A 2.4-mile swim. A 112-mile bike ride. A 26.2-mile run. Only the world’s best athletes have earned the privilege of tackling these grueling distances at the Ironman World Championship triathlon in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
But this month, 82 MIT students and staff are suiting up in swim caps, bike shorts and running sneakers to join the iron elite. But they won’t travel to Hawaii — and they don’t have to worry about the Ironman’s strict cut-off time of 17 hours to finish the race. Instead, these Cambridge-based athletes have a little extra time to complete their epic fitness journeys.
Participants in the MIT Tri-Challenge will have nearly 30 days — from Sept. 12 to Oct. 8, the day of the actual Ironman World Championship — to swim, bike and run the distances of the world’s most prestigious triathlon.
Using variety to keep students motivated to exercise is one of the main goals of the Tri-Challenge, says Stephanie Kloos, director of member services and fitness for MIT’s Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER). “A lot of times we hear that students are tired of doing the same old thing,” Kloos says. “We’re giving students a chance to try something fun.”
“I definitely find it motivating,” says Stacy Maheras ’11, a first-year graduate student who is participating in the Tri-Challenge. “I hadn’t really done a lot of swimming at the [Zesiger] Center, and now that I’m doing the swim portion, I kind of want to keep doing it.”
When it came to cardio, Maheras rarely strayed from the elliptical machine. But after the Tri-Challenge, Maheras says she would continue swimming and running as well.
“I haven’t actually had to run since middle school,” she says. “Now that I know I can run, I might sneak some running in there along with the elliptical just to mix it up a bit.”
While the biking portion is not her favorite, Maheras says she has enjoyed the experience of trying new exercises. “It’s nice to be able to take advantage of all the amazing facilities."
DAPER Intern Katrina Dryja developed the event and will also be following students’ tracking sheets up until the deadline. The first 50 finishers will receive medals.
This year’s Tri-Challenge was the first opportunity for MIT students to use the pools, streets and sidewalks of Cambridge to complete the Ironman distances in an organized setting, but it wasn’t the first time DAPER challenged students to simulate a major athletic event. Last year, dozens of students took part in the “Tour de DAPER,” in which they biked legs of the famous French bike race on the much flatter streets of Greater Boston.
Two years ago, students participated in “Hiking the Cape.” They used various forms of physical activity to log the distance between MIT and Provincetown, without ever having to face the notorious Bourne Bridge traffic.
DAPER also supports a number of annual self-directed fitness challenges. “Maintain No Gain” keeps students active during the often weight-inducing Thanksgiving to New Year’s period. The perennially popular “Get Fit Challenge” encourages community fitness for a 12-week period between February and April.
Although DAPER chose the grueling Ironman Triathlon to emulate, Kloos says that the event was designed to motivate, not intimidate. “There’s really no pressure,” she says. “Students are vested because they want to stay healthy.”