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Angela Naeth Duncan from Prince George, British Columbia, nears the tape to be the first female finisher in Ironman Chattanooga on Sept. 28, 2014.
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Has the sight of 2,500 Ironman contestants swimming, biking and running all around Chattanooga motivated you to get serious about exercise?

That's great, according to health officials — but take it slowly.

"People getting into doing endurance sports need to be careful about doing too much too quickly," said Dr. Owen Speer, a sports medicine and family medicine specialist affiliated with CHI Memorial Hospital. "That can be a recipe for injury."

If you are going to do it, Speer said, start by considering whether you need a medical exam. If you've had previous injuries or medical conditions, or if you are over 40, see your doctor first for a checkup.

Once you decide on a training plan, don't increase the amount of exercise too quickly. "You should increase by no more than 10 percent each week and go up from there," Speer said.

Look for a local running club for advice, Speer said, or consider working with a coach online.

But be careful not to ignore warning signs. While "no pain, no gain" may be a maxim for some athletes, it's not good for workouts, Speer said. "When you're competing in Ironman or a race, some pain is OK, but when you are working out and training for an event, you need to be careful how you deal with that pain," he said. "When you're having the same type of pain day in and day out, and it is affecting your workouts, you need to have that checked out."

And also realize you are making a serious time commitment.

Adam Royer, administrator of surgical services at Erlanger hospital, recommends talking things over with your family before starting serious endurance training. "You need to talk to some folks to get a feeling of what they have gone through, what their family has gone through," he said. "It has an impact on everybody."

But Speer and Royer both agree the reward is worth the effort. "Physical exercise is good for your overall health," said Speer, who says he'll be volunteering in the medical tent at this year's Ironman.

Royer can talk about the health benefits from personal experience. In 2009, he weighed 331 pounds.

"I was having chest pains, not having fun — it was not a good scenario," he said. "But something clicked and I realized it was time to lose weight, so I started exercising and eating right." He began cycling with a friend and after a year entered his first triathlon.

Now he's at 240 pounds, has competed in four Ironman events, and will be working in the medical tent at this year's event, helping others realize their dreams.

Contact Steve Johnson at 423-757-6673 or sjohnson@timesfreepress.com.

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