A Lesson in Bad-Assery

:: The Fat Girl’s Guide to Triathlon ::

Once upon a time I did something crazy and amazing.  I completed a triathlon.  That might not sound amazing, if you’re the athletic/running/racing type.  But I can assure you, I am not.  I am a non-skinny, out of shape person with the athletic ability of a beanbag.  The kind that has a hole in it where the little foam balls leak out.  Anyway, this was in 2009 when I was in the process of losing weight and dreaming big.  It was a great experience, and I will share it with you now for your reading pleasure.

pre-dawn registration
pre-dawn registration

The Prep

So you’re fat and thinking of doing a triathlon?  Great!  Sign up as soon as you can, because the longer you have until the race the longer you can bask in the glory of just being signed up for a race.  A year out is ideal, because you can proudly walk around telling everyone you know that you’re “in training” and that sounds so cool.

After about six months of gloryhounding, you’ll need to get down to some actual training.  This means stretching, swimming, walking, and riding your bike.  Those are obvious.  But here’s something less obvious but just as important: fashion.  This will take the longest to figure out, so you need to start early.  What will you wear to the race?  Keep in mind that a triathlon is Swim-Bike-Run so you start off in a bathing suit.  Make sure it’s something cute because the race organizers will tell you that it’s time to get on your mark, and then they will make you wait there for 45 minutes.  Which is a long time to stand around awkwardly in your bathing suit, surrounded by very fit people.  Keep in mind that you will also be accessorized with a mandatory swim cap that will make you look like a deformed jujube.

waiting at the starting line
waiting at the starting line

After the swim, you will need to wear a sports bra but you can’t put that on in the transition time between Swim and Bike, so you need to be wearing it under your bathing suit.  (Sexy!)  You also can’t remove your suit when it’s time to bike so whatever you put on over it, you’re going to be soaking wet for the first part of the biking portion.  [The race I was in had a rule about not taking off your suit or getting naked in the transition areas, which is why you need to do the layering thing.  Not that I would have gotten naked outside anyway.  Probably.]

The Swim

The swim is the first and shortest leg of the race, and it’s the one in which you will get the least hot and sweaty so you might think it will be pretty easy.  This is unfortunately not true.  The swim is a lot harder than it looks.  Of course everyone there will be swimming freestyle like a pro, and you will be doing a combination of froggy style, side stroke, and floating on your back when you get tired.  Interestingly, this is the only portion of the race in which you might best any of the other racers.  It turns out some people freak out in a big way when they swim in open, murky water.  Many strong swimmers do not practice swimming in open water before the race, and they end up panicking when the first fish brushes past their leg.  You will probably witness several shamed Adonis-type people being pulled from the water by lifeguards and taken out of the race.  This won’t happen to you, because you are going to take my stern advice and devote at least 50% of your race training to swimming in open water (lake or ocean).

When you finally emerge from the lake, your legs will be jelly and you’ll be breathing so hard you might pass out.  You will also need to throw up.  Wobble your way up to the spot where you parked your bike, and put a t-shirt and shorts over your wet bathing suit.  This is a transition, the little bit of time in between two legs of the race, and you’re supposed to go as fast as possible.  But your body will already be shutting down and you will move in frustratingly slow motion.  Don’t worry about this.  You’re here to finish the race, not win it.

This is your most likely place for a killer leg cramp.  If you get one, you won’t know what to do because you’re a novice and you didn’t bone up on the very weird subject of race nutrition.  Have another racer come over and massage out the cramp.  Make sure to ask a stranger so the experience can be extra awkward.  Your spouse will be watching from the sidelines and when he sees you go down, he will try to come to your aid.  This requires crossing an imposing yellow caution tape designed to keep spectators out of the transition area.  Your husband will ignore this in his attempt to rescue you.  A race worker will yell at your husband and tell him to stay put, calling him Sir in a really rude way.   They will exchange words and then your irate husband will push a camera in her face and snap a picture of her for future legal reference.  Or maybe not, I’m just theorizing.

Looking classy in my wet clothes. Notice the woman behind me in her race shirt, which means she has already completed the entire race.
Looking classy in my wet clothes. Notice the woman behind me in her race shirt, which means she has already completed the entire race.

The Bike

Once you get your cramp worked out and your wet clothes on, you’re ready to hit the trail on your bike.  Many people will tell you to bring a fancy bicycle that is lightweight, aerodynamic, and especially made for triathloning.  Poppycock!  Bring your husband’s mountain bike.  The thick tires and extra weight will increase your drag, thereby helping your lake-soaked clothes dry faster.  Don’t be discouraged by the fact that you are the only one with a regular bike.  Further down the trail you will see a woman on a beach cruiser, and you’ll feel less like the biggest loser in the race.  Then you will see her from the side and realize she is seven months pregnant, and you’ll be demoted again to biggest loser.  Shake it off and keep pedaling.  When you encounter a hill, feel free to get off your bike and walk it.  There’s no need to kill yourself pumping up that hill.  Look, once that pregnant lady passes you you’re going to be so far behind everyone else that no one will see you anyway.  Don’t be a hero.

heading into the bike leg
heading into the bike leg

The Run

Now that you’ve completed 13 miles of biking, don’t you feel like a refreshing run?  No, of course you don’t.  But some genius signed you up for this hell and now you have to finish it.  In a sprint tri the run is a 5k.  Grab a bottle of water from your bag and get going.  This is the last leg; every step you take now gets you that much closer to ending this madness.

I have a secret and a very important tip for this leg of the race.  The secret is this: you don’t have to run.  It is perfectly legal to walk during the run, and I strongly encourage you to do so.  You may start off thinking you can at least jog the 5k, but I am here to tell you that you cannot.  First of all, let’s remember that you’re fat.  You got in *just good enough* shape to participate in this race at all.  Second, you’ve already been working at your limit for a good hour and a half, and your muscles are at their breaking point.  If you try to run, your thigh muscles will cramp painfully and your torso will double over involuntarily.  You may barf, and you may pass out.  Do not run!  Walk this portion and thank me later.

Now, I don’t want you to miss out on your opportunities for gloryhound-ery, and that’s where my tip comes in.  Every once in a while, you will see a photographer parked alongside the trail snapping pictures of racers as they whiz by.  When you see one of these guys, start jogging.  You don’t have to run fast, but flail your arms and throw your head back like you’re really giving it all you’ve got.  If you have any water left, pour it down the front of your shirt so you look sweaty.  That’s going to make for a great souvenir race photo.  After you’ve passed the photographer, resume sluggish walking.  It goes without saying that you should run across the finish line, at least the last 8 or 9 steps.

it's ok to be alone at the finish line
it’s ok to be alone at the finish line

The Crash

The last tip I will give you is to plan a big BBQ at your house after the race.  Give yourself just enough time to get home and shower before the guests arrive.  That way, when everyone shows up for burgers and ribs, you will be passed out on the couch in your new trophy race t-shirt.  The nap itself is also a kind of trophy – it’s evidence of how hard you worked.

trophy nap
trophy nap

I hope none of this discouraged you.  The truth is, if you’re fat and doing a triathlon you are a badass and anyone who doesn’t freely admit it is just jealous.

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