The Meridian Star
From the back of the pack, Ben Hall, won the 27th annual Sunfish Triathlon in 1:08.02 at Bonita Lakes on Saturday.
The course wrapped its way through the Bonita Lakes park and out onto the country highways for a 1/3-mile swim, 17-mile bike ride and 5-kilometer run and attracted almost 400 triathletes.
Hall hadn’t planning on racing in Meridian this weekend, but word of mouth changed that.
“I had no intentions of doing it, but someone told me there was a little bit of money on the line, so I thought maybe I could go out there and have the fastest spilt and do a race without being set back any,” Hall said.
The Ruston, La. native, registered less than 24 hours before the starting gun, and competing with Bib No. 392, made him one of the last into the water.
“I never really do races from the back, so it was interesting having a lot people around me,” Hall said. “It was a lot different for me.”
Luckily for him, the time-trial event allowed the back-of-the-packers to win as starting times are based on registration times. Earlier this year, Hall earned his pro-card in the sport, but said it was nice to race without any implications.
Under a cloudless sky, Hall hoped for good splits to get him through the triathlon sprint course quickly.
The third mile swim and 5-kilometer run didn’t weigh him down, but the rolling hills and uneven roads on the 17 mile bike ride did.
“I’m feeling good, it’s a fun race with a real nice venue,” he said. “It was a real competitive race, too.”
The women’s overall finisher, Denise Joplin of Hattiesburg, found the same struggles on the middle portion, but crossed the finish line at 1:19:57.
“It feels awesome,” she said. “I’m pretty excited.”
Generally, Joplin feels the strongest on the bike but on Saturday the run pulled her through to her first overall win of the summer. Last year she placed in the top 10, winning her age group, making a noticeable improvement.
“It was pretty warm out there, tough course, really tough bike course,” Joplin said. “It’s really hill and the roads are a little rough, so you have to work a little bit harder.”
Being just an hour from home made the location ideal for Joplin, as opposed to Hall who had a spontaneous three-hour drive last night.
“We try to plan out where we are going to go, we come up here for this,” Joplin said. “There aren’t a lot of triathlons around the state so I just kind of have to go to the few that pop up and this is a good one.”
The triathlon attacks most triathletes from outside of Lauderdale County, with only a few locals representing Meridian. Race director Lora Kennedy said she was very pleased with the turnout, with just under 400 participants entering the water.
“Everybody had a great time, they enjoyed the race,” she said. “They all have said they’ll be back next year.”
Hall and Joplin were attracted to Sunfish by the course and how well organized it is.
The Meridian Athletic Association is the brain behind the event and Kennedy said not much will change for next year.