Category Archives: General

Basic posts

Race Report: Hutchinson Island Half Iron

First off, every race is a learning experience. No matter how many you do, no matter how long you have been racing, every race is going to be different. Even if you do the same race & venue, you physically are different, the weather could be different, dozens of factors go into a race. But when you do a race for a first time, you add more uncertainty. We had the course maps, heard from other people who had done the race previously, had even drove most of the run and bike course the day before. So we knew that the course was unshaded. But wow, when the forecast calls for cloudy skies all day and you get none of that all day, it can be rough.

Swim was a double mass start: one for the long peeps and then a later one for the short peeps (half iron or short course). We actually had to wait for the sun to rise, sometime after 7am so that the lifeguards could get the buoys placed. The ocean was not completely flat, but the waves did not go out far. We had to swim in a kind of T pattern: straight out, left turn, 180° to head south a long while until we hit the other turnaround buoy and then the other left turn buoy to take us back to the beach. But wait, I forgot the fun before and at the start: Now while the waves were only close to shore, they were pretty intense. Just standing in knee deep, my ankles were getting pounded by the shells picked up from the waves going both in & out. I should have taken that into account when the race finally started, as before I got to that first turn buoy I went to take a breath and was figuratively punched in the face by one of those strong waves. It took a good minute to recover (and several more to clear my lungs) and get my bearings, even a fellow member of Boca Raton Tri (Stefano) stopped next me and asked if I was okay. Once I got over that it was just a matter of getting to the next buoy. That proved uhhh, let’s say fun, as the current (going south) was enough to keep pushing my direction towards the shore. I think I must have done at least 1.5 miles instead of the posted 1.1 miles. And it turns out I kept some the ocean with me the rest of the day.

The bike, oh the bike. Started out okay, heading north for about 12 miles along good ol’ A1A – almost 100% flat, except for the few bridges that went over some canals. There was water bottle station at about mile 10 – remember that. The forecast was for calm to less than 5mph out of the NE for most of the morning, but it turned out to be more of a straight crosswind – it felt like a headwind going both north and then south, but a breeze going west. Unfortunately after going through the roundabout (mile 24) and turning west it lead straight to the NE Causeway bridge. And oh what a bridge it was! I think one of Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships could have fit under it, but that might be an overstatement (doubt it). Up and over the bridge and right at the bottom of the west side we had to do a right side 180° to go under the bridge and then go right back up the bridge on the other side. It was under the bridge at about mile 26 that the other water bottle station was located (thankfully), so I did a quick stop to fill my water bottle. So if you are following the math, you probably figured out that I was only halfway through the 56 mile bike when I got back to the roundabout. That meant another trip up and down A1A and the crosswinds (a bit stronger this time), and another trip with the bridge. It was almost like an unshaded Sugarloaf Mountain. The first bottle station I mentioned earlier (remember that?), was empty: no bottles, just a pair of guys in volunteer shirts sitting. Luckily the water station under the bridge still had bottles, albeit no longer chilled. I forget at what point I realized that I do not like biking. But thankfully the bike was over.

Run – wait, let’s not call it that. Let’s call it “survive 13+ miles in an almost completely unshaded foot course.” Because that was basically what it this last leg of the triathlon was. As I started out I wondered if it was smart idea: a little nausea, the high heat & humidity, and knowing that there was barely any shade. I made it to the aid station at mile 1 and then the aid station at mile 2. There I downed a bunch of ice water, a cup of coke and dumped several ice water all over.  That helped and I felt the effects within 5 minutes. Go a few miles, left turn down a side street a bit, come back to the main street but keep going, go under the A1A bridge (& finally find a bathroom), turn around, go up & over the A1A bridge, do a quick in & out of park only to go back over the bridge, do a 180° back under the bridge to thankfully start heading back to transition, only to do the out-and-back from earlier, and then finally go straight to transition. Confused? Yeah, so was I. There were mile markers, but I guess they could only afford a small handful – one for the bike course (a misplaced 20 mile sign at mile 18.5) and four for the run: miles 1, 5, 8 (on the wrong side of the road facing the wrong direction), and 12. Thankfully there were some animals that littered the courses: saw a raccoon scampering around some shrubs the first loop of the bike, lots of birds all around, some dolphins at the run bridge, and enough crabs (both dead & alive) to stock a seafood restaurant for a week. Also thankful that around mile 7 I held up a bit and stuck with another fellow Boca Tri member, Kyle and we kept ourselves sane for the rest of the race. Always easier to keep moving with someone.

So what did I learn? Never do a half or full iron distance race between March & October in the state of Florida, or southeast US – the heat (plus humidity) can be a killer. What’s next? The relay at GFT with my wife and we are sooooo glad we downgraded from the individual ultra distances. Will I do another solo half iron or longer? Probably not

Ironman 70.3 Augusta Race Report

First off the Augusta area is a nice place for a triathlon. The amount of volunteers was amazing and the police were friendly – thanking me for coming out after I would thank them for their service. The weather was also perfect as the day started out in the low 60s and reached a high of mid to upper 70s with partly cloudy skies. The downside to being the largest competitor field of any half-iron distance triathlon is the number of waves at the start: 27! I had to wait over an hour for my wave to get onto the makeshift dock.

Augusta 70.3 swim

View of swimmers coming down-river

So the swim: the announced water temperature was 69 degrees Fahrenheit but it didn’t feel so cold when I (finally) got in. I did feel a bit of a chill on my face a little later on but not too bad. Being in a big wave was bad at the start with a bunch of other guys jockeying for position, but it thinned out pretty quick. Going with the current is a nice way to start a triathlon. The replacement goggles I had picked up at the expo worked well as I had no issues with glare (full tint), fogging or leak at any point. I got to the ramp and trotted over to the strippers (forgot to bring singles) and then headed into transition.

augusta 70.3 bike transition

See – no sun-glasses! 🙁

Onto the bike: so the first transition is where it started going downhill for me. I got to the correct row (2240-2290) but somehow my bike and gear were not at my number – I spent a moment or two staring at sticker 2272, trying to figure how my stuff had moved since I was certain I had checked my bike on my race number. When I spotted my setup a rack down, I then couldn’t find my sunglasses – checked everywhere and then remembered that I had not taken them off my bag earlier that morning. After digging in my bag produced nothing, I am guessing that they had somehow fallen off between the car and transition. So I added bottled water to the Perpetuem already in my bottle (next possible error), put on my shoes and helmet, turned on my Garmin, and left transition.

We had driven most of the course Friday on our way to the expo, so we had some sense of what to expect, but I realized later the hard way some of the inclines are different in a bike than from a car. The first 20+ miles were manageable in elevation changed, but the roads were rough and a bit “bouncy” in the saddle. It was a few miles before the bouncy areas that my neck started to bother me (this will play a part later I believe) and the plain water (left my Nuun tablets at home) in my aero bottle along with semi-warm Perpetuem started to bother my stomach, or so I think as this combo was new. I usually freeze the nutrition but couldn’t due to the time from transition closing (7:15) and my swim start (8:44). So then I decided to grab a Perform at the first aide station to mix with the plain aero water – it might have had good stuff in it but the flavor was eck. Downhills were awesome (one was so long, I must have hit 30+ mph) and plentiful – except that an uphill usually preceded it. The long and low up hills were fine and there was only one steep incline (right after a downhill) that I did a little weaving for. I did a lot of switching from big to little chain ring, although there were some rollers I was able to develop enough speed to not have to switch into the little ring, just lessen the gear. Some areas were freshly paved – one intersection within possibly last week, that were nice towards the finish of the bike. Overall the bike course was full of nice views of hillsides, horse pastures, Jimbob’s Auto Sales, lakes/rivers and nice country with houses. Rolling into the Augusta Rowing Club meant the bike was finished and I could hop off and trot back into transition.

The run: oh, how that one hurt! Literally and physically. I started out okay, doing 8-2s for the first 3-4 miles of the two loop course. Then the pains started: neck pain (from earlier) spread to the shoulders and down my back, cramps in the lower abdominal area (thinking from un-chilled bike nutrition), and then upper leg and feet pains. The Heed I had with me I think settled the ab issues. I also found interspersing jogging with speed walking and regular walking worked out for me. The run course was pretty nice – the inner hook (east then west on Broad Street) was more populated with spectators than the outer streets. Aide stations were also nice, spread out and well stocked. I had my two fuel belt bottles with Heed, so I didn’t need (or want) the Perform, pretzels, gels or fruits; I did keep my bottles full whenever I passed the aide stations, except until I got near the end. I always seem to be able to jog the last mile of a long or rough run – crowds are always an adrenaline rush.

our moms cheering at augusta 70.3

Our cheering section waiting by the swim exit

The end: the first thing I did after collecting my Finisher medal and hat, water bottle and photo? Take off my Newtons! Wow, my feet felt better (not 100%) so I walked over to the massage area to get on the list, grabbed a beer and then said “hello” to my parents and in-laws before heading back for my massage, followed by pizza. The not wearing glasses for the bike would rear it’s pain later that day, requiring drops, and Five Guys would be the dinner we would consume – yummmm!

Lessons learned: double check that you have sunglasses, SoFla boys hate hilly courses, figure some way to keep nutrition chilled if you have a long wait until your wave starts.

What do I think of this race? If you are not a fan of swimming and/or don’t mind hilly bike courses – DO IT!! There is a reason this is the biggest 70.3 in the world and a popular one for first-timers of that distance. I may never see a 26 minute 1.2 mile swim again. Unfortunately as of press time I have yet to resolve Garmin’s error in uploading my data to Connect, even though it imports to Training Center fine, so I can’t do screenshots of the maps or data, nor see what speeds, elevations or heart rates I had.

Oh well, on to the Miami Man Half in November!

Rocketman Half Iron Race Report

Nothing cooler than standing next to the announcer’s tent for the national anthem and then for Sister Madonna Buder’s invocation. Transition was small but well placed (a bank parking lot) and the overall race location was nice. The finish area was a space center park next to transition. The organizer’s even color-coded the wrist bands to match the racer’s distance for the swim buoys and bike signs.

The triathlon in one word: rough.

The swim for the half was a long triangle done counter-clockwise. And it seemed the farther out we went the choppy it got. Especially when we made the first turn, that is when it got slow and most choppy. After turning again and heading to the exit dock, I picked it up, even catching a group when I got to the exit. Exit was a pair of ladders from a pool secured to a dock with volunteers there to offer assistance getting out. There was a bit of a run to get to transition – down the dock, across a small park and around to the back of transition before entering. Took longer to get on my bike shoes than normal. Mount line was just outside of the parking lot.

I am 50/50 on the bike course: nothing beats going by the launch pads, vehicle assembly building, and seeing nature on the course … but about ⅔ of the roads were almost as bad as the washboard at Ironman Florida. There were a few portions that were decent, even a stretch around the launch pads which had been paved not long ago. It started with the one major climb of the course – the causeway that joined the mainland to Merrit Island which started ½ mile from transition, climbed up 65 feet and lasted about ½ mile. The next 9 miles or so were bumpy, yet, thanks to a tailwind, I maintained about 18-20 miles/hour. The half iron course had a turn for an out-and-back, which was so thankfully smoother so I was able to stop and pull up my right arm pad which had bent down due to the earlier bumpy section. After the out-and-back, I continued south past where the classic and internation turned east. The going was decent, even after the u-turn, until there was a right turn to head east. This road was relatively less bouncy, but the tailwind was pretty strong (I saw 24+ mph) which led to a slow return (10-13 mph). Oh, yeah, that was the 3rd out-and-back, 2nd that went east-west. I then rejoined the classic/international course that was heading for the launch pads and vehicle assembly building (the KSC photographers were positioned for that shot). At one point there was a turn by one of the NASA buildings and I then saw signs for turn for half irons. This ended up being about a 1 mile box that ended up putting me back before the first turn. Not only do I not remember this box on the map nor a part of the race briefing, but who is to say that some people … missed it? After the big loop around the pads, I then had the pleasure of turning east … remember the out-and-back of 10-13 mph? Yep, those winds again. There were some portions that were easier to deal with than others, but there was no sweeter site than that of the bridge and nearby apartment complex. Thanks to time spent in headwinds and bumps, I still surprised myself by averaging 10 mph up the bridge in the headwind, zig-zagging and passing people. Then it was the downhill – I thought I could get by without peddling, but half way I noticed I was only doing 15mph and slowing down, so I started peddling again and cruised the last 1/2 mile to transition.

Got one pair of shoes and headgear (helmet) off and another pair of shoes and hat on. The exit from transition took almost the same path around transition as the swim to the road. For the half marathon course we followed the road along the river south for about 3.5 miles, headed back to the park, turned around and did the whole loop again. It would have gone a lot better if not for three issues: my legs were sore from the windy bike ride, my butt was sore from the bumpy bike ride & it was not cloudy. Still, when I was not walking the aide stations (two set up on the course passed four times each loop with water, gatorade, ice & Clif Shots) I was doing a decent pace (~10 min/mile) for good portions, especially when there was a breeze. There were a few spots where locals were parked in lawn chairs cheering runners on – not along a stretch on US1 with businesses (one lane was coned off for runners). I think I ran the last mile in. The finish wrapped around a lake in the space park with music and a guy announcing finishers – fudged my name a bit (duh!), but made a point to ask the correct pronounciation as his girlfriend also has a last name with many consonants. Water, soda and even a few slices of pizza were consumed afterwards.

Did I beat my time from Miami Man a few years ago? Sure. Did I think I would do better? Of course. I might have shaved several minutes off in better weather and/or road conditions. But, I can’t control the weather. Would I do the race next year (if offered)? Depends on what, if any, changes are made.

My Experience at Ironman Texas 2011

Crossing the Finish Line of Ironman Texas

Just before I crossed the finish line of Ironman Texas

Wow, what can I say about it? My first Ironman distance triathlon is in books. It was a lot more difficult than I was expecting, but I am pretty sure it was due to the fact that the hills were more numerous than advertised. We got to The Woodlands on a Wednesday and when we got to the hotel and got our luggage to the room, spent some time getting our bikes together. In doing so, noticed that my bike seat had gotten squished to a side (thanks, Continental). Regardless of my seat, we were planning on heading to the Ironman Village anyway, so what better excuse? Walking around there, we didn’t find any vendor that sold any real selection of seats, but one did recommend Bike Land just five minutes away. So we woke up Wednesday morning, heading to the bike shop and after a few test rides, settled on a seat, so we then went for a 1/2 hour bike and 10 minute run, duplicated again on Friday after a test swim in the lake. The day ended with a good dinner at a local steakhouse. Surprised by a good sleep that night, Larry drove us to the transition area.

swimming the lake of Ironman Texas

A crowded swim for Ironman Texas

The swim was fine; yeah it was crowded and yes the final canal was more narrow than we would have preferred, but I still had a good time. Sure I could have had a much quicker swim if not for smacking into people, getting heels in my chest and head, and trying to get around crowds. I did find myself drifting to the right a few times and I can only remember seeing one of the red turn buoys, let alone even turning myself. It was a good thing that I was wearing my wetsuit, because that narrow canal got pretty chilly. It was announced that the water temp was 79° which I am sure the main lake was but that canal was definitely a few degrees colder.  It was a great sight when I came upon the arch for the swim exit! I trotted out of that animal farm, stopped to have my wetsuit ripped off my legs, and then headed to the transition tent to get ready for a little bike ride.

biking Ironman Texas

Riding the rolling hills of Ironman Texas

Wait, did I say a “little” bike ride? Who am I kidding, this was Texas and there ain’t nothing little about their bike courses. It is described on the website as: “The course is mostly flat but features some rolling hills” which is. of course, according to Texan standards. So I hop on my bike with my bottles of Hammer Perpetuem and Sustained Energy and begin my trek, with a decent crowd around me. I think the combination of the rough conditions of the swim, plus the granola bar I ate enroute to the race, played with my stomach as I had some G.I. issues for about half the bike, stopping at about four of the first seven rest areas to use the portable toilets. I did stop at the special needs stop to drank my Mix1, which I think helped with my stomach. Although it did not help with the rolling, rolling, rolling hills. Yeah, for those that do not live in “hilly” areas, imagine you are on the interstate and there are two overpasses in a row. Now imagine that for at least half of a 112 mile bike. It got pretty lonely after about mile 80, and was grateful that a random cyclist hung around for a few miles; it might not have been illegal, but at that point I would have taken a two/four minute penalty. Part of my desire to get off the bike was also due in part to a long stretch of road that was unfinished. My bottom was already sore from breaking in the new seat … it did not appreciate that dark new road gravel. I was quite pleased to make it to transition before the 5:30pm cutoff. I spent a few minutes getting my running gear before heading out for the last leg of my day – hopefully with some legs still left.

And so started my third leg of Ironman Texas and my third marathon. I had a feeling I was not going to beat either my A1A Marathon time from 2010 or my Mickey Marathon time from 2011. But what made it easier than you would think was that it was a three loop course which went through Market Street, a residential neighborhood, and circled around where the swim start was located. I jogged as much as I could. The first lap was spent mostly still in the sun, which meant there were a few points where I walked for a few minutes. I finally got to chat with someone for the first time that day and he helped the first lap go by smoothly. I wish I could remember his name to give him credit, but unfortunately all I can remember was that he was an older gentleman who had a bucket list to do all Ironman triathlons and had attempted St George two weeks ago but had crashed on the bike – still had two fingers taped. It was during our chats that we confirmed our theory on the cold swim – he regretted not wearing a wetsuit as he said his swim split was just over 2 hours. He must have had a good bike time as he was on his last run lap. Just before he jogged off (for some reason he wanted to run ahead of this lady instead of just behind her) he gave me the rest of his salt pills. When I came to Market Street, boy was that uplifting. The second lap was the start of the sunset so I tried to jog more, but that proved a bit more difficult. But once again I was grateful to chat with someone for about half of the lap, as Angelique (?) was on her last lap. We mostly just chatted about the bike, training, and the run course. After a good walk, I decided to start jogging again. When I came through Market Street again, I knew the last lap was going to be a b. it more difficult. After I passed the crowds, it got quiet and dark. There were some spots that were so dark that I was glad they had laid out the glow sticks along the sidewalk. But I knew that time was of the essence and I really did not want to stop in those areas. Who knows what weird Texan creatures were in those woods. So I pushed through those areas a bit more quicker. There was a rest area at about mile 22 where I heard someone mention that there was about one hour left. So I knew that as long as I maintained a 15 min/mile pace that I would be fine.

Just after crossing the Ironman Texas finish

Me just after I crossed the finish line of Ironman Texas

There was stretch that passed some restaurants which proved motivating, after which I walked. It was about mile 24 or 25 that I decided to not chance missing the cutoff and started jogging. Pretty soon I was upon Market Street, and the music and cheering became more pronounced. I will never forget that. Even as I type this I feel tears forming. Just before I turned the last corner I hear, and see, Larry shout at me. The home stretch with Mike Reilly and the arch that I have been waiting all day for. When I gave Mike a high-five in passing, that was awesome. Passing through the archway and having the medal placed around my neck, even better. I could probably go on and on about that day, but I have a sprint triathlon in a few weeks and, now that I feel that I have completely recovered, I was to see how much faster I have gotten over short distances.  😀

What I Have Learned About Triathlon

With only a few weeks left before Ironman Texas, I decided to give a breakdown of the three disciplines (swim, bike, and run) and what I have learned about each of them. I am in no way an expert but I like to think that I have probably experienced enough in training for Texas and the other races before, and also listened to friends’ experiences with the sport to be able to put down on “paper” what about each leg is easy and difficult.

Swim:

Probably the easiest of the three legs of the race to pick up, given the fact that a majority of kids are taken to swim classes. But even better: it is also the cheapest of the three sports since all you need are swim trunks & goggles = you’re good to go! And freestyle, the easiest of the swim strokes, is also the most recommended in triathlon. And what beginners should know is that swim portion is also the shortest compared to the bike and run legs. But the best part: it is water! There is the resistance of the water itself, but that is it (unless you wear paddles) so there is a less chance of developing joint pain, broken leg, shin splints, brain injury, etc.

What makes it difficult: I am used to breathing on the bike and run, but breathing in a pool/lake/ocean is a different ballpark. I can go for long hours on the bike or on my feet without any breathing issues (note: except running in high humidity), but I am still trying to figure out how much/little air to take in for long swims. So let’s say that you mastered that. With regards to training locations, you are limited to the ocean (dependent on weather, jelly fish, algae, etc, if you even live near one) and/or pools (probably this). Depending on your area, some indoor pools are not long and usually require a membership (gym) and outdoor pools can get crowded (not good for lotta-lap-workouts). If you have a rainy season (like South Florida), lightning can play havoc on schedules.

BEGINNER’S TIP: With sprint triathlons, the swim is not long (around 400meters) so not much training is required to make in through the distance. Simply go to your local pool to get some laps in to build distance, with a couple hard/fast laps to help out. At the race, be sure you start in the back of wave or veer to the sides, as the center can be, well, let’s say, rough for those not used to tri swims.

Bike:

The one part of the triathlon that you can sort of take brief physical breaks and still be moving forward. Yes, you can sort of glide through the water, but only for a second or two; and forget about running (feet don’t move, you don’t move). If it any time during a ride, forward momentum will carry you along for some time; if you are lucky and get a downhill timed right, you might not have to peddle for a good while. Of course, a nice downhill meant that you probably had to get up it. But with the multitude of bicycling training videos and group rides being held, it is possible to develop into a quality cyclist within a few short months.

Of the three disciplines, this can get to be the most expensive. It is recommended that when you are first entering the sport to go “affordable” for your first bike: WalMart, Craigslist, garage sale, or even someone within the sport that has one lying around or wants to sell. Then, when you realize how much fun the sport is and that competitive juice starts building up, you will want to upgrade to a more speedier bike. And once that starts: lighter wheels, better gears, clip pedals, bike/triathlon shoes, bottle cages, bike sensors, aero helmet, bike clothes, bike trainer (don’t skimp on this), and probably more stuff that I can’t remember.

BEGINNER’S TIP: Go affordable, but if you come across a deal, jump on it. I got my road bike on consignment at a local bike shop. Still have it, too. Unless you truly care about time, fancy helmets and aerodynamic products will only shave minutes off of Ironman-distance events, not sprints.

Run:

The one discipline that can be trained for almost anywhere, at any time, in any weather (less lightning). You also do not need any special equipment, which is good for beginners. Basically any type of athletic shoes are okay, but, of course, running shoes are preferred, and better for you in the long run. And if you have the right running shoes and you train with the correct form, you can get places. One can wake up in the morning, go out for a jog (through in some intervals), take a shower and pick up some coffee on the way to work. When I started running, it was the end of summer, beginning of fall, so I did not have to deal with extreme heat/humidity. This lead to me being able to build up my distance fairly quick: from not being able to finish two miles in Sept 09 to a 2:15 half marathon Nov 09. The other benefit of the run leg over the other two legs: you can run with the other participants. Drafting in cycling not legal (note: there are draft legal races, but not many) and while it is legal to draft in swimming, it is difficult to talk and swim at the same time. And since wearing headphones/mp3 players in triathlon is illegal, running with someone can help.

That being said, running is also the most impactful on the body, from the feet (duh) all of the way up the legs, hips, and even back (unless you don’t have a spine, then what are you doing on this planet?). Even getting the best quality shoes can’t prevent feet pains, especially after lonnng runs. Unless running is all that you train, your feet might hate you. There are several running forms (chi, posed) and ways to prevent injury, but: everybody is different, every body is different.

BEGINNER’S NOTE: Go to a runner’s store and spend some time there. You will want to have a comfortable pair of shoes. Start out by just seeing how far you can go, even if you have to break it into walk/run. And that is perfectly fine in any race!