Inside the Triathlete Brain: Why One Progresses to a Longer Distance

September 13, 2018



There has been talk amongst the team about next season, our goals and aspirations, some of us are eyeing Lake Placid Half Ironman as our next big challenge, some might be thinking what the what!? In case you are not familiar with triathlon distance, a half Ironman (also referred to as 70.3) consist of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 miles bike and 13.1 miles of running, common mortals finish in a 6+h time. As Joe nicely puts it: yes, all in one day, yes, one after the other. But not all at once! That would be quite a feat!

Why? Oh why!!!! ANYONE would want to put themselves through that you might be wondering? I mean, the sheer fact that we are out there “moving” on a regular basis already puts us ahead of the curve, adding that we not only practice “one” discipline but three? That should be enough to keep anyone feeling accomplished, satisfied even, right? Not for everyone apparently, triathletes are a weird bunch I guess…

As in any sports (and in life really), triathlon is a progression. Most people don’t just wake up one morning being a triathlete, it comes up overtime, maybe sneaked up on you but it was mostly a progression. One may start as a casual runner who wants to explore something more. Or one may decide that fear (let’s say of water?) is something that needs to be confronted and get over with. I can’t imagine a better way than swim in an open body of water with hundreds of “friends” to kick that fear to the curb! This is how a fearful first open water swim turns into a first relay race, then a sprint triathlon… then maybe an Olympic… then, why not a 70.3? then… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves now!

Side bar before going further: It would be easy to claim to do the distance for bragging rights… I mean, many can fake their way through a sprint, some even could somewhat manage an Olympic without too much training or thoughts. Although ill advised, it is “doable”. For any longer distance, going for a 70.3 (or more) without proper preparation would be completely nuts! One could argue that bragging rights are earned just with doing triathlons, some argue that you earn them with longer distance… all are probably true depending on your point of view. However, if you are doing any of this for bragging rights, you might be in for some disappointment… The cold hard truth is nobody cares about your weekend adventures and you will ALWAYS find someone who is better, faster and can go longer and more often than you, get over it now, and find your real inner reason for doing this stuff! As Vic and Jean always say, your “why” will carry you through the finish, make sure you have a good one! Off my soapbox now…

If you have stuck with this sport this season (or over many years) and put in the work with all the discipline it requires, I don’t need to sell you on how alive this sport can make us feel. You probably have a “why”. Seriously, have you ever stop to think just how glorious a morning swim in open water can feel? How exhilarating a hill on a bike can be? How meditative and relaxed a run can leave you? Maybe it’s just me, but every morning I wake up to train, even if I do so against all fibers of my body wanting to stay in bed just 5 more minutes, I never regret it. It always makes me feel a little more alive, a little more grateful about what my body can do. Apparently, all that happy gratefulness can be a little addictive, some of us stay content doing shorter events for fun, some of us don’t quite reach contentment until we push our limits just a little further, just to see if we can do it… Nothing worth having is easy to get they say, right? Again, progression.
Where does that desire come from? How does it build? Hard to say. As a teenager, I used to watch Ironman Kona on TV. (yes people, it used to be on regular TV!) I have vivid memories of how inspired I was watching the stories and heartache of the competing athletes. The discipline, the determination, the true meaning of “anything is possible”. I was an active kid but by no stretch of the imagination was I “athletic”. The idea of triathlon was foreign to me, but I still spent that whole day watching, bawling my eyes out at the raw emotions that came with race day for these athletes. Maybe my “why” to go further comes from the hidden desire inside that little teenage girl to push her own limits but never quite knew how capable she was. I see Half Ironman and Ironman distances as metaphor for how life is. Maybe going for the longer distance is a way to prove to that little girl that with grit and discipline, one step at a time, anything IS possible.

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