Most people, when and if asked, would consider the use of performance enhancing drugs to be negative. They would see it as giving one athlete an unfair advantage over another and worse, it doesn’t accurately represent the capacity of an athlete because they have been artificially enhanced. As a result of this moral imperative, we have organizations like the World Anti-Doping Agency and Senate Committees on doping in sport. My question, frankly, is why? Why do we care? Why are we so offended by this?
I suspect the answer to this question is really rooted in the Olympics where obviously juiced athletes from the former USSR won Olympic medals when competing against US and Western European Athletes who were either not doping, or not doping as well as the Soviet athletes. It wasn’t until some time after the iron curtain fell that we got a full look at how pervasive the doping was in places like East Germany. Stories arose of shot-putters going through female/male sex changes because of the amount of testosterone they were given. The way these athletes were treated was terrible and serves as a good example of the negative consequences of doping.
Fast forward to 2014 where we have had a rash of high profile doping cases. Many great careers have been tarnished. Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, and Marion Jones, among others, have been implicated and subsequently made an example of. The question remains, why are we so offended by this. In a country where we take a pill for literally anything (erectile dysfunction, restless legs syndrome, feeling sad, not able to sleep, not able to wake up, not being able to pee, peeing too much) including enhancing ones’ life – how is it that we are outraged that Lance Armstrong took EPO so he could better entertain us.
Let me qualify that statement, the point of sport is to entertain fans through competition. It is not really the competition itself. Lance Armstrong’s job was to cycle well so that fans would watch the Tour De France, buy Lance Armstrong jerseys, buy Trek Bicycles, and generally further the sport among non-professionals. Barry Bond’s job was to hit when he was at bat, so fans would buy jerseys, stadiums would sell tickets, and generally further the sport among non-professionals. How is it that it is acceptable for us to enhance our performance, whether it is in bed or otherwise, but a professional athlete can’t?
Besides the fake moral outrage we hurl at athletes, the question of fair play is a valid one. When Lance Armstrong was stripped of his TDF wins another cyclist wasn’t given those titles because all of the top finishers were in one way or another implicated in doping. Since that was the case, wasn’t the playing field effectively level? Of all the athletes that doped, Lance was the best. We know that minor and major league baseball is practically oozing doping, pro football players have been known to dope, and whatever shadows lurk in the NBA (besides illegitimate children) will eventually be exposed. The question is whether these revelations really change the nature of the sport. We expect our athletes to run faster, cycle faster, hit harder, jump farther, dunk from farther away, hit the baseball farther, and swim faster every subsequent year we watch them. If people aren’t breaking records we aren’t happy. Eventually, in order to keep that streak alive, people will resort to the only other way they can keep improving – pharmaceutical enhancement.
When I first started thinking about doing triathlon, indeed before I even ran 10K all in one run, Sarah had bought me a Garmin 910XT triathlon watch. This watch came with the familiar chest strap heart rate monitor, although this one was the “premium” version which meant that the strap was a bit nicer.
I never bothered seriously reviewing this device because it generally worked OK, until it didn’t. To be clear I never really liked the chest strap because even though it was the ‘premium’ version, it still wasn’t very comfortable. After about three months my heart rate monitor would randomly stop reading heart rate (drop out) or read so ridiculously low (reading 85 when it should be 160) that the data couldn’t be trusted. Compounding the issue, when it would simply drop out, garmin calculated the heart rate as zero when it wasn’t reading which skewed the average. A 10KM tempo run would show up with an average heart rate of 107, which is hardly accurate.
After reading a review by DCRainmaker (the go-to source for sports products testing) I decided to try the Scosche Rhythm + heart rate monitor which sports an optical heart rate monitor.
This monitor fits on your arm, either on your forearm or bicep, and reads your heart rate by peering into your capillaries using three pulsing lights. Medical offices have used this technology for years by putting your fingertip into a little clamp. Those can read both HR and oxygen use, which is cool.
A quick note on reading heart rate – as unlikely as it seems that you could calculate HR by staring (through the skin) at your capillaries, keep in mind the way the old style monitors work. Contrary to the way a lot of people think they work, the chest straps do not “listen” to your heart beating like a stethoscope. The chest strap type monitor detects the electrical current from your heart and using that data it calculates your heart rate. It is no surprise that sweat and water and slight misplacement can cause the chest strap type of HRM to malfunction.
You can see it there on my left forearm, the Garmin 910XT is mounted to the tops of the handlebars.
My experience with this HRM has been largely positive but not perfect. As far as the immediate problems I was trying to solve; inaccurate readings and dropping out, those problems went away when I started using this product in place of the Garmin HRM strap. Additionally, placing the strap on the arm is far more comfortable than around the chest. It is also much easier to adjust something around the arm than it is when it is under your shirt. It isn’t just more comfortable because it is in a more accessible area, the strap itself is made of a softer material.
There are a few things to keep in mind with this product. Many triathletes will put their tri kit on (uni style or top and bottom) with the chest strap zipped into place and then they put a wetsuit on over the whole kit. You cannot do this with the Scosche since it would be difficult to get in and out of the wetsuit with this product on. The Scosche is 1 meter water resistant, which is plenty, but even in a non-wetsuit swim I wouldn’t wear it on the arm for the swim. When I did Boulder 70.3, I put the Scosche in my tri top pocket for the swim, during T1 I removed it and slid it into place.
This unit is ANT+ and simultaneously bluetooth enabled. There is no switch for one or the other, the result is that the little thing is power hungry. Scosche says you will get 8 hours of battery out of it, I ran it for 8.5 hours without issue so their claims are either accurate to conservative. I suspect the battery life would be worse if you were collecting data by bluetooth as well as ANT+ instead of just ANT+. This capability, while battery draining, will allow you to connect the HRM to popular iPhone and Android apps and other devices which don’t support ANT+. I don’t use any of those, people that use things like MyFitnessPal and similar apps can sync their heart rate to the phone and and fitness watch at the same time.
Here is the data from my Garmin from the bike leg of my 70.3, notice something off? I am a decent athlete but after two hours and forty minutes I can promise that I would have burned more calories than 90. I originally opened a ticket with Garmin who directed me to Scosche. Apparently the first revision of the software the units were shipped with used a defective calculation for Calories and Training Effect, as a result Garmin simply calculated the caloric burn as if I was at rest. I got a new unit and it works better, though the training effect still seems to be off.
It is unclear how this would effect a user who was not using a Garmin device, most people mentioning issues are Garmin owners so it may be that this was limited to Garmin and other users would not notice an issue with this at all.
I have one additional concern and that is the nice arm strap itself. It works as a sweat band similar to the bands that basketball players use to keep their hands free of the sweat from the upper arm. This means the strap gets soaked in salty sweat during every workout. I haven’t seen evidence of the material starting to fail or lose consistency but it is something I am going to watch.
Overall I like the transition from the chest strap to the arm band. HR readings are essentially accurate, pairing is easy and reliable, and re-charging the thing is not difficult. It isn’t perfect, no device is, but this is pretty darned good. I am comfortable recommending the product to anyone willing to spend $80 and hate chest straps.
Team Evergreen’s Triple Bypass ride is an internationally known gran fondo bicycle ride that has been put on for the last 26 consecutive years. They have a simple motto; “For those who dare” which is fitting considering the immense challenge that this particular ride represents to casual and serious riders. The attraction to this particular century ride is the route, which goes from Evergreen to Avon looping through 3 mountain passes (hence the name ‘triple bypass’) for a total of 120 miles and 10,990 feet of total elevation gain. The ride profile looks like this:
There are a few more challenging rides in Colorado, you could do the death ride, you could do the double triple bypass, or you could complete the Colorado Triple Crown which are more challenging events. Those events, however, are either multiple day events or (as is the case with the triple crown) so elite that only handfuls of people are able to complete any of the stages. As far as an accessible event for the masses of people, this event can be thought of as a crown jewel of an accomplishment for a cyclist. The difference between this event and other gran fondos is similar to the difference between a sprint triathlon and a 70.3, or maybe a 10K vs a half marathon. Regular and fairly intense training is required in order to even complete the event.
I have wanted to do this event before I considered doing a triathlon which, at the time, seemed like a very lofty goal, because at the time it was. I was in terrible shape and at that point completing a 40 mile bike ride in any amount of time was quite an accomplishment. In fact, I did the Tour of the Moon gran fondo last year which had a fair bit of climbing (nowhere near the Triple Bypass) and I probably stopped before almost each hill to catch my breath.
Enter 70.3 training. Sarah had been interested in doing a long distance triathlon and I couldn’t very well let her do it on her own. I signed up for the triple bypass as well and met with my coach and we decided that 70.3 training should be enough to get me through the triple bypass as well. To that end, I did very minimal triple bypass specific training. After I did the 70.3 I joined my Ironman friends for 2 of their century long training rides and then a week before the actual event we went up and did Freemont pass and Vail pass so I could acclimate to the altitude. Three rides, that was the extent of my triple bypass specific training. Luckily for me, two of my triathlon buddies were also signed up for the event, so I wouldn’t be alone on this quest.
I was able to carpool with Jason and his dad up to the start in Bergen park. This was a very good idea because there were a TON of riders ready to go right at 0600 on Saturday morning. It was challenging to find room for 1 car, let alone three. We set off to tackle Squaw and Juniper pass and for the first time ever, there were people actually checking our wristbands to make sure we paid our dues to ride. There is a certain amount of banditry that goes on during these rides but Colorado State Patrol was pretty serious about only letting registered riders onto the course. It became evident why, CSP monitored the entire course, some roads were closed to traffic, others were marshaled. You have to pay to get those privileges.
This first segment is roughly from Bergen park to Warrior mountain and we climbed from roughly 7,800 feet to 11,100 over Juniper pass. I fought off a cramp in my right hamstring which went away after I warmed up a little and took down a bottle of Powerbar Ironman Perform. I thought I had sufficiently hydrated but on balance I may have been a little dehydrated at the start. Juniper pass is a nice road to ride on but the trees block most of the view until you get to the very top.
At the top of this mountain we had an aide station which, since it was about seven in the morning, had bagels as well as the standard fare of cliff bars and gels. The volunteers were very pleasant and would cream cheese or peanut butter (or both if you asked) a bagel for you. Since the road was closed to traffic, it was very safe and relaxing.
My two co-riders, a father and son team, took a break for a photo-op. The father did the triple bypass before and swore he would never do it again! Here he was a year later, back at it!
We got back on the road and enjoyed a nice long downhill into Idaho Springs. I had not put on my jacket which turned out to be a mistake, even though it got warmer as we descended, early morning mountain air…while piercing through it at 40 mph is like being in front of a huge cold blow dryer. I white knuckled it the whole way down. I was so cold that my HRM, which reads heart rate optically, started reading my heart rate at 212 BPM because my capillaries tightened up so much.
We had a ton of community support in Idaho Springs, there were people lined up on the road cheering us on and ringing cowbells. Nobody overslept in Idaho Springs on this particular morning. The route meandered through Idaho Springs where there was another aide station (time for sunscreen) and we were connected to Georgetown. The route took us up to Silver Plume by bringing us through the parking lot of the Georgetown Loop Railroad up to a trail that goes along side I-70. This bit was quite a climb, if you craned your neck up you could see cyclists a couple of hundred feet above you and if you looked down you saw the opposite.
This led us to unexpected challenge number two. A significant portion of the Silver Plume to Loveland route was done on new and nicely paved bike paths. That sounds nice until you cram 3000 cyclists onto it. The challenge is two fold. First, with that number of cyclists it can be hard to pass or be passed or stop safely. The second challenge is that driving roads are generally built within guidelines set by US DOT and state DOT for safety. Bike paths are not within these guidelines so they can be steep and undulating (as this path is) and curvy. It was difficult to be in the right gear because it changed so rapidly. We were eventually dumped off the path onto US 6 very close to the base of Loveland Pass.
Family members were allowed to meet there athletes here so it got very crowded. This pass (even though we were already more than halfway through with the climbing) would be challenging. It is the highest in elevation which is evident by the fact you would be climbing to above the tree line. If you look closely, you will notice there is still some snow on that mountain. US 6 was closed to drivers with the exception of trucks carrying hazardous materials which can’t go through the tunnels. Luckily those trucks are few and far between.
After thirty minutes of eating and generally dithering about we mounted back up and started the climb. Jason and I are both decent climbers and we were passing people fairly regularly. Don’t get me wrong, our breath was getting short but we could complete intelligent sentences. We saw someone on an elliptical trainer (I am not kidding, I actually have a video of his) trekking up the pass. We passed someone who was wearing an Alpe d’Huez jersey and since I was interested in doing that triathlon I pulled up next to him and asked him about it. This wasn’t my brightest idea, firstly he was French and at that point in the ride I think it was hard for him to form English sentences. Secondly, even though Jason and I were essentially conversational this didn’t mean other riders were. We got past him and saw the random person bail out for a break and one or two people walk their bikes for a little bit. Jason was a little faster than me on this pass (he led me by 5-10 meters) but he pulled off near the top to regroup with his dad. I got top the top and had a quick talk with two gentlemen who were doing the double triple from Montreal. The top was empty of cars, there a bunch of cyclists and some volunteers who were shouting motivation to us.
After a few minutes Jason and his dad arrived and we got a picture at the top of the pass from one of the volunteers.
I am on the far right, and after my experience going down Juniper pass I wisened up and put my jacket on. I am the one on the far right.
We didn’t spend much time on the top of Loveland because we saw storm clouds gathering and we wanted to avoid the raid. To that end we failed, about five minutes into the descent a shower started. That wasn’t the worst of it, I have ridden in rain before. What was the worst was riding 30 mph (slow for safety) and getting hailed on. The hail only lasted a few minutes but it was enough to beat me up a little bit.
Descending out of Loveland pass brings you past Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and eventually dumps you into Dillon. CSP closed the road on Swan Mountain so before our last bypass we had another climb over Swan Mountain to do. At the base of this climb was the penultimate aide station where we met another one of our triathlon friends. At this point the hours of cycling were starting to wear on our bodies. My buddy Wade and I ride “endurance” bikes (he a Specialized Roubaix and me a Trek Domane) and we were starting to feel it in our backs and…of course, our behinds.
After this aide stationed we were quickly marshaled onto another bike path which runs between Dillon, Frisco, and Vail. We weren’t thrilled with being on another bike path but this one was fairly downhill and straight which turned into a low grade climb which brought you into Copper Mountain Ski area. This trail was better than the first one but by this time other pleasure cyclists began to appear both in our direction and opposite us. Once we got to Copper Mountain we had begun to loudly b*tch and moan. The next pass was Vail pass heading west which would technically the easiest climb of the day…had we not just done 8900 feet or so of climbing. Vail pass is also a recently repaved trail which is high grade at only a few places. Jason again rode ahead with me behind and his dad behind me. There is one blind switchback which was a monumental challenge, thankfully at the apex of the switchback Jason decided to stop and wait for us. I didn’t want to bail out but seeing him was all the excuse I needed. His dad arrived, we took a picture, had some water, and set off again.
After a grueling few minutes we reached the top of Vail pass and the last aide station. Wade didn’t stop there but we did. I planted myself in front of the watermelon and oranges for a few minutes and had a little meal. We still had 25 miles or so left so even though we wouldn’t be doing any more climbs we were far from done.
We descended on a trail from the top of Vail pass into Vail. We went fast because we were going downhill but we weren’t laying down too much wattage. Once we got into Vail started the hardest part of the ride which was between Vail and Avon. We had done 100 miles and still had more to go. The route was flat to downhill but we were tired of riding and tired of being on our bikes. Luckily there was a 20-22 mph pace line we were able to get into which took us the next 12 miles to the finish area.
I was (and am) beyond happy to have completed the ride. It was an ambitious goal to begin with, it took 6 months of regular training to complete. Was long distance triathlon training sufficient? Yes, was it efficient, no. If you were to simply do the triple bypass you could have gotten the same results with 2/3 the amount of training time or less. It didn’t hurt, Jason (who is doing Ironman Boulder) did it without getting his heart rate over 150! Was it harder than the 70.3? Maybe. I was sore after the triple, I was also sore after the 70.3. If it is easier, it is only because it is untimed and therefore you could take as long as you want to eat, put on sunscreen, take pictures, etc. Ultimately I had fun, I will probably do it again next year. Thanks to Jason for driving me to the start and hanging with me, thanks to Sarah for picking me up and spending the night in a resort with me . Thanks to my coach Nicole and my other triathlon buddies who trained with me over the months. Thank you also to the Lifetime Cycle Team who I ride with occasionally and who I see in the cycling studio from time to time. Double triple, maybe, 2015.