My New Favorite Tee Shirt and the Camaraderie of Misery

On September 25, 1974 fellow members of a local track club Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan hosted an event at Mission Bay in San Diego unlike any they believed the world had ever seen. They assumed that because neither had been present when a similar event took place near Paris in 1902.

There are some triathlon events that include different combinations of sports, like the Running Rivers Flyathlon, which includes running, fly fishing, and beer drinking. True story. Asþont, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In each case the event consisted of three separate sports mashed together into one race. The Paris event was cleverly called Les Trois Sports, which roughly translates as “race event for impressive athletes who are also mildly insane.” Trust me on this. French is a highly efficient language.

In San Diego, the newfangled race was called a triathlon, because Greek is an even more efficient language and Johnstone, unsatisfied with his fitness level after running and running and running, was just insane enough suggest that the San Diego Track Club throw some other challenges into the mix.

Les Trois Sports initially included run, bicycle, and canoe components, all completed consecutively without a break outside of the time it takes to exchange some equipment and chow down some quick sugar, like a power bar or maybe a baguette or something. I don’t really know that much about turn of the century French culture.

My super cool sharpie tattoo also included my age on my calf, so that every time I got passed by a 65-year-old, I would be sure to know, which was helpful.

The Mission Bay Triathlon consisted of running, biking, and swimming. In that order. Fortunately, the distances for this first triathlon were relatively short since it had not yet occurred to the organizers that an exhausted swimmer is more likely to accidentally drown than one who has a lot more exercise still to look forward to.

Forty-six athletes participated in this first triathlon event in the US, which is a lot more mildly insane people than Johnstone and Shanahan expected. Two of those participants were Judy and John Collins, who only four years later, proved they were not so much on the mild side of insane when they began the Ironman event in Hawaii, consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26 mile run. At least it was in that order because by then, triathletes had figured out that collapsing from exhaustion on the road, while dangerous, is usually not as immediately deadly as collapsing in the ocean.

As insane as I believe the Ironman to be, I do admire and appreciate the extreme dedication of the athletes who train for and participate in it. In concept, and on a much smaller scale, I am even drawn to the idea of a triathlon.

As long as you’re doing it for the right reasons (a tee shirt and a medal), it’s not that insane.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before, but it always bears repeating, that I believe with my whole heart that running is stupid. I do, however, love to swim and I’m also a big fan of biking and of participating in race events in general. There’s just something about the camaraderie of misery that really sizzles my bacon.

So, when a friend recently asked if anyone would like to join her for the sprint course of the TriathLou in Litchfield, Illinois, I readily volunteered. I participated in a similar event ten or twelve years ago with my sister and I remember it being tough but fun. Then, to my surprise and delight, my slightly insane fourteen-year-old son said he wanted to give it a try this time, so I was definitely stuck.

It wasn’t a terribly long event. We swam 0.3 miles, biked 12 miles, and ran 3.1 miles, done consecutively with only enough break between to exchange some equipment and chow some quick sugar, like an energy bar or a Snickers because I am pretty familiar with early twenty-first century American culture.

Yes, I did finish, and I did run every step. As I easily predicted, the swim and bike went just fine and I was slow and miserable-ish on the stupid run, but I did it. For my efforts I got improved satisfaction with my fitness level, a tee shirt, and a finishers medal so I can prove to anyone who questions me that I am mildly insane.

15 thoughts on “My New Favorite Tee Shirt and the Camaraderie of Misery

  1. Takes all sorts. I was very pleased when my granddaughter and best friend [both 17] completed the Block Island triathlon in early August this year. FUN. I have no idea of the lengths involved but there are adults who take it really seriously. NOT QUITE SANE. You sound more like fun – and enjoy it while you can.

  2. Congratulations, I am impressed by anyone who can combine the three events. I am a runner who resisted Triathlons for decades and was humiliated when others goaded me into joining them in a mini one. I even like swimming but the rescue boat focused entirely on me as I zigzagged erratically and swimmers in the next staggered release swam over my back. People were laughing on shore. I was actually in the water four times as long as the majority of swimmers. The bike ride was only 15 miles but hilly so by the time I got to the easy four mile run, my legs were like rubber. I am surprised I was not pulled from the course. But at least I checked it off the list.

    1. The swim seems to be the most challenging part for most of the casual triathletes I meet. Even competent swimmers who don’t spend a good amount of time on open water swimming can get in their heads and struggle, especially when you’re taking off in a big group and are likely getting kicked and splashed at inopportune times. I actually think the challenge of it is what makes it so fun, though. Finishing at all is a triumph.

  3. Closest I can come to this joyous (because you did it with your kid and BTW how did he do?) is a Turkey Trot 5k I did with one of my kids one Thanksgiving probably close to 20 years ago now..

    I used to call both of them my seeing eye kids because occasionally one of them would get the brilliant idea to take Mom out for her walk. We would ride our bikes to the middle school where they were used to running around the fields. I didn’t wear my glasses for either portion of this duathalon so I counted on them to make sure I got to the school and back safely!

    I’ve never been a runner but way back in my late 40’s and early 50’s I walked a few half marathons. Now I just want to complete at least one more 5k before I die! Maybe this Thanksgiving when I will get to be with both of my kids again after not being able to do this since the wedding of my eldest almost 2 years ago now (10-27-19 to be specific)? I’ll have to see if there will be one in Kalamazoo, MI, around that time.

    1. It was joyous, and he did great! He said he might even do it again sometime. Actually we are going to run a 5K in a few weeks. My whole family and I did a turkey trot when the boys were small. We did the 1K family fun run version and wore matching homemade turkey tee shirts. It was a good time. Good luck on your search for a great race!

  4. I’m here with my kids in MI right now and just found one on 2/22 which is around the time I expect/hope to return! I was greeted by overnight snow showers on my arrival a few days ago. Just driving in it, even though I wasn’t behind the wheel, freaked me out! My scheduled return is to check again if I might be ready for a move here at some point. I’m still thinking I’d rather be a snowbird, though.

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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