Riding Queen K

So I’m in Kona right now.  I actually arrived on Monday afternoon and rode Queen K (well 50 miles of it) on Tuesday morning.  It was definitely a trip to ride a road that I’ve seen so many times on television.  The only thing I could liken it to for me (a baseball fan) would be visiting a historic stadium like Yankee Stadium for the first time; you’ve seen it so many times on television, but somehow it’s just better in person.  

Queen K in and of itself is nothing spectacular; it’s just a road surrounded by lava fields (OK, the lava fields are pretty cool).  What I found most intriguing about the ride were the conditions.  They always talk about the “tricky” winds and the heat that emanates from the lava fields on the NBC Ironman coverage, but until you’ve experienced these things for yourself, the words do not adequately describe what these athletes are battling.

On the 25 miles out, I had a mild to moderate wind that was more a cross wind than a tail wind.  At times, the wind was actually turning into a headwind, so I thought I’d be facing about the same wind after I turned around.  The bushes weren’t moving too much on the way out, so I knew that the wind wasn’t that strong.  All I can say is “oh what a difference a turnaround makes.”  It was almost as if the island knew I was turning around to head back to Kona.  

The bushes that were just slightly blowing swaying in the breeze before now looked like they were about to be uprooted.  I had 25 miles ahead of me and I was going straight into a 20-30 MPH headwind.  Awesome.  I have never been in a wind like that before.  If I stopped pedaling on a downhill, I actually slowed down as though I had just stopped pedaling on an uphill–that’s how strong the wind was.  The uphills, well, let’s not talk about those.  

Overall, the ride was great though.  The heat that comes up from the lava fields is oppressive, but the winds off the coast help cool you down.  The Look 585 I rented is an amazing bike.  It would probably be at at or very close to the top of my list if I decide to buy a road bike (which I might after I start working; i really enjoyed being on a good road bike).  

Tomorrow I’m heading up to ride the upper portion of the Ironman course (i.e. the middle 50 miles).  This is the area where the crosswinds are supposed to howl.  I’m just hoping the scenery is a little more interesting (there’s only so many pictures you can take of lava fields).


August 27, 2008 at 10:30 pm 1 comment

Enjoying the sounds of silence

I’ve always been a person who uses an iPod while I’m working out.  Whether it’s a visit to the gym, on a run, or on the bike, I’ve always used an iPod.  Heck, if there was a decent system to use in the pool, I’d probably have one of those too.  I’ve always felt that I needed it to keep myself entertained while I was outside.

Recently, however, I’ve started to have a change of heart.  It started the week of the bar.  After the first day of the bar, I went for a run and wasn’t in the mood to listen to music.  As I was running, I started to realize that I really appreciated the silence and the serenity of being outside.  Yes, there were noises of people talking and traffic, but I can block this out pretty easily.  All I could hear was my feet hitting the ground and my breathing.

When I went on my ride in Napa, I decided to see how cycling without my iPod was.  In part, I wanted to see if I enjoyed it as much, but I also wasn’t familiar with the road and I wanted to be able to hear any big trucks coming.  I realized very, very quickly that I like riding without a iPod WAY more than I like running without one.  There’s something very peaceful about the sound of tires on the road and the chain turning on the crank.  I don’t know how to describe it, but I feel much more in the moment when I ride without music blaring in my ears.

So this has now become my protocol: I don’t ride with an iPod any more.  I’ve done my last two rides without one and have thoroughly enjoyed them both.  I realized that this has the added benefit of increasing my concentration on the bike and getting used to doing time trial efforts without music (which can affect pacing) since I can’t use an iPod in a race.  

Today, I did a 45 mile ride with a 12 mile time trial effort in the middle on the Silver Strand in Coronado.  I managed to beat my previous 30 minute average wattage by 23 watts, so I’m very happy about that.  I’m not sure if this was due to increased concentration from not having an iPod on or the fact that this effort was entirely outside whereas my previous best was done on my Computrainer, but I’m guessing the latter has more to do with it.  

So, I guess the moral of the story is that if you currently ride with an iPod, give it a shot without one.  You might find, like I did, that riding becomes all that much more enjoyable.

August 14, 2008 at 1:41 pm Leave a comment

There’s a reason airlines are failing…

It’s not the fuel prices.  It’s not the ultra-competitive environment.  Sure, these play a factor in the equation, but they are not the end-all and be-all.  There’s a reason airlines like Southwest continue to be profitable while others like United are failing.

The reason is simple: customer service.  I had never had a problem with United until today (which is probably why I’d flown with them so much in the past).  However, today I decided for some reason to look over my itinerary for my trip to Kona at the end of the month.  As I was looking at my reservation I noticed something…I booked my trip into the wrong airport.  I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I made a mistake somehow.

In order to correct this mistake, I called United.  I’m thinking that they can just switch the flight and I might have to pay a nominal difference in the fee for the flight, if anything.  Nope.  First off, I get somebody on the phone who is half a world away in India.  I knew I was in trouble as soon as I heard this because all that will follow is policy, policy, policy.  United wanted $150 just to change the reservation and then I had to pay any difference in airfare, which was $850 because my flight is within two weeks.  WTF???  This conversation ended quickly.

Luckily I was able to book a bookend flight on a local carrier for a total of $150 and although I’m not happy about it, it was my own mistake and I’ll live with it.  What I’m annoyed about is the abysmal “customer service” that United provided me with.  It’s annoying enough that airlines charge for everything from checking a bag to getting a blanket nowadays, but to try to charge this much just to change from one flight to another is ridiculous.  

What added cost do they have in changing from one flight to another?  None.  That’s the answer.  They aren’t losing any money by me switching from one airport in Hawaii to another 40 minutes away.  I love how everyone always gets up in arms about $200 cancellation fees over their cell phone contracts, but you never see coverage about these fees.  At least the phone cancellation fee can be justified by the fact that your phone was heavily subsidized when you got it (yes, it was…trust me…I sold phones and managed a store for several years before law school).  

So, how does this amount to a reason airlines are failing?  Simple; I’ll never fly United again.  I’ve changed flights so many times with companies like Southwest without incident and although Continental professes to charge the same fee, at least I was able to get somebody who spoke English on the line and who understood the meaning of customer service (I’ve been able to get the fee waived).  

One of these days the airlines will realize that customer service will be their downfall.  All the little fees are ticky-tacky, but whatever.  Most people I know don’t need a blanket on a flight, can bring their own drink onboard, and aren’t going to fuss too much about having to pay to check a bag.  However, when you combine all of these things with a complete disregard for providing exemplary service to your client base, you’re in for big, big trouble.  People won’t stop flying, but they’ll seek out airlines that provide them with the best experiences.  

That’s my rant.

August 14, 2008 at 9:19 am 1 comment

Ironman Here I Come (well, 15 months from now…)

It’s official: I’m registered for my first Ironman.  I’ll be doing Ironman Cozumel next year which falls at about the same time as Arizona in November.  (note: the official international registration is not yet open, but I registered online before I noticed that international registration wasn’t open yet (oops) and after multiple emails, they went ahead and confirmed me.  Official international registration opens on August 19).

I have never been more excited to put myself through 10+ hours of pain.  Quite frankly, I couldn’t have designed a course that was better suited to my cycling strengths: nice and flat.  Granted, I’m sure most people prefer flat courses, but hills absolutely kill me.  At 175 pounds I’m at ~10% body fat, so the absolute lightest I could probably get would be between 165 and 170.  This is a size that is not conducive to climbing.  However, on the flats I can produce a decent speed consistently over long distances.

In addition to the course layout, I decided to go with Cozumel for a couple of other reasons:

1) Easy registration.  No trekking out to Arizona, paying for two nights in a hotel and spending a day off volunteering just to be able to register the next day.  Nope, just pay the money: nice and simple.  The money I’m saving by not having to travel to Arizona this year to volunteer paid for my registration fee to Cozumel.  

2) Location, Location, Location.  No matter where I was headed, I’d probably end up using a few days of vacation time both before and after the race.  Now, let’s see…Tempe, Arizona or Cozumel, Mexico?  Desert and cacti or beaches and palm trees?  Swim in the Tempe river or the Gulf of Mexico?  That’s a close one, but I think I’ll go with Cozumel.  

The only downside will be getting my bike to Mexico on the plane.  I’m probably going to end up buying a large hard travel case specifically for this race, but it will come in handy for any other races I travel to as well.  

On a related note, I’ve decided to procure the services of a coach on this adventure.  I’m thinking that this is something that I should not attempt to self-coach.  I know that I could do it, but I want to do well and I think having a coach will be valuable.  I haven’t decided on a coach yet, but as of now I’m leaning towards Jim Vance.  He’s a professional triathlete based out of San Diego.  I went to one of his swim clinics about a month back and I was very impressed with his level of knowledge.  I’ll post more on this in about a month or so.  I’m not going to start the coaching services until October since I’ll be done with all my events by then.

August 13, 2008 at 6:49 pm Leave a comment

My first race report

Today I completed my first sprint race.  It went fairly well, but there were some definite hiccups as well.  Here’s a play-by-play:


Pre-race was pretty uneventful.  I took the bike out for a loop on the bike course.  Oddly enough, this was the first time I had been on my Zipps, so it was kind of fun.  I realized very quickly that it was going to be a very cold bike segment.  My shoes have quite a few vents in them and my feet were freezing (more on this later).  After re-racking my bike and jogging for a bit, I tossed on my wetsuit and walked over to the beach.  I decided to warm up on the swim and headed in.  I think my feet must have already been numb because I remember thinking “hey, it’s not that bad.”  I was wrong.  It was freezing.  Now maybe I’m just a bit spoiled by San Diego water temps, but I was not ready for that.  Absolutely freezing.

The worst start ever

Granted, this was my first triathlon, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb saying that this was easily the most disorganized race start ever.  All of the athletes were gathered on the beach to explain a few things about the race.  Our “go” horn was a weak little sound that came out of the bull horn.  OK.  Fine.  I don’t need a fog horn.  

The meeting finishes and we all start walking to the point on the beach where we assumed we would start from, with several of the athletes in my age group jumping into the water to try to warm up.  Next thing we know, we hear the weak ass horn sound.  Most of us turned around assuming that it was just another test run…surely they hadn’t started us yet.  Wrong!  Next thing we know we hear people yelling “go!”  WTF?!?!?!  I mean, really!  There was so much confusion that about a dozen athletes in the wave behind mine actually started with us.

Oh well, no time to get angry now, into the water.  Lord all mighty was that water cold.  I actually had difficulty breathing it was so cold and my chest felt very constricted.  Aside from the difficulty breathing and the retarded start, the swim was relatively uneventful.  Up the beach and then about 500 yards on concrete/asphault to the transition area (really, guys?) and I was ready to get started on the bike.

The Bike Leg

Since the swim had gone so poorly, I decided to just let it loose on the bike and have some fun.  I was moving pretty well and passing people left and right on the first loop (I spent the second loop almost entirely in the left lane, but I was passing the waves that started after me so I don’t really count that).  I felt good on the bike and like I was moving pretty well.  I wasn’t as cold as I thought I’d be, but I couldn’t feel my feet at all.  

I ended up with a bike time somewhere between the 31:00 and 31:30 range (I didn’t hit the button on my watch until after I had left T2 and was running) so I was hovering right around 23 miles an hour on average for the course.  I am very happy with my performance on the bike.  The speed might not sound spectacular, but the course had quite a few turns, including one 180 degree turnaround and a couple of other 90 degree turns that required you to slow down quite a bit.  Regardless, for my first race, I’m happy with this time.

The Run

Going into the race I was a bit concerned about having little rocks on my feet when I put on my running shoes.  Once I hit T2, I realized this wouldn’t be a problem because I couldn’t feel my feet.  In fact, I didn’t regain full feeling in my feet until about two miles in.  A side stitch crept up on my within the first half mile and I was not happy about that.  I tried to ignore it and it must have worked because I felt pretty good by the turnaround.

The way back went pretty well.  I was passed by a few people and wasn’t passing too many which is never a good sign.  Oh well.  I knew that running wasn’t my strong suit.  

I was a little surprised though when I was creeping up on the finish line: my time actually wasn’t too horrible.  I managed to pull off a 23:30 run split, or just over 7:30/mile.  Not bad, not great, but I’ll take it.

The Finish

I crossed the finish line with 1:11 and change showing on the clock.  With my other times, this means that I spent about 15 minutes on the swim/transition run to T1/transition in T1.  Overall, I’m happy with my race. Realistically I’d like to shave at least 11 minutes off of this time, but in a normal race I might not need to shave as much (considering the retarded start probably cost me 1-2 minutes on the swim and the cold water definitely slowed me down).  I’d probably need to shave 6-7 minutes or so to break an hour in a normal race.  I’d like to shave at least two minutes off of my run, another two off the swim, about 1-2 off the bike and then speed up my transitions.  

Overall, I had a great time.  For all the training I’ve done it was great to actually see it put to work in a race.  I have another sprint in two weeks though that one is a bit shorter and in warmer water.  After that, all I have left this season are my olympic races.  I need to work on my run a bit, so this is going to be my focus over the next month or so.  Should be fun…

Update: Final Race Results

Well the results have been posted and I came in 6/25 in my age group and 32/148 overall.  My bike leg was the third fastest in my age group and 18th overall.  As I suspected, my swim and my run killed me.  I discussed earlier the various reasons for my horrible swim time, so I’m not too concerned about that.  I’d definitely like to get my run a bit faster before my next race so that will be a point of emphasis for me over the next couple of weeks.

I have just under two weeks until my next sprint race (Imperial Beach) and just under one month until my first olympic race (L.A.).  The competition at these two races will likely be much stiffer than at Santa Cruz, so I’d be thrilled to place anywhere even close to what I placed in this race but I’m not going to be disappointed if I don’t.

August 10, 2008 at 11:02 am Leave a comment

Race day has arrived

It’s just past 5:30 in the morning out here on the west coast and two and a half hours from now I’ll be in the water.  The transition area opens up in about an hour and, as luck would have it, it’s right across the street from my hotel.  I knew I was going to be close to everything when I booked my hotel, but I had no idea that T1 and T2 would literally be across the street from my hotel.  At least I don’t have to worry about getting my gear over there.

So I must admit I’m feeling a little pre-race anxiety.  Even though I told myself that this race didn’t matter when I signed up for it, I still want to do well.  In particular, I really want to have a good bike leg since this is the one area where I feel like I should excel.  I have a feeling it’s going to be a pretty cold first 2/3 of the race.  The water is supposedly pretty cold and that, coupled with the fact that the outside temperature will be about 56 degrees, should make for a pretty cold first two legs.  Talk about incentive to go fast!

Should be an interesting race.

August 10, 2008 at 5:43 am Leave a comment

My bike in its Sunday’s finest

It just looks fast.  If nothing else, I’m going to have to haul ass on the bike leg tomorrow just to justify having this nice of a bike.

August 9, 2008 at 2:21 pm Leave a comment

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