A few weeks ago I competed in the “Vineman 70.3” half distance triathlon which runs out of Sonoma County, California. Vineman is a ‘licensed’ triathlon which means that it is Ironman branded but it is run and owned completely by Vineman.
I haven’t been blogging as much (or at all) this year as I did last year. Last year I was new, this year I am not so new. My training leading up to this race was actually pretty good. My bike was good, running off the bike was good, and swimming was OK. My long runs (each and every one over 1.5 hours) were all terrible. That was the big unknown for me this year; and I knew it going into the event.
We started the swim from Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville, CA; a small summer vacation spot full of ageing hippies and summer vacationers. The town is nestled in the hills and has two stoplights and one main road. The Russian river is not very wide, about 15 meters, and very shallow, running an average depth somewhere around 4 to 5 feet. Even though it is a river, there is barely a current either way. Race morning the water was about seventy degrees, a very doable temperature. This year I went with a rented Zoot sleeveless wetsuit. No problems there. The swim is simple, swim down on the right side of the river; come back likewise. The trick is that you can take the whole width of the river for the first 100 meters or so since the swim exit was about 100 meters up stream. I took a spot far to the left of the starting buoy and made my way to the right as we swam. This swim was extremely comfortable, the closest thing to pool water outdoors as I have ever seen. I wasn’t kicked or abused in any way – which is rare – I saved energy by not swimming very hard and drafting. I left the water in 37:05 (1:56/100m) which isn’t fast but right where I should have been. I could have swum faster but you only earn very few minutes of time for the amount of energy you have to expend.
As usual this part of the report will be longest since weird stuff tends to happen on the bike and you are on the damn thing for the longest time compared to the other legs. T1 sucks in this race, it isn’t a long run but the surface is a packed dirt which gets slick when it gets wet. When your wave is number 16 then yes, the ground will be wet. I almost ate my face, thankfully I didn’t. There is a short steep hill at the bottom of the T1 exit which a lot of people walk up, I didn’t but I did have one false start, I geared myself too low for the terrain out of fear and my first pedal stroke didn’t get me far enough. After that misfire I was out of the area and going down the road.
About 5 miles down the road there is a hairpin right turn onto Sunset road which is not just a 90 degree but the road is only about one car width wide so you have to keep your attention through that area. That lasts about a minute when you come to the 90 degree right turn at Westside Road which is a short and steep uphill. This was the hardest hill of the day, forget about chalk hill, doing this hill in the beginning of the bike sucks, and you can’t carry any speed into it because of the terrain.
At any rate, this bike course is harder than I gave it credit for. Certainly not impossible, but much harder than Boulder. Not only is there more climbing (all of said climbing is not paid back to you either) but the roads are narrow and curvy.
My initial pacing goals were quickly knocked down a peg. I felt OK during the entire bike, I played chicken with a couple guys in my age group in the later part of the bike which kept my interest up. Chalk hill arrived which was hard but about half as hard as my local hill (Olde Stage Rd in Boulder) and I was able to get over the hump in decent shape. I arrived in T2 in good shape for the run. All totaled I did the bike in 2:38:03 averaging 21.3 MPH. Good, but not as good as I had wanted.
The first thing one must realize is the large distances involved in the transition runs in T2. The dismount line is in front of Windsor high and the transition area is in the back of the school. You have to run with your bike along the length of the school. Once you get to the area you find the racks that correspond to your age group and find your run bag that you dropped the day before. Once you leave you must run to the far corner of the transition area (the make it clear everyone runs the same distance in T2 and this is how the enforce it) where they had porta-toilets which I had to utilize. My memory is hazy but I think the transition run continued after we left the transition area because I started the run portion on my Fenix 3 and my distances were way off.
This run marks the first time I have ever started a run in triathlon and my legs didn’t feel like complete garbage for the first mile or so. In fact, the first mile, 5K, 10K, 8 miles; were all relatively good. I had a reasonable goal to run a two hour flat half marathon. For a good portion of the run I would at or near that goal. I took in liquids at every aide station and I had a gel at mile 4. By the 10 mile mark fatigue started rearing its ugly head. My pace had dropped substantially and while I was still running, my pace would not support a two hour half and I knew it. I muscled through the last 5K without walking but it was certainly not quick. The finish line was lined with spectators (more than any other triathlon I have ever done) and they were a welcome sight. I ended up doing the half mary in 2:10:03 a whole ten minutes slower than I wanted. I wasn’t thrilled about the time, but I was also happy I didn’t have an epic meltdown so those two emotions balance themselves out.
Since I am a couple of weeks removed from this I am having a hard time remembering exactly but this is how I think it went:
- 1 Gel before swim
- 1 Gel in T1
- Gatorade endurance chews on bike
- 3x gel on the bike (approximately 1 every 45 minutes)
- 1 Gel in T2
- 1 Gel at mile 4 (should have had another at mile 8)
- 2 1/2 bottles of Gatorade EF on the bike
- One cup Gatorade EF + water at each aide station
The venue was adequate. The bike course needed more marshals, I almost got bumped off the road by trucks carrying trailers. Johnson’s Beach was fine but the area was very slippery. T2 was fine but the transition runs were abnormally long. This is a licensed event, there was not very much Ironman branding going on; if it wasn’t printed on your swim cap then spectators might not really realize it was an “Ironman” race. On the topic of spectators, the ones that hang out at Windsor High School were awesome. You get lined spectators during T2 (I think some of them want to see people biff on the flying dismount) and a huge crowd at the finish. They make a big deal about the mile loop in the La Crema Winery; this is not nearly as cool as it sounds. While it is nice to run on packed dirt with a bit of shade; years of drought makes that part of a run a dirty dust bowl.
It started with needing an affordable trail type shoe when I went to Hawaii and ended with an almost complete overhaul of my running shoe collection. Now, I no longer wear any type of Newton running shoe. Why? My reviews have been so positive and indeed I liked them. I think the Distance S III is a fine shoe. So what the hell happened?
Were the shoes not durable? They seemed plenty durable.
Did they not perform to specification? They seemed to do exactly what they were advertised to do.
Have you jumped onto the “maximalist” trend? Hell no, I hate Hokas and I get a twinge of anger if anyone recommends them to me. Why don’t you just run with rubber blocks strapped to your feet?
Did a representative of Newton Running come to your house and kick my dog? No, they did no such thing.
So why did I switch, two main reasons, injury and cost. First, lets talk about injury. When I started running in Newtons I was given fair warning that I needed to “break myself into them” and I did, this came visa vi achilles tendonitis. This pain never really went away and it became somewhat pronounced during my build to the Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon. I don’t like blaming shoes for injury (since it is hard to prove it one way or another) but when I began rotating in an old pair of Saucony shoes my achilles was much more comfortable during those runs.
The second reason is cost. My inner el cheapo bastardo has come out in full force and I refuse to pay extra for anything that doesn’t give me substantial benefit at a reasonable price. This includes bicycles, sport watches, racing wheels, race entry fees, power meters, wetsuits, training camps, personal training etc. Since I can’t axe running shoes completely, I will spend less for them. Most decent running shoes are 1/3 less expensive than Newtons. Sarah got a pair of Kinvara 4s on clearance for $50 or so at Endurance House Westminster, it is hard to beat that price.
As a result of those two factors, I am sorry to have to say goodbye to Newton Running shoes. I wouldn’t discourage people from running in them, but their time with me has come to a close.
OK the headline is a little bombastic but there are a few reasons why you should genuinely doubt whatever it is your trainer tells you. I am not normally a trainer-basher and a really like a few trainers that I know. However, the threshold (which they will readily admit) to becoming a trainer is not very high. More worryingly, it has little to do with actual science.
I recently ran across an Outside article (found here) which dispelled a lot of myths that persist in the industry. A lot of times these articles are fluff pieces, but this one includes a couple of pet-peeves of mine that raise my intellectual hackles every time I hear them.
First let us review what “scientific” means when I talk about “scientifically proven”. When I say that, it broadly means that science guy studied an idea blind or double blind to the results and then plotted the results against a control group. The trend lines tell the story. If the trend lines for the non-control group is noticeably different than the control group, you may have a causative effect for whatever you are studying. This is a really good standard. You may lack a control group or worse, rely on self-reporting (which is susceptible to the reporters biases) but even in those cases researchers figure some sort of compensating control so they can trust their results. If you get evidence that is not generated this way, we call it anecdotal. Anecdotal evidence is anything that happens to you or a small group of people with little to no regularity. Get enough consistent anecdotal evidence and it can cross the “scientific” threshold into a noticeable trend. Your buddy telling you “a couple guys I know who use XXX product see XXX result” is anecdotal.
When you start applying that standard to your judgments you start seeing things differently. Why, exactly, is HGH banned as a PED? Why is marijuana illegal? Why do people insist on small class sizes (oh yes, look up that sacred cow)? Why do we think sugar (look this one up too) makes kids hyper? It gets so bad that you will find yourself immediately doubting what anyone says to you unless you see some sort of believable evidence to support their claim.
When it comes to sports science there is a plethora of short tidbits of wisdom which, it turns out, have very little sound scientific evidence supporting it. For example, stretching to prevent injury. Scientifically, this hasn’t been proven, and in the studies looking at it, the stretching group had an injury rate slightly higher than the non-stretching group. Another example is salt and cramping. I have always been fascinated with the obsession with sodium replenishment in sports because, while sodium is an important part of the cell, it is generally understood that the body needs very little sodium supplementation and the use of salt in the cells doesn’t go up under exercise. Indeed, when studied, no link between sodium supplementation and the prevention of cramps is found. In fact, science hasn’t even proved that mild dehydration really effects performance that much, if at all. The old adage “drink before you are thirsty” is not based in reality. It should be “drink when you are thirsty” which makes a wicked amount of sense. We wouldn’t have survived evolution if our bodies were that bad about telling us when we need to replenish our internal water supply. “Fat burning zone”, don’t even get me started. Let’s just call it “complete hogwash”.
Facts and educated opinions underpin a successful modern society and, in the sports world, it can help clear up a ton of misconceptions. Cross-check everything your trainer tells you against trusted sources. Not everything on the internet can be trusted, but you are normally only a few clicks of a google search away from sound scientific evidence.
This was the fall of running for me. Everything non-running went by the wayside (with the exception of the two triathlons I did) between late August and now to focus on running. In fact, after the Malibu Triathlon our bikes stayed in their bags in the middle of the living room until yesterday when I finally rebuilt the bikes, cleaned them off, and put away the bags. I am going to compress the two races into one report because most run reports go something like this “I got to the race venue, stood around for a while, raced, ended, I was happy/sad” the end. So…I will do a little of that but with a focus on the race venue, organization, and course so that if you are considering doing the race yourself you can take those things into consideration.
Denver Hot Chocolate 5K/15K
The hot chocolate run is in it’s second year in Denver and it is put on by the folks at RAM racing. It sports a 5 kilometer and a 15 kilometer course that runs through the heart of the downtown Denver. Probably the nicest thing about this run is the swag. I had a coupon from Active for a free hat, which I will never wear, but the nicest thing in the swag bag is the running hoodie.
These things are expensive when you buy them! They have a zip pocket in the back. They are called “luxurious”, I am not sure about that but they are awfully nice. I see this with new races, the swag can be quite nice.
The race venue starts at Civic Center Park in Denver and they were smart by having the 5K racers start first. On a side note, people might find the 15K distance strange but it only is strange to us imperial unit fanatics. 15K, as a race distance, makes perfect sense. It is a 5K squared. A 10K plus a 5K, however you want to think about it is OK. Ultimately it is 9.3 miles which sucks when you are calculating your per mile pace.
I was running with buddies and we were setting a 8:50 to 9:05 pace which eventually went to 8:30 in the second half of the race thanks to my friend who is a bad influence on me. Overall the course was nice. The roads were blocked off and the Denver Police Department did a good job on traffic control. This is not a huge race but there were a lot of participants. The course looked like this:
My only real complaint was that the finish line was long by .16 miles, which is more than a quarter of a kilometer! I am normally patient with finish lines which are long or short by up to 1/10th of a mile compared to my GPS. This is because the GPS is accurate to 3-5 meters and there may be slight variances of when I hit “Start” on my watch and when I actually pass the timing mat. This should be a trivial exercise to fix but I have noticed that it is not uncommon to be inaccurate above 1/10th of a mile.
Anyway, the race finished up and true to form there was hot chocolate available at the end of the race. Not only was their hot chocolate, but they also had some sort of chocolate fondue with marshmallows and graham crackers for dipping. This could easily be a cluster-f*ck but the volunteers at this tent and at the equipment check in/out were fantastic. My experiences at the 15K, other than the odd distance and long finish line, were excellent. This qualifies as one of the better organized events I have been too. The finishers medal is pretty nice:
Denver Rock and Roll Half Marathon
So this was the big kahuna of running events for me. Before this time I had run two half marathons. The first one was an arctic half marathon and I finished it in 2:07 which roughly equated to 9:45 a mile. Not terrible for my first time and my longest run. It was also the first finisher’s medal I have ever gotten, ever. The second was the end of the Boulder 70.3 – which didn’t go quite well. This was truly only the second race I did all year where I had any performance goals, that goal was to do the thing in under two hours. Sarah and I trained fairly diligently for this one but unfortunately Sarah had been having nagging issues with her foot – some sort of stress injury – as a result she was unable to participate in this run.
The venue was the same as the fortnight before (Hot Cocoa Run), Denver’s Civic Center Park. The R&R marathon is a big undertaking in Denver. There are a ton of participants across the 5K, 10K, 1/2 Marathon, and Marathon distances. The swag wasn’t as nice as the other run so I bought myself a Brooks (Brooks is the signature sponsor of this series) visor.
The race was well organized and all the Marathoners and 1/2 Marathoners were generally corralled at the front with the lead pacers up front. I was in corral 4 which was quite close to the front. One nice thing about these events is they have pace groups. Some guy runs the pace (say, 3:45 marathon) while holding a sign up. People in the group can sign up and get an extra bib which identifies you as part of the pace group. Or you can jump-in mid run. I ran with a pace group for a time and the person holding the pace marker was giving tips to the people in the group, that is a nice thing to have.
This year, instead of running around City Park and the museums, the course went around Sloan’s lake. Running west – from almost any point in the front range, is normally uphill. This was no exception. The full marathon folks do the same course as the 1/2 marathoners until the 1/2 people go to the finish line and the marathoners split off to go around Cheesman Park.
The weather was nice and cool and this helped offset the fact that the course had some challenging spots. Balloon arches were set up around the course which was nice. A lot of people who were unable to leave their homes due to the race (many roads were fully closed) stood outside and lent their support.
Overall my pace was pretty good until I hit the wall of all walls at mile 11. I had one gel right before takeoff, one halfway through, and in hindsight I should have had one prior to the last 5K. Not only could I have used another gel, but my longest run on the buildup to this was 10 miles. On the week and weekend of the longest runs in the plan I fell sick so my long intervals (2 times 2 mile intervals) was cut in half (2 times 1 mile intervals) and my 1:45 run became 1:30 and my 1:30 run turned to be closer to 1:20. My training was good, but not ideal. My plan was to gut-out the last 5K and I did but my last two miles were 30-45 seconds a mile off pace.
Fortunately I had banked enough average time (under the minimum pace for the 2:00 pace) that even though I ran a 9:30 and 9:45 respectively for my last two miles, I still finished in 1:56, 4 minutes ahead of goal time.
At the finish line with my buddy Jorge who finished his first half marathon and Jenn who ran the 5K.
Now it is time to back off running a little bit and invest some training time into swimming and back into biking. I am going to focus a little more on strength and on improving my low zone running speed. The sun is going down earlier and coming up later so my outdoor one hour runs will be done with less regularity. Sounds like a good time to run moderately on the treadmill.
OK, it took me a long time to get around to this. It has been a couple of weeks since I participated in the Malibu Nautica Classic Distance Triathlon. I an summarize this race the following way – Nothing went horribly wrong, nothing went really excellently. I didn’t feel great after the finish and that has basically clouded my memory of the event. So lets get to it.
Sarah had committed to doing this triathlon with Team Amwins (a business affiliate of hers) earlier in the year. She roped me into it by asking me many months ago “Hey do you want to do a triathlon in Malibu” and me going “Yeah, OK” maybe not totally understanding or internalizing the consequences of that agreement. Sounds like completely typical marital communication.
Fast forward to September of this year and I am lugging my bike in a brand new bike case (2x $450 Thule Cases…REI loves us) into DIA. As an aside, no one figures you are carrying a bike. I had 4 people ask me what was in the bag, one person asked me if I was carrying a yurt. Number one, what the hell is a yurt? Number two, why is that the first option you went to? The nice thing about this case is that the bottom of it resembles a roof rack, putting your bike into it is very straightforward. It takes about 20 minutes of wrench turning to disassemble and insert the bike into the case and the same amount of time to reverse the process. There aren’t places to put your handlebars, aero extensions, tire changing kit, saddle, etc. We bought some bendy rubber ties from Eddie Bauer and I fashioned all that stuff into the bag – it was a thing of beauty. I think the TSA people opened it just to see my elegant packing job once they saw it come up on the X-Ray machine.
We got up to Agora Hills on Friday night after some tourist sight-seeing and bedded down for the night. There are actually two Nautica Triathlons, the international distance on Saturday and the Classic Distance on Sunday. When we got to the hotel we saw familiar signs of other triathletes. People with numbers painted on their arms, TT bikes, headsweats visors, and things with Project Rudy painted on them. The hotel had little brown bag breakfasts prepared for these athletes which was very nice of them.
The next day we headed out to Malibu for packet-pickup. This was my first clue that this was not a normal Ironman brand or Lifetime brand triathlon. These folks were not well-organized. No need to spend a lot of time on that topic, but it felt very amateur. The strangest part was the bike tags, normally they are stickers you slap onto your bike frame so the officials and police can see your number. In this case we got paper numbers with holes punched in them and zip ties with which we would affix the number to the tubes of the bike. Yes, that thing flapped around in the wind.
Morning of race – we had to get up stooopid early. Like 0345 or something. There are only a couple of ways to get to the beach and they all have bad traffic. By the time we made our way from Agora Hills to the beach it was about 0430. Instead of martyring ourselves, we had a nap in the rental. It only takes a few minutes to set up your transition area. Eventually we grew bored with napping and we made our way to transition. The transition area was very large, this a big triathlon by number of triathletes, to give you an idea of how large, my T1 was 1/4 mile! Normally it is 1/5 of a mile or less. Since we were a corporate team we got our own rack which meant I got much more space than usual and we were right near bike and run-out. Score.
The swim – I have never swum in the ocean before. The breaks were large, some were over my head and this was a new experience for me. I got crushed a few times on the way out but eventually I got through the break.
That isn’t me but this person was in my swim wave and I would say that it is a good approximation of the break I experienced. The swim was an eye-opener for me, and not just because someone smacked off my goggles and when I put them back on there was a little salt water in them and it burned my right eye like holy hell. It was an eye opener because the water was clear enough you could actually see around you. I have done triathlon swim in Union Reservoir, Boulder Reservoir, and Weaver Lake, in all three you are lucky to be able to see your own arm in front of you below water. In this sea you had 5-10 meter visibility.
Anyway, I swam slow as poop. I was planning on getting out of the water in 15 minutes and it took me 21 minutes. Twenty one minutes for a 1/2 mile swim, that is almost shameful for me. I am convinced I lost all my time trying to get on shore. That break that was a b*tch to get through on the way out was hell getting through the other way. Worse because you weren’t sure when a wave would crash you in the back of the head. Worse still it had the effect of pushing you into shore a little but, but then immediately pulling you back out. It took me ages to get out of the water, and when I finally did I felt like I had gone through the spin cycle. Sarah had a similar experience except one of the breaks tumbled her head over feet! The swim was quite an experience. This was the first time I saw people hauled away on a rescue jet-ski – and there was more than one.
The bike – not bad by metrics. 18 miles averaging 20.8 MPH. What I wasn’t expecting were that the rolling hills actually included a bit of real climbing. If you are familiar with the Pacific Coast Highway at Zuma Beach and about 9 miles north you know what I am talking about. Here is the profile:
You go from 16 feet to 200 feet a couple of times. That will get the legs warmed up. The course was beautiful on the way back because you get an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. My only gripe was the turn around point which brought you below the highway on a smallish paved path. That was fine, it was everyone that slowed to 6 mph (a 15 mph speed limit was imposed here) and road side by side that pissed me off. Other than almost plowing over a clueless cyclist on a downhill the rest of the bike was uneventful.
The Run – Not bad by metrics, but I was not feeling well. It was warm out and I was still super annoyed by the swim. I was cranking away averaging 8:32 a mile which is a few seconds below my 10K time. It was warm, sunny, and humid, which isn’t a recipe for a really fast run. There was some unwelcome elevation change but I muddled through it OK. I was passed by someone with no legs and only one arm. I am not joking, this happened. For obvious reasons there was no age written on his calf but I memorized his bib number. I beat him in the overall race but it is still humbling to be smacked down.
This is where my major gripe with the race happened. The run was 1/4 mile long. I can tolerate 1/10th of a mile, that is understandable, but 1/4 mile in a 4 mile run significantly alters your split times. This is an easy problem to fix, so fix it. Have someone run two miles out with a Garmin and tag the turn around point.
When I got back in from the bike I noticed Sarah’s bike was still on the rack, so I was very concerned that they had plucked her out of the water. Turns out her swim wave was just waaaayyyyyy behind me and she was fine. After the finish you walked off the course on soft sand, the worst surface to walk on after a race short of molten lava. I desperately wanted cold water which they didn’t have at the finish. I am so accustomed to being handed a bottle of water after these things that I think I actually stuck out my hand and promptly received nothing. I made my way to the brunch tent, mainly to get out of the sun because I was much too warm, and they had nice hot coffee and milk. The though of either of those options made me queasy. Eventually I found orange juice, which helped. It took me 30 minutes of sitting in the shade before I returned to normal. I was able to see Sarah come into the finish, she felt better than I had.
Overall I have mixed feelings about this triathlon. On the one hand it was beautiful and the proceeds went to a good cause, on the other hand it was somewhat poorly run. There were far too many relay participants and the lack of experience of many of the cyclists was borderline dangerous. In fact, someone was rather severely hurt the day before in a bike crash. I wouldn’t dissuade people from doing this triathlon because it does go to a good cause, but I wouldn’t make it my A-race.
Chances are that words and abbreviations like; ITU, Olympic Distance, 70.3, WTC,draft legal, non-drafting, full distance, and half distance mean either nothing or something completely different to the majority of Americans than they do to triathlete Americans. Triathlon as a competitive sport just doesn’t have the penetration in American culture that it does in other countries. This is probably due to the fact that as a sport it has only existed since the seventies and it has only been in the Olympics since 2000.
Generally speaking, Americans are inpatient with endurance events. Did anyone really know who Meb Keflezighi was before he won the 2014 Boston Marathon? To give another pertinent example, in the last Summer Olympics many people can remember Missy Franklin’s fantastic performances, but do you remember who won the 800 meter freestyle gold medal? Many have forgotten that there was another young American woman who decimated her competitors, her name is Katie Ledecky and you will see her in future Olympics. In swimming we tend to focus on events 400 meters and less (Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe, Mark Spitz) because it takes a lot less time to get the race finished. Watching a race for 9 minutes (800) or 15-16 (1500) is tedious to people because often the finish isn’t as exciting as it is in the sprints.
To the point, if you didn’t know who Katie Ledecky is then I am all but certain the name Javier Gomez means nothing to you. Javier Gomez is the World ITU (International Triathlon Union) and World WTC (World Triathlon Corporation) 70.3 distance champion as well as an Olympic silver medalist. This is what he looks like:
Those times without the proper context don’t really mean anything. Lets just focus on his run. One hour, nine minutes, and twenty seven seconds. That is for a half marathon which is 13.1 miles. That puts his split time at roughly 5:27 a mile. Can you run even one mile at that split? To put that into perspective, that time would have placed him 4th in the Denver Colfax Half Marathon in 2014. He would have placed 20th at the Boston Half Marathon – a much more competitive race. Now for the proper context; he also swam 1.2 miles and biked 56 miles before he put on his running shoes. If I took the top Boston 1/2 Marathon finisher (1:00:34) and had him ride his bike for 56 miles at any pace and then start the half marathon once he was finished (and Javier rode his normal pace), Javier would surely beat him on the run, not to mention easily besting him at the other two disciplines.
Considering those times, anyone who asks “who is the best endurance athlete right now” Javier’s name would be in the top 5. Among other people you have never heard of like Alistair Brownlee (Olympic Triathlon Gold Medalist), Marino Vanhoenacker (Ironman distance world record holder), Frederik Van Lierde (reigning Ironman World Champion) and those are just the men…and just the men competing in traditional triathlon. We aren’t even talking about XTerra triathlons which are incredibly challenging triathlons. I haven’t even touched on the women who are growing more impressive to me every time I see a race result. I wonder to myself, will there come a time when people are posting times in the individual triathlon events that are about as or more competitive than their open race counterparts? If it can be done, it will probably be done by someone named Gwen Jorgensen…
Ohhh so much has been said about this topic and this is sure to stir up a pot somewhere, but even a very basic logical analysis of the drafting issues at M-Dot races conclude that the sport should be come almost universally draft legal. If you are reading this and thinking “Draft beers should always be legal!”, you are thinking of the wrong ‘draft’ and an example of how cycling and triathlon are not exactly mainstream in the United States.
To explain the difference between draft legal and non-drafting races, just look at either Olympic or UCI bike races. In these events you have two principle types of cycling, the mass-start road race and the time trial. The mass-start road race is the one you typically see on TV, people ride in huge groups and occasionally a star will break from the “peloton” and make a run for the finish, first one across the finish wins. The time trial is a different race. A course is set up and a biker will race the course alone and the winner is the one with the best time. By very definition, the time trial is “non-drafting” because there are no other bikes to draft off of. Drafting in a bike is similar to drafting in NASCAR, if you get close enough to the low pressure area behind another moving object, your high pressure area is sucked along behind the low pressure area in front of you – thus requiring less power to move you along. In NASCAR this is done to save fuel, in biking it is done to help conserve power, measured in watts. Someone behind a few bikers can exert fewer watts per speed unit than the leader.
Originally triathlon was very small, the idea was that you did all three events yourself, in as much of a time trial format as could be managed. This is the true test of the athlete – what can you do on your own. However, as races get larger, they start taking on the feel of a mass start event. In most triathlons, you only get a small slice of road to ride on (it is not common for entire roads to be closed) and depending on the number of participants situations arise where drafting (riding within 3 bike lengths of the person in front of you) is not only impossible, to attempt it would be dramatically unsafe.
The result is predictable, a high profile race occurs, drafting occurs, and a bunch of people complain on forums like slow twitch (link here). A lot of ideas come up, stagger the swim start, more officials, etc. but none of them really work. If we have learned anything about trying to ban something that everyone will do anyway (like marijuana) it is to stop banning it and wrap rules around it. There is precedent for this; the ITU series of triathlons and the triathlon in the Olympics are all draft legal and unsurprisingly not only did the world not end, but complaints of drafting went away.
There are a few reasons why this is not a popular idea but I suspect the real problem is the cottage industry of time trial bike manufacturers. In draft legal races you will notice that everyone rides a similar style of drop handlebar road bike. In time-trials and non-drafting triathlons the bikes are different, commonly referred to as “TT” bikes. Because of some safety concerns about the way TT bikes are set up, mass start races ban TT style bikes. For professionals, this isn’t an issue, their sponsor will simply provide the required bike for the race the athlete is doing and be done with it. The problem is with the thousands and thousands of age groupers who had enough money for one high end bike and chose a TT style bike. Changing the format to primarily draft legal racing would alienate those racers. I am unsure of how those racers could be un-alienated, but just as sure as the US will eventually have universal health care, WTC races will and must become draft legal.
This past Saturday Sarah and I participated in the Maple Grove Sprint/Olympic distance triathlon (we both did the Olympic distance) in Maple Grove Minnesota, which is a suburb of Minneapolis. This marks my first Olympic distance triathlon and my first triathlon that wasn’t put on by Ironman. Maple Grove (along with Winona, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York and a host of other ones) are put on by Lifetime Fitness. The natural side effect of being Lifetime members and being on the lifetime tri team is that registration was extremely inexpensive. Since my in-laws live about twenty minutes away from Maple Grove, it seemed like a natural fit.
Our training leading up to this race was not very extensive, in fact we only did one bike ride in the three weeks leading up to the race so we really weren’t expecting much. With our expectations set reasonably low, we went to packet pick up the Friday before the race (this race was on a Saturday) after having driven all night. The differences between racing in Colorado and Minnesota were apparent straight away when we were driving in. We had to run the windshield wipers…not because it was raining but because the humidity was 100% and it was foggy. Having never sighted the race course (and we didn’t bother on Friday) and heavy fog in the forecast, I had half a mind to expect to get lost on the bike!
We arrived at packet pickup and sat down for the athlete briefing. This triathlon is held primarily at Weaver Lake Park which surrounds the aptly named Weaver Lake. The park is not large but green and pretty. The lake is cool freshwater and the race was a combination of paths and sidewalks. The transition area was surprisingly large for a triathlon that I thought would be small.
We scoped out the transition area and the T1 run from the beach to the bikes which, according to my Garmin, was about 600 meters. We were in for a nice surprise when we got our goody bags. The T-Shirts are a nice blue color made of a moisture wicking material. They were also giving away blue Maple Grove Tri headsweats visors. I love these things and I can always use new ones.
One great benefit to participating in a smaller triathlon is that we don’t necessarily need to be there at the butt-crack of dawn. We got up at a reasonable hour and did the short drive to Weaver Lake and arrived at about 0630 in the morning. My swim wave started at 0700 or so, that sounds like it was tight, but it wasn’t too bad. We couldn’t park particularly close but duh, we have bikes, so we rode in from the car. One annoying part of Lifetime triathlons is that they do not allow duffels into transition, only clear plastic bags. It sucks to ride a bike with a clear plastic bag full of shoes, wetsuits, and other assorted crap.
Within a few minutes I was suited up for the swim, I was in an early swim wave. I didn’t warm up or anything, I dipped in the lake to get a little water in my wetsuit and I lined up with my wave. Two things stick out about this swim. Number 1, it was very foggy this morning.
These are the collegiate athletes entering for their mass start swim wave. This leads me to the second unique aspect of the swim compared to the other two triathlons I did. Ironman favors a floating start where you essentially wade out to a starting buoy and the starter releases you when it is time. At Maple Grove we entered the water in time trial fashion, which meant we lined up two abreast and every three or so seconds the starter would release us two at a time. We would run into the water and commence with the swimming. The last time I did an open water swim was in June but luckily I am not a nervous swimmer so I adjusted adequately. My only open water goggles are tinted (I swim in Colorado 99% of the time) which brought the already low visibility even lower. Combining the lack of sunlight, fog, and water sunglasses meant that I could only see the next buoy at any given time. Fortunately I could see the see of swim caps and I was able to follow th leader with the best of them. I didn’t get beat up to badly during the swim, even around the turn buoys. I got out of the water in 31 minutes pacing at about 2:01/100M. This was exactly the pace I was expecting.
One main goal I had during this triathlon was to run at a very, very, very short stride during the transition run. Running in a wetsuit sucks and a long stride means you are fighting your wetsuit on the way to the bike. I achieved this as I ran/stripped.
You can clearly see where my bike was racked. The mount point was actually sooner than is noted on this map, I just forgot to hit the “lap” button on my Garmin until I was on my bike.
I knew the bike was going to be an unknown. I haven’t been training on the bike and I have never done a 40KM TT and I have never done an Olympic distance triathlon so I had no idea how to pace. I had recently read some triathlete (Jordan Rapp, I think) who said you should be able to be at 97% of maximum on the bike portion, so I said “What the hell” and hammered it. The course profile was very easy. There was a little bit of wind and a TON of fog. So bad I could barely see through my sunglasses, and I had put the low visibility lenses in! I got to a pattern of peddle, peddle, wipe glasses, peddle, peddle. I always wear glasses riding, the tiniest of rocks can ruin your day if you don’t have eye protection. This marks the first time I have done a competition course where I literally had no idea where I was going. I never rode the bike there, barely looked the map, and snoozed through the athlete briefing.
The bike was a strange experience, it was foggy, and cool, so it was comfortable in temperature. The fog though, gave it a surreal feeling, like biking in a dream. It felt like there was something holding on to my back wheel, I thought my brake caliper might have been running but my pace was OK. I attribute that to lack of training, no more. The roads were heavily policed as some out and backs required us to use the left part of the right lane. This was good because it would be hard for me to get lost with cones one the road. There was a critical intersection where people doing the longer course had to go left and the shorter course folks went right. I was worried I would make the wrong turn here. Luckily for me when I approached the intersection the race organizers set up a large VMS (variable message sign) the type normally used to inform people of traffic problems which said “Long Course Left, Short Course Right”. By this time I had acquired a rabbit biker who, between the two of us, would pass and be passed. They had one aide station on the bike which came out of nowhere (no really, it was heavily foggy at that point so it appeared to come out of the mist) and I had enough time to slow down and take a bottle hand off, but not too slow that I lost my rabbit rider. I got about half a bottle of Gatorade in my aero bottle. In total, I would drink a bottle and a half on the bike.
My bike was 1:09 and I averaged 21.5 mph. This should have been faster. On similar terrain under similar circumstances at altitude I have done 22/23 mph. A month of deconditioning will do that to you. My T2 was pretty quick, I took some more fluid, 1/4 EFS powershot, and three honey stinger gummies. I put on my shoes and headsweats and took off the glasses and I was off.
The first bit of this run is straight up a rather steep hill, that says “Welcome to Maple Grove” where there was an aide station where I took some water. My legs were stiff from biking and swimming and I had a bit of reservation about the run. This lasted about a mile. I took a gel 3/4 of a mile into the run and the stiffness started to run itself out of my system. I ended up taking water at all 6 aide stations out of habit but I didn’t walk through them so it didn’t hurt my pace.
A combination of being at low altitude (about 900 feet), it being a very cool day (about 67 degrees), and some more aggressive run training conspired to make this the best 10K I have run to date. I ran the 10K in 52 minutes which is 8:28 pace and that is a whole minute faster than normal per mile. My goal for the run was to hit 9:10 a mile (since that is what I want for the 1/2 marathon) so I hit that goal without issue. This was a high zone 5 effort which at low altitude is sustainable for a longer period of time. The run was a nice two loop through a very nice neighborhood where curious homeowners and onlookers gathered to watch us. A 12-14 year old brought his drum set out and entertained the passing runners.
By the time I hit my second loop many of the sprinters were taking to the course and it became more congested. This was one of the few times that I passed other people whilst running. What a feeling. I did get chicked by a 55 year old lady who asked me the pace we were at (she didn’t have a GPS watch) who, after being told, promptly strided away from me. If anything will keep your ego in check, that certainly will. I am not saying 55 as a guess, this was what was written on her left calf!
After it was all said and done I completed the triathlon in 2:40 which easily beats my goal of “under three hours”. Sarah had a good race coming in at 3:10. Later that day we went and walked around the Minnesota State Fair for 5 hours. Olympics are much more forgiving activities than 70.3s!
I would do Maple Grove again (but I probably won’t) and I will certainly do another Lifetime Triathlon. The venue was great, the race staff were excellent, and the event was done efficiently. I think next year we will try for one or more of the Lifetime Triple Crown (MSP, NY, CHI) series based on the experience we had at this event. I would recommend Lifetime triathlons to anyone, especially beginners who may want a less intense environment than ironman, but still want to experience a real triathlon.
I have tried a ton of sports drink mixes, there a ton on the market, and I like a lot of them. The one I continually come back to is Skratch’s exercise drink which they originally called “Secret Drink Mix” because they claimed that they were providing it to Tour de France competitors secretly because they all were supposed to be using the drink mix from there official sponsors. I have no idea if that is true but it is a nice story.
You can buy skratch in a bag like above, or in little single serving sleeves. Skratch advertises being “All Natural” and even note that it is not uncommon to have tiny bits of fruit in the drink because that is how it is made.
How does it taste?
Excellent. It is a little sweet but you can easily cut down the amount you put in to make it less sweet. Different flavors have different sweetness levels, the nice thing about the taste is that if you get orange, it actually tastes like orange, not fake orange.
This isn’t talked about enough. A lot of drink mixes (I am looking at you Cytomax and EFS) clump at the bottom of the bottle making the last couple of swigs gross. Skratch mixes easily in a standard sized sports bottle.
Does it work?
This is not so straight forward because everyone is different. It has 360 mg of sodium and 40 mg of sodium which gives it an electrolyte combination similar to Gatorade Endurance Formula. I am not particularly prone to cramping so I can’t speak to that but the sugar that is in it does give you a nice boost when you drink it.
Does it cause GI issues?
This is a common problem with endurance fueling. From my experience and the experience of people I train with, Skratch seems to be pretty good about GI distress. They advertise that it is superior to other drink mixes, of course we wouldn’t expect they would advertise that they are worse than other mixes. My experience is that people moved from UCANN to Skratch specifically for this reason and they never moved back.
I would give this a shot if you are shopping around. If you live in Colorado almost every cycling shop will carry this product. It can also be found at Whole Foods or, like anything, online. It is a bit more expensive than Gatorade G or Endurance formula, so you should take that into consideration. It has more electrolytes than Powerbar’s Perform mix which is a drink that I will occasionally use. I do not say this is the be all and end all of drink mixes. I recently ordered Gatorade’s Endurance Formula to give that a test and I will compare the two. I will say that of all the products I have tried, I like Skratch just a little more than the rest.
I started this year with a couple of very lofty goals, the first was to complete the Boulder Half Ironman – which for someone who couldn’t run a mile without collapsing was very lofty. The second was to complete the Colorado Triple Bypass, which was similarly lofty. I achieved those two goals so now I am left to consider where to go from here. I have an ITU distance triathlon next weekend which I am somewhat prepared for, and a classic distance event the month after. The last event of the year for me is the Rock and Roll half marathon in Denver, which will be my third half marathon of the year.
My first goal is to run the half marathon in October in under 2 hours. I have been focusing on running the last couple of weeks, I saw substantial de-conditioning after the 70.3 and I am just now building back the miles. I think it is doable, but it will be a challenge. I am setting this goal because my next 70.3 goal (Vineman 2015) is to run the entire half marathon.
My 70.3 goal is the only triathlon goal I have set for 2015. In Ironman Boulder ferver, a bunch of my friends signed up for Ironman Boulder 2015 but I held back. I had originally wanted to do Ironman Lake Placid but that sold out very quickly. I then considered Ironman Boulder, but ultimately decided that I wasn’t ready for that time commitment. As much as watching IM Boulder was inspiring, I decided that when and if I did a full 140.6 distance race my goal would be to run the entire marathon. I don’t think I have the time and mental capacity to tackle that yet.
I left the tri-club I had been a member of since last November. We were no longer getting the value out of it (principally because our tri season was light after the 70.3) and we could no longer afford the expense. We will probably start working with a tri coach again in 2015 but we will consider less expensive options, including working with coaches independently or as part of a team that is not affiliated with a club. I will consider the LT team again because I like the coach there, but we will save that decision for December/January.
Next week I will publish my race report for the Maple Grove Olympic Triathlon, so stay tuned.