Summer sees Culpeper and Luray transform into triathlon central for the elite athlete set.

Luray International Triathalon.

Photo by HJ Hypnotic Imagery

Virginia’s small towns are well-known for their quiet pace, scenic spaces and—despite growing trendy dining and shopping scenes in a few areas like Middleburg and Abingdon—just enough tractor traffic to confirm that rural Virginia hasn’t changed too much.

But a couple Virginia towns have become national leaders as hosts of the burgeoning sport of triathlon. Culpeper and Luray host the multi-sport races in events that are growing in participation every year.

The Culpeper Triathlon Festival launched in 2005 and the Luray International Triathlon followed the next year—now both events are established must-do races on elite athletes’ calendars. 

Triathlons comprise a punishing sequence of swimming, cycling and running, in that order. The most famous of these is the Ironman triathlon championship race in Kona, Hawaii, with its grueling 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.22-mile run. Virginia’s races run at shorter distances; the sprint tri, which is typically the novice racer’s distance of choice, includes a 750-meter swim, 16-mile bicycle ride and 5K (3.1-mile) run. The international, or Olympic, distance race, takes a bit more stamina to complete, with its 1,500-meter swim, 24-mile bicycle ride and 10K (6.2-mile) run.

Just like the athletes themselves, the racesin Culpeper and Luray began first with sprinttriathlons and have since expanded to include both sprint and international triathlon races. 

The whole community pitches in to host these events, which fill local hotels and restaurants and help spread word of the towns’ appeal to visitors. The local high school track team comes out to work in the Luray race, while the field hockey team lends a hand for the Culpeper event.

This year’s races are Aug. 4-5 in Culpeper and Aug. 18-19 in Luray. Both towns now also host other outdoor events related to swimming, biking and running, such as Luray’s Swimfest in June and Culpeper’s Century 100-mile bike ride. 

“We have morphed into an event town,” says Luray Parks and Recreation Director Pat O’Brien. One with the occasional tractor passing through. 

“It started out as a one-day event with about 200 athletes, recalls Pat O’Brien, Luray Parks and Recreation Director, who has been involved since the very beginning. “At that point I didn’t know what a doggone triathlon was. It has now grown to become a two-day event and we cap participation at 750 athletes on Saturday (for the sprint race) and 750 on Sunday (for the international race).

This article originally appeared in our August 2018 issue.

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