Tuesday, August 29, 2017

ITU's "Pay-to-Play" Age Group Duathlon World Championships Recap

I usually try to avoid writing about myself. But after racing last week, I wanted to take some time to reflect upon my experience at ITU's World Championships.

But first, let me explain what happened last year...


Last year was a son of a bitch (I'll give a cookie to whoever gets that reference). It started well -- I raced well at the Kickstart Duathlon in Georgia and the Mount Rainier Duathlon in Washington. My fitness was good heading into Long Course Duathlon Nationals; I had set several PB's for 10-30:00 power on the bike and run some good track workouts. But after the Mount Rainier Duathlon, I had a sharp pain in my low back. Despite rest and chiropractic treatment, the pain persisted for two weeks leading up to Long Course Nationals. And during the race, the shit hit the fan. I got off the bike and struggled to start running. I had a really sharp pain in my back/glute with every step. I contemplated dropping out several times in the first mile. Somehow, I managed to finish. But it was a very disappointing, 5th place.

After a couple weeks of limping around, my back wasn't feeling much better, so my doctor ordered an MRI. The MRI revealed I had a stress fracture in my sacrum. This meant I would not be able to race Standard Distance Nationals in Bend (and wouldn't get a chance to qualify for the World Championship).

In December, I managed to fracture the other side of my sacrum. That set me back another 8 weeks.

My only option for getting to Worlds this year was to wait and see if I would qualify based on USAT rankings. Luckily, I got in -- And in February, I registered for the ITU's age group draft-legal sprint and standard distance duathlon World Championships.

By March of this year, I was back and running consistently. I took a minimalistic running approach leading up to Long Course Nationals, and it worked well enough. I was a bit more prepared for the Standard Distance race in Bend (7 weeks later).

But, all along -- the world championship was my goal.

The build up to the world championship was kind of frustrating. My training went well, but I began to realize how USAT and ITU is more interested in making money than encouraging participation, diversity, or opportunity. For starters, if you qualify for an age group "world championship," USAT will require you to put down a $50 non-refundable deposit for each race (which I did). It was not apparent to me until later that the entry fees for 2 races at ITU World's would be an additional $508.75.

THEN, you have to wear a USAT/ITU approved tri-suit. Which can only come from one of two companies (TYR or ROKA).  If you had an old TYR, you could wear it. If not (and I didn't) you had to buy a new ROKA suit. For this reason, I will always resent ROKA (insert middle-finger emojis here). Since I didn't have any choice, I reluctantly bought a suit for $208 -- it will cost you an extra $50 to get your last name on it and another $15 to get one with a chamois -- out of principle, I wasn't about to select either option (several more middle-finger emojis here).

The icing on the cake, was being bombarded by emails from USAT and Endurance House stating "Parade Kits" were mandatory purchases. The kit consisted of a pair of shorts, a jacket, a hat and a t-shirt. Endurance House states the kit has a $400 MSRP, but I haven't been able to figure out which alternate universe Endurance House is living in... or which currency the MSRP is listed in. The email stated that the $180 kit was "required." I badgered Endurance House and USAT several times on Twitter, but never received any response:
When I contacted Team USA Coordinator, Lauren Rios, to express my displeasure she responded, "The parade package is mandatory for all athletes on Team USA this year. However, we do understand that we cannot force you to make this purchase."

What??? I didn't purchase the kit - and I don't regret that decision.

To sum up all the "required" expenses for the two races in Penticton:

Deposits + Entry fees - $608.75
Trisuit - $208.00
Parade kit - $180.00

Total = $996.75
And this doesn't take travel, lodging or meals into consideration.

$996.75 to participate in two races! That ridiculous figure is why I've been referring to the ITU Multisport World Championships as the "Pay-to-Play World Championships."

The only athletes participating will be those privileged enough to afford it or dumb enough to fall for the scam and believe that this is actually a "World Championship." I'm not trying to put down or belittle the accomplishments of those who participated (I was there too). But the truth is, the world's best athletes were not there, because they couldn't afford to be (not to mention, there is no prize money for age group athletes). I'm not fooling myself, these ITU events are not true world championships.

I could just as well put on a World Championship Chili cook-off in my backyard, charge $1000 to enter and offer no prize money. Then, when no one shows up, I'll declare myself the World Champion of Chili. You see what I mean -- when you put up significant barriers to entry and offer no incentives other than a medal and some pride, your "championship" looses credibility.

Then there is the issue of Elite vs. Age Group athletes. I raced in the Age Group race because I didn't have a professional license or qualify for the ITU Elite race last year. But, seriously, why can't we all toe the same line? That's what's great about running -- I can register for the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta and line up beside some of the best runners in the world. We run the same course at the same time and I can compare my results to theirs and we both have an equal opportunity to win. We can also separate out the age groups in the results afterward. BUT in ITU racing, the "elites" race separately from the age group athletes, at a different time and on a different course. AND the elites are eligible for a significant amount of prize money ($7500 for first, $6000 for second, and so on).

It's not that I just want to race for money -- some cash to cover travel and entry fee expenses certainly would be nice, though. It's that I want to test my mettle against the best and I think we should all be able to do that. Instead, ITU has put up some barriers to entry into "elite" races. Seemingly holding the elites above the rest of us.

To those who claim separating age group and elite divisions is for safety reasons -- Well, I had to race with all age groups last week. I lapped 70+ year old women... And I'm not moving much (if any slower) than the elites. Adding an additional 30 elites won't make much of a difference.

Rants over, on to the races...


I participated in two races at the ITU World Championships in Penticton - the draft legal sprint duathlon and the non-draft legal standard distance duathlon. I won my age group in both, won my wave in both, took the overall win in the standard, but got beat by UK athlete, Carl Avery who started in a different wave in the sprint race.

Both runs were pancake flat loops through downtown Penticton. The draft-legal bike course had a fair amount of climbing - riding two loops on the east side of town. It wasn't a very draft-friendly course, but I liked my odds on the hilly circuit with technical turns and a fast descent. The bike course for the standard distance race was flat and straight with two out and backs on the 4-lane highway (really boring).

Sprint

5K run - 20K bike - 2.5K run


As expected, the run went out fast... I sat back, just behind the front group and still clocked a 3:04 opening kilometer. I was banking on the front group slowing... and they did. After the first 2.5K loop, I had caught up with the leaders as it was whittled down to 8-10 athletes. There was a US athlete off the front who had ~20m lead. With about 1K to run, I felt the pace going flat, so and I went to the front of the group to push it a bit. The official split was 16:39 for the first run, but I believe it was a bit long. It felt a good bit faster, and my GPS gives the "5K" course 5.3K. Not to be one of those people who believes everything their GPS watch says... but I think we were closer to 16:00 at 5K.

Came into transition with a group of 7-8 athletes, had a decent transition, ran out with my shoes on and quickly found a group of 6-7 guys.

Onto the bike -- straight away, there was a lot of looking around and not much cooperation. Because of the technical aspects of the course, I knew a small group would be faster and safer through the corners -- And I wanted to shed the group of the less experienced cyclists and the strong runners who may be a threat in the second run. So, I went to the front... and dropped a few on the first climb. After about 4-5K of riding, there was a 180 degree U-turn. Here, a couple of guys from Great Britain came by me and said we had a gap... I said, "I'll ride" and off we went up a long false flat, taking pulls. Towards the top, one of the guys blew up and Robby Lightowler and I weren't waiting. So, we worked together really well for the last 12K or so of the ride -- taking pulls where possible, keeping the hills honest and taking a bit of risk through the turns. I only normalized 303 Watts for the ride (30:33). It was relatively easy.

I got my feet out of my shoes early and took the final descent into the sketchy roundabout pretty fast. I got into T2 with a small gap over Robby and that gap would make a difference coming out of transition...

I had a small lead to start the second run (2.5K). So, I basically set a comfortable tempo and made Robby chase me to make up the gap. I was feeling good and pretty confident in my finishing kick. If he caught me, I thought I'd still be able to outkick him. And he did catch me with about 800m to run. He passed me on the homestretch and I slotted in behind him for a few seconds. But with about 500m to run, I went back to the front and started winding it up. I could feel a gap opening up and that only fueled the fire.

I broke the tape at the finish, celebrated and kissed my wife. It wasn't until 30 minutes later that my mom told me that Carl Avery had beaten me by 22 seconds from the second starting wave. So, I can't claim the overall win. But, I did win my age group. Turns out, the overall podium isn't even recognized because this is the age group world championship. Regardless, I wanted to win outright. I wanted to set the fastest time of the day from start to finish.
Sprint Results

Standard Distance

10K run - 40K bike - 5K run


The standard distance race was two days later and I was still a bit stiff for the start... So, I was content to follow the pace of the leaders for the first run. The first 5K was pretty quick for my standards (16:25 @ 5K), but it settled in the second half and the front group shrunk to myself and two other Team USA athletes (Jesse Dunn and Cody Forman). Somewhere around 7K, Colombian, Alexander Diaza, surged to the front. I gave him a small gap because I was feeling confident I would catch him on the bike. In the end, he didn't get much time on us. Jesse and I split 33:24/33:25 to the Colombian's 33:19.

Careful pacing in the first run

I had a lousy transition where I fumbled with my shoes, knocked my helmet to the ground and popped the visor off. So, I lost a few seconds there.

"That guy looks like he's from Star Trek"

On the bike... the first few minutes are all about staying relaxed, watching the power numbers and keeping it under control. I made up the ground to the two leaders by the time we got out to the main highway and put in a surge to go around them. After that, it was a lonely boring ride up the highway and back... then navigating through lapped riders on the second out and back. There were two u-turns, so I could keep tabs on the other riders... and not much was changing. So, I sat there and tapped out ~300 Watts for 57:11 on the ~40.5K course.

Lonely road...

Off the bike, I had a good gap and I settled into an uncomfortable, but sustainable rhythm. I felt better the further I went and put more time into second place with a, less-than-impressive, 17:41 5K split.

Off the bike.. jus' keep runnin'...

It was good enough to win -- I broke the tape again and waited for the next wave of men to finish. Lee Piercy finished just over a minute down, so I unofficially took the "overall," which, even if it's not recognized, I'm more proud of than any age group award.

No, I definitely wasn't trying to rep ROKA.

So what did I win?

It's been a week now and I've had several people ask me what I won or how many coaches or sponsors have contacted me... Well, I won two medals and some pride. No money, no swag... And no coaches or potential sponsors have contacted me (I wasn't expecting any to do so). In fact, I've sent emails to six companies in the last week looking for some sort of support for next year -- I've heard back from two, but neither was accepting athlete applications. It's kind of funny -- those who don't really know duathlon think it's a BIG deal. But, if you've been around duathlon a while, you know the truth.

The truth is -- not many people care about duathlon. Triathlon is the Olympic sport and the two sports (Du and Tri) are governed by the same organizations. So, guess which one receives more funding, recognition and promotion. It's unfortunate for the pure duathletes.

I don't believe I'm entitled to anything for racing duathlons. I don't do it for the money, and no one owes me a sponsorship or a cash prize, but these things would make the sport more attractive and sustainable. Because from a financial perspective... it makes absolutely no sense for me to keep pursuing duathlon. Race medals and pride won't pay my bills or put food on the table.

Above all, I just want to have the opportunity to toe the line and race with the world's best.

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