Monday, January 24, 2011

New & Improved Memphis in May Triathlon Preview

The Memphis In May Triathlon has gone through several transformations over the years.  It began in the early 80s as a local race in the young sport of triathlon.  After several venue changes it settled at Orgill Park in Millington, TN.  The race gained a reputation as a fast course with a time-trial start and great southern hospitality.  Then, in the late 80s, Memphis In May was selected as a qualifying race for Ironman Hawaii.  That's right, you could qualify for Kona in an olympic distance race.  They even had a raffle drawing for Kona slots!  MIM gained nationwide notoriety.  The race field exploded in quantity and quality as athletes came from across the country in pursuit of a coveted Ironman slot.  Over the years MIM has drawn many of the stars of triathlon: Mike Pigg, Spencer Smith, Tim Deboom, Andy Potts, Chris McCormack, Natascha Badmann, Pip Taylor and Michellie Jones... just to name a few.

There are, once again, big changes in store for this year's Memphis in May Triathlon.  After nearly 20 years in Millington, TN, just north of Memphis,  the race is pulling up stakes and moving to Tunica, MS, just south of Memphis.    Like many triathletes, I was concerned about this change.  I have raced the old course nearly 20 times.   I know it like the back of my hand.  I have memorized every turn, pothole and hill.  So why change?
  • The town of Tunica, MS is welcoming the event with open arms and providing police support and road closures that the city of Millington would never consider. 
  • MIM has been selected as one of 13 events in the new 5150 Triathlon Series.  The 5150 Series will be the largest olympic distance tri series in the world and the first non-drafting race series of it's kind.  Start2Finish can better manage the potential growth due to the 5150 Series affiliation with the move to a larger venue. 
Harrah's Resort is a first class venue with:
An indoor, air conditioned convention center for the Expo vs a hot and humid tent.
Indoor Restrooms!
Acres of paved parking within a few hundred yards of the hotel and transition area.  No more parking in the field!
A resort swimming pool for the post race festivities!

Harrah's is offering $89.00 room rates in their Veranda Resort Hotel vs the old musty $100+ rooms near the old venue.  You can walk directly from transition into your hotel room.  Great for restroom needs and post-race shower!
The great thing about it ... everything... your parking spot, hotel room, expo, transition area, start, finish and post-race at the same location.  This will be one of the most convenient venues for participants, family and spectators in the triathlon world.  

It's just as close to Memphis AND easier to get to... Tunica is a 30 minute drive from downtown Memphis, about the same distance as the old venue.  It can be reached via the interstate off of I-55.  No more narrow back roads to navigate.  So we can all agree that the venue is a big, big upgrade.  But what about the new course?

Memphis In May has always been known as a fast course. (Past Results) The new route will certainly lend itself to super fast times.  The Mississippi Delta is pancake flat and except for one overpass on the run... this course is FLAT.   There are also not a lot of turns so the bike will be all about getting in your aero position and hammering.  Course Maps.

The Swim starts behind the Veranda Hotel.  The lake is spring-fed and clean. Athletes are started one-at-a-time by age group.  (Swim Start Lottery results) Head straight out from the hotel for a long rectangle that will bring you back towards the hotel.  Then turn left and follow the shoreline towards the narrow canal.
Swim through the canal that heads between the two hotels.  After the canal, make a right and swim the last few hundred yards to the exit into T1.  The canal will be a great vantage point for watching the swimmers up close.
This is the view of the final few hundred yards of the swim.  
The swim exits into the large grassy area between the Terrace and Veranda Hotels that will serve as the transition area. 
The bike exit leads straight up this short steady incline on Southern Celebration Blvd. to the intersection at Harrah's Parkway South where cyclists will turn left.   
The course soon turns right onto Old Highway 61 at the big water tower.  You will also use the water tower as a key landmark on your return.   
Did I mention that the Delta is FLAT?  The bike course makes a large counter clockwise loop along Casino Center Way and Perry Rd. that will eventually lead back to Old Highway 61. 

Near the 15 mile mark you will turn left off of Perry Rd. onto northbound Old Highway 61.  If the winds are out of the south, hang on, you have a straight, flat 9 mile straightaway on Old Hwy 61 and 10 miles to transition.   When you spot the big water tower you are getting close. 

When you get back to the water tower you have a 1/2 mile to go.  Follow the same route back down Celebration Blvd. to the transition area.  

Head out of transition up the same hill you used on the bike.  This 500 yd steady climb will take you across Harrah's Pkwy.  Once you crest the hill you will be running straight at Harrah's Casino.  Make the counter clockwise  loop around the fountain in front of the Casino at the 1/2 mile mark and run a short distance back up the hill
Just before the top of the hill near the .75 mile mark, turn right onto the dirt and gravel levee road.   Run about a 1/4 mile on the levee before turning left and running down to the service road at the one mile mark.   

The service road will lead you back under Southern Celebration Blvd. through the limo parking lot and left onto Old Highway 61 just before mile 2.   
Flat enough?  This 3 mile out-and-back on Old Highway 61 will be a great place to check out the competition.  In addition to noting the lack of incline... note the significant lack of shade.  Plan on a hot run.   
When you run back past the limo parking area, turn left onto Harrah's Parkway N. you have approximately one mile to go to the finish.
Turn right on Resort Village Dr. and head towards the hotel.  At mile 5.8 turn left at this driveway in front of the Convention Center and head straight towards the sidewalk behind the Veranda Hotel that runs along the lake and past the swim start.  
The Finish Line is located right next to the swimming pool!
Trivia:  Old Highway 61 is the historic "Blues Highway", one of the most famous routes in music history.  The highway was the route out of the Delta for the original Blues musicians, like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters  John Lee Hooker, Bessie Smith, and B.B. King.  They headed to Memphis, Beale St. and directly led to the birth of rock-n-roll in the 50s at Sun Studios. 
I think the whole experience for the weekend changes.   Now it takes on a true festival atmosphere as the majority of the athletes stay on site, race or hang out on Saturday at the Memphis in May Sprint Triathlon, visit the expo, eat at one of the resort restaurants and get up Sunday morning for the big race.   Add in the prestige and hoopla of the 5150 Series affiliation, the pro race on Sunday... and you get a unique triathlon experience.  
The Sprint Triathlon on Saturday offers the same venue and a shorter .25 mile/ 12 mile/ 3 mile version of the course. 
Amateur Challenge
The Memphis In May Amateur Challenge consists of the lowest total combined time in both the Sprint Distance Triathlon and the Olympic Distance Triathlon. $5,000 cash purse payable 15 deep in both male and female categories.

Collegiate Challenge
The 3rd Annual Memphis In May Collegiate Challenge pits collegiate triathletes representing their schools at Memphis In May for great team and individual prizes.

That's right.  Tired of chasing your kids around the post race party?  "Kid's Quest", a huge kid's arcade and play zone with secure, supervised hourly childcare is located directly across the street from the Transition Area.  They will be offering an early opening time and discounts for MIM participants!  

Register early!  The trend towards the popular races filling early continues to accelerate.  Don't get shut out of the new and improved Memphis in May Triathlon!  Register Online

You can find all the information you need at the Start2Finish website.


  1. Nice report Kevin! I'm looking forward to the new venue.

  2. Sounds like great changes and growth for Memphis in May! I know you love this race; you've talked about it forever. Unfortunately, our tour will keep me away from this one...(as if I'm prepared for an Olympic distance triathlon)...but ONE of these days...'ll happen, Coach.

  3. Nice pics of the route. Now how about posting an actual map of the route so we know what to expect.

  4. Dear Anonymous
    The point of the course preview is to give you an idea of what to expect on the course in a "descriptive form". For a map... here is the link to the race website with maps:

  5. Does the lake being "spring fed" make it more likely that the swim will be wetsuit legal?

  6. The course looks very hard, thank you for sharing this so that I'll have an idea.

  7. Best Report on a race and venue I have ever seen, thanks for the hard work and detail on this

  8. Looks great! Wearing the same thing the whole race is key. You don't want to spend a lot of time during transitions bc that factors into your total time. I bet you are going to get hooked! Tris are so much fun!! Compression socks running

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