In October my esteemed colleague and veritable “real journalist” Kelly O’Mara published a thought provoking piece titled “Make the Best Amateur Triathletes Turn Pro.” As title implies, Kelly argues that the best amateurs should be forced to “go Pro” (this echoes a similar theory I have for the adult film industry, but I’ll save that for another time and place).
A logical extension of Kelly’s argument is that those at the tail end of the pro field should be forced to move back into the age group ranks, to “go unpro”. This concerns me greatly, because transitioning from a professional triathlete to an unprofessional triathlete is a complicated process. When an amateur turns pro there are a plethora of resources and people they can turn to, but when a pro turns amateur they are left to drift aimlessly, like a fart in the wind.
And it’s not just the shitty pro triathletes who have to unprofessionalize, as even the best pros are forced to retire at some point. For these top-tier pros the transition is even more jarring, which makes this article so timely: a little over a month removed from Kona, there are undoubtedly some legit Pros who are feeling broken down, disappointed, and down-right dejected after sub-par performances on the island.
Some likely had F races and are ready to say “fuck it” once and for all. Therefore, this article is also for these intrepid souls who have chased the dream, raked in hundreds of dollars in the process (and that’s not even counting handouts from mom and dad), but have now reached the point where they are ready to reintegrate into proper society.
If you are a professional triathlete, I know what you’re thinking: “What advice can you give me? What could you possibly know that I don’t, lard ass?” Well, the fact is there is at least one thing I know more about than any professional triathlete: how not to be a professional triathlete. The lone exception here is Thomas Gerlach, otherwise known as the “Unpros Pro”. That guy wrote the book on Unprofessional Triathlon. So Thomas, you don’t need to keep reading. For the rest of you, grab a pen and paper, you’re going to want to take notes.
Step 1: Read this article
You’re off to a great start.
Step 2: Retire
It’s not like you’re a worker with rights or a pension or anything, so it could be as simple as just not renewing your pro membership and not doing races anymore (at least not in the pro field). The problem is that there is a good chance that nobody will notice. In order to make it official you should, at a minimum, text your coach and tweet out something like “I’ve retired”.
CAUTION: Don’t tell mom and dad yet. You will still need their support for a while.
Step 3: Get a job
I know it’s scary, but there is some really good news: you’ll get paid! You make money every day, no matter how hard you work. You can’t “fake” a 180 km ride, but you can pretend to work hard by staring intently at your computer screen and tapping your keyboard. Put in 10 years of hard work and who knows, you could be a Customer Experience Specialist at a small wetsuit company (aka living the dream).
Step 4: Sell stuff
As soon as you announce your retirement sponsors are going to call asking you to return all the free stuff they’ve given you, so you need to sell all the big-ticket items (bikes, wetsuits, bike box, CompuTrainer, etc.) either right before you announce your retirement, or immediately after.
Step 5: Stop micro-dosing
If you want to keep doing EPO go ahead, that’s none of my business, but either do it right (I believe the Russian protocol is 1L of EPO mixed with Kool-Aid, twice a day) or don’t do it at all.
Step 6: Stop eating
As a professional triathlete you train so much you can eat anything you want, but you don’t (unless you’re Lionel Sanders). As a nonprofessional triathlete you can eat anything you want, and you do, but you shouldn’t. So either stop eating, or get fat.
Step 7: Cover up
You’re going to get fat. For reasons of common decency and to preserve your ego and self-respect, exercising with just shorts and no top (or a sports-bra) is out of the question now. Take as exhibit A this recent blog post by 2018 Ironman World Champion Cody Beals. Cody exposes so much skin that it is tantamount to soft-core porn, but since he’s a pro offering advice to amateurs, we accept it. The same courtesy will not, indeed can not, be extended to random shirtless amateur triathletes.
This step proves especially difficult for female professionals who will be so happy to shop for bras in sizes other than “trainer” that they’ll want to show them off. Sorry ladies.
Step 8: Cool it with the social media
I’ll give you the benefit of doubt and grant that people used to care, but they don’t care anymore.
Step 9: Move
If you meet any of these criteria, you need to move:
- live with your parents
- live in Boulder, Quebec, Florida, or the Netherlands
- live in a motor home
- converted a room in your house into a “Kona conditions replication chamber”
Step 10: Coach
Sub-Step 1: Before you announce your retirement, steal everything you can from your current coach. If you’re really smart you’ve been stealing everything from all the coaches you’ve ever had. (Ever wonder why some of the best triathlon coaches are former pros who happened to change coaches a lot? Think about it.)
Sub-Step 2: Same as Step 2.
Sub-Step 3: Start a coaching business.
Don’t want to be an age group coach? Tough luck. When you turned pro you committed to being a coach one day. It’s a package deal. Wanting to be a pro but not wanting to be a coach is like wanting to be pregnant but not wanting to have kids.
By following these steps your transition into an unprofessional triathlete will be as painless as possible. Sure, there will be some humiliation along the way, but in the end no one will be able to guess that you wasted decades of your life as a professional athlete who makes no money and is completely unknown to 99% of sports fans (+/- 1%).
And, if you find yourself suffering from withdrawal, just do Ironman Wisconsin next year.
*Image of Cody Beals taken from codybeals.com and used with his permission.