I’ve been asked several times how I got into triathlon, and I’ve gathered that this is a pretty common question, probably because no one “just grows up” doing triathlon like they might grow up running, swimming, or playing basketball. Usually, I give the following brief explanation:
I grew up running in a family of runners. My family is very talented athletically (my dad can still kick my butt on a run and my sister still holds an overall Idaho state record in track and field), and while I’m somewhat athletic, I’m not all that impressive compared to them. So when I felt the urge to get involved in athletic competitions again, I was loathe to do straight running races. I knew they’d be excited about it and ask how I did in my half marathon/10k/whatever. And when I told them, they’d have to fake-congratulate me on my average, unimpressive time, and it would be really awkward. So I decided to do triathlons because they have no idea what swimming times or bike times mean, so when I told them how I did, they would just be impressed that I managed to swim in a lake for 1500m or complete a 25 mile bike ride.
The above explanation is entirely true and has worked exactly how I planned. Who cares that I only ran a 1:57 half marathon? I did it after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56 miles! The story is a bit incomplete, though, so you get the longer version because I’m not very good at being concise when I’m at my computer.
I was a runner in high school. I wasn’t amazing, but for a runner at a small school in a small state, I was pretty competitive. I was also a swimming instructor and lifeguard in high school, so although I never swam competitively, I was a competent swimmer (and, more importantly, I enjoyed it). I don’t recall when I first thought doing a triathlon sounded like fun, but it was probably after running across the IRONMAN Kona broadcast on television.* The first time I actually did anything about it was one summer during high school. I thought it might be fun to do a sprint tri, so I went for a bike ride with my dad (something like two miles…) followed by a short run. We both absolutely hated the bike ride so much I kind of dropped the whole “triathlon” thing for a while. I suspect the quality of bikes had something to do with how miserable the ride was. If I recall correctly, my bike was originally from Wal-Mart and was literally being held together with a bungee cord and some duct tape.
The idea of doing a triathlon was still in the back of my mind, but I never had a bike or the overwhelming desire to purchase one. Still, the summer I graduated from college, I was borrowing a bike to commute and working as a lifeguard at a pool. So I decided to do a triathlon workout just for fun. I think the plan was a half mile swim, a 4-6 mile bike, and a 3 mile run. I got completely and hopelessly lost on the bike ride and ended up going 13 miles. Sweet. First sprint triathlon in the books (sort of). However, being a poor recent college graduate who had just entered a terrible job market, I didn’t have much disposable income to devote to buying a bike and actually picking up the sport. Becoming a poor grad student a year later didn’t help with that.
I honestly don’t remember what finally convinced me to actually sign up for a triathlon. There was a lot going on in my life at that point in time, so a little decision to sign up for a race didn’t really stick with me. But sign up I did—for a sprint triathlon with an indoor swim the night before the rest of the event—and when my family asked what I wanted for Christmas, I told them I wanted money to buy a bike. And then the final hurdle on my way to a triathlon—my husband-at-the-time (oh, did I mention I had gotten married? Whoops…) spent my bike money on iTunes (iTunes! Two and a half years later, I’m not even mad anymore—just confused… how do you spend $200+ on iTunes?!). Clearly, when someone spends his spouse’s Christmas money, it’s only the tip of the iceberg of problems. I’m sure it surprises no one that the marriage didn’t last long after that.
I was able to get my bike (I had been squirreling away cash because I had been afraid of something like that happening). And buying that used hybrid was the first thing I’d done for myself in a long time. I finally free not to make every decision in my life solely based on what another person wanted. The majority of training for my first triathlon was a way of working through that devastating divorce. I sobbed under the water while doing laps in the pool. I pounded out my anger during my runs. And sometimes, when the day was sunny and a bit breezy, and I was riding beside the river in the beautiful (really!) city of Boise, I could see how things might be okay again. That was the summer I fell in love with cycling. I already loved swimming, and I had already begrudgingly come to terms with running. But before that point, I’d been scared of cycling. No longer. I finished my first sprint triathlon in 1:19:55 and was hooked. Later that summer, I signed up for the Boise 70.3** and never looked back.
I’ve always been a person who needs a goal (or two or three or four) to work towards. In college and grad school, these were easy to find. But I’ve found that I flounder without them, as I did during the year between college and grad school. I think triathlons fill that void for me. Knowing I have a race gives me something to work towards and plan for. Training for these races keeps me sane and helps me balance every area of my life. Let’s hope that continues to be the case as I start training for IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene in 2016.
*This kind of thing still happens to me. Every time I’m fortunate enough to listen to Science Friday on NPR, I get a new life goal for a few days. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to be a mushroom hunter gatherer whatever for a full several hours after listening to an episode about it a while back.
**Later finished in 6:05:44