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Confessions From A Beginner Triathlete

I want to tell you about something that likely many of you never think about. It’s that at one time I was a beginner triathlete.

When I picked up the sport in 1982 I had no idea what to do to become a triathlete, even though I was inspired to give it a whirl by seeing the IRONMAN World Championship on television. Yes, I did have a background as a competitive swimmer. But in no way did that give me the tools to become a triathlete.

Training for one single sport is a completely different beast than training for a sport that requires getting good at three different ones at the same time. And just because I was coming into the sport with many years of competitive swimming, that knowledge did little to prep me for how to become a triathlete.

Yes, I had been a competitive swimmer. But getting ready for a triathlon was completely different.

First and foremost as a swimmer I went hard all the time. This was just what coaches had us do in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. That mindset got me completely overtrained after the first month going at it as I added in cycling and running.

It was apparent that my swim knowledge was faulty at best. And that’s just taking training. What about racing? That was an even bigger unknown.

I had no idea how to ramp up my race strategy from what I knew, which was about one to two minutes of racing. How was I going to adapt that to competing for a full day and likely into the night.

What equipment would I need for cycling and running? Again, I had no idea! My only resource was friend who was a strong recreational cyclist. He took me down to the local bike shop to find a bike I could purchase. He helped me pick out a used ten-speed that cost me exactly $500 dollars, which was a fortune by the standards of that day. And needless to say, a “10-speed” in 1982 was referring to the total number of gears on the bike, not the number of cogs on the back that today gives you double that.

State of the art in 1982!

He helped me pick out a pair of cycling shoes. They were a pair of Duegis with laces and a wood sole for stiffness. They felt like vice grips on my feet. But I figured he knew way more than me so I bought them. I also got a pump, a spare tube, a pair of bike shorts and a repair kit and we walked out the door.

It was time to put it all to work! The next day my friend, who’s name is Lou, took me out for my first ride. It would be 35-miles of flat and rolling roads along the coast north of San Diego, CA. The first half was exciting. The second half was the worst hour I’d ever experienced in sports.

I bonked completely. For Lou, 35-miles was nothing. He didn’t eat a thing! But I wasn’t trained for this. I ran out of gas at about mile 20. After that I felt like I was fighting for my life to keep going and not fall over.

We finally finished the ride. I has been in that dull full body pained completely bonked state for what seemed like an eternity. Every cell in my body was calling out for me to quit. But even more than that, I dismounted my bike and made a critical announcement to my buddy Lou. I said my ass hurt so much from sitting on that little bike seat that there was no way I was going to be able to do the sport. My goal was to do an IRONMAN. But my southern parts couldn’t even get through 35-miles without it feeling like it was a near-death experience.

Lou just started laughing. He told me not to worry. My rear would get in shape along with all the other things I needed to do an IRONMAN.

Everything did adapt. I did get used to the bike. I did figure out how to blend three individual sports into one sport called Triathlon. But what I sorely missed back then was having a coach. As a beginner, I didn’t even know what questions to be asking. I had no idea what equipment I needed. I had no clue how to eat day to day for recovery or how to fuel during the race. The lessoned were learned the very hard way over a very long period of time in very painful and often demoralizing ways.

I was a beginner who did become an IRONMAN World Champion. That journey would have been very different if I’d had a coach helping!

Those lessons did end up earning me a lot of wins at races all over the globe. But if I’d had a coach, without a doubt there would have been more amazing moments and they would have come sooner.

Today is different. There are so many great resources available that provide guidance to those who are a beginner triathlete. Coaching is THE best way to have all you need bundled into one single go-to spot. And this goes for triathletes and endurance athletes at all levels. You have a choice. Do it on your own, which can indeed work but usually comes with setbacks. Or you can get the guidance of someone who is at the apex of the learning curve and can help accelerate your track as well as help you to have an incredibly positive experience throughout the journey. The choice is yours which way to do it!

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