Outdoor track season continues, which means my afternoons are a series of frantic attempts to attend to each and every one of the different events that comprise a high school meet. On a typical day, one of my assistants sends the distance runners on their way, another takes the hurdlers, and I go with the throwers because today we will work on javelin and — if we have time — discus. I am tortured by the fact that I haven’t spent any time this week on long and triple jump. Maybe tomorrow, after we work on relay exchanges.
The funny thing is that there are days when I actually start thinking like a sprinter, or jumper, or thrower. On those days, I have this crazy idea that it would be fun to try a multi-event some day.
If you’ve run with me more than a few times, we’ve probably talked about the “personal decathlon.” The idea is that if you choose them carefully, you can choose ten “events” that are so well suited to your particular talents and abilities that in a competition with the rest of the seven billion humans on planet Earth, you would win.
It’s a lot of fun to ponder which events give you the best chance to win. Of course, you don’t need to be the best in any of them, you just need to be pretty good in all of them, and to choose events that make it virtually impossible for anyone else in the world to beat you when all of the events are aggregated. Can you swim? According to unreliable Internet statistics, 54% of the world’s population can’t swim, so that effectively eliminates more than 3.5 billion people. On the other hand, it still leaves more than 3 billion people! Maybe it would be better to think about what you can do better than 95% of the world’s population. Find ten such events with little overlap between them, and (if my math isn’t too far off), you might be the best in the world in your personal version of the decathlon!
Ok, so what does my PD look like? Well, let’s start with a long-distance race of some kind — make it long enough to weed out most of the young, naturally talented kids with no training — let’s say a 10K. That’s an easy choice. But after that…
My second event will be chess. I’m not sure how to translate chess prowess into a numerical score, but I think that problem can be solved. And although I’m nowhere near an expert, I’m fairly certain I’m better than 95% of the world’s population.
My third event will involve composing limericks.
My fourth event will be miniature golf. No, scratch that — I’m not that good, and I’ll bet a lot of people who have never tried it would pick it up really quickly. On the other hand, it would certainly make the whole event more light-hearted. Let’s leave it in.
At the end of the first day, the final event will be throwing small balls or crab apples at targets of some sort (my first thought was to use cats as targets, in honor of my father who loved this sport, but in the end I decided not to incur the wrath of my spouse and PETA). I include this event because I want to believe that all those summers when I did little else were not entirely wasted.
Day 2 begins with another running event — a predicted time run. The event will be conducted without watches and the object is to run a fixed distance (say 400 meters) as close to a predicted time as possible.
My sixth event will be speed-“spreadsheeting” — given Microsoft Excel and a problem to be determined by the judges (for example, calculating scores and tabulating results of a decathlon), create a spreadsheet to do it, using conditional formatting, lookup functions, and cell protection. I think after this event, I’ll have an insurmountable lead, but just in case…
Event 7 — Sudoku?
Event 8 — Juggling?
Event 9 — Spelling bee?
Deciding on the final event is not easy. I’m tempted to throw in one more running event, but I worry that by doing so, I would be vulnerable against all the good runners out there, one of whom might just be a chess-playing, sudoku-solving geek like me. It occurs to me that the only true way to ensure victory is to allow each competitor to choose the tenth event ad hoc, after seeing what your competitors can and can’t do.
But I know that’s a dodge. Alright, here goes. The tenth and final event will be commuting — I spend so much of my life getting from home to work to school to work to track to home by every possible means of transportation that surely this would put me over the top.
What events would you put in YOUR personal decathlon?