There are many ways to answer the question of “What’s the Hardest Part of Triathlon”—because “hard” is always relative to an individual’s life experiences and abilities. Below we’ll get into the things that triathletes generally struggle with the most, while in this story we’ve got the hardest eight specific moments in tri—and exactly how to overcome them (according to the experts).
As someone who both coaches and races, I believe nutrition is often the hardest part of triathlon to nail. Many triathletes struggle every day with adequate fueling and proper hydration, without understanding how important both are for good sleep, consistent training, beneficial recovery, and a positive mindset.
As a coach, my first response to this question would actually be a question in return: “Why is the triathlete asking this question?” Is there something mentally or physically going on with this triathlete that we should address in training? For example, is the triathlete afraid of attempting a longer distance, their first triathlon, their first open-water swim, or is there a limiting injury they are concerned about?
Given the breadth of concerns there potentially could be, I’ve compiled a list of the top six areas in which, in my experience, triathletes deem to be the hardest part of triathlon:
Dear Coach: What’s the Hardest Part of a Triathlon?
1. Swimming: Oh my, the great equalizer, swimming! The swim is hard for many reasons. Not everyone grows up swimming and learning to swim as an adult is not easy. And once you’ve learned how to swim, there’s then the (often lengthy) process of building swim speed and strength, which can take time, patience, and commitment.
2. Time Management: With only 24 hours in a day, you have to be very mindful of all your life commitments and responsibilities. Commuting, working, training for your next race, and sleep/recovery can quickly eat up your available time.
3. Nutrition: I have already mentioned this above, but I know from personal experience that many triathletes feel this one is hard because it takes a lot of commitment and attention to detail—and if you don’t get it right it will haunt you daily.
4. Time with family: Trying to find time to spend with your partner or making it to your kid’s soccer games and swim meets while at the same time trying to figure out when to do your training is hard. Feeling guilty about not spending time with family and friends makes things even harder. Supporting those who support you can be challenging when you have a 15- to 20-hour training week, so be mindful—and realistic—about how much time you can really dedicate to training while keeping other areas of your life in balance.
5. Cost: Triathlon is expensive. I know many triathletes would love to race more, have a new bike, or do a race overseas, but this sport is not cheap and that can often be one of the hardest parts of triathlon. This makes it hard for triathletes to be as involved as they would like to be—or sometimes to be involved at all.
6. Sleep: No one tells you in the beginning how hard it will be to get adequate sleep. Just take into consideration everything you have already read. It can become very challenging to get eight to nine hours of quality sleep. I know on many nights I’m happy to get by with five or six hours. If you can recall how you felt last time you were sleep-deprived you know that it can make other areas in life very hard as well.
In closing, one thing you should remember is that one of the reasons we love triathlon is that it is hard. That’s the point. Defying the odds, accomplishing what might (at first) seem impossible, and doing hard things is what triathletes do.
Coach Morgon Latimore is an Ironman certified coach, U. S. Masters Swimming Adult Learn to Swim Instructor, U. S. Marine, and Ultra-Triathlete. Find him at MorgonLatimore.com.