Triathlon can be a lonely sport if you let it. I was thinking as I rode alone today that I spend much of my training time working around family and work obligations. This means that matching my schedule to a training partner or trying to meet the schedule of a training group is near impossible. Sure there are running groups, swimming groups and cycling clubs, but how often do I find my training schedule matching with one of them? I am OK with this most of the time. To me, training, especially on the long runs or swims, is like therapy. I can be alone with my thoughts, whether they be about my training or about the bad day that I had at work. It calms me. I can mentally go through my next race, mentally watch myself go through the steps of each discipline, or just pretend that I am on the last stretch of road in Kona and I can see the finish. About the only time that I long for company is on those long rides. You can't socialize when you swim and if you are holding a conversation while you run, are you really running? On the bike though, you could easily spend 3 to 4 hours riding and it is hard to push yourself for that long when you are alone. Sure, this is how it will be in a race, but it is hard to put your self in a race mentality when training, especially for 3+ hours.
And what about the races? They can be lonely too. Typically I get to the transition area before dawn and the gun goes off just as the sun comes up. My family often finds it impossible to come and watch. By the time my wife gets the kids out of bed and out the door, finds parking, and a decent spot to watch the race I am at least halfway done. Then to top it off they see me pass by on the bike or the run for a few seconds. If they are lucky they will catch a glimpse of me for a minute in transition. Sure, it is comforting to hear the cheers of the strangers that have made it to the race, but it is more motivating to see your own friends and family as you pass by.
My friends have all but stopped inviting me out. They know I will just make excuses about having to get up at 5AM for my morning workout. The guys at work look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them it was a 15 mile ride to work this morning or I forgo lunch at the local burger joint to get an extra 30 minutes of running in.
So as triathletes what are we to do? Are we relegated to a hermit life (only if we want it)? There are networks of people; local tri clubs, Internet forums, even dating services specifically for triathletes. Combining our love/obsession for triathlon with our longing to socialize is about the only way to get by these days. We have to make an effort to become involved with a club, volunteer at a local triathlon and meet people and make a concerted effort to spend time with training groups. Eventually we surround ourselves with those like us, those that share our pain (literally sometimes). In my opinion being a triathlete means living a new less travelled path and it may mean that our daily interactions, and friends are forced to change. Sure it is lonely on some days, and I know that my old friends have not abandoned me completely (there is still the off season). Besides, if this does not work out I can always become a couch potato. Then the TV can be my friend.