A Question for You Triathletes: Why Do YOU *Really* Do Triathlons?

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I am going to be frank with you.

In return, I ask you to be frank with me.

I have been in the triathlon world, teaching triathlon classes and clinics, coaching triathletes from all ages and abilities, eating and selling triathlon nutrition products and doing triathlons myself for more than five years, so I’ve asked (literally) thousands of endurance athletes about why they do this sport.

So my radar is fully dialed in to sniff out any “cookie-cutter” answers. Be completely honest. Ready?

What motivates you to do triathlons?

Why in the world do you bother riding your bike for 2 or 3 or 4 hours? Why would any person bother going to a pool and swimming back and forth in the middle of the day?

If you said anything to the extent of “improve my blood pressure,” “relieve stress,” or “set a good example,” I’m not buying it. I call these logical motivators. There is nothing wrong with those motivators and I agree they are excellent benefits – but let’s get real. I asked you to be frank with me. You don’t swim, bike and run multiple hours a week for the sole purpose of improving your health profile.

You do triathlons for emotional and irrational wants and fears.

You do triathlons so you can prove something to yourself. What is your worth? Do you have what it takes? Can you conquer your personal Mt. Everest? Can you show everybody who was better at you in sports growing up that you’re just as good, maybe better?

You do triathlons to prove something to other people. I really am that good, that fit, that motivated, that focused. If my neighbor did it, I can do. I’m better than them. I’ll beat them this year.

You do triathlons because you did just one, this one time, and then you got sucked into the vortex and you had to keep coming back and trying to beat your performance from the previous year. In other words, you want to prove to yourself that your body is getting better, not worse.

You do triathlons because all your friends are doing it and who will provide your social support if it’s not the triathlon club?

You do triathlons because running is boring and you don’t have that kind of attention span.

Dare I say, some of you do triathlons because you want to look good naked?

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What are some types of irrational and emotional motivators for triathlon? Here are some examples:

Being able to wear your Ironman or triathlon race t-shirt in public to impress people.
Wanting to be able to eat whatever you want, but not having the control, so finding a sport where working out too much is OK.
Being able to fit into whatever style of clothes you wish.
Having nice legs and feeling confident when you put on spandex.
Telling people at parties that you’re an athlete, maybe even an Ironman.
Comments like, “You’re really slim. Do you workout?”
Not dying early so you can travel with your grandchildren.
Having an honorable excuse for not doing yardwork on the weekends because of your “training”.

Contrast these with logical motivators for doing triathlon:

Improve your health.
Less stress.
Good role model.
Balanced lifestyle.
Clothes fit better.
More energy.

You see the difference? Sure, the irrational wants (compared to fears) are conceited and superficial. I get it. But guess which individual gets better results? The person motivated by irrational motivators or logical motivators? Irrational, hands down every time. The secret to achieving success in these type of sports is to figure out the true WHY – which is some always an irrational desire, fear or want.

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Here’s how to figure out your irrational want:
1. Ask yourself, “Why do I do triathlons?” If you said, “To feel better…” then ask the same question to your answer.
2. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to feel better?” If you said, “To be more productive at work…” then ask the same question to your answer.
3. Ask yourself again, “Why do I want to be more productive…” So that I get a job promotion and earn a bigger salary. Continue the pattern…
4. “Why do I want to get a bigger salary?” So that I can provide for my child’s education so they can have a future.

Notice how your reason for swimming, biking and running went from a very logical to emotional fear and want the more you asked why? The more honest you are with yourself, the faster you’ll get to your true reason why you work out.

Your “why” will be the difference between success and failure. This is a topic rarely discussed in the triathlon world and can create unstoppable motivation by uncovering the truth about yourself. There is no right or wrong answer. I only ask that you be honest with yourself. Now it’s your turn.

I want you to ask yourself, “Why do I really do triathlons?” until you discover your irrational and emotional want or fear. You might be very surprised to discover the real reason and what you really want. This exercise might take you a few minutes.

If you’re comfortable with sharing, in one sentence in the comments for this post, state the emotional and irrational why behind your motivation for doing triathlons. What do you really want or what is your greatest nightmare?

I look forward to your comments…

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93 thoughts on “A Question for You Triathletes: Why Do YOU *Really* Do Triathlons?

  1. I’d be completely bonkers if I didn’t have an energy outlet. I’m also pretty much the only uninured dad in the neighborhood (bad back, hips, strained shoulders, etc..) well, except for my friend who is also a triathlete.

    1. I have no idea why this interests me except j"e ne se quoi," why not leverage the best of what our physical selves can contribute without any expectation in return…
      As an athelete my whole life and never done a marathon, but have done many miles running over the years, and understand the sacrifice for fitness over the years, I have a feeling that there is something larger than ourselves that is the output of triathalons…not sure yet what it is, but am enamored of those of you that do these for all the reasons you do…particularly those who are my age…late 50s.Keeping this conversation going will help in a critical way or me at this point in my life.

  2. I like the thrill of doing something that not many people think they can do or even try …The very first one I did 11 years ago I had the fear of going over the time that was allowed for the event since I had no experience or reference point to even know if I could finish…Since then it has become just a fun thing to do…No real fears attatched…Emotions ? Maybe the joy of seeing the finish line….

  3. To do the thing that I’ve always thought is impossible for me to achieve personally. I’ve never been an athlete the whole of my life and I’m 35 and I’m going to join my first triathlon next year. And of course, I wanna be at the level where I am fit enough to eat what ever I desire without gaining weight! It’s most people’s dream and I’m no different in that matter.

  4. Sure all those “irrational reasons” play into it. Although one man’s rational is another’s irrational. The biggest motivator is that it feels good(endorphins)! It is satisfying! It is something that I (we) have total control over! At times my physical efforts transcend my everyday reality. . .and it is the only place in my life where that happens. It’s the sense of adventure which is also sadly lacking in large parts of my (our) lives. Without it, I feel that I am on that long slide towards the end of life.

  5. While I don’t do triathalons, I am an avid competitive cyclist, so why do I ride my bike? B/c there is no better feeling in the world than winning a race. It may not happen often, but when it does, all the pain and suffering goes away. Plus, if I didn’t ride my wife would probably kick me out of the house for having an annoying amount of excess energy. :)

  6. Hmmm… this is harder than I first thought. One reason I do triathlons is to be strong, not just physically, but also to be strong enough mentally to make myself suffer to be better. That’s a really powerful feeling.

  7. I do it because participating in endurance sports allows me to compete against me, and to push and prod myself on a daily basis. I look at training for and competing in endurance sports as a way to slowly over time, like water wearing down a rock, make myself better; both as an athlete and a human.

    Endurance sports are both humbling and challenging, and require long days, months and years of training and preparation and then one still can fail spectacularly. Participating in endurance sports over years and decades requires me to maintain the long view on my sport and this bleeds over into the rest of my life. There are no quick fixes for the best things in life and endurance sports are a prime example.

    Through over three decades of running and the last few years of years in triathlon I have gotten beaten by people who are older, of a different gender, dressed as bugs and a variety of uncountable others. And I have found that if nothing else, endurance sports keep me humble.

    And as I close in on 59 years old, this great sport also validates virtually every day that I am still truly living, alive and do retain that primal urge to rock. It provides me a way to conceptually throw my hand in the air and wave my middle digit at growing old, feeble and slow.

  8. Is this a clever trick to get my email address? Oh right, you already have it! Emotions and irrational fears actually are the fuel of our survival. The saber tooth tiger was the inventor of the 800m race, right? Why I do triathlons? Well, at 42 I am terrified of looking and or acting my age. I also love competition and crushing my fellow triathletes, who are very often, much younger than I. And then there is always that pair of True Religion jeans hanging in the closet…how irrational is that? (BTW, am I too old to wear those?)

  9. ir·ra·tion·al
    a. Not endowed with reason.
    b. Affected by loss of usual or normal mental clarity; incoherent, as from shock.
    c. Marked by a lack of accord with reason or sound judgment

    None of these definitions describe my reasons for doing triathlons.

    Why do I train? Because it feels great to be strong and be able to move your body over hundreds of miles under your own power. Because I get to interact with nature and the weather on a daily basis. I get to dig deep within myself and overcome mental and physical obstacles.

    I don’t know how others feel but I LOVE to train. Racing is just the icing on the cake – a day when I get to come out and test my mettle, encourage other triathletes to achieve their goals and dreams. It’s not about beating people or even beating times, it’s about living life on the pinnacle instead of on the couch.

  10. I’m starting tris and signed up for an Ironman. I’ve done a few marathons. Stay in shape? sure. Self improvement? why not.

    When it comes down to it i want to do it because others won’t (or can’t). I want the bragging rights, I want to know I can do it, and I want to be the best I can be. I might not win a race, but at least I’m in the 1% or how ever many % of people that strive for greatness in something. Further, we have such limited time to actually live, that I want to make the most of it and do the ‘unreal’ things so I can experience as much as possible.

    I like to live outside the norm of the rat race. Life isn’t about having stuff. It’s about doing stuff. Improving, learning, exploring.

  11. I do them because every part of me says not to. Every one of us has the handicap or benefit of knowing that our mind is stronger than our body. For me the mental aspect of triathlons are by far the most challenging. I have had severe injuries prior to competing that are the reasons for me starting triathlons in the first place. These very injuries are the reason I keep going, to show that you should never count yourself down and out. For me, mentally it is a challenge. I love when my mind says, “Just stop at 100 miles that’s long enough” or when I’m swimming in the race and I tell myself how much I hate this stuff. Getting past those moments and completing a challenge whether it is in life or on a race course is the greatest feeling to me.

  12. Great thoughts so far! Here are some other comments that came in through http://www.everymantri.com

    “Because life is an adventure worth living, even when it’s hard & often scary.”

    “Even though I have yet to complete my first triathlon, I am drawn to it because I’m sick and tired of feeling like a failure, and no one besides me is in control of the outcome.”

    “I Tri because I “shouldn’t” and I love purpose.

    As a 300+lb. Clydesdale I am told I shouldn’t, by small people, gear companies, and a life time of bad habits. I am not very good at doing what I am told. The flip side of the reason is it takes drive and passion to enjoy the suffering a triathlon brings. It feels good.”

  13. Pragmatic reasons: to maintain weight; to structure life/exercise (I definitely am someone who races in order to train rather than primarily the other way round). Real reason: because it still seems as amazing to me that I can complete a triathlon as it would be if I rode a train to Hogwarts and learned how to cast spells with a magic wand! Both the training and the racing bring magic to everyday life…

  14. I played competitive sports all the way through college and the conventional thinking is that once you graduate it’s time for softball. I did that a few years and realized I was bored and had no outlet for competing. It then took a few more years to discover triathlons and I am hooked.

    My friends couldn’t do what I do and I kinda like that. I also get to set an example for my kids. Oh yeah, and I’m in the best shape of my life. That’s why.

  15. I want bragging rights. Not many people do this sport and if you do, they look at you like you’re a badass! I love it! I used to have trouble walking. 3 years ago someone sidelined my car and flipped it over. My back and neck were toast. 3 doctors gave up on me after a year. Nothing to lose so I started “training”. (Btw, “training” was walking up and down the gym pool.) As of now I’ve completed a half-iron and I’m signed up for ironman louisville 2009! Wooh! No one knows about my past at my workplace. =) I’m now a fitness trainer at a gym and they only know I’m a triathlete. And like i said-A badass!

  16. I race triathlons because it provides me with the balance, the focus, and the drive that I need to keep from relapsing into anorexia.

  17. I get to live once. My body will carry me through for what – 80 years at best? Less if I get clipped by a drunk driver at any given moment? I don’t want to die with a pile of cash in my bank account that I never got to use. I don’t want to die never having taken out my toys out of the protective original package. My legs, my lungs, my heart – all that stuff is the same. I want to use it. I want to really use this body. I don’t know what it is capable of. My brain has no comprehension as to the power of my legs. If anything I learn that my brain is my biggest adversary when I push my body. So for me, I do tris because this body deserves to be pushed a little hard once in a while. You only live once. There’s no such thing as saving for a rainy day.

  18. I Tri because the violence of the sport I played for 35 of my 40 years – ice hockey – has finally caught up to me. One week before my daughter was born I nearly bit my tongue off in a Beer League game that started at 11pm. I realized then and there that I didn’t need to be doing this to myself at this late an hour and with competition who were unaware of how much pain they can inflict on others. I used to tell people in Beer League that the last serious game I played was my senior year in college. I lied: The last serious game I played was a week before my daughter was born and I haven’t looked back.
    Now the only pain I have is that which I inflict on myself.

  19. because i want to be a bad ass… and not a fat ass. i want my son to be proud of his mommy and hopefully motivate him to get outside. i come from a family of morbidly obese people and at the age of 12 i swore to myself i was never going to end up like that…. and i love the feeling of say “i’m going on a short little 3 mile run” because i remember when a 3 mile run was a heck of a long way lol.

  20. I did my first try to overcome a deep fear of swimming brought on by a near-drowning experience as a child. I panicked and freaked out a friend during my first open water swim. I still hate to see the bottom of any body of water, but I have overcome the fear that kept me from playing at the lake with my kids. And there is the root of it – I need my kids to know they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. I’m choosing to show them by example.

  21. I do triathlon for my own personal satisfaction. I don’t brag about any triathlons that I have sucessfully competed in. It gives your life a balance and if structured will maintain and/or improve fitness and hopefully your long term health. You must be focused but strike a balance that your racing and training are not obsessive.

    By facing the potential hardships of training, recovery from injury with focus and self motivation you can transform this ethos into your career and social life.

  22. As a kid I used to be overweight, never choosen to be part of the football team, known as an “intellectual”. Today, old shool mates can’t believe I give up smoking, dropped 50 pounds and became a triathlete (6 hours 37 at the Antwerp Ironman 70,3 last year. Going for my first Ironman distance in Roth, Germany this year). At 48, I’ve beaten them all, and now, I just can’t stop, that feeling is just to great.

  23. Because I didn’t fit in as a kid and when I am successful at tri I feel like I belong. I have friends with common interest and diverse backgrounds which also helps me feel like I belong. If I didn’t have that sense, I would not be a confident person. I have to maintain cofidence in myself to do my job and maintain a relationship and to not lose my shit. So triathlon basically keeps me mentally balanced because I feel better about myself because I have something I am good at. By success I mean completing the training, being out in all weather, pushing through hard workouts, not necessarily race success, though that helps!

  24. I was sick of always being told that men were stronger and fitter than women. That might be true in a general sense, but now, I am fitter than most men I meet. Even the men that can bench press three of me, still can’t push their bodies the same way I have trained to be able to do.

    Whenever I hit a mental roadblock, I just remember all the times I heard “but, you’re just a girl” or when my boyfriend and I trained for our first triathlon, people only asked him about training and assumed I was just along for the ride. My indignation does wonders for my pace and determination.

  25. Why do I tri? Last year I quit smoking and wanted to see how much of a better runner I could be when I don’t smoke. My husband hates running but loves biking and I thought I love to bike and I also love to swim. I first thought of tris and they scared the crap out of me because I thought of only Ironman races. Then I found out they come in different lengths! Now the planning has started for the years to come and all the distances I want to swim, bike and run. I tri because I can; because I will never act my age; because I want to show my kids and my husband if you put your mind to it you can do it; because my friends have all taken on the roll of the overweight Mother and I don’t want that role; because I don’t want the excuse that I am to busy to take care of myself; because it feels awesome to say “I did it!”; because it changes your body and your attitude; because it gives me focus and balance in my life.

  26. I have poor mental health: I struggle with depression and bouts of obsessive compulsive behaviour. Having something internal to focus on and progress at brings balance to my life. It’s not actually a balanced lifestyle; I’m not naive, it’s very one tracked and largely unhealthy in that sense but it gives motivation to continue. When I have a focused lifestyle it is subject to less variation and as I understand it less pain and a higher quality of life.

    It’s a socially acceptable form of addiction. In contrast to turning to most other activities or substances which garner little public respect. Triathlon permits me an avenue to submit to obsessive compulsive tendencies rather than constantly fight them. In the world where all people are regularly evaluated by others this expression of my mental illness permits me the greatest freedom from judgment.

    I don’t know whether or not this is sustainable, my ambitions continue to grow. This is necessary as a means to combat depression, no phase can even come to an end. I wouldn’t know what to do. I have a few more years of progress to make before that happens though.

  27. I tri because of most of the reasons already mentioned. Plus a pure fear of becoming obese. My dad was a truck driver, my mom a morbidly obese lady who had to have gastric bypass or die. I am 36 yrs old and was heading in that direction last March.

    This year i have a tri under my belt and I have 35+ lbs that I no longer carry. Now I want more, I want a HIM, I want a Full. A million$’s I will probably never possess but these I can and will. Not because they are good for me, not because other people can’t do them. But because I want them.

  28. Sheer thrill at first! Then to see what I could do. Then to better my times! Competition set in. The club social aspect became more important. Training was more fun. Training soon became wanting to spend more time with my coach. She can motivate a slug! Certain emotions transcend physical limitations. Now it’s time with friends, fun training and wanting to beat my times. And of course transcending emotions :)

  29. I once gave my friend some advice when she was deciding whether or not she should go to grad school, I told her that in two years she would still be two years older and that she needed to decided if she would be two years older with a Masters degree or without one. I am afraid of water but I always wanted to do a tri, and while I stayed in relatively average shape I would always find a reason not to sign up. One night as I was sitting at my computer agonizing over the registration for a local sprint tri I thought back to that conversation and decided that I could end the summer as a triathlete or not, I decided the former and it was one of the best decisions I ever made! I never gave myself enough credit for what I might be able to accomplish, and while I am still freaked out by open water now I can put on my game face for a race, suck it up and dive in. Triathlon training is the one thing that when I do it, I don’t feel selfish, even though it is all about me at that moment. When I run and ride and swim, I rarely think about the outside world, I focus on what I am doing, rarely anything else. oh, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a measure of satisfaction when somebody asks what I am doing on a weekend and they say “all in one day?!” I smile on the inside.

  30. I do triathlons as a form of worship to Jesus Christ. I have found I am closest to God when I am putting my body through hell. In a good way of course.

  31. I do tri's b/c I've always played sports my entire life (mostly team sports), but as I got older calling up 9+ friends to play hoops wasn't a reliable source to get fit. Thus, I trickled into running b/c I could manage my time better and stay in shape. Then it moved into Tri's. Now I tell myself each year that I'll have this "goal race" (this year it's 2 IM's in one month) and next year just do half's or olympics to stay in shape and have more free time. As much as I'd like that to be true, I'll probably sign up for another big race and train alot. I think it's at a point where I have to do some sort of exercise in the morning or won't feel good all day. In fact, my wife forces me to get out of bed when I push snooze b/c she knows how I'll feel if I miss a workout. It's definitely an addiction.

    I think about why I do these tri's and I do really like seeing/feeling the changes from consistent training. After a few months it's amazing to see the progress (eg: going faster for longer in each sport effortlessly). Also, perhaps I can attribute my enjoyment w/ the sport to:

    1. Failing a swim test as a kid where I couldn't swim 25m before being pulled out from the lifeguard, thus couldn't play w/ the rest of my friends at a lake and sat in the shallow end all day.

    2. In 5th grade, getting 2nd to last place in a 1 mile run race. Feeling pretty humiliated when the coach asked us in front of everyone what what are place was in the race.

    3. Spending my early 20's drinking/smoking/partying a lot. I think I replaced that addiction w/ exercise addiction.

  32. I do triathlons so I don’t become obese again. That is my fear, to become over weight and unhappy again. I lost 80 pounds and started doing triathlons right after. Ever since I have been addicted and competing. I don’t want to fall into my old habits and the constant training and dieting helps keep me healthy and motivated.

  33. I do triathlons because 1) to live an ordinary life on the couch is too depressing to fathom 2) the human body was meant for movement, not sitting 3) I want to see just how mentally strong I am 4) I want my wife to be proud of me 5)I was an athlete through college and I’m not ready to grow up! 6) I hate having hairy legs, so tri’s give me a reason to trim :P

  34. In my case, you are 100% right. I do triathlon/running/ironman to prove that I am a real athlete, that I am better than the average guy, to test how far and fast I can go, to see how much I can do, to get a IM Tattoo, to wear IM clothes in public so people ask if I really did one, so I can drink and eat like crap and not get fat, and most of all to hope that my kids are proud of me for doing great things in my life.

  35. First of all, I am competitive. I used to be a competitive swimmer, and a pretty good road racer. I love to pass others on the race course and finish well in my age group. I know I will never be an elite, oh well.

    Second, I have a strong family history of heart disease. My father had a heart attack at age 57. I exercise furiously to lessen my chances of heart disease.

    Third, triathlon allows me to eat more of the foods that I like.

    Fourth, triathlon allows me to keep my body looking good. It also lets me admire attractive, fit females (I know that was not PC, but you asked me to be honest!)

  36. OK- NONE (ok a few) of those comments were one sentence!
    My reasons for triathlon training and racing are varied and have changed throughout the 27 years I have participated.

    In the early 80s it was strictly for social contact and to “awe” people as not many women were doing tris then.

    In the mid-80s when I was hitting my stride, it was strictly for hardware and going for time and place-so I guess this would be recognition by peers.

    After I becamse a mom and was working full time it was strictly to run (bike or swim) away-to have time for myself and to prove to by then husband that I was talented…maybe even more than he was, because he tried to sabotage my training and racing.

    Lately, as I climb away from my mid-50s it’s for feeling younger, looking younger, and seeing places (with my current husband) that we never would if we weren’t in swimming/cycling or running shape. I am not plagued with health problems or menopausal symptoms, as many of my peers my age are. I still can shop in the Jr. dept. and am not afraid to race in a bathing suit for sprints. I still stand by the fact that when I exercise in the a.m. before work I am calmer and more focused with the kids I work with at school, and am more creative with my approach to my special education students. I sleep better at night and love the feeling of exhaustion after a great run/swim or ride, so I guess there is a physical addiction there also. I love feeling fluid and fast and flexible.
    I also love to beat people younger than I am (especially men).
    The real reason…to stay alive as long as I can and not be alone when I do.

  37. My irrational motivators? All of the above! I’m 73, and I ran my first tri – a short-short sprint in my 40s. I was hooked immediately. It was fun; it was something only the guys did; and I was way older than anybody else in the race. Got 3rd place overall.

    There has always been one very rational reason for running and tri-ing, though: blood pressure. I was determined not to take pills, so I pushed myself ever harder and harder. Finally, I’ve had to give in to old age and take pills.

    But I keep a picture of Sister Madonna Buder in my wallet to remind me that 73 ain’t OLD!!!

  38. Nice essay Alex. That’s really powerful. Next week, on Everymantri, we’re going to discuss some of these answers.

    I’m also going to talk about them in Podcast Episode #44…

    Ben

  39. Great article Ben! Great article. You took the vanity that surrounds most me-against-myself sports and shoved it right back in the faces of those who buy into the “cookie cutter” answers. As a journalist and an athlete, I am inspired by your honesty. Here’s a bit of honesty from me. I do tris because I love my girlfriend. When we go to parties, I want her to be able to show me off if she chooses to. I want other women to envy her. I know it boosts her ego if they talk about her man and that, in turn, boosts mine. It is an ego thing. There is no better motivational tool for me than seeing the woman I love proud and confident. Shallow? Maybe. True? Absolutely.

  40. I fall right into the group that wants to better each and everytime. I don’t train nearly as much as I should and still manage to get better.
    Riding the bike for 3-4 hours at a time becasue I like it… you bet your ass I do.
    A deep emotional reason is that after my Mother passed away from a 2 year battle with lung cancer I made a promise to myself to never give up on something just because its getting hard. If she can fight through that and hang on as long as she did I can keep going with healthy lungs.
    First time I’ve shared that, thanks for listening.

  41. I am a 62 year old (25 year couch-bumb) who will be retiring this June from 30+ years of teaching Special Education Students. Did my first Tri (Wildflower=03) and swore that my wife should shoot me if I was to even suggest doing another one. Since then I have done about 2-3 a year and am planning on doing the Vineman Ironman on August 1, 2009 in Napa, California.
    Why: In my younger days I was better than most but not as good as the best in Track (440). I tried boxing (500% 1-1), Wrestling (20 bouts never won one but lost more on points than pins. I am training for the Ironman for the simple reason to find out what I am really made of. I am looking to break 15.5 hours. I am working very hard at training and reading all about nutrition, training, etc. I am looking forward to swimming, biking and running and kind of watch myself as I compete. I was able to do this when I was in Track (44) and was in the “zone).

    I can say that I am a bit concerned but am looking forward to that day. It may hurt but it will be something that I can smile about for the rest of my life and I am looking forward to the that special day.
    Richard Cook/Clovis, California

  42. Pure vanity. I like doing things that people respond to with lines like “Are you F!@#ing nuts?” Well, yes, I probably am. My 21 yr old son alleges, as does my wife, that it’s my way of abusing my body. They’re probably on to something there. I’m vainly trying to keep up with two athletic adult children. Finally, it’s the perfect sport for someone who’s athletically ADD, but a master at none. This is actually my first triathlon season. I’ve done ultras and marathons in the past and have mountain biked for the past ten years. My coach has pressed me to do triathlons for a few years, and I ran out of excuses.

  43. I don’t want my surgeon husband getting all the fulfillment. And, I want to show my kids I can do cool stuff too :)

  44. It’s all about control for me. In triathlon, I see the direct consequences of my decisions and my actions (or inactions). When I went from one swim workout a week to two, my swim times improved. When I do hill repeats on the bike, my climbing improves. When I do longer long runs, my endurance improves. In the three years I’ve been doing tri’s, my time in the same race has improved every year, and I know it’s because I have trained harder every year. I did that. I improved my time. I planned my training, I did my training, I got the results. I’m in control.

  45. Ben,
    I have to tell you I love your website and really admire you. I read it a lot and have found a lot of really helpful info!
    I do triathlons for three reason…
    1. When I was a kid my neighbors brother was did that cross country bike race (and won it several times) and ran Ironman, I thougth it was cool and felt I should do it some tris some day.
    2. I have a history of a fairly significant eating disorder and the triathlons give me an excuse to eat healthy, keep my weight down, exercise a lot and not be questioned.
    3. My parents hate it.
    Hope that was candid enough for you! Keep up the most excellent work!!!

  46. When you put a date on your dream, it becomes a goal.
    When you aim for the goal, it becomes a challenge.
    When you beat the challenge, the reward is success.
    To have success…you need a dream.

    So basically when I stop dreaming, I’ll stop tri-ing; or if I’m physically incapable – which ever comes first.

  47. 1. Why do I do triathlon? It feels good to finish a work out or
    race knowing that I didn’t quit when it got hard.
    2. Why does it fell good? I have quit before the finish, and have
    been unmotivated enough that I became complacent and
    started bad habits when I was a firefighter. (one of the larger
    reasons I left the fire serves)
    3a. Why did you quit? I am afraid of failure and at the same
    time I don’t think I am good enough to succeed.
    3.b. Why did you become “unmotivated enough”? If I don’t try
    then I am not being measured and thus can stay in the
    middle ground, neither good nor bad. It is easy to sit and
    have your head full of the right things to do in a given
    situations but harder to put your self in the situations that
    well test that knowledge.
    4. Why am I, 1. afraid of failure and 2. afraid of being
    measured?
    1. I am afraid of failure because I am better then failure?
    (weird!) 2. If I succeed, I will have to admit that I am better
    then failure.
    5. I do triathlon because each day I train hard is a day that I
    chose to not take the easy path, each time I succeed I prove
    to my self that I have worth and if I have worth I deserve to
    be proud of my self.
    Besides the consequences of failing in triathlon are a lot
    smaller then the consequences of failing in the fire service.

  48. I have two very good reasons why I began training for a triathlon and completed my first super sprint back in April and have a sprint and olympic distance scheduled this year.

    1. I was diagnosed a year ago with Prostate Cancer at age 41 and had surgery on June 30th. I was never an athlete other than occasional workouts at the gym, and had a major wakeup call about my health.

    2. I found Athletes for a Cure (AFAC) which is a program through the Prostate Cancer Foundation through a friend and volunteered my time and raised money for my cause. I caught the fever to do a triathlon while volunteering at the first annual AFAC Triathlon last September. I thought it would be great to get in shape and use running and triathlons as a way to raise money and create more awareness for prostate cancer in younger men.

    To date I have help raise over $6k for Athletes for a Cure and will continue training and racing for this cause!

    Darren Ritch

  49. You managed to bring up some good thoughts, but your overall delivery left a lot to be desired. You communicated some (but not many) important points, embedded in a writing style that is caustic–a little bit “holier than thou” and demeaning. Instead of passing judgment on many of your students and others who show up on Sundays and work their tails off to do so, if you want people to think about why they do what they do, perhaps you could simply ask the question you wish people to consider, and allow them to come to their own conclusion. Keep the insight coming. Leave the lecture out.

  50. Great Article! My mindset from the beginning was always tied to every one of your “irrational” reasons. It was always to look better and be better than everyone else around me.

  51. I do triathlon because I’m vain and I want to look great naked. The reaction people supply when I tell them how much I train is satisfying. Secretly inside I think to myself, “I’m better than you. I have more discipline. I’m a superior human being. You don’t have the intestinal fortitude to do what I’m doing and we both know that”. It sets me apart from a crowd of overweight, pasty IT geeks. Girls love it. I pull 10x the amount of leg due to triathlon then when I was just an average Joe.

  52. I do ironman triathlons so I can walk round wearing my finishers shirt, not to look good naked cos I’m still a fat bastard, also I enjoy beating skinny people :)

  53. My gripe is only about the obsessed tri athlete – what really gets me is that the ‘tri obsessed’ don’t understand that they are killing all their personal relationships with their obsessive selfish need to train and compete in a sport that is not social, has no real spectator interest and produces very tired, skinny and gaunt people that are kind of scary to be with as they are truly boring and dull (well the obsessed ones I have met are!) and whilst people say they are impressed that you do triathlons they are equally impressed with skiers, tennis players, sailors and other sports people, those committed and good at a sport is always impressive! Especially when they are working with others and learning that team work is o much better than selfish sports such as triathlons. In fact triathlons are only an endurance sport that test the individual against him/herself and has little social interaction – so no team building or mental tactics to winning better, just a personal PB. which for the partners of obsessive tri athletes gets a little warring. in fact we just pretend to be interested after a while as we are keen for you to exercise and enjoy yourself but obsessive tri people become dull- so what you have shaved off your PB just a few seconds here and now you then get depressed if your PB is slower, difficult to live with someone so pre occupied and self indulgent that a slower PB can affect their whole mood and alter their behaviour. Families get fed up and begin to think the obsessive tri athletes is sort of odd – I think it’s a type of depression they are dealing with an emotional need. The obsessive tri athlete is pushing themselves to the limits I have been told by experts, from a fear of facing their inner problems -wrapped up in lack of self confidence and low self esteem. This is the only way that they can feel good about themselves and can pretend they are amazing instead of balancing their lives to enjoy triathlons and other pursuits and be a normal person. They are kidding themselves and destroying their relationships – their kids would rather they had quality time with their Mom or Dad not just counting the T-shirts or Medals – ????

  54. Why do I do triathlons? To prove “I can do this!” I am 54 years old and just completed my first 2 sprint triathlons, and the .9 mile swim of the Coeur d’Alene triathlon. Am I proud of this? Absolutely! It goes to show anyone can do this if they put their mind (and body!) to it!

  55. Why? Self esteem boost, great friendships, keep perimenopause sypmtoms in check. I am in my mid 40′s and this is my first year of tri’s. I never participated in sports as a kid. In fact, I just learned to swim 1 year ago. I don’t mean learned better form, I mean I didn’t know how to swim AT ALL. It’s been one of the hardest things to learn. I hyperventiated through my first tri, but the 2nd and 3rd were much better, though slow. If I didn’t tri, I wouldn’t make exercise a priority, I would drink too much , and I would be bitchy (or bitchier).

  56. At first to prove that I could, then to get faster and now I realize that I love the training. The race is just the prize at the end. I love the time spent swimming, biking and running because it makes me happy. The other motivations, like looking good or the respect of friends and family are just an added bonus.

  57. Why do I compete in Triathlon? I guess you could ask me why do I breathe and my answer would be the same, I only completed my first Olympic distance triathlon yesterday in a time of 2h35 in some of the worst conditions I’ve seen in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I honestly got scared in the swim (sea) many times I needed a breath but was being swomped by wave upon wave, then on the bike a nasty easterly did everything it could to stop me from getting back to the transition area, it was if it wanted me to fail but we pushed on and the run brought endorphins like a waterfall of honey, and when I finished all I could think about was when could I get back out there and just be… Triathlon is in my blood, in my bone marrow, it is in my lungs, in my heart, in my soul and in my mind. I am not a product of triathlon, triathlon is a product of me! My short-medium term goal is to make the SA team for the Olympic distance world champs next year, the thought of representing my country is part of the fuel that is driving this raging inferno that so powerfully burns inside of me, it gets me out of the door in elements that even an insane person could justify not training in because when it is all done and dusted it’s you against the course, the guy next to you is your brother in arms till you cross the finish line and he becomes your competition. Keep tri-ing!!!

  58. I do tris because I am afraid of being a normal person, because I was very successful in my first one and since then I have become intensely competitive, because I love being able to see parts of San Diego I would never know about except through swimming, biking and running, and because I love now walking up to transition at the crack of dawn knowing that most of the girls there do not stand a chance against me.

  59. Well me personal I’m addicted to exercise. So I need to feed the monkey on my back daily.

    Simple the only thing I would say about the article that I didn’t really agree with is that I don’t exercise and compete at this level to face my fears I do it to run from them well swim bike and then run from them to be more concise.

    JT

  60. 4 words: My own personal Everest.

    Can’t find the quote, but somewhere buried in the poetry of “Once a Runner” Cassidy discussed the contrast of the average person and the runner; how the average person, in times of greatest danger and fear, knows nothing about how far he could go, whereas the runner explores and pushes this boundary every day.

    That’s why I do it: to figure out just how far I can go.

  61. I started out of a fear of the heart disease that runs in my paternal bloodline and has claimed most of the men in my family before they were 65…FEAR

    I stuck with it because being a runner gave me something that set me apart from the average person…APPROVAL

    I began pushing harder when I realized that I could possibly place in my division in local races…PRIDE

    I became obsessed when I got injured, could not work out for a time, and realized that I was physically addicted to the endorphin rush. Now I have to push harder and/or go further to keep up the payoff…ADDICTION

  62. I do triathlons for a number of reasons but to be as frank as possible, I believe it all stems from 3 main issues:
    1. I love the challenge.
    2: Its a positive outlet for my unique brand of depression / self loathing.
    3: Its a way to explain to other people why I train so much.

    During my countless hours of training over the past 2 years I have come to the conclusion that I do triathlons mostly as an excuse to train. I have always loved pushing myself to the point of physical failure and after I got injured and decided to quit martial arts I lost focus. Weight training was a great alternative but people got the wrong impression. They all started to assume I was conceited and that I was doing it for the aesthetic appeal but that wasn’t the true driving force.
    Personally I get an unmatched sense of accomplishment from putting myself to the breaking point. And I have found that most ‘normal’ people don’t understand. See when life gets to me nothing makes me feel better than letting it all out on the road, swimming, riding or running for hours on end just wears me down to the point where by the time I am done all that is left is the part of me that makes me proud.

  63. I do triathlon for a variety of reasons. First is the indescribable personal satisfaction I get out of sheer physical exhaustion. I love how simple things become when I'm biking, running or swimming. Its really an escape of sorts. Therapy in other ways. An inner solitude and peace in the midst of physical exertion. I love knowing that I am doing something that most have a hard time imagining…as I once did. I love the new confidence I have found in myself. I love the potential I now see in others…knowing that if I can do it…anybody can do it. I love pushing my body…experimenting with it, tweaking it, weighing it, seeing what it can do if I do this or try that. Kind of how people like to tinker with cars. Can it go faster and farther? Even though I'm getting older and older, can I beat back my age if I get faster and faster every season? Its like a video game…but for real and the levels never end. Its addicting. Its a drug of sorts…but one with positive side effects. Its a sport thats perfect for my introverted personality. Even when I'm out there with hundreds of others, I'm all alone in my own little world….and perfectly happy there. And yet I feel the energy and comradeship of being among the few inspired enough to try such a thing. It makes me feel alive. It helps me beat back depression…which I am very prone. I love knowing that I can carry my own weight. I love knowing that if my life or someone elses life depended on it….yep…I could probably swim clear across that river or lake without much problem, or run all the way to there…where ever there is. In a way, in a somewhat conceited cocky kind of way, I like feeling just a little bit super human….even though I realize that at my level, no one but me really gives a shit what my last PR was.

  64. I do triathlons for several "irrational" and "logical" reasons.
    #1? It took me a while to figure this out, but it's the fear of dying at an early age. My family has a history of high cholesterol and a lot of other ailments, and I want to live a happy, healthy life without all that crap.
    #2, I love looking good naked, and I love the slim, toned look.
    #3, the challenge teaches me about my limits, but more importantly teaches me that with preparation and courage, I can beat those limits into submission – triathlon gives me courage in the rest of my life.
    #4, saying "i'm a triathlete" is fun.
    #5, there is the hope for constant improvement, which buoys my self-esteem in all aspects of my life because there's always something more I can achieve in triathlon.
    #6, it gives me an activity to keep me busy that will never fully be accomplished (I'll never beat Macca's 2010 win in Kona), so I never get to the end and get bored of it.
    #7, I want to be active and healthy when I'm older, and this is the best sport to keep that a real possibility – the prospect of living the last 20 years of my life in a prison of my own body is TERRIFYING.
    #8, the bikes are f**king awesome.

    honest enough?? :)

    nathan
    @semidecenttri

  65. I am pretty aware that I do triathlon not in small part because my entire family is obese – father, mother, brother, many aunts and uncles. At 6' and 155 lbs, I am the black sheep of the family – the "fit" one, the one with self control and motivation. I was chubby for about 2 years as a child, and that has stuck with me, even as I am now 35!

    I do triathlon to fulfill something inside myself – to squash that chubby girl, to show myself I am capable of anything I set out to do, to prove to my family that being fat is not "genetic," which is their number one excuse.

    Also, I really enjoy it! I am not superfast, but there really is nothing more rewarding to me than getting a podium place in my age group or setting a personal best as a result of hard work. Succeeding at work has luckily never been that difficult for me, but succeeding at sport is hard, and therefore much more rewarding!

    Thanks for all you do, Ben. Really enjoy the blog, podcast, and all your insights.

  66. To quote one of the Ironman videos..

    “In a perfect world we would all have a moment. Where we emerge from the darkness smiling with the light of the world on our face”

    Racing/Triathlon lets me have that moment a half dozen times a year

  67. I'm 36 almost 37 and I do it for a sense of accomplishment. To do something most don't have the guts to try! To feel and look better of course. I like being at local YMCA and starting before everyone and ending after them. My girlfriend is a better runner than me and she is getting into triathlon and it is also something we can share in. She makes me a better runner and I make her better at the bike, and we both try to survive the swim:) lol. It's the hardest most rewarding thing I have done!!

  68. This is a really good question to ask in the middle of a north american winter for many amateur atheletes.
    I triathlon because its fun. Its a sport which fits my personality. I can do it when I want, at the level I want.
    I love challenging myself with a goal that scares and excites me at the same time because I know that when I attain that goal, it’ll feel that much sweeter.
    Triathlon folks are just the nicest group socially even if we come from so many backgrounds and have in roads into the sport that varies as much as our motivations and reasons for being at the starting line in the first place.
    I love to remind myself about discipline/sacrifice and not being lazy in life.
    The inspirational stories of triathlon refuel my soul.
    I want to be a good role model for my kid.
    And I just love being active and looking/feeling great in general.

    Ben L

  69. I do triathlon because I do want to prove to myself and others that I can accomplish something in this sport. As a fat kid growing up, people made fun of me and my non-existent athletic abilities. I remember in gym class they pitted me against another overweight kid in a 100-yrd dash. At that point, I made up my mind that I wouldn't take 2nd place…and I beat him! A competitive spirit has always driven me in all areas of life, but triathlon is where I get to express it physically, emotionally, mentally, basically every aspect you can name. That first place in my category in 70.3 is still out there waiting, and I know each day I'm moving closer and closer to it. Once that's accomplished, there's only one left to do: Ironman.

  70. Im doing Ironman, I’m doing it to be noticed. Noone wants to be anonymous. I want people to curious and even impressed. Im a quiet person but I like the attention.

  71. I was all ready enjoying fun running when I was diagnosed with breast cancer 18 months ago. But the truth is I'm a much better swimmer than runner – so I thought I should give triathlon a go. My main motivations now are as follows:
    - because I drink too much booze and over eat at times and training gives me balance
    - doing so much exercise helps me feel strong against cancer returning
    - being a triathlete after having cancer makes me feel like I can do anything
    - I love competing as it feels like you are around all these driven fit people and it's nice to feel a part of that – yay I'm one of them!
    - I'm hooked on the happy endorphins and after going through tough times I've found I simply am not as happy when I don't get out there every day doing the swim, bike, run thing :)

  72. One reason I tri is to be surrounded by people like those who have already commented. They say you are the sum of the books you read and the people you surround yourself with, and being around triathletes definitely has made me a better person.

  73. I only have a few friends who also compete in triathlons. I don't train with anyone, and am often frustrated because I do a lot of things alone. I hate waking up at the crack of ass to train unless I go to bed at 9:30 pm which never happens. I have to teach myself everything and push myself without any outside help/motivation. I absolutely HATE running and have a mile time of around nine minutes. I'm constantly frustrated with myself because I can't stick to a training schedule yet. I train for triathlons because it's something different. It's something that I can say I did because I am mentally and physically strong. I got really tired of depending on people for happiness and comfort, because everybody leaves. everybody. So I said, "Becca, you don't need anyone else, all you need is you and your ambitions and you'll go far." I compete because as long as I have goals for myself, I'm not bored to tears, and I'm focused. Triathlon training is a hard goal to keep, so I constantly have something to work toward. When I have something to work towards, I have a purpose, I am motivated, I am confident in myself. At the end of my first triathlon, I wanted to fall over, and yeah, why would anyone want to do that to their body? Because pain is humbling, yet strengthening, and it makes me confident that if I can deal with that, I can deal with anything.

  74. I want bragging rights. I want to be the best. I want other people to wish they could do it just like me. That's it. Plain and Simple – pure vanity.

  75. I grew up within a sporty family and since kid I always was good at sports, but that was an issue in my school and I was always bullied because I always won in everything but at the same time I was shy and very decent. As I grew up I tried to change in order that friends could accept me and therefore I stopped performing that well at sports… until I stop practicing (the kind of society I grew up in is rubbish by the way). Now that I understand everything and realice how wrong they were and how stupid I was by trying to be accepted, I want to demonstrate myself and my family that Im still a sportsman, I still can achieve good things and most of all, I want to be mentally stronger to follow my dreams and objectives without following other people opinions.

  76. I wanted a sport in which I was finally better than my husband. He's an incredible runner a good biker, and a poor swimmer. But after hard training, put all three sports together and I have him beat! Is that superficial enough for you?

  77. The best answer that I have for today is that I like the structure of the training programs and having a definitive goal. It's also challenging and not everyone can do it. I think everyone has the capacity but there are barriers to reaching the starting line, let alone the finish line. The health benefits are a plus. Running and cycling are also great means to endorphins and since I probably have a slightly addictive personality, it beats other methods.

  78. To prove that just because I got a severe concussion, I won't let it hold me back. I can still do great things, maybe even greater than before the concussion.

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