Time to Fess up. I am @therealstarky

I was driving in my car, listening to NPR in early November, when a piece came on about the phenomena behind fake twitter handles. Fake Obama, fake Tom Hanks, fake Lord Voldemort, fake everybody. I thought to myself “I gotta do this for someone in triathlon.” But who? Who’s got the personality, who’s got the notoriety, who’d be the perfect target?
  • Chrissie Wellington? No, she’s a robot and robot’s don’t have any personality to reflect off of.
  • Brett Sutton? That crazy bastard is basically a parody of himself already. I mean do you see the guys tweets?
  • Macca? I don’t mess with Polynesian people. Did you see what they did to Captain Cook in Hawaii in 1779? Probably a good idea to steer clear of him.

I was just coming off a bad race after Ironman Florida where I met the human being known as Andrew Starykowicz. I had found my perfect twitter host and my parasitic tentacles dug in. This guy generates enough buzz with his racing and crude style, plus his stock is on the way up in the triathlon world. I figured, why not hitch up to this guy and let him pull me around? I mean hey, it worked for Luke McKenzie last year at Kona. #OUCH

I had some spare time on my hands after deciding to take an extended break from competition after IM Florida and it gave me a bit of time to hone in on a few issues I wanted to go after first with @therealstarky pseudonym.  It’s been great to basically play Stadler and Waldorf (the critic guys from the Muppets), and just be able to call shit like it really is – all with relative impunity. I try to color within the lines of triathlon-related issues, but sometimes my tweets jump off on other tangents. Depends on how much I’ve been drinking.
My motto for the pseudonym is : “nothing is sacred.” It seems to have caught on.
So why now? Why unveil myself as the man behind the curtain? Well, I heard Matt Russell was going to try to out himself as @therealstarky, but I’ll be damned if I let that guy pad his Twitter follower-numbers off my hard work.  If anyone else says they are THE REAL STARKY -they are full of shit! (Except for the actual Andrew Starykowicz).
It ain’t easy being cheesy,

The Pros Dilemma (and a potential solution)

The life of a professional long course triathlete isn’t exactly glamorous. We beat the crap out of our bodies, we piss ourselves in races, we don’t party (in season), we don’t stay up late, we wake up early, and yet we thankfully do it again and again – over and over. We are gluttons for punishment and live to train and race.

While pro triathletes are a tough lot, there is one area where you’ll hear most triathletes whine like little girls – money.  While there is a lot of money to be made in the sport of triathlon, a sport which grows 15% year-over-year and where the mean income of Ironman participants is over $170,000/year, the pro athletes share of the pie is very little – especially in regard to prize purses.

Case in point: Ironman Florida. At this race, if you were to prorate the prize purse for the men’s field the signed up, you’d end up with about about $176/athlete. Considering it cost approximately $1,200 for my trip and I made $0.00 in prize money, my net was     -$1,200 (and a lot worse if you include opportunity cost, etc.). While I sucked it up at Ironman Florida, Victor Del Corral kicked ass. Yet he still only grossed $5,000 for the win.

The real winner on the day was World Triathlon Corporation. With over 3,000 participants paying more than $600/pop, with Panama City Beach paying probably $250,000 to bring WTC to the city, more money from expo participants paying to exhibit, and other sponsors. I’d reckon WTC probably grossed $2.2-2.7M, although we’d never know because it is a private company.

Good for the WTC, they killed it at Ironman Florida and countless other races around the world this year. They’ve figured out a replicable system that works for the masses and are the only for profit company that I can think of, other than Harley Davidson, where people actually permanently tattoo the brand’s logo onto their body.

But the point of this post isn’t to complain about “poor ole me” and “look at this big, bad corporation making all this money.” The point of this post is to propose a solution for pro athletes to increase their leverage and make more money.

Before I delve into a long term future strategy, I’d like to talk about the status quo for long-course pro athletes.  Pros right now have essentially (4) race options:

  • WTC Ironman Brand Races
  • Rev3 Races
  • Challenge Races
  • Independent Races (e.g. Abu Dhabi, MetaMan, Wildflower, etc)gollumkona

WTC realized the threat of competition from other races potentially drawing away pro participation and implemented a brilliant master stroke – Kona KPR points. For all triathletes, Kona is essentially like Gollum’s precious ring from Lord of the Rings. They are obsessed with it. Sponsors are obsessed with it. And especially, age groupers are obsessed with it.

The KPR systems is essentially the way pro athletes qualify for Kona. How do you get KPR points? By racing lots and lots of WTC races. WTC has a stranglehold on pros wanting to race Kona and have doubled down on a strategy of getting them to race. Considering an athlete can really only “peak” at a few long-course races a year, if you want to get to Kona, those races have to be at WTC races if you want the best shot at getting to the precious Big Island. It’s fricking brilliant and the pros, with little protest, sucked it up and went for it.

So why not protest? Why not all athletes just band together and say “screw it, we aren’t going to do WTC races, we are going to take our talents elsewhere.” Well, there’s two problems with this:

  1. The prisoner’s dilemma, or for the sake of this post, the pro’s dilemma. Anyone not familiar with the game theory and prisoner’s dilemma can learn more HERE. Essentially athletes would defect from a “pact” of not doing WTC races when they’d realize that they’d have a shot of winning a lot of prize money if no one showed up.
  2. Does WTC really care if pros don’t show up? Are age-groupers, the WTC’s bread and butter, not going to sign up if there’s not a pro field. For the most part, I don’t think age groupers care too much. Many of these athletes are just looking for personal challenge or just check it off their life bucket list. Do you think the 45,000 people that did the Chicago marathon this year really cared they there was an elite field of 100 mostly East African runners finishing ahead of everyone?

Right now there is so much frustration and desperation amongst the pro contingent that some athletes sell their race “schwag” (medals, shirts, race bags) on Ebay immediately following a race to generate that little bit of extra income. It’s pathetic and sad, but that is the situation a lot of athlete are in. Living day to day. Clif bar to Clif bar.

So what’s to be done? While I fully accept that pro triathletes are never going to be making the kind of money of a professional Formula One driver, NBA star, or MLB player, I think it is entirely reasonable to expect a future where pros don’t have to sell their frickin’ schwag bags to have enough money to eat.

Here’s a potential solution: The World Triathlon Majors Scenario

In this scenario, triathlon would essentially imitate the general spirit of the World Marathon Majors that include the BMW Berlin Marathon, Boston Marathon, Virgin London Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and ING NYC Marathon.

All of these events have different race organizers, yet they pool together to offer an interesting, independent, and dynamic series for the pro athletes.

The key for this scenario to work would be getting Rev3, Challenge, and Independent race organizers to participate. This pooling of competition would be the only way you could get enough leverage to get WTC to participate in the series. The only way WTC would want to participate is if they saw the smaller organizers syphoning off prestige by attracting the best athletes and attention.

A random sample of this program could be:

  • Panama 70.3
  • Abu Dhabi Triathlon
  • Oceanside 70.3
  • Wildflower
  • Rev3 Quassy Half
  • Challenge Roth
  • Independent Championship Long Course Race

Athletes could help organize the framework of the series by having certain standards for inclusion into the series. For instance:

  • Series races would need a minimum threshold of prize money per race, say $250,000 paid out 20 deep
  • Series races would need to organize at least 100 home-stays for athletes
  • Series races would provide limited travel assistance
  • Have separate port-o-potties for pros (in all races that Thomas Gerlach competes in)

We are not talking about re-inventing the wheel here. The wheel already exists in other sports, like nordic skiing: http://www.swixskiclassics.com/

I am certain that with the right effort, REV3 and Challenge would kick in money to the series. If it was framed right and got media attention and coverage a large visionary sponsor could potentially step in cover the series. This might be “pie in the sky” thinking. But with the pace that triathlon is growing in the world, there has got to be a creative way for the right company(s) to realize a return on an investment with funding the series. The opportunity is too big for nothing to happen in this space. WTC has been able to capitalize on age-group participation, but people are eager for something new, challenging, innovative, and different. Brett Sutton has been stomping his feet up and down for a long time and seems eager for a solution, yet doesn’t offer much in a way of a framework.

I am happy to throw my attention in energy into helping to create a solution for pro athletes, the questions is:

who's coming with me

Tale of Two Unveils

Two new bikes were unveiled yesterday at the Ironman World Championships Expo.


Boardman AiR TTE 9.8

The first unveil was a deliberate and professional roll-out done by Boardman bikes with their new AiR TTE UCI-legal time trial bike. Chris Boardman, Olympic Gold Medalist, Maillot Jaune wearer at the Tour de France, was on hand. So were a handful of models, Pete Jacobs, a professional emcee, so were the entire contingent of triathlon media press on the Big Island. There was hype, some speeches, a curtain, and the BIG UNVEIL. Applause. Pictures were uploaded to cyberspace and social media and a new bike was LAUNCHED! It almost had the feel of one of the big Apple Developer Conference keynote speeches. It was well done and the message was controlled.

new qr

The new, un-named Quintana Roo “project bike”

The second unveil was an accident. It was the public unveiling by Quintana Roo of a new bike called the _________. That blank was intentional. I have no idea what the bike is called. In fact I don’t think the bike even has a name yet. I first saw this bike hidden in the corner of the Quintana Roo expo tent behind some other, older models. The bike wasn’t completely finished. It didn’t have a fancy paint job. It didn’t even have a Quintana Roo logo. To be fair to Quintana Roo, this wasn’t exactly an intentional product launch, but it is just “something new,” according to Brad DeVaney.

Whether or not Quintana Roo wanted it to, the new “project bike” was unveiled to the world via Slowtwitch.com, just as the Boardman Air TTE was. Despite the bikes not being incredibly different (I actually liked the QR more), the contrast in feedback on the comments on Slowtwitch were remarkable.

Here are some of the comments from the Boardman:

  • “Really nice”
  • “I’d eat a steak off that Bike. Clean.”
  • “Sweet new ride from CBoardman. Nice work gents.”
  • “The bike looks so clean”

Now here are some of the comments from the Quintana Roo:

  • “Looks like a generic Chinese frame”
  • “Yawn”
  • “The 2008 Argon 18 was better than this and that was 6 years ago!”
  • “The folks at QR have been hiding development of this new bike. I can see why”

In my opinion these bikes were both really nice. I would ride either of these bikes without thinking twice about it. And at the end of the day, I doubt that there is much of a difference in aerodynamics and performance. In fact, I would guess the QR would perform a little bit better in the wind tunnel.  Unfortunately, I feel like the QR has already been doomed from the outset by a non-existent marketing strategy to a product that has already failed before it even has a name.

Marketing, hype, and strategy drive the products you and I will be using in the future of triathlon. I hope the money and strategy behind the “best” products win out, however, this is not a foregone conclusion.


Burning Down the House

Watch Out!
You might get what you after….

-Talking Heads, Burning Down the House

In the build up to Ironman Lake Tahoe I had a fantasy: cold, brutal conditions. I don’t necessarily enjoy cold, brutal conditions,however, it seems to affect me less than other people. Coming from a nordic ski background, conditions that require wind-proof underwear are right in my wheelhouse! When I visualized racing Tahoe, in my mind’s eye, I saw snow and cold. But when I went to Tahoe to do some reconnaissance prior to the race – it was the opposite, it was sunny and warm. The funny thing is that even after visiting the race venue in beautiful conditions, I continued to visualize horrible weather. I just couldn’t get it out of my head.

About 10-days prior to the race, forecast models began showing a possible cold trough moving through the Sierras bringing cold and moisture. I was making final high-altitude preparations in Mammoth Lakes, CA with fellow pro-triathlete, Matt Russell, and we were absolutely fixated on our smartphones hitting refresh on our weather apps every few hours looking for changes to the forecast models. Matt and I would “high-five” every time we saw the temperatures dip lower and lower. I was particularly excited about the prospect of a cancelled or shortened swim at Ironman Tahoe because that would suit my strengths as a bike-runner. How low would the temperatures go?

As Team Taddonio assembled in Squaw Valley the Thursday before the race, it became clear the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe was going to be held under very interesting conditions. Forecasts were showing for 25-30mph winds the day before the race bringing rain, then snow to higher elevations while water and air temperatures dropped. Woohoo!!! Cancelled swim for sure, right!? As I sat in the pro meeting on Friday, I sat on the edge of my seat waiting for the good news. Blah, blah, blah. Drafting rules, course descriptions, blah, blah. Okay, when are they going to announce the cancelled swim? I waited and waited, and the news never came. Keats McDonagal, the race director, seemed to blow off the notion of a cancelled swim. Air temps in the low 30s, water temps around 60 – it’s GAME ON, no cancelled swim.

Are you kidding me! Who does this guy think he is, I thought. Is he a doctor, no! Surely some higher up at World Triathlon Deathstar Corporation would catch wind of these conditions and put a stop to the swim. In reality, I knew that I could survive these conditions just fine, but I was hoping that I could drum up enough faux frenzy on social media to elicit some type of favorable response from the race directors. I posted pictures of the snow, graphs of the dramatically falling water temperature, and everything short of hoaxing an attack from the Abominable Snowman to try to drum up as big as a reaction as I could. But I felt that once I saw the falling water temperatures from UC Davis’ remote observatory on Tahoe City pier, I figured that the water temperatures were falling fast enough that, by default, they would have to shorten or cancel the swim. 52 degrees is the safety cut-off, and water temps had dropped in Tahoe City from 63 to 57 in less than 24-hours. Surely they would fall another 5 degrees the night before the race as air temperatures dropped into the 30s. Well, there is a problem with my calculation – Tahoe City is about 12 miles west of the race start at King’s Beach, and the water temperatures were holding in the 60s there.

When I woke up to frost covering the cars in our neighborhood in Squaw Valley on race morning, I almost went back to bed. Why bother going to the race start on time? No doubt the swim will be cancelled and the race delayed. There was frost on the road for crying out loud! Not safe to race! I leisurely had my race-morning coffee to kick start my GI tract into action and began my ritual of trying to cram about 1000kcal of nutrition into my body that has been used to fasting for the past several months in an attempt to lose weight.

Team Taddonio (my wife and parents), loaded up our car and began the 30 minute drive to King’s Beach. Unfortunately, traffic was backed up considerably and the drive ended up taking about 75 minutes. No big deal, I thought. Why rush to get to the start if they are going to have to delay the start anyway, right? We pulled up to the race site and I jumped out of the car but a cop began screaming at my wife driving the car to move and she drove away before I could unload my gear and nutrition bag from the back of the car. I turned around to see the pro bike rack with nobody in sight at the transition racks. It was empty. On the loudspeakers I hear the echoing words of Mike Reilley, “we are going to allow our pro athletes in the water now…..”


My brazen cocksureness about a delayed start had doomed me! This was like the nightmare you have in which you miss the start gun! I still had to pump up my bike tires, set up my shoes and helmet, load my nutrition on the bike(that was stuck somewhere in the trunk of my wife’s car), go to the port-o-potty, put on my wetsuit, and try to warm up….. All in about 10 minutes! And I still had no idea where my wife drove off to with my bottles full of my Infinit nutrition. I am so screwed, I yelled out loud.

I began yelling and delegating to race volunteers like a genuine prima donna. I NEED HELP! I AM GOING TO MISS THE START! PLEASE HELP ME. Soon I had a team of volunteers around me. Tires were getting pumped. Bike was getting loaded. Cloths were coming off. Wetsuit was going on. I heard my dad screaming over the crowd holding my bag of bottles in the distance. I sprinted over the fence line, grabbed the bag, and loaded up the bike and special needs bags as quickly as I could. “5 minutes until our pro start,” I hear Mike Reilly say on the load speaker. Then I realize in horror that I have to go to the bathroom. Not #1, but #2….. My wetsuit is already on. Noooo! I can’t go #2 in my wetsuit!!! I strip off the top of my wetsuit and sprint back to the dedicated pro port-o-potties. I swing open the door to the first port-o-potty only to have a mid-aged woman sitting on the toilet looking at me awkwardly. “What are you doing! These toilets are for pros,” I yelled. Through the closed door I hear “pros are already in the water!”

I swing open the door of the 2nd port-o-potty only to have a older gentleman scream from inside and pull the door shut. What is wrong with these people!? Why weren’t they locking their doors!!!! Aaaarrgh, I have to go to the bathroom!

Business was attended to – quickly. I threw my wetsuit top on and began jumping fences trying to make a direct Beeline to the race start. 1st fence. 2nd fence. 3rd fence. I hear volunteers yelling at me from behind. Sorry folks, Mr Primadonna has a race to start!

I literally made it to the start line 90-seconds before the start. No stretch cords. No warm up. No stretching. No drills. Just frozen feet in the frost covered sand. The gun goes off and we hurl ourselves into the water.

1hr 1min later my tardy body comes dolphin diving out of the fog covered lake. “10 minutes to the race leader,” I hear someone yell from the crowd. The words meant nothing to me as I starred in awe of the snow covered peaks reaching into the sky above the swim finish banner. My mind snapped back to the reality of the situation when my feet touched the frozen sand. Run!!!!

Transition #1 was the epitome of a shit show. I had meticulously planned my T1 to include a quick change into dry, warm, very aerodynamic clothing. Volunteers emptied the my bike gear bag as I stripped naked desperately trying to dry myself. Again, I go into prima donna mode. I had volunteers putting my socks on, my Santini base layers on, and attempting to pull on my skintight full aero suit. This is where things slowed down. Santini had sent me a special edition full time-trial suit designed for the Australian Olympic Cycling team. The sucker is skin tight and in practice it took me about 60 seconds to put on by myself. However, with frozen skin and partially numb hands, my fingers felt like lobster pincers trying to put the suit on. The sleeves were stuck on my wrists and it took 3 volunteers to peel the suit onto my body. 7 minutes later, I exit the transition tent, awkwardly running in cycling shoes stuffed with toe-warmers and covered with shoe covers. Clap, clap, clap, my shoes numbly pounded the pavement as I eventually got to my lonely bike on the transition rack. “I can’t believe they didn’t cancel the swim,” I thought to my self…..

Time to punch my time clock and go to work….

The bike was extremely tough. Cold, large climbs, frozen nutrition, dodging age-groupers, mechanical issues….Blah, Blah, Blah. I turned the biggest gear I possibly could often pushing my 53×11 on all of flat and false-flat sections. My solid nutrition of Bonk Breaker Bars and Clif Bloks were frozen hard and most of the ride I looked like chipmunk with food wadded up in my cheek trying to defrost the food enough to swallow.

I was able to catch a lot of pros going into T2 and I came into the tent followed immediately by Ironman Champion Matt Russell, World Duathlon Champion Rob Woestenborghs, and AJ Baucco. I was desperate to be the first of us out of the transition tent for a psychological advantage and I decided against putting on my Tri Top and simply left on my Santini base layers. Sorry sponsors -except Santini. Furthermore, my socks were soaking wet and I decided to risk running in them rather that wasting another 30 seconds putting on dry socks. I got out of the transition tent before the guys I came in with and was in 10th place. 2 minutes before I was in 13th place. Progress…

My feet and calves were numb from the cold bike ride and from my experience, this isn’t exactly a bad thing. Better to feel nothing than pain.

By mile 10, I had stopped 4 times to go #2 (sorry for bathroom statistics), and I began to hear foot strikes behind me. I refused to look back and I injected a little bit of pace to make the catch a little more difficult for my pursuer. The foot strikes continued behind me and eventually I saw Matt Russell pull along side of me. I was relieved that Matt was alone and we still had a gap to other runners behind us. I figured at that point that Matt was going to beat me and I told him I would pace him as long as I could. We caught Matt Lieto just before the first turn around at mile 11. Between miles 11 and 13 was a subtle downhill grade which allowed me to pickup my pace. I was struggling a bit on the uphills, but I was really able to turn up the speed on the downhills and get my turn over going. I had decided in the week before the race to run in Saucony Cortana 3 training shoes rather than my usual racing flats. I decided the extra 3oz of weight per shoe would cost me initially, however, after mile 13 my legs would feel fresher and allow me to run harder on the downhills. It worked. By mile 13 I couldn’t no longer hear Matt Russell’s footsteps behind me and I refused to look back to see how close he was. I still thought at that point that Matt would beat me so I figured I would have to run into 7th place, so if I Matt caught me I’d still finish “in the money” in 8th place.

Head down, keep running. I picked up special needs at mile 13 and took on some nutrition that was recently new to me – pure glucose. Glucose is the sugar used directly into your body and is one of the quickest carbohydrates to raise blood sugar. The fuel went to work quickly as I paced my way back into Squaw Valley.

Team Taddonio was cheering hard on the false flat incline back up to the 2nd lap and I was getting splits to the guys ahead of me and it sounded like they were struggling. My stomach issues from the first half of the race were behind me, my feet felt fresh, the glucose was hitting me, and the cheering was getting my mojo going in the right direction. I passed 8th place heading into the second lap. “I am in the money,” I thought. Let’s keep it going and see how much more I can make.

I began running the downhills with fervor running the a net downhill 5k segement between miles 19 and 22 in 16:40… That was my 5k PR from my senior year in cross country. I caught 7th place and 6th place in that stretch and tried to hit them with as an abrupt fast pace as possible to deliver a message that I wasn’t going to be collecting stragglers.

On the last downhill section at mile 23, I saw Matt Russell and he yelled encouragement that Romain Guillaume was less than a minute ahead of me and I could catch him. I was feeding off any encouragement I could and decided that this was going to have to be my finishing kick. Work this downhill section as hard as you can, bridge the gap, and if there was anything left I would have to hit Romain with everything I had. Just was we transitioned off the downhill onto the last 2-mile gradual uphill section, I bridged the gap to Romain and decided to collect myself about 5 seconds behind him. Just far enough where he couldn’t hear me, and long enough to collect myself for one last effort. I heard my mom screaming in the distance and I decided this was it. Hit it!

I went past Romain and for a brief moment he realized I was a pro and he matched my pace. I surged again and went clear into the Team Taddonio cheering section. I was breathing hard and this was the moment in which the altitude training paid off. I was running sub 6:30 pace on this uphill section. If I was breathing hard, Romain had to be suffering. I refused to look back. I imagined that Romain was just seconds behind me and I needed a gap in the last mile. Coming into Squaw Valley, I gave into the pressure and glanced over my shoulder. Void. Romain was gone. I was going finish in 5th place.

I tried to enjoy the final meters as much as I could into Squaw Valley, but emotionally I was about to break down. Every sacrifice I made, my wife made, my family made, paid off. There were no handouts, no gifts, no freebies, no cancelled swim. I had worked for it. It was finished…

I crossed the finish line sat in the first available chair and began weeping. Volunteers thought I was sick or injured, but I was just overcome by the emotion of realizing a dream.

I’m an ordinary guy
Burning down the house
Hold tight, wait ’till the party’s over
Hold tight, we’re in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house

(photos coming soon….)

Deep Water

While I’ve never read the book The Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner, I think I certainly relate to the title, especially while on my current 4-week sojourn to altitude in Mammoth Lakes, CA. Being in the mountains with nothing but my bike, running shoes, Speedo, and my thoughts leads to some interesting perspective on life. I was running yesterday down one of those cliche roads that stretch straight out to the horizon and I was wondering to myself what it was all about, when my mind flashed back to this classic clip from Monty Python The Meaning of Life .

Seriously though. Humans aren’t meant to be by ourselves.We are creatures of company. While solitude and loneliness is sometimes an inherent part of of the job description of an endurance athlete, there is always solace to be found coming home to your wife/partner after a long day out on the trails or empty mountain roads.  Coming back to my accommodations in Mammoth Lakes, sadly, my wife is nowhere to be found and all I have to keep me company is a stinky pile of cycling shorts and jugs of protein powder – neither of which are particularly cuddly by the way.

A lot of people say “wow, you’re crazy,” when they find out what is involved with an Ironman. In my mind, I usually roll my eyes, and think to myself there is a lot, LOT more crazy shit out there than Ironman. Ironman is a relative cake walk/tea party compared to some of the shit people get themselves into. Case in point: 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. Compared to other “extreme” events or sports the Golden Globe Race stands alone. Ironman? Wimps! Climbing K2 without oxygen? Meh! Race Across America bike race? Sissies! Nothing, and I mean NOTHING compares to the Golden Globe Race. So what was it?

In 1968, the British Newspaper, The Sunday Times, thought it would be a great idea to organize a solo, round-the-world yacht race will a whopping £5,000 prize (and I thought WTC Ironman races paid out bad!). Only nine competitors were crazy enough to sign up and start the race. Some of the entrants were experienced seamen, some were eccentric loners with no sailing experience looking for fame and glory.  The key to this race was not the distance of sailing around the world, even though it was considerable. The crux of this competition was the solo aspect. Solo for 30,000 miles of sailing for almost a year.

racearound the world

“Ideal” route for the Golden Globe Race

While I can certainly understand the Bravado one must have wanting to start such a venture, when I really think about what this race would involve – my head spins. I imagine within a few weeks, the novelty and cockiness wears off  staring out to the horizon without anything in sight for months at end. It’s truly frightening. How to you sleep? How do you endure the weather? This questions are significant to answer, but the shear loneliness and solitude is what really gets me. How do you not go crazy? Well, for some, craziness is exactly what happened. Donald Crowhurst set out from London seeking fame and fortune and literally lost his mind in the ocean.

When Crowhurst’s innovative tri-hull yacht was discovered after weeks of radio silence, Donald Crowhurst was nowhere to be found. There were no indications of an accident or rogue wave. What rescuers found were log books from a man who cascaded out of rational and sane thought into a fog of insanity. “In the end, his writings during the voyage – poems, quotations, real and false log entries, and random thoughts – amounted to more than 25,000 words. The log books include an attempt to construct a philosophical reinterpretation of the human condition that would provide an escape from his impossible situation.” (Here is some more information about Donald Crowhurst )

In all, 8 of the 9 official starters abandoned the race. Only one finished.

A dutch company called Mars One recently began accepting applications for a potential one-way trip to Mars. 200,000 people have applied. I imagine a lot of those people are like Donald Crowhurst. Struggling to find their place in their world. Looking for fame and glory while not understanding the implications of such a voyage.

So compared to the Golden Globe, Ironman is nothing. It’s all relative – like everything. All I know is that I am ready to go home. If found myself humming the tune from the Beach Boys’ classic Sloop John B this morning. Thinking about the lyrics, I realized I gotta get home!

Lyrics from Sloop John B (Beach Boys)

So hoist up the John Bs sail
See how the mainsail sets
Call for the captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, yeah yeah
Well I feel so broke up
I wanna go home.

Dispatches From High Camp: Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes

High Sierra From Bensen Crossing Rd

I have a good life. I have a beautiful wife, a nice dog named Winston, and a comfortable house in beautiful Folsom,CA. So why would I go away for 4-weeks to live on my own like a monk on a mountain? To get high of course!

Most athletes have heard of altitude training as a means to improve athletic performance, however there is a lot of information and misinformation about the subject.  How high should I go? How long should I go? Should I sleep in a “altitude tent”? How long before a competition should I return to sea-level? These are some of the questions commonly asked.

Excuse my brevity, but I am not going to beat around the bush here. Here are the essentials:

  • How high should I go? If you want the best effect, you need to “live” between 7000ft and 8000ft in altitude. If you live lower, you won’t get enough hypoxic stress to stimulate erythropoiesis. If you live higher, you’re body is TOO stressed and you won’t get any performance gains.
  • How long should I go? According to recent research by Dr. Robert Chapman of Indiana University and advisor to USA Track & Field you should stay 28-days at altitude. In fact, staying 28-days vs 21-days has the effect of doubling red blood cell mass. This extra 7-days is crucial. So why not stay longer than 28-days? Well after 28-days your body has pretty well acclimated and erythropoietin levels are back to where they were when you were at sea level.

    red blood cell mass

    …so basically the same effect as low-dose EPO doping!

  • What about live high, train low? Research has shown that sea-level performance is maximized when an athlete can spend most of their existence between 7,000- 8,000ft, but “drop down” in elevation to closer to sea level for harder, intense workouts where the athlete isn’t as impeded by lack of oxygen as they would be at altitude. Unfortunately, there are very few comfortable places in the world where an athlete can have such an opportunity to live high-train low. In the United States, you are basically limited to Mount Charleston, NV (live on mountain and drop down Lee Canyon to 2,500ft outside Las Vegas), Mammoth Lakes, CA (drop down to Bishop at 4,000ft), and Flagstaff, AZ (drop down to Sedona/Cottonwood 3,500ft).
  • What about a nitrogen/altitude tent? Altitude tents works differently than conventional altitude training by pumping a confined space with nitrogen to lower the percentage of oxygen. This is different in that when going to higher altitude in that partial pressure of air at altitude is lower. Altitude % is the same as at sea level, there is just less air at altitude. Nitrogen/altitude tents can induce hypoxia, however, scientific results show them to be less effective at stimulating increase in red blood cell mass. Furthermore, sleep quality can be reduced as you are basically sleeping in a large zip lock bag. Not comfortable!
  • Furthermore, altitude camps can be effective for losing weight which is great for performance! Study on Altitude and Weight Loss

The sad fact is that you can achieve the same or greater effect of altitude training by simply doping. Obviously, blood doping is banned, but just the thought of being able to take a quick injection one time rather than spending 4-weeks away from my wife makes for an interesting moral quandry.

Ironman Lake Tahoe is coming up in less than two weeks and it will be a “high altitude race.” An interesting point to make is that some athletes with large cardiac outputs (like your humble author with diagnosed “athlete heart” left ventricle hypertrophy), can actually be  impeded at altitude. The reason for this is that the heart is pumping so much blood that it races through the plumbing of the lungs (which basically never changes through training) without picking up oxygen molecules and ditching carbon dioxide. The effect is that oxygen saturation goes down at exercise and you slow down. This is exactly what happened to me at Boulder 70.3 where I showed up to altitude just before the race and my power and speed was reduced significantly. Spending 4-weeks at altitude will allow my body to produce more red blood cells, pack them more densely with oxygen carrying hemoglobin, and achieve other physiological enhancements.

I honestly believe that more than half of the pro athletes at Ironman Tahoe will be neutralized by the high altitude. Those athletes that prepared properly and are properly acclimated will need to adjust their pace and nutrition plans to account for the relatively extreme conditions compared to a sea-level race. It’s going to be an interesting race for sure!


Drop down 4000ft to Bishop,CA only 30min away

photo 3

Unorthodox 100ft Pool at Snowcreek Resort


photo 5

…..hot springs are just a bonus