Tag Archives: triathlon

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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Training Tuesday: Pflugerville Sprint (6/21/15)

What’s better than racing a triathlon? Multiple choice:

  1. racing your first triathlon in a new place
  2. flying yourself to and from the race
  3. getting to see your mother, grandmother, uncle, cousin, and nephew en route
  4. turning a solid race performance
  5. seeing two of your oldest friends
  6. all of the above

The correct answer, of course, is “f”, and that’s exactly how this race went down.

Dana had told me that she had plans to go to Rock the South last weekend, so I found myself with an unexpectedly free weekend. I decided to see whether there were any races I could do– and sure enough, Trifind delivered the goods, pointing me to the Lake Pflugerville Sprint. It combined the potential to see a bunch of my Austin friends with an interesting-looking race so I signed up.

In the week leading up to race day, I had several schedule changes– first I was supposed to be in DC on the 18th, then I was supposed to be in Galveston, then I didn’t have to be anywhere. I decided that it would be a shame not to stop by Alexandria en route, so I left Friday afternoon after work, flew through a stiff headwind, and landed in Alexandria about 930pm, at which point I shot the required 3 landings needed to regain my night currency. After a delicious dinner of shish kebabs, I visited with Mom and my cousin Melissa (the same one who runs marathons!), then hit the rack. The next morning featured plenty more visiting; I left AEX for Austin Executive about 1130.

My flight to Austin was perfectly uneventful, although cloudy, so I was able to shoot the RNAV 13 approach when I got there. The staff at Henriksen Jet Center had a car for me, so I headed out for packet pickup, which was at Jack and Adam’s Bicycles. Frankly I was a little disappointed– given that Austin is such a bike mecca, I was expecting a bigger, fancier store with more stuff. Maybe the location on Lamar isn’t their biggest one? In any event, after packet pickup, I went to meet Erik, Chris, and Chris’ family at Takoba, where I had a truly excellent Mexican meal. (Having said that, I have yet to have a bad meal in Austin, so keep that in mind). Erik and I went around the corner to The Brixton for a beer, where we watched an epic thunderstorm ravage my bike while we chatted. Because I didn’t want to stay out too late, I headed over to Chris’ since he had generously offered me his guest bedroom. I got to meet all four of his dogs and hear about his recent adventures getting his EMT certification at Remote Medical International, which sounds like exactly my kind of place. I was sound asleep by 10pm.

Race morning dawned but I couldn’t tell; there was a heavy, low overcast. EDC was reporting a 700’ ceiling, and the radar didn’t look too favorable either. I retrieved my still-damp bike, loaded up my bag, and headed out to Pflugerville. After a quick stop at HEB, a local grocery store, I found the race site, parked, and got everything set up in transition, with plenty of time left over; the organizers delayed the race start for 15 minutes because of the weather.

Side note: I wish I had read this list of tips on how to deal with rainy races before the race!

The swim was 500 yards in Lake Pflugerville, a city reservoir. My goal was to swim at a steady pace that I could sustain without stopping, and I did. Unfortunately it was slower than I wanted. I had a good steady rhythm though. I was further slowed by the huge fields of hydrilla growing underwater along the return leg of the course. There is more weed in that lake than a Willie Nelson concert. I literally got tangled in the weeds on the return leg; they reached all the way up to the surface so it wasn’t just that my body position was poor. This was both disconcerting and aggravating. Apparently this is a known problem and the city cleans the weeds out every so often.

T1 was slow. I need to work on this. Part of the problem was that I spent some time trying to figure out why neither my HRM nor my on-bike iPhone mount were working. (HRM battery died, iPhone mount got water in it so the ANT+ key is apparently broken). As an experiment, I took 200mg of caffeine in T1, but didn’t eat anything else.

The bike leg felt really solid. The course had lots of little rollers, which were no problem. Not having cadence visible on the handlebars bugged me a lot for the first half but then I got used to it. We had a HUGE rainstorm from about miles 7-11 which slowed me down a bit, but overall I was pleased with my average speed. Despite my speed, though, I was getting passed left and right. Apparently Austin has a lot of really fast cyclists after all. Towards the end of the bike, I was having what felt like muscle cramps on the right side of my abdomen— not GI, but more like the feeling after you do a ton of planks. Not sure what brought that on, but it didn’t last; I am not sure whether it was temporary cramping brought on by electrolyte imbalance, bad posture, or just bad luck.

(For your entertainment, here’s a video of the bike leg. I shot it with a Garmin VIRB mounted on my aerobars, then ran it through Microsoft’s Hyperlapse Pro software to speed things up. For another time, a post on Garmin’s VIRB Edit software and how to make it work properly.)

In T2, I ate a Gu, drank a bit of Mercury, and emptied some of the water out of my bike shoes before taking off on the run The run was a packed gravel trail around the lake. I was really slow going out at first but settled in about halfway. For the first part of the run, I was running until I felt like I had to puke, then I’d walk, then when it passed I’d run more. I don’t know if it was the caffeine, the heat, or just bad luck; I’ve never really had that problem before. Luckily, it went away partway through, and I ended up with big-time negative splits: 11:22, 10:33, 8:51. The splits reassured me about my progress towards readiness to do an Olympic-distance race.

The race was very well organized and supported. Like many larger races, they had a professional announcer/DJ who played good music before the race and called out finishers’ names as they crossed the finish line— always a nice touch. I wasn’t hungry after the race, so I didn’t sample any of the post-race goodies. For swag, I got two hand towels, a bike bottle, and a small dog tag (plus my race shirt): not a great haul, but not the worst I’ve ever had. I can always use more triathlon-themed hand towels for the guest bathroom!

When I first saw my results I was pretty disappointed at my overall rank. However, after I plugged my results in to my tracking sheet, things looked a lot better. Austin has TONS of triathletes and yesterday, most of them were faster than I was, but I am headed in the right direction– I was faster on the bike than in New Orleans, my swim time was on par on a 20% longer distance, and my run splits were terrific. Onwards!

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Training Tuesday: New Orleans Sprint Triathlon (3/28/15)

I’m really behind on my race reports; as I write this, I’m resting after my fourth race of the season, but better late than never, etc.

For my first race this year, I wanted to do a sprint triathlon, and the stars aligned perfectly so that I could run the New Orleans Sprint. The timing would be tight; Dana wanted to accompany me, because she’d never been to New Orleans before, but she had the McKay Hollow Madness trail race on Saturday morning, and I had to get the airplane to Atlanta on Monday so I could catch a flight to Nebraska for customer meetings. We decided to leave right after her race, spend the rest of Saturday sightseeing, and come back Sunday right after my race. My mom was able to arrange her schedule to drive over from Alexandria and meet us, which added a lot to the overall fun factor.

Our flight was lovely; we had stable air and great visibility, although on our descent into New Orleans Lakefront we came uncomfortably close to another plane who wasn’t talking to ATC and obviously wasn’t watching where he was going. Mom met us there and after a little fiddling with the bike rack, we were off to find the hotel, have lunch at Deanie’s, and enjoy some sightseeing. We spent ome time touring the French Quarter (including Dana’s first walk down Bourbon Street; luckily it was in the afternoon so we only saw one dude passed out in the middle of the street).

WP_20150328_005Right after we took this picture, a teenage boy walked up to us and asked, in an impeccable British accent, if we knew where the cathedral was.

By day’s end we were too tired to go restauranting, so we had dinner at the hotel– surprisingly good nonetheless. I suppose hotel chefs have to up their game to stay relevant in a city so dedicated to food.

The next morning we all saddled up and drove to the South Shore Marina for the race. The swim was held inside the marina, which is part of Lake Ponchartrain. The water temperature was forecast to be in the low 60s, so I wore my wetsuit and was very glad of it. As is typical of mixed distance races, the Olympic-distance swimmers started first, so I spent a fair amount of time in line with the other sprint distance men from my age group. Finally I was at the end of the pier, got the signal, jumped in the water, and.. promptly forgot pretty much everything I knew about swimming. A combination of adrenaline and the shockingly cold water propelled me to start out at almost double my normal 100m pace.. which would have been great if I could have sustained it. In the pool, I can normally turn out a steady 2:00-2:05/100 time and I averaged 2:26/100. Not at all what I was looking for.

Transition was an easy run up the dock and into the corral. The race organizers had thoughtfully provided wetsuit strippers, which greatly eased my transition, but I was tired already as I got onto the bike. That was reflected in my craptacular 4:40 time for T1: almost inexcusably slow. Once on the bike, I regained a bit of my equilibrium as I headed out, buoyed by seeing Dana and Mom cheering for me on the outbound chute. The course paralleled the lakeshore, which was nice, and passed very close to the airport, which I enjoyed. I was feeling pretty good as we reached the halfway point and that’s when it hit me.. the wind, that is. Take a look at the upper right corner of this picture:

new-bike

That little “16” with the arrow indicates that we had a 16mph wind (with higher gusts, of course) from the east. That made for a lovely tailwind on the way out and a very unpleasant headwind on the way back. Let’s just say my enthusiasm wilted more than somewhat. The wind was strong enough that I had trouble controlling my bike (especially on the gridded metal road deck on the Seabrook bridge). I was glad to get back into the corral, transition (with another terrible time: 3+ min), and hit the road.

About the run: let’s just say I finished it. It was neither my worst nor my best; the route wasn’t very scenic either. I did appreciate seeing spectators on both legs of the course, and my Waffle House jersey provoked a lot of comments, so that was fun.

My entourage met me at the finish line, where I scored a really spiffy finisher’s medal and a towel inexplicably labeled “NEW YORK CITY TRIATHLON.” Maybe they ran out of the New Orleans-branded ones, or maybe they were promoting the NYC event? Who knows?

The post-race corral area was nicely set up, with pizza, fruit, soft drinks, and beer, but it was kinda flat– I think most finishers headed out to celebrate elsewhere as soon as they could gather up their stuff and get on the road.

My total time was 1:38:50, which was on a par with my races from last year. Still some room for improvement, especially on the swim but also on the run. I’ve got to work on building my pace off the bike; even running 9:30/mi off the bike would let me pick up an easy 3+ minutes, which in this case would have put me in the top 5 for my age group. Something to work on.

After the race, it was back to the hotel for a badly needed shower, then we walked over to Manning’s for a very pleasant al fresco lunch. Mom drove us to the airport and we had a perfectly unexceptional flight back– a calm end to a somewhat harried, though very enjoyable, trip.

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Training Tuesday: the software and services

It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s known me for more than 5 minutes (or read more than one article on this blog): I’m a nerd and I like gadgets. In an effort to get the most out of my training, I’ve tried a variety of different services to track, analyze, and store my workouts, and I frequently see people asking questions about services such as Strava and TrainingPeaks online, so I thought I’d jot down a few Cliffs Notes to help people figure out which services might be right for them.

First, let’s stipulate that pretty much every fitness device manufacturer (Garmin, Jawbone, Withings, Suunto, et al) has their own branded website. I don’t use any of these (except Garmin’s, about which more in a minute). Most devices require you to sync them with the manufacturer’s website. Sometimes those websites can sync to others (more on that in a second), and sometimes they cannot.

The latest trend in this market is the emergence of services such as Apple Health and Microsoft Health that want to aggregate all sorts of your fitness data (with some surprising omissions), analyze it, and then give you “actionable insights.” The things I’m writing about here are all targeted specifically at fitness, not necessarily overall health. For example, none of these sites directly lets you track the foods you eat (though some partner with food trackers). I’m not writing about the Microsoft or Apple services (or Google’s for that matter…. hahahahaha, like I’d give Google all my health data) because I don’t use them, but that might be a good topic for a future article.

Garmin ConnectGarmin recently updated their Connect service, so the version I’m writing about is labeled the “modern” version on the service itself. There’s also a “classic” version which seems to mostly have the same features, but I don’t use it.

Garmin ships a very wide range of products that plug into Garmin Connect: from fitness trackers to multisport watches to action cameras to special-purpose swim and golf watches, if it says “Garmin” on the front and isn’t a GPS, it probably will display data in GC.

The screenshot below gives you an idea of what GC looks like. You can customize each of the tabs across the top (“Sports” being shown in this case) with data blocks, adding, removing, and positioning blocks as you like. The other day, a new block labeled “Golf” showed up, but I gave it the heave-ho posthaste since, of all the fitness activities I enjoy, golf is not one of them.

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When I got my first Garmin device, I went to the GC site, signed up for an account, downloaded the sync software, and plugged in. This was all seamless, and the instructions provided were clear. Keep in mind that Garmin requires you to use sync software on your PC or Mac to sync your device, although if your device supports Wi-Fi or Bluetooth sync you may not need a computer at all. This sync software has nothing to do with the GC website itself, which you can use from anywhere.

(Personal note to my WP posse: there’s a decent Windows Phone app called Astro Fitness that can sync with GC.)

Overall, GC is my favorite of the connected-device services. While its social features are poor compared to Strava, and it lacks some of the specialty features from MapMyRide/MapMyRun (such as the ability to automatically choose a route if you give it a starting point and a distance), it looks good and is highly customizable. It also integrates pretty broadly into the wider fitness ecosystem; it can automatically sync with TrainingPeaks and Nike+ and can import food data from MyFitnessPal. Garmin’s support is forum-based and has done a good job answering the few issues I’ve raised.
Suunto MovescountIf you own a Suunto device, you’ll be using this to sync workouts from your device and to change many of the settings for the device itself. Suunto, in general, prefers a simpler on-device UI, so you need the website for things such as specifying which activities you want to track or what data fields to display on the watch. On the other hand, that makes the device a bit easier to use, though it means that if you forget to change a critical setting before a race or event, you can’t change it on the watch.

Below, you can see what a typical activity on Movescount looks like. Note that while Garmin Connect uses tabs, Suunto prefers a scrolling vertical layout, so you’re not seeing everything in this picture that would actually be displayed on the page.

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Like GC, Movescount shows you the pace, speed, distance, and location of your activities. It’s important to remember that what you’re seeing is based what the device recorded. While some Garmin devices will compute recovery time themselves, Suunto’s devices don’t, so the recovery time and PTE figures you see here are calculated by the service. On the other hand, the Ambit 2s can calculate “swolf” swim metrics, so Movescount will show them to you.

One persistent issue I had with the Movescount web site is that the distances shown for swims don’t necessarily match what the watch says or what gets synced to external services. For example, if I swim 300m according to the watch, it’s common for the site to say that I swam 275m (or maybe 325m, if it’s feeling generous) but then to display the correct distance when I sync through Tapiirik. Suunto’s support is aware of this problem, but hasn’t fixed it in the six months or so since I reported it. That’s sadly typical of my experiences with their support; the staff seems friendly, but they don’t get stuff done. In addition, the site had multiple weekend-long outages during the nine months or so I was using it daily. While these outages are harmless, they were quite annoying

Movescount has fairly weak social features, although it can automatically post links to your workouts on Facebook and/or Twitter. The site has a ton of groups for various sports, but the ones I was interested in had very few people— a testament to Suunto’s niche status in the fitness world. (Perhaps the groups for diving, hiking, etc were better populated?) Overall, a decent tool but not up to the standard of GC in my opinion.

Strava

Strava’s tagline is “Prove it.” The goal of the site is to help you “analyze and compare your data against yourself, friends, and pros.” To do this, you can either use the iOS or Android app, or a compatible Windows Phone app such as CycleTracks, or a GPS device (which can be a watch, a bike computer, or any of the other supported devices) to track your workouts. As you ride and run, Strava tracks your performance; the fastest person on a given route is labeled as the “king (or queen) of the mountain” (KOM or QOM) and gets a little badge.

Post-workout, you get a display similar to the below. There are three interesting things about this summary. First is the data panel just to the right of the ride title. It shows average and max speeds, heart rates, etc. This is very similar to what you see on other similar sites. Second, notice the “top results” list above the map. Strava automatically tracked my progress across designated parts of the route (known as “segments”) and noticed when my performance was good.

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Third is the segments list itself, which you can’t see on this page because the window wasn’t big enough. As you can see below, in the expanded view, for each segment I can see how I performed compared to other people who have ridden or run the same segment. The “Analyze” button zooms in on that segment to show graphs of speed, power, cadence, and elevation for the segment alone, while the “Compare” button lets you track your performance against the KOM or against anyone on your friends list. You can break your performance down to see how it stacks up against people in your age group, weight bracket, friends list, and so on. This is both powerful and motivating, especially when you couple it with the goals feature, which allows you to set a time goal for a particular segment.

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Speaking of friends: Strava has the best social features of any of these sites. You can follow (and/or be followed by) your friends, but there are also extensive features for forming clubs. For example, our local “We Run Huntsville” group has a Strava club, so when I look at the activity list I see what my real-world running friends have been doing. Same with my Complete Human Performance coaching posse, and so on. Strava also has a healthy environment of challenges (such as “complete a half-marathon this month” or “bike 250Km”). These challenges don’t win you anything except a little digital badge, plus bragging rights,  but as part of the overall goal-setting ethos of the site they’re valuable as spurs.

The basic Strava site is free, although you can pay more for the Premium version, which includes more analytical features, plus videos, workout plans, and other goodies. If you’re interested in giving Premium a try send me an email; I have a few codes that are good for a free month each.)

TrainingPeaks

I use TrainingPeaks (or TP, as it’s universally known) because my coach makes me. He puts workouts in, and they appear on my calendar, as you can see in the screenshot below. Because TP syncs to Garmin (and other services), when I complete a workout its data is almost always automatically assigned to the correct workout; in rare cases, I have to manually download an activity file and then attach it in TP. TP calculates a bunch of metrics that my coach can use to keep my training workload where it should be. As an athlete, I don’t necessarily see all of this data (nor, as a novice, would I know how to interpret it), but the overall ability to plan and track workouts is very useful. You can use this solo just by putting in your workout schedule (and TP has training plans for marathons, various triathlons, etc. that help automate this process). I’d love to see the local Fleet Feet start using this for workout tracking, for example. One very nice feature of TP Premium is that it can export an iCal calendar, so when I tag a workout on TP with a time, it shows up in my calendar— a very useful aid to overall time management.

Google ChromeScreenSnapz007One complaint I have about TP is that there’s no Windows Phone app, and their web site doesn’t work well at all in mobile IE. I typically copy weight workouts to OneNote (then turn them into checklists, yay!) but it would be nice to be able to see workout details on a device without that extra step. I also have often heard my coach and my fellow CHP athletes complain about refresh and stability problems with TP but haven’t had many problems with it myself. I will say that TP’s support staff are excellent; every time I’ve had a question or problem, they have quickly and efficiently resolved it. The premium version of TP is $10/month.

TrainerRoad

I LOVE THIS SERVICE and have written about it a couple of times before (most recently here). It combines bike workout plans with power measurement (either using a power meter or an algorithm that estimates power output based on your wheel speed and the resistance profile of your indoor trainer), then gives you immediate feedback about your power on the bike. You run the TR app on your iOS device or PC, and you immediately see what your performance looks like. The center graph in the screenshot below is basically what you see during a workout: the yellow trace is your power output. During a workout, you also see your cadence, heart rate, and other useful data. It makes working out to a specific standard much easier: you ride until the yellow line is where you want it over the blue, then hold it— easier said than done, but much easier (at least for me) than trying to figure it out on my own.

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TR costs $10/month, which gives you access both to the service (and its ability to sync directly to Garmin Connect, which is nice) and its workout library, which includes all sorts of cycling-specific training plans. I recommend it highly.

Tapiirik

Tapiirik is very simple: it syncs services. You can choose to sync any supported service to any other supported service, in any combination. For a while, I had RunKeeper, Strava, TrainingPeaks, and Endomondo all set up. Suunto would sync to RunKeeper, which would sync through Tapiirik to the other services I use (some of which had their own sync relationships, such as the link from RunKeeper to Fitocracy). Now that Garmin, Strava, and TrainingPeaks all talk to each other, I don’t use this much any more but it’s a valuable tool if you want to talk to any of the services it supports.For $2/year this is a superb value.

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Everything else

MapMyFitness: this is really a collection of very similar sites: MapMyRide, MapMyRun, etc. My favorite feature here is the “route genius”, which will lay out a route of the specified distance given a starting point and workout type. This service costs around $30/year for the premium version, which is required to use “route genius”. I use it because I got a year for free when I bought my headphones, but you may not find the features that compelling.

Nike+: this is the software I first started with. I liked it, but it only does running, and it only works with the Nike+ app for iOS (and maybe Android?) While the presentation is top notch, it lacks many of the features in Strava and Garmin, so I ditched it. Garmin recently added sync with Nike+, so if I ever go back to an iOS device I might take a look at it again.

There are lots of other services in this same mold: Runkeeper is another example. And then there are tons of apps that work with these services on various platforms… and more coming all the while. So this article isn’t comprehensive, and it will probably be outdated sooner than I’d like, but such is life with cloud services.. even when those services are supposed to be for something fun.

 

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Training Tuesday: first week with the Garmin Fenix 3

Not long after I got my Garmin 920xt, Garmin announced the Fenix 3, which combines the same Connect IQ software platform with a round face and (to me) a much more attractive industrial design. I ordered one in January, figuring that I could probably sell the 920xt without too much trouble, then I settled in to wait for its arrival. I’ve had it about a week now, just long enough to get a sense of how it compares to the 920xt.

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First,I love the physical appearance and build quality of the watch. It reminds me of the Suunto Ambit 2s, though it’s a bit heavier. Whereas the 920xt felt plastic-y (makes sense, given that it was plastic), the Fenix 3 feels like a real watch. Screen brightness and clarity are excellent; the screen is a different shape but has the same resolution as the one in the 920xt. One significant difference is that the 920xt has six hardware buttons, while the Fenix 3 only has five. They’re also arranged very differently; for example, the “up” button on the 920xt and the “start/stop” button on the Fenix 3 are in the same location, on the upper right side of the watch. The difference in button location has been the hardest thing for me to get used to. Starting and stopping activities is easy, but there’s no longer a single-button shortcut for “connect to wifi” and there’s no dedicated button to bring up settings— instead, you hold down the “up” button. I’m still trying to master the button combo to enter drill mode when swimming and have occasionally fumbled with the other buttons in the midst of an activity, but I’m getting used to it now.

In terms of functionality, the Fenix 3 does everything the 920xt does for tracking runs, swims, and so on. However, it has four additional sensors: an altimeter, a barometer, a compass, and a temperature sensor. The Fenix 3 software thus has several features missing from the 920xt, including the ability to display data from all those sensors, “trail run” and “hike” activity modes that track your altitude using the altimeter instead of GPS altitude, and a slightly different UI paradigm for interacting with the sensors: each sensor type has its own dedicated widget, which you page through using the “up” and “down” buttons. Here’s a quick video I shot showing what the widget displays look like. The widget labeled “VIRB” is there for controlling Garmin VIRB action cameras. I much prefer having a separate widget for this than the 920xt approach of having the VIRB controller be a data page that appears within an activity. Here’s a quick video I shot showing a little of what the user interface looks like.

 

There’s about a $50 cost difference between the 920xt and the Fenix 3, assuming you buy just the watch and not the bundle with the heart-rate strap (and that you buy the basic Fenix 3, not the fancier and heavier one with sapphire glass). For me, the cost was well worth having a nicer-looking watch. One downside to the form factor of the Fenix 3 is that there currently isn’t a quick-release kit, as there is for the 920xt, so if I want to use it while riding the bike I’ll need to improvise a mount. That’s a small disadvantage, though, for the way I use the watch.

Of course, the back-end Garmin Connect service doesn’t care which watch you use to gather your data as long as it has the Garmin logo on the front, so switching the 920xt for the Fenix 3 was a non-issue there.

If you’d like to know more about the Fenix 3, I highly recommend this lengthy review at dcrainmaker. It goes into much more detail about the watch, how it works, and how it compares to its peers.

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Training Tuesday: half-marathon now, triathlon soon

Time for a progress check-in on my training plans.

First, CHP. I am still delighted with the coaching I’m getting from Alex and the accomplishments and support of my fellow athletes is very motivating. For example, Dani Overcash, a 123lb woman, just set a new US record for deadlifting 402lbs at the RUM powerlifting meet this weekend. It is really cool to look in the FB group and see how many people are setting PRs, winning competitions (in powerlifting, strongman, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and triathlon, among other sports), and generally being badasses.

Second, I started the Fleet Feet half-marathon program a few weeks ago. The program is pretty typical of half-marathon training programs: one long, slowish run on weekends, speed work one day a week, and a couple of shorter tempo runs. There are a few people in the program I know from the local running / triathlon community, which is fun. The long runs are Saturday mornings at 6am, which I semi-resent since that would otherwise be one of the few days when I don’t get up early. The program overall has a different vibe from TRI101, too, in part because of the different mix of coaches, and there have been a few hiccups with organization and logistics, but I am enjoying it and it should be good preparation for the Bridge Street half-marathon.

Third, I signed up for my first two triathlons of the season: the New Orleans Sprint on March 29 and the Lake Pflugerville Sprint in late June. There will undoubtedly be others in between (including the Issaquah Sprint, I hope!) Signing up was sort of a forcing function; I have been doing mostly weights and running, with occasional rides on the trainer, but I knew it was about time to switch to a more tri-focused regimen. I told Alex Sunday that I’d signed up and he immediately scheduled me for a brick Monday– and tomorrow I swim. Time to get back to it!

Fourth, I’m still debating which of the two local Olympic-distance training programs to sign up for. Note that I’m not debating whether or not I want a local group program. I do, because I like the energy and social connection of training with others. Fleet Feet is doing their TRI201 program, which I expect to be just like TRI101 with different distances, and local tri legend Rick Greif is doing his own program. Rick’s program is more expensive but includes some extras (including race registration for Renaissance Man), so I am leaning towards that.

I have a bunch more posts that I need to write, including an explanation of the setup I ended up with for bike training and a race report for the most excellent Tick Ridge Trek trail 10K I ran this past weekend, but this’ll do for now. See you on the road (or in the pool, or on the trail, or maybe at the pasta buffet!)

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Getting started with indoor bike training

A coworker was asking me about indoor cycling, so I took a few minutes to put together some notes on the configuration I use. He wanted a basic setup that would let him train indoors and minimize time spent away from his family. Here’s what I told him.

First, you should know that you can train in two ways: 

  • Structured workouts that target a particular power level (your functional threshold power, or FTP). An example workout is here. For example, you might ride a warmup for 10min at 60% of your FTP, then do interval sets of 80-115% FTP, then a cooldown.
  • Workouts where you ride for a set distance or duration while keeping your heart rate and/or pedal cadence in a certain range. These are akin to what you might do in a spin class, although a good instructor will provide a much more structured experience with intervals.

Both of these depend on having a way for something to measure how fast the pedals are going (cadence) and, optionally, your heart rate. Structured power-based workouts require you to have some way to either measure or estimate how much power you’re putting on the pedals.

Assuming you want to spend as little as possible, here’s what you need to get started with bike trainer workouts:

  1. A bike trainer. This DC Rainmaker article is the canonical list of recommendations for every price range. I got one of the Performance Bike TravelTrac units for about $100. I had borrowed a Kinetic Road Machine and loved it; it is much smoother than the TravelTrac but also costs 2x as much. 
  2. Speed and cadence sensors for your bike. There are two sensor protocols: ANT+ and Bluetooth Low Energy. You may be able to use BLE sensors with your phone and selected software, and it might work with your laptop, depending on what kind of gear you have. ANT+ is much more widely used for these sensors. I have a Wahoo ANT+ speed/cadence combo sensor but Garmin and several other companies make them. (Ignore the price at that link; sensors cost from $35-75 depending on brand).
  3. If you want structured workouts, TrainerRoad or some other training software. TR is $10/month, has a full money-back guarantee, and is very well worth it. TR will calculate what they call “virtual power” based on your pedal cadence, wheel speed, and the type of trainer you have. You will also need an ANT+ USB stick for your laptop so the TrainerRoad app can see your cadence and heart rate data. I use a $17 one from Amazon.
  4. If you want cadence / HR-based workouts, you need some way to see what your cadence and/or heart rate are. You can use a phone app for iOS or Android such as Strava or Wahoo Fit, the TrainerRoad app if you’ve subscribed, or a bike computer or watch that speaks ANT+. Beware that not every ANT+ device can display all types of sensors. For example, the Garmin Forerunner 15 running watch will display ANT+ heart rate data but ignores cycling sensors because it’s a running-only watch.
  5. If you want to gather heart rate data, you’ll need a heart rate monitor. I use the Scosche RHYTHM+ because a) it’s an arm/wrist strap and not a chest strap and b) it can transmit both BLE and ANT+.

There are lots of other ways to spend money on this stuff: there are computer-controlled trainers that adjust the resistance to give you realistic uphill and downhill rides, power meters that measure your power using strain gauges, bike computers that display your cadence, speed, etc. on a handlebar-mounted unit, and so on. But with the basic stuff above (which I’d estimate will cost less than $200 all in) you can get a terrific training experience without leaving your house.

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Training Tuesday: Upgrading to the Garmin Forerunner 920xt

When I saw that Garmin had a new triathlon watch on the way that included an SDK, I thought “hey, that might make a neat upgrade” and ordered one. Unfortunately, production delays dragged the release date out, so I ended up canceling my original order and reordering. I got the new watch about two weeks ago and have been putting it through its paces since. I’ve used it on the bike indoors and out, for outdoor runs, and while weightlifting. It’s also an activity tracker that tracks steps and sleep and uses that data to estimate calorie burn. Here are a few of my thoughts based on my experience so far.

First, IMHO it is ugly compared to the Suunto. That’s partly a result of the white/red color scheme but also because there are lots of little 1970s-style touches (the GARMIN logo, the little red pinstripes around the bezel) that don’t need to be there. It is substantially smaller than the Garmin 910t and about the same thickness as the Suunto. The band is comfortable enough for daily wear.

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Side by side, I prefer the appearance of the Suunto.

Setup was very straightforward. I signed up for a Garmin Connect account, plugged in the watch, and that was about it. Suunto requires that you set up most aspects of its watches (including which activity types will be available on the watch) using their web site. This is very flexible, and generally easier than punching buttons on the watch, but it means that you can’t customize anything on the watch itself— a drawback if you get to a race and notice “oops, I forgot to enable open water swim mode” (which I’ve done!)

As typical, the first thing I did with the watch was play with all the settings. For example, at first I thought I’d want the “auto scroll” option on so that the watch would flip through all available data pages. It turns out that auto scroll means whenever I looked at the watch, it was likely to be showing me anything other than the data items I was most interested in at that point in time, so I turned it back off.

A few things I particularly liked:

  • Garmin’s Connect web site is much more attractive and more useful than Suunto’s. I love seeing weather conditions recorded along with my workout. (Take a look at this workout as an example).
  • Being able to set a target pace, then have the watch buzz / beep any time I deviated from it, is a great help. I’m still not quite sure at what interval the watch checks pace.
  • Wireless sync via wifi is brilliant. I was on the street corner outside my house, walking back in, and the watch buzzed to tell me it had uploaded my workout.
  • It was trivial to pair the watch with my bike sensors, my HRM band, and the TrainerRelay feature in TrainerRoad.
  • GPS acquisition seems just as fast as the Ambit 2s, which is noteworthy for its fast sync.

The watch has a few drawbacks, too. I don’t have a phone that works with the 920xt’s Bluetooth features, which means I don’t get notifications on my wrist, can’t use live tracking, and so on. The chances that Garmin will support Windows Phone are just about nil, so I have to decide if I am willing to switch to a supported platform if I want to have these features. The jury is still out; there are lots of things I prefer about WP compared to iOS, and I am loath to give them up just to have wrist notifications. I suppose that’s not the watch’s fault though, especially since the Ambit 2s lacks those features altogether.

Another annoyance: you can’t customize the data fields in the same way that you can with the Suunto. There I was able to set up a custom screen that had exactly the data fields I wanted, no more and no less. On the 920xt it looks like you can enable individual data pages, but you can’t customize the fields that appear in those pages. For example, when cycling I want a page that shows current speed, current cadence, and total distance. The 920xt has all that data, but not in a single page.

There are some things I don’t understand about creating workouts in Garmin Connect and sending them to the watch, too. It looks like the workflow is to log in to GC, create the workout, then plug your watch in for USB sync. When I do this, sometimes I get the workout on the watch and sometimes I don’t. This may be a watch problem, a Mac sync connector problem, a GC problem, or some combination thereof. I haven’t done it enough yet to have a really solid repro case.

The social features of Garmin Connect are poor, too. In fairness they are no worse than Suunto’s, but compared to the features in Strava, MapMyRun, RunKeeper, and Fitocracy, they stink. It’s hard to find friends, to name just one flaw. I’d love to see them fix this in a near-term update.

A few tips for things that were not obvious to me at first:

  • You turn the backlight on by pressing the power button. By default, it shuts back off after 8 seconds. This is adjustable: go to Settings > System > Backlight and you can change the delay. The Ambit 2s had a lock button that you could use to lock the light on; there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent.
  • On the Suunto, you define a multisport activity on the web site, load it to the watch, and transition between activities. You can do that on the Garmin as well, but you can also just switch modes on the watch— so you can go from weightlifting to running to open water swim to cycling all within a single activity. The Garmin Connect web site still seems to have some issues dealing with multi-activity files, or it’s possible that I have something set up wrong.
  • The activity monitor knows when you’re moving your body, but it doesn’t know when you’re unable to move, e.g. sitting in a car in traffic, so it will buzz you anyway. Such is life.

Overall I’m delighted with the watch so far. Garmin has been the gold standard for multi-sport watches and I expect that, as I learn to use it, I’ll get more useful training data from it. The ability to easily do intervals and to track my pace are already making a different. Bring on race season!

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Rocketman 2014: my epic fail

In idle conversation with my friend and fellow TRI101 attendee Alex, we started kicking around the idea of forming a relay team to do the Rocketman Olympic-distance triathlon. The Olympic distance is the next step up from sprints; it combines a 1500m swim, a 40Km bike ride, and a 10Km run. I figured I could do either the bike or run, but not both back-to-back, and I knew I didn’t want to attempt the swim… but Alex is a strong swimmer and he jumped at the chance. We recruited Ryan, another TRI101 member who runs ultradistance races, and we were all set.

In the weeks leading up to the Huntsville Sprint, I’d been thinking about buying a new bike. Instead of splurging I decided to rent one from Madison Cycles and give it a try for this race. I picked it up on Wednesday, but didn’t get to ride it until Friday, at which point it scared me badly! At nearly 10lbs lighter than my normal ride, and with much narrower tires, different geometry, and different gearing, it felt much less stable, and after my first ride my shoulders ached from gripping the handlebars so hard. On Saturday I rode it again and felt a lot better, though. I packed my stuff, attended the race brief with Alex and Ryan, and got to bed at a reasonable time. Sunday morning found me up at 0430 to finish my last-minute prep and drive out to the Arsenal’s recreation area, which abuts the Tennessee River. I’d signed up for a volunteer shift at the packet pickup booth, where I had a grand time visiting with friends and helping triathletes get their packets and swag for the race. The morning was cool and overcast, and as dawn broke I was excited about the race.

I met Alex and Ryan at the transition area, got everything set up, and headed over to the swim area. In a relay race, the swimmer starts with the timing chip and hands it to the cyclist in T1,  then the cyclist hands off to the runner in T2. Rocketman has a separate transition area for teams, which is handy.  Once Alex started the swim, Ryan and I hung out in the transition area until he came out, then I was out the chute and on the bike. By this time it had warmed up a bit, but it wasn’t too bad, and I felt great. Fresh breeze! Beautiful scenery! I’d violated my normal “nothing new on race day” rule and was sporting a Camelbak for hydration; I figured it, along with two water bottles on the bike, would keep me well hydrated.

The first mile of the course went by smoothly and quickly. I was keeping an eye on my pace because 40Km was about a third farther than my previous longest ride, and about half again as long as my previous longest race, but I was still feeling great as I rounded the turn near mile 2… and then suddenly it seemed like the bike was slowing down. I pedaled faster. This had no effect other than to rock me back and forth in the saddle. “Maybe I need to shift some more,” I thought. So I did, fiddling with the bike’s four shift levers in a fruitless effort to stop decelerating. Finally I had to unclip and pull over, where after some experimentation I found that the freewheel gear inside the rear hub had broken or something. Pedaling turned the crank, which moved the chain, which turned the rear cassette, which did nothing to the back wheel. I fiddled with it for another 10 minutes or so, to no avail; then I reluctantly turned the bike right side up and started the Walk of Shame back to the corral.

Along the way, I am happy to say, probably 4 out of 5 cyclists who passed by me asked me if I was OK. I appreciated their support a great deal, though they were moving too fast for me to do more than shout “THANKS!” at their rapidly receding backs. At one intersection, world-famous race photographer Gregg Gelmis was set up and captured the moment:

Me after my rental bike crapped out during Rocketman 2014

Me after my rental bike crapped out during Rocketman 2014

Thanks to my distinctive jersey (which I love, so shut up, haters), Alex and Ryan could see me before I made it back into the corral and they knew something was wrong. I am very grateful to them for how gracious they were; the mechanical failure of my bike meant that I officially did not finish (DNF’d) and so our team was marked as DNF’ing. Ryan ran the 10Km leg anyway and turned in an excellent time; while he was killing it in the 90-degree sun, Alex and I got to cheer a number of our TRI101 friends and coaches as they crossed the finish line. (Results are here if you want to see how fast everyone was.)

The Madison Cycles folks were very apologetic, and I’m sure they’ll settle up with me when I get back home. Mechanical issues happen. as anyone who’s owned any device more complex than a pencil knows well, so I don’t blame them, but it was still frustrated because I was excited to compete. I still had a great time; I especially enjoy the social aspect of triathlons because, while it’s a very competitive sport, the competitors tend to be very friendly and incredibly supportive. It’s a sport where you can take genuine pleasure in the successes of your friends, which suits me just fine.

The only thing to do: come back next year and DO THE WHOLE RACE. That will show ’em.

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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: Transition Trouble edition

So tonight’s TRI101 class deserves its own post. Coach Rick had us practicing transitions; the coaching staff brought out the bike racks and we set up our bikes, shoes, etc. as we would in a race. When called, we were to run, barefoot, to our rack to simulate exiting the water for T1, put on shoes (and socks, if desired) and helmet, then move the bike to the mount line and ride 2 laps around a ~1mi loop. Then we were supposed to bring the bike back into transition, switch to our run gear (hello, T2!), and run the loop again. The goal was to do 3 complete circuits within 45 minutes. I didn’t quite make it— I got 3 bike laps and 2 runs before time expired. I did, however, learn several things I didn’t know, presented here for the edification of all:

  1. No one will stop you from exiting T2 for the run with your helmet on. You might want to remove it before running, though.
  2. Despite their cleats, bike shoes have little traction. If you get a good head of steam going downhill to the mount line, you may have difficulty stopping without falling on your butt.
  3. There’s only one way to hang your bike on the rack so that it doesn’t fall over.
  4. You (or at least I) can’t just jam your feet into your bike shoes because the heel area isn’t stiff; it’ll just mash down.

Despite these errors, I felt like I got the transition mechanics down OK, and both the ride and run felt pretty good (I averaged ~14mph on the bike and 6.5mph on the run). Oh, and my Cajun-rigged cadence sensor fix failed again, darn it. Onwards!

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