I really do.
In cycling you can always spot them with their conspicuously-blank store-bought kits and hairy legs. With runners it's the long shorts, iPods, and a t-shirt fresh from last weekend's 5k. At a triathlon the transition area is the place to spot the 1st timers. There's a good bet that the anyone putting on socks, changing clothes, or using jujitsu to get out of their wetsuit maybe a "newb". Anyone who starts the run still wearing their helmet is a definite tri-virgin.
There's always the new guy who shows up at the group run or ride, a seasoned veteran of many silent treadmill and stationary bike battles at the local gym, and decides to go with the "fast group". 20 min later everyone else is exchanging amused glances as he gasps for air and tries to nonchalantly ask "how much further?"
But how was he to know that the guys he decided to follow were all obviously ex-college runners who win all the local races- he's just the new guy and probably the fastest guy back at his gym. So until his prayers are answered and you come back into sight of the finish you'll do you're best to help him out. You offer him some water or Gu, point out some short cuts he could take back and just generally try and keep him encouraged - because we've all been there.
Where would we be without our drinking stories about the time we tipped-out at an intersection on our bike, when no one told us the guy we were running with was the Ketucky High School XC champ 15 years ago, or the time the 70 septuagenarian passed us on the swim, and again on the bike...and again on the run.
But I don't just love the first-timers because they're amusing (they are), or because I can empathize with their frustrations (oh the stories I could tell) - I just love how damn excited they are to be there.
I mean *really* excited. These folks are bubbling over with excitement. Bright-eyed they gravitate to the more experienced folks just bursting with questions, hopes and insecurities. It's a mix of star-struck and geeked out. It's cute.
Take this one guy on the WNW ride a few days ago. I overheard him in the main group towards the beginning of the ride:
"Where should I go - should I ride closer to people?"
"Is this pace hard for everyone?"
Afterwards I had a chance to talk to him some more. I'm not the most experienced cyclist but I have been around bikes for about 4 years now so I've picked up a few things and finished near the front of the ride. We started talking in the parking lot and he was all questions:
"What was you guys' average?"
"Do you ride with a bike computer?"
"How much do you ride?"
"Do you race?"
"You must have a really nice bike!"
"Are you on a team?"
...and so on. He was just *really* excited about bikes. And that's why I love 'em.
Think about it. Now that it's summer no matter where in the country you live - you can find a day camp. Swarms of grubby kids running around with grass-stained knees and Popsicle stains playing half-organized games supervised my lethargic high schoolers. But the kids are all so excited. Sure they've had enough Popsicles to turn them into 60 lbs humming birds but other then that what's got them so worked up? grass? kickball?
Now think about you're parents or coworkers - when was the last time you saw them excited? I mean giddy. We're talking about walking up to total strangers and asking them a string of questions excited.
The newbies have that kind of excitement in their lives. Maybe it doesn't last and they fall away from the sport in the end, but even for a short while it's refreshing to interact with people who really care about what they're doing. There's not enough of that in days world of 60 hour work weeks, 45 min commutes and obesity (I blame fat people for everything).
I have to be honest though. As I was putting this post together in my head I went over to the Johns Hopkins University Pool for a swim. In the next lane were the "advanced" group from the Hopkins club team. They had all clearly swam for years and were moving in the water. Some even had the harsh farmer's tan that suggested that they might be triathletes. And after all my poking fun at the newbies there I was narrowly restraining myself for busting out with:
"Hi! Wow you guys are really fast! That's awesome! How far are you guys swimming today! Do your goggles leak? Sometimes mine do! Do you know how to fix that? I bet it's just that these goggles suck! I don't even know where I got them - I just had them laying around my room! Does that ever happed to you? Just finding goggles - isn't that crazy! I should let you get back to your swim! I should go swim to! But I noticed your tanlines! Are you a triathlete too? I am! Or I used to be! I sucked! Actually I was pretty good when I trained! I bet you're good too! You look fast! Do you have a bike? I like bikes! Sorry I' m just really excited to be here!"