Rick Harris doesn't wear his watch to keep time; he wears it to keep his enemy close.
With more than 50 half-marathon finishes to his name, Harris, 69, only decided it was time to change sports when he started feeling aches in his knees during his runs.
"I want to keep active all my life, so I decided a triathlon seemed like a way of taking some pressure off the knees," Harris said halfway through his Thursday morning 18-kilometre bike ride.
"I know a lot of people say, ‘But you’re doing 20 kilometres on a bike,' but it’s totally different.”
Harris said he decided in March he wanted to do his first triathlon, so he started training for August's St. Albert Triathlon.
“In March, of course, you’re starting with snow," he said, adding, "I had been running outside but I wasn’t riding a bike outside, so I decided to do spin classes."
Harris's spin instructor at Servus Place, Trish van de Ligt, explained to him that cycling engages leg muscles running simply doesn't.
Since taking the classes and doing regular long-distance cycle rides, the muscles causing Harris pain when he ran started getting stronger, and the discomfort disappeared — a benefit from training he wasn’t expecting.
"My intent was to stay healthier longer, [but] I never even realized the [benefits] I was going to get following this journey,” Harris said.
Indeed, with months of training, and a modest change in diet (switching to natural peanut butter), Harris was able to reverse a prediabetes diagnosis, a disease he says runs in the family.
The St. Albert Triathlon will look different compared to pre-pandemic races. In the past, the swimming portion of the race would take place at Fountain Park Pool, which is closed for renovations this summer.
This year, athletes will start the triathlon at Grosvenor Outdoor Pool, and swim a total of 750 metres. The swimming lanes at Grosvenor pool are 25 metres in length, meaning competitors will need to complete 30 lengths before moving on to the cycling portion.
"I haven’t done a lot of swimming since I was a kid," Harris said. He joined the St. Albert Triathlon Club in 2020 for the sense of community, and was swimming with the club at Fountain Park for three months before the onset of the pandemic.
"That’s been probably the toughest part, but slowly getting back into it,” Harris said of the difficulty to train for the swimming portion.
The only concern Harris has for the swim, he said, is the tumble turn, or flip turn, he must do at the end of each pool length. The tumble turn is something he's never done, but Harris said he booked a lesson with a family friend, who happens to be a competitive swimmer.
After the athletes finish their dip at Grosvenor Pool they will commence the cycle portion.
For the biking aspect of the event, Harris said he needed to improvise.
Most athletes, Harris said, use road bikes for triathlon events. A road bike is a specific style of bicycle that's designed to go fast; they're lightweight, aerodynamic, and more efficient than other types of bicycles. They're also expensive, Harris said — more than he was willing to pay for a sport he's not sure he will continue.
"I thought, ‘Boy I better make sure I like this,’ because the price of just buying a half-decent road bike was like $2,000," he said, adding he modified his mountain bike for the triathlon.
With the help of the crew at Cranky's Bike Shop, Harris put road tires, which are smoother and thinner than regular bicycle tires, on his mountain bike, as well as drop handlebars, to allow him to ride with a more aerodynamic posture.
“For under $80 I turned my mountain bike into a road bike," Harris said. "That way at least I can make sure I’m serious about this.”
The last leg of the triathlon is a five-kilometre run, which Harris is duly prepared for.
During his training regimen over the past few months, Harris has been building his stamina by riding the stationary bikes at Servus Place for up to 30 kilometres before running a few kilometres on the upstairs track.
“My goal is first to finish, because I’ve never done one," said Harris.
"If I break two hours, I’m going to be a happy camper [and] I’m going to end up with my personal best time anyways, whatever it is.”
This year's triathlon is set to take place on Aug. 7 and, according to the St. Albert Road Runners and Triathlon Club's website, is a qualifying event for Canada's national triathlon team.
"Winners of each age group will be invited to join Triathlon Canada's Age Group National Team to compete in the Sprint Triathlon at the 2023 World Triathlon Age Group Championships in Hamburg, Germany."