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Ironman Victoria 70.3 returns to celebrate milestone race

It’s a silver anniversary two years in the making. The 25th Subaru Ironman 70.3 Victoria goes today, two years after the last race in 2019.
Last-minute setup for the Subaru Ironman 70.3 Victoria continued Saturday at Hamsterly Beach at Elk Lake. The race begins at 6 a.m. today with the swim portion in Elk Lake. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

It’s a silver anniversary three years in the making.

The 25th Subaru Ironman 70.3 Victoria goes today, three years after the last race in 2019. The event, which began as the New Balance Half-Iron more than a quarter-century ago, has been a staple in a city well associated with triathlon and which produced Olympic multi-medallist Simon Whitfield and multiple-time Ironman Hawaii world champions Peter Reid and Lori Bowden. The 2020 and 2021 ­Victoria races were cancelled due to the pandemic.

It is one of three Subaru ­Ironman 70.3 races in Canada making comebacks this year, with the others in Muskoka, Ont., and Mont-Tremblant, Que.

“There’s lots of buzz. You’re going to see a lot of smiling faces [today],” said Lance ­Watson, who coached Whitfield to the gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Watson conducted the mainstage address during Saturday’s race Expo held at Hamsterly Beach at the north end of Elk Lake.

“You can feel the pent-up demand and races everywhere are sold out,” he said.

“It really picked up in ­January when it seemed that travel would open up this year.”

Ironman is the famous U.S. corporation which conducts these events, so all the races are calculated in imperial distances. The 70.3 designation, formerly known as Half-Iron, includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bicycle race and 13.1-mile run totalling 70.3 miles.

The race will begin at 6 a.m. today with the swim portion in Elk Lake, beginning from Hamsterly Beach, followed by the bike portion through the softly undulating roads of the Saanich Peninsula and finishing with the run portion around the Elk/Beaver Lake trails, the latter a unique feature since most triathlons end with road runs.

The last Victoria 70.3 race in 2019 attracted nearly 2,200 competitors from around the world. In past Victoria Ironman 70.3 races, 52 per cent of racers came from outside Canada, including California, Latin America and Europe. Those foreign numbers are down this year due to lingering pandemic travel issues.

“It’s more regionalized this year as people are staying within striking distance in terms of travel,” said Watson, who is entering the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame this fall with the Class of 2022.

“But it’s still great that the race has returned. And here’s hoping 2023 will be completely normal.”

Forty-four per cent of the competitors over the years have been women.

There are 45 qualifying spots available from the Victoria race for the 2022 world 70.3 championships Oct. 28-29 in St. George, Utah.