Like the 13.1 mile run the 70.3 distance has been called, "The Perfect Distance." There have even been a few books written about the 70.3 and titled as such. I'm not quite sure what perfect means in any context but the 70.3 has become extremely popular over the last ten years. Indeed it is half the distance of the Ironman 140.6 miles and more than double the distance of the Olympic or Standard distance of 32.1 miles. Maybe someone can write a book about the 32.1 being the even more perfect distance since it is the Olympic and International standard for triathlon and who can argue with the ITU or the International Olympic Committee (they seem to be too busy right now anyway.)
Among us mere mortals though the 70.3 exists either as that place we don't venture or that distance to which we'll go...eventually. In 2007 when Dt launched few of the athletes had bikes, none had wetsuits, when we began training in May. As their coach I was already in my 2nd or 3rd season of 70.3s and the last place I wanted any of my athletes venturing to was the perfect distance. I set up an Olympic for the end of their first season, the now legendary North Shore Triathlon that had the coldest water temperatures the team or most Arctic animals have encountered. In my opinion the Olympic allows for full expression of both endurance and speed, power and preparation. For those folks who had yet to figure out which side the zipper side of a wetsuit goes on it was perfect. But I could already see that for more than a few something had been triggered in them. And within the next 9 years all of them had trained for and finished their 70.3 (in fact five of them would finish a 140.6.)
And while many in that first class have semi-retired to running and other things it seems that even to them the 70.3 is a demarcation which perhaps provides the best context on the excitement and fear the 70.3 distance incites.
- It is that distance in which triathlon is no longer a weekend happening. In fact the title of this article should be, "I've Got No Time for a 70.3". Another title could be, "Testing My Relationships." "How to Get Divorced", is the title for the as yet to be written 140.6 article. Just a casual glance at any 70.3 training plan (see ours here) will tell you you'll spending more time with your bike than cuddled on the couch making kissy faces. Putting in a 50 mile bike ride on a Saturday, just that, dictates the rest of your Saturday one way or another. And you'll be doing at least two swims during the week - those are so easy to fit into schedules. Conversely it is all about commitment ... to the 70.3. But that is also the appeal of the 70.3 - it is one of those events where you're all in buddy. Kind of like committing to marathon except you'll be doing about 1/3 more work.
- It is that distance where things actually wear out. When you train that much things wear out, things happen, the center won't hold. What wears out? Tires, gearing, running shoes, the aforementioned relationships in your life, your other hobbies, you. A couple of years ago as the squad was getting ready for Pumpkinman flat tires became the norm during training, running sneakers were becoming flip-flops, and people with weeks to go were becoming training zombies. Staying away from the injury curve was a full time sport on its own. I completed a 65 mile ride with our last 70.3 hold out and was rewarded with a training ending injury. We weren't asking athletes to have pre-race tune-ups we were threatening to have their bikes condemned. Training for the 140.6 in some ways is easier as you wear so much out that by the time you get to race day you'll have replaced everything twice including your job, significant other, and your body (cause you're an Ironman god/goddess!)
- It is that distance that changes your body. Sure a sprint and Olympic can do likewise but you'll have to be disciplined about it making sure your nutrition and support exercise (lifting, pilates, bocceball) are also well pursued. And you'll need a few sprints and Olympics to reap the benefits of continuous training. But for 70.3, whatever it is we stuff into a wetsuit and drag out to the beach for the swim start can't help but be chiseled. Now let's differentiate "chiseled" as in "ripped" or "cut" but a body that can swim 1.2 miles, then cycle 56 and then run 13.1 will get a few glances. Now, if you even do minor research on any 70.3 race you'll note that unlike other races where there is post race food they instead have "troughs". Timberman 70.3 is a good example. The feeding trough they have set up post race makes McDonald's look like a hippie wheat-grass and kale spread. Why? Because the race folks need to toss back into you the equivalent of a blue-whale in calories so that you don't pass out on the way home. And guess what? They have a beer garden for the athletes. Sprint, Olympic, and Ironman athletes don't get that.
- it is that distance where fueling becomes a thing. Fueling strategy is a thing in any distance of triathlon but for Olympic and Sprint it has more to do with pre-loading and morning of. In the 70.3 distance if you don't fuel right just before the swim, during the ride, and the run you could be kissing asphalt or worse. Think about it: during the ride you are fueling for a whole other event while depleting yourself. And when you're training you have to do likewise. Never mind swim stroke count, average power, or bpm it's a caloric game of chicken played like a chess master. You damn well better train your body to eat that kale-broccoli caffeinated gel with a gulp of your protein mixed puke water at exact intervals during the ride if you even want to make it to the first porta-potty on the run to unleash all the horror that's been building in you for the past six hours.
- It is the distance where triathlon isn't really triathlon. Triathlon is so much fun because one moment you're swimming and the next biking - oh so much fun! During a sprint you're still dripping at the end of the run from the swim. Weeeee! At the 70.3 distance you can be in the middle of the ride wondering what you did earlier that day. Recovered from the swim? The swim was a time zone ago - who cares about the swim? Remember how much fun it was to fly through transition at a sprint and it actually made a difference? In a 70.3 your priority is to make sure you're prepared for the next sport cause you're going to be at it for quite awhile. Most people get medals for doing any one of the things you're doing that day. This ain't a triathlon. It's a swim. It's a bike. It's a run. What the hell is a triathlon?
I guess it is the perfect distance because it is when you prepare to be perfect. And there is one more to add to the list above. It is that distance at which your understanding of triathlon is perfect.