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Going the Distance

Book #30 (September 8, 2010): Triathlon Training for Dummies by Deirdre Pitney and Donna Dourney

Okay, this isn’t the sort of book that I’d ordinarily be reading, but I had an assignment to write a Web article on some aspects of triathlon training and I realized that I knew so little about the subject — honestly, I wasn’t even sure what a triathlon was — that it might behoove me to read an entire book about it to give myself some intelligent sounding background material. The actual subject that I’m writing about — triathlon training in hot weather — is covered in only about ten paragraphs here, so I’m also drawing information from other sources, but I figured as long as I needed to learn about the subject anyway, I might as well make my book of the week something on triathlon training and kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.

For those who may not know, triathlons are an athletic event invented (if that’s the word) in 1974 in which you swim a certain distance, then jump on a bicycle and ride a certain distance, then jump back off the bicycle and run for a certain distance. Although it sounds like something you’d find in the Olympics, it actually didn’t become an Olympic event until 2000 and the Olympics are only one of many, many places where triathlons occur. In fact, thousands of triathlons are held around the world every year, almost certainly including one near you. The difficulty of the event depends on the particular type of triathlon and there are plenty of variations. The most popular is the Sprint Triathlon, where you swim for about half a mile, cycle for roughly 12.5 miles and run for about three miles. (The numbers are rounder in meters, so I’m approximating the equivalent mileage.) The most difficult, however, is the so-called Ironman Triathlon, where you swim 2.5 miles, cycle for 120 miles and run for 26.2 miles. Yes, you actually run a full-length Olympic marathon (!) after you’ve already gone 120 miles on a bike! Where ordinary marathoners would be hitting the wall of pain, Ironman triathletes are barely even getting started.

I’m not sure I’ve ever read one of the Dummies books from cover to cover before; in fact, I don’t even think they’re designed to be read that way. But I was impressed by how intelligently and exhaustively the authors tackled the subject, with step by step details of training programs, tips on how to find good events and how to behave around your fellow triathletes, a guide to buying (and using) the equipment and clothing that suits your needs, extensive instructions on how to transition from one event to another, and considerable attention paid to the psychological as well as physiological demands of the subject. This is sharp writing, albeit limited in its scope of readership. I wouldn’t recommend reading it unless you actually plan to participate in a triathlon (or write an article on the subject), but if you do, this is probably the only book you’d need.

So now that I’ve boned up on triathloning, do I plan to enter one? Don’t hold your breath waiting. I’m not too old — according to this book, there are triathletes well into their 80s — but I have way too many other things planned to do with my life right now. On the other hand, Amy gave me a bike for Christmas and there’s a lot of solid info in here on biking that I plan to apply to my own exploits, so I can hardly say this information is worthless to me. And every now and then I think about getting back into running, something I did a bit of in my 20s and early 30s. There’s plenty of info on running in this book too. It might even be fun to find a local pool and do a little swimming. (I learned how to swim when I was 10, though my form isn’t especially good.)

But doing all those things together? I get tired just thinking about it. Of course, maybe that’s precisely why I should consider doing it!

(And the Sprint Triathlon really doesn’t sound all that hard.)

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About Christopher Lampton

Chris Lampton, a cofounder of the e-book design firm Illuminated Pages (see link in my Blogroll), is a writer, an editor, an occasional computer programmer, a voracious reader, and a fanatic video game player. In the course of his distinguished if haphazard career he has written more than 90 books, including the 1993 computer book bestseller Flights of Fantasy (Waite Group Press). He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend Amy and two cats, and now spends much of his available time editing and rewriting novels for self-published authors.

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