Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In Quest of the BQ
A Race Report from the St. George Marathon

By Jeff Burrus

The first recollection I have of any desire to qualify for the Boston Marathon was early in 2010. I had just completed the Texas Marathon Challenge (any five marathons in Texas within the same year) and the Marathons of Texas (Dallas, Houston, Austin in that order). Coach Al had sent out a list compiled by of the races with the highest percentage of Boston qualifiers. I figured that was a good list to work from in an attempt to establish a new PR at the distance and maybe even improve upon it enough to find myself toeing the line in Hopkinton.

Pre-race carb loading
The standard at the time for a male 40 to 44 years old (I was 42 way back then) was 3:20:59. My PR was a 3:39:42. I figured it would take a year or more to build up a large aerobic base, burn off 50 or so pounds of fat, and find the right combination of course and weather to make it happen. I was running a lot of sub 4 hour marathons and occasionally dropping closer to 3:50, but there is a whole lot of road between 3:50 and 3:20:59. I really figured that my best bet would be to make incremental improvements and ultimately use the fact that my time standard would relax a little when I turned 44 (Boston lets you use your age on their race day for the purposes of qualifying even if you’re technically a year younger when you ran your qualifying race). The time standard for a 45 to 49 year old in 2010 was 3:30:59.

By late 2011, a year and a half and 11 marathons later, I had neither PR’d nor BQ’d. It seemed like when I found a good course, the weather was uncooperative. When the course and weather were good, my training was poor. I never could get it all to come together.

Then something else happened. Boston changed the time standards, making it tougher to get in. The net effect on me was that turning 45 would not give me an additional 10 minutes; it only gave me another 4 minutes and 1 second (instead of increasing to 3:30:59, it only increased to 3:25:00…costing me 5:59).

2012 came and went without me running a single marathon. I realized about a third of the way through 2012 what was happening and began to do some serious personal evaluation. There is not a tremendous amount of quit in me, but I definitely saw myself on an unfamiliar path towards just that. I needed to switch gears, again.

After years of “running by the seat of pants,” I hired a coach. My running group dubbed her “top secret,” but her real name is Leah Skinner.

A few weeks after I bought my bike (May 2012), I was reading through the Austin Tri-Cyclist blog when I came across this article. Something clicked, and I reached out to her. We met for coffee, and I told her what I was wanting to accomplish. When I told her what I’d tried so far in pursuit of said goal, she very frankly told me “we” wouldn’t be doing it that way moving forward, and I hired her on the spot.

I control, or at least attempt to control, pretty much everything around me. In general, I find that life is better when I’m in charge. Better for me and better for you too. The thought of giving up control of my running was daunting. It took a while to embrace my new routine (integrating my new workout regimen into my existing commitments like toting the water for the Ship), but I was able to do it seamlessly, for the most part, after a month or so.

By the end of 2012 I was ready to run my first marathon in over a year. I ran Louisiana in 3:50:17. Not a 3:25:00, but 37 minutes faster than the last one I had done in October of 2011. Through February and March my paces on just about every run I did were coming down, way down. At the same time, my heart rate was coming down as well. The better I ran, the more I bought in. Even a control freak has a hard time arguing with the kind of results I was seeing.

At the very beginning of April, as I finished a short/fast run, my back was a little tight. The next morning I could barely get out of bed. When I was finally able to get up, I had the oddest pain radiating through my hip, over to my groin, and then cascading down my right quad. I could only tolerate the pain for a few seconds. The only way to relieve it was to lay flat again or to lean against something that allowed me to get my weight off my legs and onto my arms. I couldn’t put on my own socks or shoes. I struggled with it for a few days (popping eight Advil a day just to keep the edge off) and attempted to wait it out while it healed itself. Not a good plan. Oddly, I could run…but everything else was problematic. When I finally extracted myself from denial long enough to schedule an appointment with a doctor, I learned that I had herniated the disc between L2/L3. I took an oral steroid, which helped, but it quickly wore off as soon as I ran out of pills. I went to see Dr. Higginbotham and he suggested an epidural steroid injection (along with about a week to ten days of rest). The shot worked wonders, and I took the following week off.

My first run back sucked. I ran three miles at a fairly slow/easy pace, but my heart rate was elevated. I had been telling myself that being in as good of shape as I was in the time off would have little to no impact. Wrong. I had undone months of training…months and months. Tunnel was around two months away, and I was far, far from ready. I pressed. I tried to go back to what I was running and who I was running with, and it didn’t go well. I tried to run 20 with Jerie one Saturday morning and ended up quitting on her around Far West, walking to a convenience store, and calling Kel to come pick me up.

I decided to go dark. I would dial back and run what I could at the speed I could and see what happened. I started running either alone or by myself. What’s the difference? Alone = showing up somewhere where no one else was likely to be and running. By myself = meeting other people for a run but doing my own thing (i.e., not pushing or being pushed). It took several weeks for it to stop sucking. It took a couple of months for it to get fun again. By then it was Tunnel time. I knew I wouldn’t qualify there, so I decided to run exactly what it took to PR, and I did.

I immediately turned my attention to St. George. I had exactly 13 weeks, was feeling much better, and was running pretty well. There were originally 12 of us who got into St. George via lottery, but 7 dropped out for various reasons. There was another decent-sized group that either didn’t get in to St. George or wanted to run Twin Cities that same weekend, so there was a whole lot of marathon training going on within the group. Jerie, Amber, Michelle, and I ended up doing a lot of our runs together, many very early mornings both during the week and on weekends. We covered a ton of miles in some tough conditions (routinely 80 degrees and 90% humidity). I don’t recall a lot of rah rah motivating of each other, but there was an immense amount of quiet commiseration.

Those 13 weeks of long runs was like nothing I had ever done (or would have done, or even thought was possible). By that point Leah had coached me through two prior efforts. I thought I knew what to expect, but was sadly, sadly mistaken. As the plan took shape, I reacted with a well divided sense of fear and dread. Starting with Tunnel on 7/14, here is what the long runs looked like:

7/14 – 26.2
7/20 – 10
7/27 – 20
8/3 – 20
8/10 – 22
8/17 – 19
8/24 – 20
8/31 – 22
9/7 – 19
9/14 – 22
9/21 – 19
9/27 – 10
10/5 – 26.2

The buildup for the prior two marathons Leah had coached me through looked nothing like this. I’m still not sure where it came from. I think it developed from how I had responded (or not responded) to the prior routines. I never asked, I just ran. That was the whole point of hiring her in the first place, so I thought that questioning it or varying from it would be counterproductive. A couple of those runs were ugly. The 22 miler on 8/10 was probably the worst. The one on 8/31 was when I felt things starting to come together. By September, the girls and I were running some pretty hilly routes on some pretty brutal days at some pretty decent paces. On 9/14 we did a 22 miler that included both Mt. Bonnell and a 7:19 final mile.

At this point I’m feeling well above average and decide it’s time to take a peek at the weather forecast for race day. For the love of all that’s holy, I could not believe my eyes. Cool, dry, and a little breeze from the north (aka a tailwind). Must. Look. Away. I don’t dare look again until the week of and, lo and behold, it’s stayed the same or gotten a little better.

At this point, I have no excuses. The only thing that hasn’t really gone to plan is my fatness. I managed to get down to 205 pounds, but got very nutritionally lazy at that point. I had calculated that I needed to toe the line at about 190 pounds, but that wasn’t going to happen.

Once the race started, it wasn’t long before I achieved a deep and absolute sense that I would hit my goal of running a sub 3:25:00. By mile 4, I was doing a little mental math to determine what shaving 5 seconds per mile off my goal pace would do to my overall time. By mile 9, I was tamping down the kind of emotion that is typically reserved for the finish line (or mile 25.42 of the Tunnel). I made the very difficult decision to turn everything off and focus on nothing more than running effortlessly to mile 20 and then deciding how I wanted the finish to go. I’ve dreamed about the final 10k of St. George since I ran it in 2010. I even put in my race report back then how nice it would be to run that final section on the perfect day. This was that day.

My Garmin beeped at mile 20, and it was like waking up from the best dream ever. I had just covered 20 miles in 2:35:45 (7:47 pace) and was determined to run it in as fast as I could. So, yeah, like waking up from a kickass dream and then being able to close your eyes and go right back to the point in the dream you just woke up from without missing a beat. I didn’t run hard because I needed to in order to qualify. I ran hard because, as bad as it hurt, it felt so good. Pleasure spiked with pain and all that.

As the miles peeled away, I started thinking about my friends that were out on the course, or maybe already finished, and their goals. They all trained harder than me, and I felt a sense of pride in their accomplishments, knowing that Colin would crush 2:40, that Sean would make 3 hours rue the day(s) it turned him away, and that Amber would be able to put a PR in one of her pockets and a BQ in the other.

Hitting the “one mile to go” marker in St. George, I decided to wring out whatever I had left and was delighted to see 7:24 looking back at me as I passed by the mile 26 marker. I covered the remaining ground somewhat reluctantly…like the final pages of a really good book that you’re enjoying so much you don’t want it to end.

3:23:39. A PR by 15:10. A BQ by a margin of 1:21.

My 30th marathon and still 17th state…and another negative split.

Milling about the finishing area, I was struck by how good I felt. During my years of unsuccessfully trying to qualify for Boston, I had repeatedly visualized what it would be like. I always imagined it as some heroic race day effort where I dug deep and ran outside of myself. Where I not only made the unlikely likely, but the impossible possible. Where I overcame nasty weather, lackluster training, and excess body fat to prevail in some epic way that would be worthy of an urban legend AND a trip to the medical tent. But, no. The truth is that I really qualified on Steck at Shoal Creek, on S. Congress at Ben White, on Scenic, and on 10 Mile Mondays in the months and weeks leading up to this race.

The first half of St. George was about 50 seconds slower than my half marathon PR. The second half of St. George was about a minute and a half faster than my half marathon PR. The final 10k of St. George is faster than my 10k PR. I will run 3M in January and try to find a 10k in order to officially update those distances.

I’ll be in Boston to run the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014!

Jeff Burrus, originally from Katy, Texas, played football in high school and college. After about eight years of being out of shape, he moved to Austin with his wife, Kelley, and son, Bailey, and began running on the Town Lake Trail. His first race was the Capitol 10k in 1999, and despite the fact that other runners were passing him in costume, skipping rope, and drinking beer, he was hooked, and he signed up for the Austin Marathon the following year. He raced the Austin Marathon five consecutive years from 2000 to 2004, and moved on to compete in national events like the New York, Marine Corps, and St. George Marathons. From his first-marathon goal of finishing without walking, with a time of 4:40, he’s progressed to a 3:23:39 and a much-coveted BQ. Jeff works as a financial advisor at Stifel Nicolaus. Read more about his running adventures on his blog,

Friday, October 25, 2013

Aero Tune-Up
Turn Your Aging Tri Bike into a Super Bike

by Jack Mott

Some of us get attached to our older bikes and, happy in our long-term relationship, see no need to spend thousands of dollars on a newer and more expensive model. One can get very envious, though, of contemporary super bikes like the Fuji Norcom Straight and Cervelo P5their sleek shapes make our tried-and-true race steed look like it's ready to be put out to pasture. The Norcom Straight and P5 can offer up to a second per kilometer of aero savings, boasting beautiful front ends that hide the cables and brakes from the wind. Fortunately, with a bit of cleverness and careful part selection, you can update the bike you know and love to bridge that aerodynamic and aesthetic gap, giving it a new lease on life.

For our test case we used a Cervelo P2 ridden by Kat Hunter, editor of this blog and ATC Racing TT specialist. The P2 is a great bike, with real aerodynamic engineering, good handling, and a good fit for Kat. However, as you can see in this photo below, compared to a modern super bike, the front end presents all kinds of bolts, cables, and surface area to the wind.

The most important thing to address here is the aerobar. Aerobars must, first and foremost, support your ideal position. After that, pick one that presents the least frontal area to the wind and that keeps cables internal and tidy. Newer versions of the 3T Aura, pictured above to the left, have improved their cable routing so they stay in the bar all the way to the stem, exiting out the back. Look for bars that keep the mounting hardware as minimal and out of the wind as possible. A great budget option is the older aluminum Vision base bar and clip-ons. They use a very aero shape and a smaller stem clamp diameter for reduced surface area. Fancier options with integrated stems include the 3T Ventus II and the Zipp Vuka Stealth.

For Kat's bike we had to stick with UCI-legal options and went with the HED Corsair, which offers a nice integrated brake lever with built-in return spring. We paired it with Vision clip-ons, which are comfortable for her and present minimal mounting hardware to the wind.

Hiding the cables from the wind offers a fairly small aero advantage, but a huge aesthetic one, and is often easy to do. You can do a pretty thorough job just by putting some thought into your cable routing. Experiment with different routes and find one that keeps the cables hidden from view. Often a zip tie or some electrical tape can work wonders to keep the cables tidy.

We went a step further with Kat's P2 and got out a drill. In standard form the P2 shifter cables enter at the down tube, while most newer bikes have them enter at the top tube. We found this handy tutorial from TriRig on how to modify your P2 to accept top tube cables. The procedure is relatively simple, but be warned that this could void your warranty, and this is in no way officially sanctioned by Cervelo or ATC. The same procedure works on both the older P3 and P2, and may work on other bikes as well.

Another neat trick in lieu of zip ties to keep the cables tidy is the TriRig Sigma stem, which offers some great aero features. It helps route the cables cleanly, exposes no bolts to the wind, and has a small, smooth frontal area. It has an optional bottle cage mount, so you can throw away a few more zip ties if you use a between-the-arms bottle, and, lastly, it offers a cable stop for center pull brakes. The catch is that it is only available in 90mm length and two different rises, and you have to cut your steerer tube to the exact height. You can't put any spacers above the stem, so you can always go lower, but never higher.

Installation is not difficult. You cut the steerer tube of your fork to a few millimeters below the top of the stem, mount it with the included top cap, and run your cables over the top of it. If you have a center pull brake, you run the front brake cable into the cable stop in the middle of the stem, as shown below.

Sigma stem, with cover off

Once the cables are routed, you then squeeze the cables together and bolt the cover on. If you have Di2, you can mount the control box inside the cover, facing up through the slot so you can see and operate it.

Sigma stem, with cover on

On the left we also mounted an additional piece that allows you to bolt a bottle cage directly to the stem. If you won't be doing that, you can leave that piece off. The finished product with bottle cage mounted looks like this:

Tektro Center Pull
Retrofitting the integrated brakes of bikes like the Fuji Norcom Straight onto an older P2 or Slice isn't quite possible, but you can get very nearly the same aero advantage with careful part selection.

Magura Hydraulic
A normal brake up front is only about an 8 second per 40k disadvantage compared to no brake at all, and some of the center pull options get very close to eliminating all of that drag. One option is a standard Tektro or Campy center pull caliper. These mount easily, brake well, and are affordable. You will need to add a cable stop or use the Sigma stem to get them working since you can't run cable housing to them.

Another great option is the Magura hydraulic brake. They have top-notch aerodynamics and better braking power than standard calipers. You may be able to find good deals on these at your local bike shop from people who didn't want to go hydraulic on their P5s and new P3s. If you don't want to go hydraulic either, you can use the TriRig Omega brake. It can accept either cable housing or bare cable, so you don't have to mount a cable stop if you don't want to. The Omega has a wind-tunnel-tested shape that, along with the Magura, makes it one of the most aero brakes you can buy today. TriRig was a sponsor for ATC Racing this past year, so of course we went with the Omega.

A bike's fork is one of the most critical aero parts of the bike. Like the aerobar, it is up front hitting clean air, and it affects how air flows around the bike and front wheel. Over time, many bike companies have tweaked and improved their forks. If you have an older model year P2 or P3, an easy upgrade is the latest Cervelo fork. Cervelo claims this fork is about a 1.5 watt, or 6 seconds per 40k, advantage over the best previous generation forks. In fact, any bike with a standard 1 1/8" head tube could upgrade to this fork. Kat's bike had the previous generation 3T fork, so we swapped it out for the new model. If you sell the old fork, this upgrade isn't even very expensive overall.

Final Result
With modified cable routing and brakes, a trick stem, and the latest fork, we have managed to achieve many of the aesthetic and aerodynamic features of much more expensive bikes with integrated front ends. Kat will put the new setup to the test this weekend at the Austin 70.3 triathlon as she competes in the relay category hoping to set a screaming fast bike split. UPDATE: 56 miles in 2:21:21 on 221 normalized watts. Fastest relay split by 6 minutes. Congrats Kat!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

5 Open Water Swim Locations in Austin

Given the recent deluge, honing your swimming skills might not be such a bad idea, and Sharkfest (Oct. 19) and Longhorn 70.3 (Oct. 27) are still on the horizon. Whether you’re looking to test out your wetsuit before race day or take one last dive before the temperatures do, here's a selection of Austin-area waters ideal for swim practice.

Lake Pflugerville
Open year-round to swimmers and closed to all motorized boat traffic, Lake Plugerville is a prime swim spot. The 180-acre reservoir, which supplies drinking water to the city of Pflugerville, is also surrounded by a three-mile granite trail, and there are many bike routes nearby.  A parking lot is located off of Weiss Lane on the eastern side of the lake near the gravel swim beach. The lake is the site of the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon in June.
Temp: 77° F
Location: 20 miles northeast of Austin
Address: 18216 Weiss Lane, Pflugerville, TX 78660

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Walter E. Long Lake (Decker Lake)
This lake, a 1,200-acre power plant cooling reservoir also used for recreational activities like boating and fishing, is the starting point for many area tris, including Longhorn 70.3 and the Couples Triathlon. Area roads are popular with cyclists. Park in the Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park ($8 admission).
Temp:  72-78° F
Location: 12 miles east of downtown
Address: 6614 Blue Bluff Rd., Austin, TX 78724

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Quarry Lake
A private, spring-fed lake operated by Pure Austin, Quarry Lake has an excellent 750-meter swim course. The well-known Splash & Dash series is held here on the third Tuesday of the month from April to September. A Pure Austin membership will get you access to the lake anytime, but short-term memberships and single-day passes ($21.65) are also available. Pro triathlete Colin O’Brady, recently interviewed on our blog, said he’s never seen a better permanent open water swim venue anywhere in the world.
Temp: current temp shown at
Location: North Austin
Address: 4210 West Braker Lane, Austin, TX 78759

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Barton Springs Pool 
Located at the heart of Zilker Park, this historical pool is one of Austin’s most-loved summertime attractions. During the winter or outside of peak hours, the three-acre, spring-fed pool makes for great swim practice. There are no lanes. Wetsuits are allowed, and you might be happy you brought one, because the water feels icy regardless of the temperature outside. Admission fee charged, $3-4 for adults; some times and seasons are free.
Temp: 70° F
Location: Zilker Park
Address: 2201 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX 78704

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Deep Eddy Pool
Like Barton Springs, Deep Eddy is an Austin icon. The oldest pool in Texas (built 1915), Deep Eddy is a 600,000-gallon freshwater swimming pool open year-round. The water is not chlorinated, and wetsuits are allowed. Admission fee charged, $3-4 for adults; swim passes and punch cards are also available for purchase.
Temp: 65-75° F
Location: central
Address: 401 Deep Eddy Drive, Austin, TX 78703

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Other swim locations:
Lake Travis
Canyon Lake, New Braunfels
Inks lake State Park, Burnet

Wetsuit Rental

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Life of a Runner Turned Cyclist Turned Triathlete

by Liz Shelton

Runners, just like our equipment, are fairly easy to understand. The only requirements needed to start are a decent pair of shoes, shorts, sports bra (optional for men), and at least a watch to log time or track splits. With runners, what you see is what you get. Depending on distance, we only need water, or at the most, a gel pack of our favorite flavor. And training for a 5K only takes a few weeks. (Well, at least according to every issue of Runner’s World.) We like our sleep. We like food. No, we LOVE food. Heck, sometimes I think my running is just a front so I can order the French toast with whipped cream at my favorite breakfast diner without guilt.

For the most part we get to bed early. Have you ever run 15 miles off of only four hours' sleep? We’ve all done it, but eventually we’ll learn the error of our ways. We like routine: our warm-ups, drills, even the way we tie our shoelaces. Creatures of habit, you could say. There’s not much that ruffles our feathers. We’ll talk to anybody on the trail who breathes, giving a friendly smile and wave of the hand to friends and strangers alike. Runners are a happy people. Our morning high stays long after the last mile ends, and gets us through the daily traffic grind and through endless work meetings. Life is good as a runner.

After my first charity ride, I began to dabble in cycling enough to join local group rides, but I wouldn’t consider myself a cyclist just yet. Cycling takes more effort and planning: load gear and bike in the backseat of the car (I refuse to get a rack), remove gear and bike from car, air up the tires, check fuel and water levels, helmet and shoes on, and then you’re finally ready to ride. I would say the biggest adjustment for me is riding with traffic. Runners can avoid traffic if we choose; winding trails and sidewalks offer some relief, but unless your idea of fun is repetitive loops on the Veloway chasing tricycles, then you have no choice but to ride roads. I will admit that I find myself riding the trainer more than I should during the week just to avoid speeding motorists. While my marathoner's endurance has carried over somewhat to my cycling, the speed from my track days does not. Not. One. Bit. It’s like starting over. But I knew it wouldn’t be easy, so like anything, you have to put in the time and keep at it.

I got into multisport the same way most do. Running…check. Cycling…check. Only one thing was standing between my exploring the triathlon world: swimming. While I practically grew up in my neighborhood pool, I never took formal lessons. I was na├»ve to think I could do my first tri without any. Danskin was a great experience. It was a women-only race, low-key, and I knew both the bike and run course at Decker from my running days. In other words, it was perfect. Except I spent the entire swim on my back, gasping for air and basically acting as a float for other girls to push off. I couldn’t swim more than 200 meters without stopping. I swallowed my pride and signed up for basic stroke and technique classes the very next day. I saw immediate results. Compared to my first tri, the second was smoother, and I bettered my swim by five minutes for the same distance (800m). Was I really that slow before?! Yes. Over time, I steadily improved and gained better overall conditioning. The bike is my weakest link and that will take time. The run leg feels most natural to me, so it’s a matter of staying relaxed, finding a quick rhythm right away, and focusing on turnover. 

Kerrville was my first Half Ironman. It was an amazing experience. While somewhat logistically complicated for a beginner not used to split transitions, the race was run beautifully (kudos to race organizers and sponsors!). I look forward to one day completing my first long-distance tri, but for now, I’ll continue on the journey to try new things and adjust to my new life as a multisport athlete. Life is still good.

Born and raised in Houston, Liz Shelton attended UT Austin on a Cross Country & Track Scholarship. While there, she was a seven-time conference champion and five-time All American in CC, Indoor & Outdoor Track, and she helped UT win four NCAA team titles in a row. Her accolades range from a Big 12 Indoor Athlete of the Year Award in 2000 to winning a title at the prestigious Penn Relays. In the 2000 Olympic trials, she placed seventh in the 800-meter finals. Currently she lives and trains in Austin with her husband, Jeff, and can frequently be spotted on ATC's  Wednesday run. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Leadman Epic 250 Race Report

by Gray Skinner

Last weekend, Leah and I traveled to beautiful Bend, Oregon, for the Leadman Epic 250 and 125 put on by Lifetime Fitness. This was the second year for the Leadman 250 in Bend. The race would be twice as long as the longest race (Gray - Half iron, Leah - Olympic) either of us had ever done. Let me first say that this was an excellent venue and event. I highly recommend anyone up for a challenge to check out this race. Lifetime and the race director have done a really great job bringing together a unique and challenging course and one of the best race venues possible!

The Epic 250 consists of a 5k swim in beautiful Cultus Lake; a 223k ride starting at the lake, climbing twice over Mt. Bachelor and ending in Bend (~140miles); and a civilized 22k run through Bend.
The motivation for choosing this race was really threefold: 1) see a new part of the country we had never seen before, 2) get a taste of what racing for nine hours feels like in preparation for my first Ironman on 12/1/13, and 3) do a race that was swim/bike heavy that I could reasonably prep for during the Austin summer.

We arrived in Bend late Thursday night after making the three-hour drive over from Portland. Friday morning we went to the expo, picked up our bikes from TriBikeTransport, went to the athlete meeting, and retrieved packets. Race staff was great, and the logistics went really smoothly. That afternoon, we caught up with the Picky Bars founders and new Bend residents Jesse Thomas and Lauren Fleshman. Jesse is a pro triathlete and Lauren is a pro runner, so it was good hearing about their business and their experience in Bend over the last year. Also, I was very excited to find out that Picky Bars would be on course as the race food! If you haven’t tried them, they are excellent!

In the afternoon, we also headed up to Cultus Lake to drop off bikes and pre-ride part of the course. I like to spin the legs for 30-45 minutes with some effort at race pace the day before the race. Bike felt great, and legs seemed rested and ready to go. Weather for the pre-ride was PERFECT! 70 degrees, sunny, light wind, crisp mountain air—it would have been ideal if only we could have raced Friday! It was an uneventful evening; we dropped off T2 bags, had a pre-race meal at home, and were early into bed dreaming that the rain and cold front would hold off!

On to race morning... It was up at 4, a breakfast of eggs/avocado tortillas, and onto T2 for bus pickup. Wasn’t raining when we woke up, which was a positive, but it was COLD. Having endured the Austin summer, 40 degrees felt more like 20! So I put on my ROKA Maverick Pro wetsuit for the bus ride to the swim start. I liked the drive to the start; you knew everything was taken care of the night before, and the race morning prep was more manageable. Arriving at the swim start, it was still cold and overcast. The water temp was around 60 degrees, which wasn’t so bad, but the cold air temp made it a lot worse. I started in the first wave and wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew that it was going to be a long swim. I kept telling myself, “If you can just get out of the water, you have 8 hours to catch everyone.” The swim was two loops of an alleged 2.5k each. The course was a bit short, more like 4.6k, which was helpful, but after the first loop, things were falling apart. The second loop was really tough, and I came out of the water with a slow time of around 1:15, 12 minutes down on the leaders.

Overjoyed to be out of the water, I sprinted into the T1 changing tent. It was a steamy mess of triathletes. Time seemed to stop in the tent, and by the time I left T1, I had unknowingly spent seven minutes in T1! Putting on socks, arm warmers, etc., was really tough with numb hands. I ended up going with compression socks, arm warmers, jersey, light gloves, and toe covers, optimistically thinking that it would warm up. Bad idea!

I started out on the bike feeling very cold, but was passing people and feeling pretty good. I had set a power goal of riding between 230 and 240 watts for the entire bike. The first hour it was really hard to keep it under 240 on fresh legs. I ended up around 243 for first hour and felt good and was eating well, but continually getting colder. The next few hours passed uneventfully, and then came the first trip up Mt. Bachelor. This is a very deceptive climb; driving it at 50 mph, it seems very gradual, but it’s a really slow grinder. Again I felt good and kept passing people, making my way into fifth place by the top of the climb. Coming over the top at 6,000 feet, the sleet started. All the body heat I had generated in the last 45 min of climbing suddenly vanished as I plunged down to Sun River. It was a 10-mile descent in sleeting, gusting wind, with a disc wheel and my arms too tired to lean over the bars in super aero. I was actually pretty scared and could have gone a lot faster here in better conditions.

Onto the climb for the second time, I passed two more riders and was second on the road for a brief period. I started having problems around 5hr 15min into the bike. Nearing the top of climb for the second time, I was re-passed by third and fourth, and tried responding but was in a bad patch. Coming over the top, things got worse. My body started shutting down on the descent into town, not what you want when you are going 45mph! My heart rate dropped to around 80, and I couldn't feel my arms. I felt as if I were falling asleep on the bike, which was very strange. Normally I would be railing and pedaling hard on a long wide open descent like this, but not today. I was happy to get off the mountain. I was passed one more time just outside town and came into T2 in fifth overall.

Arriving in T2, I was delirious. Luckily Leah had been waiting there for me since finishing her race (fifth female in her first half iron!), and was able to direct me! I don’t know how I managed to get shoes on, etc., and start the run, but the next thing I knew, I was on the course in survival mode. All hopes of a fast run abandoned, I was here to find out how my body dealt with running after 7.5 hrs of exercise. The first nine miles were ok, around 7:30 pace, but I hit the wall around mile 10 and limped in around 8:30 pace.

I ended up fifth place overall. Lots of fifths this year! (fifth overall amateur at Galveston 70.3 + State Pro/1 TT!) I’m hoping to graduate from the extended podium to the actual one at my first Ironman on Dec. 1 in Cozumel!

Thanks to ROKA Sports, Chris McDonald and Team BigSexyRacing,, Austin TriCyclist, Sol Frost and crew at Austinbikes, Noah Wright and Jack Cartwright for last-minute wheel support, Enlightened-Performance Coaching, and my amazing wife Leah for putting up with me!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tips to Avoid Flats

Psshhhhtttttttt... That all-too-familiar, hated sound, the last thing you want to hear on race day. The resulting wave of emotion comes in three stages: surprise, followed by denial, and then the inevitable, defeated acceptance as you slow to a stop and everyone else rides on without you.

While you'll never succeed in completely avoiding flats, you can stretch your luck out a little longer by following these tips:
  1. Check the tire for excessive cuts, holes, and wear. A tire that has worn thin, or has too many cuts and holes in it will flat again and can be unsafe. Replace it, or at least put a patch on the inside of the tire.
  2. Check for debris in the tire or the rim.  If you're changing a flat during a ride, take the time to do a quick feel with your finger and a visual inspection. It's very common to flat immediately after replacing a tube because the object that caused the flat is still in the tire. At home, especially if you've had a run of mystery flats, periodically take the tire off and pinch open any tiny cuts in the tire. Look inside carefully for debris and remove anything you find. Sometimes tiny shards of rock will be embedded inside and can wear a hole in a tube over a few days.
  3. Check your rim tape. Rim tape should completely cover any spoke holes on the inside of the rim. Any tiny gaps exposing the edge of a spoke hole will eventually wear a hole in a tube. Make sure the rim tape itself is smooth; any ridges or sharp edges can cause flats.
    Tiny exposed spoke hole edge, will cause a flat eventually
  4. Check for tube pinch. If you're not careful when installing a new tube, tubes will sometimes get stuck between the bead of the tire and the rim. This may work for a few days or only a few seconds, but eventually an explosive flat will occur. To ensure that the tube lies completely within the tire, pump a very small amount of air into the tire, and then pull the tire back along the entire perimeter of the wheel on both sides; look for any tube peeking out, and work it back into the tire with your thumbs. Gently press up on the tire's valve to be sure that area of the tube is pressed up into the tire as well.
    Latex tube peeking out ,this will cause a flat eventually.
  5. Put the tire label where the valve is. Besides being a cosmetically "pro" thing to do, this has the added benefit of giving you an easy reference point to figure out where a flat is occurring, because the tire is always installed the same way. Got two flats in a week, in the same place? Check for a cut in the tire or a rim-tape problem where the tubes are failing.
  6. Use proper pressures. Too low of a pressure can cause the tire to "pinch flat," cutting the tube on the edge of the rim when it compresses too much on a nasty bump in the road. Optimum pressures vary based on tire size, rider weight, and road surface. This chart by Michelin is a handy guideline for most road tires.
  7. Watch where you are going. This tip is simple and effective. Pay attention and don't run over things. If you can't avoid a patch of glass or debris, take your weight off the saddle and stay loose so that less force is put on the tires. Practice bunny hopping so you can hop over large debris that might cause pinch flats or a crash.
  8. Use appropriate tires.  If you follow the tips above, you can actually use nice, fast tires and get very few flats in most areas. If you live somewhere with excessive debris or lots of rain, consider a durable but slow tire for training like the Continental Gatorskin. If you are a larger, heavier person, consider using a larger 25c tire instead of 23c.