Friday, October 29, 2010

Ironman Access Program Pulled 24 Hours After Launch Due to Athlete Outrage

The World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), owner of the Ironman brand, chose to pull a new program called Ironman Access just 24 hours after launching due to outrage from Ironman zealots. Now they are getting flack for the launch of their new 5150 program, a series of Olympic distance races, for diluting the brand and trouncing other local races. Gosh, it sure is hard to build an empire with all these die-hard fans! But it does show an interesting view into the frustrations on both sides of endurance events whose popularity has expanded widely past the supply, and the deep suspicions of any profit motive.

The Ironman Access program was going to allow participants to pay $1000 to get early access to register for Ironman events (that often sell out the day of availability at $500/pop and require on-site registration). Part of the stated purpose of this was to address the "2500-3000 Ironman slots that are not raced each year from people who register for multiple events but only race one". Personally it looked to me like seizing an opportunity to make more $$$ from an audience rumored to spend $22,000 annually on their hobby. Soon after, the Ironman Facebook page lit up with discontent and prompted Ben Fertic, President of WTC, to post a video apology that announced the Ironman Access program would be rescinded. The Ironman Facebook page continues to pile up heat faster than a Sierra Nevada forest fire with comments like:

"Although they have now back tracked, this for me was the final nail in the coffin of the sport I once loved. In my opion 'Unbranded' long distance events are the future of this sport. The M dot has become nothing more than a... Nike Swoosh or a McDonalds golden arch." - Dave Mccavoy

"WTC just committed suicide with this crap....after I'm done completing IM Texas I'm done with you suckers!!" - Ernesto Villarroel

"I know it's cliche, but it's the thought that counts, they still made Ironman Access, they still tried to rip people off. They found out it didn't work and they got rid of it. It's insulting that some of you are going back and going to do more mdot ...branded races." - Nick Jantz

There are also a lot of comments commending Mr. Fertic for having the guts to say they were wrong and acting quickly. His video says quite bluntly, "if you say we were wrong, then we were wrong".

I find the whole thing a fascinating study in how easy it is for a profit motive to create a wedge between a brand once built by athletes and now controlled by a corporation (and owned by a private equity firm) and the painful seperation that ensues. Be sure to check out that Facebook page to get a front row seat!

- SD

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More Wingsuit Madness (video)

Since my first video post of a wingsuit remains one of my top trafficked blog articles, I know you guys are diggin' it and tapping into your inner flying squirrel. Here's another great one, complete with crazy dance soundtrack.

Be sure get the last 10 seconds, where he does a fly by...these guys are really moving!

Jeb Corliss wing-suit demo from Jeb Corliss on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Neal Gorman Sets New Record for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning

(My apologies for missing this story in September - pretty amazing!)

When arriving in 2nd place at the Wasatch 100 on September 15, 2010, DC's Neal Gorman set a new record of 74:54:16 for the fastest completion time of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, four tough 100-mile runs in one season. His time was just four minutes faster than Joe Kulak's extraordinary performance in 2003, considered by many to be record that would stand for decades.

Here were Neal's finish times:

Western States 100 - 18:14 (13th)
Vermont 100 - 16:33 (2nd)
Leadville 100 - 18:47 (4th)
Wasatch 100 - 21:19 (2nd)

(Neal Gorman after his WS100 finish;
one of many fascinating photos in Larry Gassan's post-race profiles)

Pretty amazing. Despite being almost 90 minutes slower than Kulak's time at Vermont, he made up time in the hills. Congrats, Neal!

- SD

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How To Push Past the Pain, As Champions Do (NY Times)

The NY Times had a great article yesterday called "How To Push Past the Pain, As Champions Do", with a little insight on those spit-coated elites and how far they push themselves. My favorite quote:

“Mental tenacity — and the ability to manage and even thrive on and push through pain — is a key segregator between the mortals and immortals in running,” Ms. [Mary] Wittenberg said.

In that case, every 100-miler I know is immortal! ;-)

Here's another good quote:

“We have towels at marathon finish to wipe away the spit on the winners’ faces,” she said. “Our creative team sometimes has to airbrush it off race photos that we want to use for ad campaigns.”


- SD

Monday, October 18, 2010

Boston Marathon fills in ONE DAY!

Unbelievable. News from the Boston Athletic Association this afternoon:

“Registration for the 115th Boston Marathon began at 9:00 a.m. (EST) today, and closed at 5:03 p.m. (EST) The Boston Marathon -- the world's oldest and most prestigious annual marathon -- will take place on Monday, April 18, 2011, Patriots' Day in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In 115 years, this is the fastest period of time in which the field size limit has been reached.

The number of entrants for next year’s race remains as it has been in recent years. In 2010, the race had 26,790 entrants and 22,721 finishers. For the 2010 Boston Marathon, registration filled in just over two months.

Given that the site wasn't even working for the first two hours, that means it filled up in ~7 hours. I guess it's time to introduce the BAA to Ultrasignup's lottery system! Just crazy. I guess this answers the question if last years fast fill-up created some pent up demand. But think of all that lost revenue from late entries! ;-)

Do you think this means they will raise the qualifying standards to get in for 2012? Seems like a feasible solution.

I hope all who wanted to get to Boston '11 set their alarms today...if so, I will see you there.


Don't Forget - Boston Marathon Registration Opens Today

For those of you hoping to run Boston on April 18th next year, just a friendly reminder that registration opens today at 9am EST. Be sure to get your entry in early if you are interested - it filled up in two months last year, and they are expecting it to fill faster for 2011.

Here are the qualifying times:


Age Group Men Women

18-34 3hrs 10min 3hrs 40min

35-39 3hrs 15min 3hrs 45min

40-44 3hrs 20min 3hrs 50min

45-49 3hrs 30min 4hrs 00min

50-54 3hrs 35min 4hrs 05min

55-59 3hrs 45min 4hrs 15min

60-64 4hrs 00min 4hrs 30min

65-69 4hrs 15min 4hrs 45min

70-74 4hrs 30min 5hrs 00min

75-79 4hrs 45min 5hrs 15min

80 and older 5hrs 00min 5hrs 30min

Hope to see you there!
- SD

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Competing at the 2010 Ironman World Championships

For nearly all of my life, good news has come in threes. The last few months have put an exclamation on that trend in a big way. First, the company I founded (NearbyNow) was acquired by a very exciting business in San Francisco. Second, my wife told me she is pregnant with our second child, a daughter comin' round in mid-March. Number three had been on my calendar for months now - a chance to fulfill a childhood dream and compete in the Ford Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Too much life change in one month? For some, maybe. But for adventurers like me/us, I've never felt more invincible.

It's a good thing I was feeling on top of the world, for I would need every ounce of energy to keep up with the 1800+ world class triathletes here for the big show down. This event has more hardbodies than the Top 40 Rap Video countdown, and make no mistake they were here to COMPETE. I was certainly fit, but you could easily pick me out of a line up as one of the 200 lucky lottery slot winners. I don't even have an Ironman logo tattooed anywhere on my unshaven body, for the love of Pete.

(Ironmen do have fun, such as the Thursday Underpants Run)
I got sized up at every street corner and asked "where did you qualify?", only to watch the smile drift from their faces when I said this was my first-ever Ironman distance. Their expressions looked exactly like Ted Knight in Caddyshack when he says, "well, the world needs ditch diggers too". ;-)

No worries. I was AT KONA for IRONMAN. After applying to the lottery for 12 years and sticking to a solid training plan for five months, I was as ready as ever. I yearned to be a part of this now-world standard for crazy endurance challenges that sucked me in with their ABC and NBC one-hour specials decades ago (see video above...drama, baby!). This was long before I was pulled into the world of marathons, ultramarathons, and 100-milers, which even the Ironmen here will tell you is a bit off the deep end.  As a teenager when I heard that the origin of the sport was a dare from Commander John Collins in 1978 to combine the toughest swim, bike, and run tests on the island and settle a bet about which athletes were the most fit, I was seriously hooked. How could you not want to be part of a story like that?

(The Ironman Tribe, photo courtesy of Phoenix)
As an ultrarunner, hanging around the Ironman crowd felt like a big family reunion filled with distant cousins. We were all cut from the same cloth (lycra?) but I felt like the mountain hillbilly that came out of the woods to see what this whole swim-bike-run-thingy is. I'm sure others thought the same with all my body hair.

I was in good company, however. Western States 100-mile Run Champion Graham Cooper was here after qualifying at Ironman St. George, as was WS100 Champion and 25-time sub-24 hour finisher Tim Twietmeyer after claiming his spot at Ironman Wisconsin. Graham was hoping for a sub-10 hour, and this definitely wasn't his first trip here. His family helped him triple check all his drop bags like a fine-tuned machine. Tim was new to Ironman Hawaii like me, but he was a known quantity among his age group. When I asked Tim which is harder, Ironman or Western States, he just said "Are you kidding? You get to SWIM in the Ironman." True, true. But as a runner, it was the swim I feared the most.

Body numbering and drop bag set up were both fun rituals, much in thanks to 5,000+ volunteers that all show as much passion for this event as the racers. I was through in no time, and had enough time to return to the hotel room and watch the sunrise with my girls. When I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, number-tattooed and as fit as I've ever been in my whole life, I found that peaceful serenity of knowing the training was done and I was ready. 

The Speedo, however, looked ridiculous. But that's how I remember the Ironman, so I thought it best to honor those crazy athletes of the 80's.

(Only at Kona can I fit in with a Speedo and compression gear...sooo sexy)
(An Army of volunteers get us marked and ready)
(1,800+ athletes check their gear one last time)
We watched the pros go off at 6:30am, and there was a lot of discussion about the womens race, now wide open after 3-time defending champion Chrissie Wellington dropped with flu-like symptoms. Mirinda Carfrae, who set the marathon record here last year (2:56) in her very first marathon, and XTerra and Ironman 70.3 champion Julie Dibens, here for her first Ironman World Championships, were both up there. For the mens race, the talk was about temperatures predicted to only hit the high 80's by the time of the marathon, and how that might affect a race that usually rewards the heat-friendly like 2-time defending champion Craig Alexander and 2nd place Andreas Raelert.

(Defending champion Craig Alexander chats with Ben Hoffman)
(That's the race number to have!)
I edged into the water about 6:45am, just noticing that I had torn my Speedo when sitting on lava rocks. Let's just hope it holds on! I don't want a penalty for failing the nudity rule. ;-)

The goal for my swim was to stay on the back 1/3 of the pack and have a comfortable experience. It was going to be a long day, so best to hit the bike feeling good and staying aerobic. The 2.4 mile swim distance wasn't a worry so much as the mass start with 1,700 people. When the cannon sent us off, the ocean exploded into a white mass of bubbles and we went heads down.

(On your marks, get set....)
(GO! And the sea becomes a washing machine)
(Look out fish, we're comin' through!)
The meyhem was AMAZING. Nobody could see in the bubble-filled water, so swimmers were darting everywhere. If the pack slowed down in front, the swimmers behind you would start climbing up your calves. It was like rushing the stage at a rock concert! Once a fast swimmer cut through us, we would all jump on his/her tail for drafting, and before too long the pack moved forward like a school of fish. Just tickle the feet in front of you, and don't be surprised if you are tickled yourself. And hang on!

At the halfway buoy, I caught a glimpse of my watch - 41 minutes. This is fast for me! I found a great line on the way back, using the waves from the open ocean swells wherever I could. I hit the beach in 1:20:44 and felt good. That was supposed to be the hardest leg, but honestly, it was fun! I changed into full bike gear, had the volunteers soak me in sunscreen, and hit the road.

(Swim done, now onto the bike)
After a quick loop in town, we made our way to the famed Queen K highway, known for it's unpredictable winds and road temperatures that can exceed 130 degrees. It was warm, but I had the feeling Madame Pele was cutting us some slack so far.

(Canada's Brian Preston shifts into high gear)
The Queen K is all about isolation. Lava flows on either side of the road, heat, and long stretches of highway as far as the eye can see provide a barren landscape worthy of self-contemplation. I hummed along at 23 mph and feeling good, careful to take water and S!Caps at every aid station.

(Chris Lieto takes it out fast, per usual)
(Does it get hot on the Queen K? HELL, yes!)
At mile 30 is where I had signs of my first issue. The ball of my left foot felt like I had stepped on a firecracker, and loosening the shoe straps showed obvious swelling. Hmmm, not good. The pain subsided when I spun in a lower gear, but was ferocious when out of the saddle. I had heard about "hot foot" before, but wasn't sure why it was hitting me now for the first time after thousands of miles of training. It didn't go away by the time we turned to Havi at mile 50, so I had to factor it into my pace and slow down. Graham Cooper was right - there are many more things that can go wrong in an Ironman.

Havi was a reminder about who is in charge on this island...and it ain't us. The heat kicked up to the 90-100's, and the cross winds coming off the mountain were keeping us leaning 20 degrees to stay upright. I had to get out of the aero bars and white-knuckle it for a few miles just to stay on the road. Fallen athletes were being picked up on both sides of the street, proving we are all just one gust away from unforgiving lava ditches.

(The isolation of the climb to Havi)
The return trip from Havi was just as brutal, but at least had some downhill to keep up the momentum. The heat at the bottom was well beyond 100 degrees and we all pushed hard to reach the breeze of the Queen K again. My foot swelling wasn't getting better, and now my obliques were twitching from all that white-knuckling (and let's not forget that swim). Holy cow, this is tough! As we hit 100 miles, my ass started to complain too. But luckily each body position only hurt one area, so I just "rotated the pain".

(Chris McCormack off the bike and putting on the chase)

(Ocean on the right...that means we're headed back!)

(The press follow the head-to-head duel of Chris McCormack and Andreas Raelert)
As I closed in on the final miles, I could see the press cars and helicopters following Chris McCormack and Andreas Raelert going shoulder to shoulder at mile 22 of the marathon. They were on a sub-8:10 pace so this was going to be a fast one! Marino Vanhoenacker and Craig Alexander were behind them and gaining ground too. If I timed it right, I could catch the finish before heading out on the run.

I entered T2, and walked my swollen foot to the change area. The volunteers took one look at it and called over a medical person, who said something about "metatarsal swelling...foot cooked from hot minutes". Clearly I was not the first person with this problem, and I was far from their biggest problems in the full medical tent. Within seconds my foot was packed in ice and they were changing my clothes.

The conversation with the volunteers reminded me of any great crew trying to get their ultrarunner out of late-race aid station. Does it hurt to walk? Well, you've got nine hours to walk a marathon. Did you come this far to drop now? I didn't think so. How about we cram that foot into a running shoe and get you out the door and see what happens? We did just that, and I took an extra minute to watch Chris McCormack win his second world championship before taking off.
(Speedy runners already 10 miles up on us)

(Feeling good enough to run right out of T2)

(Catching a breeze on Ali'i Drive)

(Volunteers were top notch all day...and even recycled 98% of the trash)
I was pleased to quickly figure out that if I ran on my heels (the opposite of barefoot running), my swollen foot felt okay, so I could shuffle along at a 9 min/mile. My legs wanted to do more, but this wasn't going to be their day. It was my first Ironman, so let's just try and finish without a permanent injury. I hollared at Christi to let her know this would be a 4-5 hour marathon, and cruised down Ali'i Drive.

(Alaska's Katy Rosane doesn't let a minor thing like a broken foot stop her from completing an Ironman)
It wasn't hard to occupy myself. Fans were lined up everywhere, runners going in both directions of Ali'i Drive, and the ocean was always on our side. I shuffled the miles, stopping for ice at each aid station.

(Plenty of aloha spirit along the course)

(Oklahoma's Angela Stewart smiles as we climb up to the Queen K)
Before too long, we were on the desolate Queen K again (mile 9) which played mind games with its never-ending expanse. I made a few friends along the way, happy to finally have a chance to chat with other athletes.

I got a huge surprise at mile 10, when Tim Twietmeyer walked along with me. He was working through some back spasms (and massively swollen hands) but laughing his way through the whole thing. It was awesome to see him out there and get a surge from his ever-positive vibe.

(Tim Twietmeyer keeps me in good spirits at mile 10)

(Madam Pele was nice enough to throw in some cloud cover on occasion)
We turned into the Energy Lab, the last out and back before heading home. Everybody could smell the barn door now so there was a lot of smiling. The sun began to set, and each minute brought cooler temperatures. Aaaahhh, it's nice back here!

(Super stoked to see this sign...getting close!)

(Yup, we're running on a live volcano)

(The inspirational mile says "Go, Scratch, Go!")
The Ford inspiration mile gave me one last boost as we returned back on the Queen K. It said "Go, Scratch, Go!", referring to the nickname of Uncle Scratch given to me by my nieces and nephews. Apparently, the goatee is a little scratchy when giving a kiss. ;-) It put my mood in just the right place, and I cruised down the darkening highway wishing the best to those still headed out. The Queen K was eerily quiet, leaving nothing but the sounds of footsteps and the occasional crazy party of volunteers.

In an instant, the calm and quiet of the Queen K was replaced with cheering fans four-deep on either side as I headed down Ali'i Drive one last time. The finish was a party that would rival Times Square, and I crossed in 12:04, good enough for 1,333rd place. I gave a little dance to Kool and the Gang, and the crowd shouted out "YOU ARE AN IRONMAN". I couldn't believe it!

(At last, there it is...the final ramp)

(What a great time!)

(Crossing the finish, with enough energy for a few dance moves to Kool and the Gang)

(Look, I'm getting lei'd on the big screen!)
I got a massage and some food, and packed up my gear to head back to the hotel with my girls. But I didn't stay for long, and ended up coming out at midnight to cheer on the last few finishers in grand style. I tried to get it on video, but it's hard to capture the positive energy that exudes as thousands of spectators cheer each finisher. 2010 champions Chris McCormack and Mirinda Carfrae (winning after clocking a course record 2:53 marathon this time, and only the third sub-9 hour finish of all time) were there to great finishers. It was magical.

(Sophie swipes my lei and makes eyes for the medal)

My body was completely drained, but my soul was spilling over with joy. Is an Ironman tougher than a 100-miler? Well, it's a different kind of tough. I certainly won't be recovering as fast as an ultra. The Ironman training and discipline required is definitely harder, but to approach the mental challenge of a 100-miler, you would probably at least have to do one more lap of the swim and the marathon. But I get the whole Ironman thing now. I can see why the tattoos are so common. This is a bold statement to engage fully in life and find your best, then toe the line with fellow warriors from your tribe. There's nothing wrong with that at all, my cousins!

A huge "mahalo" to all of the directors and great volunteers for putting on a spectacular event. And thanks so much for keeping that lottery system around - I will keep putting my name in and hope to come back again! But for now, it's time to go sit on a beach and rest with a few mai-tai's. It's what Madame Pele would want, no?


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Holy cow, this is actually happening - see you at Ironman Hawaii this Sat!

I got the 24-hour notice to check in for my flight to Kona, Hawaii, and it suddenly hit me....

...Holy Cow, this is really happening. I'm going to toe the line at the Ironman World Championships this Saturday. WAAAAAAAAA-HOOOOOO!!!!!

You would think the reality of this would have kicked in little earlier. Like when I was lucky enough to win the lottery slot in March after 12 years of trying...or perhaps when I confirmed the entry by finishing the Pacific Crest Triathlon (half Ironman) in June...or maybe on one of the multitude of two-a-day workouts clocked since July to get ready. Nope. It hit today, randomly around 1pm with some automated e-mail from United. And in an instant I am worthless at work, sleepless at night, and as giddy as a school girl with front row seats to Justin Bieber*. Boy, this event has got my goat in a big way.

But why? Isn't it just another race?

I guess so. Then why I am so worked up? The distance isn't a problem. There's nothing quite like a 100-miler to set your perspective on an Ironman. Hell, you don't even have to pack a headlight for the Ironman, and odds are you will make it home for dinner. And I get to SIT DOWN for half of it, thanks to that bike portion. A 100-mile run is Crazyland compared to a midnight cutoff of an Ironman. Anyone who has seen two sunrises in the same run (like moi) knows all about that.

Maybe I'm freaking out to honor the scarifice of the training? I have to say, I have a whole new respect for the athletes who have adopted the Ironman lifestyle. The sheer discipline required to keep a decent aerobic base in all three sports is extraordinary, often in excess of 20 hours a week, and I don't think I even came close to what you would need to do to be a age group contender. I flirted with overtraining regularly, occasionally too tired to sleep, and on more than one occasion sleeping only to dream of training. In one case, I even dream-swam right off the side of the bed, grabbing my alarm clock with proper high elbow efficiency, and pulling myself onto our very surprised sleeping dogs. The two-a-day ritual did nothing short of consume me, leaving only the consolation of the morphing specimen in the mirror that replaced my usually rail-thin runner physique with a bizarro-twin smuggling a washboard up front, a manta ray on the back, and a couple of grapefruits where my protruding shoulder bones used to be (all of which are thinly veiled by the silk-thin skin unable to compete with the 5,000 calorie days). If my eyelids weren't at half mast at all times, I might be impressed.

Honestly, I know the truth of why I have the butterflies. A professional marketer knows when they have bought a story hook, line, and sinker, and I have it bad. I've been watching this event for years, and I know all the lingo, all the characters, all the history, etc., polished like only the Emmy-award winning staff from NBC can do. I can recount every race over the last 10 years. It many ways the Ironman defined endurance sports to me long before I could run a single mile. It's a Bucket List race for sure.

So I'm excited to be a part of it. I'm thrilled to participate in an event where you can toe the line with the best in the sport, much like ultrarunning allows us to do. There's no doubt I will buy enough shwag to last a lifetime, just like my first trip to Western States. And I couldn't be more pleased to have my family there to cheer me on, scrape me up at the finish, and be a part of the whole experience.

So with that, I sign off and head for the big island. If you are not already running the Fire Trails 50 or some other cool event, you can follow my progress at Expect a manatee-like swim, a decent bike, and hopefully, some legs left at the end. Want to come to Ironman in 2011? The lottery just opened!

And of course, as many pictures as I can take!

* For those who don't know, this pre-teen mop-head is like, the next like, Justin Timberlake, chy'a. Every time I see his angelic mug and hairless frame, I wonder if this is what our grandparents thought when they saw The Beatles. Only with no songwriting skills.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Don't Be That Guy - Entering and Winning an All Women Race to Meet Girls (WSJ)

Kevin Helliker from the Wall St Journal wrote a funny article about dudes who enter all-women races in order to win or meet girls. Really? Isn't the booing at the finish line a sign that this plan maybe isn't the best?

Please, gentlemen. Don't be THAT GUY.

- SD

Interlopers Run Amok: Guys Crash Road Races for Women
They Come in First, Are Dissed at Finish; For Meeting Fit Females, 'It's Hard to Beat'

Jonathan Mederos set a personal record in Disney's Princess Half Marathon last year, winning first place with a time of 1:16:17.

The reception he got was far from his personal best, though. "When I crossed the finish line, the announcers were silent, and I got downcast looks from the crowd," says Mr. Mederos, a 25-year-old high-school philosophy teacher in Miami.

That's what a guy gets for winning a women's race. As Rick Cordes took last year's Nike Women's Half Marathon, he slunk across the finish line, with a finger pressed to his lips, beseeching silence after having been heckled throughout the race.

"Maybe I shouldn't have been so competitive in a race that I would have been slaughtered in if it were an all-men's field," says Mr. Cordes, a 48-year-old California real-estate broker, in an email. He was one of nearly 700 men among more than 12,700 women in the Nike Half Marathon.


Men can register for these races, as footnotes on the event websites note. Technically allowing guys to run avoids legal spats, pleases charity sponsors whose fund-raisers are often male and engenders a magnanimous spirit. But these races tolerate rather than welcome male participants.


We suggest men only do the race in support of a woman or charity," says the website of this week's Nashville Women's Half Marathon. "If he is looking to win a race, get an award or [set a personal record], we would be happy to suggest some other events in the local area that would be better suited for those goals."


While male participation in the Nike Half Marathon has risen steadily over the years, the number of men running Disney's Princess Half Marathon jumped to 423 this year from 196 in the debut. Men remained vastly outnumbered, with nearly 11,000 women running this year.


Other men see a target-rich environment. "If you want to meet fit young women, it's hard to beat," says Maj. Christopher Sopko, a 31-year-old pilot in the Ohio Air National Guard.

Although men are loath to admit it, one appeal women's races have for them is the shot at a better finish. Men who ran in the middle of a pack of guys can finish near the top of a field teeming with women.


To see the full story, go here.