It just so happens the starting line of the oldest continuously running triathlon in the United States is a few kilometers from the doors of our school. This race has seen Olympic gold medal athletes, World Champion athletes, three generations of family participants… and me.
In 1976 outdoorsman Payson Kennedy (founder of the Nantahala Outdoor Center), Olympic canoeist John Burton, and Georgia Tech professor Russ Callen issued a challenge to athletes to come battle the raw elements of the Great Smoky Mountains in an outdoorsman’s triathlon.
Race rules state, “assistance with changing clothes, putting on shoes, or supplying food or drink to competitors is prohibited. Competitors are on their own once they begin the race and can only receive assistance from race officials.” The rules governing the running section state, “no form of locomotion other than running, walking, or crawling is allowed.”
A news article in Triathlon Today concerning the Outdoorsman Triathlon stated that had these competitors been around 200 years ago “these mountains and gaps would now bear their names.” Paddler Magazine described the event as one of the nation’s top multisport races.
The race consists of a 1-mile open water swim, 4-mile run and an 8-mile paddle down the Little Tennessee River. Individual competition is held on Saturday, but on Sunday college athletes from around the country compete. Open to full-time college students (each team must have at least one female member), the top four teams are awarded cash prizes.
The 2014 race began with a picture of the collegiate teams. The team to beat was Albion College from Albion, Michigan. They have taken 1st place for at least the past 6 years, possibly longer. Some years their teams have taken 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. Also competing in this year’s event were teams from Sweetbriar College and Appalachian State University, as well as two teams from my school, Southwestern Community College.
The swimmers lined up at 10am in front of the Little Tennessee. The temperature would be in the mid 70’s, water temperature 78 degrees. My team included Peter swimming, myself as the runner, and Clayton and Dylan paddling.
It was a lovely race. The first place swimmer finished in just 21 minutes. We were undeterred. The running portion included a steep climb up and out of the shoreline, and jumping over or crawling underneath several dead trees on the kudzu trail. Paul warned me of the 1-1/2 mile hill just after mile one…. there were 388 feet of elevation gain in that 1-1/2 mile section and it brought me to a complete stop for several minutes. The Little Tennessee was so low Clayton and Dylan had to carry the canoe four different times.
This year Appalachian State University upset Albion with a winning overall time of 2:20:58 (0:21:07 0:27:21 1:32:30). Albion took 2nd place with 2:37:57 (0:24:59 0:27:31 1:45:27). Team SCC Peter/Marcia/Clayton/Dylan pulled out a very respectable 3rd place finish of 3:04:22 (0:35:47 0:33:53 1:54:42) and Team Hamilton/Alex/Lyndsy placed 4th with a finish of 3:24:42 (0:40:14 0:32:12 2:12:16). Both teams earned a handsome check for our school’s Outdoor Leadership program.
We have all decided it may be worthwhile to remain in school one more year just to challenge a 1st place finish next year.
Top 4 Race Results:
Zaak Havens, Courtney Cooper, Zaak Havens/Kaitlyn Havens – Appalachian State University, NC 0:21:07 0:27:21 1:32:30 2:20:58 Relay Collegiate
Nicole Straley, Aaron Smit, Ann Armstrong/Aaron Smit – Albion College, MI 0:24:59 0:27:31 1:45:27 2:37:57 Relay Collegiate
Peter Lindberg, Marcia Boyle, Clayton Slade/Dylan Coward – Southwestern CC, NC 0:35:47 0:33:53 1:54:42 3:04:22 Relay Collegiate
Hamilton Boxberger, Alex Foltz, Hamilton Boxberger/Lindsy Ingraham – Southwestern CC, NC 0:40:14 0:32:12 2:12:16 3:24:42 Relay Collegiate