Don’t fear the word “triathlon,” folks. They’re not all the grinding Ironman variety – though if you’d like to try one someday, you’re in luck. McKinney is now home to a triathlete’s dream: the new Playtri store in Craig Ranch, which opened in May.

Located at 7951 Collin McKinney Parkway, Playtri specializes in triathlon equipment and attire sales, coaching, nutrition and event planning – everything an aspiring or veteran triathlete could require. Besides the latest in running, swimming and biking gear, Playtri features the newest gadgets, from heartrate monitors to wrist-band GPSs. Training programs and specialty classes – even on-site chiropractic treatment – are also available.

Playtri president Staci Brode calls it a “one-stop shop.”

“We are about getting healthy,” she says. “And we use triathlon as the means to do that.”

Playtri president Staci Brode

Playtri president Staci Brode

Brode’s husband, Ahmed Zaher, founded Playtri in 2000, mainly as a coaching endeavor, and it has now grown into much more. At 11,000 square feet, Brode says the store is the largest of its kind in the world.

All Playtri staff members are triathletes and many are coaches. Brode says the idea is not just to sell someone a bike. “It’s, ‘What’s your goal?’ And then, ‘Here’s what we would recommend.’ ”

“We have more knowledge than you’ll find in a lot of retail stores.”

The response to the new location, she says, has been “really great – better than I think we even expected.” (They have one other store, located in Dallas.) Why McKinney? North Texas is a “hot-bed” for triathlon, Brode informs, adding that half of Playtri’s client-base is from the McKinney area. Plus Playtri has had a presence in Collin County for some time, producing half-marathons, 5K runs and triathlons – including the annual Historic McKinney Kiwanis Triathlon


“On top of that,” she says, “having a mayor [long-time triathlete Brian Loughmiller] and a community that supports healthy lifestyles, it’s one of reasons we picked this area. … McKinney is really unlike any other city.”

Says Zaher, “It was really kind of a dream come true to open a store here.”

Sprint To Ironman

For those unfamiliar, triathlon combines swimming, biking and running, usually in that order, into one race event. Distances vary from “sprints,” which can take a couple of hours to complete, to The Ironman, which combines a 2.4-mile open-water swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon into a day-consuming epic.

Four levels of triathlon exist: sprint, Olympic, Half-Iron and Ironman. Distances for sprint and Olympic vary but are much shorter than the Ironman. (Half-Iron is self explanatory.)

Why choose triathlon training? “I think it breaks away the monotony and the boredom of doing one sport,” Brode says. “And you’re more likely to be injury-free because you’re not just doing one sport, over and over, using one set of muscle groups.”

McKinney Online
McKinney Online

Photos by Rick Atkinson

And, she notes, it’s a great way to lose weight.

“A lot of people think they have to do an Ironman,” Brode says, “but 80 percent of the people in the sport are doing the ‘sprint.’ That’s really common, because it doesn’t require as much time. It’s a great way to stay healthy.”

Triathlon is so unique, Brode says, it needs its own store. “It requires a lot of different things than what your regular bike shop or your regular run shop can provide. Eventually, it will be normal for triathletes to go to triathlon shops.”

Playtri sponsors over 30 Dallas-Fort Worth area events each year, including last June’s first-annual McKinney Salty Dog Triathlon, benefitting the McKinney Professional Firefighters Association. The race featured a 275-meter pool swim, a 14-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run.

Later this month, on Oct. 26, Lifetime’s “Esprit de She Duathlon,” a women’s run-bike-run event produced by Playtri, will finish in downtown McKinney.

Playtri focuses much attention on “agegroupers” – amateurs looking for a challenge or to get in shape. Triathlon, Brode says, is well-suited for these athletes.

Mayor Loughmiller successfully completed the Ironman Arizona in 2011.

“I like the discipline,” he says. “From my standpoint, by signing up for events, it keeps me focused on continuing to try to remain in shape, and to exercise and eat right. Also, I just like the competition.”


Loughmiller’s first triathlon – a 1992 race in McKinney’s Stonebridge Ranch – was won by then-Plano teenager Lance Armstrong.

The mayor says having Playtri in McKinney is “fantastic.”

“It speaks volumes to the lifestyle that we have in this area, with the health and wellness initiatives that we’re doing, and the number of people that get involved in different activities.”

King Kona

Originating on Oahu, Hawaii, in 1978, Ironman competitions are now held around the world. But the granddaddy of them all, the only one for which racers must qualify, is The Ironman World Championship, held each October on The Big Island of Hawaii, at Kailua-Kona.

“That’s the pinnacle,” Brode says.

Racers have 17 hours to finish the race, 7 a.m. until midnight, with cut-off times for the swim and bike portions. Zaher has completed eight Kona Ironmans, with an impressive personal best time of 9 hours, 30 minutes. (The men’s record for the event is 8:03:56, set in 2011.)

McKinney Online

Photo by Rick Atkinson

He says getting through an Ironman requires both physical and mental toughness, with mental getting a slight edge as “the harder part.”

“Actually,” he says, “if I had to pick one thing that always is the biggest issue with The Ironman, it’s nutrition.”

Zaher, an Egyptian citizen, still competes for Egypt at world-class events.

Brode is a longtime triathlete as well and has one Ironman under her belt, the 2009 event in Louisville. She says most Ironman racers train 20 to 30 hours per week, for months, even years – and that’s time many don’t have. “If you don’t have the quantity, you need quality,” she explains. “What we do is take the art of science, combined with coaching, and we utilize that.”

Brode prepared for her Ironman with six to eight training hours per week, over several years. “You don’t have to wait that long,” she says, “but what we’re able to do is take a guy that only has 10-12 hours [a week], has family obligations, has work obligations and make him a competitive triathlete.”

Zaher used the same technique. It’s one he developed for himself years ago and now calls the “secret” to Playtri’s training success.

“Being in the [Ironman] World Championship, obviously, is a great experience, period,” he says, “but being able to keep a balance of life and work and training … it was really just icing on the cake.”

So – ready to give triathlon a shot? Playtri is ready for you!


About the author: Rick Atkinson is a McKinney-based freelance writer and cartoonist. He slogged through three Honolulu Marathons in the 1980s.