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Triathlife: Family Holiday Etiquette Guide

  • By Jesse Thomas
  • Published Dec 27, 2013
  • Updated Feb 18, 2014 at 11:54 PM UTC
Illustration by Matt Collins.

A year ago, I wrote a holiday-themed Triathlife article titled “TriSpeak.” It was about how to deal with the sometimes endearing, sometimes annoying triathlon-related questions you get during the holidays from your non-triathlete family, like, “How’s your decathlon going?”

Apparently I’m not the only triathlete who has this conversation with family members. The article was my most popular ever, and even ran on the ESPN.com endurance sports affiliate site, which eventually led to an ESPY and a proposal from Ben Affleck and George Clooney to write the screenplay for “Argo 2.”

Just kidding about the ESPY and “Argo,” but the story didn’t end after the article was posted. See, eventually, my family saw it. Since none of them are triathletes, and they certainly wouldn’t read any link posted on my Twitter feed or Facebook page, it was probably my mom who told them about it — damn phone trees. What did they think? Well, they thought I made them look like the characters from “Clueless,” but without the keen fashion sense.

OK, yeah, some of the questions were slight exaggerations of the truth. No, my uncle didn’t mistake my triathlon for the movie “Tron.” But yes, my cousin did ask from across the room if cycling hurts my balls. Basically, any joke about balls or farts was true.

Anyway, they all got mad and at the next family vacation told me that they aren’t the crazy ones, and apparently I’m the one who says weird stuff all the time. To which I responded, “What did you say? Sorry, I was just graphing my PowerTap data from an easy Z2–Z3 build and interestingly enough, somehow managed to have 27 surges and spend 3 minutes and 27 seconds at 4.2 watts per kilogram.”

They informed me that they’re actually the ones who have been putting up with all kinds of crazy from me. Whether it’s a vacation, a reunion or just a small family get-together, I’ve been annoying, confusing and/or infuriating them ever since I started this crazy sport.

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So below is a list of some of the stuff that’s apparently irked my family on a vacation or two ever since I started triathlon. Let’s call it a Triathlete’s Family Holiday Etiquette Guide: How best to continue — or when to not continue — your normal Triathlife during your next family get-together. I hope this wisdom keeps your family happy, sane and still willing to support you in your multisport lifestyle.

— After you’ve spent half the day exercising while your family drinks piña coladas on the beach, do not (1) eat a salad for dinner, (2) skip carbs or (3) substitute your aunt’s homemade boysenberry pie with fruit. No matter what your explanation, you’re an A-hole.

— “I’ve got another session in two hours” is not an acceptable excuse for remaining in your workout clothes.

— Carry a minimum of two complete flat kits on your long bike ride around the lake. Believe me, no one is going to skip drinking just in case they have to come pick you up during Alcoholic Eggnog Night.

— Being sponsored by Specialized is way less of a big deal once your family realizes that that doesn’t mean they’re all getting free bikes.

— NO ONE CARES about your Strava data.

— EVERYONE CARES about your dog’s Strava data. If you don’t believe me, just hook your GPS to his collar and let ’er rip. You’ll never see your family more interested in learning what “KOM” means.

— Don’t be surprised if your smiley and loving niece goes screaming to mommy when you try to give her a hug in your goggles, swim cap and wetsuit. You look like a wet, slimy Batman without the cape.

— No matter what you think, no one is impressed that you stayed up till 10:30 drinking club soda even though you have a “really big workout” the next day.

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— As you say, “First, drop off two bottles and three Picky Bars at point X at 11:42. Then at 1:17 I meet you at point Y, where you’ll have my backpack, recovery drink and compression gear,” your wife’s brain goes into a trance-like state that makes you think she understands, but she’s actually deciding which book to read on the beach.

— It’s likely that your cousin will start all your conversations with, “How many watts you push today, bro?” Don’t tell him how many—just smile and tell him he’s funny, because it is actually pretty funny.

— It’s best to bring your own mini fridge for Greek yogurt, non-dairy cheese, almond milk, brown rice tortillas, gluten-free crackers and/or carrot sticks so you don’t use all the space in the real fridge. Your family will affectionately call your fridge the “bird food fridge,” but will be less likely to actually use its contents to feed the birds.

Never try to do your stretching session in the living room during movie night.

— Don’t be surprised if you head out for a bike ride one day and find your bottles filled with beer. Then upon returning dehydrated but surprisingly happy, you find your brothers laughing their asses off on the front porch.

— The correct response to the question, “How’d your race go?” is “It went well, thanks for asking! Can you pass me some chips and guac?” The incorrect response is any response that lasts longer than 10 seconds and doesn’t end in “pass me some chips and guac.”

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— It doesn’t matter how baggy it is, that it’s top-of-the-line Pearl Izumi, or even if it has the Thomas Coat of Arms on it, your family will never be comfortable seeing you in your cycling kit. It’s best to begin and end your bike ride through a back door. Otherwise, be prepared to hear everything from “Hey man, when’s the circus start?” to “Seriously dude? I can see your mammal toe.”

And yet there’s no way I could compete in a sport that requires such a ridiculous amount of time, energy, and money without the full support of my family. No matter what crazy crap I’ve tried to pull in the past, they’ve always been there to help me along the way. I’m truly grateful for that, and bending my normal routine during holidays to abide by the etiquette above is the least I can do to repay them for that support. As always, thanks family, you’re the best!

Jesse Thomas (@jessemthomas) is a three-time Wildflower Long Course champion and the CEO of Picky Bars (Pickybars.com).

Read all of Thomas’ past “Triathlife” columns here.

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