Sport > There's Gold in Them Thar Triathletes

There's Gold in Them Thar Triathletes

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: June 1, 2010

Just opened my inbox and saw this note.

///If you're doing one of the events listed below - start training with the 'new' official on course Ironman beverage - xxxxxx Ironman xxxxxx. The body takes a couple months of learning to use new fuel for prolonged events and training, and events like IM. Most simptoms (sic) occur toward the end of the bike and half way through the run for many participants not used to digesting and using the sugar/hydration combination for fuel. As many of the veteran participants know, every bit of energy you consume will affect your race (and your body functions), so only use what you do in training , during your race. While you might have enough fuel on the bike without using aid supplements, once on the run the chance of using course provided fuel is guaranteed. ///

Ah, two things I should mention upfront. I've completed two ultra dis trance triathlons. Neither of them were put on by the Ironman organizers. That was not by chance. There are a couple of race organizers who will never see a dime of my money. Ironman happens to be one of them.

I have no firm data on how a manufacturer gets to be named the "official" beverage, but I suspect it is not based on a poll of what the participants are training with. Or some independent lab tests that show one beverage would outperform the others. Nah, that doesn't fit my idea of how the big race organizers operate. Time and again they have operated as capitalists, that is to say they are in the maximum cash extraction mode. That is to say, they behave in a very participant unfriendly manner en route to generating as much profit as possible.

While I am a full on capitalist myself, I never race with these guys. I'll get to evoke my grandfather at least once and possibly twice during this piece. Sure in both cases they are stretches, but you know, I'm feeling limber today. When I forwarded the aforementioned email to my nephew he commented that his system does not adapt well to new fuels, but that may keep other racers from drafting him during the bike ride. That immediately brought to mind my grandfather and his solution to flatulence. He always walked around the house with a can of glade air freshener in his back pocket. I had visions of my technologically sophisticated nephew adding a similar modification to his triathlon bike, but figured he would probably get DQ'd for possible propulsive effects.

So back to the race organizers, I have no idea how much money they got paid to switch drinks. The only thing that would shock me is if they didn't get paid. Here is how the big races operated in California. There was one organizer out here who took this approach to race booking. They had room for 2000 people in a race. They accepted paid applications from 2200 racers a year in advance, knowing full well that 200 would be injured on race day and couldn't race. No refunds, just sorry, you lose and we win. You can see why I had no interest in racing with those organizers either.

I'm not a cry in my beer kind of guy. Sure my grandfather absolutely was that kind of guy. He would always cry in his beer, he was the saddest drinker I ever knew. For me, I can only recall crying in my beer once. That was about a month ago when I was sitting in Toronado in San Diego and reading a physics lecture by Richard Feynman. The math that he was using in his lecture was so beautiful, well, it brought a tear to my eye.

And a really good triathlon is much the same. The World's Toughest Triathlon was such a race. The most stunning scenery in the world. The race organizers, I think, hoped at best to break even. They took food and beverage donations from local businesses. No corporate sponsors that I recalled. And in the end an event that really moved you almost to tears as you traveled the paths they led you down.

The Vineman in Napa and Sonoma was much the same. A great race that was put on by a pro triathlete from Sonoma. He set out with the same goal in mind, create a race for the participants and not the corporate sponsors. He hit his target also. I did that race the first year it was put on, roughly 20 years ago. And it is still going strong.

I never did the Escape from Alcatraz Tri when I lived up there. 20 years ago they were charging as much for their short race as the full ultra distance races. Yes, I knew there was a boat ride to Alcatraz and saw that as a cost driver. But it seemed to me it was mostly San Francisco being San Francisco. So I passed on that race. But there were enough guys in the Navy who were from places like Kansas or Nebraska. For those guys, there was a huge ego boost back home if they did this race. So they signed up and raced and I just shook my head.

There are a few races that are up there in dollars that probably are worth it just to play on a stage you can't get on any other way. I'd say racing through Central Park in the NYC Tri is worth the coin. Sure you can do that on your own over lunch, but you don't get the crowds there cheering you on like you do on race day. That one was worth it. But for me, I'd much rather support the little Mom and Pop races out in the middle of nowhere. I've done more of these than anything. The people that are putting those races on are doing so for the love of the sport. And as an athlete, that is the only place I want to be.

So no, I'm not crying in my beer here about big race organizers. They will always be around, just like there will be a ready supply of fresh faced kids from Kansas ready to pony up the fees. I'm just saying that after you have been around the track a few times, you can vote with your feet. And I think you should.

Any Comments?


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