Sunday, August 31, 2014

I Love Garmin…Except When I Hate It

When it comes to sports watches, Garmin is the only brand I’ve ever known. I bought my first Forerunner 201 back in 2005 when I had just gotten back into running and it seemed very novel and innovative at the time. I was just happy to have a watch that kept such accurate track of how far and how long I ran. All of this despite the fact that it connected via a serial port rather than USB and upload times were painfully slow. Even the limited amount of data that one could add to the old Motion Based web site was okay. At least I had something of a buffer that would hold activities until I could manually record them on my spreadsheet-based log.
My old 201 was with me through my first half-marathon and my first full marathon. I kept it for a little over a year until I had the opportunity to buy the newer Model 305 at a discount. Now I had all kinds of great stuff including a heart rate monitor and the ability to upload via USB.
My running waned in the years to follow though it never actually stopped. When I got into triathlon, I discovered DC Rainmaker and started learning even more about the capabilities of my now four year old device including foot pods and cadence sensors. Who knew the venerable old watch had so much capability with the ANT+ chip onboard? I did my first season of triathlons with it on all events except the swim since the 305 was water resistant but not rated for long term submersion.
By late 2011, the watch was showing its age in the form of a battery that would not hold a charge of much more than a couple of hours. Most of my workouts were not that long but I knew that would change as I started to prepare for my first half iron distance race in 2012.
I had held off on buying a 310XT due to its cost and the promise of a new watch appearing on the market sometime in the first quarter of 2012. The 910XT was probably everything a triathlete could have asked for at the time. It was fully water-proofed and had the ability to measure both inside and outside swim metrics. For the first time, I had a single unit that could go with me through all phases of my training and even better, through a race.
By now, Garmin had acquired Motion Based and removed the restrictions on how many workouts one could upload. That was fantastic but not surprising given the overall trend in the technology industry toward cheaper and cheaper storage. It was the right thing to do and they did it.
I swam extensively in the pool and in the open during 2012 and also spent plenty of time running and riding as well and the watch dutifully recorded all of my activity. It had proved to be a good investment and I was pleased, especially since it set me back $400 (I had purchased a new heart rate strap before the unit was released so it cost me a little less).
To this point, Garmin had done everything you would expect a sports technology company to do. They had released a high quality, reliable product with excellent support. As 2013 unfolded, I began to see more and more of the watches on the wrists of my fellow triathletes. It seemed to be nearly as ubiquitous as the 305 had been in its heyday.
As you might imagine, this is also where trouble started for me. The most notable issue was the loss of signal on open water swimming. By their nature, radio signals don’t do well through the water. That’s just a law of physics and it’s understood that no one can violate them. Garmin had presumably solved this problem by allowing the watch to reacquire the signal whenever your arm was out of the water and it smoothed the appearance on the map by combing the satellite data with the stroke data. This had certainly been my experience through many races and a couple dozen open water swims.

That was true until IM Boulder 70.3 in early August of 2013. It was probably the second biggest race of my triathlon career to that point. It really turned out to be kind of an inauspicious day (I blew up on the run) but the swim went reasonably well. Unfortunately, the signal was lost about halfway through and it never reacquired:

That thick red line is my supplement. It’s one thing to lose a signal, but quite another not to reacquire it as soon as possible. The logic here is something along the lines of: Well, lost the signal, guess I’ll just quit.
Of course, a single problem does not failure make. It sucked that it happened during a race, but it could have happened just as easily during a practice. I proceeded to the bike and the altimeter said I started out at something around 2500 feet above sea level. In Colorado, such an altitude is deep underground. As a result, I had skewed altitude data.
Maybe it was just having a bad day.
Let’s fast forward nearly three months to the final race of last season, IM Austin 70.3. Once again I’m about halfway through the swim and the same problem occurs; loss of signal and absolutely no attempt to reacquire. Two big races and a failure to get valid swim data on each. Imagine if this was a full iron distance of a single loop?
In fairness, I’ve done a few long swims since and not encountered the problem, but I remind you, I paid $400 for the watch and that ought to include online support to track my workouts.
Recently, I’ve had some peculiarities with the alerts feature. Once of the things I really enjoyed about the watch was that it in addition to audible alerts indicating laps, heart rate, pacing and so on, it vibrates. You notice it on your wrist and even mounted on the bike, it can usually be felt through the frame. That’s helpful because often it’s hard to hear the faint beeping.
For some reason however, my watch has decided only to vibrate intermittently. That’s been going on most of the current calendar year. On more than a few occasions, it has resulted in me failing to start an interval on time. On workouts, especially runs, my focus may be elsewhere and it helps to be reminded that it’s time to start pushing the pace or that it’s time to start the recovery set. Once again, I paid $400 for this watch and it’s just over two years old.
In addition to issues with the watch, Garmin has done a below average job of modernizing their online support. Late last spring, they moved from the ANT+ agent software which handled data transfer from the watch to the computer to a newer version called Garmin Express. The newer software has the advantages of directly posting workouts to not only Garmin Connect, but also to TrainingPeaks, Strava and some other sites that I personally don’t use but several others do (Map My Fitness comes to mind). Great concept but my initial experience with Garmin Express was not good. I apparently made the mistake of updating some of my personal data (I’ve lost some weight this year) online which caused massive failures to not just transfer that data, but also accept uploads. I actually went back to the ANT+ Agent until just a few weeks ago.
Early this week, Garmin (and in fairness some other sites as well such as Suunto’s Moves Count) went down and would not accept uploads. It was fixed in short order and I considered not even writing this post until I went to look at last night’s run data and I got this message:


And, yes, it’s also affecting all of the links on this blog as well.
The point of all of this is not merely to rant at Garmin. That’s part of it, but it goes deeper. Based on what I read online, it sounds as though a follow-on to the 910XT may be coming in the next year or so. There are several new features in sports watches these days including integrated optical heart rate monitors, foot cadence sensing built into the watch more adoption of both Blue Tooth and ANT+ data transmission. In short, there are a lot of reasons one might be compelled to upgrade.
There is no hard data, not even a rumor about when or even if such a watch is coming out and certainly no indication of the price point. However, if it is released late this year or early next, it would not be unreasonable to believe that it will cost at least as much as the previous model and probably more.
I actually really like Garmin Connect. The new site is visually pleasing and (when it works) functional. Integrating maps and data into a single visual is actually very helpful when I go back and look at past efforts. But none of that matters if there data is not available. Couple that with maintenance updates that take place in the middle of the day (rather than overnight as most software firms would do) and I start to get the impression that Garmin is saying, “Hey, it’s a free site, what more do you want?”
My counter is that the site is, in fact, not free. I paid a lot of money for the watch and if that does not include a functional and reliable place to view the data it records, it should. I mentioned earlier that I see the 910XT on the wrists of fellow-triathletes all the time. In other words, it’s not just me their failing with the glitch website and minor but nevertheless annoying performance issues in the hardware.
I can’t force a change on their part. While I’m pleased that anyone at all reads my humble little blog, I have no illusions that I could lead some sort of grass roots effort to force them to devote more resources to their online support. In truth, I really would not want to.
However, I do believe that I am representative of a large market of people who may be considering replacing their existing watch and Garmin’s seeming indifference will cause me to look seriously at their competition. Suunto, TomTom, and Timex are three companies in this space and have released or are releasing new products. While I like the connect site, I also get a lot of what I need from TrainingPeaks and Strava and could certainly learn to live without it.
With luck, someone at Garmin is well aware of this fact and in short order, problems like those I have experienced will be resolved. But if that is not the case, this spring, for the first time since I became a consumer of sports watches, the product on my wrist may be made by another company.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your comments about any experiences you've had with either your Garmin or any other product.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Race Report: Steamboat Triathlon

I’ve raced quite a bit over the last four season but this was really only the second time that getting to a venue involved a significant road trip—the other being HITS Sterling in 2012. This year we headed the other direction across most of the Colorado Rockies up into the breathtaking Yampa Valley:



It took longer than the 3 hours plus shown in Google but we did arrive a little after 1:00 for packet pick-up at a local hotel.

That left some time to go out to the race site just outside of town and check things out.
Officially, the event is called the Steamboat Triathlon at Lake Catamount. The lake itself sits just to the south of the town proper. It’s part of a community of some nice homes that include a club house, boat house and private lake. I got a sense of where the swim start and finish would be and walked around the parking lot that would serve as transition the following day.





After that, my wife and I drove part of the run course and then drove the bike course that followed a small county road which parallels the Yampa River as it runs through Steamboat. Once that was done, we checked into our hotel and relaxed until it was time to go grab some dinner.
Steamboat is far off the beaten path but that does not mean it has not been well established as premier vacation spot for many years. Historically, the location has some of the best snow conditions in the state and it’s just as appealing during the warmer “off season.” As a result, many businesses have been in the area for decades.
Such was the case with Mazzola’s Italian Diner right in the middle of downtown. It opened in 1970. My butternut squash ravioli was phenomenal. After a stop by the grocery store for some pre-race nutrition it was back to the room to call it an early night.
Race morning dawned before, well, dawn. I was up and getting ready a little before 5:30. After a discussion with my coach about nutrition, I’ve upped the calories I’m taking in. Rather than the usual Frappuccino and banana, I had a bagel with cream cheese and a bottle of Odwalla. I definitely felt stated going into and (as it turned out) during the race.
Getting back to the lake took very little time which was good because it was necessary to park about half a mile away from the transition area. A large field had been set aside for the purpose. I carried my bike out of the field and then rode it the rest of the way. Arriving early also gave me my pick of transition spaces. Having found some success setting up near the “run out” arch, I did so again. Without Limits continues to use the nice tall saw-horse type bike racks so getting hanging mine by the nose of the saddle was not a problem. Within minutes I had set up this neat, minimal transition area:





By this point there were still more than 30 minutes until swim warm-up started. I moved around some by walking to each end of transition and checking out the swim start. It was pretty cool still. The temperature when we left the hotel indicated 42* and I doubt it had broken 50* yet. Not long after, a rain shower started.
It was not your traditional soaker, just a very gentle shower. All the same, I covered my small transition area with a garbage bag. Another good reason why it makes sense not to spread your gear all over the place.
Given the damp and cool, I decided to don my wetsuit at this point. If I was going to be getting wet soon anyway, I might as well be better prepared. The timing was pretty good since swim warm-up had just opened. I headed off to the lake and got about ten minutes of swimming in before getting out. The lake was actually warmer than the air and the water was remarkably clear. Only the churning of feet on the muddy bottom affected the ability to see more clearly than I do at my neighborhood pool!
Preliminary race functions were not different than any other and after what felt like a short wait, it was time for me to join my start group which was the fourth overall.

THE SWIM


I thought I would start by getting out in front of the field. I’m generally a pretty good swimmer and tend to finish near the top of my age group. However, lots of guys around me went out really hard (too hard as it turned out) so I let go of that notion quickly.
It didn't seem like I was swimming too hard, but for the first 200 yards or so, I was a bit winded. The washing machine, as always, made it difficult to find a rhythm and I was also dealing with a few panicky kickers, one of who swam under me and then started flutter kicking to get me off. Uggh.

Finally, I managed to start getting clear of others and work my way into a nice, manageable rhythm. Unlike indications on the website, the course was just an out and back style along a string of buoys not unlike Kona only less than half as long. Fortunately, this did not create any problems with head on collisions (at least not for me). The return leg was slightly longer than the outbound leg with the finish being at boat ramp. Here the churned up bottom created a problem with visibility. I saw several people around me standing so I did likewise figuring I could probably wade through kneed deep water faster than I could swim it. Problem was, the boat ramp dipped down again and I was soon back to chest deep. No matter—I was out and moving under the transition arch quickly.



My Time:  28:34—the course was long; my Garmin measured it at 1848 vs. the expected1640.
Official Time:  29:09—they start measuring when you enter the transition area, not when you exit the water.

T1


I hustled up the beach and into transition fairly quickly. My bike was near the entrance and then it was just a matter of pulling off the wetsuit and pulling on the beanie, helmet and shoes. As I mentioned in my race plan, I decided to skip the socks for the bike.
I knew I was not moving as fast as I had hoped to, but I got my bike and ran hard out of the transition area, mounted and was on my way out to the course.

My Time:  3:11
Official Time:  2:33

THE BIKE


The bike course starts off with a steep but short climb out of the lake area and then down a chip-sealed road out to Highway 131. There were other cyclists about of course (there was also a sprint distance going concurrently with the Olympic) but there was not a crowd. I tried to show patience as I passed folks who were meandering since there was still plenty of room to go around.
I was perhaps a bit winded to start, but I didn’t really pay attention. I just tried to push as hard as I could without burning any matches just yet.
Just over two miles in, you make a right turn onto Routt County road 14E and head north toward town. This is the first real climb of the course but I was up it easily and soon rolling back down the other side in the big ring. This is followed by a slight downhill until a sharp left by a large set of horse stables. The crowd was a little thick through here and I was going by some folks on the inside of the turn. I got past most of them except for one guy who seemed to be a match for my speed. I was probably risking a drafting penalty so I eased up and he seemed to open up the gap after that. The section ended with a short climb that included crossing some railroad tracks.
I pushed on all of the downhill sections the rest of the way to the turn figuring I would need to bank a little time before the turn and the climb back up to the finish. That turn around happens in a parking lot in front Howelsen hill which is where the local kids go for ski practice after school. The race emcee claimed past Olympians have trained there.
Once I was on my way back, I found that the climbs, while noticeable, were not slowing me especially. I have to note that I did not have MPH displayed on my Garmin but my Watts seemed good and my RPM was high and I felt pretty good. A look back at the data shows I was still running 17 – 19 MPH on most of return trip just slowing up occasionally and briefly on the especially steep sections.
Faster than I expected, I was approaching the left turn to go back over the railroad tracks. As I did, I saw a guy who had flown by me earlier now stuck on the side of the road with a flat. It seemed to me at the time that there were an inordinate number of flat tires that morning and not just on tubular wheels where that seems to be a common problem. Even folks with the basic road bikes and clinchers were off their bikes or being assisted by the support vehicle.
I asked the guy as I approached if he had what he needed to fix his tire. He replied that he had the wrong adapter for his CO2 kit. I had a full repair kit on my HydroTail so I tossed it to him and hollered my name and race number as I rode on just telling him to find me afterward. He was fast enough I figured he might pass me again.
Then it was time to make the turn. A volunteer was holding a car so I hit and cruised over the tracks. Hard. I’ve hit other obstacles in the road equally as hard before, but there must have been something special. At first I thought everything was okay but then it became apparent that I had flatted my front tire. Frustrated, I got off my bike and started walking down the road. My hope was that the support car would get to me quickly.
After about .3 mile or so, another rider got off her bike and told me she had hit a tack and was just pumping up her tire every so often to just get through the race. She offered the pump to me after she inflated her tire again. Try though I did, nothing was happening. I didn’t see much sense in delaying her any longer so I sent her on her way and proceeded to remove the tire and then the tube. I was really hoping the guy I left my repair kit with would show up and I could get a new tube on and get moving again.
Turns out, he did show up—walking his bike, clearly having been unable to affect repairs of his own. Right behind him was the support car so walked my now one-wheeled bike back to where they were a few hundred yards away.
The support crew was from a triathlon store called Kompetitive Edge in Sheridan which is a suburb in south central Denver. There were two mechanics in the car and they quickly changed my tire for me and did so far faster than I have ever done on my own. With my profuse thanks expressed to them and good luck expressed to my fellow athlete in the same predicament, I was on my way out again. I did not know the loss of time but have since determined about 16 minutes.
The other guy passed me not long afterward offering to buy me a beer for offering my repair kit. Unnecessary but thoughtful. By now, we had reached Highway 131 again but instead of turning back toward the lake, you actually go right and head down it for a mile or so. Not even a quarter mile after that right turn, I heard a loud pop and then saw him slowing and pulling over to the side of the road. I asked if there was anything else I could do, but I already knew the answer. He had hit a tack which left a big hole in his tire through which his tube was ballooning. Short of replacing the tube every half mile (and the Kompetitive Edge guys were out of tubes now) there was nothing to do. I wished him my best and proceeded on.
Once I had turned around and was now truly headed back to the lake, I took advantage of a sustained downhill pushing my speed into the upper 20/lower 30 MPH range. Then it was back onto that chip seal road for the last climb. I was about four minutes behind my goal time (not including the unplanned stop) but that included the section I had walked with my bike. I knew there would be no PR and no podium today, but I still wanted to have a good run.







My Time:  1:15:02 (moving time)
Official Time:  1:31:04

T2


Once off the bike, I ran hard again into transition. It’s not a particularly big area so getting back to my rack was easy. The socks went onto my dry feet with far greater ease than they ever had when leaving the swim. My shoes have Yankz in them and they were on quickly too. I don’t think I did a lot of rushing, but I was out quickly.
My Time:  1:37
Official Time:  1:33

THE RUN


All of the “excitement” on the bike had somewhat caused me to forget the fact that there was still a 10K run waiting for me whenever I got back to transition. I headed out and started cruising the initial downhill section at what felt like a comfortable pace.
That pace was actually well below 8:00/mile but it felt okay and since, like the bike, this one involved climbing back uphill on the return leg, I decided to stay with it.
At times, I found myself thinking way ahead to the end of the race and had to remind myself to think about the next mile instead. How far along on the current mile? How far to the next? Good, focus on that. It was not quite a mantra but it is how I kept myself focused and not overwhelmed by trying to strategize the whole distance at once.
Right around 1.5 miles, or just under a quarter of the way through, the course turns onto a smaller road used to access some of the properties on the far side of the lake. Most of this is flat to down, but just after 2 miles, there is short 11% grade section that not only slowed me down, but quite frankly hurt. From then until the turnaround cone, there were a series of ups and downs before descending a steep hill. From there, it’s across a narrow bridge and then up an 8% grade for a tenth of a mile before the turn. My pace dropped to around 10:00/mile in that section.
The halfway done point has always been symbolically important to me. It seems to help to know that whatever is left is less than what has already been completed. That was just as true here as I headed back. I knew my pace would slow some going up hills, but I did my best to take advantage of any downs and push the pace when I could.

Just before the five mile mark, I made a deal with myself that I would slow up a little too avoid blowing up. I was right on the edge of sustainability and though there was only a mile left, a lot can happen in that space. My easier pace did not last long. I wanted to be done more than I wanted to ease up. After about a quarter mile or so, really involuntarily, I picked up the pace. I could faintly hear the PA and the emcee calling finishers and my watch told me there was just a short distance left. I pushed really hard through those last three-quarters of a mile doing most of it in the mid 7:00/mile range and finishing strong.


video






My Time:  49:39
Official Time:  49:38

My Overall Time: 2:38:03
Official Overall Time: 2:54:00

Take away the flat tire and my guess is that I would have been closer to a 2:34:00 time. I still would have missed the podium by about five minutes in that case so in the broader sense this one didn’t really cost me anything. Truthfully, I would rather that the flat happen here than at Harvest Moon in three weeks.
That race now becomes my main focus. I’ll be using some of my performance in Steamboat to help guide that race plan and, of course, will be having a detailed discussion about it with my coach.
For now, it’s back to training and being ready to kick butt at my last race of the season.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Steamboat Triathlon Race Plan

 

In keeping with the tradition I started for this year’s Summer Open Sprint, I am again publishing my race plan. Like any plan, it will probably change a lot between now and the time I cross the finish line.

 

PRE-RACE

 

This is an out-of-town race so that means being extra careful when packing. I have a couple of laminated sheets with all of my packing needs. I complete them with a china marker so that they can be erased and re-used for the next race. I’ll be sure to be very slow and deliberate as I pack and check-off items.

 

After a discussion with my coach, I’m clearly not doing enough for my pre-race nutrition so that will change this time. A bagel and cream cheese along with perhaps some juice ought to get me going in the morning. Of course, I’ll make sure that is consumed far enough ahead of the swim start to not be an issue.

 

As usual, a very basic transition area will be my approach. I’ll rack in the bike in its lowest gear and unlike last time, make sure that the bike shoes are unbuckled. Running shoes will be next to those with the visor and race built on top of them. Socks will be rolled and I have yet to decide whether or not to ride without socks. I might to save time in T1 when I’m slower anyway and then put them on in T2. That will probably be a “game time” decision.

 

It will likely be a cool morning (forecast temps pre-race are in the low 50* range) so I may bring a hoodie to wear until it is time to don the wetsuit and go warm up.

 

I always feel a little gassed and tired at the beginning of a swim, especially one in open water. Nerves don’t much help this either and while I don’t expect the water to be cold, I do think it will be cool. If possible, I’m going to try and get a good ten minutes of warm-up in. If that’s not possible, I might jog up and down the beach just to get my heart rate into a higher zone ahead of the race.

 

THE SWIM

 

Assuming I’ve gotten a good warm-up in, I’ll go out fairly fast on the initial part of the swim. This risks gasping for air while also in the washing machine of a triathlon swim start, but I think it’s an acceptable risk. I’d like to get out ahead of the slower swimmers in the first 100. I’m sure the really good swimmers will be out in front of me as well.

 

I’ll ease up just a little bit for the next stretch which should see me to the first turn. I believe this is a clockwise course, opposite of what I am used to but probably not an issue either. Once on the back-stretch the upside-down triangle-shaped course, I’ll open it up again to near max effort for the next three hundred yards to the second turn. I’ll need to watch pacing here and make sure I’m not burning any matches. I don’t have very many in my book and the swim strikes me as a foolish place to use them.

 

Once on the final stretch, I’ll ease back to below max effort all the way in to the finish. I’ve done a reasonably good job of sighting in my open water swim practice this year, but it’s still critical that I keep the finish arch in sight at regular intervals. I may not hit my pacing, but I certainly do not want to add extra time and effort by going off course.  

 

Goal Time 26:10

 

T1

I have been relying on the Garmin connect files of people who ran last year’s race to determine the distances in and out of transition. This is not exactly the best pre-race intelligence, but the event website does not have maps with that level of detail so it’s about all I have.

 

Those best estimates suggest a very short run from the water to the bike racks. I’m aiming to complete that in 45 seconds. It may be overly optimistic, but I’m going to try and be out of the wetsuit, shoes, helmet and sunglasses on and running out in 1:30. I’ve budgeted another 45 seconds to run out.

 

Goal Time 3:00

 

THE BIKE

 

The race website advertises this as a traditional Olympic distance bike of 40 kilometers or 24.8 miles. However, both Garmin activities I found had it much shorter at 23 miles. I’ll be ready for either, but a short course is not unheard of in the bike leg.

 

Since I’ll be starting on a bit of a hill and probably a little winded from my run out of T1, I will begin be easing into the bike and letting my HR recover. If I’m going to burn a match or two on the bike, I’d prefer it to be during the second half or no sooner than right before the turn around point.

 

I’ve done a lot of my bike training with high resistance either on the trainer indoors or up hills out side so I’m not entirely sure how fast I can go (and sustain) on a flatter to more downhill route. I’ll be shooting for the 20 to 22 mile per hour range because I’ll undoubtedly be slower when I turn around and climb more on the return. I expect to be running right around my FTP of 202 watts for most of the race with occasional spikes above when going up hill and occasional dips below when rolling down hill.

 

I want to put some good energy into the bike leg, but like any race, that has to be balanced against the vitally important need to save something for the run. There’s a bit of climbing back to the transition area and I expect to spin this at as high of a cadence as possible so that I don’t trash my legs right before starting out on the 10K.

 

Goal Time: 1:11:31 (assuming a 23 mile course)

 

T2

 

This tends to be my more efficient transition. I’m not regaining my balance out of the water and I’ve had some time on the bike to anticipate and then think-through my next actions.

 

Assuming I’ve been doing the bike sockless, I’ll need to see to that first. The more I think about it, the more this makes sense. Like a lot of folks, I get a little wobbly on dry land immediately after the swim which is not a good time to be standing on one foot while also rolling on a sock.

 

I started doing my bricks this year with my Garmin watch band already on. It will be on my wrist when I leave T2 so that attaching the watch can be done as I start running.

 

Goal Time: 2:30

 

THE RUN

 

The success or failure of any triathlon is determined by the run. It does not seem to matter if you are an age grouper or an elite pro, if you can’t run successfully, you can’t race successfully.

 

I have been running a lot this season including some really demanding runs off the bike. Those training sessions have just been killers that leave me winded and wanting to curl up in the grass and just not move at all! Obviously, I won’t put that kind of hurt on myself on race day.

 

I plan on building-in to the run with and that means a somewhat easier pace for the first half mile or so. If I feel good sooner, I’ll open it up sooner, but otherwise, I want to feel like I’ve got plenty so I can go at a fairly steady average clip.

 

This course seems to be characterized by short but steep hills around the LakeCatmount race sight. It’s typical of a lot of paths or roads that go around a lake. It’s also an out and back run so there’s balance between the first and second half.

 

The single factor that will create a challenge is a bit of a climb into the finish. Unlike venues such as the Boulder or Union Reservoirs, there’s no big downhill leading up to the finish. I plan to be fairly close to spent by the time I reach this point so while I still hope to attack the hill at 8:30 pace, I’ll settle for whatever I have left. Throughout the run, I’ll keep reminding myself that this is the final leg and there’s no sense in leaving anything on the table.

 

Goal Time: 49:45 (Stretch Goal)

 

Race Goal Time: 2:32:56

 

While not my “A” race, this is definitely an ambitious race plan. If I don’t hit my goals, I’ll be okay with that.

 

After about three months without a triathlon, I’ll be doing two in the space of three weeks. The Harvest Moon is really that close. Unlike Steamboat, Harvest is definitely my “A” race and I’ll be thinking about how I attack that one a lot in the coming weeks.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ironman: The Quest Begins

I left my last post noting that my brother and I were up early on the Monday after the inaugural IM Boulder race. What we were doing ought to be fairly obvious by the title of this post, but let me tell the story all the same.

 

As I mentioned last time, my purpose for volunteering was not entirely altruistic. Indeed, one of the main motivators was to get a priority spot in line for next year’s race. Those spots were claimed by showing up at the main staging area at Boulder High School. The day before it had been the Ironman Village and site of T2, but its purpose on Monday morning was to sign up two groups of people: 2014 athletes who wanted to compete again next year and volunteers. The line for the latter was much longer!

 

We showed up on site at around 7:50 and looking at the line, I figured we would be waiting around for anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. However, there must have been around a dozen and a half volunteers to process the entries.

 

We ended up moving into the registration tent and then it was a simple process of entering a few basic details on an iPad and then providing my credit card. Roughly 3 minutes and $722 later, I was registered to run my first ever Ironman 140.6 race.

 

This morning I received an e-mail confirming my entry and doing some follow-up information. Now it’s officially official!



As we left the high school grounds, I was a little bit giddy at the thought. No doubt somewhere around mile 14 next year I doubt that’s how I will feel, but for now, there is something about actually having taken the step that gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

 

Naturally, I’m a little nervous and daunted. Like most folks who decide to take this on, I don’t want to just finish. I mean, I do want to finish, but I also want to be fully trained and be both physically and mentally ready to meet the challenge. I’m not there yet and now I have less than a year to be ready.

 

For now, I have my current season to focus on including a big test in Steamboat on August 17 in the form of an Olympic distance race. Then, three weeks later, my “A” race, the Harvest Moon half iron distance is on September 7. I’ve set a very ambitious sub 6 hour goal for that one.

 

When those events are behind me, it will be time to rest some and then start planning my 2015 strategy with my coach. This race will be paramount and if I do enter any other race, it will only be if it is in support of this one. This past season has taught me clearly that more training and less racing leads to better performance—at least it does for me.

 

My blog’s motto is that every new challenge is a first time and this is the biggest first time of all. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences over the next 12 months or so. I think I’ll have plenty of fodder for several good posts!

 

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Volunteer Report: IM Boulder 2014



All week this was a slight twinge of regret to not be participating in the inaugural Ironman event in Boulder. In addition to being the city where I attended college, I have done considerable training and racing in the area and have always been proud of its status as a triathlon and cycling Mecca.

 

Fortunately, I was participating as a volunteer so while not at all like being an athlete, it still gave me some great perspective on the event, most notably the finish.

 

Way back in January or February of this year, my brother Ted and I both decided that we wanted to participate in the 2015 version of this event. While it might not sell out right away, it could. Sometimes a race gains enough momentum and the next thing you know, half the state wants to participate. One sure way to get a top spot in line (and not pay out the steep fee for a foundation spot) is to serve as a volunteer at the race.

 

We signed up early which means we had lots of choices for which job we wanted. Some are definitely more desirable than others. We ended up going with finish line responsibilities including handing out medals, finishers shirts and, as it turned out, a lot of bottled water.

 

Months went by but soon the day of the race had arrived. In the weeks leading up to it, I received regular updates from our volunteer “captains.” These are folks who are in charge of a particular area. For example, an aid station on the course would have a captain or two in charge. This was also true for the finish area. Patrick and Sandy were our captains and they were great. They showed a lot of flexibility with us and always expressed their appreciation at our willingness to help out. They were positive upbeat and respected that fact that folks chose to be here. Yes, were getting a priority registration place, but that’s still not the same as being paid.

 

On race afternoon, much of Boulder was shut down to accommodate the 3000 or so cyclists coming back into town at the end of their 112 mile trek that had taken them way north and then off to the east before coming back into town. That, of course, greatly restricted vehicle traffic. Ted and I opted to park about a mile or so out and ride our bikes to the Pearl Street area.

 

If you’re not familiar with Boulder,Pearl Street is a four block pedestrian mall right in the middle of downtown and less than a mile from theUniversity of Colorado campus. The area is home to several restaurants, bars and shops and on warmer days is dotted with street performers with varying degrees of talent.

 

We found a rack to lock our bikes and after some wandering around, finally figured out where we were supposed to be. We met our captains and in short order, we were folding finisher t-shirts and placing then inside finisher hats. These had to be arranged on tables (and once they were full into large boxes) so that they could be handed to athletes quickly upon their crossing the line. No one wants to rush someone who just finished such a race, but on the other hand, you do want them to keep moving through the area so that nothing backs up and messes up the finish for those coming up behind them.

 

Once the t-shirts were more or less ready, we found ourselves handing out water bottles to a lot of the other volunteers in the area. Of particular note were the photographers who had been out covering the event on motos. It was not the hottest of August days at 85* or so, but it was warm, more so on the black-top.

 

We started adding bottles to two giant tubs by the case load and then covering them with bags and bags of ice. As they sat directly in the sun, it did not take long for these to turn into an ice bath. Having finished some hard races, there’s nothing quite like having a bottle of really cold water handed to you upon right after crossing the line. My goal for the day was to make sure no one was handed a bottle of warm water.

 

The master race clock over the finish line had now passed the 8 hour mark those of us in the area were stealing glances down the finishing chute, looking for the winner. After what seemed like any awfully long wait, he finally came into view.

 

As the athletes approached the finish line, they climbed up a slight rise and went around a gentle turn on 13thStreet with the arch sitting about a block south of the mall. Those factors, combined with the Ironman branding on the fencing created a dramatic effect. I can only imagine how it must have looked from the perspective of a finisher.

 

Despite leading for most of the race,Richie Cunningham had yielded his lead around the halfway mark of the run. As a result, Boulder residentJustin Daerr was the man in front at the finish. In fact, he was way out in front. True to form, veteran race emcee Mike Reilly created all of the drama appropriate for the moment. Daerr had tried for years to win an Ironman event and this was his first. There was quite a crowd, but I got a couple of shots of his approach:

 



 

I was not in position to get any pictures of the first women’s finisher, Danielle Kehoe but I did hear her interview with Reilly and she was great. As has been documented in Slow Twitch and several other places, she came out of the water dead last among the pros yet still managed to rally back on the bike and run to win the overall race. She talked about that and told the crowd that if you ever think you’re out of a race, you can always make up the time. That could not be truer than it is in a race of 140.6 miles. It also makes a good point about the importance of pacing not only within discipline but among all three.

 

Gradually, more pros crossed the line, followed by the leading edge of age-groupers. The latter group continued to grow and soon I found myself either handing someone a water bottle or dumping more cases of bottles into our tubs. We made multiple runs for ice from a trailer about half a block away and while we always seemed to have an adequate supply, I also felt like I was going through it rapidly.

 

In addition to water, I also took a turn at handing out medals. It was a privilege to congratulate a finisher on their accomplishment, but I think most people I saw were far more grateful for the water!

 

Since, like so many other races, your name is printed on your race bib, I was able to call most finishers by name as I handed them a bottle. A few were too out of it to acknowledge anything but some said thanks and appeared to be happy to be done. There was a small handful that had to be escorted down to the medical tent. Fortunately it did not appear that anyone was in extremely serious condition. I’ve not heard about anything else happening out on the course so my fingers are crossed that this one went off without serious injury or illness.

 

Faster than I might have thought our five hour shift at the line ended and it was time for us to ride back to the car and then meet our wives for dinner. I regrettably did not get to see my coach or a couple of friends finish but that’s okay. I did track a couple of people during the day and I felt like I was with them in spirit if not in body.

 

The day ended with a return to our hotel in nearby Broomfield but the end of the day is not the end of the story. There’s a reason we stayed nearby Sunday night. Ted and I were up early Monday morning.

 

That however, is a subject for my next post.

 

Thanks for reading!