Why Lithium Man?

In June of 2011, I had just finished a seven month effort to return to my early adult weight after having been sedentary for several decades (well, a couple of decades, anyway). One Sunday before church, I was out running on the St. Peters, MO trail when I found myself in the middle of a race, with the oddest dressed athletes I had ever seen. Wondering what that was, I did some Google work at home and discovered that I had wandered into the middle of the run portion of the St. Peters Spring Triathlon.

Like many people (OK, maybe just me), the only triathlons I had ever heard of were the Ironman™ (Ironman™ is a registered trademark of World Triathlon Corporation). I was making the wild guess that there was not a 140.6 mile race happening in St. Peters, especially since running is the last leg and it was still fairly early in the morning. This got me thinking, “Gee, I’m already doing some bicycling and running, and I grew up on a lake – I wonder if they have these things for old, slow people?”

Turns out they do.

There are several relatively standard distances for triathlons. The rules allow for variation to account for things such as needing to do the swim in a pool if no lake is available, and the problems of getting both a running and bike course of specific lengths in the same place. And some triathlons dispose of using a standard length at all. But in the US, the distances you tend to see are the following:

  • Sprint: 750 meter swim (often 400 m or yds if a pool is used) / 20 km cycling / 5 km run, a total of about 16 miles
  • Olympic/International/Standard: 1500 meter swim / 40 km cycling / 10 km run, a total of about 32 miles
  • Ironman™  70.3, or “Half Ironman™”: 1.2 mile swim / 56 miles cycling / 13.1 mile run, a total of 70.3 miles
  • Ironman™: 2.4 mile swim / 112 miles cycling / 26.2 mile run, a total of 140.6 miles

The musician or engineer will notice that the total distances have essentially an octave relationship (each one is about a factor of two different from the next):

  • Ironman™: 1.00
  • Ironman™  70.3: 0.50
  • Olympic: 0.23
  • Sprint: 0.11

So a sprint triathlon is about 1/8 of an Ironman™.

So it made me wonder: If finishing a 140.6 mile triathlon makes you an Ironman™, then what are you if you swim/bike/run 1/8 of that? Well, I reasoned that if the atomic number of  Iron (Fe) is 26, then 1/8 of that is about 3, which means at the end of your first sprint triathlon, you should be able to declare:

“I Am Lithium Man!”

Table of elements with triathlon distances overlaid

Periodic Table of Elements and Triathlons

So the correlations are

  • Ironman™: Iron
  • Ironman™  70.3: Aluminum
  • Olympic: Carbon
  • Sprint: Lithium

Frighteningly enough, I seem to be about the only geek who has noticed this. Not even Ozzie.

As an update, as of the 2012 Litchfield Triathlon, I am became Carbon Man, and with the 2013 Ironman 70.3 Steelhead, I am now Aluminum Man!

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