The DEFs of Triathlon Racing

Most triathletes are familiar with the ABC rating system for planning races. The generally accepted definitions are:

A Race: The primary focus of a training block or an entire season. The success and failure of the season is defined by performance in these races.

B Race: A race that is used to build towards an A race. Also what you call a failed A race when you were smart enough not to tell anyone it was an A race ahead of time. 

C Race: Train right through that bitch! Remember that guy with the M-Dot tattoo who went for a run after the race and showed up at the awards ceremony just in time collect his bronze medal in the 35-39 age group. That was his C race, and he needs you to know it.

As sport of triathlon has evolved over the past decade it has outgrown the ABC method. For this reason I am proposing three new types of races: the D Race, the E Race, and (you guessed it) the F Race.

D Race 

TheDisgrace Race” comes in two varieties.

The first type of D Race is one in which you perform very, very poorly. This has to go beyond a slow time (because that’s relative). Rather, it must be a truly embarrassing, disgraceful performance. If you can tell your friends about the race without cringing, or grinning nervously, or lying, then it is not a true D Race.

An example: a friend sees the results from a past race and asks “what the fuck happened in T1?” You reluctantly admit that you could not find your bike in transition and spent over 10 minutes looking, eventually becoming convinced that it had been stolen. At some point you see your friend (a much slower swimmer than you) getting her bike off the rack and quickly run to join her because you had set up next to each other. As you arrive at the spot you shamefully remember that you bought a new bike 3 months ago and you had been looking for your old one. Doesn’t matter if that was an A, B, or C Race, and it doesn’t matter if you killed the bike/run and salvaged a decent time, when you fuck up like that the race is a Disgrace.

No one is immune to D Races. Take rookie pro Cody Beal’s DNF) at a small, local sprint triathlon near Toronto. For those too lazy to click the link, Cody rode off course and ended up riding down a dock and nearly into a lake. Going off course isn’t in and of itself “disgraceful”, but in this case the race was literally in Cody’s back yard and the bike course was laid out on roads that he rode regularly.

The “fails” that make races disgraces don’t have to be quite so extravagant. I posted a D Race last year at the Heart of the Rocking Triathlon in Invermere, BC, when I didn’t tighten all the nuts and bolts on my bike before the race (nothing had ever gone wrong before). Of course my seat came loose and I completed the bike like this. It was a disgraceful display of negligence on my part.

At the end of the day only you can tell if your race was a D Race, for it is you who will feel the shame and embarrassment that comes with it. For this reason the rise of the “humble brag” phenomenon has made the D Race very rare indeed. Let’s take, for example, a half-iron A Race in which, against your better judgment, you pushed for a PB on the bike and ran out of T2 like a raped ape (pacing Mike Tarabay naturally). Predictably you died at 4km and were forced to walk-run the next 4km before collapsing into the arms of an unsuspecting aid station volunteer. The traditional narrative coming out of a race like that would be “I can’t believe that I blew up like that. I’m a giant fuck up.” With the #humblebrag filter applied the same event might result in a tweet to the tune of: “Bonked on the run after crushing a 2:30 bike split today #liveandlearn #lancewho? #gohardorgohome #P5ftw”

The second brand of Disgrace Race is when a self-respecting triathlete partakes in a disrespectful athletic endeavor. Usually this involves mud and/or obstacles. Symptoms include embarrassment, self-loathing, and un-tagging facebook photos. Anyone with a strong-willed girlfriend or a propensity for making commitments when drunk or high is susceptible to this type of Disgrace Racing. When the participant is unable to identify this type of “athletic endeavor” as disgraceful, the D in D race is understood to stand for “Douchebag”.

E Race

The E stands for “Easy”, as in “Easy Win/Podium/AG Podium”.

Let me set the scene for you: You’re on the pool deck at a women’s only “Diva Tri-it” affair: 250m pool swim, 11km bike, 3km run (let me convert that for my American readers: 2 ¾  football fields swim, 2 ¾  circuits of the Daytona Speedway bike, 27 1/3 homeruns run, and a large milkshake). About half the bikes in transition are mountain bikes, some have baskets, one has streamers. Competitors line up on deck in their skirted tankini’s and nervously chat about the coming race. Why so nervous? Because this represents the longest and most grueling athletic endeavor ever undertaken by most of these brave souls. But two women stand out. Significantly thinner than the average competitor, they manage to show twice as much skin. To them the fact that they aren’t wearing one-piece tri-suits indicates that this is most definitely a fun “C Race”. To their fellow competitors they are sluts in sports-bras.

Our heroines sing from the same songbook:

“I’m just here to support my girlfriend Heather. It’s her first race!”

“Yeah, I convinced my mom to enter and I didn’t want her to go it alone!”

Oh, what generous souls! Never mind that she is “supporting” Heather by completing the entire race in 2 minutes less than it took her dear friend to complete the bike leg. And I’m sure Mom felt that she wasn’t “going it alone” when her daughter inaudibly muttered “guh….job” (quite an accomplishment in Zone 5) as she blew past on the run.

What’s that? You’d never do anything like that? Oh, ok, maybe you’re misremembering that time you looked for a half-marathon to do in the summer. As you navigated the website you looked up last-year’s results. A prudent step, no doubt. No harm in understanding the nature of the race and the quality of the competition. You spent a few minutes studying the times for the overall winner, your age group’s podium, and top-10, and top-25, the top-finisher from your home-town, any exes or friends, that guy who out-sprinted you to the line in 2011, etc. Satisfied with the information you’ve gleamed from the results page you decide to register.

What’s this? Why is your cursor migrating down the page? Shouldn’t you be navigating up to the “Register” tab? Oh, I see. You hesitate briefly before clicking on the link titled “5Km Fun Run – Results”. Your eyes light up at the sight of “23:20” at the top of the page. Images of you crossing the line, first overall, pop into your head. Not a competitor in sight. The field of 52 children, aunt’s walking for cancer, and recent completers of couch-to-5k programs has fallen in your wake and you have emerged the victor. Eventually you do register for the half-marathon, but you are not innocent.

Don’t feel bad. The E Race gene exists in every triathlete. In Chris “Big Sexy” McDonald’s interview with The Real Starky he admits that he did Ironman Louiville in 2013 because he was sure he could win it at 80-85% effort (skip to 35:11 for the admission. Lionel Saunders clearly cherry-picked IM Florida for a guaranteed win in 2014, and why else would Alistair Brownlee bother doing any race?

F Race

Also known as the “F(uck this) Race”. Like a D Race, an F Race is not planned, but any A,B,C, or E race can magically transform into an F Race in a split second with a simple declaration: “Fuck this Race!”. Some examples:

  • Kicked in the face 4 seconds into the swim: “Fuck this race!”
  • Someone knocked your bike off the rack: “Fuck this race!”
  • Flat tire: “Fuck this race!”
  • Can’t find your spot in transition: “Fuck this race!”
  • They only have PowerBar Perform at the aid stations: “Fuck this race!”

Usually an F Race declaration is a fleeting thought. A momentary lapse in concentration with poise quickly regained. You keep swimming. You pick up your bike. You fix your flat. You find your spot. You drink the shit and run.

Sometimes, either because of the severity of a fucked up event, or the combination of a series of smaller events, the entire race gets fucked. Rather than “Fuck this Race” being a fleeting thought, it becomes a mantra, repeated with each stroke or stride. When this happens an F Race can become a D Race, or if you thrive on anger and self-loathing it could also lead to a great performance (and a horrifying finisher’s pic). That being said, the best athletes are the ones who are able to refocus when shit goes down. Mikael Ekvall offers a classic non-triathlon example of how a single D Race can define an entire athletic career, but some how he didn’t allow himself to succumb to the “Fuck this Race” thoughts that surely were racing though his mind (and down his legs).

A strong Fuck this Race experience can, in some cases, morph into a Fuck that Race mentality. The difference is a matter of audience and time. You “Fuck this Race” privately during the race, but “Fuck that Race” publicly after the race. Sometimes this happens between friends:

“Hey buddy, I signed up for [random mountain resort town race], wanna do it with me?”

“I did that race in 2012 and the water was 13.1 degrees. Fuck that Race!”

You do not necessarily need personal experience to make a “Fuck that Race” declaration. The Norseman, for example, is a race where one can confidently declare “Fuck that Race” after watching a 10 minute youtube video. Often a Fuck That Race is actually just an attempt at compensating for a D Race. And sometimes, though not often, a race truly is fucked.

Summary

It is my hope that the terms D Race, E Race, and F Race will find their way into the triathlon lexicon and add a layer of detail and flavor to race reports (as if I need any more reasons to read every race report that comes my way). However, as the sport continues to grow and evolve, the ABCDEF method will inevitably loose its relevance and yet more terms will have to be generated. It’s a good thing that we still have 20 more letters in the alphabet.

Written by James Lange. Follow James on twitter. 

About the Author

James Lange
James Lange is an age group triathlete living in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. He aspires to be one of the top 500 amateur triathlon journalists in Western Canada. You can reach James at james@TRStriathlon.com.