8 Reasons to Tri in the UK

I was introduced to Sue Faulkner through her story in BBC’s Get Inspired. Her story, titled “Grandmother of six completes first triathlon at 63“, reported how she decided to get involved in triathlon through a classic, “I will, if you will” agreement. The article also described Sue’s training for her first triathlon and her race day experience.

Inspired by her, I contacted Sue by email and began a conversation that has continued up to this day. Following is what I learned about Sue’s experience.

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‘Gotta Tri’ – Triathlon in The Villages, Florida

The Villages, Florida, located between Orlando and Ocala in central Florida, is a 55+ community like no other in the USA. To say that residents and visitors of every age and ability are required to stay active is no stretch. 

Thanks to The Villages Triathlon Club, triathlon is one of the sports growing here.

The Villages Triathlon Club Builds on an Active Lifestyle

If I were to pick one word to describe The Villages, I would choose ‘active’.

As just one example, consider that from 5 to 9 PM, 365 days per year, each of the three Town Squares has live music with residents and their guests filling the dance floors. 

To prepare for the evening, one needs to take afternoon dance lessons.  That is, unless you are golfing on one of the more than 50 courses, biking, doing water aerobics, playing pickleball at one of the roughly 150 courts, swimming in one of the 102 pools, or involved in any of the other hundred or so activities.

Triathlon-friendly ‘Biker Shuffle’ with Scooter The DJ at Spanish Springs Square in The Villages, Florida .

My Introduction to The Villages Triathlon Club

Reading the sports section of the daily newspaper of The Villages, The Daily Sun, has become a ritual when visiting the area. Articles in the paper often highlight accomplishments of active seniors. These stories never fail to encourage, inspire, and even amaze.

One article that especially grabbed my attention was that of a resident who had restarted swimming after quadruple bypass surgery.

Wanting to learn more about the story behind the story, I contacted the article’s author.  He eventually introduced me to Donna Maguire, founder and president of The Villages Triathlon Club.

members of The Villages Triathlon Club preparing for the swim
Members of The Villages Triathlon Club often race together at sprint to Ironman distance events.

Beginnings of The Villages Triathlon Club

Donna Maguire started The Villages Triathlon Club in April, 2015 after venturing back into the triathlon world following her and her husband’s move to The Villages. While in central Florida, she learned about nearby Clermont, the so-called ‘Triathlon Capital of the World’.

While The Villages had groups for almost every activity and interest imaginable, there were no running or triathlon clubs. However, that changed through a ‘chance’ encounter between Donna and another ‘Villager’, Pat Johnson.

“One day, I met Pat while we were both playing pickleball. She told me that she had just signed up for her first triathlon at age 70. Pat had no idea what she was in for,” said Donna with a smile.

“She had less than three weeks to prepare for the race. So, I took her under my wing and shared my limited experience and some of my equipment.   Helping her helped me. And with that, the idea that would lead to the triathlon club was born.”

Donna started sharing her vision with other triathletes.

“Many of them encouraged me to start a triathlon club. All I wanted to do was find people to train and play with. Did I ever!

“We now have both a triathlon club and a running club”.

The Villages Triathlon Club Today

The Villages Triathlon Club’s mission is “to provide, for all levels of athletic ability, a network of information, support services, training, racing, and social activities in a friendly and supportive environment”.

Membership is open to residents who are currently participating in triathlons or have completed races in the past and have a desire to get involved again. Also welcomed are first-timers who want to learn about and prepare for a multi-sport challenge.

She and many of the club’s members have become ambassadors for triathlon throughout The Villages and beyond. Members often attend triathlons as a club, complete with t-shirts, warm-ups, triathlon suits, and other apparel bearing the club logo which was designed by Donna.

Donna’s support for triathlon even shows in her e-mail signature which includes the words ‘Gotta Tri’.

Sharing Triathlon Information Among Club Members

Both the triathlon and running clubs have Facebook pages to foster communication and support among members. “We encourage all club members and meeting attendees to try to do a triathlon.”

“I’m not an expert and although I share my experience, I also want to be sure that members have a variety of levels of expertise and experience on which to draw.”

Monthly educational meetings are another way the club promotes triathlon for its members and anyone interested in competing in the sport. These meetings are a time for sharing “tons of information”. Many include guest speakers to discuss topics related to training, rest and recovery, nutrition, and racing.

Triathlon Training Events

The Villages Triathlon Club also regularly organizes training events for its members.

The club has group runs on Sunday mornings. During the week, members regularly get together for 60+ mile bike rides at one of the local trails.

The Villages Triathlon Club holds groups swims two mornings per week
The Villages Triathlon Club holds group swims two times per week in one of The Villages’ sports pools..

The club also has standing Tuesday and Thursday morning reservations at one of The Villages’ sports pools. During this time, swimmers of all levels, from beginner to experienced, meet to build their swim fitness and improve their triathlon-specific swim technique.

For example, the group works on swimming close together and drafting, to become accustomed with the contact that often occurs during the triathlon swim.

Club members have also met for group swims and practice triathlons at nearby Lake Minneola and Lake Weir. One of these events included a triathlon swim lesson from a professional triathlete.

The Villages Running Club also hosts group runs on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s morning that leave Lake Sumter Square at 6:30 AM during the summer months.

Before COVID-19 shutdowns, the club reserved Lake Sumter Square (one of the three Town Squares mentioned earlier) on Friday mornings for a free Boot Camp. 

Attendees would gather at 7 AM for a 4-mile run that included interval training. Then at 8 AM, the Boot Camp session was led by one of the club’s members. Finally, a yoga class was held at 9 AM for the most ambitious members. A priceless start of the day.

Why Do A Triathlon?

Why should someone in or approaching retirement age participate in triathlon?

According to The Villages Triathlon Club members, there are many benefits from training in the three different sports. There are health benefits from being stronger, more fit, and, for some, losing weight.

Training in swimming, biking, and running helps avoid overuse injuries by working different parts of the body. It also prevents boredom, which can lead to inconsistency.

There are also social benefits; meeting new people, developing friends with whom you can share successes and struggles as well as learn, or go golfing.

For Donna and many other club members, triathlon has also helped build confidence and mental strength.

Not learning to swim until later in my adult life, Donna had always had a fear and discomfort in the swim portion.

“Little by little I’ve started to overcome that fear, something I never thought I’d be able to do.  I keep reminding myself – ‘Just breathe’.

“We all have something that is scary and out of our comfort area. We can take the easy route and just avoid that situation or tackle it and feel confident.”

Donna Maguire, founder of The Villages Triathlon Club for senior triathletes
Senior triathlete, Donna Maguire celebrating her age group win at the 2015 Great Floridian GFT 1/3 Ironman Triathlon

Have Questions for The Villages Triathlon Club Members?

The Villages Triathlon Club highlights the value of the encouragement and camaraderie that comes from being part of a group that shares common goals and interests. For example, Donna has gone from ‘considering quitting triathlon’ to a 2x Ironman finisher during her time with The Villages Triathlon Club.

Feel free to post questions and comments for Donna and The Villages Triathlon Club members in the Comments section below.

This post was originally published on March 25, 2016. I updated it after Joy and I were in The Villages during April, 2021. During that stay, I had the privilege of presenting at The Villages Triathlon Club’s monthly meeting where I learned from these amazing and inspiring people. I also joined the club for one of their swim sessions.

My First Triathlon – Is This How George Plimpton Felt?

Buffalo, Minnesota; June 5, 2011 – Buffalo Triathlon, Sturges Park.

Why would I do a triathlon, my first, at age 59? The answer begins with the need for better health. I continue with triathlon today for many more reasons.

Why Triathlon?

April 2010 was the launching point for what has become a significant life adventure for my wife, Joy, and me.

I was 57 years old. During my annual physical exam, my doctor shared his concern about the trends in my blood sugar and cholesterol. I was already on medication for blood pressure.

However, the doctor also encouraged me when he said, “This is nothing that losing 20 pounds won’t fix.”

I knew I had become a little more full in my face. My pants were also a little tighter. However, this was not enough motivation for me to exercise regularly. It was also not an incentive for me to give up burgers for salads.

My doctor’s remarks did, however, get me to think about losing weight. I was sure this would come with exercise. After all, I had been semi-active with some swimming, biking, running, basketball, and racquetball. I had also become a Minnesota State High School League certified basketball referee, knowing that I wanted to stay active.

However, months later, nothing had changed except my weight. It was still slowly increasing.

Making the Commitment

In late September, my friend Jim, along with his oldest son and my youngest son, were on the patio of our house in Chicopee, Massachusetts, where I was spending half my time for work.

During our conversation, I mentioned the doctor’s concerns and my struggle to lose weight. Jim, who had completed a few triathlons, suggested that we sign up for the Buffalo Triathlon in Buffalo, Minnesota.

When I mentioned this to our daughter, Liza, a few days later, she promptly said that a triathlon would be a good father-daughter adventure.

Then, around the middle of December, Joy registered both of us for membership at LA Fitness. LA Fitness had facilities near our houses in Minnesota and Massachusetts.

I had run out of excuses. In my daughter, I had a training partner. I also had access to facilities in which to train. On December 31, 2010, my daughter and I registered for the Buffalo Triathlon.

Getting Ready

I quickly learned how little I knew about preparing for a triathlon. However, I took this as a new challenge. I read whatever I had time to consume. I swam, biked, ran, and did various body weight and core strengthening exercises six days each week.

Following six months of training in swimming, biking, and running, I was still not sure if I could finish the triathlon. However, after Liza and I completed a practice triathlon near our home on Fish Lake in Maple Grove, Minnesota, two weeks before the Buffalo Triathlon, we were confident that we could at least finish our first sprint triathlon.

While my daughter insisted on setting a time goal for the race, I had been content to set ‘finishing the race’ as my goal. Eventually, we agreed to the goal of 1 hour 45 minutes. This seemed reasonable after our practice triathlon.

8th Annual Buffalo Triathlon

Beginning in 2004, the Buffalo Triathlon quickly became the most popular early season triathlon in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Minnesotans were ready to get outside after the long winter and often dreary spring with its ‘April showers’. And, 883 of us showed to do a triathlon.

The advertised distances for the individual legs of this sprint triathlon were:

  • Swim: 0.25 mile (400 yards)
  • Bike: 13.3 miles (21.3 km)
  • Run: 3.1 miles (5 km)

Race Morning

Joy, Liza, and I left home at 5 am for the one-hour drive to Sturges Park. Liza’s family would come a little later, before the triathlon’s start.

After checking in, picking up our race packets, and getting our body markings, we found our respective assigned places in the transition area. It was then time to soak in the anticipation, excitement, conversation – including some occasional boastings – and equipment leading up to the race. The number of expensive looking bicycles especially struck me.

Buffalo, Minnesota, is 40 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
Buffalo, Minnesota, is 40 miles northwest of Minneapolis. My first triathlon, the Buffalo Triathlon, was held at Sturges Park.

Fifteen minutes before the race meeting that led up to the race’s start, I went into the lake for a short practice swim to become acclimated to the water.

Being early June in central Minnesota meant that the water was cold, in the upper 60s °F.

The water temperature was not a surprise. I also knew that the water temperature was bearable with my triathlon suit and a rash guard swimming shirt since I had been in the lake on the previous Tuesday.

My daughter, friend and his son and me before the start of the 2011 Buffalo Triathlon
Daughter Elizabeth (Liza), friend Jim and his son Jeff, and me before the start of the 2011 Buffalo Triathlon


Before we knew it, the race was underway. I watched as wave after wave of swimmers took off.

The internet had told of the chaos accompanying fifty swimmers starting together. There had been a small taste of this at the practice swim in Buffalo Lake a few days earlier.

What I saw was like what I expected. I was ready for swimming as a contact sport, even though it was not something I relished.

The contact finally came. Unfortunately, I was the one who made contact.

As I swam, I came upon two females who had left in an earlier wave than mine treading water beside each other. I accidentally hit one of them with my hand. The tongue lashing began immediately as she told me I should have watched out where I was going.

The damage was done. All I could do was say ‘Sorry’ and keep swimming.

Triathlon tip: Having now completed tens of triathlons with open water swims, I have one piece of advice. If you are going to stop and rest along the swim course, please move away from the main traffic lane.

My First Transition

I took my sweet time getting from the swim exit to the transition area. By the time I reached the transition area, I saw my friend, now very serious, already heading out of transition with his bicycle.

In what I later learned was a long transition time, I sat down, washed the grass and dirt off my feet, put on my socks and shoes, and grabbed a few gummy snacks before taking my bike to the mounting area.

I realized other racers were proceeding to the mount line with a much greater sense of urgency than me. I felt as if I were blocking some of them.

Eventually, I got on my bicycle and faced a steep hill. Having not thought this part through, I had left my bike in a high gear.

Oops. Another lesson.


The bicycle ride was fantastic.

My Giant hybrid bicycle sped along the course as it never had on the rides in Maple Grove over the past couple of years. After the race, I learned I had ridden the 13.3 miles at an average speed of 17.7 miles per hour. Before today, averaging 15 miles per hour would have made me happy.

What struck me was the way those on triathlon bikes passed me. Despite my legs pedaling as fast as they could, I felt as if I were on a casual stroll with my wife. I was sure the gearing of their bikes differed from mine. (Within a month, I had purchased my first triathlon bike, a Trek SpeedConcept 7.5).


The effort to maintain the average speed during the bike leg had apparently taxed my running muscles. Despite having trained many times to run after biking, both at LA Fitness and around my home, I found the run today to be incredibly difficult.

After about one mile, I simply had to stop and walk. It humiliated me to have to walk during the run. Of course, this would not be the only time I would mix a little walking in the run.

From this point through the end of the race, including within the last quarter mile, I found it necessary to mix running and walking.

Somewhere near the middle of the run course, I met my daughter. Her smiling face and ‘Go Dad!’ encouragement were much appreciated.

I pushed myself to run through the section where my wife, son-in-law, and grandchildren were sitting. As I passed them, I gave my grandson a ‘high five’. I remember him shouting to his grandmother ‘Boy, is he sweaty’. I couldn’t help but smile despite a tough run.

running to the finish line of my first triathlon.
Near the finish line of my first triathlon in 2011. While I don’t recall the feeling at this moment, the look on my face says, ‘You made it. Thank you, Lord!’

We Finished!

Not only did Liza and I finish the race, but we both finished it in well under the 1 hour 45 minutes goal. Astounding!

I returned to earth when I saw the times of others in my age group, including that of my friend. My place was 16th of the 20 within my age group.

I had finished my first triathlon. It was an accomplishment that I will always share with my daughter. And, I had learned a lot.

In some ways, I felt a lot like how I imagine George Plimpton would have felt. Plimpton was a journalist who took part in various professional sports so that he could more effectively write about the athlete’s life.

I had a sense of the triathlon but was not as much an athlete as I thought.

Yet, by now I had lost about 40 pounds. My last physical exam, the one in 2011, had already shown marked improvement in my health metrics.

Expanding the Triathlon Journey

Even before the Buffalo Triathlon, Joy had convinced me to register for the Maple Grove, Minnesota triathlon in August near our home.

Joy and I wondered where this first triathlon would lead us. We started talking about this even while sitting on the grassy hill while waiting for the awards ceremony for the Buffalo Triathlon to begin.

Days after the race, we were still talking about triathlon, training, racing, and traveling to the many race locations. What if we combined triathlon with road trips that we had always enjoyed with our children?

It was then that we set the goal of me completing a triathlon in each state of the United States by the time I was 70 years old.

You can find links to stories about the triathlons in each of the 50 states in which I have completed one in a post titled Exploring the USA Through Triathlon.

What About Your First Triathlon?

After preparing for your first triathlon, what was the biggest surprise during the race? Let us know in the Comments.

I originally published this post on February 28, 2016. I rewrote and republished it on September 23, 2022.


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