Friday, July 30, 2010

A Life in Opposition

“The only thing that tastes better than a proper mint julep is the taste of victory.”

It’s hard to believe, but this racing season is on the cusp of wrapping up. It seems that I spent the first half of the season dealing with some small, nagging injuries in order to be in a position to do work, and now that they are mostly under control, and I’ve just started doing work. I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress and garnered a lot of momentum this season that will carry me through the end of this year, the winter and into, what hopefully will be, a hit-the-ground-running, fast spring.
I am in the final push for this season and my sights are set on the L.A. Triathlon on October 3. It is an Olympic distance race and part of the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon Series, which simply means, that due to its huge prize purse, it attracts some of the fastest Olympic distance (many of whom are also ITU) racers in the world. While I won’t be racing these speedy folks head to head, we will be racing on the same course, allowing me to see where I am in relation to the big boys of the sport, and unfortunately some of the big girls, too.
I chose to target this race for a number of reasons.

1) I will have the coolest homestay, EVER. Mr. Matthew Johnson, (, a transplanted Southerner in graduate school in L.A., who “has the city on lockdown”, will be providing lodging, transportation, and motivational support. He has already started to scout the course for cheering (Ironfan, what!?).
2) Allegiant Air, one of the cheapest and sketchiest airlines, provides hilariously inexpensive, nonstop service from Missoula to LAX. “Getting there is half the battle… the other half is getting home.”
3) I will be racing in a separate category called Elite Amateur, which, as cool as it sounds, doesn’t mean anything, except that should I finish in the top 3 of this category, I’ll get stuff. I love stuff. In this case, I’ll get a $500 travel voucher to fly to Dallas the following weekend for the Toyota Cup, which is kind of like the championship of the Lifetime Fitness Series. (I tried to think of a ball-sport analogy for my non-triathlon readers, but I can’t). I’ll get a free entry to the Toyota Cup and a cycling kit. This would be super cool. The competition for this will be ridiculous.
4) This race will provide two different opportunities to get, or get started on, my Pro racing license (an all important step in getting me where I need to be). If I finish within 8% of the winner’s time, this could by the first of three races needed to qualify. The second chance is that given the prize purse is so big, this race falls into a different category altogether, called a Pro Qualifying Race. This means that if I am one of the top 3 amateurs, I’ll automatically qualify for my Pro card. (Coincidentally, this would also get me the aforementioned free stuff!)
5) Mr. Johnson has also promised that I will be able to makeout with Taylor Swift at the finish line. While this claim seems dubious, it is still worth checking out.

So, final push… big race… must go fast… yadda, yadda yadda. Here’s what you don’t know:

My race at Spring Meadow was a huge confirmation that I’m headed in the right direction and within spitting distance of the next big milestone in my triathlon career. During this final push, I will ask more of my body than I ever have. Intervals will be faster, mileage and yardage will be bigger, recovery will be more important, and avoiding injury will be at a huge premium. In order to facilitate this, there will be some small and large changes implemented to carry me through the end of the season.
1) I will be doing lower leg exercises to a previously unprecedented level to prevent the posterior shin splints which have been stalking me this whole season. One of the prices of spending all of my formative athletic years in water rather than land.
2) Stretching will also be a huge part of the next 12 weeks.
3) I will eat at least 16 ounces of Spring Mix or similar green leaves every week. (80 proof mint leaves at the bottom of my julep cup don’t count.) This doesn’t sound like much, but it really is. While this, in and of itself, is probably not hugely impactful, it will force me to plan what I eat and eat at home more, where I can control more precisely what I eat throughout the week.
4) Here’s the real doozy. Two of my favorite things in the world are good cocktails and good workouts, and I love lots of both. I would be the guy whose two lifelong pursuits are in direct opposition. So, after much deliberation with Elliot and consultation with other athletes I have arrived at The Drink Freedom Plan (it was formerly Drink Restriction Plan, but that sounded negative.) Under The Drink Freedom Plan, I am free to enjoy seven adult beverages every week, on the condition that I do my lower leg exercises as prescribed by Elliot. I am free to split them up throughout the week however I want, but they cannot be carried over from week to week. Drinks may not be borrowed from the upcoming week. Cocktails made by Ben Horan count as two (2) drinks. Should I host an out of town guest, I am allowed two (2) drinks per day during their visit. I am free to not drink for the week preceding any race. There will be one wild card day in which The Drink Freedom rules are suspended in addition to the day of the party of Betsy Cincoski’s birthday (as per her request). In the unlikely even that Linsey Corbin decides “to make an evening of it”, I am free to accompany her drink for drink. The benefits of The Drink Freedom Plan include a constant reminder of and, thus, more focus on, my goals at hand. The beverage alcohol is calorie rich and nutrition poor, therefore limiting the calories from alcohol will help me get down to racing weight and increase quality nutrition, a key component to going fast. It will allow for better recovery through higher quality sleep. It will also allow, generally, for higher intensity workouts.

…and now, a gratuitous picture of Elliot sleeping after an XTERRA race, provided by my pal James.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Double "U" #2 - "I Potts'd 'em!"

Before I get into the race report, let me set the stage. In triathlon there is a pervading belief that longer is better, and the iron distance is the be-all, end-all of the sport. This is largely an American notion. All to say that it isn't uncommon for the most talented athletes to focus on half- and irondistance races. Throughout the rest of the world there is a much larger focus on the Olympic or International distance race, it's even measured in kilometers (1.5K Swim, 40K Bike, 10K Run), thus it is this distance used during the Olympic games in a draft-legal format. Draft-legal racing refers to the bike portion where one is allowed to ride in packs and draft one another deriving an advantage from the athletes in front (imagine a small NASCAR race on bikes between the swim and the run). In everything, except draft-legal racing, athletes are required to maintain a set distance behind other athletes on the cycling leg, eliminating the advantage of drafting (that's why we ride the goofy looking bikes and wear douchey looking helmets). Also in Olympic distance races the swim comprises a larger portion of the race and in draft-legal racing, the advantage of a strong swimmer is even multiplied by the dynamics of the race. So, it's no surprise that I have decided to focus on the Olympic distance race and hopefully one day make my way onto the draft-legal (often called ITU) circuits. Well, that was boring, on to the race.

I went to Helena, Montana, our fair state's capital. They love it if you call it "Hel-lane-a". Not really, but it's funny. The Spring Meadow Triathlon is held there and it is an Olympic distance race (refer to history lesson above). How they squeeze 1.5K out of that little arsenic rich pond is pretty incredible. The bike course is an out-and-back, generally up on the way out and down on the way back. The run is a two lap affair around the arsenic pond and some other places, mostly on gravel and some pavement.

I decided, with the help of Elliot and Jen Luebke (a strong swimming pro here), that I should be less conservative on the swim. After settling into a good rhythm on the first lap, I decided to punch it for the last half, yielding a 2:30 lead and a 18:00 swim (a new PR for an open water 1.5K). I then went for the bike armed with the knowledge the first 1/2 would be slow (thanks Linsey)... and it was. I also realized that I was talking to myself to get up those hills, that's a first. I had really hoped to ride 1 hour but I didn't. Instead I rode 1:03, not bad considering my somewhat inconsistent bike training and rough road surface. Then the run! I love the run. It's, by far, my favorite part of every race, which is odd because I'm not super fast. My goal here was to run 38 minutes. After the first lap, I knew that I had a comfortable lead so I set about trying to get across the line in under 2 hours (which incidentally would also break the course record held by my first triathlon coach and former ITU racer, Brandon Fuller). I didn't. I had some ham-string issues and figured it'd be better to win by less of a margin than keep pushing, pull a muscle, fall over in the weeds and get passed a lot. I ended up running a 39 lowish which is also a 10K PR. All in all, I finished 2:02:36, 3:40 ahead of 2nd place and 2 1/2 minutes slower than the course record (not 4:00, thank you Helena Independent Record). Basically I'm like a shorter, fatter, slower version of my hero Andy Potts.

This is my second win and first Olympic distance win. This is hugely encouraging for me. I feel as though I'm garnering some vital momentum in the directions that I need.

I would like to thank my sponsors: .... umm, .....

and some other folks:
Thanks to Chris Cordingley and Team Chrissy for cheering me on. I love you all, too.

Thanks also to Chris and Linsey for reminding me to not "save anything for the swim back." (Refer to prior Gattaca post.)

Here's what the Helena Independent Record said about things (they even used my picture!):

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I'd like to cover a lot of ground in this post, much of it unrelated to the rest.

1) With great reluctance and excitement, I've become a Montana resident, and have even registered to vote here.

Giving up my South Carolina voting rights is like changing the station from Jerry Springer to C-Span. We are, after all, the home of the "Appalachian Trail" hike, Strom Thurmond, Confederate Flag,

state monument to the father of gynecology,

State Senators who think that "raghead" is an appropriate appellation (for both Indian Americans and African Americans), and Presidential candidate of the American Nazi party. While I support very few of these extremes, they do provide a glorious and trashy conflict that I will miss participating in. Though a resident of Montana, I will always be a Son of South Carolina.

2) I have found a new way to humiliate myself. I have purchased a Kona Major Jake cyclocross bike. Western Montana is filled with nearly endless dirt roads that are accessible by neither road bike, nor mountain bike. A "cross" bike will allow me myriad new training routes and, hopefully, delay the onset of madness which happens with too much T.I.T.S. (Time in the Saddle). The humiliation, will commence when I will be forced through peer pressure to race said, cross bike in cyclocross races this fall.

3) This is just kinda cool:

Thanks for the help!

4) I will be racing in Helen this weekend at the Spring Meadow triathlon. It is an Olympic distance (1 mile swim, 24 mile bike, 6 mile run) triathlon with past winners including Linsey Corbin and Brandon Fuller. I'm really pretty pumped about this race for a few reasons: 1) I haven't raced in awhile and I love racing. 2) I've done a lot of good work especially in the water and on the run, since I've raced last and am excited to see what it looks like. 3) I have a new bike fit on my TT (time trial or triathlon) bike thanks to Alex and Missoula Bicycle Works and his trusty intern Kipp.

5) ...and Ben Horan fell over:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Race Report

Here's what we know: Dr. Jensen put together an impressive top-ten effort, J. Carlson struggled through some bad luck for a solid finish, Brent Ruby ran in a skirt, Matty bent his first Ironman over a rail, Emily soldiered through a long day and made some friends along the way, Jeff had a rough day but did work and finished, James was pummeled in the swim, tuned-up in transition and managed a good sub-11 hour day, Geoff L'Hashdgoasoidfjaodijf of Mountain Endurance qualified for Hawaii, and Linsey lived a dream...likely for all of us.

Here's what you don't know: Ironman is dumb. The swim comprises only about 8-10% of the race, the bike is just really long and it hurts your legs, and on the run, like a battlefield in the War of Northern Aggression, people starve, vomit, fall over, die, and defecate on themselves. And to make things worse, you have to deal with the "M-dotted" uber-type-A, narcissistic a-holes which are triathletes, AND their families. Ironman is a fools errand.

So the best way to spend an Ironman is cheering, as an Ironfan. One doesn't have to train too much. One needs no taper. One doesn't have to stop drinking the beverage alcohol or go on strange diets. It's like cramming all of your first college spring break into one weekend... at least that's how it is if you're from Missoula, Montana and the race is Coor 'Da Layne. Being my first Kore d'alane experience, I will provide journalist objectivity and photographic perspective of the tough, thankless, exhausting, and often hung-over work of an Ironfan.

Ironfanning starts several days out with careful statistical preparation of the competitors, their opponents, their goals, and trying to figure out what their racing kit looks like. Also, route planning for cheering must be undertaken before race day. A good Ironfan will ride bikes 50-70 miles the day of the race. Coach Elliot is really good at both of these things. Next, a suitable outfit must be worn. You can't ride 70 miles in just anything, but you also can't cheer in just anything. I opted for rolled up Carhartts, a JV women's track jersey from Ryegate, Montana circa 1986 (which I later switched for a Sharpied bare chest (more on that later)), a cowboy hat (thanks Brendan), cycling shoes and a cow bell.

The night before is generally a mellow night... FOR THE RACERS. Ironfans, however, hang out with the racers, encourage them, taunt them with the Gin & Tonics that they can't have (sorry Matty, I owe you a bottle), then head downtown Chord Alane" for shenanigans.

This is an infectious and exhilarating time (even Dr. Jensen's mother was caught up in the moment)

in which one gets carried away and thinks it is a good idea to order 30 shots of tequila,

light a bar table on fire, give ones underwear to a bachelorette party,

be kindly asked to patronize another bar, and generally wreak havoc.

The catch is that sometime around 1 AM one realizes that he or she has no place to sleep (premeditated sleeping arrangements are prohibited for Ironfans) and must be on the beach for the pro-start in 5 hours. In another Montana first, I slept in my car:

Others slept in a yard:

Ironfans then embark on a day of cheering.

It is an exhausting endeavor which requires good hydration and nutrition (this should also be planned out ahead of time). ...but there are no aide stations for Ironfans. No, Ironfans are on their own. There is no one to cheer on an Ironfan and you don't get a medal at the end of the day. At the end of the day all an Ironfan has is chaffing from riding 50 miles in Carhartts, tendonitis in his wrist from excessive cowbell ringing, no voice, a sunburn, a headache, and a long drive home.

... and the knowledge that you played a small part in what is, no matter what, an epic day for everyone involved. When Ironman Champion Linsey Corbin finds some breath in a blistering 3:05 marathon to say "You guys are really helping me out," or an Ironfan's hero recognizes him as the guy with his name emblazoned on his chest after the race and thanks him for cheering, an Ironfan doesn't need a medal.