by Karen Smyers
An essential element of most triathletes’ success and longevity in the sport is their training partners. Your partner in pain can goad you into one more hill repeat like nobody else can. Think of the number of mornings you would have just hit the snooze alarm if it weren’t for the fact that your buddy was meeting you in the cold, quiet dawn. (Notice I say “you” and not “we”; I have a policy that if the workout time requires setting an alarm clock, it is too early for me.) But I do attribute the discipline I have mustered in managing to skip happy hour most evenings to my buddies who I know will be at the pool expecting me.
To an outsider, all triathletes come from the same mold: compulsive, driven, exercise-addicted, passionate, and slightly crazy. But from within the pack, we have come to know and appreciate a host of different characters all of whom contribute their own quirks to the group. It’s important to have this mix of personalities in your training group to add balance and diversity to your training regimen.
You can’t train with Hammerhead Harry every day. Well, maybe you can, but you shouldn’t, because Hammerhead Harry’s raison d’être is beating his training partners into pulp. Harry is a great addition to the bike group if you want to be sure you reach Zone 5 (better known as the last zone before you toss your cookies) on your heartrate monitor before you reach Mile1 on your odometer. Don’t look for Harry on race day, however; racing is an after-thought that he may include to justify the weekly mileage, but he rarely “wastes” his best efforts there.
It is best to follow up a ride with Harry with a workout with Chatty Kathy. This workout (if you ever get to it) will be pretty mellow since the pace has to be conducive to holding a bubbly conversation throughout. The good news is time flies when you train with Kathy; the bad news is time flies when you train with Kathy…so don’t call her up for a lunch “hour” workout unless it is not to be taken literally.
If you have a really tough workout to do, you can always talk Agreeable Al into joining you. Al will tag along for any workout, no matter how long and hard, regardless of whether it complements any of his racing plans. He will run 20-miles with you even though he is training for a Sprint triathlon. He will follow you like a puppy-dog through the run-bike-run-bike-run-bike workout you read about from Dave Scott’s training for Superhumans with nary a complaint. He lets you set the pace, too, all of which makes Al worth rewarding with waffles after the workout.
Running with Half-Step Stan can be maddening but it almost always make you run fast. That’s because your competitive instinct can’t help but make you try to catch up the half-step by which he is running in front of you. And his personality quirk can’t help but make him increase his pace enough to remain that half-step ahead. Therefore, your pace inevitably accelerates to near race pace by about mile 3.
Sheila the Shadow is the opposite of Stan. She can run or bike your pace all day no matter what that pace is and will maintain the position just off your right shoulder. At times it can make you a little nervous. What is she waiting for? Am I going too slow? You may find yourself picking it up to see if she drops off the pace at all, and slowing down to see if she will ever take the lead. But no, she just want to Shadow you. So your best bet is to relish the role of leader while you can–since your next run with Half-Stepper Stan is right around the corner.
Calvin K. is fun to train with just to check out his outfits. He shows up for workout looking like he got lost on his way to a photo shoot for the latest GQ cover story. He especially stands out next to Retro Bob who hasn’t bought a new pair of running shorts since the seventies and can’t understand why anyone would waste money on bike clothes when you already own a pair of cut-off sweatpants and a T-shirt.
Holly-wood is always entertaining to train with because she is so dramatic about everything. After a particularly hot bike ride, Holly will collapse in the driveway and gasp for water. At the top of a hard hill climb, she will stop her bike and proclaim she is about to have a coronary. If a car passes a little close to you while riding, it will be described as a near-death experience. “I could feel the car touch the hair on my arms!” she’ll exclaim. All this drama makes you feel pretty heroic for holding up so well under such extreme conditions.
Claude the Closet Trainer is easily recognized by the disparity between his fitness and the amount of mileage he claims he is (not) doing. “I haven’t ridden since October,” he will claim one fine spring day. He will then proceed to go up every hill in his big chain ring while you are struggling desperately a few hundred yards back, pushing your gear lever every few seconds in the hopes that an easier gear has miraculously materialized on your back wheel. Claude will claim he never has time to swim, but will be spotted by alert training buddies entering or leaving the pool on numerous occasions. I am pretty sure that these Closet Trainers are the same people who in highschool claimed that they didn’t study at all for the test, but always got an A. At least in triathlon, you don’t have to worry about them ruining the curve.
Positive Polly has only upbeat comments about everything. “It is so peaceful to run in the rain,” or “Doesn’t this headwind make you want to soar like an eagle?” are typical comments. She is full of enthusiasm after every workout. It is great for morale having her around, but sometimes I wonder if she isn’t going to develop an ulcer one day from not cursing the weather like any normal cranky triathlete.
Willy Whiner is the antithesis of Polly. He starts complaining from the moment you meet to the moment you depart. Willy has no time to train, gets no sleep, is just getting over some illness or injury, and the workout is always too hard or too long. Although Willy is known for his negativity, he is well-liked for the same reason that Eeyore is well-liked: his gloominess somehow endears him to you. And with Polly in the mix, it ends up working the way a good sweet and sour sauce works on Chinese food.
Al Haig (“I’m in charge here!”) always designates himself the ride director. He dictates the pace by rebuking anyone that starts to pick up the pace by reminding them of how they died toward the end of the last ride. If he feels like picking it up, you better pick it up or you will be dropped like a bad habit. If you desire a bathroom break or a water stop, your best bet is to formally petition Al and maybe bribe him with a Snickers bar. But it is a good thing that every group has an Al Haig or each ride would be total anarchy with bathroom breaks every 10 minutes.
One thing becomes pretty clear when you consider the variety of personalities in our sport–the outsiders are right about the slightly crazy part.
The aforementioned names and personalities are fictional. Any similarities to persons that Karen trains with is purely coincidental and should not cause them to seek revenge in the next workout.