Monday, March 3, 2014

The Newest Popularity Contest?

When I got involved in multisport 8 years ago, the thing that made me fall in love with the sport was the people and spirit behind the competition. My first triathlon, a sprint, brought me to absolute tears on the 5k run because I hurt and I knew I was going so slow, and it was so much harder than I thought it was going to be. After the turnaround at the half way point, I saw all of these people that were behind me in the race. And yet, as soon as they saw the tears in my eyes, so many yelled to cheer me on and encourage me to finish. People that I was beating! I couldn't believe it. Since then, I remember that day and tell that story because it represents what I believe is the true spirit of triathlon.

I, like many newbies, was often overwhelmed at all the choices involved with getting started in triathlon. Bikes, accessories, training spots, coaches, training theories, clubs, bike shops... the list can go on and on. And sometimes, unfortunately, your choices will determine your place in the triathlon community of your town. It's like rooting for sports teams from opposites sides of the tracks. What races we choose to do, what uniform we decide to wear, and the people we choose to ride with all of a sudden place these dividers in the community. Even on race day, it becomes us vs. them. Now, I am all for some friendly competition. It is in fact part of the reason we do this. However, let's be serious, 99.9% of us are not pros, and probably never going to be. We do this for fun, to better ourselves, to teach our children about living a healthy lifestyle, and to push ourselves to be the best that we can be.

I am saddened lately by all the things I have been seeing that do nothing to contribute to the spirit of the sport, but instead create cliques that I haven't seen since high school. A new event in Atlanta has encouraged this child-like behavior. The new Gear and Glimmer event which is "Part cocktail party; part multisport awards & fashion show" is one more opportunity for a popularity contest. I will give credit that the $45 ticket for entry partially goes to charity. However, if that is the point, there are much better ways to raise a lot more money. The event is supposed to take the place of the SEE-ME (Southeast Endurance and Multisport Expo) which brought together various training clubs, stores, event management companies, etc. Pretty much anyone that wanted to set up a tent, could. It was a great place for newbies and anyone else to get info on upcoming races, new products, and converse with like-minded people, for about $5. Now, we have a new socialite event that pins groups against groups, athletes against athletes. The way to win the awards that they are offering? By how many "likes" you get.

I try to stay pretty apolitical so that I can remain neutral in this sport that I just like to enjoy participating in. But I have to speak my mind on this one as I feel we are going down a very slippery slope. While I congratulate all those nominated for awards, I'm sure there are plenty of others that worthy of awards that are not listed here. And sadly, there's not even any kind of sportsmanship award to honor the most important factor of all this. The one who's out there cheering til the very last finisher; the one that gives his bike to another that's broken down; and all the other stories of inspiring individuals. So, until this model for recognition is changed, I will keep my $45, and continue to support anyone that deserves it, on course and off. I hope at least some of you will join me in attempting to redirect the course of this triathlon community back to that thing I found so unique, intriguing, and magical when I started.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Thoughts From a USAT Official...

I'm coming up on 3 years as a USAT Official.  For anyone that doesn't know what that means, I'll briefly explain. Individuals can go through training provided by USA Triathlon to become an official, a referee if you will, for triathlon (and other multisport) events.  The officials are the people you often see in transition or out on course wearing a red or black and white stripe (denotes head referee) shirt and a badge.  We are the ones that hand out the penalties everyone is so fond of.  More information can be found here if you're interested.  Since it's the start to a new season, I thought I might share some thoughts and reminders with everyone.  And maybe some info will be helpful, and maybe some will make you laugh, and maybe some will make you think.

First off, we (USAT Officials) do not work for the race director.  The race directors hire certified officials as independent contractors.  It's the best way to maintain the integrity of the rules that all USAT sanctioned races must abide by.  These rules ensure a fair and safe event for all.  Though we are hired, we are pretty close to volunteers.  We do not do this job for the money, and certainly not for the recognition (I can vouch that it's typically a negative recognition, if any).  We do it because we love this sport!  And hope that we can keep the participants safe and everyone can enjoy a fair race.  Personally, I hate giving out penalties.  But, I try to think of it as teaching.  Maybe that person didn't know the rule and at least they have this opportunity to learn before it's a race that’s even more important to them.

Much like the set up crew and volunteers, we arrive before transition opens.  That means sometimes arriving to the race at 4:30am.  Yes, I have had 2:30am wake up calls.  And we stay until the awards ceremony. That's a long day for any race, but particularly long when you're working a half or full iron distance race.  And for the Head Ref, the hours put into a race go far beyond that of race day.  We are working with the race director weeks prior to race day, and we are filling out reports and communicating with athletes long after the day is over. We battle the cold/heat, rain/snow, and sometimes just deplorable conditions…
Warning on hotel card key

Shower stall in my hotel

 I'm not looking for sympathy here, far from.  I still go out to races with my referee gear on and look at all the anxious athletes and really feel for them.  Especially when something is not going their way.  The point of all this is hopefully to have some people read it and realize we are not power-hungry, unfeeling robots out there.  We get absolutely NO "reward" for giving penalties.  Actually, it makes more work.  We don't have contests to see who can hand out the most drafting calls in a day.  If anything, I cringe when I see people breaking rules because 99% of the time, they are surprised to find out they got a penalty.  Which leads me to my next point...

KNOW THE RULES! It is your job as a participant to know what you are allowed and not allowed to do before, during, and after the race.  I'm not going to list them all here, but you can read all about it before your next race here.  You can also click on the "Most Common Rule Violations" tab for a quick reminder if you need. For safety reasons and in hopes of not disqualifying as many people this year, I'd like to remind everyone of a couple things:

  1. Chin straps must be buckled at all times when on a bicycle. THIS INCLUDES TRANSITION!  The penalty is disqualification!
  2.  Headphones are not allowed anywhere on course!
  3.  Arguing with an official can easily lead to Unsportsman-like Conduct, with a penalty of disqualification.  You are always welcome to ask questions about your penalty, however, I would suggest addressing the official similar to how you would address a judge in court (without the "Your Honor" part).  Simply, be respectful.
  4.  Drafting: This is a zone 7 meters (~22 ft.) long and 2 meters (~6.5 ft.) wide.  That means, stay out of the zone of any other competitor!  This would include riding side by side.  Do not get that close to the cyclist in front of you unless you can pass them in 15 seconds.

There is so much more, but I'm not trying to bore everyone here.  Just hoping that everyone realizes we are just people too.  We have families, most of us are athletes ourselves, and we are not out to get anyone.  And it's often a physically and mentally draining job. So come say hello, ask your questions, maybe even say thanks.  It's not exactly a glamorous job, even though I do make those khakis and stripe shirt look pretty good.  And everyone loves a chick in a motorcycle helmet, right?

See you on the race course, athletes!  Have an enjoyable and safe 2014 tri season!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Past and Future

Ah, a new year!  We all have our memories, resolutions, goals, and renewed spirit. I wanted to take a minute slow down and look at the last year, how it was exactly NOT what I had in mind, but more importantly how I somehow managed to turn it all into something great.  Not because I'm just that awesome, but more so because sometimes you don't have too many other choices.

2013 started off ok, a new great job, a new beautiful apartment.  It was supposed to be the year of JVO.  Finally after, a long time of a lot of crappy things happening, it was going to be my turn for some good things. As the year progressed, those two things wound up being the highlight of my year.  I had signed up for my second Ironman and had some hefty goals for it. I had an urge in my body to better.  And I spent 9 months making sure that would be the outcome.  I only raced two other times that year, one olympic and one half.  Both turned out to be about the worst races I've ever had.  On the bike course of the half, I had felt for the first time that I seriously wanted to quit.  I wanted so badly to walk away from that race and forget it.  But I somehow came back to transition and found my way into my run shoes.  It was not a pretty race, and I'd still like to mostly forget about it, but as I made my way onto the run course and eventually to the finish line, I think I was creating a better version of myself.  And little did I know that I would need that experience to get me through a situation that would be 10x tougher just 12 weeks later.

As anyone that has seen this blog knows, that day was one of the toughest of my life.  I am STILL wondering what the hell happened! All I know is that I am no longer the same person as I was when woke up December 1, 2013.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

I spent the few weeks after that race decompressing and thinking.  About EVERYTHING. The big things like where I want to live, what kind of job would I really love to have, but also the day to day things like should I cut my hair.  And somewhere in between, I thought a lot about triathlon.  The one thing in my life that I have not gotten bored of or given up on.  What was my next year going to look like? I was seriously afraid to even plan anything as my last plan did not work out at all, and that's always a little depressing.  I wasn't sure if I could handle being so disappointed again.

As the new year approached, I'm not sure how many decision I had actually made. But I did decided to apply for the SOAS Racing Ambassador Team which was actually something I had been hoping to be part of for a long time.  I thought I might leave my 2014 triathlon season up to the universe and wait to see what the outcome of that application would be before I made any big decisions. Last night, I received the email.  I was selected for the team.  I say it calmly now, but I pretty much jumped off the couch, screamed and called 5 people to share the news. I guess the universe doesn't want me to take a step back from racing just yet. 

So with a changed perspective on not just racing, but my life, I'm finalizing a pretty full schedule for 2014.  In addition to racing more than I have ever raced, I will also continue to officiate for USAT, as it has become something very important to me and I look forward to moving up to a CAT 2 official this year (and maybe even have the opportunity to give some pros some penalties).  I will also be expanding my triathlon world even more by becoming involved in race set up, management, and timing.

I am a big believer in giving back in whatever way you can.  Sometimes it's volunteering at a race, sometimes it's cheering on the last one in, and lots of times that means going out into the real world and helping those that need it.  I truly believe that even if you can't/don't see some immediate "karma" in return for your good doing, it does really make you see the world differently, and changes you for the better.  I had the opportunity to deliver meals for Project Open Hand here in Atlanta ( on New Year's Day, and it was the perfect way to start this year.  It of course makes you appreciate all that you have, but it also helps you to see the human side of people.  And that is something you can take with you forever in every aspect of life.

So, for 2014, I will get over my fear and make some new goals.  I will spend each week doing things I hate like getting up at 5am, in order to make those goals realities.  But more importantly, I want to keep trying to be better in every way I can. A better athlete, a better member of society, a better dog mom (Kaydence might be getting a yard).  Of course, some things are yet to be decided because sometimes you need to just go with the flow. One more thing that all that crappy stuff has taught me I guess. I saw a great sign I need to get that is just what I've been thinking lately...

Barn Wood Signs

I still don't know who I am. Because I have yet to see everything I can do.  So here's to 2104.  May the year not bring you everything you want, but instead give you things you didn't know you needed.