Saturday, 27 July 2013

Working towards an Ironman. Job, kids, Ironman, how do you do it?

I've read many articles outlining training programs of 20+ hours/ week and I just dismissed them. I can't imagine having that much time to commit to training. Not if I want to stay married and remember the names of the short people running around my house anyway.

Professional triathletes are so amazing. They commit every ounce of food, every step of training, every minute of sleep towards engineering a perfect triathlon body. But I can't relate. I have 3 kids, a full time job teaching and a part time job refereeing hockey all winter so I can pay for my triathlons all summer. I wanted to talk to more people like me. People that see a sub 16 hour Ironman time when they cross the line and weep with tears of joy because they have achieved their goal. The moms and dads that find time before work or after the kids go to bed to crank out a brick workout.

I got to talk to a few of these extraordinary people and summarize what makes them tick. For these athletes it's about the finish, not the time (well maybe a little about the time).

Danny, (AG 40-44) British Columbia is a sales manager for Four Seasons and travels about 6 weeks a year. Danny completed the one and only Ironman NYC and will be in Whistler for Ironman Canada this year.

Pamela, (AG 55-59) California is a consultant who, in addition to having to work full-time, has to travel for work. Oh, and she broke her wrist in a cycling accident but that hasn't stopped her. Pamela completed the Beach 2 Battleship Iron distance race in 15:01 and is keeping 15:00 as her goal for Ironman Canada 2013.

Pamela, heading into T1 at Beach 2 Battleship

Chris, (AG 45-49) Michigan is in business and has 3 adolescent daughters. To top it all off his PR is 10:43:00. Yes, I worship at this man's altar. Ironman Canada 2013 will be his 11th Ironman race and has set his goal at, "just finishing" because, as you can imagine, his family keeps him busy.
Chris, Ironman Lake Placid

Don, (AG 35-39) Texas  works in heavy road construction and has 2 daughters and a son aged 10, 8 and 7. Don has a 70.3 finish under his belt and is training for Ironman Texas. He is shooting for a sub-14:30.
Don finishing Buffalo Springs 70.3. His kids (in the tie-dyed shirts) just high-fived him.

David (AG 45-49) Alberta is a school teacher and father to 3 boys, 12,9 and 7. His personal best is an amazing 11:10 at Ironman Canada 2008 but is shooting for an amazing 10:30 at the new Challenge Penticton (same course) this August.

David and his boys at the Edmonton ITU race.

Dan (AG 40-44) Alberta is a married trauma ICU nurse with two young boys aged 3 1/2 and 12 weeks. Dan's PR is just under 15:00 at Ironman Canada and is training for Challenge Roth in 2014.

Dan, Ironman Canada


In talking with every one of the athletes it became clear that they were very good at time management. David says he "gets up a 5am and gets in a treadmill run or a bike on the trainer. That way [he] can make breakfast for the kids and help with lunches before going to work. [He] also will get a workout in after work if there's time." But he stresses that you have to make sure your family comes first because they sacrifice a lot so you can live out your dream. Pamela travels for work so she got a membership to 24 Hour Fitness. This allows her to get in her workouts wherever she is and whenever she can. This makes discipline such an important factor. It must be so easy to blow off a workout if your only available time is at 11pm, but she says you need to "ignore that tired voice" that wants you to just go to bed.

Everyone expressed at least some concern over the possibility of strained relationships with family during training and there were two camps in how they dealt with this. One was to try and incorporate family into training and the other was to keep it totally separate but emphasize their focus on family time.

Chris wouldn't always work family directly into the workouts but rather would schedule family breaks during a workout. "One of my favorite 'bribes' was to have my wife meet me at a destination on my point to point rides or runs. Usually a park or ice cream shop and I would treat and then also have a ride home. They loved it and it broke up my training monotony." Additionally, he would swim while his 7 year old was doing lessons and during some runs the kids would follow on their bikes.

On the opposite end of the spectrum Dan never includes his family in his training. "[He] knows that [he] would not be able to give 100% while training with family there. Given how limited [his] training time can be [he] needs to give [his] all." He applies this same principle to his family time too. "When it is family time they get me 100%." Don doesn't typically include family in the hardcore training days but does shorter fun runs and charity races with his family. He stresses how important it is to "keep the kids interested in an active lifestyle outside of the world of wii, iPods, and tv."

Danny may have the ultimate in balanced relationships. He and his wife Julie take one year "turns" being the in-season athlete. In Danny's "on" year he trains 6 times/week and in his "off" year it's 3 time/week. They get to choose what they focus on and they go for it full steam. Their children are also quite involved; Sons Tyler, 11, and Jojo, 7, follow along on their bikes while daughter Ava, 3, gets pushed along in the stroller. Tyler is already competing in his own triathlons and Jojo is so excited to join him that he's been taking swimming lessons to catch up.

Really, there is no "right" way to train while ensuring your family is looked after, every situation is unique. However, you need to be open and honest with your family and yourself about how much time you will realistically have to dedicate to your training and whether you're ALL willing to commit to a very involved training schedule. How much training your family can accommodate is something that needs to be discussed and even negotiated in some cases. Also, don't be afraid to change plans mid-stream. Ironman can be one of the greatest achievements of your life, but if it comes at the cost of a happy family it's not worth it.

Don trains 5-6 days a week, usually swimming before work and then either running or cycling in the afternoon. He says, "you have to get your partner on board first and foremost. If they aren’t going to support you or even worse if they are going to blame you for time spent away then it is never going to work."  David echoes this sentiment. "Family comes first. Schedule workouts around them. They are making a sacrifice for you. You NEED a family commitment. It shouldn’t be all consuming."

Dan has a very pragmatic approach to his training/family balance. "Life will always throw a curveball when you are training. It's ok to change your plans…really it is! Missing a day of training will not ruin your Ironman. Do what you can when you can. Be realistic in your expectations with your available time." Chris has family viewings of past Ironman World Championships. This gets the entire family excited about his journey and makes them feel a part of it and even excited about his training.

Race week can bring its own set of pitfalls if you're not careful. Ironman requires you to arrive at the host venue a minimum of two days prior to race day because there are so many things to do before your enter the water. Two days out you need to register; this involves getting to the expo area and signing waivers, collecting your race numbers and bibs and other race accessories. This can take anywhere from about fifteen minutes up to two hours depending on the lineups when you go. If it's raining, GO THEN, the lines are almost non-existent typically. Chris likes to "visit the expo and be around the other athletes, etc. but then shut[s] it down!" He uses family as a welcome distraction to all of the pre-race hype. "At this point you're NOT there to train. After all, you're not going to gain any fitness in the final days leading up to the race. Explore the area with your family and eat and rest with them. Race day is YOUR day, it's all about you. But the other days are about them! 

A perfect pre-race family activity is to take in a movie.  A theater gets you out of the heat and into an air conditioned room where you can be off of your feet and, more importantly, distracted from the pressure and anxiety that the impending race can bring.

That evening there will usually have a pasta "carbo-load" dinner. This dinner is included in the race entry for the athlete but additional tickets can be purchased for family. If your kids are young I would advise against bringing them, it's an amazing experience for the athletes and even their partners but kids will likely get restless and not be very happy to be there. If it's your first race I would definitely attend the dinner, there are usually some special guests and inspirational speakers that really get you pumped for race day. 

If they are into it, volunteering is a great way to give back to the amazing races that are put on and it also gives a much greater appreciation of what the athletes are going through on race day as it gets them up close. Danny's family takes a great deal of pride in collecting their different volunteer shirts from races. This also makes it "their" day to party and celebrate and even say their "goal is to create a memorable experience for the athletes."

David has some advice for the families of the athletes. "Be there for your family member, but be there for everyone, they need it." Many athletes travel to races alone and a kind word here or there can really be a big boost, even if they don't acknowledge you. Many athletes are suffering too much to properly thank you but they are hearing you and they appreciate it. Make sure you enjoy the day too. He suggests watching the swim and then going for breakfast, cheer your loved one past on the bike then hit the beach. Make the day a fun experience and it will be a positive memory for everyone. Pamela adds in, "take a nap, it's a long day." Just being out in the sun for hours can be quite draining and they need to be at the finish for you.

Ironman is hard, really hard. And when you add in a family and a job it can seem an almost impossible challenge. I think that's why I hold these IronParents in such high esteem. Their commitment to their race is so extreme. Pamela quips "don't even think about your social life. You've seen the t-shirt, sleep eat train, repeat. For parents, add in see the kids but that's about it." An ominous reality but you really do need to be honest with yourself and your ability to commit. Don really captured the spirit of Ironman for most of us:
"We’ve all gotten into this sport for our own personal reasons and truth be told most of us won’t even be podium placers within our own age group so a missed workout isn’t the end of the world and truth be told missing one here and there for we, the participatory crowd, is probably beneficial. Involve the family when and where you can, plan extensively to avoid missing important work and family functions, keep your priorities straight, and remember this is supposed to be fun."

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Tri Training for Big-inners (Run)

In terms of triathlon, run training is likely the least daunting for most people. It is a natural movement (at least as kids), it's relatively inexpensive and the danger level is much lower than venturing into open water or hurtling down a hill at 30 miles an hour on a bicycle.

However, it is tough for so many of us to just get going. If you haven't run in a while it's going to hurt, I wish I could lie to you but that's the truth. Your feet and legs will be sore, your lungs will burn and you will consistently question whether it's all worth it (it is). As I write this my sister has taken up a running program and she gives me daily updates on her progress and it's really fun to watch her times get faster and her distances increase. We come from a family that was not blessed with the skinny gene. Or skinny jeans for that matter but that's a blessing for society.

Skinny Jeans. I guess they work on this guy.
As with the other triathlon disciplines I would invest in some training sessions with a coach. "But isn't it just running?" Yes and no. You will certainly see improvement if you "just run" but there are ways to make your stride more efficient and therefore go further with less effort. A coach will be able to set you up with a plan to gradually increase your distance and time. Also, a running group can be a wonderful resource. There's something about suffering en masse that makes it just a little bit easier. As I mentioned in previous posts, the group exercise class provides support and more importantly shame. The shame of missing a workout, use it to your advantage.

Once you start running it is CRITICAL that you include a warm up and post-workout stretching as a part of each run. It's not a sometimes thing, it is an every time thing.

My warm up every run includes a slow 5 minute jog to get my muscles working just a little bit. Then I do a dynamic stretch in the 4 different directions of my leg muscles. Dynamic means you're not sitting there holding the stretch, you activate and then release the muscle. I had my 4 year old Kelland help me out with the pictures.

1) Quads:
Pull foot and push hip forward. Do 10x per leg.

2) Hamstrings:
Keep legs straight and reach back as far as you can to get a nice quick pull.
Then reach overhead and push hips through.
3) Groin:
Basically a yoga "triangle." Really rotate hips to get groin stretch.
4) IT Bands:
Place heel on opposite knee. My hand is also pushing on my knee to enhance the stretch.

This is not a list of ALL possible warm ups, just what works for me. Experiment and get a routine you like and that works for you!

After warmup, Kelland knew we had to run so we went to the corner and back.

If you're like me it's probably been a while since running was a common activity and as that time has passed you body's ability to recover has diminished. Without proper warm up and cool down (including stretching) your likelihood to become injured will be greatly increased. And once you get injured trying to get into shape, it's a hard mental battle to get back into the game.  I also strongly encourage rolling out after. This involves you laying on a hard piece of foam or a specially designed tool to self massage your muscles.

Rolling out and watching TV after a run. Look under my closest thigh. That's Trigger Point.

Great starter kit. It keeps me moving!

Most running shoe stores have running clubs for all sorts of distances and abilities and they're usually quite reasonably priced. For example, Running Room in Canada has an 18 week half-marathon program for $69.99, and this includes a technical t-shirt. This is mutually beneficial, you get affordable run training and in return most people will buy their running accoutrements from their stores. As with swimming and cycling there are a myriad of accessories and gadgets that you can purchase to improve your running experience but the one thing you should not scrimp on are good shoes. Which shoes are good? Depends on you.

There is a big minimalist movement right now. The minimalist proponents seem to believe that supportive shoes were created by Satan to slowly weaken our foot muscles and render us completely dependent on orthotics and supportive shoes. Others prefer to run on a cloud surmising that it is better to use science to our advantage and prevent wear and tear on our joints. Sadly, I am like a fish following a shiny object and tend to believe whichever article or Tweet I read last. The best answer is that the shoe that's right for you will be dependent on so many factors. Foot width, arch height, body weight, race length, running style (you'll be bombarded with forefoot, midfoot and heel striking and you'll actually develop a complex about people watching and judging you based on which part of your foot hits the ground first) but be prepared to change shoes a few times. It can get expensive but once you find that perfect shoe it's great! Until they make a modification for next year's model and screw the whole thing up and you start over. HEY SHOE COMPANIES, be creative but don't throw the baby out with the bath water, some of your shoes are actually really nice.
Hoka One One Cushioned Shoe
Nike Free Run minimalist shoe.
Vibram 5 finger shoes. Barefoot running.

I have worn Nike Free Runs for almost every race I've run and have been happy with their performance, but by about mile 18 of a marathon my legs are thoroughly pummeled.  I will be trying the Hoka One Ones  just to see if it's the thin shoes that are the problem or the fact that I'm simply running (read run/walking) 26 miles that makes my legs tired.  In addition to wanting to try a more cushioned shoe, the Free Run 2s have gone to a "fashion style" so the upper (fabric part of the shoe) is now a tight knit that doesn't breathe and it had my feet cooking. Why Nike? Haven't I been good to you?

Another area of debate is walking during a "run." Some believe that through training you should be able to maintain a run ad nauseum. Others theorize that scheduling a walking break before you "need" one will allow your body to recover and in the long run your overall pace will be greater than if you just run no matter how slow that run becomes. I'm personally in the run/walk camp and favor an approximately 12 min run to 1 min walk. This works perfectly for me at Ironman because the aid stations are placed every mile so in theory I should run to every aid station, walk through the station refuelling and then start running at the other side. Unfortunately, I end up having more and more walking breaks as the race goes on, but my plan going into the race was to run to each aid station and it's echoed by a number of my fellow competitors that are finishing WELL ahead of me. 

Don't start out trying to do 12/1 intervals though. Many plans will actually have you start out with 1 min running and 1 min walking repeated and slowly building from there.

That being said, if you can run an entire marathon without walking (first off, why are you even listening to me) please run the whole thing. 

                                                  Ironman Canada 2012 and LOOK! Skinny people behind me!
Each week we'll take a virtual first visit to a local tri shop. We'll be looking at the shoe department but in this case you'd do just as well to visit a shoe specialty store. I would tend towards a boutique style store for most things in triathlon as typically it's run by a few people that have a passion for their work and have a really good knowledge of the product. At most chain sporting goods stores you'll find minimum wage employees just looking to sling shoes and other product. 

- "Good" running shoes. These will be the shoes that are perfect for you. A good salesman should be able to look at your gait in different shoes and guide you towards a few that will be about what you need. After that it will come down to fit and feel. Many small shops offer a trial period to actually road test them. 

- Roller. There are a few different types but my personal favorite is the Trigger Point (TP) Therapy        roller sets. They have a few different tools in the kit to hit different muscles and it's been amazing for my recovery. A roller gives you the ability to get a massage as often as you need without having to shell out big bucks and making an appointment. This seems like it should be in the "want" category but for my money it's been essential to my running.

Realistically when it comes to "need," good shoes and a roller are about it I think. However, the "wants" list can get pretty long.

- Running hat. These hats are a little more ventilated and lighter than a normal baseball style hat.

- GPS watch. Much like the GPS bike computer this fun little tool will give you a great deal of information about your run. Distance, time, speed at any given time, elevation changes and heart rate. You can get a ton of information from it but you need to know what to do with it. 

- Water belt. I love my Fuel Belt running belt. It has a space to put my keys and money while I'm running and has 6 little water bottles rather than 1 heavy bottle to evenly distribute the weight.

Fuel Belt. The small bottles distribute the weight nicely.
- Compression shorts. I feel like these are a need but if you don't have my ample thunder thighs they may not be as necessary. The greatest benefit I get from these shorts is that they allow my legs to slip by one another with hardly any friction. Without them you would likely be seeing crotch smoke by mile 2 of my run.

- Running jacket. These are commonly referred to as "bum jackets" because the back is cut low to keep the splash off of your pants when you're running in rain. In addition to warmth these jackets provide a place to put your things. "Why not just get a regular jacket?" Running jackets have the pocket in the small of your back where there is the least movement so a wallet or keys won't be banging around and affecting your run and are usually trimmed in highly reflective material that makes you very visible if running at night.

- iPod/MP3 player. I find it so hard to train without music so my iPod and my headphones have a special place in my gym bag and if they're not where they're supposed to be I have a minor freak out (actually it's fairly severe) and won't leave home until they're located. I favour the iPod Nano (Gen 2) because it is small and has a built in clip so you don't need any armbands or other accessories, but realistically any MP3 player that you can comfortably run with will do great. If you do opt to use an MP3 player that you wear on your body make sure it is in a waterproof case. I sweat... a lot. I sweat so much that I actually shorted out my first iPod Nano. To Apple's credit they acknowledged that I was using the product as designed and replaced it at no cost. Very classy and have a customer for life.

-Headphones are another toy that I have exhaustively tested. I cannot run or workout with normal ear buds. I spend half of the time putting my ear buds back in and it is too distracting.  There are some ear buds that come with hooks that go around your ear and they work really well. My only criticism of that style of headphone is that if you wear them with sunglasses they can cause some discomfort behind your ears. My personal favourite is Yurbuds headphones. These are basic ear buds but with a soft rubber cover that is designed to fill and stick to your ear opening. These are brilliant! It doesn't matter whether I'm jogging, cycling, doing a weight circuit or full-on sprinting Yurbuds DO NOT fall out!

Yurbuds earphones. Just awesome

Note: I do not receive any compensation for endorsing any products (yet, fingers crossed). My opinions are based solely on my experience using the products in training and racing. 

Friday, 12 July 2013

Tri Training for Big-inners (Bike)

Cycling is probably the most forgiving of the sports for newbies and bigger athletes. You can coast when you need to, it's essentially a non-impact activity and there are times when being bigger actually helps.

The first thing you're going to need to do is get a bicycle. How much is a bike? Well, how long is a piece of string? It depends. You can pay almost any sum of money for a bike from "free from a buddy" to well over ten grand. Seriously, there are bikes that have electronic shifting. ELECTRONIC SHIFTING!!! Do your research and be honest with yourself about what you really need and what you can afford in a bike.

My first bike was a Trek 2.1 and it was about $1200 from my LBS (Local Bike Store). You'll need to learn to start "talking tri" if you want to be one of the cool kids. Before you know it you'll be telling people you're "hoping to PR your next  'A' race as long as you don't bonk." I'm currently riding a full carbon fiber Quintana Roo CD0.1 and I love it, but to be perfectly honest, the bike is SO much better than me. I almost feel bad for it. Think about strapping a sumo wrestler onto a race horse and going against 85 pound jockeys. But hey, triathlon's my biggest vice so I bought a really nice bike.

                           Ironman Canada 2010. Trek 2.1 and Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL wheels
                                (still riding those same wheels after 4 Ironman races and 5000km)

My Trek 2.1 was just an aluminum road bike that I clipped some aero bars on and it got me through around a dozen races from sprint right up to Ironman. There was nothing fancy about this bike but it took me a long long way and, in fact, I sold it to my friend and he did his first Ironman on it.

I've done considerable reading on bikes because that's just what you do when you get into triathlon. You buy triathlon magazines, you get on triathlon boards (my personal favourite is ) you join a local tri club to train, and you wear spandex clothing in socially-inappropriate settings. You'll start reading about "buying speed" by upgrading the components on your bike. READ THE ACTUAL NUMBERS!!!

The "free speed" they are talking about applies mostly to the athletes that have already maxed out their technique, conditioning and strength and now the only way for them to go any faster is to buy a carbon fiber water bottle cage that is 30 grams lighter than the plastic or aluminum option and only about 10 times the price. 30 grams. Do you know how little 30 grams is? To give you an idea, 1 Liter (34 Fl Oz) of water weighs 1000 grams so the $80 water bottle cage you are thinking about buying will save you 1 ounce of weight. Just pour out one quick 'glug' of water and you'll get the same effect. All kidding aside I'm almost certain you will not notice this weight difference on even a 6-7 hour Ironman distance ride. Save your money when you're starting out, you'll need it to pay for your race fees.

There are purchases you can make for your bike that are going to be worth it and most of them will fall into 1 of 2 categories. The first is making your bike more comfortable and the second is upgrading any parts that move. Every single person NEEDS to get a bike fit done by a professional. You can change nothing else on your bike other than the angles and distances and have a completely different experience. Once you get this done, start looking at a saddle (it's called a saddle, not a seat, fancy hey?) and pedals. An ill-fitting saddle can absolutely ruin your day... and your undercarriage. I personally favor the ISM Adamo because it allows me to ride essentially pain free, what more can you ask for?  Most LBS's will let you demo a saddle for a week at a time. Take them up on this! No matter how much your buddy likes his or her saddle, if you don't have the same spacing between your "sit bones" (ischial tuberosities to us anatomy nerds) then the saddle won't be good for you. Along with a saddle you will likely want to pick up some chamois (pronounced: SHA-mee) cream. This cream goes on your skin where you will generate friction while cycling. Yup! Right down your shorts! Nothing better pre-ride than watching a bunch of people fiddling around down there while carrying on a casual conversation. My favorite is DZ Nuts, although the menthol is a shock the first time you use it. Good wake-up call for early morning rides however.
dznuts high viscosity chamois cream
DZ Nuts chamois cream
ISM Adamo Saddle (Perfect for my dimensions)

The next worthwhile investment is part of both categories. Pedals have moving parts AND can give you more comfort. I've always ridden Shimano SPD ultegras . This is something else you'll learn very quickly. Within each brand there is a wide range of products and the prices are very much reflected in the quality of product. Just because they're brand name doesn't mean they're going to have all the best parts. Cheap pedals are probably not the best idea because they can fail, and when they do it can be really inconvenient. Also, the bearings that allow for smooth rotation of the pedal are not the best quality and you can be fighting your equipment for speed.

Shimano Ultegra pedal.

These pedals are called 'clipless' pedals. This has always confused me because everyone tells you to 'unclip' when you get to a red light. But they're clipless? I've stopped asking what's up with the name because I've never gotten a satisfactory answer. However, once you get these pedals you're going to need cycling shoes. These shoes can range from around $100 to VERY EXPENSIVE. The two biggest things you need to look for in bike shoes are:

1) Fit: A good fit will be snug but not too tight. You don't want any play in the shoe or you can develop a blister and lose power in your pedal stroke. But, you don't want them too tight because your feet will swell a bit during a ride and if they're tight to begin with it can get problematic. It's worth investing in a good pair of shoes because they last. My current shoes have taken me well over 5000km (3000ish miles) and are still going strong. Smelling strong too!

Asked my wife for a pic of my shoes. This is what I got. Kinda weird with the flowers but you can see they're doing alright for that many miles on them.

2) Hole Pattern: The hole pattern in your shoes will be a major factor in your purchase. Each pedal comes with a matching 'cleat' that snaps into the pedal. This cleat will have one of a few patterns to choose from and they must match your pedal.

Road and Mountain Bike Cleats

It is certainly acceptable to use runners and 'cages' on your bike but if you're going to be serious about the sport you'll need cycling-specific equipment. Cycling shoes are designed to apply pressure to your pedals in all positions of the pedal stroke and to lose as little energy as possible to slack material. In runners, you'll have more play and lose some of your power to the stretchy fabric of the shoes. Over a long ride this can add up to quite a bit of lost speed.

Pedals with 'cages'

Once you get your shoes and pedals figured out you're going to want to practice getting in and out of your pedals. It takes some practice to get the pressure and alignment right and I would recommend sitting on your bike braced against a wall or door frame so you don't end up laying on the ground stuck to your bike yelling for help from a passerby or neighbour. On the pedal there is a screw that will adjust how hard or easy it will be to get your cleat in and out of the pedal. Get on the bike, clip in and out a few times and see if it takes a reasonable amout of effort to get out. If it's too easy, tighten it up, too hard, loosen it.

NOTE: When you buy your pedals you need to know what shoes you'll be using them with. Different pedals have different hole patterns that the shoes need to match so take your shoes with you to the LBS. 

Once you've gotten some practice and are happy with the pressure required to get in and out of the pedal give it a try on your front street. Practice getting out of your pedals while riding up to a light and getting a foot down.

Falling: It's probably going to happen once or twice and it's extremely embarassing. My personal favourite was at a red light in downtown traffic. I pulled up to the light, unclipped my right foot and while I was waiting for the light to turn I shifted my balance too far to the left and didn't have time to get my left foot out. To the traffic sitting behind me, the spandex-wrapped large gentleman in front of them was just standing there and then fell over. I jumped back up, took a bow, and rode off . I wasn't hurt and I attribute that to my football playing. You need to learn how to fall. DO NOT stick out an arm to break your fall. Too often you'll break a wrist or arm this way. Instead, train yourself to tuck and roll. Tuck your arm into your side and just let it happen. It's counter-intuitive but much much safer.

2 days before my first Ironman I went for a quick ride to check my shifting and put it into the gravel. Real smart.

After this I would invest in a good wheel set if you can afford it.  Wheels are another of the 'moving parts' category and will have a noticable impact on your speed. There are two different types of wheels. Clinchers and tubulars. Clinchers consist of two pieces; an inner tube with a tire that gets hooked under the rim of the wheel. Tubulars are one piece and are adhered to the wheel with special tape. There are advantages to both types of tire and I would talk to my LBS to decide what's right for you. Wheels can cost you as much as some bicycles so don't be too hasty with a purchase. Do your research, and especially check the weight restrictions on every wheel set you're considering. At 270 pounds I've put over 5000 km (3000 miles) on my Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL's and I haven't done a thing to them. There are other wheel sets that promise to go much faster (not really that much faster) but have a weight restriction of 185 pounds. I would always pick durability over speed personally, I can't be dealing with multiple wheel sets. If you can afford it, more power to you.
Depending on the city in which you live there may be more or less tolerance for cyclists. Edmonton, AB is making strides towards becoming cyclist-friendly but in a place where there's only about four months of riding, five if we're really lucky, it's hard for both cyclists and drivers to figure out how to get along. Drivers, please give us some room to move. If there's a rock or a pothole we may need to suddenly veer left or right without warning and if you only give us a few inches of space it can become a bad crash in a hurry.

Cyclists, I would have to say that we are our own worst enemy. The way some of us ride is just embarrassing. My biggest pet peeve are the guys that ride up past the line of cars that are waiting at a red light. My experience is that most drivers will give you a good berth when they pass you the first time. After that, every time they have to pass you the room gets a little less each time. If you want respect on the road act accordingly. Wait your turn in traffic and drivers will really appreciate it. Secondly, if you're riding on the road, don't use the sidewalk just because it suits you and then jump back onto the street. Follow the rules of the road. At stop signs, don't just blow through. First off it's dangerous and illegal, and secondly it just makes all of us look bad.

Group riding is a different animal unto itself. The biggest thing you need to think about in cycling in a group is communication. Tell people when you're passing so they don't bump you into traffic and you don't spook them. Always always always pass on the left. We always leave a rider's right side open so if they need to move over for pot holes or other debris they know they can move right without having to check.

We also communicate potential hazards on the road. Loose gravel, ejected water bottles, chunks of metal and other hazards can ruin a ride very quickly. To tell people behind you that there is a problem you just point at ground on the side of the your bike that the hazard is located. This is very appreciated by your fellow riders and an excellent practice to get in to. There are other signals you will use but start with this, it's the biggest one

Road Hazard 200x300
Rider signalling a hazard ahead and to the left

When you start riding outdoors there are a few safety things to consider. Listening to music can be hazardous, it takes some of your attention away from the task of cycling safely. If you absolutely must have music you can get handlebar mounted music or just wear one ear bud in your right ear (left if you're in those weird places where you drive on the left). Carry $20 with you for an emergency; this is enough for some food or water, a lift if you have a catastrophic bike failure or the weather turns dangerous or a celebratory drink or two if things go really well. As with open water swimming, let someone know where you're going and how long you plan to be gone. Finally, a trackable cellphone is a nice touch in case you need to make a call. Also, my wife follows my progress on Find my iPhone and this eases her nervousness while I'm out on a long ride.

Like I said last week, we'll talk about a shopping list for your first trip to the tri shop.

This week for the bike there are a number of items you're going to need and a whole bunch you're going to want.

-Extra inner-tubes or tubular tires depending on which wheel type you've gone with. ($5-$10 each)

-Tire levers. These plastic bars are used to remove and replace your tire when you flat. Ask for a demo! ($5)

-Allen-key set. Everything on your bike will be adjusted with Allen keys. ($5-$10)

-CO2 cartridges and a pump. In an emergency, like a road side flat, this will re-inflate your new tube. ($15 for a starter kit with a pump and 2 cartridges and then CO2 is about $4 per cartridge after that)

-Water bottle cages and water bottles. Some LBS's will include these but others will not. ($15 per cage and $5-$20 per bottle depending on how fancy schmancy you are)

-Bag to put all of this stuff in that attaches under your seat. OR you can use a waterbottle as a gear container but then you lose a water bottle space on your bike. Not recommended for hot climates or long rides. ($20-$100 depending on the options) X-Lab makes great stuff for this and I have the X wing on my bike.

This Super Wing from XLab has spots for your CO2 and pump, water bottles and a bag for tools and tubes underneath. It also puts these things behind the rider so it's more aerodynamic.

-Helmet. A basic cycling helmet will do just fine and a helmet is REQUIRED for most if not all triathlons. I love my Giro because it is airy and comfortable and looks great!. Get fitted by a pro at the shop!

Giro cycling helmet

Get the bike shop to show you how to change a flat. It's not something you want to try and figure out on the roadside. And use a CO2 cartridge just once to make sure your pump works and that you can operate it. It'll cost you $4 but it's well worth it.

I'll only list a few things because you can buy so many cool things for your bike it'll make your head spin.

-Bike shorts. These shorts look like normal spandex shorts but have a very special feature. The chamois provides padding in all the tender areas where the saddle can cause pain. I prefer "bib shorts" instead of regular shorts because the shoulder straps keep the shorts pulled up and also don't allow a space between my shorts and jersey where you can get sunburned.
Cycling Bib shorts
Cycling short. You can see the chamois resting on the seat.

-Bike Computer. This will have a speedometer, odometer and clock. This base model is all I have on my bike and it's served me just fine. ($50-$75)

-The next level up will usually include cadence meter (how quickly you're pedaling) and a heart rate monitor. (Around $125)
CATEYE Bike Computer

-The highest level is getting into GPS computers. These tools are great for people that love to analyze everything. They'll tell you how far you go, what your heart rate was at different points of your training and even compare how you did on a particular section of road compared to other times you've ridden it, just by syncing it with your computer. ($150-$700)
Garmin Edge 810 Bike Computer

Note: I do not receive any compensation for endorsing any products (yet, fingers crossed). My opinions are based solely on my experience using the products in training and racing.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Tri training for Big-inners (Swim)

The world of triathlon can be extremely daunting for average folks, and for larger athletes it can be downright intimidating. There are few things that compare with the feeling of accomplishment of finishing a triathlon of any distance, but getting there is an adventure within itself. Maybe that's what makes it so sweet?

Swimming, I'll deal with this first because it's the first event in a triathlon so it seems logical. Without question this is the number one barrier to completing a triathlon. It's hard to do, it can be scary if you have a fear of the water, and bathing suits are a teensy bit revealing.

The first two issues are the easiest to deal with believe it or not. If you've got even a basic swimming background your stroke will likely come back to you relatively quickly. The cardio aspect, not so much. This part will test your patience and your commitment. You need to want to be able to swim. There's a lot of time and financial investment that goes in to a beginner's half hour swim workout. You need to get a swimsuit (preferably tight fitting, I know I know), some decent goggles, drive to the pool, pay admission, wreck your hair, and all for an activity that's really hard.

I would recommend that almost everyone, unless you're an incredible swimmer, gets at least a few coached sessions. These professionals can provide a few tricks and techniques that will take what you already have and make the most of it. The cardio part, that's basically on you. The greatest coach in the world cannot get you into shape without you actually making the strokes and completing the lengths. It's an ominous reality but it's also what makes your achievement so awesome, YOU did it, no one else.

Once you're confident in your stroke and cardio there are a number of options open to you. There are masters' swim groups (adults that swim in a competitive fashion), drop in tri groups, adult lessons; but if none of these appeal to you there's a plethora of plans and videos available on the internet and for the most part they're great. I've found that with swimming it simply comes down to just doing it. Get in the pool and swim. It will come with time and when it does it's SO sweet. That being said, form is SO SO critical to swimming and my coach has told me that 1000m of good swimming is better than 2000m of thrashing so keep that in mind.

There are some unwritten (some places they're even written) rules about lane swim that you should be aware of. The first is to observe the speed of the lane. Most pools will have signs at the end of each lane indicating the speed you should swim in that lane (slow, medium, fast). Be honest with yourself and swim in the appropriate lane. This may be different each time depending on the clientele at the  pool at a given time. The rule of thumb is that if you keep getting passed, move to a slower lane, keep passing people, move to a faster lane. If you're in the fast lane and keep passing people, join the national team.

Leonard Stegman

You will also be expected to swim on one side of the lane or the other depending on the pool. Be thoughtful of your fellow lane users. If someone taps your feet, don't become panicked or perturbed, they are just letting you know that they want to pass. If you see that the person behind you will likely pass you soon after the wall, hold on and let them pass at the wall. It's safer and just makes everyone a little happier.

Fear of the water is natural and even healthy. We're not really supposed to be in the water. If we were supposed to be in the water we'd have gills and webbed feet. We only swim because if we don't we'll die! In the pool, you will get over your fear in fairly short order once you've gotten your stroke down. As for open water swimming, this is completely understandable. You are too deep to touch the bottom, often the water is too murky to see the bottom and your brain makes the sensible decision that you're in danger. There are a few things you can do to mitigate your open water danger:
  1) Get a swimming specific wetsuit, they provide flotation and warmth (unless water temps are too high).
  2) Swim with a buddy.
  3) Wear a bright swim cap so you can be seen from shore.
  4) Know that water you're getting in to, especially ocean water. Currents can take you out to sea if you don't know what you're doing (trust me).
  5) Let someone on shore know where you're going and how long you plan to be gone.
  6) Use an emergency product like the Safe Swimmer it provides visibility and is an emergency floatation device. It just drags behind you with almost no resistance.

This leads me to a funny story (well I think it's funny). My buddy Kris and I were training for Ironman Canada 2012 and we happened to be in Los Angeles watching high school and college football so we decided to bring our wetsuits along and try some ocean swimming. Fortunately I know that the triathlon community is really cool so I contacted the LA Tri club and Niecia Staggs, who does their swim training, got back to me. She said they'd love to have us join them for a morning 1 mile ocean swim. So we head off to the beach and get ready to go swimming. We didn't realize that we would be walking a mile down the beach to the starting spot and then swimming back so we put on our wetsuits and started walking, and walking, and walking. A mile is really far when you're walking in sand and wearing a rubber suit. By the time we get to the start buoy for our swim the salt from our sweat has now coated our chests and we are white. This gets some laughs from the regulars who are just now pulling on their wetsuits.

Once everyone gets dressed we start to make our way out into the ocean and towards the first buoy. At this point you really start to get a twinge of nerves. You are in the ocean. Know what else is in the ocean? Sharks! Octopi! Jellyfish! Scary beasts of the deep! I've seen Pirates of the Caribbean so I'm fully versed in the many possible ways I could meet my demise. But I'm a manly man and I wasn't about to back down. At the first buoy we get a sighting lesson and it was fun to play around. The combined buoyancy of the wetsuit and salt water was hilarious. Our feet kept shooting to the surface and we had to fight to stay vertical and listen to the instructions. We were told to pick a house on the far shore and swim towards it to stay in line. So off we went, take some strokes, sight, keep swimming.  I had a little scare that actually settled me down because of how ridiculous I acted. Shortly after we started my arm and body got wrapped up in a floating piece of seaweed, and I FREAKED OUT. Once I realized I was going to battle with kelp I settled down into a nice rhythm.

After about 10 minutes Kris and I stopped and looked at each other and we were all alone. We figured the experienced people were just really strong swimmers so we hurried up to try and catch them. 10 minutes later STILL nothing. Our next break was when we heard a boat motor pull up near by. It was the LA County Lifeguards. The lifeguard yelled down, "You guys are the Canadians hey?" We said, "yeah, how did you know?"  He explained that the first swimmer came ashore and told him we had gotten off course and that he should probably come and see how we were doing. It turns out that there was a current going out from shore so that even though we kept swimming towards our sighting point it was further and further out into the ocean. We asked how far we were and he said we were about a 1/2 mile from shore but that our swimming was looking strong so he let us swim in and just escorted us. This was actually kinda cool. They looked exactly like the lifeguards on Baywatch from when I was a teen. Only these were the guy lifeguards. Oh well, can't win 'em all.

Once we got back to shore the other swimmers apologized for letting us get away but said they are used to a fairly relaxed pace swim and we just took off like shots. They said they were shouting at us but in our excitement to be in the ocean we couldn't hear them. Valuable lesson learned. LISTEN to the people who know what they're talking about and don't venture too far from the group.

Me and Kris, back row far right. I'm on the left. LA Tri Club Swim

The final barrier to swimming is, no doubt, the toughest to deal with. Body image. Walking out of the locker room and into the pool is a terrifying 30 seconds for a great number of us. We're completely exposed to the world. No shirt, tight shorts, there you are for the whole world to see and there's no other option. The first thing you need to know is that anyone who will judge you based on your appearance is not worth your time (I know, thanks Dr. Phil), but additionally, most people are so concerned with their own workouts or their own bodies that they don't give you a second look. My favorite move, even after 5 years of training, is to walk out with my towel over my shoulder and cover as much of myself as possible. Then I throw my towel over the lane marker and jump in immediately. I know it doesn't make a big difference but it helps me get in the water.  If you have a better suggestion please leave me a comment so I can try and employ it. You can always learn new tricks.

As you keep training and get into better shape this aspect remains extremely hard for many of us to deal with. We are usually the last to see the change, but it will happen, just stick with it.

Each week I will give you an example of what can happen on a triathlon shopping trip.

Swim supplies. Some things are necessary for swim training. You're going to need a pair of tight swim trunks, or a swimming suit for the ladies, and a pair of GOOD goggles. That's really about it. You may also want a $3 swim cap if you have long hair or just want to look cool.

Goggles can make or break your training session. A leaky pair of goggles ruins your focus, forces you stop every length to adjust them, if not earlier, and just makes swimming unpleasant. But wait, you say. Costco has a three pack of brand name goggles for $9.99. Yes they do! I bought them! At no point did they function as goggles. The seal was hard so it didn't form to my face, the straps were flimsy and I would have done better to throw my money into the toilet. NO NO! Costco hot dogs! That's where my money SHOULD have gone! Mmmmmm, hotdogs.

To get your goggles I implore you to go to a local shop where you can try them on ahead of time. They should stick to your face without the strap in place. If there's enough of a seal without the strap they won't leak water and you won't have to pull them so tight that you'll have permanent creases in the side of your head. (This will likely run you $20 or more but are so worth it. My Aquasphere Kayennes run me $35)

Even the best goggles need replacing regularly. The chlorine in pool water will eventually break down the soft rubber around your eyes and they'll start to leak. Rinse off your goggles every swim and keep an eye on them so they don't fail you when you need them.

Another area that you'll (hopefully) have to spend some money on is swim trunks. With training you'll likely start to shrink out of your trunks and when you do they'll start to pull down every time you push off the wall. This becomes a new part of your stroke very quickly: push off wall, yank up shorts, look around to see who saw your bum, keep swimming. Get new shorts, it's more efficient. ($30+)

I would also include Body Glide as a must have. It comes in a tube much like stick deodorant and creates a film on your skin that prevents friction burns. You can use it anywhere you have friction problems but specifically for swimming you should grease your neck when you're wearing a wetsuit. Every time you rotate to take a breath your neck slides just a little in your suit and that paired with the velcro that closes over your zipper can cause a nasty scratch that will bother you for the entire race. Especially when you get sunscreen in it. YIKES!

After good goggles and trunks there is a metric ton of things that a shop will LOVE to sell you. Flutter boards, fins, paddles, pull buoys, snorkels, things that make it easier to swim, things that make it harder to swim and to top it all off... a fancy mesh bag to put it all in! Cool your jets for a moment. Make sure you're enjoying the sport before you invest two months pay in swim gear.

Note: I do not receive any compensation for endorsing any products (yet, fingers crossed). My opinions are based solely on my experience using the products in training and racing.

Happy training,


Friday, 5 July 2013

Who is this guy? Meet the author

When I first started this blog my intent was to let my friends and family get an insight into my training and racing. However, it only took 10 days to reach 1000 views and it occurred to me that I don't think I know 1000 people so strangers MUST be reading it.

My name is Colin Hackett and I am a four-time Ironman finisher and the lightest I've been on race day was 250 lbs.  I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and I am on a mission to Kona for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship.

Edmonton is best known for hockey and a really big shopping mall. However, it has become a triathlon hotbed in the last decade and, in fact, hosted the Grand Final of the International Triathlon Union in 2014.

I am a proud dad to three children.  My son Kelland is 5, my daughter Calliah is 3 and my other daughter Cambrey just turned 2 and daughter 3 will arrive in October of 2014. Yeah. My wife Kimberley is brave and amazing.
Always time for family at Ironman Canada 2012

Throughout my blog I will share a number of personal stories and this crew will be the main characters. I absolutely could not achieve the things I do without the support of this amazing woman.

I am a high school teacher and for the past 9 years I worked at Ross Sheppard High School, the same school I graduated from in 1998. Now I coordinate an Emergency Response Program at Centre High. Throughout my childhood I was always active playing a number of sports but my body type was best aligned with football. In high school I was a running back and in grade 12 I lead the league in touchdowns. I took a year off between high school and university as I had rotator cuff surgery just a week after graduation and it was a 6 month recovery. Once I got to university I wasn't fast enough to keep playing running back but they had a spot for me at offensive line.  For those that don't know, offensive linemen are the big guys that do the blocking and hitting right on the line of scrimmage. I lifted weights and ate food and got up over 300 lbs and am only 5' 11''. I played two season with the University of Alberta Golden Bears. After my first season I had my other shoulder operated on and by the end of my second season the lustre was off of football for me.

I stopped training, but not eating. My body finally plateaued at 324 lbs and I was a mess but the weight went on so gradually that I never really panicked, I just kept buying slightly bigger clothes. My 2008 New Year's resolution was to get into shape and it actually took. It's been nearly 5 years and I'm only getting better.

In addition to my amazing family I've had a number of other people that have been instrumental in my success:

My parents were always there for me. Despite the fact that we didn't have much extra money growing up they always seemed to find a way to do the little things for us and keep us in sport. This didn't end even after my sister and I were off and married. They were there to cheer me on at both of my Ironman Canada finishes in 2010 and 2012 and it's that kind of support that helps me to keep going. Sadly my dad passed suddenly while on vacation in Mexico just 2 days before his 60th birthday. Two months later I'm still extremely shaken by this but am so glad that I have no regrets when it comes to my dad. I know for certain that the last words we spoke to each other were "I love you" because that was how we ended every conversation. Now, when I'm having a tough training session or struggling during a race I channel his message that "I'm proud of you" and it gives me the boost I need to get through that tough patch. He taught me how to be a man and to do the right thing. He spent 2 and 1/2 years in Afghanistan and I will never forget the things he sacrificed for others.

Dad holding Kelland just after getting home from Afghanistan. My mom is in the back.
Alli Tai (Conroy) was my first tri coach and became so much more than that to Kim and I. Alli is an amazing person. She finished 2nd in her age group at Ironman Canada and is a physical specimen. While on a training ride in September of 2006 she was struck by a truck and nearly killed. She miraculously made an almost full recovery and began doing group training as a coach. At first I was really scared by her but that quickly switched to respect. Alli and her now husband John showed Kim and I that we were capable of so much more than we were doing. In the next year they had us climbing mountains and taking salsa dancing lessons and this empowered us so much and we will forever be grateful to them. Alli has not slowed down, in fact just this last year she set a Guinness World Record for the fastest 10km run while pushing her daughter Ama in a stroller. This took a staggering 43:07. Sickening.

Kim (L) and Alli (R) supporting me at my first triathlon

After Alli abandoned me for beautiful Vancouver, BC I was blessed to work with two amazing coaches. Karl MacPhee took me under his wing and transformed me from a guy that would just "do" triathlons and into someone that could actually attack and "race" triathlons. Karl's mantra was you don't need to run marathons to train for marathons. Karl believed in high intensity low duration workouts and this paid off big time. I shaved 90 minutes off of my Ironman time on the same course and all without having to give up on family time.

For Ironman Los Cabos 2013, Coeur d'Alene 2013, Arizona 2013, Texas 2014 and Switzerland 2014 Jeremy Potter took me on. Jeremy was a practicum student working at our school and runs the triathlon team at a local college. He got to use me as a bit of an experiment as the people he usually trains are, let's say, petite. I think he learned a thing or two about training big folk. He would give me certain paces to run and I would laugh and laugh. "How about I just run faster than when I'm comfortable and call that hard." 

The last group I need to thank big time are my Cops for Cancer tri team. This is not a traditional tri team. As founder and all around nice guy Kerry Nisbet told me when he took me on, "we are a fundraising team that does triathlon and not the other way around." This amazing group has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer groups in the Edmonton area.  Because of our climate we have to do the bulk of our cycling indoors in a school cafeteria and this gives us a great chance to talk while we're training so you get to know people much better than you would riding in traffic. You guys are amazing and I really appreciate you taking me on!

The key to being able to reach my goals comes down to three things I believe:

1) Support from friends and family but especially my wife and kids. Without them I could never do half of the things I do.

2) Time Management. As a parent of 3 young children, a full-time high school teacher and a hockey referee all winter, finding time to train for an Ironman requires you to be incredibly efficient with your time.

3) Desire. Adam Carolla (former host of The Man Show and current podcast tycoon) sounds like an interesting person to take a philosophy from but he bluntly says that "if you want to do to something you will. If you want to be a pilot but don't have a ton of cash you will do it if that is what you truly desire." I 100% agree with him. If Ironman wasn't a true passion this kind of schedule would be way too much to handle. But because it has become a part of me I make it work.

For those that don't know, Kona is the host of the Ironman World Championship and the goal of anyone serious about Ironman. At a typical event of about 2300 competitors there will be 50 spots up for grabs. The people that get these spots are absolutely amazing people. They have committed so completely to their training that they can complete a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and a 42.2km run in a time that would make your head spin. In my age group, for example, at Ironman Canada 2012 I finished in 14:21:16 but the person in my age group that got the spot got finished in 9:28:28. That means I only have to shave around 5 hours off of my time. HA! Clearly this is not going to happen. It's no one's fault but I'm just too big to compete at that level. But Ironman has a heart and created a program for people that are committed to the sport and to Ironman.

The creation of the Legacy Lottery by World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), the owners of Ironman, sparked me. In the past the only way that a schmuck like me would get the chance to toe the line in Kona would be to enter a general lottery with the hope of getting 1 of the 100 spots available out of thousands of entries. A second lottery was created but the criteria to enter was for people who were hard core about Ironman:

- You can NEVER have started in Kona. If you've EVER been to Kona, you're out.
- You have to have at least 12 finishes in Ironman brand full distance races.
- You have to have completed a full distance race in each of the two previous years when you enter.

For this group of people there are an additional 100 spots.

THIS IS MY MISSION. To date I have completed seven Ironman races and am registered for Ironman Arizona 2014 and Coeur d'Alene 2015.

I hope you will follow me on my journey. I think it'll be a hell of a ride!