What A Year of Triathlons Taught Me

After 14 years of distance running, I was ready to stray a little. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved running, but I was getting a little burnt out and needed a major shift in my daily routine to stoke my motivation. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I knew I’d recognize it when I found it. ‘It’ found me one day when a coworker noted that I rode my bike to work every day. She already knew I was a runner, so she asked if I swam too. I did. She casually said I should try a triathlon since I’m pretty much already training for one.

Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that?  Truth was, it had crossed my mind a few times over the years, but I was too afraid to sign up. I wasn’t a strong cyclist and I had never swum competitively, just the regular swim lessons your mom makes you take plus a few laps in college for exercise. I’m a highly competitive person by nature, and the idea that I might really stink at triathlons intimidated me. That’s why I also knew I should try it.

Just to get my toes wet in the sport, I signed up for a sprint triathlon (the shortest distance available) that was only a month away. I guessed on how to train and competed without a swim cap and used my normal comuter bike, which was about 15 pounds heavier than a triathlon bike ought to be. The whole race was far from graceful, and I crossed the finish line utterly exhausted. I was surprised at how hard it had been, but I had also begun to fall in love. It was exactly the intense challenge I’d been looking for.

I skipped the Olympic distance and signed up for a half-ironman triathlon next. I joined a team this time so I could get proper coaching and train correctly. I wanted to see what I could do under the right circumstances. I traded up my road bike for a real racing bike; I got a few swim caps; and I started gobbling up reading on training, nutrition, and form for optimal triathlon training. The training quickly consumed me, and I had never been happier.

I took six months to train for the half-ironman, and I learned more in that time that I ever would have imagined. First and foremost, I learned that absolutely amazing individuals are involved in the world of triathlons. I had never met such kind, hard-working, dedicated, non-pretentious, caring, and good-natured people. They would smile throughout a 60 mile training ride, laugh at your jokes while running a 15-miler the day after a 25-mile bike ride, and lend you their extra goggles and towel when you forget yours at swim practice. They would also remember your birthday and bring cupcakes to practice, watch your dog for the weekend, and invite you over for dinner. They are salt of the earth kind of people who treat one another like family.

I also learned just how valuable and irreplaceable a good support system is. I was gone more than ever throughout my training, and when I was home, I was usually exhausted, nursing an injury, or inhaling food. My husband never complained once. He asked me about practice, listened to me drone on and on about training, numbers, and goals, and he always said with total confidence that he knew I would do great. That kind of support is hard to come by, and I know it. After triathlon training, I appreciated it even more.

Finally, I learned that your body can do so much more than you think it can. I’ve ‘hit the wall’ many times in running and had to run through pure exhaustion in a marathon. But I would hit that same wall regularly in my triathlon practices. Training for three different sports simultaneously will certainly whip your into shape, but you will fully feel and earn every day of that effort.

I enjoyed my first half-ironman so much that I immediately participated in another one just three months later. After that, my body was begging for a break. That year of triathlon training had given me exactly what I originally wanted; I came back to focusing primarily on running with a completely replenished motivation tank, as well as some new amazing friends and an appreciation for my family and my own body that I may not have otherwise found.