accessibility · advertising · athletes · body image · competition · fitness · inclusiveness · triathalon

Athena, motivation, and getting real about who competes in triathlon

There are a lot of motivational Facebook groups out there relevant to my fitness interests but the one I’m enjoying the most at the moment is the group for Athena triathletes and duathletes.

Athena group: This group is for triathletes who compete as or empathize with those who race multisport in the Athena class (165+ pounds). Note: You will not get kicked out of the group if you no longer qualify under the USAT rule for the Athena class and go below 165 pounds.

It’s a totally wonderful group. As a plus sized endurance athlete, it can sometimes feel like you’re the only one out there given the prevalent imagery of swimmers, runners, and cyclists.

It’s not a weight loss free group, unlike other Facebook groups of which I’m a member. But neither is it focused on food and size. Some people are happy competing at the weight they’re at , others have lost weight and still others want to keep losing. But weight loss isn’t the point. Triathlon, and duathlon, are the point. This group has interested even me in swimming.

I’ve expresssed my doubts about the Athena category before. See here.

The Athena/Clydesdale categories are an attempt to equalize competition in non-elite running and multisport events between big and small people. For men, Clydesdale is anyone over 200 lbs and for women the minimum weight for an Athena division runner is either 140 lbs or 150 lbs. But there are at least two problems with the Athena category. First, you have to select to run in it. And almost no women do.

Hint: It’s a great way to get medals. I’ve “won” the Athena division twice in duathlon events by being the only woman in the class.

I’m not sure if that’s because most women object to the weigh-in (a routine part of lots of sports, all of them with weight categories) but I didn’t actually have to weigh in since I’m clearly over that weight limit, or because they don’t want to be identified as part of the heavier group.

Second, as I looked around it seemed to me that most of the women competing were over that weight. Is it just wrong as a category? Am I wrong to think that 200 lbs seems okay for men but 140/150 seems small for women? As I mentioned with my bodpod results, my lean mass is 122 lbs so assuming I can retain that, I’ll always be an Athena class runner/multisport athlete.

I guess the Athena cut off is different in different places? The group’s description suggests 165 which is more reasonable than our local 150 lbs.  And it would be different in places where the fields of competitors are more populated. Locally it seems to me to fail to address the worry it sets out to address.

So while I have doubts about Athena as a racing category I have zero doubts about how supportive this group is.

Recently a group member posted about having to do a 2.5 hour workout on her bike trainer and not feeling inspired. The group came through with the impressive set of images and slogans below. I think it’s okay to share them as there’s no personal content and they’re a lot of fun.

Although as usual when it comes to motivational sayings and images, your mileage may vary. See the following posts  on fitness motivation:

Here’s my favourite though I was too late to share it with the group:

hedgehog

Back to the group: It’s great seeing all these Athena sized triathletes completing all the distances. The images make my Facebook a happy and inspirational place.

I’ve been struck by the difference between these pictures and the pictures in triathlon advertising. And then I read this article by Tom Demerly which is right on the same point. It’s All About That Bass: How The Triathlon Industry Gets It Wrong.

Who does triathlons in the United States today? What does the “average” triathlete look like?

Industry dogma suggests all triathletes are high wage earners between 30 and 45 who aspire to race Ironman (or already have). They own a $10K bike, race wheels and a power meter. Their household income is above $120K and they have a graduate level degree. They are the marketer’s dream come true: Young, affluent, fit and shopping.

There are two problems with that “demographic”: it’s outdated and likely wrong. Why?

(Stuff about income assumptions and how they’re false too not included. If you are interested go read the article.)

Americans have also changed physically. We’re heavier- all of us. The number of svelte, uber-athletes is smaller now than it was 20 years ago relative to the general populace, who apparently has been spending what’s left of their shrinking discretionary incomes on Krispy-Kremes, not qualifying for Kona.

As a result of this economic and health demographic shift triathlon has filled from the bottom. The sport is growing from an increasing number of new athletes who are more average, heavier, less athletic but still inspired to participate– if not necessarily compete.

This is good news for the triathlon industry if they become more pragmatic about who is really doing triathlons. History suggests the triathlon industry isn’t very realistic about its own consumership. It continues to (try to) market to the svelte, Kona demographic in print and internet media- even though the inspirational stories that bring people into the sport are usually the saga of the everyman participant who had to overcome to participate, and doesn’t really compete.

This fundamental misunderstanding of the distinction between Participation and Competition is what continues to hold the triathlon industry back. It is also why retailers have a hard time earning consistent profits from a market they are increasingly out of touch with.

There has never been an ad campaign in triathlon featuring realistically sized, average age group triathletes. In fact, the same rebellion that has happened in women’s apparel marketing with consumers raging against brands like Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch is ready to happen in triathlon. The middle 90% wants triathlon to “get real” about who is actually participating, and they don’t care about who’s racing in Kona.

cycling · running · stereotypes · swimming · triathalon

(Updated) Plus sized endurance athletes, we exist!

Just added, Louise Green, fitness instructor, author, and blogger.

image

Today, I still weigh more than 200 pounds. I work out regularly. I am fit enough to run half marathons and I hold my own in athletic training programs. My metabolic health is in line, producing healthy numbers across the board. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke and I eat reasonably well. My body is free of disease.

But regardless of my internal health and fitness, certain people will always judge me by my outward appearance, and that is wrong.

And it doesn’t stop with everyday people. We are also seeing professional athletes who carry extra weight subjected to the same unfair projections.

From an interview here.

Here’s Leah Gilbert, http://www.sportette.com.au/im-plus-size-im-athlete/

So why is it that I am in a rather unique position when I present myself as a Plus Size Endurance Athlete? Why aren’t we all out there seeking sponsorship or promoting our roles as athletes? It’s easy – most of us don’t even acknowledge ourselves as athletes because we know that physically we don’t fit the mould of what society believes an ‘athlete’ looks like. We have a tendency to what I call ‘cheapen’ or ‘discount’ our athletic or fitness pursuits because people can’t seem to marry the fitness with the body shape. So instead of saying “I just finished a tempo run where I worked at 1km race pace intervals for 11km with a 2km warm up and 2km cool down”, we may mention quickly that we had ‘just been for a run’, usually adding “but I’m not very fast” or “oh I just plod along!”

image

And Ragen Chastain, https://ironfatblog.wordpress.com/

I’ve done a lot of athletic things in my life including sports and dance, but always stuff at which I have natural talent.  I decided that I wanted to push outside of my comfort zone and do things at which I seem to have absolutely no natural ability. I did a marathon and I sucked pretty bad at that, so I basically thought – what could I suck at that’s even more terrible than a marathon – and this is what I arrived at.

Jill Angie, Running with Curves

When I first started running in 1998, I wanted to lose weight. Running was simply a means of efficiently burning calories. It wasn’t fun, and it felt like punishment. And of course, I didn’t stick with it.

Over the years I started and stopped a number of times. Finally, in 2010, weighing close to 300 pounds, I started again, and this time I stuck with it. What was different? I stopped thinking about running as a means to offset calories, and started looking at it as a way to build up my confidence and strength. Soon, running became a source of joy, even when it was difficult (which was most of the time in the early years!). I became a triathlete and then a personal trainer. I also lost weight along the way.

But still, there was something missing. Although I felt like a runner, I didn’t see much representation in the running world for larger athletes. That’s when I knew it was time to start spreading the message that you can be a runner at any size, shape, age, pace or distance. That the very fact that you run makes you a runner.

 

Laura Backus, A Fat Girl’s Ironman Journey

I’m a 41 yr old, stubborn (determined?), short,  married, sarcastic, no kids (furkids, one named ATHENA),  fat, slow, medically challenged, IRONMAN.   I really enjoy the sport of triathlon and found you can do great things if you believe it, then put the work in to do it.

I have a genetic disorder, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which among other things makes my body unpredictable day by day. I dislocate many of my joints on a frequent basis and it is nearly impossible to build strength like normal people. I quickly atrophy, and many muscles just do not work on their own without conscious engagement of each contraction.

Running is especially difficult and my arches usually collapse within 45 min of any run.   I have to worry about many other medical issues, such as migraines, but these are the big ones.

I don’t want my disorder, or my weight to define me, however.  I’ve learned that I can speak for those with EDS, or any invisible illness, as well as the larger  or slower athletes.

(From an interview here:  http://www.runningwithcurves.net/january-rockstar-runner-laura-backus-fat-girls-ironman-journey/)

Sheila Ashcroft, Fat Broad on a Bike

What’s a fat broad like me — 200 pounds of flab squatting over skinny tires — doing on the road? I’mcycling just like everyone else. And regardless of your size, you belong here too! If you like cycling, don’t let your mind cheat your body out of doing something fun and healthy.

Being overweight and being a cyclist is not contradictory. I’ve been both for 22 years. Too many women are psyched out by those lean bodies dancing on the pedals up the Gatineau Hills. Cycling does not require a skinny body, it helps if you want to go fast, but it’s not necessary to enjoy cycling.

And me! See Big women on bikes

chubbyme

Resources

The fat girl’s guide to running

The big triathlete

Fit fatties forum

Athena Triathletes on Facebook

If you know any other good resources, please share them in the comments.

You might be wondering, why don’t larger/fat/plus sized athletes just lose weight? I’m blogging about that next.

competition · racing · running · triathalon

Why is the Athena category so useless?

tri2The Athena/Clydesdale categories are an attempt to equalize competition in non-elite running and multisport events between big and small people. For men, Clydesdale is anyone over 200 lbs and for women the minimum weight for an Athena division runner is either 140 lbs or 150 lbs. But there are at least two problems with the Athena category. First, you have to select to run in it. And almost no women do.

Hint: It’s a great way to get medals. I’ve “won” the Athena division twice in duathlon events by being the only woman in the class.

I’m not sure if that’s because most women object to the weigh-in (a routine part of lots of sports, all of them with weight categories) but I didn’t actually have to weigh in since I’m clearly over that weight limit, or because they don’t want to be identified as part of the heavier group.

Second, as I looked around it seemed to me that most of the women competing were over that weight. Is it just wrong as a category? Am I wrong to think that 200 lbs seems okay for men but 140/150 seems small for women? As I mentioned with my bodpod results, my lean mass is 122 lbs so assuming I can retain that, I’ll always be an Athena class runner/multisport athlete.

Any thoughts about the Athena category and how useful, or not, it is? I’m keen on the idea of encouraging larger people to race and making it fair. Is this the way? (For what it’s worth, I love the idea of a weight adjusted hill race on bike where it’s all power to weight ratio…)