Triathlon: When Practice and Preparation Pay Off

One of my proudest accomplishments is that I competed in (and actually finished) two triathlons. They took place several years ago and I didn’t win any prizes but my previously non-athletic self successfully competed in three sports, two of which I had limited experience (and confidence) in and to my relief, I didn’t finish anywhere close to last.

The thing that people who haven’t competed in a triathlon don’t realize is that the sport of triathlon isn’t about leisurely laps in a pool and an enjoyable bike ride on the greenway, followed with a “fun run.” It’s about busting your butt through each sport and trying to pass every competitor possible, especially if they’re in your age group. Your age is written on your leg in permanent marker, making it easy to recognize your age group competitors. It’s physically and mentally exhausting.

My triathlon adventures took place a few years ago, when Erika said she was getting bored with running and wanted to try a triathlon. Never one to say “no,” I gamely committed myself, although I didn’t own a bike (and hadn’t ridden one in years) and only passed my high school swim test by holding my breath all the way across the pool. As an adult, my “go to” stroke was a side stroke with my head WAY out of the water so I didn’t ruin my highlights. I was also pretty good at the back stroke, but realized the back stroke would be discouraged at a triathlon.

I bought a used bike from a friend, who bought it used from someone else. The Cannondale road bike had more gears than I knew what to do with, but it fit me perfectly. After buying my bike, I went on rides with Erika and joined group rides organized by Acme Multisports, a local triathlon store.

I took triathlon swim classes at Excel Acquatics, where I finally became a competent, confident swimmer. Not only did they teach me how to REALLY swim, but they also taught me the nuances of triathlon swimming, such as navigating the pool lane markers and ignoring the splashing arms and legs of the other swimmers.

I practiced “bricks” – multi-sport workouts where a bike ride is immediately followed by a run. To anyone who’s never tried it, it sounds simple enough. Except that, after cycling, my legs felt like jelly and were already tired for what was supposed to be my “go to” sport – the run.

And so I became competent at the three sports, but was still not especially talented. So given my lack of ability, why didn’t I finish at the bottom of my age group? Looking at my splits, it was because of my transitions. Simply put, I took less time at the transitions than my competition.

How did that happen? Because I also practiced the transitions – transitioning from one sport to another. After the swim, I practiced swallowing an energy gel and throwing on my bike helmet and shoes. Post-bike, I practiced swallowing another gel and exchanging my bike helmet for a running hat. In the absence of talent, transition practice gave me the small advantage I needed.

Thinking back to my triathlons brings back memories of high school when my best friends Mary and Suzanne were in Aqua-Notes, our high school’s synchronized swim team. They taught me some of their synchronized swimming moves when we goofed around at the pool, and I loved watching them perform their routines at the annual spring Aqua-Notes show.

So why didn’t I try out?

Because I didn’t think I could pass the try-out, which consisted of swimming the perimeter of the pool.

Even though I REALLY wanted to be in the Aqua-Notes, even though I could already do many of their moves, I didn’t try out because I was scared of failure. I didn’t practice my swimming or get someone to help me with my swimming; I gave up and watched my friends do what I wanted so badly to do myself.

That’s why I’m proud of my triathlon accomplishments. After finishing a couple of triathlons, I decided that the sport of triathlon isn’t for me. But what I’ll always be proud of is that I tried.

And that I grew up.

(For a different perspective on the sport of triathlon, check out crushingiron.com.)

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One thought on “Triathlon: When Practice and Preparation Pay Off

  1. First off, let me say how proud I am of you! You are woman to admire, Betsy Barbour! Don’t you need your bike back? Let’s make this happen. That little speedy girl is way to cool to sit in my basement. Holler at me.

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