Triathlon Training—The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Susan Lacke is back this week with more discoveries from her new life as an endurance athlete.  After running her first marathon in February, Susan is currently training for Ironman Wisconsin 2010.

At the start of my last post, Matt introduced me as a “vegetarian marathoner and 2010 Ironman hopeful.” Looking at those words felt…surreal. That phrase looks so impressive and glamorous, two words that have never been used to describe this particular No Meat Athlete.

I’m a huge klutz known for eating the pavement on my runs. I still haven’t mastered clip pedals on my bike, so I crash at least once per ride. My swim coach tells me to quit whining at every training session.  And before each race, I pray that if God has any mercy, he won’t let me be Dead F’ing Last. God doesn’t always have mercy. ..but he has a great sense of irony and humor, apparently.

For better or worse, though, triathlon training is something that I love. If I can do it, anyone can. If you’re thinking about taking up the sport, perhaps you can fulfill the impressive and glamorous role to make up for dorks like me. If you’re still on the fence, I’ve outlined the good, the bad, and the ugly of how triathlon training has impacted my life:

The Good

Triathlon training works the entire body. Every single square inch of it. And it shows.

Triathletes are sexy-looking folks, y’all, and I’m not just saying that because I’m biased. They’ve got GREAT arms, shoulders, legs…because they use all those parts on a regular basis. There’s also a confidence that comes as a result of pushing the limits of your body consistently.

I used to be incredibly insecure about my body. I was heavier and my proportions were much different than they are today. I will never be rocking a hot Hollywood bod, but I’m much slimmer, much more fit, and much more in love my body than I ever thought I could be. I love that over time, it’s turned into this efficient machine which allows me to accomplish feats I once thought impossible.

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I thank my body on a daily basis for allowing me to do such cool things. And sometimes, I even look in the mirror, do some flexing, and say, “You stud-ette, you. You sexy triathlete animal. SSSS-GROWL!” Don’t deny it, fellow NMAs: You do it, too.

My relationship with food has changed entirely.

My roommates and friends from college may recall some of the idiotic methods I used to lose weight quickly. Some were stupid (not eating food during the day so I could “save” my calories for the beer I was drinking at night), some made no sense whatsoever (existing solely on Diet Coke and apples for a week), and others were downright dangerous (laxatives and diet pills).

Food was the enemy; it was something that I felt I had no control over. Since I’ve become a vegetarian, food and I have decided that we actually like each other. We’re BFF’s, actually. I love food! It’s the energy source for what I do, and I have a responsibility to choose premium fuel for my body. Vegetarianism, for me, is a choice I consciously make every day to treat my body to the awesome fuel it deserves.

My active veggie-loving persona also allows me to feel almost zero guilt when my alter ego, the indolent cupcake-loving side, comes out to play every now and then. It’s a good balance.

The Bad

Triathlon training works the entire body. (Déjà vu, anyone?) And it HURTS.

Most days I’m fine, but there are some days when saddle sores, blisters, bruised toenails, and muscle aches make me cringe with every movement. You can always try to play off your injuries, bruises and scrapes as something cool, like you got in a bar fight with a ninja. Eventually, though, people will find out the truth…and unless they’re a triathlete, too, they’ll think it’s kinda lame.

My apartment looks like someone came in and vomited triathlon everywhere.

I don’t have a dining room. It’s my bike cave. I spend hours on the trainer pedaling furiously, but never make it to the living room 3 feet away. The toilet in my spare bathroom doesn’t work, but that’s okay: I never use it as a bathroom. It’s the wetsuit rinse and storage unit. I can’t open a closet or chest without running shoes or hydration packs stumbling out and hitting me on the head. I store extra ice in the freezer for after my races – unfortunately, not for a celebratory margarita, but for those inevitable aches and pains (see above).

The clothes are not flattering.

Triathlon clothes are skimpier and tighter than anything Julia Roberts wore in “Pretty Woman,”  and that’s not exactly a good thing. Sure, I love my body, but spandex suits always seem to exaggerate the parts I still struggle to love.

Additionally, I’ve embraced the fact that no matter how I dress it up, my padded bike shorts will always make me look like I have a horrendous case of Camel Toe.

The Ugly

Whizzing can be complicated. Seriously.

Sneaking behind a bush to discreetly pee during a race is acceptable (and, judging by the hoots and hollers some of your fellow athletes will give bush pee-ers, ENCOURAGED). However, sneaking behind a bush to discreetly pee during one of your regular training runs is “public urination,” and in most states results in a stern talking-to from the police and 100- to 500-dollar fine.

Not…that…I know from…ahem…personal experience.

But the logistics of finding a run or bike route that has a bathroom or two along the way (and will let you use it when you come clomping in there wearing your embarrassing cleats and camel-toe shorts) can require a LOT more forethought then you ever thought peeing would require.

Triathlon is not a sport for the modest.

While we’re on the topic of bodily functions: you might do things that you once thought were gross, like blowing snot rockets while running, or peeing yourself while on the bike.

Nudity is also a strong possibility. The multi-sport aspect of triathlon, especially in the longer distances, requires more wardrobe changes than a RuPaul concert. It’s not like there’s private changing stalls, either. So if you’re the type who insists on doing the hanky-panky with the lights off, either get very comfortable with semi-public nudity or find a different sport altogether.

In all, I wouldn’t change this lifestyle…not even for a second. The good FAR outweighs the bad and the ugly. The most beautiful thing about triathlon is that anyone can do it. If you have the chance to watch a local tri, take a look at who is competing. You’ll see male, female, young, old, blue-collar, white-collar…they’re all there, and they’re a part of this great community. Where else could spandex-clad, camel-toed folks who pee and undress in public find such glory? It doesn’t matter if you finish first or last in a race: You’re still a triathlete, and that’s pretty darn awesome. I hope to see you at the races!



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How to Train for Your First Triathlon on a Plant-Based Diet

triroadmapcoverEver wished there was just a roadmap to guide you to the finish of your first triathlon, starting from where you are now? The No Meat Athlete Triathlon Roadmap covers everything you need to know to train for and race your first triathlon on a plant-based diet, including:
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  1. hahahah this post had me laughing the whole way through! A great and honest view of triathlete and triathlon training. Very nice 🙂

  2. LOL! Cool post, Susan!

    I’m interested in the swimming- it seems the most difficult to casually pick-up for me. How did you go about finding a swim coach? Are they a triathlete too or just a good swimmer you know? And do you do it in a group of people training or is it a solo lesson?

    Thanks for the funny and useful info!

    • Originally, I started with an overall triathlon coach who gave me drills to do in the pool. However, I eventually joined a Master Swim training at my local YMCA and that coach became my guru of all things swim. I’d highly encourage anyone interested in doing a triathlon look for a Master Swim class. A coach can give you tips on improving your form and stroke efficiency, while the social element of being in a group can be incredibly motivating.

      Plus, Master Swim groups usually have a good number of triathletes, so you’d have people with whom you could share battle stories. (And, remember — triathletes are sexy folks, so joining a group where you can see these sexy folks in swimsuits? WHEW. Talk about eye candy. 🙂

  3. Love this post! I competed in IM WI in 2008 and the training really forced me to have a better relationship with food too. It’s when I really started to put effort into planning my meals and making sure I was getting good nutrition to fuel my workouts.

    Good luck at the race!!

    • If you have any wisdom to impart on IMWI, please send it my way! Ultimately, I’m setting my sights on not dying…at least not before the 16:59:59 mark. Anything after that, sure. So any insider tips and tricks you have for me, just punt ’em to me.

  4. Hmm, it all sounds so interesting to me. I think your post confirmed that I want to start training for one in the future, thanks!

    Also excited to get my no meat athlete shirt in the mail asap 🙂
    .-= Eric´s last blog ..Crush the Comonwealth 2010 Day 2 =-.

    • Awesome! I’m glad I convinced you to join the cult! We have cookies and punch!

      Seriously, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you get started. I’m not an expert, but I can certainly help direct you to the people who are.

      Enjoy your NMA shirt. Be ready to get a lot of thumbs-up, smiles, and curious questions from people when you wear it on the street. It’s awesome.

  5. Haha that post made me laugh so hard!! I just finished a marathon so I saw a bit of “acceptable public urination” despite the large crowds and port-o-potties nearby (since they were full). I also get teased often for my tin-man walk every so often when I come into the office after a hard workout the night or day before. Gotta love it though!!
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Inclines & Indian Food =-.

  6. this is a hilarious and oh so true commentary. thanks Susan! and good luck!

  7. oh, you had me laughing! You hit the nail on the head. Right now my entry way is decorated in a motif called “running splendor” (spi belt, watch, road id, ipod, blinky light, running sunglasses, hats, more sneakers than one person should have the right to own, vaseline – don’t ask! – a gel or two, my running bag to hold it all in…..) Look forward to your next guest post!

    • I say we start a movement in interior design. Forget “Shabby Chic.” “Tri Chic” is going to be the next big thing. 🙂

  8. Hit the nail on the head with this one! Good luck with your IM training!
    .-= [email protected]´s last blog ..Time Trial in the Pool =-.

  9. I wouldn’t mind being impressive and glamorous! Great post! Makes my itch to do a tri a bit stronger!

  10. I LOVED this post! I laughed out loud at the public urination part. Keep up the hard work, you’re awesome!
    .-= BostonRunner´s last blog ..It’s Crunch Time =-.

    • If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my friends’ children, it’s that bodily functions are always funny. ALWAYS.

      Thanks for the compliment!

  11. Love it! You work hard for your sport and your body!
    .-= Nicki´s last blog ..Happiness =-.

  12. I adore this. Thank you so much for bringing the human side of triathlon to the world. So many people think triathletes are a bunch of elite athletes with huge egos. Your post proves what I’ve known all along. Triathletes are often funny, hard-working and yes SEXY people! I hope this post convinces people to give the sport a tri if they haven’t done it before.

  13. Ha ha ha! I love this post and it is so true!

    I was cracking up reading about how you look in the mirror and “admire” your triathlete beauty! Ha ha!

    Oh, and tri clothes are definitely NOT flattering in the least bit!
    .-= Aimee (I Tri To Be Me)´s last blog ..Humpastry Day – Cherry Energy Bars =-.

  14. Now that I’m training for my first triathlon this summer, I get it! Hilarious. There are just some things that people don’t get unless they’ve been there.
    .-= Rita´s last blog ..Flipper vs War of the Worlds =-.

  15. Haha! This was awesome! I’ve been a fitness enthusiast for the past decade and completing a triathlon is something I’ve had my sights on for at least the past year.

    I have yet to start training, but this post really energized me and reminded me of the sense of community you feel when sharing the pain, difficulty, and stubbornness required for such training.

    Good luck on your journey and thank you so much for sharing! 🙂
    .-= Raam Dev´s last blog ..You are an Artist =-.

    • The community portion of it is one thing I’ve really loved about triathlon training. If you meet someone else who does tris, you instantly have a rapport with him or her. Everyone’s been so eager to share and support their fellow triathletes, whether they’re newbies like me or advanced Ironman professionals. It’s been great!

  16. How refreshing! And funny!

  17. All of it is so true…and I laughed the whole way through. I did Timberman HalfIronman last year and will do another half IM this year, yet to pull the trigger on a FULL. It is such a huge commitment.

    Good Luck.
    .-= Barb (refuse to be average)´s last blog ..The beginning of Half Iron Man training… =-.

    • It IS a huge commitment. I knew going in how much time and work it would require, and when some of my friends have said “Maybe I should do a triathlon, too,” I have to remind them of how much they’d have to dedicate to training. It’s not just hopping on your bike for an hour a week. I think that’s why people who do long-distance triathlons are so in love with the sport — if they didn’t love it, it’d be hard to force yourself to do many workouts lasting many hours…

  18. I had to laugh about the tri clothes. I just bought tri shorts and a top yesterday and thought I looked like a lumpy sausage. Worse than trying on bathing suits!

    • I AGREE! I was just venting on Facebook the other day about purchasing tri suits. They ARE worse than buying swimsuits! My biggest issue with tri suits is that the ones for women all seem to come in pastel colors or flower motifs, which is SO not me. Boys get to have all the cool tri suits. Not fair.

  19. Lillianne says:

    Love it!!! I want to do this!!

    • Lillianne, I love that you want to get started! If you have friends who do triathlons, they’re a great resource for getting started. There’s also organizations and races such as SheROX or IronGirl who provide mentorship for newbie triathletes as they train for their first race. Let me know if I can be of any assistance!

      GOOD LUCK!

  20. Excellent piece – funny and so accurate. Must however disagree on boys having the cool tri-suits though. After a nasty incident with the washing machine, i found myself having to buy an end of the line/range suite – and lets just say that grey suits show off a bit more than they should.

  21. Wow!Nice, I think that triathlon training is something that really forced me to have a better relationship with food too. I am feeling nice with nutritional veggie foods.

  22. Hahahahah! I can relate! My whole house is one big triathlon changing closet! Hilarious!

    Rose@ The Bite Me Kitchen (and tri stuff here:

  23. L Adams says:

    You are the BOMB! Love the veggie aspect of your post, and especially love the triathlon stuff, too. My 1 bedroom apartment is chock-full of tri paraphernalia and I LOVE this sport – and love all the other nutcases who love it too. Thanks!

  24. Michelle Dinsdale says:

    Susan…your’e my twin! I related A LOT to what you said even though I am only entering my first tri in March (and what a comedy that will be…) thanks for making me feel like I’m not alone! LOVE LOVE LOVE your article!

  25. Melissa says:

    Whoooo boy.
    I’m a marathoner (well, sort of… I’ve run 3 and have two more in the works) and a distance runner. Still pretty newbie, haven’t been running even three years yet!

    But! I love it and recently decided to broaden my horizons. I signed up TODAY for the Iron Girl sprint Tri. It’s a little bitty thing (.25 mile swim, 22K bike, 5K run) in comparison to IM, but I’m still a bit TERRIFIED.

    I also signed up for my first Du. Minneapolis Du – 5K, 18 miles, 5K. Both the Tri and the Du said they were good for beginners so here’s hoping I don’t crash my bike or drown! 😀

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