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Rich Allen ponders how tri women are getting faster than tri men.

Female triathletes are making the men up their games too

Since Chrissie Wellington exploded on to the Ironman scene there has been a lot of talk about being ‘chicked’, but it’s not just her giving the men a run for their money. The pro women in general are getting faster are getting hot on the male heels.

I always do my swim workouts at the local pool next to my wife Tonya. Despite being five months pregnant she still moves effortlessly up and down the pool at a fairly rapid pace. Nearly every session I will notice a male triathlete, with an Ironman swim hat on and an ego the size of Mount Everest, get in the lane next to us and immediately set off at a max effort pace in an attempt to intimidate all around him. I will then see my wife glide past the struggling male triathlete. The guy, seething with rage, will then fight the water and attempt to repass Tonya in an all-out sprint. Why do men do that and are the pros the same?

Personally I think there are far more embarrassing situations that happen in the pro ranks. Whilst competing at the Perth ITU World Championships in 1999 I witnessed two of the top Swiss athletes emerge from the swim and jump on each other’s bikes. Although it was an easy mistake to make, as their bikes were identical, the problem was that one of the guys was 5’8” and the other 6’3”. It was hilarious watching them ride the first five miles of the bike before realising their mistake and stopping to switch over. Transitions happen in the blink of an eye during ITU racing and thinking often comes second.

During Ironman 70.3 Racine a few years ago the crowd could see a lead swimmer approximately 100m ahead of the field setting a blistering pace parallel to the beach. Unfortunately he failed to make the turn in to the beach and carried on for another 200m or so before realising. Talk about being in the zone – but that kind of focus turned a one-minute lead into a three-minute disadvantage!

My first race of 2012 was Ironman 70.3 Texas and Lance Armstrong was racing. Armstrong doesn’t like to look stupid and his performances in triathlon have been nothing but sensational. However, as he approached the finish line in sixth place he jogged towards the line high-fiving the crowd only to be passed in the last inch, and I mean inch, by another competitor who was sprinting like Usain Bolt trying to catch him. It was a stupid mistake on Armstrong’s part, as a race is a race until the finish line, and that has to be rather embarrassing for an athlete of his credentials. During the same race I exited the water one minute down on Armstrong, a man who hadn’t swum in 20 years. My excuse was that my wetsuit had a six-inch split in it, but if I’m honest I was highly embarrassed to get Lanced in the swim.

So how would I know if these cases are worse than being chicked? Well it happened to me, of course. This doesn’t really count, but swim training next to the likes of Julie Dibens and Jodie Swallow for close to 10 years means you get used to being chicked in the pool. I managed to go most of my career without it happening in a race but then Chrissie Wellington had to go and spoil everything.

During Ironman 70.3 Timberman in 2010 I had an excellent swim and bike but had probably overcooked myself to stay with the leaders. On the second lap of the run I saw Wellington flying down the road, in the opposite direction. It was inevitable that she was going to have a faster run split, but before I even had time to get depressed or embarrassed about that specific incident, a woman in the 50-55 age group ran passed me. Now that is being seriously chicked and perhaps so extreme that I just laugh about it. However, after that day I swore to myself that it would never happen again but then Melissa Rollinson came along. Now the World Ironman 70.3 Champion, she is an amazing runner and has been joining Wellington in chicking pro guys left, right and centre. My philosophy is that I am a triathlete and I have never been chicked across the line in a triathlon. A pro guy should not be a pro if they have a problem about fellow competitors being faster than them every now and again. Following my chicking encounters I simply had a massive amount of respect the immense running talent of these two ladies rather than wallowing in self-pity.

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This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.

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