It’s the ultimate sporting test, yet for some peculiar reason more people are taking it up than ever before. You don’t have to be mad to do a triathlon but it is an asset writes Journal journalist Ron Shillingford.
Triathlons are not for the faint hearted; a gruelling combination of swim, cycle and run which can last for ever depending on the distances.
Cayman has a vibrant triathlon community and they’re all in the final throes of preparation for the annual Turtle Triathlon from Public Beach on 29 November.
There are two distances: the full Olympic course of 1500 metre swim, 20 kilometre bike and 10k run and the sprint distance which is half that.
The Turtle Triathlon will attract a record 150 participants this year, many competing in teams to relieve the stress or if they are particularly poor in one discipline.
Lots of adults can do the cycle and running stage but the swim is a problem, which is why so many of Cayman’s superb swimming kids are in huge demand that weekend.
The fully-fledged weekend warriors will, of course, be doing it all on their own.
South African banker Marius Acker is the local champ. He always finishes fastest amateur in just over two hours and even at 38 seems to be improving and wants to test himself against the obligatory international star at this one.
“I started out when I was 16 in a team as the runner, that year our team came second at the nationals,” says Acker.
He has done around 20 triathlons and finds them the ideal physical test.
“I do it because I enjoy the challenge and the endurance aspect of the sport. You have to be fit to be able to do them. You cannot just pitch up on the day and expect to finish with ease like in a 5k run.
“The Cayman Tri has a great swim, the heat and humidity adds to the challenge. It is also held during the windy season so a howling wind adds an extra challenge on the bike. The last two years were tough.
“I was within a minute of the 23-year-old Canadian pro last year and if the run was longer I would have run him down for sure.
“There is no professional coming this year but another top Canadian is coming who has competed in three Hawaii Ironman races. You have to do an ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 bike and full marathon of 26.2 miles) to qualify for Hawaii so it’s a great achievement to race Hawaii. It also means two ironman events a year, so he will definitely be fit.”
Acker won’t necessarily have it all his own way from local competition though because Jasper Mikkelsen is much improved and will push him all the way.
Mikkelsen, 37, a Dane, is an economist. He has trained harder than ever and competed at a higher level internationally than Acker recently, so this one could end in a nail-biting sprint finish.
Justine Plenkiewicz is one of Cayman’s fittest women athletes. There’s not much of her, but looks are deceiving. This 30-year-old Canadian who works as a Chief Policy and Development Officer at the Monetary Authority has a beguiling smile but steely competitive streak.
“I’ve been doing triathlons every summer since 2001, between four and six each year, so I’ve done probably around 50 including six ironman,” she says.
“I do them because I like the variety in training for the three sports and races help me get my competitive fix. There’s also a lot of camaraderie among the athletes and many inspirational stories.
“The Cayman Tri is great because it is focused on the athletes. It’s a small race that is not very stressful to participate, unlike the big races in the US. Last year I did the Olympic distance in 2:42:29 and I won my age group. This year, I will be doing the sprint just to finish, as I am racing Ironman Arizona the weekend before.”
Of the many teams with zany names, many eyes will be on the Grumpy Old Men. The trio of Rodger Yeomans, Frankie Flowers and Chris Sutton, whose combined age is approaching 180, will give the youngsters a stiff test.
Another veteran, Larry Walters, president of the Cayman Islands Triathlon Association, is still going strong at 63.
The venerable American says: “This is the best place in the universe for outdoor sports. It’s got year-long perfect weather. I’m from Pittsburgh and Cleveland and races at this time of year there are cold and snowy.
“This event has expanded dramatically post-Hurricane Ivan and I expect around 25 per cent of the competitors to come from overseas. The most increase has been in the team and sprint categories, which is great because more people are getting involved.”
Walters thinks North Americans enjoy this event because it is an ideal escape from chilly climes and it doesn’t clash with many other races. The only negative factors are the relatively high costs of air fares, accommodation and shipping bikes here.
“We’re trying to get an arrangement with Cayman Airways not to charge bikes.”
Walters is fulsome in praise of new race director Kate Alexander who has worked tirelessly to promote the Turtle Tri.
“She’s leading the change. Polly Cox did it for four or five years and Kate, whose background is mostly in swimming, can maybe do the job for the next five years.
“Scott’s Equipment are our new race sponsors and they’ve even entered a team of Scotts, Paula, Suzette and Sean. We really appreciate their support and are delighted that a local company is supporting us.”
Last year Walters did two out of the three disciplines, teaming up with a woman who did the running stage.
“I love the exercise,” he says. “Three disciplines provide variety. When your knees have too many miles on them from running, the cartilage goes but cycling and swimming helps.”
Despite the dodgy knees and having a device inserted in his heart to widen his arteries, Walters has no intention of retiring just yet. “I fear they’re going to handicap me because I have artificial help with my heart!”