#2in2 - The Business of Racing

Recently I've had a lot of people asking how I recovered so quickly after Challenge Taiwan to race well at Ironman Australia. Having had some time to reflect on racing twice in two weeks (which is where #2in2 comes from), I wanted to give some insight into what coach Brian and I did in between the races, which is something I'll do in a follow-up post. However, I feel that it's important to go back to the beginning and firstly reveal why I decided to race #2in2 (yes, I'm hash-tagging it, join in the conversation on Twitter)! In this first of two blog posts on racing #2in2 I'll discuss my thought process and reasoning behind backing-up races so soon. The follow-up post will focus on the training and tapering leading up to the first race and of course the training in between races. For now, let's get back to the crux of today's post, which is Why #2in2?

The decision to race Ironman Australia 2014 was made almost immediately following a disappointing race at Ironman Arizona 2013 in November. I was tired heading into Arizona and had been looking forward to the off-season for quite some time. Giving myself another 6 months before racing seemed sensible, allowing time to recover over the winter and have a solid 4 month training block heading into Australia. The decision to race Challenge Taiwan – which was just 2 weeks prior to Ironman Australia – came somewhat later at the end of February. So why the afterthought to race another long distance event just 2 weeks before a high priority race in 2014? The answer is a simple one - it was a business decision.

Having based myself in the US in the early part of the year, my flight route to Australia would be to fly West from LA. Having a good grasp of race scheduling, I knew that Challenge Taiwan was in mid-April and that flying between Asia and Australia can sometimes be quite economical. Looking into all flight options and possibilities, the cost of a return flight to Australia compared to a multi-city flight to Port Macquarie (via Taipei, Kuala Kumpur and Perth) surprisingly wasn't hugely different (note, being diligent in researching flights is well worthwhile as you often find some very good deals). With Challenge Taiwan paying 10-deep, a solid race would give me the opportunity to not just recoup the difference in the flight fares, but to come away with a net gain. The nature of long distance triathlon racing is risky - targeting one event is great if the day goes well, but if it doesn't unfold as planned you're left down and out, looking at the race schedule and wondering where to go. It made perfect logical sense, racing #2in2 would give me two bites at the proverbial cherry rather than putting all my eggs in an Aussie basket (how's that for synonyms)! Sure, going to Taiwan was somewhat of a detour en route Down Under, but it wasn't hugely out of the way. All it entailed was a couple of extra flights and extra flying time. I swung the idea past Brian and explained the reasoning behind it. As always, he was very open minded and receptive to the thought process and gave it the go ahead. Suddenly it was on!

At this point it's worth mentioning that chasing Kona qualification hasn't been a factor in this season's race scheduling. Therefore, the decision to race a Challenge event (which as most of you know doesn't offer Kona points) was an easy one. Were I focussing solely on chasing Kona qualification points throughout the season, I'd plan my races to reflect this.

However, there was going to be a trade-off. I train to race and every session has one end goal, which is to race well. As much as I love racing, the idea of racing #2in2 was intimidating. I'm not naïve, I wasn't going to race at my best for both races, I'm not sure whether it's possible with such a short turnaround in between. A quick glance at my race schedule and results reveals one thing – compared to most, I don't race that often. That allows me to focus on each individual race and approach it with respect. The idea that my performance at either Challenge Taiwan or Ironman Australia – or worse, both - would be compromised was difficult for me to get my head around. I was 100% committed to performing at Ironman Australia, however, a number of other factors solidified my decision to race Challenge Taiwan. As mentioned earlier, paying good prize money - as well as paying deeper than most Ironman races - was the deciding factor (this was a business decision after all). Not only that, but the race organisers were amazingly helpful before and during race week, assisting the professionals with the logistics of travel and accommodation and even taking us out for meals on multiple occasions. That ticks all the boxes and makes it an event that I – as a professional – want to support.

As a full-time triathlete, triathlon is my sole form of income and I need to race. There's two ways to go about that. I can choose races without much thought process behind it, or I can take the second option. This entails a full analysis of the race options which includes, in no particular order:

  • looking at race dates within the context of the season and my fitness levels

  • the cost of travel, accommodation and miscellaneous costs

  • travel time and time zones

  • in depth look at course profiles and annual weather patterns

  • detailed analysis of past results

  • which other athletes will be racing (not easy to predict)

  • weighing up potential media exposure from races

  • which races have potential sponsor bonuses (if applicable)

  • total prize money offered (and local taxes) and depth of payouts

Personally, I prefer the second option. More knowledge is... well, more knowledge and knowledge is power. None of the above is groundbreaking stuff, it's really just common sense. At my level as a upcoming (second tier/MOP/rookie/novice – whatever I may be publicly labelled as) pro, there's one question that I ask myself above all, which is What is the depth of payment and drop off for the prize money compared to the depth and level of field racing? The answer to this question will tell me whether a race is a financially viable. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. The analysis paid off for both Taiwan and Australia, but it wasn't an off the cusp decision, rather a thought out one.

People don't like the notion that sport and business intertwine, but they do. To me sport is above all about love and passion and I don't want to lose sight of that. I understand perfectly that people may not like me admitting to race choice being subject to a business analysis, but after all, I'm an Economics graduate – I was taught to be analytical. As an individual athlete the onus is on me to determine the best way to not just get by, but to make a living from the sport, which is essentially exactly what I'm trying to achieve in both the short-term and long-term. I have a long-term outlook on the sport and plan to compete for at least another 10 years (which takes me towards 36). Realistically it's in the next 5-10 years where I'll be at my best and hopefully be more competitive, but before I look ahead that far, I must ensure that I can stay in the sport in the meantime. That's the difficulty for professionals who aren't at the top and is the reason why there's a high rate of attrition. And that's exactly why I have to be so diligent with my race choice in the meantime – the difference between a few good race choices and a few bad ones can be huge and can make or break not only a season, but potentially a career.

Prize money in triathlon (especially long distance) is a hot topic and one that's been discussed at length. The (modest) rewards are there for the best in the sport, and so they should be. But for those not at the top who are trying to make it, the process is a difficult one, not helped by two major factors: the relatively small total prize purses and – more importantly - the depth of payouts. Until races start paying much deeper than they currently are, the amount of professionals who will struggle and eventually be forced to walk away from the sport will remain high. I'm not advocating rewarding mediocrity, but I believe that long distance triathletes merit racing for greater rewards, and not just the best athletes, but those across the board. There are a number of races which offer professionals of all levels the opportunity to earn prize money, you just have to be a little open minded and inventive in determining your race schedule. Speculate to accumulate - sometimes you have to take a risk, make a decision and commit to it. I'm hugely fortunate to have the support of fantastic sponsors who believe in me and what I'm trying to achieve. Without them it's no exaggeration to say I wouldn't be where I am now, which is hopefully in with a shout of making it... one day.