2019 marked the 40th running of this truly classic multisport event. The leadership of the Philadelphia Sertoma Club coupled with a seemingly boundless amount of support from the community and it is no surprise this event serves as a pillar to the multisport community of the Southeast. Additionally, spend a couple hours in this part of Mississippi and one will quickly learn that for so very many this event marks the kick-off of the annual Neshoba County Fair dating back to 1889 - the fair itself is a huge houseparty hosted in a campground setting which also plays host to the finish line and awards presentation for the race.
Simply put, this event is an INSTITUTION. One which every multisport athlete should experience.
For those curious about the event, a quick Internet search will yield results containing such tidbits:
- longest running North American triathlon with essentially the same, unchanged course spanning the years, and decades
- a unique linear course layout - start and finish basically 35 miles apart and including two different transition areas
- a draft legal field from 1980 through 1989, though with some super fast times every single year even after the change to a non-draft format
- finish line featuring just over a half mile of red clay horse track and accompanying grandstand
- a large, energetic contingent in the Neshoba County Fair greeting and supporting the athletes as they near the finishline
- hot, hot, hot... even on an unseasonably cool day
- top 10 male and female finishers recognized with silver plates while called to stage for an en masse podium presentation
- the bike course features rolling hills, not too bad
- complimentary school bus transport from finish area and returning to swim start location
- the run course features rolling hills, challenging
- volunteers which make sure T2 necessities are perfectly delivered and organized for athlete arrival following the bike leg of the event
- post-event fare can include funnel cake, ice cream, and a multitude of deep fried items just stash a few bucks in your post-event gear bag and enjoy while enjoy an amble through the rows of ornate cabins
For this author, a similar list of results from an Internet search served as the impetus for slating this July event into the personal event calendar in 2011. Memories of a welcoming community, event staff, and volunteers in concert with a broad cross-section of the fellow triathletes including the very, very, very talented to the first-timer to those who have been racing here for 25+ years to those who were representing a literal family of athletes circled back again eight years later with this 2019 event. Refreshingly, not much has changed. And, here is to hoping that many of these same traditions and practices remain for years to come.
The time trial swim start which recognizes the prior year’s top finishers with lower seed numbers (beyond the bib numbers 1 - 20 it is a simple first-come, first-served layout) is utilized to meter the athletes into the water for a very navigable half-mile swim course arcing across the lake.
The bike course includes two turns - turn right onto Mississippi Highway 15 in Louisville; ride south through Noxapater and toward Philadelphia for 27 miles; turn right onto Mississippi Highway 21 and be ready to dismount almost immediately. Simple. Scenic. Rollers for hills. Well supported. Devoid of large drafting packs on account of the time trial swim start.
Onto the run. No turns until the arrival to the fair so the focus is on defeating the rolling hills and watching the mile markers painted on the road tick by. And, there is heat. And more hills. And more heat with the hills. But, all targeting the finishline situated in a truly one-of-a-kind setting. Lining the roughly 6 mile segment of run course along Mississippi Highway 21 athletes meet enthusiastic and well-stocked aide stations - an oasis of sorts in the heat and hills. An oasis with perhaps a refreshing popsicle or cold towel. With a left turn while approaching mile marker #6 it is time for the fun part - running THROUGH the campground fair. Yes, literally through a fair. A quick jaunt through a sampling of the themed, family-owned cabins and alongside the fair games and food vendors before spilling onto a runway entry leading to the horse track. Once on the track it is one and a quarter laps of the half-mile loop and two passes by the grandstand for each athlete. It is hard not to feel a quick snap of energy while running past the grandstand, the announcer on the loudspeaker, the markers denoting the 1/8th stretch segments of the track, and the horse stalls in the infield.
The support for the athletes does not stop once across the finish line - food, fruit, refreshments, ice towels, showers, and delivered post-event gear bags help to recover from the challenge of the day while enjoying a very moving and endearing performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” presented by a quintet of men from a local church. The heat of the final miles of the event quickly turned to chills down the spine with this honoring of America and in respect for all who have served.
Many thanks again to the race directorship and membership of the Philadelphia Sertoma Club, the many event volunteers, local law enforecement, and fair organizers for making this a fun, safe, competitive, and memorable outing for all! Additionally, congratulations to all those who finished the 2019 event with a special nod to those who set a personal best or earned a podium position along with a silver plate!