Ironman World Championships in Kona: A Race Story (Also Subtitled ‘Was It All Worth It?’)

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SHORT STORY:

In case you somehow missed my Twitter and Facebook and Ironman tracking and Instagraming and general spamming of the internet, I ended up 10th in the 30-34 age group at Kona in a time of 10:31:26.

SWIM: 1:01:36
BIKE: 5:43:26 [actually put that shit on Strava]
RUN: 3:40:00 [also this]

It wasn’t really quite as good as I was hoping for. It was about 15-20 minutes slower than I was aiming for actually, which mostly came from not running very fast and also from getting a penalty on the bike.

But I’m not upset about the race either. I did the absolute best I could on the day. I dealt with the vomiting and the problems, and I got through it. And it’s something that historically I wouldn’t have gotten through, on a course I historically would have been terrible at. I’m proud of leaving it all out there, even if my all wasn’t enough on that particular day.

There wasn’t a lot of time to feel proud, though, because I had to haul down the finish chute to edge out four girls who were within a minute behind me. This is the video of me finishing and weaving, which I find kind of hilarious, by the way:

I kept waiting and waiting for the moment when it was all going to feel worth it, all the work and the pain during the race and the crippling after. It hasn’t really come exactly. Of course, those moments are rare anyway. That’s why you chase them. This wasn’t one of those magical races for me. It was just a race.

LONG STORY: 

Everyone kept telling me I was going to be overwhelmed by the whole Kona experience, by how many fast girls there are, and how much of a crazy mess the thing is. Turns out they were right. Apparently, all those times I thought everyone was exaggerating about Kona, they weren’t. The whole organization is ridiculously complex and inefficient. Unnecessarily so. The check-in is ridiculous. The body marking is ridiculous. It’s all insane.

The Swim: In which I was so stressed about drowning in the chaos before we even started, that I threw up a little…

The one thing everyone also said was the swim was going to be intense. And they were right in that lining up at the start was so crowded and stress-inducing I actually threw up a little in the water. But then I forced myself to swallow the rest down, because that could end badly.

Amazingly, when the countdown got under a minute, suddenly a space opened in front of me, girls moved out of the way, and I got clear open water right at the start line as the cannon went off. I swam hard and for 100m I led the whole damn thing. And then I didn’t. Hah.

I went to the far, far right. I think you can see me  in the photo, all the way to the right, on the feet of that second string of girls.

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What was insane was randomly in the middle of the swim, someone would suddenly start punching me in the face or swimming over me. I was on the far right, so there was clear water next to me and feet in front of me. There really was no need to suddenly veer on top of me. I was skipping from feet to feet, speeding up and slowing down, and it felt fine. Then, after the turn, I was on a pair of feet that seemed slow and were on a very different path than the rest of pack. I tried to go past the feet and back to the pack, but realized the slow feet were actually passing us and taking a much better line. I made a decision then: I put in a pretty hard minute, got back over on her feet, and stuck to them all the way to the finish, even when we were 10m to the right of everyone else. I figured this was either going to work out terribly or brilliantly.

This is still amazing to me: the ability to respond to things in the swim, make decisions, speed up and slow down, know I’m well within myself and being strategic. That always used to sound impossible, but apparently I’ve gotten better?

The Bike: ‘Hey, this has to let up eventually, right?’

People yelled at me to run faster through transition, because triathletes are insane, and then we got on our bikes. Here is a photo of what the bike ride looked like (from LAVA):

IRONMAN World Championship
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images for Ironman)

For the first 20-minute out-and-back, it was chaos. Apparently, there are no drafting penalties in that portion??

But it didn’t really get better once we hit the Queen K. Everyone had told me there were going to be so many people and groups and I’d have more guys drafting around me than any race I’d ever done, but I had thought everyone was exaggerating. Turns out, they weren’t. It was just a massive cluster of groups the whole time. I’d leave space to the person ahead of me and someone would slot in the gap. I’d move to the left and ride past the group and think, ‘I did it! They’re gone!’ (because I never look behind me), and then I’d get swallowed by the group again, subsumed, people swarming all around me. Despite the chaos, I was enjoying myself. I said hi to friends as I passed. I knew all the girls around me — some just by name, some because I actually knew them — and I was chatting with them. I asked Hailey, since she’s raced here one billion times, if it was ever going to let up, get any less clusterfuck-y, and she said not really.

Then, we were headed up to Hawi, on a climb, with people all around, and a motorcycle pulled up, waved a blue card at me, and said, “Next penalty tent.”

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Honestly, I had heard the motorcycle coming, but it hadn’t even occurred to me I was in any danger of getting a penalty. It was a climb, everyone had squished up even more than they had been. I couldn’t see a legal person anywhere in sight.

Then, 30 seconds later, as I was trying to get my head around this and riding to the left, so it’d be clear I wasn’t trying to draft, another motorcycle pulled up and yelled at me to get back over to the right, and pointed to a spot directly behind a girl — WHICH WASN’T LEGAL EITHER. I almost started to cry. Where was I supposed to go?!?

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But you don’t get time-outs to debate, and you don’t get do-overs. It seemed like the refs had gotten done with the pros and decided they needed to do something about the cluster mess, and started handing out semi-random penalties to set an example. Oh well. By the time I stopped in the penalty tent — which was also a mess, shockingly — I had convinced myself that five minutes didn’t even matter in an Ironman. A friend told me a story once about a guy who forgot his Di2 battery, got to his bike in transition, realized it was gone, went to the hotel to get it, came back, and still got 5th overall. Of course, on Saturday, five minutes ended up being worth 2-3 places, but whatever. Details.

By the time I started riding again, I was fine. And the course was less of a mess on the way back — maybe the random penalty-giving worked in some way. I was mostly able to just ride. Three things were starting to worry me, though:

  1. My head had been pounding for awhile, which seemed heat/dehydration induced.
  2. I looked down at my arms and realized they were already sunburned-fried and thought, “That’s not great.”
  3. I was struggling to keep food down, and threw up a little. Once on myself.

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Still, I was surprisingly optimistic about the whole thing. Hillary had told me everyone feels terrible from Waikoloa back to town, so if I only felt semi-shitty that was a win. I hit Waikoloa and I thought, “I feel fine!” Then I thought that was hilarious, because I was covered in urine, had vomit on my leg, and was worried I was at the early stages of heatstroke. But whatever, that’s a win! I spent the end of the ride trying to get some calories and water down, not override the thing — which, in retrospect, I probably should have ridden harder — and start to remind myself the run was still going to be miserable.

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The Run: Spoiler Alert – It was miserable.

I knew I was going great. Great. At least, pretty good, right where I needed to be, somewhere around 10th in the age group. I just didn’t know if my ‘it all comes down to the run, track people down’ plan was going to work out.

The first 10 miles of the run are out and back on Ali’i Drive. I told myself to just run easy easy easy, whatever pace that was, for those 10 miles. It turned out to be this weird thing that kept happening all month in Hawaii: I felt like I was running so slow I was basically running in place, but I also felt like I might pass out and die. Hard to say.

run-konaI downed 3-4 gels in that first hour, drank my whole bottle of water, and was pouring cups on myself at every aid station. It was a bit of a struggle, but do not think beyond the mile you’re on. That mostly almost worked, except for a couple problems.

  1. I still was struggling with calories and hydration, little burping and throwing up in my mouth. And my head was still pounding.
  2. As I was headed back into town, still running 7:50s, my heart rate started to drop. It dropped all the way down to 80 bpm. I was getting light-headed, pressure, feeling like I was going to black out. Which would not be great.

By the time I hit the Queen K and then the halfway, I was worried, but I was still passing people. Maybe if I had stopped to refill my bottle instead of throwing the bottle away in what seemed like a good decision at the time??, it would have mitigated some of my eventual problems. Maybe if I hadn’t eaten all my gels already (though I swear I must have dropped some), I would have been able to down more of them and stave off the crash. I don’t know. What I do know is that I had slowed to 8:0x and I was forced to drink as much as I could at each aid station — two cups of water, two of Gatorade, dump ice down shirt, two more cups of water. Around mile 15, I went through one of those aid stations, made it another 200m, and then projectile vomited up everything I had just drank. It was an impressive torrent of water and Gatorade and maybe a little vanilla Power Gel too.

I stood there for a second, thinking, “Well, I guess I’m done?” And then this girl running by said, “Keep going,” so I did.

At that point, I stopped really racing. I stopped caring. My new goal was just to finish and I figured that was going to take a long, long time. All I was trying to do was simply continue moving forward. That’s what I told myself: Just keep moving. Turned out as long as I was still moving, I was still passing people. I had a frozen water bottle in my special needs bag (and more gels) at mile 18, so I told myself just to make it there. Of course, by the time I got there, it wasn’t frozen anymore and they couldn’t even find my bag at first and I was pleading, “Please, please, #2126.”

I don’t really know what happened the last 8 miles. In retrospect, looking at the splits, I actually didn’t slow down too much after the vomiting. It was about 5 miles later that I really started to slow down, when it finally hit that I’d only been sipping Gatorade (and sucking on ice cold sponges — which also seemed like a good idea at the time??). But I didn’t know this then. All I knew was I was just trying to move forward, however slow, I just had to get to the finish eventually. Just make it to 20. Just make it to the next aid station. Just make it to that Texaco station. Just make it to the intersection.

Around 23, Steve told me I was in 6th for my age group. He was wrong; I was actually in 8th. Then a half-mile later, Alyssa told me I needed to go now, I had to go, I had to dig deep. And I was like, “This is the only flavor this comes in right now. This is going.” But she was right and with less than 2 miles left, three girls went by me. And then I was running down Palani, a mile left to the finish, and it looked like there was a girl up ahead of me? I didn’t want to pass her. I really didn’t want to have to deal with racing. I just wanted to keep moving to the finish, that’s all.

As we turned down to Ali’i Drive, to the famous finish, I finally made the slowest motion pass of all time at a blistering 8:15 pace, and then I couldn’t look back. The whole time all I kept thinking was how do you pronounce the street we were turning down, Hualalai Road? Hua-la-lai. Hooo-aaah-la-liiiii. I said it over and over in my head.

I didn’t really get to enjoy that long final stretch, with all the cheering. I had to just keep moving. I only high-fived one kid! Thank god, though. I beat that girl by 14 seconds, and then there were three more women (two in my age group) within 40 seconds behind her. Apparently, I was racing the whole time and I just didn’t know it. Maybe if I’d wallowed less, I’d have been a few minutes faster. Maybe. But that’s how Ironman goes. Everyone wallows. And sometimes if you just keep moving forward, then that’s enough to still be racing.

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8 Weeks to Kona: A Running Diary

UPDATED: Original post – Aug. 12

Tomorrow is 8 weeks to Kona. I know this because 1. people on Facebook keep saying it and 2. it’s a Saturday, so that sort of makes sense.

People ask me a lot of questions about Kona training. Am I ready? (No, duh, I have 8 weeks still.) What’s training with Hillary like? (Hard.) How much do I train? (A normal amount for someone going to Kona.) I must train so much. (Not really.) What is that like? (Hard. Normal.) Am I excited? (Sure. And tired.)

I was reading this amazingly hilarious running diary of the opening Olympics weekend in Rio by a Sports Illustrated writer, and I thought that’s perfect for capturing the flavor of it all. I should do that. I should just do a running diary of these last 8 weeks and it will answer all these questions, which really all come down to one question: No, really, what’s it like?

So, this post will just be a running post from here until Oct. 8. (Just had to look up that date; blissful ignorance is my secret sauce.) I’ll add short notes and thoughts to the top, below this intro, maybe every day, maybe every few days. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll be so tired, it’ll just be a weird jumble of words. Welcome to the journey.

Friday, Oct. 7

2:10 p.m.

It’s time to go, I suppose. I’ve improvised a way to get my number on my bike, packed up all my bags — so many bags — and put the stuff that I need in the places that it needs to be. And, at this point, I guess if it’s not there, then I’ll make do without it.

I don’t know how tomorrow is going to go. I’m not just saying that. I really don’t know. When I do the math on what I can expect, my rough range for a good day is about a 50-minute window. That’s a wide range. And that doesn’t even count if it’s not a good day or if it’s a really really bad day. It’s just really hard to know. You can’t know. I’m alternating wildly between feeling fit and confident, and feeling very worried. There’s so many little things you could fuck up and any one of those little things could be un-recoverable from. I’ve managed to forget all the bad parts from IM Wisconsin, so all I remember now is how it just smoothly floated by. But that’s not really what it was like or what tomorrow will be like.

Last night, at the welcome banquet, Mark Allen was talking about embracing the island. He got all poetic on the topic. Instead of just hoping it’ll be 72 and overcast, with a tailwind all day, he said, you have to lean into the heat and the humidity and the wind and the miserableness. So that’s my goal.

I’m #2126, but you can track by last name too (if you know my last name). And I’ll be handing my twitter over to Steve, though who knows what he’ll tweet.

No matter what, I’m probably going to end up crying, and definitely going to end up drinking. Either way, it’s done tomorrow.

Thursday, Oct. 6

7:10 p.m.

I might be a little emotionally strung out. We’re at the welcome banquet and, literally, everything is making me start to choke up. The odds of me reaching the finish line without sobbing are basically .05%.

9:05 a.m.

Also, I think it’s probably better I missed that.

8:33 a.m.

I slept through the Underpants Run. I needed to get better quickly, obviously. And I do feel somewhat better, but now I just want to sleep all day.

Wednesday, Oct. 5

11:10 p.m.

God, I still feel terrible.

6:43 p.m.

I don’t think throwing up over the side of a boat is good prep for Kona. But that is what I am doing.

I don’t care how cool the lava flowing out of the volcano and into the water is, clearly my body does not like small boats and planes. This, uh, finely tuned machine is finely tuned.

Tuesday, Oct. 4

9:35 p.m.

‘Well, I’m racing on Saturday’ is the universally accepted excuse for why I can’t do shots with you, Mr. Triathlon Legend, even though it’s your birthday. He told me I better do good on Saturday then.

Man, I hope so. I did not not party to suck.

9:05 p.m.

OK, I will go with you to the bar, but I’m just having one more beer. A Bud Light is basically water.

8:44 p.m.

I’m just having one beer with dinner. That’s fine.

8:15 p.m.

Alyssa and Lauren are very concerned that I should be home sleeping.

7:25 p.m.

I’m driving to meet some friends and the DJ on the radio station I’ve been listening to for the last month is telling everyone, “Look, I know it can be frustrating, but we got to show these triathletes the Aloha Spirit. Even if we don’t feel it, they came to our Big Island, so let’s show them what it’s all about.”

So there you go.

5:33 p.m.

The one thing I’ve been stressing about a bunch is heatstroke. And one of the factors in that is the sunburn factor. (As someone who has had heatstroke, I know there’s not much you can really do to stop your body from overheating — other than not going so hard — but you can not do things to make it worse.)

I’ve been going back and forth all week about whether I wanted to buy this skinsuit for the bike, which would cover my back, helping prevent sunburn too early, and ideally be fast. The problems were 1. I had not raced in it, which stresses me out, because you’re not supposed to do too much stuff you haven’t done before, 2. I had never run a whole marathon in a skinsuit, so would probably end up wanting to change in T2 in some capacity, which I have also never done, and 3. I want to be sure to wear some of my team’s stuff (Team Freeplay, yo) during the race, because they’ve been supportive all year.

This has basically been my thing I’ve been angsting about all week, because everyone has something. And then this afternoon I took the plunge. I got the speedsuit. And I’m just going to change in T2. Not 100% sure into what combination of stuff yet. So, you know, I have something left to worry about — which is what I’m doing now.

1:05 p.m.

I decided to go ahead and check-in today, do a walk-through of the expo, and then be done. That way I won’t have to go back there until I drop off my bike on Friday. It was a good choice I think, but I walk in to the ballroom, am directed to a table, and the volunteer asks me, “What’s your bib number?”

Uh, I dunno. Don’t you guys have a list of that?

Solid start.

3:00 a.m.

I keep alternating between being pretty confident about all this — at least in the sense that I’m ready and I can do what I know how to do — and pretty freaked out that I’m going to screw up something stupid and end up with heatstroke. I have had heatstroke. It’s not fun.

Monday, Oct. 3

7:55 a.m.

In a week, I will be on my way home. First time since Aug. 25 or whatever. I had a crazy dream last night that involved me trying to get home with 20 different rental cars and then I got there and Tupac the Cat was like: Fuck you.

Sunday, Oct. 2

4:17 p.m.

Alyssa and Lauren got back to the condo and told me my car had been semi-vandalized and someone had written on the windshield: “Move your fucking car.”

I am now having a very awkward conversation with a very drunk and stoned guy, which primarily consists of me saying, “I’m sorry, I thought this was a public beach” and him saying, “Don’t fucking do that again. You’ve been warned. You’ve overstayed your welcome, fucking move along. Don’t fucking do that shit.”

As far as I can tell, the primary problem seems to be that other people want my parking spot so they can also get very drunk and stoned.

12:43 p.m.

Here’s a secret about Kona: no one is actually doing anything cooler than you are.

8:24 a.m.

Oh my god, my back hurts so bad. And my hip flexors. How am I possibly going to do the rest of an Ironman after swimming this? It is impossible. Everything is impossible.

8:16 a.m.

OK, it’s fine. Fine. Super easy, smooth, except my back hurts.

8:02 a.m.

I take it back. This is the longest swim ever.

7:52 a.m.

This isn’t a bad swim. Maybe the first time I haven’t felt terrible since Wednesday. We’re flopping along looking at fish.

7:16 a.m.

I don’t like getting up early if I don’t have to, but evidently every other person in Kona doesn’t have this problem. We’re meeting teammates at the pier to swim the course (and my condo-mates already went running at 5 a.m.) and it is already swarming with triathletes.

All of whom I’m sure will post photos online.

ONE WEEK TO GO

Continue reading “8 Weeks to Kona: A Running Diary”

2016: My Race Schedule

People at the gym have this tendency to ask me, “Are you training for the Ironman?” To which, I’m always like, “Sure.”

But also, this:

Spartan Super Temecula (1/30): Last year, I filmed this race for my grad school documentary, which was part of the whole short-lived ‘maybe obstacle course racing could be my sport’ thing. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) But I am still a bit curious how I’d do in an elite race that was actually over a distance in which I might have some endurance advantage, as opposed to a sprint through a baseball park, or an epic-ly cold nasty marathon-length thing that I quit. We’ll see.

Kaiser Half-Marathon (2/14): Who knows. WHO KNOWS. As in, I’m going to go out there and run my hardest, and hopefully that’s fast.

Tucson Training Camp (3/10-3/14): Contrary to popular belief, I actually highly enjoyed my last training camp experience. Really, for real. Except maybe the part where I had a breakdown and had to buy a bunch of beer and KitKats to make things better. But whatever, that happens sometimes. So I’m actually, for real, looking forward to this year’s training crash weekend — especially since I won’t be following it up with a second training camp two days later (which was a mistake last time) and because Hillary’s coaching me now, so you know, that’ll be a new experience.

Galveston 70.3 (4/10): This is what I’m primarily trying to get ready for in the early part of the year. This is the year of the halves.

Wildflower (4/30): I probably will do the long course. I should do the long course, given my strengths and training, etc. But there’s a part of me that’s still like ‘Oh God, it’s so hot and hilly and long and that one time I ended up with an IV in my arm after the Olympic.’ I’ll get over it, I guess. Also, heat training.

Pacific Grove (6/11): Yes, all the yeses. This is the best race ever.

The Dipsea (6/12): 1. You have to do the race or you lose your automatic spot. 2. It’s a classic. 3. Doesn’t this sound like the most fun/crippling weekend?

Vineman 70.3 (7/10): The year of halves. See above. I haven’t done this race since the 2011 mess. Actually, I haven’t done many halves at all since the mess of 2011 generally. But I am optimistic. Also training more, which is a key.

SF Tri at Alcatraz (8/21): Alcatraz is awesome, but Escape from Alcatraz is now $750 because triathlon is The Worst. In steps TriCal to bring back their Alcatraz race — complete with amazing marketing that was totally sub-tweeting EFA. Naturally, I signed Steve and I up.

Sunshine Coast 70.3 World Championships (9/4): OK, I’m not really signed up for this. But, in theory, if we’re going already, then shouldn’t I race it anyway too? Of course, I’m only giving myself one chance to qualify right now, so it may not happen. And that’ll just be that.

Kona (10/8): I’m not sure what it says that I keep having to look up the date for this race. Yes, I’m excited about it. Yes, it’s my A race. Yes, I’m going to be training my ass off this whole year. Obviously. But I’m not just training for “the Ironman.” That’s a long way away right now.

(Also, I may do other local things, like Folsom Triathlon or Morgan Hill Sprint or the Sactown 10-Miler, or whatever.)

I Do Not Understand the Kona Obsession

Since Wisconsin the number one thing people have been saying to me is: “Does that mean you qualified for Kona?” (Or some variation.)

Yes, when you’re the second woman overall, it kind of guarantees that you’ll get a qualification spot to Kona. And yes, I handed over my credit card on the spot and signed up for next year. I’ve never been before and so, of course, I’m interested and I want to see what it’s like and I want to race the World Championships — even though I totally agree with the assessment that when you have the world championships in the same location every year it doesn’t so much decide who is the best Ironman athlete period, as it actually decides who is the best in those very specific conditions, but whatever.

So, yes, I bought into the Kona hype. But I have to say, I don’t understand the hype.

Maybe I’ll change my mind after I go. Maybe it truly is the most important and only worthwhile goal in triathlon. But I doubt it.

It seems to me like people chasing Kona qualification, trying to find the races that’ll be easiest to qualify, signing up for another and another and another, focusing only on that one thing as some kind of measure of their worth are missing the whole point of why they’re doing triathlon. They’ve lost the reason that they made Kona qualification a goal in the first place. It’s like none of these triathletes have ever read Moby Dick.

My goal at Wisconsin was to have a killer race. This was loosely defined time- and place-wise in my head, but rarely did that loose definition focus on how I would stack up in my age group. There was a point when I was running as the third woman overall and I was pretty sure I was third in my age group too (though it turned out one of the women ahead was actually in the 35-39). And that would have been fine, annoying but fine, because I’d rather have done a sub-10:30 and come in third overall than worry about winning my age group.

And that fundamentally is the part of the Kona qualification obsession that is weird to me: Who cares how old the people ahead of you and behind you are?? It doesn’t change how well you did.

If I had been six months younger I’d have won my age group at Wisconsin by over 30 minutes. If the woman ahead of me was three years younger, then the woman who was third overall wouldn’t have qualified for Kona. Does that change what we did in any way? Does it change how good or bad we should feel about our performances?

I’m a big believer in you race who shows up on race day and that’s that. Sure, I 100% get that the 60-year-old woman isn’t really competing with the 25-year-old, but the lines between 34 and 35 or between 28 and 32 are arbitrary. And we’ve let the weird structure of triathlon convince us that they’re not, that they mean something. We let Ironman lie to us that it somehow makes us more or less deserving of being at a world championships. We lie to ourselves.

Steve won Tahoe 70.3 last weekend. It was a big deal, and his first half-Ironman ever. And when I told people he won, every triathlete asked if I meant his age group or overall. I will probably never say that someone won something unless I mean that they fucking won. He WON, as in he was the first to cross the line, went the fastest, no one else went faster. Period.

The other thing people kept asking me about his race was if that meant he qualified for Kona too. Because, you know, that’s the only thing that matters.

Oh, look. They found three more slots for Kona. This is a pretty good open letter about some of the problems with the Women for Tri Board deciding that giving themselves three Kona spots is the best way to promote women in triathlon. I’d add as a question: Why didn’t you do a contest of some kind to give the slots to beginner female triathletes, who could have fundraised and been ambassadors to their communities in much the same way that is proposed but better?

http://www.somerandomthursday.com/an-open-letter-to-the-women-for-tri-board/

The Case for Incivility

Last week, Slowtwitch published an op-ed about the dominance of American women in ITU racing. It’s, by the way, something I also wrote about. The premise of Slowtwitch’s piece was that, as is said in the opening line: “access begets prosperity.” The reason, it says, that the American women are so good at draft-legal racing right now is because there were so many of them swimming and running as kids and then in college through the 1990s and 2000s. That’s true. I have no quibble with that argument.

Then there’s some hand-waving and therefore, says Slowtwitch, Ironman increasing the number of professional women’s spots in Kona, so that women have an equal number of starting spots to the men, isn’t going to increase access or participation overall, because what we really need is more programs to get people into swimming and running (and cycling presumably) and access at that beginner level has nothing to do with access at the highest level.

This is pretty faulty logic, because it draws a false parallel and skips a bunch of steps. Like the step where the requirements of Title IX are what begat the increased number of women participating in swimming and running in the first place. It’s not like thousands of 10-year-old girls suddenly created their own swim programs out of nothing. Those programs were created because there was an increased demand at the college level, which then meant an increased demand at the high school level, etc. It also skips the step where USA Triathlon was able to tap into the excess of collegiate female runners and swimmers and bring them over to draft-legal triathlon, because the opportunities in ITU draft-legal triathlon existed for them to be brought into.

It seems pretty strange to argue that the success of women in ITU draft-legal racing proves that we don’t need equality in non-drafting Ironman racing. Because I feel like it might actually be an argument for the opposite.

But whatever.

That isn’t actually my main problem with the debate over 50 Women to Kona. My problem is that then Slowtwitch argues that the real issue is that people in this debate just aren’t being nice enough. This is something I keep hearing. If we could just have a civil discussion, then I’m sure everything would be fine.

Let’s concede for a second that there are problems that exist in the world about which civility is not required. There are injustices so terrible that the only appropriate reaction is anger. That is simply a fact. The disagreement, then, is over whether or not you think this is one of those things.

Clearly some people think it is.

Do I think calling someone names is a good PR move? Or that yelling at them is going to convince them of your rightness? No, not particularly. But, do I understand why someone might be upset enough to do so? Yeah, sure. And I don’t have a right to tell them not to be upset.

When you say that what we just need is more civility, what you’re saying is that others don’t have a right to be angry with you, that what you’re saying and doing is not in it’s own way more uncivil. When you say that reasonable people can disagree, what you’re really assuming is that everyone agrees you’re one of those reasonable people.

(Arguing about the size of the pier is not a reasonable argument. Can everyone please stop talking about how there just isn’t enough room on the damn pier? There used to be, when more than 100 pros did the race. If there’s not now, it’s because those spots have been reallocated to people who would pay for them. That’s fine. Ironman is a business and it has every right to make that business decision. But own that decision then. Stop acting like this is all just in the hands of Hawaiian pier builders.)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the call for civility tends to come from those defending the status quo, or that it tends to be directed at women and minorities. “Why can’t you just be more polite about us discriminating against you?!”

Part of the reason people seem so frustrated and so unable to articulate why precisely there should be an equal number of women as men is because this fight has already been fought so many times. Literally. This exact same argument. In so many sports. So it’s hard to figure out why we’re having it again, or why we’re supposed to be nice about it.

I do think there are reasonable ways to address the pro qualification question that aren’t 50-50. I’d be fine with 30-30, though I don’t think it’s really necessary and would cause a lot of over-racing. I think a 5% rule built in, with a whole lot of other questions about the details, could work. I think going back to a system similar to the age-group qualification system would be fine. (I think the only reason Ironman even moved to the KPR system in the first place is because they want to eventually move the age-groupers to a ranking qualification system as well, which nobody wants because we might as well just start having our paychecks sent directly to WTC if that happens.)

But I think if you’re going to set an arbitrary number, as dictated by a quasi-governing body, then it needs to be an equal number. If Ironman was a nonprofit governing body and not a private for-profit company, it would have to be. I simply can not think of another sport where the governing body would allow such a discrepancy at the highest level. Even on the other side of the same sport (draft-legal triathlon) it does not happen.

Everyone keeps nodding wisely and saying it’s all so complicated. If we allow the same number of women as men, then what’s next?! But it’s not really that complicated. It might be inconvenient. It might raise some questions you’d rather ignore. It might mean, somewhere down the road, that more women do Ironmans and fewer men get spots at Kona. God forbid. It might mean that someone is going to disagree with you. But that’s life. There’s nothing that says I have to think you’re smart or that you have to like me. We just have to get an equal shot. Anything else just wouldn’t be civil.

We Don’t Have to Be the Best at Everything

Last weekend, I went to a Galaxy soccer game with one of my classmates. It was, apparently, the playoffs. And, the Galaxy won 5-0. It was all very exciting.

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So much soccer.

It was also pretty full. And, soccer crowds, for all that they tend to be small, are scrappy. They make up for their lack of numbers with volume and enthusiasm. I know that everyone is always worrying about how to make soccer happen in the U.S. When, oh, when, is soccer going to become big here?? But, I got news: I think it already is.

I was thinking about this when I was at the USC-Cal game on Thursday night. The Coliseum holds over four times as many people as the Galaxy stadium. (The Galaxy stadium, StubHub Center, actually sits on the campus of Cal State University, amid industrial-looking office complexes, and we got mildly lost wandering around the infinite number of drab buildings trying to find our car.) Yet, the Coliseum didn’t feel that full on Thursday night. It was sort of a low-key game. Sure, they had a horse and Miley Cyrus, but the stands didn’t shake with everyone stomping. No one tried to do the wave and the screaming didn’t overpower my ability to hear. I know there were more people in the semi-empty Coliseum than at the mostly full StubHub Center. But, maybe the number of people at the Galaxy game was enough people.

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At the USC game.

IM Kona aired today on NBC. Triathlon will never attract the fans or the money of football, or probably even of soccer. Ironman races will never have live TV coverage. (There’s only a few of us who will watch a whole eight-hour broadcast of a race.) That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of money to made in triathlon — if there wasn’t then there wouldn’t be so many private equity and venture capital firms trying — and plenty of people who love the sport. NBC broadcasts an hour-and-a-half of highlights for the mainstream and maybe that’s fine for them.

Why do we need to be the most, the best at everything? The U.S. is very good at a lot of sports. Logistically, though, there has to be a limit. We can’t win at football and basketball and soccer and triathlon. Not getting into the whole inevitable decline of America thing, but we won’t be the best forever at everything. No one can be. And, there’s no reason we have to be.

The soccer game was still fun, even though Miley Cyrus wasn’t in attendance. The professional ultimate frisbee players I’m interviewing for a story will still play disc, even though they only make about $50/game. I still like racing triathlon, even though the sport may never happen in the U.S. Maybe I like it a little more because it hasn’t happened, because you have to be there because you want to be there. Maybe part of the appeal is not automatically being the biggest or the best.

Ironman Kona: Earning the Big Island

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OK, I get it, you’re in Kona.

Most of my internet right now is full of people’s pictures from the Big Island and tweets about panic training for the BIG race this weekend and Instagrams of the big sunsets. Your internet may not be that — Steve’s certainly isn’t — but, understandably, mine is. And I am not begrudging everyone their fun. Hawaii, as a place, is definitely fun. And, who doesn’t love watching a world championship.

But, (and, yes, there is a but) is it really as blessedly amazingly magical as we let the entire sport tell us? Is it really the only thing worthwhile in triathlon? Or, have you bought into the myth just a little bit?

Ironman may not be my thing. I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to do another before I decide. I’d like to qualify for Kona at some point, just so I can see what it’s like — kind of how I had to watch a bunch of “Girls” to make sure I was right that I didn’t like it, back before hating Lena Dunham had gotten passe and vaguely sexist. I may not ever be able to qualify, though. I need to get at least 45 minutes faster and not hurt; possibly, the woman’s amateur field needs to get less insanely competitive (and some people need to go ahead and upgrade out of the amateur field); and, still, Kona may always be out of reach. It is one of the most competitive amateur events out there, so I totally respect that. I do.

Except, or, I could just buy a lottery spot or a corporate spot or be given a celebrity spot or raise a bunch of money to get a spot. Or, I could just go and hang out.

When I was on the high school cross-country team, I was hurt at one point and had to sit out the meets. Instead, I got to just hang out, take splits, do the pre-race pep talk. I was part of the team, without having to actually be in the pain of running as part of the team. It was (in a lot of ways) so much better than actually racing. But, it wasn’t really the same. And, I wouldn’t have been on the inside at all if I hadn’t put out the pain before and earned the right to be there. The payoff just isn’t there if you don’t deserve it.

Of course, you can go to Hawaii whenever you want. You can do whatever you want. But, it seems like there are a lot more people hanging out this year. A lot more people coming up with reasons they need to be there, that they deserve to be part of the scene. I get that. If someone offered me a trip, I’d have taken it. I also eat brownies for dinner sometimes. It won’t be the same, though. It’ll be like sitting on the outside and trying to bask in the refracted joy.

You’ll say it was magical. It was amazing. You’ll say all that dessert you ate was filling. I hope it is.