Friday, January 6, 2012

How to Become a Professional Triathlete!

People unfamiliar with triathlons(and apparently my swim and bike abilities) often ask me why I don't become a professional triathlete like Amber. My usual flippant response is something like: I don't want to take anything away from her, or triathlons bore me etc. The real(obvious) reason why I don't become a professional triathlete is because it's a PROFESSIONAL SPORT! It's pretty much the same reason my football career ended when I opted for a Division I college instead of Division III: participation only takes you so far. The rest is a combination of genetics, dedication and sport-specific talent.

The main difference between triathlon and other professional sports is that you don't pay to see a pro triathlete compete, you pay to compete yourself and you get the added benefit of seeing some of the guys on the cover of LAVA magazine. While that's really cool on the amateur end of things, it makes it tough for pro triathletes as their revenues come primarily from prize money and, for most, supplementing it with "real work". So you may even see a professional triathlete next time you go to PT.

But how many NFL or NBA players do you know personally? It seems that sometimes because you are accustomed to having something or someone nearby, you lose sight of how special that thing or person really is. Triathlon has arguably some of the fittest athletes in the world(ask Lance Armstrong after his return to the sport this year) and is also one of the hardest to get into. It's amazing how many amazing college players get drafted with franchise hopes on their shoulders only fizzle out not contributing much to the sport. Just to get into triathlon you have pretty much be competing at a professional level prior which ensures pro triathletes will be competitive in that arena.

Let's take a look at just what it takes to become a professional triathlete:

Option 1: Finish within 8% of the winning elite time (on the same course as elites) in three USAT sanctioned events that offered an elite/pro prize purse.

Option 2: Finish top-10 overall and within 8% of the winner’s time at ITU Age Group World Championships.

Option 3: Finish top-10 overall in the amateur field at Ironman World Championships.

Option 4: Finish top-5 overall and within 8% of the winner’s time at USAT Age Group National Championships.

Let's explore each one of these options a little closer;
Option 1: Finish within 8% of the winning elite time.  
This one's tricky. What's your best bet for coming within 8% of a pro? Long-course, short-course, for me the answer is no-course.
    8% of the arguably slow course of Ironman St. George would be a 9:13. I finished in 11:17. To cut out two hours, I would have needed to swim 20 minutes faster, biked nearly 2mphs faster and still run a Boston Marathon Qualifying marathon time on a very hilly run course. OR I could have only done one lap of the marathon.
   Maybe Short-course? Well at the Philadelphia Triathlon this past year, Olympian Andy Potts showed up and put down a 1:46:05 for an Olympic Triathlon. That's a .9 mile swim, a 24.8 mile bike and a 6.2 mile swim. Let's up my bike and run first. On a good day it will take me an 1:12 to bike than distance, and I'd be very happy to run a 34 minute 10k. So that leaves me with... Wait! 5 seconds to swim. Well not exactly because I don't have to tie Andy just be within 8% of him. So 8 and a half minutes to swim nearly mile. There better be a darn fast current!

Option 2: Finish top-10 overall and within 8% of the winner’s time at ITU Age Group World Championships.

 This option requires of several increasingly difficult hoops to swim, bike and run through just to get to Age Group Worlds. First, race a Age Group Nationals triathlon qualifier. Qualify. Pretty Easy. Race at Age Group Nationals. Qualify. Substantially less easy. This is the A-race of the year for most triathletes and they come in hot. If you're not running in the 33's for the 10k you're probably not standing a chance. AND THEN, it's time for Age Group Worlds. Oh wait, you're not just competing against your age group anymore though but against all age-groups.
This year the swim got canceled so if I had made it through all the hoops, it would have been my shot. Here are the top ten male finishers on the  120 km bike and 30 km run course.
The times are pretty much meaningless to me as well, until you see that they were biking nearly 23 mph and running low 6's for nearly 19 miles on a very hilly course.

Option 3: Finish top-10 overall in the amateur field at Ironman World Championships
Let's see how the top ten males and females finished in last year's trip to Kona:

1st-8:48:44- a 2:58:33 marathon!
10th-9:01:34 a 3:07 marathon(qualified for Boston after biking 23 mph and 2.4 miles)


Yikes! Those bottom scores are FEMALES! Under 10 hours all of them. In Kona heat! I would be VERY hard pressed to qualify as a female. And by very hard pressed, I mean it would be impossible.

Option 4: Finish top-5 overall and within 8% of the winner’s time at USAT Age Group National Championships.
1st- 1:52:18

2nd- 1:54:09
4th- 1:54:49
5th- 1:54:51
To place top five at the 2011 Nationals, I would have biked 25.5 mph and run 5:17's for 10k for FIFTH PLACE!
1st- 2:06:02
2nd- 2:08:43
3rd- 2:08:48
4th- 2:10:06
5th- 2:10:12
For Fifth Female, I would have biked slightly under 23mph and run a 39 minute 10k! And still would have had to swim better than I ever have.

As can be seen by all four of the non-viable options, it is very hard to become a professional triathlete. The only thing harder than becoming one, is staying one. 8% of the winner's time is the standard so if you're racing with Chrissy Wellington or Craig Alexander you're most likely out of luck.

I'm beginning to embrace my non-professional triathlete status and I hope the majority of you out there do as well.

Still think you can become a professional triathlete? Then, the next step is to find a good coach. Can you think of a better option than being trained by a professional one? Amber is accepting applications for athletes now. Click here


  1. Wow that really puts things in perspective! Its to bad Pros don't get paid anything near what they should for their time, commitment and athletic abilities.

  2. A little too pessimistic there...of course you won't be a pro with that attitude

    1. there is a difference between pessimistic and realistic. some people just are not cut out to be fast triathletes. no amount of optimism will change that - ask the kid who realllly wanted to play pro basketball but was a 5'5" white boy. good for him for being happy for his wife while realistic about himself

  3. If you really wanted to you could but you're too busy being 6 years old to try hard for something that you want. You would rather make excuses that it's impossible or they have natural talent and i don't bullshit instead of working your ass off to get there

    1. Wow. This is a great example of how anonymity can empower people to say how they really feel. Glad you have so much faith in my performance capabilities and so little in my work ethic. Haha. I think it's rather insulting however to those poor six year olds that you have lumped in with me. Most six year olds I know are very driven and often don't stop until they get what they want. Which is what you have to do to become a professional triathlete. A lot of hard work and sacrifice. And some natural talent of course. Thanks for reading the blog-next time try to keep it PG.

    2. great response! exactly, every six year old has a right to believe he/she can be a pro. by 16, the 5'11" girl knows she won't ever be competing in the olympics as a gymnists