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 Dec. 26, 2018.

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Happy Boxing Day to our Canadian readers and Merry Day After Christmas to everyone else. I’m actually sort of off the social medias right now. Not in a resolution way, just in a ‘it can’t be good to subconsciously open Facebook without even realizing I’m doing it’ kind of way. So, sorry, if I missed anything you sent me this week! Especially if what you sent me was a message saying you want to buy my bike! (FYI, it’s for sale.)

Hopefully, everyone’s enjoying their holidays. But first, a couple of house-keeping notes: 1. There were some problems with the newsletter being labeled “spam” last month, which I think I’ve resolved with my fancy new kelly@livefeisty.com email, but you probably also want to mark that email address as “not spam.” I promise to not spam you. 2. I mislabeled the email last week as #65, but it was really #66. So there. 3. Something I keep wondering and thinking about, especially as we roll into year two of ‘If We Were Riding,’ is this: Are we—this newsletter and podcast—too insider-y, too in the weeds about Kona qualification and triathlon details? Should I make an effort to be broader with wider mass appeal? Or should we just accept we’re niche as fuck—deep, not wide? *Any thoughts you all have on the question are appreciated.*

Does the end of the year mean something?

(Photo from Talbot Cox, who has certainly had his own year worth of journeys.)

This time of year it’s so tempting to look back. To tell ourselves a story about the previous 365 days, to feel like we can sum up the wide range of human experiences and put a conclusion on it.

It makes sense. When things are bad, then, we can remember there were still good parts. And when they’re good, we can know how far up we traveled from the downs. We can tell ourselves a story about ourselves that’s the story we want to hear.

I can’t quite figure out what the story is this year though. Not just for me, personally, but widely, throughout the sport and the industry. Triathlete Magazine did a really solid ‘best of the year’ round-up for triathlon. I can’t say I disagree with any of their picks. But I also thought the New York Times’ summary of the year for women made some solid points: there have been ups and downs, it’s been a year. Two steps forward, one back, three? Hard to say.

So. In conclusion. To sum up. I can’t tell you what my cohesive, coherent thoughts are on 2018. Maybe there aren’t any. But I can tell you what I expect will continue to be issues in 2019, for our sport, for us, for the years to come.

– I expect it to get worse before it gets better, but I do expect it to get better. I’ve said this to a lot of friends this year. And what we mean is this: Races are going away, the U.S. market is consolidating and shrinking, budgets are disappearing for athletes, the number of triathletes is declining. This isn’t going to change overnight. But, eventually, give it two, maybe three years, there will be new races coming in to fill those gaps, there will be people reacting and responding to their needs not being met, and the sport will change. Hopefully, everyone hasn’t already left by the time this happens.

– I think already you’re starting to see grassroots leadership from new people. I hope that continues.

– I think, though, we’re going to see a lot of pros (especially U.S. based ones) leave in the next few years and I don’t know if they’re going to be replaced. The money isn’t there. In the long run this will change when the long-term cost is realized, but we may lose a generation of talent—give or take, obviously, not to say there won’t be good people.

– I think there is a very real disillusionment and frustration from the women who make up the current core of triathlon and Ironman’s market. I think how Ironman and the sport chooses to answer their anger will determine a lot of the timeline in point #1.

– I think there will continue to be a growing legitimacy problem, in terms of drafting, in terms of course lengths and times, in terms of fair races.

– To that end, I expect Kona to make small changes around the edges with start times and waves, but it won’t fix the underlying issue.

– There’s a reason people have been flocking to unsanctioned and grassroots and off-beat events. (Even though the numbers at these things are still small.) What is that reason? And how do we meet that need? Our answer influences the direction of the sport. There is an underlying tension between this desire to return to the original spirit of things and the tendency to be an old-school exclusive boys’ club.

– Will this be the year the sport goes truly global? It’s been making a play the last few years, but triathlon communities in some of these new markets simply haven’t existed. They’ve been grown, from the ground up. Maybe they’re finally here?

– Will this be the year the sport changes its marketing to become less, I dunno, severe? I keep hearing, over and over from people in the know, that triathlon has marketed itself into a corner, as a sport only for extreme hardcores athletes, who meet very specific stereotypes. That could and should change, but I don’t know.

– And I leave you with one question I’ve been mulling over for a while: Where does all the money in triathlon go? Ironman isn’t raking it in; they make margins, but they’re heavily in debt too. The medium-size races can’t stay afloat. There are brands playing, but retailers struggle and no one is awash in cash. The publishers are basically kept alive as rich guys’ passion projects. So. Where is the money?

On the podcast, Sara and I will do a better round-up of the year, our favorites, things we’re looking forward to.

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Comments & thoughts

Some thoughts, emails, messages and notes from listeners and readers this week.

– Alyssa took issue with me saying, on last week’s podcast, that we have the best trails were I live. For the record, though, I wasn’t saying, “We’re #1, everyone else sucks.” It was more of a general, I like running the trails here, kind of statement. But if the public demands the debate, I’m here for it.

– Nicole wanted to know what in the Colorado Classic constitutes a “course built for women, specifically.” Which is a fair question.

– And a couple of people noted they’re not doing any winter challenges, or they’ve done the Coast Ride or training camps in the past. Christina also had some concerns about the USAT club challenges, which emphasize volume focusing on a different sport each month.

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