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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.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Few Early-Season Ironman Tips

It’s more than a little dubious that a guy who did not finish his only attempt at an Ironman is giving advice but I think I do have a few worthwhile things to say. Since I did not make it to the run last year, I’ll refrain from mentioning anything about that.

Tip#1: Be Prepared for a Non-Wetsuit Swim

This may be less of an issue in colder climes but if you live in a place where the summer time highs regularly break 90* and your swim venue is not replenished by snowmelt, be ready for the wetsuit to be an optional event. That means that you are not considered for purposes of Kona qualification (not an issue for most of us) andyou get to go to the back of the pack. It was warm but not triple digit warm in Boulder last year and despite a fair amount of cloud cover the day before, the reservoir actually warmed up overnight. I was grateful that I had trained hard swimming. Going without the suit was not a big deal.

Tip#2: Ease into your new season, but not too much

Six or seven months may not go by all that quickly in a general sense, but in terms of training, it’s faster than a jet. If you’re not hurting at the high end of your bike and run intervals and if you don’t have moments where your arms feel heavy in the pool, you may need to be doing a little more. I can’t stress enough how happy you’ll be on race day.

Tip#3: Start practicing nutrition now.

It’s not easy to ingest hundreds of calories while biking along, sometimes at high effort. It is, however, absolutely essential. Even with a dedicated nutrition regimen, you’ll still probably be falling behind in terms of calories. Just as you have to train your muscles and your cardiovascular system, you have to train your gut as well.

Tip#4: Don’t buy any claims about fast and flat.

These might actually have some relevance on shorter course events, but even small hills are going to hurt when you’re out there for hours. The last hill of any height or length in Boulder was the one that finally did me in (though it probably was going to happen anyway). It’s far better for your mental state if you go into the race expecting it to be hard work. Not dreading, just expecting. No one (at least no normal person) was ever disappointed that a course turned out to be easier than expected.

Tip#5: Be consistent.

Training Peaks users can appreciate the gratification of green squares on their weekly training plans. Completing what you set out to do (or if coached what was assigned to you) is not only satisfying, it’s also important. One good indicator is the Chronic Training Load (CTL) on Training Peaks. It’s the rolling average of your Training Stress Score (TSS) for the time period you have designate (say 30 days). Essentially, only missing workouts due to uncontrollable events (illness, personal emergencies, etc.) and not because “I was totally fried that day” is my general rule. That’s not to say that I have not completely crapped out on a workout when I was tired—I have. What it means is trying to find a way to push through even if the overall performance on a given day suffers. Making sure you have regular recovery weeks is a key to making sure you stay consistent for the harder time frames.

I plan on offering more of this advice, for whatever it’s worth, as the season progresses and as we get closer to the season, I can also share some of my experiences and lessons learned about race day, particularly pre-race.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Day Run VI -- 2015 Edition

A tradition that began five years ago in Florida continued yesterday in cold but not yet snowy Northern Colorado. Last year my sister-in-law joined me and this year I was joined by my brother. There was nothing heroic on this one, just an easy 30 minutes before breakfast.






I hope you had a great Christmas and I wish everyone the best of luck on the upcoming triathlon season.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

They’re Actually Not Stupid Questions


Did you watch the recent NBC replay of the Ironman World Championships? I did. I had a trainer session that was almost the exact same length of the program and having watched productions from past years, I know it’s always pretty well done.
As I watched it occurred to me that the show would probably prompt some interest in the sport. As was pointed out at one point, football fans don’t get to throw passes at Lambeau Field nor do baseball fans get to pitch at Fenway Park. But on the same course as world class pros, age grouper athletes get to compete at the same time. It is indeed inspiring.
That got me to thinking about my own initial interest in the sport. Though my brother had already started, I still often found myself with questions. There are, of course hundreds or even thousands of questions that could be asked by any aspiring triathlete but I thought I would stick with what I think are the most common. To make it easier, I’ve tried to group them by general subject matter.

Equipment

Can I use my mountain bike?
For your first race, which will likely be a shorter distance, a mountain bike is fine. Should you find you like the sport (and nearly everyone does) you’ll probably want to eventually get a traditional road bike or even a triathlon bike.
Okay, what makes it a “triathlon” bike?
Triathlon bikes are also sometimes referred to as Time Trial (TT) Bikes. They’re built with a little differently from the bikes you might see in the Tour de France. The most distinctive feature on these bikes is “aerobars” in which the rider leans over and rests their elbows and forearms on the front. They’re very cool bike but also very expensive.
Do I need a wetsuit?
Not necessarily. Wetsuits are great for swim events that take place in bodies of water that tend to run cold (especially early in the season in locales that experience cold winters). They also provide buoyancy which tends to make the swimmer a little faster.
Did you say bodies of water? You mean the swims aren’t in a pool?
Some races do make use of a pool for the swim portion, but most take place in a lake, slow river, bay or in some cases, the open ocean.
Are there special shoes?
Most road and triathlon bikes come equipped with pedals to which the shoe locks. It’s not unlike a ski boot to a binding. Your feet stay locked to the pedal until you twist your heel outward at which point they unlike. There a lots of opinions what shoes to wear on the run. Personally, I use my standard running shoes.
What other equipment do I need?
As for what you need, just the means to swim (a suit) bike (a bicycle and helmet) and run (shoes, shorts, shirt). There’s no shortage of companies lining up to sell you all manner of equipment, but much of it is unnecessary. Everyone decides what works best for them personally, but here’s what I would suggest:
·         Swim: a long-sleeved wetsuit, a good set of goggles, a silicon swim cap and a suit designed for athletic swimming rather than hanging out at the beach.
·         Bike: a road bike, a decent helmet, wrap-around sunglasses, a couple of pairs of cycling shorts (they have a padded crotch) and a couple of cycling jerseys. The latter are not strictly necessary but nice to have.
·         Run: good running shoes that have been fit at a local running store. This is important for injury prevention. Also, a couple of pairs of running shorts and tops and socks intended specifically for running.
Many athletes wear triathlon-specific shorts which are basically cycling shorts without the bulky pad in the crotch. These are good for shorter races and workouts.

Training

How long does it take to prepare for a race?
There’s no specific answer for that one since it varies from athlete to athlete based on their own general conditioning and capability. A general rule is that you should plan on at least six weeks and up to several months depending on your conditioning.
How do you even go about getting started?
There are lots of great books and websites on training. A web search of the term “triathlon training plans” will yield more results than you probably want. A few good sources are Beginner Triathlete, Tri-Newbies, or Training Peaks. Additionally, the American national sanctioning body for triathlons is called USA Triathlon (USAT) and they have some resources on their website.
Do you have to have a coach?
I am a coached athlete and very happy with that arrangement. However, I started out on my own and did reasonably well. My decision to hire a coach was fueled by a desire to improve my racing combined with the feeling that I could not do more on my own. Coach’s generally aren’t cheap (though they are also not the most expensive component of the sport) so it’s as much a financial decision as anything. A less expensive alternative is to utilize your local triathlon club (if you have one). They often have some level of coaching and you can always pick up informal advice from fellow-members. 

Racing

I saw the Ironman but that looks like too much for me. Are there shorter distances?
There are. A common entry level race is referred to as a “sprint.” These races don’t have an official distance but normally consist of a swim of no more than 750 meters (a little under half a mile or 32 lengths of a 25 yard pool), a bike of no more than 20 miles (often quite a bit less) and a 5 kilometer/3.1 mile run. Other types include:
·         Olympic/International: Usually a 1500 meter swim (around a mile) a 40K/24.8 mile bike and a 10K/6.2 mile run. This can vary from race to race.
·         Half Iron or “Half”: A 1.2 Mile Swim, a 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run
·         Iron or “Full” : A 2.4 Mile Swim, a 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run.
The most famous of the last one is the race in Hawaii in October. While the name Ironman is trademarked, the distances are not so other race organizers may not use that term but will still offer a race that has the same distances.  There are no “official” rules for these distances but they tend to be the most common.
So triathlon is swimming, then biking and then running. What happens in between these?
That sequence is generally though not always the case. In between each sport is what we call transition. Between swimming and biking is Transition 1 (called T1) and between biking and running is T2.
Do you have to change clothes in transition?
Longer races (mostly of the long distance 140.6 mile races) have tents that allow for a full change of clothes between races. Shorter races usually involve just adding or removing an item. For example, you might be wearing your tri shorts and jersey under your wetsuit and then remove the wetsuit in T1 followed by putting on cycling shoes, helmet and sunglasses before heading out on the ride. Likewise, you would doff your helmet and cycling shoes in T2 and don your running shoes and perhaps a cap or visor before starting the run.
Does the time in transition count?
Absolutely. A key to a successful race is to get through transitions as quickly as possible. The clock keeps running from the time you start until you cross the finish line.
How do they keep track of everyone’s time through all of this?
These days, the most common means is by a “chip” that you wear just above your ankle on a soft neoprene strap. These are issued by the race organizers usually on the morning of the race though sometimes a day or two before. It stays with you during the entire race. Whenever you step over a timing mat on the ground, it makes a recording of that event and this is used to provide times for each event as well as how long you spend in transitions.
Isn’t that uncomfortable?
Not at all. In truth, I only notice my chip if I’m thinking about it.
How do I know where to go?
A good race will be a combination of good marking and volunteers to point the way. During the swim, buoys are set up on the course and you simply swim from one to the next. Bike and running courses are typically staffed with volunteers telling where to go.

Fear

Someone drowned at our local race a couple of years ago. Is the sport really dangerous?
It would be less than honest to say that the sport is without risk. Swimming in open water and riding a bike on roads you share with cars are inherently risky activities. What’s more, if you have a serious underlying health condition like heart disease, you can also put yourself in mortal peril.
All of that said, with the application of preparation and common sense, you can enjoy the sport and be safe. Many drownings (though not all) are the result of a cardiac arrest that may have been brought on by the stress of swimming in cold water with lots of people splashing around but also due to someone having heart problems that may not have been diagnosed.
Preparation (including getting checked out by your physician) is the best way to mitigate but not eliminate risk factors.
I’ve been told that triathletes are a bunch of self-important douchebags. Is that true?
Triathletes are a group of people and like any group, there are some bad apples. Some would argue that the sport attracts a disproportionate number of unpleasant people. I can’t say but my own experience is that most folks in the sport are not only friendly, but also very welcoming of new-comers.
I suck at swimming. How do I make it through that portion of the race?
While I have no hard data on this, I suspect most people would rate swimming as their weakest discipline. The best advice I have is to train and train. One resource I found very helpful was Swim Smooth. In particular, I liked their Mr. Smooth app. I made a lot of progress just trying to imitate his style.

Conclusion

Books have literally been written about the various questions new triathletes have. My intention is not to write another one here. If you have a question you want answered or if you want more detail on one of the questions addressed in this post, feel free to leave it in the comments sections.
Also feel free to peruse the blog and see about my experiences training and racing. In fact, I’d suggest perusing several blogs.

Thanks for reading and good luck in your training.

Monday, October 26, 2015

My 2016 Race Schedule

So my last post (long ago, I’m aware) was a bit of a spoiler for this post but it’s also not the entire story. Yes, Ironman Boulder 2016 is without question my “A” race and the focus of my attention. However, on the advice of my coach, I’m going to do a couple of other events just to break up the routine and also hopefully sharpen me up for the big event.
With that advice in mind here are my planned events for next year:


                                                                                                                       *



I had to include the asterisk because I’m hearing that the NIMBY’s who live in the area (like all four of them) are complaining about the road closures. I hope that’s not the case but it is possible. Otherwise, I like the timing. With Bolder Sunrise moving to later in June, this is one of the only Olympic Distance races available early on in the summer. The Aurora Reservoir venue is a good one for swimming and running and it’s also close to home which is a major plus.


Just over a month later I’ll be at the site of the Big Race to do one of my favorite races, the Boulder Peak. It’s only four weeks ahead of Ironman but it’s also just an Oly. I’m not certain but this could end up being a train-through race where the specific outcome is not all that important. If nothing else, climbing up Olde Stage Road ought to make the climbing on August 7 seem easy!


August 7
The one race that is circled in red, etched in stone and embossed in my figurative calendar. I’ve already registered for it and gone on at length about how 2016 is going to be the year. It’s still over 9 months away so lots needs to happen between now and then. Fortunately, this year I have a road map.

As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hitting the Reset Button






Do you recall this paragraph from my last post?

"Doing Boulder again next year is an option but I expect I'll want to take a year off from grueling IM training and focus on shorter course events.  I might change my mind, but right now, I think 2017 will probably be my year and Boulder will probably be my race."


Well, forget about that because I've had some time to think and decided that 2016 is going to be the year I try again!

Two days after my first DNF was a good time to write a summary since most of the events were still fresh in my mind but definitely not the best time to make predictions about my future. The truth is that the sting of not finishing that race was still pretty fresh.

Being on sabbatical has given me a lot of time to think and I forced myself to think of not only reasons why I should train for and race in an Ironman next year but also to think of reasons why not. 

The "why not" reasons were not bad but also not compelling:

1.     I'm tired and 2015 was a grueling year from a training standpoint. It might do me good both body and soul to have a year off.
2.     There are no assurances that conditions will be any better next year. About two weeks after the race, the Front Range was experiencing close to triple digit heat and that would have made things much more difficult.
3.     Training takes away from other things including time spent with my wife which is a big deal to me. I felt bad when I had to pass on doing something with her because I had hours of training.
4.     Forking over another $700+ is not cheap. It's basically paying $5 a mile to race.

The reasons "why" were compelling:

1.     My wife told me that she had no problem with me doing the race next year rather than in 2017. She said since I'm going to do it sooner rather than later, I might as well get it over with.
2.     Because I didn't do any running on race day, I came out of it with fresh legs and not much need for a recovery (physically anyway).  As a result, I'm heading into the off-season in good shape and that makes a good starting point from which to begin training early next year.
3.     My doctor gave me a clean bill of health. Despite what the EKG in the medical tent said, no readings since (including a recent one in the doctor's office) has shown any indication that I have any cardiological issues. My doctor didn't even want to bother with the classic stress test. He said it would be overkill.
4.     My initial desire not to do the race again was clearly more attributed to the disappointment and frustration at not finishing this year's race. As time passed and I was able to gain a little more perspective, my enthusiasm for doing this has returned.
5.     Having an IM finish be an elusive goal will gnaw at me until I cross the finish line in an IM race. I can endure that for eleven and a half months or for nearly two years. I'm choosing the former.
6.     I got a detailed (albeit expensive) preview of the swim and bike courses. I'm familiar with the particulars of how the race works and I learned what to repeat and what to avoid in the future (for example, nutrition with chocolate in special needs will melt and turn into a gooey mess).

I considered other options such as doing the distance in somebody else's race (such as HITS) or forking over the big-time money to get a foundation slot in one of the later season IM races but neither seemed practical. HITS is a great race, but I'm not sure that the level of support and enthusiasm I experienced in Boulder would be there in places Lake Havasu or Palm Springs. 

As for paying for the foundation spot, I have a couple of problems with that. The first is that it's a lot of money, even with the tax deduction I could claim. Cost is the overwhelming reason. Second, the foundation is not, in my humble opinion, the noblest charity. I'd rather give my money to someone trying to cure a disease or take care of the indigent. 

Finally, racing out of town is just too difficult to manage. I do have a day job and am obliged to spend some time with it. Taking another full week off this year is just really not practical and I'd need at least that long to travel, race and recover.

So what's ahead now that I've made this decision? Several things. 

First, I'm going to continue with some light training just to maintain a reasonable level of conditioning. There will be no hard intervals or hours long sessions. Instead, I'm going to just relax and enjoy the unstructured time.

Second, I will be officially registering within days. Given the high participation rate (something like 2800 registrants in this year's race) I'm not concerned about an imminent sell out, but I do want to get registered before the first price increase on September 4.

Third, I've asked my coach to set up a "Train Your Limiter" plan much as we did last year. I made a lot of improvement on the bike, but I have a lot more to make. Another year of it ought to make me a bit faster. We'll also be doing a running lactate threshold test so I'll have good baselines for both the run and the bike.

Fourth, the 2016 training season is one that I think will be intensely focused. I know what to expect and will be hit the ground running (maybe literally) in January. Having been down this path, it's much easier to connect the dots between training and racing. I think that will help me when I'm out there struggling through a tough workout.


I would not have asked for this scenario but it is what it is. I can't change the past only use it to make the future better. No doubt I'll have some dark moments ahead and times when I wished I had waited or even thrown in the towel on the whole Ironman thing. Deep down, though, I know this is what I want.





Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!