30 YEARS AND GOING STRONG
UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY TRIATHLON CLUB
The University of Calgary Triathlon Club (UCTC) is the longest serving active triathlon club in Canada. It was founded in the fall of 1985 by Mark Hlady after he returned from the 1984 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, which he entered and completed on just three weeks of training. Equally exhausted and inspired, he returned to Calgary with a clear intention to promote the new sport of triathlon.
In its first year, the UCTC consisted of about 20 people, most of whom were swim club parents looking to try a new adventure. Triathlon began to assert itself as a bona fide sport at around this time and many athletes, including many from a road running background and swimming, began to embrace the unique challenges of multisport training and racing. The UCTC club grew quickly, doubling in size in its second year. The club continued to blossom and today it is home to athletes from all backgrounds and walks of life, from first-timers through to national team athletes.
In the early days, Hlady offered rudimentary advice on equipment, training plans, nutrition and how best to weave these ingredients together for successful racing.
“There were a few low-key triathlons cropping up across Alberta and UCTC athletes raced them, as well as the Kelowna Apple Triathlon in B.C. for Olympic distance athletes, and for long-course titans Ironman Canada on the iconic Penticton course,” explains Hlady.
In the early 1990s the club celebrated success with athletes such as Terri Smith-ross, who finished on the podium racing against the finest short-course females in the world, along with Marc Becker, who used his biking prowess to garner several 9-hour Ironman finishes, putting him amongst the top group of Penticton finishers.
Over the last 30 years the club has hosted numerous races and incorporated many different types of training workouts based within the University of Calgary grounds. The pool at the university is one of only three 50-m pools in the city and is used three times per week by the club.
“With two coaches on pool deck, the pool is typically run with the beginners training from the shallow end, working primarily on technique and some base fitness, while the more advanced swimmers utilize the deep end for applicable warm-up, warm-down, drills and main sets,” Hlady says. At the end of each swim workout, a short core strengthening session is held on pool deck.
Training in all three disciplines is based on a 12-week macro cycle. This encompasses three weeks for build-up, focusing on technique and base fitness, then three weeks of endurance training aimed at learning to hold solid technique while swimming, biking and running at higher aerobic levels. Then there’s a three-week strength and power phase geared toward challenging anaerobic threshold and focusing on holding good form while fatigued.
“The last three-week cycle is speed,” explains Hlady, “where we work above anaerobic threshold on speed sets in all three disciplines. If you want to be a faster swimmer, biker and runner, you must train at high intensity levels that allow you to then back off and hold faster pace times for your races at high aerobic levels.” Given the frigid outdoor temperatures during the winter, much of the bike training is performed indoors on stationary trainers or exercise bikes ideally located at one corner of a 200 m running track. “It’s perfect for brick sessions,” says Hlady. “On Monday and Wednesday nights we do a bike/run brick incorporating the bikes and the track. On Sundays, weather permitting we ride 2.5 to 3 hours outdoors, or indoors if need be, often alternating 30 minutes of ride time with 5 to 10 minutes of basic plyometrics.” Breaking up the ride is an innovative approach that has proven its value in terms of athlete comfortability, flexibility and longevity. The club also uses a mid-week brick session as a central element to their training. This 1.5 to two-hour session is broken up into 10- to 15-minute stationary bike intervals followed by a 400-m to 1-km track run.
“We might decide to run hard off the bike, or [work at a] steady pace at the outset and work into a fast-finish 1k run,” explains Hlady. “It depends on where we are at in our training cycle as to what type of workout we employ.”
In 2016, the club is directing its attention toward its youth program.
“I am excited to work with our youth to instill in them the joys of being fit and knowledgeable about training and racing triathlon,” says Hlady.
Beyond that, in 2017, the UCTC plans to work with the Alberta Triathlon Association to host a June sprint and Olympic distance event in Calgary.
Kerry Hale is a triathlete and freelance writer from the Comox Valley.