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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