Thursday, November 28, 2013

Es Mariposa!

As a kid, I would regularly wear sweatpants to school. They were warm, sporty, comfortable, and in my mind, stylish. Lots of other kids through elementary school felt the same way. As I graduated on to middle school, my sweatpants naturally did as well. Unbeknownst to me, this was no longer socially acceptable. Eventually, my friend Zach pulled me aside for a man-to-man discussion:
some can pull'em off better than others

Zach: “dude, you’ve gotta stop wearing sweatpants to school”

Me: “why?”

Zach: “some kids are starting to make fun of it”

Me: “what do you mean?”

Zach: “they’re calling you Sweatpants Swenson”

I was completely blindsided by this news, thinking “come on guys, sweatpants are still cool, lots of kids wear them!” With laser-like focus, the following day I scoured the halls of Batesville Middle School for sweatpants, confident I’d prove my critics wrong. To my surprise, I only found one pair in the entire school. Eric Simmons, wherever you are… I thank you. Despite not being on that island by myself, the message came loud and clear, and I changed my ways.

Jump ahead many years, and history seemed to repeat itself. Moving to Wisconsin in 2005 introduced me to a new kind of cold… the kind that rattles your bones and can make a grown man cry. Still, the area has a vibrant triathlon scene in the summer (in part due to the inception of Ironman Wisconsin circa 2002) as well as road races throughout the year. During one such race, held in February, I was unabashedly rocking some old sweatpants. Afterwards, I realized that the vast majority of people had cool running pants (which some refer to as tights), which I did not own at the time. The Sweatpants Swenson moniker has a nice ring to it, but I thought it was time to move on. Shortly after I went out and got a couple pairs of Pearl Izumis, which I’ve regularly run and biked in on cold days since. Over the years as people have yelled things at me, I’ve learned that what’s “cool” or “fashionable” in some circles is not in others. I was reminded of this last week while out on a run. I was sporting my Pearl Izumis and encountered two girls on a trail. I said hi as I passed, and they started giggling. A few seconds later one of the girls yelled (and I mean yelled) to two other girls further back on the trail “ES MARIPOSA!!” As a carryover effect from speaking fluent Italian, I can understand my share of Spanish. I just laughed… nothing against what she said, I just thought it was funny. 

That was a first for me.

case in point

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tri Gratitude

With the Thanksgiving holiday around the corner here in the US, here’s my feel good list of stuff I’m grateful for as it pertains to this blog (in no particular order):
My 3-yr old daughter, who still talks about her 200 meter IronKids “race,” and when told “you’re a fast runner!” responds proudly with “yes I ma’am”

The invention of the wetsuit to assist those of us who are natural sinkers as opposed to floaters

On that note, my swim coach Becky, along with a big, convenient pool to splash around in

My wife, who after years of supporting my habit finally realized “if you can’t beat’em, join’em!”

My mistress– uh, I mean Felt B16 (AKA Francesca)

Little kids who stick their hand out to give you five as you run by

Analyzing past race results on boring days

Friends in the sport, including anyone I’ve ever gone for a swim, bike, or run with

Slipping down to the pain cave, especially when my kids are asleep and I’ve got something really entertaining to watch

The love of running I’ve had since a little kid. I remember creating my first training plan in 5th grade, which consisted of running home from school Mon-Fri (1 mi) and to the park and back on Sat (2 miles)

GPS technology: it wasn’t too long ago we had to drive to that park and back to see how far we went!

Past successes & disappointments alike that motivate me in different ways

All the pros, fast amateurs, and companies I’ve interviewed

May 5, 2012 – one of the hardest but most rewarding days of my life. Here's the perspective of a volunteer that day

On that note, all volunteers and spectators… even my brother-in-law, I suppose

My son, who has 1,000x the energy I’ll ever have… I wish I could harness that!

Everyone I’ve personally been privileged to coach in any capacity: past, present, and future

Being a part of Triple Threat!

Post-race euphoria combined with a delicious post-race treat

The mix of camaraderie and competition that makes racing fun

Race directors who make events possible

New race wheels I’ve ordered for 2014

Great routes, roads, and trails to train on

I'm a sucker for a good trail

Future races and goals that get me out of bed on cold mornings

The flyer I saw at Gold’s Gym for the Salem Spring Triathlon in 2003

People who read the blog!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ironman AG World Champion Clay Emge

Clay Emge spends his days as an engineer at an oil & gas company based in Texas. Last month he took a well-deserved few days off work for a lovely trip to Hawaii… however, instead of sipping pina coladas, looking for cool shells, and working on his tan like you and I would do, Clay went out and became the reigning Ironman World Champion in the men’s 25-29 age group. He swam the 2.4 miles (3.9 km) in 58 min, biked 112 miles (180 km) in 4:43 and ran a 3:00 marathon to finish in 8:47:36. That was good enough for 27th overall, including pros, and made him an AG World Champion by 1:36. Clay was cool enough to give us a recap of this epic achievement.

First of all, incredible performance at Kona! I want to get your name right... is it "emgee" or more like "m.g."?

Thanks! It's pronounced "m.g." - the letter m followed by the letter g.

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

Growing up, I was involved in cross country, track and swim team, so I've been running and swimming for a while. But it wasn't until after college (2006) that I got into cycling, and a few years after that I really started racing tris (2009).

Where did you qualify and what other races did you do in 2013? 

I qualified at Ironman Texas in May. This year I also raced Ironman Texas 70.3 in Galveston and several other regional Texas triathlons including the TriWaco oly tri and my hometown race, the Rose City Tri in Tyler, TX.

I looked at Kona results from previous years and didn't see your name... was this your first trip? What were your expectations going in, and were you intimidated at all?

Yep, this was my first time to Hawaii. I missed qualifying at Ironman Texas in 2012 by 10 seconds, so I was thrilled to punch my ticket this year. My friend/training partner Seth Cooke qualified with me, and we told ourselves that just getting into Kona was enough, and we would just be happy to be there. But inevitably, we trained harder than ever in the months leading up to the race, dreamed big and had high expectations. Nevertheless, I was still pretty intimidated, especially upon my arrival in Kona a week before the race.

Do you feel like living/training in Texas helped acclimate you to conditions at Kona or is it totally different?

Yeah, training here in Texas definitely prepared me for Kona. Training for a race in mid-October, you do most of your long brick workouts in August and September... and those are some hot and humid months in East Texas. I think I did some 20 mile runs where the temp never got below 100 F. After that, the energy lab really didn't feel too bad (granted, it was cloudy this year during the run).

Can you share what you did on race day in terms of nutrition?

Certainly. On the bike I do mostly gels - 9 PowerGels to be exact. My most solid sources of food were a couple Bonk Breakers that I ate during the first half of the bike. I am also heavily dependent on the fluids they provide on the course, and took a bottle of Ironman Perform at most hand-ups (every 10 miles). On the run, I also just take what I can get on the course, and try to get most of my calories from Perform... if my stomach's up for it, I'll take gels, but I can usually only do 2 or 3 total during the marathon. Something that I've implemented into training and racing this year is BeetElite - a powder that is more potent than drinking beetroot juice in terms of N02 (Nitric Oxide), and I believe it has helped me tremendously. I always encourage people to check it out!

Looking at the results, you were 19th in your AG after the swim, then moved through the field to 4th starting the run (~5-7 min down from all three). Were you aware of your position throughout the day, including the final pass for the lead? 

Well, my GPS watch fell off in the first 100m of the swim, so I was totally going off of feel all day. But my supporters did tell me I was 4th in my AG starting the run. After that I was counting guys with bib #s close to mine. When I caught the last guy (around mile 25), I thought I had moved into first, but I wasn't all the way sure.

How deep did you have to dig to reel those guys in, and what kept you going from a mental toughness perspective?

The run is my best of the 3, so I really just had to run my race and would've done that regardless of whether I was reeling in fellow age-groupers. But with the out-and-backs on the run at Kona, it's easy to see where your competition is, and having carrots out on the course definitely helps.

What’s a typical training week for you? What swim/bike/run volumes do you usually get in?

I typically swim about 4 mornings/week, usually in the 2000-2500 yd range, but I need to wake up earlier and swim longer. In the summertime, I'll bike ~200 miles/week, but I hate biking in cold weather, so my biking will take a hit in the wintertime. Running is kind of the opposite, as I will typically race some marathons in the winter... so I'll run ~30 miles/week in the summer and ~40 miles/week in the winter. These volumes will typically go up for the 6-8 weeks leading up to an ironman, mainly due to some long weekend brick workouts with Seth Cooke.   

What do you do for your day job, and do you have any aspirations of a career change to professional triathlete?
Clay with Iron friend Seth Cooke

I am an engineer with an oil and gas company in Tyler, TX. No, I don't really have any aspirations of a career change.... I'm very happy with my current job. I may consider racing as a pro, but nothing would change as far as my work goes.

Following this huge win, what’s next for you? Will you be back to defend your title?

Going to Kona was a huge trip, but I'm not sure if I'll be back next year. I'd like to travel to other places around the U.S. and maybe even internationally to race.

Lastly, Clay asked me to thank Cobb Cycling for their support!

Related posts:  
Ironman 70.3 AG World Champ Emily Sherrard
Ironman AG World Champion Amos Gollach

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bike Fit 101: Stack and Reach - Part II

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how my wife was in the market for a bike, and how the concept of “stack and reach” factored into the process. Our challenge was to find a bike that had the stack Lindsay needed (58cm), without being too long on the reach (40.5cm). After researching the Slowtwitch database, we were able to narrow the field down to five that were reasonably close as well as easy on the eyes:

is there a Spruce Lake Triathlon?

BH GC Aero
Blue Triad
Cannondale Slice
Felt B12
Specialized Shiv

The Blue Triad (size ML) was the best fit on paper, but it proved to be quite elusive. A local Blue retailer didn't have any in stock, and surprisingly we couldn’t find any online in that size. The next size down was also a decent fit to Lindsay's stack/reach numbers, and we found a great deal for one on eBay. However, adjustability is still important, even if the stack/reach are close. We requested the expertise of bike fitter Mike Mamales (who fitted Lindsay in the first place) who discouraged this particular one due to lack of adjustability of the aerobars.

We were also unsuccessful in finding a BH GC Aero option in Lindsay’s size, and the Shivs we saw were a bit out of our target price range. We found a great deal on a new, 2013 Felt B12, and it looked like this was the one. However, Lindsay ultimately decided it looked a little too similar to my Felt B16… it's a great looking bike, but she thought we'd look like the Bobbsey Twins showing up at the Spruce Lake Triathlon. I thought we could get matching helmets, shoes, and sunglasses as well... wouldn't that be adorable? 

No, it wouldn't.

For some reason the Cannondale Slice was the last bike on the short list that got serious consideration, but it ultimately turned out to be the prettiest girl at the ball. As a bonus, a local retailer had it in stock, and Lindsay was able to give it a test ride. She sent them the stack, reach, and other measurements from her bike fit, which helped them prep it for her. They called back saying they were able to add spacers (essentially raising the aerobars) to hit the stack number, but in its current form the reach was a bit too long. In order to make it work, they swapped out the Cannondale stem for a shorter 
Zipp stem, shortening her reach to the aerobars.

At the end of the day, Lindsay got the bike she wanted, fit specifically for her. It's literally snowing as I write this, so she has some time to hone in her new position in the pain cave before hitting the streets.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Looking Forward

Motivation is a funny thing. Two years ago my big motivation (pertaining to triathlon) was becoming an Ironman. Once I crossed that finish line, subsequent races that season were just a bonus. Last year my motivation was more about being fast. After Ironman 70.3 St. George in May, I did 4 Olympic distance races before ending the season with a funky distance, kind of a sprint on steroids. Only that last race was a new course for me, and I was motivated to crush my previous times. I was also motivated to qualify for age group nationals, despite ultimately not being able to make the trek.
In the interview with pro triathlete Pat Evoe a few months ago, he talked about how his original plan this year was to race Ironman Texas for the 3rd year in a row. He lives in Austin, so this logically made “sense” for him. However, he just wasn’t stoked by the thought of it. Instead, the thought of racing Ironman Australia was very motivating to him. Here are some of his quotes: 

"Thinking about Ironman Texas, I just didn't get excited. I think we need to choose races that get us excited and inspired in training. I love traveling to new places so I was looking for a destination. Being excited for a race has really helped me keep focus in training over the last couple months. I'm ready to go to Australia and see what I can do."  

Long story short, he made the journey Down Under and had a great race, placing 2nd.  


Along those lines, as I’ve thought from time to time over the last few months what I wanted to race in 2014, I’ve tried to let motivation be my guide. Having raced Ironman 70.3 Boise in 2009 (traveling from Wisconsin to race with my brother), my initial motivation was to go back next year. For a while that motivation was much stronger than going back to St. George. St. George is a beast of a course, and combined with a disappointing race last year I thought I’d take a year off… despite the fact that my in-laws live there and it makes the most sense. Once bitten, twice shy!
Over the summer, however, my motivation gradually started to come back to go to St. George and have a better result there, to the point where I went ahead and signed up before the price got any higher. Boise was now out of the question in my mind, because for the same price it made more sense to do three local Olympics… right? That didn’t get me excited though… the more I thought about it, I really wanted to race both St. George and Boise, giving up other races (I have a budget that I try to stick to). Once I realized this, it became even more motivating to add a third half Ironman distance race (local) to the schedule for significantly less $$, and focus my goals on learning to race up to my potential at that distance. I can’t say that I’ve accomplished that in my five half Ironman races to date. Ironman 70.3 Steelhead in Michigan (2007) was a total learning experience. I went in severely undertrained on the bike, and putted my way to a slow run. At Boise I was much better trained, but had stomach issues on the run that derailed my race. At the Utah Half in 2011, I ran the first 5 miles too hard and paid for it by walking stretches later on. That same race a year later was my best performance at the distance, pushing hard on the bike followed by a respectable run, although it fell short of what I think I’m capable of. St. George last year had its challenges, combined with a disappointing run. 

I’ve got three strikes to work with next year at this distance... hopefully it won't look like this!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Consistency is King!

With my training program for next season officially underway, the motto I'm trying to live by is "Consistency is King." That popped in my head the other day while riding, and I liked it so much I printed it out and taped it in the pain cave.

engraven on the walls of the pain cave
That saying is a good little reminder of what I’m trying to do, in triathlon as well as in life I guess you could say. If I’m not excited to do a workout, it inspires me to do it. If I’m in the middle of a bike ride that’s not going so hot, I look at it and am reminded that I don’t have to be a hero at every workout... just be consistent! Over time, that consistency has and will continue to pay off for me and for you. Living by these words has been a challenge this week due to being sick (my bark is louder than any dog in the neighborhood), but where I can I’ve been trying to at least stick with my routine, getting some light workouts in. Without fail I feel better during and after than I did before.
To all readers out there, I encourage you to shoot for this consistency as well. Don't be that guy who hits the gym hard for a month, only to not set foot in it for the next three! Don't be the girl who goes all out at the aerobics class every 8th week! You know the type, and you get the picture. It’s hard to improve that way. It’s amazing how much having a training program helps keep you on track. As I mentioned in the offseason post (which was also featured on, let me know if you want help setting up a program for yourself. I've written a boatload of training programs in my day, and really enjoy it. 

In summary, as the days get shorter and the desire to shut everything down over the holidays takes its grip, I encourage you to be consistent and get out there. Not perfect. Not a hero. 

Just consistent!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

One Year Anniversary

Yesterday I realized that the blog is now one year old. They grow up so fast, don't they? It’s been fun, and a lot more successful in terms of clicks and views than I could have hoped. On behalf of Triple Threat Triathlon, thanks for following along!

In that very first post (and also on the  profile) I said “I hope you find a good mix of race reports, practical advice, attempts at humor, etc.” 

Looking back on the past year, here are a few of the more popular posts within those categories:

Attempts at Humor:
Triathlon Trash Talk
The Nod of Approval
Lesson Learned
Man Card I & II
Ironmen Don't Walk!

Practical Advice:
Open Water Tips From a Mediocre Swimmer
The Checklist
Flat Attack

Also, everyone I've interviewed has been simply awesome... thanks!

Monday, November 4, 2013

EFS Liquid Shot Review - Secret Weapon?

Throughout the years, various nutritional products have been my “secret weapon.” As a wee lad running middle school cross country, my mom discovered a little-known product called a “Powerbar.” They didn’t (and still don’t) taste extremely good, but I would eat one before every meet. I was convinced they gave me superhuman strength, like Popeye devouring a can of spinach.

Midway through high school my family moved to France, where I attended the American School of Paris. I continued the sports I had played in the States, only now competing against schools throughout Europe as opposed to southeastern Indiana. Sometimes my friends would get their hands on something new from the US, and it was always in high demand… for example, my buddy Chris got a VHS cassette of the first episodes of a show called “Southpark.” A group of us gathered to watch it in a classroom after school one day, laughing like a pack of hyenas.

Another example of bootlegged goods from the US was one of the pioneer energy gels. I can’t remember where I got it, probably from my dad following a business trip. I can’t remember the brand either, but I know it wasn’t a GU or any of the well-known brands today. It most likely no longer exists. Anyways, I received one, solitary packet of this magic elixir shortly before my senior year. I was tempted to try it right away, but decided I would save it for my end of the year ISST (International School Sports Tournament) meet to be held in London a month or two later. It sat on my bed stand, and I eagerly anticipated launching this secret missile on the competition. The precious. It’s laughable now, but I fully expected it to shave at least a minute off my 5k time!
Race day finally arrived, and I took the gel. Believe it or not, I did not experience the superhuman transformation I was expecting. I had a good race, but nothing earth-shattering, and finished 11th. 

Many years later, I’ve realized there aren’t any secret weapons when it comes to racing. You’ve got to be consistent with your training, mentally tough, and have a nutrition strategy that works for you. That said, I want to make a plug for EFS Liquid Shot from First Endurance. As is always the case, I’m not receiving any compensation for writing this. After experimenting with Liquid Shot, I just think it’s a really solid product, especially for longer training/racing.

Here’s what I like about it:

  • Comes in a small flask, not an individual packet. This means no messy, sticky packaging to deal with. The flask is reusable as well as recyclable.
  • Holds 400 calories. No need to carry multiple gels, this is all you need for most workouts. Simple to pour two in a water bottle if you need more.
  • Packed with ingredients you need, including all five electrolytes. On that note, it has a much higher electrolyte profile than other products, at ~400mg per 100 calories: 100mg sodium, 150mg chloride, 70mg potassium, 40mg calcium, and 30mg magnesium, as well as 250mg of amino acids (protein).
  • Easier to consume due to no gumming agents (which gels have). It’s more liquid, less gooey.
  • Tastes better than most! I like vanilla slightly more than tri berry. Have not tried the mocha flavor. Also, easy to dilute with a little water in the flask if you want.