Triathlons gaining ground in Maine

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PORTLAND (AP) – A growing number of Maine athletes are testing their limits by taking part in triathlons.

About 15 triathlons, which combine swimming, cycling and running, are being offered in the state between May and September, a sharp increase from just a few years ago.

“It’s been crazy,” said Francis Bauer, a USA triathlon certified coach who works locally. “It’s just exploding. There’s such a demand. And once you do a sprint triathlon you develop an incredible amount of confidence.”

Part of the growth reflects the efforts of Tri-Maine, a year-old management group whose founder, Will Thomas, owns and runs five races, works with four others that are independently owned and keeps a ranking system for triathletes in Maine.

“It becomes a lifestyle for people,” Thomas said. “It’s not just about going and running a race. It’s the training, nutrition. People want to commit to this. It’s really about developing the next generation way of life. You’ve got health, fitness and excitement.”

Thomas’ races include the Aug. 18 Portland Urban/Epic, in which 600 triathletes will start off by diving from a barge in Casco Bay and swimming a mile to East End Beach. Other triathlons are being held this summer in Poland, Brewer, Bethel and Kennebunk.

While many of the races are new, some have been around for years. Last month’s Bath Shipbuilders Triathlon has been run since 1982, and Freeport’s Lobsterman Triathlon, to be held Sept. 15, has won national recognition as one of the top races in the country.

Most triathlons are broken into sprint or Olympic distance. A sprint distance covers a swim from a quarter- to half- mile, a 9- to 18-mile bike ride and a roughly 3-mile run. In an Olympic distance triathlon, athletes swim just under a mile, ride 26 miles and finish with a 10K, or 6.2 miles.

Women from their 30s to mid-40s account for the largest demographic spike among triathletes, according to Thomas.

“They’re seeing it as a way to get a healthy lifestyle or as a way to do something they can brag about,” he said. “We get a lot of the weekend warrior types. People who have been running for a long time but want that next step of adventure and excitement.”

Cross-training benefits are one of the sport’s attractions.

Robin McCarthy, a 60-something from Portland who does about five triathlons a year, said she has stayed healthier mixing up her routine.

“As I’ve gotten older I’ve found if I just do one sport I get injured,” she said. “The cross-training really helps. And it’s fun to have a goal.”

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