In a year we’ll know whether the major changes announced by Life Time Fitness in how their triathlons will be conducted will reverberate over the race production landscape, or will be seen in retrospect as an aberration. In the meantime some LTF housekeeping is in order.
Life Time confirmed to Slowtwitch that USA Triathlon is out. Not only will USAT’s rules not be used, and pass-thru annual and one-day memberships not be charged to registrants, the races will not be sanctioned by triathlon’s U.S. governing body. The incremental insurance cost, it was explained by LTF’s Scott Hutmacher, Life Time Tri’s brand manager, is minimal to Life Time Fitness (LTF) as it already insures all its nationwide clubs against perils.
Penalties will be served during the race, as is the case in ITU racing, rather than the “uncertainty” of not knowing after the race whether you received a penalty. Less clear is how those penalties will be given. Those who’ve thought through the process of non-sanctioning usually come to the conclusion that USAT’s infrastructure has to be replicated, including generating one’s own set of officials to replace USAT’s officials. That’s what Ironman did in 2005 when it was briefly (for 2 years) outside the world federation umbrella. Ironman’s current officiating crews at its races are a legacy of that effort. LTF has not said how it’s going to officiate its races.
The “enhancements” described – choosing your wave, not paying one-day fees, rules changes, qualifying for the new series championship in New York – are "launching now through 2018,” according to LTF. Which enhancements launched “now” and which will launch later?
The qualifying season for the “Life Time Tri New York City Championship” will begin with Life Time Tri Minnesota race and end with its Captex race in Austin, Texas. Therefore, those who raced in the Minnesota race last week unwittingly raced in a qualification race for the championship to be held on the 1st of July, 2018. That’s an “enhancement” folks are experiencing “now.”
The other changes won’t go into effect until the beginning of the 2018 season. What about races taking place in 2018 that are already open for registration, such as the LTF races in South Beach (Miami) and Captex? Anyone who’s paid for one-day memberships will have those $15 fees refunded.
The evolution of this series is remarkable. LTF's founder, Bahram Akradi, put up a $50,000 payday for the winner of his inaugural Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in 2002. The next year he increased the winner's take to $200,000, paid to the overall winner of the gender handicapped combined elite category, along with a $50,000 for the winner of both genders; part of a $500,000 overall purse.
By 2010, however, the landscape had changed. The U.S. was coming off a deep recession. The prize purses handed out by LTF were a fifth of their prior, gaudy totals. "Triathlon by its nature is more difficult to produce than a run," Akradi said back in 2010. "A run can have 30,000 people on a course a lot easier than a triathlon where race directors have to organize and execute a swim, transitions, and bike and run courses. As the course gets longer with a triathlon it gets more difficult as you have to cover more distance with police and road closures. As I think through it, Competitor has done a great job with their [Rock 'n' Roll] half marathon and full marathon series [now owned by Ironman]. My hat's off to them."
By 2016 the prize purses were all but gone at Life Time's events. If Life Time's intent was to focus all its efforts on the age-group and weekender experience, cutting the pro purse was a half-measure. Yesterday LTF completed the process.
The changes are risky. Whether the series has transmogrified, like the sci fi classic, from a human into a fly, or from a caterpillar into a butterfly, will be clearer by mid next year. So far, the readers of the Slowtwitch Forum have greeted the changes with an overwhelmingly positive response.
LATE ADD: Scott Hutmacher, responding to the article above, sent this over regarding officiating: "Our program will include a Head Official who manages a national team of very well-versed (all USAT, ITU and/or Ironman officials), triathlon experienced (all veterans) individuals."