Slightly envious of the pro triathletes who get paid to train? Heading off to your corporate job today wishing you had more time to train? Knowing that if only you had more time, you could train more and be just as good as them? The glory of the podium would be within grasp? And how about having the sponsors fighting over you to wear their kit, sip their drink, or ride their latest carbon fiber creation?
What Is It Really Like Being One Of The Pro Triathletes?
Of course we all know it is a lot of “hard work”. But what does that actually mean?
I always remember a golf buddy who wanted to turn pro. He told me it was the same as a 9-5 job. This was an eye-opener to me! He would be at the range at 9am, for swing coaching and practice. Then it was chipping green. Then a strength workout before lunch.
After lunch mind coaching, then putting practice and finally 9 holes with the coach working out course strategy. He would never leave until 5pm or 6pm. Whilst golf can be fun once in a while, 8 hours day in, day out would get rather dull quite quickly(IMO).
So before you fire your boss and set off for a lifetime of chlorine and lycra, you should know the harsh realities of pro triathletes as well as the glamour.
When you see a pro triathlete training program written down, it is very sobering…
This is Meredith Kessler’s typical day for her Ironman training schedule. She is one of the best pro triathletes and Ironman champions who has completed more than 50 Ironman races around the world, including the World Championship in Kona.
Here is her typical day:
4:15 a.m. Wake-up run—2 to 5 miles
Back for breakfast of oatmeal and 1 tablespoon of almond butter; & a cup of coffee
5:30 a.m. Interval swim—5 to 7 kilometers
Second breakfast of Greek yogurt, granola, and a banana
8:00 a.m. Indoor or outdoor cycling session—2 to 5 hours
Then lunch: soup, a turkey sandwich with avocado or hummus, and two pieces of dark chocolate
12:00 p.m. Strength training session with coach
1:30 p.m. Deep tissue massage or physical therapy (active release technique, ultrasound, or electric stimulation)
3:00 p.m. Down time for resting in compression recovery boots, checking emails, or grabbing coffee with a friend
5:15 p.m. Pre-dinner aerobic-endurance run—6 to 12 miles
7:00 p.m. Dinnertime with friends or family
9:00 p.m. Netflix and chill…back in those recovery boots
11:00 p.m. Sleep, because tomorrow it starts all over again!
Most recreational triathletes would not be able to do this for a day let alone everyday, week in, week out.
Whilst we “know” pro triathletes are better, faster and stronger than us, we often do not acknowledge just how much better they are and how many more hours they put in.
What about the week before a race?
Surely in taper week, Meredith would just do a a couple of 30 minute runs, one cycle and a one short swim?
She trains up until the day before a race “to keep the muscles firing properly.”
This is her programme the week before a full-distance Ironman:
Monday: 90-minute bike ride (45 minutes at race pace) and 40-minute run
Tuesday: 90-minute interval swim (6 kilometers) with race-specific sets, light 40-minute treadmill workout (18 minutes at race pace), and 60-minute strength “activation” session with coach
Wednesday: 2-hour interval bike ride (60 minutes at race pace), 20-minute “feel good” run off the bike, and 1-hour swim
Thursday: 1-hour interval swim (last one before the race), 30-minute “shoe check” jog (to make sure the race shoes are ready to go), and 30-minute strength training session
Friday: 60- to 90-minute “bike check” ride with very light intervals (to make sure bike is in good working order and gearing properly)
Saturday (Race Day): 2- to 3-mile wake-up run and breakfast!
Sunday: Rest or slow swim.
Crazy, right? That is a TON of training. Whether you are among the pro triathletes or an amateur, be aware of how much training you are doing and be sure to schedule enough rest and recovery. There is growing evidence that excessive cardio training ie typical Ironman training may do some harm to your health if not balanced with sufficient rest, sleep and adequate recovery strategies.
Here is pro triathlete A.J. Baucco discussing his 70.3 and Ironman training program. I noticed he swim trains with the hand paddles Charlotte discusses here. Also check out his swim-bike brick session. Very cool to bring the bike to the poolside! Love it!
As he is racing so much right now, he empahsied a lot of rest and recovery as important factors in his preparation.
How Much Money Is On Offer For Pro Triathletes?
You may be one of those who think it would be amazing to be paid to go ride your bike (and it would) but unless you are right at the top, the reality is that the money is barely enough to support most pro triathletes.
There is also a ton of admin/marketing/correspondence to do in between that most people do not realise. Some pro triathletes have commented that despite fitting in all the training, they are still at their computer for 4-5 hours a day.
Pro triathletes must develop their own brand, market their own brand, become a social media expert, become an influencer, respond to fan questions and media requests and do a ton of appearances or talks for the sponsors.
Then there is the travel, which again sounds exotic until you remember it is not as glamorous or relaxing as jetting off to the Maldives to lie in the sunshine and nap all day. This requires massive logistical work to book flight, hotels, get all your gear there in one piece, find relevant insurances, adjust to different time zones, adapt to new food (or bring your own), and still be “on your “A” game with the added pressure to get placed high to earn some cash for your efforts.
Yeah, But What About The Cash For Pro Triathletes?
Out of the top 70 male pro triathletes in the world, a safe estimate is about 20 will earn $200K or more.
The next 20 will earn $100K-$200K.
The next 30 might bring in $50K-$100K
And everyone else will have to supplement with some type of job.
And remember this is not take home pay either!
Out of this you have to pay your flights, hotels, physical therapy, sports massage, coaching and a lot of other hidden costs.
What are you left with?
And what about for the girls?
Well things have certainly got a little better though overall, though similar to the lads, not many would be able to make a living solely from prize money.
There are the exceptions to the rule. In 2015, Daniela Ryf won the Triple Crown (Challenge Dubai,Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Zell am See, Austria and then Ironman 70.3 Bahrain) and collected a nice cheque for $1 million.
But what if you often place 4th and 5th? That means you are an awesome athlete, one of the world’s best, but you will be unlikely to cover costs.
What if you get injured?
Some athletes get extra income from sponsors based on performance. Obviously if you are injured, you do not get this.
What about holiday pay? NIL
What about sick pay? NIL
What about paid maternity/paternity leave? NIL
What about health insurance? NIL
These are all things to plan for and put some money aside for. But it is difficult to save the cash when you do not bring enough in to cover your own petrol.
What Is The Typical Prize Money On Offer For Pro Triathletes?
Notice, he had an outstanding season… but this would still not be enough to live on for most people.
First place at Wildflower Long Course: $5,000
First place at Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant: $3,000
Second place at Ironman 70.3 Princeton: $2,000
Third place at Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs: $1,000
Fifth place at NYC Triathlon: $750
Sixth place at Ironman 70.3 Vineman: $1,500
12th place at Ironman 70.3 World Championship: $0
Total: $13,250, before taxes
Other Things To Consider In The Lives Of Pro Triathletes
There will be days when it is really boring! There is a LOT of time staring at the black line in the pool, doing the same ride or run day after day.
You will travel a lot so home-sickness may creep in, from time to time especially if you have kids.
The life can be glamourous, fun and exciting for sure. And if this is your dream and your passion, you should pursue it with earnest.
There is always the argument to give it a shot now, and you can always go back later to be an accountant or dentist.
The worst thing in the world is living with regret.
So if this is your thing, my advice is to go for it with passion.
But do not go into it thinking you will be earning the same money that is on offer in the NBA or English Premier League. It is just a good idea to be sure of the realities before you quit your six figure a year job to train your butt off then not be able to cover your expenses. For some people just being able to say they are pro-triathlete (even if for a couple of years) is a great experience and something not every one has done!
The reality is most pro triathletes will not pull in more than 20K a year and will still be “working” at being a pro triathlete, (training, recovering and attracting sponsorship) 40-50 hours a week. Here are the 7 best recovery strategies pro triathletes use. When you have to go cycling every day, it is a very different feeling to wanting to go out on a Saturday morning with your mates.
However what if you are the 1% who earn the $1 million pay check, get the sponsors fighting over you and a ton of book deals? What a blessed life!
Will you go for it?
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