Staying fit is one of the best things anyone can do to ensure a healthy, happy lifestyle. Being active offers benefits such as increased energy levels, weight loss, better heart health, and a positive outlook on life. As we grow older, our activity tends to decline; however, it doesn’t have to—and shouldn’t. Today, women are seeking different ways to keep fitness in their lives: sometimes that means trying a fitness app or making a daily step goal. Other times, they pick up an entirely new sport. One of the sports that women over 50 are trying today is the triathlon.
Triathlons (AKA “tris”) have been around since the 1970s. People ages 16 and older can compete. Each triathlon combines different distances of swimming, biking, and running. For that reason, many people call triathlons multisport events. Most take place during the summer and fall. Participants complete a triathlon course independently or as a relay. “Triathlons are a great way to keep your body in balance,” says Kim Chinquee, professor and writer, who at 51 competes in triathlons every year.
The most famous triathlon event is the Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run) for a total of 140.6 miles, completed in a single day in under 17 hours. However, there are many different (and much shorter) triathlon events held around the world every year.
The list below breaks down the different events and distances for each type of triathlon.
At the beginning of a triathlon, race directors and volunteers guide participants into waves, or starting groups. Waves usually correspond to age; however, some weight- or speed-based groups also exist—elites for high-level athletes, Clydesdales for men over 200 pounds, and Athenas for women over 145 pounds. (These wave groups are opt-in but can be useful if participants want to compete with similarly built or similarly skilled individuals.)
Once a race starts, all participants complete the event at whatever pace they are able. This means different age groups meld with others. For instance, a person who starts in the 30- to 34-year-old wave might get passed by someone in the 50- to 54-year-old wave, if the person swims or bikes better than the 30- to 34-year-old participant. In other words, waves are not enforced throughout a triathlon.
Traditional triathlons follow the same pattern: first swimming, then biking, and finally running. Switching between the different sports—also called transitioning—requires skill and practice. Participants often have a set window of time to transition between each portion of the race.
Similarly, part of a triathlete’s training involves conditioning the body to complete the different distances within a certain time. This involves practicing brick workouts, or workout sessions that include two different sports (biking and running, for example), as well as training for each individual event. On competition day, many cutoff times are enforced, so it’s important you know that your body can meet or beat the cutoff times—and training is part of the fun.
All you need to start is determination and the comfort knowing that you’re not alone. However, it is recommended to have specific triathlon gear to compete.
Moreover, many women over 50 have found encouragement through joining a triathlon club. According to Buffalo Triathlon Club (BTC) member Kate Leary, a retired teacher and Ironman competitor from Buffalo, New York, “I have met many new friends through this sport, both locally and nationwide … It really is a lifestyle for many people.” Sandy McNerney, an IT professional from Concord, New York, and fellow BTC member, agrees: “I think now more than ever, female triathletes over 50 need support from one another, especially if they are new to the sport. It helps to build confidence.”
Triathlon clubs welcome members of all abilities. However, some cater specifically to first-time competitors. For instance, Tri It for Life, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, works with women brand new to the triathlon scene. Founder Alyse Kelly-Jones MD, says, “We match triathlon mentors with first-time participants. We have a 12-week and 16-week program. At the end of it, the women complete a sprint triathlon. We guide the women through every step. We even teach them how to swim or ride a bike if they don’t know how.”
Community seems a powerful motivator in maintaining fitness over 50. When it comes to triathlons, a group can help make training sessions fly by as well as hold participants accountable. However, if a group isn’t appealing to someone, participants can go it alone. Regardless, there are many online triathlon training programs available to help a person begin.
Triathlons challenge and inspire women to focus on fitness in a fun, diverse way. However, they don’t only inspire the participants. Dr. Kelly-Jones says, “[A triathlon] can be life-changing. It changes women’s lives and their family’s lives. Some women’s husbands start doing triathlons or exercising more regularly. It is transformative.”
While the sport may sound intimidating, people of all ages start training every year. For example, Erica Tukel Wax, a lawyer from Chicago, Illinois, began training for her first triathlon at age 57. When asked for her advice to other women over 50 considering trying the sport, she says, “Just do it! You have nothing to lose and so much to gain in fitness and confidence … Over time, with consistency, progress is yours for the taking.”
If you’re thinking of starting your triathlon journey, don’t wait. Look up ways to connect with others in your community and as soon as it’s safe, go for it.
Are you focused on staying fit from home? Here are the best exercise videos for women over 50.