Mark on Monday: Wildflower – A Beginner’s Story

By Mark Cathcart

If you’ve read Alison Freeman‘s overview of the Wildflower festival here on 303 Triathlon, this is hopefully a natural follow-on. If not, Alision provides the “Wildflower 411”.

Wildflower is both the story of how I got into triathlon, it’s was also one of my most fun adventures.When I heard it was coming back in 2018, I signed Kate and I up to race, and late one evening we had a discussion about the race, and how it had gone last time I raced it, back in 2003.

MARK: Why don’t you ask me how I got into triathlon, and what this Wildflower thing is you’ve signed up for?

KATE: Hey Mark how did you get triathlon, and what the hell is this Wildflower thing you’ve signed us up for?

MARK: Well Kate, it’s interesting you should ask. Back in 1998, I was travelling on business to Australia, it had been a 26-some-odd-hour flight from San Francisco, and when I arrived at Melbourne airport, a limo’ driver was there with three names on the board. The Driver said, you’ll have to wait a few minutes, another woman is already here and she’s gone to pick something up from oversize luggage. A few minutes later the woman came walking across the arrivals hall dragging a big box behind her. Her name was Peggy, and in the box, was her titanium triathlon bike. Turns out she was training for Wildflower triathlon. She’d got her whole trip planned out, she knew where she could swim; she’d got the local cycling club to come on Sunday to the hotel and take her out on a ride; and she took a bus to the beach to run along the sea front.I was totally in awe, I was just a workaholic, email geek. By the end of the week she’d got me convinced that Triathlon was this great thing, and she was doing this race called Wildflower, which was the “Woodstock” of Triathlon. To be honest, at that point I don’t think I’d ever heard of Triathlon. They didn’t show the Ironman World Championships on the TV on a Saturday afternoon in December in the UK back then. I’d always wanted to have a go at an Aventura race, so I thought doing a triathlon might be a good way to lose weight and get fit for adventure racing. At that point I was 41-years old, and weighed 280lbs. When I got back to the UK, I did some research on triathlon, and it turned out there was a pool based sprint triathlon race in my home town, St Albans, in late August. I signed up and began a nearly 20-year journey. Back then in the UK there were only 3-long distance triathlons, Bala, Ironbridge, and the Longest Day. There were NO Ironman races at all. The first one didn’t come until 2001, and I was a race volunteer Captain for half Ironman UK 2001. I managed to squeeze an entry into both the 2001 and 2002 ITU World Championships, and as good as those races were, they were really nothing like the Wildflower race Peggy had described.

KATE: So, What about Wildflower?

MARK: By late 2002 I was the Chairman/President of my local Triathlon club, Tri-Force (Herts), and when entries opened up in December 2002 for Wildflower, I managed to get 9-other people to sign-up for Wildflower 2003. TRAVEL EXTRAVAGANZA. Our drawback? We were in the UK, except Martin Barrett, he was in Switzerland. When it came to planning the trip, the logistics were more challenging than the race. At least that’s what I thought at the time. The main problem is that flights from Europe to San Francisco pretty much all arrive late afternoon or early evening in San Francisco. That makes it impossible to arrive, collect your luggage and bikes, and then go rent an RV the same day. Anyone who has flown with a bike knows that dragging a bike box around is no fun, trying to do that with 9-people… yeah. No! What we did was, the Monday before race weekend, Martin and I flew to San Francisco with our gear and bikes. We checked into an airport hotel, and after breakfast headed off in a taxi for our RV familiarization and training session. By lunchtime we were back at the hotel loading up luggage and bikes and then heading back to SFO to collect the others. We hadn’t given 2nd thoughts to pulling up at SFO arrivals with an RV in the post 9/11 era, and only having driven about 10-miles total. It was a mess at best. We picked up Jo Parker, and saw some of the others. It was made all the harder by the fact that even back then few people had cell phones that worked internationally. Eventually we were on the way to lake San Antonio, 2x RV’s and a Jeep. We were all jetlagged from the 8-hour time difference, and we didn’t make it far. We stopped overnight in a Wal-Mart parking lot. We’d been told that you needed to be at Lake San Antonio by lunchtime on the Wednesday or you wouldn’t get a full hook-up for the RV. Next morning, we had a full court press to get there. We arrived around 2:30pm and sure enough all the full hook-ups were gone.

KATE: What happened at the race?

MARK: LEGENDS. The following couple of days were great. I met many legends of the sport, including Dan Empfield, Emil De Soto and 2003 was the year John Cobbs Bicycles Sports made a big launch at Wildflower. The only problem, it started to rain and never stopped for almost 24-hours before the race. RACE DAY. We were “British”, rain wasn’t going to stop us. There were over 9,000 people racing over the weekend. Come the Saturday morning, race day for the Long Course, it was also very cold. Rumor had it that some people were going to ride the bike course in their wetsuits. While waiting for my wave to start and trying to keep warm, I bent over to stretch, and the seam on the back of my wetsuit split, no time to find tape or glue. After the swim, I headed out on the bike dressed as best I could, red arm warmers, white tri top, and blue Team GB shorts. Yep I looked like a flag. About mile-10 on the bike, it had rained, we’d had hail, and as I plodded along, my front wheel broke two spokes. I don’t know if it was related to how I’d packed and shipped the bike, but I had to stop, loosen my front brake to so the wheel would work but no front brake. I made it up “Nasty grade” aka Heart Rate Hill on the bike, made a right turn, and there at the aid station was Martin. He was riding tubeless tires and had punctured twice. Meaning without a spare wheel or tub, he was out. I offered my back wheel, fearing I wouldn’t finish anyway due to my warped front wheel. Martin shrugged, grinned and pointed. There through the misty rain was a college aged woman, wearing a transparent rain poncho, and just her panties. Completely topless. Martin said he was happy to wait for the SAG Wagon, I pushed on. The rest of the bike was uneventful except the downhill into triathlon which I took pretty much with my back brake full on, with no front brake. The good news, it had stopped raining and was warming up. WHAT RUN COURSE? The mountain bike triathlon had finished, but the rain and the fact that the mountain bike course used part of the trail the run course for the long course race, and had cut it up so badly it was unusable. That meant using the Olympic distance run course. My reaction, no big deal, same distance, twice the fun. Then the realization it meant going up Beach Hill out of transition on the run course not once, but twice. I’ve never been a good runner, back in those days I wasn’t even using a a built-up shoe to compensate for my 2-inch leg length difference. By the time I headed out on the run I was already wasted, come the 2nd loop, it took me 30-minutes to walk up the hill. This wasn’t going to end well. I finished, it was a great race, but boy was it hard. I was 87th in the 45-49 age group, Dan Empfield was 4th. Later that afternoon we hung out in the expo village, it turned into everything Peggy had said. Bands, a stage, great food, just hanging out. The next day while the Olympic distance race, and the Collegiate championships were going on, we hung out; waited for Hanna, and Jo to finish; got massage; eat, laughed, took in more music bands. The whole race experience was fantastic. It was that race that convinced me to stick with triathlon rather than switch to adventure racing. On the Monday morning, we had to set off back to San Francisco and home to the UK. We went back via Pacific Coast Highway. Did the tour around Hearst Castle and drove back to SFO hard, which given the hills and curves on US-1 was pretty epic. We dropped all the luggage and bikes at departures, finally taking the RV back to the rental. The one thing the rental guy had told us was “don’t leave the awning open overnight”.  Due to the rain, we had, to keep the bikes dry while we are sleeping. Yep, it ripped, there went a $500 deposit. I took a cab back to SFO and the Wildflower adventure was over.

[at this point I looked over and Kate was asleep, the question I wanted Kate to ask was]

KATE: So what is your objective for next years Wildflower?

MARK: To have as much fun, with none of the drama, and to beat my 2003 times. 1.2-mile swim: 40:48, T1: 5:3956-mile, bike: 3:38, T2: 3:45, 13.1-mile run: 2:54, TOTAL: 7:22:57


Mark Cathcart took up triathlon in the late 90’s to get fit for adventure racing, which to this day he has never done, and has since taken part in 170+ events. His pragmatic approach to training, racing, and life have lead in from being the Chairman of one of the bigger UK Triathlon clubs 15-years ago; British Triathlon volunteer of the year; a sometime race organizer; The organizer and ride leader for Austin Texas award winning Jack and Adams triathlon shop; doing sometime Sports Management for development and professional triathletes; he has attended all the Triathlon Business International, and Triathlon America conferences, where he usually asks the questions others won’t; moved to Colorado in 2016 and is a co-owner of Boulder Bodyworker

Mark on Monday: Face Your Fears

By Mark Cathcart

A discussion about dealing with events, challenges, unexpected problems, and most importantly, those challenges life throws at you during the race season.

When I first agreed the schedule of articles with Dana for my 303 Column, Face your fears seemed like a good end of season challenge, little did I know what challenges would lay ahead of me.

In terms of fears, no matter what you are afraid of, someone else is probably more afraid but will get over it. That’s what makes a champion, looking fear in the “eyes” and fbeating it. That’s your challenge, take something triathlon or sport related that is really different, something you didn’t think you could do, something you were afraid of and do it!

For me this year it will be very different, after 18-years of triathlon, I’m planning to make the start line at the Without Limits Oktoberfest Triathlon. Last time I was at the Union Reservoir for the Outdoor Divas triathlon, to support my partner Kate in her race, I had a full-blown heart attack and was taken away post-race in an Ambulance (3).

I’ve seen people take on and achieve much bigger challenges. A club colleague of mine in the UK, was training for Team GB, when she was hit and paralyzed from the waist down. Just a year later, Paula Craig was the first Team GB Para-triathlete at the ITU Worlds in Cancun in 2002. You don’t have to look far to see incredible stories. I was amazed to see the progress that BBSC Endurance Sports Craig Towler had already made after losing both his legs after being hit by a driver while out training. (1).

I’ve stood at the start line for many races, both open water, with high waves, and frenetic pool based triathlons and heard people expressing grave concerns about their ability to start, much less finish.

To this day I can remember a race in the UK in 2006, pool swim, all the competitors lined up down the side of the pool waiting for the start. The pool was crazy, arms thrashing everywhere, there were as many as 6-people per lane, the noise was crazy, there were almost waves as the water crashed against the sides.

The guy next to me was, like me, 6ft tall, and he was having serious doubts about the swim. I told him it would be fine. He wasn’t convinced. I pointed out that while racking my bike I’d spotted a prosthetic arm in transition. He looked puzzled. We scanned the line of swimmers and couldn’t see the “owner”. It turned out to be the first ever triathlon for Claire Cunningham (nee Bishop). Claire is a medal winning and Champion paratriathlete for Team GB now and just 5’6” tall.

How must Claire have felt that day?

There is nothing special about these athletes. They don’t have a superpower, they take the challenges and setbacks and find a way of getting past them.

Most of us don’t face triathlon with anything like those challenges. Whatever you decide to do over the next few months, tackle something that challenges you, something that proves you are still alive. No matter if that is taking on a greater distance than you thought possible; going faster and placing higher than you think you can; getting out and becoming the hill climber; the cyclocross athlete and more.

Each of these “fears” can be broken down and divided into constituent parts; each of those parts you can find a way to address. As Claire says on her website “Nothing is impossible, you can find a way”. (*2) Create goals for each part, after you’ve achieved those goals, start combining the parts and setting new goals.

Look for help from coaches, books and videos. With not much of a racing season left, why not pick a fear and set about facing it before next season?

Me, I’ll be working the mount/dismount line for the upcoming 5430 Harvest Moon race, and then I’ll be doing everything I can to start, and finish the Oktoberfest triathlon in a few weeks.

  1. https://www.rhone.com/blogs/collective/my-story-by-craig-towler
  2. http://clare-cunningham.co.uk/about-me/
  3. I can’t thank Gaby and the EMT’s at Rapid Response Paramedic Services, the Mountain View Fire emergency crew, especially Carlos who, coincidentally volunteered with me at Ironman Bouler 2016; Dr Paik and everyone at Longmont Unit Hospital enough. Really!
Mark Cathcart took up triathlon in the late 90’s to get fit for adventure racing, which to this day he has never done, and has since taken part in 170+ events. His pragmatic approach to training, racing, and life have lead in from being the Chairman of one of the bigger UK Triathlon clubs 15-years ago; British Triathlon volunteer of the year; a sometime race organizer; The organizer and ride leader for Austin Texas award winning Jack and Adams triathlon shop; doing sometime Sports Management for development and professional triathletes; he has attended all the Triathlon Business International, and Triathlon America conferences, where he usually asks the questions others won’t; moved to Colorado in 2016 and is a co-owner of Boulder Bodyworker

Mark on Monday: Get the memory effect

Photo credit aboutmodafinil.com

By Mark Cathcart

If you’ve ever commuted to work the same way, the same time, day in day out, you’ll know that sometimes you arrive at work with no real memory of how you got there. I used to drive from North London to Basingstoke in the UK, 64-miles each way. I’d leave by 6:30am to avoid the traffic, and sometimes I’d find myself in the parking lot by 7:05, with no real idea how. I’d been on “auto-pilot”, the repetition and familiarization had kicked in.

In this month’s Pragmatic triathlete, I’ll discuss the “memory effect” and why some things seem easier than others and how you can use this in your racing and training, and how to use your subconscious to your advantage.

Repetition ftw!

Remember how when you got your first pair of clip-in cycle shoes, you set out with some trepidation, worried you wouldn’t be able to unclip them when you had to stop, or to clip back in when you had to start again?

Now you’ve clipped in and out hundreds and possibly thousands of times, and now you know when to push your foot down as the pedal reaches just-before dead-center. You automatically move your other foot forward, and mostly ever even look down when clipping in.

That’s repetition. Your brain is great at recognizing patterns and being able to recall what is often a complex series of actions and process them without having to call on your conscious brain. In software engineering terms, we’ve just executed a method on an object in a parallel thread.

There are literally dozens of ways you can use this in triathlon.

Image Public Domain. Credit . U.S. Air Force Photo/Austin Thomas

Swim stroke

Over the winter, get a swim coach, or someone you recognize as a great swimmer and get them to video and critique your swim stroke.
Write down comments about hand entry, arm height, head position, body roll, leg kick, etc. Don’t try to correct all the problems at once.

Pick one improvement, concentrate on it at an easy pace for 50-lengths. That’s hard, you have to concentrate on a single corrective action. Do it over a few sessions, when you can do it without concentrating, get feedback and move to the next improvement.
Once you’ve addressed all the improvements, you’ll have no doubt developed the memory effect for a better, faster swim stroke.

Helmet time

Probably the easiest of all the things here. How quickly can you get your helmet on and done up? And yes, I mean the right way around… It takes me precisely 7-seconds to get away from my transition spot when everything goes right.

This is almost entirely attributed to picking up my helmet, and doing it up. Stand in front of a mirror and put your helmet and sunglasses on a table or the floor in front of you. Head-up, go!

Pick-up the helmet, put it on your head and stop. Notice where the straps are; reach up, do the straps up; undo; repeat five times without removing the helmet. Put the helmet down, pick up, put on, do up, take off, put down. Pick up, etc. Do the full cycle at least 50-times.

Make sure you hold your head up straight and breathe. When you come into transition in a race you’ll be out of breathing hard, now is no time to try to put on and do up a helmet while doubled up. By standing up straight, it also means the straps will mostly likely fall in the same place, making them easier to find and do up.

Once you think you can do this, try it with your eyes closed.

Clipping in

OK, so you have not mastered this yet? You look down, your shoes slide over the pedals, your bike wobbles all over the place. This is asking for trouble when you come out of transition in a race. You want to be clean, fast and away from the chaos that is the mount line.

Find somewhere quiet and practice. We all have a preferred leg, a “strong one”. Clip this one in first, leaving the other foot on the floor. Start cycling and try to clip in. Concentrate on remembering where your strong leg was in the pedal rotation and if you didn’t make it, try again.

Try not to look down while doing it. Once you’ve mastered it with one leg, switch to the other. Eventually you’ll be able to do it without thinking about it. I do not recommend learning while on a trainer. Part of the memory effect you need to develop is the balance required to do it without wobbling.

T2 Dismount

I’ll dedicate a whole future article to being fast in transition. The whole mount and dismount is a massive time saving opportunity. My T2 time at my last transition was just 40-seconds, in the top-10 overall.
For the remainder of this season though you can transition much more effectively by mastering the dismount.

Again, find yourself some space, and quiet, somewhere you can afford to fail. School parking lots in the evening are good. Use the lines as the dismount line. Cycle around the parking lot, and as you approach your dismount line, about 150ft out, don’t slow down; don’t look down; reach down, undo one shoe, take your foot out, place it on top of the shoe and cycle a few turns to get back up to speed; then repeat with the other shoe/foot.

The first few times you might overshoot the dismount line, go back do it again. If you are really uncomfortable doing this on tarmac or concrete, take your bike with some talcum powder to a park and practice there. Shake the talcum powder to make a line.

Mark Cathcart

With your feet on your shoes, holding the handle bars, take your “strong leg” over the saddle and leave it hanging behind the other leg; 20ft out of the line, brake with both hands, a split second later drop your “strong leg” and simultaneously, grab the saddle, with the hand on the same side as your “strong leg”, let go with the other hand, and drop the other leg to the floor.
This should be practiced until it is one fluid motion, and you should be running just short of a sprint.

Once you’ve mastered getting out of your shoes, and can do it without wobbling and looking down, move on to the next step, the dismount. There are two distinct alternatives to doing this, one has your first leg to touch the ground going in front, the other behind. I firmly believe the latter is safer (see picture).

Again, practice until you can do this without thinking about it.

When it comes to race day, walk out to 150ft past the dismount line and just walk through the whole process. Visualize your speed, slowing down, taking your feet out, lifting your first leg over the saddle, dropping your first foot and then running to your transition spot holding the bike only by the saddle.

Running arms

If you watch a 10k track race, you can clearly see the difference between the leaders and the followers. Leaders have great form, and from about the 2km-to-go mark the followers form will start to fail, while the leaders maintain form.

The leaders have running arms. Shoulders back, arms only making a smooth back and forward motion, never coming up across their stomach, never punching the air in front of their chest, never getting wider to try to get faster. Your arms act as an imaginary set of brakes when you run. If they have a crisp back and forward motion, they will set the cadence for your legs and propel you forward. As your arms go faster, so will you.

Be economical with your arms. You are not a sprinter, but using a smooth back and forward motion close to your body will make you more aero.

That’s it, my top-tips for exploiting the memory effect. Building on the brain’s ability remember and reproduce sometimes simple, but often complex set of actions and reactions. Each of these tips will individually save you a few seconds. Together they add up, and make you faster and smoother during your race.

Most importantly, once you’ve mastered them, you can focus on the parts of the race where you can make the biggest differences, conveniently arriving at the finish line without thinking about your transition.

Next time, I’ll look at facing your fears and how to be ready for them.

Mark Cathcart took up triathlon in the late 90’s to get fit for adventure racing, which to this day he has never done, and has since taken part in 170+ events. His pragmatic approach to training, racing, and life have lead in from being the Chairman of one of the bigger UK Triathlon clubs 15-years ago; British Triathlon volunteer of the year; a sometime race organizer; The organizer and ride leader for Austin Texas award winning Jack and Adams triathlon shop; doing sometime Sports Management for development and professional triathletes; he has attended all the Triathlon Business International, and Triathlon America conferences, where he usually asks the questions others won’t; moved to Colorado in 2016 and is a co-owner of Boulder Bodyworker

Mark on Monday: Pragmatic Triathlete…Triathlon on a Budget

By Mark Cathcart

Many people starting out in triathlon do so with a minimal investment, and get hooked on the sport only to find spending mounting up quickly.

For some, lightweight gear is essential, but for the majority, it will make little or no difference. My ZIPP race wheel set looks great, but over the first year I had them, averaged out, they made no difference to my 10-mile Time Trial (TT) speed. A friend bought a new bike, and it cost him about $300 per second on his TT time.

Looking good is half way to being good, isn’t it?

In this column, I’ll give you some tips on how you can save money, and be prepared to step-up a gear in triathlon performance.

Find a good club, team, or set of regular events to attend.
You can piggy back on swim sessions, open water swims, training days, time trials, group rides and much more. It’s often the first thing I do when I move. Try Boulder Tri Club, Rock Mountain Tri Club and many more. They are great launch pads to learn the tricks of the trade.

Clubs are always a great “marketplace” for used kit to borrow, bull and sell. You’d think that in the day of Craigslist, eBay and Facebook for sale groups you’d be able to find everything online? My experience is people ask too much online, and people often don’t think that anyone would buy their old saddle, a waterproof jacket that has some oil stains, or the pedals they swapped out last year. Clubs and teams are a great place to ask “do you know anyone that has…” – I gave away my Garmin 310XT last year this way.

Races
Small races remain much more affordable and better value, and they also often have good refund policies.

Starter Kits
Many triathlon and multisport shops offer starter or beginners sets. Entry level versions of everything you need, some even include running shoes, or a voucher to a partner shop. When buying a starter kit, have a budget and stick to it. You can always upgrade later, and the shop will price some items cheaper than you get them anywhere else.

Bikes
If you don’t have a lightweight road bike, don’t worry. Mountain bikes with slick tires and often as fast and easy to ride until you can average 14-15MPH over the whole course. Remember to keep low, tuck in your elbows
Inflate the tires as high as you are comfortable with, and lower than max pressure on the sidewall. For almost all first or second year triathletes, aluminum frames are good enough.

Aero Bars
Everyone gets aero bars. Check the wind tests – buying clip-on aero bars early on is also only a marginal benefit until you can average 18+ MPH over a race distance.

You are better off spending the money on a good road bike fit, make sure you tell the fitter you’ll be racing triathlon as there are very different requirements for fit between group rides and riding solo in a non-drafting triathlon. Again, keep low, tuck your elbows in.

Tires
Go for a good set of road tires, not lightweight racing tires. These will get you through 2-years of racing and training, and minimize punctures.

Wetsuits
See if you can find a “rent to buy” deal. You can rent the wetsuit for a race or a weekend, see how it works and often then put the rental price towards the purchase.

Also, wait until October. Shops tend to sell off their rental gear at the end of the season that only been used a few times, often at half price or less. Don’t but a shorty or sleeveless wetsuit just because they are cheap.

Running Shoes
Be careful when buying cheap running shoes. Make sure they’ll give the support you need. They’ll be a false economy if you get injured and running injuries tend to creep up on you.

When your shoes look worn, it’s already past when you should have changed them. They lose their support well before they are worn out. If you buy discount shoes, make sure you buy the type of shoe you need, don’t buy based on style and worse, color. If you don’t know the type of shoes you need, visit a specialist store like Flatirons Running, and buy shoes from them.

And yes, this is me at my first triathlon in 1999, We all make mistakes. Gloves, what was I thinking?

 

Mark Cathcart took up triathlon in the late 90’s to get fit for adventure racing, which to this day he has never done, and has since taken part in 170+ events. His pragmatic approach to training, racing, and life have lead in from being the Chairman of one of the bigger UK Triathlon clubs 15-years ago; British Triathlon volunteer of the year; a sometime race organizer; The organizer and ride leader for Austin Texas award winning Jack and Adams triathlon shop; doing sometime Sports Management for development and professional triathletes; he has attended all the Triathlon Business International, and Triathlon America conferences, where he usually asks the questions others won’t; moved to Colorado in 2016 and is a co-owner of Boulder Bodyworker