Tuesday, March 10, 2015

So how do I get sponsored?

This is a question I get quite often from people on social media or sometimes through people I'm talking with at races:

"How did you get your sponsors?  How do I get sponsors?"

It's a simple question with both simple and complicated answers (which I'll get into on this post).  I'll definitely sound like I'm rambling throughout this post - as the vast majority of ideas are tossed together in no particular order - but hopefully I can hit on a couple of things and ideas that might make understanding sponsorship a bit easier.  Keep in mind this is just my point of view and it will, obviously, differ wildly from another person.

First off, let me say that I am NOT a professional triathlete/runner.  I do not have the talent or ability to compete on that level in any shape or form - nor do I have the time, ambition, or drive to put in the effort that those guys put in on a day to day basis.  So, when you take this post into consideration, please realize it's coming from the perspective of a sponsored amateur athlete.  The professionals (while there are probably several parallels to the ideas this post covers) operate on a different level with a different set of rules.

With that said - let's get the simple answer out of the way.

"How do I get sponsored?"

"Make it worth your sponsor's while to send you free/discounted products/services."

It's that simple.  It works like that across the board with next to no exceptions (one exception could be that you're good friends or family members with someone that can "gift" you a sponsorship - but if that's the case, you wouldn't be asking the question in the first place).  I've been on both ends of this - as a sponsored athlete and working through a company setting up sponsorships/teams.  In both cases, the bottom line is ALWAYS whether an athlete can offer value that justifies a sponsorship.

The complicated answer is a bit different - as many different companies have many different wants, needs, requirements, hopes, etc for the athletes they sponsor.  However, in the end, it all comes back to the simple answer.

It's about what you can do for them - not what they can do for you.  Companies who sponsor athletes want exposure for their product that can translate into sales.  They want this any way possible and it's YOUR responsibility, as the athlete, to show them how you can give them the exposure that they need.

I've been on varying ends of setting up sponsorships with companies - whether it was through me seeking them out directly, applying for a sponsorship/team through a submission process, "winning" sponsorships through contests, or being approached by a representative of the company to represent their brand.  While all of these are different to varying degrees, the end results is the same.  You have to show what you can do for them and whether or not that fits with what they're looking for.

So what tips can I give to someone who is seeking out sponsorship?  In no particular order, keep the following in mind:
Actually use the product and believe in the product.  
Nothing comes off more hypocritical than someone who receives product from one company, is actively promoting that company's product, etc - but uses a completely different product (whether it's through training, racing, whatever).  It drives companies nuts to see someone promoting one thing only to find a picture of them racing with something completely different posted online or whatnot. In my mind, this can't be stressed enough:  If you have a relationship with a company where you're receiving product in exchange for exposure - then you cannot promote (directly or indirectly) their competitors.  It paints a bad image for the company (Why is one of "their athletes" using a different product instead of there own?) and a bad image for the athlete (Why are they receiving free/discounted product and still using something completely different?).
In my opinion, why would someone who is serious enough about their sport even WANT to get "sponsored" by a company that they don't use the product for?  For me, I'd only want to receive product from a company if I was actually going to use it.  If I'm not - then there's no point (either for me as the athlete, or for them as the company).
I can also say that companies look for this.  If you're sponsored by shoe company A and you're competing in a race while wearing shoe company B's shoe - they won't be happy.  Oftentimes, it's grounds for them to end the sponsorship.  Also - the sponsorship directors for companies are, more often than not, all chummy with one another.  Don't think that it goes unnoticed that an athlete got free product from one company just to get free product and then "jumped ship" to another company.
Have something to offer the company that sets you apart from the rest.
So you won your age group at your local sprint triathlon?  You set a PR at your local 10k?  That's great and all - but guess how much value that has to the vast majority of companies out there?  0.  Zero.  Nada.  Zilch.  Do you know why?  It's because EVERY SINGLE RACE has a winner.  Every single age group in every single race has someone who placed first place and can claim that they won their age group.  All of them do.  Do you know what means?  It means that there are millions of people out there who "won their age group."  So, while it doesn't belittle your accomplishment any, it just means that there are so many people who have done the same thing - and a placing in a race doesn't set you apart.  Granted, there ARE exceptions to that (i.e. "I won my age group at the Ironman World Championships", or "I always win my age group and I'm always on the podium") - and sometimes, with a long history of success, race results alone will get you sponsored (or at least in the door - but we'll touch on that later).
So what does someone who isn't an elite athlete do to get sponsored?  Again, the simple answer is show that you can provide exposure for the company.  Maybe you have a million twitter followers and you can save them advertising revenue by simply sharing company advertisements.  Maybe you're a coach or manager or group leader with a direct line to people that the company is wanting to get their product out to.  Maybe you're a gorgeous super model who a company would love to have their product on and they can save money by "sponsoring" you rather than paying a model who doesn't know anything about their product.  There's lot of ways that a company can have value in a sponsored athlete outside of just being a great athlete.  Get creative and find what works for you.
Race results don't matter, but they still do kind of.
As I said above - winning isn't everything when it comes to getting sponsored.  Winning races will not get you sponsored alone simply because there are so many people winning races that you don't get set apart.  With that said, it doesn't hurt.  A company likes to have their product represented on the podium at a race, or through race pictures.  Or through any kind of exposure, really - but doing well at races definitely doesn't hurt.
It's important to keep in mind that a race result doesn't necessarily mean a win or a podium for a lot of athletes.  Most companies will be happy to promote you using their product and having success in your race - whatever that may mean to you.  The inverse of that can be true too.  If you have a string of races where it looks like you're having a miserable time and bringing those around you down - it can have a negative impact on a sponsor.  That's never any good.
I would imagine it's very rare for the amateur athlete to be dropped because they aren't doing as well in races as they typically do - but it's possible that, for sponsorships that put a heavy emphasis on that kind of thing, an athlete won't be renewed the following year during the application process with poor race results.
The bottom line is this:  Race results don't matter in the grand scheme of things in most cases - but they don't hurt.
Social Media is great - but only if used the right way.
Many companies (or endurance sports teams) who sponsor people will do so in the form of creating a "team" or a "group."  This is a really good way to get everyone together so that people are on the same page in going in the direction the company wants the group to go in.  Using a social media platform like Facebook as an example, a company will often create a "Facebook group" to put all of its athletes in.  Oftentimes, you'll have people posting content, pictures, reviews, etc to that group - but not out in the public.
Brutal honest news flash:  If you're posting how much you love a certain product (through pictures, reviews, whatever) to a private group on Facebook where the only people in that group are sponsored athletes and employees of that company - you are NOT using social media correctly.  The whole point is to promote the brand.  If you're preaching to the choir - you're not doing that.  You should be posting publicly about the brand - otherwise it does no good.
Social media interaction is something that a lot of companies value very much - and it doesn't do them a whole lot of good if your postings are set to "Private mode" where only you and your friends can see them.  While there are some exceptions to this (like if you have 10 trillion friends or something), most companies want that to be public for everyone to see.
Another social media thought:  If you're just going to be a regurgitater of statuses and never actually provide any social media content - then you'll likely need another avenue from which you can provide value to a company (again - this thought doesn't apply if you have a massive followers/friend list).  Having been on the other side of things (helping run a team of athletes), I can say that when you post something - there should be something personal FROM YOU about how you enjoy the product.  Not simply clicking the "retweet" or "share" button.  That kind of social interaction, with very few exceptions, has little value to a company.  Even a quick line like:  "Look at what *company A* is doing to change the industry!" or "Check out how my teammates are doing in their races on our blog!" goes a long way to showing that you actually care and represent the company - and not that you're just clicking a button to fulfill your obligation after getting free stuff.
Companies - and the general public - see through your bullshit.
This won't apply to everyone - but it does apply to a lot of people who I've been on teams with, sponsored with by the same company, or have seen sponsored through various companies.
Companies know that people want free stuff.  It's just that simple.  No one would apply for a sponsorship if they weren't getting free or discounted product.
However, most companies can see right through it when someone is just trying to get their hands on free product for whatever reason with no intention of doing anything to earn that product.  This is why companies will turn down way more applications than they receive.
However, occasionally, one of those applications slips through the cracks and you get someone who tells people how great a product is - only to jump to the next product in a couple of months.  This is usually followed by a slew of badmouthing on the original product they left, and they will usually jump ship to the next product afterwards.  These type of people typically don't last long and are weeded our pretty quickly - mainly because the public just isn't buying (both figuratively and literally) it.
This touches a bit on believing in a product you're representing.  The type of people I allude to above obviously don't.  I can guarantee you that it will become apparent VERY quickly in the sponsoring company's eyes whether or not you are fulfilling your obligation to the company and they will know, and rather quickly, whether you're just doing it for "free product."  Furthermore, the general public will catch on quick as well.  If one product is the best thing in the world one day, and then terrible the next as you promote their competitors - the general public will look at anything you say with a questioning eye.
In fact, to be honest - whenever someone is sponsored by a company - people will assume that anything the sponsored athlete says or writes about that product is incredibly biased.  Or they'll just assume it's complete bullshit because the sponsored athlete is just trying to fulfill some kind of obligation.
It's the sponsored athlete's job to show the general public that they truly are invested and love the product and that it is a vital part of their day to day athletic life (or life in general).  The ability to do that changes the sponsored athlete from "someone just trying to please their sponsors" to "someone who I can talk to about this product and see if it's right for me".
There are lots of ways to do this.  First and foremost - be honest about your assessment of a product. Point out the flaws and the strengths.  Remember, when you're exposing the public to a product - your job isn't just to get them to buy the product.  If someone buys the product and hates it - you haven't done your job.  I've steered people away from products I use because, after talking with them, I've thought a product wouldn't work for them or they would ultimately be unhappy with it.  Your ultimate goal should be the same goal as the company you are representing - to have happy customers.  You don't get that by lying to them about a product you received for free.
My motto always has been:  I will only represent something if I believe in it and would spend my hard earned money to buy it without a discount anyway.

So becoming that with a company is the easy part - the hard part is getting a company to recognize what an asset you can be if they bring you on as a sponsored athlete.  Sometimes it's easy to get in front of the right people, sometimes it's not.  Each company is different is different in how they handle things and, with enough effort (which you should be willing to do) - you'll eventually find the right person to talk to and see if you're a fit.

For me - things I look out for when "getting sponsored" are:
- How much I use the product and if that use translates to the needs of the company.  Do I really want to put the effort into promoting a product I hardly use?  What use is that to me or the company I am representing?
- What requirements they have for sponsored athletes?  For example, if there are "sales requirements" then I will not accept a sponsorship with a company.  There is a difference between a salesman and a sponsored athlete - and if I am required to "sell x amount of product" in order to obtain or retain any benefits I may receive - then that's something entirely different than what I am looking for.
- Will promoting this product interfere with other sponsors or my day to day life?  If the requirements of a product require you to promote competition from another sponsor you may have - then a choice needs to be made.  For me, I will not promote a direct competitor of one of my sponsors.  This type of scenario most often presents itself when you're a member of a team (i.e. the team has one sponsor for a product and you have another sponsor for the same product).  I've found the best way to "promote" your team's sponsor is by thanking them for the support of the team and letting your personal sponsor know that's what you're doing so there is no confusion.  It's something that's doable - it just takes some creativity.  Obviously, if the requirements for a sponsorship interfere with my day to day life with my family or whatnot, then I will not accept a sponsorship.  At the end of the day, endurance sports is a hobby and an activity I use as a part of my life - it's not my entire being.  There are lots of things more important than endurance sports and if representing a company interferes with all of that, then I will simply walk away.

Just some food for thought that may or may not help people who are looking to get sponsored.  Remember - the bottom line and the key thing is:  Ask not what your sponsor can do for you, but what you can do for your sponsor.  With that mindset - you'll end up on the right track.

Also - keep in mind that the stuff above is just my general thoughts and definitely not a bible by any means.  It's just what I've found has worked based on my experience as a sponsored athlete and with helping run a triathlon team who (indirectly) sponsored athletes.  It doesn't apply across the board and there are exceptions, I'm sure.
For example - a professional athlete will be on a totally different mindset.  If they're representing one shoe company and their contract is up with that company and they have an opportunity to move to a completely different company for more money - then more power to them.  I have no problem with that in the slightest bit and it's completely different than someone being an ambassador/sponsored athlete for a company.  The main difference is - this about the pro athlete getting paid.  It puts food on the table.  They're providing a service and an advertising platform for a company and doing it strictly through athletics as their full time job.  So I understand that completely and don't fault anyone in that situation in the slightest bit.  It may come off as slightly hypocritical on my part - but whatever, it is what it is.

To end things - my first foray in "athlete sponsorship" (outside of companies sponsoring athletic teams in high school and college) was when I was dabbling in mixed martial arts.  Long story short, I wrestled in college and wanted to get my fix and thought mixed martial arts would be a good idea.  I managed to secure a fight and was approached by a guy who was trying to kickstart a business called Underratedfighter.com.  He told me that if I wore his shirt walking to my fights and immediately after the fight - he'd supply me and my gym mates with plenty of gear.  So I did that:

This is such a LOLworthy picture.

This is more or less how the whole fight went - I lost via split decision (which was BS in my mind, but that's another story).
And my teammates got a bunch of shirts and and hats from the guy and I never heard from him again, his number was disconnected, and the website went down seemingly almost as quickly as it went up. I wore his shirts to the next couple of fights but then stopped wearing them as I just assumed the company was completely dead.  I had a couple of other sponsors during my time in MMA - but eventually quit the sport when I realized that getting punched in the face sucks, cutting weight sucks worse, and getting knocked out is scary as hell and REALLY SUCKS.  So, while I lost my first fight - it wasn't that bad.  But the second fight I lost - where I was knocked out - I knew I would never fight again.  Just not worth it, for me.  Anyway, that's getting off topic - but the moral of the story is that a sponsor asking nothing of you (i.e. just wearing a shirt to the ring of some rinky dink, smalltime MMA fight) is probably not worth that much.  So keep that in mind too.






Saturday, March 7, 2015

2015 - Goals, Aspirations, and Plans.

First post of 2015 - mainly because, for the first time that I can remember, I took a true "offseason" and didn't really race from December to March.  Last year - my first race was in January - and I went nearly full bore until November.  This resulted in being more fatigued and getting banged up throughout the year.  At least, for me it did.  I found that day to day life, combined with constant training and trying to "stay peaked" for a slew of races, just wore me out.

So, as mentioned above, I decided some time off was in order (although I still kept my training regimen - the load was lightened).    This meant not doing some of the early season races I initially planned for (which included some "warm up" races for Ironman 70.3 Oceanside).  However, I feel great physically with the training I've done, and have made quite a bit of progress from where I was at the end of last year.  So, with that said, I have high hopes for some of my goals.

My athletic specific goals, in no particular order, are:

- Have a "Kona Qualifying" caliber race at Ironman Lake Tahoe.  I'm hoping to break 10 hours on a tough course and feel if I get my swim on point it's highly doable for me.
- Go under 4:30 at a 70.3 race (either Ironman 70.3 Oceanside or Challenge Rancho Cordova).
- Qualify for USAT Duathlon Nationals.
- End the season as a USAT Duathlon All American.
- Break 3 hours at an "end of season" marathon while pushing my son in a stroller.

Outside of those, I want to represent my sponsors, team, coach, and endurance community the best I can at all times.  I hope that's something that won't be so challenging - as I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth sometimes - but hopefully it will all be good.

With that said, my main race schedule this year revolves around Ironman Lake Tahoe. Personally, I'm hoping this race is much like it was in 2013 - with freezing temperatures, miserable weather, a tough race course, and a massive challenge to even finish the race.  First, it's my best shot at getting a top podium spot.  Secondly, I want to remember the race - much like Leadman.  I want an epic race.

Ironman 70.3 California and Rancho Cordova are the two halves I have set up for this year - and I'm thinking Rancho Cordova is the best bet I have at hitting my time goal.

I'll be doing all 3 Camarillo Duathlon Series events, and adding in the OC Duathlon.  Ideally, I can qualify for All American status and for the USAT Du Nats through these races.  If I can find a way to squeeze in a long course duathlon - I'll try to do that too.

I haven't targeted a marathon for the end of the year yet, and I haven't decided whether or not I'll be doing any "filler races" (i.e. shorter tris, 5k through half marathon runs, etc) in the interim.  I'll probably do the Magic Mountain Man race - mainly because I missed it last year and it has some sentimental value to me.  Since it's a week after Ironman Lake Tahoe - I won't be "racing" it.  I'll consider it a victory lap (regardless of how Tahoe goes).  Outside of that - it's all up in the air.

So now it's on paper for the world to see, and hopefully I can live up to it.

I'll be making a post next week getting into more detail of what's changed for me since last year, where I plan to concentrate my training, new sponsors/supporters, and some training tips that I've found have worked for me.

Friday, December 5, 2014

San Dimas Turkey Trot 5k

This was to be my final race of the season (I elected for a small 5k over the San Dimas Turkey Tri because I was just burnt out from racing and training 11 of the 12 months of the year).

The Renegade Racing San Dimas Turkey Trot is a 5k, 10k, and Kid's fun run that is held at Bonelli Park (a venue I'm very familiar with having raced there several times before).  I elected to do the 5k over the 10k - mainly because the 10k goes "off road" and I was 50/50 as to how well a stroller would handle that (not completely knowing the course) and I was 100% certain that all the jostling around wouldn't be much fun for my son.  So, the 5k it was.

The course is pretty straight forward.  It's an out and back 5k that goes straight up a hill and then back down.  Not ideal for a stroller race, but this was more of a fun run for me than anything else.

Before the race with my son all set and ready to go.
Race was about as standard as any other running race is.  The 5k group started out at the same time as the 10k group and I was able to get to "pre-park" my stroller at the front of the line.  When the signal went for us to go - I darted out ahead of everyone and just worked to keep a good pace.  

I managed to keep a lead for the first part of the race, but two things happened that made it quickly apparent that it would be difficult.

1)  There was a gigantic hill in front of me.  The amount of time you lose on a hill when pushing a stroller is huge, and the bigger and longer the hill - the more time you lose.  Again, this wasn't going to be an overly competitive race for me and I wasn't going to kill myself doing this - so it wasn't a huge deal.

2)  The bigger deal was my son gave me one of those whines.  It wasn't a "Dad, I'm bored" type of whine.  It was a "Dad, something's wrong!" kind of whine.  When they whine happens, the race/run/whatever stops and I check to see what's wrong.  In this particular case, a couple minutes into the hill - my son had snaked his arms into his chest harness and was stuck.  This was because his harness was loose (he was wearing a jacket that morning and I took the jacket off of him for the race - so there was a bit of extra room).  Again, not a huge deal - a quick pull over to the side, got his arms straightened out, and tightened the harness - and off we went!

The uphill was brutal.  A combination of me not training much for this race and being somewhat out of shape, pushing a stroller, and just being plain old tired all made this race much tougher than it needed to be.  

The downhill (after the turnaround) was much better - but still difficult due to having to control the stroller.  In any case, it wasn't that bad and we ended up with a first place finish in my age group.

Podium for Brucie!
All in all a spectacular race and incredibly well run by the folks over at Renegade Racing.  

We even caught up with some friends after the race who did the 10k!





Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Renegade Terrifying Ten Miler Race Report and Surf City Long Course DNS

This was a new race put on by the folks at Renegade Race Series that couldn't possibly have a more beautiful setting.  The race takes place right by the beach in Dana Point along the Salt Creek Bike Path.  The race has everything anyone could ask for in a short course running race:  5k, 10k, and 10 mile options; some really great race swag including a sweet tech 1/4 zip long sleeve shirt for the 10 miler, a great finisher medal, and a fun after race expo.

Logo for the race.
I signed up to do this race with the understanding that it would be one final "tune up" for my 70.3 I had planned the week after.  I figured my wife could surf while I pushed my son along on the stroller and it would be a great, easy, and fun day.  Well, in the realm of "shit happens" - my wife stepped on a clam in the Philippines two weeks prior and sliced up her foot pretty bad.  So, not only was she not going to be able to surf - but she was on crutches too.  And the surf was pumping!  (I myself was slightly tempted to just ditch the race and paddle out).

View was great, surf was great, and my wife enjoyed a nice breakfast while I ran.
Even though my wife was just hanging out and not surfing, I still decided to push my son in the stroller.  I was not, however, prepared for the course.  The course itself is extremely challenging and hilly - with about 2500 feet of elevation gain over 10 miles and several sharp up and down hills.  Hills are quite possibly the worst thing for someone in a stroller race - as it never allows one to get into an even pace.  If you're going up a hill - you're expending more energy pushing the stroller and if you're going down a hill - you're expending more energy controlling the stroller and keeping it from flying out of control.  All of which slows you down.
I started the race having no idea what the course was like - not being overly familiar with the area and having not looked up the course (my mistake).

At the start line of the race.
I arrived to the start line early which accomplished two things - 1) it allowed me to get into the front so I would be able to take off ahead of the pack and allow anyone faster than me to pass by me and 2) it gave me some time to give my son some milk so (hopefully) he would nap during the run.

As the race started, success on both fronts!  He fell asleep and I managed to take off in the lead without any issues.  I was aiming for a 6:00/mile pace through the whole race - in hopes of getting a sprint finish at the end to break an hour.  That, sadly, would not happen (mainly due to the hills) - but the effort was there throughout nonetheless.

Goofing around for the camera guy while in the lead.  The guy in red eventually passed me once the hills came.

Still knocked out!  This was around mile 9 because he woke up with about half a mile to go.

Coming in to the finish. 
I was in the lead for the first mile or so - hitting it a bit faster than anticipated at about 5:45/mile but feeling solid nonetheless.  About that time, the guy who eventually would win the race shot past me right as we were hitting the first hill.  I tried to keep up - but couldn't.  I ended up losing sight of him during the race, but managed to keep a fairly good pace throughout all things considered.

I finished with a 1:11:00 - which isn't terrible considering the course and the fact I was pushing a stroller.  I truly feel that, even with the hills, I would have hit my sub 1 hour goal if I didn't have the stroller.  Without the hills - I would have hit it - stroller or not.  At least, I feel that way.  I felt really good during this race.

Now, looking at the pictures, you might be wondering WTF I was wearing during the race.  Since it was a Halloween run, I figured I'd dress up "in costume" - so a friend of mine (fellow A Runner's Circle Ambassador Myrna) did some costumes up for Bruce and I.  We were R2D2 and C3P0.  Which worked out pretty well as the costumes were creative, pretty good looking, and not cookie cutter at all (i.e. we didn't just to buy a costume at a shop).  It also was something that let me run with minimal intrusiveness (although running in sleeves is tough and it wasn't exactly cool temperature-wise that day).   In any case, I was thrilled with them.

2nd Place Overall and 1st in my Age Group



Bruce and I ended up second overall and first in my age group.  Pretty stoked with that result, even if I didn't meet my goal (time wise) during the race.  Afterwards, we stuck around for the costume contest and had some fun with the kids in the costumes.  Bruce wasn't too thrilled with showing off for people, but he had a good time outside of that.  

This kid was awesome with his costume and the way he was acting as Superman.  

Bruce wasn't thrilled with being put down in front of so many people.

Bruce's costume turned out to be pretty sweet.  And check out the waves in the background!

The Finisher medal with the division award.

The next week, we traveled up to Santa Cruz, Ca for the Surf City 70.3 race - which was the last big race of the season and one that I was super pumped for.  Everything had fallen into place for me training-wise and I was feeling great going into the race.

Stuff all laid out the day before the race.
I was fully prepared to PR on this course (as it's relatively flat) and felt that I had a very, very realistic shot at breaking 4:30:00 or coming very close to it.  

Unfortunately, it was not to be.  I spent the night before the race shivering and shaking uncontrollably and was up all night hovering over the toilet in one fashion or another (I'll spare you the details but let's just say it was coming out of both ends).  I probably notched about 30 minutes of sleep total that night and was weak, sick with a fever, and had 0 energy.  So instead of going to transition to rack up and get ready - I made the quick walk over to turn in my chip and call it a day.  

That was an extremely difficult thing for me to do - as I have never DNSed a race before.  Especially a race that I dragged the family 7 hours up the coast to go to.  However, it is what it was and I wouldn't have survived very long racing out there.  Better to pull the plug in advance and try to enjoy my day the best I could (which basically consisted of me walking around like a zombie trying to make sure my son didn't get into any mischief).  

I still haven't decided if I'm going to finish my season out (I originally had a half marathon, a 10k, a 5k, and an Olympic distance triathlon scheduled).  My gut feeling is to scratch the rest and start fresh after a few weeks of rest.  We'll see - I'll update the blog later with a year in review after I figure it out.



Friday, October 17, 2014

Racing Addiction, Learning Lessons in Triathlon, and What I Need to Work On. My races from the past month.

As mentioned in my Vineman race report, I hurt my leg at Vineman.  This caused me to pull out of my original plan of racing Ironman Lake Tahoe (which, ironically, was cancelled in of itself on race day).  Originally, this lead me to want to take some time off and make sure my leg was 100% ready for a late season race I had targeted (the inaugural Surf City 70.3 in Santa Cruz, Ca) and also get me ready and completely healthy going into next season.

However, I ran into a problem a lot of triathletes (and endurance racers in general) run into.

I'm ADDICTED to racing.

It's not a unique problem to me (most of the people on my tri teams and tri clubs race several times a year - some people race nearly every weekend) and I'm certainly not the only person who is so focused on racing and competition that they ultimately ignore things like getting the proper training in, listening to their body when it starts to break down, etc, etc.

I can't speak for other people, but I often question (and get questioned) as to why I do so many races.  What's the point of it?  A general point that I raise to myself is that the vast majority of these races that I enter - I won't win.  I might be "loosely competitive" in a lot of them - but it's not like I'm bringing home a ton of trophies and prize purses or anything of the sort.  I don't rely on racing for my livelihood.  I don't make a living from it.  In addition, the more I race - the less effective my training is - which, in turn, limits how successful I can be when I race.  So why race so much?

For me, I suppose, it's because I enjoy the rush of getting to the starting line and seeing how well I can do in a race.  I enjoy pushing myself to the best I can be and I like to see how that compares to other people pushing themselves to be the best they can be.  I enjoy the adrenaline rush of taking off at a starting line, of getting into a bad spot during a race and pushing through it, of crossing a finish line.  In fact, even in the races I win or place in - I always seem to enjoy the actual racing more than I do any podium celebrations or anything of that sort.

Because of that, it makes it very difficult for me to "concentrate solely on an 'A' race" or take time off between races.  Now, that's not always a bad thing.  Sometimes, it works out pretty well - sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes it causes issues in training, sometimes racing can provide an extra boost of confidence leading into another event.  Sometimes you don't have the race you wanted to have and you NEED another race mentally to get back on your feet.

What this meant for me was - when I decided to pull out of Ironman Lake Tahoe to make sure I was complete ready for my 70.3 in November - I could NOT deal with taking a month or two "off from racing".  Once I was able to run without any major pain again - I immediately signed up for a race - the Los Angeles Triathlon (which happened to be in my backyard and also on the same day as Ironman Lake Tahoe).

Again, addicted to racing.

In any case - on to the LA Triathlon race report:

HERBALIFE LOS ANGELES TRIATHLON

I mostly picked this race to do because it was in my backyard and because I was going to the Philippines on vacation the week after.  Originally, the plan was going to do Ironman Lake Tahoe and then recover while on vacation.  When Tahoe was cancelled, the new plan was to just relax and have a "mini break."  Unfortunately (or fortunately - depending on how you look at it, I suppose), that changed when I stopped feeling pain in my leg during training and when I had a fairly decent 5k time at the LA Galaxy 5k.  At that point, I figured I'd have enough fitness to put a solid effort into an Olympic/Standard distance race.  The Los Angeles Triathlon just happened to be near where I lived and the date lined up perfectly to coincide with my vacation schedule - so I signed up and went to do the race.

I DID have a few reservations about this race beforehand.  For one, the course was designed by someone who either was hitting the bottle way too hard when they mapped it out or just has no clue about triathlon and racing in general.  That's just my opinion, and may sound a bit harsh, but this wasn't a very good course.  My problems with it will be described in each specific section of my report - but I will say that when I previewed the bike and run courses the weeks prior to the event - I seriously considered pulling out of the race (again, addicted to racing - which is what ultimately prevented me).

All of my gear for the race.  Seems like a lot when you look at it like this.  Maybe I was ready for Ironman Lake Tahoe anyway.


Mandatory Transition Shot.


THE SWIM:
The swim course was a 1500 meter open water swim in some light surf.  Nothing too incredibly special or different about it.  You swam out to a buoy, made a right hand turn, swam to the next buoy, made a right hand turn, swam to another buoy, made a right hand turn, then swam near the original buoy and made a left to come back in.  Pretty standard stuff.  What exactly could be wrong with it?  Well, for starters, after the third right turn, the path that the swim was in was right where the surf was breaking.  What this caused was a mishap and some mayhem for some people not that experienced in open water swimming and there was more than a handful of people who just swam in before the turn and walked along the shoreline.  That's not a major deal, but that's something that probably should have been thought out a little better.  I ended up swimming past the break and going that route - but a lot of people did not.  The other big thing (and this comes up again) was that there was a gigantic freaking bluff that separated the swim start from the transition area.  So when you exited the swim, you had to run up a huge hill to get to the transition area before hopping on your bike.  Now, that's not a big deal - but it comes into play later in the run as well.

For me, I had a rough swim.  A gigantic mistake I made in training leading up to this event was concentrating too much on my run and bike (in an effort to get my leg injury overcome) and I all but ignored my swim fitness and training during that period.  What this equated to was a very bad swim time (worse than usual) and a lot of difficulty (fitness wise) coming out of the swim.  I wasn't gassed from it, but I was pretty close.  It's disappointing because I felt like I was getting through to a pretty decent level of swimming (I was 1:14 for a full distance at Vineman), so this was kind of a step back.  However, there's not much to expect when you don't train your swim.  Like anything else in life, if you don't put the effort in - you can't expect the results and that was definitely the case for me here.

THE BIKE:
After getting up the monstrosity of a hill, I hopped on my bike and came to what I think is the biggest complaint of the course.
The bike course was a 22 mile course that was made of several loops (depending on which you race you did - the Olympic/Standard race was 5 loops) of a small 4 mile course.  The course made a sharp left turn, up a hill, steeply down the hill on the other side, a sharp right at the bottom of that hill, back up another hill, down a hill, sharp left, then up a hill to a turn-around and then back and rinse and repeat.
If it sounds convoluted, it's because it IS convoluted.  Not only is it convoluted, but it's outright dangerous.  When I rode the course as a preview ride, the only thing I could think of was "Someone is going to get killed doing this race."  The bike course, while incredibly challenging and tough, just wasn't safe for a group event.  It would be a good course for maybe 15 or so so riders who were drafting each other and super experienced professional bike riders - but it wouldn't be able to withstand the scrutiny of 1500 people riding the course with a "no draft" rule in effect (not that drafting would have made it anymore safe but it spaced people out where there is simply no space).
On race day, I laughed when I saw that they put up hay bails at the bottom of both of the sharp turns and at the turnarounds.  Maybe that was a smart safety measure, maybe someone woke up and thought "Oh shit, we're going to get sued when someone breaks their neck", or maybe that was the plan all along - but it was ridiculous to see that kind of thing on a triathlon course.  In addition to the hay bails were a small army of volunteers telling people to slow down at nearly every portion of the race.  I was told several times to slow down on the bike - often when I was going uphill!  In addition to the haybails, there was somehow puddles of water at the base of both hills.  So it was wet and slippery by both of the sharp turns.  How this happened and why it wasn't immediately cleaned up and stopped is beyond me - but it presented a real and dangerous hazard.
The course got extremely crowded, extremely fast.  Several people were walking their bikes up the hill, a handful were walking their bikes DOWN the hill (assumingly out of fear that they would crash on such a steep downhill section).  I saw three wrecks, one of them pretty bad (where there was visible blood).  I myself took a skid and went down (but was able to get up pretty quickly).
The hills made the course slow, the conditions made it slow, the layout made it slow, the crowd made it slow - it wasn't the type of course you could hammer through.
It was also a course that really required a road bike to get your best time at it.  Handling trumped aerodynamics this time around and if you had a bike where you could get a good tuck on the downhill sections, then I think a bike that climbed a bit better than a triathlon bike was probably the way to go.  I was on my tri bike, but it was probably the least of my worries.
Now, with all that negative out of the way - the one thing this race did right was the spectators and volunteers.  Everyone was excited and there was lots of energy to cheer people on.  It was great.  There were hordes of people wherever you were on the bike course always giving support and keeping spirits high.  It helped me a lot and I really appreciated it.
Another thing that they got right were the timing mats.  One thought I had when I previewed the course was that there would be a ton of people who would cut the course or ride short and not do all the loops.  I think that problem was alleviated with the timing mats they had on the course - which practically made it impossible to not do all 5 loops and register a legitimate time.  They had the same timing set up on the run too, and I think that's the best way to do it to prevent course cutting.
I managed to put together a decent bike split before making it in to T2 and getting ready to head out on the run.  I felt really good coming off of the bike and the legs felt super fresh.

THE RUN:
The run course is a doozy.  Once out of transition, you head up on a street up to the first turnaround and then back down to transition.  Then you run right by transition and down the aforementioned steep sand bluff onto the beach - where you run about 3/4 mile in the sand down to a turnaround, along the tideline, back up the steep sand bluff - then repeat.  On the last of three laps - you head straight along the beach to the finish line (so you only go up the sand bluff twice).  It was a beast of a 10k and an extremely challenging run.
Coming out of transition, I was averaging a 5:45 pace going up the hill and I felt extremely strong.  That changed coming down into the sand.  I'm not a sand runner and I don't really run in the beach unless I'm just screwing around after a surf or open water swim or something.  So it's a bit different and something I wasn't used to.  Obviously this ultimately equaled me going slower than I would on a typical road 10k - and the two climbs up the sand dunes certainly slowed things down a bit, but I still felt strong and put in a good effort.
I ended up with the second fastest run split of the day - with the only guy ahead of me being someone who was on a relay team (meaning all he did was the run).

A mini collage as I didn't order pictures from this event.
I finished with a 2:38 and some change - which was good enough for 5th in my age group - which I'm satisfied with.  With my swim as bad as it is, I simply can't compete at a race like this - so the fact that I was 5th is a victory in my mind.  With an improved swim (I figure I'm giving up 15 minutes in that race to the faster swimmers), I think I can be more competitive.  Obviously, however, it'll take a lot of work.
I didn't really stick around for the awards, mainly because as soon as I finished - they gave you your medal, snapped a picture, gave you a water bottle, and then you were swarmed with Herbalife sales reps (at least I think they're reps?) trying to get you involved with their product.  It left a bad taste in my mouth so I just grabbed my stuff and headed home.  
Suffice to say - I will not be doing that triathlon again if the course remains the same.

Pretty sweet medal that was hard earned at this race.

BONELLI OLYMPIC DISTANCE TRIATHLON:

I left for the Philippines shortly after the L.A. Triathlon and, while there, signed up for the Bonelli Olympic Distance Triathlon put on by Tri Series Events.  This was mainly because friends and teammates from the A Runner's Circle Tri Team were doing the event and, while I had no expectations of doing well (I was to fly in the night before the race), I figured it would be a great test for my fitness and a good way to race with the team.

The morning of the race, I was feeling pretty jet lagged - and, to top it off, I hadn't done much training while on vacation (hence why it's called "vacation").  I managed to get in a few swims (and a lot of surfing and snorkeling), and two runs and that was it.

Had a pool all to myself for one swim workout - which was awesome.

Ok, I lied.  I did manage to get one bike session in.  I took my niece, nephew, and son around for a bit in this bike cab.
The BOD (Bonelli Olympic Distance) went alongside their Steamboat triathlon (sprint equivalent), and was held in Bonelli Park in San Dimas, Ca - where several triathlons are held and on roads I'm pretty familiar with.  I had a decent showing at the Turkey Tri of last year on practically the same course - so I was hoping not to embarrass myself too badly here.

THE SWIM:
The swim is basically as easy as it gets.  It goes out to one buoy and then you take a left to another, and come back in.  Some people were claiming that the swim was long after the event was done, but I don't think that was the case.  I haven't looked at my data from the race yet, but my time was about on par with what it would have been.
It took awhile to get going because of a fog that kind of hung around a little longer than anyone expected (which killed the visibility from the shoreline), which gave plenty of time for the team to take some pictures.
ARC Tri Team and friends getting ready to go before the race start.
Once we got started, the swim went about what I expected.  It was a mass start that didn't have a timing mat at the beginning, so any time you waited beyond your wave's start counted against you.  Because of this, I lined up in the front and just took off as fast I could in an effort to get clear and not be in anyone's way.  Well, that didn't work.  I swam pretty slow - though it wasn't for a lack of effort.  The lack of sleep, lack of concentrated swim training, and just general weariness got to me in the swim - but I worked my way out of that in the last 500 or so meters, and felt pretty good coming out of the water.  I have no idea where my swim split ranked, but it had to be back of the back - as I was passed by people in two different waves.  All of that said, I was pleased again with the performance of my Zone 3 wetsuit.  While I didn't have the swim I wanted, the suit performed well for me and was extremely comfortable.  I plan to do a review of it in a later blog post.

I ran up the hill to transition and got on the bike pretty quickly.

THE BIKE:
The bike course is pretty standard with two short climbs and a medium climb.  It's a three looped course, but spread out enough that it doesn't get too crowded.
I came out of the bike going pretty hard and decided within the first mile that I would push as hard as I possibly could on the bike and see if I could hang on afterwards for the run.  This meant a full blown 40k time trial effort and I'd let the cards fall where they may.  
I didn't quite go that fast (despite what my splits say - I think they messed up the splits between the bike, transitions, and swim for me - as my run is the only thing that matched what I remember my GPS said) but I was cooking pretty good.  I passed a multitude of people until the last 1/3 of the last lap - where I kind of hit a wall.  I took a moment (about half a mile) of easy spinning to let myself cool down a bit and then kicked it up again all the way in to transition.  
Cruising along on the bike.
Sometime during the bike, one of my armrests popped off (one of the bolts sheered off at the base and I guess the pressure I was putting on it caused it to pop off).  I simply stuffed it down my shirt and kept riding.  I didn't notice an incredible amount of difference (other than the obvious) just resting my arm in the area where the pad would have been, so it didn't effect my biking at all - but was still pretty sketchy.
Coming into T2, I was feeling it in my legs and knew I was in for a tough run.

THE RUN:
I took off on the run feeling it a bit, but still able to hold my normal 10k pace (which was surprising).  About a mile in, I started to falter but was still holding a pretty decent pace.  Then I was passed.  I kicked it up a notch in an attempt to catch the guy who passed me, and started to just get slower and slower and slower and watching the pace on my watch get higher and higher and higher.  I was almost at 8:30/mile by the time I finished - but I came across the line in 4th place - and no one from a later wave managed to beat that time - so that's where I finished.
Coming across the finish line and completely beat.
I ended up with 2nd in my age group and 4th overall, and I don't think anything (other than being a better swimmer and being faster in the water or just being a faster triathlete in general) would have changed that.  I went as hard as I could on the bike, but I don't think I made up too much from what I lost on the run.  The jet lag had somewhat of an effect, but I was pretty much over that by the time I was racing and don't think my end time went up much because of that.  In addition to that, the guys ahead of me were just plain faster than me - even if I was 100% ready for this race.
With my finishing medal and getting photobombed shortly after the finish.
I thought the event was incredibly well run, and really enjoyed myself.  The support was great and it seemed like there were 20 aid stations on the run.  There were a lot of people there, and most everyone seemed to have a great time.  I will definitely add another Tri Series Event to my calendar for next year.
The team in transition post race (or maybe pre-race, I'm not sure)
The ARC Tri Team had a few people on the division podium, including 2 people in the BOD, 1 in the Steamboat, and one on the relay team.  Pretty awesome - considering that it was some people's first triathlon ever!

A Runner's Circle podium finishers.

Second place on the age group podium.  Apparently the first place guy had other things to do.

Really digging the podium medal - which is made of balsa.
So that was that.  Basically, I need to work on my swim and put more effort into my swim training to get better.  I won't be competitive at most races with my swim the way it is now - and it's only going to get worse.  The effort has to be put in and the work has to be done - or else I should just start doing duathlons (where I'm not fast enough to be competitive anyway).  So I'll work on that.  Also, I need to get my race strategies in line with where my training is at and execute better during a race.  That will come with time and practice.

In any case, all in all they were a couple of positive races and I'm happy with that.  Hopefully they can help springboard me to a good performance in Santa Cruz, Ca come November.  We'll see.  In the meantime, here's a picture of my son playing with his best friend at the surf resort in the Philippines.
He was pretending he was asleep next to the dog.

The entire time we were there, this dog followed my son and they become attached at the hip.



















Friday, September 12, 2014

Product Review: Orange Mud Handheld and HydraQuiver Double Barrel

So this is a somewhat long overdue review of a piece of equipment that I use on most of my extra long runs and also a new piece of equipment that is surely going to see near-daily use from me.  Both of these products are from the Orange Mud line of hydration products.



The first is their newest offering, the Orange Mud handheld Hydration Pack.  This is a pretty unique hydration handheld that comes in a few colors (black, orange, purple, and grey).  It's a pretty unique and versatile handheld due to the fact that it uses a standard water bottle.  The pack comes with an Orange Mud branded 21 oz bottle, but the bigger bottles fit in just as well.

The new handheld, in orange.
For me this works the best as I can alternate between different forms of hydration without much real worry about using a bottle of electrolyte fluid instead of water - or worry about filling up a bottle that was used for a sports drink the run before and has a bit of an aftertaste.  I can plop just about any bottle in and go.
The Orange Mud 24 oz bottle next to the 21 oz bottle in the hydration pack.
The pack comes with a bunch of really cool features - would include an elastic pocket that expands a bit for storage needs, a key (or small gear) clip that's hidden beneath the pocket fold, and a pull tab that can also double up as a gear clip if needed.

Quick look at the pocket and the key clip.

The pull tab in the front of the bottle.  I can envision myself attaching a small lamp or something to this for longer ultras.
One of the best things about this handheld is the way it fits on your hand.  The strap is an elastic velcro strap, that's pretty wide - which means you can tighten it as much as you want.  I don't have HUGE hands and a I prefer my handhelds to be pretty tight (so that I can "wear" them without having to grip the bottle).  I prefer to be able to run with my fingers in the same place as they would be in if I wasn't carrying a bottle - and this pack accomplishes that very well.  The way my hand naturally curves supports the bottle, but the strap keeps it attached (not my grip).  It works out extremely well, for me.

The strap in action.  It's easy to run without much support from the hand.

You barely have to hold the bottle to move it around once it is in your hand. 

I would think that the strap is fairly versatile in the hand size range it can accommodate.  I've had co-workers try it on and the strap adjusts to people with hands much smaller than mine and hands much larger than mine.  The elastic on the strap really allows for a glove like fit each time.  The material beneath the strap does an excellent job in hugging and conforming to your hand - which helps relieve any direct pressure from overtightening the strap (and also any abrasions from the strap itself).

Side view of the strap undone.

Top view of the undone strap.  Notice the width.

Another side view of the strap.  You can see the material flap that your hand slides under when wearing the pack.

The strap when tightened.

Personally, I think it's a great pack and love using it.  It fits great, gives me multiple options with hydration (in terms of being able to use different bottles), and has enough room that I can bring some solid food/nutrition if I need to.

There are a couple slight drawbacks though.  First, if you're planning to take a phone with you and you have anything bigger than an IPhone5s - forget it.  It's just not going to fit.  I knew my LG G3  wouldn't fit just by looking at it, and I tried to fit an old Samsung Galaxy S4 into the pocket and - which I was able to squeeze it in by a hair - it wouldn't have been comfortable to run with and it was stretching the elastic to its limits.  Secondly, if you have a need to "shuffle" the handheld between both hands - it's a bit difficult to do that.  This isn't really a huge complaint, mainly because you can't have the best of both worlds (a handheld can't be tight enough to stay on your hand without support and loose enough to easily slide off to switch between hands mid run) - but it's something that is a factor.  It IS easy enough to pull the strap, slide it off, and slide your other hand in though - which is how I managed to get it to work.  But the "tossing" between two hands mid run won't work with this.

Hitting the trails with the new handheld.

There are worse views to have in the middle of a run, I suppose.
Next up is a pack I've been using quite a bit on longer runs - the Hydraquiver Double Barrel.  It's one of my favorite pack setups and it can carry just about anything you need to for any length race you do.

The Hydraquiver Double Barrel during a quick photo break in my latest Griffith Park run.
Hydration packs that are not handhelds and I have always had a love/hate/hate relationship.  I loved the fact that they provided me with necessary hydration during events, but I've always hated the way they "weighed me down" on the front - even on the least bulky of packs.  In addition, I've never been a huge fan of using a bit valve to get water from a bladder.  I've done it before on previous races - but it's a lot easier to simply have a water bottle at the ready (which is why I eventually moved to ditching the pack and going with a "double handheld" - which creates its own set of issues).

The Hydraquiver Double Barrel solved some of that for me.  For one - it sits high on your shoulder blades - which alleviates a lot of the cumbersomeness that other packs provide.  The straps that go over your shoulders are a bit difficult to get dialed in - but once they are - it's smooth sailing.  It carries two bottles (24 ounces pictured but you can get it to work with just about any standard size water bottle).

You can see the straps of the pack in this picture - which gives an idea of how high on the back the pack sits.
When I first used the product - I thought for sure that the bottles would bounce out.  When you place them in the pack - they seem loose and seem like they will fly out - even with the strap properly tightened.  However - I can attest - after using it on a variety of trail and road runs, and after taking my fair share of spills with it on my back - that they absolutely will not fall out.  They are about as secure as any bottle can be in a pack.

Mid run selfie of the bottles in the pack.

As you can see - full 24 oz bottles barely jostle around at all during running.
The pack also has a metric shitton (that's an official measurement where I'm from) of storage in it.  There is a "gel storage" slot on each of the shoulder straps that work well for just about anything you can cram in there (I use gels on one side, and Honey Stinger waffles or Bonk Breaker bars broken up on the other side).  There's also a main pocket in the back that can store quite a bit of stuff (phone, music player, extra nutrition, wallet, etc) and a smaller pocket within that pocket that can store smaller stuff that you need to quickly access while running (navigation unit, course map, etc).  Between the bottles there are elastic drawstrings that can be rigged to carry additional storage if needed.  Orange Mud also sells a storage pack specifically for this if that's what you're looking for.  Also - there is a key/gear hook which comes in handy for obvious reasons.  It's quite the utility pack.



A look at the storage pocket of the HydraQuiver pack.  Beneath that pocket is a larger area for even more storage.
Another positive from the HydraQuiver is the mesh backing that the pack has.  This makes the pack highly breathable - which is something that previous packs I've used failed horribly at.  It works well for heat management but also for general comfort.
The back of the HydraQuiver pack.
The pack does have a couple of downsides.  First, it takes some time to get it dialed in to fit perfectly.  During this time, you'll get abrasions, scrapes, etc under your armpits and along your shoulders.  However, once dialed in - you should be fine.  Those problems all disappeared for me by the second or third run - but I know a couple of people who got fed up before then and decided this wasn't the pack for them.
Also, be ready for the peanut gallery to make comments on it.  It's different looking from most hydration packs on the market - so a lot of people will not have seen it before.  I've gotten the "Oh wow, nice rocket pack - you're about to blast off!" and the "WHOA!  You look like a samurai but with water bottles!" a bunch of times before.  In fact, when I was on my death march at Vineman - I heard that almost non-stop.  That said, that's not really a negative as much as it is a preference.  The pack is definitely different aesthetically from "normal" hydration packs.

On the run at Vineman with the Orange Mud HydraQuiver.  It was a life saver in the 95 degree weather.
All in all, both are incredible products that step out from the "norm" of hydration products currently available.  I'd highly recommend either product, and if you're interested in either and have some more questions or whatnot, feel free to give me a shout and I'll do my best to help you out.

My son playing with the pack a long time ago when I first received it.