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#4: No going back
How many after-parties is the right amount of after-parties?
issue 4: Oct. 12, 2022
Hello, welcome to all of our new post-Kona subscribers. Every Wednesday morning, we generally do some kind of piece on a triathlon (or triathlon-ish) topic here, and then round-up the news from around the run-swim-bike world. Feel free to leave a comment and start a discussion, but only if you’re not going to be a jerk.
This week we are again talking about the future of the Ironman World Champs, but next week we’ll likely return to shorter newsletters and lean more on the “ish” in triathlonish.
Thanks again to Hoka for the Kona travel, and now I just need to catch up on all non-Ironman-related work! It turns out outside the Kona daze days do in fact continue to move forward.
Skate where the puck is going, future-proof your business & other slogan-y advice
There was a point around 1 a.m. Monday morning/Sunday night in Kona, when the party was migrating across the street, after the official after-party stopped serving drinks, after I’d wandered there from a sponsor party a friend invited me to, after the awards banquet, all of which was after the pro women (and somehow me) had ended up at the same bar Friday night after the Thank God I’m Not Racing Party, after all of that there was a point standing in the crowds I suddenly decided: Nope, this was enough parties, I’m out.
And I turned around in the middle of the stairs and went home and went to bed.
This year was the first-ever women’s only race (sorta, close enough) and the first-ever two-day Ironman World Championship event and a whole bunch of other firsts. The first athlete with Down syndrome to complete Kona. The first openly autistic athlete. The first athlete from a number of nations: Nigeria, first woman from India, first women from the Dominican Republic.
It was a lot. It was a lot of work and a lot of people and a lot of pressure on the town. And so the question that’s been eating away at tri comment boards everywhere: Was it a success? Was it too many people? Is it good for the sport? Is it good for the island? Is it sustainable? How? Can we keep this up?
But here’s the thing: We have to. There’s no going back now. So find a way forward.
Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images for IRONMAN
When Chelsea Sodaro crossed the finish line as the first new mom to win this title, there were a number of pundits standing around me who were all convinced that couldn’t be right, that doesn’t sound right. (Of course, yes, Natascha Badmann had a 11-year-old when she won the first time, which is amazing and also a different thing than being postpartum with an 18-month-old, so chill out.) But all I could think was: That actually that does sound right. It’s only really really recently—like a handful of years—that coming back to elite sports postpartum has been the standard; there are only a few dozen women who have done it at this level in any sport (Serena, Allyson Felix, and..?) and chances were they haven’t won the Ironman world title; it’s really hard to win for anyone, odds are stacked against you, plus those few dozen women are still making it up as they go, the science on elite postpartum training isn’t there yet, so they’re all sharing notes and trial-and-erroring.
It seems like it couldn’t be right because why couldn’t a new mom win this race. It seems like it couldn’t be right because it seems like it should have happened before now. But it hadn’t.
That’s how the women finally having their own race felt on Thursday, too.
Catch-up if you’re confused, with notes from:
I know there are issues around the two-day event—some of which are fair and some of which are dumb—but we gotta figure them out. Because it’s just math, if Ironman races are being added around the globe, if we want to be a sport that grows beyond 45-year-old white guys, if the future wave of participation, money, and viewership is diverse and female (and it very much is, look at the numbers), then: There’s no going back now.
So, here’s what needs to be fixed:
No, it shouldn’t be 5,000 athletes, that was too many athletes and we maybe broke the island. It should be 1,800 men and 1,800 women. Give or take.
Yes, the qualification process for 2023 is excessive and slots are rolling down too far at qualifying races and it’s freaking everyone out about the elite-ness of the event and risks watering it down and losing the whole mystique in the first place. But this is a very solvable problem we’ve created for ourselves. Instead of throwing 100 extra women’s qualifying slots on each of 17 random races (which is too many), they should just take the super secret proportional slot-determining algorithm and apply it the same to the men and the women. Done.
Yes, having the Kona races be on Thurs & Sat is both logistically understandable (you need at least a day in between for operations) and also somewhat insane. Maybe instead it needs to be Friday/Sunday or Saturday/Monday (both of which would probably put less pressure on the town than a Thursday), or maybe it’s one weekend and then the following weekend (issues there too, of course), or maybe it’s a pro day with the pro races spaced two hours apart with the women first and a separate age-group day (which you could probably do Saturday/Sunday because the pros aren’t finishing at midnight, though I don’t love this option—even though everyone keeps suggesting it—because it’d be too crowded for the age-groupers and you’d lose the purity of the pro races), or you host the men’s and women’s in different locations on concurrent weekends, or maybe it’s something else. I’m spitballing. My point is there needs to be a women’s race and a men’s race as their own things, and we can figure out how.
Yes, obviously, triathletes can be terrible house guests, as it were. All week the talk was about how “the locals” hate us, because, well, even I hate us sometimes. It’s hard to say how true this generalization is, since no group of people has ever had the exact same opinion about anything in the history of history—and also six years ago I both lived on the island with friends for a month and got my car vandalized during race week, so this isn’t exactly a new debate. (This article from the local paper gave a wide range of views on the topic.) The problem this year was simply too many of us for a town of 23,000—driving up prices, wiping out supply-chain-impacted grocery stories, and generally being too much. I thought Ironman did a decent job managing traffic for people to get around and funding money back to the town for the free community pool and meal donations, but there are tweaks to be made in the local impact I’m sure. Probably they need to add a fund for businesses that have to close down, or potentially pay locals to fill those key unfilled volunteer jobs during race day. (I know, I know, a whole other topic.)
Which brings us to: Yes, of course, the alternative is it rotates off the island. There are, again, ways to do this, keeping a race in Kona every “xx” number of years or a regular Ironman there and a championship event in the rotation, etc.
Figure it out.
Monday morning/Sunday night, when I was standing in the bathroom line at that after-after-party, I watched this random guy corner Laura Philipp and tell her about his race, in great detail for some reason, and I couldn’t make out: How did we all end up here? How did all the winners and pros and industry staff and regular age-groupers and me all end up in this one public bar? It wasn’t a private party, anyone could go.
Then I realized what had happened was all the pros and VIPs had been given a voucher for two free drinks and entry. (I know because someone handed me their extra ticket.) And that’s a $25 value; no pro triathlete’s gonna pass that up.
So we were all there together, having too many mai tais on a crowded wet patio, dripping sweat and telling race stories to strangers. It was chaotic and messy and semi-egalitarian but not completely and more fun than the private party I’d come from and somehow it worked OK enough.
Yes, this is a metaphor. Sure, there are things that should have been different and could be fixed and maybe the party has to move to fit everyone, but you can’t put a bouncer out once everyone’s inside. We’re already here.
A few other Kona odds & ends
Triathlete has the bikes and shoes ridden and worn by the top ten—notably there’s some debate about whether Gustav Iden’s On shoes were actually the Cloudboom on the market or a more stacked prototype.
Heather Jackson is officially done with triathlon and moving to gravel. I also wasn’t even aware Ironman Israel was a thing, but a ton of the pros are headed over there at the end of November because it has three Kona spots each and $100K. Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden, however, are taking their two days of L.A. vacation before 70.3 Worlds and back to racing.
One of the casualties, potentially, both of the increased prices in Kona this year and the overall media landscape, is that there was less media and less mainstream original coverage. That’s a shame.
One of the actually impressive things I saw, though, was the managing of spectator and foot traffic. In addition to the volunteers just being really really on top of it, I had never seen one-way pedestrian crossings through a course before. It’s actually super smart (so people don’t run into each other trying to get across and clog up the course and cause a crash).
Tim did the real reporting to confirm my suspicion that Ironman had bought out the coffee boat because Blueseventy was not an official sponsor. Obviously, they can do what they want, but there was some of this going down in St. George too and at some point throttling every dollar out of official sponsors and killing the unofficial vibe kills your money-maker. See also: everything.
Can you name the two U.S. states that were not represented in Kona?
Photo: Donald Miralle for IRONMAN
Also this past weekend: Ruth Chepngetich nearly broke the marathon world record at Chicago, and Em Sisson set a new American record, running 2:18:29. All the headlines are saying she “demolished” the record by a whopping 45 seconds. Meanwhile, my husband’s asking me ‘is there really that much of a difference between running 2:50 and 3:10?’ (Fast Women/New York Times)
Plus, the latest WTCS race was in Cagliari, Italy, in very poor timing, and Alex Yee and Georgia Taylor-Brown won to put themselves in contention for the season title. Back in Kona, reportedly, Kristian Blummenfelt watched the finish live very very early Saturday morning because he just loves triathlon too much. (Triathlete/Twitter)
In things I feel like triathletes were only vaguely aware of, UCI Gravel Worlds was also also this past weekend and cyclists have many many feelings about it. As far as I can tell they amount to: UCI took the things people liked about gravel and changed them to make it worse. (VeloNews/Youtube/Bicycling)
Put on your calendar: 70.3 Worlds is in three weeks (!) and along with the Norwegians v. Sam Long, it’ll be Flora Duffy v. Taylor Knibb v. Paula Findlay v. Holly Lawrence v. no word yet on if Lucy Charles-Barclay will also be going from Kona to St. George but I’ve been assuming she’ll want to defend her 70.3 world title. (Outside TV)
USAT also announced Age-Group Nationals for next year again in Milwaukee and will be combining regular nationals with youth nationals—which I’m only sharing because I know all y’all will probably be racing and also because I find it fascinating that Milwaukee is positioning itself as the next tri hub. (Fun fact: The top American age-grouper in Kona was from Milwaukee.) (USAT)
And Ironman announced a new 70.3 in Pennsylvania at Penn State. (Endurance Sportswire)
The other worlds, Xterra Worlds, took place two weekends ago in Italy too and was won by two French athletes. The one thing about Xterra is you can always count on it to have excellent photos. (Endurance.biz)
50K in 2:38:44, which is apparently a new world record and was also a training run. And, no, not from a Norwegian. CJ Albertson did it as part of a local race around this kind of miserable lake in San Francisco, which I hate running around one time, much less seven times. (Outside)
Four lessons from Kipchoge’s training. (Trail Runner)
When we wrote at Triathlete about Ironman buying into UTMB and planning to create a Kona-like qualifying system, trail runners lost their minds and triathletes everywhere shrugged. But now it’s actually playing out, so if you want to get into UTMB know that all the headache that comes with that is coming. (Triathlete/Outside)
There are apparently going to be Global Triathlon Awards in January in Nice, France. Who knew. (Instagram)
If you missed the investigative story going around the running world about the abuse at a small Christian school in Indiana, it’s worth reading—even if, like me, you had no idea where Huntington University was—solely for understanding the scope and depth of these kinds of problems. (Indianapolis Star/Fast Women)
I was going to write a whole bunch more about this, about all the terrible comments I had to delete when I wrote about Chelsea Sodaro trying to qualify for the Collins Cup postpartum and wanting to set an example for her daughter, about all the projections people put on pregnant female athletes. But, instead, I’m just going to leave this here: In defense of adventurous mothers. (Triathlete/Outside)
One last thing
All week, I made fun of Feisty for coming all the way to Kona just to make IG Reels, but who’s gonna argue with them now. 😭
P.S. Next week will be no Kona talk.