“How long is a triathlon?” How to answer those difficult questions from the endurance-sport-unaware

You just crossed the finish line at the Chicago Marathon and accomplished a life-long dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Among the many enthusiastic responses from your supportive friends you get the question that causes you to scratch your head: “So, how long is the Boston Marathon compared to the Chicago Marathon?

Before you go and bite their head off and dive into the history of the soldier Pheidippides and his run from a battlefield at the site of the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C., take a breath and think back to when you did your first race.

My first running race was a 5K and at the time that distance seemed as insurmountable to me as an Ironman triathlon seemed after doing my first sprint-distance triathlon. Given our educational apathy when it comes to the metric system I wasn’t even sure precisely how long a 5K truly was and certainly had no idea what distances were involved in an Ironman triathlon.

Similar conversations occur everyday and I’m often asked the distance of a triathlon. Do I dive into a dissertation about sprint-distance, long-distance, Olympic-distance, international-distance, half-Ironman, or Ironman-distance specifics? Do I whip out my personal copies of the rule books from the various triathlon governing bodies regarding course measurement accuracy and allowable deviations?

Instead of being shocked, outraged, or even mildly surprised, be encouraged. Encouraged that someone else is interested in the details, however mundane, of your athletic achievements. Further, be encouraged that they, in fact, might even be a prospect. A prospective future running, cycling, or swimming partner. If I can be talked into doing an Ironman over a bloody Mary without fully understanding what is involved, surely you can recruit a new endurance sports enthusiast if they have the initial curiosity to ask you about the details of your endurance conquests.

But take my advice with a grain of salt. I’m still not sure how long some of these races are; as a musician and an endurance athlete my measurement of any given race or training session isn’t generally evaluated in terms of kilometers, miles, minutes, or hours. Rather it’s measured in terms of how many songs will have to play in my mental playlist…5K = six songs…half marathon = 30 songs, marathon = 60 songs, half-Ironman = 95 songs, Ironman = 210 songs.

Does anyone have a 210-song mental playlist that I can borrow?

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