Jesse Thomas on his suggestion that, as a triathlon collective, we kill the phrase “race report” and instead write “race stories.”
I hate to break it to you, but your race reports are boring.
Shortly after I became a dad, I remember talking to my younger, single cousin about my son. I was probably talking about changing diapers or recounting when he rolled over or something fantastic like that. As I obliviously drummed on in detail, my cousin, after maintaining a polite, feigned interest for a few minutes, randomly started laughing. I asked him what was so funny. He said he was thinking about this standup routine he’d seen on YouTube. The comic in the video, after describing his friends talking and posting incessantly about their babies, finally bursts, “Your baby is f*&%ing boring!”
Of course, I knew this truth from the time before I was a dad. But at the time, it was a bit of a wakeup call. And I like to think that with a few years of dadhood under my belt I’m a bit more in tune. But I still talk about Jude a lot. And there are times when I’m aware I’m doing it, but it’s like spew coming out of my mouth that I can’t stop. So I stand there projectile spewing with a smile on my face while somehow convincing myself that everyone else thinks this is awesome and wants to keep watching and listening to me.
This new perspective has given me a renewed insight into the triathlon industry standard, the infamous, the loved and hated, the maligned but still requested race report. Sorry people, just like our babies, our race reports are boring! No one finds Jude’s potty training status more intriguing than I do, and no matter who you are, how crazy your race was, or how well you write about it, no one will find your race report more interesting than you do. Truth be told!
I think one of the problems lies in the title itself. “Race report” sets us up for failure. To me, the word “report” immediately connotes something with exceptionally boring detail, written in a step-by-step academic or technical format meant primarily for someone with the knowledge, stamina and lack of anything better to do with their time than spend 48 minutes reading about how many salt tabs you took at each of your 26 aid stations.
How many of your high school or college academic reports have you read after you wrote them? None! How many of them did you ask your friends and family to read? None! Then why in God’s name would you report about your race the same way and ask everyone on Facebook to give you a thumbs-up?
Clearly, reading a “report” makes it a chore, but what people do like to read are stories. I’m anything but a professional writer, but I do consider myself a storyteller learned in the ways of the Thomas family campfire. Usually our stories were of pranks, bizarre accidents, crazy coincidences or the many times we were really stupid and something funny happened. I learned the best stories are short, entertaining, have an interesting character or two, an easy-to-follow plot that doesn’t get mucked by details, a lesson or takeaway of some kind, and generally don’t contain too many references to watts.
So from here on out, I suggest, as a triathlon collective, we kill the phrase “race report” and instead write “race stories.” I am in no way claiming to be great at this—I still make the same spewing mistake every time I write about my race as well—but I think I’m at least conscious enough to understand what could make my race stories better. So here are some of the ideas I have for us all to ponder:
Keep it short. I have never once in my entire life heard someone say, “Man, that race report was too short! I wish I could have read more!” No matter who you are or who you’re writing for, shorter is better. People nowadays have lots of stuff to do, and our attention is more fragmented than ever. Believe me, I’ve written some epic doozies, like a two part on the Philippines 70.3, in which I couldn’t even remember what I was writing about by the time I finished. But by far my best race reports (stories) are less than 1,000 words. I know it’s hard, but we can do it!
Think about your audience. Generally, the people who read my blog are my mom and one or two dozen of her friends. So I try to keep my reports less technical, detailed and a little more accessible. I try to avoid receiving the follow-up question, “Whaaaat’s a watt?!” Your audience greatly impacts how the story should be told and what details should be left in or out.
Break it up with some interweb multimedia. The best race stories include some images—not just of you racing, but maybe something you thought about (see below), or a video, a song, a pie chart or whatever. The Internet is your oyster. Find something to break up the paragraphs of dense text and give it some scan-ability. P.S. Try to avoid using only granulated, watermarked screenshots of your Finisher Pix photos.
Talk more about what you thought or felt, and less about what happened. It’s always more interesting and informative to be inside your head rather than a spectator on the sideline. You got a flat, a person passed you, great. But what did you think? How did you respond? How did it make you feel? How did you adapt your strategy? Generally, the answers to those questions are more interesting than the details of what happened every mile.
Explain what you learned, and hopefully, how that might benefit others. The best stories have a lesson or a takeaway that can inspire, entertain or educate the audience. Outside of a good story, triathletes are generally looking for insights and information that they can apply to their racing, training, life, etc. This is what ultimately makes the story worth reading—something can be gained from it. Not all races end in prophetic lessons, but generally there are some things you learned that could be valuable to others. Seek those out and then type them out!
If we all work together we can slowly rid the sport of painful, smile-spewing, “your race report is boring” writing! Good luck, everyone. I look forward to reading every word of each and every one of your race stories this season.