Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pre-Race Triathlon Tips

I know there are a few first timers that follow my blog so I thought I'd do a quick blog post before the long weekend with some pre-race day tips that you might not have come across yet, or not had the misfortune of having to learn the hard way what to do or what not to do.

Weeks and Days Before

- Remember to taper before your race. This doesn't mean stop doing workouts, but start to reduce the intensity and duration of your workouts leading up to your race.

- Attend the pre-race clinics and seminars, bigger races such as Calgary 70.3 or the Chinook races will put on seminars for things like changing tires, or race day nutrition. These are a great source of information for any level of triathlete.

- Familiarize yourself with the race route, not just the map, but the elevation profile for the bike, you'll want to know how big the hills are if you're racing anywhere in Western Canada. Courses like Calgary 70.3 are fairly straight forward with only one major hill and some rollers. But other courses like Chinook or Banff have hill after hill and its important you're familiar with them so you may budget your energy accordingly.

- Avoid fiber for a couple of days before the race, this means things like whole bran muffins, whole wheat pasta, etc. Sport drinks such as Heed or Carbopro are a good source of carbs a couple days before the race that won't leave you running to the latrine during your race.

- Start adapting your sleep to get up a little earlier. For most triathletes and most races this isn't an issue, but with races like Calgary 70.3 where you have to take a bus out to the start, you may need to be up as early as 3:30am. So it pays off to be a little bit lame and be in bed, lights out by 9pm for a couple days before the race.

Day Before

- Spend a bit of time with friends and family and thank them for all the support they've given you in the months of training before the race. Tomorrow is all about you, and they'll be there cheering you on so its good to let them know you appreciate their patience with your endurance based habits. Plus, taking your mind off the race for an hour or two is a good way to calm the nerves.

- Walk around with a water bottle all day and be sure to stay hydrated through the day.

- Set up everything for your transition at home the day before and visualize every step of the race to make sure you don't forget anything when you pack up.

- If you are racking your bike the day/morning before the race (a la Calgary 70.3), remember to deflate your tires 20 or 30psi. If you pump your tires up to 110 psi and rack your bike at 9am the day before the race when the temp is 10C out, and then by noon that day the temp rises to 30C, you'll show up at the race the next morning with two blown tires from the air expanding in the tire.

Morning of

- Give yourself plenty of time to have a breakfast and then get to the race start. On a side note, for breakfast I generally have a bagel with Nutella, a banana, an Ensure (the one with extra calories), and some water. You don't need to go crazy, you just need enough calories to replenish what you've burned of your glycogen stores since dinner.

- Okay now you can fill your tires up to the specified pressure for your weight. But don't just pinch the tire and figure its good enough! 90psi feels about the same as 110psi and running too low a tire pressure is a sure fire way to getting a flat during the race.

- Have someone help you put on your wetsuit. There is a right way and a wrong way and usually race partners from the local Tri shop will be around to help you put it on the right way.

- Do a warm up swim. Lakes like Ghost Lake or Two Jack Lake can be very cold, so much so that when you put your face in the water, your body goes into a response mode that causes your heart rate to spike. Its important that you get that out of the way and get acclimatized to the cold water before you start your swim.

The Last Couple Moments Before the Horn Goes or the Cannon Blows

- Control your level of arousal. If you're a strong athlete racing a sprint, its okay to amp yourself up a little. Think confident thoughts and visualize moving smoothly and strongly through the water, and riding like a bat out of hell on the bike and run. On the other hand, if your goal is to finish today, or you're racing an Iron distance race, its important to calm your mind down. You should have a plan and that plan is not dictated by a goal position (Ie; top 10 AG) or even a goal time (sub-whatever). You can't control the wind, the rain, the heat, or your competitors. You can only control you, so your goal should be to stick to the plan you've worked out and stay in your zones. Today your goal is to race your own race.

- Wish your fellow racers luck, and smile to your family or friends seeing you off. Chances are you're loved ones may more more nervous than you are about your race because they have no control over the outcome, and they want you to rock it. A smile will go a long way towards telling them, "Don't worry, I've got this one".

This is it

My coach put it best when he said that your A race is your victory lap. You've already done all the work to get there, now its just a couple of hours and you'll have finished what you set out to do. You're already a triathlete, now you've just got to cross the line.

For me the last few moments before the race are like the end of a yoga class. I'm humbled by the number of people setting out to accomplish the same goal as I am, and I'm grateful to the powers that be that have allowed me to come this far.

In the timeless words of William Ernest Henley,

"I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul..."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chinook Half Ironman Race Report

So last Saturday was the Chinook Half Ironman here in Calgary. The Chinook Half is a local race put on by Mike Bock, an awesome event organizer who puts together a wicked, athlete focused event.

The course definitely more challenging than Calgary 70.3. The swim is a two loop 2km swim in a local man-made lake, followed by a 96km out and back to Kananaskis Provincial Park which is pretty much the entrance to the Rocky Mountains, and the run is a two loop course through Fish Creek Provincial Park which is relatively flat with the exception of the large descent/ascent out of the Fish Creek Valley.


Pre-race was fairly routine for me. We had a pasta party put on by the event organizer the night before at the pre-race meeting. Oddly enough though, around 8:00pm I started getting some pretty acute pain on the inside of my right ankle which really started to worry me. I massaged and stretched it out through the next couple hours though.

Race morning, got up at about 5:30am. Had an Ensure, a bagel with Nutella, and a banana. Got all my stuff ready and headed down to the race start.

Setting up transition was straightforward and easy, there were huge sponsor posters and no assigned spots so I planted my spot right in front of a huge Subaru sign. Went around and said hey to everyone I knew, the team from Tri-It, and a few people I'd met from previous races. This really helps to calm the nerves and remind you that you're out there to have fun.

The Swim

Water temperatures were 16C, so pretty warm considering the time of year. I did a quick pre-race swim with some fist drills to remind my body to catch strong. Went back ashore just before the start.

The horn went off and out we went. In the first couple hundred meters I definitely let the rush get the best of me and I had to really focus myself and calm down. My stroke and sighting were suffering a bit because I was just too into the hustle. At the first buoy though I was able to settle in and get a good pace going. The rest of the swim was pretty straightforward with the exception of someone who decided they would grab my leg from behind and try to move me aside which almost pulled my timing chip off my ankle and really irritated me. When this happened I started kicking like a madman to let them know that if they want to be a jerk they'd have a grand time doing so.

I'm not sure how my first and second lap compare, but it does seem that my second lap went a bit faster.

Time: 42:42, distance 2.1km (can thank shoddy sighting for the extra 100m), HR 160bpm, 65th place. I wear my Garmin 310xt in the water, for the record.

Transition 1: 3:33

The Bike

The bike is my strong suit so coming out of the water so far back didn't rattle me at all. The first few km I settled into my pace and stayed in low zone 2, so heart rate around 150-155, and power around 75% of my FTP.

I quickly started gaining position and was feeling good in the first few minutes but not long after I realized I wasn't feeling 100% internally. I can't really describe it but my legs felt cool and heavy, and for a little bit I was starting to get a stitch. I started to think about my ankle from the night before and was really playing headgames with myself. This lasted for the first maybe 15km of the ride. The saving grace was that at this time I was also making up huge positions.

Around 30km things started to feel better and the field had really thinned out. By this time individual riders were at least 500m apart. We were starting to get into the hills and I was having no issues keeping pace. I kept calling "left!" to make sure the guys I was passing knew I was coming since I really don't like getting over the line on some sections on that roadway.

Approaching the turnaround I counted about 20 riders coming the other way, but couldn't tell who was racing and who was just out riding but figured I was in the top 20 anyways. Reached the turnaround and some confusion with the guy controlling traffic really upset me so I just dropped the hammer and hauled ass on the way back.

I stuck to my strategy during the bike. For the first 1/3 ride in Zone 2 with HR sub 160 with power about 75% of FTP. Then the second 2/3 ride in high Zone 2-low zone 3 with HR in 160's, power at 80-85% FTP. Its a course with a couple big climbs, and a lot of rollers so the strategy on those was to not exceed 110% FTP on the short hills, and 100% FTP on the long climbs which wouldn't last more than 5 minutes anyways. Over 55km/hr I'd just tuck in and get small. Its a tricky course to get a read on power though since most of the time you're either climbing, or spinning out.

Nutrition also went according to plan, 1 hammer gel every half hour, and finish two bottles of Perpetuum, no need to stop at aid stations.

Time: 2:56:12 for 96km. 3119 ft of climbing. Ave HR 160bpm, Max HR 172bpm. Ave Cadence 92rpm. 7th fastest bike time of the day.

Transition 2: 1:07.

The Run

For the run my plan was run an even split, and try and stay under 5:00min/km. Getting off the bike of course my legs felt heavy and I really wished I'd done more bricks recently but as per usual the battle was mental. My run cadence is spot on what my bike cadence is so I usually motor along just fine. For the first lap I motored along between 4:35/km and 4:50/km. After a few km I felt great.

Todd (my coach) was chillin around the 7km mark and when I saw him I told him he was a sight for sore eyes. I'm not sure what it was but it was definitely a good boost to see a familiar face since there weren't many spectators down in the valley.

Second lap I started hurting. During the last bit of the bike I chugged down what I had left of my drink which was maybe 1/3 of the bottle. Up until now I was aware that it wasn't really processing in my stomach but it didn't start to bother me til then so I settled back the pace a bit and let it go down. Once my stomach started feeling better and I picked up the pace, I started to get a stitch under my ribs, now I was in the hurt locker.

I tried to run through the stitch, and I pictured Macca and Raelert in the last few km of Kona and I remember seeing Macca at one point push under his ribs and double forward, but he just kept running which is what I wanted to do... Then I pictured Chris Lieto who sort of shut down in the run which was a little less inspiring. I had to stop and walk at 16km for about 200m which I've never done before in a half marathon or half IM. Reflecting now I wish I hadn't walked but it was definitely hurting, and I knew I had a good few minutes on the next person behind me.

When I picked up the pace again I still had the stitches but I could run through them now that they'd eased off a little.

Going up the beast of a hill out of the valley I ended up walking once more. It was just one of those hills that if you tried to run it you'd take such small steps someone might legitimately walk past you. And I was completed gassed at this point but it was just a km to go once I reached the top.

Ran the rest in, crossed the line, and made a big smile.

Time: 1:42:45 for 21.1km. Ave HR 175 bpm. 17th fastest run split of the day.


Had Shirley and a whole bunch of other friends there to welcome me as I came into the finish. I was definitely hurting after the race but most of that subsided in about half an hour.

Finish time: 5:21:49. 2nd in Age Group, 12th Overall! (For the record, 1st in my age group was Grant Burwash, a pro/elite triathlete who won overall).

Big Shoutouts

Special thanks to Coach Todd from No Limits Triathlon who helped bring my Half IM time down on a much more challenging course, by more than 20 minutes in less than a year.

Also Congrats to Keith Blundell, my friend and training partner, for finishing his first HIM ever and who finished strong considering he'd never ridden that far ever before.

Shayne Arseneault, who finished his first triathlon that day and to the second, had the exact same time as my first triathlon.

My friends at Tri-It for being an awesome support team for me and all Calgary triathletes.

And last but not least my wonderful girlfriend Shirley who supports, challenges, and inspires me to give nothing but my best.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Social Media and Personal Branding in Sports

It seems a few of my blog posts have received quite a bit of traffic, specifically those pertaining to amateur level sponsorship and personal branding. A lot of that traffic was spurred by a discussion on the Slowtwitch forums on that specific topic.

I just want to take this opportunity to underscore how great a role social media can play for amateur athletes looking for sponsorship dollars. I won't recap why branding is so important, or how to use social media here, for that I'd recommend you go back to my original posts. But I do want to point you to a really great case study for another athlete who has done awesome to build his brand even though he isn't winning gold medals (yet).

Kevin Jagger is a Canadian speedskater who recently gave up his job in Investment Banking to pursue some impressive goals in speedskating. He's done an excellent job of using social media to his advantage and built himself a great brand with many followers which in turn has benefited him by helping to attract sponsors. A couple months back on his blog he was gracious enough to write a fairly thorough account of how he's done all this and I'd highly recommend any and every amateur athlete looking for sponsorship to read through it.

I mentioned this in the slowtwitch forum that originally generated all this interest, but one of the biggest mistakes a lot of individuals looking for sponsorship make, is that they just go ask sponsors for sponsorship without really bringing anything to the table.

The key to being an attractive individual worth sponsoring is engaging the entire community of individuals who your potential sponsor needs to reach. In one way this means engaging your neighbourhood, your city, your university, to make yourself attractive to local businesses who are the most likely to first sponsor you as an amateur. The next step is to engage the online community of athletes within and beyond your geographic area. Sure this can mean tweeting at the champions, but more importantly it means talking to the masses of age group athletes that companies sell product to.

The best way to build those connections with other athletes both in the real world and online community is to place yourself in the conversation and develop a genuine interest in the training, and achievements of others. Ask others about their training, their goals, their next race. And likewise, feel free share your own experiences, good and bad. You'll be surprised at how many great connections you can make when you realize that the key to building a great brand isn't about talking about yourself, but building strong connections with others.

Recommended Reading:

Monday, June 6, 2011

Back at Home

Well after a whirlwind couple of weeks that took me to eight cities in two weeks I'm back at home now and ready to really amp up training. For those of you who don't really follow my Twitter feed, in the past couple weeks I've been to Denver, back home to Calgary, then off to Manchester UK, Zurich, Prague, Vienna, London, and now I'm home sweet home.

Denver is a great city and I really loved the atmosphere which actually reminded me a lot of Calgary. I was down there for a business conference for 3 days but managed to get a bike and a run in on separate days. Running along the Cedar Creek trail I was amazed at how many nice bikes there were and how fit my not so random sample of the Denver population was. Very impressive! As badly as I wanted to I couldn't make it over to Boulder, CO. There was something about getting to the triathlon Mecca that I really felt the urge to do, but sadly I was just too busy to take the few hours out, maybe next time.

Then it was back to Calgary for literally 48 hours and then off to Europe for a week of travelling. Manchester, and my brief time in Zurich were great, but the focus of the trip was Prague and Vienna. Prague is a beautiful city, but not so bike friendly, though judging from the mountain bikes on car bike racks, I sense there's something else to the region.

I actually came across a Polka Dot Jersey in Prague and the Nike shop, which after much deliberation and twitter consulting, I decided to buy. I wasn't too sure about buying the King of the Mountains jersey, which is what the polka dots signify, but I am good at the climbs, I love what the jersey represents, and this only urges me to train harder. I've got my jersey, time to make doubly sure I've earned it.

Vienna was fantastic, we took a 3 hour bike tour of the city and were able to stay on dedicated bike paths, or quiet streets the entire time. There was a range of bikes on the paths from single speed and fixie commuter/cruisers, to full suspension carbon mountain bikes, to wicked triathlon/road bikes, lots of Kuota's and Madone's in particular.

Anyways, last week was a lot tougher to get training in, originally all I was going to do was run and dry land training, but we spent so much time walking and standing I knew going for morning runs would be inviting ITB syndrome or something like that. I needed a week of recovery anyways from 4 weeks of building that my coach and I figured I could do since I'd have a full week off of big training.

My next race is the Chinook Half Ironman on June 18, so less than two weeks away. Then after that I'm running stage 10 of the Kananaskis K100 relay. So a busy few weeks ahead!