An Open Letter to Triathletes

03.29.2006 | 9:58 am

Dear Triathletes,

First off, I want you to know that I admire you. I really do. I admire your tenacity and determination. I admire your intensity. I admire your endurance.

And it’s a darn shame you waste all those admirable qualities on the most ridiculous activity (yes, “activity,” not “sport”–I’ll get to that in a moment) that has ever been created.

I will explain.

Swimming is Mind-Blowingly Awful
Consider some of the things that make biking wonderful: You get to see beautiful terrain. You’re going somewhere. You can use it both for entertainment and as a practical means of conveyance. You can talk with your friends while you’re doing it. The variety of the terrain means that you get interesting new challenges on a moment-by-moment basis. And perhaps most importantly, you are unlikely to drown or be eaten by a giant fish (see Jonah 1:17).

None of these desirable attributes can be said of swimming.

Here, on the other hand, is what can be said of swimming:

  • It is insular: When you’re swimming, you are isolated from everything. You don’t get to look at anything, except where you’re going (and that’s only kinda-sorta). You don’t get to talk with anyone, should the mood strike you. You do get to listen to the environment–I’ll give you that–but the environment is always making exactly one sound: “splash.” That loses its charm after a bit. Triathletes, consider: people are currently facing court martial for using many of these same tactics to extract information from prisoners in Guantanamo.
  • It is crowded: While swimming doesn’t allow you any normal human interaction with your competitors, it does allow uncomfortable, abnormal interaction. Specifically, while you’re swimming in a race (especially open water courses), you’re constantly being kicked and elbowed.
  • It is gross: Triathletes, I’m sure you never pee in the pool. And your nose never starts running while you’re swimming. And you never need to clear your nostrils. And you never get a mouthful of water, then spit it back out. And of course you’re not sweating while you swim. Right? Right? Oh. Well, in that case, I’m sorry, but a swimming pool is absolutely the most grossifying place on planet Earth. I just had an involuntary shudder thinking about that stew of fluids you’re swimming back and forth in. Ew.
  • It is mind-bogglingly boring: You swim and swim, exerting incredible effort with your entire body to go approximately the speed a child can easily skip. You don’t get to see anything. You don’t get to hear anything. You don’t get to feel anything, except water (and elbows and feet as you’re kicked and knocked about). This is actually the same point I made at the beginning of this bullet list, but I feel strongly enough about it to make it twice.
  • I am no good at it: Okay, this may be more my problem than a problem with the sport itself.
  • It is dangerous: There are giant fish out there. And they’re hungry. Do I have to remind you of the story of Jonah? Or Pinnochio?

Running is Pure Misery
Giant fish notwithstanding, swimming at least is good for you. It works your whole body out without busting you up. Running, on the other hand, is just plain evil. I’ve covered the problems of running before, though, so won’t go into it here. Trust me, though: Running is bad.

Triathlon is Not a Sport Because it Does Not Fit Into the Way I Choose to Define “Sport”
As far as I’m concerned, a sport is a physical activity you can do for fun or competition. By my (very authoritative and comprehensive) definition, a sport is not legitimate unless you’d go out and do it just for kicks, even if there weren’t a competition coming up. So biking’s a sport. Running’s a sport. Even swimming’s a sport. But doing all three in succession? No, that’s not a sport. That’s a stunt, or self-imposed punishment, or a statement. It’s not a sport.

You do all three events in a row only during a competition, or to prepare for a competition. And while you may be having fun during some of those events, you are not having fun because you are doing all three of the events in a row.

So cut it out.

Triathlon is Arbitrary, and Not Even Imaginatively Arbitrary
Let’s imagine for a moment that none of the points I have made so far stand up. I know, I know: my arguments are so compelling they brook no dissent, but still, for the sake of argument, pretend.

Here’s my final point: Triathlon is silly because it takes three random events, pins them together, and calls them a different event.

Why three events? Why not five? Or eleven? And why always the same three events, always in the same order?

If you absolutely must cram multiple events together, why not get creative about it, from time to time? Here are some suggestions:

  • Bike, football, poker
  • Bike, horseshoes, log-rolling
  • Bike, snowshoe, line-dancing
  • Road bike, mountain bike, velodrome, cyclocross (as I type this, I suddenly realize this would actually be a really interesting event)
  • Bike, nail-driving, yodeling

I could go on.

A Heartfelt Plea
Triathletes, please. Stop it. The rest of the cycling world would happily welcome you into our arms if you’ll only join us. We’ll teach you how to draft. We’ll teach you how to pedal circles. We’ll teach you how to ride a bike that’s both comfortable and efficient.

Just admit you have a problem. We’ll do the rest.


The Fat Cyclist


  1. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » The Best of the "Open Letters To…" | 01.28.2007 | 10:02 pm

    [...] An Open Letter to Triathletes: I admire triathletes. I admire their tenacity and determination. I admire their intensity. I admire their endurance. It’s a darn shame they waste all those admirable qualities on the most ridiculous activity (notice I did not say “sport”) that has ever been created. [...]

  2. Pingback by Tin Foil Soldier » Blog Archive » Open Letter to Triathletes | 01.29.2007 | 2:51 pm

    [...] Letter to Triathletes Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » An Open Letter to Triathletes Triathlon is Not a Sport Because it Does Not Fit Into the Way I Choose to Define “Sport” As faras I’m concerned, a sport is a physical activity you can do for fun or competition. By my (very authoritative and comprehensive) definition, a sport is not legitimate unless you’d go out and do it just for kicks, even if there weren’t a competition coming up. So biking’s a sport. Running’s a sport. Even swimming’s a sport. But doing all three in succession? No, that’s not a sport. That’s a stunt, or self-imposed punishment, or a statement. It’s not a sport. [...]

  3. Comment by lizbizycle | 01.29.2007 | 7:52 pm

    I must admit that I’ve participated in a “sprint” triathlon during a shameful past life. It was at a critical point during the swim that I realized I must have some level of self-loathing, for I suffered incredibly and had walked (as others ran) into the water willingly. Swimming does suck and there was a social moment when I and the other self-loathing realists held on to the first buoy for our dear lives and tried to talk each other into making it the rest of the way. I made it to shore, ungracefully, rode the bike leg with wet shorts (comfy!) and called my therapist the following Monday. Nuff said.

  4. Comment by bikegoddess | 02.25.2007 | 7:07 pm

    Oh dear and I just signed up for the Danskin Triathlon this very morning. Eighty-six freaking dollars, I’ll have you know. I really just wanted to get back in shape and drop 86 lbs (pretty good huh…about a dollar a pound …easy bookeeping!). I just want to soar around town on my bike again and go crashing down Whistler (OK, I’m 47 now so maybe not Whistler). I want to fit into my size 10 clothes and my tiny, little bike shorts again. I want the wind and the rain in my face. I want to beat rush hour by taking the bike trail. But it’s darned uncomfortable and ergodynamcially not good (and ego- dynamically not good) to be a fat chick on a bike. So…must get back into shape so I can ride the bike!!

    Now…. Running does suck.. but I thought maybe a little cross training wold make for a better fitness/weight loss plan and then I could be the Bike Goddess once again. A sprint triathlon seemed a nice achieveable goal. I was a little worried about the potential for sharks in Lake Washington and all the little fishies nibbling at me from within the milfoil forest…but now you’ve ruined even my pool swims!!!! Pee and Snot and God knows what else!!! You are right. Disgusting!!!! And I suck lots of water when I swim ’cause I am lousy at swimming. Thanks a lot Fatty. I don’t know what to think now. You’ve taken the wind out of my sails (or maybe the air out of my tires and the tread off my shoes and even the swim cap off my head).

    Now this is not to say I will not succeed. I will just be gagging the whole time and have nightmares about little microbes.

  5. Comment by ThinTriathlete | 05.5.2007 | 8:35 am


    You are looking at this swimming thing totally wrong. Swimming laps is just the best way to spend time watching scantily clad, fit people of your favorite gender. You go to the pool, pick your lane based on who else is already there in the adjacent lanes. Then, with the tinted goggles so that you’re not too obvious, you time your turns and your breathing so that you get the best view on each lap. Who has time or can bother watching the black line on the bottom?

    Plus, I hope this doesn’t sound too creepy, but the idea of swimming in bodily fluids is a little more pleasant if you get to pick (or at least imagine) the body that they came from.

    As for the kicking and elbowing that happens during the swim portion of a triathlon, I actually kind of enjoy it. The same thing on the bike would freak me out (and get me disqualified), while on the run it would just be rude. But somehow I find the swim turmoil to be comforting. Random flying elbows in the water is kind of like the ability to post comments like this on the web without leaving your real name.

    Remember, you don’t have to swim faster than the sharks, you just have to swim faster than the other swimmers in the race!

    - Thin

  6. Comment by Seshat | 09.11.2007 | 2:39 pm

    Swimming is, indeed, gross. I’ve just come back from Iceland, where the outdoor pools are sparkling clean and empty, as the whole country has only 3 people and a horse called Sven in it. Now I’m back in Scotland where the tepid water in the local pool burns the eyes, and I swam past a plaster hanging eerily in suspension. (Oo. Are you American? In which case, read ‘band-aid’ for ‘plaster.’)

    As for running … dear Lord. It’s some kind of torture. I can feel the cartilage in my knees gradually grinding away to dust.

    Cycling is the only part of triathlon worth doing – and yet, here I am, slogging away at all three. And why? Because I have the attention span of a goldfish, and doing just one of the three would be far too dull.

    Hey ho. Whatever shifts the bulk, eh?

  7. Comment by judi | 11.10.2007 | 4:11 pm

    I love you Fatty! And really you aren’t that fat! I just started reading your blog linked from the BSNY.

    I have to tell you that I am a tri-girl and I love doing them. LOVE THEM. I completed my first marathon last May and 3 olympic distance tri’s last June, July and August – next up is a half IM and then a full IM in 2009. I am new to cycling, just started on a road bike in July. Did my first tri on a mountain bike, can you imagine? Now my b/f is building me a time trial bike.

    Anyways, just wanted to say hey, and I look forward to reading more.


  8. Comment by Tri Stud | 12.21.2007 | 11:22 am


    Just because who suck at swimming and running doesn’t mean it’s no good or not a sport. Take a look at cycling , you probably suck at cycling too. Just because you go on a 40 mile pedestrian pace ride and stop for donuts along the way – doesn’t make you a cyclist. Your just fat because you eat too much and don’t train enough at anything !!! Give up cycling, join the triathlon bunch. We’ll teach you how to loose weight.

  9. Comment by FoxySteve | 07.14.2008 | 8:14 am

    I know I’m gonna get my wrists soundly slapped for this. Or just shoot me. Spill the beans, folks. You gotta be supplementing with something real special to maintain a triath event. Mere food and Gatorade can’t sustain you through all that, can it … much less Place. Spill, please. Inquiring minds have to know.

  10. Pingback by Ride 18: 90 degrees! | Hey - aren’t you Jeremy Jenum? | 05.20.2009 | 7:41 pm

    [...] compared to the ride on Monday. Given that Monday immediately follows the weekend and many “triathletes” like to perform a full set of training rides on Saturday and Sunday – I noticed that there [...]

  11. Comment by Lucas Larson | 06.23.2010 | 2:43 pm

    HIlarious post!

    I came here searching for info on a good tri bike, but I apparently made a wrong turn.

    Fortunately for you (and the rest of the biking community, for that matter), you have me questioning my decision to compete in my first tri! You’re right, training is miserable. Biking certainly is the most fun of the 3 events. From a health perspective it probably leads the others (running and swimming) as well.

    You really have me thinking..

    Great blog, by the way. Awesome info!


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