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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Triathlons can be very rewarding and can bring out the best in those who do them

Triathlons can be very rewarding and can bring out the best in those who do them
By:  Michael Lander

Chris Mueller is on the Memphis Thunder Racing
(MTR) team that was started in 2003.  This image
of him was taken during the 2013 Rocketman
triathlon.  He has been a triathlete since 2006.

Triathlons have been described as being grueling, strenuous, exhausting, and sometimes even torturous. 

In many ways they can be a test of human endurance that requires great stamina, commitment, discipline, perseverance, and endless hours of training.

In spite of the challenges of it, or possibly because of it, triathlons are more popular than ever. 

Chris Mueller, Ward Collier, Lindsay Reed, and Casey Katz are among the hundreds of triathletes who reside in and around Memphis and who live to compete in triathlons.  Reed and Katz belong to the Terrapin Racing team, Mueller is with Memphis Thunder Racing, and Collier is on the Los Locos Triathlon Team.

Mueller has been a triathlete for about 9 years, Reed for 8, Collier for 7, and Katz has been one for over 4 years.

These and other triathletes participate in triathlons, which are a continuous multi-stage event that consist of swimming, cycling, and running.  The order and distances of each of triathlon can vary. 

Each triathlete competes with one another, in whatever category that they are in, (based on age, gender, weight, whether they are amateurs or professionals, etc.), for the fastest overall completion times, which includes the time that it takes them to transition between each of the events.

The way that each of these triathletes got into the sport is not unlike the way that many others are drawn into it, themselves.

“It was an evolution of my social circle.  I started out as a runner and then I got into cycling.  When I saw some folks from one sport also in another, we got to know each other better and they convinced me to start swimming,” Reed said.

Like Reed, Katz, too, was a runner and she got into triathlons after she sustained an injury.

Ward Collier, with the Los Locos Triathlon Team,
participated in several 70.3 races every year and
the St. Jude Half Marathon in December.  The
Rebel Man in Oxford, Miss. is usually his first
race of the year.

“I was waiting on my leg to heal from running injuries and picked up cycling and swimming to stay healthy.  I then decided that I needed to do a race, because doing all this work with no competition seemed silly, but nowadays, I almost enjoy the training and fellowship more than the competition,” Katz said.

For Mueller, it was a simple invitation to be part of relay that was the beginning for him.

“A good friend asked my brother and me to join him in a triathlon relay.  We did it for the experience, but I never really saw myself playing in that world.  Just before the race started, he warned us that we wouldn’t be able to go long without doing one solo.  He was right and my wife still hasn’t forgiven him,” Mueller said.

Collier got into triathlons because he was just looking to venture into other sports.

“I just wanted to try something new so I started swimming, then I borrowed a friend’s bike, and signed up for a race, and it went from there,” Collier said.

After finding their way into the world of triathlons, the time that it took for each of them to get to a competitive level was approximately two years. 

“It probably took me 2 years, locally, to become competitive, but I am still striving to be more competitive at bigger races,” Collier said.

Reed was also able to get at a competitive level in about the same time frame.

“At first I just wanted to compete against myself and within a year I was catching my friends.  I got my first hardware, a year after that, in 2009,” Reed said.

Katz, likewise, found that she was able to bring herself to a point where she was competitive within just a couple of years of getting into it.

Casey Katz is on the Terrapin Racing team and has
been a triathlete since 2011.  She became a
triathlete when she experienced leg injuries and
turned to cycling and swimming to stay healthy.

“The first year I just wanted to be able to finish.  Then, I wanted to go faster.  Once I moved up my age group, I realized that I had to really put in some work to be competitive and I didn’t let go,” Katz said.

Mueller took just a little longer to see results, but he was able to achieve success within his third year.

“For the first year or two, it was rewarding just to finish in the middle of the pack.  While I am still not consistently on the podium, I began to challenge for podium spots and hardware starting in the third year,” Mueller said.

As with any athletic sport, training is essential to success in triathlons, but when and how triathletes train can vary from person to person.

“I typically train around twelve hours per week.  It’s usually 3 – 4 sessions of each sport.  I swim in the mornings or sneak away for a lunch full of chlorine during the day.  Sometimes, I do group rides, other times I do more focused efforts.  Saturdays are for long rides and Sundays for long runs,” Katz said.

Reed has specific goals that she sets for herself each week, but is flexible in her training regimen.

“I try to get in 2 rides, 2 runs, and 2 swims during the week and a long run and ride on the weekend.  I kind of make up my training on the fly and have no structured plan.  It’s mostly a matter of what I feel like that day or what my group is doing,” Reed said.

For some triathletes, like Mueller, the training is determined by when and how he can get it in.

Lindsay Reed is on the Terrapin Racing team and
has been a triathlete since 2007.  She tries to get
in 2 runs, 2 rides, and 2 swims in during the week
with a long run on the weekend.

“Not unlike many other athletes, I travel often for work and have 3 kids with busy schedules.  This means that a lot of training is squeezed into whatever spot I can fit it in.  I am generally training 6 days a week, but some of those are of much higher quality than others,” Mueller said.

Collier finds himself in a similar situation as Mueller.

“I train 5 to 7 days a week.  My sweet spot is early mornings as I try to balance triathlons, family, and work.  I get most of my training done while my family is still asleep,” Collier said.

For the most part, when given the option of riding and training alone or with a group, Mueller, Collier, and Katz are open to doing either one.  Circumstances, however, for Collier often dictates, which of these he does.

 “I ride alone and with a group.  Recently, I have done more training alone because it has fit my schedule and workout structure, but I love getting out and training with my teammates,” Collier said.

Katz feels much the same way as Collier does.

 “I enjoy riding and training alone and with a group.  I enjoy getting into my own head when I run or if I need to hit a specific pace.  Track workouts are fun as a group because everyone is suffering along with you.  Long runs invite conversation and make it so you keep the pace easy.  My long rides are typically done in a group and I prefer to ride with those I know their ebb and flow, which comes with chasing and racing with each other.  Lately, I’ve been doing more specific workouts, which I’ve had to do alone,” Katz said.

This is an image of Chris Mueller, with Memphis
Thunder Racing, in the cycling stage of the 2013
Rocketman 70.3 race.

Mueller is also open to riding and training alone or with a group and sees an added benefit when being around others, especially when it comes to riding.

“Riding in groups allows development of strength, handling skills, and social bonds, which are all equally important to me.  I personally do most of my riding and trail running with groups then flex my own time for road running and swimming.  Groups of competitive individuals will tend to push each other to greater accomplishments,” Mueller said.

Unlike the others, if given the choice, Reed would prefer to ride and train with others.

“I almost always ride and train with a group.  I don’t like to ride alone in case I get hit by a car, never to be heard from again.  I love group rides and they’re great for short, intense efforts plus lots of different skill levels to chase and learn from.  I also prefer to swim with a group so someone can keep me accountable for showing up at 5 a.m.,” Reed said.

When it comes to bikes, Mueller has a Felt F2 road bike that he uses for the bulk of his riding, training, and racing.  It is a normal high-end carbon fiber setup with the additional feature of Shimano’s electronic gear shifters.

Collier owns a new Cervelo P3.  It is a time trial bike with aggressive geometry. 

Reed has a Pinarello FP3 for group rides and mountain routes and a Trek Speed Concept for triathlons.  She doesn’t see anything different about the bikes, but the engine that drives them.

Katz  has a Cannondale Supersix Road Bike and a Trek Speed Concept 7.5 TT bike.   The road bike is comfortable enough for commuting, but is designed to be more for competitiveness and faster geometry.

Ward Collier is on the Los Locos Triathlon Team and
has been a triathlete since 2008.
 
Throughout any given year, each of the Memphis area triathletes have certain events that they regularly try to compete in. 

Mueller does a handful of triathlons with an occasional half or full Ironman.  His favorite race is the Dragonfly.  He also likes to do a lot of trail running in the winter, but he tore a calf muscle in the spring so he has been focusing more on his bike racing with MTR Cycling.

Collier loves doing a few 70.3 races every year and the Rebel Man in Oxford, Miss. is usually his first race of the year.  He also tries to run the St. Jude Half Marathon in December.

Reed loves to do the Gulf Coast Tri, the Dragonfly, the MightyMite, the Liz Lavelle Road Race Series, the St. Jude Bike Ride, and the St. Jude Marathon.

Katz used to do 3 to 6 half marathons and 1 marathon every year, but she admittedly likes to switch her focus and she now competes in more triathlons, about 3 to 4 sprints, 2 – 3 Olympics, and 1 to 2 70.3 races.  She also tried her first road race and time trail race last year and this year tried her first crit, which is a bike ride on a short course.

Aside from winning, each triathlete has things about the sport that they enjoy the most.

“I love that the challenge of the triathlon is never ending.  As a triathlete, you always have opportunities to learn and grow across disciplines, to take on new challenges and distances and to pursue excellence in individual aspects,” Mueller said.

For Collier, it is the quest to learn more that he likes most.

Casey Katz, with Terrapin Racing, was a runner
before she became a triathlete.  She used to do
3 - 6 half marathons and 1 full marathon a year,
but now competes in more triathlons, sprints,
Olympics, and 70.3 races.

“What I enjoy most about triathlons is the puzzle and figuring out how to be fast, how to nail your nutrition, how to transition faster, how to run off the bike and the overall challenge to get better and find ways for improvement,” Collier said.

With Katz, there are a myriad of reasons that she enjoys triathlons.

“What I enjoy most about triathlons is the unpredictability and the friendships that come with it.  You never know what is going to happen on race day - the storms, traffic, heat, humidity, blisters, and who knows what else.  I also love the stories of others and how someone might beat you out of the water, but you catch them on the bike.  Then, they catch you on the run.  It’s just a fun game.  It’s like rolling dice and advancing ahead to the finish,” Katz said.

For Reed, she enjoys the simple aspects of what triathlons can offer.

“What I enjoy most about triathlons is the competition, the friends, and getting to eat a lot,” Reed said.

When it came to deciding which triathlon team that they wanted to join, it was a relatively easy choice for each of the four triathletes.

“Immediately upon relocating to the Memphis area 8 years ago, people I met recommended Memphis Thunder Racing.  As soon as I began participating in group training events, it was an obvious and natural fit for me,” Mueller said.

Collier became interested in his team because of the speed of their members.

“I had seen the Los Locos team at races and they all seemed fast.  I got to know a few guys and started training with them.  I knew a lot of people on the team so when they asked me to join, it was an easy decision,” Collier said.

Lindsay Reed, of Terrapin Racing, started out as a
runner and then got into cycling and was convinced
by friends to also try swimming, which led her to
becoming a triathlete.

Reed joined her team after she had become friends with several of their members.

“Several Terrapins were among the groups that I trained with and we quickly became friends.  Gradually, I started training and hanging out more with them.  They’re a fun bunch and so it was an easy fit for me,”
Reed said.

Like Reed, the Terrapins appealed to Katz because of the people whom she met.

“The Terrapin personality really stood out to me.  I wanted to be fast, but still have a ton of fun.  I wanted this group to share their experiences and to help me reach my goals,” Katz said.

Each triathlete is at different stage in their sport and they all have different goals for the future. 

“I want to qualify for Kona and to have a good foundation of training and skills to build on and to become a speedy endurance monster.  Mostly, I’d like to see how everything comes together in a structured training plan so that I use those skills to become a coach,” Katz said.

Collier, himself, for now, is looking for nothing more than speed.

“I want to go to Worlds and 70.3 Worlds and that means in order to qualify, I will need to get a lot faster,” Collier said.

Reed is looking to focus more on her swimming.

“I want to swim better.  It’s the one area that I haven’t seen any progress in for a while,” Reed said.

Mueller has goals for now are to be able to remain competitive and to help others achieve their goals.

“I really enjoy the challenge of competing in international venues - first completing Ironman 70.3 in Switzerland and then the Roth Challenge (the world's largest iron-distance triathlon).  One elusive goal for me thus far is to commit a season to Xterra (off-road) triathlons.  Also, my boys all finished a kids triathlon now and there is a special pride that comes with seeing that.  Otherwise, my goal as a triathlete is to stay healthy and competitive and to help others get involved and excel at this great sport,” Mueller said.

Casey Katz, of Terrapin Racing, trains about 12 hours
per week with 3 - 4 sessions in each sport.  More
than anything else, she enjoys the friendships and
the unpredictability of triathlons the most.

For those who are contemplating the thought of getting into triathlons, themselves, each of the Memphis area triathletes has some advice and suggestions on how to do just that. 

“I would recommend that people just do it.  It seems daunting, but the first time you do it you will either love it or hate it.  My first triathlon was Xterra Memphis and I finished second to last and I was in love,” Collier said.

Katz offers similar advice.

“I would recommend people do it.  It’s never too late to start and doing multiple sports is way more fun than doing just one,” Katz said.

Reed suggests finding a group to helping someone to get started.

“I would recommend finding a good group to train with.  I like having others to benchmark against.  It hurts less if it’s a social event, too,” Reed said.

Mueller offers 3 simple recommendations in getting started.

“Getting started in triathlon can be intimidating, but I recommend 3 simple recommendations : (1) Swim – If you don’t have a swimming background, then this is what trips people up so join a masters (adult) swim class or find a coach and start swimming real distances.  (2)  Read – There’s a lot of good information from veteran competitors and coaches.  (3)  Find others and join a team or club – This can help you learn the jargon and the tricks of the trade.  It is especially helpful to begin biking with groups for building strength, handling skills, and social bonds,” Mueller said.

Sometimes, triathlons can be more than just about
winning.  They can sometimes be about creating
memories that can last a lifetime.  For Chris Mueller,
one of the more special and memorable experiences
for him was when his middle son grabbed his hand
and they crossed the line together during his first
half Ironman.  Today, he is happy and proud to see
all of his boys showing interest in the sport with
all three having completed a kids triathlon
themselves.

Triathlons may be grueling, strenuous, exhausting, and sometimes even torturous, but they can be equally rewarding, gratifying and life-enriching for those who do them.

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