YMCA Wrightsville Beach Triathlon Festival

YMCA Wrightsville Beach Triathlon Festival

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Oldest sprint triathlon in the United States

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About the Event


Sprint Triathlon, Youth Triathlon, Open Water Swim, Post Party


Saturday, September 29, 2018 @ 7:00am


Wrightsville Beach Park


The YMCA Wrightsville Beach Triathlon is the oldest sprint triathlon in the United States! Believe it or not, It was started in 1979, the year after the KONA IRONMAN in Hawaii which means 2018 is the 40th anniversary. The WB-TRI Fest will begin with a Friday evening open water swim, a Saturday morning sprint distance, a kids triathlon and a post party at Lighthouse Beer and Wine on Wrightsville Beach. Come bring the family and enjoy a fun fitness weekend!


Wrightsville Beach Park
321 Causeway Dr.
Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480




Friday September 28th: 12:00pm to 6:00pm
Saturday, September 29th: 5:00am to 6:00am @ WB PARK



All participants that compete in the Adult sprint race will receive a T-shirt and Orange Pajama pants as part of the NCTS 20th anniversary.  All youth triathletes will receive a t-shirt.  The Friday swim does not include swag, but does include a beer tasting.

North Carolina Triathlon

The YMCA Wrightsville Beach Triathlon is part of the 20 year old North Carolina Triathlon Series opperated by SET UP Events.  You will register for the Historic Sprint Triathlon through the Set UP events website.




Course Maps


This race starts out with a 1,200 yard swim - which is unusual for a sprint distance triathlon. The reason the swim is longer than the normal sprint distance swim is because the swim is a point-to-point swim that always takes place with an incoming tide. Check out the swim times from previous years - the swim actually seems more like 750 yards- 1,000 yards depending on how fast the current is moving. It is important to note that while this swim takes place in salt water - this is not an ocean swim. The swim takes place in a channel system between Wrightsville Beach and the mainland. Numerous busses are used to transport participants from the transition area (and swim finish location) to the swim start location at the Blockade Runner hotel. This is another race that becomes a race day decision for wetsuits - as the water temperature at this time of the year along the southern North Carolina coast is always around 78 degrees. We will post a water temperature on the website on Thursday night of race week.

The course is flat (not a surprise) as the race is at the coast. The one loop course takes participants over the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge and onto the mainland. Participants need to be very careful crossing the metal grating on the drawbridge - don't make any sudden turns or movements (ride carefully!!).

The 5K run course is a one-loop design and also flat. The run takes place on the very popular "loop" at Wrightsville Beach with 90% of the run being on the sidewalk system - the other 10% is on a very quiet side street - used to get the necessary distance



Post Party

All participants are invited to Lighthouse Beer and Wine after the race.  Lighthouse has been around WB since 1998 and has a wide selection of bottled beer and draft beers on tap.  The beer garden will be an awesome place to relax after the race to some good music!  See you there!

Corporate Relay Challenge


Want to be part of the corporate challenge?  Talk to your company about getting involved.  To be part of the challenge, it requires a relay team to consist of two or more athletes with prizes for fastest corporate team and company with highest number of athlete participants.  Corporate trophy give to fastest team to display in their offices until next year’s race.

When you register, you must put your company name as a relay team or if you are an individual, you must put your affiliation during registration.

Race History

The YMCA Wrightsville Beach triathlon first held in 1979 was the brainchild of Karl Sutter, then a resident of the beach. Karl was competitive by nature and had been college swimmer , then a few years after college had taken up running to get back in shape.  While running one day he sprained his ankle and turned to cycling as an outlet for fitness while his injury healed. When reading Sports Illustrated in the spring of ‘79 he noticed a small article about the first Ironman triathlon with it’s 12 participants that was held in Hawaii the prior fall. Karl approached the Wilmington YMCA which was under the direction of Jack Morris at the time and a new event for the area was born. This triathlon named the Pepsi/Ymca Triathlon would become the first and longest running triathlon on the east coast of the US with its start of 99 participants that September, 1979.

The course was laid out and the swim would be across Banks channel from the Blockade Runner sound side beach to The South Channel dr. mini park on Harbor Island where there were stairs to exit the water. The cycling took the then favored training route of the time off the beach following Greenville, Masonboro, and Myrtle Grove Loop roads, south on Carolina bch rd , over Snows Cut bridge to follow Dow rd to Kure Bch where the first water stop would be. From there back through Carolina Bch , back over the big bridge and up River rd to downtown Wilmington. Once in downtown the run took the  course established by the Wilmington Jaycees and their River to the Sea run route of Market st, through Forrest hills to Park ave switching to Wrightsville ave to continue to the finish at Wrightsville Beach Park. The distances were 1/2 mile swim, 42 miles on the bike, followed by the 10 mile run. All 99 triathlets finished that first year.

During these first years and being an infant sport about the only rule was each athlete had to wear a helmet. The transition area was a grassy park and one could choose a spot to park your bike, there were no bike racks. Most current day rules did not exist. Drafting and personal support cars with spare bikes/parts was just fair game. We had very little traffic control and for the most part we fended for ourselves while on the road. Nutrition during the event was granola, fruit, soft drinks, and candy bars. Gels and energy bars were not yet invented. The common practice of the day was to change clothes for each leg of the race too. Tri shorts came in the mid 80’s.

        Over the years the distances and routes changed to meet the different time periods. Those first years the distances almost matched the current 1/2 Ironman distance which is 1.1 mile swim followed with a 56 mile bike ride and then a 13.1 mile run. A full Ironman is 2.2 swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run. In some of the following years the then popular “olympic” distance of 1/2 mile swim, 26 mile bike, and a 10 k run was the distance to be counted on to draw the necessary  number of participants to make the event successful.. Currently and for the last number of years the event went to the popular Sprint distance of 1/4 mile swim, 12 mile bike and a 3.1 mile run. This distance helped grow the number of athletes and as of 2010 stands at more than 1400 paid entries.  

Karl Sutter  was the race director the first year and handed over the job to Jim Mincher who  took over responsibilities for the 1980 and 1981 events. The following  year Jim Ritch had fun being race director but after a 2 year stint relinquished the reins to yet another Jim  who was Jim Honneycutt. All four of these directors were members of the YMCA , the Wilmington Road Runners and  The Cape Fear Cyclists clubs here in Wilmington. Without the help from the club members organizing the triathlon would have been difficult. To keep from burning out the volunteer race directors the YMCA took over the organizing  responsibilities with Y staff. This led to Nancy Rife, Perry Maxwell, and Gray Lambeth  taking the duties for the next 20 years. Setup Events (an event coordination business from Kure Bch) with founder Bill Scott  partnered with the Y  in year 2000 and the event has flourished with 1200-1400 entries selling out months in advance. This jump in attendance was due to triathlons gaining in popularity as a “new” sport, changing to the short “sprint” distance which was more achievable for most people, and Bill Scott’s newer established race production company.
Each summer as the mid September event draws near the triathletes come in droves to Wrightsville Beach each morning. On just about any morning as the sun begins to shine at the beach all sorts of friend/family groups hit the waters and pavement in and around W Bch to ready themselves for the fun of doing the race. For some this race has become an annual family tradition while others dabble in the swim, bike, and running event to see just what it is all about. All triathlons draw the serious athletes who are very fast and take the sport seriously. This race is an event for all types of people and the reasons for participation vary so wide one could write a book.

One local resident Frazier Perry age 81 has participated nearly every year and continues to do so.  The late Henry forrest was one of the original 12 triathletes in the first Hawaiian Ironman event  back in 1978. Henry had the luck to be stationed at Camp Lejune for much of his career in the marines and also participated in the YMCA race for many years. He even went back to Hawaii to participate in the 25th anniversary full Ironman event and did a respectable time of at the age of 50 something. Sadly Henry was taken by Pancreatic cancer or he would still be on the starting line as excited as ever and ready to hear the start gun.
This event  has become a major fund raiser for the YMCA over the years. According to Dick Jones the  current Y director this event raises money for community outreach in our county. Dick has also turned into a triathlete much because of the good energy being radiated from all involved in such a great event. While interviewing Dick for this article he just wanted to thank the Town of Wrightsville Beach, New Hanover county, and The city of Wilmington for allowing such a major event to take place, because without their cooperation it would not be possible.
Race Director - Karl Sutter  
Course :
Swim - 1/4 mile - across Banks Channel 
Bike - 42 miles  - to Kure Beach via Greenfield Loop, Masonboro Loop rd, River rd to Downtown Wilmington 
Run - 10 miles - Downtown Wilmington to the Wrightsville Beach park (the established River to the Sea run course)
Race Director - Jim mincher  
Course - same course as above for two years
Race director - Jim Ritch  
Swim 1.1 miles -  Blockade Runner to to Atlantic Marine
Bike - 35 miles - Kure Bch via Masonboro Loop rd to River road miles with transition on River road
Run 10K - to and around Greenfield Lake to Finish at the Amphitheater 
Misc - There was a hurricane the few days before one of the events
Race director - Jim Honeycutt  
Course : International distance 
Swim - 1.2 miles ( Blockade Runner to Atlantic Marine) 
Bike - 27 miles (down Greenville Loop rd, Masonboro Loop rd, Golden rd, Carolina Beach rd, Oleander dr back to the Beach
Run - 10K - Wbch Park to Shell Island and back to the park 
Race director - Nancy Rife YMCA employee
Course : International distance
Same as before 
Race director - Perry Maxwell YMCA employee
Course - International Dist
Misc - Hurricane Fran cancelled the event in 1996
Hurricane Floyd cancelled the event in 1999
Race director - Gray Lambeth YMCA employee 
Course - international
Misc - Participation dropped to approx 250 people over a 4-5 year period
Race director - Gray Lambeth 
Course- changed to first sprint distance 2001 with Setup Events to up participation 
Misc - Participation was over 1400 through 2010
2001 Race dedicated to 9-11 victims in NYC
Director- YMCA
Course - sprint - basically the current course as of 2016
A few years the bike was out and back on Eastwood road - two loops 
Director – Tom Clifford
Course – Sprint + Youth + OW Swim

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