The Long and Winding 25 Years of the Music City Triathlon 

Not long after the first Ironman triathlon was held in Kona, Hawaii, in 1979, Sports Illustrated published a story about the event. Tom Raynor, who was then coaching cross country and track at Vanderbilt, remembers reading it and having his own little epiphany.

“Nobody had ever heard of combining these three sports,” he recalls. “So I said, 'Well, heck, let’s do a half-Ironman in Nashville.’ “

Raynor called up a bunch of his exercise friends and enlisted them to take part. “The only caveat was there was no training. So we had guys borrowing their girlfriends’ bikes, for instance. Nobody knew what they were doing.”

Thirteen hardy souls showed up. At Percy Priest Lake, they eyeballed the water, estimated what they thought was a mile, and jumped in. Then they got on their bikes and rode a 56-mile route to Percy Warner Park. (Along the way, Raynor was broadsided by a station wagon, which destroyed his bike. Miraculously, he was able to finish on another bike.) From Percy Warner Park, the group of pioneers then ran to Centennial Park and back, which was 13 miles.

Thus was born the Music City Triathlon, which today stands as the second-oldest, continuously operated triathlon in the world. In 1985, the event found a permanent home at Percy Priest Lake’s Cook’s Landing, just as the national triathlon craze was kicking in. The length of the event was also reduced to a quarter-Ironman (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run), and prize money was offered to winners.

The lure of money meant the triathlon drew some of the biggest triathletes in the world, including Mark Allen, Scott Tinley and Paula Newby Fraser. But organizers ultimately decided to return the event to amateur status as entry fees got prohibitively high and sponsorship money became difficult to find.

For over a decade now, the triathlon has been run by local attorney Bill Ramsey and a merry band of organizers, who are known for running a crack event. Proceeds are donated to Second Harvest Food Bank. Vanderbilt University Medical Center always has a bunch of EMTs hanging around in case someone overdoes it, and invariably several folks do. This year’s event will be held Sept. 7. (For more information, see www.music citytri.com.)

“It’s just a crew of us, and we all know our job, and we have a great time doing it,” the good-natured Ramsey says.

There is, however, one big drawback to the Nashville race, which Bruce Gennari, who has completed in three Hawaii Ironman events, is happy to point out. “That course is by far—and I have done many triathlons—it is by far the hardest run course I’ve ever done,” he says. “You just want to curl up on the side of the road and suck your thumb.”

On the upside, the contest comes at what is considered the end of the summer racing season. And it takes place on the same day as the first opening home game of the Titans, to which many of the competitors head after crossing the finish line.

“At that point, most of us start eating French fries again,” confesses Reed Trickett, a frequent Music City competitor.

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