If you’re like me, then your obligatory post-race routine goes something like this: (1) wait anxiously for the email with your race photos, and when it arrives (2) scan race photos to find all the places on the bike where you’re not as “aero” as you feel like you should be, (3) find the race photos of the athletes who biked faster than you and analyze how aero their bike position is, (4) obsess over the fact that your bike is too big, your helmet too small, your legs too short, your torso too long, (5) feel super crappy about your performance and your future in the sport for a few days, (6) get over yourself. Maybe you even do something really extreme, like take a screenshot of a bunch of photos from a recent race to more easily compare yourself to others (I mean really, who does that?).
Here’s an example where this aero-obsession has recently been really getting to me: aero helmets. It seems like everyone has a Giro Aerohead. Every time I go on Instagram, I feel like I see people wearing these helmets. At every race, I feel like I’m being beat by people wearing these helmets (see the picture above). And for a while, it made me think that I needed to get this helmet if I wanted to improve my time at all on the bike. And that’s regardless of the fact that the difference between the aerohead and the air attack (which is the helmet I have) appears to only be about 10 seconds over a 70.3 race: https://aerogeeks.com/2017/05/30/giro-aerohead-mips-review/ And why would I buy a new helmet when I just bought the air attack last summer, it fits me great, and it’s in fine shape?
If I consider why I get so hung up my whether I’m aerodynamic on the bike, I think it has something to do with the fact that triathlon is one of those sports where it seems like you can buy speed. People say, “free speed!”, but most times this speed isn’t really free because you have to buy new wheels, or a new helmet, or get a new bike fit, which all cost money. I think the idea is that the speed comes with no increase in effort, which is partly why it then becomes easy to obsess about it after a competition. It’s also a lot easier to think about getting faster by changing your position or buying something made out of carbon than to think about how you’re going to put in the work to increase your power or improve your recovery.
Usually getting myself out of this mental loop involves reminding myself that I’m not doing triathlon as a primary profession and I’m in it to improve as an athlete, and none of these “free speed” tricks are going to help me improve as an athlete, although they might improve my results. In the end, I’m not doing triathlon to win all the things but because I truly love competing no matter where I place. I try to focus on the fact that the best way to improve is by refining my training, my recovery, and my mindset - not by buying new things. So at least for now, I’ll be sticking with my tried and true helmet and I’ll be focusing on improving my power on the bike, not just reducing my wind drag.
(photos above are from @yuchennie115's open Facebook album after Eagleman 2019 - an awesome thing for a photographer to do for athletes!)
When I did my first triathlon, I was on a 1980s steel frame road bike with a pannier rack attached (this was my commuter bike, after all). I bought my tri kit on clearance from REI, found a cheap child’s helmet on Amazon (I have a tiny head), and asked for my first wetsuit as a birthday present.
Three years later, my gear has improved (I am very strategic with birthday and holiday presents), but my mindset about triathlon hasn’t. I love the sport, I love competition, and I love getting faster, but I don’t like spending a lot of money, I don’t want to own a lot of stuff, and I certainly don’t want to buy things I don’t need.
While I think it’s true that triathlon quickly becomes a lifestyle - and it’s one that I embrace - I constantly find myself fighting the urge to get better in the sport by buying something or paying a specialist or doing something complicated that I don’t really need to do.
In this blog, I’m going to be sharing my attempt to maintain balance and simplicity while I also pursue big goals in the sport. This is my first year as an elite triathlete racing with my pro card, and I have dreams about how far I can go. If you find yourself seeking similar balance in your triathlon adventure (or you just want to follow along as I do!) then check back here weekly as my goal is to have new reflections to share with you regularly. I’ll be offering thoughts about gear, training, racing, health, and mindset. I hope to hear from you along the way!