Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day Run - 2011 Version

A year ago I did something I hadn't done on Christmas day--I went for a run. Given the 50* plus temps here today, I figured I'd take a shot a making it a tradition.

While most of my neighbors are thoughtful, socially conscientious types, a few have not bothered to shovel their walks even though the snow hit three days ago. If you want the technical definition for that type of person, I recommend consulting Websters under the term "jerk."

In any case, since I planned on (and have since) ingested copious amounts of prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, I figured burning a few calories off on a long run was a good idea.

It is amazing what a difference a year can make. Since I'm still doing Z1 training, I was still pretty slow today, but unlike a year ago, my average HR was only about 135 bpm. Compare that to the 159 when I was running at sea level in Florida and you get the idea that I've made some progress. That is not to say, however, that I don't plan on making a lot more in the weeks and months ahead.

For now, I wish a very Merry Christmas to any and all readers out there and yes, I'll be back with more posts before the New Year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

One Year In the Blogosphere

It's hard for me to believe but my blog is a year old today. It began with this post and since then there have been 100 more. I've posted from California, Arizona, Europe and right here from my home in Colorado.

In addition, I've been viewed from Argentina, Russia, Germany, the UK and even Malaysia. In all. there have been over 3000 views which is pretty small compared to some of what I read, but still far beyond my own expectations.

It's been a real honor to have been able to share all that I've done and I can't wait to continue in the year ahead. I've gone from just hoping I could complete a sprint to targeting a 70.3 race in just over seven months. So while I may no longer be a first timer triathlete, I think I still have a lot of new experiences in front of me.

My most recent workout was a 30 mile ride and thanks to the mild weather we saw in Colorado last weekend, I got to do it all outside. The route took me west of Parker out to near Park Meadows Mall and then back on the same route.

I would have liked to take some high resolution pictures but there was no good place to carry my camera so I settled for this one on my iPhone:

This is just east of Centennial Airport. One of these times I'll get a good shot of the mountains and show how breath-taking they really are. Today just wasn't it.

I'm going to work hard this week in anticipation of a little time off around the holiday. Unlike last year's trip to Florida I'm spending my holiday here which is how I prefer it.

Ought to be able to post something between now and then however. For now, thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

So How’s That Heart-Rate Training Working Out for Ya?

Two month’s ago I had this post about my start of heart-rate based training. With the exception of a few weeks when I ramped things up to prepare for the Rock Canyon Half Marathon that’s how I’ve been training. Specifically, I’ve been focused on base or endurance training in Zone 1.

Heart rate zones don’t have a standard definition, so just to level-set, I’m using the standards established in the book, “Heart Rate Training” by Roy Benson and Declan Connolly. I know there are some 5 or even 6 zone systems out there but this has just four.

Here’s a summary as explained in the book

HR Zone Effort Index Fuel Source
60% - 75%
Primarily fats
75% - 85%
Mix carbs & fats
85% - 95%
Primarily carbs
95% - 100%
All carbs

The percentages refer to percent of max heart rate. When I measured mine, it came out to 171 (for running) so for a Zone 1 workout, I’d be looking at about 103 – 128 beats per minute. The numbers change for biking and swimming, but the percentages are constant.

Furthermore, the book defines “Endurance” as how long you can keep running at any pace. That’s different than “Stamina” which is how long you can last at a specific pace. Since I’m still pretty early in the off-season (my first tri is still over five months away), I’m working the endurance phase.

It’s been harder than I thought it would be to slow myself down enough to stay within Zone 1 (or Z1)—especially when running. The bike is easier and in swimming, I’m doing my best estimate because I don’t/can’t where a heart rate monitor in the pool.

So is it having an effect? It’s kind of hard to tell. I do think it’s wise to be taking it easier this time of year. With nothing major on the horizon for a few months, I’m staying in shape but not punishing myself. The lead-up to my 70.3 race in July will be grueling, but there’s no sense in operating at that level of intensity so soon. In fact, I’d more than likely injure myself before I got into regular season training.

Tangibly, there’s not been any result to which I can point. My weight has stayed fairly constant and I have not perceived any change in my energy levels. However, I’m only on week 9 of a 21 week offseason program (it began in October right after that max heart rate test). It’s also the middle of December which means cold and dark and I think I tend to eat more than I do in warmer, brighter months.

The first week in March has me in Hawaii and I’ll be interested to see where I stand at that point. My 70.3 training begins in earnest the first week I’m back in Colorado.

Between now and then, I’ll post more about my interim progress and share anything I’ve learned.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How to Build a Wetsuit Hanger

In the off-season, there's not much use for the wetsuit. Here in Colorado temperatures have only gotten above freezing a couple of times during the last week. Much as I enjoy open-water swimming, the thought of having to bring along an ice pick to clear a path as I swim is...ahem...less than appealing.

Since I finished the TriRock back in September, my suit has been kept on a large plastic hanger, like so:

 Not terrible, but I was concerned about having big pointy things on the shoulders come next spring. Pretty much the full weight of the suit is resting on the upper part of the hanger. I thought it would be better if it rested on something rounder so that there would be less chance of a crease or other unsightly deformation of the suit.

For the instructions below, keep in mind that I'm no McGyver. Some reader out there may be able to do this far better than me. That said, this works and in the end, that's all that really matters.

Step by step instructions:

1 Cut a piece of PVC pipe. I measured about a foot for this one, just keep in mind that if you use a longer one, you'll need more chain later on. Also, white or black pipe does not matter. I used this since it was left over from a bathroom remodeling project.

2 Place the pipe on about the middle of your suit after it has been folded lengthwise and then fold the top down to the bottom.

Your local hardware store sells chain by the foot. It's generally inexpensive (61 cents a foot in my case) and rated to hold far more weight than you'll need. I bought three feet for my hanger.

Feed this chain through the pipe and pull the ends up into something looking like a triangle:

4 Choosing a hook was for me, the most difficult part of the process. It needs to be large enough to hang on the typical closet clothes bar but also able to securely hold the chain. I looked some of those climbing carabiners but they did not look large enough to meet the former requirement. Ultimately, I chose a large "U" bolt:

Apologies for the shotty photography. I think you get the idea, however.

For my closet, a width of 2.5 inches was more than enough.

5 I don't have a picture of the final step (not enough hands to do this and take a picture). However screwing on the nuts is not hard. You just want to make sure you have the chain placed above the plate that connects both sides of the bolt. Hold  it in place with one hand while you screw the nuts on with the other. It will look like this when you are done:

Of course, this means that the hangers don't come off all that easily, but presumably that won't be an issue for off-season storage.

After these steps, you have a new hanger for your suit that might leave it a little folded, but won't but an unsightly crease in it:

If you have any improvements on my design, please include them in the comments section.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Why I'm Running the HITS 70.3 Next Summer

Like many people new or newish to the sport of triathlon, I found myself looking at the 70.3 distance after having successfully completed multiple races in the Sprint and Olympic categories. Also, like many others, my initial focus was on an event run by the World Triathlon Corporation. That is to say, something called an Iron Man (or Half Iron Man more accurately).

That seemed like a fairly easy choice. WTC acquired a local race series in Boulder and added the 70.3 distance this year. Boulder is a natural choice for such an event in Colorado. It is home to top professionals and age-groupers alike. Laura and Greg Bennett recently graced the cover last summer’s USA Triathlon magazine running through Chatauqua Park with the Flat Irons in the background.

So as my first full season came to a close, I began to look at this event as the one I would target. Given that it would be my first 70.3 event, I liked the idea of doing it locally and not dealing with the difficulties of travel. I may want to do that for a future event, but not my first. No problems, right? It seemed pretty easy.

Well, not so easy after I found out about the HITS Triathlon Series.

HITS is an organization that has up-to-now been involved in putting on equine show jumping productions. Yes, you read the correctly: horse jumping. From what I read, they’ve been very successful in this arena. But what does a company associated with horse jumping shows have to do with Triathlons? Well, it turns out that the company’s founder is a bit like you and me. Tom Struzzieri is an amateur triathlete who became addicted to the sport. Unlike most of us, he already had a company that was in a position to stage the events. Combined with coach and USAT Certified Race Director Mark Wilson and Ironman legend Dave Scott, they’ve set an ambitious schedule of 12 races plus a championship.

Each race will consist of five distances. Since WTC owns the Ironman trademark, the 140.6 and 70.3 races are referred to as full and half respectively. There are also Olympic and Sprint races as well as something they call the Open. The latter is a very short race consisting of a 100 meter swim, a 3 mile bike and a 1 mile run. With a minimum entry age of just 7, you may see a lot of kids in this race, but they are encouraging any curious first-timers to participate as well. Given the number of events, the races are staged over a Saturday and Sunday at the respective locations with the two longer races taking place on Sunday. All races are also USAT certified so there is no question about authenticity or legitimacy.

Due to some construction being done at the water venue for the Galena, Illinois event, HITS announced on October 12 that they were moving it to Fort Collins, Colorado. The dates for it are July 28-29, 2012.

All right. Now you have the background. So why would this appeal to me. Well, initially it didn’t. I wanted to participate in the big, brand-named WTC event in Boulder. I even drove around the bike course one Saturday just to see it in person. I was, at that time, more convinced than ever that the Boulder event on August 5 was the one for me. However, not wanting to rush to judgment as well as not being faced with an imminent decision, I decided to give it some thought.

Part of the process meant researching a little more on the event via their website. Within a week or so of hearing about the race from my brother, they had their course maps available online—and if you’ve read me before, you know that is a major plus in my mind. Unlike its Boulder competitor, the HITS course is a single loop. It also goes through some steep but scenic territory in the mountains west of Horsetooth Reservoir and then down the Poudre Canyon. There is something to be said about not having to ride multiple laps (though the full course racers will do the circuit two times).

I also started thinking about some of the things I discussed in my post about the racing industry and the importance of getting a good value for the fees you pay. I had always associated WTC with that, but I had to question if that perception was not the result of good branding on their part as opposed to really earning the reputation. Given the fact that WTC and the Ironman brand are so highly showcased in Kona each fall, you have to ask yourself if that isn’t playing a role. Shoe companies, airlines, computer makers and many others enjoy great market share because of brand awareness. But does that actually make them the best?

Then I read this post on DC Rainmaker’s site about how WTC had been preemptively cancelling events to avoid a “sizable loss.” I didn’t really think that would be a concern for the sold-out race in Boulder, but the practice sticks in my craw. It’s the kind of thuggish behavior a company that dominates a market ought to avoid if for no other reason than there will come a day when they won’t be the only player in that space.

Ironman Boulder to make a point would be disingenuous. In fact, I am planning on participating in another WTC production: the local version of the 5150 series, the Boulder Peak Triathlon. If the HITS had not come to Colorado, I probably would also be looking to register for the WTC event. I’ve also had my eye on doing some of their out-of-town races in the future. Ultimately, this is a decision I’m making as a consumer, not as an advocate for better treatment of triathletes.

That point leads me to a philosophy that Tom Struzzieri expressed in this interview with He’s approaching this race series with a focus on customer service and meeting the demands of those customers. He’s not deigning to “let” racers participate in his vaunted event, but rather doing all he can to earn their patronage. To quote from the interview:

We do and will endeavor to treat each customer as if he or she is the most important.

As I said, I’m not about making statements or standing up for a cause. If that’s your thing fine, but it’s not really my style. However, participating in HITS does provide what I would call ancillary benefits. First, I get to participate in an inaugural event. Should this take off, I get to be one of the ones who was there first. Second, while it’s not a cause, I do believe in a competitive market place and if the benefits of participating in HITS align with my demands, then I’m happy my participation promote that competition. If nothing else, it might help keep entry fees in check. Third, I’m an admirer of the scrappy upstart. Nearly every successful company today has that story to tell—just think of Apple Computer. I can’t help but respect the audacity of a firm that has essentially decided to go head-to-head with the 800 pound gorilla that is WTC.

All this said, there are certainly some risks including some that might be so critical as to cause me to end up registering for another race instead. While the first event went off successfully in Palm Springs on the weekend of December 3 and 4, that is no guarantee that future events will run as smooth. Nor is it an assurance that field of 1000 participants will show up at every race. If the Fort Collins event were canceled in a few months due to low registration, there’s a pretty good chance that the Ironman Boulder event will already be sold out and to the best of my knowledge, there are no other 70.3 events in the state again until September.

So…yeah…there’s some risk involved. But on balance, I think the potential rewards outweigh the risks. The Boulder event sported some 1300+ athletes last year and even with a wave start, that makes for a pretty crowded swim. By comparison, the two longer distance events in the Palm Springs HITS race totaled 139 finishers. No doubt that will grow if the race is successful and a summer event may also draw more participants, but it’s still likely to be a less crowded start and transition area. Additionally, this course looks remarkable. Challenging, but remarkable. Horsetooth Reservoir’s site between steep hills is far more scenic. The bike course is steep—dauntingly so. But it’s also through some of the most beautiful land in the entire country. How often do you get to do any part of a tri in the mountains?

So for now, count me in. I’ll be watching with interest to see of the January 6 and 7 event in Naples, Florida is as successful as Palm Springs was. Assuming it is, I’ll be ready to pony up my $250 and set my sights on Northern Colorado in late July.

I plan on talking a lot more about this event including a post that will (hopefully) include the video I shot of the bike course.

For now, thanks for reading and happy training!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Race Report - Rock Canyon Half Marathon

I capped off last week's training with a fairly productive 11 mile run in my home town of Greeley. I did the out and back course at an average pace of 9:34 so it gave me some optimism for the upcoming Rock Canyon half marathon in Pueblo the following week. Then I checked the weather forecast.

What has started off as a high of 43 degrees slowly deteriorated as the week went by until by Friday, the forecast high was expected to be around 25* and with windchill, that would drop it down to 11*. There was, in all honesty, a moment where I considered not running it. Ultimately, however, I needed to make my training worth it and what the's a good war story.

Getting to Pueblo from Parker proved to be some of the most exciting part of my day. I left home in a fairly good snow storm with more than a little of it sticking to the roads. Once on I-25 heading south, I found myself behind three snow plows. Good since they were clearing the road (mostly) but bad because we were only going 30 - 35 mph and I had almost a hundred miles to go.

Fortunately, I cleared Monument Hill to find clearer, even drier roads and I arrived at my brother's home just about right at the 8:00 I had expected. By now, it had begun to snow again and the thermometer in my car was indeed reading 25*.

While this race starts and stops in Pueblo's City Park, the staging was done out of a community center located in the middle which means that were able to stay out of the elements not only while picking up our bibs and sweatshirts, but also during the time before the race. That also meant there were indoor restrooms, a real plus!

Time seemed to go by quickly and before I knew it, I was standing outside with over 500 of my closest friends. That's actually low since this race sold out to its cap of 750 but I'm guessing there were more than a few out-of-towners who did not want to brave the elements.

Though I was concerned about slipping and sliding, I actually did okay on the snow packed roads as the pack made two turns around the park before heading downhill to the path that runs along the Arkansas River. I was somewhat familiar with this route because much of it is used in the Spring Runoff which I ran back in March. That said, we weren't too far into the race before we went off the paved trail and onto what I would best describe as a jeep trail. That is, two ruts with some growth in between.

Being well dressed in multiple layers, I was warm against the chilly air, and to this point, the wind was only a breeze and it was one that was not penetrating my cold weather gear. That changed somewhere along the mile four of five point. The race is so named because this section of the Arkansas River Valley is lined but sheer rock bluffs. It's not a canyon in the strictest sense, but you understand where the name came from. As the wind came over the northern bluff, it did so with a lot of ferocity. Sort of like it had been pent up. Regrettably, all of us running got to feel it's wrath.

Despite the wind and fairly rough course, I was still averaging right around a 9:30 or so pace.  I was starting to feel it a little bit, but I still thought I could maintain. Then I hit the 10 mile marker and the wind that had been annoying at first was now blowing pretty much right as me and in the process, slowing me way down. I pretty much lost all momentum at this point and was really now just hoping to finish under 2:10.

Another thing happened on the way home. I had been told that there was a big hill near the end of the race. In fact, I even ran down it since after the first two miles this is an out and back course. But nothing can prepare you for actually running a hill other than actually running it. This one was a monster. Probably not the steepest hill I've ever run, but definitely the steepest I've done after already having run over 12 miles. My HR monitor had me at 163 bpm once I made it to the top.

I managed to struggle across the finish line at 2:09:26 which was off the 2:05 I hoped for, but not terrible either. The conditions were among the rougher I've done. It is, after all, an event in December.

So as for the race itself:

The bad (or just not so good):

Course: This is a small event so closing off huge stretches of public streets is not really an option. However, I nearly twisted an ankle on the jeep trail sections and some others actually did. It's one thing to have a trail, but another to have one with big rocks that threaten the health of the participants. I think someone should look at keeping more of this race on the paved bike path. I even managed to come up with my own variation here.

That's other criticisms from me.

The good:

Registration Fee: At just $35 including a sweatshirt and finishers medal, plus plenty of food, energy drink and water before and after the race, this is one of the best deals out there. Today's Rock 'N' Roll Las Vegas is about $100 more.

Pre-Race Info: Plenty of it on the Southern Colorado Runners website including a course map. This isn't hard to do but kudos to the director for providing useful information.

Support & Volunteers: Much as I didn't want to run in the bitter cold, I can only imagine how tough it was to just stand in it. The volunteers were ready with water or energy drink at each of the many stations along the route. It was outstanding and my hat's off to their efforts. It was also nice to return to a plethora of food including cookies, donuts, and bananas. I was bonking pretty bad by the end and it all hit the spot!

Timely Results: Results have been posted on the SoCo Runners site and that's pretty impressive since this whole deal is being done without timing chips.

Scenery: I think this course would be very pretty in warmer months when the foliage is out. The twists and turns along the Arkansas River are enjoyable and even when you're struggling to keep your heart rate down, you can't help but enjoy the venue. I just wish more of it was on a flat surface.

Will I be back. Probably. I'm hurting pretty bad today having done much of the race in Z3. I'm fortunate not to have twisted my ankle which are prone to that sort of thing anyway. Those hazards may be the one factor that would keep me out in a future race. On the other hand, I think this might be a fast course if the wind and snow were not factors.

In any case, I'm glad to be done with this one and have a great war story to tell. "Did I tell you about the time I did a half marathon in 11 degree wind chill?" Sounds good, huh?

Now it's back to Z1 training with longer, slower runs. I'm also looking forward to spending more time on the bike and in the pool. I won't feel like I'm neglecting race training but spreading out my training variety a little more.

The next race report for me probably won't happen until April when I'm fairly certain I'll be doing the Horsetooth Half Marathon in Fort Collins. This was not on my original 2012 schedule, but a good chunk of it runs on the same course as the HITS run course so it will be a good chance to see just what I've gotten myself into!

That's all for now. Thanks for reading!