Monday, July 29, 2013

"Respect the Potato!" - Spudman Race Report

A wise old farmer once told me to "honor the potato and the potato will honor you." I’ve thought about that counsel over the years, and relied on it heavily at Spudman this past weekend. I believe it made all the difference in my race.

A new form of race swag...  I respect that.
Late Friday afternoon I embarked on the 3 hour drive north to Burley, Idaho. The Spudman would have more participants (just shy of 1500) than the population of many of the towns I passed through on the way, presenting me with a golden opportunity to honor the potato. Many people probably chuckle when passing through small, agricultural towns like that, but I had nothing but respect. I had the thought that the earth doesn't naturally grow supermarkets… it grows potatos. You like to eat, don't you? If all we had was big cities, we'd be very hungry. 
But I digress.

I checked in and ate the provided spaghetti dinner in the shade before devoting the next hour or so to setting up my campsite. Unlike last time I was here (nine years ago), they allow camping on the golf course driving range which is close to the start. I got to talking with a guy named Tommy who was camping near me, and we made the trek to T1 to set up our stuff. He’s pretty new to triathlon, but is already a force to be reckoned with, especially on the bike. I also ran into a family friend who was camping in the vicinity. He’s a fire fighter, and his whole crew was doing the race. Pretty cool.
All week I was a little concerned if I'd be able to truly race Spudman. A tendon behind my right knee has been sore since Echo, and after a run last week it flared up and hurt pretty bad. It's tough sometimes when you have what feels like a “minor” injury to know when you can push through and when you need to be conservative and shut it down for a while. On one hand you don't want to unnecessarily lose fitness, especially during the middle of the season when you’ve been building for months. On the other hand, the last thing you want to do is turn a minor injury into a major one by being too aggressive. Anyways, merely walking to and from the two transition zones was causing pain, which was discouraging. I figured I would definitely swim and bike hard, but was resigned to the idea that I may be forced to scale it back on the run.

Morning came and we made our way to the start. My shoulder got really tight at Echo two weeks ago, so I made sure to get in a longer warm up. We would be assisted in this swim by the Snake River’s noticeable current... it's not like whitewater rafting or anything, but let's just say you could slowly float your way to T1 if you wanted to. Warming up I'd swim upstream a bit, then let the current bring me back and repeat. It was fun. Most of us waited until ~2 minutes before the start to actually get out to the starting line, and it took some effort to not let yourself drift forward.

The gun went off and I pushed hard, knowing I had the current with me and it would be a quick 1500m. I also made a more conscience effort to draft. A few times I sighted specifically looking for draft targets, then would make my way up and slightly to the left or right to get on their feet. I'm not much of a foot fetish guy, but I found a girl with a beautiful set that I followed like a heat-seeking missile for the entire second half.

17:30 - wow that current helped a ton

97th / 1465

I hopped on my bike and noticed a light rain was starting to fall. It had been a while since I'd raced in the rain, and thought it would be kinda fun. At the same time I was hoping it didn’t get too heavy. As a side note, it always baffles me when it rains on a day in which the forecast claimed a 0% chance. Why don't they just CYA with a predicted 10% chance? Granted I wasn't checking the forecast up to the last minute, but as of the day before, rain was out of the question.

In reality it didn’t come down much… the roads were a little slick, but not terrible, and the temps were cool. It's been a really hot summer, so to have two races in a row be on the cool side has been lucky and a little strange. The course was a 40k/25 mi square, with hardly a hill to speak of. I could feel my leg acting up a bit, but it didn't really hurt at all.

1:06:19   22 mph

157th / 1465

I crossed my fingers as I ran through T2 that my leg would be ok. The first 400 meters or so were on the golf course grass, which was helpful. My heart rate stabilized after climbing the only hill of the course, and my general assessment was that I felt strong. I also realized that this song was in my head:

Some of the lyrics are especially applicable to a triathlon:

They come from every state to find

Some dreams were meant to be declined
Tell the man what did you have in mind
What have you come to do

Come and get it
Lost'em at the city limit
Say goodbye'
Cause they won't find a way to trim it
Everybody lookin' for a silly gimmick
Gotta get away can't take it for another minute

Some claim to have the fortitude
Too shrewd to blow the interlude
Sustaining pain to set a mood
Step out to be renewed

And this was eerily applicable to Spudman:

This town was made of many things
Just look at what the current brings
So high it's only promising
This place was made on you


The middle section of the course followed a canal along a dirt road, which softened the blow on my leg. Once we got back on the road it started to hurt, but I knew I couldn't ease up with only a couple miles to go. I summoned all the potato power I could, concentrating on “relaxing” as much as possible and just turning my legs over. I had been gradually closing the gap on the guy ahead of me, who I figured was in my age group. With a mile left a different guy passed me and eventually pulled even with the other. My son loves for me to make him “lassos” out of various things around the house, and I half-smiled through gritted teeth as I pictured myself roping the two steers in front of me. I didn’t have the strength to reel them in, but wanted them to drag me through the next few minutes without widening the ~10 meter gap. We descended the short hill we had climbed at the start, then onto the golf course grass with the finish line in sight. The guy who had passed me was too strong, holding me off by 7 seconds, but I out-kicked the other guy in the homestretch. A few seconds later I was surprised to see all of our names flash on a finish line screen as being 1,2,3 for the M3034 age group… a total of 11 seconds apart.

43:21   41st / 1465

6:59 pace

Overall 2:10:17    40th / 1465

Being on the podium at Spudman was a total surprise, which also required some luck. How does 40th overall equate to 2nd in my age group?!? Last year my time would’ve also placed 2nd, but let’s just say I was fortunate to not be a little older (see breakdown). In addition, the guys who identify themselves as Elite were in their own wave and excluded from the age group results. That's a common practice, but it does help guys like me. Here’s the breakdown of people who beat me:

Elite: 11
M3539: 10 !!
M4044: 5
M4549: 3
M1924: 2
M2529: 2
M5054: 2
M1518: 1
Clydes: 1
F3539: 1
M3034: 1 

It was interesting to compare to 2004, one of my first races ever. The table below shows my percentile ranking vs. the field (as in top 7% vs. top 44%) for each discipline, as well as overall placing. I guess if you’re crazy enough to stick with something long enough, you’re bound to improve, right? That goes for everything from playing the ukulele, to knitting, to the 3-headed monster known as triathlon.






















A couple days later now, and thankfully my leg is only a little sore. "Honor the potato and the potato will honor you." Truer words have never been spoken.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Enlarging My Manhood

Most of the emails that hit my prehistoric hotmail inbox these days are total junk... spam, scams, and solicitations to enlarge my (ahem) "manhood" are the norm. It's gotten to the point where I hardly check it anymore. However, the other day I got an email to that account that I was actually happy to receive:

"Congratulations COLLIN SWENSON. You have qualified for the Olympic-Distance race at the 2013 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships on August 10th in Milwaukee, Wis., after finishing in the top 33 percent in your age group at the TriUtah Echo Triathlon." 

Of course this is a form of solicitation, as they want you to drop the ~$200 to register, but it was still cool to see. As I mentioned earlier, I won't be taking the spot due to a variety of reasons, but it was still a goal of mine to qualify. 

It just wasn't in the cards for me to compete in Milwaukee this year, but hopefully in the next year or two I'll truly enlarge my manhood by qualifying and competing on the national stage.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Flat Attack Saves The Day

Saturdays are usually my “brick” day, which to the uninformed consists of a bike immediately followed by a run. Doing regular bricks helps reduce the “my legs feel like jello” sensation on race day. I’ve been dealing with a minor tweak in my knee since Echo, so I had earlier decided to be cautious and skip Saturday’s run. In a show of perfect timing, Triple Threat team member Jackie Muterspaugh asked if I wanted to join him for an open water swim followed by a bike. I rarely do this type of brick, and it sounded fun. Besides, I’m motivated to put forth a better swim effort at Spudman, and figured additional time in the water would be good for me. Jackie brought along  a buddy of his named Sam, and we got in roughly 1500 meters. We took turns at the front, and I was reminded what a difference drafting makes vs. forging your own path. In reality I find it tough to draft for long stretches during a race. I usually am able to draft for short segments throughout, but it’s difficult to maintain. Sometimes the swimmer I’m following starts to go off course, and I leave them to take a straighter line to the next buoy. Sometimes I keep hitting their feet (which is super annoying when you’re on the receiving end) so I go around, and other times the person is too fast and they drop me. All that said, I need to make a more conscience effort to draft in the water...  it’s like biking with a huge tailwind.

About 30 minutes into our ride, Jackie and I looked around and realized Sam was behind us on the side of the road. We circled back and found he had flatted, and I took the opportunity to talk up my recent discovery of Flat Attack as we helped change the tire. We continued on our way, getting a 2 hour ride in. When I got home I found a thorn (I think it was one of those evil “goat heads”) jutting out of my front tire. The thorn was plugging the hole it had created, and I thought “alright, time to put Flat Attack to the test.” I rode around the block trying to shake it, but it was holding on for dear life. With one foot clipped in, I then reached down and pulled it out before quickly starting to pedal. I rode around the neighborhood again, then checked it out. The result was just as Mr. Steve “Flatman” Henich said it would be… Flat Attack was too fast!! I don’t think I lost any tire pressure at all. I could see the tiniest pinpoint amount of green sealant in the spot where the thorn had been, which I wiped off, but that was it. On the other hand, without Flat Attack that tiny prick would’ve cost me a new tube and the hassle of fixing another flat. You saved the day, Flat Attack... you saved the day.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Spudman Preview

Next week I'll be driving north to the thriving metropolis of Burley, ID to race the 27th(!) annual  “Spudman” triathlon. It seems only appropriate that Idaho’s largest non-Ironman branded race honors the potato, right?? As I wrote about a few months ago, I made a lot of rookie mistakes in my first ever triathlon in 2003. Well, my 3rd race ever, the 2004 Spudman, wasn’t exactly perfect either. Since I’ll be doing this race again after a nine-year hiatus, I thought it would be fun to recount my experience there. 

My college buddy Chris and I had run a marathon together, in addition to doing a couple of "splash and dash" (swim/run) races on campus. After he graduated and moved to Portland, we decided to step up to a triathlon for one last hurrah. Being somewhat middle ground, the Spudman was selected. I had gotten married a few months before, and among our wedding gifts was a tent that Lindsay and I decided to test out in Burley. It was a great plan, with the only catch being that the tent was a piece of crap (Chris had his own nice tent). Ours was ridiculously small to begin with, and was either missing a pole or something or just a defective product. We spent hours trying to figure the thing out to no avail. We could fit inside, but the sides sagged in so far that they were touching us at all times. To top it off, it was only a couple feet high. I’m not very claustrophobic, but it was definitely pushing the limit.

I slept very little, but woke up in the night to find that Lindsay was nowhere to be found. To this day I don’t know how she slipped out of that “tent” without waking me. She wasn’t in the car, and after 30 min or so I started getting a little worried. A while later she came stumbling through the darkness after having journeyed to a gas station to use the restroom. This is camping, woman… just go in the woods! 

I couldn't find the actual pic, but it was very close to this

Eventually we staggered into the morning air and got ready to go. We were up plenty early, but time quickly started slipping through our fingers. Spudman is a point to point course, with the transition area in a different location than the start. After setting up our stuff, it was taking forever to get to the start. Local police had seemingly blocked off every route, and we were barely moving. Without other options, finally Chris and I hopped out of the car and started running along the banks of the river to the start. It was further away than we thought, and we got there right as the gun went off. We jumped in and immediately started swimming.

Besides that, the swim was uneventful. I waited a few seconds in transition and sure enough Chris emerged, so we hopped on our bikes and took off together. I had borrowed a mountain bike for my first triathlon the year before, but had a shiny new bike for Spudman. In my mind this thing was a rocket ship set for takeoff. Time to teach these guys a lesson, I thought. In reality it wasn’t a triathlon bike, nor was it a road bike. It was more like a “commuter” bike, with horizontal handlebars and toe loops on the pedals. Side note: I later installed pedals and aerobars and did a lot of races (including two half-Ironmans) on this bike through 2010, and Lindsay rides it to this day. It gets the job done, but let’s just say it’s not the prettiest horse in the stable on race day!

As you might have guessed, bike after bike went by us... it was like a parade out there. In fact, I don't think we passed anyone. If we did it couldn't have been more than 2 or 3. Some of it was the bike, but most was me just being undertrained. On top of that I had brought zero nutrition and was getting dehydrated and hungry. From my running background where longer races were always stocked with aid stations, I just assumed that a longer (olympic) triathlon would be supported on the bike. Chris was almost as dumb as I was, but I think he had a little something. This is laughable now, but I remember Chris asking a guy if we could have a drink from his water bottle. He obliged, but it was awkward.   

The bike mercifully ended and morale was boosted as we actually started passing some people on the run. Our pace slowed with each mile, but we eventually crossed the line. Immediately we began consuming way more than our fair share at the post-race buffet, like inviting Joey Chestnut to the family picnic. Never again have I eaten even close to that amount post-race. I later got a large blizzard from Dairy Queen for good measure.

I'll be camping again for old time's sake, this time in a functional tent. Besides camping, I’m hoping for no repeats of 2004 (although a post-race blizzard may be acceptable).  

Monday, July 15, 2013

USAT Regional Qualifier: Echo Race Report

Several months ago I wrote about the USAT National Championships to be held in Milwaukee, WI in August. One of the Rocky Mountain regional qualifiers was held Saturday at the 12th annual Echo Triathlon in the town of Coalville, UT. Going into this season, racing at Nationals was a big goal of mine, and I registered for Echo with that goal in mind. Over the last few months, however, I came to the conclusion that it would be too expensive (as well as incompatible with a busy period at my day job) to pull off the trip to Nationals this year. That said, I knew the competition would be fierce relative to most local races, and it was still a goal to qualify.

This was one of the rare times in which my wife and I would be doing the same race. We stayed at my parents' place the night before (only an hour from us), and left the kids. 4:45 came early, and we were soon driving through the darkness to Echo Reservoir. I was excited to race, but was glad to have the ~40 min drive to get mentally warmed up. I asked Lindsay "on a scale from 1-10, at this moment how ready do you feel to race." Her answer was "1" and I concurred. She later asked me "before a race, what's the main thing that makes you nervous?" After some thought I said "I just always want to execute a good race. You put in all the training, and training is fun in its own way, but you want it to pay off on race day. There's also the pain element that is a bit daunting... bracing yourself for some hurt!"

We arrived, parked, and rode our bikes the short distance to the race start with bags on our back. Time was short, and we hustled through the pre-race process before walking to the reservoir. As I waded in, I was still maybe only a "5" on my race readiness scale. I had 10 minutes or so to do something about that while I warmed up, and by gun time I was ready to go.

The swim was two clockwise 750 meter loops. The start was typical... a little jostling, but nothing too bad. Echo reservoir is nice, but by the first buoy it was clear that it was extremely shallow. In the traffic jam at the first buoy, people were literally standing up! It was like a herd of sea monsters making that first turn, but things eventually spread out. Almost from the start my right shoulder felt really tight, and instead of loosening up it seemed to get progressively worse. It wasn't unbearable though, and I kept pressing on the best I could. I finally touched sand and went to stand up before completely losing my balance and flopping back into the water. There was a crowd lining the exit, and it was a little embarrassing, but oh well. You then had to run a ways and up a pretty steep trail to get to transition, and I jogged it the best I could as I worked my wetsuit down to my waist. In hindsight it was a disappointing swim, but I was able at least to make up another 20 spots or so in transition.

27:13   114/257

The bike was the appropriate Olympic distance length (40k/ ~25 miles) on an out-and-back route up beautiful Echo Canyon. There weren't any big hills, but it was a long, gradual climb to the turnaround point. Being a USAT Regional Qualifier, the marshals were out in full force looking for drafting and other infractions while speeding around on their mopeds. I stayed far away from drafting, but was able to work with a few other riders for much of the course, intermittently taking turns at the front pushing the pace. In the beginning it was unintentional, just passing then getting re-passed, but after several rounds we embraced it and had a real "team" feel out there, which was cool. There was a lot of "good job bud", "your turn", and "let's DO this!" from our small biker gang. I felt strong the whole time and was really happy with my ride.

1:08:32  40/257   22mph

A quick transition later and I was on the run, the usual 10k / 6.2 mi distance out-and-back on a dirt path known as the "Rail Trail." The weather has been blazing hot of late, but it could not have been better for the race. Storms had come through the day before, and on race morning it was overcast and cool, without much wind to speak of. I was grateful to not be running in typical summer heat, but the first half was still pretty uncomfortable. I kept an eye out for a few competitors, and by not seeing them on the way out I knew I had a lead at the turnaround. Shortly after the turn, a super-fast girl on the local scene went by me, and I dug deep to stick on her heels and let her pull me along. 

If you've followed the blog, you know that I love asking pros and elite age groupers to break down the "credit for a race gone extremely well." Almost all of them give "mental toughness" the highest or one of the highest rankings. For example, I love that Kelly Williamson gave it a full 30% of the credit. Some races I'm tougher between the ears than others, but it's something I always strive for. The phrase that kept coming to mind late in the race was "I shake hands with the pain" a line from Macca's book entitled I'm Here To Win. I was there to take 44th, but I still love that line. 

Here's the full quote:

"Pain is going to come... it's a raw reality. I hate the pain, but I love it, too. When it shows up I think, 'there you are. I was wondering when you'd get here.' It's not that I'm looking forward to suffering, but I accept it as a sign that I'm pushing myself and overcoming something. I shake hands with the pain and keep going."

I shook hands with the pain, gritted my teeth, and kicked it in, re-passing the girl who had paced me as well as a few others in the homestretch. With different wave starts two of them still beat me overall, but I'm glad I finished strong regardless.

44:52   35/257  7:11 pace

avg hr 169

Overall 2:26:15   44/257
6/26 in age group (top 33% of AG qualified)

I was really proud of Lindsay, who rocked a 2:52 in her 2nd ever Olympic distance race (on a crappy bike I must add). 

Despite a mediocre swim, I'm happy with this race. I wasn't sure how my body would respond after some time off and eating everything in sight at Lake Powell. I'm highly motivated now to go to Spudman, a big Olympic distance race in Idaho (where else would a race be called "Spudman"??) in two weeks.

Side note: Glancing at the results for the sprint distance race, the preliminary winner was served with a 2 min drafting penalty, dropping him to 3rd. He got his Man Card snipped and lost the race... not worth it bro!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Road Rage

A few months ago I wrote about the infamous “nod of approval,” a pure symbol of the camaraderie that exists among most runners and cyclists on the road. As we all know, such compassion is generally absent when it comes to one vehicle to another. The phenomenon known as “road rage” is apparent everywhere, and can even escalate at times to all-out brawls in the street. Although many motorists are friendly to runners and cyclists, unfortunately some rage exists here as well. When I lived in France as a teenager, it was common to see packs of riders taking up the whole lane. I’m sure drivers were annoyed at times, but it was much more accepted as part of the culture.

A few weeks ago, Triple Threat team member Shelley Oberhofer was involved in a hit and run accident in Connecticut in which the driver knocked her over and sped away without stopping. Thankfully she had only minor injuries… it could have been a lot worse. I read an article on Slowtwitch the other day about an accident involving professional Richie Cunningham in which the driver blatantly slammed on his brakes in front of a group including Triple Threat friend Patrick Evoe, Joe Gambles, and Ben Hoffman. By all accounts it was an intentional act of anger, and unfortunately for Richie, his great 2013 season has been brought to a halt.

I’ll admit, as a driver it bothers me when I see cyclists “riding stupid.” They don’t have a free pass in my book, even though I’m one of them. It’s up to us as cyclists to do our part to ride safely, follow traffic laws, and stay out of the way as much as possible. Some roads probably shouldn’t be ridden on, even if it’s legal to do so.

On the other hand, as a cyclist, it obviously bothers me when motorists are overly aggressive or downright moronic. I’ve been honked at, flipped off, and yelled at more times than I can remember. I reached out to a few readers and team members asking “what is the rudest and/or funniest thing that a passing car has ever done to you?”
Here are some of their responses:

"Oh man... so many, they are all kind of a blur. Lots of stuff like 'there goes Lance' or “are you gonna win the Tour de France?” 

"Most often they just yell at the top of their lungs and it makes me jump"

“Nice tights”

"Get the F$&% out of the way, you FREAK"  (mine personally)

"Oddly enough, I don’t think anyone has ever yelled at me. Plenty of honks, but no yells."

"A chick flashed me once. Phenomenal energy boost

"Usually it's something along the lines of You SUCK!!!!!!!"

"Mainly people just flip me off"

"You GO girl!!!!"  (yelled at a guy)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Land Ahoy!

Lake Powell was a good time. In addition to working muscles I forgot I had thanks to water skiing (I'm still sore) I got in some nice open-water swims. I've been back on dry land for a couple days now, and it's been great to get reacquainted with my bike and running shoes.

I dusted my Asics off in style yesterday at the Park City Trail Series 10k with my wife, siblings, and questionable brother-in-law. The course was really cool, with some amazing views, single track sections, and lots of up and down. With family in town from various states, I just had fun with this one and ran with each of them at one point or another throughout the race. I haven't done many trail races, but I highly recommend them if you're in a rut and sick of your local roads.

trail run fun in the sun

Monday, July 1, 2013

Beware the Bandit!

One of the great things about triathlon is that in almost every situation you can at least train for one of the three disciplines. If you’re a pure runner and you injure your foot, you’re out of luck. As a triathlete, you could ramp up your swimming and probably still bike during that time while your foot heals. For a wide variety of injuries as a triathlete, you can usually do something. Such is also the case with traveling and other obstacles life throws at you. 

All that said, I find myself potentially facing one of the rare circumstances in which a triathlete strikes out. Over the next few days I’ll be on vacation on a houseboat in the middle of a lake. To be honest, this isn’t my first choice for a vacation, but from past experiences it’s still usually a great time. From a triathlon perspective, it’s a chance to get a lot of open-water swimming in, with my wife or other family member kayaking alongside. Sounds fun, right? The only catch is that over the last couple days I’ve noticed some mild pain in my ear, and I’m really hoping it’s not “swimmer’s ear.” I’ve had that twice in the past, and it’s a real kick in the crotch. First of all it hurts progressively until you get on antibiotics, and secondly it sucks not being able to get it wet for usually over a week. I’ve read that sometimes a mild ear infection will go away on its own, so I’m hoping that’s the case. If I can’t get in the water while floating in the middle of a lake, I just might go crazy. I’ll bring my running shoes just in case, but I’m told the options are extremely limited. I got swimmer’s ear last year while training for Ironman, and in an effort to get back in the pool quickly I bought a product called the "Ear Band-it." The 3-year old boy on the cover was all smiles and made it look fashionable, so I thought I’d try it. Basically you pop a silicone plug in your ear, then strap this Velcro headband device on. I definitely got some weird looks at the pool last year, but it was effective.

I just may have to bust it out.

this will be me