Photo by Talbot Cox

‘If We Were Riding’ is a weekly triathlon-ish newsletter written by Kelly O’Mara and produced by Live Feisty MediaSubscribe to get it in your inbox every Wednesday morning. You can also read past issues. This episode is from April 4, 2018.

Who are triathletes?

The above question and graph are from the comprehensive membership survey USA Triathlon conducted in 2016. I’m not sure what your approach to meat says about you as a triathlete, but maybe it says something. Because the fairly in-depth survey was done in an effort to try to understand who exactly triathletes are anyway.

If, on average, “triathletes” did 3.4 triathlons per year (as it says in the survey), then how many triathlons are required to qualify you as a triathlete? What about the things you do the other 352 days of the year?

If triathlon spending totals $2.8 billion annually, then what counts as spending on triathlon? Is it only triathlon races and TT bikes? What about running shoes from running stores, and gym memberships even when you’re in the off-season? There are 95% of us (again, per the survey, but also per common sense) who do non-triathlon events during the year. I don’t think that means we’re not triathletes while we’re Spartan Race-ing.

I was looking at all of this because I’ve been working on a story about the challenges triathlon retail (and endurance sports overall) are struggling with, and what can be done about solving those problems. And I don’t have a solid answer yet, but I do think there’s something to be learned in how we’re defining triathlon and triathletes. If you run, you’re a runner. If you _____, you’re a triathlete?

Let’s talk about Gwen

I know, I know. I’ve been skeptical about Gwen Jorgensen’s chances of going from triathlon gold medalist to marathon gold medalist. And, honestly, my skepticism isn’t without reason. She said, herself, in Sports Illustrated this week: “If someone else showed me my PRs on paper and said this person wants to win Olympic gold, I’d probably laugh just like you. I’d say ‘Uh..Yeah. Good luck!’ I haven’t really proven anyone else’s belief, and until I go out there and perform, no one should go out there and believe me. That’s what my goal is. That’s what I believe I can do.”

She’s too smart and self-aware to be able to ignore the reality of her times and the competition out there. But if you’re the best, you still shoot for being the best. I get that. What I wonder is what she really tells herself, deep down.

The Sports Illustrated story gets into a lot of those details; it’s worth a read. And her Youtube channel released new episodes covering the 10,000m race she ran (and won!) at Stanford this past weekend in 31:55. Obviously, she’ll need to run faster eventually, but you run what you have to run to win. It also marked her debut finally officially joining the Bowerman Track Club with Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg. So. We’ll see. I was skeptical. Now, at least, I’m pretty curious too.

After popping one out

One of the physical challenges Gwen clearly is working through is getting back to full-speed post giving birth. In that Sports Illustrated article, she talks about getting back to running post-birth and the importance of pelvic floor PT (which I have been hearing more and more about).

It used to be that no one knew anything, like really for real, about getting back to top-level sports post-birth. This was partially a product of male doctors and medical knowledge, and partially because there just weren’t that many people who had tried it. When I wrote a story four years ago about women running faster after popping one out, the overwhelming thing I took away was: Every elite athlete was sort of figuring it out on her own.

So it’s a big deal that the IOC is actually studying the topic now and coming up with actual recommendations (not just vague suggestions from doctors about ‘taking it easy’). And with so many new moms getting back to racing pro triathlon this year, I think we’re going to see a lot of impressive performances and learn a lot about the process.

Non-competitive doping?

Two age-group athletes got busted for doping this week: Nicholas Gough for EPO and Julie Rosiek for an anabolic steroid she didn’t have a therapeutic use exemption for. My understanding, and correct me if I’m wrong, is both of these were out-of-competition, which means that someone had to report or flag them as suspicious, since they’re age-groupers. My understanding is also that Gough is a top age-group athlete and has qualified for Kona, but that Rosiek’s results are more middle-of-the-pack.

There are very, very good arguments out there for busting middle-of-the-pack age-groupers. Everyone deserves fair sport. A lax attitude on cheating can trickle down (or up, in this case) and permeate the sport. And, ultimately, what we really care about is people’s health, and it is, in some ways, the age-groupers abusing testosterone who we should potentially be most concerned about.

But, there is also an argument out there that we could have a “recreational” category for age-group athletes allowing them to use some banned substances for health or doctor-prescribed reasons. Kind of like how you’re allowed to wear a wetsuit in non-wetsuit races but then you’re disqualified from awards. Except not exactly like that at all. (Here’s a totally satirical article explaining the concept.) I’m not sure how triathlon could do this, while still being overseen by USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency, but it is definitely an idea being floated. What do we think of a non-competitive category that would allow some banned substances for age-group athletes?

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