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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ironman Tips, Round 3: Special Needs

As I said in the first of this series of posts, I can only comment on the experiences I actually had. However, a lot of the mystery is in what comes before the race rather than what’s in it and in that regard, I do have what I think is helpful advice.

A full Ironman (or competitor’s equivalent) will have special needs bags during the run and the bike? What goes in this bag? You decide. That said, some choices are better than others.

I’m going to work on the assumption that you will be dropping off your bag on the morning of the race prior to arriving at the starting area. In the case of Boulder, the drop-off location is downtown near Boulder High School and before you get on the bus that takes you out to the reservoir for the start. Last year, my brother and I dropped ours off in the wee hours of the morning (like 4:00 or so) and caught one of the first shuttles (school buses) from Boulder High out to the reservoir.

Personal preference plays into this quite a bit but here are few general tips that I’ve come up with based on my experiences last year.

1)    You won’t get it back. Don’t put anything of real value in the bag because it won’t be given back to you. All unclaimed items end up in the trash. It’s not a terrible idea to have an extra pair of socks, for example, but make it an older pair that you won’t mind losing. Hopefully you won’t need them anyway.

2)    If it can melt, don’t pack it. I put a couple of KIND bars in my bag, one of which had chocolate and the other had a PBJ mixture. Both delicious and both a big gooey mess. Bags are stored outside and in the potentially hot sun. Unless you have a high level of confidence that it won’t be warm on your race day, I would avoid such items.

3)    Don’t pack course-supported items. This ought to be obvious but I’ve heard stories of folks packing things that are provided by the race. I can’t speak to other brands, but a WTC, Ironman branded event will be very well supported (it’s part of what the hefty entry fee goes toward). Take advantage of what’s free at the aid stations and pack unique items they don’t offer.

4)    Not just food. As I indicated in item 1 above, you might pack a spare pair of socks or if you are legitimately concerned about cold, a hat or gloves (unlikely to be needed in most races but there are exceptions). My brother had notes from his kids providing encouragement. You don’t need much but a few minor items like that are helpful.

5)    Quick to eat. Something that you can chomp down in a minute or less is best. Odds are you’re going to be dry mouthed and your stomach will probably have shrunk down to the size of an orange so abundant or hard to chew items may be difficult. What’s best is something you can eat as you ride or run along, but keep in mind, you may need water to wash it down as well.

6)    Don’t plan around it. Special Needs Bags can provide some welcome relief, even something to look forward to, but things happen and a race plan that depends on items in the bag is flawed. I could have lived without my KIND bars last year. Sure they were better than the gels I had been eating but they also did not make my day. Thinking of your special needs bag as an insurance policy is a better way to go. If things go really wrong (like your feet are soaked or you are demoralized and need a message from a family member) then it will help. Otherwise, be ready to treat it like any other race.

At an Ironman event, you’ll get a number of color-coded bags including two special needs for bike and run. They’re about the size of a standard shopping bag. Spend some time thinking about what you want to add and have everything organized for race morning. It will be one less thing to stress about.

Like my other advice, this is pretty specific and will not apply to all people nor all situations. However, with any luck, I’ve given you something to think about.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Race Report: Colorado Triathlon

Since Ironman Boulder was the only real race on the docket for me last year, it had been 657 days since my last Olympic distance race and 636 days since I finished a race at all. Suffice it to say, although this was not my “A” race, I was still champing at the bit to get back out there.

PRE-RACE

The plan was always to head up to Boulder from home, a drive of about an hour so that meant waking up at 4:30to eat and load up for the trip. The morning meal ahead of a race has been pretty solid for me so a bagel with cream cheese, a smoothie and a banana sated me. I also had a cup of coffee on the way—it was before 5:00 amafter all!
At that hour, traffic to Boulder was mercifully light and I made the venue with plenty of time to spare. That was a good thing because much to my chagrin that morning, my front tire had gone completely flat. I have no idea what happened but I was especially concerned that the problem was a tire, not the tube.
I racked my bike in transition and then took the front wheel to the bike support tent which was staffed by the good folks from Colorado Multisport. I had brought my own spare tube with me and they were happy to change it out for me. As they began the process, the technician looking things over was concerned with my tire. While there was nothing overtly wrong, he decided to change it out. Just like that, he grabbed a new tire out of a bin and put it my wheel. I asked about paying for it later on but they just said no problem. If you are in or near Boulder, this is the kind of company you probably want to patronize. I don’t see myself in the market for a new tri bike any time soon, but if I am, they’re likely to be my first stop.
With that worry out of the way, I set up my minimalist transition area and got body marked. Despite not having been through the process for some time, it all went just fine. After dropping off my last items, I came across my coach who was there primarily to support a group of newbies who had been training all winter for their first ever race (there was also a Sprint event). His advice to me: Go fast.
While actually an Olympic distance race, the philosophy was much the same as a sprint. Push hard, especially in advantageous areas such as downhills. Stay mentally focused and really aim to go at maximum effort for the distance. In other words, don’t let my mind wander to things other than executing the strategy.
Then it was time to get a couple of warm-up laps in before the start. I had been concerned about water temps, but getting in provided no shock. To be honest, I’ve been less comfortable getting into my rec center pool lately. I felt a little winded during the warmup but was hoping that would pass. As is usually the case, swimming was my strong point and I expected to do well.

THE SWIM

While not right on time, the race started soon enough with elites and pros going in the first wave, followed by my group, three minutes later. It was a waist deep start which is good and after a short wait, we were off.
Initially the winded feeling came back to me and I just struggled to find a comfortable pace. It took around five minutes but then my heart rate caught up and I as making comfortable strokes forward.
This particular swim course at Boulder Reservoir starts of facing east which means sun in your eyes and sighting much past the next buoy more or less impossible. I was however able to stay on a straight line. I think most of the variability below is due to GPS signal issues rather than me wavering around:




After making the turn and heading for the finish arch, I was somewhat pleased to see I was catching swimmers in the wave that preceded me. I did not expect to catch any of them but clearly even the best of triathletes struggle with the water portion of the event.
I kept stroking forward until my hand dragged on the ground, a good indicator that it’s time to stand up and run the rest of the way.
My Time: 26:36
Official Time: 0:27:40 including the run to transition
I had the course a bit long as well at 1816 yards vs the expected 1640.

T1

My bike was a bit wobbly in its rack and that made for a bit of a distraction. Fortunately, I got myself through reasonably quickly. I had purposely chosen a spot near the swim in/run out section. I soon found myself moving out quickly.
My Time: 1:59
Official Time: 1:55

THE BIKE

My Garmin watch seems to jump transition zones if you just look at it wrong so when I hit the lap button to start the bike, it actually had me entering T2. I managed to reset quickly back to bike mode and then proceeded out of the park.




A few people flew by me, but I honestly don’t think the race is won or lost in that initial section. In fact, from the start all the way up US36 was where my coach actually said I did not have to push quite as hard. There’s a lot of climbing so I was still around 205 watts for the section but it was definitely not maximum effort either. I continued as this steady pace until reaching Broadway where the first major downhill of the race is encountered.
It’s great to roll downhill after several minutes of putting forth a hard effort. However, this particular section of highway is also where you encounter bottlenecks on the course and faster traffic on the highway. Perhaps I’m more easily frightened as I get older, but I was a bit tentative here and while I did pick up some speed, I was not especially aggressive.
After climbing out of this section, the course is more flat to up and I cruised along at a respectable effort but again, was saving my legs for what was to come.
What was to come was a nice steady downhill on Nelson Road. This same section is on the Ironman Boulder course, but you are headed up hill and it gets very demanding, even demoralizing. On this day however, I was able to shift into the big ring and bomb on down to 63rd Street. I averaged 28.5 mph through this section and I have no doubt it was a big contributor to my overall time.
Turning right on 63rd Street is a slowdown, but overall, the section is characterized by rollers. Again I tried my best to keep up consistent effort. Primarily, I sought to keep my effort going until I had crested a hill and then ease up once gravity got ahold of me and started the downhill coast.
There has been a bit of an easterly breeze which I noticed riding down Nelson but now it was at my back and it allowed me to make decent time heading southwest back toward the reservoir. In races past, this is a place where I might have a gel but I had fueled well enough earlier in the morning, I felt no nutritional deficiencies so I just kept going strong.
The roll back down 51st Street to the reservoir entrance was uneventful and soon enough, I was at the dismount line and ready to complete the final stage.

My Time: 1:09:23
Official Time: 1:09:31

T2

I really had intended to put the Yankz on my new shoes this week, but by the time Friday night rolled around, I really just wanted to get to sleep. As a result, for the first time I transitioned into running shoes I had to tie. Not a big deal but not something I’m going to practice going forward either. Again, my front tire wanted to turn making the bike wobbly, but I got out okay and was soon headed out.
My Time: Don’t have one thanks to Garmin issues
Official Time: 1:55


THE RUN

A good thought to have when you are in transition is “Hurry up and get out there.” Obviously you want to make sure you have everything you need but it makes a lot of sense to carry items with you and start running. You might be slower but you are moving toward your goal as opposed to stationary in transition where time is the enemy.
Leaving transition and heading up the hill on the main road through the area. It’s characterized by a single tree that more or less marks the top. It’s not a steep hill, but you do sort of feel it as you are trying to get your body to switch from riding to running.




At this point, I was feeling pretty good and passing a few people. Making the left turn onto the first of two flat dams, I kept my pace in the low 8:00 range here but I could tell it was going to be hard to sustain. My HR was getting higher but I felt okay so I just kept the pace going as cleared the first mile, rounded the bend between the dams and then started on the second one.
The end of the first dam sees you headed down a bit of an incline around a spillway and then back up a hill of equivalent size. It got to me a little bit but I kept chugging along, now albeit a pace more decidedly above 8:00 per mile.
Unlike past events out here where the run takes you on a gravel road along a canal, we went on more of a jeep trail (two tracks with weeds in the middle) to the turn around. It made passing one guy a little tricky but otherwise okay. The woman ahead of me was going at a good pace so I stayed a few yards back from her. It helped, but she was also wheezing and struggling and sounded the way I do when I’m doing a 200 meter drill at all out pace. Eventually, wheezing and all, she broke away from me and I think finished about 30 seconds before I did.
After the turn, I saw my pace drop some more but almost always below 8:30 per mile except for a couple of climbs. I was hurting a bit by this point and feeling really anxious to finish up. Even as I got through the 0.5 mile-to-go point, it felt like forever to the finish line.
Passing that one tree at the top of the hill I saw my coach who encouraged me to keep going and treat the remainder like a “400 meter drill” which sounded awful. Nevertheless, it was downhill so I put on as much speed as I could muster and held it until things flattened out. It’s not exaggeration to say that I was pretty much putting all I had into my effort at this point, but finally,  reached the end and, just as I did at the Harvest Moon in 2014, jumped onto the slip-and-slide finish.
My Time: 50:58
Official Time: 51:23

My Overall Time: 2:30:51
Official Time: 2:33:20

My efforts were good enough for 8th place out of 19 in my age group and 50th place out 218 overall. It’s better than my 2014 race in Steamboat (even when you factor out the flat tire incident) and better than my 2012 Rattlesnake Triathlon which was one of my best at the time.

I’m in recovery mode this week and then next week I think I’ll feel re-energized to start training hard again. There are not many weeks left until the big day and I think I’m starting to zero in on being fully prepared.

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Colorado Triathlon Race Plan


I’ve mentioned Helmuth von Moltke the Elder here before and I do so again because it’s still so relevant for planning a race. To paraphrase von Moltke; no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. 
Try though I may, the likelihood of actually executing this to even 75% accuracy seems low. Nevertheless, here’s what I’m thinking going into this weekend’s race:

PRE-RACE
Boulder is typically only an hour’s drive from my home but I’ll pad that a bit just to be careful. It mean a pretty early morning (like before 5:00 am early) but rushing through transition set up is a miserable feeling.
My morning ritual of a bagel with cream cheese and some kind of bottled smoothie has served me well and I’ll continue with that. I’ll also have a cup of coffee because race day is no day to give up caffeine (is any day?). 
The goal is to be on the road by 5:15 latest with an ETA at Boulder Reservoir by 6:30 but hopefully sooner. At worst, I’ll have 45 minutes to get checked in and setup.
It’s a first come, first serve arrangement in transition but my experience is that Without Limits does a nice job of making things available. The race is also capped at 500 athletes so unlike some other events, I don’t anticipate a lot of problems finding a space. 
I only did a single race last year and it was for multiple transition areas, but I’m not new to the process of setting up an area. I’ll do my usual small setup.
Water temps are likely to be pretty cold. Probably not paralytic, but not exactly the bathtub either. Getting in and acclimated will be my first priority once transition is set up. Then I’ll do some back and forth swims to get my heart rate up a bit. I have the benefit of being in the second wave so I get to start at about 7:33.
THE SWIM
This is going to be my first foray into open water for the season. That’s not ideal but it’s also nothing new. According to the recently-published start list, I have 77 people in my wave. That’s a lot but there comes a point at which additional numbers just don’t matter. I think something above 25 means a washing machine.
I’m generally a faster than average swimmer but not so much at the start. Despite being warmed up, I expect a few minutes of breathlessness as I try to find a rhythm. I should be able to accomplish that within 200 yards.
This is the point where I expect I’ll start pulling ahead of those who went out too fast. The first wave consists of elites and pros and I don’t expect to catch any of them. That’s a good thing since it will leave more open water in front of me. I don’t necessarily expect to be front of the pack, but even if I’m in the top third, things should be less crowded. 
I’m anticipating an average pace of just over 60 yards a minute (a conservative estimate). That equates to a swim exit at 26:15 assuming the course is accurately measured. You never know when it comes to that.
Goal Time 26:15

T1
The last Olympic distance race I did was in Steamboat nearly two years ago. It had the benefit of short distances in and out of transition. Boulder Reservoir is such that I think I’ll need a little more time this year. Based on past events using a swim exit similar to this one, I anticipate around 1:15 will elapse as I make my way to my bike. That, of course, will vary depending upon where I get to rack in transition. Ideally, it will be close to the swim exit, but that’s not certain.
Forgoing socks for the ride has proven to be a huge time saver and I’ll stick with that. That makes stripping my wetsuit the most time consuming part of transition and I’ve budgeted one and a half minutes for that. I feel fairly confident that once I’m in my shoes and helmet I can get out to the mount line in another 45 seconds. 
Goal Time 3:30

THE BIKE
Things are always a little crowded as you head out of Boulder Reservoir. The road out is narrow and there are lots of folks on it. As I have in the past, I’ll use this time to get settled in and get my legs loosened out. This should only take two minutes.
Rolling up and down the hills on 51st Street is also a sometimes crowded location but it improves as you move south toward Jay Road. My own experience with Jay is that this where the field opens up. There will be some passing and getting passed, but in a smaller race, the big log jams should be absent. 
This is, at best, a “B” race so while I do want to put a solid effort behind each stage, I’m not especially worried about setting a PR or making a good showing in my age group. I’ll attack hills in low gears with a high spin rate and take advantage of higher speeds on downhills and straightaways. Overall, though, this will really be a shakedown event.
Goal Time: 1:14:30
T2
The transition from bike to run is always faster for nearly everyone including me. Again, my rack location will factor in, but I anticipate being able to complete the run-in in about a minute. Getting out of the helmet and bike shoes and into socks and running shoes should only take about 45 seconds and expect to be able to exit in 45 seconds as well.
Goal Time: 2:30
THE RUN
The original course maps had the run as a two loop (or more specifically a two out-and back) format. In other words, run 1.55 miles to a turn-around, run back, and then repeat. The athlete guide now shows the run course to be the same as that used for the Boulder Peak which is out to the north boundary of the reservoir property and then back. It will make for a cleaner, less crowded course.
Similar to the bike, I plan to let the terrain help me. The initial part of the run course involves a slight incline but then the net mile and a half is a flat and/or down stretch. The course is mostly flat though there is a section around a spill way that involves some mild climbing. The forecast is for clear skies and with no shade at all on the course, I expect it will feel a little warm. 
I struggled some at this year’s BolderBoulder but that was more likely due to large crowds and fatigue from the workouts on the preceding two days. I expect to be in my upper Zone 4 heartrate before this is over, but I also think I can handle it.
Goal Time 50:00

Race Goal Time: 2:37:00

I’m glad I’ve chose to do a couple of races before the big event in August. If nothing else, it will get me into the right mindset. 

Good luck to everyone who racing this weekend and thanks for reading.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Advice for the New Triathlete: Face Time

Time

I did my first open water swim about five years ago. A local venue had opened up early in the season. In fact, way early, like May 7. To say that the water was cold is to understate the facts. It was officially listed at 55* but it may have been even colder. 

If you swim in a place where the lakes freeze in the winter, then you probably have or will deal with very cold water early in the season. Despite the incredible benefits of a neoprene wetsuit, the cold still seeps in.

Based on my own hard lessons as well as confirmation from my coach here are the steps I suggest you take to get yourself used to swimming in open water.

1)    Step in easily at first. Your bare foot going into the water will be enough of a shock. Fortunately, feet are usually tough and the adjustment will be quick.

2)    Once you are in to about chest height, slowly put your face in the water. I think it helps to blow bubbles (kind of like you’re back in your first childhood swim lesson). You’re going to have to breath that way once you actually start swimming so why not. This will be the most shocking part of all. Your face is full of both blood flow and nerves and as it is exposed to water that is forty to forty-five degrees colder than your body, the reaction will be to gasp. That’s okay.

3)    Continue to repeat the process until you are able to do so without the gasping reaction. Be warned, this sounds easier than it is. Your natural instincts are going to scream at you to pull your face out and go back to the warm, dry land. Bear down and keep going. It might take a few or even several minutes but clearing this shock from your system will make swimming easier.

4)    Once the gasping is gone or at least reasonable well controlled, throw yourself all the way in. Bob, jump, slide, whatever but completely immerse yourself. This will allow a layer of water to seep between your skin and your suit. Initially that layer will be cold but your body will quickly heat it and your suit will hold that heat.

5)    Still with me? Good. Now do some strokes. Nothing like 4X100 or what you might consider a warm-up in the pool. Just enough to get the feeling of moving through the water, breathing and also warming up your body.

Ideally, you’ll be able to do this both in practice sessions at open water venues as well as in the time leading up to a race start. Unfortunately, life is often not ideal. Not every locality has much to offer in the way of safe and legal open water swimming and some races either can’t or won’t offer pre-race warmups. In the absolute worst case, you can use the beginning part of the swim as your warm-up. This will cost you some time but it’s better to be prepared. Should that happen, I recommend that you move as far to the outside of the pack as possible. You’ll save yourself the chaos of the swim start.

Needless to say, anyone who wants to partake in the sport of triathlon, let alone open water swimming should be absolutely certain they are healthy enough to do so. The deaths and near-death incidents reported from races are often the result of a previous cardiac condition. The cold and stress of the swim can and has brought on cardiac arrest and subsequent drowning. No matter how bad you want to do a race, it’s never worth risking life and health. If you’re not sure if you’re healthy enough, go so a physician and find out.

Best of luck to everyone training and racing this weekend and thanks for reading!

 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Advice for the New Triathlete: Transitions

With so much of an athlete’s training being focused on the three disciplines of triathlon, swimming, biking and running, the fourth discipline—transition—is often overlooked. That’s too bad because it’s one of the places where a lot of time can be saved. 

I’m no coach nor am I recognized expert, but I’ve done enough races of the last five years to have become quite familiar with the art of transition. I offer the following advice to newbies based on those experiences.

 

Before Race Day

I am working on the assumption that the athlete is in possession of and familiar with the following:

·         A race belt for holding your race number (a.k.a.: bib)

·         A triathlon wetsuit

·         A bike that utilizes a binding pedal system like KEO or Speed Play

·         Standard kit meaning a pair of triathlon shorts and a jersey, a single piece kit or bibs

·         A triathlon watch (this is optional but fairly common)

How you pack all of your stuff up is entirely up to you as far as I am concerned. An orange five gallon bucket from the home improvement store? Sure. A traditional triathlon back-pack style transition bag? Always good. A plastic laundry basket? It that works, fine. Whatever your choice, the idea is to make it as easy as possible to get it from your car to transition with a possible stop to pick up your race packet in case you have not already done that.

I use a checklist to pack my bag the night before a race. It’s slow and a bit tedious, but it helps me from forgetting something.

Setting Up Your Area

While some races use multiple transition areas (one for swim to bike and a different one for bike to run) most that I’ve participated in have just a single space. This seems to be especially true for sprint and Olympic distance events. Whether you are setting up in one place or two, the principles discussed here are the same.

One common mistake both rookies and veterans make is to turn their transition area into their base camp. That’s not the purpose and quite often you end up taking up way more than your fair share of space. You should set up your transition area with the idea of getting through it as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Items not needed for the race should be stored back in your vehicle or as much out of the way as possible.

I use one of the towels that I got from a race. If you don’t have one, use a bathroom hand towel (the one that’s between a washcloth and a bath towel in size). Anything bigger than that is too big.

A good rule of thumb is to place items on the towel in reverse order of which you will need them. For example, shoes tend to go on last so I put those on the towel first. If you are using nutrition, that can go in your bike shoes (I tuck a couple of gels in my shoes such that I can grab them easily). I don’t wear socks on the bike and I recommend you don’t either but if you really feel you need them, you can put socks, rolled about halfway down in each shoe as well.

Next to my bike shoes I place my running shoes. I do run in socks so I put those in my running shoes. On top of them I place my running belt which already has the bid on it. If you have to pick up your bib on race day, then put it on the belt now. Atop that goes my visor (or running hat if I’m wearing that instead). My helmet, beanie (which I need to keep sweat out of my eyes) and sunglasses are placed my aerobars. If you are riding a road bike with just the traditional drop bars, you can hang your helmet by its strap. In either case, just make sure it is secure and cannot be knocked off easily.

Believe it or not, you’ve just set up your transition area. It really does not need to be more involved than that. If you are parked nearby, it’s never a bad idea to pack up anything else and put it back in your car. That’s not always possible however so another option would be to just pack it all in a bag and keep that tucked under or right next to your bike. The point is to use up as little space as possible. This is both to make it easier for you to get in and out of the area as well as to show some courtesy to your fellow athletes.

If you are using a triathlon watch, be sure to set it to the proper multi-sport mode and ensure that it has the order of sports (swim bike run) and includes transitions. If you are diligent about tracking, no timing data will ever bet your own.

Guys may choose not to wear their jersey under their wetsuit but I recommend that you do. It’s hard to pull a jersey on over wet skin and you can lose time try to get it untwisted and put on. The exception to this would be if you are in an event where wetsuits are not allowed. In that case, you could put it on in T1. On or off, however, if you are wearing a chest strap heart rate monitor, put it on before donning your wetsuit.

Marking Your Area

I’ve heard some interesting suggestions on how to find your spot as you run into transition. Balloons have long been a popular choice but that fails if too many people use them. You also can’t guarantee it won’t pop during the commotion of athletes coming and going through the area. I do the following:

1.      Look for landmarks. I may see that I am lined up with a distinct looking tree or light pole. I might see a dumpster or some other non-mobile landmark nearby.

2.      Count the racks. If the area is asset up with rows of bike racks, I’ll start from the entrance coming from the swim and count the number until I reach mine. If the entrance into transition coming off the bike is in a different location (and it usually is) I’ll count from that direction too.

3.      Walk the route. Finally, I’ll walk the route and make a mental film of what it looks like to make the trek from the transition entrance to my spot.

Doing these things has always helped me find my bike. On a couple of occasions when I didn’t I had to go looking and that sucks.

 

T1 – Exiting the Swim

As you leave the water for a swim, it’s likely you’ll cross a timing mat under a blow-up arch. This is the place I usually hit the lap button on my watch indicating that I’m out of the water and have begun my first transition. Even if that mat is not there or further away, this is when I note the end of the swim. From my perspective, if I’m not in the water, I’m not swimming and that time should not be counted toward. Official race times may not reflect this.

The majority of races I’ve done do not have wetsuit strippers. When they do, I’ve usually taken advantage of them but I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. If they are there, and you want to use them, you’ll need to get out of the top half yourself. If you have a watch strapped to your wrist, take it off and put the band between your teeth. This is only temporary but you’ll need both hands for the moment. Once you’ve unzipped the back, pull your swim cap and goggles off and hold them both in one hand. As you pull your hand into your sleeve, the goggles and cap will end up being captured there and you no longer need to worry about them. Get the other sleeve off and pull the top half of the suit down so that it hangs at your waist.

Now, just lied down in front of the strippers (they usually work in teams of 2) and they will pull the suit off your legs. When you stand up, they’ll hand it back and you are good to go. One word of caution, however; there are lots of people running by you so look around and make sure you don’t have a collision. 

In the absence of strippers, everything you do leading up to that point is the same. You should do it as you are jogging toward the transition area. You’ll leave the lower half on until you arrive at your spot in the transition area.

Upon arriving place your watch on the bike mount if you are using one. Assuming you still have the lower half of your suit on, pull it down to your ankles and then step on it as you pull the other leg out. Repeat the process and you should be good to go. If you have to force it or pull especially hard, stop and use your hand to help you. No saved amount of time is worth the cost of replacing a ripped suit.

Wad up your suit as best you can and set it in an out of the way spot in your own transition space. The idea is that you are being mindful of others around you.

The next step is to don your helmet. This should be done before anything else. Get it on and strapped, and then put on your sunglasses. Having your helmet on and strapped before doing anything else is the best way to avoid being penalized for not having it on. Officials absolutely will penalize you if you so much as mount your bike without the helmet on and strapped.

If there is nutrition on or in your bike shoes, place it in one of the back-pockets on your jersey. If you are wearing socks on the bike, pull the unrolled portion to cover your foot up to about the ball and then roll the rest back up past your heel to below your ankle. You may see at this point why it’s hard to put socks on wet feet.

 

T1 – Starting the Bike

Get your bike shoes on and buckled down. Some more experienced athletes like to leave their shoes on their bike already clipped in and then get their feet in after they’ve started to ride away. You might be able to do this with lots of practice, but it’s not easy and mistakes can lead to wrecks. I suggest running, with bike shoes on, out to the mount line. Just run carefully because bike shoes make for easy slipping.

I prefer to clip in one foot before I start riding. No matter how much trouble I have with the second, at least I can keep moving forward if one foot is clipped in. Be careful around the mount line. It can get busy and sometimes, someone will set up directly in front of you making it impossible to move forward without going around them. Without much momentum, you’ll likely stop or tip (I know because I have).

Once you are underway, press the button that advances your watch from T1 to Bike, get your other foot clipped in and you are good to go. This is likely to be a congested area so move cautiously and pass with great care. Things to tend to open up not long after you are down the road.

T2 – Exiting the Bike

As you roll back toward transition, your mind will likely be on the upcoming run which is understandable. However, the next step is not the run but the transition to it. Again, the more experienced athletes may get their feet out of their shoes and rest them on top. That’s not impossible but it still carries some risk so unless you are well-practiced, leave your shoes on.

One step you can take it is to unclip one foot. I prefer my left but which one does not matter. As you slow toward the dismount line and then stop, place your unclipped foot on the ground and swing your opposite leg off the bike. Now you can run back to your spot.

With no wetsuit this time, the process is easier. Just as the helmet was the first thing you put on, once your bike is racked, it’s easiest to take it off first and ensure you won’t forget to do so. Place it back on the handle bars. If you have your watch on a bike mount, remove it and put it back on your wrist. Now it’s time to remove your bike shoes and put them back to their original position on the towel/mat.

T2 – Starting the Run

If you have not put on socks, this is the time. You’ll see that they go on dry feet quickly and easily. If you don’t currently use some form of speed laces like Yankz or Lock Laces, I would recommend doing so. I can put both shoes on in just a few seconds this way. Once those shoes are on, it’s time to grab everything else and get moving.

As you run out, put on your race belt. Usually this means putting it on backward so the buckle is in front and then moving it around so the number shows in front. Next up, don whatever head cover you have. As you cross the line, arch or other item marking the transition exit space, press the button to advance your watch from T2 to Run.

 

If you are reading this ahead of your very first race, I wouldn’t worry too much about flawless execution. Successfully transitioning takes time and practice so the best thing you can do is learn what worked, what didn’t and what you’ll do differently next time. As you watch your results and look for ways to improve your time, you may find that a couple of minutes shaves of the transition could be the difference that gets you a PR!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ironman Tips, Round 2

I’ve been spending some time today catching up on the latest news for Ironman Boulder and it made me think of all of the non-racing logistics that go into the race. Unlike a lot of other races you have done or plan to do, this one involves a lot more planning outside of just showing up and racing. Here are few tips that I think might be helpful to any first timers.

Plan a long weekend around the race

When I do a sprint, Olympic, or half distance race, particularly a local one, I can pretty much just plan on preparing at home and then showing up race day. I’m not saying you can’t sleep in your own bed the night before the race, but if the venue is much more than an hour’s drive away, I’d recommend booking a nearby hotel for a number of reasons:

1.    Being nearby affords you more sleep and reduces the risk of car trouble, traffic or any number of other undpredicatbles impacting you making it to your transition area in time.

2.    You’ll get more sleep which is always a good thing.

3.    Ironman races typically require packet pick-up two days before and bike check in the day before the race. That means that you’ll be going back and forth a lot. I did this last year but not this year. I’m going to be in Boulder starting on Friday afternoon.

I also won’t tell you that you can’t go back to work the day after the race, but if possible, I’d avoid it. Due to my DNF, I can’t speak personally on this but two sources I trust, my coach and my brother, both told me that sleep on the night after the race was very poor and they found themselves very tired the following day.

Begin your logistics planning as soon as possible

Plans change multiple times before they are set so I would recommend that you think about the details of pre and post-race now. Some things to consider:

1.    Transportation to the start or staging area (in Boulder you are required to take a bus from the T2 area to the start at the reservoir. If you are driving yourself, where will you park? How long will it take to get there?

2.    Where will you eat the night before? Everyone loves to eat a Pasta Jay’s in downtown Boulder but waiting until 9:00 for a table is a distinct possibility and probably not a good idea.

3.    What are your plans for coordinating with friends and family? Each race has its good and not-so-good places for spectators and it’s worth knowing where those are.

Stay updated on changes to your race

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I was catching up on the news and learned that there will be changes to the bike course at Boulder this year. That was unexpected but it pays to expect the unexpected. Check you event’s website and I would also recommend staying current on the forums. I got my news from a post the race director put on Slowtwitch, not from the race site.

As it happens, my race is four months from today. I’ll try and start posting regular advice updates and perhaps even put it all together in a single mega-post in July.

Until then, thanks for reading and happy training!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Setting 2016 Baselines


 

My run regression test yesterday completed the first round of testing in this training season. I say first round because my coach typically does this all again in the spring. In fact, I normally would have wrapped this up a few days ago but a healthy layer of snow on the running track forced me to push this last one back a few days. Now that the initial round is complete, here’s where I stand.

In the Water

We did two tests during the first week of assessment. First was a variation on the test I’ve done three years now. Previously, this consisted of a long warm-up, a 200 yard all-out effort, a minute’s recovery and then 800 at max effort. This year’s version was a little different.

Rather than warm up for 1500 yards, I was instructed to do 300 easy just to loosen up and then do a series of 4 100’s at max effort resting 30 seconds between. This is in line with my coach’s philosophy of intensity over duration.

With that complete, I took my one minute rest and then swam for 50 yards as fast as I could. That time turned out to be a little over 39 seconds (39.13). This was followed by another full minute and then I was off to swim 100, also at max effort. This I did in 1:27.94 and was pretty tired afterward. Fortunately, the next rest was 90 seconds allowing my heart rate and breathing to return to something more like normal.

The last part of the test is 800 at the best possible effort that can be sustained for that distance. Last spring, I managed that in 13:09but I knew that I would be slower with less total swimming under my belt. In fact, I was not expecting to do especially well at this one. I was pleased when my time turned out to be 13:57.71 though I was really tired at this point. The session finished with a really long 42 minutes at easy pace to finish out at a little under one hour and fifteen minutes.

Several days later, it was time for the swim regression test. This began with the same warmup as the longer test which had me a little tired but mostly just warmed up and ready to go. Then it was a 200 yard swim as fast as possible for that distance which for me turned out to be 3:10.74. This was followed by a long 2 minute rest. Then it was on to a 400 yard swim which may be just about the hardest there is to swim at max effort. It’s too long to be over quickly but not short enough where you feel like you can slacken your pace a little. Four hundred yards and 6:36.76 later, that proved to be true!

Results are in from these tests and it says my max pace for 100 yards is around 1:26.6 and my regression rate is 6.74% which is an improvement from the last time I tested, but I am also a little slower overall. I take all of this with a grain of salt too. The forecasted finish for an Ironman would be 1:28:52 but I swam faster than that without a wetsuit last year. I might be slower this year, but not by much.

On the Bike

I suppose there are endurance athletes out there that eat pain like candy and don’t think that the FTP test is so bad. To me, it’s positively the hardest of all the assessments. I think there is something inherent on the trainer that makes it feel worse than riding outside but I can’t really say what that is. Suffice it to say that this year’s first FTP test was just as painful and miserable as any other.

Because of the prolonged period at a high wattage, there’s a long warm-up of 30 minutes. This is then followed by the 30 minute test period itself which is broken down into a 10 minute segment followed by a 20 minute segment. I’ve never been clear on the reason for the separation but it really doesn’t matter. There is no break between the sets.

During this 30 minute time frame, the idea is to find a power output you can maintain for the entire set. Obviously, the higher the power during this time frame, the higher the FTP. I’ve been actively training on the bike since the beginning of October and went into this feeling pretty confident that I could beat the threshold I set last spring. With that in mind, I dialed the KICKR up to 235 watts during the first 10 minutes. However, my heartrate was starting to spike toward the end of the set and the thought of maintaining that much power felt overwhelming. I dialed back to 230 watts for the next ten minutes and then to about 225 watts for the remainder. By the time I finished, my cadence was falling into the mid 80 rpm range and my heartrate was near its max. The average power for the entire 30 minute set was 227 watts which more or less ties where I was back in April—roughly 209 Watts. Not as good as I hoped but still much better than this time a year ago.

On Foot

Like swimming, running also comes with two tests, both of which are done on a track. First up was a 4 X 1600 (basically a mile) with 90 seconds between each interval. The recoveries are jogged at very easy pace but I made a point of not walking until after the fourth set was complete. Prior, I did some warm-up exercises consisting of some dynamic stretching techniques and a few stride-outs. Last spring, I pulled a hamstring on a track set and it never really healed for the rest of the season. It’s made me more cautious so I made sure things were truly loosened up and I was warm heading into the repeats. This test comes with a goal of the last mile being no more than 3 percent slower than the first. My splits worked out to 8:08.03, 8:02.78, 8:06.3, and 8:01.85 so it was actually a negative split between first and last. This was definitely slower than last spring’s test, but again, still better than a year ago. In truth, I probably could have gone just a bit faster but it’s hard to tell how fast is too fast to finish all four reps. 

After the snow delay, I managed to get back out onto a mostly melted track last night and complete the 1600/800 regression test. As the name suggests, the test is aimed at how much pace is lost. In this case, how much is lost when the distance is doubled. I went through a similar set of warm-ups making sure that muscles were loose and heartrate was up but not too high before going into the first 800. This was followed by a 5 minute walk. Seriously, the directions on the workout say walk so I did so to bring my heartrate back down. Then it was 1600. Clearly I could not hold the same pace as the shorter distance, but my aim was to try to stay below 3% loss of pace. Mostly, however, I just gave it all I could.

Another five minute walk break was followed by series of 400 and 800 meter runs at moderate to hard effort with jogging recoveries in between. These appear to be just there to ware me out a little before the second set of 800 and 1600. The second set was tougher and slower but I just took solace in the knowledge that once they were done, so was the workout. My 800’s clocked at 3:25.59 and 3:37.25 and the 1600’s at 7:20.28 and 7:21.03. It’s that last set that is providing me with the most encouragement. Losing only a second at the end of fairly exhausting workout seems to bode well for having the kind of long endurance I’ll need in August.  I’m still awaiting my results from my coach but my guess is that my regression rate is around 4.2% which is right where I need it to be.

While this is mostly a recovery week (last night’s test notwithstanding) I am still seeing a tick up in swim volume. I expect to log more than 6500 yards this week. Fortunately, the tests seem to have been a bit of a catalyst and I’m finding the laps are not nearly as overwhelming as they were back in January.

If we follow last year’s schedule, and I think we will, the next round of testing will likely take place in late March and early April. I’ll update progress on testing then.

Thanks for reading.

 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Reworking the Race Schedule

Earlier this month, Racing Underground, the organizers behind the Crescent Moon triathlon posted the following to the event’s webpage:

 

"Arapahoe County is no longer allowing bicycle events to take place on East Quincy, effectively ending the era of triathlons at the Aurora Reservoir. It's a bummer - we have been organizing triathlons at the Aurora Reservoir since the summer of 2,000!

We presented a plan to the reservoir 4 months ago to hold the event entirely within the park, but it was shot down by homeland security regulations in October because it passed too close to the water treatment facility

We immediately submitted plans to bring the race to a new venue, and it looked very promising, however it fell through just this week. Unfortunately, at this late date we will not be able to produce the Crescent Moon Triathlon in 2016. Many of you are already planning your season, and we had set January 1st as the deadline to open registration.

We are already putting together a plan to bring you a bigger and better Crescent Moon Tri in 2017. We will keep you posted!!!"

 

There is also this recent Denver Post article that discusses the decision made by the Arapahoe County commissioners.

This effectively makes Aurora Reservoir a non-venue for triathlons despite having several natural advantages such as a very clean lake and a running trail. As noted in the article, homeland security regulations prohibit having the bike course take place inside the grounds. 

Not said, but certainly inferred by me is the message this sends generally about cyclists on Quincy Road. I’ve done many a training session out there and had always thought of it as a safe place. However, I am very cynical about the way the average driver views a cyclists they encounter. At best, they are totally unaware of them and at worst (too often) they are viewed with hostility. I am not at all persuaded that this latter group will feel dissuaded from acting aggressively toward cyclists given the stance by county leaders. Suffice it to say, I won’t be going near this area out of an abundance of caution.

For me personally, that affects my racing schedule and required that I find a replacement race. Not surprisingly, the group that came through is Without Limits. They’ve expanded what they dub the Colorado Sprint Triathlon to include an Olympic Distance and it’s scheduled for June 4 in Boulder. Unlike Arapahoe County, Boulder County is generally cyclist friendly. There are exceptions of course, but several triathlons are held there every year.

I personally would prefer to mix things up a bit and race in different locations but circumstances have determined that all three of my races will be in Boulder this year. That fact is not so bad. The city and county are geared toward the sport and it is home to several world-class professionals. I would have preferred something that did not involve having to travel so far, but so be it.

With that update, my 2016 schedule now looks like this:

 

June 4 – Colorado Olympic Triathlon

July 10 – Boulder Peak Triathlon 

August 7 – Ironman Boulder

 

It’s not a bad schedule and I like the spacing between events. For now, it’s back to training.

Thanks for reading.