Ben Lookner

May, 2013

This week we learn more in the third installment of the Age Group training diaries from Ben Lookner. Ben describes how his tactics have evolved since last season. What changed? What’s new? Is he still peeing on his waterbottles?

Improvements in Movements

Note: I feel obligated to warn you that this post is mostly about pee. If you’re cool with that, then have at it!

There’s a fantastic set of Adidas ads that ran in 1999-2000 that have shots of runners exhibiting behaviors that only come from subjecting oneself to the difficulties/fun of training/racing. These images include runners applying strategic amounts of Vaseline, runners expelling snot rockets, and of course, runners going to the bathroom on trail. All of the ads sport the same quote: “Runners. Yeah, we’re different.”

I love these ads. I love them as a runner. I love them as a cyclist. I love them as a swimmer. And since I find myself doing all three on certain race days, I love them as a triathlete. Because no matter which way you put it (and as seen in the many YouTube videos of “Stuff cyclists/crossfit girls/you-name-it Says”), if you train and race for whatever poison you pick, you’ll at some point find yourself in a situation where you think, “This is not normal behavior!” But if you’re like me, you’ll smile because you fully embrace the weird.

So, yeah, we triathletes are different.

One of these instances of “different” first arose for me personally at the 2012 Kinetic Half. I had signed up for this race as a punishment to myself for not registering for the Bay Bridge Swim despite having gotten in off the lottery (“Well, I am going to do a long race no matter what, so I might as well do a half-Iron!”).

Up to this point, I had stuck with olys. Up to this point I was also terrible with nutrition during race day (and to some extent while training). In my mind, an oly was a two-and-change-hour ordeal to get through as quickly as possible- water and GU would only slow me down. I am certain I did most of my early races with one water bottle in my bike cage that I rarely if ever finished. No GU; no grabbing water at the stations.

With Kinetic rolling around and with some long, wall-hitting bikes and bricks in the bag, I began to realize that this was a different beast: I had to begin putting calories back in me as I trained and as I raced. I began to use Infinit, which I highly recommend, and would substantiate that with GU (I am an Espresso Love kind of guy). Come race day, I felt pretty comfortable with my nutrition and hydration plan, but with an emphasis on hydration came an unexpected evil.

Staying hydrated, or, to be more accurate, the effect of staying hydrated, is actually quite annoying. While I thoroughly enjoy the feeling that I get from drinking copious amounts of water throughout the day, I do not care for having to run to the bathroom every 20 minutes or so (triathlon aside, this is also pretty terrible in my normal life as a teacher). On training runs and rides I have strategically devised routes with bathrooms along the way just in case, but on those days I don’t mind stopping.

But when that familiar pang hit at mile 15 on the Kinetic bike course, I did not want to stop.

The start of a triathlon is a beautiful thing because unlike road races, where a massive line generates at the Porta-Potties, triathletes have been blessed with a secret weapon: the wetsuit. Of course, the race needs to be wetsuit legal, but if it is, that neoprene body covering can, if need be, act as a way to relieve oneself without anyone (who isn’t staring at your ankles) knowing. Think Ultra-Portable Porta-Potties. Come on, we’ve all done it. Right? Riiiiight?

I was no stranger to wetsuit urination (the wait for the start of Nation’s can be terribly long), and I had heard about peeing on the bike but had never attempted it. They say that race day is not the best time to try out something new, but that day last May I did not really have a choice if I wanted to keep up the momentum I had built on the swim and on the first part of the course. After some awkward attempts and failed positions, I set on slowly riding out of the saddle on a straightaway in order to do my business. Upon seeing me slow down and ride out of my saddle with no hill in sight, many passing racers deduced what was occurring and gave me friendly, joking cheers (Yeah, we’re different). I nodded and continued to soak my spandex, gears, and shoes.

I did it! I was a pro! I could now add urinating-while-biking to my Can-Do List. Proud of myself in a way that I am not sure many people other than cyclists or triathletes will ever claim to be, I continued along the course until I hit my first nutrition point. Reaching into my tri top pocket for my first Espresso Love, I noticed that all my GU had popped out. Silly me for making this race my first time in that particular tri-top. My mind raced to avoid freaking out. “It’s OK,” I thought to myself. “You still have about 400 calories worth of Infinit in your water bottle.” My mind eased, but then a little voice started up: “Yes, you still have 400 calories in your water bottle. In your lower cage. Which you just doused in pee.”

I will stop there with that bit of nostalgia, but know that I have since made peace with what I did in order to get through my first half-Iron distance race. Pleased to finish and hooked on the half-Iron, I vowed to do better at the 2013 Kinetic. And just as I trained to improve my swim, bike, and run, I also set out to improve my pee-on-the-go plan.

This year at Kinetic, the urge hit me later on, around mile 30, but I was ready. Having already gone through a water bottle of just water in my back cage, I pulled that bottle, put it in my mouth, and then moved the lower-cage Infinit bottle, with its precious calories, to the back cage. With my empty bottle in the lower-cage, I did my business in the saddle (another improvement!) and then afterwards, put the Infinit bottle back into my mouth and made the switch again. I grinned, pleased with having accomplished something that I could rarely brag about unless in the company of other triathletes, and kept on pedaling.

Like anything we train to improve, this delicate dance was one that I planned out and executed in response to past results that I did not, uh, appreciate. Triathlon has so much for us to improve upon- three sports, varying distances, transitions, and even peeing on the go- it’s no wonder why this sport never bores me and keeps me coming back for more. And even when you think you have it right, something can always pop up to make you think, “Next time, I will do that better.”

Now if only I labeled which water bottle was which…