As the countdown to Kona begins, the build up is reaching fever pitch. The Triathlon community is immersed in debate, insider tidbits on social media, and as a whole can’t wait for Saturday week. In stark contrast, the ITU in their wisdom, still cling to the theory that making the last race of the convoluted World Triathlon Series a double points race, is what makes the Triathlon communities knees tremble in expectation.
I’m afraid that the ITU executive is now so detached from the reality on the ground, that it’s hard to understand how to even communicate with them. If the ITU didn’t have the Olympics to prop it up, they would sink without a trace. For 9 years now, there has not been a World Championship race.
Here is a simple 1, 2, 3 to explain:
1 – If the best athletes decide not to follow the series, then we don’t have the best of the best racing in the final.
2 – We have in the final race, athletes vying for points, not for victory, to make sure their ranking is not risked.
3 – Outside of the most ardent supporters, the parents and associates of the competitors, nobody knows what is going on at all.
We have the World Series (WTS), World Cups (if you are in Europe), European cup races, and let’s not forget the Continental Cup races.
How do we understand the different stepping stones to the World Series when it is not defined, marketed, or explained to even its own constituency?
If that isn’t a clear enough conflict let’s go a step further. How do you gather new followers, when if you want to watch a race on free to air TV, YouTube, social media, the ITU charges you for the privilege? Nothing more than gouging it’s own supporters for extra revenue. Simultaneously, making very sure that anyone that has ever tuned in to sports on TV on a lazy Sunday won’t discover this brand of Triathlon.
One would think the ITU executive would really know they have an image problem when I know multiple high performance athletes, coaches and past champions who do not subscribe to the pay to view ITU channel. They have zero interest.
So another year has passed. Another year the ITU has no clue who is their best athlete on any given day.
The upside for them of course is they don’t have to market their best athletes, as their greatest opportunity over the last 10 years has passed. Brothers Brownlee were the greatest billboard to carry the sport to a new level. While they are household names in Yorkshire, and known throughout England (great tea advert boys), if you are not a triathlete, it’s a zero. Gwen was allowed to move on without a word being said to her; when the grind of the circuit wore her down. I know for a fact after Nicola Spirig’s Olympic Gold medal win in 2012, that the only word she was sent was ‘you have one day left before you miss the deadline to the next race’. I kid you not!
As all get excited to see the clash of the Ironman titans at Kona, one genuinely hopes that not all on the ITU executive board have gone to sleep, as it is tiring following the circuit they put together – even if you are not racing! I say to them, watch the Triathlon worlds reaction when you give them a World Championship race.
The experiment of who has the most points at the end of a series has failed. Hanging on to it is only making this part of the sport more irrelevant by the season. It’s now time to bring back a World Championship race for Olympic distance Triathlon.
Following an article a couple of weeks ago regarding the WTS Relays, I’ve been challenged a few times as to what I’d do differently.
I’m happy if it’s opened up some constructive debate within our group and at the grassroots level and always happy to provide some context some of the issues we face in the shorter distances as well as my thoughts on ways to improve.
There are not enough places on the start line for WTS races. This creates political chaos in choosing the athletes who race at each event. It also breeds a culture of Federations trying to play fantasy triathlon manager – deciding (completely subjectively) which athletes may be suited to which course or relay event. Never a good idea.
At the same time WTS have to consider that having more athletes on the start line would make the swim unfair and is a safety issue both in the swim and on the bike.
The ETU actually had a working solution back in 1997 where because of so many entries they introduced Heats and Finals. They continue to do the same thing now in Tiszaujvaros, Hungary. An event that is actually one of the great race experiences on the circuit for both participants and spectators.
This would be my preferred format for Championship racing. Heats on Saturday with a sprint distance of up to 40 participants. The first 10 of each heat moving to a Olympic distance final the next day. This would allow 120 men and women to attend each World Series race, but with a final with no more than 30 very competitive athletes on the start line. This would be a very exciting format and ensure the very best athletes could be seen at their best.
Nightmare Travel Schedule
For all the contrasting views regarding the relay, I don’t think one person has disagreed on my position about the destructive impact of the WTS travel schedule. While a circuit of 8 races may not seem too arduous from the outside – jumping continent to continent without end or plan is athletically devastating. We’re seeing churn and burn of many of our best athletes – with no consideration to their long term careers or health.
There should at least be a public discussion, with the views and inputs from athletes and coaches publicly acknowledged by the ITU, around a Regional Race calendar. A calendar where athletes can train in their own countries and then travel to a region for designated time and number of races. This would allow them to return home and live somewhat of a normal existence, keeping travel fatigue for the athletes to a minimum.
For example; in the Asia Pacific region. Two races to be held in the Pacific – Australia / New Zealand followed by two races in Asia such as Japan / South Korea / China. Once complete, all athletes could return to their home bases for at least a month to train and recuperate before moving to the next regional races. It would have the benefit of WTS marketing each region individually – establishing a fixed time for races in different regions. It would coincide with the best weather conditions for the regions and would also allow athletes and countries to keep travel and housing movements to a minimum – saving each federation a lot of wasted money.
But what if we can secure money from a big city but they want their race outside of the designated time window for that region?! That my friends is where it all falls down. As what they should says is ‘Thank you, but no thank you. The health of our athletes is paramount.’ But they don’t, and based off their responses to current and past athlete complaints are unlikely to either.
The Olympics and the Relay
The Olympics like the World Series has a dirty little secret that the general triathlon public don’t really know about or understand. That is the extent of influence of ‘domestics’ in these races. Athletes selected to do ‘a job’ for competing athletes with renumeration if success is achieved. This practice is totally against all principles triathlon was built on.
Not only that, it is also encourages negative and boring racing, where you have athletes whose sole job is stop others from being able to break away. How is this related to the relay, you ask?
Well, it’s a problem that the ITU knew about before entering into the Olympics and looked at ways of solving back in the 90s. There already was a pilot for a Team Medal. A model that instead of using the same athletes for completely different race formats and events as we have now with the relay, a team event that combined the collective splits of three representative athletes to decide who is fastest.
Each athlete would have to race at 100% effort to make sure that the third over the line’s time counted for the medal. The outcome would have been no more domestics and no more officials meddling in individual athletes races. The best three athletes in the country would be selected.
Not like now where a Federation will often leave out a faster athlete to put an inferior ones who may work to produce a result for another individual athlete (or the relay). It is crushingly unfair to the many now athletes who have seen been ranked 2 or 3 in their country and had their Olympic dream gifted to someone else with worse results.
The relay now exacerbates this problem tenfold. ‘If our best athlete doesn’t have much chance for the individual medal. Instead let’s select a couple of sprinters and hope for the relay.’
People misunderstand. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a relay. But I’m saying it should have been brought in as a totally seperate medal and not contingent on those selected for the main Olympic distance event. I believe that has been a catastrophic mistake and that we should discuss measures to deal with it and avoid such errors in the future.
Instead, when you say anything negative about it you get a depressingly short term narrow view on the subject. ‘Oh, get over it Sutto. It’s a second medal. Who cares how they got it. It’s more exciting.’ Well, I do. There should be 5 Olympic medals for triathlon (sprint + long distance) and they should all mean something. Instead we have two hybrid medals. With the second one now actively undermining the long term performance base of the first.
What’s ironic to me is that the current ITU President, Marisol Casado, was not only present but in the sport’s early days oversaw great innovations in the ETU and ITU. So spare me the living in the past rubbish. This is now. They have the vision but have allowed short term owners and finance to compromise the whole direction they had set for themselves.
So if it is back to the future to make the World Series a better spectacle to make races safer for our athletes, to develop a race schedule that is not so punishing that our champions leave early and to make federations select the very best athletes to go to the Olympics and race for themselves as well as their countries – then I personally don’t think that’s a backward step.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and in Sursee August, 2018.
Photo Credit: Marc Derron
Ashleigh Gentle (Aus) and Julie Derron (Sui) drive the chase pack at ITU Hamburg. Photo Credit: ITU Media
How exciting is the new Relay format! And how great is it for triathlon!?
Please. It’s a Frankenstein that’s turning on its creator. In a format entirely contrived to fit IOC rules, budgets and political agenda – the ITU, by not ensuring that any additional athlete spaces for this specialist event, has sold out its core for an extra medal.
The consequence is a growing trend towards this:
I was having a bad day at WTS Hamburg but I was ok, so under normal circumstances I would NEVER usually “just DNF”. Under instruction from @triaustralia, I pulled out near the start of the run to save myself for the mixed relay World Championships today. In the moment I was ashamed and upset to be standing on the sideline watching the race continue, but I wasn’t going to be able to run up to a position I came here to achieve.. it was time to put my pride aside and think of the team which I am representing today. I’ll be giving it my all.
Does this celebrate what triathlon stands for? Does it show the courage and the soul that our sport is built on? Yet, it is perfect window into what’s to come. Here we have Australia’s number 1 athlete, Ashleigh Gentle, being told to DNF for the benefit of the ‘team’. We now have federations deciding athletes should sacrifice the main race so they can save themselves for the sideshow. It’s the thin edge of the wedge. Triathlon up until now, whether from sprint to iron distance has been about personal pride. About endurance. About finishing at any cost. It’s why a DNF to her, like most champions, is a slur on their character. That’s why they’re champions.
For Ashleigh’s future racing the correct call would have been:
‘Get after them girl! See how many you can take down on the run! Hit the podium run split. Make a statement. Let ’em know you’ve still got what it takes and that when you’re in the pack next time – they’re gone.’
Instead, all her opposition has seen ‘Ash had a bad swim and pulled the plug.’ And then she’s been left herself to write to the triathlon public to shield her dignity. Something for Triathlon Australia to consider while they delude themselves they made the right call because they snuck a 2nd the next day. At what cost?
We too had a junior athlete in that group, in fact she rode toe to toe with Ashleigh in driving the chase pack. She wasn’t asked to save herself for the relay – as what message does it send to athletes in their development?
I do not enjoy my role as a canary in the coal mine. But the slide into the shorter, more trivial events is not the foundation for the development of the sport for the next 30 years. If you place mickey mouse formats backed with the authority of the sport’s governing body ahead of the Olympic event, you won’t produce the genuine all round triathlon champions like the Brownlees in the future. Triathlon’s identity is built on toughness. Take it away and what do you have?
Unfortunately, this forms part of a larger trend where the ITU in partnership with their Ironman race owners – as opposed to viewing themselves as being long term custodians of the sport seek to exploit what has been built over the last 40 years for the highest possible returns in the shortest possible time.
The upcoming race schedule being a case in point. To the exasperation of the top athletes who have consistently raised concerns about the schedule, it just gets more and more ridiculous. Next up, two WTS races in Canada. So do we put them close together so there is only one trip to the continent – a one stop layover for athletes? No, a four week gap between them so if you’re not Canadian you can double up on a season crippling travel schedule that already includes multiple flights to every continent. You don’t like it? Well that’s too bad. Do it our way or there’s no Olympics for you, no matter how good you are.
If I’m wrong, prove it. But as of now I don’t see any strategic vision, engagement or planning with the stakeholders – whether pros, age groupers or fans for the long term sustainability of the sport. It’s rip and run. And the consequences have just started to be felt and will be exploited sooner than one thinks.
‘Have a bad swim?’ Save yourself for tomorrow.
‘Not in the first pack off the bike?’ Wait for the relay.
The floodgates are open and they’ll be hard to shut.
Just my opinion.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and in Sursee August, 2018.
The bird is in the Trisutto nest!
We have been relatively quiet about the start of the Angry Bird’s season. As some of our followers have noted that she will be toeing the start line at 70.3 Rapperswil I thought it best that I let our Trisutto supporters know from the real source and not the triathlon rumour mill.
After Kona 2017 it was decided that Dani would take a long break; after 4 fantastic seasons and to reconfigure the way forward for her over the next 3 years. So, with 3 months completely off and then getting back into some fitness, the 1st of June has seen Dani pack up her car and head to St Moritz to begin her quest for a fourth Kona title.
This will be her only target for this year. Then we will appraise her goals for the 2019 season.
It is no secret that while I’m very pleased with the rest break and only Kona this year, it has been a struggle for the bird. She much prefers to be training and racing more regularly. However, I have seen far too many champions be allowed to burn themselves out, as the very temperament that makes them champions can hurt them. While I’m still in charge, that will not happen on my watch.
I believe Dani has a minimum of another 3 years at the very top of Ironman racing. Contenders come and contenders go. To those that send well meaning messages asking me about this athlete and that athlete who they think is the new Chrissie – the answer I give is that winning 3 x Kona World Championships while also winning 3 x 70.3 World Championships is very special. It is something that has never been done before. Only the great can achieve such performances. I prefer to concentrate on making the adjustments to allow the angry bird the opportunity to see off the oncoming challenges that she will inevitably face in the future. The break and a lesser race load in 2018 is an initial part of that strategy.
So, we see the Bird dust off the race bike and will have our first competition in 2018 this weekend. It is viewed as the start of the next phase of her spectacular career. A first step in building back to her top form for the 2nd week in October.
Let the renewal begin!
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in St.Moritz in June/July, 2018.
The racing season has begun and we are barely one month into it and our new group of pros and age groupers alike are making every mistake in the book.
As this is a constant theme for most triathletes I thought I’d jot down five points to help:
a) Using your race as a family holiday.
I personally love this approach, however to travel the week before the race not only diminishes your performance but dampens the holiday as mum or dad (usually dad) are continually putting what they think they need in terms of rest, food and preparatory training first. I would suggest instead going into the race late as possible, and then spending the following week or days enjoying the down time by doing fun things without the anxiety of having the race on your mind.
b) Flying to close destinations instead of driving.
If the race is less than 500km away I encourage all our athletes who can to drive to the destination. It is much less stressful than pulling your bike apart and putting it back together. The risk of bike damage on the voyage also tends to be greater on flights than in the car.
Secondly, while the flight might be only an hour, you put great stress on your immune system. You are in a different environment in the best case and at the worst you walk off the plane with the sickness of the guy 5 rows behind you!
Another rookie mistake is thinking ‘I need to acclimatize as it’s very humid… Or hot… Or at altitude.’ So you have most people arriving 5-7 days early.
This is the worst possible time frame you can do. Yes, the body does start to acclimatise, but it only starts after 48-72 hours.
So you feel OK the first two days, then the body starts to say ‘Whoa, it’s gonna stay hot or humid so I better get used to this’ and the process begins. The 5-7 day range is often when people are at their flattest in the acclimatisation process. 72 hours later you see people climbing out of it shaking their heads ‘What went wrong? I feel great. I did everything right!’
No you didn’t. This is a recurring problem each season and continues to be ignored.
At home do you normally use an air conditioner? If not, this is dynamite. One must adapt to that type of cooling system. And if not it can kill your race by hour 4 of your first night there.
Is your hotel in a quiet area or is it above a pub that has a disco that finished ‘early’ at 2am?
Finally, If you come from a quiet household to staying in a three star hotel with 400 athletes – simple things like going to the buffet can be a stressful new experience. ‘Oh don’t be ridiculous’ I hear you say. But I can tell you having 35 athletes walking past your food looking at what you’re eating can create anxiety for even the coolest of ‘cool cats’ if you’re not used to it.
4) Pre-Race Food
Away from home we at restaurants. I’m sorry to all restauranteurs who are triathletes, but eating out in a new country is inevitably going to cause a greater incidence of let’s say food ‘problems’. I’m not calling it for food poisoning because normally it’s not, but something as little as a different spice on something can send you to the toilet more times than is good for you pre race.
We see many carbo loading with pizza making sure they are completely dehydrated for the next day’s race.
But no! We fight that with about 5 litres of water to make sure they are ‘extra’ hydrated.
This phenomenon usually starts three days before the race. Every race expo is like a competition of who can carry more water bottles, through the day. Meanwhile if it’s just water you are inadvertently washing all the minerals out, so by race day you’re depleted of potassium, magnesium and salt. Here comes the cramps!
We advise all our athletes that from 72 hours keep the food very bland indeed. Nothing spicy, nothing leafy and that waters bottle should have electrolytes in the water!
5) Course Inspection
Most races set out their swim course and make it a point to tell all to enjoy this great venue.
Sickness on race day often doesn’t come from the food but the open water swimming the last two days.
People think that the water is clean and crystal clear then it must be clear of germs. As a cleaner of many pools in my life, I can tell you I’ve seen pools that are crystal clear full of bacteria and I’ve seen pools that you can’t see the bottom of relatively safe. My advice as a coach is to avoid the open water until the day of the race. So then if there is something in it, it takes a day to incubate.
You will have heard many race directors say ‘the locals swim here and are never sick.’ That can be true. But it misses the point. The locals get used to it.
Now of course I’m going to get criticism from this article, but before you send in angry emails about how much I don’t know – consider how many times you have heard ‘I ate something that didn’t agree with me.’ It’s totally common in the Ironman finisher tent.
We call these five points invisible – as all your hard work can be brought undone by falling for one of the above problems that most in triathlon don’t even see coming. Hope it helps.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Melbourne in May, and St.Moritz in June/July, 2018.
“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out” – R. Collier
It’s officially Spring in the northern hemisphere, and the 2018 triathlon season is now upon us. After scrutinizing last year’s performances, most of us have probably taken steps that we believe will lead to improved results during the upcoming season. One of the steps that we undertake on a yearly basis is goal setting. We identify performance outcomes that are used to define individual success when the dust settles after an event or an entire season. As triathletes, we need goals to serve as incentives for us to remain committed to such a demanding lifestyle of regular physical activity, and to validate the sacrifices that are deemed necessary to our successes. Unfortunately, goals often go unfulfilled due to circumstances that are totally within our control. We often come up short in our pursuits because we set unrealistic goals that are not attainable within our desired timeframe, or we direct our attention more towards the attainment of the goal instead of the pursuit of the goal.
Raise your hand if you, or someone you know has never finished within the top fifty percent of his or her age group in an Ironman race but has declared that one of this season’s goals is to qualify for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona. History has shown that you will most likely need to finish in the top two percent of your age group to qualify for a Kona slot, so attaining your goal in one season is highly unlikely. Nonetheless, you download a popular Ironman training plan designed for elite and professional triathletes to get your game to another level because you have a few friends who are doing the same thing, and your ego won’t let you believe for one moment that you aren’t faster than any of your friends. Letting your ego and social influences formulate your goals will sabotage the season before you ever get out of the recliner. You need to take an objective inventory of your skills and determine what you are realistically capable of accomplishing in one season. Since our own biases and subjectivity will always creep in to skew our assessment, it might be best to enlist the services of a coach who will tell you what you NEED to hear instead of what you WANT to hear. Ideally, we want to set realistic “big picture” goals and then work backwards to develop a plan of attaining them. The big picture goals can be viewed as our destination, and we need regular check points along the way to ensure that we don’t get lost. To stay on the correct path, we develop check points in the form of short-term goals with the belief that if we focus only on getting to the next check point we will eventually end up at our destination. Outcome goals represent our destination, and process goals guide our journey.
Coach Robert working with athletes to set and attain realistic individual goals.
Outcome goals are big picture goals that are usually not under the control of the athlete due to their susceptibility to outside influences. Let’s say that your outcome goal for 2018 is to secure a Kona slot by finishing near the top of your age group at an Ironman qualifying event, and you believe that your season will be a failure if the goal is unfulfilled. If you develop the flu a week before your race and are unable to compete at the level required to qualify, then your season has been a failure according to your own definition of success. Your ability to secure the Kona slot is also dependent on how well, or poorly your competition performs, which is entirely out of your control. Outcome goals can also be overwhelming if you continually look to where you are trying to get and realize how far you need to go to get there. Although it isn’t recommended that athletes place too much emphasis on outcome goals, they are very important in serving as motivation to begin the journey.
There is no such thing as an overnight sensation. If you look closely enough you will find that great success stories are a culmination of small successes experienced on a regular basis over a period of time. Process goals enable athletes to train in an environment where they receive steady feedback used to continuously adjust the plan to meet fitness adaptations, and they also serve to facilitate the motivation-success cycle. The premise of the motivation-success cycle is that we set a short-term goal to motivate us to perform at a specific level and once we fulfill that goal we build on our success by setting our next short-term goal, and the cycle continues until we fulfill our big picture outcome goal. Simply progressing from one short-term goal to the next increases motivation and self-confidence on a regular basis. As we continue to progress through our training plan, the greater the likelihood of fulfilling our outcome goal. Although process goals help us build good habits, develop muscle memory, maintain focus, and are entirely within our control, there is one caveat. You must be relentless in your dedication to ensure that each process goal is fulfilled, and your commitment will usually be rewarded with small gains that may not be recognized and acknowledged by anyone other than yourself. Repetitive training doesn’t always have to be boring if you learn to track your improvements and celebrate the smallest of gains. Success is a habit built on doing the little things over and over. Chop wood, carry water. Small gains experienced on a regular basis add up to huge gains when all is said and done.
The greatest virtue a long-distance triathlete can possess is patience. Continuing to grind it out daily with the knowledge that you may see only miniscule gains, if any at all, requires patience and trust. You must have unwavering trust that your plan will get you where you want to go, and you must be patient enough to put in the work and use the smallest of gains to fuel your commitment to get up and do it all over again the next day. You can apply the same logic when developing your race plan. Break the race up into smaller, more manageable segments so you can use feedback to adjust your performance accordingly, and mentally celebrate the completion of each segment as a small victory. The day goes by much quicker when you are only thinking about the next few minutes instead of the next 8 to 17 hours. Whether training or racing, setting short-term goals allows us to celebrate small victories on a consistent basis, and who doesn’t like to win? Create an environment conducive to winning by setting realistic goals that can be attained through small, manageable efforts repeated day in and day out.
Robert Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Rob in June at his next Triathlon Camp in the USA – Great Smoky Mountains Camp