Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nick of Time

So I managed to log another 20 miler on Sunday.  I met C early for 7 miles around Prospect Park.  It was a bit humid, but cool, and the meadow was blanketed in mist -- really beautiful.  We finished at the SBRC meet up, where I met D and B, who were setting off for 17 along the New York City Marathon route.  We ran up Flushing Avenue, through Williamsburg and Greenpoint onto the Pulaski Bridge (the halfway point for the Marthon), where I experimented with an over the shoulder selfie.   We continued through Long Island City and up over the Queensborough Bridge.  Then back along the East Side. I hit 20 miles near the Williamsburg Bridge, so peeled off and took the F train home from there.  The run was a real confidence builder.  I am not a big fan of the Queensborough Bridge.  It is a big, long, unrelenting, cold hill that shows up at miles 15/16 of the Marathon.  For me, it is usually where I begin to hurt -- not a lot, but enough to be demoralizing.  A pre race visit should be a big help.  Anyway, I seem to be already recovered from the run, so I'm feeling much more confident of my ability to finish a marathon in a few weeks.  I'm not expecting anything great, but at least I'm feeling like a runner again . . .

Friday, September 26, 2014

Running Social

I've been using Nike+ to track my distance and pace for a while.  One of the things that has made my slow return to form bearable is that I've also been having fun with Instagram and my I-Phone, taking pictures of cool stuff I see on my runs.  A few weeks ago, I stumbled on the fact that Nike+ has a utility for stitching the photos from your run onto one frame.  I've mentioned this before.  Anyway, it's pretty cool, and a way of letting the gang know that I logged a run, even though I haven't been to the regular meetup in weeks.  I also mentioned that Nike+ automatically places the #nikeplus hashtag on the comment line when you post it.  Sometimes I remove it, but sometimes I don't.  No particular pattern.  Most of the time, the folks who see it are the running gang -- the intended audience.  The part that I find interesting, sort of, is the bunch of "likes" you get from a random assortment of folks who apparently spend their time looking at where other folks run.  I don't particularly mind.  I'm just curious about who these people are (if they are real people), and what the deal is . . .  There seems to be a game/competition operating here, and I don't understand the rules.  Oh, here's today's run.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

10 ways to have fun on your 20 mile training run

1) walk when you want to walk

2) drink when you want to drink

3) eat fun snacks like Kiwi flavored short bread

4) take pictures of cool stuff

5) torture daughter at college with selfies as you approach her dorm (but don't actually stop by and visit)

6) don't worry too much about running time

7) stop for gatorade at convenient convenience store (Thank you Sheridan Chase market).

8) listen to NPR and New York Times podcast

9) run through beautiful college campuses on classic fall day (Thank you Northwestern and Loyola)

10) end up within 5 minutes of projected time anyway

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ultra long blog post

To evaluate true madness, start with the thought process.   There I am, in 2013, thrilled to be running again after 3 years of injury...having done the Roma Maratona in March with Ted and Spencer, and then the Amsterdam Marathon in October.   So all is good, right?   But no.    Despite my times in '13 being identical, and despite the fact that I should be grateful that I'M RUNNING AT ALL, I'm ticked off that my times are slower than my usual plateau.   
So in early '14 I start some speedwork...but then rowing training camps and work and rowing, and more rowing, get in the way, and I'm just too shattered to run quality miles, and I'm phoning in junk mileage and before I know it, it is summer, and I'm looking at the autumn marathon schedule ahead and thinking that I will end up as slow or slower than ever, and this makes me train even less!   
So, do I do what I should do and drop or dial down rowing and focus more on running, and the mile repeats I actually like?  No, I do not.   I hang my head and stretch and whinge and then one day I look up above me at the ads on the London Underground, and what do I see?


And an idea dawns...I love the Thames, I love a Challenge, and ultras are run more slowly than marathons, which means no speed work, more rowing, and Something Different.   

And before I know it, I'm devouring ultrarunning books and magazines and learning some very interesting things...it's like a different world...through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole type of stuff.    Some examples:  
  • Ultrarunning training programmes are just like marathon training programmes, but they unsurprisingly put more emphasis on the long run, and they LOVE the back-to-back, ie a long run and another longish run very soon after it, either same day or next day.    I like this too!
  • Ultrarunning involves eating and drinking pretty well constantly.   Mmmmm.   Big TICK to that.
  • In ultrarunning, hills are your friend.   You WALK them.   Indeed you walk any rise, any bridge, any shady spot, and when there's none of that available, you walk every 25 minutes anyway, to rest your legs for all the more running.    Mmmmmmmmm.   Jeff Galloway times 100.
  • In ultrarunning, you run slow, slow, slow but with a high cadence, even as high as 180, but light light light on your feet.    This is good discipline and involves less jarring...
  • In ultrarunning, you get to wear pillows on your feet.   These were mine:

So I sign up, pledge my sanity to charity. ..  www.justgiving.com/Philip-Marsden1  and BOOM!   Suddenly my urge to train is refreshed and just in time too.    The start of the summer sees a family holiday in Greece, where I'm up and finished my run before the scorching heat starts at 8am.   I'm eating more healthily, and while I'm struggling to slow down my running pace, it is coming down and the cadence is coming up.    Tick.

Since the race pace will be kept down in the fat burning zone, I'm practising training with fatty treats like coconut slices and almonds and oils.    I've got a fab new race vest and am testing out compression socks for the first time

Then suddenly it is a month to go and my mileage is skyrocketing but also so is the rowing regatta season, 

and I am running too much and racing too much and suddenly...ow owowowowowowowowowow....is it a metatarsal stress fracture or an extensor tear or what?   All running stops

I'm ordered into the pool for three weeks of aqua jogging while the physio works out what to do, ultrasounding me liberally.

During this time, of course, the seeds of doubt are only getting watered, and I keep telling myself it will be ok, but even if I am allowed to run the 100k, I'm worried the lay off will prove fatal mentally on the day....another thing about ultras: they say the physical part is of course huge, but the mental part is even bigger....you need to do all the training, and not start with an injury, because even when totally fit, the distance is 90% mental, and mind over matter might work for the last 6 miles of a marathon, but it might not be enough to take you from mile 20 to mile 62 of an ultra.   

Five days and ticking and the physio deems me raceworthy, with the immortal words, 

"I don't think you are going to make the injury any worse, but the race is just going to hurt even more than it should".    

So with that ringing endorsement, and hourly ice bucket challenges for my foot (shades of Spencer in Dublin)  I pack my race kit, register and have my final carb load

 and head to the Start, at Putney.

There are 2500 souls doing a range of 25k runs or walks, or 50k or 100ks, and this can done by teams or relays or whatever you fancy.   Thus it is very moving when the announcer herds the hundred or so of us hard core 100k Runners into the Start pen before everyone else, and asks those of us who are doing it solo to raise their hands and take a round of applause.   Nice touch, that.

And then we're off!    It is 7am and I'm trot trot trotting slowly slowly over Putney Bridge trying to stay calm, and letting the field stretch out way in front of me.    This is the view upriver...just 100K to go!!

High tide was 630am and we are still splash splashing through its remnants as we run alongside the Thames - our companion for the rest of the race - and spy on early morning rowers and scullers from the many clubs lining the river.    It is a glorious sunny morning, and while I have a light sweat on it is not too much.   25 mins comes too soon and I have to task myself to walk for a couple of minutes, which feels good.   I keep this routine up for another hour or so, and just enjoy the views and chuckle as six or seven of us keep exchanging places as we follow our own trot/walk program.   Eventually three of us give in to the inevitable and band together to pass the time.  The pace is good, and another hour goes by as we cruise past Hampton Court Palace.    Eventually the banter starts to feel constricting, so I drop my companions with a friendly wave at the first big 25 k aid station, as we fumble about filling water bottles and scoffing bananas.    I have decided to refill my three 500ml bottles at every station and these come up every 14k or so, which is fortunate since I'm dry by the time I get to each one.   

Bizarrely it is around this time when I start really feeling overwhelmed by it all, and ponder stepping off the towpath for the day...I can't describe why, it isn't the lactic acid talking that's for sure, as there isn't any.   And it isn't an injury or pain pain.   It is - what - fear?    Is that too melodramatic?   That's what it feels like.   I recite some kind words my sponsors sent me    My favourite being from a fellow Antitrust Marathoner   

Break it down into stages... 
like, er, the first marathon, 
the second marathon 
and then there's only 10 miles to go! 
Good luck.”

and I start visualising the Finish, and also visualising the email I would have to write to people if I dropped before getting to the marathon distance, with no injury....yep, that cures me!

By this time I'm nibbling Clif bars and almonds and coconut slices and bananas and an S!Cap once an hour, plus rivers of water, but haven't gone for the gel yet, as I'm sure that as soon as I do, I will start feeling sick.   Cool things are happening - planes are getting lower and lower and bigger and bigger and I realise this is because I'm closing on Heathrow, which is a serious distance from the Start....wow, I'm doing it!    Then suddenly I see a particular marker that makes me pause for some Quality Reflection Time...you can guess why...

Wow, I'm now in PB territory, since although this has been my slowest marathon distance EVER, it also means every step I take from this point on is new ground for me.         I celebrate by plugging in the iPhone, enjoying some tunes, then phoning my family to say I'm closing on the 50k aid station.    They are getting ready to leave home in Oxford to meet me later but they are thrilled to know I'm half way.   I am too, and I'm also amazed that my foot injury hasn't flared up, or my usual burning sides of knees....ITB of steel, not a good thing. 

But so far, just general pain all over and nothing threatening the run.    At the aid station itself I'm directed down a lane away from other runners being handed a glass of champagne, for completing 50k, and for a moment even this teetotaller is nonplussed, but then a terrible smug thought pops in that I'm doing that distance AGAIN...which is just mad, and should be squelched, but it gets me moving and the little crowd gives a wee cheer as I head out, fueled and tucking into more bananas.

Windsor comes and goes, and I chuckle that we have to run through bewildered tourists in the centre of town who refuse to move an inch out of our way.   I'm deep into my music now - Kate Bush, Talking Heads, Chili Peppers - and am just saying over and over that "I can do this" and I must smile - activate some happy feelings just by smiling - and think I will see the Fam soon.    It takes an age to get around the Eton Dorney Olympic Rowing site, which I know so well and at this point I'm passing super cruiser boats and families enjoying pub lunches.   

Fake smiling but it works...

Just north of Bray Lock I see my support crew, and they insist I change into new shoes (Newtons) and shower me with offers of specially baked carb balls, and drinks and all the power bars I'd given them and now don't want.   Too soon I'm gone from their caring embrace and am trotting up some seriously beautiful Thames Path, alone for the most part.    At this stage, some bad patches arise, and I find I'm walking fast but more than I'd like....I tell myself it's ok, when you're going through hell, keep going, and I do.    I see my phone and music batteries are almost done, so I plug in my first charger and go for that Awesome Hits album from Guardians of the Galaxy....perks me up in spirit if not in body.

This is none too soon, because here I come upon another moving marker!

I don't know why this one is such a big deal, maybe it is its roundness but for the first time, I sense that the Finish is within reach.    I meet the Fam again soon after and change back into my Hoka pillowshoes but decline all food and drink.   I'm in a mild nausea phase now, and while I'm worried that not refuelling will see me crash, even the thought of eating, even another bloody  banana, makes me want to puke.   I force down some flat Coke they've given me, and after a while I neck back a Gu gel, and I know this was the right thing to do, even if I almost bring it all back up.    It stays in, I run a bit more than I have been, and focus on something Ted wrote to me the day before: Form > Pace...and I realise that yes I'm not staggering, I'm not lurching, I'm trotting with Form, and this makes me feel good.

I'm getting a bit grumpy though and start shedding all of the Clif bars and gels that are in my pack, leaving them at aid stations.   At the final station at 86k or so, I drench my legs in ibuprofen gel, and somehow convince myself this helps.   It is getting darker now, a beautiful sunset has come and gone, and I'm feeling very lonely and a bit peculiar.   I plot on, saying "Relentless Forward Progress" over and over, a little madly, if I'm honest, and focus on relaxing anything that is tightening up, mainly my clenched teeth and brow.    I force another smile, and then a crazy grin, and try to hold it for a minute and then another, and gradually I lighten up a bit.

Now I'm into the 90ks and my trotting pace has matched my walking pace.   No matter, I force myself to trot to the next tree, to the next lock, to the next lamppost, anything to keep me moving.    It is dark now, inside and out, and I put my torch on, and am grateful that the mile markers are reflective...I almost get seriously lost a couple of times, but pubwalkers put me right, and it certainly seems the closer I get to the Finish the more that people I pass know what is going on.   I get little ripples of applause and thumbs up as I hobble by and this helps a lot as I'm starting to get weird spasms in my neck and back and need all the help I can get.  I start fantasizing that around the next bend the sky will lighten and this will signal that Henley is coming....but that doesn't happen for a very long time, and when it does, wow, it feels good.    I get to Temple Island...   

... the start of the rowing course and can't believe I'm within sight of the Finish. 

I phone the gang and they've been there for ages waiting, and I let them know I'm coming, slowly, and they laugh and say I'm to take my time.    I get to Henley Bridge and am ecstatic, a race marshal says I'm nearly done and I just need to follow the glow sticks in.   Which I do.   But they're going up a hill, away from the Finish.    I follow them a bit more and a bit more and the hill gets steeper and now I'm deep into a Henley town and the streets are full of people and I'm weaving in and out and trying to jog and the hill gets steeper and steeper and now I'm a teensy bit annoyed.   Suddenly though it flattens out, and I pass some 50k walkers and commiserate with them about the sadist route planner.   

Then it is a sharp and long downhill of ow ow ow ow and a right turn back onto the river and a tunnel of glow sticks and my fam are way ahead clapping generically until they realise it is me and they FREAK OUT and run with me and wham, I'm across, holding champagne, having my chip and number tagged and marked and being directed to burgers and salads and drinks and massage tables and dry clothes and it is HEAVEN!

I do all of that and more and get home and collapse and spend the entire next day in various forms of horizontality, gorging on Chocolate Lasagna (think layers of Oreos and cream, pasta free) and revelling in stories of the majesty of the Thames, and frank self disbelief that I did it and finished smiling too!    I'm also stunned at the weight loss, and for over a week I'm still finding clothes falling of me...the gadget says I burned 8600 calories that day, and I can't imagine I took in more than 4500 before I felt sick...and I drank constantly - 6 aid stations x 1.5 litres per station - and never went to the loo during the entire race, or til the next evening,so I'm guessing some weight has come off that isn't just fluid!   Amazing.   A good challenge...eat it back on.

The denouement: I have to say that during training and OCD'ing about ultrarunning books, I had got it into my head that next year I would do the 100 MILE Thames run from London to my home in Oxford, and then the year after I would do the 152 MILE Spartathlon in Greece...but you know what, I'm not going to do any of that.   And I'm not tempted to do the 100k again and knock some time off the 14 hours it took me!!!   I loved the 100k, I really did, and I'm thrilled I accomplished it, and raised over £3000 for Save the Children, but I'm a runner, and these ultras are just too far for me to RUN....you have to walk, you have to pace yourself and it is something to endure....but right now, when I recover, I'm a greedy to RUN, and RUN, and RUN, and this means dropping back down to my true home which is marathons and halfs.

Consider doing a 100 sometime though, muchachos....it is awesome, and while words didn't fail me in this blog post, they do fail me, if you know what I mean....it is a unique experience!!!


Monday, September 22, 2014

Marathon Fund raising

There are many worthy causes to support.  Now that I have completed my 20 mile training run in pretty good shape, I have decided for my 7th and final marathon to fund raise for the Public Interest Law Society (PILS) at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.  One of the many things I like about Loyola is its devotion to the public interest and its ability to attract students who feel the same way.  PILS supports those students through programming during the school year and more importantly with summer grants to students who work in otherwise unpaid summer internships in public interest and public sector organizations.  If you are able to support PILS and my final marathon run through the streets of Chicago please consider a gift of any amount to PILS. 

The easiest way is to go to luc.edu/law/give and select Public Interest Law Society on the drop down box marked direct your gift.  You can also send me a check made out to Loyola University Chicago School of Law with PILS marked in the notes section. 

Either way I am grateful for your support of this worthy cause and intend to match to at least the first $500.  In addition, I intend to steal the wonderful idea of Brother Matt and offer the additional incentive for every gift of $25 or more, I will add the song of your choice to my play list for race day.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Shut up Legs!!

How did I not know this was happening?  Yesterday, at age 43, Jens Voigt set the hour world record by riding 51.115 kilometers (31.7 miles) in an hour.   Then he retired.  That is called going out in style.  Here's a link to video of the last few minutes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Congratulations to Brother Phil

   On the completion of his 9/13 100K journey along the Thames from London to Henley.  Max may be the Iron Man of the blog but you sir are the Man of Steel.  Congratulations on an epic run.

Which Rocky are you?

Rocky I:     Underdog defies the odds, goes the distance.

Rocky II:    Yo Adrian, I did it!

Rocky III:    Eye of the Tiger.

Rocky IV:    No pain.

Rocky V:      Loses respect of son, beats up protege who betrays him, punches guy who looks like     Don King.

Rocky VI:     Defies the ravages of time, goes the distance, regains adulation of the crowd, quits on his own terms.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An Unintentionally Profound Text Sequence

A couple of weeks ago I did my 16 miler and texted my wife at a water break around half way out to let her about when I thought I would be home, leading to this potentially deep exchange.

Me: at mile 8.

Her: Take it easy.  Its really hot out.

Me: Don't understand.

Her: Don't push yourself.  Its not a race.

Me: Of course it is.

Her: Only against yourself.

Me: The only worthy opponent.


Have we just inadvertently defined what it means to be married to a non-runner?

Is this what Iowa feels like?

I'm getting inundated -- just hammered -- with information from law schools all over the country.  Such-and-such Law had a Supreme Court Justice out to speak.  So-and-so U. hired 10 newly minted JD-PhDs.  Another College of Law has great experiential learning opportunities.  At least that is what I glean from the headlines as I place one document after another into the recycle bin.

It is coming in the mailbox and by e-mail.  To be clear, glossy brochures are nothing new -- I've been getting them for years, as has everybody else -- but this is an order of magnitude larger and more persistent.  Spam e-mail is something I have not enjoyed in the past.  (I am not enjoying it now, either, to be clear.)  My colleagues have been relatively sheltered.

Why?  I got my thumbs up for tenure last year, and as such may be tasked with filling out the US News ballot.  I suppose some hope I might be swayed.

Thankfully not having received any outreach from my co-bloggers' institutions, let me state my position:  as a rational economic actor, there is one way, and only one way, that I am voting if I receive a ballot.  That's not because I am naive as to some legitimate arguments for a law school pecking order but because I am personally benefitted by an improvement in my institution's standing (and the inverse is also true).  I have cast about for an algorithm that teaches that I should be thoughtful in my voting, but having found none, my approach is decided.

Of course, there is a larger lesson to draw from this.  Surely everybody else is as smart as I and a rational actor also.  What does that say about the "peer reputation" metric in the U.S. News rankings?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Nice Day for a Long Run

I can't possibly compete with Philp's 100k jaunt this weekend.  We eagerly await a race report.  The achievement boggles my mind.  I managed a comparatively modest 21.3 long training run yesterday, and am happy to report nothing more than the usual soreness.  It was a gorgeous day, we ran at a gentle pace and I remembered why I love September in NY.  After a rest and household chores, V_ and I walked down to Brooklyn Bridge Park to Smorgasburg -- the weekend food festival on the piers for recovery food.  I had a Ramen Burger, brisket tacos and a hibiscus doughnut from Dough.  Yum . . . burp . . .

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pops Update

So, the jury is still out on my hip flexor.  I rested Saturday, stuck to the bike and pool Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, but I took a shakedown run on Tuesday, and felt fine through 5 reasonably fast miles.  Today I did 7 with C__ at a moderate pace, and felt fine again.  The muscle is still tight.  I feel it more when I walk, though, than when I run.  Lots of stretching and fingers crossed . . .

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Spencer was in town for a family event.  I begged off Saturday morning to recover from a fast-moving head-cold and joined him at 24th and M this morning at 6:40.  Traditional runningprofs runs seem to be 8-10 miles and casual.  Spencer is 5 weeks out from the Chicago marathon, however, so his plan was 18.  With a long run of 10 for 2014, and that several weeks past, I gulped . . . and agreed. 

We circled north and east to 21st and N, Spencer's old digs from long ago, and then headed further north to P to get into Rock Creek Park.  South to the river and southeast to Memorial Bridge, from where we saw the start of the Nation's tri -- er, du -- athlon.  (When water quality is bad they cancel the swim.  That apparently happened today after last-night's storms.)

Across Memorial Bridge and south along the Mt. Vernon Trail, enjoying the breeze coming off the Potomac.  We passed National Airport and circled Daingerfield Island (the restaurant used to be called Potomac Landing; it has a new name, but I last ate there more than a decade hence), continuing on to the northern edge of Alexandria.

And back.  Returning we skipped the island and crossed into DC at the 14th Street bridge, dodging racers in a few course-crossings before we found our way to the Mall at the hidden DC WWI memorial.  Past the Korean War memorial and around the Lincoln, where we once again found the bike trail by the river, passed Thomson's Boat House and ran past Washington Harbor underneath K Street.  At 33d we climbed the hill to M Street, following it to Pennsylvania and back east to 25th.  And a block or two north until Spencer's iPhone app said 18 miles -- the day's goal.

The return went through DC, but my mapping program makes that inconvenient to depict.
When the computer-generated voice read off the stats, it turned out we had covered a mere 17.99 miles!  Good news, however; Spencer had at least 1/100 mile to go to get back to the hotel.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Pops . . .

Well, in my experience, there are three kinds of pops that happen during workouts.  Good pops, bad pops and really bad pops.  With a good pop, something is moving from a bad place to a good place (my right knee in October 1999).  With a bad pop, you've pulled something, but it will heal in the ordinary course (lots of stuff).  A bad pop is a season ender or just a super long recovery (glute pull and resulting sciatica 2004).

This morning was the 6:30 AM plyo class.  Did I mention I ran a race that ended at 11:00 pm last night???  Anyway, I made it to class, and actually felt pretty good.  Warming up, my legs were loose.  I didn't stretch as much as I should have, but I'm not a big pre run stretcher.  Oops!! About 10 minutes in, during a segment of walking lunges, i felt a "pop" in my left hip flexor. .  .   This has been a problem spot for months, as I have been trying to even out my stride.  I stopped, walked it off, and found that I could do most of the exercises, except for lunging.  That hurt like heck.   As the day has gone on, it has settled down.  I won't know for a few days which kind of pop it was, though.  I think I won't attempt my planned 18 miler, and will stick to pool and bike for a couple of days . . .

Consolidation in Triathlon

Frequent commenter D__ shared with me the news that Rev3 and Challenge, numbers 3 and 2 behind Ironman in long-course triathlon promotion, are merging.  Challenge is top-side in this combination.  According to the opening lines of a press release available on the Rev3 site:
4 SEPTEMBER 2014 – Challenge Family and Rev3 today announced a partnership that redefines long distance triathlon in North America.
The two series are merging and, beginning in 2015, Rev3 races will be incorporated into the Challenge Family global triathlon series and branded as Challenge events. This combination will result in a stronger North American race series focused on delivering world-class quality events.
 Reading between the lines, this sounds to me like a rescue as much as a strategic partnership.

I've blogged here before about the triathlon market generally. (And hereAnd hereAnd hereAnd, most comprehensively, if a little dated, here.)

The merging parties

Rev3 never established a serious presence as a competitor to Ironman in the US.  Partly its network of races was small and partly its locations were less desirable.  Compare, for example, Rev3 Cedar Point (Ohio), its flagship event, with Ironman Lake Placid or -- much more -- Kona.  Partly that seemed to be their respective emphases:  Ironman has always been run for the professionals while Rev3 touted its "inclusive environment" focussed on "friends and family."  (Quoting the press release.)

Challenge, by contrast, went toe to toe with Ironman in non-US markets.  Anecdotally and based on questionable memory, it was a near-monthly occurrence that a particular race would change hands or there would be a bidding war for a particular venue.  One of the most colorful was the transition of the well-loved Pendicton triathlon, formerly Ironman Canada, to the Challenge banner.

The 800-lb. gorilla

For its part, Ironman has moved from a sleepy backwater of sports promotion to a massive marketing machine.  World Triathlon Corporation is a privately owned for-profit corporation that owns and markets the Ironman brand.  Ironman has been big business for decades.  Wikipedia reports that the Ironman brand was first sold in 1990 for $3 million.  It then changed hands in 2008 when Providence Equity Securities bought Ironman.  As of a few years ago Andrew Messick took over as CEO.  Messick is an Ironman triathlete and a serious entertainment executive, having been president of Anschutz Entertainment Group and vice-president of "NBA International" (according to this source).

Since going seriously corporate, changes have been occurring at a quick pace.  Ironman has bought up several races, taking over for competitors like Challenge; has sold off races that for one reason or another had become burdensome.  Famously, Ironman Canada, one of the most-loved destinations, left the Ironman fold to join Challenge.  Ironman has also opened new races and closed them down.  This is an enterprise being run like a rational actor in the way that reflects serious business chops on the guy at the helm.  Watching Ironman expand, one assumes some business school grad drew management marginal revenue and marginal cost curves and pointed out a huge area of foregone revenue.

In addition, Ironman has turned to aggressive marketing, including an e-mail campaign that is inches from causing me to unsubscribe from future communications.  One example: frequent racer status for triathletes!  This year WTC (Ironman) unveiled the "All World Athlete" designation.  The top 1% of athletes in each age group earn All World Athlete "gold" status; the top 5% earn AWA "silver" status, and the top 10% earn "bronze." Success is based on both speed and number of finishes.

Competing for what, exactly?

The pro races are not themselves remunerative.  In the US, at least, you cannot sell opportunities to watch even the world's best triathletes (whom I would argue may be the world's best athletes) compete.  If I want to see [pick a name], I can show up course-side one of a zillion times a year and be close enough to touch him or her.  With a fancy camera I can take home photos that rival the best of sports photography.  And if that isn't good enough, for $250 (1/2 IM) to $700 (IM), I can race against him or her.

Triathlon is one of the large class of participant-funded sports.  Like running, cycling, skiing, and rowing, and surely many others beyond my own experience, triathlon makes money because people want to compete in it, not because people want to watch it.  TV revenues must be minimal.  But gear marketing is a huge business -- a casual triathlete might easily budget $1500 yearly on upgrades (figure $3000 every three years for a new bike and another $1500 on wetsuits, lycra, shoes, helmets, and training equipment.  Entry fees are large.  Travel expenditures are large.

Thus, while the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS and NCAA compete with other entertainment options (movies, Nascar, WWE, reality TV) for eyeballs, triathlon competes with other sports for expenditures that facilitate participation.  The customer base is the amateur triathlete or, almost as good, the wanna-be.  I owned my first Ironman merchandise -- several pairs of ankle socks -- years before I ran my first Ironman.

Ironman has a leg-up in that competition because it owns the grand-daddy of them all:  Ironman Kona.  Ironman's success is all driven by the mystique of Kona.  If you are in the triathlon fold you know about "the Ironman" -- very distinct from "an Ironman" -- that is run each October on Hawaii's Big Island.  Kona is where the legends compete:  even pro triathletes may or may not ever qualify to race there.  Excellent age groupers must commit to years of training finally to get their Kona bid.

Lacking a Kona alternative, Rev3 and Challenge make a slightly different pitch to appeal to athletes happy enough to succeed in an individual race without needing to build to a championship event.  Each of them (and the merged entity) can boast serious pro fields and substantially the same -- and by many reports, better -- experiences for amateur athletes.  Their brand is not nearly as well known.  An office water-cooler brag "I ran a Challenge triathlon" will not bring the same back-slaps as saying "I ran an Ironman."  But with a bigger network of races and a bigger US presence, that may change. 

[I've got one marketing innovation yet to be exploited, and I will give it away here for free.  We amateurs fly thousands of miles and pay thousands of dollars to feel like big-shot athletes.  Few things are a bigger let-down than returning home to a community that has no idea and frankly does not care.  Stepping off the plane with your finisher's medal around your neck makes you a tool, not a hero.  What to do more?  A paid placement in major news outlets with local finisher names and a write up of how awesome the event was.  If the Post ran a hidden sports-page write-up of Ironman X and the local athletes who competed, I'd probably sign up, I'm embarrassed to say.]

If the merged entity can achieve the same appeal to amateurs that Ironman has, it will make a worthy competitor.  The historical approach to accomplishing this is to draw a great pro field and offer an exclusive pot-of-gold for people to talk about in hushed tones.  Challenge has a start on such a project with its "league standings" dating back 12 years.  It also has Roth, a huge -- and hugely popular -- European race where the incomparable Chrissie Wellington once went an astounding 8:18 and world records are perennially in jeopardy. 

In contrast, a promoter's billing its races as a "family and friend" events in an overt appeal to the pecuniary masses -- Rev3's strategy -- seems less likely to work.  It promises to relegate the brand to permanent second-class status, something of a JV league.

What lessons from this?

Another question:  what does consolidation mean for the sport of triathlon?  Speaking very generally and anecdotally, consolidation is the economy's response to an industry's reaching maturity, when competition takes place on cost and quality and no longer on innovation.  Hard to figure out how to innovate in air travel, so airlines merge.  Nobody is improving on the internal combustion engine, so auto makers merge.  Supply chains have achieved maximal innovation, so grocers merge.  We've also reached the point in triathlon where races are largely commodified. 

In the "destination triathlon" market (distinct from the local/regional-race market populated by club races and promoters like Sommer Sports), every race offers the same features for the amateur athlete: 
  1. a cool location with scenic backdrops; 
  2. a developed and polished brand; 
  3. established distances;
  4. fair uniformity in difficulty (with rare and usually accidental exceptions, flat-water swims, bike legs boasting between 20 and 50 feet-per-mile of climbing, and flattish runs with lots of spectating opportunities);
  5. similar swag;
  6. finishes medals.
Remaining competition is on brand names, with Ironman far in front; Challenge's having a good presence in Europe; and Rev3's having a modest presence in the US.  Part of the brand-name competition is the championship competition:  as it stands, Ironman Kona is the amateur triathlon event of the year, bar none, making Ironman the leading brand.  A competing championship, created with huge investment and attracting a strong professional field, might draw away some of Ironman's customer base.  Roth is the most promising option for the Challenge combination, but it would be a revenue sacrifice to make such a huge event exclusive.

It might even lead to a "Iron-distance triathlon world championships" where the top finishers at Kona and whatever exclusive event Challenge creates meet for a end-of-season shoot out in some exotic locale.  Such a result has precedent in pro sports leagues, where previously divided leagues joined for a "World Series" or a "Super Bowl."  If that happened, I would get excited again.

Race Report

Last night I tried something new, a night time, alleycat 10k.  The Gowanus Conservancy and my running club were sponsoring the "Superfund Superrun."  The race started in Greenpoint near Newtown Creek, and ended at a bar on the shores of the Gowanus Canal.  What made it an "alley cat" is that there was no set course.  The idea was to find your way from point to point by the shortest or fastest route.  There was a generally agreed upon way to go, but depending on lights and sense of direction, deviations were permitted and occurred.  Oh, and to aid in the orienteering, the race started at 10pm.  What's not to like?

I haven't raced since the catastrophic Brooklyn Half, so this seemed like a low key, amusing, way to test out the legs.  For safety sake, I clipped a flashing light to my shirt collar.  A head lamp would have been handy in a few spots, but mostly the street lighting was good enough.  Mostly, it turned out to be a confidence builder.  I started with a large group from the running club.  M__ announced an intention to run 8s, that seemed unreasonable, but aspirational.  We held 7:56 for the first mile 8:04 for the second.  They were cruising, I was huffing and puffing.  It felt good, but a quick look at my heart rate monitor showed me at my A race heart rate.  This was not an A race, so I backed it down. So did some others, so as the group thinned, I was able to keep other runners in sight (thank goodness for more flashing lights) all the way.  A couple of folks tried unorthodox routes, but I followed the suggested route which measured almost exactly 10K on the Garmin.  At the end of the day, I managed an 8:23 pace. This is nothing to write home about. I usually run 10Ks at somewhere between a 7:30 and 8 minute pace, but it was a heck of a lot faster than I've been going lately, and it felt good.

And, oh, Six Point Toasted Lager makes for excellent post race hydration. :-)

Note Rome Marathon Tech Shirt!

Water weight Loss and gain

On my recent 16 miler in the hot and humid Chicago summer, I lost between 5-6 pounds of water weight despite guzzling like a horse while out on the lakefront course.  This is not hyperbole.  The weight loss is typical for me on long summer runs and one of the water fountains is actually an old horse trough from when these were bridle paths not running paths.

I typically gain most of it back within a day or two with my overall weight slowly drifting downward as I hit peak mileage before a race.  But I'm increasingly sensitive to this because I am not interested in a repeat of kidney stones due to dehydration and weight yooyooing of 6-8 pounds within a 36 hour period can't be that good for you.  The good news is that this calms down dramatically as the heat and humidity fade.

Any thought about how common this is and what I can do about it?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Shoe/Orthotic Experiment

What is life without risk?  My slow return (someday) to form has been chronicled here in exhaustive detail.  Heel pain derailed me 18 months ago, and it wasn't until I got orthotics in March that I was really able to start running again.  It has been slow going, but I found a good orthotic/shoe combination in the NB 890s.  My major gripe has been that the heavy orthotics have really slowed me down.  The New Balance shoes are hitting the end of their useful life, so it's time to start tinkering.  A couple of weeks ago I bought a pair of Kinvara 4s, and a pair of Superfeet.  Superfeet are the off the shelf supportive insoles you can get in running shoe stores.  The combination is almost 4 ounces lighter than what I've been running in.  I've been waiting since then for an opportunity to try them out.  I didn't want to risk it on a long run, or in the mountains, so I broke them out today for a short 3.8 mile cruise. So far so good. I was definitely faster, and I didn't notice any extra soreness, though I did have to pay a little bit of extra attention to my footfall.  Fingers crossed . . .