Ready to Produce?

There’s two kinds of people: Producers and Consumers. But it’s not quite that simple. Take movies as an example. I don’t make them; I only watch them. I don’t have feel any guilt because I don’t make them! (Plus, who would watch a movie I made?)

But an old gentleman once gave me this advice: “Cut your own wood; haul your own water.” His idea is that you shouldn’t get dependent on others to do the things you can and should do for yourself. You should “produce” more than just money to pay for the things you need. There are some things you just should be willing to do yourself. For example – and I’m not trying to lay my trip on you; this is just me talking about me – I stopped eating meat a couple of years ago. I tell people (because I don’t want to argue) it’s for health but the truth of it is, if I’m not willing to kill it, I don’t feel I deserve the luxury of eating it. (And I’m not willing to kill it.) That’s what the old gentleman meant, I think.

What does this have to do with triathlon? Nothing. Except that I’ve found over my 40 multisport years that there’s something good, wholesome, clean, inspiring about creating and producing your own outdoor experience. Even if you’re the only contestant. I’ve flown around, bike in tow, from place to place, doing my own outrageous thing. There are advantages. You can’t sue yourself. And you star in your own Krakauer adventure, with no one to come to your rescue, no sag wagon, no aid station, med tent, I’m walking the wire without a net. It’s a sober undertaking.

But I’m just as attached – or more – to sharing the experience with my fellows. The race landscape has changed, according to my own forecasting, and for the good. I predicted in 2012 that triathlon was going to contract throughout the rest of the decade. No one wanted to hear that message. So they didn’t. I also predicted back then that triathlon’s lull would end at or near the end of the decade. And here we are. Is anyone listening now?

Multisport was up modestly in 2018 on North America, year-over-year, after 5 successively down years. But success was uneven, and what we see if we look deeper is that the expression of multisport that engages you may not parallel what the sport has historically delivered. Courses, formats, deliverables must change.

Arriving at a place before anyone else does is never comfortable, but so far I’ve always found a way to trench through it. I designed a wetsuit in 1986, and when I tried to sell it everyone laughed or scoffed because, of course, triathletes didn’t wear wetsuits. When I designed a bike in 1988 everyone laughed and scoffed because people didn’t ride bikes with 80 degree seat angles. But I remain guardedly confident in my judgment because my “genius” is that I’m just like you: I’m very average, with cheeseburger tastes. I’m my own focus group of 1, and if I like it I pretty much know that most of you are going to like it… eventually. I see things I like today, in multisport, that engage me, that excite me. When I explain what I see to “industry” they laugh, and scoff, because… there’s no market for it. Exactly! There’s never any market for the Next Big Thing! If there was, it wouldn’t be “Next”!

Which brings me to hauling one’s own water. I competed in the Hawaiian Ironman 4 days after my 24th birthday, in February of 1981. (Above I’m entering T2 in that 1981 race.) I came home with a fire in my belly. I had an old car, I shared an apartment with roommates, with nary a drop in a savings account. I earned $9,707 total that year, working full time. There was no internet, no online registration. No one had ever heard the term “triathlon” or “Ironman” in my town. No one who did my race had ever done a triathlon before. I had no RD experience and no organization. There was no such thing as a bike rack. “Transition Area” was not a term. Still, somehow – don’t ask me how, because I don’t remember – I put on my first triathlon in August of 1981. (I’m racing in that triathlon below.)

It helped that I had no wife, no kids. And, that I had nothing to lose. What I had was an idea. An experience. That I wanted to share with my fellows. In retrospect, this was my first experience with producing something for which there was no built-in market.

Am I asking you to volunteer for your local race? No. (But I think that’s a great idea! And a great way to cut one’s teeth.) I’m asking you to produce your local race. To conceive it, plan it, get the permits, direct it, own it. To that end I’ve reprised (yesterday) and will revise in the days and weeks to come my “How to Be a Race Director” series. And, I’m available if you want to contact me about the race you want to produce.

We’re all consumers of triathlon. We’re all Producers of something. Do you have a fire in your belly to produce, like I did in 1981? Do you see the course? And feel it needs to be a race? Are you frustrated that the thing you want to isn’t offered – isn’t a purchasable experience? Welcome to my whole adult life! I’m a walking, breathing imposter syndrome!

If I have your interest, consider the following advice. A lot of races are going away; replace open slots on the calendar if you want. Try to work with – not against – your new business contemporaries (the other area RDs). Don’t quit your day job. Don’t do this unless you’re good at surrounding yourself with a supporting cast. Don’t try to make money. Start small. Figure out how to do it on the cheap. Don’t do it unless you can break even with 100 entrants, and don’t do it unless you can afford to lose (invest?) money for the first 3 years. (Here’s the counterintuitive truth: All the big stuff in multisport started spectacularly small, without consideration for whether it would ever make money.) And, read my series on how to be a race director. Good luck!