What It’s Like To Be A Professional Triathlete

  • By Jené Shaw
  • Published Jul 29, 2013
  • Updated Jul 21, 2015 at 3:36 PM UTC
Illustrations by Leigh Guldig.

Anonymous pro triathletes get honest about the perceptions vs. realities of what it takes to be on top of the podium.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.

To an age grouper accustomed to a 9–5 in a cubicle, the life of a professional triathlete sounds pretty incredible. Who wouldn’t want free cutting-edge gear, the chance to travel the world and the lifestyle of someone whose main objective is to swim, bike and run?

What makes triathlon unique is that we get to race on the same course as the professionals do, and we can relate to their feelings about a triumphant PR or an epic workout bonk. But for the elite group of athletes good enough to win races, the pressures of living podium-paycheck-to-podium-paycheck isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

We had candid conversations with a wide range of professional triathletes—world champions, veterans, rookie pros—to see what they would say when they were promised anonymity. Here’s what they shared.

On misperceptions:

“There is an understandable misconception about pro triathletes that all we do is train, eat and sleep. However, most of us are spending nearly as much time in front of a computer as we did as age groupers working a 60-hour-per-week job. As a pro triathlete, you need to develop a brand and your business in order to attract sponsors and earn income to pay for your racing. We normally don’t have the support system in place like athletes in the four major American sports. We are our own sales, marketing, human resources and event planning divisions. On any given day, we wake up and train, fuel and hydrate. We then work on our businesses, which for me includes coaching, social media marketing, managing sponsor/media requests, returning fan questions, making sure gear is in order, etc.—all crucial components of our job. You are constantly trying to figure out ways to make sure you have alternate income because race winnings are inadequate to maintain your racing schedule.”

“To start out with, in order to be a pro, you have to get good enough to be a pro. Generally you’re working full-time while trying to do enough training so that you get good enough. I used to work in a bike shop, earning $9 per hour, and get up at 4 a.m. to train. I think the perception from the amateurs is, ‘If I could train all day, maybe I could be as good as you.’ It’s like, for one, probably not. For two, I’ve had to bust my ass and work full-time to get to this point.”

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FILED UNDER: Features / InsideTri

Jené Shaw

Jené Shaw

Jené Shaw is a contributor for Triathlete magazine, a six-time Ironman finisher and a USAT Level 1 certified coach

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