It used to be that bucolic Dorchester County was known mostly for its scenic marshland, crabs, maritime heritage, and Harriet Tubman. These days, though, the Eastern Shore county is becoming increasingly known for its endurance events -- including the 140.6-mile ChesapeakeMan, recently named one of the world's 10 best by Triathletemagazine, the largest and most widely-read triathlon magazine in the world.
ChesapeakeMan--which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run--is in good company. Only three other U.S. triathlons are honored, including the most famous of all, the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. The others rounding out the top 10 happen in countries from Germany to Italy to Israel.
This isn't the first time Dorchester County has been in the limelight for an endurance event. In 2009, Triathlete named the EagleMan Ironman 70.3 race--which also takes place in Dorchester County and is a qualifier for the Ironman in Kona--as one of the world's best for its incredible show of community support. At half the distance of ChesapeakeMan, the EagleMan draws 2,200 athletes and involves more than 1,000 community volunteers, as well as 50 families who open their homes to athletes for the weekend (there aren't enough hotel rooms or accommodations here for everyone). Every year, registration is sold out in a matter of days. Both triathlons draw competitors from around the country and beyond.
"Tri is the lifestyle of the 21st century," says Robert Vigorito, race director/producer and president of the Columbia Triathlon Association, which produces both the ChesapeakeMan and EagleMan Ironman 76.2 "Membership in USA Triathlon has exploded--from 10,000 in 2000 to 135,000 members today, and there's no sign that it will ebb anytime soon."
But why Dorchester County? Gerry Boyle, local event coordinator, who plans and manages logistics for both ChesapeakeMan and EagleMan, points out that "the course is challenging, particularly the flat and scenic 112-mile bike ride," which goes through parts of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
"We've seen a big uptick in the number of organized events here--not only triathlons, but running and cycling rides and races, too," said Director of Dorchester County Tourism Amanda Fenstermaker, who herself is a budding multi-sport athlete. "There's a lot to like here for athletes of all kinds—quiet roads, gorgeous scenery, waterviews everywhere you look. So the county is great for triathletes, cyclists, and anyone--and many of the events include an option for more recreational athletes or families."
"We're happy to provide guidance to anyone who wants to plan an endurance event or a cycling vacation here," Fenstermaker added.
Organizers are so pleased with the response to these endurance events that they've added another triathlon in Dorchester County for 2010 -- the Skipjack Triathlon, a 70.3-mile triathlon scheduled the same day as CheapeakeMan, September 25. The Skipjack joins a growing list of endurance events in the county, including running and cycling races.