New Sneaks

On my way up to Lake Placid, I knew I was in need of some new running shoes. I am a Asics Gel Kayano fella, but was in the market for something a bit more sturdy for trail running. Although the Asics do fine, I have had a few close calls with twisted ankles and lost traction.

Main street has a number of choices for the discerning shopper, but I went to Fallen Arch first. The store only allows two people in at a time, but there was no line and I was able to get in quickly. After looking at some of the display models, I asked for help and was sad to hear there was nothing in my size. After chatting with the store employee, he told me that the orders have not been consistent, and that they basically get what they get. So he wouldn’t be able to order anything custom for me.

Feeling a bit dejected, but knowing there were still a ton of options out there, I next checked out Blue Line Sporting Goods in Saranac Lake. This store has a ton of gear for fishing and hunting, but was light on the trail runners. Not a problem.

Back to the Lake Placid village and the steadfast EMS. This store delivered with a pair of Salomon Men’s XA Pro 3D trail running shoes. Score!

These shoes were exactly what I was looking for. They have a higher side to protect the ankle which is very important on the technical trails. The traction is fantastic, and I have been able to run on rocks and logs in the rain without issue. Another unexpected benefit is the protected toe box. Having broken toenails after kicking a rock during trail runs, this protection was welcomed. I have already accidentally kicked a rock during a run and knew it would have been very painful in the Kayanos.

The laces are a quick lace system that reminds me of my Burton snowboarding boots. It is a simple pull system with a clasp to keep things tight. Originally I was on the fence with these, but so far, I am impressed. They have stayed tight and feel very comfortable.

These shoes have also been good on the road, although I wouldn’t swap them with my Kayano’s if I was only going to be on the streets.

Overall I would recommend these for some serious trail adventures. They give you the confidence and all the control you need to tackle the hardest routes.

Two Weeks In Lake Placid

Having a flexible work schedule due to Covid, a vacation already booked due to IMLP, a training camp on the calendar, and the desire to get in some solid training blocks, this will be the start of two weeks in Lake Placid.

If you have never been to LP, you are missing out. The scenery is stunning, the village is great, and there is something for everyone. In the next few posts I will cover some of the workouts, new gear, and conditions for the area.

To start off, I try to explore new areas each time I can come up here. Many of my recent runs and rides have been to new trails or new roads to bike on. While the run and bike course for IMLP is great, doing the same thing every time seems like a waste of everything else the area has to offer.

This trip I started off with a run from the village and a loop in Henry’s Woods. This is a great trail system used by mostly dog walkers, hikers, and mountain bikers. It consists primarily of a large looping main trail that has some good incline over the 2 miles it covers. There are also a few vistas that can be seen if you veer off the main trail. Not very technical, and you can really open up on the downhill which is always fun.

Another run consisted of checking out the 132 mile Northville-Lake Placid Trail which starts (ends?) in Lake Placid at a trailhead on Averyville Road. This is actually only just down the road from Henry’s Woods but is a much different experience. While I was able to run on the NLPT, it is an out and back single track and technical for much of it. Still fun, but the first interesting landmark is about 6 miles from the start. So be prepared for a long session if you are going to tackle this one. I also combined this with a run up Averyville Road which has some stunning views of meadows and Whiteface as you make your way along it.

I was also able to finally checkout the Jack Rabbit trail off of Whiteface Inn Lane. This is a cross country ski trail during the Winter, but many hikers use it during warmer months. Because of it being a ski trail, I expected a fairly flat, non-technical trail that ran into Saranac Lake. Wrong. The first few miles are essentially a climb the whole time. It is also very rocky and rutted for most of the journey as well. This was a great run, but not what I was expecting. At around two miles the trail comes to an intersection where going left will bring you to Haystack Mountain. I have previously run up Haystack, and found the last mile or so very challenging. Combining this trail will that mountain would be an epic 8 miler. You will earn your beer on that run.

There are still some new runs to tackle before the trip is over, but so far the new routes have been great.

What to Look for in Triathlon Camps

As I became more of a Professional Amateur, the need to find newer and better ways to train has been a mission. As a Christmas present several years ago, my wife signed me up for what I called Fat Camp at the time, a 5 day training camp. I have been doing the camps ever since, and it has lead to some great discoveries and experiences not just for myself, but also for the family who has been along on the traincation ever since that first year.

The camp I attend is in Lake Placid, one of the best places in the US for an active outdoor lifestyle. Each day you are pushed a little further than you think you can go. This is some of the best training and personalized coaching you will get. You actually feel like a Pro when the camp provides SAG and follows you around the huge bike loop. Being out with fellow triathletes in beautiful scenery also sure beats the day job.

I have seen alot of camps in the Lake Placid area over the years, and I have even stopped at other camp support tents to ask for water. They have always been very friendly, and I was happy for the help when it was needed. So what are a few things to consider when you are taking off time from work to go and train, and what can you expect out of a 4 or 5 day camp? What are some of the things you should look for and think about?

I can only speak from my own experience, and what I have seen that works, but consider a few of the following points before you sign up for a camp.

Your level of experience should not detract from your ability to get in good training nor should you feel as if you are holding others back. Inevitably camps will have people with many different goals and fitness levels. Not everyone is training for a full and not everyone is training for a half. The camp organizers should have a plan for the different abilities, or explain what the groups will look like beforehand.

The camp coaches should be experienced in the area and the different strategies for performing well. For example on the Lake Placid course, once you turn left in Wilmington on Route 86, there will be wind until you get back to the village. There will always be wind. You can also count on climbing back, because you know, the terrain doesn’t change much.

Trust the people in charge, but also be ready to self rescue. Just like any long ride, I take a phone, ID, and money. There may be support along the way, but stuff happens, and sometimes it isn’t enough. Always be prepared to take care of yourself in the event something goes wrong.

A good triathlon camp will cover swim, bike, and run each day, but should also have some breakouts for things like nutrition, injury prevention, stretching, etc. These are just as important as pedaling the bike, and if you have ever locked up because of dehydration you know that to be true.

Expect long days for long course training. There are not a lot of times where you can train with the volume and intensity as there are at a dedicated camp. This means that you will be pushing beyond normal limits and putting a lot of hay in the barn. That will tire you out, and you may need a solid recovery week to get back at it.

Food can be hard to get to when you are moving between three sports all day long. Preparing ahead of time is a great way to save time, and make sure you are fueling properly. We have been staying in a house for most of the training camps and long sessions in Lake Placid, and I find access to a kitchen, fridge, and supermarket is far better than dining for all three meals.

Don’t race. At least not on the first day. Sometimes, especially around new people, we want to establish an order of strong to weak. This means people will go out hot and fade quickly. The whole point of the camp is to train hard the entire time, not just on the first day. So pace yourself and keep the nightly recovery going.

Get a good sleep, stretch, and if possible use massage guns or compression boots. Rollers and Normatec’s are my goto after a longer session when I have a chance to sit and relax. Lot’s of hydration during this time helps too.

Just have fun. These experiences are blessings for many. The chance to go play outside for a week, not worry about work, get fit and meet great people is worth recognizing. Sometimes we are too wrapped up in shaving seconds off a 12 hour race and wind up missing the best parts staring right at us.

Get Stronger

Strength training is a secondary thought for many endurance triathletes. A common push back is: why spend an hour on strength when you swim, bike, or run? This is odd though because most endurance sports are strength based at their core.

Taking the basic argument to task, there are a number of reasons why, and for most of us, as we get get older, the strength training becomes more important. Being able to compete in your 50’s and 60’s will be based on what you do before that. And without a significant strength base, injury is very likely. Repeatedly being injured will ultimately result in the inability to train, and no training equals no racing.

During this Covid caused downtime, strength has been a nice new focus to my routine. Over the last four months I have increased to 3 days a week which has brought with it some great strength gains. These translate into better performance on the bike and swim but also for holding the form on long runs. I have been measuring progress but should have very specific results in a few weeks (Lake Placid training camp).

My primary strength training has been with a coach over live remote sessions. This allows him to still push me to the edge and lets him work on my weak areas. Most of the sessions are high intensity and have my heart rate fluctuating between 115 and 150 for an hour.

Getting solid results don’t require much in terms of equipment or space. A pullup bar, yoga mat, and some basic weights are all you need to focus on the muscles groups most used in training and racing.

As for the workouts, we include things like planks, squats, lunges, push ups and pull ups. There is nothing crazy needed just stick to the basics. Create circuits that cover each muscle group and try to get through each circuit without breaks. Slowly add in the weights as you get stronger and remember to stretch after each session.

To give an idea of what a simple circuit might look like:

  1. 15-25 pushups
  2. 10 lunges each leg
  3. 10 squat shoulder press
  4. 5 pullups
  5. 45 second plank

Repeat this circuit 4-5 times with minimal breaks between the exercises and sets. This hits most of the major muscle groups used during a triathlon, doesn’t require much space, and will keep you stronger and injury free for longer. An added benefit is that if you are pushing yourself, the heart rate will be up there as well. As this becomes easier, begin to add light weights to the lunges and shoulder presses, and up the reps. The above will take about 30 minutes, but that is all you need to see improvements. When done, if there is still time, use another 5-10 minutes to stretch afterwards.

A last note, and this is important: DON’T SKIP THE HARD THINGS! They are hard because we are not proficient. If push-ups are difficult but squats are easy, focus on the push-ups. Use this off season time to work on the weaknesses but maintain the strengths, and don’t cheat on the form. Nobody is watching. Make sure you execute the best form possible even if it means less reps. This also prevents injury, but more importantly helps to develop the full muscle range of motion.

Does it all work? Time will tell but, last year, I put in pretty good racing volume including a full Iron, four half Irons, and a couple of half marathons (5k’s not included, but some of those too). It was my biggest race volume year ever, and being able to get through it I credit a lot to a solid strength program.

Is Virtual Racing Worth It?

Keeping the rope tight during a year without racing is very hard for athletes to do. We sacrifice all for the glory of a finisher medal and sweet tech-tee. Time with the family, outings with friends, late nights etc all take a backseat when you are embarking on 5+ hour brick workouts every weekend. But the motivation of performing well in a big race is the reward for the hard work.

These days many local and some of the bigger outfits are trying to keep the momentum going through the introduction of virtual racing. WTC has run a number of VR races with a few even offering 70.3 WC slots. But the question remains, are they worth it?

Let’s consider some of the pros:

  • A virtual race can help as a significant training boost
  • Engages some of the competitive spirit many athletes have
  • Creates a way to focus and put in the work
  • Keeps races and charities going until next year

And some of the negatives:

  • Hard to actually race someone when you can’t see them
  • Courses are not apples to apples
  • There is still the cloud of uncertainty around results

Having participated in an early VR challenge, I went in thinking the competition was mostly against myself. With my setup I am able to quickly go from the Wahoo trainer to the treadmill and complete a duathlon very easily. I self timed, measured my treadmill, and tracked my overall time including transition. This total time was what I took as the performance result. This is not how the VR challenges or any number of virtual races are held though. The guidance is simply a time frame (often days) for completion of the legs. This allows racers to break the legs up and complete them after recovery. Transition is not part of the racing and not included in the time. There is also no mention of altitude adjustments or compensation for hilly vs. flat courses, and let’s not talk about wind. So when I looked at my time, it was very different from others. This was expected.

Besides just uploading duathlon segments, there are other options are available for running and cycling. Some of these are live, and, having completed a number of Zwift cycling races, they are very competitive and actually give you a start, finish, and live view of other racers. This is very engaging and there are pro leagues and streamed racing available. This space will grow in the future.

Sadly, on Zwift and other platforms the ability for lower tier B,C, and D racers to “fudge the numbers” remains high and may dramatically affect the outcome of a race. Even using Zwift’s own w/kg recommendations for choosing your most competitive tier, keeping up with others who should be of similar ability is very difficult. It is like lining up in the 1:30 half marathon time corral and everyone running a 1:15. Why is that a problem? After the initial 400+ watt push from the starting line if you don’t make that front pack, your race is almost over just a few minutes in. The main reason for this is that there is a common pattern to most Zwift races, and if you don’t ride in a pack, it is very hard to keep up. So when people are pushing unrealistic numbers, it takes the joy out of the race and turns it into a FTP exercise.

Does this reflect IRL (in-real-life)? Having ridden with many others during races and on training rides, the online seems to be full of sandbaggers. People who are purposely distorting their capabilities to achieve a better finish result. But there are a few other things to consider in the equation as well.

In online racing outcomes can be affected in a number of ways. A popular method is weight doping. People who adjust their weight down to appear as though they are pushing a higher w/kg thus going much faster online. Another issue is inaccurate gear or simply different equipment for tracking performance. Someone racing on a smart trainer vs. a fluid trainer will not have the same precision of measurement. Even trainer to trainer can vary by as much as 20-30 watts on the same effort. Lastly, Internet connections can interrupt your ability to make moves with a group or worse yet, if your connection drops, your avatar stops moving. This has happened to me in the finishing sprint on a race, and is the worst!

Are they worth it? For free, if they scratch the competitive itch, then for sure. If the race supports a charity (many do) and you are behind that charity, then absolutely. If you just need SOMETHING to work towards go for it. However, if you are looking for the feeling of running someone down in the finishing stretch, blowing by dozens of people on the bike, or the adrenaline boost of fans cheering you on maybe not so much. If you are expecting your local route to be as hard or easy as someone else’s, be careful. Seeing your results against others may leave you feeling discouraged and questioning your fitness. Just be sure of what you are looking for before you enter, take it with a grain of salt that you can only judge yourself and not others, and don’t take the overall results too seriously for now. Virtual racing is still new, it will get better, but until then it is hard to treat the results as realistic and reflective of what might happen at an actual race.

Finding the Extra Gear on Run Training

We all work on our speed as best we can. For the endurance athelete this may not amount to much but throwing in solid tempo and interval training can be extremely beneficial come race day.

One of the secrets I use to hold a faster than normal pace at the end of a long workout, is to finish on a long gradual downhill. Is that cheating? Not at all. Unless someone is bringing you to the top of the incline you earned the descent. But by lining up the decline during a time in your run that you might be struggling to keep pace, it allows you to push a bit harder on the turnover thus holding your pace more effectively.

I live in a very hilly area and there are a number of different ‘courses’ that I will explore. Some are a long 2 or 3 mile uphill, others are a more steep but shorter route. Depending on the goals of the workout depends which direction I take. One thing I do try to avoid though is ‘wasted descent’. This is running down hills so steep you have to put the brakes on a bit and can not go full throttle. These types of hills are better to run up, to gain the strength than they are to run down.

So on your next long run, when you need an extra boost, try to time it so you hit the hardest sections alongside a nice mild downhill.

Ironman Lake Placid 70.3 2021

Aw come on, we are losing 2021 races now too! Now that the IMLP 70.3 is off the books for 2021 what does that mean?

For starters it seems like the IMLP 140.6 is going to be THE race of the year in the Northeast. With many of the other Northeast WTC races discontinued, and all of the deferred entries carried over, this will be a very desired race with few remaining spots.

Will the 70.3 take place in 2022? Unkonown, but the original contract with the village was for 3 years which would expire in 2021. Considering some of the financial hits WTC will take this year, it is anyones guess if the 70.3 continues. From personal experience though, that time of year is tough in that area. The weather is unpredictable and can cause many second thoughts for followup racers and a sellout is not a guarantee, especially with Mont Tremblant competing for the Canadian crowd as well.

Will the 140.6 happen? It would be very disappointing if it did not. These races are not just something athletes look forward to. The village of Lake Placid, businesses, coaches, gyms…all depend on events like this taking place. Time will tell, fingers crossed.

Are there any alternatives in the area? Well Tupper Lake has Tinman which is a 70.3 held towards the end of June. It wasn’t held this year because of the ‘rona, but if things are safe there is a good chance it will be up for 2021. I have a feeling this will also be very popular as athletes look to get back into the mix of things.

In the meantime we can push with personal challenges on the Placid course, explore new routes, and train like we were racing. Even if the carrot is not there and we don’t have the typical ways to test ourselves, we can sleep later, enjoy the extra beer, and see the family before noon on the weekend. Not the worst scenario.

Simple Zwift Hack

Everyone wants the flashy Tron bike in Zwift. It is one of the fastest bikes available, let’s people know you can spin the wheels. To earn this bike though, you must climb a significant amount. You must complete an Everest summit challenge and continue climbing for over 40,000 meters more, until you’ve reached 50,000 meters total.

The trick I have employed revolves mostly around workouts and fixed wattage rides vs. free rides. When I have a specific workout to do, I will always choose Alpe Du’ Zwift to ride. Because the wattages will be pre-selected by the workout, it will be the same effort on a flat course as it will up the Alpe. This gives you essentially free climbing numbers that you may not have gotten on a flat course for the exact same amount of work.

Faster Triathlon Run Legs

Triathletes will spend thousands on a set of bike wheels to gain a few watts advantage. Most of the time, this equals only seconds over the shorter distance races. Even on long courses the time savings is often minimal with a high financial outlay.

Here we will talk about a technique that runners have used forever, but is rarely discussed with new triathletes. Running the tangents.

What does running the tangents mean? Essentially it means running the shortest distance possible on a course. In order to do this, you must run in the straightest line possible, and on the inside edges of all turns, or from inside edge to inside edge. On a particularly curvey course there is a significant amount of distance to make up by taking the inside edges, and the straightest course possible. To give an idea, on an 8 lane track, the outside lane can be over 50 meters longer than the inside lane per lap. In Ironman Lake Placid, because of the winding River Road out and back, I have measured almost a quarter mile of difference on the marathon by running the tangents. If you run at 8:00/mi pace, that is 2 minutes in the bank and it didn’t even cost you anything.

The difficulty here is staying focused on the path and not the pain. It is doubly difficult because we tend to run in the shoulder while training, and this has become a habit for many people. So when they travel to bigger races and the shoulder is not the only place to run (often times the full road or lane is closed) there is no thought to adjust course. However, the wider the path the bigger the possible gains. As easy as it sounds though, even for those that are focused, when we tire out towards the end of the race we tend to follow an edge of the road instead of keeping our lines straight. We also drift considerably due to aid stations and passing other runners. This zigzagging costs time and energy.

So practice running more efficiently by taking the shortest and straightest route between points and turns, and when that isn’t possible for safety reasons, visualize it during practice. In your mind review the course map and know where the turns are and be ready when they come. Doing this will help running the tangents become second nature and the results will yield better results for your run legs.

Staying Cool In a Triathlon

It always amazed me that even though most longer foot races such as marathons and half marathons are only really done in the Spring and Fall, plenty of triathletes are running the distance during the Summer. On top of that, usually at the peak of the sun and heat for the day.

Heat management and fluid management is a crucial component in successful racing. While so far in my races I have never DNF’ed, there have been a few times that facing the heat on a second lap run leg was making me waver. Here are a few things I have learned to do in order to stay cool and keep the finish streak alive.

First, although this article won’t be about fluid management or intake, it is worth mentioning that cold liquids can help to keep you cool. For any race over an Olympic distance, I have found that grabbing a water AND a sports drink at each aid area is key. Why both? The water is for pouring over your head, the sports drink is for the electrolytes, and carbs. Even if you only sip, take them both because you don’t get that station back.

If the race has ice, I will skip the water and take a cup of ice. I may put a piece in my mouth, but normally I will dump the cup into my hat, and run with it melting and dripping down my body cooling me off. Usually this will last until the next aid station with ice (many times every other), and I can reload. I have done some exceptionally hot (Miami, New Hampshire, Syracuse) half-Iron races that would have been nearly impossible without this approach. The same holds true for full distance racing.

What type of hat? Mountain Hardware makes a fantastic long brimmed, comfortable and easy to wash hat that I will use for races. Some of the race swag hats are also pretty good for keeping cool as they are normally white and thin, but won’t hold as much ice.

At some races sponges are a good alternative to ice, and putting them in a hat or in your jersey will help keep you cool as well. These tend to run out though and may not be there for the second lap or later racers.

Another method I am a growing fond of is the cooling neck gaiter. These also serve to keep the sun off of the neck, which can be a saving grace when you try to sleep that night. In my last Ironman, someone on the run informed me of my ‘beet red’ neck. I thanked him for his concern, let him know it was generations of fair skin in the making, and left him staring at the red blur pulling away in a painfully fatigued gait. So my recommendation on this is a Mission Cooling Gaiter.

A few other things that can help marginally are to unzip your jersey to within the rule limit. Normally this is about to the diaphragm. It doesn’t help much but it is something. Also when it is very hot I will try to pull back slightly on the sections of the course with no shade cover and push the areas that are protected. This may not seem meaningful, but it can help avoid the red line. Sometimes, once you overheat, there is no coming back.

Some things to avoid in the heat. Don’t pour the Gatorade over your head. Sticky. Also consider avoiding the sprinklers and hoses that some people put out. I have made the mistake of running through these to cool off, only to find my shoes soaked, heavy, and blister machines from then on. This is a judgement call though. If the heat is too much, it is better to take the wet shoes on but still finish the race.

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