Am I still a triathlete if I don’t run?
Updated: Jan 16
by Liesl Begnaud
Six years ago, I had terrible pain in my groin area. After doing all the stretching, rolling, icing and physical therapy I could, the pain would get worse when I ran. I got a cortisone shot from the doctor then went on to do two 70.3 distances that year, with a ton of pain on the run. I signed up for my next IRONMAN in Boulder, the inaugural year and I started to train, with much pain. I finally saw the orthopedist and received an MRI. It turns out I have arthritis in my hips and my right hip doesn’t have any cartilage on it anymore. Whenever I run, it's bone-on-bone grinding. So, the pain I felt in my groin were those muscles trying desperately to pull and hold the hip socket when I ran. The orthopedist said I needed total hip replacement. He said I could still do the IRONMAN, but he didn’t recommend it. He could give me cortisone shots to manage the pain.
In shock and denial, I didn’t believe him, since I was only 40 and I got a second opinion. The second orthopedist said, yes you need a hip replacement and stop running immediately. I was devastated. While I didn’t love running, I did love triathlon and well, the third leg is running. What was I going to do? I researched if I could run on a hip replacement. Some people do, but it is not recommended. The doctors suggested I stop running and try and delay the hip replacement surgery as long as possible. What? Stop running? No triathlete wants to hear those words. They said I would wear down the hip replacement and they would have to replace the replacement!
Since those dreaded words, you need to stop running, I have been trying to “cut back on my running.” I promised I would only run until it hurt, or I would do an interval run/walk, but I was still going to do triathlons. For the first 4 years, I did sprint distance triathlons, so I didn’t have such a long run. This was extremely difficult going from IRONMAN training and marathon running to a 5k. What would people think? Why wouldn’t I keep running long and run through the pain? In my head a 5k was supposed to be fast and I was not a fast runner. Those sprints were super fun, but still painful and in my world of long distance triathlon, I was not doing enough!
Fast forward to last year. I struggled with not doing the distance running. I felt like I wasn’t doing triathlon if I was just swimming and biking. Coach John Murray encouraged me to sign up for the Aquabike event. It was a swim-bike event that was a qualifying race for Team USA. I was ashamed, embarrassed and wondered if I would still be considered a triathlete. I couldn’t do it, even though several around me were signing up for Aquabikes, they still felt incomplete. This year, I did a 70.3 relay and I did the swim and bike and my husband did the run. It was awesome! It was so great to be back racing triathlon, even though I didn’t run, we did the triathlon.
I keep learning that it doesn’t matter to anyone else if you do the swim, bike and run. Triathlon is such an individual sport that your only competitor is you. I am finally in a place where I am able to sign up for the Aquabike and still call myself a triathlete. I’ve decided to still enjoy the racing and atmosphere of the sport of triathlon and participate in a new way. There is no judgement anymore.
As a coach and endurance athlete, I want to encourage you to add new race experiences to your list. Become a duathlete - run, bike, run. Or, sign up for the Aquabike race and finish strong while everyone else goes out on the run. Or, sign up for cycling or swimming races and learn how to draft on a bicycle or swim a 10k.
Will you still be a Triathlete if you don’t or can’t run anymore, why, finally I believe the answer is YES!