Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Oh Come On!!

Some people dream of double rainbows and puppy dogs. Others have dreams within a dream, and yet others have terrible nightmares. Within this last group there’s a sub-category of people like me who periodically suffer from triathlon nightmares. I’ve experienced this phenomenon for a while. In most cases something goes horrendously wrong, eg being late for the swim start, exploding tir – hold up, that was my last race… my bad. Seriously though, I often have tri-related dreams. At the very least they’re bizarre, and at the worst they’re bona fide night terrors.

Since Ironman 70.3 St. George, these dreams seem to have intensified. A couple nights ago I dreamed I was back at Sand Hollow reservoir. I was so focused on not missing my swim wave, but lo and behold I kept getting distracted. In my dream it was like the rest of my age group was pulling a prank on me. I’d turn my head for a second, then look up and they’d be sneaking down to the water, and I was like “oh come on!!” They’d sheepishly come back to the shore, as if to say "ok, ok you caught us, you caught us," then I’d turn away again and they'd be back to their old tricks. At this point I was like oh hail no, and hustled out to the water. I made it in time, but then things got really weird. The lake transformed into a wide river with a really strong current, almost like I wasn’t swimming at all and just flowing down some rapids. Part of this involved being spun around in a whirlpool and then spit out down one of those curvy, waterpark slides. It was pretty fun… are there any courses like that?

While on the subject of dreams, here are some other recurring ones I can think of… anyone know a good therapist?

Running Late – everything just taking forever in getting to a race. Delay after delay after delay.

Floor Swimming – several times I’ve dreamt that the “swim” portion of a triathlon takes place on, say, a carpeted floor, or sand, and you have to do a swimming motion to make your way across the ground before jumping on your bike. I can just picture myself attempting to freestyle across my mattress in my sleep.

Transition – similar to running late for a race. I’m in T1 and everything just taking forever. I keep forgetting stuff, and sometimes never do get on the bike.

Nature Boy – look down to see I’m sporting my running shoes, racebelt and heart rate monitor, but little else... not even a loin cloth.
Weird Courses – usually a run in which part of the course involves going from room to room through someone’s house, up flights of stairs, etc. before heading back out onto roads.

I only remember one sports-related dream with a triumphant outcome. The night before my Ripley County cross country meet as an 8th-grader, I dreamed I won in dominating fashion. In reality, none of the hottest girls in school chanted my name, but I did manage to win the race. Now that I think about it, is this the blueprint? If only I can force myself to dream better, will I start winning races??

Monday, May 27, 2013

Man Card: Part II

The original Man Card post received a lot of feedback, primarily on forums and social media sites such as Slowtwitch, LinkedIn, etc. Thanks for all of your comments. I thought the argument would be roughly 50/50, and was surprised by how one-sided the consensus appeared to be. In summary, supporters and sympathizers greatly out-numbered those calling for Man Card revocations. Some people made funny remarks, while others got a little defensive. Some offered practical reasons, such as helping road rash heal and the post-race massage, whereas others cut to the chase and said it was a vanity thing, "chicks dig it," and there's a mental benefit of "feeling fast." Clearly the popular opinion, however, is that in the world of triathlon, men shaving their legs is not a Man Card violation. It appears, as many noted, that the triathlon world is regulated by its own set of unwritten rules. In other words, what would usually warrant at least a call to the Man Card police (in this case shaving one’s legs) does not constitute such a violation of what I'll call the “Tri Card,” which applies to both men and women. 

So this got me thinking… surely there are actions that constitute a violation of said Tri Card, right? Here are a few of my thoughts to get the ball rolling: 

Rack Hog – With triathlon becoming increasingly popular, transition area is a crowded space, with a population density rivaling that of Hong Kong. Most people make an honest effort to keep their stuff compact and at a minimal level, yet inevitably there’s that guy or girl who has all kinds of crap spread out like an all-you-can-eat, country-style buffet. This is annoying and potentially dangerous. 

Penalty – 1 corner snippage of Tri Card 

Drafting – Unless you’re an elite uber-biker, the following is a common occurrence, especially at popular, sold out races. You’re gritting your teeth and pushing hard on the bike. You’re aero. You’ve got the eye of the tiger. Then, you hear it... is it a freight train? A pack of wolves? Before you can think of a third thing, you’re swallowed up by a Tour de France style peloton, disc wheels humming and blowing by you like your mom trying to guard Dwyane Wade. Sure, eliminating drafting 100% in big races is unrealistic, but the blatant offenders warrant Tri Card citations. Although it’s not rare for someone to blow by me on the bike, drafters are downright aggravating. Come on people, ride your own race! 

Penalty – 2 to 3 corner snippage depending on blatancy 

break it up, fellas

Water Fighting – The triathlon swim is rightfully referred to as a “washing machine.” There’s always some level of contact with other competitors, most of it accidental and benign. The fact of the matter is, however, that everyone is pretty anonymous out there. Just like on internet message boards, an increase in anonymity can lead to an increase in anger. Case in point: at Vineman last year, Triple Threat team member Russell Memory had unfortunate encounters with two angry walruses. One guy grabbed Russell’s wetsuit cord and yanked down hard, completely unzipping his suit. In a separate encounter, someone grabbed ahold of his ankle and ripped off his timing chip. Are you kidding me?? 

Penalty – minimum 2 corner snippage of Tri Card, depending on the crime 

it's hard enough as it is

Being a (fill in your favorite word here) – I love racing for a lot of reasons, from the pre-race buildup to analyzing the results. It’s the time to put your training to the test. The competition aspect is fun, the atmosphere is electric, and 9 out of every 10 people you meet are really cool. Unfortunately that leaves 1 out of 10, who is typically full of him/herself and acting like the reigning King/Queen of Kona at the local sprint. It’s tough to pinpoint the specific characteristics, but let’s just say you know it when you see it. You also know it when you don’t. 

Penalty - 4 corner snippage (complete revocation) for extreme offenders 

Is there anything I missed?

Friday, May 24, 2013

The 4th Discipline

Nutrition is such a critical part of triathlon that it is often referred to as the “4th discipline.” It also can at times feel like the most overwhelming of them all. What, when, and how much to eat and drink are common questions facing beginners and veterans alike. Even if your swim, bike, and run fitness are up to the task, poor nutritional choices before or during a workout or race can quickly derail your goals. I've been meaning to do a nutrition post for a while now in an attempt to demystify the subject at least a bit. Mutual friend Guilherme Ferreira Campos put me in touch with Craig David and Brad Seng, two nutrition experts based in Boulder, Colorado. Craig studied exercise science and nutrition at Colorado State University and has owned Boulder's Max Muscle Sports Nutrition (MMSN) since 2008. Brad Seng is a professional triathlete, coach, and motivational speaker who is also affiliated with MMSN. He has several top 10 finishes in his career, including Ironman Lake Placid (2010 & '12) and Ironman Wisconsin (2010). 

I asked readers for questions and chose the most common topics for Craig and Brad.

"Generally speaking, how many calories should the average person target per hour on the bike and run? Is it better to err on the side of getting too many calories or not enough on race day?" 

Brad: Generally speaking more calories per hour are required during the bike than the run with a 30-40% reduction for the run. Our bodies are only able to process/digest/breakdown approximately 20-30% of what our expenditure is per hour. For most athletes the range during long training rides and races will be 150-300 calories per hour. Of course many factors influence this with respect to athlete size, intensity, weather, etc. A common mistake by many athletes is to try and match their expenditure which ultimately results in GI distress. Long training sessions provide the best opportunity to get this sorted well before race day! 

"Do I need to drink plain water in addition to a sports drink on the bike? I'm running out of places to carry stuff!" 

MJ had a high sweat rate
Craig: Ha! This can definitely present a pickle.. My suggestion: find an electrolyte/sports drink that works for you & stick w/ it. If you need straight water or more water, take advantage of that at aid stations in order to save some “bottle” space! 

"How much sodium does the average person need to replace per hour? Should I be popping salt tablets like some of my friends?" 

Craig: This comes up often and the answer is there is no good answer. Everyone is so different, we’ve seen it as low as 200mg/hour up to 800+ an hour. The first step to this is figuring out what your sweat rate is, then work backwards based on replacing fluids & sodium content. 

"Could you share a few nutrition tips that you personally use on race day? For example, what do you typically eat for breakfast and what time? Should I get up in the middle of the night to eat before my Ironman or take all the sleep (if any) I can get?"

Brad: I do not have a specific pre-race meal the night prior to races, but simply eat what I’m craving (fish tacos, chicken/rice/veggies, pizza w/salad, salmon & sweet potato). Race mornings I time my meal 2:30-3:00 prior to the start which consists of a toast with peanut butter & honey, banana, bottle of Skratch or EFS and coffee. I will top off my glycogen stores 20-30’ before the start of the race with a gel or hit of EFS Liquid Shot. Sleep is king and I would never recommend waking up in the middle of night to eat. Additionally, I do not change my eating during race week and stick with what my body is used to from months of preparation. If we have effectively fueled, recovered and stayed on top of things during the specific race prep, our bodies will be primed for race day and no need to look for that “magic meal”.

“What leads to GI issues and what can I do to avoid? Is there anything I can do during a race if my stomach’s refusing to cooperate?” 

Craig: This is a great question. GI can be related to several issues…some of the more common would be not enough water, or possibly too many calories. If you’re starting to experience stomach distress, consider pacing down for a short duration, let your heart rate decrease a bit, and try to get in a steady stream of water in order to help whatever calories in your body digest.

To avoid it: 1st, find an electrolyte that doesn’t upset your stomach. 2, play with whole food & liquid calories to find a mix that tastes good & that you can also stomach. Sometimes we consume too many calories too soon. Depending on your distance, shoot to get in 150-200 calories every 30-40 minutes. If you do this consistently, you’ll help avoid some of the possible “back up” in your GI that leads to the stomach distress.

"I'm a newbie. Do I need to worry about nutrition for sprint and olympic distance races?" 

Craig: Do you put gas in your car for your 1st road trip? Absolutely! We see a lot of people trying to “wing it” going into a shorter race with no strategy to hydrate, only to find race day extremely uncomfortable & lacking energy. If you’re a “newbie,” nutrition is equally important as your training plan; if your body doesn’t have the quality fuel, you won’t be executing that training plan very well. Extended muscle fatigue, weakened immune system, soreness, lack of energy during your typical day, etc.. can all be related to not adequately fueling your body.

"Should I try to get fancy with my 'own' nutrition for Ironman and Ironman 70.3 or just adapt to what's on the course in my training?"

Brad: I typically have what I need with me on board and via special needs bags to not rely too much on what is on course during Ironman races. This may take some planning up front and practice during long rides and runs, but will alleviate any potential stomach issues and guess work on race day. If an athlete is planning to use what is on the course then he/she should definitely train with the same fuel to make sure it will not cause any GI stress or adverse reactions. 

"Do you foresee a time when some substances that are currently banned from sports will be readily accepted and used to enhance performance?"

Craig: I think it depends on the perspective of what kind of “substance” you are asking about; a “nutraceutical” substance vs a “pharmaceutical” substance? If we consider the 1st, we can think of something like caffeine; it’s known to increase heart rate, burn more calories, and increase physical exertion... it’s been studied for decades. You’ll find it accepted & in a rising number of products aimed at helping our bodies to better manage stress, amongst many things. “Optygen HP” from First Endurance is one such product, and we see a high level of results from this. If we think of the latter, I’d highly doubt we see a ban “lifted” from certain items. They are banned for a reason; why would we comprise health over performance?

"What over the counter supplements would be most 'worth it' for triathletes? It seems like there's a lot of stuff out there, and I'm skeptical about some of their claims." 

Craig: Skepticism is common & rightfully so. With certain “claims,” you have to understand that a lot of the testing was likely done in very specific environments. We talk about the “ifs” in our business. If you’re training consistently, stressing the muscle, taking your body beyond any training limit it has ever seen, then yes certain things are going to work better. What’s worth it? Well, calories for starters, is a great one. I’d say 75% of the triathletes we see are taking in too few calories. Think about the basics of what our body needs in order to sustain normal function (whether you’re an athlete or not) and avoid distress: vitamins, minerals, essential fats, amino acids, etc... these are “essential,” meaning the body cannot manufacture them. Regardless of the person, you still need to get them. If you’re missing this, how do you expect your body to be healthy, much less perform? For starters, amino acids can significantly increase recovery time and decrease soreness. Fish or flax seed oil are going to help keep the joints lubricated, cognitive function high, and maintenance of a healthy cholesterol & blood pressure, not to mention recovery. Get in a protein, carbohydrate, electrolyte mix post training so your body starts putting itself back together! Start here, then you can add the fancy stuff!

"What trends do you see coming out of Boulder with regards to nutrition and sports performance? Are there any products that you recommend in particular?"

Craig: People are realizing that if you maintain a consistent diet & focus on nutrient timing, then you’re going to be able to “play up” your bodies strengths & either handle a greater training load or handle the current load with less distress. The more we can keep the body's overall “perceived” level of stress down, the better. “Stress” is and will continue to be a key word when it comes to recovery. CNS is a night time formula of aminos designed to help get into a more restful sleep w/out feeling groggy… it’s been amazing! Optygen HP mentioned earlier has also been a raging success for the last few years. We see athletes not only performing better w/ these, but their daily lives on the job, at the office, and at home are improved due to their overall ability to better manage physical & mental stress.

Thanks Craig and Brad for your insights and time!

Check out MMSN's site and follow via 

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Shortly after writing my post on open water tips, I was contacted by an online retailer called AquaGear asking if I’d be interested in reviewing one of their products. This sounded great to me, and I debated back and forth what I should choose. If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you may recall the Eureka! post from a couple months back. I came across a funky-looking product on the AquaGear site called the Finis Forearm Fulcrum that I thought could help reinforce the changes I’ve been trying to make to my stroke.

as a kid I thought a "Forearm Fulcrum" was my grandpa's headlock

After reading the following from the AquaGear site, I was sold: “The Finis Forearm Fulcrum helps position your forearm to achieve an Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) to increase stroke efficiency. This position utilizes the entire forearm during the pull, from the fingertips to the elbow. When using the Forearm Fulcrum for stroke refinement, it promotes muscle memory for the proper hand, wrist and forearm position. Gain efficiency and maintain a strong, uninterrupted pull from the very beginning to the end of the stroke. The Forearm Fulcrum is beneficial for all four competitive strokes.” 

The Fulcrum came in no time, and I was excited to try it out. Like anything, at first it felt a little strange, but I quickly got the hang of how it was supposed to feel. It essentially acts like a splint, locking down your fingertips to elbow so they move as a single unit. I used it during my warm-up that first time, but nothing “magical” occurred. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. It was fun to try something new, but I wondered if I was using it correctly to get the full benefit. “I guess it’ll take some time,” I thought, and I took them off to continue my workout. This was the magical moment when the rabbit was pulled from the hat... immediately I noticed an enhanced “feel for the water” as they say, and I felt as though I was using my forearms a lot more in the pulling motion. Similar to a pull buoy, paddles, etc, I’ve continued to mix the Fulcrum into my workouts. I’ve really enjoyed it and definitely feel like it's helping to build muscle memory for a more effective pull.

I’d also like to write a bit about AquaGear as a company. I was interested to learn that AquaGear was the first online swim shop, as in ever, founded in 1992. Back then, Amazon was still just a rainforest in South America, Yahoo was something a cowboy might say, and if you said Google in a sentence people would think you were a weirdo. Over the past 20+ years they’ve figured out how to give water enthusiasts a top-notch experience (low price guarantee, same-day shipping, great customer service, etc). They’re also a family-run company with an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau. My experience with them was fantastic. Check them out!



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Drum Roll Please...

Just wanted to announce that Triple Threat race kits are now available! If you’ve enjoyed the blog, please consider supporting the Triple Threat Triathlon brand. As a brief introductory sale to celebrate the launch of these products, the first 15 orders will receive 15% off by entering the code FAST15 at checkout. 

Thanks for your support!!

Friday, May 17, 2013


As I wrote about in my St. George 70.3 race report, I had the chance to meet some pros a couple days before the race. Everyone I met was great, and I thought I'd share one thing I took away from each of them.

Andy Potts was a 2004 Olympian who still dabbles with short-course racing despite a focus on Ironman and Ironman 70.3 for several years now. He's among the best in the world, winning races on a regular basis. You could immediately tell that he loves his job and loves racing. He was genuinely stoked to be there, just like all of us age groupers. He mentioned how great the “vibe” is before races and how he loves meeting other triathletes. I asked him, “so is this a big race for you?” He said “they’re all big, but yeah I really want to do well here." Andy had a race best 22:40 swim, 8th fastest 2:11 bike and 6th fastest 1:17 run to finish 3rd in 3:54:21.

My takeaway: this is a fun sport... enjoy it!

Matty Reed’s story is very similar to Potts, and they’ve had many battles over the years (see above video for one example). Last year I was cheering my wife on at Ironman Boise 70.3 on a miserably cold and rainy day. Matty rode the shortened 15 mile bike portion in his wetsuit and went on to win the 1.2/15/13.1 race. I asked him about that, and he said “taking my wetsuit off in T2 was very ‘freeing’, and I felt great in the first few miles of the run. I think it really helped me. It took other guys a few miles to warm up.” Reed had an 11th fastest 23:23 swim, 10th fastest 2:11 bike and 13th fastest 1:19 run to finish 6th in 3:56:58.

My takeaway: have a plan, but be willing to adapt on race day

looks like a rookie mistake

Leanda Cave is the defending Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Champion, pulling off the improbable “double” in 2012. I commented on her celebrity status after that accomplishment and she said “I don’t think that I am!” Leanda had a 7th fastest 25:48 swim, 8th fastest 2:29 bike and 15th fastest 1:31 run to finish 10th in 4:29:04. She expressed some disappointment in this race report.

My takeaway: it’s normal to have “off” days every now and then... everyone does

Featured in this post (from far left): Greg Bennett, Kelly Williamson, Ben Hoffman (red hat), Andy Potts (backwards hat), & Leanda Cave (far right)

Kelly Williamson has been winning races for years now, but really burst onto the scene in 2012, winning the US 70.3 Championships in Texas and placing 2nd at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Vegas. She was really cool and down to earth, mentioning that she was feeling some pressure going into 2013 after a very successful 2012. She said she wants to “be on,” for every race, but the reality is that some races go better than others. She’s an incredible runner and acknowledged how hard she’s been working on the bike. Kelly had a 6th fastest 25:00 swim, 17th fastest 2:34 bike and a race best 1:21 run to finish 5th in 4:23.

My takeaway: everyone has strengths and weaknesses... it's natural to focus on your weaknesses, but don’t forget your strengths!

Greg & Laura Bennett are a rock star husband/wife duo who have been dominant for many years. They’re both former Olympians (Greg for Australia in '04 and Laura for the US in '08 and '12) and have won huge races. I’m hardly ever nervous to talk to anyone... I feel like even celebrities a la Queen Elizabeth or William Hung are still “just people.” That said, for some reason I was a little nervous to approach the Bennetts. I’m glad I did, because they were both simply awesome.

Laura had a 24:51 swim, 2:34 bike and 1:29 run to finish 11th in 4:31:56
Greg had a 24:11 swim, 2:11 bike and 1:23 run to finish 15th in 4:01:37

My takeaway: don’t be a coward!

Ben Hoffman won Ironman St. George and Wisconsin last year in addition to a past win at IM Lake Placid. I told him I finished hours and hours after him last year, and his response was, “but you finished, and that was a very tough day.” Regarding the race at hand, he commented on it being a deep field, but he came across as someone who’s motivated by competition and not intimidated. Ben didn’t have his best result, but I was really impressed by his quiet confidence. He had a 24:21 swim, 2:13 bike and 1:18 run to finish 12th in 3:58:57.

My takeaway: aim high and don’t be intimidated. One of his quotes was “that’s why they call it a race”

Craig Alexander is a stud. I recounted how I met him post-race at Ironman Boise 70.3 in 2009. That day he was asking me about my race as if I was a fellow pro. After the fact I learned that he had won the race, beating Chris Lieto in a sprint finish. While talking to me then he gave no indication that he had won, let alone in such dramatic fashion. In fact, I remember assuming he must not have had a good race. He appreciated the story and commented that everyone's race is important, not just the pros. Crowie didn’t race but was there as a representative for Ironman.

My takeaway: humble champion

Side note: I also met Ironman legend Paula Newby-Fraser, who won 8 Ironman championships in her day. She recently began coaching former Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward. She said he’s lost 20 lbs. and claims to be in the best overall shape of his life. I laughed as she described him as a “little needy,” but also said he’s been "wonderful to work with and very coachable."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Man Card

I’m not a hairy guy. I’m just not. As with most things, this comes with pros and cons. Some women like the "sasquatch" look, but thankfully my wife is not one of them. That’s a pro. On the other hand, girls used to comment that my arms were smoother than theirs, and past attempts at growing facial hair were met with ridicule and shame.

this just isn't me
While on the subject, I did a little research and learned that the modern practice of shaving among women began in the early 1900’s, at least in part due to a huge marketing campaign to increase razor sales. While it’s rare to come across a hairy female these days, as I was reminded at my last race, such is also the case regarding a species known as the male triathlete. Although I don’t have statistical proof, based on my observations it appears that more and more men are taking the plunge and shaving their legs. The trend is definitely up. Personally I’ve never had the desire, despite being more in the minority with each passing year. Maybe I need to do some more research, because I’ve never really understood it. I mean, how many milliseconds can it really save you?

Outside of triathlon, swimming, and a few other sports, shaving your legs just isn’t cool for guys. At least it didn’t used to be. In fact, despite its growth in popularity, many would argue that such an action requires a revocation of one’s “Man Card.” As a case study, I’m reminded of the following scene from Arrested Development: 

Maeby (touching George Michael’s leg): “your legs are seriously smoother than mine... and I just shaved mine!”

George Michael Bluth (after an awkward pause): “so I’m thinkin’ bout getting a motorcycle.”
When accused of having smooth, feminine legs, George Michael feels the need to defend his manhood by countering in a “manly” way. 

So I ask you, where is the line of acceptance drawn??
To be completely truthful, I have partially tested the smooth skin waters. Last year while out for an average run at an average pace, my right calf muscle realized that Ironman training had only begun and decided it couldn't take it anymore. For those of you with children, it's kind of like when your oldest child makes the devastating discovery that baby #2 is there to stay and freaks out on you. “You mean there’s no end to this madness?!?” To make a long story short, my run training was severely hampered for the rest of my training, and I took a friend’s recommendation to try KT tape the day before the race. This required shaving part of my leg in order to apply the tape, but I stopped short of going “all the way.” So I ask you… has my Man Card been snipped, or was that simply the nudge I need to shear these babies for my next race??