Posts Tagged ‘cycling’

Salomon Trail 20 Review

September 29, 2016

It’s been a long while since I’ve done a review of any sorts, and that’s probably some combination of laziness and wanting to do in-depth reviews with lots of pretty pictures and whatnot. But I figure there may be some useful value to just sharing thoughts on products I use on a regular basis, not worrying too much about getting into nitty gritty tech specs, but just with the hopes of making your next purchase a little bit more informed.

Since moving from the suburbs to roughly 5 miles bikeable distance to Boston, I’ve been biking to work almost daily on my GT Grade. In fact, as of the time I started drafting this post, I think I took the subway 3 times into work as opposed to riding. It’s been a really wonderful change to my daily commute, certainly coming from upwards of 75 minutes by car from our suburban home, and I look forward to it on a daily basis.

Of course, one challenge when bike commuting is how to transport your clothes needed for work. Luckily, I work in an office with a pretty casual dress code, i.e. no dress code, when we don’t have clients, so my daily officewear is jeans, a button down, and sneakers. Since I started riding into work, I’ve left a pair of sneakers in the office, cutting down on the things I need to transport. I also am able to leave my U-Lock and cable locked to the bike rack in our office building. For the rest of what I need, I use the Salomon Trail 20 backpack.

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In this bag, I can comfortably fit a pair of jeans, shirt, and foundation garments (socks too!). Although I generally don’t take my lock with me, I can also fit the U-lock and cable when needed. I would not say it’s appropriate for a suit, but it’s fine otherwise. I think it’d also be tight if you bring shoes with you on a daily basis, but, again, not a concern of mine. For what it’s worth, Salomon states the pack’s volume is 20 l. and 1220 ci.

To keep the pack secure as you bomb through urban streets, the pack has both a chest and waist strap, both of which I find keep the pack exactly where I want it to be. I don’t experience any kind of slipping around, whether when “sprinting” or climbing. The waist strap has two pockets, a zipped one on the left, and a mesh open pocket on the right side. The zip pocket comfortably fits my wallet and keys. Each side of the pack also has deep mesh pockets, which I often use to hold my phone in case I need to access it quickly for, you know, directions. Definitely not for selfies. I never take selfies when riding.

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OK, this ONE time I stopped and took a selfie, but that was purely to illustrate the backpack for this post. Except that I took it a couple weeks before starting this post. And before I decided to write this post. Also, I take a lot of selfies while riding.

So, there you have it, if you’re looking for a streamlined pack for bike commuting, I’d recommend checking out the Salomon Trail 20!

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Vineyard Sprint Triathlon

October 28, 2015

Sometimes it takes a while to get up a race recap because things are busy at work, or in life in general.  Sometimes I’m just super lazy.  We may never know which of the two resulted in the delay in getting up this recap of the 2015 Vineyard Triathlon.  For the first time, the race included a sprint distance, which is what I opted for, not wanting to tack on another 1/2 Ironman at the end of the season.  The sprint distances were 1/3 mile swim, 13 mile bike, and then a 5K run, pretty standard fare for sprints.

Races on Martha’s Vineyard, as a general rule, are low-key affairs.  If you go into any race, with the possible exception of the Vineyard 20 Miler, expecting the same experience and logistics as a “mainland” race you’ll wind up stressing yourself out and will have a less positive experience as a result.  For example, that same week I ran a 5K in Edgartown that failed to mention on its website that 2 miles would be on singletrack trail and required roughly 5 round-trip shuttle trips to get everyone from the “start” aka finish of the race to the actual location the race started.  Chalk it up to Vineyard racing.  What this meant as it relates to the Vineyard Tri is that we were getting emails from the RDs up until a couple nights before the race with logistics info on packet pickup, transition info, etc. instead of the 30 page Athlete Guide you might get from a WTC race.  While this might be a little scattershot of an approach for some, the RDs replied quickly to follow up emails to address any missing info.  While the emails certainly conveyed the needed info, I think a comprehensive guide on the website might help centralize information and avoid any confusion for next year.

So, on to race day.  It being off-season on MV, parking was the easiest I’ve ever had for a triathlon, maybe for any race ever.  After body marking, I headed into transition to set up my area.  One nice thing about the race was that the transition area didn’t close, like ever.  This avoided the rush and stress that can come when trying to make sure everything is set up before it closes.  At the same time, be prepared to make your own spot without much guidance on where to go as the only real direction was for the half Iron distance racers to rack in one spot and the sprint racers in another section.  Again, different from a larger race, but not an issue unless you get stressed out by that sort of thing.

Speaking of getting stressed out…the state of the ocean on race day was most definitely my biggest source of stress.  It was a grey day and the swells were strong.  The sea was, indeed, angry that day, my friends, so much so that it caused a friend to bag on the sprint race.  Still, the water temp was pretty perfect at least.

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I didn’t attempt any warm-up in the ocean, partly because I didn’t want to wig myself out, partly because I allowed absolutely no time for it.  When the race started on the beach of Oak Bluffs I took my normal position towards the back of the pack, knowing it’d be especially necessary on a day like that to find my own space and not worry about other racers among the waves and in my first ocean race.

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Almost immediately I knew this was going to be a slog of a 1/3 of a mile, not because of my swim shape (at least not any more than usual) but because of the conditions.  Heading out to the first buoy meant swimming into the waves, which meant it was nearly impossible to sight.  I also was not a fan of the constant up and down movement in the water, which served to really throw off my rhythm.  There’s simply no way around the fact that this was a brutal, somewhat demoralizing swim for me, but it did not end the race.  Eventually I made my way out of the water, up the beach, across a street, over about a foot tall stone wall, and into transition to move on to my strengths.

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[A note for the RDs, should they be reading this, on the swim: While the green color of the first buoy likely wouldn’t be a problem on a sunny day, it was difficult to sight on a gray day combined with the water color.  Similarly, the orange t-shirts of the in-water volunteers nicely matched the orange swim buoys, making it tough to tell quickly where one was supposed to be swimming to!]

I most definitely could have made up some time in T1 if I hadn’t let my swim time get to me.  I don’t think I was hustling through it quite as quickly as I could have but, that’s how it goes!

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You can’t tell from this picture, but I’m rocking my new Black Dog socks in this picture.  And, what’s that you say?  New bike?  Why, yes!  That is a new bike!  Right before the race I took the plunge and got a 2014 Cannondale Slice TT bike from Cannondale Sports Cambridge.  I digress here slightly to, once again, praise my friends at this great shop and, in particular, Craig The Manager.  They did both the fitting AND cutting down of necessary components, i.e. the seatpost and aerobars, all in the course of a day, allowing me to take the bike down to Martha’s Vineyard with me and race on it.  I’d also like to thank Greg at Edgartown Bicycle for doing a fit check and adjustment, and bailing me out with a quick pedal installation (along with quick ordering of a rear hydration system).

I set out on the ride hoping for a fast result on the new machine.  With only 131 ft. of elevation gain over 13 miles, it promised to be a fast course, with a tailwind on the final stretch along the water.  Despite a summer of riding on the island, I had spent very little, if any, time on the first half of the course, which made it a little more mentally engaging.  Combined with having a fair number of people to chase down after the swim, I had plenty of motivation to keep my legs pumping, particularly after being chased down by Chilmark Coffee Company proprietor Todd Christy on his roughly 84 year old bike.  Now, one thing I did not plan for was the effect the salt water would have on my respiratory system, or nasal system, or something.  Basically my nose was leaking the entire ride, which was not especially comfortable.  Next time I’ll know to grab some tissues in T1 and stuff them in my pocket.

The highlight of the leg was definitely the stretch from Edgartown back to Oak Bluffs along the beach, which is really the highlight of most rides on MV for me.

Bike Leg

Even though I’d been riding my CAAD8 with aerobars, the Slice is an entirely different animal and I was still getting used to the position during the race, which meant being up on the horns more than I would have liked at the end of the race when I could have really taken advantage of the aero position.  Still, I came in with an official time of 36:27, roughly a 21 mph average, and good for the second fastest bike split on the day.

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As I ran my bike into transition, Rebecca excitedly told me I was in fifth place overall, an unexpected development.  This gave me an extra incentive to try to have a quick transition, and soon I was off to see if I could hunt any of my fellow competitors down.

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I felt pretty good heading out on the run and figured I had little to lose by just going for broke on it.  The only real hill on the course came a little under a mile into the leg.  I’m sure it felt a lot steeper than it actually was, but it definitely hurt at the time.

Run Elevation

Soon after the crest of the hill I caught up with Todd, who not only updated me on placing, but really encouraged me to keep pushing on and finish strong.  It really was the boost I needed to keep driving towards the finish.  The next two miles were fairly uneventful, and I ended up with splits of 7:11, 7:12, and 7:07.  It felt great to close with my fastest mile, not something I usually do in either road races or triathlons.

I came into the finish line feeling fairly triumphant and pleased with how the race went as a whole.

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I ended up coming in 4th place overall and taking my first Age Group win for a triathlon, pretty neat I’d say!  Rebecca and I celebrated with an amazing lobster roll from the Net Result, but not before enjoying some amazing espresso drinks from Chilmark Coffee.  With what may be the absolute coolest perk ever for a race, Chilmark Coffee donated free coffee (including lattes etc.) to the race via a mobile coffee bar.  Immediately after racing, Todd got right to work pulling shots.

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Good guy Todd is a good guy.

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With the race only being in its second year, there were bound to be some growing pains with it.  Some constructive suggestions I’d make for next year would be:

  • Clearer directions from the water to transition
  • Block out the transition area by race number
  • Designating mounting and dismounting zones for the bike leg
  • More clear markings for the turn to the finish line on the run

Before signing off, I’d add this note: Be nice to RDs.  I haven’t always followed my own advice here, but ever since my tantrum at the Marblehead JCC Tri, I’ve really worked on that aspect of my racing.  RDs work tremendously hard to put on any event, let alone a triathlon, and do their best to put on a great event for the athletes.  If you think the race could be improved in some way, take the time to talk about it with the RD, who wants you to come back and have a great race the next year.  Alight, off my soapbox.

This was a fantastic, fun, unique experience of a race.  This is literally the one chance you get to do a triathlon on Martha’s Vineyard and I’m really looking forward to coming back and defending my age group next summer!

Thank you as always to Rebecca for cheering and taking all the great pictures you see here!

Happy racing all!

 

 

 

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.

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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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Pilgrimman Triathlon Race Recap: The OK, The Good, and The Ugly

September 30, 2014

It seems as if a whole summer has passed since my last blog entry, which is unsurprising I suppose given that a whole summer has passed since my last blog entry.  I’d feel bad about that, but truth be told there’s really been very little to write home about as I’ve spent the summer trying to prepare myself for this past weekend’s Pilgrimman Olympic Distance Triathlon.  The advertised distances for the race were 0.9 mile swim, 28 mile bike, and 6.6 mile run.

I’m not entirely sure why, but there seems to be a naming convention for triathlons that includes “-man,” particularly if they include a 70.3 distance or longer, see Timberman, Eagleman, Pumpkinman, etc.  Though the timing is a bit off to be associated with Thanksgiving, Pilgrimman did take place in the Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth, MA, Myles Standish being a passenger on the Mayflower and first commander of Plymouth Colony’s militia.  Check out the flow on the pilgrim.

I set Pilgrimman, in its inaugural year, as my target race for my inaugural season training for triathlons and spent the summer building up my swim and bike strength while trying to maintain a semblance of running shape.  Of course, when I signed up for the race I didn’t have a very good sense of exactly where it was, nor did I know that registration would close at 7:30 a.m.  These two factors combined led to a 4:50 a.m. alarm so I could make sure that my whole race day wouldn’t be scuttled by a failure to get through registration on time.  This leads me to my first gripe with Pilgrimman, two gripes actually.  First, registration did not close at 7:30.  This gripe has more to do with being annoyed that I lost out on maybe 30 extra minutes of sleep and less to do with an insistence that races keep their word about when they say registration will close.  Frankly, it’s a good thing if they accommodate stragglers.  Still, it was clear that the 7:30 time was unnecessarily early.  Second, they had run out of all but extra-large size t-shirts by the time I checked in, around 7:20 a.m.  This was particularly vexing given that the shirt was included in the registration fee and I doubt there were many triathletes interested in XL size t-shirts.  Big deal?  Nah.  Annoying and an issue that should be addressed next year?  Yes, absolutely.  In any event, I was glad I had everything ready to go the night before so I didn’t have to wake up any earlier than I already had to.

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With registration materials in hand, I headed over to the transition area and got all markered up.  I wouldn’t exactly say the transition area was especially clearly laid out, but it was good enough and I was able to snag a primo piece of real estate on the bike rack.  Unlike at the Dam Triathlon, this time I had a decent sense of how to set up my transition area with the hopes of cutting down on my T1 and T2 times from my first attempt.  I munched on a half a pack of Honey Stinger chews to go along with my breakfast of toast and butter (note I include these details mostly in anticipation of a potential coach reading them at some point and critiquing my pre-race fueling) and passed the time talking with some fellow competitors, including one older gentleman rocking a wicked sweet pair of jorts over his tri-kit.  Finally, with everything in place, it was time to head down to the beach for the swim.

Despite my instincts towards laziness and an aversion to swimming any more than absolutely necessary, I convinced myself that everyone else who was in the water warming up must have some better idea about the right way to get ready for a swim than I did.  So, ever so slowly, I made my way into what turned out to be cold, cold water, at least to my delicate sensibilities.  Though all I wanted to do was rush back to shore and get warm, I ducked under the water and embarked on a roughly 50 meter warm-up swim.  OK, it wasn’t a lot, but I think it let me get over that first chest-crushing rush of coldness and anxiety that could otherwise completely sabotage the swim leg.  Fast forward through other age group swim starts and it was finally time to start.

That's me, bending down.

That’s me, bending down.

The swim was 3 laps for the Olympic distance, laid out in rectangular fashion with a short beach run from the end of each lap to the start of the next.  I’d like to think that I maintained a fairly even pace throughout the swim, slow that pace may have been.  There were two notable exceptions to the swim going pretty smoothly, the first being when, during the third lap, I veered too far left going around the first buoy (in a counter-clockwise fashion) and had to course-correct back up to the second buoy so that I didn’t cut the course.  Next, on the home stretch I somehow found myself swimming perpendicular to the beach, which, if you are unfamiliar with how races work, is not a good idea.  This is not a good idea, at all.  Thankfully I didn’t get too far before realizing my mistake, and powered through to the beach, dragging myself out of the water and beginning the trudge uphill to the transition.  Final time for the swim was 36:22, a 2:18 pace, good enough for a solid 109th place…out of 146…dang it.  I’m a slow swimmer.  Still, the performance was about what I would have expected, which makes it fine by me.

I tried doing the whole “running” thing but mostly ended up yogging and walking to my bike.  Learning from a mistake I made at Dam, which essentially boiled down to not listening to my mentor Jocelyn’s advice, I put my calf sleeves on under my wetsuit for this race, which meant I didn’t have to spend time pulling them on in T1.  I was dismayed to see that my helmet, which contained my sunglasses and gloves, had been knocked to the ground off my handlebars, but I can’t say it really cost me any time as a result, just annoyance.  I made it out of T1 in 3:44, a big improvement from the 5:01 it took me at Dam.

On to the bike leg.  The course was an out-and-back format, 7 miles out, 7 back, therefore requiring 2 circuits for the full distance.

Bike Course

Though the elevation gain doesn’t seem to reflect it, the course felt like it was an endless series of slight hills with very few flat stretches to speak of.

Bike Elevation

After the end of lap 1, I took one Salted Watermelon Gu and also removed my cycling gloves, which were threatening to numb my hands entirely.  Both turnaround spots featured hairpin turns around a cone, which leads me to the first of my 3 gripes concerning the bike leg, the first being the hairpin turns, which I found difficult to navigate in a narrow space and a big momentum killer.  Frankly, I don’t know what could be done to avoid this, but I don’t like those kind of turns in road races, let alone on the bike.  Next, traffic issues were a major concern for me.  On the first lap I had a run-in with a car that I felt got too close to me on a turn and exchanged some pleasantries with the driver.  I know it can’t have been easy for cars to pass riders given riders going both ways on the road, but as a result I ended up stuck behind cars going up a hill because they refused to pass the rider in front of me.  I’ll give the Pilgrimman RDs some credit for course management in terms of giving directions to riders as I understand from various Facebook posts that there were major issues in the sprint race the day before.  Still, course management remains a concern for me.  Finally, though I love volunteers and am grateful they were there for the race, I found that they crowded the road when handing out water, though maybe I just don’t know how these things work in triathlons, never having been offered water on a bike before.  I’m willing to chalk that last gripe up to personal discomfort with people being too close to me on the bike.

[EDIT: Pilgrimman has announced that the course will be changed next year to a closed course, which is great news.  I really respect how quickly they have moved to address concerns from racers, it’s the mark of a good RD and they should get credit for their alacrity.]

Some shots from the bike leg!

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I didn’t pass as many people on the bike leg as I did at Dam, but I was still pretty happy with an average pace of 18.7 MPH.  That said, I have a feeling that I extended myself too much, sapping crucial energy for the run.  My time ended up at 1:29:39, good enough for 62nd place on the bike leg, which I can be pleased with.  I quickly racked my bike, gulped down some Gu Brew and a salt tab (thanks to Alett for the suggestion), pulled on my New Balance 890 v4s and headed out of the transition zone to begin my last leg, with a T2 time of 2:11, down from 2:42 at Dam.

I started the run feeling tightness in my quads, and that was about as good as I’d feel all run.  The run course started uphill.  The run course continued uphill.  The run course never stopped uphilling.  OK, that’s an exaggeration, still, the course just felt brutal to me, even though it probably might not have been so hard if it was just a road race.  I had to stop about a half mile in for a bio break – it would not be the last time I had to stop running.  It didn’t take too long to get the feeling that I just did not have very much left in my legs for the run and I soon became fairly demoralized by the feeling that I was running on what seemed to be a net uphill loop, which I previously did not think was possible (that’s a lie, there was a long period in high school when I argued that the Stratton Brook XC course was more uphill than downhill, despite being a loop).  I likely wasn’t in the best frame of mind, but I do have to point out my final two gripes for the course, both having to do with the water stops on the run.  The first probably has to do with me being a curmudgeon, but at the mile 1 water stop the volunteer asked if I wanted water, bottled water, or Gatorade.  I don’t blame the volunteer, and again maybe this is me not understanding the triathlon world, but at that point I just could not process or deal with trying to figure out why I was differentiating between “water” and “bottled water.”  Upon reflection, I’ll move this gripe into a personal preference clash as, maybe, triathletes like getting bottles of water they can carry with them and sip as needed.  Maybe some people put this feature of the race into their plus category.  However, I think my second gripe, now technically my first, is legitimate, namely that the Gatorade on the course was really, really gross.  I’m not sure what went wrong with the mixing process, but something did go terribly wrong, leaving it tasting really bad.  Perhaps this is all to say that maybe I should consider using a fuel belt in the future such that I can have better control over my own hydration needs, something I’ve never worried about in a road race, but, again, triathlon is a different world.

Pilgrimman Pilgrimman DM_140928_9387

As for the run course itself, other than feeling ludicrously hard, it was quite pretty running through the forest, at least during the times I could let myself appreciate the scenery.  All my fellow racers were friendly and encouraging, despite everyone around me appearing to be in some sort of pain or another.  Here are some pictures that relate to the course, and my slow, slow splits thereupon.

Run Course Run Elevation Run Splits

At long last I took the final turn onto the path leading to the finish, which, of course featured another slight incline.  I finished hot, exhausted, but proud.

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Oh, did I mention it was hot?  Like really hot?  Like “unseasonably warm” but hotter?  Well, it was hot.  Was I pleased with the run, which should have been my best leg?  Definitely not.  But, was I proud of the accomplishment of finishing?  You betcha.  There’s plenty to build on and I learned a lot of lessons about both training and racing, including:

  • Do.  More.  Bricks.
  • Swim more, swim faster when swimming more.
  • Run longer distances during training.
  • More bricks.
  • Think about adding a heart rate monitor to racing to not over-exert on the bike.
  • Be less fastidious in transition.
  • Swim straighter, sight more often.
  • Finally, more bricks.
  • Eat a better breakfast pre-race.

I’m sure there are more things I could have done better both in training and racing, but I’ll have to figure them out as I go along.  For now, I can be content with placing pretty darn squarely in the middle of the pack, 76th place overall and 6th in my age group.  I know I can do better.  I know I will do better, and I can’t wait until next tri season to prove it.

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p.s. I don’t want to come off overly harsh on my race experience.  This was a first time race, and it can’t be easy to stage a triathlon in its first year.  Overall it was a very good experience and all the volunteers were outgoing and helpful.  Fixing the t-shirt ordering and traffic issues would go a long way to smoothing the race experience as a whole but, on the whole, I think it was mostly a job well done by the RDs.

2014 Dam Triathlon Recap – I’m A Triathlete?

July 15, 2014

It’s been far too long since an update here, and now all of a sudden it’s like, wait, what, triathlon?  That’s right, dear reader, triathlon.  Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?  In the summer of ’97 I participated in my first triathlon at Winding Trails in Farmington, CT.  At the time, the format was a 1/4 mile pond swim, roughly 8 mile bike ride, then 5K trail run.  The weekly summer race series is still going strong, though they’ve switched up the bike to a 5 mile trail ride.  All the same, pretty neat that the tradition lives on these many, many years later.  At the time of these races not only did I not have a wetsuit (though most racers weren’t using them in the fairly warm water), not have a road bike, instead using my Mongoose mountain bike, but I was running in long mesh shorts and a cotton tank.  That’s right.  Frickin’ COTTON.  I shudder at the thought.  It would be a long time before I embraced the split short as anything but a cross country race piece of apparel.  But, embrace it I have since then.  About the only “legit” gear I had was were my trusty Nike Zoom Country racing flats.  Through the magic of technology, I have been able to take what were once actual physical photographs from those races that could be held in one’s hands and converted them into “digital files,” that I might share them with you.

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Sigh, look at that fine head of hair.  Also, please note the old school TYR swim briefs in the middle picture.  Cool briefs, bro.  I’m sorry if that came off as sarcastic, I really do think that dude rocks the grape-smuggler look with panache.

Between those heady high school days and this past weekend, despite having a love affair with road bikes and roughly a dozen solid intentions to get into triathloning, I only followed the sport from the sidelines while concentrating on road racing, geeking out over bike tech, and swimming every now and then for a couple weeks when injured.  Case in point, I purchased a Zoot wetsuit in November 2012 but did not open it until June 2014.  And so, I existed as a pure runner, at least until my wife and I decided to each get bikes.

After a number of test rides and trips to bike shops, which was very difficult work, let me tell you, I finally decided on a Cannondale CAAD8 bike, which seemed to be a good compromise between an “endurance” bike and a “racing” bike in terms of comfort and geometry.  Sure, I could be making that up, but it sounds right at least in my head.  Also, it’s pretty, don’t you think?

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I…like taking pictures of my bike.

Concord Ride Mass Ave Bridge

I joined up with local triathlon club Zoom Multisport and starting joining them for Track Tuezday workouts at the Harvard Track and gorgeous Walden Wednezday open water swims (OWSs) at Walden Pond in Concord, starting to get used to swimming in my wetsuit and the difference between pool swimming and non-pool swimming.

Walden 1

Walden Team

I mean, beautiful, right?  Not the worst way to start a day, if I do say so myself.

Now that we’ve established that I had a modicum of training under my belt in the three ancient disciplines of triathlon, let’s get onto the race recap of this past weekend’s Dam Triathlon.  That Dam race (I feel it necessary to overuse the Dam/damn thing as the race itself certainly did) consisted of a 1/2 mile swim, “13” mile bike leg, and “5K” run.  I use quotes to indicate that although the race may have said one thing about the distances, my Garmin said otherwise, as did others’.  In the end, the bike was likely more like 12.5 miles and the run 2.9.

Alright, let’s finally get to the race.  Friend and Zoom teammate Jocelyn picked me up bright and early and we loaded up her Subaru with my bike alongside hers, because taking anything other than a Subaru to a race involving bikes would be a USAT violation.  Arriving in Amesbury, I was downright giddy to go through the pre-race procedures of getting Sharpie’d up with my number and getting my ankle timing chip.  Then it was time to set up my transition spot, which just happened to be right next to another Zoomer, Greg.  Now, I’ve seen transition set-ups before, but somehow trying to do my own filled me with anxiety.  Above all, I didn’t want commit any newbie faux-passes.  Here’s what I ended up with.

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I even managed to do that nifty thing where you hook your bike onto the rack using the saddle…and it didn’t fall down!

And for my fellow shoe geeks, shoes.

Pearl Izumi plus Hoka One One.

Pearl Izumi plus Hoka One One.

Headed to the shore for the start of the race, Rebecca flagged me down and gave me some last minute words of encouragement.  She also got a pre-race shot.

They were supposed to have yellow swimcaps for new triathletes.  Instead, they wrote "NOVICE" on the regular ones.

They were supposed to have yellow swimcaps for new triathletes. Instead, they wrote “NOVICE” on the regular ones.

My swim wave was second in the water behind the elites and was to be a “waist-deep” start, which I didn’t know existed until that day.  I tried to relax a little bit before the start by joking around with my fellow swimmers to calm my nerves and it must have worked because, for my first time in open-water swimming, I didn’t have any moment of panic when I got into the actual swim.

I'm in the white cap.

I’m in the white cap.

My only strategy on the swim itself was to survive and maintain forward momentum.  I achieved the forward momentum goal, and survived as well, but definitely could have done a lot better job when it came to sighting, not that it likely would have done anything to change the fact that I left the water second to last in my age group (12/13) and behind a number of athletes that started 6 minutes after I did.  But, hey, I swam a half mile both without drowning and without collapsing on the beach in a huffing mess after it was over.  Final time for the swim was 17:49, which I’m pretty sure is a time I should be happy with given my training paces.

Photo by Rebecca.  Editing by Snapseed.

Photo by Rebecca. Editing by Snapseed.

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It would be fair to say that my first transition was glacial in pace. In fact, it took a whole 5:01.6.  I should have listened to J’s advice to put my calf sleeves on under my wetsuit and swam with them and I should have gone sockless rather than spending the time to dry off my feet, quite deliberately it would seem given the time.  Other than that, I’m not entirely sure what I could have done to get through the transition faster, but I’m sure as I get some more tris under my belt it’ll just…happen.  Finally, all set up, I made my out of T1.

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On to the bike!  I figured I’d be able to make up some time here and set off to do just that.  Then I missed the second turn, roughly 1/8 mile into the leg.  Oops.  Backtracking, I made it onto the real course and set my sights on the cyclists ahead of me.  Riding in the drops, I got into a good rhythm, focusing on keeping my cadence up and “spinning” rather than “pushing” the pedals.  Soon I was making up ground on, and then passing, other competitors, eventually settling in with about 4 or 5 other cyclists that I would trade spots with throughout the remainder of the leg.  I have to say that there was a moment around Mile 8 where I just had to smile, thinking “I’m racing on a bike right now, and that’s pretty neat.”  It was a truly unique moment in my pursuit of athletics, and one I enjoyed tremendously.  My final time on the bike was 39:24, good for a 19.1 MPH average according to Strava, my best MPH average over any distance to date, and 7/13 for my age group.  Speaking of Strava, here’s your Dam bike route map and elevation chart.

Dam Strava Bike

Sadly the official race photographer didn’t get any shots of the bike leg, but thankfully Rebecca was on the spot and got some!

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And then it was into T2, which I managed to navigate a lot faster than T1, likely because it mostly involved changing shoes and taking off my helmet.

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And then onto the run, which I hoped would be my best showing.  I slipped on the trial pair of Hoka One One Conquests the Hoka rep procured for me and made my way out to the course.  Although perhaps a bit heavier than the shoes I would normally race a 5K in, I was looking forward to the cushioning that the Hokas would give my legs and the Speed Laces were perfect in aiding my attempt to speed up my transition.  Also, they matched my Pearl Izumi cycling shoes, which is very important.

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Almost immediately, I was hit with the exact same problem I would have way back in high school switching over from the bike to the run…calf cramping.  Also, that whole legs feeling like “bricks” thing was exactly on-point.  I stopped at the side of the road to stretch out my calves whereupon Zoomer Lindsey came up on me and encouraged me to get going.  Thankfully that bit of stretching did the trick and I didn’t have any other issues with them.

The run course was about as hilly a”5K” course as I’ve run, which hills definitely took their toll on my already beaten legs.  I tried to keep my sights set on the runners ahead of me and do my best to pick them off as I could.  Given that I’ve run, and written about, my fair share of road races, I can’t say there was a lot to blog home about when it came to the run leg other than to note that, even in the heat, my Pearl Izumi tri shorts and Zoot tri top were both comfortable to run in.

After one last uphill push, there was a quick corner to turn before finally hitting the finish line, 1:25:48 after I started with a 20:53 run split, which was 5/13 in my age group.  Here’s the pace and elevation chart.

Dam Run Leg

And then, I was done, with a neat and glittery medal in hand.

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Flush with excitement, I met up with Rebecca and my fellow Zoomers whereupon we all helped ourselves to the Kegs and Eggs that makes the Dam Triathlon such an appealing race, i.e. one local beer plus some eggs, sausage and blueberry muffin.

The Dam Triathlon was a Dam good way to start my Dam life as a triathlete, or at least an adult triathlete.  Many lessons were learned, and there are many more to come, no doubt.   I’m very grateful for my supportive wife being there to not just cheer me on and take great action shots, but keep me posted on how I’m doing in the field.  Coming out of the water she told me “there are white caps behind you,” which was not quite technically true as there was only one white cap behind me, but it made me feel better nonetheless.  Also thankful for my Zoom teammates, in particular J, who helped me with innumerable training and race-day questions, and then provided more encouragement on the course.

Next up, the Borderline Running Club Triathlon, a 5 mile bike to a pond, 500 yard swim, 5 mile bike back to the start, then a 5K run and then, at the end of September, the Pilgrimman Triathlon, my attempt at the Olympic Distance!

Run, and tri, happy!