Supplement

Inspiration in the shower

  • Key figure: Thom Gilligan, who inspired the creation of the three-race Bermuda Triangle Challenge competition, competing in the inaugural event in 2008 (File photograph)

Great ideas can strike at the most unexpected moment, and that was certainly the case with The Royal Gazette Bermuda Triangle Challenge.

While taking a shower 13 years ago, Thom Gilligan had a spark of an idea that quickly caught the imagination of others and led to the first three-race combined competition in 2008.

As a runner and a marketing partner he had been involved with Bermuda’s growing series of January races since 1979. Over the course of three decades he’d seen the running festival’s popularity peak and then wane.

The weekend traces its roots back to Bermuda’s first international marathon in 1975, which attracted seven runners.

A year was skipped in 1976, but the marathon returned in 1977 and has since been held every year. A 10K race was added to the race weekend in 1978, followed by mile races in 1989, and then a half-marathon in 1993.

By the mid-2000s competitor numbers had tumbled. The time was ripe to try something new, and the spark came in May 2007.

“It was one of those epiphanies you get when you are taking a shower. It just popped into my mind — what is unique about the Bermuda race weekend that we could give it an identity?” Gilligan said.

“I started thinking about what was unique to Bermuda, and the idea of the Bermuda Triangle popped into my head. We have three events on three days, this is a pretty good idea.”

He took the proposal to Bermuda’s governing athletic association.

“We had a meeting. The objection was always that the Front Street Mile was limited to residents and elite milers. But by that time there were so few people coming to run the marathon, the organisers had to try something new.”

In January 2008, the Bermuda Triangle Challenge miniseries was created, allowing competitors to sign up to do the mile, 10K and either the half-marathon or marathon on three consecutive days, with the lowest overall time achieved deciding the winners.

In the inaugural year there were 55 competitors in the two challenge events, that rose to 120 the next year, and doubled each subsequent year to reach more than 600 by the fifth year.

“It was obvious that it was unique. At that time, Bermuda was getting a lot of competition from the Walt Disney events, which had multi-day races, there was also Rock n’ Roll Arizona, with a half-marathon and marathon in January. So Bermuda had to do something to stand out from the crowd. And this set them apart, this gave them a unique marketing slogan,” Gilligan said.

The January races were once known as the Bermuda International Race Weekend, and in recent years as the Bermuda Marathon Weekend. This year is the first time the entire weekend has been known as the Bermuda Triangle Challenge.

“It has proven to be a successful formula. And from changing the name for the sake of marketing to the Bermuda Triangle Challenge, it’s a very good idea,” said Gilligan.

After being absent from the races for the past three years, he is pleased that Marathon Tours and Travel was asked to return as a marketing partner by the event’s new organising team. His company is bringing at least 155 visitors, of whom about 120 will be competitors, to this weekend’s event.

When the name change was announced last summer, Freddie Evans, event chairman said: “Our ultimate goal with the Bermuda Triangle Challenge is to move it from being a good event to a world-class event that every runner wants to have on their competition calendar.

“With the benefit of our new management team, we are repositioning and building on the past successes of Anthony Raynor’s organisational team.

“This is a long-term vision which our new affiliation with the Bermuda Tourism Authority will allow us to build this event.”

The weekend has also been boosted by the arrival of four headline sponsors; The Royal Gazette, Butterfield Bank, BF&M, and PwC.

Through the years, the January races have attracted past Olympic and World Champions, and former world record holders, such as Joan Benoit Samuelson, Grete Waitz, Douglas Wakiihuri, Steve Jones, Steve Cram and Frank Shorter.

Other big names have included former Boston Marathon winners Geoff Smith and Ron Hill, and women’s marathon legend Kathrine Switzer.

But star names are only a small part of the story, because for more than 40 years the weekend events have attracted thousands of competitors of all standards and from all walks of life.

Whether this is your first experience of the Bermuda Triangle Challenge, or you are a running veteran coming back for more, or simply planning to watch, may you have an enjoyable and memorable experience.