Thursday, September 25, 2014

Keys to a good IM

I have been fortunate enough to attempt 3 IM distance events in my "career" as a triathlete. Unfortunately ... I only finished the first one. That's alright though as each race has served as a valuable learning experience, from which I have grown as a person and as an athlete.

I know quite a few people getting ready to do an IM event this weekend. For some it will be their first and for some it will be one of many.

Here is some advice for you from me, an extremely "experienced" IM distance athlete (please realize that is sarcastic); take it for what it's worth:

1) Be patient

This applies to almost every facet of your race, but most of all it applies to your bike. I would always rather finish a race having run my guts out because I properly paced the bike than finish a race aching for the finish line with every fiber of my being, run-walking zombie shuffles between aid stations and crashing into the med tent.  Personally.

2) Be smart

I remember Brian telling me once a while ago about the line you flirt with on the bike.  Being smart doesn't just mean exercising intelligence and general smarts (although that's where it all begins) it means planning ahead and exercising good judgement.  Decisions you make on the bike can have dramatic effects on your run.  Biking just a little bit too hard (20 watts is only worth about 6 minutes over an IM distance race, FYI) can mean a 60+ minute swing in your run time.  A good run can vary but will exist along a much narrower spectrum of possibilities than a "bad" run.  (trust me, I know this one from personal experience)

3) Be friendly

In general, a friendlier outlook on your experience is going to lead to you having a better race.  If someone is drafting off you just ask them if they're enjoying the view and move along with your day.  They are not affecting you...too much.  If a volunteer doesn't do a perfect job of handing you a cup or a gel...oh well. They are volunteers! There's about 100 yards worth of other opportunities to get your much needed gel or water or whatever.

4) Be relaxed

It's a long ass day. Relaxation is the key to happiness.  "Maintaining an even strain." Controlling your valleys and your peaks and managing them effectively is imperative. Ultimately, less tension is a good thing.  It helps your bike position, it helps your run mechanics, and it helps your sweet positive outlook.

5) Be ready

Seizing opportunities when they present themselves is important.  In the swim look out for some good feet and use those things like there is no tomorrow.  Be ready to adjust if necessary.  I hate reading race reports where people say things like: "I added at least 200 yards with that course mistake (i.e. following bad feet." I hate reading them for several reasons, the most glaring of which adding is that 200 yards is a ridiculous, outlandish estimate.  Be ready to dodge someone at an aid station on the bike as those will likely be chaotic.  Or bottles. Potentially volunteers. Spectators.  All that. Be ready.  Be ready to change and adapt your race plan and strategy if necessary.  Drop some nutrition? No big deal, plenty of opportunities to refill if you think about it logically and rationally. Forget to take in calories for 2 hours on the bike? No worries, plenty of time to dig yourself out of that hole, especially since you'll probably be walking quite a bit on the first part of the marathon.  Cramping on the bike? Oh well, you went too hard for your abilities. Be ready to slow down and change your race plan.

6) Celebrate

No, not just at the finish line.  Celebrate your day because it is simply an extension of the long (LONG) journey you have taken just to get there.  For most people, the Ironman itself is just a culmination of a very long march through countless training hours, misery, excitement, camaraderie, fatigue, elation, rain, snow, heat, sweat...need I go on? Celebrate that you get to be out there, paying for this extremely expensive sport and lifestyle, enjoying the greatest things available to us: the outdoors. Be happy your are healthy (well, hopefully you arrived at the finish line healthy and not burnt out, but we all know most do not...).

No matter what have fun, enjoy the experience and celebrate your journey. Those are the keys to any good race.  And life, for that matter...

/drops mic

"Having fun" in first triathlon

Monday, September 15, 2014

Weekend of Racing

Let's get straight to it: there was quite a bit of good racing done this weekend.


12:15 pm - Masters 30+ Cat 3/4 race

Masters is an odd categorization in cycling. I've never quite figured out why it exists.  There are already categories, what is the purpose of adding "masters" to the designation? But it seems most riders that are 35+ (Masters 30+ is a random, odd category), 45+, 55+ etc choose to race in their "masters" categories versus racing in their "categories," i.e. 1, 2, 3 and so forth.

Anyway, the race was mostly uneventful. I stayed upright and near the front until about halfway when a wreck on turn one managed to separate the field by about 100 yards.  Unfortunately, I was in the group that was separated off the back so had to work quite hard to catch back on, as nobody else seemed to want to close down the gap.  I ended up dragging a couple of people with me and was a bit gassed by the time I actually got to the finishing straight.  I ended up crossing the line in roughly 8th overall, but due to being lumped together in one mass start with all cats (Masters 30+ 40+ 50+) I actually crossed 3rd Masters 30+.  I'm not sure if I get points for that, but it was nice to walk away with a couple of bucks!

2:15 pm - Cat 3/4 Race

This race was MUCH sketchier.  In fact, I took a video of the entire race from the front end of my bike.  But, because I am a kind and caring video-maker I will not subject you to an incredibly boring 40+ minute video (which seem to populate the internet these days).  I pared it down to the last 2 laps as that is when most of the interesting stuff happens.

High Point Final Laps from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

The average age of this race was much lower, which - I think anyway - is what mainly contributed to the sketchiness.  A buddy was recently discussing bike racing in general and what it is to be younger (i.e. 18-24) vs "older" (30+).  Generally the older crowd has to get up and go to work on Monday (and earn a paycheck).  They don't want to wreck. They'll choose safety over 11th place in a field sprint (generally).  The younger crowd, however, don't really care.  Sprinting it out for 13th place matters more than waking up and going to work on Monday morning.  Usually because they don't have to go to work on Monday.  They go to school.

I say this from experience, knowing that's the way I used to race.  Not a bad thing, per se, just a different thing.

There was a near wreck in the last straight so I sat up and crossed the line. No interest here in contesting a sprint for 20th place...


Lake Davidson Sprint Tri

Swim 500 yards, Bike ~13 miles, Run 5k

Great pictures from the event!

There isn't a whole lot to say about this race (plus, it was over a week ago at this point) other than Derek kicked my a**.  He bolted on the swim, rode incredibly well on the bike and pulverized the run.  I was somewhere behind lagging around when I realized Ross was actually catching me quite handily mid-way through the run.  I decided to try and egg him on and make him work hard for the finish.  He closed the gap until in the last 100 yards he was only a second or two behind.  Across the line I stuck out my left foot (with timing strap on) to narrowly edge him out, congratulated him and promptly barfed all over a tree.  Three times.

The equivalent of throwing your bike
It was a good effort from all parties concerned and overall a fun day, albeit quite warm.

The following week contained several important things:

1) Rode for the first time with Bobby, who is a fantastic mountain biker, at the WWC with John and JZCapTri.  It was quite fun learning some new lines and watching someone much better than me demolish the trails.  I love riding fast and improving my skills and the day proved to be a fast one, with lots of PR's set (via strava)

2) Running
3) Getting back into a swim routine that isn't pathetic so I don't embarrass myself too much in Miami

All in all it's been a good couple of weeks.  Trying to get back to being consistent and string together some nice weeks in the lead-up to Miami!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Facebook Posts

It's not often I get involved with a discussion on facebook. Even less often do I start one myself. But yesterday's news got me thinking.

Here it is reported via Slowtwitch

Essentially, what it boils down to is that Revolution 3 Triathlon merges with the Challenge Family of races. 

First off, here is what I posted to FB:

"Here is food for thought for those to whom the "merger" between Rev3 and Challenge is a great and promising thing:

You are celebrating failure. Rev3 WAS a great event production company (and will likely continue to be great as Challenge employees) with a grand idea and scheme that NOBODY supported. If given the choice, do you think Charlie would PREFER to continue forward as Rev3 and make a bit of money and continue to operate under his own authority and discretion? Or is he pleased to be absorbed into a bigger conglomerate, thereby mostly losing the brand he imagined, created and developed...?

The answer is obviously a bit of both, but only because money was probably funneling out of the system too fast. Am I guilty? Sure. But so are we as a community. I thought Rev3 events were great (of the 5 I did) and left very little to be desired (although the pro races were too damn competitive haha).

So yes, a celebration of failure.

Now, at first glance it appears as though I am attempting to be argumentative; that I am "taking a stand." The majority of the feedback that occurred yesterday in various forums and social media outlets was overwhelmingly positive.  I don't really mind dissension, but that is not why I posted that. I was, in effect, trying to get people to look at it from a different perspective.

Is it a good thing? Obviously yes, it is a good thing because the other option was Rev3 lasting another year or two before folding (in my opinion) OR being purchased by a different company (i.e. WTC).  It is great that Charlie and his employees (at least most of them) will still be employees of Challenge and be able to exert their influence and direction on the brand and its races.  They are a fantastic team that truly cares about the athlete's experience.  I think it will help legitimize the Challenge brand in the US, which I believe has had mixed results depending on which race you did (Challenge AC or Challenge NA).  I think it's great that some sweet venues will continue to host races (at least in the short term).  I have only done Andersen, Williamsburg and Florida but I have thoroughly enjoyed each of those (although Andersen was not nearly as good as the other two, in my opinion. But that had nothing to do with the race and was due to the location of the race).  

I got some pretty choice thoughts from this post and here are some of my favorites:

"You are the first pro athlete I have heard on this side of the argument. My thoughts are that having races is better than not having races. Same with pro purses." - James Thorp

First of all, I am not on any SIDE. In re-reading my post I don't think I come across as being on one "side" or the other. I am on the side of better athlete experiences.  I think this will continue. Whether I am a pro or not is a moot point when considering the context of what I am saying.  OBVIOUSLY, having races is better than not having races.  Pro prize purses is a whole separate discussion.  My thoughts on that DO certainly take a side, however.  One could argue that me saying that we as a community are celebrating failure is a "stretch" but it is still true, just slightly over blown.  I said that as a discussion prompt.  Remember: "If it bleeds, it leads."

"Is it a failure of a business model or is it two businesses identifying synergies and economies of scale." - Ferg

Ultimately, it IS a failure of a business model.  If it wasn't, Rev3 would be continuing status quo (in my opinion).  Just read the interviews in all those links up there.  Charlie (Patten) sounds pretty resigned.  My guess is that he is celebrating the merger with Challenge because he gets to continue putting on great races.  In the end, this is an extremely synergistic partnership that will help both companies moving forward.  My point was not really to dispute that but to identify the underlying issue at stake.

I am not, ultimately, arguing that this is a BAD thing. I am not really arguing at all. I am trying to promote a discussion of what is happening, both on a national and local level.

Think about it this way (especially if you're local to NC/VA/SC/GA/MD etc): we have a "major" player in event production, Setup Events.  For longer than I've been around they have been the go-to triathlon production company if you live in this area.  In fact, at one time I believe they were touted as putting on the most triathlons in the country (correct me if I am wrong).  Athletes got very "used" to the Setup "experience."  I can really only speak to the NCTS, but that's part of what made those races so desirable.  There were questionable decisions made (as there are with any company that is selling a product) and over the past 12-18 months the athlete experience has diminished (in my opinion) for a variety of reasons.

From that has emerged Jones Racing Company, founded by the two people who had been running NCTS division of Setup for quite some time.  To be honest, they were what really drove the positive experience that WAS NCTS for most people, even if those people didn't realize it at the time.  Now, JRC is putting on and/or timing a lot of races in NC. Triathlons, running races...mud runs even? Anyway, the triathlons (which is ultimately my concern) have not been particularly well-supported.  People ultimately speak with their dollars and, so far anyway, the words have been "I'm still fine with Setup."  I think that will change over the next 12-18 months quite a bit, but time will tell.

Other triathlon production companies include (but are not limited to) Start2Finish (emerging in NC but long-standing in TN), FS Series (mostly in Triangle area), Trivium Racing (run by a very experienced triathlete), etc.  So there are several companies vying for a piece of the pie.  Who puts on the best experience? Well, I have my own opinions on that to be sure but ultimately my opinion is a biased one (as are most opinions).  It boils down to the average triathlete.  That one right in the middle of the bell curve in terms of age, ability, means, location, etc.

Each of those aforementioned companies (with the exception of Setup) are basically small business owners.  Hope and Benji, Jen and Donny, Rich Swor, etc.  They are in a competitive marketplace.  They don't do event production to make a lot of money.  They do it, presumably, because they want to provide a great athlete experience to their customers.  They are selling a product.  Each of them started with (again, I'm assuming here) a vision of what they wanted to accomplish when they set off on their own terms (or when they started from scratch).  My guess is that each of those people or groups of people would NOT be excited to merge with the other due to the competitive landscape that is local/regional event production.  Sure, maybe then they can combine forces to "take down" Setup Events (are you sensing an analogy here?) but would that REALLY be good for the community as a whole?  Competition is a good thing.  Varying experiences are a good thing.

Rev3 and Challenge provide quite different athlete experiences (N=1).  Challenge NA was a good race experience, but it wasn't REALLY a Challenge race.  It was an HFP race.  My issues with the race were the exact same as when I did Giant Eagle back in 2011.  It was the exact same feel.  That's not a bad thing, but I think HFP has some things it needs to work on at its race production.  People continually cite how AMAZING Challenge Roth is when expressing pleasure at the merger (keep in mind, I think it's a great idea).  Challenge Roth is in Germany.  That's really far from here.  In the US, Challenge has heretofore licensed their production to local teams.

Rev3 races are a fantastic experience.  They are all the same, but in a good way.  A huge and helpful team, great branding and a desire to truly provide you with the experience you paid for.  They created that company with a specific vision on what they wanted to accomplish and have, for many years, stuck to that vision.  A big and competitive professional field and a challenge age group race on challenging courses in family-friendly venues.  That's WHAT Rev3 is.  Or, I should say that's what Rev3 was.

My hope is that Rev3 continues that mantra under the Challenge umbrella and thus, to an extent, homogenizes (and improves) the Challenge experience.  I think that is what will happen.  It will be great for everybody if it does.

But at the end of the day, Rev3 was not supported adequately by the general triathlete population.  That's what made this merger (takeover, purchase, whatever) a possibility.

That is the point I am getting at, ultimately.  I am not "taking sides" nor am I arguing that this is a "bad decision" or that it is a "failure" at its core.  I think it is a failure on the part of the triathlon community to do anything other than verbally support a brand.

Everyone likes to say "Oh I totally want to do that race" or "Man that sounds like a great venue" or "Rev3 really puts on a fantastic event" or "Challenge Roth looks incredible" (I've said that) but at the end of the day you have to put your money where your mouth is.  I'm not saying I'm not guilty; one of the only reasons I have any Rev3/HFP/Challenge experience is because I raced as a pro and thereby received free entry into the race. So that perspective allows me to chastise, but I am also chastising myself.  I don't know anything about economies of scale, synergistic business opportunities, or races in Germany but I DO know triathlon. I've gotten to talk to a lot of triathletes over the past 4 years.  I'm not saying that AS a triathlete, but as a retail sales associate.  You get a much better sense of what people know and are looking for than by browsing Slowtwitch or talking to your other above average triathlete friends.

So, let's support races that do a GOOD job.  Challenge Family is hopefully going to be one of those, more so now with their new crew.  Honestly, Ironman does a pretty good job too.  Locally, I haven't done a race I haven't enjoyed in some way.

In the end, people love being a part of something that is bigger than they are by themselves. They love competition. They love getting what they expect even if they don't know that it's what they want.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Changing the guard

Changing the logging guard, that is. For many years now I have logged all of my workouts via, a website created and maintained (although I did not know this when I first started using it) by Nick.

For those that read this that don't know, Nick was a collegiate XC guy turned very good triathlon turned pro triathlete in Charlotte back in the 2007-2010 time frame.  At IM Florida he set the AG course record in 2007 at 8:49 (:53 + 4:48 + 3:01 give or take a minute or two on each).  The website he designed was popular for many years in the local endurance community but has, over the past couple of years, lagged due to lack of updates.  This is no fault of Nick, who no longer is interested in maintaining and/or updating the site, which has remained remarkably stable every since I started using it.

It's fun because I can look back and see the my first ever runs (and then later bikes and swims) and my "notes" about each.  It is a good way to gain some perspective.  Despite what I think of myself now or what I am capable of I felt quite differently back in January 2008.  My goals were different, my abilities were different, and I myself was quite different.  Yet I am the same person.  It's impressive what 6.5 years will do to a guy.

But nowadays, due simply to the fact that I spend a decent amount of time on OTHER workout related sites/software (Garmin Connect, Strava, WKO+, etc) it is not often I find myself logging my workouts via athleticore.  Consequently, I have made the very final and bittersweet decision to part ways.  My workouts will exist on athleticore (forever?) for all to see and mock but Garmin Connect will be what I use henceforth.

I know everybody was pretty anxious to hear where I would be taking my talents for the rest of this season and beyond, so I just wanted to make sure to fill in the crowds.