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.

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.

Listening To Your Body

Listening To Your Body

Yesterday I was driving by the YMCA and decided to go for a swim.  It was a chilly day and I stood in front of my locker in underwear, shivering.

My gym bag and swim trunks were sitting on the floor and I was literally 30 steps from being in the pool.  That’s when my mind started with the games.

“Maybe you should just go for a run, or better yet, hop on the trainer in the warm living room when you get home.”

I was dumbfounded by the ridiculous, but powerful dialogue that nearly convinced me to get dressed and leave.  Thankfully I remembered Steven Pressfield’s book “Do The Work.”

Pressfield talks about what he calls “resistance” and how it’s on a  constant mission to keep you separated from your dreams and goals.  He labels resistance as: fear, self-doubt, procrastination, addiction, distraction, timidity, ego and narcissism, self-loathing, perfectionism, etc.

Somehow I managed to beat resistance by simply reaching down, sliding into my cold shorts, and walking toward the pool.  What happened next turned into one of my better swims of the year.

How do we go from having virtually zero physical desire to excelling in the swim, bike or run that follows?  It made me wonder if in those moments we are holding onto massive tension in the form of pent-up energy that is disguised as lethargy and disinterest.

It was different than “being tired” or feeling overworked.  I felt more tense and constricted.  That cold-kinda-feeling that says, “stay in bed.”

It was a perfect example of “not” listening to my body, but more often than not, I do.

I have a long history of stopping a workout when I know that I could go further.  Yesterday’s swim was a good example.

I’m still working back into swim shape, so I set out to go 2,000 meters.  A comfortable, controlled swim to re-gain form and confidence.  Around 1200 I felt an excellent rhythm and decided to stop while I was ahead.

Two thousand meters felt like it was in the bag, but I wasn’t in the mood to risk any kind of exhaustion.  It was all I needed and in the Ironman-game, pulling back is one of the toughest things to do.

It’s kind of like wearing a watch to make sure you go slow enough.

Finishing an Ironman doesn’t happen in one day.  Sometimes it takes years to do it right, but a lot of us, including me, tend to rush it.  Not only the first, but the next and next.  This is a sure fire way to burnout.

On today’s podcast, we talk about long-term progression, maintaining the spark, and when putting off Ironman for shorter races is a good decision.

We also talk about why Lionel Sanders (the man with the fastest Ironman time in history, 7:44:29) is passing on KONA in 2017.

And, there’s Mary Keitany of Kenya who’s won the New York City Marathon three consecutive times, but seemingly scoffs at the idea of any real “formal” training.

Enjoy our latest podcast: Listening To Your Body

Ask The Coach Podcast

Ask The Coach Podcast

On today’s Crushing Iron triathlon training podcast we hit on a ton of topics for the beginner and intermediate triathlete with our new “Ask The Coach” segment. These are questions (or versions of) we see all over the internet. This is one of our favorite podcasts to date and we cover learn answers to the following questions.

  • What is a threshold test for the bike and how does it work…why should someone do this?  Explain power meter??
  • I’m having a tough time getting back into swimming… other than prescribed workouts, what do you suggest to get back into the groove?
  • A lot of people have a hard time training for hills because of where they live….what would you recommend for both the bike and/or run?
  • How do you deal with the mental aspects on the bike and run?  Do you prepare your thought process beforehand?
  • Regarding apparel…. what do you look for when you’re buying a new kit?
  • What about supplements… do you take them?  Why do you take the ones you do?
  • Let’s talk about dry land training for swimming….
  • Would you compare your first Sprint to losing your virginity?
  • FB question:  Since headphones are not allowed during the race itself, I’m assuming that training without headphones would be wise. Opinions?
  • FB question: I have been training six days a week, but I want to make sure I’m training right. What training plan does everyone recommend? Even though I’m a 140.6 first timer I don’t want to train as a beginner. I am ready and willing to put the time and work in, but want to make the most of my time.

Please subscribe and comment on iTunes and email your questions to: crushingiron@gmail.com
www.crushingiron.com

 

What Do I Eat?

The other day I got a text from a friend asking what kind of a diet I was on for triathlons.  I sent back a picture of a can of vegetarian chili and said, “Tonight, it’s this.”FullSizeRender-3

I guess my diet is a bit of a dirty-little-secret in some ways.  I’m not afraid of pizza or even fast food a couple times a week, but of course there’s always a price to pay.

It’s funny, too, because I think nutrition is everything.  I am nearly 100% convinced that a solid diet (along with exercise and a good spiritual practice) will take care of most modern day ills.

I’m a big believer that inflammation is the root of most of our our problems, including things like depression and anxiety.  And the best way to reduce inflammation is to be on a alkaline leaning diet.  But I’m not scientist or nutritionist, I go by feel. I also listen to a lot of podcasts,  so I guess I like to regurgitate alternative facts.

My overall dietary habits can be summed up like this: I try to eat at least one solid meal a day, and by solid I often mean tuna from a can on bread with butter, steamed broccoli, and . . . that’s about it.  It can vary, of course, but I’m pretty simple and did have pizza tonight.  I also drink a lot of water and try to mix in a spinach smoothie during the day.

In general, our relationship with food cannot be understated.  But, unfortunately I have yet to find a clean handle on my diet, and know just enough to be dangerous.

That’s why we have brought a Registered Dietician onto the podcast today.  It was interesting to hear her philosophy, which I will describe as balanced and thoughtful.

We talked about everything from the best way to change your diet, how to keep is simple and steady, along with things like how to better access body fat for energy, ketosis, and challenges with body image.  We also get into race-day nutrition.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the podcast on Triathlon’s 4th Discipline, Nutrition, featuring Lizzy Miller.

Triathlon: Chasing a Dream, or . . .

Below is a picture I posted on Facebook 5 years ago. I was the heaviest I’d been in my life and depression was my new buzzword. I posted this picture as a “carb-loading” joke the night before starting a Couch to 5k running program. We did 6 sets of 60 seconds of jogging followed by 60 seconds of walking that first day. Since then I’ve finished 4 Ironman races and will likely do more. I’m almost positive you could do something similar if you put your mind to it.carbloading

As I reflect on that day, I remember how obsessed I became with the quest, to first, be a runner, then an Ironman.

There were a lot of pictures like the one above.  Posts of my Garmin after workouts, race results, or anything else to do with my new found love of transformation.

But, after about a year of that, I started getting self-conscious of my quest.  I remember how I would covertly steer seemingly every conversation around to Ironman, then I’d launch into a diatribe about how “amazing” everything was in my life because of triathlon.  But it wasn’t.

I was still struggling with many of the same issues and triathlon was mainly an addictive substitution.  My life balance was still out of whack.

I was definitely on a better path, but had to figure out how to balance the incredibly demanding sport of triathlon with other passions in my life.  And more importantly, how to use the momentum for personal growth.

I can honestly say I haven’t quite figured it out yet.  But I have been on a path of finding contentment in the simpler things in life.

I’m feeling more comfortable in my skin and finding clarity in the idea that this process is for myself.  Most people could care less if I just had a kick-ass 8 mile run, or swam 3,000 meters in the pool.

But some do.  And it’s those people I feel most comfortable with.  The ones who take genuine action towards being a better person, not only in triathlon, but business, creative pursuits, and exploration.  The ones that know it’s a long road and change, privilege, and understanding  doesn’t happen overnight.  The ones who realize we’re all flawed and life is a work in progress.

This is kind of the tone for our latest podcast.  We talk about the delicate balance between endurance sports and life.  The price of isolation, addiction, and obsession.  We ask questions like, “How can we trek 138 miles, ache in every inch of our body, and be sad an Ironman is almost over?”

I just love the drive and desire of people who take up triathlon.  I truly believe they are the type of person who wants to get the most of life through action.

Commitment to change is never easy, but it helps to have like-minded people in your corner.  Hope you enjoy this discussion.

De-Mystifying Swimming

De-Mystifying Swimming

Without question the biggest mystery for triathletes in training, is swimming.  The fact that you literally cannot breath half the time can be tricky, and the fact that drowning is a real possibility probably doesn’t help.

When our breathing gets out of control on the bike or run, we instinctively know how to slow down without fear.  But slowing down in the water isn’t as natural.

In each of my first four races I slowed to either a breast stroke or started treading water to catch my breath and slow my heart rate.  There are not many feelings worse!

That’s why I made it my mission to get that anxiety-piece out of my triathlon-puzzle.  I became obsessed with learning how to relax in the water.

The biggest breakthrough came when I committed to swimming every day for two straight weeks.  I didn’t go long (usually between 1-2,000 meters) but the repetitive nature of my practice made a huge difference.

I naturally got faster, but I really think it was because I was more relaxed. Being “tight” in the water (and land for that matter) is my biggest enemy.

After about 7 straight days of swimming I noticed a very simple thing: That first plunge into the water didn’t feel cold or weird or uncomfortable.  My body had adapted, and I really think that’s the biggest win you can have as a swimmer.

In today’s podcast we go back into the water for a follow up piece to “How To Not Suck At Swimming.” Part 2 takes a closer look at swimming technique, and more importantly ways to remove the mystery.

Coach Robbie lives and breathes open water swimming and he’s back with another round of great insight to becoming faster, stronger, and more efficient in open water.  Topics covered today are:

– Proper breathing – How and When
– Body Positioning and how to get it right
– Hand entry and exit – How and When
– How to deprogram from bad advice, including workouts that get you there
– How to structure a swim week of workouts
– Should you join a Master’s Team?
– Swimming square and why you swim crooked
– A big announcement from Coach Robbie
– Which country has the second most Crushing Iron listeners

If you feel you’re getting some good information, please subscribe and review on iTunes.

Triathlon 101: In The Beginning

Triathlon 101: In The Beginning

It was the morning of my first triathlon and I was understandably nervous. So many fears:  My first open-water swim, the unknown of running off the bike, and walking around in public wearing head-to-toe spandex.

It was actually lycra, but the self-awareness was frightening.  I stood on fast-warming concrete and waited with about 600 others to enter the water. Truth be told, I still didn’t really know how to swim and I was about to jump into the fast moving Cumberland River in downtown Nashville.

We filed down the pier and soon my number was called.  With an exhilarating (and fearful) scream, I plunged into the murky water for a 300 yard swim.  Six minutes later I fought the current with all my might just to get to the ladder with a VERY high step.  I couldn’t get my foot on there and did more of a pull-up-to-body-flop onto dry land.

Everything about that day was a trip.  The feeling of running to my bike was wild.  Gasping for air as I tried not to lose my balance.  Trying to remember what to take off, leave on . . . and put on.  I didn’t know anything about transition and started running out without my helmet, of course.

We hear all this stuff about nutrition, aero bars, race wheels, and on and on, but so much of it is overkill in the beginning.  If I had to do it over again, I would probably do everything in my power to think of my first time as a practice race.

Again, this was a sprint, so the run was 3.1 miles, but it was . . . um . . . weird. I wasn’t yet used to the feeling of running off the bike.  This feeling stayed with me for a few races, but now I almost look forward to running after loosening up the legs.

I finished the race that day and it was genuinely one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.  I thought I’d just scaled a mountain but it was just the beginning.  I was hooked.

I’ve gone on to do many Olympics, several 1/2 Ironman, 4 fulls, and yes, more Sprints.  I love them all.

I think the key is to keep moving forward is to have patience with our development.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but it eventually happens.  You will fall in love with the sport and hopefully with how it makes you feel.

In today’s podcast we talk about the most important things to consider before doing your first triathlon and how you can stay in the game for a long time.  We also share ways to make starting triathlon a LOT less expensive.

Here’s an outline of our podcast:

  • Things to consider before signing up for your first race
    – location
    – brand
    – race management
    – time of year
  • What made you want to do a “triathlon” in the first place – Finding your “why”
  • Gear: Items you HAVE to have, would be nice to have , and items that are just  because you WANT to have them
  • How to set up a plan for success
  • How to know if you are ready to go to the next distance