Bay of Crabs – Part I

After our tour of Cienfuegos, we hopped on our bikes just outside of town,  and began a three hour, 85 kilometer cruise heading towards Playa Giron. Most of the ride was across a desolate swampy plain, along a nearly deserted road barely the width of two trucks. Cotton-ball cumulus clouds surrounded us, but the sun shone relentlessly, with temperatures into the low 30s (nearly 90F). By this time, despite daily applications of sunscreen, my forearms were getting a deep, crinkly brown, tender to the touch. Among the many items I did not bring, I own a pair of thin white nylon arm “coolers”, which could have served as superb sun shields. In desperation, I turned to the pair of compression calf sleeves I’d worn on the flights over. Inside out, they looked a bit like a fluffy tuxedo shirt under my cycling kit.

I spent much of the day riding with the “boys” (a group of 60-something ex-bike racers and endurance athletes), but the bleakness of the road and balmy air conspired to drop me off the back after after 15-30 minutes. I’d catch up every time we re-started, but much of the time, it was just me, the donkey carts, a few pedestrians, an old Lada or two, and the occasional truck bus crammed with passengers.

We rode through San Blas, headed towards Playa Giron. The final 15 miles were due south towards the Sea. About 30 minutes out of Giron, we began to see sandstone-red blotches atop the tarmac, about 4 or 5 inches across, looking a lot like discarded bubble gum was which had been spit out and run over by endless vehicles.

We pulled into a small outdoor café and gathered under the palapa, sharing generic colas and Bucaneros (Cuba is one of the few places on earth you won’t find Coke for sale).

“What were those red blobs we’ve been riding over?” someone asked.

“They look like chewing gum somebody spit out, but they’re too big,“ I ventured.

“No, I think those are crabs,” someone else offered.

“Crabs?”

“Yeah, I read they grow all over the beach around the bays in southern Cuba. They have to go inland to lay their eggs or something, or maybe that’s where they make their babies, I forget. Anyway, there are so few cars and trucks, they haven’t had enough selection pressure to keep them out of harm’s way, and they keep getting smashed.”

“Huh. Crabs. I thought this was the Bay of ‘Pigs’.”

The Bay of Pigs. To those of us of a certain age, this was a legendary fiasco. After Castro took control of the country in January, 1959, he was at first embraced by some in our country as a democratic savior for the Cuban people, overthrowing the repressive dictator Batista. Over the next year or so, as more middle and upper class Cubans fled their country for Miami, it became apparent that he had meant what he said about changing the power structure on the island. More and more firms were nationalized, houses of the rich were seized, large landholdings were absorbed into government control. The ex-patriates descending on Florida included some who wanted to “take back” their country. They looked to Castro himself for their inspiration. Fidel and a small band of rebels had fled the country after an ignominious defeat in 1953, ending up in Veracruz, Mexico. They purchased a small boat, the “Granma”, overloaded it with fighters and supplies, and barely escaped into the mountains when they landed on the island’s southern shores several years later.

When President Eisenhower recognized the change in Castro’s political tone, he authorized the CIA to join forces with Florida-based anti-Castro groups, and a fighting force was assembled, trained, and eventually sent to Cuba by President Kennedy in April of 1961. They landed in the Bahia de Cochinos, and the rest, as they say is history.

At the southern end of the Bay, near our seaside hotel in Giron, the Cuban government has proudly established a museum dedicated to telling their side of the story. Several tanks and a propeller plane flank the entrance. Alejandro assembled our little peloton, and urged us to visit the place. I shuddered at the thought, and stayed outside.

Castro’s revolution was founded in part on a belief that the United States wanted to subjugate the Cuban people, and supported the Batista regime as it battled against the rebels. It was Castro’s belief that the US government needed a pliable island government to enable American corporations to control the Cuban economy for their own benefit, through agriculture and tourism. The small number of well-connected rich did very well, at the expense of most of the populace, with the bulk of profits ending up offshore to the north.

Thus, the US was depicted as a foreign enemy of the Cuban people. The foiled invasion in the Bay of Pigs, coming early in the Castro regime, served to cement that view with actual proof of the US intentions towards the new Cuban government. Ever since, it has held a solemn place in the hearts of true believers there, much as, say, the War of 1812, where our national anthem was penned, has in ours.

Eventually, I rode back to the hotel parking lot, and helped Juan and a few other resistors line up the bikes for the group‘s eventual return. We planned to head north along the Bay that morning, to meet up in Playa Larga, and a promised alligator farm.

(To Be Cont’d)

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Cienfuegos

Tacoma, Washington; Etzatlan, Mexico; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Kingston, Ontario; Bahia Blanca, Argentina; Saint-Nazaire, France; Contagem, Brazil. What could they possibly have in common? All are “Sister Cities” of Cienfuegos, Cuba. Which means our visit there was high on the must-see list, seeing as how we’ve spent half our lives just across the Narrows from Tacoma, and have attended the local conclave honoring that relationship several times. We’d heard a lot about the local baseball team, as one of our friends has played with the Tacoma side in the annual exhibition matches. So when our tour bus rolled by the local baseball stadium – every town of any size in Cuba has a local baseball stadium – I rushed to the window, just in time to capture the proud mascot – a trumpeting elephant?

After our beach stay the previous night, we drove up and through Trinidad, to a load-out on the outskirts of town. After an hour cruising along the Caribbean shore in sultry morning breezes (all at our back, of course) we turned inland over some low hills, heading for Our Mandatory Cultural Stop, the Jardin Botanica at Pepito Tey.

The hills and rising heat had taken some of the friskiness out of our crew, who were ready not for a tour of local flora, but a few rounds of Bucaneros. Our bikes ended up strewn haphazardly across the entrance to a little open air café attached to the Jardin, where a lone guitarist tried to raise our spirits.

From there, of course, we slithered back down hill towards the Sea, across some lonely flats, heading for the hotel at Rancho Playa Luna, which turned out to be another Soviet block two story monstrosity.

I had pacelined in with two others and Yoany, and we enjoyed a languid wait for the bus, our day clothes, and remaining ride companions.

Next morning we headed back into Cienfuegos, where Alejandro tried manfully to direct our attention to the sumptuous Spanish Colonial architecture everywhere on display. We dutifully took a few pictures, but at the final stop, he found himself all alone when no one followed him into some forgettable edifice hard by the bay.

Juan turned the bus around, and we ended the Tour at Plaza Jose Marti (like baseball stadia, there’s one in every town.) Jose, the “George Washington of Cuba”, stares into the middle distance from his pedestal.

On our short walking tour out from the Plaza, Aly again attempted to relate the history of the town and its importance in Cuban history, but all I had eyes for were these three cars: a Purple Jaguar, and black ’59 Plymouth with archetypal fins, and (in my mind), the piece de resistance, a 1955 red and white Chevrolet.

        

Back in the early ‘70s, when cars from the ‘50s were still quite common in the US, I moved from the Northeast to Southern California. There, a subset of the local Hispanic culture venerated this particular model, modifying it to iconic status. With lights in the wheel wheels, little fuzzy balls dangling from the inside of the windshield, hydraulically controlled rear shocks with raised and lowered the rear end (giving the “low-rider” effect), the “Pipty-Pibe Chebby” was every young Chicano’s dream car.

Above the carefully maintained and gloriously painted vehicles surrounding the Plaza, Che rose beatifically above it all.

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Life’s A Beach

Cuba is an island. A very big island, sure, but it’s completely surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico, on the northwest, the Caribbean, on the south, and the Atlantic, to the northeast. That means literally thousands of miles of beaches, all of them basking in tropical sunshine, flanked by palm trees. It should be a tourist’s paradise, right? Especially with 320,000,000 of the richest people on the planet just a short plane hop away.

Since the Communist revolution, though, the major source of tourism was, first, the Soviet Union, and now, Canadians. Both are famed for their frozen tundra and prolonged winters. So they flocked to the sunshine. In the 70s, the Soviets built a whole chain of massive hotels, in the major towns and along the nearby beaches. Unlike American tourist resorts, these are fortress-like, housing the sun-seekers in concrete blocks with cafeteria eateries and shoddy workmanship. Every bathroom, it seemed, was set at a slight tilt to the main floor, resulting in doors which never closed properly. Many toilets lacked seats (though they do flush). But given the proclivities of both the Cuban and Russian peoples, bars are plentiful – 2 or 3 in every lobby.

We left Las Tunas early, expecting a long bus ride across the Llanara de Camaguey – the vast central plain of the island. Mid-morning, we stopped in the town of Camaguey for an obligatory cultural tour, consisting primarily of a Mr. Toad’s wild ride in a careening collection of bici-taxis.

Eventually, we came to Sancti Spiritus, did a quick load out, and headed toward Trinidad, and its adjacent beach resort, Playa Ancon. It was on this leg that I first began to appreciate the wonder that is Cuban cycling, at least on our trip.  Because of the trades, the wind was usually at our back. And because we spent a lot of time heading for the beach each night, we ended up going downhill a lot.

Once at the beach, Cheryl and I realised we’d made a grave strategic error in planning the trip. We’d thought it was all about bicycling and getting to know Cuba. But we’d forgotten that part about it being an island. So while we had swim suits, of sorts, we’d neglected to bring swim goggles. Paddling around the salty waters was a little bit tougher without eye protection. But beach life beckoned, and we gave it a go. True to form, the water felt just like Hawaii. While returning from the beach, we chatted up another English-speaker. She was from Toronto, and raved about the package deals available. For under $600 Canadian (about $500 US), she’d gotten airfare, and a week’s stay at the Hotel Ancon. Given the deserted roads for cycling, the warm weather for running, and the endless ocean for swimming, it sounded like an ideal locale for someone to train in their final weeks before the Hawaii Ironman, all for the price of two nights’ in a condo on the Big Island.

That night, we had another obligatory cultural experience. Juan drove us all back into Trinidad, 15 kilometers inland, where we searched for the mythic Casa de Musica, which apparently exists in every Cuban town. All the seats were filled, so we headed a few doors down, to another Casa de Musica. About $5 to get in and less than that for a drink. A local band exuberantly filled the outdoor space with trumpet, bass, organ and drums. A few of the younger tourists (or were they locals?) got up to dance, and we felt a little closer to life in the Socialist Paradise.

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Las Tunas Junior Cycling Team

We left Bayamo, The City Of Horse Carriages, mid-morning after driving from the carriage factory to the outskirts of town. Juan pulled into the “terminal” – a dusty wedge in a Y intersection – of Las Mangas. We milled around, checking bikes, sharing rumors. Today, in anticipation of our rendezvous with the local junior cycling team, we were all in our matching Cuba bike shirts.

Alejandro announced, “OK, today we ride with the cycling team, from Las Tunas. We meet them at Vado del Yeso.”

“Vado del Yeso…Vado del Yeso…” I mumbled over and over to myself. Cuba is bereft of signage, even the largest cities identified with a modest 2 foot long blue city limits sign on the way in. When leaving, there was always its sibling, the town name with a red slash through it, saying, “It’s all over now, Folks.”  They were easy to miss.

Vado del Yeso was about 30 kilometers away – a little over an hour at our pace. We were aided by the constant tailwind we enjoyed traveling east to west, and the ever-so-slight downhill the whole way. Our pace line made quick work across the crusty pavement, beneath the floating puffy clouds lining the horizon, enhancing the cotton-soft feel of the tropical low land air.

In Vado, we pulled off to the left, and waited for our slower companions, our bus, and the local team. Naturally, this required at least 4 Bucaneros shared by three of our riders. I was the designated driver, so I refrained. As more cyclists filled the lot, it became apparent that the team was … all girls. All teenagers. Young and vibrant, glowing in their varied kit, mostly donated from the States. Our beer-drinking pace line snuck back to the toilet. By the time we returned, the bulk of the group had already headed down the road. Not wanting to be dead last, I jumped on my bike, and turned on my camera.

The road turned from a gentle downhill to a false flat, every so slightly rising 100 meters over the final 32 kilometers. I saw a lean rider streak by me on the left – clearly not one of ours, she wore a dark shirt, and seemed on a mission to catch the front of the group. To my side, I noticed another young cyclist creeping up. She started asking me questions, in Spanish. I tried my best to explain how little I understood, but she persisted, She also stuck with me for the next few kilometers, until it finally dawned on me that she had been assigned to me. Each of us, apparently had our own minder, who was going to ride, however slow or fast with us the whole way into town.

I sped up; she sped up. I tried to catch the folks in front of me; she half-wheeled me into the pavement. It was frankly a bit embarrassing to be trying my hardest, and have this little spit of a kid keeping pace, waiting for me to actually get going.

I looked around frantically for a way out of this. I like riding in silence; I’m not one of those chatting roadies, who can’t shut up while pedaling. I tried explaining (in the meagre Spanish at my disposal) that my wife was behind me, and I would wait for her. I told my minder to go on ahead. She seemed to understand, and reluctantly rode off.

In less than two minutes, Cheryl rolled up, her bright orange vest hiding the “Cuba” emblazoned on her white cycling jersey, her cute little cycling skirt fluttering about her thighs.

“Thank God you’re here!”

“What?”

“Well, didn’t one of the girls ride with you?” I asked.

“No, I was the last one to leave I guess. I looked up, and everyone was gone!”

“I think each of the girls is riding with one of us. I tried talking with mine, but couldn’t get a mutual understanding. Maybe she’d rather ride with you. You can at least understand a little Spanish. You’ll like it – she just wants to go your speed, take you into town.”

We negotiated briefly, made the exchange, and off I went. Within minutes, I caught up to a clutch of our slower cyclists, each riding with his or her own minder. Flowing along two-by-two, they filled the entire lane of the narrow Cuban highway. No matter, as usual, they had no competition for the space, and the few trucks out driving moved all the way over into the opposite lane, confident no cars were coming for miles anyway.

The group looked a little stressed – it was over 30 C, and they seemed starting to melt. I zipped up to the head, and offered what little help I could with my puny draft. At 12 mph, up a hill, with a tail wind, I think it was more psychological than anything else. But we all got to the top together, and cruised in the last few miles to town.

At the hotel, Alejandro encouraged us to collect all the donations we had brought for the team. We piled in an eclectic collection of bike parts and uniforms: cranks, stems, chain rings, cassettes, lubes, bibs, shirts, socks, tires, tubes, spokes and assorted tools. We jammed it all into the largest duffel bag we had, and headed out to the bus.

Juan expertly moved left and right along the impossibly narrow lanes depositing us at a gated driveway in the middle of a warren of two story concrete homes. Music blared from the back yard, wafting along with smoke from a giant barbeque pit. We trundled out of the bus and through a rusted iron gate. To our left, on a small concrete patch covered by a corrugated metal roof, a wrinkled grey-haired woman, crooked with age, slowly rocked in a wicker chair. To our right, a narrow path guided us around back. There, an entire pig was slowly turning on a spit, constantly basted by an attentive chef, who had also been the girls’ coach.

They had transformed themselves from determined young athletes – they boasted the Cuban junior women’s champ among them – into shy and giggly teen-aged girls. Scrubbed and brushed and slithered into short shirts and scanty tops, they could have been out for a night on the town. Instead, they had to party with a bunch of geriatric sun-burnt cycling bums from the USA.

We opened up the duffel, and proudly displayed our motley collection of hand-me-downs. Given the onerous import restrictions in the Cuban economy, this was better than Christmas for the cycling team. They modestly acknowledged our gifts, and started discreetly fighting over who would wear what jerseys; size appeared to matter less than audacious color schemes.

We toasted each other with fruit juice (for the girls), ron and Bucaneros (for the old goats), and vowed eternal friendship. Large slabs of pork were handed all around, along with piles of bread and salad. I don’t know if they ate this way every day, but it’s certainly possible, given how hard and long they seemed to cycle – their ticket to another world, maybe, which drove them so hard.

Our party barely fit shoulder to shoulder in the tiny patio back behind the squat socialist-issue concrete house. The food was swept away, more drinks appeared, and a boom box cranked up with driving island beats. The girls swayed, some of our crowd actually danced, and somehow the group no longer seemed incongruous. Just a bunch of peole who liked to bike, have a good time, and party on a tropical isle. The Cubans didn’t seem to mind either us or the cramped quarters. Their eyes lit up the night, and their laughter echoed towards us as we filed back onto the bus, promising to guide us out of town the next morning.

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Where Will Our (Kids’) Food Come From?

On Sunday, August 20th, the nets surrounding a fish farm in Washington State’s San Juan islands imploded, releasing over 150,000 domesticated Atlantic salmon. Fisherman of all persuasions, at the urging of state regulators and local native tribes, have been scooping up the escapees for two weeks now, with some of the non-native fish being found as far south as Olympia, below the Tacoma Narrows.

Cooke Aquaculture, owners of the farm, stated, ““exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse” caused the damage. Cooke said the salmon escaped after a “structural failure” of a net pen.” Yeah, that’s right, blame it on the eclipse, which occurred 24 hours after the accident.

Fish farming is just one way we’re trying to increase our food supply, as Earth’s human population rises toward 10,000,000,000 by mid-century. With countries such as China getting richer, more animal protein comes into our diet. Wild fish stocks are one source, but we’re already testing the capacity of our oceans to replenish what we catch. Feeding animals is a very inefficient way to turn sunlight into protein for human consumption. But getting people to eat soy burgers and fried grasshoppers, after they’ve tried beef and salmon, has not worked on a large scale.

So where will the food for our food come from? Farmed salmon eat a lot of other fish, just as their wild cousins do. Anchovies are ground into paste, then pellets, and fed to the trapped fish, swirling in their floating cages.

At least one large company, Cargill, is trying to cash in on what seems inevitable. It recently purchased a Silicon Valley firm, Calysta, which is developing an alternative. Using methanotrophic bacteria, they are turning natural gas into fish food, via the bacterial metabolism which converts methane into protein. It’s only a matter of time before they have scaled up the process, with Cargill behind it. This, after all, is the world’s biggest food-trading firm, and America’s largest private company, now 152 years old.

But wait, isn’t natural gas a non-renewable resource? How can this be the ultimate solution to running out of food for our food? So I thought, Hmm, where else does methane come from? Nearly 15% of the carbon released into the atmosphere from human activities comes from our herds of domestic beasts. With many cows now being fed the unused portion of other cattle which is left over in the abattoirs, they are already eating animal protein as a significant part of their diet, along with hay and grass.

I can see it now – row after row of beef cattle inside a giant air-conditioned metal “barn”. Coming in – hay slurries and bacterial byproduct protein. Coming out – methane, which is then re-fed to the little germs. Cows eating their own farts!

But Wait! There’s More! in my vision. Cows have four stomachs, right? They have special bacteria inside which help them break down the cellulose they eat from hay into useful protein and then expel methane waste. Why not just eliminate the middle man? Harvest those methane-generating bacteria. Feed them the hay, skim off the useful protein, suck up the methane, and send it down the line to those methanotrophs. Who make more protein. Which all can then be fed to the farmed salmon, After we figure out a way to keep them locked up where we want them, of course.

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Best Bike Split: Algorithms vs The Brain

Someone at Endurance Nation asked about using Best Bike Split to guide minute-by-minute power during the bike leg of an Ironman. Best Bike Split is a web based calculator which takes a number of key variables, and generates both a predicted overall time for the course, and details how to ride the course depending on wind, temperature and elevation changes. The variables include: the elevation map of the actual course to be ridden, rider weight, type of bike used, position on the bike, anticipate speed and direction of wind, temperature, and, most important, key metrics of the rider’s power when riding. It seems like a very thorough algorithm, no? My thoughts:

My opinion on the value of BBS ON RACE DAY…it’s best forgotten. There is no way to pre-program the variables you’ll actually encounter when racing: temperature, wind, draft packs to avoid, aid station jam-ups, pavement quality, etc. etc. Trying to shoehorn on-course performance into an algorithm generated point-by-point power level broadcast on your Garmin head unit would be mightily frustrating, in my opinion.

But then, I believe two interrelated things very strongly. First, racing by perceived effort is the gold standard for achieving the best possible time. However, that assumes one has garnered enough experience at the race distance in question to make intuitive choices properly on a moment by moment basis. And maybe having a tool like BBS is a good way to shorten that learning curve. Second, I also believe that we are not race cars. Meaning, we are way more complex than simply an engine, fuel and speed/power. There are a gazillion things happening in our body at all times, mediated by and communicated about through systems such as endocrine and neurological. Our brain (NOT our conscious mind) has been designed over eons to manage this complex system. A big part of athletic training is to help wire the brain to do that job without much outside interference. I think the human brain/body system is way more complex and smarter than any simplistic algorithm, no matter how many variables it purports to incorporate.

I’ve compared BBS to my race times the past two long distance races, and they were within 3-4 minutes. So it’s a good tool to help me plan my race execution strategy, and keep me honest during the race. But I wouldn’t want to give my decision-making over to it on race day.

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Race Report: 2017 ITU Long Distance World Championships

I’ve been eager to do this race since it was first announced over two years ago. And the distance itself has always interested me: 3K swim (variable, might be as long as 4.5K in some events), 120 km bike, 30 km run. It’s what the International Triathlon Union (the Olympic body for our sport, of which USATriathlon is the national federation) calls “Long Distance”, designed as three times the “Standard” or Olympic distance event. Having done 30 Ironman races, I know that once I get past those 3k/120k/30k marks, I start to wish I were done with that leg. Going into this race, I felt I could give a good solid long distance performance, without the usual agony and self doubts which inevitably crop up over a 12 hour day of “racing”.

My training leading into this race was solid, and I felt very confident. Further details and my race plan can be found here and here.

One of the attractions of this race, I could drive to it. We headed up on Wednesday, staying in a superb B&B less than a mile from the start, right on the lake, and right on both the bike and run courses. Good locale for being out of the hype, but close for spectating. I rode most of the bike course on Thursday and Friday. The bike starts with a 15 mile out ‘n back, which I covered Friday, and then a 29 mile loop done twice, which contains the four hills (two each loop) we’d encounter. I went 18 miles to sample that on Thursday.

The weather Thursday and Friday was moderate (70s) and partly cloudy, but for ten days, all weather sites had been promising a clear day and temps into the 90’s (31-33 C) on Sunday. The good news – minimal winds, from the north, until about noon, then picking up to 8-10 mph after that. So: a small tail wind on the return trip of the one-loop swim, no wind to fight as the temperature rose during the bike, and then a good breeze off the lake for the run (more on the run course below)

ITU has gone to a Multi-Sport ten day Festival for their season ending races, incorporating everything except the Standard distance, and the long course duathlon. So, thousands of triathletes and their friends and families were there for: Duathlon (Sprint, Relay, Standard), Cross (MTB, adults and juniors), Aquathlon, Aquabike, and the Long Distance Race. In addition there were para (physically challenged) divisions for many of the races, and Pros (including Andy Potts, Lionel Sanders, Ben Collins, Leanda Cave, Heather Wurtele). On top of all that, anyone who had NOT qualified for the World Championships (for that’s what al these events were, ITU WC’s) could enter as an “open” competitor.

On our race day, the pros would start first, followed by the LD WC for age groupers, then the Aquabike (same swim and bike), and finally the open long distance race. It made for well over a thousand bikes in transition. Despite the numbers, there were only about 60-80 competitors in each age group, both men and women, for the WC,  at least through 55-59. For my 65-69 group, we had 30 starters.

I was in a good mood all week, and well hydrated during the days before. I moved smoothly through the morning chaos, spending maybe ten seconds in the waiting corral with my wave, until we got out on the beach. I stayed at the edge of the group, scanning for my wife Cheryl in the crowd lining the fence above us. Found her, ran over for a kiss, and went to line up to the far right, the buoy line, second or third row back. This race, we could swim on either side of the buoys, so I saw no reason to avoid that edge. Again, minimal wait there until we started the long run and dolphin plunge into the water. 1100 meters almost due north, then a very gradual series of 6 turn buoys spaced 150 meters apart to make the turn to a straight shot 1100 meters ionto shore. So, there was really no scrum at the turn buoys as the angles were so shallow. While I couldn’t find much in the way of feet to follow, I did have someone on my toes for more than half the race. Which was re-assuring, meaning I must have been swimming steady and in a straight line. I’d done nine 3000 meter open water swims this summer, all at the same speed, so I was anticipating a 61 minute swim, exactly what I produced on race day. I do not start my watch on the swim, and they had no clock at the exit, so I had no idea of my time.

T1 was a long run around the whole bike corral, then a run back through it. I carried my shoes the whole way, hopped on at the mount line, and sailed off along the lake’s edge. I spent the first five minutes or so fiddling with my head unit to get watt readings, which helped me keep my power and heart rate in check. The first 15 miles, totally flat along the lake, went by in 26:15 (21.3 mph). The impressive thing to me was how I performed on my new bike, a Quintana Roo PR6. The previous fall, in the qualifying race (MiamiMan half iron), also totally flat, my NP was 152 watts, at an HR of 128. On this flat portion, my HR was 110, with an NP of 154. I just can’t get over how much easier it is to hold speed with my new “super-bike”. I also went about 0.5 mph faster at about the same power. Why did I wait so long to spend ten grand for this?

Preparing for the race, Coach P told me several things which helped on race day. First, he noted that all the biking I’ve been doing this year, especially the loooong climbs in the mountains, provided me with something like a nuclear weapon – overwhelming power which was nice to have, but may not really need to be used. And, if I was feeling good on the second loop, I might consider seeing just how much I had in my legs for the final climbs.

As I started out on the second loop, I came up on one of my AG competitors, whom I’d met several times before at USAT and ITU races. I knew he was a slightly faster swimmer, and I was a probably a bit quicker on the bike and the run. I also knew he had the common tendency to work hard up hills, and less so down. I acknowledged him as I went by, and we traded places over the next 20 miles or so. Up the final climb, I saw him taking off, and decided, now was the time to see if I could find that extra gear. I was not trying to catch him, just limit the loss. But it helped me produce basically an even split for the two loops. EG: Speed/NP/HR, Loop One –  18.11/163/112, Loop Two –  18.14/163/119. And on just that last climb: #1 11.27/179/118; #2 12.11/184/128.

I usually spend a lot of time looking into the nooks and crannies of my ride data, looking for mistakes I made, possible improvements, deviations from plan. I cannot find anything in there that disappoints me. No times when I wimped out and didn’t work hard enough, no times when I got crazy and went over the effort line for any portion of the race. Even my nutrition was right on target. I ate everything I planned, drank it all on schedule. It’s quite simply the most satisfying ride in a long distance triathlon I’ve ever had.

T2 took a minute longer, as I stopped at the can to pee – I hadn’t since the swim warm-up. I was quite full, even though I hadn’t noticed during the 3:53 ride. I made up for it by simply grabbing my Go Bag and putting on socks and shoes, then out the chute. Immediately, I started to gather sweat on my body, everywhere. I had the Mile 18 Ice Bag with me, and first aid station, I loaded up. ITU says we have to race in our country’s approved uniform. Which in our case means a back zip, sleeveless suit. Where to put the ice? My plan, after watching many on the distaff side use the advantage of their décolletage as a place to store ice while racing, was to fill the bag, pull it shut, and drop into into my front, right over my heart. The idea being, each beat would cool the blood, for my own internal air conditioner. None of this cooling the femoral artery/vein, or the neck vessels. Why not go for the whole ball of wax? It worked great. I can’t say I felt cool, but I sure didn’t feel like I was dying.

Which is what I usually feel in hot races. I do NOT enjoy running for hours when the temp is over 29C. Trying to race is trumped by simply working to survive. Drink three cups every aid station. Keep the cadence up between them. Look forward to the breeze near the lake. Fill up with ice every 5-6 miles, rinse, repeat. The run course was three 10K “loops”, which were really three connected out ‘n backs. The first one turned around at Dairy Queen, and I was so tempted to just run in, say, “I’m in the race. I don’t have any money, but can you PLEEEZE give me a Blizzard?”. Unfortunately, the out n’ back nature of the course meant a lot of opportunities to see who was ahead and who was behind. But the 3 loops made that a bit problematic, as who was with me, ahead of me or behind me?

As the temps progressed from 85 >> 90 F during the day – we ran basically at high noon, 11:45-3 PM – i found myself slowing down. In the heat, I have no mental space to up the ante by working harder as the race goes on. I can deal with cold, wind, hills, and other environmental challenges. But I am afraid of heat. More often than not, I have blown up and ended walking on such days. So I thought of the three or four successful hot races I’ve had, and how they were successful because I did NOT think of myself as racing, but as finding a way to simply keep running.

The loopy aspect of the run allowed me to see Cheryl 10 times in all. At almost every encounter, I stopped, gave her a hug, and got encouragement from her. I could not have kept going without that. Afterwards, she told me she wished she had brought a towel with her.

“Why?”

“Well, you were very wet.”

“Oh, I didn’t notice.”

It was almost blast furnace hot, but it was a dry heat. Still, I was sweating out everything I could put in, along with all the water dumps on my head at every aid station.

I did manage to pass the guy I’d been trading places with on the bike, and kept him behind me the rest of the way. And I did manage to keep a couple of faster runners from catching. I finished 7th in my AG, which was my secret expectation, although I acknowledged to Cheryl I wanted to be the top 1/3rd. Looking at those ahead of me, I discovered: they were all born in 1952 (I was born in 1949). Two were Americans (I wanted to be in the top 3); one each from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan. And no one older than me beat me. I was at the head of a pack of five which finished in 8:23 to 8:28; 6th and 5th places were over 16 minutes ahead of me. I don’t think I could have gone the 1 minute per mile faster on the run I would have needed to compete with them. Nor could I have swum any faster or biked any harder, and still been able to survive the run. I am satisfied with how I did, and don’t really see opportunities for “improvement”, just a recognition of how much work it takes to be ready for a successful race.

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ITU AG LC WC 2018 Race Plan: Part Deux

INTRODUCTION

See previous entry. Just a reminder: the race is 3000 m one loop swim, 120 km (74.6 mi) two loop bike, 30 k (18.6 mi) run. Race date: Sunday August 27, in Penticton, BC, Canada. This is the age group world championship “long distance” for the International Triathlon Union.

RACE WEEK

Monday – Eclipse Day! I will be in Madras, Oregon, underneath the path of totality, @ about 9 AM. Drive back home in the afternoon.

Tuesday – Prep day: Open water swim for an hour/3,000 meters in local lake in the morning. Pack all my gear via checklists, rack bike, prepare for drive on Wednesday.

Wednesday – Drive to Canada about 9 AM to 3 PM. Settle into B&B (less than a mile along the lakeshore from transition, start, finish). Gert any food needed for the week. Run 30 minutes along the lake shore and canal path. Parade of nations 5:30-6:30 PM

Thursday – Swim open from 6-7:30 AM. Main task today: drive/bike the bike course, in particular from miles 25-40 (which is also 55-70), the two hills on the course. Run 30’ after. Packet pickup is noon-4 PM, or also on Friday.

Friday – Can’t swim, Aquathlon going on. Packet pick-up @ noon-4. Run 30’ after 4. Check all gear today. Team USA “social” @ 9:30 AM +/- attend. 10:30 AM – team photo, Both @ convention center.

Saturday – AM: Final bike ride/check. Pack any necessary bags. ITU briefing noon-1 @ the bandshell; bike check-in 12:30-4:30; Team USA briefing 3-4 PM @ convention center. Evening easy meal.

RACE DAY

If I wake up after midnight, drink one bottle of Ensure.

4 AM Wake up. Go through usual routine. Start breakfast of oatmeal, OJ, maybe another Ensure. War paint, race kit.

Transition open 4:45 (sunrise 6:07) – 6:15.

Leave @ 5.

5:20: Body mark (if necessary), drop off Special Needs

5:30-6:00: Prep bike: 1 x 32 oz frozen bottle of Infinit on down tube, 1 26 oz bottle of gatorade behind seat, Joule, Fenix – calibrate to bike, EFS, Perpetuem tabs to top tube holder, check tires; wrist band and possibly arm coolers to aerobars, shoes, sunglasses on bike, remove Hefty bag (if needed), confirm gearing is set to start out.

5:55: start to don wet suit. Gulp some gel.

6:00: Gyro Park: drop off morning clothes, head for swim corral

6:10: Little warm-up swim until allowed to enter holding area.

6:15: enter start coral

6:35: Race starts

Seed myself middle rear next to buoys

6:39: My wave (Men 50+) or is it 6:45/40+?

EQUIPMENT

Morning clothes: Convertible pants, Team USA T shirt, EN podium jacket, warm top as needed, sandals, 2CLight Cap.

Race kit: Team USA tri suit Garmin HRM.

Swim: DeSoto First Wave wet suit unless temp > 73/4, in which case Xterra Vendetta,  Tyr transition goggles, ITU issue swim cap. Ear plugs; Body Glide.

Bike: New Quintana Roo PR Six,  EFS gel + Perpetuem tabs on top tube, tools in rear aero box. Two bottle cages, one on down tube, one behind seat.

Run: Saucony Type A8’s, ? no socks, EN visor, wrist band for my nose.

BAG CONTENTS

Morning tri bag: goggles, body glide, swim cap, wrist bands, arm coolers, bike nutrition – 32 oz frozen bottle of Infinit, 26 oz Gatorade bottle, flask with 4.5 oz of EFS gel, tab bottle, cut-up CLif Bar, Joule, Fenix, glasses (in case), run nutrition – one flask of EFS gel, travel pump, tire, tube, special needs bags (see below)

T1 Bag: Helmet, sunglasses, spare contacts, Fenix.

T2 Bag: Shoes, socks, spare glasses. Go Bag containing: wrist band, EFS flask, Visor, Sunscreen spray-on, number belt with # showing through, sunglasses.

Special Needs Bike: 32 oz, frozen bottle of Infinit, Special Needs Run: Wrist band

NUTRITION PLAN

In Transition before race: swig of gel, about 6 oz of water.

On bike: Infinit – 32 oz with 420 cal and 1.5 gms of Na, Gatorade 180 cal bottle, 360 mg Na . Water as needed based on temps, hydration status; 4 oz of EFS gel for about 350 cal, 700 mg Na., 3 Perpetuem solids for 100 cal, Clif Bar Minis, 3, 300 Cal, 150 mg Na. Totals:  1350 cal/345 cal available per hour for anticipated 6 hour ride;  2-3 grams of salt. Plan to take a drink every 20 minutes first hour, then every ten minutes. Clif Bar every 40 minutes first 4 hours, then finish EFS gel last 2 hours. One Solid each hour.

On Run: 6-10 oz of fluid each aid station depending on temps. Start with diluted GE, no more than 4 oz gatorade, plus 2-6 oz water per aid station. 1 oz EFS gel @ miles 2, 5, & 8. Coke, again diluted, whenever I need it.

PACING

Swim: anticipate 60 minutes in water time. Bilateral breathing in general  may use alternate side every 50-100 strokes, if sun or crowds are too intense on one side. Can pass orange buoys on either side; Yellow buoys (turns) must be on the right. I know how to swim, I’ve been doing it for 5 decades now, just lock in and ignore everyone else. No real sighting needed, just follow the crowd and keep the effort up. Process goals (since I have no metrics while swimming, these are of necessity subjective): Be prepared to work the whole way, up to but not past the point of stroke disruption. Points of emphasis: maintain stroke turnover, find and follow feet when at all possible.

T1: WALK out of water, removing top of wetsuit. RUN when stable to wetsuit strippers. Grab bag, enter tent. Put on helmet, sunglasses, put on and start Fenix, pee. Those are my only jobs until  I get to the bike.

Bike: Anticipate 3:45 ride time, but do not use this as a goal or metric. FTP is 216. The course starts flat for the first 25 miles, so a key will be to take regular standing stretching breaks, every ten minutes. This will be associated with a harder gear, slower cadence, and nutrition. Take only 5-10 minutes to get up to speed, assuming HR is in the ‘teens (110-115). I click the interval button on my Joule every twenty minutes, or at the base of a climb, whichever comes first. This forces me to keep my head in the game and pay attention to nutrition. I’ve found I don’t respond as well to chimes or alarms as I do to just looking at the interval time whenever I check my head unit. The ride will be a roundelay among RPE, HR, and Watts. I want to keep my HR between 112 and 116, rising to 118-20 only on hills or the last 20-25 minutes.

This race has been difficult to predict from a power perspective. On the one hand, my two long course races last year were both flat, an IM @ 5:43 (2/23 bike splits in AG), and a half @ 2:41 (3/17). My NPs were 136 and 151 respectively. So one would think this race should be between those two. But my 3 hour power within the last two weeks is 153, and I just did an Oly @ 201. I expect my watts will be in the 160s, but I will use HR as both a whip and a rein, keeping it within that mid-teen window of 113-117. If this allows me an NP greater than 153, I’ll go with it up to the upper 160s, as long as my HR is not rising and my RPE feels OK.

Push the downhills whenever possible, but don’t risk loss of control.

Display on my Joule: Two columns, four rows, left to right: HR, Watts; % grade, IF, cadence; interval time; bottom row can be toggled for other metrics. On Fenix: HR; Fenix is back-up Power Meter with other fields available.

Key thought: I have done MASSIVE amounts of biking this year. Coach P says I should think of this as a nuclear weapon: I possess awesome killer force, which I *could* use; but it is best left in check; it’s mere existence provides a strength – a firewall against fatigue, if you will – I otherwise wouldn’t possess.

T2: My tasks are: Get out of shoes 1/2 mile or so before Bike In. Hop off at dismount line. Bike to rack. Grab bag. Take off helmet. Switch glasses if desired. Put on socks?, shoes. Grab Go Bag. Pee if I feel like it. Switch Fenix to Run mode.

Run: Anticipate 2:48 +/- 3 min run time (9 min/mi), unless modified by temperature. But abgain, don;t use this as a metric to control or even monitor my race. Start out of transition fiddling with Go Bag; by second mile, should be every @ 9 min/mi unless temps are above 75, then go with HR. First 4 miles in the 115-119 range; stay in the low-mid 120’s (123 +/-) through the second 10K lap, then allow to rise up and over 130. After mile 12, start repeating endlessly the mantras of “You have strength, you are power”, “This is who I am, this is what I do,” “Slowing down is not an option”, “Race it to the end”, I’m running for those who can’t anymore”, etc all the way home. Trust my training (this is how I interpret “honor your training self”) and my taper.

Fenix will display on two screens: Lap time, Lap Pace, HR, Cadence; Total time, Total distance, HR, Current Pace.

RACING STRATEGY

My goals in this race are: Swim: Emphasize turnover. Build effort to the end. Don’t slow down. Bike: HR in the mid-teens,  Maintain nutrition plan with minimum of 1750 calories, 120 oz fluid. Don’t ease off after mile 65 as measured by HR, keep constant effort all the way. Run: Even or very slight negative split; HR building from 115 to 137 thruout the entire 18.7 miles. Final one thing: I have to demonstrate to myself that I am willing to actually race to the limits of my capabilities, whatever they may be at this time and at this age.

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ITU LC WC 2017 Race Planning

I’ve been looking forward to this race for three years, ever since it was announced. Back in the 80s & 90s, there was a race in Nice, France *which Mark Allen won 10 times between 1982 and 1993. After that, it hosted the International triathlon Union’s Long Distance World Championships 5 times, but succumbed to the entry of Ironman in 2005.   This iconic race enshrined a unique distance: 3 km swim, 120 km (75 miles) bike, and 30 km (18.7 mi) run. After doing a few Ironman races, I longed to compete at what seemed like a saner “long” distance.

When I learned in 2014 ITU would hold its LC World AG Championship in Penticton, BC, less than six hours drive from my home, I knew I would be racing there this August. Qualifying for it was basically a matter of showing up and completing the Miami Man half iron in November, 2016 – USAT rules allow the first 18 finishers in EACH age group a chance to join Team USA for the world’s. So sure was I, that in August 2016, I reserved my B&B room on along the finishing chute on Lakeshore drive (where Ironman Canada held sway for 30 years). Then, in November, I garnered 4th at the USAT National Championship in Miami. At that point, all I needed to do was stay injury free – something I had not managed for the preceding two years. Sure enough, a month later, I snapped my sciatic nerve as it runs through the piriformis, sidelining me from running for over 2 months. I have since rebuilt my run to good form, but am reminded every time I sit down to eat or drive that the nerve is still tender.

My training has been on target since mid-February, when I went through a mini-OS. Since then (21 weeks), I have swum 100,000 meters in 46 sessions, biked 3000 miles over 85 days, and run 120 times for 530 miles. In the past two months, that’s 60,000m/23 sessions swimming, of which 10 have been 3000 meters open water, about an hour each. 1000 miles/28 days biking, with at least one 3+ hour ride each week in the mountains. And 47 runs for 250 miles. The running has improved the most, with an average pace of 8:48/ mile, which is the same speed I was running in 2014, before I started sabotaging my self, averaging 9:10 the subsequent two years. While I can’t run the same top speed anymore, I do seem to have regained my endurance and running strength.

The course is basically the same as old IM Canada for the swim, starting on the beach at The Peach, one loop. The bike is flatter than the old IM – no big climbs in the mountains southwest of town. It starts with about 25 miles (40 k) of flat along the two lakes at either end of town. Then it goes through 15 miles with two climbs, totaling 1000’ gain, before swinging along the southern lake back into town and repeating miles  20-45 – another two climbs and 10 miles of finishing flats. The run is 3 times around a 10k loop, which is a “Y” consisting of three out ‘n backs – very spectator friendly, and also enabling nearly constant checks on one’s competition. Because each age group starts in its own wave (maybe the 60 & over men will all go together), there’s never any question as to where your competition is.

One other note: I bought a new TT bike a month ago. This is a very big deal for me, as I’ve been riding my other one for 17 years. A Quintana Roo PR Six, Ultegra Di2 with compact crank, 11-32 in the rear. My previous bike had 650 wheels, which may play a major role, along with improved aerodynamics, in the primary difference I notice. It seems “easier” to hold speed along the flats (defined as -2 to +2 % grades) – I seem to be able to hold my momentum with less effort. Here’s some data to back that up: I just did an Oly bike ride, 0.921 IF for 40K, with an HR averaging 119. Seven years ago, when I was in super shape during a Kona build (and younger), on the same course with my old bike, I went the same speed (1:11:52 compared to 1:11:53!), with an IF of 0.906, and an HR of 127. I don’t think I bought “free speed” with this bike, but I do think I bought “free fitness”. Sort of like how more swim volume in training, while not necessarily making one faster on race day, nonetheless makes the next two legs easier from improved swim fitness. What I need to do is convince myself that I can convert that free fitness into actual speed, by letting myself work a little harder. More on that in the race plan.

So that’s the set-up. I’ll return in Part Deux with my specific race plan.

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ITU LC WC Race Plan Update

So after all of the discussion with my coach, a couple of really good training sessions on Wednesday and Thursday followed by a super race on Saturday, here’s what I’ve come up with for a plan:

Coach P – I think I get the nudge you were trying to give me about challenging myself more on the bike. I did another mountain ride of 4400′ in 23 miles, as well as an Olympic distance tri this week. You are right to suspect I have been lacking a bit of confidence in what I might be capable of, based on this year relative to what I’ve achieved the past five months in training and racing. I think this is lingering from the past two years when I have been on and off IR with resulting poor performance on race days, compared to the previous 15 years. I’m finding it hard to realise that, right now, I don’t have that worry. On my Oly today, I was able to hold 0.93 IF (for the 22 miles excluding the start and finish) and back that up with a run where I ran 8:50/8:30/8:09/7:52/7:50/8:30 (big uphill in the last mile). On the mountain ride, I seem to be able to lock in @ 0.8 IF +/- 2% and hold it there for 3 hours, at an HR of 115 +/-3. On the Oly today, hard to believe, but I was holding 119 HR +/- 1 bpm for the whole way. I think the new bike contributes to that remarkably low HR relative to IF, compared to what I do on my road bike on steady mountain climbs, or for that matter used to do on my old TT bike.

I reviewed the elevation map for the course, and plugged it into best bike split for a little more triangulation.

Sum of all this is I am finally willing to accept that I can go harder on the bike than I was able to last year in a half and full IM. I have to say that I race PRIMARILY by RPE, on all three legs. As you know, after a couple of decades in this sport, and spending a lot of my mental energy when training on observing the relationship between HR, power, pace, and HR, I think I’ve got a really good internal sense of just what I am capable of within a race, at any given moment along the course, basically, asking myself continuously “Can I hold this effort level until the end?”.

So for me, talking about HR, watts, and pace feels a little too rigid, but I think I need a whip, rather than a rein, so here are some numbers to use as a double check to make sure I am testing myself enough on race day:

  • Bike: HR of 112/3 through the first loop (mile 40/74) if I’m feeling capable at that point, let that go up to 115 through the two climbs on the second loop (mi 63), and then work as I can over the net downhill the rest of the way, maybe getting to 118. I anticipate this will give me an NP/AP of 169/161, IF 0.78, and a time of 3:36-40
  • There are four climbs (2 each done twice) on this course, and I think I can let myself push a *little* bit on each of them, getting up to 200 watts (FTP of 216) on them. But, really, I lose more time relative to the field on downhills, and that’s not something that’s amenable to improved fitness or pushing the envelope. It is what it is, partly my size, and partly my caution. Here’s a link to the course map with elevation if you’re curious: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/21309191
  • Run: Start off with my usual conservative first mile, then ease into a non-audible breathing pattern for the first 10K loop, with an HR range of 118-121; 2nd loop, start to ratchet things up, starting on an HR of 123, building to 127/30 at the end; 3rd loop, start to race, and see what I’ve got, building the whole way to whatever I’m capable of. If the temps are less than 75F, I should be able to avg 8:40-50; if it’s warmer, that will be slower.

One of my key mantras while on course will be “trust (have confidence in, remember what you accomplished during your) training”. My version of “honor your training self.”

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