It’s been a little over a week since the Princeton 70.3, and I’m pretty sure I’m not fully recovered. Whether there’s some immune-system crash that happens post-race or just my body’s way of asking for a break, I’ve spent the last two days practically unable to move from my bed/couch. Attempting to move my head from my pillow yesterday was a feat in itself, which only made me feel worse as I thought, “This time last week I was finishing a half Ironman.” The body never ceases to amaze me.
Both in the past few days (when it didn’t hurt to think) and during the race, I had plenty of time to ponder the similarities and differences between triathlons and running events. Sometimes, it feels like people think that runners who run marathons would have an interest in doing something “more,” such as an Ironman (or half Ironman, let’s be serious…half Ironman is still really far!). People would ask me, “Have you ever thought about triathlons? Do you think you’ll ever do an Ironman?” Not to point out the obvious, but running and triathlon are two very different sports which appeal to people in different ways. Here are the differences I noticed between the two sports:
specialization versus getting through some events
I went into triathlon training knowing that I’m a solid runner and that I could take whatever the half marathon threw at me on race day. Of course, I thought that the running portion of the triathlon would go a little better than it did (two hour half marathon? yikes…), but I also was new to the idea of running after both swimming and biking. A different feeling in itself.
The nice thing about running is that you just…run. Sure, you may do an easy run, a long run, a tempo run, intervals, fartleks, strides, etc etc. But at the end of the day, you put your shoes on and put one foot in front of the other. When training for a triathlon, you have three sports to train for, which means you don’t necessarily get to be an expert in all three of them. Maybe at some point you do, but learning two new sports in training does not an expert make. It seems to me that most triathletes “just get through” at least one sport – possibly the swim, since it’s the shortest, or the run, since it’s last and you’re tired anyway. The bike portion is quite long to fake, but I managed okay!
I do think it’s really hard to become good at all three sports, and even if I continue in triathlons, I think I’ll feel like a beginner for a long time. Of course, I’ve been running for somewhere around 18 years (yikes!), and don’t have a total grasp on everything, so there’s that.
When you go to a marathon expo, at least for the big city marathons and even some big half marathons, the expo is pretty extensive. Vendors everywhere, people wanting to roll you out, shoes shoes everywhere. Not all events have this (hello, Wisconsin Marathon, where I picked up my bib in a running store), but it’s fairly common and part of the experience. The expo at Princeton was…small. The Ironman Store was about the size of the rest of the “expo,” and I don’t know if I could tell you what was there other than a place to get a massage, bike repair, volunteer check in, and…okay, that’s all I remember. It was certainly a different feeling, and a little weird to not be surrounded by the energy of an expo.
medical emergency information
Every single athlete had to fill out emergency contact information, medical history, and medications upon check in at the race, which I thought was nice. There was also a HIPAA release to allow them to give information to our emergency contact in the event of an emergency. Most marathons request that you put emergency contact information on the back of your bib prior to the race, but there’s no guarantee that anyone will do this. As a nurse, I liked this precaution.
i don’t know any of these people
Having been around running long enough, and having a blog (albeit a small one), I know a fair amount of people in the running world. Or at least someone on twitter may be doing the same race, or I’m running a race because I know people there. It’s a little weird to walk into a triathlon world only knowing the small NYC crew that headed down for it.
Triathlon requires so much STUFF. Trisuit/whatever you want to wear the whole time. Wetsuit. Goggles. Swim cap. Bike. Helmet. Bike shoes. Socks. Food. Food. Hydration. Running shoes. Visor/hat. Garmin/watch if you so please. Compared to running where you can get by with some shoes, socks, fuel, and a watch, it’s A LOT. Packing light for a triathlon is not possible.
triathlon is kind of lonely
70.3 is a lot of miles – and a lot of miles spent by yourself. I suppose when you’re used to running big city marathons with the streets lined mile after mile, a scarcity of spectators would seem a bit lonely. On the swim, it’s just you and the people swimming around you (and the lifeguards making sure you don’t drown). No one is there when the going gets tough, it’s just you and the voice in your head telling you to JUST SWIM. But that’s to be expected since you’re, you know, in the water. Once you’re on the bike, it’s mainly you, the other athletes, volunteers at the turns (thank you, volunteers!), and some random people who seemed to live along the course. Maybe it’s because it was the first year in Princeton, or maybe that’s just how triathlons roll, but luckily I had a good time on the bike because there wasn’t much spectator support otherwise. If the roads weren’t blocked off, I probably wouldn’t have known that a race was actually going on. The run had a few more spectators, and with aid stations every mile it was hard to feel alone. Was it the roaring crowds of running through Central Park? Or the Boston College kids waiting for you? Not really. It was mainly people just waiting for their runner, which was evident on my second loop of the course when most of the spectators had cleared out.
I honestly don’t know how much of a boost I get from the crowd, but it’s definitely a different feeling running through crowded streets lined with people versus being on a bike surrounded by fields of flowers. I like to think I’m a pretty good solo athlete, but it’s definitely a different environment. I could see it spelling trouble if you get into your head too much.
the race goes by so quickly
Honestly, it did not feel like I spent 6+ hours racing on race day, most likely because it was broken up into three events. Get through the swim. Get through the bike. I’m running! Never at any point did I think “I’ve been doing this for four hours, yikes!” I was always just thinking about the sport I was in and how to get through it fueled and hydrated for the next event. Okay, that was just on the bike. But I only thought about the sport I was in and nothing else. That certainly makes a long day go by fast.
you have no idea what your time/position is like
It was such a weird feeling on race day to have no idea what my time was like. I didn’t wear a watch during the swim because I don’t have a watch that would survive in the water, so I had no idea what my swim time was until I finished. I believe there was a clock when I got out of the water, but it was from the start of the race, so I would have had to subtract the time from the start of my wave anyway. Since I started over an hour after the first wave went off, the clock was certainly way off. (And thank goodness for the wave start…I don’t think I would have done well in a mass start.) After that I had no idea how long I spent in transition, and then my watch died around mile 41 on the bike, so I didn’t know what my bike split was. No one’s fault other than my own, but still. And certainly had no idea what my overall time was. I don’t think they even had clocks out on the bike course. I knew what my run time was like since I had a newly charged Garmin on for it, but still had no idea about my overall time. Eric had yelled by bike split at me, which I was happy with, but that’s all I knew. It was really strange to be “racing” yet have no idea how I was actually doing.
Also, due the wave start, the only people around me who started at the exact same time were the women in my age group. Relay people flew by me at the start of the bike, and I sometimes passed people in age groups ahead of me. Was I doing well? Are they having a bad day? Would I catch the people flying past me on the run? WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN? It’s a mind game out there, not knowing where you stand, even if you’re not actually out there to beat other people.
but there was that familiar feeling…
From what I’ve gathered, most people equate the effort of a 70.3 to the effort of a marathon. Sure, you spend more time being active during a 70.3, but during the end of the run, my legs felt like the end of a marathon. A marathon that maybe I’d gone out a little too fast for, maybe I wasn’t trained properly for. But that leg pain was all too familiar. At the end, all I wanted to do was sit down, which is one of my first requests post-marathon as well.
And now, of course, I’m getting through my usual post-race sickness, pondering whether I want to take on more triathlons or stick to the running…(all thoughts and suggestions welcome!)