Zen and the art of race selection

Eight days are what it takes, start to finish, to contest Ironman Florida and Clearwater 70.3. Our sport's Superweek, our annual "eight days in Florida," is over. Whew. My congratulations to both organizations for producing two fabulous races. Acknowledgements to Miranda Carfrae, Andy Potts, Oscar Galindez, and all the marvelous racing. That established, let's talk about the obvious.

Pro triathlete and strong cyclist Amanda Lovato (Duathlete of the Year, St. Croix champ), concerning her race at Ironman Florida, writes in her blog:

"At mile 60, a peloton of about 20-25 guys caught up to me. My friend Alex was in the pack. We chatted a bit and I realized that there were other pro women in the pack. The decision was go with the pack or get left behind. The last time I decided to let the pack go, I was bitter. I was bitter because I felt like you had to play the game in order to compete. So I joined the pack. By mile 80, there were about 70 people in the pack."

What happened to her was predictable, indeed, the same thing happened to her the previous year. I sympathize with her plight. Were I in her place, I'd have done the same.

I have found myself in that situation, or I should say my significant other did, fifteen years ago. She was in the pro race in Roth, when it was Ironman Germany, and like Amanda's prior Ironman Florida experience, she let the packs go by. We came to understand the culture attending that sort of race, and that the culture was unlikely to change.

While our situation was similar to Amanda's, our response was different. We chose not to go back. Amanda can choose likewise, and there are many more options now than there were for us 15 years ago. Should Amanda return to Ironman Florida, knowing what she knows, she risks the same frustration.

I don't mean to criticize how the organizers of events like IM Florida and 70.3 Clearwater run their triathlons. That's racing in Florida. It's not that Floridians are ethically challenged. Their state is altitude challenged. When you ask an awful lot of very fit athletes to inhabit the same real estate at the same time, this will happen. Were 2500 competitors to take part in Ironman Iowa, we'd see the same dynamic.

It might be instructive to remember that in the early 1990s the pro long course women took a beating from the age group men during the swim in the Hawaiian Ironman. Erin Baker — maybe the best female all 'rounder in our sport's history — and top long courser Sue Latshaw basically said, "Call us up when you fix that problem. Otherwise, knock yourselves out, pun intended, but do so without us." They stopped racing in Kona.

WTC did eventually fix that problem, to its credit. But the Ironman World Championship was going to do fine whether or not it acknowledge the difficulties attending the pro women's race. Ironman Florida will do fine as well, and it should, because a lot of people tolerate its bike leg dynamic. Floridians cannot change the topography of their state, and they can live and race with that.

That does not mean we all have to live with it.

A minister of the gospel once asked me, several decades ago, whether I wanted to know how to stop being a sinner. His secret? Stop sinning. While I did not apply his advice in the way he intended, I recognized his remedy as an engine for change whenever I found myself caught in an unfortunate or circular habit.

Want to know how to escape repeated frustration at races you attend? Stop attending.