Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Girls Can Rule, Too

The ladies can be queen of the course. No ifs, ands or buts about it for all those naysayers, debaters and message boarders posting to SlowTwitch, a popular site for triathlon online, who assert that the fast girls on the Spirit of Racine course were cheating on Sunday. I'm not trying to open a can of worms in an attempt to point out who's right and who's wrong in this SlowTwitch thread, but I couldn't help but take some of these comments as implying that a girl couldn't ride that fast or that she had to be drafting and/or cheating to pull of a blistering time. Those comments from Sunday could go in a million different directions, but if I can make one generalization it's that guys just can't seem to let go of being beaten by a girl.

Call it getting "chicked" or passed or any other random term and you have yourself a situation that we all find ourselves at one point or another during a race whether it be a triathlon, a marathon, a cycling ride or race, or even a 5K. Unless you're winning a race, more often than not someone is going to pass you over the course of the race, and we can probably all remember a situation where we were passed while out on the course. Maybe it's just me but it's one of those things you accept, get over, but use the situation to make you better in the future--working toward a faster PR, pushing that speed just a little more next time someone goes by on the bike, churning out interval workouts. And oftentimes sex doesn't matter--how often do you see girls riding in packs with guys (for me, every morning I'm out on the Lakefront riding), co-ed marathon training groups, boy-girl running pairs, co-ed swimming packs?

Yet when it comes to triathlon, more than once has sex somehow seemed to matter. Again this could just be me as I have a tendency to internalize things and go paranoid according to my mom, but as I read the SlowTwitch info earlier today, I realized that it really wasn't just me. The idea of a girl dominating a guy just didn't seem to fly on this message board, and I couldn't help but think that I encountered some of these folks last year at Ironman Wisconsin. So triathlon, especially the longer races like half Ironman and Ironman events, tend to draw more males than females, but that's no excuse to not give us the time of day and act like you own the course even when you have others breathing down your neck.

Take a situation I found myself in during the swim at Ironman Wisconsin last September. And I'm not trying to complain here, but really, someone might be able to relate. I cannot tell you how many guys I encountered in the swim who thought they ruled the pool--or Lake Monona on that morning. Sure, I was a deer in headlights as I walked with the crowd down to the shore to paddle my way to the starting line, but I knew I was a somewhat strong swimmer and didn't want to seed myself in the back of the pack. But I also wanted to try to be courteous to any fast guys and stay out of their way at the start--and avoid being pushed underwater or kicked or shoved, as has occured in other races by girls in my wave. I hung a few people back from the 'do not cross' line, trying to stay in line with other pink caps (the females) in the vicinity while watching more blue caps (the males) squeeze into the first few rows of floating swimmers. And I hate to say it but those who did creep up toward the front really did not seem to belong; I'm stereotyping but they really didn't look like swimmers with lanky frames nor could they all tread water properly as I watched some expend energy flailing arms and/or legs or avoided a jab in the stomach. And it unfortunately only got worse when the cannon went off and the tidal wave took off in the water. As any triathlete knows, sighting is key to manuevering through the swim. Yet, just like you'll encounter a driver who thinks it's his/her way or no way, the same held true for these swimmers. I'm sighting, attempting to stroke my way through the masses and find a spot to settle into my swim, and cannot escape the "I'm right and you're wrong swimmers"--being pigeon-holed on at least two occasions by two blue-capped swimmers who refused to move out of my way. I'd find a space between two swimmers and as I'm going along trying to pass them one not only tries to grab and nearly claw at me but they are both failing at swimming in a straight line and I watch the one on my left drift right and the one on my right drift left, heading for a collision while barring me from pushing either out of the way to swim through (I'm stuck diverting my path and swimming around their feet to scout a new swim spot in the lake). This happened on more than one occasion too, with me being focused to go around the back side to pass and relocate.

Or take the swimmers who try to draft. This is a fun one since there are no rules against following in my wake during the swim. I don't like swimmers close to me--growing up as a competitive swimmer I'm used to circle swimming during practice and having my own lane in competition, not taking to a skier-cross-like field in the water when it comes to triathlon. I learned after the 2007 Chicago Triathlon that I don't like swimmers following stroke for stroke and try to swim away--even if I lose time--whenever possible. Not to revert back to my Ironman experience but after I rounded the first turn and the crowd thinned out a bit, I headed over to the far outside near the boats specifically to escape potential drafters. I spotted one and continued to move further out, thinking to myself "I'm going out waaay out here so you'll leave me alone" and hoping that straying out further would keep them at bay. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

But my favorite "girls can rule" moments happened on the bike. Many triathletes admit it's common to see geeked-out bikes with less-than-geeked-out riders perched atop--or at least I remember learning that when I first started writing about the sport. The lightweight bikes, the Zipp wheels or special race wheels, the hum of disc wheels, the aero-helmets, the sweet looking rides that you can only guess (and be close to right) that they cost a small fortune. So when those of us without the sweet rides or spiffy wheels can pass a better bike, there's a quiet sense of elation. Unfortunately the racer on the so-called speedy bike doesn't have the same mentality. My favorite race memory came from a comment made by a cyclist during my second loop on the bike course...the winds had picked up and as we headed toward Mt. Horeb on Wisconsin's farm roads we encountered building headwinds in addition to the already challenging rolling terrain. I'm not a fast cyclist by any means, especially during the IM where I just wanted to survive without too many errors or mechanical issues, but was feeling pretty good during this round of headwinds and was motoring forward. As I pushed through the wind and across the low-rolling hills (the tougher ones come later), I was making some headway on some other riders on the course and found myself making some passes. Go me! But not everyone out there felt that way. I received a comment from the peanut gallery that went along the lines of "Aw man I'm getting passed by a girl" as I motored by a guy with a Zipp wheel in front and a disc wheel in back. OK so I was a little ticked off at the comment that I interpreted as having no right to be passing him but also that he was joking. So I joked back a "Hey, come on" but only heard silence; thinking he was mad I also shouted a just kidding, again with no response. Hmm. At least I never encountered him again. Sure I'm jealous of the people who pass me, but after they go by I always think more power to them...I wish I could be even half the cyclists they are.

And time and again, similar things have happened to me while swimming and cycling during triathlons. On the swim, I'll find the guy who starts in the wave ahead who I'll catch but who won't move out of the way and persists in sticking to a crooked path. Or on Spirit of Racine's bike course, I encountered a guy who either didn't want to get passed, or didn't know what he was doing on his bike. On a busier road the lane for cyclists was pretty narrow and spray paint on the pavement directed us to stay to the right. As we rounded the corner, the cyclist in front of me must have thought the signage said to stay left because all he did was drift further left in the lane, making it impossible to pass on the left without breaking the rules of leaving the lane or passing on the right. At least two guys creeping up on me saw my frustration and as they passed me with an on your left comment, nodded to my comment about figuring out the left-lane rider. But when they pedaled around him, he finally moved over, giving me a chance to pass too. I only mention this because of the above SlowTwitch link to complaints about the race--and to blow off some steam since the situation easily could have been ruled as blocking. Or take the circle swimming workout I found myself in when I begged to share a lane at the gym pool so I could squeeze in some laps one evening. Three triathletes in a lane, yet I could never figure out a good way to make a proper pass. I admit I didn't want to be annoying and tap the ankles--and feared that not everyone knew that swimming signal for passing--but at the same time, I thought the other two were annoyed with my swim antics. I'd find myself on their ankles and start to swim around, but even when they saw me they'd continue to swim as opposed to stopping for a second, even at the wall as I did my flip turn and they touched the wall before pushing off, to let me by. Sure I felt like I was ruling the pool that night--and enjoyed it--but in the process felt like they were hating me for being in the lane.

Whatever the case, I think we're all just asking for a fair shot out there. I know these situations are easily unintentional and just a case of bad fate, but still it's hard for a pint-sized athlete to hold his or her own next to a tanker--or a pusher and aggressor. And not to harp on it, but sometimes it sounds like there are some athletes out there reverting to antiquated ways and going all sexist on the race course stating that girls can't be that fast or something was up with those times. Sure I'll admit I'm puzzled about the 16-minute swim time someone posted on Sunday--even if the swim was short, not even elite racers came close to that time which has me suspecting something. But at the same time I can't help thinking about that silly mocking rhyme that kids taunt: girls rule and boys drool. Photo grabbed from sandstonestickers.com. Posted by Kate

Introducing a new section to Fit-Ink, Fit-Heat is our spot to blow off steam. If you have a thought to share for the section, please contact us at contactfitink@gmail.com so we can post your vent. We know we're not the only ones out there frustrated over a race or action.


  1. Yes, I totally hear you on this!

    I noticed two awesome exceptions to this trend at the Half IM in Racine on Sunday, I saw a guy trying to hang with a small pack of girls (they were all passing me, of course). And just before he got dropped, he said, "Go get 'em girls, I'm used to get passed by you, you're all too fast for me." They thanked him and sped away. It was pretty awesome. On another note, as I passed an older guy in the second loop of the 1/2 marathon portion of the race, he said "Nice pace, sweetheart!" Now I know that sounds totally un-PC and even condescending, and maybe I was just flooded with endorphins at that moment, but I totally took it as a compliment and used it to fuel me to the finish.

  2. i love this! sorry forgot to comment months ago but looking back helped me remember racine :)



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