“WOW, 70.3 miles! You’re crazy, what bet did you lose?” The gym owner asked me during our first workout together.
“I didn’t lose a bet,” I said confidently. “I lost 100 lbs.”
Losing 100 lbs was my motivation for doing a Half Ironman triathlon last summer. The distance felt absolutely crazy to me:
- 1.2 mile swim (My primary experience with swimming at the city pool before softball games when I was in middle/high school, despite my coach informing us that was a bad idea).
- 56 mile bike ride (I rode my bike to the city pool – about 2 miles away – about that time).
- 13.1 mile run (Ok, I got that. I’ve done 7 half marathons)!
My Aunt Deb, who is an incredible triathlete and person, inspired this idea! She spent YEARS encouraging me to do a triathlon.
“I can’t swim,” I said.
“Yes you can,” she said. “That’s why you train.”
“But biking 56 miles will take me 4 days,” I said.
“Maybe it takes you 4 hours,” she said. “But that’s why you train.”
“But I am slow at running,” I said.
“Everyone finishes the run with their heart,” she said. “And that’s why you train.”
I did my first sprint triathlon with her four years ago. It was a 500-meter swim, 10 mile bike ride, and 3 mile run. It was, possibly, the worst race of my life. I thought I was going to drown on the swim and had 34 panic attacks in those short 500 meters. I rode a mountain bike with front suspension and averaged 9 mph (today, I am at 17 mph for context). I yelled every curse word going up every single hill. And the run was mainly a walk of me complaining that my calves felt like bratwurst sausage links that were about to explode.
When we crossed the finish line, everyone was tearing down. The DJ was gone. No one announced my name when I crossed the finish line.
But I did it.
And I was hooked on triathlons. I wanted to get better. I wanted to get better equipment. I wanted to devote more time to training. I wanted to see what my body AND MIND was capable of achieving through this sport.
So, I signed up for another one. Then another one. And each time, I had my aunt there to cheer me on and act as my virtual coach – always checking in and always motivating me.
Can you do a triathlon? HELL YES, you can. I know you can. My absolute favorite part of every single race is this fact: there are so many ages and body types that show up on race day! If you commit to the training and fueling your body the right way, I have no doubts that you can complete your first triathlon.
I want to share some nuggets of wisdom that I’ve learned along the way. I plan on writing this in no particular order – just as they zoom into my head and my fingertips write them onto this keypad.
Find a coach or mentor. This could be someone you pay or someone who loves the shit out of you, despite your flaws, like my aunt. She made me a training plan. She checked on me each week. She shared advice. She passed along nutrition information. She called me out when I was working too hard. She helped me cope with my injury. She has been the single most important person in this triathlon journey.
Build a training plan and follow it as much as possible (or you’ll likely get a DNF). I miss workouts. I do. My life is hectic. This Spring, I had a full-time corporate job. I was teaching 3 classes at Miami University with 70 students. I was teaching classes for Richmond Social Media. I was accepting speaking opportunities. And, I was recovering from a back injury ALL while trying to be a mom and wife. It was NOT ADMIRABLE. It was stupid. I was so stressed out that I nearly admitted myself into a stress rehab center. My training suffered and I was incredibly unprepared for my first race in May 2018. I’ll write another blog post about that race, but just know – I showed up 100% unprepared and used all of my mental strength and whatever I had left of my physical strength to do the 1.2-mile swim and 56-mile bike ride in the hills of Tennessee. I had a training plan, but I didn’t follow it. If you are committing to a race this size, YOU MUST TRAIN. That plan becomes your life. It drives what you do, where you go, what you eat, and how you spend your time. It’s no joke. I got a DNF at Chattanooga – but it taught me a valuable lesson in training and listening to your body.
Find a good bike. You should get fitted for a bike. Research on bikes. Ask a lot of questions. Test ride bikes. I am NOT a bike expert. But, I know what it’s like to do a race on a shitty bike. And I know how hard your body works when you aren’t using the right gears OR you are riding on a bike not designed for your body. A lot of people think they can bike because they’ve done it as kids, but biking in a triathlon is intense. It’s also the longest leg of the race. So trust me, you’ll want a strong, comfortable, and trustworthy bike.
Nutrition is the most important part of your race. Fueling your body during a triathlon is massively important – it’s typically what I tell people they need to master the most! During training, I eat exactly what I plan to eat on race day. I mainly use Infinit nutrition (a sports drink) for my bike – this is where you should consume the most nutrition and stay hydrated. On my bike, I also have salt tabs, cliff bar shots – margarita flavored, gel packs, and gluten-free Honey Stinger waffles. I have a snack bag on the front of my bike, but some people just carry their nutrition in their cycling jacket packet OR shove the gel packs up a sleeve OR rely 100% on liquid nutrition. Do whatever is best for you! I just know I’d wreck my bike training to reach behind my bike every single time I needed to fuel up. Self-awareness is important.
Purchase a good tri kit. This is the outfit you wear on race day. Some people like one piece. Some people like shorts and a tank top. Listen, I don’t like a one piece because I don’t want to get completely naked if I have to poop or pee. It’s just easier to NOT worry about that happening – I do that enough with my rompers. Practice in your tri kit. Make sure it doesn’t ride up. Make sure you feel comfortable. Make sure you don’t walk away bleeding from chaffing. And just embrace the awkward tan lines you’ll get from training. It happens to us all.
Don’t worry; nearly everyone gets anxiety over the swim. I am the odd one who LOVES the swim. It’s my favorite part. But find comfort knowing that even the best swimmers get anxiety before an open water swim. It’s all about mentally preparing yourself. I like to show up early to jump into the water and get my head under water before the race starts. I find comfort knowing the course is stacked with boats and kayaks of lifeguards to help out. If you panic, simply find a kayak to hold onto and catch your breath. Calm your nerves. Then, when you are ready, swim again. If you freak out, do doggie paddle for a minute. Flip over for back stroke. There is no rule that says you need to freestyle the entire swim. Just survive the swim. I also like to move out to the left so I am outside of the congestion in the middle and toward the buoys. Also, wear a wetsuit if it’s wetsuit legal! I take about 5-8 minutes off my time if I swim in open water using a wetsuit!
Get out of your head. It’s so easy to worry about if you’re ready. Question your training. Worry about what you see other people doing. Just stop all that crazy talk. You are ready. You trained for this day. When you arrive on race morning, just view everything as one big training day to put everything together. YOU ARE READY. Get your nervous poop out of the way, go pee 45 times, and place those goggles onto your beautiful face.
Don’t compare yourself to other people. No one has the same story as you. No one showed up for the race with your exact motivation, training experience, and goals. That’s the beauty of it all – YOU are only competing against yourself. I mean, maybe you’re competing in your age group. And that’s lovely if you are fast and strong and on your way to a World Championship – BUT, BUT, most of us are just out there to prove to our bodies and mind that we are a total badass and worthy of this distance. Don’t worry about what wetsuit the person next to you has. Don’t worry about the bike they are riding. Don’t worry about their running shoes. Don’t worry about their nutrition plan. That’s about them – and this race is about YOU, darn it. So just show up and focus on you. For conversation sake, please ask questions! Please ask for advice. But do that for the sake of passing the time. DO NOT do that so you can feel terrible when they share something you didn’t do or don’t have. Someone will always be faster than me and I’ll always be faster than someone else -even if it’s only one person. I do believe I’ll do faster than at least one other person.
Find a song or people that take you to a happy place. This could be something like, “I am walking on sunshine” or “Can’t stop the feeling” or one time, I sang the Ninja Turtle fight song, “GO, NINJA, GO NINJA, GO!” Take yourself to a happy place with songs and stories of people that you love. You have a long time on that bike, and you can’t listen to music or podcasts. If you can’t find a song, think of someone new at every mile. Recall stories from your life together. Think about what you’d say to them if they were next to you on the bike. Plan your next adventure together.
Cheer on everyone who passes you. I always cheer on people who pass me and wish them good luck. And often times, people cheer me on as they pass me! It’s a beautiful thing. Always encourage other athletes and lift them up – I promise it will lift up your spirits too!
Thank every single volunteer. THIS IS HUGE. Seriously. These volunteers decided to give up their Saturday to make sure you are SAFE. To make sure you stay on course. To give you water. To give you nutrition. To cheer you on. At Chattanooga, I even had people strip off my wetsuit. They were called “wetsuit strippers” and I wanted to marry them because I am 90% sure it would take it 10 minutes to get out of that thing on my own. Be kind and grateful throughout your entire race.
Use plastic water bottles on race day. This was an awesome tip I learned before my race last year. By using plastic water bottles on your bike, you can toss them at the fueling stations and replace them with course water/Gatorade. Save your fancy water bottles for training days.
Woke up early on race day. Give yourself time to to eat, drink coffee or whatever fuels your soul, listen to good music, and mentally prepare yourself. I am NOT a morning person. In fact, I really dislike mornings. I peak at like 10 am. That’s my prime time. So waking up at 4:30 am and racing around 7 am is hard for me. I have to train myself to wake up early and give myself the time I need to wake up. Do whatever you can to be peaceful and prepared before entering that water!
Make new friends before entering the water. Talk to the people in line next to you. Ask about their story. Ask about why they selected this race. Look at their bib number, and look them up after the race to see how they did. I LOVE making friends before I enter the water – it gives me comfort and motivation.
Trust your training. You have to trust your training on race day. YOU MADE IT. You put in the time. You made a lot of sacrifices. You figured out what makes you feel weak. You figured out what makes you feel strong. You likely discovered areas where you mentally check-out – like when I see mile 6 on my bike and know that I have 50 more miles to go…or how miles 7 to 13 seem to last 16 years on the run. Your training is why you showed up – so trust it, love it, and squeeze it. You are ready, my dear friend.
Pause and take a moment to soak it all in. YOU WILL MISS THIS race. The day will go fast, even when it feels slow. You will cross the finish line and wonder how the heck that all happened. You might cry. You might fall to the ground. You might hug people you love. You might eat a burger. You might wait 3 hours to eat. No matter what happens immediately following the race, I can promise you this – you will miss it. So take a moment to capture with your eyes the beauty of the day. Maybe that’s the shoreline when you’re on the swim. Maybe hat’s a beautiful view on the bike. Maybe that’s a butterfly on the run. Side note, I always think that butterflies who run into you are loved ones who’ve passed saying hello to you. So, I am always looking for the butterflies.
Remember that struggle breeds confidence. When you are struggling, FIGHT! Your struggles will be what make you stronger and more confident. I’ve learned WAY MORE from my failures in life. Mute the message in your head that says you must be perfect. Quiet that voice on repeat that says you can’t do this or that you can’t aren’t capable. YOU ARE SO MUCH MORE than that moment of weakness.
Ask someone to take pictures or a video of you crossing the finish line. It will be a blur when it’s actually happening. And looking back in time at that amazing moment when you accomplished something that once felt SO crazy, will be something you cherish forever. And HUG and love on those people who show up to cheer you on.
Share your story. You never know who you will inspire or motivate by telling your story. Stories are what people go on and tell their loved ones. Stories are what capture the emotions of our lives and build meaningful connections. Stories are actually hardwired into our brains – AND, when we hear a story that hits our emotions right in the sweet spot of our soul, dopamine is released into our bodies. And dopamine is what makes us feel happy, confident, and ready to take on the world. Your story has that gift and power.
Sign up for that race. Don’t wait. Do it now. You won’t regret it – and I’ll be here to cheer you on, offer advice, tell you stories, and release that dopamine to change the world. My mom felt so inspired by my story that she signed up and did a race together, which is still one of my favorite memories in the entire world with her!
As I end writing this blog post, I want to share the text that my Aunt Deb JUST sent me. “Taper this week! Your body will need the extra energy for Saturday. Plus, hydrate, hydrate this week. Eat more good carbs, too. Your body will be putting out more with a warm day. Just a little reminder.”
See why I love her? Also, does Gluten-free pepperoni pizza count as a “good carb” and what about the McAlister’s tea I am dreaming about?