“Beginner” Triathlete


This past weekend my husband raced a local olympic distance triathlon. One of my favorite parts of spectating is that before the swim start the race director gives a shout out to the athletes racing their first triathlon. The athletes raise their hand filled with excitement and nervousness while everyone claps and gets excited for them…and then they’re off! Throughout the race I was awe inspired by those beginners- facing unknown challenges and pushing past perceived limits, putting their body to the test in three sport disciplines, learning the rhythm of the swim, bike, run and experiencing for the first time crossing that finish line. I remember at my very first triathlon at Key Biscayne Sprint Triathlon when I got a wheel flat and stopped pulled off to the side and thought my race was over. A truck drove up and a guy said “Do you want to continue? Do you want me to fix that for you?” I was shocked and did even know what to do. I had no idea about race etiquette or even that there was a truck called “sag support” and it was out there to help us. Geesh I had nooo idea…that’s how newbie I was! I eagerly said “YES!” and off I went. Another race soon after that I raced the entire bike leg with my helmet on backwards. I only realized it when I saw the race pictures…LOL…how funny! Obviously, I’ve come a long way since that time but have I really? I hope not when it comes to being a “beginner.” Be-willing-to-be-a-beginner I can recall those early race memories with a warm heart and excitement because I remember how excited I was to learn from every race, to be excited about the possibilities or being better or learning something new. I remember being the newbie triathlete and didn’t care about rankings or qualifying but only in asking myself “did I give my best effort and what did I learn?” and being content with that.

In mindfulness training it is said that, “The practice of mindfulness is like cultivating a garden: it flourishes when certain conditions are present.” One attitude that we are trained to cultivate is the “Beginner’s Mind.” The beginners mind is developing an attitude of awareness that observes the world and each situation, each day, and even each moment with a sense of curiosity and as if it was your first time doing so. This creates openness and receptivity to new possibilities.

In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they really are. We tend to take the ordinary for granted and fail to grasp the extraordinariness of the ordinary. To see the richness of the present moment, we need to cultivate what has been called “beginner’s mind,” a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time. An open, “beginner’s” mind allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise, which often thinks it knows more than it does. No moment is the same as any other. Each is unique and contains unique possibilities. Beginner’s mind reminds us of this simple truth.”

blankpagelee So my “experienced” triathletes ask yourself when the last time you allowed yourself to be a “beginner” triathlete? When was the last time you approached your swim, bike, or run with authentic excitement and curiosity knowing that no two training sets are alike? When was the last time you walked into a race excited for what could happen all bright eyed and bushy tailed instead of the “all knowing” attitude? When was the last time you acknowledged that JUST having a body and toeing the line to do what we do is so special and extraordinary in its self, regardless of outcome. When was the last time you intentionally trained without gadgets and just noticed (without judgement) and experienced your body’s sensations and the changing environment around you? When was the last time you allowed yourself to truly be a beginner and start from scratch? As uncomfortable as it may be it’s actually exciting to be a beginner and let yourself off the hook from knowing everything or having all the answers because the truth of the matter is we don’t! We have experience and wisdom but we also have change that informs us that no two moments in time are ever alike. I teach my athletes to develop a beginners mind by “turning the page” each day. To allow themselves to let go of yesterdays workouts, expectations, concerns or stresses and to see the next training day anew. The deeper wisdom of the Beginners Mind is that you allow yourself to trust yourself and your experience just as it is, and creating deeper meaning in the moment by adapting to it and not trying to control or change it. How wonderful would it be to transform the meaning of your suffering while in the pain cave? To see it as a gift of being alive and not an inconvenience because it was raining outside etc.  aristotle-quotes-033 So my wonderful friends and athletes you might try to cultivate your own beginner’s mind in your daily life as an experiment. The next time you step in the pool, on your bike, or go out for a run stop and remind yourself that this is whole new moment in time and try to notice things with fresh eyes. Dump the expectations or creating a picture for how your workout should be. For example, this morning at masters workout the first thing I recognized was that I did not know anyone in my lane and my “normal” crew was not there. Then I thought “Kool new faces! I wonder what this is going to be like.” It was a relief to dump the expectations or urge to tell the newbies “this is how lane 4 does things (like I would ever).” I challenge you all to develop a beginners mind and allow life’s unfolding experiences to be your teacher:)

Shine on beautiful people, -Dr. G


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Dr. Gloria Petruzzelli

Dr. Petruzzelli is a clinical sport psychologist, triathlete, and certified mindfulness meditation teacher located in Sacramento, California. She works with elite athletes and sports teams across the country. She is a competitive athlete and enjoys practicing yoga, spending time with her family, and traveling.

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