Thomas Walls always thought Grenada Lake would be an outstanding area to hold an Ironman Triathlon event.
Walls, who heads up Rock Star All-Access Event Management, held a successful 5K race at the Grenada Lake last winter. He also uses the area of the lake and around the lake to train for triathlons.
From that, the idea came to put on the Southern Firecracker Triathlon. The competition takes place this Saturday at Grenada Lake with 80 athletes from 10 states and as far away as New Jersey competing in the event sponsored by the Grenada Tourism Commission.
“I have trained for all my triathlons at Grenada Lake,” the Chicago, Ill., native and current resident of Vaiden said. “It’s sort of my backyard, living just 30 minutes away. Every time I come out here, I think about how it has just enough of a terrain to be challenging – to keep you prepared for any type of running event or cycling event. It’s a beautiful location. It has all of the elements to utilize for training. From an athlete standpoint, it is very attractive. All the opportunities to swim, bike and run are there.”
The swimming portion kicks off the activities at 7 a.m. at the North Abutment Campground area. Athletes will swim 1.2 miles and transition to their bikes for the long and grueling 56-mile bike portion of the race. The competition concludes with a 13.1-mile half marathon to determine the winner.
“The swim is the fun part of the triathlon,” Walls said. “It’s what we call the “washing machine” part of the race. When I did my first triathlon, I was fully surprised how much I got run over by so many people jumping in the water at the same time trying to swim. People get kicked in the face and get run over, get swam over the top of. The key is not to get kicked in the face and get your goggles knocked off. You have to give yourself enough room to swim and not have to struggle constantly with other athletes.”
Following the swim, athletes jump out of water and begin searching for their bikes to get ahead of the rest of the field.
“Knowing where everything is when you get out of the lake is a key when you get ready for the bike portion,” Walls said. “When athletes check in on Friday, you will see them making sure they know where everything is visually, which is key. When you come out of the water, it is a little disorienting.”
Athletes then begin the toughest part of the competition, biking for 56 miles through Grenada and Tallahatchie counties. The course has it’s challenging parts.
“It’s a challenging course with some hills and false flats,” he said. “The first 10 miles of the course is getting you out of Grenada. After getting to Holcomb, you head toward Cascilla where there is about an 800-foot climb, then it levels out back to Highway 51 and back to town.”
Once completed, competitors return their bikes to their spot at the lake and begin the 13.1-mile run to the finish line.
States represented include Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey and Texas.
Locally, Dr. Rafe Armstrong and his wife, Kathy, will be competing in the triathlon. Armstrong began his competition in the Ironman back in 1991 in Meridian. He is looking forward to being among the field competing for a cash prize of $3,700 for the combined Top 5 males and females. An extra $300 is available for those taking part in the relay portion of the competition, which is awarded if they have a first-place finish in the swim, bike and run.
The longtime Ironman competitor added that he is pleased with the number of competitors expected to take part in the event.
“I think 80 is a good solid number since we don’t have a track record of putting on a race,” Armstrong said. “It will allow Thomas and his staff to have a really good, safe event and an event where participants get what they came for – a real good race experience in Grenada. People are going to tell other people if they have a good experience.”
Grenadians are asked to use caution Saturday morning particularly during the bike portion of the event as racers use Highway 8 to go to Holcomb and eventually back to the lake through Cascilla and Rosebloom.
For more information on the triathlon including course maps, visit www.southernfirecracker.com