June Lake Triathlon: A Homegrown Celebration of Mountains and Community

The June Lake Triathlon has become known as “the toughest race in the most beautiful place.” Based on the shoreline of June Lake, the course is one of triathlon’s most challenging, but the vistas are second to none. If you’re Race Director Alana Levin, however, all that remote beauty also means the race is as hard to produce, as it is to race.

A veteran triathlete herself, reviving the dormant JL Tri was Levin’s first gig as a Race Director. “I first came to the Eastside from the Bay Area in fall ’97, and camped at Oh Ridge,” she remembers. “The ranger said it was one of the ugliest campsites, but the next morning I woke up to see Carson Peak and June Lake, and thought, ‘This is the ugliest?’ What struck me immediately was it would be great for a triathlon.”

Levin asked around and found out there had been a version of the JL Tri in the ’80s, which had attracted lots of celebrity athletes of the day, but it hadn’t been done in several years. “I said, ‘Okay, I’ll put it on.’” The first “kick the tires” run of the revived event was held in 2006 and had 20, mostly recruited, entrants from the then newly-formed High Sierra Tri Club. After that test, she decided registration the following year would be open to the public. The 2007 race drew 186 entrants. “I knew the venue was right – it had clean water, fresh air, mountains – and I got enough help setting up the course, including a trail run, which few triathlons have,” she says. Today the race is capped at 500 participants, and it sells out every year.

What Levin also established was the JL Tri’s local, “organic” quality. “I wanted really good food, so I hired Linda Dore to do catering, and she’s been there since the beginning,” Levin explains. “I wanted good swag, and to have the awards and medals be something special from the Eastside, and use local photographers and artists.”

There are triathlons, then there’s the June Lake Triathlon

Ask Levin what makes the JL Tri so attractive to athletes and she’ll tell you it’s the same thing that also makes it a Race Director’s nightmare: location, location, location. “I can grasp the big picture, but I wasn’t one for details,” Levin acknowledges. “Originally, I had nothing written down, nothing budgeted. I made it up as I went along.” The first year, she added, was the easiest. “I didn’t realize then how much work there would be.”

There was permitting and staging for everything from the beach base of operations to the welcome dinner (a JL Tri tradition), to travel and housing for some of the staff and sponsors coming in, to transportation to liabilities … and the list kept getting longer.

“It forced me to be creative,” she said. “These days I’m much more conscious about the details, much more production oriented.” She cites her partnership with High Point Solar as one of those creative decisions that’s been a boon for the event. “We used to rent a lot of generators for power, but Scott Smith worked with us on his solar system and now we only have the generators for backup.”

Soul of the race

One thing Levin’s proud of is that all the behind the scenes work has paid off with the JL Tri’s competitors. “One thing I hear from the veterans is that it feels like the triathlons did when the format first started,” she describes. “Around the late ‘70s, it was homegrown, and this one has the feel, the soul of those original triathlons.”

Levin notes that athletes, visiting and local, really respond to the JL Tri’s sense of small town friendliness. There are fundraisers and lots of volunteer support from all sorts of groups, agencies and non-profits, such as Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra, which also encourages participation for adaptive athletes. “It’s not overproduced, but it’s got a professional quality,” she thinks. “I’ve heard that the trail run could be too hard and maybe we should drop it, but I’m not going to. It’s about getting people up for a challenge, and giving them a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment.

“More than the sport, it’s a celebration of the mountains and the community, being out there and able to move through this majestic setting,” she states. As to her role, being Race Director means a lot of work before the event, but ideally not the day of. “Chris Hollingsworth, who we bring in from our event production company, Seven Seas Industries, once told me, ‘A good race director can run their own race,’” Levin said. “If I’ve done my job, on race day I don’t have a job.”

The 2015 June Lake Triathlon is set for July 11, and will again include four formats: Kids, Sprint, Olympic and Half-Ironman. Adaptive athletes can call for information on entering a modified version of the Sprint distance. Registration is now open online!

Author: Andy Geisel From Central Florida, he started in the film industry in Orlando and later worked in Los Angeles before moving to Mammoth Lakes in 2004 for what he and his wife Pamela thought would be a temporary stay. Soon after arriving, however, they decided to call Mammoth Lakes home. He started his local professional career as a copy editor and writer in local news. He still writes screenplays on the side and loves blogging for Visit Mammoth! During the summer, he and Pamela like to hike and ride mountain bikes on some cross-country trails. He recently took up running and ran his first two races this year. He’s currently training for more races in 2015, including the Mammoth Lakes Half-Marathon.

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