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TRIPOTENUSE, Leib Dodell posted 7/19/01
Leib Dodell is a former team member that now lives in San Francisco. He is an attorney and freelance writer and often writes articles for INSIDE TRIATHLON.

Pythagorus was a mathematician from the 6th century BC who was obsessed with the triangle. Pythagorusís catchy theorem for calculating the hypotenuse of a right triangle Ė a2 + b2 = c2 Ė is one of the few things most people remember from high school. Using the Pythagorean theorem, if you know the length of any two legs of a right triangle, you can very easily calculate the length of the third leg while at the same time writing out the lyrics to entire Pink Floyd songs on the back cover of your math notebook.

So what does this have to do with triathlon? Well, what doesnít usually make it into the high school textbooks is that Pythagorus was not only obsessed with the triangle, he was also interested in the triathlon. In fact, Pythagorusís famous theorem was originally devised to calculate the optimal location to rack your bike within a transition area. If Pythagorus knew the length and width of the transition area, he could calculate the exact rack location that would give him a leg up on all the other 6 century B.C. triathletes. It was centuries before the theory was found to have broader applications.

Unfortunately, some of Pythagorusís other triathlon theories never saw the light of day. They were discovered recently by a team of archeologists, along with a 2700-year-old half-eaten Powerbar, which they promptly finished off. For example, one of Pythagorusís lesser-known formulas was the following:

s2 + b2 +r2 = C2

This theory treats legs of a triathlon just like the legs of a triangle. Under this theory, all triathletes possess an innate, immutable level of conditioning (represented by the constant C), which can be calculated at any given point in time by adding the squares of their fitness in the swim (s2), bike (b2) and run (r2).

The implications of this theory are profound. For example, if you were to improve your conditioning for a given season in any two legs of the triathlon, letís say the swim and the bike, this would mean that mathematically your conditioning in the run would have to decrease proportionally. In other words, it is mathematically impossible to achieve optimal conditioning in all three legs of a triathlon simultaneously. Although Pythagorus got a lot of abuse from other triathlon mathematicians when this theory was first introduced, centuries of anecdotal evidence suggest that he was exactly correct.

But perhaps my all-time favorite of the Lost Triathlon Theorems is this one:

o = d Ė 1/a

You know that moment during a race when you feel like youíve finally loosened up, youíre in a rhythm and youíre ready to crank? I donít know about you, but in my case that moment always seems to come just before the end of the race, when it really doesnít do me any good. If Iím doing a tri with a 15 mile bike leg and a 5K run, Iíll feel tight and miserable on the bike for about 14.5 miles, and then all of sudden Iíll start feeling great . . . just in time to toss the bike and put on my running shoes. And then Iíll feel like crap for about 3.1 miles, and just as that finish like comes into view, suddenly Iíll start feeling like Steve Prefontaine.

Iíve always chalked this up to general lameness on my part . . . the whole race Iím suffering, and then once my brain realizes thereís nothing I can do about it, all of a sudden it starts telling me I feel great and I should crank it up. But Pythagorus proved that itís all mathematics. Under his theory, the optimum moment during any event (o) is mathematically bound to occur at the distance of the event (d) minus one over infinity Ė in other words, just an instant before the finish.

There are many more great tri theorems to pass along, but Iím also mindful of the fundamental mathematical theory of writing: f = btd Ė 1. In other words, finish the darn thing (f) at least one word before the reader gets bored to death (btd). Hopefully Iím not too late, I never was much good at math.