Reviews

Nike Vaporfly NEXT% Review – much hyped but do they work (and what would I know)?

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Background of the shoes

Eliud Kipchoge’s attempts at a sub-2 hour marathon as part of the Breaking 2 Project (and success in 2019 at his second try with a blistering 1:59:40) understandably received worldwide publicity. The Nike shoes that were developed for this project have gained a huge amount of coverage too, from the earlier Vaporfly Elite (used by Kipchoge in his first attempt in 2017) and Vaporfly 4%, the improved (and marketed as even faster) Vaporfly NEXT% and now the Alphafly NEXT%, the shoe Kipchoge broke the 2 hour barrier in.

Becoming ‘Vaporfly-aware’

Throwback to October 2018 when I had noticed these weird Nike shoes, bright orange with massive foam cushioning being worn by a few age group athletes competing in the Ironman World Championships in Kona Hawaii that year (I’m guessing they were the Vaporfly 4% given the date). It was in 2019 that the hype was building in earnest about these shoes, with some grand claims about massive performance improvements to be gained by those that could afford them. I’d learned by then that it wasn’t just the thick sole cushioning that made the Nikes fast, after all, Hoka One One had introduced this feature years earlier in their shoes without world records tumbling. It appeared that the innovation was from the combination of the cushioning and a midsole carbon fibre plate that provided stiffening and support to the very softly cushioned sole.

The hype is building

A year later in Kona for the 2019 Ironman World Championships, my pre-race guess was that the Nike Vaporflys would be worn by hundreds of the 2000+ competitors in the race – and I was proved correct! So, what was going on? Was the hype real? After 25 years immersed in the sport of triathlon, I am naturally suspicious of the ‘latest game-changer’ in the sport. For every innovation that provides real benefits (e.g. aerobars, aero helmets, deep wheels) there are innovations that may only work for some people or require patience in getting strong enough to be able to see the benefits (minimalist shoes and barefoot run training is a good example). Then there are the things that just don’t work and quickly disappear once the initial buzz dies down.

Time to ask questions

After Kona I reached out to everyone in triathlon that I knew who owned a pair of the Nike Vaporflys, from professional triathletes to elite age group competitors (the cost seemed to limit those that purchased the shoes) and asked them if the hype WAS real? Were they faster running in them than any shoes previously? Were there other benefits or draw backs of the shoes (beyond price)? The responses were generally guarded and a bit mixed, but most believed that the shoes gave them some level of improvement. So, there was only one thing to do (no, not rush out and spend AUD$320, but find someone with a pair in my size that I could borrow!)

The (unscientific) test

Thanks to the generosity of my mate John D’Amore (Australia’s wealthiest greengrocer) I had his pair of size 11 Vaporfly NEXT% strapped to my feet and ready for a test on the local athletics track. My aim was to do one of my standard track interval sessions (consisting of 4 x 1km efforts at best pace with 500m jog between each) then compare times with my last similar session while also assessing some subjective factors such as how the shoes felt and how my legs felt afterwards. Unscientific hence the last part of this post is pretty short!

Objective results:

Nike Vaporfly NEXT% (3/3/20)               Newton Distance Elite (18/2/20)

Interval 1 – 3:57                                             Interval 1 – 4:06
Interval 2 – 3:40                                            Interval 2 – 4:13
Interval 3 – 3:42                                            Interval 3* – 3:54
Interval 4 – 3:36

*only 3 intervals done as I was racing on the following Sunday

Note that the March test was following Ironman 70.3 Geelong triathlon on 23 February, soon after the comparison session. My fitness felt better for the test so we can’t read too much into the results, although the 3:36 final interval was my fastest for many years.

Subjective results:

The Nike Vaporflys are so different from any shoe I’ve run in before. I had previously been supported by Newton Running since 2010 and the Newtons are on the minimalist side of things. The Vaporflys are NOT minimalist, with the substantial cushioning in the sole adding a lot of height to the ride and the stiffness of the carbon plate they have a very unnatural and almost unstable feeling to them. The Vaporflys feel fast and seem to be fast however. I also noticed in the hours after the run and then the next day that my legs felt less sore and less fatigued than I would expect after a fast interval session on the track. This may be a real positive if it allows more frequent training with less recovery time, as well as potentially helping in the back half of an Ironman marathon when soreness and fatigue of the running muscles often becomes a speed limiter.

Wrap up

So that’s my initial review: I have nothing more to add until I actually buy a pair and test them in the crucible that is an Ironman marathon (or maybe a half ironman to start with!). I saw enough in the Vaporflys to convince me that they are certainly worth investigating further.

Stay tuned for another blog post (likely much shorter!) reviewing a similar albeit more training-focused shoe, the Nike Zoom Fly 3. A pair of shoes I actually went out and paid for and have been training in for the last few months so I’ll be able to provide more of a long-term assessment.

Wellbeing

2 Weeks of Self-Isolation in an Apartment – A Review

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I had a great idea to celebrate Nicky’s birthday in March: let’s go to the covid-19 epicentre of NYC! Of course, I didn’t know at the time of booking that there would be a pandemic and even when we took the flight from Melbourne to New York on 5 March, the Corona Virus was still something that was only impacting a few locations around the world.

Fast forward to 16 March and word got through to us that we would be facing two weeks of self-isolation upon our return to Melbourne! My plans of building on my USA running block with a return to some big kilometres in the pool and on the bike in preparation for Ironman Australia in May were out the window, with doubts on when racing would return anyway.

So, here is a review of how I survived the 14 days locked up in our 2 bed 2 bath 1 balcony apartment, physically and mentally. This is not meant to provide advice or suggestions but primarily a rundown on the routine I developed that helped me get through the sentence.

  1. Wake up (no alarm)

The highlight of the isolation period was this: being able to wake naturally for two weeks without the usual alarm ending my sleep. I found I was waking at daybreak which now seems like the time we should always wake up (if only!)

  1. Stretching

I have always stretched on a daily basis, usually only after a training session and for the muscles most used in the activity. I was desperate to maintain the physicality in my day with limited exercise options, so commenced a stretching session each morning.

  1. Meditation

I guessed that regardless of what entertaining(?) activities I could build into my day, spending 14 of them in an apartment 24/7 would be tough on my mind. I have previously struggled with implementing a meditation routine but doing it daily really helped keep me positive, regardless of the restrictions we faced.

  1. Foam-rolling

This was not something new, I’ve been doing it on a daily basis for over a year and have found it great for working on my shoulder and chest flexibility that tends to get hammered by spending too many hours each day with laptop work.

  1. Breakfast

With groceries being regularly brought around by family and friends, every meal was something to look forward to each day.

  1. Shower

You’ve got to keep clean.

  1. Work

Owning an online coaching business, I was grateful to be able to continue to work and assist my team of athletes during the Corona Virus restrictions.

  1. Bike rollers

I was fortunate to be able to borrow a set of bike rollers during the isolation (thanks Spiro!) to maintain some aerobic fitness while also working on my bike handling and pedalling skills. I can confirm that after 14 days of 1 hour on the rollers, I have never pedalled so smoothly once I was back out on the road. I’m now in the market for my own set of bike rollers!

  1. Another Shower
  1. More stretching

Focusing on quads, glutes, ITB, hip flexors (the key cycling muscles)

  1. Lunch
  1. Work
  1. Rebounder session

Provided a bit of aerobic exercise as well as working the lower legs a bit in the absence of a jump rope or being able to run. Also one of the best things you can do to get your lymphatic system moving.

  1. Dinner
  1. Movie, web-surfing or reading
  1. Bed

That was the routine for 14 days straight. I tell people that the time actually went quickly, and it seemed less than two weeks, which really surprised me. It wasn’t all easy and I really missed spending my usual 3 to 4 hours outside – the balcony was a blessing and I was spending much of my work time out there, but the view was getting a little stale by the end!

So, this approach worked well for me, to the extent that I’ve continued some of the new routines now we’re able to get outside. Early morning stretching and meditation has become an ongoing daily ritual while I continue the foam-rolling, as well as now loving being able to get outside to swim in the bay (whilst the temperature is bearable heading into Melbourne’s winter), ride on the road with a friend and run on the local tracks.

Updates

Kona 2018 – The Attraction of Racing Ironman Hawaii

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I ticked off Ironman World Championship finish number 12 on October 13th 2018 at Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii and again challenged my body and mind by taking on what I consider to be the toughest triathlon course I have raced on.

 

The success I am aiming for in this race has not yet come to me, however I know that the way to guarantee failure is to stop believing that it is possible.  It also makes the successes at qualifying races and other competitions all the more rewarding, as well as a good reminder that no matter how my race goes on the Big Island each year, it will not define me as an athlete, a coach or as a person.  The hot, humid weather, the no-wetsuit swim, the constant hills on the bike course do not make for the perfect race for me and my strengths, however this is part of the attraction for me.

 

The enjoyment of turning up to Kona every year since 2007 has not dimmed and a good reason for that is in seeing and feeling the excitement of friends who are there racing for the first or second time, where the experience is still fresh and holds much promise for a successful race.  In the last couple of years it has been the athletes I coach who have made it into the field at Kona that have reinvigorated my enthusiasm for this race – this is a course that I have raced on more than any other (including the local races in Melbourne that I first started my triathlon journey on) and know how satisfying it is for anyone to have the honour of racing, as well as finishing, the Hawaii Ironman.

 

This race has given me so much over the years, regardless of my actual performance in the results.  It has given me unshakeable confidence whenever I line up to race another Ironman, hence being able to qualify for Kona 12 times in 12 qualifying attempts over the last 12 years.  It has also given me an enormous respect for the island that hosts this event, for the weather that can crush you or occasionally assist you through the lava fields, for the locals who support the race and help make it all happen.   The friends I have made over the years who live in Kona, or who have raced with me in Kona (or both!) are a gift that is worth more than the result that I will continue to strive for.

 

In summary, I have a message to the athletes I coach, to my club members and to anyone who has a goal (or dream) of one day treading water in Kailua Bay in early October, waiting for the cannon to signal the start of the Ironman Hawaii.  Don’t give up on this dream, work out (with my help as necessary) what will be required to make it into the field, make an honest assessment as to whether you are prepared to do the work to achieve this goal, then jump in with 100% commitment to make it happen.  I can’t wait to welcome you to the Ironman World Championship finishers club!

Nutrition

Kona 2013 – Race Day Nutrition

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IM Triathlon Nutrition Strategy For a Sub 10hr Race

12th October 2013 was a great day for me.
Racing in my 7th Ironman Hawaii in Kona, I had what felt like the perfect race which resulted in a 20 minute personal best time on the Hawaii course.
The Hawaii Ironman is a triathlon consisting of a 3.8km ocean swim, followed by a 180km bike through the lava fields of the Big Island of Hawaii, with a hot and humid marathon (42km run) to finish.
There are a lot of Ironman-distance triathlons held all over the world these days but the Hawaii Ironman is something special.
As the World Championships, to compete you need to qualify through one of the other Ironman races and it is estimated that there are 70000+ triathletes trying to qualify for one of the 1800 slots at Kona. In addition to this, the Hawaii Ironman has 35 years of history with the sport’s very best having raced on the course. It all adds up to a great experience being one of the privileged few who get to compete against the best on the most famous race course in triathlon.
Quite a few people have asked me since my race in October something similar to: “what was the difference this year which enabled your result?”
I’m confident that the answer is that it was a number of factors that all aligned on race day and not one particular component that made the difference. In saying that, one factor which stands out due to a significant change from what I had done in previous years was my training and race day nutrition.
I made a shift from using products from one major (and ubiquitous) sports nutrition company to using Body Science nutrition products in April 2013, after many years of racing and training with products from the other company.
I hadn’t had any real issues with nutrition in the past, but had still not been able to address some minor problems that tended to arise from the halfway point of the run leg of nearly all Ironman races I have done, usually to do with bloating of the stomach and associated side-stitch.
The products I selected from Body Science to help with my preparation for the Ironman were as follows:
  • BScFuel Recovery Powder for pre and post training session fuelling
  • BScFuel Energy Bars and BodyScience Protein Bars for during sessions (bike)
  • BScFuel Energy Gels for during sessions (run)
  • Nitrovol Powder for post training (long sessions and strength sessions)
  • BScFuel Endurance Sports Drink for post training (run)
This selection ensured I had the energy to complete each session with the intended level of quality and intensity, as well as being able to back up for the 2nd or 3rd session of the day, or the next day also.
Having to knock out regular 20+ hour training weeks on top of a full time job means that the ability to absorb the training and recover for the next beating is critical.
I really felt the benefit of the Body Science formula in each of these products and I seemed to be leaner AND stronger for race day.
My nutrition protocol for race day was similar to what I had done in previous Ironman events, allowing for a slight adjustment due to the different nutrition profile of the BScFuel products compared to what I had previously used.
The products I used during the race were as follows:
  • BScFuel Energy Bars – bike – 5 bars total, 1 taken every hour
  • BScFuel Energy Gels – bike – 10 gels, mixed with 8 electrolyte capsules and water in a bidon,
  • BScFuel Energy Gels – run – 3 gels, ½ gel taken every half hour with water from aid stations
In addition to the Body Science products, I took a lot of bottled water from aid stations on the bike but no electrolyte drink as I find my stomach generally works better without it, so I save it for the run. On the run, I took water, electrolyte drink and (later in the marathon) cola at aid stations.
The protocol above gave me approximately 75 grams of carbohydrate per hour on the bike and slightly less on the run (allowing for the increased difficulty my stomach seems to have in digestion of carbs while running compared to cycling).
End result of all this was my time of 9 hours 48 minutes 8 seconds, a massive PB and my first time under 10 hours in the Hawaii Ironman.
Critically, this was the first Ironman triathlon I have done in the last 13 years where I had no stomach issues during the run at all, subsequently I was able to maintain my goal kilometre pace on the run consistently to the finish line. No, it wasn’t easy, but it WAS doable!
Thanks to BodyScience for a product that for me seems to be the answer to nutrition issues that had impacted my racing until now. I took a risk with using at Hawaii given I had only tried it in training to this point and this was definitely my “A” race of the year.
Knowing the effort BodyScience put into the development of superior nutrition products, I shouldn’t have been worried.
Race Report

Kona 2013

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My first Ironman in Kona was back in the day and my bike reflected that – an alloy Cervelo P3 (The Silver Bullet). I still miss that bike.

Since then I have been aboard my trusty steed, Black & White Carbon P3 (I’d call it The Magpie but that has unfortunate football connotations). Very nice bike, very fast and fitted me like a carbon glove.

Until 2013 that is! My Hawaii campaign this year was a chance to unleash my new Cervelo P5-Six on the smooth but hot tarmac that is the Queen K highway. I had been training on the P5 for just a couple of months prior to flying over to the Big Island but knew from these rides that the P5 was a special machine, one that I was looking forward to racing on. The Ironman World Champs was going to be my P5 race debut.

In order to ensure my bike split was given appropriate respect I thought I’d better start the day with a better than usual swim – also given my coach Julie Tedde had finally made the effort to come over and watch the race this year (and she has always been critical of my swim performances in Hawaii…) Out of the water with a new Kona swim PB so first box ticked off!

Onto the bike, my legs felt pretty good right from the start and the P5 was making the fast early pace (with tailwind assistance) seem pedestrian given how smooth and stable it rides. Coming back from Hawi and the long highway stretch from Kawaihae to Kona was into a cross/headwind but my legs still felt good and I dismounted with a new Kona bike PB – Anthony reckoned it was all because of the P5 but given I averaged 10 watts more than previous years I’ll claim part of the improvement! (ed note. i think you were just trying to impress your coach….did you sit down at all on the bike course?)

With the race having gone to plan so far, I started running only thinking about what I had to do to not stuff things up and run a solid marathon to top off a solid day. The gods were definitely with me this year as the sky clouded over as I was transitioning onto the run so I was met with close to perfect (for Kona) run conditions for the duration of the 42kms. I felt really good and my km splits reflected this, right up until the infamous Energy Lab. Having charged downhill into the Energy Lab Road I turned right to head toward the final turnaround and my wheels fell off well and truly. From this point on until the finish (12kms) I struggled to maintain my pace and rhythm and even in the last kilometre didn’t get a lift from the crowd or from knowing it was almost over. It just hurt.

I’m very satisfied with the end result which was a 20 minute PB in Hawaii, and even a PB for the Ironman distance. Thanks to Anthony, Tosh and Miguel for putting up with my demands in the lead up to my departure and ensuring that the P5 was tuned to the max and ready to go on race day. What can I say, nice bike and a worthy replacement!

Race Report

Kona 2011

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I’ve written a few race reports over the years (ok, a lot) and the hardest to write has always been the Hawaii Ironman report. Many, many words have been put to paper by many, many authors, describing in detail every nuance of the place, the race, the history and all the clichés that seem to be mandatory in any story regarding Kona in October.

So I’ll try to keep this concise, original (as far as humanly possible) and, if not funny, then maybe a bit interesting.

Scene 1:

Wednesday, 10 days before race day. The day of departure from cold, wet Melbourne into the warm embrace of Kona, Hawaii. After 8 hours hanging around the airport with the whole damn place being closed (twice) due to storms, our flight to Sydney to connect with the Honolulu flight was finally cancelled. We drove back home. F*&k.

Scene 2:

Friday, 8 days before race day. The new day of departure from cold, wet Melbourne given we could not get seats on the fully booked Thursday plane to Honolulu. Despite some nervous moments and a delayed flight to Sydney due to strikes and work stoppages at the airport, we finally got on the plane to Hawaii. Arriving in Honolulu, a plane full of triathletes collected a plane-hold full of bike bags and rushed to get the connecting flight to Kona – except one – me – whose bike bag was not apparently on our flight from Sydney. F*&k.

Scene 3:

Sunday, 6 days before race day. My bike arrived last night! It was delivered to the pub (Humpy’s) where I happened to be drowning my sorrows and I finally have my bike, my runners and the other essentials that will finally allow me to do some exercise! A swim at Dig Me Beach and a run through the Energy Lab section of the marathon course with Luke Bell and all is suddenly good in the world. It’s hard to stay mad when you’re hanging out in such a beautiful place. Aloha.

Scene 4:

Thursday, 2 days before race day. My buddies Jodie and Lance got married. Awesome service and reception at Royal Kona Resort. Shame about the timing though, that open bar looked VERY tempting. Nice to focus on something meaningful in the midst of the building pressure of the impending race though. Congrats guys, Mahalo.

Scene 5:

Saturday, race day. To avoid monotony, I’ll skip to 2 hours after I crossed the finish, I’ve had a massage, I’ve caught up with Caroline and I’m lying on the grass under some palm trees and I can’t move. I’m wondering how the hell I can get the energy to go and pick up my gear and bike and ride back to the condo. I feel . . . f*&ked.

Scene 6:

Sunday, the day after. Time to reflect, time to wonder what went wrong and why, and what went right and why. Or maybe leave that for a later time when I’m thinking straight.

Stats: Swim 1:12:51, Bike 5:21:53, Run 3:26:24, Total 10:09:21

So after 3.8kms of swimming, 180kms of biking and 42.2kms of running I was 43 seconds slower than last year. On a day that Crowie beat the 15 year old course record. F*&k. But hey, it beats cold, wet Melbourne . . .

Race Report

IM Port Macquarie 2011

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Thought I’d let you know how things went up at Port Mac. It was my 10th finish of arguably Australia’s most prestigious triathlon, making things nice and even with 5 each of the old Forster course and now 5 in Port Macquarie (not mentioning the infamous 2006 race at Port and that speed hump that was determined to take me out of the game early).

Beyond chalking up my 10th IMA finish, my main goal was to qualify for Kona and put myself in a position to finally rid myself of equal standing with that old dog (but top bloke) Dave Kaye’s 4 Ironman Hawaii finishes. A challenging task this year with only 40 Kona slots and a tough age group field (I reckon a number of the fast guys saw my result from last year and thought they’d show up and take the candy from the baby).

It was a bonus to have Antho up at Port giving my machine a once over on race eve (and he also fine-tuned the bike. . .). His encouraging words always instil a bit of confidence, quote: “so by the look of that rear tyre, this is only a ‘B’ race for you Rob”. Nothing a bit of tyre sealant couldn’t fix though.

I won’t bore you with the details of the day, but yes the swim conditions were slow, it was windy on the bike and even a tough headwind on the run! The end result was me shuffling to the finish of a very badly executed marathon in 3rd place in the category, ten minutes slower than the previous 2 years but very satisfied to achieve a long term goal (and luckily no punctures).

Of course I’m not yet at the finish on Ali’i Drive and have a little bit of training to do in the depths of Melbourne’s winter to get ready for the big day. Fuelled by espressos courtesy of Pellegrini’s and with a bit of help from that bike shop just up the road, it should be a lot of fun. Not as much fun as landing in Kona and finally getting warm again!