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Bright Spots in Triathlon From COVID Restrictions

Bright Spots in Triathlon From COVID Restrictions

I will confess that I have done my share of complaining about changes over the past year. After all, the COVID restrictions turned my triathlon schedule for 2020 upside down.

Of course, that this is one of my biggest complaints means I have nothing serious about which to grumble. This doesn’t stop me from trying, however.

Knowing that I should learn to accept what I cannot change and not complain, I started thinking of the good that has arisen from these changes.

In this post, I have listed the three I see most clearly. You probably have others. Please add them to the comments at the end.

‘Do all things without complaining or arguments.’

Philippians 2:14

Running on Different Surfaces

Running on uneven surfaces is beneficial for strengthening a wider range of muscles in the feet, ankles, legs, and core. It is also good for improving balance. According to one source, off-road running lowers the risk of injury compared to road running.

Related post: Better Balance Makes for a Stronger Triathlete

During recent restrictions, some governments required a mask to be worn when within 6 feet of another person not from within your household. In these situations, I found it simpler to run on trails and grassy park areas away from the sidewalks where pedestrians and leisure walkers travel.

Training without a mask may mean avoiding people. The solution? Run where the people are not.

Training More Aerobically

If you are like most of us, you train differently when people are watching compared to when you are alone. At least one study has shown the power of training with others. Group classes and training partners tend to drive us to train harder.

This can be good.

However, if our goal is to train slowly, then training with a group can cause us to train harder than we ought.

On the other hand, when no one is watching, we are comfortable training more slowly, more aerobically. We can also train with lower weights and more repetitions when no one is watching.

Having the freedom to train aerobically and with lighter weights is good because it protects us from injury.

Shunning the Mass Swim Start

Ask most triathletes and they will tell you that one of the least pleasant parts of triathlon is the mass swim start. You can feel as if you are being attacked by other swimmers as each jockey for position. It is only in the triathlon mass start that swimming can become a contact sport.

One way race directors are creating more space between triathletes is through the time-trial swim start. With this type start, swimmers enter the water at 5 to 10-second intervals. This extends space between racers in the swim which carries over to each of the other legs.

Related post: Triathlon Across the USA: State #42 – Arkansas with time trial swim start.

What Are Positive Changes Over the Past Year?

Are there changes to triathlon from COVID restrictions over the past year that you see as positive? I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Leave your comments below.

Triathlon in the Year of COVID-19

by Terry VanderWert 1 Comment
Triathlon in the Year of COVID-19

We will remember 2020 in triathlon, as in every corner of life, as the year of COVID-19. By now, we should have enjoyed family reunions, community parades, and the Tokyo Olympics. Furthermore, I should have completed three sprint triathlons in three states.

Instead, over the past weekend I competed in my first triathlon of the season, the Arkansas triathlon in my Triathlon Across the USA quest. It was also the first triathlon of the season for most, if not all, of those with me at this event.

The race had much of the same feel as other sprint triathlons. However, many adjustments had been made by the race organizer, All Sports Productions, through discussions with USA Triathlon, the Arkansas Department of Health, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who manage the area containing the triathlon course.

In the rest of this post, I will share some of the changes forced upon this and other live, in-person triathlons and other multisport events by COVID-19.

Small Differences in Packet Pickup; Some Even Welcome

Not surprising, we were required to wear a mask during packet pickup, at least when unable to maintain spacing of 6 feet or more.

Masked triathletes waiting in line to pickup their race packets on the afternoon before the race.

Health questionnaire

We were also required to submit a completed USA Triathlon health declaration. This declaration (see the picture below) indicated any COVID-19 symptoms we were currently experiencing. It also documented contact we had had with those who had symptons.

covid-19 portion of USA Triathlon Medical COVID-19 questionnaire
Self-declaration portion of the USA Triathlon “Athlete Medical COVID-19 Questionnaire”.

Leave bikes in the transition area overnight

To minimize contact between triathletes on race morning, organizers provided the option of leaving our bikes racked in transition over night. Of course, the area was secured and monitored the entire time.

For me, leaving the bike in the transition area was welcomed. It meant I did not have to get up before daylight and be at the race site when the transition area opened in order to get a preferred spot on the bike rack.

Race Morning – Before the Start

This was the first triathlon I attended without my wife, Joy. In their pre-race email, race organizers wrote:

  • Spectators are encouraged to stay home to assist in meeting guidelines for safe events.
  • Any spectators in attendance will be required to wear masks and will have limited event access.

Joy was more than willing to ‘take one for the team’. She was able to sleep in, getting some much wanted rest. Furthermore, she did not have to wear a mask, an onerous requirement for her given the temperature and humidity. She did, however, tour the gorgeous race venue during and after packet pickup, mostly from within our air conditioned van.

Self body marking

In most triathlons, even those for which the stick-on race numbers (tattoos) are used, volunteers will mark our age on one of our calves using a felt tip marker. To minimize human contact, each athlete was instructed on the location of each body mark.

While the race organizer provided race number tattoos, I goofed up when applying one of them. As a result, I marked my race number on my right shoulder and left hand. I also marked my age on my right calf, even though I later found the age tattoo.

Masks, of course

Racers were handed a white disposable mask upon entering the transition area. Like most racers, I wore this mask until just before beginning the swim leg. When within a few yards of the water, I removed the mask and tossed it into a garbage can.

Swim, Bike, Run Against COVID

There were few significant changes to the most important part of the event – the race.

Time trial start

In past years, the DeGray Lake Triathlon involved a mass, in-water start. To reduce contact between racers, organizers decided to use a ‘time trial’ start.

With a time trial start, often used when the triathlon involves a pool swim, a racer begins every few seconds, typically from 5 to 30 seconds. Today, a swimmer began about every 5 seconds.

The time trial start leads to less interaction between racers not only during the swim but throughout the race. At one point, I heard the race director announce that, from what he observed, they may use a time trial start for all future races, even after the current crisis caused by the virus has passed.

Aid stations

The run included two aid stations at which volunteers (one per station) served water or sports drink. On this day, there were fewer people handing out drinks. Those who did had gloved hands.

After Crossing the Finish Line

After finishing the course, there were a few more differences from previous races. However, most were not significant.

Replacing some volunteers

In previous triathlons, a volunteer will remove the timing chip from the racers ankle once they have crossed the finish line. Today, we removed the timing chip ourselves and handed it to a gloved volunteer.

Also, instead of a volunteer placing the finisher medal around our neck, we collected our medal from a table.

Good food and drink even with COVID-19

Post race food, a hot dog and fruit, was provided in to-go style containers. Beverages were presented by gloved hands.

Wear a mask. Really?

Even after the race and food, we were encouraged to wear a face mask and follow social distancing protocols. The latter was possible, but with the way I was sweating after the race, there was no way I was going to wear a face mask and breathe. One had to give; you can guess which one did.

No awards ceremony

Again, to minimize contact between participants, awards were given individually by a staff member. I did not miss seeing the awards ceremony. However, if I knew more people who were racing, I may have wished it were still held.

Leave Your Questions and Comments Below

Tell us about your experience in a recent triathlon. What changes did you find?

If you haven’t raced this year, are there questions or concerns you have?

#JustKeepMovingForward 

How Will Social Distancing Change Triathlon?

How Will Social Distancing Change Triathlon?
Mass swim starts will be replaced with time trial starts in 2020 triathlons.

Strict social distancing in triathlon is impractical. This is the major reason for two of the three triathlons I had planned for June, those in Arkansas and Oklahoma, being rescheduled for the fall. Meanwhile, organizers of the Kansas triathlon canceled the event for 2020.

What will a triathlon be like in 2020? I asked race directors this question. This is what I learned.

In-Person Racing Will Resume in Phase 3

Guidelines for Opening Up America Again” published by the White House and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) defines a three-phase plan for re-opening the USA. Under this plan, state governors determine the schedule for re-opening their state based on trends in virus cases.

In the three phases, physical distancing requirements gradually reduce from strict (Phase 1) to moderate (Phase 2) to limited (Phase 3).

USA Triathlon has interpreted the Federal government guidelines for the triathlon community in its May 7, 2020 publication titled “Return to Racing Recommendations for Race Directors“.

Having read the USA Triathlon publication, I better appreciate why race directors have canceled or rescheduled the 2020 triathlons.

Even Moderate Physical Distancing Is Not Practical For Triathlon

If you have competed in a triathlon of over 50 people, you probably agree that guaranteeing social distancing (6 feet or roughly 2 meters between individuals) in triathlon would require major changes.

According to Bruce Dunn, owner of All Sports Productions, he and a group of a dozen race directors have been meeting weekly by video to discuss how they could resume putting on races while in Phase 2 as defined by the Federal government.

The group has simulated races considering how to ensure moderate social distancing. Some requirements for a 300-person race that came from the simulations were comical:

  • Time-trial swim start with 5 minutes between individual starts; this would lead to 25 hours to start all 300 swimmers.
  • Transition area that covered 2 acres (0.8 hectares).

Imagine forgetting where you racked your bike in this race. As an alternative, one group member recommended using each racer’s car for the transition space, making the parking lot the transition area.

From these brainstorming sessions, the group concluded that the only practical solution was to wait until Phase 3 to restart triathlons. It avoids extreme measures and/or unacceptably high entry fees.

social distancing in triathlon will mean more space
Will more spacious transition areas be an unexpected benefit of the pandemic?

What Changes In Triathlon Should You Plan For?

Phase 3 is supposed to mean a ‘return to normalcy’. However, there will still be many differences from triathlons of previous years.

First, triathlon organizers must pay attention to physical distancing and sanitation.  USA Triathlon’s “Return to Racing Recommendations for Race Directors” identifies “continuing to adhere to physical distancing and sanitation protocols” as a requirement for races conducted in Phase 3.

According to Jim Rainey, race director for Georgia Multisports, “we plan to make many changes to help ensure your (the triathlete’s) safety.”

Jim explained that this will mean more disinfecting stations throughout areas of high traffic. Race staff will wear masks or shields. In addition, athletes will have their temperatures measured and be asked to wear masks when not racing.

Other changes before, during, and after the race we should expect are:

  • Self body marking.
  • More spacious transition areas to allow for greater separation of individual transition areas, a change probably welcomed by most racers.
  • Time-trial (one person at a time at a fixed interval) starts rather than mass or wave starts for the swim.
  • Fewer “pinch points” on the bike course where cyclists must ride close to each other.
  • More loop, rather than out-and-back, run courses.
  • Self-service aid stations on the run course.
  • Fewer goodies such as free samples in the swag bag.
  • Changes to the awards ceremony.
  • Fewer spectators.

Doing a triathlon in this new era will definitely be different!

Will You Race in 2020?

Comment below to let us know about your plans to race in one or more triathlons during 2020? Which race(s)? What are your concerns? Are there changes you welcome?

Lessons in Ironman Triathlon Racing – Another Senior Triathlete’s Experience

Lessons in Ironman Triathlon Racing – Another Senior Triathlete’s Experience
Laurent Labbe and his oldest son before Ironman Nice. Picture courtesy of Laurent Labbe.

Laurent Labbe recently finished Ironman Nice, a long course triathlon that boasts swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, biking in the Alps, and running along the French Riviera in Nice’s historic waterfront. While the beautiful venue made the race enjoyable, Nice was even more special for Laurent. It confirmed an Ironman triathlon hydration and nutrition plan he had been working to develop.

Disappointment at Ironman Vietnam

Before diving into the story from Nice, let’s go back a little less than two months to Vietnam. It was here that Laurent competed in Ironman 70.3 Vietnam, his 10th long course triathlon.

Following a disappointing race at Ironman Vietnam, Laurent determined to come up with a better approach to nutrition and hydration for an ironman triathlon. Regarding Ironman Vietnam, Laurent said:

“The bike part was a little bit slower than I had planned, but the running was the worst leg. It was very hot. The temperature at the start of the swim was 29⁰C (84⁰F) and 35⁰C (95⁰F) during the run. I didn’t manage it well. I was overheated and the only way I found to complete the run was to put water on me every 2 km (1.25 mile) to cool down.” 

Laurent had anticipated the heat. He had prepared an adequate amount of water to carry on the bike. He also carried a cereal-based energy bar to eat about halfway through the bike course.

However, he had not included any sports drink with electrolytes. This was his first mistake. He also forgot to eat the cereal bar during the bike leg until much later than planned.

The consequence of not consuming a sports drink with its electrolytes on the bike became especially evident when he got to the run. While his body craved the electrolytes, he found the sports drinks provided by the race organizers to be “disgusting”.

And, when he tried to make up for not eating early enough on the bike by consuming bananas and gels during the run, his stomach revolted.

An Incentive for a New Ironman Triathlon Hydration and Nutrition Plan

Laurent is not alone in forgetting to eat on the bike during an Ironman triathlon. I have lost count of the number of stories of triathletes who were so caught up in the excitement of a race that they forgot to eat or drink until it was too late. As a result, they “bonked” or at least hurt their performance on the run. Maybe it’s happened to you.

With this not-so-pleasant experience in Vietnam, Laurent was determined to finding a better approach to hydration and nutrition for his next race in Nice, France. The challenge was that he had less than two months.

Hydration and Nutrition Plan for Ironman Nice

With the memory of Vietnam fresh in his mind, Laurent stayed focused on developing his race plan for Ironman Nice. He reflected on his experience in training and racing, spoke with other triathletes, scoured the internet, and tested various nutrition and hydration products.

In looking back on the Nice triathlon, he was able to say with a smile, “It seems that all the preparation and, this time, the race management was right”.

So, what was the race plan that made such a big difference?

Let’s start by looking in on Laurent a few days before the Nice triathlon while he was putting the final touches on his plan.

A Pre-Race Test of the Plan

During the week before the race, Laurent rented a bike and he and his son road to the top of Le Mont Ventoux, one of the most famous portions of the Tour de France.

He used this ride to test a bike computer having a screen large enough for him to continuously monitor his heart rate and to watch the time so that he would eat and drink at precise intervals.

It became clear to Laurent during this ride that without a clock his perception of time was wildly inaccurate. However, by maintaining a heart rate within the aerobic zone and drinking a little every 10 minutes, Laurent was able to ride the 40 km (25 km) distance to its 1,909 m (6,260 ft) elevation without stopping.

Laurent felt prepared for Nice.

Laurent Labbe and his oldest son on the bike ride to the summit of Le Mont Ventoux
Laurent Labbe and his oldest son on the climb to the summit of Le Mont Ventoux. Picture courtesy of Laurent Labbe.

Racing Ironman Nice

The temperature on race day in Nice was also high, 27⁰C (80⁰F) at the start of the swim. The day’s high of 34⁰C (93⁰F) occurred during the bike leg. Anticipating these temperatures, race organizers reduced the distance of the race a bit to 150 km (93 miles) for the bike and 30 km (18.6 miles) for the run.

Racing with a Heart Rate Monitor

Laurent used the heart rate monitor to control his effort on both the bike and run to maintain a heart rate within the endurance range.

For the bike leg, this meant maintaining an average rate of 144 beats per minute (bpm); his heart rate never went above 161 bpm. “I could have probably gone faster (on the bike) without any problem. However, the target for this race was to finish within the time limit.”

For the run, Laurent’s target was an average heart rate of 139 bpm, his endurance training rate. The highest rate came in the last 500 m during his sprint to the finish line.

“I saw many people on the bike and run forcing themselves and having difficulty breathing. In contrast, I was able to ride and carry on conversations with other racers including a Chinese guy, a Moroccan lady, and a man from Dubai. 

Hydration and Nutrition for Ironman Nice Triathlon

Laurent’s nutrition and hydration plan reflected his experience in previous hot weather Ironman races and with the week earlier ride to the summit of Le Mont Ventoux.

Specifically, the plan was as follows.

  • On each of the three days leading up to the triathlon, he took a serving of Overstim Malto. Admittedly, this was based solely on the recommendation of a friend and not on any personal experience.
  • On the bike:
    • Alternated drinking from one of the two bottles of sports drink, one bottle each of Overstim Long Distance Hydrixir and Hammer Nutrition Sustained Energy, every 10 minutes throughout the bike leg. Laurent also carried extra packages of the powders. These would be used to refill the bottles if he happened to run out before the end of the bike leg.
    • Ate one packet of a fruit-based energy gel, such as those from Overstim, every hour. Since the gels come either with or without added salt, he took one of the salted versions at the mid-point and near the end of the bike.
    • Stopped eating any solid food around one hour before the end of the bike. This provided time for the food consumed during the bike to be digested before beginning the run. Running with undigested food can cause stomach problems. 
  • On the run:
    • Drank some water with a little added salt provided by race organizers at each aid station.
    • Ate a salted biscuit or a salted gel at each of the aid stations.
    • Used showers provided by race organizers to help cool down.
  • On the day after the race, he took a recovery drink; Hammer Nutrition Recoverite is an example.
Laurent Labbe on the run at Ironman Nice.
Laurent Labbe on the run at Ironman Nice. Picture courtesy of Laurent Labbe.

Will This Plan Work Next Time?

Laurent completed the race feeling strong, healthy, and with little to no pain during and after the race. Racing with a heart rate monitor, staying hydrated, and consuming calories at the right times appeared to be the key.

Laurent found this approach to be effective, at least for one long bike ride and one long course triathlon. However, he is quick to acknowledge that he has no training in sports medicine or nutrition.

It will be interesting to hear what happens when he uses this approach in the next triathlon.

Please Share Your Questions and Comments

What do you think about Laurent’s racing plan?

Have questions about hydration and nutrition for ironman triathlon?

What are the most important lessons you have learned from training and competing in a triathlon?

Share your thoughts and questions in the Comments section below. 

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