October 17, 2018

Newsletter ep. 57: trolls, Kona, and an argument against disc brakes

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 Oct. 17, 2018.


I’m currently on my way to China for Shanghai 70.3 this weekend. Not 100% sure about, well, a lot of things on this trip, but here it goes. Relatedly: Shanghai 70.3 is one of the few 70.3s that still has Kona spots for age-groupers. After all, China is in the midst of a running boom and it’s changing the culture there (apparently). Will report back.

Photo: Lisa Ingarfield / The calm before the chaos in Kona.

What happens on the island…

At one point on Saturday, after the pros had finished, I turned back on the Ironman Now Facebook coverage of Kona and for 20-30 minutes I watched a stream of age-groupers cross the line—just one after another after another, only a handful of seconds between each. Mike Reilly couldn’t get their names out fast enough. It was about ten hours into the race for the amateur men, just under ten hours for the women, and it was clear everyone is fast at the world championships, everyone is nearly the same speed. Your day is just one of many days, many dreams, many stories being run out on the island. And they all start to blend if you watch long enough.

Obviously, the big news of the weekend was the record-breaking conditionsDaniela Ryf won her fourth Ironman world title and set a new course record by 20 minutes (8:26:16)—even after getting stung by a jellyfish and struggling hard through the swim. And Patrick Lange took his second win on the island with the first-ever sub-8 time (and then proposed to his girlfriend, which you can be sure we will discuss on the podcast on Friday). He also continues to be my all-time favorite aid station hustler—this year he pulled a two-liter Coke bottle from a volunteer filling up cups and ran with it while drinking.

What was really interesting to me, though, was the obvious elevation of the women’s game. The top four women were all under the previous course record. Second-place Lucy Charles swam a swim course record and then also biked under the previous bike course record (which Daniela just happened to shatter even more). It took a sub-9:00 performance to crack the top ten in the women’s race and Mirinda Carfrae noted the changing dynamics on the bike—and that she’ll be back next year.

On the podcast on Friday, Sara and I will discuss all our favorites. I want to particularly shoutout to Sarah True’s debut in 4th even after an implosion, and to Matt Russell (6th) and Angela Naeth (in 8th)—both of whom were late additions to the entry list and clearly showed that they belonged.

People have bad days too, of course. It’s the big island, that’s what happens, even to Javier Gomez and Lionel Sanders. But what can you say, that’s just what happens. There’s also always drama and bigger drama. And then we move on, or we don’t. May we all be as happy as Tim Don finishing after spending the last year in a neck brace.

(And in case you were curious: here are the ever-important Kona gear counts, which also brings us to our next topic.)

Disc brakes are dumb

At least for time trial bikes. A brief argument:

You know you don’t even really need to brake in non-drafting triathlon, right? This isn’t a sport that demands razor-sharp reactions or turning on a dime in tricky dirty conditions. Disc brakes for mountain bikes? Sure. Road bikes? Maybe. Time trial bikes? No. Why would you need them in a triathlon? So you can make the one 180-degree turn extra smooth? And anyway, know the reason your brakes suck is probably because you have sucky brakes, right? Most time trial bikes were spec’d with shit brakes. You don’t need disc brakes; you need better calipers, cables, and fresh pads. And I’m not convinced everyone who’s raving about how great disc brakes are aren’t the people being given those bikes for free (and even some of those people are not stoked tbh). Who actually likes them who’s had to pay for them? Because you’re aware, right, that it’s not as if you just bought a new pair of wheels? It makes all your old stuff incompatible with all your new stuff. You can’t swap out anything between bikes or borrow from friends. Because triathlon just isn’t expensive enough, we need you to replace nearly everything you own. The only reason bike companies want to sell you disc brakes is because they need to sell you something. That’s how companies make money.

On the plus side: If you do decide to replace your entire cycling arsenal, sell me your non-disc stuff. I’ll give you a great deal.

Go away trolls

Earlier this week, Strava published this kind of epic photo of a woman breastfeeding at an aid station during the massive ultra race UTMB. With it came a short piece about the systemic obstacles women face in running. The woman in the photo was breastfeeding because pregnancy deferrals don’t exist, and they should. (There are also a whole bunch of other awesome photos from the race.)

Then I scrolled down and I read the comments, guys. And it was all guys. Guys explaining why the gender pay gap isn’t real, just watch this 17-minute Ted Talk. Guys explaining to other guys why feminism really only hurts women, here’s a bunch of dorm-room-level pseudo-intellectual reasons. Guys talking about why women shouldn’t get pregnant if they really want to run. Lots of guys.

And then, during the Ironman Now Facebook feed, I got more guys having more thoughts on how no one cares about the women’s race, why should Ironman even cover it, and a whole garbage heap of a Slowtwitch thread on why Daniela should make less money than Patrick because there are fewer women in Kona. *audible eye roll at the shit quality of argument here*

One of the problems for me, though, besides the obvious headache-inducing-ness of it all, is in each of those cases someone came along to suggest we should really be arguing over the merit of these ideas.

Sorry, no. Not all ideas merit my attention or discussion. No one gets to show up in 2018 and think they’re the first person to ever have thought of any of this. If they’re genuinely curious or interested in a topic, then they should listen to the people who have been doing work in that space for years. This holds true for almost anything. (And, yes, I’m aware I just went on a tirade against disc brakes and there will be people who disagree with me and say I don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s fine. We don’t all have to agree. But we all have to do our homework.) It’s not my responsibility to educate anyone on 30, 50, 100 years of gender history just because they suddenly have an opinion. Someone should educate them, but I’m tired. Dudes, maybe it’s time to talk to your people, the ones who will never listen to me. Get your team in order.

Yes, we will be discussing on the podcast what obligation we owe trolls and if we can even really call them trolls when they represent a portion of society.


  • A public service message for the pros: Apparently, the 2019 Ironman pro calendar is out (at least through June). A lot of us just weren’t scrolling all the way to the bottom of the page.
  • Buried in the Kona news was the announcement that 70.3 Worlds will be headed to New Zealand in 2020. My favorite quote in the press release is when the Taupõ district manager tries to put the event in context for New Zealanders: “In Ironman circles, this is equivalent to the Rugby World Cup or Americas Cup…”
  • Sounds like Ironman Florida moved from Panama City to six hours away near Orlando and a day later—tough for Ironman with all the hurricane damage and tough for participants trying to rebook everything. Almost like this climate change thing is going to keep affecting races.
  • I’d never heard of the Night of 10,000 PBs before, but now I think all of our track meets should be like this.
  • We talked about how Gwen’s marathon debut in Chicago didn’t go as well as hoped, but she also talked openly about it too.
  • Bet you never thought about the bowel movements of the World’s Strongest Men? Well, you should. (Also it reminds me of this old New Yorker story about the cost your body pays for pulling a semi-truck by a rope.)
  • Oh, hey look, studies are starting to confirm that intense exercise during pregnancy is fine.
  • Also another study found cyclists are safer drivers than motorists who aren’t cyclists. Wonder why.
  • In other cycling news, Rachel McKinnon won a Masters track cycling world championship—and she’s transgender. And all of a sudden a lot of people who never cared about track cycling before are *very worried* about the sanctity of the sport. Maybe before they started concern-trolling, they should have done that thing where we learn about stuff from people who have been doing the work on it before have opinions about it. And started with this twitter thread.
  • In so many ways, this is California. Beautiful, messy, at odds with itself, crowded and empty.
  • Are parks and green spaces just the first sign of gentrification and a way to push out lower-income people? (At first, I thought ‘no, this is bullshit,’ but then I read about something I didn’t know about, even if I still don’t 100% agree. So.)
  • Go ahead, try not to happy cry.


Comments & thoughts

Some feedback, comments, critiques, and thoughts from you all this week.

– “I haven’t said it in a while, but I’m still reading and enjoying your newsletter. Thanks!”

– Lisa thinks Sara and I should take over the Ironman commentary—which I feel like Ironman will be on board with. “I vote the two of you for official IM commentators!”

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