Text by Kelly O’Mara 

‘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 May 23, 2018.

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In the last week at least two top-level pros told me in passing that they were nursing injuries—crossing their fingers they’d be able to race despite not having run in weeks. It’s just that time of year: Friends are canceling race plans because of pulled muscles and freak stress fractures, and everyone seems to be hopping from fancy doctor to fancy doctor, hoping for a magic cure. (I’m no exception, with a sudden calf strain sending me ping-ponging from ice baths to acupuncture.) When you start to think about it, it’s a little amazing we aren’t all crippled all the time. At least my swimming’s getting faster, and I’m riding a lot instead right now.

Where do pro triathletes go when they retire?

Ironman and 70.3 World Champion Leanda Cave announced her retirement this week. (pictured above) She’s the most recent, and the most high-profile, in a string of retirement announcements over the off-season and pre-season.

So, what happens to all these athletes when they’re done racing?

Most of them transition to something else within the sport—working for a retailer or manufacturer, coaching, doing talks and management and consulting, maybe write a book or run a team if they’re really popular. Leanda will be doing almost all of those things. For others, they simply move on to something completely different (especially for those who have skills outside of sports): finish med school and become a doctor, train as a firefighter, star on a TV show. And, let’s be real, what even is “retiring” for so many pro triathletes and cyclists and runners? Most of them will keep doing some combo of those things anyway. That’s not true of regular jobs you retire from; you don’t show back up casually just for fun.

But none of it is easy—emotionally, physically, or logistically. We know that a ton of crazy rich NFL athletes go broke. We’re learning more all the time about the struggle Olympians go through post-Games—whether they win or lose. Once you’ve been among the best in the world, once you’ve had all facets of your life managed and scheduled and you’ve always known exactly what your goal was, what do you do when it’s all gone?

(Personally, I think this is probably more of a problem for people who are fairly successful. I’m pretty sure when I retire from racing, it’ll look a lot like me not retired. Except even for me, even for a mid-pack pro in a sport where few people make a full living anyway, I know my career outside triathlon isn’t what it could have been because of the time I’ve chosen to spend on the sport instead. I have left behind skills and opportunities because of this lifestyle. If you multiplied that by 1,000, then you’d probably have the problem facing much better athletes than I.) Sara and I will discuss retirement life (hers) and planning ahead (me) on the podcast this week.

To pro or not to pro

Speaking of what it even means to be a pro triathlete. At least once per week someone says to me some variation of: “Well, there are just too many pros. That person shouldn’t go pro. She went pro too early. It should be harder to race pro.”

Considering the fact that more than half of my races often have fewer than ten pro women, I find it hard to believe there are too many of us. But, mostly, I can’t figure out why these people are judging the pros so much. If we’re “slow,” what does it matter to them? I thought this again when Slowtwitch starting weighing in on whether or not some AG overall winner should go pro, and comparing his swim splits and finish times. First off: Why would anyone ask Slowtwitch to make that decision for them? Second: Do what you want to do! We all know I’m a big believer in more women taking their elite cards. I believe that extremely qualified women often don’t upgrade because of societal standards and pressures (and because of being afraid someone is going to call them slow), and that pro/elite is simply a category of racing and nothing more. I believe that on an individual level we should challenge ourselves and that sometimes that means we should stop sandbagging when we’re able to. And, honestly, most of the time I believe there’s no reason not to upgrade when we’re good enough, besides the fact that we probably won’t win as much. Plus, on a selfish note, it’d be more fun with more women racing. But. We also all know that it’s a personal decision, you do you for your own personal reasons, not because Slowtwitch tells you to.

Make a list, check it twice

For a big story coming up in Triathlete Mag, I was interviewing Flora Duffy the other day, and she mentioned having a list back in the day of the things it would take to elevate her to world-class: eight hours of sleep every night, weekly massages, cut out extra sugar and junk food. And I thought about the idea of a list a lot this week, just working my way through it one thing at a time. Like all that’s keeping me from being a world champion is the failure to make a list. What would be on your list?

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If We Were Riding’ is a weekly triathlon-ish newsletter written by Kelly O’Mara and produced by Live Feisty Media. Subscribe to get it in your inbox every Wednesday morning. You can also read past issues or listen to the semi-related podcast of the same name on Fridays. Press reply to tell Kelly what you think. And press forward to send to a friend.
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