Women are Choosing Triathlons

More and more women are turning to triathlon for their physical and social outlet.  Credit: Adam Pretty/Getty Images
See Jane run? Hah!

See Jane run, bike and swim is more like it.

In yet another nod to today's maniacally multitasking heroines, women increasingly are finding time to make triathlons -- those famously grueling triple-feat trials that test the fittest of the fit -- their new physical and social outlet of choice.

While those diving in range from teens to octogenarians, the sport is proving especially alluring these days to 30-something moms looking to reclaim the trifecta of adjectives that defined them in their college years: athletic, competitive and connected. Not to mention happy.

If You Look Hot, You Feel Cool

All of which is why 40 women can be found on a recent Bay Area night jogging around a local college track under a patchy sky. Typical of this crew is Jenna Phillips, 35, whose teacher husband, Perrin, is back home giving a pre-bedtime bath to their two young daughters.

"I quit my job as a teacher when I had my kids. Ever since, I've been looking for something to do for myself, but nothing ever felt right," says Phillips, who is training for her first triathlon later this spring through the aptly named area sports retailer See Jane Run, which is riding the surging wave of female triathletes.

"From the first day I joined this group, I've had a perma-grin on my face," she says. "You could say I have a new perspective on life."

In decades past, fighting for equality and storming the boardrooms may have defined the Empowered Woman. But today, many seem to be subscribing to the Greek belief that perfecting the body leads to a harmony of spirit and intellect. Or put in 21st-century speak: If you look hot, you feel cool.

Evidence ranges from a proliferation of nationally-sponsored events to growing grass-roots organizations, not to mention the new businesses popping up to cater to this energized and often moneyed boomer crowd.

Events for Women

Take the Danskin Women's Triathlon Series. It started modestly in 1990 when 150 women plunged into the Pacific near Long Beach, Calif. Now the series has events in eight cities; participation has rocketed from 13,000 in 2000 to 22,810 last year.

Seattle's more recent Danskin tri, as the cognoscenti call the sport, broke a record for most entrants when more than 5,000 women snapped up spots. While the biggest age group was women 30 to 49, nearly 100 of the triathletes were women 65 and older.

Danskin's success is spawning imitators. Iron Girl--a division of the company that each year sponsors the famed Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii--used to organize only footraces, assuming that triathlons weren't something the average woman wanted to pursue. This year, Iron Girl will stage triathlons in Irving, Texas, and Columbia, Md., with other cities possible for 2007.

Most tri newcomers start with a sprint; distances vary, but typical is a 200-yard swim, 5- to 10-mile bike and 3-mile run. The ultimate is still the Ironman: a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon.

"It's the tell-a-friend phenomenon that's making this grow," says Maggie Sullivan, longtime Danskin triathlon race director. "Let's face it, at the start of your first tri, it's not about who's pretty or who's rich. The playing field is leveled. At that moment, you're all scared, and you're all triathletes."

Helping women train for triathlons are organizations such as Moms in Motion, founded in 1999 by a Santa Barbara mother who wanted company while pursuing her new goal. Then, a few women joined Jamie Allison; today, 30 cities boast chapters of Moms in Motion, whose motto of "fun, fitness and philanthropy" lays out the volunteer-based mission.

"The perks of getting fit through a tri are huge," says Allison. "You look better, feel better and have more energy. You get that flushed face, that glow."

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