Photos by the author
While planning a week-long vacation to Mammoth Lakes with my husband, David, I (being the crazy triathlete that I am) did a quick search to see if any races were going on during our stay that we could pop into. Before marrying me, David believed that vacations should preclude any training done during regular life, but he has slowly, grudgingly accepted my belief that adding a race into a vacation gives it an extra edge of satisfaction that lounging by a pool for days just can’t match. So when I discovered that the 5th annual June Lake Triathlon would take place on the last day of our stay, I signed us both up. We were off for a week of mountain biking and trail running in the Sierra Mountains, capped off with a local triathlon at 8,000 feet.
What really sets this race apart are the details and the local flavor.
Heading down Highway 158 in the High Sierra is like driving toward a 3D postcard of a mountain paradise. In the center of this small fishing and skiing town sits its namesake attraction, a glacial body of Hawaii-blue water known as June Lake. It’s the perfect setting for any multisport activity: kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, swimming, hiking, mountain biking, road biking and, of course, a multitude of winter cross-training at the June Lake Ski Area. This is exactly what race director and avid triathlete Alana Levin thought to herself when she stumbled upon June Lake while on her way to Mammoth Lakes in 1997. “I woke up to the views of Carson Peak and the surrounding mountains set above June Lake and I just knew it would be the perfect place for a triathlon.”
She wasn’t the first person to think this. Back in the 80’s there was a June Lake Triathlon, but after a few years it fizzled out. Levin was determined not only to see a triathlon return to the area, but also for the race to be truly a one-of-a-kind experience that would last for years to come. She organized a brutally hard but scenically rewarding course for both the sprint and Olympic distances, each one finishing with a trail run that puts Wildflower to shame. In its first year back in 2007 the race drew 186 participants to both the sprint and Olympic distances, and this year 421 people braved the chilly waters of June Lake, the rolling cycle course, and the run’s lung-busting hills. This year also featured a kid’s triathlon, and each participant received a goody bag filled with gifts from local businesses including horseback rides, fishing trips and even boat rentals.
What really sets this race apart—other than the scenery—are the details and the local flavor. “It takes a village to put on this race, and the High Sierra is a tightly knit community. Everyone feels like they are a big part of the race since it happens in their back yard,” says Levin. The area is home to several talented potters, and Levin recruits them to hand-make each finisher’s medal, as well as the awards for the top-three in each age group. Area photographers also present the top-five overall in each race with books of their work. The finish line lunch is easily the best post-race food you’ll ever have, thanks to local organic food caterer Linda Dore. (This year’s spread featured quinoa-lentil salad, cilantro hummus and pita, free-range chicken, gooey brownies and lemon squares).
Levin also puts a special emphasis on making the event as green as possible, and this year she contacted 2010 racer Scott Smith of High Point Solar, who agreed to help put the entire event off the grid. Clothing sponsor Patagonia chips in impressively sleek technical tees, and the Snowcreek Resort in nearby Mammoth offers up a 20 percent discount on lodging, along with a free round of gold at the Snowcreek golf course and free access to the Snowcreek Athletic Club to all participants.
The June Lake Triathlon is still small enough to give you that personalized feel, which keeps the regulars coming back, however the grueling course (made all the more difficult due to the high altitude) continues to draw in seasoned racers from all over the Southwest. This race will likely continue to grow over the next few years. It’s a gem of an event, and one worth checking off your race bucket list.