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.