Us triathletes are often the lone wolves of the endurance sports world—and we often take pride in our solo status. Why spend a Saturday enjoying a long adventurous ride with friends when you can sit on your indoor trainer hammering strict watt-based intervals in ERG mode by yourself for four hours? Sure, we might give up the group-based, good-time stories, but we have a TrainingPeaks plan that’s 100% green because we didn’t let friends get in the way of a good workout!
I’ve always said that one of my superpowers is to take an everyday regular hobby that most people actually enjoy, and squeeze the fun out of it until it’s a source of stress. And I don’t think I’m alone.
Like most new triathletes, I struggled at the beginning. I could barely swim 100m; Olympic-distance bike legs were a long long ride for me; and my weekend “long runs” were five painful miles. But after a couple of years, I found groups of friends to train with, learn from, and be motivated by. These training partners ultimately were what pushed me to become a better athlete.
But, after a few years of amazing times with these groups, I decided it was time to “take triathlon seriously.” I hired a coach, made my training plan the supreme emperor of my life, and cast aside my training partners so that I could hit every workout, interval, power number, and check off every workout box.
The good news was that I did get faster. (I never thought I’d be able to race a full distance in under 10 hours!) The bad news is that those few years of slogging it out solo are a blur. I remember the finish times but few fun times. Instead of group weekend long runs followed by eating pancakes until my stomach hurt, I ran by myself to make sure my heart rate was exactly 135bpm. Instead of morning swims where we’d practice dive starts and shoulder to shoulder drafting just because it was fun, I stared at black lines by myself for four to five hours a week.
I always told myself and my training friends that I was just focusing on the next race and that I’d rejoin the group after, but one race always led to the next and eventually the group found another pale, blonde, slightly chubby, only half-talented athlete to train with.
Of course, not all training needs to be (or should be!) done in a group, and when you have big goals you will absolutely need to do some workouts solo and check off those boxes. But when I look back on the time I’ve spent training for endurance events, the best moments were always the ones I spent with friends. I had more fun, and I’d even go so far as to say they pushed me more too. Turns out, there’s a reason wolves travel in packs.