Alex Hutchinson Tells Us How To Endure

The Great Debate

For decades, scientists, athletes and observers have been debating if and when a human will run 26.2 miles in less than two hours. The debate has generated evidence to suggest that a sub two hour marathon is possible. But will it be in my lifetime?

Limits? What Limits?

One week ago, Eliud Kipchoge did just that.

Kipchoge breaks the two hour barrier

One hour, 59 minuites and 40 seconds after starting his marathon, Kipchoge crossed the finish line… with one catch. This time will not go down in the official record books as the fastest marathon.

Why?

Because this was not a real marathon. The distance was real, but the event was carefully crafted. There was a pace car and there were 30 (or 41 depending on the source) pace runners who popped in and out of the course at specified intervals. The purpose of the runners was to create a draft, much like cyclists do for each other.

And the shoes? I don’t know what kind of shoes he was wearing, but reports say they were a special design of Nike’s Vaporfly Next.

So did he really break a limit?

Damn straight he broke a limit. Even if the conditions were totally fabricated, here are my reasons for respecting Kipchoge’s accomplishment:

  1. He tried this before in Italy under Nike’s Breaking2 program. Conditions were very similar. He failed… even though he ran the 26.2 miles in 2:00:25.
  2. The car was only a pace mechanism and the pacers only provided a wind block.
  3. Shoes, any shoes, are an advantage.
  4. Now that this has been done, other elite marathoners are likely to break down their own mental barriers. In fact age-groupers will think differently as well.
  5. What Kipchoge did is a step toward someone breaking two hours without all the aids.

Enter Alex Hutchinson

The theme of breaking a two hour marathon runs throughout Hutchinson’s book, Endure.

Alex Hutchinson’s Endure

I first learned about Hutchinson’s book from a co-worker. A couple of months later, one of our readers mentioned the book which motivated me to get a copy. Thank you, Kieran.

Hutchinson argues that humans are not as limited in endurance sport as they think they are. He provides quite a bit of scientific, anecdotal and empirical evidence to suggest that the mind plays a large role in how far and how fast we can run, swim, cycle, walk, etc.

I am a student of science and the scientific method. I have read my share of biased crap promoted as good science from marketers and journalists alike. However, what Hutchinson did was quite good. There have been billions of dollars spent on this topic (my wild ass guess) by governments, universities, companies, and anyone who thinks they can benefit from running faster or farther. The amount of literature out there must be horrifically huge. Hutchinson must have carefully picked his supporting evidence, but I did not get a feeling of extreme bias or promotion of an agenda. I believe he genuinely wanted to investigate a subject and the message he delivered is that we can do more than train our muscles to be better athletes.

What Can We Do?

The real answer to that will have to come from the book or your coach. But a superficial answer is that we can believe in ourselves. Once Roger Banniser broke the 4 minute mile, others followed. It took one super athlete to break the barrier and break our ideas of what is possible.

Roger Bannister breaks the 4 minute mile

Hutchinson covers many areas of study including muscle physiology, nutrition, environment among others. All have their contribution to a successful race or a DNF. His argument is that perhaps the most overlooked aspect of training is the mind. There’s plenty of research on the mind (e.g. central governor hypothesis), but what are athletes really doing about it?

Training My Mind

Something I read in Chrissie Wellington’s book, A Life Without

Chrissie Wellington’s story of being a world champion triathlete.

Limits has stuck with me for many years. She said something to the effect of,

“In order to endure boredom, you need to endure boredom.”

I believe she is absolutely right. However, any evidence I can provide for my agreement with her is completely anecdotal based on my experience. Since reading that i have added solo rides and swims to my training schedule. I believe it helps me maintain focus for longer periods of time. That focus (I believe) helped bring my 14:50+ IMAZ time down to a 13:28+ IMLP time. A faster time on a harder course.

Another example is my dream of qualifying for IRONMAN World Championship . For the past few years it has been a dream. Over the next several months that dream will be planned out and put into writing. From there it will be a 3 or 4 or 10 year journey. The point is that it won’t happen at all if my mind is not ready to take it from dream to plan to reality. This is how we humans work. We first think about something and if we find enough value in it we work our asses off to make it a reality.

THOUGHT yields RESULTS

Train the mind and the body will follow (as best it can. after all, there surely must be limits… or are there?)

Who Else?

My favorite podcaster is Bob Babbitt.

Breakfast With Bob and Daniela Ryf – 2019

He interviews all the players in the endurance world: elite athletes, business owners, race directors,  charities, challenged athletes, and more.   Whenever he is with an athlete, he almost always asks what they were thinking or feeling either during a big decision point in their life or during a race.  The answers they give don’t tell us how to train our minds, but those answers do tell us just how important the mind is when it comes to endurance sports like triathlon.


The real problem is that so much of the mental and emotional influences I’m talking about can not be rationalized.  These mental limits are so deep in the subconscious that the only way to deal with them is through training: lots of tough training.  But I know you’re up for it or you wouldn’t be reading a blog post about triathlon.

See you in Kona (in 10 or 15 years 😉)

2019 IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina Videos

These are videos that I create simply because I enjoy doing it and I love this race.  These are not sanctioned by WTC

SWIM COURSE

The video below was originally made for the 2018 race which was canceled because of Hurricane Florence.


BIKE COURSE

The bike course has changed quite a bit from previous years.  This video will take you through the course and explain some of the things that are not in the athlete guide.  Check back here for updates.

 

UPDATES (changes since the video was published)

  • 2019-10-10: Swim exit has been moved from the Island Drive park to the traditional location at Seapath dock.

 

IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina

IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina is almost here!

Every year since 2008, I’ve been involved with this race: either racing in it or volunteering.  The only exception is 2018 when the race was canceled because of Hurricane Florence.  With a week and a half to go, I doubt we’ll have to worry about another hurricane.

This year the bike course has been changed a bit, so I’m in the process of updating the TriRiot Bike Course video.  It should be out in the next day or two.

The main reason for this post is to tell you about the Google Earth file that I prepared for the 2019 bike course.  You can download it here (IMNC2019.kmz)  and if you have Google Earth installed on your computer, you should be able to view it by double clicking the file.

Keep your eye out for the new bike course video.  I’ll post it on YouTube and put a link here at TriRiot.com

How Cold Is Too Cold?

How Cold Is Too Cold?

How cold is too cold for a race?  I don’t know the answer to that yet, because as soon as I start believing that I’ve reached my limit, something happens that pushes me farther.

I did get hypothermia once at the Savageman 70 race back in 2013.  It was bad.  I had to be pulled off the bike course.  On a good note, the staff at Garrett County Hospital were very nice.

The coldest water I’ve swum in was 52 degrees (and choppy).  That was White Lake Half in ???: I forget the year, but it was after the Savageman DNF.

There was a race here in Wilmington, NC a couple of years ago in mid March.  The transition area had a patch of ice.  (anecdotal, second hand info, but reasonable).

Havasu Triathlon

The most recent blog posts on this site were counting down the days to the Havasu Triathlon.  In one particular post, I made “predictions” of the weather conditions for race day.   I wasn’t there, so I didn’t experience the conditions myself.  However, the race director sent me an email.  The entire body of the message went something like this:

Swim was cancelled.  Water temp was 54, air temp in the 40s with a 15 mph north wind.

First of all, I want to thank Mr. Grinder for sending that information, because being a race director on the day or two after a race must be a hectic time.

Second of all… HOLY CRAP!  Those conditions are pretty rough.  From a race director’s point of view, I can understand why the swim was canceled.  Even though I’ve swum colder water, that combination of air temperature and wind temperature would have turned everyone blue.   It also explains why the swim times were so strange in the results (see yesterday’s post).

Is It Worth It?

As an athlete, would you race in those conditions?

Me too.

See you at the hospital

Epilog to Havasu

Epilog to Havasu

I didn’t race (see this post from a few days ago).   I wish I had, but life sometimes gets in the way.

Runners on the London Bridge
Runners on the London Bridge

Lit Review

I’ve done an extensive literature search of the 2019 Havasu Triathlon over multiple sources and retrieved a modest amount of data.  Translation:

I Googled the race and didn’t find much.

I usually bristle at the verb, to google, but it seems much more succinct than saying, “I searched the internet”, and everyone understands it.

Usually, someone posts a shaky home vid of their sister or husband slogging through the run with their tongue hanging out.  Better yet, are those videos of some random guy running through T1 wearing only a thong…



Maybe it’s too early, but I haven’t seen any videos on YouTube, any race reports on Facebook, any blog entries on the interwebs or anything else that I could use to get a feel for how the race unfolded. The only thing of value that I did find were the race results.

Numbers Don’t Lie

That’s the dumbest saying, “Numbers don’t lie.”  Actually, there are dumber sayings like, “if you keep doing that, you’ll go blind.” but if you are going to say that numbers don’t lie, you might as well say that numbers don’t tell the truth either.   Numbers can be just as inaccurate as words.  Ask any statistician.

I’m looking at the 2019 Havasu Triathlon race results for the men’s 55-59 age group.

55-59 age group results.
55-59 age group results.

It’s my understanding that the swim was 1500 meters which is approximately 1,640 yards.  If the first place athlete in my age group swam 1,640 yards in 7 minutes and 16.9 seconds, that means his pace was 27 seconds per 100 yards.  That’s 20 seconds faster than the U.S. record made by Caeleb Dressel in 2017 and that’s one of the slower times in the age group!

How could this be?  What happened?  Here are a few thoughts, but let’s not dwell on this too much:

  1. The swim was closer to 450 yards
  2. The swim times are actually in the 20 minute range (e.g. 27:16.9)
  3. My math is way off
  4. The timing official fell asleep and made up the numbers after the race.

My Sister the Spy

My sister who lives about four hours from Lake Havasu City was going to meet me at the race.  She went out there even though I didn’t go and gave me a brief report.

The sky was clear and the air was chilly from a North wind.  There were runners on the London Bridge.

I told you it was brief.  She’s not a triathlete, so that’s OK.

Just a Memory Now

The 2019 Havasu Triathlon is in the books regardless of what the numbers say or how we interpret them.   Athletes are making their way back home with heads filled with what went right, what went wrong and that overall feeling of accomplishment.  I wish I were one of them this week.

1 Day to Havasu

1 Day to Havasu

The moment is almost here for athletes of all ages to gather at the starting line for the Havasu Triathlon in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Tomorrow, ordinary people will show their friends and families how extraordinary they are.

The Difference

Triathlons are special events.  Every race, from the local sprint to the USAT Nationals, carries an energy and atmosphere that is fundamentally different than running races or other events that I’ve attended. I am confident that the Havasu Triathlon is no different in that respect.

The people are not so different: maybe they are a bit more driven to push their limits, but there are all kinds of personalities in triathlons and marathons and 5k.   The finish lines are similar too.  Different types of events have loud music and announcers at their finish lines. What sets triathlon apart is the transition area which is the hub of all activity.

Lake Placid Transition Area
Ironman Lake Placid is one of my favorite transition areas.

Rack Your Bike

One of the first things you do at a triathlon is rack your bike in transition.   This is usually like a small scavenger hunt as you search for the rack with your race number and when you do arrive at your number, conversation with other athletes is inevitable: “Good morning”, “Are you ready?”, “Have you done this race before?”

There’s a feeling of

The neoprene mats are durable and dry quickly

competition, but there’s also a feeling of camaraderie, because we are all in this sufferfest together.

Of course, not all conversations are friendly.  I saw what almost became a fight at the Chicago Triahtlon.  The bike racks were numbered by group, not individual numbers, so as long as your number was in the group, you could place your bike anywhere along the rack.  It was a double race and everyone in my group had already picked their spots before the first race.  Between races, however, someone had encroached into my friend’s area.  He asked her to move her stuff and she got belligerent.  It all went downhill from there.  I think when she realized that Grant had a lot of friends watching the altercation, she backed off.

Reaching Out

In a marathon, you don’t have too many pieces of equipment to worry about. You just show up and run.  I suppose you might carry a few things with you like energy supplements or a sweatshirt that gets thrown away at mile 2.

In a triathlon, every athlete has a long list of items, including:

  • Personal transition space
    Transition spaces can be marked with s simple towel

    bike

  • helmet
  • bike shoes
  • run shoes
  • goggles
  • wetsuit
  • gels
  • Body Glide
  • water bottles
  • spare tire or tube
  • race belt

The atmosphere in the transition area is such that athletes will ask each other questions which sometimes ends up with one athlete loaning another athlete a minor piece of equipment.  The most common thing I’ve lent out over the years is an extra race belt which I usually carry for just that purpose.  It’s a great way to meet people too.

Other Things

Another thing the transition area can do is benchmark the competition.   As I enter transition after the swim, I look for my friends’ bikes to see if they’ve already beat me.  I do the same thing between the bike and the run.  There was one race in Miami where I never made it to the bike, because I secured my DNF during the swim and my friend Mike knew when he saw my bike and run shoes that something was wrong.

In the smaller races, friends and family can use the transition area as a gathering spot to see their athlete in action.  A lot of pictures and videos are taken there.

After the Race

It’s a bit sad for me to see the transition area being dismantled and packed up.  It means the race is over.  It also means I’ve stayed around too long and should have left for home hours ago.   The transition area holds they key to triathlon’s appeal over other endurance events.  It doesn’t make the entire difference, but it does account for a big part of it.  If you ever see me in the transition area, be sure to come say hi.

Good luck to all the athletes at Lake Havasu City tomorrow.

2 Days to Havasu

2 Days to Havasu

I can feel excitement building for the Havasu Triathlon.  Today is Thursday and the race is on Saturday.  Too bad I won’t be there.

Prologue

I’ll make this quick because I explained a  bit of it in yesterday’s post.  To make a long story less long, Lori and I woke up yesterday morning ready to fly to California and noticed the CEO of our household wasn’t feeling well.  The CEO’s name is Ivory and she’s our Cat E. O.  I don’t know what the E and O mean.  I just made that up.   Ivory is not just any cat.  She and Lori are soul mates and when one is upset, the other is upset.   Therefore, upon seeing Ivory’s condition, we had to take her to the veterinarian and not just any veterinarian. We took her to a hospital full of specialists in the town of Cary: two hours driving, one way.

That reminds me of a quote from my favorite historical figure:

The best doctor in the world is the veterinarian. He can’t ask his patients what is the matter-he’s got to just know.

–Will Rogers

Anyway… one thing led to another and I’m not going to the Havasu Triathlon.  But that’s no reason to stop blogging about it.

It’s All In the Preparation

The first year IRONMAN managed our local Beach2Battleship race, we were hit by hurricane Matthew which destroyed the best part of the bike course.   Instead of canceling the race, they just shortened the bike course which drew a  mountain of criticism (mostly from people who couldn’t possibly appreciate how hard the race director and her staff worked to make it the best race possible).   At the prerace dinner, Mike Reilly said something to the effect of , “… you’ve put in the work to get here…”

Even though I can’t make it to Lake Havasu City, I did put in the work to get there.   I feel so much better (if you have Google Translator, you might want to set it to sarcasm to understand those last five words).

It’s All in the Finish

Mike Reilly’s words keep coming back to me even though he was talking to athletes who were about to toe the starting line.  This athlete is about to help feed an ailing cat.

If I don’t feel good, it’s because there’s no outlet for my preparation… or is there?

What I’m getting at is something I vlogged about last year from Arizona.

Races are nothing more than a facade of the real triathlon.  The race company comes in to town, sets up their tents and finish chutes.  Then after the race, everything gets packed up and hauled off to the next race.  What happens in between is just the show.  The real endurance event has been going on since that first training session when you realized that you were not as fit as you thought you were.  The idea of the race gives you the motivation to keep training and the real race gives you a finish line to cross.   I have to admit that  that finish line counts for a lot.

What if there were no race?

A World Without Races

I’ve often wondered if I would still train like a triathlete if there were no races to train for.   Probably not.  That race may be a facade, but it performs a very important function.  It provides a focal point for multiple, sometimes thousands, of athletes.  It brings people together and it sets them apart.

How can I possibly test my training if I don’t go to the race?  The answer may not satisfy you, but I think it will accomplish what I want.  I can swim, bike, and run any time I choose.  I’m talking about a triathlon of one.  I alone will test my skills in a field of my own choosing and at a time that suits me.   I will miss the fellow athletes and I will miss that finish line feeling, but I will do this.  I will put on my own triathlon and I will be the only one registered.

The real endurance event we are training for is life.  The starting gun rang out years ago so let’s get moving.

 

3 Days to Havasu

‏3 Days To Havasu

Today was supposed to be a travel day.

The word, suppose, is a strange one. It is similar to the word, expect, but tries to put the blame elsewhere. For example, if I said, “Today I expected to travel”, you would think that Im not traveling and that my expectations were wrong. Instead, I said, “Today was supposed to…” which suggests my planning was perfect and the problem lies outside my control.

Either way I’m not traveling today and Im blaming the cat.  I did not expect that our cat would get sick just hours before boarding the plane and now I am frustrated because I may miss the race this weekend.

Ivory waits for results from Dr. Liz.
Ivory waits for results from Dr. Liz.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Ivory the cat so I’m not angry and postponing the trip was the right decision. If she gets worse I may cancel the trip and consider my entry fee one big donation.

Priorities

I have three choices:

  1. Leave Ivory at home and go to Lake Havasu City to be a part of the Havasu Triathlon.
  2. Take Ivory with me
  3. Cancel the trip

If i were a professional athlete, the decision would be easier.  As an age grouper I have to consider that this is not my job. It’s a hobby. Im passionate about triathlon, but it’s a hobby.
On one hand, Ivory means a lot to our family. On the other hand, the race registration fee is not refundable. What would you do?

As I write this, i am sitting in the veterinary clinic waiting for the vet. Ivory looks good and seems to be much better. So maybe tomorrow will be the travel day.  I guess we just wait and see what the vet says.

Take Home

In the context of my life, the prospect of missing this race is just a slight upset.  It’s not a defining moment.  I think about all those cold, dark mornings of running with Marty and John;  all that time spent worrying if my bike training was good enough.

Was my training wasted?

No.  Not at all.  I can build on it for NYC Triathlon later this year, but that’s only part of the reason.    Every upset in life is a training opportunity to hone the mental capacity to focus on what’s important.  As much as I want to race in Lake Havasu City,  my family needs me.  If that means missing a race then that’s what needs to happen.

Who knows?  Maybe tomorrow will be travel day.  Whatever I do tomorrow,  please pray for Ivory.

Thanks

4 Days to Havasu

4 Days to Havasu

After 50 minutes of pulling, yanking, sliding and lubricating, I finally got my bike packed for the trip.

Usually, TriRiot would come to you on YouTube, but this countdown for the Havasu Triathlon requires a certain level of sophistication that can only be conveyed through the written/typed word.   So, read on and see if you can find the sophistication.

The Shortest Distance

The distance between Rocky Point, North Carolina and Lake Havasu City, Arizona is not a straight line.  This is because a straight line is not the shortest distance between the two cities due to topography, the earth’s  curvature and airline logistics.  To get to my destination I will

  1. Drive to Wilmington
  2. Fly to Philadelphia
  3. Fly to Phoenix
  4. Fly to Ontario
  5. Spend the night at mom’s house
  6. Have breakfast with mom, talk about national politics and get kicked out of mom’s house
  7. Drive to Lake Havasu City

All good, right?  No.

It’s not just me and a Samsonite carry-on.  I have to figure out how to get my bike from point A to point B.  In case you’re having trouble following my random thoughts, point A is Rocky Point, NC and point B is Lake Havasu City, AZ.

What About Bike?

Remember the movie, “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus?   Me too. I loved that movie, but we’re talking about a bike not Bob.  How the heck am I going to get my bike to the race?

This is such a common question for cyclists and triathletes who travel.  You’d think that after 12 years of doing this I would have a clear cut answer.  Here is a list of the options I’ve experienced:

  1.  TriBike Transport.
    1. PRO: Very convenient. You do almost nothing but dropoff your bike and pick it up at the race site.
    2. CON:  Expensive
    3. CON: Bike dropoff locations are limited
  2. Bikeflights.com
    1. PRO:   Less expensive
    2. PRO: Sort of convenient
    3. PRO: Delivers to specific addresses and has many dropoff locations (they use FedEx)
    4. CON: You are responsible for dismantling and assembling your bike.
    5. CON:  You have to provide a shipping container (box).
  3. Drive yourself to the race and take the bike with you
    1. I think you know the pros and cons of this option.  However, you have to be careful about traveling with “friends” who will remove your bike pedals while stopped at a rest stop and you don’t find out until two days later when you are ready to go on a warm up ride and they try to convince you that the pedals were stolen.
  4. Airline Luggage
    1. PRO: The bike travels with you
    2. PRO: Could be very affordable ( more on this later)
    3. CON: Could be extremely expensive (more on this later)
    4. CON: You are responsible for dismantling and assembling your bike.

It’s All About the Case… No Trouble🎶

For this trip, I’m doing the same thing I did when I went to USAT Nationals in Omaha, NE.  I’m going to use the Rüster Hen House and choose option 4 from above.

 

Ruster Hen House bike case
The Rüster Hen House can pass for standard airline luggage.

I once used a regular, rectangular bike box and tried to check it on the plane as luggage.  The airline charged me so much that I swore I’d never do that again.    Two years ago, my friend Charlie loaned me his Rüster Hen House bike case and the airline didn’t question it.  I paid the standard baggage fee and life was good. This year, I ordered my own case.  Honestly, even the standard baggage fee sucks, but what can you do?

This option is not for everyone.  The case costs about $360USD.  Because that’s a one time charge, the more you use the case, the lower your per trip costs will be.   Then you have to figure out how you are going to get a bike like this on the left

Bike before disassembly
Ready to go in the case

into a shape like this on the right.

Either you do it yourself or you pay someone to do it for you.  I like this option, because the bike goes with me and there is so much extra room in the bike case that I can pack my clothes in there.

The bike frame fits nicely in its case

I keep saying case (singluar).  It’s actually two cases: one for the frame and one for the wheels.

I do like the convenience of TriBike Transport, but the cons outweigh the pros for this and several other trips.  If it sounds like I’m endorsing one product over another, let me know and I’ll ask for money from whichever company you think I’m pushing the most.

Final Word

So, did you find that heightened level of sophistication that I mentioned at the beginning?

Me neither.

 

Why so many people are excited about triathlon

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