As hard as it is to get to the finish line of a triathlon, it’s even more difficult to get to the start line. Life can be full of challenges and uncertainty. Preparation for a triathlon can be fraught with pitfalls along the way. Having a solid support group can be invaluable in getting you to the start line.
By Kevin Heinz
Who are the key people you can enlist in your quest for triathlon excellence? Here’s a starting point.
- Reliable bike mechanic
Some triathletes are skilled and patient enough to do their own bike repairs and maintenance. If you are like many of us, however, your only use for the chain break tool is to open a beer at the side of the road while you wait for your spouse to pick you up. Having a good relationship with a trustworthy bike mechanic is critical. If you stick with the same mechanic over time, your relationship may develop to where that person will teach you a few repairs so you don’t have to always ask for help, or worse, walk home, when something goes “pop” or “clunk” in the middle of a long ride.
- Non-triathlete friends
Unless you have taken up permanent residence in a pain cave, chances are you have a life beyond triathlon. That’s a good thing. When training gets too much or a race goes poorly, it’s refreshing to know there are people who won’t think less of you if you couldn’t make your 100 metre interval time in the pool or that you lost four places in the last 200 metres of your last race. Having friends around you to go out and share a beer or a coffee and not talk about triathlon can maintain balance in your life.
As much as you claim you are not a competitive person and you just race for fun and fitness, your true colours are often shown in the last hundred meters of a race with your superhuman bursts of speed. Your competitive nature is intensified if you know that one person in front of you also happens to be in your age group. After having a couple of close races against these people, you may get to know their names and speak with them at the finish line. You are now frenemies! Frenemies can be very beneficial in keeping you motivated, but choose wisely. To be truly helpful, that person needs to be close to your ability. Having a frenemy who you always beat may lead to complacency. Having one who always trounces you may lead to frustration.
- Your boss
Let’s face it, even though you invest a lot of time and energy into your training and racing, you will probably never make a living from “playing triathlon.” You need a job that pays for those race entries, masters swim sessions and latex tubes. And, to keep that income rolling, you need to keep your boss happy. Although you may have a great boss who is understanding when you come in late from a swim session or leave early for a weekend training camp, you don’t want to cross that line at work and wind up in the welfare line. You need to stay on good terms with that person who is signing those cheques. Going the extra mile in the off-season may be an effective way of sowing the seeds of goodwill once the training and racing season hits full swing.
- Heath-care professionals
Exposure to risk. It’s something that scares parents, drives the insurance industry, and is a fact of life for anyone who ever has done swim/bike/run. Although there is a possibility of you getting bit by a piranha or hit by lightning while training, your biggest risk factor likely is you. Whether you wreck your shoulder from your not-so-fluent swim stroke, or you develop Achilles tendinitis from running, chances are you are going to need some help to get you back in action. Going to a massage therapist or a physiotherapist in the early stages of a sports injury can hasten recovery and get you back to those endorphin producing sessions that make you the well-adjusted person that you are.
- A coach, of some sort
If you’ve ever been to a local rink, chances are you’ve seen children on the ice and yelling out to their parents “look at me, look at me!” Over time, those kids become adults and they most certainly do not want anyone looking at them while they are exercising. Whether it’s because they’ve put on a few pounds or because their technique is lacking, many athletes would rather toil in the shadows than shine in the spotlight, and that’s too bad. Having your running stride or swim stroke observed by a competent coach can help prevent injuries and enhance your performance. Hiring a coach can also make you more accountable in completing workouts and doing them as intended instead of having them become an unfocused “whatever I am feeling on the day.”
- A sports hero
In 2000, how many Canadians were inspired to tri, as Simon Whitfield surprised the world at the Sydney Olympics? In 2017, how many fists were pumped as Lionel Sanders hobbled his way to the podium in Kona? If you think having heroes is just for kids, you might be missing out on a powerful source of inspiration and motivation whether that is helping you get out the door on a cool training day or gutting out the last few miles of an Ironman.
- Your Significant Other
As most triathlon coaches will tell you, the best way to get fast is to train consistently over time, but having the luxury to do that can only come if the rest of your life is in order. Making sure that your key relationship is running smoothly will greatly contribute to your maximal enjoyment of the sport. Maintaining close personal relationships takes time and energy, but shelving a workout here and there or even not signing up for a race may go a long way in showing your significant other that she or he matters even more than triathlon.
Participating in triathlon is often a solitary effort, however establishing and maintaining long-term relationships with people both in, and out, of the sport can be very beneficial. Whether it’s with a frenemy, a swim coach, or your bike mechanic, having strong long-term relationships with others helps you get to the finish line and can make the journey much more enjoyable.
Mission, BC’s Kevin Heinze is a coach with TriJoy, the host of the podcast Fitspeek.com, and a race announcer with Backing Events.
This story first appeared in the January issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.