Triathlons are getting more and more popular. They are a great way to challenge yourself and also, often, to raise money for a good cause. The wonderful thing about Triathlons is it seems that whether you are a teenager, in your twenties or thirties, or a Baby Boomer or older, you can participate in one. There are so many different types and levels of intensity that you can certainly find one you can enter.
Jessica Heller, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, and water safety instructor, at the Elite Sports Club in Mequon, who has taken part in eight Triathlons, has been coaching competitive swimmers for twenty years, and has worked for seven with Triathletes, concurred that “different races have different age groups, but USAT (USA Triathlon), the national governing body, sanctions events that are for 16-89 year olds. USAT also has a Youth division for 7-15 year olds and a Junior division for 16-19 year olds. The Pewaukee Triathlon in July has a kids’ race where children as young as 3 can participate. The Waupaca Triathlon in August also has a kids’ race, where children as young as 4 can be in it. For these races, the swim portion is very short and in extremely shallow water.”
Heller said that “the optimum age is whenever you want to participate! Many people start in their late twenties or early thirties, when they are still athletic, but start to miss being in the competitive sports of their youth. It is never too late to try, though.”
She defined what a triathlon is. “It’s a race composed of three parts: swimming, biking, and running, in that order. Triathletes compete for the best overall course completion time, including timed “transitions” between the three disciplines. Distances for each are different for each particular race. The main standard race distances are: Sprint Distance; 750 meter (.465 mi) swim, 20 kilometer (12.5 mi) bike, 5 kilometer (3.1 mi) run.” The most arduous is the famous Iron Man, “with .8 kilometer (2.4 mi) swim, 180.2 kilometer (112 mi) bike, and a full marathon: 42.2 kilometer (26.2 mi) run.” She added, “There are non-standard variations of triathlons, with two parts that are called biathlons, and include: Aquabike (swimming and biking only); and Aquathlon (swimming and running only). There’s also a Formula One triathlon (swim-bike-run combination in multiple groups); an indoor triathlon (pool swim, stationary bike, indoor track or treadmill run); and an off-road triathlon (swimming, mountain biking, and trail running), as well as pedal/paddle/run (bike, kayak, run). The Ultraman triathlon, is a three day triathlon covering 320 miles, and a winter triathlon, which includes some combination of cross-country skiing, mountain biking, outdoor-ice speed skating, and running.”
“A great website to find a triathlon to join is trifind.com. You can search for races by both state and by distance. Some popular Milwaukee area races include races in Pewaukee, Elkhart Lake, Waupaca, and Pleasant Prairie.”
Heller said, “For your first race, I would plan on at least 8-12 weeks of training time prior to the competition. You will want to train nearly daily; since you have essentially three sports plus transitions to train for. Training should include some “brick” days, where you practice two of the three disciplines back to back, to get used to how it feels to switch between them. If you are doing an outdoor race, you should also plan for time to practice swimming in open water, as that can be quite different than practicing in a swimming pool.”
“Races are generally divided into professional/elite and amateur categories. They are then divided by gender and into age groups in 5-10 year intervals. Most races have a wide span of age groups.”
One of the most popular, “The Iron Girl Athleta, a series of triathlons (formerly known as the Danskin Triathlon series) is for women only–the closest of these races is in Pleasant Prairie.”
“Paratriathlons,” Heller explained, “are for athletes with some form of physical disability, although I don’t personally know of any of these races in the area.”
Heller continued to differentiate, “Some races have a Clydesdale/Athena category, as well. Clydesdales are usually men over 220 pounds, and Athenas are usually women over 165 pounds. This allows heavier athletes to compete against people closer to their size, since size is considered an impediment to speed.”
Even in our inclement weather we can train for triathlons. Heller suggested that “Indoor cycling can be a replacement for biking outdoors in inclement weather. At Elite, we offer nearly 65 indoor cycling classes per week. We also have pools in three of our sports clubs.” Running, of course, can be done on a treadmill.
Heller offered a suggestion, “You don’t have to wait until June to participate in a triathlon. Many health clubs and community recreation centers have indoor or indoor/outdoor (indoor swim and bike, outdoor run) races during cooler times of the year.”
In Heller’s opinion training is very important. “Obviously, you need to work on swimming, biking, and running. You will also need to practice transitions, or switching your body and race gear from one discipline to the next, since transitions are part of your time as well. Brick workouts (practicing two disciplines back to back) are essential for teaching your body how to switch between components. And, like any sport, you should also incorporate some flexibility and strength training into your routine to best train your body and prevent injury. A personal trainer or triathlon coach can help you set up the best training program for the race you will be doing.”
There are also training classes. “I can tell you that at our Mequon location, we usually do a small group training session entitled “Swimming for Beginner Triathletes.” (Most beginners dread the swim portion the most.) This summer, we are planning to add in a full triathlon training program, staffed by two personal trainers who are also swim coaches, and a personal trainer who is also a cycling instructor and competitor. We also plan to have Triathlon training in several of our other clubs as well.”
Heller offered advice for how to dress for a triathlon. “For the swim portion, a swim cap (usually given to you by the race, as different colors signify different age groups), goggles, tinted to block sun glare if in an outdoor race, and a swimsuit or wet suit, if in colder water; whether or not you are allowed to use one is race-specific.”
For the biking portion she suggested a helmet, which is usually required, bike shoes (optional) or running shoes with pedal clips, shorts, jersey, or t-shirt, water bottle, sunglasses.” It’s basically the same for the run. She added a cap or visor for this portion.
“Alternatively,” Heller said, “some racers choose to wear tri suits. These are garments that you can use through the entire race. They are made of a swimsuit-like material. The top is sleeveless, and the bottom is similar to a bike shorts with a lightweight pad between the legs, while still being comfortable for swimming.”
This article was written by Arlene Becker and previously published in Modern Health and Living, a Milwaukee publication dedicated to health and nutrition that focuses on traditional, complementary and integrative medicine.