“I Am Ironman”
Swim, bike and run your way into the best shape of your life.
Dale Cira is 53 years old, and yet he’s in better shape now than when he was 20. The secret to his success: 14 years of triathlons. Circa has always been into cycling, but when a friend challenged him to a duathlon in ’95, he got hooked on multisport races. He graduated to triathlons shortly after and never looked back.
A triathlon is a race that combines stretches of swimming, cycling and running, one after the other. The ultimate triathlon is the Ironman, which includes a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride, followed by a full marathon. Cira is running his third Ironman in June in Coeur d’Alene, ID, along with 20 other members of St. Louis Triathlon Club—for half of them, it will be their first.
Cira has been a member of St. Louis Triathlon Club since its inception 10 years ago. Over the past three years, the club has seen explosive popularity—with membership climbing from a steady 150 to nearly 350. The club’s growth is indicative of an increasingly active triathlon community in St. Louis, a trait that surprises triathletes from other parts of the country whom Cira meets at out-of-town races. St. Louis has a rep as a wholesome place to settle down and raise a family, not as a hotbed for athletic lifestyles. “You expect to find a large community of triathletes in a place like Boulder, CO, or San Diego, but not St. Louis,” he says. “People who move here are stunned.”
Not that anyone’s complaining. Training for a triathlon race—especially the infamously tough Ironman—is no easy feat, and it helps to have the support and wealth of experience that a group like St. Louis Triathlon Club provides. Preparing for a race is a 30- to 40-week process, and training for a full Ironman is like a part-time job, requiring up to 24 hours per week at the peak. Volume of practice isn’t everything, though. Proper technique can make a huge difference, especially in swimming, as can the transitions between segments of the race (climbing out of the water, changing out of the wetsuit and hopping onto the bike). This is where that wealth of experience comes in.
St. Louis Triathlon Club offers a mentorship program for new triathletes, which pairs seasoned members like Cira with newcomers. They train together, share advice on proper clothing and equipment, technique, transitions, eating habits,
etc., and help the newbie build confidence and work toward a specific goal race. Popular local races are the Tour de Kirkwood Triathlon and the Big Shark New Town Triathlon in St. Charles each summer. There are also four certified coaches in the club who hold formal training events a couple of times per year. Last year, they took a group to Innsbrook, the lake resort town west of St. Louis, for a full-day camp to teach technical skills, go on group bikes and runs, and practice swimming in open water. Most trainees run their first triathlon that season. “It’s fun to see someone transform from couch potato to triathlete,” Cira says.
Even after you’ve graduated from beginner status, having a group of like-minded athletes to train with can be very rewarding. The strong competitive spirit that seems inherent in triathletes is a powerful motivating factor to constantly push yourself and improve. Consistent training also makes you more aware of your body when health issues crop up. “I know when things aren’t right, because it affects how well I can bike or run,” Cira says.
For Cira, the greatest advantage to come out of St. Louis Triathlon Club is the friendships. His “nontriathlon friends” have lives like his, with similar jobs and backgrounds. His triathlon friends, on the other hand, are all over the map—some are fresh out of college, others are empty nesters, one sells dental equipment, another is a microbiology research analyst. “The things that separate us as individuals just fall away and it becomes about how competitive you are or who’s the stronger cyclist,” he says.
More info at stlouistriclub.com.
I am Ironman
Dale Cira and St. Louis Triathlon Club
Photo credit: Photo by Emma Birge-Osborne