I think it was in 2015 that the Japan Triathlon Union introduced funding for all age group “champions” – the individuals who had accumulated the most points over the season – to go the World Championships. Previous to this, only one male and one female – the winners of the overall points championship – got funding. Now there is funding for 13 bands in both male and female age groups, not just for the Worlds, but also the Asian Championships. On top of this, you get a champion’s cycle top, announcements of every race you enter on the JTU website, and guaranteed entry for all ranking races.
To win your age group, you have to accumulate points from JTU ranking races. Unsurprisingly the system is rather complicated and takes a bit of getting used to. Points are awarded for the top 5 finishers in each age group. There are three grades of race: A, B, and C. 15 points are awarded to the winner of an A race, 14 points for a B race, and 13 points for a C race. Your annual point tally is calculated on the basis of your best 4 races, but with one condition: only two A races are counted. In most age groups, it is necessary to get the maximum of 58 points to win – two 15-point races, and two 14-point races. If there are two people on the same number of points, they start counting your fifth and sixth races. This means that it is really hard to win an age group if you only do 4 races; most people do many races (one AG winner did 11 ranking races in 2017). If you are serious about winning the age group, you also need to win races you don’t need points for in order to prevent rivals getting those points. It turns into a bit of a rat race.
In 2013 and 2015, I just missed out on first place as I didn’t understand the points system. I was focusing on races I didn’t need to win, and missing races I needed. At the start of 2016, my friend and rival Misu-san explained how we needed to target certain races, particularly 14-point races, to win. (This act of kindness was based on our being in different age groups at the time; from next year we will go back to not talking!) I sat down for hours working out target races, and then arranged my training and warm-up races around them. Just like everyone else does.
Each year, the ranking races change somewhat, but certain races are always A-ranked: Yokohama and Murakami in particular. In 2016, there were six A-races, all of them on the flat. For people who prefer hilly courses, this is a disadvantage. In terms of B-races, there is much more variety. You can choose hilly courses, such as Hiwasa and Toyama, or flat courses. C-races are mostly for training as they don’t allow you to get maximum points.
While the points system undeniably adds an extra dimension to triathlon, it also takes something away. From when the season starts in April, till when it finishes in November, you have to keep training and keep winning. If you hit a slump, that is it. I have talked to several other triathletes who are at or near the top of their age group, and by the time it gets to the end of the season, they say they just feel tired – not only tired from racing, but weary of the whole chase for points. One person in the 60-64 age group told me he is going to do Xterra from now on as he wants to go back to doing races for the pure joy of it. He has a very good point.
In 2018, I will try not to chase points again. As a break from Olympic distance, I have already signed up for the Goto B-race (middle distance) and plan to do at least two more at that sort of distance. However, for those who are interested in targeting the age group ranking races, here is the list for next year.