Athlete Guide

“How it was” And “How I did” @ The Wrightsville Beach Triathlon

We actually had a commercially produced race! The Wrightsville Beach Triathlon.

Wrightsville Beach

This race has been held almost every year since 1979. I say “almost” because some years, the race had to be canceled or altered due to hurricanes. But COVID-19 didn’t stop it this year. It was a huge success.

Two hundred and ninety four finishers experienced the first big race of the season in our area. In a normal year that race would attract three times the number of athletes we had this year. I am proud to say that I was one of those 294 finishers.

Friends and family have asked me one of two questions about the race:

“How was it?”

or

“How did you do?”

For the first time that I can recall, those two are completely different. In other words, I’ve separated my feelings about the event from my performance in that event. This is a good thing.

How Was It?

The race was fantastic. It was fun, exciting. It felt great to be racing with others and to be a part of something. Procedures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were well understood and, to me, it looked like most people adhered to them. Only four bikes on a bike rack. No buses to swim start. No spectators. Temperature readings at transition entry. Half mile long line of athletes spaced 10 feet apart for the time trial start.

All bikes were racked the night before the race and then overnight our timing chips were stapled to the bike numbers. No waiting in line for a timing chip. Can this be a regular thing from now on?

I did miss the before and after socializing. After crossing the finish line all athletes were encouraged to grab their gear and go home. And that’s exactly what I did.

To make this race even more challenging, the race crew had to deal with an emergency run course change minutes before the first athlete came off the bike. I’m told that either a power pole or live power lines fell across the run course. Cars and runners had to be diverted. However, it was handled so well that I hardly noticed (either that or I’m just oblivious).

How Did You Do?

I don’t want to talk about it.

Actually, I did quite well. I was planning on 2nd place in my AG, but I’ll take the 5th… place that is.

Swimming was rough. The incoming tide and outblowing wind created white caps. Also, the long sleeve wetsuit was a pain. I wasn’t used to it. The bike was fast, but the run was like one of those nightmares where you are trying to get away from someone(thing) chasing you and the legs just won’t move any faster than a cow slogging through a mud hole (you dairy farmers will know exactly what I mean).

OK. So my pace was around 9min/mile. By itself, that’s no reason to complain, but the previous week I rode the bike hard for 90 minutes and then ran six miles at a faster pace. I think it’s a mental thing, because I was quite fresh for this race.

What Does It All Mean

In conclusion, the Wrightsville Beach Triathlon was fun and I need therapy or psychoanalysis. That could be fun too, depending on the therapist.

I’m just glad to be in a sport where I can do worse than I expected and still love doing it. Imagine how I would feel if I actually performed better than expected? Is there anything higher than first place?

Until next time …

Pier 2 Pier

Ryan Young was only 21 years old.

It was a single vehicle car accident that brought her life to a tragic end. I never knew her, but I image a young women full of potential ready to take on the world. She was a Communications senior at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. She was also a member of that school’s swim team.

As a parent myself, I can’t imagine the grief of losing a child. Ryan’s parents must have been absolutely devastated. To keep Ryan’s memory alive in the community, there is a special event held each fall called Pier 2 Pier. It is a 1.7 mile swim between the only two piers on Wrightsville Beach. Neither wind, rough waters nor our COVID-19 pandemic could stop this community from gathering for the swim this year.

The race director asked that I create a video to capture the event. Enjoy!

Until next time…

The Vulture of Old Maple Hill Road

If you ride your bike a lot, you’ve probably witnessed some very strange things. In my case, the strange things usually happen on Old Maple Hill Road.

Old Maple Hill Road
Old Maple Hill Road in Pender County, North Carolina.

One year, there was a “dead” bear lying peacefully on the side of the road. No tire tracks. No broken glass. No blood. Had I not noticed the lack of breathing, I might have thought it was sleeping. Ninety minutes later on our ride home, the bear was gone. Again, no tire tracks, blood or even hair remained to suggest the bear had been there. If I had been alone on that ride, I might have suspected the bear was a hallucination from the pot brownies I accidentally ate when I was six years old (I’ll save that story for another day).

pavement donuts on old maple hill road
Black donuts are common at the end of Old Maple Hill Road where motorcyclists prove their competence (and sometimes incompetence).

On the less mysterious side of Old Maple Hill Road are the crotch rocket jockeys. The road winds and turns and is rarely traveled by Sheriff’s deputies. This makes it very attractive to hot shots with fast motorcycles who want to prove they can go faster around the curves than anyone else. The multiple crosses along the side of that road have not deterred this motorcycle traffic.

A couple of weeks ago, Lori and I were riding our bicycles down Old Maple Hill Road. It was near mile four that one of those jockeys sped by us from behind. He was keeping a modest speed so I did not expect that two miles down the road we’d come across a wreckage. We didn’t.

About three miles later, the same guy was at it again going the other direction, but the one thing that set him apart from almost all others is that he waved to us. Usually these riders are so focused on keeping their bikes on the pavement that they don’t dare lift a hand from the handle bars. Our only thought was, “He’s friendly.”

At mile eight there is an intersection with Highway 50. That’s where we normally stop to get a drink and turn around for home. On this particular day, that’s also where we heard the sirens. Of course, our first thought was the friendly biker, but the sirens belonged to two fire trucks. Even though the trucks were racing in the direction we last saw the biker, we wondered if someone’s house was on fire.

It took about 20 minutes of cycling to catch up to where the fire trucks had converged. There it was. The motorcycle was in an unnatural position leaning against the electric fence of the blueberry farm. But there was something very odd about the scene.

wrecked motorcycle

Every other wreck on that road has been on a curve. Young and inexperienced CRJs (crotch rocket jockeys) might enter a curve with a bit more speed than they can handle. But they don’t realize they are going too fast until they are already in the radius of the curve. At that point, an experienced biker would lean hard and gas the engine. The inexperienced instinctively hit the brakes which pulls them out of the curve and into the ditch (or oncoming traffic) very fast.

This wreck that we had come upon was on a straight section of road. Had we not talked to the highway patrol officer I never would have figured it out. Lori saw the dead vulture so she had probably already connected the clues.

Vultures have terrible navigational systems during take off. They can’t just get off the ground in a straight line away from oncoming danger. I once hit one with my car because it felt the need to circle around and test my driver’s side exterior rear view mirror. Instead of collapsing in toward the body of the car, the mirror snapped off.

So back to the vulture that Lori saw and I didn’t. It was apparently feeding on a wild boar carcass on the side of the road. As our hero approached, the vulture tried to flee. It fled right into the bikers chest.

He’s ok (the biker, not the vulture).

Until next time…


— UPDATE —

2020-08-30 (two weeks later).

Lori came along with me on today’s workout ride. During the warmup, a pace line of riders quickly approaching from behind passed us. It’s very rare to meet other cyclists on Shaw Highway and when we do, it’s even more rare that I recognize any. The third rider in the line was our good friend Bob. Bob and I have trained together on and off for many years. In fact, we crossed the 2016 IRONMAN North Carolina finish line together. I would recognize him anywhere. It was good to see him out here in the middle of Pender County.

Bob and the pace line moved on ahead to the intersection of Shaw Highway and Old Maple Hill Road. That’s were they stopped to rest and we caught up to them there.

After introducing us to his riding companions, Susan, Paul and Matt, Bob started to tell us a story about how he and Susan were riding their bikes down Old Maple Hill Road a couple of weeks ago. Susan said that just as they emerged from the left hand curve before the blueberry farm, she saw what she thought was a bear running across the road near the end of the farm. As she and Bob got closer to the “bear” they realized it was our hero and his motorcycle.

On that day, Lori and I were wondering who called 911. Susan and Bob were actually at the scene before we were and they were the ones who made the call. A couple more details about the death of that vulture and the wreck of the bike emerged from talking to Bob and Susan.

The vulture hit with such impact that, even though it might not have completely knocked the rider off his motorcycle, it did knock the jacket clean off his body. He was actually conscious and able to talk to them. He told them he thought his collar bone and some fingers might have been broken.

Bob and Susan’s account of the vulture’s kamikaze act occurred before we arrived at the wreck. After the ambulance came and took the biker away, Bob and Susan got back on their bicycles and continued down Old Maple Hill Road (in our direction).

The really strange thing is that Bob and Susan had to have passed us as Lori and I were on our way to the scene. None of us have any recollection of seeing each other that day.

Strange things happen down Old Maple Hill Road.

Spectators and Fans of Triathlon: Random Thoughts

Do you know Scott Tinley?

Neither do I. But I am familiar with his books and a bit of his history in the sport of triathlon. His writing style resonates with me and probably will appeal to you too.

Today I focus on one particular column that he wrote many years ago. It may have been originally published in Triathlete Magazine, or Competitor Magazine, or Cosmopolitan Magazine… not sure which. Probably not Cosmo.

Anyway, the gist of the article was a humorous take on the difficulty of being a triathlon spectator. You should read it. Look for it in the book, “Finding the Wheel’s Hub.” 1) Tinley, S. 1995. Finding the Wheel’s Hub. The Trimarket Co., PaloAlto, CA. p56. . To me it seems that he laments that triathlon is not a spectator friendly sport.

In case you are not clear on the concept of what it is like to watch the action in a typical triathlon, think about what it is like to watch your daughter’s college graduation: a lot of people you don’t know quickly moving across the arena/stage and then, for a brief moment, you see the one person you came to cheer for.

Here’s my take on triathlon spectators: love them if they are there, but don’t bust your butt trying to get them there.

Maybe you’re thinking, “All legitimate sports have large fan bases” or “All legitimate sports attract large crowds” or “All legitimate sports have drunken brawls in the bleachers”. Triathlon doesn’t need any of that to be ligit; even though the brawls would be fun to get on video.

Just Do It

Triathlon and other endurance sports are legitimate in a way that is different from the big three sports (or four if you’re from Canada). Fans of triathlon don’t go to WATCH a triathlon. They go to BE triathletes. They are true fans of the sport; not of a team or a league or a star player.

In general, triathlon is not something you watch. It is something you do. I don’t mean to act as judge and jury over the question of what defines a triathlon. If a race director puts together a race that happens to lend itself well to viewers, then so be it. That’s great. However, to design a competition for the sake of viewership is to put the athletic challenge second and that’s not cool.

From what I understand, triathlon was not draft legal until marketing professionals advised that drafting be allowed. I’ve read that this was done to make a media friendly format for the sake of becoming an Olympic sport. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the PTO Collins Cup definitely wants to modify the nature of the sport for the sake of media and viewership 2) https://spark.adobe.com/page/HbSnRkzfa5ThF/. FAQ. “What is the Collins Cup” . The PTO certainly has an agenda 3) Triathlontaren.com/pto. 2020. Interview with Professional Triathletes Organization CEO, Sam Renouf. . I’d love to watch the Collins Cup and probably will, but then it becomes entertainment just as much as sport.

How ‘Bout Them Commercials

And what about sponsors’ marketing tactics (ads, commercials, etc)? That’s a whole different thing when the focus is on the spectator and not the athlete.

When you watch a football game on TV, who are the sponsors? Banks, potato chips, cars, computers, soft drinks, beer and, my favorite, Quaker Oats. This is just a small fraction of the sponsors, but none actually cater to the football athletes. Where are the ads for Wilson brand footballs and Fanatics brand jerseys? No where. It doesn’t make sense for that kind of fan base.

On the other hand, fans of triathlon are bombarded with ads for bicycles, running shoes, GPS watches, nutrition products and a whole host of cool stuff for training and racing (I still want to get a pair of FORM goggles). IRONMAN events used to be sponsored by the likes of Ford Motors, Nautilus, Gatorade and Bud Lite, but they’ve been replaced by Roka swimwear, Hoka shoes and Ventum bikes: all three catering to the athlete fans of the sport.

Closing Words

Maybe a heavier focus on spectatorship will have no negative impacts on us age-groupers. But I leave this post with one last thought.

You can spend several hundred dollars on a ticket to watch athletes beat the crap out of each other at a hockey game. Or you can spend several hundred dollars to beat the crap out of yourself in a triathlon. The difference, however, is that after a triathlon, you feel like you’ve accomplished something great. And if the triathlon is well produced, you will feel like a rockstar. For that moment in time, you are the rockstar… maybe not to the level of Scott Tinley, but a rockstar nonetheless.

References   [ + ]

1. Tinley, S. 1995. Finding the Wheel’s Hub. The Trimarket Co., PaloAlto, CA. p56.
2. https://spark.adobe.com/page/HbSnRkzfa5ThF/. FAQ. “What is the Collins Cup”
3. Triathlontaren.com/pto. 2020. Interview with Professional Triathletes Organization CEO, Sam Renouf.

Book Review – Triathlon Nutrition Foundations

Years ago, I stood in front of a small group of industry leading cattle breeders: men and women who were passionate about the cattle they owned. Actually, it seems like a lifetime ago. Back then, I gave many presentations to cattle breeders, and this particular time, I posed a simple question:

How is it that McDonald’s can make millions of dollars by selling tasteless, mediocre-at-best beef patties while you struggle to turn a profit by selling some of the highest quality beef?

No one in the room dared to venture a guess even though I believe the answer is simple. A system. McDonald’s has a system. It’s true that the famous burger chain has incredible wealth in real estate, but people do line up for their burgers which were created using a unique (at the time) system.

If you haven’t seen the movie, The Founder, you really should. Michael Keaton does a great job playing the famous founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc.

Now where was I? Oh yes… A system.

And that brings me to Triathlon Taren Gesell’s newest book, Triathlon Nutrition Foundations. In 135 pages, Taren attempts to help endurance athletes of any level fuel for races of any distance.

  • I’ve read instruction manuals with more pages.
  • Monique Ryan’s 432 page Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes just begins to cover the subject.
  • When Triathlon Nutrition Foundations came in the mail, it fit nice and neatly into my mailbox while other books had to be dropped on my porch.

Don’t judge a book by its size.

What The Book Is

I was expecting detailed descriptions of ATP generation, carbohydrate breakdown and cis versus trans poly… blah blah blah. And what I got was something completely different and very useful, a system.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love the academic stuff, but with my history of poor race nutrition, what I need is more of a system than an education.

Written in an easy to read casual style, this book outlines some of the major things to do and not do when it comes to a race based on a combination of the author’s experiences, research articles that he has found and knowledge from other athletes and researchers. I guess there’s not much else you can get information from, so my point is that he’s giving us his perspective. He’s pointing us in a direction that he believes will help us achieve good results.

Very early and throughout the book, he recognizes that all athletes are individuals and that answers to nutrition questions do not apply equally to everyone. In fact, he states quite clearly that his system is a starting point and that each athlete must experiment to find what works best. Not only do I agree completely, but it is refreshing to read that, especially when so much information on endurance nutrition is marketed to us as absolute solutions.

The system outlined in this book is based on four key principles that are actually quite simple and somewhat intuitive if you’ve ever had to deal with fueling for a race. Just like the system itself, these principles are a starting point that beg the athlete to experiment.

Sometimes cultural beliefs and practices regarding nutrition are so strong that they border on superstition. Even when evidence is available to refute a belief, the practices based on that belief can persist. Some of these practices, like carb loading, are addressed in this book, but they are neither thoroughly disputed nor staunchly supported. Instead we get the author’s insight on them which amounts to a realistic explanation of when these beliefs might or might not be useful to us athletes.

And then there’s the low carb gorilla in the room. Anyone who has followed Triathlon Taren knows about his success at the 2019 Challenge Roth race and his reduced carbohydrate nutritional strategy for that race. He makes it very clear that this approach has worked well for him. There are quite a few examples in the book from that experience but, here again, he’s not pushing any fad diets on the reader. Instead, he restricts much of the low carb discussion to a talk about periodization: altering nutritional intake to match changing levels of training.

This book gives us just enough information, as the old saying goes, to be dangerous (in a good way). It gives the reader a starting point to find what works best. Reading about triathlon does not make one a triathlete. If we want to use the information that Taren is giving us, then we need to get out there and try different nutritional strategies and this book gives us a great starting point. There appears to be no other agenda than to help athletes understand this system that seems to have worked well for the author and many others.

What The Book Is Not

I’m not a complete skeptic, but I do like to know sources of information. As a student of science, I would be remiss if I did not point out the one thing I believe is lacking from this book: citations. Unfortunately for me, most people reading this kind of book will not want the pages to be full of sterile phrases followed by citations…

... a recent meta analysis concluded that polarized training has a greater effect on improving time trial performance compared to traditional threshold training models (Rosenblat, et. al, 2018) ...

I couldn’t think of a good nutrition example, but you get the idea. For some readers that can be very difficult to read which makes the subject seem inaccessible.

To be fair, Taren does give three citations in footnotes, however I found myself wanting to know more about the sources of many of his statements. For example, we are told that only 25% of calories burned in a race need to be replaced during the race. It would be nice to know where that number came from, even if it were sourced from personal experience, peer reviewed research or cultural belief. I have the feeling that many of you will say, “Well duh! Everyone knows that 25% rule.”

I don’t. Well, I guess I do now, but why 25% and not 40%?

Certainly I can dig through the research on my own and the author does not demand that we blindly believe his words. However, a list of references would be nice.

OK. So the book has some statements with no citations, but this concern of mine is very very minor, because the book is not a scientific treatment of the subject. It is a guide to finding your own methods for fueling the body and mind during endurance training and racing.

Wrap It Up

It may seem that I am mindlessly gushing with enthusiasm over Triathlon Taren and his latest book, but that’s not the case here. Taren has always stated that he wants to help people achieve their endurance sport goals and I think this book can do just that with respect to nutrition.

Triathlon Nutrition Foundations is easy to read, easy to understand and has references to web links for downloading a spreadsheet to help estimate caloric needs during a race. The spreadsheet is a little wonky, but it certainly does what the book says it will do. If you really want to get wild, you can play with some of the parameters of the spreadsheet formulas to see how they affect your estimated caloric requirements.

I highly recommend this book. While it is not going to solve all your race nutrition problems, it is a great starting point to get you thinking about how to solve them. For most of us, that’s what we need.

Until next time…

An Army Story

Q: How do you ruin the training effect of a long run?

A: Stay on your feet after the run.

0900 hours. Long run complete. Feet up. Hank Snow, Dwight Yokam and Del Reeves on the radio. OK… let’s write a blog post about the time my colleagues almost blew up a section of Arizona highway 79 and then we’ll try to move the topic on to something more esoteric like memory.

First of all, 0900 hours is the same thing as 9:00 AM. There are pieces of military service that refuse to be forgotten. I also can’t forget the taste of C-Rats, MREs and dust clouds kicked up from Arizona desert roads while riding in the back of a gama goat .

C-Rats? Gama goat? Yes. I’m dating myself with cryptic military jargon, but there are days I’d love to be back on the Florence military reservation or in Fort Huachuca during live fire drills. Have you ever sent 100 pounds of steel five miles down range? It’s an incredible feeling of power and strength. But when all the stars are aligned right and nobody spills coffee on the charts and the second lieutenant in charge minds his own business, that’s when the field artillery really shines with incredible accuracy.

In the 1980’s we were using firing tables developed in the 1950s at the Yuma Proving Ground. These tables coalesced battlefield variables into a form that soldiers could use to put steel on target. For the most part, those tables were dead on accurate. We used to say we could land a projo in a garbage can. Projo is short for projectile: the bullet shaped explosive device shot out of our 155mm canons.

If you were to design an artillery firing range, you would probably place the impact area far away from a public highway. At least I would. I’m sure you would too. Along a stretch of Arizona Highway 79 just north of the town of Florence, someone did it the other way around. We used to drive way out into the desert and then turn around and fire the canons back toward the road. This wasn’t completely insane, because there was a huge margin between the impact area and hwy 79. But still… you can see where I’m going with this.

I’ll cut to the chase and just say, one of the batteries (infantry calls them companies, artillery calls them batteries) overshot the impact area and threw a huge smoke and dust cloud over Hwy 79. As far as I know, no one was hurt, but there were sure a lot of high ranking officers running around. To me, as a young 20 something, it was no big deal. After all, even Sandy Koufax threw some wild pitches at a distance of only 60.5 feet yet we were lobbing shells miles away. I have no idea why it happened or who missed the safety checks, but the point is that I remember it vividly.

It’s been over 30 years since the incident. That artillery firing range may not even be there anymore, but the question that nags me is, “Did it really happen, or is it a fabricated memory?” The other nagging question is, “Does it really matter if it really happened?” Parts of my personality and character have been built on such memories. Would I be any different if Sam or Don or Doug, who were there, told me today that it never happened?

Yeah… being an amateur philosopher means coming up with questions that probably have no answers.

Until next time …

Virtual Olympic Sports

Ironically, the IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga race was canceled for 2020 the day after publishing my most recent post in which I lamented the fact that IRONMAN was so tight lipped about plans for upcoming races.

I think a lot of athletes are breathing a sigh of relief knowing that they have time to alter their plans, cancel hotel reservations and set their training sights on something else. Personally, I’m keeping my training plans just about where they’ve been. Back in May I told you about my TriRiot 70.5 race. I’m planning something similar for September.

Zwift Wants Olympic Glory

Here’s something I think is absolutely crazy: Zwift wants to make their video game an Olympic sport by 2028. In the hierarchy of things to do other than basic survival and earning a living, we have play, game, and sport. I do not have an education in psychology, sociology or anthropology so my discussion on these points may be completely out of touch but I’ll let you judge that for yourself.

Here’s how I understand play, game, and sport.

  • PLAY: When we are bored we make up things to entertain ourselves. Maybe we do this alone. Perhaps we can convince the person sitting next to us (at the bar or in your car or in the doctor’s waiting room) to join us as we pass the time. One example might be counting the roadkill on a road trip with the family.
  • GAME: Put a few obstacles in the way of a playtime activity and make up some rules. Games have winners and losers. For example, that guy changing a tire on the side of the road does not count as road kill and whoever can identify the most species wins (humans don’t count).
  • SPORT: Get serious about your games. Get others involved. Make an app that allows all drivers on your highway to tally their road kill counts and offer prizes for the winners. As the old saying goes, “100 believers is a cult. A million is a religion.” A traditional view of sport might be something very physical like track and field or baseball or triathlon. However, look at some of the sports in the Olympics: shooting, curling, golf. What makes them a sport is not the extreme physical demands of the athletes. They are sports because:
    • Each requires great skill. Yes, even curling requires skill; although that skill, I understand, is associated with drinking after practices and competitions.
    • Each has a governing body, either nationally, internationally or both.
    • Each has a shit-tonne of followers and devotees called athletes that either get paid to participate or pay to participate.
    • Someone or some company sponsors the events, because a different shit-tonne of people may be watching what the athletes are doing and companies can capitalize on that audience even if their products have nothing to do with the sporting events.

Does the Zwift platform fall into any of those categories? Sure it does, but why would you cycle vicariously through a video game when we already have the real thing in the Olympics?

Video games and artificial training have gotten closer and closer to the feel and look of the real thing. From what I’ve read, some smart-trainers can simulate the feel of riding through the streets of Roubaix, France (cobblestone streets). Video displays can show us a a view of what it’s like to ride outdoors (some of us may have forgotten that experience during periods of isolation and lockdown).

Why do we need to approximate these experiences in the Olympics when the Olympics already has four types of cycling (road, bmx, mountain, track)?

We don’t.

Video platforms certainly have their place and are very valuable for simulating conditions that are not available to athletes, such as hills. There is one hill about 25 miles from my house, so I might be a good candidate for a simulation. Another good reason to use platforms like Zwift is to ride when the weather or local conditions (traffic, etc) don’t allow for a safe training experience.

My opinion on this subject is just that: an opinion. I’d like to hear the opinions of others so I can tell them that they are wrong. (kidding! just kidding there).

Does Zwift have a valid request to add their platform to the 2028 Olympics or is their desire completely self serving?

Until next time…

The Best Laid Plans…

It’s easy to criticize the big guy. It’s especially easy when the big guy is slack on communication.

WTC and IRONMAN take a lot of criticism: some of it deserved and some of it just hot air. I’m not going to judge which is which.

Many races have been canceled or rescheduled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and most of us are looking at WTC (the IRONMAN company) to see how they handle it. I’m signed up for the 70.3 Chattanooga race which was initially scheduled for May 17 and is now scheduled for August 23. If that race does not get canceled, it will be the first IRONMAN production in North America since the start of the pandemic induced moratorium on races.

Will this race actually happen? Let’s take a look at precedence, shall we…

Mike Reilly’s adventure from San Diego to Lubbock and back

IRONMAN 70.3 Lubbock was expected to take place several weeks ago. Mike Reilly even drove there from San Diego so he could announce. An hour after arriving he was told the race was canceled.

Did the race directors just hope that it would proceed or did they have a plan? I assume they had a plan, because this pandemic had been with us for over 3 months by the time they pulled the plug on Lubbock. The main reason for the cancelation according to the press release as it appears in a slowtwitch.com article was,

“…it would not be responsible to host the event at this time.”

IRONMAN Press Release

Obviously, I cherry-picked that sentence, but the gist of the message is that IRONMAN is taking responsibility for the decision to cancel the race. I’m guessing the city of Lubbock would have retracted the permit if IRONMAN had not canceled. Muncie Indiana just went through the same process (with perhaps a bit more notice).

My insider connections tell me that the directors for both races were amazingly confident in the staging of their events. So what happened?

Well, Duh! COVID-19 happened.

But COVID-19 has been happening for several months. Did the race directors not plan for it? On the contrary. They must have, because according to the press release mentioned above they were planning to implement the new safety guidelines established by the CDC and the WHO (the organization, not the band). I have a feeling that they didn’t anticipate the impending proliferation of COVID-19 cases that caused the governor of the big state of Texas to take a stronger stance against the virus.

I’m not blaming or shaming anyone. I’m building a case for my argument that companies need to be a bit more transparent with their plans for dealing with COVID-19.

As stated before, I am registered for IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga. My insider sources tell me that the race directors swear up and down this race will happen.

Given what happened with Lubbock and Muncie, should I have faith in their optimism?

I’m not the only one asking this question. Check out one of the 70.3 Chattanooga Facebook pages. Everyone who is signed up for an upcoming race this year is wondering what to do. I’m sure there will be many nervous athletes at packet pickup ready for the giant loud speaker over Chattanooga to announce in God-like fashion, “Sorry. This year’s race has been canceled. Thank you for coming. See you next year.”

If the optimism I hear about is based on hope and faith, perhaps I should cancel my hotel reservations now. Hope and faith are great for individual guidance, but when dealing with 1000 plus athletes, there needs to be more than someone else’s hope and faith.

One tiny link on the race website points to any mention of how races might deal with COVID-19

On the other hand, if they have a plan to deal with escalations of COVID-19, then I’m in and I’ll be perfectly fine if they have to cancel at the last minute due to unforeseen factors. Therein lies a problem. I see no evidence of a plan on the race website. As of this morning (2020-07-13), the athlete guide has not been updated and there is little mention of plans for dealing with COVID-19. I found only one tiny link to the WTC protocol for handling races in our pandemic environment.

I realize there is no easy way to deal with the pandemic and changing health policies. There is also no easy way to deal with all the athletes who are registered for this event and expect it to happen. My heart goes out to these race directors and I have faith that they are doing everything possible in the interest of the athletes.

It would be nice if IRONMAN and their race directors were more transparent with their plans. It would instill a bit of confidence in us athletes that they are planning something… even if it may lead to cancelation. WTC has always been tight lipped about the fate of their races and I guess that’s just how they do business. For my $300 entry fee I don’t expect to get personal texts from race directors telling me their exact plans every morning. However, I do expect to be kept informed through official IRONMAN channels (email, website) as to the current plan for upcoming races.

Athlete guide status as of July 14, 2020.

Last I looked, the race website said the athlete guide would be published 6-8 weeks out from the race. Here we are at less than 6 weeks and no athlete guide for 2020. If you want to show your customers (us athletes) that you care, then communicate with us: update your website, email us what you know about the host city’s intentions for us. Things are not going to get much worse for you or us so it won’t hurt to divulge your plans: at least part of your plans.

And if the race does get canceled before I’ve already traveled to Chattanooga, you can be sure I’ll be racing the TriRiot 70.5 again (by myself in my home county).

Until next time…

Welcome Back to Commercially Produced Races.

IRONMAN 70.3 Lubbock: CANCELLED

IRONMAN 70.3 Muncie: POSTPONED

Battle For Independence 5k: In the books. Done. Complete.

OK. Last Saturday’s 5k was not an IRONMAN or other big triathlon. However, it was a commercially produced race with timing chips, loud music, an announcer, a big finish line and other athletes. AND WE WERE THERE!

If we are going to experience the fanfare and atmosphere of a big race anytime soon, the big boys on the block might just have to learn from the little guys.

Go ahead, IRONMAN. Swallow your pride and take a lesson or two from the locals.  Watch them carefully and see how they are doing it.  Take note of what they do right and take note of their challenges.   It's likely that they will be able to pull this off before you.   

Oh wait!  

They did.

Excited!

Am I excited? Damn right I am.

A public race venue, a national anthem and other athletes makes for a great start to the 244th edition of our beloved Independence Day. And I must say, the singing of our national anthem was beautiful. I don’t know the young woman who performed it (a capela), but it was, just beautiful.

The first reason for my excitement comes from the race itself. I had forgotten what it’s like to run with a large group of other athletes. We may have kept much larger distances than in previous races, but I could still hear dozens of shoes pounding the pavement and the heavy breathing of people all struggling to reach the same goal. It was magic.

The future of racing is my other source of excitement. For the past three months the dark coronavirus cloud has hung over the world. All human life changed and we had to reconcile our desires with the reality of isolation and social distancing. Governments mandated our lives in ways we never expected in our innocent youth of four months ago. As the economy slid toward panic and so many joined ranks of the unemployed, race directors and producers feared for their companies’ existence. And with good reason. Last Saturday’s race might be an indication that not all is lost. It might be an indication of what’s to come. Until we find protection in a vaccine or a scorched earth eradication of COVID-19, future races just might look like this one.

A New Race Environment

Initially, I was operating under the old mentality of racing: get there early so you can be sure to get your race bib and use the Port-O-John two or three times before the start.

The old rules are not necessarily the correct rules today.

We knew we were at the right place, but the parking lot was empty at 6:30 AM. We were early… very early.

The things that made this race different from pre COVID-19 races are mostly what you would expect.

  • Masks were worn by all race staff.
  • Masks were required (and available) for athletes in the starting chute and those hanging around the finish line.
  • Everyone was advised to maintain safe distances from each other.
  • Hand sanitizer appeared to be used up faster than the drinking water.

The interesting part was the race start. Unlike the mass starts of other races, here we grouped ourselves into waves of expected finish times. Starting times for each wave had been scheduled in advance so we knew when to be ready and each wave assembled in their assigned starting chute a couple minutes prior to their start. The entire field consisted of less than 140 runners so it didn’t take long to send off all the waves. Our wave had a population of about 10. Each starting chute held a maximum of 20 runners. Little orange pieces of tape on the pavement marked where to stand so we could prove to the authorities that we were standing at a safe distance from each other. In my uneducated assessment, it worked quite well.

The starting chute was divided into two sections.

Once the airhorn blasted for each wave, runners doffed the masks and ran just like any other race.

I’m the type who wears a mask around other people in public places; not because I’m concerned about contracting COVID-19. I just don’t want to spread it if I have it.

Instead of handing out cups of water, volunteers stood by a table adorned with neatly aligned water bottles at the halfway point. If a runner wanted water, she had to grab it herself.

The finish line was full of the usual festive music and tired athletes and, because there were so few participants in this race, social distancing could have been easy. I don’t know if everyone maintained distancing guidelines after the race, but it looked like they did. The finish line, just like the start line, offered a dose of hand sanitizer and free masks for those who wanted them.

Now let me tell you about the awards ceremony. There wasn’t one. No ceremony = no crowds.


The Road Ahead

I’m not a race director so I don’t know what lessons were learned from this race, but I imagine the race staff was pleased with the overall experience.

If we are going to have big races, like IRONMAN, in the near future, this is probably a model for how they will do it. Of course, a triathlon has a lot more to consider such as maintaining distances inside the transition area with athlete numbers in the thousands. However, there are plenty of smart people working for race companies so I’m sure solutions will be tested and applied.

Perhaps I’m being too optimistic. After all, this was a very small race and it was easy to maintain a safe distance from other runners. Is it scalable with respect to the number of athletes?

That is not a question I can answer. Like I said before, I’m not a race director. And there is nothing wrong with small races. Maybe small races is the answer. In the early years of endurance sport, races were quite small. The Boston Marathon and IRONMAN started out very small. Back then it was a matter of demand and now it’s a matter of health and regulation. However, I could certainly see those smart race directors coming back small and slowly growing as they navigate the health issues and government mandates.

As far as I know IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga is still scheduled to occur on August 23, 2020. Yes, I’m still training for that race.

On August 24 I’ll let you know the outcome. Until next time…

Another Reason To Love Triathlon

Training and racing by myself provide a certain amount of satisfaction, but the social aspects are another reason to love triathlon.

Last Saturday the Cape Fear Triathlon Club hosted its first race of the season. Our club captain, leader and all around great guy, Trent, put together a super sprint course. It was good to see several athletes in one place and not through Zoom. We were not a large group, but, for the most part, we did observe the new rules of social etiquette, aka social distancing.

One of the things I love about sprint races is that “…you can be in the beer garden by 9am.” I pulled that quote from Bob Babbitt, and it captures the feeling quite well. Actually, I don’t drink (much) and three of the restaurants near the race were shut down because their employees contracted a nasty virus that’s going around. I’m not going to say which virus it is, but its name rhymes with Arizona.

Lori and I were standing in the parking lot and getting ready to leave when a cyclist pulled up near us and stopped at the car next to me. Under the helmet and behind the glasses there was something familiar about this person and it wasn’t until after he spoke to me that I recognized him. He said something like, “You want to do Savageman again?” Only Jack would ask me that.

Several years ago I met Jack at a bike ride. Or maybe it was an indoor trainer session. I forget exactly. At the time I had recently been beaten up by DNF number 2 at the Savageman race. Back then Jack was asking me about Savageman because he had signed up for it and was looking for details. I couldn’t tell him much other than Garrett County has a nice hospital. That’s where they take you when you get hypothermia while struggling up a hill they call Killer Miller.

Jack signed up for it again this year and was trying to convince me to do the same. I would actually love to do it again, but this year I’m focusing on Chattanooga so I had to bite my lip really hard not to jump at his suggestion. The last time I bit my lip I made a video:


Not long after running into Jack, Lori and I stopped by the bike shop to pick up Xena, my beautiful tri bike. In this new age of COVID-19, the word crowded has a whole new feel to it. The bike shop was crowded.

Xena, the TT bike, at the bike shop
Xena on the examining table in the doctor’s office.

The inside of the shop wasn’t crowded, because customers are not allowed inside. It was the back parking lot that was crowded, with about 10 people waiting to pick up or drop off their bikes. Normally, 10 people can comfortably cram right up to the back door of the shop, but social distancing has ingrained itself so deeply in my mind that I felt a little claustrophobic moving up to the reception desk and within 10 feet of another customer. Of course, everyone wore masks.

A funny story about masks for COVID-19. My friend, Jeff, was told to come to work wearing a mask. Now he looks just like the Loan Ranger (from the neck up)!

Not sure… either Jeff or the Loan Ranger

Anyway, back at the bike shop.

I was waiting in the “crowded” parking lot to pay Xena’s bill when I recognized another familiar pair of eyes. Underneath the mask and the long hair was the guy that got me focused on Chattanooga in the first place, Matt.

It was back in the good old days before COVID-19 shut down the world, November 2019. Just as I was leaving the YMCA locker room to start a random swim workout, Matt caught my eye and we started a typical triathlete conversation:

Me: Hey, Matt. How ya doin?

Matt: Good. You training for anything?

Me: No. You?

Matt: I’m thinking about IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga in May

Me: {silent contemplation}

(For both of you following the blog posts on this site, you already know how that ended. I signed up for IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga a week later. )

It was good to stand around in the parking lot and catch up with Matt. I also saw Charlie, Xena’s mechanic, and Jim the bike shop owner. Misty was even working at the shop that day.

I do miss those days of training and racing together. I made a lot of friends through triathlon and I hope to make many more. It’s just another reason I love this sport.

Until next time…