Monday, May 30, 2011

Triathlon Guide No. 1: What to take on race day (aka what not to forget)

Things have been quiet on the blogging front since the Frauenfeld Triathlon and to be honest I’ve been taking it way to easy, enjoying some of the finer things in life, like beer, pizza and cake…lot’s of cake, like this one…
and er, this one…
So, plenty of cake and only a paltry 5 hours training this week and 3 the week previous. All in all not really Ironman standard training numbers, especially seeing as I have the half Ironman distance Switzerland 70.30 in Rapperswil-Jona next weekend! 

However, this post wasn’t meant to be about training numbers and distances, I’m in desperate need of some organisation, and as the task is at hand I thought I would share with you the answers (or more specifically MY answers) to the question: what do I need to take with on race day.

As a wise man once said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” and unlike some sports where you can simply turn up in your running shoes and forget every other piece of equipment you planned to take (gps watch, mp3 player, sunglasses, hat, water bottle etc…yes, I’ve done all of these things :- p) there are certain vital items in triathlon which can cause you so much trouble that they jeopardise you finishing the race. If you are a first timer then this may, hopefully, be very useful information I'm providing, any multiple finishers please look away now ;)

Firstly a disclaimer, I do not claim to be an expert and I definitely would not consider myself a veteran, the following information is from a very subjective point of view, and based on 2 plus years of triathlon experience, so please use it at your own risk ; – )

Let’s break it down. What type of triathlon is it, short, middle distance, long, Ironman? got an idea of the weather on the day of the race? are there changing facilities? is the swim indoors or in a lake or sea, questions like these are going to affect the decisions you make of what equipment and clothing you take.
My equipment for Ironman 70.3 Switzerland Rapperswil-Jona 2010

I’m not going to go into massive detail, because most of the items are self explanatory (if not leave a comment and I will gladly elaborate) and this blog post would become very tedious very quickly (if it hasn't already). Instead I will mention some of the items which I didn’t have around with me the first few times I raced and wished I had.
1. A big plastic container box

Imagine the scene, it’s a beautiful sunny day, you rack up in the transition, set out your running gear, bike shoes, towel to dry after the swim and you head out to the waters edge, the swim goes well and you're through transition 1 and out on the bike, then suddenly the skies begin to darken, crap, it’s now pissing down with rain, and after your 1/2/3/4/5/6 hours on the bike you get into transition 2, your shoes are soaked through, so is your towel, and not only that so are all your clean clothes and even though your bag is decent quality there is not one item which isn’t wet.

If you got all your things tucked up nicely in this plastic container, just pull out your dry running shoes, a fresh pair or socks, dry yourself down with a spare towel (makes sure you take one ;-)) and you’re on your way…knowing you have some dry fresh clothes to change into later.

Now, before you say, it’s only some rain and I’ll be ok, who needs to keep this stuff dry, I have seen people unable to continue after transition 2 due to the fact they were both freezing to death and not having any dry kit to change into. It can happen.

2. A floor pump
I was convinced I didn't need a floor pump, until I used one for the first time and realised it was almost impossible to get the correct pressure into my tires without one. Of course you can inflate the tires on the morning of a standard triathlon and head to the event, but what if something happens during the journey and you need to change the tubes?

3. Little bag of Inner tube replacement tools

Catching a flat during a race is the biggest pain in the ass, especially if you’re not prepared and have to free wheel it through the second lap while young children laugh at your misfortune (yep….don’t ask!)
Most cycle shops sell the items you can see above, first you have a small tool bag, it’s big enough to fit one inner tube (not shown above, obviously :- )), a set of tire levers (blue, red, one plastic bits), and a couple of c02 cartridges and an inflator bit (on the far right). If you are not one for changing a tire yourself you can find more information about using the levers here and use of the c02 cartridge here.

4. Small form factor hand pump

Ok, so, you got your little bag of tricks above, you get a flat, the c02 cartridge and inflator bit can be used to inflate your tire in super quick time..but you put the inflator and the cartridge together push on the tire value..and then…this happens (watch it all the way though)…

Now if Chrissie Wellington can make a mess of it anyone can, and even with another spare with you are you going to chance it? the c02 is going to give you the pressure in the tire that you arte looking for, but it’s risky, that’s why I would also take the smallest hand pump and strap it to your bike.


5. A Bike lock

yeah, it sounds stupid, and if I'm honest I don’t always take one to smaller one day events, but bikes get taken from Ironman events regularly, don't trust that the security at these events means your bike will not be take if you leave it in the transition area over night.

6. Lubrication…

I’m talking about lubrication for the race not for the evening after, ahem., this is a simple one, a body lubrication product is going to 1. stop chafing 2. make it a hell of a lot easier to get out of your wetsuit and 3. give a bit extra sun protection for the bike and run…..I’ve been using body glide..

I will spare you the details of some of the nasty rashes I have had when I forgot to use it, let’s just say it stung in some very personal areas for many a day after! It just works!

So there you go, and that’s just for starters, and if this has been of any help to you, I’ve placed my full inventory here, over the next week I'll be updating and adding a little bit more information to the spreadsheet as a reminder to why certain items are optional, if that sounds useful to you keep checking back!

Monday, May 16, 2011

15.05.2011 - Triathlon-Frauenfeld Review & Race Report

Getting there, location and amenities

Frauenfeld is North East of Zürich and about 40 minutes by train from Zürich central train station.

The start/finish zone is slap bang in the middle of town, within walking distance of the train station and local parking, and as the swim is held at a local swimming pool, you also get the bonus of decent crappers (I’d give this a top 5 craps out of 5 rating when it comes to toilet provision), and also nice warm showers if you wish to use them are the event!

A word of warning, the changing area at the pool is communal, so when you step out of the men's showers, do so with a towel around your waist, not over your head, you might be faces by half a dozen women…ahem.

Amenities wise, a big, massive thumbs up, lots of nice food, including burgers, sausages and the like, quality!

The race format

Frauenfeld  has “Short” and “Long Distance” triathlons on offer, the "Long Distance" is a shorter Olympic standard triathlon made up of an 800 metre swim, 34km bike (2 laps of 17.2km) and a 7.2km run ( 4 laps of 1.8km).

Swimmers go off at 15 second intervals and starting times are posted near the start number pick up area

The swim is in a very nice heated outdoor 50 Metre pool, 16 laps (2 laps per lane). The lane dividers are pretty heavy duty so expect the occasional struggle moving from one lane to the next.
Swimmers start at 15 second intervals, and the start time order is based on your expected time for 800 Metres (which you submit when signing up for the event).
It's important you get this right, give a time too quick and you're likely to get over taken by the mass of faster swimmers, too slow and you're going to have to overtake a large number of swimmers in front of you, which i always find a right pain in the ass! Have a good think about this before signing up, else get ready to rumble and expect a few kicks and punches to the head, and yes..that's speaking from experience ;-)

The Frauenfeld pool, the short course athletes in action,
note on the far side that the swimmers have grouped together, swim rage!
The Bike

The bike transition area is your standard affair, nothing out of the ordinary, security is good and it's well marshalled, and as you need to show give back a strip off your start number bid before you can take the bike from the transition area no one is going to walk off with your bike while you're out on the run.

 I especially like these wooden bike racks, once you rack up the bike stays up straight, no wibble wobble

The course itself is a killer! well it was for me. Check out the profile below, straight onto the bike and then onto an insane climb, it's not for the faint hearted....remember, you have to do this twice...and at 17km you're going to have to start climbing again, luckily the downhill parts are a blast..expect speeds of over 65kmph.

Elevation profile picked up by my garmin 310XT during the race..check out the climbs

Interestingly, I whacked the route into Bryton sports trip planner and it suggests the difficulty as category 2, the grading used by the Tour de France to rate courses in difficulty, see here for details. So, it's a tough one, enjoy it!

The Run

There’s nothing much to be said for the run, it’s a loop, up and down rolling course, and a lot of fun if you have some energy left, with the start times being staggered, by the time you get to the run there are plenty of athletes to race against/run with (including the Pros), there’s also one water/isotonic drink station just after the start handing out cups if you need them.

It's loop Jim, but not as we know it

Overall Rating

Simply put, it's an absolute blast, well worth the entrance fee, well organised, tough and challenging. Highly recommended. If you're new to triathlon and are thinking of doing this as a first race then I would suggest the short course version, you might well be thankful of only having to make those climbs the once!

My Race Report

The first Tri of the season is always an odd one, normally I go into an event with a goal, it might be just to finish, it might be get my transition routine running smoothly, it might be to hit a target time, but to be honest I could just not make my mind up, even up to the last minute before getting into the water I was confused as to what I was expecting of myself.

However, about 60 metres into the swim that all changed, after starting at my normal relaxed pace, I was over taken, by not one, but two swimmers, suddenly I was feeling a bit more competitive, and worried that I would get swallowed up by the faster swimmers starting behind me I pushed on, soon I had caught and passed one of the guys who previously passed me. It soon became very crowded, it was like swimming in the old "washing machine" and at around 200 metres in someone strayed into my line, a fist came down and I got a full force punch in the head, which was nice.

I am by all accounts a pretty crappy swimmer and I was going at it as hard as I could, taking a breath every stroke, I was convinced I would blow up in the pool, which would have been pretty embarrassing, amazingly it didn't happen, and although some top quality swimmers raced past me I also managed to pick off a few more myself and finished with a decent 16:37 split for the 800 metres.

Garmin GPS 310XT data in an outdoor gave a distance of 2KM ;)

As I've mentioned in the event review, the bike course is a killer, all I can say is I need to work on my bike strength, and having only been on the road once this year I can't complain with a 1 hour 13 mins split.

It could have been a lot worse, just before hitting the pool I double checked my bike racking and just happened to notice that the chain had come off the chain ring....doh...lucky, I only just avoided probably embarrassment when climbing onto the bike in T1.

how did that happen? must have been one of the Pros, worried about my infamous bikes skillz
The run rocked, I managed to hit around 30 mins for the 7.2km which was decent for me, but what was really pleasing was that my Heart Rate stayed well within reasonable levels, in the past the profile below would have been 190 bmp for the whole 30 just goes to show, training at low intensity can pay off, it's all about patience!

No more 190bmp+ heart rate when running at 4:30 mins pkm pace
My final finishing time was 2 hours 4 minutes 21 seconds, placing me 125 out of 203 and 45th in my age group (out of 83), not bad considering two years ago I was trailing in amongst the last dozen or so. All in all a very satisfying Sunday morning, followed by a large MacDonald’s and a couple of beers, what more could you want ;)
Here's my data from bike portion for reference...someone even said it was harder than Rapperswil..I'm not sure about that ;)

Monday, May 2, 2011

17.04.2011 - Zürich Marathon Review and Race Report

Getting there, location and amenities

Now normally for me, race day is a hellish early morning wake up call followed by a long, long, long train journey, so the idea of running the Zurich Marathon had always appealed to me, being as it was only a 15 minute train journey away.

Not taking into a account the fact that I DO NOT OWN A CAR (or a drivers license if truth be told) I would suggest to anyone planning to run this event in the future to use public transport. The start line is very easy to get to, if you don’t fancy the longer trek from the centre of Zurich, I would recommend grabbing the s-bahn down to Wollishofen Train station (1 - see map below). It’s in easy walking distance of the changing area and toilets found at Mythenquai bathing area (2) and from there it’s a stones throw from the clothes depot (Kleiderdepot 3), where you can safely stash any unwanted items before the race.


The Kleiderdepot is an excellent feature, a very large, draw string closing plastic bag is provided to each runner, on this you can place a large sticker, which has your name and start number on. Once over at the Kleiderdepot you simply place the bag into the corresponding train wagon, then after the race head back, show them your number and get the goodies back. For me this was excellent, something I hadn’t seen before, it meant I could take a lot of warm clothing, drinks, gels, my mobile, and wallet (although this was still a little risky). Another neat feature is they also provide a ticket, which could be given to a friend or family member, which allows them to pick up the bags for you way before the end of the race, meaning it was possible to make alternative meeting arrangements if you so wished!

View from Mythenquai bathing area on the morning of the Marathon, 7:30am, perfect!

In location, accessibility and changing provision I’m happy to say the Zürich Marathon gets the thumbs up. However, the start/finish area wasn’t so well thought out.

The Start Line

I wish I had had the chance to take some photos to give an idea of how cramped the start area was. The streets along Mythen-Quai (4) are very narrow, normally on the runs I have taken part in the starting times are staggered, based on runners expected finish times. Runners group around the pace makers (for anyone who hasn’t take part before, basically, for each finish time, 3 hours, 3:15, 3:30 to to 4:30 or even 5:30 hours, two runners with helium balloons, with said time written on them tied around their waists, run together, you can follow these runners and try and hit your time). Normally, in 5 minute intervals, the pace makers plus the pack of runners with them, begin their race. For some reason the Zürich Marathon does not use this system, everyone goes off at the same time, which would be fine if the streets were wide enough, but unfortunately, for the first few Kilometres they were not, people were knocking into each other, tripping, and a few fell, heavily.
I would suggest if you are just there for fun, and not looking for a quick time, be very careful where you place yourself, many, many people were following the pace makers, if you plan to following one I would suggest running a few seconds ahead of time, and in front of the pace makers, until the marathon moves out of the city and onto the road leading down the east side of lake Zürich!

The Race

Once the runners spread out it was a very enjoyable run, and as it follows the lake it’s also fairly flat, this makes it, in marathon terms, a fairly “easy run”. Now, I'm not for one moment suggesting running a marathon is easy, just that, it’s easier, than say, the Luzern Marathon (the only other Marathon I’ve taken part in to date). As you can see below, the course rolls along, but with only a max elevation of 424 Metres and a minimum of 405 Metres, it won’t cause you too much pain!
Along the course you will find plenty of water/food stations, one cool feature is the use of small water bottles instead of cups. One word of warning though, the stations are not clearly marked out, and even the pace makers close to me managed to run past them at first, and had to double back to grab supplies. Make sure you study them well before the race, they are all located on the right hand side of the course
On a side note, I cannot stand water cups, in fact recently I have taken to using a Ultimate Direction thunderbolt belt, and instead of drinking from the cups I just fill my bottles up, that way I don’t end up with half the cup down my chin! This has worked really well for me, any water bottle belt would do, as long as it’s padded well and comfortable.

The Finish Line
I’ve got to admit, I found the finishing line completely underwhelming. Maybe I missed something, but there didn't seem to be anything around, there I was, expecting beer, massive bratwursts, and all manor of goodies…but alas..nothing. they could really learn something from the Greifenseelauf, which has a superb finishing area.
If you plan to meet friends or family here, plan well in advance and meet away from the initial finish line, it’s too cramped and with no high ground to gain a clear vantage point, almost impossible to pick anyone out in the crowds I was faced with.
One thing to note, remember to keep an eye on the roadways when coming back into the city, there are tramlines covering most of the course over a few Kilometres and it’s very easy to trip, I noticed this happen to a few runners in front of me.

Overall Rating
The Zürich Marathon falls short on some of the areas of highlighted, it would be nice to have a nice open spaced finish area, with a lot more amenities, I think if you had travelled a long distance for this race you may well be disappointed by this. Luckily for me I was only fifteen minutes from home, so I was straight home for a beer and pizza! :)
The course itself is nice and flat, and once the initial crush of runners has thinned out, there is plenty of room to to run! Along the course you’ll find plenty of water and food (gels/bananas) provided, the atmosphere is a good one, and occasionally there are bands playing and music, while the crowds in the Zürich are fairly large and enthusiastic at the finish line, a few might even call out your name, always nice.
I found there was something missing though, there weren't any special touches which made it memorable, I’d still recommend it to anyone wanting to complete their first marathon, the “flat” course make it perfect, and the 5 hours 30 minute time limit gives you plenty of time to get the end should you "hit the wall" early.

My Race Report
I’ll keep this short and sweet.

I entered the marathon with two things in mind, first was to get one more experience of running a full Marathon well before my participation in Ironman Switzerland in July 2011, and secondly, and not so importantly, I wanted to knock some time off my previous personal best, set at the Luzern marathon on 2010, of 3 Hours 58 Mins.
normally I’m in pain, sweaty and grimacing, so I though, what the hell! ;)

I had a good twelve weeks of solid “build” training behind me, so decided that a target of 3 Hours 45 mins would be more than doable. On the morning of the “race”, I set my Garmin 310XT to 3:45 pace and set out.

From the start of the run I felt good, I set myself snuggly behind the 3:45 pacers and floated along for the first 4KM, as I mentioned, so many runners were cramped into such a tight space that it started to become a little “dangerous” so I decided to move out alone in front of the pace makers. I soon noticed I had picked up the pace, and 10KM later I was all alone running at around 5:09 minute per KM pace (3 Hour 45 mins finish time being a 5:19 mp km pace), now previously I had been in Marathons where I had gone off way to hard and hit the wall at the half way mark and completely blown up, so I was a little concerned, but checking my heart rate I could see I was well within my limits, around Z3 (160bpm for me), so i just kept going, and going, and I have to say, it felt pretty easy until the last 4KM, where I really started to struggle, luckily for me by that time I was already into the city and the final stretch.

In the end I came in with a time of 3 hours 41 minutes, of which I was more than happy, in fact, I even had enough energy to do a little tribute to the Blazeman and rolled across the finish line, which got me some funny looks I can tell you!

Thanks for reading! the full Garmin gps data and stats can be seen below!