Monthly Archives: February 2011

Long Road Back

By Pete Williams

Feeling great in 2010

Since taking up triathlon in the summer of 2007, I’ve taken some time away from training. I went four months without swimming one winter. Last winter, the coldest in decades in Florida, my training group kept the bikes in the garage. I also stayed off the bike for a month after a minor crash in 2008.

No matter the layoff, I quickly got back up to speed (pun intended).

This time is different. Today I rode for the first time since Nov. 15. Lots of lame holiday excuses for much of the layoff, but a legitimate one was my three-week January battle with a kidney stone that required two surgeries and a third time under anesthesia.

I’ve eased my way back with spin classes and strength training, a few sessions in the pool. On Thursday I tried a few 100s at my pace interval and was gassed quickly.

This morning I returned to my group ride, the same folks I’ve ridden with since 2007. I knew I was in trouble when my heart rate rose to the 160s just a few miles into the ride. I peeled off early, cutting 10 miles off the 30-mile trip, got a flat, ended up back with the group, and got dropped again.

While most of the group ran three to five miles, I struggled with two. Just brutal. I can’t remember feeling this week from an endurance standpoint ever. It can’t be just the layoff. The surgeries no doubt contributed.

Any suggestions for jump-starting the recovery? (I’m now five weeks removed from my last surgery).

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Filed under Training, Triathlon

What’s Your Ideal Racing Weight?

By Pete Williams

A helpful sequel

In his book Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, Matt Fitzgerald stressed that every endurance athlete has an ideal racing weight that will shed seconds, if not minutes, off of race times.

In his new book Racing Weight Quick Start Guide he provides more specific formulas to reach that point during the offseason or, better yet, preseason. We recently chatted with Fitzgerald about the new book. An audio version of the interview is available on The Fitness Buff Radio Show.

Q: The idea of an ideal racing weight is a great concept, but how do you pinpoint it?

A: I’d hoped to be able to do it to provide some kind of magic formula people could use to predict their racing weight by simply punching in height, weight, and gender, but that’s not possible. The way to do it is to achieve it. It’s the weight at which you race your best. You have to get there to know it. But you can at least set a target that might not be 100 percent accurate but will serve the purpose of focusing you on a number because, after all, we tend to be goal oriented as end athletes.

Q: Is it a moving target of sorts?

A: It can change over time. You might even have different racing weights for different disciplines. I race at a different weight for marathons than triathlons, but if you focus on a single discipline, you have one ideal sweet spot. Many of us never get there. The trouble is that the weight can be the thing that holds you back from best performance. It’s kind of a circular thing. How do I know? The goal is to set a reasonable target. It might not be 100 percent accurate, but it will be close enough to get you motivated to get there.

Q: Obviously this is meant for people who have been training, not those just getting into shape, right?

A: It’s definitely focused on performance. I’m surrounded by relatively skinny people everyday who feel that they’re five or six pounds too heavy. It’s a different crowd from those who are just getting started. A lot of the same principles still apply and you can read this book and use the methodology, but when you’re just getting started you have other things to worry about besides perfecting your body.

Q: How do you walk that fine line between performance and weight loss?

A: One of the important points I tried to drive home in Racing Weight was that you can’t maximize weight loss and fitness gain at the same time. When you’re training hard for a marathon or triathlon, you‘re probably going to get leaner and lose excess body fat. Because performance is your top priority, you need to focus on fueling your body adequately. When you’re doing that, you’re not going to lose as much as you would if you put performance in the background. There is a time to switch those priorities and put performance on the backburner but it shouldn’t be at the same time. Racing Weight focused on losing weight the right way within a training cycle. The Quick Start Guide is intended to be used in a four-to-eight week period before you get serious about training. It’s literally a time to get a quick start on your ideal racing weight. Then you’re really ready to get going once you ramp up your training for a race.

Q: Using triathletes as an example, would it make most sense for them to do the Quick Start Guide during the preseason? Or even the offseason?

A. Sure. It’s a seasonal type of thing for most of them. This time of year, late winter or after the New Year is when a lot of people start thinking about next season. Or maybe you do a marathon in spring and in the summer ramp it up again and do a quick start again. It’s any time you’re ready to get started training for a race.

Q: Most triathletes think, “I’m in the best shape of my life.” How much more do I have to drill down with this?

A: The thing is no matter who you are it’s almost impossible to maintain your ideal racing weight all year round. Chris McCormack, the reigning Ironman champion, won in October at 175 pounds and now he weighs 185. That’s natural. Expecting to maintain your racing weight year round is not realistic. We’ll all slide away when we’re not training as hard. It becomes a cyclical thing and a Quick Start becomes another phase in your routine. You take time off, do a quick start, and then ramp it up.

Q: Is it a combination of training and nutrition or is the focus more on nutrition?

A: It’s both. They’re kind of synergistic. There are specific things you want to do on the nutritional side and the training side and they work together. The fundamentals stay the same. In Racing Weight I talk about maximizing diet quality and that doesn’t change. But other things do. For example in the regular training cycle you’ll want a high-carbohydrate diet but in the Quick Start your training volume is lower so you’re not going to eat that much carbohydrate. It’s just going to be excess fuel that you’re not using that will sabotage your efforts to lose weight.

Q: Are food journals important in this?

A: They are. Counting calories are effective but a pain in the butt. Nobody wants to do that year round and it’s not necessary either. But within a Quick Start, which is a short window of time, it does make sense to suck it up and count your calories and keep track of everything you’re eating. Not for the rest of your life, but we can all handle it for a four-to-eight-week window and it will pay off

Q: Let’s go back to Chris McCormack. Let’s say he has a big race to kick off his season in April. Would the goal be to get from 185 to 175 by then?

A: It depends. He’s the heaviest guy to win Ironman Kona by a long shot. That (175 pounds) doesn’t sound all that heavy, but for a champion Ironman athlete it is. That race is very long and very hot so he tries to get as lean as he can without sacrificing the strength he needs for that long day. He’ll be heavier in other races. If it’s cooler or the race is shorter, he can be a little heavier. He has a lot of fun with this. He’ll be 38 soon and he says that’s why he’s still in the sport. It’s a fun game to see how he can manipulate his body. It’s an intellectual challenge and he’ll dial it in to where he has different (weight) targets for different races

Q: What about someone like myself whose weight doesn’t fluctuate that much, maybe from 172 to 165, over the course of the season?

A: If you were more than 20 pounds over, you’d do a longer and more aggressive Quick Start, a full eight weeks and aim to consume 500 fewer calories than you took in. If you were 11 to 19 pounds over, you’d choose six weeks and 400 calories and if you’re pretty lean, less than 10 pounds above, then you’d do a four-week Quick Start with a 300-calorie deficit. But they’re just recommendations. You choose one plan and you calculate. The idea is not to get to your racing weight during the Quick Start, but to get a fast start toward that destination and whatever excess body fat you have, your actual race training after the Quick Start will take care of the excess.

There is some flexibility, but let’s say you do five races over the course of the season. You might reach your ideal racing weight for the first race. In other cases it might not be until your last.

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Filed under Fitness Buff Show Radio, Running, Training

Mudslide: Mud Runs Overwhelm Florida

By Pete Williams

Losing the novelty?

It’s reaching the point in Florida where there might be fewer running events without mud than those featuring mud pits and Survivor-style obstacles.

We reported on this trend a month ago and at least three races have been added to a busy schedule that already includes multiple Muddy Buddy events, the Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, and three Dirty Duo races.

The Down and Dirty National Mud Run Series is the latest entry into this increasingly crowded field. The series will feature nine events this year, including a May 1 race at Zoo Miami, where Muddy Buddy staged its first event in November. Muddy Buddy recently announced a year-end race in Punta Gorda on Dec. 4. The series, owned by Competitor Group, also will return to Zoo Miami on Nov. 20 and bump up the date of its longstanding event at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista from Mother’s Day weekend to April 9, which will kick off this year’s proceedings.

Unlike the two-person Muddy Buddy event, the Down and Dirty is a straight-up 5K and 10K. Compared to the Muddy Buddy entry fee ($170 per team plus the dreaded mandatory ransom), the Down and Dirty is relatively inexpensive at $50 or $60 for early registration for the 5K and 10K, respectively, though it tacks on its own $5 service charge. (The evil influence continues to spread!)

Then there’s the Champions Mud Bash with an event in St. Cloud on June 18 and Nov. 5 at a South Florida location to be announced. Price? A whopping $69 (plus ransom) for a three-mile run. Ouch.

Tough Mudder seems to be taking its time finalizing its Florida event. After vague talk of a date in late 2011, the Tough Mudder site has scheduled an event Dec. 3 and Dec. 4 “within two hours drive of Tampa,” according to its Web site. Given the size and scope of the event, that means Tough Mudder almost certainly will use the Triple Canopy Ranch in Lake Wales (site of last month’s Warrior Dash).

That’s because Muddy Buddy already has the Red Neck Yacht Club in Punta Gorda reserved for that same weekend. Which means the events have become so commonplace that they’re doubling up on dates and venues. A sure sign of market saturation.


Filed under Races, Running

Triathlon’s Breakout Star for 2011?


By Pete Williams

New triathlon pro Mandy McLane

A year ago, Mandy McLane was coming off a finish as the top elite amateur at the Miami International Triathlon and starting to think about a pro triathlon career.

That was before finishing as the top female amateur at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, ahead of a number of pros, and being honored as the USA Triathlon Age Grouper of the Year, capping a year that also included capturing the women’s 30-to-34 title at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater and winning the USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals.

Unlike a lot of athletes who reach the elite levels of the sport quickly, McLane ( does not have a background as a college swimmer. Nor does she have a day job as a triathlon coach, physical therapist, or nutritionist; she’s a self-employed speech language pathologist who competed in track in college at Clemson.

The Orlando native seems to thrive in Florida, though like many elite triathletes she now spends much of her year in Colorado. Having turned professional for 2011, the stunning, dominant, 32-year-old American might be exactly what pro triathlon needs to break into mainstream sports coverage. We recently caught up with McLane between workouts.

(Note: An audio version of this interview can be found at The Fitness Buff Show.)

Q: How does one make the transition to pro triathlon?

A: It goes according to rankings, race times and how you finish in certain races. With nationals and the world championship, if you’re top three overall then you qualify to apply for a pro card. St. Anthony’s, MIT (Miami International Triathlon) and Eagleman are races that if you finish in the top percentage of your age group and overall top three, then you qualify for that pro card. Then it’s up to you if you’re ready to make that leap and begin racing.

Q: When did you know you were ready?

A: After Eagleman. I had a great St. Anthony’s and MIT. Those are Olympic-distance races and I needed another half iron to feel confident I could race both distances competitively. I finished well at Eagleman and that’s when I had the confidence, but my coach and I decided it would be a good idea to get a national or world title under my belt and it all unfolded as planned.

Q: Do you think you’ve proven that a native Floridian can be competitive at the highest level in triathlon?

A: Absolutely. I have an advantage over many triathletes in that I’ve always been able to tolerate heat. The athletes that come from mountain areas have an advantage over us flatlanders but you can simulate that kind of stuff on the treadmill or on the trainer and increase elevation and resistance. It’s definitely very possible for people from Florida or any region where it’s flat to be competitive.

Q: Have you left Florida completely?

A: I’m pretty much between the two. During the summers, I’m definitely going to be in Boulder and that’s mostly due to the fact that it’s hot with the altitude and the climbing. In the winters I’m coming back to Orlando for two-week periods, mostly because it’s warm, and you’re going back to sea level. It’s imp for me to teeter totter back and forth.

Q: You swam competitively only from the ages of 5 to 11, but you’re very strong in the water. Why is that?

McLane on the run

A: Once you’ve created that muscle memory it’s very easy to draw from that and like anything else as you train and put intervals and effort into anything you’re making progress. The early years of my swimming have given me a strong base to work from.

Q: It’s a struggle for many pro triathletes land sponsors and earn recognition. How do you approach that challenge?

A: That’s a good question and it is a challenge. One of the biggest things that have been helpful for me is to go to conventions such as Interbike and give out business cards and resumes and talk to people so they can put a face to your name. I follow up with an email and then to be brutally honest you have to be almost annoying. You walk a fine line of touching base, following up on regular basis and sometimes they get right back to you and sometimes they get caught up on other things.

Q: Doesn’t it help that you look good on magazine covers?

A: It has helped, but what also helps is that I’m on Facebook and Twitter and am proactive trying to market myself and products I believe in and moving in that direction to where I’m doing a lot of talking and blogging and making everything as public as possible. That definitely helps.

Q: What are your goals for your first year as a pro and what would make it a success?

A: I would like to have a couple of podium finishes and be top five in a large percentage of races. So I have high expectations. I know it’s a totally different world out there but at the same time I think I’ll rise up and go with the flow and push myself a bit harder to hang. I’m real interested to see how it unfolds but I strongly believe I can have a few podium finishes at both distances and be top five in a large percentage of races.

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Filed under Enduring Athlete of the Month, Fitness Buff Show Radio, Triathlon

Insider Trading, Ironman Athletes, Oh My!

By Pete Williams

The Wall Street Journal reported a remarkable story about two mid-30s guys who were best friends. They worked for the same hedge fund. Donald Longueuil had been the best man in Noah Freeman’s wedding and there were plans for Freeman to return the favor.

Unfortunately, the best man-to-be got busted for insider trading. As an early wedding present, Freeman wore a wire for the government and brought Longueuil down with him.

The guys had a shared interest in speed skating. Their significant others were on a college rowing team together.

The soon-to-be married couple rode on the same New York cycling team. The already married couple – Freeman and Hannah England – competed in triathlons together. Freeman even proposed to England midway through the Ironman 70.3 in St. Croix in 2008.

I looked up England’s times and found that she completed 11 Ironman/or Ironman 70.3 races from 2007-09, with some impressive times. She completed Kona in 12:29 and Ironman Arizona in 11:23.

According to the WSJ, Freeman was rejected from the “Team Psycho” training team “because he didn’t always support others with what the club describes as positive ‘psycho karma,’ according to a club member.”

I imagine the movie is already in the works. We’ll need some fit mid/late 30s actors and actresses. Casting suggestions? I think Reese Witherspoon could be a believable Ironman finisher. Jeremy Piven is a little old, but has done triathlons. Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey also have raced.

Casting suggestions?

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Filed under Triathlon

The Hopelessly Outdated Swimsuit Issue

By Pete Williams

Still relevant?

Back in February of 1980, just two months into my gift subscription to Sports Illustrated, I opened the mailbox and found Christie Brinkley staring at me.

There she was, the 26-year-old future ex-Mrs. Billy Joel, clad in a white bikini. If memory serves – and 10-year-old boys rarely forget such things – the pictorial inside included a thong-clad Miss Brinkley.

In 1980, few women worked out. Title IX was not quite eight years old. We were a couple years away from Martina Navratilova’s decision to transform her chubby physique into a lean, athletic machine, becoming perhaps the first prominent female athlete (and one of the first overall) to embrace conditioning. Jane Fonda was only 42, but not yet an exercise video entrepreneur.

Back then, we thought of athletic conditioning mostly in terms of distance running and bodybuilding. Either you were an emaciated marathoner or a freak show muscle head. There was little in between, especially for women.

Thus, the SI swimsuit babe, a product of terrific genes, makeup artists, and world-class photographers, became the epitome of female attractiveness for many men. We were, after all, just a few months removed from 23-year-old Bo Derek setting the standard for a “10.”

Flash ahead three decades. Title IX has helped level the playing field for women in sports. Women understand, perhaps better than men, that some combination of strength training, Pilates/yoga/core conditioning, and endurance work can produce a lean, sexy physique that’s more powerful, resistant to injury, and attractive than the soft and skinny (“skinny fat”) specimens still gracing the pages of SI every mid-February.

The SI swimsuit issue has become cliche, yet advertisers still pony up big money for it. So SI keeps trotting it out after every Super Bowl.

Who would have thought that ESPN, with its well-chronicled history of sexual harassment at its Connecticut offices, would stage a more appropriate celebration of the female (and male) physique?

ESPN the Magazine’s annual October “Body” issue displays prominent and not-so-prominent athletes (male and female) in nude poses that celebrate the time and effort they’ve put into their physiques to excel in sports. The poses are implied nudity, with nothing showing, though for the second-annual issue last fall ESPN printed photos displaying bare bums.

Unlike the come-hither SI poses, ESPN positions athletes to accentuate their sport-specific power. Thus you see the lats of Olympic rower Susan Francia, the muscular wingspan of Dwight Howard, and the upper-body power of triathlete Sarah Reinertsen, who has a prosthetic left leg.

For years, SI has thrown a few pro athletes into the mix for the swimsuit issue, but it always seems forced, as if the magazine is trying to doll up pro athletes to come across as models rather than, well, the athletes the magazine celebrates the rest of the year.

2010 Body Issue cover

Serena Williams appeared in the SI swimsuit issue a few years back, but looked far more athletic and stunning in a strategically-shot nude cover image in the 2009 Body Issue. Last October, ESPN the Mag featured volleyball player Kim Glass nude in a sport-specific pose that accentuates her jacked physique, bare bum angled to the camera. It’s not a sexy pose so much as it is a powerful one, leaving the viewer (male or female) to think, “Damn, I wish I had glutes like that.”

I felt the same way looking at Nelson Cruz’ back, Carl Edwards’ abs or Ryan Lochte’s quads in last fall’s Body issue. You admire the hard work and how the bodies drive and reflect the success of the athletes.

Glass appears in the newest SI swimsuit issue nude but with a strategically-placed (though out of place) paddle, just another SI teaser pic. She could be any swimsuit model. Unlike the ESPN shot, the SI version does nothing to accentuate her physique.

The irony, of course, is that when ESPN removes the swimsuit, much of the titillation factor goes away. The photos in ESPN’s Body issue are more raw, more impressive, more appropriate for the subjects.

Oh well. No longer do people express outrage over SI’s swimsuit issue. After all, it looks downright tame compared to what 10-year-olds can find online. But given the way we now celebrate the athletic physique – in or out of swimwear – the SI swimsuit issue featuring skinny 20-year-old models not only is outdated.

It’s irrelevant.

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Fiber: Not Just for Regularity Anymore

By Pete Williams

Good fiber source: nuts

It wasn’t that long ago that a mention of the word “fiber” conjured up images of cheesy commercials featuring seniors talking about regularity.

Fiber does, of course, keep things flowing through the system. But now we know that getting enough fiber has a host of health benefits, as we were reminded this week when the National Institutes of Health released a study that found people who consumed higher amounts of fiber, especially from grains, had a significantly lower risk of dying over a nine-year span compared to those who consumed low amounts.

Fiber improves gastrointestinal health and function and helps prevent colon cancer. It regulates blood sugar levels, keeps you full, and promotes long-term cardiovascular health by reducing cholesterol. Fiber is found in oatmeal, beans, whole grains, fruits, and green, leafy vegetables.

Most people don’t get nearly enough fiber in their diet; you need between 25 and 30 grams per day and most people get less than half that amount. When choosing whole grains, look for products that include at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Because fiber is found mostly in carbohydrates and is essential to overall health, people who follow low-carb diet plans deprive themselves of this vital source of nutrition.

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Untreated Water Good Enough to Paddle, Not Swim

By Pete Williams

No water worries?

Officials in Tempe, Arizona, have been weighing the cost of treating the water at Tempe Town Lake, which will be the site of an upcoming paddleboard event. That makes sense, since the lake is flat, scenic, and centrally-located for a paddleboard event.

What does this have to do with Florida? Read on.

Anyone who has competed in Ironman Arizona has swum in the lake, which apparently is notorious for high pH levels, which can cause skin rashes, eye and nose irritation. That’s why Tempe spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to treat the water before Ironman and other swimming-related activities.

According to a story in Tuesday’s Arizona Republic, Tempe has spent $3.8 million to improve the water quality since 1999. (Ironman Arizona did not debut until 2005, so presumably Ironman cynics can’t blame the Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. for this one.)

The story also said officials don’t want to incur further costs to treat the water before a paddleboard event because, after all, the idea is to stay on the paddleboard and out of the water. A Tempe parks and recreation official is quoted saying that the lake does not have to meet pH swimming standards for paddleboarders since the sport is not “a bathing activity” and people are unlikely to fall in the water.

Others disagree, including Matt Lorraine, whose South Florida-based Exclusive Sports Marketing is branching out this year from triathlon into promoting a paddleboard race.

Lorraine, I’m guessing, isn’t that familiar with paddle boarding.

“You’re going to fall off. There’s no doubt about that,” Lorraine is quoted by The Republic. “It generally takes, with consistent practice, a few months before you get yourself in a pretty good position . . . (where you’re) not going to fall off anymore.”

A few months? One reason for the sport’s meteoric growth is how easy it is to get a grip on the basics. Most paddleboard beginners are stunned to find how infrequently they fall off. I was one of a dozen newbies who went out on boards on a lake in the Florida Panhandle in September. This was a group of travel writers, hardly an athletic bunch, and do you know how many of us fell in the water during an hour-long session? None.

The third time I was on a board I competed in a three-mile race in the Gulf of Mexico and didn’t fall off. That hardly made me unusual. Nobody else in the race did either.

I’ve since fallen in several times and even an elite paddler might go down on occasion during a paddleboard race featuring a technical course and rougher water. But it’s hardly the norm. Which is why Tempe officials probably are unwilling to spend more on water treatment.

Leave that for the triathletes and others actually spending time in the water.

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Filed under SUP, Training

Healing Waters

By Pete Williams

Fran Crippen

Ever since Fran Crippen died during an open-water 10K swimming race in the United Arab Emirates in October, his two younger sisters have managed to balance grief with swimming for their respective Division I programs.

Fran Crippen, a former University of Virginia star, had become a standout in the world of U.S. distance swimming at the age of 26. Older sister Maddy starred at Villanova and swam at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Claire Crippen, 22, followed Fran to the University of Virginia. Now a senior (or fourth-year as we Wahoos like to say), she’s a team captain and two-time ACC champion in the 400 IM who will lead her team at the ACC championships in Atlanta this weekend. As Jeff White chronicled on the University of Virginia Web site recently, Claire was very close to her brother, who though four years older rarely missed one of her meets in Charlottesville.

Teresa Crippen, a 20-year-old junior, is an All-American at Florida. Like Claire, she dominates the 400 IM. The two squared off during a dual meet between the Cavaliers and Gators in Gainesville in October, with Teresa finishing ahead of her older sister in the 200 butterfly and 200 IM. The Gators host the SEC championships this weekend and as Antoya English writes in today’s St. Petersburg Times, Teresa swims to honor her brother’s memory.

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Filed under Swimming

Fitness Buff Show Talks Tri

By Pete Williams

If it’s mid-February in Florida, that means preaseason triathlon training is in high gear. In this week’s video broadcast of The Fitness Buff Show, we talk triathlon training with Erin Kowal Downs.

Last week we featured Kowal’s strategies for training during pregnancy and for taking the weight off quickly after childbirth. A registered dietitian, Kowal also provides some nutritional tips during this week’s show. We also re-cap last weekend’s Chilly Willy Duathlon as co-host Whit Lasseter moves closer to her first triathlon.


Vodpod videos no longer available.


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Filed under Fitness Buff Show Videos, Nutrition, Training, Triathlon