The Main Thing, is to Keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing…

author : jamesjbettis
comments : 4

Because triathlon can become a lifestyle, it can also become very complicated. But, it doesn’t have to.

A former business partner would tell me this all the time when we were setting up a financial planning practice.  Any time I would get sidetracked with fun little projects to add "value" to the business he would bring me back down to Earth with, "Remember James, the main thing, is to keep the main thing the main thing!"

He was right.  When you set a goal you should evaluate what steps you’re taking to reach that goal.  If something that you’re doing is fun, productive, and creative or whatever, yet is taking your attention away from the "main thing" (your goal) then, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it, or at least limit the amount of energy you expend on it.

When preparing for my first triathlon I got very distracted by all the gadgets and fun gear that comes along with the world of triathlon.  I completed V02 max testing, underwater swim stroke analysis and nutritional coaching. Near bankruptcy, I purchased the Computrainer, Garmin 910xt GPS watch, the Specialized Transition Tri bike, clip-less pedals with Specialized Tri-vent bike shoes, Zoot slip-on running shoes, a Kiwami one-piece tri-kit, Xterra full-body wetsuit, Cateye odometer and cadence counter, Zipp race wheels, compression socks, and more spandex related clothing than any man should own.  I tried different workouts from Beginner Triathlete, Joe Friel's Triathlete's Training Bible, Evolution Running, and practiced three different swimming strokes from five different sources.   I spent so much time learning about triathlon, researching products to do a triathlon that I lost focus on what it takes to finish a triathlon.

The main thing in triathlon is swimming, biking and running.  Here’s what you need to do a triathlon:

  • water
  • a road
  • shorts
  • shoes
  • goggles
  • a helmet
  • and a bike (and a shirt for you ladies)! 
Swim a couple times a week, run a couple times a week and cycle a couple times a week and you’re ready.  The vast majority of sprint triathlons will be completed within two hours.  If it takes you a little longer, so what!  As Nike’s famous phrase goes, "Just Do It."  To complete an Ironman triathlon distance you must finish in less than 17 hours.  Do you know what they call a person that takes 16 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds in the world of Ironman triathlon?  "An Ironman"   Just finishing a triathlon is a HUGE first step, regardless of the distance or the time it takes to complete it.

Because triathlon can become a lifestyle, it can also become very complicated.  But, it doesn’t have
to.  I have ruined plenty of perfectly good workout opportunities because I was consumed with dead batteries in my bike computer, a malfunctioning GPS watch, or not being able to find my Infinit Nutrition mix.  All the items I’ve purchased and the different workout systems and routines that I’ve tried do have the ability to make me more efficient, stronger and faster in triathlon, BUT only if I keep the focus on the main thing! I have to actually be running, biking, and swimming.

When I started out with triathlon I purchased all the gear instead of putting in the time, and it showed. I consistently finished in the bottom 50% of events even though I had some of the best gadgets and gear.  Part of the reason was because I was new to all three disciplines and had zero technique. 

However, the biggest culprit affecting my performance was my lack of focus on the main thing.

Don’t get me wrong, regardless of where I placed, I still loved racing and I was hooked for life after my first race. The YMCA Rocky Gap Sprint triathlon in Cumberland, MD was that first love for me. I was super proud of my accomplishment, even though I placed something like 250th out of 300.  I did realize, after that race, that I was going to have to actually put in the work if I wanted to get better, and not just purchase a lighter bike helmet.

Following my first year in the sport, I hired a coach to help me gain focus and quickly began finishing in the top 15% routinely with the SAME gear that I had before.  The only difference was that I consistently swam, biked and ran.  Again, keeping the main thing, the main thing!  Last year I placed 19th at the YMCA Rocky Gap Sprint Triathlon and I used the exact same gear as the prior year.  Fancy race gear is nice but the engine is what pushed that gear to perform. I have no intention of winning any races in Colorado (land of the elite athlete), but I have every intention of giving it my best, focusing on the main thing and having a blast!

So, if this is your very first triathlon or have been doing it for years, remember: The main thing is to focus on the main thing.  Swimming, biking and running will help you get across that finish line.  Crossing the finish line is what will make you feel great.  Once you’ve done that, then you can work on transition times, aero-helmets, speed suits, race wheels and full body hair removal.

Do your best in whatever situation you find yourself in, whatever time that is, and the results will be the results.  The good part is that you can feel great about your effort regardless of results! 

Have fun!


James Bettis is the owner of 3WRaces in Westminster, Colorado, a recent transplant from Baltimore, MD, and a proud Denver Triathlon Ambassador.  When he’s not organizing a race, competing in a race or volunteering at a race he’s exploring The Rockies with his wife and dog.
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date: July 30, 2012

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