21 Things I've Learned Since Becoming a Triathlete
I first decided to train for a triathlon in 2010 as an idea that was brought up by a couple of my co-workers at the time. We had decided to all do our first triathlon together. I had no swimming experience besides high school PE and grade school swim lessons. I also had not been on a road bike since before I got my driver's license (no need to, right?). Aha! But I had started running recently, so I was good to go!
I then began hunting through Craig's List for used road bikes and was able to snag one for $225 only a half an hour away. It was a 1997 Univega Viva Sport. It even came with aerobars! I had no idea how to use them at the time, but they were pretty cool none the less. It was a heavy bike compared to much newer ones, but I had a bike.
Now I just needed to start swimming. The local city pool had lap swim in the mornings, so I started hitting the water at 6am. Fun. I had an idea about freestyle swimming and my high school PE teacher had said I had good form, so I just went back and forth and back and forth in the pool doing what I knew. Okay, so let's back it up. The first several times did not go like that. I went down to the other end, caught my breath, swam back, caught my breath, and so on until I could do more than one lap without feeling like I was drowning if I didn't stop. Eventually I got there.
In the meantime, I was continuing to run and was getting some miles on the bike, even beginning to use the aerobars. I started reading all about triathlons and how to prepare. I started talking to my swimmer friends to get advice on technique. I was actually training like a real triathlete!
When race day came, my two co-workers had since decided not to continue with the triathloning thing, so there I was doing this thing for the first time ever on my own. I definitely stood out as a newby with my cage pedals, my actual swimsuit underneath bike shorts instead of a trisuit, and my old heavy bike (but it had aerobars!). Even though my gear screamed rookie, it didn't matter, because I was there doing it. I found that a good portion of the participants were first-timers as well when the announcer asked who all were first-timers. Apparently this race itself was popular for first-timers, because for one, it was all women and two, it was an easier course and a sprint distance.
With all of my training behind me and standing in line to enter the lake, I knew this was it. I had trained all summer for this moment that would hopefully last about an hour and a half if things went well, and if I didn't have a flat tire or anything. And things did go well. I finished and I wasn't last. Those were my only two goals for this race.
This wasn't the end. I was hooked. I knew I would be back next year.
Since then, I have participated in several triathlons and have completed 3 half distance triathlons, which are 70.3 miles (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). I hope to one day complete a full distance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). But throughout this journey of triathloning, I have learned so much both about the sport and about myself.
What I've Learned
1. My body is capable of so much
I went from walking a couple of miles to running and walking a couple of miles to running several miles in just weeks. I never thought I would be able to run 10 miles let alone 20 (which I haven't done in several years). I also never thought I could swim for an hour straight or sit on a bike and pedal for 3-4 hours. Your body keeps up with your mind. If you want to do it, you will.
2. Chaffing is real and it sneaks up on you
I've been out on a long run and all of a sudden the insides of my arms have been rubbed raw. I've also gotten into a hot shower after a long run, and I suddenly feel all of the areas on my body that are chaffed once the hot water hits them. That is pain! Sports shield or body glide of some sort is a wonderful thing, and you learn quickly where to apply it. I have used 2Toms Sports Shield for years and it has never let me down. It doesn't wear off during the swim either.
3. Triathloning is expensive
You don't have to spend a fortune to compete in a triathlon if you're just wanting to do it once. You can always borrow a bike and most gear. However, if you want to really make this a regular hobby, you're going to probably need to invest in some good gear. My used road bike definitely served its purpose for my shorter distance triathlons, but I felt that I needed a new bike before competing in longer distances. A new bike wasn't necessary, but it sure is lighter and doesn't wear me down as quickly. I also felt the need to buy clip shoes and pedals. Oh and new aerobars, of course! I've also invested in some good trisuits and a wetsuit. (Side Note: I discovered Sierra Trading Post and saved a lot of $$ on gear.) There's still all of the nutrition. Can you feel all of this adding up? And don't forget the registration fees. Those can get pricey. If you choose to travel for your triathlons, then you get into hotel costs and other travel costs. Just like many hobbies, though, they come with a cost. You just have to decide what is worth it for what you want to get out of it.
4. Triathloning is not about competing against the person next to you (unless you're a professional), but it is about competing against yourself
It's funny to me when people who don't "race" ask me after the race if I won. I tell them I'm happy I finished, but they just don't get it. Why would you race if there's no chance of winning? You just have to do it to understand, I guess.
5. You will have muscles cramp that you have never felt cramp before, and they will stop you in your tracks
During the last 1/4 mile of my first Ironman 70.3, both of my calves cramped up so hard that I almost fell down. It was the end of the race, so there were crowds on both sides of me and I could see the finish line. That was the hardest 1/4 of my life, but somehow in my zombie-like state, I got there. I don't remember crawling, but who knows?
6. For some reason, your body recharges after you finish
I have come through the finish line with zero energy left, but something happens after that. You have the satisfaction of finishing and everyone is congratulating you. All of a sudden, you want to go celebrate when moments before, you were just focusing on taking another step to get there.
7. Your butt will eventually get used to sitting on that tiny seat for hours
After my first bike ride of the training season, my butt bones constantly remind me that they are there and I'm sitting on them. Thank goodness this gets better the more I'm on the bike.
8. There is nothing fun about a wetsuit...except it helps you float and keeps you warm
When I put on a wetsuit for the first time, I literally felt like I was being choked. This is not a good feeling when you have to swim in open water. Somehow, I got used to it. I do like the feeling of being more bouyant. I feel like all I need to do is float on the water, move my arms, and kick my legs, and I'll get there. (Swimming still isn't my strongest sport.)
9. Nutrition is crucial
I learned a lot about what to eat to fuel my body and what not to eat. There are so many options out there. I have found that I'm a gel person. My go-to's are Powerbar gels and Clif Bar gels. I don't do well with solid foods while I'm running. On the bike, I do like to have more substance, and since they're flat and easy to carry, I love GU Stroopwafels. These are pretty amazing when you've been on the bike for hours and need something yummy. I also discovered a new supplement to take while racing that really got me through at the end. It was GU Roctane Electrolyte Capsules. These get electrolytes into your body quickly when they're very much needed.
10. You can only swim, bike, and run off so many beers and cupcakes. That sh!t catches up with you.
I signed up for my most recent Ironman 70.3 in 2017 as a "weight loss plan." Boy, was that not the case. I ended up gaining weight, because I thought, with all of these workouts, I can pretty much eat (and drink) whatever I want. That sure did catch up with me when race day came around, and my trisuit was not so flattering. It was also not the greatest idea for my training. Good nutrition really does help performance, believe it or not.
11. My husband is amazing for supporting me through of all of it
It is one thing to give up so much time with my husband for training, but when he trains along with me, that is phenomenal! He had gone on longer bike rides than he ever had before. And to run 10+ miles with your spouse is just a whole other bonding experience in itself. He truly is amazing. Not to mention the long day of waiting for me to finish a 6+ hour race.
12. Triathletes (and runners) like to party
There is usually beer at finish lines of many races. If it's not offered, it's usually in someone's cooler at least. Hey, we work hard for it! Once our stomachs settle, a cold beer is wonderful to celebrate.
13. People who don't know anything about triathlons think you're Wonder Woman
Now that I do it, I don't think I'm anything special for doing it. Don't get me wrong -- It's a huge accomplishment. People who have never done one think it's an unattainable accomplishment, but it really is for most anyone who can put in the time to train. I was never an athlete before. Heck, I was 40 lbs overweight just a couple years before I did my first triathlon.
14. I quickly learned what a brick workout was
Lovely brick workouts. This is when you get off of a 50 mile bike ride and then put on your running shoes and run 10 miles. Fun, right? Of course, when I first started, it was more like a 10 mile bike ride and then a 2-3 mile run, which sounds a little less insane.
15. I learned how to change a tire on a bike and found some cool gadgets in order to do so quickly
I'm not so fast at it yet, but fortunately, I have not had to change a tire during a race yet. If I keep racing, my time will come. I'm likely to throw a fit. Well, maybe not. I keep that in the confines of my home.
16. I'm not too proud to backstroke
Sometimes with the adrenaline rush, arms and legs hitting me, and being in the open water, I get a little freaked out and fail to get my breathing right to begin with. This is when I have to backstroke it for a while to get myself calmed down. This doesn't happen every time, but it has happened on occasion. Sometimes it's just necessary for me, and I'm okay with that.
17. I'm also not too proud to walk
Whatever I have to do to get to the finish line, I will do. If I'm cramping or if my stomach hurts, I will walk. Sometimes I have to. It's completely acceptable and still counts. I was so sick during one race, I walked the last 9 miles of it. It was torture, but I didn't get a DNF (did not finish) at least.
18. Training buddies are the best
Having someone to train with and hold you accountable is extremely helpful. It helps to push yourself to get out there and get the miles in. It's not as easy to skip a training session when you've made plans to do it with someone else. It breaks up the monotony also to have someone to talk to while out for hours.
19. Stomach problems happen...they just do
If you push your body to the limits, a lot of times your digestive system does not like that. I have yet to actually poop my pants, but I know it is not too uncommon for this to happen in Ironman events. I have had some bad stomach pain however, especially after the swim. I'm bad about swallowing air when I swim.
20. When you hear, "Don't try anything new on race day," listen to it!
I've been pretty good about this, because I really don't want to screw up all of my training. However, I had heard that flat Coke helps with stomach issues, so I tried a sip on the course. Nope. It did not help. I have also worn shoes that were not my regular running shoes in a half marathon, but that was a on a whim, and yes, they hurt.
21. And finally...Other triathletes are awesome!
Triathletes are not only a community but they can be like a family. When you're out there on the course, most everyone is so encouraging. If you're struggling, someone is always giving you encouraging words to help you through. We've all put in so much time training, so we all know what we are going through out there. The pain, the sacrifices, everything. We all get it, and we all want the other athletes to have a great race too.
Don't ever be afraid to push yourself to the limits. This is how we grow. This is how we actually see what we are capable of.
Disclaimer: I use affiliate marketing, which means that I provide links to products that I make a small commission on when they are purchased through my links. Any information I provide about the products are my own personal opinion.
I am not a professional; therefore, any information that I provide should not be taken as professional health advice but is my own personal opinion and from my own personal experiences.