Friday, April 21, 2006

Athena Classification, Revisited

So I've been thinking a lot about this Athena issue...For those of you not in the know, you can enter a triathlon in the Athena category if you're a woman and your body weight is equal to or exceeds 150 lbs. The corresponding category for men is the Clydesdale category and your weight must equal or exceed 200 lbs. Although I have not weighed less than 150 lbs. since I was a sophmore in high school, and I've been racing in triathlons since 2001, I have NEVER entered myself as an Athena although I clearly qualify. Somehow it felt like the consolation category for the fat, "you won't ever be able to complete with the rest of us so we'll make a category for you so you'll feel special too." Yikes. NO THANKS!!!

Why it is that I'm unwilling to embrace the inherent advantages of racing with people closer to my own weight? I've always compared my times to actual Athena times and I'm doing fine...but I'm doing fine in the whole field too. And if you've ever glanced at the results for either Athena or Clydesdale, you'll notice that rarely are there more than a few people registered for either...but I find it hard to believe that a woman taller than 5'8" who is sculpted with amazing muscles weighs a whole lot less than 150... so either they're stick thin or they're not signing up for the the Athena category for the same reason I'm not. While this speaks volumes about our society, our issues with weight and the fact that it's still ok to make fun of the fat kids, today I think I came to a decision about how I'm going to approach the whole situation.

It started with an email to Shelley, who confessed in Bolder's comments that she weighed more than Bold...and with Bold at 147, I figured it was a pretty good guess that Shelley might be just over the Athena I asked her if she qualified and if she raced as an Athena...

I asked,
"I find the Athena/Clydesdale categorires to be frightening...and wonder why anyone would enter into it makes me feel better to win my age group...AMONG THE CHUBBY KIDS? What's your take on this issue!!??"

She replied,
"Well, I used to feel that way too...I never weighed myself for years, I hate living by that stupid number. Then I did IMFLA in '04, never registered as Athena. The day before when registering, they make you weigh in...ughhhhhhh, I looked up to the ceiling so I wouldn't see the number...the old guy weighing me yells out ohhhh 170..I laugh, because he MUST BE JOKING..I look down at the paper and sure says 170, I cried and can this be possible???? Everyone said NO WAY, but hey..everyone else's weight was spot it must be true. I was so upset about it, that's why I rarely ever weigh myself.

So, I have a great race, my best time ever. I go to the awards ceremony and they call up people to receive the women's athena division..those women looked awesome, there's no way they could have been..anyways, I would have won 3rd in that division had I registered..I thought "how cool that would have been" win something at an IM..even if it was because of my weight...oh well. Even when I went to IMC, after the race this girl was saying how she won the Athena division..I looked at her and could not believe it for a second..she wasn't chubby, she could have passed for Christie Brinkley, she was drop dead gorgeous..WOW!!! So you can have tons of muscle and qualify for the Athena group, it doesn't mean that you're chubby...:-))"

Shelley even went so far as to send me to a picture of her at IMFL '04 to show me that 170 doesn't look like what it sounds like. Check it out here.

Wow. OK, that gives me some perpective. But I'm still a little unsure about the whole thing...I guess I understand how being heavier slows you down on the bike...but shouldn't the subsequent power you can build from having bigger limbs/muscles make up for it? I think I need scientific data. An 8 minute mile is an 8 minute mile...whether you're 115 lbs. or 175 lbs. Is it really that much harder for a heavier person to run it? And what about buoyancy? I certainly ride higher in the water than my muscular male counterparts (I once knew a guy who could literally LIE on the bottom of the pool) so doesn't that give me an advantage on the swim? Bold, does your weight to power data explain any or all of this? Inquiring minds want to know...

So here's the conclusion I've come to for myself (and only myself...I pass absolutely NO judgement on anyone who doesn't agree with me...): Today I know that I could be a whole lot lighter and I'm working a program to get there. One week in and it's going fabulously. Tuesdays are my weigh-in we'll see how the first week went by the numbers on Tuesday. I plan to work this program until I reach a goal weight somewhere in the 140s. I'd really like to hit 135 but whatever... I'm not obsessed with the number. BUT, if I get down to 155 or somewhere 150 or above and I feel like that's where I need to that's the goal I should stop at because I like how I feel, how I look, how my clothes fit and my racing is right where I want it to be...then fine...I'll embrace my Athena status and it will be really ok with me. But until I've done all I can to get where I want to be, I don't want to take any advantage because of my weight. No brownie points (no pun intended) for the chubby kid.

And while I'm at it, I think today is the day I stop referring to myself as the chubby kid.

Thanks Shelley - you rock and have given me a whole new perspective on this subject.

I leave you with this bit I found here describing the Wisdom of Athena... seems like she was a pretty cool chick...

Grey-eyed Athena, who has been called the mind of god, is the goddess of prudent intelligence, her share of wisdom having been given to her by Zeus. She is able to bestow command, skill and courage, and also victory in war for those who revere justice and listen to her persuasive tongue, or destruction for the unjust. For these reasons it has always been desirable to count upon her favour when war is at hand, for Athena, it is said, would never put up with defeat. And yet she checks the insolence of those whose spirit is violent and unjust.

Have a great weekend!!!


Blogger Bolder said...

hey! my stats are about me, and my journey in power-to-weight... NOT to be internalized!!

as i said in my comment section, i've seen shelley in a bathing suit, and she looks great! healthy, athletic, and happy.

and you spence, same thing.

so, let's just keep cheering, and encouraging each other, and supporting each other, and doing our bestest!

4:06 PM GMT-5

Blogger Bolder said...

oh, and another thing... i wanted to remind you of what a huge inspiration both you and Shelley have been to me, especially in the swimming department. remember, i've seen you in meets on video, and saw Shelley in action in our indoor tri.

i just went to two masters classes this week, on Wednesday 'Wolfgang', Mr. 8:23 Kona third place finisher asked me where I'd been, and I said working on my stroke till I could swim 1000 yards in 19 minutes. He said 'in November, you couldn't swim, now you can swim', he said 'there's nothing wrong with your stroke'... Spence, you posted mucho tips that helped me groove that.

In today's masters class with Wes Hobson, the main set was 19x100s on 2:15.

I wouldn't have been able to do that without you.

I've posted my weight, and power today, to help people understand my challenges. The person I want to be. The athlete I want to be. At best today I learned I am a 'Fair' cyclist.

I wish I would have posted when I was 165 when I started, and before I brought Tanita into my life, and committed to her. I dropped 12% of my body weight, or about 20lbs. And, it wasn't easy. Maybe, I'll mention that on Monday.

I want to inspire you, motivate, you and give you an occasional laugh. I want you to be happy being you, and to be the person you want to be.

Take care, Bold.

4:47 PM GMT-5

Blogger nancytoby said...

Yes, the energy cost of running and biking are both directly related to body weight.

The heavier person has to expend proportionately more energy and work substantially harder to cover the same distance.

But if you don't want to enter weight-class categories which create a competitive group which is facing a much more similar challenge ... then don't! But if you don't have a problem with weight classes in wrestling, boxing, martial arts, bodybuilding, yachting, etc., in which weight classes offer a competitive environment to people of smaller body weights, why would you have a problem with them in running and triathlon, when they create competitive conditions for people of higher body weights? It's 2 sides of the same coin.

Signed, a proud competitor in the "chubby kid" division, as you call it

6:09 PM GMT-5

Blogger Spence said...

Oh no - I hope I haven't mis-led anyone into thinking that I'm comparing myself or my process to you all out there...not my intention at all ...we're all here to support eachother, of course. I hope I made it clear that Shelley's comments helped me to see the whole Athena thing in an entirely different light...and that for me, I'm good with my decision...and that the weight class was really intended to level the playing field...I think I just don't understand the physics of it all yet and I'd like to.

I think I brought the whole thing up because I'm a little embarrassed that I don't want to enter as an Athena. I want to be ok with how I am - it's something I've always struggled with and is one of the big reasons I started Tri. I think I was looking to see if anyone else felt the way I do/did. See, I've always been the chubby kid and I think I hoped that triathlon would move me beyond hasn't yet and the athena category triggers all kinds of old I'm working my issues...

Bold - I don't mean to compare...I only brought your post into it because it's what prompted me to ask Shelley what she the 4 time IM finisher that she is. Your stats are amazing...and your 20lb. weight loss totally inspires me. Thanks for your awesome words of encouragement and compassion. I'll be your swim inspiration any time. I'm so glad Wolfgang was impressed. That's so great. And I was RIVETED by your power to weight post because I don't understand it yet and I want to. Keep it coming...

Just looking to see what others think and it relates to my process. I know weight is often an awkward thing to talk about. That's why I brought it up here...because I know there's no judgement passed.

Thanks for stopping by!!!

8:20 PM GMT-5

Blogger nancytoby said...


Let me put it this way: I'm competing today in the body I'm in. I'm not deferring anything. I'm going to give it my best shot in the body that I have on race day, whatever that is.

If I want to be in an actual competition with anyone, rather than being simply assured of losing from the get-go, FOR ME it's going to be a competition with people of similar advanced years and similarly large frames.

8:56 PM GMT-5

Blogger Isis said...

Hi Spence,

I enjoyed the post. I've thought a lot about the Athena class, because I've always been safely above the cut-off point. I don't race triathlon anymore, but I'm swimming very seriously, and I would still be Athena by a safe margin.

This morning I went to the women's crew ACC tournament, and it was such a blast to be around so many big, strong women who were so focused on what they were doing, not necessarily thinking about how they looked. I was envious of that, because I can't seem to lose sight of the issue. But it was also inspiring to remember how many sports reward such a physique.

Keep up the good writing and training.

11:32 AM GMT-5

Blogger TriSaraTops said...

Great post, Spence! I too have totally shifted my thinking of Athena in the past few years. I wish I WOULD have entered Athena as, like Nancy says, it just makes more sense to be competing against other like body frames! How silly I was to think it was somehow accepting "chubbiness." Gabrielle Reece is an amazing volleyball player and ROCK SOLID. She's gorgeous, and according to a magazine I found, she weighs 184 pounds. It's really cool for me to see more women like this out and competing, as I've always had a frame more like them then like some of my teeny little friends, who I love of course but who I can't realistically match weight with! 115 might be great for them but SICKLY and WEAK for me. So it sounds like you have a great perspective on this whole thing! Keep it up! :)

7:32 AM GMT-5


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