Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A little information goes a LONG way...

Back a few hundred years ago, power came from having a sword and a bow, or even having an army of people with swords and bows. Nowadays, when bows and swords will only get you laughed at as a nerd, power comes from information. The more information you have, the more powerful you are in terms of what you know, what you can learn from, and what you can prepare for.

I have mentioned in the past that when I'm not practicing for my role as a half-ironman superhero, I work as an analyst in an IT department. And one of the things I've learned is that unfortunately, a little information can go a long way. And by that I mean that it's often having just a little information that makes us feel less prepared than we actually are. I have two examples of this, both related to Timberman.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across Women's Ironman World Record holder Chrissie Wellington's web site. On the site she recounts her 2009 Timberman win. She mentions the bike course being "rather hilly" in an off-hand sort of way. When one of the best triathletes on the planet says "rather hilly", well that probably means it's a giant *&^%$( mess of climbing torture. So of course I went back to my buddies on Bike Forums with my tail between my legs and a graphic of the course elevation and said "HELP!". Of course, by the end of the thread, they told me to stop worrying about it, that the elevation averaged out to about 2% grade, which with training they said I'd be able to handle without too much work. Sure, there'd be some tough climbs, but I'd get through it. Just go out and train by riding some hills, which I did and continue to do.

Then today, I was looking back over the Timberman site, thinking about making a trip up there this weekend to look at the course, and I noticed something I missed previously; the course grade includes a couple of climbs at or above 9%. When you think about numbers and how most people use them, 9% doesn't sound like very much. I mean, if I say "I ate 9% of a bag of cookies", that doesn't sound like a whole lot of cookies. When used to mean a percentage of total, it's a small number.

But that's not how road grading works. The percentage indicates how much a road climbs over distance. For example, if a road climbs 200 feet over a mile, it's grade is calculated by taking 200/5280, and then giving that answer as a percentage (in this case 3.8%). To achieve a grade of 9%, would mean a 475 feet change in elevation in just a mile. That's a lot of climbing, and based on the course map, there seem to be at least TWO climbs like that on the course. 

So the insecure, fat, lazy, double cheeseburger eating part of myself is pretty damn scared about the bike course right now. I don't think I've climbed a hill that steep once yet, let alone twice in the four hours I'll need to do it in to have a decent shot at finishing the race inside the time limit. I know what I'm capable of in the swim, and on the run, but it's the bike, my favorite part of the race, that will really make or break this race for me.

Thankfully, I have my friends at Bike Forums, Beginner Triathlete, my readers here, and of course my inner cycling wunderkind to remind me that I CAN and WILL do this. These hills are small pieces of the race, tough ones, but small pieces none the less. And they are pieces I can get through, even if it means walking the truly tough parts of the bike course to do it. So, I'm going to try and find a hill here locally tonight that is close to that level of difficulty and ride it. And then maybe try and ride the one on the Timberman course this weekend. 

By doing that, I'll have more information, and therefore more power...

But I'm still gonna bring my sword, just in case. (Yes, I have one. Yes, I am that big a nerd.)


- Last night I replaced the factory pedals on the new bike with platform pedals I had taken off the GMC Denali bike when I got it. These will make me more comfortable on the bike for at least the next week while I decide between SPD shoes and cleats (already have compatible pedals) for the race, or working with better toe clips/cages that fit my shoes. The determining factor is balancing the pedaling effort lost by using standard pedals versus any issues I might have walking in SPD shoes pushing the bike up hill. I know I wouldn't want to do too much of that in the old road shoes I have, thats for sure. More to come on this front next week.

- While the pedal decision can wait, the saddle decision couldn't. I really liked the saddle I had carried through from my first mountain bike all the way through to the bike that was stolen. Unfortunately, there are no Performance Bikes here locally, and I can't wait for one to be shipped from their web site. There are two bike shops within walking distance of work, so I wandered over to the one with a better selection of accessories, and with the help of the nice folks there walked out with on very similar to my old saddle. It looks a tiny bit longer, and it's 1 cm narrowed, but otherwise it seems to be similarly sized and looks pretty similar in design, and is a better built saddle. I'm anxious to put it on tonight prior to the 30 miles we're putting in on the bike. 

My butt is already thanking me.
- We only did 10 miles last night. Rach is still not 100% and just didn't have it yesterday to do much more. I on the other hand could have gone for quite a bit longer, but I was happy to have an easier day with the next 4 days we have looming.

- Lastly, Rachelle's blog for today. I don't want to ruin it for you, but the last couple of sentences really made me laugh.


  1. Hi Ben,

    Just found your site - I too am doing this race and it will be my first half. Very excited and also freaked out! In the end though, I know what my goals are and I'm going to go out there and try to enjoy the whole experience!

    I've ridden the course twice in the last 2 weeks. The first 10-15 miles are the hilly parts. So you hit them right at the beginning and then at the end. The middle stretch is mostly flat (especially going out) so you can make up time from the hills!

    There are a bunch of climbs as you saw on the profile but I found that there was 1 bad hill going out and one coming back. On the way out there is one big hill right before you turn onto Leavitt Rd. It's long and steep - a grinding climb...there's no getting around that. On the way back, you hit the last bad climb when you take a right off of 106 back onto Leavitt Rd. Again, long/steep/grind (but not as bad as the first).

    The good news is with every uphill comes a downhill and there are some really nice ones on this course! Good luck with the rest of your training and be confident in the work that you've put in!

    Rize Above,


  2. Can't wait to hear what you think of the course.

    The 9% of a bag of cookies made me laugh out loud.

    And yes, you can and will do this! :)

  3. Jonathan - Thanks I'm really excited and can't wait for the race to get here now. It turns out our experience with the course scouting didnt go quite according to plan (we got lost and went the wrong way so we never actually got on 11B). But we had fun, did a bunch of climbing and realized we can do this.

    Caratunk Girl - We didnt see the whole course yet, but we did learn a lot about the area and how difficult some of the climbs are. Either way, we're going to finish.