Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tucson Training Camp with #DTD

In the midst of what appears to be the end of the world on social media, I thought I'd take a little time out of your day to discuss with you the past week I have just had.  You can continue to hate life and wonder where our country is going or you can take 5-7 minutes out of your day to look at some quality pictures and appreciate the great journey that endurance sports can be.  You choose.

Here at Quail Haven we have had a slew of visitors recently.  The Fillnow twins spent some time with us in early January then our (Christine and myself) coach and his wife stayed with us for a bit less than a week prior to the training camp he was hosting here in Tucson.  This has made home life a bit busier than normal but it's been nice having people around to talk and hang out with during the day.

Moving onwards to the training camp, I think I'll do this as a sort of day-by-day and then some recap thoughts at the end on training camps in general.  You'll - as usual - have to take my opinion with a giant grain of salt on that front as I've only ever done this one full-fledged training camp (the cycling club training camps in college don't really count) in my life, so my experience is...well...limited.

Monday

Misty mornings

8am - Swim Session at UA

This was a cold and bitter start to the camp, as it was cold and my coffee had been bitter that morning.  Walking out from the locker room onto a pool deck covered in mist and with concrete that must have been only 40 degrees was eye opening and ball shrinking. We warmed up with a standard warm up and then David casually announced that we'd be doing a 400 yard test, for time.  This was fun in a way, but it was mostly awful. I think my time was 4:42, which wass about 6 seconds slower than my 400 yard time from early December.  This didn't surprise me as I have been swimming but not swimming hard for the last month or so. We then did a 200 for time and I redeemed myself a bit coming in at 2:12.  I'm not sure what my "life time best" is for 200 yards but it's probably 2:09-2:11.

10:30am - Bike to Dove Mtn 3hrs

Christine and I met the rest of the campers a little north of our house after we headed north on the Santa Cruz Path to Silverbell.  The ride up Twin Peaks to Dove Mountain/Ritz was mostly uneventful and - little did we know - the warmest day of the week.  It was a nice glimpse of some of the desert scenery for the out-of-towners who had come in from Florida, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont. I just wish the climb up to "Dove Mountain" wasn't so anti-climactic.  You kind of get to the "top" and think: "Oh." It's not really a mountain, per se.  Not in the sense we normally have around here...

4:30pm - Pima CC Track Session

I was honestly expecting something pretty light and more "drills and skills" oriented. Christine and I got there a little early and did a "warm up" that mostly included failed attempts at dancing. Unfortunately for everyone, none of this made it to phone storage. After everyone else showed up we engaged in some light drills which, I figured, would just about cover this track session.  Unfortunately, David had other ideas and sent us out for 6 x 1000m @ "just faster than 70.3 pace." Since I haven't done a 70.3 in just about forever, I figured that I'd shoot for 3:30-3:40/k and call it even.  Despite the incredible wind conditions (seriously, it was super windy) and half of the track being miserable as a result, I stayed pretty consistent albeit slower than Ben and Aubrey who ran 3:20-3:25 or so.

Tuesday

8am - Swim Session at UA

Warming up for the swim

This is going to be a recurring theme of this week, so get used to it.  I haven't been in the pool for 7 days in a row (since Christine and I also swam Sunday) in a LONG time (maybe ever?) so this was definitely a shocker to me. I'm going to assume it was a shocker for everyone else since it is somewhat unusual for triathlon coaches to prescribe 7 swims a week in a non training camp situation...  Be that as it may, we dove in to the warm pool out of the cold air (the seats on deck this morning had frost on them) and did a good workout of 5 x 400s.  I swam pretty quick today and was pleased both with my consistency and feel for the water. The best part of any swim workout was the hot shower afterwards to finally warm up after a freezing run between the water in the pool and the locker room entrance...

11am - Ride to Kitt Peak 5hrs

This ride involved Christine and I transporting all of the bikes in our two cars while David transported the campers to a parking spot at Brown Mountain on McCain Loop.  Our plan was to head west to Sandario where we would turn south and get to Ajo, then taking that all the way to Kitt Peak.  The goal of this route vs. simply riding from home to Kitt was that we would avoid some of the bad construction on Ajo between Sandario and Kinney Rd.

David and Janina got some great shots; this is me showcasing a TriSports.com water bottle kindly provided to the camp by TriSports.com!

This plan was successful, as our trip to the base of Kitt Peak was mostly uneventful. As we turned up the road to head up the mountain it became increasingly windy.  Kitt Peak is a GORGEOUS climb, but very "stark." There isn't a whole lot out there which makes it a completely different animal than, say, Lemmon. The wind was ripping pretty good and it was only maybe 50 at the bottom so by the time we got a few miles up the climb I was getting pretty cold. Around mile 7 or 8 or somewhere there was a big patch of ice across the road.  It was technically ride-able, but I decided at that point to turn around. I think in hindsight that was the right idea.  Ben, Aubrey, and Sue continued upwards a bit as Christine, Kelly, and myself got down to the bottom.  Aubrey was able to descend from however high they climbed but Ben and Sue had to get a ride back down in the car (Sue because she got a flat up on the mountain and Ben because he was becoming hypothermic on the descent).  I've been there too many times in the past (see reference to January cycling training camps in Virginia...) and have no desire to be that cold anymore.  Unfortunately at the bottom Christine and Kelly were both having trouble getting warm so had to ride in the car for the next 30 minutes to warm up while Aubrey, Sue, Janina and I rode back east on Ajo and through the Border Patrol Checkpoint.  We all eventually made it back to the cars, a bit later than we expected but all safe and (mostly) warm JUST as it began to rain.  Phew.

Headed up Kitt Peak

 Wednesday

A hearty breakfast is key to good performance
8am - You guessed it

Back to the pool, back to the pool.  All of us were pretty wore out from yesterday (there's a southerner expression for you) dealing with the cold and the fact that we had all ridden about 5 hours, so the swim session this morning wasn't too bad.  Our only solace was the fact that the water was 81ish degrees and David looks freezing standing on the pool deck.  Unfortunately he then reminds us of our stroke issues and technical corrections and we realize he has the better end of that deal... Damn. This swim was mostly "skills" oriented which for me involved lots of snorkel and tempo trainer time.  One of the ''flaws'' in my stroke I've had pointed out to me as a result of this camp (thanks a lot...) was that the "gallop" in my stroke is a result of my low stroke count/25yd and somewhat poor rotation onto my left side.  I breathe to me left exclusively, and as a result leave me left arm dangling out at the glide phase for too long and fail to "roll" enough to that side (because I don't breathe to my right).  This has been solved from a drills standpoint by sticking a tempo trainer under my cap at 72 strokes/minute and I no longer dangle that left arm out there, that's for sure.  I can barely/rarely keep up with 72 but it's a good cadence to keep in my head and hammer in from a muscle memory standpoint.

11am - Trail run Phoneline

I've now run Phoneline a few times; once with Christine early in our time here in Tucson (she hated it, I enjoyed it), once with Jesse and Ben last month (I enjoyed it), and then once this week at camp (I enjoyed it, she hated it).  It basically goes uphill for 4.5 miles and then downhill for 4.5 miles. It was definitely an eye opener for a lot of the out of towners, as the trails here are quite different than most people are used to.  Unfortunately nobody had brought real trail shoes, so the rockiness was tougher to deal with for those with road shoes.  Only a couple of tumbles and scratches resulted from this 1.5hr run, which I call a win!

David caught us coming back down to the end of Phoneline Trail

Thursday

8am - ugh

"Skills" 50s followed by fast/threshold+ 100s, times 3. This was one of those workouts that doesn't look too bad on paper but by the time you finish it you are pretty darn tired.  I was swimming pretty quick today though, so I can't complain.  Most of my 100s were 1:12, which is a nice pace considering the general fatigue we were all experiencing at this point.

10:40 - Shootout Loop 4.5hrs

Christine pulling me up Helmet Peak Rd, captured by David. Never knew this road was so scenic because it has always hurt so bad!

We started separately from the group today and just headed to Mission and the planned loop (same as the Saturday Shootout) hoping to meet everyone out there.  Unfortunately most of the group got quite lost navigating the Rillito River Path and Santa Cruz and ended up in Oro Valley, so we didn't see them for a while.  I broke out my tri bike today for the first time in a couple of months as if I'm going to get back on the road this year I need to follow my own advice in the many bike fits I gave back at IOS: PRACTICE.  Christine and I made our way around the loop pretty quickly and she almost dropped me a few times.  Unfortunately for her, I am much better at going downhill and returned the favor on those sections.  As we came up Helmet Peak Rd we got back in touch with our group who was coming the other way.  We all regrouped and rode back into town together before heading west and returning back to our house via Gates Pass.  That was a nice finish to a tough ride.

#AEROAF caught by David

Friday

8am - Just about done with this crap...

Just kidding, swimming is awesome. This probably wins my award for the hardest swim of the week.  It was a standard warm up moving into:

6x100 "skill" on 1:30
2x200 fast on 2:50
5x100 "skill" on 1:30
2x250 fast on 3:20
4x100 "skill" on 1:30
2x300 fast on 4:00

The "skill" 100s involved a tempo trainer, some Finish thumb paddles, and a snorkel.  Keeping my tempo up that high and focusing on rotation was difficult from a cognitive standpoint but I was coming in on 1:15s or so with relatively little effort (thanks paddles, even though you are annoying thumb paddles).  The longer intervals were basically threshold sets, and I came in on 2:23, 2:21, 3:00, 3:00, 3:36, 3:35 respectively.  I was very pleased with my effort:pace ratio for this swim and it showed me that even this week I had made improvements to my ceiling insofar as swimming goes...  All that being said, I was definitely still tired from this.

11am - Bike West Tucson Loop 2.5hrs

This was a fun loop that wasn't too long (just under 50 miles) and without too much elevation change.  Aubrey, Ben, and I rode pretty steady and traded pulls the whole way and arrived back at the house (we all rode from our house in Starr Pass today, which was really nice!) and had a somewhat quick transition into...

2pm - Starr Pass Trail Run 1hr

Running on my "home trails" is always fun for me and we got to enjoy some great weather (shorts and t shirts) and good trails.  I think our legs were all pretty tired but being in great weather outdoors makes at least some of that fatigue melt away.

Saturday

8am - Last one, thank baby Jesus

This one involved some "all out" efforts in both kicking and swimming which, by the end of the swim set felt neither "all out" or "good." I think everyone was a bit over reached by today and this swim showcased it for me.

12pm - Bike Mt Lemmon 2hrs

Today was the first day that Mt Lemmon/Catalina Hwy was open after the snowfall.  As a result, the queue to get up the mountain was very long.  I was skeptical of how high up the road we'd be able to go before cold weather or snow/ice forced us to turn around.  I resolved to not go any higher than I felt I had to in order to stay mostly warm and made my way up somewhat slowly after being dropped by Ben and Aubrey and having Sue and Christine ride by and away from me.  Once everyone turned around, however, it was my time to shine.  I do thoroughly enjoy the descent of Lemmon and managed to get my HR higher on the descent (150s) than the ascent (120s-130s).  Once back down and everyone finished with their respective rides we met at Le Buzz before heading back to the camp house for showers and dinner.  Most were leaving early the next morning so we said our goodbyes and headed home for much needed sleep.

Sunday

12pm - Road run 1:10 hours

Christine, Sue, and I all ran on the road for a little while (them a little longer than me) to Sentinel Peak which we climbed.  I made a run at the KOM on the road, which is - oddly enough - held by Howard Grotts (professional mountain biker).  Unfortunately, the Sunday after a week of training camp is not the best time to go real fast up a 1.2mi climb but I still managed to snag 3rd place while Christine and Sue took the ladies' QOM for the same segment.  They both ran a slightly different route home while I decided to take the manly route and cut it shorter.



Week over.

Now for some thoughts:

I've heard of quite a lot of training camps, quite a lot of which are held here in Tucson.  Christine's introduction to Tucson was last year at just such a training camp.  Most of these involve a "showcase" athlete who sells high dollar spots to an "exclusive" training camp that involves relatively little to no real instruction and is simply a chance for an athlete to get to a warmer clime and hob knob with people from around the country and stellar athletes.  There is definitely value in that, no question.

But the REAL VALUE that all of David's athletes got from this camp was both literal and figurative.  David didn't charge a premium and, in fact, the payment for camp was just for lodging and food and the rental vehicle.  So the camp was, by all accounts, extremely inexpensive. 1/3rd of the cost of many of the aforementioned camps.  The REAL value, however, in David's camp was that David got a chance to look and see and help his athletes.  A masters swim coach isn't really providing you swim stroke analysis and instruction, sorry.  That doesn't count.  A bike training studio is giving you no real personal input on your season's goals and periodization efforts as it relates to your year's training. Most of us just run by ourselves anyway so I have never really received any sort of run stride analysis.  All of that was "included" in this week's camp.  Athletes got to chat, face to face, with David and discuss their seasonal plans both in the short term and long term.  They received ON-DECK pool instruction, drill workouts, and "friendly" reminders of the things they were doing wrong.  Stride/gait analysis was done for everyone as well as bike SAG support and...encouragement. Most of the stuff I hear about other training camps are the coaches are basically acting like athletes to a degree as they all want to get in workouts themselves.  So how can a "director" of such a training camp provide real VALUE to the athletes that attend these camps when they're really just trying to get in a workout themselves...?

Beats me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Really, what's triathlon for?

You may think this title is a bit fatalistic.  I agree that it certainly comes across as being that way.  Let me provide some context:

As Christine and I were circling the track this morning doing intervals at 6:10 pace (humblebrag on her behalf alert) I found myself watching the (I assume anyway) Pima CC football team doing some sort of drills or dynamic warmup series of movements.  Most of them did this somewhat halfheartedly and honestly, who could blame them? It was cold out (45) and the sun was barely rising over the rooftops of the buildings to our east. As they grunted and grumbled their way through warm up, we merrily lapped the track for the roughly 4 times 2k+ intervals.

I thought to myself: in the zombie apocalypse, who is better than triathletes at survival?

Certainly not football players who are, for the most part, overweight.  They are nimble and quick but in a long, drawn out chase with a group of hungry non-dead they will inevitably succumb.


Crossfitters could potentially throw big tires at the zombies, but they can really only do that type of AMRAP for about 5 minutes.  If there's a pull up bar nearby they can definitely gyrate themselves up and out of the way with ease but unfortunately a pull up involves going up 1.5-2 feet and then - sadly - coming back down again.


American Ninja Warrior contestants might actually do ok for a while if they are in a city, as their parkour-like abilities would enable them to escape the undead horde for a while as long as they were near buildings and had things conveniently placed on which to jump and twist and hang onto as they ran from the masses.


Mud runners and Spartan "racers" would do well, only if there was mud. Sadly, however, the likelihood of a mud-filled escape route with entrenched obstacles over which they could climb quickly and exert their skills of playing in the mud would leave them breathless quickly and eventually their lack of aerobic fitness would "catch up" to them. (get it?)


I could go on and on about the pros and cons of various athletic pursuits and their viability during the age of zombies, but let's just assume I've already done that.  Well, let me add a couple more options actually, now that I think about it:

Cyclists: they care too much about how they look and will inevitably get eaten before they line up their bib shorts with their tan lines and get away from the flesh eating were-humans.

Swimmers: they can't float forever, can they?

Runners: inevitably will get injured in some way and after realizing you can't continue with a pelvic stress fracture they will get ate.

But you know what pursuit combines ALL of the strengths and NONE of the weaknesses of zombie evasion??

Triathletes.

Going in a straight line for a really long time at slow to fast paces along varying terrain challenges using various methods of transportation is kind of what triathletes do best.  The triathletes able to survive the longest will also have these qualities:

1) Gun ownership
2) Off road capabilities

So yea, I'm gonna outlive all y'all.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Titillating Tucson Tidbits

One of the things I have noticed about Tucson that is different than any other place I've lived is the unique phenomenon of everybody being a pro.  I don't really mean that in a literal sense, but let me briefly explain:

In Charlotte, if I saw an athlete riding their bike around in a cycling kit of a professional cycling team (say, team BMC or Optum Kelly or Garmin Sharp...etc) I would - naturally - assume that the athlete wearing such a kit was a fred before even getting close enough to see whether the athlete in question might actually be an athlete on that team.

In Tucson, however, if I see a pro kit riding around (triathlon or cycling pro team) my first assumption is that the athlete actually IS a pro. When you have legitimate domestic and international pros making the city in which you live a "traincation" destination the likelihood of seeing world beating level athletes is pretty high.


We live three doors down from Todd Wells, probably the greatest off-road cyclist America has ever produced (3 time Olympian). Travis McCabe lives here and enjoys showing up on Tuesday morning and Shootout group rides to make everyone else look like lowly Cat 5s.  There are so many other Cat 1/Junior Elite/U23 Elite cyclists that I could get dropped by basically anyone.  Pro triathletes are here left and right, and luckily I get to ride and run with some of them. 


So yea, when I see a pro kit I basically assume that whoever is wearing it is liable to kick my ass up and down the road or trail.  It's both an amazing feeling because of the endless potential of ass-kicking but also kind of sad because of...well, the endless possibility of ass-kicking. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tim Ferguson's Wind Tunnel Vision

Note: this was originally posted by Tim to ICE Racing's blog (which is now gone), so I've copy and pasted it to my own (schwing!) for your viewing pleasure.


I’ve always liked the phrase “it doesn’t get easier, you just go faster.”  Put in the hard work and reap the benefits.  Part of that hard work, though, is understanding that there are things you can do to create speed without having any physical gains.  Free speed.  I haven’t met an athlete yet that doesn’t love it – but just like physical gains, you have to think and work for it.


How do you go about finding yourself some free speed?  Simple things like keeping your drivetrain clean and oiled can help reduce the mechanical drag from dirt and grime.  Finding a comfortable saddle so that you’re still and steady on the bike is key.  In fact, my friend James Haycraft , aka “The Pro”, wrote an excellent article on this topic.

Of course, athletes can always do what I did: marry a beautiful and wonderful woman who gets your desire to go freakishly fast, and get you the greatest Christmas/Birthday combo present ever: a trip to the A2 Wind Tunnel in Mooresville, NC.  I’ll take a moment to let the awesomeness of this gift wash over you.

Before I get ahead of myself, this requires two points of explanation: 1) I was in the market for an aero helmet and, 2) I’m a dork.  The latter point helps to explain the former and the lengths I went to figure out which helmet to select.  Trying to determine the optimal helmet for myself was a major dork-a-palooza.  During the “offseason”, I researched and read about every helmet from the Giro Selector to the Lazer Tardiz.  I mean, I created a spreadsheet and cross referenced characteristics to find the optimal helmet.  (Yeah, so like I said, I’m a dork).  But as much information as I could immerse myself in, it was all hypothetical: I couldn’t know for absolutely certain what helmet would work the best.  So, I made a choice and wrote a note to Santa Claus – obviously.  Fast forward to Christmas day and my awesome wife is handing me a gift certificate for A2. I took my helmet from Santa back to the store with a smile on my face.

When I arrived at the A2 Wind Tunnel, I was ready to listen and learn.  This team at the tunnel had recently hosted Craig Alexander, Mat Steinmetz, and the Specialized team – the best thing I could do was ask intelligent questions and soak it all in. They were going to tell me real answers to all those hypothetical questions that I had posed during my helmet research.  Dave Salazar, the manager, and Jim O’Brien, the bike-fitting guru, were on-hand to walk me through the process and answer all the questions that I had (which were a ton).  They got me set up in the tunnel and had me begin to spin so that Jim could take a look at my present position to determine some adjustments that could be tested.  While my #1 goal was to find an aero helmet, I knew I had an opportunity to make some tweaks in the position.  After the warm up, we needed to develop a baseline from which we would compare/contrast all other tests.

Now, this goes without saying, but each individual is affected by the testing differently.   And while thousands of know-it-all Slowtwitch users can pontificate on the best helmet on the market or the ideal position, your specific characteristics drive your needs.  I can’t stress that enough as I go through my own individual results – the information makes sense for me, but may not even be remotely similar for many others.

The “aero” (and I use that term loosely) helmet I had been using was the Rudy Syton.  However, it had a large crack in it so I opted to bring my road helmet to test as my baseline.  As they informed me, each test would be about 40 or so seconds in duration and it would feel like a high tempo to threshold effort. They wanted to mimic a race like ride so that they could get as accurate position as possible (in a short amount of time).  We did this test twice to get a solid base:




Baseline Test. Game Face On. Obviously.


First and foremost, the wind speed was tested consistently at 30 mph.  Second, as you can see from the data above, there are numerous metrics that were measured.  Many people understand CdA and drag grams.  For this article, I am going to focus on “Aero Watts” as it is easiest to conceptualize.  With that in mind, focus on the “input MPH = 23” on the upper right corner of the table.  You’ll see that my MPH is set at 23, which is approximately my average speed in most of my 70.3 efforts.  Simply put, the “Aero Watts” is a measure of the power that is necessary to produce 23 mph on a flat course.  With the baseline, I was looking at 186-188.  There was definitely room for improvement.

Remember that dork-a-palooza from earlier?  Well, within that nerdfest, I definitely came across a recurring theme: an aero helmet saves watts/time.  Sure, the number itself changed from source to source and website to website, but that fact remained.  My next two tests were the Giro Selector and the Giro Advantage:

Feeling faster...
In case you need a clear interpretation, my road helmet is aero death.  I did not move one millimeter on my position, and still both aero helmets dramatically improved my position.  The Giro Selector (Test #2) is the newest addition of Giro’s aero line and an “upgrade” from the Advantage (Test #3).  The Selector was a little more difficult for me to get on quickly, and had significantly less ventilation.  While this contributed to the better aerodynamic numbers, it was the only helmet that made me sweat significantly during the short test.  The Advantage was a little cooler and did not have a built in visor, but it came in testing a bit worse (181 to 176).


...but not fast enough

There is one thing you may have already noticed: my general position isn’t that visually aero.  No one is going to take these pictures and put them on the cover of Triathlete Magazine or Peloton Magazine.  But, my preferred distance is long-course and positional comfort is as important as my general aerodynamic position.  If I am up and out of my aero bars for half of the race, what good would an aero position be anyway?  I happen to be a pretty flexible person, but based on some specific fit criteria (which is another post for another time) and my power numbers, this relative fit works.  Having said that, you can probably surmise that a long-tailed aero helmet won’t be the most ideal.  My back isn’t as flat as, say, Fabian Cancellara.  It was difficult for me to position my head to keep the tail of the helmet flush on my back – or at least close to that position.


So Aero

Not everyone can be like Fabian




















While Cancellara displays a great position for a long-tailed helmet, you can easily understand that I do not. It is difficult to see from the side view, due to the white back of the jersey, but if you look closely at the overhead shot of the Selector you can tell that there is a decent gap between my back and the tail.

Luckily for me, the A2 tunnel actually received some helmets from Kask to test just before my appointment.  One of these helmets was the Bambino, made famous during last year’s Tour de France by Team Sky and eventual winner Bradley Wiggins.  With its unique design and short tail, it became the next tested helmet.

Now we're talking

Did someone say free speed?  Yes. I. Did.  One helmet alone changed my aero watts from a 188-186 baseline to 173.  No positional changes. No additional physical effort.  One helmet.  That looks like a jelly bean.  To say that I was mildly excited is to say that McKayla Maroney was indifferent. FREE SPEED.
8 months later; still not impressed









If I didn’t make it clear enough that this test is individual in nature, I’ll give you a prime example: there was a gentleman who tested before me.  He tested a Cervelo P5, was very thin, and had an extremely aggressive position – it was almost cartoonish.  Even though the Bambino was almost 20 watts more favorable to me, it was EQUALLY as bad for him across the same 30 mph wind speed.  I’ll repeat: the same helmet that provided me free speed managed to strip it away from my predecessor.  Amazing.  With his aggressive position and body type, he was better equipped to utilize a long-tailed helmet.  On the other hand, the short tail – really, no tail – of the Bambino was able to better displace the wind across my back and more broad shoulders.  As I type now, I am still floored that there was a 40+ watt difference against 30 mph wind between he and I with the same helmet.

After determining that the Bambino was a potential winner, we set about making some tweaks and changes to my position.  Many of these changes took place within the cockpit area, mainly adjusting my stack height and/or aero bar angle/length.  Again, through this test another misconception I had was displaced: I had thought if I dropped my stack height even lower, I should be significantly more aero.  However, as you see in the table below, my results were relatively inconclusive, or at least, not indicative of a big change from my original position.  In addition, some of the positions below were not ones that I felt comfortable maintaining for 112 miles.


Still missing something

The picture to the left shows a slightly better back angle with lower stack height, and yet – and much to my surprise – there wasn’t much difference at all.  Now, I will admit that I need to do a better job of working on head position and that also can help reduce drag.  But as you’ll see in a moment, even with “head position awareness” there gain wouldn’t be significant with a smaller stem.

We conducted another test with the Selector to see if anything changed (it didn’t).  We then raised the stack height back, kept other changes (aero bar extension and pad width), and tested two more times with the Bambino, the final test focusing on “head position awareness”.


Winner. The last one is the fast one.  By practicing my “turtle head”, I was able to improve 4 aero watts off my previous best test.  We discussed the test results and realized that my best position was here because I was most comfortable.  Even had we reduced the stack height and I focused on my head position, my natural comfort is in the position you see to the left; hence, the best test result.

Free speed was mine!  I dropped 18 aero watts from my worst run to my best – with an aero helmet and a few small tweaks.  Crazy right?  Most importantly, I now had confidence with data back-up to know that I was in the best position possible to get the most out of my physical ability – nothing wasted.  Free Speed.


Free speed isn’t exclusive to me, you just have to read Haycraft’s blog, understand that aerodynamics are specific to the individual, and, you know, marry a significant other who “gets” your crazy hobby and gives awesome gifts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Feeling weak?

This is a good time of year to feel pretty weak.  The only people racing triathlons now are those crazy (and rich) enough to travel to other parts of the world that are in the southern hemisphere, or perhaps those who already live down there.  I'll stick to my Turkey Trot and local 5k performances, mmk.


Here's my guide to the most useful things you can do for yourself (as a triathlete) during this time of year:

1) Swimming

You don't have to swim a lot of volume, you just need to swim some. You can either continue to work on strengths (biking, anyone?), which will gain you small percentage points in your FTP (if you're lucky), or you can work on a weakness (swimming, anyone?).  Most of you are weak swimmers.  I'm not saying that specifically, I am saying it generally. Triathlons is a sport for generally weaker swimmers (because they are frequently new to swimming).  Compared to a 12 year old year round swimmer girl, I am also a weak swimmer.


Be that as it may, this is the time of year to do something about that. Instead of spending hours and hours on the indoor trainer, why don't you spend a few of those hours inside with friends in a nice pool (and not your virtual friends, REAL friends) and work on a raging weakness.  In 2 months of dedicated, purposeful, and committed swim practice you can make pretty significant gains to your glaring weakness. If you spend 10 hours/week on your bike through March you may gain 5% in your FTP (if you ended the season as a trained individual), and that's great.  Good for you.  But if you don't swim, you'll go from a 40 minute half ironman swim to a 42 minute half ironman swim that sucks the life out of you.


If, however, you choose to work on your swim, you can drop minutes off your time (potentially) and be a better biker and runner in your triathlon racing.  I see a lot of people sign up and do races that reward swim weakness (Chattanooga, Augusta, etc) but then qualify for races where a swim weakness is exaggerated (Kona) and just get utterly obliterated.

Don't let it happen to you.


2) Relax

Now is not the time of year to worry about getting in every single little workout.  You need a mental break from being Type A from March through November.  Take one (/some).

3) Buy stuff

Sometimes I need a nice little purchase that functions as a little pick-me-up from a motivation standpoint.  Since I've moved out to AZ (and don't work at IOS anymore), I haven't bought much.  But you should.  This is America, after all.  And the American Dream is to buy s***.

4) Plan

This could mean a lot of different things. Maybe talking to a coach about a plan for next year gets you excited about racing.  Maybe doing a little variety gets you excited to go hard (CX, MTB, etc).  Maybe your schedule for next year in terms of races is enough; whatever it is just make one! Planning is good for the soul

5) Try new stuff

Juicing is a good example.  Hiking is another.



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

2016 XTERRA World Championships Race Report

Phew, it’s been a long trip to Hawaii.  I’m not going to complain - you’ll never hear me complain on this blog - but it almost feels like it’s been TOO long. We arrived in Hawaii on September 29th and we are right now on our flight home on the evening of the 23rd.  So yea, it’s been a while. 10 days in Kailua-Kona followed by 14 days in Kapalua, Maui is definitely a jam packed month of hotness.  I mean that both literally and figuratively, as Hawaii has been hot and humid but also hot as in full of stolen goods. No...wait, that was wrong.  Lots of fit people have been the name of the game. Lots of FAST people.  I suppose that should be taken for granted when you’re competing in two World Championship events (world championships because the companies that produce them CALL them world championships, mind you) but it didn’t really quite click for me until racing my own.

Race week itself had a lot of rain.  It rained at various points pretty much every day we were in Maui but I feel like late Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday contained about a day’s worth of rain.  I read somewhere that this part of Maui (northwest) gets about 400 inches of rain a year (which is insane), and I believe it after our two weeks here.  Oddly, if you go just a bit further south to Lahaina (the biggest town on the west side of the island) it is mostly sunny.  This paragraph is called foreshadowing, by the way.

The bike course (and the run course, which starts out on the same trails and finishes on similar trails) has a lot of...well, it has a lot of mud.  There’s a mix of different types of mud: clay, volcanic, sticky, icky, gooey. All of those ended up being present on race day with the aforementioned rain. I made some hasty tire changing decisions (had to buy a new front tire and swap my formerly front tire onto the rear) and some emergency hacks for preventing mud buildup (thanks Ryan! Spray silicone held off the gunking mud for longer than if I hadn’t had it, i am sure) but other than those things there wasn’t all that much I could do. It would be a grip it and rip it kind of day on both the bike and the run.  My honest goal was simply to make it through the bike course with my machine intact and functional.  I didn’t have a time goal, or even a placing goal; just get to the finish and stop as few times as possible and don’t break any of my expensive bike s***.

The swim, on the other hand, kind of excited me.  I’ve never done a rough water ocean swim triathlon, but I have swum in plenty of rough water ocean.  Our family's’ time at the beach growing up was going to help me navigate the surf much better than my counterparts, or at least that’s what I hoped. I was also banking on my superior non wetsuit swimming abilities as compared to XTERRA Utah, which was wetsuit legal.  Wetsuits let a lot of people who aren’t fast in the water pretend to be fast.  No dice on that for Maui.

I did bike course recon, obviously. What I saw was not especially impressive from a technical standpoint, it was just plain difficult.  Lots of climbing (3200’ of elevation gain) from sea level up to a high point of about 1500’ nestled in the West Maui mountains.  Most of the trails are on private land (upper section) and are not used regularly (if at all?) and so aren’t really “ridden in,” so to speak.  That goes doubly for the “lower section” (first 3.5 miles and last 5.5 miles of bike course), which is “cut” the week of the race through the tall grass on the old golf course (seriously, there are golf balls EVERYwhere) and is only packed down by the athletes that week.  So, consequently, it feels like a slow rolling bike course.  Very soft, in some ways. But the takeaway during practice (lower section on Monday, upper section on Wednesday, lower section on Friday) was how absolutely disgustingly sloppy the course could be with lots of rain (especially noticed during Friday’s ride, which prompted the emergency changes to the bike setup!).  It really does not drain well, if at all.  There are sections with standing water that is near shin deep and essentially (by the time race day rolled around) were just gigantic mud pits.  I actually came to a physical stop in one of these on race day and my bike made that comical “sucking” noise when I pulled it out of the mud.  So in summary, when Christine asked how long I’d be out on the bike for her planning purposes as super spectator, I said “anywhere from 1:45 to 2:30” depending on how dry or wet the course is…

Fast forward to race day.  9:04am start in Hawaii time (it is VERY weird being on HST for almost a month, by the way.  You never realize how many junk emails you get each morning until you wake up at 7am HST but it’s already 1pm EST.  Also, football is on at 7am. Also weird) for all males under age 39.  This was nice, as it meant waking up at 6am gave me plenty of time on race morning.  I had a couple of cups of coffee (not a fan of Kona coffee, I’ve decided...after having it a LOT these past few weeks), some breakfast, and then rolled my bike down to transition (we were staying in a golf villa about a 15 minute walk from transition, pretty awesome!) before running back up to the villa to relax a bit before getting back into the fracas.

We walked down to transition again, where I set up my run stuff and then we headed down to the beach to scope out the swim scene.  Conditions were definitely LEGIT. This wasn’t going to be some glass smooth swim, no sir! The shore break was strong and the swells were pretty sizable even all the way out to the buoys.  The course was basically an “M” with two triangle “loops” and a beach run to connect the two. After the various ceremonial stuff, we were all lined up and ready to rock and roll…

Headed out to warm up a bit

Swim - 24:06 - 1st AG (whooooooaaaaaa)

I was lined up on the front row on the far left, and there weren’t too many people around me.  The announcer had said the current was moving strong from right to left (when looking out at water from beach, which is the “direction” the course goes) but watching the pros who had started ahead of us it didn’t look like there was too much of it, so I was content over there.  I was expecting to get pummeled, but I made it through the shorebreak and there was NO one around me.  Nobody to my left, nobody to my right…  

That's me raising my right arm on the left!

Very strange. I ended up getting passed by either 2 or 3 guys before we got to the first buoy, but the gap remained relatively small as we turned and came back towards shore.  The way back was easier than the way out, but I was still sighting on almost every single stroke as timing the swells was difficult, at best.  I didn’t manage to catch any waves on the way in, but could tell there were more guys around me at this point.  

Making the turn to head out on lap 2
Rounding the flags

Not too crowded though, which was nice.  The next lap spread out everybody a bit more, and getting out of the shore break this time was VERY tiring after running on the beach for 15-20 seconds.  I made it out to the second buoy without too many issues and turned around and headed for the finish. I had passed quite a few pro women and not a small number of pro men (at least, that I could see).  It had clearly been a tough swim for everyone, as people were spread out ALL over the place.


Headed up to transition


Also, the distance on the Strava file is wrong, by the way. My running watch doesn't like being worn in the water for swimming and doesn't have the fancy algorithms the multisport watches do for wrist-worn swimming!

T1 - 2:24

The run was entirely uphill so I took it pretty easy. In transition I put on socks (didn’t want chafing with all the mud we were gonna experience) and went ahead and put on my gloves.  Not the speediest, but didn’t waste any time really.

Bur first, lemme get up this hill
Ready to roll



















Bike - 2:19:32 - 15th

I don’t want to get too long with the bike.  Let’s describe this in terms of feelings, in rough order:

  1. Stay smooth, don’t go crazy
  2. Holy crap it’s muddy!
  3. Dammit, off the bike already?!
  4. Note to self, don’t hit ANY roots at a slant out here if you want to stay upright
  5. It’s kind of hot out here
  6. It’s raining again
  7. I didn’t expect to be walking my bike uphill this much
  8. Walking a bike uphill in slick mud is not fun
  9. Those athletes that have toe spikes on their shoes have got to be slaying it
  10. I can’t believe that pro woman just rode up this entire hill! Claps
  11. Yea I’m about ready to be done with this
  12. Can we please stop climbing? Please?
  13. See #11
  14. See #12
  15. Oh thank god, back on the lower section
  16. More roots, the sheer joy of this overwhelms me
  17. This is the hardest f***ing bike course ever, and not in a good way
  18. My bike hates me
  19. See #11
  20. Pull out the large tree branch stuck in my derailleur
  21. See #11
  22. Put chain back on for the 10th time
  23. See #11
  24. Finished, thank the tiny little gymnast baby Jesus

So yea, that’s it in a nutshell.  It was a true struggle. I’m not sure how big a fan I am of the idea of a “world championship” course being so subject to weather patterns.  When I say that was the hardest triathlon race bike ride I have EVER done (or ever hope to do) I am doing two things:

  1. Not exaggerating
  2. Not meaning it in a “fun” and “happy” way

That s*** was just plain ridiculous. My bike was COVERED in mud. My body was COVERED in mud (and I never even actually fell!). My nostrils had mud in them.  In fact, every orifice in my body had likely gotten mud in it at one point or another.  My lower back was on FIRE from all of the seated climbing (can’t stand up to climb because your rear tire gets NO traction) at low cadence and extremely high torque. My hands hurt. My neck hurt. My forearms and triceps hurt. My quads, adductors, hamstrings, calves, and achilles hurt (the latter two from the walking uphill).  It was just ridiculous. I’d pass someone fixing their bike, then they’d pass me when I had to fix mine.  People littered over the course with mechanical issues, just making do as best they could.  


Yea, a bit muddier than at the beginning
Still muddy



















But, I survived. And I still had a damn run to do!!!


T2 - 1:22

Not much to report here, pretty clean.

Run - 58:44 27th AG

Sweet salesman baby Jesus, the run.  All I could think of the last ¼ of the bike was the fact that after ALL of that ridiculousness, I still had to get off that bike and run 6.5 miles on basically the same course.  Do I sound excited? Well, I was. Knowing that the first half of the course went uphill, my real goal was just to survive that as best I could. With the cramping issues I’ve been experience on XTERRA run courses this year and last year, I figured I was likely due for more of the same.  In spite of fueling pretty well and consistently on the bike, the sheer difficulty of the nearly 2.5 hours I spent on the bike was pretty overwhelming.  When I WAS actually running my stride didn’t feel too bad, but I was really just managing various discomforts.  My adductors being the worst offender, but also my right hamstring and both vastus medialis..es.  I tried to manage as best I could, but definitely gave up quite a few spots in the first 30-40 minutes of the run.  I’m not gonna lie, it is quite frustrating.  Take it to the road and I can outride and outrun just about most people.  Take it off road, however, and my road going stride just doesn’t quite cut it the same.  Oh well #roadtriathleteproblems

Slowly, but surely
The tortoise wins, right?



















Once the course trended downhill, I was able to pretty much run continuously with the exception of a nasty last climb about .5mi from the finish line.  

The WORST part, however, of the ENTIRE run course was the 400m we spent running in soft sand on the swim start beach before getting to the sidewalk finishing line. I only ran it because the sheer shame of walking in the last 400m with all of the spectators watching would have overwhelmed me.  Given that I have my name on my kit, the shame is very specific ;)

Despite all of these aforementioned #firstworldproblems I managed to cross the line, and feel quite satisfied about it.  I was honestly just ecstatic to cross the line, both because it finished off the hardest race of my triathlon career, and because it meant I could stop moving.

FINALLY!
So muddy, you can't see age groups



Pretty much says it all

Despite all of the complaining I have done in the previous 2200 words, I am pleased with this race.  I have not raced a “world championship” level event before and, though I expected to have a humbling day, I was not expecting this level of course difficulty.  I can’t even say that I think this type of course difficulty is even really good, as I would much rather RACE than simply survive.  I don’t like depending on luck to make or break my race.  I definitely have to say that XTERRA Oak Mountain is - to me anyway - a far better test of off road swim + bike + run, as the course is not AS dictated by the weather.  But maybe that’s just sour grapes.  I am very pleased with the result, as being top 5 american (although we only generally say that because internationals kick our asses so bad!) is never a bad thing, and I am really pleased and proud to have simply crossed the line.  I’ve come a long way with my XTERRA racing and have showcased some great fitness gains and specific skills I’d never had previously, but I think it may be time to get back on the road next year…

Uhh, THIS for 550 bucks and that hard of a race??

That being said, I CANNOT overemphasize how difficult this race was. A bit of a broken record, perhaps, but I really want to try and put into words the feelings of this race.  I would be extremely surprised if anybody was able to RIDE the whole course.  I suppose it’s possible, but the feeling of getting off your bike and walking up an incline you barely get traction on in your bike shoes is, in a word, FRUSTRATING.  The feeling of riding a bike that is so gunked up with mud and grass and other junk is like trying to wade through waist deep honey. Riding a bike up a hill that’s steep enough to require you being in your 30 x 42t gearing (easiest gear on many mountain bikes) at 60rpms is hard enough, add in 10 pounds of mud and s*** and slippery, often non existent traction is...hard. Professional winning times were 30 minutes slower than 2015.  30 minutes!! That’s a HUGE chunk of time.  How the top guys went under 3 hours is beyond me. Usually on the road I can wrap my head around how much faster the fast people are than me because it’s really a mechanical equation. But in this? I have no idea.

A little diry
I encourage EVERYONE to try and race off road triathlon at some point. It will give you an entirely new perspective on what “hard” means. People think a half ironman is hard (myself included)...HA. Try racing through that s*** for 4 hours! My bike split was roughly time equivalent to a 70.3 (a little under 2.5hrs) but the physical stress of those 2.5 hours was exponentially more taxing. I have no power meter, so can’t quantify its training stress with watts, but ultimately those only tell an exceptionally small portion of the story on the mountain bike.  It was a battle, and I’m tougher because of it.

Here are some great videos that recap some of the action: