17 August 2009

BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon interview

I discovered the BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon through of all places Twitter. I had recently decided that I wanted to train to race in a triathlon, and was looking for one use as my goal. What I found with the BEAR LAKE CLASSIC intrigued me, it sounded like a fun, well thought-out event.

Wanting to find out more about the BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon, I sent a direct message through Twitter asking if he would be willing to take part in a short email interview. The results far exceeded my expectations.

Read on for my interview with Michael Hunsaker, USAT Certified Race Director for the BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon:

Michael, Tell me what is your position with the BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon?

I am PRO BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon! I am for it; I believe in it; everyone should vote for it in 2009! In all seriousness, I am the Idea Man, and this race is the baby I have envisioned for almost 10 years.

Tell me about the BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon? When did it start?

The BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon was something I envisioned as a student in Utah (I currently reside in Henderson, NV). I heard stories of this amazing lake in northern Utah; great wakeboarding; great cycling; and water so blue you think your eyes are playing tricks on you. The first time I saw the lake from Highway 89, cresting the mountains to the West, I thought, “Is that for real; is that really the color of the water?” It looked Caribbean-lagoon-blue.

I had heard through the Utah folklore grapevine, and maybe it’s a story I made up, because I thought it had to be true, that once upon a time, before there were organized triathlons in Utah, a small group of athletes used to get together and do a HALF distance triathlon at this mythical lake. In my mind, I wanted to bring back the perfect triathlon that time forgot, and do it in a BIG way. To answer your question, I don’t know when this “classic” race started, but we brought it back for 2009, and it’s here to stay. Right now, two weeks before the race, we have registrations from 12 states.

In thinking about what would make this race unlike any other event, you first need to understand that this is the most beautiful and scenic venue for a HALF distance race in all of the Rockies. The lake has even been coined, and rightly so, “the Caribbean of the Rockies.” In considering the unsurpassed quality of the venue, I didn’t want to take shortcuts for costs, convenience, or any other reason; for example we have almost twice as many Aid Stations as most HALF distance courses, because these are NOT out and back courses. When people bike Bear Lake they bike around the lake; they bike the WHOLE THING. I wanted to give triathletes the same quality of course cyclists enjoy. Similarly, when given the opportunity run through some of the most pastoral countryside in Utah, why would you want to do an out and back? So, we run a 13.1 mile loop course through green pastures and the quaint country town of Laketown, UT.

This course is also unique in that the HALF bike course travels through TWO states with most of the course on the Idaho side of the lake. You have to love a race where the time was taken to get permits from twice as many agencies as might otherwise be needed.

Of course I don’t want to downplay our Sprint and Olympic courses; the same care has gone into them as well, but the inspiration for the BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon was the Mythical HALF. I want this to be the triathlon for which Utah is known!

I saw on Twitter (www.twitter.com/bearlakeclassic) that you are 14 away from selling out the half. Congratulations! What are your plans for the future of this triathlon? Would you want the BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon to be part of the Ironman 70.3 series?

Yes, we very excited about the number of people interested in doing the HALF this first year! We have had to renegotiate one of our permits to allow the extra registrations. For the future of the event; I would first like this event to be able to stand on its own. I would like triathlete enthusiasts from around the country to have at least heard of the race, if not have placed it on their “must do list.”

As far as Ironman goes; Ironman has done more for the sport than any race series in the world and some people can’t make the distinction between Ironman and Triathlon. I respect that. That being said, I have nothing bad to say about Ironman, but I would like this race to become a USAT qualifier and a USAT championship race first, and we wanted to have an amazing year, first. We are doing that. If Ironman wants to have it as part of their series, I would have to think about than when Ironman approaches us, but that is not and was never the goal. For now and in the future, the goals are simple; have the best triathlon in the Rockies at the best venue, and treat the athletes the way I would want to be treated—with respect for their love of the Sport. Not only that, we are trying to build a community of athletes; hence Twitter and Facebook, and we are trying to make it fun, informative, and positive for everyone involved with the race.

What is your background in triathlon? Did you have more of a start in one discipline over the others?

My background in triathlon started back in 1991, where, as a 17 year kid, I thought I was invincible. Triathlon was the first thing that really humbled me, and I ran and biked regularly. There was a triathlon in east Tennessee that, unfortunately, died some years ago. That was my first tri, and I was so embarrassed, not just because those were still the days of speedos, and I was NOT a swimmer, but because I had 40 year old men passing me like I was standing still, and back then 40 was old! I fell in love with triathlon at that time. It put fitness and dedication into perspective, and not just dedication to fitness, but dedication in general.

In moving to Utah in the mid 90’s, I became addicted to mountain biking, and took a break from Triathlon to enjoy the discipline I enjoy most, cycling. I have had the pleasure of mountain biking most of the trails in central and northern Utah. In 2002, I sold my first road bike, a Trek 1400 from the early 90’s, and purchased a new bike and began to enjoy the roads in Utah as well. I have biked up most of the canyons and done a few rides that just make no sense, like biking from Sugar House to University Mall in Orem? Why? When I lived in Lehi for a time, the Alpine Loop was a regular group and solo ride, and one I can’t believe everyone hasn’t done at least once—it’s gorgeous.

In getting back into triathlon, it has been largely from the management, marketing, and research side. My background is in the field of management and marketing, and I love both, but my other loves are triathlon, running, and cycling. In getting sick of managing and marketing things my heart wasn’t into, I suffered a premature midlife crisis where I went and bought some of the toys that are supposed to make people happy, but that was not the missing link. In working on this event and several others (stay tuned) for a couple years and giving up a lot of things to make these races possible, I have finally found the challenge I enjoy and the best part about it—the races we are in the process of building make people happy.

I have suffered several injuries in the past 6 years that have delayed my personal return to the sport as an athlete, including severe arch issues and a knee surgery. But I am getting there. In the mean time, I have attended and volunteered at dozens of events throughout several states in recent years, including marathons, bike races, and triathlons in an attempt to see what worked and what doesn’t work for races. In the past year, I have done a lot of triathlon work including marketing and branding for other races, largely volunteering my services, just for the experience, to see what athletes like and what brings interest. My goal has been to put on a perfect, epic race. In January of this year, I also travelled to California to become a USAT Certified Race Director simply for the additional insight. I was shocked to learn that most tri race directors have not taken this course; I would call it essential.

The BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon is not yet perfect, but our goal is to make it perfect without copying any one race or race series race. We want to be unique while doing the things the athletes want if they are logistically and financially possible.

We want to have the best and most useful race shirts in the state. We want the best goodie bags. We want people wearing the BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon cycling jerseys on their road rides as a banner of pride. In fact I just shipped the first Jersey to California this morning. We also want to provide social opportunities within the community for athletes.

This is the race I want triathletes talking about, not just in Utah, but throughout the country. I love that people are coming from New Jersey, Tennessee, and Indiana to do this race this year. I want everyone to come to experience this event!

How difficult is it to put on multiple length events (Sprint, Olympic and Half) on the same day? Are the courses overlapping with different turn-around points?

Multiple distance events are not usually a challenge; in fact, they generally make a race easier to produce from a financial standpoint, because adding another distance to an event is easier when you wrap up all of the permits and costs into one BLANKET RACE. In saying that, it’s usually just a little extra work—especially if the races share the same courses. BUT this race is an exception to that statement in two major ways:

Number One: The run course for the HALF shares NONE of the course with the Sprint and Olympic courses, AND they are loops. Again, this was chosen, not for convenience or financial reasons, but because I wanted each race to be able to stand alone and be a course worthy of running if there were not any other distances at the race. This was part of the reason we did away with a multiple lap swim course for every distance of this race. The lake is 20 miles long; why do you need to do laps? Yes, I know; so you don’t have to have as many boats and lifeguards, right? NOT cool for this course. I wanted this course to not only be unique, but exciting!

Number Two: The HALF race takes place in TWO states, so with regards to permits, it’s really like doing an entirely separate race that just happens to take place at the same start and finish points on the same day as two other events, the Sprint and Olympic.

The HALF bike course shares some of the same course as the other two courses, but while the HALF heads out to circle the lake clockwise, the Sprint and Olympic head out counterclockwise. This was done for logistics, safety, and so that the HALF riders could ride on the lake-side of the road for the loop. The perk is that all of the riders of every course distance finish from the same directions within about 1 hour of each other.

Bear Lake seems perfectly suited to the Half triathlon distance, what with the distance around the lake being about 51 miles. If there was an interest, would you consider doing a Full triathlon in the future?

I love races that seem perfectly suited to where they are located and are well managed. I also love the concept of insane events of super-human mental and physical ability. Being able to do something that was once thought impossible is the essence of progress. I would be open to the idea of a Full Distance Tri.

That being said, if you could combine those two ideas; an event perfectly suited to its venue that is also of epic proportions; that is the stuff legendary races are made of. The BEAR LAKE CLASSIC HALF combines those elements.

Here’s the teaser—I am also working on another race that will take place in two states in 2010 that when described to a couple people, I was asked if I thought the race was even possible to finish? To that I responded, “Do I think it’s possible for me, right now; or do I think that it’s possible in general, because SOMEONE can do it, and thousands of others will want to try.” THAT is what will make this other race a legendary race. It’s a race of super-human mental and physical ability that people will want to do, just to say they tried until the year they can say they actually finished it; if it ever happens. Sometimes the great accomplishments in this life aren’t the accomplishments themselves but the journey we travel to achieve them. This will be a journey, for certain. I admire and respect all those who strive to achieve what others think is impossible.

Is that a good enough teaser for you Kendall? We should be able to announce the race within the month. Right now, my world revolves around the best triathlon in Rockies! I am going to see you at the HALF next year right, Kendall?

I hope to be able to bring you information about Michael's upcoming epic race when he is able to announce it.

I want to thank Michael for taking the time with just over a week to go before the BEAR LAKE CLASSIC Triathlon to answer a few questions, and I also want to wish him luck with the event this year.

For more information on this race, click here. And yes, I will guarantee that you will see me out there next year, I don't know if I will be racing the HALF, but I will definitely be there.


Isela said...

Excellent interview. I am considering this event for next year as it falls the same day as the TOU 1/2 marathon but next year, I am there for the 70.3.

Kelly Hill said...

Wow! You had great questions, Hon. He had great answers. What a wonderful interview.

I wonder if he's considering the Lake Powell area for his teaser race? How exciting to speculate!

Way to go. Great insights.