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.

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.

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.”

Beyond Aero: A New Berkeley Bike Shop That’s Beyond the Norm (See What I Did There?)

As a father of two young boys, I’m duty-bound to visit pediatricians on a regular basis. When I do, I’m always shocked at how your typical pediatrician’s office is so grimy and diseased. (No offense Dr. J*****.  You’re still a great doctor.) The obligatory children’s books and magazines are sticky to the touch and pockmarked with dubious brown and yellow stains. The office itself is acutely cramped, with patients, parents, and boxes of medical paraphernalia squeezed into every square foot. And the air everyone’s forced to share is as stale as an old high school’s windowless weight room, filled with the musty coughs and sneezes of sick kids. It’s down-right disgusting.

 

 

Which brings me to the first time I walked into Beyond Aero, a new high-end full-service bike shop in Berkeley that caters to both cyclists and triathletes. Why? My very first thought as I stepped into the place was, “Damn, this is cleaner than my kids’ pediatrician’s place.” It’s what every doctor’s office should be: sparkling, spotless, and well-designed. Its modern and appealing mix of wood, brick, and concrete is straight out of Dwell magazine. Beyond Aero is almost certainly the best-kept bike shop I’ve ever personally visited, and it puts my boys’ pediatrician’s office to shame.

But its cleanliness and easy-on-the-eyes architectural trimmings aren’t the reason why you should visit Beyond Aero yourself. You should go there for the bike porn.

Beyond AeroIn my opinion, good bike porn can be hard to find in Bay Area bike shops; while indisputably great rides, the Specialized and Cannondale bikes everyone seems to carry feel ho-hum to me.  But Beyond Aero’s got good bike porn.  It begins right when you enter the front door, where greeting you is a Scott Plasma previously owned and personally autographed by the newly crowned Ironman World Champion, Sebastian Kienle. “Sebi,” as he’s widely known in Europe, is a friend of Beyond Aero’s proprietor, Andres Douzoglou, an accomplished amateur cyclist and triathlete in his own right. (I know I’ve never qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.) Andres’s main stash of bike porn is parked just around the corner from Sebi’s old ride. It consists of some of the most desired road and triathlon bikes on the market today. From what I could tell during my visit, although Beyond Aero carries bikes from Boardman and Guru (which, it’s worth noting, are top-tier brands that you wont find at just any local bike shop), it primarily pushes Cervelos.  Thus, as you might imagine, it carries Cervelo’s full-line of popular road and P-Series triathlon bikes, and can build any one of them in-house to your specifications. Andres can properly fit you on one as well, in the stand-alone fit studio behind the main bike shop, which is equipped with a top-of-the-line Purely Custom Fit Bike Pro.

Now, what you might not imagine is that Beyond Aero even carries Cervelo’s latest “Project California” RCA – which, at $10,000 for just the frame, is easily Cervelo’s spendiest and most technologically advanced bike.  It’s known in my house as the “Grounds-For-Divorce” bike.  (Or to return to the porn analogy, the RCA is the Phoebe-Cates-in-Fast-Times of bikes; it doesn’t get any better.)  By my lights, it’s not entirely unfair to judge the quality of a bike shop principally on the brands and models that it’s allowed to offer by manufacturers. So believe me, if Beyond Aero has Project California bikes in-stock and in a wide range of sizes, Cervelo thinks highly of the place (and it explicitly does). You probably should, too.

Rare Birds therefore warmly welcomes Beyond Aero to the Bay Area triathlon community. We can always use another first-rate independent bike shop here.  If you visit, say we sent you.

(And if anyone wants to donate to my personal Cervelo RCA Kickstarter fund, let me know. My wife – and lawyer – will thank you.)