Saturday, March 16, 2013

understanding race risk

there was another death in a triathlon recently. it didn't get much attention in the popular press, but hopefully it caught the attention of everyone following endurance sports. like so many other times, it occurred during the swim leg of a race, this time at the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco. this isn't the first time Escape from Alcatraz had a fatality.

one of my favorite triathlon sites, Slowtwitch, had what i thought was a good commentary on this.  it's not about the race in particular, but more about the general issue of the sport in general and what is a high contributing factor to the rise in fatalities at races:  a lack of appreciation of the risks inherent in endurance sports. i think endurance athletes--current or aspiring--everywhere should take some time to reflect on this:
read the article, then read the comments that follow it. the overall message is one that i strongly espouse, and one that i've written about before:

i want to accentuate the aspect that i think the Slowtwitch article is touching on: there is a lack of appreciation of the risks inherent in endurance sports. endurance sports is not easy. there's a reason why not everyone does it.  it takes training. it take conditioning. it takes preparation. and to do any of this, it takes an awareness of the challenges it poses to the person. and the longer the distance, the harder the course terrain, the more extreme the conditions, the more it is imperative that everyone involved take it seriously.  recall the 3 R's: recognize the reality, respond accordingly, and take responsibility.

unfortunately, given the continuing rise in fatalities, i'm not sure this is happening. this deficiency is all around, from race organizers to race sponsors to host cities to competitors alike. the Slowtwitch article indicates as much, suggesting that race organizers have a habit of understating the risks of their events and overstating the ease of competition, with the subsequent result that competitors are undersold on the magnitude of the dangers they're undertaking and subsequently show up undertrained for the challenges they've paid to face.  it's a classic case of something being overselling positives and underselling negatives. and it doesn't help that everyone has incentives to do so, with race organizers motivated to ensure sold-out races, race sponsors intent on maximizing marketing, host cities aspiring for public prominence, and competitors pursuing personal aspirations. which is fine, except that one of the collateral effects is that athletes, especially inexperienced ones, are led to believe that endurance sports is a blithe endeavor...when events clearly indicate otherwise.

i don't mean to be entirely negative on this. in fact, i've written on the need for positive thinking in the face of risk:

but one thing i've learned is that positive thinking needs to be in relation to reality, which requires some attempt to understand and accept the risks involved with every race--including all the challenges and the demands that it poses, especially to impressionable and uninformed neophytes.  in other words, it demands that we respect ourselves to recognize our state of health, respect each other to remind ourselves of what we are doing to one another, and above all respect the race and what it will be doing to us.

and i think ultimately this is what the Slowtwitch article is getting at: we have to respect the race. all of us.