BILLINGS — Discipline, endurance and strength are just a few of the qualities it takes to compete in sports. And when you are competing in three sporting events in immediate succession, those abilities become even more important.
Such is the case with the sport of triathlon. Today’s athletes are looking for new ways to challenge themselves, and in the Billings area that trend has resulted in a big rise in the popularity of triathlons.
“There’s a growing interest not just locally, but around Montana,” said Big Sky State Games executive director Karen Sanford Gall.
Jay Marschall, owner of GymJay in Billings, has been training, coaching and competing in triathlons since 1987. Marschall began training for a triathlon after finishing college in order to get in shape.
“I had a bet with myself,” Marschall said. “I spent three months training for my first one. I did more and kept getting better and better. I got hooked.”
Marschall said his goal was to compete in an Ironman competition, but at first didn’t realize how much training had to be put into it.
The Ironman triathlons have a total distance of 140.6 miles, combining a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. There are 29 Ironman competitions worldwide throughout the year, and they serve as qualifiers for the Ironman World Championship, held in Hawaii every October.
Marschall has completed his goal many times over. He’s qualified for, competed in and finished the Ironman World Championship seven times.
After moving to Billings from Atlanta several years ago, Marschall got involved with the BSSG triathlon and helped design the current course.
The BSSG course is an 800-meter swim, 16-mile bike ride and 3-mile run — a course that is considered a sprint to experienced triathletes.
As a tune-up for the BSSG triathlon in July, many triathletes from the Billings area competed in an Ironman competition in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, last weekend — with great success.
Sarah Graves won her age group in 10:20.44, a time that qualifies her for the Ironman World Championship.
Also, Cecil Pegram and his daughters, Kara and Helen, all successfully completed the triathlon, which was the first for both Cecil and Helen. Kara has competed in the Coeur d’Alene event twice previously.
Marschall is currently training both Graves — who he called “probably the top amateur in the sport right now” — and Pegram.
Pegram started competing in the BSSG triathlon about eight years ago. “It is looming large for me,” Pegram said prior to the Coeur d’Alene event. “I will be so relieved when I run down that (finish line) chute. When I watched (Kara) run down the chute and they called out her name, I got goose bumps.”
Marschall said the popularity of triathlon has risen around the country in the past several years and is now reaching Montana.
“There was an article in The New York Times a couple years ago that said how some business executives prized an Ironman win more than their master’s degree,” Marschall said. “A marathon is not enough anymore. It feels like the Olympics when you’re competing in it. It’s something you can take pride in because it is tough to manage training for three sports.”
“It’s a new challenge,” Pegram said. “You have to have a multi-sport discipline to compete in a triathlon.”
Marschall added that triathlons keep a person healthier than if just competing in one sport. The cross-training of three sports gives variety in a workout, causing fewer injuries. Swimming and biking are also low-impact sports, leading to less stress on your joints.
“Something I’ve noticed living here is that people in Billings like to have a lot of hobbies,” Marschall said. “This gives them a variety of things to do while being outside.”