Going The Distance

BY Emily Colin

This year the Ironman Triathlon celebrates a big birthday: it turns 30. Born three decades ago in Hawaii the now-famous race has its origins in an argument between athletes: Which was the toughest sport running swimming or biking? To settle the debate Navy Commander and athlete John Collins proposed a competition that involved all three the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim the 112-mile Around-Oahu Bike Race and the 26.2-mile Honolulu Marathon. Collins fateful pronouncement was: “Whoever finishes first well call the Ironman.” And so a challenge was born.

Today there are more than 20 Ironman Triathlons held worldwide each year as designated by the World Triathlon Corporation (the World Championship is held in Hawaii). Other triathlons are not certified by the World Triathlon Corporation but involve identical distances; they are officially called iron distance races. On November 1 2008 Wilmington will be home to Beach2Battleship an iron distance race that will bring 1 000 competitors from around the globe to swim cycle and stride their way to victory on the Azalea Coast.

While Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington host several triathlons each year this will be the first time that the area holds an iron distance event. Triathlons in general defined as endurance sports events including swimming running and biking have their origins in 1920s and 1930s France. Unlike iron distance events which always have a set mileage for each portion of the triathlon 112 miles for the bike course 2.4 miles for the swim 26.2 miles for the run the distances involved in regular triathlons vary from one event to the next. The International Triathlon Union the governing body for triathlons does have a set of standard race distances with which many event organizers comply.

Beach2Battleship is coordinated by Set Up Events the nations largest producer of triathlons which is headquartered right here in Wilmington. The event will benefit the Wilmington Family YMCA.

Bill Scott the owner of Set Up Events has been working to make this triathlon happen since May 2007. He contacted government and civic leaders in several counties got them together and sold his triathlon idea on the spot. There was excellent cooperation between the officials which Scott notes is key to an iron distance event: “It is important that we have a local market that has the infrastructure and strength to support this event ” he says. Local businesses have also contributed sponsorships including Intracoastal Realty New Hanover Regional Medical Center which will be providing medical support and the Star-News.

The race was scheduled for November for several reasons including the beauty of that time of year and the slight economic lull Wilmington experiences in the shoulder season. The triathlon is expected to generate $5 million for the local economy.

Beach2Battleship will incorporate both a full- and a half-distance event. The triathlon filled to capacity within 12 days of opening registration with 500 athletes signed up for the full event and 500 for the half.

The Course

True to its name the race will begin at the beach with a swim in Banks Channel (2.4 miles for the full 1.2 for the half) and will culminate at the Battleship North Carolina.

The point-to-point swim is set to take place with the incoming tide which will make for a fast and exciting start to the race. Swimmers will exit the water at Seapath Marina. From there theyll mount their bikes and take off on a ride that will extend from Wrightsville Beach to White Lake northwest of Wilmington near Elizabethtown to the Battleship (112 miles for the full 56 for the half) where the run will begin. The run course (26.2 miles for the full 13.1 for the half) will go through Greenfield Park and span both the Isabel Holmes and Cape Fear Memorial bridges before its ultimate conclusion at the Battleship. Those competing in the full triathlon will cover this loop twice while competitors in the half will complete a single lap.

The swim will begin at 7 a.m. for those competing in the full event and 8:30 a.m. for those competing in the half. All competitors must complete the event within 17 hours for the full event and 9 hours for the half.

Home field advantage

The key to this triathlon is Destination is the difference ” says Tom Crichton director of marketing and communications for Set Up Events. Given the Wilmington areas downtown beautiful beaches and other major tourist attractions holding a triathlon here is alluring for many potential athletes who often bring their families along for support.

Indeed as legendary surfer and triathlete Bill Curry notes “For a lot of people its as much an accomplishment for the family. The family members travel with the athlete and here we have the beach and good places to stay.”

Crichton notes that family-style events will be held downtown during the event including a free water taxi between downtown and the Battleship. “Downtown Wilmington will be a family-oriented festival area ” he says.

Shawn Spencer owner of Bike Cycles at Mayfaire and the coordinator of the bike course sees participation in Beach2Battleship as a fantastic opportunity for athletes to set their own personal records. “Its the flattest fastest course that there is ” he says with a grin. “The water will be fast too youre swimming with an incoming tide plus its saltwater which makes you more buoyant; you float faster.”

Though Spencer has raced for the past 18 years and is a triathlete himself he opted to sit this one out. “I do regret not being in it. Everyone else I know is doing it ” he says. “But it takes a lot of training plus theres a lot of weight on the local folks. Then again anyone local has an advantage because they know the course.”

Bike Cycles has been hosting a series of triathlon camps to prepare out-of-towners who constitute 85 percent of participants. “They swim the course run the course ride the course ” Spencer says. Still theres no substitute for everyday experience as Bill Curry can attest.

“Its hometown ” says Curry who has participated in Ironman Florida. “Whats really cool is that I can fall out of bed be on the starting line and be home 20 minutes after the race. It will be neat because of the logistics. But the great thing is all of the hometown people that I know train with and see.”

Desire & Inspiration

For Curry competing in his first Ironman was the realization of a long-nurtured dream. “Watching the Ironman Hawaii was like walking on the moon it was like going to a place where only a few people get to go. I thought man I want to do that ” Curry says. “Youre overcoming a fear can I do this? and theres an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment If I can do this I can do anything.”

Of course preparing for a major undertaking like Beach2Battleship is no simple endeavor. “Youre literally taking on another job. If you dont show up on that day well-trained it will be one miserable day ” Curry says. “Its a major physical accomplishment. When people do a race its equivalent to personally climbing a mountain.”

Its not enough to excel at each component of the event swimming biking running the trick is to be able to transition from one sport to the next since they use different sets of muscles. “You train in bricks bike 20 miles then put on your running shoes and run three miles. When you get off the bike after 6 hours you actually look forward to that run ” Curry says. “The surprise is how its going to feel when you weld it together for 12-14 hours.”

Professional skateboarder turned successful entrepreneur Reggie Barnes the founder of Eastern Skateboard Supply agrees. Barnes has done his fair share of triathlons”38 or 39 ” he says shrugging but Beach2Battleship will be his first iron distance race.

“Ive always had the desire to do it ” Barnes says. “What Im going to try to do isnt to focus on setting a world-class race Im going to save my body for the run.” The run Barnes says is what hes most nervous about so for the past nine months hes enlisted coach Tom Clifford to give him the training he needs.

“Toms a great coach. He leads by example ” says Barnes. “All of the people who run with him are inspired by him and they dont want to let him down.”

After meeting Tom Clifford its easy to understand why he would inspire dedication in his trainees. Hes so committed to preparing them for Beach2Battleship hes signed up to compete himself.

“Its just the right time. Ive always wanted to do an Ironman. Im the type of person who likes to be where the action is ” he says. “Coaching motivates me to get out there and do it. When people see me getting my butt out there it motivates them.”

His advice to novice athletes who dream of taking on an iron distance race one day? “People shouldnt be afraid to try anything even when theyve never done it before. Its one of those things where you get so much self-satisfaction out of it it doesnt matter where you place.”

Barnes concurs. “It gives you goosebumps when you see people doing this thing ” he says of the race that has consumed his existence for the past several months. “When I get the Ironman behind me the first thing Im going to do Im going on a surf trip to Nicaragua.”