Triathlon offers variety and fitness for athletes at every level
Dave and Stacey Diaz run near the Pueblo Nature Center as part of their training for the triathlon. The couple competes almost weekly in running races or triathlons during the spring and summer.
For years, Puebloans Dave and Stacey Diaz considered themselves runners who occasionally augmented their training with workouts on their bicycles.
All that changed three years ago when a friend offered to teach them to swim. After a summer spent working on their swimming technique, Dave and Stacey were cajoled into testing their proficiency in a completely new athletic arena – a triathlon.
They’ve been triathletes since.
The switch from a constant diet of running to a more varied menu of running, swimming and biking opened a new world for Dave and Stacey, who discovered what many other triathlon converts have learned: There was less pounding and reduced risk of overuse injuries.
“It takes some of the drudgery out of training,” said local triathlete Gary Franchi. “When I was running all the time, there were days when I dreaded getting out there. But with triathlon, you run one day, maybe you swim the next or go for a bike ride. I think I look forward to my workouts now more than I used to.”
Triathlon training was especially beneficial for Dave, who at 58, was constantly struggling with injuries from his running.
“It really helped me,” Dave said. “I was getting to the point where I couldn’t run anymore. But adding swimming and biking to my training allowed me to continue running.”
Added Stacey: “You can go on a long run one day and come back the next day with a hard swim and not kill yourself because you’re not using your legs.”
There’s another benefit, too. Both Dave and Stacey feel they are in better shape now that they are training for triathlons than they did when they focused solely on running.
Dave and Stacey will be two of about a dozen local triathletes who will compete in the upcoming Rocky Mountain State Games triathlon, set for Saturday in Colorado Springs. This year’s state games will attract about 6,000 athletes competing in 29 events from throughout Colorado.
Among the Puebloans entered is Mike Orendorff, considered the city’s top triathlete, and Gerald Puls, 81, who has recorded a finish in the grandaddy of all triathlons, the Iron Man Triathlon in Hawaii, a grueling event that involves a 2.4-mile swim a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon (26.2-mile run).
Dave, who has a half-Iron Man triathlon under his belt, would one day like to complete a full Iron Man. Stacey, meanwhile, simply wants to improve at the distances in which she now competes.
While neither considers themselves a great swimmer – both say swimming remains their weakest event – their overall triathlon performances have improved.
Dave still shakes his head when he thinks of the first triathlon the couple entered.
“My swim was terrible,” Dave said. “They had a lifeguard walking along the deck beside me. It was tough, but I made it.”
Rather than be discouraged by the performance, Dave challenged himself to improve. It’s a quest that still requires plenty of diligence, he said.
While triathlon training can be beneficial physically, it also can be a logistical challenge, especially for someone with a full-time job. It also can be expensive, between purchasing a quality bicycle and the entry fees, which usually run between $50 and $100 per race.
Because of their schedules (Dave is a retired school teacher, while Stacey, a registered nurse, works the 2 -11 p.m. shift at the Colorado State Hospital), Dave and Stacey don’t usually train together. But both work to get in all of their workouts.
“She has her group of friends that she works out with,” Dave said. “I like to do things by myself.”
For Stacey, a typical week consists of a 10-mile run on Sunday, a 2,500-meter swim on Monday, a 25-30-mile bike ride on Tuesday and a 7-8-mile run on Wednesday. Thursdays and Fridays alternate between the 7-8-mile run and the 2,500-meter swim and Saturday is another swim session.
However, it’s more complicated than it sounds.
After working late, Stacey usually rises at 5:30 a.m. to get in her swim or her run, then eats breakfast and goes back to bed for an hour and a half, before going to work.
“I wish I could do more on the bike,” Stacey said. “But I work and don’t have the time.”
Dave trains later in the day but his routine is similar with the exception that he will do a swim and a run on Tuesday and a swim and a bike ride on Thursday.
“He’s retired and has the extra time to do those workouts,” Stacey said.
Added Dave: “As long as I do the swim first, it’s not that bad. I try to get in three runs, three swims and three bike rides each week.”
Dave and Stacey marvel at how well some of the accomplished triathletes they see perform not only during the swim, the bike or the run, but in the transition areas.
“Some of them make the transition from the swim to the bike in 30 seconds,” Stacey said. “I wish I could do that. The transition is something we’re working on.”
The triathlon has been held in various forms since 1904 when an event consisting of the long jump, shot put and 100-yard dash was held at the St. Louis Olympics.
The first event triathlon to include biking, running and swimming occurred in 1921 in Marseilles, France, when an event called Course Des Trois Sports (The Race of Three Sports) featured a 7-kilometer bicycle leg, a 5-K run and a 200-meter out-and-back swim.
While triathlons were held in various forms in the United States, the sport didn’t really take off until January of 1977 when John Collins issued a challenge to athletes to compete in an event that would feature a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
One month later, 15 men started and 12 finished the first Iron Man Triathlon, won by Gordon Haller in 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds.
The 1979 Iron Man was featured in Sports Illustrated, which helped entries double to 108 in 1980. Now, the event is so big athletes have to qualify just to get in.
Thanks to the coverage given to the Iron Man in ensuing years, the sport grew at all levels not only in the United States but around the world, so much so that the word “triathlon” was added to the Ninth Edition of Webster’s New Collegiate dictionary in 1983.
Triathlon made its first appearance in the Pan American Games in 1995 at Mar Del Plata, Argentina, and was included on the program of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
While media coverage focuses primarily on the world-class athletes who devote their lives to training, Dave and Stacey Diaz have discovered – as have many others – that triathlon also can benefit athletes who aren’t shooting for Olympic gold medals.
2006 ROCKY MOUNTAIN STATE GAMES
Pueblo athletes entered in the 2006 Rocky Mountain State Games triathlon, set for Saturday at Prospect Lake in Colorado Springs:
Dave Diaz, 58; Stacey Diaz, 46; Chris Gredig, 47; Chuck Moore, 36; Mickey Moore, 60; Nicholas Moore, 10; Samuel Moore, 7; Michael Orendorff, 55; Gerald Puls, 80; Tom Ratzlaff, 46; Robert Redwine, 57; Laura Schafer, 43.
The three-discipline sport has varying degrees of difficulty:
– Iron Man: Swim: 2.4 miles. Bike: 112 miles. Run: 26.2 miles.
– Olympic: Swim: .9 miles. Bike: 24.8 miles. Run 6.2 miles.
– Sprint: Swim: 750 meters. Bike: 13 miles. Run 3.1 miles.