The above image has been making the rounds for the past week, accompanied by a lot of high-fives and pats on the back. And don’t get me wrong – this is awesome. But it makes me worry that we’re putting too much emphasis on 140.6 and 70.3 distances and ignoring the shorter distance races.
Now, I don’t believe that IRONMAN has any Olympic/International distance races (I could be wrong), but they have a whole branch of sprint distances with their Iron Girl program and the stats could have included those races. Unfortunately, in the past few years, a number of Iron Girl races have disappeared, both ones run by Iron Girl and ones licensed by Iron Girl. I’m not going to question why, but it’s sad to see any beginner-friendly entry-level race disappear.
I’m on record as not always loving the idea of female-only races. Why do we have to have gender specific races? But at the same time, I know that a lot of women are more comfortable among a group of other women, especially in triathlon, where body-image issues seem to come into play even more than in running. After all, triathlon starts with a swim, and swimming attire is not all that forgiving. You’re out there in a bathing suit or a spandex tri kit or a wetsuit. While you shouldn’t care what you look like, that’s easier said than done. So it’s nice to be surrounded by a group of women, many of whom are thinking the same thing.
(However ladies, guess what? Apparently, a lot of the guys are thinking the exact same thing. Being a part of triathlon clubs and forums is very enlightening.)
But what really worries me is the general impression that if you aren’t doing a 70.3 or a 140.6, you’re not a real triathlete.
That’s not true at all.
I know, I say this and my big goal race this year is a 70.3. But I’m not doing it because I feel like I have to. I’m doing it because I want to. I enjoy the Olympic distance, and I enjoy half marathons, so I thought I would challenge myself with a 70.3 distance race. But I’m not any more or less of a triathlete because of the distances I do.
I will never do an 140.6. I know, never say never. But unless something magical happens with my pace, I don’t want to train for a 140.6. I don’t want to train for a marathon, and a 140.6 is clearly a lot more than just a marathon. And never doing one is totally okay.
Not infrequently, I see people posting on tri forums saying things like “Well, I only do sprints.” Don’t say “only!” Sprints are hard! You’re pushing yourself the whole time! And you’re still doing three separate activities, plus transition, which in my mind is the most confusing part of triathlon anyway. You want me to swim, then go run and find my bike in a mass of other bikes and put on shoes without falling over? That’s gonna go well.
Plenty of triathletes find that they are best suited for particular distances. Some people love sprints and Olympics. Some people consider 70.3 to be their best distance. I’m sure that some people think the 140.6 is their best distance (though I think those people are crazy). Don’t fall into the comparison trap and think that you have to do longer distance races and that you are any less for not doing them. Maybe someday you will, maybe you won’t, but everyone has to start somewhere.
The same goes for running races as well. So what if you’re not a marathoner? Do the distance that you love and rock it.
The longer courses aren’t the end-all-be-all of triathlon. It’s sad to see beginner friendly short courses disappearing. If we focus only on the longer distances, we alienate the people who are interested in trying the sport but not ready to commit to a 70.3. And I think that’s a huge mistake.