A "mindful triathlon" might seem an oxymoron to those who struggle through the rigours of the Olympic-length multisport discipline, which combines a 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike ride and 10-kilometre run. But for Sarah Gleason of Cobourg, Ont., the body-mind approach to multisport was exactly what she was looking for when she signed up for last weekend's Toronto iteration of Wanderlust 108, an event that combines a five-kilometre run with an outdoor yoga session and guided meditation.
The run-yoga-meditation combination "is a sequence that pushes you very physically to begin with, then winds down to the mental aspect to leave you feeling accomplished, calm and centred," she says.
There's a demand for multisport events beyond the swim/bike/run of the classic triathlon. According to a recent report by U.S. organization the Outdoor Foundation, participation in running and cycling has remained fairly steady, whereas both off-road triathlons (swim/mountain bike/trail run) and adventure racing (typically subbing paddling for swimming, plus orienteering) have seen more than 30-per-cent growth over the past three years.
In Canada, data are hard to come by, but Marissa Schroder, publisher of Get Out There magazine, says she has noticed growth in events that focus as much on experience as on speed, including the popular Mud Hero obstacle races and fun-oriented 5Ks such as the Color Run, though such events don't seem to be hurting numbers in more-traditional road races. "There is certainly a much broader appeal for people who don't traditionally associate themselves as 'athletes' to get their foot in the door" with less-intimidating, experience-oriented events, she says. She adds many of these events are U.S.-based franchises, often with big marketing budgets that can recruit participants who may not be regular racers, or may simply be looking for something new to try.
Many organizers are getting creative with the multisport theme. Vernon, B.C., home to stand-up paddleboard festival the Kalamalka Classic, now in its sixth year, also hosted the one-off event AquaTerra two years ago, which combined paddleboarding and mountain biking. In Penticton, B.C., the six-stage Elevator – done either solo or in relay teams – has participants paddle, road bike, mountain run/snowshoe, mountain bike, nordic ski and downhill ski their way from Okanagan Lake up to Apex Mountain Resort. And urban races are appearing, too, such as Oyster the Race in Denver, a mystery course that combines strategy and problem-solving with running, biking and "performing strange tasks."
For Tara Nolan of Hamilton, participating in her first multisport event last fall – Logs Rocks & Steel, an adventure race in Haliburton, Ont., that's on hiatus this year – was a way to challenge herself. A mountain biker, she had enjoyed the feeling of personal accomplishment after completing her first few bike races and wanted to boost her canoeing and running skills in a goal-oriented fashion. "I definitely want to do another race," she says. "Storm the 'Scarpment is now on my radar."
It's unfortunate that torrential rain and planning oversights left Gleason and many of the 1,400 other participants disappointed with how the Wanderlust event turned out in Toronto. (An uncovered bag check left many people without a dry change of clothes after the run, which due to runners being misdirected was closer to eight kilometres than the planned 5K, and the majority of participants – all of whom have been given a refund – left early rather than do yoga in a downpour.)
But while Wanderlust 108 may have some kinks to work out – "We know we can do a lot better," says Wanderlust co-founder Sean Hoess – here are some other multisport events to check out this summer:
Gatineau River Games[KU12], Wakefield, Que., July 19
Aimed at families, this water-focused event includes four races: 500-metre swim; two-kilometre swim; two-, four- or six-kilometre paddleboard; and aquathlon – 500-metre swim plus five-kilometre trail and road run.
Wanderlust 108[KU13], Edmonton, Aug. 29
Participants congregate in Louise McKinney Riverfront Park for "the world's kindest triathlon," with local vendors selling food, crafts and apparel.
Xterra Woolastook[KU14], Fredericton, Sept. 13
This off-road triathlon with long and short versions has racers swim a 750-metre loop around a suspension bridge before biking both road and trail and running across grass and gravel.
Storm the 'Scarpment[KU15], Milton, Ont., Sept. 19
Solo racers and teams of two compete in their choice of two courses (25 kilometre or 42 kilometre), both made up of mountain biking, paddling, trail running and paddleboarding.
Swamp Donkey[KU16], Falcon Lake, Man., Sept. 19
Training is mandatory for this six- to nine-hour team event that incorporates mountain biking, canoeing, trekking and orienteering to reach checkpoints on an unmarked course.
Special to The Globe and Mail