The Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon has quickly become a premier regional event, and the 2011 version Sunday morning had a distinct Alabama flavor.
Two Alabamians claimed the overall male and female titles, both earning their first wins in the event that featured a 1.5-kilometer swim, followed by a 42k bike race and a 10k run - in temperatures that reached into the mid-80s by 10 a.m. on the waterfront.
Doug Van Wie from Birmingham and Hallie Blunck from the Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook were the male and female overall winners among the nearly 1,500 competitors. Each had participated before, though Blunck was the more likely of the two to win after placing in the top five the previous two years.
"This is one of my favorite races. I was second last year and the race before that third," the Sewanee graduate said. "This is by far my best time by four or five minutes. It really is a tough bike course; it will get anybody. You just want to get through that, then it's a brutal run. The run is really difficult, especially in the heat. It is a warm day. The volunteers did a great job giving out ice towels and keeping everybody hydrated."
Van Wie was just getting into triathlon competition when he entered the Waterfront event last year. He admits to getting the "tri bug" and decided to start training seriously. He found the area around his Birmingham home to be the perfect place to train for this race.
"I think honestly the topography in Birmingham is very similar, especially the hills," he said. "Last year was my first Olympic-distance race, so to go from that to winning in a year is really something. Last year got me hooked, for sure.
"I come from a swimming background, so I've been focusing on running and biking to try and match my swimming. I wanted to push myself on the run, and at the turnaround I could see I had a pretty good lead. This is a great feeling."
While those two took home the main individual awards, the real winner was the Chattanooga area, according to race director Jenni Berz of the Chattanooga Track Club.
"They get better and better every year," said Berz, who estimated that 55-60 percent of the competitors were from out of town. "The word has gotten out what a great event it is. It's noted as a premier event and it gets a lot of good feedback from the racers. We have people come from all over, and it's challenging even for the best racers.
"Chattanooga is a great place to visit. We did a study a couple of years ago and it showed this race brings in about a million dollars to the economy. Two years later, even though the economy still isn't good, we're still selling the race out, which shows people really like coming to this city and people enjoy this race."