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Running in Virginia

For some Virginians, the regular workout just isn’t enough. The triathlon – the endurance race made famous in Hawaii with its Ironman version – has arrived in Virginia. Just check out the Virginia Triathlon Calendar and you will find more than 50 combination swimming, biking and running races or their variations scheduled between late April and early September this year.

Depending on their dedication and physical fitness, Virginians could complete in a short Super Sprint Triathlon in Warrington on July 20 or a Half Triathlon in Williamsburg on September 6. The Super Sprint involves a 150-meter swim, a 12.4 mile bike course and a three-mile run, while the more challenging Half Triathlon requires a 1.2 mile swim, a 56-mile bike course and a 13.1 mile run. Other races are scattered across the state from Colonial Beach to Lynchburg.

Triathlons are a fairly recent phenomenon. The first races seem to date back to the 1920s in France to events known as “Les Trois Sports.” In the U.S. they began in the early 1970s as offbeat training exercises for runners. The first triathlon event – the above-mentioned Hawaii Ironman — evolved over a debate as to whether runners or swimmers were the better athletes. Hawaii had three major events at the time — the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 miles/ 3.862 kilometers), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (115 miles); and the Honolulu Marathon (26.219 miles / 42.195 kilometre. These were combined for the first Ironman competition in 1978. The sport debuted at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney with the regulation distances of a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike course and 10-kilometer run.

In the Old Dominion the events attract mainly amateur athletes, but their prowess and dedication runs the gamut. We crossed paths with Doug Trogdon, a Centreville resident who has been participating in triathlon events for the past two years, and he provided us some insight into this unusual but passionate subculture.

According to Trogdon, there seem to be three types of athletes at the events he has attended, which typically attract anywhere from 500 to 800 participants. There are the super serious triathletes, who compete in the longer events such as the half and full triathlons; those who are just starting out and are trying the shorter sprint races; and those that don’t exercise much and show up with old bikes just to attempt the race. What Trogdon likes about his hobby is the positive energy level. There’s a “we can do it,” attitude among all contenders, whatever their level of experience, he says.

When Trogdon started training for triathlons, he found swimming to be the skill he needed to work on most. This seems to be true of many triathletes. Trogdon enlisted the help of a lifeguard to help him streamline his swimming style for the race. Swimming in open water races is a special skill when others are splashing around.

For many, training for triathlons offers a change from more boring workout routines. One triathlete interviewed in The Roanoke Times a few years back says he found that his body fat was lower than when he was just a runner and that swimming gave him a good aerobic workout while biking worked different muscles, such as the hamstrings. (“Giving Triathlons a Try,” September 12, 2006).

Triathlons are most often individual events with participants trying to compete against their best times. Each separate section is timed – the swimming, biking and running portions – as well as the transition periods from swimming to biking and biking to running. While many racers will wear their swimming gear on the biking and running portions of the race, there is an art to fast transitions, such as putting socks and shoes on wet feet quickly. Racers wear timing chips – often on wrist bands and at the start of the triathlon they are issued a bib number, which also is marked on their bodies with Sharpies. It takes rubbing alcohol to get the marks off, our local source, Trogdon says.

Racers often compete in age categories and, though not sanctioned by the U.S. and international triathlon governing organizations, some races offer weight categories with a Clydesdale category for men over 200 pounds and an Athena section for women who are more than 150 pounds. For non-swimming athletes there are duathlons, which normally consist of a running segment, a biking segment and another running segment.

True extreme sport enthusiasts can upgrade from triathlons to adventure races held in wilderness areas, often over periods of 24-hour or longer. In Roanoke the Odyssey Outdoor Adventure Race involves a 75-mile course in the Blue Ridge with trail running, mountain biking and whitewater kayaking sections. It’s scheduled for July 26 and registration is still open. The 100-mile Untamed Adventure Race in Richmond, September 12-14, offers a 30-hour course of paddling, biking, running, orienteering, ropes and more. There is also a four-hour “Dash” course for the less daring.

But, back to the triathletes. For those who want to attempt this endurance sport, here’s some advice for training from Runners World: (1) Practice swimming in a competitive group by inviting your friends to the pool to swim laps around you and make waves; (2) Follow a bike ride with a run to get used to the transition; (3) Choose a race that is at least 12-weeks away or longer to have time to train; (4) Replace easy running days with swimming or biking workouts; (5) Swim and bike at least twice a week to develop fitness in those areas.

It’s definitely a whole new world for the average athlete. We think the name of a Virginia triathlon team says it all. The three members call themselves Drip-Clip-Rip.

NEXT: The Developer’s Daughter: Road Names in Virginia

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