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Guest Post: The Road Less Traveled

This is a guest post from Swim Bike Dad guest blogger, Phil… 

You learn a lot from your first tri.  Well, actually, you learn something from every race.  But your first tri is a treasure trove of information!  What to do, what NOT to do, what to wear, what NOT to wear.  Most of all, you learn the one thing that can only be learned during race conditions:  race strategy.  I suppose that if one were so inclined, they could practice every little detail and be 100% confident that they would do well in their first race.

That ain’t me.

My goal was to finish and have fun, while putting myself completely outside my normal element, thereby changing what I considered to be normal.  By the way, what is normal?

For me, normal meant growing up the middle of three brothers with two parents in the home.  Both of my parents smoked while we were young.  As we got older, Dad quit and my brothers started.  It wasn’t until my bride and I got our first apartment that I lived in a smoke-free home.  What I’m saying is that I did NOT come from an active family.  I always felt as though I had quality time with my family, but NEVER any sport-related activites (unless you count my awesome cannonballs in the pool).

For me to even talk about doing a triathlon would have been 180 degrees out of phase.

Of course, any unhealthy habits I had already built carried right into my newlywed life and stuck there for many years.  Bad habits die hard.  They STILL do.  Anyone over 30 knows what I’m talking about.  Diet, exercise, blah blah blah.

In school, I never got picked for any team.  There was a reason for that.  I sucked at EVERYTHING.  Football, baseball, softball, soccer, basketball.  If the sport had a ball in it, it didn’t have me in it.  It’s not meant to be a joke, but still, it is funny when I think back.  I had never played catch with anyone until my wife convinced me to buy a glove and play with her.  And YES, she had to teach me how to throw and how to use the glove.  (She always got picked first in her softball league as a kid.)  Again, sports just was not something that we did as kids.

Just before my first 5k.June 2010

Just before my first 5k.
June 2010


With two small munchkins at home and the race being in the hottest part of Summer, Kellye decided that it would be best for her to keep the munchkins at home and not expose them to the brutal Summer heat that we are known for here, in the Mid-South.  Because of the humidity, they say we have the air that you wear.  Folks, it’s REALLY bad.  Kellye decided that I needed looking-after and conviced my dad to take me to the race.   I’m still not sure what he was supposed to do, but I was happy to have someone that I knew joining me. Truth be told, I really think they were worried that I would pass out from the heat…or worse…have a heat stroke.

Unloading to head to T1.

Unloading to head to T1.

After we made our way to the parking area, I nervously (but proudly) took my mountain bike off the carrier and began to walk it to T1.   I remember feeling just like the nerd showing up for the prom.  Who did I think I was?  What was I doing there?  Look at all these skinny people!  I was completely out of my league.

A tune entered my head

…One of these things is NOT like the OTHERS!!!

…One of these things is NOT the SAME!!!

I still had NO doubt that I would finish this race…AT MY PACE.  IN MY OWN TIME!

This was MY day.  I had planned it.  I had trained for it.  No one could do it for me.  This was MINE.

Also, I want to make clear that as I proudly walked that bike up and milled about during check-in, I was NEVER made to feel like I didn’t belong.  No one looked at me in a funny way.  Everyone was friendly and nervous conversation flowed freely between me and the other athletes:

“Where are you from?”

“Have you done this race before?”

“You’re going to love it!”

“Get into low gear soon for the killer hill just past the park’s visitor’s center!”

I was among friends…just like that.

 Lining up on the boat ramp for the lake swim, I couldn’t get the smile off my face.  Oh, I was nervous alright, but the splendor of the day overshadowed the butterflies in my stomach.  We marched into the water, one behind the other with three seconds of spacing between us.  I remember the guy counting down 3…2…1… as his hand lay on my shoulder, as if to hold me back, like I was a wild animal that needed to be controlled.  (THAT was a  good feeling.)  GO!  The beep sounded as the timing chip on my ankle moved across the mat.  Carefully shuffling down the boat ramp, as not to fall and cut my race VERY short, I eased down to the point to where I could leap into the warm July lake water.  This part is kind of hard to explain, but it was like finally getting to where I belonged…maybe some sort of prenatal in utero memory…or something.  Well, let me say this.  Being in a swim cap, that pleasantly warm feeling lasted about twenty seconds before I was so hot that I thought I might die from the heat right there in the lake.  I took it easy and made sure to pace myself.  After all, I had 13 miles of bike and 3.1 miles of run ahead of me after that.  Coach Terie had prepared me for the flailing arms and legs around me.  Her words were, “You’re going to get hit.  You’re going to get kicked.  People are going to swim OVER YOU!  You’re goggles might get knocked off.  You are going to have to keep your cool and deal with it.”  She told it to me straight and she told me no lies.  I got toes in the face.  I got slapped in the head.  Triathlon is a contact sport, in case you didn’t know.

If I could have  shed a tear while swimming, I probably would have as I made the turn at the buoy at the half-way point.  My swim was licked.  I made my way to the base of the ramp, got my footing, and shuffled up the ramp, making sure not to slip.

Jogging into T1, I know I must have had one of THE biggest smiles ever.  I took care to dry my feet, slip on some socks and running shoes, and it was time for a bike ride.


I learned very quickly that mountain bikes take a LOT of energy to propel.  Even though mine has hybrid tires, the entire race seemed to be uphill the entire way.  I think I got passed by everyone and everything except the roadkill on the side of the road.  Suffice it to say that much huffing and puffing was experienced during this part of the race.  Remember how I said you learn things from your first race?  This is one of the first lessons….GET A ROAD BIKE!  I know.  You want to use what you have for your first time and that is perfectly understandable.  And I want you to do that so you can fully understand and appreciate the value of a road bike.  Almost everyone does it and everyone learns from it.  It’s a hard lesson.

I couldn’t get to T2 soon enough!  I racked the bike and replaced the helmet with a cap.  It took a couple of hundred yards for me to get my legs back, but soon I was in stride and making progress.  By the way, I ran the entire thing.

As I came around the block and lined up to approach the finish chute, I could hear names being called out and where people were from.  I pulled out whatever I had left in me and picked up the pace for a strong finish as my dad cheered me on.

“From West Memphis, Arkansas….Phillip Farris

Crossing the finish line at my first triathlon, the Mighty Mite!

Crossing the finish line at my first triathlon, the Mighty Mite!

In some way, I carried some grudges into this race.  I had something to prove to a lot of people from my past and present.  During that race, I let it all go.  I let go of all the pick-ons, the put-downs, the never-got-picked(s), the groups that I never fit into, the people who never would have thought I could do it.  My mother’s words rang in my ear throughout it all:  “Son, you can have anything you want.”

Pushing my boundaries on an almost daily basis raised my self esteem above that smoggy cloud of negativity to where I could see my goals clearly.

Throughout my training toward this goal, I came to realize something that I already knew deep inside me:  embracing others’ definitions of me is not healthy and that the definitions we write for ourselves should be open for editing.

—Swim Bike Dad


  • Andi

    February 21, 2013 at 10:33 am

    ” If the sport had a ball in it, it didn’t have me in it.” ME, TOO!

    Thanks for writing this! 🙂 I love reading about people’s triathlon experiences.
    Made me feel better about riding a hybrid, too!

  • Belinda

    February 21, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Man,oh man. I am currently really thinking hard about buying a road bike. I did my first “group ride” with my “beginner’s tri camp” group on Sunday. And out of 40 people only me and one other girl were on mountain bikes. Everyone else was on road or tri bikes and half of those people were clipped in. I don’t think beginners start riding being clipped in, but whatever 🙂 Needless to say, after one 11 mile ride on the mountain bike and being the last one in the group, I’m feeling the pressure big time to buy a road bike. Your post this morning is the icing on the cake 🙂

  • Traci

    February 21, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    awesome blog! Tears in my eyes as I read this…

    embracing others’ definitions of me is not healthy and that the definitions we write for ourselves should be open for editing.

    LOVE. THIS.!!! thank you!!!

  • Bobbie

    February 25, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    As a mom, I had almost this exact experience in August. Tears in my eyes as I thought back on my first Tri. I came from a similar family experience and felt like I was behind the eight ball after my second child was born…a kind of now or never moment of decision. I’m glad I chose active. I’m glad I chose me, and I’m glad I chose to honor my family by choosing my own health. Good on you for making such big changes in your life!


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