Monday, September 5, 2016

What to Wear in a Triathlon

Congratulations! You're interested in triathlon and presumably stumbled upon this blog after googling what to wear in your upcoming race.

First, a warning.

Triathlon is defined as the practice of taking the simple task of swimming, then biking, then running, and making it as complicated as possible.
"How many millimeters of neoprene does your new wetsuit have over the trunk?"
"What was your normalized power for the bike leg on 170mm cranks rather than the 175s?
"How much lift does your shoe have? Have you tried Hokas?"
"I started putting himalayan salt on organic quinoa for my Pre, pre-race breakfast and my cramps in T2 stopped!"

Before you embark down the long and seductive road of TriGeekdom, we need to answer the simple question: What the heck do I wear for one of these?

Simple Answer:
You can purchase a "Tri Suit" which is a single, spandex-like top and bottom for the entire swim, bike, and run. You wear it under your wetsuit for the swim, drop your wetsuit off at your bike when you start your bike and put on your bike shoes (Transition 1, or T1), then you drop your bike back off and put on your running shoes and finish the race in those (after Transition 2, or T2).
That's it. The Tri Suit you buy will most likely be "Two-Piece," which is a tight-fitting, sleeveless, spandex-like top pared with a suit bottom, which is like a combination of a swimming jammer / bike short with a low-profile bike pad / running compression short.

Javier Gomez shows off a stylish tri suit by Roka, Photo courtesy EU

The nearly unbeatable Melissa Hauschildt rocking a two-piece kit. Photo:

In general, Men and Women generally wear two-piece tri-suits that are sex specific for each triathlon length (sprint, Olympic, Half-Iron, Full Ironman distance). There can be variations, like sleeved tops which are becoming more popular for long course triathlon to help stave off sun exposure in hot races, or more sport bra type tops for women, but in general these are the mainstay.

So before your race you put on your two-piece trisuit and wear that under your warmup clothes to the swim. When swim time approaches, stash your warmup sweats in your transition bag and put on your triathlon wetsuit. You swim in your wetsuit then strip it during your first transition, and continue the race biking and running in your tri suit.

Most tri suit bottoms have some form of miniature bike pad, to help with the discomfort of riding in the time trial position without a full chamois that a proper bike short offers. Going to great lengths to select the best saddle for you, along with a proper bike fit (such as from a Fit Institute of Slowtwitch certified fitter), and lots of time in the saddle, however, will go a long way toward making you more comfortable.

The other kind of tri-suit is the leotard style with the connected top and bottom. This is the speedy suit typically used by short-course triathletes. Other than nicely compressing the muffin top, this race suit tends to be more useful for Olympic and sprint distance races when you might be swimming without a wetsuit.

Johnny Brownlee and Javier Gomez race to see who's full-body tri suit is better in an ITU World Series Grand Final. 
Photo courtesy of

I can tell you have some questions, let me answer those for you:

So, you just, put the wetsuit on over your trisuit? 
Yep. Wetsuits are really tight, but it slides over the tri suit easily. Just be careful if your race has "Wetsuit strippers," that pull your wetsuit off for you. You don't want to be involuntarily pants'd heading to T1. Especially you gentlemen, given, you know, the shrinkage...

Isn't it uncomfortable to bike without bike shorts? 
Not really. Not if you've got a well-fitted bike saddle, are properly fit to a bike that matches your body type, and have put enough time in the saddle. That being said, an ironman bike is uncomfortable no matter what you're wearing. Some triathlons - usually long-course races - will have changing tents. In these, you can have a pair of bike shorts ready to change into, safe from the viewing eyes of the public (and a public indecency charge) within the confines of the transition tent. Many racers don't opt for this, however, as it takes time. If you're racing to complete rather than compete, however, this could really improve your quality of life in the last 30 miles of the bike leg. Be advised it can be tricky putting bike shorts on over a wet lower body.

Doesn't, um, doesn't, you know, stuff show through when you're wearing wet, tight spandex? 
Don't wear white.

What other alternatives are there? 
Well I mean if you wanted you can wear whatever you want, within the confines of public decency. In my very first triathlon I didn't know what to wear, which is why I'm writing this blog post, and wore a swimming jammer for the whole Olympic race. Given that tri shorts: have a mini bike pad, have a more durable, um, saddle riding area, and are a thicker material to mask, you know, the outlines of things, a tri suit bottom is the more ideal lower body garment. You can wear a bike jersey if you wanted on the bike leg, and you can wear bike shorts as mentioned, as long as you have a changing tent. You can switch into a running singlet and running shorts for the run as well. Since a tri suit works just about as well as any of these individual garments, and is more aerodynamic than standard bike clothing, it's the best and most popular option out there.

I'm super excited for my upcoming triathlon. I'm going to be responsible and try out my race apparel before the race. I'll wear my tri jersey top in my local group ride, and my tri shorts in my half-marathon prep race. 
I like your enthusiasm, but you'll be excommunicated from the road cycling community for wearing a sleeveless jersey top. You must only wear Castelli, Giordana, Assos, or Rapha clothing - with just a tasteful amount of espresso stains - to any cycling event.
Similarly, road runners will silently judge you because your awesome tri clothes (including compression socks) will remind them of their inferior life choices in continuing to train for running alone rather than be a sexy and popular triathlete.

There you have it! So the confusing question of what to wear for a triathlon is simply answered that you wear a tri suit, and it's probably going to be a two-piece, and you'll wear it under a wetsuit if it's a wetsuit-legal swim, which it probably is.

If you're so excited about triathlon clothing that you just can't stop reading on, continue on to read more about accessories

Since triathlon was born in open water swimming and typically takes place there, and since the ocean is a place designed to kill humans, triathletes started racing in wetsuits. These wetsuits, under the justification of warmth, add buoyancy and make athletes both faster as well as the swim much easier, so they're very popular. In warm water, above 80 deg F or so, wetsuits become a liability because you'll get to warm, so swims no longer are considered "Wetsuit legal."

For swims without a wetsuit, if you want to race fast, try a speedsuit. This is the super tight, slick fabric speedsuits popularized by, and subsequently banned by, competitive swimming. They streamline your body's form and may provide a little bit of buoyancy as well, making you faster. Triathletes often call them 'swimskins.' Some look like a wetsuit but they're more like a super tight full-body tri suit without pockets.
A swim skin

Do I need scientifically enhanced, super fancy, open water triathlon goggles? Nope. In my experience simply tinted goggles work great. Some people like open water masks, but that's pretty uncommon. I've gravitated away from my wider-lens, open-water swimming goggles toward using just my minimalist goggles from the pool.

Open water mask. Note- you won't look cool like this fitness model. But hey, if it works for you, it works for you. 

Wider than a mask but definitely lower profile than goggles, "Open water" style swim goggles are a popular option. 

Wear low-profile swimming goggles for style points from your swimmer friends. 
Only they won't notice, because they're either in a pool, somewhere eating, asleep, or spending time with their swim team.

If you're really excited about goggles or open water swimming, or are running out of ways to procrastinate, here's a great article on goggle selection from Loneswimmer.

Swim Cap:
If it's a cold swim, and cold is generally low 60s or colder, you can consider a Neoprene swim cap.

Running Shoes:
Although they do make triathlon specific shoes, in general, just wear the training shoes or racing flats you would otherwise run in.

Most people seem to wear socks, some go without. Since it takes two seconds to put socks on, some uber-sprinters will ride in just their bike shoes and then run with bare feet clad in running shoes. Some triathlon-specific running shoes are designed to accomodate this.
In my opinion, just put on socks. You can put them on your feet when you prepare your transition zone and then roll them downward, so in transition, you just slip your toes in, roll the socks up your foot, and then you're off! There's a picture of this on this blog along with other tips, 

What about... what about Speedos?
Ahh yes, the budgie smuggler. The art of smuggling budgies during a triathlon refused to die thanks to the successful racing of Faris al-Sultan.
Faris, the last great Speedo enthusiast? Photo

Speedos, basically, should not be worn in triathlon. The Euros - I think Germans were the main offenders - wore them around Kona in the early days of Ironman Hawaii and basically offended everyone with their Euro-sensual sensibilities. This led to the organized protest of the practice that soon became a satire of itself, the infamous pre-IM Hawaii Kona Underpants Run. 

The always epic Kona Underpants Run. photocredit

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Superior Man Race Report - Half Iron 2016

The Honda Fit, really an ideal triathlon vehicle, was packed up and we were ready to go.
Mandatory bike check-in takes place at the arena over Saturday, so after working a night shift and trying to catch a nap, The Hotness (what I call my wife, abbreviated TH) and I loaded up the car and drove north to Duluth.

A nice shot of Duluth showing the bay where the swim takes place

Duluth looked a little more like an industrial town than I expected, but perhaps that's not so surprising given that it would likely be a sizable shipping center along Lake Superior. The arena is located right along the waterfront downtown and was immediately off the highway. TH dropped me off at the arena so I could in turn drop off my bike and pick up my race packet (which included a can of Red Bull, for the win). Parking at the arena is $5 per day with unlimited entry/reentry, unless you get the VIP package when you register which has parking included. The transition racks allowed for plenty of room to set up a really spacious transition zone, and I practiced locating my rack so I wouldn't get turned around when I had the fog of war, or what I call the dazed sensation you get running through T1 after the swim.

Dinner was at the Duluth Grill with TH, which was awesome. I had the pancake breakfast, and the fresh maple syrup with home -made jam made for some great pre-race carbo loading.

Race Morning:
A really fun element of this race is that you get to jump off the Vista Fleet ferry to get your day started, which took me back to the Escape From Alcatraz. It was great, but the downside is the race takes off in two waves and the first wave gets up at zero-dark-thirty to make an early departure. Fortunately I was in wave 2 and only had to wrap up work in the transition zone at 6:30am for a 6:45am ferry trip. I stood outside and chatted with a couple other races while we watched the first wave round the rectangular course.

The Vista Fleet pulled up and loaded us aboard. I went along with the other pink caps to the third deck and enjoyed the view, which also afforded a nice overlook of the swim course. The wind made for some chop and a slight bit of current, which had pulled a few of the buoys askew. I made a mental note to sight off the buildings to avoid swimming a sinusoidal curve following the buoy line.

An athlete gets their swim started in style. Source:

We filed down the stairs to take the leap after having the swim course detailed again. A first lap all the way around the rectangle, starting from the ferry at the far corner of the course, and then swimming it in around another 3/4 lap or so. I was excited to get started (Pro-tip, start from the starboard side of the ferry rather than port if you're racing when every second counts). Jumping off the ferry, I had splashdown in the cool, tea-brown water and set off on the swim feeling strong.

Working a long month on night shifts, I hadn't had the opportunity to revamp my swim training, but I did get some strength training in and correspondingly felt strong. My sighting was nice and straight as I made my way around the course, and it was easy to sight on the way down and back by specific buildings.

The wind and a bit of chop made for what would be a moderately challenging swim. Fortunately my formative triathlon years took place back in Washington state, and I learned to open water swim in the much colder and choppier Puget Sound, so it was fairly pleasant in comparison. I was happy I've always trained to breath to both sides, as that made it easier to navigate minor surface swells (breathing away from the roll of the water).

I really enjoyed the time trial start. Mass starts, especially at packed Mdot races, are a complete cluster and this made the race a lot less cluttered, if at times a bit lonely out on the bike course. The race results had a neat feature where it tells you how many people you passed that leg vs how many passed you, and it wasn't hard to find the odd pair of feet to draft off of when swimming into the chop. I found myself soon enough rounding the final buoy and swimming toward the Red Bull arch along the shore, beating a fellow racer in a pointless race to the ramp.
Swim time: 38:33 , 1:50 per 100yrds, passed 11, passed by 13. Place: 47/166.
Swim Takeways:
  -anti-fog worked well
  -sighting off the buildings down and back was helpful. Choose a building for down and back while on the ferry heading to the drop-off.
 -I need to actually train for the swim next season

After s short 100 yard dash, we entered the arena and found our bikes. The transition zone inside the arena made for a unique race atmosphere (and the on-site bathrooms and showers were a huge bonus). I forgot my awesome, multi-colored transition towel, so I used two t-shirts and that worked well enough. I also forgot my rubber bands so I elected to run out in bike shoes, which probably wasn't much slower to be honest. Exiting the arena, I was excited to head out onto the bike course.
Time: 3:06, passed 2, place: 36/166.

I, like most triathletes, love triathlon bikes. The sleek frames of molded carbon fiber transmitting power straight through the wheels into the road is a thing of beauty. It's like racing a race-tuned suspension on a track car.

Unfortunately, that energy transfer works both ways, and the first half of the bike course was a little rough on the uh, sensitive places.

The bike course starts out downtown and you make a number of 90 degree turns and quick ascents and short descents to reach a residential road that takes you to the highway which serves as the remainder of the outward leg of the bike course. The downtown section and bike path had some rough concrete with lots of divots and cracks, and I saw a few ejected bottles. I was glad I had my frame mounted bottle and between-the-aerobar bottle nicely secured, as I think even with a nice tight rear bottle cage like the Xlab gorilla cages, you'd likely have an ejection. After one steep downhill with a U-turn at the bottom, which was well-signed and had a number of volunteers out there warning you to slow down, I unfortunately saw an athlete had crashed and it looked like his fork had broken off the frame. That was a real shame, but he was at least up and about and being tended to by the volunteers there.

Reaching a long residential road, I was happy to start to settle in and hit my stride on a smoother surface. We reached a highway, the two-lane per direction separated by a wide median variety, and I looked forward to time trialing in some miles. Unfortunately, the taint punishment continued with those thick cracks they have in highways every ten yards guh-gunge  three seconds later guh-gunge. It was a bit unfortunate. I was glad to had a latex tube up front with 100 psi in the tire, as that helped take the clunk out of each bump. Even still, if I lived in Duluth and rode this out section of the course in a training ride, I wouldn't ride it again.

The bumps were hitting everyone equally, though, and I wondered to myself if being a bigger athlete was a benefit in that the bumps didn't jar me as much, or a detraction since there was more weight with each clunk. I got surprisingly used to them, and set about passing people and being passed by others on the long, gently rolling section of highway. The time trial format was great for the bike in that it prevented drafting and also allowed for someone always being just up the road, to keep chasing.

Aid stations were at the 19mi and 38mi mark, and after the first I took on some more Gatorade to keep washing down the Clif shot bloks, Power bars, and chocolate GU that I use for long course bike legs.

At around the 28mi mark, there was a quick right turn and we were now off the highway on beautiful, smooth, tree-lined roads. It was great to turn off the highway and ride down through forest with Lake Superior just below coming up through the trees. The road meandered gently downward until we reached the coast and followed that back into Duluth. The sudden change in the course made for a nice boost in spirit for the second half of the bike leg. Coming back downtown and into the city, I was able to pass a number of people as I tried to keep my speed up, all while stretching the back and hamstrings to get ready for the run.
Bike: 2:48, 19.9mph. Overall: 74/166, Passed 17, Passed by 13.
Bike Takeways:
  -Nutrition: the regimen I made for the Iron distance has continued to work well
  -pacing by average speed worked surprisingly well. I had nice even splits averaging ~20mph the whole race and felt like I exerted just the right amount of energy
  -Latex tubes and 100 psi in nice tires (Continental GP4000 IIs) is really the way to go

Coasting in behind the arena with my foot pedaling on top of my shoes, I came around the corner and saw The Hotness with camera ready. I ran my bike into the arena, racked it, slid on my running shoes while grabbing my hat and race belt and was out of there.
Time: 1:33, Overall: 18/166, Passed 1.
  -Honorable Mention: fastest time in my age division of 15! Booyah!

Heading out onto the two lap run course, I was shocked at how good I felt. Even if I still had the effort from the bike in my legs, I didn't deal with the usual stiffness. Probably a result of the core work I added in after Toughman, proper pacing, and loosening up in the final miles of the bike. Anyway it felt great to feel strong heading out on the run!

The two loop course was actually really nice, in that there was a jaunt out along the waterfront then back through the downtown area. The different sections segmented the course nicely and mentally broke up the distance really well. It was a flat, fast course, with just a few "overpass" hills to break things up.

I felt pretty strong and had some nice compliments from other racers, "Looking good!"
I tried to give encouragement to everyone I passed or that passed me to keep powering through. I made a point to thank each volunteer that I ran by. The course was well-marked and the volunteers at aid stations were enthusiastic each time I yelled "Both!" in response to their "Water or Gatorade?"

After a long straightaway we rounded a final U-turn and I tried to keep the pace up toward the finish.
A brief sprint down the finish chute and I was home in 1:50 for a 5:22 finish, good for 51 out of 166 overall. I passed 40 people in the run and was passed by just 1, so certainly that mental pick me up helped push me along.

Really enjoyed this race. The convenience and atmosphere of the arena (post race showers for the win), the ferry ride, a beautiful return trip on the bike and a charming run course all made for a fast and unique race. The Superior Man team did a great job putting on an excellent, well-supported, well-run race. Considering I came off the Toughman half four weeks prior and a month of difficult night shifts, got sick the day before the race, and only slept for 3 hours on three separate nights the week of the race, I was really proud of my time and that I could improve by 10min on the run. Other people, especially parents, have more challenges in life to interface training with, but it does go to show you that we can still get these awesome experiences in. Looking forward to next time.

Toughman Minnesota Half-Ironman Race Report - 2016

Race Prep:
This would be my first race with the new Zipp 404 front wheel. I'd taken off the TriRig Omega brake and replaced it with the OEM dual caliper brake, and this made for too little clearance. The wider rim brought the lever arm of the caliper down, and the apex of my tire was rubbing against the brake's bottom. After fiddling with it unsuccessfully, I went into my LBS and ultimately through some tinkering and a new brake cable, we were able to make it work. If only just. Might be time to put the Omega back on over the off season and see if it fits better.

Stayed in the beautiful home with our friends up in the Twin Cities. They went to an Asian night market while I lamely rested at the house. I got an interrupted night's sleep before driving the ~1hr north to Chisago, snaking on some baked goods from the local grocery and continuing to hydrate.

While there is reserved parking for long course athletes at a little parking lot, it had easily filled well before my arrival 75min before the race. I parked a 1/4mi away on a residential street and rolled into transition.

Pic of the beach from the Paradise Park website

The sun continued to climb over Paradise Park and it was announced the lake was too warm for wetsuits. This was simultaneously great news and bad news, as I'm both critical of how wetsuits neuter the difficulty of the swim, but also hypocritically didn't really train for the swim. At all. So off I wandered in just my tri shorts down to the beach.

The beach is nicely sandy but there are rocks once you hit the waterline. After a while milling around we got the countdown for 10 seconds. It's been a while since I've been able to race so I was loving it- looking forward to the swim and taking in the energy before the race. The gun went off and we ran into the water. The one loop swim was pretty uneventful, with the main challenge being that there was no shoreline structure to sight off of, so you had to go buoy to buoy. I got a few wet hugs from the lake in the form of rag weed, but ultimately came out of the swim in an unremarkable 39:58.
Swim time: 39:58 / 1:54 per 100yrds
Swim Lesson: actually train for the swim! I easily lost 8-10min given my swimming background.
"Train your weaknesses, but don't neglect your strengths"

T1 was a short, quick uphill run into the park. I found my bike right away and had the presence of mind to roll up my tri jersey (just like you can roll up socks for a fast transition), so I passed the two guys adjacent to me who were already at their bikes.
T1 time: 2:05

After a short stretch over grass to reach a bike path, we reached the broad-shoulders of forest lined roads that would serve as the very pleasant bike course. The sun gave a slight bit of warmth to the cool morning, and I set about quietly riding the first hour so I wouldn't burn any matches. I remember my first Ironman race when dozens of guys would blow by going +25mph as though the bike was a 40km, only to then shuffle along awkwardly on the run. "Don't be a hero," I reminded myself. I let the new front Zipp wheel and my rear wheelcover do most of the work as I cruised along, munching on my bike nutrition of Clif Shot bloks, powerbars, and GU energy gel. I knew things would heat up after the bike so I tried to pre-hydrate, taking on three salt tablets and  +30oz / hour of Gatorade instead of the usual 24oz. This seemed to serve me well later on during the warm run.

I held a nice, constant pace for the entire bike ride. There was one relatively small hill but other than that it was a gentle, rolling course. A long stretch of two-lane highway on the back end of the bike into a headwind wasn't fun, but helped eat up the miles. There were a decent number of flats along the course. I was glad I'd rehearsed "fixing a flat for time" as that gave me some piece of mind I wouldn't have too long of an involuntary rest break should my tires quit on me.
Bike time: 2:48:20 , 20.0mph
Bike Lessons:
  -happy to pretty easily stay in the aerobars for the length of the race. Train for the aero position, people.
  -My right quad became a little over-used, which hadn't cropped up in training. I should do more long time trial efforts to sort out position issues. Train, uh, train for the aero position...

The second transition was a quick affair where I slipped on my shoes while grabbing my hat and race number belt and bolted out onto the course.
T2 time: 1:09

I'd read online that the course was exposed and hot. Fortunately I'd trained for this, timing my 10-13mi training runs in the heat of the day to try to help my body adapt. This exposure training really worked, along with wearing a Craft cooling arm sleeve for ice and water, a hat for ice, and grabbing liquid like it was going out of style at each aid station. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, though. Consult your doctor or coach before making any deprivation training choices. Fortunately, I am a doctor, so I consulted myself and got the go ahead.

 I'd trained much more for the run than for the bike, given my limited training time, and this really seemed to pay dividends now. Even though I left transition with the stiff, grandpa-esque gate of a triathlete, I opened up a bit over the miles and felt solid the whole time. The course was sunny and fairly exposed, but after ~3 residential miles on the out-and-bike run course, we hit some nice dirt road running through mixed forest and prairie which was a beautiful setting to run though.
The run course was very well-stocked with aid stations, and that helped take the edge off of the heat.
Run: 1:59 / 9min per mi pace
Run lesson:
  -no substitute for run mileage.
  -I need to do more core work and supplemental leg muscle strengthening. A strong core makes for a faster run.

Heading back into Paradise Park, the finishing stretch had us wrap around and up the small hilly park before making a final turn and then hey, you're done! Overall time of 5:31 and I was quite pleased given my current situation in life.

Driving back down to the Twin Cities, a final cap on the day was seeing my wife and our friends, who offered me a legendary fish-shaped ice cream waffle with red bean filling.

Ice Cream Red Bean Fish Dessert Waffe: the post race choice for Toughmen everywhere

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How To Carry Bottles on Triathlon Bike - updated

While fueling for the road cyclist is as simple as sitting back and sipping a ristretto pull espresso in the local Starbucks after a group ride, triathletes are faced with a unique challenge. We have to manage to put liquid, food, and equipment on a streamlined bike all without ruining the aerodynamics of the machine. In short order, you can start out with this:

And end up with this: 

It only takes 3 bottles and you're this guy

I previously wrote about this same topic here and here, and those posts got a lot of traction, so I thought I'd write an update on what I've figured out since.

The Challenge:
-how to carry sufficient liquid for a long ride or endurance race, as well as your flat kit and food, all without spoiling your aerodynamics.

My solution:
- a between-the-aerobars front bottle (bottle 1), seat-tube mounted bottle (bottle 2), behind the saddle rear bottle (carrying flat kit), and an aero bento box behind the stem (nutrition).

The bottles:
You really only need two bottles-worth of liquid for any race distance. With aid stations about every hour on the bike it's easy to simply refuel as you go. I saw a lot of individuals at my recent half-ironman sporting 3 to 4 bottles on the bike (1 up front, 1 on the frame, and 2 in back in a "bottle-launcher" ie a side-by-side rear seatpost mounted carrier). If you're racing on your own liquid nutrition (like Infinit) and want to carry it with you, then this works, but it otherwise seems over the top since you can easily swap bottles out.

In choosing the up-front bottle, I went with a between the aerobars bottle rather than one of the aero solutions. I did get a Torhans AeroZ , which, after just a few dates, I'm very impressed by. It seemed to me the best engineered of the products available in its category, but I hadn't used it often enough in training to decide to race with this season. TriRig does a nice review of this product category. The plus side of products with a straw is that you need only duck your head down to sip from them, you don't have to ride along and pull your bottle out to sip. The downside would be managing to refill it quickly (and without substantial spillage) at each aid station, and also not being able to see how much liquid you've taken in or is left.

To keep things simple for training, so I can easily start with my bike bottle, and racing, so I can easily swap out at aid stations, I use a zip tied cage between my aerobar mounts. Works great.

For my second bottle, I'm currently simply using a downtube bottle. Purists will contend that the thick, round bottle ruins the aero seattube and wheelcover benefit, and maybe so, but it's convenient and I'm not riding at speeds faster than 25mph for races anyway. The next step would be to swap out my behind the saddle flat kit (below section) for holding a bottle of liquid. I've seen many pros recommend the Xlab Gorilla cage as strong and tight enough for the task. But it's also $50. For now I've been happy with a seat tube mounted bottle.

Flat Kit:
For my flat kit, I've worked out keeping my spare tube, tire levers, and Topeak Minidual pump in a Specialized bottle carrier (with the top open), held together using electrical tape. It works great, and is fast at hand in case I do flat. Having your flat kit encased in tape wrapped up beneath your saddle, if it takes you 5 minutes to get it out, could be a little counter-productive. It's easy to simply zip-tie the bottle cage to rear saddle rails. It fits snuggly there and keeps things tucked fairly nicely out of the wind.

Another option would be to carry the second bottle for liquid behind the saddle where my flat kit is, and use an aero option, say from Torhans with the VR Tool Carrier version (Specialized has their own product), to carry a pared down flat kit with a CO2 minipump, tire lever, and spare tube. AeroGeeks did a nice write up on this option.

The easy choice for nutrition is to use an aero-bento mounted behind the stem. I like my DarkSpeedWorks Speedpack (aero bento box). It easily fits the gels and powerbars I use for my nutrition on long course bike legs. It's shaped to keep its form despite being stuffed with GU, and adds a nice trailing edge to the otherwise round stem.

So there you have it, a fairly streamlined, utilitarian option for carrying your liquid, food, and flat kit in training and racing. With the aerobar mounted bottle, behind the saddle flat kit, and aero bento box, just about all of my nutrition and gear is tucked away from the wind. My seat tube mounted bottle disrupts airflow over the back half of the bike, but it is dirty air and it's a price I'm willing to pay for convenience. I'd otherwise recommend looking at aero seat tube mounted options for a flat kit, and carrying your second bottle in tight bottle cage behind the saddle.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How to Run Safely in the Winter: The Screw Shoe

One of the most beautiful aspects of running lies in its simplicity. While I love the technology implicit within cycling, and the artful technique required by swimming, the purity and convenience of running cannot be denied.
Or can it.

It's like a road mated with an ice rink and made this

I was going away for the weekend with my wife and our great friends Jeff and Krista to a remote cabin in northern Idaho (a very charming cattle-ranch with guest cabins, they have a massive main guest lodge and also offer surprisingly exciting two-horse open sleigh rides, check them out at . Note: despite the inclusion of pleasure in the name, nothing kinky was going down...). 

What the guest ranch also promised was solitude, snow, and an extensive amount of dirt roads. By dirt roads, of course, I'm referring to the glorified iceways that were now these backroads. With freezing rain over slush over ice slicks, I knew that this weekend would certainly have it in for my week's 90-minute long run, a key session that can't be missed. 

Fortunately, it wasn't, thanks to this article I found when I basically google-searched 'How to Run in Winter.' The Screw Shoe: For Running on Packed Snow and Ice , is an article by Matt Carpenter about how to tame the boundary between man and beast by literally putting screws in your shoe. Rather than buying a product out there like Yak Trax, which I didn't have time for, I went ahead and followed the articles instructions. 

Basically it was crazy easy. I took my recently retired pair of Asics road shoes - I always keep my most recent pair of retired running shoes, a practice which my wife has always questioned, and one which has never been defensible... until now! - and simply stopped by my local family-owned hardware store and picked up the recommended screws (hex-headed metal sheet screws, #8). I tried to find screws that were 3/8" long instead of the slightly longer 1/2", because I was worried about how thin the heels were on the forefoot of my running shoe, but 1/2" was all they had, so I grabbed thirty-six of them, 18 for each shoe. Cost was only just over $3. 

Buster the ranch dog and I are best friends; he was kind enough to walk us to our cabin. 

Then we headed out with our friends to the Guest Ranch. My packet of screws and my old pair of running shoes riding along, about to be joined with the certainty of a backwoods shotgun wedding. I wanted to use a power drill, but couldn't find the bit, so I actually screwed them in by hand, making up the pattern as I went along with the help of my friend Krista. Screwing them in by hand with a screwdriver was greatly assisted by: 1) I have a screwdriver with a ratcheting mechanism, diminishing the forearm burn, and 2) I brought along a micro screwdriver to stab in a pilot hole to guide the screw. Assembly was somewhat fun and straight-forward. 
18 screws per shoe (I ended up taking out that central forefoot screw cause of some slight pressure). This pattern worked really well. 

Taking a short practice run down the icy drive leading towards our cabin (as shown above), I had 100% no-slip action. Whatever the opposite of lubricant is, it must feel like this, because I felt like I was running in trail shoes on dry concrete. The grip was flawless, but I did have some pressure spots associated with a few of the forefoot screws. To combat this, I simply took the insole out of my identically sized Asics trail-running shoes and doubled-down in my screw shoes. Problem solved. 

The next day I took off for my 90 minute run and could not have been happier with how these shoes worked.  It was simply beautiful, running through the snowy north Idaho hill country with perfect grip over what would otherwise be sketchy-in-even-a-4x4-truck ice. The sensation was like when you go snorkeling for the first time and are breathing with your face underwater. Your mind is telling you that this is unnatural and not physically possible, but there you go swimming along. Looking ahead at the puddles of water over ice, my instincts said it was impassable, but I ran over everything with a completely natural, non-disrupted gait. The most beautiful part was the simple freedom of it; being out running effortlessly for miles in what would've otherwise been austere conditions. For only $3 of screws, a retired pair of shoes, and a bit of time to put the combine the two, the simplicity and perfect function of this system blew me away. While it probably won't work well for mixed concrete and ice runs (you'd probably only want to use these on pure ice, as they'd feel like track spikes running across asphalt), I highly, highly recommend these for winter running. Instead of being locked indoors on some godforsaken treadmill, you can go out into wilder country and enjoy scenes like these: 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Triathlon Training 101: (almost) everything about triathlon in 8 easy steps

The very nature of triathlon's existence as a single, triune sport can confound beginner and seasoned racer alike. In the hope that a novice triathlete stumbled across this blog entry, I'll mention a few simple suggestions in outline form that, if followed, could take a complete beginner as far as they want to go.

Triathlon training, like just about everything in life, is both incredibly simple and infinitely complex. I could tell you that a table is composed of tiny building blocks called atoms, or, one could write a doctoral thesis on the idiosyncratic interrelationships of subatomic particles.

Do I really have the audacity to condense training for triathlon- with the volumes that have been written on the subject- into one short, simple blog post? In short, yes.

In that spirit, here are some suggestions in outline form that can take a new triathlete as far as they want to go.

1) Swimming
It's thought that Kevin Costner's part-man part-fish character in the movie Waterworld is loosely-based on Andy Potts
     A1. Join a Masters Swim Team

      A2. If no Masters Swim Team is available, swim on your own.
           i. Swim 3-5 times per week, 2,000 to 4,000 yards per session.
          ii. Include drills every workout.
         iii. If you do three swim workouts per week, try two workouts composed of shorter intervals and one
             with longer intervals or a long-set.
Warm Up: 500 easy: 300 of drills (with 50 yards per drill, eg. 50 yards of swimming with fists,) 200 kick or back stroke ( the latter complements muscles used in front crawl)
Main Set of Swim Workout 1: 5x50 on the 1min, 5x100 on the 2min, 5x50 on the 1min
Main Set of Swim Workout 2:  Pyramids, swim 50 yrds, then 100, 150, 200, 200, 150, 100, then a final 50, with the final 50 of each interval at a hard pace. 15 sec. recovery between intervals.
Main Set of Swim Workout 3: 1000 yards. First 700 yards easy/moderate, final 300 yards HARD.

         B1. Practice Open Water with a local triathlon club.
             i. Learn how to sight, doing so about once every twenty strokes
            ii. Practice swimming straight
           iii. Gain comfort swimming in 'chop,' with the ability to breathe to either side and skip a breath if you get hit by a wave.
           iv. Ensure that you have a comfortable, chafe-free fit in your wetsuit.

2) Cycling
Sebastian Kienle makes a statement on the bike at Half-Iron World Champs in Vegas, 2012

Bike and Run training should both have just 3 main components: consistency, variety, and a weekly long workout.
     A. Ride 3-6 times per week.
     B. Add a weekly long ride, based off time spent in the saddle. For example, building up to say 3 hours for half-iron racing or 6+ hours for Iron-distance racing
     C. Add in Speed / Tempo work
          i. Time Trial: As triathletes, we're inherently time trial cyclists. To that end, add in workouts to prepare you for the time trial cycling leg of a triathlon.
             Example Workouts:
These are actually from the first few days of Dave Luscan's time trial taper. Given that he is such an accomplished cyclist, however, I believe they're sufficient for standard workouts.
1 - 2 x 30 as hard as possible within a 95 minute ride, 3 x 1 minute very hard to finish. 
2 - 90 minutes unstructured but mostly tempo in the aerobars the whole time
3 - 23 mile TT, race effort and gear rehearsal, 47 minute race, 60 minutes total on the bike
4 - 20 minutes easy, less than 50% of threshold
5 - 2 x 20 at projected 40k tt power (or perceived exertion if you're without a power meter), on a 70 minute ride 

3) Running
Pete Jacobs runs to the crown, Kona 2012

     A. Run 4-5 times per week.
          i. Never increase mileage more than 10% a week. (Eg. If you ran 35 miles last week, you can run 39
             miles this week).
     B. Add a weekend long-run that you slowly build-up to a certain length depending on target race distance.
     C. Once you've mastered A and B, add in Speed Workouts.
             Example Speed Workouts:
                     i. Track Intervals.
                    ii. Fartlek- a fun workout wherein you have a single continuous run with random or patterned
                                     variations in speed. Eg. 30min run, 10 min warmup- 10min of 30sec hard then 30
                                     sec easy, 10min cool down
                    iii. Tempo- 10min warm up, 40min at 10km pace, 10min cool down.

4) Combining The Three
      A. Brick workouts, or the combination of swim-bike or bike-run into one consecutive workout, can be incorporated into one's training to varying degrees. Professional triathletes have varied success, from Jared Shoemaker eschewing them entirely in favor of run-specific speed workouts, or others like Craig Alexander riding 100 miles then running 10 repeats of 1 mile at 5:00 pace. These workouts are inherently challenging, so they should not be added to a week already higher than normal in volume and consider having scheduled rest following the day of a brick workout.  Bricks are best conducted with the swim-bike or bike-run sequence. A good way to approach bricks is to have only one of the workouts be difficult, and use the workout in the other sport as a warm-up or cool-down. The benefit to doing a brick dramatically decreases with a delay greater than 20min between the workouts.
     Examples: 20min bike easy followed by 5mi tempo run
                     Hard Swim workout followed by a 30min spin on the bike.

5) Nutrition  : this includes eating a healthy, natural diet for your general lifestyle and refining your race-specific diet in training. This is perhaps the most important element of your training.
Natural/non-processed foods in life and then processed/sport-specific foods in training and racing is a great way to start, but most importantly, experiment and find out what works best for you

6) Recovery: take one day each week completely off. I prefer a weekly schedule of Monday off and a light day Friday, as I do my longer workouts Saturday and Sunday. Proper recovery extends into nutrition (eating a small snack within 15min of a workout), along with injury prevention (I take two days off if I ever "feel" an injury coming on, such as an unusual pain or level of soreness), and preventative measures (using a hip roller, icing, etc...).

7) Periodization- the phenomenon of having a chronological progression to your training. First, an early Adaptation Phase transitions you from off the couch to training regularly, then a long Build Phase is comprised of high-volume, low-intensity work. Then a Strength Phase follows, wherein the amount of volume is reduced but the intensity increases (more tempo workouts), however your "long days" (long run and long bike workouts) may continue. Then finally there is a Taper prior to the event. Do not think of the taper as a period of rest- think of it like the final sharpening of a blade where you precisely reduce your volume, such as by 50% per week for two weeks, and refine your mental health prior to the race.
    Periodization also occurs within each phase. I recommend a 3 week block in training, where the 2nd week builds on the 1st with more volume, and the 3rd week is a recovery week of lighter volume. Check out this chart to see it visually:
This excellent chart was obtained from this article on periodization, from

8) Execution- all of the previous seven steps could be for not if this step is not properly addressed. Execution here is meant to encompasses a mentality of diligence, wherein you anticipate properly completing each element of your training and racing, while planning for any accidents that may happen along the way. There are innumerable examples of how one could properly execute, here are a few to get started: arrive at transition early on race day, mentally walk through your entire race (especially the transitions), learn- this is a weird one - how to use the bathroom race morning (for me, cup of coffee + pre-race jitters = good to go), prior to starting and thoughtfully set up your transition area accordingly, have your bike gearing set up for the grade you'll experience leaving transition, have your bike's brake calipers properly adjusted so they don't rub, put anti-fog in your goggles prior to race day, and be able to change a flat tire quickly (this is, sadly, an extremely rare ability among triathletes. I practiced at home and am down to ~2min 40sec).

There we have it- the entire sport of triathlon more or less distilled into 8 simple steps.

For more information on the topic, I found Matt Fitzgerald's, "Triathlete Magazine's Complete Triathlon Book," to be an excellent introductory text when I first took up the sport.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Injury: ITB Syndrome

I recently met up with one of my best friends from college and learned about his summer at UC Berkeley doing biochemical research. A runner, he told me of how, by running 5 miles during the 10 week project, he regained his 6-pack only to recently lose it due to knee pain. This immediately triggered my interest and I pressed him for further details.

 "Does it hurt here specifically?" I asked, pointing to the tiny bump of bone that sits just below and outside of the knee.

"Exactly" he replied.

"Is it fine when you walk or ride a bike, only hurting a short distance into running?"

"Right again."

These two characteristics of ITB inflammation were the exact symptoms I experienced during the two prior years. I spent the Spring Break of my Sophomore year of College as any collegiate triathlete would- putting in  a week of epic training. I'd just come off a winter of 60-80 miles a week of running, so I thought I would be safe doing a week of insane mileage. I was quite wrong.

10 miles into a 14 mile run on the day following a 50-mile bike/5 mile run brick workout, my knee hurt. Not my knee, exactly, but the tiny bump of bone just outside and below it. I resorted to limping my way home and promptly took a week of rest. Now back at school, I decided to capitalize on the pleasant spring weather with a quick 4 mile run. About 1.5miles in, my knee started to hurt. I stopped, stretched my leg in different ways, and resumed running. 100 yards later, it began hurting to the point where I couldn't run. It never recovered, and I ended up limping the 2 miles home on one leg. In learning that I had ITB Syndrome, I began a 2 year battle of which I've only just emerged triumphant.

The Iliotibial Band (ITB) is a tendon that runs along the outside of your thigh and essentially connects the hip to the knee. When it becomes tight, it can become inflamed by rubbing over either the hip or the knee, and this rubbing causes the characteristic pain of ITB syndrome.

Check out this article, The ITB Conundrum, by Jordan D. Metzl, M.D., for Triathlete Magazine.