I was a mile into the bike leg of my first triathlon. The course was flat and I felt like I was flying. There was a lane coned off for us, so I didn’t have to worry about traffic. I had bought the bike three months ago, but this was the first time I had actually enjoyed riding it. Then that phrase popped into my head: “I wish I had started this sooner.”
I remembered being intrigued when I first heard about triathlons, but I was young, poor, and didn’t have a bike. I also had no idea where I could find an event. We’re talking pre-Active.com here. I had been on the track and swim teams in high school. I started as a 100 and 300 meter hurdler who would sometimes get stuffed into other events, but I had never run farther than a mile until my senior year. That winter, I spent a few months huffing and puffing along a 2.2 mile on a path near home before the start of track season. Eventually, my enjoyment grew along with the distances I was covering. I kept running and swimming in college, not because I was good enough to compete for the school, but because I enjoyed being active. The years passed and I kept running. I’d swim from time to time. I started entering more and more road races. I discovered Aquathlons (swim and run events). Some friends started getting into triathlon. I became a certified RPM (indoor cycling) instructor. But I still hadn’t tri’ed.
There were reasons. I wasn’t poor anymore, but I still didn’t have a bike. OK, I had a cheap mountain bike, but I didn’t want to race with it. When people beat me, I want it to be because they were better, not because I was riding a paperweight with wheels. Did I really want to plunk down a bunch of money on a sport I might not even like? Besides, taking care of a bike sounded like a hassle – I just wanted to head outside and work out. Biking in traffic is scary. I was afraid of riding clipped in and falling down. Road bike or tri bike? What’s with those crazy jerseys cyclists wear? Bicycles can get flat tires. Running shoes don’t get flats. Would swim-able clothing be, uh, supportive enough to run in? Even the word “triathlete” sounded intimidating. Did I belong in that world? How were the transitions handled? It all seemed very complicated.
One day I saw an ad for a Lifetime Fitness indoor triathlon. It consisted of a 10 minute swim, 30 minutes on a Spin bike, and a 20 minute treadmill run. Competitors are assigned points based on how far they can go during the allotted time for each leg. Here was my chance to get a feel for the sport without having to deal with biking outside. Completing it gave me confidence that I needed. I signed up for a race four months away. I bought a used tri bike and practiced riding clipped in. The narrow tires and lack of shock absorption were hard to get used to. I fell repeatedly. Each time I made it safely home after a ride, I wanted to kiss the ground. I had a lot of fear and doubt, but once I was out on that course it was all worth it and I haven’t looked back.
Common wisdom is that when people look back on their lives, the biggest regrets were the things undone. I was thirty five when I did my first tri. Even though I should have many years of events ahead of me, I’ll always wonder how much better I could have been if I had started earlier. Maybe something has been gnawing at you: getting in shape, taking dancing lessons, signing up for a race, weeding out the junk food, joining a team, trying a new exercise class, teaching an exercise class… There might be good reasons why this is not the time to start, but honestly, is there ever time when life is orderly and perfect? You might feel like a fish out of water, you may decide it’s not for you, or you may find yourself wondering why you waited so long.