Why a book on the science of triathlon?

FASTER by Jim GourleyThere are plenty of books out there about triathlon training plans, nutrition, skills and mental toughness, but nothing about the science and physics that go into the sport of triathlon. To my knowledge, FASTER is the first book on the physics of triathlon.

It’s a topic that’s been ignored for far too long, and at great expense to the multitude of ambitious competitors out there trying to reach their full potential. If you look at the 2013 program for the International Triathlon Union’s “Science + Triathlon” conference, you see a number of discussions and presentations about periodization, training and managing the physiology of elite athletes, but nothing that talks about power or managing the physics of elite race courses.

Look in your typical triathlon magazine and read the articles dealing with science and technology. Most often they’ll discuss things in terms of a new product or gadget. That’s tragic, because focusing solely on devices or the internal science of the human body denies us the ability to look at how that body interacts with the world around it.

If knowledge is power, we only make use of half the available power. So why do we not pay more attention to it, and why should we start? The answers to those questions are the driving rationale behind FASTER, and they can be summed up in a few simple points.

1. Gear is a product of science. Triathletes are a unique breed of athlete. On the whole, we are more tech-savvy than the average marathoner, cyclist or swimmer. I’ve met triathletes who knew all kinds of personal physiological information about themselves and specifications related to their equipment, and could spit out numbers all day.

In a way, we have to do that because the gear and race fees can get so expensive. When you can only race so many times a year, you want to make the most of it. But when we call more buoyant wetsuits and lighter shoes “products,” we need to recognize that they are products of science.

Theory, research and observations led some very smart people to draw conclusions about how the human body interacts with the water and the road so that they could improve that item’s performance. A better bike is good. Even better is knowing how to use your better bike to its full potential through aero positioning or pacing or riding in crosswinds. Knowledge doesn’t just make products, knowledge is power. We can use that power to get better results.

2. Everyone thinks science is hard. We get scared as soon as someone says “physics,” because we think science makes things more complicated. That’s not true at all. Science is simply a way to describe what’s happening in the world around us.

If anything, being a triathlete makes you inherently better at understanding science, because you’re constantly experiencing it firsthand. You know how drag works on your hands and body in the pool. You can feel how increases in the pitch of the road make it harder to pedal uphill. You’ve felt in your feet that there is a distinct vertical component to your motion as you run.

All science does is give you a measuring stick for those things. Physics can do for you in a race what a thermometer hanging outside your window does for your life. You don’t have to go outside and feel the temperature before deciding what to wear, because your experience with the numbers on the thermometer gives you intuitive understanding. It’s the same thing with training and racing. With a little knowledge and a few numbers, you avoid the triathlon equipment of wearing your shorts and tank-top out into a snow storm.

3. People think science only happens on the bike. Anytime people hear the words “triathlon” and “science” in the same sentence, they assume the discussion is going to be about how fast a bike is. It goes back to our whole obsession with gizmos and toys. When we swim and run, we think that it’s all about our physiology because there’s no machine under us doing the actual traveling. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, science becomes more important in the water and on the road where there isn’t a machine making it easier to move forward.

And that’s why I wrote FASTER. I wanted to go beyond the things we already talk about and expand our conversation about how to get better at this sport. FASTER is an introduction to how science plays a part in triathlon, why it’s important, what help it can provide you, and how easy it is to apply it. It’s game film for the endurance athlete. It will make you a more educated competitor, and a smarter athlete has always been a better athlete.

If you’re interested in getting faster, you’ll be fascinated by FASTER: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed. In Faster, astronautical engineer and triathlon journalist Jim Gourley explores the science of triathlon to see what truly makes you faster—and busts the myths and doublespeak that waste your money and slow down your racing. With this knowledge on your side, you can make simple changes that add up to free speed and faster racing.

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