About the same time that Gordon Ainsleigh took off on the Western States route without a horse, the sport of triathlon was heating up in San Diego, and when a bunch of endurance nuts, most coming from various branches of the military, decided to concoct the Ironman triathlon on the island of Oahu in 1978, a new breed of endurance athlete was born: the triathlete.
In general, two types of runners have flocked to triathlons over the years: those in search of a new challenge and those wanting to escape injury. The built-in variety of triathlon—a heady mix of swimming, cycling and running—is typically seen as both a way never to get bored and as the ultimate all-around endurance event. But it’s only been in the last decade or so that triathlon has begun to repel its way down from the mountaintop of perceived craziness to a sport that appeals to the masses. Thanks also in part to triathlon’s inclusion in the 2000 Olympics, USA Triathlon membership has grown from around 19,000 in 1999 to 135,000 in 2010, and nowadays 78 percent of people racing triathlons are doing so in the more digestible sprint-distance variety. Old school runners—still in no short supply today—grind their teeth when the thought of swimming comes up, as they have since the days of yore.
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