Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Interview with a first-time triathlete

This past Sunday, my friend Sarah competed in the U.S. Women's Triathlon Series super-sprint triathlon in Federal Way, WA. This was her first event of this kind - ever! She let me interview her today over lunch so I could share her story with y'all (she's from Texas).

First of all, Sarah was gushing about the whole triathlon experience. I doubt I can convey her level of excitement and enthusiasm about the experience but I will try...

[Note: I am paraphrasing her responses though I'm writing in first person on her behalf.]

What made you decide to do a triathlon? 
I saw an advertisement for the all-female triathlon and it caught my eye. I realized that I needed to find a new "me" and really shake things up. I like to do this once in a while, to step out of my comfort zone and open new doors in my life. That's what I was doing when I moved up to Seattle from Texas all by myself. 

How would you describe your level of athleticism before starting to train for this triathlon?
I could not run 1 mile without stopping and I hadn't rode a bike since I was a kid - I didn't even know how to use the gears! After my first rides, my legs would shake and I had muscle cramping issues.

How has that changed now?
I'm stronger and more knowledgeable about the three sports. I know when to take fluids and what to take to prevent cramping.

How did you train?
I bought a bike and my boyfriend taught me how to use the gears on hills. Once I got used to that, I switched to clipless pedals. I signed up for skill-building classes to help me learn techniques for running and swimming. Also, I followed the 10-week training program provided on the triathlon website. I would say I did about 75% of the recommended training.

What physical changes have you noticed since you started training?
I'm stronger but my body hasn't changed as much as I thought it would. I actually gained weight at first but my body is now less jiggly and is more toned. Also, I used to focus on the body parts I didn't like and now I don't focus on the negative, I focus on what my body can accomplish.

What mental and emotional changes have you noticed since you started training?
I'm more confident in all aspects of my life from work to relationships to sports. I feel like I've climbed to higher levels; this was really an emotional journey. I have a new outlook on life. I feel I can accomplish so much more than I ever thought I was capable of.


What would you recommend to other first-time triathletes?
  1. Don't compare yourself to anyone else. You will just psych yourself out. It's all about YOU.
  2. Do at least one open water swim before the race. Pool swimming is not the same. When I got into the water, everything I thought about my swim training went out the window! 
  3. Learn the basic skills before getting wrapped up in the technical gear (like the clipless pedals). 
  4. Break the training down into little steps to focus on, avoid taking on too much at once.
  5. Take care of your own needs for energy fluids/supplements, don't rely on the race to provide the important things. 
  6. Be happy with your increased level of fitness and mental strength, don't expect a huge physical transformation.
  7. Drive the course so you know what to expect. 
  8. Know that the morning of the race, you'll wake up at 4 a.m. and ask yourself, "What the hell am I doing?!" 
Will you do another triathlon?
Yes! Maybe even this summer. I definitely recommend this U.S. Women's Triathlon Series because of the support you get from other women. This is especially good for women who are intimidated by male-dominated sports. I really liked the supportive atmosphere. Also, I was struck by all the different types of people who competed - big, small, short, tall, skinny, heavy - all types!

What other things do you want to accomplish?
Next time, I want to focus on improving my diet.

Overall, it was an incredible experience. Sarah said she was holding back tears the hours before the race due to all her pent up nerves. She felt the swim was very overwhelming and it seemed like an eternity but the rest of the race flew by. Sarah ended up doing a large portion of the swim on her back, which allowed her to feel comfortable with her breathing and avoid other swimmers' kicks.

When it came to the bike, Sarah found it to be her strongest segment. All her hill training on Bainbridge Island really paid off. She took advantage of the downhills to carry herself up the next hill, using her high and low gears to her advantage.

Prior to the race, she told me that her weakest segment would be the run. She figured she'd have to walk most of it but when it came time, she said it went by really fast. As she approached the finish line, she broke into a huge smile and even the M.C. of the event commented on her big smile. As soon as she crossed the finish, she broke into tears - a huge release of relief and joy.

She is SARAH, hear her ROAAAAR!

Way to go Sarah! You are an inspiration!


  1. Awesome interview and race report - hooray for Sarah!!

  2. Love it! Congrats, Sarah. I really like what she said about focusing on what her body could accomplish. Awesome!

  3. Woohoo, I loved reading this! Super awesome.