Thursday, June 30, 2011

My three main issues with triathlons

Tonight I'm helping Josh and Lora (Blond Runner) with an OW clinic mostly geared towards triathlon athletes.

In preparation for my portion of the discussion and practice I did a little research because of three main concerns I have towards Triathlons in general that have been bugging me about the "multi-sport" scene.

1.  Inequality in the three disciplines:  Triathlon boasts that it includes three disciplines (Swim, bike run).  Everyone knows that.  But what not everyone realizes, is that those three disciplines are not treated equally in triathlons.  Triathlons are to test your endurance.  However, the level of endurance is not split equally among those three disciplines.
For example:  As of today, the top ten Kona records for each discipline is here.

Swim:  2.4 miles (Top 10 times between 46-47 minutes) 10% time
Bike: 112 miles (Top 10 times between 4:18 - 4:26) 55% time
Run: 26.2 miles (Top 10 times between 2:40 - 2:42) 35% time

If it were split evenly in demonstrating endurance equally among the three sports, the swim would be more like 6 miles and the bike would be dropped down to around 75 miles.

2.  Triathlons favor the rich:  With open water swimming (non wetsuit), there is essentially no significant advantage in what type of equipment you use.  You have a swimsuit, cap, goggles, and possibly ear plugs and/or nose plugs.  With English Channel standards, there is no wetsuit allowed.  Triathlons allow them.   OK so if you get a real fancy wetsuit, it may cost you several hundred dollars.

But the real killer is the bike portion.  The elite athletes can spend well over $10K on their bike (or a sponsor pays for it).  With the fancy beak helmets and the solid wheels and all the feather light components of the bike, not everyone can afford that.  Granted most beginners could care less about where they place, they just want the challenge of completing the race.  Fine.  But be aware, that triathlons are not designed or supportive of an even playing field.  They're more geared towards the advanced athletes with a ton of money.  To get to the point of obtaining a sponsor, you still have to have a super sweet bike just to compete with the pros enough to prove to the sponsors that you are a serious contender.  You can train all you want, but there is no way you could compete with the best in a crappy bike.

3. Some triathlons involve pool swim instead of open water swimming:  Ironman is not guilty of this, and most serious triathlons that I've seen are not guilty of this.  Typically it is community facilities guilty of this.  They say, "Heck we've got a pool and alot of our swimmers are training for a triathlon, so let's put one on!"  They fail to realize, that triathlons should really involve Open Water swimming, not pool swimming.

Imagine if an Ironman event included a pool swim, then the transition involved simply getting out of the pool and hopping on a spin bike right by the poolside. Then after the bike distance, just moved over a few feet onto a treadmill and do the run on a treadmill.  That would be absurd, and you'd probably get a handful of people ignorant enough to do that.  No serious triathloner would go for that.  By doing the swim portion in a pool, you are essentially robbing the swimmer of experiencing a real triathlon where it is done in open water.  No flip turns necessary, no lines on the bottom to sight off, no lane lines to protect the swimmer for being exposed to some serious splashing and waves.

You might justify it with "It's safer, we have lifeguards watching over everyone in a controlled environment."  OK I'll give you that.  But be aware, that no serious multi-sport athlete is going to feel as accomplished in the pool swimming triathlon as one that includes an open water swim leg.  Pool swimming triathlons are for total newbies.  The newbie is being robbed of properly training for, and really experiencing, a 10% portion (see issue #1) of the true essence of triathlon.

OK - I'll step down from my soapbox now.  I really feel better venting that.
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