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Triathlons require several months of preparation

| Friday, June 8, 2007

Want to try competing in a triathlon?

The Tribune-Review spoke with Jim Skirboll, owner of triathlon specialty shop Trizilla, located near the Highland Park bridge, and Suzanne Atkinson, who coaches competitive cyclists and triathletes through her company, Pittsburgh-based Steel City Endurance. They gave advice about how to get started:

Question: What are the basics of starting to train for a triathlon?

Answer: Suzanne Atkinson: Only fundamental equipment is needed -- you don't need a $1,500 bike. You can use a $50 Huffy and ride on that. And there are safety considerations -- wear a helmet, run during the day, etc. But the key to training is to build slowly and steadily, so you don't get injured. And beginners should go more slowly than they think they should. Slower is better. You should go at a pace at which you can carry on a conversation. And you shouldn't increase your total workout volume by more than 10 percent a week.

Q: When should you start training before your first triathlon?

A: Suzanne Atkinson: Three or four months should be enough. Anyone who can jog five minutes, ride a bike a few miles and swim can easily complete a sprint distance triathlon (.5-mile swim, 12.4-mile bike and 3.1-mile run) with three or four months (of preparation). For short sprint distances, someone who's been exercising, running a few times a week and maybe riding a bike on weekends, you can get away with two months of training. You want to be able to finish without getting hurt and have fun.

Q: What's the key to picking a good first triathlon?

A: Jim Skirboll: Distance. Some triathlons have longer swims, some have shorter swims and some are in pools or in lakes. Some have shorter bikes or longer bikes. Throughout the year, you can find all of those and find something you like.

Q: What's the single biggest mistake first-time triathletes make?

A: Jim Skirboll: For me, my biggest mistake was I was apprehensive about bike maintenance. That's probably the thing that people are most afraid of because they don't know how to change a flat or do basic maintenance. Being unprepared for a certain discipline also is a first-time mistake. If you don't have a strong swim background, it can be scary to be in an open-water swim.

Q: What should your goal be for your first triathlon?

A: Suzanne Atkinson: No. 1, to finish. No. 2, to have fun. And No. 3, to take advantage of the experience to learn the logistics of the race -- the equipment and the transitions (from one element to the next). Someone can explain it, but until you do it and get in middle of it, it's not going to sink in.

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