This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of USA Triathlon Magazine.
Shawn Loper will spend this fall prepping to host a race where he already knows everyone’s finish times. Loper, director of the Harford Multisport Club in Maryland, coordinates the club’s USATri60 event, now in its third year. The USATri60 program centers on indoor multisport events to draw interested athletes into the swim-bike-run world.
The format — based on time, not distance — allows an athlete to compete at his or her own pace for an hour of exercise. Participants swim in a pool for 10 minutes, ride on a spin bike for 30 minutes, and run on a treadmill for 20 minutes.
“People will do a 60-minute spin or go for a 30- or 40-minute run,” Loper says of prospective triathletes. “It’s very comfortable for them to just add a pool swim to complete the 60-minute workout.”
The familiar duration removes some of the fear that might create a barrier for someone otherwise likely to attempt a multisport race, Loper says.
“Even your typical sprint distance triathlete, for a novice, they’re going to take longer than an hour to finish.”
The indoor format also creates a calm, welcoming setting for anyone afraid of swimming in open water or people who are nervous about riding on the road.
“We want people to know there are opportunities beyond outdoor triathlons,” says Nick Koppin, USA Triathlon Team Lead – Member Experience. “A lot of times people equate triathlon with the long- and ultra-distance events, and they think it’s unattainable. That’s what we want to show people — it’s not just 140.6 miles.”
Koppin says USA Triathlon sanctioned indoor triathlons have grown in number from just a handful in 2016 to more than 30 in 2019, with a full schedule of fall and winter events still open. Partnerships between race directors and recreational facilities have allowed for the steady expansion of the USATri60 program.
“We empower rec centers and facilities that want new programming,” Koppin says. “We want to provide as many resources as we can to assist them.”
Taralyn Kohler is the executive director of CORE Foundation, which works with social entrepreneurs to host events, and she serves as the race director for the inaugural Reston Trick or Tri in Virginia.
“I’m passionate about creating the indoor triathlon because I think it’s such a great, non-intimidating way for a newcomer to give the sport a try. It’s a great way to lead up to our sprint. Go out and do one or two indoor tris.”
The race coalesced after Kohler forged a connection with the local YMCA.
“It’s a great partnership,” she says, “because we have different groups of athletes we serve. If we can come together and create these experiences, there’s a lot of power in that.”
One of the most tangible results from more people seeing, hearing about, and engaging with the triathlon community is an expansion of that community, which is what Loper has witnessed at his event. Several USATri60 finishers each year have joined Harford Multisport Club and moved on to complete their first outdoor race with their new teammates.
Indoor triathlons provide an earlier, gentler launch to that natural progression for beginner triathletes. But Kohler, training for her sixth IRONMAN 70.3 competition, also sees value in established athletes testing the indoor tri circuit. Plenty of people live in areas of the country where weather doesn’t accommodate training [outdoors] in the winter, and the USATri60 program offers a chance to sharpen skills in the offseason.
“For me, I’m always looking for opportunities to train year-round,” Kohler says.
Those opportunities will expand in 2020 as USA Triathlon works with facilities that might not have all three components necessary to host an indoor triathlon but could plan an indoor duathlon, aquabike, or aquathlon. For the full list of events, visit usatriathlon.org/usatri60.