SMITHFIELD — The Chick-fil-A 3 Little Pigs Triathlon is entering its fourth year, and organizers say now is a great time to jump in the pool.
Triathlons, now ubiquitous in other parts of the Triangle, haven’t really caught on in Johnston County. Locally, athletes can compete in 3 Little Pigs and the Riverwood Triathlon in Clayton.
Both events have short courses geared toward beginners. The 3 Little Pigs course includes a 250-yard swim, a 14-mile bike ride and a 5K run – a far cry from the marathon distances required by Ironman triathlons.
The race, scheduled for June 15, begins in the pool at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center. The bike path takes competitors along Buffalo Road to Live Oak Church and Sullivan roads, just outside Selma. The 5K course is an out-and-back trip along the new Buffalo Creek Greenway.
Martin Tetrault, an attorney who has participated in triathlons for 14 years, said he got started when he hurt his back in a skiing accident. Tetrault had always loved running, but the injury made it painful for him to run more than three times a week.
He began cycling, and the triathlon seemed like a logical progression from there – all he had to do was begin swimming. Tetrault said his triathlon training is actually less wearing on his body than running all the time.
“You just don’t get that pounding and abuse on your body that you do if you’re just running,” he said. “In 14 years, the worst injury I’ve ever gotten was a cracked rib from hitting a dog on a bike.”
The most intimidating part for most people, Tetrault said, is the swim. Matthew DeJesus of Jacksonville competed for the first time in last year’s 3 Little Pigs event. DeJesus, who’s in the Navy, got injured on duty and was looking for a way to get back in shape. He wanted to try the sport, but he was a bit intimidated. For him, the word “triathlon” conjured up images of exhausted Ironman competitors.
“You see the pictures of most people doing triathlons and you can tell their bodies were taking a beating,” DeJesus said.
But he found last year’s event to be a good introduction to triathlons. He plans to participate again this year.
“There was a good range of people – healthy, unhealthy,” he said. “You’ve got your super athletes and your regular people.”
The race offers something to veteran participants as well. Chad Culver, a teacher at Corinth-Holders High School who has raced in the Ironman nationals, said the short course allows experienced racers to go faster.
“Very seldom will you have more fun than at a sprint triathlon like 3 Little Pigs,” Culver said. “It’s a fun race because you don’t have to worry about the endurance part of it.”
Culver began as a distance cyclist before making the transition to triathlons. His favorite part of the sport is the kinship he feels with other participants. There’s a competitive aspect to it, but most people are just trying to beat their best time.
“There’s a camaraderie among competitors,” he said. “It’s not so much you versus your competitor as it is you against yourself.”
More people are joining in the camaraderie, as participation in the triathlon continues to grow. Last year, the event drew nearly 500 participants and raised $17,000 for Smithfield’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Rotary Club of Central Johnston County.
Organizers expect to see similar numbers this year. Culver said he’d like to see even more people come out.
“It fills a nice niche – there’s not many triathlons in the Johnston County area,” he said. “I hope it continues to grow.”