Monday, November 30, 2009

Subaru Triathlon Series Banquet 2009

Subaru Triathlon Series Banquet 2009
Casblanca Inn, Grimsby Ontario

40-44 Age Group Winners: Michael Hay, Me, Michael Keen & Curtis Coyne
Jim, Michael Keen, Me, Ken & Kathy Madsen

On Sunday Nov 29th I went to the Subaru Triathlon Series 2009 year end banquet. I wanted to attend the event as a way to close out the season and begin to prepare myself for 2010. Natasha (my wife) and I arrived at the banquet room a couple of minutes before 10am; the scheduled start time. It is always a little awkward looking for a place to sit at a table for ten when you do not recognize anybody. Luckily there was a completely open table right at the back, so we selected two seats facing the front. Soon afterwards several other people joined us; Ken and Kathy Madsen ( Karsten’s Parents), Michael Keen, Jim, Mark Keating and his two sons.

Janet and Mitch Fraser did a nice job organizing the event as the 15-20 tables were all completely filled. Kevin MacKinnon acted as MC telling stories about the foundation of the series and tying in many of the people in attendance. Michael Keen got the conversation going at out table by relaying his experience competing in his first Cyclo-cross race the day before. He went on to tell us all about losing his old beater bike and deciding to replace it with a CycloCross bike. Mike was super excited about the experience and even talked about organizing an event in Guelph some time down the road. Michael also offered to provide me with swim coaching if I wanted as he is a M2 level coach. It was very nice of him to offer. Once I had been seated for a while I began to recognize some familiar faces that I had walked past when I first entered the room; no disrespect intended Curtis Coyne.

After all of the tables got up to get breakfast at the buffet (ours was last as we were closest to the food), Kevin handed the microphone over to Barry Shepley who took us all through a slideshow of some outstanding Canadian triathlon accomplishments. It’s pretty nice to have the voice of the ITU (Barry) and Ironman (Kevin) doing the speaking at our Ontario race series banquet. Barry who leads a development group of promising young triathletes is thinking of ways to enhance the Subaru series for 2010. What I liked most about what Barry said is that he promised that his top athletes (including Dave Sharratt & Sean Bechtel ) would compete at all of the local race series events. I look forward to the higher level of competition which will only help to drive everyone’s results.

The awards presentation was painless as Kevin moved through the award winners quickly; which is a must when everyone in the room is receiving an award. We all received a plaque, a long sleeve shirt, a series key chain and some travel sized toiletries as well as a selection from the prize table. I selected a package of Powerbar Gels which I just happened to have run out of, Bonus! When I was picking up my shirt Janet mentioned that she appreciated the email that I sent to the Clearwater 70.3 race organizers, as I had cc’ed her on the email. It meant a lot to me hear that small appreciation / recognition.

As the room was clearing out Ron Vankoughnett came over to me and mentioned that he had come across the picture that I posted of him receiving his Gold medal at the duathlon world’s this past September in North Carolina 65-69 age group. He asked for a copy of the photos which I gladly sent over to him this morning. It was gratifying to be able to provide him with those photos and nice to know that people are checking out this blog.

I spent some time catching up with Michael Hay had been sitting with Dave Sharratt at the table next to me. M Hay has some much great information to share about the sport. We talked about the drafting down in Clearwater and he told me that if he ever competed in that event he would treat it as draft legal because that is what it is. He has never taken part in the Clearwater event and he is one of the top athletes in the 40-44 age group worldwide; in fact he was the 2008 world champion 40-44 at Olympic distance. He told me about the Rev 3 triathlon series that includes some prize money for age groupers!/about/index.htm. If changes are not made to improve the WTC events that are clearly problematic (Clearwater) then top athletes will seek out alternatives; which will be quick to spring up. The top athletes have a lot of influence over the entire community and often act as coaches for developing triathletes.

Appreciation for the race series was a common theme. Last year when I attended the banquet for the first time I heard Kevin and Barry rave about how good the local races were. They said that they attend races all over the world and that the Ontario races are world class events. I did not give the praise much thought as I figured that Kevin and Barry were just saying what they had to say as speakers at the Subaru banquet. A year later after having competed in 21 races in 2009 (run, bike, duathlon, triathlon - including two World Championships), I give a lot more weight to the high praise awarded the Subaru race series. Janet & Mitch put on 10 top level events all within 3hrs drive of downtown Toronto. I am lucky to live in this area and look forward to competing in many events in 2010. Thank you Janet & Mitch and everyone else who has helped to make this race series a big success.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ironman World Championship 70.3 - The Run

Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Championship - 2009
Clearwater Beach, Florida
20091114 – The Run

Still able to wave to Mom at the mid way point of the run
Half way on the run
Sprinting to the Finish on fumesCollecting gear at the finish - unable to speakMini showerNothing left in the tank

Heading into transition I was careful to get off my before the dismount line. I then ran over the timing mat and through the entry archway with my bike. There was a team of Orange shirted volunteers waiting to take competitors bikes back to the racks. I had never been involved in a race that offered this special service, and it was nice. Having just giving my precious Cervelo P3 to a complete stranger I ran down the rows of transition run bags in search of #1144; the bags were lined up in perfect numeric order. I spotted my bag easily, grabbed it and ran into the transition tent. In the tent, I sat down then pulled my running shoes and cap out of the bag and put them on. I started to put my bike helmet into the empty bag but another volunteer stopped me saying that he would take care of it; so I got up and ran out of the tent. I may be using the tern ‘run’ a little too freely here as I was barely jogging, my body feeling the effect of having given so much on the bike.

As I exited the run transition I could now hear the cheering supporters who lined the course. I had decided to proudly wear my team Canada outfit from the World Duathlon Championships and it was a fantastic decision. Countless people shouted out “Go Canada!” as I jogged and then later ran by. Most of the competitors wore club uniforms or gear promoting their sponsors. I always made a point of trying to acknowledge people’s support with a wave or a head nod or when I got more tired, thumbs up or finger up; but not the middle one.

During the 1st few hundred meters of the run I began to worry that my body may not open up as I felt tight and exhausted. People were cheering while I was basically shuffling by, and it was only the start of the run; I had 21km’s to go. A few runners now ran by me including some that I had passed handily with 20 miles left on the bike course. This further demonstrated how much time can be gained by drafting; I should have been at least five minutes ahead of those people at this point not 30 seconds. Not only had these guys made up time but they were way fresher than I was which they demonstrated by running by me with relative ease. Fortunately my body began to loosen up and my pace picked up after about 500 meters.

The run course was a two loop journey from Clearwater Beach over a causeway down into Clearwater, through a downtown neighbourhood before returning back over the causeway into the transition area for a second lap. I kept myself in check holding back a little bit of energy for the final 25% of the run. The last time that I ran this distance I hit rock bottom with one quarter of the run left, so I was trying to guard against that this time. Unfortunately due to my exertion on the bike I knew that I was in much worse shape this time for around. Running up to the top of the causeway provided an excellent vantage point over the entire area; the highest point must have been 6-8 stories high. I did not think too much of the climb the first time over the bridge, but we had to cross it a total of four times and it would take its toll on me.

I took in water and Gatorade at every aid station; there were six (maybe 7) aid stations per lap. These energizing volunteers also handed out sponges soaked with cold water which I squeezed out all over my face and head. I followed the same hydration and nutrition plan that I had done for the Muskoka race. This was a poor plan as it felt much warmer here in Florida and I was surely losing much more fluids than I was taking in.

I was not the only one suffering out on the run course, I passed a lot of people even though I was not moving that fast. However, unlike the bike course where no one had ridden away from me, many people ran by. I did not have the strength to adjust my speed to any of my competitors and was just trying to maintain a pace and lessen the pain that I felt increasing with each step. I began thinking about something that I had read that stated the race winner will most likely be the runner with the quickest turnover. Instead of lengthening my gate I shortened it as this seemed to lessen the impact I felt as my feet hit the pavement.

By the time I hit the turn around point of the 1st lap marking one quarter of the way into the run, I began telling myself that I had come from far away to be here and that this would all be over soon so don’t give up. The second time up the causeway hurt a lot and I felt like the sun was burning a hole through the top of my head. By the time I crested the ramp I was so focused on the next step that it was difficult to think or react to anything else. I calmed myself a little bit on the top flat portion of the causeway before descending the other side. On the way down my quads screamed as gravity forced a bigger load onto them than they wanted to carry.

Heading back towards the end of the first loop, I could hear many people cheering and I tried to take as much energy from their encouragements as I could. With one lap to go I was completely depleted of energy but full of the will to see it through to the end and determined not to walk. My pace was continually eroding although I felt like I was giving a consistent effort. I felt incredibly hot and continued to douse myself at each aid station. The further along I got the more signals I received from my body to stop, most body parts from the waist down were aching especially my quads and calf muscles. Heading into the final 5 km’s I kept thinking about all of the support that I had received from my family and friends, most people told me to “Kick Ass!” and that is exactly what I wanted to do. With 1.5km’s to go I ignored my body completely spurred on to Kick Ass and increased my pace ultimately to a sprint for the final 150 meters.

As I crossed the finish line gasping for air I realized that I was in trouble. Volunteers were congratulation all of the finishers and handing out a ribbon, cap and towel. The finishers were being ushered away from the finish line and into the finishing area to make room for more people. I was handed water and asked if I was alright. I could not speak as I continued to gasp and rest my hands on my knees in a hunched over shape. I was asked several times if I needed to go to the medical tent and I just shook my head no. I was then asked if I needed to sit down, which suddenly sounded like a great Idea. I just started to sit on the pavement right there where they were handing out liquids and a couple of people steadied me and ushered me over to a chair. I stayed in that chair for 20 minutes pouring bottle after bottle of water over my head and drinking as much Gatorade as I could. I was unable to speak but or do much with my body for most of that time, although I was thinking clearly.

As it turns out I was dangerously dehydrated and I should have gone over top the medical tent for an IV to replenish my fluids. Instead, I gathered my strength after cooling down and then limped out of the finish area. I leaned on my step father as I slowly made my way down the boardwalk to the message tent to have someone work on my legs which hurt a lot. The message area was huge and there was a line of athletes waiting their turn; I took a number and waited my turn. It did not take long for my number to get called and I lay down on a table to get some treatment. After a few minutes of light message my legs began cramping painfully so I had to stop, apparently I was still too dehydrated to receive message.

I drank four more bottles of water and then limped over to the results board to find out what my times were and where I finished up. I was finished in 11th place out of 190 people in my age category. I left nothing out on the course so I had no regrets about where I had finished. I was sore and dehydrated but that would soon pass. It is now four days later and the process of writing about the events has helped me to get back down to reality after competing in such an exciting world class event. I hope to make the event part of my 2010 plan and will do so if I get some confirmation that the race organizers acknowledge the drafting problem and make some plan to improve the situation.

Thank you all for your support during this season it has meant a lot to me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ironman World Championships 70.3 - The Bike Leg

The Bike Leg - Ironman World Championships 70.3
The Transiton area
Heading out onto the bike course - Part 1
Heading out onto the bike course - Part 2

Finishing up the bike course - I am the guy at the back

A pack of riders finishing the bike course

The transition area could not have been set up in a more beautiful location, in a park alongside a boardwalk between the Gulf and the Bay with palm trees scattered throughout the park. The start of the bike course was lined with cheering fans enjoying the fantastic November weather, which climbed up to the low 80’s during the run.

I picked up my bike transition bag which contained my socks and ran on into the transition tent to put them on. There were long rows of chairs in the tent so I sat down on one and started putting on my socks. I felt my calf start to cramp so I decided to remain standing and pulled my socks as quickly as I could. I should have listened to this body indicator and adjusted my fluid intake during the ride. Exiting the tent I ran over to my bike, snapped on my helmet, pulled the bike off the rack and ran with the bike towards the transition exit. I had to slow down to the pace of the people in front who were also leaving the transition area as there was no room to pass. I was surprised to note that even at the World Championship level competitors have not mastered the running bike mount. I ran past 3 people mounting their bikes directly after the bike mount line and then hoped onto my bike and rode away.

I felt like yelling out a war cry as I switched from just getting by in the water to attack mode on my bike. Starting out at the end of the 12th wave and posting a mediocre swim time, there must have been 1000 competitors in front of me as I started out into the bike course. I got up to speed and began passing people; lots of them. I had to call out “On your Left!” many times as I made my way past. The course could only fit a maximum of 3 bikes across in the most spots and I often had to pass someone that was in the process of passing someone else. As I made my way by people I started to notice that some of the cyclists were not obeying the clearly communicated rule of keeping four bike lengths in between themselves and the rider in front of them. When I first spotted this infraction I called out to the rider and held out 4 fingers indicating that they needed to follow the rule and back up. Clearly I am no race official but what I was seeing was a blatant disregard for the rules and a complete disrespect for the honour of the sport; unfortunately this was only the tip of the iceberg, which really pissed me off.

I kept on riding at a good pace, hammering away on my pedals enjoying the speed. In the two plus years that I have been competing in Triathlon’s and Duathlon’s I have seen the rare case of a younger rider lingering in the sweet spot too long after being passed, but I have never seen such outright cheating. After calling out to a few individuals who had been drafting behind the rider in front of them, I came across a literal pack of about 8-10 riders; a mini peleton. Not only is pack riding totally illegal, totally cheating, it is also dangerous on a time trial bike that is built for speed not manoeuvrability. When you are following closely in a group you need to be able to react to sudden changes in speed and obstacles in the road that are blocked from view, this is more challenging on a TT bike. I yelled out to the group “Pack Riding” and pointed to them as I passed response.

It was not until about 20km’s into the ride that I came upon a rider moving at a pace close to mine. Just as I expected after passing him he picked up his speed and followed me, he was not drafting just using me as incentive to increase his effort. A few km’s down the road he rode past me. This kind of thing is common as you can be easily encouraged by a slightly faster cyclist just in front of you. The extra adrenalin usually wears off after a bit and the faster rider continues on up the road, each cyclist going on at their own pace. After getting passed I stopped pedaling, adhearing to the rules, to let the gap between us reach four bike lengths. I then took a short break getting a drink and collecting myself. I knew that I was faster that this guy otherwise I would not have caught up to him in the first place. I stayed back for a few minutes until his adrenalin wore off and then I rode past again I called out to him “Here’s a carrot for you”, on the way by; indicating that once I got back in front he could use me as inspiration to dig in and increase his effort again.

I continued to pass many riders including a group of three guys that were clearly too close to one another; separated by 2 bike lengths instead of 4. The 3 cyclist were travelling fairly fast but certainly kidding themselves if they thought they were following the rules; they were definitely enjoying the benefits of drafting. Most likely one of them was trying to do the right thing and the other two were not letting him get away. I worked my way by and so did the strong cyclist who was still behind me at a legal distance. What happened next will help to demonstrate how the packs of riders were forming. The group of three riders (including at least 2 cheaters) increased their pace and then started following close enough to enjoy the draft being generated by the strong rider behind me. As soon as you move inside the 4 bike lengths you don’t need to put in as much effort to keep up with the pace; a weaken rider can therefore easily stay with a stronger one. The guys who were drafting may have been putting out 30% less energy that the guy in front of them who was following the rules.

A few km’s down the road I was passed by the strong cyclist again, so I dropped back 4 bike lengths as per the rules. Then one of the 3 other guys came by me so I backed off another 4 bike lengths, only this guy was not observing the rules, he stayed just two bike lengths behind the strong rider. Then the other two cheaters did the same thing and just like that I was four bike lengths behind a group of four riders, three of whom had no business being there. I stayed off the back for a bit contemplating my next move. During that time one of the group of three tried to do the right thing and take the lead instead of following two bike lengths behind. This guy slowed almost instantly without the advantage of the draft and was passed again by the strong rider. I decided to ride away from this pack and hammered my way out ahead of the group; trying to put some room in between myself and the followers.

I could now see riders headed in the opposite direction as we neared the turn around point close to the half way point on the course. I was shocked to see two large packs of at least 20 riders zoom by in the opposite direction. What the f&ck?! Do these people know that this is the World Championship, where is the honour, where is the respect?

There was an aid station set up just after the turnaround point, as well as a timeout tent; which was empty. Didn’t I just see two large packs of riders headed in the opposite direction? Where was the enforcement of the rules? Where were the race officials? In the mandatory pre race meeting we had been told that officials on motorcycles would hand out yellow and red cards on the bike course for infractions such as drafting and those penalized would have to spend 4-minutes in a time-out tent. So far I had not seen any motorcycles and I was half way done the 90km ride.

After the turnaround I felt someone on my wheel and I mean right on my wheel, I quickly looked back and confirmed my suspicion, there was someone less than 6 inches off my back wheel. I waited for the guy to pass but he did not, he was just following my wheel like you would in a cycling road race. I called back to the guy “Are you serious?!! Pass or drop back”. The guy dropped back and I never did see exactly who he was.

A few km’s up the road the strong rider and the other three drafters caught up to me again and by this time they had made two more friends. Just like before after the strong guy came through I dropped back four bike lengths. Then the other five guys came by one after the other with no more that two bike lengths separating them. One of the 5 guys named Pedro was following right on the wheel of the guy in front of him…Rules Schmooles I guess, eh Pedro. I quickly ended up in the back of the group. These five guys must have seen the four bike length that I allowed in between myself and the guy in front of me as an indication that they needed to pass me to close up the legal gap.

All the while this jockeying was going on, we were passing other riders, no one had ridden away from me nor would they on this day. Some of the guys that we passed also joined our pack and then proceeding to pass so that they could stay closer than four bike lengths away from the pack. I gathered my strength for a few minutes as my frustration grew and then decided to make another attempt at breaking away from this growing group. The drafting was getting so bad that I started to hear a lot of free wheeling; which meant the guys in the pack did not even need to peddle consistently as they conserved energy. On my way past the guys in the pack I called out to one guy named John pointed out what was a maximum of one bike length distance in between himself and the guy in front of him and asked him “Do you feel good about this?” he answered “No” and I followed with “Then why do it”. I have to give John credit his conscience kicked in (temporarily at least) and he dropped back to the legal distance. On my way past Pedro all I could do was shake my head as he had his head down and arms in the aero bars in full draft mode an inch behind the guy in front of him.

Once I got to the front I put in a huge effort to try and break away; staying far to the left as I could so as to discourage the drafting behind me. Unfortunately I could not hold off this increasingly well organized and growing pack and I was caught and quickly assumed my spot at the far back. The bike course at this point was only wide enough to fit two bikes, possibly three. That is when our pack caught up to another slower pack of mostly women riders; all regard for the rules went out the window as we got all jammed up. I could see that the riders in the front of the faster pack moved into the left lane and started passing by the slower group. Unfortunately some of the people in the slower pack tried to join the faster group; this served to block everything up, creating a huge slower moving group of close to 50 riders.

I sat up on my bike and looked around trying to figure out a way past this mess. I was discouraged at this point knowing that I was stuck following at a slower speed. My strength in the bike leg was being taken away from me; I had to find a way to overcome this unforeseen challenge. This whole mess had been caused by a culmination of cheaters slowly eroding the no draft zone from four bike lengths to zero. I had spoken to these people before the race and I respected them, could these possibly be the same people? Who could feel good about their results after riding in a draft pack conserving energy for the run? I held up my hands in disgust and the German guy beside me began sharing his frustration, although I could not understand a word of it.

Maybe I am being too hard on my fellow triathlete, after all there are rules in all sports which are broken all of the time. It is typically up to the league to ensure that the rules are enforced and those who break them are penalized. When rules are not enforced they are not followed. The organizers knew that drafting was a problem as they went to the trouble if setting up time-out tents and warning us about drafting in the pre race meeting…unfortunately the warnings amounted to empty threats. From what I saw out on the course at least 25% of the people showed a total disregard for the drafting rule.

At this point in the race an official showed up on the back of a motorcycle and yelled out at the front of the pack to break things up, then began making strong arm gestures and taking down notes. I did not see any violation cards being pulled out, and that is a shame. I do appreciate the effort of that race official, but it was not nearly enough; yellow and Red cards should have been flying out like at a dirty soccer match. I stayed in the far left lane and backed off four bike lengths as the pack seemed to be reacting somewhat to the official. It was at this point that I decided to get aggressive. Some guy behind me yelled out “On your left!” indicating that he wanted me to move over so that he could pass. I yelled back to him that that I was going to pass the guy in front of me as soon as I had a chance, and then did not let him by me. I knew that that guy behind me had no chance of staying with me if I could only break free of this pack.

The were the occasional 100-200 meters opening on the left side of the road that closed down pretty suddenly, I used these gaps the power past riders and them force my way back into the full passing lane before crashing into the obstacles ahead. I did this a few times and worked my way up to the official who was still taking notes near the front of the pack. I was out of my saddle and yelling out “Coming Through!” to the riders in front to ensure that the official knew I was passing and not drafting to avoid any potential penalty; little did I know that no penalties were being handed out. It makes me wonder what the race official was writing down in the notepad. When I checked the standings after the race there was not a single penalty imposed - pathetic. Through my aggressive riding I made my way to the front and broke away from the pack; head down I put in a monster effort and never looked back.

Then something positive happened, the course widened as we headed south over a bay. Not only was this scenic but it felt almost luxurious to have the whole road to navigate down. I looked up ahead and who did I see, it was the strong rider from earlier in the race; he had also managed to break free of the pack of cheaters. As I rode past him I looked over and said “That was F&cking Awful!” he agreed and I rode off ahead never seeing him again.

Up ahead near the end of the causeway over the bay I saw that the rode was going to narrow again. I also noted another pack of riders not moving too fast. I dug in and raced ahead at maximum speed to ensure that I got past them to avoid getting blocked in again on the narrower road. I kept my tempo high for the final ten miles of the bike leg and did not experience any more issues with pack riders.

I finished the bike course in 2:05:01 which was the top split in my age group and fourth best amongst all amateurs. I dug in deeper than I wanted to in order to avoid the drafting packs but I do not regret my strategy. I most certainly suffered much more out on the run put I am proud of how I competed.

My email to the Clearwater 70.3 Race Organizers

Clearwater Ironman 70.3 Team,

I just participated wrapped up my 1st season of Triathlon’s by competing at your amazing event this past Saturday in Clearwater. I wanted to provide some feedback and ask a question that will help me in my preparation for the 2010 season.

I qualified for this race in Muskoka on September 13, 2009. I was blown away by the Muskoka event, the atmosphere, the course, the athletes, the fans, the organization, it was all amazing. I then began planning my trip to Clearwater and training for the World Championship.

The Ironman World Championships 70.3 - an awesome Brand
This event is the jewel in a sparkling crown for the Ironman 70.3 race series. The 70.3 brand depends on the success of this event as the entire race series draws athletes who are vying for a spot in the World Championships. From what I could tell you (the race organizers) took every step to make this event spectacular and I give you full credit for it. The location, the amazing setup, the volunteers, the ability to adjust to adverse weather conditions, absolutely everything was top notch.

The Problem
Unfortunately the execution of the event failed with regards to the enforcement of the rules on the bike course. There was an outright disregard for the drafting rules which spread to more than 25% of competitors; my estimation based on what I saw on the course – I started at the end of Wave 12 and had a mediocre swim – I passed hundreds of people on the bike course posting the 4th fastest time amongst amateurs 2:05.

Not only did I see individual drafting occurring, but I saw large packs of 20 or more cyclists working together. I got stuck at the back of a pack myself for a bit after the half way turn around. When my pack tried to pass a slower pack - one larger slower pack of over 50 riders was formed. It was at this point that I saw my 1st race official who sped to the front of the log jam and began yelling at people to break it up before taking notes. I did not see any violation cards handed out.

I put in a monster effort to break away from the pack and finished up the final 20 miles in front of that pack. However, some of the people in the pack who I typically would put 5-10 minutes into from the point I broke away until the end of the course, finished up less than 30 seconds behind me; which is extremely discouraging. Needless to say I was completely spent for the run but take pride in having followed the rules.

The Solution
Fortunately, there are ways to correct the problem and to restore the shine back to this Diamond of an event (in my eyes at least

1. Make it a draft legal event (I don’t like this one) this way all competitors know what to expect from the start. As a draft legal event athletes would be forced to use draft legal bikes thus increasing the safety which is sorely lacking when packs of riders are leaning into their aero bars.

2. Enforce the Rules!!! Hire out more motorcycles and get well trained officials who are not afraid to impose violations and even possibly make mistakes. You could find leaders from local bike teams who will easily be able to spot drafting. I am sure that all of the competitors would be happy to spend an extra $5 each for the additional costs to ensure that the event is as fair as possible.

The Question
Do you have any plans to address the drafting violations for the 2010 event?

Thank you,

Bruce Bird

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ironman World Championship 70.3 - The Swim

Race Day – Nov 14th 2009 - The Swim
Sunrise on Race morning
The swim exit for the early starters
Swim exit getting more congested
Swim exit when I got out - Congested
Heading over to the strippers

I got a decent amount of sleep, made my final preparations and got a lift from my Mom and Stepfather down to the race site. On the way to the car I stopped to capture a picture of the moon and the sky and the light just breaking over the horizon; it was a beautiful morning. Near the race site, triathletes were scurrying in all directions in the pre-dawn light in anticipation of the start. We could only get so far in the car so I got out and walked over to the transition area to set my bike up by clipping my shoes in and laying my helmet on my handlebars. The rest of my gear had been set up the day before, but I was warned that shoes would fill with sand and the helmet would blow away had I set them up yesterday; so I heading the warning and waiting until morning.

The Transition was almost empty when I arrived. As I entered I was warned that the area would be closing in 5 minutes; no need to panic I have become used to these types of time constraints. I guess that I prefer to arrive later and have less time milling around, but sometimes that strategy kind of bites me in the ass. I was also leaving in one of the last waves so I had I little more time than most before my race began.

I felt composed and calm as I made my way out of transition and over to the swim start area which was located just a few blocks south. I was intent on taking in the whole experience of the start and ultimately arriving at the start line prepared and relaxed. Just as I neared the crowded area surrounding the water entry, a starter’s pistol fired and the pro women were off first. Next to go would be the elite men who were also making a water start a few minutes after the women. The age group athletes were lined up according to wave start number in a long line heading north from the start line. I spent a few minutes watching the women navigate the course so that I had a good sense of how far I would be swimming before taking the important left hand turn at the end of the harbour. Once they made their turn I found a spot where I could lean up against a car and get into my wetsuit. After getting some assistance with my zipper, I and breathed in a couple sprays of nasal decongestant to mask what was left of the cold that I had been fighting over the past week. I then dropped off my green race bag with my shoes and stuff that I had worn that morning at the designed area and joined the queue along with the rest of the people in my wave who were wearing purple caps.

I positioned myself at the very back of my wave start thinking that it would be nice to know that all of my competitors were right in front of me where I could pick them off later on during the bike leg (hopefully). As we steadily move closer to the front of the line, I was surprised to discover that the waves were not going off at the designated times; instead all age of the age groupers were leaving one after the other in a non procession. I thought that we were supposed to leave 2-seconds apart within our wave start time, but the race officials decided not to break up the waves. By not leaving any gaps in between the waves the start times were condensed and we must have begun ten minutes earlier than planned. At the time I did not think anything of it, but upon reflection I realize that this was a mistake on the part of the race organizers. The impact of the condensed time for the swim start had the following effects:
1. More congestion at the swim exit; fortunately this was not that big of a deal.
2. Tighter groupings out on the bike course which helped to contribute towards the rampant illegal pack riding that took place.

I had envisioned that the Time Trial swim start would mean that a single line of swimming dove off a dock one after the other separated by a few body lengths. I figured that the faster swimmers would pass by the slower ones and that the spacing would remain somewhat consistent; that was not what happened at all. As I approached the start archway a race official warned us that the start would come quickly from this point and that goggles should now be put on. As I approached the arch I tired to leave as much room in as I could in between me and the guy in from of me, so I hesitated for a second or two before the officials ushered me through. I proceeded quickly to the end of the short dock where more race officials were helping people into the water. The dock was wide enough to fit three people across and that is exactly how people were stating; three people wide not 2 seconds apart as advertised. An official yelled out no diving just as I was contemplating my entry. I hoped into the water feet first wondering how deep it was.

The water was a little too deep for duck dives so I began swimming right away and I felt good. I made a decision to keep to the outside of the course based on the design that had us veering to the right at the end of the harbour before taking a big left; as I noted from having watched the women pros. Visibility in the water was zero as the silty bottom of the Bay had been stirred up along with the salt water from 1000 or more swimmers in front of me. The surface was very calm and the temperature was ideal for a wetsuit; I did not feel too cold nor too hot. Even though I established an even swim pattern right from the start, after about 100 meters I felt the sensation that I needed to check my pace. There is no way to avoid that initial adrenalin rush that made me feel like superman for the first 90 seconds and then not so super after that.

When I practice swimming I focus intently on my technique, trying to apply what I have learned and be as efficient as possible. In the race I spent most of my time focusing on my breathing and what direction I am headed in. I stayed away from others for the most part until the turn buoy near the half way point. After the turn, I noticed some reeds at my finger tips and then saw another competitor walking up ahead. I touched my feet down discovering that it was shallow enough to for duck dives; and proceeded to do many of them which seemed faster that swimming. I felt a little guilty like I was cheating by doing the duck dives, but I kept thinking about what Ayesha Rollinson (swim instructor and pro Triathlete) had told me about the swim; there is a start and a finish and it is up to you to make it from point A to point B as fast as possible. I decided to start swimming again after a bit even though it was still shallow enough to keep duck diving.

After about 150 meters running parallel to the shore, I made the left turn for the final 900 meter stretch in to the swim exit. After the turn I stayed on the inside keeping the buoys directly to my left. As the channel narrowed, it started to get pretty congested for the final 250 meters. I decided to stay in behind a swimmer in front instead of working my way around him. I figured that this could be my opportunity to take advantage of some swim drafting and conserve energy; if I could only figure out how. With the zero visibility I had to focus on finding moving water in front of me in order to follow the swimmer. This proved to be challenging as the guy in front seemed to zigzag all over the place. After a while I lost the moving water in front of me so I picked my head out of the water to have a look around and wouldn’t you know it, the guy was nowhere in sight, but the final 100meter yellow buoy was on the wrong side of me. We had been specifically instructed to keep the buoys to the left and this one was on my right. I stopped and swam back around on the other side of the buoy and rejoined the seemingly endless flow of swimmers moving towards the exit.

For the final 50 meters of the swim you just had to follow the swimmers in front of you and await your turn to get onto the makeshift exit ramp. Members of the race crew were making every effort to ensure that no one got hurt while climbing the relatively steep ramp. I cleared the ramp then stripped the top of my wetsuit down as I ran to the strippers mat to peel off the rest of my wet suit. It looked like the champagne room was booked as all of the strippers were preoccupied with other customers. Fortunately I found one near the far end who seemed to be paying attention to another competitor but not really engaged. I set up right in front of her and started to peel my bottoms off. This seemed to get her attention and she instructed me to lean back, so I flipped onto my back and stuck my feet up in the air while she pulled off one leg as I pushed off the other. I popped upright as she handed me my wetsuit then I began a careful jog into transition. Once I felt my feet securely under me and had my heart rate was under control I sped up. I had prepared myself over the final 200 meters of the swim by slowing down and mentally preparing for the next stage; as I result my transition time was competitive and I was ready to begin attacking on the bike.

I finished the swim in 30:47 which was ranked me 465 out of 1438 competitors. My pace time was 1:36/100 meters, which almost met my goal of 1:35; I have some work to do in the pool over the winter.

Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Championship - Pre Race

Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Championship - 2009
Clearwater Beach, Florida
20091112 – Pre Race report
The night before the race. Sunset view from my room.
Pier 60 - Where the swim was supposed to take place
The Marriott Suites - Where I stayed - My Stepfather John

I am in Wave #12 which leaves at 7:40 am; 55 minutes after the Elite women kick off the event at 6:45am. Half of the athletes in my age category are in my wave the other half start 5 minutes later at 7:45am. When I fist noticed the split I thought how great it was for the organizers to place me in the 1st wave of the 40-44 age group, and that the placement must somehow be based on your finishing position from the qualifier events. Upon further examination I realized that I had my father to thank for my position as the letter “B” for Bird falls in the first half of the alphabet. Splitting the group based on last name means that I will have no idea of my position in the race until I check the results at the finish. I am a little disappointed about the splitting my age group wave so arbitrarily as it reduces the competitive aspect of starting and racing along side all of your main competitors.

I just watched some older YouTube clips of Mark Allen and Dave Scott competing in the Hawaii Ironman back in the 1989 ). The video focused on the 1st time that Mark Allen had beaten his arch rival in the event. There is no denying that the competition propelled both men the extraordinary performances. They raced side by side for almost 7.5 hours before Allen broke away 21 miles into the run. Despite the second place finish Scott ran a personal best that day. Another extremely moving clip was the famous Ironman crawling finish for 4th place back in 1997 ( . Two women (Sian Welch & Wendy Ingraham) pushed themselves to the point of collapse and then repeatedly tried to pick themselves up unsuccessfully before crawling the final few feet to claim 4th place overall in the women’s race. Ultimately it was the women who adapted quicker who won coming from behind; had the leader started crawling 1st instead of struggling to get back up right she would have won. Both women showed amazing courage spurred by a competitive spirit. As the clip ends you can hear the women who finished 5th saying “I tried, I tried” as she is being carried off. It’s pretty moving stuff as well as being fairly disturbing. She also mentioned that she threw up on the bike; note to self, be sure to take in enough calories during the race.

I am exited about the race and feel that I have the potential to put in a performance that ranks me in the top ten for my age group. There are 200 athletes in my group from 20 countries who have all trained specifically for this event. I prefer a swim start from the beach rather than in the water because I can take advantage of my long legs as I run into the water and do a few duck dives. Okay my advantage will only help me for a few feet, but hey I’ll take what I can get. I swam a 1:36/100m pace in the qualifier 2 months ago; my goal is to improve that by swimming a 1:35 pace. Hopefully the added buoyancy of swimming in the salt water will help me swim faster. I also want to do a better job in transition out of the water where I struggled in my last race. I need to calm myself leading up to the swim exit in preparation for the run across the beach and into the transition area.

I expect great things on the bike, but have no real time goal because I just don’t know the course and what speed I can carry through it. I would like to be in the top 5 for my age group on the bike, top 3 really but I have no idea how strong my competitors will be. The flat design of the course should favour my skill sets as I will not have to drag myself up hills that favour lighter athletes.

I have tried to train for this run by extending my distances and eliminating all speed work. In reviewing my run results over the past year I see that if I save some energy for the run I can maintain a decent pace. I have definitely suffered on the run in the past when I went out too hard in the swim or bike. During the Duathlon World Championships in September I had nothing left on the second run because of how hard I pushed myself during the first run. At the Peterborough ½ iron distance Triathlon I spent too much energy on the bike and struggled big time for most of the run. At the Muskoka 70.3 event this past September, I found a good balance of effort exertion, except for the swim exit and the final 6km of the run where I ran out of energy. I am going to try and match what I did in Muskoka event, with some slight changes.
1. I will be sure to calm myself near the end of the swim so that I have a smooth transition onto the bike
2. I will make sure that I find a comfortable pace right from the start of the run; if I have anything left I can always increase the pace for the final few km’s; although I doubt that I will.

note: I watched a recap of the Muskoka 70.3 from 2008 and saw Brent McMahon try to stay with Craig Alexander before dropping back for a 5th place finish. I have no doubt that Brent would have finished no worse than 3rd had he kept a more even pace. In defence of Brent’s run tactic, you do need to risk losing to win and He definitely took the risk.

Nov 13 2009 - The Night before the race.
The only thing left to do is for me to fall asleep but that may be my biggest challenge. I am extremely excited about the race tomorrow. The race atmosphere is amazing; Triathletes from all over the globe have congregated onto this tiny strip of land in between the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay. We are still experiences the after effects of tropical storm IDA that has caused higher than normal winds and surf. As a result of the change in weather the swim has be moved from the Gulf to the Bay where the water will be calmer. The start will now be Time trial format for the age groupers with athletes leaving 2 seconds apart. This change does not really impact the competitive aspect of the race as my wave had already been divided alphabetically as mentioned above. On the plus side there will be no mass start which helps out people like me who are or were prone to panic during the mass starts.

As a result of the swim change I decided to cancel my practice swim on the gulf side, as there is no need to prepare myself for the beach start. Along with the swim change notice was a warning that if any athletes were caught practicing on the new swim course in the harbour on Friday, they would be disqualified. The new course starts in a harbour and rounds an inlet before returning down into the main harbour where there is an active boating channel. Fortunately at the Marriott Suites hotel where I am staying, there is clear access to the Bay; so I decided to head back to the hotel for a practice swim. The water was fairly warm just above 70 degrees. It felt great to be swimming as I became super buoyant with the combination of salt water and my wet suit. I swam along the shore about 300 meters and then back, stopping several times just to float and stay relaxed. The practice swim gave me some reassurance and confidence about tomorrow.

I went out for a ride in the morning to tour a portion of the bike and run courses. I had to fight myself to keep from going too fast and wasting energy for the big event. I felt like I could ride for hours but forced myself to slow down and stick to my pre race plan of only touring a small part of the course. A couple of times a few other eager cyclists passed by and I almost started shaking trying to stop myself from speeding up and blowing them away. The course is so flat, except for the causeway; I may be able to put in a special performance tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2010 NYC Triathlon Registration Frustration

NYC Triathlon Registration Frustration

After hearing about the NYC triathlon for some friends I was eager to sign up for the 2010 race being held on July 18th. There were a maximum of 3200 entrant for the race which is the same number as for 2009. Tickets wee scheduled to go on sale at 12:01am EST on Nov 1st 2009. The entrance fee was $245 and the 2009 race sold out in just 22 minutes.

On Halloween night after handing out around 500 pieces of candy (we live in an extremely Trick-or-Treat friendly neighbourhood), I set my alarm clock and went to bed for an hour. I had the web page ( up and ready and had already created my account to speed up the processing. When I refreshed the registration page I received a “page busy” response. I kept on trying but kept getting the same message. I started looking for other ways in such as finding a link through, but the only link available was for NYC tri merchandise; which I mistakenly registered for and even printed off. I kept trying the registration link and kept getting the page busy message. When I did finally get past the busy page, the message greeting me read “This event is Sold Out”. Great!!!

The popularity of Triathlon’s is amazing, especially for key events like the New York City Triathlon. Who would image that so many people would be willing to pay $245US - 8 months before the event, to get up before the sun for a swim in the Hudson river before cycling 40km and running 10km. Apparently then event sold out in just 7 minutes and 20,000 people tried to register for the 3,200 spots, leaving almost 17,000 people as frustrated as I was. It took me 90 minutes to settle down enough to fall asleep, only to be greeted by the lingering frustration when I awoke in the morning.

The registration process could be improved as the race organizer (John Korff) noted in the email to me. Apart from the entries available through a charity group, spots could be awarded based on results in other races. Doing this would help to promote other races that may not have the same interest and participation level. The organizer could establish a whole network of races leading up to a NYC event. There could also be a lottery of sorts much like for the Ironman key events.

Demand clearly far outstrips supply and whenever this is the case, somehow alternatives seem to present themselves; although they can be costly. I wrote an email to the John Korff asking for any alternative ways to register. I got an email response 2-days later informing me that I could sign up through one of the charities that are associated with the event or apply for a Champions Club ticket. I was pleased to have received a response and proceeded to investigate my options.

The Champions Club ticket cost $500 and entitled me to two passes to the race VIP tent post race as well as a Club Champions shirt. I have no idea what the VIP tent is all about but I would much rather win a shirt that says Champions on it than buy one (but wouldn’t we all).

I scanned the list of charities most of which are US based which makes it a little awkward for fundraising in Canada. With a commitment of $500US in fundraising you are guaranteed a spot in the race. I went ahead and contacted those charities with a $500 minimum only to find out that all of their spots had been taken. I moved up to the $1000 minimum level and found that there was a charity with spots left; The Running Start Foundation. Other Charities with NYC tri spots still available are as follows:
- At the $2000 minimum level – MDA ALS Division (Lou Gherig’s Disease)
- At the $2500 minimum level - Life without Lupus Foundation & the American Cancer Society.

I still have not made a decision on which path to take in order to register for the event. I don’t feel right about asking someone to make a donation on my behalf just so that I can participate in a race. I should be making the donation on my own behalf or be championing a cause that I truly believe in. Last month my wife did just that in raising money for Breast Cancer research for a 5km walk/run in Toronto. It definitely was not about the walk itself but about the cause.