Beginner Lessons Learned From Embarrassing Moments

author : Ken
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Don't worry, you can't do anything that hasn't been done before. Read this article for some humorous insights of one triathlete's introduction to the sport.

By Kenneth Durkin

Don't worry, you can't do anything that hasn't been done before. Read this article for some humorous insights of one triathlete's introduction to the sport.

Where does one start when discussing one’s most embarrassing moments? Well, in the interest of preserving some of the author’s dignity, I thought it best to cull through them and limit the list to the three that may be most helpful to beginners contemplating a triathlon. Most people, including you, are no doubt infinitely more coordinated than I am, more pre-disposed to advanced planning, and not likely to procrastinate on learning the proper essentials of a new endeavor. Nevertheless, I ask for the reader’s indulgence as I recount some of my specific failings in the hopes that by committing them to writing, I will be less prone to repeat them at another time. They are in no particular order of importance or rank, unless you want to imagine the degree of pain involved to admit to each. If you have a hard time believing them, then so much the better for me.

I Feel So Immodest in my Speedo

Oh, I resisted the call for some time to purchase a racing suit, opting instead to train in the community pool in my baggy old swim trunks. Yes, I loved those trunks. Felt safe and secure in them. Safe, secure...and slow. Weigh a soaking wet traditional suit sometime, and add to that the drag effect of towing an open parachute behind you in the pool, and you’ll quickly realize that it’s just plain inefficient not to convert. Once I got over the inhibitions instilled in me by my New England Puritan upbringing, I went out and bought a skimpy Speedo and immediately noticed the difference. I swam a bit faster and I felt a lot faster.

Of course, my technique and stamina still needed a lot of work, but getting rid of 'old baggy' was probably the quickest, easiest and cheapest improvement I ever made in my times! And the psychological damage done by prancing around in it at the pool has nearly worn off. I’m non-descript enough that most people don’t look at me twice anyway, and those acquaintances who felt compelled to comment on the change in swimming attire (or rudely allude to any noticeable bulges) were deftly handled by telling them that this style of suit was a must when training for a triathlon. With that, sartorial pontifications ceased and the conversation inevitably turned to amazement at my mental audacity and physical prowess to dare undertake such a feat! Fortunately, and I use that term loosely, it was at another pool where I was a complete unknown that a few months later my suit slipped off during a swim. I would like to say that it was my blinding speed that did it, but alas, I had neglected to pull and tie the drawstring.

Oh, So That’s Where We’re Going?

In my first sprint triathlon I plunged quickly into the water at the start. It was a strange sensation at first. The water was cold. I had butterflies in my stomach. It was my first open water swim in race conditions. But, none of this could account for this feeling that came over me, a feeling I had never before experienced in any of my practice swims. Then it came to me. It was the sensation of human contact in the water – flailing hands “catching” my feet, elbows nudging my body, smooth skin sliding next to and across mine. Had I presence of mind, I may have tried to turn this into an erotic fantasy, but at the moment it seemed best to try to avoid the open water love fest. Once I found a clear spot, somewhat off to the side, I settled into my stroke. I was in the groove, so to speak. I fully concentrated on my stroke technique, breathing, and kicking.

As I imagined I was getting close to the beach and T1, I looked up to check on the reference point, which we had all been asked to study in our pre-race brief. It was a dock close to the finish. I glimpsed it and continued my swim, only harder. A few minutes later I started to think (as triathletes sometimes do during prolonged repetitive work) -- my practice times are slow, but from what I see it looks like I’m in first place -- that can’t be right I thought, can it? Hmm, better look up again. Then I realized my mistake. I was looking at the wrong dock! The rest of the field was swimming toward the correct dock. I had to swim a belabored mile (ok, a couple of hundred yards, but it seemed like a mile) just to get back on track. I won’t say where I finished the swim, but I will tell you that as I emerged from the water and ran into T1, there was no problem spotting my bike.

Why Can’t That Guy Ride a Bike?

Ah, biking. Perhaps the most humbling of the three triathlon sports. I remember a training ride (ok, ok, a couple of rides) when my bike and I fell over on the sidewalk as I stopped and struggled to get my feet out of the toe straps. I also did the same thing recently with my new clipless pedals. The advantage of these devices is that they promote pedaling efficiency and let you concentrate on things like cadence and pain. My advice is always to practice pedals. No, not pedaling. Pedals.

Practice getting in and out of the pedals. This is the single maneuver you’ll be called upon to do most often in the sport of triathlon. It pays to be able to do it well, or at least have a handy phrase ready for pedestrians that lets them know you’re ok when you go down, and that really, I know how to ride a bike, I do – it’s the new equipment I just bought! That may help, but in my experience you’ll get a smiling nod as they walk away convinced you’re just an uncoordinated oaf who would do better to walk, if even that can be managed. To tell you the truth, I’m less impressed by cyclists who whiz by me (and there are plenty of them), than I am by cyclists who can stop and go without falling over. Toe-straps and clipless pedals (which require a bike shoe and dedicated cleat) really are a big help in cycling as you can both push on the down-stroke and pull on the upstroke. God forbid we could only do the downstroke and rest half the time! However, until such time as common sense prevails and these dangerous contraptions are banned from the sport, I prefer clipless pedals as they are easier to get out of – whether I’m coming to a stop or trying to get up off the ground.

In conclusion, enjoy the sport, but remember to:

  1. Tie your drawstring,
  2. Check your bearings in the swim and
  3. Look your best while tipping over! Oh yes, and learn from your mistakes (and mine).

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date: January 10, 2005


Triathlon, astronomy, amateur telescope making (atm), astrophotography, foreign affairs, travel, and of course, chocolate.


Triathlon, astronomy, amateur telescope making (atm), astrophotography, foreign affairs, travel, and of course, chocolate.

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