Triathlon is not only a physical effort, but a mental one too.
Anyone can do a triathlon. I truly believe it. I've seen it. Now, that's not to say you can just show up at an Ironman and expect great things. You need to put in the work.
You really should experience open water swimming for one. Swimming 500 yards in a pool is completely different than swimming 500 yards in a lake. Swimming 500 yards in a really big lake (think Lake Michigan) or the ocean, and that is even more exciting.
And then there is the starts. Many tris use a "mass start", with everyone (all men or women) starting at the same time. Lately, there have been "waves", like all women 20-29 years old start, and even "rolling starts", 3 people start every 5 seconds. But the mass start (or wave start), is what many think of. It is a little nerve wracking. Arms and legs flailing, trying to get going, and get some space to swim. Below is my favorite advertisement showing how to practice the start of a triathlon!
Now, you should also be comfortable riding a bicycle...on the open road, as fast as you can, going up and down hills. Again, very different than riding around the neighborhood with the kids, or down on the rail trail. You don't need some $10,000 speed machine with aero bars and wheels and weighs 16 lbs. But you do need to be comfortable riding quickly, and depending on the distance, as fast as possible, or having the endurance to go 100+miles, and be able to eat and drink while doing it.
Lastly, you'll probably want to start running. Now, you don't have to run the entire distance of the triathlon, but if you want to finish before the time cut off (almost all have a cut off), then running some is a good thing. Again...depending on the distance, speed is a factor, but for the most part, you just need to complete the course.
It would also help to run, after riding your bike. This is called a brick. Do it...you will see why it's called that--and that's all I'm going to say about it.
Now...that's the physical part. Again, I 100% believe that anyone can complete a triathlon. There are people out there with no legs that compete. There are blind folks. There are some really inspirational people (that will be its own blog post).
So what does all this have to do with Spandex?
With any type of competition, be it a triathlon or spelling bee, you must prepare not only your body (or in the case of a spelling bee, your brain), but also your mind. When things get hard, will you push on, or will you quit? If you spell the word wrong, and you are out of the spelling bee, how will you react? Will you quit forever? Will you try harder next time? Will you tell the teacher to f-off? This is what separates many people who compete. It is about attitude. This is amplified in endurance sports.
Not only are you pushing your body to its limits, you typically do it in an outfit that may not be all that flattering. Spandex.
In a sprint tri, there is no changing area. Depending on the course, the race could take anywhere from an hour to 2 hours tops. Do you really want to spend those extra 15 minutes trying to change out of your swimsuit into something comfortable to wear on the bike? Then change again to go run? Nope.
Now, the tri suit is more than just spandex. It is almost like bathing suit material. It is meant to get wet. It has a pad (chamois) that is thinner than those you would find in most cycling shorts, but it is just enough so your ho ha and bum don't hurt so much. It is also just enough that you can run in it, and it doesn't look like you are running in a saggy diaper.
It is the perfect clothing for a triathlon.
It is not very flattering for those of us who are not 24 years old and have had children.
See, mental fortitude is needed in this sport. I honestly was petrified of going out there in the outfit you see here. This is me, finishing my first ever triathlon. This was my only tri suit. I am definitely still carrying the baby weight of my second child, who was born 2 1/2 years before.
But I did it. I also swore that I'd never do another one.
My mantra during the run portion was, "this is a stupid sport. This is a stupid sport." I'm not kidding.
Two weeks later I was back at the same location for another spring tri. And I cut 7 minutes off my time from the previous week.
We have been told daily how to diet, how to get rock hard abs, how to "get the body you've always wanted." Bullshit.
Yes, we should probably eat better, and not drink so much, and get a little more exercise. But, seriously...unless you have serious health issues because of your weight and diet, you should embrace your body. Go ahead, give yourself a hug, I'll wait.
It's taken a long time and lot of reading (again...that's a whole another post) to get it through my thick skull that I am beautiful no matter what. It doesn't matter that I'm 10 pounds overweight. It doesn't matter that I have that little pouch. I eat pretty healthy, but I do love fried, greasy food. I don't beat myself up for eating pizza and having a beer. Thank you Mirna Valerio (aka The Mirnavator) for reminding of this.
That is another thing that triathlon has taught me.
Now...I don't mind the tri suit. It still shows off the "love handles." I know that it really doesn't matter what I look like. All that matters is that I am happy and I enjoy competing in triathlons.
This year...there were not races for me. COVID had other ideas. I'm a little sad about this, but I still wear the tri suit while I'm working out. I'm used to it. And that baby gut is still there--maybe not quite as pronounced as 2012, but after the past several months of ice cream and margaritas (which definitely helps when everyone is home all the time) it's made a comeback. But I'm not worried...I still have the fire in the gut to push myself both mentally and physically. Baby gut and all.