Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More on 'Everyone's a Winner'

I appreciate all of the comments on my last blog. There have been a lot made with a wide array of points of view. But, unfortunately, it appears that what I said has been taken the wrong way by many readers. That's my fault; not yours. I simply used to many words to try to explain a rather simple point. I'll try again only more succinctly this time around.

My concern was that all of us (athletes and non-athletes) subtly encourage everyone to do the longest events as if some how they are the 'true' endurance events. For example, if a running race offers both a 5km and a 10km there is almost always pressure to enter the 10km. You may even hear runners' comments, often in a joking way but nevertheless revealing what they feel, that 'real' runners do the longer events.

I was trying (apparently not very successfully) to make the point that this is also starting to happen in triathlon. It's not very healthy for triathlon. Finishing an Ironman has become the ultimate goal in the sport. It wasn't that way back in the 1980s when triathlon was new. Then the US Triathlon Series was a big deal in this country. Placing high in your age group, posting a fast time, and perhaps even qualifying for the National Championship was considered to be a goal every bit as worthy as finishing an Ironman. I hear of far fewer people setting such goals any more. That's too bad. Going fast is very challenging in itself and very rewarding when accomplished ('fast' in relation to the athlete only - not to some absolute time for everyone).

I should also clarify that I have no problem with people simply wanting to finish a race as their only goal. That's often necessary for those new to a distance as was the goal of my client's 70.3 race this past weekend (which, by the way, he finished with an outstanding performance in many regards). I gave the same advice to a pro I once coached who was doing his first Ironman. Finish. But after that the challenge becomes to improve on one's performance. This is when entering to simply finish does not seem like a worthy challenge any more. It's like a runner setting a seasonal goal to break 40 minutes in the 10k even though he's done it many times before. I see no satisfaction in repeatedly setting a goal such as that.

Competition has been diluted in age group running events because of this longer-is-better attitude. An example of this is Boston Marathon qualifying times. In 1983 for a male, age 40 the standard was 2:50. Now it's 3:20. Triathlon hasn't gotten to this point yet. Age group times are still improving at the Ironman distance. That was the same for the marathon back in the 1980s. But 15 years later that had changed. Triathlon can only avoid this dilution of performance by encouraging athletes, especially novices, to participate at whatever distance motivates them. Longer is not necessarily better.

(Gosh, I used a lot of words this time, too. Let's see if I made sense this go.)


At August 25, 2009 2:34 PM , Blogger Spokane Al said...


I remember many years ago the late, great Dr. George Sheehan had some thoughts on racing vs. finishing. He was always a front of the pack runner and seemed to believe that the mid and back of the packers were just lollygagging along.

Towards the end of his racing career and his life as he was loosing his battle with prostate cancer he kept racing and his times got slower and slower. He moved from the front of the pack to the middle and finally in his last race; a five miler, he finished dead last. As he struggled through the course a bystander called out, “How are you doing?” “The best I can” he answered.

Through his progression to the rear of the pack he was surprised to see that everyone, no matter what their speed was working hard.

Virtually all of those racers, no matter their speed, are doing the best they can.

At August 25, 2009 2:57 PM , Blogger mikebdot said...

I don't understand how more people competing in the marathon has caused times to increase. This makes no sense from a statistical standpoint. Are you saying that people that are qualifying in 3:20 at age 40 are capable of running a 2:50?

Maybe those same 40 year old people are now missing doing other things...like, say, triathlons?

At August 25, 2009 4:20 PM , Blogger Mr. Sharps said...

Great post Joe!

I think you really clarified your position from the last post. And I do agree that we shouldn't limit our view of progression in running/tri's to just distance.

For those who posted on the thread comments like, 'we should set the cut off at 14hrs' or, 'I'm a better athlete because I gave up valentine's day', I ask, why does it bother you that someone else gets to participate and feel good about themselves? Chance are if you trained that hard you can still take pride in a better time and leave the event before your beloved sport get besmirched by their subpar performance. Train hard do your best and don't worry about what others think and do.

At August 25, 2009 4:49 PM , Anonymous Nehal said...

I completely understand what you're trying to get at. When competitors participate in the same event the second time and still have the same goals they have already accomplished the first time around, there's really no accomplishment, progression or a feeling of success from that event.

On the other hand, if that same competitor had goals that exceeded the previous goals and challenged him/herself the second time around, there is something accomplished: progress.

Far too many competitors get comfortable with a specific length of race or their time for the completion of their respective races and never really escape the constant training in the "hamster wheel", so to speak.

At August 25, 2009 9:42 PM , Anonymous Jeff said...

Joe. I think I got your first post just fine, and have been thinking similarly. Many of my tri team mates immediately get pulled into the 'finish an Ironman' mindset vs. spending some time at Olympic or Sprint distance events and realizing that they might like them, and potentially be great at them. I enjoy the intensity of the shorter distances, and the kinds of training that make for improvements there, and it's the kind of time I have available for training in my life right now. My goals are to become as good as I can be at the shorter distances, and maybe keep an eye on Iron distances for the future. For me, they are one kind of race, not the end goal. I think I may be in the minority, however!

At August 25, 2009 10:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think for a very busy, middle-aged athlete finishing a difficult event again and again could still be a challenge.

I did the TransCarpatia MTB stage race in Poland last week for the third time, although I knew I'm not in the shape I was in 2 or 3 years ago. My goal was simply to finish the 6 stages (460km) and I was satisfied to succeed :-)

I wish I had more time to train and become a better athlete. This is impossible (at least at the moment), so I must be happy with just taking part in an event.

At August 26, 2009 5:19 AM , Blogger Mike said...

Joe, you would pretty clear the first time around. I see it everywhere, and fell victom to it as well.

This is my frist year in Tri, and qualified for Nats, went and had a

My goals in the beginning of the year had no IM until 2011/12.

Everytime I finished a race (all sprints except Nats), the FIRST question I got was, "how long was it."

I kept placing well, winning my AG 3 times, placing 4/56 the one time and placing 37/76 at Nats.

Keep in mind, I was 270 lbs 2 years ago.

Through all that success, it was always "what distance, what distance." "when are you going to do an IM?"

When IMLP was open on-line, I become victom to the pressure and signed up. I dont regret it, I look forward to it.

however, IMLP pretty much eliminates Nationals for me in 2010as it is 4 weeks after IMLP.

nationals was so much fund and if it got 1/5 of the respect and admiration as MDOT races, the qualifying times would be much more difficult.

so, sorry for the long response, but you are dead on, and I myself am a victom of the pressures you speak of.


At August 26, 2009 5:57 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Wow! I’m surprised at the feedback you got on your earlier post. When I read it last week, I thought it was interesting, and it made me feel better about my decision to focus on shorter sprint and Olympic distance tri’s and forego the IM experience, but I had no idea there would be such a high volume of responses. I didn’t read them until you mentioned them in yesterday’s post. Fascinating! It seems you’ve touched a nerve in people that I never knew existed. It should make all of us a little wiser. Thanks for opening my mind to a new subject in sport. --Bruce

At August 26, 2009 7:39 AM , Blogger Ian Simon said...

Great posts, Joe. I stick to shorter distances (sprint & Oly, with a half once a season). Personally, I think its healthier.

I'm happy enough that other people do whatever they want. My concern is that longer distances seem less sustainable - I know a lot of people who've trained hard for 'the big race', then don't know what to do once its over - back to the couch and the pizza. Smaller, shorter races tend to be friendlier and more social, and regular racing keeps competitors in a training groove. I guess (no science to back this up) that you're probably less likely to get injured training for shorter distances as well.

The only downside is that a lot of people don't understand the effort involved (and feeling of achievement gained) by targeting (and hitting) PB performances in a 5k or sprint tri.

At August 26, 2009 7:44 AM , Anonymous Mary Maher said...

From the viewpoint of a relative newbie to the sport, having completed 4 sprint tri's and 1 (dare I admit) super-sprint tri this summer, I feel the goals of an athlete are highly individualistic and should never be subject to review by any one person, other than herself.

Fellow athletes have no clue what sort of background the person next to him at that transition bike rack is coming from, what sort of hurdles she is trying to overcome or goals she attempting to achieve.

I find this entire thread arrogant and judgmental.

Whether the goal is to finish, improve PR's, win or place, they all count.

I came back to this sport after a 2 year break from managing my husband's brain cancer with my first Triathlon ever 2 years ago 6 weeks after his brain surgery.

My goals were to finish and improve my finish - both achieved. My goals next year largely encompass being able to even have another summer like this one.

Who knows, maybe I'll even get my husband, a now 27 month survivor of stage 4 brain cancer, to try a triathlon, which consequently is the name of the local super-sprint tri in my hometown.


At August 26, 2009 8:19 AM , Anonymous Jared Detroit said...

Depending on if someone just really likes going long, I think people are better off focusing on distances where they can improve their time instead of "just finishing". That helps someone stay motivated and will most likely lead to better fitness. This is in response to the statement of someone doing the same race over and over again with just the goal of finishing each time.

Do you think the drop in marathon times could be from the participation surge in triathlon, ultra-marathons, and other endurance events? I know that I probably would have been someone bringing those marathon times down if it weren't for me finding triathlon and focusing on that.

At August 26, 2009 8:19 AM , Blogger Fe-lady said...

Hi Joe,
I too have been in the sport of triathlon since the 80s and distance running since the early 70s. And YES things have changed for the amateur athlete- big time. When I first began running, I didn't enter my first 10K UNTIL I KNEW THAT I COULD DO IT WELL- not just finish. It was the same for entering my first marathon. It had to be under the four hour mark for me, or it wasn't worth it. People I hung around with (ran with) didn't enter something "just to finish"-they entered to do well! Same with triathlons. The goal (for me) was to place in my age group, and I did many times (still do) because I have the mindset that when I train, I train to RACE and do the best I can.
There was also a gradual progression from 10k to marathon. I can't say the same for tris as my first was a half as there wasn't many choices for shorter races back then until the USTS series.
I guess what makes me crazy is all the time and MONEY spent on gadgets (garmins/power taps etc.) when one is running 12 min. miles and completes a 100 mile ride in 8 hrs.
I call it the American Idol syndrome- everyone has become AWESOME and a "WINNER"- do we balme coaches and public school teachers for handing out accolades that aren't due?

I gotta go-but I have been thinking along these lines for a long time and have more to say! Later!

At August 26, 2009 9:56 AM , Blogger Sarah said...

Thanks again, Joe. I posted a link to this on my Facebook page as well as to my riding group and got a lot of good discussion going. I definitely got your point the first time but a few people got very defensive so I'm glad you clarified.

However, in your (and my) defense, I went on to ask the following:

"Why isn't it enough to just want to improve your times at an Olympic Tri? Why isn't it enough to want to improve your 10K run time, or your 40K bike TT time? Why is 'taking it to the next level' equated with adding distance? I don't think he's implying that if you do an IM you're less accomplished. It's more that those who seek the bigger events seem to think it's a higher achievement/accomplishment to do a long-course event than a shorter one."

The other thing that strikes me is that the time suck and monetary expense of training for such a long endurance event like an ironman is unlike anything else. I've seen people with families sacrifice SO MUCH just so they can earn that 'ironman' title, simply because that is the 'ultimate goal.'

A long response, I know. Just very passionate about this issue and I think you did a great job articulating it.

At August 26, 2009 10:00 AM , Blogger william said...


Thanks for the blog, in general, and opening up this dialogue in particular. I got it the first writing and still enjoyed the second. We all have different hills we want to climb (speed v distance) and you nicely articulate that the personal preference is just that.


At August 26, 2009 10:47 AM , Blogger Roger Thompson said...

I would have to agree with so many of you that have agreed that people seem to be drawn, or pushed, to the "more is better," the American way, the Costco way. I so often hear triathletes tell others that are doing a sprint that if hey keep at it, they will eventually be able to do an Ironman. And I feel like telling that person, if you keep doing Ironmans, you will never be able to go sub 2 hours in an Oly race.

Endurance racing is a different kind of pain, and one that I think people can generally withstand better.

I also think the in ultra races (IM), that when a person gets 254th in their age group, that they are celebrated at the race, and in their office, substantially more than if they would have placed 54th in their age group in an Olympic distance race. People like strokes...that's undeniable.

So, based on the theory that we all start short to eventually go long, someone needs to tell Usain Bolt that. Because apparently he is not a "real" runner until he does a marathon.

You cannot deny the stats that Mr. Friel posts. Though interest is higher in ultra distance events, the people are getting slower.

Success is not gauged on how far you go, it's determined by what you do between the start and finish.


At August 26, 2009 10:58 AM , Anonymous Big Mikey said...

Joe, tough topic, and it's a slippery slope here, as people are in it for different reasons (fitness, challenge, etc). I think the crowd is overcomplicating your concept. The issue, as relates to tri, is likely one of recognition. IM is glamourized to the point it's the only tri non-atheletes recognize. Thus the questions about when you're going to do one.

The equivalent question in cycling is asking the Cat 4 crit racer when he's going to do the Tour de France. It's the only race they know,

At August 26, 2009 10:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

good clarification

At August 26, 2009 11:10 AM , Blogger Mike said...

I dont think Joe has a problem with a goal to finish or whatever somneone's goal is.

I dont think he has a problem with any of it.

He just notices the trend to go longer in the sport and thinks it is unfortunate more dont compete at smaller distances and its effect on the sport. (not that I want to speak for him, thats what I got out of it...)

I agree with him. In my frist year I qualified for Nationals and I have no endurance background at all. (I say this not to brag, but to prove Joe's point). If people put the effort in training for sprints/olympics as they do training for an IM, qualifying for Nationals would be like qualifying for Kona, probably even more difficult. Team USA would have meaning above and beyond what Kona means for AGers.

But why train 15 hours per week and place in an sprint/Olympic when you can finish an IM? The only answer is the goal of finishing an IM event is generally held in higher regard than going fast and even winning in a shorter distance event.

At August 26, 2009 11:17 AM , Blogger vlp said...

The point isn't that slow is bad. It's that people seem to focus on going longer instead of going faster. You complete your first 5K and instead of trying to get faster at 5K, many people seem to think the next logical goal is finishing a 10K, then a 1/2 marathon, and then a marathon.

There's nothing wrong with just running 5Ks and trying to get faster, whatever your goal times are. If you're running a 40 minute 5K, there's nothing wrong with aiming for a 39 minute 5K. Yet, it seems to me that many people have lost this perspective.

At August 26, 2009 1:49 PM , Blogger Andy Froncioni said...

Mary Maher: You hit the nail on the head, in my opinion. No one else should be judging ayour motivations or goals. Or right to compete. That's between you and the race organiser.

We're not all equal physiologically, and we're not all equal in the other dimensions that comprise our lives.

Congratulations, Mary, on a compelling and uplifting story -- one of many, I'm sure, that some might put in the category of "just finishers".

At August 26, 2009 2:19 PM , Anonymous Pete said...

I agree 100%. Refreshing to hear this thought actually. Entering races that suit one's ability is what everyone should do. It is common sense. Unless the "more is better" philosophy enslaves you. Does Usain Bolt race the 5 or 10K? He races at the distance that best fits his abilities. No disgrace there.

At August 26, 2009 2:23 PM , Blogger Fe-lady said...

I guess this is why my husband and I still love track events-
run an 800 all out,(under 2 min.) go throw up and then tell me it wasn't the hardest thing you have ever done.

P.S. We have both gone the distance route both with running and cycling and swimming...
it's becomes a sport of attrition the longer it gets, and those that actually DO the really long stuff have more time and money than I care to ever posess....

At August 26, 2009 2:28 PM , Blogger Fe-lady said...

P.S #2-

I too have seen those watch or volunteer at an IM race and then go sign up when they have never run a marathon, never have ridden a century, and don't know how to swim.
Ultimately most of these drop before the race even begins, others DNF and some even drown or hurt themselves in the process to WHAT- be an IRONMAN?
I don't get it- and I have done one, and am training for one now.
It's just for fun.
It's just for fitness.
But the attitudes I see now are different-
they are "Jim or Jenny the Triathlete" instead of "HI, I am Cheryl, and I am a teacher and a wife and a mom and just happen to participate in triathlons.
yeah- it's different.

At August 26, 2009 3:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

All this is much ado about nothing, unless you're a pro and your living depends on being the best at whatever distance you have specialized in.

For the rest of us, the fact of the matter is, the only pressure we have to fulfill a specific distance goal is that which we place upon ourselves. So what if your buddy asks you "what distance have you done...are you gonna do an Ironman soon?". Who says anyone other than yourself has the yardstick by which you are measured?

As big as our "athlete's ego" is in this sport, you'll be surprised at how fragile the is, if the simple questioning of the distance or even speed, can cause some of you to fidget in your seat.

Please folks, if you really care about our sport, worry less about how your individual goal measures up in the eyes of others, and concern yourself more about how what you are doing in this sport impacts your life and that of others. If your acts inspired someone else to get off the couch and start moving, in the grand scheme isn't that a better measure of your impact compared to how far or how fast you went? You might have saved someone's life!

Besides, people who have to ask what distance or speed you did are not worth the trouble answering. They lack the confidence to stand on their own convictions, and need to measure others to deflect attention away from themselves. Do them a favor and reply, "I'm doing something I love, at the speed and distance I believe I should be at. Are you happy with what you've accomplished so far?"

Watch the smokescreen clear, as they begin to contemplate how simple-minded they have become to so quickly question your own accomplishments.

At August 26, 2009 6:08 PM , Blogger Fe-lady said...

Anonymous- agreed! (I wish you weren't anon!)

Sometimes, I wish, oh how I WISH that all the training and racing energy could be put into cleaning up our streets/towns or helping special needs kids without parents....think of the changes that could take place!

(This is why training & racing is secondary to my career and relationships!)

At August 26, 2009 7:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree w/ anonymous above.

At August 27, 2009 4:32 AM , Anonymous Mary Maher said...

I think this has turned out to be a great thread.

Makes us all think about short, long, fast, finishing. It's all good - and the lives we all touch in the process who are affected in a positive fashion makes it all worth it.

Personally, everyone I have ever told about what I've been up to this summer has been VERY impressed and I'm still a newbie :)

BTW, I informed my husband that he is doing our local mini triathlon in town next August and despite his automatic refusal, I figure I've got all winter to get him in the pool, on a specialized bike (he has physical deficits) and on the road :)

This thread has motivated me to get him involved.
PS my tri-training has also inspired my 2 daughters :-)

At August 27, 2009 2:57 PM , Blogger vlp said...

Is this really much ado about nothing? Maybe, my memory is just plain faulty, but it seemed like twenty years ago, there were a lot more 5K runs and I could find at least one fun run/race every month of the year within a short drive. Today, that doesn't seem to be true. I would be curious if someone could actually find statistics like the number of 5K fun runs/races in the U.S. by year vs. the number of marathons.

If the triathlon culture devalues sprint triathletes, will there come a time when sprint triathlons are rare? What would that do for the accessibility of the sport?

At August 27, 2009 4:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Joe. Word up.

At August 28, 2009 7:19 AM , Anonymous Mike H said...

Joe I'm glad you said something; the "trophy generation" is starting spread. In kids sports now days, everyone expects a trophy regardless of performance. I think the line between participation events and competition is blurring. I do fun runs and bike rallies with my buddies for fun, but in a criterium I’m doing it to beat the guy next to me. I was at a criterium the other day and the lapped riders wouldn’t pull off even when asked by the official, they wanted to be “finishers”. I don’t think that’s the event to have that goal.

At August 28, 2009 7:27 AM , Blogger Larry Creswell said...

In defense of triathlon as lifestyle sport….

Who could argue with your wish for more faster short-course triathletes? That would be great, I suppose. But I’m disappointed that you’ve written 3 times in the past year, lamenting triathlon and marathon as lifestyle sports.

I’ve finished 1 marathon and 4 Ironman races, and I want to share some observations.

First, there are a few dozen Ironman-distance triathlons around the world each year, but there are 1000’s—maybe 10’s of thousands—of shorter races. Likewise, there are probably 10’s of thousands of participants in Ironman-distance races, but 100’s of thousands of participants in shorter races. You suggest that everybody longs to do Ironman-distance triathlon, but participation in Ironman is clearly the exception, not the rule.

At the typical North American Ironman race, there are ~2000 entrants. That probably includes 200 competitors and 1800 finishers. And I recognize that some of the finishers may fail to recognize that they’re not really competitors! The finishers are all involved in triathlon as a lifestyle sport. It’s a hobby, not a profession. I understand your wish for more competitors, but the reality is that very few individuals have the ability (athletic, time, financial, etc.). And my guess is that finishers in the Ironman aren’t apt to be competitors at shorter race distances if they simply re-engineered their training.

The same is true in marathons today….few competitors and many finishers. You point out how the qualifying standards for the Boston Marathon have been relaxed over the years. True. But remember that in 1983 there were 6,674 participants and in 2008 there were 25,000+. It’s not necessarily true that there are fewer 2:50 marathoners. But maybe you’d just like to see a smaller race?

Perhaps you’ve forgotten that Ironman started when a few hardy souls stood on the beach, looking to finish the combination of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. The goal was to finish. Their motto: “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life.” The concept of Ironman-distance triathlon as a race is something that has come in the years to follow. It’s not surprising that many athletes today (and non-athletes just dreaming) would want to challenge themselves to complete the Ironman-distance race….simply to finish. It’s just the nature of the human spirit.

I’ve noticed that 30-40% of the participants at Ironman races (like marathons) are first-timers, suggesting that many participants are one-and-done with Ironman….set a goal, achieve it (as 98%+ age groupers do), and move on to some other challenge. Who cares if they get a tattoo? I’ve also observed that, among my acquaintances who’ve done more than 1 Ironman race, there is always the objective to improve in some way. I haven’t come across the athlete who is satisfied with duplicating a 14-hour finish year after year. I just don’t know anybody who doesn’t look at their next Ironman race as a performance challenge.

Why is triathlon worthwhile as a lifestyle sport? You may feel that walking a marathon or finishing in the middle of the pack at an Ironman doesn’t establish anything, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Even the person who trains to walk a marathon in 6 or 7 hours has invested time and energy in that training that results in indisputable health, social, and psychological benefits. Would you rather have these people sitting at home on the couch? What could be better from a health perspective than having large numbers of people participating in endurance events….whatever the distance….even if they’re finishers and not competitors?

I’m a big fan of yours, Joe. I read your blog, I own your books, I’ve watched your podcasts and DVD’s, and I use TrainingPeaks and WKO+ software. But you’ve touched a nerve with me and my close circle of friends. Can’t we talk you into embracing triathlon as a lifestyle sport?

At August 28, 2009 2:51 PM , Blogger Fe-lady said...

Larry- many participants/competitors ARE using IM tris as a profession and their sole identity....and it's not healthy.
Marriages fail, money isn't wisely spent, and jobs (if they have one) suffer as they are chase the Holy Grail of Kona Qualifiers.

And YES there ARE fewer and fewer 2:50 marathoners every year...you can actually find stats on this.

Joe HAS to embrace the sport-he makes his living from it! (All he was saying is that there has been a noticeable shift in things-and it may not be for the better of the sport and it's competitors, race directors and coaches.)

At August 29, 2009 3:56 AM , Blogger al said...

really interesting post+comments joe.

for a newcomer into tri's (2 sprints, 1 oly) i've been managing my events as a rate of distance increase. i've got two more sprints this year, then next year i'll be working my way towards 70.3.

my foremost aim in this decision is to discover which event i'm most comfortable, and that i'll be progressing from sprint to 70.3 within 2 years isn't simply about trying to 'go the distance' but about wondering which distance actually suits me. not just physically, but as a non-competitive age grouper, the fun factor comes into play.

great debate :)

At August 29, 2009 2:05 PM , Blogger Pete Danko said...

It's amazing to me that so many people keep twisting Joe's point from what he clearly said. He didn't say there's anything wrong with your goal being simply to finish a race. What he said was that it's a shame that striving to become faster at shorter races isn't more respected. To quote him: "Longer is not necessarily better." The point is to open people's minds to the possibility that there can be great satisfaction in striving to become faster at a distance. If you want to move up and go longer, cool, great! But working to improve your performance in a 5K or 10K can be every bit as satisfying—and worthy of our respect—as crossing the finish line of a marathon just before the course closes.

At August 30, 2009 11:09 AM , Blogger MikeH said...

It's an evolution that seems to take place in a lot of sports. In the beginning, the sport is primarily competitors, and with little growth, stays that way - people only did the sport to compete. Then, depending on the direction of marketing and media coverage, rapid growth will only come from the participatory angle.

I wouldn't say it is harmful, as it is rarely harmful to a sport to bring in more participants. Some may develop into world best competitors. All will bring more coverage and money into the activity. Most of Joe's business will come from this angle, so even if you don't like the direction, you might not want to bite the hand that feeds quite yet. And fueling this may be the growth of an event itself that uses public resources (roads and water). As costs go up, more participants are needed to overcome and get more sponsorship dollars.

The side effect, which I think bothers those who compete, is that the "participatory" growth swings attention away from the competitors. Ask someone in a major marathon who the top runners are in this country. Lucky if you get a response. Go to a local tri and ask who won last year's Ironman. And is there another cyclist beyond Lance? Now, those at the top will still make a living, better than without participatory growth, but there does seem to be a fall off in general performance. I've heard is said that there were 60 or so sub 2:15 marathon American men in the 70's, and that reduced to a handful up to the present. But then it seems to come back like running is currently experiencing. Maybe the growth comes from those competitors who stay with it at the same time there is stability from the limited time participants?

At August 30, 2009 1:47 PM , Blogger Bahzob said...

If you've got a diesel engine like me short = hard and long = easy. A 4 hour century where I can set my own steady sub threshold pace is a lot more comfortable than an 1 hour road race where the tempo is set by the pack and I have to do regular anaerobic intervals.

At August 31, 2009 5:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

some how is not some...how but somehow.

At August 31, 2009 8:36 AM , Anonymous MattyT said...

Totally agree. I took the IM challenge and came "cruised" in at just over 16 hr. I have a competitive swimming background and finishing the Ironman wasn't the "high" I was looking for. It seemed to attract attention from people that think all triathlons are the Ironman, not exactly the company I was trying to be in, nor the sense of pride I thought I would have crossing the finish line.

I'll never dog the IM, but after my experience I'll take competing over completing anyday.

At September 1, 2009 1:47 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


(Note: I had emailed this to Joe and he suggested I post it here. I note this only because the "context" I wrote this note in was that of an email not a "blog reply".)

I was really interested in your blog last week RE athletes going longer. My colleagues and I discuss this frequently. It’s a really big, and challenging topic to discuss… which I think is why it was hard for you to get the points across in the blog, and why my note is likely to be a bit, well, scattered!

As coaches, we are often “hired” to help people new to sport perform in a long distance event. Extremely challenging task – as you know.

The thing that I feel really contributes to this task being very difficult, is athletic development.

That is the missing issue when people immediately go long in my mind.

If an athlete takes the time to build skills, not just the raw skills of swimming, cycling and running but of the sport itself – they will have better experiences at the long distances. If they have time to build the skills related to fitness: focus, patience, progression, planning, etc – they will have better experiences at the long distances.

To me, it is limiting the performance an athlete can have at a given race and limiting the potential they have for growth within the sport when they jump to long course events ASAP. Within the sports culture it’s “sexy” thanks to the general marketing of things… But it’s a real long term limiter to an individual.

A diver would be ridiculed if they showed up at “dive camp” and asked to do a twisting flipping dive off the 10M tower 6 months after starting. No one would think it weird that a wrestler learn strategy and technique before jumping into the circle. And people would not think jumping into a technical criterium for your 2nd or 3rd ever bike ride was a great approach to learning how to be a bike racer…

But jumping into long course – in triathlon and running where athletes of all levels can race all distances – is viewed as normal… when the reality is there is no way for that athlete to be prepared for the best possible performance they can have. (Note: this is not to say an athlete can not go long and enjoy the challenge.)

I believe people can do it. You have seen it and coached it. I have seen it and coached it. Many colleagues of ours have seen it and coached it.

But would an athletes experience be different if they allowed 3-4 years to develop, learn, grow? Absolutely. Would that athlete be in a different and quite possibly better place 10 years down the road after taking that approach before going long? Again I think the answer is yes.

The patience to build is a real challenging thing for athletes today!

People will always have different goals and desired experiences. I think as coaches all we can do is try to keep people thinking, to teach people how to build and to help them see the value of patience. It’s really hard! But those arguably are a few of the best gifts we can give an athlete.

I really appreciated your post. You got a TON of people thinking about an important topic – whether they liked it or not! I really appreciated what you were trying to say, and that you had the gumption to put it out there.

Well done Joe!

Be well,


At September 4, 2009 12:42 PM , Anonymous Markus said...

Dear Joe,
Thanks for bringing up this interesting topic. I just want to add some thoughts on it:
1) Isn't it the "normal life cycle" of a new sport, to move from few "heroes or legends" i.e. early adopters (which are mostly talented athletes - otherwise they would not have been such motivated and idealistic) to mainstream. Therefore the average performance is gradually decreasing, just because there are more and more people competing with limited capabilities and limited motivation to sacrifice other parts of life.
2) There is an increasing number of races. Therefore the good athletes are not anymore concentrated on few races and therefore competition is less.
2) In Europe at least, all triathlon distances have increasing numbers of participants. So far I can not see a real tendency towards the long distance. The Olympic Distance e.g. will always be a very interesting event for many triathletes.
3) My prediction is that the "main" event with the least average competition (see 1)) will become the 70.3 as it is the half-marathon in running.
4) For the average aging age grouper (like me) the only option to make progress is often to go long(er). Although we pretend finishing is our sole goal, it is actually not the truth. I think everyone is going as fast as possible and trains as hard as possible to make progress.

Best wishes,
Markus from Germany

By the way I finished my first LD-Triathlon this year based on your and Gordo's book "going long" - which I think is fantastic - particularly because it prepares perfectly and predominantly for finishing and not for "going fast". ;-)


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