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Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton

Tri Pie and Fair Die

Rating: 7 votes, 3.29 average.
A Vindication of the Rights of Swimmers: A Modest Proposal for Jim’s Fair Ironman


An Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon (WTC) consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike, and a 26 miles 385 yard run, raced in that order and without a break.

The current Ironman world record was set in 1997 by Belgian Luc Van Lierde. He set his world record at Ironman Europe with a time of 7:50:27 (0:44 swim, 4:28 bike, 2:36 run, plus transition).

The total time Luc spent moving and changing outfits and footwear that day was 470 minutes, give or take a few seconds.

The swim portion thus comprised approximately 9 percent of the total race; the bike 57 percent; and the run 33 percent. I am leaving out the wardrobe changes for simplicity’s sake, but let us just assume that he was also a world class ecdysiast as well as a fast swimmer, bicycle enthusiast, and runner. See pie chart:



Of the three separate endurance disciplines, it appears that running, which took up exactly one-third the total time, was the only sport equitably represented. Swimming, at under one-tenth of the total time, got ludicrously short shrift. Indeed, it appears to serve as little more than a momentary spit bath at the start of the competition, designed, one might think, to cool the competitors off before the real work starts.

Biking, well, biking—you are quite the disgusting pig, aren’t you, bogarting with your grotesque truffle-snorting nostrils nearly twice as much of the available spotlight time as running and nearly six times as much as swimming.

To rectify this, here is what I propose: the development of what I hope will become widely known as Jim’s Fair Triathlon, a just competition that gives each of its sporting segments equal time to shine. Certainly, other sports jurisprudential philosophers before me have proposed this before, especially (I have to imagine) the small handful of top notch triathletes that come from a swimming background as opposed to a running or biking one.

Obviously, I have no illusions that such appeals for the establishment of a Fair Triathlon will get anywhere. The greasy bike wheel (and surely grease-demanding bikes are by far the most expensive of all the highly-priced gear already necessary in this modern day Sport of Kings; indeed, with the possible exception of polo ponies and/or skeet shooting Hugenot peasants, I am not sure what sport exists today more geared to the success of the affluent than triathlons!) is always greased.

I suppose my prime hope is to just get a discussion rolling amongst our triathlete-performing masters swimming peers, along with the closeted underbelly of tri-haters (you know who you are!), and along with the vast ranks of swim-phobic USAT types who, if anything, would like to further minimize swimming’s role, perhaps replace it entirely with kayaking (now there’s something we could charge a fortune for--Tri kayaks fabricated out of Kevlar so they weigh no more than 7 ounces!)

My proposal has two steps, the first hardly novel; the second arguably slightly further from the well-worn path.

Step 1: Rebalance the Event Distance Portfolio

To do this, I checked some distance records for top swimmers, bikers, and runners. As indicated earlier, the World Record time for an Ironman is currently about 470 minutes. Divide this into thirds, and you come up with three equal segments of 156 minutes each, or 2 hours and 36 minutes. How far can the world’s top swimmers, bikers, and runners respectively cover in this allotted time?

Getting exactly accurate apples-to-oranges comparisons here has proved surprisingly difficult, as I learned after roughly 8 minute of intensive Google searching. Nevertheless, I found enough data upon which I believe I can build a rough but reasonable preliminary estimate.

Swimming: In the 2010 FINA 10K Marathon Swimming championships held in Lausanne, Switzerland on June 28, Germany’s Thomas Lurz sprinted to a gold medal in a time of 2 hours, 1 minute, and 5 seconds. This means he was covering slightly less than 100 m per minute. Assuming he could maintain close to this pace for the next 35 minutes, this would leave him with a total swim distance of 13,500 meters (about 8.4 miles) in his allotted 2 hours and 36 minutes.

I herewith propose that the swim portion of Jim’s Fair Triathalon cover 8.4 miles (an increase of 6 miles from current Ironman)

Biking: One site I found suggested that top pros can average 35 mph on the flats almost indefinitely. This sounded a bit vague to me, so for further amplification, I found a Time Trial from the Tour de France, Stage 19. Here are the times by top competitors racing 55 kilometers:

STAGE 19 RESULTS

1. Lance Armstrong (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 1:06:49
2. Jan Ullrich (G), T-Mobile, 01:01
3. Andréas Klöden (G), T-Mobile, 01:27
4. Floyd Landis (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 02:25
5. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC, 02:48
6. Ivan Basso (I), CSC, 02:50
7. Jens Voigt (G), CSC, 03:19
8. Vladimir Karpets (Rus), Illes Balears-Banesto, 03:33
9. Rubiera José Luis (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, 03:40
10. Azevedo José (P), U.S. Postal Service, 03:49

55 kilometers translates into 34 miles. I am not sure how flat this course was, but it would appear that Lance’s remarkable achievement suggests he was traveling at a bit less than 35 mph. Let us give bikers a bit of a break here and stipulate that top pros could probably average 30 mph for an extended period of time. Thus, during the 2 hours and 36 minutes of the biking portion of Jim’s Fair Triathlon, they would be expected to cover about 78 miles.

I herewith propose that the bike portion of Jim’s Fair Triathalon cover 78 miles (a decrease of 34 miles from current Ironman.)

Running. The current marathon world record is held by Ethiopian runner, Haile Gebrselassie, who on September 28, 2008, completed the Berlin marathon in 2 hours 3 minutes and 59 seconds. If Haile had been allowed to run for another 32 minutes, assuming his pace dropped off from fatigue to 5 minute miles, he would have still covered at least another six miles.

I herewith propose that the run portion of Jim’s Fair Triathalon cover 32 miles (an increase of 6 miles from current Ironman.)

Step 2: Make the Event Order Fairer

Currently, the swim portion of every Ironman proceeds, by fiat, in an inviolate order: swim, bike, run. If football were governed by such a rule, the home team would always get the first possession—hardly fair, I think any fair-minded person would have to agree. Much better to give either team an equal chance. Thus, the flip of a coin has a long and storied role in all fair sports.

Triathons, to be sure, have three possibilities, and there is no such thing as a three-headed coin. True, but there is now, thanks to the ingenuity of yours truly, the Jim Fair Triathlon Die.

See sketch:



Approximately five minutes before the start of every Fair Triathlon, the Order of Events official will roll the die to decide what event will lead off this particular race. Since the die has six sides, two of which are labeled swim, bike, run, the official will continue to roll the die until the next sport comes up. The final leg will thus be decided by elimination.

The race finishers, too, might be thusly decided. Perhaps literally.

As masters swimmer/Mayo Clinic internist/all around nice guy, Dr. Tom “Jaegermeister” Jaeger, MD, recently emailed me, researchers reported last April in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the swimming leg, albeit an afterthought in current triathlons, is nevertheless the singlemost ruthless test of participant survival. As the JAMA paper reported:

“A total of 959 214 participants were analyzed (mean [SD], 323 [444] per race); 59% were men. Forty five percent competed in short (swim <750 m), 40% in intermediate (swim 750-1500 m), and 15% in long (swim >1500 m) triathlon races.... Fourteen participants died during 14 triathlons (rate, 1.5 per 100 000 participants; 95% CI, 0.9-2.5), including 13 while swimming and 1 biking... Although the contribution of cardiovascular abnormalities cannot be definitively excluded in some cases, logistical factors and adverse environmental conditions may have been responsible for these events, given that about 95% of triathlon fatalities occurred during the swimming segment. Furthermore, deaths were more common in triathlons involving greater numbers of competitors. Because triathlons begin with chaotic, highly dense mass starts, involving up to 2000 largely novice competitors entering the water simultaneously, there is opportunity for bodily contact and exposure to cold turbulent water.”

It is, perhaps, inevitable, that if Jim’s Fair Triathlon wins general acceptance and over time usurps the current Ironman, or Patently Unfair Triathlon, approach in vogue today, the cavalcade of slaughter due to drownings is likely to increase a bit. Offsetting this, perhaps, is the likelihood that at least one third of the time, the swimming leg will be the final part of the race, guaranteeing that the participants will have spread themselves out considerably by then, reducing the likelihood of “chaotic, highly dense mass” swimming conditions where intentional drowning of despised competitors is no doubt as common as it is difficult to detect forensically and criminally prosecute.

In any event, regardless of death toll, I think we can all agree that sporting fairness really should take precedence over human life, at least where triathletes are concerned. As the name Ironman implies, swimming has always been a tertiary citizen in the world of triathlons (with a specific gravity of 7.7, twice as much as Portland cement, a true “Ironman” is designed to sink, not swim). It is time to change this.

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  1. jaegermeister's Avatar
    What a wealth of inspiration! A terrific concept! Only drawback: it may be too simple and fair for the powers that be, who will be embarrassed to admit that they didn't think of it first.

    I haven't done a tri in many years. Mass starts with marginal swimmers; this seems to be more adrenaline than some of us can handle.
  2. rodent's Avatar
    It can't be done. My guess is that less than 10% of the people who compete in triathlons could swim 8.4 miles. Your triathlon would have a 90% DNF rate. An average athlete can bike over 100 miles. You can average almost 20mph on a good bike for several hours and 15mph produces the same exertion as walking. When you get tired you can just stop pedaling and glide for a few minutes.
    On the run you can always walk and still finish.
    If you can't finish the swim however, you will need to be rescued.
  3. Bobinator's Avatar
    Wow Jim! I love your logic! The whole concept truly does make lots of sense.
    I agree with Rodent on the swimming distance, too challenging for the average person. The officially licensed "Iron Man" races are owned by a corporation whose sole purpose is to make money. I think Smitty paid $1,000 to do the Hawaii Ironman the last time he did it. They are definitely interested in keeping the numbers up so I doubt the swim distance will ever be increased.
    Perhaps you could start a series of Jim's Fair Triathlons." I don't know if you'd want an 8.4 mile swim but how about 8k swim/35 mile bike/ 25 K run. I could get Marty to time them for you! You could both make a fortune! $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
  4. Bobinator's Avatar
    Oh, I love the dice idea too! It adds an air of mystery and excitement to the race.
  5. jim thornton's Avatar
    Actually, Bob, if I wanted to create a completely Jimcentric Triathlon, it would be a 10 k swim, 800 yard bike with training wheels allowed, and a 50 yard run-walk to the finish line.

    Of course, if Hondra Metropolitan scooters were allowed for the bike portion, and Segways for the running part, maybe I could extend the land sport distances a bit.





    I do wonder how long it will take USAT to realize how much money could be made from a new "legal" running concept I have independently figured out (and am thus 100 percent convinced than a myriad of others have already thought of it.)

    To wit, do you know people who prefer to run and bike on gym treadmills and exercise bikes as opposed to the real thing outside?

    They seem to think that a ten mile run on a treadmill is the same thing as an actual run, but I suspect it is a lot easier, not to mention you can also watch Fox News while doing your "run."

    Anyhow, what if the Ironman Corporation decided to allow people to run on treadmills during triathlons, treadmills towed by flat bed trucks pegged to go the same speed that the "runner" is executing on his treadmill?

    That way, special tri race day treadmills and expensive flatbed truck towing vehicles could be marketed to the "knows no bounds in the quest for glory" OCD tri ranks?

    Just a thought.
  6. RustyScupperton's Avatar
    Excellent proposal. I do wonder about the possible health effects of having swimming last. Could there be a problem with an already fatigued athlete who has already burned a lot of her calories losing heat in the water to a dangerous degree? I just wonder if this could be a concern...
  7. jim thornton's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by jaegermeister
    What a wealth of inspiration! A terrific concept! Only drawback: it may be too simple and fair for the powers that be, who will be embarrassed to admit that they didn't think of it first.

    I haven't done a tri in many years. Mass starts with marginal swimmers; this seems to be more adrenaline than some of us can handle.
    Actually, Tom, it turns out that there have been so-called fair triathlons already, a fact brought to my attention on Facebook by the remarkable Eney Jones, swimming marvel and former professional triathlete.

    She wrote:

    I used to race Flectcher Hanks' Equilateral Triathlon. It was a 4 mile swim, 60 mile ride, 13 mile run; but guess what? It was too hard for people. As a former professional triathlete, I lobbied to have the swim in the Hawaiian Ironman changed to a shower. I have done it 6 times and do nor remember swimming in it, because you spend most of the day riding and running.
  8. jim thornton's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by rodent
    It can't be done. My guess is that less than 10% of the people who compete in triathlons could swim 8.4 miles. Your triathlon would have a 90% DNF rate. An average athlete can bike over 100 miles. You can average almost 20mph on a good bike for several hours and 15mph produces the same exertion as walking. When you get tired you can just stop pedaling and glide for a few minutes.
    On the run you can always walk and still finish.
    If you can't finish the swim however, you will need to be rescued.
    Jack, I have never done a triathlon, but I would imagine that if I did, and there were 1000 people competing, of which 200 did not finish, leaving 800 who reached the finish line, I would be somewhere in the high 700s (if not 800, though that is usually someone with issues of some sort the scope of which I have not yet reached), anyhow, this being based on me averaging 5 mph on the bike, and walking 25 minute miles until my feet began hemorraghing blood, at which point I would crawl 75 minute miles.

    So, for the sake of argument, let us stipulate that I come in 787th place.

    Now, retinker the same triathlon making it fair by all reasonable standards of equal representation, which would surely lead to not just 200 people dropping out, but 600, of which, say, 45 or so dropped out because of drowning.

    I suspect that under such a scenario I would still come in very close to last place, say 187th place (still 13th from the absolute slowest finisher.)

    In absolute terms, I am really not improving my fortunes much. But in relative terms, I have gone from 787th to 187th place.

    Call me selfish, but I am all for this.
  9. jim thornton's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by RustyScupperton
    Excellent proposal. I do wonder about the possible health effects of having swimming last. Could there be a problem with an already fatigued athlete who has already burned a lot of her calories losing heat in the water to a dangerous degree? I just wonder if this could be a concern...
    Survival of the Fittest, my dear Scupperton! Or perhaps more accurately, Survival of the Floatiest! As indicated in the Modest Proposal, cast iron has a specific gravity of 7.7 (water, of course, is 1.00--anything above this mark floats, everything below it sinks like a rock, or, in the case of literal Iron Men, actually a bit faster than rock. I refer you to a table of specific gravities for different rock types, most of which are lower, in fact, than iron. http://www.edumine.com/xtoolkit/tables/sgtables.htm )

    Thanks for your concern, but true competitors have long understood that when someone you are trying to beat succumbs to the Angel of Death, you really don't have to worry about him or her any more.
  10. swimshark's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by RustyScupperton
    Excellent proposal. I do wonder about the possible health effects of having swimming last. Could there be a problem with an already fatigued athlete who has already burned a lot of her calories losing heat in the water to a dangerous degree? I just wonder if this could be a concern...
    I've done a reverse tri. Not an equal distance one but a reverse one. It was in March so they didn't want us outside cold and wet. Being a swimmer, the hard part was that I was passed by quite a few people during the run and bike and when I got in during the swim I was behind lap swimmers and had to pass a lot in the pool swim portion.

    Interesting concept Jim. My sister, who I will forward this to, and has done Ironmans is an excellent swimmer and would probably love this concept!
  11. BabsVa's Avatar
    Jim, the Olympic distance triathlon would probably appeal to you, as it does to many swimmers, a bit more than the Ironman distance because the swim is proportionately longer (1500m swim; 25 mi bike; 10k run). I say you do one and report back to us. In fact, choose one in a location convenient to Charlottesville and I will do it with you.

    Double dog dare you.
  12. BabsVa's Avatar
    It is a pretty dangerous sport, as you can see

    [/IMG]
    Updated July 22nd, 2010 at 09:42 AM by BabsVa
  13. jim thornton's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by BabsVa
    It is a pretty dangerous sport, as you can see

    [/IMG]
    Our BabsVa, which I finally realized stands for Barbara from Virginia, a wonderful hostess at the recent 2-mile Cable swim (about which I hope to vlog soon), is also a superb graphic designer.

    Here is one one of her works:



    Barb, I had meant to ask you this before, but if you have any downtime, and want to design a logo for fun, gratis, would you consider coming up with one for the new sport of competitive Noodle Aerobics Followed by High Speed Noodle Ingestion that I attempted to pioneer in my previous vlog?

    If nothing else, maybe we could sell t-shirts!
  14. BabsVa's Avatar
    Well, thank you Jim! Big "MWAH!" to you!

    Hmm Noodle Aerobics etc. I will have to cogitate on that. In the meantime I do have a drawing of you in your B70 (is that what it is called?) in the works ... Edgar Allen Poe's raven, and a vulture looking over your shoulder ... Lake of Fire in the background.

    So I propose a rematch at the Cable Swim next year unless you want to try this first, in October:

    http://www.setupevents.com/index.cfm...l&eventID=1486
  15. bsherm81's Avatar
    The swim still has to be first due to the drowning aspect. but the bike could be done from the top of a very large hill, and the run could be waiting in line for Space Mountain or something. Then I am in.

    The concept is one that many swimmers have longed for...one of our local guys is regularly first out of the water, top 3 or 4 off the bike, but bottom third after the run. clearly not enough swimming!
  16. jim thornton's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by bsherm81
    The swim still has to be first due to the drowning aspect. but the bike could be done from the top of a very large hill, and the run could be waiting in line for Space Mountain or something. Then I am in.

    The concept is one that many swimmers have longed for...one of our local guys is regularly first out of the water, top 3 or 4 off the bike, but bottom third after the run. clearly not enough swimming!
    I don't know why the drowning concern needs to be taken so seriously. If we need to prevent the drowning death of marginal swimmer-triathletes, then why not take the same caution to prevent collision-related bike deaths in marginal biker-triathletes like me, or infected foot blister deaths in marginal runner-triathletes?

    I propose that if we treat drowning threats seriously, we also need to mandate governors on bikes that prevent them from going more than 4 mph, plus during the run portion of the race, all participants must stop every 100 yards to have their feet examined by a podiatrist, who can put moleskin on any sections that seem to be developing even slight blistering.
  17. FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
    I'm not into the bike part, so I'm unlikely to enter a triathlon. However, Jim's set-up certainly makes things interesting, in that it creates the element of surprise. Another option might be to regularly cycle different activities through the different slots. For instance, instead of the current set-up featuring the swim, bike, run, the "die" toss could determine whether it was the swim, the bike, or the run that would be 2.4 miles... then similarly move through the second segment... would the swim, the bike, or the run be 112 miles (I suppose that could be a bit tough as a swim distance, but we're trying to keep this thing sporting...). Then finally do the same for the last segment: swim, bike, or run 26.2 miles... Which will it be? Find out on race day! Again, the distance might feel a bit daunting (but certainly easier than 112 miles) as a swim. But life is full of surprises, isn't it!
  18. bsherm81's Avatar
    what about having a set amount of time for each discipline? say 60 or 90 or 120 minutes of each as the race...then like in decathlon, you score according to how far you swam, biked, ran, crawled, drank, rolled, whatever.

    If you fall off the bike and become unconscious, you still live. if you fall down running, you can pass out and still live. If you bang your head on a buoy and pass out in the water, you don't still live. Hence the recognition of the drowning risk.
  19. jim thornton's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by FindingMyInnerFish
    instead of the current set-up featuring the swim, bike, run, the "die" toss could determine whether it was the swim, the bike, or the run that would be 2.4 miles... then similarly move through the second segment... would the swim, the bike, or the run be 112 miles (I suppose that could be a bit tough as a swim distance, but we're trying to keep this thing sporting...).
    Brilliant! Just when I thought all variables to extract nonswimmers from the sport of kings had been exhausted, you have come up with arguably the greatest master stroke of all!
  20. FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton
    Brilliant! Just when I thought all variables to extract nonswimmers from the sport of kings had been exhausted, you have come up with arguably the greatest master stroke of all!
    Ah shucks, Jim! Always glad to be of help!
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