"I wish someone would have warned me. I was caught totally off guard. It was disgusting!"
I've heard these comments from more than a few new triathletes and their loyal supporters. We often talk about the glamorous parts of triathlon—the great fitness, race achievements, camaraderie and beautiful race venues.
Few people, however, discuss the less attractive parts of the sport—until there is an incident. These incidents result in a lively discussion not fit for the tender ears of non-triathletes dining at your local lunch stop. Perhaps, some of the topics are not fit for a lunch-time discussion at all.
Before going into details, it's only fair to say that not all triathletes experience all of the grossest things about triathlon. That said, know that you may be waiting at the start of your next race in water that is...eeeewww!
Urination1 of 7
The start of a race is nerve-wracking for most triathletes. A large case of nerves combined with pre-race hydration practices make some athletes feel the urge to urinate, even though they just visited the port-a-potty a few minutes before. Some athletes will urinate, wetsuit or no wetsuit, while standing in the water waiting for the race to begin.
You can imagine the water contamination issues if 2,000 athletes use the start area of the local triathlon as their personal toilets.
Once the swim is over and the bike ride has begun, some athletes don't want to waste time stopping at the port-a-potty. This is primarily an issue with long distance races, but it can be an issue during short races as well.
With little regard for the racers that follow them, some triathletes will relieve themselves while riding the bike, then follow the deed with a water bottle rinse off.
Riders following this athlete may notice, or feel, what appears to be water flying off of the athlete's body. It may or may not be just water.
What you can do about it: Discourage fellow athletes from using the swim start as a toilet, and be on alert for riders that appear to be shedding unusual amounts of fluid to avoid being caught in the splash.
Farmer's Blow2 of 7
Carrying a tissue during a workout or a race is not top priority for most triathletes. When it comes to blowing their noses, many athletes use a practice is known as the farmer's blow. It goes by several other nicknames, but this one is the least offensive. The farmer's blow is the practice of using one finger to close one side of the nose while forcefully blowing air and mucus out the other nostril.
In many cases, the farmer's blow is quite useful; however, when done in a group setting certain precautions should be taken. Considerate athletes look to see who is behind them before executing the move. Selfish and inconsiderate athletes don't care who catches the spray of their self-serving behavior.
What you can do about it: Politely inform inconsiderate athletes that practicing this behavior with no consideration for others is rude and inappropriate.
Gastrointestinal (G.I.) Distress3 of 7
There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a workout or a race and feeling your lower digestive tract become quite active. Gurgling noises and cramping mean you have little time to find a port-a-potty or public restroom.
It seems that more athletes are affected when doing high intensity workouts or races. Also, some women note that G.I. problems are more of a problem in the few days prior to and during menstruation.
What you can do about it: Frequent trips to the toilet can be minimized by watching diet in the day or so before hard workouts or races. If diarrhea is a continuous problem, consult your physician for possible remedies because you may be compromising your long-term health by not properly absorbing the nutrients from your food.
Saddle Sores4 of 7
These injuries can appear as red bumps or infected sores that look like a pimple. They can appear in the groin, upper leg and butt area. They can become an annoyance or develop into boil-type sore so intense that it forces you to take time off the bike and visit a doctor to drain the sore. A trip to the doctor often includes a round of antibiotic treatment.
The best solution for saddle sores is prevention. This includes a proper bike set-up, a saddle that fits you, cycling shorts worn without underwear and good hygiene after all rides. Good hygiene means getting out of dirty shorts quickly after the ride is finished and getting a shower, or at minimum cleaning up with moist towelettes.
Body Hair5 of 7
Don't be surprised if you hear a group of triathletes discussing the best method to remove body hair. Most experienced triathletes have some type of body hair removal routine.
The first reason is practical in nature and taken from road cycling. Though triathletes have fewer problems with crashing than road cyclists, removing hair from the legs helps improve wound healing in the unfortunate case of a crash.
A second reason to remove body hair is to eliminate matting and tangle problems during a massage.
Another reason to go body-bald is because triathletes believe that removing all, and that is "all" in the literal sense, gives them an aerodynamic advantage. Any actual aerodynamic advantage that might be gained is likely very small. The mental advantage, however, might shave more time.
Finally, there are a few men with genetically gifted man sweaters. In some societies these natural sweaters may be a sign of strength and virility. In current triathlon fashion, hairy backs and chests are not popular. Some triathletes get a back or chest wax simply for vanity and style.
Nipple Chafing6 of 7
Though this problem can affect women, it is more often a problem for men during running. This condition is caused by a running shirt or singlet rubbing across the nipples, and is often called jogger's nipple. The problem is exacerbated during long distance races, cool conditions or if the athlete is experiencing goose bumps due to dehydration.
What you can do about it: Several possible remedies include rash guards, a compression top, waterproof tape applied over each nipple or small sport bandages applied to the sensitive area. Some athletes also have success with anti-chafing balms or cremes.
Now You Know
Now that you know a few of the unglamorous aspects of triathlon, at minimum you can enter your next backroom discussion more informed. At best, perhaps the column gave you some ideas about preventing or dealing with some of the issues.