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A Letter to My Beginner Triathlete Self

Columnist Taren Gesell goes back in time to share a few words of wisdom to his "young, optimistic, naive, beginner triathlete self."

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Many eons ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, a younger version of me was looking for a challenge to help with my health and feelings of fulfillment. I began training for my first triathlon in 2009 and quickly got smacked upside the head with some hard tri lessons. I’m writing this letter now in the hope that time travel will eventually be possible and somebody sends a copy back to my young, optimistic, naive, beginner triathlete self.

Dear Young Taren,

A little birdy told me you’re about to start training for your first tri-a-tha-lon. Kudos! Here are some words of wisdom about what to expect.

Soon you’ll go for your first swim, hoping the swim lessons you took as a kid will have you looking like a short blond Michael Phelps. Not gonna happen, pal; you’re about to ingest more water than air.

Don’t worry, everyone goes through this. I can save you two years of thrashing through swim workouts, though: You’ve got to learn to calm down. You need to relearn to breathe gently and float on the water before you ever get into real swim training. Trust me on this. If you can take three to four weeks away from flailing through “workouts” to just do breathing and floating drills you’ll instantly be a better swimmer than most triathletes.

RELATED: A Beginner’s Guide for Learning How to Swim for Triathlon

Speaking of irrational confidence, I know you’ve got super strong legs, biked everywhere as a kid, and figure you’ve got the bike already licked—you don’t. Biking for speed is very different than biking for transportation. You’re also about to learn that the wind can somehow blow into your face on your way out and on the way back home. It’s one of the mysteries of science that still hasn’t been solved.

Do yourself a favor and don’t “just ride;” do two bike workouts a week with the following structure: The first should be a long, easy ride—just riding steady for as long as possible. Increase how long this is by about 10% each week. The second should be a short, fast ride, which might only be 30–40 minutes long, but includes intervals from 15 seconds to six minutes. Go hard during these intervals. I know this sounds really basic, but you’ll get noticeably faster in just weeks. Trust me.

Finally, I know you think you’re not built for running. I know the first three months are going to feel like you’ve lost a hammer fight after every single run, but it will get better! If you buy a good pair of running shoes and learn to land gently under your center of mass and not out in front of you, that back pain you experience, those shin splints you get, and the aches you feel the day after will all go away. You will, in fact, learn to love it. I promise.

Don’t give up, young Taren, I know these first few months will feel like there’s no possible way you’ll cross the finish line at the spring Try-A-Tri, but if you stay patient and learn as you go, you’ll be able to do things you never imagined. You’ll gain friends who motivate you to be a better version of yourself. You’ll be stronger, fitter, and healthier. You’ll get to travel the world to compete in races in faraway lands and you’ll be a more confident, happy, and balanced person. Be brave, and good luck young fella!

RELATED: Tri 101: How to Get Started in Triathlon