9 Things I Learned From Trying a New Sport
A few years ago, I approached a pretty monumental birthday—and while having a major celebration with a bunch of friends was in order, I also wanted to do something just for me.
I signed up to train for and participate in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon, a competition held each Sept. in Malibu, California, that requires you to complete a half-mile ocean swim, 18-mile bike ride and four-mile run. Through my then-job, I was able to join the Warner Bros. team, packed with competitive athletes who train year-round.
I wasn't signing up for the sake of turning into a master triathlete overnight—I simply wanted to challenge myself and take on something I never would've done in the years leading up to this birthday. I didn't have any friends joining me and, in fact, I didn't really tell anyone about it for quite some time, except for a few coworkers.
The entire experience was challenging from start to finish, from head-to-toe—especially when it came to the cycling portion. While you can go at your own pace, there are massive hills you need to plow through, regardless of how fast or slow; you need to understand how to use your bike; and you're off on your own, making it through the path. It didn't help that I'm far from an athlete, and leading up to the beginning of training, I wasn't working out much either. I played softball for seven years as a youth, but aside from that, sports and fitness didn't have much appeal to me.
After four straight months of training three times a week, I completed the triathlon in front of my parents and very supportive close friends. After it ended, I reflected a lot on my cycling (road biking) experience, as that proved to be the most difficult. Below are nine things I learned from trying a new sport:
1. The More You Practice, the More You'll Improve
Although it does take practice to make perfect, practicing doesn't necessarily guarantee perfect—and I was nowhere near it. That said, our bodies naturally adapt to things (whether it's a form of exercise, the way we process food, whatever), and over time, I did get the hang of things a bit more on my bike. For example, something simple like how we hop on and off the bike became second nature, or the correct placement of the hands, which at first is uncomfortable. Adjusting the gears became easier, my butt was less sore, my time improved a bit. When I began, there were parts of the hilly course that were near impossible to improve, but as time went on I got through it.
2. Soreness and Mild Injuries are Par for the Course
Not to get all TMI on you, but we're just talking about bike riding. When I first began the sport, I'd never ridden a bike, with the exception of a quick spin class here and there or a tricycle when I was a kid. I was not prepared for the pain I'd experience in areas of my body I didn't even know existed, following my first few three-hour bike training sessions. You have bruises in very strange places, and I'll leave it at that. Additionally, tipping over your bike as you struggle to clip-in with your cycling shoes is practically unavoidable when you start. Sure, I was wearing a helmet, but that didn't save my knees and elbows. Oh, man.
3. All the Practice in the World Doesn't Mean You'll Grow to Love It
Did I feel improvement each time I completed one of our training sessions? Absolutely. Was I inspired to complete an Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run, mostly reserved for pros)? Gosh, no! Each time I trained, I was reminded that I'm one step closer to completing a triathlon and proving to myself I could conquer something totally out of my comfort zone. While I certainly hoped I'd make use of my new bike, post-competition, I knew that cycling was far too intense for me to make a regular hobby. I despise cardio, and trekking through the ups and downs of scenic Malibu on pedals is about as cardio-driven as it comes.
4. Even If Practice Is Hard, You Always Feel Better When You're Done
Practices were brutal—especially in the thick of summer. Though we got an early start each time around 7 or 8 a.m., once the sun was in full force by noon or so, you were one big ball of sweat. That, combined with the treacherous hills, was a recipe for disaster (err, discomfort). As I plowed up the hills each time, wondering if I'd make it through the route, on my way down, I'd look at the beautiful homes that surrounded my trek and be reminded how amazing it is that I was doing this. Once I got into my car after the long morning, I had so much energy and adrenaline with a constant sense of accomplishment.
5. There's No Avoiding Awkwardness
Completing the bike course each time was only half the battle. Learning how to get on the bike (and stay on it) was a challenge in itself! Then there was all the terminology, equipment, proper form, oh my gosh. Like, it was initially acceptable to be a little clueless your first few times coming out, but after several weeks, I was still a bit shaky and I felt so insecure. Teammates were by no means rude, but I was totally that girl who always needed help.
6. You Shouldn't Feel Intimidated by More Experienced Competitors
It was easy for me to feel uneasy when training, but, looking back, I forget that the majority of folks joining me during those practices were seasoned cyclists—or at least people who'd already completed a triathlon. I was going into this with zero experience, and I wasn't going out for it competitively. I simply wanted to prove to myself I could do this. You'd be surprised how little people care about how good you are, and just want to see you challenging yourself. While it's natural to feel a bit inferior, you've got to remind yourself you're not expected to be at their level.
7. Getting Out There Is Half the Battle
Getting dressed and showing up for something you've committed to can be the most daunting task of all. Once you're suited up and ready to go, you know you're going to complete whatever it is you set out to do.
8. Taking on an Athletic Challenge Inspires You to Take on Challenges in Other Parts of Your Life
When you feel your adrenaline pumping after a serious workout, your endorphins are going strong; you feel like you can take on the world. And it's true. I thought completing a triathlon was impossible, but I did it. And it doesn't matter how you finish as long as you get the job done. That can be applied to anything. A little bit of work over a lengthy amount of time can lead to a mesmerizing result.
9. Borrowing Equipment Sucks (So Get Your Own, ASAP)
When you take on a new sport, it's totally normal not to own every associated piece of equipment. For one, some stuff isn't even necessary; and two, some brands may come more highly recommended than others. But once you get into the thick of a sport and have committed to completing at least one full season, you no longer want to be borrowing from a pal or coach. It's not only a pain, but you won't know until minutes before training if the equipment is even available for you. Plus, there's something to be said for breaking in your own equipment and not taking on the responsibility for someone else's items.
My dad (bless his kind soul) bought me a bike for the second half of my triathlon training and I felt immensely more confident. When the big day finally arrived, I was able to go out there with the best of 'em and fit right in!
Whether you're open to new sports or not, if you take Phys. Ed., you're forced into playing. HERE are all the things no one tells you about high school P.E.!