Triathlon is about the journey. Both in training and the race. For me, thoughts of victory need to be far from my mind. When I entertain thoughts of winning or comparing myself to others, I am setting myself up for disappointment. I do it all the time though…
My triathlons are about the experience of doing all three sports. I approach each triathlon like I would a backpacking trip. I am going on an adventure! The trip will be long but I will enjoy every minute of it. I make a point of smiling at the spectators, thanking the course workers, and cheering on my fellow athletes. I’m the one at the end of the race encouraging those athletes walking up that last hill to finish strong! I’ve also been one of those walking athletes and needed that same help from others. Finishing with a smile is always my goal. Most of the time it is a smile of relief that it’s finally over but also of a goal achieved. Triathlon requires so much training. It is important to set a goal, like finishing a long practice, finishing a race, or just getting past all those voices in your head keeping you on the couch, and then celebrate that goal achieved.
Racing is special, but the true journey is the training. The majority of your time will be spent in training, so why not treat that as an adventure also? When I see a road stretching out before me like the road in the picture on this page I feel so lucky to be able to ride that road. So lucky to be on a bike zooming around the corners and getting to the top to look at the view. I feel the same thing when I am swimming. I love open water swimming because I love swimming like a fish, looking across a long lake, and then getting to the other side. I don’t really like swimming in pools. I feel ok sometimes when I’m running. Not often. But even when the running is hard and I am tired, I think of how thankful I am to be moving, to be exercising, to be alive.
On race day I begin my day eating good food and getting excited for what I am lucky enough to be doing. All my packing is done (I hope) and I am just putting everything in my car to get to the race. My routine is that I stop at a coffee shop and get a large coffee and a pastry for the drive there. I love showing up really early and getting my bike and gear in transition and set up where I want. I am then able to relax, watch the morning unfold, and watch the other athletes hustle and bustle.
The swim is a time for me to relax and enjoy being in the water. Don’t get me wrong, I want to go fast. I want to do my best. I look at my finishing times as much or more than the next triathlete. But adding stress to your race will not make you faster. Relaxing and staying within your ability, in my opinion, will result in a better time on the clock as well as a more enjoyable time. So I relax. I get into my swim stroke and remember my technique. The swim is the most nervous time for most first year triathletes. You imagine getting pulled under by others. You’ve heard stories that scare the hell out of you. They’re probably all true, but you should not start your race in the front. Starting just ten seconds behind the front of the pack will put you in clean water and keep you out of the washing machine.
The bike ride, for me, is a time to go fast! I love going fast on the bike. I am not that fast compared to most riders who have been doing it for years but I love covering ground fast. I really love the downhills where my love for speed overcomes my fear of falling. I also try to enjoy the scenery, but concentration on the task at hand comes first on the bike. Most of the deaths in triathlon come during the swim, but most of the injuries happen on the bike. You have to keep your wits about you and stay within your abilities on a bike. And unless you’ve been riding a long time, expect to be passed all race long and just get over it. You are going your speed. It’s your race.
The run, for me, is always a necessary evil. I love running when I feel fast and like I can run forever. But those times are few and far between in training and have never happened in a race. Maybe as I run more and build up my strength running will be more fun. The run, however, is when I can really enjoy the scenery, the crowd, and my fellow triathletes. By this time, the speedy ones are long gone and the slower ones are behind. You usually settle into a group of people going about your pace. I run slow and controlled. I pick up the pace when I feel good and I walk when I have to. Most triathlons have an aid station about every mile on the run. I usually plan to walk through the aid stations so I can get all the water and nutrition I need in with no hurry. When I get through, I’ll start with a light jog and see where I go from there.
The finish is a time for celebration. You’ve done it! I have to admit that I usually get caught up in racing those around me along with the fact that I can see the finish line, that I usually sprint that last bit across the line. But you shouldn’t. High five your family and friends that are there. Celebrate with the other athletes who are finishing along with you. The finish is what you worked for, a goal achieved. Take your medal and enjoy being a participant in such an awesome sport.
You could not finish. We put so much into the finish in triathlon that the possibility of not finishing is a cause of so much stress and worry to the first year triathlete. Your friends and family are all there and not finishing can feel like a huge failure. I was so worried about getting a flat in my first race that I had two tubes, three CO2 cartridges, and a bottle of that green-gu stop leak. I ended up not needing any of it but I needed the peace of mind. I just had to finish.
Things can go wrong. You could have a mechanical breakdown. You could get sick during the swim. You could pull a muscle during the run. There is only one thing you need to know and understand when this happens. Everyone around you in the race as well as your family and friends are there for you in that moment. Everyone is on your side, thinking about you in the most positive light. Everyone has your back.
You toed up to the starting line. You were in the race. There is no disgrace to anyone who enters the ring, starts the race, and puts forward the effort they are able to put forward on that day.
Put that stress and worry about not finishing behind you and enjoy the journey. Things will occur, bad things may happen, but you can get through each one. And if something keeps you from finishing, so be it. Hold your head up high and race another day.