Triathlons: Not Just For Crazy Skinny People

It’s about that time.

Most days, the weather is above 60 degrees in Chicago.  My bikes are up from the storage unit, standing at attention in my hallway, and my bathing suit has already seen action this season.  The wetsuit still sits on the shelf in my second bedroom, all stored from the last time I pulled it, kicking and screaming, over my fat calves.

It’s time to swim, and bike, and run, and generally act like a big kid with a daily homework assignment to work out and have fun outside.  Really, what’s NOT to like about this idea?

People say to me ALL the time, “You’re a triathlete?  Really? That’s INCREDIBLE!”  Or: “How do you do it?  It’s so hard!”  And I “aw shucks” them, and secretly laugh.  Because training for triathlons is SO much easier for me than running, it’s not even funny – roughly the equivalent of deciding between chocolate chip cookies and Fiber One.  You can guess which one is Fiber One in this scenario.

Why?  Well, it’s this little thing called gravity.  Though I never actually took Physics class, I do know that Mass has a lot to do with how quickly things move – and as a High Mass Individual, when the wheels of gravity are not greased by water – or – well – wheels – well, it’s just not very easy.

Hence, triathlon season.  It started for me a long time ago, and has always been the way in which I lose weight, or just get fit.  But this summer is going to be different.  This summer, I’m job free (at least, so far).  So I should have LOTS of time to train.  Conversely, I’m also at my heaviest weight ever, but that’s okay – just means I’ll have better results on the scale…or just get a chance to test the weight limits on my bike tires.   Either way, I’m sure that it’s going to be a good summer because I’ve got reinforcements – and a plan!

Following my own rules, I’ve convinced two of my friends, Lisa and Val, to sign up for two races with me this summer.  We’ve also joined a training group, which meets twice per week (those good coaches I love at Chicago Endurance Sports got me to the finish line of the Chicago Olympic Distance Triathlon in 2003, and we’re going to do it again this year!)  And I’ve actually signed up for the two races (Lifetime Fitness Sprint in Minneapolis, July 11; and the Chicago Triathlon (Olympic) in late August.)

Am I scared?  No, I’m not.  I know that I can swim for .75 mile, bike for 26, and run a 10k.  But I am intimidated by the amount of work required to do this.  And yet, I know it’s something I absolutely love – so that makes it easier. 

Am I excited?  Yes.  There is nothing more hopeful, more fulfilling, more joyful, than crossing the finish line of a race you never thought you were capable of.  The last time I crossed the Chicago Olympic finish line, I cried like a baby.   This time, I want to cross it slightly smaller than I am now, much stronger, and watch my friends do the same.

If you’ve ever considered doing something like this, but are worried about your size, your stamina, your fortitude, or your anything else, let me just tell you this:  You Can Do This.  Trust me.   I completed my first triathlon weighing well over 200 pounds; and I’m still weighing in on the Big Bus this summer.  If I can do it, so can you.

You’re wondering, now, aren’t you.  What will it take? Allow me to explain:

A Sprint Triathlon is the typical “short distance” triathlon.  It’s a 1/4 mile swim, a 12 mile bike, and a 5k (3.1 mile) run.  At my heaviest weight, this has taken me just over 2 hours to accomplish. 

An Olympic Triathlon is named so because it’s the “Olympic” distance – the one real Olympians run every 4 years.  It’s a 3/4 mile swim, a 26 mile bike, and a 10k (6.2 mile) run.  

If you’ve never done one before, there are a lot of Sprint races, all across the country.  I’d start there.  The USA Triathlon website has a list of the races held across the country, or you can search for a local triathlon club near you who can also help you find some…

So how does it work?  Well, first you swim, then you bike, then you run.  Worried about finishing?  Don’t.  There are great 12 to 16 week training schedules out there that you can use to get started (check Trinewbies.com (my first training program) for examples). 

Other questions I’ve heard over time:

How long does it take to do the swim?  Can I stop and get help?  Are there lifeguards? What about swimmies? Can I wear swimmies?

Deep breaths here.  Okay, I’m a slow swimmer, but steady, and my swim time is generally around 20 minutes.  Yes, you can stop and get help, especially in the Danskin or Trek series starter races (where “swim angels” swim near you with noodles to hang onto when you get tired).  Yes, there are always lifeguards.  And no, swimmies aren’t allowed – but wetsuits are, and they’re the adult version of swimmies (they have a built in flotation shtuff in them, in addition to keeping you warm). 

Can I ride my old/hybrid/mountain/craptastic bike? 

I’m not kidding when I say I’ve seen everything from Huffy Bikes with everything but training wheels to road bikes which first took the road in 1988.  So bring whatever bike you have and get out there. 

How the heck do I run after all that? Can I walk?  Will people mock me?

There is no shame in walking on the run.  You can try to run, but running may not be possible after the swim, and bike, so just do what you can.  I once started a 10k run at the end of a triathlon running a 4/2 interval (four minutes running, two minutes walking) and ended up running one minute and walking two, for 45 minutes.  Hey, it was hot, and I was tired.  And I finished!  And no, I’ve never been mocked for walking – not once.  It’s actually pretty common, regardless of your size.

More questions to come this season – for now, just pray I can find some shorts to swim, bike and run in.  As soon as I do, I’ll drop a post on tri clothing for big girls…

For now, it’s off to the path…

6 thoughts on “Triathlons: Not Just For Crazy Skinny People

  1. You are an incredible inspiration!!! I truly enjoy your zest for life and little side notes about “weighing in on the Big Bus.” Hilarious! You really do inspire us big girls to get out there and haul our large bottoms to the finish line…or in my case the side of the road to gasp for breath. 🙂

    • Deb –
      The side of the road is still the road, not the couch! The key is to get used to patting yourself on the back, so that even heaving on the side of the road feels like an accomplishment! I’m glad you’re out there!!!! As they say, “Fat Bottomed Girls, You Make the World Go Round!” 🙂

  2. I stumbled onto your blog searching for tri-gear for plus-size gals. I’m training for my first tri that will take place this July (also in conjunction with my 30th birthday). I’m getting quite nervous and found your site to be uplifting and inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

    Now if only I can find a good suit that would provide ample support and an easy transition into clothing for the bike and run (my tri is a pool swim, so a wetsuit is not necessary)…

    • Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad for the “stumblers”, and excited that you’re gearing up for Tri #1. About the good suit…ample support and an easy transition…hmm…it’s a hard thing to do – my best advice is, even though your swim is in a pool, do the tri shorts. As Bernadette says below, one of the worst mistakes to make is wearing underwear (or a bathing suit) in the water, then pull shorts up over it. I didn’t think the seams from my suit would be such a big deal – oh, I was wrong. I was completely raw after 12 miles, and add to it the hot weather, not pleasant.

      So…if you can, I’d wear tri shorts + a long bra top – OR a super sturdy bra top in the water, maybe even with a long bra top over it. It depends on how much you want to do. I find the easiest transition for me is to literally wear tri shorts and a sports bra in the water, and to pull on a tank top for the bike – and keep it on for the run. It means I’m only changing any clothing once, and T2 is a dream.

      Not sure how big you are on top, but I like the Title 9 Frog Bra or Moving Comfort’s Maia….

      Good luck, and let us know what you end up with!

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