Triathlon Is a Humbling Sport (or Three!)

Welp, triathlon training continues to be humbling.

I thought this post would be about how I went to a training camp and now feel so much stronger and more confident about my abilities.


Yesterday morning, I woke up at 5 and took the train all the way up to 145th and Riverside to meet Sam, my triathlon angel, for a tri training camp.

Riverbank Park

The plan was to swim, then bike, then run. We swam for about 45 minutes or so, doing some drills and some free swimming. At the end, Sam had us simulate the race experience by having us all line up at the end of the lane and start swimming together. This slow swimmer “won” this mini race, which I felt really good about. Even if it was only 25m.

It was nice swimming in a longer pool, and I loved that it was outside and had a view of the Hudson. You can buy day passes for it, so I may come back here for some longer swims.

Riverbank Park

Gratuitous swimming pic.


So, Sam had told us to wear whatever we’d wear on race day. My tri suit is in NJ, because all of my tris have been there and this was a last-minute thing. I improvised and wore bike shorts and this Asics tri top they sent me. But now I want a super cute tri suit…

This would be the last time I’d smile during this training camp.

After this, we set out on our bikes. I never clip in riding through the city, but for some reason, clipped in immediately for our trip. I think I thought we’d be riding on the path to the bridge, but we rode through Washington Heights to get to the George Washington Bridge. And the “Heights” is no misnomer; that shit is HILLY.

There was one four-way intersection where we had to go uphill. After a ride with Shannon a few weeks ago where we started up a really steep little hill and immediately unclipped to avoid slipping backwards and falling to our deaths, hills clipped in make me really nervous. And this time it was like, panic attack-level nervous. I started hyperventilating and just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Finally, Albert, the kind fellow on the left, came over to me and said I didn’t have to ride clipped in, why didn’t I just put my sneakers on and give it another try? Good idea, kind fellow. I was a bit less nervous after I did this, but still shaken.

Our game plan was to ride over the GWB and into NJ (hi mom!) to the Palisades. My cousin lives in West New York, so I know that Edgewater/Fort Lee area pretty well and knew it’d be HILLY. Sure enough, as soon as we got over the bridge, there was a long hill down to the entrance of the trail.


photos via Sam

I managed to hold it together relatively well on this hill. When we got to the entrance of the trail, I was already behind the crew anyway so I stopped for a second to try to calm myself down and regroup. There was a very hot dude on a bike there, and he asked if I was tired. We chatted for a minute, and I told him I was doing a HIM in September and terrified, and he said he was doing an Ironman next week and also terrified. He wins.

I felt better after our little chat, and continued on riding. It’s really pretty back there, and I was finally sort of finding my (slow, cautious) groove.


Then we came up to this hill, and I totally lost it. It looks like nothing in this photo, but I swear it was a big hill. (All hills are big to me, though.)

After having already freaked out so much, I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t push through any more, and I told Sam I was going to turn around…and immediately started bawling. Please note: I cry at the drop of a hat watching movies but rarely cry in my own life, and certainly not usually over something athletic that I’ve chosen to do.

I told Sam I was really scared of these hills, and I was miserable, and I just couldn’t do it any more. “But you’re a fighter, I know you can do this,” he said. But I had no more fight left in me. Something about those hills had psyched me out, and I just couldn’t imagine pushing through any more. I was already so emotionally drained.

We chatted for a few minutes, and he said something about that moment when you’re pushing yourself outside your comfort zone like this is where life is lived, and that’s where you’re really alive. “For whatever reason, you’re one of those people,” he said, “that isn’t content to sit back and have life happen to them. You go out and you push past your comfort zone, and do these things you never thought you could do.”

We talked, and I asked him what he thought about the NYC Triathlon, which I’m doing in two weeks, and the half-Ironman. He said that I’m 100% ready physically for NYC, but I needed to work on my mental game; for Princeton, he said he still thinks I can get there.


I was only going to ride back over the bridge and get on the subway there, but the idea of that ride back seemed interminable. I sat down on a bench and really cried it out for a few more minutes before turning around and riding back.


Thank god.

I had a really great open water swim today (that I’ll blog about separately), but I’m still feeling terrified of this HIM, and wondering if I made the right decision to try to do one. I feel so over my head right now. It’s really worrying me and scaring me, so I’m trying to just focus on getting through the next two weeks and getting to the NYC Tri.



27 comments on “Triathlon Is a Humbling Sport (or Three!)

  1. Deana

    I can see both sides of your dilemma. I see that you really nervous for the HIM. I see what your coach sees in you. Conquering a fear is terrifying. But keep this in perspective. Focus on what is before you now. The NYC tri. I think once you conquer that, you will mentally be ready for the HIM. But you can’t look that far ahead. Good luck! Popping by from twitter.

  2. Kiersten

    I can so relate to this. I did a Tri today, the Tri for a Cure in Maine. The swim was just awful. The water was so cold it took my breath away and then I would start to panic. I’d try to come up for air, but there were just so many swimmers all around me. All I could feel was my racing heart and gasps for breath. I almost quit. I hadn’t even made it to the first buoy. But then I thought about the cancer survivors doing the race, all the money I worked so hard to fundraise, and all the training I has done. had to backstroke and breaststroke the first 2/3 of the swim, but I didn’t quit. I then went on to have a great ride and run.

    During the swim I was wondering why the hell I do this to myself, but crossing that finish reminded me. As did the giant piece of cake and glass of wine I had tonight.

    Hang in there and get through any way you can.

    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      Aw man! It’s funny, the swim has been what freaked me out in past tris, but it could be the bike that freaks me out this time. Congrats on making it through though!!! I can only imagine how cold the water must be in Maine – it was still kinda cold here in NYC today. I hope you had lobster after 🙂

  3. Vicky

    First, the honesty–I don’t train for grueling physical challenges, so I have no idea what goes into the mental and emotional prep for things like that. But in the things in my life that edge into freaking me out I try to ask myself “what’s the worst thing that could happen?”. When I come up with that answer, then I ask “ok, so that happens, what would I do about it?” I always have an answer, and it never seems like something I couldn’t or wouldn’t be willing to do. Ok, so what’s the next worst thing? and what would I do if that happened? and so on….. it never takes very long for me to realize that no matter what happens, I have a plan and can do something, and I calm down.
    I think you’re amazing for doing all this hard work and that in general you seem to truly love being active and trying new things!

    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      No, that’s a really good point about the “what’s the worst that could happen?” With this tri stuff, specifically with the biking, I’m so afraid of falling and hurting myself. I just need to keep getting out there on that effing bike. And thanks! And I do really enjoy being active 🙂

      1. Vicky

        @Theodora Blanchfield: It seems like clipping in freaks everyone out to begin with. I’m a weirdo, but I’d be super tempted to wear one sneaker and only clip in with one foot until I was completely confident. It wouldn’t be the most efficient training, but I’d rather feel safe.

        1. Alison

          @Vicky: I used to be terrified of riding (my brother and sister literally do not even know how to ride bikes, so I didn’t grow up riding)! I conquered my fear of biking (especially hills) by doing a weekend bike trip in New England. We biked about 30 miles a day and stayed at a B&B in between. I think that biking just for fun (and at a leisurely pace) out of the context of training really helped! There was no pressure to go fast – we were just out to enjoy the beautiful views! Now, I’ve done a HIM and even have aero bars on my bike! I NEVER thought I would ever be comfortable riding 56 miles in aero with clipless pedals – I would cry (actually) when i was biking downhill on a hybrid, upright bike in tennis shoes, but touring really helped. Even if you can’t get out there for a whole weekend, it could help to just put your bike on a car, drive very far out of the city and enjoy a nice slow beautiful ride!

          1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

            That New England weekend sounds lovely 🙂 I have another Hamptons weekend coming up, so am excited to bring the bike back out there again. And maybe not go the wrong way 🙂 I am so glad to hear you got over your fear. There’s hope for me!

          2. Vicky

            @Alison: I live in Northern CA and have spent several glorious weekends biking around Napa and Calistoga! Nothing like a few miles coasting around the back roads between vineyards and then floating in a nice warm mineral pool! I’ve looked at several bike tours and hope to do one next summer. I’ll never be a runner like Theodora, but I have always loved casual biking.

        2. Shelly

          @Vicky: THIS! I biked in an organized ride and saw a handful of people doing the one foot clipped, one foot in a tennis shoe thing!

  4. Jennifer Olszowy

    I think you need to build up your positive mental game. Start visualizing yourself being successful. With biking you need to get over the clipping in, practice, practice, practice, and then get some great coaching to help with riding in traffic and conquering hills. I have found to get over my nerves on the bike I just needed more seat time. We all have freak out moments. Yesterday I was highly annoyed because I was walking in a crosswalk with another triathlete when a cyclist almost clip me. Boy, I was hot!! Not much I could do but jump out of the way and try and keep my composure. I will race the inaugural Ironman Boulder in two weeks and that is why I was so hot about almost being hit. I’ve trained so hard- lost over 35lbs and have been balancing family life and being a SAHM to our 4 1/2 year old. Keep your chin up and look for a bit of motivation. If you need some help let us know.

  5. Melissa Burton

    I have no words of wisdom (since I’ve never done a tri before) but I wanted to let you know how much I love your honesty in this post.

    I’m very sure that you can do these upcoming races. I’ve been a long time reader and have seen your personal and your fitness growth over the years and I’ll lyk, you can do it Theodora!

    If now isn’t the time for some reason or another, the time will be soon.

    Happy training!

  6. Ada

    I was at Riverbank too on Sunday, too bad I didn’t see you!

    I’ve been cycling and doing triathlons for three years now and still get scared on the bike. I’m actually doing Timberman 70.3 in a few weeks. I think the best way to get more comfortable is to practice in Central Park and work specifically on shifting. Learning how to shift properly makes hill climbing a LOT less scary. If you have access to a car I would recommend driving to Harriman State Park (by Bear Mountain) parking, and then riding from there. That way you don’t have to deal with crossing the GWB which is always scary.

    I also train on the bike by doing Computrainer classes. It’s like a spin class but you’re on a real bike doing simulated courses (including the Princeton one), so you get a feel for what the actual race would be like. I highly recommend T2 NYC ( on 64th and lex.

  7. Victoria

    If only I had video footage of the first time I did a rated climb on my bike. I was with a group, and was going so slow that one guy who had already finished the climb biked back down to the bottom to ride back up with me. It’s something that you get better at with practice – managing your cadence, keeping a smooth pedal stroke, and shifting appropriately – so the only answer is to ride more hills until they become more manageable.

    I second the suggestion to get on a computrainer – it forces you to work hard, and there is no coasting or stopping for traffic, just pure work and fitness improvement the entire time you are in the saddle.

    You still have nine (?) weeks before the Princeton 70.3, which is plenty of time to improve your biking fitness so that you can cover the 56 miles on the course and come off the bike ready to run a half marathon. Stick with your training plan, get out on the bike as much as you can to get more comfortable, and you’ll be fine. Sure, it’s crunch time, but that’s what makes triathlon training fun!

  8. Kim

    Clipping in is TERRIFYING. I switched to clipless pedals about a year ago, but don’t get outside on my bike near enough to feel 100% confident in them. I did a spring Tri in June and hit a hill that the whole time up I was thinking “If I started to tip over right now, I would NOT be able to unclip and catch myself”. So I did the only thing I could and shifted to a low gear and just kept pedaling my heart out to get to the top. Unfortunately it was a 3 lap bike course, so I had to do that hill three times. The second time through I tried standing up to get more power, but I’m SOOOOO not comfortable standing up on my bike while clipped in so I felt shaky the whole time. By the third lap I knew I would just have to grit through it. I have never been happier to be done with 12 miles than after those three laps.

    With that being said, you are stronger than you think you are and can TOTALLY do this. Also remember on race day, you won’t have to deal with traffic or lights or cars or anything. You are not in over your head, a HIM is scary, but you still have plenty of training to go and will OWN it.

  9. Jenna (Urban Fitopia)

    I can totally sympathize with this! I felt like training for a HIM was a roller coaster of emotions for me. Some days I felt amazing like I could take anything on (or even a full IM) and some days I thought that there was no way. It truly is a mind over matter kind of thing. Physically, you are a powerhouse and could prob do the HIM right now!

    I also had mini heart attacks clipping in and trying to get up that seemingly impossible hill heading up to the GW Bridge. And why is that hairpin turn in there too!?

    But you totally got this. You are always stronger than you think you are. You have the spirit and dedication and you will own it! Just keep practicing and putting yourself in those uncomfortable situations. Eventually , you’ll look at those hills without a second thought!

  10. Smitha @ FauxRunner

    I just clipped in this year after riding with running shoes all of last year. After clipping in, I rode a 3-4 times on the flat. And went out on rolling hills. There was one that was a mountain to me, not a hill. My buddy was giving me instructions, but I was in the wrong gear and couldn’t shift when I was already half way up. Mid way, I just gave up and had to make the decision on which side to fall on. I picked the left side to fall and luckily I fell half on the road and half on the side grass. My hip was bruised, but my upper body only had mild road rash.

    My buddy made sure I could walk and ride and made me take that hill again. And I did.

    Race day, I kept remembering the fall and decided I could either worry about falling again or focus on getting the right gear and cadence. I made it through on race day.

    You will do great. If you fall, you fall. Nothing you can do about it. But lots to lose by thinking about “what if” 🙂

  11. meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles

    I have no tips just sympathy since I know how hilly that part of NY/NJ is. Yikes. I think though that you are totally ready physically and just need to get past the mental part that is stopping/scaring you. I mean, you can run marathons and live in Manhattan. You are tough. Tougher than you think.

  12. Dietitian Jess

    Omg brand new reader to your blog and was jumping around pages and saw this post and i was like omg YES this is so me… I wonder how long ago this was posted (sometimes I end up looking back at posts for a year ago) and was so excited to see how recent it was! Can’t wait to read more about your journey to your HIM!~


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