Friday, October 29, 2010

Some ramblings

It seems wrong that any triathlete with a blog wouldn't comment on this whole Ironman Access Program debacle that transpired over the course of 24 hours.  When the e-mail popped up in my inbox, I went down the list of 'benefits' thinking to myself, huh, that's interesting, I guess.  Then the final line listed the price at $1000.  Are you kidding me?  Um, no thanks.  Now, to be fair, had it been listed at a lower, more sane rate, chances are there would've been too many people lined up to snag those 'slots'.  But making it $1000 to join this exclusive club insured that nobody would sign up unless they really, really wanted to... or $1000 just isn't that big of a deal to them.  Probably both.

I will say that although I found the whole concept a little ridiculous, knowing it was simply a way for them to make $1000 per entrant in return for... nothing.  Did anyone have to pay for their subscription to Lava magazine?  Any of us who's done one of their races this year already got a free subscription simply for signing up for one of their events.  I'll stop there, because you've all heard the arguments, but I will say that I never expected there to be the amount of angry, keyboard happy triathletes as there were.  If only we could start collectively working to make them lower entry fees or at least keep raising them so much, and stop letting so many freakin' people into their races. 

Now, I've got my own opinions on this, but I don't want to go off on a big rant about it.  I will say though, that as far as the apology and the cancellation of the program goes, I cannot for the life of me figure out how exactly this was supposed to solve the supposed 'problem' of people signing up for multiple races and only showing up at one or two of them.  Had the program meant that these people could get into events up to a month before hand, well, that would make sense to me.  Giving them one week in advance to ensure a spot, to me, doesn't mean they wouldn't sign up for more than one event.  I don't think most of the people who choose to do this are doing so because they are afraid if they wait to try to sign up for IMFL, they won't get in because it will fill too fast, so they might as well at least make sure they get into Louisville.  I am sure that some of these people do this, I just don't believe for one second that it is anywhere in the vicinity of 2500-3000 athletes as they claimed.

But ok, so what if it did fix the 'problem'?  What they are telling us now is that they are taking registrations and filling these races to capacity, but then suddenly race day comes and there are 400 no shows.  Of course some of these are injuries and some are family issues or deciding they hadn't trained enough or any number of reasons.  And I'm sure some are people who decided to do Ironman Lake Placid instead of Cour D'Alene because they had signed up for both.  Sure, like maybe five or six of them (and that's being generous). 

The thing is, they allow a certain number of entrants knowing full well what to expect in terms of actual racers when the day finally comes.  So, are we expected to believe that freeing up these 'unused slots' for people who were shut out of registration is supposed to be a benefit to anyone?  For anyone who did Lake Placid this year (and probably any number of their races) the thought that the course could've actually supported the three thousand entrants is laughable.  This was my seventh time at the race and I'm sad to say that it might be my last.  Just because you have room for 500 extra bikes in transition in 2010 as compared to 2009 doesn't mean that it is a good idea to have that many of them out on the course.  And don't even get me started on the swim. 

So, apparently this 'solution' was going to mean that there were going to be less no shows and even more crowded courses.  And if you've done any of these races lately, and especially if you have been doing them for several years, you will know that the courses can't get much more crowded without calling it a parade instead of a race. 

But you know, a lot of things have changed since I started racing.  It makes me feel like an old-timer or something when I can start to say things like, "Back in the old days..."  Yes, the 'old days' of 2002, when I first got into this crazy sport.  I'd just turned 23 and decided to try one of those Danskin all-women's sprints.  I hadn't discovered internet forums (where mostly you spend time reading about all of the things in the world you are supposed to hate and be enraged over) and trained based on a little book I found in a real book store.  I didn't wear a wetsuit and it wasn't out of place.  I used a road bike without aero bars and it wasn't a big deal. 

Also unbelievable about that first year was that I signed up to do the Timberman half... about 8 weeks before race day.  Just try getting into a race like that two months before now.  Plus, I think it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $130.  And I think I came home with more SWAG that year than any other year since, even though the price has ballooned to almost $300.  I get inflation, nobody can get around that, but are we expected to believe that the cost of putting on the race has doubled in 8 years?  Somehow, I doubt it.  Especially with literally 2000 more people contributing to the pot.  Yes, that first year there were something like 800 racers.  The bike course was a bike course, not an obstacle course. 

It's not just race entry fees though.  It is everything associated with the sport.  I raced for two seasons on my dad's old road bike which I finally had to get rid of because the bike shop told me it was going to rust through.  I bought a new road bike and tossed some aero bars on it.  I never even considered something like race wheels.  To me, that seemed like something only the rich people in the sport bought.  Now?  It's like you can't even show up at a race and not have race wheels without feeling completely inadequate.  In 2005 I went to Kona for the first time and I am pretty darn sure I was the only bike on the pier without race wheels.  I aws only 26, surrounded by other people in my age group.  Where did these people get that kind of money?  Race wheels were about as much as my bike. 

The $5000 bike seems more like the minimum you have to spend to get a nice bike anymore.  But 7, 8, $10,000 isn't really unusual either.  I know, you can always buy cheaper, but it just seems to me like now you can't even sign up for a race without at least looking the part, including a really nice tri bike. 

Oh, but now let's talk wetsuits.  I did my first season without one because I didn't get what the big deal was.  Ok, I also didn't know I was going to become addicted to the sport and fortunately both races I did had very warm water, so I just had to suffer through my 45-minute half Ironman swim without one.  When it became apparent that I was going to start racing indefinitely, I decided to get a wetsuit.  My first wetsuit, which was brand new, was $129.  Sleeveless, but still not a bad deal.  I still have it and there still aren't any tears in it.  I do recall that back then the top-of-the-line wetsuits for each of the major manufacturers ran about $400.  I got a message in my inbox the other day that XTerra's new top-of-the-line wetsuit is $750, and I suspect that many of the other companies will be similar.

I don't expect every wetsuit to be under $200, but again, I just find it hard to imagine that the cost of producing these things has gone up so much in the past few years.  Oh, and the best part is that these new, expensive wetsuits seem to only last a season or two before they rip or the zipper just pops right off. 

And then there are run shoes.  I guess that a lot of them haven't changed that much, but everyone is being roped into thinking they need to spend $180 on run shoes every 3 months.  Fortunately, you can still find good deals and really all you need to go running is some shorts and a t-shirt, so running is at least relatively safe. 

So it's not just signing up for these races that has gotten more expensive.  I guess the truth is that I wonder if I was 23 and starting the sport now, would I even be able to get into it?  Could I afford it?  I can barely afford it now, but fortunately my most expensive pieces of equipment were the result of sponsors.  In the case of my race wheels, that sponsor's name was Dad.  Someday I probably will have to buy a new bike, but I am not looking forward to shelling out the money for one. 

A lot of this stuff just makes me less and less excited about racing.  I have some great friends I've made in this sport, and it is always fun to go meet several other questionably-sound people to swim in a lake in New Hampshire in October, or ride over the Kancamagus Pass in April when it's 40 degrees and raining in the middle of a 7-hour ride or run the toughest 14-mile route you can find just because you can.  But I feel like those aren't the people I'm seeing anymore when I go to these races.  Not the majority, anyway.  I don't know, maybe it's just turning into another "thing to do" because people have the time and the money and they want a good excuse to eat lots of carbs.  It just doesn't feel the same anymore and it makes me wonder if I would've been as excited to be a triathlete if I had waited 8 more years.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

So... what now?

It's Columbus Day weekend, which is usually a pretty nice weekend in New England, complete with tons and tons of tourists checking out the foliage.  This was the first Columbus Day weekend I've actually been home since 2004.  Because that was the last time I wasn't in Hawaii.  I didn't get to cross the finish line in Kona every year.  I qualified in '05, '06' and '07 and raced and finished.  I had a bad year in 2008 when I was injured but I went to spectate anyway.  Being there as a spectator was actually kind of a nice change... until I saw the finish line and knew I wouldn't get the chance to cross.  I decided I'd do what I could to get there again the next year.

So I did.  I qualified last year, except 4 weeks out from race day I found myself walking home on one of my last long runs with a stress fracture.  I continued to train and actually thought going in that I'd finish no matter what, even if it meant walking 26.2 miles.  I made it to T2 and sat around for probably 20 minutes before I decided to just call it a day, and once again was left without finishing.  2010 was supposed to be the comeback once again.  Except it wasn't.  I had no injury excuses, I just wasn't in it mentally.  So I did two Ironman races which were the two worst performances of my career, out of 12 finishes.  Not really moving in the right direction there. 

I thought about going to spectate again, but well, you know, stuff happened and I stayed home.  I will at least say that it was an amazing race to follow online.  I was disappointed in the lack of Chrissie Wellington, but also got to see some amazing performances from both men and women out there, as well as friends and teammates.  So many going sub-10, lots in their first appearance there, and of course Cait running her way up to 8th overall with the second fastest women's marathon ever recorded there.  Not a bad day.  Wish I could've been there with you guys.

But, can't do anything about what's happened this year, all I can do is try and take control of what's going on next year.  I feel like I'm in the worst shape I've been in for years, but it is certainly not the worst shape I've been in ever.  We always have to start somewhere, it's just a lot easier to start from a place where things are easier.  You ever dig yourself into what feels like an insurmountable hole?  That's what I feel like I'm in now.  But watching the race coverage yesterday made me remember how much I love being there and how much I missed not being there.  My parents hadn't been out there to watch me since 2007, and had already talked about coming out next year.  Obviously only Mom can come now, but I still want to get there. 

Sooo... what's the plan?  For now, just trying to get in some semblance of shape.  I had originally planned on running a marathon in a few weeks, but as you can imagine, a lot of plans changed.  A couple of weeks of no running made that not such a great idea, so instead, we are just training to train.  After Christmas, I'm going to get in my car and drive across the country to Tucson, where I plan to live and train for 3 months.  Well, assuming I can find a place to live.  Anybody have any leads?  I could use some ideas!  And the only two races I'm signed up for as of now are California 70.3 in April and Ironman Cour D'Alene in June.  I guess I'll fill in the gaps later, but that's what I'm in for to start, anyway. 

So, that's the plan.  Trying to find that athlete I keep seeing in pictures from a couple of years ago that is hiding somewhere in here.  Getting the dedication back.  My father loved watching me race and I don't think he'd be happy to know that I stopped, so I better keep at it.