Monday, June 25, 2012

Chinook Half Ironman... Can't win 'em all

Its been a little over a week now since the Chinook Half.  A few of you close to me will know that it wasn't really my day and I wasn't too happy with my result.  I've had some time to think about it now and have broken down a few of the things that went wrong.  I figure its good to share a few of these items so none of you make the same mistakes as me.

  • First and foremost, I wasn't race ready for the water.  Chinook was my first open water swim of the season, and the first time I'd put my wetsuit on since IMC last year.  My swim split was still okay, especially by my marginal standards, but not great. 
  • Secondly, I wasn't race ready for the bike.  Its not that my bike fitness was lacking, on the contrary, over the past few months I've been quite strong on the bike, and I was at Chinook as well.  But I hadn't been taking a whole lot of calories in training on the bike so between that and last year when I took to many calories too late in the bike, I ended up taking on too few calories on the bike leg at Chinook.  I wasn't taking on as many calories as I needed, and of the calories I was taking in, it wasn't digesting.  The first sign that something was amiss was when I had a bit of a headache late on the ride... Some foreshadowing here.
  • In contrast to the first two, I was actually very well prepared for the run.  I'd been having some knee issues the week before the race, but it was all cleared up before the race.  When I got off the bike I was comfortably running between 4:30/km and 4:45/km.  But after the first run lap, the sun came out and as it started to warm up, my nutritional issues on the bike started to haunt me and I began to shut off.  I knew I was cooked when near the end of the first lap I was feeling chilly and light headed.  My options at that point were to manage whatever energy I had left and walk-run the remainder, keep pushing knowing that I could bonk hard, or DNF.  I chose the first of those options and managed to run a 2:01 half marathon, the slowest I've ever finished a run of that distance.
In the end my finish time was about 15 minutes slower than last year, and about 30 minutes off my target, and the entirety of that 30 minutes came in the last 10km of the run.  A tough pill to swallow, and I could hear from some of the comments at one of the checkpoints that I wasn't looking good.
After the NBA finals, I watched Mark Cuban rip Skip Bayless a new one on ESPN.  Cuban tore into Bayless for saying the Thunder didn't want the championship was much as the Heat and that Kevin Durant didn't play hard enough.  He said "Thats ridiculous, when you are at the close out game, nobody wants it more.  Its just a question of who executes better".

That basically sums up what it all comes down to in sport and what happened to me at Chinook.  Success in sport is the result of hard work, dedication, and commitment.  Losing, or not making the cut, or not hitting your time, isn't the result of not wanting it bad enough, its the simple result of not being prepared to execute as well as the guy or girl who bests you.  Of course there are exceptions in racing, you can get a mechanical on the bike, aid stations can run out of water, you can get smoked in the swim.  But on day when things just don't go your way even though all the external variables were right on, its just that you weren't fast enough.  

When the Queen of Kona, Paula Newby Fraser hit the wall in Kona in 1995, winning wasn't a question of wanting. It was a question of preparation.  But the images of her shutting down 400 yards from the finish and eventually getting back up to finish the race are part of what has inspired so many to pursue triathlon.  Its getting to the finish through struggle and adversity that we can find greatness.

And that's the beauty of sport, it has ups, and it has downs.  We measure our athletes by their wins, by their championships, and their records.  What we often forget is how many times they've lost to get there.  The athletes we look up to aren't great because of how many times they've won, they're great because of how many times they've lost, and came back to the next day to win.  You can't win every race, so you have to be prepared to hurt a little and learn some lessons before you can reach your fullest.

With that, I'm going to leave you with a little ad for Powerade....

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lance Armstrong and the USADA Allegations

To be clear, I am not one hundred percent sure whether Lance Armstrong raced to his TdF victories clean or not.  There are very few people in the world who definitively know the truth behind that question.  But I do believe that the case against him is a ship that has already sailed, and that USADA is appropriating US taxpayer dollars to carry out a vendetta and a witch hunt.

Dan Empfield from Slowtwitch wrote an excellent article sharing his thoughts on the investigation and the latest actions towards Armstrong here.  One of the most telling things he had to say, I'll paste here;

"Still, I think the onus is on USADA to lay out the case. I’d like to express here some things that bother me. Travis Tygart, who is USADA’s front man and someone who we’ve interviewed here, is a lawyer by trade. Therefore, he knows the difference between evidence and rumor. According to today’s Post article referenced above, the 15-page letter sent to Armstrong by USADA informing him of his ban contains the allegation by “Martial Saugy, the director of an anti-doping lab in Switzerland, [who] stated that Armstrong’s urine sample results from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland indicated EPO use.” But the Post article further recounts an interview it conducted with Saugy last year, in which Saugy stated that the sample was merely “suspicious," and that “We did not do the additional analysis. It will never be sufficient to say, in fact, it was positive… I will never go in front of a court with that type of thing.” 

Three or four urban myths and phantom rumors does not equal one piece of admissible, actionable evidence. Tygart knows this or, if he’s forgotten, he needs to go back and audit that course in law school. In fact, I did not read anything in the Post article that constitutes evidence. The Post article references blood samples taken in 2009 and 2010 that were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.” I’m left with this question: Were these samples found, by a WADA accredited lab, to be an adverse finding? Or, were these samples indicative of a bio passport anomaly? If so, that’s righteous evidence. But, this is 2012. Why are we hearing this now, rather than back when the violation took place?"

Like Dan said, the onus is certainly on USADA to make their case, and therein lies part of the problem.  USADA annual budget is approximately $13 million per a year, much of that coming through the US Government in the form of a grant.  Though USADA believes its pursuit of Lance Armstrong is an effective use of taxpayer dollars, I just can't reconcile how retroactively stripping an American icon and seven time Tour winner of his titles will help clean up a sport that has already committed itself towards getting ahead of the use of banned or illicit substances.

Edit: Information about USADA funding and budget can be found on this press kit available on their website.

The Department of Justice spent two years and untold millions of dollars preparing their case against Armstrong, and now USADA would like to take up the torch and pursue Armstrong.  With their thin budget its hard to believe that they aren't inadvertently choosing to turn a blind eye to controlled substance use in a number of other amateur and professional sports.  Moreover, that appropriation of resources is to carry out what seems to be a spiteful and personal vendetta against an individual who was for many years the most tested athlete in the world.

There are some very legitimate questions around the strength of USADA's adjudication and review process, that should be understood by anyone who believes it is an agency whose methods are beyond reproach.  For one , the board does not assess the quality of the evidence; it merely muses over whether there is enough evidence to merit an adjudication process. In other words, this being a “non-analytical” case, they aren’t looking for a smoking gun, but rather a place in the sky in which smoke might reasonably be visible. (The samples in question for 2010 have not tested positive, but show “inconsistencies”. There is precedent for suspension and prosecution for non-analytical case: none other than Marion Jones, who presumably ran out of money to keep paying her law bills, and caved. No chance of that happening with Lance.) USADA will rely on outside testimony on Armstrong’s alleged improper conduct going back more than a decade to buttress whatever the lab results from 2010 might show.

What’s more, the Board is only assessing written submissions, all of which will have the names of the submitters redacted. When Armstrong calls the review board process a “witch hunt”, he is making a specific historical illusion: nameless shadows coming forth to denounce a member of the community without showing their faces.  Presumably, some of these individuals would include Floyd Landis, and Tyler Hamilton, among others.  But if the testimony and allegations of these individuals are so strong, why remove your name from the submission?  I know that Lance Armstrong has a reputation for taking swift and decisive action against those who have spoken (or raced) against him, but fear of reproach from a man you seek to indite just doesn't do it for me.

I've said this before and I'll say it again.  If Lance was doping, he was doping and beat a field of athletes who were doping.  If he was clean, he was clean and beat a field of athletes who were doping.  Either he spent nearly a decade doping and cheating and never got caught, and never told the wrong person or failed the wrong (or right) test, or he spent nearly a decade beating a field of athletes who ultimately were the rightful subjects of reproach in international sport.

Its not hard to find either alternative unbelievable.  I believe in innocence until proven guilty so unless USADA has some previously unheard, irrefutable evidence that proves beyond the shadow of doubt that Lance used banned substances, I believe they should let their case rest.

Six weeks ahead of the 2012 Olympics, ensuring the integrity of amateur and professional athletes in sport today is far more crucial towards maintaining fairness, equality, and excellence than pursuing an individual who has done so much for cycling, sport, and the world through the Livestrong Foundation.

Its time to move beyond these allegations, and look forward to the future of sport.  Its time that cycling teams followed the example and standards set by teams such as Garmin Slipstream, which through Ryder Hesjedal's recent Giro win demonstrated that there is no substitute for hard work when it comes to winning titles.

Ultimately, the clouds and uncertainty surrounding Lance are an accurate metaphor for the history and nature of professional cycling going back decades.  I believe we should continue to respect the successes and history of the sport and the achievements of its athletes, while learning from where it has fallen short.  But today the focus should be on guaranteeing the future of integrity and fair competition in sport while celebrating the achievements of today's athletes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Race Strategy for the Chinook Half IM

So I've taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging, and for that I apologize!  But we're back in the midst of race season now and I thought I'd impart some strategy tips for some of the races that I've done.  Kind of a race review, but before the race, so that a few of you know what you're stepping into.

I'll do this one for Chinook, and I'll do one in a month for Ironman Canada.  So here it goes....

The Swim

The swim
The swim at the Chinook Half is a two lap swim of Lake Midnapore.  The water temp this time of year is about 16C degrees which is cold, but not Ironman Calgary 70.3 or Subaru Banff Triathlon cold.  Its a smaller body of water so it does warm up pretty quickly.

Its a small field of about 200 for the half, so seeding isn't quite as important as a larger race. The trick here is just to sight the buoys and pace yourself well.  At the end of the first lap you have to get out of the water, run across the beach, and get back in for your second lap.  The luxury of a two lap swim is that you know when you're onto the back of the swim and when you can push a little bit harder.

General Tip; Towards the end of the swim, kick a bit more so that you can get blood flowing back into your legs before you get out of the water.  Also, don't stand up until you can touch the bottom of the lake with your hand.

The Bike

The Chinook Half bike course, and olympic bike course for that matter, is pretty hilly, and probably the most technical bike course of any race of that distance in Alberta.  The prevailing winds always come out of the west, and since you're riding towards the west (the mountains), the ride out to Kananaskis is going to be a lot slower than the ride back home.

Last year it took me about 1:39 to get to the turnaround, and about 1:13 to get back, and that was keeping power pretty even.

Chinook Bike Course Elevation Profile
The advice that I would give to most triathletes on this bike course is to go super easy on the hills. There are far too many climbs to push and if you aren't careful you could hit the run having burned too many matches to put down a solid run split.  In a 39/26 gear ratio (biggest gear in the back, smallest ring in the front, usually the smallest gear a TT/Tri bike has), even a decent cyclist would be dancing out of the saddle at about 70-80rpm to try and keep from going past their lactate threshold.

On these hills, if you need to get out of the saddle, focus on rocking the bike from side to side and letting gravity do the work and try to keep your effort to a minimum.  If you find yourself getting short of breath on the climbs on near the turnoff to Bragg Creek, back off, you can make the time up later.

The nice thing about an out and back like this is that you do most of the work on the way out.  On the way back in, gravity and then wind should allow you to take a break, recovery, and get some calories back in before the run.

General tip:  I say this to runners and cyclists when they're in an endurance race, unless you're fighting for a podium position, you have to pace your race on effort, not speed.  So when you hit a hill, focus on keeping your effort constant, and just ignore your speed.  If you're on a 90km bike ride in Zone 2, unless you're an exceptionally strong cyclist, or a seasoned triathlete, do the hills in Zone 2.  You should be able to talk to someone without too much labour even as you climb the hill.

The Run

My homeboy Keith on the run
Ride for show and run for dough.  This is where you put it all on the line.  The Chinook run course is a two lap run course that's actually pretty flat with one major hill each lap when you come out of the Fish Creek Valley.  Its a pretty scenic run course so you should be able to take your mind off things once in a while.  And with such a small field, the runners really get stretched out at this point, so be mentally prepared to be in some pretty quiet sections in the run course.  This may not sound like a big deal, but just know that you'll be on your own in some spots, and find a way to use that to your advantage.

The temperature for the race is never really crazy hot like Ironman Calgary 70.3 can get in late July, but you'll still want to listen to your body very closely.  With lower temperatures you may find yourself not needing as much water if you usually take in lots of fluids be sure not to over hydrate.  On the flip side, if you're used to working in heat, the cooler temperatures may throw you off and you may not pick up on your thirst.  So get dialled in with what your whole body is signalling (too much fluid in your stomach? Back off the water.  Getting a little thirsty, drink water. Starting to feel spaced out and a little light, back off the pace for 10 minutes and get some calories and fluid in you asap).

General tip: Your legs will feel wonky after the bike.  That's a fact of triathlon, pay careful attention to your pace for the first couple kilometers and don't push too hard.  Your stomach can't handle fluids as well when you're running vs biking, and after 90km on the bike your legs will want to turnover at a higher rate than you probably run at.  Stick to your target pace and make sure your legs aren't writing cheques your ass can't cash.


Chinook is a phenomenal race put on by Mike Bock who does so much for Calgary's local athletes.  Mike is a top notch guy so if you see him be sure to thank him for putting on such a phenomenal race is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Also be sure to thank each and every one of the volunteers on the course.  Without them these races wouldn't be possible.  A little thank you goes a very long way.  They know you're tired and that you're pushing your hardest, which is why those two words really do mean so much.

Have a great race out there everyone and I'll see you at the start line!