how I came to love triathlon — and how you could, too!

OK, I’m sure that I lost some people at the title, but as it turns out, triathlon is a fabulous fun sport or activity (depending on your definition of sport).

I landed in triathlon almost accidentally. I was looking for a new gym post-chemo, and I wanted to join one that had someone on staff who could teach me how to swim. As I told them, I knew how to not drown, and if dropped in the middle of a lake, I could probably get to the shore. But laps? No way.

After working out for a few months, I decided I was ready to learn my way around the pool. I had a few lessons with little but significant feedback, and it wasn’t long before I was able to swim laps for much longer than my attention span wanted to permit.

Triathlon discipline #1: swim.

This story is out of order, though, because swimming was the last of the three disciplines that I got into.

When I moved to AZ, I didn’t bring my car (which is a long story in itself) — I just had my bike. So except for occasions when I hitched a ride, walked, or took the bus, I biked everywhere. I had (still have) a decent-quality mountain-type bike (I think it’s actually a hybrid, but I’m not really sure) and rode it all over the place. Since buying a car, I ride it a lot less…

Triathlon discipline #2: bike.

The first gym I belonged to was in NJ before I moved. The last spring that I lived in NJ, they had a benefit 5K for the daughter of an employee who had contracted some serious illness — I don’t recall now what it was — so I decided to do it. I was not very fit at the time, though I was much better off than I’d been at my “worst,” but 5K is only 3.1 miles.  I can make it 3.1 miles. My goals were: 1-don’t walk; 2-don’t die; 3-don’t come in last. (I’ve since learned that the first goal was not necessarily appropriate, that walking in running races is totally fine and in many cases will actually give you a better finishing time.) Regardless, I did meet all three goals and finished somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-40 minutes.

Since then, I’ve done many 5Ks. My PR is 29:58. My post-chemo PR is around 32:00. I’m currently not interested in running anything longer than a 5K, though that might change in the future.

Triathlon discipline #3: run.

So after learning to swim, I realized I could do all three things … and learned about an all-women’s sprint tri a few miles from home … and decided to jump in and try it.

It was amazing. Crossing the finish line in that race was one of the proudest moments of my life. If you look at Second Chance FitCenter’s website, there is a small tri photo collage on the left if you scroll down a bit. The pic in the lower right — with the yellow bandana on — was taken at breakfast after the race. Do I look like a happy woman to you?

There are triathlons in many different distances. The shortest standard race is a sprint and is usually a half mile (800-meter) swim, a 12- to 14-mile bike ride, and a 5K run. There are shorter ones. There are some with pool swims instead of open water swims. There are, of course, longer ones. There are some for women only.

Triathlon is the friendliest sport I’ve encountered. People are nice, want to help you out, give you tips, see you succeed. I don’t mean that you can expect a fellow racer to stop and give you pointers during the race, but tri clubs are full of people who love the sport and love to help others love the sport.

There are people of many different shapes and sizes at these events. Sure, the pros are all built like machines, but I’m not, and there were quite a few people next to whom I look like I am 😉 The first finisher routinely finishes a full hour before I do (my most recent race, I came in a few minutes over two hours). And as I cross the finish line, there are still people who have just started running.

Oh, and my first race, I didn’t run a lick. I walked 5K.

If you’re toying with it, I encourage you to give it a tri 😉 Find a race in your area that gives you enough time to train for it, and register!

If you are already able to swim half a mile, bike 14 miles and run/jog/walk a 5K, leave 9-12 weeks to train. If not, leave more time. The advantage to registering early is that the entrance fees are usually lower.

All of the gear in triathlon can be intimidating. Here is a short, simple article from that lists the bare essentials.

Have questions about triathlon? Go ahead and ask! I can’t promise to be able to answer all of them, but I have three races under my belt, so I do know a little.

Are you thinking about trying it? What’s stopping you?


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lisa on 17 February 2011 at 08:04

    “Are you thinking about trying it? What’s stopping you?”

    Yes, I am. What’s stopping me? Well, two things, I think.

    The first thing is that I’ve watched some friends go through “triathalon training” programs at their gyms, and it’s intimidating as hell. My one friend now is logging hours upon hours at the gym every week. I’m not ready for that kind of commitment, but maybe I’m assuming I need to do this and I really don’t?

    The other thing is the RUNNING PART. OMG, Heat, running a 5K is basically the pinnacle of my athletic achievement. I cannot fathom doing it *after* swimming and biking. It actually makes me feel really good to hear that you walked the 5K portion of your first Tri.

    What I *do* have going for me, though, which it seems is what holds a lot of others back is that I’m a good swimmer. Though I don’t have any open water experience, swimming was the only sport I was ever even remotely competitive in, and half a mile isn’t a distance that fazes me. So yay for that!

    • Find out what distance they’re training for. You don’t need to do hours upon hours if you’re training for a sprint. People training for Ironman (or even half Ironman) will train for 20-30 hours a week for months. I don’t like triathlon that much 😉 (And I don’t want to do a marathon, whether as part of a tri or not!)

  2. Posted by Lisa on 17 February 2011 at 08:13

    Oh, and there’s one other thing stopping me: the race I’ve been looking at starts at 7am, with the transition area opening up at 5:15. I don’t think I do anything well at that time of day! 😛

    • Yeah, that is the down side. They are early. The bigger question is: what time does transition close? I have learned that as long as I get there 20 minutes before transition closes, I’m fine, especially if bikes are racked the day before. (Some races have you bring your bike ahead of time and put it where it’s supposed to go. My first race, we racked them that morning, and that was less pleasant.)

      But if it’s something you’ve trained for, when you groggily wake up that morning, all of a sudden, there’s adrenaline – “I’m doing a triathlon today!!” It’s kind of like Christmas … kind of 🙂

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