Fitness realization: you don’t have to be elite to make a splash

So, Sunday was a big deal in our house: dh did his first triathlon! He’s been training for this for the last few months, and though he’s a longtime runner, he had doubts about his ability to finish. He hooked up with the local Y’s “tri-club” and got into group practices at least once a week, and the knowledge sharing was clearly immensely helpful.

All of this prep led up to what he called a “mini-tri”, which is smaller than the “sprint-tri” that he’s going to do next month. Sunday’s tri was a 1/4 mi swim, followed by a 9 mi bike ride, followed by a 3.1 mi run. Swim-bike-run. That’s the mantra. That’s the goal. The one in August is a 1/2 mi swim, followed by a 12.3 mi bike ride, followed by a 4.4 mi run. In other words. this was the warm-up to test the waters and figure out how to make his transitions, what it’s like being in three different packs, etc.

What really stunned me was the bell curve of participants. Sure, a triathlon tends to attract primarily the “elite” type athletes, the ones whose calf muscles don’t shimmy as they walk, the ones whose thighs don’t touch, the ones whose bellies are invariably quite flat (or if they’re bumpy, they’re in a six-pack formation). But the tri also attracted more normal looking folks. I saw people with bellies. I saw people who were clearly “chunky” all the way up to “OMG THIS PERSON IS BIGGER THAN I AM AND I’M A SIZE 14/16!!!”

Unthinkable. Impossible. INCONCEIVABLE! [“I do not think that word means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya]

Even more amazing, these folks finished the tri. Sure enough, there were just over 330 registrants, and nearly 50 of those didn’t finish the race. A couple didn’t make it through the swim. Some didn’t get through the bike portion. Still others couldn’t handle the run after all that came before it.

As I’d looked at the list of the “waves” (groupings) for this tri, I noticed that they had “Clydesdales” and “Athenas” in addition to the standard grouping by age range and gender. I asked dh about this and he explained that the heftier participants went into these categories: Clydesdales for the men, Athenas for the women. Dear Lord thank you for NOT labeling the ladies “Heifers”, since I might have had to slap someone. Even so, was it needed…? Did we have to label these folks separately? DH’s explanation was that there were awards just for those categories – #1-2-3 finishers.

Oh, well that’s different. That’s okay, then.

If you want to enter a race and specifically flag yourself in a husky division, knowing that you stand a chance of standing on the podium among that group of peers, and you’re okay with that – that’s fine. But, honestly, for anyone to finish a tri is astonishing to me, much less for someone who’s carrying a higher BMI than me. That’s just incredible. And wonderful. And inspiring.

Natch, you’re not going to see ME out there, since A) I don’t know how to ride a bike, and B) my doctor has specifically forbidden me to run because of two bad knees. Still, I think it’s fantastic and utterly wonderful that so many “Clydesdales” and “Athenas” raced and finished. Good for them. As the race emcee commented (paraphrasing), what a wonderful way to demonstrate a commitment to fitness.

You don’t have to be elite to race, and you don’t have to be elite to finish. But you do have to try.

Good on you, triathletes: of all shapes and sizes.

One thought on “Fitness realization: you don’t have to be elite to make a splash

  1. Bravo to Josh! Two things: (1) I think I am going to do either an Olympic tri or a half-Ironman in the spring. He’s welcome to join me! (2) I consider myself pretty fit and I can tell you that I was SCHOOLED by many ‘Athenas’ during my last tri. I saw one girl (who was probably a size 16-ish) literally fly by me on the bike…and I was going 22 mph! I have total respect for anyone willing to ‘tri’, but that particular moment reminded me that athletes come in all shapes and sizes.

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