Saturday, May 30, 2009

The D-Tag: Solves a Problem that Doesn't Exist, Causes More

This is what ChronoTrack says about the D-Tag, after which I will offer my own thoughts. Don't expect them to be particularly balanced. I'm going to say right up front that I don't like the D-tag.

'One of the many goals of the ChronoTrack system is to simplify the timing process for athletes. A disposable tag eliminates the need for several organizational choke points that allow the athletes to spend more time focusing on their competition and less time waiting in lines. Shorter lines before the race to pick up your bib and chip and no line to return your tag or chip afterward are just some of the benefits to the ChronoTrack system.

The D-tag is easy to attach your shoe and is far lighter and less intrusive than other timing tags and chips. Once the D-tag is attached to your shoe, you will quickly forget that it is even there! Instructions for attaching the D-Tag to your shoe are available here.'

I ran a race on Memorial Day that used the D-Tag and the first thing I'll say is this- I'm glad Ken Platt was timing the race. Ken was able to deal with the people, starting with the 5th place finisher, whose time wasn't recorded because the D-tag didn't survive the 10K.

That's the less intrusive than other tags and chips D-Tag. This right here demonstrates the biggest problem with the D-Tag. Let's face it, the bulk of timed racing is road races- running. And the D-Tag was designed by people who think every chip will be attached to a sneaker.

Well not exactly: 'What if I don’t have laces?
The D-tag can also be used by attaching it to your ankle with a Velcro strap. The tag should still be formed to make a “D” shape and then attached with the Velcro.'

Picture the above tag attached to the side of your ankle with velcro.

As I'll get into later, the tag is very fragile. And it need to be attached to your shoe very carefully using the 8 step process in the linked PDF above. Yes, I'm serious, 8 steps. Check the PDF. There are no filler steps. You have to separate perferations, crease this fold back that, adhere the other thing- and if the tag gets out of it's 'D' shape it probably won't work. So that means you can't use the tag for open-water swims, aqualons, duathlons, or triathlons- unless you're planning on wearing your sneakers on the swim and we're all moving back to toe clips- oh wait, you can't bend the d-tag...

I certainly wouldn't recommend running a trail race with this loop on your shoe either.

Then there's the disposable issue. I heard mention of the tags being recyclable, but good luck separating the metal electronics from the plastic. Chronotrack themselves calls it disposable. So we're replacing a system that has permanent, re-usable chips with disposable chips. That means thrown-away. More plastic and metal for our landfills or to be burned for electricity.

Let's talk about organization choke points.

Theoretically, you could purchase numbers with d-tags attached to them. However, the race I ran Monday had the traditional station where you got your number, and then a second station where you got your D-Tag. Organizational choke point one- not eliminated.

The second choke point is huge, and I understand why the D-Tag is a draw for race directors at big races, because that second choke point is the finish line. I'm on the board of directors of the New Haven Road Race and every year I hear the same complaints about handing out and collecting the chips, how a certain percentage of chips don't get returned, and these are valid complaints. For road race directors who have thousands of athletes, think big city marathons and races like New Haven, the idea that the d-tag goes in the trash and is never heard from again is tremendous.

I'm not a race director, however. I'm an athlete, and one thing I'll say is this, I never sit in those board meetings and hear a lot of complaining about how many chips malfunctioned. More on that in a moment.

But the point is, there was still a white bucket at the finish line and several volunteers ready to cut the tags off with scissors. That's right, we have volunteers in the finish chute with scissors cutting the tags off and putting them in the white bucket. In fact, ChronoTrack says that the D-Tag has a 'special adhesive to ensure its durability'. Read, has to be cut off. Choke point- not eliminated.

Back to the functionality. I don't know much about much and I'm sure some 4th grader out there can refute each and every point in this post, but I have run a lot of races. I've run chip-times races in two countries and dozens of states, and with the exception of one Connecticut timing company who I won't mention that has never gotten a race I was at right- so you know it's not Ken Platt, who always gets it right- the chips just work. I had never once had my chip (the one I own) or any other chip malfunction.

At the race I was at, the 5th place runner's D-tag didn't register. Margit's didn't. And so many others didn't that Ken had to post a notice on the results seen here. 'Can I flatten and tuck the whole D-tag in my laces to make sure it stays? No. This can cause damage to the D-tag and also lowers the performance of the D-tag. For optimal performance, the D-tag must be attached to the shoe in the proper manner. For instructions on properly using the D-tag please click here.'

Yes, the 'less-intrusive' D-tag... so many runners want to tuck this 'less intrusive' tag under their laces because it's way more intrusive than a real chip on a strap around your ankle..

In a corral with 2000 other runners and one of them steps on your foot ? The D-Tag will probably break. Tuck it under your laces- it will break or not register. Loop shifts so that it's inverted ? May or may not read. Given the number of tags that failed, it's unquestionable that the tag is much more fragile that it ought to be.

The bottom line on the D-tag is this: it is marginally easier for race directors because they don't have to give out and intake chips. It's better for the timer because they don't have to sort the chips.

But it's worse for the timing companies because now they have to maintain multiple timing systems (or time only road races). It's definitely more prone to failure. It replaces a green technology (in short, a reusable chip) with a disposable one. And it's a less comfortable timing device.

I don't blame the timing companies for adopting this technology. Race directors want easier options. Chips are hard to manage at large races, and race timers need to provide directors what they want. But I do blame Chronotrack for promoting a fragile timing device and making a lot of claims that, as an athlete, I don't see are true, especially the ones that claim the D-tag is somehow better than the chip...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Grading the Durham 10K

We're trying something new here- providing some format to the race reporting.

Race Importance (to my season)- B+
This race is meaningless to any objectives I have. But I want to run well here.

Race Course- A
This is a great course. The early hill divides the wheat from the chaff, and the route in the first mile is the same one the parade has just gone on, so there are plenty of spectators. In fact, the whole course has spectators on it except for the fifth mile, there are plenty of water stops, and this is one challenging course, with a nice combination of short hard and longer gradual hills, some nice downhills, and good sightlines when you're chasing the faster people.

Race Organization- B+
Well organised. Started on time, awards were timely. Volunteers were great. Ken Platt is an awesome timer, which is why things went pretty well considering that the 'd-chip' was used and a number of people weren't recorded crossing the finish line, due to the extremely fragile nature of the 'chip'. Because the Lions (I think) sell food after the race, the post race food is never as good as it ought to be for a hard race. The entry price is low so I wouldn't mention this except that burgers and hot dogs don't do it for me. As a counter-balance, they have an awesome raffle and despite the complaints here, I love this race and recommend it to everyone.

My performance- A-
My goal was to finish at least third. I ran a very solid race, but I wonder- if my goal had been to finish second would I have found 4 seconds a mile...

Grading the Dave Yurgaitis 10K at Lake Compounce

Race Importance (to my season)- B
This would be a C, but it was a state championship and I was there as our #2 runner. Yikes !

Race Course- B
This was a solid course. Except for the big hill in the first and last half mile, the course is a set of gradual up and downhill slopes. The course is an out and back and it's easy to follow. But with the natural beauty of the area it would be hard not to design a nicer looking course. You'd just have to avoid running it through an office park. Still, it's a solid course and adequate for a championship. It also take advantage of a good venue.

Race Organization- A-
Well organised. Started on time, no problems with timing I know of, decent food post race. I didn't stay for the awards so I don't know how that part of the race went, so I'll hold off giving an A. Volunteers and water stops well-done.

My performance- B
After throwing up that 18:23 in the 5K, I was worried about repeating my Durham 10K of 2007, where I went 38+. Instead I was just 2 seconds off last year. I'll take that.

Grading the Lilac 5K (Rochester)

Race Importance (to my season)- C
The grade here would be a B if it had been the 10K. 800 people or not, the 5K is the ugly step-child of the Lilac Festival.

Race Course- A-
This was a great course. Closed to traffic, easy to navigate, impossible to get lost on. Theme here with Rochester races ? It's a fast course, with a long opening sloping downhill, about 5 or six turns total and a nice uphill in the last 3/4 miles or so. Very fair course.

Race Organization- A-
Very well organised. Started on time, no problems with timing. Lots of volunteers and spectators. Food was a little pedestrian and they only went one deep in the age groups, which is kind of weak in an 800 person race and totally at odds with the 10K, where they give awards to the top 5% or something (three minimum).

My performance- B
I ran a pretty good race on tired legs, but I really blew the strategy in the last 4/10th of a mile and cost myself the age group win. Bad me.

Grading the Rochester Spring Duathlon

I'm going to try to continue to provide some format to the race reporting and I'm behind, so here goes:

Race Importance (to my season)- A-
There was only three races on my schedule this year that are A races, but you don't travel five and an half hours just to fart around either. I wanted a top three performance here.

Race Course- A+
This was a great course. The runs were closed to traffic and easy to navigate, impossible to get lost on. The bike was basically a series of right hand turns on a very rolling and fair course. And the park is awesome. The whole setting was beautiful.

Race Organization- A
Extremely well-organised with a great transition area. Race started on time, course was clearly marked, there were a ton of volunteers and the awards were timely .

My performance- B+
First run was too slow. Found my grove on the bike. Second run was not hard enough. Good second bike. Iffy second run. Verdict- managed 3rd, maybe could have been second. Must push myself harder.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Durham 10K- Memorial Day

The Durham 10K is a race I really like to run. It's often been the tail end of a major spurt of racing like it was this year. I had a run of years at this race where I finished 2nd, 3rd, 5th three straight years, and 3rd again.

Someone asked me what I wanted to do this year and I told him I wanted to finish on the podium and that I'd take third place. Coming off a 10K the day before, and knowing my speed is not there yet, I figured that, like all races, it would depend on who showed up. It didn't matter. One of the other bonuses of the race is that Margit's aunt and uncle live in Durham, so we can drive up there, hand off Ian, and both run the race with no worries.

I didn't get the great warm-up that I was hoping for- some strides had to do. We also were using a new timing system. I'm not going to get into my feelings about the d-chip here in this post. I'll just say that the Champion-chip is a tried and true method of timing races.

I got in my strides and then we were off.

I love the start of this race. It's a family and community event, so, you get the excited kids and so on at the start, but then you climb this big hill out of the school, and it kicks the ass of everyone who isn't really competing for the top spots. The 4k and 10k also start at the same time from the same line, which I totally space on. There were four of us heading up the hill together, including one really big guy that, from the view I had of him the whole race, was a dead ringer for Eric Hodska, and the guy who I'd picked out and told Margit would easily win the race, Patrick Dooley from Durham.

We went down the other side of the hill and by the time we took the turn, I knew the two guys in front were gone and that there was no chance that I'd be seeing them for long. However, the Eric clone was holding a decent pace in front of me but he was so big that I knew I'd have a chance to counter his opening when we got to the hills. We final hit the second turn and were off the main round- there was some goofiness at the intersection with the State Trooper, but I ignored it as it didn't affect us. Then were were sloping around a bend and taking another turn and the sun came out and it was hot and humid, but now we were running downhill and I was starting to feel a rhythm. It was the first time this season that I felt like I was running well, like I really was in control, well, since Brian's anyway.

It's funny how you can forget so much of why you do what you do. I put a lot of time into training. Why do I train ? So I can race. Yeah, I love balling around local roads on my bike, a little out of my head sometimes, doing stupid things like racing cars and motorcycles because I just can't help myself, but some of it is drudge work, too. Getting up at 5:30 am to spin even though it's going to be a nice day out, squeezing 50 minutes of running into an hour of lunch... Then you get out there in a race and you've got your racing stride, and you're settled in almost where you want to be and you are running downhill and people are handing you water to dump on your head and it's a road you know and almost everyone in the race is chasing you and they aren't going to catch you.

When it feels good, it's such a simple, pure joy. Pain and all.

Then you're around the next turn and you give up on the leader for the second and final time and you see the 10K/4K split and the guy in second is headed right down the 4K turn and for a minute, the guy in third looks like he'll turn too...

But he doesn't. I'd raced against him before here at Durham, coming up short. He started up the first of the hills on the back part of the course (he'd been the one that, when we crested the very first hill, responded to another runner's comment that the first hill was out of the way with 'There's more than one hill ?'). It's a hard hill because it's probably 6% but long, and it gets steeper at the top. I avoided the sprinkler and did my best to keep my effort moderate while holding my ground. There are crowds all over this course and the local support for the race is incredible.

As someone who never looks back, it's also a great way for me to know who's chasing me. I know Charlie Iselin was right back there and who knew who else, but I could tell by the noise that we had a gap. I climbed, then descended, then repeated that, waiting for the 5K mark to really assess where I was and whether I had a shot at 2nd. We blew through that point in the race and we'd both slowed down a little. I was about ten seconds out of second, chasing this shirtless giant who runs with EH's stride and I was trying like hell just to be patient.

We took the big right hand turn at the back of the course and a short downhill gave way to the longest uphill of the course. I should have attacked him here, but with the giant downhill at the end of the climb, I felt it was tactically unadvisable. I was wrong. We went through four miles on the downhill and then I forced myself to take a cliff shot as we worked our way around the lollipop loop at the back of the course. I was neither closing nor losing ground and I'd determined not to even try anything until after 5 miles, given that I'd burned myself with an early move just a week ago.

When we turned back onto the course at around 5 miles, I thought I still had a good shot at closing the gap, but I would have to start pushing again. I'd been racing within my comfort zone- my racing comfort zone, protecting my 3rd place spot, nursing calves that were not thrilled about this much racing (and in 2007, I blew out my left calf as a result of this 10K just two weeks before Eagleman, costing me my next race and hobbling me for two week going into Eagleman, where I ran well, but not as well as I wanted to). As we crested the big hill in the last mile the guy ahead of me, Michael Maffei, played a single pitch and catch of a football with a kid on the side of the road. I considered doing the same thing, asking for the ball, because it would have been cool, but when I'm racing, I'm racing, and I'm not laid back enough for that. Should I be ? Probably.

Maybe it's OK to take yourself way too seriously if you know you're doing it...

I descended the backside of the hill and never let up the pressure. Mike was just being nice, but he said he felt pressured the whole way and really had to keep working. I'm not sure I believe him, because he put 8-10 seconds on me in the last 600 yards, but I ran my ass off through the finish line.

At 37:30, it was certainly nothing to brag about, although it was 59 seconds faster than two years ago, when I'd felt fine until the day after the race. Still it was a strong third, with the next runner a minute and sixteen seconds back. I'd made it in where I wanted. Margit took second in her age group. My son was having a ball with his great aunt, great uncle, and their neighbours. I got to hang with Charlie Iselin and his family- warm down with him and then talk for a while.

That's the formula- friends, family, and racing. It was the right exclamation point to ten days of racing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lake Compounce 10K

The open half of my second double in two weeks was the Trisport Dave Yurgaitis 10K Memorial race. This race has been on my calendar for two years now because it was voted onto the USATF-CT calendar- including by me.

It's the sort of race that doesn't fit into my schedule. It's the day before a race I really want to run well every year- the Durham 10k. It's a haul from my house for 8AM. My own teammates don't like the location or timing of the race, and as a bonus, they kind of avoid it.

However, at the same time, it's a good race. The location may be unenviable for my team, but other teams are closer. There are some great runners that do run the race. The course is fair, and the advantage of the early start is an early finish. It also gives me a few more hours to recover for the next race, which is the next day. So the fact that I am going to get spanked and do not have to consult the results before leaving, that I'm missing a chance to do a long ride, none of it really matters.

I warmed up alone, getting a nice two mile run in which included the big hill on the course, which is at about a third of a mile and is, well, a significant hill.

I talked to George Buchanan for a while, found out he'd been doing trail races, did some strides, and then Wil Graustein got us started.

It was an older crowd- a lot of masters runners. So the start wasn't crazy. I tried to hang with George Buchanan. I was somewhere in the top 10 as we went up that first big hill. The EKG guys, including Jess Efrom, were behind me for some reason. I found out later they had been in Boston at a track meet, got home at midnight, drove up to Compounce at 5:30 AM and then found out their fifth guy had blew them off.

I was running pretty well, not blowing it up, but hanging in as best I can when I'm surrounded by people faster than me. Then after the first turn I heard this unmistakable cadence. Kind of a pitter-patter. Jim Zoldy. I said 'I'd know that cadence anywhere,' and he replied 'I don't want to talk right now'- he'd read my duathlon post. He went by, and headed on up to where George was. I ended up in a tangle of Hartford Track and Mohegan runners. That sorted itself out to the point that there were three of us running together. We took the cone at the turn-around and started back. I was still hanging in with the two of them. The EKG guys had long since passed us and were kind of toying with the course, running as a group, so I was back in 15th-16th place.

The course doesn't offer any big hills until after 5 miles, and I didn't want to try and attack stronger runners on the false flats we were running on. They eventually started pulling away and at four and a half miles I took a Cliff Shot and kept a steady pace.

As I passed 5 miles and climbed the big hill coming back, I heard someone closing on me, but I couldn't tell if it was a bike or a runner as I was hearing both sounds. I didn't look back.

As we crested the hill the baby stroller went by me, being pushed by Gregory McKirryher. He went by and thought, OK, probably a 5K runner putting on a big push or something. WRONG ! He beat me by eight seconds.

I should be really pissed a guy pushing a stroller beat me. But I'm not. He ran a better race, and to be honest, I ran a good race. Two seconds slower than last year, but I was coming off a much harder previous weekend of training- and I didn't skimp on the Saturday ride and run either- a two and a half hour brick. I was 17th overall and 7th in my age group, but I ran a good solid race. I didn't go ballistic early or blow-up late.

Better yet I was read for the Durham 10K the next day.

The truth is, after the 18:23 in Rochester the week before, I was prepared to have trouble breaking 38 minutes, and instead I'd run right around the same as last year. I was encourage that the larger running volume the last two weeks was paying off and that the speed, what little I have, might be in there someone...

Next: The Durham 10K

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lilac 5k

For the first time since last year, I found myself geared up for a double- the day after the formula one duathlon I was back, running the 5K at the Lilac, which is just a warm-up for the 10K.

I was not tired. Yes, we'd spent what seemed like the entire day after the race at the festival, at the pool in the hotel, and at the Play Museum (yes Virginia, there is a museum of play, and it's in Rochester). And yes, we got to the race late- it was 7:30 by the time I was registered and the race was at 8:00 am.

Still, I got in plenty of strides for my warm-up and was ready to go on what was a cold morning. It had been in the 70s and humid for the duathlon. It was now in the upper 40s. I lined up right in the front and waited for the gun.

That's right, we had a gun start- been a while if you don't count the cannon at the Ironman.

The race uses the first mile of the 10k course. This is pretty much a downhill mile, fast and straight, and spend the whole time running hard and and wondering when you are going to pay for the ease of the start.

One guy blew it up, kind of like the duathlon, then there was an A chase group and a B chase group. I was sort of in that. One of the other guys from the duathlon was there, Matt Kellman. He'd finished 4th, and outrun me on all three runs. We were back and forth in that first mile and went through at 5:34 and 5:36. Almost immediately after we turned a corner and started through a neighbourhood with nice wide streets. We were in a group of five people and I was being disciplined and sticking with the group.

It's always hard to run with a group. For me, it tends to feel easier when I'm with the group, and I worry that means that I'm not working hard enough, that I'm laying off, when in truth I'm appropriately moderating my effort so I can stay in the mix and have the chance to beat the guys I'm running with. We continued to all work with each other and three turns later we were back on that first mile, and paying for it because we were going uphill and into the wind.

I'd moved to the front of the group, away from the guy in my age group and the kid in the hard-soled track flats. With about 4/10th of a mile, I wanted to run away from everyone because I didn't want to get caught in a sprint with 4-5 unknowns. I was trying to establish dominance before the finish line.

This is almost always a mistake, like the guy that tries a breakaway sprint at 800 meters from the line in a stage race. I probably knew it was wrong when I did it.

I failed. The guy I really wanted to beat passed me with about 300 yards left and then it was all over. He told me after the race he just rode one of the kids in, or something like that, and he was right to do it too.

Still, he put just seven seconds into me, about what he outran me for a single mile the day before.

Then again, for the 5K they went one deep in 5 year age groups (the 10K is the big race), and I really wanted to bring home that medal. I was 14th out of about 850 people and was leaving empty handed. Oh wait, chocolate chip cookies...

Seven seconds. That's pretty disappointing.

I'll just have to go back next year and get it right.

Rochester Spring Classic Duathlon

I wanted to do something different than the Shamrock Duathlon. It's been a good race for me, but I really wanted to go back to Rochester and race. I like the challenge of racing against different people that I sort of know- from other races up there, from Lake Placid.

The people in Rochester are fast. Scary fast when you think about how much better our weather is than theirs. Yes, that's right. The winter we just had ? They'd have spent January and February wondering if winter was ever coming.

I like the format of the race as well. It's a run-bike-run-bike-run- 2-10-1-10-2. Definitely a biker's race- 5 miles of running to 20 miles of rolling hills on the bike. And the people that run the race- Fleet Feet of Rochester- put on a good race. the runs are completely in the park, and the bike is basically a square.

We got to the race a little late but not bad, and I took a position near the run exit, which will unpopular with the early rack adopters, I thought would give me a nice tactical advantage.

I kept my warm-up to strides in the opening section of the run course and before you knew it, we were off.

Panic quickly set in. We were running downhill, pretty hard, and there I was, in 7th-8th place, lot of guys around me. I'd started right next to the guy that was going to win the race, and he was gone. I think if it's possible to win a race that's 85 minutes long in 30 seconds, he probably did. I forced the panic back. This is the reality of the way I race duathlons. I do not put a lot in the first run.

The run was two miles, almost all of it on grass or in the woods. I found my place, established myself in about 7th place and settled. The panic was replaced a feeling that I was running well, at about 95%, not spending myself until we hit a switchback hill that doesn't look like much but is just a killer. I felt like I was crawling up it, and at the top there's a quad-fraking downhill, another uphill, and then you cruise into transition.

I was up to fourth or fifth because I had a quick transition. I attacked and passed one athlete I should have marked but didn't, and then went after the guys in front of me. I was too far back, and I knew I had to ride a little aggressively to get back where I wanted to be. I couldn't make much up until we'd turned out of the park and finished the first downhill. As soon as we started a real climb I worked my way back into the place I wanted to be, second. I screamed down the biggest hill on the course, happy to see the hard right was not so hard, and attacked through into another uphill. As in my last duathlon. I was chasing the leader, and that was where I wanted to be.

Then I was passed by a school bus right before one right turn and the volunteers at the corner didn't stop the bus. I found myself fighting through the turn, bike versus school bus. I decided discretion was the better part of not getting my ass kicked by a school bus.

Not much else exciting happened. But the guy I should have marked was tailing me the whole way and came into and out of transition with me. As we ran out, he asked me how I was doing, very conversationally.

This is not a good idea. I am from the late 1970s, early 1980s. I come from a ball-sport back ground. I was taught to knock people down and walk away from them. Yes, this makes me an anti-social caveman. I'm OK with that. I can be nice before, or better yet, after the race, During the race ? If you aren't hurt, you are not on that radar.

Bad alan.

So he asked a second time. Somewhat, incredulous, I said I was fine and added, half-aloud, 'I just don't want to talk.' I had trouble staying with the guy on the second run, and he put a little time on me, but I took it back in transition and got out first on the bike. Several of the guys behind me came close to striking distance on that run as well.

He passed me pretty quickly. I road hard, and I had a good second loop, but I couldn't close the gap he built up in the first two miles or so. My descending on the Razor still needs work.

I came into the final transition stuck in third. I ran as hard as I could and I could see the second place guy on and off the whole time, and I closed, but not enough, and in the end, I crossed the finish line 23 seconds behind him, well-spent, and in the state I too often am, disappointed at what was overall a pretty good effort.

The race winner, Marcus Gage, hung out in transition and had nice things that I at least didn't deserve to say to us. I don't know him, but he seems like a class guy, and even though he put a major beat down on me, I can't complain. Jim Cornell had a great race as well, and I look forward to going up against him next year- he outraced and I think outsmarted me, and I like a good challenge. Maybe we'll even make it back for the fall race.

It was a lot of fun, and I encourage all of you to try your hand at this formula one format if you haven't already.

And yes, a part of me misses the place I lived 8 years...

Rochester Lilac Festival

I also posted Lilac Festival photos. And no, I am not a flower guy. Not that there's anything wrong with being a flower guy. Ah, whatever:

Photos from Rochester Spring Classic Duathlon

I posted pictures from the Rochester Spring Classic Duathlon on Flickr:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rev 3 Bike Course

For those of you who didn't know it, there's a half-ironman coming to Connecticut in June. If you live in Connecticut, have one or more friends who are triathletes and don't know it, you have probably been in a long-term coma, judging from the amount of conversation it's generated in my circle.

The half-ironman is the Rev 3 triathlon. I'm not sure where Revs 1 and 2 went, but it's being held out of Quassy Park, home of a pair of great races, the Griskus Olympic and Sprint Triathlons. Anyone who's either done the Olympic Race, the Ride for Rick, attending an Eric Hodska camps or just rides in that area- or did the Nutmegman half-ironman last year- has been on these roads.

Routes 6, 63, 61, 64, 254, 118, well, if you want names and numbers, I'm not really your guy. Once I get off route 146 in Guilford, I have no idea where I am, which is why I like a good out and back. But I digress.

So, what's the bike course like ?


It actually starts with a pretty high-octane downhill section on what I guess is 64- right turn out of Quassy, and you start off like you're doing the Griskus Sprint, except instead of looping around the lake, you go straight. This part of the course is fast, at times scary fast (in a pack of 50 people when the road is wet anyway like last Saturday).

However, this early downhill section enforces the one constant of this course. Any downhill work will be punished by equal amounts of climbing.

If you don't want to climb, don't sign up for the race. If you've signed up for the race and you don't like to climb, you have about a week to develop a new attitude about climbing before it'll be too late for you.

The course can best be described as rolling. The overall profile is within that, however, is pretty severe for a rolling course. Many of the climbs are long and relative steep. A few of the downhill sections are a little dicey as well, without great sightlines. None of them are dangerous, however, and except for one left hand-turn past the halfway point that might have you on the breaks at the end of of a nice downhill run, you can probably descend without much break action.

The course is also pretty, and on a nice day, this is going to be a great course- with clear sight lines in many places which will allow you to see your competitors for some distance (or them you).

Riding the course brought back a lot of memories for me- as someone who usually rides alone this is an area I've only ridden in groups.

I would say this biggest challenge of the course is that except for the first 5 miles, you will never have any opportunity to rest for an extended period, so expect to get on the bike and work hard until you get off, while somehow trying to save something for the equally challenging run.

Good luck!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Duit Duathlon- Part II

I'm not much a pre-race guy. I like to warm up, get the race out of the way, and then socialise.

I left the house 10 minutes later than I wanted to, so I was about five minutes late to Seaside Park in Bridgeport. I got a good bike warm-up in, but not really enough of a run warm-up and that's no one's fault but mine of course.

I was standing at the starting line with Peter Daly, Charlie Hornak from Force 5 Sports/Athlete's Foot, and two others. One, Taylor- with the enthusiasm of youth (he is, after all, a teenager)- looks at Peter and I and says 'What are you looking to run ?'

This is probably one of the questions I hate the most at a race, regardless of the source. The truth is, I very rarely step up to the line with any idea of what pace I want to run. Why ? I might be good with numbers, but I don't look at races like that. At the Fairfield Half-Marathon, I want to run 6 minute miles, yes, and I need a plan to do that which is more complex than who cares ? At a 5K ? Who knows. I only know myself. I will go out too hard. I will struggle to hang on. One mile might be 5:40, the next might be almost 6:00.

At duathlons you have the added issue of strategy. My coach tells me to 'try and stay up in the mix'. While today's race made me realise that I have to get back to my Brian's work ethic and upgrade the mix (more tempo efforts inside my runs rather than just volume), my plan is actually to evaluate the people around me and run hard but not too hard on the first run. I'm planning to counter-attack on the bike...

I made some crack about running somewhere between 6-8 minutes a mile and then we were off.

It was obviously early that I was not in the A group, Peter, Taylor and a twenty-something being that. I was in the B group. Uh, I was the B group.

I felt a lot like I'd only raced four times all year. I was running ugly, with Charlie not very far behind me and I didn't keep contact with that A group.

What was I thinking as I fell 50 seconds behind Peter- who's just a great guy and a great athlete ? As I fell 35-40 seconds behind the other two 'kids' ?

I was thinking that I had better have one hell of a bike. Oddly enough, even though I felt like I wasn't having a great run, and generally was thinking that lack of sleep (five hours a night) is starting to nip at the edges of my ability, I was still focused on winning. It was my first race on the Elite Razor, and that bike is a fast bike. Whether it goes fast with me straddled on it or not is another matter. But I figured as long as I still had the bike segment in front of me, I had a chance.

I tossed aside my first run shoes, their work down. A spectator, clearly new to duathlon, said 'Oh no, his shoe fell off.' Then I was out of transition. I'd marked the guy in third who'd been in transition 10-15 seconds longer than me and quickly rode him down. That's when I start to feel good, once I've taken out someone. I'm still always paranoid about being overtaken by better riders, but that doesn't happen the way it used to.

It was two extremely flat 5 mile loops on the bike. We got to the 'top' of the loop and I saw Marty's car coming back at me. Peter was riding well, about as well as I was, maybe better. The guy in second was losing ground to him- and me. I did what works for me, what keeps me calm. I concentrated on the next pass and ignored-

Nah- that sounds good, but it would be lying. I never stopped thinking about Peter. I made the pass to take second some time before 4 miles and then just hauled ass. I saw Peter coming back out of the 'lower' turn around. I did something I don't do. I turned my head and took a good long look at where Peter was so I could do the math on how far I was behind. I turned my head back and uttered a very loud 'F@ck'. I did not want to finish second. Peter is, again, a great guy, real nice guy, great athlete. Still didn't want to finish second, not to him or anyone.

Although I busted my ass on the bike, I ended up losing time to Peter. I put about 2:20 and 3:10 on the two other guys that had been in front of me and came into transition second. I had a nice short transition, scooped the gatorade bottle off my bike, and started running like hell. My second run, although 30 seconds slower than the first, was closer to my first run time than everyone in the top finishers except Tyler.

I ran hard, but I ran steady and smooth and my strategy paid off. I had the fourth fastest first run but moved up to third for the second- and adding the second-fastest bike to that was enough to finish second.

But it was the comfortable way that running hard the second run felt that gives me some hope that maybe I am not too far off base right now.

Don't get me wrong. Getting schooled by Peter is not pleasing. He's better, no question, but I think I could have pushed him by staying in the mix on the first run and not finished so far behind. However, I went into the bike fourth and crossed the finish line second, I have a great new bike that I've had a chance to race now, and I had a solid second run that reminded me what I am capable of.

It's time to get it up a gear or two and find my speed.

Marty- you put on an awesome race. Well organised, great course. Do it (or Duit) again next year !

PS Charlie- get some damn 20s on those rims. It wasn't a fat-tire race !

Duit Duathlon- Part I- Grading the Race

We're trying something new here- providing some format to the race reporting.

Race Importance (to my season)- B
This race has definitely been on my radar since Brian's, which was one of my three A races, but it's a step in the process for me.

Race Course- A
This was a great course. Closed to traffic, easy to navigate, impossible to get lost on. Only negative? No hills.

Race Organization- A
Very well organised. Started on time, no problems with timing, good food post race, awards and post race occurred right after race ended.

My performance- B+
First run was too slow. Found my grove on the bike. Very good second run. Verdict- did not work hard enough to be ready to suffer on first run.