The triathlete's body: outward appearance doesn't guarantee success

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Photo from Triathlete.com

The streets of Kona this week can be quite intimidating, from a body image perspective. Triathlete Magazine conducted a photo shoot at Dig Me Beach, resulting in an album of beautiful athletic specimens.

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Photo from Triathlete.com

Ironmen/women by nature are a disciplined, body-conscious group. While not everyone at World Championships this week has a magazine-cover body, those that do seem to be everywhere you turn on Ali'i Drive. But according to Dr. Donna Mitchell, who is there in the role of Sherpa this week, and also MarkAllenOnline coach Luis Vargas, being super lean and outwardly muscular doesn't guarantee success on race day.

Dr. Donna found herself assessing triathlete body types with her "Doctor's eyes":

Ali'i Drive has large displays of many of the previous male and female champions. While looking at the photos with my physician/athlete eye I noticed a remarkable difference in athlete appearances over the decades. This intrigued me so I pulled up some historical photos. In 1979, the champions were Tom Warren (11:46:58) and Lyn Lemaire (12:55:38).

Note that Lyn Lemaire was the first female Ironman. That year there were 15 starters, she the only female. Amazing! The race was held in January during one of the worst weather conditions.
The current fastest times were set by Chrissie Wellington in 2009 (8:52:02) and Craig Alexander in 2011 (8:03:56). Over the last 30 years, technology has improved allowing athletes to become faster and more efficient as well as training techniques have changed. From reading the article in Sports Illustrated and checking out the photos of the day, Ironman racing has become radically different. We are no longer racing in simple swimsuits, riding road bikes and running in t-shirts. The other notable difference is athletes body shapes.

This week in Kona, watching the scantly athletic clad bodies run up and down Ali'i Drive the majority of Ironman athletes stand out by their almost gaunt lean bodies, near zero body fat and cut muscles.

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Photo from Triathlete.com

Sometimes on quick glance, it is hard to distinguish the sex of the athlete. That is why it was so interesting to see the photos from 1979, and compare. Definitely, the men wore more body hair and though lean and fit. Lyn Lemaire looks fit but also 'woman curvy'. Though one could say that their times were slower than current Ironman Champions, I wonder if you matched equipment, course and conditions how much different would the times be in comparison. Definitely having a higher muscle mass to body weight ratio provides power as well as lightens the load carried when we climb on the bike (look at a cyclist body), or run for miles. Lowering body weight also improves our V0Max ( mL/(kg·min) ). So with the extremely muscular and minimal body fat athletes of today one can only wonder how much or if the winning times will change significantly over the next 10 years.

And, according to Coach Vargas:

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Photo from Triathlete.com

Everyone looks super fit in a championship race. But this is not a beauty contest. Being ripped is not a requirement as that is only a reflection of diet. Training and keeping your brain in the race with nutrition and pacing play a much bigger role than a single digit fat percentage.
Let go of the outcome. There is no jail time if you do not achieve your top dream goal. Being negative and fretting about it will do nothing. Think short term. What do I need to do now and nothing else? Your fitness and all the hard work will take care of the outcome. Just control the moment, pacing, nutrition, heart rate and keep moving forward.
Finally, it’s a long race and something always goes not according to plan. Rarely does everything go perfectly. You need to be relaxed, aware and positive to figure out how you can get back in the race and perform. Many people have won this race even with some bad luck. Surely you can still have the race you want even with some unexpected situations. Let it happen and enjoy the whole experience!

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