What happens when you put 600 keen triathletes in the water, and get them to start swimming for a single white buoy all at once? Chaos. Made even more chaotic by the fact the vast majority of those triathletes can’t seem to swim straight. Pool robots, the lot of them, who can’t navigate without a black line to follow.
That’s how the Cologne Triathlon (Olympic distance) started, with me way, way, way over to the right so to avoid swimming in a seething, bubbling froth of humanity. It probably meant I swam an extra 100 metres or so, but I still have all my teeth. I reckon it was worth it.
But was the race worth racing? After the wonders of the Feldathlon last week, I’m not so sure. I’ve pointed out before that triathletes can be broadly divided into two groups: grinners and grimacers. Felde was all grinners. Cologne, however, seemed to have far more grimacers than grinners, which is a shame, because grimacing doesn’t make for the best race atmosphere. It’s too intense, too competitive, and let’s be honest, just too damn dodgy. How do these grimacers run so bloody fast??????
There were plenty of grunters among the grimacers; those guys who grunt loudly as they run, like some nightmarish ogre pursuing you, then passing you, and pursuing the next slower runner.
But worst of all, it strikes me that these grimacers appear to gain no enjoyment from the sport, beyond impressive times and bragging rights. Even at the finish line, the pleasure seems to be about achievement much more than taking part and finishing. Okay, people want to do well and give their best. That’s fine. But at this level of the sport, shouldn’t it be about participation rather than chalking up professional-like times?
Because the times in Cologne really were ridiculous. I had a good, solid race (grinning all the while), but on the run, I got passed by guys who made me feel like I was walking. In fact, I even shouted after a couple of these guys: “How can you possibly run so fast? Didn’t you swim and bike already?” But they were too far ahead to hear me.
Another problem: I see these guys in the finishing area, and they barely look tired. In fact, they look for all the money like they could get back into grimace mode and do the whole race again.
Despite the ultra-competitive vibe (guys wouldn’t even make space in the transition area to allow other athletes to rack their bikes), it was an enjoyable race at the fantastic location of Fühlinger See. Great water to swim in, even with the chaotic mass start. Bike was all right (a lot of hairpin turns). The run was very nice, and I clearly spent too much time enjoying the scenery than grimacing and running like a pro.
It was fun, Cologne, but I’m not sure I’ll be back.
Something is rotten in the state of triathlon. More to follow on this.