Monday, April 20, 2015

Pro vs AG

You read the title and you're probably thinking to yourself: "Oh great, James writing another stupid blog post about pro vs. ag" or something of that nature.

Well, you're right.

It's becoming increasingly clear that some things need to change with regard to pro triathlon. What galvanized this particular post was seeing some tweets by some professional women who raced New Orleans 70.3 this weekend.

Here is a good example:

Now, I've had nothing but respect for pro women as long as I raced as a pro.  I frequently found myself at the front of their race at the beginning of mine.  Luckily I usually managed to ride away from them but I completely empathize with their plight. When I came up on the front group (say, for example, after a swim where I was caught by the lead pro women, which happened in every pro race I did except for one) I attempted to not get involved and surge through and past them so as not to affect their race.  Sometimes the women seemed to pace off me (Amanda Stevens/Magali Tisseyre both did this at Miami 70.3) and surge past again. I can't really do anything about their choices as interestingly I rode the same watts to the turnaround and clearly they did not. Anyway.

Mocking the pro male in question in this instance, however, helps absolutely nobody. Saying "you don't belong" is like a smack in the face.  Maybe he had a bad swim? Maybe a botched transition. At the end of the day he is there because he qualified to be there.  He followed USAT's qualification standards, submitted his application, and became a professional triathlete.  I have no idea who the male athlete in question is but to verbally berate him in that way shows relatively little class. It does NOT move the sport forward in any way.

HE is not to blame for the general problem that is being referred to in that tweet. Maybe he rode in an unpredictable manner and interfered with the women's race and yes, that sucks. But he was there because, in the eyes of USA Triathlon, he deserved to be there.

So the ultimate question is, SHOULD "he" (or anybody like him) DESERVE to be there?  There are plenty of pros who would be subject to this issue.  I was one of them.  Every single male pro that lives in NC is probably similar, with maybe one or two exceptions and those two grew up swimming.

So, at the end of the day, should the qualifications be stricter? Yes, probably. The current dynamic in pro triathlon is kind of stupid anyway in the sense that there is little to no room for athlete development.  There are some big races and there are very few little races in terms of financial compensation which creates an issue for those pros that maybe have the chance of becoming better but will never get it because there's no validation out there.

At the end of the day, when it comes time for competition, everybody's tempers are on edge. When you're competing at the front of the race you have little time or desire for someone else's bullshit.  I get that. But being rude and condescending is, in no way whatsoever, the proper solution.

The lead AG waves could also make the same argument against the BOP pro women.  They are competing for World Championship spots and the women in question in that situation are competing for something else (but probably not financial compensation).  They are under different rules so it gets even more confusing in that context.

Something needs to change, but what is it?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Here goes nothing

So it's been a few weeks since my last post on this space and at this point I'm simply embarrassed. I've wondered recently whether this type of thing changes for everyone that blogs; at a certain point it just moves lower on the priority list...? I'm sure it does.  Either way, I don't want to succumb to the popular trend of giving up on my own self-congratulatory blogging. Maybe I'm just not doing as much critical thinking lately, which means I have less to say and am - generally speaking - less opinionated...

But we all know that's not true..

My last post was about the first race of the year and since that point I've actually raced a couple more times.

Last year Behme and I completely missed the boat on signing up for 6 hours of Warrior Creek. We did a much more technically oriented event up in Virginia that weekend instead. It was an eye-opening experience and we resolved that next year we'd be more prepared.  Well, next year came and Warrior Creek was done and it was fantastic.

Staging Areas
The atmosphere of the race was spectacular, the weather was perfect, the trail was in primo shape...really you couldn't have asked for a better day.  Behme and I managed to turn out some good lap times and ended up 8th in our category (duo male open).  The laps that some of the winning guys were putting out were just staggeringly fast.  For example, my fastest lap was a 1:02 and some change for a 14 mile loop. I was pretty pleased with that, especially considering it was my last lap. The fastest lap recorded that day was 55:xx.  That's over 15 mph....on TRAILS!

I'm a broken record in saying this but if you haven't gotten a mountain bike or tried mountain biking you really, REALLY need to do it. You will not regret it.

Full Results Here

Also since Hickory Knob I've gotten fully into the new scheduling with David and it's been really fun learning some new skills and sort of getting back to the "roots" of fitness.  It's odd but also extremely refreshing to feel that I am not at the limits in terms of my time management and I can focus on each workout a little bit better to get the most out of it. I think that come Ironman Louisville I am going to be a different athlete altogether. It is exciting!

This most recent weekend (i.e. yesterday) I also did another bike race. The biggest weekend of bike racing in Charlotte came and went with the Dilworth Crit Saturday AM, Amateur Shootout Saturday PM, Novant Criterium Saturday PM, and Belmont Crit Sunday.  I chose to only do one: the Belmont Crit.  It was a tough course and I had a very difficult time managing the uphill half of the course 300-400 watts for 30+ seconds mixed with the downhill half of the course (mostly coasting for ~60+ seconds with a few turns).  My system is not really good at that type of thing anymore (if it ever was!).  I managed to hang until the last 5 laps, at which point I was dangling off the back a bit.  At 2ish laps to go I looked back and realized that everyone behind me had pulled out so I essentially cruised it into the finish.  It was a mixed 2/3 race and I was 18th overall but I am unsure of my place among cat 3's. I doubt it was much higher.

It's clear that my energy systems are better suited to flat road races!

Until next time...

Monday, March 23, 2015

XTERRA Hickory Knob

Well, it is time for that post. That post everybody knows and LOVES at this point. I've been blogging quite regularly for many years now and each year has started off the triathlon season in a similar way. Sure, the races themselves may be different and the time of year may be different but the end result is that a first-race-of-the-year-blog always gets posted.  And this is that blog.

There are a couple of things to note about this race, XTERRA Hickory Knob:

1) It was pretty expensive ($90 for a 1.5hr race at my time of registration, which was admittedly somewhat late)
2) It is contained entirely within Hickory Knob State Park
3) Behme and Binny were both signed up as well

If you live in the southeast, you also know that rain has been an ever-present factor in your trail riding plans over the last 3-5 weeks. Even if it only rains 2 days a week that can mean an entire week of no riding as the trails dry.  Otherwise one risks destroying the trails, especially during a race (see the last race of Winter Short Track Series as an example of what a few people can do to a 1+ mile section of trail done repeatedly...).

So with that in mind, the weather leading into HK was questionable and the RD actually made the decision on Thursday to not hold the bike portion of the race on the trails.  This was quite disappointing especially when factored into the weather forecast for Friday-Sunday (sunny, really sunny and 80, rainy and 50 degrees).  With the additional factor of cold water (race morning was stated as 57 degrees) it was not looking too great for a fun race on Sunday.

Be that as it may, we headed down south and even got to spend an hour on the FATS trail system, which have now become the best trails I have ever ridden. We only got to do the north side of the trails, but holy cow. We will be back, FATS. 

Ready for ACTION

We got to the race site in the late afternoon/evening and went to our "cabin" at the State Park. We then looked at the venue a little bit.

Swim start/finish

Transition areas aren't quite as big in this world
Race morning dawned bright and relatively early and with rain pattering on the roof of our cabin. Fantastic. We headed over to the race site, got set up, and installed ourselves in our wetsuits.  Luckily Binny had lent me a light long sleeve shirt to wear under my tri top and wetsuit otherwise the bike would have been a miserable experience for yours truly...

We got some more instructions at the start of the swim (this bike WILL be draft legal) and away we went.

Swim 800m - 9:32 (ok so maybe it wasn't 800 meters...), 3rd

I started off quickly but then quickly faded.  I was out of the lead by the second buoy (swim was a two loop out and back where we had to exit the water at the end of first loop) and on the way back in to the beginning I noticed I was consistently swimming to the right.  Hard.

Realizing I now kind of suck at swimming I settled in and let the cold water give me a wake up call. Making the turn to go back out was interesting and by the time we made it back out to the turnaround I was moving back to third place. I exited the water in third, happy to be done with that swim.

Moral of the story: I have not been swimming more than once a week or so (and low yardage when I do) since October and, guess what? It shows.

Transition went quickly and I ended up leaving my booties on for the bike and run.  I was first onto the bike despite being third out of the water, so that was nice.

Bike 16.5mi - 50:02, 5th

I pushed the long uphill out of transition nice and hard and made it out to the road (course was basically on one road and we did two "loops" of the road, sort of a "T" with a very long top section) and turned right to head out for the turnaround. I took a couple of glances behind me and noticed that there was a pack of guys (XTERRA has NO provision for a bike being moved to the roads and therefore, no matter what, for a race to "count" in XTERRA it has to be "draft-legal." Most off road races this isn't considered "draft legal" in the way we road triathletes think of it, it's just normal) in a train about 8-10s behind me.

I decided that discretion is the better part of valor and instead of forging my own way I sat up and joined the pack. We made it out to the turnaround and there were somewhere between 5-7 of us. I couldn't really keep count because I couldn't see ANYthing in the group.  Water was spraying everywhere.  At least my bike would get a nice cleaning I suppose.

After the turn we dropped one or two and headed back into the park at a decent clip. Some of the people in the group seemed to be willing to take a lot of pulls or pull extra hard or they would attack up hills.

The first rule of riding in a group in a "race" is don't work if you don't have to.

The second rule of riding in a group is: don't be stupid and work if you don't have to.

The third rule of riding in a group is: it doesn't matter how hard you work in the group.

So I stuck my nose out every now and then to see if we could drop anybody but after a lap and a half it was clear that those that were there were going to stay there.  We kept taking pulls (group of 5 of us including Binny) and trading off decently well as we certainly didn't want to get caught by anybody riding solo behind us, as that would simply be embarrassing.

I figured Binny would be confident in his run and not be worried about anybody in the group other than me and I felt similarly. I knew we were both in good shape for that and I wasn't particularly worried about anybody else around us.

There was one more attack from the group leading into the road back down to transition and once he slowed I countered and Binny came with me and we both made it into transition first and second (me 2nd).

Run 5+ mi in 34:35 (2nd)

The run began with a nice long run back up the same road we biked on and I moved up to Dan and Binny who had both beat me out of transition. I felt pretty good and settled into a comfortable pace that was nice and hard up the hill.  Once we turned right on the road I glanced back and saw I had a little gap on Binny and Dan wasn't visible anymore.

We popped onto the two loop trail portion of the run and settled into the rhythm. It was pretty fun and well marked with a good bit of climbing and a little descending with a very sloppy back side section that would've been extremely sketchy on a bike (it was sketchy enough as-is with just trying to run it).  There were several sections that looped back on themselves so it was easy to get a gauge on how close someone behind you was.  Binny looked strong and wasn't far back so I knew I had to keep the pressure on through the run.  Luckily my legs felt quite good.

By the end of the first loop and beginning of the second I knew I had increased my lead by a fair margin.  I continued to press and ended up catching up to some people on their first loop so by the end of my trail race I felt good and confident that I had the race in the bag.  I got back out on the road and headed down the long section to the campground and crossed the finish line in first.

Full Results Here

All in all it was a really fun experience. I didn't have high hopes late in the week with the weather forecast and the prospect of a draft-legal mountain bike ride on the roads but it actually ended up being surprisingly fun.

I'm always a fan of "pack" style racing because you can be as fast as you want on the bike and put in as much work as you want, attacking and leading and all that. But the ONLY result that matters is the one at the finish. Having the fastest bike split is mostly meaningless in a draft legal race if you were in a pack (Travis Beam rode completely solo and had the fastest bike split anyway, kudos Travis).

Good racing!

Friday, March 20, 2015

A triumvirate of things worth writing about

So the last time I blogged was before three significant and neat things happened. Here is a summary of those three things:

1) From Saturday March 7th to Saturday March 14th I was in the Virgin Islands with my mom and dad and youngest brother Travis on a 47' Island Packet yacht christened Hometown Girl and chartered through Island Yacht Charters.

Out trip was bareboat, meaning that there was no captain and/or crew, the only crew was the family and the skipper was my dad. With a long history of sailing experience on his resume (and my mom's) and many years (or one or two) of sailing camp experience for myself and several trips like this under his belt for my brother, we had no problems handling the boat on a daily basis despite its size.

It has been a long time since I've sailed; I believe the last time was the summer after college when the whole family went on a crewed charter in the Bahamas...which would've been roughly 2007.  That probably corresponds to the last time I took a trip that had no "agenda," per se. Every trip since that point has had a focus of a mission (i.e. the trip to El Salvador with Habitat) or a training and/or racing agenda.

To make [what can be] a very long story a little shorter, suffice it to say that the trip was fantastic. I can't thank my parents enough for inviting me along and I am really glad I got to work it into my schedule. I got a lot of practice with taking pictures, so I was able to inundate facebook with some good images. I still don't (and never will) have the composition skillz of my brother, but since he was not there the onus was on me to provide adequate photographic evidence of our journey around the islands.

2) I watched "Touch the Wall" last night. This may not seem "newsworthy" in and of itself but what I wanted to convey was the way in which it "struck" me.

First of all, it really made me want to swim. All of my excuses seemed inconsequential when directly faced with the immensity of their training (Missy and Kara). Admittedly, I'm not trying to go to the Olympics but the dedication they had to their craft, each in their own unique way, was incredible (IS incredible, present tense).  I think the best moments of the film where when Missy's parents were watching her at the high school state championship meet and at Olympic Trials (and, obviously, in London).  SO MUCH work and dedication went into those moments, but they were also (according to Missy anyway) absolutely FUN.

I think it's an important reminder to make anything you dedicate yourself to a fun outlet for your competitive spirit (insofar as it pertains to sport).

3) On a third and final note, I've recently decided (as in this past week) to make a change from a training standpoint.

As many who read this will know, I worked with Brian Stover from January 2011 to December 2014. In total, that's four years of molding and growing as an athlete. I have gone from a MOP 25-29 AG athlete to where I am now. I have written many things about how much I like Brian and how far I have come in that time frame.

But at this point, I am going for a change. I have been "doing my own thing" for ~3 months now, which basically amounts to 9-11 hours/week of biking and running with a dab of swimming here and there along the way. I have been good about getting some hard workouts but mostly I've just been establishing some consistency and trying to stay reasonably fit.

I contacted David Tilbury Davis of Physfarm coaching for several reasons:

1) He's British, so that automatically means he's got a cool accent
2) He works with some people I really respect as athletes and gear heads
3) I knew his training would be different than what I've been doing for 4 years

I am excited to see where this goes and hopeful of trying to establish some new goals. I had been excited for this year, generally speaking, but David has helped get me really excited.  Sometimes that's what it takes; just talking with someone that doesn't "know" your story right off the bat and objectively looks at your schedule and can take it from there.  Not the best description for what I mean at all but I'm hopeful that it will end up being a good partnership for the both of us.

Race season is upon us!

Don't forget the bodyglide.

PS - I also raced bikes last weekend. After 8 days of physical hibernation it was a bit of a shock to the system that I was COMPLETELY not ready for from a physiological standpoint but I managed to exploit a situation and and come away with 2nd after a 25mi 2 man breakaway. Not a bad start to getting some more points!

Sometime during the break, photo courtesy Jon English

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Patience is a Virtue

The calendar just got flipped over to March. For those of you lucky enough to have a "Men of Triathlon" calendar in front of you in some capacity you've been gazing at TJ Tollakson and Ben Hoffman for a few days; I salute you (and them).

Manly Triathlon Men

I say that simply to say that it is ONLY March. It's not April. It's not May. It's simply...March.

Further contextual elaboration would reveal that I am, in short, saying that it's EARLY in the year. For many people I know (including myself) their big race is many moons away from now in the far off and mostly hypothetical time period colloquially known as "fall."

My big race isn't until October. Maybe yours is in September or maybe it's in November (or maybe it isn't any of those and you can tell me to shut the hell up with my self-righteous opinions! - as an aside, opinions are kind of like a**holes...)

But one thing I always encourage the athletes I've coached and friends around me is to exercise patience when it comes to those fall races and the training for those races.  From a physiological perspective, you're certainly not going to win the race NOW, in March. March (and the months surrounding it on either side and maybe another one here or there) is for laying foundations. I'm not going to use the word "base" because that's so often mis-used I wish to add no more fuel to the fire.

Now, to use a metaphor Brian likes a lot and is extremely apropos, is the time to be adding some cylinders to your engine.  Let's say over the winter your big V-8 engine dropped a few pistons and shafts and what not and is now an inline 4 cylinder engine. Your horsepower has gone down (as it should) and your overall engine displacement is less than what it used to be.

Guess what?! That's ok. It really is. Because now is the time of year when you are pumping out short, hard intervals to max out that little engine's capacity and - therefore - make it a big bigger. Big long sweet spot and tempo intervals in February and March (and April maybe, and later maybe) are just tuning your inline 4 cylinder engine. It's like taking a diesel Jetta and adding a chip tune and an exhaust. You've still got a diesel Jetta. What you REALLY want is maybe a Corvette, but you're taking the Jetta and trying to make it look and sound like a Corvette (and failing miserably at both).

Sure, your Jetta is a bit faster and sounds a bit cooler and maybe looks a little better but at its core it's still just a Jetta.

All of this is to say, the time to be getting specific as it relates to your "goal race" training is kind of when your goal race is. It's ok to be patient now and wait for the big work to come later (this may be a case of me telling myself this as well...). I don't need to be ready for Louisville NOW, I need to be ready for Louisville on October 11th (or 12th or whatever day it is).

Patience really IS a virtue. I am still very impatient when it comes to some things (like the lines at Chipotle in Midtown between 7-8pm, WTF!!??) but at the end of the day I like to big picture myself down to being patient as far as it relates to training.  You don't need to be ready now, but when you DO need to be better be ready.

Right? Maybe?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Weekly Racing

It is, at times, quite interesting to discuss some of the "issues" endurance athletes seem to have. They are similar, for the most part, across the board. Boredom is one of the main ones. Becoming jaded with what they have been doing with their sport for some continuous period of time.

Mountain bikers who contemplate road racing. Roadies who take up cyclocross and mountain biking. Triathletes who switch to just one of their sports (or dabble in all of them at one time or another from a single sport racing standpoint).

We all seem to go through similar peaks and valleys and how we each individually manage those is a key to our success.

Mountain biking, as I've mentioned before, has really saved my interest level in triathlon. It keeps me sane and hungry throughout the winter months. Is a 2hr mountain bike ride as beneficial to my triathlon racing physiology as a 3hr road ride with intervals? No, of course it's not. But I will say one thing about it:

It's 100 times more fun.

Plus, it allows me to work on things that no triathlete works on:

1) 30-60s power
2) Bike handling skills
3) Racing technique

# 1 and 2 are the most important; 3 is kind of a wash. Triathlon isn't really about RACING, it's about pacing. The most I've "raced" a triathlon was at White Lake Half in 2013 when myself and Pat Wheeler were 50 yards apart for 12 of the 13 miles of the run. I can think of other racers around here who have experienced similar situations, but I still wasn't truly RACING Patrick. I was meting out my effort at the highest level I felt I could sustain. I was, essentially, pacing. We were - at that time anyway - of such similar ability levels that both of us were pacing to relative perfection.

Bike racing of any sort (mountain bike, road bike, cyclocross) is not at all about that. And that's what is so beautiful!

Basic priorities in bike racing:

1) Don't get dropped
2) Be patient
3) Don't do anything stupid

Last weekend I did the second race in the Winter Short Track series and managed to accomplish all of those priorities without fail until the last lap. I had managed to breakaway with Terry and we had created a big gap back to 3rd/4th place and I was leading into the woods with 1 lap to go. Unfortunately I decided it would be prudent to slow my roll a bit as I knew Terry couldn't pass me in the woods and it would leave me a bit fresher for the final hammer fest up the fire road to the finish line.  The bad thing about slowing down a rhythm you've maintained for 40+ minutes, however, is that it completely throws off your timing when it comes to getting past each "element" on the course.  On nearly the last technical part (last left turn leading into boulder section climb) I washed out my front wheel and fell over.  Terry, directly behind me, managed to come to a stop and recover quickly and get on his way. I lost a bit of time and distance to him as I stood up and got back on the bike.  Unfortunately it was too much to make up in less than 30 seconds of racing.

I don't like losing, generally speaking. I especially don't like losing when I had set myself up with a prime opportunity to win.

Be that as it may, that's racing! The beauty (I'm finding silver linings here) of having mistakes is being able to learn from them!

Start line (thanks TC for photos)

Proof that I was first into woods (TC photo)

Terry was making it hurt on the front of this train (TC photo)

Slightly dejected finish line crossing (TC photo)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Catching Up

It seems as though more than usual of late I am "catching up" on the blog front. I had good intentions when I started the "series" of "42" posts generally surrounding the idea of "Ironman" and I still plan on fleshing that out but I think it's important that I get back into the routine of my once-weekly postings that I so often brag about.  Just kidding, I don't really brag about them (or do I?).

But generally, it's pretty tough to keep going week after week after week in the blog world. Ask anybody that's started one or kept one or never posted anything other THAN one and the general consensus is that it's pretty frustrating to keep a continual streak going.

In a sense, I like to look at it as similar to keeping a run streak going. Day after day you run, even if it's only 15-20 minutes (or less) and all of a sudden after a couple of weeks and 15-20 runs in a row (or more) the "job" gets quite a bit easier.  Same thing with the blogosphere. Regular posting keeps you, well...regular!

Funny I should mention that, as I had a pretty good run streak going myself. From November 24th to January 15th I had a streak of running every day. In totality during that time frame I ran 62 times.  Not too shabby! Unfortunately while playing in the first games of the Ultimate Frisbee league I signed up for on the 15th I strained or pulled my left hamstring quite remarkably while sprinting to block a throw.  I didn't run hardly at all the following week and have only just started back. LAME! Sucks getting older and frailer.

The run streak DID include the Frosty 25k "trail" race

that I did with Mr Behme, which was quite fun. We took it "easy" the first hour and then picked it up a bit to the finish.  It was my longest run in all of 2015 (obviously) and actually my longest run since late 2013 (my longest run in 2014 was a half-IM I believe).

So that was fun and I was feeling pretty good running wise.  Unfortunately my swim and bike were lagging behind quite significantly.  That's ok though, because it's January and the big race of the year isn't until October.

So, plenty of time...

Be that as it may, this week marked my second week of getting back on a "regular" schedule. Swimming on Tues/Thurs morning (a bit of a departure from before; trying to get in more LCM swimming), running 5-7 times a week, and biking 3-5 times a week.

One thing that has, admittedly, somewhat "revolutionized" my bike training is the setup of my indoor riding. I have [finally] admitted defeat and realized that I needed something that was very, very easy to get on (i.e. permanently set up on the trainer, so to speak) and I needed something entertaining to do while riding it.  With that in mind, I've got my P5 set up on the Wahoo Kickr and it talks to both TrainerRoad.  I have been extremely tardy in adopting this technology due simply to the fact that I have always HATED riding indoors. The thought of doing hard workouts inside while stationary just really "rubbed" me the wrong way (haha, get it? kinda lame).  But now I have turned a complete 180.  I am actually ENJOYING my rides indoors. I am working HARD for an hour. And it's fun! TrainerRoad is kind of like a video game to me. I want to "win" each workout.

If you haven't tried it yet, you really should.

I've been taking more pictures

And this past Sunday I participated in my first bike "race" of the year at the Winter Short Track Series (opening weekend).  I decided to race Super Sport (vs Expert) for a variety of reasons but primarily because I know Bobby and Chris W race expert and I cannot hang with them. So it's a question of being off the back of the Expert field or on the front (hypothetically) of the Super Sport field.

Given that I haven't done Short Track in a couple of years I opted for (what I hoped would be true) the latter.  I ended up placing second after a long battle holding off Terry and another of his Total Cyclist teammates through most of the back half of the race.  Unfortunately on the last lap I ran into a tree but luckily had a good gap on the duo behind me so was able to recovery and finish ahead of them.  I am a little scarred but with smoked legs but all in all it's been a good couple of weeks!