It became clear recently, in some online triathlon debates, that there isn’t a really firm understanding of how the triathlon elite/professional system works. Kelly (another Kelly) and I thought it made sense to lay this all out very simply. So here is being a professional triathlete 101:

To earn your elite triathlete card, there are a number of qualification standards you can meet per USA Triathlon, but the main ones are:

  • Top 10 overall amateur at worlds (ITU or Kona)
  • Top 5 overall amateur at nationals
  • Top 3 overall amateur at a qualifying race, being any race that has a corresponding elite race offering at least a $20,000 prize purse — as a approximation of quality of field and size

There is also a draft-legal pathway for qualification primarily aimed at junior elites and development athletes, but the gist is the same.

You can take your elite card after racing once and qualifying, or you can qualify dozens of times and not take it, keep on racing as an amateur. There are no rules that govern sandbagging. (Cycling, conversely, has a categorization system that starts at the lowest category, 5, and goes to Cat 1. People move up by earning a certain number of points at each category level. Earning too many points above, though, is a forced upgrade. You’re not allowed to keep winning races without moving up eventually.)

If you decide to “go pro” in triathlon, you pay USAT for your license, fill out your application, and you’re a professional. Either nothing changes after that or lots does; it’s up to you.

USAT does not appear to have a public list anymore of how many registered elite athletes there are. The last time I checked, in 2009, there were about 400 elite athletes registered with USA Triathlon. I have heard the numbers now are closer to 1,000, but I don’t know. (Maybe someone else knows where that list is now? UPDATE: Emily also has my belief that the “1,000” number is the number of pros who have raced one race with World Triathlon Corporation, so it’s not just US pros.)

What is fairly certain is that more men than women opt for their elite cards. I have theories about that.

Once you’re a registered elite or “pro,” you can continue to register and race as you always have, but now you’re in the elite/pro fields (which has different drafting rules, fyi, and obviously which means you can be part of random drug testing, but that’s another topic). Many races are free for elite racers. Some (mostly smaller races) also provide host housing for elites. Some races also have prize purses. Some don’t. Typically, a prize purse is split in half for men and women, then about half of that goes to 1st place with a steep drop-off. It is rare for prize purses to pay past 5th or 6th, sometimes 10th at the biggest races. For example, Vineman 70.3 (an incredibly competitive and popular race) pays like so:

1st – $10,000
2nd – $5,000
3rd – $3,250
4th – $2,500
5th – $1,750
6th – $1,250
7th  –  $750
8th  – $500

To be clear, 9th place at Vineman is no joke. Last year, 9th was Luke Bell, who is a full-time professional triathlete and who earned no money at that race. Of course, if you’re just taking your elite/pro license because you want to challenge yourself, or for whatever reasons you might have, then there are certainly perks.

While most USAT-governed races do not require separate registration as a professional triathlete, the Ironman brand (World Triathlon Corporation) does. It costs $800 to register as a professional with WTC for the year, or $430 for a single Ironman or $215 for a single half.

There are, of course, two major racing and points systems that are of concern as a professional triathlete:

1. The Kona Points Ranking – If you want to qualify to Kona as a pro, then you must earn points at WTC races, finish in the top 50 or 35 of the points rankings overall, depending on if you’re a man or woman, and complete an Ironman-distance race. Qualifying for Kona isn’t really my thing, but if I was trying to weigh the amount of points I thought I needed against flight costs and possible races, especially in light of the pro fields being cut from a number of U.S. races last year, well, it would make my head hurt.

2. ITU Points – If you want to race draft-legal and aim for the Olympics, which is the primary goal of draft-legal racers, then there’s another system you need to understand. The International Triathlon Union runs its own rankings. To race at their biggest events, the World Triathlon Series, you have to start at smaller ITU races, move up to things like Continental Cups, then World Cups, and get appointed to the national team. There is funding on the national team level, up to $20,000/year + living at the Olympic Training Center + travel costs, if you meet the highest standards, ie. top 8 in the ITU final rankings of the year. From there down to the developmental level smaller amounts of support vary in proportion to your results.

OK. Got it?

Of course, the other factor of being a professional triathlete is that you are training a lot, so you can’t always work a regular job, so how do you make money?

  • Prize money (see above)
  • Sponsors (yay! good luck with that — another topic)
  • Other triathlon-related jobs, like coaching, speaking at clinics, writing articles, etc.
  • Non-triathlon jobs
  • Family (lol, no really)

You won’t be surprised that most “professional” triathletes aren’t making professional amounts at triathlon. They do it for other reasons.

To continue racing as an elite, you have to re-qualify once every three years by finishing within 8% of the winner’s time at a race offering at least a $5,000 prize purse. My understanding is that at the end of any year you can opt to not renew your license.

That’s more or less the basics. Though it can get a lot more complicated.

Any questions?

I stopped posting my weekly training logs not because I wasn’t training (or because I got too busy, though I did that too). Instead, I thought maybe I’d try something else: not really laying it all down in writing. At first, I thought maybe I’d just stop writing down my weekly workouts on the internets. But, then, I sort of stopped writing them down at all. I picked up my training calendar the other day and realized I hadn’t filled in a square on it in two weeks.

This wasn’t a deliberate decision exactly. It’s more that I knew I just wanted to get in three hard weeks between the LA Marathon and collegiate nationals. I also knew, generally, what I wanted to do: work on my Olympic-pace biking. So I decided it might be good, for a change, not to sweat the details too much. Or, at least not to do so publicly, in a concrete way.

Not that worrying about details isn’t a good idea. Because it is. And, obviously, there are a lot of details I’m still concerning myself with. But this is just sort of an experiment to see if maybe keeping things a little looser and just in my head helps at all with whatever. Plus, extra bonus, it means that I’m sticking to The Kids’ training plan slightly more, with changes to approximately reflect my own life schedule (because workouts can only be two of the three: social, convenient, or good for your training) and my own strengths/weaknesses.

I love The Kids. They are fun and fast and a little bit nutty. And we have definitely been hitting on some of my weakness, like, um, speed. So, we’ll see how it all works out.

Here’s my rough training weeks since the marathon:

Less running. But a long trail run in Marin, naturally. And weekly track workouts, which just further confirm speed is not my strong point, but at least I’m getting better. Maybe. I’m not sure, actually.

Two or three Olympic-distance pace workouts on my bike to fine-tune the pace. And two harder workouts to push a pace slightly past that a little bit. These I feel good about. I think.

Swimming some, whatever. And a little strength work, but not much.

And that’s that. Two more workouts planned then pretty much resting/tapering into nationals. (Which I know is not really a For Real taper, but I’m doing Wildflower the week after and Alcatraz three or four weeks after that, so it’s what makes sense for me, in my head.)

I was skeptical when you said you were fit lately, but I wasn’t going to say anything since believing is half of it…

– Said to me this afternoon. But, now, no more skepticism. I am definitely fit. The question is just putting all the fitness together.

Last night, I was reading the Slowtwitch interview with Beth Gerdes on my phone. I don’t read most of the Slowtwitch interviews, but I like Beth and she’s been killing it recently, so I was reading the interview and I got to this question:

ST: Did you two at one point consider not having the baby, or was that a thought that never crossed your mind?

Beth: Seriously? This is a question? Hah. No, we never considered it. I admit I was terrified at first, but Luke was very excited from the get go. We actually found out that I was pregnant two days before Ironman Hawaii 2013. Luke came 2nd that year so I’d say it was some good motivation for him.

My only reaction was ‘whoa, that’s surprisingly real for a triathlon interview,’ but she handled it in the only way that probably made sense for her. And I moved on, read the rest of the thing (which actually is much more interesting and she has a lot of good stuff to say about coming back after having the baby, the WTC points system, and her recent races), and didn’t think about it again.

This morning, I turned my phone back on to find out that my internet had thought about it a lot and was PISSED about the question, primarily because they felt it was a fundamentally inappropriate and sexist question.

I’m not sure they’re right. There are plenty of reasons to be upset about the question and how it was asked, particularly if you are Beth, but it is not a fundamentally sexist question. You don’t ask guys about training through pregnancy, not because you’re sexist, but because it doesn’t make sense to ask them. The decision to have a kid may be a personal decision between two people, but one of those people will disproportionately shoulder the burden of actually having the kid. It is a question that female athletes grapple with far more so than their male counterparts, because women are the ones who will have to be out of training and racing for a year, and lose everything that comes with that. Women are the ones who will have to make the hard comeback to full-time professional athlete. Yes, there are challenges for the male athletes with kids too, but they are far greater for women.

That is just a fact. And it is just a fact that I am sure there are female professional athletes who have ended up pregnant and simply were not prepared to have a kid at that point. There are countless reasons they might make the decision to have an abortion and that is their decision to make.

So. I read that question and I thought maybe we were letting women own their experiences a little bit. I thought maybe this was a step in the direction of allowing these decisions to come out of the shadows, and to let them simply be one of many decisions you, as a complex and nuanced person, make.

But I was wrong.

When everyone got upset about the question, this was the response:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.29.08 PM

Ugh. So, nope, we’re not letting women own any of their experiences. Actually, still just making moral judgements about them.

People are upset about him asking the question, but I think they’re upset for the wrong reasons. They seem to think he shouldn’t have asked it, because it’s a topic that shouldn’t be touched, because it’s offensive for polite company. They seem to be saying: No one should ever suggest any woman has ever considered an abortion. What they really should be upset about, though, is that he asked it hoping to catch her in some kind of moral trap.

I’m a big believer that if we’re more honest, as people, then it would be better for everyone, that these are not things that we need to hide away in shame. Women deal with miscarriages all the time, yet never talk about them. Infertility is a tough problem for a lot of people, but they never mention it. The statistics suggest that you probably know someone who has had an abortion. But I doubt you know who they are. If we share our experiences, then we allow others to recognize themselves in us and to realize that they are not alone.

I’m sorry Beth’s interview is becoming all about this one question. You really should read the rest of it. But what if it was a totally different person who had been asked the same question and they had said, “Yeah, it’s a tough issue for a lot of pro women, and I really considered all of my options, but I’m glad I decided to have Baby X and it’s been great.” Or, hell, what if they had said, “Actually, I’ve had an abortion before.” (They wouldn’t, because they wouldn’t want the death threats or the outrage or sponsors leaving them.) But if this imaginary person had been asked the same question about her experiences and she had answered it with her own truth, I wonder if the outrage would have been the same.

I didn’t think much of the question at the time because somewhere in my head I had thought maybe that meant we lived in a world where it really was just one question among many. I was wrong, though. We don’t live there yet.

A Few Things Right Now

March 27, 2015 — 4 Comments

1. Wednesday I was in Palos Verdes and I biked past a guy down on his hands and knees in his perfectly green manicured lawn. He had a pair of scissors and was pulling out errant strands from his perfect lawn one at a time. Obviously, he had to compete against the more perfect lawn across the street, denoted by the sign in front of it saying it won the neighborhood’s lawnscaping award. My second thought was: Don’t you know there’s a drought. But my first thought was: Man, I wish I had that kind of time.

2. You know when you time your sprint finish just perfectly, but then it turns out that the finish line is just around the corner and you end up like sort of limping across the line because you used everything up. That’s how I feel about life right now. I finished my thesis (yay!), but it turns out I still have six more weeks of grad school left after that (ah!).

3. Remember when I said I wasn’t going to apply for the Women for Tri board thing and you can too. Look, I know people think I’m a “shit-stirrer,” as was explained to me the other day. But Hillary Biscay isn’t. And if she’s saying that she’s resigning from the Women for Tri board because it is not the place to affect true change for women, then you should listen to her.

4. I wrote about the new L.A. professional frisbee team and the competing professional frisbee leagues. Yes, there are two professional frisbee leagues.

5. I know a lot about obstacle course racing right now. I think I might become a professional(ish) obstacle course racer. Watch out.

Sunday I raced the West Coast Collegiate Triathlon Conference championship in San Luis Obispo. Because I am a moron and I thought why not follow-up one of your most debilitating non-finishes with 30-40 hours straight of thesis work, complete emotional and mental fatigue, and then an Olympic-distance triathlon.

The race was fine. Whatever.

I almost threw up at the start simply from the overwhelming desire to not do it. But then I did it anyway. Needless to say it was not my most amazing effort ever.

During the race, though, I actually felt like I was keeping it together. I felt like I was mentally totally in it. When I got out of it for a little bit, I came back. I felt like I was redlining and going as hard as I could, which was my only real goal. Since I had no knowledge of the course and no real computer or anything on my bike and it seemed slow and windy, I was just going off that feel. The only problem is that my “feel” is all messed up.

It turned out that what “felt” like redlining as-hard-as-I-could-go pace, was really more like moderately hard pace. This occurred to me about two-thirds through the bike when I started getting passed. Then I tried to go harder, but I’m still sort of a mess about twisty steep descents on my bike, so that didn’t go great. It’s not that I’m consciously trying to be conservative on descents; it’s just that subconsciously my brain is screaming, “NO MORE FAKE TEETH!

That my feel might not be accurate occurred to me again just before the turnaround on the run. The girl who was winning was on her way back and I looked as her as she went by, 10 minutes ahead of me or whatever stupid ungodly amount I was behind her and seven other girls by. She won collegiate nationals last year and she’s definitely a fast runner, but she was also so clearly trying so much harder than I was. I “felt” like I was running hard and strong and keeping a high cadence and could not possibly go any harder, but she looked like she might keel over before she reached the finish. (I was going to put a picture of her in here, but that seemed pseudo-creepy. Suffice it to say that she, generally, looks like she’s killing herself on the run.) Yeah, she probably is a more talented runner than I am. Even at the same effort, she would probably still be faster than me. But, we weren’t even at the same effort. She was pushing herself so much harder than I was. And that’s probably what really separates people: how hard you can push yourself.

For comparison, here is a picture of me as I sprinted my 7-minute mile into the finish and tried to not throw up:


Side note: There was another different sprint race going on at the same time, hence the woman behind me who is clearly not of college age.

That doesn’t look like I might keel over does it? It looks like I’m trying hard, but not that hard.

So I’m on a personal mission now to re-remember what hard feels like. Granted my whole perception last week was distorted because, oh man, I was really messed up after the two-thirds-of-a-marathon, and I didn’t run at all between the lying down on the side of the road last Sunday and the pre-race warm-up this Sunday. But still. If I’m going to go through the trouble of racing and being in a bunch of pain anyway, I might as well really make it hurt.

  • Biking faster
  • Not overcommitting to massively large projects that I can’t possibly do well in the time allotted
  • Actually, just ‘not overcommitting’
  • Recovery
  • Work stuff
  • Winning races again
  • But, seriously about the biking

The odds of you winning nationals are actually probably better than the odds were that L.A. was going to go well.

Steve on how likely it was that the L.A. Marathon was going to be a disaster for me, in retrospect. Because, just to be clear, I am also not going to win collegiate nationals.

Short version: I ran myself into the med tent with mild heatstroke just after mile 16. All the non-sports people I know are like, ‘Oh my god! Heatstroke! You almost died!!’ And, all the sports people are all, ‘It was only mild heatstroke. You could have kept going.’ I’m falling somewhere in between those two right now, and very much never want to try running a marathon again. For at least a few years.

Long version: It was warm. Arguably, it never got as hot as some people were predicting it might, but at 5:45 a.m. at Dodger Stadium it was concerningly warm. All last week I’d been preparing myself for ‘this is going to suck, but you can tough it out.’ My tentative race plan was: 1. You will probably not run your pie-in-the-sky, ‘A goal’ of 3:06. 2. You could still run a PR around 3:10, sub-3:15. 3. Only if you aren’t stupid; don’t be stupid. 4. Go for it, but in a conservative way and 5. When it starts to suck early, because it will, hang tough and know it sucks for everybody.

So, that’s what I tried to do. I ran some 7:05s for the first few miles, but they were all downhill (more or less) and it felt easy slow. I did not let myself get ahead of the 3:05 pace group, because “don’t be stupid.” By mile 2 I was dripping sweat and thought ‘well, this is going to get hot.’ Around mile 4, we went up a steep hill and I let the 3:05 pace group slip away, because “don’t be stupid.” After that, I was sort of just running, some by myself, some through people who were already looking hot and tired.

By 7 or 8, it was feeling really hard and I was getting the chills a bit. But I, literally, thought to myself: It’s not possible to be having heat issues this early; I haven’t even been running long enough, so these chills must be because of the breeze or something (?). And, anyway, I was still running 7:10s or so, so it’s fine. It’s fiiiiiiiine. I was taking water and Gatorade at every aid station, but I wasn’t making it to the next one before I was dying of thirst again. (And, for the record, I had oatmeal, a Gatorade and some water, and a gel before the start, and one more gel around mile 7. After that I was having a hard time imagining swallowing anything else.)

By mile 10, I was struggling. Somewhere around 9, two guys next to me were talking to each other and one said, “It’s not good if it feels this hard this early” and I went, ‘heh.’ I remember hitting the 10 marker and just thinking, ‘Fuck.’ I was still running in the 7:15s-ish, though, and it was hard to tell if we were going uphill, so it’s fine, I thought. It’s fiiiiine. I had promised myself I was going to be mentally tough for this race. I wasn’t going to drop out or check out. I was going to fight for it. So I did. My thing I had planned on telling myself was: ‘You’re tougher than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.’ I had planned on telling myself that in the second half of the race, because I didn’t expect it to be nasty hard too much before then, but oh well.

By 11 or 12, I was in bad shape. I was getting the chills and things were a little light-headed and dizzy. I was fighting for every mile and keeping them somewhere in the 7:20s, but I knew that it was not fine. At this point, it became one of those battles: If you know you’re in bad shape and it’s only getting worse and you don’t think you can finish, but you promised yourself you wouldn’t voluntarily quit, then what do you do? You make it so you’ll be involuntarily done, whether that’s because you get to the finish or crash out sooner. At least that’s the option I took. I have this tendency to wallow and, like, hope that someone will just spontaneously pull me from the course and tell me I should sit down in the shade and have some nice ice water. But, I wanted to be mentally tough. Instead of wallowing, I tried to smile. Studies show that you can affect your mental state by smiling in races. So. I tried to do all the things that keep you mentally positive. I tried to hang on to people next to me and get whatever boost there was from the atmosphere. I repeated ‘you’re tougher than you think you are’ in my head until it became gibberish. Mostly, I thought, if I’m going to end up running myself into the med tent (which it was starting to seem that I was), then I’m going to run as hard as I can until that happens.

I don’t remember much from 12 to whenever I stopped just after mile 16. I have no idea how I made it that far either. I was almost totally cognizant at the time. I knew where I was and I knew I saw Steve at one point (and tried to tell him with my eyes that I was in a bad place), but it all got a bit blurry, in that way things get in races when it’s like you’re watching from far away on the other side of a bright light. I kept trying to be tough and I would have sworn to you I was hanging on to 7:30 pace, but my Garmin suggests that I actually dropped pretty sharply to 7:50s.

Look, I expected it to get that bad. I did. I’d been preparing myself all week for it to get that bad, for me to have to tough it out for 8-10 miles. I’ve had bad heatstroke before, and I knew there was a chance I’d end up lying down in a med tent with an IV. I just expected that 8-10 miles to be the last 8-10 miles.

By around 16, I was getting the chills regularly. I was cold and hot, and I was dizzy, and things were getting light and dark, and then my chest started to hurt, and my heart felt like something tight was around it (which is new, by the way, that’s never happened before). And somewhere in my head I thought, ‘oh good, a med tent’ and I stepped out of the race and did that crumpling/collapsing thing and laid down on the side of the road. Of course, it turned out it wasn’t a med tent, it was actually just a random tiny tent of people cheering their friends on. So I freaked those people out.

For a few minutes, I just laid there with my eyes closed and rolled onto my side and tried to sit up and tried to get my eyes to focus and the lights to go back to how they’re supposed to be and then that was a lot of effort, so I laid back down. I don’t think I had the capacity to say anything for a couple minutes. And that freaked out the random people I had decided to lay down in front of even more than they were already freaked out. Then the cops and paramedics on bikes got there and also freaked out, and called an ambulance and a fire truck. And, I think my head was sort of lolling to one side and when I did start talking it was all slurred and along of the lines of: ‘It’s fine, ‘tsfiiiiine, my chest just hurts, *wave hands, close eyes*,  whatevvvver, *lay back down*”

Somewhere in my head I knew I was fine, actually. Or, I would be fine relatively soon. This was not a permanent state. I also knew that I always look really bad, even when I’m killing it. And I just didn’t have the wherewithal to explain to a bunch of people the degree to which I was messed up. They wanted to send me to the hospital and I kept saying, “No, no.” Finally, it was decided the ambulance would take me 200 meters down the road to the actual med tent. Then, those doctors kept trying to send me to the hospital and I kept saying, “No, no.” I think I even said, “I don’t go to hospitals,” which is absurd. Of course I go to hospitals. I’ve been to lots of hospitals. That’s how I know they won’t be able to do much for mild heatstroke.

Eventually, Steve found me and Natalie drove over to pick me up and, by then, almost an hour later, I was fine. Not great, not really even ok, but fine.

So, could I have toughed it out for longer? Yeah, maybe. Would it have been worth it? Probably not. Part of the mental calculus that my brain does when it can’t even see straight was that it decided there was no reason to land myself in the hospital. I didn’t care much about just finishing. It wasn’t going to be a good time. And I wasn’t competing for a place. If I really screwed myself up for good, what would be the point? After lying in the med tent for 20 or 30 minutes, I actually thought I should get back up and start running again. Steve said that was dumb.

It always seems to me that how soon after a race you start planning the next one, how much you want a do-over, is often dependent on how much, subconsciously, you felt like you had left to give. The day after my Ironman I basically was Googling to find another one later that month. This time, there is almost no part of me that wants to think about another marathon. People keep suggesting them and I keep cringing. No, no, that sounds terrible. I even paused on an email from the Chicago Marathon and thought about it in passing for a second. I like the course and it’s fast and late this year, but then it made me want to gag. I can, actually, barely think about any races at all right now. They all sound awful. (Which is unfortunate, because I am definitely doing some triathlons that I was excited about.) The amount I am still emotionally and mentally and, to a degree, physically messed up makes me think I didn’t have much more to give on Sunday. For whatever reason. That was all there was.