How do you spot a triathlete in a crowd? Is it the shaved legs, the bright, active wear or the (gasp!) compression socks? Is it the (gasp again!) M-dot tattoo prominently featured on the well-maintained calf? Is it the finishers t-shirt or the water bottle always by their side? Is it the irregular tan lines or that bit of hair that’s been bleached by the chlorine where it pokes out the back of your swim cap?
Jeez, when I started that last paragraph, I didn’t intend to list quite so many identifiers – I was going to rattle off a couple, and then transition seamlessly on to my focal postulation. It turns out we’ve got that many idiosyncrasies we’re about as easy to spot as fake tan at a formal.
OK, let’s rephrase. Exclusive of the intimations of multisport mentioned above, what is another method of isolating a triathlete in a crowd of non-aerobically inclined civilians? Look carefully at the group – that one there! The one that has been standing, talking with his friends for a few minutes outside the cafe, but has begun to look edgy. He’s casually repositioned himself closer to that pole, to give himself something to lean against for a few minutes, which raises suspicions as to his athletic inclination. Then – the giveaway, the leaning isn’t enough. He sidles over to an adjacent table, borrows an unused chair, and takes a seat among his still-standing friends. That is the mark of a triathlete, crippled by preceding endurance-based endeavours, perennially in search of a chair, ledge or potential seating surface with which to rest those weary pins. Like an imperial system devotee living in an increasingly metric world, we’re always trying to save our feet. Any chance we get – a chance to aid the recovery of the escape sticks – is pounced upon.
The recovery side of triathlon is an oft-neglected part of any training program, but one that is drummed into us as part of any high-performance program. The best, we are told, are those who train hard and recover harder. It’s a popular misconception that the training part of triathlon is the hard part, and the recovery side is easy – just put the feet up and smack down some protein shakes. However, some aspects of recovering correctly can make a hard heart-rate session in the pool seem like a welcome relief.
Massage, for a start. Whenever I tell people that I usually get a massage around once a week, a common response is, “Oh, that must be nice.” No, it is not. It usually consists of me, lying on my side, getting the full weight of my long-time therapist Mike Jones on an ITB, while I sweat, swear, and try not to shed a tear into the massage table. I used to pride myself on not flinching or showing any signs of pain, but as Jonesy takes great delight in telling me, ‘I’m not as tough as I used to be’. I’m happy to take an ego hit on that these days, I figure you’ve only got so many poker faces you can show – I’ll try to save mine for race day.
Ice baths are another dealer of ‘recovery pain’. Most of the state and national academies these days have a dedicated recovery centre full of ice baths and hot tubs. This is the place to hang out if you want to see a big, tough footballer or weightlifter act like a complete wimp. The ice baths hurt! Bereft of the technological glory of the institutes, some of the best/worst ice baths I’ve been subjected to have come directly from nature, courtesy of the snow-fed streams of Boulder or the frigid waters of Victoria, Canada. They say Boulder is one of the most physically active towns around, but the strange looks the locals used to give a bunch of lycra-clad triathletes shivering waist deep in a shallow stream leads me to believe they may be neglecting their recovery …
However, possibly the sharpest pain of recovery, is the pain of social embarrassment that having perennially sore legs imparts. It’s that involuntary groan that you let out when you get out of a chair that everyone notices. It’s the reluctance to engage in any non-triathlon related physical activity. It’s the long pause when anyone suggests, ‘We could walk there’. Theoretically, of course, there are many places that one could walk. Yet, after a long week of training, there is less motivation to do so than there is toilet paper at a pre-race portaloo. Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop me from being incessantly heckled for my reluctance to walk anywhere that can’t be driven, biked or bussed. I may not have an M-dot tattoo, and usually, give away my finishers t-shirts, but can be easily identified as a triathlete to the experienced eye. I’m the guy circling the carpark for 10 minutes to get the closest park to the entrance, and getting hassled by security for trying to use my scooter to get around Woolworths …