Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Rant on Retailing...

...and yes, there are more applications than just to the retail world...

If you've been following me on Twitter at all, you know that I've been sharing little retail wisdoms all over the place. But it still seems like, no matter where I turn, I hear nothing but excuses from retailers, or other service providers, on why they are having tough times.

"It's a tough economy."
"I can't compete with online prices."
"People just don't come through the door like they used to."


As a service provider, the onus is on you to provide a tangible reason to have somebody walk through your door. And once they do, it is also on you to make sure that they A.) make a purchase and B.) make them want to come back, time and time again, no matter what.

How do you do that? Well, too often the answer seems to be product differentiation and price. Newsflash, ladies and gentlemen: unless you have an online store, there is absolutely no chance for you to compete in product selection and price. Sorry. Now, you could price match, etc. But then you've done nothing but become a loss leader, operating on a razor thin profit-margin. You need something beyond price to get people through the door. This is not the only tool in your shed.

But you can afford to do this loss-leader product selection and price matching if you have some other method to keep people through your door, and paying full price for something else. But what is it?

Again, you need to provide a service, or knowledge, or grow the community that you are trying to serve. Know what you are best at. Use the strength of that service, and deliver it continually. People will pay more for better service. I can tell you from firsthand experience: when you can provide the knowledge to help guide product selection, or service, people will buy from you. Honesty. Integrity. These are the keys.

This is how retailing works; this is how performance coaching works; this is how everything we do works.

I mean, this is why I've raved about Josh Freeman's shop and why I won't take my bike anywhere else; this is why I consistently plug Sherman's Books; this is why I want to work in the sports industry for life as a coach, and in footwear.

There is nothing more frustrating than bad information, poor communication, giving up, etc. Don't. Do. It.

Comments? Questions? Concerns? Hit the comment button below.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Miss the Misery...

Alternate title: "You're just a slut for punishment, aren't you?" (A quote from fellow Maine Running Company employee, Ben Webber, after hearing that I wanted to race again so soon after the disaster-debacle known as my experience at Rev3 Quassy).

After having a week to look back at what happened during the race experience, there's an awful lot that I'm still happy about. But, in the recesses of my mind, I've got a fair bit of disappointment lying around, too. After all, when you're shelling out between $260-$300 a race at the half-iron distance, you want to maximize the potential value of the day. (Some would argue, of course, that by staying on course longer, you actually maximized your money's worth, as it was cheaper by hour out there compared to others. I digress.)

For myself personally, I think I've identified four major things that, going into Timberman 70.3, need to be improved upon in order to ensure that another Rev3 result does not occur:

This, obviously, was the big downfall at Rev3. Once I got behind on the calorie count on the bike, I never was able to catch back on up. Now, I don't ever foresee another situation with the heart-rate monitor happening quite like that again. But, analyzing my choices for both liquid and solid nutrition, I think I may have also set myself up for a bit of a long day.

To review, for the bike the game plan was as follows:
2 bottles: Ironman Perform mixed with 1.5 scoops of CarboPro (300 calories per bottle)
Total: 760 calories, at 2:45 average time works out to roughly 280 cal/hour pace

This seemed sound: after all, it worked in training. Why the hell wouldn't it work on race day?

Well...now it's time to get a little scientific with everybody, so bear with me for a minute. And...well, just watch the video. Then come on back...

...yes, blatant Marty McFly interlude......done? Good.

So, let's take a quick look at the composition of both Ironman Perform and Carbo-Pro.

Ironman Perform: C2Max energy blend (maltodextrin, fructose, dextrose), citric acid, trisodium citrate, natural flavor, salt, magnesium citrate, potassium citrate, turmeric (for color).

Carbo-Pro: Glucose polymers derived from hydrolysis of maltodextrin

Analysis: First and foremost, we're talking about three separate needs during the course. We need to be replacing fluids lost via sweat/urination; we need to be replacing the electrolytes in the system; and we must be replenishing the glycogen available to muscles to continue using it as fuel. For the uninitiated, glycogen is what the body stores carbohydrate as; when somebody says that they are "carb-loading," they mean that they are trying to maximize their glycogen stores.

Breaking down further: hydration needs are an entirely independent sort-of inquiry. For some people, they need to be downing 30-40 oz. of fluid per hour while out there. That doesn't work for me in the least. I can handle about a bike bottle per hour while out there. That's approximately 20-24 oz. of fluid per hour. (Note: I only managed to put down about 10-12 oz. per hour at Rev3 on the bike. And we wonder why I med-tented it.)

IM Perform is also pretty high in a fair number of the electrolytes. There are five key electrolytes that are lost during endurance activity. Most people only focus on sodium, but the other four are potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. They're all necessary to keep the body functioning at a high level during intense athletic activity. As you look at IM Perform, you see potassium, salt, and magnesium, but a bit lacking in chloride and calcium. Why? Often times, it's a matter of digestion: in order to get calcium into a drink such as this, you will regularly need to be adding some kind of dairy extraction into the mix. You can imagine how palatable that would be on a 90 degree day. Other drink mixes do, however, manage to do this (First Endurance being one of the primary examples).

So now we come to carbohydrate, and this is where things get a bit tricky. There are both simple and complex carbohydrates (also referred to as short-chain versus long-chain carbohydrates). Simple carbohydrates are your primary sugars, like glucose, sucrose, and dextrose. These are quick-burning, and easily absorbed by the body. However, it's much like throwing gasoline on a fire: you get a quick, explosive effect, but the body burns through it rapidly, and you're back to where you started from.

Long-chain carbohydrates, meanwhile, are a more refined fuel: think of it more like putting that big log on the fire instead of the gasoline. You'll get a much longer, more sustained burn out of it. However, it takes the fire some work to get on that log: it's going to have to bring in enough oxygen from the outside in order to keep the original burn strong enough to light the log, before finally being able to penetrate and start burning the large log. Much the same in the body: it's going to take some work for your gut to be able to process a longer-chain carbohydrate, but when it does, you get sustained energy. But if there's not enough energy available to start that log on fire...well, things can start getting bad quickly. Nevermind getting into the osmolality of the solution (essentially, you want the solution to be at a lower osmolality than body fluid, so that it can process through your system easier).

So, what do we take from this? Why would this drink mix work during training, but not during racing? I think it is mostly due to the composition of the carbohydrate in the drink mix. Because IM Perform's C2Max energy blend is more long-chain than short-chain carbohydrate, I was essentially taking in nothing but longer-chain carbohydrates during the course. This meant that I needed to have things low enough out of the gate that my body would be able to process this. Well, here's the rub: my heart-rate coming out of the water was going to be much, much higher than that of when I was doing a normal training ride. I didn't have enough energy available to transfer blood to my gut and start processing the fuel; when that happened, I got backed up, nauseated, and then behind the eight-ball. I also didn't have enough short-chain carbohydrate on board the bike to try and get things rolling again.

So, then, it's no surprise that at about the one hour mark on the bike (or about 90 minutes into the race), I was going to have to slow down a bit: your body only has enough glycogen storage for 90 minutes of activity. This meant that the body would start using fat as fuel instead, which means the heart-rate must come way, way down. So, when reviewing my data from the race, it wasn't a shock to see my average heart-rate drop down to the 135 BPM mark at the one hour mark on the bike, down from the 150/155 mark that I was planning on racing at all day long. This also marked a pretty heavy departure from the 20.5 MPH I was averaging on the bike down to 14-16 MPH.

So, to review: I was too heavy on long-chain carbohydrate, and did not have the tools on hand in order to put the wheels back on once they started coming off.

This. Will. Not. Happen. Again.

What to do, then? Well, I'm looking into new drink mixes. The First Endurance stuff listed above intrigues me the most, as it is a bit higher than most other mixes in the five electrolytes. It is also a different sugar blend (higher in short-chain carbohydrates), which I think, when mixed with Carbo-Pro, would make a better solution. I do like Hammer's HEED for taste, but unfortunately it isn't high enough in sodium for my needs, and it too is fairly high in maltodextrin. I'm also planning on a contingency plan of GU Roctane, or incorporating it a bit more. Perhaps 200 calories of drink per hour supplemented by a gel. I'm also debating implementing a 600 calories "slurry" bottle (essentially, a concentrated mix of the electrolyte and carbohydrate drink), and then having a separate bottle for my hydration needs. Undecided. Luckily, I have some time to figure it out.

Although I had myself a pretty solid swim at Rev3, I also realized that a bunch of my fellow age groupers are a HELL of a lot faster here than I am. So, it's time to hit the water. During the build to Quassy, I thought that I had done a good enough job getting into the pool. Well, I did but I didn't: although I had good fitness, I think my form limitations made me have to work a bit harder to get that swim time.

To be blunt: I need to work on technique as much as I do aerobic capacity. The better my form is, the faster I go, with less energy exerted. The fresher I can come out of the water, the better; then, the lower my heart-rate is coming out of the water, the better off my nutrition gameplan can go.

I know I can swim faster; the question is, can I swim faster while exerting less energy? That, too, I believe can be answered in the affirmative. It's just going to take a lot more work.

This isn't to say that my bike fit was wrong. To the contrary, Doug Welling and I had decided to go a bit conservative with my fit at the outset.

The thing is, we both think I've outgrown it. By that, I mean I can definitely ride a more aggressive position than I could have just a couple of months ago. So we're going to go aggressive with my fit, and try to lock in a better aero position on the bike. We will also make the final determination for pad reach, etc. and cut things down. It's time to make this bike mine, and mine alone.

I'm also looking into gearing and crank length. However, considering my run time off the bike was not nearly as catastrophically terrible as one would suggest with the bonking that I did do, perhaps things are where they should be. (For those wondering, I am riding a 175 mm crank, 53/39 chainrings, with a 12-25 cassette. I MAY switch to a 12-27. We'll see. It may also be more effective to go to a compact crank. But again, not sure as of yet.)

To make this long story short: more hills, please. More time in the saddle. A few more light brick workouts (35 mile ride, short run afterwards.) I think this is where I have the most overall to gain. I'm happy with my running ability; I know I can run a 1:38 open 13.1. I also know I can hold that pace pretty decently, even when the wheels come off. So it's the bike where I have more to gain.

Overall, then, I think I've had the time, and the patience, to look critically at how Rev3 went. Now it's time to put the work into Timberman. This week is my "ease back into things" week, meaning I'll start a little bit of swimming, biking, and running. Next week is a full-on recovery week, where the intensity stays quite low, but I get back to normalcy. Then it's time to crank up the wick, and start the fun back into Timberman.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? As always, post a comment and I'll respond.

Get out there, have fun...and be ready to work!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Rev3 Quassy Race Report

Alternate title: How To Get 2 Liters Worth of IVs at Medical.

Quick Hits:
Overall Time: 6:14.57
Overall Place: 546 out of 851
Overall Mens: 443 out of 625
M25-29 Place: 41 out of 54

Long Course Version:

Friday was travel day for Hannah and I in our brand-spankin' new car. Earlier in the week, we had randomly gone looking at cars, not really all that serious. We happened upon a 2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring, which is essentially the previous car, but in hatchback form. The car also was stick shift, which made it an A+ in my book. Then we caught wind that it would actually make our payment decrease to get a new car.

Um, where's the paperwork?

24 hours later, and here we were, signing away for a new car. Bags were packed Thursday. Had a brief scare on Friday when Kermit the Felt started making some squeaking noises from the headset. Took it on over to Josh Freeman, who did some quick diagnostics for me to determine that, no, nothing was wrong. 3 PM and we hit the road!

Drive down was rather uneventful, outside of some traffic near Lowell. Ran into fellow Portland-area triathlete (and kick-ass guy) Owen Lisa at a rest stop on I-90. Made it into Thomaston, CT, the site of our home base, and just wound up crashing after a quick dinner with the parents.

Saturday morning was my "practice" of waking up at zero hour, so 4:30 AM was wake-up call. Felt good, as I had been waking up about that time all week long. Still got a good eight hours of sleep, though.

Wound up doing a walk-around the campground, just trying to clear my head for the day. I had wanted to get down over to Quassy by 9:30AM, so I could catch some of the Olympic distance racers finishing. (Rev3 puts on an Olympic race the day before the half). I knew that Team Sports Bistro's Ton Chookhare was racing. I managed to show up just in time to help him kick towards the finish.

Also ran into Doug Welling at transition, as he was wandering around, cheering on his older brother. I knew of some other Portland-area athletes racing as well. Got to wander about the expo, check things out, etc.

Packet pick-up was smooth as silk. You found your number out (#776), then went to the designated number line. You got your packet, then headed over to the next table to get your age. You then walked down to get your chip, and have your photo taken, which went up on the big board as you came across the line. (Yes, very big race feel!) Very, very smooth operation.

Then it was time to rack Kermit for the night, and get things ready to go. I had done a quick practice run back over to the Timex parking lot, about a mile from the amusement park, to get the car so I could bring it over. I also wanted to give the bike a quick ride, just to make sure that everything was set.

Took the bike out, and went for a quick ride. Had a couple of gremlins in the drivetrain. Played with the barrel adjuster for a minute, and everything seemed perfect. (This will come into play later, as I'm sure you can imagine.) Time to rack it up. Figured out at this point that the way Rev3 had divided numbers up was based on age group, so all of us M25-29 competitors were racked in the same spot, along the far wall of transition. This meant that we would have a long way to run from swim to get to the bike, but short from bike to mount line, then re-rack, and then a long run back out of transition to start the run. Very fair.

Headed back to the campground, where I had myself some good American chop suey and Italian bread. I had avoided raw vegetables all week, because I had had some issues with digestion the previous week with them, which helped me out. I then pre-loaded my bike nutrition: two Honey Stinger waffles, and two bottles of Ironman Perform mixed with 125 calories of CarboPro. I headed to bed around 8:30.

3:45 was wake-up call, as I knew it would take me a bit to get stirring on out of bed. I got dressed into my Sustainable Athlete kit, and got ready to rock. Choked down a couple of brown sugar and cinnamon Pop-Tarts and some water, and hit the road.

I had made the decision not to use a single transition bag, but instead brought three much smaller bags with me: one for swim gear, one for bike gear, and one for run gear. This was PERFECT for me, as it meant I could go through each mental checklist much faster, and was far less likely to forget anything.

Made it into transition at about 5:15 when it opened on up. I started making the necessary preparations: wipe down the bike, check the drivetrain, inflate tires, and lay out my gear. Our row made the decision that we would put our gear to the right of our bike, if we were facing our bikes from the front. This gave everybody plenty of room to stash their gear.

We then got the announcement that it was, in fact, 6:30, and it was time to head on down to the beach. I put on my wetsuit, and got a short couple of strokes in just to make sure everything felt good. It did. We then had to clear the water, to let the pros get ready to go at 6:50.

Age-groupers didn't start going off until 7:03. My wave, though, wasn't until 7:23. This let the nerves really start to show up. Then it was time to load into the starting corral, and toe the line.

Time: 35:29 (230 Overall, 27 Division)

I had managed to get a pretty decent spot towards the front of our wave hitting the water. We all ran in, with a touch of crowding to my right due to the "no wake" buoy sitting about 50 feet offshore. Someone ran head first into it...don't know how they did.

The water was very calm, and slightly cool. The same can't be said for the swim. Lots of violence here at the start of things. Not that that's a problem, as I can't say it was unexpected. It was just a fair bit of getting swim over, lightly kicked, etc. Nothing crazy. There was one point on the last bit of the swim where I got a forearm to the back of my head, leaving me seeing stars for a minute. Little scary, but was able to recover. I had a headache for the rest of the swim and the bike, though, which made things scary a bit later, too.

I managed to catch a fair number of people from the earlier swim waves, although I know I also got passed by a couple of people who started later than I. Considering the minute I had to take to re-orient myself after the whole head knocking thing, as well as essentially swimming into the sun during the middle-third making sighting more difficult, I was very pleased with my swim.

T1: 4:32
By the time I had gotten to transition, I saw that many of the bikes from my group had gone. Damn! I was going to have to try and make things up on the bike. Got out of the wetsuit. Put the helmet on FIRST. Didn't do ANYTHING else until then. Put my socks on (always cycle with socks on, don't ask why...) then the shoes. Grabbed the bike, and ran out of transition. A little slow, but I was pleased with the long run from transition on up.

Time: 3:31.46 (476 Overall, 43 Division)

Yep, I lost a LOT of time on the bike.

What happened? Well, a few things. Quassy is a notoriously brutal bike course. There's a pretty serious climb right around mile 7, and then it rolls a bit. Then there's 7 miles of relentless climbing all the way to mile 30, at which point you get to rest a touch; a short out-and-back from 35-45, and then lots of downhill most of the way back on through to transition, outside of one gut-check of a climb at about mile 53.

I knew I hadn't done as much climbing practice as I had wanted, but I felt pretty confident I could stick a 3 hour bike here. And things seemed OK out of the gate: legs felt great. Head hurt still from getting that forearm during the swim. I started to put my nutrition in.

This is where things started going wrong. This mixture I had made had worked countless times during training. Yet here I was, barely 10 miles in, and I was nauseous as all hell. What's going on? I tried to suck in a bit more. I felt bloated.

This is when I realized there was some pretty intense pressure on my stomach. I realized that my heart-rate monitor had fallen down from my chest, and was now wrapped around my upper stomach. I had pretty effectively given myself a gastric band. All of this fluid, and food, was now stuck in my upper stomach.

You can imagine how that worked out.

I was then fighting a nutritional deficiency the entire time. With that in mind, I felt great to be able to grind out a semi-respectable bike time. Great being a relative term, along with semi-respectable. It was time to throw out any ideas about times, and get into the zone of survival.
I still felt incredibly queasy, so it was a struggle to try and choke stuff down into the gut. This is where I wish I had decided to carry a gel or three with me. The only flavor that was out at the bike station I stopped at was espresso, which causes immediate evacuation on my part.

Then, on the out and back, my rear derailleur decided that I no longer needed to have my two mid-range gears that I like to crank on. Of course not. At this point, I had decided that if I was getting off the bike, it was to rack it, so time to just put things on meat grinder and go. Thankfully, there's a fair bit of overlap in the gearing of my bike, so I was able to find something relatively comparable to what I normally use and just get going again.

Some scary stuff out there on the bike: 40 MPH downhills where we saw a couple people eat it HARD...some serious bumps in the road at this point. I had gotten a touch light-headed at one point on the steepest downhill of the course. I slowed it way on down, took in some calories, and brought myself back. But that was crazy. Finally, we rounded the bend, and could see Quassy again.

I survived. I can run in my sleep. Let's go.

T2: 2:59
I actually managed to pass four people during the course of transition, which made me feel a bit better, especially considering how gingerly I came off the dismount, and walked the bike back into the rack. Quick tying of the shoes, and threw a Gu Roctane Blueberry Pomegranate into the system (Thanks, Ton!). Ran out of transition, and grabbed some Gatorade, knowing I needed calories and FAST after shorting on the bike by, oh, about 400 calories.

Time: 2:00.09 (443 overall, 41 Division)

I started trying to get my feet underneath me. I was uncomfortable from the bike, and still very queasy. I needed to shake that feeling fast. I had a gameplan for the run to execute: power hike the worst of the hills; get calories in at EVERY aid station. Don't care how. Just needed to, and fast.

By this point, it had gotten a bit warm out there. Not terribly hot, like the day before, but warm enough. I hit aid station #1, and snagged some Gatorade. At #2, I made the decision to stop, use the bathroom, and get a gauge on how I felt. Felt much better after the pit stop, so it was time to put the hammer down.

The run plan worked out well for me, as I was able to average some good time through the middle miles. 7:30 miles started to come out, then walking to get Gatorade and pretzels into the system.

This run course is a BEAST. Lots of uphill, and then short, steep downhills. It's tough to find a rhythm here. Looking at some of the run times, I'm amazed at how guys were able to put together some fast splits.

The worst part came out at mile 12, as you stare down the face of the steepest uphill of the entire course. I saw my point where I could make my move on the hill, as people were still walking. I just decided to go for broke, and put the hammer down. Rev3 volunteers were there to let you know that there was only a half-mile to go. Up it went. Time to hammer.

It flattens out, and you can hear the announcers. Time to keep pushing. Every ounce you have left. Got to go. Quick check of the watch: 7:10 mile pace. Where did this come from? No worries. Got to keep moving. Time is of the essence.

Hannah met me at the transition off the road into the finisher's chute. It was time to keep sprinting. Just have to keep flying here. Move, move, move.

Finish line.



I fucking did it.

Now, before I go further, I want to take the time here and say thanks to every single Rev3 volunteer. You guys made this experience. Super friendly. Amazing atmosphere. I kept thanking all of you at every single place I could. There were a couple of stand-outs: the first at transition after the bike, when all looked terrible, who gave words of encouragement: "You got this." Then the second is the one at the first out-and-back on the run course: I thanked you on the way out, and you said that you'd have good news on the way back. I came through, said thanks again, and you let me know we were over halfway home and to keep pushing. That meant a ton. And finally, the group at the top of that horrendous hill, telling me to keep putting the hammer down, that it would be over in less than four minutes if I kept moving like that. You guys made it an awesome time.

At the line, I got my medal, and finisher's shirt, and kept hugging Hannah. We then moved through the Muscle Milk tent, where everybody was congratulating one another. Every athlete reveled in each other's accomplishments, not just in their own, which made it such a better day.

Within about five minutes, though, I realized I was in trouble. Body temperature felt very high. I had taken in some stuff on the run, but now the stomach trouble had returned in a big way. I kept trying to suck down fluids, but couldn't put anything in.

I got walked over to medical right then and there, where the awesome folks threw me on a bed, got me three foil wrappers (yeah, I was messed up...), and hooked me up to some IVs. I then had the pleasure of re-tasting Gatorade and pretzels for the remainder of the time there. Not. Pleasant.

I got about 3 liters of fluid pumped back into me. I was still nauseous as all hell. Apparently, when you're that dehydrated, there's too much bile in the system...at which point, you get to expel it until you get the balance right again. Mmmmm. Awesome. This was going to make for a HELL of a drive home.

Well, not quite.

Hannah and I decided to hit a motel for the night, just to relax, sleep, get some dinner, and try and get me feeling better. Some crackers and water got me turned around pretty quickly, and then was able to put down some pizza much later in the evening.

So, what'd we learn?
First off, I'm NOT swimming with the heart-rate monitor again. I'm almost positive this is where it wound up falling, and then due to the rush of things, I never made sure it was sitting where it should have been. That's on me.

Secondly, I need to have an alternate calorie source available to me on the bike. I can't go back out there and expect that "this has to work, it worked for me before." I should have banked on a contingency plan for when that kind of thing happened, and be able to put something else into the system. So for Timberman, I'll plan on having two gels taped to the top tube of the bike.

Third, I was very pleased with how I finished. To run within 10 minutes of what I thought I could run off the bike, while including walking breaks, and with that kind of nutrition issue: I'm happy to know I can dig that deep again. I never cramped, either, which was quite odd. Just never got caught back up.

Fourth: I want to do more swim work. I want to do more over-distance stuff. I didn't feel fatigued, or over-exerted. I just want to get out there with a little more open-water experience, and see whether or not some of the headache comes back from that, too. Those swim caps don't feel great, especially when you have a fricking massive dome like myself.

In all, one hell of a weekend. I'm definitely coming back. I know I left a lot of time out there. But I am so pleased with going down, racing as hard as I could given the circumstances, and managing to pass some people on the run given how things went earlier in the race. I'm happy, and that's all I can ask for.

For photos, check out here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.645712799341.2141472.13000857