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I was in Des Moines, Iowa for the Hy-Vee ITU Triathlon Elite Cup over the weekend. For this event, I was doing coach race support for the ITU Sport Development Team. We had eight athletes from eight different countries. Alphabetically, the athletes were:


Elizabeth Bravo (Ecuador), Leonardo Chacon (Costa Rica), Javier Cuevas (aka J.C.) (Dominican Republic), Min Ho Heo (Korea), Carlos Quinchara (Columbia), Barbara Rivereros (aka Chica (Chile), Yuliya Sapunova (Ukraine), and Jason Wilson (Barbados).


You can read more about the mission of ITU Sport Development in the link above and you can find a photo album here and more individual photos on Twitter posted within the last week. For a few races (only three this year) full support staff (team leader, coach(es), bike mechanic and medical support) is provided to the athletes of developing countries (those without the National Governing Body infrastructure for the sport of triathlon). Providing experienced staff support at big, World Cup races gives the athletes a chance to learn, have a positive experience and begin planning for the future.



For many athletes from developing countries, finishing an event with a quality of field as high as it was in Des Moines is a major accomplishment. When I say "finish the event" - I don't mean they do not have the endurance to finish, I mean speed. The speeds laid out at World Cup and World Championship racing is very, very high. The bike courses are usually six or eight laps. If young athletes do not have the swim and bike speed to avoid being caught by the leaders, they are pulled from the course. You can imagine it is very disheartening to be pulled from an event.



While it is disheartening, young (as young as 19) athletes should not be discouraged. Many of the current top racers have been pulled from a race sometime in the past.



I've traveled to a lot of world-class events for several different sports and I can tell you the Hy-Vee race is top-shelf. The pre-race expo (complete with the Budweiser Clydesdales, kids race, sponsor tents, etc.) is among the best I've seen. Hy-Vee employees are dispatched to help with the event in a variety of roles. Everywhere we traveled, Des Moines locals were welcoming and wanted to know more about the event.



In a nutshell, the ITU Sport Development Team did well. There were some individual disappointments for sure, but the overall goals were met for this event. Now, with an eye to the future, the athletes look to improve upon this performance.



At the end of the race while we were waiting with the athletes to collect their race pay checks, I was thrilled to see that kids had collected the transition name plaques from the bike racks and they were hunting down the triathletes to get autographs. Some of the kids didn't have plaques, but had the top international and USA athletes sign their hats and t-shirts. Adoring fans seeking out autographs from the sport's top athletes - now that's cool.



I had a chance to talk to many of the USA athletes as well, which is always nice. After every event, I wish I had taken more photos, but...



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Those of you that subscribe to my Twitter feed know I was riding in the mountains last week, with the primary purpose of climbing anything I could find at altitudes above 9,000 ft.



This year there are two events I will attend that require good cycling fitness in order for me to have fun. The first event is a week-long tour in France that includes climbing  and Mont Ventoux. This bike tour is not at altitude, but it does require climbing strength.



The second event is the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race which requires altitude fitness between about 9,200 and 12,600 feet. I've written about using altitude training and acclimatizing to altitude pre-race  in past Active newsletters.



While I normally use a week-long bike trip, organized by someone else or me, to boost my fitness; this year the week-long tour is not at altitude. That is both good and not-so-good.



The good news is by climbing the hills in France, I'll be able to build power that is hard to build in Colorado due to the altitude. (See the altitude training link above.) Is it possible for me to keep my altitude fitness AND get more power in my legs with a trip to France?



I think so.



In my past personal training experience, I know that taking a trip to higher altitude only once per week to workout improves my ability to ride and run at higher altitudes. I wanted a block of training at an altitude above 8,000 feet last week so I could use this week as a recovery week at low altitude while I am coaching at the Hy-Vee Des Moines ITU World Cup race.



When I return home to the front range of Colorado (5,000 feet of elevation), I will aim to get to higher altitudes once per week prior to leaving for France in late July, then for a couple of rides after returning home from France and before Leadville.



With that strategy in mind, I decided to base out of Frisco, Colorado. Frisco sits at a crisp 9,000 feet and offers a large variety of choices for both road and mountain bike riding.



Day 1 - With a late start, I tried to climb Mount Evans from Idaho Springs. Due to high winds, I only made it to Summit Lake. Ride time 2:37, 5,300 ft. of climbing. The snow on Evans is more than I've seen in past years. One of the big treats on this trip was seeing a mountain goat.







Day 2 - I met a friend, Dave Newman, in Breckenridge and we climbed Boreas Pass on mountain bikes and descended on really nice single-track from Baker's Tank toward Breckenridge. We also did some of the Breck city single-track. I rode back to Frisco. Ride time 3:16, 2,501 ft. of climbing.



Day 3 - Ride the Ten-Mile Canyon bike trail from Frisco to Vail and back. I always forget that the climb from Vail to the top of Vail Pass is harder than going from Frisco to Vail Pass. This is just a great ride, with a mix of bike trail and old highway. Ride time 3:10 with 3,910 feet of climbing.



Day 4 - Because I wanted to ride towards home and I had not ridden up the back side of Loveland Pass, I decided to ride from Frisco to Keystone (over Swan Mountain), then over Loveland Pass. Ride time was about 2:30 with 3,170 feet of climbing.





The four-day total was 11:33 ride time and 14,890 feet of climbing. Recall from an earlier blog post that for climbing events, I aim to complete a minimum of 50- to 80-percent of the event time (and elevation) in a block of training.



Goal accomplished.



The parting shot is of longboarders getting ready to descent Loveland Pass. Seems that the same hills that attract cyclists, attract longboarders.





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On the main page of the ITU website is a great preview video for the Washington D.C. event. If you want to see the D.C. event live, go to and anyone can subscribe to watch live, high definition coverage of each world championship race as well as past full race coverage (2 hours), race highlight shows (52mins), features and interviews. Free low resolution live coverage is also available from each event. All you need to do is create a login account.  Before each event ITU will build a package containing English and Spanish text about the event coverage.


Watching the event might make you a faster triathlete.



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Rain, rain, go away...

Posted by Gale Bernhardt Jun 9, 2009

We got caught in the rain on Sunday's long bike ride, again. For those of you not familiar with mountain rains, they are cold. It is no fun to be riding in the mountains, particularly descending a big hill, in a summer rain/hail/snow storm. You can get cold, fast.


I don't mind being in the cold, I just hate being cold. A couple of weeks ago we did a big loop from Loveland to Lyons, Allenspark, then Estes Park and ending back in Loveland. For this 90-mile loop, we saw rain for roughly half of it. Some hail, but not too bad.


Sunday, we rode about 75 miles that included 4,500 feet of climbing and two efforts around the 8,000 ft. mark. The people that made it back to Loveland didn't see any hail, but the Ft. Collins people saw hail. Thankfully, everyone made it home safe and sound.


On the equipment side, I had three pieces of gear that made the difference for me. First, is the best waterproof jacket I've had in years. The waterproof jackets I've had in the past have been big and bulky to carry (especially in small or medium jersey pockets) and they make you feel like you're riding in a sauna when going uphill. If they have been extremely light, then they don't keep me warm enough and they don't shed the water as well. I used the Octane jacket I got this year on both rides and I can't be happier. No sauna-effect when riding uphill, it kept me dry and it kept me warm on the descents.


An added feature of this jacket is the removable hood. I hate cold rain running down my neck, making an already miserable day worse. The hood keeps the wind and wet off of your head and no water runs down the back of your neck. Nice.


The second piece of gear I carried was a pair of gloves that I wore this winter, but made a last minute decision to carry them when I walked out the door. If you can't keep your core and your hands warm, you won't be controlling the bike. My hands get cold pretty fast and these glove were great.


The final item that made a huge difference for me was a pair of vented sunglasses. I wear contact lenses, so protecting my sight in wet and muddy conditions is critical. On numerous rides, both on and off-road, I've had to remove glasses because they were too dark or they fogged up. Annoying, really annoying.


Last winter I ordered a new pair of sunglasses from Oakley and hoped they would solve my problems. I didn't wear them for the first rain ride and I had vision problems. There was so much lens fog on the inside of the yellow lenses and rainy road goop on the front that I had to take my sunglasses off and just squint. Not good. I've had these problems before.


I wore them Sunday and I'm happy to report no fog and (though I admit I was really skeptical about the so-called hydrophobic water, oil, etc. shedding lenses) they really did shed the rain splash back from cars and other cyclists. The lens was also good in both sunny and low-light conditions. I went with the RADAR model, PITCH Black Iridium Vented.


It makes me really happy when my investment yields outstanding returns.

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I've had this discussion with three people in the last week, so I think it's worth comment. The question is, "Why are some people really, really good at mountain biking and clearing technical climbs as well as descents; but when you get those people on a road bike climbing a steady climb like Rist, they don't do so well?"


First, a little about the Rist Canyon climb, via road bike. On yesterday's group road ride, we decided to do "the Rist loop". This is a road ride that loops from Loveland to Ft. Collins, up Rist Canyon, down "the backside of Rist", then descending via the Buckhorn road and back to Loveland. This is about 59 miles with a hill rating of 68.6 ft/mi. The lowish ride rating is somewhat deceptive because the bulk of the climbing comes within 12 miles where the road climbs from 5100ft to 8000ft, giving this particular section of the ride a rating of 242ft/mi.


Before I head into the training tips part of the column, I need to write a few words about some cool features of the ride. The first note is that Jonathan Zeif showed up for the ride and I hadn't seen him in about a year. One item that makes Jonathan famous in certain circles is that his name is the first one on the plaque that notes winners of the Leadman competition. I asked Jonathan what made him enter the first Leadman event and he said it was such a good deal, he couldn't turn it down. For only $10 more, he could be entered in five events rather than just two (the Leadville 100-mile mountain bike ride and the Leadville 100-mile run). Ah yes, a bargain indeed. Congrats Jonathan, you are a Leadman.


Secondly, we had a chance to see the longboarders coming down the hill again. I greeted Joel and when I shook his hand, I noticed he had about ¼-inch plate of plastic glued to his glove. I inquired about the glove and other questions I had from the previous week. I learned it that it takes four right Vans shoes (ie brakes) per month of longboarding. Predrifting and sliding are ways to slow down as well. From Joel Putrah:


There are other methods to burn speed such as slides and predrifts. Predrifting is much like car racing where you start to drift before a corner so you can burn off speed to grip through the apex of the corner. Sliding is also a way to slow down or through an emergency stop. Having pucks on our hands you can throw the board into a "pendulum" slide where you can slow down significantly or slow if need be.


Back to the training question posed earlier. Cleaning short, relatively short, technical pops on the mountain bike is a high-power, technique move. These high bursts of power are usually followed by a lot of recovery. Think of it as training for sprint events on the track, on the velodrome or in the pool. The strength and metabolic requirements of high-power events are different than those of an endurance event.


The long, steady climb at Rist takes somewhere around an hour, depending on where you start and stop your clock. This hour-long effort, at a high speed, takes muscular-endurance near lactate threshold. Because of the hill gradient, it also takes more power output than a time trial on the flats would take. This effort is more like running a distance from 10k to 10 miles (depending on your ability), or riding a time-trial effort near the 40k mark.


If someone is very good at cleaning short power climbs on the mountain bike, and not so good at long, sustained climbs on the road or mountain bike, I suspect it is because they don't train the muscular-endurance, near threshold system.


A handful of people are relatively good at both ends of the spectrum (high power and high muscular-endurance) and those people can be found doing workouts or races that stress both systems. The people that tend to be a one-trick pony probably don't do workouts or races that would improve their "weakness".


Now, a weakness doesn't really matter if it doesn't limit your performance capabilities in the events you choose to, or love to, do. On the other hand, if your event performance is limited by a feature you hate to train, you need to do the very workouts you hate in order to improve.

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