Triathlon #7: Santa Barbara Triathlon


Just under one week away on August 29th, I will embark on my seventh triathlon journey.  This journey is going to be short, fast, and sweet.

I completed the 2009 Santa Barbara Triathlon Sprint in just over an hour and four minutes.  With a full year of training, three additional triathlons and a lot more experience and new gear, I expect to better that time.  In fact, I am aiming for a sub 50 minute result.  Yep, I want to shave fourteen minutes off my time from last year.

With a team reorganization this year, a new triathlon coach, and the realization that my life obligations can and did make training difficult, completing in the Santa Barbara Triathlon is going to be pretty sweet.

The Santa Barbara Triathlon Sprint presents many unique challenges that will separate the men from the boys (or women from the girls):

  1. The distances are short. This eliminates the middle guy. Unless you are a beginner triathlete looking to get your feet wet with something simple or a die hard sprint triathlete, you probably won’t find the extremely short distances appealing for the money.
  2. Every second in transition counts! Being such a short event, an extra few seconds in transition could actually cost you a few places in the rankings.
  3. The run is flat. The two mile run is along the bike path.  While flat is usually great, it means that it is going to be fast compared to a more hilly route like the UCSB Triathlon.
  4. The bike is only 5.62 miles. Being just shy of six miles, the bike is truly a sprint.  Out and back on the same route, there are hills, inclines, sharp turns, and scenic views to keep the rider on his/her toes.

The race is compelling. The journey will be even more compelling. Crossing that finish line is going to be so sweet.

Hope to see you all there.

Strawberry Fields Triathlon: Hell, Heaven & Fun


Don’t let the title fool you, the Strawberry Fields Triathlon is one of the best run events I’ve had the honor of participating in in my triathlon career.  Race maps were accurate, volunteers were extremely helpful, transition area was marked with reserved spaces, and the pre-race information was highly detailed and accurate.  The next race to reach the top of my charts has a lot of work ahead to top this race!

Just with any event that you compete in, you have to approach it with an open mind.  Going into an event expecting something or a particular outcome is setting yourself up for failure.  With the Strawberry Fields Tri being my sixth triathlon, I approached it expecting to simply take each stroke, pedal stroke, and step as it came.  And it was a good thing. (note: official results are posted here)

Swim – Hell

The swim portion of the triathlon consisted of a 450m ocean swim just off Oxnard State Park.  The thing that made me nervous after visiting the site the day before was the long, sandy beach run from the water’s edge to the transition area.  Plotted in Google Earth at 0.26 miles, this was going to separate the men from the boys. Beach running and I just don’t get along, in fact it kills my legs and saps them of energy.

However, the morning of the triathlon, another hell quickly materialized.  After setting up my transition area and heading down to the beach, the calm conditions were not exactly calm.  High surf, crashing waves, and swell at over four feet was just the icing on cake.

In fact getting out to the first buoy was just the first step into hell.  Turning right at the first buoy sent the swimmers parallel to shore, but meant we had to swim diagonally across breaking surf, huge waves, etc to the second buoy.  Then it was simply keeping your head above water and riding the waves to shore.

Entering the water is all about timing.  Being part of the first wave, I didn’t have the ability to watch others enter the water, but I did have enough to observe the wave patterns.  One large wave, two smaller ones and then calm before the pattern repeated. I used this to my advantage, letting the “pros” run out into the first “big” wave only to get themselves clobbered!  I more patiently waded out into the surf, waited for the two smaller waves to break and then started side stroking for my life. It worked, but the four foot swell was too much.

I dogie paddled around the first buoy and thought to myself how crazy it was that I was actually doing this.  Just shy of half way that realistic voice told me to quit,  then the competitive voice said that that would embarrassing.  Then the lifeguard actually looked me in the eye and asked “are you done?”  “HELL NO!”  The evil voice in me suggested knocking him off his surfboard throne into the hellish cold I was suffering in, but then I would get disqualified, not totally embarrassing, but not exactly the nice thing to do.

Approaching the second buoy conditions continued to change as we swam diagonally across the surf/waves.  The waves were pushing us toward shore and the lifeguards were desperately trying to push the buoy back out into position.  This gave us a narrow space in which to turn.  By this time, the speed-demons of the second wave caught up to us and I found myself in a mixed hell of human arms and feet, cold water, breaking, waves, lifeguards, and possibly even a few sharks (not really!)!

The cool thing was riding the wave to shore.  While everyone stood up and started running in the water, I managed to catch a giant wave and went surfing by the runners!  Woohoo!

Then it was time to run up the beach.  This sand was like no sand I’ve walked on before.  Extra dry, extra course, extra deep, and extra loose.  With every step I could feel my legs strain, energy disappearing and my heart rate racing.  The British competitor that caught up to me just when we hit pavement said it best, “Could they have put the transition area any closer to China? We aren’t running marathons… we are triathletes!”  I will never forget that!

I will also never forget that on July 18th, just after 7:30am, I entered a hell that I never expected to see and lived to talk about it.

In the end I spent 8:30 in the water with a little over 3 minutes for the run to transition.  (11:35 total)

T1 – I Am Alive!

Transitions are where triathletes can really shine, proving their ability to quickly switch between sports.  On this day, I was just so happy to be alive after swimming through hell, that I wanted to relish in the fact I was still standing.   Strip off the wetsuit, grab the shorts, turn on the GPS, put on the HR monitor, socks, jersey, grab some water, put on the shoes and helmet and enjoy the fact that I am still standing.  With the bike off the rack, time to run another marathon to the bike mount.

T1 was a shamefully leisurely 4:15! Ouch!

Bike – I’ve Gone to Heaven

Cycling is my thing.  I love cruising on the bike, enjoying the scenery, enjoying the smells (pleasant and otherwise!), and feeling the air rush by.  Mounting on the bike, I felt like I went to heaven.

The course was very similar to the Ventura Triathlon course, although there was a surprise in the end for me.  The course went north along Harbor Blvd, west across Gonzales Rd to Victoria, an out and back segment along 5th ave, and then swing back to Oxnard State Park via Channel Islands Blvd.

The course races amongst natural land, the agricultural fields growing produce such as strawberries, and then through the civilized world of Oxnard.  Such a great course that is quite flat and lets one just cruise.  However, it wasn’t all flat.  Toward the end of the 11.5 mile route, one must go up and over the Channel Islands Harbor, an extreme incline compare to the rest of the route.  Heaven on the muscles.

Rounding the corner back into the park, there was a slight communication problem as to when one should dismount. The first volunteer said to dismount after the line, the second said to dismount before the line.  I split the difference… stopped with the line mid-bike.

11.5 miles in 37:45 (including the marathon to the mount/dismount)

T2 – Forgot Something… Again!

You have something go so well that you know you must have missed a step.  Yep, my T2 was so good, I totally forgot something.

After mounting the bike, removing the helmet, changing shirts, shoes, etc, I started off toward then Run Start.  Its that moment where you are going through a mental checklist and you suddenly realize that something is missing?  That sinking feeling?  Yep, I had that feeling when I realized that I forgot to put on my number belt.  Not the end of the world, but required.  I ran back across the transition area to get it.  Ugh!

total T2 time was a doubly shameful 3:38!

Run – Let’s have some fun!

With everything finally in order, I started to run.  I’ve had to go to the the bathroom since I started this event.  Since the run course went right by the bathroom, I figured I had very little to loose and a lot to gain by making a brief pit-stop.  It took about 60 seconds and I was back running.

I’ve been working with a running coach who has really helped my run become more efficient.  By leaning through the hips and using my legs to carry momentum forward using gravity, I can run slightly faster than before at a lower heart rate.   Using this new technique, I settled in and just enjoyed the final leg of this fantastic event.

While I did stop for a few brief moments, I can’t believe how well I kept up a decent pace.  The straight shot run along Ocean Dr.  reminded me more of Tijuana than California.  The narrow road with tall multi-story residences and sand covered intersections put me another country, adding to the fun.

Rounding the last few curvy turns toward the finish I really quite surprised at how good I felt.  The final sprint came fast and seeing the time clock really sent the reality of finishing the event home.

With a potty break and steady pace, the 5k run came in at 36:40.

Final Thoughts

Finishing this event in 1:33:51 puts me in 384th place overall and second to last (of 35) in my age group.  (note: official results are posted here) After finishing a triathlon, I expect to walk away from the experience having learned a few things.  To do otherwise, one would not be fully experiencing the event nor would they call themselves a triathlete.

What have I learned after this event?  A couple of things:

  • What I thought constituted a rough ocean paled in comparison to the conditions of the event. I survived and know what hell looks like.
  • Transition times are important and need to be improved greatly!  With an average transition time of 3:56, shaving even one minute off each time would have bumped me up to 367th place from 384th overall and up one position in my age group.
  • My modified running form is working. Being more efficient on my feet during the run feels great and I really am looking forward to making more progress.
  • The 2010 Strawberry Fields Triathlon was run so well, that this event sets the standard for how to run an event.
  • Pre-race positive visualization works well.  It doesn’t help to get stressed out over what could be during an event. Simply taking the event in stride and going with each blow as they come is the only way to succeed.
  • There might be some more, so I will add to this list as I continue to reflect on this memorable event.

What’s next?  I am not quite ready to go there yet.  I am still riding my high from this event.  I know what I need to do succeed and I am more determined than ever to push on and make the next event the best yet!

Cheers!

Post Triathlon Rituals


After you finish a triathlon, you are usually pretty exhausted, very sweaty, and maybe a little loopy.  So, you just finished a triathlon, what do you do NOW?

Hhmmmmm….

Usually the first things you do is hand over your chip, hug the people at the finish line there to support you, and then…

  1. Hit the bathroom?
  2. Grab some food?
  3. Run check the results?
  4. Grab your stuff and get away fast?

The bathroom trip is usually one of the first things I do.  But if you are anything like me, I am not ready to eat immediately after a triathlon.   Instead I focus on my cool down, wandering around, looking for triathletes I know to congratulate them and share stories.  During this recovery time, I consume lots of water and a protein shake.  After that, anything goes!

The Triathlon Club Tent

If you are a member of a triathlon club, check to see whether or not a tent has been setup as a meeting place.   This is a great opportunity to share stories of the triathlon with people directly involved. It is also a great time to relax and have a beer (if the club is cool and alcohol is allowed, beer will be present).  Before you know it, you will be lost in the joys of each others’ company.

The Sponsor Area

The sponsor are is always a fun place to peruse after the triathlon, which is a good time and place to reflect on any equipment you need or need to replace.   It is also a great to socialize with potential sponsors, people that can help you with future equipment, race fees, etc.   The best part of the sponsor area for me, is simply seeing all the cool stuff that is on the market to help triathletes perform their best.

The Finish Line

Instead of grabbing your stuff and running off, it might be a good idea to hang out near the finish line.  Not only does this help support other, slower triathletes, but it gives you an opportunity to watch people’s run form, get ideas for new running gear, and even check out the latest or not so latest in fashion!

The Results Board

The results board is always surrounded with zombies, but don’t let that stop you from striking up a conversation.  They are staring at all of those hard to read sheets for a reason…  share!  If no one is interested, be a zombie and stare.  I always like to look for patterns in the results.  Who beat me on the swim compared to who I beat on the bike.  It is really a fascinating thing when you realize that you were beat by a runner that couldn’t swim, but had a decent bike and killer run! Yep, the results board is a fun place if you love numbers and patterns.

Just Enjoy Being There

If all else fails, bask in the ritual of being at a triathlon and completing one.  Enjoy the experience, the people, the weather, and the venue.

What do you do after a triathlon?  Please share your rituals and thoughts.  You can also send a tweet on twitter to @AricInTraining or hash tag #posttrirituals

Cheers!

2010 Ventura Triathlon Sprint… Done!


After an early start this morning and pushing my body to new limits, I completed the 12th Annual Ventura Breathe of Life Triathlon sprint in 1:37:47.   I placed 270 (of 363) overall and 20 of 24 in my age group (M30-34).

So what was it like?  It was satisfyingly hard.  From the 8am start of the 400m swim to the somewhat confusing 13.3mile bike course, to the left sided 5k run, each sport presented its challenges and I met them head on!

(note, a link to the official results appears at the end of this post)

SWIM: I stepped on a fish!

The swim was 400m, just inside the breakwaters of the Ventura Harbor.  The water was warm at 66 degrees, calm and quite pool like. This was going to be a little easier than I thought.

Heading out for the practice swim, I was surprised to feel how uneven the sand was walking out into the water.  It was like hiking along an old road full of potholes and bumps.   But that wasn’t the real surprise.   As I took another step, I felt sand being pushed against my leg.  It wasn’t sand being moved by the wave, it was too concentrated and seemed to be coming up from the bottom.  Then I put my foot down and felt the fish fluttering.  As I started to panic, it swam off.  Oh boy… swimming with the fishies…  this was going to be interesting.

The horn blows and I hit the water just behind the group.  I started out side stroke and was keeping up.  I switched briefly to forward crawl with my head in the water.  Only got in two strokes before I realized I had a breathing problem.  Back to side stroke… “just keep moving and breathe” is what I reminded myself.

Half way to the first buoy, the happened.  My arms and legs hurt like no tomorrow.  Every stroke was painful.  Slow down, breathe and glide was the best move. But then, I was swimming in a pack, which made it difficult to relax.  Every time I stroked, I hit someone.  I was not used to swimming in such a crowd, so that added to my anxiety.

To make a long story short, I settle into an alternating left/right side stroke and got through the swim.  As I noticed people starting to stand up in waist high water, I took advantage of the footing and did two dolphins to avoid having to run through knee deep water.

Running up the beach to the transition area sucked.  It was a very long (0.15 mile) beach run which drained me even more.  I was so happy to step onto pavement and cross the timing pads!

T1 – Remember the Sequence

Transitioning to the bike, it was all about going through the steps.  Unfortunately, my transition area was setup opposite as it had been in the past (stuff to the left of the bike, before it was right).  It took a little getting used to.   I didn’t have the GPS out, so I didn’t turn it on until after I was ready to put on my shoes.  Putting on my left shoe, I found my right glove riding glove. ugh!

Eventually I got everything together, but I forgot the bib.  While this wasn’t mandatory for the bike (both the bike and helmet had my athlete number) it was something that I missed.  The sequence of T1 was out of order, but I got 99% covered

This points out that I need to practice my transitions more.  I hadn’t practiced them since the UCSB Triathlon in March, perhaps I dropped the ball.

Bike – Just Keep Cranking

The bike course was a little odd and required a turn around on Harbor Blvd followed by a right hand turn onto Gonzales Rd. The turn around isn’t so bad, but the right hand turn could be missed.  I personally didn’t miss it, but I heard that a number of riders in the event did and were disqualified.

Heading east on Gonzales Rd, I just kept cranking.  The course is fairly flat and there isn’t much time to relax on a downhill.  Just keep cranking isn’t hard, until you try and eat something.  Fuel for this event was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I had in a ziplock bag in my jersey.  I clearly wasn’t thinking about how I was going to open it while riding, so I did caveman… tore open the bag with my teeth enough that I could bite a piece off and suck it through the hole.  It worked, but the peanut butter… well you know what happens when you eat peanut butter.  I never tried eating one before while on the move, now I know!

The bike itself was really good, fast and fun.   I settled in behind #45 for a bit and just cranked.  I eventually passed him and found myself back at Ventura Harbor for T2.

T2 – Grab the Droid, stupid. Don’t Forget the Bib!

T2 was pretty fast.  All I had to do was put the bike away, strip the helmet and gloves, put on the running shoes, and go.  Unfortunately, I was a little concerned about finishing the race without my Droid.  I wanted to take pictures and video of a friend of mine finishing after me.  In a last minute decision, I grabbed my water belt and crammed the Droid into it.

I started off and suddenly realized that I sill didn’t have my bib!  Ugh.  Run back, where is it?  Its under the shirt that I didn’t put on as I decided at the last minute just wear the jersey.   With the bib on, it was time to run.

Run – The Pain and the Surprise!

Starting the run, I quickly learned that grabbing the water belt was a huge mistake.  My Carpinteria Triathlon water bottle kept bouncing out of the holder.  I had to stop multiple times in the first quarter mile to stop and grab it.  After the third time, I just held it in my hand.  Annoying, but better than stopping.

After the bike, it is always the first half mile that is the worst.  Unfortunately, this run never improved.  I was tired, my muscles sore and I was mentally drained.  Still, I had a goal, to beat my 2009 time of 35 minutes and finish this 5k with a sub 11:00 pace.  I pushed on.

Then I saw my friend, passing me on her way BACK to the finish.  H0ly moly, she was kicking my butt, how did that happen?  I had to catch her, despite the pain.  At this point, my mental ability took a downfall.  The person that I thought I would beat was ahead of me and it really made me think about the pain, the pace, and the humiliation of defeat.

I think too much.  I pushed on, inspired by fellow Olympic triathletes and the fact it was only another mile.  I can do this!  Then I saw her.  I caught up…  but my legs weren’t going faster.  Strategy, sometimes, is more powerful than mightiness.  I decided to follow her to the finish and pass her in the last few hundred feet.   It worked well, I surprised her, she took off sprinting, I took off sprinting and I passed her just in time to beat her across the finish.

As it turns out, she was one of the ones that missed the turn and was dq’d.  Figures, as glorious as I was about the win, I was a little embarrassed too

The Results

I finished the triathlon in 1:37:47:  12:37 swim, 52:14 bike, 32:56 run.  Placing 20 of 24 in my division and 270th overall.  I know this is a repeat of the beginning of this post, but let’s look at what happened last year.

Last year I placed 24 of 25 in my division and 312th overall.   The 2010 results definitely show improvement… and I am happy!

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If you are looking for your results, follow this link to Prime Time’ website.

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For an interesting account from an Olympic triathlete’s perspective, read: They Can’t Take That Away From Me…

My Fifth Triathlon Is A Week Away!


I set the goal of finishing my first triathlon for two reasons:  1) to prove to myself that I can do something that I never thought I could do, and 2) to get myself to lose weight and get in shape.

In June 2009, I finished the Ventura Triathlon sprint course in 1hr 38min.  You can read more in my race report: Completed the Ventura Triathlon. Not only did I accomplish the two reasons above, but I caught the endurance, multisport athlete bug. There is nothing like training for three sports while pushing my body to its limits.  The question became, how far will this go?

Since completing Ventura, I completed three more triathlons; Santa Barbara sprint, Carpinteria sprint, and the 2010 UCSB Triathlon.   Four triathlons set in paradise that challenged me in many distinct ways!

The Four Triathlon Results Plotted!

While one might think a triathlon is a triathlon and once you have done one, you’ve them all.  Well, triathlons are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get (thanks Forest!). Think about the factors that have a direct result on race performance:

  1. Training Plans (quality of workouts)
  2. Nutrition (are you fueling correctly?)
  3. Coaching/Support Network (who do you train with?)
  4. Race venue (what is the course/weather like?)
  5. Mental Preparation (are your psychologically ready to endure?)
  6. Pre race preparation (did you sleep, eat, stretch before the race?)

As you can see, the same triathlon is almost impossible to replicate.  This is at the forefront of my mind as I face the 2010 Ventura Triathlon, my first repeat triathlon in my career.   Not only is this going to show how much I’ve improved over the past year, but how successfully I executed my training, how good of a support network I have, and whether or not I am mentally tougher that I was a year ago.

While I went into the 2009 event just wanting to prove to myself that I can do it, there is much more at stake for the 2010 event. Sure I can do it, but the real question is, “How well did I spend the previous year preparing for this event and how much have I improved?”  We will know on June 27th.

Stay tuned…

Swimming From the Hip


I think there is a myth out there about swimming and where the power comes from.  I see so many people at the gym and at the beach doing circles with their arms using upper body power strokes to push themselves through the water while they frantically kick to compensate for a lack of balance.

Bottom-line, when you are balanced and coordinated in the water, you really don’t need to kick, especially in a calm pool (there are exceptions like rough ocean water where a slight kick helps stabilize the body in the waves).   In fact, once you are balanced, you can move quickly through the water with minimal force.

How many people rotate to the point where the hips move a full 180 degrees?  Not many, as a lot of swimmers I’ve seen rotate 25 – 40 degrees from a flat position, hence they use their arms and legs for power forward.  This is inefficient.

I hereby argue that a true swimmer that is efficient and powerful with endurance propels themselves from the HIP!

Dude: “Woh….  hold on there landlubber!  Power comes from the arm stroke and kick doesn’t it?.”

Me: “No… when fully rotating the hips drive the arms forward and you use your arms for stability and guidance (and maybe a little bit of power).    You see, when you rotate from the hip, the body becomes something like a corkscrew and squeezes its way through the water.  The biggest problem for a number of swimmers is that they don’t understand this and don’t experience the power of a full rotation.”

I guess when your swim coach tells you to “drive from the hip,” you better try harder and rotate more.

What prompted this crazy rant on swimming technique and power?  This evening’s swim workout, one of my focal points was driving from the hip, using the arm stroke strictly for stability.   You know, not only was I more relaxed, buy I shaved an average of 2.5 seconds off my lap time (which over 25m laps, is a lot at 500m).  Simple story here, don’t work more than you have to, but don’t tell the guy swimming next to you…  😉

Cheers!  Go strong or go home!

My Race Report: UCSB Triathlon


UCSB Campus Point

The UCSB Triathlon has been one of those important races that every triathlete, athlete, and runner must encounter at one point in their racing careers.  Setting the goal to compete in it last November, I knew I had a lot of work to do over the winter off-season.

Before I knew it, November 2009 became February 2010 and life events really started to pile up and I hadn’t sufficient time to improve where I really needed to improve, the ocean swim.  Not only were things at work getting hectic, but the weather prevented me from getting proper practice time in the ocean up until a week before the event.  To make matters worse, I was coming off a month long burn out and was not psychology ready for the first big challenge of 2010.

I stayed on the fence of whether or not to compete up until the last few days.  My trainer told me I was backing out and not participating in the event clearly disappointed many more.  Even with a few ocean swims during the final week, I was no where prepared for this event.  However, life is not always a walk through a field of wildflowers, so I bit the bullet and went for it, nervous, exhausted, and scared to death of the swim.

Here are some highlights.

Pre-Race

The day before I picked up my packet.  I took this opportunity to get one last practice swim in.  While the advantage of this was to get familiar with the conditions, I ended up wearing myself out and even hurt my right knee.

Continue reading “My Race Report: UCSB Triathlon”