There is a big push lately on social media to get “50 Women to Kona”, because right now, male pros are allotted 50 Kona slots, whereas female pros are allotted only 35 slots. This is because there are 1.5-2 times as many male pros as there are female pros. Some people think women and men should have the same number of Kona slots, and that’s perfectly fine. I see the merits of their argument. Unfortunately, I think there’s a much bigger argument to be made, on a larger scale*: Chasing Kona, and going to Kona, is a complete waste of time & money for most professionals.
*(the bigger picture, in my opinion, is helping pros to make a living in triathlon… in all honesty, “50 Women to Kona” has a goal of providing opportunity, not necessarily making money, so we’re really going after two related, but distinctly different, things. In reality, I’m really just using their cause as a jumping off point to think about the actual economics of actually chasing Kona as a pro)
The WTC only pays out prize money to the top-10 at Kona, and most sponsor bonuses are tied to a top-10 finish. If an athlete finishes outside of the top-10, their best hope is to piece together enough “Kona Qualification bonuses” from sponsors to make the trip financially neutral. But in reality, most pros going to Kona are seeing their bank accounts shrink by $1500-$3000 as a result of the trip. So let’s say you have to get in the top-10 for the trip to Kona to be a financially smart move. Outside of the top-10, absolute best case scenario is that it’s “financially neutral”.
In any given year, let’s say there are 30 athletes, in each gender, who have a legitimate shot of getting in the top-10 at Kona. That means, right now, there are 20 males, and 5 females, going to Kona every year who are virtually guaranteed to lose a lot of money on the trip, and would be much better served by racing closer to home, at a race where they would have a good chance of finishing in the money (IM Lake Tahoe, Challenge Barcelona, Challenge Weymouth, Challenge Rancho Cordova, IM Chattanooga, etc…). By sending 50 women to Kona instead of 35, all you’d be accomplishing is shrinking the bank accounts of 15 more female pros. As far as I’m concerned, the number of pros in each gender at Kona should be about 30 (unless WTC starts paying out deeper at Kona, which I think they should… but that’s a whole different discussion)
So how do you know if it’s worthwhile to go to Kona? Well, it should be obvious, but if you’re not good at honest self-reflection, I’ve created a little “Should I chase Kona?” decision-making rubric for you…
1) Are you regularly in the 1st or 2nd swim pack at every 70.3 and Ironman that you enter?
If no, then you shouldn’t go to Kona. If yes, then continue to question #2.
2) Have you demonstrated an ability to average at least 3.7 w/kg (males) or 3.0 w/kg (females) for 112 miles, in 90 degree weather, including multiple surges (so a VI of roughly 1.05)?
If no, then you shouldn’t go to Kona. If yes, then continue to question #3.
3) Have you demonstrated an ability to run sub-3:00 (men) or sub-3:10 (women), for 26.2 miles, off the bike, in 90 degree weather?
If no, then you shouldn’t go to Kona. Save your money, and race elsewhere. But if yes, then you’ve answered “Yes” to all 3 questions, and you should seriously consider going.
Are you all going to make your own decisions? Of course. But hopefully this will help you see the bigger picture of “Is Kona even a smart thing for me to chase?” And hopefully you’ll see that it doesn’t really matter if we send 35, 50, or 150, pros. With the current prize/sponsorship structure, it only really makes sense for about 25-30 to go, in each gender. Any folks beyond those numbers are just chasing fool’s gold. But, if Kona starts paying 20-deep, then yeah, I think sending 50 is something worth fighting for… Hmmm….
Until next time… keep training hard, and resting harder,