Your Guide to Navigating the 2016 Team Application Process

It’s 2016 team application time! This is the time of year when teams and brands select the athletes they will partner with for 2016. With that in mind, I thought I would prepare a little guide explaining the types of teams that are out there and how to select the right team if you are thinking of going the team/ambassador route in 2016.

Just a few short years ago, it was relatively uncommon for an amateur to be “sponsored” by a brand and this privilege was usually reserved for the few and fast “elite amateurs.” Times have changed.

Before you leap in with an application, it’s worth your time to do a little research into what’s out there and what the membership entails. Does the team have a selective application process or can anyone who pays the fee be part of the team? Is there a fee to join? What’s expected from you – the athlete? What can you expect in return for your agreement to be a human billboard/marketing machine?

Some of the following info was a little hard to come by and, despite being really good at Google, I had to, in some cases, do a fair amount of digging to find the 2016 application. If you are having trouble, check the company’s Facebook and Twitter feeds which may have more current info than their website. If after doing your due diligence you are still unsure about the application process, reach out to the team and ask!

Performance-Oriented Teams

Many teams accept athletes of all abilities and don’t necessarily look for a roster of podium winners, but for a few teams, results matter, and questions about your recent results are right on the application. Examples of these teams include the Timex Multisport Team (not to be confused with the Timex Factory Team), Trisports.com Elite Team, Team Zoot, and, for the guys, Team Every Man Jack (who were everywhere this year).

Timex application open now. The oldest and original tri team. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t figure out if there was a fee or when the application closes.

Zoot this longtime tri apparel company currently sponsors a pro and an age group team. Historically this was a more front-of-the-pack team with a smaller roster, but it was expanded last year to include over 100 athletes around the country. Application for 2016 should open soon, but spots might be limited.

Trisports.com this is a national team of faster athletes who rep the Tuscon-based (and large on-line) store. Application is open until 11/20.

Team Every Man Jack I thought this was open until 10/30, but the app link from Facebook says they are no longer accepting responses. Annual fee of $125 (I think this includes the kit, but I couldn’t tell for sure). Again, this is a guys-only team.

Maverick Multisport this team has a pro division and a small, selective age group team, which is currently open to 12 athletes for 2016. They are looking for strong results and a social media presence. No fee if accepted to the AG team. Application open until 11/15.

Company Ambassadorships

This category of team is near and dear to me because I am currently on Team Coeur, the ambassador team for Coeur Sports. An apparel company ambassadorship might be the best route for you if you really like a certain brand, are active on social media, and want to be part of a national group.

How do you pick a brand to apply for? If a certain style, messaging or attitude speaks to you, that is probably your best bet. You should already own some of the brand’s gear so you can speak authentically about what you like about their stuff, Many of these types of teams have created partnerships with other companies who offer product discounts to team members. For example, Team Coeur is partnered with Argon 18 bikes, Smith Optics, ENVE wheels, ROKA wetsuits, and Osmo hydration.

Some of these applications have already closed (Coeur, Betty DesignsSOAS ), but some – Wattie Ink and Smashfest Queen – are still open or are coming soon. Check your favorite brand’s website and social media for more info on their team. Note that most of these applications ask about your social media activity because they count on members to support the brand and its partners on social media.

Friends With Benefits

I call this next category of team “Friends with Benefits” because these teams likely do not care how many Twitter followers you have or how you placed in your most recent Ironman, but are geared towards putting together a like-minded group of athletes who want the camaraderie of a team and access to brand discounts, but may not want the responsibilities of reping a certain brand.

Team TRS Racing application open now until 11/15 (or sooner?) There is a $250 fee to join, which includes a sweet Coeur kit for female members! Even if you aren’t interested, I think Ben’s Donald Trump spoof on “Making Triathlon Great Again” was pretty funny. I think this was more of a guy’s team in 2015, but the Coeur kit shows they are actively trying to recruit some women.

Timex Factory Team application always open. Their site says this can be a possible stepping stone to the 50-member, performance-oriented Timex Multisport Team. Looks like you get some free stuff, along with access to partner discounts. I thought there was a fee to join this 250+ person team, but I can’t tell from the website or application.

Rev3 racing is back for 2016! They used to have an active and passionate group of ambassadors and will probably put together another great team. There’s no fee for this team, and it includes a kit, free race entries and sponsor discounts. Their app closes tomorrow (10/24).

Big Sexy Racing $240 fee if selected to the team, which includes kit, sponsor goodies, and access to team-only site. This is another big, national team that looks like they have some fun.

You Are Nuts for a Product or Service

Sometimes a single, non-apparel brand has its own ambassador team. If you are always trying to get your friends to try a certain product because you love it so much, this type of ambassadorship might be for you. If you’re not sure if a company sponsors ambassadors, it never hurts to reach out and ask. Examples of these types of teams include TriBike Transport (closed for 2016), Cobb Mobb (Cobb cycling’s tri team), and Hammer Nutrition.

I’ve been a Nuun ambassador since 2012 and they have a well-organized, sizable, multi-discipline ambassador team. There’s no fee to be part of their program and it entitles you to some product discounts and occasional Nuun swag. They have a very active member Facebook group with people from all over the county in all different sports. This is also my sole opportunity to be a teammate of Kara Goucher.

Charitable Teams

A lot of athletes combine their love of sport with fundraising for a charity and joining a charitable team is a great way to accomplish that goal. Eleonore Rocks is a fundraising team created around the mission of donating rocking chairs to hospitals and providing support to families with sick or terminally ill children. Their application for team members is open until 12/25.

The largest and best known of the endurance sports charitable teams is Team in Training, a fundraiser for the leukemia and lymphoma society. Team in Training usually focuses its fundraising around certain events and is a welcoming group for athletes who are newer to endurance sports.

Your Local Tri Shop

Your local tri shop may sponsor a roster of athletes or have a paid ambassador team (or both). Examples of Denver-area shops with teams include TriBella Women’s Multisport and KompetitiveEdge. The advantages of being affiliated with a shop are that it can be a one-stop-shop for all of your tri needs, including – if you’re lucky – bike services! A downside might be that the shop doesn’t carry your preferred brands.

These types of teams may require volunteer hours to support races the shop sponsors, and if that is the case, make sure the requirements are all stated upfront, and you enter the arrangement with your eyes wide open.

Like a company ambassadorship, you shouldn’t be a stranger to the shop when you apply for the team, and the shop will likely expect you to do most of your tri shopping with them, as well as send potential customers their way.

If you weren’t selected to the team of your dreams this time around, start working now to create a relationship with a brand or team for next year. Buy their gear, get to know their members, and start participating in the community, because after all, creating a sense of community is the reason most of us joined these teams to begin with.

Up next, my Dos and Don’ts of Being a Brand Ambassador

The Biggest of the Big Days: Ironman Louisville Race Report

This is the story of what happens when you race all out, from gun to finish, without worrying about time, placement, slots, or whether you might have to walk the whole marathon. You just race with your heart and head, keep your wits about you, don’t make any mistakes (well, not many mistakes), and have a little luck on your side.

Backing up for a minute, I never had my sights set on this race, but when I got shut out of Arizona registration last fall, it seemed like a good alternative. It was in the fall, which I like, and it was wetsuit-legal, which is practically a must for me. Beyond that, I didn’t give the course too much thought.

I don’t want to bury the following info about Louisville at the end (in case people get bored and stop reading by then). Louisville – the course and the town – exceeded all of my expectations. There are towns that host Ironman, and then there are towns that are proud of their Ironman. Louisville is definitely in the second category. Everyone I encountered all weekend, from the residents, to the other racers, to the outstanding volunteers, was exceedingly polite. This race is popular with many first timers, and their excitement was contagious. There is a lot to do and see in the area, and the course is pretty phenomenal across the board. The Ohio River is much less gross than everyone had made it out to be. The bike is scenic and honest. The run is on roads with not a single step of bike path. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Back to the race…

My plan for this race was pretty simple. I knew I would have to not panic in the swim, ride super hard on the bike, and then run as close to 3:30 as possible. I have a good history of making it through the swim and running fast, but the bike felt like a huge, gaping unknown. I didn’t feel like I had biked very well at the one and only race I did this year before IMLou, and once I saw the course by car on Friday, I felt pretty nervous about it.

Despite plugging away at my bike training for several years now, it still feels like a weakness, and I knew that to stay in the race on Sunday, I would have to take a risk on the bike. Vince and I rely a lot on power and heart rate metrics in training, but after talking to Michelle Simmons at our Team Coeur gathering on Thursday night and hearing how she didn’t race with data, I started to get an idea: maybe I wouldn’t race with any data either? Not even a watch! This idea started to gel in my head and I was actually really excited about it. No power numbers to shame me during my ride, no heart rate to keep track of. By Saturday night, I decided it would be throwing the race away to ignore my data, so I decided to have it available, but let my instincts dictate the ride.

The swim. Holy crap was I nervous about the swim. I had completed exactly one open water swim since last October (Harvest Moon), and I hadn’t felt like that had gone very well. I not-so-secretly hoped the swim would be cancelled due to the water quality issue, but by the beginning of race week, it was looking like it was a go. They let us in the water for one practice swim on Saturday morning, and I decided to take advantage of it, not wanting my first dip in the Ohio River to be on Sunday morning. That all went o.k., but I wasn’t feeling great about the swim and it was consuming a lot of my pre-race thoughts.

IMG_0267

Ohio River – no worse than the Boulder Res

A cool thing happened on Saturday after I checked in my bike. I was killing time at the Expo before going to the airport to pick up Mark, and I decided to spend a little time sitting in some Normatec boots at the Normatec tent. Towards the end of my session, a man and woman ran over to the tent to sit in the boots. The woman was wearing an Ironman Boulder shirt and I asked her who had done the race. She said she had, and we started chatting about all things Boulder and Colorado. Some things she said started to ring a bell, and I asked her her name. She said “Ovetta Sampson,” and I realized she was the subject of an interesting profile in the most recent issue of Swimmer Magazine (the free mag you get for being a COMSA member). I can’t find an online link to the article, but the gist is that Ovetta, who grew up, in her words, “a poor, black girl on the South Side of Chicago,” had overcome some fears of open water to become an avid open water swimmer and triathlete who now coaches other women who were once like her – not the most likely triathletes, but embracing the sport. She did a TED talk in Chicago about “Making the Impossible Possible,” in which she tells the story of how she got into triathlon.

I was so interested that I remember looking her up on Twitter because I wanted to make a connection to this cool woman, and here she was sitting next to me at the Expo, chatting about swimming. Right before I left, I asked her for one open water tip she could give me for race day. She thought for a second and said, “long and strong. Long and strong, all day long.”

Long and strong all day long

I loved it.

We said goodbye and I went to get Mark, and my mood was ten times better. For the first time since arriving in Louisville, I actually felt excited and happy. Mark and I chatted about my race plan Saturday night, and he reiterated that I had to ride hard to stay in the race and we talked about shooting for a 5:50 bike. Then I would have to run like hell, but that part I thought I could manage.

I slept great Saturday night and my stomach wasn’t upset in the morning like it sometimes is on race day from the nerves. I got in the hotel elevator and my Coeur teammate Michaela was there (we hadn’t planned to meet). Everything at transition was smooth and when I lined up for the swim – in the longest line I have ever been a part of – I met two really cool women who immediately felt like friends. Thanks Jeannine from Louisville – you and your friends were great to hang with!.

The gun went off and we started to move towards the dock. A few minutes before jumping into the water, I spotted Ovetta and I was super happy to see her smiling face again. We yelled “long and strong!” at each other and a few minutes later – I think it took me about 13 minutes from the gun to when I entered the water – I jumped in.

The Louisville swim start is really unique. Apart from the time trial start off of two docks, the swim starts in a narrow canal with an island on the left and the shore on the right. The island creates some protection from the current, so there’s nice calm water and not the usual mess of bodies. I was actually enjoying it a little. I was a bit confused on the way back about where the final turn buoy was and If I was on course or not, and I spent some time wishing I had studied the course map a little better and wishing that I had worn goggles with more tint since I breathe left and was looking into the sun with each stroke.

I exited the water with hoards of other racers, got my bag, flew through the change tent, saw Ovetta again right outside the tent, then I got out on my bike with no issues.

Since I had started at least halfway back in the swim line, I had a lot of people to weave through during the first 20 miles. I was able to pass people pretty easily and I knew I was pushing really hard, but it seemed more important to try to get some clear road.

I glanced down at my Garmin to look at my heart rate, and it was super high, but that is standard for me starting out on the bike, so I wasn’t too concerned. My watts were an issue though. They were reading under 100, which, even for me, seemed freakishly low. It became clear early on that the power tap was not working properly, but rather than disappointment, I actually felt a big sense of relief. I could now ride by feel – just like I had wanted to!

Mark was on the side of the road on a climb on the early out and back part and he told me I had swam 1:10, which was shocking since it hadn’t felt that clean (I had popped my head up a lot to check for buoys and the line). I started realizing that maybe I was having a good day.

The Louisville bike course requires a lot of focus and concentration. You have to keep looking ahead on the descents to get into the right gear for the climbs and I was focused on maximizing my speed on the flats and descents and trying not to drop my chain or do anything stupid on the climbs. Almost everything you read says not to pay attention to speed and time in an Ironman, but those were the metrics I was using – speed and time. I went through the halfway point in a time I would be happy to ride for a 70.3, so that started to make me nervous that maybe I was overbiking, but I wasn’t about to back off, having decided early in the ride that I had nothing to lose. I didn’t want any regrets about not riding hard enough.

The last part of the ride is a flattish stretch back to town, and there was a headwind on this section, but living in Colorado and being used to some wind, I didn’t really think the wind was a big deal. Through all of the flatter sections, I focused on holding my aero position and making myself low and small, like Mat Steinmetz showed me back in January.

I’ll quickly note that I have never passed so many guys in a race riding expensive bikes and a rear disc who were sitting up on the bullhorns. Guys, if you are riding a super bike worth more than my old SUV and you are sitting up on the bullhorns in a race, you need a better bike fit. Or you need to spend more time staying aero in training. Something.

Coming back to town in the final 10 miles, I started to let off the gas a tiny bit and tried to gauge if my legs were going to be there for the run. I hit the run course feeling not quite as peppy as I would have liked. Mark was near our hotel at about the 2 mile mark, and he yelled to me that I was in 10th place off the bike (it was actually 12th) and I knew I had already passed some of those girls in the first few miles. I started to settle in, and the entire run became a crisis management situation where I was running o.k., but felt like things could turn south at any moment. I alternated water and coke with some oranges, which is pretty much the sum total of my nutrition for the run. Less is more for me as far as eating on the run.

Running through downtown at the end of lap 1 was a big boost because there were tons of spectators and I felt like I was holding the pace pretty well. Mark claims he told me at this point that he thought I was in second place, but my memory of that is foggy, and I can honestly say that I was less focused on picking people off than just running my race and seeing how it turned out.

Lap 2 was a lot more crowded with all of the people who were on lap 1. By this time, my quads had started screaming at me with a pain I hadn’t experienced since my first marathon back in 1996. I tried to block out the pain and just focus on my form and my running cues (chin down, shoulders down, hips forward), and it was a mile-by-mile, aid station-to-aid station progression. That’s how I have to do it. Thinking of anything more than the next mile is too much to handle.

IMG_0297

Thanks to teammate Jacqueline Brill for the action shots!

Mark was unexpectedly on the course at mile 22 by Churchill Downs. He was yelling that he thought I was in second (the time trial start made it impossible to know for sure), and he was screaming “only four more miles! Only four more miles!” It was fun to see him so excited, and I was happy to be running well since one of my fears in having him come to the race was that I wouldn’t race well, and we would both feel like it had been a waste of time and money for him to be there. The truth was, I got a huge boost from seeing him on the bike and run course, and I don’t think I would have had the same day or result without the encouragement he gave me.

After he yelled to me at mile 23, he took off down the sidewalk, running towards the finish, and because the course is so flat, I could see him, trekking along in his loafers about 100 yards ahead of me. He later told me he tried to get our car out of the hotel lot, but because we were right on the course, he couldn’t move the car, so he had someone from the hotel drive him out on the course. After getting out there, his phone died and he couldn’t take Uber back to the finish, like he originally planned. So he ran back. On the sidewalk. In his loafers.

The finish line on Fourth Street in Louisville is really loud and festive – one of the best I have seen. Once the line came into sight, I trucked to the finish, crossed making the Coeur heart with my hands for the video and camera (sadly, none of those pictures turned out well), and tried not to cry too much from the pain I was in.

Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Brill

There was all kinds of uncertainty after the finish about my placement. The tracker had me in first, but because of the time trial start, it was theoretically possible that someone who started later could have a better time and I wouldn’t have passed her on the course. That didn’t happen and after about an hour, it started to sink in that I had won my age group, something I had dreamed of doing, but which hadn’t seemed like a possibility, given my state of mind all year, which seems like a topic for a separate post.

IMG_0301

I cut off the bottom: 10:36:50-ish

Even though I told a lot of people this would be my last Ironman for a while, I knew when they called my name at slot allocation, I wouldn’t be able to resist the chance to race in Hawaii again. The fact that Kona is a year away makes it a lot easier to think about, and I am excited and grateful to have the chance to compete with the best in the world for a third time, including a lot of friends this time around.

IMG_0290

Much thanks to my Coeur Sports family and the teammates who were with me in Louisville. I loved meeting all of you and sharing the weekend. Thanks to Nuun Hydration for always supporting me and keeping me hydrated. Special thanks to my swim coaches and lane mates from Elite Multisport Coaching (no, this does not mean I will lead the lane). Thank you to Vince Matteo for your guidance and wisdom in coaching me to a result that once seemed like a crazy dream.

Huge, special thanks to my partner in sport and life for going above and beyond on race day. I will take you to the Waipo’o Valley next October as a thank you.

IMG_8907

Mark’s happy place