as posted in the Commercial Appeal, May 14th…
Training group gets beginners ready to compete in Memphis in May triathlon
By Stacey Greenberg
This weekend, about 2,000 people will head to Tunica, but gambling won’t be on their minds nearly as much as swimming, biking and running.
It’s the 30th installment of Memphis in May’s triathlon weekend. On Saturday, 500 people will compete in the Memphis in May Sprint Triathlon, which is a quarter-mile swim, 12-mile road bike ride, and 3-mile run. Sunday is the Olympic Triathlon event, and 1,500 people will compete in a 1.5K swim, 40K bike ride and 10K run (or a 1-mile swim, 24-mile bike ride and 6.2- mile run).
Kevin Leathers, 47, a Road Runners Club of America-certified running coach who started Can’t Stop Endurance Training in 2007, has done the Memphis in May Olympic Triathlon 20 times. He says triathlons gained popularity in the early ’80s after the Ironman competition was televised in 1982.
“Back then, the Memphis in May triathlon was the race in the Mid-South,” Leathers explained. “Everybody did it. Once it became a qualifier for the Ironman competition in Hawaii, it became a must-do race around the country.”
He says triathlons have absolutely become more popular over the years. “It’s a natural extension of the running boom and general emphasis on health, fitness and diet.”
Despite Memphis being at the top of the list
of fattest cities, Leathers says Memphis is home to a very large and passionate endurance fitness community.
“Most cities our size have one or two triathlon teams. We have four — Los Locos, Memphis Thunder, Terrapin Racing and Journeyman Racing. Also, look at how many bike shops we have and the fact that we support two really large running stores — Breakaway and Fleet Feet.”
Leathers believes there are a lot of things fueling the growth of endurance sports in the area, like the Shelby Farms Greenline, but he gives special props to area coaches like Star Ritchey of Star Runners. “What she does is a perfect example of growing the community. Her beginner classes show that it’s not impossible for anyone to run who is willing to get off of the couch and put on some running shoes.”
Ritchey, 38, has trained runners and individual triathletes for several years, but this is her first year to have a triathlon training group. The idea came about last fall when her husband, Keith, was training for his first Ironman. “He was such an inspiration to the group. One day on a run, someone in the group said, ‘Hey, you should train us for a triathlon.’ Other runners in the group overheard, and the next thing I knew, I had a triathlon training group,” she says, adding that it just felt natural, like it was what they were supposed to do next.
There are 30 people in her triathlon training group, most of whom are first-timers planning to enter the Memphis in May Sprint Race. Now in its third year, the sprint distance race is a great way for beginners to experience an open-water swim and a flat and fast course, all with a big-event atmosphere.
Ritchey says her experience with her first training group has been incredible. “I am amazed at the progress I’ve seen from everyone in such a short amount of time; whether it be the swim, bike or run, everyone has improved,” she says. “Everyone is so incredibly supportive of one another that it just has the friendliest vibe even when being competitive.”
Ritchey believes that anyone can learn to run, and she believes anyone can train for a triathlon. “It’s crucial that you have a good training plan that fits with your current ability,” she says. “You can’t go swim 1,500 meters if you can’t swim 25, so know that even if you have to start slow, you’ll get there. Just be patient, stay strong, and don’t give up.”
To enhance the training for her beginners, Ritchey reached out to Charlie Boehme, the Rhodes College swim coach, to help with the swimming, which can be the most daunting part of a triathlon. Boehme provided swim clinics in addition to the workouts Ritchey gave the group. “It’s been a great way for everyone to get more personalized instruction, while also having the benefit of swimming as a team,” Ritchey says.
The group also paired up with Victory Bicycle Studio as their “go-to” bike shop. “Clark, Robert and Nathan have been incredible to work with,” Ritchey says. “We’ve had maintenance classes, trainer classes, and even a tri-clothes try-on day. I can’t think of a better collaboration.”
Brad Heinz, 52, planned to do a triathlon when he was 24, but doing it took a few years longer than expected. He completed his first triathlon last year in Oxford after training on his own, but this year he signed up with Star Runners. “It’s been a lot different training with Star and being part of a team,” he says. “She and Keith are really inspiring to the troops.”
Heinz is a lifelong runner with 30 years’ experience. A few years ago, he started cross-training with cycling. “Then it was just a logical progression to swimming and doing triathlons,” he says. Swimming has been the hardest part for him, but he likes that the triathlon training isn’t too taxing on any one part of his body. “I’ve lost a few pounds and inches,” he says. “It’s going to be hard giving up the workouts after the race.”
He says it’s been nice to see that he could still pick up something new and improve his overall fitness. “It’s been worth it alone just for that,” he says. “I’m investing in myself.”
Grace Korzekwa, 32, also in the group, signed up on a whim. A friend trained for the St. Jude Half-Marathon with Star Runners and then also signed up to train for the Memphis in May Sprint Triathlon. “My friend always tried to get me to join the running groups, but I used to work at night,” she says. “Now I have a normal schedule, so that helped me say yes.”
Korzekwa, who had never run more than a 5K, says training for the triathlon has been a total roller coaster. “It was really, really hard at first, but I was really excited, too, so that got me over the hump.”
For the first six weeks of training, Korzekwa says, she was either tired or in pain or both. “You name it, it hurt. Mostly my legs, but all of a sudden, after swimming my abs would be on fire.”
Despite the exhaustion and discomfort, she says the training has made her feel really good about herself. “Exercise is an excellent stress reliever and anxiety reducer. These benefits were immediate and obvious.” She has really enjoyed training with a group and says it helps to have other people in the same boat as well as a trainer she can talk to anytime. “I pretty much e-mail Star every day.”
The hardest part has been time management. “The eight or more workouts per week take at least an hour each, and I have to spend a lot of time preparing for them, eating right, drinking enough water, getting plenty of sleep, etc.,” she says. “It’s an intense balancing act. I miss having downtime and reading for hours on end.”
Taking on three new sports also proved to be expensive. Korzekwa already had a bike since she used to ride to work, but all of her workout clothes were 100 percent cotton. “I had to buy clothes that breathe,” she says. Additionally she purchased a special quick-drying “tri outfit” for the race, biking shorts for practice, a bathing suit, running shoes, goggles and a swim cap.
To train with Star Runners, she paid $180. A six-month pool membership at UT was $70. A monthlong bike class at Victory Bicycle Studio was $50, and the six-week swim clinic at Rhodes College was an additional $100. The entry fee for the race, along with a racing license, was another $90. “I really didn’t blink at the training costs,” Korzekwa says. “I feel like I got that all for a steal.”
After eight weeks of training, Korzekwa says she hasn’t lost a pound, but her body looks completely different. “I feel better, my skin looks better, and I’m lighter on my feet,” she says. “It may be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.”
Memphis in May Sprint Race, 8 a.m. Saturdayat Harrah’s Tunica.
The 30th Annual Memphis in May Olympic Triathlon, 7 a.m. Sunday at Harrah’s Tunica.
Star Runners: starrunnersmemphis.com
Can’t Stop Endurance Training, cantstopendurance.com