Panama City -- The 29th Annual Gulf Coast Triathlon is being held in Bay County this weekend, as it has since it began in the early eighties.
The Gulf Coast Triathlon is a 3-part event beginning with a 1.2 mile open-water swim in the Gulf of Mexico, followed by a 56-mile bicycle ride along west Bay County, and concluded by a 13.1 mile half-marathon distance run that takes participants along Thomas Drive and through St. Andrews State Park.
Athletes from all over the southeastern United States and beyond come on Mother’s Day weekend every year to participate in this race, as well as to spend time with their families along Panama City Beach.
Events surrounding the Gulf Coast Triathlon will be going on all weekend, but the race itself takes place on Saturday, May 7th, beginning and ending at the Boardwalk Beach Resort at 9400 South Thomas Drive.
The ‘physically challenged’ athletes kick off the race, entering the water at 6:15 a.m. The ‘pros’ begin their day by hitting the water 5 minutes later at 6:20. All other athletes will follow in 5-minute intervals based on characteristics such as gender and age.
Organizers of the Gulf Coast Triathlon estimate that just over 1,000 athletes will participate in this year’s event. That’s slightly down from an average of 1,200 athletes, and a peak of 1,600 a few years ago. Race officials say the ailing economy, along with the creation of other regional triathlons are to blame for the slump.
Over the last nine years, the Gulf Coast Triathlon has donated more than $300,000 to the local community. Last year, the GCT was able to donate more than $25,000 to local community organizations. The GCT’s stated charitable aim is to support youth organizations that promote sport, fitness and healthy lifestyles in the Bay County area.
There is a noteworthy difference in this year’s triathlon course, as the 56-mile bicycle route will not traverse Highway 388, due to the opening of the new airport. Instead, riders will pedal farther north along Highway 79 nearly to Ebro before sidetracking onto Pine Log Road and Steelfield Road on their southbound return to Panama City Beach.
The course has been approved by the Florida Department of Transportation to be the safest and most logical possible change to the course. Everyone is asked to exercise extreme caution on the roadways, especially in the areas where athletes and course volunteers are present.
For more information about the Gulf Coast Triathlon, please visit www.gulfcoasttriathlon.com.