Olga Cemore always loved Veterans Memorial Park at Beacon Hill.
The triathlete often joined a group of fellow bike-riders for training rides from Tyndall Air Force Base ending at the park.
The park with its hills and the panoramic views of the ocean was always a perfect end to those fast-paced rides, a postcard finish.
So it should be of little surprise that nine years ago, as she was planning for the event that would become the Beach Blast Triathlon, that Cemore, a fitness instructor in Panama City, would find a suitable home at Veterans Memorial Park in Beacon Hill.
“I really like that park,” Cemore said while preparing for the ninth annual spring edition of the Beach Blast Triathlon/Duathlon later this month. “The park was calling for it. It can hold a lot of people and it is a great venue.”
A venue that will come alive April 27 when hundreds of athletes will converge on Gulf and Bay counties for the bi-annual Beach Blast, which has come to also feature a fall race in September.
The spring Beach Blast is actually four competitions in one.
The competition includes a Sprint and Olympic Triathlon and a Sprint and Olympic Duathlon.
Duathlons are different from triathlon in that there is no swimming leg – athletes compete in a run, bike, run format.
The Sprint Triathlon includes a swim of .35 miles, a bike ride of 15 miles and run of 3.1 miles; the Olympic Triathlon is .7 miles on the swim, 25 miles on the bike and a run of six miles.
On the Duathlon side, the Sprint includes a run of 1.2 miles, 15 miles on the bike and a run of 3.1 miles; the Olympic Duathlon includes a 3.1 mile run, 25 mile bike ride and another 6.2 mile run.
“We started nine years ago with just the sprint triathlon, but the longer distance is more attractive to bringing in athletes,” Cemore said. “The duathlon is a more family-friendly event, people of all ages can really compete.
“About 20 percent of the field of duathletes travels from outside the area, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama. This is the only event like this between Panama City and Georgia. It is very attractive to athletes. There are some locals and there is a huge crowd from Tallahassee and Atlanta.”
The swim legs of the event are competed in the Gulf of Mexico directly across the highway from Veterans Memorial Park and the bike leg takes riders up County 386 and back before rounding through Gulf Aire and, for a brief stretch, along U.S. 98.
The event has steadily grown over the years. Last year, more than 800 athletes competed in the September and April editions of the Beach Blast.
“We have a come-back ratio of 30-35 percent, which is really a pretty good come-back rate,” Cemore said.
Beach Blast is also organized under the USA Triathlon banner so athletes who are members of triathlon clubs receive competition points for competing in the Beach Blast.
The life of a triathlete, Cemore noted, is not for everybody. Training consumes 17 hours of Cemore’s week, running three or four times a week, biking three or four times a week, building up and combining specialties as race preparation ramps up.
Plus, there is the need to consume all those calories that will be burned off.
“It is very annoying, I am always looking for food,” Cemore said with a laugh. “You have to love it. It will suck you in and you love it or you don’t. If you are going to be addicted to something, there are a lot worse things to be addicted to.”
Cemore got started in triathlons after observing the Gulf Coast Triathlon for several years in Panama City.
“The athletes looked so pitiful, so much in pain,” Cemore said. “But they had smiles on their face. I couldn’t understand how anybody could look so horrible, but be so happy.”
After years of training and competing, Cemore undertook the granddaddy of all triathlons, the Ironman in Hawaii.
“I survived,” Cemore said with a chuckle when asked how she did. “I was actually able to walk the next day. It is a beast. But I had to do it just to validate myself as a triathlete.”
The Beach Blast Triathlon/Duathlon, Cemore said, is a success due in large measure to the scores of volunteers who assist with the service to athletes each year, from providing refreshment and direction on the course to ensuring correct times at the finish and ease during transitions.
“We just hope to get enough volunteers with a lot more people to extend service to the athletes,” Cemore said.
To sign up as a volunteer submit your availability time to Cemore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She will match your availability to the course and provide information on where and when to show up.