The Reluctant Triathlete

 by Sharon DeVellis

When you think of a triathlete, I’m not exactly the image that springs to mind. I’m a 44-year-old mom of two who was never particularly athletic. I try my best to avoid Lycra unless it’s in the form of Spanx, cycling with my feet clipped in still scares me, and until last year, I didn’t know how to swim. Yet for the second year in a row I will swim, cycle, and run until I’m completely spent, completely sore and questioning once again why I do this. Next year I’ll do the same.


I’m what you’d call a reluctant triathlete.

Racing in a triathlon is definitely a challenge but it’s a challenge worth taking. However, before you run out the door to purchase a wetsuit learn from my newbie mistakes.

Find Your Distance:

When I registered for my first triathlon I signed up for an Olympic distance. That’s a 1.5-kilometre swim, a 40-kilometre bike ride and a 10-kilometre run.  It seemed a doable distance while sitting in front of my computer with my feet on an ottoman but about a month into training, when I was still unable to swim one lap, reality set in; I knew that an Olympic distance was not going to be possible AT ALL.  

Make your first race an achievable goal. While you want to push yourself, you don’t want to set yourself up for failure. Many triathlons offer Sprint distances (750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike ride, five-kilometre run) or even a Try A Tri distance (typically about half the sprint distance). 

Get The Gear:

The basic equipment required for race day is:

Swim: Goggles, swimsuit or tri suit, and a wetsuit. (Wetsuits are sometimes mandatory so be sure to check the rules for your particular triathlon.)  Swim caps are typically provided.

Cycle: Bike, helmet (mandatory) and shorts and a t-shirt to pull over your swimsuit if you aren’t wearing a tri suit.

Run: Good running shoes.

Not Necessary But Good To Have Item: Sunglasses. 

Don’t Break The Bank

While triathlons have a reputation for being expensive don’t feel like you need to spend a large amount of money for your first race. Wetsuits can be borrowed or rented. (Book early to reserve one for your race day.) For the cycling portion, your good old mountain bike or a 10-speed will do just fine. In my second-ever triathlon, I was passed by a woman riding a bike that had no gears and a cute basket on the front. I was on a $2,000 road bike. 

Note: Equipment can only take you so far. Hard work always pays off in the end.

Find People Or Groups To Help You Train

In January 2013 I joined a Learn To Swim class at my local community centre because, well, I didn’t want to drown in my first triathlon. At my initial class I couldn’t swim one 25-metre length; I stopped three quarters of of the way, gasping for breath. I sucked in more water in the first two classes than I typically drink in a week. A month in, I could barely swim 50 metres.

That was the night I went home crying and told my husband that I didn’t think I could do it, not unless a floatation device was involved. Perseverance has its merits and in July 2013 I raced in my first triathlon and swam 750 metres.

Find people who can help you achieve your goal. Don’t know how to swim or can’t swim very far? Sign up for swim classes. Not a strong runner? Join a running group. Not comfortable cycling longer distances? Find a local cycling group. Not only will this help you train, it makes you more accountable. Not training is much much easier when the only person who will ever know is you—and the bag of chips you ate while watching House Of Cards when you should have been running. 

Last But Not Least … Celebrate! 

You trained for months. You waited at the start for the horn to blow so you could swim your fiercest, pedal your hardest and run your fastest ever. You only get to cross that finish line for the first time once. Raise your arms in the air and smile, or dig deep and speed ahead. No matter how you cross that line, take a moment to savour the fact that you accomplished what you set out to do. 

You’re now a triathlete and nobody can take that away from you. 


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