- The easiest way to identify them is through their clothing. Runners like to wear ultralight, flowy clothing that show off a lot of leg, kind of like faeries. Triathletes' favorite movie is "Office Space" and so go for as much flair as possible when. Skintight "kits" (side note: who names matching shirts and shorts kits?), compression socks, fuel belts, visors, sunglasses. I think it's actually some sort of mating call. Will need further investigation.
- Runners obsess over mileage. You will often see some peculiar behavior, like individuals running back and forth on the sidewalk in front of their apartment just so that their Garmin hits 5.00. Somehow going home with a 4.96 mile run means the day is a complete failure. Triathletes obsess over weight. They are willing to spend $400 more for components whose main feature is that they are lighter by around one gel pack.
- Runners tend to show up for races a couple of minutes before they start (up to an hour early for the super-antsy). Triathletes have to show up at least an hour early, with the ambitious ones rebuilding their bikes at 5am for an 8am race. And this is after setting up the night before.
- At race expos, runners like to show off their accomplishments by wearing Boston Marathon jackets, Triathletes like to show off what they'll look like the next day by walking around in a full race jersey, transition bag, and visor. (taking off their compression socks just so you won't miss their Ironman tattoo)
- Both groups are a bunch of rich elitists. More than 50 percent of runners have a household income of over $100K. The median household income of triathletes is $126,000. Over 80 percent of both groups have college degrees. Clearly chasing PRs is a first-world problem.
- Speaking of money, if you want to use the same gear as marathon record-holder Haile Gebrselassie, it will cost you $55 on sale. If you want to use the same gear as Ironman record-holder Marino Vanhoenacker, well...
- Swim: Wetsuit ($800), goggles ($50) = $850 + annual pool memberships
- Bike: Scott Plasma 3 with Zipp 404/900 wheels, SRAM Red, SRM Powermeter, ZBS aerobars, dura-ace pedals, aerohelmet, shoes... (some ungodly number around $10,000)
- Run: Asics flats (~$70)
- Runners are generally nice people. They will nod at you in the corral before the race and shake your hand afterwards. Triathletes are confused people. They will lend you Body Glide to rub all over your sweaty arms and legs before the race for quick wetsuit removal, and then try and drown you during the swim. If they really thought this through more clearly they could have just saved some Body Glide.
- Both groups surround themselves with pretty masochistic friends and family who suffer through entire weekends for 5 seconds of cheering. The difference is that the marathoner is done under six hours while the prospective Iron(wo)man may take up to 17. I'm not sure I like anyone enough for 17 hours of "support".
Now that I have finished my first season of triathlons, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on these two very peculiar species (runners and triathletes) and what behavior to expect if you encounter them in the wild. Disclaimer: both may be dangerous to a stable long-term relationship
I have procrastinated long enough around my latest race writeup, so finally here it is.
Last week, before the 2012-esque appearance of an earthquake and hurricane in the Northeast, there was the Timberman 70.3 race. The race is called a “70.3” due to its length. Officially, it is one half of a full Ironman: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run. In actuality, my swim was probably quite a bit longer than that (more later).
According to online forums, Timberman used to be this cuddly, hometown race that featured wild campground parties, home-cooked meals, and a nice hug after the finish. Two years ago it was bought out by the World Triathlon Corporation, the owners of the “Ironman” brand, and they promptly doubled the capacity and turned the whole course into a giant money-grubbing traffic jam (people online tended to use the word “cluster …” pretty frequently). So naturally, I chose this race to be my “A” race and only long triathlon of the year. (Full disclosure: the company I work for owns the World Triathlon Corporation, but I had to pay the full entry fee anyways...)
In exchange for forcing Lisa to smile and cheer me on for 5 hours we first made a slight detour to Maine, filling our trunk space with outlet shopping bags and our stomachs with lobster and butter.
Race morning was relatively uneventful. Heeding the advice of the internets, we arrived at the race site around 5am to avoid traffic. I think we could have snuck in by 5:30 but after that, you were essentially forced to park far away and take a shuttle. Took a quick powernap in the car but was always antsy I’d somehow miss the alarm. “So Xiao, how did the race go?” “Yeah… I spent $300 on the entry, $400 on the rental car plus hotel, but I slept through it in the parking lot” didn’t sound like a very appealing option.
As my third triathlon at this point, I think I’m starting to get the pre-race preparation down. Rack the bike, mix my two water bottles (one with Perpetuem, one with Nuun), stuff my flat kit under my saddle, tape gels to the top tube, clip in shoes with rubber bands, set up towel and running shoes, and place helmet/sunglasses on aerobars. By the way, Lisa mentioned to me once that Perpetuem sounded like a Harry Potter spell and now I can’t get that image out of my head.
Due to wave assignments, I was not scheduled to go into the water until 7:55am (the pros started at 7am). This meant that I would be forced to pass a steady stream of people the entire day. The swim course was a giant box in a very pretty lake. Due to a combination of hubris and nerves, I made the mistake of starting in the front row for the swim. More than that, I started in the front and center of my wave. By this point you should be well acquainted with my swimming prowess. What happened next should not have been surprising.
It was a battle the entire way. I did not win. After being punched, dragged underwater, kicked, and sworn at for most of the race, I managed to completely lose my sense of direction on the way back to the beach, swimming the super-efficient “drunken z” pattern all the way to the beach.
Swim time: 36:28 (1:55/100m) Ugh. That is really, really bad, even for me, which is saying something
Transition 1 went pretty smoothly, except that I thought my number was 1641 instead of 1461 and so was freaking out that someone took my bike by accident. Other than short term memory loss, I jumped on the bike and was on my way.
T1 time: 1:55
The cycling part went pretty much as well as I could have hoped. I sat up and spun up the big hill, and then crushed the long descent, averaging 25mph the whole time. This was the first race I have done that featured aid stations for the bike. Having volunteered at a water station for running races before, this was a whole other difficulty level. These poor souls had to stand in the road with their arms stretched out holding a bottle of water while a bunch of athletes who are oxygen-deprived, very poor bike handlers, and going 20+ miles per hour try to snatch the bottle out of their hands without (a) falling over, (b) dislocating the volunteer’s shoulder, and (c) crashing into the wobbly cyclist in front of them. Everyone, please thank your volunteers. They are truly risking it all out there.
Unfortunately, when the course is an out-and-back and you go downhill for most of the first half… you have to come back uphill the second. I was able to hold a reasonable pace until the last 6 miles or so, when my quads were warning me that bad things are going to happen on the run. I was also passed by two people in my age group who were doing back-and-forth drafting (a big no-no in draft-illegal triathlons). The problem was that they were going at the same pace as me after passing, which I did not want as that would result in me getting penalized as well. However, when I sped up to pass them, they just stuck on my wheel, which resulted in me never being able to drop them. Very frustrating. Eventually I was forced to slow down and just let them go, trying to preserve some energy for the run.
This was also my first trial at getting nutrition right. I had a bottle of Perpetuem (4 scoops, 540 calories) and 4 gels (440 calories) over the 2.5 hours on the bike. That’s about 400 calories per hour and a little more than my body could handle, as my stomach felt a little funny by the end. It was in the right ballpark though. Surprisingly, and most likely due to missing big hill on the way back, I negative split the bike.
BIKE SPLIT 1: 27.2 mi (1:15:17) 21.68 mi/h
BIKE SPLIT 2: 28.8 mi (1:18:26) 22.03 mi/h
TOTAL BIKE 56 mi (2:33:43) 21.86 mi/h
Transition 2 went much better now that I knew what my race number was. Decided to save 10 seconds and go without socks. Bad decision.
Here’s where I am supposed to shine, but somehow every triathlon run I have done feels like absolute crap. The run course was two laps of a mildly hilly out-and-back course. I’ll wait as you do the mental math. Yes, it was as crazy as you would think. Take 1,800 athletes, put them on a 3.5 mile stretch of road, and make them run back and forth like gerbils. I was struggling with a quad cramp in the first four miles or so but luckily I was soon distracted by other problems. The weather was very hot (90+) that day (bad), so then volunteers started handing out ice cold sponges and towels (good), which dripped and soaked my shoes (ok), and started rubbing my feet (bad), which started to blister (bad), which then bled (bad), which made me forget about my quad (good). See? Everything works out after all.
Looking back at my splits, they were surprisingly even, but pretty consistently slow. Probably shouldn't be a surprise given the fact that I had toasted my legs during the bike ride. Lesson learned.
Fun fact: as I was passing someone on the course I heard someone say, “wow, he’s fast”, followed by, “oh of course, he’s with Robin Hood”. The first part obviously stroked my ego a bit, but the second statement really made my day. In the short amount of time we’ve been a team, it has already entered peoples’ minds that Robin Hood Endurance is good. Which is really cool.
RUN SPLIT 1: 3.275 mi 3.275 mi (21:08) 6:27/mi
RUN SPLIT 2: 6.55 mi 3.275 mi (21:06) 6:26/mi
RUN SPLIT 3: 9.825 mi 3.275 mi (21:57) 6:42/mi
RUN SPLIT 4: 13.1 mi 3.275 mi (21:24) 6:32/mi
TOTAL RUN 13.1 mi (1:25:35) 6:31/mi
Swim: 36.28 (464th place out of the water)
Bike: 2:33:43 (unsure how my bike ranked)
Run: 1:25:35 (13th overall run split)
Overall: 4:39:03 (37th Overall, 9th in M25-29 age group)
This post is much, much too long already. Additional notes / reflection to come later.
Yes, I completed my Half Ironman this weekend, but writing about that will take a little more time. In the meantime, I wanted to share this article published by J Groves in the NIH.
I would normally summarize the article, but really, the abstract is enough. I italicized the most relevant sentence:
Objective To determine whether the author’s 20.9 lb (9.5 kg) carbon frame bicycle reduced commuting time compared with his 29.75 lb (13.5 kg) steel frame bicycle.
Design Randomized trial.
Setting Sheffield and Chesterfield, United Kingdom, between mid-January 2010 and mid-July 2010.
Participants One consultant in anesthesia and intensive care.
Main outcome measure Total time to complete the 27 mile (43.5 kilometer) journey from Sheffield to Chesterfield Royal Hospital and back.
Results The total distance traveled on the steel frame bicycle during the study period was 809 miles (1302 km) and on the carbon frame bicycle was 711 miles (1144 km). The difference in the mean journey time between the steel and carbon bicycles was 00:00:32 (hr:min:sec; 95% CI –00:03:34 to 00:02:30; P=0.72).
Conclusions A lighter bicycle did not lead to a detectable difference in commuting time. Cyclists may find it more cost effective to reduce their own weight rather than to purchase a lighter bicycle.
I think we can all take some advice away from this for our personal lives... steel bikes are awesome and anyone can get published in the U.K.
The chart above was from Joe Friel's blog, the same Joe Friel who wrote the training bible for home-coached triathletes (Amazon link here). Literally the book is called "The Triathlete's Training Bible". But despite the humble title, the book is truly a fantastic resource for forming a semi-intelligent training plan.
Although the chart above is very messy, it delineates the three most critical factors when it comes to performance: form, fatigue, and fitness. The blue line represents fitness (what kind of shape you're in), the red is fatigue (how dead your legs feel), and black is form (how fast can you race). In simple terms, high levels of fatigue (lots of swimming/biking/running) increase fitness and decrease form... BUT a short-term drop in fatigue (less training) will cause a sharp spike in form and only a mild drop in fitness.
To be the best you can be on race day, you want to somehow "peak" at the right moment through a process called tapering - the red circle period above. On paper, this involves sharply lowering the amount of training that you do while keeping the intensity the same in the 1-3 weeks prior to a big race. This way, your body repairs itself and your legs start feeling great again for once. You're also supposed to sleep more, eat less, and be far more pleasant to your significant other. In actuality, you spend the time fighting off imaginary injuries, sickness, and boredom. I mean, what do you actually do with your life when you don't have to work out for 2 hours per day?
I have Timberman, my first half-ironman distance race coming up this weekend. Because my previous training has been a little spotty, my taper is also a little spotty. I'm only doing a 1-week taper, with the plan as follows:
Saturday - last long bike ride (40 miles) + run (5 miles)
Sunday - last hard swim (1.5 miles) + run (5 miles)
Monday - 1 mile swim technique
Tuesday - short brick (10mile hard ride + 3 mile run)
Wednesday - run (5 miles w/ 2 at race pace)
Thursday - short brick (10 miles ride + 3 mile run + strides)
Friday - rest
Saturday - 2 mile run, 5 mile bike, 1/2 mile swim if possible
Sunday - RACE! 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
Month two down!
As you can see above, I managed to up my training volume in terms of mileage through each discipline, with the greatest gains coming in swimming and biking. After accounting for the extra day in July compared to June...
The swimming is primarily driven by the fact I actually had a pool membership through the month of July, at the 92nd Y. The drawback of the 92Y is that there are many seniors and rehab patients using the pool, making the lanes very cluttered and slow. The benefit is that I actually managed to pass a couple of people every now and then.
If we look instead at training time...
It's a much better balanced picture than in June. Of course, in the spirit of diminishing returns I should still bike and swim more. But running is just too darn convenient.
By the way, as an interesting note, I trained for a total of 48 hours and 10 minutes in July, which comes out to an average of 1 hour and 33 minutes per day. If I were to just purely run for that amount of time, it equates to approximately 13 miles per day, or 91 per week. For the same time as it takes me to become a mediocre triathlete I could actually become a pretty decent runner. We'll see if that holds true when I switch into a running focus this winter.
This past Sunday I ran the Inaugural Providence Rock and Roll Half Marathon (in Rhode Island). I had signed up for this race as an afterthought at the Boston Marathon expo because my fiancee really liked the t-shirt they were giving out as an incentive for signing up on the spot. $140 and four months later... and there we were, spending a very wet day in the heart of Rhode Island.
As you can see from the picture above, I was struck with some sort of irrational hubris at the start, lining up one row behind Kim Smith, the local running hero (she ran for Providence University), 2-time Olympian for New Zealand, and holder of a 1:07 half marathon PR. I have been undertraining for the run (see my post below) as I build up my cycling and swimming, but felt that somehow spending a dozen hours a week working out will miraculously propel me to a shining new PR.
Mile 1 went right on track, with a 5:41 split. At that point I could still see the lead truck, and Kim in the distance (she decided to run with the men's elite pack as a workout for half the race). However, the rain started to come down harder, the wind started to blow faster, the course became hillier... and I started to run like a scared little girl. Popped two mile splits over 6:00 and there went my dreams of a PR.
Timing mat splits are below. Really, I alternated between high 5:50's and low 6:00's. I just didn't have the leg speed to go faster, most likely due to the fact that I haven't been training at faster speeds. As they say, long slow running makes a long slow runner... Yes, this is still the second fastest half marathon I have ever run, but it is so disheartening to regress from breaking 1:17 last fall to this now. Luckily, I wasn't the only one running poorly:
Somehow I finished right around where I began - 14th place, 2nd in my "M25-29 age group" (they kindly excluded all the elites from this calculation). In a race of this size, that was actually kind of cool.
Next up - putting in a hard-ish week on the bike and in the pool before tapering for Timberman 70.3!
- There was a guy at the start with a full Ironman Lake Placid triathlon suit, Ironman visor, an Ironman "M-dot" tattoo on his left calf, and a Boston Marathon logo tattoo on his right. He sprinted off the front of the pack, leading the race for the first mile before I caught him at mile 2. No wonder runners think triathletes are d-ba...err, weird.
- According to the National Weather Report, an inch of rain fell during the race and the wind reached 24 mph. I always find it interesting how much more rain you think falls than does. I poured an inch of water into my cup just now. I'm still thirsty.
- Due to an eye problem I had to wear glasses for the race. Due to the continual rain I couldn't see much of anything for most of the race. From miles 2-13 I kept wishing I had some of these (bad 90's movie alert):
I had an interesting conversation with a couple of triathletes this weekend around training and they reflected on a pretty common theme among "age group" (read: non-pro) triathletes - that if you can run well you can always expect to place well in races, especially as you go up in distance. This is even true at the highest levels that us people with real jobs can aspire to.
At last year's Ironman 70.3 Championships in Clearwater, Florida (you have to qualify by placing in the top few in your age group at another half-Ironman distance event), the 63rd, or middle guy out of 124 in the 25-29 age group ran a 1:38 half marathon. It gets worse from there. These are the run times of the people after him:
Keep in mind these are very serious amateur athletes, who had to go through a qualifying process much more stringent than the Boston Marathon to get to this race. They are young, fit, wearing really tight, aerodynamic outfits, and are barely breaking 8 minute miles. Yes, they did swim 1.2 miles and bike 56 miles earlier in the day, but even so, the rough rule of thumb is that a well-trained person can pull off something a little slower than their marathon pace on the run portion of a 70.3, or half-Ironman race. So what's going on?
I think the answer comes down to two reasons: (1) there are no shortcuts in run training, and (2) there's not enough time to run well during a triathlon training period.
1. In swimming, a couple of underwater videos, a few sessions of drills, and a good coach can shave off 15% of your time over the course of a long weekend. In biking, replace all that with a AMEX Black card, and out comes another 15 watts. (For those of us less fortunate, you can dramatically condense training time with an indoor trainer and plenty of alcohol afterwards.) But for running, there are no shortcuts. People generally find a form that's the most efficient for them (changing it can be hazardous to your health). Do too much high-intensity running without enough rest in between, and you'll get injured. Get those fancy new running shoes? Won't help your speed. Running is the most blue collar of blue collar sports. All it requires are shorts, maybe a shirt, and 2-4 pairs of shoes a year. But you have to put in the work, which brings me to point #2...
2. In order to run a good half marathon, most runners would recommend developing a base of ~70 miles per week. In order to run a good marathon, that number rises to 80-90+. The lowest training plan for runners aiming to achieve a good time requires a peak of 55 miles per week and multiple weeks over 50 (Pfitz 18/55). Let's say you average somewhere around 8 minutes per mile while running... that results in over 7 hours of pure running (not counting cooling off, stretching, showering, hitting the snooze button, etc). The typical triathlon plan suggests ~60% biking, 25% running, 15% swimming, which means that if you were to run for 7 hours, you would also bike for 16 and swim for over 3. That adds up to over 26 hours per week of pure training, a very tired body, an unemployment check, and alimony. If you were to scale that back in half to what a serious amateur triathlete could achieve, you're only running for 3-4 hours per week. Take 2 of those away for the mandatory "long run", and you're essentially running a beginner's 5k program in terms of mileage. No wonder people "blow up" during long-course racing.
So what's the solution? See point #1. Unfortunately, you can't improve your run fitness during a triathlon-focused season if you're already in pretty decent shape. You can improve your run times off the bike through a stronger bike leg, but at the end of the day, us weekend warrior 70.3 and Ironman racers have to resign ourselves to being undertrained for the run. However, that doesn't mean you can't have multiple seasons. Run base fitness carries over surprisingly well year over year, so you essentially bake in your run potential during the winter months. I realize I'm not saying anything revolutionary here, but it's something very important to keep in mind. I plan on getting my mileage up to 80-90 this winter as I train for my 50K and hold it until I have, once again, forgotten how to swim.