Thursday, September 26, 2013

Race Review: Leadman Epic Triathlon Bend, OR

This race finally came and went, and - all things considered - it was a success.  The race wasn't without its hurdles, but in the end I succeeded in what I planned to do.

Preliminary Days Leading Up to the Race:

Originally, I set out to do the 250.  My training was geared towards the 250 and I figured that I would take a hit on my run training in order to train for the longer swim.  However, my triathlon morphed into a trip for my family (my wife and my newborn, who would be 6 months at the time of the race).  At this point, I was still going to do the 250 - even though there would be family responsibilities involved.  Then, my brother-in-law decided to sign up for the 125 race.  His wife and 2 children and mother joined us for the trip, and then my mother and father-in-law decided to join us as well.

The logistics of having everyone coming up with us to Bend, OR and also being happy during race day was a bit much - so I decided that the best thing to do would be to drop to the 125 so that both of us (my brother-in-law and I) would finish in the same time frame which would prevent our family from waiting for hours on end or, even worse, leaving the race and missing us finish.

Due to the size of our group - we chose to rent a house and drive up to Bend rather than fly and get a hotel (as originally planned).  The house we rented was about a mile away from the finish line and T2 - so location was perfect.  Weather was excellent when we arrived and it looked like it was going to be a "picture perfect" triathlon.

My brother-in-law and I rode a couple of beach cruisers to packet pick up and it was a breeze.  In and out, no troubles or issues at all.  We were able to talk about the course and get all the answers we needed and have everything spelled out to us pretty clear.  The only downside is that we had to drive all the up to Cultus Lake to drop off our bikes at T1.  Now, for us, that wasn't really a downer because we were intending to drive the bike course anyway - but for some I could see how that would be cumbersome.

So, I set my bike up and headed up to Cultus Lake.
All ready to race.
The drive up to Cultus was beautiful and it looked like the course was going to be pure eye candy.  It didn't seem like too challenging of a course and we were all set for a good ride the following day.  Arriving at T1 - we got to scope out everything and mentally prepare for the swim (which promised to be cold).  By this time, we had heard the reports that the temperature for the swim was going to be around 32-34 degrees and the water would be hovering right around 60 degrees.  Our T1 drop bags were prepared accordingly.

Lake Cultus was beautiful, even though it did not look warm at all.
Night Before the Race:

For big races, I usually am not affected by race anxiety.  I find that I sleep soundly and have no real issues with losing sleep prior to a big event.
With that said, I DO have problems sleeping with a sick baby in the house.  I logged only 4 (ish) hours of sleep the night before because of this, and was convinced it was going to completely derail my race.  I was up at 4 am and ready to go to catch the transport bus up to Cultus Lake - and had already had a full meal in my belly from doing so.
Oh...NOW you're tired. :)
My brother-in-law and I decided to walk the mile to the bus pick up simply because we didn't want to wake anyone in the house up.  This was mainly due to most of the house being awake with two crying babies in it all night (he has an infant as well).

The bus ride up to the swim was pretty easy.  It was pitch black dark on the way up and took about an hour.  That left us with plenty of time to get our bikes situated and set up.

The Race:
When I originally signed up for this race - I had one goal in mind:  Come home with a belt buckle.  That was it.  I didn't care about placing overall or in my age group - I didn't care about looking good or anything else.  I wanted to come home with a belt buckle, end of story.
That's usually a bit odd for me because I've never been a big fan of finishing medals or anything like that.  However, having the belt buckle meant that I would have met a challenge and overcome it.  So I was excited about that.
Which is why I was delighted to know that I would still have a chance at a belt buckle.  When I "downgraded" from the 250 to the 125, I figured I'd have to wait until next year (originally the 125 race did not award belt buckles).  However, the guys at Lifetime announced that they would award belt buckles to anyone who finished under 5:15 for the 125 - I had a renewed sense of vigor.

The Swim:
When we arrived at the swim start, it was cold.  VERY COLD.  They had a few warming tents (which felt like a sauna inside compared to the outside temperature), but they were way too hot inside for my tastes.  I found myself moving in and out of them, and roughly decided that the constant warming and cooling off would probably end up being a very bad thing for me in the long run - so I opted to just stay out.
My brother-in-law and I before the start of the swim looking a lot happier than we should have been.
There were a few people in the race that were doing the swim with sleeveless wetsuits (which I originally planned to do but decided not to - and I'm glad I did) and even one girl who was just in a normal swimsuit!

When they announced my wave would be ready, I headed straight into the water to get a practice swim.  Originally, I was planning on doing a quick five minutes in the water or so, and then heading to the warming tent.  Well, as soon as I got in the water - I made the decision that I wasn't leaving until the swim was over.  The water, even though it was in the ballpark of 60 degrees, was incredibly warm compared to the air temperature and was very comfortable.  I swam out to the buoy start and just hung out (you were able to stand in the water at the start) until my wave was ready.

Now, I'm a slow swimmer.  It's been my weakness forever and I've been really working hard on it.  Shameless plug, but I've been following Dave Luscan at and it has done wonders for my swim.  I'm no Andy Potts or anything now, but I went from swimming almost 2:40/100m (as evidenced by an almost 45 minutes Olympic swim at a triathlon in June) to doing 800 meter sets in the pool at 1:47/100m.  A lot of that is just me swimming more, but a lot of it is also the drills that FindingFreestyle has taught me.

The swim went surprisingly well.  The lake was absolutely gorgeous and you can see all the way to the bottom if you stop to look (I did).  I was able to keep my stroke the entire time and didn't have much problems in terms of running in to people.  It was basically an out and back, with buoys to follow the entire way.  Total swim time:  46:42.  That's slow for some, but for me - pretty good.  The course was a bit short (there's no way it was a full 2500 with some of the times posted, but my guess is that it came in right around 2250 or 2300 on a straight line to the buoy and back - which I didn't swim on that straight line).  I was still satisfied with my swim.

NOTE:  Pictures below are the saved "samples" from the photograph company.  I've purchased these photos in digital format and will be updating the blog with the nicer, higher resolution versions when I receive them.

Obviously, SOMEONE isn't a happy camper out of the water.

With all the talk of bad weather - I had my T1 bag completely prepared.  Extra jerseys (both short and long sleeve), arm warmers, toe covers, knee warmers, wind vest, socks, helmet liner - the whole kit and kaboodle.  I looked like I was ready to climb Everest - and I wasn't alone.  My bag, while stock full of every piece of cycling gear you can imagine, was SMALL compared to some people's bags.
While doing my times in my head - I was preparing for a 8 to 10 minute T1 - which seems about on point with what most people ended up with while scrolling the results.
However, once I got out of the swim, the announcer said "WHOA!  Looks like we have some sun peaking out a bit early out here!"  I didn't see the sun (I had complete tunnel vision coming out of the water) but what I interpreted that to mean was "It's going to warm up pretty quickly and the weather is going to be nice."  So I got my wetsuit off, dried myself off, threw on my gloves (I figured I could stash them inside my trisuit if it got too hot) and decided to go without any "warm extras" and see how I did.  As soon as my helmet was on and my bike unracked - I realized I should probably get my toe warmers just in case.  I went back to my bag - searched through it, and couldn't find them.  After 60 seconds, I just gave up and put everything back in and went without them.  3:49 in T1 - which would come back to haunt me a little bit.  Considering the fumbling, and the short run (~300 meters) to the transition area from the swim exit, I was pleased with the time.

The Bike:
As soon as I hopped onto the bike and started cranking, I knew something was wrong.  For one - I was cold as shit.  It was freezing outside and, like an idiot, I didn't bother to put anything more than gloves on.  Secondly, my power was reading 110 watts - which is way too low (I was going around 25 mph at the time).  Then, the power disappeared.  When I passed someone, I'd get a power meter detected on my head unit, get their power, and then it would disappear when I was out of range.  I attempted to get it working while riding, but to no avail.  I would have to go on feel for this bike ride - which shouldn't be a huge issue, as I was more than prepared to a ride of this caliber.  I kept zooming along - passing most of the people ahead of me (I was 119th overall in the swim - but was in the third wave).  I cruised through the first 25 mile loop at about 25-26 mph.
Once I hit the first hill is where my problems on the bike began.  At this time, my toes were completely numb and I was getting shivers from going without any added warmth.  At around the 40 mile mark, there's a long steady climb and I just had nothing left outside of throwing it into the small chain ring and continually moving up.  I dropped to about 6-7 mph at this point for this entire stretch of hills.
The hills were tough and I was struggling to get up them.  However, I toughed it out (albeit with frozen legs) and managed to get hit the downhill section (approximately 25 miles all the way to T2) feeling halfway decent.  I clocked 49.6 as my fastest speed on the downhill section (which was sketchy to say the least with my bike set up).
I came into T2 with numb feet and a somewhat frozen chest with a 3:18:51 bike (my Garmin read the course at 68.4 miles).
Some notes on my bike set up and nutrition:
I went with 95mm carbon clinchers for this race because I felt the course wasn't as hilly as anticipated and I didn't think the winds would be as bad as they said.  The course was very hilly and the winds were pretty bad.  If I had the chance to go back and do it again - I would have replaced my front with a 40mm front that I have.  I was never in any real danger of crashing, but I think the cautiousness with making sure I didn't run into any trouble may have slowed me down a bit.
I opted to use a Lazer Tardiz with the visor for simplicity's sake.  The helmet is more comfortable than my Giro Air Advantage and, with the visor, easier to adjust on the fly.
My position needs work.  And a lot of it.  I'm lower than I was on my previous bike, and I still generate pretty decent power - but I'm obviously leaving a lot on the table with my aerodynamics.  With that said, I was able to stay in aero for pretty much the whole race (some uphill sections excluded due to how slow I was going).
My bike nutrition was drastically overthought.  Carrying 3 bottles was overkill as I didn't touch the back two bottles (I finished the one between the aerobars and that's it).  I had a powerbar gummy gel every 45 minutes or so, and had 1/2 a cliff bar and some gummy bears (the candy kind) in case I got hungry.  That was it in terms of nutrition.

My position is a little too upright for my tastes and I need to get it dialed in.

With that said, Bend is beautiful and the bike course looked like something out of Lord of the Rings.

I passed most of the people who were in front of me.  I was only passed by 2 people on the bike the entire day, and one came out of T1 right behind me.

T2 was fairly quick.  I wasn't 100% sure where the bike segment was going to end since they hadn't set up T2 when I dropped off the run bag.  Because of this, I still had my shoes on (I normally unstrap a few hundred meters out so I can jump off the bike easier).  So I had to unclip and run my bike to the rack, put my shoes and helmet into my bag, put on my run shoes, race number (they said you couldn't leave the transition without it), and sunglasses and get running.  This is all happened a little slower than I anticipated - I blame my the fact that my toes were completely numb.  T2 time was 2:01 and I was off to the run.
Fumbling around in transition.
The Run:
I planned to do the run at a 6:15 to 6:20 pace depending on how I felt off of the bike.  Judging from my previous runs on recent triathlons (36:38 10k at an Olympic in July and a 16:04 5k at a sprint in August) - I felt this was realistic.  The 12k run distance had me thinking I had a realistic shot at breaking 45 minutes or so.
I came out of the transition cooking it pretty good. My first two miles were at 6:15 pace exactly, which was great.  In addition, I was feeling pretty good.  Right after the 3 mile mark, there was an aid station at a "T" in the road.  My mile 3 was a bit slower (closer to 6:30) but I felt I had enough juice left to still do some damage and get back into my goal range.  At the turn, a volunteer directed me to take a left hand turn (she was cheering me on and pointing me to go that way).  I made the left and kept running (skipping the aid station goodies).  About 3 minutes later (just under a half mile and 3:02 according to my plotted run course from my Garmin) a truck pulls up next to me with a guy in a blue Lifetime T Shirt inside of it.  "Dude! She pointed you the wrong way!  Turn around!  You were supposed to go right!  Go! Go!"  I had no idea what happened, but I turned around as instructed and started cooking it.  I passed a guy behind me (who was also turned into the wrong direction) and really started kicking it to make up for lost time.  At this point (since I didn't know what my swim time had been), I thought I was on the cusp of losing out on my belt buckle.  As I passed the volunteer aid station, a part of me wanted to scream at the girl (who I wasn't even sure was there - I didn't remember what she looked like) but I didn't.  I just smiled and waved as a different lady yelled apologies to me as I ran past.
In addition to that little mishap, the "pancake flat" run had a couple of unexpected hills in it.  This slowed me down significantly, moreso than expected.  I was almost 8:30 on the mile with the bigger hill (where it went from unpaved sidewalk to dirt) and my confidence sank.  I thought for sure I had missed the chance for a belt buckle.
Hammering it down towards transition.  

Unknown to me, the finish line was right around the next bend.
 When I came towards transition, my pace had slumped a bit to the high 6s and even low 7s.  I didn't start hammering until I saw the finish line in the distance.  When I crossed, the only thing going through my mind was that I missed out on the belt buckle.  The second thought was whether or not I should try to protest with the race director since I was directed off course - but I quickly dismissed that thought.  It just seemed incredibly douchey when I played that scenario out in my mind.  I graciously accepted my finisher's medal, gave my wife and son (even though he was sleeping) a kiss, and stocked up on finish line goodies because I was STARVED.  My run ended up being 56:38, which ended up being a 7:37 pace.  Considering I ran an extra mile or so - that's about on target with what I planned on doing.
Never has someone been more disappointed while crossing the finish line.

After I had some food in me, I went over and checked the time for the race.  It read 5:30-something - which was very disappointing - but the announcer asked me what wave I was in on the swim.  I told him I was the third wave or so to go - and he assured me that I was well under 5:15 and would have a buckle due to how the waves were spaced out.  This gave me a bit of hope and brightened my mood a bit.

He's like a stuffed animal.  So many people came by and were swooned by his baby smile.
At this point I went with my wife to take pictures and wait on my brother-in-law to finish.  My son was awake and was real stoked to try and put my finishers medal in his mouth over and over.  A quick note about my wife and son - they're my rock.  I heard in a song once a lyric that went something like: "You're my crutch when my legs stop working" - and that describes them both perfectly.  There were many times I was in the race and ready to just call it a day or put it in cruise control and just coast on in when I thought of them and it gave me the strength to move on. My wife has been incredibly understanding of my training and, because of that, I didn't want to disappoint her with anything less than my very best.  They're truly my motivation and completely my source of strength.
The finisher's medal and the coveted belt buckle.

As it turns out, my total time was 5:08:00 - so I made the original cutoff with time to spare and received my belt buckle.  I was also 3 minutes out from first place in my age group (which I would have won without getting the wrong turn on the run, but I can't nit pick) - so I was very satisfied with my result.
Turns out that they extended the cutoff from 5:15:00 to 6:00:00 - so I would have made it even if I did just coast in - but I'm happy I pushed myself to make the cutoff to my original time.  I truly feel that I've earned the belt buckle.  As a nice bonus - the finisher's medal  is pretty sweet!  Last year's medal didn't look so good from the pictures I saw, but I was stoked with this year's version.  Also - the swag you got was outstanding (long sleeve tech t-shirt, a nice Leadman Tri drinking glass, a Headsweats Visor).

As for my bother-in-law, he had a really tough time on the bike.  I got lucky as the weather, while cold, was pretty calm for me on the bike ride.  From what I understand, the window to get a "good bike" was pretty short and the people that didn't make it around the first 20 mile or so loop out of T1 in time were in for some pretty nasty before passing over Mt Bachelor.  My brother-in-law got caught in this.  He had not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE flat tires in what has to be the most unlucky bike ride in history.  I truly felt for him, but when he crossed the finish line - I had more respect for him than myself or any other competitor.  First of all, this was the longest race he's done (by far) and I know he had his doubts as to whether or not he was adequately prepared for it.  Secondly, I know that *I* would have mailed it in after going through the tubes in my flat kit (2).  He was literally walking his bike in freezing rain and hail waiting on someone to help him (or he would have walked the distance into transition).  That's amazing to me and I truly feel he's cut from a special cloth.

So that's Leadman in a nutshell.  I would recommend this race to anyone and I'm seriously considering coming back in 2014 to take on the 250 as originally planned.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Shoe Review: Skora Base

If you're reading this (or have read my previous blog), you probably know I'm somewhat of a shoe junkie.  I'm a triathlete without a doubt, but my run is obviously my strong point and has always been the base of my training.  Therefore, when I get a chance to try out something new in the running shoe department - I'm all over it.

I happened upon an opportunity to try out a line of shoes that I previously had not heard of.  Skora is a shoe company based out of Portland, Oregon who is gearing their entire line of shoes towards the "minimalist" running style.  Again, without getting into a huge debate, I put that word in quotes because it seems to have taken on a whole different meaning in the running shoe marketing world.  Without getting into detail, a lot of shoes are marketed as minimalist when they really aren't.  Just because a shoe has minimal padding, support, material, etc - does not mean that it is a shoe that is good for you.  To me, minimalist is simply a shoe that allows your foot to strike the ground and propel you forward the way it naturally would do.  The Skora Base (the model I tested) does a wonderful job of this.  It's a shoe that allows your foot to naturally run the way it would without shoes, but with enough protection to keep your joints, bones, and muscles from completely wrecking themselves from the pounding pavement puts on them.

I've ran in several minimalist style shoes (sometimes marketed as being "barefoot" shoes, racing flats, etc) and I can honestly say that the Skora Base is among the best of these that I've ever used.  They are an outstanding shoe that are not only eye catchy and different, but deliver outstanding performance as well regardless of the distance you run.  The pair I have now will definitely be in my regular rotation and will see some race day action as well.

As you know, I try to take all of my own pictures - so the high quality top notch pictures you get on shoe websites don't exist here.  I use my cell phone to take the picture and it's an attempt to give people an "everyday view" of the shoe - rather than seeing it on the runway.

Shoes from the top view.

 Skora describes this shoe (and all of their other shoes) as having an outsole that is naturally shaped to the foot.  What this means is that the heel of the shoe is curved to that it better matches to your heel.  The sidewalls of the shoe match up pretty well to the natural shape of the foot, which - for me - allowed a more comfortable footstrike while running in them.  It made the shoe feel more like a sock than a shoe - which is a VERY GOOD thing.

The sole of the shoe is zero drop, with 13 mm of cushioning - so pretty minimal by most standards out there.  I found the cushioning to be perfect in the sense that it allowed for a great feel on the road - but also prevented fatigue in the foot from running long distances.

The sole of the shoe is removable and the shoe can be worn without the sole without any issues (oftentimes when you remove the sole to decrease the cushion in other shoes you run into a myriad of problems - not the case here as the Skora Base functions exactly the same, just with a bit less cushion).

The first thing you notice when you look at the shoes is that they're definitely not your standard running shoe.  They have a completely different look than most shoes and that, in my opinion, is a wonderful aspect of the shoe.  The straps, elastic, lack of laces, and reflective accents all come together to produce a shoe that is pretty remarkable looking, and is a headturner wherever they are worn.

The elastic straps on the upper help get a dialed fit quickly.

I've used these shoes for a few months now - doing runs of just about every distance in them (from a quick 5k after a bike trainer ride to my 22 mile long run) - so I feel I have a very good feel for how they perform.  There's some quirks that would probably have the runner new to a lower profile shoe spending some time to get used to - but all in all, the Skora Base is an outstanding shoe.


First off, the top billing for this shoe - aside from all the tech that they advertise for it - is the strap enclosure.  Often, with laceless running shoes (which is my preference because they typically work better in triathlons) you have problems where - if the shoe doesn't particularly fit you well - there will be "play" in the shoe as you stride.  This will result in blisters and general wear and tear on the skin of the foot - which is no fun (especially in longer runs).  The Base has straps on the forefoot and the heel that allow you to dial your fit in.  I've read some reviews of this shoe where they complain that there "isn't enough strap" - and I couldn't disagree more.  The strap was fine for my foot - but my wife (who I purchased a pair for) tightens hers all the way (where about 1/4 of the velcro is attached) and she's had no problems.
The fit system is perfect for quick transitions in triathlons - where I feel this shoe really shines.  It slips on incredibly easy and if your fit is already dialed, is literally a pull on the heel of each foot before you're off and running off of the bike.

The shoes strap system - which works perfectly.

Second, the shoe is incredibly durable.  I'm a fairly light foot striker (definitely not a plodder), but the shoe has had around 250 miles on it and still looks pretty good.  The upper has no tears or rips - which was originally a concern of mine (I felt it wouldn't last and was proven wrong).  The sole of the shoe shows little to no wear - which, even with a lighter footstrike - is something Skora should boast about.

Third, the upper on the shoe is outstanding.  Not only does it fit perfect on  your foot, but it does so without the need to socks.  You can literally pull these shoes right out of the box and be running sockless immediately with them without worry of blisters or cuts or any of the nasty stuff.


No shoe is without its faults and this one is no exception.  However, you know you have a great shoe when the faults are very minor.  There are really only two things I would want to improve upon on this shoe.  First is the weight of the shoe.  While this is a very minor thing and something that most people who buy this would not notice or care about - the shoe certainly "wears heavier" than the 7.9 ounce weight that it is listed at.  I'm in a size 8.5 and felt that it was heavier than other shoes that I have that are advertised at a higher weight.  Now, there's a lot of contributing factors that go into that and it doesn't effect the performance of the shoe - but it is what it is.  Second is that the shoe would probably not be a good candidate for a "foul weather" running shoe.  When it got wet, the upper tended to retain a lot of the water and the insole would also get soaked pretty quickly.  This bogged the run down.  Drainage vents or holes worked into the sole of the shoe would solve this problem quickly - and the shoe performs well even without them.

I would highly recommend these shoes to anyone looking for a lower profile shoe or wanting a shoe that matches more with a natural running style.  These are great shoes that perform extremely well and I can't imagine anyone not being satisfied with them.  To top that off, they're available on for $60 to $70 right now depending on the color scheme you choose.  At that price, you simply can't go wrong with this shoe.