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Cavans Cove Nature Preserve
Among the best spots for bicycling in the valley are the Blue Ridge Parkway and the trails of Carvins Cove Nature Preserve
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Roanoke County Prevention Council Director Nancy Hans as favorite spots for all kinds of workouts; for swimming it's the Salem Y.
Pentathlon: a contest featuring five different events contested over one day.
Welcome ladies and gentleman, to the Roanoke Valley’s own version of the Pentathlon…running, biking, hiking, paddling and swimming.
But you don’t have to try it all in one day. And of course there are variations, and far more than five events for what it’s worth, including trail running, road running, road biking, trail biking, hiking, rock climbing, fitness, paddling, boating, tubing and golf – with clubs or with Frisbees for that matter. We won’t even mention the annual Commonwealth Games, which brings dozens of sporting events to the valley every summer, many suitable for rank amateurs from age 6 to 60 and beyond.
The point is, over the past few years Roanoke has gradually seized upon its outdoor amenities in a big way, creating websites (Roanokeoutside.com), government positions (Roanoke City’s Outdoor Events Specialist) and marketing plans designed to take advantage of the great outdoors. Attract the businesses and people drawn to outside activities and this becomes a better place to live and play. The Roanoke River Greenway and other shorter urban trails built over the past 15 years have fueled an interest in the outdoors and in getting fit, by providing a safe off-road venue.
Within an hour or so of the Roanoke Valley visitors, newcomers or long time residents have access to major rivers like the James or the New and destination locations for swimming, boating and fishing (Smith Mountain and Claytor lakes). There’s also the legendary Appalachian Trail, which runs more than 2,100 miles from Maine to Georgia – or from Georgia to Maine, depending on where you might begin. Either way, Virginia has the most miles – about 550 – of any of the trail’s 14 states.
You can sharpen those rock climbing skills before heading out to places like Dragon’s Tooth, Iron Gate and Bluestone State Park (on the Virginia-West Virginia border) at venues like the Charlotte Fox Climbing Wall at Hollins University, open to the public Monday-Thursday from 7-9pm. Fox, a Hollins alumna, climbed Mount Everest in 1996 and survived the deadly blizzard that followed, one made famous by the book “Into Thin Air” and other chronicles.
Just off the Roanoke River Greenway in the Wasena neighborhood, the River Rock climbing facility was scheduled to open at the end of 2012. Manager Brent Cochran says the new climbing wall, located inside the River House apartment complex, will be a family-friendly “community gathering space.” He expects to offer group rates and climbing camps. Nearby on the greenway, East Coasters plans to open a bicycle repair and rental shop this spring.
Joe Hanning, Roanoke City’s first-ever Outdoor Events Specialist, helped create the Radical Runabout obstacle course-5K race at Fallon Park last year. Now he has plans for a downtown run that includes climbing up the 21-story Wells Fargo building and several parking garages this spring (watch for upcoming details).
Hanning, also involved with overseeing the Gallop for the Greenways 5K run and the annual Go Outside Festival (three years old this fall) was drawn to the Roanoke Valley with his family by outdoor venues like Carvins Cove, where he gets his mountain biking fix. The Cove also offers opportunities for hiking and horseback riding on land, and kayaking, canoeing and fishing on the water.
The region is an ideal place to cross train, according to Hanning: “You can’t beat Carvins Cove for trail running or mountain biking.” He likes the area around Mill Mountain for road race training. “The traffic along the Fishburn Parkway and adjacent Blue Ridge Parkway is usually pretty mellow and motorists know to watch for cyclists and pedestrians.”
Hanning has competed in several off-road adventure triathlons, which feature mountain biking, kayaking and trail running/orienteering. All of those activities can be enjoyed in the valley or nearby.
The only thing Roanoke County resident Nancy Hans may be more passionate about than fitness is helping kids avoid the wrong choices, as director of the Prevention Council of Roanoke County. Hans (pronounced like hands without the D), a transplant from Maryland, revived a long dormant interest in triathlons when she was approaching her late 40s Hans (now 55) has completed about two-dozen triathlons and recommends the shorter YMCA Sprint Triathlon at the Salem Y in June as a good way to get initiated. “[It’s] much more fun now with chip timing and tons of support at the races,” she notes.
Hans often trains on the Blue Ridge Parkway, “up and down some of the mountains for biking, as well as routes out in the County and in Salem – Harborwood, Green Hill Park, Loch Haven Road and parts of the [Roanoke River] greenway.” Her favorite pool for swim training is the Salem Y, where long time triathlete and coach Pat Bateman has worked with many swimmers. Hans also likes the long course down at the Christiansburg Aquatics Center pool and Smith Mountain Lake for open water training.
“The growth of indoor swimming pools has been a huge factor in the tri[athlon] community here,” says Bateman, the director of competitive swimming for YMCA of the Roanoke Valley, which has pools in Salem and downtown Roanoke. There are other Y pools in Bedford and Franklin counties.
He doesn’t compete in triathlons at this point, but Bateman still runs road races on occasion.
Bateman, who assists triathletes with their training from time to time, but concentrates on swimming duties days, likes running on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the many adjacent trails, like Chestnut Ridge, accessible from the Mill Mountain Parkway spur road.
“Another plus about our community are the calm back neighborhood roads [ideal for training runs] – and now the greenways,” says Bateman.
Pete Lampman, president of Virginia Amateur Sports, which stages the Commonwealth Games, the Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon, the Appalachian Power Festival 5K and 10K runs and the Star City Half Marathon, among other events, can often be found on long distance bike rides in the area.
“I like the ride on Bradshaw Road up to Ironto and back to Roanoke. About 50 miles,” says Lampman. He bikes up Mill Mountain to the iconic star on top and has a favorite route in Fincastle (Botetourt County). “The greenway of course is a good ride - but it can be very crowded,” he adds.
Lampman is also a fan of the trails at Explore Park for biking and running.
If you’re serious about training for something like a triathlon, Lampman says you’ve found the right place: “a great area due to the terrain, the peaks and valleys of the mountains, the trails and the availability of water.”
You don’t have to be a triathlete or pentathlete of course…take your time.
Run or walk one week, bike the next, swim or paddle after that. Take advantage of all the outdoor amenities in the area. They’re there when you’re ready.