Monday, April 28, 2014

Product Review: X-1 Audio Interval Swim Solution

As anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows - I'm not the world's greatest swimmer.  Granted, I have hordes of people that comes up to me on a daily basis and tell me I have the body of a Michael Phelps or a Ryan Lochte - that I'm just as ripped as they are (haha, in my dreams?) - but I definitely can't swim like either.

So what does that mean?  I have to train.  And I have to train long, and hard.  The problem - for me, at least - is that training in a pool going back and forth over and over again can get a little repetitive and, frankly, pretty boring.  I realize that there is a ton of stuff you can (and should) do to alleviate that boredom - but no matter how many drills I do, how varied they are - I always end up getting bored.  And don't get me started on long sets - I often find myself thinking about all sorts of dumb stuff (i.e. If you drilled a hole through the earth and were able to jump in and be unaffected by any external force - would you fall right out of the other side, or get stuck in the middle due to gravity?).

That kind of boredom, for me, takes away from the swimming experience.  One solution that I've found is the X-1 Interval System, which is a waterproof headphone system that allows you to listen to music while swimming.  In addition to providing the sound of music to you while underwater, it does so without impeding your stroke (i.e. - you don't have your player on your arm getting tussled with the headphone cables, etc like with some other systems).  This system attaches to your goggles and sits on the back of your head while you swim.  That sounds like it would be uncomfortable does it work?  How does it sound?  How did you like it?  In a nutshell - I loved it and I think this is an outstanding system.  I use it all the time.  But I'll get more into that a bit later.

Let's take a look at the actual system itself:

The interior of the X-1 Interval
The X-1 Interval is basically a plastic case which houses a 4th generation iPod Shuffle.  They've come out with so many variations of the iPod Shuffle - you have to be sure that you get the right one that fits.

Here's the correct iPod to get:
4th Generation iPod Shuffle
These can be had for ~$50 brand new - but you see them going for as low as $15 used on some auction sites (which is where I purchased mine).

The outside of the X-1 Interval system
As you can see in the pictures, the X-1 Interval has buttons that will work the iPod Shuffle while keeping it completely dry and away from water.  Simply charge it up, plug it in, and seal it in.
The plug on the interior where the iPod goes.

Plugging it in is simple and holds the iPod securely.

Once sealed in, you then have to set the straps on the device.  Which is an extremely easy process.  All you do is weave the straps of your goggles into the two slits, and set it so that they are centered on the device.

Putting the straps of your goggles onto the X-1 Interval
Once strapped in, all you have to do is throw them on your head - press play - and jump in the water!  Easy as pie!

The X-1 Interval system in use.

The system fits on the back of your head when you swim and doesn't impede your swimming at all.  Word to the wise - make sure to loosen up your goggles a hair in order to get the proper fit.  I tend to pull the headphone wires tight to the cap and place my goggle straps over the wire to hold it in place - which prevents any chance of it moving around too much during my swim.

Another picture with the X-1 system in use.  As you can see, it's hardly noticeable.
The audio quality - as with all of the X-1 headphones - is crisp and clear.  I have never had any issues with the headphones or system at all while underwater.  I'd highly recommend it!

View of the system with goggles attached.
In addition to swimming, I've used the system for jogging as well.  I still prefer the traditional armband/music player holster approach for running applications - but the X-1 system works just as well paired with a visor or headlamp for running as it does with goggles for swimming.

The X-1 Interval outside of the water.

So to sum it up:  The system is extremely well thought out and perfect way to make long swim sets easier to deal with.  You might get a couple of weird looks in the pool - but you're there to train, not win a fashion contest!

Also - please note:  It's important to be aware of what's going on around you - even in an environment or setting as controlled as an indoor pool.  Please be sure to have the volume set to an appropriate level so that you have the ability to respond and react to different situations around you.  

You can get your X-1 Interval or any of X-1's great products on their website by clicking here. X-1  Use code BRYANLAMB20 to save 20% off your purchase.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Race Report: Leadman Marquee 125

So Leadman was my first "big" race of the year and one that I put a ton of time and effort into preparing for. This is the "other Leadman" compared to the one I did in Bend, OR and I was very interested on the new challenge.  To top it off, it's only about 5 1/2 hours of a drive from where I live - which makes it a perfect "long weekend" type race.  I was really excited to do this race and signed up as soon as registration opened for it.

The swim course of the Tri Marquee.

The goal of the race was simple:  Finish within the 5:15 time slot to qualify for a belt buckle.  Since I finished the Leadman in Bend, OR in 5:08 - I figured that this would be a cakewalk.  You know, since the Leadman in Bend, OR was done at sub-freezing temperatures climbing up mountains of hills, etc etc.  A mostly flat course in Arizona at temperatures similar to what I train in everyday?  EASY PEEZY.

With my belt buckle from the Bend, OR race when dropping off my bike in transition.

Or so I thought.  This turned out to be a much more challenging race for me, but we'll get more into that later.

With that said - on to the race report!


Our trip started the Friday before the race.  We rented a Ford Flex (which is a great vehicle, and is on our "short list" (along with the Explorer and Chevy Traverse) for our next car purchase in August) and packed in the three of us (my wife, our son, and I), my in laws, and all of our stuff with plenty of room to spare.  My wife was gracious enough to drive the whole way so I got to sit comfortably in the car the whole trip while we cruised across the eastern California landscape.

In the car.  I was apparently very confused while taking this selfie.
The trip wasn't too bad and we made it without any major events.  We arrived at the house we were renting and met with my brother in law (who was also doing the race) and the rest of the family who were staying in the house.  Our Saturday agenda was basically spend the morning going to a Botanical Gardens and then dropping the family off at the wave pool / water park while my brother in law and I went to pick up our packets, drop off our bikes and get ready for transition.

Brucie at the Botanical Gardens the day before the race.
The whole packet pick up process for the race was about as seamless as it could be.  Arrive to the site, pick up your packet, attend a course meeting, get your bike checked in, and you're good to go!  One great thing about the bike check in was that they "tagged" your bike so that no one would "accidentally" leave with the wrong bike out of transition.  Pretty good security measure in my opinion.

The transition area was pretty big, but really secure and extremely well done.

Transition craziness.

All racked up in transition.

 After we dropped off the bikes and walked through the vendor tents, etc - we headed out to pick up the family and grab some dinner (pizza from the Magic Mushroom and Rita's for dessert).  

We got to the race the morning of with no real problems or issues and got everything unpacked for the triathlon.  The one small (and it's a very minor one) complaint that I had was that the transition area, while large, was packed pretty tight.  Nowhere near as tight as some triathlons, but people were stacking bags on top of one another "off to the side" after everything was unloaded.  Not a huge deal, but having the racks spaced out just a few feet more would have made things a lot easier imo.

With that said, I got everything ready - got my wetsuit on - and was ready to go.

Me and my brother in law at the transition area before the swim.

Now, it goes without saying that my swim is BY FAR my weakest leg in triathlon.  It's still a work in progress and I've made some decent strides with it - but I still have a long ways to go.  With that said, I was aiming for a sub 50 minute performance for this swim (basically anything under a 2:00/100m pace and I would have been thrilled).  Due to the length of the swim, I was competing solely against the clock and myself - not against anyone else.

Map of the swim course.

The swim is a 2500 meter swim that goes under two overpasses in Tempe Town Lake.  It's a pretty scenic course and is easily viewable for people who are there to cheer the athletes on.  The course was extremely well manned (it seemed like there was a kayak there every time I sighted) and the Tri Marquee staff did a great job in keeping it from becoming too crowded at any point.

The swim start was somewhat awkward, as you passed through a timing mat, jumped in the water, and waded out to the first buoy.  Then they hit the horn and off you went.

Hopping into the drink to begin the swim.
I stayed off to the side of the mass start on the swim - my intentions were to fully avoid the pack and "swim my swim" - fully knowing that I wouldn't be competing with anyone else.

The swim felt good for the most part, and I felt like I kept the pace I was trying to keep.  I did make a mistake on the swim and take a right hand turn (I drifted on the inside of the buoy and just made a stupid mistake).  A guy on a kayak caught me to tell me that I went the wrong way and I turned around and got back on course.

No idea where this was on the course, but I'm trudging right along.
As I turned the last buoy I was feeling decent, not great, and hopped out of the water.   I was passed by several people in waves that went out after mine, and knew I had a ton of catching up to do.  But that was expected.

As I darted to transition, the wetsuit strippers seemed busy with other people, so I didn't bother and decided just to skip them and undo it myself as I ran to transition.

Skipping the strippers because I knew I was strapped for time.
Ended up with a 57:00 swim - which is a pretty disappointing time.  I haven't had a chance to review the swim file yet - so I don't know if my wrong turn is to blame for the additional 7 minutes over my goal time or if I just wasn't swimming straight.  Probably a combination of them both.

I got through transition pretty easily and felt pretty decent once I got on the bike.


Getting onto the bike, I was a bit behind on my pace - but figured I would be ok to finish in time for a belt buckle if I kept up with my original plan - which was to push about 21.5 mph for all four laps.

The bike course is one of the only complaints I had about this race.  One of the best things about the Leadman in Bend, OR was that the bike course was something truly epic - it looked like you were riding through the set of Lord of the Rings at times.  

The bike course at the Tri Marquee was a multi-lap course with a convoluted mix of twists and turns.  This wasn't completely bad - as those twists and turns made it a very technical course at times and that presents a unique challenge.  The bigger problem was that the course was shared with people competing in three different events (Leadman, the Olympic distance race, and the Sprint distance race).  This meant the course got clogged up a bunch with people blocking other people from passing or just getting in the way in general (i.e. a sprint athlete doing their first triathlon riding at a 12 mph pace zig-zagging through the middle of the road).  The course was closed to traffic - and wide enough in most areas where this didn't present too many safety issues - but it was somewhat of a nightmare for the people who were actually racing.

You can get an idea of how convoluted things could get on this course.

I found that while I was able to push my speed and power pretty good in the straight-away parts of the ride, I was failing to keep my required speed.  This was mainly because I would slow down quite a bit on the turns and the paths leading up to them (mostly due to congestion from other riders), so I found myself with a lap average of less than 21 mph for the first three laps.

Doesn't do a great job, but you get the idea of how people were basically ignoring the "blocking" rule.

The fourth lap is when I did some basic math and figured that any chance at all I would have to qualify for the belt buckle would come either from absolutely destroying the run or buying myself as much time as I could on the final lap and still running very well.  I decided on the latter, and started burning matches on the 4th lap (which was now mostly clear of people from the other races since their bike length was shorter).

On the bike with my Big Sexy Racing Champion Systems Apex suit.  This was the 4th lap, and I was in a bit of pain trying to play catch up (hence the facial expression).

I hit it hard once the fourth lap started and really didn't let up until I came back around.  My legs were hurting and I was really feeling it - almost akin to how a time trial would feel for me.  I was passing a multitude of people (most of whom were probably starting to fade on their bike a bit - as it was kind of mind numbing to be doing laps the way we were).  In any case, I finished the 4th lap just over 25 mph - which included the delays at the turns.

T2 went well although I couldn't get my foot out of my left shoe, so I had to unclip.  It didn't slow me down too much and I got my bike racked and threw on my run shoes and off I went.


The run for Leadman is an 8 mile loop run that goes on roads for two miles, across a bridge, and then up into the Papago, alongside the canal, and then back into town.  It's a challenging run with a variety of terrain and some truly epic views.  It truly embodies what the spirit of Leadman is meant to be in my mind.

The Papago right as you start up the hill.
The run course - which was a truly great course and something that makes me want to do this race again.

As I was heading out of transition, I hit the lap button on my watch and saw that I had 1:09:00 to finish.  8 miles in an hour and nine minutes?  No problem WHATSOEVER.  That's basically my "easy jog" pace, right?  Right?

Well.  Wrong.

I need to preface what I'm about to say by explaining that I've never bonked in a race or blown up.  Not once.  I've had times where I was tired, where my legs felt weird, and when I felt I didn't have much left - but I've never flat out hit a wall.

Well, that happened here.  Nothing that had to do with nutrition or anything like that, but my legs just stopped working about 2 miles into the race (right when the trail running started).  My first two miles I took it easy (thinking I had a ton of time) and ran hard but not all out at a 7:00 minute per mile pace.  However, almost as soon as I crossed the bridge and passed the first aid station, my legs just stopped working.  Even before I got to the first hill, I was reduced to a painful walk.

So this is what it feels like to overcook on the bike and blow up on the run.  It was a weird feeling, and - like I said - something I've never felt before.  I figured I would give it two minutes of walking and see how I felt.  Staring at my watch the entire time, as soon as it hit 1:50 I decided to take off into a light jog.

No go.  Wasn't happening.  It was at that point that I made the choice to just push through the pain in my legs and do a weird hobble/limp type jog.  I did this through the trails and right at the beginning of the canal, and my pace was around 10:30 minutes per mile.

I was starting to get dismayed because I knew making it under 5:15:00 wasn't going to happen for me.

Then, all of a sudden, it was like my legs got a second a burst of wind.  Not a full burst, mind you - I still wasn't able to run as I normally could, but I was able to push myself and get just under 7:45 minutes per mile just before the turnaround.

The problem with this was that it was playing mind games with my head.  I knew if I pushed it and possibly got some luck, I would be able to make my time across the finish line.  So that's what I did - I pushed it as best I could.

Hobbling on the run right after getting off of the path.
I did manage to pick up the pace once I got off the trails and began the journey back into town.  I felt motivated to get to the finish line, and being able to see the tents from the expo and the transition area when coming across the bridge helped with that.  Also, competitors in front of me provided motivation and pacing ("Just go faster than them!" is what I kept thinking) which helped spur me along.

The finish chute at this event was absolutely outstanding.  Very similar to an Ironman finishing line where people are cheering for you and the place is packed.  Really well done by the race organizers on that aspect.

As I came down the finish line, I had no idea what the clock said - only that I had missed the time by a over a minute according to my watch.  Regardless, I was happy to finish and knew that I gave it my best effort - so I could hang my hat on that and be pleased.

5:15:47.   47 fucking seconds.

47 fucking seconds.  I missed the belt buckle by 47 seconds.  That was heart crushing - but I left it all on the course.  Short of going back in time and working solely on my swim - there wasn't much I could do better to bring that time down.  That's not to say I'm not capable of a much faster time - I absolutely am.  But on this day, on this race, with where I was currently at, I raced as hard as I could and I could be proud of that.

What I probably shouldn't be proud of is this picture.  I have no idea why I'm growling and about to bow up at the camera guy.  

As soon as I finished, my wife and son were waiting outside the chute for me and I gave my son my medal and gave my wife a kiss.  I was super disappointed and let her know and she told me not to worry because they were giving away free teriyaki bowls to the finishers.  I can't put into words how much I love this woman.  haha

Finished and done - and in decent spirits because I was expecting free teriyaki.

Although the teriyaki was great, I was still exhausted.  I burnt all of my matches on the bike and pushed myself harder on the run than I ever have (even though it was probably one of the slowest runs I've ever done).  I was absolutely exhausted - so I took a nap in the shade while we waited for my brother in law to finish.

Just absolutely beat after the race.

Couple of notes:  My brother in law finished in 6:23:47 - which is about where he wanted to be.  This was kind of his "revenge" over what happened at Leadman, OR for him (he had a really rough time on the bike with multiple flats).  I'm super proud of him, as he put together a great race.

Also of note:  My teammate from BSR put together an awesome race - and finished 3rd in her age group with a time of just over 5 hours - which qualified her for the belt buckle.  She started in a heat or two after me and passed me on the swim, but I managed to get ahead of her on the bike and she almost caught me again on the run.  She's super fast, a great teammate, and a real inspiration!
BSR was represented well in this triathlon.

With all that said, I ended up 6th in my age group, and top 50 overall.  I was pretty happy with that, although I know I have the potential to race better in the future.  And believe me - I will.  I plan to do this race next year and expect to be quite a bit faster on swim improvements alone.

However, what made me even happier was an email I received from the folks at Lifetime about the race.  Basically, they determined that I was actually sub 5:15:00 in the race.  When they were handing out belt buckles at the award ceremony (and I was long gone by that point), they called my name but skimmed over because I wasn't there.  As it turns out, my swim split was never recorded, and because my timing chip didn't register right - it screwed up the rest of my splits on their system.  Also - they started the clock as people went into the water (clock started a hair soon) - so they estimated me to be in the 5:14:00 range.  Whatever the actual time was - I was close enough on the bubble that they gave me the benefit of the doubt and let me have the buckle.  

This turned what was a disappointing weekend into an instant success.
So I'm obviously pleased about it.  If they say I earned, I earned it - and I'll take it and wear it with pride.  I know next year I'll be back to leave no doubt on the table, and I'll be taking aim at a spot on the podium as well.

So with that, the race was a success - and I'll leave you with a picture of me with my two greatest inspirations being a little goofy at our post race dinner.

My son must think his parents are insane - although judging from that smile, he's a little goofy himself. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Race Report: PCRF Half Marathon and Bike Tour - and other fun stuff.

The Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation puts on a great event each year - the Reaching for the Cure Ride and Run.  This is a 2 day event that has a bike tour of varying distances (15 miles, 35 miles, and 50 miles) on Saturday and a running event with varying distances (5k, 10k, Half Marathon, and kids 1k) on Sunday.  They have an option where if you do both of them, you earn the semi-coveted "PCRF Brick" award - which is kind of cool.
It's a stacked event that Renegade Race Series runs and has one of the best expos I've seen for a race of its size.  There is simply something to do for everyone - from a beer garden, to a petting zoo with all sorts of critters, to various booths with fun activities, to food vendors (with samples!) - everything.  It's just a great event for the family and something I cannot recommend enough.

So how was the race?


The bike course is a great one that I've actually ridden (more or less) a handful of times before.  It's a 50 mile route that is very hilly and actually includes portions of the 1984 Olympic cycling route - so that's kind of cool.  It's a non-competitive race (as in - it's untimed and you get the same medal for finishing first that you do if you finish dead last), but that didn't stop a lot of the riders from going head to head throughout the entire 50 miles.

Getting ready to get started on the bike course.
This race weekend was always intended to be a "big training" weekend for me in a race-like environment leading up to Leadman  (which fell a couple weeks after this event).   With that in mind, I tried to set my bike up much the same I would at the Leadman race - save for the wheels (I hadn't put the new tires on my Gray 9.5s yet  - so I used a tubular set that I normally reserve for hilly races/training days).

Coming into this race weekend, I had a sore hamstring which was bugging the hell out of me.  It wasn't something that was incredibly painful - but it was at the level where I thought "You have to be careful with this if you don't want any problems when Leadman comes around".  So I had been taking it easy most of the week leading up to the race in hopes that I wouldn't pull something and end my time at Leadman before it began.

Before the race at the start line.
The race was very well done.  They had roads closed off where there would be the most traffic, and then the roads were open to the public where there would not be as much traffic (mainly up in the hills).  It was very well done - and the course is set up that there is plenty of room even though it's open-to-public roads for a lot of it.

I used all of the same gear I would use in my triathlons - so that I would get a feel for it on a semi-long distance ride.

This is a pretty sweet picture - which I purchased a copy of and am waiting for it.

Dat helmat.
The Champion Systems skinsuit from my Big Sexy Racing team is outstanding.  I can't say enough about the suit.  Super comfortable to the point where it feels like it's not even there.  It really is a perfect tri suit (for me).

As for my ride, it went super well.  I pulled into the front of the pack and stayed with a group of 5 or 6 people until we hit the long hill in Mission Viejo and I pulled out in front.  Finished the race without seeing anyone else and collected my finisher medal and headed home.  I didn't bother with any of the festivities on Saturday mainly because I knew I would be coming back for the half marathon the next day - and wanted to enjoy the booths/tents with my family.


First, there's this:

My son the night before the run - woke up in the middle of the night giggling.  Probably excited for his 1k race.
Then, there's this:

After hearing about the above article - I was a little distraught to say the least.  It seemed really crappy of a magazine to make fun of anyone, much less make fun of someone running for a great cause.  
So I decided I would help show my support in a special way - I would run my half marathon wearing a tutu just like Monika did in her race.  I figured it would be a neat nod to her, to cancer survivors (this race was in support of Pediatric Cancer, so it fit), and to people who have been bullied everywhere.  Since I wasn't going to be overly competitive in this race (due to the aforementioned hamstring issues) - I figured I might as well have fun with it.

So I borrow a tutu from a friend, and on it went.
Yes, I look ridiculous.
I started at the front of the race and went off with the first tier of competitors.  My thought process was to see just how sore my hamstring would be and go at a pace that was comfortable - but didn't put too much pressure on it.  There was a pack of 3 of us for the first 3 miles going at about a 5:50 pace or so, and right after mile 3 I decided to tone it down a bit.

At the beginning of the race in the first group.
After dialing it back, I ended up falling to 5th or 6th place in the group, but at about mile 7 or so - I noticed I had very little pain in my hamstring, so I decided to pick up the pace again and see how hard I could push it.

Shaka brah!

I've incorporated having a bit more fun into my races lately.  This means not ignoring the camera guy when I see him!

Once I picked up the pace, I passed a few people and moved squarely into third place.  I even got a comment from one guy I passed "Oh man, I thought there was no way I was going to lose to a man wearing a tutu!"

Passing someone who previously passed me on the course.
One thing I have to say - the volunteers (mostly high school kids) who were at the aid stations were absolutely great.  They were cheering me on and clapping for me whenever I ran up.  Shouts of "I love your tutu!" and stuff like that were common and I didn't have a single negative comment (outside of one kid shouting "Alright man!  Gay pride!" - but I think he was just mistaken at what I was getting at and wasn't being malicious).

I finished the race pretty squarely in 3rd place - with a time of 1:27 - which isn't a PR for me by any means but is a pretty good time all things considered.

Crossing the finish line.
The results had me bumped down to 4th place - which didn't make any sense because no one finished ahead of me or was even close to me when I crossed the finish line.  I'm assuming it was either an error (like someone with a half marathon bib did the 10k or something) or someone started late and just finished late and was able to put up a decent time.

In any case, I claimed first place in my age group - so no real complaints here.  I got a nice mug, some gift cards, a cool little certificate, and my PCRF Brick award.

Me with my hardware.  And my tutu.
Now - that performance was great and all - but hardly the highlight of my day.  The highlight of my day was Bruce's first race - a 1k kid's fun run.

Brucie, my wife, and I at the start for the Nestle Kid's 1k run/walk.
Now, we were really hoping that Bruce would be walking by the time this race came around.  He's standing up.  And I mean, he's REALLY standing up. Sometimes for a long, long time.  He just isn't taking that step yet.  In any case - we had a back up plan in case he wasn't walking, and we executed it PERFECTLY.

He was a champ and walked the whole way without whining.

Now, my son DID finish in dead last place.  However, he was ALSO the first in his age group (1 and under) - although that's not official since it was an untimed walk.  Regardless of that - it was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had at an event.  Crossing the finish line with my son, picking him up, and having him stoked that he accomplished something was really cool to see (especially since he just turned 1 a few weeks before).  

Brucie crossing the finish line and with his medal.

All in all, a great day and a great event - which I would recommend to anyone who is wanting a boost to their training, as a competitive race, or someone who just wants to get in shape for a good cause.

Next up for me is Leadman in April, which is my first major race of the year.  I'll be gunning for a belt buckle there - and we'll see how that goes.  I'm as ready as I'll be for it.  

Hope you enjoyed the race report - and I'll leave you with some pictures of my son at the petting zoo (which was at the event):

This was a big lizard that had some teeth on it.

I was pointing out how hard the shell was to Bruce.

Brucie touching an absolutely gigantic snake.