#57: A 97.2% finish rate
And other stats from a record-setting race.
issue #57: Oct. 18, 2023
We have one last newsletter about Kona (and then on to other topics!). And we have a winner from our predictions contest: Taryn sorta pretty much nailed it, but I think we’re going to have to also award it to Amy. Keep an eye out for an email with your swag!
We also have the newsletter in audio form for ease for our paying subscribers again. And then, we’ll be back with new things next week. Just let me catch up on sleep first.
For one week, a world centered on women
World Championship races often have high DNF rates, especially at the pointy end. It’s understandable. Many people start who wouldn’t start at other races—instead of pulling out, they toe the line with injuries or illness or question marks—precisely because it’s a world championship. More people also risk more to win—they’re not at the world champs to finish, they’re there to go for it or blow up. I understand all that and am never surprised when high numbers of pros DNF at the Ironman World Championships.
But I was also not surprised that a record number of athletes finished Kona this weekend. Of the 2,097 women who started, a stunning 97.2% crossed the finish line under the 17 hours. That’s a very high rate.
While I was surprised that for the first time every single athlete made the 2:20 swim cut-off (though I slightly misreported the number of athletes in Sunday’s newsletter because the finish line was actually still open), I wasn’t the least bit shocked with how many women managed to make it to the finish.
You know why?
Often, women DNF at lower rates, especially in ultra races. There are theories about women being better at pacing and problem-solving and nutritional management, and of course there are biological factors that come into play at uber-distances. But there are also a lot of theories about motivation and how women feel like they have sacrificed too much to then DNF. I struggled with this when talking with Christine Yu back in the summer about Up to Speed: If women finish at higher rates because of external pressures and expectations, if they finish because they feel like they’ve sacrificed so much just to be on the start line and so they don’t want it to be in vain and they don’t want to disappoint their families, then is that good or bad? What happens if they don’t have to sacrifice as much? Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Do we really reach equality when women eventually feel every right to DNF just as much as men?
Let me tell you something: Every woman in Hawaii—the athletes, the ops crew, the people working behind the scenes—felt they needed to nail it. No one wanted to let anyone down. No one wanted to leave any reason for anyone to say the women didn’t deserve every inch of the stage.
So, yes, 97.2% of those women finished the Ironman World Championship race, and those finishes meant everything to so many of them. I was there at midnight; I saw it. Yes, times were blisteringly fast. Records were set. Fields were record-breaking deep. Over 160,000 more viewers have already watched the women’s race on Ironman’s Youtube coverage than watched the men’s race last month. The women proved to the world that they deserve to be the main show. But they deserve it without having to earn it, too.
For all that I spent the whole last year making the case that we could not go backwards, that we couldn’t take spots away from women again, that the pro women needed a clean fair world champs race and the full media focus, that the numbers have showed over and over there is a market and demand, for all that, I’ll be honest: I actually hadn’t thought that much about what it’d really be like on the ground of an all-women’s race. I had been in the camp of ‘sure, it’d be better if the men and women were in one location in a multi-day event, but the women need their own race and this is the solution for now, so that’s that.’ I hadn’t actually actively been seeking out an all-women’s event. But maybe I got something I didn’t know I needed.
At the awards banquet on Sunday evening, the Hawaiian announcer was giving a speech and he said, ‘No disrespect to the men, but they tend to take up a lot of the air in the room.’
And he’s right. I hadn’t really thought that much about it beforehand, but there was more space with an entire event centered on women. For a change, we got all the space. There were more women in the media room, women announcing, women working, women speaking as experts on the stages. There were still men, plenty of men, but they simply weren’t the focus.
So often, even when we have an equal number of pro men and women at a press conference, the men take up more of the air in the room and then we’re told the women just don’t have any personality. The pro women were nervous a year ago that this wouldn’t work out, that they’d lose sponsors; they didn’t want to say publicly in front of the men that the men often interfere with their race and take their deals. So often, the women start second, they finish second, they’re treated as secondary. Yet, at the same time, so often we worry we’ve sacrificed too much to risk losing what we have. So often, even when there’s equal prize money and the boxes are checked, we’re still treated as boxes, people still called last year’s women’s race “the rehearsal event” to my face. And maybe I never even noticed it completely until all that space was left for us to fill ourselves. Maybe this is what dudes always feel like, not holding their breath.
Next year is going to be tougher. Over 50% of the women this weekend came from N. America (thank you, Title IX!) and there simply are only two qualifying races in N. America next year. I’m sure that will have to change and there will have to be additional qualifying ways to get the best women on the start line in Nice. I’m sure the numbers of those accepting their spots will go up now that they’ve seen what’s possible. I’m sure long-term growth will build, that’s what always happens throughout history. But mostly: I’m sure women should take the damn slot! You won’t regret having the stage and the space. You might not even know what you were missing until you take it.
A few last things from Kona:
We had what was either the best or worst Kona Beer Mile I’ve ever been to. People drank wine, seltzer water, hard kombucha for some reason; there was a relay. Anything went.
One of the other jokes lots of people made to me in passing about the lack of men was: What about the after-party! I would like to let you all know: Don’t worry, the after-party (and after-after-party) still involved as much drunken-ness as always and I think I sustained an ankle injury from dancing (by dancing, I mean jumping up and down on a slippery wet floor).
Word is med tenting was at the standard rate (~13% of athletes), even though anecdotally the pro finishers were very very messed up. (Lucy didn’t even make it to the midnight finish because of med! And Laura P. didn’t make it to the press conference!)
Word is also lots of merch was sold out, vendors did well.
And some firsts: Mel McQuaid was the first 50-year-old to compete in the pro field. (On the run course, someone in the crowd screamed out to to her, ‘you are my hero!’) Adrienne Bunn (who was also the youngest finisher at 18 years old), Lisa Cloutier, and Marlynne Stutzman became the first known female athletes with autism to complete the Ironman World Championship. And pro runner Lucy Bartholomew became only the second woman to race both UTMB and Kona in the same year. Nadine Hunt became the first First Nations woman to complete the race. And both my mom and my grandma sent me this story about an Air Force vet with Parkinson’s racing.
We did a daily podcast all of last week if you want more on-the-ground info.
Plus, don’t forget to enter Chelsea’s raffle fundraiser for &Mother.
That other big announcement
Even though Ironman’s big Pro Series announcement was coming last week, I didn’t want to spend energy talking about it before the race. When I heard, I actually just laughed—because, well, I think we can all see what’s happening here.
Triathlete has most of the details and I’m not sure I have a ton to add. 18 of Ironman’s existing races now earn pros points (starting with Oceanside and ending with 70.3 Worlds); it’s a combo of 70.3 & full races, and five count to your year-end points total with fulls worth more (but you max out at three fulls); $1.7M awarded to the top 20 athletes in that points ranking at the end of the year. Likely, qualifying for World Champs will also eventually change back into a points system.
It’s understandable why Ironman wants their athletes to race their events more, and why that’s not happening, and why they’re not thrilled about the PTO seemingly benefitting from Ironman races. From a PR perspective, however, the PTO did nail their response—even if I don’t totally believe them.
My hot take: That’s cool, always good to have more paying pro races, let’s see how it works out now from here.
Since I’m not one of the 100 pros who will be spending their December crunching the numbers and dates to figure out my most profitable 2024 race season, as best I can tell: long-course full IM athletes will probably hit the Ironman Pro Series, and mid-distance athletes will probably stick with the PTO (whenever those dates get announced). Here are the numbers crunched as is, if the series went into effect right now, but of course athlets will now change their race picks.
My only big (big) question is: Is this a long play? Will it exist if the PTO races change or no longer exist? That’s cool, always good to have more paying pro races, let’s see how it works out now from here.
A few quick interesting things in our sports you should know about this week.
Imogen Simmonds won Challenge Mallorca in the second of her three races in a row. (And even the best pros have tough transitions sometimes.) Youri Keulen beat Alistair Brownlee for the second week in a row (same double as Imo)—but my favorite thing was Cam Wurf & Ali Brownlee at the start line. (Instagram)
A driver who went through barricades at Ironman Wisconsin has been charged, though it sounds more like he was very confused than malicious. (KTVZ)
The Adventure Racing World Championships are now underway in S. Africa. (Youtube)
Ironman California is coming up this weekend here (take your Nice spot!) and there’s no pro race, of course. There’s also a new Washington 70.3 for next year, west of Seattle and Portland. (Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business)
Ironman Israel is understandably canceled. (Teller Report)
What does it cost to represent Team USA in trail running? Obviously, also true in principle for triathlon. (TrailRunner)
84 Olympic Trials marathoners are petitioning for a later start time. No word yet on how their meeting went. (Letsrun)
Should we just let gravel be gravel? (Escape Collective)
Do we need new rules for hiking? I mean, sorta, yes. (The Atlantic)
Castelli bought a 70% stake in Zoot. It sounds like that will primarily help the tri company with international distribution and reach. (Slowtwitch)
Steph Bruce ran while pregnant and people, of course, had a lot of thoughts. (New York Times)
One last thing
Don’t worry, the motorcycle guys are OK. (Click play.)
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