Every once in a while I come across something in reading that sticks in my head. One of these books is called “Sex, Lies, and Triathlon”, a collection of articles by Leib Dodell (citation below). Since I can’t think of anything to write about at the moment, I thought I would share one of the chapters. I will share more if you all like it.
Dodell, Leib (2011-07-11). Sex, Lies and Triathlon (pp. 7-8). FriesenPress. Kindle Edition.
Pythagoras was a mathematician from the 6th century BC who was obsessed with the triangle. Pythagoras’s catchy theorem for calculating the hypotenuse of a right triangle — a2 + b2 = c2 — is one of the few things most people remember from high school geometry. Using the Pythagorean theorem, if you know the length of any two legs of a right triangle, you can very easily calculate the length of the third leg while at the same time writing out the lyrics to entire Pink Floyd songs on the back cover of your math notebook.
So what does this have to do with triathlon? Well, what doesn’t usually make it into the high school textbooks is that Pythagoras was not only obsessed with the triangle, he was also an avid triathlete. In fact, Pythagoras’s famous theorem was originally devised to calculate the optimal location to rack your bike within a transition area. If Pythagoras knew the length and width of the transition area, he could calculate the exact rack location that would give him a leg up on all the other 6 century B.C. triathletes.
It was centuries before the theory was found to have broader applications. Unfortunately, some of Pythagoras’s other triathlon theories never saw the light of day. They were discovered recently by a team of archaeologists, along with a 2700-year-old half-eaten PowerBar, which they promptly finished off. For example, one of Pythagoras’s lesser-known formulas was the following:
s2 + b2 + r2 = C2
This theory treats legs of a triathlon just like the legs of a triangle. Under this theory, every triathlete possesses an innate, immutable level of conditioning (represented by the constant C), which can be calculated at any given point in time by adding the squares of his or her fitness in the swim (s2), bike (b2) and run (r2). The implications of this theory are profound. For example, let’s say you spent a ton of time last winter in the pool and on the treadmill, and made huge improvements in your swim and run.
This would mean that, mathematically, your conditioning performance on the bike would have to decrease proportionally. This is also known as the Law of Conservation of Fitness. In other words, it is mathematically impossible to achieve peak conditioning in all three legs of a triathlon simultaneously. Although Pythagoras got a lot of abuse from other triathlete mathematicians at the time, who called him a whiner, centuries of empirical evidence suggest that he was exactly correct.
My all-time favorite of the Lost Triathlon Theorems is this one:
o = d – (1 + t/a)
You know that moment during a race when you feel like you’ve finally loosened up, when you’re in a rhythm and you’re ready to crank? I don’t know about you, but in my case that moment always seems to come about an instant before the transition area comes into sight, when it really doesn’t do me any good. If I’m doing a tri with a 15-mile bike leg and a 5K run, I’ll feel tight and miserable on the bike for about 14.5 miles, and then all of sudden I’ll start feeling great. . . just in time to toss the bike and put on my running shoes. And then I’ll feel like crap for about 3.05 miles, and just as the finish line comes into view, suddenly I’ll start feeling like Steve Prefontaine. I’ve always chalked this up to general lameness on my part . . . the whole race I’m suffering, and then once my brain realizes there’s no more punishment I can inflict on myself, all of a sudden it starts telling me I feel great and I should crank it up.
But Pythagoras proved it mathematically.
Under his theory, the optimum moment during any leg of a race (o) is mathematically bound to occur at the distance of that leg (d) minus one instant before the sight of the transition area (1 + t/a). There are many more great tri theorems to pass along, but I’m also mindful of one of the fundamental mathematical theories of writing:
sw = btd-1.
In layman’s terms, stop writing (sw) at least one word before the reader gets bored to death (btd). Hopefully I’m not too late; I never was much good at math.