What I’ve Learned From the Sport of Triathlon

by Lance Ekum on · 22 comments

Triathlon, Sterling State Park, Monroe, MI
Creative Commons License photo credit: MichaelMeiser

“The only one who can tell you ‘you can’t’ is you.  And you don’t have to listen” ~ Nike

Swim.  Bike.  Run.

Why would I ever attempt that?  I’m not a good swimmer.  I can’t run.  And I rarely bike.

That was me five years ago.  Since then I have competed in three triathlons, improving each year.  Five years ago, I was overweight and unhappy.  I began running first.  Well, actually walking.  But that did lead to running.  As I slowly began to get into better physical shape, I also began biking more.  Soon I heard about a sport I had really never thought much of – triathlon.  And I thougth, what a great way to give me a goal to work toward.  For the next three years, I competed in one triathlon each year.  And each year brought new knowledge, not only of the sport of triathlon, but knowledge of myself as well.

The First Year

The first year I competed, I came in well-prepared for the run.  I assumed biking would be easy since I’ve known how to do that since I was five years old.  And the swim, well…I’ve had swim lessons (a long time ago).  It was a tough morning, but I finished the race (near last overall).  What I learned was:

  • Not all bikes are created equal.  I could bike, but using a mountain bike in a road race puts you at a woeful disadvantage.  Life lesson: We need to understand the environment we are in, so that we have the right tools for the task at hand.  It’s easy to assume we know what a particular situation will entail, but proper preparation can make all the difference.
  • Swim lessons years ago don’t really cut it.  I swore I was going to drown on the 1/4 mile swim.  The back float saved me!  Life lesson: We need training, even on areas we think we know because we’ve done them sometime in our past.  Keeping our skills up is critical to be successful in whatever we choose to do.

The Second Year

The second year I learned some things from the year prior.  I purchased a road bike, one designed for the type of race I would compete in.  And I went swimming regularly at an area pool.  I made marked improvements in my times.  What I learned was:

  • The right bike makes a big difference.  My bike time improved by quite a bit.  Life lesson: The right equipment for the task at hand makes things much easier.
  • Swimming practice helped considerably.  I didn’t feel like I would drown, and my time was cut almost in half.  Life lesson: Practicing your skills is what makes you get better at what you do.
  • Making improvements feels great.  It felt really good to improve upon the year before, and in all three events.  Life lesson: Putting in the time on whatever it is you want to get better at will make you better for that event.  The people who succeed in life are those who are busting themselves to get better instead of wasting their time on non-productive activities.  What you see as the finished product is only the icing on the cake.  A lot of effort has went into building that cake up.

The Third Year

The third year, I became complacent.  I ran less during the year.  I swam only a couple of times.  Instead I concentrated on the bike.  It’s the longest event, and I thought if I could make a big improvement there, it would carry me through the other areas.  While I finished with my best time overall, both my swim time and run time went up from the previous year.  And the swim was very tough again.  What I learned was:

  • You’ve got to keep at it.  I thought my swim especially would be fine since it had went pretty well the year before.  No.  And the run was just plain tough.  Life lesson: Skills don’t stay current if you don’t use them.  Practice, practice, practice.  Whatever it is you want to accomplish.
  • Doing something a lot makes it easier.  I was getting really pretty good on the bike, and that was fully due to the amount of time I was putting in.  Life lesson: If you want to be great at some thing, you’ve got to put the time into it.

One of the great things with triathlon is that it is really three sports wrapped into one.  Isn’t this like life?  Aren’t we usually pulled in multiple directions, with many things going on.  How we manage that is key to how successful we’ll be.  And, like triathlon, success is defined by each individual.  For some it’s to win.  For others, it’s to finish.  And that’s how it is in our lives too.  We’re all at different parts of our journey, and only we individually can define what success means to us.  And go out and achieve it.

Here’s to your success in life!

Lance writes stories from his heart, aiming to inspire and motivate, as you align more fully with YOUR true peak. When he's not here, you can find him hanging out with his family, riding a bike, or just generally acting goofy.   Sign up for the Thoughts from the Treehouse newsletter and get additional inspiration in your email inbox!
Lance Ekum
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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

RooBabs July 23, 2008 at 12:48 pm

These are all great Life Lessons- it really gets me thinking about what my own Life Lessons are. Hmmm, I’ll have to ponder that. Thanks!


Marelisa July 23, 2008 at 2:18 pm

I read somewhere that in the army they have you concentrate intensely on learning one task really well, then you move on to the next task but continue practicing the first, albeit to a lesser extent; then you move on to a third, continuing to practice the first two to a lesser extent, and then you go back to concentrating on the first. It’s kind of like a spiral. Kudos on completing three triathlons!


Urban Panther July 23, 2008 at 3:56 pm

Re: the third year you became complacent. 2006 – 5K race, 2007 – 10K race, 2008 – 10K race. 2009 – hey, I was quite happy to train for another 10K race. My brother would hear none of that. Nope, I have to up it to a half marathon. At the 8K mark in my last 10K I thought “Is he insane? There is no way I am going to do a half marathon!” When I crossed the finish line a full 4 minutes under last year’s race time, I knew he was right. Time to pump it up to keep the motivation going.


Jennifer July 23, 2008 at 4:36 pm

Lance, that is awesome that you have completed 3 triathlons. And congratulations on learning so many lessons. Isn’t that what a lot of life is about – learning from each expereince. I’ve learned that the hard way. I dindn’t always know you were supposed to do that.

Life is a lot like a triathlon. Trying to balance all your roles can be diffcult. I’ve been working really hard lately to try to balance my time better in regards to my priorities and I can tell a huge difference. It’s easy for me to get caught up into my business and neglect other important things like my marriage. I can tell you a secret – that never works, no matter how hard I try. There’s nothing like have a balanced life. It’s the only way to feel fulfilled.


Mark Salinas July 23, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Fantastic accomplishment! The triathlon is not on my short list…the breathing thing during swimming creeps me out. Great post…nice meaning.


Avani-Mehta July 23, 2008 at 6:28 pm

3 Triathlons! This is amazing and inspiring.


Barbara Swafford July 23, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Hi Lance,

Congratulations on your triathlons.

I like the part where you said, “practice, practice, practice”. Nothing worth achieving comes without hard work. When we cross “the finish line” in a race, or in life, it great when we know we gave it our all.


Irene | Light Beckons July 24, 2008 at 12:52 am

Lance, I love the way you translate your learnings from sports into life lessons! I personally know someone who’s into triathlons. I’ve always admired his physique (he’s almost fifty but is probably fitter than all the younger folks I know), his determination and how focused his mind is. Your post just explained how he got there, cool! 🙂


MizFit July 24, 2008 at 7:27 am

this is BY FAR the most compelling post about tri’s Ive ever seen….in that you are thisclose to convincing even me.


rebecca July 24, 2008 at 9:13 am

i’ve always been in admiration of those that complete triathalons. what peak physical condition you have to be in. congratulations for attempting and succeeding and for translating your journey into life lessons we can apply to any area in life. again, you are on the mark when you say that nothing good that we want is gained if we do not put in the work… it will not be given to us, it has to be earned through much sweat and determination. fantastic life lessons here, lance. i definitely have to print this out to paste in my journal to reread over and over again and use as a point of reference and inspiration whenever i am feeling a little “lazy.”

thank you again for your insight and continual “life” support….


Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Map July 24, 2008 at 10:04 am

Me too…I’ve always admired those who could do triathlons! It’s great that you managed to do them even though you couldn’t for a start. Well done!



Bamboo Forest July 24, 2008 at 2:50 pm

Using a mountain bike in a road race will put you at a disadvantage you say.

This is really good advice. Sometimes will power is not enough. We must couple will power with strategy. We should always make our strategy in life as optimal as possible!


Damon July 25, 2008 at 12:11 pm

I broke my ankle 13 years ago and haven’t been able to run since. It always kept me from doing a triathlon…I completed my first triathlon 3 months ago and I’m doing my second in a month.

“Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can do” – John Wooden

I realized that I could walk the running part, one of the best things I’ve ever done!

That quote can be applied to so many different aspects of life as well.


Lanceman July 26, 2008 at 9:31 pm

@RooBabs – I think we can pick up life lessons in a lot of the things we do, but like you said, we have to think about it to realize what they are.

@Marelisa – Yep, I guess that’s what I DIDN’T do!! I need to work on doing better at not forgetting about the things I think I already know (and that goes for a lot more than just triathlon). I like how you’ve described it with the army.

@Urban Panther – Right on, I think I did become complacent. And you’ve given me a burst of inspiration to pick it up here on my end! Thanks.

@Jennifer – You make a great point about balance being the key. It is so true in everything we do in our lives. And it’s easy to fall out of balance – without diligent effort to make sure we don’t. Thanks for the reminder.

@Mark – Thanks! The hardest part for me has always been the swim. What’s nice is that there are always many people out there in the water watching out for you. I say go for it!

@Avani – Thanks, it’s been a lot of fun!

@Barbara – Thank you. Like you said, practice is the key, whether you finish first or last, if you know you’ve given it your all, then that’s what counts.

@Irene – Thanks, it is amazing what training for a triathlon will do to your body. I reached the best shape of my life doing this (that’s a great side-benefit). When I find myself letting up in training, that’s when I find I put on a few extra pounds.

@Mizfit – Come on, I KNOW you could do this no problem! If you can bike, if you can run, and if you can at least float in the water – you’ve got the makings for that start of a fun new event!

@Rebecca – You are most welcome. I should print this out too, to remind myself when I find that I’m slipping in certain areas of my life.

@Evelyn – Thank you. It’s been a great experience to compete and improve in these fun events.

@Bamboo Forest – Yes, I do say! Strategy can play a real key can’t it?

@Damon – First off, congratulations on getting out there and doing a triathlon – that’s awesome! Second, I love that quote as well – it really can apply to so many aspects in our lives. Keep at the triathlons, there a lot of fun, aren’t they!


Laura October 12, 2008 at 10:44 am

your quote reminded me of one of my favorite “philosophies” …. it actually came from an article done by nike… ” if you have a body, you are an athlete”.
i love it because i may not be the skinniest, or the fastest, or the strongest… but when i work out hard, i do feel like an athlete.


Lauras last blog post..Fall in love again


Lance October 13, 2008 at 8:04 am

Laura, that’s a great philosophy! We can all be athletes, if we so choose. A great point to remember – if we work at it, we can do whatever we set our mind to. Now, I have to read that article!


Jeremy Day November 15, 2008 at 3:40 pm

Hi Lance,

That is awesome. I have run a marathon but I want to do a tri. Maybe that should be my news years resolution.

Anyhow, did you read about Leo’s triathlon writings at Zen Habits. They have a pretty cool thing going where they raise money doing tri’s. Now if only I could find the link…


Jeremy Day´s last blog post..Building Community: A Month in the Making


Lance November 15, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Jeremy – running a marathon – wow, I think that is very impressive! I’ve never run more than 10 miles, and recently 4 seems like a lot! Triathlons are great, with the three different events – there is just so many different aspects. I have read about Leo’s triathlon, and I think Mark Hayward was doing it to. I’m more familiar with Mark – but I’m pretty sure they were both doing this with Train for Humanity – what an awesome way to give back! Let me know if you decide to try a tri – that stuff always excites me!


Jeremy Day November 15, 2008 at 3:56 pm

thanks Lance! Train for Humanity is pretty inspiring so I think Im gonna do it. Just gotta get in gear, ya know. 😉

Jeremy Day´s last blog post..Building Community: A Month in the Making


Lance November 18, 2008 at 10:42 pm

Jeremy, I hear ya – on getting in gear! Swimming is the hard one for me, between finding pool time and it being my hardest event – this can be a real struggle. Best of luck if you end up doing this – I love the sport of triathlon, and being able to help others in the process – awesome!


scheng1 February 19, 2010 at 8:52 am

Remarkable! It seems that you get better as you get older. I think you can run ultramarathon at the age of 120.
.-= scheng1´s Last Fabulous Post ..7 tips to self improvement =-.


David Hussey | triathlon August 26, 2010 at 4:55 am

Your sporting spirit is encouraging. Your life lessons is really good advice. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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