Monday, September 15, 2014

Weekend of Racing

Let's get straight to it: there was quite a bit of good racing done this weekend.

Saturday:

12:15 pm - Masters 30+ Cat 3/4 race

Masters is an odd categorization in cycling. I've never quite figured out why it exists.  There are already categories, what is the purpose of adding "masters" to the designation? But it seems most riders that are 35+ (Masters 30+ is a random, odd category), 45+, 55+ etc choose to race in their "masters" categories versus racing in their "categories," i.e. 1, 2, 3 and so forth.

Anyway, the race was mostly uneventful. I stayed upright and near the front until about halfway when a wreck on turn one managed to separate the field by about 100 yards.  Unfortunately, I was in the group that was separated off the back so had to work quite hard to catch back on, as nobody else seemed to want to close down the gap.  I ended up dragging a couple of people with me and was a bit gassed by the time I actually got to the finishing straight.  I ended up crossing the line in roughly 8th overall, but due to being lumped together in one mass start with all cats (Masters 30+ 40+ 50+) I actually crossed 3rd Masters 30+.  I'm not sure if I get points for that, but it was nice to walk away with a couple of bucks!

2:15 pm - Cat 3/4 Race

This race was MUCH sketchier.  In fact, I took a video of the entire race from the front end of my bike.  But, because I am a kind and caring video-maker I will not subject you to an incredibly boring 40+ minute video (which seem to populate the internet these days).  I pared it down to the last 2 laps as that is when most of the interesting stuff happens.

High Point Final Laps from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

The average age of this race was much lower, which - I think anyway - is what mainly contributed to the sketchiness.  A buddy was recently discussing bike racing in general and what it is to be younger (i.e. 18-24) vs "older" (30+).  Generally the older crowd has to get up and go to work on Monday (and earn a paycheck).  They don't want to wreck. They'll choose safety over 11th place in a field sprint (generally).  The younger crowd, however, don't really care.  Sprinting it out for 13th place matters more than waking up and going to work on Monday morning.  Usually because they don't have to go to work on Monday.  They go to school.

I say this from experience, knowing that's the way I used to race.  Not a bad thing, per se, just a different thing.

There was a near wreck in the last straight so I sat up and crossed the line. No interest here in contesting a sprint for 20th place...

Sunday:

Lake Davidson Sprint Tri

Swim 500 yards, Bike ~13 miles, Run 5k

Great pictures from the event!

There isn't a whole lot to say about this race (plus, it was over a week ago at this point) other than Derek kicked my a**.  He bolted on the swim, rode incredibly well on the bike and pulverized the run.  I was somewhere behind lagging around when I realized Ross was actually catching me quite handily mid-way through the run.  I decided to try and egg him on and make him work hard for the finish.  He closed the gap until in the last 100 yards he was only a second or two behind.  Across the line I stuck out my left foot (with timing strap on) to narrowly edge him out, congratulated him and promptly barfed all over a tree.  Three times.

The equivalent of throwing your bike
It was a good effort from all parties concerned and overall a fun day, albeit quite warm.

The following week contained several important things:

1) Rode for the first time with Bobby, who is a fantastic mountain biker, at the WWC with John and JZCapTri.  It was quite fun learning some new lines and watching someone much better than me demolish the trails.  I love riding fast and improving my skills and the day proved to be a fast one, with lots of PR's set (via strava)



2) Running
3) Getting back into a swim routine that isn't pathetic so I don't embarrass myself too much in Miami

All in all it's been a good couple of weeks.  Trying to get back to being consistent and string together some nice weeks in the lead-up to Miami!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Facebook Posts

It's not often I get involved with a discussion on facebook. Even less often do I start one myself. But yesterday's news got me thinking.

Here it is reported via Slowtwitch
Via Triathlon.com
Xtri.com
220triathlon.com

Essentially, what it boils down to is that Revolution 3 Triathlon merges with the Challenge Family of races. 

First off, here is what I posted to FB:

"Here is food for thought for those to whom the "merger" between Rev3 and Challenge is a great and promising thing:

You are celebrating failure. Rev3 WAS a great event production company (and will likely continue to be great as Challenge employees) with a grand idea and scheme that NOBODY supported. If given the choice, do you think Charlie would PREFER to continue forward as Rev3 and make a bit of money and continue to operate under his own authority and discretion? Or is he pleased to be absorbed into a bigger conglomerate, thereby mostly losing the brand he imagined, created and developed...?

The answer is obviously a bit of both, but only because money was probably funneling out of the system too fast. Am I guilty? Sure. But so are we as a community. I thought Rev3 events were great (of the 5 I did) and left very little to be desired (although the pro races were too damn competitive haha).

So yes, a celebration of failure.
Thoughts?" 

Now, at first glance it appears as though I am attempting to be argumentative; that I am "taking a stand." The majority of the feedback that occurred yesterday in various forums and social media outlets was overwhelmingly positive.  I don't really mind dissension, but that is not why I posted that. I was, in effect, trying to get people to look at it from a different perspective.

Is it a good thing? Obviously yes, it is a good thing because the other option was Rev3 lasting another year or two before folding (in my opinion) OR being purchased by a different company (i.e. WTC).  It is great that Charlie and his employees (at least most of them) will still be employees of Challenge and be able to exert their influence and direction on the brand and its races.  They are a fantastic team that truly cares about the athlete's experience.  I think it will help legitimize the Challenge brand in the US, which I believe has had mixed results depending on which race you did (Challenge AC or Challenge NA).  I think it's great that some sweet venues will continue to host races (at least in the short term).  I have only done Andersen, Williamsburg and Florida but I have thoroughly enjoyed each of those (although Andersen was not nearly as good as the other two, in my opinion. But that had nothing to do with the race and was due to the location of the race).  

I got some pretty choice thoughts from this post and here are some of my favorites:

"You are the first pro athlete I have heard on this side of the argument. My thoughts are that having races is better than not having races. Same with pro purses." - James Thorp

First of all, I am not on any SIDE. In re-reading my post I don't think I come across as being on one "side" or the other. I am on the side of better athlete experiences.  I think this will continue. Whether I am a pro or not is a moot point when considering the context of what I am saying.  OBVIOUSLY, having races is better than not having races.  Pro prize purses is a whole separate discussion.  My thoughts on that DO certainly take a side, however.  One could argue that me saying that we as a community are celebrating failure is a "stretch" but it is still true, just slightly over blown.  I said that as a discussion prompt.  Remember: "If it bleeds, it leads."

"Is it a failure of a business model or is it two businesses identifying synergies and economies of scale." - Ferg

Ultimately, it IS a failure of a business model.  If it wasn't, Rev3 would be continuing status quo (in my opinion).  Just read the interviews in all those links up there.  Charlie (Patten) sounds pretty resigned.  My guess is that he is celebrating the merger with Challenge because he gets to continue putting on great races.  In the end, this is an extremely synergistic partnership that will help both companies moving forward.  My point was not really to dispute that but to identify the underlying issue at stake.

I am not, ultimately, arguing that this is a BAD thing. I am not really arguing at all. I am trying to promote a discussion of what is happening, both on a national and local level.

Think about it this way (especially if you're local to NC/VA/SC/GA/MD etc): we have a "major" player in event production, Setup Events.  For longer than I've been around they have been the go-to triathlon production company if you live in this area.  In fact, at one time I believe they were touted as putting on the most triathlons in the country (correct me if I am wrong).  Athletes got very "used" to the Setup "experience."  I can really only speak to the NCTS, but that's part of what made those races so desirable.  There were questionable decisions made (as there are with any company that is selling a product) and over the past 12-18 months the athlete experience has diminished (in my opinion) for a variety of reasons.

From that has emerged Jones Racing Company, founded by the two people who had been running NCTS division of Setup for quite some time.  To be honest, they were what really drove the positive experience that WAS NCTS for most people, even if those people didn't realize it at the time.  Now, JRC is putting on and/or timing a lot of races in NC. Triathlons, running races...mud runs even? Anyway, the triathlons (which is ultimately my concern) have not been particularly well-supported.  People ultimately speak with their dollars and, so far anyway, the words have been "I'm still fine with Setup."  I think that will change over the next 12-18 months quite a bit, but time will tell.

Other triathlon production companies include (but are not limited to) Start2Finish (emerging in NC but long-standing in TN), FS Series (mostly in Triangle area), Trivium Racing (run by a very experienced triathlete), etc.  So there are several companies vying for a piece of the pie.  Who puts on the best experience? Well, I have my own opinions on that to be sure but ultimately my opinion is a biased one (as are most opinions).  It boils down to the average triathlete.  That one right in the middle of the bell curve in terms of age, ability, means, location, etc.

Each of those aforementioned companies (with the exception of Setup) are basically small business owners.  Hope and Benji, Jen and Donny, Rich Swor, etc.  They are in a competitive marketplace.  They don't do event production to make a lot of money.  They do it, presumably, because they want to provide a great athlete experience to their customers.  They are selling a product.  Each of them started with (again, I'm assuming here) a vision of what they wanted to accomplish when they set off on their own terms (or when they started from scratch).  My guess is that each of those people or groups of people would NOT be excited to merge with the other due to the competitive landscape that is local/regional event production.  Sure, maybe then they can combine forces to "take down" Setup Events (are you sensing an analogy here?) but would that REALLY be good for the community as a whole?  Competition is a good thing.  Varying experiences are a good thing.

Rev3 and Challenge provide quite different athlete experiences (N=1).  Challenge NA was a good race experience, but it wasn't REALLY a Challenge race.  It was an HFP race.  My issues with the race were the exact same as when I did Giant Eagle back in 2011.  It was the exact same feel.  That's not a bad thing, but I think HFP has some things it needs to work on at its race production.  People continually cite how AMAZING Challenge Roth is when expressing pleasure at the merger (keep in mind, I think it's a great idea).  Challenge Roth is in Germany.  That's really far from here.  In the US, Challenge has heretofore licensed their production to local teams.

Rev3 races are a fantastic experience.  They are all the same, but in a good way.  A huge and helpful team, great branding and a desire to truly provide you with the experience you paid for.  They created that company with a specific vision on what they wanted to accomplish and have, for many years, stuck to that vision.  A big and competitive professional field and a challenge age group race on challenging courses in family-friendly venues.  That's WHAT Rev3 is.  Or, I should say that's what Rev3 was.

My hope is that Rev3 continues that mantra under the Challenge umbrella and thus, to an extent, homogenizes (and improves) the Challenge experience.  I think that is what will happen.  It will be great for everybody if it does.

But at the end of the day, Rev3 was not supported adequately by the general triathlete population.  That's what made this merger (takeover, purchase, whatever) a possibility.

That is the point I am getting at, ultimately.  I am not "taking sides" nor am I arguing that this is a "bad decision" or that it is a "failure" at its core.  I think it is a failure on the part of the triathlon community to do anything other than verbally support a brand.

Everyone likes to say "Oh I totally want to do that race" or "Man that sounds like a great venue" or "Rev3 really puts on a fantastic event" or "Challenge Roth looks incredible" (I've said that) but at the end of the day you have to put your money where your mouth is.  I'm not saying I'm not guilty; one of the only reasons I have any Rev3/HFP/Challenge experience is because I raced as a pro and thereby received free entry into the race. So that perspective allows me to chastise, but I am also chastising myself.  I don't know anything about economies of scale, synergistic business opportunities, or races in Germany but I DO know triathlon. I've gotten to talk to a lot of triathletes over the past 4 years.  I'm not saying that AS a triathlete, but as a retail sales associate.  You get a much better sense of what people know and are looking for than by browsing Slowtwitch or talking to your other above average triathlete friends.

So, let's support races that do a GOOD job.  Challenge Family is hopefully going to be one of those, more so now with their new crew.  Honestly, Ironman does a pretty good job too.  Locally, I haven't done a race I haven't enjoyed in some way.

In the end, people love being a part of something that is bigger than they are by themselves. They love competition. They love getting what they expect even if they don't know that it's what they want.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Changing the guard

Changing the logging guard, that is. For many years now I have logged all of my workouts via Athleticore.com, a website created and maintained (although I did not know this when I first started using it) by Nick Frank.

For those that read this that don't know, Nick was a collegiate XC guy turned very good triathlon turned pro triathlete in Charlotte back in the 2007-2010 time frame.  At IM Florida he set the AG course record in 2007 at 8:49 (:53 + 4:48 + 3:01 give or take a minute or two on each).  The website he designed was popular for many years in the local endurance community but has, over the past couple of years, lagged due to lack of updates.  This is no fault of Nick, who no longer is interested in maintaining and/or updating the site, which has remained remarkably stable every since I started using it.

It's fun because I can look back and see the my first ever runs (and then later bikes and swims) and my "notes" about each.  It is a good way to gain some perspective.  Despite what I think of myself now or what I am capable of I felt quite differently back in January 2008.  My goals were different, my abilities were different, and I myself was quite different.  Yet I am the same person.  It's impressive what 6.5 years will do to a guy.


But nowadays, due simply to the fact that I spend a decent amount of time on OTHER workout related sites/software (Garmin Connect, Strava, WKO+, etc) it is not often I find myself logging my workouts via athleticore.  Consequently, I have made the very final and bittersweet decision to part ways.  My workouts will exist on athleticore (forever?) for all to see and mock but Garmin Connect will be what I use henceforth.

I know everybody was pretty anxious to hear where I would be taking my talents for the rest of this season and beyond, so I just wanted to make sure to fill in the crowds.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Jimmie Johnson Foundation Cane Creek Triathlon

Besides having one of the longest names of any triathlons I have had the great pleasure to participate in, this race was loaded with talent, intrigue and possibilities.  Besides taking place in the bustling North Carolina metropolis of Waxhaw, it was set to start at 6pm on a Tuesday evening.

It is not often one gets to participate in a triathlon (a real one) on a Tuesday.  It's not often that triathlon is also at 6pm.  So combining those two things, a beach start and the promise of shaking babies and kissing hands with some of the biggest motorsport names in the area was just too much for little old me.

At the CMS TT last week I got the chance to talk to Derek and he said he was going to race as well. So this meant we'd get to throw down again after going 1-1 at Stumpy Creek and Challenge NA.  The Big German was signed up as well as Zack Capets so I figured there'd be some good competition even on a Tuesday night race.

The day of the race dawned bright and relatively early and after most (most?) of a workday I made my way down to Cane Creek Park, which takes approximately forever to get to no matter where you are coming from (unless, by some awful coincidence, you LIVE down there! Sorry Starkey and Fletch).

It rained virtually the entire drive and while setting up it continued to rain.  Luckily, by the time the race started it had been clear and dry for about an hour which meant that the roads were, for the most part, dry.  This is a good thing as it means

1) Not unsafe
2) I don't have to clean my bike

I got to say hello to various people doing the race that I've gotten to know and got in the way of some of the shots the videographers were taking of Jimmie, who racked next to me.

He's won some stuff too
Actually, he was in transition first but I put my bike next to his just to make sure everyone saw how much better looking a Cervelo P5 is when compared to a Trek Speed Concept 9 series ;)

Obligatory Side Shot (OSS)
 I got to speak a little bit with Josh Wise, who did Ironman Cozumel last year (really well) and had just done a 4:40 at Racine 70.3 a month or so prior.  He has become quite internet famous lately through his sponsorship via Reddit and Dogecoin.  I am probably not getting the "chain of events" correctly but that is probably because I am bad at sponsorship searches and I don't quite understand cryptocurrency.

Unfortunately I don't have any candid shots of myself from pro photogs
Landon Cassil was also in attendance and doing his second ride (total) on his brand new bike, the Cervelo P5. In spite of having the most casually swiped aside haircut Landon is pretty fast and has a great position on his new bike.  In time, perhaps the student will become the master.  In the meantime, however, I will let him continue to drive his Sprint Cup car with little to no input from me on going fast in that realm.

Google image search is an amazing engine
After making my way to the front of the start line (beach mass start) the horn sounded and we took off like a shot.

Swim - 6:55 - 2nd

I knew Derek was going to go full gas and try and drop me with that extra swimmer gear he has. What I did not realize, however, was how much FASTER a guy to my right was going to take it out.  This guy had like a 10 yard gap in the first 10 yards.  It was pretty impressive.  Unfortunately for him, by the time we rounded the first buoy I was slapping him all over the place before moving around him to latch onto Derek's feet, who came past on my left.  That guy blew up, REALLY HARD.  Oh well.  Through the middle section I was able to stick on Derek's feet but by the time we rounded the last buoy he was putting some gap on me and I exited the water about 10 yards back.

T1 - :24.5

T1 was a pretty long run up a hill to a parking lot (I think the timing mat must have been past the beach due to how short T1's time was and how long the swim's time was) but both Derek and I made our way through it expeditiously.

Bike - 31:01 - 1st

Derek got out a wee bit ahead of me but I passed him as he was getting into his shoes.  Fortunately for me, Derek let me lead him a bit as we made our way around the rolling hills of southern NC.  He came past as we were going up a hill about 5 minutes (ish) into the ride.  I felt strong today, however, so unlike Stumpy Creek I did not "let" him get away from me.

For the next 20 or so minutes we made some turns, attacked some hill, and turtled some flat sections as we plowed our way through the bike course.

"Turtling"
I decided to pass Derek on a downhill, which is a bit silly but it seemed to be the place where I was most at an advantage over him.  What I did not realize, however, is that right after I passed him there was a right turn back onto Harkey Rd to signal the last 2 minutes of the bike course.  D'oh! I made my way up the climb and hopped off the bike (after bunny hopping two prodigious speed bumps) and made my way back into transition just ahead of Derek.

T2 - :19.6

I had a quick T2 and got out on the run course just ahead of the comp.

Run - 18:25 - 2nd

I headed out on the run at a good pace and it wasn't until the first turnaround (there were two turnarounds per lap and there were two laps) that I got a chance to see how much time I had on Derek.  It wasn't much, so I kept on pushing. Along the way I saw Steve Hall in 3rd, Binny chasing in 4th (on Ironman Legs), and then Chad sandwiched in between Josh and Jimmie (Nascar drivers apparently make for good athletes, in contradiction to the rumors).  I felt good throughout the first lap and continued on pace through the second. It was fun coming through transition area over 4 times throughout the run course as it made it a bit more interesting from a spectator standpoint.  Unfortunately for the Nascar drivers, however, there were multiple right-hand turns which meant that for each one they had to make 3 lefts.  It slowed them down some, I am sure.

Derek did not slow down, however, so I was forced to continue pushing throughout the second lap crossing the line with a relatively narrow margin of victory over DeKidwell.

Overall I finished in 57:05 to Derek's 57:42 and really enjoyed the race.  There was obviously more "attention" on this race due to the involvement of the JJF, JJ himself and his high profile driver/racer/crew buddies.  It was definitely pretty cool to see them get involved in the community itself.  Unfortunately for them, they don't get the chance to race particularly often (in triathlons) due to the fact that they have no off-weekends.

Hopefully this type of race can take hold but if it was something other than JFF I might be skeptical of its ability to draw a crowd.  Over 100 participants raced, which is definitely impressive considering the location and the timing.  Plus, the prizes were outstanding. Without going into too much detail, let's just say that the winners got loaded up pretty nicely and the category podiums did well also. Danielle and I also got the opportunity to spray champagne everywhere which is not something that happens often when you are a triathlete at a local race.  JJ himself even posted an instagram video on his own page on instagram AND on Facebook! Wow, the fame!!!


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Powermeters have ruined riding bikes

Every good story draws you in some way, preferably within the first page or two.  I don't have a couple of pages to ramble on so I had to draw in my reader with a good title.  I've been riding a bicycle since roughly 2002.  In the scheme of things, that's not a particularly long time.  I have not been riding consistently that whole time either; there were times in college when I took a break from cycling to "focus on my academics" (hehe) and didn't ride with the team much.  There were times after college where I "focused on work" (hehe) and didn't exercise at all.

BUT, the point of it is that I've been riding a bike for ~13 years.  I have enjoyed all different types of riding:

1) Riding by myself
2) Riding with friends
3) Racing with friends
4) Racing with enemies
5) Mountains
6) Trail riding with friends
7) Trail riding with animals
8) Cyclo cross racing
9) Criteriums, time trials, circuit racing, road races, omniums, prologues
10) Naked mountain biking across the Sunken Gardens
11) Self contained long distance riding (camping+)
12) You name it


The common bond through ALL of that is that riding a bicycle is just plain FUN.  I remember one summer between freshman and sophomore year I wanted to get better at sprinting so I would ride my bike on the levee out and back almost every day (1-1.5hrs) and pick 3 or 4 signs and entertain myself by holding little sprint competitions...with myself.  Now that's fun. It's like playing with legos when you're younger but all of a sudden those crazy cool genius interlocking bricks become mad dashes across an imaginary line while on two wheels with shaved legs.  It's basically the same thing.

TDEA 2000something

Then there were those rides where you and your friends picked teams, sprinted for lines and "mountain" top finishes, attempted breakaways, attacked each other until your hands tingled and basically made it one huge "measuring" contest (I don't need to say what we were measuring, do I?).

Then a funny thing happened.  Everyone started buying powermeters.  Everyone started having coaches. The "level" of talent was still the same but the "level" of taking-it-seriously had jumped a couple of notches.  All of a sudden the normal weekend ride went from:

3.5 - 4hrs of "don't get dropped"

to

4hr - 50aer + 5x(12mins threshold + 3ez) + rest aer

On the surface those may not look too different to the average reader, but the underlying message became: this workout is more important than riding with friends.  Because your friends would have different workouts and maybe didn't want to do yours with you or maybe couldn't and maybe their intervals were different and the route you chose wasn't conducive to their intervals (say if they had vo2 instead of threshold or tempo instead) and blah and blah and blah.

blah blah blah right into holy sunburn!

Believe you me: I am completely aware of my own involvement in this trend.  Back when I got my first powermeter in 2010 I didn't really know what any of the numbers meant.  I didn't care.  It took several months of riding to begin to understand the implications of each number that popped up on the ol' Garmin.

And then, slowly but surely, things started to change.  I began to prefer the KNOWN quantities that were my OWN power numbers versus the unknown quantities of the group.  It is too "easy" to give in to one's own workout because you KNOW that workout.  You KNOW the intensities and the suffering and the duration and the difficulty.  You KNOW that. It is yours. A group, however, brings the unknown back on the table.  When will he attack? How strong is he right now? Can I actually hold the wheel? Hopefully she doesn't drop me...etc.

This has created a world in which - for us anyway - our group rides are:

50-60 minutes of riding "aerobic" together

1-3 hours of intervals where we will see each other every once in a while

50-60 minutes of riding "aerobic" together

That's great and all if your only goal is self-improvement. If YOU want to be the best that YOU can be then yes, you need to suffer by yourself at your exact zones with your exact workout for the exact length of time you need to be doing it. But for most people, they could maintain a greater level of enjoyment if they just pretended to not have a powermeter 50% of the time.

The other 50% of the time wear 100 layers because it is SO cold

Just act like it doesn't exist.  Ride 1 or 2 days a week without caring what it says or what it means. Turn Saturdays into a group ride day where you can either meander along and actually look at the stuff around you or drill each other into the ground until you're slobbering all over yourself.

Powermeters are fantastic training tools, but paying attention to it more than anything else is going to ruin your enjoyment of riding a bicycle for the reasons bicycles are so fantastic.  Trust me.

I'm a trustworthy guy, right?


Friday, August 8, 2014

To Pro or not to Pro

Here's your little story for the week.  I couldn't just let it lie at a video, could I?

Weekend of Trails from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

Shameless embed.

Now on to the original topic.  Triathlon is a fairly unique sport.  It accepts all comers. EVERYONE can find competition and the fulfillment of personal goals in triathlon.  The only requirement is a decently thick wallet and a willingness to work hard towards your goals.

I like that about triathlon.  I like that you get out what you put in.  People that don't reach their goals simply don't understand the right way to work and have consequently created a barrier or they just don't want to work hard enough.


Ashley zips me up B2B 2009

Want to qualify for Kona? Well, you gotta work your butt off. You may need to get a little lucky.  You need to have everything go right on one, long day.

Want to set a PB at an oly? Well, choose the right course and train hard.

Want to lose 30 pounds? Well, work your butt off and eat smart.  (or my philosophy: work your butt off and "if the furnace is hot enough ANYTHING will burn!)

Want to race as a professional against the best endurance athletes in the world?

White Lake Half 2011

Well, you can.  You've got to get really fast and then choose the right race and qualify for your elite card.

I qualified for my pro card at a race back in October 2011.  That year I had done a combination of things:

1) I trained, a LOT.
2) I picked good races
3) I got lucky

I was pretty happy, to say the least. When I first started working with Brian I listed racing as a pro as being one of my main goals. The dream of being able to "realize your potential" in the sport is a fairly tantalizing one.  Brian, in that year, had taken me from a decent age group athlete to a better than decent age group athlete who qualified for his pro card.

Being a "pro" in triathlon simply means that you can race in the professional field at a race that has one and that you are eligible to compete for prize purses.  So at your "regular" or "local" race where there is maybe an "open" division or just "age group" you are a pro but you race against everybody.  In a bigger race where there is a pro field you compete against the likes of Terrenzo, Starykowicz, McDonald, Limkemmann, etc.

Augusta 70.3 2011

You basically have three years of "eligibility" when you are a professional.  You renew your USAT Elite license every year just like a normal license but you have three years where your qualification results mean you don't have to "requalify." Now, most pros generally "requalify" without really thinking about it. The pros that make money in races, anyway.

Little old me, however, has NOT re-qualified to race as a pro (yet).  I have done relatively few races as a pro in my three years, due in no small part to the fact that it's just really expensive to travel around and race beyond our little "sphere."

2012 - Giant Eagle 5150, Rev3 Andersen SC, Rev3 Florida
2013 - New Orleans 70.3, Rev3 Williamsburg, Rev3 Florida, Ironman Cozumel
2014 - New Orleans 5150, Challenge New Albany, Miami 70.3?

Rev3 Florida 2012

As you can see, there are a few things in common here:

1) Races within driving distance (according to my standards of driving distance anyway)
2) Races in my hometown
3) Races in our region
4) Races that offer free entry to professional athletes
5) Races that are cheap to get to
6) Only 1 or 2 "IM" events in a year so side-stepping the exorbitant WTC Pro Fee (many hundreds of pros pay this but how many pros actually GET prize money, hmm?)

I DNF'd at Giant Eagle, Rev3 FL '12, IM Cozumel so obviously did not re-qualify there.  I have set personal bests at the half distance at Rev3 FL '13 and CNA '14 in non-wetsuit legal races for pros but didn't re-qualify at either of those (thanks Jesse Thomas and Eric Limkemmann!! haha). I beat all of the elite amateur racers at CNA '14 (who also got to wear wetsuits), all of whom qualified to apply for their pro card.

Shipwreck Sprinternational 2012

I have gotten to the point where I am not intimidated by racing anyone from North Carolina. I am confident in my strengths and weaknesses and how far I've come.

Yet if nothing changes after this year I will no longer hold an elite license.  I will be racing as Male 30-34 in every big race I enter. I can potentially qualify for Kona. I could qualify for 70.3 WC. I could qualify to race as a pro...again.

But...why?

Rev3 Florida 2013

At this point, with the changes announced recently by WTC, what is the POINT of me racing pro?

Let's start by listing some pros of racing pro (haha, see what I did there?)

1) First to start and first to finish - easily the best part as the course is the cleanest and I am done the quickest.
2) Best spots in transition
3) Ability to sign up for races as late as desired even when sold out (this only really holds relevance for Ironman events)
4) The prospect of free entries for elite athletes (really the only races that are truly "free" now are Challenge races and an odd race here or there depending on race director).

Cons:

1) Racing alone
2) More pressure on yourself
3) More pressure from others to live up to "pro" status
4) Having a relatively difficult time with "goal setting"

That last point is kind of nebulous, but in my mind it basically means that generally as a pro it seems difficult to establish concrete GOALS.  That's part of what I like about it but also part of what I don't like. I like just getting better, but sometimes it's hard to maintain direction, focus and motivation when there is nothing CONCRETE to your year.

I am sure I am forgetting some but those are some points that have been on my mind recently.

I am almost 100% positive I am going to sign up for and do Miami 70.3 because I would like to give myself the CHOICE of racing as a pro or not in 2015. I don't want to feel forced into one decision just because I resigned myself to my "fate."

IM Louisville 2010

At Miami (which has a prize purse greater than $5000) I will have to come within 8% of the winner's time to be eligible to "requal" for my pro card.  My guess is that will require a very, very fast time (the winner last year went 3:41 which would mean to be within 8% of that you'd have to go about 3:58 or so).  Is it realistic? I am not sure. Can I go 4 hours? I do believe that it's possible. If you think I am blowing smoke up my own ass, then you are welcome to that. I genuinely believe that if I put a good swim, bike and run split I am capable of doing at or very near 4 hours.  Then I just have to see where the chips fall!

If you COULD race pro, would you? I'll leave you with that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Challenge New Albany Half

Alright, let's get this out of the way first. As of the beginning of last week I had absolutely zero desire to race a half distance triathlon. I was disappointed in myself after Stumpy Creek and the thought of trying to go fast for 4+ hours held little appeal.

That being said, I had the great good fortune to already have booked time with two great travelling buddies: Jenny Leiser and Sylvain Lefebvre (Seal-van for reference, don't try the last name unless you're French).  So even while I was contemplating heading to the bustling metropolis of Columbus, OH but not racing I knew that those two funny buddies could make widdwe james feew wike wacing...

So with the rental van under my protective wing we loaded up the bad boy and headed out on Friday (a bit later than planned but that was entirely my fault, sorta) for the 7 hour drive north. The drive was mostly uneventful, except for the HUGE traffic issue at the border of Virginia and West Virginia.  We waited in stopped traffic for a while and using the Waze App discovered that there was something going on in the tunnel up ahead and that traffic was basically stopped for 4-5 miles before the tunnel on the northbound side of I-77.  Traffic advanced slowly every once in a while and we discovered it was because the cops were routing traffic down an off-ramp but then everyone just got back on the interstate.


It was only the second time off the interstate that every seemed to be trying to find an alternate route (while still getting back on 77).  The issue was that the tunnel is basically the ONLY way to get north/south via an interstate. We listened to the radio (an AM station, no less; how resourceful!) and discovered that the northbound side (where the accident had occurred) was potentially going to be closed for a few days. At this point we decided to go east and then northwest, wayyyy out of our way but it would get us across the border and back on 77 north of the tunnel.  So we drove over an hour just to get about 7 miles directly north on I-77.

Ugh. Could've been worse though.  We didn't make it to Columbus until 1:30am (should've been there by 8:30pm) so no early wake up call was set.

Saturday we took care of the usual pre-race stuff (ride, run and swim - the water was cold - rack your bike, pick up your packet, attend the meeting, eat dinner).

Being #1 was kinda cool
Race morning dawned bright and early (3:30am wake up call) due to the necessity of being done with T2 setup at 5:00am to catch the shuttle to Swim/T1. We set everything up quickly despite some quick re-routing on the way into New Albany High School due to some construction and got in the shuttle buses.

Once we were out at the swim start we didn't actually have all that much time to get set up so some of it felt pretty rushed.  I had realized the night before that I had completely forgotten my normal race kit and the only piece of triathlon apparel I had brought with me were my ICE Racing tri shorts. No swim skin, no one piece, no nothin'. "Luckily" it was wetsuit legal for the AGers so Sylvain was kind enough to let me borrow his Kiwami tri suit for the swim.

The swim would be a beach start with one right turn, two left turns, a long stretch, two more left turns and then one last right turn (picture: rectangle).  The pros lined up and the race was ready.



Swim - 26:33 (15th)

The swim start was a relative surprise to the pro male field it seemed.  There was a lot of talking and then someone on a loudspeaker started a countdown from "10" and the game was afoot. I heard a lot of "Oh s*it!" when the countdown started (quite possibly including my own exclamation of said words) but the goggles were down and wits were ready at the sound of the horn.

The course, at the start anyway, was a bit ridiculous. They had told a young lifeguard (girl) to basically stand about 20 meters off the beach and be the first "buoy" for all fields.  Little did she know what 20+ pro men going around her as a buoy would be like (guess they didn't sell her on the idea by showing her any video of what dudes going around a buoy looks like...)


I lined up on the left so I wouldn't have to take an inside line on the first "buoy" and got on some feet immediately.

The pro men's field was basically composed of two groups of athletes: "Tier 1" and "Tier 2." If any pro male that raced there reads this an is offended you know it's true. The Starykowicz/Limkemann/Griffin trio is as good a half-distance group as any at a regular 70.3 (for the most part) and then there is the rest.  I am not even in the "rest" as it were. So there's that.

Consequently, I was able to sit on feet the entire swim as there were no "tweeners" to pull the swim pack apart.  Despite this semi-logical rationalization of the swim itself I was extremely pleased to emerge roughly in the middle of a pro men's swim pack. It may have been a one-off and it may never happen again but it felt pretty good to not come out of the water by myself, ESPECIALLY in a non-wetsuit swim.

T1 - 1:04

My T1 was not my greatest as I got to my bike about 2nd out of our group of 5-7 but was last or second to last out.  Ooops.

This map does not show the terrible pavement, surprise!

Bike - 2:18:58 (12th)

The first ladies had just gotta on their bikes as I also got on mine and I was both happy and sad to not see Jenny among them (happy because she always catches me; sad because that means she didn't swim as well as she could have). I motored past and got in the group of dudes, excited to see how a group of seven or so pro dudes navigates the bike course under the stagger rule.

Well, the answer is: curiously.

The stagger rule is very strange. I understand completely its intent but it is very difficult to follow at times which makes it difficult to know what one should do given that a stagger or draft penalty is purely a judgement call of the official.  So, being at the back, I watched guys weaving all over the place to try and stagger appropriately.

I initially was way over the watts I felt I could manage for 2+ hours but they pretty quickly dropped down, although EVERY SINGLE ONE of the pro guys in that group rode the hills twice as hard as they rode the flats.  So I'd have to pump out 300+ to get up the hill but then be sitting on the flat sections at less than 220 watts. It was extremely frustrating and it's a really bad way to race long-course bike splits.  But that's seemingly the way EVERYBODY does it, not just these pros.

Be that as it may, that's how it was rolling along when Adam Otstot came up to me (as I was hanging out at the back of the group).  He said "What's up" and proceeded to move through the entire group on an uphill.  Adam, being a D1 collegiate XC runner at a very competitive XC school (my alma mater) has a bike/run that is very competitive.  So to see him moving through the field this "early" in the race was pretty cool (knowing he had the bike/run to potentially catch the top 5).

That being said, his little maneuver had the effect of "blowing apart" the group as guys went with his pace and guys did not (I did not).  This meant that the middle third of the bike course was pretty boring.  I passed a guy who got a stand-down penalty then later on he came past with Steve Rosinski following soon thereafter. I caught back up to Ryan Bates and rode with him for a while before I decided to get back up to the watts I wanted to be at (they had been falling slowly).  The last stretch of road was finally a smooth one and it was quite flat and fast so it was actually pretty fun with storm clouds rolling by (very windy) under dark skies. Felt pretty epic. I caught up to another USPro Tri guy coming into T2 (which was one of the most ridiculous transition entrances I have ever seen) and managed somehow to pop off a shoe upon dismount, which elicited this reaction:



As I needed to turn around and pick it up. Oh well, rules are RULES! I love rules.


T2 - 0:54

My T2 was speedier than my T1, but not by much. Let's just call this whole "racing" thing a general "work in progress" and move onwards towards the run.

"Bike for show, transition slow, run for dough" - me.


Run - 1:21:32 (9th)

Thomas Wood was not far ahead of me and I set about getting into a controlled rhythm but unfortunately almost immediately dropped my gel flask. As much as I love not eating gels, I figured I should probably pick it up. I ALMOST grabbed it as it was bouncing around which would've been pretty sweet but I had to pick it up after it hit the curb.

I managed my effort level well and got to the only out-back of the two looped course and turned around to see Derek much sooner than I anticipated (i.e. "hoped") and Brad Williams soon thereafter. Hoping I would put some time back into them on the run I continued on my merry way. The first lap passed relatively uneventfully except for by the end of it I had moved maybe 7-10 seconds ahead of Tom Wood. I felt pretty good still and by the second time through the turnaround I had made a fair amount of ground up on both Brad and Derek.  Hoping for the best I carried on around the golf course with nary a worry in mind.



Unfortunately for me, my lack of run volume (at least, that's what I'm going with) started catching up with me after 8 miles.  From that point on, it was kind of a struggle to keep rolling at what felt like a decent pace. Mike Caizzo eventually passed me and while I had been catching Barrett Brandon pretty regularly he now was so far ahead that he might as well have been on the moon and equally reachable.  Tom Wood finished stronger than I did and passed me as well in the last mile.  So, in spite of giving away several minutes over the last 8k of the run I still managed to hold on to a solid overall run time and come in just under 4:10 on what I felt was a fairly challenging overall course.

OA - 4:09:04 (14th)

Lonely finish line once everybody is gone :(

I was pleased with this race, partially because I had such low expectations of myself after Stumpy last week but also because it was just a good race. I beat some people that have beaten me before and I swam with a group. Regardless of who composed that group it was still a group and there was still swimming involved, neither of which I am as familiar with as I should be. A sub 4:10 on a non-wetsuit course with a rolling/slow bike is pretty good and I am happy. Even though "good" for me means 14th and a failure to come within 8% of the winner's time (thanks Eric L) - which is what it would take to requalify for my pro card - it is another step in the right direction, which is being consistent.

It is somewhat ironic that I did not re-qualify for my pro card at this race (and haven't yet, actually) BUT I likely would've won the elite amateur race (who also got to wear wetsuits) and would've qualified for my pro card that way.  Oh well.

The best part of the trip, however, was yet to come. Jenny got the idea to drive to Cedar Point Amusement park on Monday, spend the day there and drive back Monday night/Tuesday morning, which may or may not be the greatest idea she's ever had.

With that plan in mind, we woke up on Monday and headed north to Sandusky, OH to experience some sweet roller coasters.  Arriving at about 12 we proceeded to make the "most" of the next 7 hours.  I am unsure of how many rides we did, but the only "big" one we missed out on was the Top Fuel Drag one (0-120mph in 4 seconds) due to the line simply being ridiculous. The weather cooperated quite wonderfully and despite eating a gross funnel cake (shame on you Cedar Point) nobody threw up (although I may have peed my pants a little bit with excitement a couple of times).

This one may have actually been my favorite

The "Gatekeeper" climbs into the clouds

I think this is the oldest roller coaster in the US, it was ROUGH (in a good way)

There was a LOT of this for Gatekeeper and Millenium Force; next time buy Fast Lane!

Millenium Force climbs into the sun

The drive back was long and boring but uneventful and all in all it was a great weekend.  Sometimes it's really nice to just get away.  We triathletes seem to require a race sandwiched in the middle, however...