Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Crooked Timber

At the start of The Big Loop, this tree reminds me.

Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made. - Immanuel Kant (as translated by Isaiah Berlin)

First off, before I get into the heavy writing, there's been some chatter about my run-in with a jet ski at the start of Ironman Texas. There was, it seems, an inexperienced water safety person near the start line. Ironically, I actually thought before the race, "That jet ski guy is going to get out of the way, right? Of course he is..." I've never had a single issue in ANY Ironman race I've ever done with water safety. And even this, it might have been a mechanical malfunction as opposed to an experience issue. I don't know. I just know that the jet ski I was certain was going to move did not. I heard it a split second before I felt it. It was a crack. That was my head smashing into the jet ski at full speed (such as it is, in my case). A split-second after I heard my head hit the jet ski, I felt the impact. But aside from losing a few strokes - I was in the midst of what I think was a really good start and actually felt like I had a chance to make that front group - which I am simply not fast enough to overcome, I didn't perceive any ill effects. I actually totally forgot that it had happened until I took off my helmet after I decided my day was done and felt this tender lump on the top of my head. I had no headaches, no blurred vision, nothing that indicated a head injury of any sort. I had a good swim. It wasn't a great swim after losing some strokes at the start, but it was a good swim. On the bike, my head felt fine. But my legs just weren't there. I had struggled in the weeks immediately prior to the race. The makings of my DNF came three and four weeks before the race, not three or four seconds into it. Just so that is clear. I had plenty of fodder for good @TriExcuse material at this race, but none of it had any factor in my pulling the plug. I blew my preparation. The only thing the jet ski incident resulted in was that I had a bruised head as well as some bruised pride on Sunday.

Reflecting on the race that wasn't, I find myself at a crossroads. Once again, I need to answer the question, "what does it mean to be a professional triathlete?" I've been at this  same crossroads twice before in my career, one at the beginning of 2005, when I realized I needed someone to guide me on this potentially crazy journey I was undertaking and so contacted Joel Filliol for the first time and really took the first true steps towards becoming a professional. The second was at the end of 2006, in a situation much more analogous to this current one, where I was struggling to mesh the hard work with the lack of results and which was also probably my first real experience with pushing myself beyond what my body (and/or brain) could handle. 

The idea of "overtraining" is still a bit of a concept I struggle with. I dislike the term for two reasons. The first is that it sounds like something that happens to you, instead of something you do to yourself. Overtraining is not like the flu or any other illness that is typically a mix of both bad luck and bad decision making - like you push yourself too hard at the same time your kid happens to bring something home from preschool. And it's definitely nothing like those diseases that are purely bad luck or misfortune, like the awful leukemia my friend Amy Marsh is suffering from. So I tend to shy away from the term, because it seems to reduce - rather than increase - the sense of culpability. As an athlete, overtraining is on you. Maybe, in certain group environments and with certain personalities, the coach bears some responsibility. But ultimately the athlete does the sessions. And certainly, in my case, I am 100% responsible for what I have done to myself. The other thing I dislike about the term overtraining is that it seems to imply a sort of epicness that just isn't there. Like, "Oh, I worked so hard that I buried myself." Overtraining is most typically a death by a thousand cuts. It's something that sneaks up on you, at least in my case. There's nothing epic about it. Plenty of people could do the exact same training and be left thirsty for more. You don't become overtrained because you are epic. You become overtrained because you are stupid. Or prideful. Or insecure. Or have some other vice. Or combination of vices.

But, like all vices, that vice probably accompanies a virtue. Stoic is a nice way of saying cold. Reserved is a nice way of saying aloof. Dedicated is a nice way of saying obsessed. Carefree is a nice way of saying lazy. It's all a matter of context. In my own case, I am a perfectionist. Or I am obsessively compulsive. Whether you choose to interpret those statements as positive or negative or both is up to you. For much of my career, they've been a positive. But they've also been a weakness. The same work ethic that allowed me to win races, come back from my accident, and have success in a great run in 2009, 2011, and 2012 is the same thing that has been haunting me since 2013. I cannot be moderate, which is romantic in some ways, but not entirely pragmatic. Eisenhower famously said, "Rely on planning but never on plans." I struggle to separate the two. I don't just rely on plans, in many ways, I am my plans.

And so I find myself at this crossroads. It has been a dismal start to 2015. I will say that Monterrey had the makings of a great race, and that if ever I can claim that a bad result truly was not my fault, that race was it. In every other case, the results are on me. Typically, in my career, I've had two types of results. Results where I trained more than I could handle and had a poor result. And races where I got it right and had a good one. I've had really only three races where I was "underprepared," and they were all pretty good - IMC 2007, my first Ironman, that I decided to do on Thursday before the race (yes, three days before); IMAZ 2010, after my accident; and IMAZ 2014, somewhat by design out of a fear of overtraining. 5th, 4th, and a 3rd. There's a lesson in there I suppose. Every DNF performance has been the result of going too far. And I remember every DNF. It may not be true for everyone, but for me, I will absolutely say that dropping out hurts way worse than simply finishing. In some ways, pulling the plug so early in Texas is a decision I am proud of, because it's one of the first times I've made a decision to stop before things got really bad. I wish I'd had that same courage four weeks before, when I just couldn't let go of the fact that I was going to taper for one week before Wildflower and then do two easy weeks into Texas. Of course, my inability to relax meant that plan went totally to hell as the week before Wildflower and two weeks before Texas were basically just hope, and as I'm fond of saying, "hope is not a strategy."

In 2005 and 2006, the decision at the crossroads was the same. And I believe it's the same one I have to make here. Those decisions turned out well, I think. And I believe this one will as well. In all cases, the question was sort of existential - what does it mean to be a professional and - critically - how do I live that meaning? In all cases, the decision was to double down. To commit more fully. In 2005, that meant hiring Joel. In 2006, it meant packing everything I owned into my CRV and driving to Flagstaff to hitch my wagon to the Simon Whitfield train until I either made it or broke down trying. And now, in 2015, I think it means the same thing and also something entirely different. I need to recommit to being a professional. To being an athlete. To being an elite. But I think that means something very different, practically, than it meant back then. In 2005, that meant learning how to train. 12 hours was a "full" week of training for me then. After a few weeks with Joel, I remember sleeping for 30 minutes on the side of the road during a bike ride just so I could make it the 10 miles back home. Oh, that is what real training is like. In 2006, it meant leaving my parents' house and the safety of my hometown and friends and the ability to comfortably sit on the fence in order to risk failure. And risk success. Now that I have had success, now that I have a career, I believe it to be more of a process of removal than addition. Not what do I need to add - a coach, a training group with accountability. But what do I need to subtract. What I need to say no to. And, most critically, realizing that saying no sometimes - most times - will mean saying no to myself.

Some of it is stuff that feels absurd. In spite of my results over the past two and a half years, I still have a remarkable number of people interested in me and my time. More than I deserve. In 2006, a glut of "opportunity" was most definitely not a problem. I feel ridiculously fortunate that I risk losing myself in a focus on business opportunities as opposed to a focus on the process of preparing to be a world class athlete. But that doesn't change the fact that it is still a risk. Simon Whitfield was notorious for buying stuff that he felt he needed - stuff that he could have likely gotten for "free" - because he didn't want to owe a favor. He'd rather pay money than pay his time (nothing is ever really free). I swore I'd learn that lesson, but sometimes I feel I've forgotten it. It's an easy lesson to practice when you're talking in pennies. Harder when you have a wife and three kids that you support. But not impossible. 

Eisenhower (who I admire greatly) also said that, "Freedom is the opportunity for self-discipline." I have enormous freedom as a professional athlete. But that freedom requires self-discipline that I bring in some areas - I'm good at getting out the door and working hard - but not in others - I'm not good at separating work and home; I'm always at home so I'm never at home; I'm always working so I'm never working. I think I need to flip that self-discipline a bit. I need to be better about separating work and home - to put more energy into that, even if it means less energy into getting out the door (though I suspect that's not the actual tradeoff I'll make). 

Most of what being more committed in this way is subjective - how I weight certain things, deciding I really value, what is important to me. But some of that is objective. It is concrete. I want to go to Kona. Though I don't just want to "go" to Kona. I only want to go to Kona feeling like I can be prepared to race well there. I have no interest in chasing points simply to show up and hope. And I will also say that it's more important to me to race well (subjectively) there than it is to race well (objectively). Now, before this seems like some sort of "I define success on my own terms" cop-out, I will say that I very much want to win. Because I think you need a concrete goal to measure yourself against. Too often people who define success on their own terms simply define success to be whatever it was that happened. You need to be able to fail and have it count. Failure has become something hip. Silicon Valley loves "fail fast." And everyone talks about the importance of failure like it's a good thing. Failure is only a good thing in hindsight. This idea of setting out to fail is absurd. Don't set out to fail. Set out to succeed. And then, as you look back, realize that some things that were failure were essential to the process. But not because you failed. But because of how you reacted to that failure. 

My goal for the time that I have left in my career - and there is certainly less sand in the top of the hourglass for me now than the bottom - is to keep perspective. To realize what I've done and what I've achieved and also what I have not yet done and not yet achieved. It's a tenuous balance - making something important enough. It's just sport; it's not life or death. But it's also a rare and special opportunity to chase being the best in the world in a competitive environment where you have a real, defined, objective chance to measure that success. Perspective, I think, comes from the process. Of realizing the importance of any - and every workout - to the overall piece of the puzzle. What role does any given day - any given workout - play in the success on a race day  That sort of long view mandates perspective. It mandates a focus on process. Results follow from process. 

In that sense, I'm lucky that my process can be repeated every year, instead of every four. Simon Whitfield set out a goal in 2005 - when I first met him and when he also started working with Joel - to win a gold medal in 2008. But he did it by a day to day commitment to the process. Simon and Joel are both fans of the phrase, "Chop Wood. Carry Water." Personally, I hate this expression. I don't quite know why. I suppose that part of it is that it ignores that larger goal. What is the end game of chopping wood and carrying water? Where is the chance for failure? I also hate it because it seems to make training for sport seem more special than it is. Swimming, biking, and running is mundane enough. It doesn't need to be analogized to some other mundane activity. I tend to think analogies like that are better suited to grandiose tasks - like building a skyscraper. But I think that setting out to do something like winning a gold medal - or winning Kona - is maybe closer to building a skyscraper than it seems. Or that you can make it that important, if you choose to.

So I suppose I plan to focus more on simply chopping wood and carrying water, at least in part because I might be better able to not do those things sometimes. The larger idea is that I need to commit - or recommit - to the things that matter to me. At one time, the only real answer to that was sport. But that also, now, means my family. I need to be more present for them. Which I think will help me both to let go of work and to commit even more to it. I swim. I bike. I run. I write. I work. I do a lot. Some of which is necessary. Some of which is not. And I don't have the luxury of the not necessary anymore. And I also think that learning what is - and what is not - necessary is something that is critical to success in life as a whole.

I am setting out, once again, to win in Kona. Some of what will define my success will be whether or not I actually achieve that, because that is, ultimately, an important measure of success. But most of it will be on how I pursued that. On the integrity of my process. How much did I respect the necessary? How little did I allow myself to be distracted by the unnecessary? How committed was I really? 

I won't do anything to win that race. And I think that's important too. I feel like there's some sense of the importance of process in most people's minds anyway. Cheating, for example. I won't break the rules to win. But I also know I can't break my own personal rules to try to win. However, it's equally clear to me that I will need to break some of what I have defined as my own personal rules to try to win. I won't compromise my commitment to my family. Though I have. I will compromise my obsessiveness. Though I have not. What's really important. And what is not. Can I figure that out? And then can I race, train, and live accordingly. 

It all seems a bit new agey and flakey. The reality is more practical, though I'd be lying if I said I know exactly what it really meant. There'll be some trial and error. I'd say it can't get any worse than dropping out 40 miles into a race that I spent months preparing to win, but I know that's not true. I am suffering now, and suffering is a strange phenomenon. David Brooks wrote in his outstanding Road to Character that suffering is a unique yearning because it does not lead to its own end. Hunger leads to fullness and the end of hunger. Tiredness leads to sleep. Suffering only leads to more suffering. Unless it actually has a purpose. A direction. Unless you can learn from it. And the lessons can be continual. Brooks talks about how you hit the floor, and then that floor drops out, revealing another level below. But then that drops out. You can always go lower. And that may be the case here. I thought I hit my lowest in a hospital bed in 2010. And I came back from that. But then I fell again. I thought I knew the lesson. I thought I knew the bottom. But it turns out there was another. And I expect another, somewhere else down the line. That's the nature of a life well lived. Of a life where you try to squeeze everything out of it. I don't fear the suffering. I just don't want to suffer for nothing. I will take a DNF if it gets me closer to the top, eventually. And whether or not it does is on me.

I'm struggling to end this already too long piece, to wrap it up neatly with some sort of conclusion. That's part of why it's so long; the other part is that I just write too much. I guess there isn't one. I'm at a crossroads. And that's a good place to end because I do need to acknowledge the other path. I knew I didn't have "it" in Texas, whatever "it" is. But I also wondered, after two years of struggle, if I have "it" at all anymore. I wondered if, like Faris, it was time to step away. That's the other path. The path away from this life. I'm at the crossroads, but I have chosen a path. Do I still have "it"? I don't know. Where does it lead? I do know that it leads me back into this sport. What does that mean? I guess that's what I'll find out.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Put A Ring On It

Happy Mothers' Day to Jessie Clark

I'm sure some of you were beginning to wonder what ever happened with the 4 C's Dimond giveaway. Honestly, there were times when I wondered about it too, because giving a bike away gets harder every time I do it. It becomes even worse when I'm training a lot, and my judgement and overall mental capacity becomes severely limited. I am always terrified about making a bad decision, though really there were no bad decisions to be made with the group of people whose submissions I had the privilege of reading. I wish I had five bikes... no, make that 25 or even 125... to give away. To everyone who is not named Jessie Clark, please don't feel like your submission or your story or anything about you was somehow not worthy. There were so many incredible stories I mostly feel like I'm not worthy to actually make this decision.

Because the whole process can be so overwhelming, I try to make some priorities that help me narrow the field down. I never want to post these in advance for a couple reasons. The first is that I never want anyone to feel like they don't have a chance. One of the five finalists was someone who didn't really meet any of the items on my mental checklist, but his story was so good I couldn't not include him. No one's story is ever any better or worse than anyone else's. Everyone's story is his or her own, and that's awesome. But I want to share Jessie's story with you and talk about the things that made me know that she was the right person for this bike. 

First off, she is a she. In the future, I may have to go back giving away my own bike again. I love doing that, but there's some flexibility that comes with being able to give away a demo bike. Namely, it means I can fit anyone, instead of needing to give the bike to someone who runs closer to my size. In prior years, many of the best submissions were from people, most often women, who simply would not have fit on *my* bike. Jessie is such a case. Women tend to be, on average, shorter than men. That's just biology. Or genetics. Or whatever. But it's true. She is 5'7". Were I giving away my frame, there's no way that she'd fit on it. So I was definitely biased towards giving this bike to a woman, because this might be my only chance to do so. If the Dimond crew is able to let me give away a demo frame again next year, I'll scrap gender as a factor. But for this year, it was important to me to give it to a woman.

Jessie is also a mother. Seeing what my own wife sacrifices, and how little she buys for herself, I realize that there is basically no way a mother of three would ever make this purchase for herself, even if she could. I gave weight overall more heavily to parents this time, because this is the first time I'm giving away a bike as a father of three kids with the sacrifice that entails, especially for the mother, staring me in the face every day. Jessie is a mother of three. That's how she got into the sport. She was fighting to lose weight after the birth of her second child and turned to triathlon. 50lbs (and another baby later), she's hooked.

I really love giving this bike to someone where the need - on the bike side - is really clear. A tribike that fits is not quite as dramatic a change as a tribike where all you had before a $500 cheapo road bike you bought off eBay. That's what Jessie *was* riding. It's pretty cool to say, "was." If you go 13:07 in your first Ironman on a cheapo road bike, as Jessie did for her debut Ironman at Chattanooga in 2014, a tribike is going to be a huge upgrade. 

I also wanted someone that can - and will and has - raced. I liked that Jessie had done an Ironman. There were a couple stories from people who were becoming triathletes, but for those people, I think you should do what Jessie did - you buy a cheap road bike and fall in love with the sport first. If you live in Central Tennessee, Jessie has offered to let you borrow hers. She doesn't need it anymore (well, not all the time).

And lastly I wanted to reward someone who asked for themselves. The past two years, I've given it to someone who wrote for their spouse. And that was awesome. But it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there to a complete stranger. And I tried to respect that. It's not an easy thing to open yourself up and know that it might not pay off at all. And that hurts. I realize that, to some extent, everyone who wrote in is hurt that I didn't pick them. And all I can say is that I'm sorry. I feel truly honored that you all share what you do with me, and I wish that nothing I do or say is interpreted as a judgement on you. You are all awesome. But knowing that it hurts more when you know you put yourself out there, I gave extra weight to people who opened themselves up for this. Kudos to all of you.

Jessie does a lot of other great stuff that made her a great choice as well. We've had a bunch of back and forth, and she's given me permission to share what she has written. I hope that gives further insight into Dimond's newest rider.

This was her 250 word submission. From the 250 word group, I narrowed it down to a final group of five. One of those five opted-out by choice (which I found very honorable) because circumstances changed since they submitted. That really warmed my heart. So thank you. Here was Jessie's 250 word submission:

I am a true underdog, the one nobody expected to be an athlete, the nice girl who always finished last. About six years ago after the birth of my second child, I decided to lose weight and started working out. Over the course of a year, I lost 50 pounds and discovered that I LOVE CYCLING! This soon led to an indoor triathlon at the gym and buying my first used bike for $500 bucks. Over the years, she has carried me through numerous training rides, triathlons of every distance, AND in September we completed my first Ironman in just over 13 hours. I’m finally living the life I’m meant to live! My pals and I created our own local tri club which now has over 70 members. I’ve become a cycling instructor and personal trainer, helping others to accomplish their dreams. I am an ambassador for this sport that we love and I get to encourage others every day.
I cannot keep dumping any more money into my old bike, so this new bike will truly carry me to the next level in the sport. Your gift would inspire me to show up on race day and make you and Dimond proud, giving my best performance, worthy of the bike I’m riding. I have plans for my old road bike too – she’s going to be made available to anybody I meet who wants to try out cycling, growing the sport and changing more lives.

Of the final five, I simply said, "tell me what you would have told me if I hadn't limited you to 250 words," It was there that Jessie told me more about her story.

I am a regular person, a regular Mom, a Mom who has struggled with her weight and got into fitness so my fat butt could fit back into my pants.  In the process I found out that I am a decent cyclist and I have a high threshold for pain which makes me a natural for triathlon.  I'm an average swimmer and an OK runner too.  I went from taking indoor cycling classes at my local YMCA to doing a full Ironman (finished in 13:08) in roughly 5 years time.  I also got certified to instruct cycling and became a personal trainer all because I wanted to give back to others.  Through all of this I lost 50 pounds and fell in love with this sport.  I want to help others get into triathlon and show other regular people that ANYTHING is possible.  I have learned so much that I want to pass this knowledge along to others.    
I would EARN every cent of that bike you give me through serving as an ambassador for this sport and for YOU.  Dammit, I would make you proud.  I would step my game up and make sure I compete to best ability in every race I enter.  I would take my ol' road bike and loan it out to anyone who was considering buying a bike and just wanted to make sure they wanted it.  I would ride in every charity ride and local group rides and tell everyone about the bike I'm riding!  I know it would be an amazing gift for me and I would totally embrace it.  Whatever you needed - pics, posts, blogs, articles, general awesomeness - count me in!!!!
I have a really big heart, I love to write, I love to talk to people, I was BORN FOR THIS opportunity!!  Pick me, you'll be glad you did.  It will make the best story and will catapult ME into another stratosphere.  I will then, in turn inspire the thousands of other regular folks out there, showing them that anything is possible and they too can become an Ironman!!!!  
Thank you in advance for what you are doing AND for what you are accomplishing in this sport.  I'm a huge fan! I've attached a picture from my first triathlon 5+ years ago.  As you can see... the Dimond bike would be a HUGE upgrade for me - I need this, I really really need this!  
That's a LOT of exclamation points! But I was drawn to the simple earnestness of her story. She downplays her story as "regular," but I think it's anything but. The great old adage is, "everyone has the will to win; few people have the will to prepare to win." Lots of people want to lose weight, get in shape, etc. How many people do it? Well, a lot. But even more don't. And well, the final email she sent about jumping around for joy with her kids at the park and making a scene, that was what let me know I made the right choice.

Jessie's charity is the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, which is very special to me as one of my closest friend's has a son who is Type-1. There are so many cheesy cliches about being a parent, but they are all true. And being a parent also makes you a kindred spirit with every other parent. I can't explain it. If you are a parent, you understand. If you will be, you'll understand then. If you won't ever be, well, then I'm just crazy like the rest of us.

So, congratulations to Jessie Clark, age 39. She's a triathlete, wife, and Mother to three kids.  She lives in Middle Tennessee just outside of Nashville and trains with local tri club MidTN Multisport. And she's brilliant under pressure. She's also going to be riding a Dimond.

Thanks again to everyone who submitted. Can't wait to do this again next year. It's hard. But it's awesome.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Road To The Woodlands

it's by no means perfect, but it helps tell the story...

"How much do you train?" This is a common question for, I think, most pros. Simon Whitfield gave me the best answer to this question, "As much as possible." The key, then, is simply (or not so simply, as the case may be) in defining what is possible. After a lot of trial and a lot of error, I seem to have pretty much settled on what's possible. For me. Thanks largely to my wife, this hasn't changed too much even with three kids. Thanks Jill!

I've always avoided talking too much about the specifics of the training I do for a variety of reasons. The first is that, at its core, I consider the structure of my training to be the intellectual property of my coach. I also think that this sort of discussion - on specifics - often tends to be less, rather than more, helpful to age-group athletes. And, truthfully, I've never found the training that I do to be particularly remarkable, and I suppose I never wanted to put it out there so people could say, "that's it?" Even when I was winning races, I was never much of a high volume trainer, at least based off of what some other athletes post about what they train. But after the past two seasons, when I struggled to match the training that brought me success, I finally feel like I've got my legs firmly back under me. And I guess I've made my peace with what's possible for me. I expect to continue to push the envelope and to improve such that even as the absolute performances improve, on a relative basis, I figure this is pretty close to what I can manage. There is no magic in this. No secret. I definitely once thought there was, largely because I didn't have enough faith in my own ability to reason that it was actually me - rather than the training - that was the success. This was enough to win some big races. Will it be again? I don't know. We will see. But, thanks to Joel, I realize that magic, such as it is, is in being able to execute at this level week after week after week after week. What's the difference between this year and last and the year before? The difference is in the consistency. I've already had more really good weeks to start this year than I had in all of last year. And I've had more long strings of good weeks that were longer than any I had last year. As I begin to taper down for Wildflower and Ironman Texas, I wanted to reflect some on the road to this point, somewhere I wasn't sure I could get to again. It's amazing to look back at when I thought I was here and to realize just how far away I actually was. I started thinking about this after seeing something Joel posted on his Facebook page: "My coaching heuristics in three words: Consistency, Progression, Patience."

It all really started in late January in Mallorca. It had been a very long time - January 2009 to be exact - since I'd be at a training camp under the supervision of a coach. But Joel and I both felt that it was an important - critical even - step after a year spent rebuilding in 2014. Joel and I started 2014 together in less than optimal circumstances, only seven weeks before Ironman Texas. This year, we started off the right way, with a year together, a proper offseason behind us, and with a clear set of goals going forward. And, most importantly, a reliable and healthy me doing the training. 

The camp environment was a mix of successes and challenges. The weather in Mallorca didn't help much, with it being in the mid 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit) most days with a lot of rain and not much sun. And, after my crash in 2010 and years and years of doing 99.9% of my rides alone, I just couldn't get comfortable riding in a group. But it was great to have Joel watching me, seeing how I responded (or didn't). It was great to be in a distraction free environment with like-minded individuals. It was nice to swim in a group that didn't get in the water at 5AM. The first week was especially challenging with the time change. And the shock of being on someone else's schedule. By the end of that first week, I was pretty disheartened. I had gotten some good training in, but all in all, I felt like I was still stuck in a bit of a rut. I wondered if maybe it wasn't a sign that I had just seen the high point of my career, and if I wasn't just now in a position where I was going to do my best to just sort of fade away as slowly as possible. I had originally planned to stay for three weeks total, but after that first week, I decided to change my flight home to a week earlier. Faced with the prospect of having flown across the world to come away no better than before, I decided I'd make the most of the week to come and see what happened. And it was a revelation. Getting over the jet lag helped a lot, but I also think that facing a definite timeline brought out the best in me. I had a numerically good week (I like round numbers) with 10 hours of biking (relatively low for me), 10 hours of running (relatively high for me), and 30km of swimming (quite high for me). At the end of the week, preparing to head home, I had a great talk with Joel. It was definitely a "holy shit, I can still do this" moment. After a rocky start, I left Mallorca with more than what I expected to gain from the experience. I left with confidence. After a very long day of travel home, I fell right back into the routine of training, and kept that rhythm going for quite a few more weeks until it was time to get ready for Monterrey. With such a big start to the year, Joel and I decided to rest further out from Monterrey and then build up to the race the week of, which worked out well, except for the part where I had a panic attack during the race... C'est la vie.

After Monterrey, I was in the once again (finally) familiar position of getting ready for the first A race of the season - Ironman Texas - with a solid foundation under me instead of facing a game of catchup, like last year for IMTX and in 2013 for Kona. We got back into a pretty good routine, matching the structure and flow of the earlier weeks of the season. The most notable change from early in the year was a downtick in running and an uptick in cycling. After a year and half (or so) with a heavy focus on swimming with only modest returns in the water and a clear detriment to my bike and run, we decided to go back to what had gotten me the most success and, in particular, what had shown the best returns. When I run a lot, I get a lot faster. So I ran a lot to start the year. In both January and February, I logged well over 400km. And the improvement was immediate and noticeable. With a solid foundation there, we started to ramp up the focus on the bike for March and April. Last week (not the week we are just finishing, where I've already started to lighten a bit for Wildflower, but the prior one) was what I'd consider a "representative" week of Ironman training. It was a big week. Rarely, if ever, will I train much more than this. But it was not an outlier in any way. There is a lot of that in this sort of posting, especially when it's "describe an average training day" and the day that some pros list blows my mind. I don't really have an average day; I have an average day for any given day of the week, but the days themselves are all relatively different. So here's what I consider a very good week of Ironman training.

Some general notes. I start my training relatively late in the day. This is because mornings are the hardest time in our house, getting everyone going. So I make breakfast for everyone, make coffee for Jill if she hasn't made it yet, watch the kids for a bit while she gets changed, etc. Jill wakes up with the twins at about 6-6:30AM. They go downstairs and have some quiet time. Quentin and I usually wake up at about 7:30AM. Banana-walnut-chocolate chip pancakes (gluten-free) are our most standard breakfast, and if I'm good, it's on the table by 8:15AM. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Quentin goes to school at 8:45. Usually Jill takes him, and then heads off with the girls to do something. I finish up breakfast, and usually do some work on my computer. I'd love to swim closer to now - about 9:30 or so, but the pool doesn't open until 10:30. Some days, I will ride or run first, but just as often, I start my day at 10:30. I usually finish my day a bit later - 6:00PM or 6:30PM - as a result. It seems to work well enough. I used to swim more often in the morning (our pool has lap swim M/W/F/S from 6AM-9AM), but Jill found it was better to have me around earlier in the day than later. So we adjusted. We live only a mile from the pool, so the transit time to/from doesn't really make a difference in terms of affecting things. I typically eat dinner after everyone else - more like 8PM - even if I make dinner (which I do most of the time when it's "normal" training, but which I do much less often during the heaviest part of Ironman training). In between sessions, I eat, try to catch up on work, etc. In the evenings, I try to catch up on work and ideally watch a bit of TV together with Jill to unwind. I go to bed between 9:30-10:00PM. I like to sleep. I used to sleep less at night, but then I would nap during the day. That's harder with three kids, so now I usually just get a big sleep at night and the occasional 30 minute nap during the week.

I do all of my training alone.

So that's the general stuff. Now to the week itself.

Monday: recovery day. I just swim. And it's easy. 3km (3300yds) of pretty relaxed swimming in mid-morning. Then I take Quentin with me down to Ventura (35min drive) where I go to see my trainer/body-work guru Blair Ferguson of Ventura Training & Athletics. Blair does MAT and we do a mix of treatment and specific strength training. Quentin watches movies on my phone. I have been working with Blair on a roughly weekly basis since 2009. I don't do massage, chiropractic or anything else. The only person who works on my body is Blair. If I was super rich, I'd bring him to all of my races. But I'm not, so I drive down to see him once a week. Quentin and I usually do something together afterwards. This week, we went out for a late lunch at Ola's Mexican Food in Camarillo, which I fell in love with during my stay in the hospital. Jill brought me food from here almost every day. Beats hospital food by a long shot. This the boys time together, which is awesome. I usually make dinner on Monday because I don't have much else going on. If I have to talk on the phone, I try to do it on Monday too. 

Tuesday: track day. Track Tuesday is a favorite. Being close to Ironman, track Tuesday became more like Tempo tuesday. I started the day earlier (like 9:45AM or so) with a variable speed tempo session. Run was 75 minutes with 10x800m with 2min rest done as odds @ 3:20(ish)/km pace and evens @ 3:40(ish)/km pace. The idea is to make the 3:40ish pace (somewhere between 70.3 and IM pace) feel easy. And to keep the foot speed up. This was a relatively easy session. My run fitness has been good enough that I had blown myself up a bit in prior weeks by going to hard, so this was more of a maintenance kind of run, with an eye on keeping my legs ok for the bike workouts. 

After a quick lunch, I head to the pool for what has been the normal Tuesday swim for about a year now: 4000yds with a main set of 2x(30x50) every 4th 50 fast; otherwise steady. Round 1 is band-only on 45s. Round 2 is paddles only on 40s. 

Finish the day with 90min easy (220w avg, 235w pnorm) on the road bike. Oh, I weigh about 72kg (158lbs).

Wednesday: work day. Typically one of the bigger days of mid-week block. HIIT work in the pool. 4400yds with main set of 3x(20x25 VERY fast with every 4th 25 easy. All on 30s. Then 300 paddles only long strokes on 5:00). I use a tempo trainer and just set it at 85spm. I focus on matching the tempo with good long strokes, and this has been a great addition to the staple after doing it in Mallorca. The tempo trainer helps keep me honest without someone in another lane to race against. 

Tempo day on the tri bike. 3hrs total with main set of 60min progressive TT done as: 20min @ 300w, 20min @ 320w, 20min @ 340w. This was a pretty good session as I felt in control the whole time.

Easy basic run. 45min @ 4:30/km done in the early evening around the "grass track" (1km loop of grass and dirt around the softball fields near my house).

Thursday: long run. This was the last really long run before Ironman Texas. 2:15. I had really crushed some long runs earlier in the year, but then they had sort of crushed me, so I tried to keep a bit of a lid on this and not bury myself. This is the only workout I drive to (except for swims). It's about 15min to the Wendy Trailhead, which puts me on a trail to the ocean. It's a great route, downhill to the ocean, uphill on the way back. The run gains about 1000vft, but it's basically all at the start and finish, as you bomb down this huge blacktop hill to start and then have to run up it when you're really tired near the end. (Link is to a run I did on the route last year on Strava.) I averaged 4:06/km, but the NGP is more like 4:00 with the elevation, and that's pretty close to the pace I hold except for the monster hill. This was again a really good run, as I felt in control and not wrecked afterwards. 

After I run, I grab lunch and then head to the pool for a short 2km flush swim. This is really about focusing on swimming frequency. It'd be easy to just not swim on a day like this. But there's a big difference - for me - between doing SOME swimming and doing none. So this is really about frequency rather than any sort of particular fitness goal.

Friday: recovery day. Friday is another easier day. I start the day with my biggest/hardest swim of the week. 5200yds with a main set of 12x300 as 6 pull paddles (pull buoy, paddles, & band) on 4:00 holding 3:35ish and 6 paddles and fins (TYR burner short fins) on 3:45 holding 3:25ish. Paddles and fins is a new-ish addition. The goal is to have good long strokes. The more tired I get (meaning the deeper into Ironman training), the more likely 
I am to rely on tools to keep this session good. When I'm still pretty fresh, I'm more likely to do something like 20x200 or 20x150 swim. But once the legs get trashed...

90min easy ride. Similar power numbers to Tuesday - 220w or so average and 230w or so normalized. Also on road bike. 

Saturday: work day. Another day of pull focus in the pool. Very similar set to Tuesday. 4000 yds with main set of 2x(15x100). Round 1 band only on 1:35, Round 2 paddles only on 1:25. There's no change of speed here, and goal is to be a bit steadier across the board. Solid effort for all 30x100s. Plenty of rest. Usually going sub-1:20 for band only and sub 1:10 for paddles only.

Big gear day on the bike. I alternate doing big gear stuff on my road bike and on my TT bike. This week it was road bike. Main set was 8x5min with 5ish minutes (it's a loop - shorter climb, longer descent) low cadence (sub-60rpm) at threshold watts (360-365w). Total ride time was 3hrs. 

Basic run. Not an easy run, but not hard either. 60min @ 4:15/km. Pretty steady across the hour, though of course I start out a bit slower and finish a bit faster. 

Sunday: long ride. The Ironman standard. I usually ride my road bike for this. 5hrs over a hilly route (about 2000m of evelation change). Average power of 222w with pnorm of 239w. Run off the bike. 30min @ Ironman pace (3:55/km) and 15min easy jog to cool down. That's a full day.

Totals for the week:
Swim: 23,100yds (I credit swimming at 1100yds/15min for everything. I don't actually pay attention to how long it takes. Since I'm consistent, I figure it doesn't matter). So that's 5:15 (sort of) total time.

Bike: 446km in 14hrs. 6hrs on the tri bike. 8hrs on the road bike.

Run: 86.4km in 6hrs.

Strength/gym of 1hr.

26:15 total training hours.

And now the numbers that really matter...

2015 YTD:
Swim: 311,376m [pretty much the same as 2014 YTD.]

Bike: 4979km (161:13:51) [3755km in 123hrs in 2014 YTD - 31% increase. 4590 in 147hrs in January-April, 2012.]

Run: 1488km (111:57:22) [1157 in 92hrs in 2014 YTD - 29% increase. 1458km in January-April, 2012.]

I had never even looked at any of the numbers from the prior years until I wrote this article. But, being such a data geek, I started wondering. And I was pretty pleased with what I saw.

That's pretty much my life in a nutshell...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Black Dog

Sometimes the black dog* steps on you.

Ironman 70.3 Monterrey
Monterrey, NL, Mexico ★ 2015.03.15

I never thought that all I would have wanted was for Michael Lovato to hug me tight and tell me it was going to be okay. But that is how my day in Monterrey ended, as a blubbering mess in T2, crying on Michael's shoulder while he kindly took a break from very good his bilingual race commentary.

And I would never have admitted it, but I wondered before I left for Monterrey if racing in the rain was the best idea, especially for the first race of the season, on a new bike that I don't have many miles on. I ride outside at home in the rain (when we get it, which was actually been relatively often - thankfully - this year), but I typically do it on my road bike - so my hands are always right by my brakes - and I absolutely only do it in certain places where I know the conditions of the road in the rain, where there tends to be minimal traffic, and where there's very little in the way of technical riding. I'm sure it will surprise no one that, since my accident, I am extremely risk-averse on the bike. "Close calls" - particularly with cars - are deeply affecting. 

One of the scariest days I've had on the bike was on a rainy day, as I was preparing for my "comeback" race at Ironman Arizona in 2010, and a car ran a red light at an intersection. There was no way I could have stopped in time. I remember just waiting for the impact which, thankfully, never came. I chalk it up to my decision to ride with flashing lights (all the time), but of course I'll never know why the driver stopped about six inches from hitting me, only that he did. I've only had one crash in the rain - during a race, when I was very, very green as a bike rider, and I slammed on my brakes to try to make a poorly marked turn. Compared with the many miles (it rained a lot when I lived in NY and Victoria, BC) I've ridden in the rain, I have had very few bad experiences. But I've ridden very little in the rain since my accident (mostly because California has been going through a massive drought)). 

We had some wet days in Mallorca. And some wet days in Thousand Oaks. And it was actually all that experience that made me think I'd do just fine in Mexico. I'm not prideful. I have no issue being a bit more cautious in races. I got passed by pretty much everyone I was riding with during the race today whenever we hit a place where you had to make a hard corner or, in particular, on the cobblestone section by transition. The cobblestone section was somewhere around 1km in total. Coming out of T1, it was - thankfully - pretty dry, and the biggest issue I had was more that I thought it was going to shake all the bolts loose on my bike (well, if I didn't travel with a torque wrench). I waited to put my feet in my shoes until I got out on the highway (riding one handed on cobblestones and trying to put my feet into my bike shoes seemed like a good way to earn a Darwin award... or a broken collarbone). But I wouldn't have described the exit onto the bike course as traumatic in any way. 

Coming around to start the second lap on the bike, you rode a longer section of cobbles, including a descent and ascent that wasn't there on the way out of T2, and I got passed by a lot of folks here as I took it a bit more cautiously, but I'd say that I lost only a handful of seconds. I stayed in contact and was able to pretty quickly roll right back through the field once we were back out onto the highway. I was a bit nervous at times out on the highway during the second lap, but mostly because we had now overlapped with age groupers, meaning that you had to factor that traffic into the line you could now take as well as of course needing to be ready to react while remembering that you cannot react as quickly when it's wet. But I was holding a strong enough pace to stay at the front for almost all of the second lap and to continue to put time into Tim Don who was alone up the road. I was on pace to ride somewhere around 2:02 or so. But coming into the cobblestone section as we headed to T2, the rain had picked up quite a bit and had made the cobbles very slick. What was especially challenging was the crosswalks, where bricks were laid out in a chevron pattern, running across the road, and the deep grooves between the bricks wanted to grab your tire and keep your from holding a straight line.

Having spent some time on a mountain bike, I know that the key to riding is to not try to muscle the bike. You need to relax and sort of gently guide the bike where you want to go. Whatever you do, don't tense up. But I couldn't help it. Once I felt like I didn't have full control of my bike, I started to panic. Which of course gave me even less control over my bike. Which made me panic even more. And the cycle built. After coming down the cobblestone descent, I was in a full on mental state of emergency. I didn't consciously think back to being in a hospital bed with a tube down my throat and a neck full of stitches and a lot of broken bones. But something in me sure remembered that. The idea of riding up the cobbles in front of me - as I watched athletes in front of me slipping and sliding (though, thankfully, no one crashed) - just overwhelmed me. I couldn't do it. I started crying at some point. And I saw some other athletes get off their bike, and I got off my bike as well. I figured I could walk my bike into transition (it wasn't that far) and still maybe run fast enough to make my way into the prize money. 

But when I got into T2, I was just too shaken. I'm sure I can project or inject all sort of feelings onto myself at that time as I sit here in my hotel room, calm and rational, but it wouldn't be true. All I really remember is that I was scared - really scared. And I wanted to stop. Mostly I just wanted someone to hug me because I felt terrified and very, very alone. 

It seems crazy to write this. I haven't had an issue like this since pretty much when I got out of the hospital. The worst thing to happen to me now on the bike - a close call with a driver - typically just makes me angry. Part of that, I suppose, is that it's easy to get angry at someone. Here, it was just that feeling of helplessness. I had some bouts of that - anxiety or panic attacks - when I first got out of the hospital in 2010. They would come then typically when I was going to leave the house. Sometimes I just couldn't. I don't mean on my bike. I mean leave the house at all. I wasn't even thinking about getting back on a bike at that point. But eventually I did. And I had some help with residual anxiety and fear on my bike. And that's been pretty much it. I say - truthfully - that I'm scared every time I ride my bike, but that's mostly because I share the road with cars. I'm a relatively tentative descender, though Dan Empfield has noted steady progress year after year in my handling of the technical parts of The Big Loop ride in the San Gabriel Mountains. Not that I've ever been - or probably ever will be - a daredevil on the bike. But I've gotten better, and more confident, and those things have fed each other in a positive way. 

I suppose if they were more prevalent in races, I could seek out wet cobblestones in training, though that also seems like a pretty terrible idea, kind of like voluntarily riding over wet manhole covers as opposed to around them. Mostly I guess I just need to be aware of my limitations. I almost died riding my bike. That won't ever go away. I do what I can to stay safe and to ride sensibly, but some things are just beyond my control. Whatever it took to ride those cobblestones safely and confidently, I just didn't have it on this day. Maybe I won't ever have it. I don't know.

I do know that I'll keep on riding and racing my bike. Though I think I might wish a little harder for sunny skies for a while...

* Footnote: "the black dog" is from a WHO series on depression that I thought was a pretty good illustration of any sort of negative aspect of your psyche that can seem to show up out of nowhere and - when it does - be pretty debilitating.

Friday, February 27, 2015

4 C's of DIMOND Giveaway: C-Charity, C-Commitment, C-Confidence, & C-Champions

4 C's of Dimond Giveaway: 
C-Charity, C-Commitment, C-Confidence, & C-Champions

Time for an update on the Dimond giveaway, which has a new name thanks to Josh G., who happens to be an Iowa native, just like Dimond. Josh was the lucky recipient of some small swag as a thanks for coming up with the best name for the contest. It doesn't quite roll of the tongue the way "Shiv-away" did, but I thought it was the best combination of a play on the word diamond that also included some reference to the ideals of this effort. There were a ton of great submissions for names, but when I read this one, I knew this was it. It was not the most "clever," but it was the most true. At least to me. This is about charity, in the truest sense of the word. And it's about the commitment that all of you showed in sharing your story and in the details of those stories. It's about the confidence to say that you deserve this bike (or that someone you know does). And all of that makes every one who was brave enough to share their story with me a champion in my book. 

121 people shared stories that, yet again, both inspire me and break my heart. I know when I do this that it's not going to be easy, but there's nothing quite like reading these submissions and being hit with the reality that there are way more deserving people than there are bikes than I can give away. But, at the same time, the number of people who used up a fraction of their 250 words to express gratitude and to celebrate what Dimond has enabled me to do was equally inspiring. Most people were excited that someone would win this bike, even if it wasn't them. Many people also shared their own stories of charity. Simply put, you all are amazing. I wish I could do more.

Thanks as well to everyone for obeying the word count. The master list of submissions is still 76 single-spaced pages (with some line breaks). So I'm thankful to you all for being concise. And my co-readers are probably even more grateful. I figure it will probably be another month before I announce the winner. But it is my goal to get this done by the end of March so that whomever gets the bike can use it for as much of this season as possible.

Thanks to everyone for your trust and your submissions. Now it's time to get to work putting those four Cs into practice!

Lastly, though, a special shout out to L.Y., who said if she won, she'd name the bike, "Beyonce." 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Beam YOU Up Scotty!

Your new bike. (Sort of...)

First thing, if anyone comes up with something as clever as "Shiv-away Giveaway" using the word "Dimond" (rhymes with diamond), you get a huge thank you (and maybe a present).

Okay, so you may remember that for (roughly) the past two years, I've given away my race bike at the end of the season. For a lot of reasons (mostly that having twins is really overwhelming), I didn't do that to start this year. I was going to do it at the end of the year, but then when it became clear that I wouldn't be back with Specialized, I had another idea. I proposed this idea to TJ early on when talking about doing a deal with Dimond, and he was in favor, so I knew that the bike giveaway would be back. Only difference is this time, instead of giving away the bike I have been riding, I'm giving away the bike I will be riding.

The crew from Dimond has agreed to give me a frame from the demo fleet to give away. On that frame, I will be putting a selection of Zipp and SRAM parts that I would have given away on my old bike. There are some caveats, like that it will require a crankset and brakes. And the aerobars will be limited to a size Medium Vuka Stealth (though with the 10mm spacer, that gives a lot of adjustability). I do not have a crankset (just like on the original Shiv giveaway; a crankset was required) to give away this time. 

One other huge thing is that I can give away ANY size frameset. In the past, we had "fit" requirements. If you were 5'6", no matter how good your story, the bike wasn't for you, because you wouldn't fit it. That is no longer the case, though since the Dimond does not come in 650, if you are below about 5'5", I probably will not pick you since you really should be on a 650C bike... 

So the bike will be:
  • Dimond frameset IN ANY SIZE!
  • Zipp 808 Firecrest carbon clincher front and rear
  • SRAM RED 2012 10spd shifters, front derailleur, rear derailleur
  • Zipp Vuka Stealth (size medium) with ski bend extensions and SRAM 990 brake levers

You will need to be able to provide:
  • Saddle
  • Crankset
  • Front and rear brakes
  • Pedals
  • Tire, tubes, rear hydration system, etc, etc, etc.

You get a bike, but the bike isn't entirely free, as you do have to buy a bike for someone else - by way of a $134 donation to World Bicycle Relief - AND make a $134 donation to a charity of your choice. To be clear, you do NOT have to do this in order to "apply." The person who receives the bike must make this gesture as a "pay-it-forward" of his/her own. In other words, IF you get this bike, THEN you must give a bike to someone via WBR and also support your own charity. That same rule applies here along with some others that I came up with as the other giveaway progressed:
You can't sell the bike for profit. This is about giving you a bike. If you want a new bike, great. You can get a new bike. But you can't SELL this bike. You must pay it forward.  
Likewise the wheels and the parts, which I am going to include this year. No selling the wheels for cheaper training wheels or something like that.
Both of the wheels and parts are things I wasn't able to include in the giveaway the first year that I'm excited to include this year. I think they are tools that someone who can't afford them as a luxury should be lucky enough to use, because they do make a difference. They aren't ways to make money for you.  
How will I know if you sell them? Let's just say that it's safe to say that I'll know, because there's a very, very, very good chance that I will. And you'll know, and I think that should matter more.
Same format as prior years - you can nominate someone or tell your own story. BUT, this year, because I do have three kids, and doing this is actually a lot of work, you ONLY get 250 words to tell your story. More than 250 words, I will just delete it. 250 words is a hard limit.

You need to tell me:
  • Your name
  • Your email address
  • Your height
  • Your story. 
Only the "your story" part counts against 250 words. I will highlight the paragraph(s) you write, go to "Word Count," and that number better be 250 or less. Capiche? 

So, what is "your story"? The way this works is simple. You tell me: 
  • *WHY* (this is key) 
  • *YOU* (though you can write on behalf of someone else, as Drew Ziegler's wife did; Drew got the very first bike; Freddy Galbraith got the second, also via his wife writing about him. Wives are awesome... Duh.) 
  • *NEED* (and it must be a N-E-E-D) a bike. 
I have a trusty team of five or so people that helped me last time that I'll enlist again in the evaluation of the various entries. Plus the various fact checking and internet sleuthing that I specialize in. So no funny stuff...

Questions, however, may come via Slowtwitch, Twitter, Facebook, the contact form at the right, etc, etc. Just don't ask me on Instagram, because I pretty much only use that for outgoing, not inbound.

You have until Feb 10th, 2015 (I'm in Mallorca training until then) to send these to me at: beammeup@rappstar.com

Alright, I think that's it. Now let's get someone a bike...

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A DIMOND In The Rough

My new bike. Well, figuratively speaking...

I'm really excited to announce a five-year partnership with Dimond Bikes and their parent company Ruster Sports, both founded by USAT 18-24 age-group "classmate" of mine and fellow mechanical engineer, TJ Tollakson. There's a press release here, where Dimond also announces the exciting news that Jesse Thomas is coming on board for five years as well (another mechanical engineer, though from some cut-rate school in Palo Alto). But, in typical fashion, I wrote about ten times as much as they could actually fit; press releases have a pretty hard word count if you actually want them to get picked up. I'll be writing more about the bike itself in an upcoming issue of LAVA, but more from a technical approach. So I wanted to take the time now to talk about all the stuff I talked about in drafting up some content for the press release. 

In the official release, I talk about how the Dimond offers a real competitive advantage in a time when that's become increasingly rare. To give some context to that, I need to back up to about 2005, when I turned pro. My then-coach (who is also my now-coach), Joel Filliol, insisted that I get a powermeter. At that time, that meant one of two options - SRM or PowerTap. That's it. It became immediately obvious the benefit that this tool had for training and racing; it was exactly like the rowing machine I had spent so much time on in college. You knew - for better and for worse - exactly how hard you were going. But powermeters were rare. TJ had a powermeter; he was one of the first guys I remember posting power files back then. And the other athletes Joel coached had them. But at races, they were scarce. And I was able to use it to my advantage in a great many races, as well as to make what I think was a relatively rapid ascension as a cyclist in the sport.

Likewise, bike fit, which I was introduced to by Paul Levine of Signature Cycles and then which I really learned the ins and outs of working with Dan Empfield and John Cobb, was either unknown or disregarded in terms of import. I've done a fair number of bike fits for fellow pros (typically women, who continue to be shortchanged in this regard), because bike fit among pros was - for much of my career - even more of a rarity than among age-groupers. I would say that if Dan Empfield really brought tri bike to the masses, Mat Steinmetz (along with Todd Carver) was the guy who - with Craig Alexander - really brought it from the masses to the pros via Retül. Bike fit among pros was certainly rarer than it was among age-groupers in North America. The Aussies (sorry guys) continue to be laggards here, but as more and more of them spend time in Boulder, it seems that Mat continues to get his hooks into them. And well, you just can't expect guys to give up the sort of aerodynamic advantage they used to when they were riding slack and sitting up begging the wind to punch them in the chest.

And, beyond things that require active decision making - like using a powermeter or getting a bike fit - equipment has gotten much, much better. There are plenty of options now for fast aero helmets, well engineered bikes, slippery aerobars, low Crr tires, and fast wheels. Heck, even clinchers are now at least normal - and becoming "the norm" - as people grasp that they really are just faster and better. It's just easier now to make a good decision. You used to have to hunt and think - and there is still, with stuff like helmets, some individuality. Or there were big tradeoffs, like tires that were fast but which were paper thin; the tradeoffs are still there, but they are smaller - and getting smaller. It's a testament to the caliber of engineer employed in our industry that we continue to make the gains that we do. You can go a whole lot faster now on less watts than you could a decade ago. 

Unfortunately for me, I used to benefit from the discrepancy between my choices on these subjects and that of my competition. This was because of both luck (like getting connected with Dan and Joel) and some smarts (and reading the wisdom of Tom Anhalt, Gerard Vroomen, Paulo Sousa, and other enginerds on Slowtwitch plus the writings of Damon Rinard, Chet Kyle, Mike Burrows, and others); I was able to see that this stuff really did make a difference. But I'm no longer the rare bike nerd now. I'm part of a legion of pros that knows - and cares about - terms like Crr and CdA.

Furthermore, at the top level, everyone has gotten faster and stronger on the bike. And more and more people every year are making better and better decisions about equipment. A lot of this is because of the nature of the race - hang in on the bike as long as possible and pray on the run is now a viable, and certainly the most common, race strategy on the men's side; it's just harder to win a race if you don't ride well. It's a combination of fitter athletes, but also the psychological and physiological/aerodynamic benefit of riding in a group even in a "non-drafting" race. But the reality is that it's hard to find an advantage on the bike. There are a couple still out there, but the rate of adoption is much quicker. For example, sleeved skinsuits went from being an outlier to being the norm (all three men on the podium in Kona wore sleeved suits on the bike; Jan Frodeno changed for the run, but Ben Hoffman and Sebastian Kienle did not) in less than two years (2012 being the first real year where they showed up, with Marino Vanhoenaker destroying the field in Kona on the bike in his). Everyone is looking for an advantage other than just train harder/more on the bike, since everyone is training more and harder on the bike than ever before. 

But I think Dimond is really a diamond in the rough (sorry...) here. I think it offers me a real advantage over my competitors. This is for three reasons. The first is the obvious one - the beam design. There are a lot of challenges to beam design - it's missing the structural support of a seattube and seatstays - and some potential drawbacks (it's more sensitive to rear wheel and tire choice, though, thankfully this is less of an issue than it was as wheels and tires have gotten more aerodynamic), but done right, you have less things to disturb the wind. There are nuances here that I'll talk more about in LAVA, but based off the old Zipp data (the 2001 and 3001 were the inspiration for the Dimond) and Dimond's own data, their bike is fast. Really fast. And that's great. BUT, what's clear is that advantages like that don't last. Certainly not five years. But the beam design has something else going for it - it's very modular. 

You have three basic components - lower frame, beam, and fork; you can also include the seatpost here, but I'll include that with the beam. At some point, you might have an integrated front end, but I'll group that in with the fork. It's really the split main-frame that is of interest. Those two pieces are separate, and assuming a consistent interfacing system, you can replace either of those without disturbing the other. What this means is that you can iterate the bike much more quickly than you can with a double-diamond frame, where you can upgrade "part" of the frame. It's all or nothing. What that means is that the lifespan of the frame is necessarily much longer. If the lifespan of a mold is 3-5 years, with a beam bike, that means you can see upgrades every 2ish years. That's important. Especially for a small company, where cutting new molds is a big cost. It's easier to grow and improve when you don't need to upgrade the whole frame. But it also gives you flexibility to make one part of the bike better without worrying about needing to do the whole package.

Lastly, the Dimond has a dedicated US-based production facility. Part of this is "feel good." I like stuff that is made in the USA. But just like the modularity, having your own factory in the US allows for much more rapid development. Zipp, unsurprisingly, comes to mind as really the prototype for this sort of engineering work flow. They've upgraded the hubs on different timelines from their rims. And they do it all in Indianapolis. And I think it's why Zipp has been - and continues to be - the leader in carbon wheel development. David Morse, the head of engineering at Dimond, came from Zipp. He's a great young engineer with a lot of smarts, but - critically - he has seen how an engineering-first company operates. 

Of course, this bright future is predicated upon sales. Dimond is a small company taking on a big challenge - high-end domestic manufacturing and engineering. And that's a huge challenge. TJ has always been a risk taker in that regard (I generally group engineers into two groups - innovators and what I call, coming from my coding experience, debuggers. I consider TJ an innovator; he likes to create stuff. I consider myself a debugger; I like to tell you why something will break - or has broken; Henry Petroski is the patron saint of debugging engineers.). And good for him. I'm thrilled to support a good friend, which he has become over the years that we've raced against each other, in this endeavour. But it's a challenge. Ultimately, the future success of this company hinges on convincing folks that the wager that I (and Jesse and David and TJ) have made is right. Some of that will come through success on the race course. But a lot of it will come from telling the story of this company and of this bike. 

So, that's my spiel about why I'm riding a Dimond. Guess it was a little long for a press release. I'm looking forward to working with David and TJ on a nitty gritty technical piece for LAVA that will tackle some of the topics I mentioned above in more detail. For now, I'm happy to have the advantage on the race course. But in five years, I'll be happiest if I've helped succeed in transforming a company and - I think - an industry.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On Racing Well. On 2014, The Year That Was.

© 2014 Ben Powell

A lot of people go through life doing things badly. Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you're racing, it... it’s life. Anything that happens before or after... is just waiting. - Steve McQueen, "Le Mans."

It was a non-remarkable race in a string of 70.3 races this summer where I found something I'd lost. The race in Racine, WI was not particularly noteworthy in any particular aspect. I came 10th, getting run down in the last 100m or so. I swam reasonably well, blew up on the bike, and salvaged a reasonably good run. But I raced it. From gun to tape. The whole way. I had several of those, "I'm going to die" moments, and of course I didn't. And I crossed the finish line with the tank empty. And it was a revelation. I remembered how to race. I didn't do it particularly well, but I did it. Since that race, I finished a close 4th (Calgary 70.3), 3rd (Princeton 70.3), and - most recently - 3rd (Ironman Arizona) with the fastest bike split in two of three races and, technically speaking, also the bike course record in two of three races (Calgary & IMAZ). The 70.3 WC in Tremblant was lone outlier in terms of performance, and I think it was a result of being overly cautious, rather than being overdone. I finished the season on not quite the high note I had hoped and planned for, but I finished in a good spot - healthy and motivated and eager to take on 2015.

I mulled over a lot about what I should write to wrap up the year, but nothing really came to me of substance or import. I wrote a lot about a lot this year. I don't know that I have too much more to say. But I came across this that Simon Whitfield wrote about a trip to visit the Brownlee brothers in Yorkshire. I think it sums up both what I lost and what I think I've found again. And it definitely sums up how I will be approaching 2015. It's better than anything I thought of by a long shot.

They build them tough as nails in Yorkshire. Seeing first hand where the Brownlee brothers grew up showed me some of the factors that made them the incredible competitors that they are. Tough as nails, grit and fiercely competitive. An eye opening experience.

I had a poster on my wall as a kid, it said "the Kenyans believe they will win as clearly as they know the sun will rise the next day" - belief is the key.

This belief is ingrained and instilled; it's earned. I can only imagine the hours upon hours the young athletes in Yorkshire spend outside, flying up and down the dales, earning this belief.

The Brownlees love to train. I asked Alistair if he could see stopping and he simply replied "stop what? I love the training, I love being outside". He told me this on his second run of the day, an extra run just for me, showing off his playground "this is where I live, out there" he said from the top of the ridge. It was cold, dark, wet and absolutely incredible. He went on to tell me about his trip to mount Kilimanjaro last year with brother and his dad (both legends if you ask me). Blue lips and stumbling "like a drunk idiot" according to Jonny, they walked to the top. Apparently Alistair really struggled with the altitude, to the point it was dangerous but as their coach Malcolm told Lou and I, "those boys, they love to push themselves, they love getting to the edge and seeing what's on the other side". I believe what makes them champions can be summed up with one sentence.

EARN the COURAGE to BELIEVE in yourself.

And in their case, the love of whatever it is that you do.
Happy New Year everyone. May 2015 be a year of courage and belief for all of us.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Last Dance

Ironman Arizona 2010. Eight months after. © Eric Wynn 2010.

Thanksgiving seemed an appropriate time to share this, because I am incredibly thankful to have been a part of Specialized for the past six years. Ironman Arizona 2009 was my first race on a Specialized. And Ironman Arizona 2014 will be my last. I don't typically think that the changing of sponsors is noteworthy. Typically, an athlete simply announces a new sponsorship, and everyone is left just assuming whatever they want about what might have happened with the previous folks. Some relationships are, however, more meaningful than that, and I think that it is appropriate to acknowledge the parting of ways. I also hope - perhaps fancifully - that talking about this now will also give me the chance to focus on the future when that time comes, rather than on, "what happened with Specialized?", at least to the extent that anyone actually cares what happened. 

I've known for a while now that this was the case. I had a sense that it was likely - my last two years of results have not been up to the standard that I know Specialized holds their athletes too; they haven't been up to my standards either. But I had a tough - but understandable and polite - conversation before Arizona where I got the definitive word. In a testament to Specialized's business acumen but also their caring, the reason they told me when they did was that once a decision had been made, they wanted to give me as much time as possible to craft a deal with someone else. Especially with what I - and they as well - had planned and hoped would be a big win in Arizona, they wanted to give the chance to strike while the iron was hot and to capitalize on that success. I appreciated that then and still do. The race wasn't the sort of breakthrough I'd hoped for, but in that sense, knowing before also kept me from thinking that, "Oh, if I'd just had a better race in Arizona..." While I'm obviously disappointed - primarily in myself - to not be back with Specialized in 2015, it is hard to be disappointed with what I achieved during my time wearing that big, red "S."

After my breakthrough win in Ironman Canada in 2009, Specialized was the first company to step up and say, "we want you to ride for us. And we will pay you to do so." No one had ever done that before. And that was really the beginning of my career, since you need to earn a living to have a career. Otherwise, it's just a hobby. At the end of 2010, after only one race back since my accident, Specialized renewed my contract for three more years, and what an incredible three year stretch that was. 

More recently, I know, we've both faced challenges. I put myself in a big hole in 2013 and then kept digging. And I've spent most of this year climbing out of it and now - finally - feeling like I'm back to climbing up the mountain as opposed to climbing out of the ditch. Specialized has struggled, I think, to see the return on a massive investment in the sport and a huge commitment to athletes that has resulted in a lot of success, but also a fair bit of disappointment as well. I made a lot of changes - mostly good, some less so - in a struggle to find my own footing as an athlete. And I can completely understand Specialized's decision to do the same in their business, at least their business within the context of triathlon. When things are not working the way they should, you need to make a change.

But sometimes decisions are made that go beyond business, and there is one story from my time with Specialized that will forever define my image of the company. When I got out of the hospital in 2010, a big box showed up at my door not long after. Inside was a huge poster, that I still have, with an image of an open road and the caption, "Best wishes on the road to recovery from your family at Specialized." It was signed by more people than I could count. Not long after that box showed up, an even more powerful gesture came in a much smaller package. An envelope from Morgan Hill arrived in the mail, and inside it was a check for $4,000. I didn't know why. So I called one of my friends who worked in sports marketing, and said, "why did I get a check for $4,000?" He said, "that was what was left over on your bonus cap for the year. We were sure you would have earned it if it hadn't been for the accident, so we just decided to pay you on it." I was floored. I couldn't swim. I couldn't bike. I couldn't run. Mostly I just sat around the house being pretty depressed and wondering if I'd ever be any good again. I certainly didn't have that faith in myself. But that gesture helped to return it.

After getting that check and being pushed (gently) by Bobby Behan, who built the Specialized triathlon program in 2009/2010, to go, I went up to Wildflower and stayed with Mark Cote (the "Aero Pharaoh") and Bobby and the Specialized gang to watch the race, my first trip away from the house since getting out of the hospital. And from there I went up to Morgan Hill where I was a part of the introduction within the company of the global tri team, still unable to swim, bike, or run. It was there, in a hotel in Morgan Hill, that I said for the first time - "I'm gonna race again. I will race Ironman Arizona this fall and defend my title." And I did come back. And I did race again. And I came back even stronger. When I was at my lowest, I was still important to Specialized. And I will never, ever forget that. Thank you. I'll see you up the road.

Happy Thanksgiving.