Triathlon Across the USA: State #40-North Carolina

Triathlon Across the USA: State #40-North Carolina

Wilson, North Carolina, September 29, 2018 – Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon, Buckhorn Reservoir

The North Carolina triathlon was the fourth of five sprint triathlons completed in consecutive weekends during the fall of 2018.

Travel to the North Carolina Triathlon

Following the Lake Lanier Islands Triathlon in suburban Atlanta, Joy and I traveled to the South Carolina coast and then on to central North Carolina.

Frankly, we were not sure what to expect in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. This hurricane had dumped over three feet (91 cm) of rain in some parts of the Carolinas within the past two weeks.

While some roads around Myrtle Beach, South Carolina remained closed due to flooding, we were able to travel through the area relatively easily. Sadly, we saw a number of houses still partially under water. There were also many downed trees and twisted road signs.

After two days exploring Myrtle Beach, we headed northwest for a couple of days touring Raleigh. We had thought about staying in one of the Chapel Hill hotels North Carolina but, ultimately, decided on somewhere a little closer to the action itself – after all, Raleigh is still relatively small for a state capital. Mid-Thursday, we made the short drive through the countryside to Wilson for sightseeing in this historic city and for the Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon.

On Friday morning, we visited Drew Parker at the Wilson Welcome Center to learn about the city. Drew pointed us to several landmarks, including Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, a collection of “kinetic sculptures” designed and produced by the colorful and creative Vollis Simpson. As near as I can tell, Mr. Simpson must have loved biking given the number of sculptures involving cyclists.

For the next several hours we visited Whirligig Park and explored the residential streets with their southern style mansions and the business district of downtown Wilson.

Video showing some of the sculptures at Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Wilson, North Carolina in action.

14th Battle at Buckhorn Sprint Triathlon

The Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon, managed by FS Series Events, (Raleigh, North Carolina), included both individual and relay sprint distances.


The mascot for Buckhorn Lake and namesake for the Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon. Both the bike and run courses took us past a pasture with this and several other Texas Longhorn cattle.

Distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon were:

  • Swim: 0.47 mile (750 m)
  • Bike: 17 mile (27.4 km)
  • Run: 3.1 miles (5 km)

Keeping Order

Volunteers are critical to a triathlon. They provide the needed order, preventing collisions and other mishaps. They also keep racers on course (most of the time).

So, when I received an email from the race organizer requesting additional volunteers along the race course, I immediately passed the request on to Joy. If you know Joy, you know that she is not only an experienced triathlon volunteer but, more generally, a participant. She would prefer to do almost anything than sit along the sideline waiting for me to complete the race.

Without batting an eye, she agreed to volunteer.

During packet pickup on Friday afternoon, Joy negotiated a position along the bike and run course a few hundred yards from the transition area. Her spot was at an intersection that doubled as the first turn for the bike and for the run.

After the race, she told me that her time “was busy and necessary, especially because I prevented runners and bikers from colliding.”

Triathlon tip: If you have not participated in a triathlon and have some concerns about doing one, start by attending one as a spectator or, better yet, as a volunteer.


The water temperature today was a comfortable 78 °F (26 °C), the upper limit for a ‘wetsuit-legal’ triathlon, according to USAT rules.

Do I Use a Wetsuit?

Removing a wetsuit after a triathlon swim adds a few tens of seconds to the T1 (swim to bike) time. You can reduce the extra time by unzipping the suit and removing your arms from the suit while running into the transition area after exiting the water.

On the other hand, the extra buoyancy that the wetsuit provides leads to a faster pace during the swim. For the distance of the swim for this race, the faster pace and reduced swim time would more than offset the added time in transition to remove the wetsuit.

In the end, the decision was to use the wetsuit for the swim.


The Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon swim took place in the Buckhorn Reservoir. The reservoir dam is visible on the far shore on the left side of the picture. The final orange turn buoy and yellow sighting buoy are visible at the right.

A Triangular Swim Course

Racers were started in three waves: (1) all women, (2) men age 39 and under, and (3) men age 40 and over. Relay participants started according to the gender and age of the team member covering the swim.

Swimmers within each of the three waves left on the triangular-shaped swim course from the ramp between two docks. In my particular wave, 57 males aged 40 and over started together a few minutes after the previous two waves of females and younger males.

We swam toward the first orange buoy initially using a yellow sighting buoy to guide us to the first turn.

After the first turn, we swam southeast into the sun with the sun a few degrees off the horizon. Considering the sun and distance, the round yellow sighting buoy midway between the two turn buoys became the key to reaching the second turn buoy efficiently.

Once we reached the second turn buoy, we made a second left turn and headed to the exit guided by a yellow turn buoy midway and a red inflatable waving pillar at the exit from the water.

As shown in the map generated from my GPS watch, my actual path was reasonably straight.


The triangular swim course (purple line) in Buckhorn Lake from a recording made using my Garmin Forerunner GPS watch.


The 17-mile (27.4 km) bike course consisted of a series of rolling hills described by one racer from Raleigh as “about as flat as it gets around here”.

According to my bike computer, the temperature was in the high 60’s °F. With no wind, these conditions were ideal and certainly a whole lot more comfortable than on the previous two weekends.

The bike course was classified as open (means ‘with traffic’) with portions on state highways. All turns were to the right so we did not have to cross traffic. As the race director stated in the pre-race meeting, “If you take a left turn on this course, I do not know where you will end up.”

The course took us on a gentle, roller-coaster of hills through rural residential areas and past small (by Midwest standards) farms, country churches, and a few small businesses, including Triple J Produce near the end of the ride.

In the more rural areas off the state highways, we passed a variety of fields (soybeans, corn). We also rode by pastures complete with grazing cattle, seemingly unfazed by what had to be an unusual amount of bike traffic

Given the series of right turns and relatively light traffic on this Saturday morning, riding this course felt safe.

Ironically, my only experience with traffic was in the parking lot just before transition. Riding into the parking lot near the transition area at the end of the course, I came up behind a white SUV crawling along, the driver apparently undecided about where he could or should park. (He shouldn’t have even been there, but that’s for another day.)

Since I could not tell if the driver would turn left or right into their parking spot, I was forced to wait before riding past his vehicle. Finally, he made a commitment and pulled off to the right.


The run course involved two loops of the same path, most of which was on a portion of the bike course. The flat course left the transition area onto the road leading out of the Buckhorn Reservoir boat launch, again past my favorite volunteer, Joy.

At the end of the road, we turned right and then turned right again at the next intersection onto a street leading to the reservoir dam, located on the eastern edge of the reservoir. I remember chuckling at the young boy running around his yard trying to herd the family’s chickens back into their cage – on both trips.

After returning to the parking lot near the transition area the first time, we turned around at an aid (water and sports drink) table and repeated the course. After the second lap, we passed the aid station completing the short run to the finish line.


Battle at Buckhorn Triathlon age group winners Paul Bloom (age 71) and Sharon Roggenbuck (age 80). Sharon’s approach to the podium to receive her age group award included a cartwheel.

Our Next Destination

It was then on to Kentucky for the WinSprint Triathlon the following weekend. However, before this, we headed to western North Carolina, visiting Mt. Airy (Andy Griffith’s hometown) and Asheville (home of the Biltmore Estate).

Another takeaway from North Carolina is the memory of large patches of orange and yellow wildflowers in the median of divided highways throughout the state. I wish other states would do this.

After leaving North Carolina, we spent several fun-filled days in southwestern Tennessee. Here we visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge (home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood). It was then onto Winchester (Lexington) Kentucky.

Race First’s

  • First time racing past longhorn cattle, something expected in Texas but not in North Carolina.

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