Friday, September 7, 2018

Powerman Zofingen World Championship

Third time's a charm.

This is the third time I've sat down to write about Powerman Zofingen.

The first time, weeks before the race, I started writing about my goals for the race:
  • A Goal: Podium
  • B Goal: Top 5
  • C Goal: Top 10
Before I could publish that, I thought I strained my calf - and the whole trip to Europe was in question for about a week. 

So, the second time I started writing about Powerman, I was writing about the injury and how sorry I was feeling for myself...

Before I could publish that, my calf started feeling a lot better.

Now that the race is over, I don't have any excuse not to publish this blog.

Brass Tacks

I finished 6th in 6:25:52 and I nearly met my "B Goal." I'm very happy with the result - I had a good day out there, but there is room for improvement. Suffering through and finishing the race was immensely satisfying, but the process; the preparation was something more.

Link to the results with splits: https://services.datasport.com/2018/tri/zofingen/rang207.htm

Thanks for the photo, David.

That Process

It all started last year when I raced Alistair Eeckman at Standard Distance Duathlon Nationals in Bend. I didn't know Alistair at the time, but we raced and I saw that he was an "elite" duathlete. That is - he was a card carrying USAT/ITU professional duathlete. It surprised me - I didn't think many Americans were still trying to compete in international duathlons at the highest level (there is very little incentive to do so). But I really respected his commitment. Shortly after nationals, he went to Zofingen, had a great race and finished 10th. That got the wheels turning in my mind.

If Alistair could do it... Why couldn't I?

In December of last year, I set my goals and made Zofingen my "A Race" for 2018. I emailed Alistair and asked him how to get there, when to get there, what to expect... etc. His responses were very helpful. At a race that is always dominated my Europeans, I couldn't wait until we put 2 Americans inside the top-10 and showed Europe, and the rest of the world - Americans can run-bike-run with the best of them.

Some of you know what happened to Alistair. Two weeks before the race in Zofingen, Alistair was killed in a collision with a vehicle while cycling in Austria. His absence in Zofingen weighed heavily on the weekend. But the tragic event also drew us duathletes closer together. Many efforts were dedicated to or inspired by Alistair. When I was suffering up the hills in the second run - I thought about Alistair and I knew I could suffer just that much more for him. And if I could just pass one more guy... I could do it for Alistair. It wasn't until after the race I realized that my number (27) was the same number he raced with last year.

I wish he was here so I could thank him. Thank him for the inspiration to go for it at such a crazy race; the motivation he unknowingly provided me with while training, and for the encouragement to keep pushing. Thanks, dude.

The Training

Of course the other part of the process, the training, also made this a memorable Spring. Lingering plantar fasciitis and tough weather conditions made for a slow start to January and February, but things started to click mid-March. I didn't have a great race at standard distance Nationals in Greenville, but it motivated me to get my ass in gear.

I think I had the longest, healthiest, most productive stretch of training I've ever had from March to late-August. I was in something of a flow state of training - super focused on just being an athlete. And day after day, I surprised myself.

Side note: I realize I am tremendously fortunate to be able to wholeheartedly pursue athletics. I have to thank my dad for supporting me in everything I do. Multisport is not a cheap hobby. And like I said, there is very little incentive to pursue duathlon. For example - I didn't even win enough in Zofingen to cover the cost of my wife and I's plane tickets to Europe and back. It's only the support of my dad, my wife, my family and my friends that has enabled me to do what I love to do. I know there are other, better athletes out there; but without substantial support, they may not be able to focus solely on training or able to travel to Europe for some silly pissing contest.

I don't have any sponsors - and honestly, I don't expect any. I get a few pro deals from companies (thanks Gu Energy, Williams Cycling and Pearl Izumi), but duathlon is not a sustainable profession. When USAT asked me to submit sponsor logos for my race kit, I almost told them I didn't have any. But then I thought about my biggest financial backer - my dad. We have a family business back home in Georgia. My Grandad, Albert E. Harrison, purchased Ellijay Telephone Company in 1956. And over the years, it's evolved to provide telecommunication services to a large portion of North Georgia. My dad and his siblings inherited the company from their dad and it is still a family run operation in small town Georgia. So, without even asking for permission from Ellijay Telephone Company (ETC), I found one of their logos online and submitted it to have it screen printed onto my race kit. I was really happy to be able to represent the one company I can completely believe in - a company that has supported me, indirectly, more than any sponsor ever could.

End side note...

Like I was saying, training went really well. I had several key long workouts and things kept progressing. It all culminated with a standard distance (5K-40K-10K) duathlon in Coeur d'Alene three weeks prior to Zofingen. It was a small race, but a good opportunity to go through a "dress rehearsal" and put in a hard effort. I ran steady 5:30's and rode ~ 315 Watts. The day after that, I rode 5 hours with 2 hours over 300 Watts - and felt really, really good doing it. I was very confident after that big week.

But a couple days after that, I had sharp, crampy pain in my left calf. It got worse as I went for easy runs... I feared I had strained my gastroc. I moped around for a few days... stretching, icing, going on short easy rides. I was really emotional. I thought I had totally blown it. But after a few days, I noticed stretching my calf wasn't doing much good. Instead, stretching my hamstring and the back of my knee seemed to hit the spot. The more I read, I began to believe my problem was my popliteus (back of my knee). Then I remembered, I had moved my saddle up two weeks prior to the onset of the pain... And it dawned on me. As soon as I figured out my popliteus was the problem, I started stretching and icing it and I lowered my saddle. It improved rapidly. The popliteus ordeal was a minor setback - it made for some added emotional stress and a weird taper. I missed several workouts, then once it was feeling better, I crammed in a few workouts up until about a week out from Zofingen - at which point we left for Europe.

As far as training goes, I wouldn't do much differently. I believe the injury was largely a result of improper bike fit. Which... maybe I should go get a proper bike fit...

Perhaps I would do more and slightly longer long runs next time. My longest run in this build was only 25K. I'd like to edge that out to 28-30K next time, but probably only twice in the build up. I would also run more hills off the bike. That was the most difficult part of the race - grinding up the hill three times. Another one of my weak spots - downhill running. I'm slow downhill! And this hurt me in the opening 10K. I would catch guys on the flats and uphills, but get gapped coming back down. The gap after the first run would prove to be pivotal to my race day - but I'll talk about pacing and tactics later.

Europe...

We left Sunday morning, one week before the race - flew to Seattle, then non-stop Seattle to Frankfurt, arriving Monday morning. I slept no more than 20 minutes on the plane; so I was wasted when we got there. We promptly picked up our rental car and hit the German autobahn.

Which was terrifying.

As I fought to keep my eyelids open at 130 kmh, Porsches, Audis and BMWs must've been coming by us in the left lane at 200+. I learned real fast - keep right.

Somehow, after a couple very stressful hours, we made it to our hotel in Strasbourg, France. It was too early to check-in. So, we stashed our bags and went out for gelato. The rest of the afternoon is kind of a blur. We walked around the old town. There was beer, charcuterie, flatbread... and a stop at a market with really good fresh figs. I slept hard that night.

Jet-lagged American's in Europe...

My kind of breakfast...
After pain au chocolat and cappuccino the next morning, we left for Luzern. On the way, we drove through Zofingen. So, we stopped and ran on the course. Because of the 9 hour time difference, I felt like we were running in the middle of the night. We ran back into the forest, climbing out of town on dirt and gravel paths - it was lush and green. It was a welcome change from the dry, dusty, exposed gravel roads of the Palouse. We stumbled onto some of the course... really hilly.

We had lunch at some pizza place (yeah, more pizza) and continued to our hotel outside of Luzern, Hotel Restaurant Hammer.


The hotel is an old wooden house, built by the Hammer family, in the remote Eigenthal Valley. It sits way up on the side of Mount Pilatus. I'd been up Mount Pilatus when I was in high school, and I knew it was a nice place. We had three days there in Eigenthal… It's a very relaxing and beautiful place. There are trails right out the front door - great for running, hiking or mountain biking. The road riding wasn't bad either - as long as you didn't mind climbing mountains (I don't, I just wished I had a normal road bike and a 32T cassette). We had one sunny afternoon and morning before rain and fog moved in. I made the most of it, with one final tune-up workout.

The view up the Eigenthal Valley
Riding towards Schwarzenberg the next morning.
After 3 days in the Luzern region, we took off for Zofingen. I rode a lap of the new bike course Friday afternoon in a misty rain -- Rough roads, road work, sharp turns... and the climbs were really mellow (short and not very steep). I'm still not sure this is the best route for the race; but what do I know? I had expected more climbing and steeper climbs... but the course had a lot of long, flat sections where absolute power and aerodynamics were going to trump power-to-weight. It was an "all-rounder" course. You and your equipment needed to be and stay aerodynamic, and you had to be able to put down power on the long flat sections, but you had to be able to handle a few climbs too. My 66 kg frame and lightweight Cannondale Slice TT bike would have preferred more climbing... but there was nothing I could do about it.

Pre-race

The pasta party Friday night was a welcome break from the routine of searching for restaurants, navigating unfamiliar places, menus and struggling with communication barriers. It was comforting to see Americans in a foreign place. I caught up with Keith Jackson and stuffed myself full of tortellini.

In the pre-race briefing Saturday morning, we were told we could not receive any nutrition support (bottles, gels, bars, etc.) from our coaches unless our coaches were "accredited." This was an issue because I had planned on taking bottles and gels from my wife on each lap of the bike. The Athlete Guide published to the race website stated that elite athletes could take feeds in the marked "coaching zone" on each lap, but it didn't mention anything about coaches accreditations... So, now they're saying I can't take any bottles from my wife because she doesn't have some sort of certification? Seemed like some bullshit to me. Apparently, others thought so too as there was an uproar amongst the elite athletes. Like myself, several others had planned on using the feed zone to take bottles from coaches or significant others. Some athletes asked if they could get their coach "accredited" that day. The ITU officials just scoffed. After the meeting, Marc Widmer and I stayed to talk to the organizers. The head ITU referee said the Athlete Guide was wrong -- and I promptly told him that's no excuse. If he or the other ITU officials made a mistake, they should own it. We athletes should not have to pay the price for the ITU's mistakes. I got so flustered, I just walked off. Marc kept a cooler head, but couldn't get the ITU to back down.

I went back to the hotel to rethink my nutrition plan. I ended up concentrating four servings of GU Roctane in my small aero bottle, filling a GU flask with five servings of GU and taping one SIS Go Energy Electrolyte Gel on my top tube. This way, I could just take water from the neutral aid stations. I'd take a swig of the concentrate or a shot of GU and a few swigs of water. No problem - it actually worked really well. I ended up taking 75-80 g CHO/hr and a total of ~3L of fluids while on the bike. For the run - I had 3 gels... but I can't remember how many cups of water and isotonic sports drink I took from aid stations. Thankfully, the weather was overcast and cool - so hydration was pretty easy to stay on top of.

After a week of nerves and stress, I finally felt at ease the day before the race. I finally felt like I'd made it to race day. I slept really well Saturday night.

Race Day

The late 9:00 am start made for a relatively relaxed morning. Up at 5:30. Breakfast was carb heavy - a Bobo's Oat Bar, a GU Stroopwafel, a banana, coffee, milk, GU hydration drink mix and some muesli from the hotel. 

Bike check-in, a short warm-up jog and we're on the line.

The gun went off and there was a sprint at the front. I watched the front runners pull away as I shadowed the second group, or was it the third? I took it out really conservatively. By the start of the second lap, my confidence was building and I was feeling pretty good. I caught up to a group of 5 guys on the flat section through town and brought back a couple more as we climbed the hill out of town for the second time. I was strong on the uphill - I'd gap guys, but they'd come flying by my as we hit the steep downhills. Like I said, this is something I need to work on.

Chilling through run 1. Note the ETC logo.
I had told myself if I got to the bike within two minutes of the front group, I could bridge up. In part due to a horribly slow transition, the gap was closer to three minutes by the time I got my leg over my top tube. I felt good - but that gap would prove to be too much.

Roll out...
I pushed the pace on the bike and I was bringing guys back slowly and surely... but I never caught a glimpse of the leading group of eight. And while I was surely bringing guys back. I was also pulling a few guys with me.

Powerman is not draft-legal. There is a 12m draft zone... but neither ethics, nor the threat of penalty seemed to deter guys from sucking wheels. After ~30K, we hit the bottom of the Wiliberg (the main climb on the course) and I waved guys around. Several came by and I badgered them - "How's the draft back there? Enjoying the free-ride? I bet you are!" No one responded. I continued to yell at them as they rode just feet away from each other's wheels. At one point a motorbike with a camera came alongside and yelled something in German. It seemed to separate the group for a few minutes. I shadowed the group for a few miles before deciding the group was not going fast enough - and if anyone was going to bring back the leaders, it was going to be me. It was do-or-die. So, I went back to the front and kept grinding, sure that someone was just sitting on my wheel.

A camera bike came alongside near the start of the second lap and got some footage of yours truly. I'll put a link to the recorded livestream HERE. Footage of the group begins around 3:14:00 and continues on and off for ~30 minutes. Here are a few screenshots:













As you can see in the photos, the 12m drafting zone rule was frequently violated - and this is while we were in plain view of the camera! Some guys were worse than others - I have very little respect for the Slovenian (red helmet) who sat on the whole time, only to ride away in the last 10K and outrun me. His lack of guts was apparent -  His lack of ethics, severely disappointing.

After watching the race footage, it doesn't appear things were any better in the front group.

The lead group on the climb... so much for 12m.

8 guys within 5 seconds on the climb... Yeah, nothing to see here...
I'm sorry if you think my criticism of others is unprofessional or unsportsmanlike. But drafting is cheating and cheating cannot be tolerated. Cheating is the ultimate form of disrespecting the sport, the organizers, the fans and your competitors. So if I can shame others into racing fairly, we're all better for it.

I did learn from the experience -  next time, I'll hit the climbs harder to try to shed the lazy, dead weight, gutless cheats and I'll push on alone. I also learned that I need to transition faster and keep the lead pack on a shorter leash in the first run to ensure that I can bridge up.

The most economical way to race would be to hold an even or progressive effort through the whole 6+ hour effort. That's what I set out to do. Unfortunately, that was not how the race unfolded and I never made up the gap from the first run.

I ended up normalizing 272 W, average 261 - almost on par for what I thought it would take to ride with the leaders and what I had trained for. I never looked at my Garmin during the race. After we hit the cobbles through Zofingen, my hydration system rattled backwards on my aerobars and completely covered the Garmin, so I couldn't see it. I didn't mind. I figured normalizing 275-280 W was within my capability, and I was pretty close to that just riding off of effort. And I was feeling good.

Into transition
I came off the bike and out of transition in 11th - and I felt pretty good running on the flat section through town. Then we climbed out of town on the trails. I struggled on the uphill - but I think everyone was feeling it. I caught up to the Aussie, Alister Caird, and we jokingly exchanged a few words about how grim our situation was. But we worked well together to move up. It only seemed appropriate that his name was Alister. We caught a few guys, and a few guys, who probably spent too much energy on the first run and bike, dropped out. I felt like I was just barely surviving, but somehow I was moving up!

Misery loves company. I'm glad I had Alister there to push me and keep me honest.
Hold it together...
I struggled in the second lap and started to feel a little light headed, so I backed off and let Alister go. I had another gel and grabbed a couple cups of sports drink at the aid stations. I was feeling better by the start of the last trip up the hill, and I was starting to bring Alister back. I pressed on, caught and passed him at the steepest part of the climb. I felt like I was hauling ass that last half lap and I could see I was securing 6th place. The last sprint down the hill back to town was very enjoyable.


Sometimes it's really nice to be taken to your limits and still get your teeth kicked in. That was Sunday.
That was, by far the most challenging athletic event I have ever experienced. It demanded intense focus and a constant effort for 6.5 hours. It took intelligent pacing, energy and nutrition management. It took confidence and it took so much perseverance. Of course, it also took months of preparation, sacrifice, sweat and suffering. And it took a lot of support from friends, family and people I don't even know. The Powerman really was an awesome experience.

Overall, the trip and the race was a great experience and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants a real difficult challenge. I'm already plotting a way back next year. It was incredibly satisfying and motivating. If I can do it again next year - I'll do more bike course recon, stay closer to the leaders on the first run, and try harder to attack and drop the wheel suckers. I'd also like to try to get an air-bnb or a homestay where we can cook our own meals... because living out of hotel rooms and having to dine out for most meals can be difficult and contributes to added stress pre-race. It's also expensive.

In training - all I would do differently is run more hills (up and down) and just a few more longer
runs.

I might also look into getting a more aerodynamic TT bike... My Cannondale Slice weighs 17 lbs. It goes uphill really well, but I know it's not the most aero machine. Like I said, the course did not have as much climbing as I thought it would and the hills were not that steep.

Support the Du

Someone asked me what Team USA does or does not do well...

In my opinion, racing in Europe is a severe handicap to anyone from outside of Europe. The travel, the language barrier, the unfamiliarity of being in a foreign country. Not to mention the cost. What Team USA does well is bring the numbers. There were 24 male athletes entered in either the elite or age group championship race. For comparison, there were only 21 Swiss athletes, 15 French, 23 Germans... So, the US does a fine job of recruiting participants - although I cringe when I attend the award ceremonies at nationals and they urge the people who "qualify" to immediately go into the hall and put down a non-refundable deposit. Sometimes I wonder if those people know what they're getting into. USAT does a great job of making "qualifiers" feel special. But guess what - the slots for this race are never going to fill up. If you completed a duathlon this year, and you want to cough up a few hundred dollars for the race entry fee, you'll probably qualify and USAT/ITU will gladly take your money. But that's the thing - a lot of American multisport athletes can afford to go race in Europe.

What Team USA lacks is some sort of support system that could help strong athletes get to races. The athletes left at home are the ones who can't afford to be there. It's not because of a lack of talent, effort or commitment. With lodging, food, entry fee, and flights, it's a commitment of at least a couple grand to get there and back with a bike. And for what? There's no guarantee of a pay day for elites. And for the age group athlete, it's just the opposite - a guarantee that there will be no prize money. So, that's one thing I would like to see in place, but I won't hold my breath. USAT is not going to support elite or age group duathletes. That's why you will see multisport athletes (age group and elite) setting up GoFundMe pages just to get to races or get through another season.

If you have the opportunity and financial ability to support others, I would urge you to do so. I would really like to see more individuals sponsoring others to pursue their passions - because for some, multisport is very difficult to finance. I know there is plenty of money inside multisport, but the majority of it is held by older athletes who have had time to establish careers, not by the young, aspiring elites. Even if you can't do it financially, you can help by donating gear, mentoring juniors or volunteer coaching.

If you want to see American athletes on international podiums, they're going to need support.

With that, I'll sign off. Thanks for all the love and support. See you in Miami, November 11th for Long Course Duathlon Nationals.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Year-End Review

In college, my coach required every athlete to recap each season with a goal review. The goal review was an opportunity to assess your season - if you met your goals, why or why not, and set or adjust your goals for next season. They weren't always performance goals - they were also academic, spiritual, social, etc. But at the end of each season, you reflected on your progress, gave yourself an honest evaluation, and made plans for moving forward. It keeps you accountable, but it's also a very cathartic process.

It's been a few years since undergrad, but I still find value in writing goal reviews. I attribute much of my success in the past year to having made goals at the end of 2016. I'll admit, I don't always write out my goal reviews, but I want to this year - I have a lot to review and plan.

I feel like sharing this with others will help keep me accountable - but one great thing about a blog is - if you don't want to read my self-centered, narcissist ramblings, you don't have to.

2017

Broken

At the beginning of the year, I was recovering from a sacral stress fracture (the second in a six month span). I knew if I was ever going to meet my goals, I had to be able to train consistently - I couldn't afford to continue getting injured and missing weeks, or months, of training at a time. I talked with my doctor about the fractures - I had blood tests and bone mineral density tests, but nothing was ever abnormal. Regardless, she suggested I take more of a calcium, vitamin d and vitamin k supplement. I also switched medications from Warfarin to the newer anticoagulant, Eliquis. I've written about the negative impacts of Warfarin use on bone health in the past. By switching to Eliquis, I was hopeful that I'd be less likely to develop stress fractures.

Patience

I hit it hard in 2016 - Perhaps, a bit too hard. I realized by the end of last year, the training I was doing was not sustainable (at least, not yet). I was trying to train on a level I wasn't ready for. So, in 2017, I tried to be patient and focus more on consistency. If I did 5 sets of intervals in 2016, I'd do 4 sets in 2017. If I ran 12 miles in 2016, I'd run 10 in 2017... and so on. I also did fewer brick workouts and fewer hard double workout days. In 2016, it was fairly common for me to run a hard interval workout in the morning and ride a hard interval workout in the afternoon. I still did a few brick workouts and hard double days in 2017, but they were much less common. Instead, I spread my hard efforts out over 2-3 days. For example:

  1. AM - Bike: 5 x 5:00 (5:00) + Lift/Core      PM - Run: Easy 45-50:00 with 4-6 x 100m strides
  2. AM - Run: 8 x 800m (2:00)                        PM - Bike: 90:00 with 4 x 30s openers
  3. AM - Bike: 4-5 sets of 2 x 3:00 (60s) + Easy Run of 30-40:00 + Lift/Core
A three day block like this was usually followed by a complete rest day followed by two light/recovery days of training. In 2016, I would have crammed another running workout into the brick on day 3. Sometimes this year, it was difficult not to do more. Even though I wasn't always exhausted, I had to trust that I was getting stronger (and not getting hurt).

I never set any training volume goals for a year, but I do keep a log and I keep track of how many miles and hours I log every year. Because I was able to stay injury free, I logged more miles than I ever have on the bike (8900). I also ran more than I have in any year since college (1502).

I also took several breaks through the year. I took a week off after long course nationals in May, 10 days of vacation in Peru after standard distance nationals in July, 3 weeks of reduced volume after Penticton (Aug-Sept) and 2 weeks of reduced volume after the JAX half marathon in December. I think these regular forced breaks helped keep me fresh mentally and physically.

Strength

This was the first year where I had regular access to strength training equipment year-round - and I was very consistent with it. I lifted 2-3 times a week. After I strained my hamstring in March, instead of trying to add more and more weight every couple of weeks, I worked on being consistent. I squatted 135-165lbs a countless number of times - not exactly mind blowing numbers, but I was doing it consistently, and feeling good about it. I never felt like I was hindering my cycling or running. It's possible that lifting also helped me stave off another stress fracture... can't say for sure, though.

I tried hard to gain weight this year. In combination with lifting, I ate to my heart's content and I drank a lot of protein shakes. I managed to add about 1.5-2 kg without negatively impacting my power to weight ratio on the bike or my running. My W/kg was exactly the same from my two power tests (Feb. and Nov.) but I added an additional 13 Watts. My running  performance only seemed to improve with the added muscle mass. I think I also noticed I was recovering from hard efforts faster, I had good energy, I was less sore and my mood was improved from years past. Of course, there are a lot variables at play - but I think lifting more, eating more, and gaining some weight improved my performance and wellbeing.

Brass Tacks - Objective Goals

2017 Race Goals

  1. Win long course duathlon nationals
  2. Win standard distance duathlon nationals
  3. Top 3 Overall at ITU age group world championship draft legal sprint duathlon
  4. Top 3 Overall at ITU age group world championship standard distance duathlon

Outcomes

  1. First
  2. First
  3. Second overall, first in age group
  4. First overall
Those were the only goals I set at the beginning of the year. I met all of them. I never set any specific performance goals for the year, but I did two 15:00 power tests - one in February and one in November. 
Feb - 15:00 @ 384 W
Nov - 15:00 @ 397 W

After Penticton, I decided to try to squeeze in one more duathlon for 2017 and go to Powerman Florida. Training was going well, but two weeks prior to the race, it was cancelled. Once I found that out, I reduced my cycling volume and spent three weeks preparing for the Ameris Bank Jacksonville Half Marathon. I capitalized on my fitness and ran 71:44. Despite running a 2:00 PR, I wasn't completely satisfied with that race. I wanted to run 71:00.

My friend Phil convinced me to do more USAC (cycling) racing early in the year. I'm glad I did. USAC made me race Cat 3, but I learned a lot about the tactics of bike racing and I became more comfortable riding in a group - I also whooped up on some Cat 3 riders... Some of that experience was helpful in the draft legal race in Penticton.

2018 Goals

  1. Win standard distance duathlon nationals
  2. Win long course duathlon nationals
  3. Top 5 overall at ITU elite long course world championship (Zofingen, Switzerland)
  4. Upgrade to USAC Cat 2 (pending race goals)
  5. 20:00 @ 400 W
  6. 5K @ <15:00 OR 10K @ <31:45 OR half marathon @ <70:00
  7. Run 7-10% more
Other, less quantitative goals include balancing a social life with training; being a husband, son, brother and friend; having fun and staying healthy. I hope to get back to collegiate coaching by the fall. I also want to do something to help promote duathlon - I'm open to suggestions.

Long Term Goals

I have a hard time envisioning what I want to accomplish in or with sport over the next 10 years. I want to stand on the podium at an elite world championship, but if that doesn't happen this year -- I'm not sure I'll have the desire to try again in 2019 or beyond. Duathlon is a great sport, but being a full-time duathlete is not always fulfilling. Not to mention, it doesn't pay. In a non-Olympic sport where race entry fees can top $250; there is rarely a prize purse and even fewer endorsement or sponsorship opportunities - I can't expect to live on duathlon money for a few days, much less the rest of my life... It's comical to even think about.

To fill the void, I want to get back to collegiate coaching. I would like to feel like I'm having more of an impact on other people and building my own value in some way. More importantly, I want to share sport with other young people. Power records and half marathon PRs are initially satisfying, but they're not relevant outside of your own cycling and running. Every time I accomplish one of these self-centered goals, I have to think about the cost. How many hours did I spend by myself, churning my legs in vain? How many friends did I blow off because I was out training or too tired to meet up? There will always be an opportunity cost, but the lack of relevancy and fulfillment eats at me.

Getting the most out of duathlon training and racing, requires a lot of sacrifice. Training 20-25 hours a week leaves little time for professional development. It also leaves you feeling pretty damn tired.

Long term, I hope to continue training and racing in duathlon, running and cycling - but maybe not at the same level. I hope to shift my focus towards helping others.

Needs Improvement

It's one thing to put down a bunch of goals and say, "I want to do this." It's another to recognize you have to make changes to get there. Here's what I'll change for 2018:

More running volume
While I ran more this year than I have in any other year since college, I know I'm capable of doing more. I was recovering from a stress fracture into February - I didn't really hit my stride until May. I think I need to run more to accomplish my running goals, and these running goals will help me be a better duathlete.

Mobility and regular massage
I run better when I'm feeling good and I feel better when I take care of my legs. I think a little more maintenance stretching and massaging could go a long way. It's just a commitment to do more, taking care of the little things. I would like to find a good massage therapist (one of the pitfalls of living in a small town) for a weekly massage. Problem areas - feet, calves, glutes, hip flexors, TFL/ITB

More specific (longer) workouts - in pace/power and duration
I've spent years working on 30:00 power (pH threshold) and I've improved a lot - but I think there is room for improvement if I work on stretching out that power over a longer period of time. I can ride 400 W for 15:00. And while I think a 15:00 effort can serve as a valid indicator of aerobic fitness, maybe 15:00 efforts aren't always relevant in time trial races that last 2-6 hours. I'll continue to work on maximizing 30:00 power. But this year, I want to include more long intervals and threshold runs (I've never been a fan of threshold runs).

Practice and tweak race day nutrition more often
Truth be told, I rarely practice taking gels on the bike or drinking while running. And I know I should get this dialed in, especially for longer races.

Wrapping up

I've received my USAT elite duathlete license, I've joined the Timex Factory Racing Team, and I'm eager to get started on 2018. With these goals, I know I've got my work cut out for me.

Tentative race schedule:

Jan -
Feb - Powerman Arizona
March -
April - USAT Du Nats, Mount Rainier Duathlon
May - Powerman Michigan, Sartell Apple Duathlon
June -
July - ITU Sprint World Champs?
Aug -
Sep - Powerman Zofingen/ITU LC World Champs
Oct -
Nov - USAT LC Du Nats
Dec - Jax Bank Half Marathon

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

ITU's "Pay-to-Play" Age Group Duathlon World Championships Recap

I usually try to avoid writing about myself. But after racing last week, I wanted to take some time to reflect upon my experience at ITU's World Championships.

But first, let me explain what happened last year...


Last year was a son of a bitch (I'll give a cookie to whoever gets that reference). It started well -- I raced well at the Kickstart Duathlon in Georgia and the Mount Rainier Duathlon in Washington. My fitness was good heading into Long Course Duathlon Nationals; I had set several PB's for 10-30:00 power on the bike and run some good track workouts. But after the Mount Rainier Duathlon, I had a sharp pain in my low back. Despite rest and chiropractic treatment, the pain persisted for two weeks leading up to Long Course Nationals. And during the race, the shit hit the fan. I got off the bike and struggled to start running. I had a really sharp pain in my back/glute with every step. I contemplated dropping out several times in the first mile. Somehow, I managed to finish. But it was a very disappointing, 5th place.

After a couple weeks of limping around, my back wasn't feeling much better, so my doctor ordered an MRI. The MRI revealed I had a stress fracture in my sacrum. This meant I would not be able to race Standard Distance Nationals in Bend (and wouldn't get a chance to qualify for the World Championship).

In December, I managed to fracture the other side of my sacrum. That set me back another 8 weeks.

My only option for getting to Worlds this year was to wait and see if I would qualify based on USAT rankings. Luckily, I got in -- And in February, I registered for the ITU's age group draft-legal sprint and standard distance duathlon World Championships.

By March of this year, I was back and running consistently. I took a minimalistic running approach leading up to Long Course Nationals, and it worked well enough. I was a bit more prepared for the Standard Distance race in Bend (7 weeks later).

But, all along -- the world championship was my goal.

The build up to the world championship was kind of frustrating. My training went well, but I began to realize how USAT and ITU is more interested in making money than encouraging participation, diversity, or opportunity. For starters, if you qualify for an age group "world championship," USAT will require you to put down a $50 non-refundable deposit for each race (which I did). It was not apparent to me until later that the entry fees for 2 races at ITU World's would be an additional $508.75.

THEN, you have to wear a USAT/ITU approved tri-suit. Which can only come from one of two companies (TYR or ROKA).  If you had an old TYR, you could wear it. If not (and I didn't) you had to buy a new ROKA suit. For this reason, I will always resent ROKA (insert middle-finger emojis here). Since I didn't have any choice, I reluctantly bought a suit for $208 -- it will cost you an extra $50 to get your last name on it and another $15 to get one with a chamois -- out of principle, I wasn't about to select either option (several more middle-finger emojis here).

The icing on the cake, was being bombarded by emails from USAT and Endurance House stating "Parade Kits" were mandatory purchases. The kit consisted of a pair of shorts, a jacket, a hat and a t-shirt. Endurance House states the kit has a $400 MSRP, but I haven't been able to figure out which alternate universe Endurance House is living in... or which currency the MSRP is listed in. The email stated that the $180 kit was "required." I badgered Endurance House and USAT several times on Twitter, but never received any response:
When I contacted Team USA Coordinator, Lauren Rios, to express my displeasure she responded, "The parade package is mandatory for all athletes on Team USA this year. However, we do understand that we cannot force you to make this purchase."

What??? I didn't purchase the kit - and I don't regret that decision.

To sum up all the "required" expenses for the two races in Penticton:

Deposits + Entry fees - $608.75
Trisuit - $208.00
Parade kit - $180.00

Total = $996.75
And this doesn't take travel, lodging or meals into consideration.

$996.75 to participate in two races! That ridiculous figure is why I've been referring to the ITU Multisport World Championships as the "Pay-to-Play World Championships."

The only athletes participating will be those privileged enough to afford it or dumb enough to fall for the scam and believe that this is actually a "World Championship." I'm not trying to put down or belittle the accomplishments of those who participated (I was there too). But the truth is, the world's best athletes were not there, because they couldn't afford to be (not to mention, there is no prize money for age group athletes). I'm not fooling myself, these ITU events are not true world championships.

I could just as well put on a World Championship Chili cook-off in my backyard, charge $1000 to enter and offer no prize money. Then, when no one shows up, I'll declare myself the World Champion of Chili. You see what I mean -- when you put up significant barriers to entry and offer no incentives other than a medal and some pride, your "championship" looses credibility.

Then there is the issue of Elite vs. Age Group athletes. I raced in the Age Group race because I didn't have a professional license or qualify for the ITU Elite race last year. But, seriously, why can't we all toe the same line? That's what's great about running -- I can register for the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta and line up beside some of the best runners in the world. We run the same course at the same time and I can compare my results to theirs and we both have an equal opportunity to win. We can also separate out the age groups in the results afterward. BUT in ITU racing, the "elites" race separately from the age group athletes, at a different time and on a different course. AND the elites are eligible for a significant amount of prize money ($7500 for first, $6000 for second, and so on).

It's not that I just want to race for money -- some cash to cover travel and entry fee expenses certainly would be nice, though. It's that I want to test my mettle against the best and I think we should all be able to do that. Instead, ITU has put up some barriers to entry into "elite" races. Seemingly holding the elites above the rest of us.

To those who claim separating age group and elite divisions is for safety reasons -- Well, I had to race with all age groups last week. I lapped 70+ year old women... And I'm not moving much (if any slower) than the elites. Adding an additional 30 elites won't make much of a difference.

Rants over, on to the races...


I participated in two races at the ITU World Championships in Penticton - the draft legal sprint duathlon and the non-draft legal standard distance duathlon. I won my age group in both, won my wave in both, took the overall win in the standard, but got beat by UK athlete, Carl Avery who started in a different wave in the sprint race.

Both runs were pancake flat loops through downtown Penticton. The draft-legal bike course had a fair amount of climbing - riding two loops on the east side of town. It wasn't a very draft-friendly course, but I liked my odds on the hilly circuit with technical turns and a fast descent. The bike course for the standard distance race was flat and straight with two out and backs on the 4-lane highway (really boring).

Sprint

5K run - 20K bike - 2.5K run


As expected, the run went out fast... I sat back, just behind the front group and still clocked a 3:04 opening kilometer. I was banking on the front group slowing... and they did. After the first 2.5K loop, I had caught up with the leaders as it was whittled down to 8-10 athletes. There was a US athlete off the front who had ~20m lead. With about 1K to run, I felt the pace going flat, so and I went to the front of the group to push it a bit. The official split was 16:39 for the first run, but I believe it was a bit long. It felt a good bit faster, and my GPS gives the "5K" course 5.3K. Not to be one of those people who believes everything their GPS watch says... but I think we were closer to 16:00 at 5K.

Came into transition with a group of 7-8 athletes, had a decent transition, ran out with my shoes on and quickly found a group of 6-7 guys.

Onto the bike -- straight away, there was a lot of looking around and not much cooperation. Because of the technical aspects of the course, I knew a small group would be faster and safer through the corners -- And I wanted to shed the group of the less experienced cyclists and the strong runners who may be a threat in the second run. So, I went to the front... and dropped a few on the first climb. After about 4-5K of riding, there was a 180 degree U-turn. Here, a couple of guys from Great Britain came by me and said we had a gap... I said, "I'll ride" and off we went up a long false flat, taking pulls. Towards the top, one of the guys blew up and Robby Lightowler and I weren't waiting. So, we worked together really well for the last 12K or so of the ride -- taking pulls where possible, keeping the hills honest and taking a bit of risk through the turns. I only normalized 303 Watts for the ride (30:33). It was relatively easy.

I got my feet out of my shoes early and took the final descent into the sketchy roundabout pretty fast. I got into T2 with a small gap over Robby and that gap would make a difference coming out of transition...

I had a small lead to start the second run (2.5K). So, I basically set a comfortable tempo and made Robby chase me to make up the gap. I was feeling good and pretty confident in my finishing kick. If he caught me, I thought I'd still be able to outkick him. And he did catch me with about 800m to run. He passed me on the homestretch and I slotted in behind him for a few seconds. But with about 500m to run, I went back to the front and started winding it up. I could feel a gap opening up and that only fueled the fire.

I broke the tape at the finish, celebrated and kissed my wife. It wasn't until 30 minutes later that my mom told me that Carl Avery had beaten me by 22 seconds from the second starting wave. So, I can't claim the overall win. But, I did win my age group. Turns out, the overall podium isn't even recognized because this is the age group world championship. Regardless, I wanted to win outright. I wanted to set the fastest time of the day from start to finish.
Sprint Results

Standard Distance

10K run - 40K bike - 5K run


The standard distance race was two days later and I was still a bit stiff for the start... So, I was content to follow the pace of the leaders for the first run. The first 5K was pretty quick for my standards (16:25 @ 5K), but it settled in the second half and the front group shrunk to myself and two other Team USA athletes (Jesse Dunn and Cody Forman). Somewhere around 7K, Colombian, Alexander Diaza, surged to the front. I gave him a small gap because I was feeling confident I would catch him on the bike. In the end, he didn't get much time on us. Jesse and I split 33:24/33:25 to the Colombian's 33:19.

Careful pacing in the first run

I had a lousy transition where I fumbled with my shoes, knocked my helmet to the ground and popped the visor off. So, I lost a few seconds there.

"That guy looks like he's from Star Trek"

On the bike... the first few minutes are all about staying relaxed, watching the power numbers and keeping it under control. I made up the ground to the two leaders by the time we got out to the main highway and put in a surge to go around them. After that, it was a lonely boring ride up the highway and back... then navigating through lapped riders on the second out and back. There were two u-turns, so I could keep tabs on the other riders... and not much was changing. So, I sat there and tapped out ~300 Watts for 57:11 on the ~40.5K course.

Lonely road...

Off the bike, I had a good gap and I settled into an uncomfortable, but sustainable rhythm. I felt better the further I went and put more time into second place with a, less-than-impressive, 17:41 5K split.

Off the bike.. jus' keep runnin'...

It was good enough to win -- I broke the tape again and waited for the next wave of men to finish. Lee Piercy finished just over a minute down, so I unofficially took the "overall," which, even if it's not recognized, I'm more proud of than any age group award.

No, I definitely wasn't trying to rep ROKA.

So what did I win?

It's been a week now and I've had several people ask me what I won or how many coaches or sponsors have contacted me... Well, I won two medals and some pride. No money, no swag... And no coaches or potential sponsors have contacted me (I wasn't expecting any to do so). In fact, I've sent emails to six companies in the last week looking for some sort of support for next year -- I've heard back from two, but neither was accepting athlete applications. It's kind of funny -- those who don't really know duathlon think it's a BIG deal. But, if you've been around duathlon a while, you know the truth.

The truth is -- not many people care about duathlon. Triathlon is the Olympic sport and the two sports (Du and Tri) are governed by the same organizations. So, guess which one receives more funding, recognition and promotion. It's unfortunate for the pure duathletes.

I don't believe I'm entitled to anything for racing duathlons. I don't do it for the money, and no one owes me a sponsorship or a cash prize, but these things would make the sport more attractive and sustainable. Because from a financial perspective... it makes absolutely no sense for me to keep pursuing duathlon. Race medals and pride won't pay my bills or put food on the table.

Above all, I just want to have the opportunity to toe the line and race with the world's best.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Relationship between aerobic and anaerobic metabolism

Some coaches will speak of the elements of performance as exclusive concepts. Aerobic and anaerobic metabolism for example. Traditionally, the two could be separately defined, but we've known for some time now that the two are essentially bound in a symbiotic relationship. They're both a piece of the pathway that creates ATP.

A typical physiological response from high intensity intervals, sprints, a finishing kick or a high intensity (<30 min) race is an accumulation of lactate and H+ ions. We know an accumulation of H+ ions (acidosis) will decrease performance capacity. The table below from Cairns, 2006 lists some proposed mechanisms through which acidosis inhibits performance.


If only there were a mechanism in place to remove these pesky ions... Then, we could perform at a higher intensity for a longer period of time.

But wait, there is!

Oxidative phosphorylation, more commonly known as the electron transport chain or "aerobic metabolism," consumes H+ to reduce O2 to H2O. Not only does it consume H+, but it does so to produce more ATP! Essentially, glycolysis (anaerobic metabolism) provides the aerobic pathway with substrate  (H+) for ATP production.

This is our link between anaerobic and aerobic metabolism. Aerobic metabolism helps prevent or delay acidosis by consuming the substrate, commonly regarded as a "byproduct," produced by glycolysis (H+) to synthesize more ATP! By consuming H+, oxidative phosphorylation also helps to maintain redox potential -- otherwise, gylcolysis would be inhibited by the accumulation of NADH and H+. Oxidative phosphorylation then, is a double-whammy, win-win. Not only does it produce ATP, but it also consumes H+ so you can continue to produce more ATP.

So, let's drop this "Aerobic vs. Anaerobic" nonsense and recognize they both contribute to fitness and performance. The limitation is not aerobic or anaerobic metabolism, it's simply ATP production. If you want to go faster, you need to train to produce more ATP.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Economy Notes

Below, I've started creating a list of factors that influence running economy. Here, I'll define economy as the steady state O2 consumption required to maintain a given running velocity. This list is more of an open note that I intend to periodically update and modify as I, and we, learn more about running economy. As you can see, there are quite a few factors that can influence economy. Let me know if you think of any others!

Training
  • Strength/plyometric training
  • Stiffness/flexibility
  • Training volume
  • Altitude training
Pace/Power output
  • Substrate utilization
  • Training specificity
Running Form

Mitochondrial quality
  • Uncoupling proteins
  • Influence of training
  • Heritable
Substrate availability (O2 & CHO)
  • More economical to burn CHO
  • More economical when O2 availability is limited
  • Fatigue
    • VO2 slow component
Motor unit activation - number and "type"
  • Fatigue
    • VO2 slow component
Anthropometrics
  • Body mass distribution
    • Ankle/wrist circumference
  • Tendon length
  • Largely heritable
  • Fat mass
Footwear
  • Shoe weight
  • Coefficient of restitution
Running surface
  • Coefficient of restitution
Connective tissue type/amount
  • Titin
Temperature?

Hydration?
  • Cardiac drift

Supplements
  • Nitrate or NO precursors, Beetroot juice, etc.
Inflammation?
  • Diet
  • Muscle damage
Drag
  • CdA
    • Wind speed/direction
    • Air density
  • Drafting

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Warfarin and Bone Health

I don't imagine this post will be relevant to many of you. Maybe you'll find it to be an interesting topic in physiology and medicine. But I want to put it out there to increase awareness, just in case any one has concerns over Warfarin use or is looking for answers.

This past fall, I had a pulmonary embolism. This was my second, unprovoked episode -- the first occurred in 2011. Usually after the first event, you leave the hospital with a prescription for an anticoagulant (blood thinning) medication and you'll take it for anywhere between 3 and 12 months. After the second episode, your doctor will likely suggest you stay on anticoagulants indefinitely (or until gene therapy becomes avalable). There are a few anticoagulant options out there now -- Coumadin, Eliquis, Xarelto, and Pradaxa to name a few. So, how did I choose Warfarin?

Coumadin, generically known as Warfarin, is the oldest of these anticoagulants. Having been around since the 50's we've had a lot of time to look at the long term effects and safety of the drug. We also have a reversal agent. Meaning, if you were to have an accident, a cut or bleeding episode, a doctor could administer vitamin K or plasma to reverse the effects of the blood thinner, stopping the bleeding. For the newer generation of anticoagulants, such as Eliquis, there are no reversal agents -- but I've been told they'll be available within the next year. In the meantime, don't wreck your bike.

The wealth of data we have from more than 60 years of Warfarin administration combined with the availability of reversal agents led me to choose Warfarin over the newer anticoagulants on the market. I used it for 6 months following my first PE and had no issues. So, when it came to choosing an anticoagulant last fall, I again chose Warfarin.

Blood clotting is a very complicated, but fascinating, physiological process (check it out here). The details are far beyond my elementary understanding of it and the scope of this blog post. But, I do understand that vitamin K is a necessary cofactor for blood clotting. Warfarin works by inhibiting the enzyme vitamin K epoxide reductase. This enzyme is responsible for reducing vitamin K back to it's active form. Without it, any vitamin K is oxidized and becomes inactive. So, Warfarin essentially works by creating a vitamin K deficiency. This affects many of the vitamin K dependent clotting factors and extends clotting time. On top of Warfarin administration, patients are often instructed to limit dietary vitamin K intake like I was.

This is all well and good -- it works well as an anticoagulant. But, what else is vitamin K needed for?

A few weeks ago, I had a dull ache in my low back after running a workout. In a race not long after that, the dull ache turned into an excruciating knife-stabbing pain near my sacroiliac joint. Three weeks later when I was still hobbling around, an MRI showed I had fractured my sacrum during that race.

It wasn't until I started worrying about a stress fracture that I looked into Warfarin's interaction with vitamin K and bone health. There are no warnings related to bone health and Warfarin use. Your doctor or pharmacist probably won't tell you there is any interaction between the two. And there is no mention of decreased bone turnover and bone mineral density or increased risk of fracture in the list of "possible side effects."

But take a look for yourself:
Long-term warfarin therapy and biomarkers for osteoporosis and atherosclerosis.

Bone density in children with single ventricle physiology.

Warfarin Use and Baseline Bone Mineral Density in the Population-Based Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study

Vitamin K-dependent carboxylation of osteocalcin affects the efficacy of teriparatide (PTH(1-34)) for skeletal repair.

Effect of long-term oral anticoagulant therapy on bone mineral density and bone turnover markers: a prospective 12 month study

Oral anticoagulant drugs and the risk of osteoporosis: new anticoagulants better than old?

Bone health and osteoporosis: the role of vitamin K and potential antagonism by anticoagulants.

You'll find plenty more if you do a quick Google search.

Of course, I recognize that in my anecdotal observations, n=1. I'm not saying Warfarin is the reason I developed a sacral stress fracture. I was training very hard. But, there is a great deal of research demonstrating an interaction between Warfarin and bone formation. It is time practitioners and pharmacists recognize the possible side effects Warfarin has on bone turnover acutely and what that means for long term bone mineral density. Further, researchers should recognize the need for more data on Warfarin's effects on bone health in young athletes, especially those vulnerable to fractures.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Fractional Utilization, Low Carbohydrate Diets and Running Performance

Fractional utilization refers to the fraction of VO2max that an athlete sustains during an event. It varies between events and between athletes. An athlete can sustain a greater percentage of VO2max for a shorter duration (5000m vs. 10,000m). Fractional utilization is sometimes referred to as lactate threshold. While the concepts are related, they are not the same.

Consider an athlete with a VO2max of 70 ml/kg/min: If we find that he can average 90% of VO2max over the course of a 5000m run, he averages 63.0 ml/kg/min for the race. If he averages 86% of VO2max during a 10,000m run, he averages 60.2 ml/kg/min.

Athletes may train for years, increasing fractional utilization. By increasing fractional utilization, an athlete will be able to complete a distance at a greater percentage of VO2max. For example, if that same athlete increases his fractional utilization during the 5000m to 93%, he can now average 65.1 ml/kg/min. That 2.1 ml/kg/min increase in utilization means more O2 is consumed. Assuming running economy does not change, more ATP is generated from aerobic metabolism for muscle contraction and the athlete completes the 5000m faster.

But what happens if economy decreases?

Economy has traditionally been measured by recording O2 uptake at certain running velocities. If an athlete consumes less O2, that means he's become more economical. We can also compare economy between athletes. The athlete that consumes the least amount of O2 for any given running velocity is the most economical at that pace. Economy gives us an indication of how much substrate, or which substrate, is being used for locomotion. One issue with a low carbohydrate diets is that more O2 is required to completely oxidize fatty acids than is needed for glucose. This means, economy suffers. And when economy suffers, pace declines for any given percentage of VO2max.

To my knowledge, low carbohydrate diets have no beneficial effects on VO2max or fractional utilization. And if VO2max and fractional utilization are unchanged (while economy is decreased) performance suffers; no matter the distance. The athlete may still only be able to complete the 5000m at 90% of VO2max, but more O2 is being used for substrate oxidation (decrease economy), and the ATP yield per unit of O2 consumed is decreased.

Dr. Ronald J. Maughan does a great job summarizing this issue with low carbohydrate diets here, beginning just after 23:00 and going to 34:00.

"The challenge is not to spare carbohydrate by promoting fat use. The challenge is rather to increase carbohydrate storage; and to increase carbohydrate utilization."