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:

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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.

Why You Shouldn’t Sign Up For Anything in the 72 Hours After a Race

This weekend I went to a bachelorette party, stayed in a super rape-y motel by myself, and oh yeah, raced Wildflower too.

Everyone thought going straight from a bachelorette party and wine tasting to a triathlon was insane. But drinking wine and racing tri are basically the two things I do best. So. And it’s not that I thought I was necessarily going to get raped at the Economy Inn; it’s just that the odds were not as close to zero as I typically prefer them to be. (Steve: It had 7.5 stars. Me: Out of how many? Steve: Uh, 50.) So. Maybe the people in the room next to me weren’t meth heads. Maybe the two big guys standing right up on me in the tiny dirty motel check-in, while the stupid motel manager wouldn’t stop asking, “Wait, so you’re all by yourself? So, no one is with you? No one even dropped you off?” (WHY IS THIS CONFUSING!?!), were perfectly nice guys. But I slept with the light on and my bike propped against the door, which didn’t have a chain lock.

I should have just camped with The Kids.
I should have just camped with The Kids.

The race itself was fine. For all that I hate Wildflower, I like this new two-run course better. The water was clean this year and the new course is more insane and wacky and isn’t that why you do Wildflower anyway.

The only problem was that I couldn’t find my shoes after I got out of the water. I ran up and down the boat ramp and spun in circles and swore an insane amount. I even thought about trying to do the 2.5-mile trail run barefoot. Which would have been a bad idea. When I did find my shoes, I just took off sprinting. By the time I realized I was going too fast it was too late, so I just kept running fast and I didn’t even die. Maybe I should try running faster all the time.

Then, I biked sort of terrible, but better than last year, and got all discouraged in the middle. It’s hard when you know you’re not going to make up the minute you lost. And only being able to keep down half an oatmeal in the morning caught up with me. (This is a new thing, by the way: wanting to throw up so much before a race that I can’t eat.) By the end of the bike I was thirsty and hungry and hot and knew the run was going to be ugly.

Spoiler: the run was ugly.

Me being all 'oh, hey, maybe I'm not as far behind as I thought.'
Me being all ‘oh, hey, maybe I’m not as far behind as I thought.’

It was fine at first and I tried to make a pass on this UCLA girl stick, but I couldn’t. I don’t know what other people think when they’re running shoulder-to-shoulder with someone, but I just kept thinking: Well, she’s going to break me eventually. I was not in a good place, so I also kept thinking: It’s just four miles and I can make it four miles. Somewhere in the last two miles, that became a question actually. I ended up 5th collegiate and 8th overall. And, even with whatever, I was still about three minutes faster than last year. So it’s not that I’m not in ok shape right now…

Which brings us to why you should have a ‘no signing up for stuff in the three days after a race’ rule.

Today, I did a lot of Googling. Like a LOT. Like every Ironman-distance race of any kind anywhere.

I have no plans after June (actually, for real, in life) and I’m liking triathlon again and I’m faster than I’ve been in awhile, maybe ever in some ways, and that’s off very low volume, even for me. All that means that I’m super tempted to see what I can do for real, actually for real, not also while working 60-hour weeks or doing a graduate program in 10 months or fighting injuries or whatever.

And there’s some kind of weird adrenaline thing after a race which went well but not perfect, where you know you have more in you. See also: Why I did NOT want to sign up for anything after the LA Marathon.

So.

Ironman Louisville anyone? Or Muskoka? Or the Spartan Race World Championships in Tahoe? Or maybe age group nationals? Or, something else?