Thursday, September 26, 2013

Race Report: The Great Six Flags Triathlon

Every race gives you the opportunity to gain experience and learn something. With triathlon, more than single sport events, there is more variability from venue to venue, making it all the more interesting. Sometimes that experience is really, really good ... other times, not so much. This past Sunday at The Great Six Flags Triathlon in Jackson, NJ, there was plenty of good happening.

The Great American Scream Machine. Source: Wikipedia
This race was a late edition to my schedule with two things going for it. To start, it fell two weeks before my late-season 1/2 Ironman (Half Full Triathlon). As important, it was located at Six Flags Great Adventure, about 10 minutes from my parent's house and 15 minutes from where I grew up. This would be the first time in 24 years that I would be inside the park, having not been there since the last day I worked there during my college years.

Early Sunday morning Emily and I rode over and had no problem getting into the park and setup in transition, which was located in the parking lot right next to a roller coaster. Being a second year race, I was impressed with the size and quality of the group racing. There were more than 400 people racing different race variations. Both Em and I raced the Olympic Distance.

The race was a fairly simple setup - swim in a small lake located inside GA, a 1/2 mile run to T1 (that is not a typo), a 40k ride through the NJ countryside, then a 2-loop, 10k run inside the park. There was no wave start but a self-seated rolling swim start that was effective.

My day started with a 1500M swim in 22:41, exiting the water in 13th place overall. After a long transition run I rode my way through the group, entering T2 in second place with 4 guys right behind me, and the fastest bike split of the day, riding the 40k in 1:03:48. After a quick change of shoes, I ran the 10k in 44:01, for a 2:17:00 finish time, 6th place overall and 2nd in the 40-44 age group.The race was fun and my overall my race results were very satisfying. Race results can be found here.

Looking back, I think I made a tactical mistake on the bike that might have cost me a few places. I passed a few guys around the three mile mark and another two between miles 10 and 12. At mile 18 I caught the front pack of 5 guys (the winner was up the road) and sat in for a few miles, taking a bit of a brake. All of us, BTW, riding legal. By mile 22 I had enough and put a small gap on the group. If I had it to do again, for better or worse, I would have rode through the group, either blowing by them or forcing whoever came with me to leave their comfort zone.

Beyond the tactical, there were a number of good lessons Sunday morning:
  1. You don't have to feel great to race well - Not great from beginning to end, but kept my head down, moving forward as fast as I could.
  2. Running 1/2 mile in a wetsuit kinda sucks - T1 felt like it took forever and my heart rate was redlining. Not. Fun.
  3. Racing at the front of the race is different than racing in a late wave - Because of my old age, a wave start generally means I am swimming, then riding through those who started ahead of me. Hitting T1 in 13th place I spent most of the day chasing, not passing. On the run, I ran most of the first loop alone.
  4. If you just keep running, sometimes you start to feel better and go faster - Spent some energy on the bike and struggled the first few miles of the run. Around the halfway mark my legs got some life and the pace picked up.
  5. Know the course you before you race - Looked at the profile online for the bike and run but they were totally different than what I expected. The bike was almost all rolling hills and a bit on the technical side. The run had a 1+ mile portion that was on a rocky trail. we also ran past the monkeys, so that was a pretty cool surprise.
  6. It is possible to race on very few calories - I took in maybe 50 calories on the bike. That's it.
  7. A steady set of feet to draft = good swim - Anyone who tells you that drafting isn't worth it is full of crap. Didn't feel great swimming, but that draft pulled me right along while conserving energy.
  8. My run is my weak link - Used to be my swim. Got some work to do.
  9. Competing in races not normally on the schedule is a good thing - There is something to be said for racing the familiar, but something different is a nice change of pace.
Overall a good race all around. I paced well, feel ready to race on October 6th, and I learned a few things along the way.  After three straight weeks of racing I'll be getting some work in this week then a proper taper next week leading up to the Half Full Triathlon.

As for the Great Six Flags Triathlon, I would recommend it to anyone. The venue is nice and the race director did a good job of organization. Out on the bike there was a NJ State Trooper at every turn (and there were a lot of them) making sure traffic wasn't an issue while making sure we were staying on course. The run was well marked, but about a mile of each loop was on a very rocky trail. The only complaint I have is the finishers metals were really lame, and the awards were small, standard  plaques. IMHO it would be easy to come up with something a bit different that connects the race and the theme park, much like the spikes that are given for the Saucon Valley Rail Trail 10k.

Stay focused. Train hard.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia 1/2 Marathon Race Report

The Philly Distance Run, now the RnR 1/2 Marathon, has been on my race schedule every year for more than a decade, only missing it in 2009 because of a 1/2 Ironman I raced in it's place. When I was "just a runner," this was a race I would use as a good barometer for my fall marathon. Since entering the world of multisport, Philly has become a gauge for my pure run fitness. My performance this past Sunday gave me a nice confidence boost heading into my Fall races.

On Saturday I drove down to Philly to walk the expo and pick up my race packet. Traffic was typically slow on the Schuylkill Expressway but not oppressive both in and out of the city. Parking was a breeze. The real traffic was at the expo. Fortunately, when I walked into packet pickup there was no line for the first corral. After quickly getting my race number, shirt and swag bag, I took the grand tour, bypassing the mechanical bull, opting to stay on my feet. After a quick detour to the Reading Terminal Market for a quick bite to eat, I headed home for a quiet evening.

NOTE: The swag bag, normally a bunch of useless nonsense, happened to be quite impressive this time around. Along with the standard propaganda, there were some nice treats, including a bag of tasty organic fig bars. Well done, CGI, well done.

With a start time of 8 am and a one hour drive I woke around 5:30 on Sunday morning, hitting the road by 6 am. Traffic was light and I was parked in my not-so-secret-but-not-well-known neighborhood early enough to take take care of the normal pre-race business. About 10 minutes before the gun I entered Corral #1 ready to run.

My game plan was simple: run a negative split with a strong finish, sub-1:30.

When the gun went off I made sure to let people go, not getting caught up in the energy. Too many times I have run the first mile too fast, later suffering in the final miles. Things were a bit tight for about 1/2 mile before loosening up with space to run. The first 4+ miles are a loop around Center City, returning to Eakins Circle and the Art Museum.  I ran this section well within my capacity.

The second section - from the Art Museum to Falls Bridge via Kelly Drive - was also 4+ miles. I picked it up a bit here, still holding back until the 8 mile marker where I picked the effort up. Pace stayed steady as the 1/3 of a mile up to Falls Bridge is on a slight incline.

After crossing the bridge I passed the 9 mile marker and started to push the pace, passing a number of people who I had been running around all morning. The pace dropped from 6:47ish to a 6:35-6:40 average, with mile 10 a 6:32. I slowed a bit on the incline back up to the Art Museum and then picked it back up over the last 200M.

Final Time: 1:28:16 468th overall (18,068), 38th/1103 in AG40-44

Every now and then things turn out as you expect. For me, Sunday was one of those days. I was able to hold the paces I wanted, while not making any stupid/careless racing mistakes. Fitness is where I want it to be going into the Fall races that matter to me.

Next up: The Great Six Flags Triathlon in Jackson, NJ this coming Sunday.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Week Review: September 8, 2013

The week in review is a look at what I have been up to in training as well as a (sometimes) look into the other side of my life as well as links to some of what I have found interesting on the interwebs. This week started with a Labor Day 10k and ended with some long work on the weekend, and a week #1 victory by the Jets.

Training Update:

Sometimes a race is more of a training run than a race. A few months ago The Queen and I signed up for the Saucon Rail Trail 10k, a race that takes place on Labor Day. As I am training for a 1/2 Ironman in early October, training was a priority, so I ran the race on tired legs after a long weekend of training. The weather was less than ideal (90% humidity), but whatever. All things considered I did ok, running an official 43:26 and placing 27th overall and 3rd AG40-44. I held it together on tired legs, something that should help come 10/6. Just as important, the race was well organized, had good swag, a nice food spread, and a good looking cotton t-shirt. This race is quickly becoming one of the gems of the local scene.

The rest of the week was typical - masters swim, interval work on the bike and run - followed by my longest training run of the year on Saturday. That run, happily, went as well as could be expected. The pace was steady through 16 miles, at which point I was able to drop the pace to a few seconds per mile slower than my desired marathon race pace. I held that pace without struggle, plenty of energy left in the tank when we stopped. A nice confidence boost.

Let's Talk About the NY Jets:

If you didn't know, I'm a season ticket holder for one of the most frustrating NFL teams. I have been for 5 years now and probably will be for life. It isn't as bad as you may think. See, unlike a Cowboys fan, or a Steelers fan I don't feel entitled to 12+ wins and a home playoff game. And unlike a Raiders fan, I'm not living in some delusional past thinking my team is going to have long-term greatness again.

No, as a Jets fan I'm realistic. I hope to not use the phrase "same old Jets" and see 7 or 8 wins this year. If Geno Smith develops as we all hope he will  maybe ... let's cross that road when we get there. I said the same thing a few years back about Sanchez and you see where that got us!!!

I think it's time for all of us to get a jersey with
a current player's number on it.
So this past Sunday was opening day and our annual get together with some college friends. Mike has tickets below me on the 100 level (I'm in section 203B) and we always plan one game where we bring the brides, do a little tailgating, and catch the game. Fortunately, this year brought an almost picture perfect day.

As for the game, we left happy with a victory, relieved to see Geno play well in his pro debut, and encouraged by the play of the defense.

Geno was poised when he needed to be. My favorite play was one in which he threw the ball away  ... 6 rows into the stands. Much different than Sanchez who, in the same situation, would either hold the ball too long, force something, or take a sack.

Defensively we were able to get pressure on the quarterback, stop a very good running back, and hold Tampa to 17 points. Good to see the aggressive Rex back calling the defensive plays, with the personnel upfront to get it done (even as Wilkerson didn't have a great day). Ironically, the corners were the problem, giving up a number of big plays.

And, of course, there was some sideline entertainment from the Flight Crew and the new drumline called the Aviators.

Interesting Stuff From the Interwebs:

In case you missed it, I'm really pissed off at Competitor Group for cutting off elite athlete funding in order to boost bottom line profits. (The Complex Triathlete)

A nice story on my friend Cassie over at Runners World

A discussion on race day nutrition and how to get it right (Training Peaks)

Running great and coach of the Oregon Project, Alberto Salazar, on his training philosophy (Kinetic Revolution)

Music Video of the Week:  Trinity by Paper Tongues is a few years old but a great tune that just popped up again on my iPod.

Video of the Week: Apparently stress will only kill you if you believe it will.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Competitor Group Decision to Cut off Elite Funding

"Running and Triathlon are sports with a connect between the amateurs and professionals. They are community sports." Source

On August 30, 2013 Competitor Group*, promoters of the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series, announced that effective immediately they would no longer be supporting elite athletes in North America. The group would no longer pay appearance fees, travel and lodging expenses for elite athletes, although modest prize money will continue to be offered at events. The $475k in yearly savings will be used in other areas of the business venture. This weekend's Philly Distance Run - err, the ING Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia 1/2 Marathon - will be the first race affected by the decision. You can find the original report here.

In making this decision, Competitor Group has clearly indicated that the front of the race is of little importance to management, and they believe the people who run their races could care less about who wins.

Implied in that decision is also the idea that those at the pointy end of the race do not care about the masses. Being around the running community for almost 20 years and the triathlon community for 10 years I find these ideas to be bogus.

My problem with this decision comes down to the following issues:

Show Me the Money!!! Competitor Group is owned by Celera Capital, a private equity firm. The purpose of private equity is to make as much money as possible for the investors in a the private equity firm. It is very fair to ask as simple question: will the $475k in "savings" go back into the race, the experience, the amenities for the runners or will the money simply go into the deep pockets of the private equity ownership of Competitor Group?

To say I am skeptical that the money will be recycled back into my experience would be a huge understatement. Competitor Group has grown their events to ridiculously large fields of participants that make race day logistics a challenge. They have done this while substantially increasing the fees one pays to enter their events. The good news irony is you can give them more money to get special VIP toilets, special drop areas for your dry clothes, etc. that were unnecessary before they oversold their events. Up to this point, the changes made to races have only increased revenues (and profits) for the company so why should I believe they will now use the new found money to make my experience any better?

Assuming Competitor Group plans on enhancing the race day experience, how would they do it? Beats the hell out of me is the short answer. Put more bands out on the race course? More volunteers on race day? Better catering of the post-race food line? Bigger finishers medals? If anything, they overproduce their events now. They could reduce the entry fees ... yea, like that's going to happen.

And what About the Legacy of the Races Competitor Group Purchased? When I race I want to race. I'm not the fastest, but I want to be able to run MY fastest on that given day. The race experience for myself and many more just like me, is about going out and running my hardest (or swim/bike/run in a triathlon) without someone shooting colored cornstarch at me, chasing me with zombies, or running through mud and man-made obstacles. I also don't need a band playing at every mile. If you want to put one there, whatever, I cannot control that.

With a race like the Philly Distance Run, which was first run in 1978, you have an event with great history and some incredible running. In 2005, for example, Deena Kastor broke the woman's U.S. 1/2 marathon record that had stood for 20 years on those Philadelphia streets. I remember it because I was there running on that day. I also remember being there a few days after 9/11 happened in 2001. The Philly Distance Run was the only sporting event that day anywhere in the USA. You take away a robust elite field and you take away the possibility of greatness occurring out on the race course, making it just another race.

What About the Affect on Elite Running and Triathlon?  Running and triathlon are niche sports. But they are sports that I, and many, many others follow, and actually care about who is at the front of the race. Maybe they think of running as a sport people only care about every four years when the Olympics roll around, but that is simply not true. One of the reasons I like doing a big city race is you are out there with these amazing athletes giving it their all, showing what can be done. More important than me, the elite runners and triathletes have lost a source of funding, which is not easy for all but the very best. The long term affect on athlete development is not helped any by this decision.

If Competitor Group won't support the elite athletes it is obvious that they don't care about the sport. If they don't really care about the sport, it makes sense that they are simply in it for the money. If they are in it for the money, everyone suffers ... except, of course, the executives and shareholders of Competitor Group. See, it's about the money so they will continue to oversell events, continue increasing entry fees, and making the experience more like Wal Mart and less like your local retailer.

As for me, I will be running the Philly Distance Run ... excuse me, the RnR 1/2 Marathon ... this weekend as I have for many, many years. It doesn't really fit in my schedule but I have always liked the race so I make it fit. Next year, I'm not so sure. The Gap Gallop has moved to the same weekend and Rev3 Pocono Mountains will be the same weekend as well in 2014. So with such nice options available from both my local bike club and a group that really cares about its athletes and their experience, Sunday may be my last trip down to Philly on the second Sunday in September.

* Competitor Group is the publisher of books and magazines related to athletes and athletics, including Velo Press. Many of you receive their magazines which include Inside Triathlon, Triathlete, Velo Magazine and Women's Running. They have also become big in the events arena with the TriRock Series of triathlons, the Muddy Buddy Adventure Series, and a newer women's running series. Some of the events they have developed on their own, but many have been purchased from other organizers. The owner is a Celara Capital, a private equity firm and NOT an athlete owned entity.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Week Review: September 1, 2013

The week in review is a look at what I have been up to in training as well as a (sometimes) look into the other side of my life as well as links to some of what I have found interesting on the interwebs. This week is about some recovery and a bit of a blowup ...

Training Update:

After falling apart last week this week was a much needed recovery week. Pulling back on both the intensity and the volume did the body good. By Friday afternoon the legs were feeling normal - or as normal as they can at this time of the year - ready to get some mileage in over the weekend. The Saturday long run was a nice run on the Saucon Rail Trail and Sunday was dedicated to a longer run off the bike. Both were completed in some crazy humidity. Fortunately or unfortunately the last few weeks have been rather pleasant here in Easter PA so this was something not dealt with in some time.Survival was the key ... and survive I did.

The long run ended up at a 7:50ish overall pace. Would have/could have been a bit faster but the friend I was running with was having some issues and I stuck with her. Not that I minded slowing the pace.

Sunday's 2 hour ride + 1 hour t-run could have gone better. The session was a fueling dry run for an upcoming 1/2 Ironman. With the humidity high, the goal was to get as much in on the bike as possible, then steadily ingest liquids on the run. Ended up with 2 1/2 bottles on the bike and 16 oz. (all I had on me) on the run. The ride was fine and the run was slow ... real slow ... too slow. Got some work ahead of me.

Interesting Stuff From the Interwebs:

A primer from Genesis, one of our local bike shops, on how to keep your expensive bike lubed and functional. (Genesis Bicycles)

The Competitor Group (producers of the Rock & Roll Events) has decided to drop it's support for elite athletes because they apparently don't think the professional athletes are as important as making a few extra $$. (RunBlogRun)

Ever wonder why you can climb better than time trial or vice versa? Here's why. (Cycling Tips)

A former Jenny Craig consultant publicly apologizes for putting people on a really stupid diet regimen. (The Guardian)

Music Video of the Week: Franz Ferdinand's Right Action

Video of the Week: Diana Nyad completes the 110 mile swim from Cuba to Florida