Thursday, July 25, 2013

How to be a great fan

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!

Well I've written plenty of posts on how to effectively race triathlons, but it didn't dawn on me until watching the last couple stages at the Tour de France, that I've never really talked about how to be an awesome fan at a race.  Now I know that sounds a bit odd, but there is definitely a way to be an awesome fan, and then there's a way to be a fan that doesn't really encourage anyone, which I guess would constitute a "bad" fan.

As an athlete I can honestly say that spectators and fans make a world of difference during the race.  Their cheers can instantly transfer a seemingly endless amount of energy to you, and their enthusiasm can be the difference between qualifying for a Kona slot or going home empty handed, or the difference finishing the race with a walk and a smile or taking the dreaded DNF.

So here are a few pointers that I've put together.  Feel free to share them with your friends, family, or anyone who might be headed out to IM Calgary 70.3, Ironman Canada, Mont Tremblant, Challenge Penticton, Kona, Vegas, or wherever else!

The Good

  • Volunteer- What better way to be a good fan than to volunteer for the race!  Volunteers are what make triathlons and almost any other sort of race or sporting event possible.  I can't say enough about how grateful I am to the legions of volunteers that make Ironman happen.  Whether its package pickup, body marking, aid stations, transitions, medical, or finish line, the smiles and enthusiasm of volunteers go a long way towards supporting the athletes... Plus you usually get a t-shirt, which makes you as much a part of the race as the athletes.
  • Shout it, shout it, shout it out loud- It may not seem like it sometimes, but in the race we hear everything.  At Ironman, we literally have nothing to do but keep moving forward, so listening to the fans becomes a big focal point.  And when you're cheering, the louder the better.  When I was racing Ironman Canada a couple years ago I was completely taken aback by the enthusiasm and support of everyone at Yellow Lake, after 4.5 hours on the bike coming into a tunnel of screaming spectators on the steep pitch of the climb was exactly what I needed.  
  • You wanna be where everybody knows your name- When you're on the side of the road, pick a person, look at their number or name on the bib, or even just the colour of their shirt, and give them a callout and tell them how they're doing, or give them some words of encouragement.  It shows that you aren't just yelling and cheering for the world, it shows them that you're pulling for them at this very moment.  Its very Canadian of us to sit quietly on the side of the course and only cheer for the people we know and I've seen it at many of the local smaller races, but once you catch the smile and thanks of that stranger whose race you made a little better, you'll be hooked.
  • I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign- I don't think there is an athlete out there who doesn't love a good sign written on a poster.  The cleverer the better.  For some good ideas check out these two sites; Best Race Signs, Buzzfeed.  I've got to give a special shoutout to all the Lululemons I've seen bring huge cheer squads out with some pretty catchy signs, they've got it down to an art.
  • Think about what's important to the athlete- Are they on track to break the 3:30 marathon mark?  Are they chasing down the next person up the road?  I they struggling to get in just under the time cutoff?  Let them know that they can do it.  Some meaningful words of encouragement that fit the context of their goals can go a long way and you can make more of a difference than you could imagine.
  • When the going get tough, the tough get going- Ironman is one of the few sports that celebrates its final finisher maybe even more than its first.  If you've ever been at the finish line of Ironman just before midnight, you'd know that something magical happens at that time and the crowds come alive to cheer that last person in.  The adversity and loneliness that many athletes overcome with in the weeks and months leading up to the race, and during the race is a testament to their character and strength.  I know sometimes its tempting to just roll out whenever your friend or family member finishes the race, but feel free to stick around and be that someone special who provides words of encouragement for those brave souls who forges ahead after the crowds have gone.
The Bad
  • Know the rules- At Ironman there are very few rules that pertain to the behaviour of individuals not participating in the event.  The biggie though is that athletes cannot accept outside assistance from individuals not in the race or with the organizers.  Which means technically you can't give us water or nutrition, but more importantly it means you cannot pace us.  Its a rule that varies in its application and the frequency with which its enforced but it basically means if you see your buddy, you can't run or bike alongside him or her and doing so could lead to their disqualification.  That being said, if you run alongside someone climbing a hill for 10 feet no one is going to accuse them of cheating, but its something to keep in mind.
  • Traffic-  This has only ever been an issue for me at Ironman Canada, but its something worth keeping in mind.  The bike course at an Ironman is 180km often on open roads with some lane closures.  If you'd like to go out and see your loved one racing, consider taking a route that is not the course route or don't go at all.  Local traffic needs to get through, and athletes need to get through, and if added to the congestion is a thousand cars full of spectators looking for their friends, things can get uncomfortable and even dangerous.
  • Be respectful to the locals- Its out of the good grace of community associations and municipalities that races as big as half and full Ironmans have a place to call home.  Make a habit of being respectful or people's property and considerate of their community.  This means don't park in front of their driveways, don't litter on their laws, and don't do anything that you wouldn't want someone to do in your community.  From time to time an athlete may drop something by accident, by and large most of us try to keep the course free of any garbage, but if you see this happen, just grab the litter and toss it for us.
  • Don't hit us- If there is one thing that scares the bejeezus out of me at a race its a car, bike, spectator, or pet crossing out path as we ride or even run by.  Please, look both ways before you proceed across a road or intersection.  A collision at even a low speed is dangerous for both parties.
The End

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again.  Volunteers make these races happen.  Ironman Calgary 70.3 is still looking for volunteers this weekend so if you have a couple extra hours this Sunday, please sign up here.  I'd love to see you out there!

Monday, July 15, 2013

New Calgary 70.3 Bike Course

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The recent flooding in southern Alberta has forced a lot of Race Directors to spring into action and make some serious course corrections on their routes.  Unfortunately a number of events have been cancelled altogether such as; the inaugural Gran Fondo Canmore, the Hi Hostels Kananaskis K100, and the Banff Marathon.  Other events like Gran Fondo Highwood Pass have received serious changes in the routes.

News came out yesterday that the Ironman Calgary 70.3 route will be getting a big overhaul.  The debris accumulated at Ghost Lake made the swim course impassable for the number of athletes expected for the race.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the revised route, and I think anyone who lives on the south side of the city who is familiar with the route would be on the same page as me.  It's one of the best routes around with stunning scenery as you climb through the foothills to right to the base of the Rockies.  Race Director Paul Anderson has also been doing an incredible job making the race a reality in light of the hectic few weeks the city has had.

Here is a link to the proposed revised route.  You may want to open another window and go through the map while reading this post at the same time.

So here are a few pointers on the revised bike route, though it is subject to change as the route is pending city and provincial approval.
Highway 22x heading west later in the day

  • First and foremost, athletes should be happy that the frigid waters of Ghost Lake are being replaced by the bathwater of Mackenzie Lake.  Last I heard water temps were around 19C, and with the warm weather expected in the next two weeks, expect to be racing in water temps closer to what you'd get in Penticton for Challenge/IMC
  • Riding south out of the city from Lake Mackenzie to Highway 22x will be pretty flat on controlled community streets, nothing fancy here. Just find your legs, calm yourself down, and get set for the ride.
  • When you're headed westbound on 22x is still technically in the city.  There is a short descent, and a steep climb out of of the Bow River/Fish Creek Valley, followed by a number of other rolling hills until you hit the 15km mark.  At this point in the ride you should still be finding your legs from the swim. Take it easy on these hills.  Between km10 and km15 its easy to burn your legs up so you should be on your easiest gear and spinning here.  There will likely be some traffic control as your cross the overpass, but don't stress, after this you're pretty much cruising.
  • When you hit km15 you'll start a long gradual descent.  This is where you can make up time from the climbing you've done so far.  The prevailing winds are out of the west in Calgary, but usually don't pick up until mid-morning so if you're putting down 200watts here you could easily be cruising along at +40kph (25mph).  You'll have a great view of the countryside and the mountains in the distance here. Every once in a while there will be a turnout from a gravel road, hopefully its all swept before the race, but just in case, keep your wits about you.
  • At the 20km mark you're into the foothills which means rolling hills that sometimes seem to come out of nowhere.  You'll being doing a lot of going from your biggest gear to your smallest gear so keeping momentum and knowing your shifts will save you a lot of energy.  I really mean that, you'll go from your biggest gear to your smallest in the course of 300 meters in some spots here.  Know how to smoothly go from the big ring to the little without losing momentum by being able to shift your rear derailleur at the same time as your front.  Some of these descents will be quite shallow, if you're an average cyclist, this is a great time to recover from the punchy little climbs. If you're a strong cyclist with a powermeter, or are running a standard (53-39) crankset, you can probably spin in your biggest gear and hold a lot of your momentum.
  • The hill from km30 to km35 (Strava name "Lower Cowboy Trail") doesn't actually seem like a hill when you approach it but it's actually a grade of about 2-3% over 5km.  It's hardly anything remarkable by cycling standards, but for a half Ironman its a climb that you can definitely end up burning matches on.  It's also a curved hill with a flat section right before the steep part, so you can't actually see the end of it and you might think it's over before it actually is. Once again, be smart with your gears and ride this hill conservatively, the hill isn't over until you're going downhill.  Also, as you crest the hill and you start your descent, take a moment to enjoy the scenery.  This is one of the most beautiful points on the course with ranches along the highway, and the mountains and foothills right in front of you.
  • The descent from km35-km37 is fast, and curves to the right. I would strongly recommend you ride the horns on this one rather than descent in aero position unless you're a very strong cyclist.  At this point you're entering a valley and the crosswinds can seriously throw you about here.  I'll say it again because it's really important, be smart about your descent here, you can gain some serious speed faster than you anticipate and you need to keep in mind that you may be passing people who aren't as confident as you are descending.
  • At km37 you hit another climb (Strava name: Cowboy Trail Climb") that averages about 3-4% for about 3km.  I'd say this is the most serious climb of the day.  You'll be in the easy gear on this one and I'd probably put it on par with the Cochrane hill climb if you've done the race before.  The key here is patience.  Focus on using gravity and your body weight to pull you up the hill by dancing the bike left to right with each pedal stroke.  You'll gain back the time soon enough because in about 10 minutes this course is going to get very fun.
  • Km44 is a descent, and then you turn north onto Highway 22 towards Bragg Creek and you're now around the halfway mark.  Once you pass the Shell station at Bragg Creek you begin a long false flat descent.  If you paced the first half of the course well you ought to be flying here.  Up to the traffic circle at km60, 200 watts could easily net you 45kph in some spots.  This is the only time you'll have a true crosswind but the trees should actually protect you from most of it.  
  • One you turn back east after the traffic circle you'll be on another long false flat descent.  As the temperature rises throughout the day the prevailing winds out of the west begin to pick up and should really push you along.  In the evening when the winds get really strong I've definitely done out and back rides on this stretch of road averaging 20kph at 220 watts on the way out, and riding back at 50kph on 160 watts on the way back.  This is a good time to refuel and start preparing yourself mentall and physically for the run.
  • A little past the 75km mark there will be a couple more short hills where you may to push a bit out of the saddle, but you're just about onto the run now so the end is in sight.
  • Route stats: 85.6km distance, +749m ascent, -678m descent, prevailing winds out of the west.
Overall the entire bike course has great pavement, and while it's not really what you'd consider a very technical course, you'll definitely be using your biggest and smallest gears quite often.  So you may want to invest in a quick tune up and the local shop before you head out to the race.  The shoulders are very wide and I'd consider these roads to be some of the safest stretches around.  That being said, the speed limits on these segments range from 70-100kph (40-60mph), so when passing be sure to keep to the right of the white line and be conscious of where there are rumble strips at the line.

If you have any questions at all feel free to post them in the comments section below.

Once again I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Paul Anderson and all of the volunteers striving to make this race happen.  For those of you coming from out of town, it's been a crazy three weeks in Calgary and many of our communities are still recovering from the floods, but come hell or high water we'll do our best to make your stay, and your race, one to remember.