COMMUNITY: Giving this sport a 'tri'

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Editor’s note: Jason Clark of Iowa City is a group exercise instructor at North Dodge Athletic Club and an active participant in the Eastern Iowa race scene, competing in runs, duathlons and triathlons.

By Jason Clark, community contributor

There are several words and/or phrases that generally come to mind when someone says “triathlon.”

“Crazy,” “insane,” “why,” and “not even when the Browns win the Super Bowl,” are a few of them.

To most, a triathlon means an Ironman distance race — a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and finally, a 26.2 mile run. They conjure up pictures of athletes with 1 percent body fat who probably haven’t had a slice of pizza since they were 16.

The good news is you don’t have to compete in an Ironman distance race to be a triathlete nor do you only have to eat energy bars and drink water.

You simply have to be willing to try something new.

The triathlon community is very open and accepting of everyone. It doesn’t matter if you swim like a fish or can barely dog paddle. Riding a mountain bike in your first race? So what? I did. You won’t be the only one out there riding your old college bike.

There will be the athletes in every race who look like they stepped out of the pages of a racing magazine. They will be riding a $7,000 bike and wearing one of those goofy looking aero helmets (they do work, by the way). They will be wearing $150 running shoes and will cross the finish line wondering if they have time for another training run before the awards ceremony.

However, I have yet to run into anyone at a race who is unfriendly and or not willing to share their knowledge with new racers.

As you make the decision to enter your first race, you will need several things.

First, invest in a good pair of swim goggles, a pair of tri shorts (and a top if you are a female) and start swimming. If you don’t know how to swim, take some lessons. Keep in mind, during a race, you can swim any stroke you want. My wife completed her first triathlon doing the backstroke.

Secondly, get your bike tuned up. For your first race, don’t go out and buy a triathlon bike. Even the cheapest tri bikes cost $1,500-$2,000. If you have a mountain bike, there are a couple of things you can do to help increase your speed — purchase the narrowest tires that will fit your rims and buy a set of clip on aerobars. Once you have been bitten by the triathlon bug, then go out and spend the money on a tri bike — just prepare your significant other for the cost beforehand.

The third thing you need to do is invest in a good pair of running shoes. This is the one aspect of racing that you shouldn’t skimp on. Buy the best pair of running shoes you can afford.

With these few, relatively inexpensive, steps, you are ready to start training.

The sport of triathlon is rapidly growing. That is reflected in the availability of races here in Eastern Iowa. Early in the year, there are several indoor triathlons such as the Try Melon Tri in Muscatine, the My Y Tri in Marshalltown or the North Dodge Athletic Club Indoor Triathlon in Iowa City.

These races are low key and a great way to dip your toes in the water if you are new to the sport or, if you are a veteran, to see how well you are managing your preseason fitness.

As summer rolls around and races move outside, look for the Holiday Lakes Triathlon in Brooklyn (challenging) and the Quad Cities Triathlon. Other races to watch out for this year will be the inaugural Trekman Triathlon at the end of June and the Crossroads Triathlon in August.

For first timers, I would suggest both the Quad Cities race and the Crossroads Triathlon. Both races are sprint distance races (500-600 yard swim, 15 mile bike, and a 5K run).

Triathlon is an immensely rewarding sport. The first time I crossed the finish line, I almost cried (don’t tell my wife). I still get an incredible sense of accomplishment each time I finish. I have never placed in the top three in my age group but I have fun in each race and meet some incredible people with incredible stories.

Over the course of the next few months, I will break down each event of a triathlon and share with you some of my observations and training tips that will hopefully get you through your first race.

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