Endurance training and mental fever aren’t the only tips to finishing a triathlon.
Sure triathletes average 18-30 hours per week of training, including swimming a recommended seven miles per week, biking 225 miles and running 48 miles. And yes, Ironman athletes train for an average seven months to participate in the 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike rice, and 26.2 mile run, according to the World Triathlon Corporation, which owns the Ironman brand.
Average spending per triathlete in 2014 included $2,274 on bikes and another $524 on bike equipment, $370 on training, running apparel, and footwear, $277 on nutritional supplements, and $564 on race fees.
No wonder it’s considered a leisure sport.
No, no, it’s not a leisurely activity, it’s completely grueling, and only the most committed (read: “crazy”) athletes in the world participate.
But aside from being physically superior, triathlon participation is primarily targeted toward people who have the ability to set aside time to train and money to invest in all the sundry products needed to get to the finish line.
This may be why triathlon participation may have peaked in 2014.
Don’t misunderstand. Triathlons are big business — so big that the Ironman brand was purchased for $650 million earlier this year. So big that Hawaii, where Ironman first originated, counts on $20 million in tourism dollars each year associated with the World Championship. So big that the three-day Triathlon Business International Annual Conference to be held in Marina Del Ray, California, next month costs $675 for non-members to attend — and the conference has a history of teaching triathletes how to accumulate the money through crowdfunding and other marketing techniques to they can participate.
So big that the average income of a triathlete is $126,000 per year.
That’s right. $126,000 — and 26 percent of all athletes make more than $150,000 in their daily occupations. (It should be noted that the purse for winning first place for the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii this year was $120,000 for the top-placing male and female. Everyone in the top 10 earned prize money).
Let’s face it: Ironman is an upper-middle-class sport. Participants are 88 percent Caucasian. Seventy-five percent have post-secondary educations. Forty-nine percent of U.S. Ironman competitors reported having “white-collar jobs” while another 19 percent were doctors, lawyers, and accountants. A full 6 percent of participants are in the government or military.
Notably, and yet unsurprisingly, the Mid-Atlantic Region is home to 16 percent of the total membership in USA Triathlon.
Seventy-four percent of triathletes are married or in a committed relationship (presumably with another person and not their bike). Forty-four percent have children at home.
All this is to say that while triathlon participation and the industry itself has exploded since 1999, the organizations that produce these events are facing a marketing challenge: finding new demographic groups to keep the momentum going.
Triathlons faced a major explosion in 2013 and 2014 following a long upward trend in popularity since the inclusion of triathlons in the Olympics starting in 2000.
It’s not like the industry is in decline. USA Triathlon hosted 4,397 events in the United States last year. It also certified more than 450 new Level I coaches in 2014.
But bike sales also flat-lined in 2014. And a survey by the USA Triathlon said the biggest factors impacting triathletes’ decisions not to renew their membership were finances, time, and injury.
So that’s another challenge for the industry. Making sure people continue to be healthy enough and focused enough to keep racing.
Like any other business, the triathlon organizations are looking for ways to keep expanding, and have come up with a few enterprising options. By mid-2015, 10 NCAA athletic departments received USA Triathlon grants to encourage female participation at the college level.
USA Triathlon is also building community, the cornerstone of any 21st century marketing effort, through clubs, training groups, and locally based events.
It is trying to attract the next generation as well, offering alternative events at races where parents are participating in full-length triathlons, as well as hosting national championships for young people who want to go pro or to the Olympics.
Ultimately, its biggest idea may be in changing the lengths of events so that more people can participate. A shorter sprint triathlon is a 500 meter swim, 12 mile bike ride, and a 5k run, and an Olympic triathlon consists of 1.5k swim, 40k bike ride, and a 10k run. Purist Ironman athletes may look down on these “short” distances, but for the field to grow, it must cater to where it will find audiences.
Ultimately, however, it does come down to whether athletes can stay healthy at those exhausing lengths. This means eating right, taking care of the whole body, not just the muscles being strained, and paying attention to the details.
So no matter how much time, money, and gear you have, you will benefit from following these 5 tips to finishing a triathlon:
1. See your chiropractor. You body is like a finely tuned race car and during your training, things will be tweaked at least a little and probably a lot. Adjust these things to go back into balance.
2. Use your foam roller and foam ball. Seriously, don’t underestimate the impact these exercises have on your muscles. The foam roller will help with mobility throughout the larger muscles like the quads and hamstrings, while the foam ball is better at working in those tight spaces like the hip flexors and behind the knee (a common source of tendinitis).
3. Review your nutrition and hydration. Consult with your coach or reference an online coach to make sure you are on track. Wellness for Life Coach Courtney Fulton Benedict, who works with Capitol Rehab of Arlington, specializes in eating plans to build energy for endurance.
4. Schedule a massage 3-4 days out from the race. If you are accustomed to getting sports massages, you can schedule closer to the race, but we recommend giving your body a little more time to get adjusted after muscle work.
5. Visualize the race. Take time to mentally prepare for what’s in front of you. Visualization is that final tip used by most of the great athletes.