From Sydney to Queen’s, Triathlon Fever is catching

Kingston resident Sharon Donnelly on the final leg of the Triathlon World Championships in Montreal in September 1999. Donnelly is on the Canadian Olympic Team, and placed 38th in Women’s Triathlon in Sydney.
Kingston resident Sharon Donnelly on the final leg of the Triathlon World Championships in Montreal in September 1999. Donnelly is on the Canadian Olympic Team, and placed 38th in Women’s Triathlon in Sydney.
Photo by Henry Fletcher

The eyes of the Olympic-watching world have recently turned their attention to Canada, or more specifically, to Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield. The coverage of his medal-winning race by the CBC was impressive, considering that triathlon has been, until now, a relatively unpublicized sport, as well as a new one at the Olympic games. Still, die-hard triathletes and couch potatoes alike put their lives on pause to cheer Simon on as he sprinted to his glorious finish.

Few know that Simon Whitfield coached the Queen's triathlon club swims for a while a couple of years back; unfortunately, I missed meeting him because I never showed up to swim practices. Too bad though, because now I cannot claim to be friends with him merely based on our main common interest; we are both triathletes. I have friends that have been lucky enough to train with him, but claiming celebrity by association might be a bit of a stretch. I can honestly say that my renewed love for triathlon was inspired by Simon, who has been a role-model for the sport, and the athletes who love it. Subsequently, my one-year hiatus from triathlon training has come to an end. I am hoping that his triumph in Sydney will increase exposure of the sport in Canada, and encourage others to give it a try.

The intimidation factor of participating in a triathlon restricts the numbers, but few people can avoid becoming addicted to it once they have raced even once. The thrill of completing three activities consecutively - regardless of distance or speed - is unmatched by anything I have ever experienced. Yet there is something in the back of everyone's mind that screams "Triathlon, Ironman… twelve hours of hell." Yes, the Ironman is a triathlon. But the sport is certainly not restricted to those who can display Herculean feats of endurance and determination. It can be served out in miniature doses, too.

Triathlon consists of three events: swimming, biking, and running, completed in that order. Distances can range from as little as a 100 metre swim and a 1 or 2 km run (as in the case of events such as "Try-a-Tri"), 800 metre swim, 20 km bike, and 5 km run, (as in the case of "sprints"). The "Ironman" is the pinnacle of achievement for triathletes as it involves just over a 3 km swim, 180 km bike, and a 42 km marathon run.

The sport does not have to be restricted to Simon Whitfield or Sharon Donnelly types. Virtually anyone can complete a triathlon, as long as they can dedicate themselves to some type of training program. You do not, however, need to dedicate all of your time, or devote your entire life to a rigorous schedule of fanatical training. Depending on your general fitness level, experience in any of the three sports, and desired race distance, three hours a week could be enough. The best way to prepare for a race is to join a triathlon or multi-sport club. There will be a range of ability levels, training for a variety of races, and there will always be other first-timers. The Queen's Triathlon Club, for example, has as many if not more, beginners than veteran racers. A club such as this will have an established schedule of workouts, which allows you to pick and choose your own schedule and allows you to train as much or as little as possible. More importantly, the coaching and camaraderie provide a support system, with coaches and fellow club members always encouraging your goals.

If you are thinking of training for a triathlon, you should consider these tips:

1. Create a training schedule that is realistic, and stick to it. There are three sports, which makes for a busy training schedule. One or two workouts in each of the three sports per week could be enough, but don't let it slip. Your training will be much more effective if you keep it consistent, instead of retrogressing to a lower level of ability.

2. Take care of yourself. Eat properly and get enough sleep. This is sometimes hard for us crazy university kids, but treating your body with respect will go a long way.

3. Don't overtrain. If you feel exhausted, you're either ignoring #2, or you're working out too much or too hard. Know your limits.

4. Triathlon does not need to be expensive. The equipment doesn't make the racer, so don't think you need a $4000 bike and $200 sunglasses. Borrow a bike. Buy sunglasses at Bi-Way. However, don't skimp on things like running shoes, because you don't want to hurt yourself.

5. ALWAYS WEAR A BIKE HELMET (well, not always; only when you're on your bike).

6. Train with a friend. Setting out on your triathlon adventure is much more exciting if you have someone there with you. Even if you join a club, find someone to do those early morning runs with you if can't make the club practice. Also, you'll have someone to hang out with at the race.

We can't pretend that we are all capable of becoming Whitfields, Lessings, Montgomerys or Donnellys. Instead, it is important to remember that Triathlon can be about just having fun. The feeling of crossing the finish line, whether it be in first place or fifty-first, is a wholly indescribable one. Knowing that you have completed a swim, bike and a run without stopping for lunch in between is something that you will honestly cherish for the rest of your life. So don't be intimidated. Give it a shot. Hell, there are so many people at those races that no-one will know how fast you're going anyway. They'll just be cheering like crazy.

What you need to prepare for a Triathlon

· A bathing suit (come on guys, Speedos aren't that bad)

· Swimming goggles

· A working bicycle · A helmet

· Running shoes

· Water bottle

· Powerbar/Clif Bar/ Granola bar/ banana

· Sunglasses

Triathlon Quick Facts

•The Olymic Triathlon involves a 1.5 km swim, a 40 km bike ride, and a 10 km run.

•According to USA Triathlon, 80,000 people a year sign up for at least one of the 700+races held in the US every year.

•Training for a triathlon offers your body a great cardiovascular workout, stress reduction, a total body workout, an increase in endurance.

•You may be a triathlete waiting to happen if you: enjoy challenges, are goal-oriented, enjoy being constantly active, or if you feel bored by routine.

•If you are thinking of giving triathlon a try, a good thing to keep in mind is that experts on the sport recommend spending 25 percentof your work-out swimming, 50 percent biking, and 25 percent running.

•Experts also suggest doing a “brick workout”(when you do one activity, such as biking immediately after running) once every couple of weeks.

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