What It’s Really Like To Run A Triathlon

Sasha Roudenko
Sasha is originally from Russia and is currently a radiology resident in New York City. She had been dancing since age 6 and used to practice ballet and competitive ballroom dancing. Right now, she divides her time mostly between yoga, running, and the gym, however she is expecting to dance more now that she joined the ProAm Dance Team.

I’ve been exercising for most of my life, predominantly in ballet and ballroom dance, but I began running because I couldn’t easily fit dance classes into my schedule. I quickly found my groove, so to speak, and could easily run 3-4 miles without a problem.

I was registered for the NYRR Queens 10K run when my friend from Miami called. The weekend of the run was the only weekend during June when we both had both days off work. Spur of the moment plane tickets were purchased and an impromptu trip to Miami was booked. However, my friend was planning on doing a triathlon during this week, her first ever.

 

Now, I am the kind of person who is pretty much up for mostly anything (within limits of course, risk/benefit analysis, you know?) and I have never done a triathlon before. Then again, how hard could it be? Just a 0.25 mi swim, 10 mi bike ride, and a 5k run? 0.25 mi swim is only about 8 laps in a pool, so I figured let’s give it a try! Just like that, my fiancé and I were signed up.

A piece of advice? You should probably train for a triathlon.

Although I continued exercising during the weeks leading up to the event, I never got into a pool to practice swimming. I rode a bike twice in the week prior to the race for incredibly short distances (maybe 2 miles max, but probably not even that).

I was a little nervous, but figured how bad could it be? I used to swim when I was younger and generally felt comfortable in the water. I was more nervous about the bike portion, given my grand total of 5 bike rides in my entire life.

 

The swim was the first event and participants went in based on their age and sex. There were about 20 women in my group and we were all in the water ready to get started. I was excited! The whistle was blown and I took off! I started swimming freestyle and noticed that I was making excellent progress. I was one of the first 5 people leading the pack. The excitement was great!

I was about a quarter through the distance when I looked up and saw how impossibly far away I still had to swim and had to stop. My muscles had nothing left to give. I switched to breaststroke thinking I could do this relaxing, easy technique for the remainder of the distance and come out ok. But looking ahead I was still overwhelmed by the distance that remained and even the breaststroke was exhausting.

I treaded water for a few seconds while panting and realized that I was in no shape to do anything. I semi-frantically waved over one of the lifeguards on a surfboard and he paddled over to me. I flopped onto his board and panted while he paddled me closer to shore. He asked if I wanted to continue.

Honestly? I didn’t. But I also didn’t want to give up so soon into the race, so I slid off the board when I could stand in the water and half waded-half walked the remainder of the distance. The lifeguard asked me at least 3 times if I was sure I wanted to continue. Bravely, I insisted, but inside, I was struggling.

 

From the water to the transition area into the bike portion was about a quarter mile distance. I was thankful for the slight break, but also really annoyed at the length. I felt like I was barely walking while all of the volunteers were so nice and cheering me on, yet urging me to hurry up. I felt beat.

 

Enter the bike portion. To start off, we rented bikes from a sketchy bike and skateboard shop the night before the race, because it was the only bike rental place still open. The bikes seemed decent enough, had a few gears, and helmets were provided. Seeing my fiancé with his large head squeeze into a girl’s bike helmet gave me a good laugh, but rules dictate that there must be a helmet on the head, so it had to be done. They never specified it must fit; just that the chin strap must be closed.

 

I never thought about how far 10 miles really was. 5 miles there and 5 miles back made it sound better. The ride there started out pleasant. The view of downtown Miami Beach was beautiful and the weather was gorgeous. I came to what I thought was the main hill and was pleased that it felt manageable. Oh boy, was I wrong. That wasn’t even a hill.

When I came to the actual hill that we had to climb (TWICE!), I had to make several stops on the way up because my thighs were burning so much. After I got to the halfway point, my friend, who originally inspired this crazy experience, caught up with me on her bike. She was smart and switched to the duathlon prior to starting when her cold got the best of her. She was sweet and stuck with me for a little bit, but then quickly got ahead of me.

Soon enough it was just me, the empty highway (blocked off for the event), and the police cruisers keeping tabs on the last people doing the bike portion. Lo and behold, I was THE LAST person to come in on the bike. The last few miles were so painful. I talked to myself constantly – placating, consoling, comforting with promises of quitting after the bike and not doing the run.

 

When I turned back into the park from the road, I was practically singing with joy. Unsure whether I was crying or laughing. I thought I was done for sure, that I would just quit and not do the 5K run. But they made the transition from the bike to the run so smooth that I couldn’t quit.

The volunteers were so sweet and kept cheering me on. There was also a guy handing out water and Gatorade – I nearly hugged him. The 5K run was more of a 4K walk and 1K run, but for the first time during the whole event, I was actually doing something I was semi-prepared for. Also, I walk fast. I walk faster than some people jog.

Somehow that’s what saved me, as I ended up 4th out of my age/sex group in that portion, meaning I was not the last person, rather but 9/10 in my age/sex group. HA! Honestly, I was just happy to have survived the triathlon.

What did I learn? Training is key. 

You should probably train for a triathlon. Doing it cold? Not the best of ideas, but a great experience nonetheless.

 

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