Monday, May 21, 2018

4 Tips on How Best to Handle a Flat at 70.3 and IM Racing

What Happens When You Flat 3X in an Ironman?

Courtesy of Steve Smith, Kona Podium finisher 2015

This is a repost of a blog I wrote last year.  I looked at the Ironman website and was almost startled at the number of races this year.  In fact, on almost every weekend between now and December there's either a 70.3 or IM event, frequently multiples of both.
"I've raced the iron distance many times and never had a bike related failure," says an area athlete.  But there are a good number of folks who flat for one reason or other, and a couple even flat twice.  But here we see that it's possible to have even more punctures and still wear the mantle of IRONMAN come midnight.

“It was an epic race, but one I hope to never repeat.”  It was with these cryptic words that I agreed to meet Legacy athlete Tim Johnson from St. Louis at the finisher’s banquet the day following the 2015 IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.

Johnson was one of the folks I had the privilege of profiling for before the race so I knew some of what got him to Kona.  As a veteran of a dozen 140.6 mile efforts, he’d raced under many conditions, some pretty awful, and a host of different terrains. “Ever read the magazine know-it-alls who say that this course or that course is may be harder than this one?  Bunk, all bunk.”  This from a gent who’s raced Ironman Lake Placid, IM Wisconsin and the old St. George, Utah course.  “This one (Kona) beats them all.”

It didn’t help, of course, that Johnson was nursing an ailing Achilles and under chiropractic care for a recent flare up of a sore back.  It’s even more sore today.  Here’s why.  This athlete is a real student of the sport.  He knew precisely where to line up for an excellent swim.  A good T1 followed.  It would be the last good thing in his day for the next 15 hours.  He only made mile 4 on the bike before flatting.  Then he flatted at mile 5.  Now out of tubes, you guessed it, he flatted at mile 6.  As he described his pre-race preparation, he sounded pretty thorough with new tires and tubes a couple weeks out, several rides to make sure all was well, etc.

So, following this third flat tire, he waited about 20 minutes for the roving neutral support bike mechs, who also couldn’t explain the etiology of his situation.  They gave him a new tire and tube.  Plus a spare tube for the road so to speak, but unlike so many of us who'd say "This just isn't my day," fold their tent and quit, Tim shrugged, gave out a big sigh, and began to pedal.  He immediately separated the rubber off one of his brake pads!  (Course he did.)

Hard way to start this second wind, or would 4th wind be more appropriate?  But by now, he was basically cooked.  He missed his pre-race predicted bike interval so he had headwinds “about 70% of the time."  You read that right.  The out and back Kona bike course snakes through the rugged Kawaihae region of the island well known for this blowing both ways phenomenon.  It didn’t help this northbound athlete to view the southbound athletes, already having been to the turnaround, “about 1000 miles ahead of me,” he admitted as he trudged north.
Surprisingly, he made the bike cut off, although not by much.  He was spent, mentally exhausted.  He was only able to run only the first few miles of the marathon.  But, now well after dark, he was truly amazed at how beautiful the Hawaiian night sky was, the brightness of the millions of stars.  You might have been able to predict, that he had to walk the majority of the 26 miles saving his small reserve of kindling remaining to actually run the final mile to the finish.  

Cramping badly, Johnson was taken to the medical tent, weighed, and found to be 17 pounds down. Seventeen!  Through all this he still laughed when he told me, “Yes I was at the IRONMAN finish line at midnight.  Receiving my second bag if IV fluids in Medical.  Ha!”

But, as if you couldn't tell already, Tim Johnson is a glass is half full guy.  In spite his bike related misadventures this day, he was still terribly impressed that he, Tim Johnson from Missouri, was able to "watch one of the most glorious sunsets I’d ever seen as the sun plunged into the Pacific. And you know, I’m doing it riding my bike in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii!”

Monday, May 14, 2018

Why a Second Ironman Makes Perfect Sense. Sort of.

Finishing another 140.6 mile event.  Feels pretty good, eh?


I live in a small town.  But I still know more than a dozen people who've raced an ironman-distance event.  About half have done a second, or more.  As one who's in that 2nd group, I obviously have a bias.  And since I'm asked by Ironman every October to interview then profile certain athletes, and for the last couple years the folks they've given me are all legacy athletes, 12 of more Ironmans, that makes me very biased.

The number of "first timers" seems to vary from race to race.  When I wanted do a piece in that vein recently, more than one athlete pointed me toward Ironman Texas as having the highest percentage of firsties.  While this stat may or may not be true, it's certainly not because the course is a cake walk.  If you ask Chicago's Ray Britt, keeper of all that is statistical at, you'll find that only Kona, St. George, Maylasia and Louisville are considered more difficult!  In fact, Britt would tell you that IM /Florida might be the best US course for either first timers or those looking to PR on this continent.  When compared to some of the European races, IM Texas average times can be almost an hour slower. Never-the-less first timers still flourish.  Maybe because Texas is a well run, fun race.  And heck, they're Texans for crying out loud!  In the 2018 race run a couple weeks ago, there were some pretty spectacular results although the actual race distances this year have come into question.

But if you've gotten one 140.6 day in the bag simply completing the distance is no longer just a dream.  You've done it, you're a finisher, and your finisher's medal adorns the picture behind your dresser.  The time, the effort. the sacrifices away from your job, your mates and family while costly have made crossing that line a prize worth all of it.  I know few who would disagree. But should you do the same event the next year or another one a little farther from home?  Let's see.

Local attorney Jim, always wondered if he could do it.  So he picked an event and a year, made a pact with his wife and kids, got the gear, put in the training and achieved his goal. Forever he can say "I'm an Ironman." Yes he's quite happy about it but he has other priorities in life and hasn't done a tri in 8 years.  Another local stud, Pat, has done three IM's including ones as distant as Canada and Germany.  But Father Time (and his Orthopedic Surgeon) talk him down every time he thinks about long distance racing these days.  He'd probably break something!  But the above too examples don't apply to Alice.  She probably wears her finisher's medal while cooking.  And she has an itch.  She looks at her schedule, other race venues, costs, etc. and still has those embers down deep inside quietly heating up while she wonders one thing.  "Could I do better?"

Many find they've learned so much the first go round that the time out of their day/week/month dedicated to tri can drop significantly since they've learned the hard way (I would argue the best way) what works them as an individual and what does not.  They already have a good bike and wetsuit, have perfected the speed shower technique and know of an alternate pool when their favorite is closed.  They've made a science of getting many things done in a short period of time  What's that old adage about wanting something done and giving it to the busiest person you know?  So maybe a 2nd 140.6 is in the cards for some.  That exercise high, those endorphins, can be mighty stimulating.  Besides, athlete Alice recently picked up one of those centerline Finis snorkels that looks like fun, and "I just got some neat bike shoes."  Think you can predict her future?

Sunday, May 6, 2018

In the Airport? Take the Stairs, an Opportunity to Get Stronger

I wrote this for Ironman a couple years, still true today.

This Off-Season, Take the Stairs

(c) Digital Vision.

How you can harness every minute of the day to become a stronger athlete.

by John Post, MD
Years ago I heard the saying, "you're not old until you start using the stairs to get out of the pool." It's one of those things that after a while takes hold in our brains until we come to believe it as fact. True or not, I always leave the water directly from my lane with the old push-up technique. And I'm not what you call young.
Another one I learned in pre-med goes like this: "Take the stairs and add a day to your life." This approach can fit well into a triathlete's world, especially in the off-season, when "real" workouts are decreased.
Famed triathlon coach Joe Friel told me many years ago to look at it as if airport stairs were put there just for me. Since then, rarely have I stepped on a moving sidewalk or escalator at the airport. A third member of the discussion admitted that if he had a layover, he saw the stairs as an opportunity to get stronger. He'd go up and down them like mini hill repeats. When asked if passersby would think him a little off in the head, he'd repeat a line from Michael J. Fox, "what other people think of me is not my concern." And he did get stronger—and faster.
En route to better fitness
So, how do you incorporate this "fitness anywhere" philosophy into everyday life? If you have time between flights when traveling, rather than sit and stare at the TV, find an empty gate and do some push ups, crunches, leg levers, planks, hip thrusts, stretching—you name it. An increasing number of airports have actual gym facilities on site. Why not take advantage of them? 
The other side of the coin is rest. More than one of us is chronically short on sleep, and the opportunity to get some unexpected shut-eye in a pod hotel not only feels good but is good for your overall health and well-being. Atlanta, Dallas, and Philadelphia all have these 56-square feet personal spaces complete with pull-out day bed, desk and chair, and in-room workstation.
Make routine do double-duty
Everyday life is full of mini fitness-boosting opportunities, including how far away from the door of the supermarket you park to shunning the elevator in office buildings. Park an extra couple hundred meters from the Safeway front door. Pack those groceries carefully and carry them yourself—no shopping cart—the extra distance to your car. If you don’t live too far from the market put your items in a backpack and jump on your bike.
During my junior year med school clerkships, while training for my first Boston Marathon, I learned the hard way that the hospital’s west wing, where our patients were located, had 16 floors. Before getting our assigned patients, my friend Dennis and I agreed we wouldn't use the elevator. Ever. For the whole six weeks. We were assigned to West Wing 15, on the 15th floor of the hospital. When I crested Heartbreak Hill in Boston I thought about "WW15" and just smiled.
And it can be contagious. I had to smile a few months ago when flying with our sons, both in their mid 20's. We were connecting to another flight on our way to Sequoia National Park, the boys about 10 feet ahead of me. Without even thinking, they chose the stairs over the escalator. In a 2013 article in Runner's World titled "In Defense of Stairs," Alex Hutchinson quotes a Swiss study in which participants were encouraged to take the stairs and after 12 weeks noted an increase in average aerobic fitness of 9.2 percent.
On the commuting front, ask yourself if you can occasionally bike or even run to work? It might be a bit of an organizational challenge the first time, or you might need to get up a few minutes earlier, but I assure you you'll arrive at the office refreshed and with a clear mind.
Home "gym"
It snows where I live. Most of my neighbors have their driveways plowed and the guy with the blade on his pick-up on speed dial. We do not. I’ve always considered the chance to push snow around as a bonus workout. It might even substitute for that bike ride I was supposed to take since 25 mm tires and six inches of snow make for a bad combination. Splitting and stacking firewood, raking leaves, anything you can do at home to expend a few calories works. Did I mention the pull-up bar in the doorway?
Look for opportunities in your daily life to accomplish a task while contributing to your overall fitness at the same time. And when you have a little time between flights, consider poking around in search of an empty gate for a little bonus core work. Channel your inner Michael J. Fox, get in there and start doing pushups. And don't be surprised if others want to join you, the conversation turning to, "so when’s your next triathlon?"
John Post is a six-time IRONMAN World Championship finisher and serves as the medical advisor for Training Bible Coaching.