Sunday, November 18, 2012

Unauthorized Assistance?

I recently read an article that highlighted the USAT’s “Unauthorized Assistance” rule. It’s a common sense rule, but one that I’ve unknowingly broken several times.
Here is the rule:
Article 3.4d. Unauthorized Assistance
No participant shall accept from any person (other than a race official) physical assistance in any form, including food, drink, equipment, support, pacing, a replacement bicycle or bicycle parts, unless an express exception has been granted and approved, in writing, by USA Triathlon. The receipt of information regarding the progress, split times, or location of other competitors on the race course shall not be considered the acceptance of unauthorized assistance. Any violation of this section shall result in a variable time penalty.
So, if I pass someone who is clearly hurting, and maybe needs fuel or water, technically, I shouldn’t give that person some of my water? Even if they aren’t hurting, who cares? Seems like good sportsmanship to me. What about flats? I can’t give someone a spare tube?
And that isn’t even the part of the rule I’ve broken. I suppose, by the letter of the law, I’ve ‘paced’ before. Pacing is defined as making forward progress while being accompanied by someone who is not currently competing in the race.  “Unauthorized” assistance, as opposed to what the race organization provides, is illegal and time penalties are assessed to anyone receiving aid from an outside source.

From time to time, my wife and I will do a race together. She is not competitive and likes to enjoy the race at her own pace. I typically finish before her, then double back to find her on the run course so that we can run together. Technically, this is pacing. Even though we aren’t trying to beat anyone or set a course record. Just a nice cruise to the finish – typically in the bottom portion of her age group. Should she get a time penalty for that?
Likewise, my son will start racing with me next year. He is 12. I want to race with him, especially on his first race and on longer events. I’m not trying to ‘pace’ him, I just want to enjoy the experience together.

I understand that triathlon is an individual sport, and the rules are black and white. But to me, there seems to be a lot of gray with this rule.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How long is a triathlon?

As a triathlete, there are a few common questions I routinely get from people who aren't familiar with the sport. Here is a sampling:

What's the order of a triathlon? Is the order always the same? Can you do it with a team? Do you swim in the ocean? Are you afraid of sharks? Have you done Hawaii? What's your favorite leg of the race?

But the most common questions are around the distances. People want to know how long the race is, and they don't understand that there are different triathlon distances. Below is a simple way to break it down.

Sprint Distance
The sprint distance triathlon is the most common triathlon you will find, and the shortest. A typical sprint distance triathlon consists of a 400 to 500 yard swim, 12 to 15 mile bike, and usually a 5k run.

Olympic Distance
The Olympic distance triathlon is a 1.5k swim (.9 mile), 40k bike (24.8 miles), 10k run (6.2 miles). This is the same distance used in the Olympics. You will also hear this distance referred to as the "International" distance, because that was what it was called prior to triathlon becoming an Olympic sport in 2000. Either name works just fine.

Half Ironman Distance
The half Ironman triathlon is a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run.

Ironman Distance
The Ironman triathlon is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run.

Last thing to note, Sprint and Olympic distance events are often referred to as short course races, and the Half and Full Ironman distance races are referred to as long course races.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Problem with USA Cycling

I just completed a survey for USA Cycling. The survey was sent to me because I haven't renewed my membership in two years. I was more than happy to give them my reasoning because I'd love to see changes in the sport of cycling - specifically racing, not recreational weekend cycling.

For starters, let's have more local events. If you live in Charleston, you can race locally one weekend per year. I repeat. One weekend per year! That's ridiculous. What if there was only one 5k road race per year? It makes no sense. Why aren't local bike shops sponsoring races every few months? Wouldn't that grow the sport? Wouldn't that generate a few bike sales and local shop loyalty? I can race eight local triathlons per year, but only one cycling event? Why is that?

If there were more races, more people would be introduced to the sport. More people would get involved. More beginner and novice riders would participate. Most first-timers are going to try a local race first, before making any significant financial commitment for travel or hotel. So give them some local options!

All inclusive
And when you add more races, do everything you can to make them inclusive to beginners. On the USA Cycling race circuit, there is not a category for a first time racer with no clue. Or for someone who just wants to race his old Schwinn. Or for someone who just wants to bring his kid out to race with him. And guess what? Because USA Cycling does not care about those people, they will never become members and grow with the sport.

To continue with my 5k road race analogy, would you want to do the 5k race if there were only 10 participants, and they all ran a sub-20 time? Would you feel like that's something you want to try? Would you want your kids to get involved in that?

Simply put, USA Cycling caters to hard core cyclists only. I wonder what the organization would look like if it tried to somehow roll in the larger group of cyclists?

Lastly, if I had a bike race for kids in my neighborhood, and targeted any kid who owns a bike that wants to ride and have fun, there would be a big turnout. If USA Cycling were to have a kids event, it would be for license carrying Junior USA Cycling members with aspirations of making the Olympic team. That's great for the 6 kids in the entire state with that goal in mind and a $4k bike, but what about the kids who just want to pull the bike out of the garage and race with his friends around the park? That race does not exist.

Cycling has basically gotten as niche and accessible as Polo, and that's a shame because every kid has access to a bike. They just don't have anywhere to race it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Parris Island Recap

The 2012 Parris Island Triathlon was great, as always. Setup always produces great races, and actually, they've been able to keep registration costs down while other, smaller, race production companies have not. I appreciate all that I get for a very affordable $50 registration fee. In fact, I would go as far as saying I have brand loyalty. If you are going to provide me with 15 plus, first class, races around the state, and do so at a low cost, you have the bulk of my race budget.

Now for some complaining. The swim portion of this race is in a pool. We are seeded by 100 yard swim times, and go off in 15 second intervals. It's critical that people submit the correct swim time so that slow swimmers don't create log jams, causing others to have to swim around the log jam. It's hard to pass in a lane with swimmers going in both directions. It can be every bit as chaotic as a open water swim start, and it shouldn't be.

Setup has done a wonderful job of ensuring people submit the correct swim time. When you register there is a lot of instruction for how to enter your swim time. You also get an email prior to the race stating your swim time and asking if you sure about it. They make it hard to be wrong.

I was thrilled to see all the efforts made to ensure correct swim seeding this year. I was flabbergasted when I got in line for the swim start and was told not to worry about the seeding. What? A fellow race participant said that things had gotten screwed up and they were letting people go whenever. What?

When I got to the start I asked two staffers why the order got messed up, and the dude said, "Don't worry about it." Great thanks. I've seen tons of people go off who are seeded in the bottom half of the race. Now I'm the one who has to deal with 6-person pile ups on lap turns and head on collisions as I try to pass. That affects my time. Plus I don't like revving up to pass. It takes me off my rhythm.

I'll stop there. Just a little ranting. Overall I had a great day, so I'll just move on and, 'not worry about it.'

Race Predictions
Well I wasn't too far off my race predictions, which I posted in my last blog post. Check it out:

                                Prediction           Actual
500 mtr swim         9:20                       9:19
T1                          50 secs                  42 secs
Bike                       30:00                     31:40
T2                          50 secs                  46 secs
5k                          20:50                     21:03
Total                      1.01:47                  1.03:28

So I was a total of 1.41 seconds off my predicted time. My biggest miss was on the bike, but I have to say, my bike CPU had the course at slightly over 10 miles. So basically, I nailed it with my predictions, because I averaged 20 MPH.

I will also state for the record that racing 10 lbs over my normal weight makes a difference. That slower 5k split, and sluggish bike, has a direct correlation to that weight. It's time to back off the chips and carbs and get serious about my unhealthy eating habits. This weight, apparently, isn't going to magically disappear just because I exercise a lot.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Parris Island Predictions

My first race of the season is this Saturday at Parris Island. Love the race. Do it almost every year.

I’m feeling good. My training has been strong. In fact, in the first 10 weeks of 2012, I’ve trained slightly more, and harder, in all three disciplines than I did in the previous two years (according to my training logs). Theoretically, I should be able to duplicate last’s year’s times, if not exceed. But I’m not so sure. Why is that, you ask? Because I’m getting fat.

That’s right, I’m racing 10 lbs heavier than I’ve ever raced. At 6’2” I82 lbs, I don’t wear moo moos or use a dialing wand (a la Homer Simpson), but this is the heaviest I’ve been in 10 years. I recently had the humbling experience of taking a pair of pants to the dry cleaners to have them ‘let out’ an inch. I’ve moved up a hole in my belt. In fact, when I sit down, I can feel my gut on my belt. Good God I have a muffin top!!!

But the most alarming part of it is that I cannot cut this extra weight – no matter how much I train!

Age, and gravity, are constants in the universe
I always enter the new year a few lbs heavier than my average race weight of 172 lbs. But by March, I’m right back at my fighting weight and have no trouble maintaining it through the summer. I’ve noticed over the years it’s taken a little longer each year to get that excess weight off. But this year is different. It’s been an epic battle. I can’t get below 180 lbs. And I’m afraid that extra weight is going to slow me down a good bit. There is a scientific equation that backs up that theory, but I’m too fat and lazy to look it up.

Here is my race prediction, based on my training:

  • 500 mtr swim 9:20
  • T1 50 secs
  • 10 mile bike 30:00
  • T2 50 secs
  • 5k run 20:50
  • Total: 1.01:47
We’ll see how it goes…