Imagine spending a Sunday afternoon swimming 1.2 miles, biking 56 miles and running 13.1 miles.
Michael Parham can; and he did last weekend when he participated in a triathlon known as the Atomic Man with 300 other competitors from across the United States.
A UT senior in civil engineering, Parham said the triathlon was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which he would gladly do again.
"I wanted to do something that would be my greatest physical challenge yet," he said.
Having never participated in a triathlon, the level of physical competition interested Parham, who registered for the race during the summer and began training eight weeks prior to the triathlon.
"I bought a book called Triathloning for the Mortal Man," Parham said. "It had a basic training program for an Olympic-distance triathlon, which is a shorter event than the one I did."
Parham converted the 13-week training program provided by the book into an eight-week crash session that suited his needs for the race.
He trained at least five days a week for an hour or more. His workouts included a combination of running, biking and swimming exercises.
"When you train, you don't really build up your distance," he said. "The time you work out stays pretty much constant, but the amount of work you do in that time increases."
The week prior to the triathlon, Parham lightened his training program and rested.
"I probably did an hour of training that week. I drank around a gallon of fluid a day and loaded up on bananas for the potassium to avoid cramps during the race."
The race at Melton Hill Dam and Recreation Area in Oak Ridge began at 8 a.m. with a 1.2-mile fresh water swim in Melton Hill Lake. Since the water temperature was 67 degrees, the participants were able to wear a wetsuit for warmth. The suits also provided extra buoyancy and helped the swimmers float. Participants were given one hour and 15 minutes to complete the swim.
"The swim was difficult because it was not my strongest event technically. It was also a total body workout which made it difficult to transition to the biking part at first," Parham said.
The bike ride was a 56-mile course along rural Tennessee roads. The course consisted mainly of flat roads with a few hills. Parham said he used the bike ride to rest and refuel for the running portion of the competition.
"Your legs are now doing most of the work so basically it was time to just sit back and relax," he said. "Your upper body was able to relax and take in food and fluids to prepare for the run."
Four aid stations were strategically placed throughout the course and provided sports drinks, water and hammer gel.
"The hammer gel was like a sweet syrup," Parham said. "I had three during the bike ride for carbohydrates. I also had water or Gatorade almost every mile."
Parham bought an Allez Elite bicycle for the race due to its aerodynamic features and light weight.
"That bike weighed in at around 19 pounds," he said. "On the bike, you have to push for the entire distance so, the lighter the better."
Parham reached a speed of 41 mph on his bike with an average speed of 18 mph. He completed the ride within three hours. All participants were required to finish the bike course by 1:30 p.m.
"Once you transition from the bike to the run, it's all legs. Once I started the run, it was just every step to the finish line," he said.
The course for the 13.1-mile run consisted of a few hills but mostly flat rural roads. Aid stations were placed every mile along the course to provide water, ice, fruit, bagels and pretzels.
As he reached the eighth mile of the run, Parham's leg began to cramp.
"I never could get the cramp worked out. So, I would run 'til it cramped, stop and walk it out and then run again."
Despite the consistent leg cramp, Parham finished the 70.3-mile triathlon in 7 hours, 2 minutes and 17 seconds.
Parham is looking forward to applying the knowledge he gained from this experience to his next triathlon. He plans to spend more time training and concentrating on his swimming technique.
Parham has simple advice for anyone wanting to participate in a triathlon.
"Find someone who has done it before and talk to them. You will need to work out a lot, train hard and just enjoy it."