More than a thousand trim and fit men and women gathered at Ross’s Landing Sunday morning for the annual Waterfront Triathlon with McKenzie’s Kirsten Sass the only one of four defending champs to successfully defend her title.
There were two races held on Sunday, including a sprint event that included a 400-meter swim, a 12-mile bike ride and a 5K run. The longer intermediate distance included a 1.5K (.93 mile) swim, 40K (25 mile) bike ride and a 10K (6.2-mile) run.
Sass couldn’t equal her winning time of 2:03:30 from a year ago, but she was more than good enough to win in Chattanooga again after taking 17th overall with a time of two hours, seven minutes and 59 seconds.
Atlanta’s Chris Douglas was the men’s overall winner in the longer race as he covered the distance all alone with a time of one hour, 54 minutes and three seconds, knocking some 57 seconds off the course record set a year ago.
Conrad Goeringer and Ashley Powell were the overall winners in the sprint race with times of 54:51 and 1:01:47, respectively.
There were 621 finishers in the longer race and another 476 in the shorter one.
The swim for the sprint started under the Market Street Bridge while the swim for the other race started at the rowing barge next to Scrappy Moore Field. Both swims exited by Ross’s Landing.
The bike course went out Amnicola Highway for the second-straight year with a turn-around just before the railroad overpass past Chattanooga State. The sprint competitors did one loop of that route while the longer race had to do it twice.
The run was an out-and-back route going toward town on Riverfront Parkway with the sprinters only going half as far.
Severe thunderstorms had been predicted for Sunday’s race, but they never materialized as skies were clear at the start. The temperature was relatively cool at the start, but the mercury continued to rise the rest of the day and the humidity made it even tougher.
Douglas is a scientist at Georgia Tech in Atlanta who won this race in 2015 and 2016 before not competing last year. He finished the swim in 18:09 and averaged 26.5 miles per hour on the bike before posting a time of 37:51 for the run.
He played chase until taking the lead early in the first lap of the bike segment.
He continued to pull away and easily beat runner-up Thiago Bianchini of Atlanta by more than five minutes as he notched a time of 1:59:27. Nashville’s Derek Stone was third in 1:59:38 while Tyson Pompelia of Meredian, MS was fourth in 2:00:45, just ahead of defending champ Seth Ruthling, who was credited with the same time.
Sass had a time of 21:01 in the swim before averaging 24.2 miles per hour on the bike and then averaging 6:59 miles on the run for an overall time of 2:07:59 for 17th place overall.
Birmingham’s Lori Williamson was 18th overall in 2:08:32 while Atlanta’s Grace Alexander was the third female and 20th overall in 2:08:46.
Chattanooga’s Sara Gibson, who was second last year after winning in 2016, was fourth among the ladies and 28th overall in 2:10:16 while Franklin’s Emily Rollins rounded out the top five ladies with a time of 2:17:04, which was 46th overall.
Douglas was sweating for sure when he reached the finish line, but it didn’t take him long to catch his breath as it looked like he had just endured a tough workout.
“It was hot out there, but a good day for me individually,” he began.
“It was the hottest race I’ve done in a while and I was fighting off the heat more than anything, but I did the best I could. I took the lead early in the bike segment and never looked back, but I made sure to maintain as fast a pace as possible,” he added.
Bianchini is an accountant who now lives in Atlanta. He too said the heat was a factor in his race.
“At least the water wasn’t hot, but it got warmer as the day went by. The run was perfect for me, but I was expecting to be in the top three today. The heat was a little up there before we finished,” he added.
Ruhling is a 23-year-old 2013 graduate of Collegedale Academy who now in graduate school at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City working on his masters degree in nursing. His time on Sunday was almost slower than the one he recorded in winning last year.
He did win the Chattanooga Half-Ironman in May to earn his professional status as a triathlete, so he knows a little bit about fast racing.
“I personally didn’t have a good race today, but it was still nice to be out there competing,” he began while sipping a bottle of water shortly after finishing.
“I’ve never beaten Chris before and I was far from beating him today as I just didn’t have it. Today was my first race as a pro and I got beat by an amateur, but I guess that happens from time to time,” he smiled.
Sunday was a bittersweet day for Sass, who was introduced to this wonderful sport about 20 years ago by her father and had been racing here a lot since that time. Her father passed away unexpectedly in February at the age of 65, so she spent a lot of time thinking about him during her race.
“We had a beautiful day today. I did my first triathlon here 20 years ago when my father came with me and I’m guessing we did at least 100 races together. I definitely thought a lot about him this morning, especially at the start,” the 38-year-old physician’s assistant said.
“The swim is my weak link, but I love the bike. And I’m partial to the old run course, but it’s always fun to see so many folks I’ve become friends with over the years. Chattanooga is a fun city.
“I really didn’t know where anyone was with the time trial start, but all I could do was go as hard as I could and hoped it was good enough. I never looked back, but Lori was right behind me,” the winner recalled.
Williamson is a 32-year-old occupational therapist from Birmingham. She too said the heat was a factor for her, especially near the end.
“This was my first race of the season, so I had no real expectations. I thought I might have a shot at the top five. It was a really hot day and I did the best I could.
“I thought I was going to pass out as we approached the finish line, so I had to stop and walk for a few seconds as I just couldn’t do anything about it. I’m sure that didn’t have any effect on the final results,” she concluded.
Goeringer is a 29-year-old commercial real estate agent from Nashville. He didn’t take the lead until about the midpoint of the run.
“I felt pretty good, although it was a little warm. You never know who will win a race like this as it always depends on who shows up. I’ve been training for some longer stuff, but it was nice to test the fast-twitch muscles today.
“I started in the back of the pack in the swim as that’s my weakest link. I know the guy I passed and we wished each other luck at the time,” he said of runner-up Blake Yarbrough of Town Creek, Alabama who he beat by almost two and a half minutes.
Powell is a 27-year-old physical education teacher and cross country coach at Bearden High School in Knoxville. She had a broken foot last year and couldn’t compete, but she was 100 percent on her game in this race as she finished 14th overall.
“Luckily it was cooler than it has been, but I was hoping for a top-three finish. I was able to pass quite a few ladies on the bike, but I left it all out there today,” she said with a smile.
While Powell was the women’s sprint winner in 1:01:47, Atlanta’s Caroline Finkbeiner was the runner-up after taking 24th overall in 1:04:17.
This race began in 1982 and was known as the Bencor Riverbend Triathon for several years before the name changed to Chattanooga’s Dam Triathlon about 10 years later. Team Magic came on board back in 2007 and it’s been known as the Waterfront Triathlon since that time with all three events taking place in downtown Chattanooga.
Saturday’s fierce storms wreaked havoc on all the tents used for the race as wind completely knocked them all down. They were all put back up by dark on Saturday and there was never another weather incident the rest of the weekend.
Go to www.team-magic.com for complete results of Sunday’s races.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)