Monday, October 20, 2014

Setup Events' North Carolina Triathlon Series

Ever since I started racing triathlon back in 2008, the Setup Events North Carolina Triathlon Series (NCTS) has been the premier triathlon series in this state.  I can't even count how many of their races I've done and I can say that being a participant in these events has been a great experience!  In addition to awesome race venues - Wrightsville Beach, White Lake, Over the Mountain, Belews Lake, Stumpy Creek, etc - the NCTS has garnered prestige for being highly competitive.  Historically you could show up at any given event and race against the best of the best in NC.  That fact made the NCTS special.  I don't think it was a coincidence that this set up (pun intended) spurred tougher training & stiffer competition.  It gave North Carolinians their own triathlon microcosm from which many elite amateur and professional triathletes emerged.

It makes me a little sad to see that this has changed.  In 2014, NCTS stopped offering prize money for the top series finishers.  This may not seem like a big deal, especially because it wasn't a ton of money, but I believe it has had the result of diluting the series.  There were not as many people at races this year and the depth of the open fields was staggeringly shallow.  I've spoken to a few people about the change and the main reason I was offered was that it was made to increase participation.  Instead of prize money to top competitors and prize packages for top age groupers, the NCTS now offers a prize package (tri bag, sunglasses, t-shirt, etc) to anyone who completes 5 races.  Theoretically, this incentivizes triathletes of all speeds to race more NCTS races.  But isn't this just like the receipts you can collect from Food Lion in November?  Yes, if you spend enough money you earn a free turkey, but couldn't you have just bought the turkey alone for cheaper?

I guess you can probably tell that I don't think this new approach is optimal.  Here is some more food for thought about why the NCTS prize money should be reinstated:

*The most successful triathlon production brand (IM) is also the most competitive.  When Rev3 stopped offering prize money to the pros, they stopped coming to races.  I think this resulted in many top amateurs choosing other races, and in turn may have had a trickle down effect on other age groupers.

*People love going to races where they can see the pros, race against the pros, and compare their own times against the pro times.  I believe this holds true on a smaller scale for local competition.  I remember when I was just starting out in this sport, I knew all the names of the best local athletes and I thought it was cool to see them on the course, talk to them after the races, and of course compare times - even if I was 30+ minutes behind the leaders I still got a thrill if even one of my splits was relatively close.

*I don't know a single triathlete who is satisfied to remain at their current speed.  It is part of the triathlete mentality to constantly push themselves to be faster and try to work their way up the age group ladder.

*The athletes who race the most frequently have a direct and an indirect influence on other athletes who are deciding what races to add to their schedule.  Regardless if this is through personal interactions or social media, the impact is there.  In general, the more competitive athletes compete more frequently.

*Competing regularly against the best makes you better and also serves as a measuring stick for your progress.

*There was a certain appeal to racing in the NCTS series because of the high quality of the competition.  It just feels flat without it.

I guess the central theme to my overall point is that good competition is important for the vitality of a race series.  The best way to draw competitors is to "show me the money."  I would bet that if another series comes along and does this, participation will increase immediately.  I think it's great when race companies make the events more family & spectator friendly, but I'm starting to think that this alone will not result in higher participation.

I hope this blog doesn't make me sound like an arrogant a$$.  This is just something that's been bouncing around in my head recently and I had 3 hours to try to figure out how to articulate it while I was running my 22-miler this morning!  Will I race the NCTS in 2015?  Yes.  Will I enjoy it?  Of course. But, if I had another local option that fostered the same type of magical allure as the previous NCTS, I would not hesitate to sign up right now.

This may not be my most popular post, but I'd love to hear what other people think about this, especially those who have raced both pre-2014 and in 2014.


  1. Two thoughts about the decline of enrollment. Market Saturation. M-Dot. WTC has gobbled up a lot of races and people love to chase after the M-Dot; therefore local companies struggle. Even some national companies. WTC just co-joined with Lifetime. (Yes, I know Rev3 and Challenge have partnered as well, but so many companies equals market saturation... I wonder when this will happen to CrossFit a new box opens everyday!!)

  2. Good points TriGuy! What factors will play into which local races you decide to do for 2015?