Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Race Review and Results- Rochester Triathlon

Saturday marked the First Annual Rochester Triathlon. I had mixed feelings about this event. Translation: I thought there were some goods and some bads. So, let's get on with it.

The Venue
The race was a sprint distance triathlon at Durand Eastman Park Beach on Lake Ontario. I'm pretty sure the RD of this race polled the locations in the area and asked them, "Who wants to hold a triathlon?" Durand Eastman jumped up and down waving its hands in the air yelling "Ooh, ooh, pick me pick me." That park is a hard one to turn away. It's right on the lake. It's got some nice running paths, biking paths, picnic areas, parking areas, sand, and sun. It's got it all.  The good people at Score-This provided the timing. Boom, a race was born.

Plus, this race is within easy biking distance from my house. The Wife and I set out at a time later than normal for any other race. It was also a sneaky way to get me to do a warm-up, which as you know is not something that I do on a regular basis.

The Race
Transition closed at 6:45. Naturally, I did not leave until about 6:52. I was not the last person out, just in case you wanted to know. In fact, there were no less than 2 people running into transition as I was walking towards the beach. They weren't procrastinators, just forgetful. I didn't stick around to see what they were missing. 

The Sprint Distance race featured a swim at the upper limit of the distance with an 800 yard (1/2 mile) triangle shaped lap. Lake Ontario could not have cooperated more. I have never seen the Great Lake with enough vengeance that would inspire a Gordon Lightfoot song but I have practiced at this exact location with 4 foot swells and crushing white caps. It can get mean at times. Not during this race. The waterfront was nearly glass with some smallish ripples. It may have the calmest water conditions for a race this year. I elected to do this race without a wetsuit, once again handing my suit over to the Wife (who tells me that she likes swimming in the neoprene protective force field).

There were 2 waves: boys then girls separated by 6 minutes. We left the beach and headed east by northeast. It wasn't hard to navigate. With a 7:00 am start time coupled with a 6:30 sunrise, all we had to do was spot the nice, flaming ball of hydrogen/ helium and swim just a tad bit to the left. If you were blinded, you were too far right. If you could see clearly, you were too far left. You needed to find just the perfect combination of eye-sting and comfort in order to stay on course. Once you hit the first turn buoy, the sun was at your back and your vision was completely restored. I exited the water in 25th place overall.

Upon finishing the swim, there was a short climb from the beach to the transition area. Despite the uphill run, there were a couple of aspects on this jaunt which proved awesome. First, the normally wood-chipped mulch path was covered by 'welcome-mat' style runners. Much better to run on. Second, halfway up the path, they set-up a small, inflatable kiddie pool for racers to wash sand off their feet. With just a quick step into and out of the pool, you could wash the grime and sand off the soles without breaking your stride and wasting valuable seconds toweling off your toes.

Once in transition, I opted to go topless. If you recall my last race, I struggled getting my tri-top on over a wet torso. I decided that a shirt was mostly unnecessary and did the whole race mostly naked. This cut my transition time down to reasonable levels. My transition time was less than a minute and good enough for 8th overall.

The bike course was the most unique of the races thus far in my tri career. Imagine a capitol letter 'P'. The bike course started at the bottom of the 'P', turned right at the first intersection, went around the loop, and returned to the point. So far, this is not out of the ordinary, until you realize that this entire loop was a bit over 3 miles. A sprint distance is scheduled to be around 13 miles on the bike. The course had us do a hairpin turn at the base of the 'P' and do the entire thing over again. For a total of 4 times.

Lap 1 was a bit uneventful. The loop portion of the P started uphill and finished downhill.The hills were short and I was aggressive.  I was able to pick up several places on the guys in front of me. After the first lap, I hairpinned to start the next and had to merge with oncoming traffic as some of the slower swimmers and ladies in the second wave were starting their first lap. As the bike continued, there was more of the same, only now the path was getting more crowded with bikers. We had more than 200 people vying for a 3 mile path.

USAT rules were tossed out the window. Illegal passing on the right? Happened. Drafting? Happened. Blocking by riding consistently on the left? Happened. Littering by dropping gear on the course? Happened. (Aside: The course was not the best paved of park roads. Plus, at one end of the course, a park road merged with a main road. There was a nice bump at the intersection. I lost my backup innertube, my levers, and my CO2 dispenser at some point on the course. The velcro strap that attached them to my bike was also completely missing. The course was jarring. After the race, I did bike the course looking for my lost gear but it seemed like someone had cleaned up. Rats. Now I must go buy anew. End Aside.) Using a recombinant bike? Ok, I won't stoop that far. Despite the slalom through the other riders, I was able to put forth a rather decent bike time. I had the 10th fastest bike ride on the day and hit transition in 7th place overall.

In transition 2, I was a little bit slower than expected. I took the time to put on socks. That means I was able to dismount, run to my bike area, rack my bike, don socks and shoes, and finally run out of transition. I did all of that in a slow poke time of 42 seconds, which was good enough for 51st out of the group. What was interesting was that I was faster than the other guy in transition and managed to move up a notch. I left T2 in 6th.

His shiny 2nd place award
The final leg was as simple as you can get. There is a running path along the lake shore. Run for 1.55 miles. There was an arrow on the ground with a volunteer (conveniently chatting on his cell phone). Find that spot, turn around and head back. I had hoped for a sub-7:00 pace. I had recently been working hard on my short season and I wanted to get some 'speed' back in my legs. I ran my first mile at a 6:30 pace and still got passed by one dude (my guess is he was the bloke that I beat in transition). My second mile was slower as it included the uphill of the run. And, I got passed by another bloke. On the third mile, I felt strong but tapped out of speed. I had enough juice in the tank but the rpm's seemed to be maxed out. I got passed by bloke #3 with roughly a quarter mile left. I finished the run with the 16th fastest run on the day. I was 9th place overall and second in my age group. In case you were wondering, the run data from the 3 guys that beat me went as follows: Bloke 1 was the 5th fastest runner, Bloke 2 was the 3rd fastest runner, and Bloke 3 was the 11th fastest runner on the day. They were really good runners as my pace was a 6:48 per mile. Bloke 2 was in the upper  5 minute per mile range.

Her shiny 2nd place award
The Wife had success in her version of the race. She won her age group in the swim. She took her time in transition (which was her game plan the entire time, regardless of the wetsuit). She was second in her age group on the bike. She, again, took her time in transition (only this time, she was a bit faster compared to the rest of the clan). She did yell at me during the race twice. The first was when she was cheering for me. I had just started the run while she was starting her 4th lap of the bike. The second time was when I was about a quarter mile from the finish (bloke 3 just passed me) and she exclaimed, "This just isn't right." She was referring to the fact that I was done and she still had 3 miles left. Then, she rocked the run with a second place finish in her age group. She finished in 93rd place, was the 13th lady, and was second in her age group. That means the Banter household was 2 for 2 in second place age group finishes. Go us!

Thoughts About the Race
The swim was good, except for the swimming directly into the sun part. In the future, I would hope the race director would find a better way to control the sun. Or, at the very least, invest in a cloud making machine to block out the sun. The current technology on cloud making machines is weak, at best. But, clouds were only needed for about 15-20 minutes of the race, rendering this technology useful for race purposes.

I hope that the race directors change the bike course for the 2nd Annual. The bike course would actually be a deal breaker for me, which is a shame as I really like not driving to a race. However, 4 loops of a bumpy, crowded course was less than ideal. I felt like I got beat up and I definitely got bored of the course by the 3rd time around. To prove how brutal the race was, here are some pictures of my bike post-race.

The picture on the left shows how far the elbow pad on my aerobars shifted. The pad is normally parallel to the bar underneath. The picture on the right shows how much the aerobars themselves shifted. Normally, the levers are about 2 inches apart and level with each other. The lever on the left (right side in the picture) dropped down roughly 4 inches from its norm. The right lever (left side of the pic) dropped even further and warped itself past the center point. I was lucky to be able to shift gears by the end of the race. Using the appropriate tools (an allen wrench) I attempted to return the aerobars back to their normal position, which this far has been quite unsuccessful.

Now, in defense of the bike course, I believe that the race director did plan on a different course. The other course left the city of Rochester for a brief ride into the town of Irondequoit (which also happens to be the suburb in which I live). Irondequoit is pretty much flat broke. Yet, they still refused to issue the permits to allow people to race on its roads. I bet there is more to the story but I think I got the gist of it. Regardless of their reasons, I will select a different race next year if the bike course remains the same.

The run was as perfect as you could imagine. A few rolling hills. A beautiful lake to glisten the view. An out-and-back course which allows you to see your fellow competitors. No less than 3 people told me of my position in the race as I was finishing. Not that they needed to, I counted for myself but it was good to have validation.

The race was small in terms of participants. Less than 200 people registered for the race. I am in no way trying to dismiss the hard work and efforts of the RATS, the Race Director, nor the volunteers in this event. You guys and gals did a wonderful job hosting an outstanding event. When I originally set my race calendar for the 2011 triathlon year back in January, I had no idea that this race existed. I did scour the usual suspects for leads in races. It wasn't there (to the best of my knowledge which is sketchy under most circumstances). I only found the race by random chance (a flyer at the front desk of my YMCA). Granted, I know a little less than nothing about hosting and advertising for an event but I do wish that this race did a more efficient job at marketing. This was a good race for everyone (except for losers who don't like their aerobars to get discombobulated). Next year, there's bound to be a better showing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Natural Progression of Triathlon- Swimming

It seems as I have been on this Natural Progression of Men/ Running/ Triathlon kick. Why should I stop? It seems that most aspects of this sport follow a series. We are all on a continuum of some sorts whether we think about it or not. Since triathlon is composed of swimming, biking, and running, and since the entire sport has a progression, it makes only natural sense that each component of the sport has it's own progression. Unfortunately, in the realm of blogging and triathlon, this post is based in a fictitious belief (as opposed to my other posts, which are completely based in reality).

From Another Planet
In triathlon, very few, almost zero, people start off as triathletes. They/ We all come to the sport from another single-discipline. Triathletes talk like this. "I have a swimming background." "I have a running strength." "I have a boring, stupid blog." "I'm a good hill climber."

One reason is that there are no organized triathlon leagues. There are triathlon teams but it's a little different in the tri-world. For example, Buffalo, NY has a triathlon team/ club called the BTC (any guess what those letters stand for?). Rochester, NY also has a triathlon team/ club called the RATS. I do not know of a race where the BTC challenged the RATS in a head-to-head competition. Once in a while, a local triathlon will have a team prize, but it's not the norm.

Triathlon is not something kids do in school. High schools do not compete against each other in SBR. There is no triathlon little league. The only way most kids gain exposure to the sport is through their parents. Then, they may go to an event and participate in the kid's race. But, once school starts, triathlon is forgotten for most. Therefore, people become triathletes from some other discipline. (Aside: This is almost true. I am familiar with at least one HS that has a triathlon club. They are lead by a teacher/ coach at their school and compete in the open age group competition at a local triathlon. End Aside)

If you look at most of the race results by age group, you'll find a bunch of kids age 11 and younger in the kid's race. Then, on the average, less than 10 total participants between the ages of 12-20. The numbers don't pick up until after 25. The bell curve is at its apex around age 40 before narrowing back down to oblivion after age 60. Schools have swim teams and running teams. I am, to this day, still perplexed how people get involved in non-high school type sports; like cycling, luge, synchronized swimming, and (weirdest of all) soccer.

The fact is that most adults have had little to no formal training in the swimming discipline. Many have had some form of swim lessons but more so than not, they have not been extensively coached. This is most unfortunate as swimming is very technical. It takes a long time to master the proper technique to feel comfortable in the water. Even Olympic swimmers are constantly working on their form. Good swimming technique is something that few, if no one, can figure out on their own.

If I had it my way, all triathletes would come from a swimming background. This is a bit counter-intuitive as I have a swimming strength. This is the one stage of the sport where I am relatively confident in my skills and believe I have a benefit in the race over many others. Why would I want to take that away? The answer is, of course, safety (theirs, not mine).

My guess is that if you polled all of the active triathletes in America, which was at 135,000 people at the end of 2010, and asked them one simple question, "Which discipline concerns you the most?" You'd have an overwhelming percentage picking swimming. This is in light that very few have died in triathlon. Between the years 2006-2008, a grand total of 14 people passed away. Thirteen were on the swim leg of the race. Most (12) had heart problems. Triathlon and swimming remain a relatively safe sport, especially when you compare it to the number of people who die driving a car on a daily basis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 30,000 people die in a car annually. In further comparison, about 40 people worldwide get struck and die by lightening.

Recently, triathlon lost 2 of our own in the NYC Triathlon. Of course, their deaths happened during the swim. Below is a short video of that swim leg. From the shot, you can see several people in wetsuits swimming nicely, others are bobbing up and down with the current, and at the 13 second mark you can see a swimmer with a noodle-type flotation device (against the rules). Again, in the Banter's perfect world, all of those people in the video would be swimming. I can't imagine the stress welling inside someone that has to compete with a noodle. I liken it akin to having to do the bike leg with training wheels.  This is where the safety aspect comes in. The race is stressful enough. I want all racers to worry about their time and performance, not their comfort in the water.

In a recent Twitter conversation with a couple of other twits, they admitted to me how swimming was a challenge. The Banter-In-Law, who started his triathlon career a year ago, has come a long way in his swimming progress. It has not been without effort. Most of those experiences were in a pool. Pools have nice black lines on the bottom, they have lines on the side, they have walls, and in most reputable pools you can actually see your hand in front of the face.

Swimming In Triathlon
Open water swimming has other challenges that a pool will never offer. For example, the water is rarely smooth. Natural pulses of energy, known as waves, are common in a lake or ocean.
The water tends to be murky. There are creatures underneath the surface. Your mind can play tricks on you, especially in salt water when you are dressed up like a wounded seal. Once in a while, a triathlete will find a surprise on the bottom of the drink.

Once the race starts, the other triathletes can be obstacles as well. In a wave start, you typically are lined up with 20-150 of your closest friends. In Ironman Lake Placid, that number jumps to more than 2000. And, once the race starts, the ego takes over and you are no longer friends. You are competitors. Now, get out of the way. Just kidding. Most of the contact that happens in the water is incidental. It's nearly impossible to bunch that many people in the water, force them to wave their hands around in circles, and not have them touch each other.

The Imaginary Progression
So, back to my perfect triathlon world. Everyone would have exposure to a swim team as a kid. Not swim lessons, a swim team. The difference is in the practice time. Swim lessons tend to meet once a week for however many weeks the session schedule is held. The goal of lessons is comfort and survival. Swim team is 5-6 days. In most cases, not all mind you, the coaches of a swim team have a deeper knowledge of stroke technique. The goal of the team is competition. That's step one.

Step 2 in the progression is to practice open water swimming. This may be with a wetsuit. Wetsuit swimming is easier, faster, and warmer. In certain climes, such as NW New York, it's almost a requirement. Triathletes in other areas of the world don't need wetsuits.

Step 3 is to do the same open water swim without a wetsuit. It's so simple, even a teenager can do it. If you live anywhere around here, I'd suggest waiting to do it later in the season. Still, the body can adapt to some lower-than-you'd expect temperatures. My first open water swim was in water temperatures around 61º. I was chilly, yes, but I got over it quick enough. (Also, notice that I skipped in the progression. Then again, I was already comfortable swimming in open water.)

Step 4 is to be able to swim in open water under these conditions.

The point is that if you are uncomfortable in the water, uncertain about completing the distance, or unsure of your success in the swim portion of the race, it may be better for you to sit this one out. There are alternatives, such as a duathlon which features no swimming but is still challenging and rewarding. I know, it's not a triathlon. But, I don't want to do a post-humus blog write-up about you any time in the near future. Join a team, get comfortable, and meet me at the start. Just for the record, you're going down. (Sorry, bad choice of words.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Natural Progression of Triathlon- Race Selection

If you are familiar with my Theory on the Natural Progression of Men, you'd know I am a complete idiot. That, and many things in life follow a clear, sequential pattern. This Theory is not just inherent in men. I'm sure that there is a Natural Progression of Women, only I am not smart enough to detect it.

The Natural Progression also applies to sport, where it is most obvious. Almost every organized sport in existence has a built in progression system. Baseball starts with little league, then high school ball, followed by college ball. From college, you can do semi-pro or get drafted to the minors. Eventually, you'd make it to the Show. Thus, the Natural Progression. All kids playing baseball dream of making it to the big leagues and will work towards that goal. Some will give up along the way due to various forms of interference. Interference can take the form of Parental Interference, Spousal Interference (which includes the Children Interference), or the Lazy Complex (which simply means you gave up because you didn't want to put forth the amount of work the experts say is necessary to achieve the goal).

Disclaimer: I need to make it clear that each stage along the way has it's own distinct characteristics. I also want to make it clear that each stage is completely awesome with it's own hardships and challenges. At no time is any one stage better than another. Should an athlete end his or her progression at any stage before arriving to the next stage, for whatever reason, this does not diminish the athlete in any fashion. Further, regression in the progression has been known to happen as well as hop-scotching back and forth between the stages. This should not be construed as a negative.

Running Progression
Babies start walking around the age of 1. About 6 hours after they take their first steps, they are runners. They continue to dart around this way and that until they discover television and video games. Soon, the joy of running and mobility morphs into the "No" period of their life, commonly occurring around the age of 2. In the caveman days, the word 'no' was spoken by children in defiance of the parents forcing the kids to go run, usually after some sort of recently downed dinner item. No longer the case. Currently, running in youth is relegated to something kids do while being chased by cops or PE teachers in swishy pants and whistles. A very small sector of the population will continue to cherish running. We called those people cross country runners, who were neither cool nor popular. One of the main reasons cross country running was invented (should you know your cross country history) was as a means for like-minded individuals to practice escaping from bullies, many of which were on sub-par sports like football. (Nope, I do not, as a former CC runner, harbor any misgivings against football players.)

As children gradually become adults, the running gradually became something people did because their doctors told them to start leading a healthier life or be dead in the next 5 years. This shocked most people because they've been made believe that there was safety behind the desk and in front of the TV. No one warned them that a sedentary life-style coupled with a fast-food type diet was bad for them. They admit to not having paid full attention in middle school health class, but that's besides the point. Running was now work. (Aside: Many of the best runners I ever met as an adult fell into the get-in-shape-or-soon-die category. They were/ are amazing athletes and I have a thing or two to learn from them. End Aside.)

Faced with middle-aged mortality, adults will sign up for a 5k (3.1 mile) race to serve as a fundraiser for research on Childhood Obesity. This is the shortest race generally being offered to most individuals in any given area. Funny that, when we were on organized sports teams in high school, 3.1 miles was the longest race offered. Gone are the days of 100 meter dashes and timed mile runs. Your area likely has the equivalent of one 5k per weekend in a given radius. Even the former football players can be seen at these events.

The Natural Progression of Running Races starts here, at the 5k level. Soon, you'll be signing up for a 10k. Eventually, you'll see an advertisement for a 13.1 half-marathon. From there, it's easy to understand the appeal of the 26.2 full marathon, with talks of qualifying for Boston.

This is where the progression stops. Yes, there are alternative, intermediate distances in which you may participate. There are also distances greater than a marathon. But, according to the Theory, the Natural Progression ends at a culminating factor in which you are driven to achieve through no fault of your own. The marathon is the Natural Progression Culmination Factor. The Ultra-Marathon Runs do exist, but they are outside the Progression.

Natural Progression of Triathlon
It should come as no surprise that triathlon and running have very similar progressions. If you understand the most common triathlon distances, then you'd readily notice the parallels. Each sport has 4 main stages (with some odd intermediate stages tossed in once in a while). Stage 1 in running is the 5k. Stage 1 in triathlon is the Sprint, which ends in a 5k run. Stage 2 in running is the 10k. Stage 2 in triathlon is an Olympic ends in a 10k run. Stage 3 triathlon is the Half-Ironman, which concludes with a 13.1 mile run. The Culmination Factor of Triathlon is the Ironman, which ends with a marathon. The Great Granddaddy Culmination Factor in Triathlon (patent pending) is the Kona, Hawaii Ironman World Championships.

In an effort to get people into the Progression line, there has been a wave of Pre-Progression Triathlon Distances. These triathlons are recent inceptions and may meld themselves into the Natural Progression over time. They are oft penned "Try-a-Tri" and will offer shorter distances. Others are called Super-Sprints, which also have shorter distances but are designed to actually sprint in the traditional sense of the word (as opposed to the messed up triathlon version). These races are a blast.

A short history lesson in triathlon should help explain (somewhat) on how the main distances evolved. A group of military types were drinking in Hawaii and bragging about toughness. In a moment of drunken idiocy (as most miraculous events get started), they started to joke, then brag, about stringing Hawaii's 3 longest endurance events into one big contest. They were a 2.4 mile open water swim, a (2-day) 112 mile bike ride, and the Hawaii' Marathon. Note: There's a few more details to this story, this is just the basics. The Drunks set it up and the Ironman was born.

Now, if you take those original distances and cut them in half, you get the 1/2 Ironman. Get it. Clever how they combined a booze bet with math. Cut the 1/2 in half, and you get... (please be patient while I try to divide fractions. Not only did I sleep through middle school heath, but also MS Math) ... the Olympic Distance Triathlon. Get it. Half divided by a half equals Olympic. Ask your kids to write that on their homework and see if their MS math teacher accepts it, even though it is technically correct. We are one more fractional division problem away from the Sprint distance.

My Progression
Start from the bottom up and you get the Natural Progression of Triathlon Race Distances. This was my almost exact experience and one that I'd recommend to triathletes making their way through the sport.

My first triathlon was a Sprint Distance. Then another. Then another. I did many Sprints until I came across the Wormhole Proximity Interference. Several people may experience this sort of interference and it may happen to you. Here's how it goes:

I had already gone through the natural progression of running from 5k up to the marathon. But I had skipped the 10k as there were none offered in any of the areas in which I lived. This is the Wormhole Proximity Interference. Since there were no races close to my home at that stage of the progression, I skipped it. If there were any 10k races, I'd have been on target. To this date, I have never done an open 10k running race. The WPI allows for this.

Back to triathlon: I was right at the beginning of my progression and completely oblivious to the other stages of the sport. And I use 'oblivious' in the literal sense because, even though there were Olympic distance events being run at the exact same time, I had no idea what they were about nor did I have any desire to do them. I was happy at the Sprint distance and saw no reason to change my race to what those morons in the Oly were doing. I later learned about the concluding 10k run in the Oly distance, but, since I skipped that stage in the running progression, I was comfortable skipping it triathlon.

Because, a brilliant race director set up a 1/2 Ironman distance in my area. It was the only one of its distance. I was in awe. Almost at the same time, I had learned about the Ironman. And about Kona, and how you had to qualify for Hawaii. I had the vision all mapped out in a nice, succinct 3 year plan. I would do the 1/2 in my area. The following year I would do an Ironman just to learn what it was about. The next year, because I am such an awesome athlete, I would subsequently qualify for Hawaii (I told you at the beginning of this post that I am an idiot).

Six years later and I still haven't made it to the Show. So much for the 3 year plan. I still feel the drive and the awe. I will Progress. I will not let the Lazy Complex dominate my existence in this sport. One day, Great Granddaddy Culmination Factor (patent pending), you will be mine.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Natural Progression of Men

I believe in the Natural Progression of Nature. Living beings follow a path with distinct starting and ending points. There is at least one, but often many, intermediate steps along the way. The Progression is akin to the life cycle processes that elementary school science classes feel are so important, each state writes them into the required standards of teaching. They drill our innocent with the progression: the egg--> the tadpole--> the frog --> the egg . There is generally never a mention of where the eggs come from. The word 'fertilizes' is given without a discussion of what it means to 'fertilize' or even what kind of 'fertilizer' is being used. (Aside: I used to think as a kid that I could dump plant fertilizer on frogs and get tadpoles. Several innocent attempts with this experiment failed. Now, as a science teacher, I know that I'm not the only one with those thoughts. I really hate elementary school science standards sometimes. End Aside.)

Since I have the most experience in being male (please don't confuse me with Tiresias, I'm not blind), I have discovered, what I call, The Theory of the Natural Progressions in Men. The Natural Progressions are meant to be done in order with the final step being the culmination, end all, of the steps. It's sort of like the unwritten goal of man to achieve this stage of development. Not all men will make it. But, that's the direction men are heading, whether they like it or not. It's genetic, instinctual, and as inevitable as growing old.

Most men will experience the Natural Progression as a sequence. Some, through genetic anomalies or outside interference (either parental or spousal) will be hindered in their journey. Some men have been know to skip steps along the way, achieving the Goal without hitting the necessary intermediate steps. But, if left to their own devices, men will hit each stage for at least a short period in their life before succumbing to the next. If given enough time on this Earth, all men will go through these stages.

Note: I am searching for some ideas on the Natural Progressions of Women, if for nothing else, to increase my knowledge of girls. My current knowledge is somewhere between 0 and 5 on a scale of 100. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Example 1- Camping
According to the Theory of Natural Progressions of Men, camping starts off with a couple of sheets tucked into some chairs or the sofa in your living room/ basement. From there, camping progresses towards tenting, with sleeping on the ground. Next up, tenting with some sort of mattress (air, cot, foam, etc). Then, there's the pop-up camper followed by the pull-behind. Finally, the Ultimate Achievement is the all-inclusive Recreational Vehicle. Some men will even sell their houses for the RV option. They will install air conditioning, microwave, hot tub, and even satellite TV, all the while still calling it 'camping.' The Natural Progression of Men.

I am currently sitting happily in the tent with a mattress stage of progression. I feel the calling and yearning for the pop-up, but this stage may be skipped due to spousal interference (namely, her allergic reaction to damp, musty canvas). I have started looking and pricing RV's (and I now understand why people who own these things end up selling their homes).

Example 2- Woodworking
You probably didn't know this, but all men hate trees. We don't really know it either, but the evidence is quite obvious. From the time we are born, we wage war on wood. (Odd how we hate one form of wood but cherish another. Maybe it's a jealousy thing.) The Woodworking Progression starts off simple enough. At some point in your life, a lad will pick up a knife. Then, for some reason, the lad will want to take that knife and slice a piece of wood. He will repeat this process, popularized by Jed Clampett,  sometimes known as whittling. The most common outcome- a sharpened stick and some wood clippings. The sharpened stick has many uses. It can be used as an arrow ready to launch from another stick tied down with kite string. It can be used to roast marshmallows whilst the boy is camping (from his tent). It can be used to keep away those stupid cowboys. Mostly, it's used to simple to poke things.

B= Banter
As the boy grows, he discovers that his knife can do other things to wood. For example, wood-based graffiti. It can carve into a tree the initials of some girl that has caught his fancy. That act alone guarantees that the female will instantly find the boy more attractive and be willing to dote on him the attention he so covets. I'm pretty sure the ladies do find this attractive. Why else would boys keep doing it? (See Note above.) Find a picnic table. You can see the signs of the Natural Progression of Woodworking covering most of its surfaces.

As he grows, the boy begets manhood. The knife morphs into all sorts of saws and planes. Carving is replaced by the need to put up shelves, build decks, and fix cabinets. Underneath, it's still simple destruction of wood. We cut it. Pound it. Ram stakes and nails into it. The culminating stage is the full blown wood shop, complete with table saws, routers, lathes, and a subscription to Popular Woodworking Magazine. There are entire stores that sell pre-cut timber simply for the reason of helping men satisfy our wanton abuse of hard cellulose tissue. I cannot explain why men feel the need to declare vengeance on arboreal-based life forms. It's just part of the Natural Progression.

More Examples
If you pay enough attention to men, you'll see many Progressions. They range from Pet Ownership Progression, which starts with a fish and ends with a dog (cats are not part of the progression and only existent due to spousal interference). Also on the list is Hair Care Progression, which early on includes shampoo, conditioner, brushes, gels, and hair dryers. Later on, it calls for any type of hairstyle that requires less than 30 seconds of maintenance per day.

The Automobile Progression is a process that has perplexed scientists for years. Current research indicates that there are 2 distinct progression lines. They both start tricycle and evolve into bicycles.  Sporty, muscle cars show up in teenage years (which may be interfered with by parents). Line 1 ends in fuel-efficient sedans. Line 2 ends in over-sized SUVs. Scientists are still arguing over Line 1 due to the Station Wagon/ Mini-Van Complex, which in known to arise from children interference, a sub-set of spousal interference. Regardless of which line dominants your Progression, both lines have a motorcycle at some point in the progression. The Motorcycle Intermediate is the most interfered stage of any of the manly progressions, cut off by parents and spouses alike.

And, coming soon to a Blog Post near you, the Natural Progression of Triathlon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Redemption Race

This entire racing year has been kind of a roller coaster ride for me. At the beginning of the season, I was on top of the world. Since the world is mainly spherical, Western NY is obviously the top (as are all other locations on the planet according to Einstein's Theory of Relativity). Having done several running races, I proved that I am a God and you should surrender to my every whim my winter running program was a success, I couldn't have been happier. But, at the same time, my bike training had regressed. I did not attack the trainer as well as I could have (because, seriously, it's my basement). This was compounded by a crappy, cold, wet spring. Then, just as triathlon season got started, I had a knee injury. Already behind on the bike and falling behind on the run, racing speeds were down. Endurance was down. I was down. Then, my A-race hit and I had a less than stellar performance (which was not surprising). Yet, in my first race back from the downer, I put up unprecedented speeds. I can't figure this season out.

Here's the thing: The more I think about my IMLP performance, especially in the run, the less happy I get with the performance. This hinges on a silly belief that I should be getting faster as I gain experience. In each of my IM finishes in the past, I had bettered my previous PR by about 30 minutes. Because of that history, that's the expectation I have set myself. I am confident that I have not peaked in the 140.6 distance. I am also confident that I am a big, fat loser my 'poor' performance was a symptom of many things, some in my control and some out. None of that changes the results of what I feel was a sub-par race.

It kinda sucks how these sort of negative emotions/ self-talk continue to spiral. At first it started as a simple concern. Then it evolved to definite unease. Now, I'm a disgruntled postal worker with a gun. I'm not losing sleep. I'm not going to have race rage. But, I am doing what everyone else in my situation is doing... Carefully calculating out how I'm going to get back at that race next year. Damn you IMLP, I will have my revenge.

The problem is that next year is so far away. I need something more immediate.

It may have been racer remorse. It may have been the ego talking. It may have been that I was drunk off of some nice wine purchased at one of the wine festivals that I frequent. What ever the reason, the deed has been done. I have registered for the Syracuse 70.3.

Officially, the race is called the "Ironman Syracuse 70.3." When it comes to the word Ironman, I'm a bit of an idealist. Ironman is a distance of 140.6. Half-Ironman is a distance of 70.3. The World Triathlon Corporation, who kinda holds the rights to the brand of 'Ironman' has decided to abuse the Iron as much as possible. (Aside: To the best of my knowledge, Marvel Comics actually has the official trademark on the word. End Aside.) I can't really agree with this practice. At least in my mind, this is a half Iron, no matter what the WTC calls it.

HIM Syracuse takes place on September 18th and has now become my new A-race. I am structuring my training around a strong finish for a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run. I am also doing significantly more speed work. I do not wish to ignore the short season.

HIM Syracuse has many opportunities to give me.  I am looking at Syracuse as my long distance redemption for the race I wanted but never happened. I am looking as Syracuse as an opportunity to end the season on a high. I am looking at Syracuse to start my 2012 season. HIM Syracuse, you will be my whipping post. (Okay, maybe I have a little bit of race rage.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How to Race Even Faster

There are several ways to become faster in racing.
  • You could use performance enhancing drugs. But, with the legality, ethics, and cost involved, this is not the best decision. Plus, you could get banned from sport and shunned by your friends/ colleagues. Avoid this option.
  • You could buy better equipment. A lighter bike, fancy wheels, better clothes, will indeed increase your speed (to some extent). This may be cost limited and once you start down this path, you are destined to continue it until someone throws an intervention.
  • You could lose weight. And by weight, I mean fat (and sometimes muscle). A lighter you has less to haul around. Your same muscles have to do less work to cover the same distance. You go faster. But, this system takes time, patience, and commitment. Happily, it will probably save you money in reduced grocery bills and less visits to the doctors.
  • You could train better. Doing intervals, hill repeats, and speed work will train you body to operate at faster speeds. This is the most painful option. But with high risk comes high reward. Your muscles will provide themselves with the necessary adaptations allowing you to move faster on race day.
  • You could hire a coach, who can help analyze your training and technique. Coach can help fix flaws in your methodology and technique and provide you with accountability.
All of these are valid methods of improving your race day performance. Except for the first one, should you cherish going faster, you could do them all concurrently. But, once race day arrives, then what?

Coming off my most recent success at the Summer Sizzler, I learned one amazing, magical tip to help you go even faster. It requires no additional work from you. In fact, it actually requires less work from you than you would normally expend before a race. You won't find this tip in any book, magazine, or elsewhere on the planet. But, it worked for me and I, in my generous state of being, am willing to share it with you, free of charge.

Bit of Background
So, before I tell you how to get faster with this one magical piece of advice, the one that may change your race day forever, I must tell you how I narrowed it down to this 1, purely genius aspect of race preparation. I, like many before me, are quite methodical in getting ready for a race. (Hint, that was not the tip.) I get things ready the night before. I have the bags packed. I have the car ready. I have the bike(s) on the rack. I have water bottles in the fridge. I have the espresso machine prepped. Everything is exactly where it needs to be. That way, when I do to sleep, I have nothing to think about. I only have the race and sleep. All other worries have already been addressed.

I choose, on purpose, races that are within the 2-hour driving distance limit. I am too poor to constantly be spending the night in hotels. I am not popular enough to have many friends in other towns. I am too lazy to drive further or make new friends. The best reason I don't travel longer than 2 hours- I don't need to. There are lots of good races in the area within that radius, assuming that I am racing between June and mid-September.

This makes my morning routine, well, a routine. I change nothing. This is mostly because I am uncreative and boring. So, when something unexpected happens, I can look back and figure out what was different about the pre-race stuff. This is a foundation of scientific inquiry. Keep everything the same save one. If the results show improvement, you have a winner. If there is something substantial, this strongly correlates to causation. On the morning of the Summer Sizzler, there was something distinct. Something was wrong. The routine was off in one clear, distinct manner. And, as a result, I had a great performance. I am a better man for this event and I have the race results to prove it.

What Did NOT Happen
Research says that tapering and relaxing on the days prior to a race will yield strong results. As your body recovers from hard efforts, your muscles repair any damage, glycogen returns to the muscle cells, and your body adapts to the stress coming back even stronger. What did I do? I upped my training and worked out hard the days before the race in all 3 disciplines. Scratch that.

Caffeine is reported to have an ergonomic effect. The current line of thinking is that caffeine enhances fat burning capabilities while simultaneously blocking pain receptors. There is an upper limit to caffeine consumption and your body develops a resistance to caffeination. But, for this race, I was under caffeinated as compared to the norm. No research has yet proven (to the best of my knowledge) that a lack of caffeine is better. That idea is out.

Other Research
I know, get on with it, what actually makes you race even faster? Patience. I will get there. But, I want to make it abundantly clear that this is the reason, beyond any doubt, that caused my great race. And, I am certain, it will work for you.

Maslow- Most important on bottom
If you want to win, you will work at winning to the best of your ability. This can oft be cited as a 'need to win.' According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, certain needs trump others in a list of priority. For example, when you are hungry (such as starving), the need to be liked by your friends seems unimportant. Hunger trumps friendship. But, it you are hungry and drowning, the need for air wins. Breathing trumps hunger. Winning is on the list found at the top in the self-actualization area. Winning gets trumped by many other things, everything below it on the pyramid.

So, here I am at a sprint triathlon, and there is one aspect of the race that is different. This was the single, most important reason I was able to push the envelope and achieve a level never before seen by the Banter in a race. Pure Zen as I reflect back.

The Secret Happens Just Before the Race
The swim start was a run-from-the-shore time trial start. Here's where life got different and the big event was about to occur. We lined up on the beach and they sent us off in groups of three. But, in doing so, I didn't get a chance to warm up (Hint, the advise is not 'don't warm up'). This shouldn't matter anyway as I never actually warm up in the traditional sense of the word. I do tend to get in the water before the start. I get in the water mostly because they force us to start there. Otherwise, I'd probably stand on shore until the last possible moment then work my way to the front right before the gun.

Starting from the water has it's advantages. First, you get a chance to get used to the temperature. Now, if you're in a wetsuit, temperature acclimation is probably moot in all but the coldest of conditions. However, if you are going in your skivvies, knowing the temperature of the water is beneficial. I have a gasp reflex in cold water. Upon submerging my chest and head in chilly water, breathing becomes difficult. Picture a fish out of water, that's me in cold water. Unlike the fish, I get better after a brief period of time. The water temperature for this race had to be in the 70ºs, negating my reflex arc.

Something else happens when you enter warm water. You desire to, um, heed the call of the wild takes over. Triathletes are notorious for marking the swimming territory like a hound at a fire hydrant (some can even be caught lifting their legs). The lake, or in this case river, masks the pungent liquid in volume. Stop wrinkling your nose. This is a fact of life and a fact of racing. Get over it. When you think about it logically, the volume of urea produced by all of the athletes in a given race pales in comparison to the volume of water. There are more fish and other animals in the exact same area producing a higher amount of more concentrated waste than the racers could ever hope to supply. Further, many of the aquatic flora thrive on the gifts you have just given them (as evidenced by the amount of sea weed present in this specific race). So, you make think this habit is gross, when in reality, it is all in your mind.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that seconds before the race is the most satisfying time to release. You start the race with less pressure, at least in the bladder sense of the word. You also start a few ounces lighter. Yes, I am getting there. I know that this post is supposed to be about racing faster and somehow it's turned into a gross lecture on the benefits of leaving human waste for others to swim through.

Racing Under Pressure
In all honesty, I did not participate in this defiling of the Niagara River. We started from shore and I have enough humility not to pee myself on a beach in front of a few hundred racers and spectators. I prefer to pee myself in the relative anonymity of hiding in the water. From the moment I entered the water, I was in race mode. Urination requires relaxation. After the initial jog, I was racing hard and the furthest thing from my mind was relaxing. This is not to say that I didn't want to go. Just the opposite... before the swim start, I really wanted to go. Any practical joker can tell you that entering luke warm water, submerging your head and hands into what felt like a bath, served only to intensify the desire. It was hard to think of much else. Stroke, breath, God I have to pee. Stroke, breath, please let me go pee. Etcetera.

Once the swim was done, I frantically looked for a place to go. We jogged up the beach to transition. There were some scattered trees but the route took us next to a park. Several kids and moms were playing on the swings. Call it performance anxiety or call it a refusal to expose myself to women and children, I just couldn't do it.

While biking, I was hammering at the pedals. All the while, I was thinking, "Hmm, that tree looks like a good spot." Or, "I wonder how much time I'll lose if I duck in there." At the same time, I was passing people left and right. Alright, I was passing mostly left because passing on the right is an illegal pass according to USAT rules. I was stuck between 2 of Maslow's needs: winning versus peeing and peeing was winning. Then, a thought occurred to me. I thought, they have bathrooms at the bike area! This intensified my spirit. No longer was winning important to me. I had to get back to transition as quickly as possible. I hammered on.

Upon arriving to transition, I did a flying dismount and frantically searched for a port-a-potty. I couldn't find it. I was hurting and gasping for air from my bike effort. I donned my shoes, ran to the nearest volunteer and in broken breaths asked, "Which...<breath>...way...<breath>..." The volunteer cut me off.  "to... the... bathroom?" never escaped my lips. The man seemed to know what I was asking and pointed to the east. I ran hard. Yet, I did not see it. He definitely said it was this direction. About a quarter mile later, there was another volunteer pointing. I followed. I was on autopilot now. They could have steered me into an incinerator for all I cared. Winning was being trumped by bladder pressure. More volunteers. More pointing. Some actually wanted to give me water. I was trying to get rid of water. "No thanks," I gasped and grimaced.

As the pressure intensified, so did my heart rate. Here's my HR profile for the run portion of the race.
As you can see, by the end, I really had to go. My only thoughts were on the bathroom. I surged. I sprinted into the finish line. And I finally made it! I put an end to both the race and my misery.

Conventional wisdom says to take care of business before the race starts. But, based on the evidence and success at the Summer Sizzler, conventional wisdom has just been disproven. Do all the things I suggested at the beginning of this post (minus the drugs). But, come race day, do not relieve yourself. Let Maslow take over and I will personally guarantee success. You won't thank me for it. You'll probably curse me should you even attempt it. Not that I care. I am only interested in your success. Good luck and race under pressure. You will go faster than you ever thought possible.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Race Review and Results- Summer Sizzler

Since I had incepted the Short Season, I have been motivated to work on my speed skills in all 3 disciplines. I have not, so far, disappointed myself in training. Monday I worked out hard on the bike and run. Tuesday was a had session in all 3. Wednesday was a day off (for some reason that I cannot even remember why). Thursday was a long run, hard bike and hard swim. Friday was mile repeats on the bike, half-mile repeats on the run, and 50s in the pool on a pace that I haven't hit in over a year. In a nutshell, I was tuckered.

When we originally signed up for the Summer Sizzler, gun time was a nice and cushy 8:00 am. 9:00 would have been better, but for some reason, people don't like to put on races that 'late' in the day. Due to uncontrolled circumstances, they were forced to move the start time up to 7:00 am. Whereas I am a procrastinator, the Wife is not, we were stuck leaving earlier than my sleep settings would have preferred. Since we had not yet picked up our race gear, that meant we had to leave the house by 4:45 am to get to the race at a decent hour.

I love race volunteers. They do their best with the happiest of attitudes. Sometimes, however, they don't do it quickly. We got on site at 6:20, giving us a full 25 minutes to pick up our packet, set up,  and get out before they close transition. Under normal circumstances, this would not have been an issue. However, it was obvious that, as we waited in line, getting out of transition by the allotted time was going to be next to impossible. The line had moved roughly 3 feet in 10 minutes and we had many feet to go. We actually walked into transition as they were closing it. I looked back at the line and there were still people picking up their race numbers. Well, we tried to get there early (by my standards anyway).

Notice that I have been using the second person, plural pronoun 'we'. That's right, the Wife was making here 2011 triathlon debut and return to the sport in at least 2 years! It may have been 3 since she last SBR'd and, to be honest, I was a little nervous. I love going to races with the Wife. It's like bonding time for me. Even though we rarely race at the same time, I always feel like we are racing together. I wanted this to go well for her because I like it when things go well for her. I also want her to continue doing tri's. A bad experience may be anti-motivational and she might continue to just be a runner again.

So far, it was not going well. She hates mornings and the loss of an hour on the start was not a positive move.  She was a bit cold. She doesn't enjoy the pressure of hurrying through transition. I said the only thing I could think of to try and ease her suffering. That's what husbands do, right? They see a damsel in distress and they try to be chivalrous. Boys are problem solvers especially when it's a girl having a problem. Our desire to help grows substantially when the damsel is a hot chick to whom you happen to be married. I had to do something. Think, Banter, think. How can I improve this situation? Then, I offered her the only thing I had to offer which may help out. I said, "Would you like to wear my wetsuit?" She did and I had the feeling that things were about to change for her.

The Swim
The swim is in the Niagara River. As in the Niagara Falls. I am sure all of you have heard of this amazing spectacle of mother nature. Here's some things you may not have known:

Swim here?
The Niagara River connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. The problem is that Lake Erie is more than 300 feet above Lake Ontario. So, as the water drains from one Great Lake to another, it picks up speed on its way down. The water speed can range from 25-40 mph. More than 6 million cubic feet of water flow over the Falls every minute. Imagine swimming in that. (You can read more about NF here. )

Don't fret, because most of that height drop, water volume and water speed happens at Niagara Falls proper. We were several miles upstream where the water speed and volume was moot. In fact, the water was so calm and warm, the sea weeds were ripe and ready to harvest. The weeds were a problem for racers in the past, so the RD promised that they had sent in a clipper and trimmed the race course. There should have been no weeds in the way this year.

The race was not a mass swim start. They opted, instead, to make it a 3-at-a-time-trial start. For those of you who aren't sure what this means, I'll explain. They lined us up in (nearly) race number. I believe we were on our honor system here since they couldn't see our numbers. This is because many people were in wetsuits (not me, as I gave mine away). Other people showed up to the race late and did not have the opportunity to get body marked (ok, this may have been me). A volunteer put racers side-by-side-by-side in groups of 3. Two more volunteers held out their hands blocking the path to the water. Someone yelled 'Go' (not sure who) and the 2 volunteers raised their arms dramatically. The next group of 3 stepped up. Repeat. Soon it was our turn. We took off. And by took off, I mean that I sort of jogged, the guy in the middle walked, and the guy on the other end sprinted. I caught sprinter guy very quickly as the bottom of the Niagara River was 4 inches deep in mud (fun to squish between toes) and dotted with the occasional rock. The combination of mud, stones, and thigh deep water make sprinting counter-productive.

I'm not sure what their weed harvester looks like, but it didn't cut very deep. Looking at the tops of the stalks, they had obviously been cut. Either the cutter only makes it about 18 inches below the surface or the weeds are capable of rapid growth. The ~400 yard swim was far from weed free. And, with a time trial start, the swim was far from people free. In a mass or wave start, I can surge for the first couple of minutes and pretty much have the swim open to me and one or two other blokes of similar speeds. Not this time. There were lines of people of various abilities sifting their way through the floating jungle. It provided an extra challenge but was not a bad experience (except for that weed or 3 that made it into my mouth).

I came out of water in 22nd place and roughly a minute and a half behind the leader. I'm pretty sure that I lost some time running from the beach to transition. It was uphill through sand, grass, and finally pavement. I don't normally attack this sort of thing and there were several people who gave the roughly 250 yard dash some hard effort. I had to time to make up on the bike.

The Bike
I thought I would have a fast transition. Without a wetsuit, I had nothing to struggle over my calves. But, I swam topless. USAT 'strongly recommends' that we wear shirts on the bike and run. Fine. I'll conform. Putting a tight, triathlon jersey over a wet body is not the most efficient experience. The shirt will roll and refuse to become smooth. My guess is that I lost at least 30 seconds to the shirt and the entire transition cost me about 45 seconds on the leader. Time to haul.

Out onto the course, it was a brief out and back. Most sprint triathlons are right around 13 miles. The advertised distance of the race was 17 km, or 10.6 miles. Because of the fact that I had just finished recovering from IMLP... Because of the fact that I had trained hard all week... Because of the fact that I did not get much sleep... Because of the fact that I have been slow on the bike all season long (as compared to a year ago)... Because of the fact that I was under caffeinated... Because of the fast that I am, for the most part, a big pansy... I was not expecting greatness.

The ride was relatively flat. And by 'relatively', I mean super. I flew. This was easily the fastest bike ride of my triathlon career. I felt amazing. Even when my heart rate was in upper zone 4 (the threshold for racing), my legs seemed to want more. I passed scores of people. This is one of the drawbacks of the time trial swim start. I had no idea how I was doing in the race. Therefore, I kept hammering. Sometimes it's good to be wrong.

I also felt a bit guilty. No, not because I was doing well in the race, but because I did not have any body markings. Everyone else had a calf marked with 'F1' meaning Formula 1 (a double triathlon in which I was not competing) or 'S' meaning Sprint (in which I was competing). I was able to pick out who I was racing (the 'S' people) and who I was not racing (the 'F1' people). The F1 people started before the S people and I passed a bunch. I regret that those same people did not knew if I was in their race.

In this race, I averaged 21.7 mph. I think that number is a bit skewed. Even though the race was supposed to be 10.6, my gps registered just over 11.3 miles and clocked me at 23 mph. Looking at the paces of some of the guys I know to be awesome cyclists (whom regularly beat me in races and I check out their efforts to see what it takes to be good), their paces were slow compared with their history. Still, my bike leg was good enough for 6th place and I had moved up in the pack.

The Run
There was a guy about 15 seconds in front of me at the end of the bike leg. I pulled my feet out of my shoes, straddled the bike, and did a flying dismount. I actually beat this guy into transition. I found my slot, slid on both socks and shoes, and grabbed my race belt. I learned that I don't need to stand there and put on my race number. I can take care of that while I am running. I took off.

To be truthful, I knew I was biking hard and fast. This can be a problem. A person has only so much in the tank. If you give it away on the bike, you have less to spend on the run. I know this. However, that concept was lost on this race. This is a short race and my gas tank was big enough to handle the load. So, I went for it.

The course was rather flat. There were no real hills to slow me down or speed me up. I decided to ignore my heart rate and just run. Hard. At the beginning of the season, I wanted to run 7:30 minutes per mile in open runs. My fastest pace in a triathlon was 7:05. That was before the knee injury. I was running hard and my legs were tired. I had no idea how much speed that would yield. So, when the watch auto-beeped at the 1-mile mark, I looked down and saw 6:37.

What? I am not that fast. Maybe there were some hills after all. Surely the second mile will be uphill and my pace would dramatically slowed. See the amazing hill, right there at mile 1.6. It climbed about 11 total feet. Ouch. (In case you missed the sarcasm, Ironman Lake Placid has over 1,100 feet of ascension on the run course alone. Eleven feet, in comparison, may not even exist.) The second mile beeped in at.. well, nothing. The run did not make it a full 2 miles. It was advertised as a 3 km, or 1.9 mile run. Plus, I didn't stop my watch when I hit the finish. Normally, I would remember to stop it several minutes later, but I think I got this one within about 10 seconds.  Even with the delay, I was at a 6:52 pace. I could not have been more surprised. Looking at the overall results, they had me at a 6:19 pace. My overall run leg was good enough for 8th place.

When I checked the results, I was in 4th. Not age group. Overall. At just over 52 minutes total, this is the highest I have ever placed in a race of any kind. So, I did what any other person in this situation would do. I start looking at the 3rd place guy, just to see... Well, he was a good 2 minutes ahead of me and I had the fastest speeds of my career. I gave it my all. So, I decided to check 5th place. Eight seconds. That's by how much I beat him. I've seen this guy around at several races and he beats me more often than not. He told me that he had the best race of his life too. Maybe the Summer Sizzler does that to people, gives them their best races.

Like a good husband (I bet you forgot about the Wife), I went back out on to the course to find her and watch her finish. There's nothing sexier than a hot chick, in lycra, finishing a race. I hung out in a shady area with about a quarter mile left. At last, the hottie arrived. I clapped, I cheered, I gave a hoot and hollar. How did she respond? She yelled at me for messing up her bike computer.  While running, she actually took the energy to yell at me, and continued running.

It's true that earlier this week, I gave her a new computer. The new one does all the stuff her old one did, except this one has a cadence sensor. Like all men handing out gifts and doing favors for their loved ones, I was trying to do good. I also thought that I would have the opportunity to bike with her and go over the basic functionality. Her work week was not that great and the tutorial never happened. Since we didn't get to the race all that efficiently, we both forgot about the new hardware mounted to her frame. She remembered it when it was 1. Not zeroed out and she couldn't figure out how to reset during mid race. 2. While trying to reset, she dislodged it from the mount. 3. She stopped biking, turned around, and spent an eternity looking in the grass for the (her words), "<Bleeping>, no good <bleeping>, device." I let her rant for a while. I deserved what I got and it's normally over once the rant is finished.

I checked her time. She was at 1:08 and in 114th place. I imagine that she lost between 3-5 minutes in her computer search. When I asked her if she enjoyed herself at the race. She lowered her eyebrows (and I, therefore, got nervous) and said, 'Yes.' (Sigh of relief). Then, in an effort to sate her further, we went shopping at the outlet mall. I called it a 'recovery walk'. It was a good day for us both.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Post IM Recovery- Evidence

Pick up a copy of Joe Friel's 'Going Long, 2nd edition'. I'm a big fan of this book. When I first got it, I read it cover-to-cover. Now, I use it as a reference. Turn to page 327. Find the 2nd to last paragraph. It explicitly states, 'Do no running for at least four days after a half-Ironman-distance race and twelve days after an Iroman-distance race.'

Naturally, my first run after Ironman Lake Placid was 8 days post-race. It did not go well, just as Friel predicted. I was clearly not recovered from the big race. I had been doing active recovery swims and bike rides. But, running is the most obvious place to measure your recovery.

My first run was a 3.5 mile jaunt on a course with which my legs were very familiar.

Am I Recovered?- Take 1
I, like most of you, have a mental block on running distances. Currently, my lowest run distance is sitting on this route and the Ego tells me that I cannot go shorter than this run unless I am injured, running after a super long ride, or out for a joy run with the Wife. Since none of these scenarios applied, I was stuck with the full 3.5. Again, this is day 8 post IM.

I was supposed to keep my heart rate in zone 1 or low zone 2. The border of these zones for me is 163. As you can see, I failed miserably. My failure wasn't the only miserable aspect of this run. I didn't need HR or pace to tell me this sucked. I felt horrible. On even the smallest inclines, my legs burned and my HR soared. My average HR was in the middle of zone 2. My max HR was mid zone 4 (normally reserved for racing and speed work). The only reason my 2nd mile was so 'fast' was the inclusion of a half-mile hill (see hill profile above). This was my only workout of the day and the effort left me comatose. That was Monday morning (a good time to be a zombie). Definitely not recovered.

Am I Recovered?- Take 2
I decided that I would not go again for a couple of days. I did swim and bike easily during the next 2 days. Now, Thursday morning arrives. This was day 11 post IM (still 1 day under the Friel recommendation). I talked myself into going for a run (which was a frustrating back-and-forth conversation which I almost lost). Despite my relative suckiness at the discipline, I actually enjoy running. I feel free when I'm out amongst the elements. Here's the data:
This is the exact same course, at the same time of day, in similar weather conditions. Notice how my average heart rate is significantly lower (zone 1 as opposed to upper zone 2). My max HR is a good 16 beats slower. My overall pace is faster despite the fact that my first mile is slower and the downhill mile is roughly the same. I felt a little better on this run, but still not great. My chest did not feel open and I was definitely ready to stop by the end of the run. Not recovered, but getting better.

I continued to swim and bike. But, now the weekend has arrived. One of my favorite qualities of recovery post-IM is the inclusion of the Wife in my workouts. She went for a bike ride with me. She took me on a trail run. Since she does not carry the Male-Ego gene and does not feel the need to challenge each workout, we went slowly. It was absolutely perfect.

Am I Recovered?- Take 3
Since I declared that I was adding a short season to my schedule, I started short-season training on Monday. This is now 15 days post Lake Placid (3 days after the window of running opportunity). Monday morning, I went for an 18 mile ride, which included 5 x 1 minute zone 4 hill efforts followed by 1 minute easy. Then, I went for a 4.5 fartleck brick run (1 mile warm up then 5x[ 0.25 mile hard, 0.25 mile easy], cool down) immediately following the ride. My legs felt the effort.

On Tuesday, 16 days after the big deal, it rained. I was tempted to ride outside in the drink but the lightening and thunder forced me to set up the trainer (I am still sulking about this fact. I hate the trainer!). After a 10 minute warm up, while watching a bad movie, I did 5x 1:00 all out with 4 minute recoveries. Then, I set out for a 3.5 mile run, on the same course as I showed you before. When you see this data, keep the situation in mind. The other runs were solo workouts of the day. The previous days were light, easy type efforts. This workout was the second half of a brick. The first half included hard efforts. The day before included hard efforts and my legs were pre-fatigued going into the bike ride. Here's the data:
A couple of points of interest. Notice how the pace of the run is significantly faster. Again, this is on the exact same course as the other 2 runs. The heart rate numbers show a data anomaly, which I assume was an equipment malfunction. An extrapolation of my heart rate zones yields a max heart rate of 202, therefore 207 should be statistically impossible. This heart rate problem occurred around the 21:00 mark, which I can assure you that I was feeling fine, and may have been induced by the rain. I may have been struck by lightening but I cannot seem to remember (the Wife did notice a 'burnt' scent around the house when she got home but we did not find the source). It also goes to show that you cannot 100% rely on HR data.
I am assuming that, if you ignore the 2 obvious HR spikes (again, I am certain from equipment issues, lousy Garmin), my average HR drops a few points. Even with the anomaly, my average HR is only 1 beat off of the 8-day run. But, my average pace is more than a minute faster. Ready or not, here I come.

-Recovery is not complicated. Simply don't do stuff for a while.
-Trying to force workouts before your body has recovered will not be fruitful.
-Heart rate is not always reliable. Include rate of perceived exertion (RPE) in recovery.
-Workout with your Wife
-The indoor trainer should be avoided at all costs.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Brief History of Swag

As I re-read over and over again due to my OCD reflected on my recent swag post, I started to ponder how and when the idea of swag came about. Therefore, I decided to do some research on the history of swag. I wanted to get down to the basics, the nitty gritty on the evolution of this thing we now call swag. I found nothing. Here's a brief overview of what I did not find:

The First Evidence of Swag
The earliest indication of swag can be found in the Lascaux Cave Paintings in the south of France. Archaeologists, in a never ending battle to discover the roots of human existence, have dated these paintings back to more than 30,000 years ago (an amount of time equal to my IM run split). Originally, scientists interpreted these paintings as a Day in the Life (which the Beatles later re-made into a hit song). A more careful look at the photo will reveal more intriguing clues. Clearly, this was a deer shooting contest. The event was sponsored by Gander Mountain, back in the early days of the company's inception. Those who registered early got a fancy new bow string, such as the guy in the top of the painting. Since Gander Mountain did not expect a large number of competitors, the late comers did not receive any swag. The bow string guy seems to be the only one in the picture not stressed, sitting back and enjoying the moment. The others are frantically trying to figure out how to launch their arrows without string. They are trying different yoga poses (this was after yoga was invented) in an effort to maximize their bows' efficiency. Scientists are still unsure why one deer has arrows sticking out of his chest. To their best guess, they think the bow string guy shot this deer as it is clear he is out of arrows and that deer was in front. Either that, or they guy immediately in front of that deer has a pretty good throwing arm. The debate rages on.

Swag, the Later Years
The literature is really quite scant on swag details, unless you know where to look. Jump ahead in history a good 28,000 years to Ancient Egypt. During this time, Queen Cleopatra ruled the empire. Cleo had 4 different husbands during her life and was reputed to be constantly bored. She held numerous contests in an effort to keep herself amused. But, since she was also in the habit of killing off some of the losers, many of the common folk were not motivated to join in the competitions. Cleo noticed that participant enrollment in her Temple Building and Pyramid Building contests were at an all time low. She reached rock bottom when she held a Sphinx Building contest and just one guy registered. And, he built his structure without a nose. Cleo called together a group of advisers to discuss how to increase contestant registration. They suggested that she start handing out gifts, royal mugs and wine goblets, to those who signed up (as evidenced in the pyramid carving). The idea worked! Sadly, not all of Cleo's contests were great ideas. Her worse idea, Cutest Snake contest in which she was the judge.

Current State of Swag
The Urban Dictionary (the only resource I will cite today, proving the validity of this post) has several definitions of swag. As an acronym, it means 'scientific wild ass guess'. Or, it means 'sista with a gun' for some reason. Also, it can mean 'stuff we all get'. If you are going to a conference, this last definition may actually apply. But, if you sign up for an athletic event, spectators don't get swag, thus negating the UD definition. Spectators may get door prizes instead of swag. Door prizes are unexpected free stuff. Swag is unexpected free stuff. Obviously, they are not the same thing.

In today's economy, swag has been reduced to advertisements for semi-entertaining blogs, coupons for online shopping, travel-sized samples, and, in the rare occasion, pictures of the race director while he was on his last vacation (taken by non other than Brightroom photography).

So there you have it. By now, hopefully, you understand the meaning, history, and importance of swag in the context of the modern triathlon.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Understanding Swag

For those of you not familiar with amateur, athletic events, allow me to enlighten you on a few of the details you can expect should you decide to register and participate in these events...

First, even though you could do the exact same activity in the same place on any other day for free, these events cost money. Each event has a fee associated with running the event. There are a bunch of little things that add up. Towns force the organizers to have permits. The race organizers have to reserve a pavilion, pay police officers and EMS. They need awards and T-shirts. Typically, the longer the event, the higher the fee. Also, in a weird divergence from the laws of supply and demand, the more people expected at an event, the higher the fee. If you wait until closer to the race date, the fee increases. If you call the event 'triathlon', the event fee tends to triple. (There's more to that story which I may give you at a later date.) The take home message here: bring cash.

Second, you must sign a waiver giving up your, and your family's, right to sue should any harm come to you during the event. Triathletes, in the early days, had experienced numerous muggings, flailings, attacks by rabid animals, and, on certain occasions, been accosted by Morganna, the Kissing Bandit. Athletes were unhappy as none of these experiences produced a faster race time (except if they were being chased by the rabid animal, but that increase in speed was temporary and endured only up to the point where the animal caught you). The USAT, in an effort to quell their unhappiness, decided to tell athletes "Too bad. Suck it up and deal with it." Then, they had their lawyers 'legalize' the language into a one page, 3-point font, single spaced document that not a single athlete has bothered to read. The take home message here: can't sue.

And to the First Place finisher...
Third, sponsors of the events donate items to aid in the event's operation. In theory, the donations are to help reduce the cost of the event. Such items include: food, water, energy gels, tables, tents, and paying Morganna for her services. In return, the race organizers will print the sponsors name on the back of a T-shirt (in font sizes proportional to the amount of support given), print the sponsors on a flyer handed out to each of the participants, and publish the sponsors on the race website. If you donate enough, your organization will also be included in the name of the event, such as the Ford Ironman Lake Placid, or the Subaru Ironman Canada, or Morganna's Sprint Triathlon (that was a fun race).

One of the rights of sponsoring the event is the free advertising associated with sponsorship. Not only does the sponsor get the perks allotted above, but they also get to hand out SWAG. In a nutshell, swag is unexpected free stuff handed out to athletes. If you know you are getting the stuff, this is NOT swag. An example of not-swag is the 'free' race T-shirt with the name of the event on the front and all the sponsors plastered on the back. When you register for an event, right there on the description of the race, it says "All participants get a free T-shirt." Automatically negates the right to be called swag.

Sometimes, instead of shirts, they advertise other stuff, such as hats. Here's a screen shot of the fees associated with one of the races I am considering. Notice how the race fees almost double simply by waiting for your personal schedule to become more clear.
Automatically you can pick out the non-swag items. AMB chip timing... not swag. Plenty of good post-race food... not swag. Headsweat custom hat... not swag. This illustration demonstrates a gray area in the realm of swag. If you are the 201st registered participant and you get a hat, is this still called swag? I'm not sure. It's unexpected. It's free. But, it's advertised. I'm checking the rule book and I cannot find mention of this. I have a call out to the COSA (Committee on Swag Allocations), but since they did not answer, I left a message and am awaiting a return call.

So, what does swag include? At one race, I got a free race belt. I had no idea they were handing this out. Swag. At another race, I got a free mini-box of cereal. Swag. (I still have this box, unopened, should anyone want it). At another race, I got free swim goggles. Swag (which I promptly gave to the Wife. She is very happy with them, thank you Tyr.) At another race, I got free smart wool socks. These are my favorite (thus far) swag. I use these socks in the winter often and may (at some point in the future) consider actually purchasing a second pair.

Swag normally shows up when you least expect it. Most of the time, upon registering for a race, you have to pick up a packet of materials. Inside this packet, you get a printed copy of the race rules. Also included are maps so you know the course. You get the flyer that has the name of the sponsors. They also toss in advertisements for said sponsors and maybe a flyer or two for other races.

Almost all of this information is completely ignored by most racers. We dump out the packet looking for the important items, unexpected free stuff called swag. It's sort of like kids arriving home after trick-or-treating. You get home, dump out your bag, and immediately start sorting. In this pile goes the official crap (and by 'pile' I mean the recycle bin). In this pile goes the 'need for race day' crap (cap, race number, timing chip, coupon for Morganna). In this pile goes the swag. This is where we spend the bulk of our post-packet-pickup time.

Research has shown that the amount of swag is directly proportional to racer satisfaction. It seems that people are willing to pay copious amounts to get free stuff. The more swag you get, the happier you are (even if it's crappy swag). Good swag is the real reason most people sign up for races anyway. Some people will tell you that they race for pleasure. They race for competition. They race for camaraderie. They race for their health. Most of them are lying to you. Deep down, they race for swag. Unexpected free stuff. So there you have it.