Monday, June 27, 2016

Ironman Tips, Round 4: Pre-Race Procedures

We’re a little under six weeks out from IM Boulder and even less for some other prominent races such as Lake Placid and Vineman (to say nothing of the European schedule). While that’s still a ways, I thought now might not be a bad time to discuss the various logistical issues associated with an Ironman branded race. These tips are, of course, in your athlete guide but I appreciated being briefed by actual participants last year and this is my attempt to do the same for you, the reader and first time IM participant. I still strongly urge you to read the athlete guide multiple times.


The cynical part of me says that Ironman requires a check-in two days before the race (and does not allow it the day before) to drive up hotel bookings and earn some goodwill with local businesses. Who knows if that’s true but the early check in is what it is. As I mentioned in this post I recommend planning a weekend around the race. If at all possible, I suggest taking time off work beginning the Friday before the race and continuing through at least the Monday after.

There are multiple forms to sign and quite a bit to do. It’s not a lot more but a bit more than a standard race check-in. One thing that may be unique for you is a wrist-band which is your all-access pass for the weekend. Wear it and love it because it will be with you until you finish. However, you’re not done just yet.

All of your gear has to be prepositioned the day before the race and that includes your bike. The next section will discuss gear bags more extensively but for now let’s talk about your wheels. In what I assume is a pretty standard practice, you’ll have to queue up and have your bike photographed as you enter the transition area. This is no doubt to validate any insurance claims though I expect the number of fraudulent bike-theft claims against WTC to be something around zero. Nevertheless, once this step is complete, you’ll be able to rack-in at your assigned space.

If you’re in a race where heat is not going to be much of a factor, there’s probably not much else for you to do. It may be advisable to cover your saddle with a grocery store sack in case of unexpected moisture but that’s about it. However, most of us race in the summer and during the course of the next several hours, it’s going to get pretty hot out there. Thus, you’ll need to mostly deflate your tires lest they get to hot and burst. It sounds outlandish but it actually does happen. On race morning, you can bring or seek a pump to bring them back up to pressure. That’s a far better scenario than scrambling to replace tubes. As for the pump question, the way it was put to me: you can be the person who brings a pump and shares it with others or be the person who borrows the pump. Think about which one you want to be. It’s almost a certainty that the bike support crew working the race will have multiple but your line to use them may be long.

I also suggest brining some sort of light source. A headband light is ideal since it leaves your hands free. I discovered last year that I had to put my best guess on tire pressure since it was too dark to see the gauge. Whatever you bring, remember that it’s going in a bag and will be there the rest of the day. In other words, your phone might not be the best light source.


Unlike your local race where you probably are keeping everything in a transition bag, orange bucket, or otherwise, this race has a very regimented process for what goes where. The big transition bag is great to get everything out of the house and with you, but it won’t work for your actual transitions

At check-in you’ll be given a total of five medium sized plastic bags. Your race details (name and bib number) need to be written on the provided space on each bag. I suggest bringing a Sharpie so that you are prepared. I am assuming the color coding used at Boulder is the same as other races, but again, consult your athlete guide.

Morning Clothes

The morning clothes bag (usually white) is everything you wear to the race start but does not go with you. That means that if you bring a bike pump, you’d better have someone there who can take it because it will not fit in the bag and a portable pump probably won’t get the job done. Typically this will be the items you wore over your race kit (I like a t-shirt and loose fitting workout shorts) and anything else that you feel you need until the gun goes off. It’s all going to go in a big pile so and then be loaded onto a truck. I don’t recommend putting any valuables (like a cell phone or wallet) in it.

Bike Gear

This bag (usually blue) is set up just outside the change tent. It will be waiting for you when you exit the swim. It will also probably be accessible on race morning. In mine I put my shoes, Chamois Budd’r, helmet, beanie, and sunglasses. Since the wetsuit was only optional if you wanted to race at the back of the line and not be considered for any qualifications, I also put my racing top there. Had it been a wetsuit-legal swim, I would have worn it under my suit.

What you put on or not is largely a personal choice, but I recommend getting in and out of the change tent as quickly as possible. It’s dark, smelly crowded and full of members of your gender in various states of undress. Some may find this pleasant, I suspect not many.

Whatever you have removed (e.g.: wetsuit) goes back in the bag that you’ll hand to a volunteer when you leave the tent.

Bike Special Needs

I discussed special needs in my last post so I suggest referring to it. This bag will likely be orange. It gets dropped off at or prior to the start. In the case of Boulder, there’s a staging area on 13thStreet just north of Arapahoe next to Central Park. These will be loaded onto a truck and taken to the special needs stop on the bike course which somewhere after the halfway point depending on the race.

Run Gear

After getting off your bike and heading into T2, your Run Gear bag (red) will be waiting for you. In Boulder, T1 and T2 are in complete separate locations so you may not have time to check on it before you head out for the swim start. To save yourself time and worry, I recommend having that bag ready to go on the day before. In any case, it’s supposed to be staged on the day before race day.

I am speaking now from my understanding, not personal experience. I didn’t make it this far in last year’s race, but the procedure is simple. You’ll grab your run bag on your way into the T2 change tent. Again, get in and out as quickly as possible. I suspect there’s less undressing here but you never know.

My bag had, of course, my shoes, socks and visor. I also put my Scoshe heart rate monitor in there since I was only using it for the run (it’s battery life is limited). The items from your bike, (helmet, bike shoes, possible a pair of socks) will go into the run bag and again, you’ll leave it with a volunteer on your way out.

Run Special Needs

Once again, refer to my special needs post for what could possible go in this bag. As is the case with both of these bags, you won’t get it back so choose wisely. This bag is likely going to be black.

Some Tips

Your bike and run gear bags are going to spend the night in the transition area(s). Each bag can be sealed up tight. While the temptation might be to keep it loose for easy access, I suggest it’s worth it to make sure it’s impervious to moisture. This is a long (really, really, long) race and if you lose two minutes untying a bag, it’s really not that big of a deal. Pros and elite age groupers might disagree, but I doubt they’re reading this blog for advice!

Pack your bag slowly and methodically (I use a checklist). Approaching this as if you have no idea what to pack and having to consult a list will help keep you from rushing. I also think it’s a good idea to think about the moment you open the bag. What do you expect to see? If for example, you forget your helmet, your day is likely over. If you forget running shoes, that marathon is going to be a lot more difficult.

While the tendency to turn a transition into a base camp or picnic is largely eliminated by this system, you’ll still want to follow the K.I.S.S. principle. It’s okay for transitions to take a little longer in races like these, but there’s also no sense in wasting time sorting through a bunch of junk you don’t need.

I’m anticipating one final post in this series: race procedures. That will not tell you how to run the individual events, but it will talk about some of the logistical issues that are unique to this type of racing.

For now, thanks for reading and happy training!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ironman Tips, Round 3: Special Needs

As I said in the first of this series of posts, I can only comment on the experiences I actually had. However, a lot of the mystery is in what comes before the race rather than what’s in it and in that regard, I do have what I think is helpful advice.

A full Ironman (or competitor’s equivalent) will have special needs bags during the run and the bike? What goes in this bag? You decide. That said, some choices are better than others.

I’m going to work on the assumption that you will be dropping off your bag on the morning of the race prior to arriving at the starting area. In the case of Boulder, the drop-off location is downtown near Boulder High School and before you get on the bus that takes you out to the reservoir for the start. Last year, my brother and I dropped ours off in the wee hours of the morning (like 4:00 or so) and caught one of the first shuttles (school buses) from Boulder High out to the reservoir.

Personal preference plays into this quite a bit but here are few general tips that I’ve come up with based on my experiences last year.

1)    You won’t get it back. Don’t put anything of real value in the bag because it won’t be given back to you. All unclaimed items end up in the trash. It’s not a terrible idea to have an extra pair of socks, for example, but make it an older pair that you won’t mind losing. Hopefully you won’t need them anyway.

2)    If it can melt, don’t pack it. I put a couple of KIND bars in my bag, one of which had chocolate and the other had a PBJ mixture. Both delicious and both a big gooey mess. Bags are stored outside and in the potentially hot sun. Unless you have a high level of confidence that it won’t be warm on your race day, I would avoid such items.

3)    Don’t pack course-supported items. This ought to be obvious but I’ve heard stories of folks packing things that are provided by the race. I can’t speak to other brands, but a WTC, Ironman branded event will be very well supported (it’s part of what the hefty entry fee goes toward). Take advantage of what’s free at the aid stations and pack unique items they don’t offer.

4)    Not just food. As I indicated in item 1 above, you might pack a spare pair of socks or if you are legitimately concerned about cold, a hat or gloves (unlikely to be needed in most races but there are exceptions). My brother had notes from his kids providing encouragement. You don’t need much but a few minor items like that are helpful.

5)    Quick to eat. Something that you can chomp down in a minute or less is best. Odds are you’re going to be dry mouthed and your stomach will probably have shrunk down to the size of an orange so abundant or hard to chew items may be difficult. What’s best is something you can eat as you ride or run along, but keep in mind, you may need water to wash it down as well.

6)    Don’t plan around it. Special Needs Bags can provide some welcome relief, even something to look forward to, but things happen and a race plan that depends on items in the bag is flawed. I could have lived without my KIND bars last year. Sure they were better than the gels I had been eating but they also did not make my day. Thinking of your special needs bag as an insurance policy is a better way to go. If things go really wrong (like your feet are soaked or you are demoralized and need a message from a family member) then it will help. Otherwise, be ready to treat it like any other race.

At an Ironman event, you’ll get a number of color-coded bags including two special needs for bike and run. They’re about the size of a standard shopping bag. Spend some time thinking about what you want to add and have everything organized for race morning. It will be one less thing to stress about.

Like my other advice, this is pretty specific and will not apply to all people nor all situations. However, with any luck, I’ve given you something to think about.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Race Report: Colorado Triathlon

Since Ironman Boulder was the only real race on the docket for me last year, it had been 657 days since my last Olympic distance race and 636 days since I finished a race at all. Suffice it to say, although this was not my “A” race, I was still champing at the bit to get back out there.


The plan was always to head up to Boulder from home, a drive of about an hour so that meant waking up at 4:30to eat and load up for the trip. The morning meal ahead of a race has been pretty solid for me so a bagel with cream cheese, a smoothie and a banana sated me. I also had a cup of coffee on the way—it was before 5:00 amafter all!
At that hour, traffic to Boulder was mercifully light and I made the venue with plenty of time to spare. That was a good thing because much to my chagrin that morning, my front tire had gone completely flat. I have no idea what happened but I was especially concerned that the problem was a tire, not the tube.
I racked my bike in transition and then took the front wheel to the bike support tent which was staffed by the good folks from Colorado Multisport. I had brought my own spare tube with me and they were happy to change it out for me. As they began the process, the technician looking things over was concerned with my tire. While there was nothing overtly wrong, he decided to change it out. Just like that, he grabbed a new tire out of a bin and put it my wheel. I asked about paying for it later on but they just said no problem. If you are in or near Boulder, this is the kind of company you probably want to patronize. I don’t see myself in the market for a new tri bike any time soon, but if I am, they’re likely to be my first stop.
With that worry out of the way, I set up my minimalist transition area and got body marked. Despite not having been through the process for some time, it all went just fine. After dropping off my last items, I came across my coach who was there primarily to support a group of newbies who had been training all winter for their first ever race (there was also a Sprint event). His advice to me: Go fast.
While actually an Olympic distance race, the philosophy was much the same as a sprint. Push hard, especially in advantageous areas such as downhills. Stay mentally focused and really aim to go at maximum effort for the distance. In other words, don’t let my mind wander to things other than executing the strategy.
Then it was time to get a couple of warm-up laps in before the start. I had been concerned about water temps, but getting in provided no shock. To be honest, I’ve been less comfortable getting into my rec center pool lately. I felt a little winded during the warmup but was hoping that would pass. As is usually the case, swimming was my strong point and I expected to do well.


While not right on time, the race started soon enough with elites and pros going in the first wave, followed by my group, three minutes later. It was a waist deep start which is good and after a short wait, we were off.
Initially the winded feeling came back to me and I just struggled to find a comfortable pace. It took around five minutes but then my heart rate caught up and I as making comfortable strokes forward.
This particular swim course at Boulder Reservoir starts of facing east which means sun in your eyes and sighting much past the next buoy more or less impossible. I was however able to stay on a straight line. I think most of the variability below is due to GPS signal issues rather than me wavering around:

After making the turn and heading for the finish arch, I was somewhat pleased to see I was catching swimmers in the wave that preceded me. I did not expect to catch any of them but clearly even the best of triathletes struggle with the water portion of the event.
I kept stroking forward until my hand dragged on the ground, a good indicator that it’s time to stand up and run the rest of the way.
My Time: 26:36
Official Time: 0:27:40 including the run to transition
I had the course a bit long as well at 1816 yards vs the expected 1640.


My bike was a bit wobbly in its rack and that made for a bit of a distraction. Fortunately, I got myself through reasonably quickly. I had purposely chosen a spot near the swim in/run out section. I soon found myself moving out quickly.
My Time: 1:59
Official Time: 1:55


My Garmin watch seems to jump transition zones if you just look at it wrong so when I hit the lap button to start the bike, it actually had me entering T2. I managed to reset quickly back to bike mode and then proceeded out of the park.

A few people flew by me, but I honestly don’t think the race is won or lost in that initial section. In fact, from the start all the way up US36 was where my coach actually said I did not have to push quite as hard. There’s a lot of climbing so I was still around 205 watts for the section but it was definitely not maximum effort either. I continued as this steady pace until reaching Broadway where the first major downhill of the race is encountered.
It’s great to roll downhill after several minutes of putting forth a hard effort. However, this particular section of highway is also where you encounter bottlenecks on the course and faster traffic on the highway. Perhaps I’m more easily frightened as I get older, but I was a bit tentative here and while I did pick up some speed, I was not especially aggressive.
After climbing out of this section, the course is more flat to up and I cruised along at a respectable effort but again, was saving my legs for what was to come.
What was to come was a nice steady downhill on Nelson Road. This same section is on the Ironman Boulder course, but you are headed up hill and it gets very demanding, even demoralizing. On this day however, I was able to shift into the big ring and bomb on down to 63rd Street. I averaged 28.5 mph through this section and I have no doubt it was a big contributor to my overall time.
Turning right on 63rd Street is a slowdown, but overall, the section is characterized by rollers. Again I tried my best to keep up consistent effort. Primarily, I sought to keep my effort going until I had crested a hill and then ease up once gravity got ahold of me and started the downhill coast.
There has been a bit of an easterly breeze which I noticed riding down Nelson but now it was at my back and it allowed me to make decent time heading southwest back toward the reservoir. In races past, this is a place where I might have a gel but I had fueled well enough earlier in the morning, I felt no nutritional deficiencies so I just kept going strong.
The roll back down 51st Street to the reservoir entrance was uneventful and soon enough, I was at the dismount line and ready to complete the final stage.

My Time: 1:09:23
Official Time: 1:09:31


I really had intended to put the Yankz on my new shoes this week, but by the time Friday night rolled around, I really just wanted to get to sleep. As a result, for the first time I transitioned into running shoes I had to tie. Not a big deal but not something I’m going to practice going forward either. Again, my front tire wanted to turn making the bike wobbly, but I got out okay and was soon headed out.
My Time: Don’t have one thanks to Garmin issues
Official Time: 1:55


A good thought to have when you are in transition is “Hurry up and get out there.” Obviously you want to make sure you have everything you need but it makes a lot of sense to carry items with you and start running. You might be slower but you are moving toward your goal as opposed to stationary in transition where time is the enemy.
Leaving transition and heading up the hill on the main road through the area. It’s characterized by a single tree that more or less marks the top. It’s not a steep hill, but you do sort of feel it as you are trying to get your body to switch from riding to running.

At this point, I was feeling pretty good and passing a few people. Making the left turn onto the first of two flat dams, I kept my pace in the low 8:00 range here but I could tell it was going to be hard to sustain. My HR was getting higher but I felt okay so I just kept the pace going as cleared the first mile, rounded the bend between the dams and then started on the second one.
The end of the first dam sees you headed down a bit of an incline around a spillway and then back up a hill of equivalent size. It got to me a little bit but I kept chugging along, now albeit a pace more decidedly above 8:00 per mile.
Unlike past events out here where the run takes you on a gravel road along a canal, we went on more of a jeep trail (two tracks with weeds in the middle) to the turn around. It made passing one guy a little tricky but otherwise okay. The woman ahead of me was going at a good pace so I stayed a few yards back from her. It helped, but she was also wheezing and struggling and sounded the way I do when I’m doing a 200 meter drill at all out pace. Eventually, wheezing and all, she broke away from me and I think finished about 30 seconds before I did.
After the turn, I saw my pace drop some more but almost always below 8:30 per mile except for a couple of climbs. I was hurting a bit by this point and feeling really anxious to finish up. Even as I got through the 0.5 mile-to-go point, it felt like forever to the finish line.
Passing that one tree at the top of the hill I saw my coach who encouraged me to keep going and treat the remainder like a “400 meter drill” which sounded awful. Nevertheless, it was downhill so I put on as much speed as I could muster and held it until things flattened out. It’s not exaggeration to say that I was pretty much putting all I had into my effort at this point, but finally,  reached the end and, just as I did at the Harvest Moon in 2014, jumped onto the slip-and-slide finish.
My Time: 50:58
Official Time: 51:23

My Overall Time: 2:30:51
Official Time: 2:33:20

My efforts were good enough for 8th place out of 19 in my age group and 50th place out 218 overall. It’s better than my 2014 race in Steamboat (even when you factor out the flat tire incident) and better than my 2012 Rattlesnake Triathlon which was one of my best at the time.

I’m in recovery mode this week and then next week I think I’ll feel re-energized to start training hard again. There are not many weeks left until the big day and I think I’m starting to zero in on being fully prepared.

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Colorado Triathlon Race Plan

I’ve mentioned Helmuth von Moltke the Elder here before and I do so again because it’s still so relevant for planning a race. To paraphrase von Moltke; no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. 
Try though I may, the likelihood of actually executing this to even 75% accuracy seems low. Nevertheless, here’s what I’m thinking going into this weekend’s race:

Boulder is typically only an hour’s drive from my home but I’ll pad that a bit just to be careful. It mean a pretty early morning (like before 5:00 am early) but rushing through transition set up is a miserable feeling.
My morning ritual of a bagel with cream cheese and some kind of bottled smoothie has served me well and I’ll continue with that. I’ll also have a cup of coffee because race day is no day to give up caffeine (is any day?). 
The goal is to be on the road by 5:15 latest with an ETA at Boulder Reservoir by 6:30 but hopefully sooner. At worst, I’ll have 45 minutes to get checked in and setup.
It’s a first come, first serve arrangement in transition but my experience is that Without Limits does a nice job of making things available. The race is also capped at 500 athletes so unlike some other events, I don’t anticipate a lot of problems finding a space. 
I only did a single race last year and it was for multiple transition areas, but I’m not new to the process of setting up an area. I’ll do my usual small setup.
Water temps are likely to be pretty cold. Probably not paralytic, but not exactly the bathtub either. Getting in and acclimated will be my first priority once transition is set up. Then I’ll do some back and forth swims to get my heart rate up a bit. I have the benefit of being in the second wave so I get to start at about 7:33.
This is going to be my first foray into open water for the season. That’s not ideal but it’s also nothing new. According to the recently-published start list, I have 77 people in my wave. That’s a lot but there comes a point at which additional numbers just don’t matter. I think something above 25 means a washing machine.
I’m generally a faster than average swimmer but not so much at the start. Despite being warmed up, I expect a few minutes of breathlessness as I try to find a rhythm. I should be able to accomplish that within 200 yards.
This is the point where I expect I’ll start pulling ahead of those who went out too fast. The first wave consists of elites and pros and I don’t expect to catch any of them. That’s a good thing since it will leave more open water in front of me. I don’t necessarily expect to be front of the pack, but even if I’m in the top third, things should be less crowded. 
I’m anticipating an average pace of just over 60 yards a minute (a conservative estimate). That equates to a swim exit at 26:15 assuming the course is accurately measured. You never know when it comes to that.
Goal Time 26:15

The last Olympic distance race I did was in Steamboat nearly two years ago. It had the benefit of short distances in and out of transition. Boulder Reservoir is such that I think I’ll need a little more time this year. Based on past events using a swim exit similar to this one, I anticipate around 1:15 will elapse as I make my way to my bike. That, of course, will vary depending upon where I get to rack in transition. Ideally, it will be close to the swim exit, but that’s not certain.
Forgoing socks for the ride has proven to be a huge time saver and I’ll stick with that. That makes stripping my wetsuit the most time consuming part of transition and I’ve budgeted one and a half minutes for that. I feel fairly confident that once I’m in my shoes and helmet I can get out to the mount line in another 45 seconds. 
Goal Time 3:30

Things are always a little crowded as you head out of Boulder Reservoir. The road out is narrow and there are lots of folks on it. As I have in the past, I’ll use this time to get settled in and get my legs loosened out. This should only take two minutes.
Rolling up and down the hills on 51st Street is also a sometimes crowded location but it improves as you move south toward Jay Road. My own experience with Jay is that this where the field opens up. There will be some passing and getting passed, but in a smaller race, the big log jams should be absent. 
This is, at best, a “B” race so while I do want to put a solid effort behind each stage, I’m not especially worried about setting a PR or making a good showing in my age group. I’ll attack hills in low gears with a high spin rate and take advantage of higher speeds on downhills and straightaways. Overall, though, this will really be a shakedown event.
Goal Time: 1:14:30
The transition from bike to run is always faster for nearly everyone including me. Again, my rack location will factor in, but I anticipate being able to complete the run-in in about a minute. Getting out of the helmet and bike shoes and into socks and running shoes should only take about 45 seconds and expect to be able to exit in 45 seconds as well.
Goal Time: 2:30
The original course maps had the run as a two loop (or more specifically a two out-and back) format. In other words, run 1.55 miles to a turn-around, run back, and then repeat. The athlete guide now shows the run course to be the same as that used for the Boulder Peak which is out to the north boundary of the reservoir property and then back. It will make for a cleaner, less crowded course.
Similar to the bike, I plan to let the terrain help me. The initial part of the run course involves a slight incline but then the net mile and a half is a flat and/or down stretch. The course is mostly flat though there is a section around a spill way that involves some mild climbing. The forecast is for clear skies and with no shade at all on the course, I expect it will feel a little warm. 
I struggled some at this year’s BolderBoulder but that was more likely due to large crowds and fatigue from the workouts on the preceding two days. I expect to be in my upper Zone 4 heartrate before this is over, but I also think I can handle it.
Goal Time 50:00

Race Goal Time: 2:37:00

I’m glad I’ve chose to do a couple of races before the big event in August. If nothing else, it will get me into the right mindset. 

Good luck to everyone who racing this weekend and thanks for reading.