Remar Sutton
March 28, 1988; Page c5

Hold on to your hats (or more appropriately, your training schedules) because the Conch Outs are getting ready to take over the Washington area. I realized that yesterday when 500 mini-triathletes-in-training gathered at the Washington Hilton and Towers to rub shoulders and sore muscles, trade training stories, find new training partners, and listen first- hand to the information I now pass on to you. If you are a Conch Out but missed the meeting, please read carefully, for the news is both exciting, time sensitive, and a little terrifying, especially if you've seen the size of my dining room.

1. To date, more than 3,000 people are seriously training to participate in the Conch Man Mini-Triathlon on Grand Bahama Island in November, and perhaps another 2,000 are training each week without yet committing to the Conch Man itself. Each day another 30 people sign up.

None of us ever dreamed there would be such an enthusiastic signup of Conch Outs. And though I am very happy every single soul is out there training, the enormity of our numbers is forcing some important changes and necessitating some general guidelines for all of us.

2. We are moving the November Conch Man from Nov. 26 to Nov. 19 -- a week before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving weekend presented several problems: Regularly scheduled flights didn't offer discounted fares, charter services were already busy, and hotels were already booked virtually to capacity (no discounted rooms). But the week before, Grand Bahama's hotels are empty, charter services are searching for business, and great discounts are available. A Conch Out weekend starting with a chartered flight on Friday, Nov. 18, and returning on Monday, Nov. 21, for instance, is going to cost less than half as much as a Thanksgiving weekend trip.

3. For safety reasons, we are going to have to limit the number of entries in the Conch Man to 300 teams or individual entries per event. So that everyone has an equal shot at the places available, official entry applications will be going out with our elusive first newsletter with the next three weeks, and will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. Preparation of the newsletter, along with my sleep, keeps being interrupted by the volume of mail I continue to receive, but we're making progress.

4. Anyone who suffers through a year of training deserves a chance to suffer through some type of event. We are therefore scheduling another Conch Man on Grand Bahama for May 6, 1989. This event will be identical to the November one, but will cost even less. Summers in the Bahamas are cheap. All of you who sign up for this event will receive a special training program for those extra months, too.

5. And we're going to give you more opportunities to suffer. If you're unable to participate in either of the Conch Mans -- because of timing or money or your particular fitness level -- you can still become a Conch Out Triathlete. Right now a group of us are working hard to organize a special "preview" event in the Washington area in late September or early October of this year. The event (christened the "D.C. Conch Out") will be half the length of a Conch Man: swim half a mile, run two miles, bike five miles. Doesn't that sound doable? Use this as your main event, or use it as a warmup for an actual Conch Man. I'm participating in everything, but I really do like the idea of a shorter D.C. event. Of course, we'll eat some Bahamian food, too. There aren't many excuses left, are there, for you to not be a Conch Out. We'll be providing you a training schedule for this event in May.

6. If people keep training, we're going to try to keep the events coming. Grand Bahama Island is in the process of organizing itself as a year-round host of mini-triathlons.

I'm also going to be telling you about interesting happenings in the Washington area -- from events for people with handicaps to speed walking competitions to endurance step-climbing events. And sometime this summer, we're going to have a bring-your-own-picnic gathering, too.

Now, with all that said, and with my promise to you that no one who puts in the effort and discipline to become a Conch Out is going to be without an event if it's at all humanly possible, let me respond generally to the thousands of specific life stories, comments, observations and questions my bulging mail box has presented since January.

First, I want to thank you for the detail and honesty presented in most of your letters. Three-page letters were the average. One man sent me a novelette (23 pages). As your training and changes continue, I hope you will send me updates on your progress and problems. Though I can't answer every letter, I do read them, and I will share the valuable things in them with the group.

Second, according to virtually all of you, the Conch Man touched a nerve because it appeared to be very challenging but still doable; it had a well-defined goal (to compete!); it had a nice carrot out there on the end of the stick. While many of you reminded me of my dinner invitation at the end of the race (which still stands, though we're going to eat outside), the real carrot was simply the Bahamas.

And do you know what these things made me realize? Every single one of us still wants to believe that improbable things can come true if we are still willing to try. I once wrote about being a prisoner of minimal movement -- of only doing those things necessary to get through the day. All of you Conch Outs have decided not to let that monster swallow you without a fight, and I honestly believe that decision will be life changing. Some of you say the changes have already started, and I promise all of you will begin to feel them if you stay with the program at least until June.

Third, hundreds of letters made me realize how very effortless life is for most of us. While you may become discouraged about the weather when you exercise today (like that blizzard when you started), or feel a little down because of the hectic pace at work, there are hundreds of people training for the Conch Man with disabilities that would certainly stop me. But guess what? Of all the disabled people who have written -- or people who have just had major surgery, or are blind -- not one has asked for special consideration in the Conch Man. To a person, they expressed thanks for the chance to accomplish something. God knows, the thanks should go from the rest of us to these special Conch Outs, and during the next months, I'll share some of their stories with you.

Fourth, don't worry about any small modifications you need to make in your training schedule. Some of you are finding it hard to keep up with the schedule physically. That's okay. Your only race is with yourself, and for once in your life you can't lose that one. Our exercise program should bring you some modest fatigue momentarily, but if your workout is exhausting, slow down your schedule by repeating Monday's workout, for instance, on Wednesday, before going to the next scheduled routine.riends and those in the community who need help and support. I'm going to think about that the next time it's rainy or chilly when I have to go for my run. I hope you will, too.