Timmmmberrrrman!

August 21, 2015

I’m writing this in between continuously stuffing my face because of my constant, insatiable hunger.  Who knew that completing a Half Ironman would leave one so hungry?  Oh, spoiler alert, I completed my first Half Ironman at the Timberman 70.3 race!  This blog entry will serve as my “race recap,” of the aforementioned finishing.

After I decided I wanted to make a 70.3 race my goal for this racing season I got a number of recommendations to do Timberman, which had the benefits of being late in the season and fairly close.  I was looking for a late in the season race to have an opportunity to get in a good amount of outdoor riding and open water swimming.  I mainly succeeded at the first goal and got in enough OWS either swimming at Walden Pond or in races to feel comfortable heading into the race.  Of course, I also had planned on using the summer to get in a lot of brick workouts and that plan…failed.  Miserably failed.  And, of course, that came back to bite me come the run leg.

We headed up to New Hampshire on Saturday morning and made our way to Gunstock Mountain, where the Ironman Village was located as well as a meet and greet for Make-A-Wish racers with none other than Andy Potts.  Andy, I call him Andy, gave a stirring message about the good we can all do in the world for others, “you don’t have to help everyone, just start with the person next to you.”  During his talk, he got quite choked up, which of course got me quite choked up.

Potts Choked Up

It was incredibly inspiring to hear him speak, not to mention hearing from the Wish kids themselves.  Alex didn’t speak, but his story provides a great example of the difference Make-A-Wish can make.

Wish Kid

Of course, there were photo ops to be had.

IM Village

The eagle-eyed of you may note that I am simultaneously representing both the old and new Slipstream Sports teams with my Garmin argyle New Balances, and Cannondale argyle water bottle.  It was roughly about this time that I realized I had unimaginably left my wallet back home, roughly 90 miles away.  Me.  The guy who loves buying race swag.  That guy.  I had a near panic-attack at the thought of not being able to check in without photo ID, but some very lovely volunteers devised a clever way to check my identity, i.e. they covered up my birthday on the entrants form and then asked me what it was.  Disaster averted.  I did end up buying one piece of swag, thanks to R having a second card of my credit card on her, a Timberman bike jersey.  The rest of the village was fairly meh, with a couple tents selling some Gu products and other things that you might have forgotten to pack, like spare tubs, CO2 cannisters, etc.  While I did pick up some Salt Stick salt tabs, I did regret not getting some Base Salts for the race.

After Gunstock, we made the short 10 minute trip over to Ellacoya State Park where the actual race takes place.  This presented one of the aspects of race organization I had an issue with, namely the complete lack of parking assistance in a space that very much needed it.  We had absolutely no idea where we were supposed to park, or even how to get out of the parking lot once we did.  After that, however, it was a breeze to get my bike racked up in transition.  Knowing there was a possibility of rain in the forecast, I covered my bars and seat with garbage bags, which proved to be the right call after thunderstorms swept through the area.

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With logistics behind us, and a sweet new Make-A-Wish tri top in hand, we headed to our bed and breakfast, the Nutmeg Inn.  For those reading this with an eye towards potentially doing Timberman 2016, I’d encourage you to book your accommodations early.  We were happy enough with the Inn, and they were kind enough to get up at 4:30 a.m. to make sure there was coffee ready for the racers staying there, but the options run out quickly for places close to the start.

Fast forward to the bracing buzz of the alarm at 4:30 a.m., and race day was finally upon me.  I did my best to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on homemade sourdough bread that the inn owner made for me (super sweet, right?), and we headed over to the park.  One of the great perks of racing for Make-A-Wish was the VIP area they had set up for racers and family members.  This meant we had a place to hang out before the race along with a supply of water, Cokes, and other goodies.  But, the absolute best part was the dedicated Port-A-Potties, which meant no lines!  That they were decked out in disco lights made them all the cooler.

Make A Wish Potties

R and I made our way over to the swim start and I took some time to get acclimated in the water along with some easy swimming to loosen up.  The water was really pretty perfect, just cool enough to make it comfortable in a wetsuit.

Swim Warm Up

After watching a bunch of other waves go off, it was finally my turn to begin with the second set of M30-34.  I made an effort to smile throughout the day to keep my spirits and energy up, not to mention reminding myself to have fun.

Swim Smile

The other guys in my wave clearly shared my general antipathy towards the leg, with only a handful of them eager to be right in the front of the pack.

Swim Start

My biggest concern with the swim, other than, you know, distance and speed, was staying on course.  I have such a tendency to veer that it can add a not-insignificant amount of yards to the distance, which I cannot afford.  Luckily, this course had a number of intermediate buoys in between the turn buoys, giving ample targets to sight to.  I did my best to maintain an even effort throughout the swim and, while I did get passed by people that started in waves after me, I didn’t get that same feeling of sluggishness I did during the Mass State Oly.

I didn’t start my stopwatch during the swim, but did note when we started time-wise.  As I made my way out of the water, I was surprised to see that I had gone roughly 43 minutes, much better than my anticipated best case scenario of 50 minutes, given that I had just swam a pool mine in 39:50.  My official time was 43:54, which I will take every day of the week, and twice on race day.

Swim Transition

The path to transition was nice grass, and took us past wetsuit strippers, an experience I’d never had before.  I had no clue what to do, but had seen them in Ironman videos.  So, I got down on the ground, some volunteer grabbed the suit, and then he pulled it off in one fell swoop.  It was AWESOME.

Swim Transition (2)

I didn’t exactly rush through T1, trying to take my time to make sure I had the fuel I planned on bringing .  Of course I forgot one pack of Skratch Labs chews and only brought one salt tab, instead of two, but, c’est la vie.  After a few minutes, I grabbed my bike and made the fairly long trek out of transition.

Bike Exit

As you can see, I decided to go with my XX2i sunglasses and The Athletic socks.  Thankfully R noticed that my tri top rode up in the back, leaving a perfect opportunity for a “tramp stamp” sunburn.

Tramp Stamp

Glad I put sunblock on that spot!  Also, apparently my move was the fist pump all day when passing the Make-A-Wish cheer tent.

Bike Fist Pump

I rolled out onto the course, trying to stay at a moderate pace, knowing the first 11 miles or so of the course included some pretty good climbs.  Here is the elevation profile from my Garmin.

Bike Elevation

There are two Cat 4 sections as identified by Strava, and roughly 2700 ft. in elevation over the course.

The advice I’d heard over and over going into the race was to go easy those first/and then last 11 miles and open up a little more over the middle part, all the while saving energy for the run.  Of course, unsurprisingly, I screwed that up.  I actually felt reasonably good on the hills, attempting to stay in my saddle as much as possible to avoid overcooking my legs.  To my surprise, I even passed people on the climbs, which are anything but my strength.  With the hard opening behind me, I opened up some, still trying to stay in a zone where I wasn’t laboring to breathe.  However, when I hit the 40 mile mark at an average of 20 mph, I knew I had probably made a mistake in pacing, given that I’d never ridden that fast in any training ride.  Oops.

For fueling, I took two bottles filled with Skratch Labs drink mix as well as Skratch Labs chews and Untapped Maple Syrup.  I tried to drink every 5 miles or so and take solid fuel every 10 miles, which I more or less executed.  I did drop a nearly full pack of chews though at mile 5 while trying to get it back into my top tube bag.  That’s what I get for not practicing zipping and unzipping the bag.

As for the actual course, I think I was expecting something a little more…scenic?  It’s not that it was a bad course, though there were a few fairly rough sections of pavement along the way, it was just…road.  There was almost always a good amount of shoulder to ride on, and I never had trouble passing anyone.  The course was well-marked with plenty of volunteers.

I slowed down some from mile 40, partially because I was getting tired, partially because I was trying to preserve what little I had left in my legs.  In the end, I averaged 19.4 mph (based on my Garmin start and stop) with an official leg time of 2:51:27, 90/185 in my division.

I felt pretty good heading out for the run, throwing on my New Balance Zante Boston shoes and visor, while downing two salt tabs ahead of what was sure to be a hot, hilly, run.  From what I’d been told, the run course would be a fairly unrelenting, rolling, course.  The intelligence was right.

Run Elevation

I really didn’t have much of a game plan heading into the run, which was just as well, as it would have fallen apart fairly quickly anyway.  Simply put, I was cooked, and the walking started somewhere around mile 5.  The real anxiety came in the first mile though, when I realized I’d completely forgotten to grab my race belt in T2, which meant I was running without a bib.  While I was somewhat concerned about being DQ’ed as a result of not having a bib, I admit I was probably more worried about not getting my pictures!

The course followed the lake shore, though I was expecting more of a view, and was basically an out-and-back done twice, even though it’s described as two “loops.”  On the first “back,” I started walking most of the uphills, then trying to run after.  I got a little pick up during a random French chat with a Canadian before going through the spectator area and seeing R before starting lap 2.  I had asked that she have a Coke ready for me, and she was spot on with it.  It was a welcome respite in the heat, and I thank Todd Christy of Chillmark Coffee for the suggestion.

Run Coke

I knew heading out for Lap 2 that it would be a slog.  I grabbed a couple minutes rest while an extremely nice woman who was doing…something or other…in transition was able to grab my race belt.  At least I wouldn’t have to worry about that aspect of the race.  I also managed another fist pump for Make-A-Wish.

Run Fist Pump

Truly, there’s little to say about the second lap which was, for all intents and purposes, the same as the first.  I gave everything I could, but was eventually really held up by calf cramps starting around mile 12.  This seems to be an inescapable problem for me in long races.  Hopefully at one point I’ll be able to dial in my fueling to avoid this problem.

Eventually the finish line was in sight.  I couldn’t exactly kick it in for fear of my calves completely seizing, but I limped across the line with a final time of 6:00:17, and a run split of 2:14:59, 93/185.

Run Finish

And, with that, I became a Half Ironman.  On R’s advice, I slowly made my way over to the lake to try to cool down some, as I was feeling roughly the same way I did after running the Boston Marathon in the heat, as you can probably sense in the picture below.

 

 

Lake Sitting

The lake felt absolutely wonderful, and I started to feel a little better after the dip.

All in all, Timberman was a fantastic experience, and one I’m very proud of.  I’m fairly certain there will be another 70.3 in my future, though I’m not entirely sure which one it will be.  I re-learned the same lessons I have from previous races, including that a lack of brick workouts will bite you in the ass, and nutrition is best not left to chance.  I also learned to actually trust myself and my training a little more heading into race day.

Many thanks to R for putting up with me during the race weekend and being a great photographer and sherpa on race day.

Enjoy the ride, dear readers!

XX2i Sunglasses Review

August 4, 2015

It is with great excitement that I can say I am now a part of the Rudy Project/XX2i team!  If you’re into the cycling or triathlon world it’s a virtual certainty that you’ve heard about Rudy Project before.  Their helmets dominate the Kona field year after year and their sunglasses are a superb combination of technical features and style.    XX2i is distributed by the same company as Rudy Project, Running And Cycling Enterprises (R.A.C.E.) and has been making a name for itself alongside Rudy Project at race expos as a more affordable entry into performance optics.  There are a wide range of options available in different frame styles starting at $59.99, putting the sunglasses at the same price point, or cheaper, than Tifosi or Optic Nerve, which occupy the same space.  The difference?  XX2i glasses are plain and simple better.

For my review, XX2i sent me a pair of the France2 glasses with the crystal frame, green tips, and green flash lenses.  The lenses on this frame are interchangeable, with replacement lenses only costing $24.99.  The glasses come with a great case that keeps your glasses well-protected with foam while not taking up too much space in a bag.  Also, it looks much cooler than competitors’.

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Here are the glasses themselves.

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I seriously love that green, and it just so happens that it matches my bike, which is super-important!  You can see the nose piece looks a little misshapen, but that’s just because it’s adjustable and got bent a little before I took the picture.  The ear tips are also adjustable.

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Now, of course, sunglasses for running and biking aren’t just about looks –   what matters is how they perform.  I first took the glasses out on a commute ride, about 24 miles, on a hot, humid, sunny morning.  As you can see in the picture above, one of The Rules I adhere to when pure road riding (as opposed to triathlon racing) is ear pieces over helmet straps.  I found the glasses to be very comfortable on my face, with no discomfort in the nose or ear regions.

You can see just how much face coverage the France2 provides.  I haven’t experienced any eye tearing with these sunglasses as the lenses do a great job of providing both sun and wind protection.  The clarity is also excellent, better than my Tifosis, giving me confidence when going from sunlight into shade and not worrying as much about seeing road imperfections.

The coolest feature of the sunglasses though is how they shed sweat.  I didn’t notice this feature until I felt a cool stream on my face and couldn’t figure out why.  With my other sunglasses, sweat would streak the lens and dry, making it hard to see.  Not so with the XX2i’s.  Even on hot, sweaty rides, I haven’t had any issues with the lenses staying fairly dry, a huge plus during a New England summer.  Similarly, I had zero issues with fogging while riding.  If I stopped long enough at a light the lenses did fog up, but that went away immediately when I started back up again.

Two other important features to note from the XX2i website:

WARRANTY: Lifetime Warranty! No questions asked, you break or scratch them, send them back to be replaced for a nominal shipping and handling fee!

RETURN POLICY: 365 Days! We know it may take some time to try on and get comfortable with a pair of sunglasses bought online so that’s why we give you a full year to do so! That’s right, take up to 365 days to determine if you want to keep them and if not, send them back for a full refund less any shipping and handling fee.

You can call me an XX2i convert, which I suppose is a good thing if I’m going to be on the team.  Though I was sent these glasses free (that’s my obligatory blogger disclaimer), these opinions are all mine and completely uninfluenced by RACE, Rudy Project, or XX2i.  Silly though it sounds, I want to ride more so I can wear these sunglasses more.  Feel good, ride good.  Here’s the best part, if you’ve made it this far in the review you can be rewarded with a 50% off discount code for Rudy Project.  How’s that sound?  To get the code, leave a comment with your email address and I will send you directions forthwith.

Happy swimbikerunning!

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Skratch Labs Fruit Drops Quick Review

July 14, 2015

I recently took advantage of an offer from The Feed for a free Ride Argyle/Scratch Labs water bottle + 5 Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Individual Singles but figured I should actually purchase something from the site as well, given the roughly $20 of free stuff I was getting.  As a big fan of chewy fuel, I’d long been intrigued by the recently introduced Skratch Labs Fruit Drops so I took a chance and ordered a few packets of the raspberry flavor.

Each packet contains 10 drops, with a serving size of 5 chews.  1 serving has 20g of carbs, 14 from sugars, and 80 calories.  For the full run-down on the nutritional info, check out Skratch Labs’ site directly.

I tested out the chews on a 40 mile bike ride, taking the recommended 5 chew serving on the go.  I found the package relatively easy to tear open while riding, but it would probably be even easier to pre-open before you set out.  The drops have a kind of sugary coating, which gives them a more pleasant texture than Clif Shot Blocks (which I do like, generally speaking), and makes them easy to take out of the package without your fingers getting sticky.

Hey, you can see the bottle too!

Hey, you can see the bottle too!

It could have been a placebo effect, but I felt the energy delivery fairly quickly and liked eating something solid a lot more than downing a gel.  At my most recent triathlon I left an open package at my transition spot, taking a few drops after the swim, and then a couple more after the bike, which worked out rather well.

Of course, the proof of the tasting is in the eating of the pudding.  So, how did they taste?  In one word: AWESOME.  Of course, raspberry chews are right in my wheelhouse of flavor and fuel delivery mechanism, but I think others will really enjoy these as well.  I am definitely adding these chews to my fueling plan now, in addition to the Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix powder I already use.  Personally, I think you should too.

Mass State Olympic Triathlon Race Recap

July 13, 2015

This past weekend was, somewhat impulsively, dedicated to racing, starting with bike racing on Saturday and then the Mass State Olympic Triathlon on Sunday.  An 8 AM swim start meant an early departure to get to Lake Dennison in Winchendon, MA.  I had planned to arrive at 7 AM to give myself a fair amount of time to settle in and get ready, but of course that never happens as planned, which leads me to my one and only issue with the race – parking.  At least when I arrived, about 7:10, parking was organized as a single file line on one side of the road, meaning we all queued up and had to wait as the volunteers directed each car into the next spot in line.  It took me roughly 15 minutes to park once I got to the park.  From parking, it was a quick bike ride, albeit on a rough road, to the start area.  The parking was frustrating, but not the worst of things, just be aware of it should you be doing this race in the future.

The check-in process was a breeze from number pick-up through marking up.  I did hear some complaints about rack space in the transition area, but the people around me were quite courteous and I didn’t have any issues.

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After a quick pre-race information meeting on the beach, the race started and I waited…and waited…and waited.  For some reason I was entered as a Newbie/Beginner, which meant starting in the last group.  It was less than ideal to have to wait 20 minutes in a wetsuit on the beach for my wave, but there wasn’t much to be done about it.

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Finally, us white caps were able to get in the water for the swim start, which involved 3 turns with sighting buoys in between.  Water temp was 74 degrees, pretty perfect for me and the conditions were fairly typical New England silty water, offering very little visibility.  I could tell fairly quickly this was not going to be my best swim ever.  For whatever reason I just didn’t feel smooth in the water.  At times I even felt like there was a current going against me, which I’m fairly certain was not the case.  I suspect that part of the issue was that I did not eat much before the race, and could feel the lack of energy.  I did manage to pass some of the people in the wave ahead of me, but I took little solace in that.  I struggled with sighting (and swimming) and know I can put in a better swim.  I climbed out of the lake with an official time of 36:28, which put me in 401st place out of the water overall out of 455 racers and 25 of 30 in my division.  UGH.  I suck at swimming.

Given the debacle that was my Pilgrimman Olympic run in 2014, my strategy for the bike leg was to try to be conservative and make sure I had something left for the run.  One of the benefits of being so far back from the swim was it gave me a good amount of people ahead of me to key in on during the bike, which took my mind off the heat and hills.  I wouldn’t say that any of the hills on their own were too tough, but they did seem to come fairly frequently in the middle section of the course.  Total elevation for the 22 mile leg was 778 ft.

Bike Map

 

I have a feeling the previous day’s racing was still in my legs, but I felt good for most of the bike, passing a lot of people in the process, including 8 on one hill alone.  I can’t lie, that made me feel pretty good about the bike training I’ve been doing as I’ve always considered myself an exceptionally slow climber.  Although it was an open course, traffic never felt like an issue, with generally fairly wide bike lanes and roads in good condition.  In the end, I wound up with an 18.8 MPH average, slightly faster than Pilgrimman, though Pilgrimman’s course was 6 miles longer, but with 300 fewer feet of elevation change.  For fuel, I took a handful of Skratch Labs chews after the swim and a PowerGel at about mile 15.  I had one bottle with me filled with Skratch Labs as well.  For the bike leg, I placed 263/455 and 22/30.

Rolling into the transition I didn’t feel like I had spiked my HR or that my breathing was labored, which I took as good signs.  I didn’t exactly rush through the transition, taking the time to recover a little for the run and downing an UnTapped maple syrup packet.  Unlike the Summer Solstice Sprint, I went my New Balance Zantes for the run, wanting their slightly firmer ride over the Skechers Performance GORides.

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I hadn’t done any reconnaissance on the course, so you can imagine my surprise and dismay when I set out to find it immediately started with a climb.  After that initial climb, it continued to climb, and then climb some more with no hills ever being too steep, just long.  There was a short dip to the turnaround point before heading back to the finish.  I had the elevation total at 149 feet.

Run Leg Elevation

 

 

Given how poorly I ran/walked at Pilgrimman, I was quite nervous of a repeat performance this race.  I’m happy to report that I ran every step of the leg, even through the aid stations, a major mental victory for me.  I did my best to keep steady forward momentum, even as my pace slowed, and took water from two aid stations along the way.  I passed a good number of people on the run, and wasn’t passed by anyone in return.  Other than the challening hills, I liked the run course itself, which was nicely shaded and closed to traffic.  Moreover, there were great volunteers on course handing out ice cold water and sponges to squeeze atop baking heads.  I finished the run with an 8:03 pace, a far cry from the 9:26 pace of Pilgrimman.  I think the combination of being more mindful of effort on the bike and just better conditioning made a substantial difference.

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My placing on the run: 181/455 and 19/30.  I ended up jumping from 401 out of the water to 279th place overall, not exactly where I’d like to be, but the field did seem fairly stacked compared to your typical small sprint.  Generally speaking, this was a great, well-organized race with fantastic volunteers.  I also have to give a shout-out to their swag, which included a tech t-shirt, nice running cap, and even a race belt!  Not a bad haul!

Timberman remains on tap for August, here’s hoping for continued progress!

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Cannondale Slate Details and Pictures

July 11, 2015

Note: In my previous race recap, I included a review of the brand new Cannondale Slate.  But, it occurs to me that it might be helpful to break it out as well for better accessibility and readability.  Now, on to the review.

This bike is so new it’s not even on Cannondale’s site yet.  The Slate is a dropbar bike in the vein of the relatively new segment of “gravel racer” but what truly sets it apart is the inclusion of Cannondale’s famous Lefty fork.

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That’s right, that bike is missing half its fork.  You might think it’d be weird to ride, but it never even occurred to me once I was going.  The fork, dubbed the Lefty Oliver, has 30mm of suspension, which isn’t a lot if you’re bombing down mountain trails, but soaks up a lot more than you would think.  I hit several larger, sharp rocks during the race (sorry Cannondale) and the bike never flinched while others were getting flats and banging up their rims.  I’m 99% certain that, without the fork, I would have been on my butt many times during the race when I picked less than ideal lines or simply didn’t execute the line I had picked.  There is a lock-out button at the top of the fork that you can press “to climb,” or sprint presumably, but I did not engage this during the race.  Standing still it worked just fine.

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The wheels are 650b size, as opposed to the usual 700cc found on road bikes.  650b is the size you’d typically find on the smallest size of a road bike.  However, the Slate’s 650b Stan’s ZTR Flow EX MTB wheels have 42mm wheels, which apparently wind up producing the equivalent of a 700 x 22 wheel.  All I know is these tires did not feel small.

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It’s a pretty snazzy bike, right?  I got many comments from spectators on it, everyone intrigued by the genre-defying bike that has been, until recently, shrouded in mystery.

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My bike was set up with an Ultegra drivetrain (“Road gearing?” asked one onlooker), disc brakes, and a super-comfortable Fabric saddles.  Seriously, I became a big fan of these saddles after riding two races on them.  The frame is aluminium, but I BELIEVE the fork is carbon.  Having shouldered it through a roughly 20 yard rock garden, I can report it feels lightweight.

All in all, the only word I can use to describe my experience racing this bike is “FUN.”  I don’t know how it’ll ride on every cross course, but it handled this one magnificently, which I feel qualified to say given my lack of cross experience.  Still, I’d like to believe that I am the first person to ever race a Slate in an official cyclocross race.  Despite a lack of knobby tires, it never felt skittish, even on the gravel and bark dust.  This is a versatile bike that will turn heads when you ride it.  For an idea of some of the terrain, upon which the Slate did not falter, here I give you photographs.

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Now, tell me you don’t want to see what you can do atop this bike.

Boston Rebellion and the Barn Burner Race Recap + Ridebiker Alliance + Cannondale Slate First Ride

July 11, 2015

Alright, lots to get through in one post so, let’s start at the beginning.  Last night I attended an event at the Cannondale Sports Natick store to launch their new association with Ridebiker Alliance.  At the moment, Ridebiker has a somewhat amorphous mission, but it boils down to bringing bikers together, helping them connect with local bike shops, and providing an easy way to get club kits for the stores that are a member of the alliance.  What this means for Cannondale Sports is that, with the purchase of a team jersey you become a member of their club, which will offer discounts to members along with other rider benefits, the details of which are being hammered out by the powers that be.  I don’t know how the Ridebiker people do it, but during their presentation they told us that they do not have order minimums or ordering time restrictions, so they can relatively quickly turn around requests like custom arm warmers, or, say, a tri top.

Given my affinity for Cannondale Sports, there was never going to be any doubt I was in for the team, which is how I ended up with this sweet new kit (or at least sweet new jersey).  You too can sign up for the Cannondale Sports team by going…here.

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It’s just so…beautiful!  Now, you may be saying to yourself, “well, gee, it looks like you have put together an outfit for a ride!”  Indeed, if you’re saying that, you’re absolutely correct.  You see, over the course of the evening, I got to talking with the guys from the shop about a series of races the next day, put on by Boston Rebellion/Barn Burner as part of the Kenda Cup at Adam’s Farm in Walpole, MA.  I’ll be honest, I have zero idea what the race is actually called, or who was behind it (other than Ridebiker Alliance) but it was intriguing.  What convinced me to take the plunge was the offer from Cannondale to let me use their demo bikes for the races, very generous offer that was quite grateful for.  With the promise of an awesome steed to ride, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The race was actually a series of races over two days.  I decided that I was going to ride the Cat 3 Short Track XC and cyclocross races, separated by roughly 1.5 hours.  Now, I have never done an MTB race, nor a true dropbar cyclocross race, having done my previous CX race on a mountain bike.  Speaking of mountain bike, I got set up on a Cannondale (duh) FSi Carbon 2.  I’ve never ridden a carbon bike.  I’ve never ridden a lefty.  I’ve never ridden a 1×11 set-up.  Despite all that, I felt immediately comfortable on this bike, which proved exceptionally responsive and didn’t break my back when I shouldered it through the rock garden (more on that later).

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A closer look at the SRAM XO1 drivetrain.  It’s weird not having two shifters, but makes the whole set-up much simpler and removes one thing to think about.

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Both races were on the same course, a 0.6 mile loop with sections of grass, loose gravel, dirt trails with random rocks, a rock garden, and bark.  It was really nice terrain to ride, with the constantly changing conditions keeping me on my toes.

Map

And some course shots.

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As the race went on, I got more and more comfortable with the course features, learning which lines to pick, taking corners a little faster each time, and getting a better feel for what the bike could handle.  It turns out, the bike can handle A LOT.  It just ate up rocks and I never felt like I was being tossed around.  My major issue came with not keeping my pedals level, resulting in them bashing against rocks from time to time.  Speaking of rocks, remember how I mentioned the “rock garden” earlier?  Well, here it is.

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Maybe it’s not the worst rock garden ever.  In fact, I know there is another such garden on the pro course that is even worse.  Still, it intimidated the heck out of me so, despite every other racer riding through it, and despite a heckler/encourager telling me to give it a shot, I shouldered my bike through the garden before remounting.

This seems like a good time to transition to the cross race, given that it was essentially the same as the MTB race, just with a different bike.  At this section in the cross race, nearly everyone dismounted and ran through, save for some brave souls who rode straight on.  While I picked my way carefully through the rocks, seasoned veterans ran through like they were on freshly paved tarmac then proceeded to seamlessly hop back aboard their bikes.  It was a sight to behold (and I got yelled at by fellow racers to keep going as I beheld).  Already having some experience on the course by the time I did the CX race, I felt even more comfortable with the race, probably partially a result of the course familiarity, and partially just feeling more at home on a dropbar bike.  Still, I finished quite near the bottom, which didn’t bother me in the slightest.

It’s probably time we talk about this bike, the Cannondale Slate.  This bike is so new it’s not even on Cannondale’s site yet.  The Slate is a dropbar bike in the vein of the relatively new segment of “gravel racer” but what truly sets it apart is the inclusion of Cannondale’s famous Lefty fork.

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That’s right, that bike is missing half its fork.  You might think it’d be weird to ride, but it never even occurred to me once I was going.  The fork, dubbed the Lefty Oliver, has 30mm of suspension, which isn’t a lot if you’re bombing down mountain trails, but soaks up a lot more than you would think.  I hit several larger, sharp rocks during the race (sorry Cannondale) and the bike never flinched while others were getting flats and banging up their rims.  I’m 99% certain that, without the fork, I would have been on my butt many times during the race when I picked less than ideal lines or simply didn’t execute the line I had picked.  There is a lock-out button at the top of the fork that you can press “to climb,” or sprint presumably, but I did not engage this during the race.  Standing still it worked just fine.

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The wheels are 650b size, as opposed to the usual 700cc found on road bikes.  650b is the size you’d typically find on the smallest size of a road bike.  However, the Slate’s 650b Stan’s ZTR Flow EX MTB wheels have 42mm wheels, which apparently wind up producing the equivalent of a 700 x 22 wheel.  All I know is these tires did not feel small.

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It’s a pretty snazzy bike, right?  I got many comments from spectators on it, everyone intrigued by the genre-defying bike that has been, until recently, shrouded in mystery.

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My bike was set up with an Ultegra drivetrain (“Road gearing?” asked one onlooker), disc brakes, and a super-comfortable Fabric saddles.  Seriously, I became a big fan of these saddles after riding two races on them.

All in all, the only word I can use to describe my experience racing this bike is “FUN.”  I don’t know how it’ll ride on every cross course, but it handled this one magnificently, which I feel qualified to say given my lack of cross experience.  Still, I’d like to believe that I am the first person to ever race a Slate in an official cyclocross race.  Despite a lack of knobby tires, it never felt skittish, even on the gravel and bark dust.  This is a versatile bike that will turn heads when you ride it.

Here’s my Strava from the cyclocross race.

https://www.strava.com/activities/343913930/embed/74972a24ddf9952f9d5b6dc72d194ecc79e43877

And the short track race.

https://www.strava.com/activities/343830038/embed/15afc878a629092897307e659b5343ebac80b5f1

I’d like to thank Cannondale Sports Natick again for the opportunity to race today on two stellar bikes.  I’m looking forward to getting more involved with the Ridebiker Alliance and racing on trails again!

 

 

Summer Solstice Sprint Triathlon Race Recap

June 23, 2015

In my first triathlon of this new racing season, the JCC Triathlon By The Sea, I made the rookie mistake of not doing my homework on the race course, which led to mistakenly neglecting to do 2 loops of a 3 loop section of the bike course, turning a 10 mile leg into a 5.5 mile leg and a DQ in the process.  I was quite miffed with myself as it likely cost me my first Age Group placing ever.  Consequently, I was looking for redemption at the Summer Solstice Triathlon, a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision race put on by MRA Multisport in Sutton, MA.  The race is a sprint in the purest sense, with a 1/4 mile lake swim, 10 mile bike, and 5K run.

I generally like to give myself roughly an hour before a race so I can get settled in, which I find especially important when it comes to triathlons as there’s just more to get done before the race starts.  So, you can imagine the stress I was feeling as I crawled westward on the Mass Pike at a stop and go pace for 2 hours, finally arriving at the parking lot 25 minutes before the swim meeting was scheduled to start.  Thankfully, parking for the race was about as easy as I’ve ever seen, requiring just a couple minute bike ride to make it from the lot to the actual race location.  As it turned out, all my fretting was for nothing as this was a very low-key race and I was able to breeze through the check-in, taking roughly 2 minutes to check in with registration and get marked up with my number and age.

Having now had a few opportunities to practice in other races, it did not take long for me to get my transition area set-up done just how I like it.  The best addition to my set-up from last year is definitely my new transition mat.  While giving me a clean, dry spot to put my bike and running shoes, it also serves the handy purpose of giving me something bright to look for in the transition area when coming in from the swim and bike legs, cutting down on any wandering about.

IMG_3940 Also pictured is my TYR Alliance Team II Backpack, which I highly, highly, highly recommend for anyone looking for a transition bag.  It just so happens Mrs. R got me both the mat and backpack for Hannukah this year.

Heading into the race, my biggest concern was the water temperature for the lake, which the race packet had listed at a brisk 67 degrees.  Even though the swim was only a 1/4 mile, the temperature had me scared enough to want to go with my wetsuit, which I also thought was important given that this would be my first open water swim of the season and I had to get used to wetsuit swimming again.  Figuring I should be a Big Boy Triathlete, I made myself get in the water to get acclimated and warm up a little.  Lo and behold, it wasn’t so bad!  In fact, it was rather nice!

Thus mentally prepared, I lined up towards the back of the swim start, which was organized men, women, newbies, fastest to slowest in each group and with a 2 person departure on the beach every 3-4 seconds.  Now, the trouble with this configuration is that it meant the fastest women would be right on the slowest men’s heels, i.e. my heels.  Because the first turn was fairly close, this caused a fair bit of congestion in the water and made for a decent amount of grappling and swimming on top of other racers.  Though I would have prepared a clean swim for performance reasons, I looked at this as one more opportunity to work on my race condition techniques.  Things started getting hairy after the first buoy thanks to a combination of perpendicular chop, murky waters, and continued congestion.  Still, I felt relatively strong in the swim, with a final time of 8:23, 50/144 overall.

T2 was not as fast as I would have hoped, taking 3:01, largely as a result of difficulty getting my wetsuit off over the ankle timing chip.  One more thing to work on.

My goal for the bike leg was to work on keeping my heart rate fairly level without red-lining, which would kill my run.  The course was not closed to traffic, as I’ve learned is the case with many triathlons but, for the most part this was not a problem.  The only times I really noticed cars being a potential issue were when passing a racer on the left and having impatient cars then pass me on the left, creating a dangerous situation for all.  Still, no complaints, it just required some heads-up riding at times.  On the flip side, the roads themselves were in great condition and made for pleasant riding.  The course itself had a few rolling hills with one screaming downhill.

Bike Leg Map

Despite this being a non-draft race, there was definitely a lot of non-legal maneuvering during the race, myself included.  If everyone dropped back 15 feet after being passed it just would have been a complete mess.  I found myself in a group of 5-6 riders making moves and counter-moves depending on the terrain, but I didn’t think anyone was actually trying to draft off anyone else.  For nutrition during the bike, I went with Skratch Labs mix in my water bottle.  Rolling into T2, I was happy with my ride and felt like I had a decent amount left in the tank.  I finished with a time 29:17, a 20.5 MPH average, and 36th overall for the bike.

T2 went very well for me, largely thanks to my NiteIze laces, which let me just slip on my shoes like slippers without comprising the tightness of the lacing.  59 seconds after entering the transition area, I was off on the run, which meant a hill right off the bat.  Though it might not be the hardest course as a pure 5K, it felt quite challenging as the last leg in a sprint triathlon.

Run ElevationAs you can see, there wasn’t a lot of flat to the out-and-back course, which mostly involved running on a sidewalk on the way out, and road on the way back to avoid the runners coming in the opposite direction.  For the run, I tried to concentrate on even splits, knowing I’ve gone out too fast in the past (for both road races and tris) and not wanting to hit the wall halfway through.  I think I largely succeeded in that respect.

Run splits

After a nice downhill, I turned the last corner for an uphill finish, giving everything I had left to push for that elusive AG placing, finishing the run leg with a time of 22:56, a 7:24 pace and 27th overall for the run.

My final time was 1:04:34, placing 30th overall and…5th place in my age group.  In 2013 and 2014 that time would easily have put me into 2nd place but, no such luck this year.  Oh well, at least I made it into the Cool Running listings?

Run splits

The race was followed by a nice little BBQ and some spectacular lake views of the sunset.

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If you’re looking for a super low-key, friendly sprint triathlon to add to your early season schedule for 2016, I’d highly recommend the Summer Solstice Sprint.

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Review: NiteIze KnotBone Stretch Laces

June 11, 2015

As may be coming more and more apparent on the blog, I’ve really been getting into the whole “triathlete” thing.  You could even argue that I’ve made the “transition” from runner who also swims and bikes to bona fide triathlete.  From everything I understand, part of triathlon is getting stuff that is “triathlon-specific,” which unsurprisingly extends to your feet.

To that end, I was recently sent a pair of NiteIze KnotBone Stretch laces to try out.  I was particularly excited to try these as, assuming they would work, they would allow me to lace up my sneakers then easily slip them on when transitioning from the bike leg to the run leg of a race.  I mean, it says that’s what they do right on the package.

IMG_3700

The “installation” of the laces is pretty straightforward, especially if you have ever laced up shoes in your life.  Really, the only difficult part was cutting the tips of the laces at an angle, the better to thread the lace through the eyelets, as the material is quite resilient to cutting.  I ended up using the blade of a pair of scissors to basically rip the lace.  Not the prettiest of solutions, but it worked.  After that, it was a piece of cake to load up my kicks with their new laces, which, I must say look pretty flashy.

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I could have cut down the end of the laces, but I get paranoid that I’ll tie them differently the next time I need to and won’t have enough lace.

The next test was seeing just how well I could slip on the shoes with the laces intended to making slipping on the shoes a dream.  Behold.

So, yeah, they work exactly as advertised, making very quick work of the shoeing.  This will really help cut down on that T2 time!

Next, I took them for a run to see how they’d perform, which, arguably, is as important as how they are put on.   Well, I’m happy to report that the stretch laces performed…like regular laces.  I wish there was more to say about them, but probably the best endorsement I can give is that I did not notice them being any different from standard laces.

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These are good laces and they will make you put your shoes on faster.  If you’re looking to speed up your transition times and/or want to keep your lacing constant, you should do yourself a favor and get a pair.

Disclosure: NiteIze sent me these laces for free to review.  However, all my opinions expressed are my own.

Skechers GOrun Ride 4

May 21, 2015

It has been way, way too long since I’ve done any kind of review here but, today, that drought ends.  If you’ve visited the blog before, you know I’m a big fan of the offerings of Skechers Performance, having previously reviewed the Ride3 and Bionic.  I’ve now had a good amount of time to test out one of the newer entries in the SP lineup, the Ride4, including using it for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in Washington, DC and trying it out in a sprint triathlon.

To get the basics out of the way, the Ride4 is a neutral shoe with a 4 mm drop.  Like many other SP shoes, you can remove the stock insole to turn it into a zero-drop shoe, which I’ve done with the Bionics and have really liked.  The Ride4 also makes use of SP’s M-strike technology, which is meant to encourage a midfoot strike, and their GOimpulse sensors, which are designed to provide more sensory feedback with the ground.  Reported weight comes in at 8.4 oz.

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I’ve yet to be disappointed by an SP shoe and the Ride4 has proven no exception.  I particularly like the update in the upper from the 3 to the 4, which features a lot more mesh and improved laces.  What you cannot see, unfortunately, is the inclusion of a small thumb hole in the ankle of the shoe, which allows for the shoes to be pulled on quickly, aided by the slightly elastic upper and softer heel cup.  I rarely even untie these shoes on a day to day basis.  While many might not make much use of the pull hole, I found it very helpful when I tried them out in a sprint triathlon, allowing me to slip on the shoes quickly in transition.

On the triathlon side, though, I would note that the seem at the top of the forefoot, where gray meets black, did not agree with my bare feet…at all, giving me a pretty decent abrasion when I tried the shoes sockless.  With socks, I’ve never experienced any issues with irritation.
The sockless issue aside, I love running in these shoes.  Whether or not the M-Strike technology actually affects my stride, I don’t know, but I do know I at least FEEL like it’s easy land on my midfoot, with the ride never feeling clunky.  It’s hard to pinpoint why, but these shoes feel a lot lighter underfoot than the claimed weight might indicate.  What I particularly like is that, unlike many lighter weight shoes, the Ride4’s toe box feels generously wide, without feeling like my feet are sloshing around side to side.
So, if you’re looking for a lightweight trainer or racer for triathlons or longer races, I’d highly recommend you check out the Skechers Performance Ride 4 as an option!

 

Boston Marathon 2015 Happenings

April 1, 2015

Well, it certainly has been a while since I’ve dusted off the old blog, but nothing inspires me to write like the Boston Marathon!  There are sure to be lots of great events surrounding marathon weekend, and I aim to make this your one-stop source for all of them.  I’ll update the post as new events are posted, please let me know in the comments if I’m missing anything!

Tuesday, April 14

6:00-9:00 p.m. – Adidas Event: City Sports Back Bay.  Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon Director, will speak followed by a 2-3 mile shake out run. After the run, join us for a FREE pasta party courtesy of Adidas.

Thursday, April 16

7:00 a.m. – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.): Join us at every morning at 7 sharp from April 15 through April 22 for some brisk runs along the beautiful banks of the Charles River. Runs will be led by the Tracksmith Team, including 2016 Olympic Trials marathon qualifier (and Tracksmith product-fulfillment stud), Eric Ashe, with post-run hydration provided by Nuun.

5:30 p.m. – Tracksmith Amateur Press Conference:

While sports media tend to focus on the marathon frontrunners, the real story of Boston has always been about the accomplishments of the amateur athletes. Those runners who rise to the exceptional qualifying standards of this marathon with no promise of a laurel wreath.

Come listen to Mario Fraioli of Competitor Magazine moderate this Q&A with some of the top amateur runners, including Olympian Ruben Sanca.

6:00-9:00 p.m. – Brooks Lobster Event: City Sports Back Bay.  Stop by City Sports to celebrate the launch of the new Brooks lobster shoe. Enjoy a 2-3 mile fun run followed by FREE lobster rolls, a live DJ, and raffle prizes. All attendees will receive a special gift from Brooks.

Friday, April 17

6:30 a.m. – That’s right.  A.M.  Have you ever wanted to say “I’ve done the exact same workout as Olympian Shalane Flanagan?” or “Michael Wardian and I are part of the same nationwide workout group?” or “FUCK YEAH!”?  Then you need to join November Project Boston for their Summit Ave workout in Brookline.  Don’t want to do a hill workout right before the marathon?  Go do some exercises with the Injury Deck people, or just go cheer on everyone else.  The point is: Just show up.  UPDATE: It appears Chris McDouggal has verbaled!

7:00 a.m. – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.): Join us at every morning at 7 sharp from April 15 through April 22 for some brisk runs along the beautiful banks of the Charles River. Runs will be led by the Tracksmith Team, including 2016 Olympic Trials marathon qualifier (and Tracksmith product-fulfillment stud), Eric Ashe, with post-run hydration provided by Nuun.

5:00 p.m.: Bring your friends for an evening shake-out run hosted by Olympic medalist Deena Kastor and Runner’s World Chief Running Officer Bart Yasso. Evening will include:

· Fun run offered to runners of all levels
· Post –run refreshments
· Race day tips from Bart + Deena
· Chance to check out the latest Asics apparel and running shoes
· Secure bag check during run

FREE ASICS Gift Bag for the first 50 runners who attend.

Asics Store: 328 Newbury St.

6:00 p.m. – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.):

Ever since we started Tracksmith last year, perhaps the one question we heard most often was, ‘What about women?’ Well, the time has come; we’re going co-ed.

Please join us for the launch of our women’s collection, painstakingly considered to address the needs and aesthetics of competitive women who take their running seriously.

6:00-9:00 p.m. – Converse Event: City Sports Back Bay.  Join City Sports for an awesome event sponsored by Converse. Enjoy free giveaways, a live DJ, and refreshments.

7:00 p.m. – Harvard Book Store and Runner’s World welcome Skechers Performance elite athlete MEB KEFLEZIGHI, winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, 2009 New York City Marathon, Olympic Silver Medalist, and founder of the MEB Foundation, for a discussion of his book Meb for Mortals: How to Run, Think and Eat like a Champion Marathoner. The evening will be hosted by Runner’s World Editor-in-Chief DAVID WILLEY, who will be joined on the panel by 1968 Boston Marathon champion and long-time Runner’s World editor AMBY BURFOOT, TCS New York City Marathon Race Director MARY WITTENBERG, and Meb for Mortals co-author SCOTT DOUGLAS.  http://www.harvard.com/event/meb_keflezighi/

Tickets can purchased online only at meb.eventbrite.com.

Saturday, April 18

7:00 a.m. – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.): Join us at every morning at 7 sharp from April 15 through April 22 for some brisk runs along the beautiful banks of the Charles River. Runs will be led by the Tracksmith Team, including 2016 Olympic Trials marathon qualifier (and Tracksmith product-fulfillment stud), Eric Ashe, with post-run hydration provided by Nuun.

9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. – Janji Shakeout  Run: City Sports Back Bay.  Prepare for 26.2 with Janji and City Sports! Join us for a short shake out run followed by refreshments and a Coach Greg McMillan meet and greet.

10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Join Meb Keflezighi and coach Greg McMillan and learn the secrets to Boston Marathon success!  Meet and greet from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  Lenox Hotel, 61 Exeter St. at Boylston, Dome Room, 2nd floor.  All attendees receive a free UCAN sample pack and autographed photo of Meb!  Please register at: generationucan.com/bostonmeb

11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Where: City Sports Back Bay.  Customize all of your official Adidas BAA apparel at City Sports!

12:00 p.m. – Best-selling author Christopher McDougall (“Born to Run”) will be in town on marathon weekend promoting his new book, “Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance.”

WalkBoston and the Somerville Road Runners are helping organize free fun runs with Chris before his book events!

Meet us on the steps of Old South Church for a pre-event fun run and Wild Fitness workout. We’ll set off toward the river, covering 5k with a mid-run workout led by Wild Fitness creator Tara Wood.

The run is free, though runners must still hold a ticket to gain admission to the 2pm and 7pm events.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1588430711443936/

Want a ticket to the event, too? More info here:
http://www.harvard.com/event/christopher_mcdougall1/

Info on the run in Cambridge later:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1593533410904258/

2:00-5:00 p.m. – New Balance Fresh Foam Event: Where: City Sports Back Bay.  Celebrate the New Balance Fresh Foam Limited Edition Boston shoe with City Sports! Stop by our back Bay location and try on a New Balance Fresh Foam and receive a free grilled cheese from Roxy’s Grilled Cheese!

4:00 p.m. – Tracksmith: Please join us on Saturday to celebrate the release of METER Magazine Issue #01.

METER is a quarterly journal of reportage and gorgeous photography that re-establishes a connection between the sporting heritage of running and its current group of participants and fans. Meet some of the contributors and enter a raffle to win limited-edition prints of some of the featured photography.

Sunday, April 19

9:00 a.m. – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.): Join us at every morning at 7 sharp from April 15 through April 22 for some brisk runs along the beautiful banks of the Charles River. Runs will be led by the Tracksmith Team, including 2016 Olympic Trials marathon qualifier (and Tracksmith product-fulfillment stud), Eric Ashe, with post-run hydration provided by Nuun.

9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. – Janji Shakeout  Run: City Sports Back Bay.  Prepare for 26.2 with Janji and City Sports! Join us for a short shake out run followed by refreshments and a Coach Greg McMillan meet and greet.

11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Where: City Sports Back Bay.  Customize all of your official Adidas BAA apparel at City Sports!

Monday, April 20

Post Race – At Tracksmith (285 Newbury St.): Post-Race Party –

Technically it’s not officially a sanctioned, certified marathon party, per se. But unofficially, it sort of kind of could be considered a marathon party-type thing.

And you’re officially unofficially invited. Join us for cold beers and marathon-related socializing to kick off your Monday afternoon post-race celebration.


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