By Bill Plock
If you fast forward a few years, I think the Endurance Exchange this past weekend In Tempe, Arizona will be looked at as a potential turning point in Endurance sports. I think it will bring more unity and opportunities to all things endurance whether it’s triathlon or ultra running or pure cycling. Some key take aways were for me were these (with some further explanation below.)
- There were many people and organizations from Colorado present; what happens here really matters.
- The PTO has a well funded game plan in place to possibly revolutionize professional triathlon.
- Without Limits is on to something with their gravel triathlon in Steamboat, click Here for more on that.
- Indoor training’s growth with hardware and software (think Zwift) is really just beginning to explode.
- There are very inspiring people with great stories especially at the USAT Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
- The Endurance Industry is healthy and finding new ways and new experiences.
- Dan Empfield (Slowtwitch Publisher) is eloquent and amazingly knowledgeable.
- Rocky Harris is leading USAT very well.
- Wait till more folks from cycling and ultra running show up, this conference will explode.
- There is a commitment to being athlete focused and driven while growing participation.
- This is a fun group of people to join for anyone choosing the Endurance space for a career.
This year’s conference, born by USA Triathlon partnering with Triathlon Business International, was clearly triathlon leaning, but with doses of topics relevant to all endurance sports. Coaches learned the latest trends and training tips and race directors talked about ways to make events more dynamic, fun and safer for all. Industry celebrities like Bob Babbitt and Mike Reilly, and executives like Rocky Harris, Dan Empfield and Barry Siff, while on duty, also mingled and rolled up their sleeves, were very approachable and cracked a happy hour beverage to learn and listen. The vibe was collaborative, inviting, inclusive and fun.
Inspiration abounded from high energy keynote speaker Eric Byrnes, a former Major League Baseball player (one time Colorado Rockie) and an accomplished triathlete. He swam the San Francisco Bay, rode a bike to Chicago and then ran to New York to bring awareness to the Let Them Play Foundation. Dick and Rick Hoyt, the father/son challenged athlete tandem were inducted into the Hall of Fame and there were gasps in the room when you really understood how fast they ran in addition to their IRONMAN feats. For example, they have completed a 10k in 35 minutes and a marathon in 2:44.
There weren’t many dry eyes as Bob Babbitt paid tribute to his long time friend Mike Plant who was inducted into the Hall of Fame thanks to his legendary journalism covering Ironman and introducing the young sport of triathlon to mainstream media. Mike passed away in 2019 and Bob expressed his gratitude and acknowledged Mike’s profound influence on Bob starting Competitor Magazine which led to the Rock and Roll marathon series and so much more.
Colorado was well represented in Tempe with many companies exhibiting product, and executives and experts attended and served on panels in break out sessions. Said Magui Martinez-Pena, sales manager for Boulder’s Headsweats, “it was a great experience for us. This is a very specific conference for our target audience. We saw a lot of excitement about our new products like the new Super Crush visor and event shirts. We had an opportunity to connect with our existing clients and make new contacts. Proud to be part of EE as a TBI partner. We will definitely be there again in 2021!
Matt Miller with BASE Performance, while not exhibiting was booked up meeting with race directors, Tri-club representatives and others collaborating for the upcoming season. “it was great atmosphere to see a lot of key people and a lot of fun,” said Matt.
The recent announcement by the Professional Triathlon Organization (PTO) and their $2,000,000 prize purse for athletes competing in the upcoming Collins Cup reverberated throughout much of the conference. They presented their plan on the first day of the conference and later I met with Chairman of the PTO, Charles Adamo to dig a little deeper.
What I learned was that they believe whole heartedly that an economically healthier, and more sustainable professional triathlon field, will help grow the sport overall and provide a better experience to all participants. They see this happening centered on the Collins Cup, a made for TV triathlon experience similar to golf’s Ryder Cup. They hope this will bring coverage to the pro’s and inspire more people to try triathlon. “Triathlon is an aspirational sport, and the influence of the pro’s on the growth of triathlon and age group participation is very important,” said Adamo.
Eventually there will probably be other triathlons (think golf’s majors) leading up to the Collins Cup where pro’s get points to qualify for the 36 spots to be on a team. They model things much like the PGA in golf and the USTA in tennis where the professionals own the events that make them the most money and captivate world audiences. It will be interesting to see what events might be run by the PTO in the future.
In the last session of the day, despite three days of meetings, a lot of enthusiasm and questions were thrown at the panel talking about “gravel”. Gravel bike races and gravel triathlon and the future of them were hot topics. It was suggested that 2020 will see a bit of retraction in gravel bike racing which seems surprising here in Colorado. Without Limits was represented by Olympia Von Berg on the panel of experts. Many questions came up about gravel triathlon. Without Limits will be hosting the first ever gravel only triathlon this year which will it be sanctioned by USA Triathlon.
Needless to say, like it’s biking counterpart, the gravel scene is a bit organic and unrefined at this point so what will the future hold? Said Olympia after the conference, “people are very receptive to it and excited. Our race will follow all the same rules as a road triathlon. On our course in Steamboat, athletes will ride and run on gravel/dirt only. We think athletes who might be seeking something different, and don’t want a bunch of crazy new gear can take part and have a lot of fun.”
Dan Empfield, Publisher of Slowtwitch and founder of Quintana Roo hosted a session on the hardware of indoor smart cycles and where they are going. The trend is to provide more and more real life feelings while riding indoors. Like Garmins Neo making the bike “feel” the gravel or the cobbles as it simuglates the road you are watching on the big screen. Watch out for more innovations to make the indoor experience more real.
To wrap up, Khem Suthiwan of 303 Endurance said, “the Endurance Exchange was a great melting pot of triathlon industry professionals. Coaches, industry experts, race directors, brands, and governing body professionals all under one roof. It was great to see all the knowledge and ideas coming together in one place. As our sport and its participants evolve, EE was a great forum to discuss and share new ideas on how to take triathlon to the next level.”