Here at Life of a Triathlete we want to teach; that’s our mission; to decrease the time it takes for triathletes to reach their goals. Mindful of our philosophy, we also believe our blog can be used to encourage change (which is a form of teaching) in the sport we love; this is the reason for this current blog entry.
We would like to paint a scenario to begin this discussion. Imagine you are a professional female competing in an Ironman 70.3 race, one of the handful of extremely important events you have scheduled for your career and sponsors. You discover the pro women are starting the race at the same time as the professional men plus the women pros are just three minutes ahead of the usual large body of competing age groupers. As you emerge from the water, after being kicked in the head repeatedly by overzealous male pros, you head out on the bike leg with the intention of creating some distance between yourself and the other female leaders in the race. Being a strong swimmer, you are on the road before many of the pro males.
As you power through the field, the male pros you passed in the water begin to take their place beside you, and push four hundred watts to pass. They then settle in and drop back down to their lower race watts, effectively altering your race as you forced into that mode, too, unless ready to pass. Another scenario could be one of the pros is having a bad day or might not be as strong of a cyclist but is determined not to get ‘chicked’ (***see below). You try to pass and his pride sets in and he doesn’t let you, causing you to fall back and settle in again to less desirable watts.
As the race progresses, fast age grouper men are making their way through the field and proceed to get caught up in this game of cat and mouse. They too do not want to get ‘chicked’ and are constantly pulling ahead and dropping back; you have to adjust your race to follow the drafting rules and not be penalized. You now are racing against the entire field rather than the female pros. As you are trying to navigate through this minefield, officials come by and make the determination that you have done something wrong and penalize you for four minutes. Your race is blown, your sponsors will not get the exposure they were hoping for, and Kona points and prize money are lost, all because of individuals you are not even racing. You may or may not have been doing something illegal by the determination of the officials; the key is that you were even in this position to begin with. This is a dramatization to make a point.
The undeniable fact is start times directly change the race and have unintended consequences. For everyone, pro men, pro women, and age groupers…this has to be addressed so that all can have a true racing experience. Let’s look at an Ironman 70.3 event. The difference between the fastest pro men and pro women times are only a few minutes, consequently, starting the men at least five minutes before the women will result in less interaction between the two swims. Starting the pro women at least fifteen minutes before the age groupers will keep the groups separate during the swim, depending on the course. The swim is now mono y mono.
The greatest time gap between men and women on the triathlon course is the bike. Male pros should be far enough along the course that they will have limited or no contact with the females – they can concentrate on racing against each other. Pro women have enough of a head start to complete the majority of the bike leg without the threat of some fast male age groupers disrupting their race, again, depending on the course. If they do catch up, they are probably pushing more watts and can effectively pass.
Now let’s talk about change. Race start timing is not a new discussion for triathlon; there have been occasional irritated vents on social media and blogs that keep the subject alive but very little has been done. The usual extent is a heated exchange between competitors and officials or articles pointing out the problems in triathlon. Our question is ‘how do you enact change in the work environment, politics, policies, etc…?’ We know the answer is definitely not sporadic comments on social media. They truly accomplish very little except giving you the arena to ‘blow off steam’ which the next day, you often regret doing publicly.
What can work is a controlled, pin pointed campaign to target the individuals who have the power to make a difference. Here at Life of a Triathlete, we are doing our due diligence behind the scenes and working with the ‘powers that be’ to identify the problems and, hopefully, come to a desirable conclusion. Contrary to social media rants, the ‘powers that be’ do recognize the problems and work hard to collaborate with everyone involved in planning to solve problems. However, there is another angle we want people to consider because we do believe these are important topics that affect many triathletes.
We feel strongly that a petition/email/letter campaign to race directors would be valuable. We have good relationships with many race directors and respect the hard work, time, and resources they invest to pull off a safe, fun event. In reality, they are probably not monitoring social media rants as they are prepping for a very important race to bring exposure and money to their city – it is not an easy job. Sending a note for change will make them aware of the problems and challenge them to provide a response or action. Social media has its place but it is not solely how you can help make a concrete change.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The feedback we received from our last blog about drafting (http://tinyurl.com/chwgsom) was very intriguing as we discovered age groupers are just as passionate about keeping their side of the sport clean as the pros. A lot of you were troubled with the blatant disrespect of the rules so we are suggesting you do more than commenting on social media, where your thoughts are gone with the blink of an eye. Now is the time to use your voice to change your sport…to make it better. Age groupers are the bread and butter of triathlon so we encourage you to go through the proper channels, such as letters and petitions, for your cause.
Remember, there are a lot of moving parts with holding such a large event so officials normally cannot snap their fingers and make things happen instantly. They have to deal with the state, the city, limitations of the course, and be mindful of volunteers’ time. However, they may not be aware of their race limitations so our job is to make sure they are aware of powerful ideas to improve. There may be a very plausible reason for what is in place, they may be able to make a change, or when negotiating contracts with the city and state in the future, they will remember to build in additional time for the event for proper start times or some other adjustment to make the race better. Our job is to make them aware.
We constructed a sample letter triathletes and interested parties could use to help push a race start change. We have already voiced our concern for Ironman St. George 70.3 where start times were incredibly close. If you are looking for change for the better for this or any race in the future, use this concise format to voice your opinion! This letter is from the perspective of a professional female triathlete but the subject speaks for all triathletes; you can make tweaks to personalize.
In case you were wondering, Ironman officials had the same thinking as we did about the race start for Ironman St. George. They were already working with the St. George race committee on adjusting the start times. The result of these efforts is an improvement! The city stretched the times as much as they could to accommodate these logical requests and they have the female professionals starting five minutes after the male professionals and six minutes before the age groupers where before all the pros were starting three minutes before the age groupers! Now the topic is on the table, they hopefully will be able to negotiate more minutes for future races. The moral of this story is change can happen; it is not always us against them.
“I wondered why somebody didn’t do something – then I realized that I am somebody…”
The title above was taken from a plaque we read years ago and, in all honesty, didn’t play much attention to…until now. It fits perfectly with the theme of this blog…change and how does it happen? We now realize we are ‘all somebodies’ and each of us individually and together can bring about change.
LETTER TO RACE OFFICIALS
I have been informed of the swim start time for <race name>. I believe the timing is inadequate for a fair professional women’s race and could disrupt the men and age grouper race. In a half Ironman, pro women need to start at least fifteen minutes before the age groupers and five minutes after the professional males. In a full Ironman, we need to start at least thirty minutes before the age groupers and ten minutes after the professional males. I am a concerned professional female triathlete who does not want her race compromised because of the following problems a tight start will inevitably cause.
Problems With Close Race Starts:
*Male age group ‘packs’ can catch female pros early in the bike causing huge drafting problems
*Male age grouper ‘packs’ catch female pros early in the bike and disrupt their race, by passing and then immediately slowing down which may result in unnecessary penalties
*Slower swimming male pros disrupt the female pros on the bike leg; they may ride erratically because they do not want to get passed by women resulting in dangerous interactions and unnecessary penalties
*Starting alongside male professionals is a dangerous hazard for females in the water; they are not racing the men so they shouldn’t line up next to them.
Spread Race Start Benefits:
*Professional males and females will have the best chance to get the purest Ironman experience and race
*The racing will be safer with less interaction with athletes who are not competing with each other
*Drafting and penalties will be reduced significantly
*Officials can do their job more effectively
*Fifteen or thirty minutes will not disrupt the race and clean up. If the race does run long, the majority of the community and fans will be there to cheer on the participants which will only increase revenue for local businesses.
The purity of Ironman is to race without any help against your competition. With a few easy changes, the purity of the race can be saved for professional male and female athletes. I am asking for these simple adjustments to the race that were mentioned above, to maintain a safe and fair Ironman event. If you implement these few changes your race will truly considered a ‘great’ race and will be acknowledged for your insightfulness by all who participate and support Ironman events.
*** On a side note, getting ‘chicked’ is a real thing any female cyclist knows all too well. Riding outside on the weekend, you bike past a number of roadie cyclists who are determined never to get passed by a female. As they blow past you, many times in an unsafe manner, pushing huge amounts of watts, you just know they will tire out in another mile and inevitably they do. This is an example of the competitive male mind which always takes over and is a common occurrence in triathlons. This is not heresy, it is fact; humans are just wired this way.