When I was looking into qualifying for my elite license last summer, I had a sense that it would be incredibly complicated. I was worried there would be all these extra requirements and pressures, and I kept thinking that maybe I just wasn’t ready. But then when I began to actually look into what was involved in taking my pro card, I realized that it’s actually really simple, and in many ways relieves some of the stress that comes with triathlon. I know that racing elite is not necessarily an option for everyone, but for those who find themselves in a position to qualify for their elite license, I wanted to write about some of the things that I thought about when I was deciding what I wanted to do.
(Thanks to Brian Fancher for the super cool race photo! This is from Charleston's local sprint series at James Island County Park).
One of the things that sometimes drives me crazy about triathlon is how difficult it is to travel for races. I envy my friends who fly to marathons and just pack… shoes? Triathletes have to pack SO much - race kit, shake out kit, recovery kit, at least two pairs of shoes, water bottles, helmet, nutrition, and then there’s your BIKE, which is the biggest hassle of all.
The first 70.3 race I did was within driving distance, so that was easy - I just put my bike in the car. In fact, when I needed a car I intentionally chose one that would let me fit my bike in the back without needing to take off a wheel and without needing to buy a bike rack (Honda Fit).
But my second race was the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, TN, and I had to fly there. I stressed A LOT about how to travel with my bike. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, but I also didn’t want to worry about my bike not arriving in time. In the end, here’s what I did:
(1) Bought a used bike case (a Trico Iron Case) from a local bike shop (LBS) - I asked the owner if he knew anyone who was trying to get rid of one (after stalking craigslist), and luckily, he did! I bought it for less than $100, picked it up in the store, and had one of the mechanics show me how to take my bike apart. This was actually a huge moment for me - it felt so amazing to know how to take my bike apart and put it back together all on my own!
(2) Researched airline bike fees. I actually don’t remember which airline I flew, but I’m ‘pretty sure they charged me $150 one way for my bike so it was probably Delta. American allegedly got rid of their special bike fee so you pay for a bike like normal luggage, but I haven’t tried that yet.
(3) Booked bike flights for the way home (https://www.bikeflights.com). Bike flights is awesome! For ~$50, you can mail your bike in its case by dropping it off at a FedEx, and it will take it about 3 days to get to you. I decided to do this because it saved me about $100 off taking my bike back on the plane, and after the race I didn’t need my bike super soon anyway because I was recovering.
Bike case: $100
Airline bike fee: $150
Bike flights: $50
This plan worked best for me, and I’ll be doing it again in about a month when I fly to Boulder for the 70.3 in August (and I already own the bike case, so it will only cost me $200). When I compare that with taking my bike on the plane both ways ($300) versus a shipping service like TriBike Transport ($375 and I’d have to drive 2 hours one way to drop off my bike at a local store), it’s the simplest AND the cheapest. If I lived closer to a TriBike Transport drop off I would be tempted to take that route, or if I could be assured that I wouldn’t have to pay $150 both ways on the plane that would tempting as well. I’ve also looked into buying a case that would break my bike down even more to try to avoid airline bike fees, but a new case is about $500 and there’s no guarantee that an airline won’t charge you excess fees, so I wouldn’t necessarily save any money and I’d just get more hassle.
One way this could be even cheaper is if I used bike flights BOTH ways - that would save me another $100. But I’d need to mail my bike out earlier, and I’d have to be sure that someone would be around to sign for it at the other end, both of which I find unnecessarily stressful.
Traveling to races can be stressful and expensive, but hopefully I’ve given you some ideas for how to make it less so!