When I started competing in triathlons about fifteen years ago, it was a very different sport than it is now. Not all better, not all worse, but certainly different. When I first started, people would ask me what I did in my free time, and I would have to give a rather lengthy explanation of what triathlons are and why anyone in their right mind would choose to do one. At the time, triathlons seemed geared towards the athlete who thought all the other pain-inducing endurance activities didn’t hurt enough, so they needed to really show off and do them all back to back. Family and friends looked at me like I was involved in some sort of “extreme” sport where mere mortals dare not venture. I’ll admit, I liked that. Now, to get that same sort of reputation I’d have to ride a dirt bike off the edge of a cliff and BASE jump into the waiting ocean swells below. Since I don’t have a dirt bike, I’ve always stuck to triathlons.The Secret’s OutAs with most things, my loss is someone else’s gain. As triathlons became increasingly mainstream I would meet more and more people who were involved in the sport. Some were hard core endurance junkies, while others just liked having a reason to go out running and biking, so they managed to grit through one event a year. Although it was nice to have more people with whom I could talk about my hobby, a bit of the “WOW” factor was being chiseled away every time I met a fellow competitor. Who were these people who were finally catching on that these multi sport events weren’t only for the elite?
What the sport gave up in mysticism it more than made up for in accessibility. When you tell someone you’re a triathlete, you’re still gonna get some respect and admiration for it. It may not be as mythical as it once was, but it’s still brutal and people know it. What’s nice is that now you don’t need to be afraid to get involved in the sport; there’s something for almost every level of athlete. When I first got started, I had about 2 triathlons a year to choose from in a 200 mile radius, and I live near a major city. I’d never heard of a sprint triathlon, and indoor triathlons resembled something closer to middle school gym class than an actual organized event. Now I can pick up any local event guide, and I have my pick of races—sprint, Olympic, and more—almost any weekend I want. The popularity was made possible by demystifying the sport and making more people able and willing to give it a “tri.”
This means that you see a much broader cross section of people participating in triathlons today. At one time, everyone was rail thin and ran a 5 minute mile (or so it seemed). Go to a local race now, however, and you’ll see quite a few unimpressive mountain bikes lining the transition area and a few equally unimpressive competitors. All of that is great, because it means that anyone can compete and feel comfortable. No longer is triathlon only something for the athletically gifted, but for all that choose to participate. Now You’re an AthleteYou don’t need to refinance your house to get a cutting edge racing bike or spend your summers running ceaselessly though the blistering heat to stand alongside fellow racers who, maybe for the first time, can call themselves “athletes.” Spend your workout hours training for a race and you can completely change your self-image. You won’t be running on that treadmill or pedaling down the trail because you’re someone who “needs exercise” or “should lose some weight.” Now you’ll be “in training.” Think it’ll make getting to the gym easier? You betcha. You may want to prepare yourself to break some exercise and weight loss plateaus you’ve had for awhile.
Once you have an answer to the question, “Why?” in your workout routine, you’ll find it much easier to endure the “How.” Don’t be shocked when you find yourself pushing through the pain barrier at which you used to stop; you know that athletes expect pain. It doesn’t surprise them and they certainly don’t lay down and cringe before it. The accept it and decide how best to deal with it, and after all, you’re an athlete now right? The athlete in you will gradually wake up, and you’ll feel him stir. You’ll choose the grilled chicken sandwich and pass on the office donuts because that’s what athletes do--they sacrifice. Get used to the fact that you may start finding time to work out. Athletes make their sport a priority and approach it seriously, not as an afterthought when there’s nothing better to do. Congratulations, and welcome to the other side. When people ask you what you’re going to do over the weekend, you might find yourself telling them about the long distance run you plan on taking and completely forgetting that you used to spend your Saturday afternoons antiquing. Athletes don’t go antiquing. Just StartDecide what you what to be and start being it. If you want to be an athlete, you can be. You don’t need to be naturally blessed in the sport, have oodles of free time to devote, or buckets of money to throw at equipment, and you certainly won’t be alone. You’ve probably got a bike already and if not, you can get one pretty cheap today and it’ll be better than what they used to win the Tour de France a decade ago. You can make your workouts fun again and have a reason to train hard.. You know there’s an athlete who lives deep inside you who hates the couch and is just itching to hear the starting gun go off. Let him out and see where he takes you. I bet you’ll never want to go back.