Class will teach triathletes of all skill levels

Triathlete and former ultra-marathon runner Cathy Tibbetts will lead the class through San Juan College's Community Learning Center

Hannah Grover
Cathy Tibbetts talks about her beginner triathlon class on Tuesday during an interview at San Juan College in Farmington.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series that highlights popular outdoor activities that anyone — from a novice to an expert — can try out. Stories will publish on the last Thursday of each month this year. If you have a suggestion or a story idea, email City Editor Maggie Wegrzyn at

FARMINGTON — Cathy Tibbetts has one major message for first-time triathletes: "You're better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can."

And it's that attitude that Tibbetts will bring to a beginner triathlon class she will teach at San Juan College this summer.

The triathlete and former ultra-marathon runner said the class, which starts June 2, will prepare students for two triathlons in August, the Four Corners Sprint Triathlon in Shiprock and the Durango Parks and Recreation Sprint Triathlon in Colorado.

Sprint triathlons are shorter than traditional triathlons. Competitions include 500 yards of swimming, 12.4 miles on the bike and a 5K run. The swimming is in a pool, which is often more comfortable for beginner triathletes, Tibbetts said.

"On the swim, you can always swim a few laps and then rest," she said.

Cathy Tibbett trains on May 22 at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The class will aim to make triathlons accessible for people of all skill levels. That means Tibbetts will offer lots of personalized advice, such as evaluating swimming techniques. She also plans to use her own experiences to help students.

"I think for many people the thought of being a triathlete can be both overwhelming and empowering," said Liesl Dees, the director of the San Juan College Community Learning Center, the program offering the beginner triathlon class. Dees has also completed triathlons, though she is not a professional athlete like Tibbetts.

Previously a competitive ultra-marathoner, Tibbetts said that when she turned 50, she re-evaluated her preferred athletic competitions, knowing that many ultra-marathoners suffer injuries, particularly to their knees. Now in her early 60s, she has been a competitive triathlete for about 11 years.

She has finished the Grand Slam series of ultra-marathons — the Western States Endurance Run from Squaw Valley to Auburn, Calif.; the Vermont 100 Endurance Race in West Windsor, Vt.; the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run from East Mountain Wilderness Park to Soldier Hollow, Utah, and the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado.

Last summer, she challenged herself to complete 10 Ironman triathlons in 10 days in Mexico. An Ironman triathlons consist of a 26.2-mile run, a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride.

While she did not achieve that ambitious goal — she completed five of the 10 triathlons — Tibbetts said it was a learning experience that she enjoyed.

Cathy Tibbetts competes in an undated photo in the 2014 Hawaii Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.

And that's her secret for both triathlons and ultra-marathons: just enjoying the trails.

"When you really enjoy the trials, I guess you just go further and further," she said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.


Most people don't need to buy specialized equipment for a triathlon, said Cathy Tibbetts, who will teach a beginner triathlon class this summer.

Necessary gear includes a swimsuit, running shoes, a bicycle and a helmet.

The San Juan College class will teach students how to select a good swimsuit, ensure their bicycle fits them and select a pair of running shoes that works well with their feet.

In connection with the triathlon class, Southwest Runners will host a running shoe demonstration at 6 p.m. June 16 at the store, 4250 E. Main St. in Farmington. The demo is open to the public, and people can have their gait evaluated, as well as try on a variety of shoes.

Tips for beginners

"You need to make it fun. ... If you don't make it fun, you won't make it through the exercise program. ... Have it a social event as opposed to drudgery." — Cathy Tibbetts, class instructor

"People give you all sorts of advice. ... Having advice from someone that really knows what they're doing, I think, is invaluable." — Liesl Dees, director of San Juan College Community Learning Center

Cathy Tibbetts competes in the 2014 Hawaii Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.

Places to train

Kinsey Trail: The trail in the Glade Run Recreation Area is mainly used for mountain biking, but it is also one of Cathy Tibbetts' favorite places to run.

Piñon Mesa: Located on Bureau of Land Management lands off of the La Plata Highway, this single-track mountain bike trail offers a variety of scenery and terrain.

Berg Park: When Tibbetts wants to train on more level ground, she heads to the river trail in Berg Park.

Farmington Aquatic Center: The swimming portion of the beginner triathlon class will take place at the Farmington Aquatic Center. For people who would like to try open-water swimming, Farmington Lake will allow swimming starting Friday. Lions Pool on Apache Street in Farmington is also an inexpensive pool that provides opportunities for lap swimming.

Cathy Tibbetts poses for a portrait on Tuesday at San Juan College in Farmington.

Upcoming triathlons

Four Corners Sprint Triathlon: 8 a.m. Aug. 6 at Shiprock High School off U.S. Highway 64. Registration is $70. Register at

Durango Parks and Recreation Sprint Triathlon: 8 a.m. Aug. 13 at the Durango Recreation Center, 2700 Main Ave. in Durango, Colo. Registration is $45 through Aug. 7. Register at For more information, call 970-375-7317.

If you go

What: Beginning Triathlon class

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, starting June 2

Where: San Juan College, 4601 College Blvd.

Register: Register at by June 1

More info: 505-566-3214