Athlete Guide

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…

The Spirit of Triathlon

Triathlon racing has been around since the early 1970’s. In 2019, the mention of a race probably inspired images of 1000 plus athletes in a transition area, platoons of volunteers, loud music at crowded finish lines, and expensive entry fees. Take away all of that and you are left with one vital component: you. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to examine what racing means and why we, as individuals, race.

In this post, I am going to convince you that, regardless of adjustments for social distancing, races will still be worth racing.

SENSE OF COMMUNITY

Without the fanfare and medals and crowds, can you still have a race? Do you still want to race? I asked that question before racing the TriRiot 70.5. In fact, I’ve been asking that question for a long time. Fourteen years ago one of the most enjoyable aspects of triathlon, for me, was the social aspect and sense of community. Thinking about standing on a podium in front of friends and family was a strong motivator.

Without explanation, much of that changed about four years ago.

While training for IRONMAN North Carolina 2016, I found myself running and biking alone most of the time. My training tribe disbanded. Mike took some time off. Marty was spending more time with his wonderful wife and two beautiful children, and Erin, Sami, Misty, et. al were busy training for different events in other parts of the globe. The surprising thing is that, even though I miss training and racing with them, I enjoy the solitude. What emerged was a sense of self: a sense of pushing against my own boundries. I discovered my “why.”

To me, the race was no longer an expensive event with crowds of spectators lined up along the finish chute. The race became the struggle within. The purpose of big events with hundreds or thousands of athletes evolved into showcases where talents are displayed and failures are magnified. Showcases, as such, still make great experiences, but personal struggles and inner demons must first be confronted in solitude. For me, that’s the way it has to be.

THE BIG SHOW

How did we get to the point that a real race must have t-shirts, medals, pre-race socials, post-race parties, fancy finish lines, crowds of onlookers, and hundreds of fellow athletes?

The beginnings of triathlon and IRONMAN are quite humble. In 1977, John Collins issued a challenge to a group of swimmers, bikers and runners to decide which group was more fit. What resulted was a 140.6 mile event that had little intention of becoming what it is today.

Early competitors in the IRONMAN, like Bob Babbitt and Scott Tinley, talk about a self supported event with few onlookers, barren finish lines and a t-shirt or a carved wood trophy as the main prize. If you read Scott Tinley’s philosophical perspective on endurance sport in Finding Triathlon: How Endurance Sport Explains the World, you might conclude that the reasons for participating in such a sufferfest lie deep within our psyche, our DNA and our culture.

But we need to remember that even the most iconic triathlon in the world was, at one time, nothing more than a group of people racing to see who would come in first regardless of their inner motives. They were kids on the playground: “Race you to the other side!” There was nothing at stake and nothing to lose.

The success of that first IRONMAN spread by word of mouth and before long it was obvious that the challenge would be repeated on an annual basis. Valerie Silk took control of the event in 1981 and began a cycle of making each year better than the previous year. She knew how to grow the event.

I don’t know all the details of IRONMAN history, but it’s human nature to grow: to get bigger, stronger, better.

BULL LESSONS

I used to work for the Leachman family in Billings Montana. In the 1990’s they sold more bulls than any other ranch in the world. Each Spring we would prepare for a three day event: the bull sale.

If you are not from a ranching background this may seem silly and you might dismiss it as no big deal, but this was no small time operation. It was big business.

Each year we had to make the bull sale better and more attractive than the sale from the previous year, because that was our showcase. That is how we attracted and maintained customers. One year, the family patriarch, Jim, gathered everyone for a meeting to come up with ideas of how to make the sale better. It had become such an extravaganza and circus, that it was getting difficult to outdo the previous year’s event. The reality of it all was that a rancher could still buy high quality bulls; but that reality was underneath the whole facade.

Circumstances that I don’t fully know forced changes in the way they sold bulls. The grandiose reputation for extravagance seems to have been replaced with the reputation of selling quality bulls. They are still in business today.

TRIATHLON REDEFINED

We have a similar situation in the world of endurance sport, except today we are being forced to tone down the social aspects of racing because of COVID-19. Races in 2020 may just have to return to the minimalist style that we saw in the original triathlons of the 1970s in order to comply with social distancing.

I hear rumors of athletes saying they won’t participate without the post-race party. They won’t race without a big, crowded finish line and an awards ceremony. They won’t race if they have to carry their own water on the run. I’ll miss them, but maybe their reasons for racing are just different from mine.

Underneath the finish line celebrations and post-race parties and cheering spectators lies the original, true spirit of triathlon which can only come from the athletes themselves. Two weeks after the TriRiot 70.5, I raced with several athletes in my coach’s training group. It was an Olympic distance race and it felt very real… it was real.

If IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga takes away the finish line party and makes other adjustments for COVID-19, it won’t matter to me. It won’t matter to many other athletes either, because there are thousands of us who will take or leave the facade and strive for the true spirit of triathlon.

Come August 23rd, 2020 I’ll be racing… with or without the fanfare.

So how did I do? Did I convince you?

Until next time…

Is It Real Or Is It Memorex?

The TriRiot 70.5 race was a huge success. All athletes had a good race and not a single spectator complained about not seeing their athlete. That’s the benefit of racing by yourself. I did, however, almost get a penalty for blocking (on the bike), but because I was the course marshal, I decided to let myself go with a stern look.

What Makes A Race Real?

Some people want to call the TriRiot 70.5 a virtual race. You can call it what you want. It was a real race.

With the proliferation of online races during COVID-19 social restrictions , I want to take a closer look at what we mean by virtual races.

Merriam-Webster.com defines the word, virtual, four different ways. Definitions two and three relate to computers which don’t apply to this discussion unless we want to include Zwift and other online simulations. We don’t. This is about getting outside and going the distance.

The other two definitions are:

of, relating to, or being a hypothetical particle whose existence is inferred from indirect evidence

I am not a hypothetical particle, so let’s move on to the other definition:

being such in essence or effect though not formally recognized or admitted

That’s it! That’s the definition that applies here.

Now we have to define a race, but that’s much easier. To save time and hopefully keep you from clicking away, I’m going to use the following definition (also from Merriam-Webster.com):

a contest of speed

If you want to get really nit picky, you can quote someone else’s definition of a contest and discredit my conclusions below, but you wouldn’t do that… would you? Obviously, you can see where I’m going with this.

My results may not have been tallied by an accrediting body and I may be the only one who competed, but it was a race because:

  1. I trained to be in peak form on the particular day in question
  2. The entire course was carefully planned out to be close to a recognized race distance
  3. A race plan was developed and executed
  4. My body took a beating
  5. The competition was the clock. My goal was to beat a specific time
  6. I had a race bib and bike number (number 3)
  7. I came in first place (I also came in last place, but we don’t like to mention that)

So there you have it. A race does not have to be a big extravaganza that makes the athletes feel like rock stars. Tomorrow’s blog post will look at this topic by going back to the 1970s, so get out your love beads and disco suit.

Until tomorrow…

My Sister’s Turn

I have a sister. She’s insane. I don’t mean that in the clinical sense. I mean that in the fun sense. One time I said I was going to run into the freezing cold ocean with 4000 other people at the annual New Year’s day Dolphin Dip. Without hesitation she said, “I’m in.”

Another time we were driving on a frozen highway. I stopped the car, got out and started sliding on the ice for the fun of it. Without asking me what I was doing she got out and did the same. It’s not that she always copies me. She has plenty of her own crazy ideas, but now she wants to do a triathlon. She’s insane.

Rather than reading my words on her journey, you can read them straight from the newbie herself. I’m going to bow out now and leave you with my sister, Deb.


Preparing To Race Alone II: The Newbie

My baby “bother”, Lowell (LG), has been telling me and the world everything we always (and didn’t) wanted (or not) to know about triathlon for many years now. I used to work out, Before Kids. Over 2019, I had gotten rid of quite a bit of weight and had picked up working out again. My Chiropractor, Dr. John Hunt, asked me to restart his long-dormant walking club, so I have also been walking with some wonderful folks for the last year.  While visiting LG, Lori (the other LG), and Hunter, at the end of 2019/beginning of 2020, I got bit. 

LG, Lori, and I planned to enter the  “Three Little Pigs Triathlon Sprint” June 20, 2020 in Smithfield, North Carolina. I live in the Los Angeles area, California, so plans were made for me to fly back out a couple of weeks early so we could all train and then race together. That was mid-January, just before I flew back. When home, I started to focus on beginning to train — find a swimming pool (my home pool is a 36-foot kidney shape that I hadn’t used in years), possibly find a coach and/or other triathletes, get my son’s bike back in shape, and make sense of the beginners’ 12-week sprint triathlon training schedule sent to me by LG. After talking to several people, some who encouraged me, some who discouraged me, no coach or anyone willing to train similarly emerged. The local Tri Club had recently disbanded due to the founders being unable to find anyone willing to take over the stewardship from them. The bike is a beauty; I love it. Little by little, I’m learning about flat tubes, accessories, attachments, etiquette. There seem to be some great places to go for pools, but…

Then CoronaVirus/Covid 19 and sequestering hit. 

Training solo is mostly what it’s about. Loving the way my body feels as it moves, feeling the muscles, breathing the amazing air, pushing and challenging myself. I still feel left out in left field sometimes, though. Not really knowing what I should be doing to get ready, if I’m doing enough or correctly. The training schedule doesn’t take into account that I stopped running 10ks a while back because of bad knees and foot problems. It doesn’t take into account that it’s been decades since I’ve been on a bike and have to bike through heavily trafficked city areas (choosing not to drive to paths or trails or pay entrance fees or risk being stopped to have my bike stolen). It doesn’t take into account that I now have no access to regulation-size pools. It’s all good, though, and exciting. To quote LG on TriRiot:  Life is an endurance event. Training for triathlon is training for life.

So, I’m training away, getting better little by little and even running. The length of my pool is 36 feet (12 yards); that means to get to a 250-yard swim, I must swim 21 lengths. Doable, now. Riding around my area, I found the San Gabriel River Trail that goes about 40 miles from Seal Beach up into the mountains behind me. No one at the bike shop could tell me about local bike trails. Go figure. The walking group and I do anywhere from 2 to 4 miles up and down the local, hilly streets, have done several local 5k walks, and I do lots of solo walk/run/incline work at the local middle school track. I’m thinking “Maybe I can do this.”

Beginning of May, Lori and I started to make plans for me to fly out early June. Then in mid-May, Mom hears about a doctor who was interviewed saying that he tested Covid positive and was sick after catching it on an airplane trip. I look into that. Nope, I’m not flying. I called Lori and, getting choked up, told her I can’t put myself on a plane. Not two hours later, LG called and said that Three Little Pigs had been “postponed.” I felt lost, like the “bottom” had dropped out, maybe a little like the seniors who lost the last part of their senior year and graduation ceremonies. For what was I training? Oh, yeah, for me. The love of the way it feels and I feel overall. 

All Lori had to say was that Lowell would be doing his own Ironman 70.3 (TriRiot 70.5) and I knew that I had to do the same. Scary? You bet! Lonely? Scary for a first-timer. I’ve been getting a great amount of long-distance coaching from a special man who has immensely supported and encouraged me, also a triathlete, in England, who says to use this as practice. So, come June 20, 2020, I will be doing the “One Little Pig Triathlon Sprint” in Charles Roberts’ honor. Swim 11 laps at home being timed and spotted by a young friend and son of a roomer, hop on the bike and ride 12.3 miles partly on the San Gabriel River Trail up to the track at the middle school, where our dear brother Josh will meet me to be my support in all ways for my 5k walk/run. 

I still have so much to learn and for which to prepare in the next 2 weeks, but it’s exciting and beginning to seem manageable. LG will be giving me more pointers, as, I hope and pray, will Charles. Lists need to be made for things to buy, things to prepare, things to be aware of, things to ask.

I learned from a Hallmark movie that one doesn’t wait to get over the fear of doing something, one does it anyway while feeling the fear.


Until next time…

Book Review – Triathlon Running Foundations

You won’t find too many reviews on this blog. I may have reviewed a movie or two, but that’s about it… until now.

A Little (Self) Help Here… Please

Most people don’t simply read how-to books because they are interesting. I don’t. People buy and read how-to books because they want to change some aspect of their lives. They want to be educated. My aspect is running.

In the last 14 years I have used every known excuse to explain poor running. One time I went into a chiropractor’s office with huge indelible ink marks on my shins to show him where the pain was. Another time, after IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta, the pain in my right foot was so bad, I was hobbling around on crutches for several weeks. And then in 2017, just before the USAT Nationals, I was thrown from a horse and suffered terrible hamstring pain. I know those are not really excuses for poor performance. Rather they are the product of my biggest excuse which has always been hope.

For 14 years, I hoped to run well in races. Athletic performance is not much different from business or any trade. You don’t just hope things will turn out well. You plan for them to turn out well. I’ve been great at planning my swims, transitions and bike rides. But running? Nah.

That started to change for me about 18 months ago when I began running regularly with Marty. Since that time my outlook and education have taken a huge leap forward. Although I always knew about the TSB model of performance, I began to dig into the math behind it. I’ve also been learning about physiological responses to training like mitochondrial content and function. Podcasts such as Triathlon Taren and That Triathlon Show are full of good science based information.

Enough about my issues. I bought Taren Gesell’s latest book, Triathlon Running Foundations because I’ve always enjoyed his podcasts (with wife NTK and numerous guests) and wanted to see what he had to say about triathlon running.

The Content

Taren’s book is full of good stuff. I can’t verify all his statements but his message is essentially the same as that professed by many top level coaches and academics. The main take away lessons from the book are:

  • Triathlon running is different from running running.
  • Easy workouts need to be really easy.
  • Hard workouts need to be really, really, really, really hard.
  • Gadgets might be fun and cool, but not necessary for running.

This is nothing new, but so many athletes, as Taren points out, violate some or all of these basic concepts (myself included when I trained for a whole season in zone 3 because I thought that was how to do it). What is unique is the way that the messages are delivered. I’ll get to that in the next section, but first I want to mention a bit more about the content.

A good how-to book must deliver enough detail that its concepts can be applied. Because every athlete is unique, it is difficult to speak to a broad audience about the details of training. For someone like myself who has a bit of experience with running, there are plenty of details in the book that can be used to apply the main concepts. I believe a beginner could take this book and use it as a starting point for developing good training habits. However, beginners may need to work with a coach or more experienced runner to fully understand how to apply the concepts.

Much of Taren’s advice comes from his own experiences and his work with several coaches in addition to his knowledge of the scientific literature. However, we don’t have to just take his word for the more subjective issues such as shoe selection. He falls back on conversations he and NTK have had with well known athletes such as Sarah and Ben True.

Throughout the text there were many references to Taren’s websites and products. It’s pretty obvious he’s pushing his services, but don’t let that deter you from this book. And it’s quite understandable. This is how he makes a living: sharing his knowledge of triathlon with his subscribers. If, by the end of this book, you still ask, “Where do I go to learn more about Triathlon Taren,” just flip back through the pages and you’re likely to land on a page with a web address.

You are also likely to see the word, broscience (page 93). I’m not sure what that is exactly, but I think it’s the propagation of opinion to the point that it is taken as fact. The book does a pretty good job of avoiding knowledge based on this kind of opinion. Some statements come with citations, some with personal anecdotes, some with no backing at all. A majority of the statements are based on the author’s own personal experiences. However, this is not a reason to discount the content. The reader needs to be aware of which statements are evidence based and which are anecdote. Taren makes it pretty clear which is which. We have to remember that opinion and personal observations can be useful to the reader, even in a how-to book.

As I read about Taren’s personal triumphs and failures, I felt that I was getting to know him as a person. This is so important for a good author, because when we feel connected to the author, we are likely to take more enjoyment from reading their work and understand it better. Not only can I forgive an author of this subject for talking so much about personal experience and anecdotal evidence, I can appreciate it and here are two reasons why:

  1. From my experience and what little literature I’ve read, it appears that most scientific studies in athletics and human physiology lack the power to make broad conclusions for an entire population. I think this is due to the low numbers of athletes that can be studied at one time and the myriad of variables that impact performance.
  2. Training for endurance sport still seems to be very much an art and there is no way at this point to control all variables, so speaking from personal experience is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Style

I have learned to dislike self-published books. They are almost alway full of typographical and grammatical errors. To make matters worse, the sentence structure is usually very poor which makes the reading very difficult.

After reading this book, I may just have to change my opinion on that.

Triathlon Running Foundations is very well written. Someone obviously proofread and spell checked this text. I am quite impressed. I did find one typo and thought it would be fun to tell you what page it is on, but now I can’t locate it. Besides, if that’s my idea of fun I need serious help.

Taren talks to his audience. He doesn’t lecture. He doesn’t profess. He talks in plain Canadian English. And believe it or not, no translation is needed because he offers suggestions in both kilometers and miles. Also, he’s not afraid to let his sense of humor come through which adds to the personality of the writing.

Conclusion

In my opinion, this book is a must read for triathletes. Even if you know how to run like a triathlete, just getting to know running from Taren’s perspective is fun.

When I first saw a video on Taren’s YouTube channel several years ago, I did not get the sense that this securities trader turned social media consultant turned triathlete would be leading the coaching efforts behind thousands of athletes. Yet here he is, making a living from professing the virtues of triathlon.

Thank you, Taren, for helping to make triathlon accessible to so many.

Until next time…

Triny Willerton Interview

Lucky To Be Alive


She was a Kona qualifying hopeful heading into the 2018 IRONMAN Boulder race. She had come close to qualifying six months earlier in Cozumel. But May 8th, 2018 changed all that.

Triny Willerton was on a long training ride when she was hit by a pickup truck that illegally crossed a solid yellow line while trying to pass her. It’s amazing that she not only survived, but she raced at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii five months later. However, her crowning achievement was still yet to come.

Triny was very aware that cyclists and pedestrians are often subjected to aggressive or reckless behaviors from motorists. Altercations of this kind do not end well for either cyclists or pedestrians. Triny knew that a change had to occur and it had to happen at a very deep level. Her passion resulted in the creation of ItCouldBeMe, an organized movement to change the way we think about the most vulnerable users of our roads and highways. ItCouldBeMe aims to create awareness through changes in legislation, community involvement and, more importantly, through changes in our cultural beliefs regarding rules of the road.

I initially heard Triny’s story on several podcasts, including Triathlon Taren, and I just had to get more information about how to help her cause. She kindly agreed to an interview and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit. I’m sure you will too.

Podcast Related Links

The following downloads are links to PDF versions of web pages that relate to Triny’s story. The actual sources can be identified within the documents themselves.

TriRiot 70.5 – The Race

After umteen months of training, race day finally arrived.

Umteen equals five, in case you were wondering.

Originally, I was training for IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga, but it was postponed to sometime in August and I’m not one to waste good training. By mid March, it became clear that the only proper thing to do was continue training toward the original date of May 17 and participate in a race of my own. However, after the cancellation announcement from IRONMAN I agreed to family obligations on that date so we moved the race date to May 23 and called it,

The TriRiot 70.5 Triathlon

70.3 was already taken by some other organization, hence the 70.5.

Bike racked in T2 for TriRiot 70.5
The race number makes it official

How It Went Down

I’m not going to claim that this race was completely unsupported. There was quite a bit of help from Lori, Hunter and Sami. However, aid stations were scarce (none) and tech support was scarcer. Competition in the form of other athletes was also in short supply. It was just me swimming, biking and strolling through hell… I mean running.

Charles' name on my arm
I carried Charles with me

I did have the company of one friend whose name was written on my arm. Charles is not in very good health these days and I wanted to honor him because he loves this sport so much and has not been able to do it for so long. I talked a lot to Charles on the bike ride and perhaps that is why my bike time was pretty good.

Actually, I want to clarify that. I talked a lot to myself as though I was talking to Charles.

The Starting Line

The TriRiot 70.5 swim course

Sami has been a very supportive coach. Her house is about 100 meters from a stair case that, quite literally, leads into Banks Channel. These stairs actually descend into the water during high tide.

Sami’s carport makes a perfect first transition area, and if you were to drive 1.5 miles South of her house, along the channel, you would find the swim start for IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina. This is an ideal location for the TriRiot 70.5 swim course.

Hunter, Lori and I arrived at Sami’s house at exactly 5:30AM: right on schedule. Unfortunately, lightning forced a one hour delay in the race start, so we just stood around in Sami’s carport for a while. Once the storm cleared, a beautiful morning came out and Hunter drove me and Lori the 1.5 miles to swim start.

Wrightsville Beach is a popular town this time of year. Vacationers enjoy violating the social distancing rules so the town passed an ordinance that limits parking as a measure of crowd control (COVID-19 precautions). The closest parking to swim start was too far away to drag the kayak Lori would use to support me in the water. To make matters worse, swim start was located on a private section of dock that belongs to the Hanover Seaside Club. We’re not members.

I was nervous enough about starting the race, but having to quickly pull the car over, unload the kayak, and sneak into somebody else’s dock was quite unnerving. For a moment I was not thinking clearly. I didn’t notice the mossy wet ramp that leads to the water as Lori and I carried the kayak down. Wet moss is slippery and WHAM! I hit the concrete hard and slid down the ramp. That got my mind back on track.

After helping Lori into the kayak, I swam out beyond the docks to check the current. A beautiful morning was unfolding in front of us with a mostly cloudy sky and rays of gold sun reflecting off some of the buildings in the distance. With the current assessed and the view taken in, I started the watch and began the TriRiot 70.5.

TriRiot 70.5 swim
Swimming in Banks Channel during the TriRiot 70.5 Triathlon

A strong current, calm water and minimal boat traffic made this swim one of the best experiences I’ve had in the channel. Sighting was tough, however, because I used goggles that I had never before used in open water. Normally, I use the swede style goggles for good visibility. However, my only swedes were badly scratched so I used a pair of Roka goggles that are great in the pool, but I didn’t see so well with them in the channel. My path ended up looking like a snake in a sewer grate instead of a straight line.

Swimming in Banks channel
Almost done with the swim

After 41 minutes and 14 seconds, the swim was done. I felt great, because after a two month period of no swimming, I was happy to have just stayed afloat. The arms did get tired and my form fell apart near the end, but I was done and ready to move on to the bike.

Off The Island…

Forty four seconds is what it takes to run about 100 meters and mount a bike. That’s all there is to T1, because I make it a habit to doff the wetsuit in the water.

Although speed is an important factor in a race, endurance races require strategy in execution: they require a plan. Two coaches helped with that plan. I’ve already introduced you to Sami. The other is Cristina, my nutrition coach. Between the two of them, I had a plan that gave me more confidence than Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s IPO. Once on the bike, it was just a matter of following the plan.

The nutrition plan was simple: consume 200 Calories per hour with Tailwind endurance drink. That filled three bottles on the bike: each one fortified with Base Salt. I also had an aero bottle with 20 ounces of plain water. The plan was to consume all four bottles (80 ounces of fluid and 600 Calories) within the expected three hour bike ride. Sometimes, you just can’t fit enough nutrition in your stomach. By the end of the bike ride, only 500 Calories made their way into my gut, because I was on the verge of that sick feeling you get when you drink too much sweet stuff. Feeling sick is bad enough without having to worry about going to the bathroom.

One big success is that there was no stopping to urinate. That’s because I did it while on the bike… twice. Kinda gross, I know, but it saved time and I cleaned the saddle very well afterward. Have you ever tried that? It’s not as easy as you might think.

I have been on so many solo bike rides that I enjoy the experience of just being out on the road. Boredom is rarely a problem and, as I mentioned earlier, I did talk a lot to myself as though Charles were with me. I wish that I could help him through his pain as he deals with his current health crisis. Instead I behaved like a lunatic by talking and arguing with myself.

In one way, I was ready for the bike ride to end. In another way, I was hoping to keep riding. As T2 came into view, the ride faded into a beautiful memory of flying through Wilmington and the Pender County countryside. It was three hours, three minutes and one second between T1 and T2. I’m happy with that.

…And Into The Frying Pan

By the end of the bike ride, the sun was out in full and the temperature was quickly approaching 30C (86F). You know how coaches and trainers will tell you that the bike is the longest segment of a triathlon?

There are exceptions to that rule.

I walked and ran through a humid 30C run course with very little shade. Thankfully, Lori rode her bike along to provide company and support. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. The heat is only a small part of the reason the 13.2 miles took longer than three hours and nine minutes. My best time for a half marathon is around 1:50:00, and based on my training for this race, I predicted 2:10:00. I wasn’t even close.

As soon as I ran away from the bike, I could feel that this was going to be a long half marathon. Right up to that point I felt great. My legs felt great.

Pacing for the first several miles was planned to be an easy 9:45 to 10:00 per mile. Instead it was a difficult 12:00 per mile.

Doubt is a familiar feeling. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and the not so tough start doubting (themselves). That familiar feeling of doubt began to sink in at mile three which is far earlier than I expected. Feet and hamstrings were the first to feel pain, followed by the low back. Walking was quickly becoming an option. The brain must have been having a conversation with the body without me, because I made a conscious effort to pick up the pace, but that did not happen. As I approached Bear Garden Road (mile 3.5), I knew I should stop and assess my physical situation.

Running on shaw highway near bear garden road
Leaving my first stop at Bear Garden Road

The road is called Bear Garden for a good reason and I’ve seen more than bear near this road. One time, on my way to work, I saw a huge alligator crossing the road near this spot. Did I mention that I live near a state owned game land? On this run, however, the only live wildlife we saw was a snake and a wild turkey.

Anyway, I stopped at Bear Garden Road and stretched a few muscles. Thankfully, I was able to start running again. The bad news is that I just couldn’t run by the time I hit mile four. The remainder of the race was a mix of running and walking.

Actually, I don’t know why I quit running. The pain was bad, but not so terrible. That conversation between the brain and body has to be moderated somehow. Training is supposed to help with this, but I may need stronger medicine like psychological intervention, electroshock therapy or my drill instructor from Army boot camp yelling at me the whole way. I do very well during training sessions and then when it comes time to race, the body and/or the mind forgets how to run. This is very difficult to describe.

Can I blame it on nutrition? Probably not. Compared to training rides, I consumed more nutrition and felt good with respect to gastric upset. Also, the run problems began immediately after the bike. Nutrition problems usually manifest themselves later.

Can I blame the heat? Maybe, but not completely, because I can work outside in the middle of summer all day long. Also, I’ve trained by running several times in the middle of the day with long sleeves. I like the heat. I do well in the heat.

Can I blame my workouts? No. The physical workouts improved my running over the course of the training season. I should be able to run a half marathon in two hours or less.

So what can I blame? I believe I have a mental weakness that needs to be addressed. My mental toughness is probably not where it needs to be. Whatever the reason for my poor run performance, Sami and I will get it worked out for the next A race of the season.

Final Thought

LG starting the TriRiot 70.5 run

If you take away the crowds, the sponsors, the music, the announcers and the fanfare from a regular race, what’s left is yourself. You can not hide from your weaknesses and there are no age numbers to read on the back of every leg that passes you. The only thing that matters is what you can do with your training, your execution plan and the conditions of that day. No medals. No swag. Is that what you signed up for?

Years ago, when I raced a lot with Mike and Marty, the starting line was always a place to reflect back on the hard work that got me to that point. It was a combination of jumbled nerves, excitement and inner quiet waiting to explode at the sound of the starting gun. As Lori, Hunter, Sami and I talked in the carport before the race, I felt the same excitement. Knowing that I would be alone for most of the day did not make the race feel any less of a race.

Organized races with a large field of athletes are fun and worth the expense to me, but this race took endurance sport to a whole new level. I realize that I truly love the sport for the sake of the sport. I love the people and the rockstar fanfare, but without those, I still value the personal challenges that remain. One thing is for certain: I still have a long way to go to qualify for Kona and I’m looking forward to the journey.

Next scheduled race: IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga on August 23, 2020.

Until then…

Preparing to Race Alone

The inaugural, and hopefully only, TriRiot 70.5 Triathlon will be held this Saturday, May 23, 2020.

Since December 2019, I’ve been planning my training to culminate in peak fitness and form right about now. With the cancellation of races, I’ve decided to hold my own triathlon. Here’s the plan:

Pre Race Fueling

Tonight (Thursday) will be the first intentional race fueling. A slightly larger than normal dinner consisting of easy to digest carbs and protein will be on the menu. It might include sweet potatoes, chicken breast and a protein shake.

Because my body is pretty well carbohydrate adapted, Friday morning breakfast will be oatmeal, a protein source and (dare I say) pancakes. Pancakes haven’t crossed these lips in months. Maybe I’ll reconsider and just have pancake and not pancakes.

Race day morning 3:00AM EDT: oatmeal, peanut butter, honey.

Race day morning 4:30AM EDT: 100kcal Tailwind endurance drink.

The Swim

The swim begins at 6:00AM sharp. This means T1 needs to be setup by 5:40AM. Twenty minutes should be enough time to drive from T1 to swim start and unload the kayak. Lori is going to lead me in the water on a kayak.

If you’re not familiar with our area, the town that controls parking along the swim start (salt water channel) has restricted parking to only a few locations to enforce social distancing policies on the beach. Parking logistics may be a bit of a hassle but I think we can manage.

The swim will begin in Bank’s Channel near Hanover Seaside Club where a rising tide should hopefully make up for my lack of swim training over the past couple of months. Effort levels for the first 500 meters or so will be kept quite low, but once I pass the big water tower, I’ll actually try to swim.

Imagine the golden glow of a morning sunrise as it reflects off the surrounding buildings and the lightly rippling water. Beautiful. If clouds and rain don’t ruin it, this swim will be absolutely beautiful.

This swim course is longer than that of a standard half iron distance event. Normally, 1.2 miles is a standard distance, but this swim exit is about 1.4 miles from swim start. With a strong current, a wetsuit, and salt water buoyancy, this swim might last 35 minutes.

The Bike

The run to T1 isn’t too long: about 1/8 mile. If you’ve watched any of the TriRiot Speed Tips, you already know that doffing the wetsuit won’t be a problem. That comes off before getting out of the water.

The bike will be waiting for me and already outfitted with three nutrition bottles of 200kcal each. I’ve been training all season with Tailwind endurance drink so that’s the concoction for race day.

The first obstacle on the bike course is Wrightsville Beach traffic. Even at 6:45AM the traffic might be heavy. The key is to reduce the number of left turns and always be aware of vehicles and pedestrians. Even a parked vehicle can suddenly greet you with an open door.

The next obstacle on the course is the draw bridge that leads to the mainland. The slippery metal surface of that bridge has claimed many victims over the years, so Xena (the bike’s name) and I plan on walking across. Once Xena and I reach the mainland, we’ll have 5 miles of city traffic, then 4 miles of busy thoroughfare.

After that exercise in urban warfare, we’ll relax a bit and enjoy the country roads of New Hanover and Pender Counties. I use the word, relax, loosely here. After all, this is a race.

I’ve heard it said that these middle and long distance races are like long, catered training days. The TriRiot 70.5 Triathlon will not be catered. There will be no aid stations. There will be no sag wagons. There will be no tech support. This is a self supported race which I knew when I signed up so I have no right to complain about it. And because I’m the race director, I can DQ any athlete that does complain.

The bike course ends in my driveway after 56 miles of either fighting the wind or flying through the countryside. You can never tell which it will be around here.

The Run

Shaw Highway is a two lane county road in front of my property. It’s not dangerous, but it is exciting and it runs along the Western border of the Holly Shelter Game Land. I love this stretch of road, because at the right time of day you might not see another person for many minutes. That doesn’t sound like much, but I’ll take whatever peace and quiet I can get, even if for only 15 minutes. There’s also wildlife along that road. I’ve seen wild turkey, deer, possum, rabbit, snakes, fox, bear and alligator. 6.55 miles of that highway will be the TriRiot 70.5 Triathlon run course.

For run nutrition, I trained with Clif Bloks. But not just any Clif Bloks. Margarita flavored Clif Bloks. Margarita flavor makes all the difference in the world, because it is so damn tasty. In addition to the Clif Bloks, I’ll carry Base Salt for electrolyte supplement in case my head gets fuzzy or my muscles decide to cramp.

The aid station coordinator (that’s me) decided to offer water at three places along the run course. The day before the race, I’ll go out and drop off water bottles at miles 3.5 and 6.55. There may even be a cyclist leading the runner in first place. Lori has expressed interest so maybe I’ll have someone to talk with.

The Finish

By the time I get back to my driveway I’m sure I will be glad to see that cracked hunk of concrete.

Doing a race like this by myself is something that I’ve aspired to for a long time. I’ve always wanted to know if I could stay motivated through the training and successfully race against the clock without the excitement of a thousand competitors and all the fanfare. So far, I can.

The cool thing is that I am getting super excited about this race just like I would for a regular race.

My goal is to reach the driveway before 11:45AM. I’ll let you know if that happens.

Until then…