Wednesday, October 2, 2013

8 Things Competitive Runners and Triathletes Can Do To Get Their Sports Back.

The Seventh Sign of the apocalypse came recently when Competitor Group, organizers of the Rock n' Roll Marathons, pulled support of elite runners from their events. It signaled a mainstream acceptance of the end of distance running and triathlons as sports and their re-categorization into what you could term "endurance activities".

Photo Credit: Pilot Roads
The vast majority of races have become endurance activities. Combined with running is entertainment (music, dress-ups, mud), marketing props (compression socks, fuel belts) and in some cases obstacles (paint, mud, fairy lights). These endurance activities have brought thousands upon thousands to the healthy lifestyle of running and triathlon.

Since the Competitor Group decision I've read articles from those that remember and enjoyed competitive running and triathlon before it they became participation events. They try and blame themselves and brainstorm ways to rescue the sport by integrating better with the endurance activities. To them I say, let it go, the horse has bolted. It's time to leave endurance activities to those that enjoy them and reclaim running and triathlon as sports again as a separate entity.

Running and triathlon can be competitive sports again but first, let's remind ourselves exactly what that means.

Essentially competitions were races to determine who was the fastest. To do that you had to pit yourselves directly against one another. The aim of everyone competing was to get yourself over the finish line first or as close as possible to first as your ability allowed. The winners were celebrated and rewarded because that was what was important. No, scratch that, it was more than important, it was the whole fucking point.

If you are interested by competition, and would like triathlon and running reinstated as a sport, there are a number of actions you can take to change and support a competitive event culture.

1. Boycott races called 5K that aren't

Facebook Ad for Rebel Race
What is most irritating about the [Mud, Color, Rebel, Fire, Paint, Glow Stick] phenomenon is they continue to co-opt the "5K" bit which gives the impression the event is a running competition. These events have more to do with pornography than running.

2. Boycott races that raise money for charity or that forces you to raise money to enter.

Whoa! Confronting. But when you think about it charity and competition really have nothing in common. The connection is purely arbitrary.

The lines used to be clearly drawn between fundraiser and athletic event. Runs to raise money were called "Fun Runs" and were clearly separated from normal running events. Similar to the way  "Swim-a-thons" are different to a regular competitive swim meet. You knew what you were getting into before you signed up. Now, it's almost impossible to enter an endurance event that is not connected to a charity. It's also becoming increasing common for you to be discriminated against entering unless you are raising money by having special slots reserved for charity entrants.

3. Boycott races with an Expo

Most endurance products don't work so trying to tie a sprawling marketing expo of endurance junk to any competitive event is a distraction. Check my product reviews for more on that. I'm not against sponsors but it doesn't need to be a never ending proliferation of crap that's being marketed to those involved in endurance activities.

4. Support events that offer prize money or decent swag to the winners.

This is important to encourage the best athletes to compete. Many endurance activity organizers have made it very clear this is not a priority.

5. Boycott runs that use chip time over gun/clock time to determine the winners.

Awards based on chip timing reduces any potentially competitive situation into a meaningless personal time trial. Essential competitive elements such as tactical surging are nullified if you are consider that the athlete you are pacing off might actually be five seconds in front of you because of where they lined up on the starting line. More detail here.

6. Boycott triathlons that implement wave starts or rolling starts for no reason.

As well as preventing direct competition excessive use of staggered waves destroys the spectacle that is the mass start. There is no proof that swimmers are dying in triathlons because there are other swimmers around them. Absolutely none. Hundreds of competitors setting off together at the sound of the starters gun was one of the sports great thrills and experiences. There are exceptions for short races if the bike course would truly become too congested and cause drafting but this should not be an issue for long distance races. A wave of 50 people is ridiculous.

7. Boycott any race that offers a medal to everyone.

The New York Times article Losing Is Good For You was written about kids sports but it applies equally to endurance activities. It boils down to fact that there's no motivation to perform if everyone wins.

8. Join a club

Contributing to the strength of clubs can add an extra layer of competition to an event through team competitions. Of course there are events that try and kill even this layer of competition by offering participation points and points for arbitrary things like volunteering. A strong club can also hold their own events which are more likely to be competitive in nature.

It will be a long road back but following these 8 suggestions may encourage some race directors to put on triathlon and running competitions again. Any other suggestions?

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