Last week’s excessive rainfall in the Chattanooga area forced race officials in the Waterfront Triathlon to change the event from a three-event race into a duathlon, but that didn’t keep a bunch of extremely fit folks from recording some really fast times Sunday morning.
Craig Evans, a 35-year-old fulltime professional triathlete who sells classic cars from Hendersonville, was the overall winner as he covered the distance in one hour, 51 minutes and 37 seconds.
Birmingham’s Justin Ladner was second in 1:54:08 while Knoxville’s Alan Horton was third in 1:54:42.
Meghan DeGan, a 23-year-old from Marietta, was the female overall winner as she covered the distance in two hours, one minute and 36 seconds as she finished 18th overall.
Hallie Blunck was second as she finished shortly after Degan in 20th place with a time of 2:01:51 while Seeley Gutierrez, a 37-year-old from Tallahassee, Florida, was third in 2:04:23.
Under normal conditions, the event begins with a 1.5K swim that starts at the UTC Rowing Center next to Scrappy Moore Field by Manker Patten and ends on the steps of Ross’s Landing.
A 42K bike ride (just over 26 miles) carries the participants from Riverfront Parkway around to MLK Boulevard before getting on I-124 and going toward Red Bank via Corridor J. The course turns around just before the overpass at 153 for the return trip to Ross’s Landing.
After dismounting their bikes and putting on running shoes in the grassy area next to Blue Plate and Cold Stone Creamery, the runners headed up Riverfront Parkway under the Market Street and Walnut Street bridges before taking a left toward the Veterans Bridge before going up those steps and running toward Battery Place.
The run continued on the Riverwalk past Scrappy Moore Field before turning around and coming back along the same path.
Because the Tennessee River is still way above its normal level with a dangerous current, the swim portion was scrapped and a two-mile run was added.
It had rained pretty hard early Sunday morning, but was replaced by overcast skies by the time the first runner started the course at 7:30. It got quite a bit hotter later as the sun broke through the clouds, but it was much cooler than in years past.
Evans was the seventh person to start and one of the first to start the bike segment. He was clearly in front by the time the run began and he stayed in front the entire time.
“I’m happy. It took me a while to get my rhythm on the bike, but I put a big gap on the field and my feet were flying on the run,” Evans said after cooling off for a few minute as others were beginning to cross the finish line.
“I’m just hoping that I ran fast enough to win, but it feels like you’re running against a ghost since you don’t know what other people’s times are. I feel great now, but taking away the swim was a huge disadvantage for me,” he added.
Ladner is a 33-year-old attorney from Birmingham whose last race in Chattanooga was a 12th-place finish in 2009. His wife Amanda just gave birth to their first child a week ago – a beautiful daughter named Eleanor Kate – so he probably didn’t get a much sleep as normal and his training may have been affected as well.
“I’m not a good swimmer, so I benefited from the change as well. It was just a big training day for me, but I just basically went as hard as I could the entire way. The race conditions were good with lower temperatures.
“My wife is home with the baby, but we love this town and we like the way it embraces outdoor activity. Another reason I came today is because I had two good friends from Augusta, Ga. who were competing and I got to run the last couple of miles with them,” Ladner smiled.
Tyler Jordan was the defending champion in this race and was appropriately given the number one. The 25-year-old Bike Shop employee from Charlotte didn’t fare as well as he did last year as he finished fourth overall in 1:55:17.
“I had a rough run but we lucked out with these overcast skies. I wasn’t first, but I still had a decent race. That run course is pretty technical with those steps and that last hill (up Battery Place). I almost walked up that last climb,” Jordan admitted.
DeGan graduated from Life University with a degree in exercise science, but she currently works in a running store. The best news for her was the fact that she got through the bike ride without incident.
“It was a whole lot better today than last year when I crashed and still finished third overall,” she said with a pained look on her face.
“I had a much better race today as I went out at just the pace I wanted. The run was great as it wasn’t as hot as it was last year, but I really enjoyed myself today,” she said.
Blunck is a 28-year-old from Birmingham who just recently graduated from medical school. She is doing triathlons full time before she begins her medical career as a family doctor, but she was 15 seconds behind the women’s overall winner after taking first two years ago.
“Chattanooga is one of my favorite race venues, but I trained through it and I’m a bit tired. There’s always a lot going on here but I was looking for a good hard workout and that’s what I got. Unfortunately, you can’t fight with Mother Nature.
“My father says I have a nice cushion to fall back on when I finish competing, but I’m enjoying myself so far,” she added.
John Wiygul and John Sillery were the first finishers from Chattanooga as they claimed 10th and 12th with times of 1:57:08 and 1:58:28, respectively, while Nick McCormick was the third Chattanoogan in 2:01:31, which just happened to be between the top two ladies.
McCormick is an 18-year-old graduate of East Hamilton who had an outstanding high school career in cross country and track. He’s headed to UT-Knoxville in the fall where he plans to major in mechanical engineering and be a member of the Tennessee triathlon team.
“The run was brutal. It seemed like I was cramping the whole way,” he said after finishing his third multi-sport event in Chattanooga.
Anneli Morrison, a 26-year-old assistant track and cross country coach at UTC who was outstanding as a runner for the Lady Mocs, took part in her first triathlon on Sunday. It was an eye-opening experience for her.
“I felt like I was coming down the home stretch of a 400-meter dash as my legs felt like jello when I first got off my bike. Last year I was kidding my husband about his legs hurting, but I know what he felt like now.
“This is hard stuff. My quads were cramping really bad and I wanted to walk, but I knew if I did that my whole body would lock up. Maybe I should do more training on the bike. I had done the Sports Barn Sprint twice, but this is my first time to do a longer race.
“I know I was nowhere near the front, but I still want to win something. Maybe I’ll feel better about this whole event when I quit hurting,” she concluded with a laugh.
Morrison ended up in 69th place overall with a time of 2:13:24 and that included a final 10K run of 39:50.
Tiago Depaula Souza is a 33-year-old gentlemen from Brazil who is currently living in Kennesaw, Georgia. He’s training for the Triathlon World Championship, which will be held in London in mid-September, but he did extremely well on Sunday, despite having some technical difficulty with his bike.
“The right aerobar on my bike broke off in the first five miles, so I just tried to be careful and just finish. I was still second off the bike, but it was a good cycling course. There were a lot of hills on the second run and I think I went out too hard for the first three miles,” he explained after finishing ninth overall in 1:56.44.
The first 12 finishers all broke the two-hour barrier.
This year’s race was again put on by Team Magic and members of the Chattanooga Track Club. Sherilyn Johnson and Jenni Berz served as the co-Race Directors.
STUART GLADISH WAS honored with the Calder Willingham Spirit of the Tri award, given annually to the local person “who represents what my husband was all about,” his widow Betsy explained.
Calder loved doing triathlons, including the Ironman distance, before losing his life after a battle with ALS a couple of years ago. Calder and Betsy were the original race directors for the Waterfront Triathon.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)