Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Uncertain Future of USA Triathlon Age Group Sprint Nationals and ITU Sprint Worlds

If you plan to race at this year's USAT Age Group Sprint Nationals, be aware that it is no longer a qualifier for the ITU Age Group Sprint World Championship.

During my four years participating in the USAT Age Group Nationals weekend, there have always been two races: the Olympic distance on Saturday and the Sprint distance on Sunday. They varied in that one had to qualify for the Olympic race, but not for the sprint, but BOTH races were qualifiers for the ITU Age Group World Championship in their respective distances. I've enjoyed racing both and having two opportunities in one weekend to qualify for Team USA.

Last February, the ITU (International Triathlon Union - not our national governing body USA Triathlon) decided that beginning in 2016, the Age Group Sprint World Championship would change from draft-illegal (how nearly all of us age-groupers race) to draft-legal:

In non-drafting (draft-illegal) racing (again, most all age group races are this way), one must stay out of a 3m x 10m (or 12m for long distance events) "draft zone" around fellow cyclists on the course, except during a pass which must be done within a specified amount of time (I think 15 seconds). This is to minimize the advantages of "drafting" whereby the rider can save up to 40% of their energy riding in the low pressure area created just behind the rider who cuts through the wind. 

That's me riding safely in the front of the photo from last year's Nationals.

Non-drafting racing maintains the focus on the individual nature of the sport. Yes, one can draft somewhat in swimming, and theoretically on the run (not with much advantage) but in cycling it really changes the nature of the race.

In draft-legal racing, riders form closely grouped peletons or packs, adding a whole new dimension of race tactics and strategy. Because the drafting advantages come from riding very closely, the risk of multi-rider crashes go up significantly. A clipped wheel, a moment of inattention, a sudden move by a rider - that's all it can take for you and your cycling neighbors to go down hard.

The young professionals who race in ITU draft-legal racing are skilled and accomplished and can ride far more safely than us. 

But the bike handling skill set among us "weekend warriors" is varied. How many of us who are beyond our 20s and 30s, with jobs, and families, and responsibilities, want to participate in draft-legal racing? I'd argue not many! Certainly not me.

I train for my best INDIVIDUAL effort out there! I'm not interested in the gamesmanship, false advantages, and strategies of pack riding.

The other point to make is that the triathlon/TT bikes we ride in draft-illegal racing are not permitted in draft-legal racing. One needs the ready-access of shifters and brakes of a road bike for safety purposes and quick adjustments. So if you are interested in both styles of racing, you'll need to keep up two bikes now. And if you should qualify for both the sprint and Olympic Age Group World Championships? Be prepared to take two bikes if you want your TT bike for the Olympic.

One of the things I love most about this sport is it's inclusivity throughout the age groups. I love racing at Nationals and Worlds with athletes in their 60's, 70's, and 80s. Often the upper age groups are MOST competitive at the sprint distance, and if the only World Championship racing opportunity is draft-legal, how many will want to compete? I feel this rule change discriminates unfairly against the upper age groups! I know some of the top athletes in the 70+ age groups who are superstars at the sprint distance but for various reasons simply cannot compete at the Olympic distance.

It is my understanding that USAT and other national federations do not support this change. They have proposed that a non-drafting sprint worlds be offered but that isn't looking very promising. 

For now the ITU decision stands. USAT announced that it will hold a special qualifier in October for the 2016 draft-legal Sprint Age Group World Championships. So now rather than the expenses of one travel weekend to qualify for two races, now there are two separate travel weekends. But not for me, since I am not at ALL interested in draft-legal racing. 

I am even on the fence about whether I will race the 2015 non-drafting "Sprint Nationals" which seems less "Nationals" and more just "regular race" since one need not qualify for it and it qualifies us for nothing. 

I'm saddened by the implications of these changes for Age Group Nationals weekend and for our athletes who specialize in this distance. I'm saddened that Sprint Nationals seems a bit lost now and the excitement of the double-race weekend at Nationals with TWO chances to qualify for Team USA is no longer --

In summary, if the ITU wanted to offer BOTH a draft-legal and non-drafting Sprint Age Group World Championship, I could support that. But switching the Sprint distance to ONLY draft-legal is crazy. They claim this change is to become "more inclusive globally?" I'd argue it discourages participation particularly through the older age groups. 

I hope the ITU will reconsider its decision and continue to offer a non-drafting Sprint Age Group World Championship. 

Thank you to USAT for continuing to pursue change and solutions and for listening to and responding to our concerns!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

48 miles for 48 trips around the sun

Yesterday concluded my 48th trip around the sun, so as of today I am officially 48. In my head I am still 26, but I know I am officially "old" because I asked for, and was excited for, and received new bathroom towels for my birthday. Thanks mom and dad! 

Nothing says "old" like excitement for new towels

This was my seventh year of celebrating my birthday in some kind of athletic way. 

I decided I wanted to kick off my bday weekend with a race, so I found the Joggin' for your Noggin' 5k put on by the Radford University National Student Speech Language Hearing Association to benefit Brain Injury Services in Southwest VA. I confess I emailed the race director to ask if I could have a number with a 48 in it, and my request was granted. I got a bib number with a 48 and personalized with a Happy Birthday. Thank you, Sophie! (I love her beautiful handwriting.)

Taylor Jennings surprised me by showing up to race! He and I share the same birthday. I beat him in "years" (by a lot; he turned 25) and he beats me in "speed" (by a lot).

This was a really unique race experience for me. It was a smaller race (60 participants in this its first year) but it was huge in terms of enthusiasm and purpose! It was a small party at the finish and I enjoyed joining in to cheer for the racers including a number of race participants who were brain injury survivors.

Big thanks to James DeMarco and Runabout Sports for supporting this race -- I found out that the personnel and nearly all of the equipment they supplied for the race are loaned out free of charge to charitable races!!

One of the brain injury survivors who I believe won the men's 41-and-over division.

Taylor and I are pictured with Sophie, the assistant Race Coordinator who made this a really special race! Taylor was first overall, and I was first overall female. I finished in 20:56 which was a decent time for me, but had I not started with an overly ambitious 6:39 first mile, I could have perhaps done a little better. I fell into the first mile trap of "hey this feels easy..." followed by a second mile of "when will this be over?" LOL.

After the race, I took off right from the parking lot for a 45 mile bike ride around Claytor Lake. I did parts of the Wilderness Road Ride in reverse and allowed myself to take my time, get a few photos, and stop for a mid-ride picnic/gas-station lunch along the lake.

This was the first time I ever loaded a course generated on MapMyRide into my Garmin Edge. That worked out pretty well for navigation but I discovered I was supposed to have loaded maps too, which I have since done (thank you DC Rainmaker for instructions). Without the actual maps, I ended up with a course sans roads or road names names, so I was basically just following a line, lol. If nothing else, this forced me to finally figure out the map feature and I feel like it's opened up a whole new world to my navigationally-challenged self!!!

my "course" - rather lacking without much of a map, but still sufficient.
should be even better now that I have maps loaded!

Picnic spot with Roo along Claytor Lake. I had a gas station hot dog and chocolate milk 
- very uncharacteristic of me. Also a good reminder of why
eating a lot (of yuck) at once is not a good idea mid-bike ride. 

THIS is the main reason for the course I chose. I love this spot coming out of Snowville, Virginia. The photo doesn't do it justice, but it's still representative of the vast beauty of our region.

I enjoyed my 48 mile day and some experiences that were different than my usual - a new race, new Garmin maps, and a different bike course.

I'm grateful to Oma and Grandfriend for the new addition to my library and the reminder that "fast" can apply to my sport but should not be applied to the rest of life in general.

Thank you to my family and friends for the birthday wishes. I look forward to another trip around the sun with you all!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Hair: The Next Big Thing in "Aero"

Triathletes are notorious for looking to save precious grams of weight from their bikes, and ounces from their shoes. We fuss about optimal water bottle placement and do all we can in search of the holy grail of "aero."

I'm here to tell you there's one major weight and aero factor that most people ignore -- HAIR!

Yesterday I was at Great Wolf Lodge water park in Charlotte, NC with the kids and a friend. In the locker room I dried my hair - which took all of about 47 seconds. There was a long-haired mom drying each of her long-haired girls' hair and she looked at me and said with a twinge of envy,"I wish we could pull off short hair!" I hear that quite often.

I love my easy short hair. While I certainly can admire long beautiful locks, that is no longer for me. I did the long-ish hair thing for 30-some years. Then I had kids and started running...and the hair got shorter and shorter in response to the ever shrinking amount of free time.

pre-kids, when I still had hair...and a curling iron...and time.

With training I can end up taking two or three quick showers in a day - that would not work if I had to fuss with hair.

Last weekend when I was running down a rural road I saw a young woman with hair pulled back that extended down to her calves. I couldn't help but wonder if that was a hinderance to being active, and if that cut her off from a world of possibilities?

Additional advantages to short hair:

  • no spending $$ on hair accessories, means more $$ for tri stuff
  • less hair volume in swim cap - less drag, less likely swim cap will split
look at that pointy low-drag head!
  • less weight to carry on bike and run, less hair to absorb sweat and be even heavier
  • no hair in my face
  • can craft attractive sweaty mohawk on bike trainer
  • impressive bed head
  • TONS of time saved with low-maintenance hair
  • competitors can't yank hair (ok, I made that up....but it COULD happen)
  • no bothersome calls from Ford Modeling Agency (haha)

this is as "accessorized" as I get - headband under bike helmet for warmth!

Big thanks to Dawn Hale my awesome stylist and friend for the past forever number of years. It's nice to just sit down at Innovations and say "do whatever" and catch up on life. She sends me off with well wishes and a reminder that I have "fast" hair :-)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The fun of coach-written training plans

I have worked with my coach, Jim McGehee of One on One Endurance, ever since I started in the sport of triathlon. I happened into him when our kids were both taking music lessons at the same place and I was coming off a running injury and considering triathlon. That was the summer of 2009!

The best part of working with him is that the training is never boring and each session includes just the right amount of goals and details to keep my mind appropriately busy. I get my workouts in two-weeks blocks, presented via Training Peaks.

What I love is that sessions often feel like games to me - with intervals to hold a specific-to-me pace, cadence, wattage, or heart rate. And when I have long or easy runs/rides on the schedule, I'm ready for the mental break and those miles are appreciated.

There's diversity in the settings too as he sends me of to roads, running paths, track, trails, hills, flat, treadmill, bike trainer. While weeks may have a similar rhythm to them (long things on weekends, group swims T/H), there are no two weeks the same...which I like!

These little goals keep me challenged and motivated! Here are a few favorite workouts from the last two weeks:

It really helps to have some type of programmable GPS device for these. I still use the old Garmin Training Center to program my Edge 800 and Forerunner 910XT:

Then I use Training Peaks to log the data and share it back with my coach for feedback, and he uses it in future planning.

I still find the training process - and data - endlessly fascinating and I remain grateful that I don't have to write my own training plan. Every two weeks I get to see what's in store for me.

I often tell Coach Jim he does the hard part writing all of this up, and I get all the fun!

If this sounds like fun, you might look into coaching. Just be sure to find the right coach match for you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Power Gloves

These Adidas gloves are the first real running accessory I ever bought, purchased at our local running store, Runabout Sports, in the fall of 2008. I'd only been running a few months at that point and was headed into my first winter.

I remember just how I felt when I bought them - as if I had just crossed over into the world of "real" runners. But did I belong? I wondered if I'd last in the sport, or if running was just a phase. Was this a dumb thing to buy? What if I quit?

Now, seven and a half years later, I know the answers!

These are the gloves I put on when I need a lift in the cold months, when I need a reminder of how far I've come and how much I've learned.

I've mended these several times and I am super careful not to lose them. I've never had a pair of gloves that fit me better.

I love my POWER gloves!

Do you have sentimental items from the start of your running or multisport journey?

Disclaimer: my Power Gloves have no affiliation with the Nintendo Power Glove. (Mine are far more powerful.)