Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Getting ready for your first season of triathlon

With 2013 just around the corner, I have no doubt that many people will be heading back to the gym to make those with New Year's Resolutions in hand.  And I know for a fact that a few of you have your first triathlon on the list of things to do next year.  So let me start you off right and share some advice on getting the wheels rolling for your first season in tri.

The hardest part

My buddy and Jon crossing the finish line at his first Tri
The hardest part about getting into a sport like triathlon isn't learning how to swim, its certainly not clipping into road cleats, and it's definitely not the 5km run.  Its committing to doing it and signing up for that first race.  Triathlon is an intimidating sport to first get into because of the associations we around having to actively participate and train in three sports rather than one.  In reality, getting to the finish line of your first triathlon is 90% mental and only 10% physical.

I don't mean to sound mean or anything like that, but I've seen some truly terrible swimmers commit themselves to completing their first sprint tri with a 500m swim, and in a few months they were more than capable of getting out of the water in a respectable time.  On the bike, take your phone with you and track how fast and how far you can go in an hour and you'll be surprised at how quickly 20km can zip by.  And as for the run, 5km isn't anything to trivialize, but if you've spent more than half an hour on a treadmill and not succumbed to death by boredom, then you can get through the 5km run.

How challenging your first triathlon ends up being is entirely based on the standards you set for yourself and how committed you are to your goal.  For your first tri, just finishing is the perfect goal because it means that you went outside your comfort zone and took your first step, and just like it is for a 1 year old, the first step is always the hardest one.

If it doesn't get measured it doesn't get done

Ask any coach and they'll go on and on about the importance of planning out your season, your months, and your weeks of training.  And for good reason.  Like I said in the previous section, you're training for three sports, which means time management is important.  Its always good to work with a coach that can help your prioritize how you spend your training hours.  Even professional triathletes are faced with a conundrum of how to balance their time between the three sports, and many of them spend between 15 and 30 hours a week this time of year training.

So that brings me to measuring and tracking how you spend your time training.  There are awesome online programs that allow you to upload and track your workouts.  A few of them include MapMyRun, Strava, GarminConnect, Nike+, and my personal favourite, TrainingPeaks.  They all have varying pros and cons, and all have varying degrees of functionality when it comes to planning your training, but I really do prefer TrainingPeaks above all the rest.

With just the basic TrainingPeaks account you can log all your workouts, and the types of workouts and even upload data files from the workouts to the program.  Better yet, if you're working with a coach, they will be able to see those files as well, and give you workout plans for the coming weeks in advance.  With the premium account you've got an array of tools and apps to analyze individual workouts, and your long term development.

The tools to get the job done

There's no limit to how much money you can spend on triathlon.  At the high end of the spectrum, if you'd just won the lottery you could spend $1200 on a wetsuit, $15000 on a bike, $500 on making the bike fit, $200 on shoes, and another few grand on electronic toys to see how well all that other stuff is working.  But those aren't prerequisites to completing your first triathlon.

To get in the water at a sprint triathlon all you need is a swimsuit and a pair of goggles.  If its an open water swim you'll probably want a wetsuit, and places like Tri It in Calgary actually rent them out.  At a sprint triathlon you'll probably see as many mountain bikes and hybrid bikes as you will road bikes and triathlon bikes.  So don't sweat it if you're showing up with your Canadian Tire hardtail mountain bike if your goal is just to finish, the rest of us are just buying our speed.  And as for the run, well some people are proving these days that you don't even need shoes.

That being said, you probably already have some of the tools that you can use to measure your performance.  There are plenty of apps available for iPhone and Android that will use the GPS feature of your smartphone to track your pace on the run and bike.  Many of those apps are available to actually work with the websites I mentioned earlier and can be downloaded right from there.  So you might actually be more advanced than you think when it comes to performance tracking.

However, with Christmas just around the corner you may want to have a gaze at my 2012 Triathlete Gift Guide to see what you can get under the tree to help you on your way to next season.

If and when you become more committed to the sport, you'll find there are pieces of equipment you'll want to graduate up to.  I'd never recommend someone have a go at Ironman on a mountain bike, thats not to say it can't be done, I'm just saying its not the best way to go about it.  But in the meantime, don't sweat the gear beyond what you're willing to spend, its all about the engine anyways.


I'll keep the blogs coming on getting into your first season of triathlon, so if you have any questions or would like to read about something specifically, feel free to post something in the comments section below.

You'll also soon be able to visit my other blog where I focus more on cycling on the Ridleys website.  So stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ironman Canada Whistler vs Challenge Penticton - Bike Profiles

Effective October 2013, I've moved my active blog to run.raflopez.com. You can view this post and all my latest posts and on my new website!

I regularly check the analytics on my blog to see what people are searching for when they come to my blog, it gives me a good sense of what people are interested in and what they'd like to read about on here.  One piece of information that seems to be pretty popular is the Ironman Canada and Challenge Penticton Bike Courses.

I can't speak directly to the 2013 Whistler Ironman Canada Bike Course, but I do have the elevation profile here and I can talk about how it looks like it'll stack up against Challenge Penticton (old IMC bike course).  I'll talk quickly about the latter first.

Ironman Canada 2012 / Challenge Penticton 2013 Bike Course

This bike profile was taken right from my Garmin from the day that I raced Ironman Canada in 2011.  You can see that the overall profile for the first 40 miles is mostly downhill with the exception of Maclean Creek Road, which is the big bump around the 10 mile mark.  That first climb at 10 miles is very abrupt and very short, its also the location of the first bike aid station, which in my opinion is well placed since you're not flying by the first aid station at 40kph.

Richter around the 40 mile mark, and Yellow Lake around the 90 mile mark, are legitimate climbs that reward patience and favour athletes that are in sync with their bodies (or their power meters).  For anyone used to riding in the Rockies they're business as usual, but if you're used to flatter courses like IMAZ or IMFL, they might seem a little more intense.

After Yellow Lake the ride is virtually all downhill and you have ample opportunity to rest your legs, get some calories in you, and maybe take a nature break.  In that sense, its more of a 100 mile bike course than a 112 mile course.

A good way to think of the Challenge Penticton bike course is that its a flat time trial type course with two intermediate climbs worth training specifically for.  I rode it in 5:44 on my P2 with a standard 53-39 crank up front, and a 12-25 cassette in the back.  My average power on the day was 174 watts which was probably about 75% of my ftp.  On the climbs my goal was never to exceed 200 watts.

With that gearing for both Richter and Yellow Lake a specific part of my training included climbing on the TT bike in a big enough gear to keep rpms around 60-70 while holding around 200-220 watts.  This prepared me for the type of climbing the course had in store.  For me it was important to be able to do those climbs with big gears since I felt going with a compact crank solely for Richter and Yellow Lake would cost me too much top end gearing for the flat and downhill segments which realistically make up most of that bike course.  With that sort of mismatch between gearing and riding, its important to be able to work the bike from side to side with your arms using your body weight to move the pedals rather than just your legs, this allows you to keep your heart rate and total power output low while keeping your momentum.

For anyone with a functional threshold power less than 200 watts, or anyone who thinks they'll ride the course in 6:15 or more, I'd definitely recommend a compact crank for Challenge Penticton, with a 11-25 cassette if you're around a 6 hour rider, or an 12-25 or 12-27 if you're a little longer on the bike.

For another in depth look at the Ironman Canada Bike Course, check out this post from back in August.

Ironman Canada 2013 - Whistler Bike Course

Oddly enough it seems the Whistler bike course actually has a little less total climbing than Challenge Penticton.  I created a copy of this map in MapMyRide and had a look at the two major climbs to see how they stack up against Challenge Penticton.

The first climb, beginning around the 13 mile mark, roughly the same time that cyclists will be hitting Maclean Creek in Penticton, is roughly a 1100 ft climb over 8 miles, is actually a lot closer in length and grade to Richter than it looks believe it or not.  Ironman Canada veterans will be in familiar territory here but that much an ascent that early in the ride is sure to rattle some riders if you haven't done your homework.

The second climb, around the 30 mile mark is 560 feet over about 6-7 miles.  So not too bad of a climb, but shortly after the first climb is sure to spread the field out a little more and wear some riders down.  With almost 1800 feet of climbing in the first third of the ride the course certainly won't be an easy start and it'll need riders to find their legs pretty quick in the race.

After Whistler's second climb its smooth sailing for quite some time.  Riders will ride back through Whistler to be cheered on their friends and family and the route then follows the Sea to Sky Highway along a river valley making for a down hill to long flat ride for almost 50 miles.  This is where riders with a good time trial position and solid threshold will come into their own.

At 90 miles, the last big test begins with a 1400 foot climb over 17km.  Between Challenge Penticton and Ironman Canada, this is the biggest climb and will probably take the most mental fortitude of any of the ascents.  Not much can be said about the climb (since I haven't ridden it), but such a big climb so late in the course, a calm, tactical approach to the climb will be crucial for a good run split.

The key to Ironman Canada Whister's bike course is going to be conservative pacing in the first half of the ride to leave plenty in the tank for the long time trial and climb in the second half.  Though the total elevation is less than Challenge Penticton, I do think that Whistler has the tougher of the two courses, but only narrowly so.  In large part this is simply because of where the climbs are in the ride, the two major climbs are early, and late in the race, making getting a good rythm for the bike and run a bit of a task.

I'd probably recommend running the same set up and applying the same recommendations for gearing as I did for the Challenge Penticton course on this one, the big difference will be in the strategy and mind of the rider for IMC Whistler.


As always, I'm going to throw in there that a power meter is an invaluable tool for racing Ironman.  Not so much in shorter races, but for technical courses like IMC and CP, I think that they're great tools to have for both the months of training leading up to the race, and for race day itself.  For all the money that triathletes spend on gear, an $850 powermeter is worth far more than a fancy set of Zipp 404's or drag reducing wetsuit that makes you look like a superhero.

Both races are well over 9 months away from today.  But its never too early to start doing your homework.  When gearing your bike, shopping for a trainer, looking for a coach, take into consideration what you're working towards.  Choose your races and plan your season accordingly over the next few months.  Triathletes who take the time to have a shot as a cyclist at rides like Gran Fondo Highwood Pass or Gran Fondo Rockies will be rewarded for their foresight come late August.

Joe Friel said in a recent blog post that he believes Ironman is just a bike race with a swim warm up and a jog to finish it all off.  Though that's a bit of a an exaggeration, I get what he's saying and for the most part I actually do agree.  So do your homework, even if its not the physical work yet, start thinking and planning your season and training for the big day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012 Triathlete Gift Guide- These are a few of my favourite things

Well Christmas is little more than a month away and Black Friday is just around the corner.  I guess its that time for us all to be looking for gifts for the special endurance athlete in our lives.  If there is any upside at all to be the loving partner of someone addicted to swimming, biking, and running for hours on end, its that there is no shortage of toys and trinkets to put under the tree for them.

So without further ado, here are a few great gift ideas for the endurance athlete in your life.

The Swimmer

Stocking Stuffer- Aqua Sphere Kayenne Goggles- This is a great all round set of goggles that are a great replacement for the old Speedos that everyone seems to have.  The sleek profile of the goggles that comes fairly flush with the face from the bottom of the forehead to the top of the cheekbones gives the same sort of functionality of heavier bulkier goggles, without the same sort of mass.  The side buckles also make it one of the easiest goggles to adjust on the fly.  Available for about $40.

Problems counting? This will help
Stocking Stuffer- Sportcount Lap Counter and Timer- Ever go for a swim and in the middle of a set think to yourself "Did I just count my eleventh 50m? Or is this my eleventh?"  And then you end up doing your eleventh rep twice, and then later on you're pretty sure you did you eighteenth twice as well, and on and on until by the end of the workout you're pretty sure you swam and extra 300m?  Well this little gadget is here to save triathletes everywhere from our own poor counting skills.  At about $45 it might seem like a bit much to pay for not being able to properly keep track of your laps, but I've got to admit, I'd use it.

I've been nice- Garmin Swim Pool Watch- Pushing the little button on the Sportcount Lap Counter seem like too much trouble?  Try the Garmin Swim and stop counting the laps altogether!  Honestly though this does seem like a very useful tool, using an accelerometer similar to that found in an iPhone, rather than GPS, this watch can accurately identify and count your strokes, distance, pace, etc.  Just tell it the length of the pool and it does the rest of the work.  I like this item because it provides the same type of technical feedback we're accustomed to with a GPS run watch, and maybe even a little more.  Retailing at around $160 this is a pretty good pickup for the technical minded triathlete.

Honourable Mention- H2O Audio Interval 4 Waterproof System.

The Cyclist

Stocking Stuffer- Wahoo Fitness iPhone Key- Cyclists are all about gadgets and toys.  So it only makes sense that a device be available that can connect all the electronic gadgets in a cyclist's aresenal, with their iPhone or iPad.   There are over a hundred apps available from the iTunes store that read data from ANT+ gadgets like power meters, heart rate straps, speed/cadence sensors, gym scales, but Apple devices don't have native ANT+ functionality built it.  Enter this little dongle that allows your iPhone to communicate with all those great toys.  This one also ties into one of the next items I've put on the list down below and it retails for $60 but you'll probably have to find it online rather than in the local shop.

Stocking Stuffer- Filzer Torque Wrench- Okay this isn't exactly stocking stuffer cheap, but this is triathlon, what else is new?  But this awesome Torque Wrench set available at MEC for just over $100 will definitely fit into a stocking.  This is an absolute must for any serious cyclist who does even minor adjustments on their bike.  When out on the road its extremely that after servicing or adjusting your bike you get the torque settings properly set.  Bolts that are too tight risk damaging your precious carbon bike frame, and bolts that are too loose risk coming out and can put the rider in serious jeopardy in the event of failure while riding.

Tacx Bushido with iPad functionality this Feb
I've been really nice- Tacx Bushido Trainer- I've been riding the Tacx Bushido for about a year now and I've got to say its a fantastic trainer.  Its not cheap retailing at about $900, but its a great piece of equipment.  The self powered trainer uses a clever break system to create resistance allowing you to specify your target power output with excellent accuracy, or simulate different grades of incline using the computer that it comes with.  Its not without some bugs right now and the computer is a little touchy, but they're moving the software forward and you can now couple the ANT+ trainer to your own power meter allowing 100% accuracy in the power/resistance settings.  This February they'll also be releasing software that will allow you to use your iPad to create workouts and courses, and control your entire ride.

Honourable Mention- Garmin Edge 500, CycleOps Powertap.

The Runner

Stocking Stuffer- Lululemon Run Gloves- If you don't have a pair of these already and have an avid runner in your circle, I really suggest you grab a pair for the perfect stocking stuffer.  There are a few variations of these, some thicker than others, but what I really like about these run gloves is that they allow for quite a bit of tactile mobility and they're pretty slim.  What I mean by that is that they aren't so cumbersome that you can't reach into your pocket to grab your phone or grab a gel without pulling the pocket inside out.  They've also got touch screen friendly finger tips, which work great and allow you to change the track on your iPod, or answer a call on your iPhone.  Available for men and women at Lululemon of course.

Garmin FR10
Stocking Stuffer- Garmin Forerunner 10- It seems my idea of a stocking stuffer is a bit skewed, you can either get the runner in your life some good Running Room socks as a stocking stuffer, or you can get them this awesome Garmin run watch.  The Forerunner 10 is much smaller and more colourful than the typical Forerunner 305, 310xt, and 910xt and when you run with the local run group you won't scream triathlete (unless you want to).  With features like the Virtual Pacer and your standard GPS run watch functionality coupled with the ability to use it as a normal day use watch, this is one you may want to leave on your wrist.  Available for around $150 in Canada.

I've been really really nice and have never missed a run- Garmin Forerunner 610- A touch screen run watch with built in ANT+ functionality that doubles as a day to day watch? Yes please.  Runner minded features like a Run/Walk reminder and one touch screen changes for different data displays are great touches (no pun) that set this watch apart from others.  That being said, at the end of the day this watch doesn't do a tonne more than a watch like the FR10, but it just looks really cool.

Honourable Mention- Any foam roller, The Stick, or a Garmin 310xt.

Thats all for now

Thats all for now but look forward to another roundup of gifts for the general athlete in your life coming next week.  If there's anything you'd like to see feel free to ask a question in the comments section!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cross Training In the Winter Season

As the days get shorter and the temperatures start to drop, this time of year becomes a bit of an awkward empty spot for a lot of triathletes and summer athletes in general.  Many triathletes wind up their seasons in late August or early September, with maybe a one last run race or some cyclocross in the fall.  But as that ends around late October its still much too early to start race specific training for the next season.

There's a saying that the Tour de France is won in January, not July.  Meaning that its the more hard work that you put in months before the race that gets you to the win, not what you do on the day of.  But between the end of one season and the beginning of another, some are left wondering what to do in these off months here.

The obvious answer is rest and sleep in for a change, spend time with your family that misses you dearly, catch up with your friends who you've neglected for months, read a good book that wasn't written by Joe Friel, Andy Coggan, Chris Carmichael, or any cyclist that was involved in a doping scandal.  But for those of you who may be getting a little stir crazy, there are some great sports that'll beat the treadmill or stationary trainer hands down that are worth checking out.  Some of those sports will give you the mental break and variety you need, and may even give you a bit of an edge over the competition when you get back into the season.

Substitute for swimming?  Try climbing

Going Up
Wall climbing provides an incredible full body workout that builds strength, flexibility, agility, and mental toughness.  I spent a couple years going to the local climbing gym on almost a weekly basis and found that provided a great balance between being physically and mentally stimulating.  The day after a good afternoon of climbing I'd be tired and sore as though I'd spent hours of pushing weight at the gym, but I'd be mentally refreshed from the break from the everyday norms of work and training.

If it's your first time you'll probably need to take a beginner course in climbing which often will only run you about $40.   Most climbing gyms rent all the equipment you need and will get you set up to keep coming back.  It's also much easier to learn with a partner or a small group of friends so make it a team or friendly outing.

Feel the need for speed and a stationary bike trainer just doesn't cut it?  Get on the ice

I just took up hockey for the very first time this season in the NCHL's Discover Hockey Program.  I've got to say its one of the funnest sports I've ever played and its a welcome return to playing team sports.

A while back ESPN conducted a survey of Olympic trainers and multi-sport athletes to figure out how sports ranked in terms of difficulty.  They determined that ice hockey was the second most difficult sport (first was boxing, I'll definitely give getting punched in the head the credit it deserves).  Hockey involves 45-second shifts of high-intensity effort, quick starts, stops, direction changes, and fighting for loose pucks. Players are accustomed to fighting through the painful burning in their legs as fatigue accumulates. The interval nature and physicality of the game makes it uniquely demanding. Not to mention, the whole game is played while standing on a steel blade about 1/8” thick.  So if you're looking to find a bit of true grit for the next time you get on the bike, look no further than this oft overlooked sport.

If chasing after pucks with sticks isn't your thing, try speedskating.  Many speedskaters use cycling as cross training in their off season, and one of Canada's all time greatest athletes, Clara Hughes, is able to be awesome at both sports almost interchangeably.  The muscles used, and the speeds you reach on the speedskating track will feel very familiar to even the most focused cyclists.

What about runners?  Get used to the snow

Last season just about every runner I knew took up Snowshoing or Cross Country Skiing.  I don't think you'll ever get me onto cross country skis since I grew up downhill skiing and don't see the logic in making my legs do the work to move me across the snow when I can let a chairlift and gravity do the work, but that doesn't mean I don't see why people do it.  Cross country skiiers consistently have some of the strongest aerobic engines of any athletes in the world demonstrated by the unreal VO2 max numbes they score.

According to Cool Running, cross country skiing is great activity that is a top choice for athletes looking to improve their aerobic endurance in the off season. Beyond that the gliding action of the activity stretches your hamstrings, calves and lower-back muscles.  In one activity, you're able to improve flexibility which will also help your aero position on the bike, maintain muscle fitness, and improve cardiorespiratory endurance for the run.

Behind on maintenance?  Yoga

Some love for Lululemon!
I don't need to go deep into the benefits of yoga for athletes but I thought I'd just give you all a little reminder.  The benefits of yoga for all types of athletes are well documented.  An hour or two a week at the yoga studio can translate into improvements in core strength which helps in injury prevention, better flexibility for cyclists and triathletes looking to shave seconds off their time trial, and can help runners deal with chronic tissue related issues such as IT Band Syndrome and tight muscles.  Plus, regular patrons of the local yoga studio are usually pretty easy on the eyes.

In Conclusion

There are lots of great ways to stay active between seasons.  Its important to take a break from the rigours of training for triathlon, running, or cycling as we somehow quickly seem to forget how mentally and physically taxing training for those sports at a high level can be.  Participating in other sports is also a great way to get into a team environment that involves some of our friends who may not be crazy enough to sign up for marathons and Ironmans.  Taking this time to rekindle a flame with an old sport, or light a flame with new one will also help get you excited for training in your career sport next year.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Whistler Bound- On my way to Ironman Canada 2013

Effective October 2013 I'll be providing all my latest posts and updates on run.raflopez.com! Feel free to view this post and all my latest posts there!

I'll have a better aero position this time
After a couple weeks of deliberation I've decided I'll be racing Ironman Canada 2013 next August in Whistler, BC.  It was an easy decision, but one I made with many considerations in mind.  I'm excited to be going back to the full distance IM, but it definitely wasn't a part of the plan a couple of months ago.

On the heels of racing the ITU Long Course Worlds this past July, I'd decided I wanted to go back down to shorter races like the 70.3 and Olympic distance.  When I first got into triathlon I almost immediately went to the half and full Iron distance races.  My first season I tackled Calgary 70.3, and my second season I went for Ironman Canada.  I wouldn't do anything differently, but I wouldn't recommend many age grouper athletes go about it the way I did.

There are some huge benefits to spending more time racing short course and middle distance triathlons.  For an athlete obsessed with the time on the clock like me, one of the greatest benefits is the speed that you develop racing in sprints and olympics.  That top end is difficult to develop when you're focused on building your aerobic engine for an Ironman.  On top of that, in sprint, olympic, and even half Iron distance races, you can race harder and more often, while in Ironman the goal for the vast majority of us is just to finish.  For 2013, I simply figured I could have more fun going away from the long distance triathlons for a season.

That of course all changed with a 12 hour layover in Kona during the Ironman World Championships (which I will get around to blogging about!), and with the announcement that Ironman Canada would now be in Whistler, BC.

The excitement of racing a new course that's never been done before is more than enough to get a triathgeek excited, but for the race to be hosted in the beautiful mountain resort of Whistler is simply the icing on the cake.  And with a new course, I'll be taking a new approach to training by focusing on more sport specific training practices and methods.  In other words, I'm looking forward to swimming more like a swimmer, cycling more like a cyclist, and running with more runners.

Standing at the finish line of Ironman Canada this year, and at the finish line of Kona, the call of Ironman was just too loud for me to ignore.  To put it simply, I'm just stoked to be going back to the Ironman distance.  I enjoy the focus and commitment it asks of me, and I'm hungry for the hard earned reward that Ironman offers. (Though on the contrary, Ironman is quite expensive and I'm looking for a bike sponsor... so if anyone knows anyone who is dialled in...).

I think the first time you do an Ironman, you do it for the day of the race, and you do it for the finish line.  Every time after that the reason changes, but after you've done your first you realize that its the ride along the way that changes you and impacts you the most.  It's like doing the Road to Hana for anyone who's ever been to Maui.   You do it for the drive, not the destination.

Post Script- I'd also like to thank my wonderful wife Shirley for her patience and understanding.  Whose reaction to the news could only be summed up with one meme.  This one is for every triathlete signification other out there. :-)

And with that, I'll hopefully see a few of you in Whistler, BC, August 25, 2013.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On Lance Armstrong

This isn't a post I particularly looked forward to writing, but I've written so much on Lance Armstrong that I figured if I didn't put something together I would be a bit of a cop out.  So here it goes.

News came out today that Nike has announced they would no longer sponsor Lance Armstrong, and he would be stepping down as the chairman of the Livestrong Foundation.  I can't say that I'm surprised by either of the announcements in light of the evidence that has come forward in the past few weeks that pretty well cements the case put forward by USADA.  Before a lot of this evidence came forward it was easy to dismiss the testimony or words of Betsy Andreu, Greg Lemond, and maybe even Tyler Hamilton.  But for the turning point was reading the damning testimony of George Hincapie.

After reading Hincapie's affidavit, I couldn't help but feel saddened more than anything, like a kid who still wanted to believe there was a Santa Claus, but whose parents finally insisted that there wasn't.  When one of cycling's most trusted names, and Lance Armstrong's long time friend and lieutenant, comes forward and admits to doping alongside Armstrong, I had to admit that there was no longer even a shadow of a doubt that he had taken banned substances in pursuit of his seven tour wins.

I always said, if he doped then he doped and beat a field of dopers, if he was clean then he was clean and beat a field of dopers.  I still stand by that statement for the most part, and what a lot of people don't seem to get is that Lance and many of his teammates didn't take PEDs and conduct banned procedures to gain some sort of unfair advantage over the field, what they did was par for the course at the time.  Doping was so systematic and accepted in the sport of cycling for so many years, whether or not someone doped was a simply a joke, they all did.  Looking through the record books for many of the years that Lance won, you'd have to go more than a few spots down the list to find a rider that was free of allegations or convictions of blood doping or banned substance use.  That's why I believe that if and when Lance loses his titles, the UCI should simply leave the seven years he won blank, as a reminder to a dark period in the sport where no rider was beyond reproach or conviction.

I don't think that Lance was the kingpin of a complex and organized doping ring.  But I do believe he strongly expected the team to fall in step with team orders, whether it be in catching a break in the peleton, negotiating a long technical climb in the Tour, or taking PEDs the day before a big stage.  The use of banned substances was too ingrained and too systematic in the sport among athletes, physicians, coaches, and managers, for any one person to be held entirely accountable.  But its important that we now learn from the case against him and look at cycling and sport culture as a whole to figure out what's going wrong.

Its easy to hang this around the neck of a few people, and for armchair critics to stand by vilify Lance Armstrong and his teammates.  Though I do not believe that what any of them did is right, that's not to say that I don't understand why they did it.  The Milgram experiments in the 1960's demonstrated that a human's propensity to perform acts that conflict with our personal conscience when instructed to by an authority figure is far greater than many of us would like to believe.  If you place yourself in the shoes of a young athlete whose future and livelihood depends on your athletic performance, knowing that your competition takes banned substances, imagine that your team physician hands you a syringe or series of pills to take along with your B12 shot or daily nutritional supplements suddenly the decision to stay clean isn't so clear cut.  Its important to realize that for each athlete who doped, including Lance Armstrong, that day came when they had to make that decision, and in the sage words of the exiled Jedi Master Yoda, "If once your start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny".

Cycling is unique in that few sports place so much money and success on the baseline physiological performance of its athletes rather than the skills of the actual athletes.  In other words, in cycling you get paid to be an athlete in the top percentile of the top percentile of human performance, and you can enhance that performance by taking banned substances.  In other sports like hockey, soccer, basketball, golf, tennis, your paycheque comes from the skills that you develop at a very young age and the thousands of hours you commit to your sport through your lifetime, which is a lot harder to fake.  Look at the USADA sanctions list and you'll see a long list of cyclists and track and field athletes.  If there was a pill to improve your free throw percentages, or lower your handicap, you could bet that someone at the professional level would be taking it and they'd be on that list as well.

What I hope is done now is that the same resources that were spent on Lance Armstrong are now spent on cleaning up sport from the amateur levels and up.  What this case has taught us is that you can't be too big or too good to be caught, and that's a good starting point, but we also need to ensure that developing athletes should never have to face the decision to accept that unfair advantage the way that Hamilton, Hincapie, and Armstrong did almost 15 years ago.  I hear so often from so many friends at the top amateur and local elite levels that they've come across athletes playing a little past the grey area of what's considered fair or have outright been put in situations where they have come across competitors who weren't racing clean.  And that doping can run from such low levels of sport is what I find truly disconcerting, because sport doesn't get any cleaner as you ascend the ranks.

With that in mind, I think what would be best for Armstrong, and for sport, would be that Armstrong comes forward with the truth.  From a PR perspective, and from the perspective of a fan of his, its what would be best for him, his foundation, and his sponsors.  Marion Jones' tearful apology resounded with fans and the general public and its what earned her a chance at redemption in the eyes of the world.  Whether he believes it or not, I think Lance has the same opportunity to continue to do good by exposing the undue and extraordinary pressures that are placed on athletes in cycling and other human performance based sports in general.  Revealing the cavalier attitudes towards doping and win at all costs culture that came along with cycling in that era would likely help to change public opinion towards him, and while it may damage the sport's history, it would create promise for its future.

Its with regret that I'm writing about him as an athlete who has been brought down from one of the greats. I'm not sure how but I truly hope that in some way or another he can now find a way to redeem himself and earn back a little bit of that greatness.  As a cancer survivor his work to inspire hope for people battling cancer can't be taken away and is another part of the reason why I think its so important that he comes forward to publicly acknowledge what he's done.  The story of his battle with cancer and what he has done to change our attitudes about what it means to be diagnosed with the disease is something that couldn't be cheated, and should never be taken away.

I still have great respect for Lance Armstrong's athletic accomplishments, and I believe that if he raced in an era that he and the rest of the field were completely clean, he still would have gone down in the record books as one of the sport's greatest names.  I hope he now does what is right for himself, for the causes he has worked for, and for sport.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Whistler Ironman Canada

Taking it in at Kona this weekend
So it's official, the 31st hosting of Ironman Canada will take place in Whistler, British Columbia on August 25, 2013.  The news broke last week and it seems that the reaction on the interweb has been mixed, but overall generally positive.  I was in Kona, HI on Saturday watching the Ironman World Championships and the general reaction I was getting from athletes in the know over there was positive as well.

With the success of Ironman Mont Tremblant no one can really say they were surprised at the venue choice of Whistler.  The ski resort's success with the 2010 Winter Olympics, super natural beauty, and off peak season timing of the race made it an ideal venue for Ironman Canada.

The swim will be a two loop course in Alta Lake, which *should* have a water temp around 21 degrees in late August, though I'll believe this when I see it.  With slightly over 1400m of total climbing, the single loop bike course is similar to the overall profile of the old Ironman Canada which had just under 1400m of climbing.  Lastly, the run will also be a two loop course going through the Whistler Village at the halfway point.

I must say I'm pretty excited to hear that Western Canada will be keeping the race and as soon as news broke I went ahead and booked accommodations before the rush of entrants inflated prices.  I haven't decided whether or not I'll race yet, but I am on the early entrance list and will have to decide some time in the next couple of days.

A lot of people have expressed their discontent with WTC over their decision to put the race on the same day as Challenge Penticton.  I honestly believe that this is one of those situations where both parties share the blame for not being able to play nice in the same sandbox.  To play devil's advocate, at the end of the day WTC holds the right to the name and race of Ironman Canada, basically all they've done is change the location to Whistler, you can't fault them with wanting to keep the date and defend their market.  On the contrary, Challenge series moved in to the recently vacated venue of Ironman Canada in Penticton and took over a race course with a thirty year legacy, and will now call it their own.  I would love to have seen Challenge show up on North American shores with plans to build up their own race legacy in a place like Whistler or Victoria.  With Challenge's solid reputation in the triathlon community I think they would have garnered some instant success similar to the Rev3 series.

On the other hand, Ironman spent years treating Penticton and IMC like a second class race since it was one of the few races outside of the WTC's direct involvement.  I can't blame the city council of Penticton or the Challenge series for wanting to create a win-win solution when WTC left town, and changing the date of the race may have simply not been an option.

I want to see both races succeed because having two Iron distance races in Western Canada is a great thing for the sport.  With their athlete experience focus, relay options available, and a deep purse, Challenge Penticton is going to be an amazing race and I'd enthusiastically encourage anyone to give the race a chance and I already know several people who have signed up.  Similarly, in its new Whistler home I do believe that Ironman Canada will create a new legacy in one of the most awe inspiring settings on the planet.  If both races don't sell out or come close, I hope that in 2014 one of the races is brought three to four weeks forward for the benefit their respective organizations, and more importantly for the athletes.

A lot of people will now be deciding between the two races.  I'd give them this advice, race the course that most excites you.  The only sad thing is that none of us can race both of them this year.

The shores of Lake Okanagan before the start this year
Challenge is now the keeper of one of the oldest Iron distance races in the world outside of Kona, and the only other single loop course outside of Kona.  I can tell you first hand, its a stunning course with a rich history.  No matter what anyone tells you, an Ironman is what you become when you swim 3.8km, bike 180km, and run 42.2km, doesn't matter whether its on a Challenge course, Rev3 course, or WTC course.  If the terminology is what's throwing you off, get over it.  In the words of Bill Shakespeare, what's in a name?  Would a rose by any other name not smell as sweet?

Ironman Canada is now in Whistler, BC.  There's Old Testament and there's New Testament, there Star Wars Episodes IV-VI and there's Star Wars Episodes I-III, there's the Sean Connery Bond and the Daniel Craig Bond (and a bunch in between).  Things change, and that should excite us.  If executed right, this race will rock.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ironman Canada Update # 4

And then there were three.  WTC has announced the final three finalists shortlisted to host IMC2013.

Here's the release;

"Today, World Triathlon Corporation (WTC, d/b/a IRONMAN) announces three finalists from the bid process to host the 2013 IRONMAN Canada: Kelowna, British Columbia (BC); Huntsville, Ontario and Whistler, BC.

The selection of the three Canadian communities was based on criteria as stated in the bid process that closed on Sept. 24.  There were seven communities in Canada that submitted bids.
As part of the next phase in the selection process, IRONMAN staff will conduct in-depth visits to each finalist community.  IRONMAN expects to announce the host for the 2013 IRONMAN Canada, as well as additional event-related details, by mid-October."

I must say I'm a little surprised that Kamloops and Victoria didn't make the list in place of Huntsville/Muskoka.  Muskoka no doubt put forward a very compelling bid with a strong resume of other triathlons which it currently plays host to, including Muskoka 70.3.  However a race so far east would give up the western Canadian market to Challenge Penticton.

For Kelowna, the committee took the bidding process quite seriously, sending a delegation down to Florida to make the pitch directly to the WTC.  The city is aggressively pursuing Ironman Canada 2013 and I've even heard that they would intend to place Ironman Canada on the same day as Challenge Penticton.  I would be lying if it didn't seem that Kelowna was trying to capitalize on the WTC's desire to keep other races out of their sandbox, a pretty transparent move that I know would alienate a lot of triathletes.  Two major Ironman distance events, on the same day as each other, 80km apart is just plain dumb.  I think a lot of athletes, whether on the Ironman or Challenge side, would rather see the triathlon pie expand rather than be cut in two.  This is evidenced by the results of the poll which I held over the past few days which saw only 3 of 74 respondents say they'd like to see IMC move to Kelowna.

So I'll come out and say it now, my hopes are on Whistler.  Of the three options I think that they'd put together a fantastic event and if they can manage the logistics, it could be one of the most spectacular courses around.  I spend a few days in Whistler over the Olympics in 2010 and the facilities, scenery, and accommodations really are world class.  The Sea to Sky Highway would be an excellent bike course, and a run along the BC coast would be truly spectacular.

We'll find out where the race ends up on October 10, around the same time as the Ironman World Championships in Kona Hawaii.   Until then, we'll let the speculation continue.

I've updated the poll on the right to reflect the three finalists.  When the list was still seven, this was the standing;

1.     Victoria - 25 votes or 33%
2.     Kamloops - 14 votes or 18%
3.     Whistler - 12 Votes or 16%
4.     Vernon - 8 votes or 10%
5.     Muskoka - 7 votes or 9%
6.     Mystery City - 5 votes or 6%
7.     Kelowna - 3 votes or 4%

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ironman Canada 2013 - Update # 3

So the September 24 bid submission date for IMC2013 has come and gone.  And now its time for me to do a quick round up of who has tossed their hat into the ring.  I'll try and put together a comprehensive list of municipalities and info here, and if anyone has any other inside info they'd like to share, please feel free to add it into the comments below.

Without further ado, the bids (that we know of);

- Kamloops- Kamloops has tossed their hat in the ring and if you're an athlete in Western Canada, whether your sport is soccer, hockey, swimming, or any other, you've probably been to Kamloops once or twice.  Dubbing itself the Tournament Capital of Canada, the city has played host to tens of thousands of athletes over the years and has found a niche in providing hospitality and support for athletics of all levels.  Nestled in the heart of BC, a race in Kamloops could mimic the feel of Ironman Canada from years past while keeping a safe distance from Challenge Penticton and not splitting the market.  Kamloops would rightfully be a front runner for the race if you ask me. More on Kamloops' bid here.

- Kelowna- Kelowna has submitted a bit and basically had to submit a bit almost by default.  Ironman Canada was originally offered to the city of Kelowna some thirty years ago but they turned it down.  I'm sure some would see this as an opportunity to make right on that ill fated decision.  Less than an hour north of Penticton, Kelowna would be a shoe in for the race and an easy switch for many athletes.  The city already hosts the Kelowna Apple Triathlon and the addition of IMC could be a blessing and a curse for Canada's top short course triathlon.  My biggest gripe with Kelowna as a potential host it that it really does split the market and puts one race in direct competition with the other.  The course would be familiar, and it would be beautiful, but this is one suitor that I'm not so sure of.  More on Kelowna's bid here.

Muskoka-  Muskoka with the full support of the town of Huntsville and the surrounding areas has submitted a bit to WTC to host IMC2013.  What Muskoka has going for it is its proven track record of being able to host world class events and triathlons including; Muskoka 70.3, Subaru Muskoka 5i50, and a couple of the Multisport Canada series triathlons.  Going against Muskoka is its proximity to Mont Tremblant and several other major IM events on the east coast.  WTC has expressed a desire to keep IMC in Alberta or BC, but who knows, a lot of those races sell out very quickly and with a strong compelling bid perhaps IMC could go east.  More on Muskoka's bid here.

- Vernon - Vernon was one of the first cities to outwardly express interest in hosting IMC.  Though the support wasn't unanimous, the city does see the opportunities and exposure that comes with hosting an event of this magnitude.  This is one of the smallest municipalities to be submitting a bid and the race would likely draw on surrounding communities for support in terms of volunteers, logistics, and course routing.  That being said, Penticton and Vernon are both pretty small towns, and one thing that I really like about Penticton as a host to this sort of event is that the whole town gets right into the race, something I think that would happen in Vernon as well.  You can actually find more info on the route specifics from Vernon's bid right here.  I like Vernon as a contender but worry that it could be tight for accommodations similar to Penticton, which could be a big strike against.  Additional reading on this bid is also available here.

Victoria- Victoria has submitted a bit put together by SportHost Victoria and Tourism Victoria.  The route would be scenic and involve 10 of 13 municipalities in the Greater Victoria area.  No stranger to top level sports with athletes such as Ryder Hesjedal and Simon Whitfield calling the island home, Victoria would be a  more than suitable host for an event such as IMC.  The island has ample accommodations to support a race of this magnitude, though getting to the island via ferry or flight can be awkward for some.  With a strong bid, I'd expect Victoria to be a top contender for the race.  More on Vic's bid here.

- Whistler - Considered to be an early favourite by many, of course Whistler has submitted a bid to play host to Ironman Canada.  With Mont Tremblant's unbridled success as a ski resort hosting an IM and a 70.3, and Whistler's world class hosting of some 2010 Winter Olympic events, its hard to dispute this popular west coast ski resort as a front runner for IMC2013.  Though the logistics wouldn't be without challenges as there aren't many large lakes in the area and those in the vicinity can be quite chilly.  I've also heard from locals that the transition and spectator areas might be a bit tricky.  But IM Coeur d'Alene seems to be able to overcome its issues with cool water temps, and Whistler wouldn't be the first venue that's had to get creative with its transitions and spectator viewing areas.  The resort town has no shortage of empty hotel rooms at that time of year, and is outdoorsy as they come, so this could be it.  More on Whistler's bid here.

The Mystery City - Steve Meckfessel, managing director of the World Triathlon Corporation, told Vernon's Kiss FM that they received seven bids before Monday's deadline, but he wasn't prepared to name the other contenders.  I've listed six of the seven bidding cities here and haven't been able to figure who's the mystery city.  Noticeably missing  from the list is Calgary.  I speculated on Calgary being a contender for IMC2013 a couple of times here and on Twitter and maintain that it would be a good easy fit to play host to IMC based on its existing relationships with WTC, WTC's late penchant towards moving major races to cities, and Alberta/Calgary tourism aggressively marketing the province.  but according to Triathlon Magazine Canada, Tourism Calgary did not submit a bid.  Is Calgary out of the running?  Or with Ironman Calgary 70.3 did the bid go through an entirely different channel?

We'll know soon enough who is on the short list for IMC2013 as municipalities expect to know by the end of this week whether they have made the shortlist for hosting.  An official announcement to where IMC will take place next year is expected in early to mid October, I would expect around the timing of the Ironman World Championships in Kona on October 13.

Weigh in on which of these cities you would like to see host IMC2013 on my poll in the right hand column.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ironman from the other side of the finish line

I meant to write this blog post a couple of weeks ago but with all the commotion around Ironman Canada and Lance Armstrong I never really got around to it.  

Lululemon Cheer Squad on Lakeshore Drive
This year at the 30th and final Ironman Canada held in Penticton, BC, I had the opportunity to volunteer as a finish line catcher.  I raced IMC last year and decided pretty shortly thereafter that because of other life commitments I would not be racing the Ironman distance again in 2012.  But still wanting to be a part of the experience, and wanting to give back to the sport and race that gave me so much, I decided I'd volunteer with Shirley as a catcher.

The role of the catcher at Ironman is to wait at the finish line to guide, aid, and sometimes literally catch finishers as they cross the line.  Having done the race I'm grateful to every single volunteer on the course, from the first volunteer who packs my race goodie bag days before the cannon blows, to the last volunteer taking down the finish line hours after the finish, and every volunteer in between, I'm grateful.  But the catcher waiting at the finish line to say "congratulations, we're going to make sure you're looked after now", was the one who stood apart for me last year.

So taking up that role this year was a special experience for me and I made a lot of cool observations.

We started our shift shortly before the 10hr triathletes came in, generally the fastest of the age groupers.  The energy in the last few minutes as the clock ticks towards the double digits is amazing.  The crowd begged and willed the last couple guys to come in at 9:59:XX and you could see the athletes were laying it all out on the line for those few seconds.  Its hard not to feel a little jealous of the athletes out on the course breaking that barrier when you yourself are a triathlete.

Volunteering at the finish line you see people come in shaping up all across the board.  A lot of the guys we caught were in great shape save for a little exhaustion and dehydration.  The athletes were a little tired obviously, but we didn't have anyone faint or throw up.  I know some of the other catchers weren't so lucky as the worst cases are generally fainters or people letting up all the fluid they'd taken in for the past couple hours.  As you catch your athlete and ask how they're doing you're always on your toes as things can go from good to bad in just a few seconds, sometimes as soon as they cross the line, and sometimes a full 15 minutes after they finish.

You see a lot of people come across the line after sprinting the last hundred meters, and suddenly the switch shuts off and they need your help to simply stay upright.  At one point the head nurse was yelling into the face of an athlete to stay conscious while 3 or 4 volunteers held him up.  Another athlete barely crossed the line and then needed to cling to the finish arch to keep from falling.  The worst we saw was a lady who crossed the line and went straight down, and had to be carried straight to medical.  It really makes one wonder, why do we do this?

But then you see the other side of it.  I don't know what it was but my eyes welled up with tears when I saw one athlete just break ten hours and cut straight through a line of waiting catchers to his pregnant wife.  He gave her a big hug over the fence and all she said "I'm so proud of you baby", and all of the sudden I could feel a strange salty discharge filling my eyes.  Another athlete, my friend Shayne, grabbed the finish tape in triumph as he crossed the IM line for the first time, the expression on his face for a half second can only be described as 50% yelling, 50% sobbing.  That's when it all started to come back, that's when I remembered why we do this, to simply commit yourself to an accomplishment, for whatever reason, and to achieve it.

I can also see why people come back time and time again to volunteer.  So many of the athletes we caught were so appreciative that we were there to help them, I was simply floored by the overwhelming gratitude expressed for the volunteers.  When someone has been racing for 13 hours and all they can do is eat, drink water, and say thank you a thousand times over, you feel pretty special.

It ain't easy.
Oddly enough, and I have to note this, Shirley and I caught a disproportionate number of Texans.  And I've got to take my hat off to them, the Texans we caught were incredibly gracious, and on average probably the furthest from fainting or throwing up of all the athletes we caught in the 5 hours.  So props to you guys, you did your state proud, and your grace, resolve, and acclimatization to hot weather did not go unnoticed.

Having finally been on the other side of things, volunteering, I'd like to express my gratitude once more to all the wonderful, giving, and caring people who volunteer their time to support amateur sport.  Without you races like IMC, and so many other sports, simply wouldn't happen.  Whether its a local charity 5km, Ironman, or the Olympics, volunteers make the world of sport go round, and for that, I take my hat off to you and say thank you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ironman Canada vs Challenge Penticton- Part II

So its been about a week since I posted on Ironman Canada vs Challenge Penticton and I can certainly tell from the web traffic and all the comments the post has received that its an issue a lot of people feel very strongly about.  The topic has been pretty divisive with supporters for both sides spread across first timers and seasoned vets alike.  Whether you're for or against the changes I have to say its refreshing to see this sort of response to the topic, it shows the passion and dedication to the sport that I think really characterizes triathletes.

I thought I'd post a quick update on how things seem to be coming along for the future of Ironman Canada.  A disclaimer right away though, a lot of this is based on rumour and conjecture, WTC has been pretty tight lipped around the process for where IMC is going to land.  So I'll start with what I know and then I'll work my way into the heresay.

Challenge Penticton

Registration for Challenge Penticton is open and they're signing people up for next August.  They actually had a registration area set up in the Convenction Centre in Penticton after IMC last week.  From what I read and heard it sounds like it was a well put together sign up with the Challenge Family CEO Felix Walchshöfer on hand to personally thank people for their trust and registrations.  Athletes who signed up last week in Penticton received a special loyalty price of $599 (online registration is now $675).  As a side note, the Challenge series has a decent refund policy with full refunds offered for 60 days after sign up, after which there is a $100 cancellation fee for athletes up to 30 days before the race.

The Challenge series has been doing their social media work to get the race out there with sponsored Facebook ads, an active Twitter feed, and a pretty sweet YouTube video on their website specific to Penticton.

The series is definitely taking their debut in the North American market seriously and I do think this bodes well for next year's Challenge Penticton.  We all know Challenge is a very well run race series and they know how important it is that they be well received in their inaugural event on our soil.  Whether it'll be enough to sway some of their detractors remains yet to be seen, but you have to admit, they get points for effort.

Ironman Canada 2013

So now starts the speculation.

Its been reported in Triathlon Magazine Canada and the Vernon Morning Star that municipalities have been given until September 24, 2012 to submit proposals to the WTC to host Ironman Canada.  An announcement is expected to be made by October.

A number of BC municipalities were put forward in the Triathlon Magazine Canada article including Vernon, Whistler, Victoria, Vancouver, and Kelowna.  To me that just sounds like a list of towns and cities in BC and I'd expect that only two or three of them are actually being seriously considered.

In order to put on an event the type and the size of Ironman Canada there are a number of pretty major considerations that need to be accounted for.  "Borzoibob" on the slowtwitch forums actually summarized a few of the logical criteria quite well pointing out that considerations like; lake and transition area size, proximity to major trauma centre, availability of volunteer and traffic control resources, and spectator friendliness might actually rule out a few communities straight out of the gate (probably Vernon and Whistler, maybe even Victoria if you think of how awkward it can be to get to).

Kelowna does keep popping up in the lists, but I've heard that they aren't interested.  They already have the Kelowna Apple Triathlon which is an important race in the Canadian triathlon calendar with its own heritage. Opening the doors to Ironman in Kelowna might be a bit of another headache for locals, and it could hurt Apple, and of course it does split the Ironman market between Penticton and Kelowna, given that the timing of Ironman Canada 2013 will still be August/September.  It seems to be Kelowna and Ironman Canada might be one of those perfect relationships in another set of circumstances, but not this time.

In my last post I speculated about Calgary 70.3 being converted to an Ironman.  It still makes sense and given the WTC's penchant for moving races to big cities, it could be an easy answer, perhaps even as an interim 2013 location.  I say Calgary and not Vancouver just because Calgary already plays host to an event and it seems like the relationships are already in place with the City of Calgary to host this type of event.  Vancouver on the other hand would require starting from scratch with a city that while beautiful, already leaves something to be desired in terms of urban planning.


No matter what, it seems like the date has been set and this October we'll know where Ironman Canada will make its new home.  I'll be watching this with a keen eye and keep you all posted on anything I hear.