Athlete Guide

Can I Validate My Functional Threshold Power?

It’s all about power.

Power Tap indicator
Power Tap indicator (yellow ).

Of the two main variables in a training program, volume and intensity, volume has been easily measured for decades. On the other hand, intensity has suffered from a lack of accuracy until recently. Power meters can quantify intensity like no other device outside of a laboratory. The power meter revolutionized training and racing.

An Intensity Benchmark

Power Tap wheel hub
Power Tap hub on rear bike wheel

Power is certainly accurate, and relatively easy to measure. But absolute power values are meaningless from one workout to the next. A benchmark had to be developed for the sake of comparisons and that benchmark is called functional threshold power (FTP) 1)Ballinger, A. 2020. What is FTP in Cycling and How Do I Test and Improve It? Cycling Weekly. https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/ftp-cycling-3638652)Anon. . What Is Functional Threshold Power. TrainingPeaks. https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/what-is-threshold-power/. It is most commonly defined as the maximum effort one can sustain for 60 minutes on the bike (Allen et. al, 2019)3)Allen, H., Coggan, A. and McGreggor, S. 2019. Training and Racing with a Power Meter, 3rd ed. Velo Press. Boulder CO.

Functional Threshold Power is a point estimate of a theoretical construct so it is not going to solve all your training problems. But it can be very useful.

Testing FTP

There are different ways to estimate FTP. My coach, Sami, and I use a method similar to that of Friel (2016)4)Friel, J. 2016. The Triathlete’s Training Bible 4th Ed. VeloPress, Boulder, CO. p.47 which involves a 20 minute maximum effort on the bike. For this discussion, let’s call that Max20. The resulting average watts of the 20 minute effort can be multiplied by 0.95 to approximate the actual 60 minute functional threshold power (FTP). In our implementation of the test, there is an extra five minute all-out effort before the 20 minute effort. It gives us a little extra data to play with and as long as each subsequent test has the same protocol, I can compare results among tests to see how my fitness is improving.

Why pedal for 20 minutes to approximate a 60 minute effort?

Sixty minutes of pedaling at your highest constant effort is difficult. In fact, it’s grueling. It is very hard to maintain the power you believe should be your FTP for that amount of time. And in order to perform the test correctly you must have a pretty good idea of what your FTP is going to be before you even start the test so you can pace it correctly.

All of this has lead me to the question:

Can I validate the results of my 20 minute FTP test?

or

How accurate is FTP20 for predicting a 60 minute effort (FTP)?

Validation vs. Confirmation

I know from the get go that I won’t be able to validate my FTP estimate from a 20 minute test (FTP20).

Statistics. That’s why I can’t validate my FTP20. There is one experimental unit (myself) and, at this point, there is one replicate (one recent measure of FTP20). That’s what they mean when they say, “n equals one.” Therefore, this is not so much a validation, but a confirmation of sorts.

So, to confirm my FTP20, I need to generate a 60 minute all out effort (FTP60) and see if

FTP60 = FTP20 = 0.95 x Max20

The 20 Minute Test (FTP20)

This workout was held on 11/14/2020 and it went something like this:

  • 10′ warm up: easy spin
  • 3 x [60″ @ z3, 60″ @ z1] (z3 can be based on RPE or previous FTP estimate)
  • 5′ @ z1
  • 5′ all out
  • 10′ @ z1 recovery
  • 20′ all out
  • 5′ cool down

‘ = minutes, ” = seconds

Power (watts) generated over the course of the 20 minute FTP test workout
Summary statistics for the 20 minute all-out effort

Average power for the 20 minute effort was 220w. Multiply that by 0.95 and we get FTP = 209w. Now, let’s get a little rest and then confirm that estimate with an “hour of power.”

The 60 Minute Test (FTP60)

After a week of mostly low intensity and low volume training it was time to complete the “hour of power” on 11/21/2020.

Low intensity and low volume preceded the second test in order to allow sufficient recovery from the first test.

This workout was a bit more simple than the previous FTP test.

  • 15′ warm up.
  • 60′ all-out
  • 5′ cool down
Power (watts) generated over the course of the 60 minute FTP test workout
Summary statistics for the 60 minute all-out effort

In the first test of FTP, we determined FTP20 to be 209w. From the table on the right, we can see that the average power for the 60 minute effort (FTP60) was 209w.

I think high power statistics are not necessary to conclude that my FTP60 confirms my FTP20.

Like I said above, I do not consider this a validation. It’s possible that the two estimates are identical by chance. After all, “n equals one.” There are many sources of variation and I accounted for only a few. Also, notice how the minimum power is zero in both tests. During the 20 minute and 60 minute intervals I never stopped pedaling which means either the measuring device in the wheel hub is dropping watts or the head unit is dropping watts. The effect may be inconsequential, but I don’t know for sure.

Another factor that may have affected the outcome is bias. I may not have pedaled as hard as possible on the second test, because I knew what my initial test results were. It’s possible that I subconsciously tried to make the results match. I truly doubt that’s the case because I can not pedal smoothly enough to hold the power output constant so the power meter displays a very large range of numbers. Aiming for one particular number would require a higher level of averaging or smoothing than what I was monitoring.

For now, however, I have a high degree of confidence in my current estimate of FTP and the 20 minute testing protocol.

I’ll Take 20 Over 60 Any Day

The 20 minute test is hard enough. Putting out a maximal sustained effort requires pacing and focus. The 60 minute maximal effort is brutal. If you plan on trying it (and I suggest you do if only because my misery loves your company), here are some of my notes and observations:

  • Both tests were performed on a training stand with hydrostatic resistance.
  • The power meter is a PowerTap® in the hub of the rear wheel.
  • I used my FTP20 as a guide for pacing the 60 minute effort.
  • In the first 10 minutes, I aimed for an average watts of 200 to 205.
  • After that I just tried to increase the power slowly.
  • The effort felt easy for the first 15 minutes.
  • From minute 15 to 30, the effort steadily got harder and harder to maintain the same power. I considered quitting the test.
  • From minute 30 to 45, I was in hell. Too late to quit.
  • In the last 15 minutes hell rejected me so I had no one to blame but myself if I did quit. Something inside kept pushing, but at one point, I begged for the watch to move faster.
  • About 50% of my time was in the aero bars compared to about 60% for the 20 minute test.
  • No video games like Zwift®, Rouvy®, etc.; no music, no videos.

So, in conclusion, it seems that my FTP20 is an acceptable estimator of my FTP. Now on to the next question,

How can I be confident that my FTP is an accurate estimator of my anaerobic threshold?

Until next time…

References   [ + ]

1. Ballinger, A. 2020. What is FTP in Cycling and How Do I Test and Improve It? Cycling Weekly. https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/ftp-cycling-363865
2. Anon. . What Is Functional Threshold Power. TrainingPeaks. https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/what-is-threshold-power/
3. Allen, H., Coggan, A. and McGreggor, S. 2019. Training and Racing with a Power Meter, 3rd ed. Velo Press. Boulder CO.
4. Friel, J. 2016. The Triathlete’s Training Bible 4th Ed. VeloPress, Boulder, CO. p.47

Triathlon Training: Which Is Better, Numbers Or Feel?

If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Manage It.

Anything can be quantified.

For example, did you know that there is a number to indicate the firmness of your bacon? If enough bacon eaters complain about soft bacon, the bacon makers of the world are going to find a way to make it better and the only way they know how to make it better is by quantifying bacon firmness1)Savell, J. and Gehring, K. 2019. Meat Perspectives: Explaining soft bellies and testing firmness. Meat + Poultry. https://www.meatpoultry.com/articles/21126-meat-perspectives-demystifying-soft-bellies.

I can’t make up this stuff. It’s how I make a living… sort of.

I’m the kind of person who sees beauty in numbers and patterns in complex data sets. Therefore, I’m the kind of triathlete who likes to collect numbers: power, pace, heart rate, etc. However, I do have my limits.

The Power of Feel

Is it possible that numbers like watts and beats per minute could distract athletes from getting a true feel for their sport?

How many of us are too busy listening for the Tempo Trainer to beep instead of feeling the arm as it catches the water?

With a heads up display inside the latest gadgety swim goggles, you probably don’t even have to count laps anymore. (Maybe that’s not such a bad thing actually).

Power meters used to be exclusively a bike gadget. Now you can measure run power if you have the right expensive device.

Heart rate? That’s so 90’s. Today you’d better be monitoring heart rate variability (HRV) so you know when you are sick, because you shouldn’t trust your own feelings.

Nonsense!

I’m reminded of a bike ride from about four weeks ago. The pace was easy, the cadence was relaxed, yet my heart rate was over 130 beats per minute. That’s what my trusty Garmin® sport watch told me. Because that’s what the watch said, I accepted the number as an accurate representation of heart rate and reduced my bike speed to the point of almost falling over. My HR was supposed to stay below 100. It finally occurred to me that something was not right.

Pulling off the road, I checked the pulse with a finger in the neck and an eye on the digital chronometer. The finger method may not be as convenient as an ANT+ radio signal from a chest strap, but I trust it as being far more accurate. You never know when microscopic electronic components will go bad. By giving myself the finger (three times), I measured a heart rate of 85bpm. And the watch? It still said my heart rate was over 100, way over 100.

Later, I found out that the battery in the chest strap had died and the displayed heart rate was being measured from optical sensors on the back of the watch. Those optical sensors are notoriously inaccurate in my experience.

Can we learn pace without a GPS device? Can we learn cadence without a bike computer? Can we be triathletes without all the numbers? Of course we can.

For some people, it takes years to generate the feel of the moment. I’ve been doing this sport for 14 years and I still have trouble getting into the right run pace without help from the GPS elves. On the other hand, I know what a good catch feels like in the water. At 500 meters into a swim, I can tell if my form is falling apart and I can tell if it’s from fatigue or daydreaming. These are good things to know.

Having a good feel for the sport only comes from experience, loads of experience.

The Power of Numbers

I can think of two very good reasons to train by the numbers:

  1. Accuracy. Certain factors, highly correlated to sport performance, go unnoticed by our natural senses. Any athlete can set their training level by monitoring their own perceived exertion (commonly called Relative Perceived Exertion on a scale of one to ten). But how accurate is that from one day to the next? On Monday you may feel great and have a great workout. On Thursday your mind might be preoccupied with something that makes the training feel more difficult than usual regardless of how hard the body was actually stressed in training. Often it takes objective measures to cut through the noise of our perceptions so we can more accurately estimate what we want. In fact, it often takes complex statistical models to cut through the noise that bombards our senses every second during a workout in order to build a truly informative picture of our fitness (e.g. TSS score).
  2. Discipline. Old habits die hard. Here’s a scenario that may sound familiar. Your workout for today is an easy 60 minute run. As you start the workout, you feel great, but a little nagging voice in your head says, “You’re uh, going kinda slow dontchya think? You’d better pick up that pace if you want to actually train for that upcoming race.” And before 30 minutes into the run, the pace is much closer to race pace than what the workout called for. This is where the numbers come in handy. A good heart rate, pace or power monitor can warn you when you are getting off track from your intended workout plan.

This is your captain speaking…

I’m not an airline pilot. Neither am I an air traffic controller. So if the upcoming analogy is way off, you know why.

Balancing numbers and feel is like flying a commercial jet liner. The captain has to know the numbers. No matter how automated the system, the captain must be able to interpret the numbers, process them and take action. Sometimes, those numbers come from air traffic control: altitude, direction, speed, etc. Other times those numbers come from the instruments in the cockpit: fuel levels, hydraulic pressure, passenger weight distribution. Numbers, however, are not enough. Imagine this:

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. I just want you to know that you are in very capable hands. Out of 100 students I was top in my class for interpreting flight data. We are going to have a lot of fun today, because this is the first time I’ve ever been in a real cockpit…

Hopefully the cabin door hasn’t already been locked by then.

Remember Sully, the pilot who landed a plane full of passengers in the Hudson River? I’m pretty sure he would be the first to tell you that there’s a point where the numbers are good, but your intuition and feel are vital.

Until next time…

References   [ + ]

1. Savell, J. and Gehring, K. 2019. Meat Perspectives: Explaining soft bellies and testing firmness. Meat + Poultry. https://www.meatpoultry.com/articles/21126-meat-perspectives-demystifying-soft-bellies

A Power Meter Taught Me Something I Didn’t Expect

I have a confession of road rage. Actually, it’s not so much road rage as much as it is road perspective. Would people drive big vehicles at high speeds if they intrinsically knew how much energy those vehicles consume?

This post is about finding that place where we as humans can appreciate what it takes to move through space/time at superhuman velocities.

Car Versus Human

I may be a triathlete, but I’m not just talking about swimming, biking and running. Imagine yourself driving down a highway in your favorite car. Chances are your car is powered by multiple pistons being forced into motion by well controlled explosions inside of a metal block that weighs a few hundred pounds. Now imagine trying to carry your car on your back as you walk the short distance from the parking lot to the chiropractor’s office. I don’t know how many people can do that, but the percentage of people on earth who can would probably fill this page with zeros (either I’m exaggerating or using a large font).

Yet this engine, with its controlled explosions, can move you, your family, some cargo, and those long forgotten McDonald’s french fries under the seat down the highway at 70+ miles per hour for thousands of miles before tune ups and oil changes. I, on the other hand, can run a five mile loop at a tenth of the speed which then requires a recovery drink and hot shower. This perspective alone might make me appreciate how hard the car works to drive me twenty five minutes to Wilmington just so I can run five miles for forty something minutes. And in my 40 minutes of running I put out less “work” than my car did to get me there.

New Perspective

So, when I see someone behind the wheel of a speeding vehicle, I think to myself,

“How many of you truly have an appreciation for the amount of energy it takes to move your vehicle down the road at whatever breakneck speed you can get away with?”

The question may be rhetorical, but it has serious implications for all of us humans who want more and want it now. I have no data to back up this claim, but I believe that if more people had a feel for just how much energy is required to start their cars, they would likely do more walking, running and/or cycling. I once knew a guy who lived on a remote cattle ranch in New Mexico. He would run several miles to his mailbox at the main road. I’ve also known people who would drive less than a mile on a beautiful day to the post office and then sit around the house because they had nothing to do.

The real eye-opener for me was the power meter on my bike. When I first got the power meter, I could hold about 200 watts pedaling for an hour. I thought that was pretty good because I imagined lighting two 100 watt incandescent light bulbs. But my curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to know how I compared to my car, a 2007 Toyota Yaris.

According to Wikipedia, Vincent can generate up to 89 horsepower. (Yes ,I named my car). In reality, it’s probably only using a portion of that. Let’s assume 50% (45hp). Forty five horsepower is equal to roughly 33,500 watts. Vincent, one of the smallest street legal cars in the U.S., weighs only 13 times my own weight but puts out over 167 times the energy that I do and he can do it for much longer. He can produce over seven watts per kilogram all day long. And that is on the low end. In the cycling world, you would be a top level professional cyclist if you could hold that kind of power to weight ratio for all of five minutes 1) “How much better are pro cyclists?”. Cyclist. https://www.cyclist.co.uk/in-depth/539/how-much-better-are-pro-cyclists .

How many drivers truly have that appreciation? I’m sure most endurance athletes do, because they feel the pain in their legs from pushing 300 watts earlier that day. Ever since I started training for triathlon, I’ve been much nicer to my vehicles. I get the oil changed on time (almost on time). I know my mechanic on a first name basis (Nick, in case you are wondering). I also, drive more respectfully of others. Perhaps the biggest impact from this insight is that I value efficiency over speed and style (regarding my vehicles).

Final Word(s)

I don’t want to give the impression that I negatively judge anyone simply because they drive a large vehicle at 79mph on Interstate 40. I myself own a big truck/lory that I use to haul cargo and horses. The U.S. has cheap fuel, wide roads and a car culture built in to the social fabric. There are neither economic nor social incentives to drive efficient vehicles.

The point of my rambling in this post is that, because of my triathlon experiences, I have a feel for how much energy it takes to move, and because of that insight, I live my life just a little bit differently than I used to.



Until next time…

References   [ + ]

1. “How much better are pro cyclists?”. Cyclist. https://www.cyclist.co.uk/in-depth/539/how-much-better-are-pro-cyclists

Congratulations, Chris Nikic!

IRONMAN® Florida 2020 will go down in triathlon history as being the first IRONMAN® branded event to witness a finisher with Down Syndrome.

Against the odds of common societal belief, Chris Nikic did it. His 1% vision is truly inspiring and, in my opinion, will lead to a new way of thinking about reaching goals. I say this, not because you might think he is any more challenged than anyone else. I say this because most of us want 100% change immediately and we struggle with what we actually get in return. Chris’ view is spot on with the reality of endurance: it takes time to develop the skills necessary for long course racing.

Learn more about Chris from his website. And while you’re there, buy a T-shirt. I did!

Chris Nikic’s Website

Until next time…

Shimano SH-TR9 Bike Shoes: My Take

My old Specialized bike shoes hit retirement age… about five years ago. Funny story about them:

About time for retirement

Mike, Marty and I were riding up in Sampson County near Newton’s Crossroads. That’s about mile 54 of the old Beach2Battleship iron distance triathlon. About the time we turned down Willard Rd, this bitch came out of nowhere and got on my case. She must have gotten tired of nursing her pups and figured she would scare the crap out of some cyclists. We rode as fast as we could for about two miles and she stayed right with us, barking and threatening to take me down. Teats flopping and teeth gnashing, she tried nipping at my shoes.

Finally, after two miles she backed off, but Marty and Mike harassed me from that day forward about my shoes. Even back then those shoes were rank and ratty which lead my friends to believe the dog was after the shoes. It’s quite possible. The shoes did smell a bit like roadkill.

Shimano SH-TR9 bike shoes

With help from Charlie, my bike mechanic, I picked out a new pair of shoes, Shimano SH-TR9. They looked OK on the website, but when they arrived, I was shocked by the bright blue color.

Now my friends have something new to harass me about!

Blue shoes? What was I thinking?

Overall, the shoe is pretty good: stiff and comfortable. Other than the color, there is one thing that really bothers me about this model of shoe. The straps fasten on the medial side of the foot: the inside between the shoe and the bike frame. Not only is that awkward to fasten while you’re pedaling out of T1, but the tip of the strap bumps the crank arm if you don’t firmly press it down on the shoe. Watch the video. You’ll see what I mean.



Until next time…

Welcome to Bladen County, North Carolina

On behalf of TriRiot (as much as I’d like, I can’t really speak for anyone else), I want to extend a warm welcome to all the athletes coming to North Carolina for the WithoutLimits® Half Pro-Am. It should be understood from the get-go, however, that TriRiot has no official affiliation with the race, so please don’t ask me for a refund if you can’t make it.

In less than two weeks 53 athletes will toe the line for 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of cycling and 13.1 miles of running in the tiny Bladen County town of White Lake, North Carolina.

Thirteen years of training and racing on that course has conferred upon yours truly the wholeheartedly accepted position of welcoming committee chairman: a self appointed title you won’t find in the athlete guide.

So where do we begin?

Ah yes, let’s do a Mike Reilly pre-race dinner welcome: without Mike Reilly because I’m sure he has other things to do.

“Let’s have a big round of applause for everyone from North Carolina! You make up almost half the field with 24 participants.”

The next most represented state is Colorado with eight athletes, followed by Virginia with three. After that, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and South Carolina are sending two athletes each. A total of 17 states will be represented and with so many athletes coming from other states, I thought it might be interesting to write about what to expect when coming to Bladen County, North Carolina.

Services

White Lake is a small town, a very small town. I don’t know if it even is a town. But it is definitely a lake surrounded by residences and a few businesses that cater mostly to vacationers and weekenders. There are two convenience stores, a campground, a water park, mini-golf and a slew of motels. They must love us triathletes, because they let us race there multiple times each year.

For services from a larger town, you’d have to go either to Elizabethtown (7 miles away) or Clinton (30 miles)

Climate

Remember 15 years ago when the CIA was criticized for waterboarding their suspects? Well, not much has changed, because the CDC wants everyone wearing masks and in this humidity, that’s like waterboarding an entire population. My point is that it can be quite humid and hot here. In fact, the White Lake races are affectionately known as White Bake. The lake itself is clean, clear and refreshing, but part of the run is notoriously hot. However, the middle of October may be quite pleasant this year. Some of you reading this have probably raced in Hawaii and I hear conditions there are brutal, so you’ll be fine here.

Food

Food applies to everyone, so pay attention. You’re coming to the “South” even though there is a “North” in the state’s name. Food is a huge deal here. Not always a healthy deal, but a big deal. I know you will want to partake in the local cuisine, but let me warn you. It takes a few years of training rides and stopping at the Wam Squam convenience store buying chili dogs from the back room before you get used to southern cuisine. My advice is to bring some food with you and/or pick up some fresh food at the Food Lion in Wallace or at the Fresh Foods Market in Elizabethtown. Wait until after the race before you hit the Country Buffet. But if you like biscuits (which are relatively harmless before a race), stop in to the Hardees in E-Town. For a fast food joint, they make pretty good biscuits.

You say you like hamburgers? Go to Melvin’s in E-town.

I have to mention the tacos around here. Because of our latino population, we have our share of taquerias and tiendas that serve up an amazing eating experience. Rose Hill is a bit of a drive from White Lake, but Enrico’s taqueria (Rico Taco) on the corner of Railroad and Church Streets is worth every mile driven. Buen provecho!

Environment

The entire bike course of the race is on rural highways and a giant part of the economy in this state is the hog industry. You will pass, and probably smell, at least one of the hog farms. There’s a big one between miles 40 and 50 on the bike course. The smell of a hog farm, however, is nothing compared to the rendering trucks that drive those highways.

Rendering trucks?

Yes. They pick up dead pigs and chickens from the farms and they look like dump trucks. The backs of the trucks are covered with a cloth material which, I suppose, is there to keep body parts from flying out on the road, because it does not help contain the odor. You’ll know if you pass one. In all the races I’ve done on that course, it has only happened to me once on race day, so you may not have to worry about it at all.

Banjo Music

Just pedal faster!

Welcome To Our Corner

Seriously, I want to welcome everyone from the other great states of our nation. This race course is beautiful, flat and challenging. Tom and his group at WithoutLimits put on good events. Scratch that. They put on great events. And the competition here will make you earn your money. So if you will be here on October 17, 2020, I look forward to hurting with you, because…

For many athletes, the greatest amount of pleasure is before and after an event such as the IRONMAN® Triathlon. In between, it just hurts.

Scott Tinley, 20151)Tinley, S. 2015. “Finding Triathlon: How Endurance Sports Explain The World.” p. xv. Hatherleigh Press. www.hatherleighpress.com

And if you see me in transition, come say hello. You’ll know me. I’ll be the oldest guy out there.

Until next time…

References   [ + ]

1. Tinley, S. 2015. “Finding Triathlon: How Endurance Sports Explain The World.” p. xv. Hatherleigh Press. www.hatherleighpress.com

Staring Down the Barrel of the WithoutLimits® Half Pro-Am

A new race is about to take place: The WithoutLimits® Half Pro-Am.

One of the exciting things about triathlon is that age-groupers can compete on the same field and at the same time as the professionals. Well, not exactly at the same time, but a few minutes difference. Actually, I remember racing at Chicago in 2009 when the professional wave started AFTER the age-group waves. If I remember correctly, that’s the year that both Andy Potts and Julie Dibens went down on the bike trying to navigate the course through the age-group novices. Just another obstacle like potholes and roadkill, right? Maybe not.

Anyway, on October 17, 2020 AC (Anno Covidi), 55 athletes are going to gather in the little burg of White Lake, North Carolina for 70.3 miles of fun. It will be a mix of professionals, amateurs and one clueless blogger.

Sunrise over White Lake
Sunrise at White Lake, NC.

I think the race was intended primarily for professionals by invitation only, but for some reason it opened up and this age-grouper snuck in. Professional races are about finding the outliers. Observers and sponsors aren’t concerned about average athletes, because they are not notable. Actually, that’s BS because everyone has an interesting story, but our heroes (athletic and otherwise) are not average people. If they were, no one would look up to them or strive to be like them. Would you call Michael Jordan average? Neither would I even though his ghosts hang out near one of my training grounds (Laney High School in Wilmington, NC).

And Gordon Ramsey, the foul mouthed celebrity chef who completed the IRONMAN World Championship, was not lauded for his athletic performance. He was interviewed and photographed and put on display because he was already a celebrity. It just so happens that he can survive the 140.6 AND make a killer creme broule. I’d like to see him do both at the same time.

The key to all this is how you measure your outliers. If it’s race time that we are measuring, then I suspect Tim O’Donnell and Meredith Kessler will be our champion outliers at The WithoutLimits® Half Pro-Am. Or maybe not. While they will likely finish the race in four hours and change, perhaps a six hour swim bike and run will be a greater outlier given this field of professionals. I will try to explain this without mathematical equations so hang with me here.

Most races for age-groupers are… well, full of age-groupers. When you add a high performing (I almost wrote functioning) professional to a race of 500 age-groupers, what is going to happen to the average finish time? The answer is, not much. The average will still reflect the average ability of the age-groupers. That professional, however, will undoubtedly be an outlier.

Let’s flip this scenario and add a couple of average age-groupers to a professional field. Those age-groupers are likely to be the outliers in that race. They’ll be on the wrong end of the distribution, but they’ll be outliers. See my logic? I expect to be an outlier by the time I cross the finish line at The WithoutLimits® Half Pro-Am race… that is, if Tom and his crew haven’t dismantled the finish line and gone home before I get there.

OK. So I’m being facetious. I’m going out there and giving it my best performance. My father was a runner and his philosophy was based on running for fun and fitness. And if others ranked higher in a race because of his participation, he felt good for helping them. The whole outlier argument, however, breaks down when you actually have two different populations competing in the same field. But that’s getting into statistics more than I wanted for this post.

I will also be an outlier in another way. At 56 years old, I’ll be the oldest male out there. There is a 58 year old woman in the participant list so I guess I have to take second place in the age competition. My only hope for notoriety at this race is to get hit by a deer on the bike course.

Oh wait. That already happened to my friend, Marty, in 2008. But that’s a story for another day.

Until next time…

“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.