It’s the plight of the triathlete, isn’t it? That our sport is so much more than the sum of its parts? It’s not just swimming, then cycling, then running. Rather it’s cycling after swimming and then running after cycling, which you did after swimming. What’s the difference? Why, I thought you’d never ask!
See, many triathletes will spend their off season (or early season) breaking the sport down into three distinct parts: the swim, the bike, the run. That’s what this time is for—focusing on mechanics, form and beginning to build base fitness in each discipline. And if you’re a long-course athlete (as am I), then volume is usually relatively low (at least compared to what will come your way when you enter a real race-specific training cycle).
My point is that it’s a time when many of us come out of our caves, spread our social butterfly wings and flit off to join a lot of groups—Masters swim and a local track club. Perhaps a Computrainer class, with a splash of Cross Fit. And we do this with gusto because before long, volume will increase and we will once again become an island—especially when training for long-course races. Because unless someone is training for the exact race as you, few have any interest in a 75-mile ride followed by an 8-mile run just for shits and giggles.
When I join these groups as a triathlete, I recognize that there are many runners, cyclists and swimmers that are really good because they focus solely on that one particular sport (okay, and because they’re really good). But as triathletes, we bring a different kind of running to the track club, a different kind of cycling to a group ride or cycling class and a different kind of swimming to Masters. Personally, that always makes me feel that while I’m reasonably good at these three disciplines, I’m great at absolutely none of them. Oh, dry your tears and halt the violin playing—no one’s asking for sympathy—it’s just a funny observation that reminds me over and over that triathlon is indeed an independent nation. There are exceptions, of course—many athletes transition (pun totally intended) to triathlon from a single-focus sport. Of course. But even these athletes learn quickly that they have to allot their training hours a little differently as a triathlete. For example: my former Masters swim team had some really serious swimmers who average 16,000+ yards a week. And they’re pretty damn fast. However, very few of the age-group triathletes I know get anywhere near that volume (I sure as hell don’t—lucky to get in half of that). And that’s understandable because we only need to be faster than or as fast as other triathletes—not super star swimmers. And any over-focus on one discipline will most definitely come at the expense of the other two. If you’ve ever hung around for the post-race awards ceremony, you will note that those on the podium are winning awards for their rank in the overall race, not in individual sports (although certainly there is overlap).
So, while many of us love this time of season where we can be more social, it requires the embracement of being—gasp—average at times. Of maybe being fast, but not the fastest. Or maybe being downright slow and proud of it. Because I’m convinced that if you multiply “average” by three, you get “above average” by the time race season rolls around. I know this because I majored in legal studies about 17 years ago while mastering the keg stand.
So when you swim, admire the crazy sculpted lats and powerfully broad shoulders of the superstar swimmers around you. And when you cycle, gape in awe at the lithe quadzillas. And when you run, send positive vibes to the wiry, bird-boned butts kicking up dust in front of you. (I know, I know—I’m stereotyping! But I’ve been dying to use the “quadzilla” joke.) But most of all? Be confident that we are a different breed of athlete who just needs a different stage on which to shine.