Ask a Random Triathlete: Picking Races and Fighting Old Dudes

Finally, this week, questions from you all that I actually know things about! Not that, as a Random Triathlete, I don’t know everything. Because I do. Obviously. You can see how much wisdom random triathletes have to share in all our previous columns. Submit your own questions (which better be good) in the comments below, on the forum, or by messaging me directly.

I’ve done a bunch of sprints, a couple of Olympics, and a couple of 70.3s. I’m thinking about aiming for a full-distance Ironman race next season. How should I pick my first one?

Go to Click “Races” at the top of the menu bar. Filter the list by distance. Pick one. Pay $700.

Kidding. Kidding. But not really. 

With so few independent races left, your options are basically Ironman or Ironman. This makes things relatively simple. Shitty. But simple. There’s also one Rev3 full, a couple Challenge full “Ironman-distance” races, HITS for as long as that lasts, and a few good local races. I sometimes check to see what other races I’m forgetting about. Sometimes I even talk to triathletes — turns out they’re the ones who actually do triathlons and have experiences at races you might want to do — but I try to avoid that as a last resort.

Before you pick a race from these options:

  1. Figure out how long you need to train. Minimum, if you’re in pretty good shape already, you’ll still need a few months to get in Ironman shape. How much time you need is inversely proportional to how fit you are now. Also inversely proportional to how well you want to do.
  2. Decide when you want to race (give or take), and if you want to travel and how far. Internationally? Driving distance? Race-cation?
  3. Want kind of event are you looking for? Something easy, so you can just check the Ironman box off your list? Or something crazy but awesome, like AlaskaMan, which totally went on my tentative bucket list when it was announced?
  4. Once you have a handful of options, do research. I recommend Google. What are the courses like? The weather? How difficult is it to get to, logistically? How expensive? How have the previous years gone? I also try to consider my strengths and weakness, and what I’m good at. Hint: Just because flat and fast is often easier doesn’t mean it’s actually what you’re good at.
  5. Then start narrowing down your options. Make a list. Eliminate ones that don’t work for you or just don’t sound appealing. At that point, I go with the super Type A triathlete decision-making method: whatever my gut says I’ll kick ass at. 

What is the etiquette when you are continually passing a backstroker who insists on speeding up when you try to pass him? Overall the issue of “getting chicked” is mostly funny, but in the pool it’s annoying and when out cycling it can be downright dangerous – think the tractor chicken scene from Footloose. I have never once had this issue with another woman, it’s always dudes.

Of course it’s dudes. Mostly old dudes. Instead of “backstroker,” we’re just going to substitute “old dude making one last feeble attempt to cling to his outdated misguided shreds of masculinity.” I’m pretty sure all the old dudes actually had a meeting and voted to decide that the pool is where they’re making their final stand. This is their Alamo. One time, I got punched in the face during lap swimming by an old dude doing what I assume was breaststroke. Then I had to spend two weeks explaining to my boss, who had never done a workout in her life, that my black eye was not the result of domestic violence and that actually my suspicious sounding excuse was a real thing. “Sure,” she kept saying, “open lap swim, whatever that is.”

My point is this: If you want to fight the old dudes, you better be prepared for a balls-out, all-in fight.

Generally, I don’t find it worth it, since, in the long run, we’ve got time on our side. In 10 years, there’ll be more of us alive than them. It’s easier instead to spend hours and hours training in the pool alone, just to get fast enough to not have to be in the same lane as the old dude. That’ll take less time than trying to convince him you’re a better athlete.

In the immediate, you have a few options, in order of preferability:

  • Don’t get in a lane with an old dude backstroking in the first place. Discourage any old dudes from getting in your lane.
  • Stop circle swimming, at least until people are capable of understanding speed differentials. I am, literally, quitting my gym because I can not do any more circle swimming in the same lane as people floating on their backs. 
  • Swim faster. 
  • Change lanes, ideally as passive aggressively as possible.
  • Go full “female” on him. Smile, smile, thanks so much for sharing the lane with me. I don’t want to get in your way, so here’s what I’m going to be doing. Whether or not you like it. *smile* And then just do your workout as though he’s not there. If anything goes wrong, like he drowns, smile again and act confused. He’ll find that believable.
  • Tap the old dude’s feet. Over and over and over. Make it a game to see how many times you can tap his feet. You can also do that thing where you stop a few feet short of the wall and just change direction, so that now you’re in front of him going back the other way. Keep this up until he gets out.
  • Treat it like open water swim practice. If the old dude won’t let you pass, use your elbows, arms, and legs to encourage him to move. Swim him into the lane line. It’s not your fault. You’re just over here swimming. And you have the advantage, because he’s on his back and maybe you happen to be a very splash-heavy swimmer. If there’s oncoming traffic, even better. It’s like an exciting triathlon! Plus, then you can win that oncoming swimmer over to your side in The Great Pool Wars of 2016.

About the Author

Kelly O'Mara
Kelly is a reporter and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She quit triathlon for a few years, because triathletes can be annoying, but now she's back into it and only hanging out with the non-annoying triathletes. She blogs about stuff at Sunny Running.