The lure of triathlons for middle-aged
TRIATHLONS, the swim-bike-run races of varying lengths, are scaling the bucket lists of many middle-aged athletes, according to American fitness experts.
Multitasking, ego-boosting, and far from cheap, the competitions cater to different levels of fitness while rewarding endurance over speed, and cardiovascular versatility over single-minded focus.
"It's not about who goes the fastest, it about who slows down the least," said Connecticut-based running coach Tom Holland, 45, who has run more than 50 triathlons.
Mr Holland, author of The 12-Week Triathlete, said that as people get older, they are willing to bide their time and pace themselves.
He added that it is usually the older people who win the competitions.
"The older athlete has built endurance that one just doesn't have at 20," he explained.
USA Triathlon, the sport's governing body in the United States, said that those in the 40 to 44 age group make up the highest percentage of its members and just over 30 per cent of its annual membership base.
"It's an attainable challenge," explained Lindsay Wyskowski of USA Triathlon. "People embrace the sport and continue on for years because even within it, there are different distances."
The shortest distance is the sprint triathlon, which includes a 500m swim, 19km bike ride and 5km run.
More challenging is the Olympic distance, typically a 1.5km swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run, which became an Olympic sport in 2000.
The Ironman race, with a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42km run, is the most demanding.
Mr Holland said a triathlon is forced cross-training, which is something all athletes should do.
"Bikers should run and runners should bike. Then add swimming, which is non-weight bearing, and you get a full body cardiovascular workout using different motor patterns. That's a good thing," he said.
Mark Kelly, an exercise physiologist at California State University, Fullerton, said that, to master the triathlon's multiple tasks, you should train the weakest link while maintaining the strongest.
"Absolutely critical in triathlon training is the crossover, or carryover, effect, which is that some training in running can translate to better bike performance, or vice versa, because you're training the cardiovascular system," he said.
Practising the transitions is also important.
"The most common is brick workout, which is biking and running combined," he said. "Coming off the bike, your legs feel like jelly, so that first mile can be a jolt."
A 2009 study initiated by USA Triathlon put the average annual income of participants at US$126,000 (S$158,000).
"The sport isn't cheap," Dr Kelly explained, adding that bikes can cost up to US$6,000 and the swimming is done in wetsuits.
The triathlon, he believes, is a magnet for fastidious, multitasking people.
"It's a bit of an ego boost to know you're in triathlon shape," he said. "It's the sexy sport of the endurance world."