Conspicuous physical fitness displays have gained popularity since the rise of jogging. However, over-competitiveness can be a turn-off. The result is an increasing group of people who are regularly active, but just not so intense about it.
Paraphrased from Geoffrey Miller’s “Spent” (pp. 132-133): Jogging has become more popular since the 1970s leading to the popularity of annual marathons in major cities. However, as marathon running became more widespread and accessible it decreased in value as a differentiating fitness indicator. Additionally it isn’t very expensive to train or run a marathon, which requires usually only a pair of runners and an entry fee. According to Geoff, The Triathlon was invented to build a more attractive body that included a generally more muscular frame. Additionally the cost of equipment made it a good wealth indicator as well.
I’d like to zoom in on this example and add two comments.
First of all. Geoff throughout the entire book gets confused between classical evolutionary psychology which has forces over 10,000 years, and more recent cultural evolution which happens over timescales of decades down to days. The equivalent mistake would be like using tectonic plate shifts to explain an uneven sidewalk, when actually you tripped because the tree roots have grown under the path. The body of a modern triathlete would still look disgusting to most renaissance painters. They might prefer the charity marathon runner who finishes in 5 hours.
Secondly – What other forces are at work in public sporting displays? conscientiousness can be displayed well through charity running. However, others flock to beer runs, or other short distance celebrations just to show (in my words) “I’m reasonably fit, but alot of fun”. Hence the rise of the “ad-hoc-athon”
Just like jogging gave rise to the fun run. I think that there will be an emerging class of “fun triathlon” that I’m terming the “ad-hoc-athon”. By definition, participants will still do the same run, swim, bike activities, but with less focus on total time. A Boston example would be: Bike to Walden pond, swim across the lake and back, then run the lake trail. In between people can feel free to stretch, grab a quick bite, and even talk to people around them. At the end everybody can just pig out at a communal BBQ.
Today I did a gym based olympic ad-hoc-athon. 1500 meters or yards in the pool (not sure which one), 1 hour on the stationary bike talking to my companion paul, then a ~7 mile run around the Charles. In between we stretched and talked about energy policy. At the end we hit the student center for a couple of well-earned slices of pizza.
Next time we’ll invite others along, go for a bike on the minute-man trail when the weather is warm enough and even invite people to join for only one leg of the event. We’ll show people that being fit doesn’t mean you have to be so intense.