A few weeks back at one of my Saturday morning open water swim practice I ran into an amazing group of women who were there as they were preparing for their first triathlon in a few weeks. Of course I was piqued at their athletic backgrounds and what they had to overcome physically in preparing for their foray into my new found holy trinity. I asked what distance they were doing and one of the girls got suddenly soft spoken when she responded, whispering to me “only a sprint distance triathlon“. I was astonished that she was so afraid to admit that distance of a race. It is still a triathlon, a major feat of accomplishment. After further discussion I found out that both her husband and non-joining friends did not consider her participation in a sprint triathlon that big of a deal as it was nothing compared to the Iron Man race they had heard about on television. I was instantly peeved with her friends and I spent the next ten minutes rebuilding her confidence about the difficulty of the feat she was undertaking (I found out later she put her husband in his place when he started to give her a hard time about her triathlon not being and iron man). This hits home with one of my biggest perception issues in triathlon.. the dreaded effect Iron Man distance races have had on public perception of the sport of triathlon.
First off, do not get me wrong, I love watching and following the Iron Man race series through out the year and I respect the distance (secretly I think I might have to eventually try this distance at some point). But triathlon is more than just this race, its a series of distances that require different skills and focus. Every distance of triathlon in my opinion is truly an amazing feat to complete.
Lets look at the lowest of the distances, the sprint triathlon: 400-800 meter swim, 12-20 mile bike (12-14 is most common) and a 5k run. This is often the first timers race as the distances look less threatening and more forgiving and often is completed in under three hours (seasoned triathletes often finish these in less than two hours). The challenge in this race is not distance but speed. Some triathletes like the speed and race pace of these events and never race longer distances. This distance is way smaller than iron man and half iron man races and barely adds up to twenty miles if that (iron man races are 140.6 and half is are 70.3 total miles). While the distances are short finishing a race of even this minimal distance is an accomplishment.
To put it into perspective think of this: How many people do you know can swim continuously in open water 400-500 meters? How many people do you know can bike 12-14 miles? How many people do you know can run a 5k race distance? Now think about the fact that a sprint triathlon is all three of these with a brief clothing change in the middle of each leg. Realize that most people would balk at just completing one element of a “Simple” Sprint Triathlon. It truly is not “just a Sprint Triathlon”, its a major accomplishment.
I just wanted to vent and get that off my chest, it bugs me so much when triathlon is instantly reduced to Iron Man and everything else. All triathlons are difficult and require some level of training for most of us mortals. As a triathlete, like most other triathletes I know, I respect all distances. I have participated in three triathlons now and I can respect anybody that gives the time to complete any distance, large or otherwise. Til next time.