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2015 Paris Triathlon (draft-legal!) Race Report

It’s time for my slightly belated Paris Triathlon Race Report!  Don’t worry, it doesn’t get too stale even though it’s a week later.

As you’ve likely surmised at this point, I raced the Paris Triathlon.  But not just me, but also with one of our friends who was in town from Colorado over the last few weeks (Phil).  We treated it as more of a fun race than anything super-serious.  Which is probably the best way to treat most races anyway.

Packet Pickup and Re-drop off:

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Packet pickup for the race was held at a track next to the Eiffel Tower; the spot itself would ultimately be the finisher’s area on race-day.  This made it super-easy for us to go to via bike, so Phil and myself simply jumped on our bikes to head down mid-day on Friday and take care of things upon expo opening.

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At this point in the day, it was pretty much empty – so the process didn’t take very long at all.

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After that, we’d have theoretically dropped off our running shoes at T2, which is in the long park (Champs de Mars) under the Eiffel Tower itself.  But we didn’t bring our shoes since we both wanted to get in a brick workout the day before the race.

At this point you may be wondering why we’d drop off our shoes the day before.  The reason is that the course itself was what’s known as a ‘point to point’ course, where you start in one place and end in a totally different spot.  In this case, you started about 10-15 miles to the East of the Eiffel Tower in a large park.  You swam there before jumping on your bike for a cross-town ride where you ‘overshoot’ the Eiffel Tower and then head west for a while before turning back to the Eiffel Tower.

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Once at the Eiffel Tower you’d rack your bike and head off on the run.  Hence the need to drop off your shoes in your transition bag the day before the race.

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As such, you’d need a bunch of different bags.  Very much like how an Ironman race is structured with all the separate bags.  Probably a little bit of overkill here, but it’s clean and functional.

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We’d come and do the run bag dropoff that Saturday evening.  Nice and quick with the ride only being about 10-12 minutes each direction.

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From there, we were good to go for the next morning.

Pre-Race Morning:

We jumped on the RER-C train, which departs about 150 yards from our front door, super convenient.  It was then about a 15-20 minute trip out to the starting area.

From there a short 1-2KM ride to the transition area for racking our bikes (T1).

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I should probably take a brief diversion to explain the ‘draft-legal’ aspect of the race.  In triathlon there’s roughly two types of racing: Draft-legal and non-drafting.  Non-drafting is the most common for age group athletes and long distance racing.  It’s what you see in Ironman races and 99.99999% of all triathlons you’ll find in the US as a non-professional athlete.

Whereas draft-legal racing is what you see in the Olympics and ITU racing.  In this setup you can draft on the bike, effectively working together just like most road cycling races.  This drastically changes the importance of the bike leg (as well as both the swim and run segments).  While this format is more widely found in Europe than in the US (only a couple races for amateurs in the US), it’s still in the minority of triathlon races overall.

In both draft-legal and non-drafting events, you can always draft on the swim & the run.  It’s only the bike that’s different (and yes, drafting on the swim is very advantageous).

Ok, so given that – you are NOT permitted to have long aerobars on your bike in a draft-legal race.  Generally speaking the rule is that you can’t have the aerobars extend beyond your handlebars, though in some cases there are no aerobars at all.  This is done for safety reasons, primarily because of the close proximity of racers on the bike in packs, and the pokey aspect of the aerobars.

However, I saw numerous folks that didn’t get the memo.  And the officials would reject the bikes due to being unsafe.  Somehow though, semi-astoundingly, these ‘modifications’ of taped and reversed aerobars seen below were allowed:

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Somehow I think that’s probably worse than before.  Go figure.

Oh, and there was a Velib in there too!  Woot!

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Ok, with that, I got my little area all setup.  Just nice and clean, since we had to leave the transition area empty upon departure post-swim (nothing on the ground).  You’d put everything in your T1 bag and they’d transport it to the start.

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Finally, I’ll note that the event had hired a drone to do a bunch of aerial photography.  Given it was technically outside the city limits of Paris, that’s permitted (inside the city limits is an arrestable offense).  Cool idea, though not cool at how unsafe the operator was.  Seriously – you don’t fly 5ft over people’s heads.  One, it’s illegal in France (and most other countries with various drone laws).  And two, it’s just stupid.  It is stuff like this that gives everyone else a bad name.

The full video is here.  It appears that none of the low-flying stuff made the cut in that video.

In any event – onwards to the swim!

The Swim:

We walked from transition area to the start of the swim.  The swim was held in a long lake (man-made I presume, for rowing).  It was a completely straight swim – simple in that you swam straight from one end to the other.  Kinda un-screwup-able.

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Once there, they had 4-5 large waves, each with I’m guessing 500-800 people in them:

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I was in the third wave, which wasn’t so much age groups as different aspects like whether you were in a team or not, and then from there different categories.  In short, it was a complete mix of folks – which was fine.

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And by ‘mix of folks’, I really mean it:

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You had a few minutes to swim out.  The smarter folks (like myself and Phil) swam to the complete opposite end of the start line.  That’s because that was the same spot as where you’d exit the swim at the other end.  So you could either swim that extra 100m off the clock (pre-start), or on the clock (during your race).  Given I’m slow at swimming already, I’ll take the minimalist option.

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Oh, here’s us waiting to start:

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As is always the case with French races – there was virtually no massive countdown.  Instead, boom, and off we went!

I don’t have any mid-swim photos this time around.  And for the most part, I just swam straight forward.  The lake was pretty shallow, so you were often grabbing into various plant stuffs along the bottom.  But no big deal.

It was pretty clean swimming in terms of bumping into people.  Only the last 300-400 yards or so as I started overtaking various groups in front of us did I have to do a fair bit of dodge and weave.

Now, despite what I’d consider probably my straightest swim line of all time, the Epix thought I was drunk:

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Obviously it’s just having some sort of issue there in the swim.  Though interestingly the distance was reasonably close – at 1,661y.

My time on the course was 26:58  Certainly not my fastest, but it was also sans-wetsuit due to the 81°F water (thus I’d be slower than any PR’s).

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With that, out of the water for the few hundred meter run to the bikes.

With the swim behind me, it was definitely time to have a bit more fun.  My T1 transition time was fairly straightforward.  The only notable item was dropping off my T1 transition bag, which I did on the way out.  I’d eventually collect this post-race at the finish area.

From there I headed over to the mount line to pop on the bike and head on out:

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I was using a bike with three power meters, and for the heck of it, I had collected data from all three (Pioneer, PowerTap P1 pedals, PowerTap G3 hub).  Seemed kinda a waste to let that data go into the air uncollected.

Once away from transition area, I immediately set to work finding someone to draft behind.  The key here though is to find a balance between drafting (and thus saving energy) and going fast.  You don’t want to draft behind someone that’s slower than you’d otherwise be going at race effort.

In general, my rough rule of thumb was about 26MPH (41.8KPH).  Meaning, I found that as long as I was holding about 26MPH in a pack, I was going fast enough to be worth it.  If that pack slowed down, then I’d jump ahead to a different group.

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For the most part, you generally stayed within some ‘circles of athletes’ in that there were a few people that were roughly always within sight of me – sometimes working together.

In my case, almost none of the people that I had ‘joined up’ with were good at working together.  That’s when you get into any number of rotational schemes where someone takes a pull on the front (doing the hard work) before getting a rest in the draft towards the back.  There was only 1-2 times towards the end of the race that the other athlete/athletes ‘got it’ and worked correctly together.

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In most cases, when I’d do a pull and maintain speed, others would fall off (thus defeating the point of me pulling for them).  It would have been stupid for me to do a pull and then slow down to let them catch up.  Either you hold on on you get dropped.

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In the case of Phil, he noted he did find a couple of cases where the packs worked together.  He’s a far stronger cyclist than I (CAT3 in the US), but he also got hosed when the seatpost on his bike wasn’t tightened enough, causing it to slide down and requiring a pit-stop to fix.

In any case, here’s what the whole thing looked like from a GoPro on the front of the bike – condensed down to just a few minutes!

As you can see, in most cases when there was nobody ahead of me, I was trying pretty hard to bridge the gap to the next group.  As a result, my overall power numbers are much more spikey than you’d see when doing a triathlon in a non-drafting event.  In that case you’re aiming for smooth and even power.  Whereas here you’re trying to take advantage of any situation you can (by either going faster or slower):

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I’d wrap-up the bike with a time of 61mins.  I was hoping for a few minutes faster, but the coordination amongst others just wasn’t there.  All that said – it really is a blast! By far the most fun I’ve had on a bike ever, race or otherwise.  It becomes far more strategic than just holding a given heart rate or power number.  You’re constantly thinking, adjusting, reacting.  You don’t have time to be bored, or to think about what pain you may or may not be in.  You’re simply too focused on your next move.

As for heading into T2, you actually didn’t have a specific bike rack.  Instead, they had setup a gigantically long three-line transition area over the course of hundreds of yards next to the Eiffel Tower.  You simply ran as far as you could with your bike until the volunteers told you to rack your bike there.

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The trick was remembering where it was afterwards. 😉

The Run:

After leaving my bike behind, I ran over to the massive racks of orange bags to find my T2 run bag.  In my case, the only thing it had in it was my running shoes.  Others had put in far more items, but I was pretty minimalistic.

From there you had to run to/through the changing tents before you could use any provisions in your bag.  So I completed the obligatory run through the changing tent and then randomly found a little rock ‘stool’ to sit on and put my shoes on.  As I did so, I somewhat accidentally took the below photo.  Turned out pretty good.

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Then it was out past everyone else and onto the run course:

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The course was all mostly on either city streets, or streets along the river.  The first portion of the route circled back in front of the Eiffel Tower:

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We’d dip down a bit of a tunnel here with an aide station at the bottom.  Because of the much higher temperatures over the weekend, they had upped the number of aide stations.

Next, it was down onto Les Berges, which is a semi-new car-free park area along the river.  It used to be a highway but was converted to a multi-mile park two years ago.  It’s here I caught up to Phil on the run:

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A short bit later I hit the first turnaround point.

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The course kinda wandered all over the place along the river, doing a dual out and back type situation:

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As I passed back by the Eiffel Tower, I saw The Girl, and Phil’s Wife as well – cheering us on.

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Soon I was running halfway across the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, before dropping down onto a small island in the river:

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At the other end of the island was the Statue of Liberty. Somewhat appropriate given it was the day after the 4th of July.

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After saying hi to Lady Liberty, we headed back to shore and down along the river again.  It’s here I realized I was running a wee bit low on camera juice (it had gotten left on during the swim/bike segments).  So I held off on more photos till I was closer to the end.

As for my pacing – I was more or less running at a pace that felt sustainable for a 10K.  I had done a 38-minute 10K race a few weeks prior on a much hillier course.  But those weeks in between had been low-mileage weeks for me, due to travel.

The pace roughly had me in the 6:30-6:40/mile (4:02-4:08/KM range), which would have slid me in just above a 40 minute 10KM run.  Seemed doable.

However, shortly after the turnaround I knew the course would not be 10KM.  I’ve run along this route more times than I can count, and immediately realized it was going to be some distance short.  Which, is sorta inexcusable.  There were two turnaround points on the pedestrian only path – either (or both) of those could easily have been extended a few hundred yards to get the correct distance.

My GPS watch measured it at about 5.5 miles (8.85KM), and looking at the track, it looks spot-on.  They were short nearly 1KM (so a 9KM race).  Again – there’s just no excuse for a 2,000+ person race to be short 1KM, especially in this case when it would have been so trivial to place the turnaround marker further down Les Berges towards Invalides.  Sigh (incorrect race distances are a pet peeve of mine).

In any event, after wrapping up along the river it was back up towards the Eiffel Tower to the track to finish.  One did a partial loop here:

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And then it was straight into the finishing chute!  Gotta say – it’s pretty hard to beat this view:

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My final run time was 37:12, so a 10KM time probably would have put me in the 40:30 range.  Once I realized it was going to be super-short, I lost a bit of motivation to run harder – since the appeal of a sub-40-minute 10K was lost.

For those that are interested, here’s my full multisport file as recorded on the Garmin Epix.

Post-Race:

Following my finish, I waited a minute or two for Phil to cross as well:

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From there we received our finisher’s shirts, as well as our finisher’s medals.  Then it was over to the food tents to survey the goods.  Which, were impressive.  Everything from chocolate to juice to watermelon and much more:

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In fact, later on they’d even be giving out full watermelons to anyone wanting one!

After taking care of free food we headed over to pickup our bikes.  We had to wait about 15-20 minutes for it to open, but were at least first to our bikes.

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Unfortunately, someone was an asshat and stole Phil’s Garmin Edge 500 in the transition area.  Not cool at all.  At least he still had some data, as he wore a spare FR920XT I had.  But still, not cool.  When I mentioned it to the Clever Training folks, they said they’ll hook him up with a replacement Edge 520 though instead once they start shipping soon – so definitely cool of them!

Luckily, nobody stole either my Edge 1000 or Edge 810 I had there:

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Upon exiting bike pickup we headed off to refuel properly:

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With that – thanks for reading!  It was great seeing those readers out there that said ‘Hello!’ – especially mid-race.  Always good to see folks!

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51 Comments

  1. Martin

    Great report and well done!
    Distances aside, would you recommend the event? Was the course big enough for all those people?

    • Yup, absolutely – I had a blast!

      Definitely no issues with course size. Since it wasn’t looping, plenty of space. The only caution I’d give is that if you don’t like close group rides, then one would probably be uncomfortable on the bike. I loved it, but folks might differ there.

    • Fran

      As you said, draft legal events are pretty common in shorter distances in EuroLand. Definitely all sprint distance and most olympic distance triathlons. I don’t want to imagine having to enforce non-drafting rules in the 20k bike leg of a crowded Sprint race!
      My next one will be an olympic, flat non-draft bike, with 600 people, I am pretty sure it will become a draft-party for some!

  2. Josh

    Curious to know the most popular watch device on the course. Congrats on the accomplishment!

  3. Grant

    I see you have HR data, what did you use for that the Scosche? or some other strap? Awesome race report though, certainly looks a lot of fun

  4. Gunnar9090

    Very cool. Thanks for the report.

    Regarding stolen edge units (or other types) turns out the only way to get my edge 800 to fit flush between my aero bars is to loosen my K edge mount and mount the edge 800 and then place it between the aero bars, then tighten the K edge. A bit of an extra step, but it has the benefit that no “asshat” can twist and remove the edge 800 in transition.

  5. Mark

    Last time I looked, the ITU regulation for aerobars was that they couldn’t extend beyond the centerline/axis of your front wheel.

  6. Ewan

    Hi Ray, a question about avoiding theft. Do you know if there are any mounts that can fit a garmin and not be quarter turned off so easily? (e.g. a screw shut case or similar) I’ve been lucky so far I guess but would happily spend 10 minutes fitting a mount before and after a race to reduce the risk, then use my barfly the rest of the time.

    Enjoyed the report as usual. Keep up the good work!

    • Bryan Alsdorf

      The only solution I’ve thought of is to use the lanyard hole on the bottom of the garmin (there on my 510 at least) and a zip tie to secure it to the bike. Still can be cut, but would probably deter a casual thief.

      The hole is small enough I doubt you could get a wire through there.

    • John

      I’ve thought about a locking Garmin mount as well. It shouldn’t be difficult to design a quarter-turn mount that would somehow lock out the tabs. A determined thief could still just remove the mount, I guess, but at least that makes them look more suspicious than just grabbing the computer and flipping it counterclockwise.

  7. A real shame that the Edge got stolen. I imagine it must be a real problem at events like this. I wonder if any bikes get stolen. Must be a bit of a target with bikes worth thousands of euros left unattended. Leave your cheap bike and get a 10,000 euro replacement!

    • Well, they do check your bike number against your bib/wrist band. So you wouldn’t be able to swap bikes that way. Just for small stuff like a Garmin, nobody would ever know.

    • Fran

      Normally there are race officals checking that your bib number matches the one on the bike when you exit the transition area. Unfortunately, hiding something smaller in your backpack is much easier. And it is getting more and more frequent. A couple of months ago a teammate got his edge 500 stolen in a race as well.
      So sad, but maybe race organizers should pay more attention to this.

    • Fran

      Dang! beat me by a second!!

    • Scott Buchanan

      Garmin will know who the thief is as soon as they connect the pilfered Edge to GC.

    • Unfortunately with the Edge 500 being fairly old, it’s likely someone might not use GC at all (since it lacks any real need to connect via smartphone/wifi).

    • Anonymous Coward

      Any idea what Garmin / Strava do when they see uploads from reportedly stolen units? Apple at least has Activation Lock for iOS devices to thwart some theft, and ideally any registered Garmin etc. device could be locked and tracked through all services that connect to the vendor’s hub (e.g. via Garmin 3rd party sync APIs.)

    • I’ve sent over a bit of a question list to the Garmin folks hoping to get some answers on how it all works. Sounds like there’s a bit of interest here – so be fun to put together a quick post on what is within the realm of possible from them.

    • Happy Runner

      Given the fact that you commonly see bikes costing over $10,000, I am surprised that there are not thefts during T1, where there is no security, unlike the end of a race.

      A thief could seed himself in an early swim wave having previously selected a high value bike of a competitor in a late wave. Ride off with the bike and head to his car parked a mile or so into the race. By the time the owner gets to T1, his bike is in the thief’s car, heading down the highway.

    • Yeah. The only deterrent might be that virtually all races that are put on these days have a video camera recording at T1/2, primarily just in case the chip/bib system fails that can look at the video.

      That would then show not just the stolen bike leaving – but the bib/details/face of the person stealing it.

    • Of course, you’d also have a ‘leftover’ bike in transition with said persons ID all over. Meaning, it’d become much more complex to get away with it – since you’d also have to fake your ID/address/etc…

    • Happy Runner

      In my scenario, the thief doesn’t rack a bike at all. I hadn’t thought about the video, but I guess the answer to that is not to have a timing chip at all, such that the thief appears as a DNS.

  8. Mark Liversedge

    Do triathletes never ride on the drops !?

    :)

    Looks like you had a blast though !

    Mark

  9. ChadW

    I haven’t delved into triathlons myself, but I have many friends that do everything up to the 140.6 Ironman distances. Definitely going to recommend this race to them!

  10. Alasdair Gardner

    Did you tell us your full time? What position did you and your friend Phil finish in?

    Looks like a great triathlon, very professional appearance (minus the 10k distance thing which is silly) must have been difficult to organize for 2-3,000 people.

    THanks Ray

  11. Alex

    Nice race report!
    I also had a blast on the bike course!
    40-year old total noob cyclist since last march, on an entry-level Felt F85:
    Ended up with a 40 km/h average thanks to the drafting “bonus”, it was the most insane ride in my life!
    And still lots of energy for the run. Will definately do it again next year!

  12. Mike 9

    Great race report, I always enjoy reading. I’d love to cover a race like you do, but I can’t imagine trying to keep up with a camera the whole time. How about some pointers in doing this…in your shorts for the swim? In a pocket on the bike? Just a hand carry on the run? Do tell!

  13. DJH

    I want to know how the guy on the Velib placed!!

  14. Mat0x4e

    Nice report. You passed me at the beginning of the run.
    If I had noticed, I would have said hello and tried to follow a bit ! ^^

  15. John S.

    Do .fit files include a serial number for the device? It seems this would be a simple way for allowing stolen devices to be tracked.

    • Tim Grose

      They do yes – and all paired devices too. All depends if then any activities are uploaded anywhere and then a normal user of that service would probably not be able to do a look up of the device id. I checked the Strava API and the device ID is not exposed in the activity details you can access.
      You would think though that Garmin or Strava or other similar companies could put a “lock” on activities from devices that were reported as stolen.

    • Midpackbiped

      That would be a welcome consumer friendly feature for Garmin.

  16. Yancey

    Regarding garmin theft. it would be interesting if the unit could add it’s serial number into the FIT file. Report your garmin stolen and the serial number is put into a database which could be checked by all online services. Maybe you can’t upload your data without having your serial number validated by the garmin servers. Still hoping for a FIT header file which records session/device/calibration information.

  17. Enoch

    Out of curiosity, what camera where you using DC? I’m wanting to start bringing along a small cam on my next tri.

    • Everything was on a GoPro Hero4, I had three cameras:

      1) Front of bike: GoPro Hero4 Silver
      2) Back of bike: GoPro Hero4 Black
      3) Pocket: GoPro Hero4 Silver

      For the pocket, I just placed it in the leg of my tri suit during the swim (if it were wetsuit legal, I place it just down the neck). For the bike, it stayed in my back pocket. I just took screenshots from the mounted bike videos. And for the run, I took it out of my pocket and hand-held most of it.

  18. Mike Hensen

    Since you seem to know the garmin folks well, do they have any thoughts about tracking stolen devices, some good suggestions here, thanks for the great race report, always a highlight.

  19. gingerneil

    Ray – hope you didn’t eat a whole watermelon ? According to Ben @TRS, an action like that is sure to result in a visit from the gingerbread man !

  20. Serge

    Ray,

    You forget to convert yard in meter and °F in °C in comment for swimming. You.re bases in a metric system country

  21. Pat

    Is there something regulating bike shoes being attached to the bike in T1? Just wondering, looks like your picture in T1 has a few shoes beside the bikes instead of already attached to the pedals. The picture as you approach the (extremely crowded) mount line also looks like most people are running in their shoes. Or is that just random chance that those pictures just happened to include a bunch of people that like running in their cycling shoes?

    • I don’t think there were any regulations against it in this race (some races do prohibit it, mostly Ironman ones).

      I usually do pre-clip, but that morning I realized I’d never tried a flying mount with this bike before (road bike), and figured it wasn’t worth the savings if I flopped.

      All my past flying mounts are on my Tri bike, which while no doubt harder to flying mount, is something that is routine to me. Had I thought of it prior to transition on race morning I would have spent 5 mins practicing it and he exact hand positions.

    • Shortish distance amateur race will prob have a fair chunk of the field without clipless pedals, so they’ll be wearing running shoes anyway.

      I do have clipless, but they’re MTB shoes, because they’re the one pair I have, predating getting into tri. Fine for running out of transition in with recessed cleats, but would be impossible to get my feet in while rolling. So I put them on at the rack. There’s bigger areas for improvement at my level than T1 time, so haven’t justified tri-specific shoes yet.

      By the sounds of the narrative, a lot of those people are the tail of the previous swim wave, so prob a lot without all the gear.

      Are you saying there are actually races which enforce a barefoot run out of T1?

    • Yeah, for example, I know some Ironman’s I’ve done in the past have. I distinctly remember Ironman Canada (original locale), as well as one or two 70.3’s somewhere too along the way.

    • Wonder what the logic is. Seems like it would be less safe, either forcing people into flying starts they aren’t confident with or getting a load or people sat just outside T1 putting shoes on.

    • Sorry, I misunderstood what you’re saying. I meant that in IMC they enforced a “must be in bike shoes while running” rule. Which still is kinda quirky because with water on pavement it becomes fairly slick.

    • Wasn’t sure I’d got it the right way round, hence trying to clarify, but looks like I confused things more!

  22. Michael F.

    Elephant Rock!
    Cool to see not only that Phil is from Colorado, but that he’s rocking one of the iconic Colorado ride’s gear. In Paris. Nice.

  23. I went to cheer for the ExpaTRIés, I couldn’t compete as i had just arrived that morning from a diving trip. I caught you on video at the arrival, here: link to youtu.be

  24. Wijnand

    Hello Ray! I got a question on all the pics made during the triathlon. What device dis tou use and how dis you keep it on you during all elements.

    Keep going and thanks!