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How to make the leap to compete in a triathlon

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140317OSM triathlon runningMaybe you’ve run a few 5ks, a marathon or two. Maybe you’re a bicyclist or swimmer looking for something new. Have you every considered participating in a triathlon? Training for and competing in a triathlon is a great way to challenge yourself and vary your workout.

Dr. Sarah Kehl, a board-certified allergy and immunology specialist at Oregon Allergy Associates, was an avid runner and enjoyed swimming for years before she set her sights on her first triathlon.

Triathlons, which vary in distance, normally include swimming, bicycling and running. A sprint-distance triathlon, she says, is great for first-timers.

Sprint-distance races often include a 750-meter (.465 mi) swim, 20k (12.5 mi) bike ride and 5k (3.1 mi) run, as compared to a standard or “Olympic” triathlon that normally includes a 1.5k (.93 mi) swim, 40k (25 mi) bike ride and 10k (6.2 mi) run. There are also long- and ultra-distance courses, commonly referred to as the “half-Ironman” or “Ironman.” But for the novice, sprint-distance and standard triathlons make good starting places.

140218SarahKehlTriathlon edited“Sprints are an easy way to get started,” Dr. Kehl says. “They’re pretty low-key and the people who participate are very friendly and supportive.”

Dr. Kehl competed in her first sprint-level triathlon in 2008 after running several 5k, 10k and half marathon races.

“I was looking for something different,” she says. “There were several triathlons popping up in our area, so I started looking into them. Then I started to meet people who were training, and that really solidified my interest.”

Regular exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease, strengthen your bones and muscles, and help you control your weight. But if you haven't exercised recently or if you have health concerns, you may want to talk to your doctor before starting a new routine.

Before you begin to train

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends seeing your doctor before engaging in vigorous exercise if two or more of the following apply:

  • You're a man older than age 45 or a woman older than age 55
  • You have a family history of heart disease before age 55
  • You smoke or you quit smoking in the past six months
  • You haven't exercised for three months or more
  • You're overweight or obese
  • You have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • You have impaired glucose tolerance, also called prediabetes

Deciding on a race

A good place to start is The American Triathlon Calendar, which includes a clearinghouse of events that you can search by state and difficulty level.

In our area, Dr. Kehl recommends:

H140317OSM triathlon swimmingow does one train?

Preparing for any race will depend on your fitness level.

To train for one of her most recent triathlons, Dr. Kehl says, her weekly routine included two to four 5- to 8-mile runs, a 1-mile swim and a 15 to 30-mile bike ride.

That might seem like a lot for a doctor, wife and mother of three kids under the age of 10, but her training time often serves double duty as family time. Her oldest children ride bikes while she pushes her littlest one in a jogging stroller, or her husband joins her for a swim or run.

The key, she says, is to be ready to go for a quick workout whenever the opportunity presents itself. She keeps a duffle bag packed with clothes at work or in her car for those times when she finds herself with 30 minutes to spare.

In addition to staying fit, she says, training for a race reduces stress, helps her sleep and keeps her centered. Read about Dr. Kehl’s first Olympic-distance triathlon.

“It’s a good reason to take time for yourself, and it’s fun,” she says. “It fulfills my competitive side.”

Independent and progressive, Oak Street Medical provides a unique combination of complementary health care services that includes Primary Care, Diabetes and Mental Health, as well as Allergy, Asthma and Immunology through Oregon Allergy Associates.