The Secret Society
I have written numerous times about my adoration for the inclusive, accepting and encouraging collective temperament of the triathlon community. Our sport’s positively infectious attitude towards enjoyment and individual improvement was the common denominator contributing to my own original dabble in, and eventual commitment to, triathlon as a full-time profession. Joining a triathlon group, and in turn, the wider tri-consciousness is kind of like being accepted into a secret fraternity you didn’t previously realise existed. All of a sudden you are interacting with people you would normally not have contact with, accessing a network of individuals and groups across the country and world sharing tips and tricks to nail your first ever event or achieve that once far-flung race PB. The information and experience sharing opens your eyes to a far more complex world that is invisible on the surface to the non-triathlete civilians.
Of course, the general public does see plenty. They see the elative finish photos, the change in the triathlete’s improved quality of life and the sunrise training session posts, with the equally creative hash-tagged inspirational quotes. They are aware that newbies, and veterans of triathlon, alike have committed themselves to the sport to some degree and are reaping the multitude of benefits from their inclusion in this seemingly innocent society. But this fraternity shelters some starkly terrifying secrets that are only revealed once the fluffy illusion of sun, fun and partying have sucked the naïve trend seeker insofar that there is no turning back.
As I type, I can imagine every triathlete pulling a baffled face not dissimilar to the face you might pull when after accidentally grabbing the coffee order at the local cafe, and taking a big gulp of a syrup flavoured, over frothed, sugar packed caffeinated beverage rather than the [insert preferred respectable coffee here] that you were expecting. The reason you have no idea what secrets I’m referring to is thanks to the brainwashing effect of the echo chamber that has become
So, let me take you back. Back to your first week as a triathlete. It’s likely you didn’t see yourself as “one of them” at that point. You were a perfectly sane individual who just happened to spend an hour or two with triathletes to see what it was that they actually did. Then a month goes by. You’ve been in the pool with them a few times, a couple of jogs around the local park – maybe even hit the road on your flat bar 8-speed amongst a swathe of bright coloured lycra, beeping watches and two-wheeled spacecraft. You have possibly experienced either sunburn (except for the skin coloured T-shirt that is now permanently imprinted on your body), or frostbitten fingers; a saddle sore you are considering hitting up for rent, delayed onset muscle soreness that forces you to walk down stairs backwards and a lingering scent of chlorine that starts to feel like a horrible curse has been laid upon you, and you have not a single photo posing in front of a culturally conscious street art mural to post. Now, think back to your first actual triathlon. You may need to focus really hard here as much of this experience is likely to have been suppressed for reasons of continuity of sanity. Do the expressions “Why?” “Oww!” “Never again!” or “that filth encrusted drain looks like the perfect place to curl up and sob” recall any flashbacks that stab devilishly at your soul? Maybe. But we’re conditioned over time to accept these feelings as standard and hide them from the wider public. We are specialists at covering up the complete malevolence of our torturous pastime and displaying a wholesome, mentally stable and fun façade.
Here are a few examples of our deceptive pit traps of doom carefully obscured by branches of the supposed glorious #trilife that may have conveniently slipped from your awareness:
The insatiable hunger: we’re happy to lap up the compliments directed at newly developed bulges and protuberances of muscle, and we will blush and roll eyes when the terms “tanned” and “toned” are thrown around. Funnily, we will never retort these gushes with the fact that the previous night’s meal included a loaf of bread, a serving of vegetables that would have left a hole in the earth similar to that of a “life-on-earth-ending” meteor, a juvenile wilder beast, and enough chocolate ice cream to make Augustus Gloop squeamish. That feeling at the end of a mammoth long ride where EVERY food you can think of happens to be the exact food you are craving. Not to mention the grocery bill!
The complete obliteration of anything resembling a social life: we are always with other people – sweating more than chatting. We go places – and admire them from the saddle, occasionally actually pull over for a photo. We’re up as the sun rises – looking at the bottom of the pool. We relax while having a protein recovery drink and watching our favourite live show on Netflix, in bed. There are early morning starts, long session weekends and holidays travelling to qualifying events or on training camps. I’m not saying we don’t love what we do, or shouldn’t. But we certainly don’t advertise that new triathletes may one day be hard pressed to make a choice between chilling out at a mate’s barbeque or literally sitting in a bathtub of water and ice in order to make it through tomorrow’s fartlek run.
An unexplained diminished sense of fashion: whether in a pre-triathlon life, you thought of yourself as a cosmopolitan fashionista or just an average Joe, who knew what they liked but self-admittedly “was just happy being comfy”, your standards were far removed to what they are today. Head-to-toe Lycra, helmets vaguely resembling the extraterrestrial antagonist from well known, sci-fi franchises and Velcro strapped sun visors (…in the supermarket? Why do we need sun protection as well as a cool head while selecting fresh produce?). And the colours. How does any well-balanced, non-triathlon civilian not fall under the impression we are trying to send a message of help through an intricate colour coded system? I can only imagine the outsiders would see it as a call for help – the looks I get in my get up at the local brew shop certainly aren’t reflective of them reading a “join us” signal.
As a member of this triathlon fraternity, I completely admit to misleading the majority when it comes to the sport being all glamour, carefree and lifestyle enlightening. It really does have its tougher aspects and at times can make us question our choice to immerse ourselves so wholeheartedly. But we still do all of this at our own free will, and as far as we are concerned, we are glamorous, carefree and enlightened (maybe the TT helmet is the key). It could be said that by experiencing the pitfalls I’ve described along with the dozens of other challenges we face as triathletes we actually do live the #trilife we are selling to the masses.