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August 26, 2010 / stjohnson01

Branson Mountain Man Triathlon Race Review

The first annual Branson Mountain Man Triathlon was held Saturday, August 21st with over 75 racers taking the challenge of the infamous bike course and an equally daunting run course.  The Branson RecPlex served as the host facility and provided a perfect starting point for what epitomizes Southwest Missouri triathlon racing.  Southwest Missouri, and Branson in particular are known for their hilly and mountainous terrain.  The Branson Mountain High Road is the most iconic stretch of roadway in Branson drawing cyclists of all levels and was the featured aspect of this event’s bike course. The High Road is also part of Ironman 70.3 Branson.

The buzz about this triathlon was focused around being a perfect sprint distance tri for those preparing for Ironman 70.3 Branson or those just looking for a challenging race.  Challenging proved to be a serious understatement; just look at the finishing times and you will understand.  When recapping the race with Jim Hoodenpyle, the overall winner with a time just over 1 hour and 30 minutes, we noticed that the finishing times made the race seem like twice the distance of a typical sprint distance tri.  Of course, the bike was 20 miles long as opposed to the average 12 or 14 miles but it is clear that this course was not to be taken lightly.

The swim was very similar to the Republic Tiger Tri so I won’t go into detail and the transition area was very standard as well.  However, right from the start of the bike you are aware of the type of course you are embarking on.  The first mile of the bike course features a significant hill that spikes your heart rate and leaves you breathless.  As you reach the top and gasp for oxygen you begin questioning your decision to race remembering that you have 19 more miles and over 2,700 more feet of elevation gain in front of you; before you even start the run.  Highway 248’s rolling hills allow you to recuperate and prepare for the High Road.  Once on the High Road the climbs are coupled with descents providing for reasonable recovery time in preparation for the next set of hills; although, any series of hills with 400ft of climbing in one mile is troubling no matter how long the descent.

The most discouraging part of the race was transitioning to the run in the middle of the pack and seeing the pain written on the faces of those finishing the last half.  The number of people walking let me know that the race was far from over.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I was walking too.  I later found out that even the fastest runners had to walk a bit.  With the bike course being such a focal point for the race, it was not surprising to find that many people overlooked the run course in preparation; myself included.  Prior to the race I actually noticed very few people discussing the run.  Those who did simply stated they weren’t sure what it was like before they made the drive to the event that morning.

Regarding the logistics of the event, the courses worked very well despite being open to traffic and the swim and transition area where just as you would demand anywhere else.  The Branson Mountain High Road did have a lane closed to traffic but highway 248 was open.  However, I did not notice any problems with traffic.  The few cars that did pass by in either direction used caution and provided plenty of room between the rider and the vehicle.  There was plenty of signage letting drivers know to use caution throughout the entire course.  The run course worked well with the paved trails and wide sidewalks; I did not hear any complaints about congestion or confusing turns.

If I were to make any recommendations for the event I would suggest marketing the event a bit better and using online registration.  I believe this would create more hype and increase the number of racers (if that is a goal).  Not having a packet pick-up the day before the race was a pleasant change of pace and checking-in the morning of the race was smooth, quick and easy.

In all, this was a great event with a stellar field of racers.  It was a pleasure riding the Branson Mountain High Road with police and volunteers guarding the left lane for racers only.  It was well organized and I highly recommend it next year.  Just be sure to understand and respect the challenge it presents and do your best to mimic the conditions and features in your training.

August 20, 2010 / stjohnson01

Recovering from Injury

At the end of June I suffered an injury which would later be diagnosed as “thoracic spine strain”.  This is basically torn muscle fibers along the spine.  While the source of the injury couldn’t be linked to just one instance, I was able to narrow it down to two activities; lifting weights and softball.  While strength training I would occasionally feel pain in my back (between the spine and shoulder blade).  I didn’t think much of it as I was very familiar with pains like that and just assumed it was normal.  Then, at a softball game I took a solid swing while a bat and felt excrutiating pain immediately after.  Luckily it was a home run so I had some adrenaline to trump the pain but the pain lasted much longer.

After giving it a week in hopes it would get better I had to go to Urgent Care.  It actually got progressively worse each day to the point where I couldn’t sleep, drive or even walk around without intense pain.  The Urgent Care doctor diagnosed me, provided me with medication, and left me with instructions to follow up with a sports medicine specialist.  Thankfully, the medication took the pain away within 48 hours.  However, as the doctor mentioned, the problem would still be there and I needed to see the specialist.

To make a long story short, after waiting a few weeks to get an appointment I saw the specialist, who hooked me up with a physical therapist, who worked wonders on my back.  I am still seeing the therapist as the problem occasionally flares up.  He just gave me the thumbs up to start strength training again but at much lower weights.  This really derailed my race calendar and goals for this year but that is just a part of the game.  I had to miss the Olympic Distance Concreteman Triathlon which was my big event for the year and goal distance.

I decided to do one triathlon in August to test the return of my conditioning.  It is actually tomorrow (Aug 21) in Branson, MO (the Branson Mountain Man Triathlon).  This is their first triathlon ever which is pretty exciting.  It covers part of the Ironman 70.3 Branson bike course which is crazy hard with hills.  Many people racing in the Branson half Ironman event will be doing this sprint distance tri as a warm-up to the big event.

My goal for the event is just to finish as my training leading up to this has been very inconsistent.  I probably should not even race but I figure that I will and if I don’t finish then that is better than not entering at all.  I’m basically just treating it like a really hard training day; I won’t push it hard on the bike and I will take it super easy on the start of the run.

So what have I learned from all of this?

First, I learned to be more practical in choosing weights during strength training.  I pushed it too hard too soon and paid the price.  Since my goal is to keep losing weight then I should have only used weights that allowed me to do 15-18 reps each set.  I knew that before hand but for some reason didn’t do it.  I think subconsciously my ego took over and said that I didn’t want to go too low on weights.  I would recommend aiming for closer to 18 reps if you have similar goals.  This way you can be more confident you have the correct weight.

I also learned to be wary of chiropractors.  I know plenty of people who have had great experiences and have physical problems that have been solved through chiropractic work. However, that was not my experience.  The chiropractor I saw was too focused on finding out how my issues related back to what he wanted to do.  The result was a treatment plan that didn’t help me at all; it actually hurt me worse.  This particular office was definitely too focused on bringing in clients and money then doing what was necessary to solve the problem.

I also learned a lot about training through all the time I had to reflect.  There were many days when all I could do was stare at my bike and dream and that helped me realize some things. I had time to do more reading and learning online as well.  I look forward to sharing this information with everyone from here on in the next series of posts.

Last, I learned that I’m not Chris McCormack (“Macca”) who can write an incredibly long blog post and people (myself included) will hang on to every word (  In order to get people to actually read my blog I need to make these posts much shorter so hopefully that is something you will see from this point forward as well (sorry I didn’t apply that lesson to this post).

July 12, 2010 / stjohnson01

Volume and Strength

Why am I not getting any faster?  Why didn’t I have enough left on the run?  These are some questions I’ve heard people ask a lot and some questions that I’ve wrestled with myself. While there are many different answers to these questions, there are two elements (volume and strength) that are crucial to understand; especially for beginners.  Volume means logging miles or laps; it is simply time spent swimming, biking or running.  Strength clearly means building your muscles and capacity and is accomplished by total body workouts, interval training and trail running.

In endurance sports like triathlon, there is no escaping the need for volume in your training.  When I hit a wall on the run of my second triathlon it was because I hadn’t logged enough miles in training.  I won’t presume to know how much is enough or how little is too little; that is different for each person.  However, there are ways to test yourself to determine if you’ve been getting enough volume.

One such way is to incorporate some brick workouts.  Brick workouts are sessions in which you bike and then run with a transition as if it were a race.  Of course, you could also do a session where you swim then bike or run or do all three.  These workouts are great not just because they test your endurance but they get your body accustomed to the demands of a triathlon.  If you bike and then run and struggle on the run then that is a good indication you have more work to do.  Even if you don’t have the time to perform two disciplines back-to-back then at least try to do two sessions in the same day; morning and night, lunch and night, etc.  While it isn’t a proven performance advantage, my rule of thumb in training is to do more than the mileage of my upcoming race.  If you are training for a half or full Ironman then that is a different type of training.

Every triathlete needs to incorporate a total body workout at least once a week, preferably twice or three times a week.  Even if your goal is to lose weight, you still need strength training.  If you are focusing on losing weight then you should aim for more reps (12-18) and lighter weights; if you’re trying to get bigger then aim for more weight and lower reps (8-10).  Your body won’t get stronger and faster just by logging miles so this is very important.  As a race gets closer then you can cut back on the number of days you do strength training to once or twice.  The week prior to a race you may only want to do one session or a second light session.

Another way to build strength is through interval training.  This is something new to me but I quickly saw the benefits.  Simply put, interval training is periods of high-intensity work with “rest” periods in between.  This builds on your aerobic foundations and strength.  Here is an example of an interval workout:

1. 3-5 minute warm-up
2. .5 mile high intensity
3. 1 minute low intesnity
4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 3-4 times
5. 3-5 minute cool-down

Fartlek sessions, originating from the Swedes, are another form of interval training that are generally longer sessions but achieve much of the same goals.  For an example of a Fartlek session or interval sessions just type it in Google and you’ll see plenty of results.

A fun way to build strength and an aerobic foundation in running is to run off-road.  Trail running is very enjoyable and an intense workout as the trail surface, elevation and condition are constantly changing.  This is good for you because it doesn’t allow you to settle into a consistent pace or movement.  You are constantly adjusting your body to maneuver over rocks, roots, ditches, fallen trees and more.  Ask any ultrarunner if trail running makes you a stronger road runner and they will undoubtedly say “Yes!”.  If you get to hear Scott Jurek talk about running you will definitely hear him mention it.  Or ask any off-road triathlete.  Many of them compete on and off-road and know the benefits of trail running.

To start, try doing some trail runs twice a month and shoot for the goal of eventually doing them once a week.  I recommend going with someone who is more familiar with trail running your first few times so you can learn what kind of lines to take and how to pace yourself.  Pacing in trail running is very different then road running because on trails you could be walking one moment up a steep hill then sprinting down a step decent the next.

Hopefully this has been helpful to you and has given you some points to consider.  If you liked what you read or have any questions then post a comment!

July 10, 2010 / stjohnson01

Frisco Runaway Triathlon

On June 19, at 5:00am my alarm rang and I rolled out of bed to get ready for the Frisco Runaway Triathlon in Willard, MO; a sprint distance using an outdoor pool.  My previous two races were farther from home and I had to stay in a hotel prior to race day so this was a pleasant change that I could say at home the night before the race.  It was definitely weird not having to pack everything and not having to prepare quite as much.

This race was the smallest one on my calendar this season with maybe 80 racers in total.  Despite the small, informal venue I was still looking forward to the race.  I was using it as a tune up for an Olympic Distance race at the end of July.  I was also excited that it was so close to home because I could train on the race course.  I actually only ended up riding and running the course once but I felt that was adequate; I learned a lot.  What I noticed was that the bike course was very hilly (for my standards).  There was a stretch of hills that just killed me and I dreaded that part of the race.  The upside was that the run course was almost completely flat.  The swim actually had a downside as well because there were no lane lines!

As I started loading my car I felt an occasional drop of rain and then noticed some rolling thunder in the distance.  The weather forecast for the last several days called for scattered T-storms that we never ended up seeing so I didn’t think twice when it called for the same weather race day.  By the time my wife and I left the house it was raining hard; really hard.  We started the 20 minute drive to Willard unsure of what to expect but knowing the race wouldn’t be canceled, just delayed if necessary.

A couple miles before Willard the rain just stopped.  I pulled into the parking lot and was the fourth person there.  I was able to get a parking spot 10 yards from the transtion area.  However, the transition area wasn’t set up yet.  I didn’t even think I was that early but I guess that is the nature of the smaller, grassroots races.

Anyway, it gave me time to walk around and get my blood flowing.  I picked up my timing chip and got my number painted on my arms.  Then I just waited by my car with a friend as the volunteers finished setting up the transition.  At this point it was still cloudy with sporadic rain drops but we could see a break in the clouds.  I figured that it would be sunny within a few minutes so I put on my sunscreen.  I guessed correctly as the clouds quickly disappeared and we had nothing but blue skies overhead.

A note to newbies: don’t forget your sunscreen!  This is easy to forget since it is not required for performance or comfort but it is definitely essential.  Spending that much time outside will definitely give you some exposure to the sun.

Transition opened shortly after and I got a perfect spot.  I got set up very easily as I’ve practiced my transitions many times.  The only problem was that I couldn’t point my bike the way I wanted because the bar on the rack was too low.  It wasn’t a big deal though since most other racers were in the same situation.

After a brief racers’ meeting we all headed to the outdoor pool.  You were supposed to know how long it would take you to swim the distance and then line up with others with similar times.  However, this particular race was ideal for beginners so most people I asked didn’t know their times and the race promoters never mentioned on their fliers or anything that you should know your times.  So, I just decided to keep moving toward the front of the line.  We all got to see how the swim would work without lane lines and it was certainly chaotic.  The first couple racers had the hardest time as they had no one to follow; they just had to pay attention themselves.

My first triathlon started this way with racers starting one at a time with about 10 seconds in between.  However, the wait was much shorter in this race because there were so few people.  I started my swim and felt pretty good.  It was really hard to pass people because it was pure chaos without lines.  However, I managed just fine and ended up finishing with out anyone directly in front of or behind me.

My first transition was pretty quick and I was off.  I was having a little trouble breathing though which was more annoying than worrisome.  It was something that would actually continue through the bike and into the run.

The bike was just as expected.  I knew when to conserve energy, when to push hard, and when the worst of the hills were over allowing me to push hard to the end.  The breathing problem definitely took a toll on the hills and I still am not sure what the problem was.  I guess it was just a mild cramp.

As I started the run I knew I wouldn’t be able to go hard.  I just took it easy and tried to control my heartrate.  It was only a 5k run so I knew I wouldn’t finish strong if I started that slow.  When I got to the first aid station I walked to be able to drink water and then poured some over my head.  I’m not sure if it was the water or the walking (probably both) but my breathing problem almost instantly went away and I was able to run hard again.  I stopped to take in more water and walk for a few steps at the next aid station and pushed even harder.  I was able to regain what I had hoped but it still wasn’t my best performance.

In the end I was happy with my time; 1 hour, 21 minutes, 31 seconds.  My swim is always my weakest area, my bike is usually average and my run is usually pretty slow.  Taking that extra time to get water on the run proved to be beneficial because prior to that my watch had me at 11:00 minute miles; I ended up running an average pace around 9:30.  My time was good enough to finish 3rd in my age group but there were only 7 total in the group.  It was still a good result.  My good friend who I train with took first in our age group.

In all it was a good event.  I tried to remember my valuable lessons from previous races in this one and that helped.  One lesson learned was saving time to use the bathroom just before the start; which I did and didn’t have a problem during the race. Another lesson was to push hard so that I almost collapse after crossing the finish line.  I felt it was unacceptable when I would finish a race and still have energy left so I made sure to go hard and push my limits in the final mile.

Next stop is the Concreteman Triathlon on July 31 in Springfield, MO.  Last year they had “long” and sprint courses but this year the “long” course will be an official Olympic Distance which I am very excited about.  I have lots of training to do to prepare but I’m looking forward to it.

June 22, 2010 / stjohnson01

Kansas City Triathlon & Peeing before a race

May 23, 2010 – This was quite an event! In only their second year the folks at Heartland Sport Promotions and Ultramax did a great job at making this event a “must” for area triathletes. The Kansas City Triathlon had Olympic distance and Half-Olympic distance events and I participated in the half (sprint).


As is customary for me, I got there very early so that I could get setup, settled and not feel rushed.  If you are doing your first triathlon, get there EARLY!  How early will depend on the size of the event.  For this event I got there 1 1/2 hours early which actually wasn’t early enough in terms of getting a good parking spot.

Anyway, my wife and I got there early and had a bit of a walk to get to the transition area.  So, I made sure my tires were pumped up and only took what I would need with me.  (If I park close to the transition area then I might take more things with me and then put the extra stuff back in my car)  I got my arms marked and age put on my leg and headed into transition to set up.  Again, getting there early also means you can take your pick of spots in transition.  In this event, racers had assigned areas which obviously made deciding where to go easy.  I was fortunate that my area was right next to a large lamp post so it would be easy to find during the race.  To all newbies reading this, be sure to find something to help you find your bike in the middle of the race.  Some people even bring a balloon to tie to the rack.

Setting up was nice and easy.  The race before this was my first one; in that race I was nervous but well prepared and got set up easy.  Same thing went for this race except I wasn’t as nervous.  The only difference from the last race was that this time I had a wetsuit.  I wasn’t sure when to put it on because it was hot outside.  I also knew I would need to use the portable toilets.  So, I decided to use the toilets and then get the wetsuit on and warm up in the lake.

Warming up in the lake was a great idea and I would have been screwed if I hadn’t.  The water temp was just under 60 degrees Fahrenheit that day which is VERY cold.  I got in the water and when I put my face under I couldn’t stand it.  It was so cold on my face that I couldn’t breathe.  My mind was telling me to gasp for air because of the cold so I couldn’t take more than a stroke with my face in the water.  It took me about five minutes of warming up to get acclimated to the point where I was swimming almost like normal.  If I hadn’t done this then I would have experienced that shock as I started the race and would have had to adjust as I went; certainly slowing me down.

Eventually they cleared everyone from the water to get started and I waited a while as my swim wave was last to leave.  I was able to watch what happened to people as they swam and noticed that the mild current in the lake was drifting people to the middle of the course.  So, people who started on the inside had to fight harder than people starting on the outside.

As I stood there waiting I noticed that I had to use the toilet again (#1).  I am kind of paranoid about being on time (too a fault) and would not leave the beach in fear of something happening resulting in missing my wave.  So, I stood there with a growing pain.  I overheard conversations about people just peeing in their wetsuits and thought that was crazy.  Surely it shows up when you take your wetsuit off (so I assumed).  My wife also heard these conversations and just told me to do that; I refused.  Of course, that changed by the time my wave was told to get ready because the pain was pretty severe and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.  At that point I decided I would “go” once I got in the water.  (More about this under “Lessons Learned” at the bottom of this post)

The Swim:

It was my first open water swim which made me a bit nervous since I don’t have a way to practice in open water.  The swim course was quite simple despite the tons of triathletes who kept asking how the course went; I guess they weren’t paying attention when it was announced.  When my wave started I quickly jumped in the water to get my body and head wet again. When the horn went off I just walked into the water and started nice and slow.  I ended up passing many people who ran in first and started too hard.

The most difficult part of the swim was the waves.  The waves not only affected being able to see the buoys but also breathing.  The biggest recommendation I’ve heard is to find a fix point to swim toward for each side of the swim.  I found a tall tree on each side to swim toward and that helped.  I also had to account for the current so I definitely had to look up frequently.  The cold wasn’t a factor after a minute and I started to feel very comfortable.

The event had several volunteers on the swim in boats and one on a waverunner.  On parts of the swim I actually could taste the fuel from the boats which was a shock.  That definitely slowed me down the three or four times that happened.

On the final stretch I really picked up the pace since I had been moving slow.  The only difficult part here was that we were now traveling in the opposite direction of when we started so the current was against our other side.  What this meant was that as I looked to my left to breathe the waves were coming right in my mouth.  Luckily I read up on open water swims and took the advice of learning to breathe on both sides.  This was very helpful and I noticed some others struggling with it.

When I got out of the water and started up the beach to transition I was much more tired than I anticipated.  I could only walk from there to recover; it didn’t help that it was uphill to transition from the water.

Getting the wetsuit off was easy; it was actually a little big so that helped but I didn’t have any problems with the size during the swim.  The only trouble I had getting it off was around the timing chip.  I also had put body glide on my wrists, forearms, ankles and legs.

The Bike:

It felt good to be done the swim because it was hard and made me a bit sore.  This meant that I started the bike a bit slower than usual but I recovered quickly.

The previous day, after packet pick-up I realized that we forgot to drive the bike course.  We almost decided to skip it and then, at about 8pm I just said “let’s go” and we went. I was worried we would run out of daylight but it worked out just fine.  The course wasn’t completely marked but I was able to figure most of it out using the map provided on the race website.  I found the big hills, flats to make up time, areas to take in fuel, etc.

On race day I was very happy I knew the course.  I knew when to take it easy and when to charge and when to just grunt through it.  For the most part the roads where smooth which was great.  There was a cool section with a lot of turns through a residential area in which the residents where sitting on their front steps cheering everyone on; that was very helpful!  I got to the end of the bike and was more tired than I thought and just seemed to know that I wouldn’t be going for a personal best.  My shoulders were still sore from the swim and now my thighs were burning.

The Run:

I ended up taking an extra few seconds in transition to catch my breath and headed off for the run.  I wasn’t able to see the run course beforehand but I didn’t do that at the previous race either.  It wasn’t anything special in terms of crazy hills or weird turns so that didn’t make a difference.  I was very tired though and ended up walking a bit at each aid station to take in water.  I was able to run fairly hard the last quarter mile but it wasn’t much.  I finished with my muscles very sore but my lungs feeling fine.


The venue was fantastic and made it worth the trip.  Despite performing poorly it was still a ton of fun.  It was great seeing the Specialized crew there and looking at all their bikes.  Free food and drinks were certainly nice as well.  Each racer actually got a print out of their times with splits and everything once they finished along with a finisher’s medal.  They actually didn’t allow people to take their bikes out of transition until the end which was good for safety and to make the event more like a party; good idea!

I will definitely be back next year; hopefully to do the Olympic distance!

Lessons Learned:

I learned a lot from the race, mostly to swim more in training.  I knew I hadn’t trained the way I wanted in preparation for this but I was glad I did it anyway.  My biggest lesson learned was that volume is very important in all three disciplines; especially the bike and run (technique comes into play on the swim more making it not just about volume).  I hadn’t run much and that was evident.  That will definitely affect my training plans moving forward.

I metioned that I would discuss having to pee here and I left out that detail throughout this entire post.  Truth is, I wasn’t able to pee once the swim started.  I really wanted to and my refusal to pee in my wetsuit seemed silly as the pain continue to grow with each swim stroke.  I just couldn’t let my body relax enough but I didn’t want to stop.

I got to the bike portion and it didn’t feel any better.  Holding it in was proving to be a nightmare.  Part of the bike course actually went through a park where there were bathrooms and I saw two riders stop to use them.  I was tempted to but skipped them, big mistake (hence this being under Lessons Learned).

By the run portion it was quite painful.  Above, I talked about my muscles being sore and so on but the biggest problem was having to pee!  I couldn’t believe how much it affected me and it was a problem I could have prevented; I could have solved it before the race even started.

So, next time I will remember that I usually have to pee right before the race.  If it is a wetsuit race, then I will wait to put it all the way on until that happens.  Seems simple but I had to learn the hard way.

May 20, 2010 / stjohnson01

Prep for Race #2

In a couple of days I will be in Lee’s Summit, Missouri for the Kansas City Triathlon.  This will be my second triathlon and it features a 750 meter swim, 20k (12.4 miles) bike and 5k (3.1 miles) run.  Three weekends ago was my first tri at TriZou and it was a great experience.  I really surprised myself and finished with a respectable time.

I was a bit ambitious by saying that my next race would be exactly three weeks later but I waited until after TriZou to register.  This way I would know if I was really passionate about triathlon or if TriZou would be my first and last.  Happily, and as expected, I absolutely loved TriZou and knew that I would be doing this for the rest of my life so I didn’t hesitate to register when I got home.

So, it was Monday, May 3rd, the day after TriZou, my next tri was three weeks away and I had to figure out a training plan.  I knew I would have one major hurdle the second week; a 5-day business trip which featured a packed day from 5am until 11pm each day.  I decided I would take the first two days off after TriZou and let my body recover; not just from the race but from the last few weeks of hard training.  Then I would come back full swing until I left for the business trip.

A week passed by and I was doing pretty well.  I learned a lot about my limitations and potential in the race so I kept that in mind each day I trained.  I noticed that my bike and run sessions were a good bit faster and stronger because I found a new level to perform at.  I had really charged through the bike in the race so I was sure to push myself in training.  However, it was now time to leave for my trip.  I had hoped that I could workout Monday and Friday that week as I was just traveling those days.  However, Monday turned out to be more busy than I planned and I couldn’t fit anything in.  Tuesday through Thursday were as busy as I expected and I barely had enough time to sleep.  Friday I found myself exhausted from the week and when I got back home I could only think of sleeping for the next couple days; which is essentially what I did.

So, now two weeks have gone by and there is only one week left until the KC Tri.  The Monday before the race I was still not recovered from the long days and constant movement the week before and I couldn’t bring myself to do any training.  On Tuesday I felt much the same and left an hour early from work.  However, I started to convince myself that what I was feeling was actually a symptom of exercise withdraw and I was able to get on my bike.  Whether I was really suffering from exercise withdraw or not I don’t know; I did feel a lot better after my bike ride though.

I didn’t ride hard but I did push myself on some hills and I made sure to ride further than the distance in the race coming up.  The next day (yesterday) I committed to running and swimming.  I hadn’t run in over a week and hadn’t swam in even longer.  I really didn’t know what to expect and to make things worse, it was raining hard so I was resigned to running on a treadmill.  I used to always run on a treadmill but now I find it hard to push myself on one and impossible to run over 3 miles.  But, it was better than not running at all!  So, I ran 3 miles and then hopped in the pool.  I didn’t know what to expect in the pool since swimming is by far my weakest area and I assumed I would have lost most of my strength.

I decided that I would swim the distance featured in the upcoming race and just take it nice and slow.  I was pleasantly surprised when I was half way through and still felt strong.  So, I pushed a little harder and finished with a solid time (I wasn’t aiming for a certain time but I did time it to see how much I lost).  To finish, I did a couple of drills and called it a day.

This morning I was quite sore but I still felt good that I got some decent sessions in.  I definitely need to run today and tomorrow and will also bike today and swim tomorrow.  Saturday I will take off.

Since I’m such a reader and I love to learn about these things I keep remembering bits of information about tapering before a race and such.  So, I have been a little hesitant to train so hard in the final days before a race.  However, there are two elements I need to consider.  One, I missed a week of training and I desperately need to catch up.  I am also trying to look at the race as a really good training day instead of a race which is true in reality.  Two, in sprint distances, many people say that tapering is not necessary.  It is too short of a distance to worry about that but it is always good to have at least one rest day per week.

So, we will see what happens come Sunday!

If you read my last post you may remember that I was nervous about not having a wetsuit.  Problem solved!  First, Chris McCormack (Macca) had been running a couple of competitions to win an Orca wetsuit so I was sure to enter.  However, I didn’t win. 😦  Then I found someone who might be close to my size that would possibly let me borrow their wetsuit.  We found that I was wrong about the size but he knew of a local store that rented wetsuits.  I had never thought about asking around for places that rented so that was a huge help.  I was able to get one my size and I picked it up with enough time to try it out in a pool.

I’m a little hesitant to try it in a pool because I will obviously look weird walking into the pool area wearing a wetsuit but I will go an hour before closing time when the pool is usually close to empty.  I opted for the full sleeve version because, as far as I can tell, the water temperature is supposed to be below 60 degrees.  I’ve never swam in a wetsuit though so it should be interesting.  If you are new to the sport and haven’t swam in a wetsuit either, don’t wait until race day to do it!!!  Get one and go to a lake or pool and try it out.  I’ve heard so many horror stories about people borrowing one and doing a race having never tried it before.  It seems like common sense once you think about it but there are plenty of people who don’t think about it until their in the water waiting for the starting horn.

So, long story short, this will be an interesting race on Sunday.  I may not perform well since I slacked on my training leading up to it but I’m still on track to do well in my long course tri at the end of July.  At least this Sunday I will have a wetsuit which is what I was most nervous about.  Now I just have to make sure that I can adjust to swimming with one; I’ll find that out on Friday!

Stay tuned…

May 6, 2010 / stjohnson01

1st Triathlon, it’s official: I’m a triathlete!! (pictures included)

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Success; I finished! On Sunday, May 2nd I completed my first triathlon in Columbia, Missouri!  It was a sprint distance consisting of a 440 yard swim, 14 mile bike, and 3 mile run.  My overall goal was just to finish but I had some more ambitious goals as well.  Goals like: finish strong, finish in under 2 hours, finish somewhere near last year’s average time of 1 hour 31 minutes, finish the whole race without having to walk and a couple other small ones.  I’m proud to say that I met all of those goals!

I finished in 1 hour, 30 minutes, 58 seconds.  I placed 25th out of 44 in the Clydesdale division of 39 years old and younger and weighing more than 200 pounds.  I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of my performance since the course was completely new to me and I’ve never raced previously.  As much as one may try to mimic race-day intensity while training, the actually power output and intensity level is a mystery until that day.

Friday before the race…
I did all my errands so that I wouldn’t have to worry about too much on Saturday.  I picked up some last minute items for the race including nutrition and small gear items.  I also packed as much as possible Friday night.  This was suggested to me by several people and, come Saturday, I really appreciated it.  Saturday I just had to drive there and take care of the packet pick-up details.

As I said, I drove to Columbia and went straight to the packet pick-up location.  There I was able to catch part of a briefing about the race, get my race number, t-shirt, etc., and talk to some locals about the course.  Talking to locals who worked at the host store was great because one of them printed off a course map for me since I left mine at home.  After hanging out there my wife and I went to drive the bike course.  We were able to access 95% of it so I felt much better about the next day.  I found that there were two pretty big hills but it was no where near as hilly as the route I train on at home.  The run course we didn’t drive because 60% of it was on campus walkways inaccessible to cars.

We knew that I would have to eat out Saturday night so in previous weeks I had eaten at Panera and trained after to see how my body would handle it.  I was fine each time so that night we ate at Panera and then settled into the hotel.  I wasn’t planning to have a night-time snack but I ended up having a few pretzels to curb my hunger.  The research I had done said to not eat a few hours before bed time and to wake up a bit hungry.  If you eat well the week leading up to a race then you have all the stored carbs and energy you need so being a little hungry is not a problem at all.  I turned in pretty early so that I could wake up at 4 a.m. and not be exhausted.

Sunday (race day)…
I woke up feeling pretty good.  I started to pack the car, put on my race suit, and made breakfast.  I also knew that I wouldn’t have a fridge or microwave in the hotel room so we packed a breakfast that didn’t require those appliances and that I knew my body was used to (bread, peanut butter and a banana).  We got to the race site just after 5 a.m. and got a parking spot right next to the transition area (which is why we wanted to get there so early)!  Getting there at that time meant I didn’t have to wait in any lines, I could take my time, I had my pick of spots in the transition area, and I could use the toilets while they were still fresh!

I got my number painted on my arms and then found a nice space in the transition area.  I was lucky to be next to some very experienced athletes which was convenient.  I got set up very easily but since it was my first time I was nervous that I forgot something.  I was able to ask my neighbors and check their stations to feel more relaxed.  It was also great having my wife there, for many reasons, but especially because she could help getting something from the car or holding things for me.  The part I was unclear about was what to do between when the transition area closed and my swim group would start.  Since it was a pool swim I knew I would be waiting possibly 2 hours after the elite group started.  I left the transition area with my goggles, a bottle of water, and a gel packet and my post-race clothes on.  When it was time for me to get in line with my group I gave my wife my post-race clothes.  The bottle of water, which was suggested by an experienced friend, was great because I got parched waiting for so long.  Many people I was waiting with wished they had water.

I really didn’t get nervous like I thought I would but my heart sped up a few times as I got closer to the starting line.  When it was my turn I jumped in and was quite surprised by how cold the water was; just not what I expected is all.  I ended up swimming quite well but had trouble breathing the whole time.  I think it was simply because I hadn’t swam in my race suit previously.  I passed a few people on the way to the finish and got out of the pool with plenty of energy left.  Swimming is my weakest area by far so I learned that I have a lot to learn still; I could have gone much harder.

At the first transition I put on my sunglasses, put on my helmet, buckled it and grabbed my bike.  It was way too quick so I really thought I forgot something.  I kept looking back as I jogged away but didn’t forget anything.  I jogged out to the bike mount area and didn’t do a running start as I had planned; I just didn’t want to risk tripping or something.  Instead, I just stepped over the top tube and pushed off.  I was glad I had practiced slipping my feet into my shoes while riding because I was a little nervous again at that point.  I was feeling great on the bike after getting settled and since the course was two loops I was able to use the first loop as a test for the second.

I rode pretty hard wherever I could and took it easy up the two big hills.  I ended up passing a ton of people on this portion.  By the second loop I knew exactly where I could charge and take advantage of flat spots and downhills.  The course was pretty rough in terms of road surface.  A couple times I had to pop up my front wheel and let my back tire smack a pot hole.  I definitely had to do a full bike check after the race.  I finished the bike course in decent time and conserved a little bit the last mile for the run.  In hindsight I should have kept charging but who knows how that would have affected my run.

Let me digress a minute… On Friday I decided to do a run without socks since I didn’t want to use socks on race day to save time in the transition area.  I knew I risked getting blisters but didn’t think that would happen…it happened.  I ended up getting some painful blisters on both feet.  As soon as I got back from the run I googled “instant cure for foot blisters”.  I didn’t find much except for a suggestion to use a cold compress with salt water on the blisters.  So, I socked two wash clothes in a bowl of cold water and salt and kept them on my feet most of the night before bed.  It actually helped a lot and by Sunday I barely noticed the blisters.  However, it meant that I was going to wear socks on race day.

So…entering the run transition I figured I would loose a minute just to put on socks.  I did have a tip to roll the socks up so that I could just slip my toes in and roll the socks up my feet (mentioned in a previous post about transitions).  This ended up only taking maybe 20 extra seconds total!  Again, this transition was super quick which was great.  As expected, I was a bit stiff and sore at the beginning of the run.  I had practiced transitioning from bike to run previously so I knew what it would feel like (this is called brick training; also mentioned in an earlier post).  I pushed through the pain remembering that it would fade after a half mile at the most, which it did.  The run course, which I hadn’t seen previously, had a lot of turns which I really liked.  This kept me distracted and made the time pass faster.  I really couldn’t tell if I was running fast or slow because I was quite tired and fatigued.  There were plenty of volunteers though and one of them shouted out to me when there was about a half mile left and I picked up the pace quite a bit.  As I could hear the music from the finish line I really started moving faster and it was over before I knew it.  There was a hill somewhere in the middle of the run that gave me some real trouble and I almost thought about walking but I pushed through.

At the finish I was truly tired.  It felt so good to finish while people were still paying attention to the finish line; the announcer even shouted out my name as I finished.  If you’ve ever raced before and you are a slow person you know what I’m talking about.  I’ve finished other races when the awards ceremony was nearing completion or the attention had moved to giveaways or something; not this time though.  I had forgotten there would be pizza and that tasted so good after the race.  I caught my breath and immediately went to pack up my transition area so that I could enjoy the ceremony, eat pizza and relax without having to worry about it.

The rest of the event was cool to be a part of and see the winners.  I checked my time before leaving and my wife and I were shocked.  I really had no clue how I had done at that point but we were very happy about the finish time.  My run was the most surprising part.  That was my fastest three miles ever, a time I had never even come close to while training.  I attribute that mostly to running without a watch or iPod on occasion in training.  That helps me be really in tune with my body and pay attention to when I need to slow down or when I can speed up.

So what’s next…
I waited to register for my next tri until after that race to make sure I was fully committed.  The day after the race I got registered; it’s Sunday, May 23rd outside of Kansas City (the Kansas City Triathlon in Lee’s Summit, MO).  It is a 750 meter swim (longer than this past one), 12.4 mile bike and 3 mile run.  It is also an open water swim so I can pretty much forget everything I learned at TriZou since it was in a pool.  The water is also going to be quite cold and I don’t have a wetsuit; we’ll see how that goes.  I am saving for a sport watch with heart-rate monitor and tools for biking and running but I think a wetsuit is just as, if not more important.  Wetsuits are cheaper than the watch I have in mind too.

Stay tuned for more as I keep training, keep racing, and keep learning…

April 30, 2010 / stjohnson01

Two days left: The Unknown

It’s Friday and the big race is on Sunday.  I’m quite nervous but mostly excited.  I keep telling myself that I don’t need to be nervous because I’m not trying to win.  However, I am constantly reminded that my nervousness is due to a fear of the unknown.  Will I finish?  Will something break on my bike?  Will I forget something important?  Will I crash?  How hard is this actually going to be?  Is doing all three sports back-to-back going to be too much for me?

Ready or not, come Sunday morning, I will be on the starting line.  Coming in to the final month before the race I was confident that I would at least feel prepared.  Then I received noticed that I had to travel for work the week before my triathlon.  It is hard for me to train on the road since my schedule is crazy and I never know when I will be able to do something.  On top of that, I traveled to a place that has some of my favorite foods and I couldn’t control myself.  I complete gave in to what I craved.  However, I got my fill early in the week and then started to cut back; just not to the point where I was eating my normal foods if I were at home.

When I returned home on Thursday night I immediately set out for a bike and swim.  The bike felt great and I didn’t think I had lost much.  The swim was a little slow and I’m not sure what to conclude about that.  I stepped on the scale this morning and strange enough I had actually lost a pound since I weighed myself before I left.  Today (Friday) I’m hoping to do a solid run, eat a healthy dinner and get some rest.

One helpful suggestion I was given was to do all my errands two days before a race (today in my case).  This way you aren’t worried or stressed with those details and can just focus on what is at hand.  This also includes getting as much packed as possible two days prior. has a great video about “Your No-Fail Triathlon Race Weekend Nutrition Plan” that I’ve watched a couple times (  It mentions the tips above as well as, of course, some nutritional guidelines starting two days prior up until the race itself.  I had always heard that “carbo-loading” was good the day before a race but as I started researching more about triathlons I learned more about that myth.  Loading with good (complex) carbs is important but that doesn’t mean you eat an entire plate of pasta the night before a race.  The video mentioned above goes over this pretty well so I’ll let you watch that.  Point is, eat sensibly!  As race day approaches focus on quality carbs, protein and low-fiber foods in normal quantities.

April 24, 2010 / stjohnson01

Mark Allen tackles beginners’ questions

If you don’t know who Mark Allen is, learn the name.  He is a six-time Ironman Champion!!  He is a legend and a pioneer and any chance I get to hear him speak or read an article by him I will take advantage of it.  Many beginner triathletes, like me, have some basic questions in common.  Mark Allen identified the most common questions he receives and put his answers in writing.  Check out this article at in which he addresses the following questions:

What bike should I ride?

Should I buy a new bike even though I have one now?

Do I need a wetsuit?

What should I eat race morning?

How much should I eat during the race?

How much should I train?

These are great questions and Mark has great responses that every rookie triathlete should read.  I’ll highlight the last question because as simple as his answer is, I hadn’t thought of it that way yet.  He basically says that the length of your training should be equivalent to the amount of time you expect it to take to finish your race.  Of course, not every session needs to be like this but you should build up to where your “longest training day” meets this level a couple times before a race.  It seems like a no-brainer to me now that I think about it but I hadn’t thought about it previously.  Read the article to see in his words what you should be doing.

April 22, 2010 / stjohnson01

Transition: the 4th discipline

If you are not new to triathlon, then you have more than likely heard transitions referred to as the fourth element.  If you are new, I suggest you, like me, take everyone very seriously and trust that transitions are truly that important.  Whether you are getting into triathlon with the hopes of winning the first race you enter or you just hope to beat the clock and finish, transitions are crucial.  Here is why:

Especially in Sprint and Olympic distances, every second counts.  Many races will come down to the closing 10-20 yards which means that everything you did up to that point was very important.  This isn’t necessarily the case for Ironman distances which usually have a minimum gap between 1st and 2nd place of a couple minutes but you don’t have to preach to an Ironman about the importance of transitions.  If you are looking to be competitive in your trathlon, it is getting to be more clear why transitions are so important.  If you are just hoping to finish your triathlon and think that transitions are only important for the elite division, we’ll get to you in a moment.

For the competitor…
Just as you train for swimming, biking and running you should train for your transitions.  One of the first steps in doing this is to figure out everything you will need and then determine how you will set it up.  As I have been training for my first triathlon next weekend I have been utilizing some videos on (just click the Beginners link on the website and scroll to the bottom).  In these videos you are taken through your transition set up (which also covers everything you will need) and then you are walked through each transition.  The video I use most often is titled: “VIDEO: Triathlon Transition Setup and Execution”. There are some tips and tricks in there that I will highlight.

First, practice this as if it is race day!  I have done this a few times (certainly should have been doing it more) and will continue to over the next week.  I didn’t think it was tough at all in the beginning but as I’ve practiced I’ve become much, much faster.

Second, consider clipping your shoes in to your bike so that you will run barefoot with your bike after your swim to the bike-mount area.  This is the part that takes the most practice but it is definitely the fastest.  If you do this, remember to take short strides when you are running barefoot.  It is also a good idea to put your shoes on, step into the pedals, then slip your feet out.  This way you know the shoes are completely secure.  Also, try putting a rubberband around your shoe’s heel loop to keep the shoe and pedals in place (see picture below; video also shows how to do this).  This is a huge help and makes this method so much easier.  I only do this to one shoe which keeps both pedals in a good position.  Some people will rubberband both shoes (attaching the other shoe to the water bottle cage usually) ensuring that both shoes are facing the right direction.  When you mount your bike you can easily flip the shoe without the rubberband and step on it and the other shoe with the rubberband is already in place for you to start pedaling.  The rubberband will snap as you pedal and you’re good to go.  Then you just pick up speed and slip your feet into your shoes as you ride.  The video mentioned above goes over this whole process but definitely PRACTICE IT.

Third, if you are going to use gels during the bike, try taping them to your top tube using some electrical tape.  What I noticed when I practiced riding with these on the tube is that the sharp corners of the packages would scrap my knee.  It didn’t do any harm besides annoy me but there is a quick fix.  I found another person online with the same problem so below is a picture of gels taped to the top tube and the corners cut off to solve the sharp edge problem.  This is a very quick way to access your gels as needed.  In my first triathlon, which is a Sprint, I will only have one gel and I’ll eat it about 15 minutes before I expect to finish the bike (that’s my plan at least, based on what I’ve done while training).

There are of course other tips in the video but those were my favorites.  Another good one is to roll up your socks (if you will use them during the run) to make them easier to put on quickly but I’ll let you watch the video.

For those just wanting to finish…
You could be thinking anything at this point but a lot of it may be that you don’t think you need to worry about transitions since you just want to finish before the course closes.  I have two words for you; prepared and organized.  That is why transitions are important to you, they help you be prepared and organized.  This means that you won’t be stressing about what you need, do you have everything, where you put that blank, and so on.  Also, if you plan to take your time and rest in transition, then you can do just that.  You won’t have to waste time getting everything together.

So, what can you take away from everything above?  Be prepared!  Know what you will need, how much of it and at what point in the race you will need it.  Be organized!  Practice setting it up before race day so you can see how it all looks.  Also, do a practice run to make sure that everything works they way you laid it out.

Part of transition planning includes creating a checklist but I will save that for a post about race-day preparation.  Questions, comments or concerns? Let me know!

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