August 21, 2009 9:24:00 AM
The duathlon last Saturday at Lake Lowndes State Park was just a warmup for Brad Atkins.
The feature presentation will take place Saturday morning when Atkins, Delynn Burkhalter, Alex Woodard, and Randy McCalip participate in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The event will bring together the nation''s top age-group triathletes from ages 18 to 80 and over.
Last year, 892 competitors finished the event, which features a 1.5-kilometer swim, a 40-k bicycle ride, and 10-k run.
Atkins said he drove the course last week and expects it to be challenging. He isn''t sure how the weather (forecasts for temperatures in the mid- to upper 80s with 60 percent humidity) will affect him and the other competitors, but he believes he is great shape for the race.
"I feel good," said Atkins, who is 35 and will compete in the men''s 35- to 39-year-old age group. "I have raced all summer and I feel like my fitness level is good. I am excited to have a good race."
Atkins won the Lake Lowndes State Park duathlon, which featured a two-mile run, a 13-mile bike ride, and a two mile run, in 57 minutes, 54 seconds.
This will be the sixth race of the year for Atkins. He said he competed in the spring in New Orleans with Burkhalter and then participated in a full Ironman event in Idaho.
He said staying active is the key to keeping his body ready for the demands the grueling events put on his body.
"It is a chance to see how far you can push yourself and how hard you can go," Atkins said.
Atkins qualified to compete in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Champion by finishing first last month in the Heart O''Dixie Triathlon in Louisville. He won his age group (and finished 10th overall) with a time of 2:05:37.
Atkins did his first triathlon in 2007. Before that, he ran, graduated to half marathons and then marathons. He said it has been a natural progression to participate in triathlons.
At 5-foot-5, 120 pounds, Atkins said he has to keep up his calories to make sure he can maintain his training regimen. He said he needs to eat three good-sized meals a day and then snack at least twice a day to keep himself well fueled.
"I eat like a monster," Atkins said. "I can''t tell you to the exact calorie count of what I eat, but I know what it takes to keep me where I am."
Woodard, who is a student at the University of Alabama, is a member of the school''s triathlon club.
Like Atkins, Woodard, 20, has stayed busy this season. He competed last month in the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Waterfront Tri. He finished sixth in the men''s Elite Division with a time of two hours, 4 minutes, 54 seconds.
"I feel pretty good," Woodard said. "I have never done this course, and it is definitely not a faster course. I have done a lot of other Olympic-distance courses that are faster."Woodard said he will gauge his performance by how well he places in his age group. He expects four other members from the University of Alabama team to participate in the triathlon Saturday.
Atkins hopes to finish close to Woodard. He said his target finish time is 2:10 to 2:20, but he said he would keep his goal to himself.
The race will be another step in Atkins'' competitive journey. He said he and his wife, Melissa, will compete in November in the New York City Marathon. It will be the first experience for both.
In April 2010, Atkins said he plans to compete in the Boston Marathon. He doesn''t believe his wife will run in that event.
Atkins said his decision to get involved with running, marathons, and triathlons has helped him keep a balance in his life. He said it has helped him and his wife teach their children, Madison, 8, and Collin, 4, a healthy way of life.
"It''s not something you stop," Atkins said. "If you stop it for too long you get out of shape and it is tough to get back into it. It is a lifestyle for me. It''s a hobby, but it is a time-consuming hobby. It is a lot of fun."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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