Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Darwin's Theory of Triathlon

I'm pretty sure Charles Darwin was a triathlete, despite the obvious liability that he died a good 140 years before the sport was invented. A little known fact: Darwin's Book 'On the Origin of Species' was originally called the 'On the Origin of Triathlon' but he was under pressure by the British government to focus his efforts on biological understanding in lieu of multisport.

History has a way of obscuring the details, so allow me to enlighten you... Charles Darwin was a doctor who hated medicine so he took the first chance he could get to go on a cruise. The HMS Beagle was hired by the WTC to plot suitable locations for 140.6 and 70.3 distance races in the Southern Hemisphere, as you can see by this map.
HMS Beagle's Possible Ironman Locations
The crew of the Beagle was into endurance multisport events and took the opportunity to swim and run as often as they could. Biking was exceptionally difficult, but luckily the captain of the Beagle, Robert Fitzroy (right), was a certified spinning instructor. The deck of the Beagle was littered with spinning bikes and the crew often neglected their sailing duties to get in a good workout. Keep in mind that this was in the old days when multisport was a gentleman's sport and clothing technology was not up to today's standards. Notice in the file photo that the cycling outfit is not very tight, the shoes definitely did not have quick release or velcro, and this was the admiral's first attempt at an aero helmet. The cane was required by the USAT to enforce the no-drafting rule, which was one meter at the time. He admitted in one post-race interview of being "a bit warm on the bike" and was considering using lighter colored garments as well as possibly removing some of the base layers.

Now, Darwin himself was an excellent runner but was never a podium finisher athlete despite his best effort. He struggled on the bike. As he was embarrassed by his cycling ability, he did not normally join the group rides. Still, he was an outstanding coach and paid close attention to the way the athletes trained and recovered. He also noted that if an athlete trained in isolation, as sailors are wont to do, then their ability improve was hindered. These observations were later confirmed through VO2 max and lactate threshold tests. The data were omitted due to sketchy lab techniques that athletes today are still quoting, such as Landis' accusations against Lance.

Darwin recorded that, when the same athlete trained in a group, the entire group benefited from the interaction. Particularly interesting to Darwin was the way the athletes fought over the best bike before spinning class. The best bike just happened to be front and center for 2 reasons: 1. It was closest to the admiral of whom all the sailors wanted attention. 2. The bikers on the sides were prone to be cast overboard after an awkward swell. The sailors scurrying for the best available bikes was described in detail in a chapter that was cut by the editors and the basis of Darwin's concept "struggle for resources." Because so many sailors died on those lost and lonely deck sessions, the remaining crew was in wicked good shape. These observations helped Darwin coin the phrase, "Survival of the Fittest".

Darwin's Survival of the Mass Swim Start
Darwin took his time and formulated a training plan that encouraged large numbers of participants.  He discovered that the maximum number for any given session was roughly 2000. The WTC took this under consideration and decided to stretch enrollment in an effort to increase income. Based on Darwin's recommendations, the mass swim start at Ironman events remains the norm and would not have been possible without Darwin's influence.

Because NBC had not yet started their Ironman coverage on TV, most of the population remained ignorant of Triathlon's Natural Selection. Darwin was struggling to sell books and desperate for cash. He had considered a racing program in which participants could pay $10 (roughly the equivalent of $1000 by today's standards) to allow racers to cut in line at registration for certain events. He wrote about this idea but abandoned it solely on the principle that it was absurd and morally unjust. He unfortunately never destroyed the document.  It was later unearthed in 2010. Another concern of Darwin's was the ability of the Australians to excel in sports such as swimming and triathlon. Since he loved England, he didn't want a larger (yet inferior to him) island to reap the benefits of his work. He sent a copy of his original book to Chrissie but the press leaked the publication. Luckily, Darwin did not survive to see the 2010 season to its completion.

Darwin learned that the people of his age were largely sedentary yet enjoyed animals and stories about animals. Reality TV had not been invented at this time. Darwin took advantage of the people's love for animals and adapted his training philosophies to match that of all organisms.  He made up some gibberish about finches' in the Galapagos Islands ability to match the characteristics of their environment. People bought into the evolutionary theory that living things adapted to the world in which they lived. If it had not been for triathlon, evolution would have never been born.

The original cover of the book and its intended graphic, sort of an inside joke of Darwin's that he would eventually conquer his cycling issues. It was deleted by publishers moments before printing...

Darwin's cover art now seen at http://hiboostore.com

Charles Darwin, the Father of Evolution, relied on triathlon to develop one of the most informative and powerful theories in the history of the sport.

There is a rumor floating that Ironman Co-Founder John Collins may actually be descended (on his mother's side) from Charles Darwin. You decide.

John Collins

Charles Darwin
So there you have it.

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