Chris Stehula says he isn’t trying to win at the SLO Triathlon each year he competes in it. But it still seems to happen anyway.
Stehula, the current national collegiate triathlon champion, will return to defend his SLO Triathlon crown Sunday morning beginning at the SLO Swim Center.
“I’m definitely not trying to win,” Stehula said. “It’s really just an excuse for all my best friends to try and get together.”
The triathlon course is set up so that most athletes on the Central Coast can compete. Competitors can compete as individuals or in teams of up to three people, splitting the duties into one activity per person.
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Rich Ogden, a recreation supervisor for San Luis Obispo Parks and Recreation, said the course’s sprint layout of a half-mile swim, 15.3-mile bike ride and 5K run encourages people from all walks of life to give it a shot.
“We have people this year ranging from ages 15 to their 70s,” Ogden said of the 1,200-person field. “It amazes me the amount of people we get with the economy the way it is.”
Stehula, who recently made the podium at the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon and has won events at past Wildflower triathlons, likes the more laid back approach to the SLO Triathlon.
“You can only go so hard,” Stehula said. “Every race is difficult, but this allows for more people who are beginners to race.
“But compared to the difficulty of some of the races I’m in, this one is on the easier side.”
Stehula said that each year he is entered he comes away with unique memories that make the triathlon an experience unlike the more competitive triathlon circuit.
“I remember a couple years ago, I was racing against (2001 winner) Eric Benson, but he was part of a team that was head to head with me,” Stehula recalled. “When we got off the bike, he high-fived one of my best friends who I ran with at Cuesta (College).
“It was pretty shocking having to race one of my best friends. We went out there and that first mile, I think was sub-five minutes. We were trying to kill each other.”
Stehula ended up winning that head-to-head duel. He’s won the SLO Triathlon six times since 2002.
His dominance extends beyond local triathlons, however. Stehula won the 2010 Collegiate Triathlon national championship for Cal Poly in April.
“It was one of the biggest highlights in my life,” Stehula said. “It’s crazy. When I crossed the finish line, I should have looked up more. I was just shocked. I just walked into the med tent and sat there. I wish I would have walked around and hung out with people more. It was just a crazy feeling.”