Between blue skies and blue water, the inaugural Lake Junaluska Duathlon won over dozens of runners and bikers this weekend.
“It’s basically the perfect set-up. I couldn’t imagine a better venue,” said Ken Howell, a racer who lives in Haywood County.
Aside from the picturesque setting, racers reveled in the sheltered nature of the lake, where traffic could easily be controlled, said Pat Burgin, another racer from Haywood County. Burgin could only think of one negative to the venue.
“The hills,” he said. “But I don’t think there is much we can do about that.
Aside from the fabulous location, many athletes were happy about the debut of the duathlon in general. While there has been a proliferation of triathlons in the region over the past couple of years — a line-up that consists of swimming, running and biking — swimming can be a turn off to many racers. A duathlon cuts out the swimming leg and instead combines running, then biking, followed by a final leg of running.
Kelly Anderson, 36, a biker and runner in Haywood County, had been clamoring for a duathlon. When this one was announced, she started a Saturday morning duathlon training class at the Haywood Regional Fitness Center where she is a regular instructor.
“I hope we have it every year,” Anderson said of the new race. “It was nice not to have to drive to Charlotte or Florida or somewhere. Hopefully it will grow.”
The duathlon was put on by Greg Duff of Waynesville, whose company — Glory Hound Events — has become a leader in staging races throughout the region. Since Duff started Glory Hound Events three years ago, he has launched more than half a dozen new races, three of them in Haywood County, not to mention several existing races for which he has taken over the management.
“It’s a ton of work. None of this would be happening without him,” said racer Thomas Howell, a long-time member of the Haywood County racing scene.
For Howell, who lives a short distance from the lake, Saturday’s course largely followed his training route.
“It’s like what I do every Saturday,” said Howell, an Iron Man and marathon runner who typically travels far and wide on the race circuit.
This weekend was a nice change, with the bike route passing within half a mile of his home. His kids were able to roll out the door and cheer their dad as he went by on his bike, then high tail it to the lake and greet him as he ran across the finish line.
The event had a large pool of volunteers, some who are regulars in the race circuit, often the family and friends of the athletes. But several people who live at Lake Junaluska pitched in as volunteers as well, getting their first taste of the excitement and adrenaline that flows through the air at races.
“I am so impressed with the number of volunteers out here,” Burgin said. “I’ve done a lot of racing and I’ve been to some where they are asking spectators at the start line to help because they don’t have enough volunteers.”
While locals loved the close-to-home duathlon, more than half the racers came from out of the area, contributing to the tourism economy in the process.
“I was so pleased to see so many people participating in this who came to Lake Junaluska and the mountains for the first time,” said Jimmy Carr, executive director of Lake Junaluska. “I think the event has given Lake Junaluska and Haywood County a lot of visibility with a whole different audience.”