Monday, February 27, 2006

Fit For A King

Cronometro is a relatively smaller bike shop near Lake Monona in Madison. As you drive there, you'll pass a larger bike shop with bright neon lights and glossy bikes and frames hanging in the windows. There's a large Trek shop in Madison with a ton of floor space, and sections for apparel, mountain bikes, road bikes, and TT/tri bikes, and huge video screens with footage of Lance, and rows and rows of gadgets and gizmos underneath dramatic lighting and cool colors and huge logos. Walking into Cronometro, you'll see nothing like that. In fact, even parking at Cronometro - which sits on a busy, narrow street with many old houses, niche businesses and tiny bistros - requires driving around to the back, where a small lot of 5 or 6 spots are dedicated (otherwise, you're relegated to finding a spot on the busy street), leading to a small doorway into the back of the building.

Upon walking in, it's immediately clear that Cronometro is a bona-fide bike shop. That it's old school like how Corner Drugstore doesn't look or feel like Walgreen's. Old school like how Merv's Hardware sits behind the main drag in town, small but useful, while 2 miles away the Orange Juggernaut that is Home Depot sits off the interstate, serving to be all things to all people. The floors in Cronometro have that old-building hollow thunk to them when you walk. Immediately to your right is a large repair station - probably a quarter or more of the square footage of the entire shop is taken up by the shop, and there are 2 guys busy working in there. Opposite the repair station, in the entrance corridor, is a wall rowed with tubes, chains, lube, handlebar tape, computers, and all the other stuff you expect. On one end of the store is a small selection of apparel. In the middle are gloves and accessories, on the far side are some shoes, wheels, and miscellaneous, and on the opposite end are the bikes - a Cervelo dealer, so a small selection of P3's stand by. Also a Seven dealer, so a few Seven cycles stand proudly displayed, as well as lots of materials for customizing your own Seven. Hanging in various, random places are antique or old school bike frames sprinkled in with some new, and some posters of Tour riders - some with notes of thanks - none newer than one of George Hincapie in Postal blues. The whole vibe of Cronometro is immediately comfortable, and serious about cycling, and disinterested in impressing you with shine and gloss. It's clean and tidy and well presented and uncluttered, and right away you feel surrounded by bike knowledge.

One of the guys in the repair station looks up to say hello, and with bike and shoes in hand, it's obvious I'm here for a fitting. He takes my bike and directs me to a small changing room over there, or the bathroom is behind the corner, over there. He asks if I'm having any issues with the bike, and when I tell him the rear wheel is out of true, he promises to have a look at it after my fitting. I go change while he takes Ol' Blue to one of two fitting studios.

When I return, he's just finishing getting my bike perfectly adjusted on a trainer and measuring if it's level, using a digital device on the top tube. As he finishes up, Colin - Cronometro's owner and my bike fitter today - walks in. The repair tech exchanges a bit of information with Colin about my bike, and Colin takes over. I'm struck by the similarity of a nurse "handing over" a patient to a doctor, and I like the metaphor.

Colin is an immediately likeable guy. His salt and pepper hair and youthful face make his age a mystery - he could be late 30's, he could be late 50's. He has a cyclists frame, and is perhaps a few inches shorter than I am. His demeanor is comfortable and friendly, is soft spoken without being shy, and he looks you in the eye when talking. He starts by asking me several questions about me and my bike - how long have I been cycling? How long have I been doing triathlon? What kind of training do I do? Distances? Any medical issues? Etceteras. After that he starts taking multiple measurements of my bike. Like an experienced tailor, he slides his tape measure all over my bike, writing down his figures as he goes. He uses a level to help measure the setback of my seat, and the relationship of my seat to the handlebars. A digital level gives him the decrees of pitch for my saddle and aerobars. He shares some tidbits of information as he goes, and as I ask him to explain further, apologizing for my ignorance, he amiably rephrases, saying that bike fitting shouldn't be the voodoo it's known to be, and he's happy to explain everything he's doing and what information he's gathering.

The fitting I came in with, and the fitting I used all of last season, was a sort of hybrid bike-shop fitting and one done on my own, using my own research and analysis. The bike-shop fitting was mostly useless, done by guys who aren't familiar with triathlon, and so approached everything from a road-bike perspective. The self-fitting was done with books and numbers in front of me, and no historical or experiential nuances involved - pretty much just me trying to learn and, as usual, using myself as the guinea pig. I got through last season without any major issues on the bike, though as I told Colin I'd get a fatigue in my mid-shoulders after about 50 miles or so, and sometimes my left foot especially would get numb. But as far as I knew, my fitting was at least sufficient. Like my grandpa said after the Cronometro fitting, "It's amazing how much you don't know when you think you know it all." Amen.

Colin measured, using a level, from a hypothetical vertical line from the center of my cranks area to the nose of my saddle. He wrote down a figure, then said, "Well, I can tell you one change we'll make without you even getting on the bike that will help you quite a bit." He pointed out that my saddle setback - the offset of where my saddle lives in vertical space in relationship to the "center" of the bike - was 6cm. As it was, my I had an offset seat post, and my saddle was all the way back on its rails - my saddle was literally as far back as it could possibly be on my bike. Colin pointed out that on a road bike that kind of setback might be preferred in some circumstances, and/or if I had really long legs. But in my case, having the saddle that far back takes me away from the aggressive position that is the whole purpose of a triathlon bike. I was excited to see what changes we'd make, and what differences I'd see.

With his initial measurements finally over, he asked me to get on the bike - as-is - and start peddling. As I did, he looked at me from a side and front perspective and made mental notes and pointed out some things he was seeing. With my saddle that far back, I looked like I was stretching my shoulders up to be comfortable on the aero-bars. While my right knee was pretty consistently symmetrical through my pedal stroke, my left knee tended to bounce outward at the top of my stroke. I looked uncomfortable lifting my head up to see the road in the aero position. As he spoke, I evaluated what I was hearing. The sensation of stretching my shoulders hadn't occurred to me, and without something to compare it to, I couldn't be sure what he was saying or what else I should be feeling. I looked down at my knees and could clearly see what he was talking about with my left knee bobbing out. And his comment on the aero position was true - I'd never been comfortable last season with my head appropriately up - on long rides I'd always find myself more looking between my aero-bars than straight ahead.

I got off the bike and he made an adjustment to the saddle, putting it further forward on the rails. He also made an adjustment to my aero-bars, bringing them back a bit towards the saddle. His changes were incremental in millimeters or centimeters - in body geometry, small changes go a long way. He tightened the bolts and I hopped back on the bike.

The difference was dramatic and immediate. My elbows were now more directly underneath me, carrying more of the load of my upper body weight. My entire position was more compact, and my peddle stroke felt easier, even more powerful as I had more room to work with from my hips, and so more torque on the pedals. Mostly, I just felt more comfortable. I completely understood now what he meant by stretching my shoulders - my previous position made it so I was essentially in a constant state of stretch through my back, shoulders, and neck. It's no wonder I started to fatigue, to say nothing of the energy I was wasting just stretching. And I had no idea I was even doing it in the first place. Colin was encouraged by what he saw, and felt like this was our true starting point - from here everything else would be refined.

As the fitting went on, he continued to fine tune what he saw, and I continued to immediately feel the effects of even his most subtle changes. It was like working under the hands of an experienced surgeon. We chatted a bit while he made his tweaks - about the patent he has on a wheel that he'd since sold to a large company, and about the ingenious computer mount that he came up with that is licensed to other companies, and was featured in a shot of Lance in the '05 Tour hanging on the wall. We talked about how he's been in business for 17 years, and about the difficulty of the Ironman course (he has great respect for the IM course and the race in general), about the evolution of cycling and bicyles, and of my frustration with the lack of quality bike shops in Minneapolis. The whole time I was struck by his quiet graciousness - he was never outspoken about himself or his own shop, never talked negatively about another shop or brand, and always had an enthusiastic and appreciative tone of cycling and cyclists in general, be they experienced pros or brand new riders. I truly enjoyed talking to him.

Ultimately, we tried a new zero offset seat post, giving me another mm or two forward. We turned the handlebar stem upside down - as my bike comes stock, the stem is at a more aggressive downward angle, and flipping it upside down raises the handlebars incrementally. We raised the saddle height a bit, then, to accommodate, and suddenly I could see! Now in the aero position it was comfortable to have my head up, looking at the road. True, raising the handlebars increases the whole I punch through the air a bit, but hardly enough to matter. My knee issue decreased - I assume because I had a bit more room to move with that leg - and the angle from my torso to my hips was more appropriate for the IM distance. Finally, he adjusted my cleats so my feet were more appropriately centered over my pedals, and added two shims and adjusted my left cleat horizontally as well to address my bouncing knee issue. We checked it again, then added some special insoles, adding a bit of arch support and more stiffness to my feet. When I was back on the bike, the knee issue was significantly reduced. Colin pointed out that my body's physiology probably wouldn't allow us to totally remove the issue, but that the symmetry we were looking for was much improved. I sat on the bike and pedaled awhile, trying to get used to the new sensations from the new position. He pointed out that if I feel some discomfort here or there at first, my body was just adjusting to the new muscles being worked, and that I could make some small, incremental changes at first to accommodate those muscles until they strengthened, then go back to these new measurements.

In the end, the changes were dramatic. The saddle setback went forward 3.5 cm, and the distance from the saddle nose to the handlebars decreased 5 cm. We raised the handlebars and saddle - and so my whole position - almost 4cm. We changed the aerobar angle .5 degrees, and even adjusted the angle so I'd have less stress on my wrists. In general, the new fitting is much more aero, much more compact, and a great deal more comfortable than the old. It won't be until I can get on the road to really assess the differences practically, and how they physically affect me. Colin thought he'd saved me "significant time" on the bike, and probably on the run as well, since run-specific muscles would be better prepared with the new geometry. We'll see what, if any, time savings there come to be - it follows that there would be some, but truthfully I was never really displeased with last year's efforts. I'm mostly looking forward to being comfortable on the bike, and feeling more powerful and less fatigued in the long ride.

As we finished up, Colin sat and chatted with me for 10 or 15 minutes about "stuff" in general. I asked him some opinions on wheels, and was surprised and informed by his responses. We talked about the importance of training on, respecting, and managing the hilly course of IM. We then wrapped up our business together. He said that he could write me a prescription for the zero-offset seat post that he'd put on - that I didn't need to feel like I needed to buy it here. Same with the soles. I told him he'd earned my business, and that I'd be happy to purchase them here. Several times throughout the fitting and afterwards, much through my own initiation, he had the opportunity to sell me something, or sell me something more expensive, or even unnecessary. Never once did he do something like that - he seemed more concerned with my fitting than with his bottom line, and I can't say I've always felt like that in a bike shop. When I asked his advice - the $40 seat post or the $140 carbon fiber seat post, he discussed what he thought the differences might be, but that he didn't think there was a $100 difference. We agreed that if I felt significant road rumble, I'd look into carbon fiber, but that this was great for now. I could go with the $35 insoles, or the $85 insoles that, when heated, mold to my foot. He thought for my needs the $35 would work just fine. He demonstrated expertise during the fitting had satisfied me entirely, and had he thought I should spend more money on something, I would have listened. I respect that his motivation was never about gouging me or taking advantage of my admittedly limited knowledge about some of the finer points of gear. He had the opportunity, and I respect his integrity.

Finally, I told him I'd look around a bit as he gathered everything to take to the check out counter. I was surprised when a different tech came to get my bike and asked if I'd like my wheel trued - apparently the initial tech had discussed my bike with him, and I appreciated that now 3 different people were offering to attend to me and my bike - it made me feel like the whole staff was really interested in helping me out. It was approaching closing time, and I told him that would be great if he had the time. So while I looked around he worked on my wheel, and Colin threw in a couple of Cronometro water bottles on the house for my empty cages, "to remember us by." Several minutes later, long after the doors were officially closed, the tech was lubing my chain and cleaning out some gunk in my brake housings - he even had another tech (a fourth guy!) helping him out so I wouldn't be waiting. They were cheerful and helpful to the end, casually talking with me and each other, nobody in a rush to get this loser out the door so they can start their Saturday nights. He offered a few more tips when he handed off my bike - it's time for a new chain and the cables look okay but I might consider new ones for the new season (both of which were already on my list before the season starts), and that if I was going to be back in town again soon they'd be happy to look at it for me.

I had such a great experience with this fitting and this shop that I feel a little like taking my bike anywhere else - even across the street here to my local bike shop - is kind of a disservice to Ol' Blue. These guys are clearly experts in fitting and maintenance, and they were fun, easy, and casual to work with. It's great, with all the other requirements of triathlon, to feel like there's a bike shop that's equipped and prepared to do great work, and go above and beyond. I always appreciate excellent customer service, and this experience was top notch.

So, Ol' Blue's ready to go. I can hear him now, stomping around in the stable, smelling springtime, ready to get out there and ride as fast as he can.

Return from Madison...

Just returning from a great weekend in Madison, and had a great recon misson of the bike course (well, half of it anyway, the other half coming this weekend - I'm headed back) as well as a GREAT experience getting fit on Ol' Blue. I'm going to post separate entries for each, so stay tuned...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

10 Kilometers later...

It's been a solid week, though I've had to swap around some workouts here and there to accommodate my personal schedule, and that always gets a little harried. Tuesday I ran my 10k "race" - it went okay. I approached this workout with reckless abandon - just go as fast as I can, consequences be damned. So there was no forethought about pacing, or relationship between miles, etc. I knew I'd start fast and fade, and I wanted to see how much I'd fade, how it would feel (would I hit a wall or just slowly ebb away into uselessness?), and what it would mean in the final analysis. So it's not a strategy that's at all applicable to real races, but a workout like this serves to kind of kickstart your system and force it into a bit of overload, really work your heartrate, and generally see what you're made of on this particular day. Then those results can be applied in a broader sense to actual race and training strategies.

So my first two miles were around 7:45/min - which felt really good. Totally unsustainable I knew, but felt really good nonetheless. After stopping to drink in mile 3, I couldn't resume that pace, now going around 8:30 - a significant drop, and a tell-tale symptom of Jackie-Dog Syndrome (where you're so excited just to be here that you go too fast at the start, only to be trotting hopelessly along by the end). Start out way too fast, and when you come back to earth you come back hard. I continued to slow the rest of the way until I approached 9:00/pace by the end. Mile 5, which is a drinking mile, was REALLY slow, over 10:00 (remember that includes some walking for the drink), and that was my darkest mile - I felt pretty miserable, but I picked up again to finish stronger on my last mile. Still, I never bonked ("bonking" is an actual athletic term that essentially means "hit the wall" - it's fast and abrupt and hard, and almost impossible to recover from. Often related to nutrition issues.)

I finished with an average pace of 8:54/mile. A few perspectives on that, then: The first is that, considering the horrible inconsistency of the day overall, there is some improvement to make here. That said, it's not useful to gauge that day's outcome by my first 2 miles, because I'm not a runner capable of that kind of speed over time at all. Knowing that, I don't integrate it into my expectations. I don't say "damn, why can't I got 7:45 all the time." But less of a drop-off is goal to work towards. I may not be able to maintain 7:45, but I can start out that fast - again, in training - and then, say, not get any slower than 8:30. So that's something to work towards.

Second, if I look at 8:54 as an overall pace, it's a pretty satisfying time. If I were to go out for a 6 mile run and just work to keep every mile just under 9 minutes, I'd be very pleased with this outcome (noting that lately I've been doing 8 miles in around 9:24). So if, in another training run, I work for the kind of consistency and discipline that I typically do, this is a good goal pace to have in mind. Physically, it's less severe to go at an 8:54 pace over 6 miles than to tire myself out with a sprint for the first 2. Again, that was the point of this particular workout, so no regrets, but this is how I can apply the outcome to the real world.

Third, then, is what to actually do with this information. Keeping in mind my 7 mile run of around 9:25/pace a few weeks ago, I think I'll work in my training to continue pushing my pace up a bit. If I can maintain, say, a 9:15 pace - COMFORTABLY - for 10 miles (the whole point and purpose is defeated if I'm all shot to hell from trying to run faster than I can), then I could reasonably expect a half marathon - 13 miles - at maybe a 9:30 pace or so. Again, comfort is key. I want to do that feeling like I could keep going. And so on: I want to continue to get faster while staying comfortable.

Putting this in full perspective, though, it's important to remain vividly clear that there is NOT a directly proportional relationship to all this talk about pace and time, etc. to my marathon performance, and specifically Ironman as a whole. For more elite runners this wouldn't be true - time and pace would be a real objective for them - but not for me. My whole purpose in being able to go as fast as I can for as long as I can is to bank that fitness so that at IM I remain consistent throughout the run. Talking about pace is a useful benchmark to gauge that consistency, but it isn't a literal translation of goals. For instance, at this point I could say that I'd like to maintain a 10:30/pace or so throughout the entire marathon at IM (considering my 11:38 pace at the 2005 marathon - which did not go particularly well - on fresh legs, and this 10:30 still seems a bit outlandish...) . What I'm really saying is, physically I think that's a reasonable expectation for me, it gets me to my goals, and it keeps me consistent (I DO NOT want to expend a ton of energy going too fast in the first 15 miles, only to blow up when it matters). I am NOT saying that I have a literal goal of a 10:30/pace, or that anything less isn't satisfactory, or whatever. Again (this is the mantra!), I want only to slow down least.

The words "Ideal" and "Ironman" do not belong in the same sentence, but in a perfect world, in any race, you want to have negative splits - your last half if faster than your first half. In Ironman in particular, everything - the entire race - comes down to the last 10 miles. Everything you do that day - your swim pace, your bike pace, your nutrition, transitions - everything is to get you to that last 10 miles. If you've done it right, you'll get to those last 10 miles with enough in the tank to do more than crawl through them. If not, those last 10 miles will be worse than I can imagine. That's why I'm working on this run so much this early - to build the essential base so that physically - if I've done everything else right (which is a whole process in its own, as you know), I'm capable of doing what needs to be done those last 10 miles. I don't have a negative split in mind, but I do want to A - cross the finish line, and B - do it with my head high, looking the world in the eye. So it's worth emphasizing again with all my chatter about pace and time that, in the end, those things are only mile markers (literally) along the wider road. They are useful indicators of progress and general objectives, but they don't represent the purpose of achievement.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Well last week was more sporadic than I'd have liked, thanks mostly to the weather. Freakshow cold out there. On Tuesday I was scheduled for 4.5 miles, and I just couldn't cope with the thought of treading through that on the dreadmill. iPod or no, it's insanely boring, and it takes all the fun right out of running. And to a large extent the damn treadmill does much of the work for you - an entire function of running is the push-off from the back foot, propelling you forward. On a treadmill this function is illusionary, if not lost entirely - you just stand there. Puke. 3 miles or less and I can suffer through it, but any more than that and all the fun is taken right out of it for me. All of this makes it difficult when it's as asstacularly cold as it was last week. Tuesday I bundled up and went out for my run, which takes more time to dress and prepare than it does to actually workout, but I never regret the effort it takes to make the effort. The rest of the week, however, I was relegated to the treadmill, and I think (Mike) that there is a direct relationship between my unenthusiasm for treadmill training and my blog entries - if I'm not having fun, and not enjoying the process, then I have little to say, I guess. It was especially frustrating in that on Sunday I was supposed to have a 10k "race" - 6 miles as fast as is sensible. These workouts are valuable because, besides providing feedback on what kind of times I'm achieving at this point in training, prolonged running at a higher heart rate will act to push the AT up. All good. But I'll be damned if I'm faking something like that on a treadmill - it would be almost wholly useless from any perspective. I'm sure braver souls out there found a way to make a productive run out of such a cold environment, but for me it defeated the purpose - running when it's that extremely cold takes a lot out of the purpose of a "time-trial" run. So anyway, I delayed the "race" until today (Tuesday), so we'll see how that goes tonight.

In the meantime, I have been getting some solid miles in in the pool, working on a lot of drills and form and technique. I'm staying away from hard training in the pool until early April - which is really hard for me to do, actually - but I don't want to peak too early or burnout, which I tend to do in mid-late summer if I start too early. So mentally, I tell myself that I'm just going to go enjoy a swim, although really I'm being very intentional about my workouts there, in the hopes that when I do actually hit the pool, I'll be in great shape to get in great shape. It's a mind trick. I don't want myself to know I've been swimming. So if you see me, keep it a secret.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Recon mission scheduled...

We're headed to Madison next weekend (the 25th) to see Dad's family and so my first recon. I also - very excited about this - have a professional fitting at Cronometro in Madison on the afternoon of the 25th. They're apparently pretty well known for their meticulous fittings, and they're the only FIST certified fitters anywhere near here (for as much a hotbed for Triathlon as Minneapolis is, you'd think there would be more than 1 tri-specific bike shop and at least somebody around here who knew how to fit a bike.) FIST is a fitting method developed by the guys at, which is a huge name in online triathlon resources, started by the founder of one of the major cycle/wetsuit companies out there. Anyway, FIST is considered the best in cycle fitting, bar-none. It took me about 3 years to really understand and value the importance of the right fit on the bike, and I've never had a serious, dedicated, scientific measurement on my bike. In fact, when I bought Ol' Blue the fitting literally went something like "go ahead, sit on the bike....uh huh, let's raise the saddle just a does that feel? Good? Okay, great!" (In their defense, they don't claim to be a triathlon shop, so their staff aren't versed in how to do a triathlon fitting. In my defense, they should be.) And the fitting I currently have is an entirely self prescribed recipe that I did last spring with Chad's help and a bunch of research. But what do I know? I got through last season just fine, but this is Ironman. You can't settle for any unknowns here. So this should be valuable time spent, and I'm looking forward to it.

I'll also recon the course a bit, even in the snow covered gloom of February, and I have a 9 mile run schedule for that weekend, so I'll do it on the Ironman course. Hopefully I'll get some pictures or video of both escapades to post when I return. I'm looking forward to the recon, and it should be the first of several - starting in May I hope to go out there and live one week a month so I can train on the course and familiarize myself with the terrain, etc.

Other than that, I've been in a strangely...contemplative mood the last few days. Getting really emotionally dialed in to Ironman, re-reading some of my books and some of my favorite podcasts. There's little room for emotion in the course of the race, which is maybe contrary to expectations for such an emotional event, and one that is so emotion-driven (I don't think people train and race Ironman events - or probably any ultra-distance event - for the physical aspects of it, or at least not primarily - I think it's the emotions and the feelings and the sensations that are the drivers), but emotions are physically taxing, and affect energy levels incredibly (see: how my heart rate goes up when I listen to "Lose Yourself", for instance.) So I'm trying to sort through some of that now, this early, so that I have an organized place in me for it throughout the season. Anything that requires this much time, energy, and attention in life - be it a physical event like Ironman or something entirely different, is bound to be cathartic; it seems every significant thing one's ever experienced somehow comes to mind. An Ironman veteran and respected coach, Rich Strauss, suggests that emotions should be tucked safely away, and only taken out during the last few miles of the run, when you really need them. Being that I'm an emotional person, especially when I get tired (as I know I'll be), it's good for me to start learning to keep things in check now so my training the rest of the season is consistently affected.

Monday, February 13, 2006

8 Mile Road

I had an 8 mile run yesterday, one more mile than last week's long run. I'm not sure what to attribute it to, but things are going exceedingly well right now. Yesterday's breakdown went like this:

Mile 1: 8:58 pace, HR N/A (was having problems with the effing monitor...)
Mile 2: 9:03 pace, HR 155
Mile 3 (drinking): 9:59 pace, HR 148
Mile 4: 8:55 pace, HR 160
Mile 5 (drinking): 10:03 pace, HR 153
Mile 6: 8:53 pace, HR 162
Mile 7 (drinking): 10:13 pace, HR 151
Mile 8: 8:55 pace, HR 163

Total averages: 9:22 pace, HR 157

So many things to be encouraged about: My average pace is actually 2 seconds faster than last week's pace of 9:24. My non-drinking miles were all - except for mile 2 (which might not be accurate, I was having technology issues the first 2 miles. God's way of reminding me that all the gadgets don't mean a damn thing) under 9:00 pace. And again I was really, really consistent - all my running miles are freakishly consistent, and this has always been a real issue with me. And I never went anaerobic, so I had room to move.

Consider that I suffered through the 2004 Twin Cities 10 Mile for a pace of 8:58, and that I'm doing 30 seconds slower that than, this early in the season but comfortably, and I feel really good. But I'm both encouraged and a little nervous - I don't want to marry myself to this kind of progress, so that if it slows or peaks or plateus that I'll feel like I'm failing. I also don't want to peak too early, and while I don't think that's happening - I'm still very much in base training - I'm really kind of floored by these numbers, which I don't normally put up in the middle of July, much less February. For training I'm apparently supposed to find a 10k race this weekend...I don't know if that will happen, but either way I'll go back to 6 miles, so this is a good week for a breather from the long distance. It's great that this is coming this easily to me right now.

Of course, none of this will translate 1:1 to triathlon or marathon distances - after swimming and then biking, I won't be fresh like this to start the run. So I'm not looking to be going 9:00 pace in every race this season, or through the Ironman marathon - but the faster I can go at a lower heartrate, the more efficient I'm being, and the stronger run I'll have. I'm trying to develop strength in my running so I don't blow up like I did last year at Lifetime and the Half Ironman. Again - it's not about going fast, it's about slowing down least.

Also fun was, after yesterday's run, Amy wanted to learn how to swim Freestyle. She, like the rest of us, was taught when she was a youngin' (at the Crosby Pool, shout out to the homecountry) by the American Red Cross, who taught us all wrong so that nothing is sensible. I spent all of last winter throwing my swim stroke entirely out and relearning my front crawl from jumpstreet so it was triathlon specific, which mostly just means much better and more efficient - it's not about triathlon, just correct swimming. I learned something called the Total Immersion method, so last night I tried teaching her some of the initial drills and basic fundamentals. She had a lot of problems at first exhaling in the water without getting water up her nose, but she caught on really quickly. She got the hang of the initial drills WAY faster than I did when I was learning, and she's naturally A LOT more buoyant than am. I honestly think she could be a really good swimmer, much more natural than I, I think. We had fun. A good way to round out a good day.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

These are a few of my favorite things...

Responding to my sister-in-law Iris' thoughts that maybe she needs a few gadgets (and going WAY beyond that inquiry...), I thought I'd share a few of my favorite things. Happily for you, I'm just like Oprah, and this blog is just like her show. So, if you'll check under your chair periodically, you'll find that I've provided for each and every one of you some of my favorite things. In the rare instance that I made a mistake and you don't have said gadget under your chair, please contact the intern here at i3, JoJo. She was tasked to take care of this.

First, a few thoughts and remarks: Triathlon is an extremely well marketed sport, and every twenty minutes there is a shiny new thing for your bike, or to improve your swim, or make you run faster. At its soul, it really is about a single person and his unique engagement in three disciplines, each with its own strategies, difficulties, and rewards. And it is its soul that I love. After that, the rest truly are just details. If you have shoes you can run in, something to swim in, and a bicycle, that's all you need. But there are so many shiny sparkly things out there that transcend need into want, and seduce you with promises of less weight on the bike, and more water repellant, and more responsive to your feet on the run, and wick away this and that, etc. etc. etc. Some of the gadgets are, by nature, pretty unnecessary. Some provide significant benefits. And in very few cases, some are so beneficial that I find them required.

A second point: I am, as you know, a gadgety guy. I always have been, and I always will be, and I am precisely who they're marketing to. Remember Clear Pepsi? Right, I was one of 36 people who actually tried it. It's just the kind of guy I am, and I enjoy that part of triathlon, and of life. Stuff is cool. Not everybody's like that, and that's okay. I am. That said, I don't think much, if anything, that I own is wholly superfluous. Some if it's not technically "necessary", the same way a speedometer in a car isn't "necessary", but you sure are better off with it.

Okay, so I'll share with you some of the things I have, and why I have them, and why they matter. In the course of it, I'll try and maybe introduce or educate you on some of the nuances of triathlon gear. Be warned that it's a really long post, and except for Todd or anybody else considering triathlon, I doubt you'll find it useful at all. That's okay, I'll still be entertained.


In triathlon, you don't change clothes between sports. Check that: you can, I guess, but you shouldn't. Check that again - in Ironman, you actually do, or can. But in general, what you wear in the water needs to be something you can get on a bike with, and then run around in. So it needs to be made of something moisture wicking, so that it dries very quickly, and then built so it's comfortable on a bike and a run; no chafing, well-padded, etc. Some people race in tri-shorts - these are basically like cycling shorts, with less padding. The padding is made of a fast drying chamois, and it's thin enough where it doesn't act like a sponge. In the water, you want whatever you wear to be skin tight. Everything not clinging to you - even your hair - creates drag in the water. Drag slows you down, but more importantly creates an inefficient environment where you are having to work harder to move through the water. The harder you work, the more tired you are, the more you'll pay for that drag later in the race. If you wear tri-shorts, they're made so you can get out of the water, run to transition and throw on a shirt, and get on your bike. They're dry in literally minutes.

Personally, I prefer a tri-suit, which sort of looks like a cross between a leotard, a wrestling uniform, and something David Lee Roth wore in the '80's. I like it because it covers your torso and trunk, and is made of material that compresses the muscles throughout the triathlon. I don't know if this matters or not, but for me it's like how everybody likes their shoes tied a particular tightness, or their hats a particular size - it just feels right to me. I also save time in transition by not having to put on a shirt. I own and have tried several tri-suits, and my favorite is the Elite, made by a company called Orca. The schtick to the Orca Elite is that it's made of some crazy polymer something or other that is totally waterproof or something. This means it repels water completely, allowing the swimmer to glide through water without picking any of it up. If I were a more competitive swimmer I'm sure that would matter more - and you can actually feel it when you wear it (and it's pretty cool), but for me I like it best because it's most comfortable. What it's made of and how it fits gets me through all three events without any discomfort.

Note that trisuits are meant for race day, and not every day training. They're very durable, but they're not meant to hold up in daily washes, or subjected to countless hours of chlorine. For race-specific training, I wear something called jammers, which are basically just the bottoms of a trisuit. Skin tight, and long through the thigh for muscle compression. None of this clothing is flattering, by the way. Not the point.

In colder water or longer distances, a Wetsuit is preferred in the water. These aren't wetsuits like you think of or have seen surfers or skiers wear, but the principle is the same - keep you warm. Triathlon wetsuits are made with special sections, so that your arms can move easily and without constriction, and with a tighter seal around the neck and wrists, so that water doesn't get in. An added benefit of the wetsuit is that they're naturally buoyant. The biggest obstacle in swimming, as I've said, is drag. Typically (and this is a whole other conversation), a human form doesn't swim well because we tend to swim at an angle, with our heads higher than our feet. This means we're pushing more surface area through the water. Ideally you want to push as little surface area as possible, so you try and glide on top of the water, as close to horizontal as you can. A wetsuit will aid in that, lifting your trunk up a bit more than you naturally would. This causes significantly less drag, which equals less effort required, and faster speeds. USA Triathlon, which governs sanctioned Triathlon events around the world, and the World Triathlon Corporation, which governs Ironman, won't allow wetsuits when the water is over 78 degrees. Any colder than that, and many triathletes wear them. They're kind of a hassle to take off in transition, as you might imagine skin tight rubber just out of a lake might be, and takes some practice just to be able to get off in a timely way. I wear mine if it's uncomfortably cold, or if I'm in specific training for a long distance race - like Ironman - where I need to get as much practice with the wetsuit as possible. I always notice significant time savings when I race with a wetsuit as opposed to without. My wetsuit is a 2004 Orca Predator

Swimcaps are almost always required at races, and usually they're part of the racing package, colored according to your heat or wave, or having sponsor names and logos on them. They're usually bright colors, partly so support kayaks and boats out in the water can easily see swimmers heads. Even if they weren't required, I'd wear one (I have a silver Nike one for training - note: I like blue and silver, so I buy things that are blue and silver. Not because I'm fashionable or have any thoughts about color coordinating. Just because I like blue, and I like silver), because friction on the head is already an issue in the water, and hair just drags you down. This is a telling sensation - when I'm training, I wear regular swim trunks and often no cap. It's literally like pulling a parachute, the drag is so bad. That's good in training - increased resistance helps build strength in the water. But in racing, or race-specific training, you want smooth smooth smooth. So I cut my hair short for race season (considering shaving it completely for this summer...) for training and so it doesn't pull underneath the swim caps.

Goggles are, for me at least, a meticulous thing. I must have a funny shaped skull or something because I had to try seriously 5 or 6 goggles before I found some that fit me well, were comfortable so my eyes didn't feel like they were popping out of my head, and that DON'T LEAK. NOTHING sucks so bad to be out in the middle of a lake in a race with arms and legs flailing all around you, and your damn goggles are leaking so that you have to flip over on your back and empty them. Besides slowing you way down to deal with the hassle, it's dangerous and it's a total fun killer. Anyway, after much trial and error, my goggles of choice are the TYR Velocity. Clear (or whatever) in the pool, and metallized in the open water, to act as sun glasses - the swim starts early in the morning, and often the sun is at a perfect height to really get in your eyes when you breathe and sight for buoys and landmarks.


Geez, where to begin. The whole bike is a gadget. Everything on the bike is a gadget. A triathlete's bike is like a hot-rod in the garage or a shiny red corvette. You're always tuning it up, always looking for ways to add more personality, or make it cooler, or make it better. Not, probably, because it requires any of those things, but because it's an extension of yourself. I don't know if I can articulate this, or if I can do anything to not make it sound dumb, but you just don't spend hundreds of hours and literally thousands of miles on a bike and not grow emotionally attached to it. So there are things you do to the bike because they improve performance, and there are things you do to make it more yours. I love my bike. Just looking at my bike makes me happy.

There are two classifications of bicycle - a road bike, and a TT (time trial), or triathlon bike. The TT /triathlon bikes are basically the same thing. The difference between a tri-bike and road bike exists in their geometry - road bikes are like your average 10-speed that everybody's familiar with, with the curly handle bars. They're made so you sit a little further back from the handlebars, and also so that you have different handlebar positions - aggressive on the lower curls, or more relaxed on the upper bars. Your brakes and gear shifters are typically connected. You're positioned on the bike so you can easily sit up and look around you, so you can negotiate turns in one position, and other things you typically do on a "road" environment. A tri-bike has a closer geometry, so that you're sitting closer to your handlebars. This gives you more power from your hip flexors down going into the pedals. On any bike, all power is transferred from the engine - you - to the pedals, and from the pedals to the tires. So you want the most ideal position for transferring as much power to the pedals as possible. My bike is a 2005 Specialized Elite, named Ol' Blue. Here's a picture of me and Ol' Blue:

In a triathlon bike, you're basically looking for four things: 1. A stiff frame. As I said, all power is transferred to the pedals. In a stiff frame - one where the composite of the frame provides very little "give", you get more energy transferred from the legs to the pedals. In a less stiff frame, energy dissipates more from the legs through the rest of the bike, then to the pedal, resulting in wasted effort and inefficiency. Frames are made of many things - titanium, aluminum, carbon fiber, or proprietary materials. Aluminum - or any metal - requires welding of the different pieces of the bike. These are inherent places of weakness, and disturb the natural energy absorption of the bike frame; you WANT the frame to absorb road vibration and similar energy. You DO NOT want the frame to absorb your own efforts. My bike is made of some special composite, where it's made entirely of one piece. That's pretty cool, but my bike is pretty much the base model of triathlon bikes. There are some freakishly dope rides out there. 2. An aerodynamic experience. The biggest factor affecting cycling performance is - just like in the water - drag. The higher up a triathlete sits on the bike, the more surface area there is for wind. Clipping along at 20 mph or so, a high position on the bike is just like holding your hand vertically flat out an open window of a car - you're like a big sail. The more aero a person's position can be - the more horizontal with the ground - then it's closer to holding your hand horizontally flat out the window - less drag. The seat on a triathlon bike is positioned so that you can more comfortably bend your body into an aero position. This is assisted by aero-bars - those are the vertical things sticking out of the handlebars on my bike (look at the picture again). Aero-bars allow you to put your elbows on pads close to your body, and then your arms are bent with your hands straight out in front of you. The result is that you're kind of lying on your bike, instead of sitting on it. It sounds uncomfortable, I suppose, but if you're fit right, it really isn't. Notice on my bike that the gear shifters are at the end of the aero-bars, and the brakes are on the ends of my cowhorn handlebars - no swoopy, curly handlebars on the tri-bike. Because we're racing mostly straight, we don't need our hands in a steering position for most of the race. 3. Speed. The biggest deterrent to speed - after wind - is weight. The more weight you add to anything, the harder it is to pull up a hill. This is why I'm working to lose as much weight as I can before the season. Contenders look to save weight anywhere - a gram here or there can win or lose races for them. Lance Armstrong was so familiar with his performance that he could tell just from his time trials how much weight needed to come off his bike - and we're talking grams here - in order to improve. I'm not quite that fast (but almost), but there are some general things about triathlon bikes that naturally save weight. Taking off the metal required for the curly handlebars saves weight. Using composite materials saves weight. A more compact frame = less material = saved weight. Beyond that, everything you put on the bike, then, adds weight. So you're conscious of how much weight you're carrying in extra stuff, as well as race or training gear like fluids and foods. My bike is freakishly light - 16 or 17 pounds. Amy easily can lift it with one arm. When I'm on a long training ride and I load it down with 3 or 4 Gatorades, I've added maybe 2 pounds to the total weight. You wouldn't think that would matter a lot, but the bike handles completely differently with more weight, and I notice clear and distinct improvement with every emptied bottle. And I'm just a triathlon hack, so imagine what the pros much feel like. Lance Armstrong notices improvement changes after just a few grams. That's literally the equivalent of taking a leak before you ride and losing a few grams. Crazy. 4. Comfort. The single most important thing on your bike is your fit. There's a very precise way of fitting on the bike so that you're generating as much power as possible, but also positioned so that you're most aero and most comfortable. You don't just raise the seat a bit and call it a day - in fact, it's best to spend 1-3 hours being fit by a professional, who puts you on your bike and takes all kind of measurements and readings to get you in the best possible situation.

A couple of noteworthy things, looking at my bike (here's the picture again so you can see what I'm talking about)...

Seat Post - that's just what it sounds like - the post that sticks up from your bike and attaches your seat. This is a critical point of vibration, because it's a small surface area to absorb a lot of road and rider vibration that, through the seat post, goes right to the rider. Mine is made of Carbon Fiber, with this thing made by Specialized called Xerxes - it's a little window of gel in the middle of my seat post - you can actually see through it. It's all meant to absorb vibration. Pretty cool.

Fork - is the other critical point, because it absorbs vibration from the front end of the bike. This is the piece on the front of the bike that the front wheel attaches to. Again, this is made of Carbon Fiber with Xerxes in it.

Wheels: Wheels are the most important piece of equipment as far as speed goes. Great wheels can significantly benefit you, and bad wheels can be a significant detriment. Imagine a fan - what a fan does is spin around and generate turbulence. It pushes the air around, and towards you. Bicycle wheels are the same thing - they're fans. The more spokes you have, the more air you push around. The more air you push around, the more turbulence. Turbulence = drag = slow. Most triathlon wheels have flat spokes - they're bladed so that they have as little surface area as possible actually going into the wind. They also have deep edges, so that the initial impact of wind is less significant to the wheel. I have Rolf Vigorracing wheels. As you can see, the front wheel has only 14 spokes, and the back wheel 16. I only use these for racing, so that I put as few miles on them as possible, keeping them longer. I have a different pair of wheels for training.

What's even better than these wheels? These wheels:

These wheels remove the spokes almost entirely, creating almost no turbulence. They're also made of ultra light-weight material, like carbon fiber or something similar, so that they're really lightweight. One advantage these have over spoked wheels is that in removing the spokes (and so the turbulence), there are also safety benefits. Example: last summer I was on a training ride, and I'd just come screaming down a hill, and then climbed a short hill - which thankfully slowed me down. At the crest of that short hill I heard and felt a POP! and suddenly my bike was out of control underneath me. I was going slow enough where I could hit the brakes and get off without incident, but when I examined what was going on, I broke a spoke in my front wheel. The spokes on a bike are a little like guitar strings - they're all made to have a certain amount of tension. It's the tensions of opposite spokes that gives a wheels its trueness - how "true" a wheel is is how flawlessly it spins - no wobbles or bounces. Anyway, a spoke broke, and was hanging out, getting caught up in the fork. I pulled it off, but with that one spoke gone, the integrity of the wheel was entirely shot. It now sat crooked on the fork and had a weird roll to it. I could ride it, but only very slowly, and only the limited miles it took to get home. It took me a long time to get the 10 miles home. Had I blown the spoke 20 seconds earlier, when I was blazing down a hill, it could have been really disastrous. Had I blown the spoke in a race - particularly a long distance race - well, that might have ended my day.

Sometimes you'll see an even more aero-dynamic wheel on the back, called a disc wheel, which basically looks like a solid wheel - no spokes whatsoever. These tend to weigh a bit more - more materials used - but there's nothing for the wind to grab onto head on, so they slice right through. They do, however, act like a big sail in crosswinds - this is why they aren't used in the front, because the handling problems would be horrible.

Okay, going back to my bike, just a couple more things:
See those two little lines on the fork of my bike? Just under the "S" logo? It's hard to tell, but those are actually attached to a device that talks to a little magnet attached to my wheel. The device reads my speed, and sends it to a little computer I have attached to my handlebars. I have a similar device attached to my pedal posts (you can't see it in the picture), and that measures my cadence - how many revolutions per minute I'm peddling. All of this information, then, is presented on a display that sits happily in front of me in the cockpit. Measuring my speed against my cadence helps me to understand how hard I'm pushing my pedals, and measuring that effort against my heart rate can give me all kinds of information - if I'm at a sustainable pace, if I'm going to blow my legs up before a run, if I should go to another, easier or harder gear to alleviate effort or speed up a bit, and more. You can't, in the course of an Ironman, be blind to this kind of information. You simply need to be able to accurately measure these things so that you're informed on what your body is going through, and how to fuel it, and what to do next. To that end, I think (after my bike) that the most critical piece of equipment I own is my Garmin Forerunner 301. This thing is amazing - it's a powerful computer with a built in GPS and heart rate monitor. It has different settings for if I'm on a bike or if I'm running, and it has countless bells and whistles. The most important are that it tracks my speed (mph on the bike, pace/minute on the run), and then compares that with my heart rate, relative to some other information I give it like my age and weight, etc. From that it spits out how many calories I'm burning, which is critical to know what I need to replace in the course of a long event like the Half Ironman, Marathon, or Ironman. It then tracks all of that, and puts it into my computer. It also shows me in a graph my altitude and speed. This is great after rides, especially if I rode a two or three loop course over and over - I can see, for instance, how fast I went up a hill on the first loop, versus the third loop. This helps me gauge how consistent I was, and what improvements I need to make, etc. I'd be totally lost without this thing.

Couple more things: Helmet: I ride with the Specialized Decibel. I like it because it's very light and comfortable, and also well vented to keep my head warm on the bike. It's also built to come apart in pieces on impact, and not just all at once - a typical helmet, on impact, will break in half and fall apart immediately, so that after your first fall, while you're still rolling around, your head is now unprotected. This one is (allegedly, I hope to never prove it) supposed to instead crack in pieces but stay on, so that your head remains protected.

Shoes: Cycling shoes are really important, because they're essentially the entire surface area of the pedal. In triathlon, you don't use normal, flat, bicyle pedals. Instead, you used clipless pedals - they're basically just little knobs. The "pedal" comes in when you clip your shoe to the little knob, and now your entire foot is basically a "pedal". There are lots of advantages to this over just your normal flat pedal - one is efficiency - all of your power is concentrated into a smaller area - the "knob", instead of being dissipated over the surface area of a flat pedal. Another is that, clipped in, you can power the bike on the upstroke of your pedal as well as the downstroke, so that your power comes from truly rolling your entire leg over the course of an entire revolution; you can pull your leg up, and since your show is attached to the pedal, you can generate power pulling your leg. On a regular bike, you only get power for about a third of your revolution - when you push down on the pedal with each leg. Another is safety - when you clip in your shoes to the pedal, you have to twist your foot to get it off the pedal. This takes some getting used to, and I've had a few minor spills because I couldn't get my foot off the damn pedal. But it's safer because, as fast as these bikes go, the worst thing would be to suddenly slip off a pedal and lose control.

In cycling shoes, then, you want the bottoms to be as stiff as possible. These aren't like regular shoes where you want nice give and cushioning in the soles - instead you want as stiff and solid as you can get. My shoes are made by Shimano. I've had them for 2 years, and they're great. My pedals are made by Speedplay, and look something like this.

Okay, last but not least, the run. A lot simpler here, because the bike naturally requires all kind of attention. I'll share only a few of my favorite things when running. I won't talk about shoes, because everybody's feet and needs are different.

The Nike Tailwind Hat is my favorite running hat, because it's soft and really lightweight and very absorbent. I like to pull it down low so it's on my whole head, and it does a great job wicking away moisture and staying comfortable. I have several different colors, and I usually wear something like red or yellow at races so that my friends and family can see me coming.

Sunglasses are often overlooked, but I think critical to the bike (especially) and the run. On the bike they act as a windshield, keeping dust and bugs and small birds out of your eyes. On the run they reduce eye fatigue from squinting all the time (for me, anyway), and also act as a windshield. I have Oakley Half Jackets - these are great because they're really lightweight, and they have interchangeable lenses. This is again really useful for the bike (these go on before the bike and stay on through the run) - on a cloudy day I put on yellow or pink lenses, with make things brighter. On sunny days, smokey lenses or blue lenses work great.

Socks are pretty important too, because a bad pair of socks can really amplify any kind of shoe or blistering situations. I really like Under Armour All Season Gear Lo-Cut socks - they're cushion-ey enough so they're comfortable, but they keep my feet nice and dry. Iris also gave me a really cool pair of Asics running socks for Christmas - these are actually ergonomic - there's a different "left" and "right" sock. Where did you get these, Iris? They're pretty cool, but I can't find them anywhere else.

Finally, shoelaces, which you'd think wouldn't be much of a discussion, but in Triathlon especially, shoelaces can be a real hassle - the time it takes to tie your shoes in transition is precious, and it's a pain in the ass to have to deal with a loose shoelace on the run, or an untied shoe. I use Speed Laces, the Bungee kind. These allow me to "tie" my shoes to a certain fit, and permanently leave them that way. In transition, I just slip them on. On the run, there's no worry about anything untied or circulation issues, and the Bungee laces have enough give where my foot can move around more naturally. I suggest these for any runners, too. They're pretty slick.

Well, I guess that's about all. This is the longest blog post in the history of the world, and took the course of 3 days to write. That might be an absurd use of time, but there you go. I'll keep you posted on new gadgetry as it comes into my world. Any questions, ask, and if you see anything blue or silver that would look cool on my bike, send it right along.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Merging into Traffic

I got my Triathlete magazine in the mail yesterday, and it came with a supplement magazine called "Road to Kona" (Kona, Hawaii is the site of the Ironman World Championship in October). It's so exciting - because it's the March issue, it kind of kicks off the season unofficially - winter offseason starts wrapping up, and triathletes everywhere start emerging from their holes and getting back into it. So it's full of articles and imagery and features about kicking off the season. And the Road to Kona mag is full of Ironman-specific articles and features, and all the advertisers hype up their products relative to Ironman - "...On course at Ironman Lake Placid, Ironman Florida, Ironman Wisconsin, and the World Championship in Kona" and "...see you at the Expo at all Ironman events in '06" - just stuff like that. But seeing it all in print, having the season unofficially start, it just gives things such a...momentum. Like when I used to work at camp and in the ass cold of February or March I'd get the letter saying welcome back, here's the summer schedule - it made things so tangible, and I'd find myself daydreaming all the time and making plans for the summer that now seemed more inevitable, less impossible for the dark of winter. So exciting, I swear if it wasn't 20 degrees right now I'd get Ol' Blue out of his hibernation and hit the road right this second. I can't wait for my first race. Can't wait for my first training ride. Can't wait for that first transition. Life is good!

Hello, World

Well THAT was amusing. Apparently my tiny bit of self-deprecation worked just as I'd planned, and now I'm getting all SORTS of attention. Only kidding, but only a little - it truly is nice to know who's out there, and it's nice to hear from you. So shout out to Diddy and Todd, and Sammy and Mike - lurkers no more.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

In case it needs to be said...

Of course, the reason I talk this much is because I'm scared to death.

A Time to Swim, A Time to Bike, A Time to Run

I'm pretty sure there's a Psalm about triathlon, no? Anyway, some interesting research today:

I have 17 hours to finish Ironman. The race starts promptly at 7:00am, and it ends promptly at 12:00am. If one crosses the finish line at 12:01am, then he has whatever personal satisfaction or reward to enjoy, but he does not hear "YOU are an Ironman!" when he crosses the finishline, and he does not enjoy whatever satisfaction comes from knowing that the race was finished during the actual race. I have a book full of Ironman stories, and there's an entire chapter dedicated to stories of people who missed the cutoff by minutes. I can't and won't spend much time dwelling on this point, as I'm sure the Triathlon gods love nothing more than to amuse themselves with any inkling of potential self-fulfilling prophecy. But it is wise to be informed, and to train with that information in hand.

It's also useful to point out that it's laughably stupid to actually think that whatever one plans for during a race will actually go that way. There are so many infinite variables in triathlon that can affect not just time, but performance: is it windy, is the water deep or shallow, how many participants, hilly or smooth, flat tires or no, broken chains, magnificent blisters on the run, a sudden aversion to Lime Gatorade, is it 90 degrees and sunny or 68 and cool, etc. etc. etc. So in the end I can only do the best I can on that given day. I can't compare any race to another beyond general aspirations or information.

So, with all that said:

The swim begins at 7:00am, and the swim course closes at 9:20am. This gives me 2 hours and 20 minutes to swim 2.4 miles. This means, worst case scenario, I'd need to swim a 3:05 pace (in swimming, your pace is determined from your 100 meter pace, so a 3:05 pace means that you swim 100 meters in 3:05.) That's dysfunction-ally slow, and I can't imagine any scenario where I'd even be capable of going that slow - I think I'd sink first. It's more likely that I'll swim around a 2:00 pace - consider that I did 1.2 miles in last fall's Half Ironman at a 1:47 pace. So I'll say, all things considered, the slowest I'd expect of myself - barring anything unexpected like cramping or jellyfish attacks - is around 2:15. That gets me out of the water in 1:26:54 - essentially putting 53 minutes in the bank.

The bike has to be finished by 5:30pm in the afternoon - by that time, everybody has to be on the marathon. Let's tack on a half hour for transition - I usually do it in less than 2 minutes, but this is a whole different thing, so what do I know? - and say the bike starts at 9:00am - that gives me 8.5 hours on the bike. It's harder to know what to expect from the bike - so many technical variables come into play with the machine underneath you. But, beyond meticulous preparation, there's little you can do about the technical stuff - a flat tire is a flat tire. So removing those variables. The slowest I can bike 112 miles in 8.5 hours is a 13.2 mile pace. That again seems grandmotherly slow, but if there's a gusty wind in my face, who knows? My speed will be, of course, adversely affected the longer I go. While in the totally flat 25 mile Lifetime Triathlon course I can clip happily along at 21mph, on the Half Ironman 56 mile course, with less shelter, more hills and more wind I averaged 18.22 mph. While IM WI isn't mountainous, there are plenty of rolling hills, so I'll calculate a realistic pace of 16mph. With that pace I'd finish in exactly 7 hours, putting an additional 1.5 hours in the bank. Combined with my already swim-banked time (minus my first transition), I now have 2 hours in the bank, which is useful for any repairs or situations I might encounter - the stuff I can't do anything about. Best case scenario is I can leave that in the bank without encountering anything weird, and make deposits from it if I need to while on the run.

The run ends promptly at 12:00am. If my swim and bike have gone as I indicate they could, I'd be ready to leave the bike at 4:00pm, and let's say I'm in transition, and then I'm on the road at 4:30pm - giving me 7.5 hours for the marathon. That seems like a ton of time, but the run is my nemesis, and I'll be coming off 112 miles on the bike. I'd be wise to value every single second I get on the run, particularly if it's a hot day - where I tend to exceptionally suck. So, to finish in 7.5 hours I'd need a pace of just over 17:00/mile. Happily, this is slower than my most meandering stroll, so it's realistic to think that under any circumstances where my feet are still putting on in front of the other (ie, I haven't fainted or been attacked by men in gorilla suits, etc.) that I can make that time. A more likely doomsday scenario has me at about a 15:00/mile - this imagines me in the throes of some nutritional crisis or injury, where I can't effectively run at all and I can only flail about with forward momentum between long segments of walking. Even then, I'd finish the marathon in 6:33:00, giving me basically 15 hours of racing, with 2 hours for transition and miscellaneous drama. Thinking positively, let's consider that I did the Half Ironman - which was the worst running of my entire life under ideally adverse conditions - lots of wind and HOT as hell - at a 13:04 pace. The marathon, I did in 11:38, and that was again a horrible run. So, let's split the difference and say a mediocre run - not horrible, but not great - on the marathon would be somewhere around 12:15. That would bring me home at 5:20:57, giving me time on the course of 13:47:51, so a finish time - with transitions and misc. drama, etc., of somewhere around 15:30 or so. Still a full 1.5 hours ahead of the clock.

So, breakdowns:
I Don't Care How, Just Get Me There In Under 17 Hours:
Swim: 2:15 pace - finish in 1:26:54
Bike: 16mph - finish in 7:00:00
Run: 12:15/mile - finish in 5:20:57
Transitions: 1 hour
Unexpected: 1 hour
Total finishing time: 15:57:51

I'm encouraged by this data.

Again, keeping in mind that, truly, my goal for Ironman is just to finish. It's a grueling, obnoxious race that demands respect, and I just want to get on and ride the wave, getting home in 17 hours. That said - nobody trains to do just good enough. I want to do the best I can. I want to be realistic, but I want to push myself. So that said...

Smarter. Faster. Stronger. We Can Rebuild Him:
Swim: 2:05 pace - 1:20:27
Bike: 17.5mph - 6:24:00
Run: 4:48:12
Transitions: 1 hour
Unexpected: 1 hour
Total finishing time: 14:32:39

That's pretty cool. Those are my goals, then, for Ironman. What I need to do, and also what I want to do.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Finally, a real run...

It's not that I've been lazy in contributing to the blog lately, it's that I haven't really felt like I've had much to say. See, I'm still technically in base-training, and that is, as I've discussed, pretty wholly run-specific. And, since my present training regimen is focused around a Half-Marathon in April, my mileage isn't really anything extraordinary. So, not that anyone should expect anything too extraordinary, but there's only so many ways to say "3 mile maintenance run today. Not much to report" before we all start to spasm from boredom. In fact, this has been psychologically affecting my training a bit. Until yesterday, my training really hasn't been anything the average guy trying to just stay in shape a bit doesn't do pretty regularly. I've not felt tested or tried, or that I've been in a position to gauge any kind of general fitness or improvement, save for the few O2 training runs I did. So while I've been in training, I haven't really felt like I've been in training. And that's important - I haven't had the level of internal awareness that the serious tri-specific training provides for me. I haven't had an ache in my legs the next day. And my workouts have been almost exclusively on the treaded dreadmill. So I was happy to finally have a "real" run yesterday.

Yesterday's run was 7 miles, which isn't a great distance, and later this summer will really be a maintenance run. But it is over 10k, and anytime one surpasses that distance, he's wise to incorporate a strategy: Where I can just go outside and run 3 miles with little forethought or concern, when I go over 10k I treat it as part of my larger training - I organize time to drink, I analyze nutrition, I make a plan for pacing, am attentive to splits, etc.. In short, an opportunity to apply all my general endurance knowledge and strategies, and use that time as broader training for the nuances of the sport.

So it felt good to have to actually plan my day around a run, instead of just "run to the gym" for half an hour. It felt good to run outside - ass cold as it was - and to bring out the old Fuel Belt and Under Armor Cold Gear to keep me toasty. My plan for the run had three parts: 1: Be fast, but be comfortable. 2: Do not, under any circumstances, exceed my AT (anaerobic threshold), which has gone up in the last 2 months, and I figure to be right around 170bpm heart rate. 3: This is a mantra for the season - consistency, consistency, consistency. It's useless if I sprint out my first mile at a 7:30 pace only to run my last mile at 11:00 or something. I call this Jackie Dog Syndrome. When Jack and I go out for runs, he's so freaky happy for the first mile that he winds all over and hops and sprints and tugs on his leash. By the third mile, dude is literally trotting along behind me, he's so spent. He learned this from his old man, and I have more than one race report that begins "Run started strong", only to finish with the words "have to do better next time." So I want to be attentive to that all season long.

Also important - critical, really - is something I say out loud entirely for my own benefit: Ironman is NOT about who can go the fastest. It's about who can slow down the least. Unless one is a contender - and so far it appears that I, in fact, am not - it is more important that I find and maintain a comfortable pace than that I push myself into discomfort from the surge of competitive adrenaline or some delusional aspiration that I'm capable of something utterly outside myself. Running as fast as I can will not get me there. Running as smart as I can will.

So. Note that my day's goals said nothing about a particular pace or time - I'd let that dictate itself relative to my other goals. I'd stop every 2 miles and walk for as long as takes to comfortably sip through 8 ounces of Gatorade - about .15 miles, taking a couple of minutes. I'll not bore you with details, but in the course of an Ironman I'll need to consume around 600 mg of sodium and 86 grams of carbohydrates/hour. With some other nutritional elements in place, that means I need to drink 24 ounces of Gatorade/hour. These strategies will be in place all year long, all the way through race day. I start them now to train my body, establish the routine, and familiarize myself with any ongoing adjustments I need to make. So with all that in place, it was time to actually put one foot in front of the other and run!

Overall, I'm very encouraged and pleased with how things went, particularly this early in the season. My pacing broke down like this:

Mile 1: 8:49 HR: 155
Mile 2: 8:54 HR: 156
At this point I'm very encouraged. I was comfortable and still hovering around a 9:00 pace, which is just about perfect. My heart rate was at least 15 beats away from AT, and I was consistently pulling back on the reins - my body could've and wanted to go faster. I was never struggling and was enjoying myself.

Mile 3: 9:57 HR: 153
This is my first drinking mile, so the pace is misleading because I slow down to walk for .15 miles. This gives my heart rate a chance to recover to the mid 120s or so. As long as I don't exceed my AT, I should have no problems with digestion. When the heart starts pumping past AT, it's using a great deal of energy to force blood around the body's many moving parts. If you then introduce the need for digestion - even of water - into this mix, the body will literally revolt, spending its energies on its most important function and refusing to spend it on anything else (even sweating in absurdly bad conditions). This is when runners start to experience major GI issues, or start vomiting. Without fuel, then, the body starts to naturally slow down. The runner's first instinct, then, is to push harder to go faster, attempting to compensate. This sends the heart rate climbing continually higher while still not digesting. In a protective measure, then, the body tells the brain that food is disgusting, so now the very introduction of water or juice or anything makes the runner want to puke. You can see the vicious cycle. Best to steer clear. In keeping the heart rate low, the runner can easily eat. Gels and liquids are best - easily digested, and more directly introduced into the bloodstream and energy stores for quick use.

Mile 4: 9:13 HR: 161
In wanting to stay consistent, this is an important mile to look at and compare to mile 2 - the previous non-drinking mile. An increase of only 19 seconds is pretty consistent - anything over :30 would be cause for concern. My heart rate started to climb now a little, but I could feel I was still far from my AT. I was never uncomfortable, and had no problems with digestion from the drinking mile before.

Mile 5: 9:49 HR: 157
My second drinking mile, so I want to compare this mile to Mile 3 - as you can see, I negative split these miles: Mile 5 is 8 seconds faster than Mile 3. With the rest my heart rate fell from the high at Mile 4, and is only 4 ticks faster than Mile 3. At this point the end is in sight - I can gauge how the rest of my run is going to go, and what changes I might need to make from here on out.

Mile 6: 9:13 HR: 165
Again, this mile should consistently compare to Mile 4. Both were at 9:13. Brilliant. My heart, working for an hour now, is climbing to AT. Still not there, I can feel it, and this is encouraging because two months ago my AT was 165bpm. At this point I consider to push to the end into my AT (and discover where it might be...) - the end is near, and there's no reason to continue to monitor the tank. But I choose not to, to remain disciplined - I made my 3 rules before the run, and now I need to stick to them.

Mile 7: 9:52 HR: 157
Another drinking mile, and only 3 seconds slower than Mile 5, with the same HR. I finished the run in 1:05:50, with an average HR of 158 and an average pace of 9:24.

As I said, I'm very encouraged by the run because 9:24 is a very acceptable pace for me (consider I ran the Twin Cities 10 Mile in 2004 at an 8:59 pace - and uncomfortably) at any point in my history, but especially this early in the season. Also that my heart was never working hard - this makes me think I could've pushed to a mid 8:00 pace for much of the run and still been okay. Why didn't I? That's what tempo runs are for in the middle of the week - short bursts to push your heart rate past your AT, which in time raises your AT. These distance runs, then, are the product of those runs. Distance runs - long and comfortable - build endurance. Each is critical to my having success at IM, and that's why I decided not to push it at the end - I've had a habit in the past of competing with myself during training runs, and before you know it every workout pushes the AT, and endurance is sacrificed. I really, really need to be disciplined this year not to do that.

Okay! Hopefully not a boring analysis for you, but if it was, oh well. This is the stuff of training for Ironman. It's not all pretty girls and ribeye steaks, you know.

Shout out to my peeps...

Sending out much love/respect/congratulations/general good karma to my sister-in-law Iris, who completed the ING Miami Marathon last weekend in 5:21:23. She ran as part of an AIDS fundraising group, and trained in the cold of Washington D.C. to run in the heat of Miami. Brilliant and well done! Also to my friend Ali Vaughan, who ran the Chicago Marthon in October (though I just found out about it) in the super-freak time of 3:37:23, good enough to qualify her for the Holy Grail of Marathon in Boston on April 17th (supposing she's not still hung over from celebrating my birthday 3 days earlier. I'm a legend in Boston, and April 14th is a city-wide holiday. FYI.) Outstanding. I'm extremely proud of you both!