Fight Hunger Bowl – Nextgen Gallery

Since this is a blog about photography, I’m working on getting more images into the blog.  This post is essentially the same as my previous post but using the Nextgen gallery.

 

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Holiday wrap-up part 1: Fight Hunger Bowl 2013

I shot some sports with my new-to-me camera over the holiday break and I wanted to share some of the results with you.  To start off, the Fight Hunger Bowl featuring the University of Washington and BYU:
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Getting back into the swing of things

Now that my Iron year is over I’m looking to get back into more photography.  I’ve got a few interesting photography things happening:

  • I’m shooting the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on December 27th.   I shoot this football game at AT&T Park in San Francisco almost every year and it’s usually a lot of fun.  The venue is amazing for baseball but really weird for football.  Luckily this is the last year it will be held up in AT&T Park because next year it’ll be at the brand new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
  • I’m shooting the Cal Poly vs. Stanford men’s basketball game two days later on December 29th at Maples Pavilion at Stanford.  I last shot there in 2005 and I’ve been going through my old shots to psych myself up for it.
  • I just bought a new-to-me camera for shooting sports.   More about that below.
  • There’s a new opportunity to shake up my photography that might be interesting but I can’t talk about it just yet.  I’ll let you know if anything comes of it.

The camera is a Canon 1-D mkII, which was introduced in 2004.   You can read all about it at DP Review.   Back in 2004 this camera cost $4,500 and I used to rent it for $100 a day for special sports events.   It takes 8 megapixel pictures, has a great 45-point autofocus system for sports, and shoots 8 frames per second.  If you read Sports Illustrated 6 – 8 years ago you’ve seen plenty of photos from this camera.

The funny thing about digital camera bodies is that the cost depreciates like any other high-tech item.  So this camera that cost $4,500 9 years ago now costs $250 on Craigslist.  This particular unit was used by the San Jose Mercury News and has about 250,000 shots run through it.  The shutter is rated for 200,000 shots and it apparently broke sometime in that past and was replaced but the guy couldn’t remember exactly when, so there’s no telling how much life it’s got left.

It came with 5 (yes, 5!) batteries but apparently they are all old so I invested $32 in a new one which should give me about 1,600 shots.   Way more than needed for a football game or a basketball game.

I’ve learned something funny about buying a 9 year old camera:  The rest of the technology world has evolved so far in 9 years that some thing that were a real pain in the past are not longer a pain.   Sure, this camera only shoots 8 megapixel files at 12 bit color depth, but do you know how fast Lightroom will process a 5 megabyte camera file?   Like lightening!

Back in the day I seemed to never have enough memory to make it through a full day of shooting a football game, the pregame, the trophy presentation, etc.   Now I have a 32 GB SD card that cost $40 and has a capacity of around 2,000 – 3,000 shots.  Problem solved.  My new MacBook even has an SD card reader built in so I don’t have to carry a card reader and cable.   Super!

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Recreating Vermeer’s paintings: article in Vanity Fair

I just read this article in Vanity Fair about a huge experiment to recreate what may have been the Dutch painter Vermeer’s secret weapon to create such incredibly photo-realistic paintings all the way back in the 1600′s.

This article covers Vermeer, painting, photography, camera obscura, optics, Penn and Teller, digital image analysis – the whole 9 yards!   Very fascinating.

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Printing at Costco

And now, back to photography…

I just discovered printing at medium-large prints at Costco and this might change my thoughts on printing drafts of photos.  As you know, I’m all about the print and images look different on paper than they do on screen. You usually have to go through a few revisions on paper before an image is really “right” and the turnaround time on prints really slows the process down if you don’t have a photo-quality printer at home.

I’ve always known Costco had a photo department but I never really noticed their “poster” sized printing before.  It turns out that for $6 you can get a 16×20″ print, and for $9 you can get a 20×30″ print.  These prices are less than half of what mpix.com charges, and there’s no shipping, and they print them while you wait.  The prints are from an Epson 7890 with a 20″ roll of Fujifilm Photo Paper Satin 270 – an entry level paper.

You can choose to have your order processed without color correction and they only have one printer, so the consistency from job to job should be pretty good.  Prints smaller than 16×20 are printed on a different printer so the color won’t be exactly consistent, but you can gang up four 8×10′s to forma single 16×20 and it will be printed on the big printer.

This is a fabulous deal for draft printing and is pretty close to the cost of materials for this sort of print.  These costs are so low that it could really change the way I think about print proofing.  This means 8×10 test prints are $1.50 each with about a 30 minute turnaround time.  (60 minutes including driving and parking)

The Epson 7890 will take rolls up to 24″ wide and the photo guy mentioned that they might start stocking 24″ paper which would let them offer 24×36 prints as well.  I would guess they would charge around $15 or so, which is a really amazing deal.

I envision the final versions of most of my work printed larger than 20×30″ and usually mounted too, so having a place like The Picture Element is still important for final versions, but using Costco for printing proofs might become a regular part of my workflow.

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Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 Race Report

The lead-up

When the stories about the initial running of Ironman Lake Tahoe are told, they will surely focus on two things:  The toughness of the course and the weather.

When I signed up for Ironman Lake Tahoe last summer as part of Team In Training I knew it would be an adventure and I was not disappointed.   After raising $8,000 for cancer research and patient care, swimming 56 miles, riding 2,500 miles, and running 400 miles I felt I was ready.  I’m a huge fan of skiing at Lake Tahoe (Northstar and Squaw) and after 16 years of Wildflower I was ready to go for the ultimate challenge.

It was no surprise that the bike course was going to be tough – our team had a couple training weekends in Tahoe and although the Martis Camp portion of the course wasn’t open for riding ahead of time it was easy to bike through Northstar to get to the Ritz Carlton and get the Ritz/Brockway double shot.  Nobody should be surprised about how much climbing there was.

A few of us data geeks had been analyzing our power data to try to make predictions about how we would do.  I used Strava to piece together most of the race course, including creating quite a few IMLT-specific segments.  I used this data to make predictions of how my day would go and where I would be at particular times.   You can see those files here:

http://brian-johns.com/static/IronmanTahoeScheduleOverall.pdf
http://brian-johns.com/static/IronmanTahoeScheduleBike.pdf

In reality I was planning on finishing somewhere around 11:00 pm.  The spreadsheet shows a way I could finish before 10:00 but that was really super-optimistic and not realistic at all.  I was almost certain I was going to finish before the cutoff and that was my main goal.

For the data analysis geeks:  After 10 months of training I showed up to race day at 170 pounds with an estimated Functional Threshold Power (FTP) of 220 Watts. (2.85 Watts/kg)  I am a 38 year old male, exactly 6 feet tall. (with slightly shorter legs and longer torso – I ride 172.5 mm cranks)  My longest training ride was 104 miles and my longest training run was 20 miles.  I have done Wildflower many times but this was my first Iron-distance event.

As for the weather, this is the Sierras in the Fall and that means chilly nights and sometimes cool days, with occasional rain, snow, etc.  The “Seasonal Weather Averages” link on Weather Underground tells us that the average low temp at King’s Beach for September 22nd is about 32 degrees with an average high around 72.  If you search for “tahoe summer hail” on youtube you’ll find plenty of videos of hail storms, snow storms, etc.  Inclement weather in the summer is not uncommon in Tahoe.  Many of us did the America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride around the lake in June and can remember it being cold in the morning then.

Three weeks ago everyone on the Internet was freaking out about smoke form the Rim Fire possibly affecting the race but a week out from race day all people could talk about was a cold front that was supposed to blow through on Friday and Saturday before race day, leaving cool and clear conditions for race day.  I would prefer cool over warm so I thought this looked like a good scenario for me although I hadn’t really thought through the details.  Plus, any precipitation we got pre-race would probably tamp the remains of the fire and help the air quality.

The week before

We arrived at Squaw Valley on Tuesday and had a couple days of really nice late-summer weather with highs in the 70′s and chilly nights.  I had a great test swim at King’s Beach with Robert Thursday morning and we quickly realized that the water temperature was going to be ideal but the air temperature was going to be very cold, meaning hanging out pre-race and T1 were going to require extra attention to keeping warm.   It was also clear that those of us on the run course late at night were going to be contending with temperatures in the low 40′s.   The first 25 miles of the bike is mostly shaded and downhill (except for the small hill at Dollar Point) and the temps on the bike ride were going to be cold.

After checking in for the race and getting over the initial adrenaline rush of going through my registration swag, I joined about a million other people in the North Face store at Squaw Village looking for a few extra bits to keep warm on race day.  Half the store was on closeout sale and they probably sold out of every piece of running gear they had.

The official Athlete’s Meeting and dinner was Friday night and it was a high rush to be in the tent with 2,500 pumped up athletes.  The voice of Ironman – Mike Reilly – led the festivities and shared some interesting stats with us, like how almost a third of the racers were from California, and how this race had 27% women as opposed to the Ironman average of 25%.  They warned us that the weather on Saturday was going to be ugly but that everything should clear up for race day on Sunday.

Sure enough, Saturday came and brought us rain and lower temperatures in the morning, then deteriorating throughout the day.  The wind decimated the tents in the festival area, but there was nobody hanging around outside anyway.  We dropped off bikes and Transition 1 bags in a light rain and tried to drive the portion of the course in Martis Camp, a private gated community that had graciously allowed us unwashed heathen partial access to their slice of heaven between the hours of 3 and 5 pm.  As it turns out they wouldn’t even allow us full access to the roads which I thought was pretty rude.

Side Note:  I like that the course included the climb to the Ritz but I don’t think they should run the course through Martis Camp.  I think they should take the alternate way through Northstar, the way that many of us had been training with.  If Martis Camp doesn’t want to embrace Ironman, why deal with them at all?

On the way back to Squaw the real front moved through and we got some full-on snow.  Not just a dusting but perhaps an inch of accumulation in some places.  The jokes and freaking out on Facebook kicked in to high gear but the front had passed through so the weather started to clear.  When we drove back into the valley at 5:00 the whole valley was visible, with clear air and all the peaks dusted with snow.  People may have been freaking out about the snow but it was really pretty and the really was that it wasn’t going to snow or rain on race day, so everything would be just fine.

Our team had our Inspirational Dinner and I went back to the team hotel and thought about the journey over the last year and had an emotional “Mission Moment” of my own, thinking about Greg Junell, whose struggle with Lymphoma set me on this whole journey.  I took a shower and went to bed feeling very calm and confident.  I was as ready as possible.

Race Day

Pre Race:  We had too much padding built in to the transportation schedule so I ended up waking up earlier than needed (2:30) and sitting around a lot.  I woke up on my own before the wakeup call (as always) and got up and ate some breakfast and sat around reading work emails and took another shower to kill time.  Took the shuttle from one hotel to another hotel and then sat around to kill time.   Took the first bus of the day to the King’s Beach and started to prep.

Transition was cold – obviously lower than freezing because I wiped my bike off and then the water re-froze while I was standing around.  The best part of the pre-race experience was finding the Event Center which turned into an impromptu changing area which was heated.  Getting changed in a below-freezing transition area would have been uncomfortable.

I walked across the beach and was surprised the the first half inch of sand was frozen from the rains the day before and the freezing overnight.  That was a new experience.  I watched the pros start and decided to do a little warm up in the shallows.  It was good to get water in the wetsuit and get it all situated, and then I went back up the beach and put on my makeshift fleece hand warmers (with chemical hand warmers inside) to ward off the sub-freezing temps.  My feet started to get cold while waiting for the start but it wasn’t bad.  I felt bad for the people with no booties, or people that opted for sleeveless wetsuits because they were getting seriously cold waiting for the start.

Swim:  (2.4 miles:  1 hour, 25 minutes)

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/380461049

I loved the rolling swim start and seeded myself well around the 1:30 sign.  The start was not violent at all and everyone was very well behaved.  The water was actually nice and warm (64) and of course perfectly clear and tasty.  The full suit and booties and hood worked out really well.  I had no wetsuit issues at all – no chafing, rubbing, poor fit, etc.  The day was shaping up to be spectacular, with the mountains capped with snow, wisps of fog hiding the bouys, and it was the only time I’ve ever used ski runs as sighting markers during the swim.

I didn’t notice the altitude at all and was able to breath every third stroke (alternating sides) like I always do.   I took one or two mouthfuls of water but didn’t have any trouble with chop or swell.  I checked my watch after one lap and was very pleasantly surprised by my pace.  By the final turn I was starting to feel a little tired and I could feel my form slipping.  I was having a great swim but was happy to be finished and move on to the next event.

Transition 1:  I ran out of the water feeling good and grabbed a very icy transition bag from the ground and ran over to the changing tent.  The changing tent was the biggest glitch of the day that I experienced.  The changing tent was WAY too small for the number of people in there and people were packed in like on an elevator, and moving around was hard, let alone bending over to change.  I probably spent about 5 minutes standing waiting for a chair.

Because of the cold weather I knew it was important to take time to dry off completely and change into a full set of dry clothes.   This took a little more time but was a good investment.  After a record-long 24 minute transition I was off to tackle the meat of the day.

Bike:  (112 miles:  8 hours, 3 minutes)

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/380461098

Full .fit file of bike, including power data: http://brian-johns.com/static/Brian_Johns_Ironman_Tahoe_2013_bike.FIT

This was going to be a colder than normal bike ride, with temps in the high 30′s at the start and the upper 50′s at mid-day, but I enjoy cooler temperatures more than warmer temps, so this was fine for me.  Training with the Ironteam in the Winter got me ready for cold weather biking.  I headed out with bike shorts, Ironteam jersey, arm warmers, leg warmers, shoe covers, and a fleece beanie under the helmet.  Nothing different than what you would expect to wear for a bike ride in 40 degree temperatures.

Seeing that it was 8:40 am, the pacing chart taped to my top-tube showed a 12.7 mph pace needed to finish the bike by the cutoff of 5:30 pm.  I entered that into the Garmin’s Virtual Pacer and set on my way.  My average speed on the flats is higher than that so I can watch my time cushion build up as I ride, knowing that I would spend 20 – 30 minutes of the cushion on the hills that were to come.

My training buddy and teammate Robert works for EA and mentioned the “game-ification” of sports and exercise, with FitBit, Strava, and other gadgets bringing a whole new dimension of gaming and social to exercise.  I think Garmin’s virtual pacer is great little gizmo and I think of it as “banking” time that I can spend later in the game, whether it be on a hill, in a the portapotty, or just resting.  The whole day is really a game to me anyway, so the virtual pacer fits right in to my strategy.

The bike course is two 46 mile loops plus a final half-loop of the mostly-downhill part.  The first hour and a half of the bike has one small hill but is otherwise a smooth gradual 20 mile descent into Truckee.   I was warm enough and feeling really good, so my power was a little higher than perhaps it should have been.

For the gear-heads:  I ride a 56 cm Trek Madone 4.5 with a triple crank in the front (30/40/50) and a 12-30 in the back.  I like to keep my cadence higher than most people, especially up hills.  This was probably the right gearing for me, with my cadence dropping down to 55 rpms on the steepest parts of the second loop.  On second thought, maybe one more gear would be nice…  My overall average cadence of 85 RPMs is actually a little bit low for me.

The first loop through Martis Camp and Northstar and over Brockway Pass went very well and I was in good spirits and talking to lots of people.  I stopped to take off a layer of clothing at the beginning of the Martis Camp climb.  I started getting passed by the pros in Martis Camp and was happy that they weren’t going too much faster than I was.   The descent to King’s Beach and cruise past Squaw Valley was uneventful.  My time for the first lap was 3:15.

I took the opportunity to drop clothing at Squaw Valley and was very happy they had that service this year.   I knew I was getting tired so I decided to back it off a little bit.  The second trip through Martis Camp and Brockway felt harder and I was doing my best to go slowly. (Not that I had much choice)  My time for the second loop was 3:35, an increase of 20 minutes.

The last half lap of the bike was pretty slow and I was feeling sore and doing my best to rest up for the run and clear my legs as much as possible.  I tried to focus on “active recovery” and put myself in the best possible place for the run.  The hardest part of that balance was figuring out if I should go harder to bank more time for the run or go slower to let my legs recover.  I decided to go slower since I had almost a 50 minute cushion over the bike cutoff.

I ended up finishing the bike in 8:03 at 4:42 pm, which was 1 minute later than my spreadsheet predicted.  I was somewhat unhappy that I broke the 8 hour barrier but I looked at the extra 3 minutes spent as a good investment in freshness for the run.  The Garmin says I had 17 minutes of stoppage time, which includes some porta-pot breaks, stopping for sunscreen twice, stopping at aid stations to mix beverage into my waterbottles, stopping for the clothing drop, etc.

Transition 2:  (10 minutes)

Nothing special to report here, but perhaps a minute or two long.  That 10 minutes does include the porta-pot stop though.  I went through T2 with J-wow and we started the run together.  The firefighter dude was in transition with us, getting suited up in his 90 pounds of fire fighting gear to walk his marathon.

Run:  (26.2 miles:  6 hours, 31 minutes)

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/380461132

As I started the run it was clear I was very hungry and a little dehydrated.  I have a small chart taped to my water bottle that tells me what pace I need to hold to finish before the cutoff, based on an expected swim start time of 6:45 and therefore a final 17 hour cutoff time of 11:45 pm.  I really started at 6:50, so my 17 hour cutoff time was 5 minutes later at 11:50 pm.  I programmed my Garmin Virtual Pacer for a 14:40 pace according to the table and started on my way.

Plan A was  to do a 5 minute, 1 minute run/walk strategy after walking the first mile or so to get into run mode.   This strategy fell apart pretty quickly because there were so many people cheering at the start of the run that it was impossible to walk with everyone so enthusiastic.   After a couple minutes I really needed to walk for a little bit and it became clear that I wasn’t in good shape.  I was banking a small amount of time but I was getting woozy and feeling generally horrible.  Muscles and joints weren’t that bad and my gut felt pretty good, but my lack of calories was becoming a problem.

I decided to just walk and eat until I felt better.  I had potato chips, chicken broth, and grapes for dinner.  I had heard about the famous chicken broth at Ironman aid stations and when I first tasted it I knew this was the stuff for me.  I probably drank more than a quart of it over the first 5 miles, having volunteers fill my water bottle straight from the dispenser.

I had been speed-walking most of the time and noticed that my speed walking pace almost exactly matched the target pace of 14:40 I needed to finish.  The only way I was adding to the cushion was with my spurts of jogging.  I was worried about cutting it too close, or getting caught up in one of the intermediate cutoffs.

Somewhere around mile 7 or 8 I started to feel much better.  It was also around here I noticed that my mental pacing math wasn’t working out completely.  (I do a lot of math on the run leg of a triathlon)  Between the time of day, elapsed time for the run, distance between the posted mile markers, and distance the Garmin thought I covered, something wasn’t adding up.  I noticed that my Garmin was tracking distance more slowly than the mile markers, and I remembered that I had started my watch a couple minutes after I really started running.  I also remembered that I started the swim after the 6:45 that my pacing table had assumed.

No matter how I got into this situation I determined that if I maintained my present speed-walk pace I would finish at 11:15 which would surely be fast enough to make the intermediate cutoffs.  I was watching how much cushion my spurts of jogging were buying me and trading that off against the metabolic cost of jogging vs. walking and came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t worth it.

I had put too much into this year of training to risk not finishing so I fell back to Plan B: Survival.  I made the conscious decision to play it safe and speed-walk the whole thing, rather than trying to get a slightly better time and risk blowing up somehow.  I had always told myself I would be happy with any finishing time under 17 hours and this was the point when I had to accept that fate and give up any chance of heroics and just settle in for a long slow grind to the finish line.

There’s not much to say about the last 3 hours of the race.  It was just a slow grind, keeping the pace up, and focussing on getting calories and fluids in and keeping my gut happy.  I was getting paranoid about something going wrong.  What if I twist my ankle?  What if I drop something important and cramp up trying to pick it up?  What if my gut seizes up?  What if I pull a muscle?

For the most part it was very dark, cold, and lonely out there in the last couple hours.  It was busier on the way in when we were sharing the trail with people on their final lap but heading out on our final lap it thinned out and there were times where there was nobody within a few hundred yards of me.  I talked to people whenever they were near and a lot of people were talking about how they had done multiple Ironmans and this was the hardest.  That made me proud because I was pretty sure I was going to finish this one.

The temperature was getting cold – probably down in the low 40′s of high 30′s – but I was completely prepared.  I was in long running tights, bike jersey, arm warmers, full-fingered cycling gloves, fleece beanie, and running shell.  My headlamp worked fine for the pitch-black trail and I got a few comments on my “tail lights”.  The weather for me was a non-issue.

At about mile 25 I stowed the jacket and the headlamp because I wanted to look good for the finishing pictures.  I speed-walked up the hill through the village and jogged the finish chute and heard Mike Reilly say that I was an Ironman.   The nicest volunteer held on to me for a minute or two and got my my medal, shirt, hat, and two chocolate milks. (I love chocolate milk)  I found my Ironteam buddies and then found my family.

I immediately started to get cold even though I put my jacket back on, but we stayed at the finish line until midnight to see the last finishers come in.  The vibe was really awesome, as expected.  I’ve watched video of the last few minutes of an Ironman before and this was everything it was hyped up to be.  The energy of Mike Reilly and the crowd was amazing but it was clear I needed to get back to the hotel room for a warm shower and some food.  The half hour between my finish and the end of the race flew by really quickly.

Conclusion (Overall time: 16 hours, 35 minutes)

Looking back on the race and the year, I can only be happy because I achieved everything I set out to achieve, and yet the fact that I “gave up” on the run and took the easy way out eats at me a little bit.  Part of me thinks I should have at least done tried a 1/1 run/walk, or even a 1/3 “reverse run/walk” (1 minute of running, 3 minutes of walking)  Anything better than just speed walking.  Perhaps I could have cut the time a little bit.  Also, If I had been thinking more I probably would have pushed myself to finish the bike 3 minutes faster and been “sub 8 hours” on that leg.

But the reality was that I’m probably a “one and done” Ironman and the idea of not finishing after such a huge year was just unthinkable.  Now that I’ve done it it’s easy to think of things differently – if I ever do this again I’ll be willing to take more risks because the cost of failure will be lower.  I’m already an Ironman so there’s less pressure.  Does that make sense?

I think the event was absolutely awesome.  I love the idea that there’s an Ironman that features cooler weather and a harder bike course.  If you want a fast, flat, hot Ironman then there are 25 more of those to choose from.  If you want an Alpine experience in the Fall, sign up for Ironman Tahoe.

Sure, they need a bigger T1 changing tent if everyone is actually going to do a full change but that’s a minor operational issue.  The clothing drop was great and I’m sure they’ll refine that.  (Put my stuff in a plastic bag with my number and let me pick it up with the other bags)

I like the climbing on the course and I knew the course played to my strengths:  cooler weather, strong biking with lots of hills, and a mostly flat run course.  The only change I would suggest would be to cut out Martis Camp and get to the Ritz though Northstar.  There’s no need to go through a closed community with no option for riding the course beforehand.  Screw those guys!

Training

My training was pretty much dead-on except that things sort of fell apart for the last two months.  If anything, I tapered too early.  10 months is probably too long a season and I was was probably ready in July when our other team mates were ready for Vineman.  I may have gained some run strength over the last two months but the cost was huge:  I was getting burned out on training and being gone all weekend.

I trained every Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with the team and took Monday, Thursday, and Fridays off.  I have very little motivation to train on my own but I almost never missed a group workout.   This is one reason why Team in Training can work so well for certain people – the group aspect.

For the most part we did the right things.   There may have been too many hills on the later training runs but just the right amount on the bike rides.  I found training with a power meter to be very rewarding and I would recommend it to anyone with any sort of a mind for numbers or an engineering background.  If anything, I would have liked to seen our team put more emphasis on measurement and tracking across all three sports.

I found using Strava with other team members to be a lot of fun, and was a really good predictor of race-day performance.  The two books I strongly recommend are “Going Long” by Joe Friel and Gordon Bryn, and “Total Immersion” by Terry Laughlin.  “Going Long” is a great overview of how to tackle the whole season and “Total Immersion” taught me how to swim efficiently.

The cold weather training we did early in the season undoubtedly paid off on race day.  After 8:00 am bike rides in January I knew I was ready for a cold weather ride.  Swimming at Aquatic Park and Pacific Grove in February gave me the confidence to swim at King’s Beach at 32 degrees.

Will I ever do it again?  Probably not.  There’s too much going on in life right now to train for another Ironman so I’ll be going back to Wildflower every year and that’s probably about it.   I’d consider volunteering for Ironman Tahoe sometime because that looks like a lot of fun and I was so thankful to all the volunteers who helped me out throughout the week.

Thanks

It goes without saying that I never could have done this without help from so many people.  First and foremost are my family who LET me do this.  Erin and her parents did an amazing job of holding down the fort for 10 months and Abby was always happy to ask if I had a good run.  They were there for me all year long right up through race weekend when they let me do my thing and took care of everything.  I owe them a large debt.

And of course I couldn’t have done it without Team In Training.  It was a combination of happy and sad events that pushed me into this but there’s nothing like the support of the TNT Ironteam.  I would not have motivated myself to do the training without them and I am thrilled that I was able to raise so much money for the cause.

The real question is:  Will I be able to quit Team in Training?  I know I can’t be an Ironteam participant next year but I’d like to help out somehow.  Perhaps I could be a biking coach for the TNT Wildflower team, or help out with Ironteam in some fashion.

Go Team, Ironteam! (Woo)

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The Equipment List

As I talk to people about my Ironman training experience I get lots of questions about various pieces of equipment.  I figured I’d write it all down in one place so there’s a quick reference.  This will also do double-duty as my packing list for Tahoe.  :-)  Note:  I am not sponsored by anyone, other than the great 20% discount that Sports Basement gives to TNT participants, and the TNT discount on a CycleOps fluid spin trainer.  The rest of these products are things I have found to work through trial and error, or work well enough.

There are three sports so I’ll go sport by sort and then add a common section afterwards:

Swim

Wetsuit:  BlueSeventy Reaction full wetsuit.   I like it because it fits really well and it’s very thick, which mean it’s very buoyant.  In a perfect world I would also own the sleeveless version so I could pick based on the water temperature for the day.  I can really only have one so this is the one I have.

Booties: Blue Seventy swim socks.  If the temp is low enough where these are legal on race day, I will wear them.  I like to keep my feet warm so they’re not frozen when I get on the bike.  Also, these are great for reducing the “squee” factor when walking into/out of natural bodies of water with less-than-perfect bottoms.  I hate squishing through mud, especially if I can’t see it.   I hate kicking through eel grass, especially if I can’t see it.  Aquatic Park in San Francisco, I’m looking at you…

Goggles:  AquaSphere Kayenne regular fit.  These are nothing special.   They work pretty good and don’t cost much.  They fit my face well and aren’t uncomfortable.  Only downside:  The lenses are slightly curved which means the view underwater isn’t that clear.  Oh well.

Swimsuit: Some random pair of mid-length Speedos.  Details not important.  As long as they’re spandex (not baggy or loose) it probably doesn’t matter what kind I use.  They’re covered up by the wetsuit anyway.   As long as they stay put when the wetsuit comes off I’m happy!

Ear Plugs:  I wear some neoprene earplugs whenever I swim because I got tired of getting water in my ears.  I think it also helps deal with the shock of cold lake/ocean water adn helps with equilibrium issues.  The only downside is I can’t hear very much at all when I swim.  That means coaches really have to yell at me on the pool deck.

Bike

There is by far the most equipment needed for the bike.  There’s a ton of stuff!

Trek Madone 4.5 triple with a mix of Shimano 105 and Tiagra components.  Get the triple – seriously.  A compact double is nicer than the old way but nothing beats a triple for spinning up hills.  It also comes with a 12-30 cassette which I thought was overkill with the triple, but is just right for the hills getting up to Skyline, Brockway Summit, etc.  I can’t put out the power I used to, so I got the triple.

Carbon clip-on aero bars: Profile T3+  I wish I had Shimano DI-2 so I could have bar-end shifters and shift from the aero position, but Oh Well.

Speedplay pedals – I use the stainless spindle X/2, because paying $140 to save 50 grams with the Titanium spindle just doesn’t make sense to me.

Sidi Genius 5 Carbon Mellinium shoes – Ask a cyclist or motorcyclist if they like their Italian leather Sidi shoes and I bet they’ll say Yes.

Chain catcher – I’ve dropped my chain off the lowest chainring a couple times before and it sucks, epecially on a carbon bike. (As the chain teans into the carbon finish around the bottom bracket.)  No longer!

X-lab third waterbottle holder behind the seat.  Because I drink a lot of fluids and need to be more self-sufficient on training rides.  I probably won’t use this on race day but it’ll still be attached, just in case.

Bento box for extra food

Specialized seat purchased separately, because they support different pelvis widths well.

bike computer mount home-made from PVC pipe and electrical tape

PowerTap wheel – 32 spoke aluminum rear wheel with PowerTap Pro hub.  (hub was recently discontinued but is one level below the G3 model)  Somehow I managed to break a spoke last month on this wheel, despite it being built like a tank.

Michelin Pro 4 Service Course 25 mm tires

Camelback Podium waterbottles – they don’t leak as much.

CO2 cartridge and mini inflator

super-micro pump, just in case.

generic tubes – I’ll probably carry some extra of these, just in case.

Park tire patch – just in case

Run

Asics GT-21X0 shoes – They work for me so I’m not going to mess with what works.  I heard they recently discontinued these but I have a few more new pairs in the closet.  I’m good for at least a year or more.

Nathan Elite 2V Plus double-bottle hydration belt – Yes, this may look like serious overkill.  This things has a ton of storage for long self-supported runs.  It has tons of elastic cords to store clothing, two pouches to store energy drink powders, gel packets, etc.   The key on race day is to not fill it too full.  There are aid stations every mile or two so there’s no need to carry too much liquid at any point.  As I type this I’m thinking I might even want to downsize to a smaller belt.   Trip to Sports Basement anyone?

Nite Ize SpotLit red LED light – I have two of these hanging on the back of my running belt, sort of like tail lights.

Petzl e-Lite super-micro headlamp – It’s going to be very dark on the running trail when I’m out there so a headlamp is a must.  (It even says so in the rules)   I plan to just hold this instead of actually putting it on my head because I don’t like the pressure of the headband.  But this thing puts out a ton of light in a super-small package.  Sounds too good to be true, eh?

Other

Garmin 910XT GPS watch – I have a love-hate relationship with this watch.  I love that it does everything for all three sports, including pool and open water swims, power meter support, etc.  I hate that it transfers via ANT+ because it often refuses to work, and I’ve been bit by the long-standing bug where Garmins write corrupted files when memory fills up.   It also occasionally mis-counts laps in the pool but it’s not that big a deal.

Rudy Project Rydon glasses with PolarRX photochromic lenses.   If money is no object, or if you’ve got Flexible Spending Account dollars left to spend at the end of the year, these are the bomb.  I like them because the temples are fully adjustable, the nose pads are fully adjustable, and there are about 50 different lenses to choose from.  I got the ones that are virtually clear at night and the darken in the sun.  I use them for both biking and running.  Get them through your eye doctor (with prescription lenses) and they’re covered by vision insurance.

Food

Gu gel packets – I’ve been a fan of Gu for years.

PowerBar chews – I like the raspberry ones but they are not very temperature stable, so I had half a case of them melt in my car.

Fluid energy drink.   The brand is called “Fluid”, which is hard to google for.

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Ironman Tahoe pacing estimates

You may or may not know that all official WTC-branded Ironman events start at 7:00 am and have a cut-off time of midnight. That gives you 17 hours to complete the event. If you don’t finish by midnight, they cut you off and don’t let you continue at all. There are also some intermediate cut-off points along the way, like you have to be out of the water by a certain time, finish the bike by a certain time, etc.

I’ve combined these cut-off times with my performance data from my recent training to create best-case and worst-case schedules of how the day might go.   This is where spreadsheets meet sports performance!

The Swim (4,400 yards, 9:20 am cut-off)

I’m an OK swimmer, as age-group triathletes go.  Luckily the swim is first, and it is proportionally the shortest event.  I’ve had great luck with my swim training this year and my endurance has really increased.  I haven’t gotten much faster but I can go an awful long way now.  I’m not expecting the swim to be a huge problem for me so my main goal will be to finish without using any more energy than needed.

My pace runs between 1:55 and 2:15 per hundred yards, which puts me finishing between 8:24 and 8:39, which is fine by me.  That means I’m getting at least 40 extra minutes to spend on the bike.

T1

I plan to take about 10 minutes in T1.  It sounds like a long time but I’m going to take my time, catch my breath, and put on real cycling clothes.  Comfort is more important in a long event like this, so taking an extra couple minutes is probably a good investment.

The Bike (112 miles, 5:30 pm cut-off)

This is proportionally the biggest part of the event, consuming more than half the time and more than half the energy.  The Ironman Tahoe course is going to be harder than most Ironman courses, with at least 6,000 feet of climbing.   If I add the 40 minute savings from the swim and subtract the 10 minutes from T1, that means starting the bike between 8:30 and 9:00, which gives me between 8 and 8.5 hours.

When we went up to Tahoe and rode the course last month, it took me 6.5 hours to ride 91 miles of the course.  I’m pretty sure I can do the last 21 miles in less than 1.5 hours which means I’m good to go, although with not a lot of buffer.  I expect to finish around 4:45, although the spreadsheet ranges all the way from 4:10 to 5:20.

T2

I don’t expect much excitement in T2, and there’s a lot less to do than in T1.  I heard that in the old days they used to offer short massages in transition!   A 5 minute massage would probably be a good investment but I don’t think they do that anymore.  :-)  I expect to spend less than 10 minutes in T2.

The Run (26.2 miles, midnight cutoff)

And then we get to my old nemesis, the run.   Actually, I’ve gotten much better at running than I have ever been before.  I’ve gained both speed and endurance, and I can run 10 miles without stopping pretty easily.  Running has always been my weak point, and running after biking is especially hard for me.

I really have no idea what to expect on this run.  I’ve never tried to run after biking for so long and I can only imagine that my legs will feel pretty bad.  Actually, the legs aren’t the biggest problem – the energy level is the biggest problem.  I tend to under-eat on the bike which means I’ll be starting a marathon around 5:00 pm, dehydrated, and hungry.

This is not a recipe for success.   The keys to improving the outcome are having a good (smart) bike ride, eating more, drinking more, then relying on muscle memory to make my legs do what they know how to do.  I have no illusions of greatness – I know there’s no way I’m going to run the whole thing.

My goal is simply to finish before the cutoff, which means plodding along at better than a 14:30 pace, seemingly forever.   The spreadsheet says there’s no way I’ll finish before 10:00 pm, which means a lot of this is going to be in the dark.  I think my legs will be able to hold out as long as the rest of me can give them what they need.  I’ll be drinking the hot broth and trying to get as many calories and liquids in me as possible.

Conclusions

I think I’m in good shape.  I’ve spent a ton of time thinking about this and I’m very sure that I’ll make it on to the run in decent shape.  Then it just comes down to pressing on, and I have to believe that I can finish a marathon in 6 hours.  As long as I do that, I’m golden.

Nothing is guaranteed though, and anything can happen.  My performance could be seriously affected by weather.  Lake Tahoe in September could do anything.  It could be 100 degrees during the day, or it could rain and hail.  Or I could have a mechanical problem.  In a race of 2,500 athletes there are always going to be people that have every right to finish but don’t, for some reason.  I just hope that everything comes together for me on this one special day, and that for 17 hours, nothing bad happens.

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Tahoe Training Weekend Wrap-up

This past weekend the Ironteam went up to Tahoe for a training weekend.  I managed to swim 1.4 miles, bike 91 miles, and run about 14 miles and I was really happy with my performance.   This was the first chance for most of us to get a really accurate look at what we’re going to be doing exactly 3 months from right now and it was exciting to work out on the actual course.

The family and I took a couple extra days off work and headed up early to get some actual “vacation” time in before the Saturday/Sunday combo of workouts and I’m really glad we did that.  A 5 day, 4 night trip starts to actually feel like a real vacation!  I sneaked in a single loop of the bike course Thursday morning but Thursday afternoon and Friday were all about family time.

We swam and did two loops of the bike course on Saturday and then we did a shortened version of the run from Squaw on Sunday.

Here are links to my swim, bike and run on Garmin Connect:

I think everyone who participated learned a lot, about the course or about themselves.  Here’s a partial list of what I learned:

This course is hard! If you thought this bike course was going to be easy then you either didn’t read the course description or haven’t been to Tahoe before.  It’s not “Death Ride hard, but this course has got a lot of hills.  Each lap has a pair of climbs that deliver a one-two punch, plus a ton of other climbing along the way, just because.

I think we did about 7,500 feet of climbing on our 91 mile practice ride Saturday so I’m going to guess there’s at least 8,000 feet of climbing for the whole thing.  The pair of climbs through Northstar and over Brockway summit takes about 70 minutes, including 8 minutes of descent where you give up 600 feet of elevation only to turn around and re-climb it.

There’s no such thing as an “easy” Ironman, but I think this one will go on to be known as one of the harder courses.

The run is not as flat as I thought. I thought the run was going to be really flat, but it turns out there are more undulations on the bike path from Squaw Valley to Truckee than I had realized.   I don’t handle running up steep hills very well, (or down steep hills either, for that matter) but this isn’t that bad.   Not like Wildflower-steep or anything like that.   Just enough to let you know that there are some ups and downs.

Those “undulations” might feel like mountains on race day though!

I’m going to be ready.  This bears repeating:  I think I’m going to be ready for this thing.  I rode the bike course three times this trip and I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to do each loop in about 3:20, which gives me an estimate of 7:45 for the whole bike course.

I’m pretty confident about that number based on my current physical condition and we’ve got 3 months left to train and optimize.  Of course anything can happen so this number could slip if it’s really hot on race day, if it snows on race day, if I have mechanical troubles, nutrition troubles, etc.   But 7:45 is a good number to use for my spreadsheet.

I’ve got 1:40 marked down for the swim, based on my times in the pool.  Not sure how much time I’ll shave off because of the wetsuit.  I don’t trust the Garmin for great open-water swim accuracy on a multi-loop course, but it thinks I did 1.4 miles in 49 minutes which would predict a time of 1:24 for a 2.4 mile swim.   We’ll say 1:40 to be conservative.

The run is the real wildcard, because I’m so bad running off the bike.  I was averaging a 10:30 pace on the run Sunday but that’s certainly not indicative of the real thing.  My Wildflower runs are always around 3 hours, feeling stronger after the first part.   So perhaps 6 hours?

If you add all those numbers up and add some time for transitions you get a predicted finish time of slightly after 11:00 pm.  That’s cutting it close, but I’ll take it.  Anything could happen on race day but it’s reasonable to predict I’ll be able to finish before the midnight cutoffs on race day.   3 months is a long time to train and there’s a lot of improvement to be done that will only increase my safety factor.  I feel good about this.

This course is stunningly beautiful. The swim is pretty, with the clear water and the neat shades of blue and green.   The bike route goes along the lake, down the Truckee River corridor, and through old-town Truckee.  The run is along the meadow in Squaw Valley and along the Truckee River.  Pretty much A++ scenery the whole way.  (Okay – the climb up Brockway has some ugliness to it, but that’s about it)

The altitude isn’t so bad. This was a nice surprise.  I’m sure I could pore over the data and correlate heart rates and power outputs, etc. and find a quantifiable difference but overall, it wasn’t that bad.  The only time I ever really noticed the altitude was in the first couple minutes of the swim and the first couple minutes of the run. Nothing too bad, and it seemed to go away.

I plan to have a full week up there before the real race, and that’s about the best I can hope for.

Squaw Valley is a really nice place to stay. The Village at Squaw Valley is really nice.  Heck – I wouldn’t mind owning one of those units!   There are a lot of hotels right around there that look really nice too.  Unfortunately they’re all booked up for the actual event so the family is going to be looking for a house somewhere else.  Probably in the Truckee or Donner area.   If you have a place we could rent from you, please let us know!

Northstar can suck it.  We stayed at the original Northstar Village buildign for two nights because Team In Training got a discounted group rate.  I don’t have the mental energy to rehash all the reasons why, but suffice it to say that they’re charging WAY too much for a really tired property.  We got a one bedroom apartment with a full kitchen at Squaw for less money than a run-down hotel room at Northstar.   Never again.

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AMBBR wrap-up

America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride (AMBRR) went very well yesterday.  It was a quick 36 hour up-and-down trip that included a bike ride all the way around Lake Tahoe and a quick trip through Truckee and Northstar to check out parts of the Ironman Tahoe course, and a then a couple extra miles to push it just over 100 miles.

The only downside was that my Garmin 910 cut off the last 30 miles of my ride.  Apparently there’s a known bug with Garmins that cause them to truncate long rides when space is running low.  The moral of the story is to make sure you clear enough memory before a ride starts.  Obviously a bug, and there’s apparently no plan from Garmin to ever address it.  The good news is that I have the data from the parts of the Ironman Tahoe course that I rode.

Here’s the Strava link for my ride:  http://app.strava.com/activities/57879712 I really did continue on around the lake clockwise and end up where I started – you’ll just have to take my word for it.  I created a new segment in Strava just for the part of Brockway Pass that is part of Ironman Tahoe.  Currently there are 499 people that have ridden it and I can only imagine how many uploads Strava will get on September 22nd.  :-)

We’re heading back up to Lake Tahoe in a couple weeks for a more structured training weekend and I’ll be able to swim, bike, and run the entire course and collect a lot more data.

You can keep track of my fundraising progress on my Team In Training page and help my fight blood cancer by making a donation of any size.  http://pages.teamintraining.org/sj/irnmnltt13/bjohnsuovy

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