Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Decision

I was going to call ESPN and see about setting up a special broadcast to let the world know whether or not I’ll be competing in a 140.6 event next year. But I figured they were too busy covering the All-Star game.

So my only venue for this important announcement will be the blog.

And the answer is…no, not next year.

To be sure, I was attempted. About a week ago I got an e-mail from Ironman offering me a priority place in line since I had registered for this year’s Boulder Tri Series. That alone would probably have assured me a spot.

I also looked at coaching services. I happened to drop guitar lessons recently and low and behold, monthly coaching services were almost exactly the same price. In other words, I could have afforded it and if I ever do make the decision to be an Ironman, I almost certainly will have a coach.

I also am very familiar with the venue. I’ve done a total of three races in Boulder plus a handful of aquathlon events. I know the area where the run will be having biked and run it all through college and I have spent plenty of time on the back roads that will make up much of the bike course.

But all that is still not enough.

Physically, I’m coming off one of the more chronic injuries I’ve experienced. Other than foot surgery (a voluntary injury) I’ve never had to spend so long rehabilitating. That included some fairly intense physical therapy (if you don’t believe that, go get some dry needling treatment and see if you still feel that way), reduced running schedules and just a generally unmotivated feeling that comes with being in pain whenever you work out. My body might be ready for this, but it’s not exactly a sustained period of strength from which I’m coming.

The even bigger obstacle is a mental one. It’s not that I don’t believe I can do this. I know I could put my mind to it and probably get the whole event done within the 17 hour time limit. This is more about being properly motivated to do it right.

That means happily getting up very early six mornings a week, training for 15 or more hours a week and making some fairly significant sacrifices to my life for six months or so. If I had nothing else to do, no job, no marriage, no other interests outside of triathlon, it would be an easy decision. In the face of those things however, it becomes daunting.

For the next year I have three main goals.

1)      Finish up my remaining races doing as well as I can. Hopefully I can show some improvement at each one. I still have four so this will be a big goal on its own,
2)      Build a big base in the off season. There will be no marathon next year so I’ll be balancing my running, riding and swimming. I just want to have a steady, uneventful offseason where I make gradual improvements and enhance my overall fitness.
3)      Focus on a handful of races with an eye toward PR’s in 2014. I really had fun racing in 2012 and was a little sad to see my season end in mid-August. As a result, I signed up for 9 events this year and now I sort of wish there had been fewer. Next year I think I’d like to do no more than four events and focus on doing my best at each one. It was frustrating having a much slower time at the peak this year. Getting faster as I get older is going to be more difficult, but I think I still have a few more years of improvement left in me.

I think coaching remains on the table as an option. I won’t seriously look into that until next year but it might be worth it if I can be a better racer. For now, it’s focus on the Boulder 70.3 event, have some fun at Rattlesnake and TriRock and then focus hard on the Austin 70.3 event.

If I ever do make “the decision” I’ll think about calling ESPN. For now, thanks for reading about all my adventures (and struggles) here!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Boulder Peak Triathlon

Sometimes I go into a race and my performance wildly exceeds my expectations. Then there was my Sunday performance at the Boulder Peak Olympic distance event in which my expectations and performance were more or less in line with each other.

It’s been a tough year for me to train, mostly due to injuries and the loss of momentum they create, but also due to other factors such as a long vacation, increased time commitments at work and in all honesty, a lower level of motivation this year.

Those are not excuses, just explanations. In any case, let’s talk about the race.

A year ago I stayed the night before in Boulder to allow for extra sleep and adequate time to arrive at the venue and set up. I decided that this year I would forgo that and drive up from Parker on race morning just as I did a few weeks ago for the first race in this series, the Boulder Sprint. Since race-day pick-up of the packet was an option up until 6:30, I opted in.

Unfortunately, this also meant rolling out of bed around 4:30 and being on the road by 5:00. I am not, by nature, a morning person, but I did manage it and was on the road and arrived in Boulder right around 6:00. Unlike the last event at this location, there were many more participants and as a result, a bit of a traffic jam getting into the parking field. I managed to get my packet with 10 minutes to spare, but it was still tight setting up in transition.

You see, unlike other events such as HITS (the best transitions in the business, period) or even TriRock, SOST, or the Rattlesnake, there are no individually designated spots on the racks. They are basically just a very long saw-horse. This set-up counts on everyone taking only what they need for transition which of course never works. It’s my fault for being late. But it’s the race organizers and owners fault for not springing for a better set of racks in their transition area. More on that in the race report.

Despite being rushed, I did manage to find a place to squeeze in my bike and set up my (small) towel with shoes, visor, run number, etc. My transition bag would have been in the way so I put it over along the fence that bordered the area.  I had to leave before I could put on my wetsuit, but that’s fine. I had to do as much in Loveland three weeks prior.

Once suited up and more or less ready, I got a short warm-up lap in before moving over to the start area. This race was using a wave system to start the race. Folks put themselves in their own group based on their estimated finish time. I went in the 27:00 – 29:00 group. Meer minutes after the first age-group wave went out, I was on my way under the arch and soon was swimming east.

The Swim

I knew that managing my energy levels would be important. Swims usually don’t leave me feeling exhausted, but that does not mean that I don’t use up some calories I might need later on. Since a PR at this year’s event was not in scope, I kept my pace steady but not as fast as I might have a year ago.

The wave start seemed to work. I encountered no washing machine at the start and just a few “interactions” with my fellow swimmers as we went along. This is a really big field and some bumping and unintentional groping are inevitable.

It seemed to take a long time to reach the far buoy but I think that is mostly because the majority of my swims at the Boulder Reservoir are on a 750 meter course and I was used to that. Once making the turn and heading for shore, things got easier. It was also easier to sight now that the sun was behind me.


It’s about 0.15 mile from the beach to the center of the transition are so not as long as say the Lake to Lake (0.3 mile) but not as short as the Greeley Triathlon (.03 mile). Given past experiences, I made sure I could locate my bike among the herd and found it readily enough. It was not my fastest or smoothest transition but there was no wasted time either. According to the official results, I had a T1 of 2:17. I’m sure that is too fast because in two events prior to this, I never been faster than 4:00. My Garmin must have gotten bumped on my way in and started the bike so when I was stopped stripping out of the wet suit, etc, the time stopped too. Best estimate: 3:45.

The Bike

Last year I had a little struggle with the bike. I started rolling before I had a foot clipped in and struggled to get moving. This year, I stopped right after the mount line, clipped in my right foot and started to pedal knowing I could clip in the left once I had some momentum. I looked up and right in front of me was a girl who apparently decided that two feet in front of me would be a good place to clip in herself. I did not have enough momentum to steer around her and my first instinct was to brake. Then I did not have enough presence of mind to unclip my right foot. Down I went. Hard. Nothing felt especially bad, but I had skinned my knee. I was more worried about my bike.

One of the mechs that supports the events came over and helped me. My chain had come off and my cadence sensor was stuck in the spokes. He helped get everything reset. It was one of the best experiences with a volunteer I’ve had. I thanked him profusely for the help. I wish I knew his name so I could call him out here.

The bike was okay (the right break may have rotated a few fractions of an inch but it was functional, and I probably only lost a minute. Nothing really hurt despite the slow trickle of blood that was running down my shin.

Those who don’t know this course probably decide that the best strategy is to power down 51st Street and then do some more hard riding on Jay Road. That’s what I did when I first did a practice run over a year ago. It’s easy to be fooled into thinking the only really big hill in the early part of the course is the one on Olde Stage Road. That is a big hill, but you also have to do some slow but steady climbing to get to it.

Knowing all of this, I took it easy and spun at low speed, high cadence (in the mid 90’s) all the way to the base of the big hill. I got passed—a lot. The average grade along the steeped part of the Olde Stage Road hill is around 8.5 – 9.5 percent. I watched my speed run between 3.5 and never more than 5 mph. And I was passing more people than passed me. A couple of people stopped completely. Others dismounted and walked their bikes. A couple of younger, stronger and faster guys on light bikes went by me, but only a couple. There’s only one thing to do in a situation like this. Just keep pedaling. Forget about your aero bars. They provide no benefit at single digit speeds. Just pedal and pedal and pedal.

It’s a long two-thirds or so of a mile, but it gets much easier when you reach the first crest. I say first because after you get through the really steep slog, you have to climb about another 145 feet, but not before a short down hill and at not nearly as steep a grade. Then it’s downhill. Very downhill. This is the only race I know of that actively enforces a speed limit for a section of the course. It’s understandable why. Going down the back side of the hill is unbelievably steep and with a large field, more than a little dangerous. As a result, the fastest you can go is 35mph. That’s fine with me and I kept it at more like 32 which was still pretty scary. Once out of the restricted zone, I took one left turn perhaps a little faster than I should have, which scared me again, but did not result in any loss of control. I slowed down plenty to make the hard right onto Lefthand Canyon Drive.

It’s not as steep here so I used the opportunity to shift into the big ring and start putting on some momentum and dropping folks (many of whom I’m sure dropped me between miles 1 and 5). No sooner had I gotten my speed up than an emergency vehicle took off up the road going the opposite way. Soon after, bikers (non-participants going up the canyon) were standing, dismounted, making the universal sign for slow down: both hands palms down and moving their forearms up and down. Someone said something about an ambulance ahead. I heeded the warning and sure enough, as I cruised by at about 15mph, there was an ambulance with a rider next to it. One of her legs was up on the gurney and she was holding her head up on her own (not being cradled by a paramedic). I don’t know if she was a participant or one of the many riders going up the canyon. I was glad not to see the carnage of a major wreck—mostly for the sake of the person involved, but, selfishly, I was already rattled enough at this point.

Fear did not get the best of me during the rest of the bike stage. Despite a fairly congested roadway (oncoming traffic and other riders) I managed to get my speed up again slowing only to make the turn onto Highway 36 and again on an uphill immediately after that turn.

Once you leave the highway and head east on Nelson Road, you are rewarded with a lot of steady downhill riding and I managed to top out at 36.2 mph. At the bottom of this hill is the right turn onto 63rd Street, now riding south.

You are met with a big hill here, but nothing like the early part of the course. Once over it, there are a couple of small rollers, but most of this section is flat and a good place to just spin out some speed. I was doing about 80 rpm here which I thought made sense to keep my legs fresh for the upcoming run.

Just like the Sprint, the bike course had to be cut short due to continuing construction at the intersection of Jay Road and the Longmont Diagonal Highway. There’s no shoulder there and the traffic is high. It sucks but it was the right call. Like before, we were diverted to a foot trail temporarily paved in mats that made for easier riding. Then it was back into the reservoir area with the runners on our right.


I made it back into transition, managed to successfully re-rack my bike and head out in a respectable 2:27. It’s a big transition area so a good chunk of the total time was just running in and then back out. T2 is usually pretty easy for me and this was no exception.

The Run

I didn’t feel great, but I didn’t feel terrible either as I started my run. It was warmer but it didn’t feel unbearably so. There’s a hill you have to hit right away, but I got up it okay and was soon moving across the first dam on the east side of the reservoir. This is a nice flat section of hard packed dirt and it makes for a fairly easy run. Once you leave the dam, you go to the left and up a slight rise (not really a hill) and hit the first aid station. Then it’s back down the other side and on to the second dam which is shorter than the first, but just as flat.

As you leave the dam sections, you go through a big curve and a down and then immediate up hill. I was starting to feel some pain at this point and as I passed the second aid station, the heat was taking its toll.

Garmin Connect says the average temperature on my run was 72* as measured at the nearby Boulder Municipal Airport and that was probably correct in the shade. Out on the hard-packed dirt however, it felt much hotter. I had hoped to try and run the whole stage, but as I came back to the up and down hill section, my heart rate was spiking and I was feeling pretty miserable. So I walked for about 0.4 mile, ran another 0.3, walked a little further and managed to slog it in.

For some reason, the pro race is started while there are still several age groupers on course. Last year, I was fast enough to be done before the first of them came around. Not so this time. A few were heading out and as I neared my last quarter mile, I was “passed” by Lisa Norden, a Swedish pro who would go on to win the women’s race. Kind of cool to be sharing a course with an Olympian, but also a little humbling.

I finished with a little bit of strength but was happy to be done. Unlike my finish after Lake to Lake, I never felt faint or nauseous. However, I was pretty glad to be done.

Race Review

Next Time:

Get some decent bike racks. No seriously, do it. Next year, Boulder will be host to the state’s first ever full Ironman event. HITS has put on a events of equal distance, but like them or not, there’s no arguing that Ironman branded events are a big deal. It’s time for the race organizers to start giving participants what they pay for and that means a better transition area. That M-dot logo doesn’t mean much when you can’t find a place for your bike.

Results. These were not available until first thing this morning. Not acceptable in a professionally timed race. Less acceptable from a world-class organization like WTC. I should have seen my times last night.

Expo. The best I can say is, “meh”. This is WTC, and this is Boulder. It can’t be that hard to get some good displays up including a bike manufacturer or two. It’s not the biggest deal, but it could be so much better than it is.

Pros on the course. It probably is not a good idea to make the pro wait until all of the age groupers are done or most of them are done. So send them off first. I don’t want to get in the way of someone who is competing for money. It’s embarrassing for me and frustrating for them. This should take a backseat to the ability of participants to be spectators after their race.

The Good:

Swim Start. This actually worked pretty well. If for no other reason than the washing machine effect at the start was largely mitigated. It’s my least favorite part of any swim. It’s also better than waiting in the water to start.

Support. There were tons of volunteers and all were very helpful. As I mentioned before, the mech that helped me get going after my pre-bike fall was not only helpful, but concerned. He made sure I was okay, not just my bike. Others were ready with the water bottle or cup and everyone was encouraging and positive. You have to appreciate how much a successful race hinges on good volunteers.

Course and venue.  This location is well suited to triathlon which explains why there are at least five that I know of here each year. With next year’s entry into the full 140.6 event, they’ll be ready to take it all to the next stage. The Old Stage hill climb is hard, but it’s also a point of pride to say you’ve done it. The run course is flat and fast and but for the heat (in my own personal case) enjoyable. The lake views are really very breathtaking, more so with the mountains in the background.

Intangibles. It’s always nice to hear your name called as you approach the finish. Even in a year when my performance has not been up to expectations it makes you feel good knowing you’ve accomplished something so big and that so few people actually can. Having my name on the bib is kind of nice and makes it more of a keepsake than some generic “Road ID” found at some many other events. Despite some of their obvious short coming (transition area), I do get the impression that WTC in general and these race organizers in particular do care about the quality of the event and work hard to make it worth the hefty entrance fee. Here’s hoping that conviction gets even strong in the coming year.

For me, the next three weeks will be devoted to longer bike ride and longer runs. Of all three disciplines, only the swim is really where I want it to be. I feel pretty good about my ability to get ready. I may not be any faster than HITS last year, but then again, I probably won’t be dealing with the same conditions either.

Thanks for reading this long report and enjoy your week.