Tuesday, June 26, 2012

An Open Letter to the Very Important Triathlete

Hello. You may not think this letter is for you, but can do the following statements sound like something you’ve said?

·        I look with disdain upon the “average” person competing in the same races as me. Those who show up with a mere road or mountain bike with no endorsed racing kit and a happy look on their face (not a serious competition face).
·        People do not give me the space or respect I need. I have a very specific system for my transition area and you mere mortals who have no hope of seeing the podium should relinquish your space in transition for me.
·        Don’t speak to me about the course, your strategy or much of anything else for that matter. I’m way out of your league and we could not possibly have anything to discuss.
·        I should not have to wait in line to get body marked or checked into transition behind everyone else. I’m going to win my age group today and will definitely be in the top five of all finishers. Waiting is what the rest of the pack does.

If you honestly answered yes to any of the above, then we need to talk.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually have a lot of respect and admiration for you. I’m even a little envious because despite my best efforts to train, the podium is almost always going to be elusive to me. I think your bike with its race wheels and nearly weightless frame is really cool. Your racing kit looks sharp. Despite all of the high-end equipment you are clearly no “Fred.” You’ve proven you’re a serious competitor and I admire that.

Nevertheless, there are some things you’ve forgotten and I’m here to remind you of them.

One:  I paid the same entry fee you did. Today is my race day as well and while I may not make a splash in the rankings or leave the venue with any hardware, I’m still here to compete and do my best. It also means that I’m just as entitled to a spot in transition as you are. This is not the Olympic Trials, the NCAA championships nor the elite wave at Kona. So make a hole because I’m putting my bike here!

Two: I’ve trained very hard to be ready for this race. I gave up sleep, vacations, good food and wine and time with my wife to prepare. I’m also very emotionally invested in this event. I’ve had to overcome fear and self doubt to be ready to take this on. My hopes and fears ride on today’s outcome. My goals may be different, but my race is as important to me as yours is to you.

Three: Despite the rapid growth in our sport, triathlon remains a community. Compared to the overall population, very few of us are crazy enough to go out and swim, then bike and then run. A little friendly banter in transition as we set up is a good thing. By all means be focused on your goals, but loosen up.

Four: While you may be the best in our group, you’re also just an amateur like me. Do Craig Alexander or Chrissie Wellington get special treatment at their events? Yeah, probably. But none of us are them.

It’s actually a very good thing for the sport to have lots of people from diverse talent levels participating in races. No series or even single event will last long if the turnout isn’t good. It also validates your success. Beating a larger field is always more impressive than a smaller one.

I hope the rest of your season goes well and I hope even more that at least some of what I’ve said will be taken to heart.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Long Weekend Recap

Race Report – Stroke & Stride #3

Another week and another Stroke & Stride semi-race. This most recent event was much warmer than the week before with temperatures in the 90’s. The water temp at the reservoir was measured at 71* but places felt much cooler, especially as you swam further from shore.

I was able to get a quick practice swim in before it was time to start. Then, it was once again into the washing machine of swimmers with abilities ranging from expert to total novice.

This may continue to be the case in races as well, but the washing machine continues to be a problem for me. Once I get out of the crowd, my breathing relaxes and I settle into a nice rhythm. But during that first 300 meters or so, it’s a little uncomfortable.

I put a reasonable effort into the second lap (though it turned out to be slower by over 30 seconds) and then was out of the water and heading quickly toward the transition.

This went well again this week and I was out of the wetsuit, in my shoes and socks and headed out in 1:50. The distance from lake to transition area is pretty short here, but in the area I can control, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of utilizing my time well.

I had a feeling that my run would be not quite as fast this week. There were two reasons for this. First, I had done a 7 X 1 mile interval run which, with recoveries, totaled 10.5 miles that I was pleased to complete at an average pace of about 8:29. Second, it was a lot warmer and heat definitely takes its toll on me.

Sure enough, my pace slacked off some in the second mile. I finished up the run in 24:51 which was an 8:03 pace (my watch measured the course at 3.08 rather than 3.1 miles).  That didn’t bother me though. I ran a strong run and I felt pretty good, all things considered.

After the race, just as we did a year ago, my wife and I headed into Boulder to grab dinner at a place on Pearl Street called Pizzeria Locale. If you are in the area and have a taste for authentic Neapolitan-style pizza, I highly recommend it.

Non-Participant Race Report: Loveland Lake-To-Lake Olympic Triathlon

I gave some though to a late entry for this race, but I don’t think I was where I wanted to be and, in hindsight, I’m pretty sure I made the right decision not to participate.

My brother Ted, on the other hand, was running this one so I went along to cheer him on as well as serve as his Sherpa. It was a good opportunity to watch a race from an outsider’s perspective.

The 6:30 start time was none-too-early considering the extraordinarily hot weather that Colorado has been experiencing lately. Just as it was two weeks ago, the High Park Fire was blazing fiercely and putting a lot of smoke into the sky. It was not completely clear in Loveland, but I don’t think you could say smoke was much of a factor for the race.

Since I didn’t actually run the race, I can only report on the things I observed. For example, I only saw the start and finish to the bike so I don’t have anything to say about the course. That said, let me dig in and tell what I did see on this one.

The organizers used Loveland High School and the surrounding park as their staging and transition areas. This was somewhat nostalgic for me since I ran a few high school cross-country meets in the area including conference finals when I was a junior.

As you can see below, there was something of a line as participants were body-marked and checked into transition.

Fortunately, it went very quickly and I doubt the wait was even five minutes. That’s probably a good thing since my brother had only been in the transition area for a few minutes when the announcement went out that it was closing soon. He managed to get set up with time to spare however and soon we were standing on the beach of Lake Loveland.

Like most races, this one went in waves with no apparent rhyme or reason as to which group went first. Ted’s wave was the second one and it went out about five minutes after the first group. The water on the lake was placid and I was told the clarity was good as well. That makes sense since, despite being in Loveland, this is one of the drinking water supplies for the city of Greeley.

In less than 29:00, Ted was out of the water and on his way to T1.his is one long haul from the beach back to the transition area. I heard the announcer say that it was about 1/3 of a mile and I don’t doubt. This is all considered part of he swim so the actual time in the water is considerably shorter than what shows up on the results.

Ted moved through T1 quickly and was on his bike for the modified Oly bike course of 24 miles.

 I had some time to kill so I just found a shady spot and watched the people. One interesting item was viewing the transition area which was full of everything except bicycles. It’s not something I’ve seen before since from my usual spot in the middle of the pack, the area is usually at least half full.

As the first riders came back, I got a good opportunity to watch transitions from some of the best. Well, mostly. There was one guy who was off the bike (having already gotten out of his shoes) and moving quickly to his spot, bike hung up, shoes on and on his way. Might have been around 30 seconds. I was impressed. There was another poor soul who slipped trying to swing his bike around to front-out position (the transition area was grass) and fell on top of his bike. Doh!

By the time most folks started their run, the heat was really building. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess we were already in the mid 80* range when Ted started out and it was probably close to 90* by the time he finished. Wisely, the first water station was immediately outside transition. There were also water stations at each mile which is important, doubly so on a hot day.

I managed to find Ted on the run at a place where I could get pictures at two locations.

Then I hustled back to the finish line, even though I figured I had five minutes or so to spare before he arrived. So I was surprised when I heard his name called at the finish and I was looking the other way. It was then that it became apparent that the run course had been shortened from a 10K to 5.1 miles.

The Review

The Bad

No announcement about the run course change - There was fairly major construction on one section of the run course and I’m sure that’s what drove the decision to shorten the course. That’s understandable but you need to tell your participants about the change through multiple mediums. That means, your website, social media and finally, PA announcements on race morning. These were all absent. A shorter course has a significant impact on pacing decisions.

Lax enforcement of the dismount rule – Riders are supposed to be completely off their bike, including both pedals once they hit the “crash” line. That’s for both safety and fairness. Nevertheless, I saw several people go well past it including one woman in the relay who has a good 25 yards past the line. I don’t know if race volunteers are authorized to cite folks with a penalty, but perhaps they should be.

Inaudible start signal – Just outside the swim area, a DJ was doing announcements as well as starting the waves. I prefer a gun, siren or some other non-verbal but loud signal to start, but someone shouting go is fine. That is, it’s fine as long as you can hear them. Swimmers had trouble hearing the “go” command.

Short Bike Racks – The racks in transition were the bar type were you typically hand your seat and point your front wheel out. Unfortunately, these were set short so taller bikes (like Ted’s) did not fit under the bar. It’s one thing for someone with a short bike to have to lift theirs a few inches high to hang it, but much more difficult to twist your bike sideways and try and get it hung up. This created unnecessary delays in transition.

The Good

Venue – The long run from swim to transition is somewhat unavoidable and in truth, variety in courses is a good thing. I like the location and I think it lends itself to a great place to swim, bike and run.

On-course support – I was glad to hear that the organizers had water available at each mile marker in the run. Heat stroke is a serious concern on days like last Saturday and water is the single-best way to combat it. There was, I’m told, also a water station at the bike turnaround which is also a plus in my mind.

Volunteers – I would guess that getting enough people to come out and support your race is a tough task for any director. This one had top-notch people all doing what is too often a thankless job.

General organization – The Lake-To-Lake is an older event as triathlons go (more than 10 years) and they’ve obviously learned a thing or two during that time. Ted picked up his packet on race morning, but had no issue with it. Start transition and finish were all well run (except for the start audibility issues) and it looked to me like most folks were having a good time, and that after all, is the point.

The ultimate review point is whether or not I would run the race based on what I saw. The answer: Yes. I think I’d like to give this one a try. It looked pretty good this year and hopefully next year they won’t be dealing with issues like forest fires or road construction.

Another Ride in Weld County

This past weekend was intended to be one where my family and I got together with my cousins, aunt and uncle at my parents place in the mountains. However, the High Park Fire closed part of the road leading up to Red Feather Lakes so we ended up spending it in Greeley instead.

As a result, I had to change my bike ride. While that meant going shorter, I think I still managed to get a good ride in on a course that simulates HITS Sterling. Sunday would prove to be another hot day so I got up early again and was on the road by just after 7:00. The smoke was definitely thicker this time, but not terrible. It’s never a good thought to think you’re inhaling ash and soot but I didn’t feel like I was being affected by it.

The course I took went south to Highway 85 then back north passing through a handful of small towns before I turned west and back to my mom and dad’s home.

All told it was just over 40 miles. That’s not bad, but I also need to kick it up a notch. I may have to look at more eastern routes because the fire threat continues. This is one of the worst years that I can remember for wildfires and at this time, there’s not much relief in sight.

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Race Report: Stroke & Stride #2

My apologies for the delayed race report, but considering that the Stroke & Stride is more of a scrimmage than an actual game, I figured it would not be that big of a deal.

It’s been nearly a year since my first exposure to this race. That one involved being called back in from the water after lightning was seen after the start. Probably just as well because I recall struggling a little bit that day.

What a difference a year can make. I felt much better this time, though I must admit, after competing in Greeley, Boulder is pretty humbling. Granted, I did not have my greatest swim day and I’ve also found that I’m much faster in the morning than afternoon.

While it was overcast, it was still warm. Best of all, there appeared to be no thunderstorms that would spoil the swim portion. Last year, this was my first experience with the washing machine. This year, I had already done the Summer Open Sprint in those conditions plus rough chop so this event seemed much easier. It did feel like the finish markers were not getting any closer at one point, but eventually I reached standing depth and ran in.

Like the Aquaman, swim laps involve crossing a finish mat, running along the beach and then jumping back in for the second lap. I don’t know what I was thinking, but for some reason I hit the lap button coming out of the water the first time. I guess I thought I would get my swim splits that way. Instead, my 910XT thought I was transitioning to the run. I realized this and managed to reset before lap two but the result is two maps for the swim:

I actually think I did okay on my transition. It was just over 2:00 which is not bad considering the run in from the beach and the fact that I had not bike to hold on to as I struggled out of my wetsuit.

Off to the run where I felt okay, but perhaps not great. I was clearly running slower than the Greeley Triathlon, but again, this is really not a full-on race.

I did take into account that for at least half of it, this is the run course of the Boulder Peak and I like how flat it is. Much of the run takes place along the dams that make the east side of the lake and, being dams, are completely level across the top.

I finished the run at 24:51 which is just a fraction over 8:00 pace. I’ll take that. 

I didn’t fare all that great among my age groupers in the 1500m swim/5K run event. I would have probably have finished around third if I had been doing the easier 750m swim but that won’t help me prepare for any of my upcoming races. It’s Boulder and people are just going to be faster.

I’ll be back this coming Thursday and then starting next week (6/26 to be specific), I’m going to start doing the Aquaman series at Cherry Creek which is much closer to my office and also offers a swim only event which suits my training needs better.

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

Friday, June 15, 2012

HITS Changes Venues

Not surprisingly, an announcement came out yesterday (6/13) that the HITS Series Triathlon in Colorado was moving from its previously announced Fort Collins location. They took down their maps from the website some time ago, and in the interim, a huge forest fire has blown up just west of town. The bike course runs right through areas that are currently closed and under evacuation orders. It may be weeks until the fire is full contained and even months before it is controlled. The race director had no choice but to move and of course, this is all happening very late.

Before I discuss the new venue, let me tell a story from high school.

Being a triathlete now, it’s hardly surprising that I ran cross-country and track in high school. My school, Greeley West, was a member at the time of the Northern Conference which included nine schools in Greeley, Fort Morgan Loveland, Longmont, Niwot, and Sterling.  Only Fort Morgan and Sterling are not what you would call Front Range cities. In fact, in the case of the latter, it sits some 90 miles northeast of Greeley. It’s far enough to the east that you can’t see the mountains from there. It was also my least favorite road trip. Since we were riding a slow school bus, the trip took something like two hours each way across completely desolate country. All through high school I travelled there twice a year—once for cross-country and once for track.

So you guessed it, HITS is moving their venue to Sterling. Specifically to a place I’ve not been called North Sterling State Park. So while I doubt this would have enticed me to register in the first place, I can’t really complain about the move. This was a tough spot for race director Mark Wilson. I suspect his only other option would have been a complete cancellation of the race which would have been bad for everyone.

Here are a couple of photos that were provided in the e-mail sent to participants yesterday:

Not exactly a ride through the mountains, but on the other hand, that ride would have now consisted of burnt out trees, assuming the area isn’t still on fire at the end of July.

Here’s what I see as the implications for the race now that it has been moved:

·        A faster bike course. The official route has not been posted, but based on descriptions from the HITS website, I don’t think there will be anything tougher than a 4% grade and that will only be for just over a mile. I think this can be done a good 20 minutes faster than the mountain course.
·        Heat. I planned on it being warm by the time I got off the bike, but I also think that a course that was going to go over 7000 feet would also offer a little relief. Likewise going down through the shadows in the Poudre Canyon. Stephen Long called the eastern plains the Great American Desert. He wasn’t wrong. We might get a break, but it could also be very hot.
·        A flatter run. As I noted in my post about the Horsetooth Half Marathon, the run course was going to consist of several very steep hills. The reservoir is basically built on the side of a mountain and as a result, the terrain is hilly. There’s a bit of a hill that forms the dam around North Sterling Reservoir, but, for the most part, it’s a flat area.
·        Travel. The Fort Collins venue was only about 30 miles or so from my parents’ home in Greeley. It’s a good place to stay before a race in the area. Since Sterling is 90 miles away (and the venue even further) traveling on race morning is not really an option. My brother (also doing this one) and I are going to have to get a hotel. That, in and of itself is not necessarily a problem. However, Sterling is a little town and any last minute needs for things like nutrition, etc. many not be easily met.
·        Site Unseen. I’ve driven the old bike course, and actually run on a fairly good sized chunk of the old run course. I also had plans, before the fire, to do a practice ride on the course. Given how far away it is, I doubt I’ll be driving up to practice either. It won’t be the first time I’ve gone to a venue site unseen (that was the case with TriRock last year) but it’s always better to have a little first-hand reconnaissance.

I’m glad the organizers have decided to hold the race. It would have been a bummer to have it canceled. There are other 70.3 mile distances, but none are very close. The Ironman Calgary 70.3 is the same day (July 29) but that’s an 1100 mile road trip. Honestly, there aren’t many races nearby that time of year—the Boulder 70.3 was sold out months ago.

I remain concerned that so many people will end up bailing due to the venue change that a cancellation will happen anyway, but, on the other hand, those folks would be eating their entry fee. I hope my fellow registrants will roll with it and stay with the race, the same as my brother and me.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Swim Opt-Out: A Good Policy

For many MOP age groupers, like me, triathlon proved to be a fun, even addictively fun way to get in and stay in shape. Many of us come from a running background and have been all-too-happy to be able race in two other disciplines. The newness of things like wetsuits and triathlon bikes creates an appeal and that drives a desire to compete.

However, alongside all of this is something darker. The darkest in fact. Tragically, some of our fellow athletes have died during competition. The industry, obviously, does not shine a light on these events, but they bear repeating for the sake of the sport.

On May 28 last year, a local physician, Michael Wiggins, was competing in the Pelican Fest Triathlon. Before the swim ended, he was discovered by the safety crew face down in the water. My quick research of the news says that no specific cause of death was identified but Dr. Wiggins apparently suffered from irregular heart rhythms.

Last August, two people died in the Nautica NYC Triathlon, also during the swim event. Michael Kudryk and Amy Martrich were both pulled from the Hudson River and could not be revived.

I suspect there are similar stories around the world even though I did not go out and research them. These two alone are chilling and sobering. They bring home the real dangers associated with open water swimming.

While I’m not privy to any conversations between USAT and race directors, in the two events I have done this year, I have noticed something that I think will start to be a trend in races: the option to skip the swim without having to take a DNF.

At the Summer Open Sprint, the reasons were more than clear. Winds were driving big waves and even experienced swimmers faced them with some trepidation, yours truly among them. I’m comfortable in most conditions, have swam in real surf extensively and have complete confidence in the buoyancy of my wetsuit. Not everyone feels the same way. Indeed, it’s most likely panic that is at the root of the problems most swimmers experience. Hypoxia is not an uncommon experience, especially if one goes out just a little too hard and if you’re not familiar with it, it can feel like you are suffocating. Combine that with being surrounded by dozens of other swimmers, many of whom may be running into you, slapping you and kicking you and for the inexperienced open-water swimmer, it can be nothing short of terrifying.

Conditions at Greeley were far better. Though the morning started out with wind, at race time, it was calm and the lake was placid and flat. But the option went out all the same. Anyone who wanted to skip the swim was allowed to do so. According to the online results page only a couple of people chose that option, but the important thing is that it is an option.

What I believe, but can’t prove has happened is that participants feel obligated to compete in all three sports. No doubt, they registered with the best of intentions but come race morning, the water was looking pretty scary. There’s undoubtedly pressure to do all three sports as they look around and see others heading for the start. Realizing that they could forfeit their entire race by not participating only adds to it.

Considering how real the risk of swimming accident is, race directors need to be thoughtful about allowing people to be safe without sacrificing their entire race. Past precedent might have meant either no race option at all (DNS) or incomplete results (DNF). I’m sure it’s a bit of pain for the organizers and the timer to set up an exception, but that’s a sacrifice that is well worth it if it involves saving a life. In fact, it probably makes sense to just have this option built-in to the race plan.

As I said before, I don’t know what, if any communications have taken place between USAT and the various race directors across the country. If this is not a policy or at the very least a strongly suggested best practice, perhaps it should be.

For the sake of our sport’s future and more importantly for the continued safety of the athletes who participate in it, we need to be doing all we can to ensure that races continue be fun, enjoyable and safe events.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Race Report: 2012 Greeley Triathlon

Even if Greeley were not the town in which I grew up, this race would hold a special place in my heart as being the site of my first complete triathlon. Since the race is so well run and such a pleasure to do, it holds an even more special place.

Training has been going pretty well for me this year, so I was anxious to test my mettle in conditions more ideal than those from the Summer Open Sprint three weeks ago. It’s not exactly an apples-to-apples since Greeley is a shorter sprint, but close enough for my purposes.


As my wife and I made our way to Greeley mid-morning Saturday, we immediately noticed the column of smoke rising from somewhere in the mountains west of Fort Collins. It didn’t look to serious at the time, but this would blow up later in the day and is now being called the High Park Fire and is, as of this writing,  the second largest forest fire in stat history. Obviously, I was concerned about what all that smoke could do to the race, but there was not much I could do about it.

The race director, Jim Fuller, conducted a series of meetings on Saturday as people were picking up their packets and previewing the venue. Some were even swimming, running or riding though I personally would rather save the day before for rest. Jim did a nice job of succinctly pointing at all of the relevant information and answering questions. I really do appreciate the focused, but low-key approach he’s taken for this one.

I got to bed around 9:30 and asleep by about 10:00, ready for an early morning. Just before 3 am, I was awoken by the sound of wind that could have been a freight train. I looked out the window and saw trees blowing all over the place. Not good. This was what we had in Longmont three weeks earlier. Frustrated, I tried to put it out of my mind and go back to sleep. Since I can’t control the weather, there was no point in letting it rob me of some needed rest.

My brother, also competing in the race, and I loaded our bikes up right around 6:00 am and made the easy ten minute drive from our parents home to the race venue which is an office park on the far west side of Greeley.

The wind was still blowing but perhaps not as hard. It was still pretty cool as well…say around 55*.  I knew it might be unpleasant as I waited for the start but once I got going, I would be fine. Being too cold has rarely been a problem for me.

We arrived in transition to discover that body marking and chip distribution had not started even though it was after 6:15 and the first wave of races were slated for less than an hour. A volunteer told us a “decision” about the race was still pending. So we set up our bikes but left our transition bags packed. While we waited, the sun rose above the huge smoke cloud, the temperature improved and low and behold, the wind calmed. Shortly thereafter, the announcement was made; the race was on though anyone who wanted to opt out of the swim could do so. More on that later.

Once I got my body marked and my chip, I set up my transition area, donned my wetsuit from the waste down (it was now too warm to zip it all the way up) and headed over to the swim start area. This race is the site of the USAT Regional Junior Championship (ages 16 – 23) and they also host a shorter race for ages 13-15. Those two went first in a mass start.

With this being my second year, I knew how the line-up would go. It’s in reverse number order which is basically also reverse age order. From there, races start time-trial style, with one person going about every 3-5 seconds.

The Swim

My turn to start came quickly and I felt a lot of nervous energy as I approached the platform. Having taken most of the week off, I think I was champing at the bit to get going again. Then it was time to tell the timer my number (which he entered in the timing computer) and then have the starter tell me “go.” I dove in (literally though I don’t think I got any style points) and was on my way.

A lot of my open water swims have been characterized by hypoxia within the first few minutes as my heart rate tries to catch up. I could feel this coming on so I slowed my stroke just a little bit and tried to put it out of my mind. You’re in good cardiovascular shape, I told myself. This should not be a problem. That seemed to work because I didn’t feel out of breath the rest of the way.

The lake in which the swim portion takes place is very clear and clean (I’ve been told before that the water is nearly drinking quality) and it was also in the low 70* range which meant no shock. I didn’t do a perfect job sighting as the map below shows, but I didn’t swim too far out of range either. During the entire swim, I passed several and I don’t believe I was passed by anyone else.

Greeley is, so far, the only race I’ve down with wetsuit strippers. I needed a couple of seconds to get my Garmin off my wrist and then I just got on my back and voila, the wetsuit was yanked off by two big guys. I thanked them and high-tailed it for transition.

The Bike

Having had a pretty lousy transition in my last race, I wanted to get through this one quickly. I got to my bike and decided that I would skip socks for the ride. I could decide to put them on or not when the run started. At 2:19, it was a little faster than I had planned, but not bad. I ran the bike out to the mount line and was clipped in and headed out a few seconds later.

This year’s bike course included more riding within the Promontory office park itself and that meant a couple of sharp but manageable turns around traffic circles. I felt a little winded, but mostly strong as I navigated these and then it was time to head out onto the open road portion of the race.

Much to my pleasant surprise, I was able to climb to a pace over 25mph and maintain it which was more than I was hoping for on the flatter sections of the course. A right turn took us down 95th Avenue including probably the biggest descent of the whole course. I barely hit over 30mph before having to slow down for a hair-pin u-turn that sent us back the other direction on the same street, but now going up hill. Since my two big rides on the previous week, most hills just don’t look all that daunting. I was up this one and back out onto West 10th Street in what felt like just a little bit of time.

I continued to make better than expected time before I came to the first really sustained climb of the course. At just over 5.8 miles complete, you start a steady climb from 4094 feet to 4162 over the course of 0.9 mile. That makes for a grade of only about 1.4%, but it’s enough to shave a few mph off your speed. As I crested the hill, the wind which had been holding off suddenly gusted and I didn’t pick up much speed on the backside. It was just a gust and though it was in my face for most of the rest of the way, I still felt okay.

By this point I was out on Highway 34 and climbing a gradual but longish hill that lead to the south entrance to the park. Then another hill in the park and that was followed by a flat stretch back to transition. I didn’t notice at the time, but I was about two minutes ahead of where I’d hoped to be.

The Run

I dismounted easily enough and was running back to my section of transition. I had considered not wearing socks for the run, but I had also developed a couple of blisters during the preceding week and decided I’d better protect my feet. I probably took 15 seconds to get the socks on, but I think it was worth it. T2 timed out at 1:45 which was more than the 1:30 I planned, but not disastrous either.

I usually feel pretty winded as I start the run and while I was working, I also think I have a lot more cardio-conditioning that I did last year. That’s not to say that my HR didn’t spike a little and that I didn’t have to struggle to pick up my pace, but I also didn’t feel like I was going to suffocate. That’s always a good thing.

The problem I did encounter was cramps. First, it was on my side on the lower part of the right rib cage. Then the pain moved to the area just below the sternum. It was pretty easy to tie the pain with my respiration rate and my uneducated guess is that my breathing was irritating something. It hurt, but I felt like I could run through it.

Despite the pain, I was consistently keeping my pace under 8:00 per mile, well under in certain areas. It seemed that most of the people who were passing me were younger and those that were older were not in my age group. I didn’t know how long I could keep up the pace, but each step forward meant that much less time I had to commit. This was a lot like the BolderBoulder two weeks prior where I figured I ought to bank as much time at the front in case things broke down later.

Fortunately, they did not and I stayed strong. With the finish line less than 0.2 mile in front of me, I kicked the pace up to a sub 7:00 mile and went across the line strong. I felt pretty good. Looking at my net time of 1:03:36, I was really pleased.

My bro and I waited around for a while to see the results. Both of us ran at times that would have won the age division the year before. But then that was last year and you never know what the field will look like from one year to the next.

When the results came in, I was very happy to see that I had finished third in my age division. My brother did even better with a second place finish thanks to his smokin' run time. I’ll grant you that there were only five participants and one of them appears to have either opted out of the swim of DNF’d, but I still beat the next closest person by a couple of minutes and more importantly, I shaved over eight minutes off of last year’s time.

For my success, I was awarded a white cow bell indicating my podium status within the age group. This race just got a little nearer and dearer to my heart! It’s truly an honor to get rewarded for what I did and it's really cool that both Johnson boys placed in this one. This race is off the beaten path and in most fields, I’ll soon return to my MOP status, but today, I got to stand with the winners and I have to admit, it feels pretty good.

The Race Review

The Bad:

I feel like an honest review of the race needs to contain some criticism. No one is perfect. However, as I rack my brain, I can’t come up with anything. The organizers were facing several challenges this year including high wind and a massive forest fire. The decisions they made regarding the race were thoughtful and focused on safety, first and fore most. Try as I might, I can’t really come up with anything constructive that isn’t completely nit-picky. It’s rare on this blog, but the Greeley Tri gets an A+ in my book this year.

The Good:

Information: Lots of detail on the website, a pre-race meeting, a director who was more than happy to answer any and all questions all made this one of the most informative races you can do. No guessing about where the bike course would go. No wondering where the aid stations on the run would be. Where you swam and how you started were abundantly clear. They’ve been doing this one for several years and have learned well from past year’s mistakes. I love being able to know all I can before a race. No one else has delivered this the way the Greeley Tri did.

Course: The swim, transition, run and bike all work well for the venue and the size of the field (around 230 registrants and 158 finishers this year). The time trial start makes for a less crowded lake. I had no problem passing folks and there were no traffic jams around the buoys. The bike was not so spread out that watching the drafting rule didn’t come into play, but I was able to pass or be passed without issue. Likewise, there was no threat of anyone running into me as I dismounted. The run goes on the sidewalk for part of the race, but again, the field was thin enough that there were no crowding issues. Even better, for the most part, the run and bike are flat and fast.

Support: Entry fees go almost entirely to local organizations that send people out to volunteer for the race. That means a high school cross-country team that comes out to hand out water or strip wetsuits gets some money back to their organization. This drives lots of people out to provide help and support and it shows. In addition, the Greeley Police Officers Organization (presumably their union) is a sponsor so off duty officers are at the major intersections protecting the safety of the athletes and the integrity of the race. That’s a really big plus.

Intangibles: There are multiple factors that make this such an enjoyable race. Competitors of all abilities and levels of experience are made to feel welcome so whether you’re a hotshot riding a fast bike with carbon race wheels or the last person in riding an old ten-speed, you’re treated with the dignity and respect that everyone who competes in triathlon deserves. Winner’s names and hometowns are announced as they cross the finish line and volunteer hands you an iced towel, a big bottle of water and a medal when you do. The race is organized and supported by the Greeley Triathlon Club and their pledge of a race by triathletes for triathletes is evident. These folks know what they want in a race and they deliver it on race day.

I occasionally hear a knock on the sprint distance. It’s short, it’s over in around an hour and you often find yourself pushing far harder than an endurance athlete might normally expect. This is true, but I still find it’s a great way to get back into the season. You can fine-tune your transitions, get used to the multiple event environment and, if you’re lucky, maybe even snag a spot on the podium.

With that in mind, I’m inclined to return to this event again. My hat’s off to the organizers of this race. I know they work very hard at it and their effort shows on race day!

With this one in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to get back to hard training. The next event will be much more difficult, the Boulder Peak including its treacherous 15% climb on Olde Stage Road. More riding, running and open water swimming are planned. More posts to come.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Very Full Weekend

Sorry there have been no posts here for the last week or so. I've been a little busy.

Tuesday afternoon saw my first return to my association pool since last August. I had to ask the lifeguards to set up the lane rope, but they were obliging and though it was not open water, it was outdoors and that's pretty nice.

Flash forward to Wednesday afternoon and I got the idea in my head that it would be a good idea to do run intervals. Well, it may have been an okay idea, but I went out way to hard on my first couple of miles and ended up finishing short of my planned full distance and much slower.

That was probably just as well because Thursday afternoon found me back up in Boulder. No my weekend did not start any sooner than anyone else's, but this was the beginning of a three out of four day stint that had me putting in something just under seven hours of training.

I had gone back up to the PRB since I'll be doing the Boulder Peak Triathlon there on July 8. Looking at the map, it looked to be a challenging bike course and I always like to have some idea of just exactly what it is I've gotten myself into. I found out.

There's a gradual climb out of the area of the Boulder Reservoir and then you head west on Lee Hill Drive and really start to climb. By the time I found myself on Old Stage road, I was looking up a long, steep hill with a false summit or two and my heart rate well over 150.  Exhausting!

One good thing about going up is that it means going down and after reaching the high point of the course just after mile 7, I was cruising downhill with minimal effort. I spent a lot of time on the north side of the route  in the big ring and making up for the amazing slow pace I had in the beginning.

Friday was an easier day with just my strength work out. That was necessary because of what came Saturday.

For the last few weeks I've been looking at a course in Jefferson County. For those not familiar with the greater Denver area, it (Jeffco, as it's known locally) straddles both the western suburbs of the city as well as several small mountain town and whole lot of unpopulated mountain forest land.

Much like the course for the HITS, it starts with the big uphill portion before going more downhill. My gut tells me that this one is a little harder, however.

Since my brother is doing the HITS as well, he joined me for what was a going to be a big training ride for the both of us. The roadside along West Deer Creek Canyon Road, just west of Wadsworth Boulevard is a popular place for cyclists. Many are there to do the same ride my bro and I were doing while others park there to head on in to Chatfield State Park. The park, I've discovered is a great place to do some interval riding, but our goal on this day was to climb. And we did!

The course gives a couple of miles to warm up before you enter the canyon-proper and start a steady ascent. Then things get really interesting when you turn off of the main road onto a smaller and much steeper side road. At this point, we were a little over six miles in and the climb built and built until we reached a couple of switch-backs which, as they will do, added significant elevation over a fairly short distance. And if that weren't enough, you're not even at the top yet.  Oh no. You've got to another six miles of steady climbing. You get brief respite and some down hill but you still climb a little more until finally reaching the max elevation of around 8516 feet. Keep in mind, the elevation at the start is 5536.

Mercifully, the next several miles are almost entirely downhill, sharply so in some places. At last you reach the small town of Kittredge where you turn south, heading back to the start of this loop course. That's where it's time to climb again though it's nothing as bad as the start of the course. On the other hand, our legs were not as fresh at this point and it's not without it's difficulty.

A great thing about rides like this is the stories they generate. It's like my half marathon in Pueblo last December. Sometime after the fact you get to swap war stories with your fellow triathletes or even those not into the sport.

Well, this one is a doozy. We were in our last 15 miles and I had gotten a little out front so I stopped at nice flat section to have a drink and wait for my bro who was maybe a minute or two behind me. Suddenly, from a yard on the other side of the road, a guy comes out and says, I'm not authorized to stop here? Huh? At first I thought he was kidding. I must have looked confused even under my helmet and sunglasses because he repeated himself and said something about he was tired of cyclists stopping in front of his house (I was across the road remember). It didn't take me long to come to the opinion that he must be suffering from some kind of mental condition. I think the technical term is bat-shit crazy. Realizing this, I gave him a wave acknowledging that I was moving on and started to clip back in.

But he wasn't finished. Belligerence gave way to a diatribe about how I needed to go ride my bike on a path or get a mountain bike and then he called me a name that suggested I was actually the female reproductive organ or a cat. By this point, my brother had caught up and he also was the recipient of a not very nice word.

You'd like to say something back in cases like this, but I realized that he was so crazy that he might have gotten in his car and run us down. Nut jobs like this are best treated like wild animals, give them some space, move on and hope they loose interest. Fortunately, he went back into his meth lab...uh, I mean house.

The hills were not done with us yet. We had one more big climb and then it was easy sailing down hill for the last six miles or so. After so much work, I did not feel the least bit guilty about getting to just cruise to completion. Overall, it was a good ride and I'm pleased I could handle it. Could I have gotten off the bike and run 13.1 miles? Maybe. It would have taken me the better part of three hours, but maybe.

Here's the course and a composite of the video I shot on the GoPro while riding. I'm afraid the battery on the camera had died by the time I encountered the nice man who apparently hates all things cyclist, so that will just have to be the stuff of legend.

This morning, I went back to Grant Ranch for a swim which was to be immediately followed by a 10 mile run. The swim actually went pretty good considering, like an idiot, I forgot to bring my goggles. Fortunately, I managed to site the buoys well enough and truth be told, there's not much to see in that lake anyway! Nevertheless, I'm going to be more thorough next time.

Upon completing the swim, I moved my car down the street from the lake area. The organizers of the open water events don't want us to leave our cars in the parking lot all day which is understandable. Fortunately, the local elementary school is nearby and made a great place to start and stop a run.

It's been a while since 10 miles went so easy, but they really did. I had a few rolling hills, but I still felt good. Although temps stayed in the high sixties to low seventies, I was still glad to have my CamelBak along and the occasional sip of ice water really did keep me moving.

And with that, a fairly important training weekend is done. Now I'm going to taper a little bit in anticipation of next week's Greeley Triathlon. I might even get another post in before doing that race report.

For now, thanks for reading this rather lengthy post and have a terrific week ahead!