Friday, August 21, 2009

"Everyone’s a Winner”

Today I went for a ride with an old friend of mine – Jerry Lynch. Jerry is a sports psychologist who has worked with athletes in many different sports for decades. He is also an author (The Total Runner; Working Out, Working Within; Running Within; Tao Mentoring; The Tao of Fitness; TaoSport; and more). And he’s one hell of an athlete. In his 30s he ran sub-2:30 marathons and 31 minutes for 10k. Now at age 67 he is still trim and in great shape for both running and cycling.

As we rode we talked about what running was like 30 years ago. We agreed that in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s age-group running was primarily a performance sport. It’s not as much like that now. Runners then were focused on running as fast as they could no matter what the distance was. Marathoners were not considered to be any more of an athlete than someone who focused on 5k and 10k races. Distance wasn’t the issue. Time was.

Sometime in the late ‘80s that attitude began to change. By then the general public was becoming much more aware of running. And while the sport was becoming more widely accepted by “normal” people they didn’t fully understand it. For example, if you were at a party back then and you made some comment about being a runner you’d likely be asked if you had ever “jogged” the Boston Marathon. That was about all a non-runner knew about running (“jogging”) in those days. Answering “no” would produce an uncomfortable pause in the conversation and some how seemed to give the impression that you weren’t a “real” runner. So many otherwise contented 10k speedsters decided they had to run a marathon and qualify for Boston to be taken seriously.

This attitude led to a change in the sport of running. Longer events such as the marathon came to imply something macho. Real runners ran the marathon. Others who weren’t really runners did 5k and 10k races. Soon the trend was that everyone who ran had simply to finish a marathon. The marathon changed because of this attitude. Back in the early ‘80s at age 40 you could run a 2:50 marathon, finish in 12th place in your age group and not qualify for Boston. Today a 2:50 time would easily win the age group and place in the top 10 overall in a marathon of similar size.

Overall, the times for age groupers have gotten slower, it seems. The slower age group times also reflect a changed attitude among those who run marathons. The sport for most age groupers has become a social activity rather than a performance challenge. Finishing times are not an issue any more; finishing is the whole thing. “Everyone is a winner,” permeates the sport.

Maybe that change is good. Focusing one’s life on race times probably isn’t very healthy. But then I’m not sure that walking a marathon establishes much either. I kind of liked it when a fast 5k was every bit as acceptable as a marathon finish.

I’m seeing the same change starting in triathlon. It used to be that a fast Olympic-distance race was considered quite an accomplishment. Now it pales by comparison with the Ironman. Ironman has become such a force in the sport that you aren’t considered a “real” triathlete unless you’ve done one, or, better yet, finished Ironman Hawaii. I seldom come across a triathlete any more who isn’t at least thinking about doing an Ironman in the not-too-distant future.

I also come across people who have never done a triathlon at any distance and are contemplating doing an Ironman as their first race. There’s no concern for how fast they might go. It’s just get to the finish line so they can hear those magic words, “You’re now an Ironman.” Then they can get a tattoo on the ankle, I guess.

Most “normal” people have no idea what it takes to even finish an Ironman. They see TV coverage and it looks so easy. Of course, the pros in any sport will make it look easy. It isn’t. Most people couldn’t sit in front of their televisions for 17 hours let alone swim, bike and run that long. Most are doomed to failure by starting at this distance. It would be better had they started with a sprint and five years later did an Ironman. But that’s too time-consuming for people today, it seems.

Our fascination with long-distance events concerns me. I don’t think it’s good for the future of any endurance sport when going slowly for a long time just so one can cross the finish line is held in higher regard than going very fast for a short distance. The person who starts out with an Ironman will likely have a very short triathlon career. Then what? Three-day adventure races? And after a couple of those what’s next?

Perhaps I’ve become an old curmudgeon who longs for the good, old days when distance wasn’t the key issue; speed was. Of course, there will always be athletes who strive to see how fast they can go at short distances. But they seem to be a slowly diminishing breed of endurance athlete. One good thing I see about this shift in attitude in sport is that it encourages more people to participate. Finishing is a lot less challenging than going f


At August 21, 2009 12:48 PM , Blogger hstryk said...

It's so disheartening when I tell someone I train for triathlons and they assume Ironman is the only distance. When they find out I've only done sprints, they seem disappointed even though they've never run a 5k race let alone .5 mile swim and 10 or so mile bike ride. The more I train and race the more an Ironman distance seems so far away. I have no idea how someone can choose that for their first triathlon.

To do it for the label, for the "right" to get a corporate symbol tattooed on you forever, in my opinion, isn't in the spirit of the sport, or ANY sport for that matter.

Great post.

At August 21, 2009 12:57 PM , Blogger Isac Costa said...

"Finishing is a lot less challenging than going fast."

I am not sure if I fully agree on this. I think this depends on the background of the person and what is it that he or she is looking for when training and racing. For some people, going faster is not even an option, I think.

To me, that used to be sedentary for the past 30 years and recently lost 100 pounds, merely finishing a 10-mile race a couple of weeks ago with a smile on my face and no sign of injury was a real challenge.

I guess I will prefer go longer at a steady and slow rhythm than trying to go faster. Personally, I will feel much better finishing a 4:30 marathon than improving my 10 Km time from 1h to 50min, even though I know that both tasks are challenging.

If I got right what you said on the Triathlete's Bible, for a novice, the advanced skills shouldn't be more important than the base skills. I understood this as focusing on lower heart rates, good technique, aerobic endurance before trying to train more intensely, focusing on anaerobic and muscular endurance. I think the latter play a major role in shorter events, isn't that right?

I see long distance events as more of a mental challenge, not a "macho" thing or more important than shorter events.

At August 21, 2009 1:17 PM , Blogger MC said...

Long live the crit racer!!!

At August 21, 2009 1:19 PM , Blogger Joe said...

I'm a fan of yours and have adapted your training methodology to make myself a much faster cyclist.

Over the years, I have completed two 100 mile runs, lots of 50ks and 50 mile runs, I rode Dairyland Dare 300k (a brevet with 22k ft of elevation gain) this weekend AND I'm very avid cyclocrosser (i.e. ~45min@LT ). For what it's worth, I tend to be mid/top-third pack across the range of activities.

I see the point that you're making, but I think it needs some clarification to be accurate:

"Finishing is a lot less challenging than going fast FOR THE SAME DISTANCE"

Running a fast 50m is a totally different (and much more challenging) experience than running 50 to finish, and training to finish a faster 50 is similarly more challenging. That said, training and/or racing to get faster at a 45 min cyclocross race is not in the same league of difficulty as training/running an ultra distance event. I can shore up my cyclocross chops with an 8-9 hour a week high-intensity training program, but finishing a 100 or even 50 mile run requires months of preparation, building milage etc etc. That, in my estimation, is a greater challenge.

That said, I think the key to accommodating the push toward longer distance and keeping things healthy is managing cutoff times -- a whole 'nother subject.

At August 21, 2009 1:30 PM , Blogger Luke said...

Thanks - this articulates a lot of my unease with the recent surge of participation in endurance sports.

Simply to finish nearly any distance, I think, misses the point of the event.

Unless you push the intensity, I think you miss nearly all points of a sport that I'd consider important.

Sure, some people feel that simply being able to suffer for a long time is an accomplishment in and of itself, but many, like myself, feel like this sort of misses the point.

At August 21, 2009 2:15 PM , Blogger Zippy said...

Great post, Joe.

I race Xterra and Cat 1 MTB and frequently get derisive comments on web forums about "being fast" or on my decision to wear my team race kit on rides instead of the increasingly-popular baggy-style clothing.

An odd reversal from when I started racing 10 years ago. Recreational riders seemed to have more respect for racers whereas I now get criticized for being in shape and pursuing competitive goals.

At August 21, 2009 2:33 PM , Blogger MaineSport said...

Sitting here at USAT AG Nationals, I couldn't agree more. It's great to get the participation numbers up, but others also need to excell at going FAST.

At August 21, 2009 2:51 PM , Anonymous Sam said...


You take a controversial stand, but I applaud the courage to speak your mind.

One of the most beautiful aspects of competitive cycling is the elusiveness of a win. It's hard to win bike races, so you can't be afraid of failure if you're going to progress in the sport. The "everyone is a winner" approach is a built in security clause for those who fear failure.
There's a lot to learn from failure. There's a lot to learn from success too; but overcoming failure to achive success is the ultimate reward in sport.

At August 21, 2009 3:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe-I went to Cat 2 as a single mom over 35 with 2 kids and a job on your program. Much love.

I do not understand the appeal of long distance racing-marathon/Ironman to the non-elite athlete. If you're not fit, stick with training for 5ks, club time trials and sprint tri. Way healthier and a much more manageable goal.

It does cheer me up to know that age grouper 5 k times are going up.

At August 21, 2009 3:47 PM , Blogger skvisa said...

Recently A couple of Norwegian athletes took a wrong turn when participating in a trail race. They were leading, although maybe not enough to finish first after the mishap. One of the two decided not to finish the race. The other athlete finished, but far from first, or at a personal best. That is sportsmanship! The bloke who finished last in the entire competition however gets even higher regards from me, because he was probably on the very edge of what he's capable of. Or at least what he thought he was, since he probably set out on something he did not know if he could finish. My point being that everyone is indeed a winner if they choose to compete with them self, and is victorious. My highest respect in this sport or any, goes out to Chrissie Wellington, who after finishing first, stays at the finish to cheer in the age groupers. I suspect that she knows; that some of the efforts that has been put into finishing at all, Dwarfs even her own efforts. If only you could have measured them by other means than finishing time...

At August 21, 2009 5:03 PM , Blogger Fred said...


From your previous post a few days ago:

"Note his first goal to 'finish.' That's wise. He has been in the sport about one year and has done a few sprint- and Olympic-distance races."

• It’s simple: finish!
• Pace, moderate efforts at beginning of each leg
• Have fun and don’t worry about time
• Race your own race, don’t worry about other athletes (especially when they pass you)"

I understand where you're coming from, but perhaps if you really want to do something about this, you (as the biggest coach in the business) could encourage athletes who come to you to follow your "five-year Ironman plan?"

Not to be disrespectful, but you lose a bit of credibility when you complain about a system you're working to propagate.


At August 21, 2009 5:54 PM , Anonymous John Krause said...

"One good thing I see about this shift in attitude in sport is that it encourages more people to participate. Finishing is a lot less challenging than going fast."

I agree with a lot of what you have said, but your viewpoint is a little skewed by your long association with sport and endurance sport in particular. You need an addendum: "Starting is the most challenging aspect of all." When I nervously toe the line for my first triathlon (sprint distance, Redman, OKC) on Sept 20th. I will have already won.

Not because I finished, but because I started. Started training, found something I love to do and made myself healthier along the way. I'm 30lbs lighter and threatening to get out of the Clydesdale category for the first time in 20 years. Judge who has won what at the finish line and you might miss a lot.

At August 21, 2009 5:59 PM , Blogger Marshall said...

OH MAN! You nailed it, Joe.
I applaud you for having the wherewithal to say it, too.

At August 21, 2009 6:24 PM , Blogger D. Hawerchuk said...

I'm racing IM Louisville next weekend. This is my first long course event after three years of sprints, Olys and 70.3s. I've been training specifically for this race as my A race for the past 36 weeks. I have a race plan and a goal. However, I have my doubts about whether it is best to go strong for my goal and potentially DNF or take it easy and finish, perhaps slower than my goal, but finish nonetheless.
What are your thoughts?

At August 21, 2009 6:51 PM , Blogger Matt said...

Joe - good post...I can agree with the supposition that people simply doing the distance is somewhat troubling. My counter point would be that one can also see this trend as is an entry point to going fast. I'm a coach and have worked with athletes at most levels. I can honestly say that most of my athletes that start out merely to finish, a century for example, have returned to coaching to try and do it fitter and faster the next time. These may be outliers in that they sought out a coach to start with, but I think of it more as a starting point for future growth into the realm of 'fast'...

At August 21, 2009 6:53 PM , Blogger Sigberto said...

Great post, Joe. You shared a gripe that I couldn't articulate so well myself.

It seems that the categorized system of USA Cycling seems to go the other route - as you progress in the sport, then you can take on the longer challenges. Along the way, it just keeps getting faster.

At August 21, 2009 7:00 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

D.Hawerchuk--This may sound like a contradiction of what I said in the post above, but the first time you do an IM the goal is to finish. It's a daunting challenge first time out of the blocks. I have even told that to the pros I have coached when doing their first. Then you have a standard to gauge against for the second. DNF'ing your first IM makes for a long winer thinking about it. Good luck!

At August 21, 2009 7:11 PM , Blogger Craig Uffman said...

I too am a great fan of your but I agree with your own assessment that you sound like an old curmudgeon. More than that, I would say that your comments here are inconsistent with your overall project which urges people to grow safely in the sport based on their current level of fitness. You yourself encourage "to finish" as the appropriate goal for a novice. If it were not for that cultural change that welcomes the novice, you would not have seen the explosion of the running and triathlon world economically from which you profit today.

I think the problem with your post is that your wording does not seem to capture your point well. I believe you are trying to day that it is good that the sport is growing because of the fact that there is no stigma attached to being merely a back of the pack, but we have not lose perspective - it's essential that we reserve our respect for the top of the class athlete in all the distances, recognizing that each have their unique demands. So there is a tension that must be maintained between welcoming the novice and intermediate runner and celebrating true excellence, with a clear priority that excellence must always be the goal for all of us.

At August 21, 2009 9:04 PM , Blogger Mark said...

Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

I'm 6'2" 195 and have a body more fit to football WR then a triathlete. I truly am sick of couch potatoes asking if I've done an IM when I reply to their "what's your sport" question. When I say 1/2IM I always get the "oh well you're a big guy so that counts." I get the same attitude with marathons. Again I've done a 1/2 (by itself) but not a full. I was even told once that I wasn't a real runner by a 6+ hr marathoner.

So yes I'm a sprint triathlete and a 5K 10K runner who once a year does a bike century. ;-)

Thanks a bunch for this post.

At August 21, 2009 11:42 PM , Blogger Ti( * )( * )ies said...

This is brilliant, no excuses, no apologies, HTFU and go fast! It is nice to participate, but it is glorious to win and best all others!

At August 22, 2009 7:29 AM , Blogger Sheila said...

I don't seem to come across this attitude too much. Some. But most of my friends and family and people I tell about the triathlon I'm doing/done (only Sprints so far) seem impressed. And yes I've done marathons, and yes I felt a bit wimpy training to PR my 5K this past July instead of training for a longer race distance, but most people are suitably impressed when I tell them the actual distances. Because, as you say, they can't run 3 miles at all.

What I'm saying is perhaps your exposure is a bit skewed and not representative of the total picture, because I'm not really seeing that much of what you're talking about. Some. A little bit. But mostly responses to my race distances are favorable. And I've only done my first 2 tris this summer and have NO plans for an Ironman in the foreseeable future. Perhaps a 1/2 IM next summer. Maybe.

At August 22, 2009 8:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,

I really enjoyed your blog as well as this article in general, but I like to add that some novices will stick around the sport and continue to develop and refine their abilities to become the best they can be. As a coach, I'm sure you understand the 90/9/1 rule, whereby only the 9/1 (that's 10%) of the population in any sport are considered at least at the top of their game. Most of us who have done tri, running, cycling for years are in that percentile. The rest of the 90% do not necessarily aspire to become the best. Average or below average is fine and usually, these people are under average self-esteem wise that they need something great to supplement their shaky ego. The role of the coach is to hopefully train some of these 90% average athletes and hopefully turn them into the top 9% or even the best 1%. Some make it, but most don't. Along the way however, a lot of people make money from them ranging from bike makers, to wetsuit to running shoes companies and down to the hotels that rent the suites. If you discourage the would-be average couch potato to join the sport, who do you think would be the willing participant in buying that latest Cervelo bike or the latest bells and whistles Mizuno runners?

At August 22, 2009 10:37 AM , Blogger Isac Costa said...

Sorry to comment again on your post, Mr. Friel, but I just want to add something to the discussion, which I think is very interesting so far. Don't mind if this is posted or not.

I am sympathetic to those whose efforts on shorter distances are taken for granted from most people. Ignorance hurts. It is awful when people underestimate the complexity of whatever it is that you're doing.

Despite having a good training workload for the past year, I am far from deserving the label "athlete", and "non-elite" is even more distant than that. But I think different people want different things from sports. Some want glory, some want to beat others, some want to beat themselves, some want to play safe, some want to be healthy, some even want to take unecessary risks. I don't think any of these goals is better or worse than others. They're just different. As long as you train properly and have fun in the process, I believe everything will be fine.

The appeal of long distance races to me is that I feel much better going slow and steady and trying to increase the average speed a little every time. With a lower heart rate, for me as a beginner, I think it is easier to focus on what I am doing, control the rhythm of my breathing and reaching a sort of "meditation" state of mind. I train in order to make every mile a celebration of life, not a suffering experience. I don't feel nervous at all in the starting line and the rest of the day/week after a race gives me a sense of achievement that helps me to improve my self-control.

By looking at experienced athletes in short events going mostly anaerobic, I am not sure if I can see this peaceful aura around most of them.

I will always open to guidance from more experienced people, but I don't like people telling me what I can't do. The sense of "Everyone's a winner" opens a redemptive path to people like me who were always repelled from sports because of this "you shouldn't race if not for winning" attitude. I prefer leaving that to people that earn their money as professional athletes.

In summary, to me going faster or going longer are just two equivalent choices for anyone considering to improve his or her goals. It's the same as other choices such as being a day trader or a position trader, programming with Java or with Microsoft platforms. Whatever suits you best is usually the more appropriate answer.

At August 22, 2009 6:36 PM , Blogger Jim Dicker said...


The difference between triathlon and running is that the times in triathlon now are much faster than they used to be, especially Ironman distance.

When I started in 1990, a 2:20 time in an olympic distance race was pretty good for 40-44 age group. Now, it's barely competitive.

The running change is interesting. Perhaps as triathlon matures, the same thing will begin to happen. At the highest level in Kona, it seems that that earlier times have not been equaled lately, but age group times continue to come down. Then of course there's Chrissie.

At August 22, 2009 10:33 PM , Blogger The Iron Curtains said...

Mr. Friel, I follow your blog quite regularly, as you have a lot of useful information for the endurance athlete, novice or pro. Love your work here and in your books!

It was a bit of a wake-up call when Friday's post showed up in my inbox, given that I'm trying to organize a group of eight novice athletes with no prior triathlon experience, as we attempt an Ironman-distance triathlon. I liked the post and, being a complete novice, thought to answer it accordingly.

You are right. I have little to no idea what it takes to complete an Ironman. I can study books, blogs, cloud patterns, tea leaves, and Tarot cards. I can talk to others who have completed one. I can research, plan, execute, document, and examine training plans to see what is working, though I won't even know how to measure progress until after the race. But I still may not learn what it takes until I'm out there on race day. I may be overlooking any number of things that should go into successfully completing an Ironman. I may indeed be doomed to failure.

And you know, I don't give a fig. If I got in the pool at all three or four months ago, it was to paddle my way through a slow, tedious 600. I swam 4x1000 on a hangover last Thursday. I spent yesterday on a bicycle with three of my best friends, battling traffic from Redwood City to Fremont and back in order to swim a cold mile in a goose-infested lake we discovered accidently. Marvin has lost close to 30 lbs in three months. Mauricio is on his way there. Specifically for our Ironman-distance race, Sergio, Marvin, James, and I bought bikes with which we now commute regularly to work instead of driving a car or motorcycle. We've motivated friends and family members to be more active and healthy. Molly is learning how to be a stronger swimmer. Heck, we are all learning how to be stronger swimmers, bikers, and runners.

We will be neither deserving nor demanding of praise when we hear the starting gun in August, 2010. We will be neither deserving nor demanding of praise when (god willing) at least some of us cross the finish line. Other racers will be faster, stronger, better; others will have better stories. But this glorious suffering I get to share with seven good friends on a ridiculously tight budget with neither coach nor clue is something I will have for the rest of my life. Perhaps that is the tattoo you are talking about. Well then, I want one.

It could be that none of us finishes the race. Yes, there is that possibility. Some of us may not even be there at the starting line. But that doesn't mean we will have failed.

At August 22, 2009 11:03 PM , Anonymous Bill, S.D. said...


Fantastic post. It's a great point to make - curmudgeon or not. I totally agree with your statement that fishing is a lot less challenging than going fast.
The current attitude, it appears to me, is that going longer is the ultimate goal, no matter what.
Yet, these events are RACES right, even though they are endurance events? The ultimate goal in any race is to go FAST (whatever that may be in the context). It seems to me finishing should be assumed (one reason I've yet to do a full Ironman). I just probably would not start a race that I was not confident I had the capacity to finish, and I have a lot of respect for those who can go fast over the Ironman distance.
I feel as challenged by a sprint race, perhaps more so, than I have at Wildflower Long Course.

At August 23, 2009 9:35 AM , Blogger Mr. Sharps said...

Joe -

Great post. Though, I must say that I totally disagree with your opinion.

First, if you believe that you are a runner because you run 5k's fast and not marathons, what difference does it matter if the masses (most of who don't run) expect more distance.

Second, a slow marathon or ironman time may not impress you, but it is still an achievement for the person who did it. Who are you to say, 'well your marathon only counts if you did it under 3hrs'?

One of the great things about these sports is that just about anyone can do it. Some will get more intense and push to become more competitive. Some will just enjoy the experience. Both groups will be more healthy for it. I'll disagree with anyone that says that unless you are pushing yourself to be the absolute best at a sport you shouldn't participate.

At August 23, 2009 2:45 PM , Blogger Sefi said...

One of the best things about triathlon is that it can appeal to athletes of diverse backgrounds & ambitions. I hope it always stays that way. I like to think of us a "competers" & "completers." We all love the sport & I think that only makes the sport better.

At August 23, 2009 6:29 PM , Blogger Andy Froncioni said...

I'm not sure I agree with your point on this topic, Joe.

Have you ever seen the finish faces on rowers who go to the World Masters races? Everyone but the winner is sad. No one is happy. And at 40, everyone laments about how slow they are now, compared to their varsity times.

Compare this to the finish faces at an Ironman. Wow -- you don't get any happier than that.

Age groupers find value in finishing, and finishing an Ironman makes age-groupers happy.

Just check out rowing regattas sometime, and see what an AG sport looks like when all you have is your finish time.


At August 24, 2009 12:54 AM , Blogger Sam Webster said...

Thanks Joe, great post. It gives me some insight into why my family (parents, siblings, rather than partner) think I'm training too hard and at risk of becoming "too fit" (not sure what that means).

I train a lot harder than those that just want to take part. I want to challenge myself, push myself as hard as I can, and win. As you suggest, that's not a normal attitude these days.

At August 24, 2009 5:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,

great post!! I couldn't agree more. Lets take cut-off time of long distance triathlons down to 14 hours. Everybody who is proberly trained, can do that.


At August 24, 2009 6:41 AM , Anonymous Jared Detroit said...

I like this post. I don't think you're trying to put anyone down that's running slow marathons or IMs, you're just pointing out that the sports have changed and it's good in one way but not in others.

A good take away message from this is that you don't need to just run distance to run distance. I believe there are a lot of people that just compete in marathons or IMs at very slow paces that could be excellent runners or triathletes at shorter distances. Yes, if you like doing the longer stuff, then fine but I think many people would be happier if they found the distance they're best at.

At the Chicago Olympic distance triathlon two years ago my friend hosted a woman pro. My friend responded with a incredulous "You've never done a half Ironman?" upon finding out she just raced Olympic distance races. She responded with, "well, I do one pretty much every day for training." and put him in his place. She placed 2nd at the race.

At August 24, 2009 8:20 AM , Blogger Aaron said...

I love this post. This is something that has been bothering me and I have discussed at length with friends of mine. The way you spelled out your ideas finally made me realize what it is that bugs me so much about the "everyone’s a winner" attitude.

Your book "Your First Triathlon" warns up front that dedication to the sport comes with sacrifice. I learned that on Valentine's Day this year when I ended up having to be at the gym for a swim/bike workout when everybody else was out with their significant others enjoying nice meals & wine. Obviously, I would have liked to have been out with my wife, but I had an event coming up, it was an important workout, and that was the only time I could make it happen. It was one of many hard decisions I made to ensure that I performed to my potential on race day.

For those who entered my event "just to finish," and didn't make all those hard choices and sacrifices... is their accomplishment equal to mine? It bothers me that most people would say yes. And there were quite a few people there who had obviously made hard choices more often than I had, and they kicked my a$$ to the finish line. Was my accomplisment equal to theirs? I would gladly acknowledge that it was not. Which is why I'll come back next year, leaner and stronger, and try again, and hopefully go faster than I did this year.

And just to be clear, I would say that there were probably people who worked harder than me and went slower, and some who slacked off and went faster. I'm not talking about overall times, I'm talking about dedication and sacrifice to achieve your best times.

At August 24, 2009 9:35 AM , Blogger Joe said...

This post is spot on. Couldn't have said it better myself.

At August 24, 2009 9:37 AM , Blogger solobreak said...

I'm glad you wrote this. Endurance is something to be proud of, but it's the most easily obtainable component of fitness. Speed should be much more highly regarded than it is. These are races after all. Thanks!

At August 24, 2009 1:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came upon this forum by chance.

You people take your hobby very seriously. Being "concerned" about a trend in a sport? Don't you have any real worries in your adult lives?

Your self righteous incredulity towards those who don't do the distances or times that you compete at is ridiculous.

Get over yourselves, people.

At August 24, 2009 6:51 PM , Anonymous Warren Lampitt said...

Hi Joe,

I enjoy your posts; however, this one made me feel uneasy.

The reality is that the population is getting larger and more sedentary. I suggest you run down to the mall and look around - everyone is getting bigger - a lot bigger. With these demographics, it should not be surprising that times are getting slower.

Those that embrace athletics should be rewarded. Hopefully, some of them will stick to it and embrace their new lifestyle. Your plans take a long approach and we should be patient with those who are starting out.

Frankly, as I approach middle age, I am no longer fast. I finish half-marathon distance races in the top 25% overall and the top half of my age group. I suggest that before you condemn all the slow racers, next time you finish, stick around the finish line and watch the expression on the faces of those who are "just finishing". It can be very inspiring to watch someone achieve something that they thought that they could not do six months ago.

At August 24, 2009 6:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has the age group winning time gone down?? I would bet it has.
I know that the top marathon finishers are faster.
I would assume that top 5K-1/2 marathon and olympic to full IM have gotten faster too.
I think that the "democratization" of the sport is not a bad thing. However, I would agree that the focus on only the longest lengths can be unhealthy. That being said, arguing about what constitutes a triathlon with someone who hasn't run one is not going to be a win-win situation.
Getting invloved in a healthy lifestyle that includes triathlons is valuable to just about everyone.
Just finish is good enough for some, and you are right, they may quickly lose interest. However, that means more cheap, good quality used bikes for the rest of us.

At August 24, 2009 7:16 PM , Anonymous Drew Peterson said...

Well interesting thoughts here. in general there are us long guys who think about raam and long rides and then the shorter distance crit types. i like going fast up hills but always yearn for the long rides and brevets. a completely different kind of creature. more humble and introverted and yes maybe more sensitive. it would be interesting to compare the 508 riders with the crit racers. i would much rather spend time with the enduro riders personally. Is your posting saying that raam riders are not real athletes (as jonathan boyer once said) ? all the best, Drew

At August 24, 2009 7:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

14-hour cutoff? Wuss. Let's make it 12. Anyone who is properly trained AND properly dedicated AND properly competitive can do that. If you can't do it in 12, you're not serious. In fact, why don't you go do your super sprints at the Y, with all those other disgusting FAKE athletes. The rest of us REAL athletes will RACE! Loser!

(Everybody happy now? This is what you want? Hope it improves the sport!)

At August 25, 2009 2:15 AM , Blogger Craig Dunn said...

Wow that last guy won't even put his name to his comment... way to "make a point"...

Joe - I really enjoyed this post - it could be the transcript of a conversation in our training squad any day of the week.

I guess the 'consolation' is that there will always be "people that know" - if you train with and talk sport with those people then they understand the work required to shave seconds off a middle distance run or olympic distance tri.

Then you can just sit back and relax when you're hanging out with the recreational age-groupers. Congratulate them for getting off their a****s and have a laugh when they question the difficulty of your last short/fast effort.

Not sure we'll ever get back to 'running in the 70s', but if this whole "obesity epidemic" slows down/reverses due to rising participation at *any* distance then that's gotta be a good thing.

Good onya for a top blog.

At August 25, 2009 8:41 AM , Blogger Chris Hartwiger said...


Glad to read your opinion. I offer two points to consider:

1. I am happier when I am in the arena than on the sidelines.

2. When my athletic career is over, fast is relative to me i.e my time to train, my choice of events, the absence of injuries, and on and on.

As a dad of two, I would rather have a couple of kids thinking it was cool to finish something long than to crave being parked in front of a multimedia console pretending to play a sport.

Keep the posts coming.


Chris Hartwiger

At August 25, 2009 9:41 AM , Blogger Neil Z said...

It's hilarious that the haters here didn't have the self-awareness to know that they are the ones Friel was calling out in his post. To strike back with outrage makes them look even more absurd, and shows their screwy worldview.

It's also hilarious that a lot of folks who support Joe's points and who think they are into it to be fast are triathletes. There is some irony in these guys and gals posting here about how they are in it to go fast yet could never touch the speed of a serious cyclist, serious runner, or serious swimmer. I'll never know why triathletes brag about the "epicness" of their pursuit -- at whatever distance -- when at best they are mediocre at three sports. Why not choose one and be great?

At August 25, 2009 9:41 AM , Blogger Mike said...

I agree that there's some sort of cultural drive toward going longer. I feel that pressure, anyway. I have a parent who has done a couple of half Ironman races and a few marathons. I do sprints, 5k's, time trials and XC mountain bike races (the XC mtb races are the most fun BY FAR!).

I have a co-worker who does a 200-mile road bike race every year. It's sometimes the only race he does. This year, he entered a 96-mile race just for preparation. He told me yesterday, "I had so much more fun doing [the 96-miler]. I really don't enjoy the 200 miler at all." I think he only does the double century because he has family members who do it, and he feels some pressure to do it with them.

I think if the ultra-endurance guys (marathoners not exempt) would try training for and doing shorter distances, they'd find that short distance races are not only more manageable and less imposing on your family and life—they're also MORE FUN!

But, you know, we don't need to tell them that. At least not if they're planning to race sport class in the 30-39 age group. Nope, those guys can stick with long distance.

At August 25, 2009 2:39 PM , Blogger Sarah said...


I think this is a great post that discusses exactly what it is that bothers me so much about the sport of triathlon: this notion that 'bigger is better' and that you're not really a triathlete unless you've done an Ironman. Nobody cared that I had neared the elusive sub-5 hour half-Ironman time or that I was actually somewhat competitive as an age-group triathlete. No, what they really wanted to always find out was "oh but have you done an Ironman?"

I think this is becoming true for bicycling too. Nobody cares about crit racing/upgrading. Instead, it's "yeah but have you done the Death Ride? What about the Terrible Two? Or the Race Across America?"

People seem to think that picking out the biggest, longest event and claiming to have finished is somehow better than being competitively fast at a shorter event. It's annoying and it's sad.

Thank you thank you!

At August 27, 2009 10:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was reading all the above post.
Make's me sad. Since when did race's become about distance. This is why I dont like telling people what I'm spending my weekend doing. I love speed! But it's amazing to see people that have lost 200+ lbs just my changing habits and the person that is training through cancer and ect. When I see that I tell myself how blessed I am!!

At August 27, 2009 8:06 PM , Blogger Thomas Bok said...

A person that does a triathlon is called a tri-ATHLETE so the focus here is on athleticism. A person with high athleticism is not only a person who finishes a particular distance, but one that finishes it the quickest. This requires quality efforts during training, not endless easy comfortable miles upon miles. This is not a new concept. In school, it's about writing the best paper for a given number of pages. A poorly written 100-page paper is never better than a well written 10 pager. At work, if you slack off during 10 hours of overtime instead of putting in 40 quality hours, you'll know what will happen next. Being a tri-ATHLETE is harder than being a TRY-athlete but the former is definitely more rewarding.

At August 30, 2009 9:13 AM , Blogger KMB said...

There seems to be a missed point in all of this and I'm a bit disappointed in Joe for either not picking it up or not mentioning it. Aside from the obvious fact that Joe makes a living off those people who he would disparage (yes, I own three of his books) I would have expected more from a man that should have gained not only wisdom about the science of sport, but should have also gained wisdom about the human condition.

As a coach and author of works pertaining to athletic pursuits, psychology and the ability to read people is critical to being successful. The "cultural shift" here he sees doesn't exist. Human psychology and the desire for an identity (or the need to label people so one can understand them) has never changed. The only thing that has changed about our story is the details. The silly tattoo doesn't indicate a change in anything - it's still the same desire to have meaning in life even if misguided.

Every human being (from my perspective) is trying to define themselves and others. In Joe's day, as he describes it, speed was the qualifyer for "success" and something that people understood. "I run a 4 minute mile". "I run a 10-minute mile." Does it really matter which you are? Because it doesn't change the essence - only the label changes and labels are nothing. Details.

Joe, why would you care?

It is my perception that it's the label to which people object. Comments above reveal that people don't want to be judged or defined by their activities because we what we do does not define us; triathlon is something we do, not who we are.

The follow-on question then, is why would you care how others define you? If they are so misguided as to judge you negatively for not doing the Double Roughwater or the Double IM, why do you let what they say irritate you?

The frustration is misguided. For a man who makes his living from coaching people to making and pursuing life goals (last time I checked, Going Long wasn't about going fast) it is very odd that he would post this blog.

Just my two cents.

At August 31, 2009 2:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Niel Z

I think you would be surprised at how much more then "mediocre" the upper level triathletes are at each of the sports. Personally I choose triathlons because I truly enjoy competing in all three of the sports . When I put them all together in one race it is much more rewarding to me then improving a little more at one, and I feel like something is missing when I only focus on one sport.

And to everyone else, I think some of you are also missing some of the message of Joe's post. He didn't say that people shouldn't start sports with the goal of just finishing. I am sure he thinks that for many people that is a worthy and inspirational goal. I believe he just doesn't think that should be the focus of those events and the sport

At September 1, 2009 6:47 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Going faster is better, regardless of the distance you are racing. That's why its racing, and not exercising. I'm not stuck up or mean; I can appreciate anyone's version of faster- even if its not up to par with mine. But I agree with Joe. To all the people out there who are entering marathons/tris because of their "human condition" or other
BS emotional catharsis, go home and watch Oprah. You are annoying during races, during training, and in conversation. And the worst is that the race organizers pander to you, not to athletes who are there to race. Now we are flooded with human-interest-story subplots in higher priced events.

At September 7, 2009 6:30 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well why do you publish books aimed at beginners then? If speed is the issue and not just finishing? when I started this sport 2 years ago (with all fast twitch sports as a background) I bought your books - and frankly I think you perpetuated the very thing you are railing against. I have NO interest in doing an ironman but stopped reading your books because it made me feel like I was not a triathlete unless I did one.

At September 8, 2009 5:48 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot that Joe says.

Speaking as a 40 year old, I would expect that over the years the average age of "competitors" has increased greatly. Back in 1970, I would imagine it would be quite rare for someone in their 40's to run a marathon, but now no-one bats an eyelid about people in their 50's or 60's.

I know a number of people who have entered marathons/triathlons etc with regards to just completing them rather than getting a good time. I think it is great that these types of sports have become more accessible to people though. Fair enough, most have done a training schedule to "complete" the distance.

When younger I used to compete in slalom canoeing. Got to the level of training twice a day when at college with plenty of time and no responsibilities. It was easy relatively speaking.

Now I am older, personally I don't see how most people with full time jobs, kids and other resposibilities could give 100% at any sport. I know there are exceptions to this.

I have all the above and decided from the start (2 years ago) that I was only going to do sprints as realistically it is the only distance that I can reasonably train for in my schedule. I would like to get up to Oly distance at some stage, but the idea of doing a 1/2 or full ironman is just not going to happen.

One of the things I like about the local competitions I have done is that there are people just starting out, using a mountain bike, swimming breast stroke etc, "competing" with people with £2000+ bikes, semi-pros.

Quite frankly, I'm not interested in other peoples times, just in beating my own times from last year. I've accepted I'll never do a sprint in 50 minutes, but perhaps I'll manage 75 minutes one day.

I also realise that other people have their own problems and even the person coming last may have had to overcome huge personal problems just to get to the start line. At least they are not sat at home on their backsides watching TV.

I'd rather finish an event than not bother doing it and the training sets a good example for my kids.

On the other hand I have a friend who has run 10ks for the last 20+ years and he said that the 30-40 age group is less competitive than the 40+ age, as generally people have a bit more time to train due to kids being older etc.


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