Sunday, May 19, 2013

First of the Year

Triathlon season started today for me.  I have in the past run multisport races earlier in the year than this, but in recent years January through April have been running months and triathlon racing starts in late May.  Today was the Columbia Triathlon, which I blogged about exactly a year ago.

The race is famously difficult, run on the hills around Columbia, Maryland.  It attracts a remarkable professional and international field and is a must-do for serious local racers.  Then there are the rest of us.  I'm accustomed to finishing in the top 10 or so of my age group in short-course races.*  Today, despite my having aged up this year (triathlon counts one's birthday as occurring on January 1), I was 17th. (Some solace that I would have flirted with that top 10 if I was still 39.)

I tried something different.  I didn't think about the run while I was biking, with the result that my bike split was my best of the three (which never happens) and I lost ground to the field on the run.  I'd be disappointed, but the run was still better than a minute faster than last year's -- in fact, every split was faster than last year's -- and overall I improved by 6 minutes over 2012.

Not all news is good, though.  The worst part?  The embarrassing 45 second sitting on the ground trying to get my wetsuit off over my timing chip in the first transition.

*This is a misleading statistic.  Most short-course races that I run have both a pro wave and an "elite" or "open" wave.  Because the latter of those is made up disproportionately of people close in age to me (more so before I turned 40), a top-10 a.g. finish really means "top 10 of the people in my age group who aren't good enough to race at the front of the pack."  Or something like that.


  1. Triathletes are a middle aged crowd. While the very fastest folks are under 40-44 is the largest age group from the looks of it.

  2. We are, aren't we. Why? There's the "endurance comes with age" explanation. There's the probably more realistic "this is an expensive sport" explanation.

    To be clear, the very first age grouper in appears to be a 44-year-old from Pennsylvania and my time would have been much more competitive in any of the younger age groups -- both of which suggest there may be merit to the first explanation as well.

  3. Okay, I've given this some thought, but no systematic testing. My theory is that it's a combination of (1) gear is expensive; (2) tri training takes more time than a 30 something can take off from work/kids/dating/beer; (3) marathoners start worrying about their knees and looking for new challenges.

    I think there's a pretty big influx of runners who have discovered cross training right around the 40 something birthday.

    Here's the age distribution for the Brooklyn Half Marathon:

    12 - 19 57 33 90
    20 - 24 529 918 1,447
    25 - 29 2,171 3,170 5,341
    30 - 34 2,697 2,796 5,493
    35 - 39 2,002 1,567 3,569
    40 - 44 1,421 988 2,409
    45 - 49 854 550 1,404
    50 - 54 518 302 820
    55 - 59 301 147 448
    60 - 64 152 67 219
    65 - 69 78 18 96
    70 - 74 29 7 36
    75 - 79 5 0 5
    80 - 89 1 0 1

    I took a quick look at the Philadelphia Marathon from last year, and 30-34 is also the largest age group. Interestingly, the drop off is not as precipitous among marathoners. It goes 1140, 1013, 979, 752, 533, 273, with the first group being 30-34.

    As Spencer and I can attest, however, each year after 50 is clearly a gift. :-)

  4. On another note, women outnumber men from 20-35.

    1. This surprises me. Anecdotally and based on recollection rather than research, in triathlon women's fields in the 25-35 age group are much less competitive, outside of the pro ranks. My explanation has always been that relative to running triathlon is a time-intensive and serious-injury-potential sport in which women are less inclined to engage during that biologically sensitive period in their lives.

      Perhaps under my theory, running is a better alternative?

      A different question, and getting way far afield: women are reported to outnumber men in higher education in recent years. See, e.g., If, as I believe, marathons (and triathlons) are past-times for the educated and relatively wealthy, does your statistic relate to an age group that is at the vanguard of this shifting gender gap?

    2. The women outnumber men stat was for the half-marathon. Haven't looked at tris.

  5. Keep in mind also that your "losing ground to the field on the run" statistic is biased by the fact that you got off the bike 6 minutes earlier than you did last year, which put you amidst appreciably faster athletes. Someone who rides 6 minutes faster is also likely to run faster. The telling statistic is that, despite riding an order of magnitude better (6 minutes in an oly is massive), you ran faster as well. A minute on a 10k is more than a fluke. Given how you ride when we're off in the hills on training rides, I've always thought that you have more to give on the bike leg in tris. To me, this confirms it. Unfortunately, I think it also means that your future tris are about to become much more miserable.

    1. I have long thought I did not know how to cause myself sufficient discomfort to be competitive. And it was uncomfortable. The rest of the day wasn't much better. Thank goodness they sell beer at the Avalon, where Star Trek was showing.

    2. I hesitate to give advice here, as a relative newcomer to the sport, but regarding the bike leg, are you able to keep your heart rate at the same level on the bike as on a run of similar duration? If no, then you've got more to give. My experience is that the best way to raise power on the bike without burning out the legs is to drop your gear and lift your cadence. I am wondering if this is true on my new tri-bike. I seem happier with a slower, more powerful, cadence than on my road bike.

    3. I just don't track my heartrate sufficiently to answer the question. I tend to get some information from rate of breathing, but of course that is a very subjective measure (and if one is tending to dog it, so to speak, one's subjective assessment is necessarily spotty!) I agree with your assessment of cadence. Hey, it works for Lance. A problem with the triathlon bike is that the increased compression vis-a-vis a road bike posture makes a high cadence more difficult. That may explain your preference for slower pedaling in a higher gear.

  6. Interesting. Heart rate is my most important piece of data running. and I pair it with cadence on the bike. It's also how I gauge my fitness level and efficiency. I know what heart rates I can maintain and for how long. It varies depending on fitness level (mostly weight, but also form) as to how that converts to pace. It really helps at the end of a long race, when you think you're working your butt off, and you look and see that you've dropped six beats. . . Sometimes you can't do anything about it, but sometimes you can. Also, it is reassuring to know, at the end of the day, that even though pace may have dropped toward the end, you weren't leaving anything on the table. .

  7. Oh, and I feel your pain about T1. In Lobsterman 2011, I actually ripped one of the connecting straps off the timing chip. So I lost time in the following ways:
    1) trying to get my wetsuit off and damaging the chip
    2) cutting a rider off right in front of a course referee as I tried in frenzied fashion to adjust the chip so it didn't flap on every pedal stroke (leaving me sure I'd finish and find out I'd DQd.
    3) stopping after 1/2 mile to fiddle with the timing chip, and finally positioning it so that it was stable.

    1. How is it we take seriously a sport in which what we wear and how we wear it matters so greatly?

  8. Personally, it's because I don't have a decent jump shot or slap shot, can't shoot off the dribble and don't like hitting flying objects with my head . . .