Jun 112023
Choose Your Own Adventure: Creating your Version of an Athlon

You know the word as a suffix after some prefix telling you how many events are included (if you remember your ancient Greek prefixes, that is) or something else about the competition: biathlon, duathlon, triathlon, pentathlon, heptathlon, decathlon, aquathlon. Whence the athlon?

For a while now I’ve referred to my version of a triathlon: A day in which I do yoga, ride my bike, and walk at least 5,000 steps. The activities don’t have to occur back to back in the day, I make no effort to do these fast, and I’m not competing against anyone. It’s simply applying the idea of three physical events counting for something. I did this yesterday and it got me thinking about the concept again.

Going in search of the term I learned that “athlon” is the prize for which Greek athletes competed, “athlete” itself deriving from the same root as “athlos” (contest) and “athlon”. I also learned that the triathlon as created in the US echoed Les Trois Sports of France, where the first such contest was run/bike/canoe.

As I poked around among the terms and learned about the aquathlon (swim/run), the duathlon (run/bike/run), team duathlon, and winter duathlon (run/cross-country ski/run), I kept thinking of how flexible the concept is. (Bear with me, competitive athletes who need to have an external bar against which to be measured.)

The homemade concept, at least, can be flexible. Pick how many events: bi, tri, etc. Pick whether you want to do them once or twice in the day; if you repeat the same event with another one in between it’s a duathlon.

Thus if I do my morning yoga (morning because I’m trying yet again to get back into a regular practice and this is a good time for consistency, before the day gets away from me); go for a good long walk in the woods at lunch or after work with my sweetheart; then do a bit of yin yoga at the end of the day to stretch and relax, I could call this a duathlon. Or maybe an asanathlon, to coin a term. (Edited to add: “Asanathlon” doesn’t reflect respect for yoga as a spiritual practice and on further reflection it feels like more of the Western and white co-optation of yoga that’s already so prevalent and problematic. Leaving it here with this added comment as a record of my learning.)

Carrying this creativity a bit further, why should all the activities need to be physical ones? Today I did yoga, made a pot of African yam peanut soup, did some gardening (planting, weeding, harvesting), and took a long bike ride with my sweetheart (working on getting some miles back in my legs so I can consider doing some touring again in the future). If I want to call that a quadathlon, why shouldn’t I?

Photo of a trophy made of chocolate

One last “wondering” on the list of things I’m wondering about this whole topic: Why don’t the words end in -athlos, for the contest, rather than -athlon, for the prize? In my version it’s the doing that counts. On the other hand, now I get to decide what my prize will be….

What’s your athlon?

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