Category Archives: Triathlon

San Diego Triathlon Classic

bikev2_webThe last two years I’ve competed in the San Diego TriRock Triathlon, but due to some scheduling conflicts I ended up doing the San Diego Triathlon Classic instead. This has some similarities to TriRock – you get special permission to go on a military base, the swim is in San Diego Bay, and the run is flat. But the bike course for the Classic is really awesome!

TSanDiegoTriClassic2015_2he ride goes up from sea level to the top of Point Loma and out to the Cabrillo Monument. That necessitates a fairly steep climb just up from the Ballast Point sub base. This was a bit challenging, but definitely worth the effort – coming down is pure fun! All the cyclists I saw were very respectful and cautious, which is good on a relatively narrow course going downhill.

The run, on the other hand, was brutal! It was unseasonably hot and humid on race day, and I gulped down an entire bottle of water (I was carrying it in my hand) just on the first lap. It was similar to the Rocketman Triathlon I did last year in Florida, but my additional water made a big difference…at least I didn’t bonk this time. Nevertheless, it was a slow run for me, and I was happy when I made it through.SanDiegoTriClassic2015

    The Napa HITS Triathlon

    mapLast weekend was the HITS Napa triathlon. I had read about this race somewhere as a beautiful course in a cool location, so I was game. It’s also a very early season triathlon, which helps balance out my year. In the weeks leading up to the event, however, we did two skiing trips to Whistler and I came down with a nasty case of food poisoning, which really screwed up my training schedule. This was also my first race with my new Cervelo P2, so naturally I was a bit apprehensive about riding it in a competitive situation… A week before the race, I asked them if I could switch from the olympic distance to sprint, which they did no problem. The HITS people are really well organized and put on a great event!

    I left Seattle Friday night for Sacramento and met my parents at the airport. I was extra careful packing the bike this time given that it’s all carbon fiber – I wrapped everything in bubble wrap and made sure there weren’t any small extra parts that could fall out in transit. From the airport, we drove down to American Canyon (just south of Napa) to our hotel. One mistake I made in planning this trip was not paying enough attention to distances between the various activities. It turns out the race is at Lake Berryessa, over an hour’s drive from where we were staying on small winding roads. Our other destination for that Saturday – Point Reyes – was in the opposite direction.

    napa3Nevertheless, we started out Saturday morning for Point Reyes. The entire area is really spectacular – rolling hills and open fields dotted with oak tree groves – it’s what I think of as “classic” California. The drive to Point Reyes was just really neat – it’s a spectacular place for bike riding (and a good workout with all the hills). The only trouble is that many of the roads lack appreciable bike lanes.

    We did two hikes down to the ocean – it was like seeing California before Western civilization came: you see spectacular flocks of birds (that are increasingly rare), and very few structures other than some historical ranches.

    napa4We got lunch after that and returned to the hotel, where I assembled the bike. Then we got back on the road (now it was about 6 PM) for the drive to the race course for packet pickup. We arrived around 7 and got the materials – again, everything was really organized. I had to find a CO2 canister (since you can’t bring these on airplanes) but fortunately one of the bike shop tents was still open. While we were there, some of the Ironman-distance athletes were trickling in. By then, it was going on 14 hours for them, and they looked about ready to expire. It seemed sad that they should be completing such an epic undertaking with only a handful of people around to see it – if I ever do an Ironman, I want it to be a *big* race with a *big* celebration at the end! These guys were true athletes – they’d probably do the race if nobody was there at all.

    We didn’t get back to the hotel until after 9, so I definitely didn’t get as much sleep as I had hoped. We left at 4:45 the next morning for the race. We drove on in the dark, without really any cars on the road, and then one by one picked up another set of headlights here and there. By the time we turned off onto Lake Berryessa, there was a long convoy of cars as far as you could see in either direction, just as the light was starting to collect in the east.

    napa2Everything went smoothly (in contrast to the Florida race I did last October), and I had plenty of time to get set up. My wave was the first to start, and it was a shock to the system jumping in that cold lake water. This was the coldest swim leg I’ve had so far, and it a good 10 minutes for me to start warming up, and transition took a bit longer than usual due to my numb hands. But it felt good to get out on the bike and start working again to warm myself up.

    What became quickly apparent this time was that, unlike every other race I’ve done, I wasn’t getting passed on the bike. There were a couple of athletes around me who were my speed, but for the first time ever I felt like I was holding the line after the swim. The bike also handled wonderfully – time-trial bikes love going fast, and they feel very stable with speed even tucked into the aero position. I went upright on the handlebars going uphill and for flat and downhill portions I was aero. I didn’t notice any soreness except for my neck, which was due to having to peek up under the helmet to see.

    In contrast to an olympic race, the bike leg just flew by. I was pulling back into transition feeling great. The transition to the run wasn’t as painful as it usually is either. Maybe this was due to a few more brick workouts than normal, but honestly I think it was just the shorter distance.

    napa1I finished the race feeling strong and not nearly as blasted as usual. The results completely surprised me – I took second in my age group and 39th overall! I *never* expected to do that well and was left trying to figure out what happened. I think the single biggest factor was having a fast bike. Normally, I’m doing pretty well coming out of the swim, but then quickly drop waaaay back on the bike. This time, I only dropped a few places on the bike, which was a massive improvement. I dropped quite a bit on the run, though, which is definitely something I’m going to focus on. Also, this was the first sprint distance I’ve done in over a year, and I think my body had grown accustomed to the longer olympic distance, so that might have had something to do with my times as well. Finally, I was really well rested for this race (other than the preceding night), so I’m sure that was a factor too.

    Whatever it was, I was very pleased with how things went and left the event energized and motivated for the next race. The course as advertised was pretty cool – the bike portion is along the edge of the lake and provides views of the rising sun coming up over the water. It is definitely rolling up and down – there’s very little flat at all. But the grades are moderate – I never got out of the saddle going up any of the hills. The run was very moderate as well – gently up on the way out and gently downhill on the way back. The only hard part about the race is it’s relative remoteness – I think by far the best strategy is to camp at the race site the night before – there were plenty of places available. If you stay in Napa, it’s still a solid one hour drive on windy roads to get to the transition area.

    The next day we (of course) visited a Napa winery and got a bunch of bottles before heading back to the airport. Like the Florida trip last year, it was a *very* busy weekend but I came back feeling fantastic! The Napa HITS Triathlon certainly isn’t as famous as it’s cousin the Vineman, but the location is fabulous and it’s a well-supported and organized event.

      Florida Rocketman Triathlon

      RocketmanPhoto2014_SMALLI’ve always been fascinated with the history of space flight, in particular the early NASA programs: Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. So when the opportunity came up to actual ride my bike around the launchpads at Kennedy Space Center, I naturally signed up. This would be a quick trip – leave Seattle on Friday morning and return Sunday night. Because my time was so limited, I needed to make sure all the logistics were carefully lined up. Packet pickup was on Saturday, which included a ticket to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, so I planned to spend all day exploring this and Merritt Island Wildlife Reserve, and of course assembling my bike and dealing with any issues that came up. I’ll write another post about Cape Canaveral itself – here’s the race report.

      Kennedy_Space_CenterThis is the second year the Rocketman Florida race has been run. I understand they changed the course a bit this year to get us more time actually within the Space Center, with a run around the historic aircraft of the Valiant Air Command. Usually mere civilians aren’t permitted to roam around the launch pads (you can take a tour bus there), so this was a really special opportunity. In other words, a recipe for an absolutely awesome race!

      I’d heard from some of the other athletes that the organization last year wasn’t that great, and this year I think was better but still added needless hassles. For example, for packet pickup you needed to go wait in one line for your numbers, then another one for your swim cap, then another to get marked, then another (not clearly labeled) to pick up the all-important Kennedy Space Center tickets. All this was done in the hot Florida sun. I was wearing my sandals, and every minute or so while I was waiting in line these little black ants would crawl up my feet and sting my ankles, making me progressively crankier and crankier! It’s beyond me why they couldn’t just include all these items in the “packet” that, as indicated by the name, you’re supposed to just pick up. And they didn’t have timing chips, so we had to grab these the morning of the race. I think they’re still working out the bugs since it’s such a new race.

      Rental_CarI parked my tiny rental car (shown here next to the bike box for comparison) next to the pickup area. My bike box just barely fit inside, and I had to keep the seats pushed up a bit forward. I pulled out the box on the lawn and put everything together – this is always a bit nerve racking since TSA inevitably opens up the box and I’m anxious something will be broken or won’t make it at all.

      The morning of the race, I left my hotel in Cocoa Beach in plenty of time to have a relaxed set-up. The transition area was in a field adjacent to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, but I was surprised to learn upon arriving that you couldn’t make the normal left-hand turn into the parking lot. WTF? I kept driving to a gas station did a U-turn only to then discover that you couldn’t turn right into the parking lot either! Now I was starting to get a bit anxious. I got back onto the freeway and approached the entire place from the other (the only other) direction. Fortunately, some quick work with Google Maps got me there. But then I drove aimlessly around the parking lot looking for an empty spot – nobody to assist directing traffic or anything was helping. Finally, I found a spot and grabbed my self-contained all-purpose race bag (I put everything in one giant backpack for simplicity), and started speed-walking to the transition area. Of course, on the way I heard the announcer announce 3 minutes until the transition closed, then 1 minute, and then he asked everybody to exit. Ah snap! I hadn’t flown all the way across the country to be DSQ’d because I didn’t get my transition set up in time!

      TransitionAreaMapI ran into the transition area, and did the fastest set-up (by a significant margin) that I’ve ever done before. I managed to verify that, yes, my bike still had two tires and at least the front one seemed reasonably full (so much for topping off the pressure). I figured the most important thing at this stage was my swim cap and goggles, so I made sure I had those. I then had to hunt around to find the person with the timing chips. In retrospect, I’d have been better off had I never done this, since my times were so lousy… Oh well.

      Manatee_Sign After all this rushing around, I proceeded to stand around with my wave…for about twenty minutes. The swim was in the Indian River, which is about five feet deep. In the race instructions, they mentioned manatees might be in the water – how cool is that! I didn’t see any during the actual swim, but I did see some the previous morning…

      We all got out to the line and when we started, many people just started running! I can’t say I’ve ever seen this before – I was swimming (damnit, this is my best leg!) but I don’t think I was making any better time. This was the first time in a while that I didn’t have a wetsuit (the water was all of 81F) and I think my trisuit top was a bit baggy and slowed me down some. Nevertheless, the swim felt fine.

      I ran into T1 and happily I’d set up everything I needed and both tires proved reasonably functional. The bike leg is definitely the most awesome part of the course – it’s totally flat and you have these long stretches of straight road so you can just cruise along.

      BikeMapWe rode past the Visitor Center entrance, into the gate, and then made a big left turn towards the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building. This is the massive hangar in which various space vehicles are put together. You can see the thing from many, many miles in all directions (did I mention Florida is flat?) and because it’s so huge, it actually takes longer than you’d think to reach it. By that point, the course had really thinned out, and I don’t think I had any cyclists within .25 miles in either direction. So it was just this cool feeling of riding your bike out around the Space Center.

      Vehicle Assembly BuildingWe rode past the Vehicle Assembly Building and next passed the gigantic crawler that transports the spacecraft out to the launch pad. Again, riding a bike next to this thing was just so cool! The turn-around was out at Launch Pad 39A, the site of many famous launches.

      IMG_20141011_144348The bike leg for this race was 29 miles both for the “classic” and for the “international” distances, which is really unusual (though totally understandable given the location). The half-Iron was 56 miles because of some bonus loops thrown in. Nevertheless, this was the longest bike leg I’ve ridden so far. It was also getting rather hot out, and I’d gone through one bottle of sports drink and one bottle of water with still 6 or so miles to go. The problem with dehydration is that, once you get behind, it’s hard to catch up. I pulled into T2 feeling fine but knowing I had already lost a ton of hydration ground and needed to try everything I could to catch up. I chugged a bunch of water and sports drink as I was getting my shoes on.

      Launch_PadThe run course is almost all on roads and is largely devoid of protection from the sun. It was also well into the 80s, so I quickly started to suffer. After the first aid station around mile 2, I started alternating running and walking, which was really, really frustrating since I’ve never had such a lousy run. At any rate, I tried to enjoy the course, which wound through some really neat historic aircraft owned and restored by the Valiant Air Command Museum. If only I had more ability to enjoy them! After that, the course winds around the airport a bit and turns around.

      I think many, many people were having a tough race, since there were lots of walkers. I was just so damn hot (by my standards at least) and despite taking water at every aid station I came to, I just couldn’t seem to get my running mojo back. After a long, long couple of miles, you near the finish and (like Black Diamond), they throw in a bonus loop right at the end! AHHHHHH! I pushed as much as I could into the finish but then felt really pretty crummy.

      I parked myself in some shade and started downing sports drink and pouring water over my head. After 10 minutes or so of this, I felt better. But going back to the transition area to retrieve my bike was punishing – in the direct sun and very hot. Something about my physiology doesn’t do well with heat and honestly it was a challenge getting everything packed up and making sure I didn’t leave anything. My legs were cramping pretty badly and I started walking my bike back. At one point I decided to ride a bit to at least spin my legs and get some fresh breeze. Well, I promptly almost fell off in the parking lot as my left calf decided (without my approval) to contract hard. I had to stop and stretch it out before continuing.

      The ride and swim were pure fun – if I could have skipped the run somehow, it would have been an awesome race! I’m not exactly sure what the problem was – probably a combination of being under-trained and racing in weather that I’m really not accustomed to. If I do it again, I think I’ll stick with the Classic distance – man, I was so jealous of those folks turning around on the run while we were only 1/4 of the way into it.

      Nevertheless, it’s a great race and gives you an excuse to be a tourist at the Space Center, which alone is worth the trip.

      RocketMan Triathlon Logo

        Triathlon Trifecta

        My race schedule this year ended up being a bit compressed, with three Olympic-distance races within a five week period. This is definitely not such a great idea in terms of performance, since you don’t taper for each event, but it fits with my generally Lazy approach to training. Aside from the plain fun of competing in these events, I ended up learning an important lesson about nutrition and hydration.

        Lake Meridian Triathlon LogoThis was the second year in a row I’ve done both the Black Diamond and TriRock San Diego races, and it was my first go at the Lake Meridian event. Lake Meridian was my second Olympic-ish distance event of the year, after Seafair. The swim, as usual, was fine (though the start took me a bit by surprise, as sometimes happens in the more casual events). The bike was quite enjoyable, with a number of rolling hills and light traffic. It was my first attempt with my clip-on aero bars, which sadly didn’t seem to make much of a difference from just being on the drop bars (though this may be due to my own bad technique).

        But the run was awful! It’s a good course through a big park, but I was basically just trying to survive and keep going. Not even halfway through, both of my feet went numb. This has occasionally happened to me in the past, and I suspect it has something to do with dehydration – as my fluid volume decreases, it becomes harder to get circulation down there, even with the constant motion and pounding. I also felt sick. It was truly a relief to finish, and it took quite a while to recover.Black Diamond Triathlon Logo

        Black Diamond Triathlon FinishIt was a similar story at Black Diamond – in terms of how it felt, without doubt it was my hardest race yet. I felt strong coming off the bike, but at the end of the run is a cruel, cruel detour right past the finish line and around the lake. It’s a paltry 1.2 miles or so, but it was one of those “When Will This Ever End” situations. I was just totally drained, my muscles were cramping, my feet were numb, and my back muscles were very sore from the bike. For the first time in a race, I actually had to walk – tragically, within probably .25 miles of the finish. Again, it took a long time for me to recover, and I had to consume substantial amounts of snacks and fluids before feeling a bit normal again.

        TriRock Logo

        A week later, I flew down to San Diego. TriRock San Diego isn’t a pure Olympic distance (it’s an “Intermediate event”), but is a great course. The swim is right off of the San Diego Convention Center in the bay, the bike leg is through a Naval station south of Coronado Bridge, and the run is through Seaport Village, with the turnaround at the USS Midway. The benefit for the bike and run is that they’re almost completely flat. But the swim in the bay introduces an element that you most definitely do not encounter in a lake: tidal flow. I guess this the equivalent of a hill for cycling or running…

        I was in the first wave, and we lined up next to a temporary stairway used to get people in and out of the water. But instead of starting everyone in a massive, barbaric horde like last year, they did a time trial start, with three swimmers at a time entering the water separated by about ten seconds each. This is a much better way to do it, since you totally avoid the usual feeding frenzy during the first 5 minutes of the swim. I was near the front, which was great since I had an almost open shot in front of me. But as I was swimming to the initial turn in the bay, I noticed the mark drifting farther and farther to my right (or rather, I was drifting farther and farther left). It quickly became apparent that we were in a bit of a current, which is a new experience for me during a race. Once we rounded the first mark, it was a swim directly against the tide, dramatically decreasing speed over the ground. It was a bit of a slog getting up this leg of the course, but I was pleased since a harder swim leg is actually to my advantage (since swimming is my strongest segment).TriRock Triathlon Swim

        Once we made the second right-hand turn, we were swimming at a right angle to the current. I angled substantially into the direction of the flow and was able to track more or less on target to the next mark. Those who didn’t do this ended up swimming essentially directly upstream again just to round the buoy. After that, I cruised back down the bay, ran head-first into one of the marks by accident, and exited the water at the stairs.

        Since I started so near the beginning of the group, I was one of the first actually out of the water, which was super cool. The transition area was almost completely empty, and I had the first several minutes of the bike leg to myself. Like every other triathlon I’ve done so far, I quickly started getting passed. This course, probably more than others, tends to favor road bikes since there are many turns. But nevertheless, I was dragging ass on the bike. Naturally, I attribute this to me racing my Trek 1.1 Alpha road bike, which is what I commute on. I’m sure it has nothing at all with my lackadaisical training. Nope…without a doubt, absolutely…nothing…at…all…

        The course is lined with military personnel in addition to the usual volunteers, which was cool. But as always on races, I don’t end up taking in too much of the scenery since I’m just too damn focused on going fast and not hitting anything. My time for the bike leg was actually slightly slower than last year, which leads me to believe the clip on aero bars aren’t making too much of a difference, or else I’m using them improperly (a definite possibility, since I’ve yet to get a professional bike fit).

        The run was pretty uneventful and nice and flat.

        HumveeI’m convinced my engine is more like a Humvee than a Prius, and requires more fuel to produce a given output. After the preceding two races, I decided to come to grips with my gas-guzzling metabolism. The usual recommendation for Olympic distance races (at least that I’ve heard) is one bottle on the bike, and maybe two gels while riding, followed by maybe one gel and some water on the run. Previously, my strategy was to hydrate before the swim and take one gel at that time, then two partially-filled bottles on the bike (one water and the other sports drink), and then one gel before the run. But I now believe this is totally inadequate for me, especially in hot weather.

        GU and FluidsSo this race my strategy was as follows: two complete bottles on the bike (one water and one sports drink), one gel before the bike, one gel halfway through the bike, and then one gel before the run. This was followed by taking a gel at every water station on the run (as well as a cup of water). This ended up being seven gels!

        But what a difference! I’m not sure it actually made me faster, but my mental state was just so much better. I was actually happy to be racing again instead of just slogging along. I didn’t feel nearly as drained after the finish too. I was also happy with my standard recovery bean, rice, and cheese burrito. I don’t know why, but eating Mexican food after a race seems to have a remarkably salutatory effect.

        One should never be too cavalier about nutrition and hydration – you can maybe get away with it for shorter distances, but it rapidly catches up with you as the duration increases. For me, the threshold seems to be about an hour – for any sort of exercise beyond this, I need to be taking in electrolytes and preferably a sports drink. Dehydration is particularly insidious, as you can get away with it for a while without totally crashing and burning. But given enough time, it just kills your performance. It makes you cranky and saps your strength, and it can be tough to recognize the symptoms since you figure you’re just tired and need to tough it out. Not fun!

        I’m intending on repeating this gel- and fluid-intensive strategy for my last triathlon of the season: Rocketman Florida! I’ll post the results after the race.

        RocketMan Triathlon Logo


          Why Being A Lazy Athlete Is Awesome


          Dionysus – An Early Lazy Athlete

          Michael Jordan said that part of being a professional athlete is doing what you love, even when you don’t love doing it. So why not live up to the converse – being an amateur athlete is about doing what you love, only when you love doing it!  I love to run, bike, swim, climb, and surf, but I don’t like training. Training feels like work, but sports for me are for fun and fitness. Once you set goals for your sports, it becomes like a job, complete with the guilt that goes along with feeling like you’re not working hard enough. I think most athletes I know who compete have this sort of goal-oriented mindset – they want to hit a particular time, or qualify for a major race, or place in their age group. The language of fitness and competition is filled with words about fulfilling your goals, losing X amount of weight, or completing a given distance.


          Apollo – Clearly Another Lazy Athlete

          All of that is fabulous if these are the things that motivate you.. But I’d like to propose an alternative way of approaching sports – that of the Lazy Athlete. A Lazy Athlete is one who doesn’t care about times, competition, training, metrics (other than for curiosity), or goals, but does sports purely for the fun of it. Naturally, this rules you out of some of the longer races like marathons, half-Ironmans, and the like, but the up side is that you don’t really have to train! I participate in a host of events each year, from half-marathons to cycling events to olympic and sprint triathlons, but have never really trained in the sense of having a schedule and goals. I try to maintain a good mix of running, cycling, and swimming, and try not to have too many consecutive days of not exercising. If I have a longer-distance run coming up, I’ll throw in a couple of 10-12 mile runs, but other than that I won’t think much more about it. I listen to my body – if I don’t feel like doing a long run, I don’t do it.

          Does this limit me from competing at my potential? Absolutely! But so much is gained in exchange – total freedom from guilt, complete relaxation on race-day, and most importantly, the feeling like I could maintain this routine for many decades. For me, exercise is like brushing your teeth – it’s mandatory, and something you need to get used to doing every single day…for your entire life. Lazy Athletes have sublime patience, because we have many years to compete in the events we want. Instead of having a particular time goal, my objective is to participate in races in interesting and beautiful places around the world. The fitness industry seems to be particularly geared to setting goals, but there is a real freedom when you get rid of goals and just do stuff for the hell of it.

          I have deep admiration for professional athletes and dedicated amateurs who devote countless lonely hours of hard work to their sport. But for those who think this is the only way you can compete in races, I say be Lazy! Sure you won’t win your age group, but think about all you get in return!

            Whidbey Island Triathlon

            This was my second triathlon, and was a hell of a lot harder than the first! The Whidbey swim is the normal .5 miles, but the bike course is longer at 19.5 miles and has a couple of decent hills. They say it’s a really beautiful route as well, but I didn’t really notice as most of the race I was in more of a survival-oriented mindset and just didn’t look around nearly as much as I should have.

            Setting up the logistics of a triathlon can take a bit of planning. Here, because the first and second transition areas were in different locations that were several miles apart, we needed to plan out how to register, set up all the gear, get the car where we wanted it, and get ourselves to the start line. That involved registering in one place, driving to another, riding our bikes to the transition area with our swim gear, walking back to the car, driving to the parking area, walking to the run transition area, walking back to the car to get changed, and then walking to the shuttle pick-up to catch the bus to the start line. Well, despite being there 2.5 hours early, we barely made it on time to the start!

            The swim went well, though not quite as well as the Seafair tri. I didn’t wear a wetsuit and am wondering if that somehow slowed me down a bit. Perhaps the buoyancy of the suit gets more of you out of the water, reducing drag enough to overcome the added resistance from the neoprene. I’ve actually come to enjoy the chaos of the swim start – it can get a bit rough, the water can be choppy, your goggles fog up, and you need to deal with navigating while all the time pushing hard to maintain your pace – but each time after leaving the water, I’ve been pretty discombobulated. Like last time, I was a bit dizzy from all the jostling around and needed to make the mental shift to bike riding. It’s actually kind of hard, and each time I’ve worried about falling right off my bike as soon as I start riding.

            I left the transition area doing pretty well, but then all hell broke loose… At Seafair, I got passed like crazy on the bike, often by those fancy and expensive tri bikes (naturally, if I could afford it, I’d have one too) and I was determined not to have that happen again. No sooner did I start going down the first hill than one of those very bikes zipped by me with that irksome whir that sounds like a jet engine compared to my little VW bug. At the bottom of the hill was a T-intersection. I followed the rocket bike as closely as I could down the hill and cornered aggressively around the turn. Well, as soon as I started that my back tire skidded out. Fortunately, I didn’t totally wipe-out but I did manage to ride right off the road, over a ditch, and into some bushes.

            I don’t remember much at that point, being still dazed from the swim and my off-road excursion, but I do remember some people clapping and congratulating me on not falling over! I grabbed the bike and started walking back to the road, when I noticed a hissing sound coming from the back tire. Sure enough, I had gotten a flat. That very morning we’d had a discussion about whether to bring the spare or not. On a sprint triathlon, I figured if I ever got a flat it wouldn’t be worth trying to fix and I’d just sit out the rest of the race. Well, for some reason in spite of this I brought the spare. A volunteer bike mechanic who’d strategically stationed himself right at that intersection came over to help. I’m not sure who he was, but he had a big beard and drove a pickup with his dog in the front seat. He saved my race. He got the new tire on way faster than I would have been able to and I was back in the saddle before I knew it.

            I think this was post-wipeout…

            I still struggled on the bike leg – I went through all my water and started to feel dehydrated, which didn’t help matters either. One of the quaint ironies about triathlon is that they write your age in big black letters on your calf, meaning you can see just how much older the guy whipping by you on the bike really is! On the one hand, it’s neat seeing the wide (and really pretty random) distribution of ages in the results, but on the other hand it can be humbling to see really fantastic athletes in their 40s, 50s, and older shoot by.

            The run leg went OK and I made up some of the ground I’d lost on the bike, and I sprinted into the finish where thankfully they had plenty of liquids to get me re-hydrated on that hot day. I learned a number of things from that race that I’m sure are obvious to more seasoned racers but that were pretty revelatory for me:

            Ever wonder what a cross between Henry Rollins and the Incredible Hulk would look like? Hmmmm…the angrier Brav gets, the faster Brav runs!

            1. If you’re eating gels and power bars before the start, these can actually dehydrate you a bit. So I think it’s best to drink water on the bike instead of a sports drink. I actually installed a second bottle holder for the bike – I’d happily pay the price of a less aerodynamic profile for having plenty of liquids to keep me hydrated. I’ll be taking one sports drink and one plain water in the future.

            2. Take the corners conservatively! I have no desire to be a professional, or even to win my age category, so there’s absolutely no sense in pushing the envelope on the bike and risking an injury that could knock out weeks of training and screw up the rest of my season (not to mention climbing, diving, and all the other stuff I love doing). It’s just not worth it.

            3. I need to take time after the swim to get my riding game on. I think my transition time is fine, so I probably can devote a couple extra seconds to calming down, catching my breath, regaining my equilibrium, and coming out of the transition in a less frantic way. That’s hard when you’re pumped up from the swim and chasing every second.

            4. I need to be a bit more careful about what I do the last few nights before a race. I’d had a few drinks the night before (including absinthe, if you can believe it, which one of the local pubs started carrying….mmmmm, not a great idea before a race) when I shouldn’t have had any alcohol, and I didn’t get enough sleep (catching the 5:20 AM ferry didn’t help). Before Seafair, I’d gotten tons of sleep, hadn’t consumed any alcohol for a night or two before, and felt like I had a better race.

            5. I’m getting killed on the hills. I took the bike to the shop this week and put on a different cassette with a higher range of gears. Before doing this, when other athletes would talk about “spinning” up a hill, I’d more describe it as VO2-maxing up, since I’d literally gotten my heart rate right up to max trying to mash out my lowest gear. Of course, the biggest issue for me on the bike is training time. I spend probably about twice as much time swimming and running as biking. Not surprisingly, my biking is about half as good as my swimming and running!

            My race buddy Rutilio sporting a Utili-kilt. Rutilio had a great race! And no, the ambulance in the background was not for me.

            Ultimately, my philosophy with triathlon is pretty casual – I don’t have a training program (it’s no more specific than trying to swim twice a week, ride once, and run twice) and often I’ll substitute a training session for a mountaineering trip. I don’t want to start taking my training so seriously that it starts to get in the way of other stuff I love doing, so I pay a price in terms of race day performance. Maybe next year I’ll do a more disciplined 8 week training plan before an olympic distance race…

            Anyway, the Beaver Lake tri is coming up next week, and I might add one more and maybe a few 10Ks or half-marathons before the season is over. I never thought I’d like racing so much – I’m not sure why it is, but the energy you get from racing and the sense of accomplishment after pushing yourself hard is pretty satisfying.

              Seafair – My First Triathlon

              I’ve been wanting to get into triathlons since moving to Washington. I’ve been a runner for many years – I started regularly running my freshman year of college to burn off some extra energy and stress that accumulated during school, and I haven’t stopped since (except for stints in Nigeria and China when I felt running might be more harmful to my health than helpful). I’ve run three marathons so far, and have kept up a three to four run per week schedule for most of my adult life.  Running is a great sport for New York City, where the logistics of cycling, hiking, and climbing are way more involved than here in Seattle. And unlike many other sports, you don’t need really any special gear to run, so it’s one of the cheapest ways to stay fit.

              But over the years, running got monotonous. In New York I started to vary it by mixing up my slow long runs with intervals and shorter anarobic stuff. But still I was feeling a bit bored by it. So when we moved to Washington, I bought a bike and joined the Bainbridge Island Master Swimmers. I’ve kept up my running but have added regular swim and biking workouts as well.

              I’m also a generalist and like the challenge of being proficient at a number of different things more than the idea of becoming an expert at one. So for all these reasons, triathlon really appealed to me. I didn’t do any races last year, but this year decided to bite the bullet and just sign up for a few. I wanted to start with a sprint-distance race since I felt I could compete in this without really changing my existing workout schedule too much or really ramping up my training to the point of sacrificing other stuff that I like doing.

              The Seafair triathlon is one of the best supported local races – it’s very well organized and is convenient to get to from Bainbridge Island. I read up a bit on racing triathlons, but really just jumped right in, not worrying at all about messing up (wait…which sport comes first?) or what my times were.

              Seafair is a .5 mile swim, a 12 mile bike, and a 5K. I didn’t get any fancy equipment – I used my normal road bike, my old worn-out running shoes (essentially barefoot running by this point), and my surfing wetsuit. The day of the race I put all my gear in a big backpack, parked the car, and just rode down to the transition area. I essentially just watched how other people got set up and copied them.

              When my wave was up to start, I got out into the water – it turns out I wasn’t the only first-timer there…at least three other people I was chatting with were first time racers as well!

              The swim leg went fine – it was a bit more chaotic than I’d anticipated, with people bumping into each other, my goggles flooding or fogging up, getting tossed about in the chop, and trying to navigate the course without zig-zagging to much. I didn’t really try to hold much back since this was a sprint, but I also wasn’t really at all concerned about what the bulk of the other swimmers were doing.

              My first surprise of the race was how dizzy I got after I got out of the water. I’ve since learned that this is pretty common coming off the swim leg. But as I was putting on my cycling shoes, I had to grab on to the bar to keep from falling over – not a great condition to start riding a bike! Fortunately, this passed very quickly and I was on my way.  It’s a strange sensation to jump on a bike seconds after getting out of the water – I was still dripping wet and in my tri-shorts and racing top, wearing less and feeling more exposed than any other time on the bike. The bike leg was certainly my weakest. I felt like I was being passed much more frequently than I was passing. But because the olympic distance race and the various age groups get all mixed up on the course, it was hard to know whether any given athlete actually started in my wave, so that takes a lot of the pressure off.

              Triathlon is also a comparatively solitary test – there’s no peloton of the sort that forms in bike road races and on the running leg people are all strung out over a big distance. So it’s really just you and whatever sport you happen to be doing at that moment.

              My second surprise was how difficult it was to transition from cycling to running. As soon as I started out, my legs felt rubbery and heavy – like I was completely out of shape and trying to do something my body was really not used to. The way to avoid this is through brick workouts – combined bike-run and swim-bike workouts that get your body accustomed to the transition. Of course, being as unprepared as I was, I’d never done any of these! Looking at the splits after the race was over, I actually had been running quite a bit faster than what it felt like at the time.

              The great thing about triathlon is that you can do it your entire life. I think sports like track, cross-country, cycling, swimming, and tennis should be emphasized much, much more in school, since those are the sports people can do long term. You don’t see many football or baseball players after college! Looking at the age variance in the results, you see a wide range – from teenagers to those in their 60s and up, all competing on the same course in the same event. Like running, triathlon is one of those sports where amateurs can compete in the exact same event as professionals and those competing at world-class levels.

              Finally, triathlon is neophyte-friendly. People are really supportive, whether you’re a seasoned and highly-competitive athlete or a newcomer to the sport.