Beautiful course? check!
Good organization? check!
Fun weekend destination? check!
The Luray Triathlon takes place near the Shenandoah National Park in Luray, Virginia. It’s about a 4.5 hour drive from Pittsburgh, which may be a bit farther than some want to travel for a race, but for a fun weekend trip and a race, I highly recommend this race. Luray offers Sprint distance (750 m swim, 27 km bike, 5k run) and International/Olympic distance (1500 swim, 41 km bike, 10 k run). With about 360 people in the Olympic race and 370 in the Sprint, there are enough athletes around to keep you feeling like it’s a race but not so crowded that it gets overwhelming or congested.
The swim is set in cozy Lake Arrowhead. By ‘cozy’, I mean it’s small enough that the International swim (1500m) required a “V” shape thrown to get the complete swim distance in. This required a little extra sighting due to the turns. This year, the water was 82.5 F, so it was not a wetsuit legal race. (Between temperatures 76 – 84, an athlete may opt to wear a wetsuit but they will not be eligble for overall or age group awards). The website states that in the 11 year history of the race, it was been wetsuit legal 55% of the time – a toss-up! The swim goes off in waves (I believe there were 8 this year), so it doesn’t feel like you’re in the swimming equivalent of roller derby. I started in wave 6, and after the first 100-200 yards, I didn’t have any issues with bumping into people or bottlenecking.
The bike course is a “lollipop” style course. Ride out from transition to a loop, do the loop once (Sprint, 27 km distance) or twice (International, 41 km) and ride back. This is easily one of my favorite and most scenic bike courses I’ve raced… (after the race, I want to plan a weekend to go back to this area and just ride my bike!) Lots of vibrant green pastures, farms, cows and horses, and the Shenandoah Mountains rising in the background. The course is a mix of rolling hills, false flats, and one or two nice climbs and descents on the “stick” of the lollipop loop. My GPS reported just under 1700 feet of elevation gain in 26 miles.
Tip for the bike course: Don’t burn too many matches on the last long climb back to the transition area. The last hill of the course is by far the longest/steepest, and if it weren’t positioned at the end of the bike ride, it may not seem so bad. If hills aren’t your forte, you may want to consider going to a rear cassette with a low gear of 27-28. You’ll have a short downhill coast into transition once you crest the hill. Added bonus: I do not recall seeing any potholes on this course – very smooth surface.
The run is an out & back (1.5ish miles – one out & back for Sprint, two out & backs for Olympic). While it was a little monotonous to run the same out & back twice, it kept the group of athletes together so it was easy to use others as pacers, or to set a “rabbit” to try to chase down. The run was rolling hills with one or two steeper pitches. The outermost part of the route was all exposed to the sun, and you could feel a noticeable increase/decrease in temperature when you went from the thickly shaded portion to exposed and back.
I think the Luray races are good for athletes of all abilities. They offer an Elite and Open wave for more experienced/accomplished triathletes as well as a special novice wave for newer triathletes. Luray Triathlon also offers Aquabike, Relay, Clydesdale and Athena divisions. The International race is on Saturday and Sprint is on Sunday, so there’s the option of a double challenge if you’re up for it.
As long as an athlete is comfortable with hills and possibly swimming without wetsuit, I feel this is a good first triathlon due to its size, smooth organization, relatively calm swim, and optional novice wave.
Unique Twist: Luray Triathlon offers campsites to racers ~100 yards from the transition area for $20/campsite. If you’ve got camping gear and don’t mind ‘roughing it’ a bit (only a bit — there are bathrooms and showers onsite), camping is a great way to save money and get a little extra sleep on race morning.
If you want to read more about my personal Luray Triathlon experience and what was going through my head while I was on the course, stay tuned!