Triathlons are for people from another planet. A distant galaxy where spandex-clad inhabitants ride carbon fiber bicycles and feed on prewrapped energy gels in radical perpetuity. An ageless society, “Planet Tri” dwellers appear from the outside to have neither jobs nor families, save for small training tribes where rock-hard quads and bagpipe-worthy lungs are minimum entrance requirements.
But, according to Bellevue Club members, that planet is actually a lot closer than people think and looks uncannily like Earth.
“I always thought triathlons were for other people,” says Katy Enger, Bellevue Club member and mother of four children between the ages of 5 to 10. “I wasn’t a runner or a biker.”
This past summer, Katy finished the 2009 Seafair Triathlon, crossing the finish line amid cheers from her kids and husband. Despite her running reservations, she went on to compete in the Las Vegas half-marathon this past December.
“Once you’ve done a triathlon, things aren’t so scary,” she says.
Katy never saw herself as a triathlete until she began attending Shannon Paterson’s spin class. Shannon, an accomplished triathlete who has completed 10 Ironman triathlons, convinced a group of six women, including Katy, to take a crack at their first event.
“Shannon shared all these inspiring stories and it makes you want to try it,” she says.While the Club has its share of dedicated triathletes who have competed in Ironman-length events for years, Shannon’s group this past year were all first-timers.
“I’d never trained for anything in my life,” says Kelly Jenkins. A mother of three daughters, Kelly had always participated in aerobics classes, but never thought about triathlons.
“Last December (2008), we were all in spin class and Shannon told us, ‘If you can do this, you can totally do a triathlon,’” Kelly says. Although she’d never ran more than three miles in her life, Kelly not only finished the 2009 Seafair Triathlon with Shannon’s Bellevue Club crew, she also went on to complete the Kirkland Triathlon, the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon and the Seattle Century bike ride.
“It started getting easier and easier,” she says. At the Kirkland Triathlon, her twin younger daughters, Jamie and Kate, participated in the kids’ triathlon and Julianna, her 15-year-old daughter, participated in the adult event.
Kelly drew personal strength from the triathlon experience after going through a difficult time in her family life.
“I think it helped me redefine who I am after being married for so long and being a mom and wife,” she says. “It made me feel like I got a hold of my life again.”
Kelly has encouraging words for anyone who’s ever thought about attempting a triathlon
“The amazing thing is that you see all shapes and sizes of people at a triathlon,” she says.
A triathlon consists of three events: swimming, biking and running. While most people picture the grueling Ironman Hawaii, there are actually several common triathlon lengths: Ironman, half-Ironman, Olympic and sprint triathlons. Beginners usually want to stick with sprint distances, which typically include a half-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and 3-mile run, in that order. The swim portion usually takes place on an open water area, such as a lake or ocean, but some sprint triathlons use an indoor pool. Racers are separated into categories based on age and gender, and beginners also want to look for events that include wave starts so they’re not swimming with as many competitors at once.
“For first timers, it’s all about enjoying the day. Taking it all in, knowing that you’ve done the training,” Shannon says. “Also, there’s no time goal that you have to beat from another race.”
The granddaddy of all triathlons is an Ironman distance, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run (marathon). Shannon regularly competes in Ironman events, taking the top spot in her age group at the 2006 Ironman Canada in Penticton, British Columbia, and the 2008 Longhorn Ironman in Austin, Texas.
Beg, Borrow or Steal
“You don’t have to look like the studly triathlete, you can just ride whatever you have,” advises Kelly. For your first triathlon, avoid getting caught up in high-priced gear.
“I didn’t even own a bike—I had to borrow one for Seafair,” says Katy.
There are several basics for your first triathlon: swimsuit or wetsuit (many multisport shops offer triathlon wetsuit rentals), goggles, breathable clothes, well-fitting bike and running shoes.
If you feel inspired to try your first triathlon but aren’t sure where to start, the Bellevue Club triathlon training program is perfect for first-time participants.
Led by Shannon, a series of five training seminars take you through all the necessary steps to complete your first triathlon—or improve your time if you’ve competed before.
Designed to fit into busy schedules, Shannon covers everything from gear to the fundamentals of open water swimming in time for the Northwest triathlon season. “Strength Training” is the first workshop on Monday, March 15, from noon to 1:15 p.m.
For more information or triathlon training questions, contact Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.661. 0071. Sign up for triathlon training seminars at the Athletic Services Desk or at https://members.bellevueclub.com.
To improve your swim stroke and endurance, check out the Bellevue Club Masters Swim program or lessons. For more information on Masters, call 688.3127 or visit www.bellevueclub.com/aquatics/swimlessonbrochure.pdf.
Shannon has this parting advice for aspiring triathletes who might be nervous about trying their first event this summer.
“If it doesn’t scare you, then it’s not a challenge,” Shannon says.
What does that mean?
Triathlon Terms Explained
Body Marking: During race check-in, information such as race number and age are written on athletes’ upper-arms and calves to assist race officials during an event.
Bonk: When a participant suddenly loses energy from depleted glycogen stores resulting in a performance drop. Proper calorie intake helps avoid this phenomenon.
Brick: A combination workout that includes a bike and run portion.
Transition Area: The area where participants change from swim to bike or bike to run.
Wave : A group of triathletes starting a race. Waves are often staggered and organized by age group and gender. Not all triathlons are wave starts.