By Brad Fauber
Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation and the town of Strasburg are once again teaming up to offer a tour of the town and its surrounding countryside, which will provide scenic views of the Shenandoah River, rolling farmland and Massanutten mountain -- but you may want to do a bit of stretching beforehand.
The time has come once again for locals and out-of-towners alike to slip on their running shoes and grab their bicycles as the Third Annual Strasburg Duathlon rapidly approaches. The duathlon, which features a 33-kilometer bicycle trek sandwiched between a pair of 5K runs, began in 2011 as a part of Strasburg's 250th anniversary celebration, and the event has quickly grown in popularity.
"After we had that inaugural race in 2011 ... I said I thought it would be great to make it an annual thing," Strasburg mayor and past duathlon participant Tim Taylor said. "It has a unique kind of draw. I think there are more people getting involved in these types of events."
Now in its third installment, this year's duathlon, which will be held on April 13 at 8 a.m., promises to be the most grueling yet.
The 5K runs will remain similar to what they were in the past, with participants beginning the race along the River Walk at the Strasburg Town Park. From there, runners will make the hike up Ram Drive beside Strasburg High School before eventually reaching Sharpe Street, where participants will loop around and make their way back to the park via the River Walk.
The real challenge this year will be the 33K bicycle section of the race, which is a step up from the usual 30K course that was used the last two years.
"This year's route is just a little bit longer," SCPR director Pam Sheets said. "We wanted to change the route so they don't see the same thing every year."
The cycling session of the event will begin at the town park after participants return from the first running portion of the race, and from there the cyclists will make their way to Route 11, which they will travel all the way through Toms Brook. The course then makes its way to Back Road via Brook Creek and Harrisville roads before participants eventually make their way through the Strasburg Junction and back into downtown Strasburg. The final 5K run begins when participants return to the town park.
During the cycling portion of the race, competitors will have to make an intense climb up Fisher's Hill along Rt. 11, as well as some other changes in terrain along the route.
"This year is more challenging," Sheets said. "And depending on the wind, Rt. 11 could be a challenge for somebody. But we also think it's a beautiful area, they've got something to look at."
Sheets said that the duathlon saw a promising increase in participation in the event's first two years, as the number of competitors jumped from 63 in 2011 to 82 last year. Sheets said she expects about 90 participants this year.
Pre-registration for the event is open until April 11, and fees are $65 for a single participant and $125 for a two-person team. On-site registration requires a fee of $75 for one person and $135 for a team.
Sheets said the duathlon has operated at a "small loss" during its first two years, but she hopes the event will finish with a profit this year, in which case the proceeds would be split between SCPR and the town of Strasburg.
"It was never designed to be a money maker, although that could be the goal in five years," Sheets said. "It's not designed to bring in thousands of dollars. It's good for economic development and a tourism draw."
Sheets said the event draws people from Winchester, Harrisonburg, the metro-D.C. area, and states as far away as Maine.
The rising interest in the event prompted SCPR to set up a discounted room rate block at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Strasburg for people who need to stay overnight for the event. A dinner for participants at Hi-Neighbor Restaurant on April 12 is also being considered.
Taylor said the duathlon is a great way to introduce outsiders to the Shenandoah Valley, and he hears a lot of positive feedback from the event.
"It's a great event, especially with the people who attend because they bring their families. It's a great family atmosphere," Taylor said. "You'll see all ages. They all get along and support each other. It's just a great atmosphere."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org