Archive for October, 2019

Chicago Marathon 2019

Thursday, October 17th, 2019 | Sport

Chicago is one of the six marathon majors in the world, along with London, Berlin, Tokyo, New York and Boston. Why this is, is unclear. Nobody turns up to Chicago. The London route is lined with supporters the entire route. In Chicago, you can hear the footsteps of the athletes on the TV camera because there is no other sound.

That did not stop Brigid Kosgei, however. The London marathon winner shot out of the gate and refused to slow down, coming home in a new world record time of 2:14:04. This smashed the previous record of 2:15:25 that has been held by Paula Radcliffe since 2003 by 1:21.

On the finish line, Radcliffe congratulated Kosgei and said she always knew this day would come. I think collectively, as white people, we all knew this day would come, too. Radcliffe’s previous record was itself phenomenal, being over 3 minutes ahead of Catherine Ndereba’s 2001 world record time. It had stood for 16 years. The nearest anyone has got to it until now was Mary Keitany with 2:17:01.

Notably, of the 10 fastest marathon times ever for both men and women. Radcliffe’s time was the only one not set by a Kenyan or Ethiopian. Whatever genetic or cultural factors allow Africa to produce the world’s best distance runners, Radcliffe has been the only person in the world who was able to keep up with them. On the men’s side, you have to go back to before I was born to find a non-African world record holder.

But all records fall eventually (except Jerry Rice, obvs), and Brigid Kosgei’s incredible performance puts her nearly three minutes ahead of any time other the Radcliffe. That’s a huge gap. Will it too stand for decades, or give other runners the self-belief that they can run faster, too? I’m excited to find out.

1:59 Challenge

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 | Sport

Back in 2017, Eliud Kipchoge led the charge at the #breaking2 event, the first attempt to run a sub-2 hour marathon. On that occasion, we came up 26 seconds short. A the time, I was desperately trying to run a sub-2 hour half (for the record, I did).

Two years later, and Kipchoge arrived in Vienna for the 1:59 Challenge. If the attempt in Italy was well-planned, it was nothing compared to this. Sponsored by INEOS, Dave Brailsford from British Cycling was brought in to mastermind the entire operation.

The perfect location had been selected: a straight road with two roundabouts at each end. The perfect time of year had been selected, with a 10-day window to get the right weather. A team of seven pacers would run with Kipchoge at all time, in a Flying V formation with two runners at the back. The idea was that this created the perfect shape to protect Kipchoge from the wind. A team of 41 world-class runners were brought in, each asked to run a 5km in 14:10 (2:50 per kilometre). A car in front of the runners projected lasers on the ground telling each runner where to be.

In the end, Kipchoge finished in 1:59:39, making it the first-ever sub-2 hour marathon.

It won’t stand as a world record. This is because pacers were swapped in and out, nutrition was delivered via a bike and there was only one “competitor”. This makes it much easier than a real race where you would have to have your face in the wind once the pacers dropped away, and dodge around other runners to pick your nutrition up from a table at the side. I also heard a rumour that the special Nike shoes may not be legal in a marathon, but I am not sure if this is true or not.

Regardless, though, running 26.2 miles in under two hours is an incredible achievement. I’m a little disappointed as I always wanted to be the first person to run under two hours. But, realistically, it is starting to look like I won’t be able to do that anyway. Since I have been a runner, there has been a lot of debate as to whether sub-2 was even theoretically possible. Many people said it wasn’t. Now we know.

IRONMAN’s technology problems

Monday, October 7th, 2019 | Tech

Last week, I wrote about how IRONMAN, as an organisation, do not always have the best reputation among athletes. I do not think this is justified at their events. However, it is frustrating that nobody within the IRONMAN organisation has ever used a computer. Here are some of the problems we have run into.

Registration not working

It was a pain to get through the registration form to create my profile. When I came back a few months later, they had changed their registration system and I had to re-register. Their new form did not work at all. There was no error; the form simply did not do anything.

When I emailed support, they asked me to re-try it. This time it did not work because something had been created in the background and now I could not register with the same details.

Profile problems

Once I was registered and logged in, my upcoming race was missing. I had to email support to get them to sort it out. It took a few emails back and forth to get it sorted.

When I turned up in Weymouth, my date of birth was incorrect. It was a simple matter to get it sorted with the team there, but again frustrating.

Club registration

You cannot just enter your club in your registration form. You have to get the club to give IRONMAN a bunch of personal details for them, too. Graeme was kind enough to do this so that I could list Hyde Park Harriers as my club.

However, they never sent the email confirmation and when I contacted support a month later, they said they had lost of the club registration and we would have to complete it all again if we wanted the club to be listed.

Online store

The online store does not work. I have tried to buy some stuff several times and each time it says that the item is in stock but when I try to add it to my basket it says they have no stock left.

Website design

Oh my, have you ever seen a website designed as badly as IRONMAN?

It is not a mobile-first design, despite mobile traffic overtaking desktop traffic years ago. In fact, if you try to access many of the pages on the website, you do not even get a terrible desktop-designed page. You get a page saying “not available on mobile” like it is the Nineties.

The website is slow.

The navigation is confusing. If you go to a particular race, you have the main website navigation across the top and you have to click a little red button at the bottom of the page instead to access the pages about that particular race.

It is hard to get the information you want. I was trying to find the results for IRONMAN Wales from last year. They are not there, as far as I can tell.

Their SEO is also terrible. Every time I searched for IRONMAN Weymouth, I would get the discontinued full distance race, rather than the half distance that is still running. This would be a relatively easy fix in a sitemap or a robots.txt.

What does a year in triathlon cost?

Sunday, October 6th, 2019 | Religion & Politics, Sport

If you have done some triathlon, you may have noticed that it is dominated by white people. There is very little representation for minorities. One reason could be the cost. Triathlon is expensive. I am not talking about the super-aero bike, or fancy wetsuit, or all the other gear you need. You can get by without most of that. But just entering races is expensive.

In this article, I will break down just how expensive it is, based on my 2019 season.

Registration fees

The biggest cost is registering for races. I did 15 races this year.

Race Fee
Skipton £38
Driffield £54
Tadcaster £45
Leeds £95
Yorkshireman £285
Allerthorpe sprint £54
Castle Howard £99
Redcar £42
Allerthorpe Classic £64
Coalville £46
Sundowner sprint £54
Evolve sprint £40
Nidderdale £47
Ironman Weymouth £281
Evolve mixed relay £20

That makes for an eye-watering total cost of £1,263. Bear in mind that my registration fees are slightly lower than some other people’s because I have already paid for a British Triathlon race licence, that typically saves me £5 on each race. That cost me £40 but has since increased in price.

It is also worth noting that almost half of my fees came from two races: my full distance race and the IRONMAN 70.3. So, if you wanted to stick to short format racing, you could 10 races a year for £500. This is still a lot of money, though, and requires you to avoid big-brand events like World Triathlon Leeds and the Castle Triathlon Series.

Are these fees justified?

On the whole, yes. Some people have argued that £50 is too much of a race. But if you think of the logistics of triathlon: water safety crew, swim caps, a secure transition to avoid bike theft, timing chips, aid stations, bike mechanics and (often, but not always) free photos, there are a lot of costs.

Once you move up to full distance, there are even more considerations. You have to have changing tents, overnight security so people can rack the day before, marshalls on the course for 17 hours, a tonne of nutrition, 180km of road to cover, massages and food after the race, toilets everywhere just to mention a few.

That said, some fees are suspicious. Why does the Castle Howard triathlon cost twice as much as other standard distances races? Why does IRONMAN 70.3 Weymouth cost twice as much as other middle distance races?

Other hidden costs

As well as race registration fees, there are some other hidden costs that I think often get forgotten about.

Transport. Most triathlons take place in rural locations where the roads are quiet. This means you have to drive to them. It is difficult to car share because you need to fit the bikes in the car. So, you need to be able to run and fuel a car.

Parking. About half the races I did had free car parking. The others charged extra and while it was typically a small amount, that is another £30 to add on over the course of a year.

Nutrition. This is not a big issue in short format racing. But starts to add up when you are doing long format (or running a marathon). For my full distance race, I took 18 gels and 4 energy bars. At around £2 a pop, that is £44 worth of nutrition in a single race. For Weymouth, I took 8 gels and 1 energy bar, so a much more reasonable £18.

But then there are the drinks, too. I take two 750ml bottles filled with a carb drink. I often discard these bottles at the aid station bottle drops, which means an additional £15 per race. Plus, you need to do long training runs and rides. Which means you need to pay for nutrition for these, too. I did two 100-mile rides and an 80-mile ride as prep for my full distance, and those could well have been £30 per ride in nutrition.

Conclusion

Twelve hundred pounds on registration fees, plus several hundred of nutrition, is an incredibly large amount of money. People can spend a lot on their hobbies, and that is arguably justified if it brings them a lot of pleasure. But that is not even including all the equipment and fancy bike stuff I buy.

Of course, few triathletes race as much as I do. And many stick to short format racing. But I know there are people who do not race as much as they would like to because they cannot afford to. I do not think this is because event organisers are ripping people off (maybe some are). But it is no surprise that the sport is full of rich white people.

2019 UCI Road World Championships road race

Saturday, October 5th, 2019 | Photos, Sport

The final race of the World Championships was the men’s elite road race. Road races are not always the most exciting because the peloton rides together, so you get one big bunch and it is all over in under a minute. However, as it started from Leeds city centre, walking up to The Headrow at 9am did not seem too big an ask.

HPH Brownlee duathlon

Friday, October 4th, 2019 | Photos, Sport

Last week, Venla and I headed up to the Brownlee circuit to cheer everyone on who was competing in the second Hyde Park Harriers Brownlee duathlon: a 2km run, 10km bike and final 2km run. It was a tough event, but we kept pushing to the end and managed to eat six pieces of cake between the two of us.

Evolve mixed team relay

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019 | Sport

So, here it was. My final race of the 2019 triathlon series. As a season finale, it made for an excellent choice: the mixed team relay contained 49 teams, 10 of which were from Hyde Park Harriers. With the Blue Lagoon being an intimate venue, it meant an afternoon of hanging out with the entire triathlon club. A perfect end of the year.

The weather could not dampen our spirits. But it tried as hard as it could. It rained the whole day, only easing off towards the end of the event. This made for a wet and cold wait until it was my turn to jump into the water. Luckily, my turn came just before I started getting too cold and once I was racing I felt fine.

Cat led our team off strongly. She was one of only two athletes to go without a wetsuit and one of the first out of the water. She handed over to Matt who continued to smash it for our team. Julie put in a speedy third leg and it was down to me to not lose too many places before crossing the line.

Photo by Atmospheric Images

The swim went well. I did mostly front crawl, with a quick breaststroke break in the middle. I was over my predicted time, but that was because I miscalculated as my pace was spot on.

The bike was a mixed bag. My power meter was not working so I spent the first 100 metres trying to restart my Garmin with no success. After that, I got my head down. Mostly on the aero bars. There was just a stretch of open fields after the crossroads where I occasionally had to come off them due to crosswinds. 29.1 kph is not that faster overall, but being within 3 kph of Curtis feels like a victory. The biggest challenge was keeping my heart rate down: it was 190 when I came off the bike, which is typically what I would run at.

Photo by Atmospheric Images

The run was a bit of an unknown. I do not usually run such short distances, so I figured I would be about six minutes. In the end, I was 6:20 which seems spot on given the conditions. The run route took in the trail route around the back of the lake, which produced ankle-deep puddles flanking muddy banks. My lovely white trainers will never be the same again. I also had to ease off a little on the finishing straight so we could line the team up for the finish.

We crossed the line hand-in-hand. Our time was 2:42:05, which was good enough for 23rd place overall. Thank you to Cat, Julie and Matt for racing with me and I am looking forward to more mixed team relays next year.

Is IRONMAN too corporate?

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019 | Sport

IRONMAN is a trademark of the World Triathlon Corporation, a privately owned business. It should not be confused with the International Triathlon Union which is the international governing body for the sport. This is why Ironman distance races are often called things like Lakesman or described as iron distance or full distance.

Several people I know have adviced me to be wary of IRONMAN-branded events because they are a “bit wanky” and too up themselves. Having recently completed IRONMAN 70.3 Weymouth, I have had the chance to observe this up close for myself.

Is the reputation justified? In my opinion, they are good events. But I understand why people think that about them. Below, I will break it down.

Price

Let’s start with the big one: price. Once you add in the ACTIVE.com registration fee, I paid £280.80 for IRONMAN 70.3 Weymouth. That is a lot of cash.

The average triathlon costs around £50. But things get much more expensive at middle and full distance because of the logistics of running a race for 8-17 hours, and the changing tents, toilets, nutrition and other costs that they run into.

But even so, £280.80 is a lot. Consider that for The Yorkshireman, I paid £285. That was a full-distance race. If you want to do the half, it is only £145. Cotswold 113 is £164.

Super expensive compared to other middle distance races then.

But do you get more at the IRONMAN events? There are a couple of things. Slightly more porta-potties. They had them at every aid station. Sundowner had none but The Yorkshireman had plenty, but not as many as IRONMAN.

IRONMAN close the roads. This is nice as 90km is a long way, and the only other races that do this are the shorter Redcar and World Triathlon Leeds. That said, most triathlons take place on roads with almost no cars and we were not allowed to cross the centre line, so I am not sure it made a huge difference.

We also received a backpack and a finishers t-shirt, so two gifts. The backpack is very nice and I have been using it a lot. The t-shirt is a bit rubbish, though, I suspect to drive us to buy the nice t-shirts from the merch store.

So, £130 for closed roads and a backpack. It’s hard to conclude anything other than that we are paying a lot for the brand name.

Finish line

Both The Outlaw and The Yorkshireman allow you to run down the finish line with your friends and family. IRONMAN is very clear that if anyone does that, the athlete will be disqualified. This is the thing they get the most shit for.

To be fair to them, they did address this issue at the athlete briefing.

They said their reasons were twofold. One, they did not want any non-athletes impeding an athlete that might be trying to set a qualifying time for the world championship or to represent their country. This is a consideration other races may not have.

Second, they said if the athlete collapses and needs medical attention, they do not want to be dealing with children or loved ones when their medical team have work to do.

Other races manage these logistics, but at least IRONMAN are upfront about their reasons and having heard them, I can understand why they may choose to do that.

Cut-off times

In any long format race, you have cut-off times you have to meet or you fail to achieve the title of Ironman. That said, how much they are enforced varies from event to event. I know Freebird let people finish well after 8pm at Sundowner, for example, and told me they would have kept the Yorkshireman finish line as open as long as needed.

IRONMAN seems a mixed bag. Even though I was well ahead of the cut-off when coming out of the swim, a marshall was yelling “you need to get out, we’re closing the doors in 3 minutes”. That said, the last athlete came across the line at 8:23:something, even though the cut-off time was 8 hours.

Sponsors

Everything is sponsored. The aid stations are Enevit. The swim, bike and run sections are individually sponsored by Roka, Ventum and Hoka.

I don’t really have a problem with this. Sponsorship is a part of life in sport. In some ways it was good: when we finished, we got Domino’s pizza. It is a little annoying that Enevit provides all of the nutrition, though, as it doesn’t seem to be available in the UK, so I could not try their products in advance.

Event size

2,700 athletes took part in Weymouth, according to IRONMAN. It is a similar size to Leeds. The downside is that there is a lot of organisation around this regarding registering, racking, etc. And it took them an hour to get us all into the water.

But it has advantages, too. The crowds were bigger than almost any other event. World Triathlon Leeds is the only one that musters as much support. People yelling out your name and some encouragement is very welcome seven hours into a race.

Conclusion

I like pretty much everything about the IRONMAN event. It was well organised, smooth and there was plenty of support. It was a high-quality event and still a pretty friendly affair. I would recommend their events.

That said, it is expensive. And given the organisation at The Yorkshireman was pretty much as good, I can only conclude that the extra money is mostly because of the brand name.

2019 UCI Road World Championships

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019 | Sport

As the cycling world championships were just up the road in Harrogate, we hopped on the train to go watch the elite men’s time trial.

Time trials are quite good for spectators because they release the riders at one-minute intervals. In contrast, in standard road races, the peloton rides together, so you have to get there in plenty of time, they all come through at once and then they are gone.

I’m doing this new thing where I try to enjoy my life, rather than create a photographic record of it, which meant I was shotting on a little GoPro, rather than my massive DSLR and f2.8 superlens. The pictures were predictably mediocre, but it taught me to use burst mode on the GoPro.