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Triathlife With Jesse Thomas: Why Triathlon Sucks

Things that suck about triathlon—and what to do about it.

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Things that suck about triathlon—and what to do about it. [Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the September issue of Triathlete magazine.]

OK, OK, OK. You bought this magazine. Or, at least you decided to pick it up while killing time at the airport bookstore or a nail salon or dentist’s waiting room. You’ve started reading this article, which means you’ve made it past the table of contents and the funny graphics. You’re digging into the meat of it. You are clearly (somewhat) interested in triathlon. Maybe, just maybe, you even like it.

Well, sorry to ruin your mani pedi, but this article is all about why triathlon sucks!

This is my 38th column for Triathlete magazine, so it usually takes a while to break through writer’s block and start an article. But as soon as my editor Jené suggested this topic, the ideas flowed like the salmon of Capistrano.

My dozens of readers also have dozens of things they don’t like about triathlon. As soon as I put the request out for ideas, we all jumped in feverishly, using social media for what it’s best for: bitching about stuff with no suggestion of solution or compromise.

But whether you’re a lifetime Triathlete subscriber or about to get your teeth cleaned, you’re probably similar to me and like this sport enough to deal with triathlon’s sucky parts. And instead of adding to your Facebook feed with a rant, I tried to include ways to best deal with the drawbacks.

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In no particular order, things that suck and how to cope:

Swimming! —@justin_guidroz
Oh snap, swimmers! This was my first thought when thinking about this article, and it was the reply I got a from a lot of my readers—like at least four. I will say, eventually swimming gets better, but it’s kind of like how eventually listening to your mom’s music gets better. It’s not actually good; your brain just finds a way to be somewhere else while it’s happening. My remedies to mitigate swimming suckiness: Swim with people (Masters team, group of friends, random dude in lane), and swim in open water whenever possible. They aren’t great solutions, but that’s the best I can do.

Getting up early —@hojuman
Waking up early for triathlon usually means you’re either racing or swimming. Both of which suck extra hard because the first thing you do is swim! After six years in the sport I don’t have any solutions to making waking up early hurt less. It always sucks. The only thing I do (besides not waking up) is try my hardest to remember through brain fog that I’ll be happy when I’m done working out and it’s only 8 a.m.

Strength training
Damn you, Crowie! Damn you, Dave Scott! Did you really have to go win a bunch of world championships and then say that strength work is an important part of training? I would rather have gone on living in ignorant dumbbell-less bliss. But to make myself do it, I make sure I have plenty of podcasts or audiobooks on cue, and if possible, I try to find a lifting buddy.

How long it takes to get ready for a freaking bike ride.
It doesn’t matter how much time I set aside to get ready for my bike ride, it always takes an extra 15 minutes. If anyone has a solution to this one, let me know!

Expensive entry fees
This is one of the biggest complaints. As I’ve written about before, there are tons of great local or regional triathlons that are much less expensive, and provide a just as awesome—if not better—experience for most of us. I still go back to the Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove every year ($80–$95 depending on distance). Check out your local scene to save some coin.

Bike fees at the airport —@ironman999
The worst part of traveling is the coin flip of airport check-in attendants. The nice ones let you slide; the mean ones make you add an extra $400 round-trip. My solutions: Get a Rüster Hen House (bike case that is small and doesn’t get charged), ship your bike with or bring beer for the check-in people (I stole this one from Linsey Corbin).

All the anal people trying to one-up each other with gear, training stories, difficult race conditions, etc. —@tigers1997
Every sport has its toolbox factor. My solution: Don’t be douchey! Encourage people to try the sport in a non-intimidating way. Don’t start conversations with the words “watts,” “aero,” or “compression.” Ask people about other things that happen in this world. Be a nice person.

Not enough Porta-Potties pre-race

No toilet paper in the Porta-Potties
The length of the Porta-Potty line is one of those uncontrollable pre-race nervous factors that makes me … have to use a Porta-Potty. I always scout potential alternative potty spots pre-race. Whenever possible, I stay within a 5- to 10-minute jog of the starting line so I have my own private throne. And in the most dire of circumstances, I carry some TP with me pre-race and find an appropriate “natural” place to go.

Training time-suck. —@swimbikedrink
Yep, it’s a lot of training, takes a lot of time, yada yada yada. OK, I only included this one because of the Twitter handle. Nice work.

Early starts, drafting rules, cars, boring courses, no shade … Answer: @XTERRAoffroad. —@ganter1010
I’ve unfortunately never tried XTERRA, but all these reasons sounds reason enough to give it a go!

All of the hair washing (solution: do not wash hair/shave) —@ohnoletsgo
I have the same problem and the same solution!

Chafing in places you don’t know about until the post-race shower.
—Barb Eaken Cymanski
Lube everywhere.

Race morning nerves … and trying to stomach breakfast. Hits me every time and I hate it the most! —Jon Hughes
Try meditation for 10–20 minutes when you wake up before a race. Download the Headspace app to give it a try.

Temporary tattooed numbers are sticky and hard to remove after race. —Anne Varner Clancy
The only valuable piece of advice in this article: Put some packing tape over it, press down hard, pull it off in one big swoop. The packing tape sticks great to the tattoo, and not too much to your arm!

Travel logistics —@GrizzlyBaird
My wife made a New Year’s resolution for me to spend less time booking flights because, by her estimate, I spent 300 hours in 2014 adjusting filters on I’ve found that if I give myself a deadline to be done with planning, I can usually make it. Better yet, sometimes I time myself and go for a speed record.

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