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Being Social While Triathleting: A Primer

Posted: May 19 2018

If you’ve been racing for a while – or just been through one full training cycle – you know what life leading up to race day looks like. And if you’ve managed to surround yourself with a bunch of like-minded weirdos, that life probably seems pretty normal. Hell, your idea of training might pale in comparison to the hours some of your Ironman buddies are logging.

Ironman Training

There's tired...then there's Ironman Training Tired

Let’s pump the brakes and have ourselves a little reality check, shall we? Because to the rest of the world, training for the amount of time some people put into a part time job is far from typical. Planning your weekend’s social outings around your bike rides isn’t the norm. And, believe it or not, there are people who don’t think showing up to brunch wearing spandex and sweat is appropriate.

(Not that that’s likely to keep me from popping in to grab some pancakes in my bike shorts, mind you. Consider yourselves warned.)

Now, sure, you could weed those anti-spandex people out, but if these friends and family members have been a part of your life prior to you deciding to become a Serious Triathlete, they probably have some redeeming qualities. Or provide pet-sitting duties. I mean, there’s a reason you’ve kept them around.

 Pet Sitting

 Unless your dog can do this, you'll need a pet sitter for long ride days

And the same holds true the other way around – there’s something they see in you beyond your ability to hold a perfect 90 RPM on the bike while blowing a snot rocket, shocking as I’m sure this is to hear. That’s a good thing! Triathletes can become just a liiiittle bit focused, and having people around who remind them that there’s life outside of triathlon – that a “transition” can also apply to getting a new job or undergoing gender reassignment surgery, for example – well, that can help you keep one callused foot in the real world of regular humans on Earth. Handy.

So! We’ve acknowledged that A) we have friends outside of our sport, and B) we’d like to keep ‘em.

Now, the question is, how do you do that when you’re gearing up for a big race and the only things you can focus on are that and, like, which flavor of sports drink goes best with the bugs you keep swallowing on bike rides? (Orange, btw.) Good news! I have a few simple rules that you can follow.

  1. Let them know what to expect. If you’re normally the go-to-girl for Friday night margaritas but your training plan means you’ll be enjoying more siestas than fiestas at that time, be honest up front. You’ll put more friendships on the rocks by constantly bailing at the last minute than you will by letting them know you’re switching up your schedule for a couple of months. And you know what’ll sweeten that conversation even more than Grand Marnier floater? Offering up an alternative that will work for you. Like, say, post-brick brunch, for example. Because a girl’s gotta eat – she might as well do it with friends!
  2. One caveat here: If we’re talking about spouses or partners who will be taking on a greater burden (childcare, housework, cooking) or who are used to nightly Netflix and chilling, a conversation before you sign up is advised. Like, strongly.
  3. Invite them to be a part of it – even if that just means being a part of a part of it. Not everyone wants to commit to a triathlon, but if some of your sisters are even a little sporty, see if they’d want to join you for, say, the last couple miles of a long run. If you’re planning a long trainer ride, see if anybody wants to keep you company and watch a movie while you spin. Just make sure your volume will go up loud enough to drown out your heavy breathing. Not that I know this can be an issue from personal experience or anything. Pro tip: By “invite them to be a part of it,” I do not mean you should ask them what their shirt size is, take that as a, “Yes, I’d love to do a sprint triathlon with you!” and sign them up for the race as a surprise. This is true even if it is your husband and you know he could do it and you think it’ll be really fun and probably a great bonding experience. Because while I’m sure he can do it, only one of you will have fun and 13 years later you’ll only kind of be able to laugh about it. Or so I hear.
  4. Don’t assume they want all the details. Remember how, before you started training, you could carry on a conversation that didn’t reference your Garmin data? It’s important to remain prepared to discuss topics entirely unrelated to triathlon, at least occasionally. Try, for example, asking those closest to you what’s happening in their lives. Novel approach, I know, but it turns out that even if you did just have the best training run ever, well … regular life, with stuff like work, family, love interests, movies, dogs, and more goes on, and other people remain incredibly interested in it. Who knew? Now, even if they are interested in your training or race in general, if they’re not actually part of the sport, keep it basic. They’re probably more curious about which comes first, the bike or the run, or how far that 10k run is (sigh) versus the specifics of your nutrition plan and whether or not you think you’ll be peeing on your bike.
  5. Don’t ghost them in favor of your new training buddies. Look, it’s awesome that you’ve found some people who’ll join you in the pain cave and support you in ways your other friends or family members can’t. Really, it is. But friends are like fitness – kind of – in that those relationships require some upkeep. It’s not fair to expect your legs to hold a six-minute per mile pace when you haven’t run since last year – even if you’ve done it in the past. It’s also unreasonable to expect your ride-or-die buddy to be right there waiting for you if you’ve blown her off for four months straight. You don’t have to sacrifice being a good person for being a good triathlete – I swear.
  6. Give props for support. The people who’ve stuck by you haven’t done it because they’re looking for praise – but they sure deserve it. Offering thanks and treating your peeps with kindness doesn’t cost a thing, so sprinkle that shit liberally. You might race alone, but we all know that there’s a team of sorts behind each athlete, so let your team know that your success is theirs. Buy them a drink, send them a card, say a sincere, in-person, “Thank you.” And if the folks cheering for you on race day don’t mind sharing a little sweat, give them a great, big, post-race hug. Just maybe skip telling them about the bike peeing until after everyone has dried off, because in some cases, maybe sharing isn’t really caring.

About the Author

Kristen is a busy (and very funny) woman. She's a writer, a certified triathlon coach, a pet lover and she runs Fit Bottomed Girls which is a site dedicated to empowering women to live a healthy lifestyle.

Kristen Seymour