Getting geared up for GATTS

So far, since Derek and I bought 706, I’ve logged just over 45 hours flying it. Solo, I’ve gone to Louisiana and Vermont; the boys and I have gone to Pigeon Forge, Demopolis, Atlanta, Anniston, and Tuscaloosa. Now it’s time to step my game up a notch: on Monday, I’m flying to Manhattan, Kansas, for a week of accelerated instrument training with GATTS. A few of the folks I’ve talked to (including family members and coworkers) have asked lots of good questions about this plan, so I thought a quick Q&A might be in order.

Q: What’s an instrument rating?
A: With an instrument rating, you can fly under what the FAA calls “instrument flight rules.” Basically, you can fly in and around clouds, fog, and rain, or in conditions of poor visibility– all by using only the instruments in your cockpit, without being able to see any landmarks or the horizon.

Q: So you can fly in bad weather!
A: Nope. An instrument rating allows you to take off, fly, and land under certain conditions. For example, to legally land at Huntsville’s airport, you must have at least a 200′ ceiling and 1/2 mile visibility. That doesn’t mean it would be safe to do so, just that if the weather is worse than that, you can’t land there. It’s not a license to fly in thunderstorms, blizzards, high winds, and the like, although each year a few people die from confusing “legal” and “safe” and taking off or flying through visible or embedded thunderstorms.

Q: Then why bother?
A: Think of a typical summer day in the South: partly cloudy in the morning, building thunderstorms in the mid-afternoon, then partly cloudy again in the evening. With an instrument rating, you can (legally and safely) penetrate the clouds, fly on top of them, then descend and land lately. You also get guaranteed routing and safety services from air traffic control, whereas when you fly visually those services are available on a best-effort basis.

Q: Kansas? Couldn’t you find a local instructor?
A: I love my instructors here in Huntsville. (Hi, John! Hi, Caroline!) But the big advantage of the GATTS program is that you spend the entire time flying. When I got my private license, my training dragged out because I had to line up 4 factors: my schedule, my instructor’s schedule, the airplane’s schedule, and the weather. By blocking out the time as one chunk, I should be able to build my skills much faster. Kansas is different enough from here that I will have to master the skills of navigation and approach management (in other words, I can’t depend on my knowledge of the local Huntsville area), but it doesn’t have a lot of demanding terrain or complex airspace.

Q: Is it like boot camp, then?
A: Wow, I hope not. There was a lot of yelling when I was in boot camp, for one thing. GATTS says their typical day is from about 830a to 6p. During that time, I’ll be in the classroom with my instructor, flying in the simulator, or flying my airplane. Oh, and eating lunch. The schedule varies from day to day, depending on what we’re working on. We’ll do this every day– weekends and Labor Day included– so that I get the most out of the time. I’ve already been able to carve out time for a few scheduled webcasts and conference calls that I couldn’t move.

Q: Is it expensive?
A: The answer to this question is always “yes” when it comes to aviation.

Q: No, really.
A: Yes, really. If you factor in just the instructor’s time alone, GATTS is more expensive. However, there’s no way on earth that I could get a local instructor to fly with me day in, day out long enough to learn what I need to know. Then I’d end up having to repeat lessons to knock the rust off. The GATTS program also includes lodging in Manhattan and a car to use. Plus, I’ve never been to Kansas.

Q: Why an accelerated program?
A: The best way to get proficient at flying is to fly. The best way to get, and keep, instrument proficiency is to compress your training, then use your instrument privileges regularly. I’ve already had to delay or change travel plans many times to account for vagaries of weather; being instrument-qualified doesn’t eliminate that (hello, thunderstorms!) but it gives me many more options. Ultimately, the airplane is a time machine: it lets me travel to places, and in time windows, where I otherwise couldn’t, so having the ability to fly in weather is really important to me. I want to do it as safely and proficiently as possible.

I’m planning, time and energy level permitting, to keep a daily journal of my experience at GATTS. Stay tuned…

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In which I become a repeat offender

Yesterday marked a milestone: my second triathlon, the Tarpon Tri in Houma, Louisiana. I was fooling around one day on TriFind and noticed that there was a race there, so I signed up– I thought it would be a fun trip to see family and visit my hometown again. But you know what they say: one triathlon and you can explain it away as harmless experimentation, or perhaps a temporary indiscretion… run TWO, though, and you’re a repeat offender, well on your way to “serial triathlete” status.

I’d planned to make the 359nm flight from Decatur to Houma on Friday afternoon, so after a great conference call with a potential new customer (more on that next week, I hope), I loaded up the plane. With the two rear seats removed, it was easy to fit my giant road bike, my tri bag, and backpack in; I parked the car and off I went. I’d like to say a lot of neat stuff about how interesting the flight was, but the fact is that it went flawlessly: no major weather, a smooth ride, and some really interesting scenery, including a beautiful crossing of Lake Ponchartrain right alongside the Causeway. After an easy landing, I headed to my hotel to drop off my stuff, plug in all my gadgets, and make plans to see family.

(Side note: I cannot possibly say enough good things about how well the folks at Butler Aviation took care of me. When I arrived, they had a rental vehicle ready because I’d emailed ahead– no mean feat since the nearest rental agency is 10 mi or so away.  When I got ready to come home, the plane was fueled and ready to go, and everyone there was super friendly. Highly recommended.)

Dinner Friday night was excellent: my Aunt Norma, my cousin Ricky, and his wife Tonya went to Dave’s Cajun Kitchen. The name gives it away, of course: it’s Cajun food, but the kind that people actually eat. Gumbo, fried catfish, white and red beans, jambalaya, and so on. I have never had a meal there that was less than excellent. This one was so good that I ate more than I should have, for which I would pay later.

After a visit back to Ricky’s, I headed to the hotel, got my gear ready for the morning, and went to sleep… then spent all night having reflux-y burps of white beans and catfish. Key learning #1: don’t eat so damn much before the next race.

Saturday morning I got up, hit Walgreen’s for some Tums, and headed to the race site for packet pickup. The place was packed! I should’ve gone to get my packet Friday night; after 20 minutes or so in line, I got my packet and chip, got body marked, and headed to set up in transition. Thanks to all the practice with the TRI101 coaches, I had no trouble getting my gear laid out, so I headed to the pool to get in a quick warmup.

This race had staggered pool starts: the fastest swim time was #1, the second-fastest was #2, and so on. If you didn’t put down a swim time, as I didn’t, you went to the back… so I ended up being #180, meaning that I had about a 35-minute wait to get in the water. Key learning #2: put down the right swim time. I had a very pleasant time visiting with the triathletes in line near me, including a multiple half-Ironman finisher and a guy who was running his first race to celebrate his birthday weekend (he didn’t say what birthday but he was no spring chicken!)

The swim went well– 150 yd in the pool in 3:57. Oddly, Movescount showed me with 125 yds (how? it gets its data from my watch, which showed 150 yds!), and the official time for the swim was 4:36:37. The info packet said:

The timing chips are all pre-set as to when they begin your time according to the seeding chart that we give to the timing guy. Please pay attention & listen to the volunteers who are starting you. They have a list of what time each participant is to start his/her swim.

That makes me wonder if for some reason the swim times were off based on the expected time at which I was supposed to get in the water. In any event, the swim felt good. I got through T1 in a leisurely 3 minutes, partly due to my decision to try my new USMC cycling jersey as racewear. Turns out putting on a clingy bike jersey when wet is really hard– and it reminds me of key learning #3: nothing new on race day. (For reference, the fastest T1 time in my age group was 19.9 seconds!) I also forgot to grab my race belt, which turned out to be OK because we were issued number stickers for our helmet, though at first I had paranoid visions of being DQ’d for not having a visible number.

The bike course was great: flat, hot, and sweaty, just like my first girlfriend. We got a steady light rain for about the first 25 minutes I was on the bike, so the pavement was a little damp but not unmanageable. The course runs right along the bayou, so there was lotsto see: egrets, various other birds, cypress trees, and the whole nine yards. There were plenty of volunteers along the course, great course markings on the pavement, and very little traffic. I averaged 15.6mph on the bike course, for a time of 38:28, which was a little frustrating because I thought I’d be faster. I didn’t take the time to mount my Suunto on the handlebars during transition, though, so I couldn’t easily see my cadence or pace. Next race I think I’ll mount the watch during setup and just go without in the pool.

Coming back in from the bike, I got through T2 in 1:02, then headed out for the run, which was also flat. The sun was powering through the clouds by this time, giving runners the sensation of being tucked snugly in Satan’s armpit. Luckily, the organizers had planned for this: there was a water station at the half-mile mark, then again at the turnaround. I spotted a roadside portatunity (that’s a porta-potty for those of you who don’t speak the lingo) and made an emergency diversion, then got back to it. I spent a few stretch breaks walking– more than I wanted to– but still finished the run in 31:51. During the run I noticed some pain on my chest; afterwards I found about a 1/4″ cut on my nipple! I have no idea how it got there, but I bet it was because of the new jersey and/or not using BodyGlide under my HRM strap. Ouch. Key learning #4: you can never have too much BodyGlide.

Overall, I came in 13th in my age group and 96th overall, with a total time of 1:19:00.2. I would have needed to pick up about 2min to move up to the next place. My goals were to finish and to be in the top half, so I was pretty pleased. Swag-wise, I got a nifty tech shirt, a coffee mug, and a can coozie, all of which I can add to my collection.

After the race, I took Ricky and his son Seth for a sightseeing flight. The ceilings at HUM were only about 3500′ and it was drizzling, but we did a couple laps around the pattern and overflew Gulf Island Fabrication, where Ricky works. This might have been the high point of the trip, because the two of them were so clearly enjoying it. I wanted to beat the weather heading north, so after I dropped them off I immediately took off to the north. There was heavy weather directly over the New Orleans airport, which I would have overflown, so I ended up diverting well to the west to get around it. As I worked my way further north, the ADS-B weather from my Stratus showed that there were storms all along my route from about Tuscaloosa north, so I landed at Demopolis to refuel and take a short break. After that, it was a simple matter to dodge a bit (as you can see below) by flying from Demopolis towards Courtland, then turning east once past the storms. Note that the magenta line shows the GPS track, not where I actually was; I had flown well to the west to clear the tail of the storm (the red blocks near the “6nm” label).

20140802_232620000_iOSKey learning #5: datalink weather is strategic, not tactical. It isn’t updated in real-time, so you can’t use it to thread through closely spaced storm cells. The weather was gorgeous when I got to Decatur, so I landed easily, put the plane away, and headed home– with another triathlon and another 7 or so flight hours under my belt. All in all, a great trip, even if I am on my way to a life of crime triathlons.

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Training Tuesday: it’s all about finesse

[note: I meant to post this after TRI101 yesterday but got sidetracked with RAGE, for reasons which I’ll explain shortly.]

I’ve been super busy since my last Training Tuesday post with a variety of projects (new job means finishing up the old job’s work!), so I skipped a couple of weeks. I did, however, join Strava, so if you’re on there feel free to follow me.

TRI101 has continued to rock right along. Two weeks ago we did a timed mile (8:08, a new PR for me) plus about 2.5 miles worth of hill work; last week we did two 2-mile runs at Indian Creek, with some core work in between, and tonight we did a brick. I finally got back into the pool and am slowly cranking up my distance. You don’t get a lot of training benefit from just swimming super long distances without stopping; instead, the best advice I’ve seen is that you should swim for whatever the total time you expect in the race is. For example, if you swim 400m in 8 minutes, and you’re getting ready to swim a 1500m race, swim at least 3×400 with short rests and you’re good to go. I’m trying to work up to swimming 1000m in one session, even with rest breaks. That will cover me for any of the sprint-distance events I’m doing this year or next, and will give me a solid base for next season if I move up to Olympic distance races, which feature a 1500m swim.

My friend Rachel loaned me her Garmin heart rate strap, which, when paired with my Ambit 2s, gives me a good idea of how hard I’m working. It turns out that at my normal pace of between 8 and 8:30/mi, I am working pretty dang hard; my heart rate runs in the 140-160bpm zone. For my age, that’s nearly max effort. Interestingly, I don’t work nearly as hard on the bike as I do in the run. I think that means I’ve got a lot of potential speed improvement ahead on the bike if I can get my legs to cooperate; my cardio isn’t the limiting factor there. I think I’ve mastered the trick of getting the Ambit to correctly measure pool swims, too (you need a hard push off the wall when turning), so all my remaining races and training will hopefully be logged correctly.

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Maximal effort for great justice

Right now I’ve got two more races coming up: one in Houma week after next, then the Huntsville Sprint two weeks later. At this point I don’t feel like I have a lot of new stuff to learn; instead, I am trying to polish what I do know and focus on my technique. For example, my swim technique still needs some fine tuning; that’s still my biggest weak point, although the more I swim, the more confident I feel about it. The only way to get good at swimming is to swim, of course. On runs, I’m working in fartleks for speed. On the bike, I’m still working on not falling over when I unclip.

Although I’ve been trying not to make any more equipment changes, I finally got around to doing something I’d been planning for a while: I put road tires on my bike. Those of you who have seen my giant bike know that it had big knobby hybrid trail/road tires on it. I pulled those and put on a pair of Continental 28s. At yesterday’s workout I was killing it on the bike— my speed on the route (a loop around the Arsenal) was a good 3-4mph higher than normal, with no more effort expended. I felt great, right up until I dismounted and tried to switch my watch into transition without looking… resulting in erasing my workout altogether. I was roughly keeping pace with my pal Alex, so I know it was about 11.2 mi in just over 44 minutes, but I lost all the pace and HR data. By the time I got home, I was so mad that I didn’t feel like finishing this post, thus its appearance on Wednesday.

(The good news about the delay in posting is that I can sum up today’s swim lesson with Lisi: enlightening. Unlike running or riding, where my form is pretty natural and just needs a few tweaks, my swim form is poorly developed. It’s improving, for sure, but there are lots of little tweaks that Lisi has been able to point out. After my last session with her a few weeks ago, I’ve felt more at ease in the pool so I’m looking forward to working on the 3 things she identified for me today: earlier head rotation when breathing on the right, keeping my hips lower in the water, and being sure to get my full extension before I start the pull. She’s also given me some new drills and workouts that I will do twice a week; I think they’ll make a big difference.)

I’ve been trying to rest my left Achilles tendon a bit, so I skipped my regular long run last week and have been icing it at night. I think it’s about back to normal, so this week I’ll hit my long run, at least one long ride, and another swim or two. It didn’t bother me at all yesterday, though it was a bit tender after the bike/run brick last night.

What will all this polishing and tweaking lead to? There are a bunch of upcoming races in various places, and at various distances, so I’ll probably continue doing sprints until the end of the season and work in at least one 10K. It’s not too early for me to start thinking of what races I want to run next year, too. I found this article to be super helpful; this year I didn’t really have an A race, but I need to pick one for next year: probably an Olympic. I love poking around on trifind.com and looking at all the races, so this will be a lot of fun.

Fun note: I like to try to work races into my training schedule, so last weekend I flew up to Providence and ran the Craft Brew 5K with Julie and her friend Sigrid. This was a fun race, with a large emphasis on post-race beer drinking as opposed to record-smashing running. Despite that, I turned in a smoking time, at least for me: 2.9mi in 25:22, an 8:42 pace. The race chip time scored me at 25:18 and gave me an 8:08 pace, so I am thinking that the last-minute change to the race course shortened it a bit. The post-race beer tasting was fun, although the quality varied quite a bit. My favorite was Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout, for what that’s worth; I may have to lay in a post-race supply!

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Moving to Summit 7 Systems

It must be the season or something. Like several of my peers (e.g. Paul, Phoummala, and Michael, to name 3), I’m moving on from my current position to a unique new challenge. In my case, I’m taking the role of Principal Architect at Summit 7 Systems.

Astute readers may remember that, just about a year ago, I joined Dell’s global services organization as a global principal consultant. I was fortunate to work with a large group of extremely smart and talented people, including several MCMs (Todd, Dave, Andrew, Ron, and Alessandro, y’all know who I’m talking about!) Working for a large company has both its benefits and challenges, but I was happy with the work I was doing and the people I was working with. However, then this happened.

Scott Edwards, cofounder of Summit 7 and a longtime friend from my prior time in Huntsville, told me that he wanted to grow Summit 7’s very successful business, previously focused on SharePoint and business process consulting, to expand into Office 365, Lync, and Exchange. Would I be interested in helping? Yes, yes, I would. Summit 7 is already really well known in the SharePoint world, with customers such as NASA, Coca-Cola, Nucor Steel, and the State of Minnesota. SharePoint consulting is a very different world in many ways from what I’m used to, so it will be interesting, challenging, and FUN to carry the Lync/Exchange/365 torch into a new environment.

In my new role, I’ll be building a practice essentially from scratch, but I’ll be able to take advantage of Summit 7’s deep bench of project management, business process consulting, marketing, and sales talent. I’m excited by the opportunity, which is essentially the next step forward from my prior work as a delivery specialist. I am not yet taking over the role of Summit 7’s corporate pilot, but that’s on my to-do list as well. (A couple of folks have already asked, and the answer is: yes, I will be flying myself occasionally to customer gigs, something that Dell explicitly forbade. Can’t wait!)

This is an exciting opportunity for me and I relish the chance to get in and start punching. Stay tuned! (Meanwhile, you can read the official Summit 7 press release here.)

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Microsoft replaces MEC, LyncConf, SPC with new “unified technology event”

So the news is out: Microsoft is rolling MEC, Lync Conference, and SharePoint Conference into a single “unified commercial technology conference” in Chicago next year. MVPs were notified that this change was in the works, and there was a lot of vigorous discussion. Now that the cat has been debagged, I wanted to share a few thoughts about this new conference. For perspective, I should say that I attended almost all of the original MEC conferences back in the day and hit both “next-gen” MECs and this year’s Lync Conference. I have also spoken at TechEd around a dozen times all told; I co-chaired Exchange Connections for a number of years and am a repeat speaker there as well, so I am thoroughly familiar with the landscape of Exchange and Lync-oriented conferences. (Since I haven’t been to SPC, any time I talk about MEC or LyC you can just mentally search-and-replace “SPC” in there if you like.)

Is this just TechEd 2.0?

The announcement, bylined with Julia White’s name, says that Microsoft is combining MEC, LyC, and SPC to provide a unified event that will give attendees “clearer visibility into Microsoft’s future technology vision and roadmap” and “unparalleled access to Microsoft senior leaders and the developers who write the code.” One of the most valuable aspects of the current set of product-specific conferences, of course, is the deep engagement with people from each specific product group. The enthusiasm and passion that the developers, testers, support engineers, PMs, and leaders of the Exchange and Lync product groups shines through: they are just as happy and excited to be there as the attendees are, and this creates a unique energy and sense of community that are consistently absent from TechEd.

Microsoft has been very successful at positioning TechEd as the generalists’ conference, with coverage of every part of their stack. Developers, architects, security engineers, and business decision makers all had content targeted at them, but it was often driven by Microsoft’s marketing agenda and not by customer demand. As the number of products in Microsoft’s portfolio has grown, TechEd hasn’t lengthened to accommodate more sessions; instead, the number of Exchange/Lync/Office 365 sessions has remained roughly constant even as those products have expanded. I think it’s fair to say that as a vehicle for deep technical information, TechEd’s glory days are far behind it. On the other hand, as a vehicle to showcase the Microsoft party line, TechEd thrived. It became clear several years ago that individual product communities would greatly benefit from having their own conferences to focus on their unique needs. Exchange Connections did a good job of filling this niche, of course, but first SPC, then LyC, then MEC proved that these product-specific conferences engendered a very high degree of attendee (and exhibitor) satisfaction and engagement, and they proved the high value of having a Microsoft-led and -organized conference with enthusiastic participation from the big wheels in each product group.

The announcement goes on to say “feedback from attendees across the past conferences asking for more content and product team engagement across Microsoft versus just within one product area.” In complete sincerity, I can say that none of the hundreds of MEC or LyC attendees, or MVPs, or Microsoft product group folks I have spoken to have said “gee, what we really need is a big conference that covers all of Microsoft’s UC&C products.” I do know that the product groups have aggressively sought and carefully considered feedback from attendees at these conferences, so it’s certainly possible that they’ve been hearing something very different than I have. It is true that people whose duties or interests span multiple products have to go to multiple conferences, and this is a valid complaint. Many consultants can’t spare multiple weeks of bench time to attend all of the relevant conferences, and many smaller companies that are using multiple products aren’t able to budget multiple conferences either. So from their standpoint, perhaps this unification is a win.

Tony points out that there are great logistical and cost-savings benefits to Microsoft in consolidating the conference, and that exhibitors may prefer to have a larger, more diverse audience. I agree with the former; on the latter, I’m not sure. Companies whose product lines span multiple parts of the UC&C ecosystem may benefit; for example, ENow makes both Exchange and Lync monitoring solutions, so having both Lync and Exchange admins in the crowd is great for them. I’m not sure the same is true for exhibitors such as Polycom, AvePoint, or Sherpa Software, whose products focus on one Microsoft server.

Julia goes on to promise that “this unified conference will be every bit as awesome, every bit as valuable and in fact, it will exceed on both these measures. That is our maniacal focus and commitment to you, so hold us to it!” While I am naturally skeptical of broad and unsupported promises such as this, the many, many people involved in the existing round of conferences— from Julia and her staff to the individual product group folks like Jamie Stark and Brian Shiers to the MVP and MCM speakers— all have a huge interest in making sure that the new event meets the high bar set by the existing conference. That helps temper my skepticism with a high degree of optimism. The announcement promises more details on the conference (perhaps including a name?) in September, and I’d expect to see more details at TechEd EMEA in October.

One last note for speculation: if you were Julia, and you were planning on introducing new versions of your flagship products, wouldn’t it be logical to do it with a big splash at a new event? May 2015 is, conveniently, in the first half of calendar year 2015, and at MEC 2014 Microsoft told us to expect a new on-prem version of Exchange in the second half of 2015.

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Today I am a (slow) TRIATHLETE: my first triathlon

Phew. What a race!

First, the setup. My sister Julie and her family live in Vermont. I was idly poking around trifind.com (yay for the “sort by date” option) and saw that there was a triathlon over the July 4th weekend in Shelburne, not far from her home in Montpelier. I had originally thought about running Tri for Old Glory in Huntsville, but the mountain biking portion of the course put me off a little bit. A Vermont triathlon sounded like a great excuse for a visit, so I registered and started making plans, which included buying a wetsuit, flying, and so on. The organizer’s pre-race mail described the course as “rolling and challenging – Vermont isn’t flat!” That worried me more than a little, since this particular race had a long bike leg and a 500m swim (longer than I’m used to) and it was my first wetsuit swim and my first open-water swim. Oh, and it was my first triathlon, period. So I was a little disconcerted by that message. Julie was kind enough to drive me over to Shelburne to take a look at the course. We found the swim entrance easily enough, but the race map provided by the course organizer didn’t seem to match what we were seeing on Julie’s in-dash GPS. As it turns out, what we drove was not the course, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I went to bed last night thinking “hey, those hills aren’t too bad.”

Pregame

Last night I ate a normal meal: steak salad (plus some extra steak), some guac, a Fourth of July-themed cupcake, and a Heady Topper. I went to bed at a reasonable time and woke up, for no good reason, at 3am. I managed to get back to sleep until about 330am, but after that it was game over. I finally got up at 445, showered, put on my tri suit, and hopped in the car with Julie. We got to the race staging site half an hour early (who knew there wouldn’t be any traffic?) so we headed back into Shelburne for a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee stop. Registration was quick and easy, and I got a good spot on the rack with plenty of time to set everything up.

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My setup in transition; note camera on handlebar mount

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Julie, acting as my pit crew (she was super helpful— thank you very much, J!)

The weather was cool and windy, as you could see from the video I shot if my balky computer would upload it. However, the scenery on the beach was gorgeous— mountains in the background, a nice variety of low clouds, and the water itself, complete with whitecaps.

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a panorama of the lakeside pre-race

After posing for a few pre-race pictures, I got my wetsuit on and got ready for the warmup swim. Several of my TRI101 peeps had recommended taking a warmup swim before any open-water action, and I’m glad I did. The water wasn’t as cold as I expected, thanks to my wetsuit and earplugs. It was, however, choppy, but the course was set so that the longest leg was parallel to the shoreline, so we were swimming parallel to the waves too. The race marshal herded everyone out of the water and gave us a quick safety brief, during which he described the bike course thusly: “You’ll go under the railroad overpass, then get to the first big hill…”

Uh oh, I thought. We didn’t see a railroad overpass yesterday. Maybe we went on the wrong bike course… But at that point there was nothing I could do about it, so I joined the single-file line for the swim and marched down the boat ramp into Lake Champlain.

The swim

The swim started in a single wave. The water was no more than about 2’ deep where we started, so it was easy to wade out to the starting point. I deliberately hung back because I knew if I got in front, I’d get run over by faster swimmers. Laura, Rachel, and a bunch of my other TRI101 peeps had all advised me to just treat the swim as a fun outing, so I did.This proved to be a good decision. At the starting gun, we all started swimming: 100m out to the first buoy, a sharp right turn followed by a 300m leg parallel to the shore, another turn, and 100m back to the boat ramp. I was surprised at how good I felt during the swim, though I got a couple of snorts of lake water from poorly timed breathing. I didn’t have much of a sighting technique, in large part because I hadn’t practiced; shame on me. (I hope Lisi isn’t reading this!) The only negative to the swim was that the inbound leg got shallow really quickly so I had to wade in because it was too shallow for me to swim. This made my legs get wobbly in transition, but I still felt pretty fresh overall. I exited the water, dropped off my provided swim cap, unzipped my wetsuit on the run, and got into the chute.

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As far as you know, I’m up in the front

T1

Coach Rick was right: it’s hard to put socks on wet feet. It’s also hard to remove a wetsuit without a) looking like a stork or b) falling over. I chose option a). The TRI101 transition training was really helpful here, as I had already neatly laid out shoes, socks, helmet, and sunglasses so I could get everything together. However, my transition time was longer than I wanted. It didn’t help that the camera fell off the mount that Paul and I had attempted to repair the night before, so I had to pick it up, adding a little bit of time. Then I stupidly forgot to push the right button on my watch, so my transition time and bike leg measurements are a bit jacked up.

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Luckily I didn’t fall over

The bike

ACK. The course was indeed “challenging”.

Sure enough, after the initial outbound leg, I went under the railroad overpass and… damn, that’s a long hill. And double damn… there was another one after it. The course also featured a long downhill stretch where I set a new speed record on the bike (29.8 mph), plus a stretch with an epic crosswind, plus beach scenery. The whole thing was rough, mostly because I had been riding exclusively on the flats in Alabama. It didn’t help that I stopped a couple of times: on the outbound leg I noticed that my watch wasn’t giving me speed data, so I stopped to adjust the speed sensor, which had gotten knocked out of position. (The cadence sensor, which Paul helped me fix yesterday, performed flawlessly, so yay.) A few miles later I stopped to move my watch to my Cajun handlebar mount, and then later still a cyclist passing me said “your back wheel looks loose!” as he passed. Or maybe he said “That’s a big heel goose.” He was going faster than me so anything’s possible. To be on the safe side, I stopped and checked it too. For the record, it was not loose and there were no geese evident.

I went back later (in the car, of course) and took a video of the course that I hoped would illustrate the hills, but it doesn’t; it looks like driving in the car, so you can’t really see the badness. The route is on MapMyRide, if you use it. Here’s an elevation map that helps tell the tale. That big knuckle around the 3.16mi mark is the first big hill, and the one before the 9.47mi mark is the second one. I had to walk up the first hill on the second course loop, as my legs were just gassed. As I found out when the official results were posted, I finished last on the bike— a little embarrassing, but I finished the ride and that’s what counts. (Plus, since this race didn’t have any professional photographers there is no record of my facial expression on the hills, for which I am grateful!)

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T2

T2 was slick as maple syrup: I got in, parked the bike, put on my running shoes, strapped on my belt, and took off. It could have gone faster; I think my time was around 1:50, but I didn’t drop anything, fall over, swear audibly, or drop dead, so I consider it a success.

The run

The run was a simple out-and-back, with a little bit of elevation on the first leg (the same road as the first 1/2 mile of the bike course, in fact). I took an easy pace, with several walking breaks, but still managed to turn in a respectable time: just under 30 min for 3.0 miles. I drained both of the bottles in my race belt, though, because I had very little water on the bike. I froze my water bottle overnight because I figured that way I’d have plenty of cold water to drink. Sadly, the 3 hours between taking the bottle out of the freezer and trying to get my first drink was not enough to melt the ice, so I got periodic trickles of melted water on the bike but that was it.

Results: “Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?”

78th overall (out of 80). My goals for the race were a) finish and b) not be last.  These might not seem super ambitious, but I expected both the bike and swim to be harder than anything I had done to date. And I was right, so yay me! I ran the race at close to my normal training pace, which I thought was pretty good after the abusive bike ride, and I’m pleased with my performance in the swim.

Event Official result Paul’s watch
Openwater swim 14m20s 292yd, 10m53s
T1  – 3m49s
Cycling 1h13m 13.83mi, 1h11m
T2 - 1m50s
Run 32m49s 3.0mi, 29m49s

My struggle with the Ambit 2S continues. The results it gives me don’t always agree with what I expect, particularly in pool swims, but today represented a new low. I was careful to make sure that I had “triathlon” loaded as one of the two multisport activities, and I gave it plenty of time to get a GPS lock before the race. The race organizers claimed the swim distance was 500 yards, and the watch credited me with 292. It’s possible that the course buoys were, accidentally or on purpose, sited to make the course shorter, but it’s also possible that the watch just gets confused by swim distances. Once I can plug it in (I didn’t bring the sync cable, oops), I can look at the track it recorded and figure out where things went amiss.

Interestingly, they didn’t time transition separately. The swim was a gun start, and we didn’t have individual chips, but the bike had a chip tag and so did my run bib, so it seems like they should’ve been able to calculate the T2 time at least.

Important things I learned during and after the race

  1. Before you register for a triathlon, look carefully at the course map. This is the most important tip I can possibly give you.
  2. If you freeze your bike water bottle the night before, it might not thaw before the race starts and you will have nothing to drink on the bike.
  3. If you leave your glasses on your transition mat, the very nice lady next to you might stomp on them; if you are very lucky, your brother-in-law will fix them for you.
  4. The salted-caramel flavor of Gu is pretty decent, at least as energy gels go.
  5. The water in Lake Champlain tastes way better than the water in the Madison Wellness Center pool. It’s probably because of all the zebra mussels.

Executive summary

I am a triathlete. Suck it, Blerch!

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Huntsville to Vermont

As some of you may have noticed, I am planning to run a triathlon in a couple of days. This of course requires me to get to where the triathlon is, which in this case happens to be Vermont— several hundred nautical miles away from where I live. Luckily I had a solution for that problem. I took off from Decatur, stopped briefly at Winchester to fuel up, and headed north. Why Winchester? Fuel there is about $1/gal cheaper than it is at Decatur, and that makes a big difference when you’re buying 50+ gallons. Plus the staff there are super friendly and their facility is nearly brand-new: great, well-marked runway with a nice building. I saw an AgCat there filling his spray tanks and met Zachary, who just bought a Piper Lance a couple of months ago. We had a nice visit while I waited for my starter to cool down; I am still getting the hang of hot-starting the engine in this plane. The best technique seems to be to prime it just a tiny bit, then open the throttle full, set mixture to idle, and crank. You just have to be aggressive about enriching the mixture and closing the throttle when it does catch.

My flight northwards could not have gone better. I set up the autopilot, climbed to 7500’, and spent an hour or so dodging built-up clouds before settling on a steady course. During that time, I learned that the floor air vents can be opened or closed; when you open them, they work great at cooling down the cabin. This was handy because it was super hot on the ground— hot enough to melt my stash of protein bars inside my flight bag. I brought a cooler along so I could enjoy diet Coke on demand, which was a wonderful bonus.

On the first leg, I spent some of my time in flight reading the manual for my ancient panel-mounted GPS, which was installed in 2001, and I was surprised to find how capable it actually is; it just isn’t very user-friendly, so I still have a lot to learn, but I did get the time zone set, figure out how the altitude alerting function works, and learn how to set up complex flight plans instead of just using the “direct to” button. Originally I’d planned to stop at Rostraver (just outside Monongahela; try saying “Rostraver Monongahela” five times fast) but I noticed in flight that they close before I would have gotten there, so I decided to divert to Allegheny County instead. Fuel is a little more expensive, but that was offset by the fact that the airport was still open when I arrived. I parked the plane, hopped across the street to the Holiday Inn, and enjoyed a delicious calzone delivery from Mama Pepino’s. Then I hit the sack, intending to leave early this morning. The weather was not great when I awoke, so I did a bit of work and headed to the airport about 0900.

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706 on the ground at Allegheny County on Thursday morning

You can’t see it in the picture above, but the keys are on the dashboard, as shown below. This serves the extremely useful purpose of making it easy for everyone around to visually confirm that the keys aren’t in the ignition and that the airplane is therefore not startable. No one wants to tangle with an 84” propeller. This keychain has sentimental value, too; it came from Custer State Park on our 2005 trip to Sturgis. It was a Christmas present for Matt that year and he gave it back to me for the plane. The attached buffalo is named Pappy, after Pappy Boyington, not to mention Grandfather Buffalo, a family favorite book. Pappy is not quite as famous as The Lego Pilot but maybe he’ll get there someday.

Buffalo keychain

Corporate Air had taken good care of the plane overnight, so after a thorough preflight I launched with the intent to go direct to Montpelier, with Rome as an intermediate stop if the weather further north was still iffy. Pittsburgh limited me to 3000’ until I got further to the east, then I got 5500’, which was comfortably above the tops of the scattered clouds in that area. I went up to 7500’ about 50nm to the northeast and even then ended up having to dodge some higher buildups, but the clouds were gorgeous and by the time I got to Ticonderoga (see below) they were widely scattered.

Ticonderoga

Overhead Ticonderoga, NY; that’s Lake George 

 

My flight into Montpelier was completely uneventful (except that I got to talk to Boston Center, which was kinda cool). Julie and her boys were waiting for me, and I had a great time giving them a tour of the plane while we unloaded. Then it was back to her house for a nap, the Montpelier Mile, and the town’s fireworks.

Interestingly, I had a ton of different female air traffic controllers along my route. I’ve never had that happen before; I’m not sure why, but Nashville approach, Indianapolis Center, Pittsburgh Approach, and a couple of smaller approach control centers en route all had women working the tower cab.

Bonus picture: I saw this crop-dusting plane (an AirTractor AT802) when I refueled at Winchester. That might be my ideal job…

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