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…

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…

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…