Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Onion Man Triathlon

This race was held in Walla Walla Washington… capital of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion. So what better name than ‘Onion Man?’ Now I have to say that when I do a race, I always think about what it will look like on my resume at the end of the season. And there really is nothing that sounds quite as prestigious as Onion Man. One better might be the ‘Mother’s Day Triathlon.’ Not a lot of kids celebrating Mother’s Day doing a race… or the Easter Triathlon. I have done both those races however :) But Onion Man was one fine race. The staff was ready, professional, and timely. We got good swag and the awards were solid… even cash prizes! I will always go to an event that is run well and you can count on the volunteers to do a good job, and they did.

Normally this race will attract some pretty good competition. This year did not disappoint. Returning champion, and professional, Michael Gordon was there to defend his title. He is from Walla Walla so it seems appropriate. I love racing against Michael because he is such a champion in so many ways. This is the guy who ran one of the fastest run splits at IM Cda and even broke his foot with 4 miles to go… and then he keeps running… amazing. I think I spend more time talking with Michael and his family than I do racing the events we are commonly at. He is such a good guy and phenomenal athlete. Unfortunately he has been plagued with some injuries stemming from his heroic run at IM Cda. But he is back and recovering. I tell Jessi that if I lose a race, I like to lose it to good people. I smile when Michael goes by me… no hostile feelings. He is a good guy, and a guy you like to see do well. Anyway, also at the race was Jeff Smith. Jeff has won this race a coupled times or has been in the top 2. He was 2nd overall at X-Terra Nationals last year. The guy can ride and is a great competitor.

The morning started off a tad ‘damp.’ Some might even say very wet. I call it liquid gold and it brings a smile to my face race morning. That being the sound of rain… love it! When I poked my head out the hotel room door and saw the unforcasted rain falling, I knew the Gods were with me. I woke up Jessi with a smile on my face and said, “guess what… it’s raining!” She shares my excitement with these conditions. I know, kind of sick.

We rolled into the race site and got a great parking spot right in front of the port-a-potties. Again, a good sign. We went to transition and got our bikes right up in the front row that was uncommonly available. Another good sign. The bikes that were on the other side were fellow Tri Fusion members. And another good sign. Should we just end the day now? It’s just too good. Then, after 4 good things, I noticed my disk wheel was not holding air. Crap! I will leave those details out, but I will say that I put on my Bontrager Aeolus 6.5 instead. I knew it held air. Not a big deal. I did want to ride my disk since this course looked to be fast. Not bad choices to have in wheels, great and great. Not a bad predicament. I ran into Michael with about 20 minutes to go before the race. He looked like he was not racing, but he was. He was just a slower mover than me. Which up until now, I did not think existed. We chatted for a bit as I put on my B70 Helix. He did not seem to feel too rushed. Then again, he was donning the ‘stripe.’ (known as the number 1, i.e. returning champion). They even made the announcement that Michael Gordon was here as well as Jeff Smith. No mention of Roger Thompson though. That was fine.

I lined up for the swim and said hello to some friends from the triathlon world that I had not seen for a bit. Then I meandered over to what looked like to be a good spot. The start of this race was about 100 yards wide, which is nice for the most part. But you never really know who you are next to. The countdown began and I started my watch with 10 seconds to go…

We were off. There was no visibility in this water, just brown. I bounced off a few people and had a couple swim over my back and the back of my legs. Seemed kind of early for that, but they were relatively ‘behind’ me. I continued a pretty aggressive pace and kept the first turn buoy in sight and swam as straight as possible. There was no one to my right or left, but that did not mean that people were not super close or funneling in. That time would come when we hit the first buoy. I kept going and was first to the turn. I swam across the backside and no one passed. I swam back to the start (2 lap swim) and made the turn. I looked back and could see someone about 8 seconds behind. But I could not tell if there was someone right on my feet. I kept swimming steady and figured if there was a pure swimmer here they should pass now. But none did. I made it to the first turn again and tried to get a look back. I saw that people were swimming behind, but could not tell how far. Once I hit the last turn I glanced and saw that someone was about 10 seconds or so. I swam the last stretch a little harder and focused on the ramp. Just needed to get to the ramp and to my bike. I started to go over what I wanted to do in T1. I think I was set. I was near the ramp and felt my hands hit the ground. I stood up and ran up the ramp. I was in 1st. What? I was the first out of the water? I heard a voice yell, “Nice job Jeff.” Jeff? I am Roger. Oh well, I have bigger fish to fry than misidentifications. I got to my Trek TTX and my B70 suit came right off. I strapped on my Rudy Project helmet and glasses and was now on the bike. There was a team rider that snuck in front of me right out of transition, but that was short lived.

Now it was about getting out of sight. I needed to get going fast and take control of this bike. The first ½ mile has about 5 speed bumps that you need to pay attention to. I managed to weave my way around them or bunny-hop them. Once I was through those, I was off. The roads were wet, there was a little rain coming down, and things could not be more perfect… maybe a little side wind? I knew people would be chasing hard and the motorcycle would be the carrot. I rode aggressively out since it was a slight uphill the whole way. The water on the roadway was pooling and I was doing my best to find the smoothest and shortest line I could. I was producing a consistent power output but wanted to get to that turnaround. I was watching my computer and was watching the miles tick by. I got to 12.2 and still did not see the turn. I think it was a total of a ½ mile long, no big deal. I made the turn, hit my lap button, and was headed back. I wanted to get an idea as to how far ahead I was. I quickly got up to 29+mph… again, a bit faster back. I saw that Jeff and Michael were about 3 minutes back. I knew I would not be able to continue to increase the gap with the easier stretch (slightly downhill and tailwind) as I did on the way out. And since I did not have my disk, I knew I needed to be as aero as possible not to give up too much. I was really impressed with how fast it was going back. I was wondering if I would run out of gearing. I did a couple times, but that was due to down hills. Finally I got to the turn to the park and started the gradual uphill to transition. I again had to navigate the speed bumps, but that was much easier at a slower speed. Since I was the first one in off the bike, I was also the first one to try out the carpet covered plywood planks they set up going into transition. The planks worked fine. I jumped off my bike, racked it, effortlessly threw on my Zoot shoes, and was off.

The run was more problematic than any of the legs due to the rain. The first, and last, mile was on a dirt walking trail that was mostly a clay material. So when you were running on it, the clay stuck to your shoes and just started to stack up on the bottom. I actually shuffled my feet every 50 strides to sluff off the surplus of mud. I just hoped I would not cramp doing this. Finally I was off the muddy trail and was on gravel and eventually paved bike trail. I hit mile one feeling good and I did not look at my watch, or my HR. I did not want to know. I wanted to run this off of ‘feel.’ I was running a great steady pace, but needed to run with a purpose. I did not know how far behind the other two guys were. I got to the 3 mile marker and figured the turnaround should be coming soon. I finally saw it. This was the first time I took a split on my watch. I wanted to know how much of a lead I was working with. I ran, ran, and ran some more. Still, no one. Then I saw Michael. He looked like he was dancing down the trail and I felt like I was pulling an ox cart. But now I would know. I glanced at my watch and saw 1:45… which doubled would be 3:30. That was still a pretty solid lead. I passed mile 4 and knew I had just over 2 to go. I felt secure, but it was Michael Gordon and if anyone could close that gap, he could. So I kept running with fear. But I knew I would have to come unglued to lose that lead. I got through the tougher up hills of the run and was back on the muddy trail. I knew I had about 1 mile to go… 6 minutes is all. Nothing different from tough intervals done in training. I ran and acknowledged other athletes that were running towards me and giving them what little cheer I could. I mostly pointed and nodded. I got on to the final stretch of grass… never fun to run on at the end. I saw the crowd and timing mats and was happy to finish. I knew that I had a good lead, but until you cross that line, you never really know.

Michael came in second and Jeff was third. Both great athletes that had solid performances. After the race I think Michael, his mom, and I chatted for about 2 hours. We may have been the last 2 to get our post race meal. Kind of ironic… first to finish, last to eat. I think I was last in getting my bike out of transition as well.

I know I had a pretty decent race. I had a few problems, but easy fixes. But just like all races, I am out there doing it, but there are many that have helped to get me there and allow me to focus on my performance. Big thanks to:

TIMEX for all that they do for me and the sport of triathlon. They keep me on time and looking good. (www.timex.com)

Blue seventy for getting me into the fastest and most comfortable wetsuit in the world that earned me the fastest swim split. (www.blueseventy.com)

Trek, Bontrager, and Profile Design for their bikes, wheels, and aero equipment. Without the gap I was able to earn the bike, I would have been run down. (www.trekbikes.com)

PowerBar for all my fueling needs before, during and after. (www.powerbar.com)

Rudy Project for keeping my melon safe and my eyes protected and looking good. (www.rudyproject.com)

Fitness Fanatics for helping me with all my triathlon needs… and then some. (www.fitfanatics.com)

Ben Harper at Zoot Sports for turning me on to the multisport specific shoe line. (www.zootsports.com)

Wicked Fast Sports for helping stay recovered and race ready. (www.recover-ease.com)

And of course my lovely wife Jessi and daughter Emma who have been there cheering me along even when they are racing. I appreciate them everyday and I feel so lucky to have their support and encouragement. Jessi had a great race too finishing 2nd in her age group and 6th overall. It was a good day.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I have made it Big Time...

Well, not all that big. But I am on the Blue Seventy blog. Check it out at:


I have to say that it's really nothing about me. It's an advertisement for B70 and is using the TIMEX on the suit for an example of printing that can be done on suits. But it is me in the suit.

I also have to give a shout out to Phaedra who took the shot. She and Ben snuck their way onto the dock to get that shot, and a few others. Those are posted below on my Wildflower post. Bottom line, it is a great shot. Hence the reason they used it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

2008 Wildflower Olympic Triathlon

Nothing says ‘Wow’ like the Wildflower triathlon festival. It is really the kick off of the regular season. The time when bugs should be figured out and the training should be blossoming. I have raced at Wildflower 3 different years. I love going to do it because you know that there are going to be thousands of people participating and the community (Cal Poly) and vendor support is phenomenal. This would be the 26th running of this race that started off as a little ‘hippy’ event. But I think the triathlon community dissolved that a tad when they brought in their $6000 bikes made of carbon fiber and titanium. Nothing about that says Volkswagon bus or tie dye. Heck, almost everyone there even shaves their legs.

This year I would be racing the Olympic distance race (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run). I had raced this back in 1998 when I was in my second year of triathlon. I had remembered seeing this race in the magazines and all the accolades it received as being a well run race on a tough course. That’s what I wanted to do. So I found myself here again in 2008. I found my way back to this event at the distance I originally raced it at. It’s hard not to look back and look at my splits from 1998 and not ‘compare.’ I knew I was pretty quick on the bike then. I was riding a Zipp 2001 with Zipp 400 wheels. I had some pretty fast bike splits, but I was hoping that this year I would swim a bit faster as well as run faster too. But I was 26 years old then, and now I am 36 and have counted a few gray hairs as well.

I left Spokane on Saturday on a direct flight to Oakland where I would then drive to Paso Robles, CA which was the nearest city to the race site. I was able to get hooked up with a svelte Kia Sportage that worked very well. I made good time with minimal stops. Notice the speedo. I was truly impressed with this vehicle. It’s about a 3 hr drive from Oakland, but I seemed to make in 2:30 with a stop for food.

I made it to my posh accommodations at the casa de Motel 6. And get this… I requested a ground level floor and low and behold I got one. When the lady told me that I would be on the ground floor, I had to ask her to repeat herself. No, not because I could not believe it, but I could not understand her broken English. I think I actually got a little shiver. Ground floor… I could not believe it…I have arrived!

I unpacked my Trek TTX and built it while watching American Pie on the USA network so all the ‘naughty’ scenes were deleted. Still funny though. As I unpacked everything I found little 'gifts' from Jessi and Emma. They make notes to wish me well and then they hide them in my bike box. I find them in my tool box, clothing bags, nutrition canisters… you name it. It’s always a nice surprise to get those. Emma even decorated some of my gear this year with her stickers. I had 2 little stickers on the toes of my cycling shoes. Nice touch. I also had a picture of her taped to my handlebars saying ‘go daddy.’ All little additions that make you feel supported when you are all alone out there during the race.

Afterwards, I headed out for a 40 minute ride to make sure that all the gears were running smoothly and my new disc was working well. My legs were a tad flat from the car ride down which is always a bit nerve racking. But after about 15 minutes they seem to loosen up. Might be age too. After the ride I went for a short 15 minute run and immediately noticed that the warm air would be a factor in Sunday’s race.

I got my gear all set up and laid out so that everything I needed was there. Next stop, dinner. I went to the classic standby down the road. My secret place that no one knows about but the franchise owners themselves. After I dined in luxury with prominent locals, I headed to the race site to get registered. This is always a bit of a hurdle. The race site is literally in the middle of nowhere. Most people camp when they race here… I don’t. When I go to races, I need a bed and a shower, not a tent and a lake. It’s about a 35 minute drive from Paso Robles, but pretty easy.

I was surprised how quickly I was able to get in and get out of the park since you have to take a shuttle to the race site and a shuttle back. Unless you want to walk the 1 kilometer hill that is a 9% grade… which I did not.

I eventually got back the motel and talked with some friends and heard about their race that happened that day… the ½ Ironman. They all seemed pretty excited about their efforts and accomplishments. And they should. The Wildflower ½ IM is a tough race. I had raced it a couple times and knew their accomplishments. They were already celebrating by making orders to the local greasy grill in the area. Wish I could have indulged, but I would have regretted it. My mind was on tomorrow and what I needed to do. I was able to turn out the lights at about 10:00pm. With my race start at 9:35, I would not have to get up until 6:00am, so a good nights rest was on tap.

The morning eventually did come and it was time to get rolling. I grabbed my B70 transition bag, and bike, and loaded it in the car. I then had my secret breakfast consisting of oatmeal and a banana. Pretty high tech. I ran into some friends there at the hotel that were already up and getting ready to go cheer me and others on. It’s always nice to have some people there that know your name.

On the way to the race site, I exchanged texts with Jessi since she was running Bloomsday today. I was excited for her and what she was going to experience. Check out her blog for the breakdown of that event. She had a great day. I finally got to the race site flawlessly… other than following a bunch of traffic going to the same place. It was cold, and I was cold. So after I unloaded the car, I got back inside and turned on the heater. I watched all the athletes going to the transition area about 1.5 miles away going down a 9% grade that was a kilometer… the same one I would eventually be riding up and down as well as running down…ouch! I like to see the different set ups that people have with their bikes, the type of wheels, what they bring to transition. It’s all fun stuff to watch. Just people watching. I also like to listen to all the conversations going on around me. Like how this course is great, or horrible, or people have died on it, or that there was once a bear attack. Everyone is the master of their own information. We all want to share what we have hoping it will be more than someone else. Combine this with some pre race anxiety, and you have about 1000 hilarious short stories. But it was time to get out of the car and head down. I had about 1:20 before my start.

I rolled down the hill into transition at about 48 mph…coasting. Most people were on their brakes going about 15 mph because they felt it necessary to bring enough equipment to stay a few nights. Things like buckets to rinse their feel in after they get out of the swim, heavy jackets for after the race when it’s 85 degrees? What? The list goes on. I probably would have gone slower, but I did not have brake pads for my carbon wheels and the carbon rims will ruin those pads if you use them too long… so I didn’t. Besides, I wanted to know what the hill felt like at ‘speed,’ since this is the same one I would be riding down as well.

The transition area at Wildflower is massive. The race had 2500 athletes racing in it. And the transition area was not really marked too well. So I looked for my number and racked my bike. Once again, I took all the time in the world getting things ready. I also looked for land marks, and where my bike was placed. Because coming out of the water frantically, things look way different.

I looked at my TIMEX race watch and noticed that I was about 15 minutes from the start. It was time to finish up and get on my B70 Helix wetsuit…I love that thing! I walked down to the water and was able to get in a 100 yard swim and was ready to go. I normally feel quite nervous before a race… especially one of this caliber. But I didn’t. Maybe it was the wave start and I knew that it probably would not be too crazy at the start… but I knew that the traffic that would be ahead in the water, and on the road, would be a little problematic. But it would be the same for everyone.

That's me in the middle

That's me on the top 'waving'

As I stood on the start line I could see some of my friends that had weaseled their way onto the dock for a prime viewing spot…as well as photo opportunity. Ben and Phaedra were cheering me on. Again, nice to see faces in the crowd that you know. With 15 seconds to go, I started my watch. Then came the horn and bodies were flying. I ran up to my knees and dove in. Apparently I did not tuck my head because I got a little water in my goggles., but not enough to cause any problems. I took off like I was being chased by sharks. After about 200 meters, I was next to this guy that eventually got in front of me so I started drafting. Perfect. Then, he swam away from me, not so perfect. So now I was by myself swimming steady and maneuvering around the people from the waves ahead. In doing this, I accidentally sighted off the buoys on the other side of the course which directed me ‘across’ the course. Oops. I was wondering why I was seeing so much open water. Fortunately a kayaker got me redirected. Probably lost 15 seconds… who knows. It happens from time to time and you just deal with it. I rounded the last corner, which always feels good, and started heading for home. There were still so many people in the water in front of me that I had to get around. I finally saw the boat ramp and started heading towards it. At this point I start to think about what I am going to do next in anticipation of T1. I stood up as soon as I felt the group and unzipped my suit. I heard my friends yell ‘you’re in 2nd!’ Whew, the guy that swam away was still the only one in front of me even with my slight detour.

I ran anaerobically up the ramp and into transition. I spotted the red flag that indicated my isle and I headed down. I knew I was near the end, but still would need to ‘see’ my bike. Big problem here, I did not see my bike. I ran back and forth again…and nothing. I ducked under the other rails thinking that I might be an isle off… still no bike. CRAP! I asked some people that were staring at me where my bike was… no help. So I stopped, stood there, took a deep breath and tried to relax. I looked again and then I was able to locate it. Someone had moved it around from the front wheel pointing out to the rear wheel which was my disc. I was looking for my front wheel, helmet, glasses,… the image that I had when I left it there. Still don’t know what happened, but it did. No time to worry about it, I needed to get out of there fast. I literally jumped out of my B70 suit, threw on my Rudy Project helmet and glasses, and was off.

Finally, on the bike. Immediately we headed up the steep 1 mile long 8-9% grade out of transition. A tough climb on any account, but tougher when you feel like you are behind and then the guy you are chasing just was given a 40 second bonus. I was passing people like they were standing still… some were actually :). By the time the adrenalin wore off, I was still climbing and really needed to get things settled down. There was plenty of time to make things up… or screw it up by blowing too much on this hill. My mind was gently swayed from the pain in my legs when I saw 3 college girls dropping their shorts and exposing their rather ‘tan’ rear ends with something written on them. Can’t say that I really noticed what was written, but if I saw those bottoms, I could probably identify them. That helped me smile a bit and collect myself, or take to a 'happy place.'

Once over the top, it was all business. I was wound up and was all about making time. I was passing groups of people, individuals, everyone and anyone I could. I was not saying ‘hello,’ or ‘good job,’ I was moving forward as fast as I could. There were people that were riding 3 abreast and in packs… I was passing them on the left, right, yellow line, and in between. Some I did not say a thing to when I came up to them because I did not want them to move. But I think the sound of a thundering disc kind of blows your cover. This bike course is pretty tough. I found myself using every gear I had. From a 53x11 at 50mph to a 42x25 at 8mph… I needed them all. As I came back into the park, about 4 miles from transition, I could see that I was going quite well. There were still quite a few rolling hills to get over, but I was riding well. My bigger concern was would I be able to run well. Did I put too much out on the bike? My SRM did not indicate that, but it’s hard to tell on a course that has so many ups and downs. Very difficult to maintain a steady effort. I came to the final descent… man that is fast. I stayed in the aerobars and just focused on people in my lane. I was actually more worried about the masses coming up the hill. It would not take too much for a person to accidentally swerve across the yellow line and hit me while I was going 45-50 mph. And brakes were not an option on this hill. Especially when you are trying to make up 40 seconds :)

I leaped off my bike and ran it into T2. Legs felt pretty good. I racked my bike, threw on my shoes, grabbed my TIMEX visor and off I went. There were still people leaving T2 from prior waves so the flow was good leaving T2. One of the first challenges you face in the run is a set of 15 stairs up a hillside. This is a good place to see where your legs are and where they are not. I took them 2 at a time and was ready for a quick turnover. I was running well cutting the corners as tight as I could. I saw the first marker come up and it was ‘1.’ Nice, that came quick…then 2, then 3…man, this run is going by so fast. When I started this run I did not want to look at my HR or the time. I wanted to run off of feel for a bit. I felt good and was passing many people. But they all had younger age groups on their legs. Still, I was passing people and that is always motivating. Sometimes when I am running I wonder if I am really moving forward or just bouncing up and down. This was proof that I was moving forward. As I approached 5, I knew something was not right. That’s when I realized that the run was marked by kilometers. Crap! I had to smile because if I would have looked at my watch at the first one, I would have known that. But it did not matter… I was running hard and it felt pretty good. I hit the aid stations fast, never slowing at all, grabbing as many cups of water as I could. I think I avg’d about 4 cups per station at a sub 6 min mile pace. Some water went in, but most went on. It was hot and it felt good. So now I knew that I had about 4k to go…keep it steady and run with a purpose. The last 4k has a lot of hills and is on dirt trails. The dirt was more of a powdery silt, the type that you would cringe at when training, or even avoid because of the mess. But in a race, you run the shortest line and land on whatever is fastest. I finally got to the highest point on the course and was now ready to descend to the finish. 1 mile to go, and mostly downhill at an 8-9% grade… here we go.

I tried to turnover my legs as fast as I could but man this was steep. I know I was going fast, but I wanted to go faster. I think I could hear bones cracking as each foot slapped down, but I needed to get to that finish line. At the bottom of the hill it flattens out for about 400 meters to the finish. I was running with everything I had wanting to get to that finish line asap. As I rounded the last corner, and onto the blue carpet, I just started striding it out as much as possible. I knew I was racing people I could not see, and every second would count. I crossed the line and bent over… DONE! I had a cool towel placed on my back and someone apparently placed a medal on my neck as well. I guess I finished. Now I would wait….

Actual time 2:04:41

After all was said and done, I ended up 1st in my age group, 2nd amateur, and 3rd overall. But the best part is this. The difference between second place and me… 1 second. I missed 2nd place by 1 second! 1st place was occupied by John Dahlz who is an ITU pro that was 2+ minutes ahead. But 1 second to second place. I bet the guy who got 2nd feels pretty good about that, and in all reality, so do I. Things happen in races to everyone. It just depends on how we choose to handle them. Heck, the guy who got second might have had a flat? Who knows.

I am very happy with all my splits. I had a great swim, bike, and run. Transitions were a little funky, but easy fixes. I am looking forward to racing some more Oly races and getting faster.

After the race I did not have that much time to hang around because I still needed to get my bike packed up and drive to Oakland (3 hrs). It’s always easier to pack a bike when you had a good race than when you don't. I think you like your bike more :). Makes it all worthwhile. I have to say a big thank you to Laura and Phaedra for taking my bike back with them. That alleviated me having to pay $50 and lug it around the car rental area and airport. It also allowed me to make my flight on time.

Wildflower 2008 is over and the season looks good. Make every second count, because often it is what defines 1st and 2nd :)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Off to Wildflower

Thought I would jump on one more time before I am off to the first 'Big One.' Granted, Vegas was pretty big, but this will be bigger... and more fun I think. I am pretty excited to go and am looking forward to the race and what I learn about myself for another time. Second Olympic race this season, so still a tad new to the body. You can follow the race by logging on to:

You can use this to follow the 1/2 IM that is on Saturday as well.

To give you an idea of my schedule, this is what it 'should' look like:


7:20am Leave Spokane via plane

9:30am Arrive in Oakland

12:30pm Arrive in Paso Robles at Hotel

1:00pm Build bike and go for short ride and run

5:00pm Get registration information for race

7:00pm Get dinner

8:00pm Double check all equipment and load car for morning

9:30pm Bed time... but I know it will be more like 10:00pm


5:30am Rise and shine

6:45am Leave hotel

7:30am Arrive at Race venue

9:30am Race Start

11:35am Finish race

12:30pm Pack bike at race site

1:00pm Leave race for Hotel

2:00pm Get loaded up and ready to leave Hotel

3:00pm leave Paso Robles after eating and checking out the sites... which would consist of a drinking fountain.

7:20pm Fly home

9:30pm Arrive in Spokane

10:30pm In my own bed

That's it... about 38 hours is all. Hope you all have a great weekend.