Friday, November 30, 2012

All triathletes are awesome, all roadies suck.

I was recently asked by a Strava-friend if I wanted to go on a group ride. 'Of course!' I said, after looking to see how many of my KOM's he and his friends had stolen, and if they were going to slow me down.

Later, I talked to my wife about it. I explained to her: If we go ride, and I destroy them, then they suck and I will never ride with them again. If we ride and they destroy me, then they are awesome, and I will ride with them every chance I get until I can destroy them at which point they will suck and I will never ride with them again. She laughed at my silly logic.

So what's with all the sucking? In the Tri world, everyone is awesome. The pro that completes an IM in 8 hours, just the same as the fat guy at work who just signed up for his first super-sprint. They're all awesome! Sure, the fat guy's going to back-scull the swim (been there, done that), leisurely ride his hybrid with nobbie tires on the bike, and walk the run. Regardless, he's still awesome and will forever carry the coveted title 'TRIATHLETE'. In fact, the pro might even be at the finish line to congratulate the slow guy for his awesome finish.

In biking, everyone sucks. Mostly, I suck. So everyone slower than me naturally sucks more. Everyone faster than me is awesome and I want to be as fast (faster) than them. When (if) I get as fast or faster than them, they will suck. In a bike race, the winner isn't going around congratulating the losers for their awesome finish. If they are shaking hands, they are saying 'You suck more than me'. Usually it's the other way - the losers are shaking the winner's hand, telling them 'You suck less than me.'

On your next group ride, go tell a triathlete that they are awesome. They will smile and agree, then probably tell you that YOU are ALSO awesome. Then go up to the roadie who just took the final sprint and tell him he's awesome. I'll be they say something along the lines of 'No, I suck. I just suck less than you.' You'll be able to read it in their eyes while they are panting to catch their breath.

I'm looking forward to the ride with my Strava friends. I'm looking forward to a good, spirited ride. And by that, I mean crushing them on the hills to show them that I suck less than they do.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

USAC vs. USAT - Categories versus Age Groups

The 2012 bike racing season has begun in Arizona. For those that don't know, I bit the bullet and started bike racing again. I still train and compete in tri's, but I've found that I missed bike racing and the competition that it offers. Hopefully it will also make me a stronger biker in the tri's.

I've raced in several bike races since late last year, and there are many more races to come. One of the things I like about bike racing versus triathlon is the concept of 'categories'. In tri, there are only age groups and elites. If you're not an elite (or pro), then you're competing with everyone in your age group. Actually, even if you ARE elite, often times you're also competing with the age groupers. This means if there are a lot of really great racers in your age group, you're never going to win anything. There are a lot of great racers between 35-50! I can usually check the list of competitors to see if I'm going to place very well.

Bike racing places people in categories regardless of age, at least in the beginning. The full list of categories and upgrade requirements are listed at the USAC, but basically the more you race and the better you do, the further up the category list you go. Starting as a 5 (women start at 4), you have to race in at least 10 mass start USAC races (e.g. TT's don't count, nor do 'timed events' like the Tour de Tucson). After you upgrade to a cat 4, you need to get points to upgrade - though the new rules also allow 20 finishes 'with the pack' to move up to a cat 3. If you keep winning and getting points, you can move to cat 2, etc. In fact if you win too much (get too many points) there is a mandatory upgrade!

People still have the option to compete in 'masters' races, though it's not like age group racing in triathlon. Many of the masters racers are former pros, cat 1's, etc. In other words, don't expect to race in masters and find lower levels of competition.

The thing is, if racers continually win a category they will eventually move up. This keeps the playing field a bit more even. It also gives an incentive to race more and train harder. This is something that seems to be missing from triathlon. The push in triathlon is to finish for so many of the participants. Some people are trying to win, of course. For most people in reasonable shape and with a bit of training, finishing isn't as hard as advertised. In fact, if you can swim the distance and know how to ride a bike, many triathlons can be finished within the prescribed time with a slow run-walk protocol. I'm not trying to diminish the feat, as it's still a great accomplishment. For many, the act of completing is much bigger than for the people who have been athletic most of their lives or haven't had to overcome any sort of life-changing medical issues. As far as competition goes, however, it's vastly different from the head-to-head showdown that bike racing gives.

Personally, I think USAT could learn a lot from USAC. The idea of racing people with similar goals and abilities as I have would make the competition part more fun. They could still have the age groupers but for people who have a competitive spirit, racing others in their same category could add an element of fun and incentive to race more.

Monday, March 28, 2011

First race of 2011 - Complete!

I competed in my first tri of 2011 - the Sprint Triathlon at Vistancia. It was a good race, well organized and a lot of fun. Here's the race report:

Location: Foothills Center, Vistancia Community, Peoria, AZ
Start time: 8:00 AM start for the women and 8:30 AM start for the men - transition closed at 8 AM
  • 300 yard pool swim, TT start, 00:15 separation, self-seeded
  • 16.5 mile bike, 3x 5.5 mile loop
  • 3.1 mile run, mixed sidewalk and hard-pack trail
Pre-race routine:
Wake up at 5 AM, put on my tri suit, feed the dog, eat a banana and bowl of Cinnamon Life cereal, wait for my friend to show up (fellow competitor and my coaching adviser), and start the 1.5 hr drive to the race. After 1.5 hrs of driving, realize the venue is 2 hrs away. Sucks. I can sense my friend getting a little tense, as he's a bit more regimented and likes to arrive early to futz around. When we arrive, there's no parking. Tara drops us off to pick up race packets and parks illegally in the fire lane. Others decide it's a good idea and park next to us, so now she's a trendsetter! Drink a 5-hr energy even though the race is only going to be ~1:15. I halfheartedly listen to the pre-race talk, then ask everyone around me what was said. Watch the women start their race.

Lot's of running. Run to packet pickup. Run back to car to get gear bag and bike. Run back to transition. After I'm set up, I do a little dynamic stretching of my calves. I enjoy stretching, but don't believe in doing it before exercise. I'm sure I'll write about it some time. We hang out and chat a little bit while the women are being sent off on their swim. After the women are finished, the men line up loosely according our swim ability (TT start w/ 15s intervals). I guesstimate 4:30 for the swim. Then we all stand around chat some more. They start the wheelchair dude after the women and before the men, so we all cheer him on for his swim. I think he's faster than me.

00:04:36 | 300 yards | 01m 32s / 100yards;
Age Group: 2/15
Overall: 11/88

Starting the swim
 I usually avoid pool swims. REAL triathlons are raced in open water! But this was the only one in the area at the time, so I signed up for it. I seeded myself about right, starting around 8th. If you were seeded correctly there was plenty of room between people at 0:15s separation. I decided to use open turns instead of flip turns (which, uncharacteristically, were allowed). No sense tiring myself out for a few seconds advantage. Besides, my flip turns suck and everyone was watching. I don't think I could have handled the pointing and laughing. One problem with the pool was the very slippery tile on the walls under the water line. I slipped several times when pushing off of the wall to go into the other lane. I didn't pass anyone, and was passed once by a guy who had just started as I was close to ending.

Overall, the swim felt good. I was a little tense at the start, and later my breathing got a little erratic. Surprisingly, this didn't make me go faster. The guy who passed me annoyed me a little bit, but based on where he seeded himself and the pace he was keeping I figured he would be burned out in about 50 yards. I didn't stick around to watch the carnage.
Exiting the pool.
Yes, that's a buoy!

Transition 1
T1: 01:00
Transitions were included with the bike time. I took them from my 310XT, but they weren't very accurate.
Feeling strong after the swim, I rounded the buoy and ran from the pool to the bike. For this race, I skipped wearing socks and left my shoes attached to the bike. This made for a fast transition. Using a 1-footed mount onto the bike, I passed someone who 'ran' in his shoes and stopped to mount his bike. Road bike shoes are NOT good for running. If you're ever bored at a triathlon, hang out at the end of the transition area for some good entertainment!
Bike: 00:43:24 | 16.5 miles | 22.81 mile/hr;
Age Group: 1/15
Overall: 6/88
The ride felt good. This was my first race on my tri bike (2011 Felt B2). I lowered my aerobars and adjusted my seat a week ago, and wasn't sure how it would feel. In the end, it felt great! I still need more time at the lower position, but it wasn't painful at all. Makes me think I should lower the aerobars even more. I also put on new race tires and latex tubes, and they were silky smooth. I really felt strong on the bike considering I concentrated on the run all winter.
Transition 2
T2: 00:20
Just like in T1, this was the first time leaving the shoes on the bike for T2. It went really well. I stayed on one pedal up to the dismount line. Hopped off right into a run at the line without missing a stride. This is my usual dismount, but in the past I left my shoes on. Since I switched from MTB to tri shoes, a moving dismount is much tougher. I racked the bike and took a second to put on my shoes. For some reason I felt like I was missing something and I paused for an extra second. No idea why I paused. Originally I wasn't sure if I was going to wear a visor but put it in transition just in case. Wonder if this is what tripped me up? Probably just got confused in my old age. Ended up putting it on anyway. I should have put some powder in the shoes. I got a blister on one foot late in the run. It didn't effect anything though, 'cause I'm tough like that. It takes at least two blisters to get me to drop out of a race.

Run: 00:22:23 | 03.1 miles | 07m 13s  min/mile;
Age Group: 1/15
Overall: 17/88
The run was a 5K PR. There were times when I felt like I couldn't turn my legs over fast enough but overall the pace was good. I've recently added speed work to my running and it seems to be helping. I'm just at the beginning of the plan for speed work, hopefully I'll get faster throughout the season. I've lost too many races due to a slow run.

Cool Down
Stood around the finish line and chatted with my wife. Congratulated other finishers, waited for my friend to finish - he ended 15th. Not bad for a 61 year old! Drank some water and ate a banana. Stretched a bit and waited for the awards ceremony.

The race was fun and well organized. It's tough to tell where you stand because of the TT start, but it's nice the way they run the swim course. Makes passing easier - not that I had to worry about that. The participants were great and friendly. This was my best result so far. Too bad all of the medals were generic. I had to write my results on the back so I won't forget in the future. Some would say it's a little tacky... If you didn't place in a category, you didn't get a finisher's medal or anything. Not a big deal unless it's your first race.

00:04:36 | 300 yards | 01m 32s / 100yards;
Age Group:2/15
T1: 01:00
Bike: 00:43:24 | 16.5 miles | 22.81 mile/hr;
Age Group:1/15
T2: 00:20
Run: 00:22:23 | 03.1 miles | 07m 13s  min/mile;
Age Group:1/15

Total Time = 1h 11m 43s
Overall Rank = 7/88
Age Group = 40-44
Age Group Rank = 1/15

Friday, March 25, 2011

First race of 2011

My first race of the season is this weekend - the inaugural Sprint Triathlon at Vistancia. It's just a local sprint tri with a 300 yd pool swim, 16.5 mile bike and 3.1 mile run. I'm looking forward to getting a feel for how my training has been. I got a new tri bike over the holidays, and I've been training the run a LOT over the winter.

Riding the Kestrel Talon SL at the
2010 Amica 19.7 in Phoenix
  My old bike was a Kestrel Talon SL road bike, which has been a great bike overall. It's a convertible, which means it can be turned into a tri bike by swapping handlebars and moving the seat forward on the dual-position seat post. I just threw some aerobars on it and called it good for racing. Overall, I've been quite happy with the Kestrel as a road bike, but wanted a tri-specific bike for racing. Enter the Felt B2. The B2 is their second-in-line tri bike, next to the DA. The DA was a bit out of my price range, but the B2 fit the bill perfectly. So far I'm very happy with the bike. Race wheels are on the way, thanks to my sponsor Gear and Training. I ordered a set of HED Jet 90 C2's with a PowerTap. Unfortunately the wheels won't be ready for the first race, but I'm looking forward to them being sent soon.
Another new thing for this year is race tires and tubes. The tires are Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX's, and the tubes are Vittoria latex tubes. The theory is that the rolling resistance is less with latex tubes and nicer tires. This should increase speed slightly, which will add up to valuable seconds (or even minutes in longer races).

Felt B2
 I have been swimming a fair amount over the winter, though I haven't gained much speed. I've gained form and endurance.
I'm hoping my run has improved a lot over the winter. I know it has, but I don't know how much. I'm targeting around 7:00/mile for the final run.
Here's hoping for the best!

Learning to Run

As a kid, I spent a good deal of time swimming and biking. I was never much of a runner, though. It was not a problem growing up, but also kept me from participating in most running sports (track and cross country mostly, though it also led me to avoid considering triathlons too). Since I started triathlons, I realized that I need to concentrate a lot more on running. I thought I could fake it by biking faster! Then I could just 'hang on' during the run. Do I really need to point out how frustrating it was to get passed on the run by everyone I'd blown by on the bike? I knew this was not going to make me very competitive!

The Lydiard Method
Enter the Lydiard method. I was introduced to the Lydiard method through Beginner Triathlete, a great site for people getting into the sport. Basically, the Lydiard method is composed of a pyramid of training, with aerobic base work being the base of the pyramid, eventually getting to smaller amounts of progressively harder runs and having the hardest runs at the top of the pyramid, in very limited amounts. All of this is surrounded by the base aerobic runs throughout the rest of the week. The book I read was Healthy Intelligent Training: The Proven Principles of Arthur Lydiard. It takes the Lydiard principles, and expands on them with modern training methods. It also explains why the methods work.

Me holding my finisher's medal
 For my training so far, I have spent the past year working on my aerobic base. I started with short runs of around 2-3 miles (which was difficult at the beginning!). Through the year, I upped my mileage and frequency pretty conservatively. Eventually, I decided the best way to build my base was to train for a marathon by using the novice plan from Hal Higdon. The plan was a little aggressive, but by making sure I didn't stress my body too much I was able to put in the suggested mileage and even added an extra 'active recovery' run day. All of this culminated in me racing the 2011 Sedona Marathon in a respectable time of 4:30 (83/168). For a normal marathon this would be considered slow, but the Sedona Marathon includes about 2100 feet of climbing and about 10 miles of running on a dirt road.
Recently, I've begun doing speed work. This is where I'm diverging from the Lydiard method a bit. The pyramid is the same, but I'm doing it in reverse (so-called "reverse periodization"). My coaching advisor introduced me to it and said he's had good results with other athletes. It's been helping me a lot, and my times are getting faster. Since I don't really do stand-along road races, I can only go by my training runs or runs in a triathlon. Last year, my best tri runs were around 8:15-8:30/mile. Now my shorter (5 mile) training runs can easily hit 8:00/mile, and I'm hoping for around 7:00/mile for my next race with an eventual 10K (6.2 mile) time of 6:30/mile. I've only just begun the speed work, so the majority of the improvement have been from the base work.

Getting started
For anyone looking to start running, I strongly recommend using Lydiard's approach to training. If you have a difficult time running or have delicate knees, start with equal run-walk intervals (1 min each) and use these as you build time and distance. Over time, increase the run interval times until you can run the whole time. Spend a good deal of time working on your base, and build it up to 30+ miles per week (mpw) spread over 5-6 days. I usually do 2 short runs (5 miles each), 1 medium run (10 miles), one long run (15 miles) along with an active recovery run (3-4 miles, very easy pace). Stay at this level for a couple of months (or keep growing it) before starting ANY speed work. The total time could easily be 6-9 months of base work, maybe more. Yes, it takes time and yes, it is work. That is part of taking up a sport and trying to get good at it. The best idea is to make it part of your routine (even 20-30 minutes a day in the morning, over lunch or in the evening is fine). It all adds up, more quickly than you think.

Introducing Speed Work
Speed work is NOT required to get faster (up to a point)! Base work builds the muscles, strengthens the joints and grows the capillaries and mitochondria required for efficient aerobic exercise. When you start the speed work, start with 'strides' (10-15 seconds of faster-paced running, then slowing back down to a moderate pace). Over the course of a few weeks, you should be able to do this every mile or so a couple of runs per week. Turn one of your short runs into the speed-work day. After a 10-15 minute warm-up, run at a higher pace for a few minutes, then rest for a couple of minutes. Build on this slowly until the faster portion of the interval is up to 10 minutes. Move your way up the pyramid, but make sure to do a lot of easy aerobic running the other days.

Don't be afraid to run a 5K or 10K at some point to mark your progress. Really, you can run them any time you feel like it, but try not to overdo it. Remember there are many things outside of your control that affect your speed. Hills, heat, amount of sleep, fatigue, etc. If you have a representative race pace, you can plug it in the to McMillan running calculator to find out what are appropriate training times (it's not necessary to enter your e-mail address).

Notes on running form
Running can be hard on your body. It puts a lot of pressure on your joints and causes strain on your muscles. There are ways to mitigate this, especially important for new runners. For seasoned runners who have been running their whole lives, the muscles and joints have often strengthened enough that they can handle the pounding. For people like me, who started running later in life, here are some tips to keep you running for a long time.
  • Take short strides. This will keep you from overstriding and hitting heel first. The heel strike tends to be harder on the body. If you've run this way all your life, that's fine but if you're just getting into running, it's easier on your body to land with the mid-foot. Short strides help accomplish this.
  • The foot should make contact with the ground under your center of gravity. Shorter strides will help with this.
  • Relax your lower leg. Pretty much everything from the knee down should be strong but relaxed. I've found that if my knee is hurting, relaxing my lower leg and making a slight adjustment to the foot angle will take care of the pain.
  • If you feel pain in part of your leg or hip, slow down and see if the pain goes away. Sometimes during the first mile I will feel random pains in my knee or ankle that goes away shortly. If you have a sharp pain that doesn't go away, stop running and make sure nothing has been damaged. As you run more, you'll learn to notice the difference between the types of pain.
  • Your cardiovascular system adapts more quickly than your joints. You may feel great, and feel like you can go faster, but don't push yourself too hard. Running faster helps your running form, but increasing intensity too fast, too soon will cause injuries.
"Run Less, Run Faster"?
There are lots of programs out there purporting to help people run faster while putting in fewer miles. What a great promise! I enjoy running, but I'd love to spend less time in the base portion and more time 'building speed!' These programs work for some people - notably people who have been running a lot for a long time. Why do they work for these people? Because they already have a sufficient running base. Often times, they have also neglected speed work to some degree, so they have a lot of untapped potential. If you haven't been running for many years, it's more a recipe to get hurt than a way to get faster.

Enjoy your running
I'm not an expert by any means. I'm only reporting what has been working for me and others I've been corresponding with. Best of luck, there are lots of resources on the Internet regarding running, running form, pacing, etc. I will write more as time allows. For a more in-depth look, the book mentioned earlier is a great resource. There are many other great books, but there are no real shortcuts. Just run, enjoy the time you are doing it, and enjoy the outdoors. Be careful, you just might start to like it!

Friday, February 25, 2011


Hi there and thanks for visiting the MonkeyClaw blog! I plan on revisiting topics discussed on some of the triathlon bulletin boards and putting an in-depth discussion with references (when possible). Sometimes the posts will ramble a bit, and tangents aren't uncommon. In general, I will do my best to stay on topic and not stray too far.

As this is my first post, I should probably put a little information about myself up. I'm currently competing in triathlons around the South Eastern US. OK, pretty much Arizona right now, but California is pretty close by and they have a lot of races. Eventually I'll probably enter a few there, and add a few destination races because they seem like a lot of fun.

My strength is biking. I rode my first RAGBRAI when I was 10 years old. I completed my first century when I was 11 years old, and continues riding RAGBRAI until I was 15. I also made a pubescent attempt at racing. As my dad would say, it wasn't a lack of ability but a lack of applying myself to the task that did me in.

I'm an adequate swimmer, though I'd like to get better. I was also a swimmer when I was young. Up until around 14 years old, I was swimming competitively as much as I could. My downfall is the open water. Surrounded by people, with everyone trying to go to the same place but taking a different path to get there, and an inability to see where you're going (often unable to see my hand when its outstretched in front of me) it's been a rough road for me. My technique is still reasonable and I manage to finish middle of the pack or better. With more open water practice I should be quite a bit faster.

Running is my downfall. There have been several races where I watch everyone I passed on the swim and bike stroll past me on the run. This is the area I've worked on the most, and it has been getting better with time. Since I don't have a running background, its the area I work on the most right now.

The next question - how good am I, really? I'll admit, I'm not the fastest guy out there. My poor run has lost me several podium spots in the past. My best finish so far is 4th in my age group and 8th overall. Not too bad, but could be better.

So what's this MonkeyClaw thing? MonkeyClaw is my former skydiving team. I'm 'Timmy' in all of the pictures, articles, etc. (which makes sense, since that's my name). We haven't been active for several years, but I left the site up because it is who I identify myself with most. We're all still friends but none of us are active jumpers any longer. We got older, got married, had kids. You know how it is. Some of the best times of my life were with the team though, and I get nostalgic when I look back. Not to say things are too shabby now. I'm loving training for and competing in triathlons, I have a wonderful wife and live in a beautiful part of the country.

Looking forward, I'm hoping to write articles regarding training, racing, nutrition and general issues that vex endurance athletes. I'll use references as much as possible so you know I'm not just making stuff up. The comments section will be open for debate but please keep it civil.

Thanks for visiting!