“No way am I wearing this” I said.
“Come out and let me see” said my wife.
“Nope, I’ll just wear the shorts” I replied.
“Everyone will be in a Tri Suit- You have to at least look the part… Just let me see” my wife replied.
“I’m not trying to be a triathlete. I just want to see if I can finish a triathlon. I’m not walking out of this room in a spandex suit. I’ll just get the shorts” I replied with as much assertive tone as I could get out in the changing room of a local REI store.
“Who do you know that is into triathlons?” my wife asked.
“No one” I stated.
“You mean no one asked you to do a triathlon? You just came up with this all on your own?” she responded somewhat surprised.
“Yep, pretty much” I returned.
“You’re crazy” she matter-of-factly replied.
And that is where the adventure began. It is kind of crazy. Our mental decision thrust out into the universe, carroting our ambition to embark on a personal journey of grandiose measure- accomplishing a triathlon.
But to a triathlon newb, what does this really mean? Well I’ll cut to it. Rewind back to my first ever triathlon.
CLEAR LAKE- WA 2013 SPRINT TRIATHLON
Race Day Morning:
It’s o-dark thirty, and the car is packed with my gear. I had borrowed a ten speed bike and helmet from a friend 3 weeks before the race to get used to cycling prior to “my big race.” I had my surf wetsuit (long-sleeve spring) which would get me through my swim (I hoped) and my running shoes to pedal the bike and carry me through the 5K run. And yes, the spandex shorts my wife had picked out at the local REI store to help me look the part.
I was nervous.
Shorts or no shorts, I realized very quickly that I looked a little different from the rest of the triathlon crowd. This crowd, seasoned or not, looked the part- from the tri-suit to the bike and all the gear in-between. There were gadgets, fancy wheels, sleek wetsuits, fancy helmets and click in shoes. And then there was me and I was sure everyone could tell.
As I approached what I now know as the transition area, I studied these framed rows of wood that I knew were supposed to hold the bike, but wasn’t quite sure how.
“Is this your first triathlon?” a woman asked.
My head instantly exploded with nervousness – I was right, they could tell- the newbie was messing up the bike rack.
“Yes” I replied expecting a lecture on how to do things and what to not do to get in the way of others.
“You’re going to love it” she replied.
In my head, I threw out the hugest “what?!” as this unknown woman took the time to help show me how to rack my bike, set out my transition area and even provided some pointers on the swim location since I have always been extremely nervous of open water swims.
The sound of clicking bikes was all around me as individuals wheeled their bikes into position. Individuals were jogging around to “warm up” before the race began. I had felt briefly comforted by the help of the triathlon stranger who helped me with the bike and provided tips, but it was now time for me to officially “get ready” and head down to the water.
On the way down to the water, I heard a few “this your first race?” from a few fellow competitors and after acknowledging my newbie existence, I received a number of “good luck” and “you’ll have a blast” comments- which kept striking me odd since this was technically a “competition”, right?
After the survival of the swim I headed over to the bike and threw on my borrowed helmet, shoved my running shoes on, and guided them into the pedal baskets that the bike was equipped with. As I pedaled and began to feel the breathe escape my chest, I realized quickly that pedaling a bike, was way harder than I had expected it to be.
As much as I watched my shoes pedal those baskets around, I experienced the constant stream of passing cyclists and couldn’t figure out how my bike was not going as fast as theirs. My legs seemed to be circling as fast as theirs. I was breathing harder than them, that’s for sure, but nonetheless, I had to succumb to the reality, that I’m doing what I can do, even if it doesn’t get me to where they are. And yet, the compliments from those passing me... “good job”.. kept flowing.
In the middle of a “competition” fellow competitors were actually giving me motivation and praise as I pedaled my little heart out. All I could do was smile and try a little harder.
As I approached the transition area again, it was time to rack the bike (like I’d be shown) and begin to put one foot in front of the other for the run.
I ran without a shirt, which exposed all my tattoos and showcased my newly purchased spandex shorts along with all the rest of me. I was extremely self-conscious.
I could hear the feet approaching me and as so many did, again just like during the bike, more compliments and motivation. It was becoming almost laughable that this many people could be this positive.
I had been so taken back by all the compliments along this first triathlon journey that I almost forgot to focus on what I thought was a possible impossible, and instead was motivated along each discipline, which had me forget about how far along I was into each discipline and just focused on being determined to keep going- then look here comes the finish line.
As I crossed the finish line and satisfied my wonder of whether I “could”- I was reminded that most of the triathlon competitors had already finished. I began to realize that there was a large amount of clapping that seemed to be directed towards me. But this couldn’t be; I was closer to the last remaining competitors than the first.
As I removed the timing chip, and received my medal, I was congratulated by many of the competitors along with spectators. All the deficiencies I had worried were going to be my crux, were actually the things that allowed others to remember me.
“Hey you’re the guy with the tattoos; I remember seeing you out there- nice work!”
All I could think was- This is triathlon. This is what it’s about. Crossing that line was about accomplishing something I thought was out of reach, but the bonus was entering into a community wherein cheers are deployed for the effort, not the standing.
Looking back on that moment, it still brings me smiles. That was what hooked me. I’m still not comfortable in spandex, and just need to accept that I will probably never be, but I’m more driven in this sport than many others I’ve entered into.
SO.. What would I say now to myself 4 years ago…
THE UGLY TRUTH OF A NEWB
1. You won’t be fast. And as much as you want to be fast, the desire to become that, does not match the timeline for such ability. Accept this upfront. Set the expectation for enjoyment, not speed.
2. Everyone seems to have an opinion- don’t let yourself be told what to do. Opinions can be great, but look at what I’m doing, I’m giving you my opinion right now, which I think should be taken like anything else-into consideration with what works best for you. Experience can be the opinion’s evil twin, and again, isn’t necessarily an absolute all value add, just cause someone has experience. Somewhere between opinion and experience there seems to be a bridge to recommendation, which can be taken into your own personal world, for digestion, consideration, and ultimately-buy in, or dismissal.
3. You’ll want the cool stuff- but does your bank account want the same thing? I think borrowing a clapped out bike without the bells and whistles should be a requirement to entering into the sport of triathlon.
Fancy stuff is cool, for sure, but you know what’s cooler? Determination. Borrow a bike. Get some shoes. Cross that line.
4. Triathlon is a hobby, a sport, not an identity- don’t quit your day job. It’s easy to get caught up in the progress of determination. Your hard work takes sacrifice. The time it takes for your hard work to surface into further, faster longer, can quickly fade without balance and frequency. Be mindful, that a skipped training, or some time off, isn’t going to erase your work, and often times, it may even lead to better progression. Remember, your family, job, friends, etc. play an integral role in “life”. Triathlon isn’t “life”- it’s a part of it.
5. Training plan? There is so much out there, with a little research to overwhelm someone into what is best for them. Zone method? Heart rate method? Power meter? GPS watch? Coach? Try a time based method to see what works best for you. The point is to have fun and progress, not over analyze and get lost in numbers to start off. Figure a number of days you want to train, put together an amount of time you can reasonably deploy to training, and configure your schedule to put in efforts to gauge and build upon. Cycle a few days a week for a certain amount of time. Run a few days a week for a certain amount of time. Start swimming to determine how long you can comfortably go back and forth in a pool before needing to rest. Consider this your baseline for beginning and have fun with watching your progression- you’ll have plenty of time later to overcomplicate training with zones, watts and coach input.
6. Nutrition- there are experts and articles, white papers and scientific data. The reality is that we are all different. What works for this guy, doesn’t work for that one and so on. All that aside, what it comes down to, is what works best for you and tastes good going down.
7. Be positive- A “good job” goes a long way. You never know how things will turn out- that’s just fact. But we can all decide how we react to things as they unfold. So be mindful of others when you’re out there. Remember that regardless of distance or end result, we are all pushing our limits through this sport. So whether you are full distance, half distance, Olympic or Sprint- We can all have an impact on others sometimes far greater than we may ever realize.
Thank you to those individuals that encouraged, motivated and supported my individual triathlon journey. I hope in turn, we can all remember to continue to pass along that positivity to the former you, the Newb beginning their journey.