In touch with the Zeitgeist?

At around 35k into the cycle leg of today’s Mooloolaba triathlon, with a strong headwind[1] and the seat feeling very hard, I was wondering “why am I doing this”. At the time, the question was more like “why did I get out of bed this morning”, but there’s also a question as to why a middle-aged academic like myself is doing something like this at all.

My own causal account is pretty simple. I gave up my old sport, karate, for a variety of reasons, then started “boot camp” style training (minus silly uniforms and other pseudo-military stuff). to keep fit. As a consequence, I found that, whereas the distance I could comfortably run had been measured in 100s of metres, it was now measured in kilometers. But I still wasn’t particularly fast and my reasoning (captured by a T-shirt I saw today) was, “why suck at one sport when you can suck at three”. And indeed, so it has turned out, but I still enjoy it and keep trying.

So, that’s the purposive agent account. But (while I was not consciously aware of this at the time) triathlons are booming and not just in Australia. So, it seems, there is some general zeitgeist which I (and thousands of others) have somehow been driven by. This is not a unique occurrence

An alternative hypothesis, at least in some cases, is that there is no zeitgeist, merely a tendency to pay more attention to social phenomena that resonate with our own experience. In my early days of fatherhood, I acquired a sudden, and shortlived interest in babies generally. Grandfatherhood hasn’t the same effect, possibly because my grandson is so much cuter than any other possible baby (or, now, toddler).

For those interested, I finished in 3:16:12, shaving three minutes of my time for last year, but well to the back of the field (2335/2667).

fn1. Headwinds on the return cycle leg constitute an officially recognised Excuse for slow performance, along with currents, heat etc. By contrast, my PB time on the outward cycle leg is down to grit, determination and all-round athleticisim


Posted via email from John’s posterous

26 thoughts on “In touch with the Zeitgeist?

  1. In tough with the Zeitgeist?

    But then a Zeitgeist with booming triathlons may be an echo of the dissemination of Markowitz’s portfolio theory – no?

  2. “but there’s also a question as to why a middle-aged academic like myself is doing something like this at all.”

    You could look at the question in reverse — why isn’t everyone else doing things like that? I guess the answer depends on how much you care about being healthy in your old age. If you’re interested in physiology, then you’ll find the only way you can reduce cardiovascular decline (and hence the nasty things that come with it) is to do reasonably hard excersize reasonably often. A similar pattern emerges with muscle decline and atrophy. The only way to stop it is constant excersize. Traithlon is good for both of these since it is mainly an aerobic sport and it also uses most muscle groups.

  3. Perhaps triathlons are becoming more popular because of the ageing population? It’s hard to compete with youngsters in sports involving good reflexes, but it is still possible to rock in endurance sports when when is quite long in the teeth (or receeded in the gums).

  4. Is it zeitgeist (which tries to make it sound profound) or simply imitative, fad-following herd behaviour?

  5. @Ronald Brak
    That’s certainly part of the story. From what I can see, for the mass of participants, there’s no real age effect until about 45, after which you can add a minute a year (for a 1.5/40/10 Olympic distance tri). I’ve seen the same estimate for marathons.

    So, age explains approximately 15 per cent of the gap between me and the fastest finishers (around 2 hours).

  6. @Sam
    Deleted now, looks like a bug in Akismet rather than newly effective spambots. I got this message “Akismet was unable to check this comment (response: ), will automatically retry again later.”

  7. You did much better than you think. Your position puts you in the top .01% ahead of the other other 22 million who couldn’t (wouldn’t) be bothered to start, myself included.

  8. You are doing quite well, John. I went on one of these fun run things once and I still haven’t finished it. I got halfway, realised that what I was experiencing wasn’t what could be called fun by any stretch of the imagination, and walked home as I decided that if I wasn’t going to enter into the spirit of the thing and have fun then I didn’t deserve to participate. Also, there was cold linoleum to lie down on at home.

  9. BilB :
    You did much better than you think. Your position puts you in the top .01% ahead of the other other 22 million who couldn’t (wouldn’t) be bothered to start, myself included.

    That’s not really very fair. We ought to have some sort of progressive time levelling system to transfer some of that speed from the super fit to the plodders. After all rampant competition makes people feel bad. 😉

  10. Well, you’ve done it now, John. You have inspired me to buy a bicycle. I figure with a few trips a week and no punctures it will pay for itself inside a year in fuel savings. I could say that it would save me gym membership money, but I think I can safely say I wasn’t going to be paying for any gym membership anytime soon. But as a sign of how decadent I have become, I think I will pay K-mart $16.50 to put the bicycle together for me rather than doing it myself simply because it makes my life easier. I’m a little worried that this will set off a process where I’ll end up paying people to chew my food for me, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

  11. Ronald Brak, don’t buy a bike from K-Mart – they are junk. Get one from a bike shop. It will cost you more, but will last much, much longer, will not turn to rust overnight, and no assembly will be required.

  12. Also, the bike shop will help adjust the bike to you properly, so you don’t find it uncomfortable to ride, decide cycling sucks and then leave it in the shed to gather cobwebs. That happens too often with new cyclists who don;t have their bikes properly adjusted.

  13. Unless there has been a major change in bike theft rates, I’m buying the cheapest bike I can afford. (Which would be very cheap indeed now that I think about it.)

  14. My only advice on bikes would be a get one with an upper horizontal bar (linking back and front) as part of the frame. Some newer bikes can have a more stylish curved bar, which looks great, but is a pain to mount on a rack (from my limited experience).

  15. Actually, Tim, now that I think about it, I had an expensive Trek bike in Japan (15,000 yen second hand) that was good to ride and when I came to Australia I bought a cheap bike from K-mart that hurt my behind so much I ended up selling it to a 10 year old for $4. But now that you’ve warned me and refreshed my memory about my bad experience with a K-mart bike, I can safely buy one from K-mart, secure in the knowledge that I will ride it no matter how painful it is rather than admit that I was stupid for not paying attention to you.

  16. Thanks for the advice Troy, but I was going to get one with an upper horizontal bar anyway as I figured it would be stronger than a ladies’ bike. Can I say ladies’ bike? Stronger than a kilted Scotman’s bike. Scotswoman. Scotsperson!

  17. Ronald Brak, it’s an interesting question about the bike theft rate. It’s my (entirely anecdotal and unscientific impression) that it doesn’t seem to be as bad as it used to be.

    About ten years ago I had two bikes stolen in the space of a year, one of them from the apartment block I was living in at the time. The thieves also used a very large bolt cutter to chop through the expensive ‘bolt cutter proof’ chainlock. Around the same time, some aquaintances of mine also had bikes stolen from the secure bike-locking facilities at their workplaces. I now have more expensive/attractive bikes than I used to, and I use cheaper chainlocks, but I haven’t had a bike stolen for a decade. But hell, it’s probably blind luck.

    My old K-mart bike (which was also stolen) wasn’t too unpleasant to ride, but most of the unpainted components turned to rust after about 12 months.

  18. Ronald Brak :
    Thanks for the advice Troy, but I was going to get one with an upper horizontal bar anyway as I figured it would be stronger than a ladies’ bike.

    [Blush] ok, that explains it then:P Ta

  19. You didn’t know bikes with a step through frame were called ladies bikes back in the Devonian? I salute you sir (or madame or sirdame or madir), you are a liberated individual. But the only bike I saw with mud flaps had a step through frame. I think someone with some kind of fetish must have gone and removed all the mudflaps from the bicycles in the store.

  20. @Ronald Brak
    The only reason I brought it up in the 1st place is that my wife and I recently purchase our 1st bike over Christmas and last weekend we had WWIII in the Prideaux household after I spat my dummy from trying to mount her bike on our new car rack. Because hers was a newer model than mine, I erroneously assumed the frame design difference could have stemmed from model revision. Oh well, it’s good to learn these things, maybe not in such a public way though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s