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As athlete aims for triathlon, fitness expert gives nutrition and training tips

Camilo Ramirez wants to complete a half-Ironman triathlon in September.
Camilo Ramirez wants to complete a half-Ironman triathlon in September.
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

He swims, he bikes, he runs. He plays tennis and volleyball. He has lost 70 pounds off his 5-foot-11 frame in the past few years.

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You wouldn't think a dedicated athlete like 26-year-old Camilo Ramirez would need much help pursuing his goal of completing a half-Ironman triathlon on Sept. 12. That's 70.3 miles of consecutive swimming, cycling and running.

But the District resident, a communications coordinator at the World Resources Institute think tank, says he can't find much triathlon instruction on the Web that is specific to that distance.

"I really like to challenge myself. I like setting goals," he says. "I just don't know where to start."

Besides, he adds, if The Post printed his New Year's resolution for all to see, there would be no backing down from it.

Consider that done.

Now comes some hard work, according to Emory Land, general manager at the Vida Fitness gym in Verizon Center, who has completed about 50 triathlons and coached other competitors. Even at his current fitness level, Ramirez should plan to work out 18 to 20 hours a week for 12 to 16 weeks to get his body ready for the roughly 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike leg and 13.1-mile run that make up a half-Ironman triathlon, Land says.

If Ramirez needs extra work in any of the three disciplines, or if he wants to add strength training, yoga or Pilates to his regimen, that will mean a little more time each week, Land says.

"For a lot of people, it comes down to . . . the amount of time you've got to put into it. For endurance training, there really aren't a lot of secrets."

Maybe not, but Land has some other advice. First, Ramirez has to work up to "brick workouts," which incorporate two legs of the triathlon consecutively, usually the bike and the run. "There is nothing like the feeling of asking the muscles you're using on the bike to go right into a run," Land says. "Once you get through the first mile, things start to loosen up."

Ramirez also has to train in open water to get used to currents and staying on course without a painted line to follow. That means waiting until the weather warms up, Land says, or training in a gym (such as Vida's) that has an "endless pool." Those allow a swimmer to train against a constant, adjustable current.

Nutrition is crucial, especially experimenting with the kinds of fuel and liquids Ramirez can tolerate under that stress. And because the regimen is so time-consuming, most people find a group to train with. It helps pass the hours and makes training a social event, Land says.

No one should make a 70.3-mile race his first event, Land says. Ramirez should start with much shorter "sprint" triathlons (half-mile swim, 12- to 16-mile bike, five-kilometer run) and work up to Olympic-distance triathlons (1-mile swim, 26- to 28-mile bike, 10K run) before tackling the half-Ironman.

-- L.B.


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