Participants run Oro Valley Triathlon and Duathlon Festival’s competitions with the Catalina Mountains in view.  (Julie Stark/Submitted)

The Oro Valley Triathlon and Duathlon Festival is the only event of its kind in the area, but the attraction goes deeper than that.

As On Your Left Fitness owner Julie Stark put it, people across the Southwest come for the race, but they stay for the landscape.

“They love the mountain view,” said Stark, who serves as an organizer. “If you’re ever standing in the parking lot of the Oro Valley Aquatic Center and you take a look at those Catalina Mountains, they’re in your face. It’s so awe-inspiring.”

OYL Fitness hosts nine competitions, including the sprint triathlon, intermediate triathlon, spring duathlon, sprint triathlon-Clydesdale, sprint triathlon-Athena, beginner mini spring triathlon, sprint triathlon relay, intermediate triathlon relay and sprint duathlon relay.

For the third year, the Oro Valley runs are sold out, but the public is welcome to watch when participants take position at the starting line on Saturday, March 18.

With nine running events, participants witness the Catalina Mountain peaks on every mile of the track — from the pool at the Aquatic Center to Linda Vista Road and the bike path over the Cañada del Oro Wash.

Stark said they also return because the festival is inclusive. All racers take up bikes, running shoes and goggles on the same course, but with different laps depending on the competition. Events are split between beginner, intermediate and sprint, and some are even arranged into different weight categories — Clydesdale for men and Athena for women — based on USA Triathlon sanctions.

“It’s very cool,” Stark said about the weight decision. “They do have a national category for those divisions, and we add those in so those people can qualify and go to nationals.”

With participants ranging in age from 12 to 82, the competition allows for people with disabilities and medical needs. Previously, the race included a heart transplant recipient.

Whether a professional triathlete or beginner, the Oro Valley Triathlon and Duathlon Festival is meant for everyone, Stark said. She chalked up its success to the hard work of volunteers and town staff.

“They are the lifeblood,” Stark said. “We’ve had OVPD officers get off their motorcycles and run somebody in because they wanted to give up. That’s the stuff that warms your heart. All the way to the last end, we wait, and people are there to support each other.”

The Oro Valley Festival also runs on volunteers. Groups like Tucson Tri Girls or even individuals help coordinate races, including hydration stations, racer traffic direction and bike security during the competition.

The town of Oro Valley also plays a major role in maintaining safety and fun during the festival. OYL Fitness originally ran the race at Pinal Airpark in northwest Marana, with a course many athletes dubbed “eclectic.” When the race became too big for its location, officials and the town of Oro Valley planned for two years to move it there. This ensured the city and OVPD were comfortable with managing the festival.

“They had to be comfortable with what we were doing,” Stark said. “In reality, they’re the ones managing the traffic, making sure the runners are staying inside the cones — all that stuff.”

OYL Fitness has been in the race business for almost 13 years. Along with organizing competitions, Stark and her staff help time more than 50 races and offer advice for companies starting their own.

The Tucson streetcar project forced the end of the decades-long Tucson Triathlon Series. Now, Stark and OYL Fitness offer the only Triathlon in the Tucson area.

“I’m trying to provide an opportunity where nothing else is happening in our community,” Stark said. “If it weren’t for us, everybody would have to go to Phoenix.”

The company also hosts the legendary Run Around Tucson Relay, an ambitious race on the city’s perimeter with the 54-mile Chuck Huckelberry Loop. Stark said she enjoys the biking over running, but is still passionate about the competitions’ communal aspect.

The Oro Valley Triathlon and Duathlon Festival will feature an award ceremony for the top three men and women by age group in sprint and intermediate levels. Finishers will receive a handful of recovery treats, and Drew’s Dogs will cater the event.

Through the years, Stark has witnessed people from all walks of life at her competition.

“These are people that are overcoming life challenges,” Stark said. “They set themselves a goal, and we’re truly grateful they chose us to help them meet their goal. That is a huge deal to us.”

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