The TTBikeFit BLOG:
We don’t post that often these days, but there is a ton of good archived info here and when we have something REALLY SMART to say, look no further!
What follows is a brain dump in condensed form – a run technique manifesto derived from what is now years of studying high speed videos of the best runners on the planet. There is plenty of advice out there these days as to how you “should” run. How your foot “should” land. What your arms “should” do. How much you “should” bounce. What your cadence “should” be. My conclusion is that you “should” ignore most of this advice. I have identified two distinct running styles exhibited by Ironman’s best runners. They are dramatically different as the video above illustrates. One group, the “Gazelles”, spend half of each stride airborne, gaining altitude after toe-off in a clear projectile-motion path. The other group, the “Gliders”, spend about half as much time in the air, and more or less fall off their back foot onto their front foot while exhibiting notably higher turnover. Very different styles, yet we have practitioners of each throwing up 2:52 Kona marathons on the women’s side. Gazelle Carfrae vs Gliders Wellington and Snow.
So I am not going to tell you how YOU “should” run. But I am going to try and point out why one style MAY be better for average age group runners, and perhaps most women, even pros. Physics drives my arguments and observations. Even fast runners cannot escape the simple laws of physics. So too, if you want to run your best, whichever style you adopt, you must be strong, stable and mobile. Period. There is no silver bullet that will make you a fast runner if you lack the foundation. You must be able to extend your hip, and you must be stable and strong enough to avoid leaking energy.
The basic differences between Glider and Gazelle technique can be seen in the video. But to summarize, both runners exhibit similar back leg extension at the moment of toe-off. However, the front leg position is different. Gazelles are less open with the lead foot under center of mass and exhibit more forward lean, whereas Gliders are fully open at the hip (front knee at maximum displacement) and the front foot has already swung well out in front of the center of mass. In fact this swing likely generates some of the forward velocity. We think of this as being similar to skating. While the Gazelle gains a bit more altitude after toe-off, likely aided by additional upward knee drive, the Glider mostly falls onto the front foot. So flight time is short. The Gazelle is still flying around up there while the glider is working towards their next toe-off.
Classic run form, the one you see world-class marathoners use – all of them – is gazelle-like. By that I mean the runner exhibits a relatively large amount of vertical oscillation – 4-6″ typically, during which time the athlete flies through the air. (YES “bouncing” is necessary if you want to run like a gazelle – physics won’t let you move at elite speeds without significant flight). We will now introduce a KEY physics concept: vertical and horizontal motion are INDEPENDENT of each other. The amount of TIME a runner spends airborne is solely a function of how much vertical force (and hence velocity, Vy) he has on toe-off. It does not matter how fast a runner is moving in the horizontal plane (Vx). The runner is governed by the laws of projectile motion. If you hop straight up, the velocity you leave the ground at determines how high you will jump, and how long you will be in the air. Same thing for a runner. So Gazelle runners use some amount of vertical force and the resulting Vy to gain altitude after toe-off, and hence remain in the air longer. Now, the faster a runner is going, the more ground he will cover while in the air. And this is key, because we find that in fact Gazelle runners typically use a cadence very close to 90. So to go faster at a steady 90 cadence, you must go further with each step – increase your stride length by flying through the air, because there is only so far you can open your legs. Flying is good in that while you are soaring, there is effectively no energy cost. But there is certainly an energy cost to generate that Vy which launches you up there, and to absorb it on landing.
Race walking serves as the opposite condition. Race walkers are not allowed to fly at all – even though they do for about .02-.04 seconds. The rule is just that it must not be perceptible to the judge’s eye, and .04 seconds of flight seems to be the maximum safe amount. In comparison, we find the typical Gazelle runner spends .17 seconds airborne. Elite race walkers exhibit stride lengths of around 4 feet, and cadence of 100-105. This limits their top end speed to about a 6:25 mile pace. Now to get this stride length they use hyper-extended knees and unusual-looking hip gyrations. But effectively no flying, no Vy. And under these conditions, their speed is limited by the humanly-possible stride length and turnover rate.
Elite marathoners travel at faster than 5 min/mile paces, yet our (and many others’) observations find that they tend to use a 90 cadence. The table below shows that each stride must be 6 or more feet in length. We have already seen that race walkers top out around 4′ per stride (no flying), indicating that the marathoners must fly at least 2′ per stride. likely more. Interestingly, we find that during the typical .17s flight, a marathoner moving at sub-5 pace would fly almost 3′.
What about the Gliders? We find they are only airborne about .1 seconds. Why? No Vy. Gliders achieve maximum vertical displacement at toe off, and then effectively fall onto their front foot. As opposed to a projectile, their travel through space is more like an object that is slid off of a 3″ high table (the vertical displacement at toe-off) at whatever Vx they are traveling at. So without the altitude gain, they spend less time in the air, and hence cover less ground. But they can and do turn over faster. We find that support times for both groups of runners is very similar. It is only the difference in flight time that makes for a shorter stride duration and hence quicker turnovers. While elite marathoners run at 90 cadence, we find Ironman Gazelles often run closer to mid 80s. But Ironman gliders are typically mid 90s cadence or higher (pushing 110 in Cait Snow’s case). When you watch the video above, it is striking how close to the ground the gliders stay – how little flying they are doing. Yet they go as fast as the gazelles, at least in Ironman.
So the question is, is one style more efficient? The gliders don’t use any energy to generate a Vy. All of their energy goes to Vx – moving forward. Note that they often look as if they are skating just above the ground with no bouncing. BUT – they do need a faster turnover. The Gazelles must generate a Vy, and in turn absorb the same Vy on landing. Clearly more costly energy-wise – BUT – is active muscle contraction used, or is most of the force generated through muscle and connective tissue elasticity? If so, the additional energy cost may be greatly reduced. But if you don’t have springs for legs, trying to run like a gazelle is probably going to be very costly – especially if you aren’t one of wraith-like physique. Both run styles need Vx obviously – Newton (physicist, not the shoe) told us long ago that once an object is in motion, it tends to stay in motion. So a runner’s forward velocity should be fairly easy to maintain, if you aren’t braking on every stride. And here is my one sentence on foot strike – land however you like – just don’t brake. Unfortunately for Vx, we aren’t running in a vacuum (although it may feel that way to your lungs at the end of a race), so there is some energy required to overcome aerodynamic drag. Of course this is the same for both run styles assuming the same run pace.
Clearly, at some pace, it becomes impossible to be a glider. The stride length or turnover needed becomes too great. We think this is around 6min/mile. Much like race walkers top out at around 6:25, gliders with their shorter flight time and hence shorter stride length succumb to cadence limits at some pace. But for most of us, especially in Ironmans, running a 7 min mile would be huge. The table shows that at a 90-95 cadence, you need about 4′ per stride. If you can open your legs to a 3′ stride width, then you need to fly a foot – very doable using the gliding technique. Yes you need the hip extension and glut drive to maintain the forward velocity. But you don’t need to fly much. Maybe, just maybe, this is the way most of us should approach long-course running. Heck, and 8min/mile pace is pretty darn good. In which case you can run at 90 cadence and travel 3.67 feet per stride.
Clearly there is room for further study here, and I can think of several possible scientific studies on this topic. Why do we see few men using the Glider style? Pace limitations? Don’t know. We plan to keep working on this topic and conducting evil experiments on ourselves and any other hapless subjects we can find. How “should” YOU run? Maybe not like a resident of the African plains (human or animal). Maybe gliding is the ticket to faster more efficient running, at least if you are a long-course triathlete.
The second of our position analysis videos from Kona. Here we compare and contrast various aspects of top-ten finishers Sebastian Kienle (4th after flatting on the bike), Andy Potts (top American at 7th), and Tim O’Donnell (8th). These three athletes split the run at 2:53-54, but Kienle biked ~ sub 4:30 (minus the flat) vs the 4:44 splits of the Americans. As we point out in the video, Kienle is far more aerodynamic than the other two, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Potts or TO should try to emulate Kienle’s position. Any bike fit needs to take into account the biomechanics of the individual rider and arrive at a position which gets them to the finish line fastest. Variables include aerodynamic drag, ability to generate/maintain power and hence watts/kg of drag, relative comfort/body stress, and the subsequent ability to run off the bike.
You may want to grab a cold one before you crank up this video. Serious geek content here: I look at some key aspects of the riding positions of Marino VH, Pete Jacobs, Dirk Bockel and Sebastian Kienle. While this video lasts 19 minutes, it should be educational. Best part is, I am only getting started.
Wandering through the expo in Kona this year, I quickly realized that there isn’t much new in the world of tri bikes. One of the few exceptions is Cervelo’s flagship P5 which made its Kona debut, racking up 2nd under Caroline Steffen and 3rd under Frederik Van Lierde, not to mention top 10’s from Amy Marsh and David Dellow. Even the “antique” P3 was ridden to a 5th place by Mary Beth Ellis. I had the opportunity to sit down with Cervelo co-founder Phil White to get the inside scoop on the P5 and other things aero.
Phil is clearly passionate about his products -he is in Kona every year, spending most of the week prior to the race baking in his booth at the expo, talking with all comers about his bikes. On Friday he is out there at the bike check-in cheerfully tossing t-shirts and well-wishes to any athletes wheeling Cervelos – no matter how old – onto the pier. I saw more than one P2k go in. It was clear that many of these athletes had no idea who Phil was – even if his name is on the chain stays of their bikes. But they all clearly liked their Cervelos, and Phil expressed his genuine gratitude to one and all Cervelo riders as they prepared to enter the transition area.
TK: Phil, lets start a few years back when you began looking towards your next superbike design. What were some of the major improvements you were looking to make over your existing line and what competitors had to offer?
PW: When we did the P4, we started looking at how athletes actually use the bike. We looked at hydration. We found that a big gusset above the bottom bracket was good for aero, and if you put hydration there you could take something that normally adds drag and instead reduce it. This was the first time this had been done. But we found that riders didn’t like drinking out of that bottle; they mostly used it for storage. So we learned from that. We realized we shouldn’t drive the way the athlete uses the bike – we should offer a selection of solutions that in each case actually make the bike faster whereas they traditionally make it slower. So that was one goal.
Another issue was when the P4 came out, wheel manufacturers surprised everyone in the industry with wide profile rims that in many cases were incompatible with existing frame and brake designs. We had been designing for the same wheel specs since the 90s, and now we had something new. And with the P4, and I take some responsibility for this, we were so focused on making it faster – we made the rear brake disappear so that it generated no drag. But, it didn’t brake well, was difficult to set up and adjust, and didn’t work with the new wheel designs. So we stepped back and said, “hey, a brake needs to stop the bike – its not an acceptable tradeoff to sacrifice that for aero.” But we started a trend, and then we had the whole industry taking this to a greater extreme than we did. You had bikes where the cable routing was kinked in low stem positions. You had bikes that took 45 minutes just to set up the brake when you unpack it at a race. And then you may still need a trained mechanic. So the whole industry failed the athletes.
So we looked at the P5 from the viewpoint of the end user. We wanted to offer a variety of hydration, nutrition, and storage options that make the bike faster. Of course the bike had to be faster than what was out there – that’s what we’re all about, but it had to serve the athlete well in real life.
TK: Are you at the point where though where it is getting nearly impossible to make a bike faster?
PW: Well everyone always says that and asks where can you go now, yet we continue to make big leaps in performance.
TK: So that brings up the guy with a tricked out P3: he’s fit on it well, has some really nice bars on it, maybe aero brakes – is it worth it for him to jump up to a P5?
PW: Yes! We don’t bring out something just to bring out something new on a schedule. The P3 was hard to improve on, it is still a great bike. But we bring out something new if it is much better. The P5 is a significant step forward. Plus we have a much larger fit envelope than the P3.
TK: Right, I’ve run it through my fit calculators and you can get a broad range of fits on that bike.
PW: We wanted to make it fit higher than the highest P2 and lower than the lowest P4. So our integrated bar choices make this possible with one head tube height whereas we had the two different ones on the P2 vs P3/4 (note: in bigger sizes only).
TK: Plus there is a version of the frame where you can use a conventional stem and bar setup…
PW: Well sure you can do that on any P5 – the frame is the same for the 3 and 6 versions. They have a conventional steerer. The 6 model comes with the 3T Aduro front end, but you can still use a conventional setup if you like, at some amount of aero cost. But it does have the advantage of two price points. It is modular, so you can add on all the upgrades to the 3 over time if you like – front end, brakes, etc. The Aduro bars accept the standard 22.2mm extensions – so you can use any extension you prefer. It has a collet lock for the extensions, so it is very adjustable. We really wanted to make this bike easy to adjust, and wanted it to be easy to set up in the best position for a particular rider.
TK: Along those lines, two of your competitors have recently announced fit system acquisitions – where do you come out on that?
PW: Well we offer products with a wide range of fit options, and we don’t feel it is our duty to tell our dealers how to fit the athletes. There is a variety of different philosophies and systems, some work well for some folks, others work better for others. We provide the data that dealers need to fit, and let them decide how to do it. As long as we provide our dealers the necessary data, like stack and reach, they can apply it to whatever fit method they choose. It used to be that one guy’s 56 was another’s 58…
TK: Right – that’s what I do all day, interpreting fit dimensions and matching them to riders. But the advent of stack and reach has been a great way to standardize fit in tri bikes. Not so much the stack and reach of the frameset, but where the front end of the bike can actually end up.
So getting into more details on the P5, I do encourage those so inclined to read your 38 page P5 whitepaper on the website (which I really enjoyed). But let’s hit on a few details. One way to adjust the fit is a set of aero shaped steerer spacers, up to 5.5cm, that raise the stem and match the stem’s shape. You state that unlike with round spacers, this can be accomplished at no aero deficit. The question I have is that the back end of the stem and spacers is flat (as opposed to tapering like an airfoil) – so I would think a stack of these would in fact add drag? One of the CFD diagrams in the whitepaper (which show areas of high and low air pressure as air flows past the bike) seems to indicate an area of low pressure behind the stem/spacers, which would cause drag.
PW: Well that was the reason we designed it together with solutions on fuel – there are two bolts on the top tube behind the stem for storage – Torhans makes something, Dark Speed makes one, and I guess X-Lab has several different heights of fuel boxes to match your stem height. The Torhans one is probably the least drag, but the X-Lab version allows the most configurations. So we designed it from the beginning to have a fuel box in this location – that’s why the stem and spacers are truncated.
TK: Looking across the superbike offereings in the industry right now, you see a wide variety of “tube” shapes – some use truncated airfoils or “Kamm tail” sections, others use more traditional airfoil shapes or varying aspect ratios. You guys use a mix of shapes – most of the P5’s “tubes” are traditional airfoils, but for example the top of the seat tube uses a truncated shape. I was interested to see in some of the CFD (computational fluid dynamics) diagrams that this creates a low pressure area that actually helps pull flow down around a rider’s back – prevent the flow for detaching early and causing more drag.
PW: Yeah you’re right – that’s kind of neat. Each airfoil on that bike is tuned to what we define as aero zones. The front of the bike sees very clean flow, so a nice traditional airfoil shape works really well. As you get closer to and then behind the rider you have interactions with the rider, which we know causes 80% of the drag, so you will have huge effects. So we designed something that would work well with a rider there. And that area of truncation on the back of the seat tube – if you look at the CFD you see a blue stripe, or negative pressure area – which sucks flow down from other areas. It’s not huge, but it’s every little thing like that, it’s all these details that make this bike faster than the last generation of bikes. So every zone now has an airfoil that’s designed to work in that particular flow regime.
TK: And this all works well out into broad yaw angles (crosswinds)?
PW: Yeah it’s still designed to work well out beyond 20 degrees. Everyone says Kona is different, you have lots of high yaw, but the P5 is still a significantly faster bike in Kona conditions. It’s designed for a wide range of yaws.
TK: Now, in the head tube and seat tube areas you clearly have airfoil sections that are higher aspect than the UCI’s maximum allowable 3:1 ratio – how did you get around that rule?
PW: If you look at the UCI rules, they say basic airfoil tubes can’t be greater than 3:1 aspect ratio. But then they say you can use gussets, and they can be any shape. So now you use the 3:1 head tube as the nosecone of the airfoil, and the 3:1 gusset as the tail, and you have a 6:1 airfoil that’s totally legal. Some said we stretched the rules, but no – it’s totally legal as they are written.
TK: Until they change the rule the day before the Tour next year…
PW: Grrrr… it is what it is. But by putting the brake out front, we actually get an airfoil bigger than 6:1 when we add the brake cover for triathletes.
TK: Because the brake cover acts as the nose of the foil.
PW: Right – so triathletes get a better airfoil with this non-integrated brake than you would with a user unfriendly integrated brake. The roady, who must use the UCI-legal fork, still gets a much more aero setup with that small streamlined brake out front than he would with another type of setup.
TK: Some of the other manufacturers have been touting non-UCI legal, triathlon-specific bikes. So they might have, for example, down tubes with 5:1 or greater airfoils. Clearly Cervelo has a big Pro Tour presence. Do you look at the P5 and think that if you didn’t need to follow UCI rules, you might have done something different?
PW: Well the nice thing with using CFD, when you go to the next level and start using it as a design tool instead of just to have someone make a diagram for your brochure, you really start to understand what’s happening with the air flow on the bike. You don’t learn that as well in the wind tunnel. So that was the advantage of hiring a full-time aerodynamicist. You know we have a PC in house with 16 processors and access to a super computer running 256. So we run all these analyses and what we found out is the down tube, we wouldn’t change it. It is perfectly dialed for the flow regime there. So with CFD we can really see where the gains come from.
TK: So going back to truncated airfoil designs, which are now being used on several superbikes, in your CFD diagram you can see low pressure, or drag, behind your truncated seat tube. But the guys who use these foils all over their frames say that doesn’t matter, because the flow “thinks” there is a tail there. So therefore you can design a tube to “act” like it is a longer airfoil than would be practical (or legal) to build out of carbon. So then why aren’t truncated airfoils the way to go?
PW: Well if that was true you’d have airplanes with half-wings. It’s obviously not as good as a complete airfoil – I think people are starting to understand that now. Our philosophy was truncation where it makes sense. Obviously one place it makes sense is in front of the wheel.
TK: The wheel acts as the tail of the foil.
PW: Right. And the other place, on the seat tube behind the rider, is nothing like a clean air flow situation. It is specific to the flow regime there.
TK: Talk about your concept of skin surfaces.
PW: We stopped looking at the bike as a collection of aero tubes blended together, like our competitors do. We look at the frame as skin sections blended together and designed to fit specific flow regimes.
TK: Where is the P5 manufactured?
PW: This bike is meant to be sold in volume, so it is made in China.
TK: What can you tell a prospective buyer about the way the bike rides?
PW: The quick answer is, if you get on that bike you immediately notice it has a nice ride but the bottom bracket is super stiff. People just say, “Wow!”. It is a big difference – a big step forward. There is more to a tri bike than aerodynamics. The best way to understand it is to get on it and ride it.
TK: Sure – did you bring a 61cm with you?
PW: Ha – there is a 61 here, but it’s (pro triathlete) Tom Lowe’s – so if you want to try and wrestle it away from him…
TK: I’ll pass – but beyond the stiffness, have you designed in ride comfort – vertical compliance?
PW: Well certainly we know now that we can use different materials and layups and thicknesses in different areas. So we really tailored the layup and material selection to add ride quality.
TK: The hydraulic brakes are a first on tri bikes. We’ve discussed the aero aspects, but there is more to it than that.
PW: They’re better all around. It’s lighter than Dura-Ace, has more braking power, and better modulation. It’s super easy to adjust the brakes for different wheels. And it is proven technology; used in mountain bikes for years. Every bike shop can service it. And you can even use our aero brake levers with the new Di2 – it allows you to plug in accessory shift buttons which you can mount near the brake levers.
TK: The P5 accepts all currently available wheel designs – correct?
PW: Yup, you can go out to 25mm tires – the trend now is towards fatter tires. The easy way to increase the ride comfort of your bikes is the saddle and the tires. The Cobb and Adamo saddles – that’s a trend because they work. The other way, use a wider rim and tire with lower pressure (e.g., Hed Ardennes or Jets).
TK: How’s the availability on the P5?
PW: Yeah we’ve had some problems there – first we underestimated demand, and then the supply’s been less than we hoped. I think it’ll recover by about January. We’re hammering away at orders pretty good now, but for sure if we had twice as many we’d sell twice as many. And the thing is, we thought there’d be a lot of demand for the P5-3, but most of the customers are triathletes, and they want the latest and fastest, or the P5-6.
TK: You’ve spent as much time in the wind tunnel as anyone, and you’ve also spent a lot of time in Kona. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see athletes making?
PW: The obvious one is stay in the aerobars – get fit properly so you are comfortable and powerful being aero. 85% of your power goes to overcoming aero drag, and the body is 75% of that. After that, put your hydration where you’re going to use it. There is nothing that’s going to slow you down more than having an aero hydration system that you forget to drink from – getting dehydrated and weaving down the road. That’s why I’m a big fan of the horizontal bottle between your arms. Not only is it the most aero position but it’s right there where you will use it. Then there are details. Get rid of stuff hanging off the top tube. Keep the things behind you in tight; narrow and close to your butt. You certainly don’t want to see the bottles from the front. Try to adjust the height between your waistline and bottom of your butt – that’s the sweet spot.
TK: So to wrap it up, the obvious question is where can you go next in bike design?
PW: Well that’s what we pay the engineers for. It is their job to anticipate the un-articulated needs of the customer. We’re not going to do a focus group and ask people what they want, because they don’t know. They’re looking to us to provide that vision – to take them to the next place that will make them happier and faster and loving the experience. Even the fastest bike is no good if you can’t adjust it and you hate riding it or can’t live with it. You look at the P5 now and think everything on that bike is obvious. But of course that is hindsight.
TK: That’s about all I have – thanks very much!
PW: You bet.
We were able to video some of the pro men and women running on the Queen K this year. It was the hottest we can remember out there, and the marathon times show it. Run splits are listed on the video if the athlete finished the run. We will have some run form analysis on these in the future.
It was a tough one on the Queen K this year. The worst winds and by far the worst heat in several years. As usual we stood out on the Queen K and fried all day long, just so we could capture these videos at 300 fps. Part 1 features the first 15 men past us at mile 110 – missing is David Dellow who was sitting up working out a cramp as he passed. Part 2 includes the next several pro men. Video three is pro women, and video four is the first several age group men into T2. Future additions will include male and female pros running. Stay tuned!
Our own Lisbeth Olsen Kenyon challenged the world’s toughest iron-distance tri in her native country of Norway, coming in 3rd woman overall behind German pro Anette Finger and Norwegian Charlotte Knudsen. The top three, along with Norwegian power-biker Cesilie Skollerud Hegna, beat the existing course record. This is a race that has to be experienced, as a competitor or crew member, to be believed. It is one of a kind. The terrain and starkly beautiful scenery are unforgettable. Watch the vid full screen – it’s in 720p.
Lis’ race report:
“I want to create a completely different race, make it a journey through the most beautiful nature of Norway, let the experience be more important than the finish time, and let the participants share their experience with family and friends as their own support. Let the race end at the top of a mountain, that way it will be the hardest ironman-distance on earth.”
Paal Hårek Stranheim (Hårek), Norseman creator, 2001
Last year, Norseman moved the swim start further in the fjord because of cold water temps which made the bike portion 20km longer. No one complained, no one asked them to cancel the swim. Norseman has been on my bucket list for some time but that sealed it for me. There is nothing luxurious about this one; you show up responsible for yourself and prepared to possibly race through 4 weather seasons in one day. There is no warming tent after the swim nor changing tents. No smørgåsbord nor porta-johns lined up along the course. The mentality is old school style. You get 16,400 feet of climbing with 6,200 feet in the last 10 miles with breathless sights along the way unique to the terrain in that part of Norway. This is where you realize: trolls do live.
Living in a flat state (Rhode island), I should have made an effort to seek out similar terrain in my training but the time equation couldn’t be solved for me. Looking at my log, I trained an average of 13 hours per week for the past 6 month; anything more would impact family and work – for a hobby. That doesn’t seem like much but the sessions I did required this old body more time to recover. Given these limiters, Coach Al focused heavily on functional strength, mobility and movement skills. In fact, I started my training by taking 2 weeks off from running to concentrate on building my glute strength and resetting some basic movement errors that would cause injury if I didn’t correct it. I actually had to re-learn how to walk up the stairs correctly, avoiding using stabilizers even in simple movements. It would be an experiment to see if I could get up the mountains without the specific hill training but equipped with new found glute and core usability. Coach Al reflects on my prep in detail in his video blog here .
Arriving Norway I got sick with a cold and jet lag was particularly bad associated with some pre-travel stress. My mom spoiled me with all the tricks in her book and I started Dr. Barry Sears’ high dose fish oil and anti inflammatory supplement (maqui berry). I took the week off from training. With 3 days to go I felt good again. While traveling the bike course backwards on Friday on our way to the race with Per Gunnar, daughter Gina and my crew (husband Todd, son Lars, brother Tom Erik), I realized this race is way bigger than me. I changed some pacing strategies on the spot to be more conservative. I was seriously concerned about the descents. This, in my opinion, is a race you have to do a couple of times to learn how to prepare and pace optimally. We used this drive to plan nutrition logistics; the support car has to park all 4 wheels off the narrow roads or the athlete gets penalized. The first 40k (25 miles) has limited spots for parking off road plus athletes go in and out of tunnels and on and off the old road which is too narrow for cars. By the time we reached Eidfjord, we had a detailed plan.
A quick practice swim in the fjord was up next, something I had been dreading: Per Gunnar and I take the plunge from the dock to mimic the jump off the ferry. I quickly aim for the swim finish to get the heck out – it feels like ice to me; my face is numb. PG who has crewed and raced before makes me swim out to show me it gets warmer further out. And like a true Norwegian, he tells me being cold is all in your head. The pep talk is powerful. The Norseman swim is no longer an issue. I can sleep at night.
Race morning Sunday: breakfast buffet at the hotel opens at 2am; a zombie like atmosphere there. Bike check-in 3:15am. Ferry departure 4am. EARLY! I have seen videos of the ferry ride – it is exactly like that. Faces staring nowhere. Silence. I decide to skip the neoprene cap and swim socks that Blue Seventy had sent me as the water temp seems bearable (they will come in handy during the fall bay swims in New England prepping for Kona) – I opt for Vaseline instead. Thick layers on hands, feet and face. 4:50am time for The Jump. Wetsuits and yellow caps walking slowly toward the edge. Another Brick in the Wall lyrics are stuck in my head. I have the same feeling when I was a kid and had climbed the 10 meter dive board with the realization it was a bad idea but couldn’t be gracefully reversed. Jump into the dark 400 meter-deep fjord; it is surprisingly comfortable. An eery feeling that I have been there before. Line up and then the ferry horn starts the race. I swim alone and take it easier than normal. It is magical to see the steep mountain walls next to me. I have done 100s of triathlons but feel like a beginner today. The hour feels short and soon I enter the ice cold waters near the end. Todd waits in T1 with a thermos of warm water that he pours into my wetsuit upon exit – a surfing trick. However, my transition takes eternities. I have no feelings in my hands and can not get anything on! Lars is standing on the side yelling this is the slowest transition in history! Thanks, son. But it was. Maybe I should have poured that water on my hands instead. Swim time 1:01.
Reflective vests and lights are mandatory the first part because the old road had seen a rock avalanche so we had to go through a long tunnel reserved for cars at that spot. I am stopped at the entry to this tunnel and told I could not go on. I quickly explain my vest is indeed reflective, only fashionably white instead of yellow. The gentleman quickly pushes me on my way. There is no way to forget the vest, we are reminded throughout. There is also no way they will let you pass through without it – safety at Norseman is top notch.
It is hard to focus during the first 35k – incredible terrain, I am dizzy looking down the steep walls. I am also surprised at how hard some of these climbs are. I have never been on an ascent this long. I see my crew in Vøringsfoss and then at the top in Dyranut. I am made aware I am third woman – first one is German pro Finger and second is hammer-girl (Cesilie – named by my crew as she is pounding everyone on the bike). Over Hardangervidda we have 50k of good winds and good roads. I see my crew often; I lose my water bottle at one point and ask my crew to drive back to retrieve it. Hardangervidda is a national park and you cannot litter. This stretch is above the tree line and very desolate. It reminded us of Kona in that it is a large open area vulnerable to elements of weather and winds. Long sticks line the roads so that the snow plows can see where the road is during winter.
The 3 smaller mountain passes go well, 3k, 4k and 3k of climbing at 6-10%; I bike within myself and am patient. But I am an old lady on the descents. In retrospect, if I can redo one thing it would be to practice downhills and switchbacks. I lose a lot of time during the downs but I am safe. I am not taking any risks – the rains started on the 2nd descent. The bottom of the climbs are warm; roll down arm/leg warmers and zipper down – It is cold on the tops; roll up arm/leg warmers and zipper up. And so it goes. 4th and last mountain – up Immingfjell – this climb breaks me. It’s a 6k very steep climb that takes forever. I keep looking for a smaller gear even though I know it isn’t there. The climb is followed by 10k of slightly up before you hit the last 30k descent. I am stick a fork in me done by the time I hit the last down. Then the torrential rain and hail start – all during the last hour of down. The roads are bumpy, my arms are tired, my hands are gripping way too hard, the speed is scary – I try to relax my shoulders some and pump my brakes so they don’t overheat. My teeth are shattering uncontrollably. But my mood is good – the bike is almost done, no flats nor crashes. I am happy to be there. Crew waiting in T2 with a lawn chair. How to get back up. Bike time 6:35 which is 1:36 slower that my fastest Ironman bike.
Run – first 25k is flat. Stomach feeling not so good; in and out of the woods a few times before working it out. And then I lose all appetite. Crew is offering all kinds of different foods to try to motivate me, including meatballs. I turn to water and banana. I am not too concerned about bonking. I do Hawaii on 200 cal per hour plus nutrition on the bike has gone as planned. This flat stretch is slower than normal for me. I knew it would be when I stepped off the bike. Lars tells me there will be a fast former college runner passing me soon but that I am gaining on 2nd. Soon Knudsen passes me, light on her feet, and I am in 4th. At 20k you see Gaustatoppen and you feel insignificant. Finally, Zombie Hill starts at 25k – I am starting to feel better and I find myself in 3rd place. I am elated that long time friends Jane, Nils, and Anne with significant other Pål are following me; by foot, by car, they are everywhere. Motivation is high. The winner from past years, Susanne Buckenlei is there yelling to not slow down now. Lars and Todd run the whole 17km uphill with me; Tom Erik is in charge of the car and nutrition handoff to the crew. Appetite is still stagnant, small bites of banana and diluted Powerbar Perform. Walking is almost as fast as running but I find a rhythm that allows me to run 80% of it. 9km of Zombie Hill is extremely steep then another 6km less steep, and then you get to the entrance of the rocky finish climb. Medical looked at me and let me pass without question. Normally at this point in Hawaii I am in survival mode and leaning slightly to the left. Here I am feeling stronger and stronger. Mental note to not stop my planking routine.
Finally we get to the mountain entrance – I am thinking this will be easy as the rocks don’t allow for much running. Oh so wrong I am. Backpacks are already checked in so no delay. We are 11:41 into the race – to break 13 hours we need to cover the last 4.7km of rocks in 1:19. I look up and say that’s impossible. Tom Erik tells me we will do it. He has hiked Gaustatoppen carrying his skis many times. If he has any doubts, he is hiding it well. Todd gets up front and chooses the line. Rocks are painted with a red T to show the path. Tom Erik is behind me and now his mountaineering instincts wake up – he whips us up the mountain barking out instructions – don’t get sloppy now, focus on footing, balance, balance. He reinforces when the tempo is good, tells Todd to up tempo if we catch up, feeds me a bite banana every 10 minutes, makes me increase the tempo when rocks are flatter. Lars is hanging in there in the back. It never ends. Rocks are everywhere. Just rocks, wobbly gray wet rocks as far as the eye can see in all directions. We are on all fours climbing some of them. Now I get why people in the videos are holding their quads. Every time I look up, the radio tower is still far away. It is so much steeper in real life than the videos show and it is way less smooth than I expected. This was the hardest part of the day for me because we are now chasing the clock. What I really wanted was a sit down coffee break. All of a sudden the tower appears big and we are there. Again, a familiar feeling that I have been there before. We make it in 12:46. Maybe the hardest one hour and five minutes I have done, mentally. You feel like you are on top of the world up there – on a clear day you can see 1/6th of Norway’s area. Run time 5:00 which is 1:50 slower than my last Boston marathon. This race is epic!
I need to mention the winner Henrik Oftedal’s performance; 5:15 bike – 10:23 total time. Simply nuts. I challenge any world class iron athlete to beat that one.
Thanks to my super fabulous support crew who I obviously couldn’t have done this without and who had to hike back down the rocks while I took the mountain elevator and train. This one I will never forget.
Big thanks to my sponsors FuelBelt, Kestrel, Coach Al, Pursuit Athletic Performance, Powerbar, Speedfil, Zoot Sports, ZoneDiet, Blue Seventy, Bont Shoes, ISM.
We have been lucky enough to get a few early examples of Blue’s new Triad SL Limited edition “super bikes”. These are no-compromise aero missiles with proprietary integrated front ends – super light, stiff and aero. Only 200 will be made in the murdered-out black-on-black limited edition garb. The first two guys we have riding these had the following comments after their first races on the Triad SL:
“Just wanted to give you guys a quick “THANK YOU” for getting me set up on the Blue. I have NEVER been more comfortable on a bike in my life. I was able to sit in the bars for 99% of the race. I have never been able to do that. Avg 24.5mph @ 260W.” – PW, QT2 Systems, 2:19 bike split at 70.3 Galveston.
“I’ve never been so comftorable and settled… The bike and the fit was perfect!!! 23.5mph @ 225 watts felt like I was flying….. Technical course and handled great…. I’ll bet a wide open course where I’m not so wimpy and this thing will be even more amazing!!!!” – DM, AG win Nautica Miami Beach
Great bike, but of course the fit helps too… Since this bike uses and integrated front end, you need to have your fit pretty dialed to select which stem length (stem is inetgrated into the bars) you need.
Check out our review:
Clearly Rinnie is one of the best triathletes the sport has ever seen. But versus the other top women she is giving up 5-20 minutes on the bike in Kona. If she could gain 10 minutes of free speed it would be devastating to the rest of the field. We think she can gain that much time via position adjustments and pedal stroke work. In the following video we analyze her pedal stroke and bike fit out on the Queen K. We Compare her to top riders Julie Dibens, Caroline Steffen, and Chris Lieto.
Here are the first of my annual high-speed cycling videos from Kona. The top male and female pros are shown at about mile 109 on the Queen K. Slo-mo portions are shot at 300 fps.