What the Hell Happened to Triathlon?

The last time I planned a full triathlon season was 2011. It wasn’t cheap then, but it was still do-able.

Then I quit for a couple years, and then I did a few races here and there, let’s do an Ironman before grad school, and some collegiate stuff — which is still do-able and fun and in the original spirit of triathlon. But now, after the summer pilot project of ‘what would happen if I actually trained for serious and didn’t also work like 70 hours/week,’ I’m actually for real back into triathlon. And I’m trying to put together a whole season and plan for 2016. For the first time in five years.

It turns out in those five years triathlon got terrible and expensive.

First, I wanted to do Oceanside 70.3. A nice, early race to kick-off the year that I can drive to. Hah. Turns out that race now sells out 10 months in advance or something. Who knows. By the time I wanted to sign up seven months beforehand it was too late. Then, I wanted to do Escape from Alcatraz. I love Escape from Alcatraz. Hah. Too bad for me. It’s $750 this year, up from $420, because, I dunno, because they think it can be. Because they think they don’t need triathletes as much as triathletes need them. Because they don’t even really need triathletes at all; in the current endurance sport landscape, they can just make it a destination bucket-list recreational event. Then I thought I’d do Vineman 70.3, since I want to do a half in the summer and it’s really the only big one, and it’s a 45-minute drive from my house. I was determined not to miss registration for Vineman.

Oh, but then Vineman got bought by Ironman (World Triathlon Corporation).

So this Monday I set an alarm on my phone to make sure I was at my computer at 9 a.m. ready to register. I thought this was crazy. What has triathlon become. But I was determined not to miss registration, and every other year setting an alarm would have been enough to guarantee it. At 9 a.m. the site said registration wasn’t open. At 9:05 it still said it wasn’t open yet. At 9:06 it said it was open, but “on hold.” At that point, I checked their twitter and facebook, figured there was some kind of technical problem, and wasn’t too worried about it. I was there; I was pressing refresh; I’d get in, no worries.

At 9:20 a.m. they said all registrations were technically sold out. There were so many people in the process of registering that all spots were “on hold.” You could keep refreshing and maybe a spot would open up, if someone didn’t finish their registration, but that was it. What the hell?? I’d been there the whole time and it never even became available. I spent another hour pressing refresh. At one point, I even got in and a few steps through the registration process and then it said “on hold” again. I was not the only one having this problem. It sounded like with so many priority early club registrations and Ironman All World Athletes, there couldn’t have even been that many spots open.

At 10:20 it was officially sold out, without it ever really having become available.

The extra fun thing is that Vineman used to have a waitlist, and most people would get in off the waitlist as people dropped out. But now that it’s a WTC/Ironman-owned event, there is no waitlist anymore. Because once they sell out of general reg spots, Ironman just wants to sell Ironman Foundation spots at double the price.

I was pissed. I was so mad. What has triathlon become? I can’t afford this. But I want to do a half in the summer and even at double the price, Vineman was still my best option. All the other halves at that time would cost a flight and a hotel and bike transport. What option did I have? But I was so mad, I was close to tears. I don’t want to give them my money. I made Steve make the decision. He said, logically, it made sense to buy a Foundation spot into the race. There really isn’t a better option. So I did.

I think the Vineman crew does a good job with their races and I think their hand was forced here. There was a paragraph in the letter that they sent to past participants to announce the Ironman acquisition that said a lot:

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 4.29.11 PM

What that says is that you guys did this to yourselves. You wanted Ironman events and now that’s what you have.

It used to be possible to have a local season that hit the big races and didn’t bankrupt you completely. It used to be possible to do triathlon and feel like you were still doing something that was in the original spirit of getting out there and trying something hard, that wasn’t about the backpacks and logos and bragging rights and selling of manufactured dreams. And that just isn’t really possible now. Literally. The sport has changed since I last did a full season, and triathletes have no one to blame for that but themselves.

So, you fuckers better sign up for Wildflower and the back-and-better TriCal Alcatraz race. Because if TriCal goes under, I wouldn’t be surprised if they implement a scorched Earth policy on the way out. This is what you asked for.

8 thoughts on “What the Hell Happened to Triathlon?

  1. Oh, I totally hear you (and nice post, by the way). I’m a long-distance runner who was thinking of sliding over to the tri world. Then I discovered that the price of an Ironman is over $750, and I was floored; I thought $125 for a marathon was expensive. What angers me, though, is that this pretty much slices the playing field according to income levels.
    One of the reasons that I run is because it’s so egalitarian. You don’t need much beyond a good pair of shoes, and you can run anywhere. I like that. I love that.
    But shelling out close to a thousand dollars to compete in a race? No thank you, I’d rather save for a tropical vacation.

  2. I was thinking the same thing when I got the letter from Vineman…no Vineman, no Barb’s Race (which 10 years ago, had relays for folks who wanted to participate, but didn’t want to or couldn’t train for the entire distance). Grass roots triathlons are going by the wayside, but they aren’t dead. This is one of my favorite races due to the lack of corporate involvement and the benefit for the Grass Valley community. No logos, no backpacks, just low key and fun (and some decent competition as well)!

    1. Awesome! The problem with grassroots races is they’re so hit or miss, and you don’t know if it’s going to be a total shitshow unless you get some personal recommendations.

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