Ask the average student what he or she thinks about the sport of triathlon and that student might describe superhuman machines who cover thousands of miles on foot, in the water and on the bike (the order in which triathlons are done). The student will speak of disciplined monsters who train relentlessly from dawn until dusk. And while the average triathlete would be more than happy to maintain this image, the truth is that the average triathlete is a regular Joe or Jane who balances training with a job, school, family and other responsibilities. While some of them strive to be fast and win awards in their respective age groups, many gain their sense of accomplishment from finishing the race, beating their previous time or using the event to raise money for a cause. Still, these average triathletes have a much higher fitness level than the common citizen. Swimming, cycling and running are great cardiovascular exercises, and the combination of all three sports works every major muscle group in the body.
The triathlon is composed of three sports: swimming, cycling and running. Each is performed in succession, usually in that order. The time it takes to get out of the water and onto the bike and the time it takes to park the bike and begin running is called “transition time,” and it counts toward the participant’s overall race time.
Triathlons come in several distances:
The Mini is usually reserved for beginners and kids. These distances are approximate since this race is not standardized: 200-yard swim, five-mile bike and one- mile run.
The Sprint is the most common kind of race, and is a great goal for fitness enthusiasts and ambitious beginners. Distances are not standardized: 500-yard swim, 10-mile bike and three-mile run.
The Olympic Distance is a standard distance used in Olympic and intercollegiate competition: 1K swim, 40K bike, 10K run.
The Ironman Standard Distance: 1.2-mile swim, 112- mile bike and 26.2-mile run
Ironman Ultra: Races that are longer than Ironman distances. There are races from double up to twenty times the distance of Ironman. The longer the distance, the fewer athletes who compete.
There are also several variations on multi-sport. Duathlons include running and cycling, and the term biathlon, while usually applied to a cross-country skiing and shooting event, also applies to a swimming/running race. There are off-road triathlons in which trail running and mountain biking are substituted for the traditional events.
“It’s not a matter of how much you train, but how you train,” says triathlon coach Rick Niles.
While swimming, biking and running are simple sports, performing them together in a limited amount of time is not so easy. While you could probably finish a sprint triathlon just by doing each sport twice a week for a good 30 minutes or hour, getting faster or going farther requires a little more work and can get quite scientific.
According to triathlon and cycling coach Joe Friel, author of The Triathlete’s Training Bible, a person looking to get faster or complete a longer distance should concentrate on progressive overload (gradually doing more and more as you get stronger), maintaining frequency (training a set number of times per week in each sport) and specificity, (as Friel says, “You won’t reach triathlon or duathlon fitness by jumping rope, doing aerobics or rock climbing.”)
The best thing a beginning triathlete can do is to join a triathlon club or get a group of friends together and hire a coach. USA Triathlon (www.usatriathlon.org) provides a list of USAT-certified coaches in the area. In St. Petersburg, there is a great fun-loving group called the Mad Dogs, which is one of the largest tri clubs in Florida. The only requirement for membership is that you must have completed at least one triathlon of any distance, but the group can help you get started even before you become an official member (www.stpetemaddogs.com). And of course, if you’re interested in training on campus, you can join me and others for swimming, biking or running almost every day. Just e-mail me to join.
For the really ambitious types, check out the Ironman races and their process for registration at<www.Ironmanlive.com . I will see the ambitious types at the starting line of Ironman Australia 2005!.
Tereza Zambrano is a junior majoring in international studies and is a triathlete.
E-mail questions to TMZambrano@triathlete.com .