A New Kona Qualifying Procedure?

I’ve never raced the Hawaii Ironman and probably never will. There was a time when I could have qualified but as a teacher it’s hard to take time off in early-October. However, as a triathlete since the late-80s it’s a shame to see the race owned by a profit making entity that can impose a qualifying procedure based purely on other races that they own.

The Hawaii Ironman was clearly not the first triathlon but was definitely the first to be outrageously long, attract high-level travelling athletes and grab global attention. Good athletes peppered the early start lines but prize money was not paid until 1986. Professional triathletes used to race USTS and Nice for money and Hawaii for the honour.

Today the race is still only a self-proclaimed World Ironman Championship and nobody can use the name Ironman for fear of legal action. I believe that the event in Kona should be primarily a celebration of the history of triathlon and accessible to all. The event should be non-profit with a board of trustees. Money made should be ploughed into protecting the local environment and funding youth triathlon programmes worldwide.

I’ve used ideas from the Western States and UTMB qualification processes to draw up an alternative Kona Qualification Procedure. Some are workable and some are pure fantasy. Start numbers would be 60 professional athletes, 140 masters athletes (age 45+) and 1000 leisure athletes.

Leisure Athlete Qualifying

Complete 3 year procedure below before entering lottery. Extra ticket added for every year it is not pulled.  All tickets removed if you qualify. Re-start 3 year procedure.

  1. Take part in nine national governing body sanctioned triathlons over a three year period. Three * Sprint Distance, three * Olympic Distance, two * Middle Distance / Half Ironman, one * Long Distance / Ironman.
  2. Carry out 48 hours as a triathlon race volunteer. Active youth coaches offering their time can bypass this by submitting proof of their non-paid involvement at club-level.
  3. Pass a bike mechanics exam that involves a complete strip-down / reassemble and wheel building basics.
  4. Read Walking on Water by Andy Martin. Commit to visit the North Shore of Oahu.
  5. Submit a diary or travelogue outlining your commitment to sustainable transport methods for holidays or everyday use. Bike commuting, bike touring, canoe holidays, horse trekking.
  6. Yearly commitment after initial 3 year procedure: 3 races at any distance. 16 hours volunteering.

Masters (45+) Athlete Qualifying

  • 140 (70 male, 70 female) slots are allocated to continental governing bodies according to their number of licensed athletes. Potentially Europe could get 36 slots, N. America 36, Australasia 20, S. America 20, Asia 16 and Africa 12.
  • Athletes must make it through a regional Sprint Distance time trial qualifier, draft-legal Olympic Distance national qualifier and Middle Distance (2500/80/20) continental qualifier.
  • NGBs fund their athletes who make it through to the continental qualifier. CGBs fund athletes who make it to Kona.

Professional Athlete Qualification

  • Top 20 athletes from WTC World Series D1*. 4 races from November to August. Best 3 scores count.
  • Top 3 WTC World Series D2*.
  • Winner of WTC World Series D3*.
  • Any Top 3 finisher in ITU Worlds (OD and LD) from previous year.

*WTC pros divided into 3 divisions to race on 3 separate Ironman circuits. 50 athletes per division with promotion and relegation. Entry to Division 3 is via Q School, organised by ITU in August every year over a 4 km / 120 km / 30 km time trial.

Note
No automatic qualification for ex-champions. If an athlete has not been active in WTC divisions 1,2,3 for last 5 years they can take part in Masters qualifying. Past Masters (any former top 10 finisher) are invited to take part in a team time trial the day before the race.

Prizes

  • Leisure Athletes: None.
  • Masters: Handbuilt steel bike frame in Kona livery for top 10 males and females.
  • Professional athletes: Good prize money paid down to 30th.

Why You Should Race In France This Season

By the mid-1980s France really had become the place to be for ambitious triathletes. More so than Australia and the USA. There were plenty of races but less travelling between them. Neighbouring Belgium and Germany also had rapidly developing race calendars.

There was good prize money at most races and it was often possible to race more than once a week. Many of the foreign pioneers did exactly this. Piling into old transit vans post-race on Saturday  to travel through the night to another race on Sunday.

The club set-up was also unique. As the sport started to grow in the early 80s, triathlon clubs were created within already existing town sports clubs. There would be a football section, table tennis section, petanque section, swimming section and now....a triathlon section.

Clubs created in this way had an instant infrastructure. Running track, pool use and some clout when it came to organising events. The newly formed triathlon clubs also had an instant following in the town. Handy when you are looking for sponsors, volunteers or want to close roads for a race.

Quickly a national league was set-up with clubs travelling throughout France to fight for high positions and the pride of their town. French athletes were strong. Many athletes in this new Grand Prix were students or semi-pros with support from the military or SNCF (the national rail network). Teams also quickly realised that a fast-track route to victory was to recruit and pay foreign athletes. Australians mainly.

I first moved over in 1996 and joined a club. I had managed to negotiate a place on a French Division 1 team,  GT Vesoul 70, at the end of 1995. Back then, pre-Internet, it was all telephone calls and faxes. I had a respectable racing CV but they were only interested in previous results on French soil.

The depth of fields was nothing like in the UK. After regularly finishing in the top 10 of British Grand Prix events at the end of 1995, I was outside the top 50 in a French one in early 1996. Now if you’re lucky enough to be recruited by a French club you’ll be toeing the line with Jorgensen, Mola, Murray and the Brownlees.

One of the goals of this site is to compile a list triathlon events in Alsace, Lorraine and Franche Comté. These 3 adjoining regions have thriving triathlon communities. This event is on my 2017/2018 bucket list. So, whether you decide to come out east or not, below are 8 reasons why should consider coming over to France to race in 2017.

A Packed Calendar Of Events
The interactive race calendar on the FFTRI website is the best place to search for an event. The 2017 version should kick in soon and Triathlete Magazine will release it's events booklet. Let me know if you would like me to send you a copy. 

It's Not That Far
Eurostar still carry bikes and there are many events near Paris that you can cycle to. Also with many races starting in the afternoon you could leave Dover by car early on Sunday morning and be back in the Uk on Sunday night. Use the interactive map to find events not far from Calais.

Races Are Cheap To Enter
The vast majority of events are still organised by clubs and small towns. The for-profit companies have not really taken off. One of my local events, the Sarrebourg Triathlon is a typical example. €20 for Sprint Distance and €30 for the Olympic Distance. Races also rarely fill-up and the logistics of entering events are also getting easier. Even the smallest races now use multi-lingual online sign up sites. Just three years ago I was still sending paper entry forms and cheques in the post.

It's Part Of The Culture
Some events in Alsace, Lorraine and Franche Comte have been around for 15, 20, 25 or 30 years. They are well organised and roads are more often than not closed to traffic. Anyway, with shops are closed on Sundays, traffic is light. Races, be it bike races, triathlons or a 10 km are accepted as part of the culture of the town.

Learn The Language
Spend a summer holiday travelling to 2 or 3 events. Take some time off work, live in France and join a club.  At local races everything will be in French. Announcements, race information packs and instructions from referees (les arbitres). A great opportunity to improve your French.

Fields Are Strong
Do well at your local or regional events in the UK? Why not see how you stack up against the French? The age-group thing is not so big over here but even outside of Grand Prix events the depth of most fields is still high.There's less prize money than before but I'm sure the journeyman pro could still make money if they choose events carefully and live frugally.

Race More Than Once
Lots of events now span the whole weekend. At the Val de Gray Triathlon there's a Half Ironman, children's races and a Relay on Saturday. On Sunday there are Sprint and Olympic Distance events. Why not link up 2 race weekends, bike touring between the two venues?

Check out the French Grand Prix
These draft legal events attract some of the best short distance triathletes in the world to race for club points. The 2017 host towns are below with links to videos.

There is also a 2nd division that includes many British athletes racing for French clubs. 2017 events are in:

  • Besancon (4 June)
  • La Rochelle (10 June)
  • Angers (22 July)
  • Peyrolles en Provence (10 September)

French Grand Prix Videos

2017 Sarrebourg Triathlon Tour

I'm considering the 2017 Sarrebourg 2 Day Tour as the first official FSR triathlon tour. I started testing the format with a three day tour with my brother in July 2014. We rode mountains, gravel and bike paths. We stopped for wild swims and tried to race and run.

Importantly, we found the limits of fully-loaded triathlon touring. The distances that shouldn't be exceeded if you want to keep your sanity while getting fit and chilling out. Once you get to camp there's always the possibility to ride and explore more.

With two children and the arrival of a third at the end of 2014 I had little time to think about the concept. However, I continued to ride potential routes, uncover wild swimming venues, test campsites and experience races tour-able from Strasbourg.

I've gone back and forth on tour formats. Sticking points were daily riding distances and whether to design strictly tarmac or mixed terrain routes. However, I knew I needed to include daily lake swimming, trail running, nearly traffic-free riding, camping and a race.

There’s also plenty of people out there thinking up ways of making triathlon complicated, expensive and even more competitive. With FSR Triathlon Tours I want to offer something that is cheap, simple and somewhat of an adventure. The way that triathlon used to be.

This year I’ve penciled in just one short tour to the Sarrebourg Triathlon. The plan for 2018 is to offer several weekend tours and a 4 Day Tour into Franche Comté. A free service to those who want to come or be inspired to roll out from home for their own tour.

The tour includes 290 km of cycling over two days, one night of camping at Celles-sur-Plaine and a taste of small-town French triathlon culture at the Sarrebourg Olympic Distance Triathlon. The tour is built around some of the best bike paths in the region.

We're meeting at 08:00 at Cafe Con Leche, 4 Rue Kuhn, Strasbourg.on Saturday 24th June. We'll be back in Strasbourg late on Sunday. There should be a few local athletes and anybody reading this is welcome to come. 

Favourite Triathlon Books

Bit of nostalgia here. And I haven't read any of the modern autobiographies. Regret getting rid of my copy of the Lehénaff. Not in order. Tweet me if you think something else should be on the list.

Scott's.jpg
  • Dave Scott's Triathlon Training by Dave Scott
  • Triathloning For Ordinary Mortals by Steven Jonas
  • Mark Allen's Total Triathlete by Mark Allen with Bob Babbitt
  • Scott Tinley's Winning Triathlon by Scott Tinley
  • Championship Triathlon Training by George Dallam
  • Breakthrough Triathlon Training by Brad Kearns
  • The Well-Built Triathlete by Matt Dixon
  • Regards d'experts sur le triathlon by Didier Lehénaff
  • Strength Training For Triathletes by Patrick Hagerman
  • Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns.
  • One Hour Workouts by Scott Molina, Mark Newton & Michael Jacques with Amy White
  • The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Phil Maffetone.

We all squeezed the stick...

…and we all pulled the trigger. Except that we couldn’t. Before the internet you had to wait until Tuesday morning for the Daily Telegraph to print the results of major races. It was August 1989 and my triathlon hero, Glenn Cook, had just finished second in the inaugural World Short Course Championships in Avignon, France. The Short Course was the fifteen hundred, forty-kay, ten-kay format before Olympic politicians put their branding on it. No drafting and flat out from gun to tape.

Arc La Bataille.JPG

In the next issue of Triathlete Magazine there was a double page spread of Cook running toe to toe with third place finisher Rick Wells. Cook had cut his Ron Hill vest navel high and felt-tipped GBR across his chest. Both athletes had their moustaches pinned back from the speed and the sweat. I picked the staples out of the middle of the poster, put it on my bedroom wall and drew nightly inspiration before dropping off to sleep.

As Glenn was riding himself into medal contention he was doing it on a Dave Russell bike. Dave was the British team mechanic for the Avignon trip and his kids swam at my swimming club. I bumped into him at the pool on his return. He regaled me with tales from Avignon and we discussed the progress he was making with the bike I’d ordered: a fluo-green and white Reynolds 501 Russell Frame specced with Shimano 105 groupset.

I’d finished my first triathlon just six months earlier. I’d been a runner since the early 80’s inspired by British marathoners like Geoff Smith, Charlie Spedding, John Graham, Mike Grattan, Tony Milovsorov and Steve Jones. In the Spring of 1989 I bought the book Dave Scott’s Triathlon Training, joined Berkshire Tri Squad and started training for the May 1989 Wokingham TRY-A-TRI.

My ride back then was a powder-blue Peugeot Elan with the seat right down and my running shoe shod feet loosely slotted into chrome toe clips. When bent into my drop bar aero position I imagined that the two looping lengths of brake cable formed my windscreen and I was Joey Dunlop negotiating the deadly Isle of Man TT course at great speed.

Despite having to switch to breaststroke during the 500m pool swim, I comfortably maintained thousands of RPMs on the bike and my transition practices on Cippenham Green allowed me to finish with a strong run. I think I was second overall and first under 18 by a solid margin. At 16 I’d already made the decision that I wanted to be a professional triathlete.

I imagined the sport developing along the golf model, allowing the journeyman pro to make a respectable living but remain relatively anonymous to the general public. There would be multiple circuits like the US, European and Asian tours in golf. Athletes would have to race at all distances while attempting to be on peak form for “the majors”.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the Carlsberg Grand Prix Series provided pocket money for a small group of UK-based pros. These included Rick Kiddle, Ken Maclaren, Mark Marabini, Rick Morris, Alan Ingarfield, Tracy Harris, Richard Hobson, Bernie Shrosbree and Jon Ashby. To make more serious money you had to race regularly on the continent.

I’d read that Glenn Cook had perfected the logistics of this. Leaving at dawn on Friday from his Devonshire home, he’d fly from Heathrow into Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands or France. He’d check out the race course on Saturday before racing on Sunday. After collecting his cheque for winning or placing he’d make his way home on Monday.

The golf thing obviously never happened but Brett Sutton did come up with an imaginative way of keeping triathlon draft free at the highest level that was published in an early issue of 220 Magazine. The idea was to make the World Championships and eventually the Olympics into a two day, short distance slash long distance combo.

Day 1: Sprint Distance Individual Time Trial. Day Two: Long Distance non-drafting race for the top 24 qualifiers. It would be a 4km swim, 120km bike and 30km run. However, the swim would take place in a rowing lake. A typical rowing facility is 2000m long with eight, 13m wide lanes. Three athletes per lane. Get this…no drafting on the swim! Nobody listened.

I progressed steadily through the early 1990’s thanks to swim sessions at Windsor Swimming Club, turbo training in my parents’ garage and serious Cross Country seasons. I raced all over the UK and in Holland and France on family holidays. After winning the national universities’ title in Halesowen and a GB elite team cap at World Long Distance Championships in Nice I negotiated a place on a French team at the end of 1995.

After some frustrating faxes and awkward telephone calls I made plans to move over to race for GT Vesoul 70 in April 1996. After a winter of HARD training, including some brutal nights at Palmer Park velodrome, my dad dropped me at St. Pancras Station.

This was pre-Eurostar so I had to haul my massive bike bag and bulging green suitcase from train to cross channel ferry to train, between two stations in Paris and then back onto another train. My baggage contained parts to repair various improbable bike mechanical incidents and clothes for every social and sporting occasion.

My train eventually pulled out of the Gare de l’Est laden with hundreds of soldiers heading back to their barracks in the east of France. About an hour out of Paris I got out my phrase book. I was tired from carrying the outsize luggage and greetings such as “bonjour, enchanteé de vous faire connaissance,” were getting harder and harder to memorise.

At least 2 hours; no towns, no stops, no street lights. Then some brief stops in small dark towns. Then finally Vesoul, a basic station building and a tiny platform. I was met by the club president. I learnt later that he’d battled for my inclusion in the team. I was first the athlete from outside the region to be invited into this rapidly improving group.

That year I raced every weekend, learnt French, won a race and stepped onto the podium with the team at a French Grand Prix event. The beginning of my pro career also proved to be the end. I’d spent far too much time crossing France every week in the back of a Peugeot 806 and I realised that I lacked the killer instinct needed to make a living in triathlon.

I worked in Germany for 2 years before moving back to France in 1999. Racing for Rouen Triathlon I won a regional title and the team gained promotion to the FGP Division 1. After 4 years in Beirut and 2 in Bangkok we settled in Strasbourg in 2006. In 2017 I'm psyched to train and race more more in short triathlons for ASPTT Strasbourg and Berkshire Tri Squad.

Favourite Running Books

I’ve read a lot of running books. A lot. Physiology, training plans, barefooting, biographies, ultra, histories and fiction. Here are the best 10, not in order. Tweet me if you think something else should be on the list. And yes. I have read Born to Run.

Running Books.JPG
  • The Perfect Distance by Pat Butcher
  • Bowerman and the Men of Oregon by Kenny Moore
  • Flanagan’s Run by Tom McNab
  • Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear
  • On a Cold Clear Day by Frank Murphy
  • Kings of the Road by Cameron Stracher
  • Strength and Conditioning For Endurance Running by Richard Blagrove.
  • The Way of the Runner by Adharanand Finn
  • Running My Way by Harry Wilson
  • Better Training For Distance Runners by David E. Martin and Peter N. Coe