Sunday, September 29, 2013

Born From Research: Interview with First Endurance

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Robert Kunz, VP of Science & Technology and co-founder of top nutrition company First Endurance. I personally learned a ton from this interview, and I'm excited to share it. In short, I was extremely impressed... my first order is on the way.

What’s the history of First Endurance?

"First Endurance was started in 2002 by my business partner Mike Fogarty and myself. We were working at Weider Nutrition at the time, a bodybuilding supplement company famous for discovering Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was working in R&D (research and development), so lots of clinical research would come across my desk. I was a triathlete and Mike was a cyclist, and we were (and still are) passionate about racing. So I’d see all this relevant and powerful research, much of which pertained to endurance performance, yet at Weider we wouldn’t do anything with it because we weren’t into those products. I’d make my case for certain ideas because no one in the market was implementing them, but they fell on deaf ears. Many of the ingredients being researched were pretty expensive, yet there was great research behind them. Twelve years ago there really wasn’t any high-end supplementation for endurance athletes. We realized and knew that triathletes and other endurance athletes were willing to spend for products that work. Optygen was our first product, and with its high-end formula we charged $50. It was a risk, but also a smart calculated risk because we knew the market, and we knew that this stuff works. People were starving for these products, even asking me when I was at Weider for products designed for body builders. We knew there was a huge opportunity and decided to launch our own company, First Endurance."

What’s your role with the company?

"I handle all R&D as well as operations, including our four manufacturing facilities. In addition, I’m the sponsorship liaison for our pro triathletes, signing them and making sure they get what they need."

From your perspective what differentiates First Endurance from other companies and products?

"First and foremost every one of our products is truly born from research. I’ve been in the supplement business a long time, working for a number of companies before First Endurance, and almost every one of the hundreds of products I saw was born from the marketing side of the business. Someone in marketing sees a product that’s selling well, and they say 'let’s make one that’s very similar to this, at this price point, etc.' That limits what you can do with a product.

If we had a marketing focus, we may have first created a product similar to Endurox, Accelerade, or Cytomax to name a few, with maybe, say, a few more amino acids. Instead, our products come from research… they’re a little more expensive because they have what you truly need to compete. Our products have what the research shows to be effective. In line with that approach, we don’t adhere to the mainstream and what the media has to say. We launched Ultragen (First Endurance recovery drink) at the peak of the 'sugar is bad for you' sentiment, yet if you look at the research - if you truly pay attention to the research, it’s very clear that a high glycemic sugar is the best thing to put in your body following a workout. Yet marketing never would have allowed Ultragen to be launched with 60g of sugar. Ultragen is born from research, and today it is considered far and away the best in the market. There’s a time and place for sugar… immediately following exercise, sugar works. We won’t just follow what’s popular, we follow what works."

What’s the process of bringing a new product or product upgrade to market?

new father Cameron Dye has been on fire of late
"It can take as little as 6 mos or as much as 3-4 years. We don’t put a timeline on it, and a product doesn’t go to market until it’s ready. Innovation comes from research and at times as ideas from our athletes. Our next step is to always then go look at clinical studies. We look at a minimum of 2-3 studies in which the subjects were trained athletes such as collegiate runners and swimmers. We also have an endurance research board of MDs and PhDs who are also guys that race Ironmans, ultra races, etc. They help with a lot of our research, and we ask for their input regarding if something looks viable. We're constantly scouring new research, and our formulas are always subject to change if we can improve them. For example, we're currently on our 3rd formula of EFS drink as well as Optygen HP. Many competitors have kept the same formula for the past 15 years, despite significant gains from research over that time. We have four manufacturing facilities that each has their own specialty in powders, liquids, or tablets. Liquids, tablets, capsules, etc. are all completely different technologies. We’re able to leverage extremely high quality people and equipment at these facilities. We go to them with our ideas, having already sourced our ingredients, and then prototypes are put together that immediately go to our sponsored athletes for testing and feedback. It makes a big difference using pro athletes – you and I have many variables in our lives… it’s hard to know which variable(s) may be driving a result. Sponsored pros train day in day out, they know they can hold '270 watts at a heart rate of 152', etc, etc…they’re like lab rats, perfect test subjects! Jordan Rapp came back to us saying things like 'I held 7 more watts than I usually do.' They have fewer variables, so they can truly measure. On that note, it's been really fun watching our sponsored triathletes win 15 Ironmans over the past 4 years, none of which having won an Ironman previously. We take it one step further after the prototype stage, with a slightly larger manufacturing run, allowing customers on our website to order and try in limited quantities. Around 1,500 participate and receive a questionnaire afterwards. So there are different levels before a product or product enhancement makes it to market. Around 2,000 retailers nationwide carry our products, including Vitamin Shoppe and REI, but we mainly stick with independent shops focused on racing."

I did a comparison last night of some products that I use vs. nutritional data for EFS drink and Liquid Shot on your site. The thing that stood out most is the increased electrolytes… not just sodium, which was higher, but others such as magnesium, chloride, and potassium, which were largely absent from other products. What’s the function of these electrolytes beyond sodium? How do they help for training and racing? Also, how does your amino acid blend compare/contrast to proteins in other drinks?

"Lots of people focus on sodium, yet the products that claim to be electrolyte fueled don’t have nearly enough sodium to sustain you over a long, hot race. They focus more on the flavor profile, trying to make it taste good. When you look at the research, electrolytes drive cellular respiration… electrolytes allow your cells to 'breathe,' giving them the ability to let nutrients in and out, and all five electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, and calcium) play a role. It’s not just sodium, yet every company focuses on sodium, and maybe potassium. It’s more expensive to add all five, but that’s what your cells need to work best. Some of our customers claim EFS tastes a little salty, but would you rather finish strong, or fuel with something that tastes like your favorite drink and you cramp through the run? That said we find that most people like our flavors, but that’s not our focus.

Most drinks with protein contain whey protein concentrate, which has amino acids in it. However, whey protein is a large protein molecule that is difficult to absorb… it can take hours. The research shows that proteins can benefit your ability to improve glycogen resynthesis and absorb carbohydrates, but shows that branch chain amino acids are what truly give you the benefit. Amino acids are much smaller molecules and can be absorbed in seconds, whereas full protein concentrates take hours. Free form amino acids give you all the benefit of protein without waiting, so you don't have to tap your body's limited glycogen stores. Free form amino acids are much more expensive. Had we been marketing driven, we’d just use whey protein… that 'looks' better on the label. Looks great, but it slows down absorption. Again, it’s rare in our industry for products to get made strictly on the research side."

EFS Liquid Shot seems like a very unique idea, similar in function to a gel, yet a completely different product. What are the benefits over a gel?

"Again we really pride ourselves on doing a complete clinical review for every single ingredient we use. Our intention was to produce a First Endurance gel, yet in the literature review we found that gums, which are used to make a gel, slow down gastric emptying. Fluid gets in your gut, then needs to empty in your bloodstream. All these other companies use gums to make them thick. We immediately said 'no way'. Liquid Shot is more viscous (liquid) than gels because there aren’t any gums in there. It works much better by not slowing down the gastric emptying process. The research is black and white that gums slow down gastric emptying. The worst culprits of all of those little 'gummy' products. I guarantee we’ll never make a product like that at First Endurance, because we care about the performance of a product... not just that it fills a space that sells."
In a past interview with a nutrition expert based in Boulder, he raved about Optygen HP. What’s the difference between Optygen and Optygen HP and what’s the science behind this stuff?

"As I mentioned Optygen was the first product we launched, because we understood our customer base and understood what our customers were doing. Most endurance athletes are chronically over-trained and over-stressed on a daily basis. We knew this about all our friends and ourselves, and early research at Weider showed that rhodiola and cordyceps were effective in modulating cortisol, the stress hormones that are chronically elevated when you’re in an overtraining, suppressed state, during which you’re burning muscle instead of building muscle. Your performance suffers, and it can affect your lactate threshold and your VO2. You begin to plateau or feel worse in your workouts. What’s going on? Well, it’s physiological. The modulation of cortisol is the primary benefit of Optygen. You recover better, your physiology improves, and you start training better day in, day out. You can consistently get stronger over a longer period. It’s not a magic pill… you still have to put the work in, but allows you to stay healthier. Being over-trained also suppresses your immune system, so you get sick more.

Optygen HP does everything Optygen does, yet adds beta alanine, which has a wealth of great clinical research behind it regarding the ability to synthesize the lactate your body produces, clearing lactic acid. Beta alanine allows your system to work faster and better, with a direct performance benefit. On top of that it has a 2nd mechanism that improves markers of overtraining inflammation, allowing muscles to recover quicker. For athletes training every day, you can recover stronger for the next morning. 

The new 2013 formula also adds our proprietary Optymax blend. This blend has been shown in several clinical studies on trained athletes to improve glycogen re-synthesis, spare glycogen during exercise, and improve inflammation response following exhaustive exercise. In laymen terms this means you burn fat more efficiently so you can go longer. Following a hard workout, soreness and torn muscle tissue repair happens much faster so you can bounce back and be ready faster for your next workout. It's this ability to recovery faster that allows athletes to make big gains in their training over a few critical months. 

Both Optygen products are systemic products, meaning you can’t take it that day and expect it to help you. We’re talking more the last four months heading into an Ironman when you want to keep improving each day over time. People think 'oh I don’t train like an elite athlete,' but it’s not necessarily about how much. If I’m working 55 hrs a week and I’ve got kids at home and I’m training for my first half marathon, I’m stressed. Someone can be overstressed training 5-6 hours a week if they’re not accustomed to it. Others not at all training 15 hrs a week if they used to train 30. There are lots of variables. Your body doesn’t distinguish between stress from training, your boss nagging you at work, lack of sleep, etc. Mild training relieves stress and provides an endorphin fix, but moderate and heavy training can become stressful for your body. It’s an upside down bell curve, reducing stress at first, then creating stress. Where you are on that bell curve determines if Optygen is for you."

By using natural ingredients, is it difficult to patent protect your products? Is it a challenge to keep others from infringing on your proprietary formulas?

"You try to protect your IP (intellectual property) as much as you can. Some try to reverse engineer and knock off your products. We try to focus on the quality of our company, our manufacturing, and our grasp of the research. We don’t worry about it so much. People have confidence in who we are as a company. Our pro athletes know that they perform better with First Endurance products."

What’s the best practice for using First Endurance products before and during an Ironman for example, which may have sponsorship arrangements to provide other products “on the course”?

"Some of our athletes won’t take a single non-First Endurance calorie in. For example, the Wurteles (Heather and Trevor) lean more this direction. Jordan Rapp is strictly First Endurance through the bike, but he doesn’t like to carry anything while running. He relies on aid stations through the run. We don’t require our athletes to do anything, in fact in their published post-race nutritional accounts, we encourage them to list everything, even competitor products at an aid station. We give them that leeway… customers appreciate, understand and believe you when you’re transparent. It does vary from athlete to athlete. Some carry a concentrated bottle of Liquid Shot on the bike, then just take water on the course. On the run they may carry a Liquid Shot flask and take water. Liquid Shot makes it really easy to get what you need… each flask is 400 calories, and you can make a 1200 calorie water bottle very easily. The key then is getting enough water. On a hot day for every 100 calories you take in, no matter what form, you should drink 12 oz of water." 

Check out their website and follow to learn more about First Endurance:

First Endurance

Thursday, September 26, 2013


After a several month process, we received word this week from the US Patent and Trademark Office stating that our trademarks (the Triple Threat Triathlon name as well as our logo) are now complete. Not a huge deal, but I thought that was pretty cool. We can now use the little R by our name if we so please, and fire out cease and desist letters if the mood strikes us. Fun! As a side note, I’d like to issue a few of those to my kids regarding some of their behavior, but alas they’d probably just color on them.

I was reminded during this process that there’s a scam out there for most situations in life. As an internet rookie surfing the “world wide web” back in 1996, I remember receiving an official looking pop up window one day saying something like “your computer’s been hacked, we need to verify your credit card information.” I fell for it hook, line, and sinker, handing over the keys to my parent’s credit card like it was a piece of laffy taffy. Afterwards I had a sneaking suspicion that I might have been duped, and my wise father immediately canceled the card. Since then I’ve only had one slip up, wiring my savings to Nigeria a few years ago for a cut of the Prince’s inheritance. Alright, jk… I’m not that dumb.

Anyways, while we were waiting on the trademarks to come through, it was comical to see three separate solicitations come across the Triple Threat desk… one from Hungary, one from Slovakia, and one from the Czech Republic, each claiming to be an International Trademark Organization of some sort. They each had our name and logo on the document, but besides that they were pretty bush league, with broken English, misspellings everywhere, etc. They immediately failed the smell test, but just for fun I googled the first "organization," and sure enough it had SCAM written all over it. I guess I can’t knock their hustle, and I got a good laugh out of the offer… by wiring ~$2,500 (all were near that amount) to an eastern European bank account, they would essentially record us in their “book.” Did their book hold any weight or carry any significance at all? Nope. To their credit, the last one actually had fine print on the back stating that there was nothing official about them, that “listing” with them didn’t carry any weight at all. But who wouldn’t want to be listed with these guys?? An upfront payment and a recurring annual fee seem like a small price to pay for such international fame and glory.... what a deal!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Salt to Saint - Awards Ceremony

From 8AM Friday to ~11AM Saturday I participated in Salt to Saint, a 430 mile bike relay from Salt Lake City to St. George. It's a similar concept as Ragnar, just involving those wheeled things as opposed to your feet. Instead of boring you with every detail, I thought I'd share the post-race awards I gave our team today. For the record, our team name was Captain Ron and the Yellow-Bellied Crusaders, and was comprised of my extended family.

The TIT Award (Trust In Training) went to my wife's brother-in-law, Dave. 

Dave has a really nice Pinarello road bike, but unfortunately his training consisted of two rides around the block. Still, he held his own out there!

"Dave’s long hours in the saddle paid off when it mattered most. When times got tough (including 2-inch shoulders on highway 89 and 'half his body falling asleep') he fell back on his training to get him through. He handled his 3 legs with relative ease, boasting post-race that it was 'easier than he thought it would be.'”  

The Grizzly Bear & Must be Livin’ Right Awards went to my mother-in-law Sandy.

"Sometime around 1AM 'van 1' found a patch of grass and threw down our sleeping bags to catch a few zz’s. Between the cold air and knowing I was next up to ride, it took me a while to fall asleep. In the meantime, the two grizzlies next to me were engaged in a battle royale snoring contest. It was a close call, but I had to give the nod to Sandy in an upset victory over my dad. In addition, in place of rumble strips and narrow shoulders, somehow Sandy scored a glistening bike path well off the road for her night leg.  Must be livin’ right!"

Ingenuity & Innovation Award went to my brother-in-law, Taylor

Taylor borrowed Dave's bike, and was unaware how to shift gears until his second leg. Unfortunately for him, his first leg included a long, gnarly climb ...

"Taylor Wood: visionary, inventor, innovator. Frustrated with his lack of options on a recent ride, Taylor is largely credited with inventing the multi-gear bicycle. He saw a need, and he developed a solution. By what he describes as 'breaking the handlebar' (AKA pushing the shifter) a cyclist can now enjoy a more pleasant climb up a canyon pass."

The Adrenaline Rush Award went to my wife's cousin, Tyler.

"Tyler just wasn’t getting the natural endorphin rush (sometimes called cyclist’s or runner’s high) so decided to take matters into his own hands. Tyler went Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future on us, grabbing onto a moving truck to propel himself forward. In an instant he nearly became roadkill. Thankfully that was our only near-miss of the day!"

The Purple Heart Award went to my wife, Lindsay

"I think we should all drive Suncrest sometime to see first-hand what Lindsay climbed on that second leg. It was far and away the toughest leg of the course, and she stepped up to the challenge. Her last leg also had a lot of climbing, but 'was nothing compared to that first one' according to our brave little crusader."

The Orienteering Award went to Captain Ron, my wife's uncle. Ron got lost on the final leg... nuff said. 

"This was a close race between our Cap’n and his son Tyler. However, given his creativity in eluding that final hill on his way to the finish line, the Cap’n got the nod!"

The No Rest for the Wicked (AKA No Relief) Award went to my dad

"Most of our legs provided relief in the form of downhill sections, but not my dad’s… he was the only crusader who experienced a net elevation gain, and it was by a good margin. The saying 'what goes up must go down' did not apply in his case."

The TOFTT Award (Taking One For the Team) went to myself, of course. What can I say, I'm a team player!

"The Cap’n came to me, hat in hand, asking to trade my friendly last leg for his unpleasant one. I obliged, allowing the Cap’n to fly through the middle of nowhere on a downhill joyride. By all accounts he made extremely short work of Orderville and other neighboring villages."

not the fastest, but the coolest hands down

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ironman 70.3 World Champion Emily Sherrard

As many of you are aware, the Ironman 70.3 World Championships (swim 1.2 mi/ bike 56 mi/ run 13.1 mi) was recently held in Las Vegas, with Germany's Sebastian Kienle and Australia's Melissa Hauschildt winning in convincing fashion. I considered interviewing a pro from the event, but decided it would be more interesting and fun to talk with an age group (amateur) world champion. I kind of expected whoever I interviewed to be a complete triathlon die hard, eating, breathing, and sleeping the sport, without much time for anything else. Nothing wrong with that, just saying we're talking about the best amateurs in the world here. What I found in talking with New Jersey native and F2529 World Champ Emily Sherrard, however, was really surprising. For starters, she's relatively new to triathlon, and is a 3rd year medical student... she was literally on call during our call! Among other things, it was great to talk with her about her experience in Vegas and how she balances triathlon and life. Thanks for the time, Emily! 

First of all, congrats! Did you have any friends/family in Vegas to watch, and what did you do to celebrate? Are you still on cloud 9?

I had a great support crew in Vegas, including my coach, my boyfriend, and my boyfriend’s parents, who I met for the first time at the airport before the race. Unfortunately my parents weren't able to make it… my mom’s a doctor, and she was on call over the weekend. I was fortunate to also have some Breakaway Racing teammates from Philadelphia racing with me. To celebrate I went to the awards banquet, then to the post-race Wattie Ink party, which a friend got me an invite to. I guess I am still on cloud 9…it’s surreal, and I’m still shocked to be honest! It hasn’t really set in yet. This was only my second 70.3 ever, and my goal was just to put together a good race. No words can describe how it felt to win!

Where did you qualify and what other races did you do this year?

I qualified at the Syracuse 70.3 in June, but really had an awful day. It was a new distance for me, and I messed up my nutrition. All I took in was two GUs on the bike, and I bonked about 38 miles in. Halfway through the run I was so dehydrated, and I needed two IVs after the race. I was rather disappointed to say the least, but it gave me added motivation for Vegas. As for other races, I did the New Jersey State triathlon in July and was the overall female winner there. That was two weeks into my school year, and the race was a complete afterthought… I thought of it as a good training day. For example, I didn't use my race wheels, not wanting to bother. That race was a big step for me in getting me mentally prepared for Vegas, and a confidence boost that I could balance school and triathlon. I also was fortunate to win New Jersey’s Devilman in May and Wilkes Barre in August.

What were your expectations going into Vegas? Were you intimidated at all, being the 70.3 World Championships?

I made some changes after Syracuse, joining a local masters swim team and getting in longer rides, doing 5-6 80+ milers. Training was coming together and I thought I could race well, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to win. I was a little intimidated, mainly because I hadn't performed well at the 70.3 distance in my previous attempt. Syracuse was 90+ degrees and humid, and as I mentioned, not a great day. I also wasn’t aware of my competition beforehand, going in with an “ignorance is bliss” approach. I was more happy to be there and happy to be racing. Winning was not my goal.

What were your thoughts on the course, and was the weather/climate a factor coming from the east coast?

I really liked the bike course. I'm smaller, so a hillier course tends to suits me. The rain changed the game for sure, with a heavy mist during the swim and steady rain for all but the last bit of the bike. It was wet! Being in the Vegas desert, no one was prepared for that. The sun finally came out on the run. I hadn't familiarized myself with the run course, and it was pretty brutal. Three loops with lots of hills, but it still wasn’t as bad as Syracuse. It was great to have all the spectators out on the course. It’s much harder if there's no one out there cheering, easier to get in my head. It was really energizing to have so many people cheering you on. The climate was pretty much a non-factor, not nearly as much as it could have been. It was actually a little humid with the rain, but not as hot as Syracuse. By all accounts the weather was a much bigger factor last year.

Looking at the results, you were 3rd in your age group starting the run, ~10 min down on the leader. Were you aware of your position throughout the race? At what point did it sink in that you were going to be an age group World Champ?

I wasn’t aware of my position, it was so hard to follow. My coach tried to follow for me, but it was tough to get info. There were big packs on the bike, multiple waves, and many people’s numbers and age had washed off in the rain. That said, knowing wouldn't have changed how I approached the run. I didn't even know when I finished the race. I found my coach 10 min after finishing and he told me, and I just started crying. That was the first time I’ve ever cried tears of joy in my life! It was just so unexpected. I had to open IronTrac myself to confirm, just to be sure!

Was your strategy to try to save something for the run, or to just let it rip from the start? On a scale from 1-10 how hard would you say you pushed on the swim and the bike?

I usually like to go as hard as I can on the swim and bike, relying on my running background to carry me through. That said, at Vegas I didn't want to go too deep into my threshold, making sure I had something left for the run. I had a solid swim and bike, but they weren't reflective of my times in training. I think this played in my favor in the end. I have a tendency to lose focus at times on the swim… I’d say a 6. The bike was a 7 or 8 overall, but once it stopped raining I probably pushed about as hard as I could for the last 10-12 miles.

What’s your background and how did you get into triathlon?

Swimming was my first real sport. I swam on my local club team every summer from ages 7-18, and on my high school team my freshman year. I gave it up for several years until I got into triathlon. I played various other sports growing up before running cross country my junior year of high school. From that point on it was pretty much all running. I went on to run track and cross country at Duke, with my main focus being the 1500m on the track. I liked track better, cross country was too long (editor’s note: says the Ironman 70.3 World Champ). I kind of always knew I wanted to do triathlons, with my swim/run background. My first year of med school I would get out of class and not know what to do with myself. I was so used to getting out of class and going to practice, and now there was this void in my life. I started training for triathlons, just doing what I felt like on a daily basis, and started having success. I won my age group at a triathlon in Philadelphia and also at the New Jersey State triathlon last year. I started working with Todd Lippin last summer, who had coached a fellow runner I knew from New Jersey. I ran into him at a bike shop… I had a flat and didn’t know how to fix it! From there I started doing track workouts with the Breakaway team, which led to really training for triathlons. It was a track workout that got me hooked again… it had been two years, and I had been like a fish out of water that whole time.

How have you been able to pick up biking so quickly?

I didn't really feel comfortable on a bike for about 7 months. Over time I’ve worked with Todd, done CompuTrainer classes, and started learning how to ride hard. I have a good cardiovascular engine, and I’ve always been pretty strong, which has helped accelerate my training on the bike. CompuTrainer classes in addition to training with power since May have been huge for my riding. Pushing hard on the bike is different than pushing hard in running, and I’m still trying to figure it out. There’s definitely room for improvement.

Where are you studying, and what type of medicine do you want to practice? Have you always wanted to be a doctor?

I’m at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. Right now I’m leaning towards primary care and family medicine. My mom and grandfather also went to Jefferson, and I’m proud to be a part of that legacy. My mom loves her career, and she inspired me to follow in her footsteps. Ever since my freshman year of high school I knew this was the path I wanted to take.

What’s a typical week for you, balancing med school and training? Do you have an established schedule or do you have to be flexible? What swim/bike/run volumes do you try to get in each week?

There’s not really a typical week, my schedule is very unpredictable. I rarely know when I’ll be done on a given day, but it usually works out to get some training in. I try to swim with masters Mon/Thurs/Sun, get a long ride in Sat, a long run Sun, and a track workout Wed. I try to fit it in, but it’s funny to look back at my training and see how it fluctuates.

Overall it’s worked out though, and I’ve tried to make the best of the situation. Training isn’t perfect for anybody, and if you have that expectation you’re going to be disappointed. At times it’s stressful, but at the end of the day I put in the best work I can and that's all I can do. I try for 8-10k in the water, 80-120 miles on the bike, and 20-30 miles of
 running, but it varies a lot.

Following this huge win, what’s next for you?

I’ll be a little more run focused over the next two months and will run the Philadelphia half marathon on Nov. 15. I have two important med school rotations, surgery and obgyn, from Nov-Feb, so my training may suffer a bit. School is my #1 priority, and triathlon is what I do on the side. So many people have said “so now are you gonna do Kona?” My boyfriend qualified for Kona this year, and seeing the training he’s putting in, I don’t know if I have the time. Triathlon is what I do to keep me sane, but my threshold of sanity might be surpassed by training for an Ironman! Maybe in the future, but for now 70.3 and olympic are great distances for me. I may even have to step back and do sprints next year… we'll see how demanding things get with school. 

Word on the street is that doctors tend to make a penny or two more than professional triathletes. Hypothetically speaking, if the money were the same would you take a crack at going pro?

Knowing I’d have my career in medicine to fall back on so to speak, I would definitely give it a crack. I say that, but I also know that I do better both athletically and academically when I'm juggling multiple things… when my eggs aren’t all in one basket. I’m very goal oriented, but I do better when I have multiple goals in multiple areas of my life. I don’t like to get too focused on one thing so that it becomes stressful. At the end of the day triathlon is fun for me.

Follow Emily on Twitter  @EmSher1

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Closing out the Season: Ogden Valley Race Report

Yesterday I raced the Ogden Valley Triathlon, my sixth and final triathlon of the 2013 season. This race was a unique distance, in between a sprint and olympic, with a 1000 meter swim, 15+ mile bike and a 4 mile run. Driving to the race I recognized some of the roads from Ragnar up near Snowbasin ski resort, bringing back some good memories. As a side note, the XTERRA national championship will also be held in this area next week. Heavy rain and storms had come through in the days before the race, and were also in the forecast for the day. That said, pulling up to the race site the weather was looking perfect.

I arrived at Pineview Reservoir with plenty of time to spare, got ready and chatted with some people around me before making my way to the water. After being plagued by shoulder issues at two recent races (Echo and Jordanelle) I wanted to get a lengthy warm up in. I'm always surprised that more people don't do this... even 15 minutes before there were only 1-2 other people in the water with me. It's almost like people stand around in transition looking at each other, waiting for others to lead the way. 

The gun went off (well actually the cowbells went off) to signify the start, and I could tell right away that my warm up was worth it. I felt stronger than past races and was able to close hard  as opposed to hanging on for dear life like my last race at Jordanelle. This was obviously in part due to a shorter distance (1000 meters vs. 1500 meters in my last four races) but I think the longer warm up helped as well.

Swim 19:40   47th / 237 

There was a short but steep run up some wooden steps and a dirt trail to T1, causing my heart rate to rise as I attempted to jog the thing. I hustled through transition as usual before mounting my trusty steed.

The bike was one loop around the reservoir, which turns out to be 15 miles and change. Being a short ride I attempted to hammer right away, but found it difficult to catch my breath in the first couple miles. I kept pushing and eventually was able to settle into a groove. It was largely a solo ride, with only uber-elite David Warden and one other guy passing me from later waves... from my efforts I only caught two people as well.

In the closing miles I was rockin out to this song in my head

Bike 41:21   38th / 237
21+ mph
avg hr 164

The run was 4 miles, with the first 1.5 or so on the main road before turning off onto trails. I didn't have a chance to preview the course beforehand, and while a fun course, it was a lot more difficult than I expected. The trails twisted and turned with lots of little ups and downs, making it hard to get into a good rhythm. On top of that, rains from the past couple days made the single track sections soft and muddy. When you're pushing hard, it's natural to let your body tense up, which is counter-productive. It takes some practice, but it's better to try to "relax" even when your legs and lungs are yelling at you. I kept repeating in my mind "relax and go, relax and go" over and over as a little mantra. Like the bike, this was largely a solo effort due in part to being in the first wave. I was passed and passed others 2x each, none of which being someone in my age group.

a flat, friendly section of the trail

29:22   17th / 237
7:13 pace
avg hr 173

Overall time was 1:34:16 for this unique distance, placing 25th / 237 and 4th / 27 in my age group. 

I was happy with the race, and commemorated closing out my 2013 season with some pizza and ice cream. I've got a team bike relay (next week) and a half marathon (October) still on the schedule, but I'm looking forward to taking a few weeks to regroup before setting some monster goals for 2014. In the meantime, the blog's not going anywhere... in fact, stay tuned for two great interviews currently in the works!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Race Shirts: An Investigative Report

The other day I was going through my drawer and realized that I have an abundance of t-shirts from races. I’ve thrown many away over the years, but with those currently in my possession I decided to do an investigative report. I went through them one by one, breaking them down into the following three categories: 1) Shirts that I like and wear. 2) Shirts that are wearable, but only for working out or mowing the lawn. 3) Shirts that are unwearable in public, no matter the circumstance.

Side note: Let me be clear that I’m not the type of guy who thinks much about clothes. I never buy clothes. Virtually everything in my possession I’ve either had for 15+ years and/or received as a gift. This test was done with my low levels of caring about what I wear. In hindsight, I think that makes the results even more significant!

My hypothesis going in was that the categories would be somewhat evenly split. As shirt after shirt fell into the “unwearable in public” pile, I realized my hypothesis was dead wrong. I discovered that entry into this category could be attributed to a variety of reasons:

Color: several of my race shirts had absolutely terrible color schemes. Yo race directors, don’t overthink it! You may think white is boring, but it’s much better than burnt orange, lime green, or neon anything to name a few. Also, there’s no need to re-create the Wonder bread look on a race shirt. It’s not a great look.

not my style
Wording: there were a few cases where I deemed a shirt unwearable due to something tacky on it. I’m not the type of person that needs/likes to “show off” that I’m a triathlete to the general public. In my mind, the more simple and classy the shirt, the better. Shirts that had sayings like “I Tri Harder” or TRIATHLETE in a huge font were tossed in the unwearable pile. Also, if you’re spelling triathlon as “triathalon,” I just can’t take you seriously… I’m sorry, but you’re cut. Also, we don’t need words covering the entire front of the shirt. Cover the back with sponsors, but keep the front simple.

Fit: a couple of shirts were decent looking, but simply didn’t fit at all. I’m not just talking size here… I literally could barely pull one of them over my head. Once it was on it felt like Hulk Hogan had me in a chokehold.

The Verdict: 21 out of 42. In other words, for me it’s virtually a coin flip if a race shirt will be wearable in any circumstance without enduring ridicule and shame.

The next category consisted of shirts that I classified as acceptable only for working out or for yard work. Many of them have been worn hundreds of times, and some are hanging by a thread. Most are slightly unpleasant to look at, but are comfortable as well as expendable… a great workout shirt.

The Verdict: 13 out of 42 (~30%)

The last category to discuss consisted of shirts that I like. They’re wearable in public, either on a run or “out on the town.” They don’t scream “LOOK AT ME I’M A TRIATHLETE, DON’T YOU THINK I’M COOL?!?”, but are a little more subtle and dare I say stylish.

Unfortunately this category was the lowest of the three, at just under 20%.

The Verdict
: 8 out of 42

In closing, I think I’ll be saying goodbye to the “unwearable” pile very soon. If you’re not a triathlete but want people to think you are, let me know… I’ve got an ugly race shirt with your name on it!

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Choose your Wheelset for Triathlon Racing

Professional triathlete and Triple Threat friend Guilherme Ferreira Campos wrote this piece for the blog... great advice here, thanks G!

Lately a lot of people have come to me asking about how to find the best race wheels to suit their needs as riders. We have so many options today, and if you are new to the sport or don't read or study a lot about cycling, aerodynamics, etc it definitely can be a little bit confusing. Carbon clincher or tubular? What's the best rim depth? Does that same rim depth have the same performance for courses with different elevation profiles? These are just a few common questions that pop up in the general public’s mind.

I will talk a bit about how to choose the best model according to your needs and characteristics as a rider, using myself as an example. First things first, I believe in order to be as accurate as you can in your choice you should look at your biotype, meaning your height and weight. I am 5’5’’ and 122 pounds during racing season. Smaller and lightweight riders are much more affected by side/cross winds, making it harder to stay balanced on the bike, especially in the front end. Bigger and heavier riders are less affected by side/cross winds for the same rim depth.

I am a Rolf Prima sponsored athlete, and given their amazing range of choices, they can pretty much fit every type of rider perfectly. I of course first thought about which rim depth would fit me best. Besides my height and weight, I also considered the type of racing I mostly do. As a lightweight/short rider doing mostly long course racing, I chose an intermediate rim depth, going for the Rolf Prima Ares 6 (66mm rim depth) which are a super light wheel, coming in at 1590 grams for the wheelset (655 grams front wheel and 935 grams rear wheel). Considering I tend to race hilly bike courses, especially when racing back home in Europe, the weight of the wheelset played a very important role in my decision.

The less skills you have handling a bike, the more preference you should give to shallower rim depths on the front, where strong winds can affect your balance. Deeper rim depths on the back without proper riding skills will also force you to get out of the aero position, affecting all of the aerodynamic advantages of your tri bike.

Another main reason I chose the Rolf Prima Ares 6 is because they’re carbon clinchers. There’s a lot of discussion today between riding clinchers or tubulars for your race day wheelset, but for me personally, I can change a clincher rim way faster than a tubular. Do some good research about riding one or the other, analyze the pros and cons of both, and then decide which one works best for you. Among pro cyclists and triathletes there are athletes racing both for sure... consider what factors matter most to you individually because that's what matters on race day!

G goes to battle with these bad boys

Rolf has also a very large range of tubulars in the Tdf models with a variety of rim depths.
For more information visit the Rolf product page.

To finish up this review here, I’d like to briefly talk about the disc wheel. Discs are a very nice “tool” to make you faster, but you can only use it effectively in almost perfect conditions regarding wind and the course's elevation profile. If it’s super hilly it doesn’t make much sense because the aero benefits of the disc won’t benefit you as much as on a flatter course. The weight of the disc also plays a very important role. Rolf Prima’s disc is super light at only a bit more than 1000 grams for the tubular version and around 1300 grams for the clincher version. If you are looking for a disc wheel you should definitely check it out here.

Hope this helps in your decision to purchase your next wheelset!


In case you missed it, check out our interview with G from February, as well as his popular review of Fuji's new super bike, the Norcom Straight.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tribute to Braydon Nielsen

Triathlon lost a dear family member Tuesday night, as 36-year old Braydon Nielsen was struck by a vehicle and killed while on a group ride with his local tri club in St. George, UT. I first learned of Braydon shortly before Ironman 70.3 St. George, a race we both participated in in May. Through mutual friends I heard about this big-hearted big fella who had embraced endurance sports as a way to better health. He gave it his all, overcoming multiple flats and bike mechanical issues, but came up short of finishing that day in St. George. Instead of throwing in the towel, he doubled down and raced Ironman 70.3 Boise four weeks later. I was inspired by this guy's guts and determination, and we became "virtual" friends through social media. As the bottom picture shows, Boise had a much more triumphant result. 

Although I never had a chance to meet the man in person, he was still an inspiration to me as well as to so many others. Braydon, you will be greatly missed.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ironman Champion Mathias Hecht - "I won't give up"

For anyone who follows the sport, this man needs no introduction. For newcomers, Mathias Hecht is a professional triathlete from Switzerland who has competed at the highest level since 2005. He has 11 Ironman podium finishes to his name and several wins in his career, including Ironman St. George in 2011. He was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule for the Triple Threat blog. 

I was a volunteer at St. George in '11… it was hot & windy, in addition to the relentless hills, yet you put on an amazing show. I still can’t believe you ran a 2:56 marathon on that course! Do you consider your win at IMSG to be your greatest accomplishment thus far or your 8th at Kona in 2008?

I think my St. George 2011 race was close to what you call a perfect race. I didn’t have one low during the entire day. I made no mistakes, even when (Maik) Twelsiek and (Paul) Ambrose went past me on the bike or when Ben Hoffmann was about to catch me 21km into the run. My 8th in Kona 2008 was not such a race. I had some major problems on the run and that’s why I think I still can do much better there.

In an article with Slowtwitch you said “this title was very special as I said to my mum, this year I am going to win my first Ironman and it will be dad’s win (Mathias' dad passed away on October 22, 2010 after fighting cancer for over three years). He taught me how to fight for something. This was his win and I was very sad he couldn’t stand on the side of the course and watch me doing it.” I’m always interested in what motivates people… would you say your dad has become a main source of motivation/inspiration for you? What else drives you as an athlete?

Losing somebody that close has a major effect on everything in your life. It is a negative experience that stays with you for the rest of your life. To lose a very important person and to realize that this person will never come back is hard to take. My dad was a big supporter, but he never pushed me to do what I do, and I appreciate that a lot.  It is the only way to get real passion for what you do.

If you see somebody fighting for his life it definitely changes perspectives. It is a real fight. You can’t compare that to fighting in a race. The race is a game, but life is definitely not.
I think I get my biggest motivation because I have a lot of love and passion for what I do. I feel blessed and privileged to do what I do. I think I learned that because my parents let me do what I wanted to do. They never got too excited, but still, I felt their support and pride.

I know you came back to St. George this May for the US 70.3 Championships and raced Ironman Texas, but have been prevented from racing lately by a nagging hamstring injury. In a blog post from July you wrote that you hoped to be back by October, but that Kona for this year was shot. What’s the latest on your rehab and return to racing?

I’ve been dealing with this since IM NYC last year. It never went away and I tried to train on it all winter and push through it, and then race. But it got even worse and I just couldn’t perform anymore as my muscles didn’t work properly. The hamstring collapsed after a few minutes into a race effort. I tried all different kinds of therapies. You really become an expert on your injury. But nothing really helped. So I decided to test for compartment syndrome, and the pressure numbers they measured were well through the roof. So I had surgery for compartment syndrome on my right hamstring. Actually I had the same done on my left leg in 2007 and it came really good. The year after, I finished 8th in Kona. So I am confident that this will work out well now, maybe even for a late season race. If not, then I will come back strong in 2014.

The Dresdner Kleinwort/Commerzbank teams from 2007-11 seemed like an incredible situation and opportunity. Do you miss those days at all and have you stayed in touch with your former teammates? How does team TBB compare/contrast?

The Dresdner Kleinwort/Commerzbank Team was the most professional team our sport has ever seen. I definitely miss those days as it helped a lot to be on a long term contract without worrying about your salary and sponsorship every year. It gives you the freedom to concentrate on training and racing, and I am a person who needs that. I don’t race well when I have the pressure of making money to survive. You can deal with that when you are 20, but not when you are 30.Things are a bit more serious at that age and as a pro triathlete you put all this energy and time in the sport over so many years. You missed on normal work experience, so you need security in your job as an athlete. Otherwise the effort is not worth it. It’s not about the experience and adventure anymore.

With Commerzbank there were 3 people working full time for the team. So all the important outside factors (like media work, sponsorship, travel organization, training and racing gear, etc) were organized by a professional team management. I think this is only possible if you have sponsors from outside the sport of triathlon, as you see in every other big sport. People think the team stopped because they put too much money in it in a short time. But the major problem was the takeover of Dresdner Kleinwort investment bank by Commerzbank. It was the Dresdner Kleinwort CEO and Normann (Stadler’s) idea and project. If Dresdner Kleinwort was still around we might still see a team out there. I understand and accept the decision by Commerzbank, as triathlon was not part of their marketing strategy. Still, I have to thank them a lot that they kept the team going for another 2 years. I am still in contact with my former teammates. Still great to see that they are all doing good.

Team TBB is a different approach... a different idea. Compared to the Commerzbank Team it has many more athletes in it. It is a whole different thing if there are 6 athletes on a team or 30+. But Team TBB has been around for a very long time and that is very rare in our sport. Team TBB also stands for amazing success in our sport and for sure it stands for Brett Sutton, the master himself.   

I like to have a good personal relationship with my sponsors. It is important that they know you as a person, not only as an athlete. I appreciate the relationship I have with Cervélo a lot.

Team TBB coach Brett Sutton is notorious for some killer training sessions… can you share a couple of examples that stick out in your mind?

Brett turned an obscure talent named
Chrissie Wellington into a  4x World Champion
Yes, some of his sessions are very famous indeed. He keeps things simple and his 100x50m in the  pool or his 30x800m on the track are well known by most. But Brett is not just about these “famous killer sessions”. He is a master of combining the right days and weeks. It is the mix that really makes the difference, not one specific session. He can read athletes like nobody else. He is straight forward and there is no “bs-talking”.

Among the Swiss people, who would you say are the most famous Swiss athletes? (I’m assuming some guy named Roger is on that list) With you, Caroline Steffen,  Nicola Spirig, Ronnie Schildknecht, etc, as well as IM & IM 70.3 Switzerland, how popular is triathlon in your home country?

Triathletes are not very well known in Switzerland. Nicola had to win the gold medal at the Olympic games to get known by a wider public. Natascha Badmann had to win Hawaii 6 times. So you have to achieve amazing things to become a familiar name outside of the sport itself. Most famous Swiss athletes… well, there are not many. Like you said, there is Roger Federer for sure. We have some of the best skiers in the world, a few really good ice hockey players who play in the NHL, (Thabo) Sefolosha who plays in the NBA and Fabian Cancellara. With Dario Cologna we have the #1 cross country skier in the world at the moment.

I created an Ironman “tournament bracket” in March, in which people essentially voted on their dream destination race.  IM Switzerland was at the top of many people’s list... in your opinion what makes that race special? You’ve been on the podium there multiple times... outside of Kona is it the race you’d most like to win one day?

It is my home race so it is special because so many people along the course know you. For sure it is on top of my list for the races I want to win. I won’t give up. The race is very scenic and the lake in Zürich is a great place to swim. There are not many places where you swim and can see the snow in the mountains.

I ask this question often, but the answers are always very interesting: among the following options, how would you distribute the credit (100%) for a race gone extremely well? For these purposes let’s quantify that as being on the podium.

Coaching: 30%
DNA/Natural Ability: 15%
Equipment:  5%
Luck/Feeling Great on the Day: 5%
Mental Toughness: 15%
Race Strategies/Tactics:  10%
Training: 20%

You’ve been around the world and back many times… what’s on your “podium” for favorite races and places to train?

Most favorite race is Kona. There is only the Olympics and Kona in our sport that really counts. History is made in those two places. Everything else is nice to have, but won’t change anybody’s life.

I love to train in the mountains. Switzerland in summer is a great place to be. But I like Australia and some parts of the USA a lot too. I love good weather and I need an ocean or mountains. Then I am happy.

What advice would you give to people new to the sport?

Most important, enjoy what you do. Enjoy the journey and don’t put pressure on yourself. It is a great sport, with great people and great locations.

Thanks Mathias, best of luck with a speedy recovery and we hope to see you back racing soon!

Follow Mathias through his recovery and return to the top!

Main site & blog:
Twitter: @MathiasHecht