Monday, June 19, 2017

A Year in AZ

Tomorrow (Tuesday, if I finish this before then) marks the first year of our residence here in Tucson. Somewhat coincidentally, we arrived during the hottest week of the year (highs north of 115), and this week will also be the hottest week (by far) of the year, with temperatures equal to those to which we arrived.

Sure, it's a "dry" heat. But lemme tell ya, 115 is hot AF no matter how much moisture is in the air.  Interestingly, the warmer air is, the more moisture it can hold in the air. So when it's 115 at 60% humidity, there is actually a LOT of moisture in the air. So 60% doesn't sound like a whole heckuva lot (compared to 90+) but it actually can feel humid here in the desert. Especially during monsoon season. Yes, there is a monsoon season here. Who'da thunk it?

Since my last blog was a race recap, I think that this one should not be. Although I have since done another race, so I'll discuss that briefly.

Deuceman Half (yes, that's the real name...) was the first Sunday in June.  A friend and training partner Jesse V was also going to race and given that he is both racing professionally and is faster than me I knew he would beat me. I wanted to stick with him for as much of the race as I could, however. This was accomplished during the swim (we emerged together), decently during the bike (he put about 1.5 minutes into me), and not so well during the run (down another 9 minutes). By the end this meant that I had come in 2nd to his 1st by about 10 minutes. I barely missed going under 4:30, which was a "slow" time but given the race was at elevation in Show Low (yea, real name), AZ (6200+ feet) I was not displeased with this performance. The swim and bike were pretty cake, although watts on the bike were a little low due to the elevation (but conversely, the air was thinner so we moved quicker through it than at the ~2500ft of Tucson), and the run was the real ass kicker.

Swim Start

Jesse and James

Coming into T2


Most importantly, however, was the fact that I executed a better overall race than in wine country. This was pleasing. What was more pleasing was traveling to a new place and having Christine cheer for me. I felt special as I'm usually the one cheering for her...

Since then temps have been going up, but we've managed to get by so far with a combination of complaining, AC, pool time, and staying indoors. Any outdoor working out that isn't a swim should probably be finished up by 10am. Swimming and then running (unless it's on a treadmill) is ill-advised. It's sort of hard to relate to this, I think, for you in the Southeast (which is most people that read this blog). You think anything has got to be better than the 90% humidity and high dew points of the summer, and a lot of the times the heat here is definitely better. But, I could work out in the summer evenings back in NC. You cannot (/should not) workout outdoors in the evening here, as it is still well over 100 degrees. You will bake like a take-home pizza that is left in the oven for too long...! Not worth it. The 3 months of heat advisory here is a small price to pay for the unbelievable winters, however. We'll take it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Santa Rosa 70.3

It seems as though the blog has reached rock bottom. It only comes out when I'm desperate and have essentially been force-fed something to write about. Nothing has been coming quite as "naturally" as it used to, which has surprised me. I expected, given the change in scenery and context that I'd become even MORE prolific (I know, you'd like that, wouldn't you?) but that has not been the case at all.

Well, faithful readers, I now have something to write about! Rejoice!

I almost quit triathlon over the winter of 2014-2015.  Saying "quit" insofar as triathlon is concerned is a bit odd because it really is more of a lifestyle choice, at least for me, than it is an all-or-nothing hobby. I just enjoy running and cycling. Sadly, I do not always enjoy swimming and feel like I really ONLY swim because I do want to RACE triathlons. I'm never going to be a "completer" when it comes to a hobby I pursue, I don't think. Even if it's something I've never done before I still want to "beat" others and I'm not sure I can rid myself of that compulsion.

But yea, I almost didn't really want to race or TRAIN anymore from that point. I am making a distinction here between "training" and "exercising." To me, "training" is exercising with a focus or goal, whereas I could still be riding my bike 12-15 hours a week but if I had no race or competition or objective I'd simply consider that exercising. To be good at competing, TRAINing is absolutely necessary. To be fit and happy, exercising is absolutely necessary. But the differences between them can make your mental approach to them vastly different.

I was mildly burned out on road triathlons, but I still had an Ironman to do in 2015. I clawed my way back in to shape with the guidance of DTD and felt very prepared for Louisville, but along the way I had significantly more fun racing XTERRA Oak Mountain and XTERRA Utah. Unfortunately, as you're probably aware, Louisville did not go so well and that sealed my deal for 2016 race ideas. Off road won out and I did 3 big XTERRA races in 2016. I did pretty well at each, competing at Maui (a World Championship in triathlon) and feeling satisfied with my year. It was interesting, however, that people still seemed to assume that I had "quit triathlon" that year. I was asked, more than once (and by different people), why I "quit" or what led to me not wanting to race anymore. That pissed me off. The relegation of XTERRA to being a sort of "side show" that doesn't matter to anyone (sponsors, "regular" triathletes, teams, manufacturers, etc) was frustrating.

So I ended 2016 not really being sure what I wanted to do.

Living in Tucson has crafted the answer to that question a bit, as I actually ENJOY riding my road bike here whereas I absolutely did not enjoy riding my road bike in Charlotte. The roads felt, quite simply, too dangerous and I relegated myself to weekday trainer rides or mountain biking and only really getting out on the roads on the weekends.  Here in the desert, however, I feel much safer on the roads. The huge variety of routes I can access from the front door of our house makes it eminently more enjoyable. Mountain biking here, on the trails near our house, is just plain HARD. It is fun, but it is not as fun as NC, where trails were groomed and purpose built for mountain biking. They were, in hindsight, real easy.

So, Christine convinced me to sign up for Santa Rosa. I had kind of accidentally gotten to be in real good shape in January and February, so why not carry that fitness into the year and bust out some road triathlon-ing? Why not indeed, says I.

The last half-ironman I did was June 2015, and that didn't go so well.  The last GOOD half I did was July 2014, at Challenge New Albany. So my previous 3 half-iron races had been something like 4:50, 4:50, 4:09.  I think 4:09:04 is my PR, but I can't find results from Rev3 Florida 2013, which was right around there and might have been just under 4:09. Be that as it may, I figured SR 70.3 would potentially be a "PR" course based on the profile of the bike and run, while also knowing that the swim would be wetsuit legal (neither of my two previous fast times were in a wetsuit race).

My preparation for SR was solid, but not extraordinary. I probably did not spend enough time on my tri bike in the aero position, but I had some good solid workouts in the aerobars and felt confident that I could put together a fast race.

Christine and I flew up late Wednesday night and got most of our race prep done on Thursday such that the only thing we had to do Friday was give our bikes to TriBike to shuttle to T1 (they provided a service at this race such that you didn't have to do this yourself, which saved us 1.5-2hrs on Friday) and set up our T2 bags.

Race morning involved a 3am wake up, which might be the earliest I have woken up for a race.  The shuttles to the swim start (about 45 minutes away) were easy and pain free and we arrived with ample time to setup everything and even get in a bit of warm up swimming.  I was going to line up in the front of the rolling swim start (or near it) and Christine a bit behind that so as the time approached we wished each other luck and got in our chosen spots!

Swim 1.2 miles - 27:55

I was excited about a rolling start for a couple of reasons:

1) I wouldn't have to wait around for my wave (when this race was going to be a wave start I think M30-34 was one of the last waves).
2) I'd get to be one of the first AG athletes on the bike course
3) I'd probably experience less anxiety than in a wave start

Regarding #3, I was just hoping to avoid an experience like XTERRA Utah, where I had a mild panic attack and had to swim backstroke for a minute or so to collect myself.

The water was somewhat chilly (64ish maybe? Can't remember what they said) but never noticed it during the race itself, just the warm up. I started out smooth but the swim felt very crowded for the first 400m, where we made a right hand turn and were no longer headed into the sun.  From that point on I never really had any crowding, so I'm not sure if my perception was just due to the sun being in my eyes (and basically only being able to see splashes) or actual crowding. The swim was nothing to write home about (wait...) but I did keep steering to my right for some reason, which I found annoying. I would say I did not push this swim as hard as I probably could have, but I was - again - trying to avoid scenario #3 mentioned above. I figured I might be able to swim 30-40s faster but the cost might be higher than that in the long run. In hindsight, I probably should have pushed it harder starting at about half way.  Oh well, hindsight (especially when blogging) is always 20/20.

T1 - 4:44

This transition run was easily the most "legit" of any race I have done. A long and steep boat ramp followed by a long and steep road up to an upper parking lot meant a lot of distance and gradient needed to be traveled. I did not store any shoes at water exit (which quite a lot of people did) and I would probably do that again. I did, however, take my wetsuit off right at the bottom and threw it over my shoulder for the run up to my bike. My feet were very cold and by the time I got to my bike I really couldn't feel them anymore, just a general sense of pain. I put socks on in T1 and was methodical in my movements so I would not describe this as especially fast, although it was not slow either.

Bike - 56 miles - 2:17:57

I passed a few people early on and also installed some light gloves. The course went downhill steeply, then flat, then uphill in the first 8 or 10 miles and my left hip flexor was mildly cramping here and there, which gave me some things to think about in the first 30 or so minutes. Luckily, that stopped, and I continued on for a while without thinking too much. I passed some guys for a while then didn't see any but started passing some of the pro women. I figured there'd still be some EMJ athletes ahead of me as they all seemed to gang up at the start line of the swim.

Somewhere in wine country. Thanks for this $25 photo FinisherPix...

I started to get pretty bored but continued to hold some power and consume liquid calories without too many issues. Jenson Button came up on me around mile 40 and he was the first person of the day to pass me, but another guy passed me and then Jenson shortly thereafter. I knew Jenson was a pretty good runner and was not worried about the other guy (he didn't look like a good runner) and both were in different AGs anyway so I wasn't going to kill myself to keep them around on the bike.

The last 10 miles were a little rough as I honestly just started to lose focus. My power dropped, my interest level waned, and I was ready to be off the bike. I knew that once I was running I'd LOVE to be back on the bike, however, so I finished the bike with that happy mental outlook fueling me ;)

T2 - 2:02

Pretty quick. My rack spot was right at the beginning of transition, so at least 30-40+ seconds of this are running from my rack spot to run "out" at "race pace."

Run - 13.1 miles - 1:24:44

The run course, on paper anyway, looked like it was gonna be pretty darn fast. I didn't think I was in PR shape (sub 1:19) but I did think I was realistic to account for 6:10 pacing. I held that without too many problems for the first half of the run, and passed a few more pro women (and almost got knocked out by Matt Dixon's back who was not paying attention to oncoming traffic while shouting encouragement at one of his pro athletes...) and a couple of guys as well. It turns out the first 4 miles were slightly declined, but there was a few sharp turns and bridge crossings that slowed the pace down a bit and kept the rhythm of the run a bit off kilter.

As we started heading back into town, I started having to work a bit harder to hold the pace I was shooting for. Normally I carry a gel flask in my hand and take a squirt of gel before every aid station where I then get some water or gatorade (or coke maybe, as my mood swings).  This time I had a gel flask but it was in my rear pocket which, while easy to access, was not as easy as my hand. So in the first half of the run I probably only took one squirt of gel, a fact that I think would prove to be a downfall as the miles progressed.

Coming back into the main area got a bit more crowded and my pace slowed some more, although it held at 6:30s and I attributed this slowing to the increase in traffic on the path (90% of the run was along a river path, about 5-8' wide depending on where you were) but signs were pointing towards the fact that I was just blowing up a bit.

I kept on trucking but my legs just did not want to turn over much more. The last 3 miles were a real struggle and I was working HARD to break 8 minute miles! Jenson passed me back and an EMJ guy also re-passed me, which was a bit frustrating but there was nothing I could do at that point. I just focused on limiting any damage and crossing the finish line.

Mile splits:

5k splits were 19:06, 19:08, 19:52, 22:04

Finish - 4:17:22 - 3rd M30-34

Overall I was quite pleased with the race. I think, on this day, with better execution, I could have achieved a 4:12-4:14...which would have put me in contention for top 3 amateur. Be that as it may, there's a good reason I probably didn't execute perfectly: I'm out of practice! If this race had been 1.2 + 40 + 8 I would have been much better off! I don't think my issue is fitness, either. Regardless, it was fun to get back out on the roads and while I didn't achieve anything close to a PR, I was competitive in a west coast 70.3, which is something to be pleased with. I know that I cannot bring the same level of fitness and execution to World Championship 70.3s, however, if I want to be at least somewhat competitive in my AG.

So back to the pool!

Next week...

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


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.


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 water bottle kindly provided to the camp by!

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


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


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


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.


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.


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??


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.