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A different type of Beaton Classic gives way to the races to come

The Beaton Classic was cancelled in 2020 - no real newsflash there.

In fact, the real shocker here would have been if we had seen those advocates of all things athletic, a couple of hundred strong, gathering on the shores of Moonlight Beach, just as they had nearly every August dating back to the early 1980s.

Sorry - fact check - Moonlight Beach was not the starting point of the early Beaton Classics.

The simple truth is that the infancy of the Sudbury summer quadrathlon does not necessarily mimic, all that closely, the same course that Clinton Lahnalampi covered in 2:19.07 last year to capture the solo men’s title (Sara McIlraith continued to dominate recent editions of the women's race, finishing first in 2019 in a time of 2:21.22).

"The original Beaton was a very long race, with a longer course than it is today," suggested Michael Hay, the 52 year-old world class age group triathlete who participated in many of the early Beatons, taking the title three or four times. "It would take over three hours to get it done."

"Back then, it was a bit of the wild west, in terms of what would happen to us when we did these long endurance events."

Triathlons were not yet in vogue, with the International Triathlon Union created only in 1989 and the sport making its first appearance in the Olympics in 2000 in Sydney. Yet throughout the decade that was the eighties, the likes of Bruce Wainman, Malcolm Stevens, Chris Gore, Adrian Gedye, Hugh Ferguson and Hay were battling it out, tackling the latest brainchild of a Sudbury sports legend.

"Terry McKinty was a visionary, putting together these races that were pretty unique," said Hay. "The Beaton was the most important race in my young adult life - I would train all year for that race. To this day, I don't think there is another race like it."

In fact, it was in large part the combination of the Beaton Classic, along with the supporting cast of events that comprised the start of the Sudbury Fitness Challenge, was would lay the building blocks of the athletic career that Michael Hay has forged over time.

A veteran of a few hundred running races and triathlons, the Sudbury native who now lives in Guelph captured the 40-44 age crown at the Masters Triathlon World Championships in Vancouver a little over a decade ago. His accomplishments in the sport are more than just a tad impressive.

"Races like the Beaton helped me discover that I was pretty good at endurance events," said Hay. "The longer the race, the better it was for me. I was never naturally gifted with speed, but I was determined to train hard enough to have good endurance."

And so it was the he took on the challenge that was the Beaton - and a challenge, it most certainly was. "It was deemed to be this insane race," said Hay. "The terrain, running around Laurentian, was crazy. There was nothing else like it."

Blessed with the perspective of time, not to mention roughly three decades devoted to the pursuit of racing the perfect triathlon, Hay appreciates the nostalgia of the first few editions of the Beaton.

"I think the biggest change that I noticed is that the early participants were renegades, a little bit, almost pioneers," said the man who last participated in 2005 or 2006. "Over time, the sport became more specialized. These days, it seems that everybody wants to do the big events, the ones that are franchised, the Ironman branded races and things like that."

Having called Atlanta (Georgia) home since 2015, Bernie Lacourciere agrees, wholeheartedly.

"People today are almost clinical with their approach to triathlons," said the only recently turned 56 year old Sudbury native and graduate of Laurentian University, a member of both the varsity cross-country and nordic ski teams in his time as a Voyageur. "You look at the nutrition, the equipment - it's become almost scientific, methodical."

"The Beaton Classic had none of those characteristics, and that's what I loved about it. Terry (McKinty) sort of created this hodge-podge, using whatever was available geographically."

Lacourciere, who participated in four Beaton races in the 1980s, would go on to enjoy a great deal of success on the triathlon circuit in the Ottawa region, and across the province, in the 1990s. "I was quite successful, winning a bunch of series races," he said. "I finished first overall probably in 30% to 40% of the races I went into."

"I had a really good run, from about 1990 to 1994, when I was still skiing a lot in the winter and doing triathlons in the summer."

It was quite a pinnacle to be reached for the local lad who grew up just a hop, skip and a jump away from his future high-school (College Notre Dame). Lacourciere was not what you might call a natural in sports - at least not when it came to team sports.

"I was notoriously uncoordinated in sports like basketball and baseball and such - OK at hockey - but I had a love of sports from a very young age," he said. In fact, it was the advice of a coach that was in the process of informing the youngster than he would not be making the team that truly opened the door of possibilities for Lacourciere.

"He said I should go out for cross-country," recalled the man who still describes himself as a "competent" runner. "Our very first practice, we ran something like a 5 km. I went right to the front and by the time that little run was over, I was probably about a minute and a half ahead of the closest guy."

"I figured I had found something that I was reasonably good at."

A former OUA nordic ski champion who remained far more active than average through the bulk of his adult life in Thunder Bay, Lacourciere continues to race, primarily in cycling events, in the southern USA.

Still, those special memories of the Beaton persist.

"You didn't even get to just jump in the water at the start of the race," Lacourciere reminisced. "No, Terry made you run your butt off to get to the water, so that by the time you took your first strokes, you legs were just burning."

"The run would take place on what was basically a single track mountain bike trail through the bush," he added. "That was hard. You wanted to be constantly making sounds from your gut, when you ran, because you were worried that around the next 90 degree turn, there might be a bear waiting for you."

Yes indeed - there was nothing quite like those early Beaton Classic races.

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