Last week I made an honest attempt to defend those developing pro athletes who train every bit as hard as the champions. They have the right not only of our respect, but for the sport’s leaders to provide a pathway for a sustainable career that will benefit both sides.
That aside, the pros do need a sharp reality check – as their predicament is largely self inflicted.
There is still a way to make a small living in triathlon if one is prepared to be disciplined in one’s training and racing schedule.
With the proliferation of new races worldwide – I find it quite concerning the amount of underperforming newcomers who ask about coaching, but then talk about sponsors and fulfilling a travel schedule that looks like a Contiki tour so they can ‘get to Kona’.
That’s all before the standard ‘I can’t afford to get a proper coach’ – despite the coach having a proven track record of delivering exactly what their goals are.
Many are disappointed when instead of producing a magic wand, I suggest they focus on improving their performance to be good enough to earn a pay cheque in the first place. Living out of a suitcase in an airline transit area, competing at races that you are not good enough to be at is the worst possible way to move forward if one’s goals are to be good.
If you have serious flaws in one or two of the triathlon disciplines – ‘joining the circuit’ for 12 months will leave you right back where you started. No money and no improvement.
Sarah Crowley justly rewarded for a long term, professional approach to the sport. Photo: Korupt Vision
Over the past 12 months we have seen the meteoric rise up the professional ladder of Sarah Crowley. Sarah left a well paid corporate job to follow her dream – and I’m proud to say followed a different path to the majority of the inquiries we deal with.
Realising rather quickly that being ‘good’ was more important than the holiday circuit, she got an excellent coach and paid not to go to races but training camps to improve her weaknesses.
A former solid runner at ITU level, she engaged her coach Cam (Cam Watt) who is a bike expert, and they also flew to Jeju, South Korea for swim focussed training. For a month she trained with Daniela Ryf to see how the very best worked.
With improving performances she had the opportunity to get sponsored products – but instead followed her coach’s advice:
“Do not take on inferior products – it will cost you performance and money!”
Losing two minutes over 180km because you’re endorsing slower equipment can be the difference between a win or a fourth. Sarah again wanted what is best for performance. Not to be able to say ‘I have a sponsor’!
Such long term thinking has paid off very handsomely. She is now the current holder of the Ironman 70.3 Middle East, Ironman Asia Pacific and Ironman European regional Championships. For those who were at Sarah’s level two years ago, the improvement is not luck.
Taking The Plunge
It is not to say everyone can make the huge leap she has, but I can identify many others who with professional attitudes have made the step from very good age groupers to real “pros”.
The greatest of them is the legend called, Chrissie Wellington. She took a one week trial with yours truly and then gambled her savings on coaching and camps that would make her the best she could be. She was going to the top or back to a ‘real job’. No grey area.
Similarly, last weekend James Cunnama destroyed the field at IM Hamburg. Writing this I remember James contacting me some 10 years ago and asking what is the best way to become a “real” pro. He was advised to get on a plane and come to camp, so he could get the best possible judgement. Like the others he made the difficult transition with two training oriented seasons – and since then has had eight years career professional athlete with more to come.
For those considering making the jump, please understand it is totally different when you’re racing for a pay check to pay the bills each month. The pressure of racing without a safety net is not for everyone. Though I’m happy to give some free advice for those looking to make the transition from good amateur to hard bitten pro.
1) It takes time. I ask people joining Trisutto for three seasons to be the best they can be. If you come into the pro ranks with the ‘I’ll give it one year’ mindset I can help you right now.
Stick to your day job.
2) Invest in quality coaching and in training to improve and develop all three disciplines. Weaknesses that you can get away with as a good amateur will be brutally exploited when you run into the real thing.
3) Pick races that you can access easily and economically. Ensure after a race you are always able to return to base and get on with the most important agenda – training to make you better.
A professional, long term approach will get you to where you want to go much faster than you’d think.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Lanzarote, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen races with less than stacked fields. It’s drawn criticism and has moved us back to a couple of old hobby horse discussions:
Equal numbers for men and women at Kona, and how good does a pro have to be to be deserving of pay?
It’s been discussed many times and my opinion hasn’t changed from what I advised the former CEO Lew Friedland 17 years ago at Ironman Zurich.
Make the pros equal. Invite 25 men and women – all of whom are paid for qualifying for the World Championship. Have 5 wild cards to use at your discretion for injuries or mitigating circumstances for top athletes.
Prize money for the professionals to begin at 20. Split the pro race. Men start at the current times, women later at noon so they get a fair race and to keeps interest through the day.
It would create a much more competitive field and exciting race, but there’s no will to do that because of the second problem:
Pro purses at races.
Ironman’s current policy seems to be pretty clear on this – ‘We don’t want them’ – and are pursuing a rather effective strategy of watering the prize pool to the point where the ‘professional fields’ are so diluted in most races that they are destined to die a natural death.
It is not the correct strategy. It kills the development of the next champions and undermines the very great aspect of our sport where amateurs can compete next to the sport’s best.
The frustration should not be directed at those athletes doing their best.
You are not going to see deep pro fields while ever the prize money is so small that after taking into account travel and accommodation expenses – to place second or third means you effectively lose money. And that’s with the risk of a Jan Frodeno or Daniela Ryf sweeping down on your race and making a podium your best possible outcome.
There needs to be a system in place, which provides athletes – at their level – the opportunity and financial incentive to work their way up.
- Tier 1 – Kona Championship
- Tier 2 – 4 Major Championships
- Tier 3 – 10 Regional races
- Tier 4 – Pro race series
To get into the higher tiered races with higher prize money races would require qualification from a tier lower.
This way an up and coming pro would not run into an Angry Bird or Mirinda Carfrae as they develop up the ranks. It would also give the pros a pathway to success and would allow not just the Top 10 in the world a way to earn a living, but the top 50.
Why no implementation? Because there is no will.
One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that phasing the pros out all together is on the agenda.
Ironman is a company valued at close to $1 billion dollars, but is too cheap to spend $10 million a year on a prize pool for the pro ranks? No, it is clear they are not part of a larger strategy.
In the meantime it is not fair or fun to watch a developing pro get beaten up by Frodeno or Brownlee by 20 minutes. They shouldn’t be there racing those guys in the first place.
Similarly, in answer to the criticism of ‘these guys are not good enough! They are beaten by age groupers!’ you can only shake your head and laugh. Some ‘age group’ athletes are training 40 hours a week and are between 25 and 40 years-old. They race age group for a reason – they can’t handle the heat of being a pro.
So let’s stick to the main problem for now. The current pros do not need a boot. They need a hand and a sustainable pathway so that they can become great athletes over a period of time – without relying on their parents’ gold card.
Following on from our previous article on motivation we had a lot of message and feedback from athletes identifying themselves as being in slump.
And the group with the most inquiries asking how they can get their motivation levels back?
Age Group Kona Qualifiers.
I kid you not. It sounds ridiculous that after all the hard work, investment and planning to achieve their qualification, you find many with their motivation going missing a few months out. How is this possible?
It is totally normal to go into a psychological low after after obtaining a goal one has planned for years trying to achieve. The euphoria post-race in Ironman typically lasts about 72 hours – when we are mentally on a high, but the body is physically tired. As the mental buzz wears off to be more closely aligned with how our body feels, there is often an extreme feeling of emptiness.
There is no solution. Over 30 years I’ve had 20+ world champions go through the exact same thing. After achieving major milestones high performance athletes are warned of the oncoming wave of felling like:
‘I’m done now’.
Why? Because they are done.
And recognizing this is the key to overcoming it. Once you have attained a goal you must compartmentalise it and say ‘that is done’. I’ll now start something new.
Too many age group athletes having achieved their goal of ‘making it’ and qualifying to the Big Island, try to mentally ride their post-race achievement high to the race. Instead they are dumped into mental funk hole that is so deep they can’t see a way out of it.
To these people my advice is this:
Stop, recalibrate, begin a new adventure. Even now it is not too late.
Draw a line under what you have done, give yourself a little pat on the back and take this weekend easy to relax. View Monday as the first day of getting mentally and physically back on the job.
The good news is that despite hype, the reality is that Kona on a good day is one of the easier races on the circuit. It’s why so many Europeans go there and have great first time races. Because while everyone else are suffering from Kona-itis, they play the conditions and the course for the reality.
So if you have already qualified for Kona – you have nothing much to worry about, but much to look forward to. Bring it on.
Life Gets In The Way
We also have a second group of Kona qualifiers suffering the qualification blues:
Those that since the time of qualifying have had life circumstances change which have made training difficult.
I’ve had to take on a new job which has given me no time …
Kids and I are moving house in the middle of August! …
I’ve got an injury, but I’ve already booked the flight and hotel so won’t be at my best …
My advice for those who have lost motivation because of any of the above ‘catastrophes’ is less sympathetic. It’s time again for bathroom mirror treatment:
Give yourself a good slap.
You’re off to one of the most beautiful places in the world, participating in one of sport’s most unique events that you worked your ring off to get to. The last time I checked the prizes for age groupers were not million dollar cheques, but sunburn and a finisher’s medal.
Wake up! You have proven you can make the distance; it might not be your fastest race, but it may be one of the best experiences of your lifetime. Understand and embrace your circumstance. Relax, enjoy and appreciate how lucky you are.
If looking for a motivational boost, join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Lanzarote, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
Ironman distance racing is ultimately about energy management. How you control and distribute your effort throughout the day is essential to a good finish. The ironman bike leg plays a crucial component to this end, as it normally represents the bulk of one’s total race time. Regrettably many still race the bike leg as if nothing were to follow, either caught up in the excitement of the day or on the quest for that new bike split PB. Yet the success of the subsequent run (assuming adequate training preparation) is very much predicated on what you do on the bike, from energy expenditure (pacing) to energy intake (feeding).
Here are three simple suggestions to help prepare your bike leg to have a positive impact on your run.
Technique – Practice Feeding
I will take a road less travelled. No talk about goal TSS, IF, cadence, peddling foot motion or about ideal head, back, hand position etc. Instead, a crucial fundamental – practicing the mechanics of getting nutrition from its storage place on the bike, or on your person, into you while staying comfortably in control of your bike.
This may sound presumptuous to many but forgive me. There is reason. I have personally encountered/witnessed individuals who were committed to an IM, kitted with slick race bikes, yet (in training) refused – literally – to reach for a water bottle (from a seated position let alone from the aero position) unless at a full stop, one leg on terra firma. All will agree that feeding is imperative in ironman racing. It is the 4th discipline. However, all the best nutritional advice and formulations are for naught if it remains affixed to the bike frame by T2.
It all starts with the set up – using kit or makeshift solutions that suit your comfort and ability/experience level. It is all fine and dandy that the latest trendy slick water bottle mount between the aerobars will save you 45s to 1min over 40k (in a wind tunnel). It is of little value to you aerodynamically in an ironman if every time you have to drink you need to break position by sitting up or you lose directional control of the bike, because holding course with one forearm is precarious for you. In this instance, perhaps using a refillable aero bottle may be more suitable. Yes the wind tunnel numbers may show +0.0001g more aero drag on that straw than the former set up. But if it helps you minimize movement on the bike while drinking then you will feel more comfortable to sip regularly whilst holding a better aero position for longer (win-win). And don’t feel belittled…. remember our World Champ…
Chrissie in Kona
Therefore comfort of access is crucial. If you are apprehensive to reach for items the more likely you will not eat or drink sufficiently. If you have a seat mounted cage, practice reaching back extracting and returning while keeping your eyes on the road. If you have a refillable bottle between the bars, practice refilling from another bottle on the fly. Likewise, practice ripping off gels taped to the top tube, reaching into your top tube food box or your jersey back pocket using either hand. Being ambidextrous is also advantageous. Should you race in a country where they drive on the opposite side of what you are accustomed to back home, the aid stations will likely be on that “new’ side. [Tip – practice your feeding mechanics while riding the turbo as well instead of having a buffet table alongside.]
So, whatever set up you chose for hydration and nutrition, you must practice using it as you would on race day. Learn to reach for things, and place them back on the move. If you are reluctant to do so, you may very well miss crucial feeding and begin accumulating a potentially unrecoverable energy debt before starting the run.
Training – Holding Race Pace Under Fatigue
Everybody is a hero coming out of T1. Some even act like it’s a BMX race start Don’t believe me? Go to Kona and observe the sprinting and jostling of some age groupers not even 50m up the hill from the King K hotel – utter lunacy! What matters is how you can sustain your race effort on the back half, to one-third of the course. This is where the real (smart) heroes shine.
In practical training terms this means first ingraining the necessary restraint at the outset of your long rides that will target race pace. No sense in beaming about your watts for the first 50k only to fizzle and falter by 80 km. Second, include progressively, longer continuous segments at target race pace effort at the back end of long rides when you are fatigued. These could start at 30 minutes and progress to 2 hours at the tail end of a 3 – 4.5hour ride. Don’t be afraid to try. Remember this is ironman race pace, not 40km time-trial pace.
Daniela has perfected the art of race pacing
The second component to these race-pace segments is cerebral – applying a race mindset, making tactical decisions as you would on race day. This will further amplify the value of such race-pace segments especially when facing undulating terrain with a tailwind. It will likely be difficult to hold a target power number. But you can still put out a “race effort” by doing the right things – i.e. holding tight aero and speed on descents, pushing a touch harder up a grade or into a momentary head/cross wind, deciding when to fuel based on terrain ahead and time etc. That is still relevant race-pace specific training.
Intervals are great for developing your race-pace. Long continuous segments will really train your physical and mental stamina and confidence to perform when tired, including making the right tactical decisions. The more you practice this in different conditions, the better positioned you will be come the run.
Race Preparation – Building Race Specific Stamina
Every ironman course is 180km (+/-), yet each one has its challenges – a climbing course is daunting for many, while holding aero position for hours on a flat course is unbearable for some. Barring an opportunity to ride the course in vivo, see it on a map and study the profile provided by the race or using Google Earth, Map My Ride or such. Appreciate, understand and then train to task…for the benefit of the subsequent run as well.
To highlight, consider Ironman Whistler. The course features approximately 2000m of cumulative climbing. There are about 20km’s of leg sapping, undulating terrain before the first major climb ~12km with 8-10% pitches thrown in. The last ~35km back to T2 is pretty much a sustained climb. In between there are lots of high-speed descents.
Obviously, climbing strength and descending skills should be incorporated into one’s bike training regime. With respect to race specific preparation within the last ~12 weeks, it would be beneficial to choreograph rides that accumulate a similar total elevation gain (or more) and periodically include a long sustained climbing effort on the back end, and then doing so before a transition run. This will achieve at least two things.
- You will need to diligently work your effort and fuel management to best position yourself energetically for the run. This may not be as straightforward as when riding a flat course.
- It will accustom your body to run with substantial climbing fatigue in it, which for some may be quite difficult as compared to a flatter course.
Likewise, if a course happens to have a lot of corners, you would want to plan rides that regularly disrupt your rhythm with frequent direction changes. Cumulatively this will have another unique effect on your disposition before the run.
Whatever the course you chose, study it, know it, train for it.
Incorporate these three tips into your ironman bike preparation to ensure you keep the “fuel flow” going, to remain on task as fatigue sets in and to bolster your confidence in handling the challenges of your chosen course. Doing so will increase the chances of a successful run.
Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.
Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July.
Labelling age group athletes ‘cheats’ and ‘people without morals’ overlooks the real problem.
I will start with a disclaimer that the opinions and comments expressed in this blog are mine and not those of Trisutto, our coaches or athletes.
I would also like to explain my ‘relationship’ with Ironman racing. I have been racing IM and 70.3 for more than 10 years. I have completed 25 Ironmans and 40 something 70.3 races. This was my 6th consecutive Kona. I love the sport, it is my hobby, lifestyle and escape from the daily stress at work. I’m passionate about it. I also coach a small number of athletes, most of whom will race events organised by Ironman next year, with some having a realistic chance to qualify for Kona. I would like them to have best possible experience during their races and be able to show what they have achieved through hard training.
I want the best for our sport and for Ironman to continue being as successful organisation as it also allows us to have the great experience of racing long distance. However, in order to deliver best product some things need to change as the format of a number of races, including Kona, effectively have these events ‘semi-drafting’ at best.
Finally, I will also admit that until not so long ago I was of a very strong view that drafting is only caused by athletes who choose to cheat in races. That it was only an athlete’s choice to ride fair or not and this opinion was primarily based on my experience from races having quite hard bike courses – like Ironman UK, Wales or South Africa.
However, following Kona 2016 and discussions with fellow athletes, coaches and people who have a deep understanding of bike race dynamics I understood that riding in a pack is now actually unavoidable in many races. The responsibility for a fair race lies not only with athletes but also the race organisers who design the courses and format of the race.
Men’s AG Race in Kona
I, along with many others, were very disappointed and angry during the race because, despite of what people may say, it was not possible to have an individual race. It got even worse after the race due to a number of comments on social media accusing a large number of male age groupers for blatant drafting. Athletes riding in packs were called all sort of things (cheats, drafters, people without morals are just a few examples); often by people working in the triathlon industry, who should but not always (similarly to me before) understand dynamics of races and courses.
These people ‘without morals’ and ‘cheats’ are your customers. How would you feel if you were called this way if you were being overtaken and caught in a picture in the middle of a pack?
Example of media posts by people from the triathlon industry include:
In Germany we call this: Cycling Tour Ride – not a World Championship.
Bad to see so many age grouper athletes without any morals; The organisation should react with start waves and bigger penalty tents!… Not only for pro-athletes;
IM Kona is a joke…..
We would love to put a secret container next to the road and film cheating age groupers and then present it at the finish line: ‘There is no finisher medal or T Shirt for you… Mr Cheater!’
I waited few weeks for the emotions to settle, waiting for more comments, maybe someone writing something less accusing about this situation, but I have not found anything comprehensive so far (even Brett Sutton’s blog which only touched very lightly on this issue).
There was also a heated discussion agreeing with my conclusion on Slowtwitch where actually they show that the problem exists in a number of races:
Recent Ironman events at Kona, Brazil, Cozumel, Arizona, Melbourne, Florida…
Thanks to Jonathan Caron for compiling them:
I decided to write a cold analysis of the problem, rather than an emotional one.
What was happening on the bike course, my perspective:
Everyone could see the packs riding on the course. There must have been as big as 30-40 riders, maybe more. Often athletes were riding 3 or 4 wide and the space between the packs, if there was any, was very small not allowing packs to spread as there was not enough space on the road. Racing Kona since 2011 it has got worse, but I have not experienced anything even remotely close to what I have experienced this year. Maybe because I exited the swim in 1:05 (instead my usual 1:10 or 1:15).
Looking at the pictures and what I could see on the course 100s of male AG athletes should have received a drafting penalty or got disqualified as not many could actually ride following the rules. Someone made a comment on Facebook: ‘the first 25 guys were ‘clean’ the rest were ‘cheats’. Really? Everyone else are cheats? Or is the real problem somewhere else; maybe only those top 25 very fast swimmers/bikers had enough space to race?
There were no marshals on the course around the packs, they started appearing on the climb to Hawi often giving penalties for slow overtaking into head wind to people who were riding 2 aside. However, I have seen no marshals at all when all those pictures were taken during first 90 or 100km. I assume marshals were with Pros or at the back where they had space to ride their motorbikes safely.
There were 2 or 3 marshals’ motorbikes parked next to Hawi penalty tent and when I ask them why they are not doing anything they replied: ‘It is too dangerous, the packs are too big’…
I was also caught in the middle of all of this but it was really impossible to ride ‘clean’. I tried to go to the front when there was a gap, then I would be caught by a pack, then you are in the middle of the pack, I tried to find some space dropping back only to see that there was absolutely no space as more people were coming from behind pulled by stronger cyclists. I looked back at the top of one of the hills and I could not see the end of the line of athletes riding 2 or 3 side by side so dropping back was not an option. I could have stopped and waited on the side of the road for 10 minutes, but should we train hard and come to Kona to experience this?
I agree that there are a small number of athletes who draft bluntly and intentionally, but most of people I spoke with during and after the race wanted to be able to ride legally and they have qualified riding legally. Chris McCormack summarised it very well in his Facebook post.
Why do we have this problem?
There is now not enough space on the road to accommodate so many strong athletes. Either the format of the race needs to change or the number of competitors should be significantly smaller if the race continues as a mass start event.
The AG athletes are getting faster, they train more, harder, smarter, and are coming from other sports into Ironman. In order to qualify for Kona one needs to be able swim around 60min or faster and ride around 5 hours on a course of an average difficulty. This applies to pretty much all male age groups between 18 and 55. This means that all those competitors exit the water in Kona around the same time and ride at a very similar speed so if there is no space for them to spread out a pack will form. It is not such a big problem in qualifying races as maybe there will be up to 100 people being able to swim and ride that fast, while in Kona there are probably closer to 1,000 – though some races are known for drafting (e.g. type in google ‘IM Barcelona drafting’ and go to Images tab). In a number of other races there are also rolling starts so people spread over 20-30min even before they enter the water, then the marshals also have space to monitor what is happening on the course and give penalties to those cheating.
To illustrate the scale of the issue I’ll give another comparison – pretty much all Pro Men exited water within 5 or 6 minutes. In the AG race over 350 male athletes exited between 60 and 65 minutes – can you imagine what would be happening in the Pro race if there were 350 Pros in it? To make it worse close to 270 AG men swum between 55 and 60 minutes and 285 between 65 and 70 minutes. If you add those 100 who swum sub 55, there are 1000 athletes exiting water within 15 minutes!
The number of athletes racing Kona has been increasing slowly over last years with approximately 2,300 racing this year and with the addition of 70.3 Kona qualifying races in China we should expect that there will be more people on the start line in 2017.
Also the ocean was relatively friendly this year and the swim times were faster. This allowed people who otherwise may have swum 5-10 min slower to exit the water towards the front. As mentioned before there were no marshals on the first half of the course to prevent packs from forming, even if they were there they would not be able to do anything.
Most importantly the mass start format is not appropriate anymore for this race due to the the level and the number of the competitors. It is a Championship race and pretty much everybody is fast here.
By the Numbers
Being an accountant I thought should be able to illustrate my assumption that there was not enough space on the road numerically. I came up with a simple analysis trying to prove that it is impossible for top AG man to ride within the rules – see the table above.
We had ca. 350 athletes exiting the swim within 5 min with the swim time 60-65min. In order to ride legal 12 metres apart (front to front or 6 bike lengths or 10m + a bike) they would need over 4.2km of the road to spread into one long legal line. Travelling at 36kmph 4.2km takes over 7 minutes but they have exited the swim within 5min so already 40% of this group don’t have the time/space to ride legally. Also people swimming between 55 and 60min and 65-70 don’t have enough space as they need more than 5 minutes to cover distance required to ride legally. If people go slower they will need more time so riding slower actually makes the situation even worse.
What about overtaking? Faster athletes may attempt to continuously overtake those traveling at 36k. In order to overtake 4.2km line of athletes riding at 36kmph in one hour the overtaking athlete needs to go 4.2kmph faster – over 40kmph and it would take them 40km to get to the front, not many Pros average 40kmph and over 40k they would be riding parallel to someone else. More realistically a faster cyclist going at 38kmph (also not many of those) would need 2 hours or 76km to overtake such a line! If people were riding side by side 4.2 line becomes two 2.1k lines but is it realistic for 350 people ride at slightly different speed orderly side by side?
Who is affected by the situation?
It is not only problem for the athletes and the organisers. It is a WTC business decision to have so many people but there is a risk associated with it, we don’t come to Kona to ride in a leisurely pack. I come to Kona to test myself in an individual race and I would like to be able to do so.
The coaches should take the note, your athletes train to race individually and some of them will be negatively affected by the drafting problem as they will finish in a much worse position than they would otherwise. Especially if they are not great runners.
The equipment manufacturers are next. All the benefits of aero helmets, super-bikes, bearings, aero clothing mean nothing if you are not riding individually but in a pack. This problem was best summarised by one of the pros who wrote a following message on Facebook:
If I ever go to Kona again as an age grouper, I think I can leave my aero helmet at home, save the trouble and money for bike transport and rent a road bike…
What is also important is the fairness of the competition, the spirit of sport. I think few people might have been ‘robbed’ from the podium and the umeke went to someone else. If a strong swim—cyclist rode solo all the distance it is likely that he/she was outrun by a good runner who was forced to ride in a pack. I’m sure most of us would like to know that our champions are the strongest triathletes not fastest runners.
This year for the first time I started asking myself questions I thought I would never ask: Do I need to race Kona again? Is Kona a Championship course or maybe there are other locations where the race would be more fair? The answer to those questions is still yes – I love Kona and I would like to come back here and I think it is a magical location, however, I would not like to come back next year to be forced to ride in a pack and be called a ‘cheat without morals.’
Happy training and racing to everyone and I hope to see you out there in a genuinely non-drafting race.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
Ironman World Championship Podium 2016.
I was recently forwarded an article Dear Ironman – Is Equal Coverage Too Much to Ask? written by Sara Gross. In it she makes some insightful commentary as to the state of current Ironman World Championship coverage and some practical suggestions for improvement:
‘A full 43% of the coverage was dedicated to the men’s race, while only 27% focused on the women. (The other 30% was split screen or advertising.)’
‘The Ironman coverage still comes across as a homogenous group talking amongst themselves… If Ironman is truly looking for 50% female participation as they claim to be, I would suggest that a female commentator would help women feel like Ironman is an inclusive space and not a middle-aged white man’s club.’
These are valid points and for Ironman should be relatively easy to implement.
However, while we’re of course happy to see people taking an analytical approach to areas that make the sport better, to me the above criticisms on the ‘Ironman World Championships’ remain frustrating in that they overlook the larger problem in the first place:
There is no real ‘World Championship’.
Kona is not a real female ‘World Championship’ by any objective analysis and shouldn’t be marketing itself as so.
Firstly, women do not compete in their own event. Secondly, because of the structure of the race you have a situation where men often affect the outcome of the women’s race. Both points would be considered unacceptable for most legitimate sporting championships. The women’s Olympic Marathon doesn’t begin just minutes before a pack of amateur male athletes capable of running the same speeds or faster starts just behind them. That would be ridiculous.
And no, this is not about bashing Ironman.
Kona is a very important race and we’re very proud that our athletes do well at it. But followers of the sport need to stop deluding themselves that Ironman has any commitment towards creating the best conditions for a legitimate sporting ‘World Championship’. Their job is in creating the most profitable business, which is not the same thing.
Age group men pass professional females on the bike. There are always fast age group men running next to pro women on the final discipline. There is actually no rule for pulling slow male professionals off the course if they are caught by the female pros. This would be ‘unfair’ to the professional men – despite it being alright to do it to the amateurs for logistical expedience.
So we have a situation at the ‘World Championships’ where the leading women can receive drafting penalties for catching the professional men. I know it didn’t happen this year – but the fact that it could is unacceptable on its own. Caroline Steffen not too long ago received a drafting penalty while leading the women’s World Championship, and the conditions that made that possible are yet to be addressed.
50 women to Kona?
Women still do not have parity of championship numbers with the men. Why? Technical or logistical impossibility? Of course not. It’s a power play taken straight from the textbook for managing any corporate monolith:
‘We don’t need to listen to you at all – there’s no competition and you’re still going to come.’
Nor is it a structural problem that affects only the women.
Let’s turn our attention to the Age Group ‘World Championship’ for the men.
What’s the biggest blight that will engulf this race in the not too distant future if it has not already?
2016 World Championships. Not fair to the competitors. Photo: Trizone
This is supposed to be a non-drafting race, but because of the size of numbers never envisioned 20 years ago we now see conga lines of age group men putting in unheard of splits. And because of an archaic drafting rule the athletes can be now be spread in a giant line over kilometres. If you’re an athlete exiting the swim at the back of this pack you then have to decide whether to drive forward past a group of 40 athletes (nearly impossible) or sit back to not get a penalty! Putting honest athletes in a position where they can be called ‘cheats’ for formats outside their control is the worst possible scenario.
Or, when we have a situation where the guys at the front are doing all the work and the athletes at the back hear the motorbikes coming behind them and sprint like hell to pass some poor workhorse who has been towing everyone around field – and then he gets the penalty!
But no-one wants to talk about changing that. Because the numbers keep growing and the figures look good. That’s a fine short term strategy for those running a business with short term goals. But we shouldn’t be promoting a ‘Championship’ under non-championship conditions. It leaves the participants feeling shortchanged.
As Sara points out – increase the Kona coverage for women, employ a full-time female commentator. It’s an easy win.
But let’s also keep our eye on the ball. The bigger obstacle for long term equal participation in the sport is sending professional female athletes with no wetsuits 5 minutes ahead of a horde of fast age group men in wetsuits, so they can be bashed up in the swim and then have their bike and run legs compromised by large packs.
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