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The Triathlon Challenge: It's Not Just for the Young

Nearly 18,000 Americans over 50 are testing their endurance

By Matthew Solan

In my late 40s, maybe I should be taking yoga classes and walking on a treadmill. Instead I’m training for one of the most intense physical endeavors imaginable. And I love it.

Why Do a Triathlon

I am part of a rising trend. Triathlons represent one of America's fastest-growing sports, and people my age and older are increasingly eager to sign up. Recent statistics from USA Triathlon, the national governing body that oversees more than 3,500 tri events, show the number of participants age 50 and above has more than doubled in recent years, soaring to nearly 18,000 in 2010 from 8,278 in 2005 — a 117 percent increase. And nearly 4,000 are in the 60-to-69 age range. Those 50 and over make up a growing 14 percent of USA Triathlon membership.


Tri Sizes

  1.  Sprint (750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike ride, 5-kilometer run).
  2.  Intermediate, also referred to as “Olympic distance” (1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike ride, 10-kilometer run).
  3. The Long Course, also known as the Half Ironman (1.9-kilometer swim, 90-kilometer bike ride, 21.1-kilometer run).
  4.  Ironman, the World Series of triathlons (3.8-kilometer swim, 180-kilometer bike ride, then a marathon — a 42.2-kilometer run).

Sprints are the ideal starting point, Brighton says. “With enough time, most people can take on that distance,” she says. Some triathlons are even shorter than Sprints. To find races in your area, check out these sites:


Here's what Brighton recommends:

  • If you're starting with a Sprint triathlon, select a race three to four months out from the date you begin training. This will give you plenty of time to get in shape for the race and to manage any setbacks that result from work or family obligations.  
  • Take it slow and be patient during the base phase of training (the first month or so).
  • Focus on your weaknesses. If swimming is a challenge, add an extra day to your schedule. And don't just go through the motions of training; make every session count.
  •  Set small goals along the way so each workout is a challenge. For example, one week your swim goal may be a 4 x 100 (four 100-meter swims) with 60-second rest intervals. The next week, reduce your rest to 55 seconds, and so on. This fuels both fitness and motivation.
  • Always remember to have fun and enjoy the journey. It’s not about your finish time; what matters is the overall effort.
Matthew Solan is a health and fitness writer based in St. Petersburg, Fla. His website is Read More
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