The Triathlon Trend
St. Louis is quickly becoming a hotbed of triathlon activity, and local competitors and athletes are gearing up for hot races this summer.
From its humble beginnings on the beaches of California and Hawaii, the triathlon, that crazy combination of swimming, biking and running, has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. Membership in USA Triathlon, the sport’s national organization, has increased from just under 16,000 in 1993 to more than 107,000 in 2008. And to cement its legitimacy, the triathlon has been an Olympic event since 2000. Once these races were solely the purview of extreme athletes. Tris were originally a grueling amalgamation of a 2.4-mile open-water ocean swim, more than 100 miles of road-race cycling, capped off with a marathon run. But now there are triathlons of all distances and for all levels of athletes.
Run, Swim and Cycle
Though not exactly known for its beaches, the St. Louis area is quickly becoming a hotbed of triathlon activity The metro area now plays host to several races annually, like the Tour De Kirkwood, Innsbrook Adventure Max and Big Shark New Town triathlons, and fosters a competitive, supportive community of athletes who like to train hard and race even harder. Jim Mayer, president of the St. Louis Triathlon Club, says local participation in triathlons has been booming in recent years. The club started out in 2001 as a dozen or so folks meeting at a bar, and even two years ago had just 75 members; this year membership stands at approximately 350. Kevin Jokisch, race director of the Big Shark New Town triathlon, says last year he had about 450 participants for the inaugural event, and this year he expects 600 to 650 competitors.
This groundswell of interest can be attributed in large part to the people triathlons attract, says Mike Weiss, owner of Big Shark Bicycles. “It’s a great culture with a really positive aura,” he says. “A really healthy, vibrant group of people.” And St. Louis, despite having a dearth of open water, is actually a great place to train for and race in triathlons, Mayer says. “There’s a big running community and a big cycling community here,” he says, and there’s a lot of cross-over participation by these athletes in triathlons, folks looking for a new challenge or just to change up their workout routine. “It’s a great bridge that connects runners, swimmers and cyclists,” Weiss says.
As anyone who has ever hit the roads and trails around here knows, the area has a lot of terrain diversity, from smooth flats to hellacious hills and everything in between. Triathlons are also gaining popularity because it’s a sport that athletes can participate in well into their golden years, unlike a lot of others where participants eventually settle into the role of spectator. “There are very few sports like this where you see age groups into the 70s,” Weis says. And, Jokisch, adds, it’s extremely “newbie friendly.” Don’t be intimidated, thinking all triathletes are pros. As Weiss says, “The elite participant is the minority participant.” The sport is definitely an everyman endeavor.
It’s also fairly affordable to get into training mode. There is a bit of sticker shock at first since you’ll need a bike and other assorted gear and gadgets. But according to Weiss, you don’t have to have a $5,000 bike or other high-end equipment to participate, and after the initial investment, you can use your equipment for quite a while, and upgrade at your leisure. Like Weiss says, “There aren’t any lift tickets or greens fees.”
Photo credit: Photos courtesy of Jay Todd