Sunday, September 29, 2013

Passing Time if Not Stones

Kidney Stones have put me on the training shelf just 4 days after my quite enjoyable 2:03 Chicago Half Marathon.  Possible explanations are hereditary, dehydration, and dietary.  Either way, they really hurt.  After a trip to the ER and two different procedures (and one final office visit on Tuesday) everything seems to have calmed down.  My training for Sacramento is on the shelf and their web site observes about twelve different ways there are no reimbursements, deferrals, substitutes, or even a way to get the tee shirt unless you show up at the expo which isn't going to happen. 

I missed two classes in the process and am behind in most other work related projects.  So how did I spend most of the last 2 weeks?  Besides drinking fluids and waiting to feel better, I mixed and matched among the following.

Walked the dog.  Perfect weather and never more than 10 minutes from the apartment led to my only outdoor exercise.

Recumbent bike.  Not too much jostling.  Nice couple of 20 minutes rides once the worst was over.

Netflix.  Binge watching is the new channel surfing.  Orange is the New Black.  Scandal.  Portlandia.  El Bulli: Cooking in Progress.  Jiro: Dreams of Sushi and too many documentaries to name.

VHS tapes.  Yes, I still have VHS tapes and a player (a combo DVD/VHS player of considerable vintage).  Perfect time to catch up on some favorites I have never replaced in DVD or downloaded.  High Fidelity.  Manhunter.  Big Chill.  Turns out they don't hold up very well and I don't have to replace them after all.

DVR.  Now fully caught up on the season ending and beginning episodes of a wide variety of shows, mini-series and movies both old and new. 

Reading.  Plowed most of the way through The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President.  This is one of the strangest most self indulgent recent books I have ever encountered.  The author is Taylor Branch a Pulitzer winning journalist who has known the Clintons since the early 1970s.  Clinton asked him to record an oral history of his administration in real time both to preserve presidential recollections and to aid the President in any eventual memoir of his own.  Branch didn't transcribe the tapes and left them with Clinton so this book is just his notes and recollections combined with his own occasional involvement with events of the times.  This is mostly just pandering for both author and subject and somehow diminishes both of them in the process.  I am 2/3 of the way through.  Clinton just got himself reelected, wonder if anything interesting happens in the second term?  It is fascinating to see the discussion of the budget shutdown and debt ceiling mess from the 1990s as events replay themselves the past two weeks.  Plus false advertising, they have talked about the History of Wrestling even once!!

Turns out that if you are home all day, you can also keep up on current events through two daily newspapers in hard copy plus actual magazines. 

Oh well. coffee break is over, back to school for half day tomorrow and classes resume on Tuesday with thanks to super civ pro teacher and associate dean Mike Kaufman (also a half-marathoner) who covered for him in my absence.

Friday, September 27, 2013

New Toy -- Garmin

Right before the Martha's Vineyard Tri, I broke down and bought a new Garmin.  My old one was acting up, and I was in a hurry.  I got the Forerunner 910XT. I thought I was pretty much replacing my old 310, but this new one has swim features that the old one didn't.  That was why I was able to measure the swim course in the race (long).  I'm slowly figuring out how to use the swim features, and I'm a bit excited.  It works in the pool.  It counts laps.  It counts strokes per lap.  It offers a few crude measures of stroke efficiency.  

I have a pretty good idea of my running and biking paces.  I know what cadences I can manage, what speeds I can hold and for how long.  This means that I can manage my pacing using a few pieces of data, usually split times, cadence and heart rate.  

With swimming I've been pretty much blind.  Part of that is because I pretty much am blind, so unless I've put on contacts on the way to the pool, I can't see the clock on the wall at the pool.  As a result, I don't really have a good sense (other than a vague kinesthetic one) of what stroke adjustments, kick adjustments and position adjustments do to my speed.  This is a problem given how much of swimming is based on technique.  

I've been using the watch for a few workouts, and it is helpful.  First, it is reassuring.  I'm more consistent than I thought, both with my lap times, my stroke count and so on. I'm not fast, but if I'm consistent, I can make adjustments and measure them.  Second, if I make an adjustment for a set, I can see pretty directly how it has affected the various measurements.  Do kick turns help? What about bilateral breathing? What about different breathing patterns, etc.  

Okay, so it's another opportunity to be OCD, but that's a good thing right? 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Economics of Bragging

Driving from DC to Indy several weeks back to start the fall semester, I had plenty of time to think over the phenomenon of bragging, particular with reference to athletic endeavors.  Everybody knows the story of the quiet champion (3-time Ironman world champ Craig Alexander , known for his humility, comes to mind) and the loud-mouthed also-ran (Brian Bosworth, anyone?).  I wonder if one can state in economic terms the effect of braggadocio on athletic endeavors.  (Caveat:  I'm not an economist; I don't play one on TV; and I rely heavily on excellent students with econ. backgrounds when teaching a few class sessions on antitrust economics every spring.)

The initial analysis is very simplistic, but it explains Brian Bosworth and Craig Alexander.  It falls short when you consider Neon Deion Sanders -- undisputedly one of the great all time athletes in professional team sports, but nobody's shrinking violet -- or Muhammed Ali, who spoke among other gems, "I am the greatest.  I said that even before I knew I was."  (N.B.:  When using historic or current public figures as examples, I am relying entirely on one-dimensional public images of those figures, rather than making any actual statement about their persons, personalities, or conduct.)

The second part of the post considers the countervailing effect of commitment strategies, one of the lessons from behavioral economics.

For definitional purposes, I define "bragging" to be any publicly disseminated expression about oneself that is positive.  I include in this definition wearing a marathon t-shirt when running, which is, after all, a statement that "I am a marathoner."  Notably, I also include blogging as bragging.  You will rightly challenge this definition -- is it bad to say anything good about oneself?  Can't we have a conversation online about a mutual interest?  Does sartorial selection really amount to self aggrandizement? -- but I will respond that I do not make a normative statement about bragging.  I only analyze what is the expected impact of bragging, thusly defined, on athletic success.

The Naive Model -- Bragging Makes you Weak!

I envision an indifference curve representing choices between two goods:  Positive Feelings and Leisure.   Positive Feelings are a result of athletic success, which requires commitment and an investment of time as well as mental and physical energy.  Leisure is its opposite -- no effort and no positive feelings.  Watching a football game makes you a lesser athlete, preventing your feeling good about it.  (We can quibble at the margins with train-less theories and the like, but in the final analysis, I propose you feel the best about your athletic self when you train a lot and reap rewards from it.)

Using this graph (found on Google -- for attribution purposes, apparently posted by faculty at the University of Texas), Y might represent Positive Feelings and X might represent Leisure.  At a high level of athletic success/Positive Feelings (high Y, low X) this particular athlete is satisfied despite a lack of Leisure; at a high level of Leisure (high X, low Y), this particular athlete is satisfied despite a lack of Positive Feelings; and the middle of the range somewhere is where the runningprofs all seem to fall.  (We like to do our best and feel good about it, but not if it gets in the way of Under the Dome.)  The importance of indifference curves lies in the fact that anything below the curve is sub-par, while anything above the curve is unattainable with our current resources (time/willingness to expend energy).  In a world without bragging, I am driven to a certain level of exertion to accomplish the requisite Positive Feelings at least to keep myself on the indifference curve.

Does bragging change the analysis?  It is a partial substitute for athletic success.  I can either knock the ball out of the park or I can say "I will knock the ball out of the park" and get the attendant reaction -- we can probably agree the former is better than the latter, but I propose the latter is better than nothing.  Thus, Positive Feelings are now caused by bragging plus athletic success.

Bragging bumps us to a higher indifference curve (from K1 to K2 on the graph above).  Now we can achieve the same amount of Leisure and also a higher amount of Positive Feelings.  To intuit this, running a marathon gives me a certain amount of Positive Feelings.  Talking about it for a while afterward (or wearing the t-shirt, or blogging) adds to those Positive Feelings.  The talking prevents my needing to train for a second marathon, thus increasing my Leisure.

Leisure is a pure function of time, so we can assume that can't increase on its own.  The only other way, outside of bragging, to jump to curve K2 is to invest more energy in athletic success.  Bosworth seemingly relied on braggadocio to achieve the requisite Positive Feelings; Alexander relied on doubling down on the work-and-commitment front.

Having hatched this theory on my drive, I came to the tentative conclusion that I should gift all my race t-shirts to charity (to be clear, there isn't room for them in the drawer anymore, anyway!); I should either discard or at least toss into a box my obnoxious stash of race medals; and I should take that goofy Boston Athletic Association 26.2 sticker off of my car.  Not having the diluted benefit of talking about myself will increase my need to invest energy in athletic success, so as not to fall off of the indifference curve to which I have become accustomed.

The Behavioral Model -- Can you Live Up to your Persona?

But it's not so simple.  (It never is.)  The naive model cannot explain Neon Deion, who achieved remarkable athletic success while never being quiet about it, or Usain Bolt, who is reported to have said, among other quotables, "If I get to be a legend, then I've achieved my goal."  My theory is that those two athletes, as well as the more garrulous Aussi Ironman Chris McCormack, author of I'm Here to Win, deliberately or otherwise set themselves up for embarrassment and thereby force themselves to live up to their created personas.

I know about myself that having created something of a persona as an athletic sort, I do my best to live that persona.  When in the past I've fallen out of that mindset, it is easy to go weeks or months without serious physical activity.  Indeed, the nearly six years between my second marathon (January 2001) and my third (November 2006) were something of a bleak dead zone during which, thank goodness, youth and metabolism prevented my falling into an unrecoverable slump.  Since 2006?  I don't know how I'd manage if I tried to spend a sedentary week.

Behavioral economists have studied the phenomenon of "commitment strategies" in inducing individual behavior.  Dean Karlan, Ian Ayres, and Barry Nalebuff founded "stickK," a website devoted to "empower[ing] you to better your lifestyle. We offer you the opportunity, through 'Commitment Contracts', to show to yourself and others the value you put on achieving your goals."  Commitment strategies can be extreme, as when I donate my leftover holiday cookies to the office coffee lounge (committing not to eat them) or spend thousands on a new triathlon bike (committing to use it).  They can be fairly minor, as when I announce an intent to do something hoping I will thereby be shamed into living up to the announced plan.  (Commitment strategies can be employed by others preying on our cognitive biases -- a classic example is the car salesman who gets you to agree to the statement, "if I come up with a good deal for you, you will buy this car.")

To what degree the commitment strategy of an announced goal induces one to achieve that goal is an empirical question.  Anecdotal evidence suggests it may work.  Usain Bolt is indeed achieving the status of a legend.  My own example is much more mundane:  P__ asked before Timberman my goals for the race, and I responded "33' for the swim, 2:36 for the bike, and 1:32 for the run."  Dead on for the first one; well under for the second, and I didn't meet the third, but in my defense, I nearly fell over at the end.  The same approach worked at Nation's Triathlon three weeks later.  It didn't work for me at Lake Tahoe, although I might argue nobody predicted just how difficult that race was going to be.

I also imagine there is a more general commitment strategy at play.  I think by wearing running garb, thereby announcing "I am a runner," a person establishes a penalty -- shame -- for not running.  So too with blogging:  having written about recent marathons, don't we all find ourselves needing to discuss our future marathon plans or to justify not having those plans?  A far afield analogy:  announcing "I am a professor" risks my being asked "what are you writing" -- so I'd better be writing something (other than this blog post) so as not to be embarrassed!

For another angle on this same argument, a persona as an athlete is an asset, the loss of which may be felt dearly.  Whereas somebody with no athletic persona stands to gain from athletic success but not to lose from its lack, somebody with an athletic persona stands to lose from the lack of success.  Behavioral economists also understand that losing what we possess tends to be perceived as more costly than gaining what we do not yet possess.  Under the approaches related in both this and the prior paragraph, conduct meeting my definition of bragging increases rather than decreases the inclination to pursue athletic success.

How does the behavioral story fit on the indifference curve?  On the one hand, bragging bumps us to a higher curve by granting some additional Positive Feelings (Naive model, above).  On the other hand, the behavioral model suggests bragging bumps us down because by setting expectations it reduces the payout from what we have accomplished.  The question becomes not about the past marathon but about the future marathon.  To remain on the higher curve K2, I now need to double down on the investment of energy by training for the next race.

This last proposition is more difficult to intuit.  I see it this way:  if I walk around saying "my goal is to break 3:00:00 for the marathon," that statement dilutes my accomplishment when I run a 3:01:13.  To get back to even, I have to go back out and try again.

The Aggregate Result

Unsurprisingly, this being an economic analysis, it is impossible to determine theoretically whether braggadocio helps or hurts either in an individual case or across all iterations.  I detail a few anecdotes above and conclude, for myself, I probably gain something in terms of athletic performance from creating my own self-image as an athletic person.  That happens through blogging and wearing t-shirts and telling people about my races.  I surely hope I do so with sufficient discretion not to be a bore.

Some of the pro athlete examples suggest the self-promotion strategy is an effective one for top competitors as well.  Ali created for himself hype and then lived up to it.  Others suggest perhaps it is not.  Bosworth flamed out early in his career, possibly because he gained enough from the hype not to need the real reward of athletic success.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Baby steps (both forward and back)

At this time last week, I would have predicted that my foot was on the upswing. Horror of horrors, I had to take several days off of running in late August when I got scared that I was pounding on a stress fracture. No evidence of anything on x-ray but I kept cross-training (spin bike in basement) until I didn't have pain anymore while walking around. Easing back in was going okay but as soon as I tried to string together a couple of days in a row my arch started to hate me again. Trying to exercise restraint and patience and keep up with my PT strengthening routine. But this is getting old, of course as soon as the weather is getting nice!

Ironman Lake Tahoe

It is indeed that beautiful.
It was so cold in the Sierras above Reno that snow reportedly covered the ground Saturday night in Truckee, California, through which we would pass twice on the bikes during the race.  (I question that report, but it makes a good story and it accurately captures the air temperature.)  At Lake Tahoe it had stormed all day Saturday, including downpours as we racked our bikes at T1 in Kings Beach.  When we showed up Sunday morning for last minute puttering around before the start, saddles, handlebars and pedals wore thin layers of ice.  Temperature readings depend on who is relaying the story, but I've heard 28 degrees from more than one source.

The start of a race always comes too soon.  Before nearly any race, but certainly before an iron-distance triathlon, I spend the entire lead-in just hoping something will happen to cancel the race.  Imagine -- all the fun of visiting the venue with none of the distress of a full day's racing!  But the pros were in the water and the anthem was sung and the new Ironman swim start format -- much like the start of a marathon, whereby the age-group crowd moves through the starting arch and across the timing mat in a constant flow, rather than the traditional mass start -- was underway.  I was probably in the water by 6:45 a.m.

The first few strokes were frigid.  The icy rain had cooled the lake closest to the shore to an abominably low temperature.  But by the first buoy, where the shallows ended, the lake temperature warmed to a balmy 65 degrees.  From that point the swim was fine and even pleasant.  There was a thick mist rising from the lake which obscured all but a few swimmers around me and, as I approached them, the direction buoys.  On the second lap around the rectangular 1.2 mile route, the sun rose over the mountains and the mist dissipated.  Each breath brought views of the lake, forests, and high mountains overhead, the tallest wearing fresh caps of what we call in Alaska "termination dust."

The swim took too long.  It always does.  I stumbled out of the water, grabbed my transition bag, thankful for the large horde of spectators braving below-freezing temperatures to bring us cheer; flopped to the ground while volunteers shed me of my wetsuit; and entered the changing tent.  The tent was a madhouse.  It might have been too small to begin with.  Given the cold outside nobody was willing to leave to get on his bike.  The chairs were occupied.  The floor was crowded.  I found a small square of floor and donned my gear as best I could.  Helmet, glasses, shoes -- and coat.  This was not a morning for spandex zoot-suits that dry off in the wind!  I left there faster than many and underdressed relative to the crowd.  Many savvy competitors took up to a quarter of an hour in transition toweling off and changing into full sets of dry cold-weather bike clothes.

I had no desire to get on the bike at all, but this was the last "A race" of 2013, the prior ones had not gone all that well, my brother and s-i-l as well as P__ were in town to cheer, and I've already described the bike course in a prior post.  I wasn't about to miss riding that loop at least once.  Again, it didn't hurt that the spectators were enduring just as much cold as was I and somehow showing enormous enthusiasm.  (On the "Dublin Scale," with the crowds at the 2009 Dublin marathon setting the top mark for enthusiastic support, the Lake Tahoe crowds rate well into the 9s!)  I let out an uncharacteristic "GAAAARRRRR" when starting to ride, to the apparent delight of the crowd, and proceeded to ride much harder than caution would dictate in an effort to get blood to my extremities.  It didn't work.  By 20 miles in my hands were blocks of ice resting on the aero bars and I literally took to thumping my fists against my chest (yes, chest-thumping) in a silly-in-retrospect effort to get my cardio-vascular system firing on all cylinders.

Not long after that the sun rose higher overhead and the climbs started.  The elevation profile of IM Lake Tahoe is subject to some dispute.  Ironman has reported both 6550 feet (pre-race) and 5300 feet (post-race news release).  Both are patently false.  Ironman has a huge incentive to under-report elevation gain -- triathletes don't like to climb hills!  Reports from pre-rides went as high as 8500 feet.  That may be overstating it.  D__, my frequent racing and training partner and an occasional commenter  here at runningprofs, clocked a fairly likely 7700 feet.  It's not out of control for a long Sunday ride, but when you have a clock in front of you displaying average pace and you are hell bent on keeping it above a certain number -- well, it was brutal.  But the climbs had the pleasing effect of curing any problems with cold!

The bike route was inspired.  We traversed the shore of Lake Tahoe before heading north on highway 89 following the Truckee River.  After passing Squaw Valley, where several hours later we would land for T2 and the run leg, we continued north to Truckee, a phenomenal little mountain town situated on Highway 80, 30 minutes west of Reno.  Truckee had closed down for the day.  Crowds lined the streets drinking beer and cheering as if watching streams of shivering age groupers roll by is great sport.  A left turn to start the first climb into a neighborhood uphill from town, a pleasant roll on a bike trail designated as a no-pass zone, a few more turns on neighborhood streets, and we met Highway 267 going south toward Tahoe.  267 starts with a barn-storming descent.  The course then turns into the Alpine Meadows ski resort and begins climbing in earnest up roads high onto the flank of the mountain.  That climb goes on -- and on -- and on, leading to a fast but challenging descent back to 267.  A right turn -- and maybe 1000 feet of climbing over the next 2.2 miles to Brockway Summit, the high point on the course at 7200 feet.  I'm not unused to going 6 miles per hour on a bike, but I am unused to calling that racing!  From Brockway Summit the next two miles are downhill at an 8% grade with brand new pavement and large swooping turns.  Both times on that descent the computer registered greater than 50 mph.  It was enough to peel one's lips back, whether in a grin or due to the wind may be hard to tell.

Having tossed my coat after lap one, lap two was a phenomenal cruise in the California mountain sun.  Twice I passed P__, my brother, and my s-i-l, cheering and taking photographs by the roadside.  The end of the ride at Squaw Valley (1/3 of the way around the loop again) was genuinely disappointing.  That although, commenters will observe, the end of the bike is when we get to start running.

Running the marathon leg of an iron-distance triathlon is nothing like running any other race, at least for an amateur.  I'm not the first to observe that the entire enterprise is controlled collapse.  After five iron-distance starts including three terrible run legs and two failures to finish, I learned in St. George in 2011 that forcing myself to walk -- even early in the run-leg when I felt like running -- enabled me later to run when I would otherwise be stumbling or quitting.  I repeated that at Vineman that same year with the pleasing result of personal bests both for the run-leg and overall.

I did it again yesterday at Lake Tahoe.  9' running.  1' walking.  Timed to the second and no cheating.  When that got too hard, 7' and 1', and eventually 5' and 1' to get me over the hump at mile 13-14.  In the second half, extend the running and walk through the aid stations.  By the last 10K I was running mostly continuously.  The difference between this strategy and the other option -- run until I have to walk -- is that under the controlled approach I am in command.  When I run, get winded, and stumble to a walk, I find myself defeated both physically and mentally.  If I run and walk on a set schedule, I am proceeding according to a plan and keeping my head in the race.  In Lake Tahoe I (somewhat accidentally) accomplished the improbable result of a negative split in the run leg, with the second half a full 10' faster than the first.  Support from my family; friends with whom we were sharing a rental house; and the continually extraordinary crowds -- as well as sharing the run-course with two friends -- went farther than I could describe toward keeping me on target.  One doesn't like to quit when there are expectations to meet.

I went to Lake Tahoe with what in retrospect was a Pollyannish hope of a personal best time or even a (gasp) competitive finish.  Instead I spent my 40th birthday working harder than I had ever anticipated and did just well enough to finish with my head held high.  I could not be more thrilled.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Nice Day Hard Run

Ran with the gang this morning.  Mostly 9s, an 8:30.  My heel hurts. It was worth it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Testing my faith

Just when I have sworn off racing triathlon, and in particular this corporate monstrosity we call Ironman, I arrive in Lake Tahoe California to check out this weekend's race course.  I hope my ex post report is as sunny; for now, two laps over passes in the Sierras, with a spin along the shore of Lake Tahoe and a few turns into the heart of California ski country, has my glands watering.  The lake is as clear and blue as its reputation holds; the run will take place on a shaded bike path along the river running through massive mountain pines from Squaw Valley to the lake, and back, and out and back again.  Temperatures predicted to top out at 65 degrees.

So my 40th will either be a suffer-fest or a spine-tingling end to a good year of racing.  Perhaps both.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On the Academic Side

While I recover from kidney stones and binge watch Scandal (I recommend only the second), I did manage to finalize the Institute's new report --The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991: Adapting Consumer Protection to Changing Technology.  This report was the product of a cy pres grant from the Northern District of Illinois and a year long effort led by Max's past co-author Daniel Heitdke a '12 LUC law grad with substantial editing by Jessica Stewart also of the LUC class of '12.  First project of its kind by the Institute but hopefully not the last.  Download it while its Hot! 

Now back to Scandal and napping and thanks to Max for his comments on an earlier draft.


So, it's Fall, the weather is perfect for running, and I've gotten out twice in the last three days for runs in Prospect Park. Today MC and I did the full loop for the first time in months.  This is cause for cheering. I'm willing to overlook that my hips are insanely tight, my pace is absurdly slow, and miles 7-8 felt like the end of a marathon.  I keep telling myself that a few weeks of steady, injury free running will bring the form back.  I'm not entirely injury free.  My heel remains a work in progress, but it now supports a forward strike without too much objection.  My left hamstring/glute seems to be the main culprit right now.   They seem to still be trying to ride a bicycle.  I'm just going to thank the running gods that I'm outside on these glorious fall mornings, and hope they keep smiling.

Chris Horner

The Vuelta is a little out of our wheel-house at runningprofs, but we are a TDF following bunch and we have ruminated on doping controversies.  We also like the stories of oldsters who kick butt.  So a shout-out to Chris Horner, winner of the third Euro grand tour for 2013, at 41 years that are believed to be fairly dope-free.  That guy is celebrating his mid-life crisis in style!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Intemperate, much?

Regular readers, few though you are, may remember my rumination a while back about the qualification for USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships.  At most triathlon events, the top 10% in a given age group qualify for nationals -- a sensible, and fairly challenging to achieve, cutoff.  At some races I make it, at some races I don't.  At a few "regional qualifiers," the top 33% qualifies.  But the regional qualifiers are big city events like Nation's Triathlon that are not very hotly contested but instead appeal generally to the "bucket-list" crowd.  (That is, if you want to run a triathlon before you die and you live in driving distance of DC, you will run Nation's.)  The result is a very long "tail," making the National's qualifying standard much easier to meet.

All this is fine.  But the result is that the cool championship events are not USA Triathlon championships, they are Ironman championships -- Kona, Mt. Tremblant for 1/2 Ironman, and HyVee for Olympic distance.  Those championship events are exclusive.  Try as I do, I may one day qualify for 1/2 Ironman (not sure, but I might just have squeaked in at Timberman last month); I may one day qualify (but have not recently qualified) for HyVee; but short of keeping my speed until age 60 I will never qualify for Kona.  My analogy:  USA Triathlon is selling Hondas and World Triathlon Corp. is selling Mercedes.

I wrote to USA Triathlon to point this out.  Here is Michelle's response:


Only  a short list of special and regional qualifiers qualify athletes at 33%. All other races are 10%. Read the qualification page for accurate information. USAT and Ironman are two different types of organizations with two different purposes. USA Triathlon is the National Governing Body of the sport, a non-profit, with a major purpose of growing the sport. The World Triathlon Corporation, Ironman, is a corporation whose purpose is to make millions of dollars off triathletes each year. These facts are easily found on Google. If you would like more information do your homework and get back to me with additional questions. 


Michelle Thomas
National Events Coordinator

USA Triathlon"

My best guess is that Michelle has been fielding complaints about USAT non-stop and is sick of it. But, really?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On the bright side

So, enough gritching about race administration.  It was an absolutely spectacular day to race in an absolutely spectacular place.   Okay, so the bike racks were first come first served and got a little bit messy and cramped, and the Kraaken was a strange misapplication of effort.  It was still a beautiful day, and pretty much everybody had a good time.  Hopefully they'll get there act together, because Martha's Vineyard is a perfect place for a destination Tri.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Okay, so the Vineyard Warrior Tri was a decidedly mixed experience.  The day was beautiful, I had fun, and I got a good workout.   It was also, decidedly the worst run race I've ever participated in

The swim course is a very pretty piece of beach near the Oak Bluffs ferry dock.  I went for a swim the day before, and felt pretty comfortable.  When I went to register, the swim course on the wall was different from the one posted on the web -- two laps of four buoys, rather than two laps of three buoys.  Okay, whatever . . .  This turned out to matter on race day.   Before the start, I did a warmup swim out to the first buoy.  A group of us reviewed the course, and folks were confused about whether you had to go around all four markers both times.  When the race started, I was very pleased.  Contrary to my usual situation, I stayed with the group, okay, the back of the group, but considered drafting a few people, sighted well, and kept my head on straight.  There was a very strong current on between the first and second buoys on both laps, but I just kept my rhythm and didn't worry about it.  I got pushed a little to the outside going around the second buoy on the second lap, but kept the gang in sight.  Then something odd happened.  The group split.  Half the swimmers swam for home, taking the hypotenuse, while a few of us set off for the third buoy, to complete the square.  All of a sudden I was alone, and confused.  Doubt is not a good thing in this situation.  I slogged home, and got out of the water, feeling as if I'd swum pretty well (for me), but also confused about where everybody had gone.  The confusion was reinforced when I looked at my watch and it read 45 minutes.  35 I'd have believed.  39, even on a bad day with the current, but obviously I must have been wrong about the course . . .   Grumble, grumble,  bonus swim, grumble, grumble. . .

Off to the bike. I set off on the bike wondering where everybody was.  I usually ride through the field, and everybody seemed to be long gone.  I passed a few riders, and then I was pretty much on my own. Clearly, I'd messed up.  I had an okay ride.  I was hoping for a super fast ride.  My training rides have been going well, and the course was not too hilly, and mostly straight.  I wanted to break my time for the NYC Tri.  It turned out to be quite windy on the outbound leg, along the water, and then no tailwind on the inbound leg, which was more inland.  I got buffeted a fair amount riding from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown.  Basically, I was alone with my heart rate monitor the whole way, and I kept a steady effort, but not super intense.  I do better when there's somebody in the distance for me to chase.  Anyway, it was an okay bike leg averaging 20.1 mph, but I expected better.

The run was a fiasco.  The signage was terrible, there were no volunteers, and when I found myself a t an ambiguous sign and asked which way to go, I was sent in the wrong direction.  The end result was that three of us were going counterclockwise on a clockwise course.  We figured this out 2.7 miles in when everybody started going by us in the opposite direction.  Thank goodness for my Garmin.  We ran to 3.1 miles, turned around, and when we got to mile 4, the Garmin and the course were in synch.  I, however, was thoroughly out of sorts.  Between the swim fiasco, and the route fiasco. I was thoroughly confused about the day.  My heel was sore, though not horrible, but I was _not_ going very fast on the run.  My form felt better than in the NYC tri, but I was definitely a bit slower, at least in part, due to the aforementioned grouchiness.  The best thing about the run was that I slowly came up behind the one other person from the Brooklyn Tri Club who was running the race.  She was doing the Sprint, and we finished together.  There might be a good photo, but given the way the race was run, I'm dubious.

As it turns out the best things about the day were only discovered after I'd finished.  First, I confirmed with an organizer that I had swum the proper course.  Second, my Garmin measured the swim at 1.16 miles.  So, as a time for a half iron man length swim, 45 minutes is not out of line with what I usually do.  Third, when I got home and looked at the bike after we'd gone out for brunch, I noticed the front tire was soft.  I looked at the tread and found a big honking piece of glass.  When I pulled it out, the rest of the pressure came out of the tire.  I am very happy that I did not flat on the course.  That would have put me in an even worse mood.

Oh, did I mention that the race shirt had a logo that was left over from 2012, and then a legend, screened on the bottom that said "Oak Bluffs 2013?" And, did I mention that rather than paying volunteers to handle each of the turns, or at least make sure that the signs didn't blow over in the wind, they invested in an inflatable Kraken that you were supposed to run through?

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I'm a fan of small races, but in the past, the small races have been well run.  This was not a cheap event, and it was not well run.  I sort of wonder where the money went . . .

Nation's Triathlon and Weekend Recap

A big race weekend for the runningprofs, it turns out.  Great news on Spencer's and Matt's half marathon with a roll-back-the-clock performance from the finally healthy Professor Waller.  Waiting for hopefully good news on Ted's triathlon.  (Can't find the results link on the Warrior Triathlon page.)  I ran the Nation's triathlon in DC for the third time resulting in a PR and a rare a.g. podium finish.  (Misleading because the top members of my age group entered the "elite" wave, and quite likely beat me as well.)*  Am I missing anybody?

Back slaps and high-fives all around for a good start to the fall, when running really gets fun.

*Here's an "egg on my face" story:  when signing up for races I frequently tell some seemingly innocuous fib, like listing myself as a U.S. Representative when asked for my job title.  Another time I've been named Haile Gebraselassie.  And so on.  This is largely a protest against race organizers' gathering personal data that to me seems incredibly, well, personal.  At Nation's, they have a "CQ Roll Call Congressional Challenge."  Many local races have something like that -- bragging rights for federal agencies and all.  But at Nation's, they called the podium finishers from that event up to receive awards.  (I've never seen that before.)  With me so far?  Turns out that (fictional) U.S. Representative Max Huffman took silver.  Needless to say, I did not take the podium for that award.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sag-Ler Report

I am pleased to report that the Loyola Chicago portion of the blog averaged a sub- 2 hour half earlier this morning in low 70s but seriously muggy conditions.  We were saved by a cloud cover and some breeze. Matt scored a 1:55 and I finished in 2:03 (9:24 pace). 

I held a sub 9 minute pace through mile 8 and then gradually gave back time until the final push around mile 11-12.  Having Matt pace me proved a great incentive to stay respectably under 10 a mile.  Matt was kind enough to hang back with me through a 1:32 10 mile until I turned him loose to finish for a blazing final 5 K. Great finish given the conditions, his handicap (me), and his 4 mile warmup at his building's gym before we picked him up to head down to the race. 

As usual, my bad habits of too much walking and a nature break in the brushes at mile 11 prevented me from sub 2 land but my time was my best since 2006. 

Non-athletic novelties included running into my high school prom date and her family just outside the finishers' area and getting a ride home from someone in Matt's running group who is a former civ pro student of mine whom I have seen at several races over the years.

On to Sacramento but I am seriously thinking about substituting 6 or more halves next year instead of the all or nothing training slog for a full marathon.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Martha's Vineyard Warrior

So, I'm organizing my gear for tomorrow's Tri, the Martha's Vineyard Warrior Tri.  I'm feeling pretty good, but certainly not overtrained.  I went down to the beach this morning and swam a bit in the vicinity of the swim course.  The buoys weren't out yet, so I had to guesstimate, but still, it was a good confidence builder.  The water temperature was pleasant, not too much wind or chop.  Hopefully I'll manage a good (for me) swim.  The bike course is on roads that I know well.  It should be a fast course, no big hills, mostly straight.  Wind will be the principle impediment.  I'm hoping for a very fast ride, but who knows what will happen.  The run is anybody's guess.  I've been running better recently, and my heel feels reasonably sound.  Wish me luck!!

Two Halves Make a Whole, Right?

Tomorrow I tackle my second half of the year, the Chicago Half Marthon.  It is the half marathon I have run the most number of times and the site of my only sub-2 hour finish.  Hoping for low 2s tomorrow.  Matt Sag will run with me after he puts in an even earlier 4-5 mile warm up so he can stay on pace for his date with destiny at the Chicago Marathon in October.

Me, I am mostly healthy and mostly just putzing around until I start my serious ramp up for the December 8th Cal Int'l Marathon.  Running a lot of high 20 mile weeks with lots of 10-14 mile long runs so good and ready for a half.  Weather even looks promising for tomorrow for a change.  Thanks as always to L. for being willing to drive us down to Hyde Park at the crack of dawn.

 I am getting sick of the whole fitness expo thing.  Its a waste of time and money and a little depressing for the lesser races.  Yesterday's pick up was at Navy Pier which is a hike from my office.  If coming by cab at least $10 each way, or $12 for parking.  My compromise was to walk there and cab back.  The exhibits were small and uninteresting.  Except for the race shirt which was fine, the goodie bag was "virtual" and included lots of discounts to races in the general Midwest that were of no interest.  Usual merch vendors.  No giveaways unless you wanted to give your email and spin a wheel for a box of rice. 

Only highlights were registration and packet pick up for two later fall Chicago area races which is a great idea.  My only purchase was a new pair of Saucony Kinvara 4s at $79, which is a nice price.

The only expo I have enjoyed of late was Rome where the US contingent plus spouses took the subway and wandered a large and reasonably interesting hall and posed for pictures with Roman Centurions. For Chicago, they could have at least had fake Blues Brothers or real Daley Brothers!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Speed is not Ageless

Usain Bolt announces his coming retirement, NPR told me this morning. 

If there is one athlete who is not named Michael Phelps but who could be said to be presumed to win every time he started, it is Usain Bolt.  His level of dominance is mind blowing.

Or, at least, his level of dominance in this decade.  Is he more dominant than was Carl Lewis, with 10 Olympic medals -- 9 of them gold?  Carl Lewis's medals, Wikipedia reports, were won in four Olympic games, including a gold in the long jump at the age of 35 years.  Perhaps Jesse Owens, an early example of a multi-gold-medalist in track-and-field events?

Of course, for everybody but Carl Lewis, the end comes by necessity more than by choice.  One doesn't run world record 100m dashes after age 30.  Even Usain Bolt, who will be 29-going-on-30 at the Rio Olympics.

All this said, we at runningprofs know that endurance is not ageless.  Carl Lewis famously has discussed running a marathon, but Google headlines and a search of the Houston Marathon 2012 results suggest that this never got beyond discussions.  Haile Gebraselassie ran his first marathon at age 29 and did not set a world record until age 34.  I'd give most of my extensive running shoe collection for the fun of lining up at a start line near Bolt after his retirement from running on cinders.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Running a little

Okay, so I'm beginning to feel more optimistic about my heel.  It's not 100%.  There's still tightness in the AT, and a few tender spots.  That said, I was able to go for short 3 mile runs off the bike several times last week, and I'm none the worse for wear.  On Saturday, I was able to run 8 miles with my running group.  I was fine going at a 9 minute pace for 6-7 miles.  Then the wheels came off. It's a bit odd to have my body act like 8 miles is a long run, but that comes with the territory.  It's good to be getting my stride back.

Diana Nyad!!

Just watched Diana Nyad finish her epic swim from Cuba to Florida.  Simply amazing!!