Margarita Mayo

My First Triathlon: What Playing on Your Weaknesses Can Teach You

Physical activity has simply never been my strength. Developing a career in the academic world, had me studying, speaking and writing – these were my strengths and I capitalized on them. To me, the white page of a new word-document is the perfect springboard to express my inner feelings and organize my thoughts, and I still feel most comfortable amongst ideas rather than the physical. It should come as no surprise that my preferred work environment is a coffee shop, with my laptop.

So, when I found myself at 7:30 a.m. in the Casa de Campo (the Central Park of Madrid), I wondered how I managed to get so far out of my comfort zone. Being at the park at such an early was no coincidence, however. After become a sports person at the age of 40, I’ve been trying my hand at various physical activities. Most recently, I’ve been training for my first triathlon, and race day had finally arrived.

Because it is nice to see how the more experienced triathletes get through the race, I arrived early. Being most nervous about the swim, I explored the lake where I would submerge myself in the afternoon. Yet, the vicarious learning did not work as I had thought it would, because the lake is foggy in the early hours and thus it is difficult to see the swimmers from far away. My fears about the water rose.

Luckily, the sun soon began to shine and I had also brought my computer to make the wait less stressful. So, I decided to look on the positive side: There is the excitement of doing something new, the satisfaction of learning new skills, the personal challenge of overcoming new barriers, and the enthusiasm of sharing this enjoyment with significant others.

Ok, I am a finisher. After writing the above, I went to the boxes and met with other people from the triathlon team. They have done well in the Olympic distance and were more than able to cheer me up and to the starting line and then onward.

As I look back on the race, here are the four lessons I learned from my first triathlon:

  • Overconfidence kills advice. Of all three disciplines, swimming was (and still is) my weakest. I have only been swimming for a few months now and, although I practice regularly and have a great coach, my swimming ability was not up to the triathlon challenge. Because of this, my coach suggested that I wait until the other racers had jumped and then follow my own tempo. However, I jumped with everyone and swam a bit. It wasn’t so bad! This very early and small win made me overconfident, however, not to mention the contagious energy of my fellow competitors and the music being played for us (Pirates of Caribbean) and I forgot all the wise words of my coach. I learned my lesson the hard way: I am no expert swimmer. You have to spend about many hours of practice to become an expert on anything, which I am still quite short on.
  • Have a Plan B (and C) because you will need it. When doing something for the first time, it’s important to have a plan B. A new sport or a new job means dealing with uncertainty. No matter how much you prepare, there will be things that are outside of your control. During my swimming lessons, I prepared for all kinds of possible adversities, and they actually happened! I got overly anxious and could not breath. So, I went back to my old routine; I swam breaststroke until I relaxed. When others swam over me or hit me unintentionally, I moved to the right and let swim on by. My coach and I had planned for these occurrences, and when they popped up, I knew what to do.