Chicago's got the triathlon bug

Terri Visovatti didn't know she wanted to try a tri until she saw triathletes in action at the Ford Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in October 2011.

Visovatti, a massage therapist, had clients who participated in triathlons, but she had long described herself as "the girl in gym class who had a note to get out of swimming ... because I said chlorine affected my skin."

Still, Visovatti wanted to give the race—which typically involves swimming, running and biking at varying distances—a shot. Little did she know how much time and money her new hobby would consume.

Typically, she spends Tuesdays and Thursdays running and swimming (either in a pool or, during the summer, at Ohio Street Beach). Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for biking on her road bike.

And then there's the cost of gear—Visovatti estimates she's spent $5,000-$6,000 on equipment including two wetsuits (one long-sleeved, the other short-sleeved) and about $3,000 on health club memberships and swim coaching since she began training for triathlons last year.

Then there's the cost of the races. Visovatti, of Bucktown, competed in July in Racine's half Ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run), which cost her $250. She's also signed up for this weekend's Life Time Tri Chicago, which includes varying distances and can cost $295.

But despite the heavy training and the hefty costs, triathlons are growing in popularity. Annual memberships to USA Triathlon, the governing body of U.S. triathlons, have increased from 40,299 in 2002 to 176,458 in 2012.

And Chicago has gotten into the game. The city announced in June it will host events for the 2014 and 2015 ITU World Triathlon Series, which crowns world triathlon champions through multiple events.

Even Mayor Emanuel has competed in at least four triathlons, including one last year. He hasn't signed up for one this year, his spokeswoman said.

Visovatti has participated in five triathlons since June 2012, and her goal is to improve her times at some of the races she's already done. In increasing her speed, she finds herself constantly upgrading her gear, including replacing her bike seat and swapping her Garmin watch for one that tracks her performance in all three sports, not just one.

"I look at it that it's my hobby. I'm lucky that my hobby is healthy for me so then I don't mind [the cost] as much," said Visovatti, 40. "It's an investment. It's not something you can get by that inexpensively."

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