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Pittsburgh Triathlon entries nearly double

The marathon isn't the only endurance event to draw far more participants than organizers predicted this year.

The Pittsburgh Triathlon, which is this Sunday at the North Shore Riverfront Park, has jumped from 450 entrants in 2008 to just over 800 this year.

"With the economy, that's pretty incredible," said Steve Tanzilli, president of Sports Legends Group and one of the race organizers. "It's just amazing that we've doubled our registration."

When organizers first announced the return of the Pittsburgh Marathon a year ago, they expected to maybe draw 3,500 for the first marathon in the city since 2003. Instead, they had 10,000 for the May 3 event and had to institute a cap.

Tanzilli believes a big reason for the increase in triathlon entries is the addition of a sprint distance race for the first time. The traditional Olympic distance triathlon consists of a 1,500-meter swim in the Allegheny River, a 40K bike and a 10K run. The shorter sprint distance triathlon is made up of a 600-meter swim, 20K bike and 5K run.

"The sprint distance is something you can commit to closer to the actual event," Tanzilli said. "For the Olympic distance triathlon, you have to be training and prepared for this several months out."

The more manageable sprint distance lures many first-timers, said Ed Donovan, public relations director for Philadelphia Triathlon LLC.

This year's Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon drew 4,000 people, including 1,700 in the sprint distance race. This was the third year Philadelphia offered the shorter option.

"This is the event where you really see people who are just coming into the sport," Donovan said. "(Registration in the sprint distance) almost sold out this year and was up a lot from last year."

Donovan believes the popularity of the triathlon has been on the rise for several years.

"I think it's a trend nationally that the sport is really booming," he said. "You see a lot of runners who are getting their knees pounded to the ground who want to do something else or want to cross train. You get a lot of people who used to do marathons who are now doing triathlons. You get collegiate swimmers who want to stay competitive and active and turn to triathlon. You see people coming from all walks of life."

This is the 12th year of the Pittsburgh Triathlon.

Of the 800 people registered for Sunday's triathlon, 330 were registered for the Olympic distance, with 271 registered for the sprint distance. The adventure relay, which substitutes kayaking or canoeing for the swim plus a 20K bike and 5K run, had 122 people registered, a 25 percent increase over last year. The remaining entries were for relay teams.

Tanzilli couldn't speak to the boom in Pittsburgh being part of a national trend, but does believe there's a link between the marathon and the triathlon.

"The marathon did a great job of getting people out and brought doing these endurance events to the forefront," he said. "It definitely helped us because it got people talking about going out and participating in these big athletic events."

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Check out the basics on this weekend's Triathlon.

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