Low-key Bay Area triathlon series draws all kinds of athletes

Credit: Donald Miralle/Allsport
Bradley Kennedy of Alameda, Calif., knows well the pain of a triathlon. Recently, the 30-year-old completed Ironman California in San Diego. At his best, he swam like a fish. At his worst, he threw up during a run, wondering how he could possibly finish the race. But he did.

"It's very emotional," Kennedy said. "It can be horrible, but you pull yourself together and just keep saying you'll keep going."

Kennedy, who placed 900th out of 1,700 athletes in the Ironman, is ready to take on the 14th annual Tri for Fun, the Bay Area's only triathlon series. The annual Pleasanton race is split into four monthly triathlons running from June through September: June 16, July 21, Aug. 18 and Sept. 16.

The series attracts seasoned athletes as well as novices who find the 400-yard swim, 11-mile bike and the 3.1-mile run within their grasp. For the final challenge, Tri for Real, distances are increased to a 700-yard swim, an 18-mile bike and 4-mile run.

Last year, more than 3,200 people attended the series, the biggest turnout in more than a dozen years. More participants are expected this year.

"It attracts a real cross-section of ages," said Irv Bloom, 74, of Danville, Calif., a retired gynecologist who has done the Tri for Fun nearly a dozen times. "It's a real good way to get introduced to a triathlon."

In its March issue, Triathlete magazine editors queried their subscribers through an Internet vote to rate the best triathlons in North America. Tri for Fun made the list of about a dozen. Nationally, there are about 3,000 triathlons, Triathlete editors said.

Among many reasons Tri for Fun scored high was the way the staff treats participants, as well as the hefty size of the crowds, said Jay Prasuhn, Triathlete's senior editor, who wrote the article.

"It helps when an athlete feels like they're being recognized for their efforts," said Prasuhn, whose magazine has a circulation of 90,000.

Each event generally attracts between 700 and 1,000 athletes, the event's organizers said. About 48 percent of participants are women, an unusually high number compared to similar events around the country.

"Historically, most triathlons are attended by men. Unless triathlons are for women, it's mostly men who dominate them," said Kandee Aiton, 45, who co-owns Tri for Fun with her husband, Mark Aiton, 49.

Women and novices are attracted to Tri for Fun because of how it's set up, Mark Aiton said. The series doesn't post individual times and encourages families and friends to join.

"We make it non-threatening," he said. "And it appeals to women. It's not that they're not competitive, but the socialization of women is new in the last 20 years. Some women are still leery of getting in front of an audience. We're providing a venue where they feel comfortable."

Sally Haims, 31, of San Francisco said that was one reason she was attracted to Tri for Fun.

"It certainly affected my decision," Haims said. "I was looking for something to stay in shape. After reading about the series and (realizing) it was similar to women's [-only] triathlons, I decided to go for it."

In the late 1980s, Mark Aiton owned an athletic shoe store in the Bay Area and also participated in triathlons. Now, however, the Aitons produce about 18 events through their company, On Your Mark Events Management, Consulting and Timing.

"I came to the conclusion that I enjoyed putting up events more than working the retail counter," Aiton said.

Some of the events the two produce include the Bethel Island International Distance, Bear Valley Triathlon and the Aqua Challenge at Lake Del Valle in Livermore.

Tri for Fun is "low-key and real, but everyone still has to swim, bike and run. We don't allow cheating," Aiton said. "It's just like as if you were doing the Ironman."

Whereas Ironman events in some cases take more than 12 hours to complete, Tri for Fun is designed for people who simply want to try a triathlon for the first time, Aiton said.

Kennedy said this year's Tri for Fun will be his second.

"They're short races," he said. "It's a great way to work out."

Tri for Real is Sept. 16. Tri for Real is competitive with individual timing and awards.

Ready to catch the swim-bike-run bug? Check out our Give it a Tri section

Don't live in the Bay Area? Find and register online for a triathlon near you!

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