What I Learned From Doing My First Triathlon

Making the decision to join the triathlon world was one of the scariest and most rewarding choices I’ve ever made.  Prior to starting this adventure in June, I had been thinking about giving it a “tri” for a while:  I interviewed my cousin MaryBeth—an accomplished runner and super legit triathlete—for my Honors project, and she said I’d be a great triathlete and would pick up the sport without a problem; one of my spinning instructors at college, Donna, wondered if I had given any thought to doing a triathlon because I’m a good runner and strong spinner; a few of my college friends completed sprint tris, as well as a handful of healthy living bloggers I follow, so it seemed like everyone in the healthy living community was talking about triathlons.  Plus, I figured since I would be spending the summer at home, I might as well do something worthwhile with my time. (Hello, blogging and triathloning!) Learning about the sport and training for my first swim-bike-run event has been a challenging and rewarding fitness adventure, and here’s what I’ve discovered from completing my first triathlon.

Every triathlete needs a mentor, and it takes a community to develop a triathlete.

At the beginning, joining the triathlon world seemed like a daunting decision.  Aside from the general progression of the swim-bike-run event, I knew zilch about the sport.  Enter MB; she answered all my newbie questions, made workout suggestions, and helped me dress for triathlon success.

She was also the one who suggested I join the CNY Triathlon Club.  When attended my first CNY Tri Club training series, I thought I would be in over my head; everyone looked so experienced, and I was just a newbie.  However, every club member I met was friendly, encouraging, and more than willing to help and offer advice.

And now, I see familiar faces every Wednesday night, and everyone wants to hear how each other’s training and racing are going.  It’s crazy to think that until six months ago, I had no idea this community existed.

Once you’re part of the community, keep an eye out for smaller niche groups.

In addition to the CNY triathlon community at large, I’ve discovered smaller niche groups for each tri segment.  There are master swim classes at the YMCA and other fitness centers, plus swimming gurus who run triathlon-specific workshops and one-on-one seminars (similar to the one the Fleet Feet Learn to Tri coaches facilitated).  In terms of biking, I’ve taken advantage of Syracuse Bicycle’s Women on Wheels rides, which helped make cycling less daunting.  Plus, attending these meet-ups let me ask questions and practice proper techniques in a safe (i.e. not racing or riding solo) environment.  CNY is also a hotbed for running, so there are a ton of groups, including the Syracuse Chargers, that hold public workouts.  Just like the greater tri community, these smaller groups welcome triathletes of all ages and abilities.

Don’t forget about digital communities; they’re just as important.

Not to get all academic, but our 21st century technology has made the world seem smaller while digital writing and new media have revolutionized how we interact.  Case in point:  Ten years ago, I was never a click, text, tweet, or Facebook post away from talking with fellow triathletes; now, in 2012, it’s simply to stay connected.  The CNY Triathlon Club has an email subscription list and its own Facebook group, and both of these features keep members up-to-date and allow them to instantly interact with each other.  This blog (thanks for reading!) and my Twitter account (@CarrieStevens25) makes connecting with tri addicts across the globe possible; it’s comforting to know I can post a question to any of my social networks and receive an answer within minutes, even seconds.

Pay it forward.

Triathletes are a special breed.  Every workout has a specific purpose, and our lifestyle revolves around the sport. (More on this later.) Because a common interest—or borderline obsession!—bonds us, moral support comes standard, and it’s great to pay it forward.  At CNY Tri Club training events, plenty of people passed me while biking and running, but almost everyone said “good job!” or “keep up the good work!”  And during Sunday’s triathlon, I found myself automatically encouraging another triathlete on the run as I passed him; I remembered how much I appreciated verbal support, so I paid it forward.

Everyone—and every body—is capable of completing a triathlon.

By volunteering at the Syracuse Ironman 70.3, attending the Fleet Feet OWS clinic, and going to the Iron Girl Chalk Talk at Syracuse Bicycle, I saw triathletes of all shapes and sizes.

This proves anyone—and literally every body—can complete a swim-bike-run event; you just need to train.

Each triathlete started off as a newbie, and there’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Even though I was intimidated during my first few trips to Jamesville Beach, I reminded myself that each triathlete used to be in my newbie shoes, so everything I was feeling—uncertainty, inadequacy, lack of experience—was normal.

I knew practicing and asking questions would remedy these feelings, and even after completing my first triathlon, I’m still seeking advice from more experienced triathletes.  There’s so much to learn!

Practice makes almost-perfect, but watching is helpful, too.

You need to practice any skill to get good at it, but it’s also worthwhile to take a step back and observe.  By volunteering at the Syracuse Ironman 70.3 and watching the men’s and women’s Olympic triathlons, I noticed what worked and what didn’t.

Triathloning isn’t just a sport; it’s a lifestyle.

After deciding to train for a sprint triathlon, my lifestyle has undergone a small shift.  I’ve always maintained a healthy lifestyle, and triathloning has only intensified it:  My summer days revolve around workouts, races, and rest days; I wake up early to train and go to bed at a reasonable hour; I watch what I eat and follow a “food is fuel” approach in the weeks leading up to a race; my social networks (both in-person and digital) have expanded to include fellow triathletes, biking gurus, and knowledgeable mentors.  Basically, almost every decision I make—both those related to trishorts and ones that aren’t exclusive to Bodyglide and the like—needs to answer this question:  “How is this helping me become a better triathlete?”

Having the support of your family and friends is invaluable.

Training for a sprint swim-bike-run event falls on the initial tip of the triathlon iceberg—can you imagine preparing for an intermediate-/Olympic distance or half- and full-Ironman?—and I needed my support system.  Even though they thought completing a triathlon was nuts, my parents still supported my goal and bought me a road bike as a college graduation present.  My extended family thought my decision was nuts, too, but they always asked about my training; my aunt event road the Cazenovia Triathlon bike course with me.

As race-day approached, my mom spotted me countless times when I practiced open-water swimming.  When I made plans to Skype with my friends from college, they were understanding about my 9-9:30 p.m. bedtime. (And they also refrained my calling me after they consumed adult beverages during the wee hours of the morning because I “actually needed to sleep because I was training.”) And on race-day, my family came out in full force to cheer me; heck, they even made me a sign!

Although trying at times (pun unintended), this triathlon journey is definitely one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.  I’m totally hooked, and I can’t wait for my next race on Sept. 1!

What fitness journey have you embarked on recently?  Was it smooth sailing, or did you experience a learning curve?  What did you learn from the experience?

6 responses to “What I Learned From Doing My First Triathlon

  1. good for you, Carrie! Hope to see you at a bunch of tris next season!

  2. “What fitness journey have you embarked on recently?”: With 90 more pounds to shed, I’ve had to be willing to make changes when my body levels out. Currently I am needing more cardio on my three gym off days. On two of those days I am making weekly goals to bike 7 miles w/10 inclines.

    Was it smooth sailing, or did you experience a learning curve?  It’s extremely difficult for me. It hurts and is very challenging. I have to set my mind early in the day that I will complete this goal.

    What did you learn from the experience? That I am strong enough. Just because it hurts doesn’t mean I should stop doing it. i wear a heart monitor and it will spike in the 150’s on those inclines…It drops back down quick, so I just have to push through it. i refuse to stop and push the bike.

    September 1 will be here before you know it! Exciting! i’m going to look into finding a local 5K to work toward .

  3. Carrie –

    My journey is almost a duplicate of yours. I dove headfirst into running about a year ago getting ready for my first 5K. My thought process was that the only way I was going to be able to make the sweeping body/fitness changes I wanted was to involve a high degree of running.

    A buddy of mine (former lymphoma survivor and heart transplant recipient) became involved in L&L Society Team-in-Training in preparing for his first 5K. As his addiction grew, so did mine. He’s already completed a 70.3 and a couple of 1/2 marathons, and he successfully signed up for Lake Placid Ironman for 2013.

    My first tri is in 3 weeks from writing this, and I’m completely stoked. Love your blog and I enjoy following your exploits!

    • Looking back, I can see how running was just the tip of the iceberg. It’s still my favorite part of a triathlon, but I also truly enjoy swimming and biking now, too. Good luck in your first tri–you will love it! 🙂

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