An unscientific calculation of the triathlon cool quotient.
One thing I’ve discovered during my short triathlon career is there are certain behaviors deemed socially acceptable by triathletes (what I’m generously calling “tri-cool”), and certain behaviors that are clearly socially unacceptable, hence the term “tri-dork.” As a rather new entrant into the sport, coming from a running background, the distinction between what is cool and what is dorky hasn’t always been clear to me, especially on the swimming and biking sides of things.
When I first got an aero helmet, I thought it was the coolest thing ever and wore it everywhere until a friend pulled me aside and said, “Dude, these guys aren’t going to let us ride with them anymore if you keep wearing that helmet.” To which I replied, “WHAT?! I CAN’T HEAR YOU THROUGH THESE EAR GUARDS!”
So this month, I tried to tackle the question: Am I a tri-dork? If so, what can I do to lessen my dorkiness, perhaps even venture briefly to the cool side? To answer this question, I informally polled my Twitter and Facebook followers to see what they thought was cool, and of course, what was dorky. The results* are below.
Using the brain that consistently scored me near the mean in my engineering courses, I came up with some fairly average conclusions:
According to the “data,” aero helmets and compression socks are the big winners—or losers. Apparently it’s not cool to wear aero helmets or compression socks outside of an actual race. Why? Is it considered poor fashion? Eye-poking hazard? Let’s be honest, we can’t blame it on that. Triathletes are anything but fashionable when it comes to racing and training gear, and they’re always in some kind of protective eyewear (aviators are best).
I think the backlash derives from the general aversion to “racing” when you aren’t at a race. Nobody likes the guy who races the workout. And wearing your racing kit at inappropriate times may remind people of that. But what’s the big deal with trying out your race equipment before race day? It seems insane to me that you would go through all this training and prep, and then wear completely new, unused items during a race! There, I said it! I’m an aero helmet trainer! No, I don’t wear my aero helmet on group rides, but every once in a while I wear it on a training ride. And when I do, I ride when no one is around and I beeline straight out of town, full of shame. But … I think it’s worth it. You sweat differently, it is weighted differently and it can affect your position. Same with your race kit. Why not try them out before spending two to 12 hours in them on race day?
The racing question brings up another contradiction. Triathletes seem to think a certain level of preparedness is allowed, but if you prepare too much, it’s dorky. Why is this? If I wear my race chip before my race because I want to make sure I don’t forget it on race day, it’s dorky. If I mark my transition spot with a balloon—even if it’s a Chuck Norris balloon—it’s dorky. If I wear a second watch in case one breaks, that’s also dorky? (OK, that is dorky.) But still, I’ve never heard anyone say packing my transition bag before race day is dorky, or sleeping enough, or laying out my clothes in anatomical position on the floor like I was lying there and then vanished, is dorky. What’s the difference? Either way, I’m preparing for a race and trying to take things off my mind. Guilty as charged! According to the responses, there’s a threshold of allowable equipment expense, and this threshold varies given your speed during competition. Basically, the faster you are, the more you are allowed to spend on equipment without risking dorkiness. For example: Super-slow guy with a bit of a beer belly who doesn’t train much but has a super nice bike, wetsuit and cryogenic muscle-freezing chamber is the king of dorkiness. And according to the data, the opposite is also true—you can be super-cool if you are both fast and your equipment is old and crappy. So if you show up and win a big race on a borrowed bike, eating PB&J sandwiches, wearing a hand-me-down kit and drugstore aviators, you’re supposedly really cool? I hate to break it to you guys, but I know a guy who did that, and he’s the biggest dork I know.