Is Triathlon Antifragile?

July 31, 2021

Sydney Olympics

How can you think yourself a great man, when the first accident that comes along can wipe you out completely.” - Euripides

Specialization is for insects.” - Robert A Heinlein

Nassim Taleb defines the term antifragile as anything that is the opposite of fragile. And unlike resilience which resists shocks and stays the same, the antifragile gets better.

Well, what about Triathlon?

Let’s look at the origins the discipline. The earliest record for a triathlon-like event was in 1901, named Les Trois sports”. It was advertised for sportsmen’ and consisted of a run, bicycle and canoe. Eventually, the canoe was replaced with a swim across a river.

Nowdays, the triathlon that we recognize today emerged in the mid 70’s, by Americans who had apparently never heard of the French origin story and is much more standardized. The ITU accepts no more than a 5% margin of error in the cycle and run course distances.

A competition that’s only been around for 40 years, with very exact distances and rules, sounds fragile to me. Doing trois sports’ in a haphazard and dangerous way. Now that’s antifragile.

Let’s take a look at the individual legs.

Running

Swimming

Cycling

Kristian Blummenfelt obsessing over his lactate numbers in a Sierra Nevada compound is inspirational, but fragile, and not a good model for an everyday athlete.

If you take things a little less seriously, look at the data a bit less and stop worrying about the latest gear and gadgets, you’ll more likely to last longer in the arena.