Changes at Life Time: Is USAT Out?

In a swashbuckling move, Life Time Fitness just announced far-reaching changes to its national race series. Caught in the crossfire of declining participation and escalating fees, it had little to lose.

Its 8-race series – the most obvious national series of Olympic distance races – has made big changes. The first and most obvious: the price is the price. If the entry fee is $125, you pay $125, rather than $125 and then the wet sloppy kiss of a “convenience" fee and $15 for a 1-day license.

Here’s the way Life Time Fitness put it in its release today: "Finally, all-inclusive race registration pricing, which includes insurance and race registration fees.” I wrote about my local car tire shop a few months ago, where the price was the price and that fact alone – thank you! – was enough to earn my continued patronage.

Second: “No requirement for a USA Triathlon membership.” While I don't know definitively if this means no more USAT sanctioning, it's hard to interpret this in another way. The clear impression is that Life Time is sourcing its insurance, rules, officials elsewhere. But Life Time did not definitively state that it will henceforth become a non-sanctioner. USA Triathlon's Board of Directors President would not answer that question when asked, referring it to USAT Vice President Chuck Menke, who has not as of this writing returned our call or email with that answer.

We are having this very discussion of USAT's one-day membership fee right now on our Reader Forum. A reader asked the question: What does USAT provide when I have to pay them $15 a race?

I’m a fan of our federation, and I have no problem with the $50 charged for the annual fee. However, I do have a problem with that flat $15 one-day fee for low-cost entry-level races, where the registration convenience fee and the one-day membership fee can easily represent a 50 percent hike above the base entry fee. That doesn’t sound right to me when that next wave of newcomers is what the sport needs to attract. (Apparently it didn't ring right with Life Time either.)

But wait, there’s more! “No more surprises,” according to Life Time. If you get a penalty, you serve it on the course, just like Ironman and ITU racing. This alone means a departure from USAT and its rules and infractions structure, unless Life Time were to apply for and obtain a variance from USAT’s rules (but the variance ship appears to have sailed if Life Time is truly no longer sanctioning).

While all that is big – big enough – the point of all these changes is to make racing friendly and accessible. I asked not long ago why it’s virtually impossible for a married couple to race a triathlon together, in the same wave. Life Time apparently asked themselves the same question, and answered it today: "Athletes will be able to select their own race experience, choosing from their own start time, competitive nature or even alongside friends and family.”

Here are the 8 races in the Life Time Tri Series, all pointing to its New York City race, much like the Escape Tri series points to Escape from Alcatraz and Ironman racing points to Kona:

Saturday, August 27, 2017: Transamerica Chicago Triathlon, Chicago, IL
Sunday, September 17, 2017: Life Time Tri Tempe, Tempe, AZ
Sunday, September 24, 2017: Life Time Tri Escape to Miami Triathlon, Miami, FL
Sunday, October 15, 2017: Life Time Tri San Diego, San Diego, CA
Sunday, April 15, 2018: Life Time Tri South Beach, Miami, FL
Monday, May 28, 2018: Life Time Tri CapTex, Austin, TX
Sunday, July 1, 2018: Life Time Tri New York City Championship, New York, New York

I’ve tallied only the high points from Life Time’s stated changes. Just, Life Time has been listening. I doubt Life Time is anti-USA Triathlon (our sport’s governing body) and I’m certainly not. Just, this is the first, clear, obvious plaintive cry on behalf of a significant USAT customer. Life Time needed a refresh. A reset. Perhaps USAT does too.