Before I started training for my first season of triathlon (“A” race: Ironman Wisconsin), I had this skewed sense of who a triathlete really was. The only triathletes I had met in real life (prior to meeting Ian) were perfectionists with (dare I say) obsessive-compulsive predispositions. Highly organized (unlike me), meticulous (again, not a trait I hold), serious-all-the-time, can’t-eat-anything-that-isn’t-raw,-green,-or-from-Hammer-Nutrition, and (definitely unlike me) had a lot of money to spend on the sport. Had I known then what I know now, I may have given triathlon a shot a long time ago.
Here are some things I have learned in the last year that I didn’t know before I turned tri:
- Triathletes are well-balanced individuals. Physically and Mentally. Not only do they have strong core muscles (from all that swimming), they have strong legs and arms, too. Their backs and abs are strong and tight. AND, they do one helluva job at managing their time. Who else do you know tries to do three sports in one day on a regular basis? The majority of triathletes are moms, dads, college-graduates-with-day-jobs, and yet they still find time to train and race on a regular basis.
- Triathletes are perfectionists. Huh. I already knew that. But not the “perfectionist” that I think of with a negative connotation. They are the GOOD kind of perfectionist. They have to be. They gotta fuel right, which means they have to consume the right kind of foods for proper recovery and performance. Shopping lists are taken everywhere! They have to make sure that race-day nutrition is taken care of by meticulous planning and preparation. They have to take care of their body when they aren’t out there destroying it on hills and mile repeats, so they see massage therapists twice a week. They follow a strict schedule: train, eat, (desk-job?), sleep, train, eat, sleep (and they gotta be in bed by 9pm every night [well, not all. and the ones that do, it’s not always by choice]).
- Triathletes have a unique form of A.D.D. I mean this in the nicest way possible. When I started training for Ironman, I thought to myself: There’s no way I am going to be able to mentally cram in all that training from all those sports. But then I realized, when I get bored with swimming, I can go for a run. When I’m sore from running, a long spin is the best recovery! And when I’m just tired of all three, well… it’s a rest day!
- Triathletes love technology. Maybe this is why I like triathletes so much more now. They’re total data junkies! I’d be curious about the percentage of triathletes that have a science and engineering background. My guess: somewhere around 95%. I could see a peer-reviewed paper coming out of that study! I’ve never heard so many people talk about varied yaw angles, wind tunnels, carbon fiber, and strain gauges on cantilever beams (think: cranksets) in a single conversation. And I never thought I’d say this, but – just like C++ and Linux- I can speak TSS*.
- Triathletes love to travel. Who doesn’t? There’s an Ironman 140.6 in New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia, and of course… Hawai’i! Additionally: Triathletes are incredibly organized when it comes to traveling! For example, try getting your bike, wheels, nutrition, week’s-worth of clothes, and running shoes (race and trainers) out to Kona with you on the plane. I’d like to see Barbie and her pink convertible figure that one out.
- Triathletes are brutal. There’s nothing quite like getting kicked, punched, and smacked just thirty-seconds into an event… unless you’re an MMA fighter. I thought I hated MMA fighting. But it isn’t just the folks that are out there hitting you during the swim. It’s the folks out there just givin’er on the bike when it’s raining buckets, racing just weeks after breaking bones, and generally just putting the hurt on men and women alike.
- Triathletes come in all shapes and sizes. Not everyone at the race is Chuck Norris. There are people out there for their first time, seeing what they can do. There are people who use triathlon as a goal to lose weight, and it works! There are people that, when you see them on the beach, your first thought is: “Well, crap, there goes my chances at doing well in my age group…” and then you see them again on the bike as you pass them up a hill.
- Not all triathletes are competitive. I didn’t know this. I always thought triathletes were really gung-ho, gotta-kick-ass-and-take-names type of people. You know what I mean? Envision the guy standing next to you on the beach, jumping up and down and shaking his arms out. Huffing, puffing, hyperventilating, shaking his head from side to side and looking straight forward ever-so-seriously. He pushes past everyone that has been lined up for fifteen minutes so he can have his waterfront spot. This kind of behavior makes me laugh, but it’s not super common. And I can sort of understand, because I, personally, am very competitive. But that’s why, when I see people out there on race day just having a great time, it makes me smile. They aren’t racing to beat me. They aren’t racing to qualify for Kona. They are out there because they enjoy what they are doing, not because they enjoy beating other people.
- Triathletes are not just in it for themselves. Some of you may have heard of Rebecca Keat’s stellar sportsmanship at last year’s World Championship. A lot of professional triathletes do incredibly awesome outreach stuff, too. And they aren’t mystical beings that transcend the rest of us mere mortal humanoids. They are approachable, encouraging, and helpful to people just like you and me. Quite a few professional triathletes troll the Slowtwitch forums and provide feedback to age-groupers’ questions and concerns. Others will respond rapidly to direct emails. My role-model-of-a-triathlete for this: Linsey Corbin.
But, like everything, there are still some things I haven’t quite figured out. Like, why are triathlons so addicting? Other than the possibility that I am an endurance junkie, I can’t quite understand why I can’t stop doing these expensive, long, grueling races. And what’s the deal with LavaJava? Any triathlete ever that goes to Kona rants and raves about LavaJava. Is it the Starbucks of Hawai’i? I guess I will have to qualify to find out.