Sunday, March 13, 2016

What races are you doing this season?

That question causes me a little anxiety this time of year.  I am one of those people who procrastinates the decision of which races I'm going to commit to each year. Of course there are those that I know I can't procrastinate on my decision like Ironman races that sell out quickly.   But generally, I put it off until about this time of year.

George Hudson
Thanks to George Hudson, there is a reminder that Spring and the race season are approaching soon. What does George Hudson have to do with my race calendar? George Hudson was born in Britain on April 20, 1867.  By the age of 14 he had become a bit of an entomologist and had built up a collection of British insects.  In 1881 Hudson moved with his father to Nelson, New Zealand. He worked on a farm, and in 1883, aged 16, he began working at the post office in Wellington, where he eventually became chief clerk, retiring in 1918.  His shift-work job gave him leisure time to collect insects, and led him to value after-hours daylight. In 1895, he presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society proposing a two-hour daylight-saving shift, and after considerable interest was expressed in Christchurch, he followed up in an 1898 paper.  It eventually led to the passing of the Summer-Time Act 1927.  Hudson is credited with proposing a model of what in know today as daylight saving time.

We have just switched to daylight savings time, which means we adjust our clocks forward.  This is a big mental shift for me every year.  I love that it stays lighter later in the evening.  It's one of the first symbols of spring for me.  I start considering that ski season is over and it's time to commit myself to the triathlon season.  Time to start shaving the beard (and the legs).  Any remaining decisions about my athletic goals and race calendar are usually sorted out shortly after the time switch.

It is to the goal of helping you finalize your 2016 athletic goals and and race commitments that the April episode of Mile High Tri Podcast is dedicated.  Whether this is the year you have decided to try your first triathlon or you are debating which Ironman to check off next, this episode should help you make an informed and confident decision.  

Last episode, we heard James Sharpe comment that 'you can race twice each weekend in Colorado between May and September' and that's absolutely true.  By my count, there are 54 or more triathlons scheduled in Colorado during that period in 2016.  I hope you have as many options as I do where you live.  While we may have a lot of options, the problem is you have a lot of options!  That means you need information and decision criteria.  

In this month's episode we will go through what to consider and techniques for narrowing your decision.  Ultimately, you have to take action and click the 'register' button.  You'll do it with confidence when we're done. 

As always, my goal is to give you multiple perspectives on a topic and I think this month's interviews deliver on that objective.  We'll start out with interviews with coach Khem Suthiwan of Mile High Multisport, 2015 ITU Long Course champ Mary Beth Ellis and several race directors, both current and legendary, on the show today.  

Because of the number of interviews that I have for this month (and because I committed to keep the show to about 75 minutes), I am delivering April's show in two parts.  There will be a Part A that will publish on April 1st and a Part B that will publish on April 15th.  After that, we'll get back on track for the 1 episode per month.

If you enjoy the content of this month's episode, I thank you for giving me your time and would ask you to go to Facebook or Twitter and post your feedback.  In fact, the first 10 posts each month will receive a present from me in the mail.  I'll get with you off-line and send you a Mile High Tri Podcast window/bumper sticker in the mail in appreciation of your support of the show!

Before we get into the interviews, I'd like to take just a minute to tee up the discussion with three suggestions of my own.  These are certainly not comprehensive, but meant to give you a few considerations to get you thinking.  

Consideration #1 - Basics of timing and budget.  Making a race decision has to be precipitated by the existence of the resources of of time and money.  Consider how much time you have to train and what weekends you are even available to race.  Do not pick a race and register without a thorough scrub of your previous commitments and holidays.  The timing is a simple exercise of viewing all of the races in your locale and comparing their date to your existing commitments. is a good race calenar resource for runing and triathlon races.  You can filter by location and distance to narrow your search.  When you consider timing, factor in your current fitness and how much training and preparation your are going to need.  

Money's always a fun topic right?  If this is going to be sustainable from a financial (and marital status) perspective(s), decide on your budget and involve whoever has a stake in the budget in the decision.  If you can combine it with another household budget (eg, vacations) great.  Destination races are a lot of fun.  Keep in mind that triathlon is an equipment rich sport and there's a lot of stuff to take with you.  If traveling to a race by plane for the first time, consider a couple of additional expenses in your budget - namely a bike box and bike fees.  There are some ways to keep those costs down, but that's a topic for another day.   Once your budget is set, eliminate the races that don't meet those requirements.

Consideration #2 - Pool or Open Water?  There are a few factors that play into this consideration.  First, what is your experience with open water?  If you do not have experience with open water swimming, my recommendation is that you get some experience before committing to to an open water race.  Join a local masters group or swimming club that has access to open water practices during the race season and get some club or coach support.  Next month's episode will go into options for getting the support you need to be successful in open water.

Second, and assuming your are comfortable in open water, consider what the water temperature be and whether you have the right wetsuit?  For me, I like using a long sleeve early and late season, but prefer a sleeveless in July and August.  Check out the swim course section of your target race's website and see if they have the water temperature range posted.  Often that won't be posted until closer to the race.  You can always email the race organizer to ask what to expect.  

Third, is the open water swim in a lake, ocean, or river.  Salt water swims are great for buoyancy, but be careful to not ingest too much. Salt water and large fresh water lakes can also of chop and current. If you are considering  a race that has  a  strong current or big chop, and you're not experienced with that environment, create an opportunity to practice it it before race day.  River swims are usually downstream, but you want to confirm.  Downstream being appropriate for less strong swimmers while upstream for stronger swimmers.  

Consideration #3 - Distance.  If triathlon is a new sport for you, I recommend starting with a sprint distance (see as your first introduction.    I know there's a lot of appeal to longer distance, especially in the US and lots of people who chose a longer distance for their first race and have success - my hat's off to them.  These folks confirm that it's possible.  It's not that I believe Olympic or longer races are not achievable for the new triathlete.  I believe that triathlon is a physical and mental game.  There's plenty to be learned about good decision making and pacing in short distance triathlon.  If you decide to pursue long distance, I found an incremental progression of distances to learn about nutrition, as well as mental toughness.  

#4 Consider fund raising.  This is a great way for you to enhance the meaning and purpose of your training.  Many races have charity slots and work with non-profit partners.  The fundraising tools they make available make fundraising pretty straight forward as long as you are willing to put in a little time promoting your effort.  There are a lot of creative ways to boost your fundraising too.  More on that in future episode.

#5 Plan to have fun!  I mean take time to reflect on why you do the sport and have a real think about why this sport if fun for you.  If your new to the sport, what excites you about it.  If you have been around a while, think about the training, races, and moment you enjoy the most.  For me, I enjoy variety and getting outside of my comfort zone from time to time.  

When I apply the considerations above to my personal situation, here's the breakdown:

  1. Resources - I have a full time day job, and I've decided to take a step back from long distance races for a while.  Also, we have two kids going to college soon, so the the travel budget is tight.
  2.  Pool or Open Water - Open water has always been a bit of a demon for me (more on that later), but I can swim most open water races today.  That's good, because I'm seeing a trend where there are fewer entry-level pool swimming races.  
  3. I mentioned previously that I'm taking a step away from long distance races.  When I started triathlon just over 10 years ago, I fell into the trap of thinking I wasn't a triathlete until I did an Ironman.  When people find out you do triathlon, they'll ask you 1 of 3 questions: what races are you doing?  Have you done an Ironman?  Have you done the Hawaii Ironman?  Don't get stuck in that trap.  If you race sprint or olympic distance, you're every bit a triathlete.  I personally enjoyed my five Ironman stint, but now I want to do races where I'm done and having lunch with friends by noon.
  4. I plan to keep it fun this year by trying only new races.  Each of my targeted and registered races this year will be new experiences.  I am doing my first mountain triathlon and also have a charity slot for the New York City Marathon.  
I hope that little sampling of considerations help get you ready for the discussions I have lined up with our panel of experts.  No matter where your are, I hope you enjoy this month's show.
Good luck as you start to narrow your search.  Be sure to check out the website at, or visit on Facebook.