Friday, July 31, 2015

Five Years of Triathlon-10 things I have learned

Tomorrow is August 1st. Five years ago at this time I was heavy in training for my first sprint triathlon, which took place in September of 2010. Five years ago when I signed up for that first triathlon I never imagined what kind of influence the sport would have on my life. It changed me as a person, for the better, and gave me a method of staying active after my November 2009 gastric bypass surgery. Very active

In this blog I wanted to share 10 thing I have personally learned. This is not a general list, this is a personal list. My experiences in triathlon will greatly differ from another triathlete's experiences.

September 2010, my first ever triathlon
10. The best bike will not make you a better triathlete

This is something I admit to getting caught up in years ago. After I finished my first Ironman in 2011, I was convinced I needed a super bike. A few months after that, we received our income tax return and decided to buy new bikes with it. To my complete surprise, after spending months riding high mileage on a hybrid bike, Joel decided he wanted a road bike. We were planning on getting him a mid grade carbon road bike, and a mid grade carbon tri bike for myself. After going on and on and yada yada yada about super bikes and how much I needed one, Joel offered to let me get a super bike and he would just get a nicer aluminum road bike.

The offer was right there in front of me, but after stepping outside myself and looking at the big picture I just couldn't. My wonderful husband, who had supported this absolute tri crazy-ness, who stood outside supporting me all day long at Ironman Louisville in August when it was 100 degrees, deserved what he wanted. Joel had never had any interest in anything athletic, he used to be a heavy drinker and a pack a day smoker. When he returned home from his second tour in Iraq, he spectated my first tri of 2011, and shortly after wanted to buy a bike. We bought him a nice Cannondale Hybrid and riding that bike was the spark that ignited his passion. He put clip in pedals and slick road tires on it and rode 56 miles with me one day. He started planning all the things he would do once he had a road bike. I had never seen this side of him, and I knew it was because of me, I was so very proud of him. Joel getting a nice carbon road bike was more important to me than having a super bike.

Joel and his prized Felt AR4
My Cervelo P2 was my workhorse for 3 triathlon seasons
I ended up buying a Cervelo P2, which ended up being just as "fast" as a super bike. Although I must say bikes are not fast, its the people riding them (duh). I probably would have had identical bikes splits on my Equinox/P2/Slice than I would have on a super bike, my legs only turn over so fast depending on my current fitness level. I have passed plenty of people on super bikes on all three of the non super tri bikes I have owned. In no way does that mean they don't deserve to have such a nice piece of carbon goodness, which I will get to in #9 below.

The first time I ever won my age group I was on a Trek 1.1C with 8 speeds. It was a cheap junky bike with the worst components ever

June 2010 on my Trek 1.1C, such a newb!
9. You deserve the bike you can afford

Many years ago I got the idea that I would learn flying mounts and dismounts. I watched videos on youtube to learn how. I can upon a video from a sprint triathlon. It was a video about a minute long of a mount line. I wanted to see how people executed flying mounts while in an actual race. A guy came up to the line with a beautiful shiny super bike with a rear Zipp Disc and a front Zipp 808. He was getting a bit tripped up at the mount line and the guy taking the video said "this guys does not deserve that bike". I was very taken aback by that comment. As well as overhearing other competitor at races making negative comments about "slow people who are on super bikes" and why they would bother getting a bike like that when they are slow.

Here's how I feel about this. Its YOUR money, YOU deserve what YOU can afford! For all you know, that beautiful $6,000+ bike is what keeps them going, what gets them out the door everyday, what keep them riding, and that's great. Its no different than buying $6,000 rims for a car because you can afford them. We are a very "blue collar" family. I am currently not working, and my husband is enlisted in the Army. The bikes I have owned, they were the best bikes in our price range. Big race weekends we stay at Best Western instead of the high end hotel near the race site. No complaints at all, I am very fortunate and I love that I have a supportive spouse who does his absolute best to insure I have a great race. Maybe one day after I finish school our situation will change and I can get a super bike, but it will be because we can afford one, not because I met all the criteria on some elitist prick's list of "when you deserve a super bike"

8. Learn to suffer
Suffer, it a word that in our mind brings pain. Suffering isn't just for long course, short course brings it own amount of suffering. True, our life experiences give us a baseline for our ability to suffer, but in training we can learn how to suffer in a way that will pay off on race day no matter what the goal is.

7. The ability to suffer can sometimes outweigh athletic ability

Yes I train a lot, yes I train hard, but I attribute most of my racing success to my ability to sufferYou can get past the voices in your head begging you to stop if you can dig in deeper and suffer a little harder. Have confidence in your ability to suffer. Even today, as a short stocky woman who is borderline athena, I will look at the girls in my age group before the race, looking like fast little whippets, and make assumptions they are going to crush me, but you cannot just look at a person and know their ability to suffer.

6.  Training with partners is so fun, but the ability to train alone is also needed

Some of my best training sessions have been with training partners. I love training with training partners. I would pick training with a partner over training solo any day of the week. But the hard truth is, they won't always be there for every training session. As hard as it is and as much as it sucks, you need to learn how to train and be accountable to yourself

My best friend Loraine is my favorite person to ride with
5. Ironman is great, but the other distances deserve the same respect

Ironman is the pinnacle of triathlon. Most non triathletes at least know that Ironman is a traithlon. Training for any distance of triathlon take time. I've said on many occasions that I feel an olympic is tougher than a 70.3, and I still stand by that because the way I race, it is true. To me an olympic is not simply "half of a 70.3" to me its more of a "double sprint" and that means teetering between orange and red for 2.5 hours, which is very tough. Last year after my intestine rupture I only raced sprints and one olympic, and it really showed me how much emphasize is placed on Ironman. It felt almost as my year didn't matter because I was only racing short course, even though I had a successful racing year and bumped up several hundred positions on my USAT ranking. Sprints are so much fun, and tough! I love racing sprints, and since moving here I use the local sprints to meet new people. There is another aspect to discuss on this, but I will get to that on #2

4. Running is genetic, cycling is neutral, swimming is starting from a young age

On the run at Ironman Loisville 2011
Somehow I have the genetics to be a good runner. I run often and I train hard. But I am 5'6 160 pounds, science says I shouldn't be able to run a 1:44 half marathon or a sub 22 minute 5k, but my genetic do. I know lots and lots of people who run train much more than me, much harder than me, and don't post times like that. I saw it a lot when I was in the Army too, kids that never ran who could just run a 10-11 minute 2 mile with a hangover. Genetics are really a fascinating thing when it comes to athletics.

On the run at a sprint tri last year
Cycling seems to be neutral, you become a good cyclist with work. This is just my experience with triathlon and not actual bike racing.

On the bike at Ironman Louisville 2013
On the bike at an olympic last year

Swimming, the best swimmer are the ones who grew up on swim teams. "Swim team kids" I call the adults who just glide effortlessly through the water and are the first ones to T1. From a young age technique was drilled into their heads and it has always stuck with them. Seeing them training at the pool is sometimes frustrating because they make it look so easy but I just have to admire them. I started swim training for triathlon five years ago and have concluded there is not enough time left on earth for me to become a good swimmer.

Always trilled when the swim is over
3. Triathlon is a selfish sport, make sure those around you know how much you appreciate and love their support

In my triathlon journey I ask a lot of two people, my husband Joel and my best friend Loraine. They support me tremendously, and for all the support I feel that I will never truly be able to show my full gratitude for what they have done, and for what they continue to do. But I try my best, I do as much as I can for Joel and make sure he gets to do all the training he wants to do. I take Loraine out to dinner and get her small gifts to show my gratitude. The last thing I ever want is for either of them to feel unappreciated. I am the one crossing the finish line, but I could not have done it without them. Triathlon is a team sport contested by one.

My biggest fan and the love of my life

Crying in my best friend's shoulder after finishing Ironman Louisville 2013

2. No matter what, your floor is someone else's ceiling and vice versa

From #5, I don't like hearing the term "just a sprint". Everyone is different and you have no idea what they have gone through to get to that point. After I have finished my race I usually stay near the finish line to cheer my fellow competitors in. I have seen the last finisher in a sprint, tears streaming down their face, arms hoisted up in the air, with the same expression on their face as someone who is finishing an Ironman. You know what, maybe with their adversities in life, and the courage they had to build up to sign up and train for this sprint, this race was an Ironman TO THEM. What is simple to you may be this big monumental thing to someone else.

Finishing Ironman Louisville 2011
In training, running an easy pace to me could be a panting all out sprint to someone else. I have been on the other side of that at the pool. When a fast swimmer was laughing at how slow my half ironman swim pace was. This made me leave the pool with my head hung and discouraged. I have never done that, nor would I ever do that to another person in regard to running. The last person who finishes the race deserves the same respect as the first person who finishes. Your floor is someone's else's ceiling, what is easy to you is difficult to someone else, and what is difficult to you is easy to someone else. My "fast" 100 meter time is 2:07, I can't maintain that for longer than 100 meters, it is difficult for me. On the other hand, if I don't feel like running I can cruise a 24 minute 5k with minimal effort.

1. At the end of the day, triathlon is a hobby

I put this at #1 because this has been the most important thing I have learned. I am an age grouper, I will never be a professional. My livelihood does not depend on triathlon. If I don't do well at a race, my kids still have food on the table. I train as an outlet, I race because I love it. That's all there is to it, simple as that. It is a hobby and I treat it as such. I got really caught up in it back in 2011 when I was training for my first Ironman, and afterwards I had to learn balance and compromise. Today I have a healthy mix of family time, husband and wife time, training time, and how many weekends I choose to race. My whole family is behind me for my third Ironman, and that means the world to me.

I love having a shared love of riding with my hubby

Thanks for reading!

Muncie 70.3 a few weeks ago, could not have done it without my support system


  1. Hi Jillian! I followed your other blog and for some reason was goofing around on BT yesterday and saw your updated sig line. I'm so happy you have recovered and are triathlon-ing again!

  2. Great post and congrats! I came across an old post of yours on the BT forums when I was researching a used Felt S22. I like your rule #10 and rule #9! I'm getting my first (used) tri-bike and I'm excited for my first "real" triathlon season. Good luck to you!