Monday, December 30, 2013

JP closes out a successful 2013!

JP checks in with two final race reports closing out his 2013 season. Well done, JP!

Race #1: Lake Havasu HITS Olympic distance

Swim: Got off to an amazing start with some dolphin diving and fleetingly thought I would lead the whole swim. Marc Rinzler came around me and promptly ended that delusion as he proceeded to embarrass me. I swam strong and long through the two loop course with heaps of dolphin diving that helped break up the monotony. Overall felt good but the time was [not good]; 23:19 or thereabouts which is not up to snuff. Marc was well up the road and I was sitting in second.

Bike: Got down to business quickly and once my glutes had settled down, I was motoring. The road was absolute crap. Loads of cracks, sand, and chip seal. Lots of hairpin turns that I tried to take at speed, channeling my inner Tony Martin. Sadly the speed was hard to come by. I also have a confession...I drafted a jeep for about a mile. I couldn't come around and didn't want to hit the breaks... so I just sat there at 37 mph shamelessly drafting. Nothing really to say but, "Sorry."  Once the Jeep left, I settled into a rhythm trying to pull back time on Marc. I saw him at the half and he was 3/4-mile up the road. I took 2 minutes out of him but to get within a minute. 59:30 - 2nd bike course record in as many races. To be fair, only two races on this course but I'm claiming it as Paul Amey raced here last year. Looks like he soft pedaled but I don't care.

Run: No run training had me nervous for this. I got into it and tried to find a nice stride. It wasn't pretty but I was moving alright. Still couldn't see Marc as I desperately tried to turn it over. The cadence is pretty bogged down right now. Coming out to the turnaround I spotted him not too far up. We both started doing the math and the numbers weren't looking good for me but maybe. I put in a huge surge through mile 4 to see if I could close but it wasn't to be. I dug but the effort caused me to pop. My pace slowed as my hair started standing on end- not a good sign. I headed around the course and gritted it to the line. 37:47 I think.

Overall time: 2:02:4x for 2nd overall

Post-race: Overall pretty satisfied. Very unhappy with the swim time. I guess it's time to address that in training. The bike was very good compared to the field but the road and course made it slower than I was looking for. Either way, the bike is right on the money now. The run was a surprise. I would have thought something around 39 but to duck under 38 was nice given my run mileage is probably less than 30 miles for the last two months just due to niggles. My weight is low though so it's allowing me to fake it a bit. Anyways- onward and upwards. HITS also put on a good show. Great transition areas, low key feel, excellent prizes (I got a bunch of swag including 2 pairs of sunglasses) and a solid venue. Loved it.

Race #2: Palm Springs HITS Olympic distance

Swim: The day started out a bit brisk shall we say. Temp was around 40°F with water temp around 56-57°F. Needless to say, I was hesitant to do a swim warm up. I decided to skip it and wait for the gun. The swim was two loops and looked to be a little long. I sized up my strategy as we waited for the gun. We were off! I ran along the shore, did several dolphin dives, and realized I was in the front by about 50m... unreal. I held the lead for another 300-400m before I started getting passed by everyone and their mother. The theme of the swim was noodle arms and loose core. It was probably the worst I have ever felt in a swim but somehow I managed to come out in second.

Bike: I relaxed as I hopped on my Quintana Roo CD0.1. I knew my trusty bike wouldn't let me down. After I got on the road, I realized my legs had showed up to the party despite nearly every other body part being numb. My goal was to push VERY hard on the bike for the first half and then take stock on the out on back. I jammed through the flat roads and tried to juice every ounce of speed I could. The roads were rough and they sapped the speed by about 1-2mph in contrast with the smoother roads. I hit the turn and headed back looking for second place. I checked my watch and had 2 minutes on the next guy. I decided to turn the screws and see if I could balloon my lead. My go-for-broke biking hasn't let me down this year so I rolled the dice again. Headed into transition, I felt alright and was confident I had boosted my lead.

Run: Again, very little run training had me a little nervous for this portion. The one saving grace is that I have lost a lot of weight with my increased cycling so the decrease in weight has helped me keep my run speed up and offset the lack of training. I set out running 6 [min/mi] flat pace and tried to keep my foot on the gas. Each mile felt agonizingly long as my breathing was bordering on out of control. I couldn't believe I was still leading!

I hit the turn around and finally looked back. NO ONE. I ran back and took stock. I had a 4 minute lead over the next guy...but he was literally flying. I recognized him as an ex-collegiate runner and knew my lead wasn't safe. I ran scared shitless towards the finish. I kept asking people if anyone was coming and the answer kept being no but I didn't trust them. I only relaxed 200m before the line when I saw Caitlin who told me that I was well and truly clear. I finished off with a 37 mid 10k.

Post-race: Overall I was stoked with the win. It was probably my best win to date as I took it to a couple ex collegiate runners and spanked them handily. My swim was absolutely horrible. I didn't take a single good stroke. It was a bit too cold. The bike was dialed in as it has been all season. I put 4-5 minutes into everyone and blew the race wide open. The run was a slight improvement and polished it off. It wasn't anything to write home about but not a surprise and did the job.

HITS again put on a good show. I feel like a broken record but they have great transition areas, a low key feel, and excellent prizes (I got about $500 worth of swag including some really nice sunglasses, a new road helmet, and a commuter backpack). It was also great to see Phil and Rachel of Hypercat racing. They were the bike shop sponsor of the race. Always a good time chatting and hanging out with them. They're the best.

Huge thanks to Evotri's sponsors for another great year and wonderful support. The biggest thanks to Caitlin who is a legend in her own time. She is an unbelievable spectator on race day. I love sharing these races with her and hanging out during the race weekend. One of the main reasons I like racing now is because it's a good excuse to hang out with my best friend and love of my life.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What went Right and Wrong: Sara's Columbus Marathon

Sara went beyond the standard race report and took some time to learn from her recent PR and BQ attempt at the Columbus Marathon. 

I thought it might be helpful if I record a few things I did, and explain some that I thought worked and some that I screwed up. I know, I know...almost 18 minutes off a marathon is NOT a "screw-up."  I don't want to sound like it was. But even on a great day, we can still learn something.

What I did do:  low-mileage, higher intensity training
Okay, so you high-mileage, high-volume purists in the house are going to probably disagree with me here, but LOWER mileage with higher intensity seems to just work best for me.  I know it may not for you or others out there, but when my volume creeps up, that's when I get super injured.  I'm a firm believer that this is the best method for me.  I think I only had two weeks where my running mileage topped 40 miles.  I also only ran one 20-miler.  In the past I've done 2 or 3 of those.  Furthermore, I continued my streak of never running more than 20 miles except for a marathon and thinking people who do so are awesome but a little bit crazy.  For me, running that many miles does way more harm than good.

Now, these long runs were KILLER, though.  I'd do a 16 miler where miles 10-15 started at race pace and dropped down to 7:20/mile.  Typing that sounds painful; running it is even more so.  But it helped me not only get faster but trust myself when the race started to really hurt.  I think it kept me from bonking long before I did.

What I didn't do: fuel properly
So I know part of this is that I worked really hard to lose some weight.  And I'm always a little afraid that it will come back.  Also, I have a sensitive stomach so I have to be careful of eating too close to my running and what I eat while I run.  Because of this, I don't believe I ate nearly enough both before and during my long runs.  I'm going to have to experiment a bit with this.

Case in point: the very last calories I consumed pre-race were some oatmeal and a breakfast bar at 5:30am. Then NOTHING until around mile 7.5, which was around 8:45am. That is ENTIRELY too long of a deficit before taking in some calories. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I only was able to get down some sports drink (a few sips at aid stations) and about 2.5 gu's in the entire race. So it wasn't surprising that when I demanded my legs GO GO GO at mile 23 around 11:10am, they pretty much gave me the middle finger.

Coach Emily emailed me what she eats before a half-ironman, and basically, it's Thanksgiving Dinner. I was kind of shocked.  And she's pretty much the tiniest, leanest person in the universe. So I need to let go this fear that fuel will make me gain weight and accept more that it is necessary. You'd think that after 11 years of racing, I'd already know this, and I sort of do. But I think I needed to really be hit over the head with it. Nutrition will always, ALWAYS make or break your race. I will be playing around with this during the next training session, for sure.

What I did do: train with people slightly faster than me
Aside from giving me a nice big slice of humble pie often as I gasped along the side of the road, swearing and trying not to die, while watching my running buddies seemingly effortlessly gliding ahead of me, this was really a good thing. It's easy to be a big fish in a small pond, but it is harder to show up week after week and know that the pack is a little faster than you and use that to try to be better. They are too cute because they claim that running with ME made them faster...I was like, no dudes. You guys pulling ME along made me faster.  And you know what's really cool? We all got faster. Ana had a breakthrough run and huge PR at Columbus, Katie ran a 3:30 and was the 2nd overall female at her race, and Kim absolutely annihilated NYC with a 3:32. You'd better believe I'm making them run with me in the snowy, slushy, nastiness that is CLE in February and March!

Add your comments to Sara's post.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sweet Validation

4th Overall

Validation.  More than anything this race was about validating my decision to go pro.  Validating according to my own personal standards and validating to the larger triathlon community.  Those that have trained with me and traveled to events with me know that I am very low-key, particularly before a big event.  I've done this sport a long time and I don't waste any energy getting nervous or stressed before a race. Pre-race stress and race-day adrenaline are the enemies of the long course triathlete. Over the the course of my competitive career I've set ambitious goals, but have managed to mostly avoid pressure to perform.  I like it this way. I put in the work and just let race day play out as it will.  By taking the pro card I did put some pressure on myself. When race organizers believe in me enough to extend complimentary entries I take that seriously.  When families are willing to host me for a weekend because they believe in my abilities and want to see me race I take that as positive pressure to perform my best.  I don't really want or need pressure to perform well, but in this case it worked out in my favor!

Let me give you the nickle tour through the last two seasons to bring everyone up to speed on how I ended up at the start line of B2B as a professional.  In 2012 I had two goals.  #1 Race well at the ITU Off-Road World Champs in the spring (I took 21st overall) and #2 win an ironman.  I fell a bit short when I took 2nd overall at the inaugural Michigan Titanium ironman. For 2013 I wanted to give my best effort at the Best of the U.S. Amateur race in the spring and then try to get my pro card at Rev3 Dells.  Goal #1 went fine, although it established that I'm never going to a great short course racer.  Goal #2 encountered a road bump when I broke my chain during Rev3 Dells.  I reassessed and switched over to 1/2 IM training for Rev3 Branson one month after Dells.  My short course training transferred well to the 1/2 distance. I finished 2nd overall amateur at Rev3 Branson. I immediately took my pro card and decided that since I was racing well I should do one more race in 2013.  Why not an ironman?!  This decision may have been a bit rash since I only had about one more month of training to get somewhat ready for an IM.  I buckled down and put in a few good long rides and long runs.  Still my count for the whole year was only 5 rides over 3 hours and 3 runs over 1.5 hours.  I intentionally almost never run longer than 2 hours in training, so I was pretty confident in my run, but I knew I was really light on bike volume.

I've really enjoyed racing non-WTC events in the last few years.  To the best of my knowledge B2B is the largest independent iron distance race in the U.S.  It's also the only independent race that I know of which fills to capacity.  B2B is held in and around Wilmington, NC.  It boasts one of the fastest iron distance race courses in North America.  It also features cool temperatures which was a huge draw for me, since more often than not, I have been roasted in my other ironman races.

I flew out on Thursday and met up with my Hub Endurance-coordinated homestay family in Wilmington.  The Hayse family were great hosts for the weekend.  They have two kids who are roughly the same ages as mine but with the genders reversed.  So fun to see the different dynamics with an older girl and younger boy.

Race day weather was colder than usual for Wilmington.  Race start temps were around 37 degrees and highs were mid-60s.  The swim is point to point, so I had to pick up some Dollar Store throw-away clothes to take to the swim start.  Even then, athletes were huddled around 2 heaters until right before the start.  Rather than getting chilled by warming up I just skipped it.  I started right near the front and got out fast to avoid the big crowds (there was not a separate professional wave).  I always shortchange my swim training, so I just had to be content with a decent pace that I knew I could hold.  I did a better job than usual of always being on someone's feet.  The lead pack got away from me, but that was probably to be expected.  Depending on the tides sometimes the B2B swim is incredibly fast (low 40s for top swimmers). This year was supposed to be slack tide for most of the race.  Prior to the event, I had secured a new wetsuit sponsorship with Xterra Wetsuits.  Xterra hooked me up with their top-of-the-line Vendetta full sleeve and sleeveless suits.  I am huge fan of sleeveless, but because of the cold morning temps I had the full sleeve on.  Water temp was around 70 so I would have preferred the sleeveless in the water, but was happy to have the sleeves beforehand. The Vendetta is the most buoyant and flexible wetsuit I have been in.  The wetsuit plus saltwater plus some incoming tide led me to my best-ever IM swim of 55:52.  I would guess I got about a 3-4 minute push from the incoming tide during the second half of the swim.

Thanks for the extra swim speed, Xterra!
It was a long, cold quarter mile run to the T1 changing tent.  I had spent a lot of time considering how to dress for a bike ride that would start out around 40 degrees and finish around 60.  To try and keep my feet relatively warm I had used thin neoprene swim socks.  To help my T1 time I just kept those on since they would also help keep my toes warm.  I had toe booties on my shoes and I put those chemical heaters underneath those.  I put a single tight-fitting long sleeve on which was difficult when wet and cold.  I had put more heaters in the back pockets of that base layer which was quite nice on my lower back for the bike ride.  I also put on a headband and throwaway gloves.  Because of the long run and extra gear T1 took 4:35.  One of the few other pros in the race was my good friend and former Augustana XC and Track teammate, Jeff Paul.  Traditionally, the swim is the only leg where I had any hope of putting time into JP.  When I reached my bike, I saw that he was already out of T1.  He put in the swim training, so it was all earned through hard work.

40 degree bike start!
The B2B bike course is quite fast on paper.  They call it "totally flat" but that is a bit of a misnomer.  My Powertap Joule had around 2000 ft of climbing.  There certainly aren't any climbs, but lots of false flats.  My selection of gear seemed about right.  Early on I passed some racers who didn't have any warm gear on and they looked miserable. Even with the neoprene socks, toe booties and warmers, my toes were pretty cold for the first 1.5 hours.  My goal was to be around 5 hours for this ride, which would be a personal PR.  My last long training ride went quite well.  I was targeting 210-220 watts which was ambitious, but doable.  For the first 2 hours I was above my goal power range. RPE should always trump gadget feedback, but I am wondering the cold temps were making me ride harder than I should have just to avoid freezing.  In any case, the winds were relatively low and I knew I should be able to turn in a decent ride.  I picked up a bunch of places in the first 15 miles and then I saw no one until around mile 85.  The meant lots of solo hours where I just kept an eye on the power meter and kept the calories coming in.  I've got my IM nutrition strategy pretty dialed in.  I put one bottle of Infinit in my between the arms bottle and then have concentrate for 4 more behind my seat along with a spare bottle of water that I swap out.  This is about 1300 calories.  I supplement this with 5 gels in a flask (about another 500 calories).  Since it was the week of Halloween I threw a couple snack size Snickers in my bento box and run special needs.  Stellar idea!  I was happy to let my power drop down into goal range after two hours. After 3.5 hours though I was averaging below goal range.  Fortunately for me there was a headwind and a net uphill in the first half of the bike.  My power was dropping off, but my speed was still quite good.  Average power is important, but how that power is distributed is also very important.  Had I started out too hard and then had a headwind the second half, this pacing strategy would have been disastrous.  I finally made a pass around mile 85 and soon after we merged with the 1/2 distance athletes.  At this point, I was content to not fight the power drop because I felt that I could turn in a great run. I hit T2 in 4:59:22 which was another PR for me. (My brother was quick to remind me that I still fell 44 seconds short of his best-ever IM ride!)  My time was the 5th best for the day, and no one passed me on the bike.  My average power dropped all the way down to 204, which is almost the same as my Kona power in '08.  I had done 212 in training, but probably need more volume to hold that power during a race.  The cool thing is that I can see myself splitting 4:45 on this course with just a little more fitness.

My fit and set-up on the QR CD.01 is now super clean and aero.
During T2 I had a moment of panic when the volunteers could not find my T2 bag.  I had hung it on the rack the day before, but somehow it had gotten moved.  I just started changing in place while the volunteers looked around for my bag and eventually found it.  The bag fiasco plus changing out of the warm gear yielded another slow transition, but hey, it's an IM, I have time to make it up.

This guy crawled across the run course at some point!  Sorry I missed it!
Despite my apparent lack of run volume, I was confident that I could run a quick marathon in cool temps. The long bikes take care of my cardio, so I like to focus on faster running.  The 90 minute "long" run with hard intervals built in is my long course bread and butter training run.  I didn't know exactly where I was place-wise, but I knew I was doing well overall. My marathon goal was 3:10-3:15.  I always just start an IM marathon based off of feel.  I ran about 4 miles at what I felt was a very conservative pace before I even started checking my splits.  The next couple of miles were all around a low 7 minute pace, which was a bit under goal pace.  It's damn hard to even split an IM marathon, so I was fine with building a bit of a cushion early on.  The run was two loops and it was harder than I expected.  The temps were great, but the run definitely has some elevation gain going out each loop along with one steep (but short) hill.  On the first out and back turnaround I got a sense of how I was doing.  Buddy Jeff Paul was in the lead and having a great race!  He was around 20 minutes up on me and there were a few guys between us.  It was hard to get an accurate count because the course was crowded with 1/2 IM runners.  The return trip into town was quite nice because of the net downhill.  In the first half I think I picked up one place and lost one place to a speedy runner.  I was still feeling good and pretty certain I wouldn't have too much of a drop-off.  JP had a solid cushion at the turnaround and he looked like a lock to win it.  Not long after the second turnaround I noted two guys running pretty well about 4-5 minutes back from me.  This gave me some good motivation for the last 6 miles.  I knew they would have to make up about 45 seconds per mile to pass me and I wasn't about to let that happen.  I'm very happy with the way I ran my last six miles.  I actually picked it up some compared to my middle miles. I finished the run in 3:18:37 (9th best run).  The course was a little harder than I anticipated, so I am pretty content with that split.

I might be suffering, but at least I look good?
First and Fourth!  One of us has obviously been done longer than the other in this pic!
On the other hand, I was thrilled with my overall finish.  9:22:10 and 4th overall.  This was a 30 minute PR and probably my best finish in a big race.  There was prize money for the top 5 finishers, so that made the finish place all the better.  JP clinched his first IM win with a 9:04:49.  Congrats again, buddy! So in the end I was less than 20 minutes from the professional winner of a large race.  This new step-up in performance shows me that a sub-9 hour IM on a course like B2B or IM Florida is now within my ability.  Most of the time drop will come from a better bike performance. Next year I will be completely focused on long course racing. Which races remains to be seen.  B2B was a great experience and I'd love to come back sometime and race for the win.

2013 B2B Recap Video

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sara's Columbus Marathon Race Report

There's running and then there's racing. Sara raced the Columbus Marathon this past weekend:

Right about at 18, something started to happen. My legs weren't responding as well and I was laboring. Oh hello, old friend Pain. Here you are. I was beginning to think you weren't coming to this party. Ana still looked strong and tried to encourage me, but I knew I needed to ride this out. Here's where I started to really do something different. In the past, when this happens, I definitely slow down or start getting negative. But I stayed in that moment in my head, and kept thinking "This too shall pass, this too shall pass" and before I knew it, it did. I had lost a little bit of time, but I could still see Ana nearby. At this point I thought, maybe it's best if I run my own race from here on out. I was still good to go for the sub 3:40, and I was afraid that if Ana was still on for a 3:36 or so, I might blow up and run out of steam. So I settled in around 20 and got ready to work.
Be sure to continue to Sara's site for the whole story.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

JP Rides His Bike Really Fast

JP checks in with his latest efforts on his bike:

I have been cycling like a wild banshee lately and absolutely loving it.  Most days I commute to and from work and get another ride in either after work or at lunch, so I am really piling on miles.  In addition, my training partners have been ratcheting the intensity on me big time.  The final piece of the biking puzzle is that Caitlin is now riding constantly, and commuting daily, so I ride with her whenever I can.

It's been a perfect storm of training and I have broken through a plateau.  I have been feeling it lately.  The climbing is just a bit easier, I am in a gear harder than usual, riding with a 15 pound backpack feels normal, and my pedal stroke is much smoother and faster than before.  I decided to celebrate Kona by testing myself in a 40k TT in training.  I picked a 3 loop course that was relatively smooth with some rollers to keep me honest.

JP channels his inner Tony Martin
After a few cups of coffee, I loaded the car and headed out to the course.  Warming up and checking my speed, it was not impressive. I felt pretty average.  I did a few surges to prime the engine and rode about 8 miles easy.  I turned my iPod onto the fastest tempo vulgar rap I could and shot off, imagining I was Tony Martin.  I rocked back and forth for a few quick punches and then settled into a smooth rhythm of deep breathing.  Suddenly, the legs weren't feeling bad at all.  I turtled my head and squeezed my shoulders as narrow as possible to show as little of my giant frame to the wind as possible and kept pumping.

I was sitting in the realm of comfortably uncomfortable and obsessively watching my speed hover around 27mph.  I rounded the first corner and accelerated smoothly out of the turn.  I focused on pedaling circles and tucked as low as I could get and into the next turn full gas.  I hit a bit of a head wind in the final straight and knew it was the business end of the TT loop.  It had the rollers and the headwind so the challenge was to not bleed too much speed and pick the speed back up after making the turn.  I moved back and forth in the saddle and pulled up on the aerobars to gain some leverage and kept the pressure high as my speed dropped.  As I rounded the first lap, I noted 26.8mph average speed!  It was shaping up to be a good day... but maybe I had gone out too hard.  Didn't feel too bad but time will tell, I thought.

I swung out of the headwind and back into my rhythm and around again.  The next lap was a cruisey blur as I prepped for the hard push on the third lap.  The headwind section got a bit more toxic as the wind picked up and I could tell a lactic storm was brewing. I hit the final lap and consciously pushed deeper to hold my speed.  27-29mph and still under control.  I swung into the final turn and felt my power slowly evaporating as my speed started to trail off.  I was close to the end so the pacing was solid but I needed to get out of the wind.  I clenched my teeth and mashed the pedals trying to beat the clock.  I looked down and realized it was possible to crack 56 if I pushed.  I felt the flurry of acid in my legs and creeping into my arms as I started dipping into the well.  The miles ticked agonizingly slowly.  24.5 miles....  24.6  .... 24.7 ....  24.8. I strained, watching the clock slow down right in front of me.

BOOM!  DONE.... I let my legs go slack as I pedaled pathetically weak squares.  I finally peeked at the clock. 55:53!!!!  Average speed was 26.7 mph which, for me, is a massive breakthrough.  I always hovered around 25mph for these types of efforts so to get up well over 26 in honest conditions in training, I was just over the moon. It got me thinking I might be able to dip under 55 minutes with a course with fewer turns and a bike that looks like this instead of the training version.

I am racing HITS Olympic distance in Lake Havasu and then again in Palm Springs.  I like what Andrew Starykowicz said before Kona... 'I have the thinnest playbook in this race.  I'm planning on biking the house down and then hanging on in the run.'  I'm going to give that a whirl after that ride!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Chris Sweet's Rev3 Branson Race Report: PRO!

Our local Tri-Tremont Triathlon this past July marked my 20th year of racing triathlons. I've come far enough in my triathlon career that I was able to return to Tremont this year and take the overall win to celebrate my anniversary.  When I signed up for my first triathlon I knew not a soul in the world who had ever done one before. I swam and ran competitively as a kid and my mom had a boat anchor of a steel 10 speed Ross (that's 10 gears total for all you newbies) which I borrowed for the race.  The sport has grown like crazy during these past 20 years. It's become trendy and ultra-competitive, but year after year my passion and excitement for the sport has not diminished. Some strange brew consisting of equal parts stubbornness, discipline and smart training has allowed me to have success as an amateur triathlete. I've now won races at every distance except Ironman (2nd last year was a close as I've been able to get).  I've achieved my personal goals of racing at Kona, the 70.3 World Champs and the ITU Off-Road World Champs.

It was following the ITU Off-Road World Champs two springs ago that I needed to do some soul-searching regarding what came next for me as a triathlete. Just going through the motions and maybe winning some more small events and competing well at larger ones wasn't really doing it for me. I've always needed big, scary, audacious goals to force me to do the work necessary to improve.  If I were independently wealthy I would love to keep going back to Kona to see how much I could improve there.  Qualifying, registering for, and traveling to Kona are just too damn expensive- particularly when I would only go with my whole family in tow. Kona is not one of those venues where you just ask your wife to stay home and take care of the kids while you go play triathlon on a tropical island!

For the first time I sat down and took a real look at USAT's Elite Qualifying Criteria.  I was actually pretty surprised how lenient (in relative terms) some of the criteria were. Without specifically training and peaking for certain events I almost had 2 out of 3 races I needed to meet one set of criteria. At one of those races I ended up sharing a podium with pros Daniel Bretscher and Bryan Rhodes.  The gap between me and Rhodesy was substantial, but still it was a podium finish alongside two established pros.  My second big goal of 2012 was to try and win an Iron distance race.  I fell a little short at the inaugural Michigan Titanium.  I took my winnings from that race and entered the Rev3 Cedar Point full two weeks later.  This painful little gamble ended up with me falling about 15 minutes short of 3rd place which would have gotten me my pro card.  For any U.S. race that offers more than $20,000 in professional prize money any amateur who finishes in the top 3 is automatically eligible for a pro card. This method seems far easier than some of the other criteria and my guess is that USAT will tighten this criteria up sooner rather than later.

2012 Decatur Tri Podium
I hunkered down with a new strategy for 2013.  It was a pretty simple strategy: quit dicking around doing every kind of racing under the sun and just focus on re-building speed at the olympic distance.  I would have a spring peak for the Best of the US Amateur race and then a second peak in August for Rev3 Dells.  I was hoping for bigger speed gains (long course is definitely my strength), but things were on-track for a top-3 finish at Dells.  The Dell's race was yet another in a string of miserable weather races that I thrive in.  I had a good swim and by about 10 miles into the bike I had ridden myself into top five.  It was raining hard and I downshifted and felt my chain wrap up.  Not only had it wrapped up, it had snapped and I don't carry my chain tool for short races.  Game over, thanks for playing.

My wife and I met on the swim team at Augustana College. She knows better than anyone when I am skimping by on light training or when I am primed for a good race. She has always said that I can find a higher race "gear" and perform beyond the level of my training. Put me as an anchor on a relay that's behind during a critical race and I'll chase those other guys down like a fucking madman. I wouldn't have said it out loud, but pretty much within 15 seconds of realizing my chain was broken I knew I was going pro one way or another.  The broken chain at my "A" race gave me a lazer-like focus and resolve to finish in the top-3 at my fall-back race plan: Rev 3 Branson.

In the few weeks between Dells and Branson I upped my bike volume, but kept everything else pretty much the same.  On the Tuesday before the race I had my season best time and best-ever average power on our local 20K TT that I've done for year. Things were clicking.  On paper, Branson was a very good course for me.  Half IM is probably my strongest distance right now.  I like hills and this sucker has 3,000 ft of vertical gain over 56 miles.  Here's my condensed Branson race report:

Rev3 Branson "Green Screen" pic with teammate Simply Stu!

Branson is a point-to-point ride, so you have two transitions. The amateur field was actually quite small (around 400 for both the 1/2 and Oly combined).  This ticks me off because it is one of the best venues I've raced at and because 1,300 people signed up when it was a WTC event the year before.  I hope Rev3 doesn't pull the plug, but racers have to come out and support!  Race morning was cold, so there was a lot of fog coming off the lake. The fog was the only real challenge of the swim.  I got out fast and was somewhere around 5th, but it was impossible to keep tabs on everyone because of the fog.  At multiple points I was forced to stop, tread water and try to spot the next buoy in the fog.  I swam a mediocre 31 minutes (hopefully that included the run to T1).

This gives you some sense of the hills on the closed highway section of the course!
I was confident in my cycling and my ability to ride well in the mountains.  I knew my swim had kept me in contention for top 3.  The climbing on this course starts almost immediately out of transition.  My Powertap was a huge help in keeping it under control early on.  It actually conked out on me after about 30 minutes, but I had a pretty good feel for the right effort by that time.  The Branson course has a section of rollers before you get hit a gorgeous section of highway that they close down completely for the race. Racers do 2.5 laps on this sucker.  The descents are wide-open and screaming fast (mid-40's mph).  The ascents are long, and slow, but the grades are not very steep. I was riding pretty conservatively because I knew I was still around the top five and I had great confidence in my run as long as I didn't go crazy on the ride.  Only one amateur went around me and I kept him in sight the whole ride.  I caught a few age groupers as well as a bunch of female pros and one or two male pros that had started 8 and 10 minutes ahead, respectively.  This was a good sign. I didn't know it at the time, but I came off the bike in 4th.  I rode just under 20.5mph which would be a terrible pace on most courses, but at Branson it was good for 4th fastest in the amateur field.

I neglected to count bikes in T2, which was a bit of a rookie mistake.  There were a bunch of Olympic distance bikes already there though, so it was a bit tricky.  My running had really been coming along and I hadn't trashed my legs on the ride. I came into T2 just behind pro Lesley Smith.  She took off at a good clip and I jumped on behind her.  We quickly caught the one guy who went around me on the bike.  Splits through mile 2 show us running at about 6:10 pace.  The run course was a little convoluted and congested.  For the 1/2 it was 3 loops, but there were also Olympic athletes out there which made it really hard to know where you were at.  Somewhere after mile 2 I took over pace-making duties for awhile.  Near one of the turnarounds around mile 4, I saw a pair of guys who looked like they might have been in my race who were running well. This reminded me that I did not have things wrapped up yet and made me dig for awhile. Somewhere along the line I must have passed the guy in third.  He did not try to go with us.  I thought Lesley had fallen off, but as I started lagging just a bit around mile 11, she came around.  This definitely helped me pick it up again the last few miles, but I couldn't stay on her shoulder.  As I peeled off towards the finish chute I saw another runner just ahead of me do the same thing.  Ah hell, I hoped that was one of the male pros. No such luck.  It was a 19 year old kid who had smoked the swim!  I had no idea he was on the same lap of the run as me.  I ended up in second overall by a mere 12 seconds.  My run was a 1:25:26.

Of course I didn't know my placing at the time.  I thought I had it, but there was a wave that started behind mine that could have had some fast, older racers.  I wasn't totally confident in the second place finish until about 1 hour later.

Branson Podium!

My buddy Andrew Starykowicz has been one of the top U.S. triathletes for awhile now.  I remembered that a few years back he wrote a really well-reasoned blog post about when to go pro.  I went back and found it. Starky has a background in engineering and like much of what he writes his list of considerations for going pro is analytical and doesn't contain any B.S.  Truth be told, I've accomplished the things that I really cared about as an amateur.  I am 34, so just hitting my long course prime, but certainly not getting any faster at the short stuff.  For me the decision to go pro came down to two simple considerations: 1) I can continue to race without straining the family budget as much as I have in the past and 2) if I am honest, without this new kick in the ass, I was probably done improving in this sport. I'm not ready to say my best races are behind me.

I am well aware of where I fall within the current spectrum of U.S. professional athletes, and it ain't purdy. I will say that I have beaten at least a few pros in every large race that I have done in the last few years. I will also say that there is no real line between the best amateurs and the backside of the pro field. Amateur Colin Riley has been winning everything under the sun in the Midwest this year and is still an amateur (probably not much longer). Likewise, Adam Zucco and Mark Harms both could be pro, but have other racing goals that they are pursuing.

I've realized that there is a lot of confusion as to what "professional" means within the sport of triathlon. I had to reassure some of my colleagues at Illinois Wesleyan University that I was not leaving my day job any time soon. In triathlon there is precisely zero dollars associated with going pro.  In fact, I had to pay $45 for the little card you see at the top of this post (which you will note expires in December and will require me to renew again!).  Nor are there any automatic sponsorships for pros.  My plan is to continue to build on the solid sponsorship relations that I already have through my Evotri team. The only real immediate benefits are being able to sign up for races that are closed at any time and not having to pay entry fees for most non-WTC events.  Well, those benefits and the above mentioned kick-in-the-ass to get faster! This xtranormal video actually pretty much nails it:

As I take this next step in my triathlon career, I am mostly filled with gratitude for the years of support that allowed me to get here.

First and foremost I must always thank my family for all their support and sacrifices.  I certainly was not driving myself to all those road races and triathlons 20 years ago!  My parents supported my brother and I through years and years of swimming, track and xc practices and races.

I do my best to train at times that don't impact my family, but inevitably with long rides and such my wife has to pick up some of my slack at home.  She has been a huge supporter in helping me get my workouts in and letting travel all over the midwest for races.

My Evotri team is made up of some incredibly fun and passionate triathletes. I love getting together with my teammates whenever we can.  We all are juggling complex family and work responsibilities, but keep plugging away year after year.

Evotri has enjoyed some of the best sponsor support of any age group team (and as good as some pro teams).  Many of our sponsors have been with us for 6 years now.

Quintana Roo has supplied our team with top-notch Cd.01 tri bikes.  I love this bike.  I can go out to any race and know that nothing about my bike is holding me back.  If I don't have the fastest bike split, that's all on me!

Zipp Speed Weaponry has provided the team with the fastest wheels on the planet and various other go-fast components.  I've been racing a Zipp 808 Firecrest / Super-9 combo for a few years  now, and would be loathe to switch to anything else.  Once these wheels get up to speed, it is easier to stay there with the aerodynamic beasts.

Powertap / Cycleops has made sure that each of us has the ability to quantify our training and racing using their hubs and trainers.  They have recently announced big price drops on all of their Powertap hubs and wheelsets, making them one of the cheapest and most reliable power measuring options out there.

Sram-  Back when Sram Red was relatively new to the market, Sram shipped me a whole component group to race in Kona.  These components are still going strong (although they have been relegated to my road bike as I've upgraded my tri bike with new Sram components).  Sram continues to push the edge in terms of both form and function.  I recently switched over to their new Red Yaw front derailleur and Exogram crankset.  This is the best front shifting I have ever experienced on a road or tri bike.

Hub Endurance  has provided Evotri members with professional coaching plans.  (Full disclosure: just so happens to be owned by my brother Andy.) Andy has also been super-helpful with drop-shipping me all sorts of components at shop cost that I always seem to need at last-minute (like a new SRAM crank following the broken chain incident at Dells).  Thanks brother!

Infinit Nutrtion has been a long-time personal sponsor.  Infinit allows you to customize your own sports drink formula.  Once I got my personal formula figured out it has greatly simplified my long-course nutrition plan.

Bloomington Cycle and Fitness is my awesome LBS.  They are transforming the cycling scene in Bloomington-Normal through a variety of grassroots-style efforts. Riding with the BCF team has been one of the key components to the cycling improvements that I have made the past few seasons.

Super-stoked to cross one more item off my personal lifetime bucket list with going pro.  Still, I'm not quite ready to call it a season and move on to cyclocross racing.  I'm racing well, so I'd like to get at least one race in as a professional in 2013.  I've got a scheme in mind, more on this later!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chris Sweet's 2013 So Far...

Chris checks in with the team to let us know how his 2013 race season is going:

The 2013 tri season has been good to me thus far.  When other tri geeks ask me how my training has been going I've been replying that I've had really good consistency getting workouts in since January, but my overall volume has stayed lower than I would like (generally 6-10 hours per week).  My spring focus has been all about trying to regain some short course speed that I never really had in the first place. In the gene pool lottery I definitely got the go-long DNA.  Both my spring and summer "A" races are/were Olympic distance so I've tried to do a better job of hitting some shorter, hard intervals on the bike and the track. It sorta worked.  I've been racing a bunch both to build speed and reacquaint myself with short course suffering.  None of these races really needs a full-blown race report, so here's the Readers Digest version.

March 8
Cactus Classic 1/2 Trail Marathon
Forest City, IL

I know, I claimed to be working on speed and still start my season with a trail 1/2 marathon!  This race has quickly become one of my must-do favs.  The race is about 1.5 hours from me, but the terrain is unlike anything else in Illinois.  It is held in Sand Ridge State Park and it lives up to its name.  There are both lots of sand and lots of little cacti.  Not only is there sand, but it is deep and loose.  It also has hills. What's not to like?  This year there was snow on top of the sand in places (which was actually easier) and it also was very rainy and just over freezing.  I pulled off an overall win at this small-ish race with a 1:35.  I have lots of half Ironman run splits around 1:25 and regular half marathons around 1:20 so that might give you a sense of the course difficulty!

April 28
Sullivan Triathlon
Sullivan, IL

Sullivan is one of the earliest Illinois triathlons.  It is a sprint with a pool swim, then the remainder of the race is outside.  It's always a good early-season benchmark and in past years has had a few pros show up. Race conditions were cool and rainy (start keeping track of that!). No pros this year helped give me the overall win with almost a 5 minute margin.  That was my 3rd overall win at Sullivan.

400 meter pool swim 5:53
13 mile bike: 33:31, 24.3mph, 264 watts
5K run 18:26

May 5
Rev3 Knoxville Olympic
Knoxville, TN

I added Rev3 Knoxville to my schedule for two reasons. #1 I was able to combine the race travel with a library conference in Nashville, so most of my travel costs were covered. #2 My Evotri teammate, Simply Stu is a fixture at the Rev3 events and I knew we'd get to catch up a bit following our spring team training camp in Chattanooga.  All race week was rainy and cold and race day was the same.  Some of the pros raced in their swim skins to try and stay warm, some age groupers kept their wetsuits on for the bike!  The river water temperature was in the upper 50s so I spent the first 1/3 of the swim trying not to hyperventilate.  This race has a super-long run to T1 which really slowed times down. I didn't get a chance to preview the bike course and with a hard rain coming down I road really conservatively and it showed in the time (1:06).  I was pretty happy with my 37:51 run split all things considered.

1500 swim 21:17
40K bike: 1:06, 23.3mph, 243 watts
10K run: 37:51
2:10:57 blarghhh

June 2
Best of the U.S. Championship / Leon's Triathlon (Olympic)
Hammond, IN

The Best of the U.S. Championship is an interesting amateur race series.  Each state has one race per year designated as the qualifier for the championship race the following year.  The top 3 male and female racers qualify to represent their state.  I had qualified once or twice in the past, but the championship race was always either too expensive to travel to, or conflicted with something else.  I qualified last year at our local Evergreen Triathlon and the championship this year was held in conjunction with Leon's Triathlon in Hammond, IN which is only about 2 hours away. This was my "A" race for the spring and I hoped to finally get under the elusive 2 hour mark.  I went 2:00 and a few seconds at Memphis in May in 2008, but that bike course was short. After a very rainy week, race day looked good in the forecast.  Race morning I was overdressed and had to go looking for a t-shirt.  About 45 minutes before race start a cold front blew in and temps dropped into the 50s and guess what- the rain started again (but not as bad as Knoxville).  The water temp was reasonable and I knew I was going to have a good swim with lots of fast feet to draft. 21:21, check.  Onto the bike the wind was blowing, but not terribly.  I still thought I had a shot at the sub-2.  This race markets itself as "Worlds Fastest" but that seems really overblown.  The race consists of two loops and each loop had three 180 degree turnarounds.  That plus some fairly rough roads and a few small hills already put "Worlds Fastest" into doubt.  Turns out the bike course was also about 0.7 miles long.  I rode pretty well but finished with a 1:03 for 25.5 miles. Of course, I didn't know the details at the time, I just got after the run since there were already a bunch of good athletes up the road. I clicked off a superb 36:05 10K on a legitimately flat and fast run course. If the run was accurate it was definitely my fastest ever. I finished in 2:03:02 which probably would have been a touch over 2-flat with an accurate 40K bike. I finished 16th in the Best of the U.S. field and 26th overall. Normally I'd be disappointed with that kind of placing, but this was a seriously stacked field of racers.

1500 swim 21:21
40K bike 1:03:05, 246 watts
10K run 36:05

June 15
Rockford Triathlon (Olympic)
Rockford, IL

This was also a new race for me and not on my schedule originally.  It was Father's day weekend and the race was held at Rock Cut State Park in Rockford.  It seemed like an ideal way to combine a family camping trip with some racing.  That concept worked pretty well except that it rained on me again.  Pretty hard, but slightly warmer than Knoxville and Leons! This race was not that large (200+/-) but was part of a college series, so had a bunch of college teams racing.  I have to say this was one of the least-well organized events I've been to in awhile. They weren't ready for packet pickup, then they weren't ready for the race start which had to be pushed back.  Swim cap colors were messed up. The bike was quite dangerous since it was an out and back on a fairly busy road.  Lastly almost none of the run course was marked causing me (and many others including the eventual winner Thomas Gerlach) to go off course.  In the end I finished in 2:10:31 which included another long T1, another long bike course and a detour on the run.  I finished 5th overall, but missed prize money by 20 seconds which was a bit frustrating considering my run detour was at least 45 seconds.

1500 swim 24:26
40K bike 1:04:46, 23.3mph, 237 watts
10K run 39:06

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chris Sweet's Ironman Wisconsin Course Notes

Every year at WIBA, Chris Sweet presents his notes about racing Ironman Wisconsin. It's a great overview of getting through the day and should be reviewed by everyone competing in Madison. Chris was kind enough to share his notes that follow. 

In 2002, I raced my first Ironman in Wisconsin. I was a year removed from a collegiate swimming and running career and overly confident about my Ironman prospects. I had an OK debut race, but in hindsight made many rookie mistakes. Fast forward 5 years and 3 more Ironman finishes and I came back to Wisconsin a much more experienced triathlete. This time around, I raced a very smart race, went sub-10, got on the podium, and qualified for Kona. The strategies below also draw on my experiences as a USAT certified coach.

Bottom line is that after a good deal of trial and error, I learned how to race the Ironman distance. Ironman race strategy is quite similar for any course. Many of the recommendations below could be successfully applied to any Ironman. I've tried to make note of a few things that are specific to Ironman Wisconsin. These notes and strategies are geared more towards first-timers than podium chasers.

  • 7 AM start 
  • Eat a solid breakfast bet. 4:30-5:30 AM 
  • Ballpark 500-800 calories (some solid, some liquid, some protein, some fat, little to no fiber). Ideas: bagel with PB and honey, oatmeal with PB, plain white rice and a scrambled egg 
  • Speaking from experience: don’t forget your bike nutrition in the fridge! 
  • Continue sipping on sports drink until you enter the water 
  • Drop off special needs bags near Capitol building on Main Street 
  • Check over your bike 
  • Sit down, relax, until time to head to water (about 20-30 minutes prior to start) 
  • Transition closes at 6:30am. 
  • IM WI is an in-water start and it takes awhile to get everyone in. Expect to be treading/floating for quite awhile prior to the start. 
  • Goggles: I keep both a clear and tinted pair for either cloudy or sunny conditions. Anti-fog sprays can help, but letting a little lake water into your goggles and keeping it there is the only sure-fire way to beat goggle fogging. 
  • If you are a slower swimmer, start wide (to the right) and towards the back. 
  • Faster swimmers should consider swimming to the inside of the buoy line until hitting the first required turn buoy. 
  • Don’t get carried away at the start. It is a very long day. Steady pace with even breathing. 
  • Always draft off others and sight as little as possible. 
  • There is a long straightaway before the first left turn. The first turn will be congested. Do not take the inside line, stay wide! 
  • As you near the swim finish, increase your kicking for the last 5 minutes to get the blood moving in your legs again. 
  • Soon after the swim exit there will be wetsuit peelers to help you get your wetsuit off. Try to have the top unzipped and then sit down in front of the volunteers and they will strip your suit for you. 
  • Parking ramp (aka The Helix) - jog up if you are trying to qualify for Kona. Consider walking or a slow jog otherwise. This is not the place to try and make up time. 
  • Inside the Monona Terrace for T1. Don’t forget to have volunteers apply sunscreen before you get onto your bike!
  • Ride carefully down helix: not the place to pass. You’ll have plenty of road for that. 
  • If you use behind-the-saddle bottle cages make sure they won’t launch your carefully planned nutrition. Carbon cages may be light and pretty, but almost all will launch bottles- particularly if it rains. I highly recommend Elite Ciussi Gel Aluminum Cages as seen here on George Hincapie’s Paris Roubaix bike
  • The bike leg of an IM is all about proper pacing. Knowing and sticking to proper IM HR or Power zones is critical. 
  • Nutrition: nothing but fluids first 15-20 minutes out of water. After that, begin race nutrition plan. In general most athletes can take in 200-400 calories per hour. 
  • Know what works for you and also what is on course. Be willing to listen to your body and deviate from nutrition plan. 
  • Weather: It's always different! Within last 5 years people have dropped out of IM WI for both dehydration/heat stroke and hypothermia! Be prepared! 
  • Gearing- you must be able to spin up most of the hills without standing. This course is ideal for a compact crank. A compact crank has 50 and 34 tooth chainrings as opposed to a traditional 53-39. Your rear cassette (using either crank) should ideally be: 11-26 or 11-28 (again referring to teeth on the smallest and largest cogs). 
Bike Course:
  • First 15 miles or so heading out of town are relatively flat and hopefully have low winds. People always start out too fast in IM. Maintain a steady pace, they will come back later! 
  • After you pass through Verona the first time you begin some of the hillier sections. 
  • First long climb is coming into town at Mount Horeb. There is an aid station at top. For the majority of the hills you want to stay seated and spin up. It’s ok to stand to stretch out your legs and back, but not to mash the pedals. 
  • Going down Garfoot is really the only slightly technical descent on the course. If you’ve pre-ridden the course you know it is coming and how fast you can make the turns. 
  • Old Sauk is the longest climb on the course and is shortly followed by one of the steepest climbs on Timber Lane. Spin up most of Old Sauk, then you will probably need to stand for some of the Timber Lane climb. 
  • Midtown has the last (4th) significant hill. After that, it is less than 10 miles before coming into Verona to complete the first loop. 
  • Special needs will be after Fireman’s Park around the ½ way mark. 
  • What goes in Special Needs? Consider: 
    • rain jacket 
    • spare tube 
    • extra CO2 cartridges 
    • spare tire?, extra nutrition 
    • “reward” food like a Snickers bar. 
  • Taking your special needs bag on race day is optional. 
  • 2nd loop stick to your pacing and nutrition plan 
  • If you are feeling good at mile 75, you probably paced it right and then you can ramp it up a little and start reeling people in! 
  • Remember that a properly-paced IM bike leg should never be harder than your training long rides and in most cases would be a little easier. 
  • Heading back into town –hopefully without a headwind! Taper off nutrition, (and definitely stop solid foods), and switch back to mostly water about 20-30 minutes from end of bike course. 
  • Easy up the helix. A volunteer will take your bike and you will head into the terrace for T2
  • Back inside the terrace 
  • Can do a full clothes change if you want. 
  • Don’t forget more sunscreen! 
  • The run is –you guessed it- all about pacing and nutrition. 
  • Give yourself two or three easy miles to settle in and get used to running. 
  • Have a run-specific nutrition plan. Generally about ½ the calories you take per hour on the bike. 
  • A structured walk/run strategy is very effective for many age groupers. 
  • As IM run courses go, Wisconsin is not that difficult. One big hill (Observatory Dr) each loop. You should probably walk this unless you plan to run under 3:30. Even then you probably wouldn't lose time walking the hill. 
  • Heat is more of a concern on this course than hills. Wear a hat. Stay hydrated. Dump ice and water everywhere. 
  • Special needs is at the end of the first loop near the Capitol. What is in a run special needs bag? 
    • More of your planned/favorite nutrition 
    • Rain gear 
    • Long sleeve shirt or arm warmers 
    • Reward food? 
    • Change of shoes/socks? 
    • Something inspirational to get you through? 
  • Steady pace through about mile 15-16. Reassess at this point. If you are feeling decent –congratulations on proper pacing- and now it is time to really ratchet up the suffering and pick up the last 8-10 miles. People will come back to you in droves which is a nice mental boost. 
  • Take your time and enjoy the finish line!
General Thoughts
  • Thank volunteers and spectators throughout the race. Draw on their energy. 
  • Race your own race all day. 
  • Don’t stay in a funk. There will always be low points in every IM race. Figure out how to deal with it and move forward. Know and tap into your personal motivations for being out there. 
  • Have fun! You don’t have to do this, you get to do this! 
  • Smile!
Chris smiling his way through IM WI in 2007

If you are interested, my 2007 Ironman Wisconsin race report is linked here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

JP Reviews Podium Cold

JP sends in a review of a new product he's been testing. 

I just got back from a standard Saturday morning smash fest on the bike. My buddy Larry and I ripped through three seven-minute intervals at ~425 watts uphill and then hit a hard 5-mile climb called Rockstore. Rockstore is a great climb and was featured in the Tour of California. No matter how fast you ride it, it seems to sap your legs of whatever is left.

A couple years ago, that ride would have been the end of a really solid day and I would have bagged it and lounged around for the rest of the day. I might have needed to recover the following day. However, as I get further into the sport, the standard volume of workouts and weekly training load has bummed up significantly as feeding my endorphin addiction has become increasingly difficult. Full rest is rarely on the agenda. As I ramp up the training, the body needs a bit of extra love in order to bounce back. After a year of injury, I have become proactive with the little things that keep you on the road and rolling. Foam rolling, elevating your legs, and compression socks are all excellent starters. But I am always in search of the next thing. I am a tinkerer. Ice baths have always been effective for me and I came across a product that gets you the same effect and is a bit more practical.

The product is called the Podium Cold legs wraps. They are basically full-length ice wraps that you apply as a recovery aid after big days. My first use was an interesting experience. My first impression when I threw them in my freezer was surprise. They actually fold up and fit really nicely. I hadn't considered it but fitting full leg anything in your freezer is pretty impractical but the folding was quite an easy solution.

On my first use, I found putting 8 Velcro straps sort of cumbersome. They are also limited in terms of how tightly you can wrap the straps but once they were on, they felt awesome. Not too cold, but just right. I used them for 15 minutes for the first time and that amount of time seemed right as well.

Putting them to the test through the last 4 months, I have noticed less soreness as you would expect with icing. It allowed me to up my volume without carrying that deep muscle soreness that used to follow me around. The fatigue was still present but the ache was gone. I often used them twice a day on heavy multiple workout days. I found them most effective though when I combined using them with a pre-ice flushing massage. I massage my quads, calves, and hamstrings and then put the Podium colds on and it seems to help considerably more.

One thing I noticed though was when they get wet from melting; they accumulate a bit of moisture on the inside of the legs. This moisture turns to frost in the freezer and can burn your skin if you apply it directly. I solved this by wiping the wraps down with a towel and then wearing tights before using them.

Overall, my experience with the Podium Colds has been excellent. I tested these for four solid months and they have been a worthwhile addition to my routine and have helped me stay injury free through some very heavy blocks of training and racing. I use them nearly on a daily basis when really getting after it. At $99, they are a very affordable substitute for the thousand-dollar compression pump and serve a similar function of flushing your legs out, speeding recovery, and reducing soreness.

Check out their website and find them on Facebook

Friday, June 7, 2013

Team Q&A: Brain Matter (Part 2)

For this installment of Team Q&A, we asked everyone, "What goes through your head when you train?" Here's the second installment of answers:

Rob: In the pool, my brain is quite busy. If it's a long swim set, I'm concentrating on my pace, tracking where I am on the pace clock, trying to figure out how much is left, what's going on around me; there's just too much "noise" to let my head go. On short swims, I'm concentrating on effort and form, and how many swims are left in the set. My brain is just as tired after a swim as my body. But, since I swim in the morning, it's a great way to wake up both to tackle the rest of the day.

On the bike, I love just listening to the pavement pass below me, with the wind whipping through my ears. I can get lost in the regular hum-hum-hum of my pedal strokes. I concentrate on being as smooth as possible, which relaxes me even more and gets me into a nice flow. If I'm out with the sun rising, I have found very little other places I'd rather be.

When I run, I let my brain go. I try to get out in the morning with a fresh, clear head, and really try hard not to think about anything. When I get it right, I usually come up with ideas to fix things around the house, or find solutions to nagging issues that I've been kicking around in my head. The best ideas are when it usually just hits me. The toughest part is remembering the idea/solution when I get home. I have forgotten plenty of great ideas out training, only to remember them when I'm back at the same point out training. But, now that I'm running and pushing the kids, I'm distracted by what they're doing/saying/asking for me to get too lost in my own thoughts. That, and running by the ice cream shop gets me regretting why I didn't bring money along.

Stu: Since training is so enjoyable for me, my thoughts are often very random.  Almost all my runs take place on the University of Wisconsin campus where it is easy to get lost in the moment.  I will often start my run with a review of my work and family activities. The end of my run is usually just thoughts of enjoyment, as I enjoy the scenery of either Lake Monona or Lake Mendota.  The one constant for me is that any stress that accompanied me at the start of the run is often long gone by the end.

Michelle: It doesn't seem to matter if I’m swimming, biking, or running, the start of any workout begins with mental reorientation. Mental talk. “Now, its time to get this done. You may have 500 other things to finish up today. But this is where you’re at now.” I have to try to let all the other stuff go and think about just the workout particularly during the warm-up.

Then, it never fails, I start doing math. Anything. I’ll think about how many minutes the workout is scheduled for. Then I’ll divide that time up into chunks. How much is 10% of that time? Then I’ll focus on putting forth good effort through that time. Or another thing I might do is guesstimate how many miles I might get in with the allotted time left and see if I can beat that or be on target. This obviously works for biking and running (not swimming). But simple math problems are a biggie for me.

Usually, I also end up making mental lists. What do I have to get done after the workout is over? 1. 2. 3. 4. Then it’s what do I have to get done over the course of the week for bigger issues? I’m a constant list-maker. Obsessive-compulsive tendencies all over the place I can clearly see!!! These lists can be good if they distract me from the pain of the workout, but not so good if they are taking away my focus.

Sometimes I listen to music and I can get carried away into empty-brain-land, but that is NOT often. That’s a fabulous thing! I wish I was better at it.

Lastly, when the going gets hard and I am struggling to finish an interval or workout, I do the positive self-talk. “You can do this. Your competitors are doing it. There is only 15 minutes left. You can do ANYTHING for 15 minutes.” That kind of thing. I pull that stuff out when it gets BAD!

Chris: This is somewhat of a tall order since some of my training rides when I am prepping for an ironman can take 6 or more hours!  I will say that ability to stay focused on the moment at hand can become hugely important when racing long course. It's only those rare times where I am maintaining goal pace with seemingly little effort that I allow myself to zone out and just flow.  These periods of flow never last all that long before you need to turn your attention back to your form, or nutrition or position.  When you are in that state of flow, though, it can be magical. Flow has this magic in part because it seems to occur without thinking, without the laser-like focus that hard training sessions and racing usually require. Examining flow seems far more interesting to me than cataloging my training thoughts, so let's follow this divergence.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say that three times fast) is one of the foremost experts on flow.  His book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience defines flow as: "the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it."  This is a good starting point for trying to define flow -athletes often call it being in the zone- but this definition seems to suggest that simple focus and enjoyment of an activity can lead to flow. Runners will talk about getting their second wind late into a race or about the elusive runners high.  Here's the thing though, if flow happens, if you manage tap into that runners high, it generally only comes after intense effort. Sure you can go out for an easy run or ride that is well below your all-out pace for that distance and you can do it almost without thinking.  It's certainly a type of flow, but not what I'm interested in. Csikszentmihalyi studied many athletes as part of his research and readily acknowledges the extremes in effort required to reach a state of flow: "...the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times...the best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."

Flow then, is directly linked to happiness. What an odd thing. To find flow, to find this sort of happiness, we must regularly push ourselves to mental and physical extremes.  Triathlon is an excellent vehicle to do both! For a long time my e-mail signature was this simple insight from ultrarunner Dean Karnazes: "Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness." There is a lot of truth wrapped up in that simple statement and flow is part of the wrapping.

The extraordinary physical and mental demands of ironman racing seem to make it easier to find flow. I've experienced some flow states in every ironman race I've done. In thinking about my experiences with flow, it is actually a track race that stands out. Towards the end of my junior year at Augustana College I was racing a big late-night invitational track meet at North Central College. I had built up good fitness throughout the season and I was in the race with a couple teammates of similar abilities.  Running really late at night under the lights made the whole experience somewhat surreal to start with. As I recall it now, it seems like the first two miles were just perfect flow.  Dead-on pacing, just sticking on my teammates Ryan Chapman and Matt Fisher's shoulders and clicking off quarter after quarter. Of course, you can't really flow through a whole race and  when reality sets in that last mile it's back to guts racing. Still, those first two miles were far easier than they should have been.

Unfortunately there is no sure-fire way to achieve flow in endurance sports. In my experience you are more likely to bonk and wallow in second-by-second agony than you are to find flow. Knowing that it is out there makes the pursuit worthwhile. Remember we are only entitled to the pursuit of happiness, not happiness itself!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Team Q&A: Brain Matter

For this installment of Team Q&A, we asked everyone, "What goes through your head when you train?" Here's the first installment of answers:

Charlie: I think my thoughts vary a lot when I'm training. I usually just let my mind wander and do whatever it wants to do. I end up thinking about the events of the day or things I need to do soon. I also find it's a perfect time to think about life direction issues - things I want to do with my kids, things I want to support more, work and life goals, etc. So many problems get solved while I'm working out when I'm really not even trying to solve them, and I feel incredible stress relief after workouts. I also usually focus on how fortunate I am to be physically able to accomplish the workout I'm performing and what a beautiful community I live in.

Sarah: My thoughts tend to vary with the workout I'm doing. If I’m just out for a long run or doing long sets in the pool, my brain tends to work through my day and process all I've seen and done. I prioritize my to do lists, plan my day or week, and come up with basic formatting of emails I need to send. If I'm doing intervals or a really hard tempo, I turn on what I call my “drill sergeant” mode, where I basically yell at myself internally to go faster and push harder. Regardless of the workout I'm doing, I almost always tick through the fraction of the workout completed: ¼ of the way there, ⅓ of the way through, ½ way done. Minnesota in spring is just glorious, and I find myself giving thanks for my health, the droves of people out there with me who are celebrating their own health, and living in a community that respects living an active lifestyle enough to put money into great running trails, good biking paths, and dozens of local pools.

Sara: What is in my mind varies greatly depending on if I'm alone in my somewhat nasty basement on the trainer (boo) or outside with friends (yay). When I'm alone, I definitely need to mix things up with some challenging sets. In the pool I find that my mind wanders quite a bit so I try to really focus on keeping track of my laps and staying smooth. My old nickname, “Sara the Slapper” still applies since I slap at the water when I get really tired, so I try to really focus on keeping my stroke smooth. When I'm riding outside with friends, I think about how fun it is and how rare it is for me to get out on the bike with actual humans. I used to really take bike rides for granted, but now that I've got the two little ones, I've really come to appreciate a nice group ride in a way that I didn't before. Riding outside is my own version of “happy hour,” minus the beer, occasional hangover, and loud music. Any chance I get to combine friends with workouts just makes me ridiculously happy, since I honestly don't get to do that much during the school year. Running alone presents a good time for me to zone out and really push myself. I love playing little mental games with my Garmin and seeing what I can pull off. This past week I somehow beat my (very old) 5 mile PR on a tempo run. When I saw my Garmin click over to “5,” I thought about how far I've come. It sounds kind of cheesy but I think on those solo outings I really prove to myself what I'm made of and I get pretty excited to think about what I might be able to accomplish. 

JP: Quite honestly, random thinking is my enemy when I am training. I like to be in the moment, appreciating being outside, and performing constant system checks. The system is basically form and energy level. I tweak things based on those checks by eating, drinking, or adjusting little bits of my technique. Random thoughts don't help me as I don't like to be distracted. I think focus is one of the most overlooked aspects of racing. It’s a really important part of my personal puzzle. 

Matt: I am a very competitive person, and I am constantly thinking about the next race and what it will take to win. If I’m doing a bike workout, I'm envisioning myself out on the bike course putting in big power, pulling away from the field. If im running, im thinking about coming down the final stretch in the lead with my arms out like an airplane bringing home the W. If I'm in the water, I am constantly sizing up the other people in the pool and trying to drop them. I am a competitor and will do whatever it takes to improve and put forth my best performance on that day, ultimately bringing home the W!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Team Q&A: Ultimate Race Course (Part 2)

We're back again with another team question. This time, we asked everyone to build their ultimate race course/venue. The answers are split into two groups. Here's the second set responses. See the first batch.

Sara: My racing is pretty limited to driving distance from Cleveland, so I'm going to imagine a dream race here and maybe someone can tell me where this is. My favorite distance is the half-ironman, so I’m going to go with that. I'd like a calm lake swim that doesn't get cancelled and make me sad (I'm looking at you, Steelhead) followed by a nice rolling bike course. Of the 70.3s that I've done, I enjoyed Steelhead’s bike course as well as Musselman’s course in New York. For the run, I'd definitely like it to be relatively flat and not a million trillion degrees, and it should also have some good scenery and crowd support, too. I had a blast running the course at Ironman New Orleans 70.3 mostly because I’m a history nerd and it’s full of things to look at. Finally, it needs to have my two kids at the finish line running with me, so big ups to Rev3 for making that happen! 

JP: My dream Ironman course: I would take the Ironman Wisconsin 2 loop, lake swim course, combined with the Ironman Hawaii Bike course but I would put it in California so it would be cool, dry, and not so windy. I would cap it off with the flat and fast Florida run course just for good memory’s sake.

Matt: My dream course would be very similar to my hometown tri (The Clarkston Tri), but with a few major alterations. First off, the swim needs to have similar conditions to lake Michigan...freezing cold with extra chop, to separate the real swimmers from the ones who say “I swim.” The bike course would be similar to the current course, which has a lot of short and semi steep rollers, the kind that if you use your downhill speed right, you don't have to use too much energy to get to the top. Only change i would make here is that it would need to be longer than 16 miles...somewhere between 56 & 112 would do. Finally, the run course would be exactly the same as it is today. A beautiful 2 loop run with unlimited spectators, that takes you through the vintage old town & park of Clarkston.

Rob: My swim course would be the Ironman Wisconsin two-loop (old) course. There's nothing quite like breathing and looking at the shore to see the Monona Terrace covered with people. Plus doing two loops allowed you to see it twice. The swim out to transition (don't forget the awesome wetsuit peelers!) is like no other. You forget all about climbing up four levels of a parking ramp with all that noise. My favorite bike course is probably the Rev3 Dells Half course. It's rolling with plenty of ups and downs to keep the legs honest and the speeds fast. [Disclaimer: I designed it.] I'm not necessarily a runner, but one of my best runs was on the Ironman Racine 70.3 (nee Spirit of Racine) course. I stuck with another guy (without saying a word) and ran to my best half time ever.