Monday, June 10, 2013

Challenge Penticton Bike Course

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!

Note: This post was originally written a few weeks before IMC2011 after I pre-rode the course.  I've updated it to include some of my experiences from the actual race last year.  At the bottom is also the Garmin file from my ride in 2011.

I'd really like to encourage anyone interested in doing Challenge Penticton this year to give it a shot, whether you do it all yourself, or relay it.  Challenge puts on a great event and there's no better example than Challenge Roth, which is arguably one of the best put together Iron distance races in the world.

For anyone who is doing Challenge Penticton and won't have the luxury of riding the bike course before hand, I've come up with a few quick pointers based on my experience and the advice of others.
Perfect Ironman Strategy
  • If at any time during the ride you feel like you are going hard, you're going too hard.  Listening to your body during IM can be pretty tricky.  Out of the water and onto the bike you legs may not feel like they're really there yet, but give them about a half hour and they'll find you.  The trick to a solid second half of the ride, and a solid run is listening closely to your body.  That especially means your heart, your lungs, your legs. If you feel like you're going hard at all, you're going too hard.
  • Know the weather.  The weather in Penticton seems to be pretty variable from year to year.  In 2010, I had many friends who raced Ironman Canada/Challenge Penticton and there was no shortage of stories chronicling the cold and difficult conditions at the passes with rain, hail, and sleet at the higher elevations.  The year I did it in 2011, temperatures were scorching and the heat was the main obstacle for many athletes.  That year, many athletes in the front half of the race were using water liberally to try and keep cool while the back half of the field was actually running out of water.  And last year, conditions couldn't have been better in the 20C range with a mix of sun and cloud throughout the day.
  • Be sure to hydrate.  I usually take in about 750ml of fluid per hour and in 2011 that wasn't quite enough as the temperatures rose to about 37C down by Osoyoos.  If the temperature this year is in the 20's you should be pretty safe to stick to your usual nutrition plan, but if it gets into the 30's be sure to up your fluid intake.  By the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated and you could end up digging yourself a hole.
  • The ride down to Osoyoos is fast and a slight downhill, if you find yourself cruising along at 40kph and your HR is relatively low, consider taking advantage of that time to hydrate and relax. The work starts at Richter, and you can start to build there.  Also, depending on where you come out of the water, it could be a pretty crowded course while the field sorts itself out.   How some triathletes handle their bikes still boggles my mind sometimes, so when you pass someone, make sure they know you're there by yelling "Left!" or "Passing left!".  
  • Take your time up Richter, its not as bad as people make it out to be if you have a plan. Be mentally strong here and be very patient. I'm a strong climber/cyclist but I made a point of sticking to my planned 200 watts up Richter. For me this meant I was climbing at about 9-10kph. For my friend Keith, an average cyclist/triathlete who was trying to stick to 160 watts, this meant climbing at 6-7kph.  If you aren't racing with power, just climb at a pace where you can still hold a conversation with someone.  Richter is way too early to be burning matches so if people are passing you, Keep Calm and Carry On.
  • Learn to descend comfortably, it may be a little late for this less than 2 weeks out, but a couple rides with some long descents will do good to prepare you for the IMC course. Even if you just do the climbs and descents of the IMC course in the weeks before the race, you could save a couple minutes on the ride by being familiar with the long descents on the back of the Seven Sisters and Richter.
  • On the rollers after Richter you may be tempted to try and take the momentum from the last descent and power over the crest of the hill to the next descent.  Don't.  These rollers are a little too long and few many to do this without burning up your legs.  At the race last year I definitely played cat and mouse with a few Maillot a Pois Rouge wannabes.  They would climb past me on the up, and I'd pedal past them on the down.  The difference between my approach and theirs was I was shooting for steady power output up and down, where they were attacking the climb and not pedalling on the descent.  Amateur hour, I didn't see most of them past the sixth roller until the finish line.
  • The out and back kind of sucks.  Its long and hot, and like any other out and back section of a looped race, it feels like you're only doing it to ride longer, which is exactly why its there.  This will probably be your first and only glimpse of some of the people who are going to beat you handily.  Buckle down mentally and think about why you're out here, think about crossing the finish line, and about everyone who is out there volunteering, cheering, and racing with you.  
  • The only good part about the out and back is that its where you get your special needs.  If you're like me and are totally comfortable sticking to race course nutrition, consider throwing an extra tube and CO2 canister in your special needs.  If you don't use it, thats $10 down the drain, if you need it but don't bring it, that could be 10 months training down the drain. Better to be wrong on the safe side.
  • Not long after the out and back you'll approach the Yellow Lake Climb. It starts so gradually that you may not even notice you're starting to climb. Here and all over the course you should always be mindful of your power/HR/perceived exertion. There are a lot of false flats and a lot of sections where the terrain will deceive you into thinking you aren't climbing when you actually are and this is definitely one of them.  This is a tough section, but near the top of Yellow Lake you'll come into a Tour de France style tunnel of cheers and fans.  Relish that moment, if you're going to get out of the saddle at any time on that course, that's the place to do it.
  • Staggered start this year.  Ironman Canada veterans will say goodbye to the mass start this year at Challenge Penticton.  I think this is a good thing, with such a large field the swim and bike course were incredibly crowded.  This approach will also encourage you to ride your own ride as the people ahead of you or behind you aren't necessarily competing with you for position.
  • Save your energy for the run. At the end of the day, incremental power on the bike isn't as valuable as incremental power on the run simply because you're trying to overcome far more wind resistance when you're riding at 35kph, than when you're running at 10kph. Going 5% harder for 6 hours on the bike might mean you get out of the saddle 10 minutes sooner, but with that you end up shuffling for an extra hour on the run. Its not worth it, people rarely say "I wish I'd gone out harder on the bike", but often say "I had a great ride, but things fell apart on the run".  The fact of the matter is that its all legs and its all related, so on a course like IMC, your patience on the bike will be rewarded on the run.
Edit: For a more in depth look at the Ironman Canada and Challenge Penticton Bike Courses check out this post.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Everything you wanted to know about triathlon but were too afraid to ask

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!

If you’ve ever spent much time around triathletes, cyclists, or runners, you learned pretty quickly that endurance athletes have a tendency to overshare.  The letters “TMI” have no meaning to them, and facts about bodily functions that would normally be considered cringe-worthy and inappropriate are shared as routinely as discussions about the weather or last night’s episode of Survivor.

But for the uninitiated, or shy, here are a few questions an answers that you may not be comfortable just coming out and asking the staff at the local bike or tri shop.

Question:  Is it true that triathletes sometimes pee in their wetsuits?

Answer: Yup.  But remember, it's a wetsuit, not a dry suit.  So water is circulating through the suit, so maybe that makes it a little better.  Some also pee in the pool, but there's a never ending debate about the morality of that one.

Question:  What do you do about friction and chaffing?

Answer:  Really actually depends on where.  Over the course of a 10+ hour race you'll discover basically anything can chafe but there are some specific problem areas like the back of your neck against the wetsuit, or the arches of your feet against your shoes/socks.  For areas like that stuff like Body Glide a great thing to have.  You'll want to apply it liberally anywhere you've ever had that problem.

If you you're going for long runs and rides and find yourself a little burned down between the legs, there are many different creams and skin lubricants that are designed specifically to reduce friction in that region.  Products like Chamois Butter, Assos Skin Cream, and Hoo Ha Glide can work wonders and I highly recommend them.  A word of caution, if you've already got a bit of a rash or chaffing going on, DO NOT apply these products, they'll burn like a mo-fo.  Go to a product like Assos Skin Repair Gel instead.

QuestionWhat do you wear under your bike or tri shorts?

Answer: That’s a trick question.  The answer is nothing.  Cyclists and triathletes go bare underneath their kits for one very good reason (and it’s not to avoid underwear lines), friction.  Seams and stitching have a nasty habit of causing friction against the skin when you’re in the saddle which can very quickly lead to chaffing in a very sensitive part of the body.  Shorts designed for cycling and triathlon have fewer seams and a special pad called a chamois that is designed to reduce friction, wick moisture, and provide padding for the areas where your body comes in contact with the sadly.  Your run of the mill pair of undergarments interfere with that process and can easily cause chaffing, and worse yet, provide ideal conditions for saddle sores, rashes, and infection.  Think of putting on a pair of bike shorts the same way you’d think of putting on a bathing suit, your favourite cotton skivvies just wouldn’t feel right.

Question: How do you deal with *ahem* numbness… like… down there?

Answer:  You really shouldn’t have to.  If things are going numb down south it’s a serious sign that you’re either; riding a bike that doesn’t fit you, riding a bike that isn’t set up to fit you properly, or your saddle just isn’t the right one for you.  Numbness is a sign of reduced blood flow to that part of your body often caused by pressure on the wrong part of your… saddle.  If this is a problem for you, then next time you get on the saddle be very conscious of where the pressure is being applied.  If most of the pressure is not on your sit bones (the two boney parts of your bum) then something is wrong.  Get a proper bike fit and test out different saddles to see which one fits you best.  Your anatomy is very specific and chances are the saddle that comes OEM on the bike you purchased isn’t necessarily the one that fits you best.  The same way you’re selective of your running shoes you should be selective with your saddle.

Question: The Ironman bike ride is like, 6 or 7 hours, what racers they do about going to the bathroom?

Answer:  This is personal preference and a little sport dependent.  In pro cycling when nature calls and they can’t just pull over to the side of the road, the one rider will have two teammates create a horizontal train side by side to basically push him while he stops pedaling to relieve himself.

In triathlon things are a little different and there are a couple methods.  In descending order of appropriateness, here they are...  The best bet is to wait until you get to an aid station and hit the porta potty, that’s why they’re there, so you may as well use them.  But when you gotta go, you gotta go, so what some people will do is just get off their bike when it’s safe to do so (or they *should* when its safe to do so), take a few steps from off the road, and just go.  The problem with that is that it’s public indecency and in some races you can actually be DQ’d for it.  The last solution is to just go while you’re on the bike, I’ll let you be creative as to how exactly to figure that one out but if this is the method you’re going to use make sure there isn’t someone drafting you (unless its someone you really really don’t like).  Honestly, there are very few circumstances where the third one is really necessary, but if you’re chasing Olympic glory or something like that some people might understand.

Question:  My toenails are starting to look weird. Why?

Answer:  The most common among runners is bruising or slight bleeding under the nail from repetitive trauma of the top of the shoe striking the nail with each step or the toe sliding forward into the end of the shoe.  This is commonly seen in runners and triathletes training for long distances races and in highly competitive runners training for shorter distance races but at high intensity and volume. These nail injuries are generally not painful, although sometimes the nails do thicken. They will heal when the training volume and intensity decreases, and the repetitive trauma ceases. A shoe with adequate toe room will also help in some cases as this may also be a sign that you're shoes are too small.

Question:  Why do cyclists and triathletes shave their legs?

Answer: Ummm, why wouldn’t they?  It makes us faster and more aerodynamic by shaving off valuable hundredths of a second per hour… no pun intended.  Honestly though, there are a few good reasons as to why one might choose to shave their legs.  If you’re regularly getting you’re calves and quads massaged you probably don’t want that deep tissue push to be pulling out hairs at the same time.  Another reason is that many athletes today are using kinesio tape or are taping their joints and having adhesives pull hairs out of your leg is every bit as painful as you’d imagine it to be.  Thirdly, if you’ve ever cleaned up road rash, you’ll know how much of a pain that hair can be.  Fourth, it makes your legs look more muscular.  And finally, it’s tradition.