Inclement weather conditions at the fifth annual Ford Ironman Wisconsin triathlon, held on Sept. 10 in Madison, added another element to the always-challenging race, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 mile run.

Dedicated UCSB geography graduate student and member of the UCSB club triathlon team John Ritterbeck placed in the top 10 male participants in the collegiate division. The 2006 race was his second triathlon in two years.

“It’s just as long as it sounds,” Ritterbeck said. “I felt a lot better, and more prepared for this race the second time around.”

Ritterbeck’s first Ironman was in Canada last year with a UCSB teammate, mechanical engineering graduate student Shane Flores.

At the Wisconsin Ironman, Ritterbeck finished the entire race with a time of 10:33:16, swimming 2.4 miles in 1:03:32, riding 112 miles in 5:51:21 and running the marathon – 26 grueling miles – in 3:30:24.

“I felt great on the run … and I beat last year’s Ironman marathon time by over an hour,” Ritterbeck said.

Ritterbeck said that such a large time improvement is not typical among athletes, and he could not have performed so well without the help of the UCSB club triathlon team’s new Head Coach Mateo Mercur.

“[Mercur] developed a structured training program for me that helped me train properly and kept me from becoming injured,” Ritterbeck said.

He also said that numerous triathlon teams from schools throughout California are becoming organized by hiring head coaches.

“We also developed a collegiate conference called the West Coast Collegiate Triathlon Conference without the help of NCAA,” Ritterbeck said.

While Ritterbeck does not see his team joining the NCAA on UCSB’s campus anytime soon, he said he is excited about where the program is headed.

“Collegiate triathlon teams are popping up all over the country, and many are hiring head coaches, and triathlons are becoming much more popular,” Helen Manning, media coordinator of Ironman North America said. “Approximately 150 collegiate students entered in [Ironman Wisconsin] this year, which is the largest number of collegiate participants ever to attend these championships.”

Manning said that she expects to see continued growth in the future of the collegiate sport, even at the Ironman distance races.

The collegiate Ironman championship was held in conjunction with the fifth Wisconsin Ford Ironman competition, which is open to the general public.

Ryan Richards, Director of Operations of the Wisconsin Sports Development Corp., said that Ironman races are gaining national popularity, as more and more people are signing up for each race.

“Over 2,500 athletes from around the world competed in [Ironman Wisconsin], which is the largest Ironman participant field to date,” Richards said.

“The rate at which these races sell out is astounding,” Richards said. “Next year’s race opened for registration the morning after this year’s race and sold out within hours. Triathlon is the new marathon. Ten years ago, everybody wanted to do a marathon, even your average person. Now, everybody wants to do a triathlon.”

Richards said that collegiate triathlon is integral to the development of the sport and is pleased to host the collegiate competition.

“While more and more collegiate teams are formed, more students will consider completing an Ironman distance race,” Richards said.

While Ritterbeck is enjoying some recovery time after his race, he encourages students to try a triathlon at some point in their college experimentation.

“Not every triathlon is an Ironman distance,” Ritterbeck said. “Many college students participate in sprint distances which can be as short as a 400-yard swim, 10-mile bike and three-mile run.”