River Trail Triathlon Coming in June

When Grant Hengesbach moved to Lowell, he immediately fell in love with the community’s parks and trails.

“Lowell is unique,” the Pewamo-Westphalia native says.

In addition to its own trail system – the Lowell Area Trailway – the city includes or is adjacent to sections of the Fred Meijer River Valley Rail Trail and the North Country National Scenic Trail. What’s more, the community has the Flat River which is one of the longest natural rivers in the state.

So when Hengesbach and his wife agreed to chaperone a church group going to World Youth Day in Portugal this summer, he decided a triathlon would be the perfect way to raise money for the group while also highlighting the beauty of his new home.

That triathlon – the River Trail Triathlon – will take place on Saturday, June 17, 2023. To make the most of Lowell’s scenery, the event will swap out the traditional swimming in favor of kayaking down the Flat River.

If successful, Hengesbach would like to make the River Trail Triathlon an annual event to raise funds for various local organizations each year.

Beginners and Experienced Athletes Welcome

Hengesbach has worked hard to make the River Trail Triathlon accessible to everyone. “The main point I want people to take away from it is that you don’t have to be the most competitive,” he says. Rather, he’d like to encourage everyone to give it a try if they are interested.

To facilitate both new and experienced triathletes, the River Trail Triathlon will have two divisions:

  • Tri-Hard: This shorter course includes 1 mile kayaking, 7 miles biking and 1.5 miles running. Hengesbach estimates it will take participants between 45 minutes and two hours to complete.
  • Tri-Harder: This longer route includes 2 miles kayaking, 15 miles biking and 3.25 miles running. Hengesbach says it could take 1.5 hours to three hours to complete.

If even the Tri-Hard route sounds too challenging for you to finish alone, there are still ways to participate:

  • Relay: Both the Tri-Hard and Tri-Harder divisions are open for relay teams. In this case, each member of the team does one leg of the triathlon.
  • Free Agent: If you don’t know two other people to form a relay team, you can sign up as a free agent. Free agents pay a reduced entry fee and can indicate which leg – kayaking, biking or running – that they’d like to complete. Then, they will be placed in a relay team with other free agents.

Top finishers in the Tri-Hard and Tri-Harder divisions will get a trophy and gift cards to Main Street BBQ. The top finishing relay team will be awarded gift cards to Gary’s Meats.

Participants need to supply their own bike, but Hengesbach has some kayaks lined up for people to borrow if they don’t have one.

Event Routes Feature Local Parks and Trails

All participants will kayak up and down the Flat River, but the running and biking routes differ for each division.

Those competing in the Tri-Hard event will stay largely in the city limits. They will run or walk from the Riverwalk through the east side neighborhood along North Street and then up to McMahon Park before returning via High Street. Biking will take them on a loop of the city with a brief detour into the South Grand River Riverfront Park.

Tri-Harder competitors will run as far north as Scout Park and then loop on a trail to the east before heading back into town. While biking, they will go north out of town to Fallasburg Park and the historic covered bridge there before heading back. Some of the route is on dirt roads or gravel paths so a hybrid bike is recommended.

Overall, the routes are designed to make use of trails and low-traffic areas as much as possible. For instance, the speed limits along the Tri-Hard route are 25 mph. However, the Tri-Harder bikers will have to share the road with faster traffic for a short period.

Hengesbach has been in touch with law enforcement, and there will also be numerous volunteers and first aid stations along all routes for participant safety.

“I would love anyone who is interested in the event to participate,” Hengesbach says.

While late registrations will be accepted up until the event, get yours in by May 31 to be guaranteed a T-shirt. To register, view route maps and learn more about the event, visit the River Trail Triathlon website.

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