Fresh on the heels of news about shark sightings and rip-current rescues off the coast of southern Maine comes the second year of the Ironman 70.3 Maine triathlon in Old Orchard Beach.

Such news “always seems to come around tapering time,” when triathletes cut back on training to rest before the big event, said Christina Cracolici of Biddeford. “Swimming in the ocean for a lot of people is a daunting task anyway, and something people are always nervous about.”

Cracolici, 41, completed last year’s Old Orchard Beach race but will be volunteering this weekend and supporting her triathlete friends in Sunday’s event, which gets underway at 6:20 a.m. with a 1.2-mile ocean swim. A field of 2,500 registered for the race, which continues with a 56-mile bike portion and concludes with a 13.1-mile run.

Sunday marks the seventh consecutive year of an August triathlon in Old Orchard Beach, rebranded from Rev3 to Ironman last summer with a concurrent surge in popularity because of marketing strength of Ironman.

“I had raced it three or four times previously as Rev3,” said Cracolici, who completed a full 140.6-mile Ironman triathlon last month in Lake Placid, New York. “I think the field tripled (when Ironman came aboard). It’s always been a top-quality event, but you’re never alone now on the course.”

Jason Webber, recreation director in Old Orchard Beach, said organizers have worked to address traffic concerns and that no roads will be completely shut down, although residents returning to their homes may be forced to take alternate routes.

“We met with all the area communities and their safety-management teams,” Webber said. “I think our traffic pattern is better than it’s ever been. We will have delays, for sure, but we’re going to try to keep traffic flowing instead of at a standstill.”

The bike course begins at the Milliken Street parking lot and winds through Saco, Dayton, Lyman, Waterboro and Hollis before returning to Old Orchard Beach. About 80 athletes have registered for AquaBike, meaning they will stop after the first two legs rather than continue to the running portion along the Eastern Trail into Scarborough before returning to the beach.

Heidi Watson, 45, of South Portland is one of those opting only for the swim and bike legs. She completed the Old Orchard Beach triathlon twice before, but has just resumed running while recovering from an injury.

“Living locally, that’s really the difference for me,” Watson said. “Being able to stay in my hometown and having a few more people to cheer you on is really wonderful.”

As for sharks, Watson said she gets joked about it a lot.

“During race day, there are plenty of people out there,” she said with a laugh. “So the chances of me being attacked are pretty slim.”

The top finishers in various age groups for men and women will qualify for 30 slots at the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship next September in Nice, France.

The event also provides an opportunity for local nonprofit groups to raise money by earning $15 per volunteer shift for their organization. State Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, said more than $10,000 will go to local charities.

“This race is a huge draw,” Webber said. “It brings in so many new fresh faces to our town. In talking to the athletes, some of them have never even visited Maine before.”

Neither of last year’s winners is registered. Dave Bartlett of England was the top male finisher in 4 hours, 9 minutes, 26 seconds. Ashley Forsyth of Philadelphia was the top female in 4:47:27.

All athletes are expected to finish by 3:30 p.m. An awards ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m. in Memorial Park.

“The community has been incredibly supportive,” said Audra Tassone, regional director for Ironman, which sponsors more than 100 of the 70.3-mile triathlons around the world.

 

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