Tri Pie and Fair Die
by, July 21st, 2010 at 10:57 PM (4567 Views)
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.
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  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.