Ronnie Ray-Parrott was approaching her 40s about five years ago when the runner started to feel the effects of a lifetime of pounding the pavement.
Her personal trainer, Amesbury-based Heidi Thompson, recommended she make the transition from competing in road races to competing in triathlons. Five years later, Ray-Parrott is filling the same role as Thompson — training first-time triathletes.
Ray-Parrott, a Salisbury resident, and Deb Mandile, a Newburyport resident, recently became certified triathlon coaches, at the urging of Heidi Thompson, who is now the owner of Heat Events Management. Thompson’s company will direct Saturday’s third annual Dam Sprint Triathlon in Amesbury.
The all-encompassing nature of directing a triathlon for 500-plus athletes has made it difficult for Thompson to continue coaching triathletes. However, the new coaches — Ray-Parrott and Mandile — have spent the last three months preparing local athletes for the triathlon.
In April, Ray-Parrott and Mandile started Seacoast Synergy, a triathlon training team that branched off Heat Training. The group started with 10 athletes, five of whom have entered the Dam Triathlon. Two of the five will be competing in their first triathlon.
“Deb and I have been part of the Heat team for the last four years,” Ray-Parrott said. “We started this as a 12-week program to prepare for this weekend’s race.”
Mandile competed in her first triathlon in 1989, as she says “before carbon-fiber wetsuits and power bars.” She had a background in body-building, but felt running, biking and swimming would be more sustainable with age.
“I looked at myself in the mirror, and said, ‘What am I doing?’” Mandile said. “I started swimming, biking and running, and I’ve done everything up to a half Ironman.”
Ray-Parrott will compete in a sprint triathlon in Amesbury Saturday, although Mandile will not. The Newburyport coach has a hip injury, but plans to return to action in August. The two coaches finished within four minutes of each other at last year’s race — Mandile in 1:29.29 and Ray-Parrott in 1:32.40. Because they started in different heats, they actually finished together.
“I’m happy with my time last year,” Ray-Parrott said. “This year, it’s been an interesting switch. I want everybody else to do well. I’m so excited to watch the people I’ve coached come in.”
Seacoast Synergy has trained outdoors in Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury over the last three months. Much of the swimming has taken place at Lake Gardner on Saturday mornings. The cycling practices have originated out of Cashman Park on Thursday evenings. The running has come in the form of track workouts at Amesbury High on Tuesday evenings.
Ray-Parrott and Mandile also footed the bill for additional workouts at a cycling studio in Andover and with an open-water swimming coach.
“Ronnie and I both have our strengths,” Mandile said. “Mine’s the bike, and hers is the track. We share the swimming, but we also get other coaches involved. Because it’s our first year, we didn’t make any money. We put it all back into the business. We each have a career, this is to keep the team together from last year.”
Ray-Parrott competed in her first triathlon in 2008 — the Powow Triathlon in Amesbury. She estimates that she has completed 15 races in the last five years.
“The thing with triathlons is the body doesn’t feel as beaten in training or racing,” Ray-Parrott said. “Running takes a toll on the body once you’re in your 40s. When I was 39, Heidi (Thompson) convinced me to make the switch. It’s much easier on the body to swim, bike and run than run all the time.”