Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why Triathletes Need A Road Bike

(Reposted this after getting so many requests for it. Specialized moved to a new platform and it was lost.)

As much as you might read the title and expect that this is going to be a compelling (or fluff) piece on why you must buy a Specialized Tarmac SL3, that is not actually the case. Though, in the words of Ferris Bueller, "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up." No, this is simply about why you - the regular triathlete - needs *a* road bike. Before we get into why you need a road bike, there are some of you who do not need one. If you are this person, you can stop reading right now. If you never ride more than an hour and if you never ride less than 25mph (40kph for you sensible metric folks) and if you view your bike simply as a necessary evil to get from swim to run, then you are 1) very atypical in the triathlon world, 2) probably an ex-swimmer or ex-XC runner, and 3) not the kind of person that needs a road bike. There are a few of these folks in the world. They are not the norm.

Assuming you are still reading along, I will assume that you are not one of those types of people. There are two primary reasons to own a road bike. The first is simple - if you ride with other people, it is not optimal to have your brakes and your shifters in separate places. It's also very much not optimal, unless you are participating in a Team Time Trial, to ride in your aerobars in close proximity to other people. Now, you may have an easy answer (in your own mind) to this "problem." You will just ride in the "pursuit position," which means with your hands on the brake hoods. And this is what brings us to the really real reason that you need a road bike.

Whenever you are NOT in your aerobars, you would better off on a road bike.

The reason for this has to do entirely with biomechanics. People who primarily ride their tribikes use the following argument, "I race on my tribike, so I should train on my tribike." While this is true, most people do (or at least should, assuming they have been properly fitted to their bike and their saddle) race in their aerobars. If you do not race primarily - 90%+ of the bike portion of your race - in the aerobars, then you need a fitting on your tribike, in addition to needing a road bike. But let's assume that you do have a good position on your tri bike and you do race in your aerobars. That's a big assumption, but we will make it, especially since I spent the last two posts encouraging you to get the right saddle. The position that you are fitted to when you go in for a tribike fit is your aerobar fit. It doesn't matter, really, how comfortable your pursuit position is. It just has to be "good enough." There is only ONE position on a tribike, and that is the one in the aerobars. Everything is a compromise position. The reason is that the body angles (specifically the angle of your hips relative to your torso) change a LOT when you are not in the aerobars. 

The position of your hips - your hip angle - in this position:

Is very, very different than in this position:

And that is why you need a road bike. Because the latter position - the correct position -  is much more similar to this position:

It's quite easy to see when you look at the pictures. 

Road bikes have three positions. Hands on the hoods (Fabian in yellow), hands in the drops, and hands on the tops. In all cases, your hip angle remains largely constant, because you will slide back in the saddle when your hands are on the tops and forward when your hands are in the drops. Furthermore, you can also bend your elbows to create the appropriate hip angle. Technically, you can also bend your elbows on a tribike, but this puts a LOT of weight on your hands, which ends up being a very uncomfortable (untenably so) position, and you still aren't likely to get nearly as low as you would if you were on your aerobars. 

So what this means is that every time you come up out of your aerobars, you are training in a position that is VERY different from the one you want to race in. And, ironically, in these moments, were you riding a road bike, it would be your position on that bike that would be most similar to the position you aim to race your tribike in. This is the position that will allow you to generate the most power, recruit the most musculature, and be the most comfortable. But you need to train in this position. Especially on a steep seat angle position, riding a tribike in the pursuits/hoods is really much more like this:

than like this:

It's this versatility of positions - all of which allow you to preserve a common hip angle - whether you are climbing, descending, sprinting, pack riding, or just out training that make a road bike so useful. You can train in the same position you will race in, only without needing to put your weight up on the nose of the saddle, crane your neck to see the cars and traffic lights up the road, or do any of the other things that make a tribike less than ideal for doing anything other than riding hard against the clock. And any road bike will do this for you. You can spend less than 1000. You can get entry level parts. You can even have (gasp) a triple! It doesn't matter. The most budget, non-carbon, simple roadbike is going to be the best training tool that you can buy. And it'll make you feel that much faster (because you'll actually be faster) when you do take your tribike out for the kind of ride it was designed for - a hard and fast one. Of course, a really, really, really nice road bike also works well too! But it's the positions that it offers you which make it so useful. So if you want to end up like this, well then you need to train that way, which means you need a road bike...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


Dominating some pretty rocks. © J. Prasuhn 2014

(Based on actual events. So names have been changed due to poor memory...)

Team Rappstar Elite Team Member Jordan "Rappstar" Rapp kicked off his 2014 season with a dominant 15th place finish that saw him besting the entire age group field and crossing the line a commanding *FOUR* minutes ahead of (women's) winner and (women's) course record holder Heather Wurtele. He finished a mere two minutes back of Matt Lieto who finished barely nine minutes back of Trevor Wurtele who finished only five minutes back of Sebastian Kienle who was a miniscule four minutes back of (men's) race winner and (men's) course record holder Jan Frodeno.

The day started off quite strong for Jordan, who saw it as a good omen when he noticed SuperCrapper-brand Port-A-Johns in transition. An ecstatic Rapp said after the race, "whenever I've done my pre-race business in a SuperCrapper, that always sets me up for a great day. There's nothing quite like using single-ply t.p. by the light of your headlamp to set a tone of excellence."

After entering Oceanside Harbor via a E-Z-Crete concrete boat ramp covered with the finest SuperStainFighter carpet, Rapp quickly established a position right in the heart of a group that was chasing a group that was chasing a group that was chasing the leaders.

Out onto the MegAsphalt roads around Camp Pendleton, though, things just didn't click as well as they could have. A confused Rapp said, "normally, on this particular mix of tar and gravel, I really just hum along. Especially when the lines are painted with SuperBrite paint, as these were, that's normally a recipe for course record bike splits. I'm really baffled. It was probably because I haven't adjusted the preload on my front hub bearings in a while. Not that I'm saying it's my fault. I'm just saying I could have broken the course record if I'd had the right size allen key with me."

Never one to say die, at least not without a lot of Twitter-posting preceding it, Rapp headed out with great vim and vigor onto some more E-Z-Crete on the Oceanside boardwalk. But when the race turned to MegAsphalt roads winding past the Stoner Brothers Oceanfront Homes, things started to come undone. After the race, Rapp told the gathered throngs of reporters, "I saw some more SuperCrappers out there on the run course and thought about stopping in one to try and regain my mojo, but I just didn't have to go. C'est la vie! (That's French for, "I didn't have to go #2.") The slow pavement seemed to continue to drain me and shunt my energy to the rest of the field. I've always felt like this is a somewhat lecherous form of asphalt, and today proved it. I don't like to make excuses or blame others, but I think it's pretty clear that I would have won this race if the pavement had been a different brand. Take note Oceanside Municipal Workers."

Up next for "The Rappstar" is a chance to avenge last year's loss to (women's) winner and (women's) course record holder Meredith Kessler in St. George! Looking ahead, the fearless father of three said, "Now is the time to move in a generally onwards and generally upwards direction!" If you don't think that is a powerful statement designed to intimidate the field in St. George, you probably aren't very much good at the English.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Color Commentary

“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.” - Oscar Wilde

Dan Empfield penned a thoughtful piece on the stakeholders in the sport of triathlon recently. Reading that article helped crystallize my thoughts on a new partnership that I've entered into. It's not a relationship with an industry stakeholder; it's a relationship because I believe that I am an industry stakeholder. And it's for that reason that I'm proud to announce that I will be working with the Color Me Rad 5k run series. It's probably the most unique relationship I've had in my career as an athlete, and I think it will remain so.

The not-so-unique problem facing triathlon as a sport today is not that the sport is not growing. It's just not growing fast enough - in terms of participants - to keep up with the growing number of people who wish to make demands of those participants. Triathlon is a lifestyle sport. People don't just do triathlons. They become triathletes. And then they tell you all about it. (Thanks Michael!) But that's not always an easy process. Triathlon can be intimidating. Very intimidating. If someone says, "I don't think I can do that," the right answer is not always, "Yes, you can!" Sometimes, I think, it's something more like, "Yes, you can! Eventually." Or, even, "Maybe you can't, but if it inspires you do something more than you are doing right now, that's awesome!"

I did my first triathlon - a sprint - over 10 years ago because I just wanted something to do to stay active while I took a break, thanks to an injury, from rowing. Being active was  (is) just a way of life for me. But for a lot of people, it's not. I think it's telling when you look at the largest health problems in the US, most of them could be remedied simply by getting out and doing more. And I think Ironman does an amazing job of inspiring people to do just that. But for many folks, especially those for whom being active is a huge change in and of itself, it can be scary to make that sort of change.

Lao-Tzu, writing in the Tao Te Ching, tells us, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." No matter who you are, something has to be that first step. And for those of us who have already taken those first steps, something can also always be a waypoint on the journey. And it's okay to have a little fun along the way. That's why I'm excited about Color Me Rad.

Thanks to Color Me Rad, last year over one million people found themselves celebrating fun by running 3.1miles... and then throwing colored corn starch on one another. It's basically the antithesis of triathlon. There's a minimum of equipment required. And it definitely does not take itself too seriously. It's the sort of thing that we - as triathletes - could maybe use a little bit more of. And it's the sort of thing that an increasingly sedentary world could definitely use a lot more of. There are not too many GPS watches or heart rate monitors at a CMR 5k. But it's still a run. You're still covering that distance through your willpower and your own human-power. And that's really what I think makes it most special. While it's a great opportunity for people who are active to do something that's active while also being relaxed, I think the biggest opportunity is that it's a totally non-intimidating way to get out there and move. It's about getting out, getting active, and getting dirty.

My goal in working with Color Me Rad is to get people to choose to do something instead of doing nothing. If what I've been able to achieve in my own life inspires someone to do a Color Me Rad 5k or an Ironman or both, that's something I can be proud of. No matter what starting line you find yourself on, if you're out there, you are RAD!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

First Endurance. Fueling a Career.

In talking about the future of my relationship with First Endurance, I thought it appropriate to start with the past and how it all started. This is, at least in part, because I want to talk about things that have nothing to do with the products that First Endurance makes, and everything to do with something that rarely gets talked about – the business side of being a professional triathlete. First Endurance makes great products. But I am excited about another three years together because they are a great company.

For better and for worse, for many – likely the vast majority of – professional triathletes, triathlon is not their profession. Some would like it to be, but struggle for any number of reasons to realize those dreams. For others, triathlon was always going to be a side gig. Thankfully, due to a lot of luck, even more incredible support from too many people to mention, and (I hope) some hard work, I'm privileged enough to make a living and support a wife and (now) three(!) kids doing this. I mention this because it is, perhaps surprisingly and perhaps unsurprisingly, rare. And because it's not something I could do without the support of companies like First Endurance.

I first came to use First Endurance products – EFS, Ultragen, Multi-V, and Optygen was the bundle I started with – thanks to my good friend and advisor, Brian Shea of, who recommended I use them in the build up to my second go at Ironman Arizona in November of 2008. After very positive results during the training leading up to the race as well as during the race itself, I signed a contract in February of 2009, after six months of using the products full time. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Brian Shea for making this recommendation. There's so much bad science out there regarding nutrition, I never would have thought to pick up the First Endurance products without Brian's recommendation. Now, I try to fill the same role of educating people about these products that, yes, actually have real science behind them.

For that first year together, the crew from First Endurance gave me as much product as I needed – which is a lot, as any Ironman athlete will tell you. But 2009 turned out to be a breakthrough year for me, with my first (and second) Ironman wins. Sometime in December, a check showed up in an envelope on First Endurance stationary with a note that said something like, "We know there wasn't anything formal in place, but we feel like you earned this with your performances." I wish I'd saved it, but I was living out of my car at that time, and all non-essential items were quickly discarded. I'm sure there are folks out there laughing that I didn't even think to negotiate some bonuses, but at that time, that sort of thing just wasn't on my radar. But that didn't keep Robert and Mike (the founders and owners) from giving me bonuses for Ironman Canada and Ironman Arizona anyway. This same company then stuck by me during 2010, my "lost" season (that also almost was the year I lost my life) and signed me up for a three year deal after having raced only one time post-crash.

When it came time to talk about the future this latest time, my world had once again changed in a dramatic way. With the arrival of twins, my reality is now very different than it was before. I have three kids under three. I truly do not believe that will affect my ability to perform at the highest level of sport. But I do believe it will affect how often I can do it. Travel for races is now a much bigger ask of my wife, Jill. I have to be more judicious in planning out big blocks of training, when I'm inevitably less available than I am during the offseason or during times of recovery or "maintenance." It would be easy to pretend that's not the case, but that is not who I am. I don't want to promise something I cannot deliver. My goal is to be at my very best for two Ironman races in a calendar year and probably one (maybe two) 70.3 a year. I believe I can do that and still be a good parent and husband. But that means I also need to deliver value to my sponsors in other ways. And I need to find companies that perceive a value in things other than race performances to work with. I could not imagine a more supportive company in this regard than First Endurance. Robert said to me, "we're with you for the journey. We want to be a part of your trying to win Kona. We feel there is a value in that." And that was incredible.

I feel like I'm at the point in my career now where I've won the races I want to win besides Kona. Does it really matter if I am a five time Ironman winner or a six time Ironman winner (or seven or eight or…)? Not really. I mean, it certainly matters when I step on the start line of a race. But once you set a goal of achieving success at the pinnacle of your sport, no amount of success elsewhere can replace success at the highest level. Three Olympic bronzes do not equal a gold… But success at the highest level is never guaranteed. I sometimes think, when I talk with Chris McCormack or Simon Whitfield, that one of my biggest limiters is that I recognize the real potential for failure. But I don't know how to change that about myself. I know I might not win; I don't know that Chris, especially, ever really considers that. But knowing that and fearing that are two different things. I don't believe that I fear that (though I did). And so I've set out on this journey of working to win Kona. Of chasing that goal. Of pursuing that level of excellence. It's that pursuit that First Endurance has decided to support, both in spite of and because of all the very obvious obstacles that stand in the way of it. 

(As a brief aside, describing this sort of thing inevitably, and unfortunately, always seems to carry with it an implied criticism, especially when there are partnerships that didn't get renewed. It's hard to express that the opposite point of view is one of neutrality, not one of negativity. I love that this is what First Endurance believes in. But that doesn't mean that I dislike that it isn't how every company operates. As a related example, ZIPP makes all of their wheels in the USA. But their parent company, SRAM, makes basically all of their components in Asia because that's where most bikes are made, and if you want to be an OEM supplier, that's the way you need to do it. I love that ZIPP makes their wheels in the USA. But that doesn't mean that I dislike that SRAM does not make components here. I'm neutral on that. It's just something that "is.")

Now all of this is, perhaps, pretty tangential to what sort of nutrition products you choose to buy. I could – and sometimes do – argue that the sort of people that believe in both process and outcome are the sorts of folks that tend to be really good at making things, and also at making things better. That's actually been a hallmark of First Endurance. Not just how good their products are, but how their products have improved. And how willing they are to change. 

When I was first introduced to First Endurance products, two of their four versions of EFS were artificially sweetened with sucralose (Splenda), which was – and still is, for many other companies – the preferred artificial sweetener, because it doesn't actually affect the body's insulin response. That is no longer the case. Now, two flavors of four still have enhanced sweetness – fruit punch and lemon-lime, but both use the plant extract stevia (also shown to have no effect on insulin response) to boost sweetness beyond what comes from the sugars in the carbohydrate blend. What's most important, to me, was the decision to remove all artificial sweeteners across the board. No single product in the First Endurance line uses an artificial sweetener. None. Based on not only customer feedback but also some concern that, more generally, artificial sweeteners just don't seem to be that good for you (as another aside, this is obviously too long/complex a topic to get into in depth here, since stevia is technically an "artificial" sweetener in that it's not really a sugar; but it's not artificial in the sense that it's an unmodified extract of a plant, unlike sucralose, which is a modified sucrose molecule; I really don't intend this to be any sort of fear-mongering, especially since I am not a physician, so I really tried to phrase this as neutrally as possible, while also supporting a belief that I share.), this decision reflects First Endurance's belief in adapting as they learn. "This is the decision we made then because of what we knew then. This is the decision we are making now because of what we know now." That attitude is rare. And it is exceptional. And it comes, I believe, from a focus on improvement that meshes with a focus on a goal. You can't just focus on improving. Sometimes, you need to step up and deliver. Whether it's stepping up and onto the racecourse. Or whether it's bringing a product to market. You can always say, "just a little bit more time…"

And I could list all of the reasons that First Endurance products are great because of the foundations in research and science which are then supported by the legions of professional and age-group athletes that they rely on for testing. But those reasons might become outdated. They might become wrong. They are only based on what we know now. 

What makes me feel great about signing on for another three years with First Endurance is their process. Their journey. I'm thrilled they've let me join them on that road, and I'm thrilled they are joining me on mine. First Endurance doesn't just fuel my performances. They also help fuel my career.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Raising Arizona

© 2013

Ironman Arizona
Tempe, AZ  2013.11.17

Do you ever get the feeling that there's something... Powerful pressing down on you? - H.I.

If a frog had wings, it wouldn't bump its ass a- hoppin'. - Nathan Arizona, Sr.

Besides borrowing a couple of apropos quotations from the movie and the reference to America's 48th state, there isn't really a whole lot of relevance from the classic Coen Brothers' movie to my race in Arizona. No madcap capers. And certainly no need to steal children. Not with a two year old at home and two more on the way imminently. Though I do suppose that the title is somewhat relevant in explaining why it has taken me so long to get around to writing a recap of a not particularly dramatic race.

The race itself doesn't really have much noteworthy. I felt very good on the swim and was solo most of the day since I stuck right on the buoy line, something I find very easy to do on counter-clockwise courses because I pull slightly to the left. It was nice to have the confidence that I was pacing well and fast without anyone else around thanks to all the time I've spent in the pool with the crew at Conejo Simi Swim Club. I came out right where I thought I should have, doing it all on my own. A nice swim to finish on. Giving up time still, so that's motivating both because it shows the value of the work that I've done and also, giving up four-ish minutes, the importance of the work still to do.

On the bike, I had good legs and fantastic conditions. That and my first time on the Arizona course with a 55T front ring added up to a 4:14 bike split. Everything went pretty much the way it was supposed to. A nice change from Kona.

On the run, the lack of proper volume due to deciding to do IMAZ last minute after Kona really showed up. When I run well in races, it's because I'm running - for me anyway - a fair bit in training. And I just wasn't before IMAZ. So I felt pretty much awful the whole run. The power on the bike was nothing I haven't done before (and run well off of), so I don't think I overcooked it too much on the bike. Maybe a bit given the overall lack of a "normal" build, but I really think it was nothing more than not running enough. That's the simplest explanation, which is what I prefer. Unless I have reason to think it's more complicated, I tend to think that I'd have run better if I'd just run more. Which is what I plan to do for most races that I plan to do.

On the day, I just wasn't fast enough. If you'd told me I'd come off the bike with the clock showing 5:10, I'd have almost guaranteed that I'd break 8 hours. But an 8:06 was as much as I had in me, and I'm honestly not even sure that a sub-8 performance would have gotten me the win on the day. Not when del Corral was really just in cruise control the last 14 miles. It was disappointing to have what I thought was a very good performance on a course I love and to not win, but it was also a very satisfactory way to end the season. Nothing can erase the missed opportunity in Kona, but Arizona was a good reminder that when I make good decisions, I am capable of racing well. Now I just need to not forget that and keep on doing the work necessary to turn those good decisions into good performances on race day.

So, that's the race in a nutshell...

Why did it take me so long to get that out? Well, for the past two and a half weeks, I've been helping my now extremely pregnant wife out by playing Mr. Mom. When she was just very pregnant post-Kona, she gave the okay for me to do another race, in spite of the fact that I was supposed to take over for her as soon as I got back from Hawaii. Over the past three weeks, I've been reminded just how intense a job parenting - and particularly, mothering - is. And it's not like I'm filling her shoes. I'm just shouldering some of what she was doing so she can rest more. But she's still doing a lot. It's remarkable. I've also learned that it's called, "Mommy & Me" for a reason. People are definitely taken aback when a dad shows up with the kid. "Is everything alright?" is the very first question you are asked. "Music Together" might as well be named, "Music With Moms." Dads show up there more often, apparently, though I was the only male over the age of three on any of our trips.

I don't really want to segue into a discussion of gender roles and all that. I'm sure there are plenty of single dads or dads who are the primary parents and all of that. But at least within our own little slice of suburbia, women are still the "moms," (though many of them also work). And it's always impressive to see just how much work they do outside of their "job" simply being a mom. Two and half weeks of it has pretty much kicked my butt. Without question, it puts an Ironman into perspective. "Eight hours? Please..." I just imagine some old wizened grandmother shaking her head at me... That's how I feel anyway. Hats off to all your moms out there. It should be Mother's Day way more than once a year.

And, of course, thanks to my lovely wife, Jill. And my own mom, Diane. You are the real Iron(wo)men.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Festina Lente

© Eric Wynn 2013

Ironman World Championships
Kona, HI  2013.10.12

Learn from the past. Prepare for the future. Perform in the present. - Gary Mack.

Confidence is knowing what to do when you don't know what to do. - Alan Brunacini

I struggled quite a bit trying to figure out what I, if anything, I wanted to write about my race in Kona. I'd already promised the crew at LAVA magazine to do a debrief going over the things - practical things - that I learned from the race; that article will be published in the Kona issue and probably also on And I spent a long time on the Slowtwitch forums right after the race talking in a mixture of catharsis and brainstorming. I think I've probably written more than I've written about any race on the topic of Kona 2013, which is actually a race I'd like to forget, not immortalize on the internet.

Ultimately, I failed to prepare appropriately for the environmental conditions of this race. I failed to prepare in advance, physiologically, and I failed to take steps on race day to mitigate the consequences. There are plenty of great quotes about learning more from failure than success, finding the silver lining, etc. I don't really want to go down that road. I suppose it might make me feel better, but really I think it's really just an exercise in self-deception. 

I learned a lot from the mistakes I made. I will be better prepared next year. But I also know well enough that there might not be a next year. Not to be fatalistic, but I think it's most important - as an athlete - to recognize that competition is a finite opportunity. And I squandered a very rare and special chance. I had an enormous amount of good luck in both the preparation and the race itself, and I wasted that. There are countless things that actually are out of your control that can go wrong and ruin a race. So it's disappointing to have not been able to realize the full extent of the opportunity before me because of a whole multitude of things that were in my control. 

In sport, you need to have a short memory when it comes to self-pity and depression. And you need a long memory when it comes to that sense of failure that accompanies underperformance. Forget about what happened, but also never forget how it felt. I believe I did a lot of things right before and during the race. And I did a few important things wrong - both by action and inaction - before and during the race. In particular, on race day, I rushed. Why? For a variety of reasons. I lacked the confidence to be patient. I got caught up in the race. Etc, etc. The typical stuff. I needed to "make haste slowly" (festina lente). And now I have to wait a year for another chance to do so. Until then, I think it's most appropriate to borrow the motto of my friend and mentor Simon Whitfield, who just announced his retirement after one of the most remarkable careers in the sport of triathlon. Simon was a master of performing on the biggest of big stages. The larger the opportunity, the more he rose to the occasion with his performance. It was about showing up on the day and performing in the present. And about preparing for the future. And about learning from the past. It was always about the relentless pursuit.

The clock is already ticking. Time to be relentless.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Price of Perspective

Crashing waves are better than crashing bikes...

Yesterday, I got hit by a car. It was something that I was always aware might happen again, but not in that day-to-day visceral fear that I dealt with for a while after my first accident. I'm mostly thankful that I'm the one writing this, rather than having someone else write it about me. I'm generally okay. No trip in an ambulance. No phone call from the police to Jill. No major surgery. I am very sore today. And I have some wicked road rash. But I don't think anything is broken (though I will go today to see about x-rays on my hip, where I landed the hardest). And yet I don't really know how much further away I was from dying than I was on Mar 23, 2010. One foot? One inch? What if I'd had more of a headwind? What if there had been a tailwind? What if...? I suppose I'll never know, and I'll just have to be thankful for that. Though it scares me.

As I sat trying to make sense of what happened - short version: guy was lost and decided to pull over to try to become un-lost and pulled over into me, sending me into a low asphalt curb which launched me over my handlebars and into the dirt - I saw many mentions on Twitter of something going on with the Stetina family, one of the "first families" of American cycling. Peter Stetina is currently one of the best and brightest American cyclists, taking after his father Dale Stetina. Dale was involved in a wreck on Saturday while riding the famous Lefthand Canyon in Boulder when he swerved to avoid a car.

Lefthand Canyon is an extremely popular route for cyclists, but it also has a bit of a reputation from what I gather for being a bit dangerous. I was riding a similar road, PCH (the Pacific Coast Highway), which is one of the most popular routes around here for cyclists, and definitely one of the most dangerous. I haven't ridden on the coast since April, when I rode there with a big group for the SRAM RED 22 launch. Before then, I couldn't even remember when. I got in my "big" accident coming back from PCH (albeit on one of the sections I did - and still do - consider "safe"), and I still get nervous riding around there. But it's been close to 100F every day this week, and it gets hotter the further inland you go - the way I normally ride, because there are no beaches, or tourists; it's mostly just citrus farms. But it's a long way until Kona, and I wasn't sure that cooking myself day after day was a good idea. And, at the very least, I do like riding by the ocean, especially when it's hot out. 

The sun was overhead, so no fear of glare. It was still early - it wasn't even noon yet, on a Sunday (albeit a long-weekend Sunday). I had my flashing lights on helmet. And I could always turn around if it got really busy. At first I thought I'd turn around before PCH, just riding down to Pt. Mugu base. But it was one of the days where it was just perfect. Perfect for everyone, which I guess is a sad sign that maybe it's not perfect for cyclists. The traffic at the beaches wasn't crazy, though. No close calls with car doors or people making crazy U-turns or anything that made me think it was time to head back home. At least, none until the one that actually happened.

Working against me, I ride alone. Groups are always easier to see, even if it's just two people. And I ride fast, which is not a statement about my own awesomeness but rather a reminder that I cover a lot of ground quickly - more quickly than most cars, even if they do see me, expect from a cyclist. And I like to ride in the aerobars (though I ride my road bike a lot), which both makes me smaller and also takes my hands away from the brakes. And, more than anything else, I'm a cyclist. Fundamentally, we're just harder to see. Motorcyclists have the adage, "straight pipes save lives," which is why (or at least part of why) you can hear a Harley coming before you can see it. But bikes are quiet. I think that's part of why we like them. You can hear the world. You can hear yourself think.

Do the steps I take to be visible outweigh the things that make me hidden? It seemed like they'd done okay. Though how do you prove a negative? I hadn't been hit again. But I also hadn't been hit until I was even without all the changes I made. I rode a lot of miles with headphones, without flashing lights, and without really thinking that I might come very close to being one of those ghost bikes I give a quiet salute to whenever I see one. But I trusted in the changes I made to keep me safe. It was a lot of how I got back on the road. 

But now I'm left wondering. I passed two other triathletes, who noted my flashing lights and said, "those are a really good idea." That was right before they watched the van hit me. Dale Stetina was riding with a big group. Dale wasn't on a TT bike in the aerobars. Dale saw the car and swerved to avoid it. I saw the car and did the best I could to avoid it. None of that mattered.

Nothing makes a difference if the driver isn't paying attention. Or is drunk. Or is angry at cyclists. Or...

So how do I get back on the road now? How do I ride and not be afraid? I don't know. I can make another rule like my rule about lights or headphones. I can say, "no riding on PCH." Or, "no PCH on the weekends." Or, "no TT bike on PCH on the weekends by myself." But every time we get on a bike, we are taking a risk. I think that being aware of that is the only thing that will keep us safe.

But why ride at all? The two triathletes - Nina & Dana - who were inspired by my lights stopped to help me after I got hit. (This time, the driver also stayed.) I rode with them to their car - at their insistence - so they could make sure I was okay. Nina kept me from doing the typical "denial in shock" thing where I say I'm fine and ride back home. Then Nina waited while Dana drove me and my bike to somewhere where another friend, coming back from his bike ride, could pick me up and take me home. Nina & Dana both knew who I was - most importantly, in my opinion - because of the work I do with World Bicycle Relief. They talked about how much they loved that I do my yearly fundraiser. (Blatant plug - it's going on right now...) 

So I guess that's why I'll keep riding. I'm sure it'll be hard to clip in that first time again. And I'm sure I'll avoid PCH for a good long while again. And I'm sure my heart will skip a few extra beats every time a car gets a little too close. And I might cry a few more times in the middle of the night when I think about how much I have to lose and how close I came. But I don't want to live in a bubble. And I don't want Quentin to live in a bubble. And I don't want the twins to live in a bubble. And I don't really think that any of us can live in a bubble. And a bike is about as far from a bubble as you can get. Sometimes it's too far, and I hope I never forget that comes with a price.

So keep your head up. Your eyes sharp. Watch our for yourself. Watch out for your fellow cyclists. And stay safe out there. 

Thanks for listening. Writing and sharing this helped me a lot. I hope maybe it helps some of you too.

And thank you again to Dana & Nina. You two are awesome.

And, lastly, all my best wishes to Dale and the entire Stetina family. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Devil in the Details

1.5km + 40km + 10km = 51.5km = a world of hurt with no room for mistakes

Giant Eagle 5i50
Columbus, OH  2012.07.28

There are a lot of things to like about short course racing. From a purely physiological standpoint, there's a tremendous benefit to working at the sorts of higher intensities required to do well at Olympic distance races. It's especially beneficial, I think, to half-Ironman performance, since halves have become much more like a long short-course race as opposed to a short long-course race. But it's also good for being able to take some of those risks to push the envelope a bit during an Ironman that can pay off in a big way. And, of course, there's also the advantage that recovering from a 2-ish hour race is a lot easier than from a 4-ish hour race, meaning it's easier to slot an Olympic distance race into the schedule without being as worried about needing to take a bunch of time to recharge, something that's especially important as Kona draws closer. 

But I think the biggest benefit - at least to me - comes from the "experience" of racing short course. One of the very best parts is that, generally speaking, the baseline quality of swimming is pretty high - again, at least for me - in pretty much any short course race. There are just too many ex-swimmers who are giving it a go as a short-course triathlete - and those who aren't ex-swimmers who want to have any prayer of being successful need to realize that the swim is a much bigger percentage of the overall race in an Olympic than in a half or full and train accordingly - for any Olympic distance race to have an "easy" swim. The swim is also both short enough and important enough that you typically don't have the "settle" - once the swim groups inevitably form - that you do in long course racing. The whole 1500m is raced. And that's a very good thing for me. One downside is that Olympic distance races very often tend to be beach starts, which half-Ironmans rarely are, and Ironmans pretty much never are (IM Melbourne sort of was, but not really...). And, as with all things, specificity counts for a lot. And since I don't race beach starts, I don't practice beach starts, which means I'm not very good at beach starts. It's a worthwhile skill, but so are a lot of things. And time is time.

Transitions are also really key, and I definitely need work in transitions. While we're on that topic, I think my T1 was slower than normal because it was not particularly warm in the morning, and my hands were cold, and I fumbled a bit more than normal with the buckle on my helmet. Certainly that's something I could have practiced a bit more I guess, but sometimes "luck" (for lack of a better term) still plays a role. It wasn't much colder than Vineman, where I got my helmet on no problem. But on this day, I had a bit of butterfingers working the clip. Probably karma of some sort of tweeting a picture of my helmet the day before. Though the clip-in in that caption was referring to my pedals...

In short, race execution is imperative during an Olympic distance race. It's always critical in any race, but it's easier to see how critical it is in a more clear way in short course races. In this race, 3rd through 6th - where I finished - was separated by a minute. 65 seconds to be exact. In every race where you don't win, it's inevitable to play the "where could I have found the time to have finished higher." But in halves - and especially in Ironman races - the math is much fuzzier. Missing a swim group leads to missing a group on the bike (yeah, yeah, "non-drafting") which leads to... There's a lot more ripple-effect in long course. Seconds turn into minutes. Sometimes. Sometimes it's just minutes of differences in preparedness. Though that works both ways. Sometimes small mistakes get glossed over by big differences in fitness when guys that gained a small advantage over you succumb to bigger mistakes in pacing and/or fitness. It's easy to forget that some guy beat you out of transition when you run by him because he ran (or rode or both) foolishly. In an Olympic distance race, people don't tend to blow up the way they do in Ironmans. Especially when the weather is good, like it was. LOTS of guys can run fast 10k's after a hard(ish, depending) 40k bike. At least, fast in terms of Ironman-athlete speed even if not definitively (like ITU WTS) fast. 10 seconds is nothing in an Ironman. The differences in pace are just much bigger. But 10 seconds in an Olympic? That's an eternity. You think you are closing, but then another mile - almost 20% of the run - has gone by. You don't get second chances in Olympic distance racing. But there are plenty of second chances in Ironman, which makes it harder to realize that it actually was a second chance.

In general it's harder in long course races to really pinpoint mistakes in the same way, especially when you are successful. And, in general, I've been successful at Ironman, and I think that's probably led me to make more mistakes than I realize, because, "it all worked out in the end." And because the whole race is a blur. And because little bad decisions ripple into much larger ones. But in an Olympic distance race, it's much easier to say, I should have been faster in T1 because I was fumbled with my helmet. I should have ridden harder at the start of the bike course because the back half of the course was more downhill than it seemed when I drove it. I should have rolled the dice a bit more on the run. I should NOT have raced on the East Coast, because by the time my body really woke up and realized it was time to go #2, I was doing swim warm-up... Sorry about that last one, that was too much information.

That level of execution is what's needed to do well in Kona. Crisp transitions. Not fumbling with a helmet strap. Not letting someone go that you shouldn't. Not finding yourself in a bad position in the swim. Not finding yourself wishing you'd used the port-a-john... Again, too much information. I had a bad swim last year, and that was clearly the overwhelmingly dominant factor (along with how much racing I'd done prior) in my performance in Kona. But what if I hadn't? What if I'd had a good swim? What mistakes did I make that I've overlooked because they didn't make a difference because 12th or 13th doesn't mean much, but would have been huge if it was that same 1-spot difference between 1st and 2nd, or even 2nd and 3rd, or 11th or 10th? I don't know. But I was reminded of the focus that's required to keep from making those mistakes. That as "silly" as it may seem, I need to also train packing a bag with run gear, sitting down in a chair, unpacking that bag, and putting on that run gear. Why? Because I'll need to do it in October.

Nothing is a substitute for appropriate preparation. Certainly athletes can get overwhelmed focusing on the details and miss the big picture. There's no substitute for being prepared physiologically. But attention to the "other" details isn't a substitute. It's part of what's required to be truly excellent. And that's what is required on October 12th. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Inspiring with Fulcrum Partners

I'm glad that I don't add (or subtract) sponsor logos very often from this site. I'm proud that the companies I work with, I get to work with year after year. The opportunity to work with someone new is always somewhat of a challenge. The first question for me is always, "what can I do for them?" And then, of course, there is the sometimes-obvious-and-sometimes-not question of, "what can they do for me." The further I get from my comfortable niche - technically-oriented triathlon companies, the more difficult that question is to answer. But the further I get from that niche, the more opportunity there is to reach a wider audience of people. And that's a wonderful opportunity, even if it's not one that I am always comfortable with. 

It's a very awkward - for me anyway - thing to think that I get paid to do what I do. How do I stay true to who I am and not just become a "shill"? In some ways, it would be nice if I could subsist exclusively on prize money, because then that part of my life would be simpler. But that would add an enormous amount of complexity off of the race course, especially at home. As a father and husband, I'm not prepared to say, "sorry, Quentin, you don't get to eat well this month because daddy had a bad race." And beyond wanting to provide a secure life for my family, I also think that a key part of growing the sport of triathlon is appealing to both would-be triathletes (including those who maybe didn't even know they were would-be triathletes) as well as never-gonna-be-triathletes who nevertheless are drawn - as the annual Kona NBC broadcast demonstrates - to the stories within our sport. There's the obviously selfish part of this - it's good for me to grow beyond the strict confines of the endemic world of triathlon. But I also hope and believe that it's good for the sport as a whole as well. That if I can have some success doing it, maybe I can show other pros how to do it as well. 

One of the oft-debated topics I'm passionate about discussing on twitter and Slowtwitch and most anywhere else is what the future is for the sport of triathlon. Some folks want it to follow the road of spectator sports, like baseball or football. This seems to be - to some extent anyway - the way that the ITU is pushing things, it seems with great success. But Ironman doesn't have that future, to me anyway, because I think it's length is prohibitive. The Kona broadcast takes months to put together. That's fine for one race, but it wouldn't work for every Ironman. Personally, the "sport" that I see long-distance triathlon being the most like is poker. And also contract bridge. Both of these are participant-driven (as opposed to spectator-driven). People like it because everyone competes together. And they share an experience together. And, of course, because sometimes they can win a lot of money. But the money aspect is where I think triathlon pros could learn more from contract bridge, where there is no prize money but instead the focus is on the experience, than from poker. The bridge model is one where the best bridge players are paid by tournament organizers to show up to "set the bar," as it were, for the standard of play. People want to see how the best do what they do. And they want to experience it with them. And the best professional contract bridge players earn fees that would make many (if not most) triathletes envious. This is because contract bridge appeals to a broad demographic, but a big and especially influential part of that demographic is affluent, much like triathlon.

The minimum barrier of entry for triathlon is another topic worthy of debate, but not one I'm prepared to tackle here. Do I think triathlon would benefit from being made more accessible? Yes I do. But in the short term, I think it's probably better to focus on the fact that the kind of person who can afford to swim, bike, and run in training and then go do a swimming, biking, and running race is - in general - someone necessarily falls into a relatively privileged group. Now, this isn't to say that everyone who does triathlon is "rich." But triathlon is not - and may never be - like soccer, where a single ball and a patch of ground is all that is needed to have a game. 

Now this may seem like a rather rambling introduction to a new partnership, but the nature of the company I'm allying with requires - I thought - a bit of explanation. Fulcrum Partners is an executive benefits company, which is admittedly a bit of an odd thing for a professional triathlete. Though I suppose as is often the case, there's a somewhat simple explanation, at least for how the discussion got started. One of the partners is a triathlete and has a passion for the sport. But the fact that a triathlete works at a company doesn't answer the two questions that I feel must be answered for something to work long term and to set an example that other athletes might follow. What can I do for them. And what can they do for me. And, of course, the third implied question, "do those things make sense together?"

I think that my experience working with Ironman on their XC (Executive Challenge) program gave me some insights into what triathlon - as a whole - offers to a lot of the folks that a company like Fulcrum works with. But where do I fit into that? I think my role within something like XC is more clearly defined, but I struggled to figure out where I might fit into that puzzle as a lone athlete. Ultimately, I wasn't the one with the vision, though. That was Tom Chisholm of Fulcrum. But as I read more about Fulcrum, trying to understand a bit more about the company and Tom's vision for what we might do together, I started to see the sort of value that I hope that I - and other pro triathletes, many of whom have very different but at least as inspiring stories as I do - might add to non-endemic companies without even an tangential relationship to the sport.

Tom's vision was that businesses (and, more specifically, business leaders) would be inspired by what it takes to be consistently successful as an endurance athlete. And that sharing that with their clients - and potential clients - would reflect the sort of business approach that Fulcrum takes to what they do. That's the reason I linked to that specific page on the Fuclrum site, because I think that's what speaks to me about them as a business. And they created a special section of the site to reflect what I speak about to them as an athlete. You can find that under the "INSPIRE" tab on their site if you followed the prior link or by clicking HERE. I'd hoped to be able to add something to that page, but due to regulatory issues, I was not allowed to. But thankfully, I can add my $0.02 here.
I'm honored to partner with Fulcrum Partners. We share a focus on long-term goals and a commitment to thoughtful planning and execution to reach those objectives made this an obvious choice for me. The core values that lead to excellence in an endurance sport like triathlon have a lot of parallels in the business world, and I'm hoping that I can learn just as much as I can share. 
And I'm hoping that we can inspire other businesses to find value in our sport and in the pro athletes who set the bar that I and others keep trying to reach...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

First Law of Holes

"If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." Denis Healey

Ironman 70.3 Vineman
Sonoma County, CA  2013.07.14

I tried really hard to write this in the lead up to the race, but with the last two races on the calendar being a "personal worst performance" (St. George) and a did-not-start (Honu), I just couldn't quite bring myself to write that I had stopped digging myself deeper into the hole in advance of a performance actually showing that to be true. While I finished in the exact same position - 8th - that I did the last time I did this race, seven years ago, I did go faster (though the bike course was the correct distance instead of being 1.5miles long due to construction and the swim was wetsuit legal as opposed to non-wetsuit, for whatever that is - and is not - worth). And, most importantly, I had the sort of performance that demonstrated that I had indeed stopped digging myself deeper into a hole and that I was actually building up and in the right direction towards the ultimate goal for this year - being my best on October 12th. 

While there were certainly aspects of the race that I was disappointed in, overall I thought it was a satisfactory performance. I swam well, both relatively and absolutely, though I do wonder if I could have closed that gap that formed to Tim Reed and Joe Gambles early in the swim. They swam only about 30 seconds faster, but were able to work together on the bike to bridge up to the front group and put themselves back into the race. I ended up riding solo, and had an average performance against a decidedly better-than-average field that left me in no-man's land starting the run. I don't yet have the deep bike fitness I will need (and prepare to have) for Kona, so the performance was in line with expectations, if slightly on the lower side of what I thought I was capable of. I ended up capping it off with a best ever run on an accurate (I got 21.2km) and reasonably challenging course. It was actually my fastest half-marathon ever (not just in a triathlon), though I haven't run a standalone half since 2007, and haven't run one on a fast course since 2006. So that's not really a revelation of anything other than that I'm a pretty good runner and need to hold myself to that standard more often. The weather was perfect for fast racing, which was nice from a personal performance standpoint against the clock, but less ideal from my preference to race in conditions that punish bad decision making. Though I suppose I could say that good conditions punish my own bad decision making process about whether or not I wanted to swim in high school...

Ultimately, there was a clear break between me and the top-7 with five minutes separating first through seventh, and then a gap of four minutes from 7th to me in 8th. So as much as I might have stopped digging myself deeper into a hole, I'm still not yet performing at the level I expect to. I won't have too many chances to test myself before Kona - this may have been the last really top field I'll get a chance to race depending on how things sort of with HyVee and/or Vegas, but I also know that being prepared to execute over 70.3 miles is different than being prepared to execute over 140.6 miles. For now, the big takeaway is that after getting beaten by top age-groupers and the top pro women in St. George, I managed to right the ship and put myself back on course for October.

That this all happened at Vineman was probably appropriate. And the fact that seven years after finishing 8th I finished 8th again was probably also appropriate. After Vineman in 2006, when I had what was - at the time - my best ever performance in a half-Ironman and ended up well back on the winner and outside of the prize money, I found myself questioning whether or not this was really what I wanted to do with myself. I found myself in a hole, and I found myself digging myself in even deeper. I seriously contemplated quitting, because the discrepancy between the relative quality of my performance - compared to previous performances of my own - and the and absolute quality of performance - in terms of where I finished overall in the race - was so drastic. I just didn't see that I could ever be the kind of athlete who would be in contention at these races. Achieving my own best was certainly a worthy goal, but I didn't really want to spend a whole lot of time chasing that as my primary focus in life if my own best was never going to be good enough. This manifested itself in my workouts, where I was unmotivated and directionless. 

In retrospect, Vineman was my third race in three (maybe four) weeks - I raced a local sprint that was a favorite race and had a great race, then had a so-so performance at the NYC Olympic distance race, and then did Vineman, and I was clearly just over the line. My heart rate was high. My power was low. And I felt lost. So I basically stopped training for a few weeks. I didn't know what I wanted. Dan Empfield and Simon Whitfield both gave me great advice that - basically - could be summed up as the thing I most often need to hear - "STOP. THINKING. START. DOING." I had all these ridiculous existentialist dilemmas regarding what it "meant" to be a "professional triathlete." I couldn't quiet my brain enough to actually relax, train without expectations of anything other than getting some work done and moving forward one step at a time. It was one of the most important forks in the road of what would ultimately become my career (I didn't have anything resembling a career at that point).

After a few weeks of feeling sorry for myself, my friend Paulo Sousa encouraged me - "you need to come to here now." - to come to stay with him and Jonathan Caron and Sergio Marques in Las Cruces, NM. I packed up a duffel bag and my bike and a sleeping bag and air mattress and headed to New Mexico for about two weeks having no idea of what I really wanted to do with myself or if I even wanted to go. The first night there, Paulo made me give up my HRM and my powermeter computer. I was not allowed to know any of that. I was just going to train. Sometimes I felt good. Sometimes I felt bad. It didn't really matter. I swam, and biked, and ran. And by the end of it all, I felt pretty good. It was two of the best weeks of my life. We bought four patio chairs and a table from Home Depot for $40 ($5/chair and $20 for the table) because Paulo had no furniture. We had a TV that sat on top of the box that it had come in. We basically only watched "Seinfeld." And we had - thankfully - wifi, and we gave birth to some of the greatest forum threads ever on Slowtwitch. I remembered that I enjoyed training. I enjoyed swimming. I enjoyed biking. I enjoyed running. And I enjoyed triathlon. When I left, I had finally quieted the noise in my head that had paralyzed me after Vineman, and I was (I now realize) ready to make the big decision that really gave me a career - moving out of my parent's house, packing everything I needed into my car, and going to train full time under Joel's supervision in Flagstaff and then Canada. That's also how I met Jill. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history (in the making). 

Even though I temporarily forget the lessons I learned from Paulo during those two weeks, I still have them with me enough that with some typically-Paulo-esque reminders from the man in the orange shirt himself in St. George, and some gentler guidance from Jill and my coach Michael Krueger, I was able to put the proverbial shovel down after St. George and stop digging. I went to Hawaii to remember that I liked to train. I liked to swim. I liked to bike. I liked to run. And that I liked triathlon. I was able to keep my HRM and my powermeter on. But I was able to turn off the noise. And, in many ways, I think closed a loop of sorts with the same finish in Vineman that held entirely different takeaways for me than the "same" finish seven years ago.

So a special thank you to Paulo, who taught me, as Coach Michael calls it, "to put my head on the shelf." And on that note, time to get back to training...