Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Race Report: 2012 BolderBoulder

Oh, how I love this race! It’s tempting to just sit here and gush about what a great event this is, but I’ll actually try and provide a decent summary of the day.

I live in Parker which is more or less the extreme southeastern corner of the metro Denver area. Boulder is more or less the northwestern corner. In other words, it’s way across town. It’s only 45 straight-line miles, but when driving that works out to more like 55 miles and well over an hour. There’s always a bit of a traffic delay when 50,000 plus descend on the city at the same time. My brother, sister-in-law and I left my house a little after 5:30 but it was past 7:00 when we parked.

Fortunately, even with thousands of people arriving, we were actually able to very quickly secure parking at the 29th Street Mall which is right next to the starting area. It was close, but I had time to see to my pre-race business and still get into the EA start coral with time to spare.

The race is often characterized by, shall we say, less than perfect weather. Rain and/or overcast have been a feature in more Memorial Days than not. This year, it was sunny and just cool enough to make for pleasant running conditions. Ideal, I would say!

While they do use a timing chip, BB continues to use a wave start. This is sensible since you need to space out those thousands of participants. As a result, waves go off in roughly 1 minute intervals. I am amazed at how well they stay to their schedule. Near as I can tell, my wave started at 7:17:40 just as planned.

This is the second year of a new course that takes you north, rather than south from the starting line and just as I though last year, it just works. North I went until making a left at Valmont Road and soon after another left heading back south on 28th Street. Before I knew it, my watch was vibrating on my wrist telling me the first mile split was 8:02. I felt pretty good and figured it made sense to bank as much time as I could. I doubted I would be able to continue that pace. In fact, mile two has the first hill and I figured that would slow me down.

However, the split on the second mile was 8:05. I still felt pretty good. Might as well keep banking that time, I figured. Three miles in the low eight minute range ought to make it possible to improve on last year’s finish time of 55:47. As you finish the third mile, you’re on one of the few down hills—the course contains 232 feet of climbing. So at this point I felt like I should continue to keep going. I felt okay and my heart rate, while high, was not bothering me.

At mile four, you are about to climb the highest hill on the course. After my experiences at Horsetooth last month, this monster hill that always seemed so hard went by without much notice. Better still, after cresting it, you’re headed back downhill and it’s a great chance to pick up speed and recover your heart rate.

When my watch told me that my split for mile 5 was 8:01, I knew I was going to have a good day. The question was, how good. With 1.2 miles left, I had a net time of 40:51. I could have slacked off to a 10:00 pace and still had a modern-day PR. Of course I was not going to let that happen, but there was also no question it was going to be harder coming into the finish.

I was also attempting to capture a few pictures along the way (my iPhone camera was behaving poorly so sorry there are not more in-race shots). I wanted to get those, but not at the expense of a good time.

As I approached the turn off of Folsom Street onto the ground of the Stadium, it was clear that I was not going to finish under 50:00 so I figured it would be okay to get a quick shot of the entrance into the stadium. No picture can really explain what it is like, but after having done this 15 times, I still love it. Only an Olympian gets to finish in a stadium. Well, only an Olympian or a BolderBoulder participant!

When I complete the ¾ lap around the field, my watch showed 51:19 and the official time from the race says 51:18. That’s only 4:20 behind the last time I ran it as a young man (1991 when I finished in 0:46:58) and faster than I did in any of my first three years. It made me a happy camper!

Not far behind me, my brother was pacing his wife and got her to a finish of 58:18, more than 8:00 better than last year!

Post-race for us has always been hanging out in the stands, enjoying the food in the complimentary lunch bag and watching other finish the race. The highlight of that has to be the entry of a group of Marines wearing black t-shirts and combat pants entering the stadium in formation with the two of them carrying the colors.

 This is always greeted by a roar of approval from the crowd. Just before reaching the finish, the group runs off to a side area and, being Marines, they do push-ups. Then they reform and cross the line.

We all enjoy races, barbecues, time outside and other leisure activity on Memorial Day. And that’s okay. But it is a poignant reminder of the reason the holiday was originally established after the Civil War. This day, above all other reasons, is to remember and appreciate all who have served our country, active-duty, retired, alive or departed, we owe them all a huge debt of gratitude. The entry of these admirable young men and women as the race winds down drives that point home. Nicely done, Marines, nicely done!

So here’s the overall review of the race:
The Bad:

Price: I’ll always pay what they ask (within reason) but I can see how this could get expensive for a family. I know that they have costs to put this one on, but with 50,000 or more entrants, dozens of sponsors, and lots of ancillary way of making money (sales of T-shirts, Crocs, posters, etc.) there has to be a way to make it more affordable for folks, even if they just want to run and not pick up any of the swag. Some races offset their entry fees by including a charitable fundraising option. They might want to consider that.

That’s it. This is a great race and this is the only area of criticism I can offer this year.

The Good:

Organization and Logistics: Since Dick’s Sporting Goods is the key sponsor of the race, they are also the primary way to pick up your packet. Within a week or so of registering, I was able to go by the store near my office and get my stuff with no hassle. I also received e-mail updates as necessary and the website is kept up to date with all the info one could possibly need. Once the race starts, I never find myself in a huge mass of people, stuck at the pace of the slowest person. Sure, I have to run around a few folks, but that’s really not a big deal. It’s nothing short of amazing that they can do this with so many tens of thousands of participants.

On-Course Support and Entertainment: How many races do you run where you see Elvis, the Blues Brothers, two sets of belly-dancers, and every kind of band from garage, to middle school kids, to tribute to professional club band? And while most of what I hear is while running by, they all sounded pretty good to me. What’s more, there’s an army of volunteers doing everything you need done at a race. BB signs them up in droves and I’ve never thought to myself, gee, they could use more help.

Pre & Post Race Access: There’s tons of parking in the vicinity of the start. I don’t know what the capacity of the garage at 29th Street is, but I would imagine that it’s significant. Additionally, there’s parking available in the surface lots until 10:00. Now that the start and finish are so close, that’s a realistic cut-off for most participants. Unlike last year, there were no issues with leaving. Although the elite race had yet to start, we were able to depart the garage and be on our way back to Parker without any detours or excessive delays.

Finish:  There’s just nothing like it. The finish is nothing new, but it’s a great feeling to end your race by running into a football stadium and take most of a lap to the line. I’ve finished in some unique places like on the parade grounds of the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot at the end of the Rock & Roll Marathon or through the legs of a gorilla in Greeley last year. Nothing compares, however. Additionally, with seating for nearly as many people as there are participants, it’s a great place to hang out after the race.

There’s little question as to why this is referred to as America’s Best 10K. I always seem to have a good at this one and I hear those sentiments echoed by others. Throughout the race, participants and spectators alike end up getting caught up in just how fun this thing is. It’s the reason most of us do a race anyway. Otherwise, just training would enough. No matter how old, slow, or fat I may get in the years to come, I hope each early Memorial Day morning finds me at the start of this race.

Okay, I guess I did gush a little bit after all!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Back to Grant Ranch

Unlike last year, Mile High Multisport did not open their open water swimming season until last Saturday, May 19 when I had other plans. On this past Saturday, however, I was up early and showed up at Bowles Reservoir #1 just a little after 7:00. There was already a good sized crowd of cars in the parking lot, though, true to past experience, the lake was open and I was able to swim freely.

One of the things I had forgotten about the experience was the camaraderie among the swimmers. Nearly everyone is a triathlete and we all seem to enjoy talking to each other about what we're training for, how the water felt that day, etc. Once swimming it's pretty much all business, but it is nice to socialize with my fellow triathletes a little.

Last week, the water in Union Reservoir actually felt pretty warm, especially considering that it was a good 15 degrees warmer than the air. Bowles was colder. Not shockingly so, but I did need a couple of minutes to adapt. Once I did, I felt pretty good. There was a time or two when I started to feel like my breathing was getting a little hypoxic, but  I just eased my pace back and then I felt better.

This was also the first time I was able to use my watch for the full swim, having forgotten to hit the start button at the beginning of my race last week. The result this map:

Near as I can tell, the 910XT did a pretty good job of measuring my swim and I hope so because this was a really good pace for a distance of over a mile. In fact, if I can swim this fast at HITS, I'm going to be very happy!

More open water swims out at Grant Ranch are planned and I'll continue to update how those go.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

n + 1

From the Immutable Rules of Cycling:

"The minimum number of bikes one should own can be determined by the simple formula n+1, where ‘n’ is the number of bikes currently owned..."

 Perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, but not altogether wrong either.

About 15 months ago, I was thrilled at the purchase of my first ever road bike. (I'm not counting the Mikado I got when I was in seventh grade.) Compared to the the mountain bike I had been riding, it was like upgrading from a Ford Tempo to a Mustang.

On Friday, made another upgrade and staying with the analogy, it was like upgrading from a Mustang to a Mustang GT 500. Not quite as dramatic, but impressive all the same.

So here it is posed much like the Cannondale was back in February of 2011:

I first learned of Blue Competition Cycles when they were featured in USA Triathlon Magazine last year (USAT makes it next to impossible to fine online content so sorry, no link). The company caught my eye because they were focused on making a true multisport bike, not just a TT bike adapted for Triathlon.

That became even more evident when I went to be fit for the bike back in March at place in Golden called Big Ring Cycles. While Golden is pretty about as far opposite from Parker as you can get and still stay in the metro area, it was also one of the only places that dealt in the multisport models. They also dealt in Cannondale bikes which was another plus since a Slice was also one I was considering.

After going through the fit process--which involved measuring my legs and body at various angles as well as being watched as I pedaled in aero position, Alex at Big Ring looked through the catalog for the best fit for me. Short or spending well over $5000, it turned out that the Blue Triad SP was the right fit for my style of riding.

Then came the waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Big Ring kept me up to date but there seems to have been a problem with Blue. I don't think I'll ever know for sure but it sounds like they either were not spun up on their production cycle as quickly as they should have been to start making spring deliveries or they had serious problems with distribution. It was probably a little of both. The result was that the bike I ordered back in the third week of March did not arrive in Golden until May 24.

But arrive it did! Yesterday I took it on it's first ride.

I think it would have been a really good ride too, but we were having wind gusts of 25mph or more and that made the southbound, first half portion of the ride pretty miserable. So much of a factor was the wind that of the 30 miles I did, The first 15 took me 1:04:13 and the last 15 took me the remaining 48 minutes of the full ride! Crazy!

But putting that aside, I can tell the difference on the bike. It's not just that it is light (it is a couple of pounds less than the road bike) but it's also easier to control and more comfortable to stay in aero position. Indeed, it actually feels more natural to ride it in aero than even using the base bars. I think the combination of the fit and the design of the bike make the difference.

While I'll be doing a fair amount of training on the new one, I also plan on staying on the road bike as well. It's a little bit like a baseball player swinging multiple bats to warm up. The tri bike should feel that much better in competition.

Lot's more coming up including my first trip back to Grant Ranch since last September and race report on the BolderBoulder.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Race Report: Summer Open Sprint Triathlon

In climate like the one we have in Colorado, triathlon is a warm-weather sport. Nearly all of the major events in this state and those surrounding it occur between the middle of May and the end of September with the bulk occurring the summer months of June, July and August.

When I ran this race a year ago it was under blue skies and temperatures between the mid sixties and seventies.

Then there was yesterday.

We left home at 5:30 and as we headed north, sprinkles became showers which in turn became a down pour. I was concerned. I hoped for a break in the rain, but also told myself I'd better be ready to race in lousy conditions.

Fortunately, the rain did break as we got further north and by the time we arrived at Union Reservoir in Longmont, there was significant wind, but no precipitation.

This is a race that offers a race-day pick-up for a nominal $2 fee and I opted for this since Parker was not likely to be near any of the pick-up locations. It actually would not have been a bad drive, but I didn't know that at the time.

Getting my packet was easy with the only delay being waiting in line behind others who had opted for the same thing. But the volunteers worked efficiently and I don't think I had to wait even five minutes before I was on my way to the area outside transition to be body-marked and pick up my timing chip.

Transition was about half full when I arrived so I still managed to get a spot roughly in the middle of the area. I figured that was a good spot since the ends mean a lot more people running by you. The middle means a little more running to the end, but less chance of a collision with another racer.

Having been eight months since my last race, I was a little rusty in my transition area, but I managed to get set up with a fair amount of ease. Then it was off to the rather lengthy port-a-potty line to take care of my pre-race business. I probably waited 15 to 20 minutes in that line. Lots of people have pre-race business.

Back in transition I happily climbed into the lower half of my wet suit. With an outside temperature of only 50* or so, and the wind blowing hard off the lake, it was cold. Being clad in neoprene was sounding pretty good. I walked back to my car to drop off my transition bag and have my wife help me with zipping up. The suit is fine once it's on, but I've struggled getting all the way on without assistance.

That done, I managed to make a quick last stop in transition before it closed and grab my goggles and cap. Then it was off to the water to get a few strokes in before the start.

Yesterday not withstanding, we've had a very warm spring here on the Front Range and that meant temperatures in the lake were around 65* which is considerably warmer than the air. You could feel it. Last year, my first experience in open water involved a shock similar to having a bucket of ice water dumped on you including the short breathing and general feeling of shock. Not so today. It felt good after freezing in the cold wind on the beach. As you can see here, several of my fellow participants were doing likewise:

I'll grant you that 50* sounds pretty good in the dead of winter. But standing on the shore with the north wind carrying across the surface of the water and gusting up to 15 mph or so, I can assure, this was a very chilly environment. As I waited for my wave to start, I ran up and down the beach to stay warm. Even in the wetsuit, I felt a chill.

Just prior to the race, the director called out on the bullhorn for anyone who was freaked out by the water to come gather around him. This was due to the swells which I estimated to be around two feet high at their peak. Indeed, the waves were crashing on the beach the way they might along a gulf or bay. Nothing like the huge breakers you would see in Hawaii or Pacific Beach, California, but huge for a medium sized inland reservoir. He gave anyone who was troubled a no-swim or shortened swim option and a big shout-out to him for doing so. While nothing short of lightning or an unexpected release of piranhas into the water was going to keep me out, a lot of folks with limited swimming skills or minimal exposure to open water swimming were no-doubt fearful. Considering the fatalities that have occurred at races all over the country in the swim portion, it was a wise and thoughtful decision.

As for me, like I said. I was swimming. Waves be damned! I got shut out last year and I was not going to miss out on the swim again. Since the conditions were so rough, they put a lot of extra time between the each wave. Given that, I would imagine I probably started around 8:20 or so. I was not looking at the time. In fact, since I have not done an open-water race with a watch on before, I completely forgot to start my Garmin until I was near the first turn. Here's the partial track of what I did:

The swimming was sloppy, slow, ugly and tiring. I think I spent as much energy fighting the waves as I did propelling myself forward. In fact, I think I would have had a pretty good day in calmer water. Even without any advance preparation in the open, I've been swimming well and I think good form and efficient use of energy would have made a difference. But with huge waves knocking me around like I was a cork, it was rough. Nothing short of flying out to the ocean and swimming in it multiple times could have prepared me. Note to self, don't attempt any triathlons that involve an ocean swim!

A very slow 19:54 later, I hit the shore and gratefully climbed out of the water on my way to the bike:

Most of the way from the water to the transition area was carpeted which is nice given my own likely hood to stub a toe or scrape some skin off my feet. A series of small buckets and baby pools were also aligned so that I could rinse my feet before going into transition.

Once in the area, I finally pulled the wetsuit off my shoulders and was in the process of pulling of the sleeves when I discovered that the watch was going to be a problem. Even after removing the watch from the band, I struggled to get the sleeve off and lost a lot of time on something so stupid.

I'm going to need to find a better alternative if the watch is going to go swimming with me. More on that in a future post.

It's clear it's been a while since I transitioned (I did not train with bricks this year) because I also forgot to have my cycling shoes unbuckled. More time lost. Finally, I had everything ready, got out to the mount line and was on my way for the ride. Not the smoothest of mounts, but I did get both feet locked in on the first attempt and was on my way:

I've spent most of the early season riding in strong winds and unfortunately, this race was no different. Fortunately, on the areas where I was riding northward and more or less into it, there were more breaks in the form of houses, fences, trees etc. That's not to say that I didn't have to battle it, but I also was not going full on into a harsh gust. I felt a little tired but once I found my rhythm, I managed to keep a respectable speed up and even took advantage of the tail wind on the section where you go southward. This was especially helpful because on that section, there were no breaks to speak of. It's a criterion style course with three laps so I figure the wind more or less cancels itself out. The roads were also nice and smooth (except for the dirt at the beginning and end) which makes for a much nicer ride.

Leaving T2 and starting the run is, I think most triathletes will agree, the hardest part of the race. It was hard today, but less so than it has been on previous races. I also was dealing with that head wind, and nearly lost my visor as I exited onto the run course:

For the first quarter mile or so, I struggled to get my pace established and it felt like I was taking very short strides. However, as the distance grew, so did my stride-length and soon I found my pace well below 9:00 even as I went uphill. Going back down, I started running under 8:00. I think it was a combination of having done so many long runs, intervals and running in cool weather that made this the most successful part of the race for me. After my experiences at the Horsetooth Half Marathon the hill here looked almost flat. While my heart rate was high, it stayed below 150 or 85% of max for all but a few moments of the run. It ended up being my strongest event:

I finished strong and was pleased to hear my name called as I approached the finish line. It's a nice touch that good races do. SOST is no exception.

Here's my review of this year's race:

The bad:

When I talk about "the bad" I mean things that the race director and his/her staff could have done but didn't.  For example, they can choose a venue, but can't alter it. They can select a time of year where the historical weather is promising but can't control what happens on race day. In that light, I have only two, very small nit-picky items. That's all I could come up with:

Port-a-Potties: I counted eight of them including two designated just for "express use" only. I chuckled to see "#1 only" on the poster on the front of each. With 500 participants, and figuring at least 90% of them needed to make a visit, that's a ratio of 56 POH (per out house). I don't think anyone missed their start but I think probably two or four more would have been wise.

Medals: Without Limits Productions has made a point of doing something unique instead of the traditional finisher's medal. That's a great idea but for the last two years, it's been a beer pint glass. This year's was especially generic. I like pint glasses, but I've done a lot of races where I get a medal and a glass. I think they should start giving out finisher's medals. For those of us not expecting to see the view from the podium, it's a nice tangible piece of race memorabilia.

That's it, and I had to struggle to come up with those two.

The good:

Pre-Race Communication: Excellent. Multiple e-mails combined with updates to the website and Facebook page meant I knew all about this one during the week leading up to the race, including the water temperature. I think they struggled with this last year, but this year was a marked improvement!

On-site Support and Logistics: Another 'A' in my book. I had no problem getting my packet, chip or body marking. The woman doing the marking even held some of my stuff while I pulled off my hoodie. She, like all of  the volunteers I encountered, was friendly and helpful. It was a tough day to be out working the race and I tip my hat to all of them.

Attention to Safety: The water conditions really were intense and to the uninitiated, scary. Offering folks the chance to either stay out of the water or swim a shorter route was a good call. We'll never know, but it might have saved someone's life. If you think I'm being dramatic, see this item or this one. Race directors need to take this risk seriously. Lance Panigutti did and he deserves a lot of credit for it.

Course and Venue: I'll admit that this would be a lot more fun on a sunnier, warmer and calmer day, but this is a good spot for a race. It's a short run from water to transition and the transition area is spacious enough to allow one to move through it without bumping shoulders with fellow-competitors. In addition, closing the bike and run course to traffic means you only have to look out for other competitors. That's a real treat in races these days and one of the reasons to do this race.

Scheduling: I think this is about as early as you can have an all-outdoor event in Colorado and I'm glad someone is doing it. I don't think this, or any sprint, would ever be my 'A' race, but it sure is a good opportunity to start the season and shake down any flaws in training or technique.

Race Results: On the website by the afternoon after the race. I think 24 hours is a reasonable standard to publish results and these guys blew that away.

You never know what other races will come along and intrigue me, but absent that, I see no reason why I won't continue to come back again and again to do this one. I've had occasion to see a number of racing companies over the last year and I have to say that Without Limits is one of the best. In fact, I think they are good enough to start running events for outfits like WTC, Competitor and others. Colorado does not have Rev3 event? Maybe they should see about hiring these guys to put one on!

For me, I have a few things to work on before racing in Greeley on June 10. Chief among these is to practice my transitions. They need to be smoother and faster. Now that Grant Ranch has opened for the season, I'll also be out there doing my open water swimming and hopefully seeing improvement. I need to be better about using my Garmin. I'm denying myself some accurate timing data if I fail hit the Lap button at transitions and as I start each event.

Also, by no fault of the LBS who sold it to me, but by poor execution in production and distribution on the part of Blue Competition Cycles, I still do not have my tri bike almost two months after I ordered it. It seems that the wait my finally be over so I'm also hoping to see an improvement in bike speed. We'll see.

Final Results:

Swim: 19:54
T1: 3:14
Bike: 36:38
T2: 2:27
Run: 25:13
Total: 1:27:24

Finally, I have to say a big thanks to my wife, Tisha. Not only did she get up a 5:00 am just to come and watch me, but she stood out there in the freezing cold and took all of the pictures I used to illustrate this post. I'd do this without anyone there, but it sure means a lot that she was. Thank you sweetie! I love you very much!

Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead!

Friday, May 18, 2012

“This is Fun for Me”

Sometime back I posted a link to the XtraNormal video in which a man is telling a co-worker about why he’s training for an Ironman. After explaining to her what an Ironman is, she replies by asking “What the f--- is wrong with you?!”

Part of what makes these videos so hysterical is the deadpan monotone generated by the computer voices. Taking no offense at all to the question, the would-be Ironman answer by saying “Nothing…this is fun for me.”

When it comes to my own racing, I think that’s the point. It’s good to have lost so much weight. It’s fantastic to have a body that looks and is more toned than it was during much of my twenties. It’s meaningful to have a set of goals and a sense of purpose outside my professional life. But it’s best of all to have fun doing this.

When I was 8 years old I started playing recreation-league soccer. My coach was a tyrant. I’m sure he meant well, but his Vince Lombardi style was probably a little too intense for a group of little boys. Sure, we all learned about competing and succeeding early on, but I think that came at the expense of having fun and feeling rewarded by what we were doing. I played six seasons on his teams, but that was mostly to be with my friends.

This week, I began to feel a little nervous and stressed over my first race of the season, the Summer Open Sprint. I’m not a rookie this year, I’ve been training hard all off season and I want to perform well. What if I don’t? I’m a year older and more likely to slow down than speed up with each passing year? Will I struggle on the bike? Will my legs feel like lead on the run?

Somewhere in this reverie, I snapped out of it and thought, this is supposed to be fun! I don’t have to I get to swim, bike and run all in a single race alongside hundreds of others and my guess is that for nearly all of us, enjoyment is a major factor if not the factor that compels us to be out there.

So rain or shine, cold water or warm, tri or du (remember last year) fast or slow, I’m going to enjoy getting back into triathlon season. It’s been over eight months since my last race and I’m excited to get back to it! 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

An Investment in Intervals is Paying Dividends

Several times I’ve mentioned that my training has been influenced by a book called Heart Rate Training. One of the most informative aspects from it was related to interval training. The authors made the point that the interval is actually the recovery period. In other words, how long between hard sets you need for your heart rate to return back to Zone 1 which is 60% to 75% of your max heart rate. As a coach and human physiologist, their contention is that you can train your body to be faster overall by really pushing the hard sets past your most optimistic race time and then slowing down afterward until you cardiovascular is ready for more.

I’ve been doing this with mixed success on the bike since March. I have had a hard time hitting my goal speed, because so often it is very windy when I’m riding. It’s clear that a power meter that would measure how much work I’m putting into a ride (regardless of how fast I’m going) would be a big help. However, buying a tri bike this year was enough of a financial hit.

The wind can also be a factor on the run, but less so, I think. I’ve also benefited from having less windy days when I’ve been doing the run interval. So how’s it going? Actually, pretty well.

I did my first set at the track at the local high school. There was a rugby practice going on in the infield, but I was the only one out on the track. I did 5 X 1 mile sets with a half mile recover between each one as well as a warm-up and warm-down set. Much to my surprise, I ended up running 8 miles. Better still, I ran at an average pace of 9:08 which includes the recovery time.

I repeated the workout off-track four days later (and with shorter warm-up/warm-down intervals) and improved the pace per mile time by five seconds.

This past Tuesday, I did my third interval work-out, but this time doing 6 X 1 mile. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself doing most of the miles in the low 8:00 range. Keep in mind, I’m notoriously not fast. Even at a much younger age and leaner frame, I’ve never had the right composition of fast-twitch muscle fibers to really tear it up. At my age, 8:00 per mile feels pretty damn good!

When the longer interval was over, I had done 9 miles in 1:20:21 which works to an average pace of 8:56 per mile.

All of this has me thinking about the implications of such a run as a strategy for longer races, most notably the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in September. If we take what I did in the last interval run and extrapolate that out from 9 to 13.1 miles, it would actually have me done in 1:53:18 which blows away my current PR. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, and it would be foolish not to expect my pace to degrade on both the full miles as well as the recoveries, but it does raise some interesting possibilities.

If I were to add 30 seconds to each mile, still puts me at just under two hours which is more than I could have hoped for after my less than ideal finish at the Horsetooth Half Marathon. Barring a major course change, which I think is unlikely, the R&R also is much flatter and smoother than either of the two half marys I’ve done since last October.

A lot can happen between now and race day, but I’m encouraged and pleased to have found a possible strategy that can help me do a faster run.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Defense of a Data Geek

I keep a ridiculously detailed log of my training. Everything from net calories consumed to average cadence is logged and most of it tracked. All of that data forms charts that show me trends in my pace for each discipline of triathlon, total hours spent training and whether or not I’m hitting my goals.

It’s highly consistent with my personality. Years ago, my company started using a Strengths Assessment developed by Gallup. After completing a lengthy online test, I was given a profile that showed my Top 5 Strength. First among these was Input which means I like to collect information. Facts and information are things I store away for some yet-to-be determined purpose. Analytical was also among the Top 5.

All of this is the sort of thing that makes a lot of folks kind of chuckle derisively with a sort of “whatever makes you happy” kind of tone. The subtext of that being that none of it matters. All of that data is ex post facto. It won’t make you any faster.  By all means, keep a perfunctory log of how much time you spent and how far you swam, rode or ran. However, doing much more is a waste of time. You’d be better off devoting more of your time to your training.

My response to this line of thought: Hogwash! Endurance sports are inherently strategic in nature. This is evident simply from the fact that no self-respecting, reasonably knowledgeable endurance athlete starts his or her race at a full sprint. Each of us is strategic in that we plan our pacing according to what we think we’ll need to not only finish, but hopefully finish strong. Yet it goes much deeper than that.

In high school, I had a track coach that used to tell the members of the distance team to “run smart.” We used to laugh behind his back at his geeky notion about using your brain instead of your legs. We quit laughing when we figured out he was right. His point was that even in a shorter track event (mine was the 800 meter run) there is a point at which it’s right to kick and, hopefully, surge ahead of the pack. Kick too soon and you’ll eventually get swallowed back up. Kick too late and you won’t have enough time to catch them.

Using the data I gather from training and races, I attempt to emulate my high school coach’s strategizing for the 800 meters.  There are three main areas I track: body, sport performance and goals.

Like so many others, I got into triathlon initially as a way to jump-start a weight loss program. I had been a runner, going so far as to complete a marathon in 2006, but the intervening years lead to chronic injury, less running and ultimately, weight gain. When I started being active again, I rather enjoyed tracking my progress. In the first few months, that progress was significant. This past fall, I bought myself a Withings Body scale which not only collects my weight and body mass, but automatically sends it to a website where I can keep a daily track. As result, I get to see how I’m progressing:

It’s rewarding to be able to see how well I’ve done just since last season. I also keep an active track of my heart rate (both resting and workout) as well as my blood pressure. Being healthy is the foundation for being fit. The one fairly vital metric that I don’t have right now is sleep data. I may add that one day. For more information about how you do that, you should read this.

Within each discipline, I’m also interested in my performance. As I get older, there will probably come a time when I will have truly peaked and will only slow down. However, I don’t think I’m there yet. In my own experience in races, some of the fastest people on the course are in the 40-44 age-group. That’s strong motivation and it forces me to look at those factors that contribute to my success. A clear illustration relates to my SWOLF score vs. my overall speed in the water:

My fastest swim so far was the one and only time I scored a 38 (lower is better on a SWOLF) since I started tracking it. It will be something to keep in mind when I get out into open water and may feel the urge to swim harder rather than smoother.

The upshot of all of this is that the having detailed knowledge about how I have performed in the past provides me with greater insight as to what I can do to improve in the future. There’s also an intangible benefit. I’m not likely to be collecting any hardware from a race unless by default (such as if I’m the only 42 year old at in the HITS 70.3). It’s unlikely I’ll ever get a view from the podium. Seeing these results is my reward. It’s one of the most tangible examples of all I’ve accomplished.

Despite making such a defense of my proclivity for data gathering, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that for a lot of people, it’s just more work than they’re interested in doing. While I actually enjoy putting all of this into a spreadsheet, many (most?) probably do not. For those folks, I’d suggest making uses of some systems that gather and track it automatically such as Training Peaks or Sport Tracks. A site like Garmin Connect isn’t bad for just a basic log, but I don’t think it’s quite robust enough from an analytical standpoint.

Above all, remember that triathlon is analogous to chess, not checkers. Strategy can be as impactful as physical training.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Beating the Heat

Friday afternoon was perhaps the warmest day we’ve seen this year. Without question, it was certainly the warmest weather for which I had planned to run. I think the thermometer in my car was running a little warm, but let’s just call it about 85* when I left for my 8 mile run. Running in warmer weather is going to be important. HITS is scheduled to start at 7:00. I figure something around just under four hours for the swim, T1, Bike and T2. Even that may be optimistic—I’m keeping my expectations for speed low for my first half-iron distance. However, assuming as much, the means it will be 11:00 or so when I start out on the run.

Having recently completed a race along the course and being generally familiar with the area, I can tell you that there is no shade at all. Period. No groves of trees, no cliffs casting shadows in the right direction. In late July, the entire race will be in full sun. A review of the historical temperatures for greater Fort Collins for the date says the average high is 84* but I found that over the last 10 years it’s been closer to 87*. What’s more, this has been an unusually warm year. The highest temp I found during the period was 96* in 2005. In other words, I’m expecting it to be well over 85*. If we get an unexpected cool spell, great, but I’m not counting on it. Hence, my need to acclimate.

I learned last year what a killer heat can be during the run when I did the Creek Streak. Though there were plenty of water stations and I actually took in enough fluid on the bike to the point of having to pee a little bit, I still found myself overwhelmed by heat. In fact, I ended up running about three minutes slower in the race than I did on a brick that was on the exact same course two weeks earlier in similar conditions.

The question is: what was the difference. I did not do a swim on the morning I did the brick, but I don’t think swimming in 60 some degree water and then getting the bike wet warmed me up. If anything, it kept me cooler longer. I’ve been pondering this for months since the race and I think I know the answer. The frequency and temperature of the water I had available.

Obviously, no one comes out to support your brick work-outs with water stations along the way. You’re on your own. So that day I filled my CamelBak up with mostly ice and let it sit in the car/transition area while I did the 22+ mile bike ride. It’s not as though I didn’t feel the heat during that workout, but whenever I needed it, ice cold water was at the ready. In the race, I took water at intervals that were a little under a mile each.

Now let’s jump forward to last Friday afternoon. It’s 85*, there’s a dry breeze blowing and while the course I took offered some shade, it was more sun than not. Again, I took along my CamelBak which was filled with icy cold water. In anticipation of a warm run, I also had been taking water all day long.

The end result was completion of the course at a pace of 9:50. Compare that to the brick last July of 9:39 and keep in mind the brick was only 6 miles and I did after months of preparation. Compare it again to the race two weeks later where the pace was 10:03 and you get the idea. The difference was the availability of cool water when I needed/wanted it.

Purists will argue that it’s not worth the extra weight since it will slow you down. I would counter that I’ll slow down even more from overheating. When you consider that it’s 13.1 miles, I think the speed difference for a MOP(er) like me is negligible. Bottom line, unless there is freakishly cool weather, the CamelBak is coming along on the run portion! Plus, as you can see below, HITS is offering a pretty luxurious and spacious transition area:

As for other races, it probably won’t. SOST is in the middle of May and the run is only 3.1 miles. I’ll get all the hydration on the bike. Greeley was pretty warm last year, but again, it’s a sprint. I’ll be fine.

Boulder Peak is an Oly with a standard 10K for the run portion. It’s on July 8 when it can be even warmer than late July. However, the race starts at 6:00 and even if I end up in a later wave, I think I can be done with the swim, bike, and transition within two hours. That would probably mean I’m ready to start the run by 8:30 at the latest. Not saying it won’t be warm, but I think I can handle that with the on-course support. If we’re suffering through triple-digit heat, then I may change my mind.

Of course, even if a tanker truck filled with ice water were pacing me, I’d still have preparation to do. I’m planning on doing a lot of my long-run training at roughly the same time I plan to be doing the run portion of the  race. While my body is the type that just usually runs hot, I think I can do some work to adapt enough to be ready.

After Friday afternoon’s run, I had a good 1800 yard swim Saturday at the Rec Center and then headed out from there on a 45 mile bike ride. Sunday was a day off, but I didn’t feel as depleted as I have on other workouts. Maybe this training thing is actually starting to pay off!

Thanks for reading and have a great week!