I originally hoped that the next Slowtwitch article that mentioned me would be about me qualifying for my pro card this season.
That the coverage I’ve received here – from relative newbie to competitive age group athlete – would have a perfect ending. That the help I’ve received from Dan Empfield (aka Slowman) over the past few years and the details of my journey – from being a triathlon newbie to finding the right bike, receiving a professional fit, introduction to TrainerRoad, progress from a year of power-based training and a new coach, Jonathan Caron (Jonnyo on the Reader Forum), would show that with the right resources, coach, and hard work your dreams can come true.
Instead I’m sitting here nursing the aftermath (broken nose, broken teeth, 30+ stitches to 6 sections of my face, and road rash all over my body) from a horrific crash at IRONMAN 70.3 Texas (above is me in that race, shortly before my crash). This article isn’t to focus on my crash (if you would like to know more about my specific injuries and ongoing medical procedures I’ve made them public on my blog). Rather, I will use my case as an example of why I think there needs to be a full description of what you’re paying for at the time of registration.
Rolling Starts versus Age Group Wave Starts
Some athletes have a race start preference. When I first started racing, I didn’t prefer one over the other. Sure, I didn’t like getting swam over by faster swimmers in waves that left after mine, but by the time I got on the bike I simply moved to the right side of the road and got passed. However, as I got more competitive (21st, 11th, then 7th amateur at my last three IRONMAN 70.3 races) I felt more peril when in a race using wave starts. I began to fear being in one of the last wave starts because that meant I would have to navigate through less experienced bike riders.
This year I made the decision to register for races that I suspected would be candidates for a self-seeded rolling start. Unfortunately, and here is my point today, we do not know if a race is self-seeded or rolling until a few weeks before the race, when it’s made public in the Athlete Guide. Yes, we’re informed of our start times and the start format, but not until a few weeks before the race – typically when registration is sold out (IRONMAN 70.3 Texas sold out in the beginning of the year).
I think it is only fair for athletes to know what they are registering for. Where I am now – goal and fitness-wise – I prefer not to race where I have to start behind athletes who are less experienced riders and who may be naïve to the rules of the road (ride to the right, pass on the left). Witnesses later told me that less experienced riders swerved into me not even 5 miles into the bike course. To be clear, the intention of this article isn’t to place blame on newbie triathletes. We all have to start somewhere. I too used to have the most atrocious bike handling skills. One of the great things about racing is you develop these skills. I am also not placing blame on race directors. I simply believe that every athlete has a right to know what they are paying for at the time of registration.
Since my crash I often get asked if I’m angry. I am not. I will always be an advocate of this sport. I still love IRONMAN 70.3 events. In fact, I was filming a HOKA One One & IRONMAN video the day of my crash. And if it were up to me I’d be on the starting line at IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman next month.
As emotional as it is reliving my accident and not knowing how long my recovery will take, I know I would regret not speaking up about something I feel passionate about. I am grateful that IRONMAN introduced the rolling start 6 years ago. I personally feel it’s a safer way to race. However, the intention of this article isn’t to advocate for all races to use one format. My hope is that, moving forward, race formats will be published alongside all event details so that participants know exactly what they are registering for.
[PHOTOs: In the image just above, Sika is speaking at the announcement of Hampton University becoming the first HBCU to add a women’s triathlon team; image courtesy of Hampton University; just above that, her first time breaking 1:30 on the run at IRONMAN 70.3 Atlantic City.]