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 Aug. 29, 2018.


While I sit at home, it seems like everyone in the world is headed to South Africa for the 70.3 World Championships or to Chamonix for UTMB (the ultra-running sorta championships). It’s fine; I’m living my best life. May all your races be fast and your Instagram posts not too envy-inducing.

It’s a wild world

Last week, we talked about the winners and losers of the Kona qualifying game. For every person who pulled off an epic win to get the points they needed, someone equally deserving didn’t.

But then this past week there were two good bits of news:

– After Jonathan Shearon turned down his Kona slot, the last men’s qualifying spot rolled down to Tim Don. Don now gets a chance to return to the big island after being taken out by a truck just days before the race last year. (Again, in case you’ve missed it: Watch ‘The Man with the Halo’)

– And then Matt Russell, who went through a van window during last year’s race, was offered a “wild card” entry after falling just short of re-qualifying for Kona.

There is zero question that both of them deserve to be there. And the race will be better for them both getting the chance to compete in it. But—in a larger sense—what is the point of a wild card (in any sport)? Who gets one? Who decides? And does it do what it’s supposed to do?

As best I can tell the last time a wild card was granted to a pro at Kona was for legend Natascha Badmann to finish her career in style—and that announcement notes: “Her invitation to this race does not allow her to be eligible for awards, qualifying points, or pro prize money.” Which is weird to me.

There doesn’t seem to be an official system to the wild cards, but rather they’re mostly at the discretion of one man, the Ironman CEO, and are used rarely.

I actually have no problem with wild cards existing. I’ve always thought the best systems are a combination of automatic qualification and additional discretionary spots. It allows for the fact that things happen. But if all the discretion is in one person’s hands, then, I dunno, is it too discretionary? I also am not sure wild cards can or should be used to fix structural problems—ie. when Rachel Joyce was having to fight to get enough points to make it back to Kona post-pregnancy, yeah, it’d have been great if she’d gotten a wild card spot and avoided the whole mess, but a wild card wouldn’t have solved the problem she was simply exemplifying, it wouldn’t have fixed it for everyone else.

Do wild cards have their place? Who should get one?

Relatedly: Why would Shearon turn down his Kona spot in the first place? Lots of reasons.

(Photo: An emotional Matt Russell at his IM Mont Tremblant finish. By: Talbot Cox)

Through the age groups

An astute reader emailed me to point out there was an age-group woman who went 9:00:00 at Ironman Copenhagen—which is the fastest age-group woman’s time we’re aware of. (The fastest age-group men’s time we’re aware of is 8:17:24 at Ironman Texas earlier this year. And, yes, a disturbing number of the fastest times come from Copenhagen and Texas this year.)

All these age group stats are kept in rather in-depth detail by Russell Cox, who also did a breakdown of overall participation numbers I found interesting.

And, in case you were wondering, people have also completed rankings and seedings for at least a few age group races as well. Which seems like a whole lot of work.

Road Optional optional

I keep hearing gravel racing is The Next Big Thing. It’s trendy; it’s excitingly back-to-our-roots. It’s all the things that are supposed to be “in” right now. And certainly, there’s an appeal to not biking on the road anymore. Two different friends of mine bought gravel bikes in the last week. Which then prompted a discussion among us about gravel triathlon and wasn’t there supposed to be a ‘Road Optional’ gravel tri near here this fall in Tahoe? Which then sent me down a Googling hole. And it turns out that specific race is’t happening for now I think, but there was another gravel triathlon (maybe the first gravel triathlon ever?) this past weekend in Michigan.

I’m split. It sorta sounds like fun. And I’ve ridden my road bike plenty of times on dirt or gravel roads, but I’m just not attracted to the idea of gravel racing. Is it just me? Obviously, it’s appealing to other people. Will you try a gravel race or gravel triathlon?


  • Triathlon gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen announced she will be making her (sorta) marathon debut at Chicago next month. She’s calling it her first “real marathon.”
  • In unexpected things: Published on Bustle, Deena Kastor interviewed Des Linden.
  • And in moderately expected things: A very angry local watched the Dun Laoghaire 70.3 last weekend in Ireland and came away with the conclusion that we all have mental and emotional issues. He might not be wrong, but I’m not sure he’s all right either.
  • Devon Yanko is a pro ultrarunner and owns a really good bakery by my house. She also has used ultrarunning to heal from sexual abuse.
  • Hood to Coast is a popular and competitive relay from Mt. Hood to the coast. After the race, the captain of the winning women’s team tweeted that they were ignored and no women’s awards were presented at the ceremony. The race director’s response, she said, was, “Go talk to someone who cares.” Needless to say, this kind of response makes something that was shitty anyway become a bigger story. Other race officials (not the RD) are now saying it was a “snafu” and will be remedied. But, honestly, it doesn’t sound like a snafu. Sounds like they full intended not to recognize the top women’s teams at the post-race ceremony and would have kept right on doing it if Twitter hadn’t gotten mad.
  • I had never heard of Botaoshi before, but now I kinda want to play a match.
  • There have always been recruitment programs for Olympic sports and they’ve always been a source of fascination to me. (What if I could find the right sport I could be an Olympian at?) But now they’re also a reality TV show. So You Want to Be an Olympian?
  • When all of these massive wildfires start, someone has to figure out how they started. That requires an investigation and equipment.
  • I was reading a lot this week about air pollution and exercising in air pollution and what kind of health damage it does. And one of the things that really stuck with me was this study tracking the improvement in life expectancy rates after the introduction of the Clean Air Act. Yeah, air pollution shortens your life.
  • Ever wonder what the annual holiday known as Burning Man looks like from the air?
  • Last week, I meant to link to this story about forest cleansing (which a lot of you clicked on). But I accidentally linked to this also crazy story about a thru-hiker being trapped in the snow. So, you got bonus stories.

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