Beth Potter Just Ran a World Record 5K—So Why Is She Doing Triathlon?

Some analysis of why she'd pick tri over track.

Photo: Super League Triathlon

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This past weekend, up-and-coming UK triathlete Beth Potter ran a world record for a road 5K in 14:41. She also won the most recent Super League Arena Games two weeks ago. Our British correspondent analyzes what the 29-year-old’s future holds and why she’s picked triathlon over running (at least for now).

Yes, it’s true. Beth Potter, Scottish runner-turned-triathlete did, on Saturday, run a world record over 5-kilometers on the road. So, it’s a fair question to ask: Why isn’t she just a runner?

It’s a question that Beth Potter might be best-placed to answer, but she’s also kind of busy right now answering questions such as: Who is Beth Potter? (We’ll have a mini-profile of her coming soon.) And: What shoes are you wearing? (The new Asics Metaspeed Sky.) So, we thought we’d have a go at explaining the tri-over-running decision instead.

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Money. Let’s get down to brass tacks straightaway. We may think that tri doesn’t pay much—and to be fair, it doesn’t compared to, say, hedge fund management. But as long as you’re good, there’s often still more opportunity in prize money and sponsorship to hold it down as a career than there is in track and field. If the Olympic dream dies in tri, there’s always the option of going Ironman-long too. Contentiously, Beth hasn’t been able to access national federation funding (yet), however. Having been omitted from the British Triathlon performance program, despite spots for nine other women, she’s certainly stating her case now.

Other runners. (OK, many other East African runners.) It’s quite hard to be the best in the world at just running. Here’s one example—albeit an extreme one. When Beth ran in the Olympic 10K in Rio in 2016, she came in 34th and was almost four minutes behind Ethiopian Almaz Ayana, who ran 29:17 to obliterate a world record that most thought was untouchable. When Ayana was at it again in the World Championships in London the following year, Beth had narrowed the gap to a respectable (and impressive) two minutes. But that’s still a chunk over 10K. Tough to take for any self-respecting distance athlete, it would demand a huge improvement…just to prevent being lapped.

Olympic tri ambition. Beth has said Paris 2024 is her tri goal, and with the British team already selected for Tokyo, it may have to stay that way–barring injury. But having been crowned European triathlon champion in 2019 and winning her first World Cup event last year in Spain, plus the recent Super League Triathlon Arena Games win, her trajectory for the Paris Olympics is a good one. Training out of Leeds under Jack Maitland, who was prominent in the Brownlees’ rise to success, she could also hardly be in more capable hands.

Swimming background. Beth comes from a competitive swimming background. She might not have done it for several years before she stepped into tri, but she knew she could do catch-up and play catch-up. For all the fleet-footed running she’s produced of late, it might actually be the gains she’s made in the swim that will really give her a global tri breakthrough.

The ‘world record.’ There’s no nice way to put this. It sounds churlish and like an oxymoron, but the 5K women’s road world record—certainly in the current environment of super shoes—is a ‘soft’ world record. There, we’ve said it! OK, now, 14:41 is obviously ridiculously fast for any mortal, but on the track (yes, we know it’s a bit different) Letesenbet Gidey stopped the clock at 14:06 in October in Valencia.

And finally…let’s talk about Gwen. Please don’t infer criticism of Gwen Jorgensen here—it’s important to follow your dreams—and in the same way Gwen felt she was done with tri and wanted to see what she could achieve in running, perhaps Beth wants to do the same now but in reverse. She’s been to the Olympics for running, maybe she wants to see how good she can be in triathlon? If anything Gwen should serve as inspiration. If she can go from Olympic tri gold medalist to 15:08 5K runner, maybe Beth can flip it the other way around. She’s certainly hoping she can.

Of course, this is all just our speculation. Beth, herself, is still likely figuring it all out—as she told Athletics Weekly over the weekend, “I don’t really know anymore. Obviously my aim was to qualify for the triathlon team but unfortunately that’s not currently available to me at the moment because they chose the team at the back end of 2019. It has to be a miracle for me to make that (triathlon) team. But I’m not giving up on it.” She pauses and adds: “I don’t know, really. I need a couple of days to digest what happened last night and to reset.”

She may also be checking her calendar and realizing the British Olympic track trials aren’t until late June, where she could contest the 5K, after racing in the World Triathlon event in Leeds in early June (on the same weekend as the British Olympic 10K trials). Or maybe she’s just celebrating and taking a break right now!

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