Let's Make Triathlon Great (again)!
Updated: Jun 21, 2018
I was just thinking. . .wouldn't it be sweet if people did the right thing simply because it was the "right" thing to do? How we treat ourselves, our fellow competitors, the rules of our sport, and our environment speaks volumes of our character.
I'll start by making a confession. I am a rule follower. When I see people around me breaking the rules, it makes me uneasy. Being the youngest of five, I spent the majority of my early years expertly getting my siblings in trouble. . .primarily, my brother. Luckily, I've matured. I've learned to put my blinders on and maintain my focus on things I can control. Especially when I race.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in one of my favorite 70.3 events. . .Patriot Half. This race has received multiple "Best of" awards, and what I'm about to say is by no means a reflection of this particular race, but rather an observation of what seems to be happening throughout the triathlon scene. Disrespect and cheating.
This race began with a very civilized TT swim start. Every five seconds, two swimmers entered the water, side by side. I am a big fan of this new trend. While it might not be as exciting as the old "mass start" days, it absolutely lessons anxiety and makes for a safer environment. I had rounded the second turn buoy with very little swim drama when I accidentally touched the foot of a man in a green cap (who had started seven minutes before me and was swimming diagonally across me). He immediately went from a very passive two-beat kick to ferociously trying to kick my face in! Buddy. . .my right hand lightly brushed past your foot. It wasn't intentional. I don't enjoy touching the feet of strange men. Why would you feel the sudden need to HURT me? That's not a rational response. . . and it's not good sportsmanship. This isn't the first time this has happened to me. In fact, I had my ankle grabbed and pulled on at Lake Placid, I was pushed underwater at a turn buoy at IMWI, and I was called a "dick" for no apparent reason at IMMT. (Okay, admittedly, I couldn't just let that go without a retort.) Can't we all please try to get along?
Triathlon is an individual sport. Drafting is illegal. It's illegal whether there's a course official on your back . . .or not. We're probably all very familiar with the drafting debacle that transpired at Ironman Texas this past April. If not, just google it. On Saturday, I was happily chugging away, trying to maintain my watts and heart rate goals, when a thirty-something chirps, "Hey 222 (my race number), keep an eye on the chick behind you in the pink jersey. She's been hugging your wheel for the last twenty minutes!" Really?!? You want me to keep an eye on something happening behind me?? Clearly, you don't know my race history. On a crowded course, it's sometimes hard to get out of your own way, but I couldn't help but notice the intentional drafting that was happening all around me. Not only that, but USAT rules clearly state that, ". . .once passed, you must immediately exit the draft zone from the rear, before attempting to pass again." If you're passing me two seconds after I just passed you, ummm. . .I think you forgot to do something!
Blocking. It's when you're riding on the left side of the lane without passing anyone. This might seem harmless, but guess what. . .you're preventing other cyclists from attempting to make a pass. You've got fifteen seconds to figure it out (twenty in a sanctioned IM event). Don't make me say something. . .I'm trying hard to maintain some composure and grace. I just want to get by you, dammit!
Patriot is a two lap bike course. During my second loop, I couldn't get over all the gel wrappers and empty gatorade/water bottles strewn all over the roads. Littering is a violation of USAT rules. . .and it's bad for the environment. I'm guilty of once accidentally dropping my BASE electrolyte vial and not going back to pick it up. Although it happened nearly three years ago at Musselman on Barracks Road, I still feel a little irresponsible. Last weekend, I saw an athlete flinging a bottle off his bike in the same manner a smoker flicks a cigarette out his car window. Really?!? Do you suppose that was the difference between a podium finish and a new PR?
One last word about the bike leg. Please look behind you quickly before you decide to release your body fluids. Enough said. . .that's just a matter of civility.
Last October I had the privilege of participating in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii for the third time. One would hope we'd see a completely different caliber of athletes and honesty. I was taken by complete surprise when, in the final 10k of the run down the Queen K (in the pitch dark), I was running along side one of my age group competitors who was being escorted by a cyclist that was passing her a bottle. They were chatting and she wasn't doing well. I felt some immediate sympathy UNTIL I witnessed her suddenly finding her second wind and beating me to the finish line. I think that's called "outside assistance" but . . .whatever.
As an athlete and coach, I'm sometimes baffled at the lengths people will go to in an effort to win. From doping (the ultimate unpardonable sin), to course cutting, to letting the air out of a competitor's tires. How can one stand on a podium or accept a Kona slot knowing they haven't earned it fairly?
I love triathlon. I love the people I've met through this sport. I acknowledge that most triathletes are honest, polite, type A "rule followers" and that I've chosen to highlight the dark side of our competitive drive.
Let's do this. . .let's agree that, for most of us, this is a fun hobby that helps us to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle. Let's all be part of a triathlon movement that spreads love, promotes honesty, and encourages acceptance. It starts with each of us. Let's hold on to our trash and try not to overreact when someone touches our toes. Let's avoid the temptation to do what's easy, and instead, do what's right. . .whether we hear a motorcycle behind us or not. Let's shake hands with our fiercest competitors. Let's thank our volunteers and race organizers. Let's try to look happy! Let's have fun! Let's make triathlon GREAT again!