Susan Lacke speaks out

With a new book on the horizon, Susan Lacke sits down for an insightful chat with TriathlonWorld's Asia-Pacific editor Phil Wrochna.

| July 27, 2017 | PERSONALITY How do you see the general professional triathlon landscape right now?

Susan Lacke: It’s an interesting time to be a pro, for sure. On one hand, there’s a lot of prize money these days - $7.7 million total in 2017 – but it’s also harder than ever to get a piece of that pie. For every Flora Dufy, who made $246,000 in prize money last year, there are dozens of pros who don’t even make back their race fees.

Same for sponsorships – pros are losing their traction as influencers for brands. It’s no longer enough to just win races in order to get sponsors. You have to be known – and, more importantly, be liked. Half the job of being a successful pro triathlete today is cultivating one’s brand. The most popular (and therefore, most influential) triathletes aren’t always the fastest ones. They’re the ones who reply to every tweet, engage with age-groupers at pre-race events, or produce witty videos and podcasts that people enjoy.

Pros and social media, are they doing it right? How many more obvious posts do we need to see?

Oh, geez. There’s some real inauthentic crap out there these days. I always roll my eyes when I see a variation of the same tweet or Instagram post promoting the same product. But I don’t blame the pros for that, I blame the brands for sending out a mass e-mail with copy-paste instructions. That’s just lazy marketing. It ties in to what I was saying before about brand management, though: The smart pros know how to promote products in genuine, organic ways that are well-received by fans.

While we’re on the topic of social media, can we all agree to stop with the selfies-while-riding trend? It’s just a photo of your head in a helmet, just like every other photo you’ve taken of your head in a helmet! You know what impresses me more? People who watch the damn road.

Mixed Relay at the Olympics, on board?

100 percent on board. That format is thrilling to watch. There’s also the accessibility factor – most people think triathlon and Ironman are one and the same, and therefore only for super-fit crazies with too much time and money. The Olympics allow us to show a huge audience that triathlon takes many forms – some that are well within reach of the average Jane and Joe.

Is it fair to say that the abundance of pregnant professionals this season showed up a lack of depth in women’s racing? We have heard some chatter about that social media style.

Go ahead and ask Flora Duffy that question and let me know how that pans out for you. Or Heather Jackson. Or Kirsten Kasper, Katie Zaferes, and Ashleigh Gentle. Or Lucy Charles, Annabel Luxford and Heather Wurtele, whose competition kept me on the edge of my seat at The Challenge Championship in Samorin – ditto for Eva Wutti, who just ran a 2:57 marathon for a riveting come-from-behind victory at Ironman Austria (less than a year after giving birth, mind you).

“Lack of depth?” I’d actually argue the opposite. The women’s fields are deeper than ever, and I think it’s only going to get better.

Fair point on the above. We know it's early, but surely there is no one in the world who can beat Daniela Ryf in Kona?

Daniela Ryf has ice in her veins and pistons in her legs. It’s ridiculous how good she is. If she stays healthy until October, she’ll break the tape in Kona. Then she’ll take a shower, eat some pizza, snap photos with fans, go on an espresso run and come back to welcome the rest of the podium across the finish line.

Is Ironman on the right pathway right now? Is their acquisition model the right one?

Their acquisition model is Dailan Wanda’s acquisition model: Spend money to make money. If you look at what Dalian Wanda has done with their purchases in other realms – acquiring Hollywood studios and movie theaters, for example – what they’re doing with Ironman isn’t too shocking. From a business standpoint, it makes sense. Buying marathons creates a nice pipeline for age-group athletes – the bread and butter of Ironman – to go from one endurance feat to the next. Creating new races in untapped markets allows for even more registrations (and registration fees).

But, as an athlete, I worry about a sport where Ironman is the template. Familiarity is both comforting and boring. It’s like McDonald’s: I know if I order a Big Mac in Salt Lake City, it will taste exactly the same as a Big Mac in Milwaukee. But, eventually, you crave a burger made from the local diner that McDonald’s put out of business.

What's the go with writing a book? Are you mad?

You’re just now figuring out I make questionable choices? I’ve made a whole career off my questionable choices.

Life’s Too Short To Go So F*cking Slow is really about the power of friendships in this sport. I wrote it after the death of my triathlon mentor, Carlos. We were complete opposites in every way – he was in his 40’s, I was in my 20’s; he was from Mexico, I was from Wisconsin; he did Ironmans, I chain-smoked Marlboro Lights. And yet, he suggested I go swim laps with him one day. For the 10 years that followed, he was my best friend and best training partner. I learned a lot about triathlon from him, but, more importantly, I learned how to (as he would say) “grow up and quit being such a dumbass.”

The friendships formed in of endurance sports are unlike any other in the world. There are a lot of books out there about how to get a PR or what to eat while training, but none about the lasting bonds and life-changing experiences that can only be found during 100-degree trail runs or Sunday morning bike rides. This is that book.

Tell us about your process to get it (the book) all together?

Equal parts panic, self-loathing and caffeine. It’s not that different from triathlon, really.

How do we get our hands on it?

Pre-orders ship in late October! You can preorder from a variety of vendors, all of whom you can find on the book’s page on VeloPress. On November 1, it will be on the shelves of bookstores.