Winter weather does not keep seasoned triathletes from year-round training

February 21, 2012

By Bob Taylor

A racer speeds around a corner on West Beaver Lake Drive Southeast, at the beginning of the 13.8-mile leg of the 2010 Beaver Lake Triathlon. By Christopher Huber

The triathlon has become one of the most popular spring and summer sports. It attracts people of all ages, athleticism and professional backgrounds.

Essentially, the race consists of swimming, bicycling and running. However, triathlons range in difficulty from the Olympic and sprint races to the rigorous Ironman events. The three popular local races — Issaquah Triathlon, Beaver Lake Triathlon and Lake Sammamish Triathlon — are classified as sprints.

Because the actual season does not start until late May, many people put off training for triathlons until the weather warms up.

But veteran triathletes like Mark Stendal, of Sammamish, begin preparing for triathlons in January.

Stendal has been involved in triathlons for 20 years. He has competed in at least 60 triathlons.

“I did five triathlons last year, two sprints and three Olympics,” Stendal said.

He is the founder of the Beaver Lake Triathlon, an event held in late August that has grown in popularity every year.

Stendal’s early season training does not include taking a dip in the icy Lake Sammamish or Beaver Lake. It does not involve cycling up Duthie Hill Road, either.

Triathlon 101

Training tips

Whether one is a seasoned runner or swimmer or a novice who plans to try a triathlon for the first time, the International Triathlon Union maintains that a structured training plan is essential to improve fitness and make the sport enjoyable.

Training for sprint triathlons should start at least 14 weeks before the scheduled event.

Below are some general suggestions for the frequency of practices on a weekly basis:

l For maintaining ability: swim one or two times per week, bike one time a week, run one time per week

l For improving ability slowly: swim two or three times per week, bike one or two times per week, run two or three times per week

l For improving more quickly: swim three to five times per week, bike two or three times per week, run two or three times per week.

For a beginning triathlete, it is estimated that it will take two minutes per 100 meters for the swim leg, about an hour for the bike (averaging 12 mph) and 30 minutes for the run. The two transitions will take anywhere from three to five minutes each.

Knowledge is power
There are plenty of good references for beginning triathletes. Many books such as “The Triathlete’s Training Bible” or “Triathlete Magazine’s Complete Triathlon Book” are good sources. There are also numerous magazines available and many online sources.

Rather his preparation for triathlons would seem to benefit anyone trying to get into shape.

Stendal, 59, starts his training almost as soon as the last college bowl game ends, or perhaps even earlier depending on the bowl game schedule.

“Typically what I do is around the first of January I begin lifting weights,” Stendal said. “It helps build up my lean body.”

Stendal’s body softens up bigtime after his last triathlon of the season because he takes the fall off.

“I use big weights,” he said of his weightlifting plan.

In addition, Stendal does some aerobic exercises and does his running on a treadmill. Using the treadmill helps his knee joints.

He saves the swimming for summer.

“When the water in the lake hits 60 degrees, that’s when I start swimming,” said Stendal, who lives near Beaver Lake.

Because of his conditioning, he said he is in better shape now than when he first started doing triathlons.

“My swimming and bike times are better now. My running time is not as good as when I was 40. I weigh less now than when I was 40,” Stendal said. “I will be 60 at the end of the year. I want to be in better shape at 60 than I was at 40. I really think my almost-60 body could kick my 40-year-old body.”

He tells people, “Health is your No. 1 wealth.”

Besides conditioning, Stendal maintains a fairly strict diet.

“I cut out all meat. In fact I always have a ‘Meatless March,’” he said. “I am more of a vegetarian, although I do eat some fish. My diet also includes fruit, but no red meat.”

Before getting involved in triathlons, Stendal had always maintained some kind of athletic activity. He was an all-conference football player in high school. As a student at Washington State University, Stendal did not participate in intercollegiate sports but always took a physical education course each semester.

“I took courses in boxing, soccer, bowling, weight training and other sports. I have always been interested in sports,” he said.

He got started in triathlons as president of the Beaver Lake Community Club.

“The club had a triathlon a few years before but we brought it back as a fundraiser,” Stendal said. “I had never done a triathlon before.”

Because he was director of the Beaver Lake Triathlon, Stendal did not compete in the first one. However, the day before the race, he went out and did the entire course. The next year, he was race director and a participant. He has not missed a BLT since. In some years, Stendal competed on a team with his daughter Samantha, a former Skyline High School student now furthering her education at the University of Oregon.

Stendal’s first triathlon was a learning experience.

“When I did my first triathlon, it seemed so difficult at the time. There were things I did not understand like the importance of nutrition and hydration,” he said.

Since that race Stendal always remembers to have a bottle of water and some nutrients at a triathlon.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are competing in the Canada Ironman or the BLT. You need nutrition and hydration,” he said.

Mark Stendal, 59, the founder of the Beaver Lake Triathlon, does conditioning situps at the Beaver Lake Park lodge in Sammamish. By Greg Farrar

Stendal has done other challenging races in the past including half-Ironmans and the Canada Ironman. The latter, held in Penticton, British Columbia, consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run at an elevation of more than 1,000 feet.

“I told my friends I did two Ironmans in one day — my first and my last,” Stendal said with a laugh. “It took nine months of training for that race.”

“The thing my trainer taught me for that race was training for an Ironman is a lot like going to a bank. You keep making deposits until one day you make a big withdrawal,” he said.

Stendal said he is pleased to see how the Beaver Lake Triathlon has grown in popularity over the years. In fact, the sport of triathlons has grown.

“At the time we started the BLT, you could count all the triathlons around the state on one hand,” he said. “Now there is one almost every weekend.”

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