Those serious about embracing the backpacking solitude of a professional long-course triathlete may no longer be – to paraphrase former Ironman world champion Chris McCormack – joining the ranks of the “fittest unemployed people on the planet”, but would still do well to ask themselves: Is this really a viable career?
In albeit atypical times, Brit Ruth Astle’s candour over her earnings on her YouTube channel will certainly be welcomed by those considering a similar jump from age-grouper to pro. The bottom lines: a £1,000 loss in year one; £17,000 profit in year two.
A promising trajectory, although Astle does have a head-start when it comes to crunching the numbers. An employee at Lloyd’s Bank, the 32-year-old made the decision to turn pro after finishing fastest female age-grouper at the Ironman Worlds in 2019.
She also decided to stay on in the corporate world on a part-time basis to spread the risks. It proved an astute decision when shortly after completing her first Ironman race as a pro the world went into lockdown and racing opportunities dried up.
How do pro triathletes earn money?
Without lottery funding, the non-drafting specialists tend to go it alone, relying on a mixture of prize money and sponsorship, often closely linked through podium bonuses for higher-profile races.
Astle banked around £11,000 through a Covid-disrupted debut season in 2020 thanks to a combination of online Zwift races, events backed by the Professional Triathletes Organisation and fourth place at Ironman Florida. It wasn’t quite enough to offset costs.
As racing picked up in 2021, so too did spending, totalling £16,579, with flights accounting for £5,757 and another £4k on bike parts and servicing.
Accommodation was kept to just £1,280 with the help of homestays, but there was race entry, car hire, massage, physio, gym and swimming pool hire, and £450 on Covid tests to also factor in.
Plus, Astle omitted regular living costs from the figures, and contrary to popular belief, pros can’t sleep in their bike box.
Income started to increase too, though; late season Ironman wins in Mallorca and South Africa helping bring in around £33k, comprising £22,300 prize money, £6k podium bonuses from sponsors, and a £3k year-end payment from the PTO bonus pool as the 30th ranked pro.
Encouragingly, she could also look to a first outright cash sponsor with Hunt Bike Wheels, and a budding YouTube channel – fast becoming de rigueur for pro triathletes – that brought in around £600. Overall, a £17k profit.
The silver lining has undoubtedly been the emergence of the PTO. It has already sunk millions into the sport, however, as a self-purported ‘athlete body’, questions remain about whether the cash is being distributed equitably enough: the year-end No.1-ranked performers received $100k in addition to similar Collins Cup appearance fees.
Astle has a way to go, but with two Ironman World Championships and two new $1m PTO Opens in Canada and the USA, there’s plenty to aim for in 2022.
Illustration: Daniel Seex