On the run

Jay Curwen is one of a hundred or so athletes who will take off running, canoeing and biking in the eighth annual RiverLink Triathlon, slated for Sunday, June 6. The 21-mile event, in which participants run four miles, paddle five miles and cycle 12, runs down- and up-river on the French Broad, starting and ending near Asheville’s French Broad River Park on Amboy Road. The triathlon is the second half of RiverLink’s Personal Challenge Adventure Weekend; the French Broad Paddle Challenge, a 16-mile watercraft race, happens Saturday, June 5, starting at 9 a.m.

Triathlons put the “cross” in cross-training, offering a serious workout for legs and arms, underlined by endurance. And if past experience is any measure, the winner of Sunday’s contest will move through all these paces in about an hour-and-a-half.

But Curwen isn’t just another competitor in the RiverLink event: To date, he remains the only overall winner.

In the late 1980s, Curwen ran cross-country at UNCA; about 10 years later, he shifted to triathlons and adventure races. Asked about the switch, he told Xpress: “After college and then a number of years on the road-racing scene, I realized that I had hit a plateau, and while I was competitive, I wasn’t improving past the strong regional level. Multisport races, such as the triathlon and duathlon, offered a mix of events that catered to my strengths and immediately, I was performing at a higher level.” He added: “The sport’s been great. I’ve had the chance to race all over the country as well as Europe and Asia.”

Curwen, who’s won more than 100 multisport running and cycling races, is also a member of Team Litespeed, a multisport racing group with national sponsorships from Litespeed Bicycles, Patagonia and Montrail. Locally, the seasoned competitor enjoys the support of Black Dome Mountain Sports, Liberty Bikes and Cane Creek Cycling.

But Curwen isn’t the only international athlete competing this weekend. Warren Wilson College varsity paddling coach Lecky Haller, a five-time world championship medalist who has racked up more than 30 top-three finishes in World Cup competition and who held the U.S. National Championship for 16 years, will make a brief appearance in the Paddle Challenge. I say “brief” because I’m remembering the glimpse I had of Haller during last year’s race, before the two-time Olympian disappeared around a bend. Haller was long gone when I stumbled up the bank, more than half an hour behind his first-place finish.

Both events are open to athletes at any level, from novice to expert, and both courses are as gentle as you want to make them. The triathlon route is regarded as the flattest racing course in WNC, and the paddle competition runs downstream along a flat-water stretch of the French Broad. So whether you’re looking for a fun day’s outing or a chance to pit your muscles and stamina against two of the world’s best, there is room in these races for you. To top it off, all proceeds from the events support the work of RiverLink, a regional nonprofit that’s spearheading the economic and environmental revitalization of the French Broad River as a place to live, work and play.

As Curwen observes, “RiverLink’s Adventure Weekend is a great, grassroots event that promotes a fun lifestyle as well as benefits a fantastic cause.”

Just the (sweaty) facts

French Broad Paddle Challenge: Registration is $45/individual, $70/team, plus a $6 per person one-day insurance fee for those who aren’t American Canoe Association members. Check-in and registration at Westfeldt Park (just south of Asheville Regional Airport on N.C. 25) starts at 7 a.m. on race day, Saturday, June 5.

RiverLink Triathlon: Registration is $50/individual, $65/team, plus $9 per person one-day insurance fee for those who aren’t USA Triathlon members. Register from 3-5 p.m. on Saturday, June 5 at the RiverLink office (corner of Lyman Street and Riverside Drive, in Asheville’s River District) or at French Broad River Park on Sunday, June 6, starting at noon.

For more information, call 252-8474, ext. 115, e-mail events@riverlink.org, or visit http://www.riverlink.org/.

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