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!
Another great day at IM USA 2011, with fantastic efforts by all and excellent results for TTBikeFit athletes and Fuel Belt Race Team members. It got pretty hot on the run, but the wind on the bike course was apparently not as brutal as it had been in the days leading up to the race. I shot some high-speed video footage of the top pros on the bike and run. The first video looks at winner TJ Tollakson’s unconventional bike setup. For more on TJ’s 15 yr-old bike click HERE. The second looks at Women’s winner Heather Wurtele on her Blue Triad SL, and the third shows men’s 2nd and 1st finishers Ben Hoffman and TJ on run.
I am lucky to be able to work with a lot of fast athletes – the pointy end of the age groupers, and some pros. Of course it is gratifying to help them get even faster. What many folks don’t know is that I work with many other kinds of athletes too. And just because they aren’t necessarily looking for a Kona slot doesn’t mean it is any less gratifying to achieve good results.
Take Maryann G for example – she will be moving to the 70-74 age group this season, and has been racing about 15 years with the last 10 focused on long course. Unfortunately she has missed the bike cutoff in her last two Ironman attempts. Nothing to be ashamed off, especially when one of those races was Lake Placid (I know a thing or two about not finishing that course).
I had worked with her son Marc both online and in the studio, and he sent me some videos of Maryann, with the goal of getting her more comfortable and powerful on her bike so she can easily make the cutoff this year. When I saw her video, two things were immediately apparent. She was very fit and flexible, but had a terrible bike setup. To my eyes, it was her fit that was holding her back – nothing else.
Maryann has a road bike and a new tri bike was not in the cards this year, so we would make do. I felt it would be possible to improve both her comfort and power while keeping her reasonably aero. Even though she will be riding at mid-teens speeds, I felt there was no reason to have her set up like a door going down the road – there are plenty of spots on the Placid course where aerodynamics would help her achieve her goal. But my first task would be to get her comfortable and able to put full power to the pedals. I could clearly see that her saddle was very low, her seat angle too slack, and her hip angle too tight, so plenty to improve upon.
After a few back-and-forths with Marc, a switch to an Adamo Typhoon saddle, new stem, and much tweaking, we got her into a much better position:
Maryann has been riding her new setup for a while, and here is some really great (unprompted) feedback I just received from her:
“Up to this point all your communications about me and my bike fit have been with my son Marc. Well I’ve been riding more and more since the final adjustments and just have to let you know how comfortable I am. It’s not only comfort. I just feel stronger, that’s the only way to express it to you. I’ve said to Marc that now all I have to do is put in the time to make it pay off. So thank you so much. I’ll be doing Eagleman 6/12; Tupper Lake 6/25; and then Lake Placid 7/24. I’m 69, but as you know will be racing 70-74 – so time will tell. I just wanted to let you know personally, how very much I appreciated your expertise in my behalf.”
After receiving that email, it has to be a great day, even if it is cloudy foggy and damp for the 30th day in a row here in New England! We will be in Placid cheering her on, and I think she has a great shot at doing it this year. Thanks Maryann!
Smaller riders can be difficult to fit properly into a good aero position, yet we have achieved good fit results with quite a few riders of smaller stature – those shorter than 5’4″, and especially athletes 5’2″ and under. Aerodynamics are actually quite important for smaller riders, since their absolute power output is relatively small. Hence on a flat road, their lower power means they have a tougher time fighting wind resistance. Sure, they have a smaller frontal area than a big rider (and hence less drag), but the decrease in frontal area is typically not nearly as large as the power decrease. They also tend to be lighter than big riders, and hence their weight doesn’t help them as much when descending. But a decent aero position can go a long way in overcoming these handicaps, so that the smaller rider can get to the bottom of the climb with the big guys – and then really shine with their excellent power/weight ratio.
Smaller riders are frequently sold bikes that are too large for them. Now, too large can take on many forms – but commonly the stack height of the bike it too tall for the rider, making it impossible to achieve an aggressive position. Certainly the reach can be too long as well, but it seems that many of the small frame designs, especially “women’s” bikes, are built way too high in front. This occurs in both road and tri frames. If you use a saddle height of say 60cm, which I see commonly in women of 5’2″ or smaller, you need a low stack frame if you have any designs on getting into an aggressive aero position.
Most of the bigger name tri frames have stack height of around 46-47cm in their smallest sizes. This will limit the amount of drop the a small rider can easily achieve. If we take the 60cm saddle height mentioned above, such a rider would only be able to get about 5-6cm of drop to their aerobar pads – and that assumes low-stack aerobars and a horizontal (-17 degree) stem. Since most bikes are sold with a smaller drop -10 to -6 stem and higher stack bars, this rider often finds that the max achievable drop is 0 to 3 cm. While this may be appropriate for some, it is rarely acceptable for a solid aero position.
It should go without saying here that if you are around 5′ 4″ or less and want to be aero, you should be considering bikes with 650c wheels. It is essentially impossible to build a bike with a stack below about 48 cm or so if it has 700c wheels. Many riders in the 5′ 4″ + range can also fit well on a low-stack 650c frame. In any case a smaller rider should be fit on a fitbike initially so that a particular bike design’s limitations do not restrict their positioning. Once the ideal fit coordinates are found, the fitter should be able to tell you what the max stack height is that will allow that position. Often times the same small rider with short legs has a relatively long torso, so they also need a relatively long reach frame.
The Kestrel Airfoil in 47cm is simply the lowest stack production frame available, and should be on any smaller rider’s list. It is literally the only production bike that will work well for certain athletes. At 43.7cm stack, it is a full 2.4cm+ (1″) lower in front than the 46+cm stack bikes that represent the lowest bikes made by most manufacturers. It also has a very low headset cap, so in effect if it typically 3cm or more lower than many other “smallest” bikes. It will give a 5′ rider the most flexibility in fit, bar choice, etc. Even the saddle height can get lower than most other bikes – down to about 55-56cm from center of BB. The 50cm Airfoil, which also has 650c wheels, provides the longest reach of any bike with a stack below 47cm. So once again, it can be the only good choice for a smaller rider with short legs.
We recently fit a 5′ rider on a 47cm airfoil that had been previously riding a 48cm Cervelo, with a 46cm stack and higher stack aerobars. She had the Cervelo seatpost all the way down and it was barely low enough. We outfitted the Airfoil with a flatter, longer stem than stock, and were able to position her at a steep effective seat angle of 81 degrees thanks to the Airfoil’s adjustable seat post. She went from looking like she should have a flower basket on her aerobars to looking like a pro.
A custom frame can occasionally be the only option for VERY small riders, but beware! I have worked with several custom frame owners and they unfortunately have generally been a disaster. Please make sure the fitter REALLY knows what he is doing, and that he has tri-specific experience. The worst cases often arise from fitters who only know road fit and try to spec a custom tri frame based on road fit parameters. A good example is shown below – this is another approximately 5′ athlete who was told that she MUST have a custom bike. Clearly that was wrong, and the custom fit was terrible. The right stock frame with the right bars worked just fine.
I should also mention that any small rider should be on 165mm (ideally smaller but good luck finding them) cranks. This will allow a higher saddle, less knee and hip compression at the top of the pedal stroke. If we look at an average rider, maybe 5′ 10″ with a 74cm saddle height on 172.5mm cranks, the crank length is 23% of their saddle height. For the rider with the 60cm saddle height on 165 cranks, the crank arm is over 27% of their saddle height, meaning their foot is proportionately higher at the top of the pedal stroke, which results in a tighter hip angle. This would be equivalent to the average rider using a 200 mm crank!! To be equal, the small rider really needs 140mm cranks. So it is also typically important to position a smaller rider with a very steep seat angle to help open the hip angle.
There are things that can be done to your existing bike even if it is higher than ideal in front. Get a level, or even a negative drop stem (25 or 30 degrees). Use low stack aerobars (Vision Tech, Zipp Vuka integrated, 3T Mistral, Oval A900, etc – but also be aware that the reach of each of these bars varies greatly). A good fitter should be able to calculate exactly what you need to achieve the desired fit.
The good news is small athletes CAN get just as good a fit as average ones. And in most cases, they don’t need a custom frame. They do need to obtain good fit coordinates from a fit bike session with a knowledgeable fitter, and then have the proper frame and/or components specified. In all cases this must take into account sufficient drop and reach, as well as hip angle so that the athlete can be aero, powerful, and comfortable.
We just received our first Adamo Time Trial saddles – ISM’s latest offering. So far I have ridden it twice on the trainer, and another teammate is also testing it out. I have been a long-time Adamo Race user, and although all Adamos are excellent, for me I haven’t found one I like better than the race and neither has Lis. The Race is well suited to an aggressive aero position where the rider rolls his pelvis forward and hence sits mostly on the pubic bone as opposed to the sit-bones.
The new TT saddle is VERY similar to the Race as you can see from the pics. The big difference is the nose profile, as seen from the side. The TT has a sloped, curved nose while the Race is square. Otherwise the saddles are essentially identical. You would think it might be hard to tell them apart on the bike, but they really do feel quite different. For me, the jury is still out. For you, you will like the TT if the corners of the Race’s nose cause chafing or irritation. Hence I think if you tend to sit far forward on your Adamo Race or Road and have an aggressive position, the TT may be the saddle for you.
The TT also appears to have bigger gel pads on the noses which make the noses look wider – but doesn’t make them feel that way. They do seem to change the feel of the nose some, and I felt that I had to tilt the saddle down a tiny bit more than my Race to prevent the “nosy” feeling.
Look for future reports on the TT if I ever get to ride outdoors again…
Yipes I have really been neglecting my blog. But fitting comes first, and another reason I have been too busy to type is the popularity of our Kestrel bikes. If I’m not fitting I am building! For 2011, the 4000 tri/tt bike is latest and greatest, but let’s not forget two of Kestrel’s stalwarts: the Airfoil and the Talon. For 2011 both bikes get Oval Concepts components including nice carbon clincher wheels with aluminum braking surfaces. These are 45mm deep, so race worthy or just very nice as training wheels.
The 2011 Airfoil sports a striking black/white/yellow scheme that has been receiving much praise around our shop. As always, the Airfoil remains a long/low shape best suited to short-legged long-torso riders, or else any rider that really lays out on the bike with lots of drop.
Also don’t forget that the 47cm airfoil is THE lowest-stack production tri frame. I recently was able to fit a young lady on one who was notably under 5 feet tall. If not for the Airfoil, she would’ve had to go custom.
The Oval A900 bars are very adjustable and very aero, but also work best in a low-stack configuration. So again, don’t expect a high front end with the Airfoil. The flat base bars seem very comfortable with good hand position options.
Another new twist for 2011 are the Oval A700 brakes. These are similar to some of the super-lightweight brakes out there in design. They utilize a roller cam to apply force to the calipers, which are skeletonized. So they appear quite light.
But since there is no way to ride outside around here in the winter wasteland, braking ability will have to be tested in the future. Maybe the very distant future at this rate. For 2011 there is only one version of the Airfoil as seen above, equipped with ultegra. Msrp is in the low $4’s.
The Talon has also been a foundation of Kestrel’s lineup for years, and has gone through a few frame updates. For 2011, the components are the main changes. As always, the Talon is available as a road or tri configuration – the difference being the front end components. So it either serves as a very nice aero road bike, or hybrid road/tri bike.
The adjustable seat post allows the saddle to be pushed forward a few cm, which will achieve a full 78+ degrees on small frames or more like 76 degs on bigger frames. So it can work well as a tri bike for those who need a high stack and prefer a slacker seat angle. As a road bike, the Talon is full-on race geometry – long and low. The new Rt-1000 will fill out the Kestrel road bike line with a shorter reach – higher stack geometry suited to less aggressive road positions. We expect these to be available in late March.
The Talon Tris get Profile front ends again this year. So this adds to the already high stack. The SL version gets ultegra and the nice Oval 745 carbon rims and Ultegra.
The road SL gets sharp-looking carbon Oval stem and bars.
All models get the same Oval A700 brakes as on the Airfoil. The SL’s paint job is quite striking – white and clear carbon with navy and gold trim. Once again, it is receiving rave reviews here at the Lab. The Sl’s list in the mid $3’s while the regular 105-equipped versions, which are red and black are in the low $2’s.
What of the 4000? The 2011 ultegra and Sram Red versions are starting to hit – all equipped with Oval wheels and components (although some may be receiving Profile CX-3 bars instead of the Oval A900’s). The Di2 equipped version seems to still be a ways off though. Stay tuned for further updates.
Finally got around to finishing my review of Kona Pro bikes – so let’s dive right in. (click on pics for full size images)
The Commerz Bank crew were very prominent with their new matching Scott Plasma 3’s done in in matte gray with yellow highlights. These are the same frames used by Pro Tour Team Columbia HTC in TT’s, and feature “sunken headsets” so that the trailing edge of the stem blends into the top tube. This works especially well with a level stem, but Mattias Hecht used an upright stem along with tall elbow risers. Hecht chose an Adamo like many pros this year, in this case a Podium. It also looks as if he opted for a Vittoria Pit Stop canister instead of carrying a tubular spare.
Normann Stadler’s Plasma was very similar, but sported very neatly coiled tubular spares under the saddle. Also note the aero rear derailleur jockey wheels, made by Berner. This looked to be the same setup used by Lance on his Trek TT bike.
Eneko LLanos’s BH sported Hed Jet 9 clinchers and an unusual stem cap water bottle mount. This is probably a Hed Lollipop, but the bottle seems mounted even higher than the stem cap. Perhaps this is a wind tunnel revelation: maybe the high water bottle helps direct flow away from the rider’s torso, or maybe it’s just more comfortable. Completing the Hed suite are the Corsair aerobars.
Timo Bracht was the renegade of the Commerzbank team, opting to ride a Giant Trinity. Timo used Q-rings, Di2, and like Hecht relied on a Pit Stop instead of a spare.
TJ Tollakson is by now well known for his one of a kind aerobar setup and mantis position. TJ has incorporated athletic supporter cups and shin pads to support his elbows and forearms in a nearly vertical position. He also has two water bottles mounted between the aerobars, for a grand total of 5 bottle cages. My guess is one or both of the aerobar bottles are decoys used for aerodynamic purposes. TJ has spent time tweaking this setup in the tunnel, and he must have found something worthwhile to bother with all this stuff dangling from his bars.
Aero-wise, once you have your frontal area minimized, the only thing left to exploit is shape. Remember that two objects with the same frontal area can have very different drag coefficients. An empty ice cream cone will have much less drag pointy end first vs. flipping it around open end first, even though the frontal area is the same. Downhill ski racers keep their hands up in front of their faces to make themselves more streamlined. TJ is trying to achieve the same thing with his high hands and bottlles filling in the gaps between his arms. It still looks super uncomfortable… Also note his helmet – no aero tail and in fact it doesn’t look like a road helmet at all. This could be an attempt to minimize drag via frontal area reduction. MIT studied aero helmets in the wind tunnel, and found that a bare head was actually more aero due to the greatly reduced frontal area – most aero helmets are much bigger than your head. So there is a case where reduced frontal area beats the more aero shape attached to a greater frontal area.
Yesterday Lis and I visited Coach Al Lyman and Kurt Strecker’s Gait Lab in Old Saybrook, CT. Al has coached Lis to both of her Kona wins and made her a faster runner than ever in her mid 40s. Kurt is also a triathlete and Chiro. Between the two of them you have an incredible wealth of knowledge that was not just derived from some quick certification course. Both are students of the human body and athletic performance optimization. For Al much of this was driven, as it has been for me, through a desire to improve as an athlete over many years of competition. Al’s palmares include more than 20 marathons (2:39 best) and 9 Ironmans. In a world full of “coaches” whose qualifications include a few years of racing and a few certification courses, Al stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
This wealth of experience and insight finds an excellent home in the PAP gait lab. Not only will you find out EXACTLY what your deficiencies are, WHY you have injuries, and WHY your performance is sub-par, you will leave with an education and understanding that will give you a new path forward in sport.
For our friend Becky who visited from Alaska, and who had been to ALL of the “big names” in an attempt to fix her chronic training-related pain issues, a visit to PAP fixed her issues once and for all. And she knew exactly WHY and WHAT was going on. Of course, her visit to TTBikeFit and time on the TTFitBike also helped – as she wound up with a new off-the-shelf bike to replace her “custom” disaster.
For Lis and I, we quickly learned why we are both good relatively strong cyclists but relatively weak runners. And I do mean WEAK. The process starts with a table exam by Dr. Strecker, followed by a movement screen by Al. At the end of these two assessments, they already know what you will look like on the treadmill. But you get on the treadmill anyway, and high speed video is captured from 3 angles for analysis is Medical Motion software.
Then, the journey begins. Al and Kurt will fill your brain with a torrent of valuable information as to what specifically you need to do to improve YOUR personal deficiencies. This is no cookie-cutter program. From here on out you will be given tailored exercises and workouts to FIX yourself. Even for Lis, as the fastest over-40 age grouper ever in Kona, she has a lot she can improve on – which is scary for anyone competing with her. For me, my running form is actually pretty good. I sure have studied it enough. It is good for a few minutes on a treadmill – but check back 60 minutes into a hard run – not pretty.
Both of us have to start with some very basic improvements to our movement skills and strength balance. And I do mean BASIC. The stuff we need to work on is far removed from running. We’ll get to that point one day, but it will be a long path. So this stuff is nearly impossible to work on during the season – now is the time.
One of the many things you will quickly realize is that it is a complete waste of time to try to change your foot strike or cadence or knee drive, your running “technique”, from the ground up. If your foundation is crumbling, it doesn’t matter how pretty the structure on top is. It won’t hold up under stress – e.g., the latter portion of an IM run. You will likely learn that there are some fundamental weaknesses that don’t even hold up in slow floor exercises in the lab – so how on earth can they hold up through 4 hours of dynamic running after 5+ hours of biking?
Some of you may have seen my analyses of running form in Kona pros last year. Well guess what? It is relatively easy to see WHAT is wrong, WHAT Chris Lieto is not doing and Crowie is. But you can’t see WHY. AL and Kurt will tell you, and tell you WHAT needs to be done. Don’t expect it to be easy, and don’t expect it to involve lots of running miles. You will have to earn that. And only a sound foundation will provide the platform to move forward. I would guess that very few triathletes, especially amateurs but certainly not exclusively, have sound strength and movement skill foundations. The very nature of our training, especially long course, works daily to tear them apart. Why did Macca look great running down Palani – why could he easily pull away from Raelert? Well I can tell you it was NOT BECAUSE he was running with a certain technique. His technique was a RESULT of his solid foundation which resulted in an incredible performance.
You may be thinking here that if you follow someone’s video or online program for “strengthening”, you are good. Maybe but unlikely. The fact is that most people do most “strength” exercises WRONG. Very subtle differences in muscle activation order can make huge differences in outcome. I thought I was pretty good at performing a simple bridge. Turns out I have been using the wrong muscles. The human body gets the job done in whatever way it can – doesn’t mean it is the right way.
So in visiting Al and Kurt, you will find out exactly WHY you have injuries, or break down during the run, etc. And, you will find out WHAT to do about it. It’s like learning to walk all over again. Once you have that relearned, then you can run. We’ll see how Lis and I progress this winter. I know my running has become worse with long course training. I now know why, and am optimistic I can return to my former speeds, and make it through long course without my 200 lbs pounding me into submission. As for Lis, she could get silly fast. Time will tell. In the mean time, I urge you to visit Pursuit Althletic Performance, stop wasting your time jackhammering your foundation, and start on a new path forward towards injury-free speed.
Continuing with my look at the rigs the pros ran in Kona (click on pics for full size):
Faris Al-Sultan: I ran across Faris’ bike at the Powerbar breakfast. The Abu-Dhabi team all had these interesting matching Storcks with Di2 shifting. You can see the battery mounted behind the seatpost. The rear brake on these bikes is integrated into the rear stays and uses a carbon leaf spring. The front brake is also hidden within the fork, but unfortunately the cable routing is pretty ugly. The headset is set down low into the top tube so that with the right stem it provides a clean flat transition from stem to bike. Faris however uses a conventional stem. His Xentis aerobars are anything but – very cool looking, but I wonder if all those sharp edges are really a good idea for aerodynamics. Since the brake levers are integrated, Faris does not get the benefit of using Di2 brake levers with a second set of shifter buttons. For a hilly course like Placid for example, you would really want these shifters on the base bars. Faris also chose a very simple but aerodynamically questionable two bottles on the frame for hydration.
Andreas Bocherer: Faris’ lesser known teammate had the same bike, but chose to use the integrated stem and Di2 brake lever/shifters. But he went low tech with the duct tape spare tubular mount (I wouldn’t want to have to remove that adhesive after that bakes in the Kona sun). Plus – who need compression socks? Drug store compression hose work just fine thank you!
Andreas Raelert: The runner up rode a fairly unremarkable Blue Triad with full Di2. He used an aerobar cage and one frame mounted cage for hydration. Note how the Triad’s bayonet front end is similar to that pioneered by Felt, but Blue’s system results in a fairly high stack and short reach whereas Felts tend to fall into the low stack long reach category. The Triad combines a conventional front brake with a hidden sub-BB rear brake, and the very low seat stays are a unique design element of this frame.
Andy Potts: Potts’ Kuota also had Di2, but Andy is one of the few pros using a ski-bend aerobar. The Kueen-K is a very long-low frame geometry, and we can see here that Potts is using a good deal of lift to get his front end high enough: up-turned stem, 3cm of steerer spacers, and 2cm of spacers under the elbow cups. I talked to Andy after the race, and he had switched down a frame size this year to bring the reach more in line with his needs. And even though he has also worked to get lower in front, the smaller frame resulted in a low stack requiring all these front end spacers. Assuming he is at the optimum drop setting now, a higher stack frame would work better. He did use a Fuel Belt Fuel box to fill in the gap behind the steerer. Once again, we see the frame mounted bottles, but he also has an aerodrink mount on his aerobars. Note that Andy chose to run the easier-to-handle-in-crosswinds 50mm deep rims vs Raelert’s 75mm.
Linsey Corbin- The Scott Plasma 3 was one of most interesting new bikes in Kona. Certainly it has proven itself in TT’s with Columbia HTC on the Pro Tour. The frame looks very aero with the integrated stem, hidden rear brake, and broad aero section frame members. The one “disappointment”: a conventional front brake. Corbin chose conventional SRAM shifters and a set of Zipp 808s, which may have been a lot of wheel to handle for her around Hawi. I give up on the frame mounted bottles.
Part 3 coming soon…
The bike check-in in Kona is bike geek heaven. It is worth standing out 5-6 hours in the blasting sun to see if anything new, unusual, or innovative pops up among the world’s best Ironman athletes, pro and amateur. Sure it is cool to look at the bikes as whole, but I really enjoy seeing how folks deal with the essential elements of nutrition, hydration and flat repair while trying to be as aero and comfortable as possible (and with the realization that it may be impossible at times to take a hand off of the bars).
Common themes this year: lots of Di2 electronic shifting, R2c shifters for the non-Di2 crowd, lots of bottle cages on the aerobars, and many more ISM saddles. The aerobar bottle cage seems to be a pro standard these days. Advantage: hides a water bottle from the wind, while making it easily accessible. In fact it could even improve the aero profile of your arms as it fills the gap between them. Disadvantage – can make steering a little wonky, can rub on your forearms, and hand-off bottles often don’t fit snugly in the cage and hence like to fall onto your front wheel. Also, it can be difficult to find a place to put your computer/powermeter head unit. For bottle mounting, X-lab makes the Torpedo mount, and profile and Hed have solutions too, but many riders used a home-made zip tie or Velcro solution. X-lab now also offers a computer mount that attaches to your stem cap which places the computer above the bottle.
So here are some of the more interesting setups (click on pics for full size images) I saw among the pros checking in during the specified check-in window (as opposed to those who snuck in early…).
Macca’s Shiv– remarkable in its simplicity.Nothing to look at here folks, move right along. Ok – maybe the straight aerobar extensions – otherwise known as the “carpal tunnel” bend. The reason they work for him is the low elbow cups relative to the bar tips, which saves his wrists from too much bending. Note that with all Shiv sizes there is one stack height, so any drop adjustment must come from shims under the aerobars. This can put the base bars very low relative to the aerobars. Good for short TT’s where even in the base bar position you want to be super aero, maybe not as good for IM where the base bars should provide a little relief from the aero position. Note Macca didn’t even bother with R2C shifters.
No behind-the-saddle hydration for Macca either- he ran a simple aerobar cage and down tube cage. I don’t get the round bottle on the down tube though. You ride a leading edge aero frame designed in the wind tunnel to be super slippery, then you mess the whole thing up with a big fat round bottle in the middle of the frame. Now I do recall that two frame-mounted round bottles can make a non-aero frame more aero, but in the case of a finely tuned aero frame, I can’t imagine it improves flow. I would think behind the saddle must be better if done right. Cervelo’s Phil White seemed to think so when we discussed this a couple years ago. Macca’s a smart guy and so is the Specialized crew so maybe they know something I don’t. Note the two Salt Stick dispensers in the aerobar extensions.Dibens’ Speed Concept – Trek’s new offering was certainly one of the hottest and most visible new bikes in Kona. Dibens adopted the Lieto setup of using a Bontrager aero bottle with a straw between her aerobars, and a single cage under the saddle. But, she has two cages in the frame – once again the round bottles on a very aero frame. Dibens also chose ISM’s podium saddle. Note that Lieto does not dirty up his Speed Concept with round bottles – he has a Bontrager bottle in the frame and in the aerobars, and his trademark nearly horizontal bottle under the saddle.
Tissink’s “Shiv4” – Raynard Shivmofied the front end of his P4 with a custom built, SA-themed hydration unit. The “Tissdrink” shrouds the P4’s conventional front brake much like the Shiv’s nosecone which was outlawed by the UCI. Timo Bracht tried something like this last year on his Giant, which already has a nose cone. But since his bottle shroud was a little less integrated than Raynard’s (i.e., a piece of plastic zip-tied and taped around an Aero-drink), it was either scrapped or disallowed as a fairing before the race. Note that Ray’s bottle even wraps around the tire for a very clean and custom fit. Tissink also chose straight extensions, this time 3T with Profile rubber grips and Sram R2C shifters. Once again, his elbow cups are very low relative to the bar tips, providing wrist relief. Ray chose the ISM Adamo race saddle, the model that Lis and I prefer.
Big Sexy’s Wilier – Chris Macdonald’s front end setup reminds me very much of the one I used on my old P3 – closely-spaced Zipp Vuka clips and a Fuel Belt aero fuel box to fill the gap behind the steerer. With extensions this close together, it is easy to zip-tie a bottle cage between them. Chris solved the computer placement problem by slotting his Joule between the bar tips. This prevents wrapping his hands around each bar, but with close tips like this it lends itself more to a hand-over-hand grip anyway. One of the other perennial questions is where to stuff your spare tubular. I always hate having the thing hanging off the back of my seatpost or hydration unit, so here is one alternative – under the aerobars. Chris chose an ISM Breakaway saddle, complete with behind-the-saddle trucker hat mount!
Speaking of frame-mounted bottles, note the position of the cage on the Wilier’s down tube: it’s low and the bottle sits at a relatively flat angle. This will both reduce the frontal area of the bottle, and improve its aerodynamic shape. As you angle a cylinder more, the flow “sees” the cylinder as a more oblong cross section improving its drag coefficient. Since the WIlier was designed by John Cobb in the wind tunnel, I am certain this bottle placement was no accident.
Look for part 2 coming soon!
(Lisbeth Kenyon won the 45-49 AG in Kona this year after winning the 40-44 AG last year. She broke the 45-49 course record by 25 mins and the 40-44 record by 2 mins with a 10:01:30)
It is hard to believe that Kona has come and gone once again, and that I managed to win my age group for the second consecutive year. Even though I aged up this year I knew the competition would be no easier, and that I would have to be faster to even have a shot at repeating. This would be my fourth Kona – the first being pre-kids in 1996 at the age of 31 – my first Ironman since back in the good old days you could qualify at an Olympic distance race. That year I toed the line with naivety as my greatest asset; plus it was my honeymoon so what could go wrong? I had spent the first four years of my tri career doing mostly sprints with some Olympics and one half. Thankfully, 1996 was one of the calmer years (the year Luc Van Lierde set the still-standing course record) and I got through it albeit with some major nutrition and cramping problems. I was passed in the chute as I hobbled, unable to stand up straight, missing the podium by one spot with a 10:40. The depth of the athlete pool back then was much shallower than it is today. After two hours and a few IV’s in the med tent, I was fine. It would be years before I returned due to the reoccurring babies, but Kona stayed in my blood – I knew I would return.
Fast forward to 2008 where I would try again after winning Ironman Florida (my 2nd IM) overall in 2007. This time I had the knowledge gained from my new training partners on the FuelBelt Race Team. But I still didn’t have the nutrition thing totally wired, and I made some mistakes descending from Hawi that haunted me the rest of the race. This time I spent the last 18 miles of the run leaning to the left, had major stomach issues, and once again was passed within a mile of the finish line. At least I barely stayed on the podium with a 10:35. For a few hours I swore I would never do Kona again, then before I went to sleep I could feel the desire to have another go creeping back in. So I went and did Arizona 6 weeks later and got my spot for 2009. Although I obviously had a good race in 2009 (I had started working with Coach Al, the first time I had a “real” coach), I still didn’t run to my potential. Since I won a spot for 2010, I was already planning. I wanted to finish Kona with a strong run, and get my nutrition right. Reservations were made in the Spring, and we decided to tow all 3 kids with us this year. I am not sure Todd got a vote on that.
Since I killed two flies in one smack last year in Kona by qualifying for 2010 and the Boston Marathon, my race and training plans were decided: train like a runner for Boston early, race a few half irons and shorter races, and then build for Kona. Although I worked some with Coach Al for last year’s Kona I hadn’t been with him long enough to be able to train the way he really wanted me to. So now he had a whole year to prepare me for what he considered an ideal ironman build.
Todd and I left for Hawaii the Sunday before the race with three extremely excited kids (no school for a week, what is there not to be psyched about?). Never seen them bounce out of bed at 3:45am already talking a hole in our heads. Having the kids took the pressure off as I had zero time to think about the race – however, I would be lying if I said my ultimate goal wasn’t to win my age group. That was a sweet feeling last year and I wanted some more of that. Todd and Al were certain I was faster this year, especially on the run, but in Kona anything can and does happen.
The kids fell in love with Hawaii – it’d be tough to not bring them should we go again. Ingrid wants to go back to her favorite art store (of course) and they discovered snorkeling, coral reefs, giant turtles, body surfing & boogie boarding among crazy good locals, shave ice, 1000 folks racing in their underpants, and they might even have started to sense the mystic vibe of this lava covered island. We stayed in a condo on the beach within walking distance from Lava Java (best breakfast and iced vanilla latte ever) and Lulu’s (best fish tacos and beer ever).
The week before the race had Todd and I doing some short runs on Alii and rides on the Queen K. Plus we did the obligatory swims at Dig Me Beach but avoided the early morning mayhem so the kids could snorkel while we swam. No dolphins this year but you can’t beat the reef scenery. In general it didn’t seem as hot as usual but past experience has shown that the heat almost always shows up for race day.
Pre race: Got up at 4am and did not feel terrific; congested. I was wondering why I wasn’t freaking out. I knew what to expect, I had done this 3 times before – the swim would be hell, the bike would be windy and the run burning hot. There is a huge advantage to having done this race and knowing how you are going to feel in those elements. It can be shocking to first timers. I think you have to learn to be at peace with the conditions in Kona. Hoping for light winds or less heat won’t help. Embracing and preparing for the conditions will. I tried to eat my 1000 calories and downed a ton of coffee. Todd drove me to the start where I met up with our buddy George from KY who had clearly had his share of coffee – this was his first time racing Kona. Body marking went super quickly; assembly line style number stamps. Arranged my nutrition and pumped my tires. The announcement that Chrissie Wellington wasn’t racing brought a gasp from the crowd – what a shame. Watched the pro race go off at 6:30am – it looked slow; there was a swell. Put my TYR Torque over my race singlet and got a camera in my face asking me to say something nice – I said volunteers are the reason we can do this. Swam out to the floating Ford truck to hang out with 1800 of my best friends – why did they look like piranhas…
Swim:15 minutes of treading water while boxed in; there should be a mandatory toe nail clipping. I asked a surf board if I could go to the other side of the floating Ford truck but the answer was no. Later I learned, and pictures confirmed, that lots of people started there. I was exhausted before the cannon went off. Whatever plan I had was drowned in the froth and I instantly went lactic. So much aggression. White water madness all the way to the turn-around boat. My goggles got knocked off but I had them under my swim cap so they rolled back. My swim cap came off this year also – not sure how to deal with that. Glue? I stopped and pulled it back on. It was slow out so I expected the swell to push us in as it had every morning. Except this morning. A male in a tiny speedo insisted on swimming over me – it wasn’t congested anymore but he wanted MY space. He scratched me and the resulting sore would bleed and hurt for the rest of the race. I moved over so he could have my line – you’re welcome. Then I drafted the skimpy-suit. Swim time 1:04. Shoot, whatever notion I had of sub-10 hours may have drowned with that swim, but time goals in Kona are a terrible idea and needless distraction anyway. I had swallowed a lot of water and would later ‘discard’ that on the Queen K during the first 12 miles of the bike.
Bike: Felt good but settled into 75% of my FTP and was a good girl to watch my power meter and not go much over. Focused on the salt/fluids/calorie plan; had my beeper go off every 30 minutes to wake me up in case my mind drifted; which it did. The first out and back was congested as usual; better to accept that and not waste any energy over it. I had forgotten it was so hilly. Then up Palani Hill which is lined with loud cheering energy. Out to Queen K where it rolls and you have a nice tail wind. Spotted Todd and the kids near the airport. Some large packs went by and it was frustrating in spots but shortly after the draft marshals started working their magic and people were busted right and left; each penalty tent was packed to the rim. Things started spreading out nicely. It was warming up. The car spotters said the temp showed 104 degrees. It didn’t take too long for me to catch a few fast swimmers in my age group. Things were going well but I knew the real race starts on the 18 miles up to Hawi.
As expected they were windy; I was going 8 mph at times. I could tell the trip down was going to be scary due to the gusty cross winds. I made sure my Speedfil was more or less empty during the stretch up; I didn’t need added weight and relied on aid stations. It was a bit stormy on top of Hawi, the winds were howling, the clouds were dark and it was sprinkling. It felt good but the wind was insane. Turn around at mile 59 and fill up with fluids for the way down; having some weight would perhaps be more stable in the cross winds given that the Speedfil sits within the frame and not on my handlebars. The storm was behind us and the sun came out. The cross winds didn’t disappoint – 35 mph. Not the worst ever there by a long shot but the worst that I have experienced. I tried to relax my shoulders in between bad spots and drank from the straw; while keeping a death grip on the bars. I was nearly thrown off my bike in the gusts a handful of times, how I stayed up I don’t know. One trick is to keep pedaling. Others were not as lucky. I learned that George was so freaked out that he got off his bike and said to himself that he did not want to be there. But he made it down. As did Harriet Anderson who is 70!
Back down to the Queen K I suddenly realized I had forgotten sun screen on my face! I tried looking at my nose to see if it had burned up and shrunk, which may have been a good thing. Nothing I could do, though. I started feeling really strong with 34 miles left which surprised me and I thanked my bike, power meter, and race plan for that. I was passing a lot of people at this point and I could tell some of them were going through a tough time. I had been there and knew exactly how they felt. This stretch is mostly lonely, so lonely I was talking to myself. Todd and Lars were cheering for me on the Queen K near the end but I missed them completely. Bike time 5:20 and feeling quite good after the initial stiff run to the changing tent. 21.2 mph. Put sun screen on my face.
Run: I felt remarkably good starting out but took that with a grain of salt – literally. Looked at my GPS, too fast. Slowed and enjoyed the crowd and the ice cold towel the changing tent women had wrapped around my neck. I love the changing tent. The people in it are from heaven. They put your socks on and pamper you. I wish I could have thanked them more. Had my 2-bottle FuelBelt filled with electrolyte powder to keep it light which I filled with water at aid stations later. I started with a hand held with the same contents. Ingrid and Tor Anders were stationed at the condo a mile down the road and told me I was 6 minutes up and first age group. That was good information. The out and back is 10 miles, the terrain rolls gradually and it is – you guessed it – hot. But once in a while we had a cloud cover the sun and the difference was night and day! The weird thing about Kona is that the air temperature is typically only about 83 degrees. But the sun and radiant heat from the lava and black roads can quickly make the air temps that the athletes feel crest 100. So any respite from the sun is huge.
I drank like a sponge each aid station and sipped my salt. I saw Caitlin Snow; she was not in top 10 (yet) but absolutely flying and she was yelling and cheering ME on – she was doing that while in the process of running the second fastest marathon in the history of that course! Back to town I spotted Todd and Lars who confirmed I was in first. Time to conquer Palani Hill. This hill is long and it’s steep and I dread it. Craig Alexander came bolting down. I have never run up it, but today I ran and ran – at 11 minute per mile pace but still.
Back up to Queen K there is a down and then a loooong gradual up that never seems to end and finally you see the solar panels and you turn left into the Energy Lab. The reported temp emanating from the asphalt was 124 degrees. That’s on the ground and luckily I wasn’t crawling. A mile before this turn I took a gel and instantly my stomach knotted up – whoops!! I had been drinking so much Perform because it was so hot – I was overdoing my calories big time. My 1996 incident of hyponatremia had me mentally scared of water. Water is not so bad if you take enough electrolytes, which I was today. Lesson learned.
What happens in the Energy Lab stays in the Energy Lab but it did include a porta-john session at mile 17. Shoot, whatever notion I didn’t have anymore of sub-10 definitely was down the toilet now. I got a side stitch and frantically thought of every trick I had read about – tighten my opposite fist – or was it same fist – so I tightened both, breath all the way to the belly, relax, etc. Slowed my pace, felt quite sick and started sipping water and ice for a while. At the Energy Lab turn-around I looked for my competition to see if maybe I could continue to take it easy. Nopes, the great Donna Kay-Ness came charging 4 minutes later and her face looked mighty tough. I figured if I ran 9 and she ran 8 pace – which she is more than capable of and beyond, she could exactly catch me. So the race was on, no more feeling sorry for myself. HTFU, HTFU. You can do anything for 7 miles.
My legs wanted to run but my stomach was setting the pace. I switched to coke and was able to get my running below 8 again. There is a gradual incline at the end of Queen K and then the last mile is mostly down. Regardless of how you feel this is the best mile in the entire world because it is soon time to stop; people around you are super happy for you, the journey is over. I didn’t think I was going to be able to enjoy the last stretch on Alii to the finish; I was falling apart by now and leaning to the left (what else is new). The folks on the left had to take some steps back to avoid me; I just watched my finishing video and I almost took out half the crowd. The Alii finishing stretch is the best on the planet – I am amazed every time, it is loud and it is loud FOR YOU. This short stretch might be the reason I want to do it again and again. Todd and the kids were in that crowd behind the fence and they were louder than anyone, but I never did see them. They had to run 1/2 mile to come around to the family reunion entrance. Run time 3:31 – PR for me. Nothing left in the tank. So happy to see the family – it is no easy task to spectate one of these and especially with 3 kids to consider. Called Coach Al who was ecstatic. Hobbled back to the condo with the kids and Todd and promptly drank a beer.
There was the small matter of a mystery “woman” who was ahead of, or slightly behind me all day, and in the end was listed as beating me by a mere 11 seconds. No one out on the course saw “her” and Todd had guessed by this time that “she” must be a man. Ironman Live finally announced on the live feed at 11pm that I did in fact win as she was in fact a man, but they didn’t update the results for 4 days. I sure got a lot of “sorry you just missed the win” messages though.
Total time 10:01:30. I was close. PR by 14 minutes on this course in tough conditions. New course record for age group women over 40. The fitness got me to the line but one mile more and I would have walked. I can pinpoint a good nutrition plan for the future based on what I learned; will make some adjustments during the run. It is hard to simulate these conditions in training in New England even in 90 degree temps, but I know how many calories I can handle and I overdid that. Can’t underestimate how scientific and focused race nutrition needs to be when you try to be at your limit for 10 hours in Kona conditions. If you don’t nail this part of the race plan, no amount of fitness will get you across the line in good shape. Kona is really a unique event that is unforgiving of the tiniest errors. Mindset is hugely important on top of getting the technical aspects right. You have to accept what the course gives you, and take advantage of the small gifts along the way, whether they be a moment of tailwind, some cloud cover, or some clear water. The rest of the time you must embrace the hardships, knowing that everyone out there is sharing them with you and that it just wouldn’t be Kona without them.
Huge thanks to my family! This doesn’t feel like a sport as much as a long term life style. Big thanks obviously goes to Coach Al for getting me fitter and faster than I was at 31 when I did Kona the first time. You’re a genius. And to FuelBelt and team for amazing support in all aspects all year long every year – it’s a dream team to be part of. Thank you FuelBelt! To Linnea for my good luck flowers – they worked! And to my single member fan club: my mother-in-law Jayne; she emailed so many people so frequently her email provider got angry. Thanks also to my other product sponsors Kestrel, K-Swiss, Speedfil, ISM, PowerBar, VASA, Lazer Helmet, TYR and Tifosi! It is a rare privilege to be able to pick the best products as sponsors, and they all played a significant part in my victory.
Training: For those interested; the actual build started 10 weeks before the race but everything prior set me up to absorb what Coach Al threw at me for those 10 weeks. I am not getting any younger (ahem), so recovery is crucial to being able to back up and nail key sessions. Plus with kids and a part time job, I don’t have time to waste; every session needs to count. Those factors have to be taken into account and is the reality for most age groupers out there. Al adapted each week and often daily based on my ongoing recovery and performance. His famous saying ‘your next workout is only as good as your last recovery’ are words to live by.
To make a long season short, I PR’ed in Boston this spring by 16 minutes which gave me confidence in what has always been my weakness. My 3 half irons went great and my biking came back up to speed. The next task during the Ironman build was to increase my bike FTP (functional threshold power) while inserting high intensity running and of course prepare me for the distance itself. The sessions were arranged in a way that I didn’t feel over trained and I recovered well between. Todd sometimes could not believe I pulled off some of the expected sets but Al seemed to know what I should/would barely be able to make. It worked and my FTP increased by about 10W in the process (lots of death interval session in the pain cave sprinkled with very foul language) even though my cycling frequency and volume was comparatively low. So a 10 week build with no more than 15-20 hours per week of training which included lots of intensity, functional strength training and flexibility work. I also had a massage by the world’s best (Sara Riley) every other week. To keep improving as an ‘aging’ athlete (aging but not old!) I do believe intensity rather than long and moderate is the right strategy, and since the hours per week is relatively low it’s a win-win within a busy life. Strength and flexibility work becomes increasingly important for staying injury free along with correct movement skills. 10 weeks of focused work rather than building for 6 or 8 months is bearable for the family and your personal sanity and doesn’t cause conflict when you want to do it again. Guess what – I want to do it again! But there is also this certain small “Extreme” race in Norway that I would like to do. We’ll see…