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. 22, 2018.


This weekend I watched a big open water swim race by our house, the Tiburon Mile. It’s one of those races where having an Olympic bronze medal only made you the fourth most decorated in the field. At the finish, as I was spectating, there was a group of the top four elite men sprinting for the beach (and the prize money). But when they stood up to run the last ten meters to the line, between the cold and the effort, one of the guy’s legs gave out under him. He fell and crawled on his knees up the ramp. And all I could think was: It’s been a long time since I raced that hard. And I miss it. May we all race so hard at some point in our lives that we can feel it in our legs.

Some people win, some people lose

(This picture is from Talbot Cox’s gallery of Ironman Mont Tremblant this past weekend. I picked it mostly because sometimes that’s how racing feels to me. Dark and lonely and tunnel-visioned.)

This weekend marked the last races for Kona qualification for the year and the last races for pros to earn qualifying points for this October. (The new one-slot-per-race system for Kona 2019 starts at the end of the month.) And so, quite a few people finished their weekend races in happy tears, having locked down what they needed for their big crazy ‘A’ goals.

Most notably: At Ironman Mont Tremblant, member of the #thisis40 club Meredith Kessler gutted out third for a return trip to the Big Island with a new baby in tow, Lauren Brandon hung onto second to do what she needed to go back, and perennial podium contender, the great Liz Blatchford took home the win on her own post-baby charge back to Kona. It was all very emotional. Over in Asia, Beth McKenzie took the win at Bintan 70.3 for a bit of a last-minute surprise Kona qualification after her two-year ban. And in Europe, at Ironman Kalmar, Asa Lundstrom was crying as she crossed the line in second, earning her spot after focusing on her medical degree in the first half of the year (is my understanding).

Whew. That’s a lot. Did I miss anyone?

But here’s the thing. For every person who did what they needed to do to make it to Kona, someone else didn’t. There are only so many spots on the pier, as Ironman keeps telling us…

Right now, it looks like Angela Naeth’s third at Kalmar, after coming back from Lyme Disease, won’t be enough for her to make the cut-off. Tim Don is missing out, despite one of the more truly epic returns to sport we’ve seen. Matt Russell was third at IMMT and a podium is always worth a podium—but it didn’t earn him enough points.

I don’t know that the world is zero sum. Increasingly we’re seeing strong groups of athletes raise the level for each other. The three women who podium’d at Mont Tremblant were rooting one another on and group-hugged after. But, when there are only three spots on the Olympic team, there are only three people who can make it. That’s just the reality of sports. It reminds me of the joke:

Guy: So explain this sport to me.
Me: Well, it’ll make you fall in love and break your heart and be inexplicable and irrational at times, but you’ll keep coming back.
Guy: No, I meant, like, the rules and stuff.
Me: Those are the rules.

[All details and points coming from Thorsten’s Trirating up-to-date Kona qualification list.]

What’s your favorite race?

Ironman Mont Tremblant is a lot of people’s favorite race. And at Lake Placid a few weeks ago, it was clear the 20-year-old event is also much beloved. But neither are my favorite. My favorite is Ironman Wisconsin. It’s a fair course, but not an epic-ly hard one. The spectators are nuts. And I prefer run courses that aren’t just out-and-back on a bike path. IM Moo is the best.

Of course, I might just feel that way because it was also my breakout, best race ever. Just as I have sworn off ever returning to Huntington Beach because of terrible races there. It’s hard to separate our personal experiences and emotions from our objective judgement.

Here are my favorite races: Escape from Alcatraz (before it got super expensive), IM Wisconsin, Wildflower (even though it’s a whole production), and I used to love Pacific Grove for local Olympic craziness. What are your favorites?

The health… of our minds

One of the truest things I’ve ever heard about elite sports (vs. lifestyle working out) is that the highs are higher and the lows are lower. And now there’s starting to be an increased awareness of the mental health issues athletes grapple with—and how they deal with the “regular” mental health challenges anyone (athlete or non-athlete) might have. Here are five athletes talking *very* openlyabout their issues, including Sarah True, who also spoke openly on the Ironwomen podcast about the depression she went through last year. Still, I didn’t realize until now how bad it had been for her.

Science v. heart

There is, permeating back before the Rocky movies pitted Russian science against American heart, back into the anals of the birth of modern training and the “professionalization” of sports, a skepticism about how far science can take us. Sure, sure, we seem to say, but *really* it’s about how much you want it.

That debate seems to be rearing its tired head again these days with all the hand-wringing over how much technology is good technology. If science builds a better athlete, is there still a human in there? (Yes, obviously, but you know, metaphor, etc.) On the other end of the spectrum are these deep dives into the social fabric of what makes the best squads so good, so pushing each other, like the runners in Ethiopia. It feels like the heart at the core isn’t a science, that sports go beyond studying mechanics and lucking out on body type and fine-tuning training methodologies, that maybe it’s something intangible. Or, maybe we just haven’t quantified the intangibility yet.



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