Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wanted: Triathlon Assistant

Since I'll be doing my first triathlon of the year on Saturday--the Olympic-distance MPLS Triathlon--I was reminded of a column I wrote for five years ago, when I returned to triathlon after a 3+ year "maternity leave." Even though I've kept at least a big toe in triathlon ever since, I still think about the usefulness of a "triathlon assistant" for tri moms before each race. If there was such a thing, this would be their job description:

Even though it began with a stressful start, my return to racing this summer was one of my most satisfying seasons (more about that in my next installment). But there's one thing that would have made triathlon more enjoyable: a Triathlon Assistant. I'm not talking about the adored Ironmate, the loving partner who schleps around gear, doles out good luck hugs and kisses as needed and/or keeps a safe distance when necessary, then cheers you on at every possible mile and then finds you at the finish line to pick up the pieces and haul your salty, crunchy, stinky, weary, bleary self to a place-anywhere-where you can lie prone.

No, I'm talking about the need for a new profession. The triathlon assistant is every busy (and aren't we all) triathlete's dream. Somebody, I tell you, can make some money. I realize triathlon is a "new" sport, but I can't believe no one has thought of this. Entrepreneurs out there, take heed.

The triathlon assistant's first assignment is to research and present the best possible race options for you and sign you up before any of them fill to capacity. This is important. Everyone knows you hardly have time to sneeze after crossing the finish line before registration opens and--sneeze again--closes.

Actually, when the race doesn't fill immediately is when you get lackadaisical. This happened to me. There was one particular race I had intended on being a key event of my summer, but I didn't sign up in time. I kept thinking about signing up. In fact, I thought about signing up so often that I assumed I was in. I wasn't. The race filled. I had to rely on my skills of persuasion to get in (I did get in, but I have had to write poetry to get into a race before, so I have honed this particular skill.) Thing is, I don't want to do that; I want to be signed up like every other register-abiding triathlete. I could follow the rules easier if I had a triathlon assistant. (Speaking of rules, the triathlon assistant could also remind you of race rules, if you're a little rusty on those, too. This means you could tune out during that pre-race meeting in good conscience.)

The triathlon assistant's job isn't to help you train (that's why you hire a coach) but he can help you find a coach, or-for an added fee-elevate your training experience by reminding you of key workouts or the need to stretch, restocking engineered food and beverages before you run out, and buying your clothing and equipment before you have an opportunity to, say, develop an injury because you've worn the same running shoes for nine months.

Case in point. My 50-lap Timex Watch died. It had served me well, including both of my Ironmans and both of my births, which really put that lap function to work timing contractions. I put the watch away, knowing it needed the rest. Instead I ran with my one-lap heart rate monitor and didn't remember the greatness of the 50-lap watch until days before my come-back triathlon.

On the grand list of things to do before my race, replacing this watch battery wasn't going to happen. However, I would have paid a triathlon assistant to replace the battery for me.

My bike also needed a tune up in a bad way. Part of my obstacle was packing up the bike and the three small children (3-year-old twins and a 16-month old), then getting the bike and them safely in the store. Then repeating the process on the other end. Just thinking about it wore me out. I was supposed to be tapering and that sounded like a lot of work. Not for a triathlon assistant. A triathlon assistant would also be part stylist, making sure you have the perfect race attire (functional and fashionable.) This was a big problem for me this year. As I've mentioned, I'm in no mood to wear two-piece tri suits anymore and the tri shorts I had were two sizes too big. My shopping experiences have been reduced to Super Target. If they don't carry the merchandise, I don't buy it. Super Target rocks: Every mother's dream is to purchase a bra and bananas in one place. But as far as I know, they have yet to stock triathlon attire. I should have shopped online, yes, I know, but that takes forethought. Now we're talking days before the race and exorbitant shipping costs. So I hit the expo and bought a one piece tri swimsuit with that nifty pad in the crotch. Perfect! And it was on sale for half price! What a deal! Exactly what I wanted!

Until I got on the bike and I felt like I had on a tri-thong.

Not that I care what everyone else is wearing, but a cursory glance around the transition area told me this one-piece tri swimsuit thing just wasn't what triathletes wore anymore. My suspicion was confirmed at the next race when I ran into an old friend and I was whining about my "come back" and all there was to think about-how much triathlon had changed in almost four years.

"Well," he says, "At least you're not wearing one of those "Speedo-type suits."

"Yeah, actually I am," I said. And then I did not want to remove my hip sporty skirt that I wore over my uncool swimsuit. Would a triathlon assistant allow me to race in public that way? I don't think so.

The triathlon assistant idea came to me at packet pick up for my first race of the season. Packet pick up used to be one of the cursory pre-race tasks. Something I did after work, before heading home for a bowl of pasta and a relaxing beer. This time around I had to hire a babysitter. This, so I could make the 45-minute drive to the tri shop without my band of gypsies. But when I got to the tri shop, I was informed that packet pickup didn't start for another two hours. I won't do you the disservice of printing all the expletives that came pouring out of my mouth. The guy working at the store thought I was a real classy lady.

Sure I had read what time packet pick-up started, but it was only the date that I retained. A triathlon assistant would remember both date and time AND pick up the packet for me (probably for the same cost as hiring a sitter, but I would retain the right to leave said triathlon assistant with my kids if I needed to get out of the house alone.)

But the triathlon assistant isn't just for the ding-dongs like me. I shared my idea with my friend, who races in the elite division. She is the mother of 2 ½-year-old and 10-month-old sons. While she is thrilled to be racing as well as she is the burden to balance training and breastfeeding, racing after a sleepless night with a screaming child, or tuning up your bike while making sure the toddler doesn't insert the allen wrench in a light socket has, well, taken a teeny tiny bit of fun out of the sport.

She could win races and have fun with the help of a triathlon assistant. She knows this because most of her competitors are younger, childless women. "They have a triathlon assistant," she laments. "It's their mother!"

And why not have the triathlon assistant set up our transition areas for us, too? Wouldn't that be awesome? Short of using the port-a-potty for you, what could a triathlon assistant not do?

Maybe the busy, high powered executive will want to hire the triathlon assistant, but I tell you, the athletes who need them most are women with children (working outside the home, in the home, stay-at-home, no matter, it's all hard.) There's just so much to juggle and despite the fact triathlon is often regarded as a "self-centered" sport, if you're the primary caregiver of children, there is nothing "centered" about your life, and it most certainly isn't yourself. In fact, the triathlon assistant's mission is to take over the function of being self-centered for you.

Sound like the job for you? You're hired! 


Amber said...

Love this! I'm looking at doing my first triathlon next year (or maybe the year after...) I love reading about the stuff that is involved, so i know what I'm getting into!

I tried on bike shorts last night and that padded-ness is really weird. I passed on them. I haven't been biking enough for those yet!

Toby's Mom said...

I want a triathlon assistant! I used to have a perfect one, but apparently he has other things to think about these days. Like what to do with our kid when I'm training and racing.

Katie said...

Me! Me! Pick me! The "Wonder Teen" has been told by her "Wonder Parents" that she needs to get a job during the upcoming school year. Your thinking busy college freshman, right? Busier the better, I say! And besides, I need to update my title. How about "Wonder Triathlon Assisstant?"

Kara said...

Katie, since you're babysitting for us so we can actually DO the race, that definitely gives you the title! My husband cleaned my bike chain for me (sweet, yes, but he was disgusted with the grime) so he definitely helped. And Lara Howell, if you're reading this, thank you to you too!

Jackie Keane said...

Been doing tri for years. I am a teacher and looking for some summer work.
I can work virtually and get you into the races you need along with getting you the equipment you need to do the races.
Yes, trecking the bike to the shop with the kids is an exhausting experience on it's own!
You were right to say it is not to be done during a week when we are suppose to be tapering!
For some reason I can't get out of the bike shop without buying each of my kids one of those power bars which they don't need the extra burst of energy!
If you are interested we could see what we could work out as a virtual triathlon assistant. I live in new york so couldn't bet your bikes in for tune ups but I am good with research and knowing my equipment.