I have a pink cycling jersey. It’s quite bright and I love it because it’s the only shirt I have that has a full zipper in the front and late in a ride I could open it completely and it would flare behind me when I went downhill. Pink jersey, you could tell people thinking, but it is the color of the leader’s jersey in the Giro d’Italia, the maglia rosa.*

The memory of this jersey, which I haven’t been able to wear in nearly two years (my wife is sufficiently concerned that I’ll fall off that no-biking-for-me), came to me as I thought of triathletes. They wear funny stuff. But so do I. Among the things I’ve been known to wear while running: reflective vest, blinking lights, headlamp, the-white-stuff-on-the-nose-to-protect-from-the-sun, compression shorts, arm-warmers, tights, short shorts, a Garmin, RoadID. So on the glass-houses analogy, I will not make fun of triathletes for their zippered tops and compression shorts. Actually, I doubt that I’ve ever made fun of external stuff like that.

I will frown upon the notion of carrying children across the finish line.

An upside of the recent kerfuffle was that I got a nice response to my why-a-tri? post. Iain from Devon (I’ve seen some of the stuff he does and he is quite modest with the I’m-not-a-serious-athlete rubbish — his motto: “Somehow I’ve qualified for Ironman Hawaii 2010. Now I need to train!!” — but he otherwise speaks truly) wrote:

    Hi Joe, as you’ve asked me to pop over and give you my thoughts I’m happy to oblige.

    Just to put you in the picture though ………. I’m far from a serious athlete. I’m not coached, I don’t train in 4 week blocks, cycles or macro-cycles. For the effort I put in I’d be classed as one of the ‘arm-wavers’ who crosses the line happy with their day but who will probably never race the the best of their ability.

    I can see why you have the thought you do, it’s not your sport. You’re a competitive runner but if you turned up at a triathlon you’d get your butt kicked. There’s a reason for that and it’s the reason I’m not sure I can give my thoughts. It’s because they are totally different sports. Triathlon is not running, it’s not cycling and it’s not swimming, it’s triathlon an individual sport in it’s own right. The idea is the same as any other ‘race’ and that’s to hit the Finish line as soon as possible. Does anybody ask Tom Pappas or Bryan Clay why they do the Decathlon instead of just one event?

    To put it in perspective comparing Triathletes to Runners is like comparing Usain Bolt to Ryan Hall. Their events are a world apart in the same way as Triathlon and running are a world apart. Usain Bolt’s training will bear no resemblence to Ryan Hall’s. The ‘gut-wrenching’ power sprint training compared to the ‘comfort zone’ marathon training.

    The stuff you see on TV of course is mostly down to how the TV companies want to portray things. You mentioned Ironman China which I know was the one with the winner walking (I’m a Tri nerd)[**], but you didn’t mention that by the time the athletes reached the run course on that day the temperature was over 40C/105F; how many of us have run a Marathon in those temps especially with 6hrs of racing already in the legs? Ignore the swim/bike and just think of the time out there. Would you have to walk if you ran a 100mile race in that heat?

    One thing I have heard from some of the A-type personalities in the sport is that when you’re purely a runner and you get injured then you’re screwed. Many of these can’t take being laid off from excercise to the swim or bike and the interest in the sport grows from there.

I started to respond. I was going to set him straight. He did not answer my core question, i.e., if one must, as I believe, spend a good six days a week for four or five months running to prepare to race a marathon how can one cut down on the running to allow for the biking and the swimming and still expect to be the best one can be?

Thinking as I was writing (as I sometimes do, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) I realized that there was a fallacy in my argument. I’m looking at it from the perspective of a runner. But a stand-alone marathon is not the same as a marathon in a triathlon. Iain’s point.

The old joke: Two guys are at a campsite and a bear appears. One guy rushes to put on his sneakers. The other guy laughs, “You don’t think you’re going to outrun the bear do you?” “I don’t have to outrun the bear?”

So I think we can agree that triathletes engage in a different sport and leave it at that.

Well, not quite. Iain confesses that he “will probably never race the the best of [his] ability.” Is that not the rub? Again, he seems to be training pretty hard, but if he says even that does not allow him to approach his potential how is one supposed to? In this, it seems so much easier for a runner, with the six-days-a-week, etc. training, getting regularly over 60 miles a week. That was the point I was trying to make.

But then one can say, “60 miles a week? You’ll do better at 70, at 80,” and that’s true. I use that as a minimum, and part of my do-I-do-NY dilemma is based upon whether I am willing to put in solid 70 mile weeks in September. And I assume that much the same holds true for tris, in which the IM is the glory event but there’s plenty to be said for the shorter stuff, as noted in a Competitors show with members of the US Triathlon Team (who don’t do IMs).

Let’s compromise. Triathloning is a different sport from running, although it shares certain characteristics. Solo efforts to build speed and endurance, a focus on how quickly one gets from point A to point B.*** The sports are cousins, and not too distant. The same core test applies to participants: if you’re working hard, busting your butt to improve your speed and your endurance, your swimming stroke and your bike handling, you’re my cousin. If you throw your arms up when you finish, you’re still family.

If you do just enough to finish, a triathlon or a marathon, if you’re in it simply for the experience, taking four hours to do a marathon that you could do in 3:30 had you trained for it, that’s great. For those who feel it necessary to assess their performances by how many people they beat, it just inflates the results. But I don’t care about you. I do care for and admire the folks I know, Pascal, DB, JLF as three, who put in the work for their tris. I might wish they focused on running, but they’ve been great running teammates for me and they like getting up before dawn to go out on their bikes in the rain and the cold. I don’t hold it against them, and I hope that they don’t hold against me the fact that I don’t.

And now I can turn my attention to all the bloggers I know who are doing Boston.

* This puts me in mind of TV coverage of cycling. I’ve watched a few races so far — Milan-San Remo, Tour of the Basque, Tour of Flanders — and heard both the Versus pair of of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen and Universal Sports’ Steve Schlanger and Todd Gogulski and boy do I prefer the latter, who I hope will do the Giro this year (as they did last). I realize Liggett’s an icon, but I think the others provide much more solid information.

Andy Hampsten is the only American to win the Maglia Rosa. One of my favorite riders, he was Greg Lemond’s chief lieutenant in the 1985 and 1986 Tourd de France. John Wilcockson wrote a two-parter, one, two, on Hampsten’s 1988 Giro win for Velonews. Return

** Actually I know nothing about Ironman China. From what he says, he seems to be referring to one of the videos we’ve all seen of someone (or in one case two women) collapsing shortly before the finish of an Ironman and struggling, struggling to get across the line. Perhaps it showed the winner walking. I have no issue with that. Indeed, I wouldn’t have soldiered on in such temperatures, which I know because I DNFed at the 1984 NYC Marathon, stopping at 19, in extreme heat, planning to do a back-up marathon in Baltimore 6 weeks later (a plan that went awry when my back went out doing speedwork up Cat Hill (I don’t know whether I waved back then but I sure do now)). Speaking of a winner’s walking, 1984 is the one in which the winner, Orlando Pizzolato, stopped like ten times. My guess is that someone was attributing to me inappropriate criticism of a brave act. I don’t think I’ve written a critical thing about the performance of any triathlete. Return

*** I will not, however, cede the point about the accuracy of courses, which I discussed in reference to my participation in the 2007 Westchester Tri.