Monday, May 06, 2013

Ironman 70.3 St George

 Nitty Gritty Results Available Here

It's a little unbelievable when a thing in your life that you've been anticipating for more than a year comes to fruition. I've dreamed about doing an Ironman race for a long time, and since 2010, when Ironman and myself found each other in the same town, I felt an inexorable pull (call it fate, call it destiny) to be a part of it. During the years when it was a full-length Ironman, I'd contented myself with volunteering to paint numbers on the athletes' bodies, secretly telling myself that my time would come when my kids were a little bit older and could fend for themselves on a Saturday morning and afternoon and not drive their mother insane whilst I was out on a 6-8 hour brick workout soaking up the rays, crap-eating grin on my face. But then last year when they announced the change from a full Ironman to a 70.3, I knew my time had come. I could do a 70.3 and still maintain a relatively normal life, right? The Saturday after that announcement, just weeks prior to the 2012 St George Ironman, I was at a park eating ice cream and cobbler with a neighbor and friend of mine, discussing the upcoming festivities, and after about a minute of conversation, we decided to enter together.

The year since then has been a roller-coaster of job changes, family events, and travel, sprinkled here and there with other races, namely the St George Marathon, Spudman Olympic Triathlon, and others. My plan and training schedule put me firmly on the training path in December, or about 20 weeks before race day. But enough back story - as with many things in life, the training and preparation are the most important, but least interesting, part of the story.

I'll start off the real account of race day by saying that I've given up on the idea of a "good night's sleep" before any big event. It just doesn't happen. I've tried early bed times, relaxing music, even drugs (mainly Benadryl), but nerves and excitement just don't let my mind relax all the way. The upshot is that I've also grown accustomed, and 4-6 hours on a pre-race night is usually enough to get me through. I went to bed at about 10:00 on Friday, and woke up precisely at 4:00 Saturday morning, just before my alarm went off. I had a nice warm shower to wake me up, followed by a big bowl of granola, some preventive ibuprofens, and a swig or two of Gatorade, just to be sure that I was topped off in the electrolyte department. A short drive and a long bus ride later and we were all freezing our butts off at the shore of Sand Hollow Reservoir.


This was probably the most unpleasant part of the day. My wave didn't start until 7:33, meaning that, once we got off the bus at about 5:30, I had over two hours to sit around, try out the honey buckets, and futz with my gear. Talk about icing the kicker - that's a long time to sit in the freezing dark and think about all the things that could go wrong in the water or on your bike... I did get to rub shoulders briefly with the pros that were there. Apparently, this race drew one of the deepest pro fields in the US. Craig Alexander was planning on doing it, but didn't (I'm not sure why), but the Wurteles were there, Matty Reed, Andy Potts, Meredith Kessler, and a bunch of others. I said good luck to Matty as he was putting on his wetsuit right before the start and got a polite but stoic "you too" back. He's very tall.

Quick tip here: WTC does provide compressed air for anyone who wants to top off their tires, but be advised that the lines will be LONGGGGG. Bring your own pump and plan on stashing it in your morning gear bag, or just wander around and see if there's someone with a pump and a friendly face that you could ask. Or just make sure your tires are pumped up the night before.

The Swim

We lined up in a big snake reaching from the shore all the way to the transition area according to wave times, ending up looking like a weird, large-scale mosaic art installment, on account of all the different colored swim caps the different waves were supposed to wear. My nerves were a little jangly as I shuffled toward the water - Sand Hollow is notorious for throwing unexpected wind storms at the Ironman (just ask the swimmers from 2012, who got a tornado in the face 10 minutes after the mass start), and I knew that the water was cold enough that it would take a few minutes for me to be comfortable, or even just not shocked by the chill. Part of me was in denial that I was really going to do this right up until I got in the water. Your kidding, right? You're really doing this? Really? I mean yeah, but....really? While we were waiting, my wave actually got to watch the pros start the swim, finish the swim, and ride away on their bikes, all before we ever got into the water.

Fun side note: weather conditions were absolutely perfect. The Wednesday before, Sand Hollow was covered in whitecaps in the 15-20 mph wind, and as I'm writing this on Monday the 6th, it's an absolute downpour outside. But on Saturday, almost no wind, a high of 89 degrees - it could not have been any better.

My nerves' saving grace was a 20-30m swim from the shore out to the start. I had a chance to get a few strokes in, let the cold water come in through the little hole at the bottom of my broken wetsuit zipper (story for another time) and warm up, and work my goggles and ear plugs into position.

Quick tip #2: earplugs are awesome. If you're the type (like myself) that is prone to feeling dizzy after you get out of the water, invest $5 or $6 in some silicone ear plugs and see if they work for you. They changed my aquatic life completely.

The gun went off and I got to crawling through the water - by my nature I'm not a very buoyant swimmer so I knew that I'd be slower at the start and kept near the back of the pack. And actually by the time I got to the first turn I felt awesome. I don't think I've ever felt that good during the swim part of a race. I ended up finishing the swim in 43 minutes - not fast, comparatively, but the same amount of time that I had previously swam 1500m during the Kokopelli Olympic Tri in 2011, also at Sand Hollow, and I had predicted that I'd come out of T1 in an hour, so I was about 15 minutes ahead of my goal pace. A good start to the day.

Division place after the swim: 256

One funny thing about this race, and it may be the case for other WTC races, is that they don't let you set all of your stuff out on your bike: everything has to be in a bag below your bike. Naturally, this affected my T1 time, but I never really worry too much about that. If it comes down to it, it's much easier to shave a minute or two off of a 3-hour bike ride than it is off a 4-minute transition.

The Bike

I love my bike. I received a slightly used Cannondale Slice for Christmas last year and am completely taken by it. I no longer perv out over these sleek, black, $10K+ road machines that dotted this particular race like a Jackson Pollock painting. Keep your disc wheels, your in-frame hydration systems (seriously - the water is in the frame!), your drop bars below the aero bars. Me and my Slice will cut you. Deep. Right after we get passed by this 8-speed Giant straight-bar with knobby tires and guy wearing a full Camelbak.

I've said it before somewhere on this blog that I'm a firm believer in the old adage, "it's the engine that counts, not the frame," when applied to cycling, and I still do - most people would do better spending a few extra hours in the gym than in spending a few extra grand on a set of 88cm carbon rims - but boy is it fun when you know your engine is well-tuned and you have a chassis that can take the heat.

If I felt good during the swim, I felt positively transcendent on my bike. I've learned in the past year or so that I have a hidden talent for climbs, despite my generally squarish frame, and it paid big dividends on this course. The whole thing is basically one hill after the next, climb and descend, climb and descend, with a few short straightaways thrown in. I focused on staying hydrated, but used my gels and my Honey Stinger during the ride so that I didn't have to stop for calories. One particular highlight was passing the male pros while they were a few miles into their run on top of Red Hill - I got to cheer for Matty Reed, again, but got no nod this time. It's entertaining to watch these guys conversate with one another while they're maintaining a 5:30 pace on a half marathon. Yikes.

Snow Canyon, the longest climb of the day at over 4 miles and 1000 feet, topping out near the summit at about a 10% grade, was quite a sight, and eerily silent. With no wind coming up or down the canyon, and few spectators, all you could hear was people panting and quietly swearing to themselves. Oh yeah, and the two guys screaming at the top of the canyon.

A swift descent back down into the city, and the bike was over. Maybe my electrolytes were starting to run a little low, but I have to admit I got a little emotional as I pulled into town and saw my family cheering at the sidelines.

Bike time: 2:56
Division place after the bike: 176

T2 was the same as T1 - you have to pull everything out of the bag, put it on, and put all of your bike stuff back into the bag. I stopped for some sunscreen and a quick pee, too, just to start off comfortable.

The Run

A half marathon is no easy feat, under any conditions. Add to that the near 90-degree weather, the seemingly endless hills, and, oh yeah, the fact that you've already traveled 57.2 miles that day under your own power, and it can seem like downright torture.

And as it turns out, it kind of was. 

My goal time was 6 total hours to finish, and after the swim and bike, I was about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Confident, but a little sun weary and frankly more than a little gassy. I'm sure that I made more than one runner snicker hearing the machine gun farts that I was letting loose every few hundred yards. Sorry for the graphic truth, dear readers.

GI distress meant that I was hesitant to really eat anything and made a decision to rely on liquids and gel to get me through the run, which ended up being a tactical error on my part. Anyone who has input on this matter, please feel free to share as I'm curious about it.

Quick tip #3: eat. Eat salt. On short courses, it's conceivable that you can get by on just Gatorade and maybe a gel or two, but it turns out that, for me, at any rate, I need more to keep me going on a long course. I'm sure my body was screaming for potassium that I just wasn't giving to it, as evidenced by the below:

I felt okay for the first 4 miles, which comprise about half of the total climbing that you do on the run. Like the bike, the run on this course is just hill after sun-drenched hill. I was a little ahead of pace to finish in 2:10, which would bring me in right at the 6 hour mark, but as soon as I hit about 4.5 miles, I knew that I was in some trouble. My GI distress had mostly passed (toot! tooot!), but it began to feel like something was squeezing my calves as hard as they could with every step that I took. It would go away while I walked, but as soon as I started running, the cramping would start again. And it started to climb up my legs - by about mile 7 my hamstrings were joining in the fun, and I had to flex my quads to get my legs to straighten out with every stride.

I ended up walking about half of the remaining miles and was heartened by seeing my old friends Jon and Melissa Baker at the last aide station.

"How do you feel?" he asked.
"Like total shit!" I answered.
"Good for you - now run to the end!" he replied.

Good to see you there, guys.

I gave it a good go, only walking about 100 more yards of the last mile, and "sprinted" down main street to the finish, all smiles and high-fives. I nearly face-planted right before the finish, losing my concentration while giving some girl a high five and forgetting my need to force my leg to straighten. Luckily I caught myself just in time.

Run time: 2:31
Division place: 224


It took me a while to get up off of the grass after I finished. My wife pushed me toward the food tent with promises that I would feel better after I got some pizza in me. I did, but it took me probably 20 minutes to get in one slice of pepperoni. I'd take a bite, chew, chew, chew, take a swig of water, then lie back down and wait for my body to tell me that it was ready for another. Eventually, I gathered my stuff and ended up at my in-laws, where I took a three-hour soak in their jaccuzzi, first cold then warm, after which we all went back to my house to watch the African Queen with my parents and go to bed.

Right after I finished, family and friends were asking, "how do you feel? Is a full Ironman next? Are you going to do it next year?" To which, at the time, I was tempted to answer a very resounding no, but I wisely held back and decided to not answer until at least a day later. Here's my current answer:

1) I feel fine. A little sore, but not terrible or bedridden, which part of me expected to be. It makes me sure that my slow run time was due to some kind of chemical issue like salt or potassium deficiency, and, given a better nutrition plan, I could do better. I'm very happy with my swim and bike times and just finishing the darn thing was enough for me this year.

2) A full Ironman is probably in the cards, but a few more years off. I need to build some more experience, points with the family that I can cash in when training demands that I spend 4+ weekends in a row in serious training. 

3) I'll definitely do it again next year. Addiction to this stuff is real. I was barely above the middle of the pack, and it felt great to be out there with everyone, nonetheless. Athletes and onlookers alike - it's a big celebration, really, regardless of which side of it you're on.

End Transmission.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Prepared Shall Not Fear

After I finished the marathon on the 6th, I ran through the cooling mist sprayers and went to lie down on the grass, and I remember going through three emotional phases:

1) Relief/joy: naturally. I can't believe that I finished. That's a very long way to run.
2) Pain/fatigue: you don't really know how tired you are until you stop moving.
3) Fear: oh, Petey - what have you done? Do you not remember that this was in preparation for an event that, at your peak of fitness, should take you an additional 2 hours to complete?

But, as it's been said somewhere, the Prepared Shall Not Fear. Put in your hours, and you'll be fine. Or at least, you'll go in with the confidence that there was nothing else you can do, and race day is just going to give you what it's going to give you. And, after hours spent putting together a training concept and plan, I admit - I do feel better. There is much work to be done, but the Plan is there.

I'm frankensteining the ideas of two different programs:

CrossFit: I've recently joined a CrossFit gym here in St George, based purely on that system's reputation. I've had a strange fascination with really intense programs such as CrossFit, starting with an article I read on Mark Twight and his infamous Gym Jones in SLC (I have a secret suspicion that CrossFit based itself largely on the ideas that Twight helped to popularize). All of my weight training will be done through this program.

The Triathlete's Training Bible: this tome, by Joe Friel, is for those who want to get deep into the methodology of training, without all the hassle of actually going to college and getting a degree in Exercise and Sports Science. It reads like a textbook written for professional endurance athletes who don't have time and resources to hire a coach. It will walk you through every part of creating a year-long training plan, from mental preparation to planning the actual movements that you will do during each day's session(s). I'm borrowing the concept of Periodization from this book, and dividing my weeks into prep, base, build, and peak periods. I'm also using it to schedule the amount of weekly hours I'll train each week, what my workouts will consist of, etc. To fill the pages later on, I'll probably spend some time writing about all of that stuff.

So there it is. Written down. Now 'scuse me, I'm off for a swim.

End transmission.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

70.3, here I come

Long time no blog, eh, Mr. "Enthusiast?"

It's been an interesting year, culminating last Saturday in my first participation in the St George Marathon! I had played with the idea of running the marathon for a couple of years, but always had a different "A" race around that same time of year. Not this time, though, so I just ponied up and did it. And it's a great and beautiful race, of course, very well organized, etc. etc.

I actually signed up for the marathon as a prep for a larger race, though - as a Father's Day gift this year, my family got the funds together to sign me up for the IronMan 70.3 here in St. George!

I've learned through experience that the enjoyment that you get out of a race is always equal to the effort that you put into it - not only in terms of training, but mental preparation, and general enthusiasm as well. My favorite races, and also the ones that I've done the best in, are the ones that I've revved myself up the most for. I've talked to people about them for weeks or even months beforehand; I've obsessed over the course and how to overcome its specific obstacles; I've connected with other people doing the same race so that we can obsess together...all of these things help to make the actual race day much funner, and frankly, much more worthwhile. When I haven't done them, race day tends to feel like a really rushed day at the bank.

So between now and next May, at least, this blog will be a flurry of activity, recording my efforts to prepare for the event, and any thoughts and info that I happen upon along the way. I hope that anyone who might read it finds it interesting!

Coming soon: The Prepared Shall Not Fear

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Other Half

I decided a little while ago that a great way to celebrate my completion of my first Olympic Triathlon would be to do another half marathon. I'd already be in pretty good shape; it would be a good way to avoid stalling after the event; and it could be a good occasion to perhaps travel a little bit and end the season on a course that I'd never done before.

My friend Braden, whose wife is a fellow tri-addict, had told me early in the summer that his Mrs. had signed up for the Moab Other Half on Oct. 16th. I took one look at the course online, and decided that I wanted in on the deal. I sent him a note to this effect: "I'll do it if you do it..." So we both signed up, and after a little while, two more friends, Darren and Greg, along with their families, decided to join us for a little friend reunion that weekend.

The weekend itself was glorious. We pooled some resources and rented a cabin off in the woods outside Moab and spent Saturday relaxing, eating, hiking, and letting our kids run around together. It was perfect and I dearly wish I had had one more day there. I love my SLC friends and I use any and every excuse to hang out with them.

But anyway - the race itself was an experience. Moab draws a unique crowd, to put it mildly. But that's what makes it fun, right? It was definitely a change from the meek gatherings at the St George area halfs that I've run, which are mostly populated with local soccer moms, weekend warriors like myself, and high school track teams. Among the throng in Moab, there was the guy wearing a collared shirt and tie and cut-off khakis, the guy who looked and smelled like he was probably 4 or 5 beers into his drinking day already, the lady in full Oktoberfest regalia, and others. I'm not knocking either crowd, let it be said, but it's interesting the kind of variety that each race brings. No shame in taking the chance to claim your individuality.

The local volunteers definitely get behind the race, as well: there was an official race day drum team that started pounding out a tribal rhythm from the back of a pickup at the starting line about half an hour before the gun was to go off. I have to say that, as silly as I thought it was at first, it did help to connect me to my inner aborigine. After the race start, they took up post at the top of a hill at mile 10, and as far as I know, they kept up the beat until the official course closure at noon that day.

Then there was the volunteer team at the aid station atop the hill at mile 8 that had banded together and dressed up as some kind of day-glo alien rodeo clowns. With every cup of water and Gatorade that they passed out, they whooped and hollered and cheered for everyone who crested the hill. "YOU MADE IT!!! KEEP GOING! YOU ROCK OUR SOCKS OFF!!" Lots of fun.

The course itself is beautiful, and deceitfully challenging. It's pretty well flat for the first 6 miles, following the Colorado River around Fisher Towers and Castle Rock, then rolls through a series of fairly serious hills for the remaining 7.1 miles. If you set too quick a pace at the beginning, you'll definitely feel it later on. But the finish is set up at the Sorrel River Ranch Resort, a small collection of rental cabins set on a surprisingly green patch of land in the middle of the red rocks. There was a local jam band playing at the finish, a "beer garden" (which I didn't really investigate to find out what that is, but it sounds interesting if you're a beer drinker), and a tent full of good recovery food and drink. Our group opted to drive back to Moab as quick as we could manage to get a good meal in us before we got back on the road, but I'm sure that the resort is a great hang out spot for the remainder of the afternoon for anyone who is so inclined.

My official finish time was 1:46:15; about 45 seconds off of my personal best, but certainly a much more challenging course. I'm definitely revved up to put in some good mileage over the winter so that I can smash my PB come January and the 2012 St George Painter's Half.

End Transmission.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kokopelli Recap (no creative title available)

What a great, great, great, great race. Anyone interested in doing this triathlon, I cannot recommend it any higher. Here's the nitty gritty:

Total time: 2:40:00 (weird, right?)

1500m Swim time: 35:48
100m splits: 2:20

20.4 mi Bike time: 1:04
MPH: 19.2

10K Run time: 56:02
Mile splits: 9:03

64/215 place overall
57/150 place in male division
13/25 place in age division

My amazing daughter also has an entry about it where she talks about the race from her point of view, but this is my account of things. And so, on with the retelling of the tale:

My stomach had been jumping up and down all week in anticipation, and I had probably gone out to the garage to fiddle with my bike 50 times that week, but on Saturday morning I got out of bed and got ready, cool as a cucumber. I had a nice shower to wake me up, and tried to eat some breakfast. I ended up only drinking about 12 oz. of banana smoothie, and that's all my stomach really wanted, and by the time I had choked down that much, my father in law was in the driveway to pick me up. We drove out to Sand Hollow chatting about little race tips, and what we were going to do the rest of the day (father in law: climbing, me: napping).

The organization at the actual event site is to die for, despite parking difficulties. The bike racks are set up according to race distance and entry number; those who had entered the race earlier got spots right close to the transition exit, making our bikes easy to find and quick to get on. I lost my father in law as we were setting up, as our assigned spots were on opposite ends of the transition area since he was racing Sprint distance and I was doing Olympic. I knew that I had a long time to wait before I would get into the water, so I basically threw everything down and sauntered over to the water to watch the first waves of guys go out.

I watched the first wave of sprinters go, mostly to look at the course and see if I could tell more or less how they handled swimming in a pack, since I've never really done so. It didn't look too bad, but there was one guy way at the back that was doomed right from the get go - the pour soul immediately started drifting to his right so bad that it wasn't long before he was headed completely in the wrong direction. I spoke to one of the lifeguards today who told me that they ended up pulling the guy out of the water after about 5 minutes. I was fairly confident in my sighting skills, but I made a mental note not to forget to sight every few strokes so that I could remain at least somewhat on course.

About 20 mins before my start time, I wandered back to transition, put on my wetsuit up to my armpits, laid out the rest of my gear in the best configuration that I could manage, and headed down to the dock. It was a bit too crowded to try and get into the water early to warm up, so I decided to chance a cold start. When the moment came, the organizers hearded us into the water single file, explained to us which buoys we needed to swim around, and just like that it was, "ready, set, go!"

I had intentionally positioned myself on the outside of the bunch to avoid the crowds, but even so, the first 200m were a little bumpy. Nevertheless I didn't ever experience the flush of nerves or jitteriness that I had before my previous swims, which I attribute now to being good and practiced in the open water. It was nice to have that peace of mind so I could just focus on my stroke and my preselected landmarks. Today's tips - get into the open water several times before you race, and learn how to defog your goggles beforehand, or invest in fog free goggles. I ended up stopping twice to clear mine off.

Anyway, I fell into a natural rhythm almost immediately and kept with it for the two triangular laps that we were required, and came in feeling good, but a little dizzy. I hopped out of the water, shouted hi to a lifeguard that I recognized, pulled my wetsuit off down to my waist, and hustled through to get onto my bike.

I got to my bike and stripped down, and immediately decided to forgo the procedure of drying off with a towel before pulling on my jersey and shoes. Probably a good move, as my T1 time was close to 3 mins, and one that I would recommend to anyone. You'll get dry on the bike, no doubt.

The bike course was a dream come true. I sped off right from the start and felt great nearly the entire 20 miles. There's a 6% grade hill right at mile 3 that lasts about 1.5 miles, which was difficult, but I alternated sitting and standing up in my pedals, and after a few minutes and a few hard pushes with my legs, I was up and over and headed for 7 more miles of straightaway. I managed to ride most of that side by side with another guy who I think is from northern Utah; we found breath enough to strike up a conversation as we rode along. We shared tri stories and swapped comments about the course, and thanked each other for keeping up the quick pace to get us through to the run. I didn't expect to have the time to talk to anybody, but the opportunity came as a very welcome surprise. I hope I can recognize that guy again in future races.

If I did make a mistake, though, it was during the bike course - I brought along two bottles of Gatorade, thinking that I would need to get in most of my calories during that hour. I felt compelled to drink it all and ended up pounding it down for most of the ride, and as it was undiluted Gatorade, my mouth felt sticky sweet the whole time. Next time, Pete, maybe just do one bottle of the Ade and one of water, and don't worry about finishing it all. The other miscalculation that I made, and this against the advice of world champ Chrissie Wellington, was that I attempted something new on race day: I decided to try out energy gels in addition to my normal nutrition regime. I took one just before the bike, and the other just before the run. Now, it may have been that my GI tract was not used to the gel, or it may have been the overhydration during the bike, or maybe it was just general indigestion caused by a nervous stomach, but as I came flying into T2, my insides started churning like a washing machine. I decided to just see if I could run it out, so I racked my bike, threw on my shoes, and headed out for the last 10K.

I think I "cracked" at about a mile and a half, just after a photographer took a snap of me with a big grin on my face. My belly was splashing like the sea at high tide, and I had a stitch in my right side from my ribs down to my hips. I was at a decision point: I could either walk for a couple of minutes and work it out, or I could keep pushing and risk collapse at about mile 3 or 4 and hobble in or wait for the sweeper truck. I decided to walk. I think I walked all the way to mile 2, stretching out my right side and trying to tell my body to absorb some of the liquid sloshing around in my stomach (does that work, just thinking about digesting faster?), and then I started back up at a slow trot. Just before then, my northern Utah friend strided by, offering words of encouragement. After I started back up, I decided that I would try to catch him.

The rest of the race was painful but in a cleansing, rite-of-passage sort of way - if all I did for the rest of my life was plod along until I crossed the finish line, it would be a job well done. I ended up catching my race friend about half a mile from the finish, and we ran together almost to the end. I crossed the finish line with a cheer from my family and a wave of relief, and stood there for a minute, unable to bend over to undo the safety pin that kept my race chip around my ankle so that I could collect my finisher's medal and sit down for heaven's sake. Eventually some kind gentlemen took it off for me, and I wandered over to my family, who had a chair waiting for me in the shade. It was over.

The post race day was great - after 20 mins or so, I managed to stand up and get some of the sponsors' post-race recovery spaghetti, which my daughters promptly pirated and ate mostly on their own, but I didn't mind as my stomach was still in a bit of a twist. I did manage to get in a few bites, though. Then a peaceful car ride home and the rest of the day, which included an AWESOME massage, a parade in downtown St. George, and watching my Utes cream the corn out of BYU. All in all, a pretty good day.


I'm calling this one a win, even though I didn't quite manage to hit my goal time. Of course, every race you finish is a win, since you always come away with something. I finished with a smile; I hit most of my goal paces; I overcame a serious mental and physical barrier; I can still walk today with only minimal soreness; I'm not so sick of triathlon that I never want to do one again; best of all, I'm left with the strange satisfaction of having generous room for improvement next year. I can definitely run faster with a different nutrition strategy. I'm pretty sure I can squeeze another 1-2 mph out of my current bike (and who knows how much I can get if a new bike is in the cards, which it probably isn't), and I feel like I can swim much faster. My training splits in just my jammers were all around 2:00 or under, so frankly I'm a bit surprised that I had slowed down so much on race day.


It's the engine that counts, folks, not the shiny exterior. I was outgunned in the equipment category during every discipline: there were guys out there in wetsuits nicer than mine, on bikes that could fund a couple of semesters' worth of quality college education, and in tri suits that made the costumes of the movie Tron look quaint and old fashioned, yet I managed to pass at least one of them during every leg.

Again, though, I'm not trying to say that equipment is not important, or that people are silly for spending their money on it; it does make a difference, but you can get surprisingly far without it. I have a serious goal of lowering the fiscal and mental overhead that keeps some people from entering the sport. If you're thinking about getting into triathlon but are low on funds, spend your money getting your body in peak shape first (which is surprisingly cheap), then supplement that by using good gear.

See you next year, Kokopelli!

End Transmission.

Monday, September 12, 2011

One Week Remaining

The summer has come and gone, the miles have been put in. Muscle glycogen stores are reaching a max, and the countdown is on. A couple more light workouts, and then come Saturday, the sun will rise on the Kokopelli Triathlon.

My goals:

Swim: 35:00 including time through T1
Bike: 19mph, or 1:05 through T2
Run: 48:00

Total time: 2:28

Up until a couple of weeks ago, the weather around here was nigh unbearable. Even a short 4-mile run at 6am left me beet faced and pouring sweat. It was difficult to imagine feeling cool air again, or a time when you might actually want to wear a long-sleeved shirt on your workout. I laughed at the idea that I started training in a time when I would wear my jacket on rides. But the last week has brought rain and high winds to the area, and now I often wait until mid day or afternoon to ride. I went for a swim yesterday at my local gym and was very thankful that I had already rented my wet suit for Saturday. It took about 150m to work out the chills and get comfortable.

What does that mean for race day? For one, I don't have to worry so much about overheating, which up until the beginning of this week I thought was inevitable. I am concerned about the swim, which will probably be colder than my training sessions out on the course. I'm going out to Sand Hollow one last time to test it and see.

It's been a great summer, on all accounts, and although my race season is far from over, I find myself waxing philosophical as my A race approaches. What lessons have I learned in preparation for my first Olympic distance tri? Now that I'm waist-deep into Triathlon as a hobby, have my feelings about it changed? How well have I balanced my training with my family life and other hobbies? Why do any of us do this, anyway? Where to go from here?

Know Thyself

In my opinion, this broad, sweeping aphorism is the most valuable lesson that one can learn from Triathlon, and conversely, it's the one bit of advice that can carry you farther than anything else. And it applies to nearly everything, from training schedules to equipment, pacing and nutrition, etc.

Specifically, find out where you are on the spectrum of triathletes: are you a weekend warrior, likely to enter into just one or two races a year, looking to keep fit and have some fun? Are you part of a group or team, or do you have the time and resources available to train for and enter into multiple races a year? Perhaps you're looking for a podium finish, or a qualifying time for Kona? Are you Craig Alexander or Chrissie Wellington, making a career out of it and looking to smash your own world records? Of course, we all move up and down the spectrum every year, mostly (in my case) dependent on the other factors in our lives and how much time we can really afford to spend away from them, but spending just a little bit of time to determine where you are on the scale and what your goals really and realistically are can help you really spend that time and money wisely.

For example, I would describe myself on the mid- to lower end of the spectrum. I love triathlon, I'd love to spend many years doing it, but I can't realistically dedicate more money and effort than it takes to enter more than just a handful of races a year - maybe two A races and half a dozen B and C races. I am about 10-12 lbs above my ideal weight (I think), and my bike could be described, in horsey terms, as an "Old Paint." I donate plasma to earn my triathlon funds, so I have to think hard about where that money can be spent to the greatest benefit. It's very tempting to dedicate that money (plus a chunk from savings) toward replacing the Dawn Treader (as I call my bike) with a brand new, shiny, carbon-forked Cervelo with aero bars and top of the line rims and shifters. I can save some weight, get a better fit on my machine, look cooler, maybe think about how to equip it with a sophisticated hydration system.

However, if I take a step back and really look at myself - is this really the next logical step that I can take to get better or have a better time doing triathlon? $1500 would go an awfully long way in supplying other things. I might be able to drop 2-3 or even 5 lbs by getting a new bike; how much would it really cost to watch my diet for a few weeks and lose the 5 lbs of body fat off of my ample frame? I can maintain a more stable, aerodynamic position by switching from shifters on my down tube to something a bit more modern; am I really fit enough to be able to maintain the speed necessary to take aerodynamics into consideration? Let's even say that I do lose the 5 lbs in body weight and get fit enough to where I have to think about aerodynamics - will it make it more "worth it" to do a triathlon with a brand new bike as opposed to going through another season on the Dawn Treader?

The answer to that question will inevitably be yes at some point, but in really knowing myself and what my goals are in doing a triathlon (have fun, stay fit, maybe raise some cash for a charity), I can put that purchase in perspective and give it the right priority that it really deserves. Once I drop down to about 6-8% body fat and am consistent with my weight training, and I've got all my other equipment bought (wetsuit, goggles, good running shoes, etc), and I feel that I've progressed as far as I possibly can on the bike that I have, then it might be time to invest the money. As a side note, a big thanks to Greg who gave me the Dawn Treader for free on a semi-permanent loan. It was the turning point that got me riding and has carried me to where I am.

This applies everywhere. Are you thinking about adding more grape skins or sunflower butter to your diet and getting the right amount of Omega 3s when you might be better served by focusing on getting your basic 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day? Are you worried about what kind of aerodynamic helmet you look best in, when you might want to think about doing some simple sprint exercises and increasing your race pace by 1 or 2 mph? Have you booked your time at the wind tunnel, when you could spend more time at the track or in the pool?

I might sound like a cynic in writing all of the above, and that I'm trying to knock down people's lofty ideas, but that's not my position at all. There seems to be a lot of information out there aimed at people who are very high up on the spectrum of "triathlon seriousness," and it can be intimidating for people who are just getting started or who are looking to get something out of triathlon other than sponsorship or a medal. At a certain level, wind tunnel time and grape skins and getting the right lubricant under your wetsuit for a quick transition time are good and important, but there are a lot of cheap, easy ways to boost your performance and increase your enjoyment of the sport that might ultimately serve you better, and the more clearly you define what you want to get out of triathlon, and the more time you spend really examining yourself and your own habits and abilities, the easier it is to find these things and prioritize them, so that you can (if it's your goal) move up the spectrum to a point where you do need to worry about things like Yasso 800's, plyometrics, what flavor Gatorade mixes best with salt tablets, which Ironman venue you want to conquer first, whom to pick among the many people who want to sponsor you, etc.

End Transmission

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chelsea's Run

Last Friday night my wife and I strapped on our shoes and headed over to the fourth annual "Chelsea's Run," a 5K race in memoriam of a lovely young girl and a promising athlete that was tragically killed in a car accident a few years ago.

This was my second year at Chelsea's Run, traditionally run at 10:00 at night on July 15 (Chelsea's Birthday). It's a unique and fun crowd to run with - mostly family friends and high school students who come out to have a good time, run a little bit, have some free Gatorade, and show support for a great family in the local community. All profits go to set up a series of scholarships at BYU, and participants are encouraged to donate more than the entry fee to the fund. So, it's a good crowd, a good cause, and just a good family event for couples or friends who enjoy running together. Not chip-timed or anything, so anyone who shows up looking or acting too seriously will look and feel out of place.

I can't really give an accurate accounting of my pace and time: since the race starts so late in the evening, and since all of our available babysitters were running the race with us, I ended up bringing my kids to the race, with the intent of pushing them along in a stroller. This usually goes fine, but my youngest, who is now days away from her 2nd birthday, had an absolute meltdown just moments before the gun went off - she's at the unfortunate phase of life where ideas form in her head quite clearly, but she lacks the words and grammar to communicate them to her liking, or to our understanding. At first, she said that she wanted out of the stroller, so my wife, eager to get her race under way (this was after the starting gun), pulled her out and decided to walk the first little way to see if she could calm her down. I jogged on a few yards ahead, and instantly she started to scream, "Daddyyyyy! Daddyyyyy!" So we traded - my wife caught up to me, passed me the girl, and took off with the stroller.

"Mommeeeeeee! Mommeeeee!"

We did the switch again.

"Daddeeee! Daddeeeee!"

This happened 3 or 4 times.

"Whassamatter? Do you want to run?"

"Yes!" sob, sob, sob.

"Well then you have to be in the stroller. Is that okay?"

"Okay!" All smiles and giggles.

So in the stroller she went and my wife and I took off. I think the whole exchange probably took about two minutes or so. I crossed the finish line at about 25:50, so, you know, whatever. What I did feel good about was that, while pushing 50 lbs in a jogging stroller and having a two-minute delay at the start, I ended up catching and then passing my sister-in-law, a college soccer player and very fit. Hooray! Maybe next year, Becca...

It brings up an interesting question, though - does pushing a jogging stroller affect one's pace at all? Since they have very little rolling resistance, I'd have to think that maybe no, unless one takes into consideration the mental drag that the runner experiences, trying to navigate the stroller around the madding crowds. In our case this becomes quite a task. Our stroller doubles as a bike trailer, so the bar that connects to the bike sticks out of the front like a bayonet. I remember after my first 10K talking to a lady who had been taken out by a jogging stroller. As a result, she had twisted her knee pretty badly, and was understandably miffed about it. So, last Friday I was pretty careful to take the outside turns and be pretty vocal if I were coming up behind someone that I couldn't pass so that I could avoid a similar collision.

My favorite part of the race: as we were loading up my kids into the car to take them home, my oldest daughter (3 1/2) turned to me and said, "Daddy, can I have running shorts for my birthday so I can race with you next time?" You bet, kid. You bet.

End transmission.