Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Curse Applied

It is repeatedly obvious that I am not safe from my curse, no matter what my form of transportation. If I am driving, I get stopped by that infernal light. If I bike, I get stopped by that infernal light. If I run, I get stopped by that infernal light. Thank goodness they haven't installed one in the pool just yet.

In a previous post, I postulated that, for each stop light encountered, I lose 0.1 mph from my average bike speed. Is this true? Before, it was just an educated guess. As a teacher, I've got a little more time on my hands. I love summer. So I do what all the other teachers are doing with their new-found freedom: Newtonian Physics. Let's see how the math works out in a hypothetical ride, then in my 13, 25, and 40 mile courses...

-The cyclist consistently maintains 20 mph (roughly 32.2 km/h) sans stop lights
-Stopping and starting distance will be 40 meters
-Upon stopping, time will magically stop (not penalizing you for how long you wait)

Scenario 1- Ten mile ride
Ten miles is roughly 16.1 km or 16,100 meters. Sorry for the metric, it just helps out when doing the math. The formulas are much easier using SI versus the customary system. During this ride, let's scatter 1 light every 2 miles for a total of 4 lights (#1 at the 2 mile, #2 at the 4 mile, #3 at the 6 mile, and #4 at the 8 mile. No need for #5 as you are back home).

If there are no lights, this ride takes 30 minutes. A cyclist covers 80 meters in about 9 seconds. Not bad. Things change when you add in the evil. That same 80 meters, when you slow down, stop, and speed back up takes 18 seconds. This represents an increase of 9 seconds for the same distance. Over the course of a 10 mile ride, including  4 lights, your time changes from 30 minutes to 30.36. Low and behold, the new average speed 19.6 mph. So those stupid stoplights, over the course of a short ride, dropped the average speed by 0.1 mph per light. I love validating hypotheses.

Scenario 2- My 13 mile course
I, like most of us, have a few select routes to which we will gravitate. I have a 13 mile course, 25 mile course, and a 40 mile course. I can add distance with tiny out and backs or loops. I use my 13 mile ride for recovery or sprint distance-specific training. It has 14 stoplights. Let's assume that 50% of the lights are red (very light assumption here, I bet the number is closer to 80% but I refuse to do that data). This means I tack on 7x9 seconds or 63 seconds. In 13 miles at constant velocity, I should cover the distance in 39 minutes. Add in the hell, I increase to just over 40 minutes. My stoplight pace is now 19.5 mph.

Scenario 3- My 25 mile course
On my medium-hard ride, I have a nice loop. This route has it all. It's got big hills, little hills, rolling hills, and flats. Whatever skill I want to work on that day, it's got it. But, you have to take the good with the bad. It's also got 18 lights. Using a 50% success rate (which is wholly inaccurate for this stretch), my should be 1 hour 15 minute ride mystically extends itself to 1 hour 16 minutes and 21 seconds. The pace is 19.6. Just for giggles, I calculated out the pace for hitting every light on the course (not realistic but closer than 50%). My new pace drops to 19.3.

Scenario 4- My 40 mile course
When I start getting into the distance stuff, I hit my tempo rides on a different course. This route has a frustrating 7 miles of hell, 2 miles of purgatory, and 22 miles of cycling heaven. The total light count is 36 lights. Forty miles should take 2 hours. At my modest (yet never achieved) 50% green light, my pace drops to 19.6 mph. At full 100%, the new output is a whopping 19.1.

So there you have it. Stop lights suck. They sap the life right out of the session. At 9 seconds per light, they could make or break a good ride. The loss of 0.1 mph/ light may be misleading depending on the concentration and success rate of scoring the intersection.

Oddly, I tend to get over grumpy with red-light blues. They bring me down, boil the blood, and anger the soul. Now, I know exactly what they take away from my workout. Yet, I do not experience the same emotions towards the stop sign. Mainly because I feel the octagon is an equal opportunity usurper. All must stop. The red light, in its masochistic mindset, is singularly focused on taking me out of business. I hate you stop light.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Commitment Issues

The Nature of Science
For those of you who remember high school science class, you were probably taught some form of the scientific method. You see something, ask a question, make a hypothesis, and test your hypothesis. Should the hypothesis hold true, sadly, you are not finished. You must test it over and over. And then after all that testing, you need to have it peer reviewed. You send your hypothesis out to smart, like-minded individuals whose responsibility is to pour over it with a fine-toothed comb looking for holes in your ideology. If your hypothesis survives that scrutiny, congratulations. If at any time your hypothesis fails, you must revise the hypothesis or chalk it up.

The Hypothesis
So, enter Tattoo-guy. He claims that he is into the sport just for the tattoo.  Granted, I firmly doubt this is the case. It's akin to saying you bought a Ferrari just because you like the color red. Absurd. But, it did get me to thinking about levels of commitment in the sport, or any sport, for that matter. Therefore, I'd like to make a few clarifications and a hypothesis revision.

Please be advised that my post was never about him or his tattoo. I fully respect/ celebrate his involvement and remember when I was in his shoes. The first year I did the Ironman, I was in it to finish. I had listed my goals for this race as: 1) Make it to the starting line. 2) Complete the race without dying. 3) Have fun the entire way along the journey. Even then, I knew I was not competing. Hell, I didn't know if I would ever want to do another one. I was participating and loving it.

On the journey, something happened. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I thought to myself, 'This is fun!' I am going to do it again. But now, I want to get good. The Ironman has a carrot jingled out in front of me now. It's a carrot called "Kona." There are essentially 2 ways to get into the race (ok, there are others, but only 2 that apply to me). The first is to earn a spot by qualifying and being good in the race. The second is to apply for the lottery, in which they give you a slot without needing to qualify.

In a nutshell, I want to qualify and not win the lottery. I may decide, one day, to do the lottery thing. But right now, I think I can qualify. But to do so would take a level of commitment that I have not shown in the past (including this year). When I sit back and ponder my chances of qualifying this year, I realize that they are slim to bleak. I haven't committed to the necessary training required to meet the goal. But, I did have a successful year in my relationship with my wife, a successful school year wrought with overwhelming success of my students, and improved relationships with my extended family, friends, and colleagues. Therefore, my lack of commitment is validated.

The tattoo-guy reminded me of my level of focus in the sport years ago. As thoughts spiraled as they do when you are out training for hours with nothing but your brain to keep you entertained, I formulated that there is a difference in commitment between someone who is committed to the sport versus someone who is in it just for the mere joy of being in it, which I termed 'participant'. That is not to say that one of these people is any better that another. By no means, NO! This is not a status symbol for me.

But, I do recognize a difference in my mind set. Even without qualifying for Kona, I feel like I have changed from 'doing' an Ironman to 'becoming' an Ironman. It is no longer a race that I participated in. You don't magically become an Ironman just by crossing the line. You become one when you make the commitment to the sport. The same goes for any other sport. When you commit, you become.

Long distance triathlon is now a lifestyle which I do not see ending in the foreseeable future. I have every intention of doing it again many times over. This is much different, to me, than the 2006 Banter who did the race just because it was there. Am I a better person/ athlete now than I was back then? Nope. Just different. Upon acknowledging this change about myself, I formulated the hypothesis that there is something different between an athlete who participates versus an athlete who lives the lifestyle.

The Experiment
These things are ever difficult to assess. But, peer review is quite easy, especially in this digital day. First, I wrote about it in the blog. Second, I sent my hypothesis/ opinion over to a triathlon discussion forum called Slotwitch. ST, in my opinion, is full of triathlon geniuses. If ever you want learn something even close to triathlon, you can find it there. But, tread carefully as they are ruthless.

I got blasted. You can read it here, but keep in mind, it's not pretty. Granted, there were some who agreed with my stance but we were in the minority.  I am not upset with the opinions of those against mine. Quite the opposite, I am grateful. Their opinions, and yours, are the reasons I wrote about it. I was curious and wanted my hypothesis tested. That's how we learn and grow. There were some really strong emotions involved, which are ever hard to argue. It was mostly my fault, I agree, in that I don't think I was fully clear in what I was trying to convey. Regardless, the feedback has helped me change my thought process on the matter.

Just to be clear, in the grand scheme of things, this hypothesis or opinion means exactly nothing. I just find it interesting to think about and I like sharing/ discussing interesting thoughts. It is tough to avoid when you share an opinion or make a stance, but my intent is not meant to belittle or insult anyone. This is not meant to be a hierarchy of people who are better or worse. It's more like, 'where do I stand in terms of meeting my goals?' In reality, the hypothesis is mostly about me and my level of commitment to sport/ family/ life, etc.

For 1, I recognize that all 'participants' are athletes. This was a mistake I made before and apologize to anyone who was offended. For 2, I recognize that no one person is any better that any other person on the spectrum. I like all involved. For 3, I feel that if I am to meet my Kona dreams, I need to be higher up on the spectrum.

As a teacher, we are trained and encouraged to do this sort of thing, present information graphically. The pyramid represents the amount of time and commitment one puts into training (keeping in mind that recovering from training is still training to me). The higher up on the pyramid, more time and commitment is given to the sport.

At the top are the pros. They make a living in the sport and dedicate the most time and energy. Still, I bet some pros put in more time/ energy than others. I also bet that there are some non-pros who belong in this area as well. Not only is the sport a habit, but it may also be a source of income. They represent the smallest number of athletes in the sport.

In the middle are those who are competing. They may be competing against themselves or against the field. Training and improvement are important to them. They may hire coaches and analyze data. These athletes may have a different definition of fun, such as winning or beating goal times. However, they have other commitments as well. Family, friends, career, etc. can and will take away training time. Not that this is a bad thing.

On the bottom of the pyramid are those who are out there just for fun or the experience. They are the foundation, highest in numbers, and possibly the most important athletes in the spectrum. They won't stress one way or another about placement or time. They may not think deep thoughts about their next race. When I see them at races, they always have a smile on their face and are some of the best athletes to hang out with before the gun goes off.

I would place myself as a number 5 athlete on this spectrum. I have time goals and pace goals. When a race approaches, I want to win it (even though I know I won't). I look at the meaningless numbers from my Garmin and the race results page looking for ways to improve. However, I am prone to allow things like cold weather, not waking up in the morning, state testing, or overall pansiness get in the way of my training. The goal is important to me but not at the sacrifice of other stuff higher on my priority list. I anticipate that, if I want to qualify for Kona, I need to become a level 6 or 7. Not there yet.

So I ask you, dear reader, how is my revised hypothesis? What am I missing or not anticipate? I am interested in this topic, mostly for academic purposes and less for anything important. Where do you stand?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Definition of an Athlete

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of traveling to beautiful Lake Placid, NY to train on their harder-than-average Ironman course. I love training there. There is something special in the air that screams, "Go and workout." It is the only place that I know that triathletes gather in high concentration with a single goal in mind. There are several of these havens scattered across the US, but this one is within driving distance and is mine. Being in LP leads to easy conversation about the sport, mostly when I am procrastinating the commencement of my workout (just because there is screaming does not mean I jump).

As I stood on the shores of Mirror Lake, the swimming hole for the race, I struck up a conversation with some guy who looked at the water with awe and timidity. Newbie. I send a nice, sarcastic remark in his direction, "It won't get any shorter if you look at it longer." He smiled and we started talking. IMLP will be his first IronDistance event. He had done a couple of other tri's or varying distances but had his heart set on running distances such as the 1/2 and full marathon. "Why do the Ironman?" I casually asked. "I want the tattoo!" he said with a sardonic smile. Having been motivated by his own mantra, he stepped into the water and disappeared into the collage of brightly colored swim caps.

His comment had made me cringe inside. It's not because I hate tattoos (I do) or that I hated him (I don't). I just don't feel that he deserves it, even if he finishes. Even if he beats me, I also don't feel he deserves it. Before you start with the comments (which I highly encourage), hear me out. If at the end of this rant, you disagree with my philosophy, by all means tell me. I do love an intelligent debate.

Defining an Athlete
There was a time in my life that I was a swimmer. I call this period 'college.' I swam in high school as well. But, I also ran cross country, played baseball, and ran track. While running CC, I was focused on that sport. I put in the time and sweat. I would have defined myself as a runner. As I look back, I no longer feel that way. I was not a runner. Because seconds after CC ended, swimming started. I would jump into the pool, learn my drills, attempt a flip turn, scoff at the butterfly, and do it again tomorrow. I was a guy on the swim team. There were some swimmers on the team, some of whom I was faster, but I was not a swimmer. The big, end-of-season meets ended and I traded my speedo for cleats and leather. Off to the baseball field. Or off to the track. I was just a guy on those teams. I was neither baseballer or tracker.

So, what's the difference? Commitment to the sport. Participation in the sport does not an athlete make. Skill in the sport also does not define the athlete (although it helps). Athletes are defined by their attitude and commitment.

The guys on cross country who were runners made a year out of it. They started running and never stopped. Their running season did not end. It just changed into a new running season. The same for the swimmers. They swam year round. If not on their high school team, then they were on their local club teams. They had long season, short season (which are distances, not times), high school season, summer season, etc. They were always swimming. They were swimmers. Baseball was the cool sport for the spring. The cool kids (not me) were also on the football and basketball teams. Based on these definitions, I never met any true baseball players in high school.

I did eventually become a swimmer. College costs money and I was able to swim myself into a small scholarship. Then I started getting a little more serious. Swim season for college is August through late February. After collegiate season was over, I joined the local club team. That team was coached by my former high school coach. He was just as surprised to see me show up for practice as I was. I had finally become a swimmer.

Defining a Triathlete
I am no longer a swimmer. I do get in the water and swim. This does not make me a swimmer because I am committed to another sport which just happens to require swimming. I am a triathlete. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a cyclist. Riding my bike is just a means to an end. A triathlon end. I am not a runner. I have written on this in the past. Running is just something I do during a triathlon.

I train year round for this sport. I enjoy it. It is fun for me, not work, even when it is hard. Taking a couple of weeks break after the big race is part of the overall triathlon plan. When I lift weights, I do it with a triathlon focus. If I were to stretch, which I normally do not, I would do it with a triathlon focus. If I participate in a running race, it is only to benchmark my triathlon training. Starting to see a trend here?

The Banter-in-Law is a triathlete. He started this sport last year and has given it his full commitment. He is neither swimmer, biker, nor runner. He wants to become better at all three because he knows it will lead to a better triathlon. I am proud that he is a triathlete, just like me.

The Wife, on the other hand, is different. She has done more triathlons in her time than the BIL and even owns a tri-bike. She does not train for the sport. She does not care about the sport. She could go the rest of her life without competing in a triathlon. She is not a triathlete. She is still really awesome. I don't make the mistake of thinking any less of someone just because they participate in my sport without the commitment. I love hanging out with those that do the sport for pleasure or for the experience. I do other non-triathlon races. I do them for fun. There's nothing wrong with that. I don't think the real athletes think less of my for hanging out with them for the day. We both know that I am not an athlete of that sport, just a recreant.

Am I an Ironman?
These days, I am defining myself a little more narrowly. I am an Ironman. This is not because Mike Reilly has yelled out, more than once, "Banter, You are an Ironman." I grant you that this is one of the most glorious sounds I have ever heard. Since I have never, nor will I probably, father a child of my own, this is the pride and joy that I envision is reserved for parents upon the birth of their baby. There's nothing else like it. Having done a few of them now, hearing Mike yell at me again has not diluted the experience, in much the same way I envision it feels to have a second or third child. It's still really, really cool.

I am not an Ironman because I attempted and completed a 140.6 distance race. I am not an Ironman because some MC gave me that label. I am an Ironman because the race defines me. I am committed to this goal. I made the mistake of thinking, a long time ago, that I would keep training for the Ironman until I qualify for Kona. Then, I would fly to Hawaii and play on the lava fields, return home, and hang up my IronJacket in pursuit of something else. I am not sure that is possible anymore. I am an Ironman and will be so for a very long time. Even if I never make it to the big show.

Back to the Tattoo Guy
Being a runner, a swimmer, a cyclist, a triathlete, a soccer player, a musician, or whatever is not defined by your skill or by the number of tasks you have completed. It is defined by your life style. You are what you do on a daily basis, not in what you did on one day or even in 6 months. 

It took several years to realize that I was an Ironman. Before that, I was a triathlete. And it took me several years to don that label. Triathlon, and now Ironman, is as much a part of me as waking up and brushing my teeth. My friends and family are no longer astonished by my continued participation in the event. OK, they might be a little astonished. But their wide-eyes are mostly when they envision themselves trying to make the commitment. When they ask if I am doing the race again next year, I respond with, "Of course, it's what I do." I am not that good. Maybe I am better than average at best. But, I am a triathlete and an Ironman.

So Mister "I want the Tattoo"- When you do the race to get a tattoo, you are doing it for all the wrong reasons. You have every right to go to some salon and have some bloke inject your dermis with various hues in the shape of a block M with a hovering dot. This has become the defining symbol of the Ironbrand. You could put it on your forehead for all I care. Finishing the race is a grand accomplishment in which I am proud of you for even attempting. Crossing the line does not an Ironman make. Please do not brand yourself with a symbol in which you are not fully committed. Yes, you are awesome. Yes, you did the deed. If I see you on the course, I will root for you, even if you pass me and beat me to the tape. If I see you in the finishers pit, I will smile and shake your hand like triumphant warriors at the end of a battle. Victory is ours! But, in my opinion, you are not an Ironman. Not yet anyway.

Stuff happens during training and racing. You could get injured. You could DNF. You could, heaven forbid, crash. You could have a family emergency. I could go on but none of these are important. If you are fully committed. If you are dedicated. If you know you will train and compete next year and in years to follow. If, when you bleed, you feel a little bit of Ironman leaking out, you don't even need to finish. Go and get your tattoo NOW and proudly display it before the race. Announce it to the world. You are already an Ironman.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Foreshadowing the Future

The Blog Plan
It's been a busy couple of weeks in Camp Banter. Having just returned from a successful weekend of training in Lake Placid, I have found myself stuck in the rut of state testing. This includes the rigors of helping kids cram, re-teaching the stuff they have forgotten, proctoring and grading such tests. All the while, I cannot neglect my classes that need to learn new stuff while secretly longing to be outside playing (or, in real life, inside playing video games). This hasn't left much time for me to write or train. This should change in the near future.

Honestly, most things about this career choice suck. As a teacher, there are very few real benefits to my job. For example, I've got the overwhelming satisfaction that I've made a difference in young people's lives. Who wants that? I know, I've also the opportunity to surround myself with nice, like-minded people. Your point? Yes, I have the weekends off. Oh, and most major holidays. Also, no work for a week or two for the big holiday seasons. But is it really worth it? Uh huh, I get to coach. Big deal. It's not like they give me any extra money for that. Ok, they do give extra money, but it's not that much. My job also gives me a free laptop, which is school supported and constantly updated. Come on, why do I have to give it back? Mongrels. Why won't they let me keep it? Correct, I have a kick-ass retirement plan, if they'll ever let me retire. Being required to work 6.5 hours a day isn't that great. They are slave drivers in this business. At least I've got my super-low salary for my education requirements.

The only real benefit is that I don't have to work during the summer. That is, of course, unless I apply for summer school, which is as appealing as a teacher as it was when I was a student. Starting next week, I get 10 weeks of none of that crap I listed in the above paragraph. So long, suckers. What is a guy to do? It seems lately that I have 3 major time commitments in my life: Teaching, training, and blogging. In as little as 3 days, one of those commitments magically disappears, leaving more time for the other 2. I'm looking forward to both. If time permits, I may actually do some chores around the house.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Curse

As a Chicago Cubs fan, I am no stranger to the curse. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, allow me to enlighten you...

In 1945, the Cubbies were actually a good team. In that year, they made it to the playoffs and World Series despite the ravages of WWII. Their opponents were the Detroit Tigers and the series was looking good. Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, was very friendly to the locals, some of which brought their pets to the stadium. Well, this dude named Billy brought his goat to the game. (Don't laugh too hard, this is true). I don't know how much you know about goats, but they are not the most pleasant smelling animals. Other people in the stadium noticed this as well. It didn't matter that the goat had attended more games than most of the spectators at the game, the fans were not happy with the odor. They complained and the goat got kicked out. Billy was outraged and handed down a most foul curse inciting that the Cubs would never win another World Series. The Tigers won that year. So far, Billy has been right and we Cubs fans are sitting on 103 years of World Series drought.

Is the curse real? I have no idea. The last time the Cubbies won a series was in 1908 but the curse wasn't implemented until 37 years later. This would be construed as evidence against a specific curse. But, its been more than 50 years since the goat incident and still no wins. We Cubs fans are every resilient and optimistic. This kind of matches my Ironman racing. I've been no where near the ultimate goal of qualifying for Kona. It's not looking good this year either. In true Cubbie fashion, "Maybe next year." Plus, if I do really crappy this year, I'll get a better draft pick for the 2012 season. I've got that going for me.

My Curse
I am currently a city dweller. Living in town has its advantages. Everything is close by: groceries, fuel, bike shops, entertainment, etc. You name it, we've got it in less than 20 minutes away. Like everything else, there are positives and negatives. The laws of supply and demand state that the reason everything is close by is that there are many people willing to stop in.

The population reveals a trickle-down effect. Cities beget people. People need a means to get from point A to B (we are a lazy bunch and hate walking). That means the government builds roads. But, since there are many people trying to get to different places, sometimes those roads cross each other. This creates other problems, such as road rage. The solution? Traffic control devices. If it is a small, not so busy area, stop signs litter the corners. If there is a larger route with more wheels, a stop light will glisten the intersection with its pretty, bright colors of red, yellow, and green.

I'm pretty sure that the stoplights have a fully functioning mind with the ability to sense their environment. Yes, I know about the underground sensors that monitor traffic flow, but I'm talking about something deeper. I think that the traffic light gods emparted these devices with an evil, vengeful soul. And, they all hate ME.

Why they hate me I do not know. It is quite obvious, based on their behavior, that I have angered one or more of their kind. Either that, or someone in my family abused a light many a year ago and I have inherited their problem. Traffic lights have made it apparent that they want me to stop. Often. I would say that I bat roughly .900 when it comes to hitting a red light. Only roughly 10% of the time will I be blessed by a green or yellow.

I admit that maybe the lights just like me. It's indeed possible that the reason a signal will turn red at my approach, without any cross traffic or other discernible reason, is that they prefer my company at all hours of the day. This doesn't make much sense to me. I'm not so good looking. I'm kind of boring. I'm a bit weird. Maybe the lights have some sort of Banter fetish. Something about me works on the Wife, so why is it so hard to accept that the lights might actually like me too? Because the Wife does nice things for me. The lights... not so much. They will stop me at the worst times, like when I'm late for work or rushing to the hospital with a metal spike hanging out of a limb (ok, this has not actually happened yet but I fear the worse).

Once in a while, I will commute separate from the Wife. We work at the same place but will oft have differing schedules. We'll leave at the same time. I'm ever the gentleman and allow the lady to go first. She drives and I follow, albeit not too closely. I like to give women their space, even while driving. More times than not, she will hit a green and I will get stopped. I have the curse. She is curse free.

Other Consequences of the Curse
Since I live in an urban environment, training while cursed sucks. I estimate that I must bike about 7 miles in any direction to find a 1-mile stretch of road that is stoplight free. That 7 miles of stop-and-go training is infuriating. It's hard to get into a nice groove if you have to unclip every tenth of a mile. It drives my Garmin batty, making it record average speeds that are insultingly slow compared to my perceived ability. I estimate that each stop reduces my average speed by 0.1 mph. This doesn't seem like much until you accumulate 15 stop lights on the way out and 15 on the way back. That's a 3.0 mph change in velocity. Sometimes, focusing on the numbers is depressing.

It's not all negative. When you get angry and frustrated, your body's autonomic nervous  system activates the sympathetic pathways. This is commonly referred to as the 'fight or flight' nervous response. As part of this response, your breathing deepens bringing in more oxygen. Your metabolism speeds thus burning fat more readily. Your glands release hormones, such as adrenaline, that increase power output. I call this the 'chemically enhanced warm-up'. Warming up appropriately aids in muscle readiness for when the real work kicks in.

On the way back, the stop lights keep me from grinding at high heart rates. Now that the workout is done, I'm in need of some lower intensity work. It's hard to be intense when you are staring down the multi-colored triclops with its red eye illuminated. My body's response mimics that of an ideal, low impact cool down.

When I'm racing, the streets are generally guarded by uniformed officers. The official USAT rules require that we obey all traffic laws. Traffic laws require that we stop at all lights, which are inevitably red upon my approach. By placing a cop at the intersection, the law states that the officer's instructions trump that of the stop light. This is sort of a curse work around. I giggle at the light. Sometimes, I can envision stopping just to fuel the adrenaline-induced rage. It's like free steroids that USAT cannot ban.

The Curse works in mysterious ways. If you should happen to commute with me (or behind me), be prepared to stop. If we are working out together, be prepared to stop. There is no expectation of a green light to be had. The average person spends roughly 6 months waiting at red lights during the course of a lifetime. I'm raising the mean and I don't like it. If anyone knows of a good witch doctor that specializes in eradication of curses, please let me know. I need a break from the red.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Best Race I Won't Do This Year

There are several ways to identify a high quality, challenging race. Without going into the specific details of race selection, race distance, prize purses, governing bodies, host organizations, race director philosophies, etc., there may be a simple way to find an event that meets your needs.

Judge a Book By Its Cover
The first triathlon was invented by a running club in San Diego in the 1970s. Their goal was to cross train. Later on, a group of military guys made a bar bet in Hawaii. The result of the bar bet was the Ironman. For a while, the Ironman was the only gig in town. And by town, I mean the United States. And by the United States, I mean Hawaii. That race has been modified but has kept its prestige.

Since the advent of the Ironman, several races have popped up carrying the '-Man' brand. If you are thinking about a hosting a race, if you want immediate attention in the triathlon community, add the word 'Man' to your race title. It shows you mean business. Take for example (and these are just races off the top of my head, too lazy to research at this point), Eagleman, Mooseman, Musselman, Timberman, Skinnyman, and the Mulletman.

Mind you, this is not a gender thing. Women are actively encouraged to participate, mostly because straight dudes feel funky hanging out in lycra all by themselves. If you are looking for high quality female only races, they tend to end in '-Girl', such as 'IronGirl.' As stated in the title, no boys allowed.

Granted, the title of a '-Man' does not guarantee a good race. But, if you tack the man on to the end of your race, you'd better bring it. Triathletes are exploratory but fickle. They are willing to try anything at least once. Put on a bad show and it's off to the forums to bash you into smitherines.

The Latest "Man" Race
This year on July 16th, I will be competing in a 'man' race known as the Musselman. I signed up for this race months ago, back when the prices for registration were still relatively cheap. A couple of months later, I came across this race and I am kicking myself. Had I been patient, I'd drop the Musselman like a lead weight and head off to Port Austin Michigan (violating my 2 hour drive rule).

Enter the "BEERMAN". This race has a lot going on and since the race director, Jon, has attached the "Man", you know it had better be awesome. By all reasonable expectations, it will be.

The race diverts from traditional triathlons in that it is staged. Unsure what this means? It basically says that you get to rest in between disciplines. There are 4 stages held over the course of a single day. 
Stage 1: 5K run (see, not too bad)
Stage 2: 1 mile swim in Lake Huron (careful of the Canadians)
Stage 3: 40k cycle, draft legal but only off your own teammates (I have no teammates, maybe I could buy some)
Stage 4: Beer mile- Distance: you guessed it, 1 mile on a track.

Fine Print
Most of the stages are straight forward. Run. Swim (with a wetsuit if you like). Bike. Run. It's that last run that makes this event special. You must drink a beer. Then run a lap. Then drink a beer. Continue until you have covered 1 mile (that's 4 laps and 4 beers in case you didn't pay attention in high school). BUT, focus here, you cannot drink crappy, Bud Lime or anything containing the words "light" or "lite". Your brew, provided by you, must be 5% ABV or greater. Next, if you yack on any particular lap, that lap doesn't count and you must re-beer and re-lap. Seriously, leave your fraternity house gimmicks at home (or at least in the car), they are not allowed on the course. Using a bong or a wide mouth can will result in public shame and/ or disqualification. Just don't try it.

Here are the official rules (with my commentary)
1.    This event is FREE. No whining, bitching, complaining, or lawsuits. (I wish this rule was the norm. Thanks Jon for being real)
2.    Participants must support themselves. No food or aid will be provided. Come prepared as you would for training. (Can one really train for an event like this?)
3.    Depending on the number of hopefuls to become BEERMEN, I may require teams to get their own escort on the swim. This also depends on the location of the swim (still TBD). Kayaks are available for rent in downtown Port Austin. (Given rule #1, I doubt most people will actually listen to this rule)
4.    No doping! (But dopes are highly encouraged)
5.    Cyclists must wear helmets and obey all traffic laws. (No comment, just common sense)
6.    Any conventional Tri, road, cross or mountain bike is fine. I don't care if you are riding a Cervelo P4 or your Mom's huffy. However, if you show up with some goofball recumbent you will not be included in the results and will most likely be mocked. (Agreed. Where do people buy those recumbent bikes anyway?)
7.    Participants are responsible for their own timing. Bring a watch! (Or just make up a time, I doubt there will be many prizes anyway)
8.    Bring your own beer. Must be 5% alcohol by volume or greater. (I think you should get time bonuses for higher %ABV beers. Work that in for next year.)
9.    All beermile participants must have designated drivers or walk/ bike home (Can't we just sleep on the track?)
10.  I reserve the right to make up any rule at anytime. Failure to adhere to my rules can result in your ejection from BEERMAN and public humiliation. (This is a common line placed in most race rules by all RDs. You really should read your race waiver more carefully. We call it the CYA rule.)
If you are interested, send a message off to Please include name, age, email, phone #, team name, and potential other teammates names. (Teammates not required). If you are female, please send along measurements and pictures. There is a race flyer that has more information, such as where to stay, FAQs, and some words of encouragement for the common folk.  Since I cannot figure out how to attach a document to the blog and don't wish to copy it in for fear of making a really long post, I'll keep it on my hard drive. If anyone wants the flyer, comment on the post and I'll figure something out. Or, you can ask Jon in your registration message. Or, even better, you can find the race on FaceBook.

Again, I will NOT be doing this race in 2011. Non-attendance should not be taken for non-desire. I have already made commitments before I caught wind of this event. If it is indeed successful and if Jon decides to move the event up a week in 2012, I will probably make the trek. I do hope to get some follow-up information after the event. It sounds like a blast. Non- USAT sanctioned... The Beerman has all the makings of grandeur and is deserving of the "Man" in its title.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Race Review and Results- Keuka Lake Triathlon

On the Swim
We waited around for what seemed like eternity for the swim to get started. I was lumped into the second wave, which was completely unrelated to the delay. There were some personnel that had not yet arrived on the bike course and we were kindly waiting for the officer to get stationed. Those guys do us a great service so the wait was only slightly annoying. With all the people at their posts, the race was underway.

As the first wave of swimmers went off, I took a glance back and noticed the large number of people waiting in line behind me. That observation only fueled my belief that swim starts are too deeply waved. I would have preferred to swim with more people and have more competitors grouped together throughout the whole course. But, my time to contemplate such was limited with only a 3 minute wave gap.

As we entered the water, I was immensely shocked at the temperature of the drink. Having been acclimated to the YMCA's 84º pool, 64º seemed downright frigid. Luckily, I was more bundled up than I have ever been in the water. This was my first attempt at an open water swim in my sleeved wet suit. In the past, I went sleeveless. The lack of sleeves was designed to free up my shoulders while giving me the ability to intimidate my rivals with my massive biceps. The intimidation factor was covered by 4 mm of rubber and I had to rely solely on my swimming skills.

The first buoy was roughly about 200 yards away. I sat on the feet of some dude for roughly 100 meters. I took an opportunity to spot making sure we were on the right path. We were. Thank you dude! However, there were 2 other dudes not far in front of me. I was feeling good as it was early and I was hanging out in the draft zone. Strange things play in your mind at this stage of the game. My brain waves were screaming at me to ditch the dude and catch the other 2. Like an idiot, I listened to the inner chatter and went for it. Mind you, there were still roughly 1300 yards left to swim. I never caught them and was hung out in no-mans-land.

Stroking in the middle of a lake, all alone, my triathlon swimming instinct immediately took over. This includes focusing on keeping my stroke long and smooth. Keep my head down. Spot every 10 strokes or so. Monitor the feelings in my arms and lungs for signs of over-doing it. I was still feeling good and by all calculations (not that this is easy in an open-water environment) sitting in 3rd place for the wave. At around the 900 yard mark, I got caught. Two different dudes than the ones I was pursuing hung on my feet for roughly 50 yards. I spotted and saw an off colored buoy. I relaxed a bit as this color indicated a turn on the course. The first guy passed me just before the buoy while the other hung in my jet wash. I didn't mind. I was able to sit on his feet for a while and I knew we had a big left hand turn.

Buoy arrived and that idiot kept going like he completely missed it. Ha! But, the other bloke behind me also kept straight. Alarms were sounding in my head at a deafening tone. I quickly spotted in 2 directions. The first was the one I wanted to swim. The other was following the line of sight I had just exited. There were roughly 5 more bright orange buoys and one neon green bobbing in my now-former path. I had errantly turned at the sprint buoy. Luckily I had caught it only a yard or two in. I was able to re-set my sail for the right course without losing too much ground. It pays to know the course in advance and I didn't get paid.

By now, my arms were screaming. I was really pushing it trying to catch my former swimmates and failing miserably. I held on to my form but my speed was slowing. By now, I was also in the thick of the middle to back of the pack of the first wave of swimmers. Now, I had to meander through bodies while frantically searching for some feet to draft. It wasn't easy to depict between the speed I wanted even with the different colored swim caps. I hit the real turn buoy for my race and hung the left hand turn, headed for home. With no luck finding a pacer, it was all up to me.

KLT Swim Exit
I exited the water in about 10th place for my wave. Not too bad. The problem was that I was in 7th in my age group. I don't expect to win the swim, not at this time of the season (or ever for that matter). But, for some reason, I feel wholly unsatisfied with a 7th place AG, 24th boy, and 29th overall. I'll have to check some results from previous years as I remember consistently being higher in the swim rankings. Plus, I think my age group is getting tremendously competitive. I am going to have to step up my game if I want satisfaction.

In Transition 1
The swim exited onto a short beach with stairs that led us up to the rest of campus and transition. The race organizers didn't want us to de-robe near the water for fear of a back log of people between the water and stairs. I also suspect that they didn't want us to create any wet suit tripping hazards along the way. This is most unfortunate as the best place to strip is in or near the swim exit. The water acts as a lubricant to peel off your glove smoothly. Alas, after a short jog up a flight of stairs, the water has a chance to vacate the gaps making peeling all the more arduous.

I struggled getting the suit off in transition. Conventional wisdom dictates that you should pull the suit down as far as you can, lift up one foot and stomp on your suit while pulling the other foot free. The neoprene refused to release its grip on that chunk of meat known as my calves regardless of how many times I had to stomp. I was forced to sit and yank, costing me valuable seconds. I watched as fellow athletes made it out of transition. I took almost a full 90 seconds to get in and out. This was a full 30 seconds longer than expected and frustrating.

On the Bike
The first mile or two were bumpy. There were expansion cracks, holes, bumps, grooves, etc. You name it, this road had it. I had to navigate the mine pit while finding my personal groove. Since I have not practiced the Swim-to-Bike brick, my heart rate was going for a personal record on a bike ride. I ignored it. I knew it would come down after the initial excitement of biking passed over. After a couple of miles, we turned off the whoopty-doos and turned onto Rt 54a.

If you read my race preview for the KLT, you'd know that this road was a potential deal breaker. In years past, this was the single suckiest stretch of land I had ever biked on and it still gives me nightmares. No longer. Nightmare has magically transformed into biking bliss. Freshly paved and clean asphalt replaced the once back-breaking, shock damaging lane of road. I wish we could have done laps on that section of biking heaven.

Alas, it was not meant to be as the intermediate course turned us off of 54a and headed us back towards the lake. This nearly 3 mile stretch was a different kind of hell, the kind that eats into your soul while sucking your average mph to disgusting levels. Remember that my HR was previously high. Well, this section did nothing to fix it. The climb kept going and going. I am pleased to report that I did not change positions on the course too much. I passed just as many people as passed me. Near the end of the climb, we hung a right hand turn towards an out-and-back that extended the course to give us the required mileage. Being an out-and-back, I was able to count my position and I was sitting in 30th place overall. I rationalized that since some of these people started in the first wave to my second, my actual ranking was higher. Further rationalizing led me to the conclusion that there were people in waves behind me that were faster, therefore my placement was probably rather close to true. Even more rationalizing told me to shut up and bike.

When we hit the second and final turn-around point, the speed returned. All that potential energy being stored in the slope of the land while we climbed came flowing back into the system as it converted itself to kinetic energy AKA yee-haw. I was actually able to move up in the ranks a bit on this last stretch while simultaneously watching my HR finally come down. This is when the bike ride gets fun.

I averaged 21 mph over the course which placed me at 11th in my age group, 38th amongst the boys and 39th overall. See how my average place compared to the whole is going down.

In Transition 2
I have practiced the flying dismount. I can take me feet out of my shoes while pedaling. The bike route ended with a short but sharp downhill making pedaling moot. Braking was the necessary skill now. I was able to slow, pop of the bike and hit the pavement running exactly as I planned.

I found my bike slot. This was not hard as the race organizers want to develop a sense of closeness and make sure that one bike is not too far from its neighbor. I posted the wheel, off with the helmet and glasses. Unclip my Garmin and click it onto my wrist. Next come the shoes. I had practiced this before and had every intention of running without socks. I knew I would probably get a small blister or two but I was willing to cope.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." Many people think Einstein said this. It may be true, but it has not been proven. Regardless of the author, the words speak true. In my first attempt at sliding on my racing runners, the insole slid and bunched in the toe box. Pull out my foot, reset the insole and try again, with the same results. I was going crazy. I finally got the left shoe on and went for the right. More crazy, three times over.

The person with the fastest T2 time was right around 30 seconds. Me- 75 seconds putting me in 110th place for T2. Horrible. I am now considering supergluing my insoles to the shoe to prevent this from happening in the future.

On the Run

The run for this course is about the most uneventful run you can imagine. For a 10k, you run out for 3.1 miles, turn around and come back. There were no turns or hills. There was plenty of scenery and lots of shade, both big positives. The course also gives you an opportunity to see all of your competition. I was on the way out as the race leader was on his way back. What's one to do in this situation? Start counting. I hit the turn around in 32nd place.

I've had a good winter in terms of running. My base is good and my speed is improved. About a week or so ago, I started to get knee pain in my right knee. According to google, my issues may result from a medial meniscus problem. Have I gone to the doctor yet? Nope. Lousy male-ego gene. I took the week off of running before the race to give it a chance to heal itself. It was quite apparent at the 3.5 mile mark that the knee was going to win the argument. I was at a 6:55 average pace and coping with the throb. But the issue was building and forcing me to slow. Still, I was able to hang on and finish the race with a 7:05 overall pace, which is better than any previous triathlon pace. This effort afforded me 10th in my AG for the run, 37th boy and 38th overall. If I was happy, the knee was not. I haven't run since.

I had a good race. I finished in 26th place overall and 7th in my age group. There was no chicking in this race for the overall place. Yet, I still feel a bit empty inside. I can't help but feel like I should have done better. I had a swim snafu, 2 transition problems and a good (but not great) bike split. Then, I think about the soreness that developed in my shoulders and triceps from a new wetsuit on the swim. I also think I am grumpy about the pain in my knee. I am attempting my own rehab before I involve the pros. I feel my ironman dreams for 2011 slipping away. I still plan on making the most of my season. I have every intention of putting the KLT on my calendar next year. It's a good race. And, with the freshly paced roads, there's really no excuse to avoid it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Confessions of A Chronic Procrastinator

The Farmer and the Snake
One winter day, a farmer found a snake by the roadside, stiff and motionless with cold.

"If you put me inside your shirt," the snake said, "your body will make me warm and I won't freeze to death."

"Oh, I know your kind," replied the farmer. "If I pick you up, you will bite me."

"Oh no," the snake objected. "Why would I do such a thing, if you are good enough to help me?"

So the farmer had compassion on the snake, and taking it up, he put it inside his shirt. The warmth quickly revived the snake, and resuming its natural instincts, it bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound. "Oh," cried the farmer with his last breath, "why did you bite me? You promised you wouldn't."
"Ah," said the snake. "So I did. But you knew I was a snake when you picked me up."
There have many incarnations of this story, from many Native American tales to Aesop to popular musical lyrics of Al Wilson to various religious stories. As I read the story, I can't help but feel a connection to the moral. No I'm not a snake (at least I don't think so), but I am a procrastinator, which is a different kind of serpent.

Examples from my Youth
I used to calculate the maximum amount of sleep I could get before school. Here's how it worked: I am a creature of habit. My morning routine was relatively unchanged. Get up. Potty. Shower. Brush. Change. Eat. Leave. Rather simple and easily repeated. One day, I noticed that I was hitting the snooze button. That extra 9 minutes meant something to me...less sleep. I decided to eliminate the snooze. Then, I started combining morning steps. I could brush while in the shower. I could leave and eat at the same time. Thus, I saved valuable minutes, accomplished all my morning requirements, and maximized sleep minutes. Sadly, sometimes things didn't work out the way I had planned (no clean clothes, no food, someone else beat me to the bathroom, etc). The consequences varied from going hungry to going smelly (Note: Popularity was not a concern of mine). All could have been solved by getting up a few minutes earlier but I made a conscious effort to put it off.

I was your classic nerd in school. Knew-it-all. (See note on popularity.) That's KNEW, as in past tense. I refuse to comment on the present in this portion of the story. Homework seemed like a waste and I refused to bring it home. Unlike most students with this view, I excelled in school. I got good grades on assignments and on tests. How was this possible? Multitasking. See, I would do homework for the next class in the one prior. I developed a skill of taking notes while doing homework. Worked for me. Once in a while, I would fail to complete it all (lousy teacher standing over my shoulder).Was I the best student in class? Nope. But I could have been if only I'd have taken the extra few minutes to do my work ahead of time.

My second pure marathon (done before I found triathlon), was Chicago in 1999. Me and a group of buddies were still in the car searching for parking when the gun went off. The race had started and  hadn't arrived on site. We were not concerned. There were 30,000 people in the race. We parked the car about a half mile out and ran with our gear. When we showed up, the line was still quite long. We had time to go to the bathroom, drop off our gear bag, flirt with some of the volunteers, and jump in line. And to imagine some of those chumps got there an hour or 2 ahead of time. We wasted not a single minute and got to start the race with the rest of the clowns that morning (some were literally clowns).

Not Much Has Changed
Last week, I did the Corporate Challenge with a few of my work buddies. They had obviously not grown up in a world of procrastination. Their thought, let's leave for the race 2-hours pre-start. "But" I chided, "there's so much more we can accomplish in life with that extra time." I wanted to go for a longer bike ride, cut the grass, eat dinner, hang out with the Wife, play with the PRP, and much more. Granted, I had a good time with the Cast so I have no regrets. If it were not for them, I would have arrived at 6:50, roughly 10 minutes before the race, and wondered why I showed up so early.

Don't believe me? Take this weekend's races, when I arrived at the River Ramble, I noticed the official race timer counting down to the start time. It was T-minus 8 minutes and counting. I had my race bib in the building on the other side of campus and had to use the facilities. Plenty of time. After a short walk to the other side which I now lovingly refer to as 'the warm-up', the Wife and I made it back to the start line at T-minus 45 seconds. Crap, I still had thee-quarters of a minute to kill. I guess I'll just stand around like everybody else.

Okay, I admit, that these examples are from lower priority functions. What about the real deal? Not much different for me. I did the Keuka Lake Triathlon. The first real multisport event of the year was this weekend. I've been waiting 8 months for this day. What did I do? I calculated the last possible moment I could get up, get the Wife up (she went with as a fan :-) ), wake up the dogs (more fans), and drive to the race site. Keep in mind that I had to drive 90 minutes to get there. Worse, triathlon has stuff that you need to set up. In a run, you show up. You run. You leave. In tri, you place your bike in transition, set up your helmet and glasses, set up both sets of shoes, make sure you have water and nutrition, get your cap and goggles, body glide necessary areas, and a lot more. You have stickers and numbers you need to attach to the various parts of you gear and self. Further, the RD's feel the need to kick you out of transition long before (15 minutes) the race actually starts. That's 15 minutes of standing around doing nothing when I could be setting up my gear. So, the advertised time transition close time was 7:15. What time did I arrive on race site? 7:02 and I had not picked up my race packet yet. I walked out of transition at 7:14.35 grumpy about the extra 25 seconds.

Surely I change my ways for the big, expensive races. Well, maybe. For the 2010 Ironman Lake Placid, I did get up at 4:00 am for a race that started at 7:00 am. I woke up specifically for feeding. The science says that you should eat roughly 3-4 hours pre-race. Notice how I calculated my wake up time on the more-sleep side of the spectrum. We stayed in a house about 1 mile and a half away from transition. Transition closed at 6:45. What time did I make an appearance? 6:35. I got everything set-up and my special needs down to the pile on time. Showed up to bob up and down in the mass swim start with an extra 4 minutes to spare. I hope to be more efficient this year.

I've Been Bitten
As I sit here idly waiting for a couple of things to happen (race results to be posted and knee pain to subside), I am thinking deep thoughts about characteristics and personality. Mainly, I am thinking about how much time I waste doing non-productive things (such as blogging) and how often I put off taking care of responsibilities. I do actually take care of business, I just don't do it early. Classic procrastination.

Take training: I put off swimming until the last possible date. I don't get serious in the water until about 6-8 weeks out from the main event. I don't need much more time than that to get in good swimming shape. Why start something today that which could be put off until tomorrow? I start biking and running much earlier in the year because it takes that long to build up the necessary speed and endurance to compete at the IronLevel. Not that I'm all that competitive yet. The distance also requires several years to get good. Too bad no one told me that years ago.

If I showed up to a race early, would I benefit? Probably. I would have a chance to warm-up properly. Check out transition and go through the motions. I might get a chance to socialize and develop relationships that would benefit me in the sport. Maybe I could find a workout partner or 2. Maybe I could learn a few new tricks. All of this appeals to me. Will I actually show up to a race early? Doubtful. But, hey, I knew I was a procrastinator when the triathlon-snake bit me.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Race Review- River Ramble

This weekend featured a modified double event. It was modified in a couple of different ways: First, the races were organized by different groups with different causes (as opposed to the last time I doubled, which were the same people and cause). Second, the Saturday's race wasn't really a race for me. Do not let that statement detract from the amount of my enjoyment.

The River Ramble
If you were to envision a good day for running, it might go like this: Not too cold, not to hot. Maybe have the temperature linger near 60º. Take the sun and drop it behind the clouds. Allow a breeze, but make it a gentle one. Also, the breeze should be in your face on the downhill and at your back going up. Next, don't hold the race first thing in the morning. Put it off until most of America is readily awake, say 9:00 am. Then, set-up a race course that crosses zero streets. There's no need to control traffic. Last, hold the event so that after you cross the finish line, there are ample games, food, and even live music. Put all of that together and you got the River Ramble held on Saturday, June 4th.

The Good
I opted to run with the Wife, side-by-side, step-for-step. One of my students asked me if I was "racing" or "hanging out". I just pointed at the Wife. He understood. Still, he's aching to run against me head-to-head. Based on his finish time and my recent running abilities, I would have beat him. There's no glory in that reality for me. I was happy right where I was. Here's some quotes heard on the course:
  • "Hey (Banter), get up there as show those kids how to run." (Which I replied, 'I'd rather stay here and show those kids how to hang out with a hot chick.')
  • "The couple that races together, stays together."
  • "I'm cold, give me your sweatshirt." (I do like it when she wears my clothes.)
The Wife held a blistering pace of 8:35 per mile (unofficial) and finished a step ahead of me (official). I got chicked by my own wife. Proud moment indeed.

The Bad
My only improvement idea for this race would stem from parking. The RSD Campus had several parking lots closed and they (cheaply) rented parking space from a nearby manufacturing complex. Still, none of this was adequate and several people (myself included) parked illegally. If you're going to host an event on campus, use your campus and resources.

The Ugly
I noticed a reoccurring pain in my right knee. Not good. I am very concerned especially since I am out of time. The big races of my season are quickly approaching and I want to hit them hard.

Coming soon to a blog-post near you, my experiences at the Keuka Lake Triathlon. I'm waiting for the results to be posted before I dive into that post.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Race Preview- Keuka Lake Triathlon

There's only a few times in my life I can remember this happening. Most of them are repressed. I am at a loss for words. I'm kind of giddy with anticipation. Triathlon season in the New England has finally arrived.

It feels kind of weird to say that. First, I am not used to saying I live in the 'New England' area. I am a mid-Westerner at heart, having been born and raised roughly 45 miles outside of Chicago for most of my life. I'm not even sure what the main difference is. Most everything here is the same there, right down to the accent. Still feels weird to say it though.

Second, it's been a long, cold, crappy winter. With more than our fair share of below average temperatures, more than out fair share of precipitation, more than our fair share of the Banter whining about life bike workouts in the basement as opposed to on the roads. Triathlon off-season here is roughly 8 months long. It hardly seems fair to endure 4 months of triathlon freedom. I may need to change my 2-hour commute rule.

My History with KLT
After the long, hard wait, triathlon season kicks off with the Keuka Lake Triathlon. This race will mark the 4th time I've competed at KLT. I did this race a few years back as a sprint distance. After my second bout with the event, I dropped it from my schedule. I know it's highly unpopular to post negative comments about an event, but I'm really into sincerity. So, in all honesty, I hated this race. The swim course was frustrating. The water was cold back then (58º) and I had to rent a wetsuit. (I was a rookie and had not discovered the wet-suit advantage.) The bike portion was amongst the worst, if not at the top of the list, of bad surfaces. The run course was on the Keuka College campus and was confusing. I had nothing but negative emotions and I promised myself I wouldn't do that race again.

Soon thereafter, I caught the Ironman bug. Pre-IM, I was really into sprint distance triathlons. They are still my favorite. But, since the M-dot events are long and drawn out, I started to put longer distance races on my calendar. In 2010, I made the move to put Keuka Lake back on my calendar. Am I an oath breaker? Not in my mind because I upped the distance. I would no longer do the sprint distance but now will hit the olympic/ intermediate distance race.

The 2010 KLT was my first oly distance triathlon and it sucked. I wasn't about my fitness, though. Whatever issues I had in the past with the swim course were solved and the improved swim was welcomed. The course was a modified triangle. Swim out to the first buoy, hang a left, swim short to the next buoy and another left, then swim a long, long way until the final left that sends you home. Given that Keuka Lake is a finger lake, carved out by glacier movement, there is quite the steep slope leading from the water's edge to transition. You have to cope with a nice stair climb to get to your bike.

I find that transition at the KLT is smaller than necessary. The space available for racking your bikes is close to infinite. Keuka College is a beauty with lots of green. But the bikes are sardined. Still, it wasn't that challenging to find your bike should you have a clue as to what you are doing.

The bike course still sucked. Route 54a, in my opinion, was the worst kept road in the state of NY. A long stretch of the course was on this every-15-feet hit a bump, hole, expansion crack, groove, etc. There was absolutely no way to stay comfortable on your bike. Luckily for most of the competitors, there were not many race officials out on the course. If so, there would have been more people serving time penalties for dropped gear/ littering on the course. Water bottles could not stay in their cages. Mesh splash guards from aero bottles (including mine) dotted the course like a herd of small, yellow road kill.

Once I turned off of this disaster-pit of a route, the road was freshly paved. It was like pure heaven... Until my flat tire. A nice little piece of glass wedged itself into my rear wheel with about 4 miles left in the ride. I dutifully changed the tire. After another mile, I got back into my groove. Psst. Flat tire #2, this time due to a sharp rock which embedded itself into, again, my rear tire. Luckily I pack enough fix-it gear to handle 2 flats. This is mostly for training purposes but it came in handy during the race.

One nice aspect of a small transition area is fast transition times. It doesn't take too long to traverse a dinky plot of land. If you rack your stuff correctly, transitions of under 30 seconds are highly possible.

Whatever those people were smoking a few years back when they mapped out the run course seemed to metabolize out of their systems. The 2010 run course was along the lakeside road. If you looked to the east, the beauty of the lake serenaded your eyes with its nature music. And, because of of it's proximity to the lake, it was flat. Pancake like. If you ran the sprint, go out for a mile and a half, turn around, and come back. For the oly, go 3 miles and come back. You can't get lost.

My Future with the KLT
The current swim course for the 2011 will feature the new and improved course that I enjoyed a year ago. It's just shy of a mile, or about 1400 yards if you wanted to swim along at home. This year's water temp is still well below the USAT wetsuit cutoff temp, sitting on 62º as of June 2nd. I'm still a bit out of shape for swimming but I've done longer distances on less training. To compensate for my lack of yardage, I will be testing out my new Xterra Vector Pro long-sleeved wetsuit. This is, hopefully, an upgrade from my previous Nineteen sleeveless suit. But, that's the purpose of these races in my schedule. I need to test out the gear and learn my lessons before the big day. Since this will be my first open water swim of the season, it's as good a time as any to learn.

I was fretting the bike until I got wind that the state finally decided to dump some asphalt down on Rt 54a. There's even a rumor that they sent in someone with a roller to make it smooth. No more will the course feel like a featured event at 6 Flags. I still think that my biking speed is down from a year ago. But, if I can avoid any unnecessary tire changes, I should do good. The bike course features some rolling hills early with a beast of a climb about halfway through. The climbing is over 1000 feet total. The positive is the decline on your way back setting up your legs for a nice run.

My running is faster in 2011 than in last year. I ran an average of 7:15 off the bike. Granted, I had the pleasure of a couple of large biking breaks taking some of the strain off my legs. The run course, as advertised is quite flat, featuring roughly 75 feet of ascent. It feels like less. I'm hoping to hit 7:00 per mile or better. 

The 2011 triathlon season is here. With new roads and good weather in the forecast, I couldn't be happier. It's the itch that I finally get to scratch. With a totally revamped course, I will probably keep this race on my schedule for years to come. I may even rescind my "won't do the sprint" vow. Bring on the tri!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Race Preview- River Ramble

There are a lot of people in my life of whom I draw inspiration. They support me. I support them. I am happy. None of which is as good of a support as The Wife. How she puts up with me and all the crap I can dish out if far beyond my intellectual capacity. In truth, I don't dwell on the thought. There are some questions better left un-answered (plus, I'm not sure even she knows the answer). I choose not to ask.

Anyway, the Wife suggested that we do a 5k run together this Saturday. As you'll notice, this race is not on my original schedule. The Wife asks- the Banter complies. So she signed us up for the River Ramble 5k. This race is providing me with more than normal amounts of stress. Well, any stress pre-race is not normal. I have not gotten pre-race jitters since high school.

Why should this race get my panties in an knot? Several reasons, really. First, the race is a fundraiser. This should come as no surprise. I'm pretty sure that all 5k's nowadays are fundraisers. So raising money for a good cause is not much of an issue. A good cause? The beneficiary is the local school for the deaf. The only school for the deaf in town. The Rochester School for the Deaf. This is my school. The money raised helps me keep my job. I paid for my own job. The Wife also works at the school. She paid for her own job. We are like perpetual money machines. The money that paid for my race came from the job. But the money from the job paid for the race. But, since I know the science behind the impossibility of perpetuation, the money's destined to run out before the job. Or is that the job will run out before the money? Can't you see why this is stressful?

The second cause of stress relates to The Wife's participation. As a guy, I am blessed with the ego-gene. And, part of the ego-gene is the competition addendum. Simply put, I must try to win. It doesn't really matter if I CAN win. I have to try anyway. The Wife's presence emboldens the gene, making it all that much more important to win. I must look good in front of the Wife. How else would she respect me as a man? It's certainly not for my blogging skills. I will not win this race. Further, making matters worse, the Wife would not be impressed if I did win. I don't get her sometimes.

Third, there are likely to be several people with whom I work and respect participating in the race. Some of these people include my students. Understand that, when I run, I sweat. Speed and sweat rate are not necessarily related. I know the process well. Start running and I'm feeling fine. At roughly the 2 minute mark, beads start to form on my brow. At the 4 minute mark, the sweating rash spreads to my chest and (ew) underarms. At the 15 minute mark, I've got a full body waterfall. Over the course of a 5k, I'll be nice and sloppy. One of the main ingredients, I'm sorry to report, is urea. Out comes cellular waste in all of its stinky glory. I have to find a way to run, sweat, stink, and still maintain the respect of my colleagues and students. I'm not sure this is possible.

Stress Relievers
The Wife, I am confident, is significantly smarter than I. If you ignore the fact that she married me, she's got a great head on her shoulders. Her response to my petty concerns? "Let's run together." Stress--> Gone.

Since she is the accountant/ money manager in the family, she's not concerned about the paradoxal cash flow conundrum. If she's not concerned, neither am I. Apparently, my job is not at all related to the well being of the event. Still, if you don't want to risk it, please consider a nice donation to our private- specialized education school. Should you wish to send some cash our way, you can get more information here.

Because we are running together, my pressure to win automatically subsides. Instead of crossing the line in first place, I get to cross the line with a hottie. Even the ego-gene recognizes the sacrifice of a victory over the prospect of being seen in public with a hot chick. Hot-chick attention trumps winning. Perfect.

The Wife under my arm at the finish... Okay, not literally, because I will still be sweaty and she's likely to be repulsed. But, since were married, she's (hopefully) used to my musk and therefore more willing to hold her tongue while repressing her gag reflex. And, since she's the sparkle in my eye and I find it tough to concentrate on the other people in the area, this renders socializing unnecessary. Still, socializing is bound to happen. I rationalize that the men will understand the situation (upon seeing the hot chick). The women will appreciate the gesture of giving up the competition for a nice run with the Wife. The students don't pay attention to me in class, why would they start on the weekend?

So, this weekend's fun run supports a good cause which has very little with me keeping my job. The race features a small incline stretched out over roughly a half mile. As an out-and-back, half road/ half trail run, the down happens on the out. There is a small decline heading into the chute, allowing for a fast, strong finish.

Should you not enjoy a run, there is a walk which leads you through the beautiful Maplewood Rose Garden. If that's not enough, there will be a garage sale, games for the kids, and live music. The Rochester School for the Deaf campus will be transformed to make this an event worth checking out. Plus, I'll be there. You recognize me as the doofus hanging out with a woman whose obviously out of his league. Just don't tell her that. Hope to see you there.