SMCM hosts triathlon event Saturday
600 athletes scheduled to compete
St. Mary’s College of Maryland will be bustling Saturday as the Virginia-Maryland Triathlon Series comes to southern St. Mary’s County for the first time.
The event will feature 600 athletes taking part in a 1 1/2-kilometer swim followed by a 24.5mile bike race and concluding with a 5-kilometer run.
The event, which begins at 8:30 a.m., was filled to capacity three weeks ago.
“Oh we’re really excited,” Virginia-Maryland Triathlon Series owner Greg Hawkins said. “To have 600 athletes in our first year is just an amazing testament to the local area and the scenic beauty of it all. I would have been thrilled with 300, 400 athletes, I really would have. We purposely limited it to this number just because being a first-year race you don’t know. There’s just so many unknowns, but with [this number] it’s still very manageable, so we’re just thrilled.”
Hawkins said the beauty of the area is what drew the VMTS to Historic St. Mary’s City.
“The bike venue and the swim venue are just amazing,” Hawkins said. “The St. Mary’s River is a nice circular bay, so you’re never going to get any really bad chop and the roads are all pretty much freshly-paved with wide shoulders and the run course is flat. And there’s lodging, oh my gosh, there’s hotels just 15 minutes up the road from the venue and it’s beautiful, it really is.”
There are numerous age groups beginning with 15-and-Under and then 16 to 19, 20 to 24 and all way up to 75-plus. There are also special categories for novices or first timers, assisted athletes and paralympic athletes. There will be more than 120 awards given out.
The event is the 12th of 26 this season. The season started with the Smithfield Sprint in Smithfield, Va., and will conclude Oct. 14 with the Liberty University Invitational. Charles County hosted the VMTS General Smallwood Invitational and Sprint May 20 and 21 in Indian Head.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland head cross country coach Tom Fisher, a triathlete himself, reached out to Hawkins in 2015 to use the area as a race venue. Though there was no opening in the schedule until this year, Hawkins is hoping the St. Mary’s College venue will be a yearly event.
“I was looking to explore some fundraising opportunities for the team and center it around a fitness related activity,” said Fisher, who competes in up to four triathlons a year and set a personal record of 2 hours 59 seconds at the MVTS Lake Anna event in May. “And obviously we have a top sailing program, so the water’s a big draw and due to the fact I also bike and training down by college there’s some good courses with shade and roads make it comfortable for other athletes. I thought the area had a lot to offer.”
The 47-year-old Fisher, who is hoping to finish Saturday’s event in under three hours, said the course is a challenging one.
“A lot will depend on the heat, so it will be important to save some of your energy coming off the swim and don’t go too hard on the bike,” he said. “It’s going to be all about staying focused and not going out too hard on any one leg because you still have the other legs to go. It all depends on the weather and how you deal with those conditions.”
And he said the wind — Saturday’s forecast is calling for a high of 84-degrees, 7 mph south southeast winds and a possibility of morning thunderstorms — will also play a role in the race.
“With the chop on the water and the nature of the bike course [if the wind is] in your face in one direction,” Fisher said, “once you make the loop, it’ll be on your back in the other direction so you have to take advantage of the wind when it’s at your back and deal with it when it’s in your face.”
“I think the way you’ll attack it is the way you’d attack it with any race, which is you never want to go out too hard on the swim, and the cycling portion with it being a fairly flat course people can really get up a good head of steam and get some good power going throughout the course,” said Hawkins, who hasn’t competed in a triathlon in two years, though he still trains as hard. “There’s just a couple hills that you’re up and out of [quickly]. I think the swim will be the most challenging because it’s an in-water start, and there’s been some sea nettles reported so that could present some challenges for some people. I would say it’s a pretty hard course.”
Hawkins said the response from the college, museum, police, EMS and State Highway Administration, which came in to repair some potholes, has been fantastic.
Hawkins and his team arrived in Southern Maryland on Thursday and today they will set up the swim course, sweep the bike course, install mile markers for the running portion and set up bike racks as well as the finish line.
“We make it look like the circus came to town,” Hawkins said.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland will host its first-ever Virginia-Maryland Triathlon Series event on Saturday, which includes a swim in the Potomac River.