Twinkies and Marathons. And more Twinkies.

On November 21, 2012, I thought the world was nearing its end.  A tragedy so catastrophic occurred, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with my overwhelming grief.

Twinkies, “The Golden Spongecake With Creamy Filling,” had stopped production due to manufacturer bankruptcy.  It hurts to my core to even type this.

Yes, I did immediately drop whatever I was doing to head to the store to fight off other dedicated souls and nab what boxes were left on shelves.  Yes, I did freeze a box and planned to have it indefinitely; it gave me comfort to look at it every time I cracked open the freezer.  And yes, I did lose my S##T when I heard that Twinkies made a comeback (appropriately dubbed “The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever”) a few months later.

If it’s not clear yet, I do appreciate my Twinkies.

And I’ve managed to fold the epic Twinkie into my running.  It’s been a tradition since my first marathon nearly a decade ago to consume an entire box of them post-race.  I can’t think of a better way to truly celebrate slogging through 26.2 miles.  They go down easy, their taste unmatched, and probably provide a few critical grams of protein (maybe 1 per Twinkie) that aid recovery.

You want proof?  Boom, here’s a slideshow of a few pics of me and Twinkies.

On a more semi-serious note, we’ve all got our reasons to train and race.  And it’s kinda cool to have a tradition or two to celebrate.  Whether it’s getting a massage, enjoying a cold one, or eating a fine cut of red meat, we’ve gotta celebrate the hard work put in.  Regardless of the result, you had the courage to start your race.  And finish it.

So cheers to celebrating our racing triumphs.  And here’s to Twinkies, the greatest snack cake known to mankind.

 

Napa HITS to Auburn – Proof That Not All Races Are Created Equal

3:45 am. That’s when my alarm went off. To be more accurate, that’s when my alarm SHOULD have gone off but instead my phone plowed ahead to 3:46 as I slept, blissfully unaware that I had foolishly not updated my iPhone alarm to “Everyday” from “Weekdays”. Fortunately my fiancee happened to wake up on her own accord a little before 4:00 am, was cognizant enough to realize what had happened and woke me up, saving the day once again. Thus started my experience with the Napa Valley HITS Triathlon (“NV HITS”).

A small group of us had picked NV HITS as the first in a series of training events in prep for summer Ironman races (more on that below). NV HITS is part of the HITS Triathlon Series which features races across the country and throughout the year. As their motto (“A distance for everyone”) would suggest, the race distances offered ranged from a “mini” sprint up to full Ironman length.

The race takes place at Lake Berryessa’s Chaparral Cove and takes your through the surrounding area. Now, back to that 3:45am wake up.  The half didn’t start super early (7am) but to get to the start you have to drive a very long and narrow highway fully of what seemed like hundreds of switch backs and curves. So while the start wasn’t all that far from Napa as the crow flies, travel there is slow, even without traffic. There are a few camp sites at the start but if you don’t pick those up you’re going to be staying a decent distance from the start the night before. All that said, this was probably the “worst” aspect of the race with everything else being pretty great.

I opted for morning of check-in which was a breeze. There was no line and the volunteers were well organized and attentive. Within a matter of minutes I had my packet, bib, timing chip and all the other fun items one gets as a participant. The transition area was similarly well run. Instead of long bike racks we were provided with a wooden bike stand complete with a stool to use while transitioning. A nice perk to say the least.

photo 1
Transition Area – Pre-race (and pre-sunrise). Note the nifty stools next to the bike racks.

Now, onto the race details:

Swim

The swim is a mass start of both full and half participants (male and female), however there were only about 275 people racing so it wasn’t TOO much chaos. The swim route itself was a fairly typical pattern resembling a deformed/smashed rectangle. The water was a little cool but much warmer than swimming in the bay (much clearer too).  At the end of the swim participants had about 50 meters of a slight incline up a boat ramp to get into transition.

photo 2
Lake Berryessa

Bike

The bike course was by far the most fun. The course consisted of a couple out and back “spokes” taking you away from the transition area. At around mile 2.5 you hit your first climb which tops out at around a 10.9% grade (but only lasts about half a mile). After that the next 25 ish miles consisted of a fun set of rollers and flats. For those that like long/fast stretches where you can drop into your aeros and pick up some serious speed, this is heaven for you. I found myself trading positions back and forth with a group of about 10 racers which gave the race a high energy vibe and group feeling. There weren’t too many stretches where you found yourself racing out of sight of at least one other person. The first out and back covers roughly the initial 30 miles of the course. After coming down the hill you climbed at the start you hang a right for the next spoke of the course. This portion was a little hillier and had fewer “break away” zones but did provide some great scenery as you paralleled the shore of Lake Berryessa for the majority of the leg.

The course was generally well marked and easy to follow. Race volunteers were at each turn directing you to the route. Aid stations were available roughly every 18 miles which was adequate but I would like to have seen at least one more out there. Traffic was minimal if nonexistent throughout. Published elevation gain of 3,295 ft.

Run

The run course was out and back along Knoxville Road. The run leg consisted of a couple longer climbs but nothing more than 8-9% grade. The route took you out to the northern finger of the lake before turning around. Aid stations were placed every 3-4 miles which seemed like plenty given the weather (relatively mild). On hotter days I could see wanting an additional one or two. Published elevation gain of 965 ft.

Overall this was quite a pleasant event to take part in. It was generally well supported, check in was a breeze and it was on the smaller end, which inevitably just makes everything easier. The surrounding landscape was beautiful, and hey, there’s wine tasting near by.

Overall I give it a solid 8.5 out of 10.

 

Auburn Triathlon

The second training race on the schedule took place this past weekend up in Auburn. Early in the season our training crew was looking for an alternative to the famous (now infamous?) Wildflower and Auburn looked to fit the bill. The self proclaimed “World’s Toughest Half” called to us with its siren’s song – we just hoped we wouldn’t crash among the rocks.

In its 13th year, the Auburn Tri offers the previously mentioned Half distance, an international (read slightly modified Olympic) and “mini” (read modified Sprint) as well as an Aquabike and relays.

Much like NV HITS, this race was on the smaller side (150 ish participants) and featured very easy/quick check in and transition set up. Despite T1 and T2 being in two locations roughly 7 miles apart I found it to be a pretty simple race, logistics wise.

Swim

Instead of starting on land the swim featured a “deep water” start. There were two waves (male and female) separated by 5 mins.

Deep water start
Deep water start

The water was pleasantly warm and I found myself at times during the swim needing to get water into my wet-suit in order to cool down a bit. The swim finish is in a different location than the start and participants have a short but somewhat steep trail run to get back to transition. Many racers left an old pair of shoes at the finish to wear back to transition but I don’t know that it was completely necessary (and inevitably slowed the process down), but to each their own.

Bike

The bike course consisted of some of the most varied terrain I’ve experienced in a race, but not necessarily in good way. The course took you along two lane highways up to T2 where you are then directed onto a short bike path which was part gravel, part pavement and all VERY narrow and winding from turn to turn. Eventually you pass through the town of Auburn and then out along I-80 (then back and forth over I-80) on various side streets and roads. You never seemed more than a few miles from a climb or decent or series of turns making it hard to really ever get into a groove. In hindsight I might have been better served using my road bike since I was never able to hang in my aeros for any prolonged period of time. The road quality was hit or miss with many stretches featuring bumps and cracks making for a lot of vibration in the headset. At times traffic was an issue, not so much because of the amount of cars but that the local drivers tended to not really slow down or give too much space to those racing. I was, however, quite impressed with the number of volunteers out along the route directing traffic at intersections. I never felt unsafe even with going through major intersections in town. Kudos to them and all race volunteers.

There were four aid stations along the route which seemed well placed. There were multiple sections where I found myself riding alone with nobody in sight ahead or behind me. These lessened as I got into the last third of the course but did contribute to sucking a bit of the energy out of the day.

Published elevation gain of 2,893 ft.

Run

What can I say about this course? It was beautiful with varied terrain (this time in a good way) but holy moly was this course a BEAST! You start on descending single track and quickly begin a series twists, turns, ascents  and descents. The single track transitions into a fire road for a period then you jump onto a hiking trail (with patches of fairly rough terrain). The run course was very well supported with plenty of aid stops featuring the usual fare and the last one even had some flat coke and lay’s potato chips to give you that last caffeine/salt boost to kick it in for the final few miles. In general the route consisted of a 10 mile loop then a smaller 3 mile loop. The run course was tough. I’d wager to say even tougher than Wildflower if the weather is the same in each location (in Auburn it was in the high 60s and mostly cloudy for the majority of day compared to mid 90s and zero clouds the last time I did Wildflower).

Published elevation gain of 1,372 ft.

Once you finish you’re treated to a free beer from Knee Deep Brewing (I opted for the Belgian Wheat as I figured the Double IPA would put me on my backside), pulled pork sandwiches and various other snacks. Overall the race was very well run, had great volunteers and good location. Downsides really are in the bike portion, but if you like a challenge this might be a race to check out.

Race reward
Race reward

I’d give it a 6 out of 10 mainly because I felt the bike course could have been laid out to allow for fewer rapid turns and to avoid some of the poorer road conditions. Although very tough I did like the variety of the run course and how it was laid out.

Presidio Aquatic & Fitness Center: Please God, Let This Happen

Near the end of last year, I found myself browsing bikes at Roaring Mouse Cycles, a small but well-loved independent bike shop on Crissy Field’s west end.

Roaring Mouse Cycles
Roaring Mouse Cycles

While gazing at a gorgeous $6,000 Specialized Shiv I had no business looking at much less buying, I was approached by a shop employee who probably noticed the drool falling from the sides of my mouth. We got to talking, and I learned she was a triathlete, too, newly hired to expand Roaring Mouse’s burgeoning triathlon business. After talking about our favorite California races, she asked me if I’d heard about the new triathlon center opening up next door. I certainly had not, and told her that if she was joking, I’d need a bottle’s worth of anti-depressants to cure my disappointment.

Thankfully she wasn’t joking. There are indeed plans to open a 24,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art swimming and fitness facility in the former airplane hangars next door to Roaring Mouse. The facility, to be developed by the Presidio Trust in partnership with an anonymous donor, will be eponymously named the “Presidio Aquatic & Fitness Center.” Even more newsworthy to you Rare Birds, the Center’s anchor business will be the “California Triathlon Center,” San Francisco’s first triathlon-specific training facility for professional and amateur triathletes. Matt Dixon and his purplepatch fitness company will manage the CTC.

If Matt’s name doesn’t ring a bell, the long list of professional triathletes that he coaches might be more familiar. That list includes San Francisco’s own Meredith Kessler, Ironman Arizona’s defending champion and four-time winner of Ironman New Zealand; Tim Reed, winner of this year’s Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship; and Jesse Thomas, the four-time defending champion of Wildflower’s famous long course. Matt’s also helped dozens of amateur age-group triathletes snag coveted Kona slots for the Ironman World Championships. So it’s by no means hyperbole to say that Matt’s one of the leading triathlon coaches in the world.

 

The planned accoutrements for the Presidio Aquatic & Fitness Center should be tantalizing to every triathlete. I know of no single facility in the Bay Area that can match them. According to Presidio Trust documents, the Center’s features will include:

  • a pool with enough 25-meter swim lanes to run two training programs at once, and that will have access to the outdoors to allow triathletes to practice their transitions between the swim, bike, and run segments of a triathlon race;
  • a flume, or water tank, that will allow Matt and his team to analyze individual triathlete’s swimming technique;
  • a cycling studio large enough to accommodate 30 people, and that will include up to 25 computer-controlled power trainers;
  • a strength-and-conditioning gym and yoga studio, with accompanying amenities like lockers, showers, a sauna, and steam and massage rooms;
  • bike storage for up to 50 bikes and additional space for bike fittings; and
  • a running studio with an AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill for training and rehabilitation work, a force-plate treadmill for run gait assessments, and space for sports medicine practitioners.

While the Presidio Aquatic & Fitness Center might not be the triathlon mecca in the works near Wilmington, North Carolina – whose plans include a 25-acre lake specifically for open water swimming, a permanent transition area with individual stations, and a 14-mile paved bike loop closed to cars – the Center sounds like the dream home for any Bay Area triathlete.

TriHabitat Facility Plans

The only bad news is that there’s been no news about the Center’s progress since last summer, even though the Presidio Trust has said that they intend for the Center to be open by 2016. If anyone out there knows more about the Center’s status, please fill us in on the details in the comment section below. Meanwhile, I’ll go back to praying with my grandmother’s rosary for the Center’s completion. If and when it opens, I plan to live there, like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal” or that Texas teenager who secretly moved into a Walmart. I hope to see all of you Rare Birds there.

30 days. 30 steaks. Multiple PRs.

Let’s start with a very important disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not advocating any diet changes for anyone. This is just a little account about how a (odd? actually, most definitely yes, odd!) change in my eating habits led me to multiple marathon successes. You should see your doctor before making any diet changes. But I didn’t. Oh well.

For all of you who hung onto my every word from part 1 of this blog series (Twinkies, Steaks, and Marathon PRs), I ask for your patience as I re-hash bits of it. Below is a graph of my marathon times, with highlights of my major successes (see steaks).

 

graph

There’s a blog entry to be written about the first steak marker in 2010, but I’ll focus on the two most recent marathons (sequential personal records).

 

Over a period of a few years (2010-2013), my marathon times hit a plateau.  My fastest was around 3 hours and 15 minutes, and I could do no better.  I did what had led to earlier success: I did my speed work and I dominated my long runs.  I truly thought I was getting stronger and faster, yet with each new marathon, I simply couldn’t break through.  It was frustrating, and I was about to accept that I did what I could do in marathoning.

At the beginning of 2014, I came back from a South American trip with some awesome memories, cool souvenirs, and … a few pounds tucked into my midsection (damn you, empanadas, damn you).  So I figured I’d try some diet to trim up, and decided to dust off this book, The Four Hour Body, I had sitting around.  It’s a diet / lifestyle “guidebook” written by Tim Ferriss, the man who brought us The Four Hour Workweek.  I’m a huge fan of his work, although many complain he’s a self-absorbed douchebag.

4hourbody

In the book, there’s a diet plan that can be summed up as “Atkins (kinda) with a cheat day”.  Six days a week, you eat nothing but protein, vegetables, and legumes (lots of black beans).  On day seven, aka Cheat Day (aka heaven?), you go ape-$#iT.  Dozen donuts?  Sure.  Whole pizza?  Game on.  Pint of ice cream?  Just stick it into my vein.  I’ll spare you the nuances, but I can say that I would eat lots of red meat (which is allowed) on non-cheat days.  There was a streak where I ate 30 steaks in 30 days.  And yes, I documented this on Facebook and developed a mass of steak followers.  The diet (now my lifestyle) worked.  I lost 15 pounds, felt great, and I even lowered my cholesterol.

health

And what does this have to do with running?  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t even taking running seriously at the time.  I started the diet in January and had a race in May.  I kinda went through the motions and my mid-week runs were *awful*.  Having limited carbohydrates during the week was tough on my runs, and they often were well above 8 minutes per mile (I usually did these in the mid to lower 7’s).

But something happened on my long runs. 

I timed these runs after my cheat (high carbohydrate) days.  And my body responded really, really well.  While I couldn’t really run quickly mid-week, my long runs were the exact opposite: extremely fast.  Armed with boat-loads of sugar from the day before, I felt like a god out there.  I tore up my long runs (faster than I had ever run them before), and set personal records in my next two races (went from 3:15, to 3:11, to 3:07).

This isn’t science.  It’s my n = 1 data point.  But I can say being lighter helped me tremendously.  Having a diet that facilitated this was key.  I also believe the carbohydrate depletion effect helped as well — and there are many that will back up this theory.

All of this typing has made me hungry.  Gonna fire up myself a juicy ribeye.

Happy running (and eating!).

steak

[Many steaks were eaten in the course of this writing. Please eat responsibly. But not birds. Thank you, the management.]

GET INTO IT

Last night I went swimming at the UCSF rooftop pool, which is as two faced as Regina George. I ‘walk shivered’ onto the pool deck, as not-so-distant memories of ‘swim tanning’ under the clear blue sky seemed like a past never to be relived again. The wind asserted its’ authority and whipped helpless lane line flags around…and I considered ditching. I heard my childhood swim coach’s voice tell me to ‘shut up and swim’. I walk over to the lane and stare down at the water, almost at the point of no return. In my head I hear AJ saying, “C’mon dood it’s not that bad.” 
 
Ugh, fine. You’re right. I’ll do it. 
 
After the feeling of cold left my body (it was no where NEAR as cold as the Bay…I was really just being a baby) I was able to settle into a rhythm and become aware of the good things the cold air provided: a lane. all. to. my.self. 
 
For the first time in a long time, I did sprints. I timed myself. I did breaststroke drills, which meant I was going really really really slow. I concentrated on technique, speed, power, breathing. I was fast, slow, smooth, and ugly. 
 
I was free to be in my own head, and not worry about kicking someone or sideswiping an unsuspecting pool patron. It was totally worth it, and the ‘pain’ was actually only a few seconds. I don’t know why I try to fight it, I don’t know why I dread it, but I do. Regardless, pushing through is SO worth it. Every time. 
 
So, thanks to Ed Nessel for telling me to ‘shut up and swim’, to AJ for inspiring me to be better every single day, to this guy for making me want to live 24/7 in beast mode, and to Kimmy Schmidt, for telling me to hang in there. 
 

What do you tell yourself when your mind is acting a fool? How do you get amped? Inspired? In the zone? Share your secrets, I promise I’ll tell everyone.

 

Kezar Track – OPEN. Reinvigorating the love of track running for real world athletes.

Kezar track is FINALLY reopening after extensive renovations. It’s been a long wait since last summer to get back to one of the most popular (and only) tracks in San Francisco.  Perhaps most importantly, it’s great to be back at the track closest to Kezar Pub (ask for our favorite server, Sinead).

I happened to be listening to a Freakonomics podcast, “What’s the ‘Best’ Exercise,” when I heard the official news that Kezar track was back in business. As is my wont (whether it be The Simpsons, South Park, Game of Thrones, or whatever else I get into), I intertwined my thinking between the two, and started making conclusions for one based on the other. (BTW, all problems in life can be solved by closely watching King of the Hill).

oneyMqo

I must admit, I love track. So I’m biased. But the podcast really highlighted several things about why I love track. The host interviewed a doctor who is often asked what is the best exercise that can get the most for the least effort. He said that he responds to this question by asking people what they really want. He listed a bunch of real-life reasons that he often hears:

  • Run my first marathon or triathlon
  • Take my game to the highest level
  • Get a little better
  • Look better in a bathing suit
  • To not get tired when playing with my kids

Real-life reasons are exactly why we started Rare Birds — Athletics for the rest of us. For the vast majority, real-life reasons do not include gold medals, sponsorship, and the glamour life — some of us, yes.  But all of us CAN define a “highest level” that fits ourselves, whatever goal that may be.

The podcast summarizes the expert feedback into the “Three I’s”, which really connects to my own track philosophy.

  • Intensity – Work very hard for a brief period of time. Take a break. Go hard again. Many studies have shown that high intensity interval training can get the same physiological benefits as long, consistent endurance training. … Many run experts are adopting this quality-over-quantity run philosophy as a core of training; see, Run Less, Run Faster. It’s a perfect fit for real-life athletes.
  • Individualization – Know what you like. You need to pick what suits you. … Track gives lots of opportunities to fit a workout to you. You are only ever at most 400 meters from your coach and teammates. Easy to check in and socialize as needed. Easy to control your pace and run as hard as you like (or not, as the case may be).
  • I like to do it – The best exercise is the one that you will do. … You can have more fun at track with different workouts than anywhere else. Beautiful scenic views are awesome out on the trail or open road, but for a sheer playground of run fun, you can’t beat a track.

COME JOIN US AT KEZAR TRACK!!! (Usually Wed night 6:45p – Ask for Asics Joe.)

My Tri Swim Coach – Your Own Swim Instructor Conveniently Within Your Smartphone

unnamedHow many times have you gone to the pool after struggling to come up with a workout and defaulted to the same old repeating 300 meter intervals? Better yet, how many times have you just opted out of your pool day because you’re tired of the same old collection of workouts?

I struggled with these kinds of issues in the past. If I’m being honest with myself I was probably looking for an excuse to cut my swim workout short or avoid it all together. As someone who grew up running the pool has always been somewhat uncharted territory for me. That was until I stumbled upon My Tri Swim Coach. This handy app is available for iOS and Droid platforms and contains hundreds of workouts for 25yd,  25m and 50m pool lengths. Just enter what distance race you’re training for, where you are in the season, pool length and you 100m split, click “Create Workout” and My Tri Swim Coach does the rest.

unnamed (1)unnamed (2)In addition to giving you a warm up, main set and cool down, My Tri Swim Coach will provide you with a drill set for every workout. Unfamiliar with a particular drill? Not to worry, each drill is linked to a YouTube video illustrating what  you’re supposed to do.

Since getting the app I’ve had productive sessions in the pool and dare I say…am starting to enjoy swimming?*

The app runs for $2.99 – small price for what you’re getting. Definitely cheaper than a masters class and available for anytime during the day, not just 6am.

*Author never thought he’d say this. Subject to editorial update.

 

 

Gwen Jorgensen: If You Don’t Know, Now You Know

All right, my triathlon-tribalist friends.  Some of you surprised me recently.  Despite the fact that you’re dyed-in-the-wool triathletes, you seemed to know little about the pros at the top of the sport.  For instance, in my first blog I mentioned Sebastian Kienle, the new Ironman world champ.  You admitted to me that you had no clue who the German cycling juggernaut was until you read my blog and Googled him.  That shocked me.  How could you not know who the new King of Kona is when you’re clearly devoted triathletes who spend more hours training than my kids spend watching the movie “Frozen”? *

 

But I’ve now begun to learn that you’re not unique.  Like the triathlon nerd that I am, during some recent training runs, I threw around names like Jan Frodeno and Craig Alexander in an attempt to pass the time.  Without fail, at least one person would ask me who the heck I was talking about, even though “Frodissimo” is an Olympic gold-medalist and “Crowie” is a three-time Ironman world champ and Kona course record holder.

That probably says more about the uninspired marketing efforts of triathlon’s governing bodies than the celebrity-triathlete IQs of you all.  But whether that’s true or not, as a fan of triathlon – as I know you are, too – I feel it’s my responsibility to offer up some education.

From this point forward, I intend to showcase a top triathlon pro in every couple of blogs.  These men and women are the finest and most inspiring athletes in the sport we love. 

And if that sport is to ever grow beyond its niche-sport status, you and every other fan of triathlon need to know and support these folks.

There’s no one better to start off with than American Gwen Jorgensen.  I can already hear the chorus of voices:  Nordic surname who?  Well, with all due respect to the likes of Andy Potts and Tim O’Donnell – don’t worry, I’ll explain who those two are in later blogs – Gwen Jorgensen is the greatest American triathlete in the game today.

gwen

Gwen stands at the pinnacle of ITU racing (you probably know it better as Olympic-distance racing) as the reigning 2014 world champion.  In reaching that top spot, she became the first woman in history to win five ITU races in a row, with her streak culminating with a win at the season-ending ITU Grand Championship in Edmonton, Alberta.  This makes Gwen America’s best hope for its first triathlon gold medal by a man or a woman in next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Gwen’s also a marketer’s dream.  To begin with, she’s got an appealing background story.  Like many other pro triathletes, she sacrificed a well-paying career for triathlon’s relatively paltry prize purses:  she was an accountant at Ernst & Young before chasing her triathlon dreams.  Of course, she didn’t abandon her plush white-collar gig without good reason.  Gwen had a distinguished athletic background before ditching her bean-counter colleagues, having been a swimmer and All-American runner at the University of Wisconsin.  It’s because of that background in both swimming and running that USA Triathlon, in its eternal search for Olympic-quality triathletes, first recruited Gwen in 2010 to give triathlon a shot.  She immediately proved them right to do so, qualifying for an elite card in her first triathlon ever.  From there, she racked up a couple of decent accolades – you know, just becoming the 2010 USAT Rookie of the Year and the 2011 USAT Elite Race Series Champion – before qualifying for the Olympics in her first attempt in 2012, at which she finished a disappointing 38th in London because of a flat tire.  Three years later, though, and she’s the undisputed queen bee of triathlon and the gold medal favorite for Rio.

What makes Gwen special is her run leg.  She’s the Olympic-distance version of Ironman world champ Mirinda Carfrae – if you haven’t built a hefty lead over her across the swim and bike legs, you’re screwed.  Because of her unmatched run speed, like me and the last bottle of beer in the house, Gwen will inevitably hunt you down before the finish line.  Her race at the ITU Grand Championship is a great example.  In Edmonton, Gwen was a minute and ten-seconds behind the leaders after the swim and bike legs, a good chunk of time in an Olympic-distance race.  But since we’re talking about a former Big Ten champion in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters, it wasn’t nearly enough of a head start.  On the 10K run she quickly rallied, ending with the fastest run split of the day at 33:24 and crossing the finish line a comfortable sixteen seconds ahead of her closest competitor.

A few months after Edmonton, Gwen emphatically showed off her pure running speed by winning the Dash to the Finish Line 5K, a respected road race held the day before the New York City Marathon that’s littered with pro runners.  Her winning time was 16:03, a tad over a five-minute average-mile pace to us mortals.  Among the over 4,000 women (and countless men) she outpaced was a British Olympic 1,500-meter runner.  The best way to describe that kind of speed is holy-sh*t fast.

Gwen will also do an excellent job of selling the sport of triathlon and the products of its major sponsors because, in my humble opinion, she’s got super-model looks.  So with Gwen, a sponsor could have the best of both worlds, an athlete who’s stunning but is more importantly a proven winner.  The USAT would be foolish if they didn’t take advantage of Gwen’s sky’s-the-limit marketing potential when the Rio Olympics come around.  With the USAT’s support (and maybe a talented agent) Gwen could become the face of triathlon, and possibly take the sport to new heights of popularity, expanding it into demographics beyond the ancient forty-year-old dudes like me who presently dominate the sport.

So please, if you’re passionate about triathlon – and you’re an American – remember the name Gwen Jorgensen.  She’s deserving of your attention.

* True story:  at my eldest son’s preschool, they’ve banned the kids from singing any of the songs from “Frozen” or bringing any “Frozen”-inspired toys to Share Day because of how disruptive to the classroom that movie has proven to be.

Twinkies, Steaks, and Marathon PRs


I started running in 2002, a year before I went to college.  I signed up for the Chicago Marathon, my hometown race.  As a graduation gift, my brother gave me the book “4 months to a 4 Hour Marathon.”  I opened up the first page and it read:

Oprah Winfrey ran her first marathon in under four hours, without stopping.

Damn.

I did break 4 hours, and I’ve been running ever since.  And here’s a graph to prove it.

graph

I’m not your prototypical runner.  I’m built like a fire hydrant.  My body fat percentage is probably in the upper teens (on a good day).  But I’ve become a better runner with experience.

The graph above shows all of my marathon times.  While showing this to girls at bars hasn’t resulted in any phone numbers, there is something telling about it.  I’ve highlighted 3 races in particular, where I made pretty significant strides in a short period of time.

How?

Twinkies and Steaks.  Of course.

steak

Mmm. I’ll elaborate more, next time…

Garmin Forerunner 920xt – The Data Geek’s Best Friend

Last fall Garmin released its latest multi-sport watch, the Forerunner 920xt, which promised to provide the most complete multi-sport data tracking system for the endurance athlete.garmin-forerunner-920xt

As long as I’ve been participating in endurance sports I’ve had some form of a Garmin watch. Most recently I was a long time user of the Forerunner 305. While functional, I found it at times to be clunky, not terribly user friendly and somewhat spotty with its satellite connections. Many an early morning run was delayed while I awkwardly stood around waiting for my watch to find a GPS signal. Another area for improvement was the 305’s docking system. The clamps were pretty small for the size of the watch and it didn’t take long for the connections to corrode. As a result I spent way too much time fastening the watch down with rubber bands trying to find just the right amount of pressure to allow it to charge. More than a few times I would grab my watch for a run only to find out the connection had broken at some point and the battery was dead. These experiences gave me some pause when looking at the 920xt, however I’m happy to report that this model is a significant improvement and has all the bells and whistles that any triathlete could want.

 

 

The first thing I noticed when my new watch arrived was the size and weight. The face is about as large as the 305 but the 920xt is probably about half as thick. It also weighs considerably less, such that the majority of the time I don’t realize I’m even wearing it. The second thing I realized (happily) was that the docking station appears to much improved. While the 305 would easily pop out when docked, the 920xt is snugly locked in there (I guess I’ll have to find another use for my rubber bands).

rubberbands

During the first week of use I was amazed at how quickly the 920xt finds a GPS signal. Once outside I haven’t had to wait more than 30 seconds to begin my workout. The interface takes a little bit of effort to learn, but once that initial hurdle is overcome I found the watch to be very user friendly and easy to use. Like many other Garmin watches you can track your run and bike workouts – the 920xt also has a nice feature of letting you select the “indoor” version of each of these in which the GPS is automatically turned off (conserving battery life). Previous Garmins have required you to go into the Settings menu to manually disable the GPS for this feature. The run option will track your pace, distance, time, elevation and has the “Virtual Partner” option. This allows you to set the pace of your virtual running buddy and track how far ahead or behind you are at any point. The watch will also calculate your VO2 Max, cadence and has a nifty race predictor.

In addition to running and biking the 920xt will track both open water and indoor pool swims. This may be the most useful feature I’ve found so far. I cannot remember how many times (way too often) I’ve lost count of my laps in the pool. Well no more. The 920xt is amazingly  accurate in not only measuring your distance but also stroke count and pace per 100m. No more can I tell myself I’ve just finished a 400m interval when in reality I’ve only done 250m (this watch keeps you honest….dammit, no more excuses).

Another fun feature is the 920xt’s activity tracker which will count your steps throughout the day, your sleep cycles at night and has an optional “Move Alert” which will tell you if you’ve been idle for too long at any one time.

The 920xt has blue-tooth and wi-fi capabilities making syncing your data to Garmin Connect, Strava, MapMyFitness and other similar sites a breeze. When connected to your phone you have option of being notified of calls, texts and emails on your watch as well. I’ll let you decide if that’s a good or bad thing….getting an email from a client 30 miles into a ride can be a bit of a buzz kill.

Finally I’m pleased to find that the battery life on this guy is superb. I’ve found that I only have to charge it about once a week, even while doing hour plus long workouts twice a day.

The 920xt retails for around $450 ($499 with heart-rate monitor) so I wouldn’t call it cheap. That said, if you’re looking for a watch with endless features you can’t go wrong with the 920xt. Used correctly it can easily help you take your training to the next level – or just give you an excuse to nerd out.

Our first race! Rare Birds Migration 5k, Spring 2015

Rare Birds is holding it’s first race. Very exciting. We still really have no idea how Rare Birds is going to grow up, but this feels like a pretty cool next step. And already thinking of the next one! Migrations happen twice a year, right?? It’s been fun just talking so much about the race leading up to race day. Even if only a few birdies show up, it will have been worth it. Onward Rare Birds! CA-CAW!!! May the best bird win.

Eventbrite - Rare Birds Spring Migration Fun Run

 

My New “A” Race is The Tough Dodger

Like millions of other Americans whose favorite team failed to make the Super Bowl last night, I was as interested in the commercials as the outcome of the game.  This commercial from Subway was the best one of the night.  Triathlon combined with dodgeball?  Hell yes.  Sign me up for the Tough Dodger today.  (Or maybe sign me up as a volunteer dodgeball thrower.  Coming out of the water, there’s usually one or two people who I wish I could crush with a dodgeball.  And yes, I’m thinking of you “Watch it!  No one touch me!” Guy at the Oakland Triathlon Festival.)

P.S.  Here’s a free training tip for the Tough Dodger:  every now and then, practice dodging wrenches instead of dodgeballs.  In the famous words of Patches O’Houlihan, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”