Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Look Back at the First Season - What I Learned

By crossing the finish line in San Diego last Sunday, I completed my first season of triathlons. All told the count was three tri's and one du (that one having originally been scheduled as a tri).

I've chronicled a lot of that in the last nine months or so and I don't plan to rehash it all here. That would be like watching a television show where an episode is mostly just a bunch of flashbacks to previous episodes. Not here.

However, there is something more to be gleaned from looking back at this first year: the most important things I've learned and what I'll talk with me going into my next year. So in no particular order, here's the list:

  1. A well-thought-out and faithfully executed plan is a road map to success. I made the decision to get into triathlons just as last season was coming to a close. It gave me lots of time to prepare and then tweak a plan to get ready. I made use of a lot of great online resources including Trifuel, Trinewbies and blogs like this one. While any plan needs to be flexible, having a fairly good idea of what you want to do and by when does much to drive success.
  2. There is nobility in working hard during the off season. No one completes a successful triathlon without a lot of hard work. I believe that is as true of a sprint as it is of a full Ironman (though granted I've never done the latter). It says a lot about your character and your perseverance to keep slogging out those early morning swims, long tedious rides on the trainer and runs in the bitter cold. The payoff is evident when you're in the event and you feel like you're prepared.
  3. Equipment is fun, but having the best stuff does not make you better. I'm a big fan of those Xtra Normal computer generated cartoons. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out this one:

There's another along a similar vain in which one of the characters points out that triathlon causes diseases such as "major douche-bag syndrome" and "self important bitch-itis." That's too true. I would love to have one of those feather light carbon tri bikes with a really cool set of carbon wheels. They look like bikes from the future. Hell, I'd be happy with a new Garmin 310! But the fact of the matter is that the real work is done with your arms, your legs, your head and your heart (the later in both the literal and figurative sense). I've got just as much respect for the lady that finished last in the Greeley Triathlon riding an old heavy steel bike as I do for the guy with the $5000 set-up.

4. This sport is really addictive. After every race I finished, I found myself anxious for the next one. Even after this past Sunday when I knew the season was over, I felt a little urge to do more. There's something so cool about doing three sports. It's like we all get to be Olympic athletes for a short period. It is the Randian notion of man as heroic being in its very best sense. I can't wait for next season!

 5. The support of friends and family is the fuel that keeps this all going. My wife showed up to all four events I did this year. That meant some really early mornings just to take pictures and yell "Go Paul!" a few times as I ran in and out of transition. My parents and in-laws were also in attendance at various races. My nieces cheered me on to the finish of the Creek Streak. Even just the likes I got on Facebook regarding my status about doing a triathlon were encouraging. I'd still do all of this if no one cared, but it sure is nice to have so many people behind me.

So the season has ended. Lakes will soon be too cold for open water swims. The days are getting shorter and that means cycling after work will become more and more difficult before just becoming impossible. In my part of the world, there are very few events scheduled. Some already have their 2012 information up on their website.

For me, the next few weeks involve my prep for the Rock & Roll Half Marathon on October 9. I had a good 9 mile run this morning and followed it with any easy fifteen minute spin on my hybrid bike. Once the race is over I'm going to take a week and do nothing at all. Then it's time for off-season conditioning including the building of a big mileage base. I'm leaning toward trying a Half Iron Man next summer. I think I can do it, but I'm going to take a little more time to make that decision. And, of course, I've got a plan. Two of them in fact: one for conditioning and one for a HIM in August.

I think I'll still have a lot to write about on these pages. There's a little bit of travel (Hawaii in about six months for example) and plenty of stuff going on this winter. It's a time of year I tend to spend more time in the kitchen and I think that's going to find it's way here as a new blog feature.

Thanks for reading and I'll be back with more soon!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Race Report - Tri Rock San Diego

Much as was the case after the Creek Streak, there's a bunch of stuff though talking about the expo yesterday ought to pare it down somewhat

Today's race day started like all of the others--early.

I rolled out of bed a little before six and began with a Mix1 shake and a bottle of Gatorade. I decided to forgo my usual early morning wake-up for a smoothie. In hindsight, that worked out just fine. By a little after six, my wife, sister-in-law and I were on our way south the the race site. It did not take me long to get into transition and into my own specifically designated space. As you can see, it was crowded:

I nevertheless got everything arranged. After having already done three multisport events, getting my transition area set is getting to be routine and not difficult.

I lingered around there watching a No Doubt tribute band called No Duh (funny, huh) until a little before the transition close at 7:30. From there it was a short walk over to the swim starting area.

It was nice to see the in-water start go a few times before it was time for my wave. Not much to it, but this is the first time I've done or even seen a start where you had to float in the water before the starting horn.

There was also live entertainment. This is a boat, of course, but it was also a stage for a band called Sum Mojo that was playing as each wave started. Very cool:

Time actually passed fairly quickly and before I knew it, my wave was in the coral and ready to enter the water. Ours was the first wave of the Olympic so we got a few instructions on the course but the emphasis was on few.

While not balmy, the water was basically cool and not at all unpleasant. Water in the bay is much warmer than in the open ocean and of course, the water was calm. Here's my wave right before the start. Can you see me? I'm the one in the black wetsuit and blue cap:

And then we were off on our 1500 meter adventure:

I felt pretty good during the swim. I tried to push it a little bit after swimming slower than I would have liked in the last race, but I was still fairly cautious considering the ride and run that would follow.

Things were going, well, swimmingly as I made the turn to swim back to the inlet where the start and swim exit were located. The sun was up, but not right in my face so I was able to site fairly well or so I thought. Not long before making my last turn, I started encountering oncoming traffic. Despite the best efforts of the safety people in the water, our wave was coming head on into one of the later waves.

The guy in the yellow shirt has the job of water safety, not course direction so I don't really blame him. Might have made sense to have a wider space between outgoing and incoming swimmers so there would not have been the collision.

No matter. I didn't collide with anyone and once I rounded the last buoy I was out of traffic and on my way back to the stairs that lead up the sea wall to the sidewalk that showed us into transition.

The transition area is really big so I ended up running for well over a minute to get back to my bike. I took my time getting the brand new wetsuit off considering the tear that resulted from my haste in the last one. I felt like I moved with reasonable speed and before long I was on my way out of transition onto Harbor Drive, heading south.

The ride was harder than I imagined. That's probably mostly because it was a three lap crit with a couple of short but steep hills that did much to slow down my speed. The original course would have had two laps so I hit the hills an extra time. Still, it went pretty well and I did not feel tired nor hot which is a very good thing.

My three laps went by quickly and then it was time to hit the final stage the run. As I mentioned in my report of the Creek Streak the run was the hard part. Heat did me in and I felt pretty awful by the time I finished.

I guess there is something to be said for cooler weather and running at sea level (about 6000 feet lower than my normal training altitude).

This is where things got a little weird. We were heading out of the transition area on  boardwalk that runs along the harbor. Not actual boards mind you, but a seaside sidewalk. That's fine. Tri's typically are smaller events than foot races so a road closure might not have been feasible. But how about a sidewalk closure? Nope. All the tourists, panhandlers, buskers and whoever else happened to be down at the harbor this morning and most were oblivious to the fact that they were walking in the middle of a triathlon course. Seriously. I had to dodge around people gawking at the Star of India, and pedicabs and throngs of tourists. That's not any of their fault, but it raises some serious questions about what the hell the race organizers at Competitor were thinking.

Frustrated though I was, the run was going really well. I was in the low 9:00 range and I felt good. The breeze coming of the bay kept me cool and I was drinking in oxygen at a much higher rate than high altitude.

So here's the breakdown of the race:

The bad:

Pre-race communication: I don't know why this is so hard but why can't a website have detailed maps of each stage, a race day schedule, and all of the other information that would be helpful. Yes, it did show up eventually, but not until about a week before. Seriously people.

Cost: I believe I got a discount, but this one still cost me something like $150 to run. That made it by far the most expensive race I've ever done including the 2006 Rock & Roll marathon. My entry fee was before my costs to travel out here. For that kind of price, I expect a much higher standard than the one delivered today.

Course: The swim course was great. It was even scenic which does not matter all that much but it was still nice. The bike course was pretty bland or just downright ugly since it was just a loop through an industrial area. I can forgive that a little bit because the original plan was to run us through the Navy base and that would have been cool. Credit for trying even though the threat level ended up scrubbing that. The run....the run could have been better if the sidewalk had been closed. Not sure how that would have been done or what the cost might have been, but that's also not my problem. Did I mention that I paid $150? The weaving in and out of pedestrians is something I might expect at a "mom and pop" event and in that case it would even be a little charming, For this event, it was just poor execution.

Expo: Expo's are not a really big deal to me, but since you have to attend this one to get your packet, it might have been nice to have more vendors show up. It would have been particularly nice to snag some free samples of Foggle or VeloShine.

The Good:

Venue: The convention center and adjoining park made for a great transition and start and finish area. Both racers and spectators had a nice place to hang out before, during and after the race. I enjoyed the time I spent there very much.

Swag: I got some nice stuff including a cool tech shirt in my bag and the bag itself is pretty cool. There was the usual garbage as well but I think only the BolderBoulder has better stuff.

Finish Area: Even though the sprint awards ceremony was going on as I finished, they still had a guy doing a finishers announcement as I came across the finish line. It was through an arch and in view of a big grandstand. There was also a stage on which an AC/DC tribute band was playing. Awesome!

Bands: From No Duh, to Sum Mojo to a few others I never learned the name of, the music on the course is perhaps the strongest aspect of Competitor's brand. It wasn't just that there was music, but most of them were pretty good. It's, I'm sure, not an easy gig but I hope they all know how much the athletes on the course appreciate the effort.

Remembering 9/11: The folks who put this race on knew that today was the tenth anniversary of that awful day a decade ago. San Diego is a big military town with lots of Navy and Marines around and they made sure that a proper observation of the day was done. It culminated with a parachute drop next to the transition area:

In summary, will I be back to do this next year? I don't know. It's hard to pack everything up and travel for a race and even with family in the area and frequent flier miles, the costs can add up. There are a lot of competing events going on back home including a Century ride at my Alma Matter in Boulder. I had a really great time and finished better than I expected. But I'm not sure I was so blown away that I'd do it all again. It remains, for the time being, an open question.


Swim:  30:51
T1:   4:13
Bike: 49:34
T2: 3:06
Run: 58:39
Overall: 2:26:24

And like that, my 2011 triathlon season is over. That brings a sense of relief and melancholy all at once. What an amazing year my introduction to the sport has been. How much have I learned and experienced? Well that sounds like a good subject for an upcoming post.

Thanks for reading and God Bless America on this day of days!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ready To Go!

It's now just the waiting. I've been to the Expo, picked up my packet, seen the transition and start areas. The only step left is to wait about 16 more hours for the start. In other words, the worst part!

For 1800 registrants and the fact that it is a competitor event, I kind of thought that there might be more exhibitors at this one. I think the Summer Open Sprint, an event only a quarter the size of this one, actually had a bigger expo.
Nevertheless, the point of attending was, first and foremost, to get my packet. The process was orderly and smooth which is a good sign. After checking to make sure I had a properly signed confirmation sheet, I then picked up my packet, t-shirt and swag bag.
The line was never long and always moved easily:

Then it was on to see the meager selection of exhibitors. I think there were only about 10. A couple were impressive including the Blue Competition Cycles where I talked to one of their reps about this aluminum composite triathlon bike:

 As I've read and as he explained to me, they design their bikes with triathletes in mind so it's more of a tri bike than a TT bike. At $1800 it's actually not a bad price. I think if I ever end up going this route, however, I'll spring for the carbon frame.
Another cool thing that Blue is doing or at least attempting to do is designing their geometries toward the triathlete. That means that, in theory, your legs should be more ready for a run than they would be after riding a time-trial bike. I think it will be interesting to see if that proves out over time.
In addition to seeing the exhibitors and picking up my complimentary bottle of Mix1, I also got to see the finish area. This being a Competitor event, there's a stage for the headliner concert that follows the race:

They have also set up a grandstand that over looks the finish arch:

Ought to be a cool way to finish!
Finally it was a trip over to the swim start which will be in the water:

This floating platform is the way into the water but not the actual starting platform. A coral is behind me as a I took this picture and they will be putting waves in the water a few at a time.
Finally, it would not be complete if I did not post a picture of the vast, empty transition area:

Those are wood blocks to slip a bike tire into. I've found I prefer the more upright stands like the ones used at the Creek Streak but that's not the most important thing.

The large grey building you see on the left is the San Diego Convention Center which will also provide free parking for participants and spectators which is a nice touch.

Once I had chowed down on a footlong BMT from Subway, it was time to go through the packet and swag bag.

There is no shot of it here, but I was a little dismayed to see they are requiring a helmet sticker. Not a big deal but I think they are too small to see and a lot of helmets (like mine) don't have a flat surface on which to stick it.

Otherwise, it was pretty standard fair inside:

It all came in a nice draw-string bag backpack thing that's particularly useful for packing shoes. The tech shirt is also cool since I don't believe I currently have any blue ones:

So that's about it. I've checked and rechecked everything so it's just water, rest, sleep and then go. Next post (which I hope will be tomorrow but might not be until after I'm back home) will be the race report which is, of course, the last triathlon race report of my inaugural year in the sport. But fear not, I've been busy writing my 2011/2012 training plan and determining how ambitious I want to be when the season starts up again. I've also got plans for a new feature or two for the site.

In the meantime, I'll talk to you soon.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Nice Day in San Diego

This morning started pretty early to ensure that we made our 8:00 flight. Things were going fairly well until it came time to check my bike. Contrary to what is said on their website, the gate agent saw fit to hit me up for a $50 fee. Never mind that the bike weighed less than the suitcase we were checking. Never mind that it was smaller than two suitcases (for which I would not have had to pay a thing). Never mind that Southwest routinely brags in their ads that they don't charge for bags. You may be noticing a theme here. I've calmed down some, but overall, I'm pissed. The $50 charge is a nuisance fee. It's out of character for Southwest and it's the sort of thing that can cost them a customer.

Okay...this is not a bitch about airlines blog. It's about the tri. I guess my $50 at least got me my bike safe and sound to San Diego.

Between arriving and unpacking the bike, we spent a nice afternoon at Pacific Beach. There are a lot of beaches in this town, but PB is still my favorite. There's lots of character, some great "street food" types of places to eat and just a generally laid back feeling that used to typify Southern California. .

It was actually much brighter than it looks but apparently my iPhone filtered out a lot of the sunshine.

After the beach it was back to my sister-in-law's place to reassemble the bike. I've probably been the most nervous about this. It was fairly easy to take it all apart, but getting it back together and having it work...well, that's harder.

I took my time, but everything went back they way it was supposed to and a short ride up and down the street had all gears and both brakes working. That's a big relief.

Speaking of the bike, when I turned my phone on after landing, I had an e-mail from the TriRock indicating a course change. Given the recent warnings about something possibly happening on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, the portion of the course that was going to run through the Navy base was canceled. I can't blame them. There are a lot of ships there and who knows what other kinds of security risks and letting a bunch of people who have not been screened probably does not make a lot of sense.

All that said, it does make me wonder why the race organizers didn't anticipate that there would be a potential problem with a race on the 10th anniversary of a major terrorist attack running through an active military base. It's not unreasonable to think that either the threat level would be elevated (as it is) or that the powers that be would restrict access just to be cautious.

Well, if it was anticipated, nothing was done. As a result, the 20 mile bike ride has been reduced to 14.5 miles. I'm not devastated (we still get to ride a closed course after all) but a little frustrated at the lack of planning.

Tomorrow is the expo where I'll try and grab a few pictures and then of course, at this time tomorrow I hope to be in bed if not completely asleep.

Until then, have a pleasant evening.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


An as of yet not explained power outage on the west coast canceled my flight to San Diego this evening. Fortunately, we've been re-booked on an 8:00 am tomorrow. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Not that I'd want to carry it around too much, but the bike has been really easy to manage. The satchel bag with my laptop has been less comfortable although quite a bit smaller.

Another piece of good news, about 20 minutes before we needed to leave for the airport, the UPS guy showed up with my new wetsuit and it fits. Much relief there!

So an early start tomorrow and then we're off!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Going Mobile!

In three days I'm headed to San Diego for the TriRock. Since this involves a flight rather than a drive, it means special preparations for my bike.

Back in May, I found an Aerus Biospeed soft case on Craig's List for a little over half the list price. Given this is the sort of thing that is going to get dirty and scratched up after just one use, I was more than happy to buy second-hand.

Well, since May it has been sitting in my basement waiting for the day I'll put it to use. Today was that day.

While the case is essential, there were also some more steps that needed to be taken.

Quick note here. Everything I learned about this I learned on If you want to learn this from someone who has done it many times, go there. My post is more just for entertainment purposes.

The first step was to measure the various parts on my frame and then cut foam pipe insulation to fit:

I also used some Velcro straps and zip ties to hold the rear derailleur  and chain in place:

Before removing the seat, I placed some cellophane tape around it so that the height would be properly marked and I could replace it at the same height for which I was professionally fitted.

Another Velcro strap holds the cranks in place while a wad of bubble wrap goes around the sprockets. There was nothing more artful to this then tearing off a long strip and wrapping it around several times. The bubble wrap came on a big roll with squares that can be torn off. Kind of like toilet paper but less effective, I suspect.

At various stages along the way and where possible, I tied secured the pipe insulation to the bike using zip ties. They aren't long enough to wrap around the main parts of the frame, but I had not problem using them to secure the foam to the forks.

And, of course, spare parts go into a Ziploc bag so that nothing is missing when I arrive in California and it's time to put this all back together.

And the finished product before zipping up the case:

If you look closely you'll see one of the wheels in its own pocket. There's another one on the other side of the case. They snap in using buckles and straps and when it's all done I have a nicely packaged case that's light enough to carry around on a shoulder strap.

While I don't leave for three more days, packing up early gave me the peace of mind of knowing that everything was ready. If there had been some problem or I had needed some crucial supply, the extra time would have been needed.

I'm flying on Southwest Airlines who in addition to already having a bag-friendly policy also permit bike bags as one of your checked pieces of luggage so long as it is not overweight (50lbs) or over size (62 inches on any side). This meets both qualifications.

As for other airlines, well again I'd refer you to DC Rainmaker and his advice on how to deal with that.

There will be more follow-up on how all this goes including successes and failures. Then you can take some advice on how to travel with your own bike!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Birthday Ride

I've just finished my first week at work after having taken a five week sabbatical. While it was good to be back making an honest living, it also has meant less flexibility in my training. I pretty much have to make it to whatever I have planned each morning or afternoon because there are no longer enough hours in the day for me to make something up.

As I left the office yesterday afternoon I saw the now all-too-familiar clouds rolling in and felt my motivation for going on a ride start to melt. It was after all, my birthday and I sort felt entitled to a day off.

Nevertheless, on the way home, I managed to compromise with myself and turn the planned 30 mile ride into a 20. It was a nice cruise on the Cherry Creek Bike Path heading south. I did manage to catch a little bit of the rain, but it was over quickly and I barely got wet.

Once home, I went out for a nice Italian dinner with my wife. Yep, even after nearly two weeks of it, I still love Italian food.

This afternoon I spent some time at the LBS getting my derailleurs adjusted and getting some pointers from the tech about how to safely remove my handle bars. In the next few days, the Cannondale goes into the Aerus BioSpeed case I bought used on Craig's List way back in May. The San Diego race will be my first opportunity to use it. I plan on dedicating a post just to that.

I've also got a new Zoot westsuit on the way from OneTri. Much to my dismay, I discovered a big tear about mid right leg on the Orca which apparently happened in my hast to remove it in transition at the Creek Streak. It looks as though some of the stitching gave out and the the tear grew from there. I did manage to put it back together, crudely, with some neoprene glue, but it is no longer going to be my primary suit.

Last week, a new 2XU T:2 arrived but it was just too tight in the chest for me to even zip up by myself. I sent it back to OneTri in exchange for the Zoot which I am hoping will fit.

A note on OneTri. The process of returning the suit and getting a new shipped out right away could not have gone more smoothly. I asked them to apply the slight price differential between the two to expedited shipping and they did me on better by giving me enough credit that I had no more out of pocket cost. This is they way you win loyal customers and I must say that if you are looking to do any business on a suit or other equipment I highly recommend them. Their service was nothing short of outstanding and that's a rare thing these days.

Tomorrow sees me back at Grant Ranch for the last time this year. Their season ends 9/4 so that will be my last hurrah for open water swimming in Colorado. The next time in this state will see me in open water, I expect it will be in the chilly stuff I encountered way back at the early part of the season.

This afternoon its off for an easy four mile run and then a relaxing evening down at the Taste of Colorado.

There's soon going to be lots more good stuff to post about here including backing for my first destination race, training for the Rock & Roll Denver Half Marathon, and my plans for off-season training. Tri season may be coming to an end, but the content here on the blog ought to start kicking up a little more.

Until my next post, enjoy the rest of your Labor Day Weekend!