Try-athlete to Triathlete

Two years ago today, I finished my first triathlon. I had started running nearly 2 years prior and had only started cycling a year prior (and only because I had a running injury at the time and needed an active way to pass the recovery time). I've always been able to swim but had never done so more than recreationally; when I signed up for the race, I had never even swam a lap in the pool! I trained for the race by training for each different discipline, but I only ever trained to do them back-to-back once before race day. I'm still not sure what made me sign up in the first place - intrigue, more than anything, I think? But oh, am I glad I did.

This one had a pool swim, which meant that all the start times were staggered 15 seconds apart...times a few hundred people, which meant a long wait until it was my turn. When it got close to my time, I lined up along the edge of the pool, watching the others who had already started their races, listening to each countdown as each person took off, until finally it was my turn.

That swim was pure chaos. There are a lot of benefits to a pool swim, especially for a first tri and for those who are uncomfortable in open water, but it's not exactly the easiest to navigate. The pool lanes mean getting stuck behind people who are slower, not being able to pass them easily, and limbs flying everywhere all in close proximity. Fortunately, it was over in just about 7 minutes.

Coming out of the pool and into transition, I'd never felt more disoriented in my entire life. I've since learned to get my bearings before the race starts, but I didn't know to do that at the time. Transition was small and my bike wasn't far, so at least I found it quickly. I put on shorts, my bike jersey, and a jacket - it was a pretty cool day for April - over my swimsuit, ran my bike out of transition, and started riding.

I was unprepared for the bike. Even though I had trained well over the race distance, I had only ever ridden on flat roads and there were a lot of rolling hills on this course. But at that point, nothing could get me down. I very vividly remember being out on the bike course, riding past rural fields and farms, and getting choked up over the unlikeliness of it all. I couldn't believe that I would soon be off the bike, running a 5k - a feat that alone seemed impossible not even two years prior - and chasing down a finish line that would turn me from try-athlete to triathlete.
Me. Me! I played recreational league sports when I was younger but never seriously or competitively, so by my early 20s, I just assumed that the days when I might be labeled "athlete" were long gone. I never anticipated I'd join the ranks of runners I routinely saw on my neighborhood's riverfront path. I didn't even know what a triathlon was a few years ago, let alone that one day I'd complete one (or eight).

My immediate reaction to finishing? That was SO. MUCH. FUN! It was crazy and it was hard at times and my legs felt like jello when I got off the bike and had to start running and HILLS, I thought this was coastal Virginia, like I had literally never run up a hill in my lifetime before that day, what WAS that?! But mostly just that it was so amazingly fun and I couldn't wait to do it again. (And I'm not here to talk about practical triathlon advice today - maybe soon, and for now you can get some answers here or here or email me - but if you have ever run a road race and thought that was fun, you need to try a tri, my friend. The shorter distances are super beginner-friendly and they go by quickly because you're super jacked up on adrenaline - switching to different activities throughout the race makes it a little more exciting than straight running, I think. You will definitely NOT drown in the pool or even in open water, you can use whatever bike you can find, and if you can run a 5k, you have nothing to worry about. Just do it and thank me later.)

Finishing my first triathlon was a life-changing event in a way that other races just haven't been. As amazing as it was to finish each one of my first running races (5k, 10k, half, marathon), the tri was different. It was significant. Something changed that day. Whereas running had become something I did to test my limits, push my boundaries, and find out what I was capable of, getting into triathlon was a lifestyle change. Having three disciplines gave me balance, it made me a more active person overall, it changed me. It was so far out of the realm of what I ever dreamed possible when I first started running that I realized the door was now open to anything. Things I had never given a thought to do. Things I didn't even know existed. All of a sudden, the sky was the limit. 

Two years later, I've completed a total of 8 triathlons at distances up to double my first one. I can say with complete confidence that I will finish a half Ironman this year and that I will be an Ironman one day. It might not be this year, or before I'm 30 like I want it to be, but mark my words right here right now, it will happen. All because I took a leap of faith two years ago!


  1. I love the title of this post!

    The reason I don't do tri's is because of the swimming. I can swim - but all those people and limbs and water splashing would make me drown. In fact, in the medical research foundation I used to work for, there was a study on why people who did tri's died more than any other distance athlete - even marathons. The results? They drown in the swimming portion of the race. Even professionals.

    After I attended that presentation of the scientific study, I was just like CONFIRMED! I will never do a tri. But props to you for doing them! I'm just a big old scaredy-cat.

  2. I find these posts so inspiring. I would love to do a triathlon. I think the shorter distances would be a good way for me to get back into everything. When I was younger I think I just took for granted that I could bike and swim forever, but now it's so much harder. I got back on my bike a few years ago for the first time in ages and couldn't believe how much harder it was than I remembered haha The same goes for swimming. It just works a different part of you that I'm definitely not used to anymore, but it still feels oh so good! I know completing a triathlon would be an amazing feeling. When I think about the life I want, I always picture myself being super active, so now I just need to do it. Congrats to you on 8 triathlons!

  3. I have never had the desire to do this, but... you're making it sound kind of appealing. And I also find it incredibly inspiring that some of the runners whose blogs I read really haven't been running that long. I used to think of runners as people who have done it their whole lives, or got started in high school or who always had the "aptitude" for it. But now I know anyone can do it, you just have to decide to and if you were able to make such big changes in such a small amount of time, maybe I can too!

  4. Congratulations Tracy! I think that is great. I followed you over here from my friend Katie's blog. I started working out seriously about 5 years ago doing video workout series and ran two half marathons last year. The Jackson River Half and the Star City Half in November. Keep pursuing those dreams!

  5. I'm always so proud of you and your understanding that progress takes time and that it's all stemmed from a beginning. :) You're always looking for that next goal but you're also always appreciative of the path you've taken to get where you are. <3!

  6. first, i love this post. second, go you! thirdly - hey shoes ;) haha.
    seriously though i was all like YEAH and then I read Paige's comment and now I'm like :-| But I know two triathletes (you and my friend lol) and neither have drowned, so I think I'm okay. You've seriously got the idea in my head now. I would have to train more - my swimming is pathetic, like not even kidding. KC and I used to go to the pool together, but gosh.. it was so discouraging being so bad at something. I can swim in a beach like it's my job but a pool is so hard. I'm kicking myself now that I gave up and didn't give it my all. Even KC doesn't go to the pool anymore (he was going when I met him, so that's a big deal) because it's 'far away' and too expensive.. so we'll see. I just texted my friend and asked if she had any on the horizon (after her baby) so I could piggy back on it lol. ahh what are you doing to me! i need to focus on running first ;)

  7. Happy anniversary!
    Your enthusiasm for triathlon is always so contagious and makes me want to try a tri so badly! I know I will eventually, at least a sprint, but buying a bike and access to a pool and carving out the time to train (at two things I'm AWFUL at) are just not in the cards...yet :) but I will one day, and I can't wait to pick your brain for everything I need to know.
    AAAND your last paragraph. Yes. YES! I am so proud of you already and can't wait to watch you make those incredible and inspiring dreams your reality!

  8. I love reading your stories because I feel like it just proves that you can do anything!!! My brother was telling me the other day that he was with his step-son and they met up with some Navy seals (my nephew wants to be one). He "trained" with them and they said they were going to run up a hill. My nephew said he couldn't and the seals were like no…you just don't think you can. Sometimes it seems so simple to just believe in yourself but I think it just feels like A LOT. I still remember when I signed up for my first half marathon and being like the hell did I just say I would do?! But I love chasing that sense of accomplishment after a hard run, a long run, a race :)

  9. I really loved this post! I have wanted to do a triathlon for a while and purchased my first road bike last year. I'm kind of sidelined with an injury right now but when/if I'm ever back on my feet, a tri is going to be the first thing I go for. Thanks for sharing your story :)

    P.S. I nominated you for a Liebster Award today on my blog!

  10. Off and on the past couple years the thought has entered my head of doing a tri- but the swim part always scares me. I think I would be less scared in a pool though. I love to run, and love to bike though! Maybe someday.
    I have no doubt you will be an Ironman someday. You're awesome girl!!

  11. I love this even the title (genius). I love that you went for it even not fully trained. I think a pool swim for me would be best since Im not the biggest fan of open water but I can totally see how being stuck behind slow swimmers can be frustrating. As Ive sad to you before, the bike ride would have been the absolute worst part of a tri for me. I simply don't do well on bikes unless they're stationary. Go you again! You really rock. I hope you know this - Ill keep telling you!

  12. You definitely have me intrigued!! I don't swim very well, but if you say you did it without really swimming a lap in the pool ever, then I bet I could :) And I don't bike a lot--at all--but I've been wanting to and have even thought of investing in a bike to ride around town now that the weather is nice!! I really like your attitude about this and your encouragement to others (like me) who don't think they could do this!!