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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Friday, June 20, 2014

The Key Contact Point on a Bike - Part 2. Time For New Shoes!

I have vivid memories of my first real cycling shoes. They were purchased in the early 80's - black, all leather, lace-up Detto shoes. It made me feel like a real cyclist. They had holes all over them to help keep your feet cool. I don't recall the coolness, but I do recall having the Dettos shined up, by a street-shoe-shiner, in Baja Mexico when I was down there to do the Tecate-Ensenada bike ride back then. The shine-job left permanent block polk-a-dots on my socks!

I was having a bit of a flash-back to the Detto's when I opened the box of my new Giro Empire ACC shoes. Like a few other things in cycling - everything old is new again, and the Empires don't disappoint on this front - they are lace-up shoes, for one, and they have these, not really holes in the uppers, but micro perforations to aid breath-ability!

The Empire shoe model started as a collaborative, one-off project between Giro and BMC Pro Taylor Phinney. Phinney came to road cycling from the track, and some of the shoe manufacturers still made lace-up shoes for track cyclists. The project grew from there with the Empire being introduced to the impressive Giro shoe line 2 years ago. It's started to catch on!

Most modern cycling shoes have given up on laces, and most commercially available shoes and the most popular shoes, be they for road cyclists or triathletes*, will use Velcro closure straps, ratcheting systems, or now becoming very popular, Boa closure mechanisms - or a combination of two of these systems.

*FWIW - I note that the Empire ACC is not a shoe for triathletes!! Unless you like longer transitions times.

Laces, may seem old-school, and a bit of step back-wards, but, you can really micro-dial in the fit across the top of the shoe and around your foot. Of course, the one major draw-back of this, compered to the other, now, more conventional mechanisms is an inability to adjust on the fly with the Empires.  You need to dial in the fit and the tension before you start riding and can only change ounce off the bike. I was able to sort this out after the first few rides! One tip I found helpful - put the shoes on early in the getting-ready-for-the-ride process. Then if you have under/over-tightened, you can change before getting on the bike. In other words, don't wait to put the shoes on last, and jump on the bike!

I'm very particular about cycling shoe fit and am cognizant of the fact that cycling shoe fit is very individual. However, I will say that the Giro Empire with it's completely seam-less upper fit my somewhat normal, average width feet, very nicely. I did have to size down a half size - I've been consistently a 44 in several other brands over the last few years - 39.5 was the magic number for the Empires.

While the Emprires may seem a throw-back to days of old and the Detto's, other than the laces the Empires are  cutting edge in cycling shoes. They are feathery light! The Easton EC90 sole is one of the stiffest and thinnest around. The upper is made from EvoFiber utilizing silver embedded anti-microbial X-Static fibers in the lining. The shoes also come with Giro's own SuperNatural fit-kit of an insole and 3 interchangeable arch supports. I fiddled with these, but in the end used the custom molded insoles from a previous pair of shoes - for me that yielded the best and most comfortable fit. They've even come up with a solution for, what to do with the lace ends ounce you have them tied up - you put them through an elastic hold-down strap, that's part of the tongue!

On the road and on the bike they have been outstanding. I run Look pedals and cleats (see more here) - mounting and interfacing was perfect. The sole is a bit flatter front-to-back, than my previous shoes, but after a few rides, I started to really like this, particularly when ankle-ling in the pedal stroke in a bigger gear. The inability to not be able to make adjustments on the fly, as previously noted, for me has been a non-issue. I wore them early-on (5 - 6th ride), in the 100 mile Gran Fondo New York race, and never needed to change lace tension the whole way!

Finally, they sure are conversation-starters - people want to know more about them. "What are those", people ask? And so I tell them a bit of the above story!

Thanks to Heath and the team at La Bicicletta in Toronto for help with a size exchange.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Success in Sales. Parallels with Endurance Sports and, is it all about the Follow-Up?

The poster above, from the National Sales Executives Association* has been circulating around on LinkedIn in the last week or so. As many do, I often get asked what I do. I've worked in Sales or it's newer, sexier, moniker these days, Business Development (BD), for many years. The stats, above would be a good starting point to explaining what I do. I do a lot of following up!

People who don't work in Sales or BD, will not understand the above. But the facts and the stats speak for themselves. In business, "success", at it's most fundamental, is about selling something, to someone! Thus, Sales is critical to the whole process. We've all heard the over-night success stories and the small start-up that hit it out-of-the-park from the get-go and was then bought for a billion dollars! Those business stories, while fun to read and inspirational, are the exception and not the rule. For the vast majority of businesses, it's a drip-drip-drip process, practiced over time (read- years), that leads to "success"

It's at times like this, that, I feel blessed to have a back-ground as an endurance sports athlete. The parallels are obvious. You need to be committed and focused. You need to really enjoy doing what you do. You need understand that really what's important is the preparation, because there are so many variables beyond your control, that impact the outcome,  that you can't really worry about it. You just need to know, if you prepare properly, you will reach that goal. There will be set-backs, but again, the focus and the preparation will keep you on track.

Olympic Triathlon double medalist (Gold & Silver), Simon Whitfield had a phrase and motto, "The relentless pursuit of . . .". That sort of sums it up nicely. Whitfield was also big on not worrying about outcomes . . . just staying focused on preparation, because, "That's all I can control"

It's the same in Sales or BD. Some will look at the numbers above as being rather bleak and grim. Others will look at it as an opportunity! That first stat is startling - "48% of sales people never follow-up with a prospect". Following up is, really, if you read through the whole poster above, what it's all about. You are always, following up! It's like breathing and brushing your teeth for Sales People! But, there is a right way to do this . . that's a discussion for another day. Point is half of sales people, never follow up!

All those lessons of the endurance sports athlete start to apply - in short, it's a long road, to success, in sales and business, so you better enjoy the process, you need to stay focused & committed,  be relentless, you need to worry about preparation, not outcomes, and be in it for the long haul. There are few over-night sensations! Oh . . and make sure you follow up!

*A quick Google search revealed that this Association, is fictitious. However, for Business-to-Business sales, while a generalization, and perhaps anecdotal by someone, I don't think they are too far off. What do you think?

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Gran Fondo New York: Pre-Event

You are greeted by this when you walk in the Expo at Gran Fondo New York!

Uli and Lidia Fluhme are the driving, or should I say, riding forces behind Gran Fondo New York. In four short years they have taken their event from a start-up, to a 7000 entrant, cycling race and event, that has entrants from 70 countries and 48 of the U.S. states.

That it happens in New York City is a help - anything associated with NYC tends to be a big deal, but Gran Fondo New York has really set the standard, for what a Grand Fondo event should be!

Today was the  Press Conference and the opening day of the Expo. One thing you notice right away with Gran Fondo New York is the attention to detail - from the branding, to the quality of the volunteer help. Other event and race directors should take note. Some don't understand this, but in a competitive market for both, participants and for sponsors, you need to think more like a business, and your brand has to be at the forefront of everything you do.

The really good endurance sports events get this. Events such as the Ironman triathlons, The New York City Marathon, the Boston Marathon,  and others get it that, their event brand my shine bigger and brighter than the event itself. How else to explain, why people will tattoo the Ironman logo on their bodies,  or spend years trying to qualify for Boston.

Gran Fondo New York has risen quickly to this same level of brand prestige and profile in the world of large mass participation cycling events, and perhaps all of endurance sports. The Fluhme's have gone out of their way to not only ensure that they run a very high quality event, but have taken the extra steps, to make sure that the GFNY brand is always at the forefront of everything they do. See picture at the top! My wife, Paolina Allan posing. It was a popular spot for pictures!

At the press conference today, kept moving along by the great endurance sports MC & Announcer Whit Raymond, there were speeches from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and other dignitaries. The Fluhme's as were everyone else there, dressed impeccably! This is a classy event . . . after all it is New York City! The event has strong support from the City, with a formal proclamation, from the City Council, being presented, and from great support from key business leaders.
Also on hand, were the great Stephen Roche, who in 1987, won the Tour de France, the Giro, and the World Road Championships, and U.S. Olympic track sprinter, and Olympic Medalist, Nelson Vails - both Roche and Vails plan on doing the full 100 miles on Sunday!

The Gran Fondo New York is now part of an international series that the Fluhme's are overseeing, with new events in the next year planned in, Italy, Mexico, Pueto Rico, Spain, Columbia and Brazil.  Ride on!

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Monday, April 28, 2014

The Key Contact Point on a Bike - Part 1

 The under-side and business part of the new Look Blade 2 pedals.

This is the first of a two part series on what I believe is the key contact point on the bike - the pedal-cleat-shoe interface.

Contact points with the bike, are big with me. Previously I have blogged, about handle bars and even bar tape - stressing their importance, as key contact points. While others seem to stress about frame weights and materials, aerodynamics and Crr, for true riding enjoyment, comfort, and ultimately performance, it's the contact points we have with the bike, that are key to a great ride with optimal power transfer!

As to the last point - the pedal-cleat-shoe interface is where your hard earned fitness and power is transferred to the bike, then to the road, and is driving you forward! It's more important than you think.

There's lot's of choices for pedals. Some of this will be based on individual feelings and needs. Full confession, I've been a LOOK-man since they first came out with the first clip-less pedals back in the late 80's. I've had various LOOK and LOOK compatible pedals over the years. For me they have always worked, and worked well. The designs have been reasonably simple. The pedals have been durable, and easily maintained. They have always lasted longer, than I would have thought given the abuse they get.

My LOOK Keo Carbon pedals were starting to show their age. When the pedal platform and interface point on either the pedals or the cleats start to get worn down to the point, that you are getting a bit of medial-lateral rocking it's time to change either the cleat or the pedal or both.  Closer examination, of the old Keos. showed that the platform was showing some micro-wear - that even new cleats may not have helped with.

Naturally, I first had a look, at the current LOOK line up. When the Blade came out a few years ago, It looked intriguing - but the reviews were mixed, and like many I was a bit concerned with the exposed outboard location of the actual carbon fiber blade on the pedal - the functional part of the pedal that was applying the force to keep the cleat clicked in. It appeared, one, even minor bike crash, with a laying down of the bike on the side, might render the pedal useless!

For 2014, Look completely overhauled the Blade pedals - now called the Blade 2. The carbon fiber blade was widened, and moved to the very bottom and middle of the pedal. This made the pedal more rugged and, FWIW - improved aerodynamics of the pedal itself. It's so good at this now, LOOK stopped making a truly aero Blade pedal, for the time-trialer and triathlete!

Other improvements include a substantial increase in the contact interface between the pedal and the cleat (now 17% wider) and a slight lowering of the stack-height to the pedal axle ( now 13mm). Reviews, of the original Blades were that the click-in was a bit vague, and one could hardly tell you were even clicked in. I can say, that the with the Blade 2's the click-in feel is not dissimilar to the very popular Keo line - by both feel and and a nice and noticeable "click" noise. You know you are in!

The Blade 2 comes in three set tensions ( the Keos had adjustable tension) 12nm, 16nm and 20nm. I'm riding on the 12's, and they are similar in tension to the way I was set up on my Keo's - which I would judge as moderate. I'm told that most Pro level riders, who are riding the Blade 2's are going with the 16's. The 20's? Maybe for track sprinters?

Riding impressions: Fantastic - compared to my Keos, the contact with the bike seems more firm, positive and substantial. I use the grey LOOK cleats, that have a bit of float and everything feels amazing.

The one slight negative that I have about the Blade 2, is, that the pedals do not naturally return, to that heel-down position, that the Keos, and most other similar pedal designs do. This makes getting in the pedal a bit frustrating at first, as you are always expecting the pedal to be in that position - ready for action! It's this way for two reasons - LOOK used more robust seals on the inboard bearings, than previously, so the pedals don't spin as freely when un-weighted. The bigger reason, is the weight of the pedal is now more evenly distributed throughout the pedal and not concentrated in the heel - as it is with the Keo's. So, the pedals when you click out, if they end up up-side-down, will tend to stay up-side-down, until you want to click back in. Here, a little flip with the toe is needed to spin the pedal back into the correct position, to click back in cleanly. It takes a few times before you get the hang of this.

If you are looking for new pedals, that are very light (110g - CroMo, 90g - Ti), offer an amazing contact interface with the cleat/shoe, and are aero, then the new LOOK Blade 2 is one for you to consider.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Old School Marketing: What did we do before the internet?

In a job interview recently, my interviewer was running through that predictable list of questions while looking over my resume. When she reached, the Sugoi part from many years ago, she asked, "What was your greatest accomplishment at Sugoi?". I had to think about that for a second, as it was a while ago - pre-internet actually, and that's where the story starts to get interesting.

Again, keep in mind, this is, while not exactly pre-internet, but in 1997, the internet was the briefest shadow of what it is now. When I do think back to that time, and as I was starting to tell that story of a significant accomplishment at Sugoi, I had to be careful to qualify my comments, that it was pre-internet, and that the woman interviewing me, most likely was not even in the work-force then, and had only been in the working world with the internet more as we know it today! Good heavens - I am sounding old!

The story seems rather quaint now when I think about it. Sugoi had just launched their run line in 1996/97. As the Marketing and Communications Manager, I was tasked with raising awareness of the Sugoi brand in the running market. No internet. No social media. The only option for advertising of any significance to consumers at the time was Runner's World Magazine (RW). We could not afford ad buys, so I took a different approach - try to get exposure, through product reviews, and the holy grail, getting a cover-shot of some Sugoi product. I made it a goal to get a RW cover-shot of some Sugoi product within a year!

I worked on developing a close relationship with the key apparel review people at RW, as well as the main Photo Editor - always making sure that we had Sugoi product submitted for on-going apparel reviews. I did the same for all of the known Freelance photographers, who submitted photos regularly to RW for use - making sure that they had current Sugoi product in their bags to use on various photo-shoot work. I stayed in close contact with all of these people and made sure that whenever there was an opportunity to meet, at a Trade Show or other event, I made sure to take advantage of the opportunity, briefing them on the latest developments at Sugoi and product up-dates.

I got a phone call one day, from one of the freelance photographers - he was shooting a runner for what he was hoping might lead to a cover-shot for RW. Right away, I shipped via FedEx, a selection of Sugoi apparel to Colorado. The shoot went well. The images looked fantastic. I reached out to the Photo Editor and she did indeed, confirm that some of those shots taken by the photographer in Colorado, where in contention for the cover of the next issue of RW that they were publishing. She liked the overall feel of the shots, and she said the Sugoi Technifine T-shirt, "Really popped"! Wow!

A few weeks went by, and then I got THE CALL - they were going to use one of the Sugoi shots for the cover of Runner's World! That was just about a year, to the day, that I first hatched the plan.

I believe the circulation of RW at the time was just over 500,000. With no other options available for exposure this was HUGE for us. The Sugoi product had been getting great reviews. However, our Sales Reps on the road, had been struggling to get doors open and buy-in, in key run specialty shops around North America. This changed everything - the Reps now went to those retailers, with a copy of that issue of RW in their hand with Sugoi product prominantly on the cover, and suddenly there was interest, and a conversation. We signed up more dealers. Orders increased. A small part, to the great growth that the company had in 4 years, nearly doubling it's overall sales.

Today the marking and promotional opportunities for a company in this space are much wider and deeper. There are a lot of different options and channels to get the message out there. Back then, pre-internet, was a simpler time in some ways, but much more limiting. After a lot of hard work, you often only got the one shot! A cover shot!

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