Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Monday, November 23, 2015

2015 Longhorn 70.3 Race Report from Brooklyn Visitor

by Jimmy Pearson

Mile 27 of a 34-mile ultra Nov. 21, Jimmy at center
and husband Allan at right
I am not a highly trained and experienced triathlete, nor a coach, nor a pro, nor even someone who bothered to train properly for the Ironman 70.3 Austin. I had a solid beginning to my training season, but one IT band injury and several months later, I was facing the race indisputably and embarrassingly unprepared. The night before, my husband and coach even said that he was “disassociating himself” from my race performance. I had decided long before the start that this half Ironman would be my last, which liberated me a bit to just enjoy myself, no matter how reckless I felt as I pulled into the Travis County Expo Center on race morning.

As soon as I arrived, it seemed like all anyone could talk was the two separate transition areas, and the attendant hassles of getting all of their gear to the right places before the transitions closed. And while it did cause me a little bit of extra stress on race morning, it was honestly much ado about nothing. I arrived later than I had hoped, had to shuttle back and forth between T1 and T2 an extra time (I somehow missed the memo that the run transition should be set up before the bike transition), and still had plenty of time.

In fact, if there was one drawback, it was all of the extra time I had between getting set up and my wave start, which was a full 90 minutes after transition closed. Having already turned in all of my gear other than what I needed for the swim, I spent that 90 minutes trying to keep warm and kicking myself for not bringing a pair of throw-away socks.

Austin begins with a floating start, and by the time my wave was preparing to start, the relatively warm water of Decker Lake was actually a relief from the cold and wind on the beach. That said, I could have done without all the other 30-34 year old males telling each other about how they were peeing in the water just a few feet away from me (we all know that we do it, but that doesn’t mean I want to think about it).

No guilt here: Jimmy and Rider sleeping in
while Allan goes out for a run
The swim is actually my favorite leg of any tri, and I managed to enjoy it out to the first turn in spite of being squeezed by swimmers on both sides. I like to think I can maintain a pretty good line, and I took the fact that swimmers from all sides were trying to cross right through me as a nice confirmation that I couldn’t be far off. After the first turn the swim leg turns due east, which unfortunately put the rising sun and its glare off the water right in front of the pack, making sighting pretty difficult. That and a strong westerly wind caused me to take a wide turn into the last stretch towards the beach. One of my weaknesses as a swimmer is that when I am off course I often don’t correct early and decisively, so I traced a wide arc on my way back to transition.

I was a little anxious beginning the bike leg. Our friends and hosts in Austin were kind enough to loan me a bike for the race (a Litespeed that felt lighter and all-around superior to my Felt F3), and had asked me to send them measurements ahead of time so it would be ready for me. This would seem simple enough, but I had actually never even heard of terms like “frame stack,” “handlebar stack, “frame reach, and “handlebar reach” before, let alone set out to accurately measure my bike fit. Combine that with the fact that I arrived the day before the race and had almost no time to test out the fit, and I was a little nervous. I have always been taught not to try anything new on race day, and an entirely new bike seems significant enough to try out well in advance.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded  the bike felt great, and I enjoyed every minute of riding on the farm roads outside of Austin. Texas is where I first started to bike seriously; I haven’t lived or biked here in over eight years, and riding on the farm roads felt like something of a homecoming. Sticklers might find it a bit frustrating; the course was far too crowded to be concerned about drafting rules, and the road quality often left something to be desired. Nonetheless, I had a great time and rode into T2 with a smile on my face (even if the sight of a pro passing me during his cooldown on the course was a little bit of a bummer.)

The run was a different story. As I mentioned, I was somewhat less than adequately prepared, and unfortunately my lack of preparation often manifests on the run. As soon as I got off the bike, I felt my lower back seizing up, and it caused me considerable pain at the beginning that necessitated stopping and stretching a few times. Austin’s run leg is a loop course, which I usually try to avoid; I find it mentally challenging to run the same loop over and over, and in this particular instance it meant I had to tackle the one significant hill of the course three times. That said, I was glad for the loops because it meant I got to see my husband and running coach six times during the run. Thanks to his support and my very gradually warming up lower back, I managed to negative split my way to the finish.

Austin 70.3 makes a big deal in its promotional materials of having an indoor finish at the Travis County Expo Center, and I have to admit that the energy at the finish line was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. That said, if you’re anything like me, the first thing you’ll want to do once your chip is off is GET OUT OF THE EXPO CENTER. It’s crowded and smells terrible. Unfortunately, the only way out is through a nearly immobile crowd and up a very unwelcoming staircase. If the race doesn’t make you feel like you earned a few celebration beers, getting out of the Expo Center in one piece just might.

In the end, I had a blast racing in Austin. And my husband and coach, even after his formal “disassociation,” was nonetheless supportive and happy with how everything turned out. Even if it wasn’t enough to make me reconsider trying another half Ironman anytime soon, it was enough to make me very happy that this was my last.

Jimmy Pearsonoriginally from Chappaqua, NY, a suburb about 45 minutes from NYCis an alumnus of Rice University in Houston, TX (Wiess '07). He now lives in Brooklyn with his husband, Allan, and their dog, Rider. A consultant focusing on social and public sector organizations, he did his first triathlon in 2007. The Austin 70.3 was his second half-Ironman event, following Timberman in New Hampshire in August 2014.   

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Q&A on Garmin HRMs

Adding a little tech to your workout routine can provide a big boost in overall efficiency and results, but the practical side of things is important, too. How well does the device work in different training scenarios? Is it easy to use and comfortable to wear? We asked triathlete and ATC customer Jaaron Sanderson, who purchased both of Garmin’s two new heart rate monitors, for a quick rundown on the Garmin Swim and Garmin Tri and their performance in the water.

What’s your experience with the Garmin Swim and Garmin Tri, and how do you use them for training and racing? 

I have used Garmin HRMs in training for about the last five years, mostly running and biking but also for rock climbing, soccer, and kayaking. I use a 920XT and an Edge 520 (all the Garmin heart monitors will send info to both devices simultaneously). I have been doing triathlons for about 8 years. I am not all that serious about racing, but I enjoy destination races, training, and using HRMs as a training method. I also do a lot of adventure races, rock climbing, and mountain biking with my 8-year-old daughter. She did her first cyclocross race this weekend!

I bought the Tri about 2 months ago (right after it came out). The Tri works great for biking and running. It gives you all the same running dynamics (Cadence, Vertical Oscillation, and Ground Contact Time) as the Garmin running HRMs. I have practiced with it at Barton Springs and Lake Austin. It works great in the open water with or without a wetsuit. As far as races, I used it in the Cabo Ironman and the Austin Half. It's great not to have to mess with putting on a HRM during T1—one less thing to worry about. For me, it was worth buying for that reason alone.

As far as the usefulness of the HRMs for swim training and racing, I am still figuring it out. Everything I had read before said that your swimming heart rate was lower than your biking and running heart rate at the same perceived level of intensity. For that reason I had never really worried about my swimming heart rate but always wondered why it was so high at T1, then lowered on the bike. What I have found since using these HRMs is that my swimming heart rate is around 10 beats higher than the bike and slightly higher than the run at the same perceived levels of exertion. In addition, in races it sometimes hits 175 bpm—definitely not good for an Ironman! I still haven't fully absorbed this info, but it will certainly affect my training and racing.

How do the two HRMs differ? How accurate do you find them, especially for open water? 

DO NOT expect to be able to use the Tri in a pool unless you don't push of the wall at all or don't mind cutting off the circulation to your lower torso. Even lightly pushing off the wall with the strap very tight, it slips down or flips over, which made it unusable for me in the pool. That's why I bought the Swim. I have gotten used to it being a little tighter than I would have preferred, and haven't had issues with it slipping/flipping off during flip turns. One other note: while training in the open water you can roll over on your back and the HRM will almost immediately sync with your watch (to check while swimming). Same with stopping at the edge of the pool.

The GPS on the 920 when swimming is not that accurate. The file shows me swimming on the shore half the time at Barton Springs. Granted, I was swimming at the edge of the pool, but still, it's a good 5-10 feet off. That said, this inaccuracy doesn't really bother me. When you are swimming distance in the open water the inaccuracies will more often than not wash out (no pun...) and who cares about a few feet or even a few dozen. If you really care, you can always attach your watch to a pull buoy.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cultivating the Roadie Cool

by Kat Hunter

Pro cyclist and bike mechanic Tristan Uhl, unflappable
Long-time roadies are the cool kids of the cycling world, and not just in terms of their general aplomb and fashion sense. They're also remarkably composed.

For me, the sound of a car horn is one of the worst in the world, like being called the dirtiest of all dirty names. I find that even when I'm mostly in the wrong, if a driver lays on the horn, I'm more likely to defend whatever action inspired his anger and respond in kind. If a car intentionally cuts me off or does something dangerous, I give the person a piece of my mind with colorful words and descriptive gestures. I take it all so personally that I'll still be angry days later.   

At the root of it, I get startled or scared. Being on a bike is a vulnerable position, and with Austin's roads and traffic, I often feel like I'm entering an all-out war zone—without the two-ton steel armor everyone else is wearing.     

But when I ride with a truly "pro" roadie, the atmosphere is much different. Someone just yelled at us to "get off the road"? Or (an entertaining Easter Sunday a few years back) to "get to church"?  The experienced roadie responds one of two ways: sarcasm or complete disregard. A wry wave, a smile, a blank stare, an expression of casual indifference...all seem to communicate smug disdain rather than anger.

I aspire to that, like a kind of Buddhist bicycle philosophy that, while not accepting a call to battle, doesn't back down from it, either. It's dignified. It's productive. You can't be arrested for it. 

But how do they do it? In my case, all the good and noble intentions in the world won't stop a surge of anger from flowing helmet-to-shoes like a lightning bolt. I have three theories: 1) Serious roadies have no fear. Obviously. The personalities involved in competition tend to be the least worried about leaving skin on the pavement. 2) They ride so much that they've just come to accept and ignore drivers' aggressive behavior, as they would rain or wind. 3) All physical and emotional resources are being reserved for the workout itself, which makes responding to or steaming about an unrelated incident not worth the effort required.

These unruffled roadies, whatever their true intentions or compulsions, have a good strategy. A calm approach will usually get you further in a dialogue with someone. If the only words a driver can exchange with you are antagonistic, you probably weren't going to accomplish anything with the communication anyway. And, of course, sometimes the fact that you're keeping your calm when the other person clearly can't has its own hidden bonus: it can be infuriating. All in all, the system works much better for minor infractions, and can be adapted as needed for other situations. There's certainly a time and a place for being angry and taking a stand in spandex and cleats, but it should probably be the exception rather than the rule, if for nothing more than your own sanity and a little positive cycling PR.  

Maybe the important thing to at least TRY to remember, in the quest of roadie cool, is that the person on the high road usually does win. Or at least looks really suave in the process.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Bringin’ Back the Lunch Ride

By Kat Hunter

I could have killed him. My favorite sunglasses—Oakley Radar XLs, sponsored team glasses which retail somewhere around $300—lost to the Gulf on a Labor Day beach trip. Granted, my road season was already over, but they were a cycling fashion accessory I would have taken to my grave.

My husband, who’d been borrowing them from time to time, didn’t tell me they were gone. Or at least not until we were back home and headed out for a ride, which only made me that much more furious. I went full gas up every hill along our route, and eventually split off on my own. The cold, hard, immature truth of it was this: I wasn’t going to let him replace the Oakleys given their price tag, not in a million years, but I was still going to make him pay.

Now I knew why Jack had been strolling up and down the beach. At the time I’d naively assumed he was—very uncharacteristically—shell-hunting. “Ah, would you look at that! The rare and beautiful Oakleyas sunglassus.” I’m sure it was a stellar find for someone. Captain Nemo, maybe.

Jack and I have been together a little over eight years. This wasn’t our first squabble, and I know it won’t be our last. Sometimes it’s my fault, and sometimes it’s his, though often we lose sight of the beginning of an argument completely, and it just is, like the color of the sky. We have a two-year-old son now, which also makes married life very different, in both good and bad ways. Kids are cute as buttons, but they’re a physical and emotional full-body workout. Parenthood takes conditioning. I estimate we’ll be fully fit and prepared, oh, in about two decades, give or take a few years if Theo inherits my knack for finding a career that requires utter devotion for very little pay. I’ve tried two so far: professional cycling and writing.

What I’ve missed the most since we became parents, angry days aside, is cycling together. Jack and I used to do weekend group rides, or go out just the two of us. I give him credit for my being fast on the bike, both because he bought me my first road bike and because those early training days of being dropped by him were so maddening that I was motivated to get better quickly. For several years we raced together, descending the rabbit hole of the roadie world. When I was pregnant in 2013, he did his biggest block of training and racing. Post-baby we reversed roles, more or less out of necessity; he gave up the bike and I went all in.

My husband and I are very different people. I was an English major; Jack was comp sci. In high school I lived in the sticks of rural Southeast Texas; Jack graduated from Greenwich High School in Connecticut. He doesn’t understand why I can’t sit still, and I can’t understand how he can play a computer game for hours on end. He’s got a loud, quick temper; I’m a quiet, vindictive smolderer. We’re both guilty of the same thing—sometimes one of us will start talking, and the other’s eyes will get this glazed, vacant look, like a kid stuck in a classroom lecture. Exhibit A, Kat: strongly held beliefs concerning commas and hyphens, home-improvement ideas. Exhibit B, Jack: databases, the extremely detailed aerodynamics of every bike part known to man. Our marriage is a Venn diagram: there’s a big chunk where we intersect, but there are also these vast outlying realms that might as well be separate celestial bodies. (My planet will be neat as a pin, by the way, and his will be utter chaos.)

Earlier this year I was racing as a domestic pro in a largely failed experiment to see how far I could go with bike racing. Jack was coaching me. If someone gave me a ticket back in time, I probably wouldn’t do things any differently, but all the same, we’re lucky our marriage survived the experiment. Those days were a flurry of training and travel, frustration and elation, physical highs and mental lows: in sum, it’s not a sane lifestyle.

At this point things are back to normal, or even what I’d call “pre-normal” because for many years before I got the UCI license the norm for me was an uber-intense, all-consuming focus on bike racing. Right now we’re both training a little but not a lot. Once or twice a week we go on a lunch ride together while our son is in daycare.

It feels like we’re dating again. One day we rode to do a quick errand and then to a hole-in-the-wall, pay-by-the-slice pizza place. As we sat there in our kits eating greasy pizza that I knew wouldn’t sit well on the ride home, I had warm and fuzzy feelings for the “us” of things. I thought: People who go to marriage counseling, and buy expensive presents, and whack each other with frying pans, and jump through other complicated or painful hoops, maybe they should try this first? Two bikes, a bit of road, the willingness to speed up or slow down to keep pace with the significant other, and you’ve got this recipe for a magical balm to smooth out some of the rough patches.

I could market this, right? I could work on my image, get a memorable hairstyle and fashion ensemble a la Richard Simmons or Lady Gaga. I could come up with a catchy slogan or jingle (Take your “nooner” on the road!), craft a dedicated Facebook campaign. I could write a book and give TV interviews. Fortunes have been made that easily.

Maybe it wouldn’t work for everyone, though. For Jack and me, cycling is an area of shared interest and a way to revive and remember a shared history, the one we had pre-parenthood. But there’s also something about being on a bike and being outside that I think could work for most couples. And to be asked on a casual lunch ride—for a certain kind of person that’s like being handed a bouquet of flowers. It’s saying, “Hey, I’d really like to spend some time with you,” and “Even after all these years, I still think your butt looks great in spandex.”  You can do your best to try to hold on to the anger and petty resentments, but in the end, how can you? The breeze is in your face, your legs are moving, and you’re going somewhere, or maybe nowhere in particular, with the person you chose—out of all the other people in the world—to spend your life with.      

I’m not going to lie, though. It took a lot of lunch rides to get over those sunglasses.