Triathlon: A Local and Gobal Sport

From Cortney Martin:

In the New River Valley region of southwest Virginia, triathlon is thriving and growing, reflecting national and international trends. Three years ago when I embarked on the sport, I knew very few triathletes. Now, it seems nearly everyone has either done a triathlon, or has a family member, close friend or colleague who has.

In 2009, the nearest on-road triathlon was the Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon held the first weekend in May. Now the area offers a variety of triathlons throughout the summer: the Salem YMCA Sprint Trathlon (June), Giles County Ride River Run Triathlon (July), the TriAdventure Summer Sprint (August), New River Trail Challenge Triathlon, (September), and the Claytor Lake Sprint Tri, (September).  The races produced by Set Up Events (no data for Giles) had a combined 567 racers and 67 teams for around 700 total participants. That is a lot of athletes needing bikes, apparel, wetsuits, bike shoes, running shoes, and accessories, and, optionally, pool passes, coaches, and body work.

The sport continues to see increases in growth on a national level with 147,000 members of the US Triathlon Association in 2011, a 9.2% increase over 2010, and a 54% increase over five years (2006-2011). Among the states in 2011, Virginia had the 5th largest number of registered triathletes at 6,456. The largest age group is 40-49 years. (For more information, please see USA Triathlon Demographics.)

This growth is repeated worldwide. For instance, the UK has also seen a greater than 50% increase in membership from 2006-2011.

A steady addition of new races, race series, and major corporate sponsors such as Revolution, HITS, Toyota Race to the Cup, and the Life Time Fitness Triathlon Series join the established Ironman brand. Even with increased race offerings, registration numbers are trending up. The chart below, courtesy of Raymond Britt at, shows the increase in Ironman registrations in North America.

North American Ironman Races - Number of Registered Entrants by Year, 2002-2011

Triathlons showcase the unique beauty and characteristics of an area, whether urban or rural, mountain or plain, river, lake, or sea. “Destination races” promote tourism as they bring athletes, and often their families, for a race-centered vacation getaway.

Next month I will be traveling to Auckland, New Zealand to compete as part of Team USA in the International Triathlon Union Age Group World Championships. I earned that spot at a national qualifying race in Burlington, Vermont. Triathlon is truly an international sport!

Cortney Martin
While triathlon grows globally, I credit much of my own racing success to the support I receive from the local triathlon community. It’s not just our infrastructure for "swim, bike, run," but also the triathlon-savvy bike and running shops and the sheer number of triathletes who share this collective experience and provide encouragement and fellowship. The sport of triathlon enables us to unplug and de-stress. It’s no surprise that it continues to attract new participants at an impressive rate.

. . . . .

Cortney Martin is a triathlete and the Director of Client Marketing with the fortyninegroup. A resident of the New River Valley of Virginia, USA, she is headed to the International Triathlon Union Age Group World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand in October, 2012.

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