So you want to Triathlon?

October 22, 2009

47958-258-004fThis month we start a series of articles by Ben Distel about the sport of triathlon. Ben Distel has completed over 30 triathlons, including Ironman Florida. After a managerial career in the hotel industry he became a director at The Bike Boutique in Singapore in 2006 where he worked with some of the best triathletes in the world. In 2008 he moved to Tokyo where he founded T1bicycles.com, a company that specializes in Triathlon Advice, Bike Fitting and Consultancy. He is Japan’s only certified triathlon bike fitter.

Wikipedia describes triathlon as: “an endurance sport event consisting of swimming, cycling and running over various distances. In most modern triathlons, these events are placed back-to-back in immediate sequence and a competitor’s official time includes the time required to transition between the individual legs of the race, including any time necessary for changing clothes and shoes.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triathlon)
This definition put me to think about how I approach my sport. Is that really all it is? Is that why I train 6 days a week, often twice per day? Because it is an endurance sport?


Yes: in racing I swim, bike and run over various distances, but I also stumble, crawl, crash, get kicked in the face, jump in water way too cold, murky and turbulent to really swim in. I manage life around the sport, get groceries according to my bodies’ needs, reject that last beer at Legends because tomorrow I have to get up at 6 for a bike ride with my buddies. Triathlon is a lifestyle in which physical activity plays a big role. Racing is just a small part of it. So I’ve been asked to write a few articles about the sport I love. Having done the sport for 8 years and working for 2 years at a cycling and triathlon store in Singapore, I claim to know a few bits and pieces about it. Writing about it is a different thing though: who is reading this; are they into sports; are they professionals who work 16 hours a day and balk at my twice daily training sessions; are they couch potatoes who maybe want to get off the damn sofa and loose the beer gut or chocolate hips? Maybe the readers are just intimidated by the false perception I put in the first paragraph that you have to partake in a crazy training regimen to finish a triathlon. Not true, but more on that later.


First a Little Triathlon History
There are many stories about where and when the very first triathlon was organized including reports of competitions in France early in the 20th century. The consensus is that the first modern race in which participants competed while running, swimming and cycling took place in San Diego in 1974. Four years later the first Ironman distance race was held on the Island of Oahu in Hawaii in order to settle an ongoing debate between a group of swimmers and runners about who were the fittest athletes. So a new race was born combining the courses of the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 miles), the Around Oahu Bike Race (then 115 miles, later reduced to 112 miles) and the Honolulu Marathon. That first race drew 15 competitors. In recent times Ironman participant fields routinely sell out at well over 2000 participants.
There are now 23 Ironman races organized around the world in addition to countless other races of the same, shorter and longer distance.

Race formats
Since that first Ironman, the race format for most triathlons is Swim-Bike-Run. The most common race distances are:

Olympic Distance
1.5km 40km 10km
Half Ironman (70.3) 1.9km 90km 21.1km
Ironman 3.8km 180km 42.2km

However, there are longer races than Ironman including a double, triple, and up to Deca Ironman (this is an event where competitors compete in an Ironman every day for 10 days straight). There are also shorter races, catchingly called sprint or super-sprint triathlons that usually have half the distance or less of Olympic Distance races but distances vary. These sprint triathlons are an excellent way to start triathlon; they can be completed on relatively little training and offer great insight into the sport. There are also races for kids, women only and several races have disabled categories.

That’s all for this time: in next article I will provide details on what kind of equipment you need to get started, train, but for those so inspired by my initiation in journalism that they want to get started right away, here is the minimal equipment you need:
– Swim: goggles, swimcap, swim apparel.
– Bike: bicycle, helmet, cycling outfit
– Run: running shoes, running outfit.

See you next time.



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