Monday, December 24, 2012

North Pole's Triathlon Delivery System

I'm pretty sure Mrs. Claus was a triathlete, despite the obvious liability that she is more than likely a fairy tale character. A little known fact: The original purpose of the North Pole's toy factory was an attempt to produce triathlon related gear, apparel and nutrition (what triathletes tend to refer to as 'toys') and a state of the art training facility.

History has a way of obscuring the details, so allow me to enlighten you... Layla Mary was nutrition major and an all-star Canadian runner in college. She had her heart set on making the National Team in triathlon. Living in the Great White North was a big problem for many triathletes back in the day. Layla was no different. She loved the opportunity to train outside in the summer so she could make her annual trip to Penticton. At that time, TriCan didn't have a lot of resources nor sponsorships for up-and-comers.

Originally for the front
Layla was an amiable young lass and refused to give up on her ambitions. To bolster her training and make some money, she rented out a large warehouse used for research and development. One of her early ideas was a large bag in which an endurance athlete could hold fluid and nutrition. She developed a bladder that could be strapped across the chest. She made her boyfriend turned husband, Kris, test out the idea. When full, it gave Kris a fat-man, jovial appearance. Layla attempted to sell her product to CamelBak. They, of course, weren't interested. When they tested the product, the test subjects complained that it wiggled too much like a bowl full of jelly and gave them a sensation of jostling. CamelBak moved the bladder to the rear. This move negated the patent on the original model and sent Layla back to the drawing board to make money.

Layla decided to turn modify the warehouse from research and development to manufacturing. One of the her ideas was to install a large production line. There was a large belt installed on the floor of the North Pole Triathlon, Unlimited. During the day, the shop would receive orders from various other Canadian companies, such as Cervelo. Another little know fact, the 'P' in Cervelo's tri-bike line stands for "Pole", in honor of where the bike was produced. The P5, shown on the left, was made on the North Pole's 5th manufacturing line.

Athletes who worked the line during the day were granted free use of the training facilities at night. At the end of the shift, the manufacturing lines were cleaned of all debris. The heavy duty belt served as a moving running track. Layla took advantage of the number of workers and to try and develop new nutrition ideas. This was, of course, before Mendeleev had shown the importance of nutrition needs in food. Layla knew that adequate workout recovery was a key to her factory's success. Layla couldn't have her workers all tuckered from working out because they would be useless for tomorrow's shift. Her original concoctions were a mixture of starches and simple sugars. When given food coloring and cut into cutsie shapes, everyone thought they were cookies. Her staff gobbled them up without knowing that these free treats were really a guise to ensure tomorrow's production quota was met.

The biggest problem in the factory was that Kris was not a triathlete and did not enjoy exercising. He was an intellect and a people person. He still reaped the benefits of Layla's 'cookies' with the expected weight gain from too many calories in and not enough calories out. Layla tried to force him on to the belt with the other workers. But, at Kris's weight and girth, he was embarrassed to exercise in public. This lead Layla to invent the world's first working, individual stationary running system. Kris still didn't like the machine and only used it sporadically.

Kris was a biologist. During the day, he was researching the history and technique of animal domestication. He was trying to solve the problem as to why no new animals have been domesticated in the past 2000 years. His initial hypothesis was that humans have become lazy. To test his idea, he set to work on taking the wild out of some of the local fauna. Since this was upper Canada, reindeer were constantly in high stock.

Kris wanted to use the deer and tie them up to sleds as a means of transportation. Remember, this was years before automobiles were invented. (Aside: Rumor has it that Henry Ford came across Layla's North Pole warehouse, was inspired, and mimicked the concept in car production. End Aside.) Kris absolutely refused to run or bike, despite Layla's insistence. He worked on strapping up to 8-9 animals in rows of 2 so that each of the beasts would experience maximum drafting benefits. The exception, of course, was for the poor creature stuck in front. He was hearty but his exposed nose was prone to feel the effects of the cold and excessive wind burn. It showed. Still, they were able to go at break-neck speeds, in which the locals would comment, "The boy is flying."

His work on those reindeer had ulterior motives: Layla was insistent that he deliver the prototypes of her designs to local customers to test in situ. He expanded his sled to include a large cargo hold. The animals would get incredibly strong by going through the daily motions of product delivery, thus increasing their speed. Kris was able to harness the animals, make a delivery, and get back on route before the customer even knew he was there. The whole 'down through the chimney' line was tongue in cheek by embarrassed home owners trying to explain how they didn't see someone in their house dropping of a bike.  

Layla had begun taking orders from the Alaskan Americans. One year, Kris needed to make a long delivery run as seen in the picture at the left. He wanted to get there and back quickly as he, ironically, hated the cold. By using the reindeer, he would not have to bring food on the sled for his herbivorous animals. He was already a big guy and he was willing to do anything to improve his power to weight ratio. Since he was unwilling to get on Layla's death device, he, like many modern triathletes, opted to reduce the weight of his ride instead of his belly (which was still sporting the in-the-front hydration system developed by his wife years earlier). In honor of the route, in much the same way that we honor Philippides for his work in the field of running, Kris's original route has been re-created today. It has become the Iditarod.

Layla insisted that Kris be safe when he went out on his delivery runs. She made him a large, red suit that she required him to wear. Much like the lead reindeer, Kris's face was prone to the elements. He grew a large beard to help protect himself from the cold. Apparently, the Americans were ever so happy with the Canadian products. Cervelo bikes are unparalleled in American triathlon culture, mostly due to the efficient manufacturing systems set in place by Layla and the delivery methods of Kris. Kris hated making multiple trips through Alaska and forced the athletes to accept delivery of his goods once a year, generally scheduled in late December. Why did Kris pick this time of year? It's because Layla closed down the factory line for a week long triathlon camp. Kris knew that if he stuck around, he'd be forced to exercise. Braving the elements was a far lesser evil than what Layla had lead her employees through.

There's a rumor floating around that Layla and Kris got married and had many children, which the employees of North Pole Unlimited loved dearly. The staff laughed and played with those little elves when they weren't working or working out.

Not many photos of Layla ever made it out of the North Pole. Since Kris was the public guy, he became the face of the company. Just like every good man, the success was really written by the woman behind the scenes. She was an introvert and very much like the comfort of her factory home. Once, when she was older, Layla did get a shot taken for a race. Notice in the picture that she is wearing her trademark red. Her hair is pulled back as to accommodate an aero-helmet (not pictured). She still lived in Canada where cold is much more common than warm, hence the fluffy turtle neck.

Rumor has it that one of her children emmigrated to Britain and is the descendent of Chrissie Wellington. In honor of her heritage, Chrissie still sports her ancestry red and white and keeps her hair pulled back. Much to the family's dismay, Chrissie refuses to use an aero-helmet in races but will workout in glasses (albeit tinted). I believe that the family resemblance is remarkable. I'll let you decide.

 So there you have it.

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