Every so often in triathlon social media groups, the Athena & Clydesdale debate comes up. Most recently it was (paraphrased) “I just lost a bunch of weight, and no offense, but I don’t want to be classified as an Athena!”
Yeah, no offense except to everyone who proudly races Athena.
Let’s step back for a minute. Athena and Clydesdale are weight divisions in triathlon. According to USAT regulations, an Athena is a woman over 165 pounds and a Clydesdale is a man over 220 pounds. The general thinking is that it takes more energy to power a larger body over a course, so these groups can be separated out into their own class. Some races divide it further – Athena under 40 and over 40, for example.
Athena and Clydesdale are opt-in race categories. If you’re a woman over 165 pounds, you can choose to race in your age group or you can choose to race Athena. Some races make you weigh in at packet pickup to prove that you make the weight, and I’ve also heard that some races have you weigh in at awards time to ensure that the winners actually meet the qualifications. But even if you weigh over 165, if you weigh 265 or 365, you don’t have to register as an Athena. It’s an option.
Last year, I didn’t race Athena. I was on a weight loss kick and hoped to be at or below 165 by race season. I was not. And that’s okay. I still need to lose weight for my health, but I’m focusing more on healthy diet and healthy lifestyle and not worrying about the scale. By racing in my Age Group, I kind of missed the camaraderie that comes with racing Athena. For me, it’s often smaller than my age group, so the wave starts can be more fun. In a lot of the races I’ve done, the Athenas, Clydesdales, and Novice racers (another personally chosen category designed for newbies) all start together and I love starting with the Novices. It’s so much fun to hang out pre-race and try to help others not stress about the swim.
Getting to know other Athenas has also been really valuable. In addition to carrying added weight through the course, Athenas have other unique issues. Finding kits that fit, finding wetsuits, sports bras, all the things that curvier women deal with.
This year, I decided to race Athena again. There’s no reason not to. I’m not ashamed of my weight. Besides, I’m racing in spandex. It’s not like the number on the scale tells anyone anything about my body that they can’t already see.
Does this give me a better chance of being on the podium? Sure, simply because there are fewer people racing in the category. That said, Athena can still be incredibly competitive and at some races, I will be so far from the podium that it’s laughable to even consider.
People choose to race Athena for a number of reasons. My thinking is that it’s a valid race classification and if you qualify, why not register? And if you don’t want to, that’s okay too. But that doesn’t mean that you should look down on anyone who chooses to race Athena. We’re all out there doing the same race and covering the same course.