Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kona Diary 2016 Part 5. Week 3 Update. The Anti-Fragile Athlete.

© Eric Wynn 2012

Part 5: Kona 2016 Diary presented by Matchsports
Week 3 Recap. Week 2 Preview. The Anti-Fragile Athlete.

Well, it finally happened. I reached whatever level of fatigue it takes to keep from wanting to write. I had intended to post an update last week, but that plan fell by the wayside in favor of... Well, I don't really remember. It's basically a blur. Week 3 went pretty well; I ran more and rode less than the prior week, but overall load seemed about the same. There were some key "specific" simulations - long swim, long bike, and long run (on separate days) - that were all quite good. These were not workouts where I could - or would even really want to - set a PR. They were much more like the race which they are designed to prepare me for - they reward steadiness and consistency and not blowing up. In fairness, I did blow up a little bit during both the bike and the run, but it was not catastrophic. More just a reminder that Ironman is really far and that a healthy respect for the distance is never a bad thing.

The weather either cooperated or didn't, depending on your perspective. It was hot and surprisingly humid, which makes training much harder, but which is also a better simulation for Kona than typical "Mediterranean" weather. As much as I might hate it, I do value the heat and the wind, because I think it makes you more prepared. The concept of antifragility was developed by Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and is outlined in his book by the same name. The basic concept here is not just robustness - meaning an ability to withstand shocks - but rather a system which actually thrives on shocks and uncertainty. Taleb is a big fan of health/fitness/wellness in spite of (or because of) his background as a trader, and I am by no means the first to extrapolate the mathematical concept of antifragility into a physical concept that you can apply to the human body.

For a long time, I prided myself on being not just durable, but antifragile, though I did not know the term at the time. Some of my best races - like the inaugural Leadman Epic 250 in Las Vegas - have come when I think that massively difficult conditions have actually made me better than I might have been otherwise. I didn't have this file uploaded, but it was easy to find because I knew the race was in May of 2011, and I just needed to look for the largest Garmin file that was about 5x as big as anything else... I also look back at the ITU Long Distance World Champs in the same way. Yes, as a 2nd pack swimmer, the canceled swim due to the cold helped me. But I think the biggest thing that helped me was that we were all put in a situation that we weren't prepared for. Except I was. Because I had - and do - workouts where I basically do not warm-up on the bike, I just go. How often? I don't know. Fundamentally, I think the important answer is, simply, "more than never." 

This is why I train on the wheels that I race on. On tires that I race on. With tubes that I race on. With helmets that I'll wear. Some things - like wheels, which change a lot about how a bike handles - I try to do all the time. Other things, like helmets, where I value the safety of not having my ears covered a great deal, I do less often. I don't think there needs to be a hard and fast rule here. Just, basically, "if you can imagine it, make sure you practice it." 

I started thinking about this again after listening to a podcast that Joel did with JFT Squad physio (part time) Paul Westwood. They talk a lot about the role of physiotherapy and "interventions" and whether or not they have a place in elite sport. (The audio could be cleaned up a bit, but it's a good listen; just make sure you don't do it over earbuds, as the amplitude of the audio seems to jump a bit such that there are times when it's really loud.) I agree with most of what they talk about, especially their primary conclusion, which is that you need to focus on what athletes *CAN* do, not what they *CANNOT.* On area where I do disagree is on the topic of pneumatic compression boots. I have worked with NormaTec since 2009, and several of the things that Joel and Paul cite as weaknesses of the boots are actually things that I think are strengths. Especially as compared with massage, I much prefer the boots for a variety of reasons. 

Unlike a massage therapist, the boots are easy to travel with. They don't require their own plane ticket, or food, or a hotel room, or anything else. You just need to bring them and plug them in (or, in the case of the new Pulse, charge it). They are always the same. There's no wondering if this massage therapist will be good or bad or whatever. Now, certainly, they do not provide the human touch, and they can't hit every muscle, but they can work your legs, hips, and arms, which is most of you. As far as expense, for a device that is designed to last years, they are a lot cheaper than massage too on a per-use basis. And there is quite good evidence that they are effective (more than placebo), though that of course opens up the discussion of how best to use them, since we know now that you can indeed over-assist on the recovery side. This is a topic for a larger discussion, but, basically, my stance now is that I use the NormaTec system extensively during taper and after a race - when recovery is a priority - and try to be judicious about how/when I use it during normal training. Is this "right"? I don't know. But it seems to make sense to me. Regardless, I'm much happier sitting in the boots and reading - and the research shows there's a bigger benefit here than just sitting on the couch, and I don't have to go somewhere for massage, find a masseuse, etc. 

I do have a "physio" (though we don't really use that term in the US) that I work with - Blair Ferguson, an MAT practitioner who I have worked with since 2009, but the focus of our work together (again, a topic for a longer post) is how to do I get the most out of my swimming, biking, and running. The work I do with Blair is designed to allow me to do the training that actually matters. And along these lines, I'm totally aligned with Paul and with Joel - triathletes need to be swimming, biking, and running *as much as possible* (with a heavy emphasis on "possible," which means you don't injure yourself or otherwise chop your own head off). 

One thing that I do appreciate about working with Joel is that he has a core set of beliefs, but outside of those core beliefs, he's remarkably flexible. Steve Magness wrote about "The Plight of the Ego Coach," which focuses on the problems that arise from working with a coach who defines himself based on his resume and the successes of his athletes. This is basically the antithesis of Joel, and reading this dovetailed nicely with an article that Jill sent me about why 70% of kids in the USA quit sports by the time they are 13. The point of both articles is the same - the an excessive focus on outcome rather than process is disastrous. This is not a new topic for me to address, but it's also one that is especially relevant leading into the biggest race of the season.

The danger with any sort of discussion of "process" is that you can lose sight of the fact that outcomes are important. My goal is to have a good race in Kona, and a large part of that is certainly outcome driven. It's essential not to use the idea of "process" as a way to engage in post hoc justification of whatever happens. Failure is not just important as "learning experience" - something that I think we see far too much of in the mantra inspired by Silicon Valley to "fail fast." Failure is important because life is not fair. Sometimes you work really, really, really hard for something, and it doesn't happen in any way that even remotely resembles what you were hoping for. Sometimes you just fail. You don't have an excuse. You don't really learn anything other than a reminder that failure happens and that it feels awful. And that is it. 

But that's a hugely valuable life lesson.

Uncertainty is hard. But also important.

This is the part of sport that is far too often now taken away. The uncertainty. It's driven by a lot of different factors, and I think you can generally put them all under the heading, "Plight of the Ego." Whether it's the ego of the coach, the parents, the athletes, the federation, the country, or all/many/some of them, there's a huge sense that we have to turn failure into something positive. But failure is, in and of itself, neither inherently positive or negative. Sometimes you learn. Sometimes you don't suck but you still lose. And sometimes you really do just suck. All of these things are important on their own. 

Process is about integrating all of these things just as they are. A bad workout or a race can be just a bad workout. It can be a sign that things need to change. It can be a learning experience. It can be all of those things or none of them. Process is about giving a genuine and thoughtful effort to the task at hand and then accepting the outcome for what it actually is. Don't inject meaning that isn't there. And don't ignore meaning that is. 

So what do these things - antifragility and the plight of the ego - have to do with each other? I think everything. The surest way to be someone who thrives under certainty and in the face of shocks is to subjugate your ego. If ego is at least partly defined as, "a desire for things to be the way you think they ought to be," then maybe we can define antifragility as, "a desire for things to be the way they aren't supposed to be," or, at least, "a desire for uncertainty." To quote Tony Robbins, "Who here likes surprises? You? Bullshit. You like the surprises you want." Unwelcome surprises can be a good thing too. (I promise you that I have absolutely no particular sense of comfort with this concept, but I'm working on it...)

Now what do these things have to do with the particulars of Week 3? Nothing. Except that this is what I spent a lot of last week thinking about. And what does it have to do with Week 2? Nothing. Except that this is what I'm thinking about heading into this week. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Kona Diary 2016 Part 4. Week 4 Recap. Week 3 Preview. How To Be Lazy.

© Eric Wynn 2012

Part 4: Kona 2016 Diary presented by Matchsports
Week 4 recap. Week 3 preview. How To Be Lazy.

I have a rare treat leading into Kona this year - a friend. Andi Böcherer of Germany is staying with our neighbor for two-ish weeks leading into Kona this year. In the past week, I have trained with someone else more than I trained with someone else the entire year. Granted, that means I've done two workouts with company, but still, that's a big change. One thing Germans are really good at is going easy. I think Europeans, in general, are just better at this. Or, maybe, it's just that Americans are really bad at it. Or maybe it's just that I'm really bad at it, which is a byproduct of my own personality which has nothing much to do with being American. 

Simon Whitfield was also a master of going easy - it was maddening at times because he'd go so, so slow, which is probably why he had only one serious injury in the entire time I knew him (he tore a muscle in his upper back doing bike preparation on the ITU World Champs course in Lausanne; it had a massive hill that just required some big surges to get up). I used to start workouts basically at the speed at which I planned to execute them. I didn't really believe in warm-ups, and that approach served me reasonably well right up until the point that it didn't. But once it became clear that I needed to warm-up, I had a problem. I didn't really know how to do it. I had all kinds of bizarre AOCD (Athlete Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) issues like: "if I'm supposed to run at pace of 4:30/km, and I start slower, does that mean I have to run faster so that my average pace is 4:30/km or do I just speed up until I'm at 4:30/km, in which case my average will be slower." This is a real problem. I also know that at least half of you who are laughing out loud at this have suffered from an equally ridiculous dilemma yourselves. 

There is no greater conundrum than the modern equivalent of, "If a tree falls in the forest..." The modern equivalent is, "If I go for a run/ride, and my Garmin doesn't record it, did it really happen." The struggle is real people... The classic adage from the Kenyan running coach is that American distance runners go too hard when they should go easy and not hard enough when they should go hard. Of course, given the status of anti-doping efforts in Kenya, this helpful little quip is a bit harder to take seriously. But it's actually still pretty good. Though I have modified it slightly to, "American triathletes cannot go hard enough when they should go hard because they go too hard when they should go easy." I feel like this may be a redundant sentiment that I covered in bits and pieces (and maybe exactly, though not where I thought I might have when I double-checked) earlier this year. Anyway, going easy is important. 

As I've gotten older, I think I'm better when I have to try hard, though I can't try hard as often. Especially when I swim, I think I've finally started to again improve as a swimmer by virtue of only trying hard when it's time to try hard and not really trying hard when it's not time to try hard. This sort of ties into my decision to take a week totally off after an Ironman as opposed to trying to do something. I am not sure how much is physical and how much is mental - or even how much you can separate the two, but what is clear is that if you try hard all the time, it's make it much harder to try hard when you really need to. The idea that you should not always be going, "as hard as possible (relative to intensity)" is new to me. In other words, it's not necessarily a good thing that your "easy" stuff is actually pretty intense. Who knew?

One of the best parts about training with a guy like Andi, who is very fast, is that it's a nice antidote to the craziness of social media, where a "typical training week" is biggest swim week ever + biggest bike week ever + biggest run week ever all multiplied by roughly 110-150%. It's nice to be reminded that I can sometimes go even easier when I'm going easy, that I train pretty hard, and that other athletes also train hard and in different ways than I might have thought about. Sometimes training with others can undermine your confidence. But with a good athlete who has a good coach, it's the opposite. Your confidence is boosted because you see that there is no magic, no silver bullet; it's just consistency and appropriate application of effort. 

Like me, Andi has a "real coach" - Lubos Bilek - who also coaches Sebastian Kienle. I think many people focus on the differences between coaches; but I think what's remarkable is the similarities. I speak virtually no German (though I know what "Lauf" and "Rad" mean), and yet I can make pretty clear sense of Andi's training plan. It's interesting to see what's different, but I don't find the differences to be overwhelming. There's no TSS, no zones, no hyper-specificity. Coach trusts athlete to make the short term plan - how/when/where to do a specific workout, and athlete trusts coach to make the long term plan.

When this works, success is almost inevitable. But when it starts to break down, success is almost impossible. Self-doubt - or really any doubt: in coach, in equipment, in anything important - is, I think, the biggest obstacle for most elite athletes. I think this is (part of) why it's easier to become successful than it is to stay successful. When you don't have success, success is a change. So the goal is to break from consistency, which is - I think - easier because it's more clearly defined. But when you are successful, change is bad. And yet also necessary. So I think that's part of why doubt becomes more problematic as you become more successful. What is the change that's necessary and what is the change that you are trying to avoid? This is why it's so important to have a good coach. Because these decisions are really hard to make on your own.

The past week started out pretty poorly. Except for swimming, where the trend of being quite good has continued. It took me until Friday to find my legs on the bike. And until Saturday to find my legs on the run.  But the week seemed relatively convergent - I got more consistent in training across three sports - rather than divergent - becoming less consistent. I was somewhat "meh" on the week upon first reflection, because there were some workouts where I really struggled. On the one hand, there were a roughly equal number of "good" and "not good" and "bad" workouts. But after thinking about the distribution - all the "good" workouts came at the end of the week, I was more positive. 

One struggle that I had was that while it was a solid week of training, I also didn't feel like it was something where I was capable of a lot more. But Joel pointed out that simply stacking another week on top of this one would actually be, "more." Two good weeks is more than one good week. That's true. I often get stuck in the trap of how much more this week is as compared with last week, as opposed to thinking about things in a more cumulative way. "How much?" is something that can be answered in a variety of different ways. 

Some of this is inherently obvious, and it's more obvious the more micro the scale. We all realize quite clearly that the work:rest aspect of interval training allows you to get more out of yourself. [N.B. while I say "we all, " will say that I'm shocked at how often this is a novel concept, and how often people just go out and swim, bike, and run at one, consistent, kind-of-but-not-really hard pace all the time. Stop doing that people...] One interesting thing that I've experimented with is how changing the work to rest ratio changes the workout. In particular, when I swim, the amount of rest I get seems to make an outsize difference - as compared, for example with cycling - to how hard I can go. Some of this is that rest intervals for swimming are often static in ways that cycling and running aren't. Like, you just stop swimming and wait at the wall. And the ratios are often quite large (e.g. 70-75 seconds of swimming with 10-15 seconds of rest equals work:rest of 7:1-5:1; versus typically more like 3:1 or 2:1 for cycling or even 1:1 or 1:2 for running). But for me, an extra 10 or 15 seconds makes a huge difference. I used to try to go on as tight an interval as possible. Now I try to go on a more relaxed interval, because I want the hard part to be as good as possible. 

As the time scale expands, the picture becomes even murkier. It's easier to understand breaks within the day - why pros space workouts out during the day rather than just doing every workout as a brick or as a triathlon. But I think it starts to break down when you break from a clearly delineated - but somewhat arbitrary - time scale. Most typical in this is the 7 day training block. Some coaches depart from this, but logistically - what days the pool is open, for example - often precludes that. Any sort of departure from known/established time scales can be quite hard - it seems - for athletes to manage. I think this is why the idea of a "day off" or a "rest week" seems to have so much appeal. While I do think that a complete break - as with my week off post-IM - can have value, especially on the mental side, I think there's a reticence to think in more "abstract" time periods about recovery.

To start this week, for example, I have two easy days. That part of this week is actually easier than last week. The end of the week has workouts that are harder than last week. So what is the appropriate time scale to consider training load on? Is this week harder or easier than last week? Does that really even matter? This is why so many of the quips and cliches about training are so hard to actually implement. Whether it's the so-called recovery focus of statements like, "you don't get faster when you're training; you get faster when you're recovering." or the training-load focus of any of the pseudo-objective physiological models out there, it's very hard to summarize training in a way that always makes sense. This is, as I said in my last post and above, why a good coach is so invaluable. The hardest decisions are always the ones that are counter-intuitive, which is magnified by the fact that you get stupider the more you train. Sometimes the right answer is to train less. Sometimes it is to train more. And sometimes it's to just keep doing the same thing. 

I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with all of this. I have a much less clear message to share than, "How to be Perfectly Unhappy." At the same time, I feel like there is more substance here. Why is change sometimes good and sometimes bad? How do we define rhythm? Why - following up on both of those ideas - do I seem to race consistently well in August but not in March? Can I change that? Should I change that? Why do I get more flat tires in June? What sort of time scale do I need to look at to understand that pattern? Is there a pattern? How does this affect October, a month where I have not - traditionally - raced very much? One of the best parts of having Andi here is that I can ask these questions of someone who is not me and who doesn't think I am crazy when I ask them.

I find these things endlessly fascinating. And interesting. And thinking about them and working - physically and mentally - to try to understand them might even be making me happy... 

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Kona Diary 2016 Part 3. Week 5 Recap. Week 4 Preview. Being Perfectly Unhappy.

© Eric Wynn 2013

Part 3: Kona 2016 Diary presented by Matchsports
Week 5 recap. Week 4 preview. Being Perfectly Unhappy.

I am a huge fan of Matt Inman and his comic, The Oatmeal. I liked Matt's style and dark sense of humor well before I learned he was an avid runner. Once I discovered that - check out the awesome commercial he did with Saucony, he became something of an idol. Matt just drew a new "strip" (for lack of a better term) on being "Perfectly Unhappy" which draws from, according to Matt, Augusten Burroughs (who I do knot know) and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (who I do know but whose name I cannot pronounce). I think it also draws heavily from Viktor Frankl (of "Man's Search for Meaning"), the father of so-called "Logotherapy."

Essentially, the meaning of our lives is to find meaning in our lives. That's how I like to phrase it anyway. Matt's "Perfectly Unhappy" reminds me a lot of the research that talked about how people who choose to have children are less happy. Which I think kind of misses the point. I don't think people, generally, choose to have kids because they think it will make them happier. Though maybe I'll just get away from generalizations. I did not choose to have kids because I thought it would make me happier. I chose to have kids for a variety of reasons, but - if I had to summarize - I'd say that I chose to do it because I thought it would make me feel more fulfilled. I thought it would give more meaning to my - and Jill's and our collective - lif(v)e(s). 

I find a lot of parallels here to endurance sport. Matt does too (he talks about the parallels with his passion for ultra-running). There was a great study recently that concluded that, "Long-Distance Runners Mostly Think About How Hard Long-Distance Running Is." I can confirm that this pretty much matches up with my own experience training for Ironman. If you asked me what I thought about during all the hours that I train - 99.9% of which are done alone, I'd say that thinking about how hard it is is probably the thing I think the most about, though certainly not the only thing I think about.

All of which goes to say, that if you ask me if Ironman training - and/or racing - makes me happy, then my answer is a pretty resounding, "No." There is a huge amount of suffering involved in training. So much so that Joel and I refer to "Suffering" the way you'd refer to a person. The idea of telling "Suffering" to grab a chair, to sit down, and to make himself at home is a fundamental image that is one of my earliest shared memories with Joel. I actually imagine suffering as this sort of wizened old man with a cane and a hunched back who sort of shuffles around and who shows up not to make you miserable, but to keep you company. Like, "Yes, this is terrible and awful, so why don't I join you so that we can endure this together." The "endure" part of "endurance sport" is remarkably appropriate. I, especially, resonate with this concept. I believe my best races come when I am just better at "enduring" than everyone else. I'm not fast. I just slow down less.

how I imagine Suffering, from Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree

By now, you may be wondering what all this has to do with the last week of training. Well, the week before last, I did nothing. And it was glorious. I was much happier doing nothing than I was getting back into training last week. I am still tired. I am still a bit sluggish. Having done two weeks of taper, an Ironman, a week of nothing, and then a week of "transition," I have general fitness and periods of, "wow, this feels pretty good," but also lots of, "Blah!" It's not the sort of training that makes you feel good. It's the not particularly glorious or motivating or inspiring mundane building block that make sup a huge amount of what leads to success in, well, I think pretty much anything that's challenging. I am certainly not happier as a result of it. And, thanks to the challenging hormonal cycles that follow an Ironman, the second week is always worse than the first. The rush of the race is gone; the fatigue, however, is not.

The second week is largely about faith. You have to believe it will get "better" (whatever that really means), which is does. It also gets worse, in terms of being harder - both physically and mentally, but somehow I feel more prepared. This is the wonderful and terrible thing about endurance training. The best defense against injury and overtraining and almost anything else that can go wrong is more training. Well, more consistent training. Being tired is the best way to keep yourself from doing too much. This is a big part of why I think being self-coached is so hard. It's very hard to make consistently good decisions because so many of the good decisions are counterintuitive.

So last week, I had some really good swims, some pretty lazy swims, all of my rides were fairly good though I never really challenged myself, and I felt generally bad on every run though I actually was running ok (as defined by pace). I managed to get myself out the door for a workout every day before 7am (that's early for me). I went to bed pretty early most nights and slept pretty well most nights. I did have two nights where I needed to go eat because I forget that training a lot requires a lot of calories. People often remark, "you're going to have to watch yourself once you stop training!" because I eat enough for two - or maybe three - people. But truthfully, when I'm not training, I don't eat very much. Near the end of my week off, when the EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) from Ironman has died down - it takes a few days, in my experience - I really don't eat very much. During training, I actually have to eat more than I want to. I don't desire to eat for three people; I have to. I misjudged that in the wake of eating more like a "normal" person a couple days last week and had to chow down in the middle of the night twice, but otherwise, when I ate enough, I slept pretty well.

And yet I also had doubts. Would I bounce back in time? Was I really ready to ratchet it up again? Was I prepared to prepare for Kona? And most often the answer was, "I don't know." I am not profoundly motivated by the knowledge that I "should" - or even that I "could" - win, though in truth I believe that this is probably the most "wide open" that the men's race has been in quite some time and that this is a better year than many to have a breakthrough performance. I do not wish to inspire anyone else or even, really, myself. I would not say that that training last week made me happier. But, really, that isn't the point. I do not enjoy it because it's enjoyable; I enjoy it precisely because it is not. Which makes absolutely no sense but somehow does.

If it wasn't for writing about here, I'd probably not think too much about it, because thinking about it is also hard and because I am prone to overthinking. But, having committed to sharing this journey, I decided to consider it more fully while also attempting not to overthink. To embrace thinking about something that is scary. To think about why I decided to do "it" (which could refer to a lot of things), because - to be quite frank - there were a lot of times this year when I thought this might be my very last year of racing. For a variety of reasons. I even had some interviews for "real" and "normal" jobs. Thankfully none of them worked out. Because I decided that I did not want this to be my last Kona. That I want to commit (at least) two more years to doing this (which could also refer to a lot of things). Not because it makes me happy. It doesn't. But because it makes me feel fulfilled. It makes me feel challenged. And, to borrow once again from Matt, I find it very, very interesting. I don't know how this ends. Or even how it plays out. That's the worst part about it. But it's also the best. And that's what gets me out the door. And on that note, I'm off to swim.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Kona Diary 2016 Part 2. Week 5 Update. Fourth Time's The Charm?

© Donald Miralle 2012

Part 2: Kona 2016 Diary presented by Matchsports
Week 5 update. Fourth Time's The Charm?

Current status:
Swim: B+
Bike: A-
Run: B-

This is a bit unexpected. Typically, it runs more in reverse. Running comes back the most quickly and swimming feels the worst. Biking feels okay, at least if it's not longer than about an hour. This reinforces my own sense that I was more sore (muscular fatigue) than tired (systemic fatigue) after the race in Tremblant, all of which, I think, bodes well. Swimming is always my biggest fear with backing up races close together, as that sort of overall fatigue from acute load really saps my swim. To already feel pretty good swimming is a big boost mentally.

Overall, I was also surprised by the sense of relief at having qualified. I didn't realize how much the desire to qualify - and the fear of not qualifying - had weighed on my mind until the box was checked, and I found myself where I had planned all season to be: in a position to put myself on the start line with a chance to do well. Lately, I've had quite a lot of positive thoughts, which is surprising given that I'm generally a "glass is half empty" or, at least, "the glass is twice as large as it should be" type of person. I don't think of myself as a pessimist; just a pragmatist. But lately I've been - for me - quite optimistic.
One thing I've thought about a lot is that this is my fourth trip to Kona. My first Ironman win came in 2009 on my fourth try at the distance. And I don't think this is entirely coincidental. I think it takes me about four tries to get something right. Jill was the fourth serious relationship I had been in before we got married. I've had three coaches as a triathlete, but this is my fourth coaching relationship since I'm quite a different athlete now than 2005-2008, and Joel is a different coach, and this is certainly the best athlete-coach relationship I've been in. For me, I seem to need to go through the following stages before finding success: naïveté, overconfidence, and under-confidence. In my Ironman racing, this manifested itself in the following ways. Ironman Canada 2007, where I "signed up" (begged for entry) literally three days before the race, I was totally naive. I had no idea what to expect of the distance and was appropriately deferential and had a pretty good result finishing 5th, two minutes off the podium, after a strong ride and a remarkably steady run (2min positive split by half on a course that is notably slower on the return trip). In 2012 at my first Kona, I was naive in a different way. I didn't respect my body enough and was naive to think I could back up IMNYC - 6 weeks - Leadman 250 - 3 weeks - Kona. I had a disastrous swim - see above point about acute load and overall fatigue affecting my swim - but salvaged it with a good ride and a decent run to record my best finish (so far) with a solid 13th place.

Ironman Arizona (April) 2008, I raced overconfident. I had been sick and struggled at altitude in Flagstaff leading into the race, but insane weather conditions - 35mph winds and extreme heat - ended up favoring me. The leaders for most of the day - TJ Tollakson and James Bonney - were coming back to me in the back half of the run, and I just sort of thought the win would come to me. I never really decided to win, and as a result, Joseph Major stormed through all of us to take the day. Kona 2013 was a race I never should have started. A run in with a car a month or so out from the race, a nagging groin injury the whole year, and just no results that showed I was ready to race since Melbourne made me wonder what I was doing. But I "hoped" for a good result, and that things would come together on that day, which of course they didn't. At the time, I thought I overheated during the swim, but the reality was that my day was written to end poorly long in advance of stepping into Kailua Bay. 

Ironman Arizona (November) 2009, I race under-confident. After missing out in April, I was determined to take control of the race as soon as I could, which I did by running the first of three laps on pace to run a 2:40 marathon. Needless to say, reality set in, and I blew up hard. That last lap was one of the darkest parts of any marathon I've done, and I think it was then that I really learned how to race an Ironman. Last year in Kona, I also think I was a bit under-confident, though I don't think that was a bad thing. I wish I could have gotten to see how my race would have played out without the saddle issue, but I think I should have had more faith in my own ability going in. The prior years had shaken my confidence a lot, and while the win in Tremblant was a great boost, I still wondered if that wasn't the outlier race, rather than all those poor performances. I was tentative before the race, but finishing 21st after riding with a saddle jammed up my ass for 50 miles was a surprisingly positive experience. The finishing part, not the riding part...

Ironman Canada 2009, I had a lot of things going for me. I lived in Penticton, and I had more familiarity and specific time on the course than anyone else in the race. I had the luxury of no travel, sleeping in my own bed the night before the race, and walking from my house to the start line. But ultimately, I think what these things contributed to more than anything else was a belief that I could win the race. In some other similarities, the last time I flatted in races was in June of that year - at both Quassy and Boise 70.3 (in the rain!) - but then bounced back with a good race prior to IMC at the Vancouver Half. The mishaps in Quassy and Boise humbled me but also motivated me, and the win - and overall performance - in Vancouver made me feel like I was in a good place and also restored my faith in my equipment and my process of preparing my gear. I was not naive, I was not overconfident, but I also had belief in myself. All of which came together in what I still think is probably my best every performance over 140.6 miles. Things were certainly simpler then, but ultimately, not much has really changed. I train hard, prepare well, and execute intelligently. That was true for a long time until it wasn't. But now I believe it to be true again. And for those reasons, more than any others, I'm looking forward to my fourth shot at Kona.

On a related-but-not note, I did an interview with Coach John Newsom for the fantastic IMTalk podcast. John and Bevan are two of the most knowledgeable guys in the sport, so if they want to talk to you, it's a sign you're doing something right. I did a couple appearances on the show between 2009 and early 2013, so it's great to be back on. You can listen here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Kona Diary 2016. Presented by MATCHSPORTS.

© Nils Nilsen 2015

Part 1
Introduction. Recap of Week 6. Preview of Week 5. 

N.B: Joel & I count down to race week, which we call "Week 0." So Week 6 starts seven weeks out from race day.

Rather than doing a big retrospective right before the race, which never seems to work out very well (e.g. "The Road to The Woodlands"), I thought I'd try just doing something a bit more regular - and more informal - leading into the race in Kona this year. My goal is to write at least once a week, recapping the prior week and looking ahead to the next week. If I can, I will try to write more. I'm aiming to cover a mishmash of topics - training, recovery, nutrition, family life, equipment choices, and just general musings. If there are any specific questions, just fire them at me via the contact form here or on social media, and I'll do my best to incorporate them.

Quick note regarding the whole, "Presented by MATCHSPORTS" tagline. As I alluded to in my post on the Matchrider, this is one of the hardest products to advocate for because it's not something that I use on race day. And it's not even something I can bring with me to a race. It's strictly a training tool, which makes it largely invisible in many ways. But the MATCHSPORTS crew have been incredible supporters of mine, and I wanted to find a way to give a little extra exposure to thank them in this small way. If it strikes your fancy, and you're looking for the best indoor riding experience on the planet, check out the Matchrider, which is shipping now. Thanks.

Last week, I did absolutely nothing after the race in Tremblant. In the past, I've experimented with a bunch of different approaches. I never do very much, but if I have another race "soon" after an Ironman, I started trying to something most days as soon as possible. Usually just very short and very easy swims. Back when my schedule for the year seemed to workout more or less how I planned, I always took a full week off after an Ironman. Last year, after Tremblant, I took the "keep moving" approach. But I found it was a real drag to get myself to the pool, and it didn't actually seem to make much difference - physically - once I resumed training, but it did make a difference - mentally - in a negative way. It didn't really seem to affect my recovery at all, but I found that the mental energy it took to go swim when I was really tired made it harder to bounce back. So this year, even when I had another race impending, I took a week totally off after Cairns and again after Tremblant this year. After a couple days of getting back into it, I haven't noticed much difference at all in terms of training - it still feels like I did an Ironman a week ago, though after 20 Ironman finishes, I certainly recover faster than after two of them, but I definitely feel much better mentally. 

This week is still pretty light, hitting 17-18hrs of training. This week and next week will be about getting back into the swing of things, then the goal is to have two solid, specific preparation weeks, and then two weeks of taper. Six weeks, with a solid foundation under me, seems pretty close to ideal. I know that I can make some pretty serious gains in two weeks and - at the same time - it's pretty hard for me to totally detonate myself. I know I'm generally pretty fit; I showed that in Tremblant. So I feel like two weeks will be great for sharpening up and putting some of the snap in my legs for Kona that I felt was missing in Tremblant. 

Two of my key benchmarks are:
- how well I am sleeping
- how eager I am to get out of bed and start training

Both of these totally subjective benchmarks have served me much more reliably than HRV, RHR, or any other "objective" marker I've found. And, right now, both of them are very good. As is my motivation to write and share. We'll see how these things track over the next four weeks as well... 

It's my goal to not have any of these be epically long reads and to simply share with greater frequency. So with that short - for me anyway - introduction, thanks for joining me on this journey to my fourth Kona. I've made a new label "Kona 2016" that I'll be using for these posts as well so if you want to re-read, just click the label link in the footer to see them all (once there's more than just this one anyway...).

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Good Plan Executed

© Kevin Mackinnon 2016

Ironman Mont-Tremblant
Mont-Tremblant, QC, Canada ★ 2016.08.21

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week. - George S. Patton

Just prior to the race, I read Mara Abbott's recap of her race in Rio. After leading for most of the day in a courageous solo breakaway, Abbott was reeled in with 300m to go and ultimately finished 4th. She's a phenomenal bike rider, but she may be an even better author. The key passage that resonated the most with me in what she wrote was when she talked about how she had truly had her perfect race.
Would you rather have some excuse or rationale for a race outcome: Sick last week, got a flat tire, missed a feed, had to sneeze when the winning attack went, or even just that you lost your nerve that day when it got really hard (yes, this happens). With that, you can forever clasp onto the worrystone-mantra of “I could have won, if only…?”

Or, would you rather honestly know you had ridden a race to the very best of your strength and ability, know there was nothing else you could have done and have that be…not…quite…enough?
This is a powerful message. After some bad luck had given me plenty of excuses in my races starting with Kona 2015 (broken saddle), then Ironman Texas 2016 (stomach flu), and finally Ironman Cairns 2016 (flat tire), I was mostly just looking for a clean race. While the weather failed to cooperate (again...), everyone had to deal with the same very wet conditions. I did not suffer any more than anyone else in the wet. And I may have even suffered less now that I'm becoming quite practiced at racing in the rain! grumblegrumble...


Ultimately, due to simple physics and physiology, cool and wet days are better days to run fast as opposed to a hot humid day where it's better ride fast, but the conditions are still the conditions. Having conditions that do suit your strengths is certainly good luck, but it's hard to really think that having normal conditions - and thunderstorms in the Northeast are certainly normal in August - that just happen not to suit your strengths is bad luck by any means. On the luck front, given that I was able to get from start to finish without anything unexpected happening to me, I'll say that luck was on my side for this one. 

And I made no mistakes. In Arizona, where it was cool and wet, I shorted myself on calories. But after letting my nutrition slip a bit, I once again think it's a strong suit. I used the same plan as in Ironman Cairns:
  • Breakfast: Largely unchanged in the past 8 years, it's Laughing Giraffe snackaroons, a banana, First Endurance Ultragen with almond milks, and Envirokidz rice cereal bars to net just over 1000 calories.
  • T1: EFS Liquid Shot Flask, trying to get most of it down, so call it 250-300 calories.
  • Bike: 2x550mL bottles on bike of EFS PRO at 9 scoops (360cal) each. Plus another 2 identical bottles in special needs. Then water and gatorade as desired on course. So call it 1600-1800cal on the bike. 
  • Run: EFS Liquid Shot Flask plus coke/gatorade/redbull (as much as I can grab) at every aid station. How many calories? "Enough."
This is quite similar to what I used to do, and I think it's sound. Not sure why I ever changed it, except that I'm an idiot. Nothing I'd change here in terms of planning or execution. 

The swim, despite being quite slow, was actually a very good swim for me. It was non-wetsuit, it was pretty rough in the second half, I managed to close quite a few gaps that opened during various points in the swim, and my relative time to both the leaders (3:20 down) and various female pros was quite solid. It may have taken me 58:59 to swim 3.8km, but it was a strong swim. 

On the bike, I'd say this was likely one of my very best rides ever. Not just in terms of output, where I rode stronger than last year, but also in terms of pacing/execution and on the mental side. When it started to rain, I certainly had some moments of panic. The Tremblant course is not particularly technical, but it does have some fast descents, some narrow choke points, and some winding roads, all of which become more complex in the rain. After some brake issues and the flat in Cairns in the wet and of course my panic attack in Monterrey 2015 in the back of my mind, I had some moments of real mental struggle when it started to really pour. After steadily making time on the leaders for the first 90 minutes, I lost quite a bit of time on the descents and corners on the first lap. I had pulled to within 2:40 but then slipped as far back as 6min by the time I started the second lap. And it's all because I rode my brakes hard. I like my brakes very, very much when it is raining. And I did adjust them a bit on the snug side this time after checking the weather, so they were very effective at slowing me down. Maybe too effective...

Heading out on the second lap - and the less technical part of the course, I was able to pull myself together. I was able to get back into a solid rhythm and - with a strong headwind on the return leg, I was able to execute a very solid ride. I think this was probably the most evenly paced Ironman ride I've ever done (link to Strava file). As a comparison with last year, I rode the Duplessis climb 1% harder than my first trip up Duplessis in 2015, but I rode the second time up almost 4% harder than in 2015. I even managed to set a ridiculous top speed that I think is my highest ever - 88.6kph/55mph (that was BEFORE it started raining though...). 

Out onto the run, I didn't have quite the same pop as last year, which I think was due to being more "generally" fit than "specifically" fit for this race because of how the year has played out, but I still managed a very even run, hanging very steady until the very end when it became clear that Chris Leiferman was not going to blow to pieces in his first ever Ironman...


Ultimately, there was absolutely nothing that I'd change (except for winning) or that I think I could have done better on the day (except for winning). I gave it everything I had on the day and someone else - though one someone, not someones - was just better. I have no excuses. I raced to the very best of my ability and it was just not quite enough. This time... Unlike an Olympian, I only have to wait seven weeks to race again, and I only had to wait a year to have another crack at Kona after last year's mishap.

I think this was one of my five best Ironman race performances ever. Better than last year in Tremblant in spite of the result. Better than Ironman Arizona 2009. Not as good as Canada 2009 (1st), Texas 2012 (2nd), Canada 2011 (3rd), NYC 2012 (4th). Just based on the similarities - topographically speaking and, at least most of the time, weather-wise, I think an 8:30 for me in these conditions in Tremblant makes me feel confident that I can go 8:25 or so in Kona in six weeks. Tremblant has a VERY long T1 (but T2 is a bit shorter than Kona, so there's maybe a minute here) and the swim this year was relatively very slow (though Kona last year was slow too, only two minutes faster). But really, I think my time in Tremblant is a good predictor of my time in Kona. 

8:25-8:27 would have put me in a position to fight for 6-10 last year. And for 9-10 in 2014 and 2013, fighting for the podium(!) in 2012, 10th in 2011 (when Crowie set the course record), and pretty consistently either fighting for 6-8 or 8-10 depending on whether or not it's a slow year (conditions that favor me) or a fast year (conditions that don't). This is because I tend to be much more consistent than other folks despite the weather/conditions. Sure, I slow down, just like everyone else does, when it's brutally hot, I just seem to slow down less. And likewise, I speed up, just like everyone else does, when conditions are fast, I just seem to speed up less. Fortunately, Kona is relatively consistent - it's always hot, humid, windy, and (mostly) dry, all of which means it is relatively slow. Much more so than most other courses. This is just the nature of the tradewinds on the islands. Hilo is wet. Kona is dry. Hawaii is hot and humid. The Pacific is windy. I also know that I still have speed to gain. Tremblant was a good plan, and I executed it promptly. But it's been a rather up-and-down year. And I'm glad to have six weeks - which really is quite a long time - to put some specific preparation (but not too much) in place for Hawaii. Last year, I wondered if I could even be as fast in Kona as I was in Tremblant. This year, I know I can be faster.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Gratitude

© Eric Wynn 2016

Ironman Cairns
Cairns, QLD, Australia ★ 2016.06.12

I'll warn you in advance, there's a lot of hokey I-can-be-self-empowered-because-I'm-rich guru-ism in this interview done by "The Genius Network" (certainly are humble, aren't they...) of Peter Diamantis (founder of the XPrize) and Tony Robbins. I certainly do not "love" marketing, even though I will certainly admit that my role as a sponsored athlete certainly falls under that umbrella quite often. So with that caveat... There's also a lot of truth to what they are saying. Tony Robbins is one of those guys where it's easy to focus on all the reasons why he's, well, insert any pejorative adjective you like in here rather than on focusing on the content of what he says. This is common these days. Focus on the messenger rather than the message. There's a lot of interesting and thought provoking stuff out there, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. This is the either the problem or the foundation with most mainstream religions, depending on your perspective. A lot of the tenets are pretty basic advice about how to treat other people. Anyway, I digress... My point is, if you love Tony Robbins, I think you'll enjoy the interview. If you hate Tony Robbins, just imagine that someone else is speaking.

I listened to this interview - which my lovely wife found and sent to me - the night before the race. One of the key points Tony made, which I agree with, is that people are most often in a negative state (of mind) because they are either/both angry or/and afraid. And Tony's solution to this is gratitude. Because it's impossible to be angry if you are grateful. And it's also pretty hard to be fearful if you are grateful.

I had a lot of fear during the race. And a fair bit of anger too. But my solution to this, since I didn't really have anything to lose by trying it, was to try to be grateful. The fear came early, thanks to the roughest swim I've ever been a part of. Rougher, even (in my opinion anyway), than Melbourne in 2013 when they shortened the swim to 1500m. I was sure that - as in Melbourne - I was going to have a disastrous swim. And it certainly seemed that way while I was swimming. Despite my best intentions and my sincere efforts to just focus on turnover and staying on feet, I lost everyone I aspired to swim with by the time I got hit by the second wave breaking on the swim out to the first turn buoy. I swam alone and exhausted, barely believing I was making any forward progress except that, somehow, the buoys seemed to be getting closer. The first non-Australian out of the water was about 5min down from the overall leader, so there's some sense that my biggest problem going into this swim was simply not being born Australian. Or, likely, Californian. Rough water swimming is not a skill that is easily developed, especially later in life. You either grow up swimming in surf or you don't. I did not. And while I live close to the ocean now, there's a balance of priorities that I need to maintain in training. Kona is a deep water start in Kailua Bay. Even when it's "rough," it's not really rough like this. I was better in rough water when I lived in Penticton, where the constant wind can really chop up the lake, and I would venture out for practice because of that, but I lived 400m from the beach, and that made it a sensible time investment. Regardless, I was never a great rough water swimmer, and I'm barely even good now. And, given that during the 9 days leading into the race that I was in Cairns the ocean was like glass, I neither saw a need to practice in rough conditions nor, really, even had a chance to. The ocean was like a giant pool for the better part of every day. Except race day.

Somehow, by the time I exited onto the beach in Palm Cove, I had managed to lose less time per meter than I did in Melbourne, though there was a good group of guys that in most any other race I will swim right with that came out about 4min ahead of me. But in addition to thinking about just keeping my arms moving, sighting regularly because you only could see the buoys randomly depending on how the swells were, I tried to be grateful. "I'm super grateful for the chance to get sea sick during a swim, to swim by myself, to lose 20min just in the swim, and to hate this..." Oh wait, that's not gratitude. Though I did have quite a few moments like that. But I also had some moments of, "It's pretty awesome that I get to be out here racing again, and it's still a long day where anything can happen." I was pretty well spent after that swim, and had a pretty slow transition just trying to find my legs, which were quite wobbly, before setting out on my bike, unenthusiastically, in the rain.

I think most people who read my ramblings with any sort of regularity will know that I hate riding in the rain. Really, I hate racing in the rain. I don't so much dislike riding when it's wet. It's the need to ride fast when it's wet. My self-preservation instincts are very high. And they are much higher after my accident. And much higher as a father of three kids. I am extremely cautious in the rain, and extreme caution and very fast cycling do not exactly mesh well. I'm sure this is what led to my first stop of the day, about 25mi into the bike, where my brakes that have grabbed fine the day before the race no longer did much more than modulate my speed; I could no longer actually stop, just slow down and not even that well. I tried - seriously - adjust my brakes while riding, though I quickly realized this was a sure fire way to crash. Like most TT bikes these days, there's no simple barrel adjuster to tighten the brakes. So I had to stop. Thankfully, unlike some setups, there's no complete disassembly of the bike required to adjust the brakes; just the need to insert a 2.5mm hex key (which the multi-tool I carry with me has) into the lever handle to adjust the master cylinder plunger. Up until this point, I wasn't killing it on the bike, as that swim also tired me out a lot more than a normal 2.4mi swim does, but I also wasn't losing much time. And I had planned to be patient anyway, as the Cairns course finishes with a long 40mi into a straight headwind. So you need to be strong at the end. But it certainly was deflating (insert foreshadowing music here...) to have to stop for 50sec to tune my brakes. In the future, I suppose I'd tighten my brakes in the morning if it was raining, but at the same time, I certainly wasn't "on the edge" with regards to stopping power in the week leading up to the race, and I changed nothing.

Once I was able to stop, I also felt better about being able to go, and I managed to chip away at many of the riders in front of me, most of whom had - in typical pro Ironman fashion - gone out harder than was sustainable. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I typically do it too. My goal is simply to fade less than everyone else. But I certainly fade if you compare the beginning of my races to the end. But here, because of the tough swim, I actually thought I might really negative split (by power) on the bike. And then, coming down the descent from the high point on the course, the scenic Rex Lookout, at just under 54mi (85km) into the race, I heard the worst sound in the world for a cyclist. The "hssssssssssss" of a flat tire. I hoped - and prayed maybe - that it maybe was just a wet leaf going through the frame (that sounds a lot like a flat, in case you've never gotten a leaf stuck on your wheel). But no, I looked down and saw sealant spraying my bottom bracket. But, then the sealant stopped spraying and the hissing died down. Sealant doesn't always work, but it's worked for me enough that I was optimistic. The problem was, I was riding in the wet and on a relatively technical part of the course, so without knowing just how much air I had lost or was losing, I was very tentative about riding a low tire on wet, curvy roads. Very often, riding is the best way to get a tire to seal up, because you continue to keep the sealant moving to the leak, and you squeeze the tire and tube together as you roll. But this was not the place - especially on the second lap with AG athletes around me - to risk riding on a low tire. So I pulled over, got off, and spun the tire to check the size of the hole. It was a small cut. The kind that I would say, 9 times out of 10, will seal up well. And very little sealant was leaking out. But some was continuing to bubble and leak. And now I had a real dilemma. If I waited for it to seal, and it did, I'd be better off, since I could just fill it up with CO2 (I carry two cylinders) and be on my way. And I'd still be riding on a latex tube, which on the relatively rough roads of Cairns, would be a nice advantage in terms of rolling resistance over my butyl spare for the remaining 58ish miles of the bike. But if it didn't seal, then I'd have wasted time I could have spent changing the tire simply waiting. But it seemed like the chances were good based on how quickly the puncture had mostly sealed.

So I spun the tire and waited. For how long, I am not sure. I just know that it became clear that it wasn't going to seal. It might have been the rain - perhaps a wet tire and the high humidity made the sealant dry less quickly. It rains so rarely in California - and ever puncture is different - that I'll probably never know. I just know that I'd now wasted a bunch of time and still had to change a flat. So I did. It was certainly not my quickest flat change ever, even once I got started, because the last time I flatted during a race in the rain - in Boise in 2009, I double flatted because I rushed it and got some debris in the tire and promptly flatted again while riding. For the record, that flat in Boise was the last time I've flatted in a race. This was my first flat in 22 IRONMANs. It was also my first flat ever on Specialized Turbo Cottons. These tires have been fantastic in all kinds of conditions. I'd ridden them up and down this highway all week without issue. And yes, I checked them over inch by inch before the race looking for damage. Nothing. Overall, I've never seen a race with so many people on the side of the road. This road was just flat central. I am not sure if there is some local tree or bush with thorns that get washed into the road when it rains, but there were a ton of flats. Which wasn't really any solace at the time, but does make me at least feel like I wasn't just careless on race day. So I changed my tire. Carefully. And without too much enthusiasm to get right back out there! Grateful, I was not. I ended up losing NINE minutes. And I was pretty down. I thought I'd at least just ride it in on the bike before calling it a day. But then as I got going, I tried to think about being grateful. Grateful that I had a spare and was still rolling. And my legs were actually feeling pretty good. And I'd said before the race that my goal was to be strongest in the last 40-45mi heading back to town. I still had more than half the race to go.

I started pushing. I figured that I'd flown all the way to Australia, I might as well give it a go on the run. People always blow up in these races, especially when it's as hot and humid as it was (Cairns is tropical so the rain didn't make it much cooler, just less humid on the bike and more humid on the run). My strongest 90min were the last 90min of the race. I didn't just not fade or fade less, I got stronger. It wasn't my best ride, by any means, but I actually seemed to be finding my rhythm. Or at least a rhythm. 

Heading into the run, I figured I had nothing to lose. And there are plenty of performances I've seen where guys really break through on the run because they run like there's nothing to lose and discover something about what they are capable of. I had spoken before the race about my confidence in my run, and I wanted to show it. And heading out on the run, I really felt that confidence in my stride. I was running too fast - though not way too fast - but I felt good. One big reason for this was that I did a much better job of managing nutrition. This had always been a strong point for me in the past, but I felt like I'd started to take it for granted and had slipped as a result. For this race, I put a 400cal flask of EFS Liquid Shot - in the awesome new mountain huckleberry flavor - in my T1 bag. I really needed it after this swim, and I was glad to get on the bike with 400cal in my belly. On the bike, I had two 22fl-oz bottles with nine scoops of EFS Pro lemon water (360cal each). I also had two more in special needs, which I grabbed (just before or after I flatted; can't remember which). Plus I grabbed one bottle of electrolyte drink on course. And I had several bottles of water (360cal/22oz is too concentrated, but I'd rather grab water than calories on course because I trust the calories in EFS Pro more). So at the end of the bike, I'd taken in about 2,000 calories. Which is perfect for me. And I think it's a huge part of why I ran well at the start. But I'd also had some problems with bonking on the run, so I had another EFS Liquid Shot in my T2 bag, and I took that in over the first hour or so of the run. I had yet another in my run special needs, but I didn't grab it. In hindsight, I wish I had. I did start to fade some near the end of the run, and while some of that was certainly cumulative fatigue - everyone slows down in an Ironman - I also know that overall, my legs were less sore than they often are, and I think that another strong hit of calories would have been welcome. Endura - the on course electrolyte drink - was new to me, and I'm not sure how concentrated it is. So I stuck mostly to coke on the run, but in Cairns, they served the coke in plastic cups, which were harder to crush-and-drink, meaning I don't think I got as much of each cup of coke as I should have. 

In general, I think I'm of the opinion that I both have the ability and the need to burn a lot of calories when I race. And more calories means better racing. For me. My friend Tim Reed raced - and won - Ironman Australia on about half as many calories, though for him, he seems to be more sensitive to how much fluid he takes in. Me, I tend to do fine even if I don't drink a lot as long as I get the calories. Nutrition is one area where I continue to be amazed at the differences between folks.  

As I headed out onto the run, I asked my friend Eric how far I was out of 10th, the last place to get paid. He said I was 11th, only a few minutes back. I realized later this was an egregious lie. I was actually in 14th place, but it was much nicer to hear that I was 11th, so I thank Eric for his quick thinking here. I kept chipping away, and guys kept getting closer (and, in some cases, dropping out), and I kept moving up. I finally actually made it to 10th. Then ninth, eighth, and finally seventh with just about 2mi to go. Luke McKenzie, who flatted twice, held on for a tough sixth, ahead of me. Looking over the results, even though I lost a lot of time waiting for the tire to seal, it likely didn't actually affect my outcome. Even had I changed my flat in super speed - say 2min, I would have been in a foot race with Jens Petersen for 5th. If I'd taken a more typical and cautious 3min to change my flat right away, I might have passed Luke, but of course that assumes Luke himself still lost all the time he lost to his two flats. Ultimately, with the tough swim, I had very little - almost zero - margin of error for the rest of the race if I still wanted to punch my ticket to Kona (meaning, pretty much, 5th or better, and - to be 99.9% sure, 4th or better). And this was a day where lots of margin of error was needed because of the conditions. 

Ultimately, there were some real positives from the race - my run and perseverance, some negatives - my swim, and some what-if's and if-only's - my brakes and my flat. It was a race that I'm proud of from a life perspective, but disappointed in from a professional perspective. That's the best and worst part of pro sport - great performances are not always rewarded but often are; and mediocre performances are not usually rewarded but sometimes are. In terms of what's next, I don't know. I need to decide whether or not I want to make the push for Kona, which would require another Ironman. I feel better after this race than I have after most Ironmans, but I also know that I've done a lot of long racing since Ironman Mont Tremblant last year. It's not just about getting to Kona, it's about getting to Kona in a place to have the opportunity to perform. So, really, I just don't know. I'm leaning towards racing again and punching my ticket to Kona, but that may change next week, as the second week post-Ironman tends to be when the fatigue really hits. ITU Long Distance World Champs are back in the US in Oklahoma in September, and that's certainly another option. Right now, after two weeks away, I'm just trying to make up for that with my wife and kids. 

Last thing, since I wasn't really sure where to stick it. I ran my 2nd best marathon ever, and my fastest since 2013, in the New Balance 1400v3. This is not their "recommended" Ironman shoe; that's the 1500 (now 1500v2) which they co-developed with Sebastian Kienle. I raced Arizona 2015 - my first race in New Balance - in the 2015. But I raced in Oceanside this year in the 1400. And I had a great run. There are quite a few differences between the two but the biggest one - in my opinion - is that the 1400 is a shoe with 10mm of offset and the 1500 is a shoe with 6mm of offset. All of my fastest runs in races have been in shoes with 10mm of offset, including my 2:46 in Texas in 2012. But I don't really like training in shoes with that much offset. I quite like low - very low - offset shoes for training. I run a lot in the zero offset NB Minimus trail and road. I would say that I dislike anything more than 6mm of offset for training. But when I race, I seem to run off the bike better in shoes with more offset. I had fantastic training runs in the low offset Newtons, but I always felt like my runs in races were never quite as good, relatively. There are obviously a huge number of factors at play here, but for me, I am sticking with lower offset shoes for training and higher offset shoes for racing. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Introducing the Matchrider

my Dimond mounted up on the Matchrider


[Every race is a special opportunity and one that wouldn't be available without the incredible support of the companies and people that support me. I don't often partner someone new, and when I do, it's always the result of a lot of time on both sides making sure it's a good fit. I started working with the Matchrider team at the end of last summer, but it was only recently that they launched their product for preorder. Heading into IM Cairns with some time on my hands thanks to taper, I'm proud to take this opportunity to thank these folks for supporting me and to talk about the incredible product they are brining to market. I'm proud to be a part of this company and to represent them on and off the race course.]

When I looked back prior to IMTX at the training I had done this year, the data showed that I'd done a lot more easy riding than in past years. That was supported by all metrics, but seemed most dramatically revealed by how far I had ridden. But one thing I didn't think about at the time was that I've done a lot more riding in my garage than ever before. I've enjoyed some hard workouts on Zwift, but I've also done a lot of my easy spins on the trainer. I thought this might be a necessity with the largest El Niño in close to 20 years, but - unfortunately - we didn't actually end up with all that much rain. I did have a few days where I was forced inside by torrential downpours, but plenty of days I just chose to ride inside. 

While my accident is long enough past that it's not at the forefront of my mind most days, I am not ashamed to admit that I'm still scared a little every time I ride my bike. I think that's a healthy fear. It's the kind of fear that keeps you focused and keeps you safe. But it can make a short, easy ride less relaxing that it ought to be. The roads around my house are great for training, but the best riding starts about 30min away. So for a short ride of 60 or 90min (and, yes, I do plenty of those), I found it was easier to just hop on the trainer.

In doing so, I was reminded that you can also get some pretty solid workouts in as well. It's a lot easier to control your power when you don't need to worry about anything else, though I think that has its downsides too, since you need to be able to execute when you are outside and do have to contend with weather, topography, and everything else. 

In the past, three things had really kept me from riding inside. The first, and this is still the thing that gets me on my bike most days, is that I just love being outside. Nothing will ever change that. I love being a triathlete because I love being outside. I do have to balance this, when biking, with the fact that I really do not love riding around cars, and as I get older (and my kids get older), I guess I appreciate more that rides indoors are inherently safe. That's a change. Priorities change, at least some of the time. But deciding to ride indoors has also been made easier by addressing the two other big obstacles that kept me from riding inside.

The second thing was that riding inside is, I think, pretty boring. The endless array of movies and TV shows now available on iTunes (or Netflix or Amazon Video or any of the other options out there) helps a lot here. Way better than just hoping something entertaining is on. Or watching the same movie again, and again, and again... But it's also been helped by programs like Zwift (and, I guess, TrainerRoad and some others, though I've not used those) where you actually can make the experience of riding inside more engaging rather than just seeking out more and more distractions.

The final obstacle was that I found riding on a trainer really uncomfortable. On a treadmill - which I generally mind much less than riding a trainer, you get to move. While the mechanics are slightly different, running on a nice treadmill feels a lot like running outside. But on a trainer, the bike doesn't move. I find that the same position that I can ride comfortably for hours outside is substantially less comfortable inside with the bike fixed rigidly underneath you. Saddles that never give me numbness outside seem to always give me numbness on the trainer. I find I am just way more "fidgety" on a trainer. And I'd say that, more than anything else, was really the thing that kept me from wanting to ride inside.


I had tried rollers before, but as someone who came to cycling relatively late in life and who also does a lot of my riding on my TT bike, I just always found rollers to be an accident waiting to happen. For people that can ride rollers well, they are great. But for me, I just found it to be even more nerve wracking than riding outside. And, of course, I found that rollers were not great if you want to do really hard efforts. The feel of riding on rollers is wonderful, but there were a bunch of other drawbacks. In general, it seemed like there were a lot of things that might have made riding inside okay, but no one thing that would really solve all of the things I didn't like about it.

But this year, a big part of why I've enjoyed riding indoors and chose to do it more often is that I now find riding less boring and more engaging, but also vastly more comfortable. And that's because of a revolutionary new system for riding indoors. It's more than a trainer. It's the Matchrider...

The Matchrider is a premium indoor riding experience. It's about as close as you can get to those "indoor bicycle treadmills" without needing to build an entirely room just to house it. The Matchrider allows the bike to move, realistically, underneath you, while still offering the stability of a traditional trainer. It offers an incredibly realistic road feel, with a sophisticated electronic flywheel that allows you to ride the same way you do outside - from coasting to sprinting and everything in between. The Matchrider tossed out everything about how trainers had traditionally been designed and started from the ground up. There's really a ton more great information at matchsports.com/matchrider, but here are my thoughts on the product and what I think makes it so revolutionary.

Support & Clamping System


The Matchrider uses a unique system of rubber supports that bolster the frame under the bottom bracket and downtube, with a soft-fabric strapping system to minimize stress on frame while still providing support. The Dimond cannot be used on a traditional trainer that fixes the rear axle, so this was essential for me. But for any bike, the Matchrider puts the same sort of stress on your frame that riding on the road does. It's this support system that allows the Matchrider to provide unprecedented freedom of movement within a stable platform. 

Stability System


The bottom bracket is supported by a cradle with a spring-loaded stability platform. Using the Matchrider's software, you can adjust the stability from fully rigid to totally free, all while still being able to depend on lockouts at 4deg. Bike moves under you, just like on the road. But, unlike on rollers, it won't let you fall over. This allows for more natural for riding. It allows you to move on your bike the way you want to move. For triathletes, that translates into a more comfortable experience running off the bike. Well, at least as comfortable as running off the bike ever is.

Adjustability


Because your bike mounts with both wheels on, the Matchrider adapts to fit any bike. The Matchrider supports the bike at both tires and then under the bottom bracket, three things which every bicycle has. The rear rollers adjust with a simple 5mm hex key to adjust for your chainstay length. It's quick and simple. 

Resistance Unit & Rollers


One drawback of riding inside is that trainers can eat tires. The Matchrider uses a soft (relatively) polymer for tire, that doesn't burn it up. And with force being applied, like with a bike on rollers, simply due to bodyweight, you won't need to swap your tires out to ride the trainer or risk balding the tire you prefer to ride outside. You can leave your bike exactly as is on the Matchrider. 

But unlike rollers, the Matchrider can dynamically change resistance. The electronic flywheel system of the large diameter rollers (much larger than any other trainer or roller out there) at 500Hz, so it disengages immediately if you want to coast - and your bike will freewheel just like it's on the road, maybe even longer - and then re-engages without missing a beat when you put power to the pedals. The drop-off and re-engagement is lightning fast. There's none of that lag and heaviness that can accompany riding a trainer. For a triathlete who's used to doing steady efforts, this is nice. But for a roadie who needs to train the constant on/off of road racing, it's fantastic.

Software


I'm not going to talk too much, because this is the area that's undergoing the biggest changes. Matchrider will allow you to compete against existing files - either your own or others - including with video overlay as an option. But it will also support the traditional erg mode, allowing you to use the Matchrider's internal resistance curve or to set the resistance to a given wattage level that the flywheel will adjust to keep steady. And there's going to be support for preplanned interval workouts. With both Bluetooth and on-board USB, the Matchrider has plenty of options for data input and output, and I'm the most excited to see where the UI/UX goes in this year and the next. It will come with both iOS and Android apps for control. And you can expect even more.

Made in Melbourne


A lot of folks also know about my passion for supporting domestic manufacturing. While the Matchrider is not Made in USA, it is made in Melbourne, Australia. Supporting real manufacturing jobs and real engineering jobs is something that matters to me. If it matters to you, great. One more thing to recommend the Matchrider. If that's not something that matters to you, that's okay too. But hopefully being able to pick up the phone or to write an email and to connect with the actual folks who put this thing together might prove it's value down the line.

If you're interested, you can get on the preorder wait list at: https://matchsports.com/our-products

The Matchrider lists for $4,200 for the limited edition "Model 0" which will come with a bunch of extras including a lifetime warranty. I realize that big sticker prices often get a lot of attention. Price is a funny thing, and I try not to get into the idea of "value" or "worth" too much. Is the Matchrider worth $4,200? Yes, I believe the quality of the product and of the engineering and development and manufacturing justifies that price. Does that mean it's worth it to you? That's not for me to say. That's a personal decision. I'm happy to answer any questions I can in the comments or on Facebook or via email.

Post Script...

I wrote this on Facebook in response to what was a hard criticism that this post didn't sound "like me." I wrote 100% of this, but I suppose I'm not much of a pitchman naturally (for better and for worse), and that maybe it came out sounding less genuine than some things I've written. The hard part about something like this is that there's no direct correlation to race day. It's not something that I ride during the race. It's obviously way too big to bring to races when I travel. And, fundamentally, I love riding a bike because I get to be outside (most of the time). So it's hard to talk about the places I get to see while riding this. Or the way in which it makes a particular difference on race day (like a bike, or a tire, or nutrition, or sunglasses, or a wetsuit, etc, etc). The engineering of this product is phenomenal. But it's also tough to explain. How do you split the difference between talking about how a 500Hz sampling rate affects engagement and talking about hard to pin down concepts like "feel." I don't like selling things, in general. I think it's the worst part of my job. But I also love working with creative, smart people who are trying to do something different. Some products are really easy to talk about. Like 1X. But as someone who really does enjoy riding outside (I'd quit the sport before I became one of those guys who does 100% of their training indoors), I view a trainer as a useful tool and as an (occasionally) necessary evil. Maybe it would have been more "me" to write something like, "I hate riding inside, but I also hate cars buzzing me or honking at me or swerving too close to me even more, so I've started to ride indoors more than I used to. And while riding inside is never going to be as much fun as riding outside, the Matchrider is pretty dang good thanks to some clever engineering." I don't know... I knew people were always going to give me flack because $4,200 for a trainer is a lot. I get that. But I believe in the product and, even more, the folks behind it... So I tried to write something that would show that belief. Apparently, in at least one case, I didn't measure up.

Anyway, I just wanted to add this in because I value the trust that folks put in me to be honest more than anything else. The marketing side of professional sport always has - and probably always will - make me a bit uneasy. There's nothing - absolutely nothing - that cuts me more than when (typically o Slowtwitch) - someone calls me a, "shill." Do some of the products I support have flaws? Yes. They ALL have flaws. Do I try to highlight the positives? You bet. But I always try to be genuine. This is a tough sport to make a living in, and to support a family by. I'm sure I'm biased by the support of those who make it all possible for me. But I also try really hard to stick to my guns. I've worked with some companies where I did not love the product as much as I should have. I've also walked away from relationships where I was asked to say things or do things to endorse a product that I simply did not feel was right, even though it cost me - and my family - a lot. This is a great product. But it's also one - at least on the software side - that's very much still evolving. And it's expensive. It's definitely not for everyone. Anyway, I hope if you're interested that you might consider checking them out. If the price makes it not right for you, that's fine. More than fine. But please at least take the time to consider that they are just something better and different and to see some value in that. Thanks.