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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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Falling Short

This is one of the more difficult posts I've had to write.

Anyone who has read this blog in the last couple of weeks is probably aware that August 2 was the Ironman Boulder and my "A" race for the year. Events took place that caused me not to finish which is regrettable but probably unavoidable.

I am fortunate not to be seriously injured (or injured at all for that matter) and alive and well. Given that this is a disappointment, I'm not inclined to dedicate my usual long post to the event. For a good recap, you should read my brother's blog. He had a great day and I'm sure will have a great race. Here's my abbreviated summary:


Checking in to get race materials (numbers, stickers, swim cap, etc) was pretty easy and we go that done on Thursday though Friday was an option as well. It was a good opportunity to scout out some of the area and then head back to my home in Parker.

Bike and Run Check-In were on Saturday and we arrived at Boulder Reservoir shortly after 10:00 along with throngs of others. Unlike more traditional races, the bike is checked in at one location and the equipment you need for it is kept in a plastic bag outside a change tent. When that was done, we drove most of the bike course just to get a view of it.

Later in the afternoon we dropped off our run gear bags (containing things like fresh socks, running shoes, etc.) and attended a race briefing which pretty much told us what we already knew.

The balance of the day was spent getting a few snacks for the special needs bags, having dinner with my coach and then getting back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

Race day started for me at 2:30 am. I was up, eating a bagel and cream cheese, drinking a bottle of Odwalla smoothie and gathering my remaining gear to bring to the race. Mostly, that was a morning clothing bag in which I brought my swim gear and would deposit what I wore to the race.

It was still quite dark when we dropped our special needs bags at a park just outside of Boulder High School (the site of T2) and still dark after the shuttle transported us to the reservoir.

I found my bike and managed to get my hands on a working pump so that I could re-inflate tires that I had left low the previous day. This was to prevent the tube from exploding while sitting in the hot sun the previous afternoon. I heard that actually happened to someone else.

The biggest event during the set up was news that the reservoir temperature had been taken at 4:00 that morning and was sitting at 78* F. That mean that if you wore a wetsuit, you would not qualify for any Kona slots and you would be in a wave at the back of everyone else. Kona qualifying really was not on the table for me, but swimming at the back sounded especially unappealing so I opted to do the race without the suit.

There's always a lot of waiting, especially when you are the first one on site. That's never fun, but it went by pretty quick and soon I was doffing my covering clothing leaving only my tri shorts on--I put the top in my bike gear bag.

As is becoming the case at many events, the swim start was a self-seeded rolling start. Given that I did not have a wetsuit, I put myself in the in the 1:15 - 1:30 group. This kind of start moves quickly and within 5 minutes of the 6:25am gun, I was in the water splashing and kicking with hundreds of others.

It's no secret that most triathletes are terrible swimmers and they proved that here. While plenty of people passed me, many others were struggling and doing things like breast-stroking and frog-kicking (dangerous) or back-stroking (maybe should have practiced in the open water. Despite this, I was making decent time and I felt great. I could tell I was slower, but then I figured so was everyone else.

After rounding the first buoy (which was utter chaos) the field was heading west. Soon, as I turned my head to the left to breath, I was treated to a spectacular view of the Flatirons as the rising sun was striking them. I've never been in a swim where that was the case. It was really amazing and it was one of the things that helped me just enjoy the day and not worry so much about performance.

Despite being slower, I was exiting the water around 1:23 and I felt good. I walked up the boat ramp and then jogged onto the grass, grabbed my gear bag and entered the change tent. Of course, tents are divided between men and women just as if they were locker rooms.

Unlike any locker room I've been in however, quarters were close. I found an empty folding chair, sat down and proceeded to start pulling on my jersey, socks and bike shoes. I also managed to slather a generous portion of Chamois Budd'r around my crotch and then pull some bike shorts on over my tri shorts. It was kind of slow going but soon enough, I left the tent, dropped my bag (which now contained my googles and swim cap) and ran up to where two volunteers rubbed me down with sunscreen.

I had plenty (maybe too much) water and I made a trip to the port-a-john before grabbing my bike and jogging out of transition. Unlike a short course race, the pace was easy. I carefully mounted the crowded area and was on the bike headed out of the reservoir.

I found my rhythm fairly soon and was moving easily along Highway 36 headed north out of town. It's a climb and it's crowded but I felt good. I was being super careful about drafting having seen officials on the backs of motos multiple times already. I made good time to the first down hill as well as to the turn off at Neva Road now heading east.

It was along here that I was really able to open up in the big ring and pick up some speed as the road sloped gently downward. Turning right onto 63rd Street also provided several opportunities to gain a little speed though there were some rollers as well. I was being diligent about nutrition and taking advantage of the water offered at the first aid station.

At Nelson Road, the course goes left and now you climb. It's not especially steep, but it was long and felt harder after the relatively easy first portion. I struggled a little bit up this and was kind of disappointed to only cross the 20 mile marker after over an hour and five minutes had passed. Fortunately, after turning right and now back on Highway 36, things eased up a lot. Hills were shallower and shorter and downhills were plentiful. I spent more time just cruising down and easing my legs so that they would stay as fresh as possible.

Much as I had recalled at the 70.3 event on the same weekend two years prior, the stretch down Highway 66 was flat to down and also a great place to gain a little speed. After turning right again and now heading south on 75th Street, I approached the small town of Hygiene at a good pace. I slowed as I approached some train tracks at the edge of that town. Despite the fact that they were covered with carpet, I still managed to eject a bottle. I shook that off knowing there would be plenty of replacement water soon.

The rest of the turning and twisting through back roads went fine and though I felt some fatigue and a little concern about pace, I decided I was doing pretty well. In short order, it was time for lap two and I did pretty much everything the same with exception of stopping at special needs around mile 60. I scarfed down a KIND bar and chased it with a bunch of water and probably was only stopped for about three or four minutes. The solid nutrition tasted good after so many gels and concentrated Gatorade and it gave me a little boost as I approached Highway 36 for the last time.

Shortly after passing Hygiene again, I started to feel a little tickle in the back of my throat. It was annoying and I did my best to cough and clear it but it persisted in coming back. I just kept moving and hoping it would pass.

As I cleared the final miles of the second lap, the heat had started to come on. I felt it wafting off the asphalt in places. When I did, I splashed a little water on my head front and back which helped some.

As you complete the second loop, you ride past Jay Road about a mile or so to a place where a bike path actually intersects the shoulder of the Highway 119. It's curves left and then passes under the highway eventually putting you back on the opposite side, now headed east away from Boulder toward Longmont.

The heat persisted and so did that scratchy feeling. Sometimes it abated, other times it became very present but seemed to go away for a while after some cold water and also when I was rolling down hill.

Shortly after making a right turn onto Highway 52, the steepest hill on the course awaits you. This is after over 90 miles so legs are not fresh and the heat of the day is really pressing down. I rode steady and in my lowest gear and was feeling okay. It's steep, but I've done steeper and longer. At one point, I thought I rode over a large pebble and heard it pop away under my tire.Unfortunately, I had flatted. I got off the bike and first tried just adding some CO2 but to no avail.

I pulled the bike off the shoulder and got the bike rim off and the tire pulled part way off. Getting the tube off was no trouble. Getting the new one on was a little difficult and I had to sit down so that I could relax a little bit and focus on what I was doing. Finally, the tire seated back on the edge of the rim and the tube was tucked in just as it should be. I used the same CO2 cartridge and filled it back up to very high pressure. I'm not sure that it was the same 105 to 110 PSI that I had at the start of the day, but the tire was hard enough that I could not depress it with my thumb. I waited for a break in the bike traffic (2800 people registered for this one) and then I was back on my way up the rest of the hill.

I was really tired and spent as I crested it and looking back, I think the heat was having an impact. But I felt good as I cruised down the back side of the hill and okay after turning right onto Highway 287. Not long after that, it was time to turn west and climb again now going the other direction (west) on Lookout Road. There was no jumbo hill here, just a series of three short but pretty steep ones. I was hurting a lot at this point and the tickle was back.

There was an aid station offering snow cones (basically just unflavored shaved ice) and I had a little but could not really enjoy it. I also could hear something rubbing every time I pedaled and by the time  I turned left onto 75th Street, it was bad enough to make me stop. Apparently the back break had been knocked out of adjustment after the tire change so I lost a couple of minutes getting that straightened out. I remounted and continued.

The road heads down hill and now the scratch and tickle started to feel more like my throat was closing. I tried to relax and breath easy as I rolled but apparently the lack of oxygen was also making me dizzy. I knew I needed to get of the bike and rest.

As luck would have it, there was an aid station around the corner on Jay Road so I rolled up, got off my bike and sat down on the shoulder. A volunteer put a cold rag on my back and I just stayed there until moving off the shoulder on the grassy weed on the side of the road and laid down. I was feeling pretty lousy at this point and just hoped it would pass after some rest.

I had been in that position for about 5 minutes when an EMT came by and asked how I was doing. I told him about my symptoms and he noted that my jaw was clenching when I took a deep breath. I finally managed to sit up on a camp chair and he moved the tent over to me.

At this point I was thinking maybe I could make it back to T2 and end up walking most of the run. I took some more deep breaths and they hurt and I started coughing. Right around that time, the EMT asked if he could persuade me to go to the medical tent. He said a couple more paramedics were coming by in an ambulance and would check me out.

I think I knew this was coming, but part of me was still clinging to the idea of staying in the race. The more rational part of my mind knew, however, that if riding was hard, how would I handle running? I had to accept that this was not going to happen. I got in the ambulance.

One of the paramedics in the ambulance lent me his phone and I called my wife to let her know what was up. She and my parents had been tracking me via the Ironman site and saw that I was only 10 minutes behind my brother at the last timing mat but now I was nowhere to be seen. I told her to wait and I'd let her know when I got more information.

The staff at the medical tent were helpful and I saw two other guys so I knew I was not the only one having a bad day. After lying down on a plastic lawn chair, they hooked me up to an IV and to an EKG as well as a pulse oximeter. The EKG machine printed out a chart that was handed to a Physicians Assistant working the tent. I figured it was normal since they always are when I have my annual physical/

Shortly thereafter, however, an MD, an ER doctor who was also the race medical director came and told me about his concerns. The EKG readings along with a family history (my maternal grandfather died of a heart attack when he was in his late forties) gave him pause. He felt that they needed to do some blood testing that could not be done in the tent. He wanted me to be taken to the hospital.

Therefore, about 15 minutes later I was loaded into a transport ambulance (a different one) and taken to the Boulder Community Hospital. It was here that blood was taken as well as a chest x-ray. I was pretty much on an IV the whole time and in the ER treatment room, I was also given an O2 tube for my nostrils.

Keep in mind through all of this, I felt fine. The problems on the bike were behind me though my throat still hurt when I took deep breaths. Nevertheless, healthcare staff are trained to be cautious and they were.

 The initial blood work looked good with the only notable finding was dehydration which was to be expected. The more complex testing would take longer. In the interim, my wife and father-in-law who had been spectating arrived and not long after my parents. I felt a little ridiculous having all these people there because again, I felt fine.

The chest x-ray was normal but the blood test indicated that I had slightly elevated levels of troponin which was not unusual in athletes during exercise but was still cause for concern because it can also be a marker for serious heart issues, in other words, a heart attack.

I knew I had not suffered a heart attack. I had no chest pain nor any of the other classic symptoms. However, the ER doctor at the hospital wanted to have the test run again. If it was trending down, great, I would be sent home. If not, they would want to keep me overnight.

I eventually persuaded my parents to leave and go watch my brother finish. He was having an phenomenal race. I also got my wife and father-in-law to go out to the course and pick up my bike and gear bags.

The hospital admitted me to a short-term stay ward where short-term means hours. I was introduced to a couple of nurses who would attend to me and then I just had to wait until it was time for the second blood test.

Eventually that was done and there were no longer any troponin levels in my blood. I was able to return to my hotel.

I would be a liar if I said I have not experienced some pretty profound feelings of disappointment. I've trained really hard all year and not finishing the race--not even starting the run, is a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

Put into perspective, however, this is not a really big deal. People out there are dealing with diagnoses of terminal illnesses, the death of friends and family and a whole host of real problems that will trouble them for years. I'll get over this in a couple of weeks.

For now, I'm going to ease back into some off-season training. My legs are still pretty fresh and I think I was doing pretty well until I had to drop out due to the throat issue. Had that not manifested itself, I think it would have been a very satisfying day.

As for what actually happened, that was and probably always will be a mystery. I have a couple of theories. One is that the high heat caused a spike in ozone levels. It would explain the acute but localized irritation. Another thought is that pollens (which are high right now) affected more than normal. I don't know what grows in greater Boulder that does not also exist in Parker, but who's to say? The most important thing is that the problem does not present again. I'll know in a couple of days when I go for a run.

The obvious question now is will I try again? Barring any actual underlying health issues, absolutely. No, I'm not going to try and find a late season race. That feels too reactive and I want to proactive about racing again.

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.

Putting an IM race on the back-burner is not easy. A big part of me wants to try again as soon as possible, but I have to be calm, logical and unemotional about this decision. Right now is certainly not the time to make it.

Now my short post has been quite long. Apparently I had more to say than I realized but putting it all down has been cathartic. I'll have more in time but for now, thanks for reading!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ironman Boulder Race Plan


When I was a junior in high school, my last chance to letter for the season came at the conference meet. I had to do the 5k course in 18:30 or better. A week previously, I had done an easier course in 18:45. During the intervening week I spent the time psyching myself up and freaking out. When I stood at the line to begin this last race, I was so nervous I nearly threw up.

At 17 I was already a bundle of nerves, hormones and god-only-knows what else and the added adrenaline of performing in this race pretty much overwhelmed me. The short version of what happened is that I went out to hard and crashed in the last half of the race. I didn’t earn a letter until the following spring in track.
With what might be the biggest race since that day back in 1986, I’m trying not to repeat my mistake. I’m nervous and anxious alright, but not overwhelmed.


In what I’m sure they believe to be a bit of marketing cleverness, Ironman requires packet pick-up two days before the event so Friday for the Sunday race. Bike check-in is Saturday but what it all means is two trips to Boulder. This might not be a big deal if you were travelling from out of state to the race and had a hotel booked for the weekend, but for a local like me, it’s a pain in the ass. Nevertheless, Friday I shall be picking up the material and then heading up to my parents’ home in northern Colorado (this saves me a night in the hotel). It’s also the last night to get a really good night’s sleep. I’m off from work for the next five weeks so I’m hoping it will be the culmination of a week’s worth of good sleep.

Saturday is when things really start happening. I’m getting my hair cut short (like really short) to stay cool and I have an easy 30 minute run that is standard fare from my coach on the day before a race. Then it’s off to Boulder to check in the bike, drive the bike course, and then check into the hotel and take it easy. Some of this time will obviously be spent packing the various bags for T1, T2 and special needs. I’ll be in bed as early as possible but I doubt it will be a full night’s sleep.

On race morning, wake-up time is between 2:30 and 3:00 when I’ll start by eating my pre-race meal of a bagel and cream cheese, an Odwalla super foods drink and probably a cup of coffee.

The swim start is accessible only via shuttles so I hope to be on one of the first around 4:30. Once at the reservoir, I’ll be inflating my tires to full pressure, making sure the Garmin is dialed in and all of my things are appropriately placed for T1. Around 6:00 I’ll eat a gel to top off my energy levels. 

I’m hoping I’ll be able to get a few minutes of practice swimming in. It’s not an especially big deal to do so, but getting the heart rate up prior to the start would be helpful.

The Swim

The swim start is a rolling one where athletes “Self-seed” into a pace group. While my training and open water experience suggests I can finish the distance in about 1:15, I’ll follow my coach’s advice and aim for 1:10. Like any start, it’s going to be a washing machine with muddy water and lots of group-grope. I’ve dealt with this on multiple occasions and I trust my experience to keep me calm and focused.

The key to a good swim is to find a rhythm and hold it. I’ve had success doing that in the open water and that’s the plan here. No worry about how far I’ve gone or how much left, just how long until the next buoy. This idea of breaking things down into bite-sized chunks is a theme that will run through the whole strategy.

Other than getting a rhythm and swimming as I have throughout my training, there really is no other strategy. If I feel my arms getting a little tired or my lungs a little winded, I’ll ease back. But this is the easiest part of the race for me.

Goal Time: 1:15:00

The Bike

Being the longest portion of the day affords the opportunity for more things to go wrong. Key among these is nutrition which has certainly had a negative impact on past performances. However, I’ve also had some successes here so I’m going to be focused on that.

Dave Scott recently tweeted out a recommendation to stand for the first short bit of the bike and that makes some sense to me; get things loosened out and build some brief momentum right off the line. My coach also recommends taking the first loop of the course easier and getting my legs established. That will be especially important as the first five miles out of the reservoir are a climb. No doubt I’ll see several people roaring past me but they are either truly faster or foolish. There ought to be lots of free speed heading down the hill after mile five until the first really big hill at mile 15. My approach to this hill (both times I face it) will be to gear down and spin as much as possible. A lot of talk out there suggests that 70% of FTP is a good target for this distance so I’ll look to keep my 10 second average power around 150 watts. No doubt that will spike up and down some but it gives me a reliable guidepost. If I drop below, I can always shift up.

Miles 20 to 40 are a net drop though not 100% free speed. There are sections (such as along the Diagonal Highway) where you are climbing. Of course, you’re right back to climbing again as you start loop two and climb out of the reservoir area again. 

After completing the two loops, things are going to get, uh, interesting.

Shutting down Diagonal Highway is not really a viable option for the race directors. It’s just too busy and is a major access point into Boulder from most of northern Colorado. What they do have is a bike path that is accessible from the highway and allows us to ride under it so that we can head back northbound. This is all along the highway which is no stranger to bikers of all calibers (including many professionals). After heading back out, there’s the turn east onto Highway 52.

As a more or less native son of northern Colorado and an alumnus of the University of Colorado, this was often my route between home and college. I’ve driven it more times than I can count. I’m not sure I’ve ever ridden it. For the motorist headed west into town, you’re greeted with a spectacular vista of the Boulder Valley that’s rivaled only by a similar view from Highway 36 which is the route to Denver. As a cyclist, it means you’ve got a pretty tough hill to climb and this is some 90 miles into the ride. 

What it is not, however, is Olde Stage Road west of town. It’s also not any of the Three Sisters outside of Steamboat Springs. It is a hill that Map My Ride rates as a Class 5 hill which is the easiest of their rated hills. According to their software, this is 1.68 miles at an average grade of 2.5%. The steepest part is more like 4% and it’s near the top.

One of the things we practiced on the Three Sisters ride at triathlon camp was “pushing over the top” which is to day keeping the effort going fully until gravity starts to pull you forward rather than backward. That will be the strategy here because after cresting it, there’s a long sustained drop until turning around to head back west at which point you climb back up that same hill, just on a different rode. In both cases, I’m going to avoid burning too many matches and push over. The balance of the ride will be easy spinning and some out of the saddle to stretch the legs as much as possible.

I’m planning on stuffing my bento box with gels and carry one (possibly two) bottles of concentrated Gatorade Endurance Formula (the same stuff I’ve been training with and what’s offered on the course) and taking in around 200 calories an hour. There are probably those who would recommend more, but I don’t think my gut will take more than that.

Goal Time: 6:30:00 – 6:45:00

The Run

If I had to guess, I would say that most folks will say I’m going off any script of accepted practices for the run but let’s be honest: if things are going to go to shit, they will on the run. This is my plan but I’ll be more than happy to trash it depending on circumstances. 

Since even with some on-the-bike stretching, I’ll likely be a bit stiff in the hip flexors, it makes sense to jog easy. I’m going to do that for five minutes and if I feel tired, hot or otherwise struggling, I’m going to give myself a five minute walk off the bat. 

The next phase may be the most challenging. I’ve had some luck with run/walk strategies in training so I’m going to try to do four intervals of 10 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of walking. That covers 44 minutes and depending on pacing around four miles. If you add in the first ten minutes it’s closer to five miles.

This first set will be followed by another five minute walk break. I’m happy to cut those short if I feel great, but the realistic view is that I’ll want the rest.

Overall, this running plan recognizes that things are going to get harder and harder as the distance progresses. I’ve had optimistic plans that figured I could power through and they have not come to fruition. I’ve been running a ton lately (nearly 40 miles last week) and I think I have a lot of endurance, but this is going to be several hours in on what could very easily be a hot day.

With all of that in mind, the next four intervals will be 9 minutes of running and 2 minutes of walking followed by—you guessed it—a five minute walk break. You may see where this is going. By the end, I expect to be walking about as much as I’m running which is at five minutes of either.

Now if I feel better, especially after ten miles or so, I can always take shorter breaks or run for longer periods of time. In truth, I’ve been on some long training runs and felt okay near the end. I may find I can zone out and just keep moving. That would be nice. In fact, that would be ideal. Planning for the ideal is folly, however, so I’m going to plan based on past experiences. More than anything, I’m just going to keep moving forward. In addition to whatever scheduled walks I have, if they don’t coincide with aid stations, I’ll still walk through those to make sure I get the water and nutrition I need. But I won’t stop moving forward, period.

Goal Time: 5:25:00 – 5:45:00


Last year it was a point of pride to get through transition with speed. I’m less concerned about that for this race but there are a couple of time savers. I’ll be swimming with my kit under my wetsuit. I initially thought about wearing trunks and then putting on the kit in the change tent, but this will be faster. I’ll pull a pair of bike shorts on overthe kit. I did a couple of test rides this way and it works well. Probably the only change tent thing will be applying some Chamois butter which will not take long. When I get to T2, I’ll just have to slide the bike shorts off, put on the shoes (which have lock-laces) and be on my way. I’m giving myself about 10 minutes per transition but as far as actual idle time, I should need much less.

Overall Race Goal: 13:30:00 – 14:00:00

In truth, just finishing this is going to be fine by me. I’ve trained long and hard so obviously doing well matters, but if I have a lousy race but still cross the finish line before midnight then I define that as a success.

It’s unlikely I’ll post again before the race. It’s time to go see what happens. Writing this has been somewhat cathartic for me so if you’ve read it all, thanks!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Getting Real

About three years ago I posted about the anxiety I was feeling as I headed into my first-ever 70.3 race. Probably based on the name “Anxiety”, it’s become one of my most popular posts on the site. I expect the things that I talked about then ring true for a lot of athletes.

Years have passed and I’ve had some great successes and some borderline failures. Fortunately, none of those have included a DNF (voluntary or otherwise) but I did come away from a race or two feeling like I did a pretty lousy job of preparation. That lead me to hire a coach and things have been going very well ever since, but there is, of course the lingering question about how I will perform less than 19 days from today.

To a great extent, this is a leap of faith. Granted, I trained last year on his philosophy of intensity over volume and that lead to a significant PR in at the 70.3 distance. Coming off a fairly lackluster 2013 there was a lot of room to improve, but I think finishing the distance in less than 6 hours is a pretty respectable performance—more so for someone in his mid to late forties.

A benefit I had last year that I have not had in 2015 was doing other races leading up to my “A” race. In hindsight, it might have been wise to do a race or two, but I really wanted to focus all of my energy on not only completing an Ironman, but doing so at or faster than my goal time of 14 hours. As a result, my only gauge on performance has come from workouts that are not exactly what I’ll be doing on race day.

That said  it’s time for me to take stock. With less than three weeks to go, there are not a lot of improvements to be made. Rather, I’m now focused on maintaining whatever readiness I’ve achieved to date.


Never say never goes the old saw so let’s say that I am more than 95% confident that the swim is going to go just fine. Yesterday I swam 5800 yards over a two hour period. I got pretty sick of being in the pool but my energy level never dropped to the point of wanting to stop. I was focused on getting that big swim workout done and out of the way. I’ve only been in the open water twice this year (though there are two more to come) but both times I was swimming at a pace of 1:30/100 yards. Slow that down all the way to 1:45 and I’m still exiting the water in an hour and fifteen minutes. Even an hour and twenty would be fine with me. More importantly, I think I’ll exit with lots of my energy still intact.


This one is still a bit of a mystery. I did a long ride over the July 4 holiday of 80 miles over four hours though the first 25 miles of that one involved a lot of downhill. The mostly flat remainder went pretty well but I also got off the bike pretty tired. 

As I’ve done long rides around my neighborhood, climbing hills has been easier and easier and I do feel like I’ve got both good strength and good cardio endurance. What is still unclear is just how much endurance I have. It would be less than ideal to go for 80 miles and then have my energy levels drop out for the remaining 30. And lost energy would be a very bad omen for the upcoming run.

My main strategy will be to gauge how I feel during the ride. In other words, if I’m pacing for around a six hour ride and I feel good, fine, but if I start to sense much fatigue after a few miles of this, that’s a clear sign to back off and keep things steady. The Boulder course rolls a lot, especially on the first two laps where you climb a decent hill between miles 15 and 21 (first lap) and 56 and 62 (second lap). Both of those efforts are rewarded with sustained descents so I’m hoping that will equate to recovery. Two shorter but steeper hills await starting at miles 90 and 95.

As I’ve said, I’m a decent climber and I do a lot of it during training, but whether I’m truly ready or not won’t really be known until the last miles of the bike.


That fist 70.3 taught me a thing or two about running and the lesson has been repeated every time at that distance since: no matter how optimistic I am about the run, things tend to go worse than planned. A classic example of that was last year’s Harvest Moon race. I had never been more prepared to go run 13.1 miles off the bike. My legs were a little spent from all the hard work during the ride, but I kept a respectable pace going for 8 miles but then my legs and lungs started to give me trouble. By the time I had reached 11 miles, walking was happening as frequently as running. I was fortunate to have banked enough time during the first half that I only missed by goal time by 8 minutes, but even today, I’m dissatisfied with how much it hurt. But it really hurt.

I’ve done a lot of running at both long distance and high intensity and I do feel like I’ve got a big base of endurance, but then again, we’re talking about hours out on the course and some of it will very likely be in high heat.  I think I can establish a rhythm at a slow pace and hold that for a while. I’ve got a fairly detailed plan of attack, but history has taught me not to rely on that too much.

A more detailed race plan will be posted closer to the big date.

For now, thanks for reading!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Tri Camp Continued

Part 2: Three Sisters


In 1985 INXS released their album Listen Like Thieves to mixed reviews. I was 16 at the time and it quickly became my favorite. I pretty much wore out the cassette tape in the deck of my ’74 Corolla. While hits like the What You Need, Kiss the Dirt, and title track are best remembered, I recall a mellow but very cool instrumental track called Three Sisters.


On the second day of triathlon camp I had another encounter with three sisters. Unlike the Tim Farriss guitar licks, this was not a mellow experience.


We met a member of the local tri club at a KenTaconear our condo and were on our way after a few obligatory start-of-ride pictures.

Our initial ride took us along part of the Steamboat Olympic Triathlon until we took a couple more turns that put us on Routt County Road 33 headed westerly and upward. The initial foray was not too bad with a few short hills and then some down or flat stretches. Per my coach’s instructions, I tried to keep my power in Zone 3 and save the hard work for later. 

Roughly half an hour later we hit our first big hill and I mashed for roughly ten minutes on a grade that averaged 3.8%. I was feeling the pain a little bit at this point, but overall, my legs were still feeling fresh. My coach was riding just ahead of me and I saw him go over the crest and he soon disappeared down the hill. I decided to follow suit.


Over the last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with multiple flat tires. On a couple of occasions, that problem was solved simply by using my CO2 cartridge. On a couple of other occasions, I had to call my wife for a rescue. I started riding down the hill and picking up speed. Soon after the tell-tale sign of shaky handle bars and lateral drift told me that I had flatted. Worse, I had actually flatted both tires.

We were fortunate to have SAG support on the ride—the other coach was driving the course—and a text to him had him at my side in just a few minutes. I had one spare tube, and fortunately, my brother had stashed another in the vehicle.

We managed to get both tires fixed and then we added considerably more pressure than I had been using recently. For some reason, I got it in my head that higher pressure and warmer temperatures would increase the likelihood of flatting. Turns out, the opposite was probably true. In any case, the delay took 32 minutes off my ride.


Fortunately, I got going again and had no more issues. The remainder of the time down Road 33 consisted of a few rollers and a few descents before I caught up again with my coach at the turn-off onto Road 27.


A series of three climbs with only short descents between have been dubbed the Three Sisters and it’s one of the more famous rides in the area. We settled into a slow, low-gear pace and I began my ascent. I’m not especially fast going up hills, but I generally can just put my head down (figuratively) and push through them without too much pain. It’s a skill that helped me survive last year’s Mountain Top Experience Ride

The First Sister is only about a mile long but sports a 6% grade. It’s over fast and you could be lulled into a false sense of your own ability except that as you start the first descent, you can see the Second Sister in up ahead.


For me, that second one was the hardest. It’s only slight steeper and longer (about 6.2% and about 1.4 miles) but coming so soon after the first one, you really start to feel it in your legs and your lungs. Upon reaching the crest of this one, you’re just under 7500 feet.

The Third Sister is the longest but it’s not quite as steep. Nevertheless, the extra length starts to ware on you and you can’t see the end since the road curves a bit. I was feeling pretty gassed and my legs were complaining quite a bit by now. Fortunately, it’s followed by a very long descent into the small town of Oakville.


From there it’s mostly downhill with a few rollers until you reach what locals call Kill Hill. Honestly, I didn’t think it was that bad, but then I was not going at it particularly aggressively. Shortly after cresting it, we made a left turn back onto the triathlon course and a short while later, I was arriving in the parking lot where our SAG car was ready to take our bikes.


My brother and I headed out on a killer run that involves attempting to hit heart rate zone 5 in the first five minutes. That’s followed by a recovery and then some shorter intervals of the same. It was really grueling after the ride. Fortunately, the Yampa River was flowing gently near our finish point so we stood in the cold water for a few which no-doubt helped with the recovery.


After some lunch, a visit to Butcherknife Brewery and a nap, we had dinner and then proceeded with a very thorough race briefing from both coaches. We had a lot of questions about this race and doing an Ironman in general and the information they conveyed was invaluable.


Of course I would still have been ready for the big event had I not attended this camp, but doing so has done to boost not only my fitness, but also my confidence. The coming weeks will see the remainder of my hard workouts and then my taper. More posts are sure to come. 

Thanks for reading

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