St. John residents Matt Crafts and Mary Vargo, the chief organizers of the annual Love City Triathlon for the past two years, earned the top slots in the race’s men’s and women’s categories on Sunday, repeating wins from previous years.
Sunday’s race was less competitive than previous years’ races for Vargo, who was the only woman to participate solo in the full triathlon this year. Unchallenged in her category, she completed the course in two hours, 31 minutes and 50 seconds. Vargo was the fastest finishing woman in the triathlon in 2014 and 2015.
Crafts’ first place finish in the mens’ category this year was a repeat of wins in 2015 and 2013. He crossed the course’s finish line with a time of one hour, 55 minutes and 46 seconds.
Now in its 17th year, the Love City Triathlon is one of several annual athletic events on St. John, including the 8 Tuff Miles race and the Beach to Beach Power Swim, which draw competitors from around the territory, the region and the nation.
The full course consists of a half-mile swim at Maho Bay, a 14-mile bicycle race around the northwestern portion of St. John, and a four-mile run to Annaberg, returning to Maho Bay. Both individuals and relay teams can participate.
The event also includes an aquathlon that does not include the cycling portion of the race. Three years ago a “SUPathlon” event was added, which combines the swimming and running portions of the race with two trips around Whistling Cay on a stand-up paddleboard.
Vargo and Crafts agreed that the cycling segment of the triathlon, a loop encompassing large stretches of Centerline and North Shore Roads, is the most difficult part of the race due to its steep hills.
“Everyone who’s done the 8 Tuff Miles knows the elevations. It’s actually harder, in my opinion, to bike that course than to run it,” said Vargo.
Crafts added that the running portion of the triathlon amounts to a slightly greater distance than many similar races.
“It’s not your average sprint triathlon track, which is usually a pretty much completely flat course,” he said. “It’s also usually not 4.2 miles of running; it’s usually three miles of running. After that grueling bike ride we add on an extra mile and a quarter.”
“But the swim is always great because you can’t really beat this water, especially in the mornings,” Crafts added, gesturing to the crystal clear and September-warm waters of Maho Bay.
Robert Rogerson, a visiting triathlon participant who is a veteran of many of St. John’s athletic events, agreed that the mountainous terrain of the island can test anyone’s endurance.
“Some of those hills – the gradients are just amazing,” he said. “I’m from Florida, so it’s very difficult to train for it. But with every climb up you see these incredible views at the top that kind of renew your energy so you can go down the other side real fast and get ready for the next one.”
This year’s Love City Triathlon drew 47 athletes, a number which Vargo said is lower than the races’ typical turnout before the close of Maho Bay Campgrounds in 2013. The campground used to offer free stays for athletes visiting from off-island. Vargo and Crafts said they are looking into alternatives to make it easier for visiting athletes to participate, and are glad that the race still draws participants from other islands.
Athletes from Tortola had a particularly strong showing this year, with five participants from that island placing in the list of top finishers in the race’s various events.
But the home team defended its Inter-Island Competition Title Sunday, and St. John residents placed first in each of the races’ events. In addition to Vargo and Crafts, T.J. Hinds and Chelsea Baranowski were top finishers in the mens’ and womens’ aquathlon, Adam Thill finished first in the SUPathlon, and the first-place triathlon relay team was made up of St. John residents Lori Morelli, Erin Moon and Leo Perez.
Morelli, Moon and Perez, all first-time participants in the race, finished the course with a time of two hours, 19 minutes and 24 seconds. They all agreed the race was well-organized and challenging.
“The conditions were nice, the seas were calm, there wasn’t much wind,” said Morelli, who swam for her relay team. “I swim pretty regularly, so for me training was just amping up a little what I usually do.”
Raf Muilenberg, who participated as a solo athlete and placed third in the mens’ category, said conditions were good for the land portion of the race as well.
“Thank goodness this year was the driest road I’ve seen since I started participating,” he said. “The run is always the hardest because it’s last and you’re hurting the most by that point.”
“There’s so many wonderful athletic events on St. John that really get the community together, that get volunteers and supporters and everybody to come out and really make a party out of it,” said Muilenberg.
Muilenberg said he meant the inter-island community, not just St. John.
“The amount of participation we got from Tortola was fantastic.”
Secretary of the Virgin Islands Triathlon Federation Theresa Harper, who traveled over from St. Croix for the race, was eager to remind the territory’s athletes that the Love City Triathlon is just the first in a yearlong calendar of triathlon events for youth and adults. The full schedule of races, most of which are held on St. Croix, can be found on the federation’s website: http://www.vitf.org/events.html.
“This is a great race. It’s always one of my favorites of the whole year. It’s really well organized, there’re really great prizes and it’s just a really fun spirit here,” Harper said.
In addition to the organizers and the many volunteers helping along the triathlon track, Sunday’s race was made possible by the following list of sponsors: The St. John Repair Shop, Windspree Vacation Homes, St. John Hardware, Starfish Market, Global Solutions VI, The St. John Landsharks, Big Planet, Freemans Farm, Miles and Susan Stair, Blue Bay Construction, 8 Tuff Miles, Pottery in Paradise, Arawak Expeditions, St. John Brewers, and North Shore Deli.
A full list of the racer’s top finishers will be posted at http://www.stjohnlandsharks.com/.