Triathlon Life Lessons


Just the other day I had a serious existential crisis. I am not usually prone to such crises, but as I near the end of my university career, I need to start thinking about my future (it is a scary thought, which is why I have procrastinated thinking about it). Anyway, I realized that triathlon was eating up a lot of my time, energy and money and I needed to decide whether it was worth the effort or if there were better things to pursue. To help with this decision I set about compiling a list of what triathlon had taught me. The list began earnestly but, because I can’t stay serious for very long, it deteriorated into some of the stranger things I have learnt from this wonderful sport. 

Before I dive any deeper into this first blog post, I thought I should quickly clarify who exactly “I” am. My name is Michael Ross – not the guy from the series “Suits”, or the serial killer you’ll come across if you type my name into Google. Rather, I am a 22 year old Biology Masters student at the University of Cape Town. I have loved sport for as long as I can remember. And while I have been good at many sports, I’ve never been great at any one sport. I decided to try and change that by jumping into triathlon (I guess that means I technically still have a few sports to keep myself busy). I have progressed from being a complete rookie a couple of years ago to representing South Africa as an under 23 at the Cross (Off-road) Triathlon World Championships in Denmark, in 2018. Along the way I discovered a love for writing as an avenue to share the countless experiences I’ve had in this sport. I hope you find these posts somewhat relatable and that they make you smile.

Back to the blog! A quick Google search revealed I’m not the only one asking the question “what has triathlon taught me?” It was comforting to see that others were thinking along the same lines as me, because I often feel like I’m slightly off my rocker, and not quite in tune with how the rest of the world thinks. It also appeared that some of the lessons I had learnt had also been learnt by others, how wonderful.

Triathlon rewards hard work. Not just hard work but consistent, smart work. The people who achieve in this sport are those who successfully get the combination of those three right. Tied to this, I have also learnt to do things even when I don’t want to, even when I really, really don’t want to. The days when I consider faking a cramp in the swimming pool, puncturing my own bicycle tyre or purposefully leaving my running shoes at home. All of these apply to life in general, where success is the result of hard work and you regularly have to do things you really don’t want to, such as studying Afrikaans at school. I did not like Afrikaans.

I have also learnt how to manage my time. I know I’ve got a session in the morning and another one in the evening. Between those I’ve got to get my varsity work done, occasionally cook, check Strava multiple times and maintain my social standing (admittedly that isn’t particularly difficult considering I talk to a handful of people a week, of which I train with half and live with the other half) plus get enough sleep. All this has taught me to minimize distractions and work fairly productively most of the time. A useful skill I think you’ll admit.  

After looking through numerous online pages, I was convinced I had learnt many useful skills that would prove immensely valuable at some stage of my life. While I could regurgitate what these pages had said (adding my own unique twist of course), I thought it would be much more useful to venture into the unknown in search of the more obscure life lessons which are yet to grace the first page of a Google search on this topic.

The other day I went to the beach. I hadn’t left home in my costume, so when we arrived, I disappeared to get changed. I didn’t rush the transition, but when I left the change room my friends were mightily impressed with my quick turn-around. “What do you expect? I’m a triathlete…”

How not to sleep in class. This might seem a simple task, but it does in fact require a colossal effort. Picture this: you’ve had an early morning training session, it’s a warm day in the classroom just before lunch time and your teacher is reading through Macbeth…thy eyes doth slowly close. I’ve taken to always carrying a pen in my hand, which as I drift off, falls to the floor, abruptly waking me with a mini heart attack. Alternatively, I bring a bag of peanuts and raisins which I snack on throughout the lesson or throw at unsuspecting victims (my years of playing cricket really serve me well).   

Always use anti-chafe cream. I’m not sure exactly how this is a life lesson I have learnt from triathlon, but as I prepare for some imminent suffering on my bicycle, it seems pertinent. Perhaps the lesson is this: it’s the little things that matter. The difference between a successful cycle, and walking with your legs outspread, crab-like, for the next week might be down to a little anti-chafing cream. Similarly in life, little things can make a huge difference: checking in on someone with a message, wearing your seat belt or brushing your teeth before a meeting.

It seems triathlon has taught me an incredible amount, and it will continue to do so. I hope this post has either inspired you to continue pursuing this fantastic sport, or challenge yourself by taking up a new sport. Either way, I would love to hear your thoughts about what I have written and whether you have any ideas for future posts, or questions I can answer.

Happy training,



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