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13 Things I Wish I Knew About Triathlon When I Started

Posted by: on May, 11 2016

Found on Ironman.com and written by John Post, MD

Wise words from a veteran of the sport on roadblocks, road rash, and perspective.

I think it was Einstein who said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Early triathlete for sure. Contrary to popular opinion, Albert and I are not in the same age group, just close. We’ve both been around triathlon for a long time.tri finish

I got into this sport a good while ago, and I have learned a lot along the way, sometimes the hard way. There were times I was much too hard on myself, and times that I could’ve used a dose of common sense. Words from one who’d walked this path before me.

As in any new adventure, early in triathlon you get many things right, blundering now and then naturally. Just like in other aspects of life, lessons learned the hard way are often the best teachers.

Below I offer my advice—things that, if I’d known them earlier on, might have made life easier for me. Hopefully it’ll help smooth your trail through this sport.

All triathletes were neophytes once

As good witch Glynda points out in The Wizard of Oz, “it’s always best to start at the beginning.” You may be a recreational runner/biker with only summer camp swimming qualifications, but you’ll get there.  Everyone does. It may not come easily or quickly, but with a little patience and good old fashioned dedication, it will.

It gets easier

Anything new can be difficult. Your knowledge base is sparse, and your experience nonexistent, but your spirit unstoppable. Talk to anyone and everyone you can, filtering out irrelevant information. Triathletes love to talk about the sport. All you have to do is put the quarter in.

You don’t have to look like a super athlete to be a triathlete

This is absolutely true. Tall, short, skinny … successful triathletes come in all sizes and types. Just because you don’t possess what you consider the jock bod, don’t let it slow you down in the least.

Sometimes you fall off your bike

Bike crashes don’t happen to everyone, but they do happen. For the most part, you get back up, dust yourself off, and finish the ride. Occasionally you learn how to care for road rash, or have an unscheduled roadside bike maintenance clinic thrown in for good measure.

Racing is addictive

All it takes is a little success and you’re hooked. For only the very few, is the word “win” part of the definition of success. Success comes in little packets, to make you think and plan, and to make you eager for your next chance. Sometimes it even gives you the chills.

Swimming in open water makes you a better open water swimmer

For many, mastering the swim is the hardest part. One way to conquer your fear of lake or ocean swimming is to follow the Nike’s mantra and “Just Do It.” In time it might just become your favorite part of the sport, as it has for me.

Time in the gym matters 

Hitting the weights makes you a stronger, more confident athlete. Others list injury prevention and enhanced endurance as benefits from time spent pumping iron. I also happen to think it’s a nice way to meet people.

Remember to smile at the race photographers

They’re pretty easy to spot. After your race, when you’re reliving the event, smiling photos, even crazy shots make for terrific memories. Did I mention they also make convenient Christmas card photos?

You don’t PR every time

Just like the Dow Jones goes up and down, so does everyone’s athletic performance. This is actually a good thing. It makes you appreciate those really good days rather than expecting to be a Kentucky Derby winner every time you leave the gate.

Most of your friends—especially non-triathletesdon’t really care all that much about your racing and training

As with any new endeavor, new car or new job, you’re excited. You want to share your joy, your improvement, and your love of the sport. But it might be best to keep a lid on it unless your buddies are truly curious.

You’ll make friends with the weatherman 

Your workouts are scheduled way before the weather forecast is known. Some days it will be lovely to train. Some won’t. (Unless you live in Southern California.) One triathlete I know says, “check the conditions before I go out? Why? I’m going out anyway.”  It’s the same thing for races. Whatever the conditions, however, your job is to stay safe.

You will never be the fastest triathlete you know

And you will never be the slowest, either. New triathletes are often worried that they’ll be embarrassed by their lack of speed. But one of the coolest things about this sport is the number of “fast guys” who’ll be shouting at you to “keep up the good work,” or congratulating you for the “awesome effort” in your first race. For a sport that rewards individual effort, it’s strangely quite sociable that way.

You’ll never forget crossing the finish line at your first race

In the last half-mile of your race, remember this fact, and don’t forget to relish every second. And remember, regardless whether you’re first or last there will be people cheering for you. Moreover, you might be surprised when someone who finished long before you wants to exchange high fives.

John Post is a six-time IRONMAN World Championship finisher and serves as the medical advisor for Training Bible Coaching.