Does Supplement Contamination Really Cause Failed Drug Tests?

My biggest fears include being paralyzed, serving a long prison sentence, having a loved one get killed or seriously hurt in a bike or other sporting accident, getting old, and testing positive for a banned substance that I took accidentally. And not necessarily in that order.

Just a few days ago, I learned that a former teammate of mine failed a drug test and has accepted a one-year ban in bike racing. I first learned about it on Cyclingnews, and was so shocked that I thought it might be about someone else with the same name, so I went to his Facebook page to confirm that it was him. I was shocked not just because this was a former teammate of mine, but because he really didn’t seem like the type of guy that would cheat. I spent a fair bit of time with him, and actually lived with him for a month a few years ago, and I would have bet a considerable amount of money that he was clean. He was just too honest, and nervous, of a person to dope, in my opinion. Myself and another teammate that I was living with at the time would sneak across the street to eat a continental breakfast at a hotel every morning and this guy wouldn’t join us because he didn’t like to break the rules. He did have a marked improvement since I was teammates with him, but that doesn’t mean that he cheated to get to that point. In my experience, consistency, dedication, and hard work can create a pretty big boost from one year to the next, even after multiple years of stagnation. I have an extremely hard time seeing him as a doper.

I don’t need to name him, but for anyone who follows domestic cycling it would be easy to figure out who this is. Anyways, his story goes as follows. He was tested at a race that he did fairly well at last spring and was informed a few months later that he had failed the test for Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a steroid that is sold over the counter and is widely known to be a fairly worthless banned supplement to take on its own. It can, however, be used to get the body to start making its own testosterone after a regiment of artificial testosterone has been used. The body stops making its own T after you dope with enough artificial testosterone so the idea is that when you come off testosterone doping, you use DHEA to get your body back on track so that you can eventually test clean at a race. DHEA might also be used as a masking agent. Anyways, he was given a one-year ban–a reduced sentence for providing evidence that his whey protein was contaminated with DHEA.

Tom Zirbel was busted for DHEA back in 2009, and a fair number cyclists in the domestic pro peloton believed his story that he was clean and had been screwed over by a tainted supplement. At first I didn’t buy this story a bit. I have gone back and forth over the years though. On the one hand, he did get 4th at the world time trial championships that year. Is that even possible without drugs? I don’t know. On the other hand, how would he have been so clueless to have been caught with DHEA in an in-competition test? (The test he was busted at was done at the USA national time trial championships).

I don’t known Zirbel that well, but have chatted with him a handful of times and he’s certainly a nice guy, which everyone says about athletes who get popped whom they want to believe are clean. Being a nice guy means nothing, of course, and is not evidence of innocence. Anyways like I said, I’ve gone back and forth on believing Zirbel’s claim, and don’t really have a definite opinion at this point, especially after my ex-teammate just got busted for the same thing.

Is my ex-teammate telling the truth? I believe so. Obviously I don’t know, but this story has certainly raised my concern about accidental contamination.

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 Pee for drug testing, or champagne. One of the two.

Over 25 Percent of Supplements Contain Banned Substances?

There’s certainly evidence of supplement contamination in studies. One source that I have trust in that supports this claim is Precision Nutrition, which cites a few different studies, one of which found that over 25 percent of supplements tested were tainted with banned substances, back in 2001.

You could easily say, “Just don’t take any supplements. It’s not worth the risk.” But that would pretty much be impossible. That means that you are not only avoiding vitamins and recovery drinks, which would be the easy part, but that you are also supplying and preparing all of your own nutrition for races. So no gels, no sports drinks or bars, no chews, and no taking anything in aid stations. You can’t even get a damn smoothie at a damn smoothie place because of the damn whey protein in it. I guess you could ask for it without the protein, but then of course you aren’t going to get yoked at all, so what’s the point? IT’S ALL ABOUT BEING YOKED!!!!

My second reaction to hearing about my ex-teammate’s failed drug test, after shock, was fear. Fear that something I take might be contaminated. I actually had a nightmare about it the other night. You might think that you don’t take that many supplements (this includes race and training nutrition) but you’re probably wrong about that. At least, I was. I compiled all of the “sups” that I take, either on a frequent or infrequent basis, and it’s pretty staggering, as outlined later on below.

Third Party Testing

There are a number of independent, third-party testing companies that help hold supplement and nutrition companies accountable, including NSF Certified for Sport, Informed Sport, Informed Choice, Human Sports Performance (HSP), and others. However, even if a product is routinely tested by one of these companies, it doesn’t guarantee that it’s clean. Apparently 10 percent (@3:25) of the products sent in to be tested by Informed Sports are found to be contaminated with banned substances. That seems like a lot, especially for companies who are knowingly sending in their product when they are not required to do so by law. After all, if a company voluntarily sends a product in to be tested, that probably means they are fairly confident that it’s clean.

And what about consistency? If a company doesn’t use Good Manufacturing Practices, which ensure that each batch is consistent with the last, one batch could pass a third party test while another might not. According to USADA, “It is the law to manufacture supplements in compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to find non-compliant companies,” meaning that a company’s batch of product might be clean in August but a later batch in December could potentially be contaminated (at least this is what I took it to mean).

Most supplement and nutrition companies source products from all over the globe, from a dozen or more different manufacturers, and switch their suppliers around throughout the years to use the cheapest ingredients they can find. There’s a lot of opportunity for one of the many ingredients in your protein powder to be made in a factory that also produces DHEA or steroids. Generally, the more ingredients your supplement has, the higher the chances are that one of those ingredients is laced with something dirty.

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If you’re dumb enough to take something that’s packaged like this, maybe you deserve to serve a ban? This has around 40 ingredients.

Using my Journalism Skills

I did some interneting and phone calling to figure out what third party testing procedures and other safeguards there were for the supplements that I take. I’m not including Good Manufacturing Practices, organic, GMO free, or USDA certifications as a safeguard, since these don’t necessarily mean anything.

There are a few ways that a company’s product can, for the most part, be trusted:

1) Third party testing from a non biased company like Informed Sport or NSF Certified for Sport that specifically tests for banned substances. However, some companies are misleading, such as My Protein. A website might say that they use Informed Sport when only a handful of their products are actually tested.

2) Only use supplements made by companies that get all of their ingredients from labs that never produce or handle any banned substance. This would be hard for you to confirm, however, and you’d likely have to take the company’s word for it.

3) Only use supplements that get all of their ingredients from NSF certified labs. The following is what it takes to be an NSF certified lab:

  1. Product evaluation
  2. Product testing in lab
  3. Manufacturing facility inspection, production confirmation, and product sampling
  4. Test results review and acceptance
  5. Contract signed and products listed
  6. Annual plant inspection and retesting

However, there is a difference between an NSF certified lab and NSF Certified for Sport product. The later is tested specifically for the 272 substances that currently make up WADA’s banned list, while the former (an NSF certified lab) is not specifically tested for banned substances. NSF certified labs do have accurate labeling, third party testing done by NSF, annual audits, unannounced visits by inspectors, and they generally seem like they’d be a large step up from the average supplement facility.

What Supplements and Nutrition I Use

Here’s my personal list of nutrition and supplements and the corresponding degree of safety: Green for good safeguards, Orange for some safeguards, Red for no real safeguards that I could find, Pink for I don’t know. I was surprised that most of the companies actually got back to me, as did NSF. I was also surprised at how many of these companies had some sort of safeguard be it a third party testing company, that they never use ingredients from distributors who handle banned substances, or that their products are at least made in NSF certified labs.

Daily (Nightly)

  • Pharmaca Sleep Formula Fast Acting Chewable Tablets (NSF certified lab)
    -Contains L-theanine, melatonin, and 5-HTP 

Every Few Days

  • Hammer Nutrition whey isolate in smoothies, as well as other Hammer Nutrition products including their bars, drink mixes, Fizz tablets, and gels *(Third party tested but I’m not sure which company, all ingredients come from NSF certified labs and none of the labs handle any banned substances)
  • Clif bars, gels, and Bloks (Played phone tag for a while and gave up. Never found anything out)
  • Barlean’s fish oil (Third party testing with Exact Science–couldn’t find out anything online about this testing company–but I doubt they test for banned substances)
  • Other liquid-form fish oils that are on sale at the grocery store (Who knows?)

Adelaide and I make our own recovery mixture, which contains the following:

  • Hammer whey isolate (See above)
  • Dextrose from Nuts.com (The only company I never heard back from and that didn’t have information on their website)
  • Maltodextrin from Honeyville (NSF certified lab)
  • Sodium citrate from Modernist Pantry (No third party testing, but at least the manufacturer where they get their sodium citrate supposedly only makes food additives. Possibly a risky supplement considering the large number of products the manufacturer produces)
  • BCAA’s from My Protein (No third party testing. I originally thought that they was tested through Informed Sport, but that is only true for ONE of their many BCAA supplements, and not the one that I’ve been using. Threw it in the trash just now)

Infrequent Use

  • Vitamin D from Puritan’s Pride (No third party testing)
  • Magnesium from Puritan’s Pride (No third party testing)
  • Vitamin B-12 from Puritan’s Pride (No third party testing)

At Races, So Every Month or Two During Race Season

  • Whatever gel gets handed out in aid stations (Potentialy no third party testing)
  • Maurten dink mix (Informed Sport certified)
  • Gatorade at aid stations (No third party testing) 

Sometimes I also get free omega 3’s or vitamins as samples at the grocery store, and I generally use the free protein powder or other goodies found in race swag bags. So there’s even more supplements that I take over the course of a year that could be tainted. This list also doesn’t include cold medicine, cough drops, anti-inflammatories, etc.

I’d say it’s almost impossible to completely safeguard yourself from accidentally testing positive if up to 25 percent of supplements would actually cause a failed drug test, and/or if it’s true that eating South American beef can trigger a failed test for clenbuterol (I have a hard time believing this one and certainly don’t believe Contador). What does this mean? Pretty much that if you’re an athlete who gets tested, you should live in constant fear–and narrow your use of products as much as possible to those that have some sort of third party testing, use NSF certified labs, or are not made in a facility that handles banned substances. No more free gummy vitamins from Sprouts or vitamin D from Puritan’s Pride.

In General, Don’t Trust Someone Who Failed a Drug Test

If I ever fail a drug test I will not expect anyone outside my immediate family or very close friends to believe that it was from a contaminated supplement or food. I think there should be an extreme level of skepticism for the stories told by athletes who fail tests. I am of the belief that the vast majority of world tour pro cyclists, whose names you recognize, are dopers. I don’t think it’s possible to get an olympic medal in any speed or strength sport without doping (running, swimming, gymnastics, lifting, throwing, etc). I think that many of the top guys in triathlon are dopers as well. I don’t believe the stories of the triathletes who got busted for ostarine last year, who claimed it was from a contaminated salt product.

If you read an article about an athlete failing a drug test, you should believe that they doped on purpose unless you know them personally and have a very strong reason to believe that they are clean. For me, it was seeing the annoying level of adherence that my ex teammate had for the rules. . . at least when it came to stealing breakfast from a hotel. Plus, he was able to prove that his protein powder was contaminated, which USADA recognized.

It’s hard to know what to think when the person who fails a drug test is a teammate, training partner, or friend. Does your emotional bias get in the way? Certainly. Does that bias help you see the truth, or does it blind you? I don’t know. I’d lean towards blinding you. You really only know for certain that one person is clean: yourself.

And your spouse. I think it would be virtually impossible for your spouse to dope without your knowledge.

 

**Disclaimer, I’m sponsored by Hammer Nutrition. However, I was prepared to write the truth even if it meant putting Hammer in a bad light. Over a phone call with Hammer I also learned that if a supplement that you take is made in a place that produces or mixes DHEA, there is a high chance that that supplement is tainted. DHEA is so fine that even if it’s being used in a closed off room on isolated equipment, it can still get into the ventilation system and contaminate a product all the way across the factory.

Oceanside 2018

Sometimes traithloning is ugly when you get up close. In fact, usually it’s downright disgusting. There’s running shoes soggy with fresh urine, race suits encrusted in salt and snot, and slick legs and arms slathered in a mixture of sunscreen, body oils, Body Glide™, sweat, dirt, Coke, and probably more urine. Somehow, I’ve managed to bring the disgusting to a new visual level with a half dozen mocha gels that temporarily gave the impression that I was a heavy tobacco enthusiast. Behold the ugly:

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“Eating all that poop was a bad choice!”

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll get back to selecting photos that make me look as Blue Steel as possible in my continued pursuit of crafting a glamorous, envy-invoking lifestyle, since that’s what Buddha created social media for.

The Swim

I spent the entire swim worried that I was going to ruin Chris Leiferman’s race. I’ve got a tendency to get in bad swim fights because I have a strong veer to the left that’s hard to control, and because the only thing propelling me through the water is sheer anger that I’m having to swim instead of ride a bike. So whenever anyone tries to take the feet I’m on, or swims right on my shoulder, it usually turns out bad for everyone involved, as the majority of my energy goes into throwing bows. This is why I never like to start out next to anyone that I know. But since I could see Chris throughout the entire swim off to my left or right, I tried to keep out of his way and keep my veering to a minimum.

The swim felt crowded the whole time because, as I found out later, I was in a group of 13–probably the biggest group I’ve swam in. Usually I’m dropped in a group of three or six. I came out in a little over 25 minutes, which I would have been happy with last year, but somehow that’s still three minutes slower than the lead group (of two). There’s a lot more work to do in masters.

The Bike

I managed to come out of T1 a handful of seconds behind Chris and Jesse Thomas, both of whom I knew were strong cyclists. I thought there was a real chance of getting to the front of the race, or close to it, on the bike if the three of us worked together. Unfortunately, Chris flatted at mile two so it was just Jesse and I throughout the next 54 miles.

The Oceanside bike course starts out flat for around 25 miles, then gets nice and hilly for 20 miles, and returns to flat for the final 10. Since Jesse and I were chasing a larger group, at least in the beginning, I think we needed the hills to be at the start of the race. We caught and dropped a few guys during the first half hour but didn’t make any inroads on the second group on the road, which initially contained third through sixth (Matt Franklin, Rudy Von Berg, Tim Reed, and Eric Lagerstrom) before it broke up later in the race. Jan Frodeno and Lionel Sanders were way up the road, each in a race of their own at that point, so catching up to this group or at least a few of these guys was our best bet.

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I hit it fairly hard on the climbs, but made sure Jesse stayed with me throughout that early and middle section of the race. I knew that I needed his help if we were going to catch anyone, and I also didn’t want to do the last 10 miles of flat road alone. A few different options played out in my head before I made this decision though:

1) I go hard and drop Jesse to try and get a gap on him for the run since he’s a faster runner that I am. This option would likely not allow me to catch up to anyone else on the bike, and would tire me out even more for the run.

2) I ride easy and make Jesse pull more so that I’m fresher than him when we get off the bike, giving me a chance at staying with him for the run. This option would maybe mean that some fast runner/slow cyclist would catch me on the run though, and would eliminate the chance of placing better than 7th or 8th.

3) I ride hard but make sure Jesse is with me, then force him to pull all of the flat section back to town, sort of a combination of the two above options. This was the option that I took, and in the end it ensured that I didn’t catch any riders ahead and that Jesse easily dropped me on the run. Oh well.

The Run

As was to be predicted, Jesse passed me easily in the first mile of the run. I attempted to stay with him for a few seconds, but my legs weren’t capable. It was a similar feeling as Bariloche last month, where my legs were dead and I couldn’t force them to go any faster without completely falling apart. I kept looking at my watch, wondering how in the hell I’d managed to become a slower runner than I was last year as the current pace ticked between 6:00 and 6:15 per mile.

By three or four miles, I had been passed by Alex Libin and was running in 9th, one spot out of the money. I tried hard to stay on his feet but there was nothing I could do. A half mile later I decided to force myself to run as hard as I could for at least a mile, but my chest quickly cramped up and I put that idea to rest. My motivation continued to fade and I went into a dark mode of self loathing and hatred for running. A mile later I passed Adelaide and AJ (owner of A2 bikes) when I was at my lowest point, wondering if I should just drop out and walk into the ocean. If I had to guess, I was running close to 6:30 pace at that point, and Oceanside is a super fast run course. Last year I ran 1:16:25, which was around 40 seconds per mile faster than I was currently going.

Then, all of a sudden I noticed that I could push a bit harder. Then a bit harder. I gave a five-year-old, who had his hand stretched out way above his head (like three feet off the ground) a high five as I passed him. Maybe going real slow for a few miles was sort of a re-start. The motivation returned as my legs were finally able to push. I saw Matt Franklin ahead of me as he came my way after a turn around. The gap was only at 40 seconds. I ramped up the pace and felt the anger return. I was finally running below 6:00 pace again, for the time being, and knew that I could catch him in the next few miles.

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The pass happened sooner than that and I was back in 8th, a somewhat salvageable placing if I held onto it. I pushed hard for the next five miles and had a decent negative split for the second half of the race by the time I crossed the finish line. I was still almost three minutes slower than last year here, and only one place better, but with an even more competitive field (and possibly fatigued legs from the big run volume I’d done the week before the race), I guess I can’t be too down on myself. It used to be that when I ran poorly it would be over 90 minutes. Now a bad run is 1:19.

As with bike racing, there’s always someone faster. A lot of people faster. It’s easy to stay humble when you get beaten by over 15 minutes, and when others run by you like you’re on a dog jog. But finding motivation from others, like that five-year-old on the side of the road, is a good option when you’re feeling sub-par. Speaking of inspiration, in his first race in one year of being sick and injured, Chris Leiferman ended up riding that flat tubular for as long as he could, then sat on the side of the road for 80 minutes waiting for a new wheel. He ended up riding hard for the rest of the bike leg, negotiating turns and descents among age groupers that were going half the speed, and finishing the run in a watch time of high 1:15. Next time I think about dropping out, I’ll remember this.

Next up is Wildflower, where Jesse and I can hopefully have another nice bike ride together.

As always, thank you to my amazing sponsors: A-Squared BikesVision TechCUORE of Swiss, and Hammer Nutrition. Hopefully my efforts are worth your support. Also, thank you to everyone cheering, including Adelaide, Abby, AJ, Allen, and everyone else with a first name that starts in A, and other people too.

Bariloche 70.3 Race Report

Getting There

Getting to Bariloche was not easy. In order to make the flight as cheap as possible, it took us 47 hours of travel to get to there (including a night spent in a motel in Miami, so not all of it was traveling). We left our house a little before 7AM on Monday and arrived in Bariloche at 10AM (6AM our time) Wednesday. Adelaide and I spent the first few days walking around town, going on a few death training rides, and doing some easy swims. Since we ended up staying in a hotel with most of the other pros, we got to spend time hanging out with them, which was fun and different than all of my race experiences in the U.S.

Bariloche is nestled at the foothills of the southern Andes in Patagonia. The area is dominated by 205-square-foot lake Nahuel Huapi, with dozens of other large lakes and 7,000-foot snow capped peaks painting a beautiful Bob Ross landscape. The weather was a bit more harsh while we were there, with 20-30 mph gusts, rain, and cool temperatures. 

The town itself is a major tourist destination, specifically for skiing in the winter, but during the other months it’s still packed with people roaming the streets buying chocolate and window shopping. It’s roughly the size of Boulder, at a little over 100,000 people, and like Boulder, it has grown rapidly in the past few years. According to one of our cab drivers, the population has doubled in the last decade, which explains the horrendous traffic situation the town has–hence the “death rides” mentioned earlier.

The Swim

The lake was walled in by forests on either side, with a large cliff encroaching down all the way to the water’s edge out in front of us as we entered the water. At 10AM, the air was still cold, and a slight mist could be seen from our breath. The water was equally chilly, with good visibility and taste, not that I drank it on purpose. It was, by far, the most scenic swim venue I’ve ever seen.

After the start gun went off, as usual I found myself getting dropped from the leaders in the first 200 meters. I thought, so much for improving my swim over the winter, and hoped that my legs would show up for the bike despite it being so early in the season. Eventually I found someone’s feet who I could hang onto, and I sat there for the rest of the swim. At the half way point I felt like it was too easy and contemplated going around him, but thought better of it. I’d most likely go the same speed, but at a higher effort.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the two of us finished in 25:11, almost a minute faster than my best swim last year, and 1:45 down on the leaders.

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This is after what I felt like was an easy swim. What the hell is wrong with me?

The Bike

Most of the lead swimmers put on gloves and arm warmers. The roads were wet and the temperature was only in the mid to upper 40s, and in the process of putting on clothing, they lost 30-40 seconds, to my benefit. Once I was out of T1 and on the bike, I made quick work of the undulating terrain throughout the first part of the bike course. As mentioned before, the roads were wet, and combined with constant climbs and descents around blind corners in a dense forest, I was right at home. I may not have been the most daredevil cyclist, but compared to most triathletes I turn a bike around a corner pretty well.

By seven or eight miles, I had caught everyone except the leader, Torenzo Bozzone, who still had 20 seconds on me. At this point, Igor Amorelli was a few seconds back from me and after I took a long pull, he came around and closed the gap to Torenzo within a mile or two. We quickly formed a cohesive trio, taking fairly even pulls, despite my attempts to take the easier pulls and save my legs since I knew they were both superior runners.

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On my way to the fastest bike split of the day on the Speed Phreak.

After those first 10 miles of fun roller coaster roads, the course straightened and flattened out quite a bit, though it was still somewhat interesting with a few minor rollers here and there. For additional motivation, not that I needed any, there were more spectators out on the roads than any other triathlon that I’ve done.

Half way through the bike course and our lead continued to grow on the first chaser, TJ Tollakson. I felt the first signs of fatigue, but kept taking my turns on the front since no one likes to be thought of as lazy. By now we had doubled back on the course and were passing through age groupers, which slowed us down in the corners and made things a bit dicey at times. I lost contact with Igor and Torenzo with 12 miles to go around a round-a-bout when I got stuck behind a group of other riders, and as I struggled making my way back up to them I realized how tired my legs were getting. So, with 10 miles to go I stopped pulling and “sat on,” if sitting seven bike lengths back can be called sitting on. My normalized power for the day ended up being 326, so nothing crazy but still pretty decent for March.

The Jog

As we came out of T2, Torenzo dropped both of us immediately. Neither of us even tried staying with him for a second. A few minutes later, Igor came around me as my feet and legs refused to wake up. During those first few painful miles I thought of three things: 1) I need to start doing runs off the bike, 2) I need to start running more, and 3) there is no way I’m ever going to do a full distance race.

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Thank you for the picture @pix4uhq!

The wind was bad every day we were in Bariloche, but right beside the lake it was atrocious. Going one direction I had a nice tail wind, but the other it was a consistent 20-mile-an-hour breeze, with gusts close to 30. Up until about mile six I’d been able to limit my gap to Igor to 20-30 seconds. Second place was within striking distance if I held it together. Then all of a sudden my legs fell to pieces. My legs turned from rubber into melted rubber and my pace began to drop. My breathing was no longer labored now that I was slowing, and my heart rate didn’t even feel that high. I’d fueled well during the bike with around 1,200 calories, and had been sipping 30-40 calories from my flask every mile during the run, but I was quickly losing energy, and TJ was closing the gap.

With four miles to go, I had two minutes on TJ, down from 3:50 at the start of the run, and 4:10 a few miles in after initially putting time into him. My legs grew worse and worse, and I battled the 2.5 mile head wind section now believing that I’d get caught. There was no way I could hold him off running close to seven minute miles, and I couldn’t get my legs going any faster. By the final turn around, with 1.5 miles to go, I only had one minute on him. I rallied and pushed the bad thoughts out of my head, forcing myself to believe that I was safe from being caught and that as long as I nailed the next mile I wouldn’t even have to run hard for the last half mile–a little reward for myself later if I ran as hard as I could now.

That thought process, combined with the tail wind, helped get me through that next mile. I turned a corner to run uphill towards the center of town, looked back, and saw TJ just 20 seconds behind. Fuck. This was going to hurt. I’d used up almost everything in that previous mile, but had had another 800 meters of headwind through the city center to get through.

I powered on, each step growing more angry at the thought of being passed, and more self-assured that there was no possible way that I could be caught. I fell across the line with a 17 second lead on TJ, and immediately collapsed on the ground, equally mentally exhausted as physically, since I’d been cracked for the last six miles straight. I’d believe I would be caught, get content with 4th, then a moment later become resolutely devout in the belief that I’d hold TJ off, then second guess myself again 300 meters later. Back and forth all the way to the line. Not the best mental strategy, I know.

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114_m-100807939-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2149_080303-15138733147_m-100807939-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2149_080336-15138766Igor on the left, myself on the right, and Torenzo in the center. A week later Torenzo made it an incredible three in a row after winning Ironman New Zealand, Bariloche, and Campeche in a 15-day period.

After recovering and finally getting to be part of the podium ceremony, I headed down to watch Adelaide race. She finished 5th, which was her first time making money in triathlon. It was enough to pay for her plane ticket, or our taxes, or her new race wheels and E-tap, or all of the above depending on our level of excitement.

Before the race as we prepared in T1, Adelaide told me that I was going to come in top three and she was going to make money. If either one of those things had happened, it would have been a huge success, so the fact that both did meant it was double plus good. We spent the next few days in Bariloche doing tourist stuff and soaking in our accomplishments. Neither of us could have realistically hoped for a better start to the year. Thank you to my sponsors A-Squared BikesVision TechCUORE of Swiss, and Hammer Nutrition. Also, thank you to my coach Chris Winn, as well as Matt and Nora, and Joss and Galen for watching Maybellene while we were gone.

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The nightly chocolate ration grew by 25% each day.

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The view from the cafe at the top of Cerro Campanario

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You take a chairlift up and down to the cafe. Our legs didn’t complain.

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There are plenty of old stray dogs to pet in Bariloche, and very few went un-petted.

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Hiking on our last day. We were advised not to go on the trail because of strong winds that could cause trees to fall over.

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We took this sign to say, “Don’t get an erection because it will cause you to lose your balance and fall off a cliff.”

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Chow.

Training Leading up to Los Cabos

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog about training. My performance at Los Cabos was nothing spectacular due in part to my breathing issues, but since it’s now the off season and I have more time to write, the training leading up to the race might be interesting to some. So here goes. First, a bit on the summer leading up to this final training block:

After injuring my sacrum at Raleigh 70.3 in early June, I had a fairly poor June and July of training. I wasn’t able to run for nearly two months and I had to cut back on swimming and riding for a number of weeks as well due to the injury. Finally, when I was able to race again I was too eager to race, and made the mistake of doing Boulder 70.3 and Steelhead 70.3 back to back. I had shitty performances at both. With all the tapering, traveling, and recovering, plus a week visiting my parents in Oregon, my form was shot once again by the end of August. Needless to say, Santa Cruz in early September did not go well, especially since I got sick a week before it. Having a DNF there after a summer of injury and bad races nearly ate up the rest of my motivation for the season. Then to add insult to injury I got sick again the night after Santa Cruz. I decided to take a week very easy after I recovered from the latest bout of illness to refresh my mental and emotional selves, then get back to work for the remainder of the season. That left my coach Chris Winn seven weeks to work with until Los Cabos.

At this late point in the season I wasn’t eager to rack up large hours, and for a professional triathlete I tend to train on the lower end of the volume spectrum to begin with. For one, I get sick when I train too many hours. It may sound like I was sick all summer long, but starting from the beginning of this season 52 weeks ago, I was only sick for a total of 3.5 weeks the whole year, meaning that I definitely didn’t overtrain this year. Secondly, I lose motivation when I do too many hours, quality drops, and I fall behind at work. I enjoy harder efforts anyways, and for now the shorter hours seem to be working.

I averaged 20 hours per week for six weeks leading up to Los Cabos, with the seventh week (race week) at just 12 hours since I like a nice taper. In fact, I began tapering the week before that, so it was really a 5.5 week hard block with the largest week at 23 hours and the shortest at 14 (by accident since I missed two long workouts that week due to life). I followed a similar pattern each week, which usually went something as follows:

Monday: Rest day, so usually some commuting on the bike to the pool/grocery store and a 4,000 to 4,5000 meter masters workout.

Tuesday: Morning Boulder Track Club group run. This would usually entail about four miles of intensity at 5:00 to 5:50 mile pace, and around 9 to 11 miles total for an 80 minute workout. I’d generally follow this up with a 2K easy swim later in the day.

Wednesday: 2-2.5 hours on the bike with intervals. A typical set of intervals would be 3-4×20 minutes at sweet spot, or possibly 2×20 minutes at threshold. Later into the training block I did more VO2 and zone 6. Usually these rides were scheduled for three hours, but in order to make noon masters on time I almost always cut them to 2-2.5 hours since I rarely make it out the door for a ride before 9. Next would be masters, which is usually a hard workout and a total of 4,000 to 4,800 meters.

Thursday: 3-4 hour ride, typically with at least some sort of intervals. Sometimes it would be 90 minutes of tempo, other days it might be up to 90 minutes of sweet spot, which is a hard workout.

Friday: Another Boulder Track Club morning group run with around 3-4 miles of intensity and 9 to 11 total, followed by noon masters, again 4 to 4.8K in length.

Saturday: Morning masters, 4-5K in length with more of an endurance focus, then a 3-5 hour endurance ride. Sometimes this ride would have intervals as well depending on what Wednesday and Thursday were like.

Sunday: Long endurance run (13 to 17 miles) followed by an easy 2-3K in the pool.

(I commuted on the bike a few hours each week as well, though I only include about a third of those hours in my totals since they’re easy and short efforts).

No two weeks were identical by any means, but I do like to get into a steady routine. I seemed to adapt well to this type of training and structure. However, my cardiovascular fitness seems to have surpassed by body. Like last year, I suffered from back injuries, hip injuries, and most plaguing of all, my damaged intercostal issue. They all stem from bad technique, stiffness, and imbalances. Hopefully, strength and mobility training will take care of most of those injuries. Looking at my training above, I neglected to include strength and mobility entirely (I did it through the winter and spring, then stopped in early summer).

Areas to Focus on Next Year

My biggest issue right now is my chest. Improper chest-dominant breathing, which I’ve done for a decade at this point, may be responsible for straining my intercostal muscles. I have abnormally large lungs (7.3 liters but who’s counting), which have helped me get away with this poor breathing technique all these years. Loosening up my chest and back, stretching and training my body to ‘breath correctly,’ and then strengthening my core may help solve that problem. Next, weak glutes are failing me on the run and late into the bike, so I need to fix that issue as well. Finally, I drag the lower half of my body like an anchor. I need to invest more time and energy fixing my stroke.

Throw in two or three hours in the gym and another 90 minutes in the pool and I guess I’ll be hitting 24-26 hours per week like everyone else. Maybe doing more with less isn’t possible in this sport after all, because if you slack on training within any of the three sports, you get dropped; if you slack on mobility/strength, you get injured; if you slack on sleep or recovery you get sick or burned out; and if you slack on your wife and dog you sleep on the couch (metaphorically that is. I would never be able to actually fall asleep on our couch. I’m way too fragile for that). I work from home and only part time and there still aren’t enough hours in the day. This sport is bullshit!

Los Cabos 70.3 Race Report

The Swim

 

My right goggle only filled part way with warm, salty sea water after diving, which was an improvement over the other two beach starts I’ve done this year. I veered left, then right before finding a pair of feet to sit on. After the first turn buoy, about 300 meters out, I bullied someone out of the way so I could get the first pair of feet in the group, an unnecessary maneuver but I thought it was wise nonetheless. As the saying goes, “The best form of defense is to drown someone else.” Right?

About half way through the swim I began developing a painful chest cramp on my right side. “Shit, it’s way too early for this to start happening,” I thought.  I focused on pulling in air with my stomach and only breathing on the right side, to let that half of my torso take a break from having to brace when I breathed to the left. The cramp subsided five or six minutes later, only to start up again on the left side. At this point I decided to say fuck it, and went around the guy leading at the last turn buoy. Maybe I just needed to blow it all out and it would go away once and for all.

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I came onto land 11th out of the water after putting in half a minute to my previous group behind, with a time of 27:41. Slightly better than last year here, but still over three minutes down on the leaders, most of whom were strong cyclists. I had some serious work to do.

The Bike

My legs were good early on but not terrific. My chest was in fine shape though, which was the most important thing. A mile or two in, hoping that I would see a large group up the road, I could see just one guy, and I realized that I was farther back in the swim than I’d hoped. No matter. I’d seen some pretty good gains on the bike and run in the past month and was ready to put them to good use.

Three or four miles in, I realized that my bars and steering felt strange. Suddenly I noticed, while looking down at the road through my bars, that my wheel was poking out to the right of my right aero bar. They were incredibly crooked. Fuck. I pulled up on them and found out that my headset was loose too. Double fuck. I’d failed to tighten the stem and the headset while building my bike, most likely in my haste to figure out how to come up with a solution to secure Adelaide’s seat post (we forget the seat post binder). Read her blog here.

I let out a few top of the lung profanities believing that my day was done. Two months of quality training down the drain. There’s no way I was going to be able to do the ride with my steering that loose. Images of myself flying over the front end flashed in my mind. Years ago at a training camp I’d sprinted out of the parking lot as a joke and hopped over a speed bump; my steer tube broke off and I’d spent a split second with my bars in my hands, thinking, “well shit this isn’t right,” before I was on the pavement. That was at 20 miles per hour. Crashing on one of these rolling descents would be at 40 miles per hour.

My coach, Chris Winn, has been giving me tips on mental fortitude lately, and the importance of mind over body. The previous day I’d written out a few paragraphs detailing my process goals and what to do if something went wrong. While “serious mechanical issue” wasn’t on my list, I was somewhat more prepared to deal with this fiasco than I would have been otherwise.

I stopped at the crest of a hill, pushed my bars back into place, and carried on, ready to wave down the next motorcyclist I saw who might have an allen wrench on him/her. I pushed conservatively hard for the next half hour and still hadn’t been able to get an allen wrench from anyone. I’d been passing guys along the way and was just about to come up on 6th place before I decided that I had to stop again. My bars were way out of alignment, and I had a fast, long descent coming up. I repeated the process from before, and jammed my bars into alignment before starting up again.

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I was taking corners like a bulldozer, sitting up high so I could see bumps and cracks, and going slower than normal on any fast section, just in case my bars suddenly fell off or went sideways, but I was making progress regardless. I was back into 6th place and minutes ahead of anyone behind. Seeing how far off the top five I was, my new goal became to hold onto 6th.

By mile 40 my glutes began seizing up something fierce. I’d been refraining from standing out of the saddle, since standing made my bars go sideways even worse, and my glutes were feeling the affects of staying seated for so long.

With 20 or 30 minutes to go, disaster struck (sort of). The chest cramps came back full force. I attempted to push through, but that only made the stabbing pain even more severe, and my lungs started closing down. I have no idea what’s causing this, other than tight chest and rib muscles, and I don’t know how to fix it. It’s the single greatest thing holding me back currently, though it usually doesn’t strike on the bike, just the swim and run.

I had to sit up and pedal at zone two on the last climb, then took a wrong turn on the descent where there was a serious lack of course markings. At the base of the descent I had to cut back over through an intersection and I duck under some tape that a volunteer held up for me, hoping that my bars wouldn’t come off going over a small lip in the pavement. They held on, but I’d lost another half minute or more. I came into T2 with around a 30 second lead on 7th place, which had been 2.5 minutes just 10 miles before.

The Run

Pain. 90 percent of doing well in triathlon, or any endurance sport for that matter, is pain tolerance. Plagued with my mysterious chest cramps from mile zero of the run, I kept the effort at just below intolerable for the entire 1:20:53 that it would take for me to finish the course.

I got passed at mile one by 7th place, Alan Carillo Avila. I picked up the pace a bit and tried to keep him within striking distance. A mile or so later he’d only pulled out nine seconds and I was holding him there. When I’d first started the run my chest cramp was so bad that I would have been happy with 8th, the last paying place. But my goal changed back to 6th at mile two when I saw that I might be able to beat him as long as I paced myself well and didn’t push the chest cramp so far that it caused my lungs to seize up. I passed him back at mile 3.5 and kept the pace on.

Half way into the run, soaking wet from sweat and buckets-worth of water that I’d poured on myself, I saw that Robbie Deckard, who’d been 8th, was making a pass on Avila and coming on strong. Both of them were around 50-40 seconds back at the time. (The Los Cabos run course has a ton of out and backs, so you can easily keep tabs on where people are). I calculated that in the past few miles Deckard was running at least five seconds per mile faster than me, if not more. If I could hold him off from passing me until two miles to go, I thought I’d have a good shot at staying on his feet and out sprinting him in the last quarter mile, if that’s what it came down to. At this point I was willing to come close to death in order to not get beaten. I increased my cadence and upped my pace as much as I could, which was probably just keeping the pace the same, but still an improvement over the slow decline that usually happens in the last half of the run.

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By mile 9.5 I saw that I’d extended my lead to over a minute and knew that I had it. Only in the last 1.5 miles did I begin to feel the effort in my legs. Before that, the limiting factor had been the stabbing chest cramps, which were on both sides of my chest throughout the run. What the hell is wrong with me?!

I continued running scared and kept the pace high enough to eek out a few more seconds, just in case Robbie came out of nowhere in the last half mile. I crossed the line and the pain was finally over. I drank a gallon each of water and Gatorade in the next hour and lounged in the kiddie pool, waiting for Adelaide to finish her own slog through the heat and pain of Los Cabos.

Thank you to A-Squared Bikes, Vision Tech wheels and components, CUORE of Swiss clothing, and Hammer Nutrition. I’m incredibly fortunate to have such great support from these companies, and even more fortunate to be able to live this life. No thank you to my mechanics skills and my damn chest/rib muscles!

Thoughts

6th was not what I wanted out of this race, but given the talent in the field and the obstacles that I had to overcome (both mechanical and physical), I’m content. In order to break through to the next level I need to figure out what’s causing these lung cramps, as well as knock off another minute on my swim. If anyone has any idea why I’m getting these debilitating cramps, I’d like to hear your hypothesis. A little information on them:

  • They’re not side stitches. They’re up in my rib cage, usually lower to mid rib cage.
  • They’re not caused by too much food or too little salt. I’ve played around with both of those factors and they have nothing to do with it.
  • I have regular old asthma and take an inhaler, though it doesn’t seem to do anything for these cramps. I feel like the failing body part in this case is the muscles within the ribs and the intercostals, not the lungs themselves.
  • I never had these cramps as a cyclist. Not once. I believe that they’re caused from swimming and made worse during running.
  • I already belly breath, though maybe I need to do more.

Adelaide and I stayed in Los Cabos until Wednesday, surfing, playing in the ocean, sitting on the beach, eating nachos, and drinking margaritas and piña coladas at Zippers. If you haven’t raced it, I highly suggest this one. It’s a tough course, but San Jose del Cabo is awesome.

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Weight Loss for Vain Triathletes

I wasn’t fully aware of it until recently, but triathletes have the same vain and usually unproductive relationship with being lean that cyclists have. Maybe not quite to the same degree, but it’s certainly a thing, and probably more so for women than men.

For triathlon, there’s not nearly as much reason to get super light as there is in cycling. Even the hilliest triathlons are pancake flat when it comes to comparing them to most non-crit bike races, and the only reason to be light on the bike is for the climbs. Statistically, bigger triathletes do better on the bike than smaller ones. None of the best guys on the bike are sub 155. For swimming, having extra weight doesn’t hurt you at all either. Running is really the only one of the three disciplines that extra weight will weigh you down, since running is purely power to weight, whereas swimming is mainly technique and cycling is mainly power to drag surface area. However, even having extra muscle on the run isn’t necessarily a bad thing since that muscle meant you didn’t have to dig as hard on the bike, and will help hold you together deep into the race.

Training is hard. Losing weight makes training harder, which begs the question of whether or not it’s worth it to lose weight. In my humble and always 100 percent correct opinion, getting super lean should not be a priority for most triathletes. If you aren’t classified as ‘overweight,’ focusing on weight loss will most likely lead to decreased performance, decreased motivation, and decreased sex drive, all three of which lead to increased depression and burnout. I think the only reasons that anyone should really try to lose weight is if they’re:

1) Already a pro who has been racing and training at a high level for many years, they haven’t naturally leaned out during those years, and they won’t see any gains simply with more seasons under their belt or better training; and
2) Triathletes who are actually classified as overweight.

With that said, these are the techniques that I’ve used in the past to get down to race weight. I can’t remember if I already did a blog about this; if I have it’s been a while.

First, let’s look at the pros and cons of attempting to get “shredded,” as the kids say:

Pros (assuming everything goes perfectly):

You’ll…

  • Run faster
  • Go uphill slightly faster
  • Race better in the heat
  • Be able to look down on people who aren’t as lean as you

Cons

You’ll…

  • Get sick more often
  • Get overtrained easier
  • Face burnout more often
  • Be angrier
  • Possibly lose power on the bike
  • Get injured more often
  • Not have as much energy for high quality training
  • Piss everyone off who lives with you
  • Have a much, much worse life

Okay, now onto the basics for getting that sexy Week 14 holocaust look that everyone’s talking about.

The first rule is that there are many rules. And if you break even one of them you’ll fail at the whole endeavor. Just kidding, there’s only one rule, which is that you have to go to bed hungry. Not starving hungry, but hungry enough to only be thinking about food and nothing else. To achieve this, in the past I’ve used the following methods:

  • Counted calories consumed and calories burned. Counting calories isn’t very accurate, but it gives you an idea of how much you’re eating and where you can cut things out. I always aimed at cutting 500 calories per day, though it was probably more like 200 per day when things get evened out throughout the weeks or months.
  • Eaten a large breakfast, plenty during training and up to one hour afterwards, and a very small dinner.
  • Adhered to a rule of no food past 7PM, assuming lights out are at 10PM. You can push that rule back to 6:30 eventually, and sometimes as far back as 6PM (or no food for four hours before bed time). Dinner should be a stir fry of spicy peppers and chicken breast, maybe with broccoli, chard, or kale. Or, it can be some sort of spicy vegetable and chicken soup. Once you really start getting serious, especially if you had a larger, late post-workout meal, try making some homemade pico d’gallo and crushing a large handful of tortilla chips in. Bon appetite.

Dieting needs to be consistent, as in throughout months, not a week here and a week there. The best time to lose weight is during the winter, as far as possible from race season (if you’re already lean, do the opposite–get fat during the fall and winter and burn it off in the spring). Anyways, in order to be consistent, you can’t be too hard core about always dieting every day of the week. Once a week shouldn’t be a “cheat” day, but more of a normal amount of food day.

Foods to eat a lot of include all vegetables and fruit, coconut oil and milk, lean meat, beans, squash, tubers, eggs, and fish. Nuts, red or fatty meat (aside from fatty fish), all dairy, bread, tortillas, rice, cereal, and other high dense foods should only be eaten at certain times for recovery, or be minimized to some degree, especially the ones that don’t serve a purpose like ice cream, cheese, and alcohol. You can see why dieting will make you slower, since rice, bread, pasta, chips, and the like are the key to refueling glycogen.

Once you’ve half starved yourself for about five or six years you won’t have to worry about dieting anymore, since it takes that many years for the body to get used to being a certain body fat percentage. That’s all it takes! Just half a decade or so. The same goes for muscle mass. Elite athletes, after training many years, have great difficulty building muscle.

Weight loss techniques that I’ve tried and didn’t like or found to be too detrimental to performance:

  • Cutting out all animal products (great for the world but not beneficial for recovery). My goal throughout all my years of starvation was to lose muscle mass since I was top heavy from rowing and climbing. I thought being vegan would help accomplish this. I didn’t last long before getting a cold. Years later I tried doing a meat-reduced diet, which did seem to help lose muscle a bit.
  • Going on a walk or easy run before breakfast.
  • Doing a long ride without breakfast.
  • Riding long rides with little to no food.
  • Low carb diets. If you’re focused on losing weight, the only time you should minimize carbs is during dinner. For everyone else, carbs should be eaten all the time. Adelaide and I might be known for just having salad every night for dinner, but that doesn’t include dessert or dinner number two.

I hope this helps you achieve your weight loss and/or mononucleosis goals!

Santa Cruz 70.3 Fuck Up

The parking situation at Santa Cruz 70.3 is a fucking nightmare. After getting booted from one $5 all day parking lot, which for some reason was for residents only (why do residents have to pay to park in their own parking lot?), I was beginning to run short on time. Endless circling for a spot with 1,000 other vehicles on the same road quickly ate into the early dark hours of the morning, and I no longer had time to head to the parking lot I knew about from last year. I decided to risk it and park in a secret, and most likely illegal, dirt area, right next to transition. I pulled in and assumed that the next time I saw my rental it would have an actual boot on it or it would simply be gone, impounded somewhere. No time to think about that.

Next fiasco was forgetting my pump and my water bottles at my host house. I struggled with the pumps on hand, which were even worse than my own 19-year-old pump, but managed to curse enough air in to get to 200 psi in the front, 22 in the back–my preferred racing pressures. After that, I spent another 10 minutes having the mechanics move out my rear wheel limit screws because I thought my wheel was rubbing on my frame. Turned out just to be the little rubber bits from the artificial soccer turf, but I didn’t put that together until the afternoon.

Finally, with very little time to spare, I ran three laps of the soccer field looking for the god damn water, found a gallon jug and ran off with it to the beach, sweating bullets from anxiety of missing the start, which was just 20 minutes off at this point.

I had no time for the porta potty line, so grabbed some napkins and ditched behind a tree to shit out a huge cow-patty of mostly undigested salsa and salad from the night before. I did a poor job wiping but got most of it on the napkins. No time to fret about a little pooh thumb. From there I ran quickly to the beach start, which was conveniently only one and a half miles away from transition. When I got there, drenched in sweat, I dove in for a quick warm up, and the water actually felt refreshing, not ice-cream-headache-cold. Unusual for a before-light swim on the Pacific coast.

Back on the beach I learned that the start had been delayed. The fog rolled in heavily, hiding the second swim buoy from sight, which was the cause of the delay. My hopes rose with each passing minute that they might cancel the swim entirely. On top of the swim being my worst discipline, I’d injured my shoulder a few days ago and had been in panic mode ever since, icing, heating, getting a massage, taking aspirin, and rubbing various ointments on it for two days hoping that the pain would go away.

The start was delayed in 10 minute increments for about half an hour until, without any notice, everyone began walking north, which is really west since Santa Cruz is in a cove, but it felt like north. Anyways, three thousand people and seventeen tons of wetsuits began making their way to the new swim start, which was a mere 750 meters. Score! Heck yeah!

20 minutes later, the gun went off and 25 of us leaped forward, sprinted towards the eerily 68-degree warm water, and dove in for a pleasantly short but chaotic swim.

I came out of the water in 16th, stopped to put on my first pair of running shoes for the nearly kilometer run to transition, and continued on. Once in my safe place (on the bike) I settled in at a comfortable pace for the first five minutes, hoping to avoid the debilitating quad and glute cramps that I’ve been getting at the start of the bike leg in other races this year.

The fog was too thick to see out of my visor, so I rode with my helmet propped awkwardly on top of my head like a third-world woman balancing a pot of water, passing through groups quickly and gaining confidence that the leg cramps wouldn’t happen. Once onto Highway 1, I tried to find the right balance of not getting hit by a car but also being close enough to use the passing traffic’s draft to my advantage.

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Passing mile 10!

I felt good. I’d lost over a minute to the leaders in the swim/long transition, but was catching guys like they were standing still going just slightly less fast than me. My power was decent, averaging 346 for the first half hour, which eventually put me in 5th place at about 23 miles. But with cars constantly going by a few feet away and my blinding goal of making up as much ground as possible on the leaders, I neglected to eat very much during that first hour, or anything at all in the first half hour. I’d also left my two water bottles, as previously mentioned, each with 180 calories in them, back in the fridge that morning. I had grabbed an age grouper’s water bottles off their bike and put them on mine earlier but they just had water in them, no mix.

That’s a joke…or is it?

Yes, it is.

By the turn around, I was sitting in 5th place, maybe 50 meters in front of a group of five or six guys who I’d been trying to drop, without success because there were a few ‘ballers’ in there. We were about a minute back on second through fourth. A few minutes later I eased up and let another guy take the lead, someone named Tim McDonald? (never heard of him).

I figured I needed to break away from this group for good since I didn’t stand a chance at outrunning most of them, but needed a bit of rest and a hill to make that happen. I sat and bided my time. A few miles later I dropped back to third in line, letting Cody Beals go ahead, hoping that I’d get a bit more draft back further in line. But instead of feeling better I steadily lost power over the next half hour, feeling worse and worse. Usually I feel better as the bike goes on, at least in comparison to the guys I’m riding around. I gulped down a heavily caffeinated gel and another 200 calories of chews. It wasn’t a bonk, but was certainly a deficit of glycogen that was quickly taking its toll. I lost another position in line.

I’d been struggling severely to stay in the group for about 20 minutes now at mile 50ish, putting myself in a big hole for the run, but refusing to drop off. Then all of a sudden I simply popped. With around six miles to go I fell off the back of that five-man group and quickly lost two minutes to them in just six miles. They went on to virtually catch onto the heals of the lead group, minus Andi Bocherer who was minutes up ahead but dropped out on the run. Meanwhile, I contemplated riding head on into traffic.

My average had plummeted from a healthy 333 for the first 90 minutes to an eventual 308 by the end of the bike. I slammed the rest of my food as I pedaled zone two into town. Coming off the bike I ate two gels I had in transition, then two more in the first snack station for a total of 400 calories of gels, but it was too late. I was out of glycogen and had nothing left in my legs other than old rubber bands. I got passed by another guy at mile two and was put into 11th. The race only paid six deep despite the stacked field. I continued on for a while, battling with myself to keep going in case my legs came around. I ended up pulling out a little less under four miles, not wanting to do another 13 mile slog of shame like I did at Boulder and Steelhead. It just didn’t seem worth it so I quit like a quitting quitter because I’m a little weak limp dick bitch.

I’m not one to mess up a race due to poor nutrition, but I did it. Mission accomplished I guess. In my glycogen stores’ defense, I had also gotten sick a week before the race, and apparently wasn’t fully over it because I woke up at 2AM the night after the race with a fever, clogged nose, and phlegmy cough once again. All in all, I blew my shot at the podium of a swim-shortened race. Next up is Los Cabos. I have two months of uninterrupted training to prepare (once I’m not sick anymore), and I have a good feeling about this one. Until then, I’ll be carb loading. Every. Day.

I didn’t go surfing after the race like last year because of my shoulder injury, but the good take away was spending time with Kent and Eric, two family friends that I’ve had since I was a child.

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Thank you to my sponsors! A-Squared Bikes, Cuore of Switzerland, Vision Components, and Hammer Nutrition for making all of this possible.

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No Point to This

I sit here with a scratchy throat, clogged sinuses, and swollen eyes. The summer sickness has taken hold at last, though much later than it normally does. Usually I get sick in June, and again sometime in early August. I made it to September this time. An improvement. Always looking for improvements, which is the main point in athletics. If you aren’t growing, you’re dying, which is the same self-destructive mantra that capitalism, and the entire human race, repeats to itself over and over again as it cries itself to sleep at night.

Last night I got little sleep. My shoulder ached from swimming too many days back to back. My throat was a raw wound being scrubbed vigorously by a loofa-brush-armed obsessive compulsive. One stroke, two stroke, three stroke, four. Repeat. Till it’s bleeding, red, and pustulated. When you’re sick you need rest and water. That’s it. But with too much water and you’re up peeing all night. Acetaminophen helps with the aching throat, to bolster sleep, but pain killers reduces the pyrogen-initiated fever–the body’s own defense against the invading infection. Everything cancels everything else out. Nothing matters. We should all just take on a state of indifference, of nothingness, of sitting quietly in a darkened room without thought or action. A world of fully enlightened Budhist monks, so content with their suffering that they’re content with the human race abruptly coming to an end in two weeks due to dehydration because no one bothers to address their parched throat, dry, crackling, scrubbed raw and dry as beef jerky. Voluntary death by dehydration takes a week or more. Things that I have never gone without for even 24 hours:

  • Liquid
  • Human contact (seeing or talking to another person)
  • Thinking about something impossible (maybe as a baby I did, though I don’t have any real proof that I ever was a baby)

Believing in made up things is what separates us from other animals, not our brain power, ability to use tools, or compassion for loved ones. A dog might not know why it rains,  but it doesn’t create fictions to come up with an answer for him or herself. A sick dog doesn’t think about pyrogen either. Or worry about missing a race due to sickness.

Okay that’s enough of this. I sat down to write without any idea what I’d write about, and this is what came out. I’m off to the store to buy chicken soup ingredients and two large bottles of generic Nyquil.

Middle Ground

The blowing snow no longer stung the man’s face, which had gone numb from frost bite. He trudged forward, or staggered sideways, despite the increasing futility of the effort. He was going to die soon and he knew it.

He fell over with increasing frequency, potholing up to his crotch during a whiteout blizzard while crossing through a desolate pine forest. Earlier that day it had been chilly but bright, perfect for a 20-mile cross country ski, but the weather had come in too fast and the temperature had plummeted along with it. He’d been forced to abandon his skis half an hour ago when he’d gone off the track and into a half-frozen creek, snapping his left ski in two and severely spraining his ankle. Shortly after that, taking a short cut back home became the only option if he was going to make it in time before he froze to death, or at least that’s what he’d come to believe during the drunken stupor that hypothermia had put him in. His heart rate was slowing, blood vessels were restricting their flow to his extremities, and he felt a weakness that he had never experienced before.

Maybe taking on such an ambitious trek had been too much, too soon, given his unfamiliarity with his surroundings and the climate. The trail system up here was extensive and he’d only just moved to town a few weeks ago. The man had become fed up with the four-person company that he had been with for more than a decade, a marketing firm that, in his opinion, had broken its own ethical code of conduct. The owner argued that by doing business with a local bank, they would be able to avoid shutting down and could continue taking on environmental clients. These had never paid well, but had been what the small company was built upon—bringing awareness to clear cutting, mining, and other polluters within the region through grass-roots funded donations. The problem was that this particular bank had been a small time investor in some of the very companies that the firm had created campaigns against in the past. It was too much for the man to take, so he quit. And moved. He dealt in black and white. Good and evil. And this, in his opinion, was crossing the line, even if the end result may have been a “positive,” according to his former boss.

He forced any regrets out of his mind and continued on the task at hand: delaying death for another 10 steps. And then another 10 steps. And another. And suddenly his foot went through a layer of ice and straight up to the knee in near-freezing water. He pulled it out as quickly as possible and would have cursed, but his lips were far too numb to move in any coordinated fashion. This would be the end now. He wasn’t dressed for this weather, having donned just a pair of tights, a long sleeve thermal, gloves, and a light jacket earlier that morning. A soaking wet shoe and leg would put a quick end to him. Then he noticed something odd. Was that steam?

Heavy snow blew sideways and mixed with intense billows of steam that came up from a small pool of water, just six feet across. The man realized that he had not stepped through a layer of ice into a hidden creek. This was a hot spring. This was a hallucination. It had to be. He had read about this sort of thing before, though it seemed incredibly real. Of course it would. His mind needed to believe, though he wasn’t convinced. This was worth testing. If he was having this intense of a hallucination, still miles from home, he would be dead anyways in a few minutes. He  indulged himself in the pointless experiment and dipped his already-wet leg, calf-deep, back in and left it there for a moment. It was warm. He couldn’t feel his foot at all, but the warmth quickly crept up his leg. And burned. Fuck. It was hot.

The man yanked his foot out quickly in reaction to the searing heat of the small pool. He was immediately convinced that this was no hallucination, and the sudden jolt of hope spurred a surge of adrenaline and clairvoyance. A fog lifted from his eyes as he stared into the steam of the near-boiling pool of life in front of him. He was saved. But the heat of the pool. Was it too much?

He stuck his foot in again, this time determined to keep it in longer and let it adjust to the heat. Numb fingers and toes always ached with intense pain when put under a hot, or even lukewarm, shower. Of course this would be painful.

He counted. One. Two. Three. FUCK. He screamed in agony and withdrew his leg from the water. It may not have been boiling, but it felt close. His calf screamed in pain as he fell back and dug his leg into the snow beside the pool. For a brief instant the man imagined the irony of second degree burns and frost bite on the same limb, then an overpowering sense of dread took hold. His hope was crushed as quickly as it had been created. Now he would die. He had no energy to press on.

It took him longer than it would have if he had been thinking clearly, but a few moments later he came up with it. Cool the hot spring down. Pile in some snow. The idea jerked the man to his hands and knees, and pushed him to his feet. He began grabbing armloads of snow and flinging it into the pool. Arm load after arm load. He pushed the snow around the edge of the pool in with his feet, and continued grabbing more and more snow as fast as he could. It was light, powdery stuff, and hard to get a hold of. This wasn’t going fast enough, and the snow here wasn’t as thick as the stuff he had been post holing through earlier. Another brilliant though came into his mind, though it required taking off his jacket.

With great difficulty, he got his jacket off by pinching the zipper with his thumb and forefinger together like a lobster, and biting the cuff with his mouth. He laid it out on the ground and piled snow on, shivering with even more ferocity than before. He grabbed up the jacket by the corners and emptied its contents into the pool. He carried out this process again and again, until he felt that he could do no more. It had to be enough.

He cautiously dipped his leg in. It burned, but with less intensity than before. He dipped the other leg in and slowly let his entire body slide into the water. The heat was almost unbearable. Almost. He forced himself to stay in. He sat on his butt with his legs extended out in front of him, using every morsel of will power to stay seated. The pool was only a few feet deep. His whimpers of pain had been muffled for the last few minutes, but now he let out a screeching, high pitched wail. At last, he pulled himself out back onto the snowy bank.

He curled into a ball on his side, knees to his chin, arms wrapped around, writhing in pain from his blistered and peeling lower half and still shivering uncontrollably from hypothermia. The snow still came down heavily, blowing sideways and sucking every bit of acquired warmth away from the man’s steaming legs. After a few moments, he regained control and rolled over towards the spring. He cupped his hands into the water and released it over his head. This was bearable at least. He repeated the process dozens of times, thoroughly soaking his upper half though not adding any real warmth to his system. The wind cut into him with deadly intentions, and soon he was having trouble using his arms with any real coordination. If he was going to survive, he would have to get back into the hot spring.

In his last few moments of consciousness, the man slid back into the spring. He knew that being rapidly re-warmed like that could kill him instantly, but there was no other option. The pain came rushing back and with considerable effort, he rotated back onto the bank, laying on his stomach with his legs still splayed out in the near-boiling liquid. He crawled forward, out of the water, rested there a minute, and pushed himself backwards into it again up to his waist. He would repeat this process three more times before blacking out.

The snow fell quietly now, days after the storm had subsided; the wind had vanished, leaving the forest and the still man in solitude. His lower half remained submerged in the shallow steaming pool while his upper half was sprawled onto the bank face down. The skin had bubbled off from below his waist and the meat of his legs was cooked through. It could have been shredded with a fork like pulled pork. From his chest up, he was frozen solid. But somewhere in the middle, in the pit of his stomach, it was neither too hot nor too cold. It was a perfect 98.6 degrees. A comfortable gray area. 

 

 

A2 Speed Phreak Review

Probably the most important thing you need to know about the Speed Phreak is that the bike company, A2, is not called A-two. It’s A-Squared. I know that this is confusing because the A and the 2 are on the same level, but figuring out how to type the squared symbol using alt, ctrl, +, shift, etc is impossible.

Mission Statement of the Company

The primary goal of A² founder AJ Alley was to create a triathlon bike that was both inexpensive and gets the job done. This means that speed, handling, and esthetics couldn’t be neglected. How is this feasible you ask? Is A² merely a laundering front for an Oregon soccer gambling ring? Possibly. No, AJ was able to keep the price low and the quality high by already having established contacts in Taiwan as a wee child, knowing Mandarin, and doing other business stuff. But you don’t care about business stuff. You care about your bike getting down to business. Am I right or am I right.

Cornering, Descending, and Overall Handling

I’m not going to start off with the aero benefits of the frame (I’ll save that for later), because as everyone knows, the aero-ness of the frame is the least important part of going fast. The most important aspect of riding fast over a one to six hour bike split is being able to maintain a comfortable yet aerodynamic position. This requires being confident in the aerobars riding over rough pavement, cornering without losing speed due to a sloppy front end, and bombing descents with ease because the bike doesn’t get speed wobbles. Being comfortable on the bike means not losing energy due to clenching up or grabbing the base bars whenever a cross wind hits or you have to make a pass around another racer. The Speed Phreak excels in all of these criteria and exudes confidence because of smart yet simplistic geometry.

 

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Aero Stuff

A lot of tri bikes, even much more expensive tri bikes, feel like sails in the wind, not blades. Much of that comes from incredibly wide tubing, which isn’t necessarily good for a triathlon, given the relatively slow speed that even the fastest men and women go. The more surface area on the frame, the more you get pushed around when the wind isn’t directly head on or behind you, which is virtually all the time–the wind is usually coming at an angle. The Speed Phreak uses deep tubing where it needs it (at the front end and at the down tube wheel cut out) and avoids piling on unnecessary carbon, that adds weight and drag. This, in turn, helps with the handling as mentioned earlier.

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Another feature I like is the sleek integrated stem, which lets you slam the bars as low as you can get while tucking all of the cables underneath (there’s even room for a Di2 junction box, though not pictured). The stem keeps the base bars at the same height as the top tube, which is one of my favorite aspects of the bike. You can buy the fastest bike in the world and if you can’t get low, you’re gonna go slow. I did a rhyme! Also, if you want to be more upright, the included aero bar/arm rest stacking spacers will easily accommodate any position you want. Vision (the cockpit supplier) does a great job providing a highly adjustable front end setup.

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Last but not least: the Speed Phreak has two water bottle cages! This is actually a really good thing for a tri bike to have, and something that’s quite rare. Bottles on the down tube and seat tube are much faster than anything mounted up above on the aero bars, and are super convenient to reach. Being able to fuel well, be comfortable and confident on the bike, and maintain an aero position go a long way in a triathlon. Whether you plan on upgrading some of the components, or racing this bike out of the box, you’re going to be happy with your decision of ordering it. And, you’re going to have quite a bit of extra money to spend on races, massage, organic produce, strippers (male or female, I’m not being sexist), or, my personal favorite: gummy worms. Bulk food style by the kilo.