Inside the Mind of a Race Director

By Mike Tarrolly

My first Ironman experience was as a spectator at Ironman Louisville. Aside from how nuts I thought everyone doing the race was, the most pressing issue on my mind was the mind boggling logistics of such an event.

Nearly 3,000 athletes, bikes and timing chips.  65 miles of closed roads for the bike, thousands of volunteers, and 3 sets gear bags for each athlete.  Cops everywhere, endless streams of water, ice and fruit and pretzels and on and on and on.  My head was about to explode.

I made a silent vow to never criticize a race director and that lasted about one race.  It was probably something to do with scheduling something too early in the morning or something stupid, but I think it had more to do with the fact that I was just generally unhappy or stressed about the race.

I’ve done four full Ironman races now and am still fascinated with race production.  As a generally unorganized person, the whole race directing thing seems like a recipe for disaster.  I’d surely have nightmares about forgetting to order water.

That’s why it was so cool to talk with Stephen Del Monte, race director for Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City, along with several other races.  It took about two minutes before I realized why so many people told us he’d be a great get.

I mean, how many race directors do you know that make videos by paddling out into the water to show you sighting points on your way back to shore?  Or walk you through the layout of transition?  Or visually show you changes or tricky parts of the bike or run course?  Really cool stuff you can check out on his video channel.

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Stephen Del Monte of Delmo Sports

He is very transparent with his customers and promptly admits when he makes a mistake (often in his video series “Confessions of a Race Director”). He told a story of a race he produced where there was a 4 inch lip in the road that caused 42 flat tires.  He immediately admitted fault and gave each of the athletes free entry to the next year’s race.

I was kind of blown away by that and asked how he handles bad weather that cancels a swim or bike and his answer was fascinatingly logical.

We could have talked for a couple more hours, but we hit on a lot of cool stuff and it’s listed below. His passion for triathlon is contagious and I really hope it catches on in the sport.

Here are some of the topics we cover in our interview (embedded below) with Stephen Del Monte:

  • The secrets to producing a great race
  • The one thing that upsets triathletes most.
  • He addresses the Ironman critics and explains why Ironman is the best event company there is.
  • He also explains how the Ironman relationship works with local race directors.
  • Why many triathletes are intimidated by Ironman Branded Races and why they shouldn’t be.
  • What he thinks is the best Half
  • The ONE THING Race Directors cannot get away with
  • Your number one concern as an athlete entering any race.
  • Why Ironman gets so many volunteers
  • How he deals with weather cancellations and shortened courses
  • How Ironman is putting pressure on grass roots races and why that’s a good thing.

How To Not Suck At Cycling

How To Not Suck At Cycling

I’ll never forget the first time I was on a triathlon TT bike, I felt like an idiot.  It was nothing like my childhood days of riding to pool.  It was a stiff, awkward, and uncomfortable experience . . . never mind trying to lay down in the aero bars.

Eventually my body adapted and I learned to “tolerate” riding on my fancy new tri-bike. But I made a lot of mistakes that could have made my cycling a lot more enjoyable.

Cycling is probably the most complex of the three sports in triathlon.  It also takes the most time, which is why it’s important to simplify as much as possible.

In today’s podcast we dive into the nuts and bolts of cycling in a way that helps you become a better cyclist without all the confusion.

For example, it’s not uncommon to spend hours researching and buying an expensive helmet that will do far less for you than getting a good bike fit.  We also talk about a major mistake most people make when training in effort zones.  There’s some good stuff that I think will re-callibrate your riding senses.

Also covered in this podcast:

– Choosing the right bike
– What results you need from a bike fit
– Solid Baselines for your training
– Understanding Zones 1-5
– Why you’re likely making a common training Zone Mistake
– Training with RPE, HR, and Power Meters
– Picking the right helmet
– Buying a suit
– Hydration set up
– Race Wheels

Let us know what you think at CrushingIron@gmail.com.  Also check out our popular series “How To Not Suck At Swimming.”

The Power of the Pull Buoy

I swim with a pull buoy all the time.  It’s like a little safety net in the uncomfortable world of swimming.  You just stick it between your legs and everything seems just a little easier.  But, “making it easier” isn’t the real benefit, a pull buoy allows you to focus on improving your stroke without the complications of waggly and sagging legs.

In our podcast, How Not To Suck At Swimming podcast (posted below), Coach Robbie said something that I think is great advice:  “If you’re struggling in the water, stick a pull buoy between your legs, swim 3-4 times a week and call us in a month.”

Still image from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xX90jxtv56M
Still image from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xX90jxtv56M

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately and the results are undeniable.  I’m getting stronger and incrementally faster, all while re-learning to relax in the water.

If you’re out of swim shape it will seem a little harder at first, but in a few short pool sessions you will start to find a rhythm and build enough strength to turn a 2,000 meter swim into a piece of cake.

I never like to exhaust myself in the water because it tends to deter my enthusiasm for the next swim.  As I re-build, I go to the edge of my fitness, and stop.  That may be something as simple as doing a 1,000 meters in the beginning (of re-discovering swim-shape).  Then building by doing 1,500 as 3 x 500.  The next time I may try to do 1,500 straight.  Then 4 x 500, then 2,000 straight, etc.

I’m not a great swimmer by any means, but I’ve had my moments, and they are always related to confidence and my ability to relax in the water.  As far as I know there’s only one way to make that happen: swim a lot.

For my money, the pull buoy is the best way to make swimming more manageable, frequent, and enjoyable.  This is especially true if you’re doing a wetsuit race because it simulates your body position.

I’ll admit that back in 2014, when I did Louisville in the summer, I was a little concerned.  I’d mainly swam with a pull buoy but wouldn’t have the buoyancy of a wetsuit in my pocket.  It turned out to be my fastest Ironman swim (1:06) and the one thing I remember most was how relaxed I was.

Triathlon is so much about figuring out ways to help you enjoy the training.  For swimming, the pull buoy is my Holy Grail.

Check out one of our most popular podcasts: How To Not Suck At Swimming.

Learning, Loving, Leadville

By Coach Robbie

One night in early December I was up with our 5 month old, Hayden, at about 2am. This was a month where he flat out refused to sleep through the night, so both Allie and I were running on fumes.

I remember laying there with him thinking…. “Come on….. PLEASE go to sleep I have a trainer ride in the morning and I want to have the energy for it……”   Pathetic. My “goal” race at the time was more than 6 months away and here I was stressed about a workout where I would literally sit on my bike, alone, and not go anywhere. It was sad then, but comical to think about now.

Later that day I read this blog post from a man a greatly respect named Gordo Byrn. The title is pretty self explanatory “Who sees my best self.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks and I encourage you to read it, especially if you are a parent or in any type of meaningful relationship. I was able to relate to every word and this phrase in particular changed my whole thought process, “The only place you could find my best self was training for triathlon.”

For an athlete like myself that not only trains by himself, but also coaches himself that meant that the only person who saw my “best self” was me. I did not have a coach on deck, or other regular training partners to share it with. It was just….. me.

I wanted that to change, so I sat down and began to make a list of how I could grow and stretch myself both physically and emotionally all while ensuring that both Allie and Hayden were the ones seeing my best self, or even better, they were participating in as many of those moments with me.

Trainer rides, long rides on the weekend by myself, hours and hours staring at the black-line in the pool just did not fit.  What did fit was running.

Running met every single criteria for how I wanted to grow and evolve in 2017, not only as an athlete but as a person. It is something that Allie and I can do together, and that Hayden can participate in as well as I push him in his fancy little jogging stroller. It meant for the most part, I did not have to choose. Stay home with my family, or leave alone to push the limits of my abilities.

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Now, it was time to find not just a running race but an “experience.” Something that was more about “us” than it was for “me.”

There are many things I love about triathlon but the loneliness of racing and the inability to share that experience while you are actually in it has always bothered me. You are required to cross the finish line alone at an Ironman or you will receive a DQ.

“I think I am going to enter the Leadville 100 Trail Run,” I said to Allie.

I was shocked at how pumped she was for me to do it. It also meant it was time to “break-up” with triathlon for 2017.  Like a lot of relationship enders it is more of a “its not you, its me,” break-up for now.

I am sure I will come back to triathlon but not willing to say when. For now, I am going to immerse myself into this journey. I will have my wife and 2 best friends with me in Leadville to help pace me the last 50 miles. I will have them all with me, Hayden included, for the last mile and I honestly cannot think of a better way to end an experience,race or journey.

TWIN LAKES, CO - AUGUST 16:  Runner Tony Brown #104 washes his head in Lake Creek as runners make their way along Gordon Gulch during the 2014 Leadville Trail 100 ultramarathon on Saturday, August 16, 2014 in Twin Lakes, Colorado.  (Photo by Kent Nishimura/The Denver Post)
TWIN LAKES, CO – AUGUST 16: Runner Tony Brown #104 washes his head in Lake Creek as runners make their way along Gordon Gulch during the 2014 Leadville Trail 100 ultramarathon on Saturday, August 16, 2014 in Twin Lakes, Colorado. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/The Denver Post)

I have learned A LOT in just the last 6 weeks. I have talked to some past LT100 finishers, read a lot, studied the course, etc.  First and foremost, I made the most important decisions when choosing to run an ultra. I bought a trucker hat, a life-time supply of Tailwind nutrition, and dusted off my compression socks to wear on every long run. :). Kidding, but you know its true.

I am sure some will think that the altitude and mountains will just spit me out and laugh at me and that I have no business attempting this with such little experience. I think that’s probably a valid thought. While I do not have “ultra” or loads of trail running experience I do have a lifetime of experience when it comes to suffering both physically, mentally and even emotionally.

Most importantly, I know what it is like to persevere and succeed amidst turmoil and seemingly impossible circumstances. I might be naive but I feel like I am well suited for the demands of ultra racing. We will find out in August when I line up for the hardest race of my life just how suited I really am. But for now, I’m just enjoying the journey and I hope no matter what you are preparing for, you are too.