Life in the Fast Lane


All About Tri

By 10:17 AM , , , , , , ,

Earlier this year — or was it last year? — a trailer video for an upcoming movie about triathlon started making its rounds in social media. Naturally, almost every triathlete or aspiring triathlete friend of mine shared it on their own feeds. I did, too, and there even came a point wherein I contacted the producers of the film to show it here in the Philippines (to make the long story short, it would be tricky to bring it here, plus, I wouldn't have been able to oversee it).

A few days ago, thanks to a teammate of mine, I was finally able to see it. I really needed a big distraction after my Golden Retriever, Buddy, passed away suddenly (more on this in another post).

And then I decided, why not write about it? After all, it combines two of my passions: the love of watching films, and the passion for the sport.

In a nutshell, TRI is really a walkthrough of the crazy, wonderful, maddening, sport of triathlon. For those who aren't entirely familiar with it, it's a sport that involves swimming, biking, and running in succession. There are different distances and different kinds of races: from sprints (i.e. a 750m swim, 20K bike, 5K run), to standard/Olympic (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run), to a half-Ironman (1.9K swim, 90K bike, 21K run), all the way to a full Ironman (i.e. a 3.8K swim, 180K bike, 42K run). There are even longer distances, believe it or not. Regardless of the event one joins, however, the moment you step on that finish line after swimming, biking, and running in succession, you are considered a triathlete; especially after having trained for three different sports on different days, only to combine them all on race day.

I imagine that every triathlete will be able to relate with most, if not all, of the things depicted in the film. Each of these "noob" struggles were dramatized by the character of Natalie and her friend, Skylar, who were planning to train and join their first-ever race. 

However, there were also some side stories in the film; just as much as the film portrayed the sport of triathlon, it also revolved around cancer awareness, the struggles of cancer patients and their loved ones, and the triumph of cancer survivors.

I decided to write this review from two perspectives: that of someone who somewhat understands the art of filmmaking, coming from a somewhat related industry; and that of someone who actually does the sport.

From a "filmic" (as we sometimes say in our industry) point of view, I could see the attempt to paint a bigger picture of the sport by providing lots of human elements. By making the characters have their own struggles — and usually, they were related to cancer or some kind of life struggle — we are able to understand a bit more why they decided to "tri"; why they wanted to prove something to themselves.

It is very indie in its approach; the storytelling is slow-paced, giving you moments, glimpses. It tries to make the characters grow on you, and there are a number of them, perhaps so that you'll find someone in the film that you can associate with.

However, despite all the nuances associated with triathlon, despite the characters and their struggles, I found that was what lacking in this movie was some kind of intensity; the kind of intensity one gets from, say, watching the Olympics or a a recap of an Ironman World Championship (for example, see the 2015 coverage; I'm still waiting for the 2016 one to be shared on YouTube). That moment when the gun goes off and the swimmers dive into the water, the fast-paced shots in transition, the bursts of energy while overtaking on the bike or on the run, the drive and determination in each of the athlete, the crowd support; all the ingredients that make watching a triathlon event exciting and nerve-wracking.

While I understand that TRI was a movie not just about triathlon, but human triumph in the context of cancer and surviving, I still missed seeing grit and drive, purely born out of adrenaline and passion for the sport. It seemed at times that all of the characters came from a place of sadness and tragedy, when, in real life, triathlon isn't just about sadness and tragedy. It can equally be about finding balance in one's busy day, setting a PR, or just trying it out to see if one can actually do it.

I would've liked for the movie to have more moments of lightness and humor, as well as energy, dynamism, and excitement. I felt that the way the races was covered was pretty laidback (when, in real life, they're anything but laidback!), focusing more on drama and less on intensity and excitement.

However, I could understand that things unfolded the way they did because it was the director's intent to tell the story this way. I appreciated how we got to know each of the characters and root for them. I also want to commend the filmmakers for depicting triathlon in such a way that those unfamiliar with the sport would be able to understand it.

From a triathlete's point of view, however, TRI was really cool to watch. Finally, someone decided to make something about this amazing sport that a lot of people are starting to take interest in, and I'm so grateful for this.

I found myself chuckling and being able to relate to so many moments throughout the film: trying to ignore the 4:30 alarms, hitting the water at ungodly hours, learning to clip into and unclip out of bike pedals, choosing a bike, willing the body and its innards to fit into a compression suit, the camaraderie of being part of a team, hearing voices while running — the list goes on. I would say that the film did a good job of showing the journey of a triathlon first-timer, the endless struggles while racing, and the high of finishing one's first race.

I will definitely encourage those who aren't in the know about the sport to watch it, and hopefully, be inspired by it.

I hope that more movies about this sport (and other endurance sports for that matter) will be produced, because there are so many angles that one can look into. It's a dramatic sport, a life-changing one, and a terribly fascinating one.

Being able to create more films that help answer the question "WHY?" — especially for those who only know if from afar and think that triathletes are insane for getting into this sport — would be amazing.

(Photos used in this post were from the movie's Facebook page.)

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