A triathlon, many will tell you, is a sport for the super-gifted, someone like Milind Soman. I disagree. Anyone who can swim, cycle and run fairly decently, but is not exemplarily zippy at any sport individually, can take part in one. A triathlon is for those who can’t focus on the singular, an ilk that is too distracted by three disciplines to be bothered honing skills in just one. Given all these parameters, it is the perfect sport for me.
So, recently, when I managed to finish a sprint triathlon with a laudable timing to boot, it further reassured me that I had found my niche. I finished second, but what was more comforting was that I finished at all, because of the 200-odd people who started, only about 70 managed to cross the finish line after having swum 1 km, cycled 20 km and run 5 km — the “splash, mash and dash”. I knew I was nothing more than an average swimmer, cyclist and runner, but clubbing all three together somehow upped my otherwise non-existent brilliance. I also learned a few hard lessons along the way, and in the outside chance that you are as ill-focussed on sports as me, here are some pointers.
Practice and Preparation: These are two very different things. Practice is being good at something so that physically, your body is toned to take the strain. Preparing includes the physical as well as the mental: telling yourself that you can do it is a big part of the conquering. Then there’s the incidental: make sure you have everything you can possibly need in your race-day bag. Leave something out and chances are it might lead to you having to drop out of the race. This means everything from extra swimming goggles to spare safety pins.
Nerves Happen: When I saw my race splits post-race, I realised that I was slower in my swim than in my practice sessions. I put this down to not being familiar with the race pool, as also the fear of going too fast and burning out early in the race. As I went through it, I regained my momentum, but what I learnt was that no matter how confident I was, the fact that it was the day of the race did give me that giddy feeling in the pit of my stomach. When they say nerve-wracking, I guess this is what they mean. The only way around it is to try not to think about it and keep going.
Hydrate: The human body is a powerful engine, and the thing about engines is that they need fuel. Put yourself in a race without a good breakfast, and you are on the fast track to an early fade. The one thing I made sure of was that I had enough nutrition at every stage. And all that you read about the importance of hydration? Well, it’s true. It is a good idea to keep fuelling the system either every few kilometres or every half an hour or so.
Kit up: You don’t need a lot, but you still need to have some essentials in your kitty. Invest in a good bicycle, decent running shoes and comfortable swim goggles. Sure, you can finish without all these, but (A) the right kit helps you go faster and comfortably, all the while reducing the risk of injury and just as importantly, (B) it makes you look good while crossing the finish line.
Fast Transition: This is a bit of a technical point, but remember that the most time is lost in a triathlon when people transit from one activity to the next. Cut that down to save on your cumulative time. Wear a suit that is versatile and allows you to swim, bike and run without the need to change. Use shoes that may not need socks. Keep everything neatly laid out, so that when you arrive at the station, you don’t need to look for anything. And unless it’s with yourself, keep all conversation to a minimum.
A triathlon isn’t tough, as long as you set your sights on the right one. Starting from the Sprint version described above, you can scale all the way up to an Ironman (the kind which Milind Soman finished), which involves a 3.86 km swim, a 180 km bike ride and a 42.2 km run. It is the mother of all endurance activities and needs a lot of training and dedication before one is fit enough to take on the challenge. After all that training is done, it still takes something else out of you — your social existence. As a popular signboard at the Kona Ironman once quipped, “If your relationship still works, then you didn’t train hard enough.”As I said, set your targets modestly and you could soon find yourself crossing the finish line at your first triathlon. Till then, next time you meet a person who can’t make up their mind about which sport to try, suggest ‘Tri’.