Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Woodstock of Triathlon

Recently, my race experiences have not been so great. However, my latest race experience involved minimal travel. This time, all I had to do was load up my equipment in my SUV and drive an hour and a half down the road to Oklahoma City. I didn’t have to pay exorbitant fees for the airlines to lose my bike and the stress level was much lower.

Redman is a fantastic race located in America’s heartland. The folks in Oklahoma City have gone all out to produce a high quality event and the race has grown in participation every year. This year, Redman was hosting the USAT Long Course National Championship that would be run concurrently with the Redman iron distance event.

The weather forecast for the morning of the race was excellent. It had rained every morning for the past week, but for the day of the race, the forecast was for a 20% chance of showers. That meant that there was an 80% chance that it wouldn’t rain. My bike was spotlessly clean, and the chain was lubed. A clean bike is a clear mind. I pictured myself racing on a bright and sunny windless day.

When I arrived the morning of the race, I was forced to park a mile away. This was another sign that this race has grown. Every year I get pushed further away.

The energy in the transition was high. I was just putting the finishing touches on my transition setup when they called for us to clear the transition area. It was still dark and the race was about to start. Moments later, there was a huge deluge. The sky opened up and it started to pour. I saw lightning in the distance. So much for the weather forecast and my image of a bright and sunny day.

The rain was persistent and the transition area soon started to flood. Items that were neatly set out by athletes moments before in the transition area, began to be washed away. Helmets filled with water if they were placed open. It was also unusually chilly. I was happy to have my long sleeved Xterra Vendetta on. It provided a warm neoprene insulation converting my 5% body fat to 15%.

The race start was delayed, so I found shelter in one of the Ironman transition tents. The race director happened to be there on his phone. I overhead what was going on. Apparently, with all the recent rains, the ground was so saturated and the roads were flash flooding. There was talk of canceling the bike segment because a portion of the course was knee deep underwater and mud was flowing out onto the road. I felt for the folks who had prepared months for the Ironman and had traveled a long distances for this evert. A cancelation would be devastating to them. The race director joked on the P.A. system that the were considering changing the event to a swim run swim. I don’t think these folks got the joke.

After an hour delay, the race director and staff decided to continue with the race. The only stipulation was that we were required to dismount our bikes on a segment which was underwater, 6 miles out, and walk or run through it. I felt this was a gutsy call by the event staff and the decision won many praises from the athletes who traveled here to race.

The Ironman heat started first, followed by the under 40 half iron, then the over 40 men (my heat). I am in fairly good swimming shape, so it only took about 50 meters to clear the field. Once I caught the bulk of the under 40 group and as I moved through the field, I found it noteworthy to observe the swimming skill and the stroke technique of those that I passed. The swimmers at the rear or middle of the field appeared to be kicking and trashing wildly while those who were swimming closer to the front end of the field had strokes which were smoother and kicking was more streamlined. It was just a random thought I had as I made my way through the packs. I can tell that I’m going to have a good swim time when I’ve caught up to some smooth swimmers. In this case those that were going to get out in 27 minutes. I exited the water in 24:30.

One of my spotters told me I had moved into 15th overall and was 4 minutes back. So with their 3 minute head start, I was only one minute back and was actually third overall behind Tim Hola and Willy Pickhart. I wish I could have started with those guys, maybe I could have been towed to a faster time and had cleaner water.

The rain was coming down hard, but it felt good. I stayed cool. I prefer to ride the trainer on days like this, It’s just too much of a hassle to clean my bike afterwards. I was cringing as I rode through the mud puddles. My bearings, my cables, the future corrosion. Ugh!

At 6 miles I hit the underwater section. I dismounted, as instructed, and ran through it. I had to carry my bike on my shoulder, cyclocross style, because the water was knee deep. This is the first time I have had to do this in a race. It was memorable moment. I wish the race photographers were out there taking photos of this section. I would have bought that one for sure.

Despite the wet roads, I was able to maintain my race wattage. There were very few turns on this course but the of the turns that were there, I took them very easy. I’m sure everyone else did too, because I didn’t see anyone with road rash after the race.

The race for the overall top finish soon faded away from me, as young guys were just killing it and flying by me on the bike. I lost concentration after the turnaround as I began to watch the folks on the other side of the road going the opposite way and randomly wondered to myself if the Spiuk aero helmet which I was wearing was actually making any difference in my overall time as I puttered along. At least it looks fast.

As a daydreamed about aerodynamics, a guy with a 45 on his calf came buy me at around 42 miles. Luckily, he wasn’t wearing compression socks so I could see that he was in my age group. This woke me up. I can’t let an old guy in my age group ride away from me. I stayed 4 or 5 bike lengths back like glue for the remainder of the ride then passed him in transition. My bike time was 2:32...Not bad for the water, rough chip and seal roads, loss of concentration, and the overall conditions. It must have been the helmet.

We headed out on the run together. This guy was killing it, and he was killing me. We went through one mile at 6:20. This old guy didn’t need a gimmick like compression socks to run fast. His pace was so fast I felt that there was no way I could hang with it and not explode, so I let him go. Turns out this guy’s name was Robert Schloegel from Kansas City, he is a top athlete in my age group and consistently runs low 1:20‘s in half iron events. He has also gone 9:15 in Kona. No wonder I couldn’t hang. He is world class and out of my league. I visited with him after the race. He was nice guy and a doctor too. He used this race as a tune up for Kona.

The run course was flooded more than the bike, and the rain kept coming down. At first, I attempted to run around the puddles to keep my socks dry but eventually I found this useless, so I just ended up splashing through the puddles and mud like everyone else.

Tim Hola won the event in the time of 3:59. He looked so comfortable and smooth. Robert ended running himself into 4th overall and went 4:22. That’s what a 1:22 run will do for you as a 45 year old at the amateur level. The running at this event was stellar. There were some very fast times. Maybe the cool rain helped those who otherwise would have blown up in the heat and humidity that is usually the norm for Oklahoma at this time of year.

I ended up struggling to a 4:30.22 holding off some charging younger guys with a 1:30 run split. Nothing spectacular, but it’s something I am always striving to improve on. My time put me 15th overall in the National Championship, so as a 47 year old, I can’t complain too much. I was hoping to go under 4:30. Maybe compression socks would have got me that extra 23 seconds. Another helmet? Nah..I think I’ll just hit the track.

I’m really learning to love this distance. It’s long enough that I don’t need a tremendous amount of power and speed to be competitive. It’s also short enough that I only have to train 10 to 12 hours a week and unlike, Ironman training, still be competitive, work more than full time, and maintain a life without totally pissing off my wife and alienating my kids.

This race qualified me to participate in the ITU Long Course World Championships in Immenstadt, Germany next summer. How cool is that. I think the distances are 3K/80K/ 20K. I like that combo even better than 70.3 distance. It puts more weight on the swim. My goals are set for next year.

Following this race, the venue was completely flooded and muddy. Some folks were walking around with bare feet covered in mud. When I returned to claim my bike it was covered in mud as well. It was painful to look at. Doug Kopp, a writer for Runner Triathlete News called the race the “Woodstock of Triathlon”. I had to laugh. It sure was.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Huge Cluster

Sometime in an athlete’s career a race or event just doesn’t go as planned. I have been fortunate, thus far, to be able to execute important races to my maximum ability with minimal adversity. However, this past weekend in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at the age group National Championship, things didn’t quite go as planned.

The last time I did the Olympic distance National Championships was in 1998, in Claremont, Florida. I had a great race and qualified for the world championships which were held in Lausanne, Switzerland later that summer. I was happy but I had to curb my enthusiasm because my wife, Dana, dealt with a mechanical issue on her bike which blew her race. It was tough to watch, especially because I was the chief bike mechanic for the family at the time and felt responsible.

My lead up to this race was flawless and I had reached my best form of the season. I felt primed and ready.

The week leading up to the race was tiring. I had three days which I worked greater than 15 hours and Thursday, the day before I left, I was on call and had to arrange for a partner to cover for me while I went to the airport to catch my 6 a.m. flight to Birmingham. No big deal, I do hard workouts after being on call all night all the time. I would sleep on the plane.

I got to the airport, checked in, and got to Birmingham with only a slight delay. I was only carrying my transition bag with just a few clothing items and checked only my bike. My plan was to rent a car, drive to Tuscaloosa, check in, do a short workout, then rest and kick back in the hotel for the remainder of day. The best laid plans are doomed for failure.

I stood at the baggage claim like a forlorn lover awaiting the return of his long lost love. Once the baggage claim cleared and my bike didn’t appear. Dejected, I made my way to the American Airlines lost luggage counter and spoke with Dawn, a nice old lady who didn’t seem to have the attitude that most customer service representatives convey to airline patrons these days.

Dawn made a phone call to the luggage handlers who checked the plane one more time. She went back out to the unloading area on the runway herself to check and make sure that it hadn’t been left out there. She even called Dallas by phone, my connecting city, to check on it. Dawn went above and beyond the call of duty. Unfortunately, the next flight into Birmingham from Dallas wasn’t until 5 p.m. Athletes were supposed to check in bikes to the transition area by 6 p.m. That wasn’t going to happen.

I ended up driving the hour to Tuscaloosa, checking into my hotel, and picking up my packet. The race director gave me a pass on checking the bike in that evening and allowed me to bring it the day of the race.

The original plan was to do a short hard workout on my bike and run maybe swim a little in the river then check out the course. That didn’t happen. I had to drive back to Birmingham to pick up my bike. I was back at the luggage carousel at 4:45, then soon learned that the flight was delayed for over 2 hours. I hung around until 8 p.m. and was relieved to see that my bike show up on the carousel. I got it put together by 10 p.m. and finally got some much needed sleep.

Race morning was uneventful, I was ready to go. I visited with a few friends and hit the water for warm up when my heat was called. Quickly I noticed that this river was really a river. There was a strong current! This would be really good for me since I am a strong swimmer.

When the start horn sounded, I took it easy because the first portion of the swim was downstream. When we made the turn upstream into the current, I punched it and found someone to draft off. The physics of laminar flow systems and Reynolds numbers was far from my mind as I powered behind this guy at the buoy line near the middle of the river. I suppose a recon swim mission the day before the race would have helped. Anyway, I was in the top group of guys and pleased with my position, but I couldn’t help but think “ How much further? This swim is lasting much longer than usual.”

( For those who don't want to click on the link: The velocity of flow becomes less at the perimeter of the river than in the center)

It took me high 27 minutes to swim 1500 meters! If that swim was that hard for me it must be three times as hard for non-swimmers. I was 3rd in the age group and was licking my chops. This race was going to go very well for me.

I made a seamless transition and was just getting my land legs when 7 minutes into the bike “Snap!” Uh Oh! My left aero bar had broken loose from the base bar and was just hanging there. I thought” can I ride safely like this?” The answer was “No” . My race was over. My first DNF. This was hard handle when I was having a great race. I thought “don’t chance it. There will be other races.”

It guess it wasn’t meant to be. I pulled off to the side of the road and watched other racers go by and cheered for those I knew. I checked my bike in, handed in my chip, then went down to the river and watched the remaining swimmers who were still in the water.

One woman looked as though she was swimming in an endless pool. The arms were moving but she wasn’t. Kayaks were surrounding her. She would stop to rest only be carried backwards. I admired her strength and perseverance to keep at it. Some folks took 2 hours to swim 1500 meters. The winner completed the entire event in 1:57.

I made the best of my trip despite the poor outcome. I met a few other outstanding athletes in my age group then I watched the pro race. I had a few drinks with Mike Llerandi and some nice folks from Team Psycho.

DNF is something I don’t want to see again. When I got back to Tulsa, I replaced all my attachment bolts on my aero bars. Sometimes you learn more from bad race than a good one.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Butterfly Landed On Me

There is a quote from a fortune cookie in my kitchen that says “Luck happens when hard work meets opportunity”. So true. In life and in triathlon. In 2006 I was lucky enough to get a Kona roll down slot at Ironman Canada because the girl that finished in front of me wanted to remodel her kitchen. Funny, one of the most memorable days of my life, racing in Kona, came down to another person’s decision about how to allocate her resources.

Attempting to get to Kona can become all consuming for a triathlete, either it be for the first time or the fifteenth time. When people hear that I do triathlons, inevitably the next question is “Have you done the one in Hawaii?”. Many new triathletes get started in the sport because they saw that crazy Hawaiian Ironman on TV one Sunday afternoon, and they want to get there, too. And with good reason, it is a magical experience like no other.

I have been within striking distance of a Kona slot many times, and was lucky enough to go once. But the thing about Kona, for me, once is not enough. After a particularly difficult race, and a roll down process that kept my heart rate higher than my racing cap, I spent some time thinking about what I want out of the sport. I was lucky enough to go to Kona a few years ago, and that is more than a lot of triathletes can say. And I am really thankful about that. If I never qualify again will that be OK? Will I still enjoy the sport? Why am I really racing? For a Kona slot or for the experience of the race itself? I decided that I love to train, I love to race, I love the opportunity to travel to places I might not otherwise. I enjoy pushing my body to see what it can do. I look forward to the all day bike rides and the three hour runs and swimming 4000 yards straight. I like putting it out there on race day and seeing how I stack up. Those aspects of racing have nothing to do with a Kona spot.

A few years ago we lived in St. Louis, and they have this place called the Butterfly House. It’s an 8000 square foot glass building with hundreds of different kinds of butterflies in it. I took my kids to this butterfly house, and they started running around trying to catch a butterfly. They got frustrated very quickly when they couldn’t catch one. I told them to be still, look around at the beauty of the butterflies flitting about, and maybe one would land on them. Sure enough, a butterfly landed on their arm, and it was much more rewarding than running around trying to force a butterfly in your hands.

I thought about the Butterfly House as I chose races this year. I picked races for the experience. I wasn’t going to run around trying to race where I might have the best chance of securing a slot. Rob and I went to St. Croix in May because we enjoy that race. I ended up finished in third place in my age group behind two women that took the top two podium spots in my age group last year in Kona. I wasn’t disappointed when no slot rolled my way. I had a great race and I was honored to be third behind those talented women, the “gold standard” of my age group.

I chose Ironman Austria because I wanted to see Europe and many people told me what a beautiful course it was. I’m sure my husband and coach shook their heads when I told them my plans, involving complicated travel issues by trains, planes, and busses, of seeing Spain and Venice before the race. Not the perfect pre- race taper week but I’m all about the experience. The day before the race I was abandoned at the train station (long story) but my friend and I found our way back to the hotel by train and on foot. My pre-race pasta meal was later than I wanted because the restaurants in Europe close at 2 PM and open whenever they feel like it in the evening. I ordered a pasta dish from a German menu with a waitress that spoke almost no English, which ended up being so spicy I could hardly eat it, and as I went to be that night with a burning mouth I wondered how that meal would sit the next day.

But, as I raced the next day, I just enjoyed the atmosphere and kept my thoughts still except for the thought “What an experience! I am such a lucky girl. This is so cool!”. The day couldn’t have gone better. I felt great the whole time. I had a perfectly executed race, a PR of almost 20 minutes, and a Kona slot. Unbelievable. The butterfly landed on me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dana and Rob Chance TV Interview

Here is a little interview Channel 2 did while we were in Kansas last week. If we can do it ... anybody can.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Kansas 70.3 : A race report

This past week was bittersweet for me. I was tapering for the IM Kansas 70.3 so my training load was toned down. Normally when I get off work I’m out the door for a ride before it gets dark, but last Tuesday I was up in my bedroom when Dana’s phone rang. I answered it for her and it was Lori Davis. She had heard on the news that some cyclists had been hit out on highway 51 and was checking to make sure that it wasn’t either of us. This was a big blow to me, as I later learned the magnitude of this accident. The cyclists were run down by a drunk driver on one of the routes I consider to be my safest.  I was just out there the previous day doing some intervals. Two cyclists were killed and one was treated and later released from the hospital. 

This really shook me up. Ironically, at the time of the accident, around 4pm, I was on the phone with a life insurance agent expanding my coverage. I know how dangerous it is to ride on the road, but this event hammered it home. It could have been me, it could have been Dana, or any of my close friends. None of us are immune from this. Unfortunately, there are thousands of drivers out there who are inattentive, drunk, and have poor attitudes against cyclists. It’s so depressing. Read this article and then read the comments. 

I was originally planning to do Ironman Florida this year but this tragedy spooked me. I think I’m going to bag it. I have so many responsibilities and there a lot of people who depend on me. To be injured or killed on a bike is not an option. I think I will just stay with the half ironman and Olympic distance for now. I figure I can still do the nightly bike training on the trainer and still stay in the sport. 

So much for the bitter......Now the sweet.

This weekend was Ironman Kansas 70.3. I’m a Kansas boy, so it’s nice to be able to get back home and race. I’ve been driving down to Lubbock, TX for the past four years. This race was closer and I needed a change. 

I wasn’t up mentally for this race. I felt kinda down and depressed about the death of the cyclists all week. I didn’t feel like racing. I was glad that a few of my coached athletes were here racing along with my training partner, pro, Jessica Meyers. It was motivating to see others getting psyched for their races. 

Race morning came quickly. It took a little thought and organization to get there and get two transitions set up before my 6:46 start. I was sure glad I got there early because I was told I needed to clear T1 before the pros started. I had a minute to spare. A lot of folks were late for their waves or didn’t get to start. 

Tulsa sportscaster, Jason Shackleford, with KJRH TV Channel 2 was up here to do a feature story for the news on Dana and I, so the pressure was on to not suck in this race.  

My wave went off 16 min after the pro’s, so finally there would be fewer heats of swimmers to swim over. It’s so much easier to swim faster in clean water. 

I took the swim out hard for the first 100-200 meters or so. I usually can build a big gap then cruise the rest of the way however, this didn’t happen. The swimmers showed up for this race. I ended up blowing myself up. I had to let a few go by and let someone else lead and let myself recover. Anyway, I can’t see jack despite having prescription goggles. The swim felt unusually hard despite the fact that I was still drafting. I thought to myself that I must be having a bad day. I ended up 5th in the age group out of the water this time. Later when I checked the split I was surprised with my 25:29. No wonder it felt hard, it was one of my best splits ever. 

I was out of T1 quick. I had passed so many on the swim that the bike course was virtually empty. It was like doing a small local race. Kansas is a rolling course. It’s not flat by any means. Over the past few months I have been making adjustments to my bike position and have been seeing better results with my speed and wattage outputs. I used to be so low and I felt that my power was compromised. I brought the front end up about an inch. I rode strong today and only a few folks passed me. 

I enjoyed an empty course and soon caught some of the slower women pros. The out and back sections allowed me to see the congestion going on behind me. The weather was perfect, 60’s with spitting rain. I rode a harder than I usually do. I was thinking of those cyclists who had died this week and thought to myself “They would love to be where I am now...Don’t wimp out”

My bike split was 2:33.31 this was much better than I have been riding recently. Wattage numbers were slightly higher than my previous halves. 

Once out on the run I checked my splits on each mile. I was hitting solid 6:30’s, 6:40’s for most of the run. I was pushing it hard and running with the pros on a non congested course for the first loop. When a pro ran by on their second loop, I tried to hang with him as long as I could. I think that helped my overall pace. The second loop was just mad; lots of people and little space. I still managed to run a PR for the distance in a HIM of 1:29.30. 

When I turned the corner into the finish I found it to be empty. No one was around. Dana always tells me that I run hard through the finish and don’t enjoy it. Well, this time I was going to do my best Usain Bolt impression. I had my hands in the air waving to the crowd just like I had just won the race. Cheerleaders where welcoming me home on the yellow brick road. Then I hear Mike Riley saying there is a sprint to the finish. Does it look like I’m running that fast? Before I know it some guy comes tearing by me on the right and crosses the electronic finish line just in front of me. It turns out he’s in my age group and clipped me for third. I felt like such a dork. Note to self: turn around before you celebrate and always run hard through the finish. Sorry Dana. It’s all your fault.......... He He He.

The guy who clipped me was Mike Vance from Iowa. We talked after the race. He was a super nice guy who ended up running a 1:20. That’s my best recent open time. I don’t know if I would have been able to hold him off even if I knew he was back there. I’m just glad it wasn’t for the age group win. However, it would have been fun to have a dash to the finish and a lean for the tape. My overall time was 4:31.55. That’s a PR for me. I’m pleased that I had a solid race in all fronts. I felt good about all my splits. I was 5th in the swim and run and 4th in the bike in the age group. I was really pleased with the bike which is normally my downfall. The course was accurate from my measurements and to others that I spoke with. Full age group results here

I ended up taking the Clearwater slot which I had passed on at previous races. It will be a lot easier to train for than an Ironman. It should be fun and I look forward to improving my time there. Last time I went there it was just for a vacation and the race was a side show. 

I really enjoyed Ironman Kansas 70.3 and I will be back again next year. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Boathouse Triathlon On The TV News

Here's a local TV news bit on the Boathouse. I was the camera guy for Jason when he does the finish line scene.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tulsa Tough Pro Cyclist Home Stay

This past weekend Tulsa hosted a major cycling event, the Tulsa Tough. This is the fourth year for this event and it gets bigger each year. It consisted of criterium racing for novices up to the pro category. Floyd Landis even made an appearance and raced. There were also tour rides in the Tulsa countryside for all skill levels. For the last week in May, Tulsa was on the cycling map. 

Dana and I opened our home to some pro cyclists for the home stay program. We hosted four female pros from Team Type 1, Jen Mcrae , Alison Powers, Morgan Patton, and Jackie Crowell. It was a great experience. We all went out to cheer them on and watch them dominate in their three days of racing. 

One thing that I noticed that most triathletes often don’t do that much of is.... the all important... Rest. The team did quite a few more coffee shop rides than I do. Maybe I need to do more of those? Sounds like a better plan than the over/under intervals. 

In Daniel Coyle’s Book “Lance’s War” he writes that when a cyclist is off their bike they are like babies. They conserve energy as much as possible and get plenty of rest and shield themselves from places which might make them sick.  Their habits are similar to one of a cat, sleeping and resting up for that all out attack. Jen Mcrae said that when Chan, her husband, was racing pro they went to the zoo with the kids once and he strolled in a wheelchair to save his legs. Extreme? Yes, but I have been known to do similar things before a big race. Ever go to an exotic place to race and just rest the whole time in the hotel room? I have. 

Jen Mcrae is hoping to win the criterium national championships this year. She has been second and third many times and is motivated to make it to the top step this year. She did that without the support of a team. Maybe this year she will be able to pull it off with her strong Type 1 team mates. 

Alison is the national time trial champion. I got some tips from her. I need to find someone who will motor pace me. She said she paid a guy to do that for her on a scooter a few times, but he didn’t go fast enough for her. Now she paces behind a car. Yeah, she’s that fast;-)

Jackie is a college student at the University of Florida with a swimming and triathlon background. This is her first year as a pro and she was impressive with her teamwork in the races. 


Morgan is one of the team’s type 1 diabetics. She is 20 years old and just started racing 3 years ago. She did very well in the races with the veteran women pro cyclists. It’s motivating that she can hold her own at this level with this serious disease. 

The women were very particular about what they were eating. All the food they bought was from Whole Foods and was organic. These women are professional athletes and they approach all aspects of their racing with a professional attitude. They all raced brilliantly. I stood next to Jack, the team manager, on the last race day when he was on the two way radio telling Allison to make her breakaway and commit. That was cool to see. 

Above in this pic Alison Powers is leading for 10 laps and broke the field to pieces. 

On the final day I made them a grilled dinner and we enjoyed each others company for a while. Alison brought home a envelope filled with money to be divvied out the team’s winnings. 

The team is off to Philadelphia for the Liberty cup next weekend. We wish them good luck. The Chance family will be up for this again next year. It was a blast. 

Here’s a link to the team blog

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

There's Something In The Water

The water in the Oklahoma River at the Boathouse Triathlon was nasty. It was brown like a mud hole. It tasted bad too. I have done some swimming in water like this as a kid so I thought, what the heck. However, when I caught my first glimpse of the water that the pros were swimming in, it did make me think. "Eeeww, I have to swim in that?" 

Well, today I was sent articles and links to pro blogs from various folks reporting that swimming in this water caused illness.  I also received an email from the Oklahoma Health Department with a questionnaire to fill out. Luckily, I only had some mild GI problems. I got a call today from the Health Department. They want a stool sample. Something was in the water and it seems that it was a little more than just mud. Some folks just had a shitty swim.

Read the article here

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Boathouse International Triathlon

When I looked at the race schedule last winter and I saw the Boathouse International Triathlon, I knew I had to be there. A race of this caliber right down the road in Oklahoma City? That never happens here. Normally, I would have to travel out of the state for something like this. It’s great that the folks in Oklahoma City are putting the sport of triathlon on the map.

Since this race was just two weeks after St. Croix, I just planned on training through it and making it a hard workout. I have IM Kansas coming up and I plan on focusing more on it. Saturday, I went down to the race venue and watched the mens elite race. The venue is located in downtown Oklahoma City at a facility called the Boathouse. The Boathouse is in close proximity to a cosmopolitan part of town called Bricktown. It has a baseball stadium, nice hotels, and quite a few arenas for conventions and events. The area seemed to be thriving. I see why Tulsa is trying to emulate this.

The swim took place in the Oklahoma river. Spectators could stand on Lincoln Ave bridge and watch the entire swim. The bike course was four loops around the capital building. This also offered quite a few opportunities for spectators to watch the race develop. The run was four loops. From the bridge you could see the entire course. 

It was inspiring watching how fast those pros can run. Drool hanging off their lips, gave me a good idea how hard those guys were hitting it. I was born 20 years too late. I would have loved to race like this. When I was young, I was a decent swimmer and I could run a 5K under 16 minutes, so it would have suited my strengths. 

Mary Beth Ellis won the women’s pro race and Matt Reed broke away on the first loop of the run and eventually won the mens race. Hunter Kemper came on strong on the last loop of the run and almost caught Matt as he celebrated with the flag at the finish. Kemper finished one second later. That would have been embarrassing if Hunter had snuck by.


There weren’t as many spectators out on the course watching the race as I thought there would be. If this race were in Europe it would have been a freckin’ madhouse. However, I did notice after it was over, the parking lots of all the restaurants in the area were full. Oklahomans have their priorities. “The next meal”

The age groupers competed on Sunday. I stayed at the Econolodge motel about a mile down the road, so that morning I just hopped on my bike and rode down to the transition area. I love not having to mess with parking a car. Google Earth comes in handy when planning race lodging. 

The race had four heats with over 200 competitors overall. I went off in the second heat.  Fortunately, my heat had the best swimmers. Christian Ballard, Jason Newland and I had a nice group going. The Oklahoma River reminded me of the chocolate river in the movie “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” The water was a milky brown. Apparently no one has swum in the river before this weekend. Some folks came out with chocolate mustaches. I see why it’s not a popular swimming hole, however I swam in worse places when I was a kid. 

Christian is a former Cal Berkley distance guy so he established about a minute lead on Jason and I by the finish. I was surprised they had wetsuit strippers. That was a great touch. I always have trouble getting out of a wetsuit after a cold swim. The run to the transition was about a quarter mile. I made a fast transition and was out on the bike in less than 40 seconds. It wasn’t as fast as the ITU guys but they inspired me. I’d say the swim time was around high 19 minutes for the 1500 m excluding the transition run. 

The bike was four loops, and it followed the same course as the ITU race. I really enjoyed hearing the cheering spectators at the turnarounds. I was unable to get to the watts on the bike that I was hoping for because I was still a bit tired, but it was a hard workout for me, so it served it’s purpose.

The run was four loops. Again, I couldn’t get myself to dig too deep on it either and ran at a half ironman pace for most of it. I thought I had the masters category locked up. Then I saw Jon Everets gaining ground on me with each loop. On the last loop I noticed that he was just getting too close so I flicked the switch with just 1.2 K to go. It was probably the fastest part of the run for me. With just 400 to go, I looked back and he was right there, just behind me. I’m glad coach Phil has me doing those 400 threshold track intervals. I was able to kick it in and hold him off at the finish by just one second. It was a thrill to have a sprint finish like that. Jon had a great run, kudos to him for making me work for it.  Hunter Kemper was there at the finish to give me a pat on the back and a high five for that one. Classic ITU finish. I’m thinking I need to do more of these Olympic Distance races. It was a blast. 

I ended up 5th overall, and won the masters by just a hair over Jon. Jason Newland won the race with a 2:07. A few of my coached athletes participated as well. Kara Cassel was second overall with an awesome 39 minute run. Sean Stevens finished just ahead of me in 4th. Michael Krupka was 28th overall. Go over to Tulsa Iron and take a look.

I hope this event continues to grow and flourish.  I will be back next year for sure. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

St. Croix 2009: A Race Report

On the plane to St. Croix I read a book entitled “Off The Deep End” by Hodding Carter. It was a personal account of a guy in his mid forties, that was attempting to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Trials in swimming. He was a decent swimmer in his younger years, a Division III All American, but not Olympic caliber. It was inspiring to read how he refused to listen to those tell him that his dream was impossible and that everyone slows down with age. 

In the book, he quoted some coaches ingredients for success: motivation, opportunity, and incentive. Another ingredient that was mentioned was brainwashing detox. “ We are conditioned by society to know that we can only run fast when we are young. Overcoming that mindset is, perhaps, the major battle. “You can’t help but be affected by those prevailing negative comments asserting that when you get older, you get slower.” 

I knew the competition showed up for the race in St. Croix this year and they were fast when they were young. If I had any chance of picking up an Ironman slot it would have to be due to the miscalculated pacing efforts of my competitors. I’m just not that fast. 

Dana and I were up at 3:45 am for our pre-race meals. I typically take a mixture of Perpetuem, HEED, and a banana and peanut butter. My mix totals about 1000 calories. It tops off my glycogen stores and is slowly absorbed in the hours leading up to the race.  

We loaded up the bikes and drove down to the race site around 5 am, racked them, and set up our gear. There was plenty of time to chill out and talk in the transition area. St. Croix is laid back.  I was putting my shoes on my bike when some guy came running up to me and said “what are you doing with my bike?” “Huh?” I laughed. He was getting aggressive and started pushing me. “Hey watch it bud” I said.” Finally he looked at the bike. “Oh this that isn’t my bike...Sorry” “What ever dude. Get some glasses.” That was awkward. I suppose when everyone has a Cervelo P3C there is bound to be some confusion. 

The swim starts on a island beach, so competitors have to opportunity to warm up by swimming the 200 to 300 meters over to the island. From there the race goes off in heats starting with the pros at 6:15 am. The following heats are separated by 2 to 3 minutes. I went off at 6:43 am, so I had plenty of time to do some pick ups into the boat mooring area. 

Before long it was time to head over for the beach start. The course goes out about 75 meters then makes a sharp left turn. My goal was to be second or third to that buoy. Instead of blasting out at a 58/59 second 100 meter pace to gap the field, I choose to just settle in and let someone else do that. Once I felt they petered out, I was going to gently surge past and conserve energy.

The plan was executed perfectly and I soon found myself in the lead swimming into some chop and current. I had one swimmer in tow, tapping my feet. It was Ken Glah, the ex pro. We all were wearing blue caps but somehow Ken had a purple one on. He was easy to spot. I don’t know why he had the purple cap. It is the color of royalty, and he certainly was that.

Ken has been top 5 overall in Kona multiple times, and nobody can forget the sprint finish he and Pauli Kiru had in IMNZ; Ken won. Now he has a travel business which caters to Ironman triathletes. Dana went to Brazil with his group last year and is going to Austria in a few months. 

Once we were closer to the turn around buoy, I juked and surged. I looked back under my arm and he was gone. “ Um, that was easier than I thought” I made it around the congested turn and swung wide to avoid the mess of swimmers who went off in heats ahead. I looked to my right and there was Ken stroking away with his regal purple cap. Darn!

My goal of this race was to conserve energy whenever possible, so I swam over to him and returned the favor; I got in his draft. Swimming in Ken’s slipstream, and the “tailwind like” current that brought us back in to T1, made the swim feel almost effortless. I was one arming it to avoid running up his back. 

Once we made the turn on the final stretch to the swim exit, I pulled out and to the right and punched it. I could tell he didn’t like that. He wasn’t going to let me just take this easily and I could tell his stroke count had increased. At that point I felt I had made a tactical error. I was to his right side and the swim exit was to the left. I would have to get a good lead then cut the tangent quickly to the ramp. 

Mission accomplished; I was first out of the water in 27:50. Ken came out four seconds later. Ok folks what do we have for the swim winner of the mens 45-49 age group? Maybe some bragging rights?

Anyway, I had saved some energy for the day ahead, so I was pleased. It was cool to be able to battle with such a triathlon legend like Ken, but I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to stay close to him on the bike. At the mount line I commented “nice swim” but got no response. See ya later swim guy.....> He was gone up the road. 

Once out on the bike, I discovered that my Profile water bottle that I put between my aerobars was loose. That little Velcro strap that holds it in place had come unthreaded. I pulled the bottle off and stuffed it in my shorts and proceeded to thread the Velcro strap through the loops as I rode. It took me about 2 miles or so to get this done. The  process allowed my heart rate to settle and not chase after Ken, which would have been  a foolish thing to do. It would have been tough to impossible to ride with that bottle loose on the front, so I was glad that I was able to fix it on the fly. I rode controlled until I got to “The Beast”.

On the way to “The Beast” there are some picturesque coastal roads. It was nice to just take in the sights and control the effort level. It was a beautiful day. Just before I made it to the beast, a few guys from my age group passed me. I just let them go. I thought to myself “I’ll see you guys on the last loop of the run. 

The Beast wasn’t that bad. I think my wattage spiked at 330-360 and heart rate went to 160s. I kept it under control. The race starts after the speed bumps and once you get onto the Melvin Evans highway. Once I got to the highway, there was a decent headwind so, I was glad that I had kept a lid on it up to that point. 

At around 40 to 43 miles, Joe Boness came by me with his entourage. It was sad but impressive watching a 54 year old man pulling a train of dudes behind him. The guy has huge quads. They all rode away from me and I was alone for the ride back to T2. Bike time including transitions 2:49.

I made a quick transition and headed out on the run with Jeff Cuddeback. He started a few minutes later in the heat after me, so he was actually a few minutes ahead. He is a triathlon god in my eyes and has accomplished so much in the sport. I thought he was keeping a decent pace so I would try to pace off him. Once we got to the Buccaneer golf course I had to stop to take a pit stop, so Jeff got away from me and eventually he ran out of sight. 

It was so hot and humid out there. Aid stations were situated every 1K and I needed refreshment and ice at each one, but despite the heat, I felt good. 

Typically, my long training runs are done the day after my long bike ride. I like to run them at a tempo pace and then on the last half I do a series of 6 x800 repeats with 400 jog recoveries at close to threshold effort. I feel this trains me to run the back half of a race like this faster. On a course like this if you miscalculate your pace early, it will come back to bite you on the last half of the run. Once I hit the turnaround, I hit the switch. “It’s go time”

I began to pass folks quickly. I felt strong. I was hitting some mile splits in 6:30‘s. My pace was faster than the first loop. Once we got to the golf course, I could see that I was gaining ground back on Jeff. Back on the road into town I surged past him on the last long grade. I could tell he was hurting. I kept the effort level high but he still hung with me. He was smoking his age group, the 50-54, but he wasn’t going to let me, a 47 year old guy, just run away from him. I was able to hold him off to the finish line. It was a thrill to race him. The guy is a competitor! At the finish he complimented me on my race execution. That meant a lot to me coming from a guy like him. Run time was 1:34. It is so tough to run sub 1:30 on this course in this heat and humidity. 

When all was said and done, I had topped my time from 2007 by 2 minutes and went 4:51. In 2007, I won the age group by 7 minutes. In all the years leading up to this one, that time would have won my age group every year, but not today; I was 6th. Former pros and Olympic marathoners showed up and just smoked me. 

None of those guys miscalculated their efforts, and on the final loop I was only able to pass only 2 or 3 guys. The guys who finished in front of me are all Kona caliber, and guys like that just don’t fade. 

Looking back on the results, I would have placed higher in the 25-29 age group. So upon reflecting on Hodding Carters book, it’s true. Old guys are refusing to let age slow them down. The times of older guys keep getting faster every year. I won’t be going to Kona this year, but I look forward to seeing the results of those who do. The times are likely going to be the fastest ever.

Dana, my wife, had a great race too and finished 3rd in her age group. Unfortunately for her, the two women who finished ahead were also the top two women in Kona last year. So the top woman already had her slot from the Kona win, and the slot passed to second leaving Dana just on the cusp again. She is getting used to being a Kona slot bridesmaid. When we were on the plane back home, and away from all the other triathletes, she told me she was happy not to hear the word “Kona” anymore. I totally understood. 

St. Croix is a fantastic race. The volunteers are great, the venue is fantastic, and the islanders throw a huge party for all the athletes the Friday before the race. I love this race and I will be back.