Triathlon Business International 2016

I'm just back from the annual TBI Conference, it's the 6th US Conference I've attended since they originally began as Triathlon America. I toyed with writing up the conference for a web site, as I did back in 2012 for Tri247 but got embroiled in some topical discussions toward the end of the first day, and never got notes typed up and after that, there was no catching up.

TBI2016-SCS_0594.JPGThe good news is Dana Willet, Editor of 303 Triathlon and Cycling in Colorado expertly captured the essence of the conference in her twitter and blog coverage.

I'm not an insider at TBI, I'm just the guy that sits at the front and, often laughed at, for asking what I consider pretty straight forward questions that need to be asked. For example, over on TRS Triathlon in the article covering what the WTC CEO Andrew Messick said, I asked the questions about the Kona Lottery, and the rumors about the age group rolldown, which otherwise Andrew wouldn't have addressed.

I wasn't particularly positive about the Triathlon America organization when it was formed[in 2010), and I'm still not. They've not really become "international" in the true sense; yes they've had two meetings overseas, one I attended as best I could, while working on the ITU World Championships in London in 2014; the other in Roth, along with the Challenge Roth Race.

Yes, they have key industry participants from overseas attend, Zibby Szlufcik, the head of the Challenge Family, and Dag Oliver from the Norseman triathlon, although I'm guessing Dag came to accept three awards; overall the conference remains American, attended by Americans, discussing problems and opportunities for American businesses. Yes there are foreign retailers like Dean Jackson from Huub, but to be fair Dean has business in the US, and is an exception(in many ways!).

Overall though it remained an interesting conference, better to attend than miss out. There are a number of continuing themes, including bashing "professional triathletes" which continue to trouble me. I'll come back to that in a follow-up post.

Age group drug testing

It's happening more and more. You've been warned.

The Wall Street Journal has an article covering the high level aspects and some examples of the type of testing. Since we know cheating goes on the age group ranks of triathlon and cycling, and probably many other sports, it should be welcomed as a good thing, or should it?

I remain concerned about age group testing, on a number of fronts. First, to launch into a comprehensive program of testing assumes that the people you are going to test have the knowledge and understanding about what they are being tested for, and what is legal and what isn't.

You can be sure that the real age group cheats know. They are just as savvy as professional cheats. They understand the cycles of loading, recovery and clearing your system for testing. They also know how to get around the system. But, is it safe to assume everyone knows what they need to know?

The typical cheat, if there is such a thing, isn't likely to be the aspiring 28-year old who is desperate to make the pro' ranks. While there are likely to be some of those who come under suspicion, like Matt Bach in the WSJ article. The typical age groupers likely to cheat are more likely to be those in their 40's and older. We've certainly seen that to be the case for men, you are an age group winner, you could go faster, you could train more if only you could recover better. Ben Greenfield has the transcript of an interview with age grouper Kevin Moates, who tested positive about his experience.

You are a woman in your early 40's, you take up triathlon, having been a decent runner since High School. After a few races your qualify for and get some decent results at major age group races, then an ITU race, and later that year after winning a 70.3 race, win a full Ironman race. In the following year, in the lead up to the Ironman World Championships, the testers arrive. Test taken, results published, you get banned, and not for cutting the run course, but for illegal substances. You've been taking HRT prescribed by your GP since your late 30's, when your menstrual cycle went nuts probably due to the excessive run training.

Then there is the athlete who just can't shake off that knee injury. Someone suggests coxcomb injections, but the science seems suspicious, a guy at your swim club says he's had great success with Hyaluronan Injections for his shoulder injury; you try it, you think thats fixed your problem and you are advised to keep using it. Later that year you win your age group at Kona and get busted and banned. Was it the injections, were they tainted?

Yes, you can apply for a Theraputic Use Exemption, but why, when, what for? A TUE is not a passport to cheat, despite its use for asthma among the ranks of triathletes. I'm not making excuses for cheats. But there are some serious implications to be consdered before endorsing and launching into an acceptable age group testing program.

  1. USAT, British Triathlon, Federación Española de Triatlón, Deutsche Triathlon Union and all the other National Federations need to do much better, much more visible and substantial job of educating age groupers of the issues, the drugs, and the types of infractions they are open too. These are quite possibly very different from those of the pro's although the obvious ones such as testoterone will be the same.

  2. We need to think through how age group athletes will defend against charges of drug cheating and the appeal and legal process. Again, unlike pro's who potentially have team and team sponsors with in-house attorneys and lawyers to defend the pro, and in many cases, have as much to lose as the cheat. For myself, I know that a random in or out of competition test that revealed any abnormal susbstance would have put not just my amatuer racing career at stake, but my 40-year professional career at stake. My company, as many Fortune 500 companies, has a zero tolerance for drugs. Executives and employees would be put on immediate unpaid leave, followed by sacking. Often the complete opposite of the cheating pro' where denial after denial, appeal after apprea happens before they finally lose their job, and with it, their income.

  3. The industry, especially Triathlon magazines, and have a voluntary code of conduct surrounding supplements that are at least giving the impression there is an ethical, natural way to to the same place that illegal drug use and injections can get you to. It's not about the legality of these supplements, its the moral, ethical and normalization of the chemicals that are the problem. This is especially true for "advertorial" pages in magazines discussing testosterone supplments. As far as I'm concerned the supplement itself could be both benine and useless, it's the culture of easy fixes that these and other adverts encorages that is the problem. It's the normalization of terms and drug names through the adverts that is wrong.

Most of all though, I'm concerned that a furor around age group testing, and a series of negativebad results, will obscure the real problem, pro drug testing. There can be no question that it goes on. The World Triathlon Corporation, owners of Ironman, do testing. Do they do enough, the right people, the right time? In the professional sport there is almost a closed loop or money, what goes around comes around. In this environment, there needs to be complete tranparency about testing, testing results etc.

I don't deny that there is a likely to be an age group problem. While there is money to be made in the age group ranks, by and large it is no where near that available in the pro ranks.

Being defeated in a single pro race at Ironman distance can be make or break to make it onto a team next year. It's not just about prize money, it's your year long travel, kit, gear an susbsitance allowance that is at stake. Often this will be more than the prize money. If you've trained clean all year, and get beaten by another pro who is "buzzed", you lose. If you are so desperate that you cheat to give yourself the best chance of staying on the team, they lose, prize money and more.

Before we whole heartedly endorse an age group testing program, we need much more transparency in the pro testing program. The integrity, and investment in the sport will be destroyed by a cycling scale Pro doping scandal. An age group scandal, not so much.

Theme update

Back about 4-years ago I decided it was time to refresh my livejournal account and go back to writing more. I purchased a theme, worked out or found a post on how to customize the CSS to allow me to override the default image at the top of my journal. Compared to wordpress where I have three blogs, this seemed like something you'd obviously want to do but strangely couldn't easily.

Anyway, the override worked until earlier this year when Livejournal did an upgrade and then it didn't anymore. I opened a trouble ticket for the "bug" and was tld, as is often the case in software, this was "working as designed". The tech/developer suggested I choose another theme.

I re-posted asking for suggestions on a theme that could replace the header image and got back a really useful CSS override to fix my current theme. Thank you to @markf for providing the fix.

Since I had a couple of comments and an email in the past asking how I did the above. I use the Skyine theme, it is one you have to pay for. Plus I use the CSS override shown in this trouble ticket.

Note that at least as of today, this custom CSS doesn't appear to work on mobile. This may be to do with the size of the image.

The rise of the everyman

Because I'm used to having comments deleted, or at the very least, not published, this entry is a place holder for a comment I've submitted to on his post asserting Triathlon has changed, marketing and the sport has missed the change, and that we no longer need Pro's.

Tom, to be honest you are totally over reacting here. There were NO professional triathletes at Florida this year, there was no pro prize purse offered by ironman and no category for them to register in.

Dans time and win is impressive, but put in context, a couple of years earlier, IM Swiss then 6x now 7x winner Ronnie Schildknicht had a poor Kona race that year, decided to regroup and after coming 2nd at the Austin 70.3 flew to Panama City and recorded to win and record the then fastest ever North American Ironman time of 7:59:42

In 2013, the last year Florida was a full pro race, with the same time,Stubleski would have come 22nd, a full 45 minutes after the winner.

You make some good points, but your main premise is totally flawed, sub-8hr Ironman times are not uncommon and to go from 8:36 to sub 8 is a massive leap.

I emailed Tom and my comment was posted on November 14th.

Mark Cathcart said:
November 11, 2015
8:22 pm (aka 2:22pm GMT)
Your comment is awaiting moderation. 


[EDIT: 21:34] Added screen capture, plus included the lead paragraph which I missed in the above.
[EDIT: Dec. 15th updated to point out Tom did publish the comment on 11/14/15

Going to the big race

Kate and I wrote a blog entry about the 2015 ITU World Championships in Chicago for 303 Triathlon. It's online here.

the annual ITU World Championships, held in various formats since 1989(1*), is one of the ultimate races. This year, Colorado residents made up 47 members of Team USA (8), and probably loads of other Coloradoans competing for other countries. The ITU World Championships isn't just a single race, it is actually some 20-races, with all but the elite mens and womens races split by the usual 5-year age groups. But it is also more than just races, it is a massively accessible 4 day, triathlon festival, with 7,000 athletes from some 60 countries.

I'll write a brief race report on my actual race. Suffice to say I did slightly better than I expected, with a few of the usual surprises.

Ironman Austin 70.3 course ride

Last weeks ride was a wash, a couple of the people riding were late, we had to mess around with bikes, and since it was a regroup ride, I waited in a number of places. By the time I got back to Decker Lake after 50-miles, I was done. Hot, hurting, and late for lunch, so just cut the course short there and headed back to the car. My ride is on Garmin Connect here.

This weekend it was just Ralph and I. Back a few years ago were were working hard and competing against each other to be the first person under 2:30 for the 56-miles, we never got there, but got close. This week we rode pretty much non-stop, and arrived at Decker Lake 20-minutes faster than last week, so we wrapped up finishing the course as much as you can pre-race day. The ride is on Garmin Connect here.

The course took us 3:37 for the 55.86-miles. Average speed 15.4MPH. Just for reference, and to remind me how old I'm getting, back in 2006 I did the Florida half ironman bike course in 2:43, averaging 20.58MPH in a race, and in 2009 did the Ironman Arizona bike leg at  19.04MPH. So its fair to say I'm not at my best. :(

It's also fair to say the course is in fact not easy. Additionally some 8-weeks out from race day still some issues with the course. Here are a few things I noticed, as a reminder to anyone else proposing to ride the course before the race.

NO COURSE MARKING: I had previously marked the course in 2013 and earlier for pre-race training rides. In 2013, it got out of hand and the course is marked 5-6 times in some sections. The first thing to know is the course markings are no longer accurate, they follow the 2013 and earlier parts of the course. Second, and more importantly, we depend on the goodwill of the community and the Travis and Bastrop County Sherrifs for their cooperation. There have previously been complaints about road marking, even with chalk sprays.

NO EXPO CENTER ACCESS: Don't assume that because the gates nearest the start of the bike course are open, others will be. Please ride on the public road only before race day.

BLUE BLUFF TO LINDELL Ln.Take care on Lindell Ln. there are some cracks. When turning left onto Blue Bluff, the road has some serious holes in the first 1/4 mile, ride slowly and preferably single file through the first 250yds avoiding the large surface holes. Second, there is currently construction of a new road on the other side of SH45 toll road. At least, as of Saturday 9/12, you were NOT able to follow Blue Bluff to Old Highway 20 there is a diversion in place. Instead, take the new road and turn right at the detour sign onto Old Highway 20.

This adds less than 1/4 of a mile to the total distance, don't stress it and take care a you pass through the construction zone.

OLD HIGHWAY 20: After passing through downtown Manor, please obey the stop sign in town, and the stop sign at the juntion of Old Highway 20 and FM973. After the FM973 stop the road has some serious cracks, please take care and if riding in a group, signal the damage and changes to avoid crashes.

Once Old Highway 20 becomes Littig Rd, the surface is cracked in some places, but general reasonable. On Littig Rd around mile 13, both weekends we've had a large grey/black dog come tearing out onto the street at high speed and barking loudly.

BALCH TO FM1704: The right turn from Balch onto FM1704 is a stop. The road surface is gone and it's been filled with loose gravel, slow down well before the corner and prepare to stop.

The rest of the course, especially on FM1704 and FM969(aka MLK East) can be busy by mid-morning Saturday, please take care, keep right and ride single file. Overall the course is in reasonable condition for Texas country roads. There are more fast sections than there are poor quality chip seal/seal coat sections.

Garmin Connect / FENIX 3 update

Over on the "have camera will travel" blog there is a great summary of an entirely different use of the Garmin Fenix 3.

I have used Basecamp now after reading about it there. It did infact convert gpx files to FIT and download to the Fenix 3. My primary use had been to create maps via mapmyride etc. and then send to the Garmin 500. To do that required exporting from mapmyride as TCX files, then using gpsies to convert from TCX to GPX and finally downloading to the Garmin Edge 500. When I first got the Fenix 3 I’d assumed I’d stop using the Edge 500 and use the Fenix instead.

What I’ve actualy done is to stop using mapmyride, and use Garmin Connect to make routes instead. Making the routes/maps on there is as easy, possibly easier than mapmyride and also eliminates all the conversion steps. Once you have a route created on Garmin Connect, you can simply send them directly to the (docked) Garmin device. For cycling I still send them to the edge 500 and use that in map mode on the bike handlebars. I use the Fenix 3 as a traditional sports watch, HRM etc. to record what I actually do.

Happy Birthday Jasmine

I'm way, way overdue, in congratulating Jasmine Flatters.

Yesterday was Jasmines' birthday, here is wishing you a belated happy birthday Jasmine. I'm long overdue congratulating Jasmine for being recognized in the highest way in the (British) New Years Honors list and awarded Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).

British Triathlon has a piece on her professional achievements, here. I was reminded I hadn't posted, when doing introductions on a telephone call with Rich Allen, the Executive Director of the newly announced Professional Triathlon Union. The best piece online about Jasmine is here, on the early220 blog. For anyone who wants to know the major names, events and triathlon history of the UK, this is a great read.

I met Jasmine in late 1999, she was definitely one of the major infuences that convinced me, and by inference, I'd guess thousands, to become triathletes. I'd done my first two sprint triathlons, my home town event, the St Albans Triathlon, that I'd later go on to be the race director for; and an another race, called the Flashman triathlon in Leicester. Then it was winter, keen to keep up the training, I entered a race called the Mudman, a dualthlon, put on by Human Race.

I had no real idea what to expect, it was all offroad, on a tank testing ground. The race date was December 18th, 1999, and come race day it was freezing cold, and we were expect to ride through water traps, and more. I must have asked more dumb questions before the start of the race than I have for the rest of my triathlon career combined. Jasmine answered all of them quetly, and with her huge, trademark beaming smile.

The race was, well, an experience. I came 86th out of 105. I was wet, frozen and exhausted. Still after the race, Jasmine made a point of coming to find me and see how things had gone. She encouraged me to come back and race in the next race, March 2000 version of the race, and later the November 2000 race. I saw Jasmine at both, along with John Lunt. Over the years they would become my go to people when it came to triathlon. Both open to questions, Jasmine would take time to answer, John would just be brutally honest.

I'd go on to work with them, as a volunteer, race capatin and they'd always be available for advice and help. Aside from being the guy with the red flag for bike out and dismount line for the Windsor Triathlon, I went on to volunteer with Jasmine at ITU races, and be a part of the 2002 Commonwealth Games triathlon team. While I initially volunteered for the Olympics Games Triathlon, I wasn't able to participate in the training events, but came back the following year to be a captain for the (notorius) Hyde Park Corner section of the ITU WTS Event.

My biggest opportunity to give back for all the years of advice and kindness was in 2004/2005, when I was able to be an evangelist and advocate for Jasmine in her sucessful run for Chairman of British Triathlon in its' key transitional year.

Happy Birthday Jasmine! xx

Ironman Austin 70.3 Bike Course (2015)

There has been a bunch of discussion and confusion on the facebook group for the Ironman Austin 70.3 about the bike course. For the sake of clarity, I figured I'd copy some of my comments, made on the group, into a livejournal post along with some helpful links.

First up, the course page for the race is here, on the Ironman website. The bike course map and turn by turn directions on the map are correct as of today(8/28). The bike course is the same as last year, 2014. Further down the course page is another link for just turn by turn directions for the bike course, as of today these are wrong. They show the turn-by-turn for the 2013 Bike Course and are incorrect. We've notified Ironman to either update or remove them. Please note, the 2014 elevation map provided by Ironman was incorrect. It used the 2013 bike course. This has been corrected.

Since the 2015 bike course is the same as 2014, the stop motion video I made last year still applies. It's here on Youtube, and can be seen through the embedded link below. It has both the road names, as well a few comments about the course.

The bike course is significantly different from 2013 and earlier in a couple of ways, to avoid a couple of problem areas. The 2013 course went around the back of the lake, turned right onto Blue Bluff up the short, sharp hill, continued around the back of the lake. In the early waves, this sharp turn, with a steep uphill was problematical to faster athletes.

The 2014 and 2015 course takes Lindell at the back of the lake and then turns left on Blue Bluff, go up to Manor and then rejoin the 2013, and earlier courses on Littig road. There are major differences toward the end of the course as well, as we tried to minimize the time on FM969 aka MLK East, including removing the dangerous downhill right turn onto FM969. Instead, we've used one of my favorite sections of FM1704 from the original Longhorn Triathlon course instead, when the race was owned and put on by Endurofun.

The current bike course isn't perfect, but its a good compromise between a challenge, athlete safety, and road restrictions. From my perspective, there are 3 hard sections,

  1. when you turn left onto Blue Bluff, it's less that 6-miles into the bike, it's chip seal and net uphill, there will be lots of bunching;

  2. the left turn onto Balch, same, technical, chip seal and a couple of short sharp uphills.

  3. The whole last 10-miles of the bike course after the last aid station isn't easy for first timers and those not strong on the bike. It's net uphill, the first section after the last aid station has nowhere to rest until you get back to the toll road, where you can coast downhill for a few minutes before the biggest climb on the course; once out on FM969 there is again nowhere to rest, and when you turn onto Decker Lake you've got a short rest before the last 1.5-miles of technical, small roads, couple of short climbs and then into the Expo center for dismount.

There are numerous route rides on mapmyride, and other GPS tracking sites. Please make sure you use the right one. I had a quick look at this one and it seems correct . Here is a zip file with a GPX, TCX and an easy to print B&W Map of the course.

If you want to join me for a ride on September 5th. Let's meet outside the park entrance. Park on the grass verge, please keep the noise down and there are people living in the back of the small fihing shop. We will leave promptly at 7:00 a.m. - I'll bring some black and white maps and sandwich bags, I'll do the ride as a regroup. That is we'll regroup and major intersections. It's will neither be no-drop, nor will be be a fast ride. So figure about 3hrs elapsed, maybe slightly longer. It's a 70.3, thats 56-miles of bike course with no loops/laps. Enjoy.


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