September 12, 2018

Newsletter ep. 52: triathlon categories, Serena, and surfing’s prize purses

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 Sept 12, 2018.


This weekend, at Ironman Wisconsin, there was a request to send the newsletter earlier than 6 a.m. ET. And since I listen to reader feedback, I’m giving you what you asked for: A whole hour earlier. Now you can read it before your morning workout, if for some reason you work out at 4 a.m., while I’m still asleep…

Speaking of Ironman Wisconsin, spectating an Ironman is exhausting. I took the picture above at the start, where it was crazy and loud and full of people and I had to go sit down for a bit. By the time the day was over, I needed to sleep for ten hours and I still felt like someone had punched me in the face the next day. Kudos to everyone who stays out there all the way until midnight!

One size does not fit all

I’ve made this argument before, but I’m about to make it again: There should be three categories (at least) in triathlon—pro, elite/elite amateur, and age group. It’s time for us to recognize that there is a big difference between the person just finishing their first 70.3 and someone who trains 20 hours/week and is essentially semi-pro. And they should not be in the same category.

If we had three categories, then the professionals would be professionals—those who are at the top-tier, can make a quasi-living as some of the best in the world. There would be elites—a category that right now encompasses many people who race at the front end of the amateur field and some people who are at the back end of the pro field, those going for Kona spots and amateur wins, etc. And then there’d be the rest of the field, the majority of triathletes.

It’d be fairer. Right now, it’s sort of bullshit for some of the best age-groupers to be beating up on first-timers. It’d be fairer for people to compete against their peers. This, obviously, was the goal with creating age groups in the first place—but there’s a reason so many running races have added elite/elite amateur fields (and so many triathlons used to) in between the age groups and the pros.

It’d be safer. If you had people competing with others of their like ability, you’d have less crashes, less chaos on the swim. When someone much faster goes by someone much slower, bad things can happen—which we’ve seen over and over again. If you had an elite/elite amateur category, then you could easily have them start en masse, with a rolling start behind that.

It’d be better for the sport. You know what happens when you’re a decent OK athlete who keeps getting clobbered by semi-pros competing as age-groupers in your category? You get discouraged. You decide it’s not fun to never ever have a shot, why not do something else. If we had multiple categories and everyone competed against who they should truly be competing against, it’d easier to also do things like: force category upgrades and downgrades, create competitive and non-competitive rules, have additional safety and support for some athletes. It’d be a better experience for everyone and more people would stick with triathlon. It’d also pave the way for a pipeline to encourage people to move up, and could create more robust racing at the top—which, in turn, creates more opportunities and more goals for us all to shoot for.

There’s no reason we need to act like one size fits all, like every single person out there is out there for the same reasons. Let’s acknowledge that not every course needs to be the exact same and not every racer needs the exact same experience.

What’s in a ranking?

The World Marathon Majors (ie. the big marathons) announced an age-group world ranking system starting, well, now. The system will award points based on time and place within the age group with the ultimate goal being, uh, a higher ranking? And I think you can also win a spot to the London Marathon, which they’re calling the World Championships. The two things I think are interesting in the announcement: 1. It’s being done in conjunction with Wanda/Ironman and the rankings will include a huge number of running events in Ironman/Wanda’s portfolio (with more events to come), and 2. It’s only for ages 40+. It’s almost as if you’re really really good and you’re under 40, then you should just be racing as an elite

Serena & sexism (& racism & tennis & sports)

OK, so I didn’t watch the US Open, because I was triathlon-ing, but as I understand it: Serena Williams argued with the ref, was penalized, called him a name, was docked a point, ultimately lost to Naomi Osaka. And then the debates started about whether or not her penalty was the result of sexism or racism or both. Even Billie Jean King weighed in.

Was the call sexist? Is Serena just a bad sport? Does tennis have a lot of problems? Yes and no.

Yes, Serena broke the rules. But, also, yes, those rules are applied unevenly. And, no, I don’t believe anybody anywhere is able to exempt themselves from the societal standards that exist around them so that somehow they are able to judge Serena Williams context-free, as if she exists without also existing as a black woman. Also, she’s a person, complicated and all and she also comforted Naomi Osaka and told the crowd to stop booing.

So if you take one tennis thing away from all this, maybe it should just be a little bit about Japanese-Haitian Naomi Osaka.

Riding the waves

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the women hoping to compete for the first time at Mavericks (the famous surf contest) were also demanding equal prize money to the men. To me, it seemed like a tough fight to win, since the World Surf League (WSL) had nothing to lose and surfing historically has not particularly cared what its female athletes wanted. But the women pulled it off—forced California permitting agencies to force the WSL’s hand. And WSL announced this week it would be awarding equal prize money for men and women for all events on the tour.

And, then, one of the first tour events was held at Kelly Slater’s wave ranch pool. Sometimes I love reading super-insider-y snide stuff about sports I know nothing about with references I barely understand. And there was plenty of that this week.


  • On the climate change race watch: Nation’s Tri got straight-up cancelledthis past weekend with the nutty storms coming in on the East Coast. So did SavageMan. IM Wisconsin was pulled off with only minor changes after all the flooding, but it was definitely a little touch-and-go (and there were some sandbags doing a lot of work near the swim start).
  • Ironman bought out the three big Rev3 events—Williamsburg, Quassy and Maine will become Williamsburg 70.3, Connecticut 70.3, and Maine 70.3. And now, who’s left as Ironman’s major competitor?
  • Ironman also got a new title sponsor for Kona: Amazon. Which I thought was sort of weird (but sort of made sense) until I realized Amazon was also launching a nutrition store/marketplace.
  • Understanding the Kona slot allocation formula is confusing. Like, really confusing. Like, more confusing than it needs to be. But Russ Cox, who crunches all the numbers for age group slots and allocations and times and finishers, explained the old system to me (which involved decimal points) and thinks he’s starting to get a grip on the new system. I’m going to try to explain it on the podcast this week and he says he’ll be doing a blog post soon diving into the new spreadsheets.
  • Rob Krar’s greatest victory wasn’t winning an ultra.
  • We mentioned Nike’s “controversial” ad last week, but if you haven’t watched the whole long two-minute thing (which has since been made public), you should. It’s just really good.
  • Nike’s also facing a lawsuit for creating a hostile work environment.
  • There was another death at Yosemite from someone trying to take an ill-advised selfie.
  • I don’t know exactly how to characterize the Death Diving World Championships, except to say it appears to be a championship of cannonballs and belly flops?
  • If the thing missing from your workout is $3,000 machine that customizes itself to you, then Silicon Valley is here for you. Which I’m pretty sure is definitely helping narrow the class gap when it comes to fitness.
  • “Step One is to dig deep inside yourself and channel the wisdom of Maya Angelou, Eleanor Roosevelt and the wise goddesses of old. Remember that body image is a social construct, and you don’t need to bend to the will of the patriarchy to achieve exultant self-acceptance.Step Two is to acknowledge that Step One doesn’t work.” I don’t actually care whether or not you workout in just a sports bra or not, but this essay on becoming a Bra Girl was on point.


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