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A Brief Complaint From a Salty Triathlete: Bad Travel Math

Illustration by Matt Collins

Look for a new “Salty Triathlete” from Kelly O’Mara every month in Triathlete magazine.

Consider this classic conundrum: Your local Ironman 70.3 sells out in seconds, and you don’t get in. Do you pay double the original registration price for a charity entry, or register for a cheaper race somewhere farther away?

The answer is there is no right answer. Just don’t do bad math.

You can look at it from a cost-effectiveness standpoint. Is it cheaper to pay the crazy entry fee and sleep in your own bed? Or to enter that faraway race, but be forced to fork over for a flight, rental car, bike fee and hotel? That math should be pretty straightforward.

But if you can look at it from a life-experience standpoint, it gets trickier. Let’s say it is technically cheaper to race your outrageously expensive local event but you decide to travel anyway, justifying the expense by calling the trip a “racecation.” Traveling is great. Races are great. Vacations are great. Go ahead, combine the three! Just be sure to watch your timing. Racecationers gunning for PR’s would be wise to save mountainous hikes and safaris for après competition to get the most bang for their training buck.

Speaking of traveling to races, don’t assume the farther you travel, the longer you have to race—as if professional 400-meter runners think, “Well, screw it! I’m not going go to Rio—it’s not worth the travel for only 40 seconds of racing!” This is silly. Whether or not it’s worth traveling to a race has very little to do with how long it takes you to finish and everything to do with the overall experience and how it enriches your life. (Or, you know, the straight-up bottom line. See: cost effectiveness.)

I live outside San Francisco. Escape from Alcatraz is a classic, historic local race that features a 1.5-mile swim across the San Francisco Bay, an 18-mile bike and an 8-mile run by the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet for years, I’ve had to argue with fellow triathletes who live nearby that it was worth the old $420 registration fee. It was worth being able to stay in our own homes and drive to the start of this one-of-a-kind event over traveling to another race. (The new $750 price tag, however, warrants new cost-benefit calculations. But that’s the point—do the math!)

Every time I had this Alcatraz argument with someone who’d rather travel elsewhere, they’d say, “I just can’t pay that much money for that short of a race.” And every time I would tell them: If you
want to get more tri for your money, you can always go slower.

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