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! 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.