Pushing the limit - and all for fun

Triathlon athletes compete in grueling event for enjoyment

Howard At Play

May 21, 2000|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The race may seem grueling to contemplate, but a sampling of some 80 Howard County participants in today's Columbia Triathlon say they do it for one reason - fun.

Oh, sure, the 1.5-kilometer swim in Centennial Lake, the hilly 41K bicycle ride and the 10K run push the body about 32 miles. But after all that, they agree, the 19thColumbia event this morningwith Centennial Park its focal point will have been worthwhile for a record 1,100 competitors from 28 states and some 640 volunteers.

"It gets mentally easier and physically harder," said Jerry Casper, 49, a pediatric dentist from Columbia who has done every Columbia Triathlon, the East Coast's largest such event. "Mentally, you know what to expect, but physically, you get older."

"I don't get too much worse," added Casper, whose times stay around 2 hours, 35 minutes. "And I don't get much better."

Besides, he said, laughing, he's waiting for Max Prola to retire.

Prola, 55, another Columbia resident, also has done all of the Columbia Triathlons.

"I sort of admire Cal Ripken," said Prola, who runs with knee pain from old soccer injuries. "It's a poor man's way to emulate Cal."

Prola, who considers himself primarily a cyclist, has twice ridden in a 750-mile, nonstop race in France, his best time about 82 hours. He's done several 100-mile bicycle rides and belongs to a bicycle racing team in Washington.

"Generally, when summer comes, I devote my time to cycling," he said.

Prola said he bikes 25 miles Tuesday and Thursday nights, and plans a 60-mile ride for Saturdays, and a 25-mile trek on Sundays.

When training for the triathlon, he adds a half-hour of running on Mondays and Thursdays and swimming on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Sundays, he bikes, runs and swims.

Casper awakens early to train around his dental practice. Four or five times weekly, he runs five to seven miles and uses lunchtime to swim a mile.

When it's not warm or light enough to ride outdoors in the evenings, he pedals a stationary bike."Living in the area, I'll do the course," he said.

He also uses weekends to swim, bike and run.

Unlike Casper and Prola, Mindy Markovich, 32, of Ellicott City is a relative newcomer to the sport, competing in the triathlon for the second time. She's been training since January, hoping to better last year's time of 3:12.10.

She swims one to two miles three times a week and does weight training with a personal trainer twice weekly. Three times a week, she bikes. She makes sure she has one day of complete rest.

Running is hardest for her.

"That's where I have to talk to myself and say, `I can do this. Persevere,'" she said. "That is what the triathlon has taught me, to persevere."

Markovich, a Howard County Chamber of Commerce sales and marketing associate who said she struggled to get decent grades in physical education, tried triathlon after a personal crisis.

"I thought it would be something positive and keep me focused, and now I'm hooked," she said. "It's fun, it keeps you healthy, and you meet really great people. I would encourage anyone to do it. There are people who start when they're 60. It has really helped me to be a stronger person."

Markovich and Prola agree that the triathlon isn't just for iron men or iron women.

"I'm not superhuman," Prola said. "I'm not super-talented. I'm relatively average in all my abilities. Anybody with proper training could participate in this race. I just want to emphasize that it can be done with training and perseverance and balance."

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