MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, GA -- Organized athletic competitions have been around since the age of the Roman Empire. Romans competed against each other in various events that measured physical skill and prowess of athletes. As centuries passed athletes continued to compete as the sporting events became more complex; from simple foot races to weight lifting and, eventually, team sports. As time and technology progressed, bicycles and equipment were built, increasing athletic diversity.
Athletes looked for ways to combine events to increase the difficulty of races, hence the birth of biathlons, which combines running and swimming into one long race. In 1973 two avid biathletes, Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan, decided to increase the difficulty of the sport by adding cycling to the race. The first triathlon, held Sept. 25, 1974, San Diego's Mission Bay area, was a success with a total of 46 competitors. The sport has flourished since then. The event consists of running six miles, cycling five miles and swimming 500 yards.
Today triathlons have three common distances: the sprint distance which consists of 1/4 - to 1/2-mile swim, 8- to 15-mile cycling and a 3-mile or 5-kilometer run. The Olympic or international distance is a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer cycling and a 10-kilometer run. The long distance includes the 1/2 Ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile cycling and 13.1-mile run) and the full Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycling and 26.2-mile run). There are several variations of the distances, but these are the most frequently used.
Each year the sport attracts avid runners, swimmers and cyclists looking to challenge themselves. The sport also draws a variety of competitors, from serious athletes to individuals just looking to see if they have what it takes to endure such a long race.
Cpl. Patrick P. Zierke, computer programmer for Marine Corps Systems Command here, is a newcomer to the sport who started competing last year at the Georgia Veterans Memorial Triathlon. A small group of Marines were organizing to compete in the event, and when Zierke heard of the competition he was interested. He admits he was a little weary about the biking aspect of the race, but he knew it was something that would take time to work on. He believes that doing well in the competition depends on an individual's physical fitness, but having a good bicycle doesn't hurt.
After talking with numerous triathletes and competing in four triathlons, Zierke has realized that most competitors have at least one strong suite, he said. It is just a matter of giving his all on the running leg of the race, which is his strongest element, to make up for his lack of speed on the bicycle.
Most people are not strong in all three aspects, swimming, running and biking. People interested in competing in triathlons need to enjoy at least two of the three legs, said Zierke.
Competing in triathlons is just the next step Zierke felt he needed to take in his quest for physical challenges. He initially joined the Marine Corps for the same reason, and since then, he's, developed a love for running. He has always been a moderate swimmer and decided to give triathlons a try. He did not expect the race to be easy, and it was everything he thought it would be, extremely demanding and exhausting.
What Zierke calls "its own event" is the switchover from one element or activity to another which he feels is one of the tougher parts of triathlons.
"The hardest switch is from biking to running," said Zierke. "It's very awkward because your legs have been on the bike pumping and then you try running, and it just feels really weird. The effort you put into pedaling is a lot different and your legs are moving faster than running."
Competing in triathlons can be a true test of endurance, and that aspect attracts a athletes such as Zierke. This year Albany Marines will again step up to the challenge and compete in the Georgia Veterans Memorial Triathlon Aug. 18.