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Anyone can do a triathlon

Lynda West, a Spartanburg mom of two, completed her first two triathlons last year and is planning to race more this year. Many people have seen Hawaii’s Ironman on television and think that triathlons are only for super athletes. West disagrees.

“You don’t have to be in perfect shape to train for a triathlon,” she said. “In shorter races, you will see people stop at the end of a lane to catch their breath during the swim or stop to walk during the run. It is a perfect opportunity to try something new.”

March is the beginning of triathlon season in South Carolina, and personally, I am participating in my first race this year. A triathlon is a race in which you complete a swim, a bike ride and a run without resting between. Before you sign up for your first race though, it is important that you know a little about race distances.

You can choose from a Sprint or Super Sprint, an Olympic, Half Ironman or Full Ironman distance. For beginners, a Sprint or Super Sprint will give you a taste of the sport with much less of a time commitment than the other distances. You should also look to see if the swim is in a pool or open water. For first-timers, a pool swim is less intimidating.

If you are reasonably fit, you can complete a Sprint or Super Sprint event after only about eight weeks of training. The South Carolina Triathlon Series doesn't end until October, so you have plenty of time. A Sprint triathlon consists of a 400- to 500-yard swim (around 20 lengths, wall to wall in a 25-yard pool), 12 to 15 miles of cycling and a 3.1-mile run. A super sprint is even shorter, typically around a 250-yard swim, an 8-mile bike ride and a 2-mile run.

West was able to train while still spending time with her family.

“We would go to the pool, and I would swim laps while my husband and kids played in the water,” she said. “Or we would all take bikes and scooters out and ride at the same time.”

One of the biggest advantages of triathlon over single sport is the variety.

“You can become a very balanced athlete,” said Jeremey Davis, owner of Set Up Events and Ironman Triathlete. “You use all of your muscles and because swimming and cycling are non-weight bearing, your body has more of a chance to recover. There is much less wear and tear on the body than single sport.”

When you begin training, Davis recommends an honest assessment of your abilities.

“If you are a poor swimmer, spending extra time on the bike or run won’t be as beneficial as getting a coach to help you improve your swimming skills,” said Davis. “You can also enlist the help of a friend who has done a triathlon before. It is usually pretty easy to find someone willing to share their knowledge.”

While you do need a little equipment and you can spend a lot of money on the hobby, Davis recommends keeping it simple. You will need a bike and helmet. A road bike is usually the recommended choice for first races, but some people do complete short races using a hybrid bike or even a mountain bike. If you are buying new, go with the road bike. Unless you have a lot of disposable income, wait to buy a triathlon-specific bike if you like the sport and want to compete in longer distances. You’ll need good running shoes, access to a pool, goggles and a swim cap. Beyond these basics, you will want to buy a triathlon suit — a swimsuit-like suit that has shorts and built-in bike padding that is suitable to wear swimming, cycling and running.

If you are interested in the sport, but still hesitant, Davis encourages you to watch an event.

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“You will see people with all body shapes finishing well,” he said. “You may see someone who has lost a leg completing the race. It is really inspiring to go and watch and realize that if others can do it, so can you.”