Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What to Expect When You're Syracusing- The Run

My intent is to pass along knowledge based on experience for any and all those who are planning on doing IM Syracuse 70.3 (even if you have no intention of ever doing this race, maybe you'll find it interesting). If, at any point along the way, please feel free to raise your hand and ask questions. (I suppose you could also leave a comment.)

Links to other posts in this series
The Swim
The Bike 
The Run (viewing)
Back in Transition
Let's assume for a minute that you have survived the bike ride through the hostile outback of suburban Syracuse. Congratulations! You're a beast. For some people, a 56 mile bike ride is enough to call it a day. Not you, stud or studette. You have paid money to go for a run. Now, before you get running, you have some chores to do before you can go play.

You have to get off your bike at or before the mount line. But, it's been a couple of hours since you left. Since that time, the RD went out and changed it to a "Dismount" line. You are now allowed to get off your bike. Same holds true for the bike exit, which has magically transformed into a bike entrance. One of these days, I'll not do a race and watch the wand waving to see exactly how the transformation unfolds. I doubt I'll understand.

Here is your list of chores: (It's up to you how quickly you want to accomplish them. Nobody will help you with this.)
  • Find your old bike spot. You need to use it again
  • Hang your bike on the pole in said spot
  • Take off your helmet
  • Get naked
  • Replace your bike shoes with running shoes
  • Add any additional gear to your body as you feel appropriate
    • Socks
    • Hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Monkey Suit
    • Fuel belt
    • Sunscreen
    • Nutrition
Tip 1: Leave your bike shoes on your bike if possible. You really don't need them from here on out. Hopefully you have practiced sliding your feet out of the shoes while riding.

The transition is at the opposite end of the recently formed bike entrance. In many races, the "Run Out" is the same place as the "Swim In". At Syracuse 70.3, this is almost the case. Find the Swim In spot and look just to the right. Voila. Go through that opening and turn right again. You are now on your way to an exciting adventure.

The Run
The course starts off in the park. The park is mostly flat with a mix of sun and shade. It's also a mix of pavement and dirt. After a brief period of time, should you follow the prescribed course (and it is in your best interests to do so), you'll have a chance to run past your car.

Tip 2: Resist the urge to get in your car and drive the course. You'll actually be slower. Here's why: After mile 1, the road is mostly closed. Traffic is backed up and creeping along. Also, the timing mats don't register your chip efficiently through the insulated vehicle. It's better that you just run it.

There is an aid station right before you leave the park and turn onto the main road. The aid stations basically have the same products in the same order as the bike stations with a couple of notable additions. They've added pretzels and flat cola (may or may not be name brand). The Athlete's Guide doesn't officially say it, but there is a high probability that you'll find some ice. Do not expect water bottles. They dish all the liquids out into convenient paper cups, about 3-4 ounces in each. Same for the pretzels. Gels, chomps, etc. come complete in their original wrappings.

Again, there will be copious numbers of volunteers lining up, shouting at you and handing you stuff. Sometimes, they try to force it on you. Stay assertive.

Tip 3: Grab a cup from a volunteer or the table and pinch the top. You have now made a nice spout/ funnel, which is easier to drink whilst moving.

Tip 4: Water is typically first followed by the rest of the stuff. There may a second chance at water. When I take in calories, I grab 2 waters. Slam one immediately. Then calories. Then the other water. I hate running with that sticky, sugary goo glopped in the back of my throat.

After the aid station, turn left and onto the main road. You'll recognize this spot by a sudden increase in entropy. The road normally has 2 full lanes for cars and 2 slanted shoulders for everything else. They close down the northbound lane for the race. You recently biked on the outside of the race lane. Now, you are sandwiched in the middle of the bike lane and the returning runners.

The road is not that bad at this time. You are on a relatively flat part in terms of slanting vertically and horizontally. (That will change later.) There is a small, easy up and down while on the main road, on which you will run for about a mile. It's mostly shady and pleasant.

Just before the 2 mile mark, you will turn left into a quaint neighborhood. The road is all runners now. There is a second aid station. There is also a lot more sun. This portion of the course is about 3/4 of a mile long. It is the end of all things happy as you know it.

Here's the run profile. It's shaped like a beautiful pair of c-cups. The bottom of the hill coincides with the end of the road that you are currently running on. At this time, you won't see anything but the tip of the ice berg. The road Ts just as you start to go up. You make a right hand turn and the enormity of the climb slaps you across the face like you just made an unwelcomed pass at the hottie. As you start to ascend, you'll start to feel as if she also kicked you in the groin. She'll keep pounding away on your sensitive areas until just after the 3rd mile mark.

At this time, you'll find relief in a couple of different forms. First and foremost, the hill has ended. Secondly, there is an aid station filled with volunteers that know what torture you've just been through. Third, you get to turn around and head downhill now.

From here on out, you have to go back. You get to retrace your steps down the hill, back into the sun, hit the main road, and head back to the park. On the main road, however, you are faced with yet another challenge. What you thought was a nice, flat road on the way out has now officially become a pain in the leg on the way in. If you are running on the shoulder, expect that the slope will cause a limping sort of gait as your right/ outside leg will be hitting the pavement at a slightly lower elevation than your left/ inside leg.

You'll turn right back into the park and hit the first/ last of the aid station of the course. You diverge from the beaten path as you take the long way around the parking lot, pass your car once again (see Tip #2), and head back towards transition. This portion of the run is littered with sharp, finger to fist-sized limestone cobbles. Pay attention here and run carefully.

Tip 5: Don't run in the middle of the path. Stick to the outside edge. If you're smart, you'll be on the left hand side as it's the inside of the turn. Not only will this be a shorter distance, but the ground is smoother here (or was).

Please pause in your reading. If this is your first lap, please go back up to the heading "The Run" and re-read everything that I have written. I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you have to turn around and re-do the run. Even though it feels like an eternity, you've only covered half the distance to the goal. Once you have finished your second round of reading, then you may continue with the rest of the post.

After you've finished re-reading and re-running the entire shpeel, you get to finish (both the post and the run). This time, you are allowed to run past transition. It seems like you are going to head back to the lake for a swim (which, by the way, will sound pretty dang good). There will be party music. There will be people yelling and cheering. There will be someone announcing your triumphant return. There will be a chute that only the most weak minded persons (this may number in the hundreds on race day) would be able to miss. There will be a nice finisher's arch.

Cross the line and get your medal. You've done the deed now receive the bling. You'll have your shot at sitting on the ground under a tent in the shade. There will be amply supplies of beverages. A few steps away, you'll see and smell the post race food. You may even be able to convince a volunteer to bring you stuff.

Do's and Don'ts After the Race
  • Do remember to thank as many people as possible (you have hopefully been doing this the whole time)
  • Do shake hands and brag chat with your fellow athletes
  • Don't pat them on the back. They'll probably fall over
  • Don't forget your morning clothes bag
  • Do grab an extra water bottle for the way out
  • Don't forget that you have an expensive bike in transition. Plus some other stuff
  • Do remember where you parked your car
  • Don't sit directly on your seat. You smell. Put down a towel or something
  • Do send me a message and tell me how things went
By now, hopefully, you have a pretty good idea as to what to expect when your Syracusing. Feel free to chime in and tell me what I'm missing. I look forward to your success and good luck to you.

(Just don't beat me. I get grumpy about that sort of thing.)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What to Expect When You're Syracusing- The Bike

My intent is to pass along knowledge based on experience for any and all those who are planning on doing IM Syracuse 70.3 (even if you have no intention of ever doing this race, maybe you'll find it interesting). If, at any point along the way, please feel free to raise your hand and ask questions. (I suppose you could also leave a comment.)

Links to other posts in this series
The Swim
The Bike (viewing)
The Run

A Short Blurb About Transition
If any of you have seen coverage of any of the Ironman races on TV or read about them on the internets, you might have this vision of a changing tent or large numbers of volunteers waiting on you hand and feet. And you'd be right on all accounts. However, this is not an Ironman despite the IM title. Syracuse is a half-Ironman, HIM, half- distance, or whatever else you want to call it. Therefore, you get nothing. Transition is a large, open field fenced off with temporary orange fences. There is no changing tent like the one in the pic. No volunteers will assist you. You are on your own.

You have to find your bike, put on your helmet, buckle your chin strap, put a race number on your body (body marking is not sufficient at this stage), and whatever else you might need. You have to run (or walk) your bike through the field towards the mount line. Once you pass that line, you are free to start your bike ride.

Tip 1: If you've practiced this before, clip your shoes on to the pedals and run through the grass barefoot. This style of running is more efficient and keeps mud/ dirt out of your bike cleats.

Tip 2: If you have not practiced tip one, run with your bike shoes in your hands to just past the mount line. Move all the way over to the side so as to not interfere with anyone, drop your shoes, and slide in your feet. Then mount and ride. Trust me, this will save time and grime.

The Early Stages of the Ride
Assuming that you have mounted the bike successfully and have started pedaling, the initial stages of the ride are quite nice. Head onto the road (there's only 1) and turn right. You'll be met with a nicely paved surface and a slight downhill. Don't get too comfy.  Be warned, there are 2 forms of evil lurking in your near future. These take the shape of railroad tracks. The first set is just before the 1st mile mark and the second is right around mile 2.

Do not underestimate the danger here. There is a 99.99999% chance that there will be no train traffic. In year's past, they even took the time to cover the tracks with astroturf-type carpeting or the like. I would still advise slowing down and not being in any aero position over the tracks. People have bit it badly on these tracks due to their lack of diligence. The tracks are, in all reality, quite simple to navigate. Just don't ruin your ride before it gets started.

As far as man-made obstacles on the course, that's the whole gamut. However, once you pass the second railroad crossing, a new challenge presents itself. You start to go up. Then you make a right hand turn and continue to go up. And after you've gone up, you go up some more. This pattern continues up until about mile 7. Then, you get some teaser false flats which continue until mile 8.5. Then, guess what happens? That's right, you go up. You have to survive the climb until right around mile 11.5. That's the end of the climb.

Tip 3: The magic word of the climb is spin. Try to get into a nice rhythm and don't grind too much. You will burn some of your energy matches just don't try and flame them all. You'll need some for the run. I understand that there will be lots of people passing you on the hill. Let them go and beat them later.

Tip 4: Just after the climb, there will be an aid station. Some people opt to bring minimal hydration so that they can save weight during the climb. They then pick up fluid and nutrition at the first aid staion. That's totally acceptable and up to you.

Aid Stations
There are 3 aid stations on the bike ride: mile 14, 23, and 41. Volunteers at these stations are more than happy to give you everything they have. Without a doubt, they will have water. They will also have sports drink, gels, chomps and bars (depends on this year's race sponsor, check the Athlete's Guide for specific product and flavors). They'll also have some fruit.

You'll know the aid stations when you see them. There will be a large line of people yelling and screaming. I'm serious that the volunteers literally want to give you stuff. They'll be jumping and dancing just to get your attention and in hopes that you'll get your hands on their goodies.

Before you get to the station, you'll want to do a little bit of prep. First and foremost, if you plan on taking advantage of their services, slow down. Don't hit the area at full speed. (If you're not in need, pay careful attention to those around you. It's a busy place. Move over to the left some. But not fully left as you need to leave room for others passing. Unless you are the fastest guy/ gal in the nearest 800 meters. Then, have at it.) If you have any trash, dump it before getting to the station. There will be a sign labeled "bottle drop" and a trash can. You do not actually have to get your trash in the receptacles. You may simply toss it to the side in the general vicinity and feel good about it. Just don't hit anybody (volunteer or athlete) with your crap or leave it in a place where someone behind you could hit it with their bike.

As far as product, first up will be water, then sports drink (both fluids will fit nicely into your bike's bottle cage), then a bunch of other stuff, and finally water. Know what you want ahead of time. Here's what you should do. Suppose you want a product and a nice volunteer is shouting out at the top of their lungs that they have the desired stuff. Shout back the same product and point at someone. Make eye contact. Get their name and phone number. Some volunteers will try and run along side to help you out. Amazing when it happens. Don't count on it. Most will extend their hand and loosen their grip. You reach out your hand and grab on tight (to the product, not the volunteer). Sometimes you miss. Immediately start the process over again. You may want to slow down a little more to increase your chances of success.

Aid stations end with yet another bottle drop and trash area. You should hold on to anything that doesn't make it off of your possession from here on out to the next aid station or back to transition. If you need to use the bathroom and don't know how to pee on the bike, there will also be porta potties available at aid stations. The potties will not run along with you, you must dismount your bike before going in. 

The Rest of the Bike Course
The rest of the course is a nice country ride. Don't expect to see large numbers of people out on this single loop course. There will be the occasional hotbed of spectators that will be yelling and cheering. Most of the time, it will be you and a couple of hundred of your new closest friends on the race.

Most of miles 12-56 are rolling with a net downhill. The entire profile is below.

I am obligated to point out the nice little dip in the profile right around mile 20. This is a hot little bugger. For roughly a half of a mile, you'll have the opportunity to test your mettle at break neck speeds. I got up to 50 mph of that section, which meant that it was over in less than a minute. This section of road is smooth and straight so it's a good time to go fast. Further, the other side of the dip is the photo negative of the hill you went down. It's a short, sharp, uphill climb that will test both your gearing and your quads.

The rest of the way, you should expect a rolling terrain through picturesque upstate NY. The last ten miles or so are down and fast. This should give you and your legs ample time to absorb any water or nutrition as you get ready for the run.

There may or may not be a no passing zone on the last stretch of road. You'll know it as 'the last stretch as you'll see a lane of traffic completely closed off just for you and your athlete buddies. There will also be cones separating you from your soon-to-be running buddies. You should know this information ahead of time, either from the optional Mandatory Athlete meeting or from asking someone in transition. Either way, this is a good time to do some last minute hydration, nutrition, stretching, kegel exercises, etc. There is a half marathon in your very near future, which I'll tell you about in the very near future (convenient, huh?).

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What to Expect When You're Syracusing- The Swim

My intent is to pass along knowledge based on experience for any and all those who are planning on doing IM Syracuse 70.3 (even if you have no intention of ever doing this race, maybe you'll find it interesting). If, at any point along the way, please feel free to raise your hand and ask questions. (I suppose you could also leave a comment.)

Links to other posts in this series
The Swim (viewing)
The Bike
The Run

If you've done everything efficiently, you have made it to the race site before transition closes. According to published information, transition actually opens around 4:30 am (I, typically haven't even awoken by this time). It closes near 6:45 am (if you're lucky, you can bribe a volunteer to let you stay in a little longer- I know this from experience).

While in transition, make sure your gear is taken care off. Get your fluids and nutrition on your bike. They will have some of those large, orange coolers filled with water and with a sports drink (supplies by whoever is this year's sponsor). There will be lots of pumps in transition, either from fellow athletes or from the race support sponsor.

Borrowing a pump is as simple as asking, "Can I use your pump?" which is 100% of the time responded in the affirmative. The race mechanics, just like Hans and Franz, might pump you up without any work of your own. If you are too shy to ask the question, of course you can bring your own.

The race "starts" at 7:00 am. Don't worry, you won't actually be starting at that time. That is, of course, unless you are a male professional triathlete (then one would have to wonder why you are reading anything posted here...). Syracuse 70.3 is a wave start. In 2013, there will be 13 total waves, separated by about 5 minutes. The older and more feminine people will start earlier than the younger, virile males. I, for example, will be hitting the drink at 7:50. As if the pros need a 50 minute head start against the likes of me.

One aspect that I think is well done at Syracuse is that they have a morning bag check. This means that you don't have to stand around in your wetsuit, shivering in the cold (should the morning temps be cold enough to cause shivering). You can wear shoes to walk around. You can have your favorite hoodie. You can jam the tunes on your music player.

As your time nears, you can dump all of this in your official Morning Clothes bag, which was given to you when you checked-in yesterday, and hand it to the nice volunteers manning the tent. "You don't need to worry about your morning stuff during the race. We'll take care of it for you."

There is a warm up area, should you be the kind of person that likes to waste his/ her energy splashing around in the water before your race. There is a 97% chance that the swim will be wetsuit legal during any given year. In fact, the swim hasn't even been close to the temperature cut-off. In case you didn't know, the WTC is a little odd in their wetsuit temperature policy. The rules say that wetsuits are fully legal up to 76.1º. They are fully illegal above 83.8º. There is a gray area between those numbers. If the water happens to be in the midst, you may decide to wear a wetsuit but will forfeit your eligibility to win anything. No age group awards. No slots for the World Championships. You only get a finisher's medal, hat, t-shirt, and post-race dinner (all of which is probably what you would have gotten anyway).

The Swim

Congratulations, you have been patient enough to make it to your wave start. Everybody in your wave will have similar colored caps, which were given to you yesterday. Sadly, there is no official start line. You enter the water until it's about waist deep. Someone in the group will stop. Current scientific research has failed to identify the exact reason why that person stops where they do or while the rest of us idiots accept that decision. We all form a line in the vicinity of the stopper but are careful not to venture out further then that person.

Eventually, someone will yell go. If you're lucky, there may be something more official, such as an air horn. If you miss it, that's okay. You'll recognize the commencement of your race because everyone else has gone horizontal and started flapping their arms.

The swim is a clockwise swim with the buoys on your right (perfect for right-side breathers like myself). Since the swim is in a reservoir and protected on 3 sides, there will be minimal chop. The first leg is roughly 800 yards. You'll know when you've reached the turn buoy as it will be a different color. Turn right.

In my experience, the first turn is greater than 90º. It's closer to 110º. Should you only turn at a right angle, you'll start to add yardage onto your swim (again, it's been my experience). This leg of the race is about 200 yards and you are swimming directly into the sun, which is not as reliable a marker for spotting as you would expect.

Again, the turn buoy will be seen as a different color than the ones you've just been seeing. You turn right and head for the beach. Pay attention here. The buoys on the 3rd leg of the swim do not lead you directly towards the swim exit (at least they haven't in the past). The buoys make a 90º turn but the exit is directly at about 70º. If you choose to swim near the buoys, you will go out of your way by about 25 yards. Spot the swim exit arch. It'll be big and white. From a 1000 yards away, you would be able to read the words "Swim Exit" but it will be the only white archy-shaped thing against a green background. Swimming straight for the swim exit arch has a second benefit as the masses will be following the buoys where as you, and really I mean me, will be in clean water. Sure, there may be people to draft off of but there will also be slower swimmers from earlier waves to slalom through.

The Strippers
Exit the water onto a sandy beach. After a short 50 yard jog, you'll come across a slew of strippers. No, not the sexy, Gentleman's Club kind, but the kind that will remove your wetsuit for you. What's the difference? You are not expected to hand out dollars for services rendered. These people will give you attention for free.

Should you wish to take advantage of their talent, run up to a couple of volunteers. Make sure you have peeled your suit to the waist. You must do this part yourself (sorry). It's best to communicate your intention to the strippers. I tend to spot a likely victim who is available and point at them. They will acknowledge your presence. Run up to the couple and sit down in front of them. They will grab to top of your suit and yank it quickly. Just like a magician ripping a table cloth out from under the dishes, your suit will magically disappear from your body. Sometimes, they will help you off of your butt and onto your feet. They will always hand you your suit and send you on your way.

Transition is still quite a distance away. I haven't actually put the Garmin on the task, but I believe that the transition area is about 300-400 yards away. Remember that the clock doesn't stop because you are between the water and the bike. Also remember that it's a long day and you are only 10% or so of the way finished with the race. Plan your energy expenditures wisely.

Now that you've successfully made it to your bike, I'll tell you how to tackle the bike course. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 14, 2013

What to Expect When You're Syracusing: Pre-Race

My intent is to pass along knowledge based on experience for any and all those who are planning on doing IM Syracuse 70.3 (even if you have no intention of ever doing this race, maybe you'll find it interesting). If, at any point along the way, please feel free to raise your hand and ask questions. (I suppose you could also leave a comment.)

Links to other posts in this series
Pre-Race (viewing)
The Swim
The Bike
The Run

Signing up
First and foremost, you must sign-up for the race in advance. There is no race day registration. Sign-up is done typically on-line via a link through their website, which will then take you to Active.com, which will then force you to fill out about four hundred pages of questions, and charge you accordingly. Active will also tack on an additional fee just because they can. Sadly, there's no way around it. The race is expensive, as are all WTC events.

(Keep in mind that I have never had a bad experience at a WTC event that could be blamed on the race instead of my lack of training or my pansiness. Yes I believe that their races are pricey. I also believe that they put on a high quality show.)

Please note that you are expected to be a member of USAT (the official governing body of everything triathlon). Not only do you need to be a current member, but your membership expiration date must be later than the date of the race. If you are a current member but your card expires before the race, you may be forced to renew your membership for an additional year (USAT only has full year memberships or longer) or pay for a day pass.

To the best of my knowledge, the race has never sold out. Still, expect that there will be 1000 plus people on the course at any given time.

Picking Up Your Race Number
The race is typically on a Sunday. You cannot show up on Sunday morning and expect to race. You must do "things" on Friday or Saturday before the race. Bring a government issued ID and your USAT card.

Tip: Some people take a picture of their USAT card, store it on their phone, and use that instead of the physical card itself. Saves space in your wallet and is 100% acceptable.

List of required things
  • Go to the Host Hotel* (this location changes annually) and check in
  • Sign Waivers 
  • Pick up your race packet, which should include but not limited to:
    • Your bib number(s)
    • Your race stickers (there's about 8 thousand of these) 
    • Several coupons or advertisements for products that you have no interest in
  • Pick up your timing chip
  • Get an official wrist band that must stay on until the end of the race
  • Get any swag
If they stay consistent in relation to years past, this will be done efficiently and by many happy volunteers. (Be sure to smile, joke and have fun with these people. They are there out of the goodness of their hearts with the sole intention of pleasing you. If anything goes wrong, don't be a jerk. Your problem will be solved.) They set it up factory-line style. You go to the first table and take care of that business. Then the second. Then the third. Repeat ad infinitum or until they run out of tables.

You'll recognize when you have finished the process because you'll magically end up in the Official Merchandise Store where you can spend more of your money on stuff that has the "M-dot" logo should the desire hit you.

*Note- The Host Hotel might actually be a tent on the race site. 

List of non-required things
(also available, depending on your timing-schedule of these things is usually posted in the Athlete's Guide, which will be emailed to you or posted on the website)
  • Mandatory Athlete Meeting**
  • Chat with Pros (depending on availability)
  • Browse various booths or vendors that have set up shop
**Yes, I know the title says 'Mandatory'. They don't take attendance nor do they penalize you in any fashion for not going. They answer any questions you might have. They go over some of the commonly broken triathlon rules and the consequences/ procedures should you break those rules. They tell you what to expect on the course, if there has been any changes, or if there are any special rules. For example, in 2012, there was a no-passing zone during the last mile of the bike. The only way to know this was attend one of the meetings. Will that be the case this year? I have no idea. I might have to go to the meeting. Or, talk to someone who went to the meeting and was friendly enough to share. The risk is that if you don't go to the meeting and miss out on something, it's fully your fault and you may be penalized for your ignorance.

Bike Check-In
Sorry, but you cannot get around visiting the race site before race day. You have to physically drive to the race site from the Host Hotel (assuming they are separate places). The race site is a few miles southeast of Syracuse proper at:

Jamesville Beach County Park
4110 W. Shore Manor
Jamesville, NY 13078

Why do you have go to the race site? Because you must leave your bike in transition overnight. It must be in it's place before the posted deadline (most years, the deadline is 7:00 pm but be sure to check the Athlete's Guide or ask the question at the optional Mandatory Meeting).

The course is open to any athletes and all motorists who wish to be on the course. You may opt to ride some of the bike course or the run course. You may go for a run in the park. You may not swim in the reservoir (for some reason).

The transition area is controlled by security and will remain so for the duration of the event, including all night long. Remember that annoying wrist band thing from the Required list? That's your entry ticket into and out of transition area. It has your info, including name, your race number, bust size, astronomical sign, and an analysis of red flagged genes based on your DNA analysis.

You have to label your bike before leaving it in transition. In your race packet, there are a bunch of stickers. At least 2 of these must go on your bike. One of the stickers goes on your helmet. The other stickers are available just in case you have a nice sticker collection to which you'd like to add.

Tip: Some of the bike stickers are rather large. I bring scissors and cut those puppies so that they fit nicely on my seat tube and down tube. Otherwise, you'll have to figure out where to put them on your bike without interfering with your comfort or aero-ness. I also cut the helmet sticker down to a smaller size.

The racks are assigned seating based on your race number. They are the 'long pole' types that are meant to hang your bike by the seat or handlebars. Typically, even numbered bibs are on one side of the rack while odd numbers are on the other.

You are not required to leave anything else in transition other than your bike. You will have full access to your bike on race morning (assuming that you get to the race before transition closes, which is not a good assumption for the Banter).

I would suggest checking the weather forecast before making any major decisions about what to leave in transition. If the weather is predicted to be mostly clear with low levels of wind, I would personally leave most of my gear (shoes, helmet, glasses, wetsuit, goggles, bodyglide, etc.). In fact, I'd try to leave as much as possible minus nutrition. I keep food separate as I believe that even the most skilled security guard isn't going to stop a mouse, bug, or other varmint from eating my fig newtons or drinking my punch. Basically, if it's essential gear for the race, I leave it near my highly secured bicycle.

Now, before you start to argue, I have good reasoning for this. Before the race, you get to park your car close to transition. On race morning, your car is likely nowhere near transition. Last year, in 2012, I had to walk a good 1/2 mile to get from my car to my bike. The more I leave on Saturday, the less I have to carry on Sunday.

I've seen some people try and wrap a bag around their seat or cover their bike in copious amounts of plastic for it's overnight slumber party. I personally don't see the point as condensation will still form under the plastic. Further, you are going to be soaking wet from the swim the next time you ride. I can't imagine that your bum will notice if the seat has a couple of dew drops on it race morning.

From here on out, you should be ready for race day. Go home, get some food, get some sleep, and come back to the park in the morning. In the very near future, I'll walk you through race day.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bike Shipping Options

About a week and a half from now, I plan on toeing the line at IM Syracuse 70.3 (not that we actually toe up on anything) (also, there's not really a line) (plus, it's highly debatable if it's right to label it with "IM") (or if it's actually in Syracuse). I have done this race in the past and I like it's placement both in my schedule (not many races early in the season) and in proximity to my home (it's within my 2 hour window of opportunity).

Making his appearance for the first time at Syr 70.3 will be the BIL. He has decided to be duped into competing at the half-distance event. It's not very smart if you ask me. There are several reasons for this opinion.
  • It's a tough distance
  • Syracuse is well outside of his 2 hour window
  • He's not bringing the Wife-in-Law
  • None of my gear fits him
On the plus side:
  • I get to hang out with the BIL (the only other triathlete in the family)
  • I get to hang out with the Niece and Nephew (ok, the niece my be an up-and-coming triathlon star)
  • Their presence gives me a reason to shirk several other responsibilities
Last time he visited the great state of NY, he borrowed my road bike for a triathlon. Let's be clear, I personally hate my road bike. The reason: It's not as awesome as my tri-bike. That doesn't mean it's a bad bike. In all reality, it's a pretty good road bike (if you like that kind of thing).

Well, the BIL's not having any of that 'borrowing the Banter's bike' gibberish. He's got his own, fancy new Cervelo and he can't live without it (finally, he's learning something). Since he's flying and not driving to here, there are complications. If any of you have tried to fly with your bike, it's a big hassle. Here's what the airlines suggest, all of which suck:
  • Purchase a hard case. 
    • Disassemble your bike. 
    • Jam it into the case. 
    • Get charged a variable fee (anywhere from $50 to $7000 depending on the ticket agent, personality test, and color of the case) (one way)
    • Have your bike packing job completely ruined by TSA
    • Watch as the person with golf clubs gets to check their stuff for free
  • Purchase a separate ticket for the bike
    • This way, your bike gets it's own seat
    • It's not allowed to sit in the emergency row nor the exit rows
    • The airline often over sells the flights and it could get bumped to a different flight
    • The bike won't like it if it's required to sit next to an oversized person, crying baby, the talkative guy, or worse, a triathlete
    • Unless it gets an aisle seat, it will complain about leg room
  • Ship the bike via post office or other delivery service
    • Still have to pack it in some sort of box that requires disassembly
    • Must have it ready to ship several days in advance= less riding time
    • Even then, they might mistake "Rochester, NY" for Rochester, MN, Rochester, IN or Rochester, MI
    • Upon arrival, you have to trust that the moron you are staying with has any knowledge or tools of bike reassembly
What the BIL didn't know is that he could use K-Mart for all of his shipping needs. They'll ship your bike. They'll ship your clothes. They'll even ship your pants.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Race Results Loophole

Remember when you were growing up and you had those awful standardized tests? Guess what- they still have them. They're still awful. But, that's besides the point. The point was that you had to take them and now you don't (hopefully).

If your teacher was worth anything, you learned some test taking tips. These were especially valuable on multiple choice sections. Here's some examples of good tips:
  • Don't draw patterns on your bubble sheet
  • When in doubt, guess C.
  • Answers with the word 'monkey' in them are likely correct
  • The words 'always' and 'never' are almost always never the right answer
Triathlon isn't much different than your average standardized test (except that, for some reason, race distances aren't as standardized as we'd like them). You spend a year in training attempting to get better at the skills that will give you a good performance on the test, AKA race day.

Now, I'm a competitive bloke by nature. This means that, come race morning, I pretty much hate you. Sure, I'll be smiley and congenial while we are setting up in transition. Inside, I want to slash your tires and toss your running shoes into the trash. Of course, I don't do this because if you take away your competition, there is no race. It's just you again. I paid money to go head to head against other people so I might as well allow you on the course. But, deep inside, I want to crush all of your hopes and dreams of beating me.

One thing that's also clear to me is that I don't want to race a bunch of old women on crutches. Whereas I find those people completely inspiring and believe that they are truly more awesome than me, I don't have any pride in beating them in a race. Some day I'll be racing old women, not today. I cherish a good challenge and I want to race against the best. It's for that reason that I train hard. It's also for that reason, I gave the world the sure fire way to beat me in a race. To summarize:
The only way to beat me in a race is to swim, bike, and/ or run faster than me. Good luck to you. (Ideally, you should get to the finish line before me. But, with wave starts, you never can tell.)
I'm pretty sure that most of you didn't read that closely. The answer is pretty obvious. If you started in my wave and I beat you to the line, well, I beat you. Always.

Nope. Enter 2 dudes, Darren and Lee. I have never met these guys before. I don't know what they look like. I do know they found a loophole in my "How to beat the Banter" system. They know how to take a test and they passed, beat me, even though I made it to the line ahead of them. I have learned their secrets, which I will now share with you.

The Story of Darren and Lee versus the Banter
(Just to be clear, the story is fiction, but the data is real).

Darren and Lee are twins with different last names who live in upstate NY. Their favorite past times are riding horses and tormenting the Farm Boy who lives there. His name was Banter, but they never called him that. They occassionally dabble in the sport of triathlon.

One day at a race, Darren and Lee lined up against the Banter in a race called the Keuka Lake Olympic distance race. All had their wetsuits on and were ready to go. As the gun sounded, it was clear that Darren was the superior swimmer of the 3. He beat both Lee and the Banter out of the water. The Banter was close, only a measly 18 sec behind. Lee didn't fare as well and was almost 2 minutes back.

In transition, Darren had a problem. Apparently, someone has slashed his tires and threw his running shoes in the trash he struggled to get his wetsuit off. The Banter beat him out of transition by a good margin because he knows how to unzip his suit while moving. Lee was also faster in transition and was now within a minute of Darren but still a couple of minutes back on the Banter.

On the road, it was clear that Lee and the Banter were evenly matched. Darren did not ride so well. The Banter kept his 2 minute lead on Lee but Lee had eliminated the gap on Darren. Lee and Darren were reunited in transition 2. Darren, still frustrated with what had happened in T1, put forth a little extra effort. Lee was relaxed and confident, yet a little slower. Darren and Lee ran out of T2 together. Little did they know that the Banter was a significantly better transitioner than they. His margin of lead had increased to about 2 min 30 sec.

On the run, the twins were evenly matched and ran like Dave and Mark in the famous IronWar. The Banter was plodding along at just a bit faster pace. But, if you are a faithful reader you'd know, the Banter's run started to fall apart on the 2nd half. Darren and Lee had each other to keep the Ego boost alive. They started to reel the Banter step by agonizing step.

The joke was on them as they were running out of space. The run was only 6.2 miles long. Darren, frustrated with their race strategy, decided to put on a surge at the end. Little did he know that the Banter had already crossed the line. Darren's last minute effort allowed him to beat Lee by about 18 seconds. The Banter had been standing around for about 90 seconds watching all of the drama and silently dreaming up poetry.

But, when you, me, Darren, or Lee
Check the results sheet, their names
Are listed ahead of the Lames's.
"How could that be?" I pleaded to the RD.

Via email, "Good question" said the RD.
After 12 hours, I waited and waited
The response was slow, feeling baited
The Director to ask the referee.

A good day past my patience flee,
The Ref said I made a mistake.
Surely this must be a fake!
I was assessed a pen-al-ty.

Near the water I broke a rule.
My wetsuit early I did unzip
To better run at a faster clip.
The ref noted, twas not cool.

Let this be a lesson to thee
The rule says 'keep wetsuit intact'
Don't pull the cord down your back ----->
Or you'll be punished, like me.

The ref clearly did not want to see
Wetsuit on but zipper down
Much like this guy, the clown
Two minutes slower now is he

All that work in SBR and T
Proved futile in the race.
He kept a superior pace
And was still beaten by Darren and Lee

So there you have it. A disagreement between me and the rule book resulting in a time penalty. Darren and Lee are good students of the sport and have rightfully (although begrudgingly) found a loophole in the "how to beat the Banter in a race" sweepstakes and came out on top. My 22nd place finish was dropped down to 24th. I was still 3rd in my age group and I learned a valuable lesson that day. Always make sure to slash tires and trash shoes know the letter of the law when it comes to race specific rules.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

2013 KLT Race Review and Results

It was a dark and stormy night. Literally. It was one of those nights when you weren't sure that they were going to put on a race tomorrow. Race Directors have something against lightning and Mother Nature was angry that night. When I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, she was still crying and howling. I got on the Internets and checked the race website. No new news. I checked the radar and focused my sights on a town many a mile south of my residence called Penn Yann (which I'm pretty sure is Amish for 'middle of nowhere'). The rain was scheduled to stop in the very near future but had a chance to return later in the morning.

I ate my breakfast, packed the rest of the gear, and got out of the house earlier than predicted. I have a tendency of arriving at the race site near the end of the acceptable period. This morning, I was a little excited about the first triathlon of the season and I wanted to turn over a new leaf. According to my best estimates, I was 15 minutes ahead of my norm (a new Banter record). Ten minutes down the road, I started swearing and promptly turned around. Whereas I did forget to put the Wife in the car (she opted for additional sleep- queue jealousy), I also forgot to put my wallet in the car. You can show up for a running race completely empty handed. For a triathlon, however, you must show your government issued ID and your USAT membership card to get in to the race. Plus, they also ask you for a blood sample, a cheek swab for your DNA, an iris scan, a unique identifying birthmark, and 7 security questions. A failure to provide proper ID= no race for you.

After leaving my driveway, round 2, I was now about 5 minutes behind schedule. AKA- business as usual. I arrived on race site and picked up my packet. To my surprise, I was not the last person to arrive. I was 4th to last. (Only because last place was a relay team which I'm counting as 3 separate competitors.) Welcome to the Keuka Lake Triathlon.

From this moment on, I had about 15 minutes until transition closed. I was about 0.25 miles away from the transition area. No problem. I hopped on my bike, donned my helmet, and covered the distance in a short 2 minutes. The KLT volunteers won't let you in to transition without being body marked. For those of you who don't know what this means- it's one of the nuances of triathlon. Not only do you have a race number on your body. You also have one on your bike. Plus, they feel the need to decorate your skin. I got my race number drawn on both backhands and both quads. Then, on one calf they posted my race age (which is different from your real age for every single triathlete except for a person born on December 31). On the other calf, they put a large "I" signifying that I was racing the Olympic distance event. Makes sense, right?

I set up my stuff in transition, which I do rather efficiently. Years of arriving late helps you learn how to streamline the process. Then, I got into an argument that slowed me down tremendously. The Garmin refused to cooperate. Normally when I turn her on, she beeps, pauses, then starts up. This process takes about 5-10 seconds (see pic at left). Today, she stayed at the start-up screen for a couple of minutes. I turned her off (pic at left) and tried again. No luck after a couple of minutes of hoping (again, pic).

After she won the argument by refusing to start up, I resigned myself to leaving the transition area knowing that I would be racing without the Garmin. It was also quite apparent to me that I was, by far, the last person out of transition. I've been in this situation before.

The Swim
Since I was the last person out of transition, it makes logical sense that I was also the last person to arrive to the swim start for my wave. I was in the 2nd wave and in no hurry to make it down to the water. Everyone else was in the swim coral but no one was waiting for me. I made it before the 1st wave went off. I.E. Plenty of time.

Off went number 1 and in went #2. We had about 5 minutes before our horn was sounded. Three days ago, the water temperature was 56º. Since then, the atmospheric thermostat had been turned up. The water had risen to 65º. It was still pretty chilly and I was happy for my wetsuit. I did my normal swim warm up of diving down under the surface, stroking for about 10 yards, turning and returning back. Or, roughly 30-45 seconds worth of work. My head was wet. My body was semi-acclimated to the temps. I was ready.

The horn sounded and I went off with the fast pack. The swim is just under a mile long so I knew I had to pace myself early. I also know that there's a bike and a run coming up so I try to manage my energy. I'm confident I could have stroked a little harder but I was concerned about going blind what affect it would have on the rest of my race. I found some feet that were heading in my general direction and at about the pace I wanted to hold. I stayed on them the entire route.

Thanks to the dude that pulled me around the course. He kept a good pace. He swam straight. He knew how to meander through the back of the early pack. Good work! Here's how the swim looked like after the last buoy, heading for home.

Upon exiting the water, it was obvious that I was working hard in the water. My breathing was high and labored. Immediately, we were thrust into peril. Not only did we have to navigate life on land again, but there was a large set of stairs. The KLT has this rule about not allowing wetsuit removal near the water's edge. I was feeling a bit constricted in my wetsuit once on land and decided to unzip. I was warned by no fewer than 800 people yelling at me to keep my wetsuit on. So, with the back of my dress unzipped, I made my way up the stairs and into the transition area.

My time out of the water, including the stairs was 24:44. This was good enough for 17th place overall. Further, I won my age group (yes, by only 1 second, but I'll take it).

Even better for me was my improvement in transition 1. Last year, I had a dismal time in T1. T1- 2012 version at this race- was 2 min 55 sec which was the 226th fastest time of that day. T1- 2013 version- was 1 min 39 sec, which was the 27th fastest time of the day. Even better... The Garmin decided that she wanted to race. There she was waiting for me to press her button (where's that pic?). However, she was sitting in a running mood and I had to convince her that we were biking first. This cost me a couple of seconds that I did not mind, since I was no longer racing alone.

The Bike
This was my first race in an aero helmet. I recently purchased a Giro Attack. These things are expensive and supposed to make you a little faster. Completely worth it! One of the benefits of the helmet is that it comes with a shield. A shield can be used to thwart off men on horses with spears, dudes in armor with swords, or bugs on a bike ride. It basically replaces sunglasses. I waxed my lens with Rain-X before the race, just in case the rain forecast held true. Collateral benefit- sweat wicks off the lens faster.

The ride starts off with a short, slight downhill. Then, we turn on to the main road and are greeted with 2 main challenges. First, there is a climb. Second, there is a steady head wind. The winds were in our face at ~10 mph for roughly miles 1-9. At mile 9, we turned around. But, that when we started the longer, steady climb.
Up and up we went. Then we turned right, meaning that we now had a cross wind. We went up some more nearing about 1000 feet of climbing for the day. Then we turned right again. The road started to flatted out. But, then we were back in the wind. My average pace was going from respectable to disappointing. Then, something happened just before the 16 mile mark. We turned around.

At this point, we had the dual benefit of going downhill with a tail wind. It started to rain slightly around this point. I didn't care. I was in a good position and heading in the right direction. Water was beading off my lens. Between miles 17 and miles 24, my slowest split was 26 mph.

When I dismounted my bike, I had completed the ride with the 27th fastest time on the day. My average pace was 21 mph with a time of 1:11.40. As a comparison, last year, under similar conditions (less wind but more rain), I held 20.1 mph on the same course and was 3 minutes slower. That aero helmet is looking better now.

I hopped off my bike and headed for T2. I found my spot, racked my bike, put socks and shoes on my feet, and headed out to the run. My T2 time was a whopping 57 sec, which was the 28th fastest time on the day (I'm seeing a trend here).

The Run
I was hoping to hold 7 minutes per mile. I thought this within my skill set. I set out at what I considered a hard, but comfortable pace. My first mile clocked in at 6:58. How's that for pacing?!

At around the 1.5 mile mark, the crowd thinned out. No, not because I'm awesome and my blazingly hot pace put the others in the dust. It's because that was where the duathletes and sprinters turned around and headed for home. I was exceptionally jealous. My orange cone was still way off in the distance. I paced on and hit my second mile on a 7:03. I had slipped a little.

Didn't happen
It was right around this time that the rains came. The RD had given out ample warnings before the race that, should there be lightning, the day was over. Part of me wanted the sky to charge up and I could stop running guilt free. Part of me wanted it to keep raining. I did notice that running in the race was rather pleasant. I was able to pick up the pace and stay cool.

Something worse happened. The rain stopped and the sun came out. Now I'm saturated in a combination of my own filth and the grime that Mother Nature provided, while running down the road next to a lake, as the heat is starting to rise. The humidity was relatively close to the max meaning that sweat wasn't able to do it's job. I was starting to boil in my own excrement and I still had a couple of miles left to go.

I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't want to stop and walk. My right brain was rationalizing the decision to slow my pace drastically at an aid station, take in some water, and cool off. My left brain was saying that there was only 2 miles left, or about 15 minutes, and that I can suffer through almost anything for that duration (save a Nicholas Cage movie). Apparently the neuroscientists people might have been correct. I'm right handed and therefore my dominant left brain won the war. I didn't stop.

That's not to say that I kept my pace. I was suffering pretty good and I slowed from sub-7 to low-7 and then to mid-7. I would scoop up a cup of water from the handy volunteers. A little for the mouth and the rest for my head. The cool sensation of the liquid flowing down my drenched clothes had never been so welcoming.

When I made it to the finisher's arc, I crossed the line with as much satisfaction as I could muster. It was clear that I left nothing on the course. My run time of 44.55 was welcomed as I traditionally have a sub-45 min goal which I rarely accomplish. My run was the 51st fastest in the field (more proof that I really need to do some long term run improvement).

The Results
I crossed the line in 22nd place overall and 3rd in my age group. My clock time was 2:23.35. This was a good 7 minutes faster than last year's race. I had bested my previous swim time, T1 time, bike time, and run time and by good margins too. The only aspect of the race that was slower than a year ago was T2. In 2012, T2= 56 sec. In 2013, T2= 57 sec. I'm slipping.

I scanned the results sheet only to see that the #1 and #2 guys in my AG were in 5th and 6th overall and significantly better cyclists and runners than me. I had no hope of catching them anytime soon. At least I beat them out of the water.

I stuck around race campus for a while. This gave me a chance to meet Al. It also gave me a chance to take advantage of the best post-race food on the planet. (Seriously. I'd recommend this race to anyone and everyone, if for nothing else than to get invited to the smorgasbord of happiness that they serve in the cafeteria.)

I was debating about leaving after brunch but before the awards. I was a little nervous about getting an award. Last time I did a race by the Score-This people (who, by the way, have never failed to put on a high quality show!), they handed out bricks as prizes. Whereas I could use a few more bricks to build a patio... Anyway, I was talked in to staying by a couple of other racers. It's a good thing that I did. Here's what they had to offer.

It feels like the KLT knows me.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

You Can Call Him Al

Recently, it became very obvious to me that tri-banter.blogpost.com is becoming world famous. There were a few subtle hints and one big, not-so subtle hint.

For example, on the administrative page of the blog, there is a built in stat tracker. That's right- I know who you are, how often you read my blog, from which browser is your preference, what type of device you use to access my musings, what you had for breakfast and how much money is in your 401(k). Actually, I only get to know what country you are from. As one would expect, the United States ranks right at the top of my frequent flyers. I thought the list would stop there. But, as you can see by the Top 10 compiled nicely by Google, I have quite the diverse readership with the UK and the new USSR battling it out like in the good old days. Now, I admit to being a product of the American public education system with all of its hoots and whistles. Therefore, I have absolutely no idea where Moldova is. Even further proving my Western hemisphere status, I'm too lazy to look it up (mostly because I'm pretty sure it's that big island country near the bottom, right of the pic).

Another thing that the blogger gives me stats on are which of my posts receive the most traffic. The top bread winner in that category is the "Brief History of Swag" post by a long margin. Apparently there are a lot of people out there who want to know about how swag got invented and my gibberish is the world leader in that research. It really is pretty sad as to how little has been written on the topic.

I have noticed a recent trend in traffic lately. It seems that my race reports are getting rave reviews (not that anyone is actually reviewing or commenting on them. At least, not publicly or in earshot). Here in lies my next big clue that I'm getting too big for my britches public recognition.

Enter Al.

I met Al at my most recent race. I'm working on an official, soon to be popular, race review, which is only semi-related to Al. After the race, I walked what was left of my carcass over to the trailer where they were going to post race results. I was sweaty, smelly, and ugly (basically, business as usual). While scanning the list and searching for my name, a fine looking, middle-aged man was looking at me.

"You're the Banter, right?" said Mr. Handsome.

"Um, yes." I responded quizzically. "How do you know this?" This is about as sincere and honest of a question that I could ask a potential stalker fellow athlete. I am not that social of a person. I don't go to parties. My networking skills are rock bottom. I can't remember a name to save my life (thank goodness not too many life-threatening situations require name remembering). I came to the race alone (the Wife opting to sleep in).

"I read your blog." I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped at this moment. First, I am impressed that there is someone outside of the family and not on the Banter payroll that reads my blog. Second, I'm in disbelief that anyone in the world could recognize me from any one of the 4 photos that I've posted of myself lifetime. Third, I'm dumbfounded that someone would remember both the first and the second and match them with the disgusting beast of a triathlete that was standing before him.

So, we got to talking and he told me his name was Al. I admit it, Al is his real name. Meeting my first real fan (assuming I can call Al a fan) must mean something special to me as that name is forever engrained in my memory. Should I ever breed, I might be willing to name my first born Al (hopefully it'll be a boy as Al is not that common of a lady name). Now, here will be the tricky part... Will I actually be able to remember Al's face on the outside chance that I ever see him again? (Unlikely. Sorry Al. I simply suck. Plus, I'm pretty sure that you'll probably avoid me like the plague next time we cross paths after reading this post.)

During our short time together, Al told me that he came across my blog looking for race reviews on some of the local events that I frequent. He slyly left out opining on the quality of those reviews. Then, we chatted for a while about today's race. Al told me that he pretty much nailed his race and was able to predict his splits down to the minute (which, again, is amazing as not only could I not even predict my splits, I couldn't remember where I parked my bike). We talked about the season ahead (Al and I will race again in the near future). Mostly, we were wasting time waiting for the next page of race results to be posted. Once the results were posted, I was now the least interesting object in the vicinity. Al and I parted ways.

Thank you, Al, for providing me with a little bit of self esteem. I appreciated our time together and hopefully I'll see you again (both in real life and in blog-stats form).

Oh, and just because this is Wednesday and I typically do a Wacky Wednesday thing, I thought I'd leave you with a couple of race reports from a Canadian Triathlete Professional (especially nice since Canada is #4 on the Banter viewing top 10 list). Here is how Trevor Wurtele files his race reports, for your viewing pleasure.

Don't expect anything like this from me anytime soon.