After 12 years in triathlon, I finally have moments where I don’t feel like an imposter. This has less to do with what I have accomplished in the sport, like racing an Ironman, and more to do with the company I chose to keep.
When I began in this sport, I had simple goals - to finish, to not be last, to not die. But quickly and progressively, those goals escalated to wanting to be better, faster, stronger. Yes, than myself but also others - Like many athletes I compared myself and how well I was doing with how others looked, how fast they were, how effortless it seemed to be for them as I slogged slowly away at the miles.
Women in the sport have mostly been really supportive of me, and each other. No one REALLY (except a former male coach) ever said anything that made me feel less than, that I had limitations, and that I could not accomplish my goals. But it wasn’t until I began actively seeking out and surrounding myself with other women in the sport that my perspective on MYSELF started to change.
I became an ambassador for a women’s triathlon clothing line because I loved their comfort and style and hoped for some great discounts. What I got was that, and a whole hell of a lot more - I found an online community of ballsy, open, courageous women of all abilities who supported each other, and strangely, me! This support, coupled with my new coach and team, gave me the confidence I needed to reach for my dreams, only to realize when I got there that even they weren’t reaching high enough.
This year, after watching online last year, I joined I Race Like A Girl, a women’s team started and led by Angela Naeth, a pro triathlete and awesome badass. Because one can never have too many gear discounts, but more importantly, one can never have enough supportive, awesome women to inspire and support you - and learn that you too can do the same. I’m really excited to get to share the experience I have actually realized I have, and encouraging others also to dream bigger dreams!
USA Triathlon, Ironman Foundation and many other clubs and organizations are trying to increase women’s involvement in triathlon. These efforts are noble and helpful, and I fully support them. BUT, When I’ve expressed frustration that all these efforts are usually based around short course racing (and nothing against short course - I’m doing a short course focused season in order to get faster this year and it’s brutal), I’ve been told we have to start somewhere, to be patient, that increasing women’s involvement in triathlon starts with short course racing and it will trickle down into long course.
But I don’t think that the trickle down theory is really the answer.
If you’re paying attention, women are kicking ass and taking names in ultra-endurance events. It’s not just the Courtney Dauwalter’s of the world, the longer and crazier the distance, the more likely women are to finish - if they start. There’s a lot of science as to why women are generally better built for long distances, and we excel when we get there. But what keeps us from starting?
I listened to Melissa Urie and Danielle Grabol on Rich Roll’s podcast this morning, and was really inspired, excited and frustrated all at the same time. These women are killing it out there, going ultra long and loving it. It’s a great listen too. They discuss honestly and openly about what it really takes to get there, how you don’t have to LOOK like a typical athlete, and what really keeps women from coming out to ultra events in equal numbers to men.
I’ve wanted to do an Ironman since I got into this sport. It took me more than 10 years to do it. I’ve met male athletes who’ve done one sprint and signed up for an Ironman, but I need to know I could finish before I would start. And this isn’t unusual. Apparently, statistically, men need to be 20% confident that they can finish something before they sign up - women need to be 85% confident. For me, it was figuring out mentally and emotionally that I could fit it into my work and family schedule and not have everyone resent me. And what I call mommy shaming. The mommy shaming is real.
I had resigned myself to not doing an Ironman (or anything truly long) until all my kids are in college. Because while people are interested, and often say they’d like to be able to do a triathlon or an Ironman, but they couldn’t because of their commitments, job or family. Because while men can have it all, when a woman, especially one with a family, races, people ask about who watches their kids, about missing family time. Women are encouraged to take “me time,” but really, it should be short and sweet so you get back to focus on everyone else :). Rarely do people look at the example we’re setting for our kids about hard work, adversity, working on limiters to improve, and mental toughness and how that can benefit our family.
So, I put off long course. But an injury two years ago reminded me that while I want to continue in this sport until I drop, an injury or accident could take me out at any time, and so, I committed and trained for Ironman before my youngest even entered high school. And why now, after finishing a short distance cycle to improve speed and efficiency, I want to go long again, and longer than I could have ever fathomed possible. Ultraman, Epic 5. Maybe even races that don’t exist yet. Bring it on.
Because we need to get those numbers up, and it’s not going to trickle down - we have to remind each other that we can, we deserve to, and that we’re here to help each other.
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