Motivation logo

Blood, Sweat, and Fears: A Try-athlon Story

Part I - Training

By Joe FaulkenberryPublished 7 months ago 10 min read
Blood, Sweat, and Fears: A Try-athlon Story
Photo by Tricia Galvin on Unsplash

Swim, bike, run; three activities that fill the summers of children with joy and laughter. These same three activities filled my summer with an unreasonable amount of sweat and heavy, heavy breathing.

The decision to attempt a triathlon was bread by circumstance. I fell in love with Olympic weightlifting over the last two years. Unfortunately, my job and school prevented me from training as needed to grow or even maintain the strength and skill level I’d worked to achieve. Beyond this, the driving force behind my decision to pursue fitness, in general, was the longevity of life. I lost an uncle at thirty-four and watched my dad die at forty. The math suggests some degree of intervention is necessary for me to overcome the omen of an early grave. The inconvenience of training served as a re-grounding in this philosophy.

Will has been my training partner for somewhere between a long time and forever. We primarily trained in bodybuilding for around five years. I got into weightlifting, dragged him in with me, and we were now in a position to start something new. After a wildly short-lived stint training calisthenics, I mentioned the thought of training for a triathlon one morning while we were rolling out and complaining about the upcoming workout. Will agreed much faster than I had anticipated. In truth, before I had made a decision myself. However, his enthusiasm carried enough weight to sway me.


Fun fact; humans are the only mammals that need to learn how to swim.

The first and worst part of a triathlon is the swim. Each of my four siblings swam competitively, as we were growing up. I was too busy with summer football practices to join them. They knew and could perform each of the primary strokes breast, back, butterfly, and freestyle. I have just one: survival. I’m not a world-class talent at this either. It’s frustrating to be a grown man unable to swim. At points in life, there are things that you are expected to know. At a year, you should be able to walk; at 18 months, you should be able to talk; in elementary school, you learn to read, and by the time you’re an adult, you should be able to swim. In addition, I have a Bachelors degree in exercise science. I fully understand what goes into swimming well, and I still can’t force myself to do it. To say that I can’t swim is an exaggeration. I can safely stay above water, and I could probably save a toddler from drowning -I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to but, I probably could. What I couldn’t do, is swim the 750-meters required of me to complete a sprint triathlon.

This is going to sound horrible, but it is what it is. I’m not used to being bad at things, and things that I am bad at, I tend to get better at reasonably quickly. Training to swim was a unique experience in that I never really got better at it. I was awful from day one, and I rounded out my experience still pretty terrible. It didn’t help that Will was fantastic and swimming right next to me. Well, he’d be next to me as he swam past me. Then he would turn around and be next to me again on his way back, he was next to me briefly at the ends of the pool while I was sucking wind, clinging to the wall because even in three-foot waters, standing didn’t feel safe enough. Over the three months of training, I blamed my inability on everything I could. At one point, it was faulty goggles, at another, my swim cap was filling with water because my head was too small. I needed a nose plug, then hated the nose plug. In reality, I was just too scared of the water. I dominated water in every other aspect we competed; I drank it all day, used it to wash, I could enjoy the smell and feel of rain. But when I was parallel to the ground and couldn’t breathe whenever I wanted, water had my number.

We found a race, the Asheville triathlon, that required only a 400-meter swim, something I felt I could accomplish. If I could do it, if I could swim the 400 meters, surely I could do the run and bike. If I could swim the 400 meters, my micro-investments would be worth it. The 20 minute drives one way to the Oak Ridge Civic Center, the $3.75 it cost every time we swam, it would all be worth it if I could just swim the 400 meters.


Speaking of investments, my bike was the largest financial investment of this entire venture. I drove forty-five minutes to spend $200 on a bright red road bike, one that had the handles that made people look fast. I liked the look of the bike, handed over the cash, and acted in faith that it would ride as well as it appeared. Acting in faith because the tires were flat, the bike didn’t have any pedals, and I didn’t have any on me. I ordered a pair of cheap strapped pedals, and the bike rode just fine. The pedals were tolerable; they were amazing, when riding, I could feel the difference in power output from the upward pull as well as pushing downward. However, they were a mess to get going with; the weight of the strap would cause the pedal to spin so it would naturally want to face strap-down. This made any intersection where I was required to stop a literal nightmare; especially if I’d already stopped, unstrapped, and a car decided at that point they would wave me on. I’d have to hurry and try to get going, get my feet in place, and do a terrible impression of somebody who wasn’t an idiot.

All in all, I loved the cycling aspect of the training. I am built for it, my legs account for approximately 60% of my body weight. After serving as an anchor during the swim workouts, they were excited to prove that they still served a purpose. I spent my first few rides sitting in mid-second gear, convinced that I didn’t need a first to get up the hills, and the third wouldn’t make me any faster on the downhills. Once the mileage grew over 10 miles, I quickly realized I could use all the help I could get. Also, I was getting tired of watching Will fly past me on the downhills.

We trained for approximately three months for this race, and over the first two, there were zero bike-related hiccups. We benefited greatly from superb biking conditions. The only man versus nature conflict was heat-related. About four weeks before the race, Will went on a ride with his wife, Leah. It began to rain towards the end of the ride. Will skidded off the road, popping his tube and mildly dinging up his bike. He took his bike in to get a tune-up and a new tire. He had his bike back in no time, armed with a fresh tube and the knowledge and tools required to fix the situation should we need to during the race.

Fast forward. Nine or ten days before race day, we’re approximately halfway through our 12-mile ride. Flying downhill between 20-25 mph, earning the coast after some gruesome uphill pedaling. Will had left me behind, soaring downhill as he somehow always did, not far ahead but far enough that I failed to see him narrowly make the turn. The turn that I failed to make at all. I wrecked my bike, missing the turn leading to a small bridge over the creek, careening straight down into the small ravine. I held tightly to the bike as though all of the muscles in my body had seized and I couldn’t have let go if I wished. I felt my helmet do its job as it smacked into a rock on my way down. I then felt myself rolling over the rocks and finally came to a halt in the middle of the creek still attached to my bike. I sat motionless for a second or two; if I never moved I wouldn’t know if I were paralyzed or not, Schrodinger’s cat. I got up, I was fine. Adrenaline makes me dramatic. I lost a shoe somehow, ten or twelve feet away from the whole incident, shattered my phone holder, and couldn’t find my phone or keys. Will came back around this time to see me lugging my bike onto the path. I found my keys, he called my phone that went straight to voicemail, apparently when they are completely submerged in water they screen your calls because you’re clearly busy. I will say, when I did find my phone, I pulled it out of the water and unlocked it right away. Good on you Apple, for meaning waterproof when you said it. All-in-all my bike had similar damages to Will’s; popped tube and tire, some mild scratches and bends that could be repaired at the bike shop. Hopefully, I could get it back in time for the race.


THANK GOD. Something I’ve done before, I know I can run. The only reason I even considered a triathlon was because I knew I had this third in the bag. Jackson, my roommate in undergrad, had invited me to join him in sharing a small portion of the insanity that is David Goggins’ 4 X 4 X 48 challenge in May. For those unfamiliar with the challenge, hundreds of people around the world run four miles every four hours for forty-eight hours to raise money for charities. Jackson was running out of steam, preparing for the second day, and asked me if I’d join him for a leg. I drove up to Franklin on May 14th and ended up running the last three legs with him. This was the first twelve miles I’d run in four years. My whole body hurt, but as long as I asked my legs to continue, they would. During this time, a well-intentioned local celebrity red-head made the off-handed comment, “these guys aren’t runners,” referring to the three of us struggling through in the video. The comment was intended to address the strength of our friendship, to highlight the difficulty of what we were doing. Had we been runners, it would have served as less of a tribute to our friend. What the comment truly did, was light a small fire under me. I could be a runner if I wanted to be.

Running proved more difficult than I’d remembered. My knees hurt, my shoulder hurt, everything hurt. I spent a lot of post-run time laying on the cool kitchen floor with a liquid IV, breathing heavily with a small pool forming around me. Towards the beginning, running would impact my ability to function afterwards. It had a compounding effect on my central nervous system. I would be mentally elsewhere, unable to focus.

Like most things over time, it got better. The defining moment in my running came just after my bike wreck. My shoes were dripping wet from the creek, and I have a natural aversion to wet socks and blistered feet. The obvious solution was to run the prescribed 5k barefoot. A gentleman I follow on Strava and social media, Jordan Stewart of primal fitness consulting, had been running barefoot and it piqued my interest. I found myself in a position to not seem completely insane for trying it, so I ran my first barefoot 5k. I learned a few things about running barefoot; moss is better than grass, grass is better than asphalt, asphalt is better than gravel. Something about running barefoot makes you very aware of your footstrike and running form. I haven’t had pain with running since. I can run faster for longer without having to shut out the pain in my feet and joints.

Over the course of our training for the Asheville Triathlon, I didn’t fall in love with the sport. I loathed swimming and I enjoyed cycling. I rekindled an affection for running. Once I got past the hurting and the wheezing, I found that unique mental clarity that comes with a good run and for that it was all worth it.


About the Creator

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2023 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.