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!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Staying Fresh

One of the things I have probably not talked about enough, although I have alluded to it quite a bit, is what has kept training [mostly] "fresh" for me. I do not train a ton relative to my peer group. I would say it is similar.   So week in and week out it averages out to be anywhere from 14-18hrs a week throughout the year (peaking at 22-25 on SOME good weeks and some obviously smaller weeks in there as well).

That's a good bit of swimming, biking, and running. Which, when you really think about it, gets fairly stale even for a three  If you train "right," most running is basically "easy" or "aerobic," most biking is "aerobic," and most swimming is "hard." I use those terms in parentheses loosely but the point is that most training is in the same "zone," or at least it averages out to be...

Weekend of Trails from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

But if ALL you do is train for triathlons your "training life" may get stale. It may not, may. At least it did for me. I have shown in the past that I have about a 3-4 year "lifespan" with sports. Golf lasted about 4 years, competitively. Cycling lasted 2.5-3 depending on how you time it.  Triathlon, so far, has remained the longest I've done a "single" sport in quite some time.

That being said, that type of longevity has not been without its ups and downs. I've written about motivation here and there over the years and anyone that knows me know that it can be pretty easy to tell when I'm feeling one way vs another in the context of my levels of motivation...

One of the ways I've found to combat the boredom that comes with strictly triathlon training (because it really is about fitting as much SBR into your available hours as you can and mixing in the right intensity with enough volume in a progressive, consistent, and overloading fashion...right?) is by pursuing events that are similar, but different.  Bike racing, mountain biking, and XTERRA have all made me more excited about competition in general over the past two years.

Backyard Trails from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

Of all of those (and other options that I'm forgetting) mountain biking has been BY FAR the best "waste" of my time. I use "waste" in quotations because it is not really a waste, per se, but it is not as good as road riding in terms of triathlon physiological equivalents.  So, waste was really a terrible word but I would imagine that many a triathlete would potentially see it that way.

It's another bike (woe is me), it's a different type of shoe, it's a different set of "rules" and "etiquette." It involves learning new skills and getting over fear and intimidation.  There's a different type of athlete in trail races/training. New places to learn where to park and how to pay, new forums to read, different strangers with whom to interact...etc.  It's all very intimidating.

I am fortunate in that I learned the simplest of ropes back in college.  I had a mountain bike for one of my years at The College of William and Mary but I honestly didn't use it very often.  I feel fairly confident in saying that I pretty much only used it on the campus trails and maybe for one training camp in Harrisonburg. BUT, the important part is that I first dipped my toe into the waters of mountain biking when I was 21-22 years old, which does a lot for getting over the "fear" factor. At that age you are, of course, invincible and capable of doing anything (it's only later that the reality sets in).

WWC Sunday from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

That drop off? Easy. That double? Sure, why not! That loose berm section? Full speed ahead.

I was not particularly good but I tackled it with somewhat reckless abandon, following my WM teammates to the degree I could.  Pounding the uphills, losing ground on the downhills and flowy sections, slamming the uphills again.  It made for tiring excursions!

But when I started getting back on the mountain bike 8 years later it meant I had already dipped my toe in and I was ready to start again.  I was intimidated, but only because I have since realized the fragility of my skin and other body parts.  I knew what I was capable of and, generally, what bikes are capable of.

Warrior Creek from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

The hump to get over for most newbies is that their skill levels are far below that of what the bike can actually handle (for the most part).  It's easy to be unsure of how much the bike will "take" but today's technology (big tubeless tires, hydraulic disc brakes, 100-120mm travel forks, etc) will make up for a LOT of your own mistakes.  It's fairly rare, at least when biking in a "normal" fashion on the trails - i.e. not nailing huge jumps or attempting big obstacles/elements, that the bike is not capable of more than the rider.

Once you get over that mental hurdle and concentrate on picking smooth lines (bumpier = slower) and learning how to use your body weight to help "transfer" and balance the bike you will have learned two of the most important things for trail riding.  Then, you will be golden.

It is far easier (for me) to get psyched about riding 2 hours on the trails than 2 hours on the roads, especially in the winter. I may not be getting in a steady, aerobic ride but I am working on my overall bike skill level and am improving my torque "abilities" and my body's proprioception and understanding of its "place" on the bike.

Backyard Trails 120fps experiment from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

Plus, it adds in the whole element of doing XTERRA triathlons! So all of a sudden you have a huge new component you can add to your season.  Plus, if you are a mediocre swimmer in road triathlons you will become an FOP swimmer as soon as you do an XTERRA! That part is pretty awesome.

It's also pretty easy to see if you would like mountain biking as the WWC has an entire rental fleet of bicycles and plenty of trail difficulties from which to choose.

WWC 1.19 from James Haycraft on Vimeo.

So, get on the trails.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

So you want to sign up for an IM?

So before you get to think too much about your reasoning behind deciding to do an IM distance event - reasoning which we will get into later in this series - you need to go ahead and sign up for one. As preposterous as that may seem, it is quite true for the most popular IM distance events in the US.  And yes, I am going to focus on US events because I am in love with America and don’t care too much about any other countries.  

For the record, that last sentence is a joke.

On the one hand this phenomenon is a bit ridiculous. But on the other hand, it encourages you - as an athlete - to be extremely proactive.

The “phenomenon” of which I am speaking is the fact that for many of Ironman’s iron-distance events you need to sign up about a year in advance. Races like Florida, Arizona, Chattanooga, Lake Placid and Wisconsin all sell out quite quickly. Don’t be fooled by going to and clicking through their race list and seeing some races still show as “open” because that can ALSO include registrations available via the Foundation slot method (twice the price, tax deductible entry fee of ~$1500) and Charity Partner method (raise money with race’s chosen charity for entry into race).

B2B 2009
At all races, the registration for the following year opens up in person the day after the race for volunteers at that year’s race, athletes at that year’s race, and general populace in person at that year’s race.  

This year saw an “historic” first at IM Arizona in that registration NEVER went online. That means that ALL general entry slots were filled in person AT the race site. Other races mentioned prior usually sell out within minutes online once registration opens.

That means that people are willing (and ABLE) to spend a fairly large chunk of hard-earned coinage a full year in advance, oftentimes having never done the race itself and many having never even done a triathlon to begin with (yes, that is not uncommon).  

Before you get nervous and worried that you won’t be able to get into a race that all your friends have done, rest assured that there are still some great options. Louisville, Boulder, and Lake Tahoe are all fabulous options that don’t seem to sell out for various reasons.

But really, once you’ve decided that you “need” to go ahead and sign up for an IM, the next step is deciding which is the RIGHT IM for you. Of course, I am making a leap of faith and assuming that ANY IM is “right” but I have already started down this path and have no further options.


Monday, December 22, 2014

The Number Forty Two

“Forty two” seems like such a random number at first glance. For the baseball fans out there it has pretty special significance due to the fact that it was worn by two of baseball’s more celebrated players: Jackie Robinson and Mariano Rivera. So for baseball fans, this beginning will seem a bit inauspicious because of the sheer significance that number has for them. Bear with me, baseball fans.

Other than that (at least to the point that I am aware of) that number in and of itself means relatively nothing. It holds no special mathematical value that I’m aware of, but then again I am no expert on mathematics…

But for runners and, by extension, triathletes that number holds a very special significance in their minds. It is a love/hate relationship with that number because of what it represents.

me thinking about IM

The origin of that number’s importance traces back quite a ways and I honestly have no desire or intention of plagiarizing wikipedia’s great entry on the “marathon” so I will assume that most readers are educated - however basically - on what the “marathon” is and go from there.

Needless to say then is that a “marathon” is supposed to be 26.2 miles or 42 kilometers and about 165 additional meters or 42.2km. The same holds true for the run at the tail end of an Ironman (or, if you’re a copyright/trademark kinda reader, the full distance) triathlon.  Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 (ish), and run 42.2km or 26.2 miles to round off a long work-day.

I am reminded of this number for several reasons.

  1. I just signed up for 2015 Ironman Louisville on my 30th birthday. I had been contemplating this for a while for many reasons, a few of which I have discussed prior to this point in my blog.
  2. 2015 Ironman Louisville is exactly 42 weeks from now.
  3. Number 1 means I’ll be running 42.2k 42 weeks from now
  4. See?

To be honest, the concept of an Ironman is a fairly ridiculous athletic endeavour.  The sheer distance of the event and the “required” training for it (I use the word “required” somewhat loosely, for reasons which I am sure you can imagine as that completely depends on the context of the person doing the training) to be completed successfully are massive. The time investment is massive. The financial investment is massive. It causes stress for yourself, for your family, and at work among other places.

What’s the point then? Is it really worth all that so you can raise your hands in tired resignation at the finish line? What compels people to spend oodles of money in order to inflict pain, fatigue, and a general sense of suffering on themselves?

That’s a good question, one I have often asked of myself. I’ve also asked it of other people. Lots of other people. So far, there have been some interesting responses. I am excited to, over the course of the next 41ish weeks, share those with you. And many more anecdotes on IM racing. My usual blog stuff; you’re probably fairly used to it by now!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

'Tis the Season

'Tis the season for people to be selling their bikes for absolutely ridiculous prices on the used market. I would not say I have a "ton" of experience in retail and the selling of bicycles and their related equipment and accessories, but I would say I have more than "most" - especially considering "most" don't have any experience...

So I am a pretty fair judge of prices, I think. What a bike and/or equipment is "worth" to the average consumer.  To a certain extent what a bike is worth is whatever someone is willing to pay, but set prices narrow it down a little bit and consequently make life a little easier. I would guess that if someone walked into a bike shop and a price tag said "whatever you think this bike is worth" most people would "lie" and say "very little" (but we sure would sell a lot of bikes that way!).

There are a couple of different types of people that acquire really expensive and/or "nice" bikes:

1) Those that can actually afford them
2) Those that can't and receive some sort of "deal"

# 1 is not who I am concerned with on this day.

# 2 is the category that concerns me.

This group includes elite athletes, club athletes, buddies, etc that get a "deal" through some sort of "contract."

They could be a part of a "team" or they could be an individual "sponsored" by a shop or they could be "sponsored" by a company.  The list goes on and on... The point is, these types of people are either getting their bikes very discounted or they are getting them free.

This is the annoying group of people because then they turnaround and sell those bikes or that equipment. And they try to GOUGE you.

Here is a great example:

"FS: Litespeed Ci2 Ultegra Di2 sz 54"

blah blah blah ridden for a year blah

can come with blah for blah
or blah for blah
maybe some blah for other blah


or in its original build (original msrp $6000) for $2800

And so it is listed for sale.  Don't get me wrong, this is a really nice bike. The issue lies within the manner in which the seller is selling it.

First of all, the seller has listed all their sponsors down at the bottom of the post in their "signature." One of those sponsors is "Quintana Roo/Litespeed" (ABG).  So at the same time they are "marketing" their sponsorship they are selling a bike the user is supposed to think "retailed at $6000."

Second of all, the msrp of the bike doesn't matter once it has been used. It doesn't matter at all. This bike may have "msrp'd" at $6000 but you can buy it BRAND NEW for basically what the seller is asking.

Third of all, if this seller did not get this bike free I know exactly what he paid for it. And his asking price is gouging whoever buys this. No arguments there, even if the seller reads this. They'll know..

When you purchase a bike at a steep discount or get it for free or whatever you may get as a "sponsored" athlete you have an obligation, in my opinion, to "pay it forward." The goal of YOU getting the sponsorship or discount is because, in some way, you DESERVE it. You have helped the company or the business by purchasing that bicycle or accessories/equipment in the past. You have marketed that company/business to the general public in a positive way.

So when you turn around and sell the product (which is perfectly reasonable) you SHOULD offer it at a reasonable price. A "fair" deal so that the bike continues to enjoy life under someone who will APPRECIATE it and grow to love the company (hopefully). You don't get a free bike or a discount so you can MAKE money when you sell and buy/receive new bikes. That is not the point. The point is to grow the brand from whom you are receiving the relationship.

Right now is when a lot of people are selling bikes (myself included) to get something new for the upcoming year. If you are selling your bike, be fair. Be reasonable. If you are buying a bike from someone you assume gets a discount or product don't be afraid to call BS on them.

Happy Holiday Shopping, athletes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Racing NOW vs Racing THEN

One of the "cool" things about having a blog for such a long time and writing in it with fairly regular and predictable frequency (in some ways, one could compare my blogging to the predictable drudgery yet equally predictable relief of a morning movement!) is that I have a reliable history when I want to look back and examine something.  If I am curious about how I felt about a race (or even during a race) I can go back and read that entry. If I am curious about how bored I was in the "off-season" I can go back and look at how many blogs I did from December - January and get an accurate representation of just how bored I was.

Bottles on the FRAME?!?! Gross.

What I am using my blog for currently, however, is comparing my mindset when racing NOW versus when I first began triathlon back in 2009 (way back when).

For example, at White Lake 2 (as a sidenote, remember when there were two weekends of every race? Talk about quantity before quality!) that year I was signed up for my third triathlon ever and my second half ironman.  Most of my friends were doing the race and when most of your friends are pretty good triathletes you think that you yourself are a pretty good triathlete, purely by association (whether true or untrue).  A 4:30 sounded like a nice goal. I don't know why, but it sounded like a good number.

Maybe akin to the way people want to "bike an hour for a 40k" or "break 3 for a marathon" or "start a blog." It sounds a lot easier than it actually is.  Because saying something is pretty easy, relatively speaking.  Doing it is not.

At White Lake Half (2) I did or used a lot of things I have since forgone as I became more "experienced" and "wiser" (and, presumably, "faster"). I used HR quite insistently (I did not have a powermeter at the time, let alone two).  I took salt tabs (mainly because everybody did). I used mph as an indicator of effort.  The "custom coach" jerseys will all over the place (including on me) as this was before the days of teams in Charlotte.

So many things were different. I had no idea what I  was doing. It was awesome. I ended up with a 4:34 or so, I believe.  In hindsight I am surprised it was that "fast." Because I really was a complete newbie. Learning from others, using their methods, taking their advice, trusting their methods were at least tried and true, etc is a great way to get started and move towards attaining your own personal goals.

In 2010 I did a lot of the same: what everyone else was doing. I signed up for Louisville. I probably trained completely inappropriately for my actual fitness/ability levels and the year was a bit of a blur. I don't remember specifically a lot of the races I did but the big ones were NOLA and Louisville.  I think at NOLA I set a PR and was 2nd AG (25-29 back in those youngling days) but did not do Clearwater because I hoped to qualify for Kona at Louisville (obviously did not happen).  I COULD go and read the blog entries for that year, but I have a point to make.

I think I do, anyway. The point is somewhat vague and unclear.  I think I am trying to make the point, albeit in a very roundabout way, that I am really excited for next year and racing in the M30-34 category. It's been a really fun 3 years of racing as a "pro" (although I only did 5-7 pro races) but I never really got to have an AG "career." Most people that are kind of "adult pros" (i.e. they weren't on some development team or national level junior team or a D1 swimmer/runner or on the ITU track, etc) follow a somewhat predictable path. They race locally and get really good locally. They then branch out and basically win everything regionally. Once that's done they start to be relevant on the national scene. On the national scene they start winning their AG no matter the race. Then they turn pro. The time period for all of that is relatively unpredictable, obviously.

But take Jenny as an example (although she was a D1 swimmer so this is somewhat out of line with my statements above). Starts triathlon after swimming. Has some hits and misses.  Then, after a couple of years goes undefeated in North Carolina for more than two years. Competes in Kona (goes sub 11). Wins AG at various 70.3 races (plus top amateur).  Then, goes pro.

I never really did any of that. The races that were "supposed" to be that for me were Augusta in 2011 (I sucked), AG Nationals in 2011 (I was mediocre at best) and Beach 2 Battleship Half (I was mediocre).  So I didn't really get to prove (mostly to myself) that I SHOULD race as a pro, despite qualifying for my elite license that fall.

Sometimes I think people assume I have a blog because I have something to prove. For the record, that is not why I have a blog. It doesn't mean I am vain, or looking for social approval or some kind of "look at me" validation of what I am doing.  Just...for the record.

It was extremely cool to be associated with the real pros in our sport. To walk to a start line with a P on your calf and have the more casual triathletes (who don't - surprisingly - know who James Haycraft is) at races associate me with Michael Raelert, Starykowicz (the real one), Richie C, etc.  They don't know me or who I am or what kind of speed I actually have but because I am racking next to those guys (and gals) I must be similar, right? It's definitely a cool feeling. Having the cleanest courses, the first swim waves, the best rack positions, special considerations, etc was definitely nice.

But now it's back to the beginning.  Starting over, in a sense. Now I am competing against all 30 - 34 year old males.  I am excited about that. New Orleans 70.3 and IM Louisville are the two "big" races I have planned for next year (though I have not signed up for either).

It's time to go back to the roots of racing.