Tag Archives: swimming

Havana, day 2

Day 1 of our trip was about getting settled in. Day 2 was all about race prep.

Lance and I got up early-ish and went for a short run along the Malécon. We started from our apartment (the little red pin on the map), so you can sort of see where we were situated compared to the rest of Old Havana. This was just a short shakeout run, so we made a couple of stops for picture-taking along the eastern leg. You can’t see it in the map, but there’s a really interesting old fort across the strait to the east.

Running along the Malécon

Running along the Malécon

Called Castillo de la Punta, its construction started in 1590. It offers a great landmark from anywhere along the shoreline to the west because its promontory is further to the north than the rest of Havana. It makes a great scenic backdrop, too.

Castillo de la Punta

Castillo de la Punta

Further to the south along our run route, we saw a couple of cruise ships jockeying for entrance into the port. Non-US-flagged cruise lines have been stopping at some other Cuban resorts for a few years now but having them come into, or just offshore, Havana is fairly new.

Paul and Lance on the run

Paul and Lance on the run

After our run, we met up with the rest of the posse and finished getting our gear and bikes together. This was quite a production, as Julio, the 6th member of our group, was staying one block away. We’d arranged for Eric to bring a friend with a truck, so we set out on the half-hour drive from our apartment to Marina Hemingway, named after Papa himself. The drive took us through a row of embassies (not including the US embassy; more on that later) and some scenic residential neighborhoods. The marina itself was pretty well representative of Cuba: dilapidated in spots but still functional. The marina has two hotels: Hotel Acuario and El Viejo y La Mar (“The Old Man and the Sea”), which is being renovated.

The Old Man and the Sea-themed fountain

The Old Man and the Sea-themed fountain

The registration events were all held at Acuario, more or less. We were told the workflow would go like this:

  1. Get a race number and athlete wristband
  2. Drop off our bikes and bike bags in T1
  3. Drop off our run bags at T2

In my race report, I alluded to a certain degree of disorganization at registration, so it may not surprise you to know that things didn’t exactly work this way. We stood in line for a solid two hours to get in and register– registration opened at 10 and we were in line about 1015. The registration process itself was a maelstrom of people milling around trying to do 4 simple things: sign a waiver, sign up for race photos, get a race packet with numbers and so on, and get the coveted wristband. The volunteers seemed overwhelmed, and the layout was such that the crowd was funneled to the photo station first.. where you couldn’t sign up without your race number, which you wouldn’t have at that point. You get the idea.

Eventually we survived that process and walked back over to where we’d parked to get our bikes and bags. Each of us had to take all of our stuff and pack it into the event-provided T1 and T2 bags, so that took a few minutes. Then it was back to standing in another line to drop off our bikes and bags. This process was more smoothly organized: each of us had to find our numbered slot in the bike racks, park our bike, and hang our bike bags on the corresponding numbered hook. Run bags? Oh, yeah, we had to leave those too. At various times we were told that we could set up normal transition areas near our bikes, that we must set them up, and that we could not set them up (also that we could and/or could not leave helmets and shoes with the bikes). Oh, and also that we would and/or would not have access to our run bags before the race. You get the idea here too.

After another hour or so of fumbling around in the heat, everyone had their gear staged and we wandered off to find lunch. This was a bit of a challenge; our drivers had left, and the marina only featured one restaurant. Lonely Planet characterizes by saying that you can eat there, if you have no better options, which you won’t if you’re at the marina. They were right. Nothing was bad but it was, at best, mediocre. I had shrimp pasta; the shrimp and pasta were perfectly all right but they were served in an odd not-Italian tomato sauce.

Cuban pizza

Cuban pizza; note the skeptical looks of Tony and Julio

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The Cuban national tourism agency had offered a tour package for triathletes that included airport transfers, rooms at the Hotel Naciónal, and some other goodies. We found a bus going to the hotel and got on it; no one asked if we were supposed to be there, so we enjoyed the air conditioning and ended up at one of Havana’s most venerable institutions.

The imposing Hotel Naciónal

The imposing Hotel Naciónal

The hotel is set on a hill, and it has a commanding view of the water from its back terrace. Naturally, we immediately went there, whereupon I met a new friend… because of course he’d be there.

No word on whether he supports Fidel

No word on whether he supports Fidel

We hung out at the hotel using their wifi for an hour or so, then Lance and I took a classic-car taxi back to the marina while the others went home.

Riding dirty

Riding dirty

The idea was that we didn’t need to all go to the race briefing, so Lance and I volunteered to go find out two important factoids: whether the swim would be wetsuit-legal and whether ITU rules allowed swimming bare-chested. The answers turned out to be “maybe” and “yes”, and we were able to avoid having to wait until 7pm or later to find that out. We left the marina on foot and walked around the area a bit, including crossing the small and sluggish Rio Jaimanitas, before we caught a taxi back– a late-model British MG sedan that had seat belts and air conditioning– the only vehicle I rode in the whole trip that had either, much less both. On the other hand, I’d just as soon have no seat belts and no AC if it means I could roll around in this beauty all day:

What a beauty

What a beauty

We got back to the apartment and back-briefed everyone on what we’d learned. They’d already had dinner, so Lance and I walked a block over to the Malécon to look for dinner, where we found Castropol. Named after the town in Spain, and not You Know Who, this was a lovely surprise. It was easily on a par with the best meals I’ve had anywhere else; I had a grilled chicken breast with arroz moro, some fried plantains with garlic and salt, and a no-kidding-really-delicious bottle of mineral water (usually that stuff tastes awful but this was great). Portions were generous, service was friendly and quick, there was great live music, and the sidewalk-level people watching opportunities were excellent. They also have a second level of the restaurant where they specialize in Italian food, but we never made it back there to try it.

Grilled chicken? Why, yes, thank you

Grilled chicken? Why, yes, thank you

Full and sleepy after the 10 or so miles I’d walked/run that day, I headed back to the apartment and was in bed by about 830p. Now might be a good time to mention that I’d been getting steadily more and more congested– going through a pack or so of Kleenex and 2 12-hour pseudoephedrines per day, yet still continually honking like a foghorn. I was feeling a bit run down but was optimistic that a good night’s sleep would set me right. If you’ve read my race report, you already know how that turned out.

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Training Tuesday: Havana Triathlon race report (25 Feb 2017)

(The Garmin Connect app doesn’t work on Cuban government wifi, so I can’t post course maps, etc. The final race results aren’t up, and since I didn’t have my phone I don’t have any pictures from the race itself, so this report is all you get for right now.)
Summary: great experience, awful performance. 8:12 for a 70.3 is nothing to get excited about. I guess I was not as well prepared as I thought, but there were a couple of other external factors. First is the fact I was sick. I didn’t realize how sick until today (Tuesday), 3 days post-race, when I’m feeling normal and comparing it to how I felt the day before and the day of the race. I had been sniffling and snuffling all week, since maybe 2 days before we left, and was regularly taking 12hr pseudoephedrine for a solid week before race day… not a great setup for the race. I was short on sleep ( people here don’t really get their nights started until midnight or so, so we’ve had significant traffic noise and street noise each night), averaging about 5hrs of real sleep each night for the 4 days pre-race day. I also ate poorly, out of necessity, the day and a half before the race. Those aren’t excuses, but they were definitely factors.

Prep

We spent the entire day before the race getting registered, dropping off our bikes and transition stuff, and so on. I logged about 10 miles of walking. This was not a good idea. Race registration was at the marina; it took about 2 hours to get through packet pickup, then we had to drop off our bikes. The best word to describe the race was “disorganized.” There was a lot of mis-information and non-information, and the whole experience really made me appreciate how hard RDs have to work to put on a smoothly running race. This is only the 3rd year for this race so I am confident that they will improve.

This was a point-to-point race: all our bike stuff went in 1 bag, and all our run stuff in another. We dropped the bike bag off with the bike and gave the run bag to the organizers, who staged it at T2 for us. This put a very high premium on making sure the right stuff was in the right bag, which for the most part I got right. However, that process adds some mental stress, even if you’re a heavy checklist user, as I am.

I had a small lunch (shrimp pasta in an interesting but odd not-tomato sauce) and a good but small dinner (grilled chicken, rice, black beans, a few slices of fried plantain) and got to bed about 830p, where I slept for maybe 5 hours total.

Pregame

I got up at 410a, had breakfast (small pack of honey roasted peanuts, a protein bar, plenty of water), and met the others downstairs for our van ride to the marina. The organizers had told us that we’d have access to our bikes so we could fill bottles, etc, and this turned out to be true. They had also said we’d have access to our run bags, which was not, so I started the run with no water… more on that later. There were nearly 800 participants in the race, for which the organizers thoughtfully provided two (2) portapotties. With no toilet paper. That was awesome. Luckily I had some Kleenex with me.

There was a great deal of confusion over where the swim was supposed to start. Nothing was marked, and none of the volunteers seemed to know what was what. Once the sprint swim started, the RD eventually herded everyone to the right area and collected our after-race bags. Before the swim, I put my glasses, street clothes, etc. into that bag for access later.

Weather and conditions

It was mid-70s at swim start, with a water temperature of about 76. The wind was calm until later in the day– it started to pick up about 11a and reached its peak when during the run leg on the Malécon. The forecast high temperature was 85. I don’t know how hot it got, except that the temperature sensor on my watch registered a max of 105. When it’s on my arm, it reads about 15 degrees higher than ambient FWIW.

Swim

The RD said wetsuits were optional, so I swam with my sim shorts. The plan was to jump in the water at the land side of one of the marina’s berthing lanes, swim down that lane, across the mouth of the adjacent lane, and back down the next lane, for a total of 2100 yards or so. I don’t have good data from the swim– my watch showed I swam 1375 yards in 48:08, but the other guys with me all had correct distances, and the race results aren’t posted online so I can’t cross-check. I felt pretty good on the swim overall, at least until last night when Lance told me he saw two of the yachts in the lane we were in pumping gray water overboard as we swam past. One interesting note: when I jumped in, I forgot to hold my nose and so pumped my sinuses full of marina water. My nose was fine for the rest of the race, go figure.

T1

T1 took 11:08. FAR TOO LONG. This consisted of a 1/4mi or so run from the swim exit to the bike area. Our bike bags were hung on numbered hooks, and volunteers were checking numbers so that by the time each athlete got to the hook, they’d pulled the correct bag. ITU rules don’t allow setting up transitions in advance, so I had to dig through my bag to get socks, shoes, chamois cream, a shirt, sunglasses, bike computer, and nutrition, then get it all put on or tucked in pockets, then run out to the bike and set it up the rest of the way.

Bike

The bike course started with a couple of short climbs that I wasn’t expecting. I’ll put the route map on my blog later when I have Internet again (or you can look it up if you follow me on Strava), but basically we rode around a residential district, then up Linea (one of the main drags) and through El Tunel Linea, then turned around and reversed the route and diverted onto the main east-west autopista. There were tons of volunteers and cops managing both vehicular and pedestrian traffic; they had shut down our side of Linea for racing, so all the traffic was squeezed into the opposite side of the boulevard. I give the race organizers full points for this.

Havana is not what I’d call a polluted city but there is much more vehicle exhaust than Americans are used to– lots of poorly tuned 2-stroke gas engines and big diesels. Riding through that was not my favorite. In addition, there are tons of road hazards. I would describe the overall road conditions as fair– the worst of the roads we rode are no worse than some of the hot spots on Redstone Arsenal or the area near my house (I’m looking at you, Burgreen Road). There are lots of potholes, sunken manhole covers, and so on, and none of them were marked, but they were easy to see.

On the autopista, the course was a series of very long 1-3%climbs and short, quick descents out to about 35mi, then a turn back into the city. As the day wore on it got hotter and windier, with a moderate cross headwind on the way back in.

There were 5 or 6 aid stations with bottled water on the bike course. I drank probably 6 bottles of water on the bike, had a Honey Stinger waffle each hour, and had a small banana (maybe 5″ long) at the turnaround rest area. At the first rest stop (maybe 20mi in) I stopped, put on my arm sleeves, and soaked them, my head, and my jersey with water. That helped a bit. At the turnaround rest stop I stopped again and drank an incredibly tasty can of the local equivalent of orange Gatorade– muchas gracias to the volunteers who thought to have that on hand.

After the highway the route took us back up Linea and through the tunnel again. (I did shout “TUNNELLLLLLLLL” each time I rode through it, like the kids and I used to do when driving through tunnels, so that was fun). There were several groups of uniformed schoolchildren along the route who went nuts whenever they saw a cyclist, so that was really fun.

I tried to stay in the prescribed power range but on the back half of the bike course was trying to make up time and started pushing harder. This was a critical mistake. 3:41 on the bike, when I was hoping for 3:15 or better, was rough.

T2

T2 was set up right near the US embassy and Monte de las Banderas, a local monument with some Fidel-era slogans. Racers biked in and handed their bikes to a handler, who racked it, then ran down the chute to get their run bags. I did that, found a changing tent, and started trying to change, but I was in a fog– I put my belt on backwards, couldn’t get my shoes on the right feet, and went the wrong way leaving the chute. There was no water in T2, so I started the run with empty bottles. 8:05 in T2, most of which was spent sitting trying to catch my breath. I was so hot I actually had goosebumps. I’m lucky it wasn’t longer.

Run

I ran for, maybe, half a mile and then my legs just gave out and I walked. Occasionally I burst into a dispirited sort of trot but I was having trouble moving my legs. Eventually I shuffled through the first aid station and got some water in my bottles, on my arm sleeves, over my head, and down my back. I wish I could say that I magically revived but no. I nearly quit about a dozen times but kept shuffling to a 3:20 finish. That is by far the worst half marathon I’ve ever run, both in terms of time and of quality. There is no way to dress it up or make it look better.

Oh, did I mention that there were no bathrooms on the bike or run courses? No? Because there weren’t. I barged into a restaurant on the Malécon for my run potty break. Twice. Hope they didn’t mind.

The finish

All my friends finished before me, so I had a great welcoming committee as I crossed the finish line and got my medal and finisher’s shirt. I plopped down and collected myself for a few minutes, then Craig and I took a cocotaxi back, which was like riding inside the Devil’s lawnmower, with lots of exhaust and swerving. Warren was kind enough to ride my bike back for me and put it away. 

Post game

Literally all I could do when I got back to the apartment was sit in a chair, stretched out. I couldn’t really turn my head because my shoulders and neck were so tight, and I didn’t even have the energy to banter. I have never felt so sick or tired after a race. I eventually straggled upstairs for a shower and a half-hour nap, which helped. The thought of food was absolutely repulsive, so when the posse went out for dinner I went to bed instead about 830p and slept for maybe 7 hours total. The next morning, I got up and picked my way listlessly through the excellent breakfast buffet at the Parque Central hotel and then shuffled through the Museum of the Revolution (more details on both of those in a later post), then went back to the apartment for a big long nap. I didn’t really start feeling normal until Monday afternoon but am now fully recovered. Lots to learn from the overall experience, including a) don’t race when you’re sick and b) make sure your race prep is strong. Onwards!

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Training Tuesday: Rocketman 2016 Olympic race report (28-Aug-2016)

The fine folks at reddit’s /r/triathlon have started using the format below for race reports, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Race information

  • What? Rocketman
  • When? August 28, 2016
  • How far? Olympic

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
A < 3:15 No
B < 3:30 Yes
C PR bike, swim, or run Yes

BLUF

PR’d the bike and swim. Had a craptastic run. Beat my time on this course but didn’t get the Olympic PR I was hoping for. 3:23 overall.

Race strategy

My first season, I tried to relay this race and DNF’d due to a bike mechanical. Last year I straggled in at 3:30. Earlier this year I PR’d Renaissance Man at 3:17, so my goals were to PR again, or at least beat last year’s time, and to PR at least one of the events.

Pre-race

In the week leading up to the race, I had an unusually tiring business trip– I averaged 12+ hour workdays and had no juice left for training while on the road, so I wasn’t well rested (plus a big “screw you” to the hotel I always stay at for putting me on the noisy I-5-facing side of the hotel this trip). I rented a pair of Reynolds Strike race wheels from the gang at Blevins Bicycle to see how I liked them. Because of travel Thursday and epic thunderstorms Friday, I wasn’t able to ride them until Saturday, when I took them out for a 40-minute ride with Dana. It was supposed to be an easy Z2 cruise but it was more like a mid-Z3, and then to top it off we added a short brick. Probably not a great idea in retrospect, but I didn’t want to go into the race without having ridden the wheels at least once, and I didn’t think the brick would tire me out too much.

Race day prep

I packed everything into my car the night before and went to bed at a reasonable time, after having eaten sensibly and hydrated pretty much nonstop (I probably doubled my normal fluid intake on Friday and Saturday). I’d previously volunteered for body marking, but the RD told me he needed help with parking, so I got up at 0415 to get to Hobbs Island and start directing traffic. That went well, and I had plenty of time to get set up in transition, say hello to my friends, and see the athletes I’d been working with in Fleet Feet’s Tri201 Olympic tri coaching program. It was clear, 78 degrees, and about 80% humidity when I got to the venue before dawn– an omen of how the day’s weather would develop.

Swim

The Tennessee River is warm this time of year– I heard the race morning water temp was 85 degrees, which wouldn’t surprise me. I actually like river swims, so that didn’t bother me.

Because of the swim course layout, the race uses a wave start– you go down a slide (which is covered with carpet, so you don’t slide, you sort of scooch) into the water, assemble near the start mark, and then swim. I purposefully stayed near the back of my wave when getting in the water, both to minimize the amount of time I’d have to tread water at the start and because I didn’t want to get run over by all the faster swimmers behind me.

The first swimmers went into the water about 30min late because, for whatever reason, the buoys weren’t out on time. This was really strange because normally the RD and staff at Rocketman have everything down to a science (this is the 23rd year, after all) and stuff happens promptly when it’s supposed to. Turns out that this delay was important later.

The course is about 500y upstream, then 200y or so cross-current, then the remainder on a long diagonal back to a pier. Partially thanks to the current, I swam a 1:46/100 pace, which for me is stupid fast– but it wasn’t all current; I was working harder on this swim than usual and I felt it when I got out. Unfortunately, because of poor sighting technique, I swam an extra 400y, so my swim time was 35:xx. That was a PR, though, so I’ll take it.

A quick jog into T1 and I was out again on the bike in 2:xx. For this race, I wore a tri top into the water instead of putting on a bike jersey. Thanks to Dana for suggesting that– between that and the tri bucket she suggested I use, my transition in this race was half what it was at RenMan.

Bike

First: I committed what should be a USAT foul when exiting: I started my bike computer but forgot to hit the lap button on my watch, so now Garmin shows my t1 as having an average speed of 16.x mph. Oh well. You may remember I did the same thing at RenMan. Maybe next race I’ll remember.

The bike course is fairly flat L-shaped out-and-back, with a few rollers, but it’s all two-lane and mostly on a busy segment which isn’t closed for the race. At various points I got stuck behind a landscape truck, nearly wiped out by an asshole in an SUV (right in front of a parked sheriff’s deputy, who ran out into the road yelling, pulled the guy over, and ticketed him– thanks, MCSO!), and saw one each dead possum, skunk, and armadillo. The outbound leg on the long part of the L had a quartering headwind, which was fine; I was able to stay in aero most of the time, though I did have a few scary swerves when wind caught my wheels. I finished in 1:27, which was a PR, so yay me. As usual, when I was looking at my times after the race I thought “dang, I should have pushed harder on the bike.”

The run

I thought this was the worst 10K I’ve ever run (I was wrong, but more on that later). The run course is flat and has some shade, but not much: you run out and back along the river for about 2mi total (with an aid station at about 0.5/1.5mi), then take a shadeless leg through the marina, then onto a local greenway for the remaining distance. I couldn’t sustain any kind of run pace; it was more of a shamble, with frequent walk breaks. My arms and hands were tingling by about mile 3, and I was barely sweating, so I slowed way down and tried to drink as much as I could, knowing that there was no way I was going to PR the run or the race. Selah. I saw lots of other tough athletes suffering on the course, too, including many locals who I know are acclimated to typical temperatures– but thanks in part to the late start, it was 95 degrees when I crossed the finish line, and God only knows what the heat index was. Not a great time. (Turns out I was still faster than my time last year but it didn’t feel like it!)

The first aid station had cold towels, which felt awesome, but sadly most of the other aid stations had room-temperature water and Gatorade. I had brought a Headsweats visor, but sort of wished I had a hat. And some ice. And cooling sleeves, like my coach suggested. Some more sunscreen would have been nice too.

Post-race

The post-race expo at Rocketman is always fun, and I enjoyed catching up with my friends who’d raced. This year, the Renaissance Man and Rocketman RDs offered a challenge: complete both races and get a custom transition towel (I’ll try to post a picture later). Along with the excellent Rocketman visor and shirt, this completed my swag haul since I certainly didn’t podium. I visited for a while, then headed home for some Advil and a nap.

I can’t wait for next year! PR, here I come. Thanks to RD Mike Gerrity and his wife Debbie for their many years of making Rocketman such a great race for athletes!

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Training Tuesday: “The Hybrid Athlete” (Viada) review

Fitness is a huge industry in part because it offers the promise of self-improvement. Look better! Be thinner! Run faster! There are low barriers to entry; anyone can hold themselves out as a fitness expert, and (much like weathermen or stock analysts) no one ever checks back to see if the promised results were actually delivered. One result of this combination is that there are a lot of people who uncritically accept some principles that turn out to be completely false. One example: “cardio kills your gains.” Another: “if I lift weights I’ll be too blocky and slow to run or cycle fast.”

Alex Viada has addressed this lack of knowledge rather neatly in The Hybrid Athlete. The book’s landing page defines a hybrid athlete as “a unique breed who can excel simultaneously in both strength and endurance activities.” Examples might include firefighters, members of military special operations forces, or even people like me who want to be unusually strong and have unusually good endurance. I bought the book sight unseen, although I had the benefit of being coached by Alex and the team at Complete Human Performance, and seeing his unique approach in action, for a few months before it came out. Sadly, I didn’t get around to finishing it until last night, but I’m glad I buckled down— I learned a ton. A few of the things I learned:

  • what causes rigor mortis (page 34)
  • the stomach isn’t an absorptive organ (page 170)
  • swimming burns 10x as many calories per mile per pound compared to running (2.9 cal/mi/lb vs 0.29 cal/mi/lb, page 173)
  • The average hard-training, non-steroid-taking man can gain between 1 and 1.5 lbs of lean body mass every 2 months— far below what I would have expected (p176)
  • That thing you’re doing that you think is Tabata? It probably isn’t (page 66)
  • Trappist ales are perhaps the finest recovery beer yet known to man. (page 232)

The book’s divided into 13 chapters. The first four are primary introductory material, covering hybrid training philosophy and the physiology of muscles and metabolic pathways. There are specific chapters for the critical components of strength and endurance training and chapters covering sport-specific training (along with an appendix listing sample hybrid programs for various combinations of sports, such as a powerlifter who wants to run marathons). To me, three of the chapters were particularly valuable, so I want to dig into those a little more.

First is chapter 7: “Cutting Out the Noise: Eliminating the Waste.” This might seem like an odd chapter title, but when you consider that consolidation of stressors is a fundamental part of hybrid training, it makes perfect sense. The question poses a simple question:  

“Will performing this particular part of my workout routine improve my final performance more than any other potential component?”. If the answer is yes, include it then move on to the next. The answer will go from a firm “yes” to a more general “yeeeeeees” to, eventually, the dreaded “I think so”, or “the internet said so”. Any primary component of training should be both necessary and sufficient to improve sport performance in one particular component of a given sport. For a powerlifter, the squat, bench, and deadlift are all primary. For the triathlete, the tempo run or time trial. For the ultra runner, the long slow trail run. For the Weightlifter, the Snatch and C&J.

This is a really powerful concept once you understand and embrace it. Doing more miles on the bike, more time on the treadmill or road, or more laps in the pool will not necessarily lead to better sport performance. It sounds heretical, but Alex provides a really concrete example in the training template for powerlifting plus triathlon— the swim and bike distances are short relative to traditional triathlon training programs because swimming 5000-8000 meters are “very counterproductive to upper body power production.” Plus, they take a great deal of energy and focus, and it’s questionable whether swimming 8000m to prepare for a race distance of 3800m (in the Ironman-distance swim) is better preparation than spending the same amount of training time on other activities. Alex refers disparagingly sometimes to “junk miles,” referring to distance for distance’s sake, but intensity is a critical element too— for me, perhaps the most valuable single sentence in the book was found on page 66:

…many endurance athletes go entirely too hard on their “aerobic” or “low intensity” days, and end up gaining neither the discrete training benefits of higher intensity work nor recovery benefits of the lower intensity work.

He might as well have started that sentence like this: “HAY, PAUL, PAY ATTENTION BECAUSE THIS IS YOU:…” 

Chapter 11, “Strength for the Endurance Athlete,” pulls no punches in calling out how awful most strength training routines in the fitness press are for triathletes. He points out, rightly, that no matter how much time you plank (to cite one example) it’s not going to help you stay aero on the bike as much as actual resistance training for your core muscles. This chapter (and its companion, “Conditioning for the Strength Athlete”) clearly lays out the specific adaptive benefits of strength training— improved ligament and tendon strength, better bone density, and improved sport-specific fitness.

Finally, Chapter 13, “Nutritional Support for Hybrid Training,” exploded a lot of false knowledge I (thought I) had about the process of feeding my body for the best possible performance. I haven’t worked all the way through the (simple) data gathering and associated math, but essentially I am eating roughly the right amount of calories but in the wrong proportion of macronutrients. This is easy to adjust and should give me better endurance and perhaps a little bit of weight loss.

Overall, this is a superb book. Alex’s writing style is clear and direct, with occasional flashes of his extremely dry wit. The degree of research he’s done, and knowledge he holds, is evident (and bolstered by the bibliography and recommended reading in appendix C). I strongly recommend this book for any triathlete or distance runner; I’d recommend it for powerlifters and Strongman competitors too, but all the ones I know are fellow CHP athletes and they know this stuff already. At $47, it’s cheaper than a jar of good protein powder or a new pair of bike shoes, and it will have much longer-lasting impact on your fitness, health, and performance.

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Training Tuesday: 2015 in review

All right, so it’s not Tuesday. I’m running behind because oft the holidays.

So far in 2015, if I trust Strava’s numbers, I’ve cycled 896 miles and run about 471 miles. That doesn’t count time on my bike trainer, and it’s probably missed a few activities here and there. I don’t know how many pounds of weights I’ve lifted, but I bet it’s a lot.

Competitions

This was a busy year for competitions. Maybe I should say “organized events,” since at my level I am not truly competitive in most events. Still, I had a great time racing with, and against, friends and strangers.

In 2016, I will complete my first half-Ironman: 1.2mi swim, 56mi bike, followed by a half marathon. IRONMAN North Carolina, here I come! Depending on how the offseason goes, I may give IRONMAN New Orleans a shot in April too; I’m still waffling on that. I’ll fill in my schedule with other events as they appear (for example, I already have lifting meets planned in January and February).

Performance

Thanks to the excellent coaching I received from Alex Viada and the crew at CHP, I am much stronger and faster than I was at this time last year. I cut nearly 30 seconds off my best time for the mile, a minute off my 5K, nearly 3 minutes off my best 10K time, and ran my first half marathon in 2:15– then shaved nearly 15 minutes off my best time before the end of the season. My bike endurance is greatly improved, although I’m still not where I want to be speed-wise. And my weightlifting… holy cow. I’ve put 70 pounds on to my maximum bench press, just under 150 pounds on my deadlift, and 80 on my squat. I am looking forward to more speed and power gains in 2016, that’s for sure. I have some specific time goals for Rocketman and Renaissance Man, and my goal is to join the 1000-lb combined lifting club before the end of 2016. (Notice I didn’t say anything about swimming? I will keep hacking away at it. Gradual improvement is still improvement.)

Nutrition

I worked with a nutrition coach for a few months but I did a really poor job adhering to his plan. This is something I need to work on in 2016— not necessarily for weight loss or body composition, but to make sure I’m fueling my body properly for what I’m asking it to do. Most of the nutrition challenges I’ve faced are self inflicted; they come about from failure to stock good things to eat as opposed to random crap, as well as failure to plan to eat so I don’t suddenly decide I’m starving and latch on to whatever’s within reach.

The mental game

If there’s one area where I feel like my 2015 performance was poor, it’s mental focus. I still haven’t learned how to consistently focus and perform. I have a few ideas about how to work on this, luckily enough. I tend to be extremely critical of my performance, and while a certain degree of this is healthy, too much of it is stifling.

I’m looking forward to another dynamic year— as long as I can stay healthy, I’ll see y’all out on the roads. But probably not in the water, because I’ll still be at the back of the pack.

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Training Tuesday: I am a swimmer

Some titles are granted by an external authority. We, rightly, are suspicious of people who decide to call themselves “doctor” or “colonel” without having earned those titles.

Other titles are ones we bestow on ourselves. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard accomplished triathletes demur the title of “athlete” or “triathlete”. The fact is simple: if you do triathlons, you are a triathlete, period. It doesn’t matter what your pace is. It doesn’t matter what distance races you compete in. Hell, it doesn’t even matter if you’re really competing or just entering the races because you enjoy them. If you do the work, you’ve earned the title.

I was thinking about this topic last night when I was busy swimming 1600+ yards in Lake Guntersville as part of my triathlon class. As I made my way back and forth along our marked swim course, It gradually dawned on me: I am a swimmer. Literally, I am a person who swims.

Am I a fast swimmer? No.

Do I have good swim technique? No.

Is there a lot of room for improvement in my performance? You bet your pool toys there is.

But do I get in the water and cover distance? Damn right I do.

Thanks to the madmen at CHP, I have the strength and endurance to swim a half-mile or more, in open water, without stopping. Last year I couldn’t swim one length of the pool without flailing. Six months ago, a 400yd swim would leave my upper body feeling wrung out and useless for the rest of the day. Now I actually find that swimming for an hour at my cruise pace is less tiring than running or biking for an hour at those cruise paces. (And yes, for you experienced swimmers out there, I know that means I need to go faster).

Sometimes I doubt myself. Many of my friends and competitors have years– or decades– of swimming experience. I’m in the water with people who swam competitively in high school and/or college, people who have worked as lifeguards, people who routinely swim miles in open water because they enjoy it. I may not be any of those things, but…

I am a swimmer.

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In which I become a repeat offender

Yesterday marked a milestone: my second triathlon, the Tarpon Tri in Houma, Louisiana. I was fooling around one day on TriFind and noticed that there was a race there, so I signed up– I thought it would be a fun trip to see family and visit my hometown again. But you know what they say: one triathlon and you can explain it away as harmless experimentation, or perhaps a temporary indiscretion… run TWO, though, and you’re a repeat offender, well on your way to “serial triathlete” status.

I’d planned to make the 359nm flight from Decatur to Houma on Friday afternoon, so after a great conference call with a potential new customer (more on that next week, I hope), I loaded up the plane. With the two rear seats removed, it was easy to fit my giant road bike, my tri bag, and backpack in; I parked the car and off I went. I’d like to say a lot of neat stuff about how interesting the flight was, but the fact is that it went flawlessly: no major weather, a smooth ride, and some really interesting scenery, including a beautiful crossing of Lake Ponchartrain right alongside the Causeway. After an easy landing, I headed to my hotel to drop off my stuff, plug in all my gadgets, and make plans to see family.

(Side note: I cannot possibly say enough good things about how well the folks at Butler Aviation took care of me. When I arrived, they had a rental vehicle ready because I’d emailed ahead– no mean feat since the nearest rental agency is 10 mi or so away.  When I got ready to come home, the plane was fueled and ready to go, and everyone there was super friendly. Highly recommended.)

Dinner Friday night was excellent: my Aunt Norma, my cousin Ricky, and his wife Tonya went to Dave’s Cajun Kitchen. The name gives it away, of course: it’s Cajun food, but the kind that people actually eat. Gumbo, fried catfish, white and red beans, jambalaya, and so on. I have never had a meal there that was less than excellent. This one was so good that I ate more than I should have, for which I would pay later.

After a visit back to Ricky’s, I headed to the hotel, got my gear ready for the morning, and went to sleep… then spent all night having reflux-y burps of white beans and catfish. Key learning #1: don’t eat so damn much before the next race.

Saturday morning I got up, hit Walgreen’s for some Tums, and headed to the race site for packet pickup. The place was packed! I should’ve gone to get my packet Friday night; after 20 minutes or so in line, I got my packet and chip, got body marked, and headed to set up in transition. Thanks to all the practice with the TRI101 coaches, I had no trouble getting my gear laid out, so I headed to the pool to get in a quick warmup.

This race had staggered pool starts: the fastest swim time was #1, the second-fastest was #2, and so on. If you didn’t put down a swim time, as I didn’t, you went to the back… so I ended up being #180, meaning that I had about a 35-minute wait to get in the water. Key learning #2: put down the right swim time. I had a very pleasant time visiting with the triathletes in line near me, including a multiple half-Ironman finisher and a guy who was running his first race to celebrate his birthday weekend (he didn’t say what birthday but he was no spring chicken!)

The swim went well– 150 yd in the pool in 3:57. Oddly, Movescount showed me with 125 yds (how? it gets its data from my watch, which showed 150 yds!), and the official time for the swim was 4:36:37. The info packet said:

The timing chips are all pre-set as to when they begin your time according to the seeding chart that we give to the timing guy. Please pay attention & listen to the volunteers who are starting you. They have a list of what time each participant is to start his/her swim.

That makes me wonder if for some reason the swim times were off based on the expected time at which I was supposed to get in the water. In any event, the swim felt good. I got through T1 in a leisurely 3 minutes, partly due to my decision to try my new USMC cycling jersey as racewear. Turns out putting on a clingy bike jersey when wet is really hard– and it reminds me of key learning #3: nothing new on race day. (For reference, the fastest T1 time in my age group was 19.9 seconds!) I also forgot to grab my race belt, which turned out to be OK because we were issued number stickers for our helmet, though at first I had paranoid visions of being DQ’d for not having a visible number.

The bike course was great: flat, hot, and sweaty, just like my first girlfriend. We got a steady light rain for about the first 25 minutes I was on the bike, so the pavement was a little damp but not unmanageable. The course runs right along the bayou, so there was lotsto see: egrets, various other birds, cypress trees, and the whole nine yards. There were plenty of volunteers along the course, great course markings on the pavement, and very little traffic. I averaged 15.6mph on the bike course, for a time of 38:28, which was a little frustrating because I thought I’d be faster. I didn’t take the time to mount my Suunto on the handlebars during transition, though, so I couldn’t easily see my cadence or pace. Next race I think I’ll mount the watch during setup and just go without in the pool.

Coming back in from the bike, I got through T2 in 1:02, then headed out for the run, which was also flat. The sun was powering through the clouds by this time, giving runners the sensation of being tucked snugly in Satan’s armpit. Luckily, the organizers had planned for this: there was a water station at the half-mile mark, then again at the turnaround. I spotted a roadside portatunity (that’s a porta-potty for those of you who don’t speak the lingo) and made an emergency diversion, then got back to it. I spent a few stretch breaks walking– more than I wanted to– but still finished the run in 31:51. During the run I noticed some pain on my chest; afterwards I found about a 1/4″ cut on my nipple! I have no idea how it got there, but I bet it was because of the new jersey and/or not using BodyGlide under my HRM strap. Ouch. Key learning #4: you can never have too much BodyGlide.

Overall, I came in 13th in my age group and 96th overall, with a total time of 1:19:00.2. I would have needed to pick up about 2min to move up to the next place. My goals were to finish and to be in the top half, so I was pretty pleased. Swag-wise, I got a nifty tech shirt, a coffee mug, and a can coozie, all of which I can add to my collection.

After the race, I took Ricky and his son Seth for a sightseeing flight. The ceilings at HUM were only about 3500′ and it was drizzling, but we did a couple laps around the pattern and overflew Gulf Island Fabrication, where Ricky works. This might have been the high point of the trip, because the two of them were so clearly enjoying it. I wanted to beat the weather heading north, so after I dropped them off I immediately took off to the north. There was heavy weather directly over the New Orleans airport, which I would have overflown, so I ended up diverting well to the west to get around it. As I worked my way further north, the ADS-B weather from my Stratus showed that there were storms all along my route from about Tuscaloosa north, so I landed at Demopolis to refuel and take a short break. After that, it was a simple matter to dodge a bit (as you can see below) by flying from Demopolis towards Courtland, then turning east once past the storms. Note that the magenta line shows the GPS track, not where I actually was; I had flown well to the west to clear the tail of the storm (the red blocks near the “6nm” label).

20140802_232620000_iOSKey learning #5: datalink weather is strategic, not tactical. It isn’t updated in real-time, so you can’t use it to thread through closely spaced storm cells. The weather was gorgeous when I got to Decatur, so I landed easily, put the plane away, and headed home– with another triathlon and another 7 or so flight hours under my belt. All in all, a great trip, even if I am on my way to a life of crime triathlons.

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Training Tuesday: it’s all about finesse

[note: I meant to post this after TRI101 yesterday but got sidetracked with RAGE, for reasons which I’ll explain shortly.]

I’ve been super busy since my last Training Tuesday post with a variety of projects (new job means finishing up the old job’s work!), so I skipped a couple of weeks. I did, however, join Strava, so if you’re on there feel free to follow me.

TRI101 has continued to rock right along. Two weeks ago we did a timed mile (8:08, a new PR for me) plus about 2.5 miles worth of hill work; last week we did two 2-mile runs at Indian Creek, with some core work in between, and tonight we did a brick. I finally got back into the pool and am slowly cranking up my distance. You don’t get a lot of training benefit from just swimming super long distances without stopping; instead, the best advice I’ve seen is that you should swim for whatever the total time you expect in the race is. For example, if you swim 400m in 8 minutes, and you’re getting ready to swim a 1500m race, swim at least 3×400 with short rests and you’re good to go. I’m trying to work up to swimming 1000m in one session, even with rest breaks. That will cover me for any of the sprint-distance events I’m doing this year or next, and will give me a solid base for next season if I move up to Olympic distance races, which feature a 1500m swim.

My friend Rachel loaned me her Garmin heart rate strap, which, when paired with my Ambit 2s, gives me a good idea of how hard I’m working. It turns out that at my normal pace of between 8 and 8:30/mi, I am working pretty dang hard; my heart rate runs in the 140-160bpm zone. For my age, that’s nearly max effort. Interestingly, I don’t work nearly as hard on the bike as I do in the run. I think that means I’ve got a lot of potential speed improvement ahead on the bike if I can get my legs to cooperate; my cardio isn’t the limiting factor there. I think I’ve mastered the trick of getting the Ambit to correctly measure pool swims, too (you need a hard push off the wall when turning), so all my remaining races and training will hopefully be logged correctly.

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Maximal effort for great justice

Right now I’ve got two more races coming up: one in Houma week after next, then the Huntsville Sprint two weeks later. At this point I don’t feel like I have a lot of new stuff to learn; instead, I am trying to polish what I do know and focus on my technique. For example, my swim technique still needs some fine tuning; that’s still my biggest weak point, although the more I swim, the more confident I feel about it. The only way to get good at swimming is to swim, of course. On runs, I’m working in fartleks for speed. On the bike, I’m still working on not falling over when I unclip.

Although I’ve been trying not to make any more equipment changes, I finally got around to doing something I’d been planning for a while: I put road tires on my bike. Those of you who have seen my giant bike know that it had big knobby hybrid trail/road tires on it. I pulled those and put on a pair of Continental 28s. At yesterday’s workout I was killing it on the bike— my speed on the route (a loop around the Arsenal) was a good 3-4mph higher than normal, with no more effort expended. I felt great, right up until I dismounted and tried to switch my watch into transition without looking… resulting in erasing my workout altogether. I was roughly keeping pace with my pal Alex, so I know it was about 11.2 mi in just over 44 minutes, but I lost all the pace and HR data. By the time I got home, I was so mad that I didn’t feel like finishing this post, thus its appearance on Wednesday.

(The good news about the delay in posting is that I can sum up today’s swim lesson with Lisi: enlightening. Unlike running or riding, where my form is pretty natural and just needs a few tweaks, my swim form is poorly developed. It’s improving, for sure, but there are lots of little tweaks that Lisi has been able to point out. After my last session with her a few weeks ago, I’ve felt more at ease in the pool so I’m looking forward to working on the 3 things she identified for me today: earlier head rotation when breathing on the right, keeping my hips lower in the water, and being sure to get my full extension before I start the pull. She’s also given me some new drills and workouts that I will do twice a week; I think they’ll make a big difference.)

I’ve been trying to rest my left Achilles tendon a bit, so I skipped my regular long run last week and have been icing it at night. I think it’s about back to normal, so this week I’ll hit my long run, at least one long ride, and another swim or two. It didn’t bother me at all yesterday, though it was a bit tender after the bike/run brick last night.

What will all this polishing and tweaking lead to? There are a bunch of upcoming races in various places, and at various distances, so I’ll probably continue doing sprints until the end of the season and work in at least one 10K. It’s not too early for me to start thinking of what races I want to run next year, too. I found this article to be super helpful; this year I didn’t really have an A race, but I need to pick one for next year: probably an Olympic. I love poking around on trifind.com and looking at all the races, so this will be a lot of fun.

Fun note: I like to try to work races into my training schedule, so last weekend I flew up to Providence and ran the Craft Brew 5K with Julie and her friend Sigrid. This was a fun race, with a large emphasis on post-race beer drinking as opposed to record-smashing running. Despite that, I turned in a smoking time, at least for me: 2.9mi in 25:22, an 8:42 pace. The race chip time scored me at 25:18 and gave me an 8:08 pace, so I am thinking that the last-minute change to the race course shortened it a bit. The post-race beer tasting was fun, although the quality varied quite a bit. My favorite was Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout, for what that’s worth; I may have to lay in a post-race supply!

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Today I am a (slow) TRIATHLETE: my first triathlon

Phew. What a race!

First, the setup. My sister Julie and her family live in Vermont. I was idly poking around trifind.com (yay for the “sort by date” option) and saw that there was a triathlon over the July 4th weekend in Shelburne, not far from her home in Montpelier. I had originally thought about running Tri for Old Glory in Huntsville, but the mountain biking portion of the course put me off a little bit. A Vermont triathlon sounded like a great excuse for a visit, so I registered and started making plans, which included buying a wetsuit, flying, and so on. The organizer’s pre-race mail described the course as “rolling and challenging – Vermont isn’t flat!” That worried me more than a little, since this particular race had a long bike leg and a 500m swim (longer than I’m used to) and it was my first wetsuit swim and my first open-water swim. Oh, and it was my first triathlon, period. So I was a little disconcerted by that message. Julie was kind enough to drive me over to Shelburne to take a look at the course. We found the swim entrance easily enough, but the race map provided by the course organizer didn’t seem to match what we were seeing on Julie’s in-dash GPS. As it turns out, what we drove was not the course, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I went to bed last night thinking “hey, those hills aren’t too bad.”

Pregame

Last night I ate a normal meal: steak salad (plus some extra steak), some guac, a Fourth of July-themed cupcake, and a Heady Topper. I went to bed at a reasonable time and woke up, for no good reason, at 3am. I managed to get back to sleep until about 330am, but after that it was game over. I finally got up at 445, showered, put on my tri suit, and hopped in the car with Julie. We got to the race staging site half an hour early (who knew there wouldn’t be any traffic?) so we headed back into Shelburne for a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee stop. Registration was quick and easy, and I got a good spot on the rack with plenty of time to set everything up.

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My setup in transition; note camera on handlebar mount

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Julie, acting as my pit crew (she was super helpful— thank you very much, J!)

The weather was cool and windy, as you could see from the video I shot if my balky computer would upload it. However, the scenery on the beach was gorgeous— mountains in the background, a nice variety of low clouds, and the water itself, complete with whitecaps.

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a panorama of the lakeside pre-race

After posing for a few pre-race pictures, I got my wetsuit on and got ready for the warmup swim. Several of my TRI101 peeps had recommended taking a warmup swim before any open-water action, and I’m glad I did. The water wasn’t as cold as I expected, thanks to my wetsuit and earplugs. It was, however, choppy, but the course was set so that the longest leg was parallel to the shoreline, so we were swimming parallel to the waves too. The race marshal herded everyone out of the water and gave us a quick safety brief, during which he described the bike course thusly: “You’ll go under the railroad overpass, then get to the first big hill…”

Uh oh, I thought. We didn’t see a railroad overpass yesterday. Maybe we went on the wrong bike course… But at that point there was nothing I could do about it, so I joined the single-file line for the swim and marched down the boat ramp into Lake Champlain.

The swim

The swim started in a single wave. The water was no more than about 2’ deep where we started, so it was easy to wade out to the starting point. I deliberately hung back because I knew if I got in front, I’d get run over by faster swimmers. Laura, Rachel, and a bunch of my other TRI101 peeps had all advised me to just treat the swim as a fun outing, so I did.This proved to be a good decision. At the starting gun, we all started swimming: 100m out to the first buoy, a sharp right turn followed by a 300m leg parallel to the shore, another turn, and 100m back to the boat ramp. I was surprised at how good I felt during the swim, though I got a couple of snorts of lake water from poorly timed breathing. I didn’t have much of a sighting technique, in large part because I hadn’t practiced; shame on me. (I hope Lisi isn’t reading this!) The only negative to the swim was that the inbound leg got shallow really quickly so I had to wade in because it was too shallow for me to swim. This made my legs get wobbly in transition, but I still felt pretty fresh overall. I exited the water, dropped off my provided swim cap, unzipped my wetsuit on the run, and got into the chute.

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As far as you know, I’m up in the front

T1

Coach Rick was right: it’s hard to put socks on wet feet. It’s also hard to remove a wetsuit without a) looking like a stork or b) falling over. I chose option a). The TRI101 transition training was really helpful here, as I had already neatly laid out shoes, socks, helmet, and sunglasses so I could get everything together. However, my transition time was longer than I wanted. It didn’t help that the camera fell off the mount that Paul and I had attempted to repair the night before, so I had to pick it up, adding a little bit of time. Then I stupidly forgot to push the right button on my watch, so my transition time and bike leg measurements are a bit jacked up.

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Luckily I didn’t fall over

The bike

ACK. The course was indeed “challenging”.

Sure enough, after the initial outbound leg, I went under the railroad overpass and… damn, that’s a long hill. And double damn… there was another one after it. The course also featured a long downhill stretch where I set a new speed record on the bike (29.8 mph), plus a stretch with an epic crosswind, plus beach scenery. The whole thing was rough, mostly because I had been riding exclusively on the flats in Alabama. It didn’t help that I stopped a couple of times: on the outbound leg I noticed that my watch wasn’t giving me speed data, so I stopped to adjust the speed sensor, which had gotten knocked out of position. (The cadence sensor, which Paul helped me fix yesterday, performed flawlessly, so yay.) A few miles later I stopped to move my watch to my Cajun handlebar mount, and then later still a cyclist passing me said “your back wheel looks loose!” as he passed. Or maybe he said “That’s a big heel goose.” He was going faster than me so anything’s possible. To be on the safe side, I stopped and checked it too. For the record, it was not loose and there were no geese evident.

I went back later (in the car, of course) and took a video of the course that I hoped would illustrate the hills, but it doesn’t; it looks like driving in the car, so you can’t really see the badness. The route is on MapMyRide, if you use it. Here’s an elevation map that helps tell the tale. That big knuckle around the 3.16mi mark is the first big hill, and the one before the 9.47mi mark is the second one. I had to walk up the first hill on the second course loop, as my legs were just gassed. As I found out when the official results were posted, I finished last on the bike— a little embarrassing, but I finished the ride and that’s what counts. (Plus, since this race didn’t have any professional photographers there is no record of my facial expression on the hills, for which I am grateful!)

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T2

T2 was slick as maple syrup: I got in, parked the bike, put on my running shoes, strapped on my belt, and took off. It could have gone faster; I think my time was around 1:50, but I didn’t drop anything, fall over, swear audibly, or drop dead, so I consider it a success.

The run

The run was a simple out-and-back, with a little bit of elevation on the first leg (the same road as the first 1/2 mile of the bike course, in fact). I took an easy pace, with several walking breaks, but still managed to turn in a respectable time: just under 30 min for 3.0 miles. I drained both of the bottles in my race belt, though, because I had very little water on the bike. I froze my water bottle overnight because I figured that way I’d have plenty of cold water to drink. Sadly, the 3 hours between taking the bottle out of the freezer and trying to get my first drink was not enough to melt the ice, so I got periodic trickles of melted water on the bike but that was it.

Results: “Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?”

78th overall (out of 80). My goals for the race were a) finish and b) not be last.  These might not seem super ambitious, but I expected both the bike and swim to be harder than anything I had done to date. And I was right, so yay me! I ran the race at close to my normal training pace, which I thought was pretty good after the abusive bike ride, and I’m pleased with my performance in the swim.

Event Official result Paul’s watch
Openwater swim 14m20s 292yd, 10m53s
T1  — 3m49s
Cycling 1h13m 13.83mi, 1h11m
T2 1m50s
Run 32m49s 3.0mi, 29m49s

My struggle with the Ambit 2S continues. The results it gives me don’t always agree with what I expect, particularly in pool swims, but today represented a new low. I was careful to make sure that I had “triathlon” loaded as one of the two multisport activities, and I gave it plenty of time to get a GPS lock before the race. The race organizers claimed the swim distance was 500 yards, and the watch credited me with 292. It’s possible that the course buoys were, accidentally or on purpose, sited to make the course shorter, but it’s also possible that the watch just gets confused by swim distances. Once I can plug it in (I didn’t bring the sync cable, oops), I can look at the track it recorded and figure out where things went amiss.

Interestingly, they didn’t time transition separately. The swim was a gun start, and we didn’t have individual chips, but the bike had a chip tag and so did my run bib, so it seems like they should’ve been able to calculate the T2 time at least.

Important things I learned during and after the race

  1. Before you register for a triathlon, look carefully at the course map. This is the most important tip I can possibly give you.
  2. If you freeze your bike water bottle the night before, it might not thaw before the race starts and you will have nothing to drink on the bike.
  3. If you leave your glasses on your transition mat, the very nice lady next to you might stomp on them; if you are very lucky, your brother-in-law will fix them for you.
  4. The salted-caramel flavor of Gu is pretty decent, at least as energy gels go.
  5. The water in Lake Champlain tastes way better than the water in the Madison Wellness Center pool. It’s probably because of all the zebra mussels.

Executive summary

I am a triathlete. Suck it, Blerch!

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Training Tuesday: and so it begins

Well, “begins” isn’t quite the right word; I’m 9 weeks into my 16-week training plan, but this week has a special milestone: my first triathlon is this coming Saturday. I am about equal parts nervous and excited. It’s my first-ever triathlon, my first open-water swim, and my first wetsuit swim. I have really low expectations, though: my goal is to finish, and, as long as I’m not last, the rest is gravy. I know I can do the swim distance, and the wetsuit should make it a little easier thanks to the added buoyancy. The bike distance isn’t a problem but the course is hilly. (Here’s the bike route, though you may not be able to see it if you’re not a MapMyRide member).

I have all the supplies and gear I’ll need, including a spiffy triathlon bag, although I want to get road tires today or tomorrow. Then it’s a matter of packing, for which I’ll carefully follow the checklist I made. I have TRI101 class tonight, and I’d like to get my long Thursday run in before I leave for Vermont, but I’ll wait and see how I feel; I definitely don’t want to overdo it. Perhaps a swim tomorrow would be nice, too. Tom is letting me borrow his Contour sports camera, so I hope to have some fun video from the trip (and, most importantly, the bike!)

Workouts this week:

  • Tuesday was transition training, which I already wrote about— lots of fun.
  • Wednesday I didn’t do anything.
  • Thursday I ran my first 5-miler! (well, 4.98 miles, but who’s counting?) Took me just over 51 minutes. If you look at the route map, you can see where we ran the HudsonAlpha helix— just look for the squiggly lines.
  • Friday I didn’t do anything.
  • Saturday we had our last group swim of the training season, featuring a drill known as “the washing machine”— you swim laps in two adjacent lanes, in a big swirl. Think of seeing people running laps around a track and you get the idea. Over 45 min or so I swam just over 900m, which is a new record for me. Some of that time was spent taking short breaks, though.
  • Sunday I didn’t do anything except eat.
  • Monday I rode with the Athens-Limestone posse— 26km in 1:11. That’s right, I voluntarily rode a bike in 91° heat for more than an hour. What the hell was I thinking?

Expect a Flying Friday post about the trip up to Vermont; that should be a fun adventure in and of itself. Now, I have to go put my USTA sticker on my car…

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Training Tuesday: gearing up

It’s amazing how much crap you can buy for triathlon training. I already had running shoes and a bike; since then I’ve bought a watch, a cadence sensor, a wetsuit, goggles, a race hydration belt, and an assortment of other odds and ends. Yesterday I finally broke down and bought swim fins, a kick board, and a swim pacing timer— not because I need those for the race but because I need them for the drills my swim coach is giving me, and if I actually spend money on the gear I will feel obligated to do the drills. Commitment device FTW! In the same vein, since it was about 25% more expensive to buy a wetsuit than rent one, I bought one for my upcoming triathlon in Vermont… but now, having bought one, I feel like I need at least one more open-water tri to justify it. Candidates include the Lone Star Sprint in Galveston (which seems to have a permanently broken web site), the Frantic Frog in Scottsboro, the Tri-Rock in Austin, the Tawas Festival of Races, or maybe one of these.

I think I am done buying stuff for this tri season, unless I break or lose something— certainly not out of the question. I think I’d like a heart rate monitor but that’s just because I like looking at pretty graphs, not because I think it would help my training. At this point I need to stick to the plan, be a little more careful about what I eat, and start getting some actual races under my belt. More experienced cyclists have suggested changing the big semi-knobby hybrid tires on my bike for thinner road tires, and I might do that, but we’ll see how my first race or two goes. I figure I can always buy more crap later, but having more stuff isn’t going to make me go any faster or train any harder.

This week’s workouts:

  • Tuesday and Wednesday I was out of town and didn’t do anything.
  • Thursday I went back to Bridge Street for another group run. I felt really slow starting off, but in the end I ran 4.67 miles in about 47:25— a new distance record for me. (In fact it was a bit longer because my watch didn’t start timing when I thought it did). This was a real confidence boost, because if I can run that distance well that puts me in good position to complete a 10K. I’ll do better this week, too; at once point I stopped to walk because the group in front of me had run out of sight and I didn’t know where the planned route was, so I waited for the group behind me to catch up.
  • Friday I swam. Maybe 475m, maybe 500m, maybe 600m. It depends on which set of data from my watch you believe, as I wasn’t manually counting laps.
  • Saturday I ran the Alabama A&M Cross-Country 5K. I ran it in 31:59, which is certainly not great. The course features a good-sized hill, though, so that’s my excuse. I saw a ton of folks from my TRI101 class, which was cool, and it was a good workout. Plus each finisher got a hand-painted souvenir rock instead of Yet Another T-Shirt, so that was cool.
  • Sunday, I celebrated Fathers’ Day by not doing anything exercise-related. I did eat a steak, though, and I think that should count.
  • Monday I joined the local Kreme Delite group (so called because that’s where we ride from) and did 12.51 mi in 55:29. I got to the ride site a few minutes late, and the group had already left, so I blundered around trying to find the correct street for the route, then encountered another late rider along the way— so he and I rode the route, only to find a big group at the finish line. Note to self: be on time for next time.

On to the next!

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Training Tuesday: slow progress is still progress

One of my fellow TRI101 participants shared this excellent article about building on your strengths in one event to bolster your weaknesses in another. I don’t really feel like I have any special strengths in running or cycling, other than “can complete required sprint distance.” But on reflection… that counts too. I definitely feel like my swimming is improving, though, and cycling the 10-15Km routes we use for training has been getting easier: an excellent sign that I need to go either farther or faster. The TRI101 program is scaled for participants who start at a low fitness level, but we are now at the beginning of week 6. If I stopped right now, I’m confident that I could finish a sprint triathlon, which is great news— now I just need to work on doing it faster.

The week’s training:

  • Thursday: 250m swim + swim drills. Slow, but better than nothing. I just wasn’t feeling it that day. As Karen, one of our coaches, pointed out, some days are better than others, and sometimes the best thing to do on a bad swim day is cut the distance short.
  • Friday: I swam 100m without stopping— a big deal for me, since I hadn’t been able to do that before— then 5 x 50m intervals, then another 100m. The intervals are 25m slow and 25m as fast as possible. It was a good workout, and I felt much better than I did after Thursday’s swim.
  • Saturday I did a short run/bike brick with a couple of classmates: 8.5 mi on the bike in 44:26 and 1.1mi running in 11:34. On the bike I spent a while riding slow circles waiting for all our party to catch up, so I didn’t take that time too out of sorts. I also went to the pre-race brief for the Mountain Deux aquathalon, which is this coming Saturday: a ~5Km trail run, followed by a 200m swim. Should be fun, except for the “trail run” part.
  • Sunday I swam with two TRI101 peeps: 100m warmup without stopping, 400m with minimal rest, then another 100m (which I did as 2×50, with the same 25m slow/25m fast). This was the first workout I logged with my new Suunto Ambit 2s triathlon watch.
  • Monday I had a bike fitting. That’s a topic for a post all on its own; look for it next week.

So, the watch. Anyone who knows me knows what a gadget nerd I am. I saw a mention on Facebook of a big watch sale mentioned at the DC Rainmaker blog, so I started poking around and was fascinated by the idea of a GPS-powered watch that could track my workouts for me— something I’d been using my phone for, with varying degrees of success. After reading his über-review, I decided to get an Ambit 2S. As much fun as it would be to have the barometric altimeter in the Ambit 2, it wasn’t worth the extra money. It arrived Saturday, and first thing Sunday morning I strapped it on and headed to the pool. Here was my reward: a more-or-less accurate record of my swim activity. I say “more or less” because I think it miscounted laps a couple of times, and the “total distance” column in the laps table doesn’t match the “distance” field at the top. I will be using it for cycling and running in the next couple of days and can get a better idea of how it works but I am most interested in the “multisport” mode for triathlons. I’ll be using that at Mountain Deux next week. The watch can pair with heart rate monitors, cycle sensors, and all sorts of other goodies that I will eventually add.

First swim

The upcoming week’s training should be good stuff— running tonight and Thursday, swimming Friday, and a bike/run brick Saturday. There’s a group that meets Thursday mornings to run a 4.5mi road course; I might join them to get a little distance in on the theory that if I can run 4.5 miles, it’s not that much of a stretch to run 6 miles, which means that I’d be in striking distance of running a 10K once triathlon season calms down some. On the down side, I also have a root canal Thursday (after running), so that may slow me down a bit. Hopefully I’ll bounce back in time for Mountain Deux on Saturday!

 

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