So what is it that makes many people oooh and ahh at triathletes more than runners? 

After competing in my second triathlon on Sunday I have but one question: why is it that runners are thought to be merely “crazy” by much of the non-runner/non-triathlete population, but triathletes are considered off-your-rocker amazing athletes and incomparably dedicated by the same crowd?

Note: This post isn’t intended to get runners and triathletes fired up (or fighting!) over who is the superior athlete or if running races are more challenging than triathlons or vice versa. I’m wondering why when non-runners find out I’m a runner they tend to think I’m insane for running mile after mile and actually liking it, but why the same people think triathletes are just insanely dedicated athletes?

Recently, a woman asked me with a look of shock on her face if I was doing a whole triathlon. Another guy proudly told me that his sister is a triathlon. I wasn’t sure what the woman meant by a whole triathlon (possibly an Ironman?), but I doubt she knew what she meant, either. And clearly, the guy with the triathlon for a sister isn’t entirely familiar with the event itself because, well, I’d bet my bottom dollar that your sister is probably a triathlete who competes in triathlons.

Now, clearly these two weren’t entirely sure about the triathlon world (N.B. I don’t want to make the claim that I am, either…transition areas, open water swims, feed zones, color-coded swim caps, oh my!), but is it the unfamiliarity most people have in regard to triathlon that makes them think that all triathletes are crazy-good athletes and seemingly more committed to their training and racing than mere runners?

Triathlon is a relatively new sport in comparison to running and I’m guessing that a majority of the general population isn’t even entirely sure what a triathlon is, with even less of the population actually having competed in an event. Heck, with two triathlons under my race belt I’ve gotten the swim, bike, run order memorized, but ask me how long the bike course is at an Olympic tri and I’ll stare at you quizzically embarrassed!

There is just so much to know about triathlon. The sport is still so new that it’s yet to be implemented in high school gym classes; while, on the other hand, many people are well versed in running even if their only experience with the sport was the dreaded timed mile in high school gym class. (N.B. I hated the mile and it still irks me that my mile time was the only thing holding me back from a Presidential Fitness award.) Non-runners might ask, “How far is this marathon?,” but at some point in their life they’ve probably gone out for a run or two and can understand how challenging running a few miles can be.

Personally, I love being both a runner and a triathlete. Running races and triathons are equally challenging and fun in different ways. I can’t wait to do another tri soon (which one should I do?!), and I am counting down the days until the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco next month.

So what is it that makes many people oooh and ahh at triathletes more than runners? My hypothesis: the outfits. How can you not look hardcore while wearing a bright, all-spandex onesie and a visor with numbers and logos tattooed on your arms and legs?