Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Utah State Triathlon Championships - Race Report


Saturday was far from perfect.

For starters, driving through darkness on my way to Pineview Reservoir, I glanced in my rearview mirror and noticed my bike was being given the business by the early morning wind. Not being 100% confident in my bike rack, I pulled over to make sure everything was ok. It was, but I was now distracted and missed my next turn. $@&! Long story short, the next exit was a ways up the road, and I arrived at the race scene later than I hoped.
 

I hustled through the pre-race stuff at check in and T2, then biked the ~2 mi to T1. I thought I was prepared in long-sleeved clothes, but it was still frigid. My teeth were chattering and I once again pondered why I do the things I do. As I had been telling myself, arriving a little later proved to be no big deal after all, as I had ample time to get ready. That doesn’t mean there weren’t curveballs thrown… no toilet paper in ANY of the port-a-potties?? That’s a cruel prank on race morning!! Let’s just say I was luckily prepared thanks to seasonal allergies, but I have no clue what everyone else did... it’s possible that a white knight in shining armor (or perhaps the Charmin bear?), arrived while I was warming up in the water, but this was never confirmed nor denied.

to the rescue!!!!!!!
Anyways, although cold, the race venue was absolutely gorgeous… awesome mountain views with a splattering of fall colors, a soft sandy beach, and a light fog over the calm waters. I warmed up with many others in the water before hearing a voice on the mic announcing a last minute change to both the swim and the bike course. Uhhh, ok. The swim change wasn’t a big deal. We could see the buoys and it was pretty straight-forward. But the bike change? What was originally two loops was now a modified three, but not all loops were the same. Hmmm. I asked a guy near me in the water, “so is the new course shorter or longer?” He assumed it would be the same (56 mi), but I was skeptical.

There was no time to get an answer, as a minute later we were off. I felt very comfortable in the water and my shoulder caused me less trouble than prior races. I was able to find some feet to draft on for a decent portion, which I’m always happy about. At the very end of the swim my right calf cramped up on me, which was surprising because I use a “2-beat” kick and generally save my legs for the bike and run. Might have been simply due to being so cold pre race.

Swim: 32:12 min 21% (vs. the field)

Onto the bike, it was uncomfortably cold, but not terrible. I lost feeling in my extremities, but knew it would eventually approach 80 degrees for the day. Several miles into the course we approached an old monastery. According to all the pre-race communication we had to ride up to the actual building, where there would also be an aid station at the turnaround. The guy in front of me turned right (the monastery was down the road to the left) then shortly after looked back and yelled “did we miss the turn?” Since there were no turn arrows, markings, etc, I originally followed him to the right, thinking he knew something I didn’t. Now knowing that he didn’t, I yelled something like “yeah, I think we did.” I’ve never cut a course and didn’t want to start now. As we rode up, it was completely barren… no aid station, no nothing. We’d been duped! We turned around, and signaled to riders who had followed us to just turn around as well.

It only tacked on 1+ miles but I was now riding angry, which in hindsight was detrimental. I was frustrated with the last-minute course change, poor communication and lack of on course markings. It was hard to just focus on riding when I legitimately didn’t know where I was supposed to go. To be fair, this change could have been mentioned while many of us were warming up, but I sure didn’t hear anything and there was no arrow, or volunteer, to point the way.

With two loops down and one to go, it was clear that the course would be long. I’ll admit, I was not a happy camper, and my attitude was bad. I felt great through ~45 miles, then started to fade a bit. Through 56 miles I was around 2:42, a split I would’ve felt good about. I took another wrong turn in the last few miles (once again no marking) and had to double back. All told it was an extra 6 mi, and although not the end of the world, it took its toll on my legs.

Bike ~3:00   14%    20.5 mph

Almost immediately on the run, I had a strong desire to walk. Never a good sign! I fought through that, and vowed that I would have a good attitude (unlike the bike) no matter what. I had to dig into my mental bag of tricks early and often to get me through. By mile 3 I thought of the old Chevelle song “send the pain below” as a theme song of sorts, an attitude of acknowledging that I was hurting but that I could overcome it.

Through miles 4-7 I had a little mantra in my head, and I also tried to break the course down into smaller pieces… perhaps the oldest mental trick in the book. Unlike most races, I also welcomed a guy catching me, and we chatted a bit as we ran side by side from miles ~8-10. That was helpful, thank you Ethan. In the last couple miles I counted every other step to 20, over and over again. Salt in the wound was that the run course was a little long as well, pushing 14 mi according to my Garmin. Brutal. 

I got a little exposed in this race, as my longest runs post-injury were an 8 miler and a 10 miler.

Run 2:05   24%  ~9 min pace

Overall 5:40

I had some struggles, but was fortunate to finish 10th overall and win my age group. A nice surprise after a far from perfect race.














Friday, September 12, 2014

Ironman 70.3 World Championship Race Report - Mike Espejo

When I wrote my last race report, I thought that would be the most memorable moment of the year. It’s definitely up there, but my trip to Mont Tremblant surpassed it. I had only been to Canada once, to Toronto to visit the hockey Hall of Fame. I never thought I would be in Quebec for a triathlon years after my hockey career.

Mont Tremblant was my final 70.3 of the season. I had 7 weeks to train hard for this race following Racine. I took the first week or so after Racine relatively easy to recover fully and then hit it hard for a 5 week block. I took a new approach to my training, with a big bike focus (26 sessions on the bike in the month of August), adding more speed work to my run and joining the Cambridge Masters swim club at Harvard.

Training totals leading up to Worlds 70.3 (Since Racine)

Swim: 29 miles
Bike: 610 miles 
Run: 143 miles 

The Taper:

I held 15-17 hours of training over the final 4 weeks of my training block, then over the last 10 days I dialed my volume way down. My last "big" workout was a double run day, 75 min in the morning and a swim in the afternoon followed by another 75 min run in the evening. Mont Tremblant was the second race I fully tapered for this season, with Syracuse 70.3 being the first. For Bassman and Racine, I trained right through, with a minimal decrease in volume. The first week of my taper I managed 12 hours of training and then cut that in half the following week. My focus was on short workouts all at race pace. The key to success was to not overdue it in the final 10 days. I loaded up on carbs, decreased my fiber and fat content and kept my protein as it had been weeks prior.



Pre-Race:

I arrived in Mont Tremblant on Friday morning and went straight to check in. After waiting in line to get my packet for 2 hours (no joke) I had all this energy to burn, so took a quick dip in Lac Tremblant.

I stayed in a hostel that was located right on the run course. I was able to hop on my bike from there and ride the run course after checking in and drying off from my swim. I must say, after my preview of the run course I was a bit intimidated by the hills! Saturday was the same asFriday in terms of work outs. I swam and biked with a few good efforts at race pace. Also, how could I not mention my pancake breakfast?? It’s my routine the day before a race and it has served me well.

Bike check in was from 10-4pm and sure enough I waited until the last minute to do so. As I casually rolled up at 3:50pm with my bike, the volunteer asked me where my transition bags were... the run and bike bags both needed to be in by 4pm as well and I didn't have them. I racked my bike, sprinted back to my car and had my lovely chauffeur, Tara, speed back to the hostel to grab all my stuff. I shoved everything I could into each bag, rushing to get back in time. Next time I will have to read the MANDATORY excerpts of the race guide!

Race morning:

This was a little bit of a later start than normal. The Pro waves started at 8am and my wave went off 40 min after. Since we were close, I didn't have to rush over to the start and was able to “sleep in” until 5:00. I took in my calorically dense breakfast of 2 oatmeal packets with a scoop of peanut butter, banana, and a coffee (Tim Horton's, only the best). Transition was uneventful and set up was easy.

Swim - 30:17

This swim was gorgeous. The water temp was 68 degrees, crystal clear and calm. You couldn't ask for a more perfect day to get a swim in on this course. I recently switched wetsuits and started swimming with the Roka Maverick Pro. I must say I am impressed with this wetsuit. I swam in it 3-4 times before the race to get used to it and it took no time at all to feel comfortable in it. The body positioning in the water is outstanding, and what is even more impressive is the range of motion in the shoulders. I have to thank Roka Sports, Collin Swenson and Abe from Cambridge Masters for a killer swim PR (2 min PR). Thank you!













T1 - 4:38

It was a lengthy run from Lac Tremblant to the changing tent, which by the way is very strange for a 70.3. You had to grab your transition bag yourself, so it didn’t make sense why we couldn't have just left our stuff near our bikes. Either way it took me forever to get from the lake to the transition tent and then to my bike. I threw on my XX2i shades and Rudy Project Wingspan, went into my flying mount and was off.

Bike - 2:36:46

My split looked very similar to Racine, the only difference being that at Mont Tremblant I gained 2950 feet of climbing versus 1000 feet at Racine. After leaving T1, I felt awesome cranking up the hills out of town. I took a GU immediately, something I normally don't do but wanted to give it a go. My objective for the ride was to stay within myself. I wanted to ride an even paced bike leg. I kept my power between 195-225 watts on the flats and 230-250 watts on the hills. I took in a GU every 20 min with water whenever I was thirsty. As I headed into T2 I thought "I'm as fresh as a daisy!" and was begging to get on that run course. 

Bike Nutrition: 6 GUs, 1 packet of Chomps, 5 water bottles, 1 bottle of flat coke


T2 - 1:20

Once again I grabbed my bag, packing it back up with my bike stuff and heading out. Pretty uneventful here except they had chairs for you to sit in, which was pretty cool. I slipped on my Topo STs and race belt, toggled with my hat, and headed out for a run.

Run - 1:37:17

Ironman changed the run course from the usual Mont Tremblant 70.3 course to make it more challenging for the World Championships. It looked tougher on paper and I definitely felt it in person. I started the run quite fast, something I didn't want to do but I was caught up in all the cheering from the spectators. I settled into my target pace after the first 2mi. The course has many undulating hills, some steep and short and some longer and drawn out. The crowd support and volunteers were TOP NOTCH. Running back into town on a narrow, cobblestone road with spectators going crazy near the finishing chute was simply unbelievable.





Overall 4:50:18

Post-Race:

I was so happy to just be a part of this race, and am beyond thrilled with the time I was able to put down at the World Championships. Post-race food was good... pasta, bread, chick pea salad, chocolate milk and beer. For my post-race meal, I had a Canadian favorite called Poutine. For those who don't know what that is, it’s fries, gravy and cheese, which totally hit the spot.

If you ever get the chance to race Mont Tremblant 70.3 or Ironman MT, I highly recommend you take advantage… you will not be disappointed in the slightest. The town gets behind the race 100%, the lodging is all very close to the start and affordable, and the bike course is paved nicely and in great condition. The entire venue is absolutely stunning.


As a side note, Mike pretty much nailed his pre-race predictions!


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bullied on the Bike

Bullying is a serious issue. Kids, if you’re being bullied, please tell someone. “Reverse bullying” (little kids bullying grown men) is also real.

I am a victim.

After camping with my son Fri night, Sat afternoon I was in my driveway, minding my own business and about to embark on a nice brick workout. While pumping up my tires, out of nowhere I heard the screeching of rubber on concrete. I looked up to find myself completely surrounded by an ominous looking street gang, comprised of five ~6-8 year old kids on their dirt bikes.

“Listen, fellas, I don’t want any trouble.”

Thinking the worst they could do was mug me for my water bottle and energy gel, I stood my ground and addressed the apparent leader of the crew. In place of a respectful response, almost immediately the reverse bullying and hurtful words came showering down upon me.





“He rides without socks… he’s weird!!” one shouted, as the others laughed.

“And his shoes are attached to his pedals!” another observed gleefully.

“Oh yeah?” I responded, “well at least I have a helmet! Where are yours?” (pointing to 2-3 kids in the crew riding without)

“We don’t need’em cause we’re faster than you.”

Lastly, a fourth kid chimed in, commenting that my tires were “too skinny.”




Against all odds, by the time my Garmin was ready to roll we were actually able to find a little mutual respect. I even led them Tour de France style once around our neighborhood.

Then, you wanna know what I did??

I left those kids in the dust.

My third half Ironman and last tri of the season is this weekend… hopefully I can do the same against slightly better competition.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ironman 70.3 Worlds: "Give The People What They Want"

We’re honored to have Boston’s Magic Mike Espejo representing our national team at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mt. Tremblant, Canada mere hours from now.

Last week I had the following text message conversation with Mike: 

“Can we do a quick pre-race call from Mt. Tremblant for the blog? We’ve got to give the people what they want!”

Mike: “What is it that the people want??”

“A peek into the World Championships and the mind of a warrior going into battle.”

Mike: “I will deliver!”

Mike's been a busy man with last minute preparations, but we were able to make it happen!


So how are you feeling?

I feel good! I tapered for my other “A” race, Syracuse 70.3, but ironically not at Racine 70.3 where I was able to qualify. I dropped my volume a bit for Racine, but have definitely been staying off my feet more for this race.

How has training gone since Racine in mid-July?

I ramped it up big time, with a focus on my weakness, the bike. I put in a good 4-week push, with 15-16 hrs. a week of total training, peaking at 17 hrs. I also mixed in some new workouts, more speedwork on the run and a lot of threshold work on the bike. I also joined a local masters swim team here in Boston for August. I’m hopeful everything will pay off!

What are your goals for the race?

I'd love to go sub 32 min on the swim… hopefully. Targeting a 2:35 bike, but the course is pretty hilly from what I’ve seen and heard. Hoping to get my run in the 1:37-1:38 range.




Do you feel pressure or are you pretty loose?

I’m really not feeling nervous or anything. It’s a big stage but I have nothing to lose. I’ll race hard and control what I can control, trying not to worry about anything else. Winning my age group isn’t gonna happen so I just want to run my own race, race hard, and hopefully get a PR.

Talking about a PR is great and all, but somewhat at the mercy of the course, right? I’ve heard it’s tough, what do you know about it?

The swim is absolutely gorgeous. The bike is pretty hard, there’s a nice 15 mile flat stretch but it’s got some steep climbs for sure. I read some past race reports from pros such as Jesse Thomas and Leon Griffin and they talk about it being a challenging course. They changed the run from the old Mt. Tremblant course to make it even harder, so it’s pretty much a lot of rolling hills and climbing. I think this is to my advantage though, as I threw down a pretty good split at Syracuse, which has a tough run course as well. I’ve lost a few lbs. since the beginning of the season, so I’m hoping that helps on bike, but we’ll see.














What’s your race strategy? For example, how hard will you push on the bike?

For the swim I'll try to start fast before easing into a good stroke. I always start in front and try to grab on to some fast feet for as long as I can. I may make it to the first turn, maybe only the third buoy, but I'll hold on for as long as I can, then try to find another pack. My swimming has been more consistent lately, hopefully I’ll be able to show that when it counts.

Biking is my weakness, but I’m too scared to rip the bike too hard. I did that once last year at Rev3 Quassy. I had never walked in a race until then... I didn’t even walk at Ironman Lake Placid. I learned my lesson that day to not over-bike. I now have a power meter, so it’s easier to stay steady in zone 3, maybe a bit in zone 4, which will hopefully set me up for a good run. I’m confident my run will be there. I got a lot of good experience from my three HIM distance races earlier in the season.

What's the vibe like in Mt. Tremblant?

The atmosphere here is electric! Pros everywhere, top athletes of each AG male and female cruising around the course. It's a little overwhelming, but it's a great experience and I'm trying to soak it all in.


Thanks Mike, and good luck tomorrow!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Interview with TorHans: We'll Make You Faster

As a pilot for Southwest Airlines, Hans Bielat knows a thing or two about aerodynamics. Lucky for us, he also happens to be a bike geek who has applied his knowledge to the world of triathlon. The company is TorHans, and they promise to make that bike of yours even faster.


Tell us the TorHans story… what’s the history of the company?

I’ve basically been a bike geek since my days racing competitively as a teenager. My best event was the time trial… I loved everything about it. I got away from racing while going to school to pursue aviation, but remained a cycling enthusiast. I became a pilot, and the aviation geek in me was always reading about aviation, whereas the bike geek in me was always checking out what was new in the cycling world.


I’ve been friends with Jim Felt (legendary leader of Felt bikes) for 20 years. He sponsored me when I was racing as a young pro, and even custom made my bike for me. Several years later I caught the triathlon bug. One thing I immediately noticed was that triathletes were taking these great bikes, with great airfoil shapes, and putting all kinds of crap on their frames, bottles behind the bike, carrying 84 oz of hydration when there was an aid station every few miles, etc. I asked Jim directly, “why are they doing this?” Jim said I should do something about it, and I said “well, I just have ideas, I don’t know what to do with them!”

I got a tri bike and started to look at products that claimed to be “aero,” but I knew the shapes were all wrong. I thought to myself, “we can do better.”

I’ve known Tor my whole life, and he moved from California to Bend, OR as I did. He’s an entrepreneur and a brand builder who has worked with Fortune 500 companies. I told him some of my ideas, and we went to work. We started with, “how can we eliminate all drag associated with hydration if we were to make it perfect?” That was the blank slate template we used, and the Aero 30 was our first design born from this question.

Armed with some prototypes, we went to the low speed wind tunnel in San Diego with Felt for some testing, and the results were, “wow, we really need to make this a product!” It was better than anything else on the market. Two-time former IM World Champion Tim DeBoom was a Felt sponsored athlete, and for his last year at Kona in 2010 we put a prototype of the Aero 30 on his bike a few days before the race.
We also talked to Chrissie Wellington, who really liked the Aero 30, but told us she didn’t like to carry that much fluid on the front of her bike. From that we designed our next product, the Aero 20, which holds 22 oz. We put an elliptical front end on it, tested it in the tunnel and got great results. We sent it to Chrissie, who said it was exactly what she was looking for. We were happy to play a small role in her 8:18 domination at Challenge Roth shortly thereafter.

Since those early days, we’ve been continually growing as a company and a brand.

So Tor + Hans = TorHans, but what about Kevin? Just didn’t have a nice ring to it? What are your respective roles within the company?


I handle product development. Just like any tri enthusiast, I want the best equipment I can have and can afford that will give me the biggest gain. It starts with asking “what products are needed?” My role is to see the products through, from development until they hit the shelf.

Tor focuses on our branding, design work, promotional materials, website, etc. As I mentioned previously, this is his area of expertise.

Kevin has tons of experience in the bike industry and is a racer himself. He played a huge role in setting up our distribution network. He’s currently the president of Electra Bicycles, recently purchased by Trek, and now helps us as an external consultant.

Are aerodynamics just in your blood? How has being a pilot carried over to TorHans?


Yeah, I’ve always been fascinated with aerodynamics. At TorHans, we’re constantly working to eliminate drag, just like bike and wheel manufacturers. For a triathlete, the biggest opposing factor to moving forward is drag. It’s the biggest force, so if we can eliminate things that don’t need to cause drag, such as hydration, we do it. That’s our job. In aviation the term “parasitic drag” is used, meaning unnecessary things that cause drag. I look at a bike and think “what can we possibly hide or blend into the bike to make it go away?” Little things can accumulate to make a real difference, and aviation plays a big role in why our products are the way they are.

If you look verrry closely you might see Hans waving from the cockpit

What differentiates TorHans from the competition?

Simply put, we use proven aerodynamic principles to make the best shapes possible. I can’t say the same about other hydration products out there, that often rely on unproven studies or claims. For example, one study was done in 2011 that said a horizontal bottle between the arms (BTA) was the most aerodynamic hydration system. But ask yourself, is a cylinder an aero shape? The answer is absolutely no. I’ve never seen those results repeated in any test… I don’t know how they got the data. Yet many of our competitors took that study and ran with it. You can’t arbitrarily say that a bottle between the arms is fast. There are a lot of variables… do you have big arms? Do your hands effectively “hide” the bottle or is it exposed? etc, etc.

At TorHans, we go by what we know about aerodynamics to make something faster. To be honest, we have gotten on board with a BTA system as an option for people, but only by doing it our way and creating the fastest version on the market. After two years developing the Aero Z, we tested it and it did better than the competition in the wind tunnel. The three competing BTA systems on the market today all use a standard cage. When we looked at that, the system started to lose its airfoil shape, meaning airflow detaches from the unit. Instead, we designed it to fit into our existing mount, in a much more airfoil shape. Also, ours is the only system that is “gravity fed,” meaning fluid comes out the bottom of the bottle as opposed to the top. It’s unlike any other.

That said, will you see a BTA system on Starky’s (uber-biker pro triathlete Andrew Starykowicz) bike? No, because from wind tunnel testing we know the Aero 30 gives that bike negative drag because it blends in with rider and bike so well. We know that Starky saves 7.5 watts by having the Aero 30 on his bike vs. nothing at all! That’s what I mean by negative drag. A BTA system at best can be invisible, with maaaybe a slight negative drag in some cases. It really depends on the bike and rider. That’s the cool thing about aerodynamics in this sport… the savings is quantifiable. I personally think that First Endurance Optygen makes me faster, but I can’t quantify it. On the other hand, we can tell our athletes precisely how much faster we’re making them. It’s pure math.

Starky at Kona with the TorHans Aero 30 and VR Series bottle

















If you prefer a BTA system, I will say with confidence that the fastest out there is the TorHans Aero Z. I’ll gladly give one to anyone who wants to test it in the wind tunnel for themselves.

Can you give us some insight into the product development process at TorHans?


Initial renderings are done in 2D, then brought to life with CFD software. CFD really changed the industry in the mid 2000’s, when the “superbikes” started popping up. It’s pretty safe to say that every major bike manufacturer these days has a very knowledgeable aerodynamicist. If you don’t, you will get left behind. We have one as well, allowing us to optimize our products before they’re built. With CFD you can actually see the airflow… it’s incredible. Wind tunnels are great for data, but you can’t visibly see the airflow. Also, by the time you go to the wind tunnel, you already have a product. Another engineer does CAD (design) work for us to make the actual shape, and we then create prototypes before manufacturing on a larger scale.

How do you use feedback from athletes you sponsor?


We have great friendships with all our athletes and value all of their feedback. For example, we’ve had the longest relationship with (Luxembourg pro) Dirk Bockel, and he’s just a great, great guy. Early on he experienced some splashing with the Aero 20 and Aero 30, so we re-designed them to be much more splash resistant. It was great feedback that we acted on. We also had a prototype Aero Z ready to go on his bike at Kona. But with the material of the prototype, we just didn’t feel comfortable using it in the heat. We got one drop of splash in testing, and Bockel said, “you’ve just gotta put a door on it.” We initially didn’t want to, as we thought we’d lose aerodynamics, but we thought “this is Dirk Bockel here!” We went back to our engineers, and said “ok, we’re not gonna launch (the Aero Z) in Jan 2014. How can we incorporate a completely sealed door, so you can throw it 30 yards in a spiral without a drop, yet without losing any aerodynamics?” It wasn’t easy, but we’re now preparing to launch it 9-10 months later. Dirk was a big factor, and it’s now as perfect as it can get.























What’s the nature of your partnerships with bike manufacturers?

Have you ever seen a BASF ad? “At BASF, we don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.” We’re kinda like that… we don’t make the bikes, we make the bikes faster. Companies come to us asking how they can make a fast bike faster. In a couple years you’ll start seeing TorHans products included on bikes OEM. For now we sell after market, but often partner with bike companies on specific projects. For example, the Aero Bento began as a project with Cervelo. It was going to come OEM with the P5 until someone found an arcane law from the 1970’s stating that nothing can come on the top tube of a bike for “safety reasons.”

Our Felt partnership is ongoing, and the VR bottle got its start on Felt’s DA and B-series bikes. Felt was instrumental in the design. The bite valve, bottle, and holder are seamless, creating negative drag. There’s also no round, threaded cap and spout like most bottles, giving you 1-2 free watts. As another example, with its gravity fed design (liquid pulling from the bottom of the bottle as opposed to the top), the Aero Z will be able to directly fill the “bladder” of the Specialized Shiv. There are also new companies we can’t name that we’ll be doing cool projects for next year.

In summary, have you got a fast bike? Put our stuff on it, we’ll make it faster. We’re very transparent with our data, and we’ll show you how TorHans will make you faster at your next race!




Learn more about this awesome company at TorHans.com


Friday, August 29, 2014

Nixon's Nuggets: Roka Maverick Pro Review

Stewart Nixon (repping CO on our national team) is a recurring columnist on the Triple Threat blog. He's been a triathlete for 25+ years, and has a ton of knowledge on the sport. This is his first official product review on the blog, for the sleek and sexy Roka Maverick Pro wetsuit. Thanks Stewart!

My very first wetsuit was a short sleeved Aleeda with zippered ankles, making wetsuit removal quite convenient. Since then I've raced in full suits by Ironman Wetsuits, which morphed into the Blue Seventy brand. Since my first fullsuit, I have only owned fullsuits. Personally, I feel you are at a disadvantage if you don’t use one. Wetsuit technology has changed quite a bit since my first Aleeda, so when it was announced that Roka was going to sponsor us, I did some investigating into who they are. Being a swimmer myself, I always like it when swimmers are at least asked to provide input about new product development. It’s even better when they make the design themselves. Enter Roka Sports. I had a pretty good feeling their wetsuit was going to be nice, really nice.

I received my Roka Maverick Pro wetsuit on the Friday before Age Group Nationals, and since I had to drop out of Nationals (due to injury), that meant I had it in my hot little hands instead of being on the road. I ended up going camping with my family at Turquoise Lake in Leadville, CO that weekend and brought the Roka along.
 












After opening the box, the first thing I did was compare it to my old wetsuit (B70 Helix full). What struck me immediately about the Roka is the suppleness of the thinner panels compared to my old suit as well as the fact that they seemed thinner on the Roka. One of the points Roka touts is shoulder fatigue and how their suits would help reduce it. I could tell straight away that this was going to be true. In fact, the whole chest region utilizes this more supple neoprene with a center strip of thicker rubber over the sternum. This is opposite of what my old suit has. Directly below that is a section of thicker neoprene down to about the waist area where the thickest neoprene extends to the bottom of the suit. I also noticed the thinner panel around the achilles tendon area of the legs. Who struggles with getting your wetsuit off your heels in transition? This is supposed to reduce or eliminate that struggle. More on that later. Turning the Roka inside out, I investigated the stitching. The stitching on the seams of the Roka are much tighter and beefier than on my B70 and the zipper is held in place with a zig zag stitch instead of a straight stitch. I really like the fact that the Roka is a bottom up zip in instead of a top down; I never really got used to that method.

Putting the suit on was no more or less of a struggle than what I am accustomed to. But here is a tip for putting on any wetsuit; use a pair of surgical gloves so you won't get those half moon fingernail rips. One thing I did struggle with was the cuffs. They are quite a bit tighter. So much so that I had a bit of trouble when taking the wetsuit off, but I imagine they may loosen up a bit over time. I also noticed that the catch panel on the Roka was not as long as on the B70, although some studies have shown this to be irrelevant for performance. My height and weight put me at the upper end of a medium, which is what I ordered. My build (long torso, classic swimming/track sprinter body of broad shoulders/chest, narrow waist and thick thighs) always has me questioning my choice. Everything fit well with no pulling or binding in the neck and shoulder region.
 









At 10,200 feet, Turquoise Lake is COLD, even at the height of summer and last weekend was no exception. However, throughout the whole of my swim, the Roka kept me cozy. Once my feet left the bottom of the lake and I was in a prone position, I immediately noticed how much more buoyant my legs were. I initially felt that this might affect my body position once I started moving but this was not the case. I did feel like I was riding higher in the water compared to old suits. Roka talks about how their design allows more effective body rotation. Let me tell you, this is true. My stroke definitely felt more natural in this suit compared to my B70. As I kept going, I also noticed that there was less restriction in my shoulders. Another thing to note was no restriction in the chest region either. The suit mostly felt like a second skin and not an additional layer. Water entry was VERY minimal and with the fit of the suit, quickly exited out the legs. My final test as far as shoulder range of motion was to swim a little butterfly. One word, effortless.

Taking off the suit was as usual. I was a little concerned about the wrists and how tight the fit was there. I suspect that this will become easier over time and with practice. I do like the thinner panel at the bottom of the legs to facilitate removal over your heels.

I am extremely happy with the Roka. The fit is spot on, the design characteristics they have incorporated make sense, and the suit feels darn fast! This is simply a great product.




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Search & Rescue Mission: Triathletes MIA

I’m not pretending to have invented triathlon or anything (according to some historians that would be one Stewart Nixon), but I was slightly ahead of the curve in discovering it. When I saw that lonely flyer at the gym back in 2003, my thought wasn’t “oh yeah, these things are all the rage, everybody’s doing them.” In fact, I didn’t know anyone who had done a triathlon. It was more, “that looks fun. I’ll try that.”

That first race was the epitome of grassroots. Maaaybe 50 people. No transition zone, just lean your borrowed mountain bike against a spot on the fence. No helmet? (I forgot mine) no problem… just be careful out there, and go get’em!

Over the next couple years something strange happened… a tidal wave of people hopped on the triathlon bandwagon, and races started cropping up everywhere. It was a real phenomenon. Unlike the hipster who’s ticked off when “his” or “her” band goes mainstream, I thought it was great. I moved to Milwaukee in 2005, and despite the cold winters I found a vibrant triathlon scene, largely driven by the establishment of Ironman Wisconsin a few years prior.

I moved to Salt Lake City in late 2010, and after a visit to trifind.com I was blown away by the number of races… I was in a local tri shop one day and happened to mention that, and the guys at the shop agreed. Oversaturation.




















I’ve been hearing rumblings over the past couple years about race participation at “local” races being down, at least here in the US. Some states seem to be more impacted than others, but it’s definitely a general trend.

I looked at the # of participants from a few races on my local scene as a small sample:

Salem Spring (Sprint) 2006:   571
Salem Spring (Sprint) 2011:   308
Salem Spring (Sprint) 2014:   262

Escape From Black Ridge (Sprint) 2011:   331
Escape From Black Ridge (Sprint) 2014:   211

The Utah Half 2011:   360
The Utah Half 2014:   232

I’ve raced a lot since moving here, and my opinion is that the race directors do a terrific job. In addition, we have breathtaking race venues. It seems like the quality and depth towards the top of the field is very strong. For some reason, it’s largely beginners & let's say middle of the packers who have come and gone.

So why??

Well, here are a few theories:

Supply & Demand

The increase in races was a legitimate argument that held water in the past. Going back a decade, many states only had a few races to choose from. Supply ramped up quickly, however, over a short period of time. More options meant lower participation at any given race.

That said, the once oversaturated market, at least in my neck of the woods, has scaled back. The number of races has actually come down. I was signed up for the Battle at Midway in 2012, with a run course on the Winter Olympic cross country ski course at Soldier Hollow. I was stoked for it, only to receive a refund check in the mail shortly before. Four other sprint/olympic races off the top of my head are no longer around, and there are probably other more rinky dink ones I’m not aware of.

Although a bummer, I think this is a good thing that will stabilize and bolster participation at the more well-known races going forward. But we haven’t really seen that yet, so what else could it be?

Movin’ On Up

Another theory is that some people enter the sport at the sprint level, then “graduate” to the olympic, then on to focus more exclusively on 70.3 and full Ironman distances. Instead of doing several local races, they focus on maybe 1-3 big IM branded races each year, in part because they’re perceived as more prestigious. There may be some truth to this, as Ironman races continue to do very well. On average, IM races aren’t selling out as fast as they used to, but they’re generally still filling up. The competition at the IM branded races is fierce… there’s certainly no shortage of talent. Once someone’s dropped a hefty race entry fee on an IM branded race, they’re probably less likely to race as much locally. I’m a culprit of this myself this particular year, racing St. George and Boise 70.3, with fewer local races than in years past. Which leads me to….


$$$$$$$$$$

I paid my dues on a “commuter bike” with clip-on aerobars for a few years before getting a clearance deal on a Felt B16. My first wetsuit was an ebay buy, and after getting stolen at a race, my 2nd was a demo suit bought at a huge discount. Other gear was bought used or was received as gifts. Triathlon doesn’t have to be expensive, but it easily can be. There’s definitely some sticker shock with race entries (almost $700 for an Ironman??) and to a lesser degree also with local races. Certainly some people have done a triathlon or two and then chosen to spend their money elsewhere. That’s totally fair... we all know the economy was in the toilet for multiple years. I do wish sometimes that there were no medals, no race shirts, etc. at races… just racing. Virtually every shirt I own is a race shirt, and after an investigative study last year I found that most were unwearable in public. My wife and I hang medals in the pain cave just for fun, cause we don’t know what else to do with them. I’d be all for lower prices for “no frills” races. More bang for your buck. But maybe I’m in the minority on that… especially when talking about beginners, that may be what they want the most. They just don’t want a lot of them, I suppose.

Bandwagon

Lots of things ebb and flow, get hot, then cool off. I’m sure the triathlon community has “lost” some people to hotter trends, whether it be CrossFit, Spartan races, Dirty Dashes, or dare I say Color Runs. There’s a segment of the population that likes to dabble with new things, which is totally fine. Completing a triathlon is also a “bucket list” item for many people. I know a few people who have set out to complete an Ironman, and signed up for a few local races as checkpoints along the way. Once they crossed that finish line they were done, seldom if ever to swim, bike, or run again! I love a lot of sports, but I’m wired to try to keep improving and not bounce around too much from one craze to the next.

you're gonna get hop ons
It’s Tough

It takes a lot of focus to be consistent with training, and I’m sure many people simply fall off, whether they intended to or not. They may train for a stretch, do a couple races, then take a year or two off, only to repeat down the road. Again, I get it.


In conclusion, each of these theories most likely plays a role in participation being down. On a positive note, however, the quality of racing and the fun of it is as strong as ever, in my state and across the world. Those on the periphery will come and go, but just like Jeff Kirkland, the core is incredibly strong. Participation may fluctuate in the short term, but I'm confident will continue to trend upward with time.

A key part of Triple Threat Triathlon’s mission statement is to be ambassadors of the sport. Hopefully triathletes everywhere can play a role in encouraging and supporting others to live an active lifestyle.

Training for that local sprint is a great place to start!


caught one!