Monday, December 27, 2010

You Ask I tell

I am starting a semi-regular feature here, called, You Ask I Tell. I fielded the questions on Twitter and will answer them here on the blog.

Rhys Spencer asks, "How can I do well in an Ironman triathlon without any swim training?"

The reality for many age-group triathletes is that swim training takes up the most amount of time with the least bang for the buck and with perhaps the greatest inconvenience of the three sports that make up triathlon. I am saying that you do need to swim, but once you have elevated the swimming to a certain level it's really hard to take it to the next level . . and the next level really may be only a few minutes faster. What to do? Make sure your stroke is a as good as it can be. Make sure when you get in the pool you really make every interval and workout count. Make sure that you do straight 30 min and even 60min plus swims at IM race pace regularly. Most Master's swim programs will not have you doing this, but it's my feeling and the feeling of a few top triathlon coaches that I have spoken to who feel these are important workouts for the IM swim.

Larry Bradley asks "Why do we see Age-Group triathletes finishing in the top 10 of some 70.3 triathlons?"

There has been a very quick proliferation of the 70.3 races in the past few years and the size of the Pro pool of athletes has not grown accordingly. Once you drop away from the absolute best long-distance triathletes in the world, you get into a gray area where there may be a mingling of second and third tier Pro triathletes and the very best Age-Group triathletes. Some of these Age-Group triathletes are very fit and experienced and when they have a good day they are finishing in the top-10 of races.

Rob Colling asks, "What is your training advice for those of us triathletes in the freeziest of areas?"

You need to focus on what you can do and what you can't do. Because triathlon is made of of three sports there are a number of different ways to skin the cat here. However, I find that many triathletes tend to lament the fact that they can't cycle that much because of snow, cold and lack of light and to not focus on what sort of training can be done despite the weather. One approach for some is to forget triathlon almost completely and just cross-country ski. However, to make this really work, you need to really commit to the skiing. A couple times each month does not count. You need to commit to 3 - 4 ski sessions/week and really work it. No skiing for you? This is perhaps the best approach for the non- skier: Make the winter a huge run focus and/or swim focus. Winter weather, should have minimal impact how much and how often you can run or swim. Winter running, with the right apparel and right attitude, can be some of the best running of the year! They say that the base for great summer running performances is laid in the winter. What about the bike? Forget the mega long terribly boring trainer rides. Hit the bike trainer a couple times each week, but really make it count. No noodling around. Quick warm-up. Go hard for 20 -30 minutes and then warm down. Done!

Hope this helps.

You ask I tell. Any questions?

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Christmas time is here

Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

Christmas time is here
We'll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see

. . . .by Vince Guaraldi, Lee Mendelson

Paolina and I would like to wish all our friends and family a Merry Christmas. Safe travels and training wherever you may be!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Training Naked!

Back then they really trained naked!

Do you train naked?

Not talking about training in the nude - sans clothes, although I am sure there are some who do that to! Make sure you use sunscreen! What I am talking about here, is training without all the modern training and monitoring tools that almost everyone seems to be using these days - heart rate monitors, power-meters, GPS units and so on. Some also call this training blind.

I came of age as an endurance athlete back when none of these tools where around. Training tended to revolve around pace and time. These were the guide-lines and benchmarks that we used. Race-results were how we measured progress. The stop-watch and the results sheet don't lie! If we were going out for a 2 hour ride, we noted the fact that we had been out about an hour with our Timex watch, and it was time to turn for home. Simple! That was as about as advanced as we got.

I recall winning a nice Polar heart-rate monitor (HRM) a number of years ago, when I won a 5K running road race. I was interested to see what it was like training with it. Having taken Human Physiology at university and at that point having trained for over 10 years at a moderate level, I was familiar with the different zones and the importance of them in training. After doing some testing with the new HRM and finding out my maximum heart-rate through some field testing, I was able to establish what my zones were and what my heart rate ranges for each zone.

Remarkably, all my key training paces for both bike and run, matched up almost exactly with the key heart rate zones established for training. I had been using the various zones and knowing exactly what they were, by knowing how my body felt at those efforts and levels of intensity, and what the effort felt like, with the only outside input being a wrist-watch!

In a previous blog I talked about running frequency - runs/week - and how this was a great way to establish a solid base of running fitness. You could easily sub-in cycling or swimming to that frequency program as well. In that Blog I suggested that people, not worry too much about how they are running, the pace, the time, the heart-rate, and just run. Run so that you will be able to repeat that run the next day, and the day after that, and the . . . and so on. If you do this enough, in any sport, with a bit of trial and error you will find that edge, of where you can push it a little bit, but not go over. This is key - to find that true edge of your aerobic and endurance fitness and surf along it for little bits of time, and start to extend the time spent at the edge, based on feel. Why is this important? Because, this is what you are doing when you are racing - finding that edge, and then trying to maintain the maximum effort/pace for the distance that you are racing.

To newer athletes who have started up training exclusively with HRM's and power-meters on the bike and carefully scripted spread-sheet training programs based on numbers, limits and zones, this may seem absurd and a bit scary, but if you start training naked and based on feel, you will start to develop a very tuned-in sense, of how you are breathing, your stride or pedal rate, your turnover in swimming, how your legs and muscles feel, at that level of effort. You'll know, and that's a really good thing. The off-season, which is now for many triathletes, runners and cyclists, is a great time of year to try this. Just, run, or ride or swim. Go easy. Go hard. Find the edge. Note how you feel and what's going on with your body.

Do you train naked?

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Customer Service - What does it mean?

In past three weeks as fate would have it I have needed to contact three different companies in the tri/bike space about some minor issues/problems. I received two amazing responses and one I am not sure what to do or how to categorize, but most would consider, this company's response bad.

I'll start with the not so good . . err bad. Let me first say that I am a huge fan and user of this companies product. However, I'm having some problems with a piece of equipment so I go to this companies very well designed and stylish web site and I find the "Contact Us" form. Explain my problem in a nice way and send in the query. I wait a week and I hear nothing. At about 10 days I send another note through the "Contact Us" form (there is no phone/email info on the site). Another week goes by and nothing. I find this company on Twitter, not trying to out them or be an ass, I send a nice neutral Tweet in their direction about what is the best way to make contact about a customer service issue and how long should I wait for a response. Nothing back. This company is considered a leader in their particular product category. Since I don't know the full side of the story, from there side, I will not name them in this post.

A part broke on one of our Kurt Kinetic indoor trainers (the roller wheel adjustment knob). Go to Kurt Web site and get the Customer Service number. I phone and within 30 sec I have a live person in the CS area on the phone who asks, "How can I help". I explain and she then asks for my address and where she can mail me the part. In less than 2 minutes we are Done! No charge and the part is at my door a week later. Bam!

Have some questions about Speedplay pedals and pedal spindle lengths for my wife's Speedplay pedals. Go to Speedplay's site, find the contact form and submit query. Less than 24 hours later I have a personal eMail back from "Mike" explaining clearly and in detail what my options are. I have some further questions which I fire off in an email and minutes later, "Mike" get's back to me. Another Bam!, problem solved!

Obviously the last two are what I would consider amazing customer service and we would hope this is the way it always ends, but we know that is not the case. Still not quite sure what to make of the first company's response.

What's your most recent Customer Service story - good or bad ( Hopefully we get more good than bad!)?

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

What Now For Ironman?

"I just did an Ironman"! I heard these words two years ago from a man seated behind me on the shuttle-bus that was taking us back to the car parking area after the inaugural Muskoka 70.3 race. The fellow had been going on and on to his friends how he had quit smoking, lost 40 lbs and trained for a whole year for this, "Ironman" race. It was an impressive, inspirational, and in truth a really great and genuine story. Was I to turn around and tell the guy that in reality, he had only done half an Ironman. No, I just sat their, listened, took it all in, and then as the bus came to our destination, stopped and we all got up to get off, I congratulated him on what he had done. Had the venerable and legendary Ironman just reached a tipping point?

It started off as a drunken bar-room challenge back in the late '70's between some U.S. Navy personnel stationed at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. Who was the fitter athlete - the swimmer, the cyclist of the runner? What if they bolted together Hawaii's best known endurance challenges - the 2.5 mile Waikiki Rough Water swim, the 112 mile around Oahu Bike Race and the 26.2 mile Honolulu marathon. Surely the winner of this crazy challenge would be the best all round endurance athlete. The winner, as Captain John Collins, the acknowledged leader of this challenge said, would be called an Ironman! As Collins wrote right on the race instructions, "Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life" And so it began, as a quirky and obscure challenge and race that back then few knew about, beyond a small circle of endurance athletes.

The Ironman really started to come into it's own 10 years on in the late 80's when Dave Scott started to own the race and set performance standards that were starting to be eye-openers for many. The famous "Iron-War" between Scott and his nemesis Mark Allen in '89 was a high water mark for the event in terms of performance and how fast humans could go over these crazy distances. The Ironman race by this time had spawned a small group of Ironman races around the world, but it was still, relatively speaking small group of serious endurance athletes who took part and raced these races. Each Ironman race had the feeling of a meeting of this endurance club. Everyone knew everyone else!

From the get-go many of the participants and racers beyond the top Pros such as Scott and Allen, were classic type-A sorts of folk - very driven and very passionate about their training and about Ironman. I first became aware of this passion when in the late 90's the Ironman Canada race, dealing with a onslaught of entries that was starting to overwhelm the event, floated the idea of having people qualify for it ( Note: starting in the late 80's Ironman Hawaii the so called World Ironman Championships, had been for the most part a qualify-only event). There was mass outrage on the triathlon newsgroups - remember those - about having to qualify for Ironman Canada! It was a testament to the passion that many of the Ironman race participants felt for their race.

Which brings us to this year and the last few months. The World Triathlon Corporation(WTC), has been in change and in advancement mode now for several years, but a string of changes in the last year with an aggressive corporate expansion policy has many asking, "What happened to Ironman?" Obviously, it no longer refers to just the original 2.5/112/26.2 distance as the WTC has branded races half that distance, their so called 70.3 races, Ironman as well. Can you brag about doing a 70.3? The WTC has also gone shorter, buying up a bunch of known "Olympic" distance races and series and branding them 50i50 races. With this latter move they have been careful, to not associate these shorter races with the Ironman, but people in the know, know the association, and they do have the now iconic "i" short for Ironman the name of the event.

What's behind all this? My guess is three things: the first in the most obvious - money. There is a mis-conception that these big Ironman and 70.3 races are huge money makers. I have heard the opposite - that they are not the profit centers that everyone thinks they are. Therefore, more races, of whatever length means, more money. Second - is simply the age-old exercise in the business, of brand extension. Once a business and a brand have tapped out one market, and the possibility of growth in that market is small or nothing, you need to expand into other markets and extend the reach of your brand. Finally, in many businesses, ounce you have X-number of customers/users/participants, your challenge becomes not so much finding new ones, but keeping the ones you have! Hence affinity programs of some form to keep the masses on-board.

Of course, there are still those very passionate folk within the sport who don't like any of this and the WTC and the Ironman brand has been getting a bit of a rough ride of late. On the very popular Slowtwitch forum recently , at one point 1/2 the subject threads on the first page were devoted to discussions about the WTC, many with a negative tone, about various moves the WTC has made of late regarding, race expansion, rule changes, miss-management of races, extraordinary revenue generators through affinity programs and other changes.

It must be said that over all this time, the WTC have been an outstanding steward of the Ironman brand, and of marketing the sport of triathlon in general. Races sell out quickly now, but it was not so long ago that this was not the case and the sport of triathlon was in the doldrums. Kudos to the WTC for keeping the flame alive and the lights on through some previous lean times.

Clearly when you say the word "Ironman" these days, it has a different meaning, to different people. The guy on the bus at the beginning of the blog, has a different idea of it than I, and many others do - but he's still right. The people railing against the WTC getting all corporate and expansionist perhaps yearn for the days when, one time race owner, Valerie Silk, used to send out personal Christmas cards to all Ironman Hawaii finishers. Back then, when mine would show up in the mail every year, I thought that was pretty cool! The problem is, once you go forward these days in the world of business and sport, it's hard to go backwards and the WTC is trying to expand it's business in a big way and has taken the word Ironman and it's original and iconic brand along with it.

The really big Irony, no pun intended, to me is that while there is a heavy over-emphasis on all-things Ironman in the sport of triathlon, the real growth action in the sport is far away from the Ironman. The Danskin, and Trek Women's tri series are huge women-only events that dwarf most of the WTC's events in participants and are the key front door to the sport of triathlon for many of these women. Might some of these women go on to do a full Ironman, or 70.3 race someday? Perhaps they will, but for now, they are happy to put a short swim/bike/run together and feel the accomplishment and garner some bragging rights, much like participants in the first Ironman did, all those years ago!

Where this all goes over the next few years will be rather interesting.

How do you feel about the direction the WTC is going in?

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Running Frequency

When we talk about running frequency there are two kinds of running frequency. The first is your stride rate, the second is the number of days each week that you run. Both are important, but I am going to be talking about the latter here.

For many the off-season is here and it's time to shake things up a bit. They say the off season is the best time to work on your weaknesses and from what I have seen in triathlon of late, no one is running terribly fast. This represents a great opportunity for those who are serious about improving their running.

There are a whole bunch of ways to really improve your running and if you ask 20 athletes and coaches you will get a broad range of ideas about how to do this. Increasing the number of days a week that you run is really straight-forward - increase the number of days/week that you run to 6 or 7 days and do this for a minimum one month. Now this is where many triathletes start to loose the trail. "Run 7 days a week", they say. "You are kidding"! However, the tendency here is to over-think this. If they are like most triathletes that have been given a program that has a nice balanced approach to swim/bike/run. That's good to get going, but it will only take them so far in each of the individual sports - soon they will plateau. Furthermore, each of their run workouts is perhaps a little bit longer and harder, because they are only running, perhaps two or three times a week. So, what they need to do first is figure out what is a typical run week for them in miles/Kilometers, and then divide that number by 6 - 7. Start there. Start running that distance, every day the first week and just run. See how you feel.

The next question is what about the bike and swim? To maintain swim and bike fitness, try and squeeze in 1 - 2 shorter (30 - 45 mins.) higher intensity swims/bikes each week, but keep the focus on the run.

For the more advanced - make it a goal to run a minimum of 20 minutes every day. That would be your shortest run, and your longest would be about an hour. Again - don't over-think it. Just run. If you feel like picking it up a bit - go ahead and do so. However, this is key - whatever you do, needs to be repeatable the next day. No single run should leave you so wiped out that you cannot run the next day. You see, great fitness and a really deep base of fitness is not built around individual or special workouts, it's built around day after day, and week after week of putting in the time at a modest level of effort. Endurance training is really not that complicated. It's about putting the work in and getting it done every day over a long period of time.

Be careful to monitor how you feel. If you feel tired at the start of a run, that's OK - often as you get into the run the fatigue goes away. However if it stays, make that a 20 minute and done day! Also note aches and pains - note the transient pains that tend to come and go as compared to the permanent ones that will not go away. If it is the latter, stop the run-every-day-routine. Do not force yourself through this, if you have more serious injuries.

After a week or two of running every day and if you feel good, start increasing the total weekly volume by 10 - 15 percent. Don't add all the distance onto one day - spread it across the week. There is a tendency to worry about, heart rates, and zones, and tempo and intervals and all that other stuff - again, just run. If you feel tired. Take it easy. If you feel like picking it up for a bit, do it, and keep it relaxed and flowing. But know that you have to run again tomorrow!

Keep this up for a month, but ideally try it for two months. The gains are often significant in terms of fitness and efficiency. Schedule a bit of a taper and then find a 5K or 10k running race. Many are shocked and surprised, to set significant new personal best times, after this focused block of what many would consider unstructured training - again, it's not the individual workouts, it's the cumulative effect of all of the running over time.

Final note. This also works for swimming and cycling. A focused block of doing almost all one sport, for period of time, in the off season, is never a bad thing.

Hope this helps.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Winter and Wetsuits - What To Do

Time for my annual rant about what to do at this time of year with your triathlon wetsuit. If it's still rolled up in a ball in the trunk of your car and been their since your last race - shame on you. Actually, no - keep that up, cause you are going to have a to buy a new wetsuit sooner! :-)

Seriously, I realize that there are still a few races going on, Ironman Florida etc . . but for many the season is done. Winter may not be here, but it's around the corner. This is the time of year to carefully check your wetsuit over for finger-nail cuts and any problems with the seams or zippers. Get the finger-nail cuts fixed now and if there are other problems with your suit, get them looked into now! This saves you the stress, and anxiety of rushing around and trying to get the suit repaired the day before your first race next spring.

Check your wetsuit out thoroughly both inside and out. On the ouside, check for finger-nail cuts and other nicks in the smooth skin surface. On the inside, check all the seams over carefully.

If there are problems with the suit, take it back to where you bought the suit. You did buy your wetsuit from a reputable triathlon shop or wetsuit retailer, right? The dealer should be able to help you out as a first step. If the suit is still under warranty - 2 years for most other suits and five years for Nineteen wetsuits, check to make sure whatever the problem is, is or is not a warranty issue( finger-nail cuts are not covered under warranty).

Next step is getting the repairs done. Either the shop can help you, or they may direct you to a local dive or surf shop that does wetsuit repairs. Make sure that this other shop is experienced working with triathlon wetsuits. Get the repairs done now! Only attempt self-repairing the suit - typically finger-nail cuts, if you absolutely know what you are doing If it's a warranty issue, the suit may need to be shipped back to the manufacturer - which will take some time. However, better to get this all done now when you have the time! You will now be ready for that first race next spring or that first open water swim and not all in a mad panic.

As for storage: If you have not done so already, give your wetsuit a good rinsing with fresh water in the shower and a wash and rinse with a mild soap, and then let it hang up to dry - inside out on a form fitting hanger( the type that good men's suits are hung up with). Once dry turn it right side out again and then hang it up - again on the form fitting hanger in a cool dry place for the winter. You can also lay it flat on the floor under a bed - but if you have small pets ( dogs or cats) I would not suggest this.

Please see more care and maintenance tips for your wetsuit at the following page on the Nineteen Web site:

Hope this helps.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Interbike Report - Leaving Las Vegas

Interbike 2010 was in Las Vegas last week. Just before the this year's show, we learned that Inrebike will move from a long time run at the Sands Convention center in Las Vegas to Anaheim CA, and it will be six weeks earlier in the year running the first week of August in 2011.

In recent years with many of the big companies in the bike business pulling out of the show, there has been a great deal of discussion about the utility and usefulness of Interbike (the changes for next year being made to supposedly address this). Indeed, some even question why Nineteen, a company that only makes triathlon wetsuits, would even be at a trade show called Interbike! The reality is that there is no specific trade show for the triathlon business, and many of our retail customers, prospective retail customers, distributors and the triathlon media all attend this show. Years ago there had been some discussions about a Triathlon zone or area at Interbike that never came to fruition. I take no credit for it, but when we (Nineteen) started going to the show four years ago, I sought out where the leader in the tri wetsuit business was, Blue Seventy, and I took a booth across the aisle from them. They were fine with this, and now, almost all the wetsuit companies can all be found within a very small area or short walk on the Interbike show floor - as well as more than a few other companies interested in the triathlon market. There is now an informal Triathlon Zone at Interbike that has developed over the past few years in the back left corner of the show floor.

Of course, with the move to the Anaheim Convention Center next year, it will be interesting to see how this will be replicated - formally or informally. Naturally the move to Anaheim, generated considerable talk amongst vendors and dealers at this year's show. If it was Interbike's intention to make the show "better", by drawing back in, some of the big players who no longer book booth space on the show floor( TREK et al . . ), and more dealers, they may be sadly mistaken in this regard. The reaction on the part of fellow vendors that I spoke to, and dealers was mixed at best.

I understand why Interbike has become not at all helpful to big players in the bike business, such as TREK and others. Pre-season orders are now taken in July and August, and these larger companies these days are in the habit of inviting in, all expenses paid, all or their best accounts to special events that they host either at their own facilities or elsewhere at nice hotels and resorts. Even smaller companies such as Cervelo have gone this route with their BrainBike events!

Ironically, for really small companies, micro businesses really, Interbike still full-fills a valuable a key role - it puts vendors(sellers) and dealers(buyers) under one roof for a few days. I know that for us at Nineteen, Interbike is perhaps the most important three days of the year for us and this year, was the best Interbike show that we have ever had - we met with more people, talked to more good prospects, and interacted with more key media in the triathlon business than we ever have.

Hopefully next year, despite the move to Anaheim and it being six weeks earlier, it will be more of the same!

Finally, it's important to know that Interbike is a Trade Show. In the gear oriented sports of cycling and triathlon, many consumers are obsessed with finding out what is the latest and greatest, but the general public is not welcome at the show. People who do get in or newcomers to the show, are often overwhelmed by all the gear and all the cool tech stuff or the VIP's just wandering around - Is that George Hincapie over there? I know I was like that, when I went to my first Interbike show years ago. However, it's important to note that often the key things that go on at a show like Interbike, are the quiet conversations that go on in the aisles, with customers, competitors, prospects and key movers & shakers in the business. This is where and how the real action in the business happens.

That being said, everyone wants to know what was the coolest thing I saw at the show. Well, truth be told, I barely got out of the Nineteen booth for the whole show and I really did not get a chance to walk the whole show or see much of it for that matter. This being the last Interbike in Las Vegas, that to me was the news of the show. I have been coming here for many years now, so on the last night of the show, I took a short walk up and down part of the strip near our hotel for one last time just to take it all in. I have always had a strange relationship with Las Vegas - it's not the kind of place I would ever go to on vacation, but thousands of people do. That walk of nostalgia amongst the masses strolling the Strip, past the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars, The Flamingo, Mirage and the Bellagio, and the other grand hotels and casinos of Las Vegas seemed a fitting way to end it all!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ironman Canada is Different

Ironman Canada is different. Yes it shares the same race distances as all the other growing ranks of Ironman races around the world, but this is a very different event.

First of all it has some history. This year was the 28th running of Ironman Canada. Some of the greatest triathletes of all time have raced on this course. They say one of the single greatest Ironman Triathlons ever raced - Thomas Hellreigel's 8:09.42 winning performance in 1996 - was done on this course. Yes, they have broken 8:00 and gone faster elsewhere, but this is not an easy course - it can be very challenging.

Speaking of the course, this is perhaps, at least in North America, the only Ironman race that sticks to it's single big loop routes on each of the swim, bike and run. You feel like you are doing something - not just going around in circles. This can be daunting. Particularly as you make the turn at the half-way point in the marathon run, climb a little hill out of Okanagan Falls, and then if you look to your left, you can see the town of Penticton 11 miles off in the distance over the full length of Skaha Lake. It dawns on you that, I now have to run all the way back there!

This is a race that has tradition and honors it's champions. Few know this, but there is a large bronze plaque for each years mens and womens race winner, that has been put into the ground in a very nice arrangement surrounding a beautiful flower bed in Rotary Park. The plaque honoring Lori Bowden's win in 1998 is pictured at the top. During the race, Rotary Park serves as the transition area, and many athletes taking part in the race, will have run right over some of these winners plaques, perhaps drawing power and strength from the great champions of the past.

This was the race that defined what being a volunteer at an Ironman race was all about. This is were the 3000+ strong Iron Army came to be. Unlike many of the other IM races, at Ironman Canada, almost all the volunteers come from Penticton and other communities in the South Okanagan. This is their race. They want it to be the best. They want each and every competitor to feel welcome and have the best day that they can have out there. Everyone pitches in. The planning for next years race and the anticipation amongst the Iron Army has started already.

Then there is the stunning beauty of the area. Of course, it's a wine growing region growing some of the best wine grapes in the world. That helps to. Why is it that all the key wine growing areas around the world are like this? The Okanagan Valley is an amazing place.

This race is put on and run by the best race and event management people in the sport. Not only do they do a great job of putting on what logistically is an absolutely extraordinary event( people would not believe the details that need to be covered - and they are all covered), they are really down to earth people who really care about the sport of triathlon, this one event, Ironman Canada in particular, and each and every participant in the race. To see Graham Fraser or Joe Dixon talk, you can see the care and passion they have in their faces and you can hear the emotional connection to the event in their voices.

Finally, there is Steve King - the Voice of Ironman Canada. Yes there are other great race announcers of triathlon around the world, but it was Steve who really defined the term Triathlon Race Announcer making sure that each and every finishers name was called out and noted. I don't know how he keeps going and how he's able to keep all that information in his head, but he is so extraordinarily passionate about this sport and this race - that you can't help but want him to keep going on forever doing this.

I will admit that for me it is a bit personal. I had my single greatest day as a triathlete out on the Ironman Canada course - and so did my wife. And so have a number of my closest triathlon friends. I also raced the last triathlon I ever did, at this amazing race. I was glad and fortunate to go out on a good note and on good terms with this race, but the high-light for me that day was holding my then one month old son in my arms, after I crossed the finish line. He's 13 years old now, and when I look at him, I often reflect back to that day at IMC in 1997 and marvel at how much he has grown.

Ironman Canada . . it's different!

Monday, August 16, 2010

One of Those Days!

I Have been involved in endurance sports for many years. If the starting point was when I took up running at age 15 - that's nearly 35 years of these stuff. If you do this stuff long enough, you know that you have good days and not so good days.

Over the weekend I had "One of Those Days" - and not the good variety of these days. I was supposed to be doing an 80K road race on Sunday morning, but I woke up and felt really rough. It was to be a two hour drive to the race site, then a 2+ hour race then a 2 hour ride home - all-in, about seven hours of my Sunday was to be taken up with this race. Not sure why I felt terrible, as I had, had a fairly light week of riding in the past week. I decided to not go to the race, initially with regrets, and instead go out for a 2 hour ride on my own. Within 1/2 km of starting the ride, I knew that I had made the right decision. My legs felt dreadful and completely lacking of any fitness and strength. My regrets turned to a feeling of making a wise decision.

I was having the type of day that, you dread ever lines up with a race-day or a day with a really hard workout planned. I have had them over the years - fortunately, they have infrequently lined up with race days, but I am sure some of my really ugly performances over the years, have been because - it was One of Those Days.

The two hour ride was done well off my normal pace for this route, and as I came up towards the end of it, it was feeling more like the rap-up to a ride twice as long and as hard. Over the years, I have become fairly adept at predicting these low ebbs and making good choices as to whether to race or not, or postpone that really hard workout for another day when I can go really hard. Not sure what it is that leads to these days. I know that if you fastidiously track, morning heart rate, body weight, diet, key workout details, total watts used per-work etc . . . you should be able to track and predict these days. These days, I can predict them by feel, and yesterday I know that I made the right choice!

Your mileage may vary!

Picture at the top is from the end of the road at Chain of Craters Road in Volcano National Park, Hawaii, where recent lava flows have blocked the road.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cervelo S2 or R3: Aero or not for road bikes?

My wife, Paolina Allan's S2

My R3

Which Cervelo road bike should I get? The S2 or the R3? It's a question I hear often. It's a good problem to have. Both bikes are at the head of their class. Both bikes get rave reviews from informed and knowledgeable road bike reviewers. Both bikes have a Pro Tour Race winning pedigree. Both bikes, as ridden by the Cervelo Test Team, are available, stock at Cervelo dealers.

Is having an aero road bike an advantage?

Here's my take on this:

Last fall I got an R3. This is the bike if you do a lot of road riding, in groups or on your own, and you prefer a more comfortable ride. After all, this is the bike that has won Paris-Roubaix twice in the past 5 years. This is also a great bike for road racing - it's very light, even with ordinary kit, and rides very stable and true. The knock against the R3 is that it is not "aero". However for the occasional road racer, as I am, it's of little concern. Most of the Master's road racing that I do, no matter how many times you try and break-away, comes down to a field sprint, so you are riding in a pack almost all the time. How "aero" your frame is, is the least of your concerns.

I recall reading a stat after one of Lance Armstrongs Tour de France wins a few years ago. Outside of Time Trials, in three weeks of racing, Armstrong, had spent a grand total of 12 minutes riding on his own in the wind, for that Tour de France win!

Finally - as many know, I have a wonky back. The extra vertical compliance in the rear triangle in the R3 is a welcome feature - on long rides and on rough pavement it is a very comfortable ride. We have a lot of lousy pavement in our area and we also ride from time to time on gravel and dirt roads and the R3 handles all this very well. The R3 has that "all-day" comfort that is highly valued by Pro Tour riders or any serious rider for that matter who puts in a lot of miles.

Recently, my wife got a new Cervelo S2. This is the bike that started out life being called the Soloist in the Cervelo line, and really invented the whole category of aero road bikes. The bike is very aerodynamic - it's even more aerodynamic than some manufacturers time trial and triathlon frames! This was the preferred bike for my wife because, women's road race fields tend to be much smaller than mens. There are more, small and solo break-aways that stick. You often have to bridge from one group or rider to another, on your own. Here, aerodynamics for a road bike, can be really important. Also, my wife travels from time to time to Stage Races where there is a Time Trial as one of the stages. By using the S2 with Clip-On aero bars, she saves herself the hassle of having to bring along a dedicated TT bike, and as previously mentioned, the S2 holds it's own when it comes to aerodynamics. The ride on the S2 would best be described as being firmer than that of the R3. It's still pretty comfortable for an aero framed road bike.

In summary - you should consider an aero road bike if you do a lot of solo riding, you are a woman road racing, you can make a break-away stick in road racing, or you want one bike to do it all - even be used as a tri-bike. If not any of that, then a non-aero road bike such as the Cervelo R3 will serve you very well.

So there. Hopefully that will help you decide which Cervelo Road Bike or an aero road bike is for you!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Centurion Colorado

The washboard gravel road is bouncing me all over the place - mercifully we are going down hill slightly. I thought the worst of the climbing was over, but no. We wheel around a corner and the road pitches straight up! Now in addition to blown out quads and being nearly 9,000 ft high and a scarcity of oxygen, I need to climb up this rutted dirt road that has me almost at a stand-still as I am barely able to turn the cranks over seated. I rise to get out of the saddle, and my quads give that tell-tale hint of massive cramping coming on, plus the back tire begins to spin out slightly, so seated I stay and I grind on. Thankfully, this hill is only about 100m long, but it takes me forever to cover that distance. This was my mile 80 of 100 at the inaugural Centurion Cycling bike race near Lyons, CO over the weekend.

I soldiered on getting back on the pavement and then after one false flat to contend with on the Peak-to-Peak Hwy., over 3,000 ft of downhill riding over 20 miles back to the finish! On the first loop I had done this descent in a group of about 20 and we made quick work of it at very high speeds. This time, I was solo and the wind had picked up a bit, and darned if I had to pedal and work harder this time around. Finally, I was caught by two others within 2 miles of the finish and then we worked together to get to the finish and then it was over for me after 5 hours and 39 minutes.

Quite frankly, I had no idea how this event was going to go - at a number of different levels. I knew one thing, it was going to be exceptionally well organized. The Centurion events are the brain-child of Graham Fraser, who literally put Ironman triathlons on the map in North America. He's more or less out of that business now( only running the Ironman Canada race), and now into these large group bike rides/races aka, Gran Fondos. Some say these are the next big thing, and I would agree. In some respects, I am the prototype, perfect person for these - former triathlete, sometime road-racer, like to stay fit on the bike, like group rides and races, and like big challenges.

The Centurion Cycling event was very well run. Many serious road racers and people who had been to other century rides, kept commenting to me on how well everything was being run. For the triathletes in attendance who had been to an Ironman or 70.3 race in North America in the past few years, they were used to this level of service and athlete care.

The key unknowns to me were how exactly the bike would unfold and how I would go myself. Regarding the first point - about 300 riders rolled out neutralized for the first 2k for the 100 mile race. Then it was game on, and about 200 formed a front pack that raced over completely closed roads for the first 10 miles or so. It was amazing to have the full width of the road. Everyone in this large pack road very well and there were no issues. For most of this time, I was in the back third of this large group and it had the feel of a really big road race. At this point I was most likely going harder than I should have, but I figured, I should be able to cover this early ground quicker in the draft of the group, before we hit the first big climb, where I had a hunch it would start to break up. And break up it started to do, as we headed up the famous Left Hand Canyon road north of Boulder. Soon I was riding along in a little group of about 5 or 6 other riders. I kept the gearing light and the pedal revs high. I knew that we still had a long way to go.
This climb seemed to go on forever, but the scenery and the odd chit-chat between quick breathes with fellow riders kept me distracted enough. As we neared the top, the grade kicked up quite a bit to the town of Ward and I was finally forced to get right out of the saddle and really grunt it up the last steep ramp of the climb and then it was over.

Onto the aforementioned descent which was an absolute blast. My speedometer on my bike was not working, but we must have been hitting speeds close to 80 kmh. This group continued to do the pac-man routine and by the time we headed out for the second loop, it was about 30 strong. Then there was a big acceleration on the rollers outside of Lyons and I popped off the back. I had heard that the second time up Left Hand, with the addition of the Super James climb above the town of James Town, plus the dirt road section was, to put it in Tour de France terms Hors Catogorie- or beyond classification, or put another way, &*$#-ing hard! I road within myself and tried to keep the group in site. Sure enough, as we hit the lower slopes of Left Hand Canyon for the second time, many from that group started to drift back towards me and I began to pass quite a few. This was encouraging.

I kept this good feeling going until we hit the Super James climb. I had been warned about this. Suddenly, within the space of I would say half a kilometer, The Centurion cycling race went from being a moderate effort to, going as hard on the bike as I think I have gone in the last 10 years. I am not sure what it was. The altitude. The grade. The lack of a few more lower gears( a compact crank is recommended and I did not have one!). The heat. Suddenly, going forward and willing each pedal stroke around and the bike forward at a crawl was all I could do! At times, I had to resort to the old zig-zag to keep going. Never before, in 30 years of cycling had I ever had to do that. But I made it, and then I made it over the dirt and gravel road to, and then I knew that I would get through this.

Then, as I came up to the finish line my legs, burning, lungs heaving, the best feeling of all came over me - because I had felt this way, many times, many years ago, towards the end of many Ironman triathlon bike legs - I was done! Once I was across that finish line, it was all over and I could head directly to the beer tent - which the Centurion event organizers in their wisdom had conveniently organized. This is a far more sensible and sane way to torture yourself! There I was enjoying a beer, in the shade of the beer tent at 1:00 in the afternoon!

More than a few have asked me what is a Centurion race or ride? It is what you want to make it. Race it. Train it. Ride with friends. Just try and finish it. It has elements of it, that feel like a real bike road race. Other parts of it felt like an Ironman bike leg but you could regroup with others and work-together using the draft - how cool is that? At other times it felt like a bike tour in an amazing place with beautiful scenery. It is what it is and it is what you make it.

As for me, I will fully admit that going into this, I was for the first time in a long time, having a bit of performance anxiety. Not sure why. I guess because I had put it out there that I wanted to do it. It was a supreme test of the 30-year-base. Two months ago I would have said - no way am I going to be able to do this, but a reasonably intensive ramp up and I was more or less ready to go. That is the value of the 30-year-base, plus on race day the physical and mental strength is there because, you know that you have been here before.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that my amazing wife, Paolina Allan was also along for the ride, so to speak. She did very well and finished about 5 minutes ahead of me and in 4th place overall amongst the women. She had some cramping issues on the Super James climb and had a harder go of it than I did at the high altitude. The altitude did not seem to bother me that much. Not sure why, but I know that altitude adaptation is very individual. Nevertheless, there were too many fast old men and I did much worse than she did both overall and in my age-group!

We both plan on doing the Collingwood, Ontario Centurion Race in September - see you there!

Thank you to our good friend Carole Sharples for putting up with us Crazy Canucks for a few days. We loved Boulder and look forward to coming back soon.

Picture at the top - Paolina and I Ready to roll at the first ever Centurion Cycling 100 miler in Lyons, CO

Friday, July 16, 2010

Centurion #1 - It's Here!

Made it to Boulder and we have settled in staying with a good friend of Paolina's, Pro Carole Sharpless.

I could go on and on about first impressions of Boulder, but it's the kind of place as a life long endurance athlete that, within 24 hours you are trying to figure out how you can move here! Went for an easy 2 hour ride this morning and we must have seen well over 100 people out riding. I lost count after a bit. There are so many serious cyclists out on the road that you feel like a bit of a fool waving at everyone passing the other way. Back home it's a bonding moment with that loan cyclist you may see in your 3 hour ride!

The legs feel good, but after a couple of hard efforts this morning, you know that you are at 5,300 ft of elevation in Boulder. The quick lesson and bottom line - I'll need to keep it aerobic as much as I can almost all the time on the Centurion 100 mile ride on Sunday. Go anaerobic too soon or too often, and it's going to come back and haunt me - particularly when we climb up to 9,000 ft. Stay calm. Keep the gears light. Stay comfortable. Repeated hard efforts early on are going to make the back half of that 100 miles very hard.

Had a good long chat this afternoon with one of the principals behind the Centurion events, Graham Fraser. He believes that these types of events are the next big thing - well organized, and well run Century rides that are what you make it. At the front, these events will have the feel of a real bike road race. Further back - people will make of it what they want/can. It's all good. The Boulder/Lyons Centurion is the first event of what is going to be an amazing series of events and I feel lucky to be able to be here for the first one. The people behind this, beyond Graham Fraser are some of the best people in this sort of event management. They are set to become, must-do, go to events for cyclists looking a challenging course and a very well run event with amazing support services.

All that support is great, but it's going to be me and me alone who is going to have to get myself over the Super James Climb on Sunday - supposedly the hardest and most challenging part of the Centurion 100 mile course. It comes up at about 75 miles and is supposedly a bit of a leg and lung buster. The good news is that it's 25 miles of downhill to the finish after that!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Almost There - Centurion CO in Less Than Two Weeks

The first ever Centurion Cycling event is coming up in less than two weeks. As usual, I had been a bit overly ambitious about my ability to get in some solid kilometers of cycling for this event, but in the last couple of weeks the legs have come around a bit more. It's been capped off by a big push over the recent four-day long holiday weekend where I was able to get in over 350K of riding - with big chunks of it in hilly terrain and at a fairly hard pace. All that being said, my 30-year aerobic and endurance base is going to be put to a supreme test over the Centurion Colorado course with two massive 25-mile climbs each topping out at over 9,000'.

It will be interesting to see how this spells out and who ends up riding with whom. Personally, I have no illusions what-so-ever of being able to hang with the front group. My wonderful Wife, Paolina Allan, should be able to give you more reports from the front as she seems to be rounding into fine form right now and should go well. For me it will be about pacing and riding well within myself on that first big climb - descending well - and then taking on the second climb and seeing what happens. I am a bit concerned about the altitude - but there is not much I can do about that. We'll just have a go at it and see. I am guessing that, with this size of event, that small groupettos will form with like-fit riders who will be able to pace each-other up the climbs - misery loves company!

The bike is all set( Cervelo R3). Still not sure what wheel-set I will run - Zipp 404 Tubulars or Bontrager Race-X-Lite Aluminum clinchers. I am leaning towards the latter, as these are the wheels that I have done most of my riding on this year and they feel very good shorn with Vittoria EVO CX tires. It's a great, all-around, reasonably light, aero and bomb-proof set of wheels. On the advice of a few, I will be going with an 11-28 cassette. The Super James climb on the second big climb does have a steeper section right near the top that may be very testing - not so much due to the grade, but for me the altitude. There is also a stretch of dirt road on this second climb as well, but I have no concerns about this at all, as we ride on dirt and gravel roads quite regularly.

My wonky lower back that has caused me a bit of concern of late has decided to come-around as well, along with my legs. It weathered the big kilometers over the weekend quite well. I must say that the R3 is very helpful in this regards as it does take the buzz out of a lot of the rear end vibrations and hits.

It's a significant first attempt at a large Gran Fondo style ride for organizers Graham Fraser and Len Pettyjohn, but I am sure that given their experience with this sort of thing, it will be exceptionally run. I am really looking forward to it.

Look for a full report here, in the week after the event.

Picture at the top was taken about mid-way up Mt. Lemmon, just outside Tucson, AZ.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Proposed Three Foot Law for Ontario Drivers

The letter below is one I wrote to my Ontario MPP - Frank Klees( Aurora-Newmarket). There has been some proposed legislation that would make it mandatory that when passing a cyclist, a motorized vehicle would have to give a minimum of a three foot wide berth. There are a number of places that this has been passed into Law, including 10 States in the U.S. Given the increasing number of serious and fatal incidents on the roads between cars and cyclists, personally I think this is a good thing.

Mr Klees,

I understand that there has been a private-members bill introduced in the Ontario legislature about a new law that would require cars to give a minimum of a three-foot/one-meter berth when passing a cyclist. News item below:

Given what was said in the news article by some key people, the Premier included, there is likely going to be a lot of resistance to pass such legislation into law – we seem to have too many laws. However, when it comes to altercations between cars and cyclists, which seem to be on the rise, the outcome, regardless of the situation, is never good for the cyclist and in more than a few cases is fatal. As a member of the Newmarket Eagles Cycling club, I ride on the roads in the area of Aurora and Newmarket regularly and have for many years. What is most surprising, is the almost total lack of knowledge that motorists have regarding the rights that cyclists have to be on the road sharing the road with cars. Couple this with, what can only be described as a cavalier and careless attitude towards driving a motor vehicle, that many have to begin with, and that lack of respect for cyclists, and you have a recipe for some serious interactions and altercations, again with the cyclist always coming out on the losing end of it – with serious injuries and in the worst case scenario, dead!

On almost every ride I go on, with me following exactly the rules of the road on my bike, there is typically some interaction with a motorist that has stemmed from, either the motorists lack of knowledge of the rules of the road regarding cyclists, a total lack of respect, or completely careless driving on the part of the car driver. I sometimes wonder if I am invisible out on the road when riding – a scary thought!

It would be un fortunate if this was not passed into law. If the Three Foot law is not passed, I would hope that a full-scale PR campaign of some sort could be launched in it’s place, to try and get the message across to drivers that they need to exercise caution at all times when near or passing cyclists – that’s just common sense, I would think!

Best regards,

Steve Fleck

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Difference With Road Racing

Did my first cycling road race in two years on Sunday. Was perhaps in over my head based on where my fitness is at, but I re-learned what is a key thing with road racing. The main difference compared to what many people do with their bike riding is the unpredictability of when and how long you are going hard and how much time you have to, "recover", before you have to go hard again.

I was able to hold my own in the group for the most part, but what really caught up with me and did me in, was exactly what I stated above - there was no rhythm or reason to when we were going really hard and I was above the red-line and then the time that we were not going so hard, and I was below my red-line. It's not like I can say, "Hey, guys. I am over my heart-rate, power cap here can we back off a bit?" When there is an acceleration in the group, you don't know if you will be going hard for 20 secs, 2 minutes or maybe even 20 minutes! Furthermore on the other side, you have little control over your recovery - you have to somehow figure this out and recover on the fly - in most cases, you have to recover, while still going nearly all out.

It was a 70k race and I made it to about the 40K mark before coming off the back with three other guys on a false flat. This is when you realize, when the main group is gone, they are gone! The four of us had a go at getting back on, but 2m becomes 20m, becomes 200m, quickly in these situations! We agreed to work together and to ride it in from there. That was fine with me as I was merely looking for a good hard effort today and no heroics, so we all took our tuns with good pulls on the front and finished it up. And in another strange twist of road racing, the guy who had been clearly the strongest in our quartet, and I figured would take the sprint amongst the four of us, was not a factor at all when we had a go of it at the end! Appearances are never what they seem, at many levels in road racing.

There really is no substitute for racing in terms of gaining the key and specific fitness needed for bike road racing. You can do all the interval training you like, but when matched with riders of similar ability and fitness, it is that specific race fitness that is key. In particular, being able to handle the randomness of when you are going really hard and not so hard and being able to recover quickly and be ready to go hard again!

I need a few more weeks and a few more races to get that back.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Birthday Thoughts

49 today.

Four good friends and acquaintances passed away in the last year. It's been a bit of a rough stretch on that front. Men all younger than I am. In that context, I feel lucky and grateful to make it to this day. Sorry for kicking this post off on a somber note, but I think of these men often and wonder a lot about the luck and lottery of life.

However, as I lay in bed last night before I fell asleep, I thought of all the wonderful rich experiences that I have had and the many good friends that I have around me. They say, these are the most important, things in our lives, not how much money we have or the job we work at or the material things we own.

I have heard it said a lot recently, that 50, is the new 40. If I look around me at my friends and the people that I know, in particular the really active people and athletes that I know, I would have to agree with this statement. Staying physically active is important at many different levels. It's always been important to me and I hope that I will be able to be this way for years to come.

On that note, 49 is really just one of those passing-through Birthdays. Next year, the 50th is always looked upon as a bit of a landmark and much more of a milestone. I have some special plans for next year, Saturday, April 23, 2011 - please stay tuned. Yes it will involve something physically active and fun.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Centurion Cycling Courses - Some Thoughts

The good news is that they have released the courses and the profiles of the first two Centurion Cycling events. If you have a look at the profiles - that's also the bad news. Both the Colorado and the Wisconsin 100 mile routes put a huge premium on being able to climb well, but two different kinds of climbing. The Colorado route if you have a closer look at the profile, is pretty straight-forward: 25 miles up/25miles down/25miles up/25 miles down! There are only two climbs on the course, but they are both massively long at about 25 miles each topping out at over 9,000 ft. The second issue here in the Rocky Mountains is going to be the altitude. The Madison profile, is the polar opposite in the world of climbing - there is lots of going up, but the climbs are all short and steep and they just keep coming at you over and over and over, for the full 100 miles. The profile looks like a cross-cut saw blade!

Centurion Colorado - Route and Profile

Centurion Wisconsin - Route and Profile

If you live in an area with big climbs, and you are considering either of these events. Consider yourself lucky. Unfortunately I don't, so I am going to have to be a bit creative with the training to get the climbing legs in shape. Fortunate for me, historically, I have fared not too bad on big long climbs like the Centurion Colorado course. I am fairly light. Have a good pedaling rhythm. And know how to dose my effort well, to keep me in there for the long haul. I fare less well with the type of profile in Madison which is more of a power climbers course for those who can just muscle over the darn thing, recover quick, and then get ready for the next one.

It should be interesting to see how the Colorado Centurion unfolds at or near the front. The climbing starts almost right away. They'll be little opportunity to just sit-in the group. I suspect that it will string out, and thin out, in short order, based on who the best pure climbers are. I have been advised, that if you know you will be overwhelmed by the "normal" small gearing of 39-25, you had best opt for a compact crank and chain-ring set-up, that will give you more options at the low end of the gear range for climbing. Having never yet met a climb that I could not handle with a 39-25, I am considering taking the advice to heart for the Colorado Centurion - not so much for the first 25 mile climb, but the second one. By that point, those extra gear options, will be welcome!

Madison, will be a bit different as the brevity of the pure power climbing will allow more people to hang in there for longer in the early going, but I am sure that more than a few will grossly under-estimate the toll, that this will take on them and by 60 miles, they may be completely toasted. Patience will be key in Madison and knowing your limits. Again, the compact crank may come in handy later on, as the legs start to go and you need some lower gears to get you up and over those short steep climbs in the last 25 miles

Training: If you don't live in a mountainous area, or where there are lots of hills, you'll need to work with what you have. Where I live and ride in southern Ontario, we have a reasonable number of hills, but there is nothing like what we'll encounter at Colorado Centurion. It is a bit like what we may find at Centurion Wisconsin. What, I'll be doing is seeking out the hilliest routes that I can when going out for longer rides, and always seeking out hills on every ride for that matter, and every time I am going up a hill I am going to be focused on working as hard as I can to get up it. Once a get a bit fitter, I will start to do some big-gear work - doing climbs in a gear or two bigger than I really should be - this will build extra strength to keep the gear turning over no matter what. For Wisconsin the key will be hard 5 - 10 minute efforts, with a shorter recovery, and then repeat. The indoor trainer, is not a bad option for this sort of thing.

The Centurion Canada route in Collingwood, Ontario is set to be released shortly. This course I will have more confidence in as I live in the area and train on very similar terrain, all the time. Once it is released I will chime in again with some further thoughts.

Picture at the top is me climbing Mt Lemmon in Tucson, AZ - it's about a 25 mile climb, so similar to what we'll see at Centurion Colorado.