Meridian Star

July 28, 2013

Triathletes brave rainy conditions at Heart O’ Dixie

Sarah Moomaw
The Meridian Star

PHILADELPHIA — Early morning rain didn't dampen the 34th annual Heart O' Dixie Triathlon as the 2013 overall winner was only 14 seconds slower into the Neshoba County Fair Grounds than a year earlier on Saturday.

    Allen Stanfield of Gulfport was the first through the three part point-to-point course in 1:57.56. Defending champion, Nathan Davis of Ruston, La., finished fourth in 2:01:06. He won last year's race in 1:57:42.

    "I came looking to go as hard as a I could the whole time and I feel like I did that today," Stanfield said. "It wasn't super hot because of the rain, so that helped a lot."

    The first overall female finisher was Sara Gibson of Madison in 2:12:53. She placed second for females in 2012 at 2:12:29.

    "It was definitely some rainy conditions out there but it was a good swim, a good bike, a good run," Gibson said. "I was glad we had all these spectators at the end even though the weather was gross."

    The Heart O' Dixie route takes competitors through a half-mile swim, 27.5-mile bike ride and a seven-mile run that starts at Lake Tiak O'Khata.

    Saturday's triathletes called the course special, because of it's slightly unique set up — not being a loop — and ending with a lap around the Neshoba County Fair Grounds' horse track before crossing the finish line. It also happens to be the oldest triathlon in the continental United States.

    "It's a neat concept, something different," Gibson said. "You don't get to see as many people on the course since everyone is moving in a straight line, no one is doubling back or making u-turns or loops."

    Saturday's race was a time trail event, meaning that just because Stanfield was first through the end chute, he might not have won. However, the Heart O' Dixie seeded top finishers of 2012's race in the low slots of this year's race in hopes having the first across be the winner.

    The course set-up being point-to-point also meant that triathletes were spread apart along the course and not bunched up. GIbson said she was use to competing with people around her, but at the Heart O' Dixie that usually not the case.

    "That was kind of a first for me this year," she said. "Pretty much, every race I've done I've been at the end of the pack and passing people throughout so it was kind of weird not really having anyone around to kind of pace off of."

    Even before he took the water just after 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, Stanfield's goal was to win, which he did by breaking his third place finish (2:00:18) from last year.

    "I was coming here to try and win the race," he said. "I wanted to build as big a lead as I could on the bike to get get out in front of the guys that I knew ran a little bit faster than me, and I think I did that. I just kept looking back and seeing them and kept them at that distance."

    Gibson said the water at Tiak O'Khata is some of the clearest she and her husband, Kendrick Gibson (men's second place, 1:58:17), compete in each summer.

    Stanfield, which GIbson echoed, said the slick pavement on the bike portion may have been a slower segment, but the rain on the run kept him cool and helped makeup anything lost in the middle leg, but he wouldn't change anything.

    "I love the set up," he said. "Going from doing the swim at Tiak O'Khata to jumping on the bike and riding down here and the run, finishing on the fairgrounds, it's pretty awesome. You don't get to do that very much.

     "It's neat to see this old of a race have that kind of unique characteristics. ... It really is one of my favorite races all year."

    The triathlon also offers a relay team option for those not up to completing the entire 35 mile course alone. The trio of Melissa Easley, Jerry Johnson and Blair Johnson Waggoner from Meridian won the mixed relay team, with Waggoner bringing in the running leg to cap their time at 2:21:51.

    "He's a big biker and I'm a big runner, and we have a good friend that's a big swimmer so we kind of always done our favorite things,"

    Johnson managed a better time on the bike portion than last year despite the weather conditions making the rolling hills slick.

    "It was hot last year, so the rain might have even helped," he said. "I bet you it helped all the runners."

    Waggoner, his daughter, agreed, but said the track was a little bit more slick.

    "The crowd is always really good around the track so it's always good to have a lap around before you finish here," Waggoner said.

    Laura Leigh Moody, Jodie Joyner and Temple Waddell of Madison took the women's relay division finish at 2:29:07. Ben Baum, DJ Franguy and Cody Espionza of Sebastopol completed their relay in 2:07:56 for the men's title.

    The crowd cheered on John Long of Louisville as brought the race to a close, wheeling himself across the finish line in his racing wheel chair to cap his family's relay in 3:51:46.