Monday, June 4, 2012

Triathlete = Olympic Level Athlete? Runner = not?


M-Dot Tatoo replaced with Rings....

When I was at my first cardiologist appointment, the doctor asked me all of the normal questions that you’d expect him to ask.  Things like: do you smoke (no), do you drink (well, it’s only 11am so not today!), and why didn’t you take off your pants for the exam??..... basically all the normal stuff.  I was going through my history of WHY I came in when the following conversation occurred:

Me: So, my heart would go bonkers while I run, blah blah, symptoms, blah blah, heart explode.
Doc: So, you’re a runner then?
Me: Yeah, I run a lot more than any normal person ever should.
Doc: So are you at an Olympic level?  (He is one of the more well-known docs and sees a lot of the pro athletes around town – to be clear I do NOT put off the pro vibe.)
Me: Oh no, I’m not THAT fast, I just do it for fun. But, I am relatively competitive at the amateur level.
Doc: Ok, because if you were an Olympic athlete or a triathlete we’d want to do a complete workup to make sure that you’re cleared to perform with sponsors, etc.

Wait, what?  Since when did being a Triathlete equate Olympic level athletic ability? (I’m paraphrasing above, but that was most certainly his intent with his comment)

Now, I realize the Triathlete vs runner vs cyclist vs swimmer “who is best?” debate is one that has certainly been made before and will go on during group runs and rides for many years to come.  Frankly, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other – but I certainly don’t think being PRETTY good at 3 sports is better than being VERY good at 1 sport. When you combine 3 sports, you create an entirely NEW sport that has a different skill set than each does individually.  The way I look at it, it would sort of like arguing that someone with a massive meth problem would just be “having a lot of fun” where as someone who does some meth, cocaine on the weekends, and smokes pot when watching American Idol needs an intervention. Just one? Aww, you’re fine. But three!? Oh wow, that is serious.

I think that the thing that frustrated me most is that as a runner (primarily), in this doc’s mind I was less of an athlete than a triathlete.  Sure, I don’t log 20 hours of workouts a week, but I do log 9 on a pretty regular basis – and I run 8 miles an hour.  In this example, triathletes are fortunate enough that bike rides take time.  Someone who is logging 20 hours a week in peak IronMan training is going to be logging 10 of those on the bike, likely all or most in Heart Rate Zone 2 – nice and easy.  It all adds up.

Furthermore, I’m not even sure duration is a good measuring stick for what is better. Olympic runners don’t log the 20 hours that moderately serious amateur triathletes do.  Yes, part of that is speed, but a lot of it is the inherent time training for 112 miles on the bike takes.

That said, many people have argued that some of the best athletes in the world are decathlons. These guys/gals are sorta good at ALL sports.  Could they outrun Usain Bolt? No. But they can sure out pole-vault him and can probably get to within 0.4 seconds of his 100m time.  So, are THEY better than everyone else?  Or, just like triathlon, is that a different sport all together?

What do YOU think? I know that I have a lot of triathletes who read this blog. Disagree with me! Tell me you’re better! Tell me you’re worse!  I’d love to hear it.

I will say one thing though.... Triathletes are certainly hotter.  Damn it anyway.


30 comments:

christina said...

I agree - and while I do not do triathalons... my cross training on my nonrunning days are spin and swimming... does that make me less than a triathlete? I dont think so!

Heather @ Just a Colorado Gal said...

I think training for tri's is harder just because of the organization-- you're trying to get good at 3 things and it can be a mental pain bc you're always worrying about your next swim, etc, even when you're running. Having said that, I don't think they're harder than a single sport! In fact, I think tri's are easier for me just because I get a break from each sport!

Gracie said...

I respect triathletes, but it's not a sport I'd enjoy. I would always feel like I should be giving more to one particular area.
I think runners tend to compare themselves to triathletes and feel like we are better runners - which is often true - but perhaps miss the big picture. I threw that in there just to be fair to triathletes.

ltlindian said...

Are you sure you didn't take it the wrong way? If not, then perhaps he was implying that the act of doing three totally different activities puts a different kind of stress on your heart than does a single activity. Not that you were less of an athlete...

Thinking as a doctor, you add up the risk factors for a particular problem to determine how likely that person is to get that problem. Example: when I see a patient and I'm worried about glaucoma, a person with high eye pressure might get one extra test and then we see what that result is. A person with high eye pressure, a family history of glaucoma and a history of trauma to the eye might get the entire glaucoma workup.

Having said all that, if you are still having the heart issues, push for ALL the extra testing regardless of your risk factors (or lack thereof).

Heather said...

I don't think being a triathlete makes you as fit as an Olympian. Triathlons have different levels just like any other sport. Ironman maybe, but Olympins train for like 6-8 hours a day.

BigLonnie said...

I don't think it's up to the doctor to decide. This part of your post says it well:

"Furthermore, I’m not even sure duration is a good measuring stick for what is better"

I have to agree with ltlindian - in that maybe the doc wasn't implying that you're less of an athlete, but was more concerned with making sure you get the right set of tests tailored to what you're trying to accomplish.

Another example would be now that I am primarily a weight lifter vs runner, when I go to the doc I wouldn't expect a full cardiovascular workup to be done when I want to be cleared to continue dead-lifting 500+ lbs.

Home Away said...

Wow! Touchy subject? Not sure the full context of the conversation, but if the doctor was just talking about making sure you're clear to compete, maybe he referenced triathletes because they would take extra caution in that case because of the added potential danger of drowning if a medical issue were to occur while swimming.

Chad Chisholm said...

This just confirms my suspicion that I am a bad ass and your an a regular ass.
Also, yes. I look just like that triathlete above. The girl.

Andrea said...

I decided to try out triathlon last year to cross train in the "off season" winter months here in the north. I don't know about others, but for this runner, I saw my times get better and better the more I biked and swam. Now, I really SUCK at swimming, but these runner legs can hammer out some bike miles! In short - I'm a better athlete now that I regularly participate in other sports.

Molly said...

I interpreted the doctor's comment differently, as using Olympic to describe both athlete and triathlete. I don't think you can necessarily assume he was inferring all triathletes in that statement...a little overreaction perhaps?

XLMIC said...

Training for any sport at the top level is pretty ...ummm...demanding. Why comparison is needed is beyond me. That doctor is stupid.

JFord said...

As a triathlete that has only 2 HIM under his belt, no IM YET, and I have a marathon done, I thought the marathon was harder on me than the HIM. That being said, I do believe that the traiing for a triathlon is harder than the marathon becasue my plan usually calls for me to do a swim/bike workout. IMHO of course.

Quix said...

I am a triathlete.

I look nothing like said gal (or guy) above.

I think nowadays it's common knowledge that many folks of different shapes and sizes go out and do a 5k race. It's not common knowledge that anyone but crazy people do triathlons.

...then again, the above statement might not be so far off. Who decides that they want to go for a run, but instead of on fresh legs, they'd rather do it after swimming and biking first. :)

Lisa said...

I'm no a triathlete, yet, but would like to someday. I'm a very strong swimmer, slow runner (after an injury) and middle of the road cyclist.

This is an interesting post! And it makes sense...you can be in great shape, but are in shape to do ALL THREE activities in one day?

Mark said...

Well, having just transitioned last year, I can provide a good perspective from both sides. I wonder if Home Away is right...maybe he would be a little more cautious if you were a triathlete because of the swimming aspect (since there have been a number of high-profile deaths during the swim at big events in the past couple of years).

It seems like this is a sensitive subject for you! You should feel perfectly confident just being a runner. The fact that you do one sport vs another doesn't indicate what level of athlete you are. I've seen some really large (and I don't mean muscular) triathletes. It's all about what you put into it. You can be just a swimmer, runner, biker, or whatever and train 15 minutes a day or 5 hours a day.

The only real difference from a physical standpoint is that doing multiple sports conditions different muscles, so the more you do, the more well-rounded your strength and conditioning will be. From an overall perspective, I have to say that triathlon has been MUCH more challenging for me. This is simply due to the fact that it is much easier to fit one sport into your schedule than it is to fit three in. Even if you're talking about the same number of hours, there is simply added time preparing for a bike ride, going to the pool, changing clothes between sports, extra showers, etc.

Hannahviolin said...

There are many more activities the human body can do than swim, run, and bike, and I feel often "triathletes" forget that. What about skipping, dancing, playing basketball, jumping, pole vaulting, tumbling, stair climbing, golf, etc? Just playing both sides here. And having a full time job, a wife, and kid and having to get your run in doesn't require less planning just because it's "only" a run.

That said, maybe you took it the wrong way. I don't know. You run pretty darned fast for an amateur, and Olympic athlete does not equal triathlete.

Rose @ Eat, Drink, and Be Meiri said...

Of COURSE the triathlete you picture was The Bachelor. OF COURSE.

Al's CL Reviews said...

I think I read it differently than what you heard... you said he was a pro-athlete doctor...I would have assumed he had a pro-athlete as a patient.

Anonymous said...

I get what your saying. I did a sprint triathlon, once, years ago, way before I jumped into marathons. My goal was to not die during the swim, then got passed by this woman in her 70's (not that that's a problem, but I was in my 20's and a hell of an athlete) who informed me "you got the wrong kind of bike, honey" as I was struggling on my borrowed mountian bike (yes, it was a road race). I saved face on the run and took 3rd in my age group. Ugh! I'd run 100 marathons if I never had to do another triathlon. It wasn't that it was "harder" that bugged me. The irritating part was that, as an armature, disposable income provides regular access to a pool and the ability to purchase an expensive bike which makes a huge difference. Did I get beat by better athletes or by people who had better bikes and regular access to a pool (I occasionally trained for the swim by running 6 miles, ditching the shoes, socks, and shirt, jumped in a lake in my sports bra and shorts, swim the lake, then run home. Swim workout? Wouldn't know)? As far as the Cardiologist goes, does he/she run or compete as an armature in a sport? It's irritating to think that if your not an olympian or a professional athlete that some how training and competing isn't as important to you or as (relativly) taxing on your body, or that doing a complete work up is only necessary if you have sponsors. Why in the world would you need that for your own health and well being (sarcasm)? I'm a RN. Our job is to advocate for our patients. Ask for the "full work up". At the very least, you'll have a baseline to compare future assessments and physical results to. Good luck!!

Trent (Scott) Lorcher said...

I've done two intermediate distance triathlons and I'll be doing my first marathon next week. You're right. They're simply two different sports that require two different skill sets. I happen to suck at both.

Meredith said...

I was a good runner (4 Bostons) and then tried to do Ironman, twice, failing both times. I've struggled a lot mentally going back to "just running". But you know what? I'm a good runner. Hell, I'm a great runner. Sure I can't finish an ironman, but I can outrun most of the b!tches any day of the week. The debate will continue but being "just a runner" is just fine with me.

Michael said...

I am a triathlete, my husband is a runner, and while I might sometimes log a few more training hours than him, I would guarantee his effort is usally much harder than mine in the hours he puts in. We are all doing different things to stay fit and healthy...one is certainly not better or harder than the other. The thing that makes tris harder is just having to focus on 3 sports and hauling so much crap with you every where you go. Maybe that's what makes me "stronger" all that hauling :) Ha!! Interesting perspective from the doc, but I don't think he's got this one right.

Kathy said...

I am first and foremost a mom but I do triathlons and I happen to like the long distance variety. I swim in the sea, I run in the jungle and I ride the only road around on my 94 road bike. So far the only marathon or half marathon I've done were at the end of a triathlon. but, I pretty much do the organized events to justify the training, because, yeah, I really do like training (off season) around 2 hours a day. I'm not fast but I do have a RHR of 43 so I guess some of my slow training is doing something.

And that might be what the doc is getting at. Even when you're slow, you're taxing your aerobic system and if this 52 yo mom of 4 can bring her RHR down to 43 through training, then maybe a doc might have some additional tests they might want to run. Who knows.

Kristen Lawrence said...

Not being harsh but I know plenty of triathletes that I wouldn't even describe as "fit" so to label them all at an Olympic level is just plain silly. Triathlons are a hobby for most just like running.

Ashlee said...

I agree with J Ford. I have done a Half Ironman and full marathons. Full marathons are harder. That is the extend of my insight. You're welcome?

Katie said...

I totally disagree with your doc. I actually became a triathlete because I sucked so hard at running, which is what a lot of people do. Triathlon is the dumping ground for crappy runners.

Mike said...

Ha, I'm a triathlete and am the poster child for the saying, " why suck at one sport when you can suck at three?" :-). I've had heart anomalies too and fail to see the difference between a runner and a triathlete when it comes to endurance event training. Both put a significant tree on their heart for extended periods of time which can lead to athlete's heart. I think your doc must be a triathlete and is just dissing you :-)

Katie Duffy said...

I wonder if the doctor is just a poor communicator - like, he was referring to the competitive amateur triathletes who often get sponsored and doing the exams for their sponsors? IDK. I used to run only, now I like tris, and I pretty much suck equally at all of it, so I'm not the Olympian to ask.

Joe said...

Like you say, you'd expect someone who is very good at one sport to be better than someone who is good at three sports to be better at that one sport (running).

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to see what he thinks of milers, lol... If your event doesn't take 10 hours you must not be in good shape.