Tri and Try Again


Let’s face it.  There are times in life when we have to make a change.  When stagnation leaves us no choice but to reinvent ourselves for the better.  When in order to feel whole again, we are forced to take complacency and shake it by its very core. 

If I had any hair, I would cut it.

Instead, after an emotionally arid fall and winter, I have made a decision that I hope will significantly impact my life and all that have to endure me.  Are you ready?  I have decided to participate in a triathlon.   There, I did it.

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For those who don’t care about such things, and fortunately there are many, a triathlon is a popular athletic event which tests the strength, endurance and fortitude of participants.  It is similar in concept to the marathon.

For this dramatic test of the human spirit, we can ultimately thank the Greeks.  For in addition to the European debt crisis, the ancient Olympians handed down grueling athletic events in which well-intentioned human beings punish themselves for no apparent reason.  It was the Greeks who gave us the marathon and the pentathlon and the decathlon and the mother of all endurance events, the Jerry Lewis telethon.  

These ancient competitive events employed various tests of physical strength typically incorporating running, jumping, and throwing, presumably because beer pong had yet to be petitioned as an Olympic event by the fledgling Greek fraternities.

As its name suggests, a triathlon incorporates three distinct physical endeavors:  getting there, participating, and surviving.  For most people, participating is the hard part because it involves swimming and running and riding a bicycle.  But as long as you have a car, getting there is relatively easy.  And surviving, assuming you make it that far, usually involves restful sedentary activities like recovering from knee surgery. 

It used to be that triathlons were the hallmark of rugged, fit professional athletes.

Many years ago, when I was smarter than I am now, I journeyed to Hawaii for the Ironman Triathlon competition, which consists of a 2 mile ocean swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a full marathon run of 26 miles. 

It took an entire week and I didn’t finish.   Or start for that matter.  But from the beach, it was a very relaxing competition.

These days, triathlons are significantly shorter and open to any out-of-shape idiot with a misguided desire to fight slothfulness.  Which is why I am free to make such an irresponsible decision.

In a triathlon, the first event is swimming.  This order placement is not accidental.  Event organizers don’t want people to drown, especially after they have already dropped dead riding a bike and running for miles.   Swimming is a self-selecting part of the triathlon; people who don’t know how to swim usually don’t finish.

The next part of the race is bike riding.  This requires that participants have a bicycle, and in the spirit of American sports, preferably an expensive model designed specifically to be ridden in a wet swimming suit.   The only bike I have is an Exercycle, which is probably too slow.  

The last stage is running.  Running for miles on end requires good shoes, strong abs, and a lobotomy.  As surprising as it seems for such a natural activity, there are good running techniques, which alleviate joint stress, and there are bad running techniques, which give me endless reasons not to run everyday.  From experience, I have learned that the best running technique is sitting.

Unfortunately for me, there are countless magazine articles to con the weak-willed into triathlon training.  And after a lot of research on the Internet, which has itself painfully tested my endurance and stamina, I have come to accept the options before me.  All of them are unappealing, but I am encouraged that there are some triathlons that finish at a bar.

Fitness bloggers who obsess endlessly about this stuff sell the increased health benefits that can accrue from training for a triathlon.  They cite the ability to get in better shape.  I don’t know about you, but circles and ovals have always been pretty appealing shapes to me; I am not sure they can really be improved much. 

Others promote the spiritual benefits that can be achieved training for a triathlon: to live more fully, to find greater meaning in life, to boost confidence, and to bore others with incessant bragging.

I have to remind myself that competing in a triathlon is an accomplishment.  But, as my wife points out, so is completing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle.  So why do it?

If I knew the answer to this, I would probably not commit myself to something so foolhardy as training for a triathlon.  But I’m guessing that it has something to do with chronic avoidance.

So tomorrow, I will make the decision to start.


The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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