Last summer, in conversation with a few colleagues about fitness routines, I discussed training for triathlons. One of my colleagues was perplexed, “YOU race triathlons?” she said, “I had a friend who raced triathlons. He was a really fit, strong guy. You’re a pretty girl, but…”

Me at the starting line of my second tri

 

I bristled, stated that, yes, I did race triathlons, and let it go. I know my colleague wasn’t trying to be cruel or dismissive. She was genuinely surprised. Unfortunately, she’s not alone. General perception among folks who haven’t had much exposure to the sport, is that triathletes look like these guys. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard spectators at a triathlon express their surprise at the diversity of body types of the racers (while ignoring the lack of other kinds of diversity).

 

The truth is, just as all skiers don’t look like Mikaela Shiffrin, all triathletes don’t look like Gwen Jorgensen. I’d like to put the notion that triathlon is just for the pros and uber fit finance dudes to rest. Triathletes look like this and this, and like me. In short, they look like all of us! To that end, I’ve recruited a few amazing triathletes to share their stories, to show all of us what a triathlete looks like, and maybe (just mayyyyyyyybe) to inspire you to try your first (or next!) triathlon.

First up, meet Irene!

Favorite triathlon memory or your proudest accomplishment as a triathlete?

My favorite triathlon memory is from my very first triathlon. During the swim I had a panic attack and almost DNF’d. But instead, I switched to the backstroke, and while the sun was on my face, I had to talk myself out of the attack. I told myself that I had trained for this, that I was fine and that I could do it. My little pep talk worked and I switched back to the crawl and kept going. Then, as I ran out of the lake to the transition, I cut the bottom of my feet on some sharp clams (or something) on the bottom of the lake. My feet were bleeding badly. I made the decision to just keep going and that my feet would be fine during the bike, and I’d worry about the burning pain and bleeding soles during the run. During the bike, my tires sprung a slow leak. Because I didn’t have any extra tubes, I just finished that leg of the tri with soft tires. During the run, my knees were jelly, my feet were still bleeding, and in pain, and I was exhausted. But I made myself keep moving. I finished that race 6th person to last. But I finished. And crossing that finish line was my favorite memory because my mind, body, and circumstances went against me, but I fought through it.

Irene looks like a triathlete
photo courtesy of Irene

Ever heard someone comment on how a triathlete “ought” to look?

I have had people make comments on my weight during races all the time. During my second triathlon, someone came up to me at the end and said she didn’t think I’d finish the race because I was so big, and that she was proud of me for getting over overweight hurdle. WHO SAYS THAT?

What you wish the world knew about YOU as a triathlete?

Size does not matter. What matters is what a person can do.

Next, let’s meet Katie!

Favorite triathlon memory or your proudest accomplishment as a triathlete?

During my first olympic distance triathlon, I was very, very nervous about the ocean open water swim. I felt great about the bike and I had been a runner for a long while. Yet, the swim was a constant worry for me leading up to the day, which I know now is a pretty typical thing for triathletes. I was in the novice group, which was the second to last group in front of the relay teams. We were supposed to swim at a steep diagonal with the current to hit the first buoy that was out in the ocean. I overshot it by just a hair, but fighting my way back against the current to swing around the buoy was the hardest part of the entire triathlon. From there, I struggled. The waves were at the max height allowed for us to swim, and it was incredibly difficult. I could barely keep up a consistent stroke before a wave would hit me. By the time I was halfway done, the relay teams had all passed me and half of the novices had DNF’ed [DNF = did not finish]. I took in a LOT of ocean water, and I ended up being the very last one out of the water. I honestly do not know how I finished, because it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done outside of a PR marathon. I was able to slam through the bike and the first 2 miles of the run, but by mile 3.5, I was vomiting back up the ocean water I had swallowed. Again, I have no idea how I finished this triathlon, but I did. It was sheer perseverance and determination. Either way, I’m proud that I DID finish. And it only goes uphill from there!

Ever heard someone comment on how a triathlete “ought” to look?

“You do triathlons? Yeah…okay.” So many people judge us by the way we look. I do not look like someone who is perfectly fit. I have large bones in my legs and a lot of muscle, but I also have fat and a good amount of cellulite. I have a lot of stomach sensitivities, so my eating habits differ week to week based off those. So, I don’t have a flat stomach. I have big boobs, and that means I have to wear two bras. I’m just not the magazine cover look of a runner or a triathlete. When I saw this picture of me, I was automatically horrified. I picked out all the flaws and all the problem areas I know are there. It’s so typical for us to do, unfortunately. Then, I made myself look again. I turned my perspective around. This was the transition between bike and run, and I was rocking it. I finished this triathlon through rough, tough, and hot conditions, and I look back at it with proud memories. I am strong. I am so much stronger than I ever thought I was, and THAT is what matters. It’s not how I look or how others perceive me. It’s what I do and how I feel. I felt strong.

Katie looks like a triathlete to me.
photo courtesy of Katie

This body runs marathons and half marathons and finishes triathlons. This body runs overnight relay races and lifts heavy weights. This body is mine, and I work so damn hard for it. And I’ve seen nothing but progression not perfection. Progression is the success. There is no such thing as perfect. The ironic thing is that when I posted something like this on my Facebook wall, so many of my friends responded with the following type of comments: “I don’t see any misconceptions here. You look strong and you look determined. You inspire me so much.” “If someone says anything negative about this picture, they need to look again and see the accomplishment behind that body.” So, screw the haters. It simply does not matter what other people think. All that matters is how you feel and how you progress. Keep it simple and believe in yourself and your strength.

What you wish the world knew about YOU as a triathlete?

I’ve had so many friends say to me, “It’s so cool that you do that, but I never could.” I said the same thing! We ALL said the same thing! Why can’t you? Who says you can’t? All you have to do is try. Put in the effort. Believe in yourself. Work hard. Try, try, and try again. If someone had told me five years ago that I would have this wall of medals and this strong body today, I would’ve laughed in their face. Also, here’s another very important thing I want the world of prospective triathletes to know. Numbers are not important. Times are not important. You are not a triathlete because you hit a certain time or a certain pace. You are a triathlete because you swim, bike, and run. You are a triathlete because you try these things and finish these races. Stop comparing yourselves to others and letting that comparison blur your own strength. Just do it. Just do it to do it.

Now let’s meet Charlene!

Favorite triathlon memory or your proudest accomplishment as a triathlete?

I actually have 2 favorite triathlon memories. The first is during my first sprint tri. It was the first and last race my dad ever got to watch me run since it was in my hometown. I really enjoyed it and we had a family reunion that day. The course doesn’t block off for the bike part so they got to follow me in their vehicles and take pictures the whole time.

My second is during that tri I was dead f%#king last. Not by a whole lot but I was since I didn’t have the proper road bike. There were a bunch of ladies cheering and they asked “did you do the whole thing?” I said yes, and they replied, “That means we can too.” That just warmed my heart. I love showing other people that you don’t have to be the fittest or the fastest to participate in races. Just get out there and do your best.

Charlene looks like a triathlete.
photo courtesy of Charlene

Ever heard someone comment on how a triathlete “ought” to look?

There are so many examples of people who didn’t think that I was either telling the truth about running, or they would just look at my body and laugh. The one that really sticks out is when I was looking for a gym where I could train. My apartment complex had a free membership to a small gym so I went there, and the two men asked me my goals. One was a trainer the other the manager. I said, “I want to race a triathlon.” The trainer said, “So, I went to school and I can help you lose weight.” I gave him a funny look and said, “I didn’t say I want to lose weight. I said I want to run a triathlon.” He went on again about losing weight and how I would meet my weight goals if I trained with him. I finally got fed up and left. How good of a trainer could he be if he couldn’t even listen to what my goals actually are?

Charlene looks like a triathlete.
photo courtesy of Charlene

What you wish the world knew about YOU as a triathlete?

I wish the world knew how strong I am. So many times people talk about how they would survive the zombie apocalypse and my thought is uhhh I’m pretty sure I would because I can get far distances in a decent amount of time. I may not look like their typical idea of a triathlete but I am and I’m proud of it.

Charlene - Triathlete
photo courtesy of Charlene

 

How awesome are these triathletes? Giant thank yous to Irene, Katie and Charlene for sharing their stories!  I also want to shout out to Kelly Roberts who is on a mission to redefine what strength looks and feels like (and whose platform helped me find these amazing ladies); and to USA Triathlon and IronMan for making a concerted effort to break down some of the barriers to triathlon with their new My Time to Tri movement. I’m head over heels for tri, so I’m thrilled that the leaders of the sport are making a concerted effort to make triathlon more accessible to everyone who wants to give it a go.

If you’ve been tempted to try a triathlon – or are a triathlete looking to connect – reach out, let’s talk!

About the Author Aubrie

I'm Aubrie - nonprofit professional / triathlete / adventurer / blogger / currently on a frugal design journey as a new homeowner. Irreverent with good intentions.

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