Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Natural Progression of Triathlon- Race Selection

If you are familiar with my Theory on the Natural Progression of Men, you'd know I am a complete idiot. That, and many things in life follow a clear, sequential pattern. This Theory is not just inherent in men. I'm sure that there is a Natural Progression of Women, only I am not smart enough to detect it.

The Natural Progression also applies to sport, where it is most obvious. Almost every organized sport in existence has a built in progression system. Baseball starts with little league, then high school ball, followed by college ball. From college, you can do semi-pro or get drafted to the minors. Eventually, you'd make it to the Show. Thus, the Natural Progression. All kids playing baseball dream of making it to the big leagues and will work towards that goal. Some will give up along the way due to various forms of interference. Interference can take the form of Parental Interference, Spousal Interference (which includes the Children Interference), or the Lazy Complex (which simply means you gave up because you didn't want to put forth the amount of work the experts say is necessary to achieve the goal).

Disclaimer: I need to make it clear that each stage along the way has it's own distinct characteristics. I also want to make it clear that each stage is completely awesome with it's own hardships and challenges. At no time is any one stage better than another. Should an athlete end his or her progression at any stage before arriving to the next stage, for whatever reason, this does not diminish the athlete in any fashion. Further, regression in the progression has been known to happen as well as hop-scotching back and forth between the stages. This should not be construed as a negative.

Running Progression
Babies start walking around the age of 1. About 6 hours after they take their first steps, they are runners. They continue to dart around this way and that until they discover television and video games. Soon, the joy of running and mobility morphs into the "No" period of their life, commonly occurring around the age of 2. In the caveman days, the word 'no' was spoken by children in defiance of the parents forcing the kids to go run, usually after some sort of recently downed dinner item. No longer the case. Currently, running in youth is relegated to something kids do while being chased by cops or PE teachers in swishy pants and whistles. A very small sector of the population will continue to cherish running. We called those people cross country runners, who were neither cool nor popular. One of the main reasons cross country running was invented (should you know your cross country history) was as a means for like-minded individuals to practice escaping from bullies, many of which were on sub-par sports like football. (Nope, I do not, as a former CC runner, harbor any misgivings against football players.)

As children gradually become adults, the running gradually became something people did because their doctors told them to start leading a healthier life or be dead in the next 5 years. This shocked most people because they've been made believe that there was safety behind the desk and in front of the TV. No one warned them that a sedentary life-style coupled with a fast-food type diet was bad for them. They admit to not having paid full attention in middle school health class, but that's besides the point. Running was now work. (Aside: Many of the best runners I ever met as an adult fell into the get-in-shape-or-soon-die category. They were/ are amazing athletes and I have a thing or two to learn from them. End Aside.)

Faced with middle-aged mortality, adults will sign up for a 5k (3.1 mile) race to serve as a fundraiser for research on Childhood Obesity. This is the shortest race generally being offered to most individuals in any given area. Funny that, when we were on organized sports teams in high school, 3.1 miles was the longest race offered. Gone are the days of 100 meter dashes and timed mile runs. Your area likely has the equivalent of one 5k per weekend in a given radius. Even the former football players can be seen at these events.

The Natural Progression of Running Races starts here, at the 5k level. Soon, you'll be signing up for a 10k. Eventually, you'll see an advertisement for a 13.1 half-marathon. From there, it's easy to understand the appeal of the 26.2 full marathon, with talks of qualifying for Boston.

This is where the progression stops. Yes, there are alternative, intermediate distances in which you may participate. There are also distances greater than a marathon. But, according to the Theory, the Natural Progression ends at a culminating factor in which you are driven to achieve through no fault of your own. The marathon is the Natural Progression Culmination Factor. The Ultra-Marathon Runs do exist, but they are outside the Progression.

Natural Progression of Triathlon
It should come as no surprise that triathlon and running have very similar progressions. If you understand the most common triathlon distances, then you'd readily notice the parallels. Each sport has 4 main stages (with some odd intermediate stages tossed in once in a while). Stage 1 in running is the 5k. Stage 1 in triathlon is the Sprint, which ends in a 5k run. Stage 2 in running is the 10k. Stage 2 in triathlon is an Olympic ends in a 10k run. Stage 3 triathlon is the Half-Ironman, which concludes with a 13.1 mile run. The Culmination Factor of Triathlon is the Ironman, which ends with a marathon. The Great Granddaddy Culmination Factor in Triathlon (patent pending) is the Kona, Hawaii Ironman World Championships.

In an effort to get people into the Progression line, there has been a wave of Pre-Progression Triathlon Distances. These triathlons are recent inceptions and may meld themselves into the Natural Progression over time. They are oft penned "Try-a-Tri" and will offer shorter distances. Others are called Super-Sprints, which also have shorter distances but are designed to actually sprint in the traditional sense of the word (as opposed to the messed up triathlon version). These races are a blast.

A short history lesson in triathlon should help explain (somewhat) on how the main distances evolved. A group of military types were drinking in Hawaii and bragging about toughness. In a moment of drunken idiocy (as most miraculous events get started), they started to joke, then brag, about stringing Hawaii's 3 longest endurance events into one big contest. They were a 2.4 mile open water swim, a (2-day) 112 mile bike ride, and the Hawaii' Marathon. Note: There's a few more details to this story, this is just the basics. The Drunks set it up and the Ironman was born.

Now, if you take those original distances and cut them in half, you get the 1/2 Ironman. Get it. Clever how they combined a booze bet with math. Cut the 1/2 in half, and you get... (please be patient while I try to divide fractions. Not only did I sleep through middle school heath, but also MS Math) ... the Olympic Distance Triathlon. Get it. Half divided by a half equals Olympic. Ask your kids to write that on their homework and see if their MS math teacher accepts it, even though it is technically correct. We are one more fractional division problem away from the Sprint distance.

My Progression
Start from the bottom up and you get the Natural Progression of Triathlon Race Distances. This was my almost exact experience and one that I'd recommend to triathletes making their way through the sport.

My first triathlon was a Sprint Distance. Then another. Then another. I did many Sprints until I came across the Wormhole Proximity Interference. Several people may experience this sort of interference and it may happen to you. Here's how it goes:

I had already gone through the natural progression of running from 5k up to the marathon. But I had skipped the 10k as there were none offered in any of the areas in which I lived. This is the Wormhole Proximity Interference. Since there were no races close to my home at that stage of the progression, I skipped it. If there were any 10k races, I'd have been on target. To this date, I have never done an open 10k running race. The WPI allows for this.

Back to triathlon: I was right at the beginning of my progression and completely oblivious to the other stages of the sport. And I use 'oblivious' in the literal sense because, even though there were Olympic distance events being run at the exact same time, I had no idea what they were about nor did I have any desire to do them. I was happy at the Sprint distance and saw no reason to change my race to what those morons in the Oly were doing. I later learned about the concluding 10k run in the Oly distance, but, since I skipped that stage in the running progression, I was comfortable skipping it triathlon.

Because, a brilliant race director set up a 1/2 Ironman distance in my area. It was the only one of its distance. I was in awe. Almost at the same time, I had learned about the Ironman. And about Kona, and how you had to qualify for Hawaii. I had the vision all mapped out in a nice, succinct 3 year plan. I would do the 1/2 in my area. The following year I would do an Ironman just to learn what it was about. The next year, because I am such an awesome athlete, I would subsequently qualify for Hawaii (I told you at the beginning of this post that I am an idiot).

Six years later and I still haven't made it to the Show. So much for the 3 year plan. I still feel the drive and the awe. I will Progress. I will not let the Lazy Complex dominate my existence in this sport. One day, Great Granddaddy Culmination Factor (patent pending), you will be mine.

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