Apr 13 2014

San Juan–Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico 2014

Published by under garmin,Races

I faced my fears at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico this year. One year ago I collapsed from dehydration at mile 10 of the run. If you  didn’t read that race report, it’s worth looking back to. It highlights some of the more scary things that can happen when you push your body too far and don’t give it the fluids and fuel it needs.

This year I finished. I came in fourth, and yet part of me is still more proud of the epic failure from 2013 than this all-around “okay” but nothing “spectacular” performance this year.

20140413_105318_Android[Dehydration makes me look super ripped!]

I had a solid swim, but not great – and at over 24 minutes, certainly slower than the standard I’ve set for myself. I came out of the water 3rd, but 45 seconds behind David Kahn (U of Texas Swimmer).

[Jay Gleason, my homestay in St Croix, on the 500m run from swim to transition 1 – why don’t they count that as part of the 13.1 miles of running?]

20140413_075548_AndroidI took the lead on the bike pretty early, but by 10 miles into the race Andrew Starykowicz came by me and dropped me within a matter of a few miles. By mile 40 I felt like I was blowing up, and a little after 50 miles into the race, after Andi Boecherer and Will Clarke had caught me, I looked down to find my tire was getting soft. A moment later on one of the few turns in the race the sidewall blew out and what air was left hissed out in a matter of seconds. I rode the last 5 miles on the flat tire and lost about 4 minutes to Andi and Will, and started the run almost 10 minutes behind Andrew. Still, even without the flat I was way off the 1:58:12 bike split from a year ago. So while it was a solid effort, again I found myself performing below my own standard.

Onto the run I found myself in position to catch Andi if I had the type of run I had at the Monterrey 70.3 a month ago, but whether it was the heat or my mind fearing a repeat of last year’s failure that held me back, I wasn’t running well at all. I ran a 1:25, which was faster than Andi (1:27), but slower than Andrew (1:22, – he won) and much much slower than Will Clarke (1:17). Overall, the course was much hotter than a year ago, and it showed in the slower times had by all – but my deficit from last year’s splits was more than weather related, and with 3 weeks in the carribean to acclimate, I really have no excuse.

20140413_101253_AndroidStill, I finished 4th and earned my first paycheck of 2014 (at less than a month’s expenses it’s not much to write home about, but it’s something). The key there is that I finished. That alone required that I run past “the wall” – the part of the course where we run for about 1.5 miles along the water in front of Old San Juan with a giant stone wall on one side and lava rocks and salt and sun on the other sdie – four times. Every time I ran past the wall I had images of myself a year ago, stumbling and crawling over the rocks, so desperate for water and cold that I was determined to swim out into the ocean. Four times during the run I had to remember how I collapsed on the wall in the shrinking shade and begged other competitors to send help, and how I waited for what seemed like a lifetime for a motorcycle cop to show up and help me get off the course.

I faced my fears, and I overcame them, but I don’t feel like I proved what I wanted to. I wanted to show myself that I could ride at world record pace and run like a champion. Instead I proved that I can race with the best, overcome bad luck (the flat) and finish a tough race in the heat. I have some work to do before I’m back to the level of a champion, but I certainly respect what it takes to be there more than I did a year ago.

Triathlon is a sport of fitness, mental fortitude and an abundance of luck – and none of those come easy. I didn’t have enough of any of those this year in San Juan, but the season is long and my will is only getting stronger. it’s back to the chopping block. There’s work to be done, and in three weeks I get to try again at the St Croix 70.3. I’ll be there training until then and I will be ready for the conditions. I can’t perform any miracles in 3 weeks, but I can certainly do my best to make sure that my luck and mental strength is back to where it was a year ago. It’ll be hard to run past where I collapsed on the St Croix course last year without thinking of how terrifying that experience was, but I won’t let it hold me back. I’ve learned a lot about fueling and hydrating my body over the last year, and I will do everything I can to make sure I’m capable of racing at the intensity I want for the duration of the race.

 

 

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Apr 08 2014

Lifetime South Beach Triathlon

Published by under garmin,Races

On Sunday I raced the Lifetime South Beach Triathlon. It’s one of my favorite races, and this is the sixth time I’ve done the race. In the past I’ve done really well here. It’s a really fast course, mostly flat and it comes in the beginning of the year when I’m anxious to get out and see what all the winter training has earned me. This year didn’t go as well. It just wasn’t my day – no excuses – I raced with everything I had and it earned me sixth place. It may be a reflection of my fitness – perhaps I let the nasty winter get to me – but it may have also just been a bad day. They happen to everyone. I’ll race again this coming Sunday in Puerto Rico at the San Juan 70.3 – it might go better.

A quick recap of South Beach. I swam poorly. I exited the water way out of the front group, swimming alone through some rough water. It took a while before I saw anyone on the bike and I didn’t actually catch the group ahead of me until about half way through the bike. Even then I rode to the front of that group but never was able to shake them. Brooks Cowan started the run right behind me, and despite putting up a better run than most of the guys in the field, I was still caught around mile four, which put me in sixth place – where I crossed the line.

Cameron Dye won the race for the second time (he won in 2011), Greg Bennett was 2nd, Michael Poole 3rd and Eric Lagerstrom was 4th ahead of Brooks and then me.

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Mar 30 2014

Training Trip–St Croix

P1010160About a month ago it occurred to me that Abby wouldn’t need to be in Chicago for about 6 weeks. She just finished her second year of medical school and has over a month to study for her Step 1 medical boards. After that she starts rotations and will never have another vacation until she’s old and grey. I was planning to take classes this spring and then take the summer off from school to prepare for Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant, but if I did that it would mean I needed to be in Chicago while Abby did not and She would have to be in Chicago while I was free to train somewhere else.

Within a few days of this realization I had cancelled my plans to take classes in Spring Quarter and we had booked tickets to St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. Why St Croix?

It’s beautiful P1010154

  1. It’s hot
  2. It’s sunny
  3. There’s a race here that I would really like to go finish this year
  4. It’s close to both of the races I’m planning to do in April (Lifetime South Beach and San Juan 70.3)
  5. My homestay family from last year is amazing and had offered to either put us up or help us find a place to stay for an extended period of time P1010179
  6. Abby needs internet and a phone and as part of the US it’s easy for her to get both here.
  7. it’s beautiful.

Here are some pictures I took on my first few days in St Croix. Above is me at Point Udall, which is the eastern most point of the island (and the United States). Then some pictures from this morning’s open water swim as the sun came up over the hills.

P1010192

P1010182

I’m convinced there is no such thing as a flattering picture after an open water swim, and looking at how many chins I have on this selfie (the camera was tied to my draw string), I am certain it is not possible to get a flattering picture in the middle of an open water swim.

I’ll keep posting pictures throughout my trips. For now, I’ll leave you with the Edge 810 file from my first bike ride here on Wednesday.

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Mar 28 2014

Racing Triathlons With A Running Watch

Published by under garmin,Races

I just looked at my Training Peaks dashboard and realized that the Monterrey 70.3 file recorded by my Garmin 620 measured 70.6 miles – pretty accurate for a running specific watch! I don’t have one of the new Fenix 2 triathlon watches, so I used the Forerunner 620 – a watch meant just for running – to record my HR throughout the race. It doesn’t do the fancy bike stuff (like pair with the Vector Pedals), and you can’t change sports or do a multisport mode during the race, so it’s definitely not as good as using the Forerunner 910 or the Fenix 2, but it did record my HR and I wanted to see the running form metrics that only the 620 and Fenix 2 are capable of recording.

Check out the file here on Garmin Connect. Obviously only the last 13.1 miles are runninng, but I did start a new lap as I ran through T2.

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Mar 26 2014

Monterrey Ironman 70.3

Published by under blue70,Cervelo,Races,Travel

I wrote a race recap a week ago on my flight home from Mexico, but at the time I was still really confused about my race and I didn’t know how to describe the race without sounding like I was making up excuses. Now that I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out what happened I’ll tell you about the race and then how I diagnosed several issues that kept me from riding my bike like I normally do.

I was first out of the water in the swim. The swim in Monterrey is actually why I wanted to do the race. I went to this venue for a World Cup in 2010 and I consider this swim course to be one of the three most unique and fun swims in all of triathlon, with Escape from Alcatraz and the 2011 Hy-Vee swims being the other two. I really like technical swims that favor an intelligent race to get ahead. The swim for the Monterrey 70.3 was in a shallow manmade canal that is kind of like a two mile long swimming pool. It’s clear, chlorinated water, about 4ft deep and 20 yards wide. it meanders along like a lazy river and when there aren’t races going little tour boats run up and down the canal. Unlike most swims, there’s a real advantage to being in front at this race. The stone walls throw wakes around and people farther back often complain about the choppy water. Plus, if you do a little homework and figure out the best line through each of the curves you can really shorten the swim over someone less prepared.

An interesting fact I realized as I was writing this: this is only the third time as a pro that I have won a swim, and in all three of those races it was wetsuit legal and I was in a Blue Seventy Helix – I thought swimmers were supposed to do worse in wetsuits? Maybe not all wetsuits are created equal?

Out of the water the race changed course – so to speak. I slipped on the wet soap stone and fell on my butt. Tim Don – who eventually won the race – ran by me and I never saw him again. I got back up but managed to get stuck in my wetsuit (not enough lubricant on the ankles) and several more people passed me. I wasn’t really that worried, I mean, it’s kind of nice to let someone else set the pace for a few miles as I get in fluids and nutrition at the start of the bike. I put on my helmet and sunglasses and ran out to the mount line.

The bike course looked on paper like a great course. Flat and rolling with nutrition every 10km. I thought this course had the potential to be a sub-2 hour course. Saturday as I was running around getting ready for the race I realized the flaw in that plan. There was about 2 miles of rough cobbles on each of three laps. The aid stations were located at the bottoms of hills (meaning in order to get a bottle you have to give up all the momentum you gained going down the ramp) and with 2800 people the second and third laps were not conducive to head-down, super-aero riding. Still, the course should have been a sub-2:10 bike segment, and it was for the podium contenders.

My estimations were correct, but I was not one of the contenders. Things went really poorly and – while I normally love racing my bike – I felt like I was fighting my equipment the entire day.

I came off the bike alone and frustrated and it took a lot to convince myself that a half marathon was worth doing. But things turned around quickly.

I started the run at a moderate effort, but I felt good running. Pretty soon I started seeing some of the guys that had passed me on the bike and I focused on inching toward them. By half way through the run I had moved up a couple of places and was coming up on another athlete. I ended up with the fourth fastest run of the day, and moved back up into a 10th place finish.

So what can I make of this? My swim and run show that I’m coming into fitness for the season as planned, but my cycling – normally my strong point – was horrific. I honestly wanted to find a brake rubbing or a flat tire or something clear and mechanical, but when I returned to transition to pick up my bike I couldn’t find anything obvious. After a week of diagnostics, however, I think I have an answer to the perfect storm of not-my-day.

First, I had a problem with my front brake the day before the race and had to use a borrowed cable brake in place of the hydraulic calipers that the Cervelo P5 is designed for. About half way through the race I noticed that every time I used the brake it was pulling sideways and rubbing slightly, forcing me to reach down and manually adjust. The rear brake seems to have shaken loose on the cobbles and was also not in perfect alignment. Those were quick and easy fixes, but even together they wouldn’t have accounted for a bike split 20 minutes slower than the leaders.

This week I took the bike into Running Away Multisport in Chicago. I had the hydraulic brake fixed and asked George, the head mechanic to look over the bike to see what he could find. He spent hours going over the bike, and gave it the most attention it’s had since it was new at the end of 2012. There were a number of “issues” but I’ll summarize by saying it’s worth finding a great mechanic and spending the money to give your bike some serious TLC.

The bike itself may have had a few problems, but at the end of the day it’s the person who throws his leg over the bike that makes it fast. In Monterrey I made a few rookie mistakes leading up to the race that had my legs more fatigued on race day, standing around at a bike shop rather than sitting, running around town more than normal and which contributed to my inability to handle the accelerations and intense efforts required to properly ride the short hills along the course. Part of that poor preparation was due to an ambitious bike fit just 13 days before the race. At the bike fit I wasn’t really planning to race so soon, and I anticipated having several weeks to adjust to three big changes: a short cockpit, shorter cranks, and oval chain rings. The problem is between travel and having maintenance done on my P5 I was only able to ride the new setup four or five times before leaving for Mexico – clearly not enough.

All of this together meant that on race day I was fatigued, and fighting extra resistance through a setup that I was not yet efficient with. Lessons for the future? Even an early season race to “test my fitness” should be approached professionally and with the rigor of detailed planning that goes into the most important race. Just because I plan to train through a race means that staying off my feet when I am able is even more important than when I’m fully rested. My body may have been fit enough for a good race, but my brain was clearly not ready for the task. Next up is the Lifetime Fitness Series opener, the Nautica South Beach Triathlon – I will be prepared.

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Feb 26 2014

Rice Cakes

Published by under recipe

FB_IMG_13931662710488489For anyone interested the recipe for  Nutella banana rice cakes I had on my Facebook page a few days back:

I adapted this recipe from Bijou Thomas’s feedzone portables based on what I had in my kitchen. These are tasty and fun to make and use during training, but half my recipe or wrap them really well (foil or plastic wrap) if you aren’t doing a lot of eating during training because they get a bit dry after a few days unwrapped. You can probably freeze some of the recipe as well, but I eat them so quickly I haven’t tried that yet.

Ingredients:

  • White rice (preferably calrose or another sticky rice)
  • Nutella
  • Bananas
  1. Cook 2 cups of rice with 3 cups of water (rice cookers are great for this) it should be kinda sticky when you are done
  2. while the rice is still warm (key! If the rice is cooled it won’t stick as well) spread half the rice in a parchment paper lined casserole dish (9×13, go with a brownie pan, 9×9, or other smaller pan if you are halving the recipe) the rice should be about a cm thick
  3. spread Nutella over the rice liberally
  4. slice a banana over the Nutella
  5. spread the other half of the rice over the top
  6. chill in the fridge for a few hours
  7. slice, wrap and enjoy!

I like these a lot for training, they are tasty and gentle on my stomach. I find a 3×3 bar to be a good substitute for a energy bar. If you like it, try your own variations, different toppings, peanut butter and jelly instead of Nutella, add some lentils to the rice, and tweet great discoveries at me (@triBC)!

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Feb 06 2014

On the Cobb

Published by under Cervelo,Cobb Cycling,Rudy Project

73787-largest_57RudyProject3This year I have partnered with Cobb Cycling, which is a company run by one of my heroes in the sport of triathlon: John Cobb. John is an incredibly innovative engineer who has disrupted the cycling industry several times by creating products which break paradigms and force us to rethink what we look for in our equipment. The way I race, from my position, to the way I think about bottle placement on my bike has been directly influenced by Cobb. This kind of innovation and technology is what gets me excited about new products. It is the idea that function should always be the driver of form and that looking fast is less important than being fast. I am looking forward to working with John and hopefully being involved in the next round of triathlon innovation.

That’s a simplification of why I am excited to work with Cobb Cycling. To really explain why I include a middle-aged engineer with zero podium finishes and a non-existent professional (racing) career with my list of heroes I have to go back to 2006 when I first heard Cobb’s name.

IMGP1331[Left: That’s me in 2006 at the top of Mt. Haleakala on Maui, riding that old Felt. That’s where I learned that 36 miles uphill is a bad idea on an 11-23 cassette.]

In 2006 I bought a time trial bike from a guy in Kailua. The guy watched me finish on the podium of a local sprint after riding my Felt F65 road bike. I had lost a ton of time to my then roommate, Tai Bletcha, who was riding a Cervelo P2Sl. So this guy approached me in the parking lot and asks if I’d like to buy his Guru Chrono, an aluminum/carbon hybrid TT bike that was far lighter and more aerodynamic than my road bike. And I did. I spent $1500 for that bike, which was most of a month’s paycheck (I think my mother had a small psychological break when I told her), and it’s the bike I rode when I eventually won the overall title at Age Group Nationals in 2007.

20070630_USAT 07Nat'ls_013_1That’s the long way of saying, I bought my first TT bike, which became my first experience in riding in an aggressive position. That position was much faster, but (and this is where you should stop reading if you don’t want to hear about the war that all cyclists battle between saddle and genital area) the position also left me with numbness in an area that really shouldn’t ever be numb.

[Left: Much like the reaction most people had when they first saw this style of saddle, nobody would have looked at me and foreseen that I would have the fastest time overall at Age Group Nationals that day. The Adamo saddle in the picture is back when John Cobb’s name was still printed on the side.)

JOF_Black_LargeCoincidentally I also met my first coach, Mike McMahon, at that same sprint in Kailua. When I told Mike that my saddle was causing numbness in all of my protrusions he, a PhD in physiology, asked me, “do you know what you call the nerve that serves that area?” “No,” I responded tentatively. “F---ing important!” he answered with a mix of seriousness and humor in his tone.

Thus began the search for a saddle that wouldn’t lead me to erectile dysfunction at the ripe age of 23.

I tried every saddle the local shop carried. Some were better than others, but I found myself struggling to find anything that I could perch on for more than 20 or 30 minutes without losing all feeling.

20140201_111347Finally I found a saddle that looked really strange, like one of those two-pronged forks used for BBQing. It was called the Adamo, and said “John Cobb Designs” on the side. With saddle was designed so that you would sit on the two prongs with you sit bones and everything forward of that would hang freely off the front.

[‘Taint so bad when you’re Just Off the Front (JOF)]

My coach was against this saddle, “Cycling has been competitive for a century, if there were a saddle design that worked better than what is out there it would have been discovered ages ago,” he told me. But I had tried everything else, and I have no problem with breaking the “rules” with disruptive ideas.

The saddle worked. There was no numbness at all and my hips could be angled forward to allow the position to be not just tolerable, but… comfortable? I remember telling someone a few months later that the Adamo saddle was the best thing to happen to genitals since puberty.

Ben Collins wins 2007 ITU AG World Championships Mens Overall[Having a saddle that makes me faster and more comfortable at the same time makes me feel like this (left)]

Over the next seven years I rode Adamo saddles on all my TT bikes. On the road bikes, however, I had to continue riding a more classic style saddle with a narrow cutout in the center. If I ever got into a forward position on the road bike I would go number, but those saddles were the only way I could get the forward/backward mobility required for all handling a road bike in all the different positions (i.e. climbing, pack riding, solo break, technical courses, sprinting, etc.). With the Adamo I was pretty much stuck in that one position with my sit bones on the tip and if I tried to move back that saddle was so wide that I would very quickly get saddle sores and have to ride with my knees out.

Adamo, or the company that produces them, ISM, bought the design from John Cobb, but the two parties parted ways at some point. ISM continued to make various versions of the Adamo saddle, 20131211_153714and I’ve used up until this season (yeah, I’ve posted a lot of respectable bike splits on the Adamo saddle).  But even on my TT bike the width of the Adamo was an issue for me. I never had numbness, but the width of the saddle caused some incredible chaffing on my upper thigh, and the immobility would lead to saddle sores (pressure blisters where the saddle meets the taint). I made a simple modification to every Adamo I ever owned in order to reduce this. I would drill holes in the tip of the two prongs and pull them together with an industrial zip tie (a pretty common practice among just about everyone that uses the saddle).

Enough about ISM. It worked, I rode fast, the downside of the saddles were far outweighed by the upside of not getting erectile dysfunction. The only time I wished for numbness in my genitals is when a wasp got stuck there and stung me through the pad.

In those years away from ISM John Cobb continued to innovate the world of triathlon with his out-of-box thinking. He designed the Rudy Project aero helmets that I’ve worn my entire career, and has done some of the more innovative aerodynamic research for triathletes.

A couple of years ago John Cobb came back to saddle design and started Cobb Cycling. I followed this closely, but none of his saddles took on that two-pronged look. Until now.

The new Fifty-Five is very similar to the ISM, but with a few key changes that were really important to me. The entire saddle is more narrow, and the tip is reinforced to create less movement of the prongs. A zip tie is no longer necessary, and I can move back and forth on the saddle without widening my knees or losing comfort.

Gen2B-1Better yet, Cobb has a bunch of saddle designs that take on a more classic saddle design, but with the same emphasis on reducing pressure on the pudendal nerve (the real name of the “F-ing Important” nerve). I put a Gen 2 on my Cervelo S5 and immediately fell in love. I can actually ride in the drops for long periods of time without rotating my hips back or losing feeling. It’s not the most light-weight saddle, but comfort is way more important to me than a few grams.

Beyond the enthusiasm I have for the saddles, and for the range of different saddles that Cobb offers, I’m excited to work with John. John Cobb is a creative engineer who has the ability to repeatedly rethink the triathlon industry. His products are often met with resistance because they break the perceptions we have of what makes a cyclist fast. The industry has benefited from John’s work and I’m really excited to work with him.

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Jan 31 2014

Freezing Point

Published by under garmin

20131224_122330This has been a crazy month. The coldest of my life, in fact. While most of my peers are preparing for the season in warmer weather, I’m here in Chicago during a January so cold that even the natives are complaining. But despite the cold, life is pretty good. I’m taking a lighter course load at school this quarter and working on projects that I really enjoy, and despite the cold I have been getting out of the house and training with other human beings more frequently.

One goal I have this year is to track my data and try to make sense of it in a meaningful way. I know that I’m a heavy sweater, so I’m stepping on a scale before and after each workout. My goal is to minimize my weight swings, which are frequently more than 10 lbs in a day. I’m tracking my hours of sleep and my waking heart rate and correlating it with how well I’m training, and how productive I am with school and work. I’m tracking my hours of training, and I have kept up my “gold star” system, where at the end of the day I ask myself, “are you a better triathlete than when you woke up?” (I must have started off the year as a pretty bad triathlete because I have already logged a dozen gold-star-days– last year I only had 20 by the time I raced in late March).

What data do you track? How do you keep track of your recovery and how do you measure success?

oh yeah, and I did make it to Austin for a short thaw last week:

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Dec 21 2013

Getting Started

20131221_134403Here we are at the end of December. I have been taking some serious time off from training, but it’s time to start up again. This post is going to read a little scattered, which is a reflection of my mental status after a week of enthusiastic winter training.

I went home to Seattle after my last final. Every year I find myself out of shape at my parent’s house, trying to train, see friends that I only see once a year anymore and visit with my sister’s little munchkins who look way bigger in real life than over Skype. [above: story time with (grand)ma and the boys]

As part of the process of kicking my butt into shape, I like to do the Rocket Ride, which is an open group ride run by Herriott Sports Performance every Saturday from Logboom Park in Kenmore. My goal in this first ride of the season is always just to hang on as long as possible before I get dropped. And I will get dropped, this is a pretty serious group ride. No regroups, no chatty roll out. It just goes. To make life more exciting I always try to make it to the ride from swim practice that gets out at 8:30, half an hour before the ride start. That means 10 minute drive home, 15 minutes to change and eat, then out the door in time to catch the start.

Today I started off with a flat tire, missed the start, but caught the group by riding backwards on their loop of Norway Hill. I figured I could stay with the group until Duvall, but today I was dropped on the first climb, up Hollywood. It made for a long, wet, cold ride, and I was really happy an hour later when a chase group caught me so I had something to focus on other than the snow and wet fingers. I have a long way to go in the next 14 weeks before race season starts up, but the most important thing right now is that I’m excited to train. December hurts, and the cold weather can be miserable, but I know my off-season has done it’s job when I can finish a ride ten minutes behind the leaders with numb fingers, wet feet, jello legs and a smile. My job is amazing!

[click on the image below to see the ride on Garmin Connect, along with all my Garmin Vector power data]

image

Yesterday I had lunch with Vision Tech, which is based just north of Seattle. I saw some of the new gear they have, like the Metron 81 wheels I’ll be racing on in 2014 (carbon clinchers!), and the in-house mechanic taught me how to service my ceramic bottom bracket to make sure my P5 doesn’t lose any watts during the season. I’m really excited to work with Vision again this year. It’s really cool to partner with companies that take such good care of their athletes.

[if you’re interested in buying a set of wheels or something else from Vision, send me an email and I’ll let you know how to get the “Ben Collins Discount”.

Blue Seventy is also based in Seattle, and they welcomed me home with a pair of neoprene toe warmers and a new set of Element goggles. My toes stayed warm on the Rocket Ride thanks to the toe covers. I’m hoping they come out with a swim skin that matches my loop dots briefs – then you could definitely spot me in the swim!

2013 was a great year, but I’m really excited for 2014. Now that I’ve figured out the lung issues I was having at the beginning of the year (swimming induced pulmonary edema) I want to prove that I can ride like I did at the beginning of the season and finish off a 70.3 with a fast run. I’m stoked to train with some of the triathlon groups around Chicago, like Bishop Racing and Vision Quest, and to keep doing more and bigger events at the Garmin store on Michigan Avenue. It’s going to be a good year.

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Nov 23 2013

A Professional Triathlete Tries Bike Share

Published by under adventures,community

There I was, flying past hipsters and racing stoplights through Wicker Park in Chicago. Passing cars and drawing look of bewilderment from my bike commuting brethren. My legs were pumping like pistons and foggy breath streaming from my upturned lips like the smoke stack on a locomotive. It was my first experience with Divvy – the Chicago bike share program – and it was awesome!

I have always been a huge proponent of efficient public transportation, bike commuting and community building. I worked for Seattle Department of Transportation during college; timing lights and helping implement new traffic monitoring equipment. In Hawaii I went to grade schools with Hawaii Bicycle League teaching fourth grade students how to safely ride their bikes in the road. So it should come as no surprise that when Alta Bike Share and Chicago Department of Transportation started the Divvy Bikes program this year I was beside myself with excitement.

Still, I was not the first member of the program.

I wasn’t even early enough to be a “Founding Member” (a group that was given a discounted  annual membership and special key). In fact, as of today, I’m still not an annual member of the program.

I could blame that on where I live – the South Side didn’t have stations until the end of the summer season, and there wasn’t a station within walking distance of my house until late October. But in reality, despite being a huge fan of the idea of bike sharing, I like my fixie (I have a junker for when I’m not training because my Cervelo wouldn’t last five minutes locked to a bike rack) and most of the time my commute is longer than the 30 minute period before you start being charged for the bike.

I bought Abby a membership so she could get around the Loop and see more of Chicago without worrying about her own bike, but something (it was ego) kept me from even trying to the bike share program myself.

Then a day came when Divvy was my only logistical option. I was registered for SeenCon, a startup networking conference held at University of Chicago’s downtown campus. I had to be there all morning, then find my way to Logan Square for another meeting before coming back to the loop. My commute allowance was less than time it would take on public transportation and bringing my junker with me in the morning was going to be really inconvenient.

The SeedCon event was sponsored by Divvy Bikes, so I decided to give the blue cruisers a shot. Abby seemed to like them and there is a station right outside Gleacher Center where the conference was being held. Plus, as a sponsor, Divvy gave all the attendees a free 24-hour pass to try out their bikes. Perfect storm.

The first thing I noticed as I mounted the bike was how incredibly weird it felt for my back to be perfectly vertical on a bike. The seat feels like a couch and is not conducive to riding hard (I would have preferred this one). The bike offers three gear choices, but there’s no “big” gear so at first I thought my top speed would be pretty limited.

I was wearing my helmet because I had the foresight to bring it with me from home, but if I hadn’t I would have had to either reconcile my habit of yelling, “wear a helmet” to cyclists I see risking their brains to chance or go another way. I probably would have taken a bus and been late to my next meeting.

As I rode down Michigan Avenue I quickly started to see the benefit of the cruiser in traffic. That vertical position made it easy to be aware of my surroundings and cars seemed to be more accommodating than when I’m on a road bike. I kept sliding off the seat, but the springy ride was kind of fun and good posture did help my butt stay on the seat.

After a quick mile I started getting used to the bike. I was sprinting along trying to make green lights and making up for the small gearing with 120+ cadence. I noticed pretty quickly that cars drivers were giving me strange looks as I passed and I wondered if they’d ever seen a guy in business casual on a Divvy Bike keeping up with the cars.

I was starting to really enjoy myself as I got used to the bike, and by the time I turned onto Milwaukee Avenue my lungs were burning from the cold air.

That’s about the time I passed my first hipster and saw the reaction. It’s a face I probably would have made myself in their position. Just imagine, you’re on your fixie, pant leg rolled up just so, and the brim of your cycling hat flipped up to show off your oversized black rimmed glasses. You take a lot of pride in being a bike commuter and despite thinking the bike share programs are a great idea you secretly carry an attitude toward the people who ride them because of their lack of bike handling experience or dedication to the cycling culture. That’s basically me before this ride, only I would have a helmet over my cycling cap.

Now imagine yourself being passed by a due in grey slacks and a dress shirt, a helmet and a goofy grin on his face. His legs are flying at 130 rpm and his back is perpendicular to the ground as if he were riding a horse. It would be surprising, to say the least.

It took my a while to get over my own preconceived notions about the bike share program, and the people who are riding the blue cruisers. On an intellectual level I have been a staunch supporter of of bike share programs; passionately defending them on numerous occasions as their growth sprouts further debate around the country. But on an emotional level I had built a barrier to trying the program myself. It took a nudge – a situation where the other available options were clearly inferior –for me to face my social fears. The ego is gone, these bikes aren’t just for tourists and the casual rider. They work for me to get around Chicago and it’s a lot more convenient than my junker fixie when I’m downtown. I’m ready to be Divvy’s newest member.

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