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Our Senior Digital Editor Liz Hichens was invited to race the ITU WTS Bermuda so she could report back to the triathlon masses what it’s like—both to race a major ITU event as an amateur and to race that level of event in Bermuda, an opportunity available to triathletes for the next two years. Here’s what she learned.
Last month I got the chance to participate in the age-group ITU WTS Bermuda race, thanks to the event’s host hotel, the Hamilton Princess Resort—and it was awesome. Like many ITU-affiliated events, this event won’t be around forever. This was the first of a three-year agreement that will see Bermuda on the race calendar as part of the World Triathlon Series circuit. If you’re considering adding this race-cation to your 2019 or 2020 calendar (it will again be on the last weekend in April), here’s what you need to know.
What differentiates this race
- It’s what you’ll do AFTER your race that makes this event experience so unique. The age-group sprint- and Olympic-distance events take place in the morning, with the elites competing in the afternoon. You swim, bike, and run, and then you get to watch the fastest triathletes in the world. It really doesn’t get much better than that. Bonus: Bermuda’s own Flora Duffy is the best female triathlete in the world and every Bermudian is super stoked about it. Almost the entire country came out to cheer her on—it’s a sight every triathlete will appreciate. (Yes, I cried with the crowd when she won.)
- The vacation part of the “race-cation” idea should be the main reason you head to this event. The island of Bermuda is only 20.6 square miles, but it’s a unique country full of beauty and culture, and 65,000 residents who welcome tourists with open arms.
- So often the triathlons that take place in amazing places are relegated off the beaten path to avoid costly road closures in busy tourist locations. The majority of the WTS Bermuda action (including the entire run) takes place right on the iconic Front Street.
Traveling to Bermuda is easier than you probably realize—especially if you’re on the East Coast. Bermuda is a 90-minute non-stop flight from NYC, less than a three-hour flight from most U.S. East Coast travel hubs, and a seven-hour flight from London. As a huge bonus, American travelers can clear U.S. customs in Bermuda. (If you’ve traveled internationally you know what a big-time saver this is.) Visitors aren’t allowed to rent cars in Bermuda, so your best bet is to take a taxi from the airport.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Hamilton Princess (clearly). Not only is the (pink!) hotel gorgeous, it’s a short walk to everything race related. It’s not just a bonus, it’s fairly necessary when renting a car isn’t an option. It’s also the official event hotel, which means you get added convenience perks (like an early-morning race-day breakfast option) and will spot some of your favorite pros in the lobby (be cool).
I signed on for this trip with visions of fruity drinks and my sand in the toes following the race. The forecast called for rain showers every day of race weekend. Thankfully, that did not happen. Race day was cloudy and breezy, but it was dry, and then it poured the day following the race. The weekend before and after were apparently sunny. Basically, expect the unexpected. Because Bermuda is further north than other “tropical” islands East and South of the United States (i.e. the Caribbean), it has cooler and more variable weather.
Renting (or bringing) a bike
I rented a bike from the team at Race Day Transport, and I can’t say enough good things about this crew and their service. I showed up the day before the race, and they spent 30 minutes giving me a proper bike fit. After the race, I simply handed the bike back to them (right in transition). The process works the same whether you have them ship your bike (from and then back to a bike shop near your home) or choose a rental.
There are sprint- and Olympic-distance races, with relay options at both distances. (I did the sprint race.)
Swim (Sprint one lap 750m, Olympic one lap 1500m)
The cutoff for wetsuits is 22 degrees Celcius and the water temperature hovered right around there leading up to the race. Race morning turned out to be wetsuit legal, but only about half of athletes wore them. Race organizers didn’t expect that wetsuits would be allowed, so it’s probably not worth dragging along your wetsuit in your suitcase. The swim takes place in Hamilton Harbour, right off of the bustling action of Front Street. Both races feature an in-water swim start with clearly marked courses that take athletes around the harbor to a swim exit that is west on Front Street. Even with breezy conditions, the protection of the harbor kept the waters fairly calm. One of the more unconventional parts of the whole course is a 300-meter run up from the swim exit to transition. I was skeptical about this before the race, but organizers carpeted the entire stretch and it turned out to be no big deal.
Bike (Sprint two laps 20km, Olympic four laps 40km)
The bike is the real gem of this course. The roads throughout Bermuda are narrow, making riding them in normal traffic fairly terrifying. The roads are completely closed to vehicles during the race, making for a triathlete’s dream course. Every part of this course is up, down, and winding. The grueling climb up the steep Corkscrew Hill is the highlight, and with the looped course you’ll be tackling it at least twice. The technical nature of the ride lends better to a road bike then a triathlon bike; race organizers recommend a 25-28 cassette.
Run (Sprint two laps 5km, Olympic four laps 10km)
The run course is fairly flat and fast, and takes place completely on Front Street. The Bermudian crowds were out in full support, making the final leg the most fun.
After a quick walk back to the resort to shower, it was back to Front Street to watch the elite events. I settled in at The Dog House and enjoyed a post-race meal before watching the elite men’s swim from the bar—yes, triathlon was on every television! Then I hopped out to the sidewalk to watch the bike and run. I repeated this same sequence to watch the women’s race. The crowd had grown exponentially by then with everyone pumped to watch their hometown hero race on Bermudian roads—it was an experience I’ll never forget. How often do you get to see thousands of people get so excited about triathlon?
The plan for the day after the race was to enjoy the Hamilton Princess Beach Club (a short ride away on a complimentary beach jitney), and then have a massage and enjoy a nice dinner. As previously mentioned, the weather did not cooperate with the beach plan. The beach club includes activities (like snorkeling) and lounging options (water hammocks), but I’ll have to wait until next time to experience those. Instead, I made the best of the day by booking a relaxing 60-minute Flow massage a the resort’s Exhale Spa. (As an added bonus the oils completely eliminated the temporary tattoo race numbers! We all know what a pain those are to remove!). I finished my final day in Bermuda with a dinner at Marcus’ Bermuda, a swanky spot over looking the water located right on resort’s grounds. I had heard about Bermuda’s signature drink—the Swizzle—all weekend and finally decided to try it. I had the Marcus Swizzle (it was delicious) and then started with the Crispy Buttermilk Cauliflower (yum). Then I had the USDA Prime Steak FRITE tenderloin and finished off with a cheesecake. Everything was exquisite, and it was an ideal way to round out a race weekend.
There are so many things I didn’t get to experience, and I can’t wait to go back. In addition to the beach club, I’m anxious to visit the Bermuda Aquarium, the Crystal Caves, and the Bermuda Railway Trail. If you have the budget (Bermuda is expensive!), I’d definitely recommend staying at least a few nights after the race to take in the island.