There is something about myself that I don’t typically tell people I just met. I don’t want to give them the wrong impression of me.
I am… uh… well, ok. I am a triathlete. There. I said it.
So I don’t usually tell people this because I don’t fit the stereotype of a triathlete. I don’t have a rock-hard body. It’s actually getting softer with each passing year. I only do one race a year, I don’t break records or win awards, and I don’t have any plans to travel to Hawaii to do the Ironman. Well, actually I would LOVE to go to Hawaii but I won’t be swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running a full marathon while I am there! Thankfully, triathlons vary widely in distance and challenge making them accessible to almost anyone – even kids!
My point is, if I can do triathlons, pretty much anyone can. If you are even remotely interested in participating in a fun event designed to build community and physical fitness, read on to discover why I love triathlons!
What is a Triathlon?
A triathlon is a race with three different components. Most triathlons start with a swim, move to a bike ride, and end with a run, though some races get creative and replace one of the components with another sport. Traditional triathlons stick to lakes and roads, but there are off-road tris for mountain bikers and trail runners as well as indoor races for year-round enthusiasts. Different races offer various distances for each component. The shortest triathlon I have seen is the Timberman’s Super Sprint, which consists of a .15 mile swim, 5.5 mile bike and 1.5 mile run – perfect for the first-time racer!
Tip: Visit a local race as a spectator. This will give you a good overview of how a triathlon works which will serve to ease your jitters come your first race.
Which Triathlon is For You?
You can select a race based on location – either convenient to where you live or in a locale you’ve always wanted to visit or that has someone you can stay with. Or you can choose a race based on the distance of your least or most favorite component. Many events offer a team option where you can just do your favorite leg of the race and find 1-2 friends to round out your team.
What Equipment is Necessary?
Truth be told, all you need to participate in a triathlon is a swimsuit/towel, pair of running shoes, a bike, a helmet, and a water bottle. Some people would argue that swim goggles, a wetsuit, and bike shoes are essential (I don’t use any of those items but I love my bike shorts and gloves!). Beyond that, the options for equipment are only limited by your pocketbook. Try not to get too freaked out by all the fancy bikes and other doodads when you visit your first race. Yes, YOU STILL BELONG even if you borrowed your niece’s hot pink mountain bike.
What Can I Expect on Race Day?
Be sure to thoroughly read the race website and packet to understand the race day schedule, rules, and routes. Beyond that, consider these tips:
- I like to get to the race location early. This helps me get a great parking spot, making it easier to schlep my gear to the transition area, which is the location where you move from one component of the race to the next. Arriving early also helps you stake a claim on the rack, a metal structure that holds your bike and by which you can lay out your towel, shoes, helmet and whatever else you bring along. This strategy gives you plenty of time to organize your gear, use the bathroom, eye up the course, use the bathroom, have a snack, use the bathroom… you get the idea!
- If you are not a fast swimmer, it is essential that you place yourself behind most of the other swimmers as they assemble for the start of the race. If you don’t, you risk having someone swim right over you! Triathletes are nice people, but some of them are very competitive.
- Bring an extra water bottle and towel to wash off your feet after you arrive from the swim segment and before you put on your shoes. It’s no fun biking and running with tiny rocks stuck to your feet.
- Trust me, race day is not the time to be trying out the latest energy bar, drink, or goo. Untested nutrition has been known to make a “second appearance.” Everyone has a favorite – mine is the un-caffeinated Clif Shot Blocks (they worked like magic the time I only got 3 hours of sleep before my race. Thanks a lot, dead smoke detector batteries). Figure out what works for you during training runs.
- You also don’t want to leave your first experience with transitions (swim to run and run to bike) to race day. Not only is it a good idea to work up to the race by training in two and then all three segments in a row, you won’t get as freaked out by the phenomenon known as “The Grip” if you’ve experienced it prior to the race!
Why I Love Triathlons
Much like any other sporting event, triathlons have a positive, uplifting vibe as hundreds of people cheer their friends’ and family members’ efforts. Here are some other reasons why I love Tris:
*Motivation to Stay Fit: There is nothing like spending money to register for a race that motivates me to get out and exercise! I am also motivated by not wanting to be the last finisher (although they usually get the loudest cheers!!)
*You Never Get Bored: I love triathlon training because if I don’t feel like running, I can just hop on my bike! I am usually motivated to train in at least one of the events each day.
*Tri is Easier on Your Body: Because you are mixing up your training with 3 different sports, you reduce the risk of overuse injuries.
*Tradition: Many people end up doing the same race with their friends or family year after year.
Need a Little More Inspiration?
My history with triathlon dates back 15 years, when I watched my brother compete in the 2002 Brewhouse Triathlon. He had been participating in triathlons for years and inspired me to get started.
In 2004, I decided to enter the Northwoods Triathlon as it was located near my Aunt and Uncle’s house. At the 2005 race, my Uncle turned to me and said “Sarah, I am going to be 70 next year and I am going to do this triathlon with you!” Naturally, some of his kids had to come cheer us on at the 2006 race, and participated with us in the 2007 race, where more relatives decided to come watch. Well, one thing has led to another and 2017 finds no less that 16 members of my extended family competing in the Northwoods Triathlon, several of us being seasoned veterans!
This race has become a common thread that binds our family, with each gathering consisting of swapping old race war-stories, egging on the uninitiated to sign up, and trying to figure out who is going to be on who’s team the following year. Most-wanted team members include my teenaged first cousin once removed who is a powerhouse swimmer and my 79 year old uncle who outperforms most of us on the bike. Each year, I am blown away by the tradition of fitness and family I started by entering that one race so long ago.
Just think of what you could start!
Are you excited yet? If you even feel a spark of interest, I encourage you to give Tri a try!