Nova Scotia Web site at www.trins.ca or contact race director Daniel Murray at ingonishtriathon@gmail.com. To find out more about Ingonish, go to www.experienceingonish.ca.-TW