Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Magic Show

The MultiSport Canada HQ Trailer at the Kingston Triathlon (one of the longest running triathlons in North America!)

I first heard the term, "The Magic Show" in the context of endurance sports events, from 8-time Ironman World Champion Paula Newby-Fraser, when Paula was working for Graham Fraser, when Graham was running all of the Ironman races in North America. Paula was referring to the Magic Show that was the travelling road show that was Ironman at the time - moving from race location to race location, arriving in the Ironman race site, in town-x, and transforming the race site, into the amazing thing that the Ironman race site was with all the bells and whistles! But this could describe almost all triathlons, running and cycling events. The Magic Show goes on all over the place at thousands of events every weekend!

Endurance sports races/events, be they triathlons, running or cycling all do this. They transform a city street, a park, a conservation area, where ever the race is, into what the race/event participants see on race day. Almost everything, be it the finish gantry, the porta-potties, the signage and so on, has to be brought in and set up. The transformation for some of the bigger races - say the big city Marathons, or the Ironman triathlons can be extraordinary.

However, the work, and the magic, that goes into even mid-sized races/events, is substantial! I am the official race and event announcer for the ReCharge With Milk triathlon series in Ontario that is run by MultiSport Canada (MSC). These are triathlon events that can have upwards of 1,000 entrants.  The series itself is 11-events stretched out over the course of the summer in Southern Ontario. It's the largest triathlon series in Canada! At each event venue, be it a quiet conservation area, or a busy down-town location in a mid sized city, the Magic Show goes on and they transform the place into an awesome race venue for the athletes.

With a triathlon you are really putting on three races - a swim race, a cycling race and a running race, with a transition area, a space for an Expo and then the finish area infrastructure. It's a lot of work to get this all organized and set up and each race site is unique. The minute details - just keep coming and coming: Heavy rains the week before have made a part of the what was supposed to be the transition area boggy. A change in road permitting, will not allow access to a certain road. Last minute road construction that was not communicated can close roads. And so on!

The MSC crew move all their stuff in and out for each event in the series - it's remarkable to watch the set-up and the tear-down that happens and the work that goes into all this!

Nothing seems to phase the MSC crew - even horrific race-day weather - which is rare, but NEEDS to be planned for with details, is all worked out in advance, so when they face it, there is a plan and you implement it. Nothing is left to chance! That's part of the Magic Show to! Although, that's not really magic, just extraordinarily amazing planning and implementation!

I've often said, if you want to hire a Race/Event Director - hire a Triathlon Race Director, because, they are not putting on one race, they are putting on three races simultaneously!

Race participants know none of this. They just show up and expect that everything will be in place. That there will be no wait at the porta-potties and that the 10K run is . . . measured to be exactly 10K. (With mobile GPS now, even course length accuracy is very important). That everything will be taken care of for them at the race. The expectations for running, triathlon and cycling race/event participants these days are VERY high. An event management company like MultiSport Canada knows this, and they go overhead and above to make it a great experience for each and every participant.

MSC Founder John Salt* even stands just past the finish-line at every race and shakes the hand of every person that crosses the finish line. I've heard John say, "If you want to know if an athlete had a good time at your race, just stand at the finish-line and shake their hand. If they have a good or bad day they will tell you right there. In 14 years, I've only had a few that were unhappy"!  Now that's being in touch with your customers!

And that's the story of the Magic Show!

* Some bonus content: A podcast - Bob Babbitt interviewing MSC's John Salt A great listen!

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Monday, August 17, 2015

It's All About The Rubber!

For now - on a good road!

Life's to short to ride on lousy rubber!

I've never understood this - people spend thousands on bikes and then go cheap on the one part of the bike that connects them to the ground - their tires! Not sure why that is. This small contact patch, your front and back tires have with the road, is vitally important to the performance and enjoyment of your riding.

Many are paranoid about punctures, and this over-rules EVERYTHING when it comes to tire choice. It is worth being worried about, but not to the extent that many cyclists and triathletes concern themselves with. I've found the best clincher tires, installed properly to actually be remarkably durable! My wife, top coach and elite level road racer Paolina Allan and myself, ride a considerable number of kilometers in a given year of riding. On average, we get 2 - 3 flat tires between the two of us each year. That's it!

Our current tire of choice is the Continental 4000S II tires. We've had these tires on most of our wheel-sets for several years now. We ride on a combination of good roads, bad roads, really bad roads, and even stretches of gravel roads a couple of times a month. We don't baby these tires in any way . . . and that's the flat rate: 2 - 3 on-the-road flats/year. Last year I think there was only 1 between the two of us!

Over the course of many years of cycling, we've ridden the best tires from, Vittoria and Michelin as well, and the results are similar.

I'm not a numbers and tech-guy but those that know far more about this than I do tell me that, the Continental 4000S II's offer the best all around combination of performance, and reasonable durability of all of the top tires these days. I like the feel of them, and on the durability side, our own on-the-road experience speaks for itself. Also, they go on/off all the rims/wheels that we need to get them on/off easily - particularly after they have been on a rim for a bit and inflated at the proper pressure.

I can't emphasis this enough - proper installation of tires, from the removal of old tires and a flat tube through to the installation of a new tube and tires is VERY important. It's not that hard, and it is something you very well may need to do on the side of the road on a training ride or a race! No one should need to make, "the call of shame", nor need to abandon a race because of a flat tire! It's a minor inconvenience! If you know what you are doing, it's a 2 - 3 minute exercise and you are back rolling again in no time. There are numerous online resources for this. Commit to being able to do it yourself! Many get flat, after flat, after flat . . . these are almost always installation issues.

Which brings me to my final point about rubber and tires - many over inflate. Triathletes are notorious for this. It will vary from tire size to tire size, and rim shape ( the new wider rims vs standard rims), and rider weight. But generally speaking, the proper psi, is less than you think - which will render a more comfortable, smoother and ultimately faster ride. Check with your tire mfg - most have a chart on their web sites.

As always - Your Mileage May Vary(YMMV)

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Triathletes - Two Special Requests for 2015!

Two time Olympic triathlon medalist, Simon Whitfield now encourages others to experience triathlon. Here's he's helping out para-triathletes at the Toronto Triathlon Festival. Picture - Bob Hatcher

No New Year resolutions for me. However I do have some requests for you.

Are you a triathlete? Have you been at it for a few years now? If you have, and you know the ropes, I have a couple of special requests for you for 2015:

1. Encourage two people to do their first triathlon this year! Help them out. Be their mentor, and make sure that they get to a starting line of a triathlon race sometime this year. Don't drone on and on about all of YOUR training, the 50 hours a week you train, and the 200 Ironman races you have done! That's most likely to discourage your recruits. Keep it simple, for them.

Many small local races ( read on to #2) have basic entry level triathlons, that are very short. You barely need to train for these things. A decent level of fitness, commitment and an open mind, is all that is required. The ReCharge With Milk  triathlon series run by Multisport Canada in Ontario has races called a Give-It-A-Tri (See - the name is perfect for first timers!) at many of their events. The distances are: 400m-swim/10K -bike/2.5K-run. This is something anyone can do, with a basic level of fitness and training.

2. Race More! There's a movement in the food business of eating local. It's better for you. It's better for local businesses and farmers and it's better for the environment. I'm saying - Race Local. It's better for you. It's better for local race organizers and businesses and it 's better for the environment!

These races don't have to be big, long, "world championship" type of events. It can be a local 5K, or perhaps a local sprint triathlon. Don't discount the 5K - 5K run fitness is the foundation of all other running performances! That 18 - 30 minutes you stay right at the edge, will tweak ALL of the key physiological parameters to make you faster at ALL races distances!

Finally, we do all this training so that we can race - that's where the thrill, emotion and the fun is. Don't you want to experience more of that, and be better/faster? Years ago there was saying, that seems to have been lost in the mists of training time  - "Racing IS the best training" It's true!

Change things up this year!

Get more people into this great sport of triathlon and get out and race more yourself.

See you at the finish line!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Fast & Furious - Is Shorter Better for Triathlon?

The racing at the Las Vegas USAT Super Sprint was fast and furious!

In the space of 48 hours back in September I saw the two most exciting triathlon races I had seen in some time, live and in person.

At Interbike on a Thursday night, under the lights in Las Vegas, I watched the finals of the USAT Super Sprint Series, produced in cooperation with Marc Lee and Kanga Productions. This short and sweet, swim/bike/run racing, all took place in a large vacant parking lot, that was a stones throw away from the famous Las Vegas strip. The women's final, in particular was a barn-burner, with all 10 women, swimming, cycling and running neck and neck, and with a desperate and exciting sprint finish to the line, that almost needed a photo-timer to sort out!

I hoped on a plane shortly after the women finished in Las Vegas, and headed back home, and directly to the Subaru Centurion Canada Cycling event on Friday, in Blue Mountain, about 2 hours north of Toronto where I was working as the Race and Event Announcer. Part of the Centurion weekend of events, was the Subaru eGames triathlon - in set up and concept it was similar to the USAT Super Sprint, with very short, repeated legs of swim/bike/run. Unfortunately, inclement weather necessitated the cancelling of the swim, which turned the eGames triathlon into a duathlon. Despite the absence of swimming, the racing over the very short, multiple lap run and bike legs was very exciting, with the winners in doubt right up until the end.

Video highlights of the Subaru eGames are here -

Earlier, in the summer, I watched on TV some of the ITU World Cup event from Hamburg, Germany. The part that I watched was the 4-person, national team relay - 2 men and 2 women, racing again, over very short multi-lap swim/bike/run legs, and then when done, tagging off to a teammate. The race was amazing - with non-stop action, and some interesting strategy thrown in of which athlete would go in which position for the various national teams. The whole thing lasted less than an hour and made for great spectating and TV!

A year and a half ago, I was part of a two-day consultative exercise, that brought together many key people in the sport of triathon, from race and event management, from sports administration, from the media, and some top level marketing people. Also invited were Canadian Olympians and Olympic medalists from 4 different sports! The focus - come up with a new style or format for triathlon racing and competition. We did come up with something exciting - but for now, I'll have to keep this under wraps. Like the above examples, I can tell you that it was short and fast!

One interesting conclusion, that came out of the above two-day consultation was an agreement, that while we thought this new short and fast concept could be a winner, ironically, the current modern-day-triathlete, may not be a big fan of it! And that is why triathlon right now is at a bit of a cross-roads - some exciting shorter race formats are being experimented with, but for the most part the larger masses of Age-Group and participatory triathletes are more focused on longer races and seem little interested in it!

The situation is somewhat akin to what Nordic Skiing went through a number of years ago - the skate technique changed everything. In particular,  the format of the racing. Shorter race formats started to be introduced, which were much more viewer friendly on-site, but also for TV. At first this was met with a fair amount of resistance from traditionalists, but after time, people started to come around to their popularity.The sprint events at FIS Nordic Skiing events now draw the largest crowds, the biggest TV numbers AND, perhaps most importantly, young skiers are being drawn into nordic skiing, because they want to do the sprint events!

On that last point - could there be some lessons for triathlon there?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Challenges of Cycling in York Region

*Why is it that only a few roads in York Region get this extra strip of pavement to the right?

An event called the York Region Bike Summit was/is going on today. I found out about this too late to attend.

I lieu of of attending, I thought I might sum up  a few anecdotes/observations/questions, from a regular cyclist who's lived in the heart of York Region, in Aurora for 14 years.

They have been resurfacing many of the secondary roads in the region, more out in the country-side, recently which is great.* Why is it when they do this, do they not add that extra meter of pavement on the other side of the white right line to all the roads? Safer for cyclists and for motorists!

I see that bike lanes do get added intermittently in some of the municipalities. Newmarket did add a bike lane to Bathurst on their section of Bathhurst when the road was refurbished recently, but when Aurora refurbished Bathurst on their stretch, extended to the south . . no bike lane! Why?

Aurora just added a bike lane on Bloomington Side Road between, Bayview and Yonge street. It's a great addition. Nice to see. Unfortunately this bike lane goes from nowhere, to . . . nowhere! I've cycled along there maybe 15 times since the spring. I've never seen another cyclist on it!

Some form of education, perhaps starting right at Drivers Education, needs to go on regarding cyclists. It's extraordinary the numbers of drivers I encounter on roads in York Region who tell me flat out, and with a straight face that, "Bikes are not allowed on the road!"

The sprawl has led to many services, and retail, being too far to walk for many (although it's not that far for some!), but a great deal of services and retail, is within an easy bike ride of thousands of homes in York region! I cycled over to a new shopping mall near me a few years ago that was less than 1km from my house. There was no proper place to lock up my bike. I polity asked, the store manger why this was the case. Her response: "We did not even think of that!"

When I walk around my neighborhood, and I peer into the garages of neighbors, I see that more than a few houses do have bicycles of some form in those garages. This is good news.Yet, I never see these people out riding their bikes . . . ever! Why?

The sprawl goes on and on. When they sell these ever sprawling sub-divisions in York Region, the collateral marketing material used by the developers (brochures, billboards,  construction hoarding etc . . .) seems to frequently picture people walking, and . . riding bicycles, with tag lines such as, "Live close to nature . . . ". Yet, in an extension of the last paragraph, it's rare to actually see people out walking or riding anywhere in York region!

My sense is that the forces at work here are massively cultural/societal and will be really hard to change. When people are asked why they don't cycle more they'll come up with all manner of reasons and excuses - safety, weather, distance . . etc. My gut feeling, and I hate to say this, that as a culture and a society, particularly in heavily suburban areas of North America, such as York Region, we are becoming more lethargic and lazy! Go ahead pile-on. However, the ultimate evidence and acid test of this . . . our ever expanding waist lines!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Finish Lines

K-Town Tri Finish Line. Photo - Bob Hatcher

The finish line of a an endurance sports event be it running, triathlon or cycling is a special place. It's the goal. The destination. The place that many want to get to. It's when the clock stops. It's a place of high emotion. It's where you want to be!

I am lucky in my work as a Race & Event Announcer that I get to stand there at many finish lines of many races, in many different places and see it all! The pain. The joy. The exuberance. The sportsmanship. The battles. The camaraderie. The friendship. The solo runs across the line and the photo finishes. I get to witness it all up close and personal. It's the best part of the job! Finish lines are FUN!

In a way, the finish line is a metaphor for life. We set the goal. We commit. We work.  We organize. We train. We organize. We start. We finish! Across the finish line family, friends, loved ones, high fives and handshakes await. We then get to hopefully bask in the accomplishment and fulfillment of it all!

A few weeks ago I was back in Kingston, Ontario at the historic K-Town Triathlon. This is one of the oldest triathlons in North America.  It was the first race that I remember coming to in the mid 1980's, that had large-city main-street run in, and a big marquee at the finish. At the time it was the longest race I had ever done (2K/55k/15K). Getting across that finish-line really meant something to me at the time.

Working the finish line microphone on that morning in Kingston was a real treat for me - to relive my memories from a long time ago, but also to be there, and be part of new memories and experiences for many others.

What do race finish lines mean to you?

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Road Less Taken

When I first got into cycling via the sport of triathlon, one of my favorite places to train and ride was my family's cottage in the Muskoka area, about two hours north of Toronto. To get to the paved roads, I had to ride 5 - 10km over gravel roads at the start of each ride, and then also at the end of every ride. Thus I became used to and adept at riding on the gravel and dirt early on.

Whenever I am out riding my road bike and the road turns to gravel, I typically just keep going. For me it's always been part of the adventure. And if you know what you are doing, riding on gravel is not as challenging as it first seems. I wrote a primer on rough road, and gravel road riding a few years ago. You can see it here.

In and around cities and even on further out into the country, there has been a movement over the past 20 years to pave many roads, that were at one time gravel. However, if you keep heading on out from suburban areas, eventually, some/many roads turn permanently to gravel!

Here's perhaps the best thing about riding on gravel roads - few if any cars! On a recent two hour ride on gravel roads, I encountered one vehicle. They stopped and wanted to know if I was OK or lost! That never happens on paved roads these days! With cyclist/motorists confrontations at an all-time high and growing - this very fact alone, makes gravel road riding appealing. Life does seem to be more laid back on gravel!

As noted above, a road bike, can handle the gravel very well - you may need to go slower and pick your way through some of the rougher spots, but a ride on a gravel road is not a time trial. As interest has built, some bike manufacturers have started to make gravel road specific bikes. Overkill, you may say . . . read on!

Raleigh Canada was good enough to send me one of their Tamland series bikes for a test ride. For several weeks a put the Tamland I through it's paces, including the 2 hour ride noted above. Compared to my normal road ride - the Tamland I is much better choice for the gravel. The longer wheel base, lowered bottom bracket, and relaxed geometry, all add up to a much more stable and confident feel on gravel. You can really roll along at speed.

Other features of the bike - the fat 700 X 40 Clement gravel specific tires, the Shimano 105 drive-train, and the TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes, allow you to really start to roll with precision and control after you get used to being on the gravel.

Now, this is no light-weight, but the Reynolds 651 chromoly steel frame, is extraordinarily rugged, and the mass, actually adds to the confidence when you are bombing along in loose gravel and over washboard! You feel . . well . . grounded!

When you have a bike like this, the mind really starts to wander . . . where could I use this? Where could I ride it? Obviously, it was designed for the gravel - but the bike would also be an awesome urban commutator - with ample room for fenders, plus the benefit of being able to handle the terrible pavement that now seems to be common place in many older cities.  It would also make a great touring bike - and with a change to lighter/narrower tires and wheels it could also be a great machine for the odd century ride or Gran Fondo.

The Tamland could also be pressed, again with different tires, into use in cyclo-cross racing, but the geometry is a bit off of what a true CX bike is all about. That being said, light trail use, even in the mud, would be well within the bikes capabilities.

For a dedicated road rider, who's not interested in a full blown mountain-bike, or the triathlete who wants a second non-TT bike, something like the Tamland, makes an awesome choice. You really can't go wrong!

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