FIRM Racing News: August 2009

Message from Bill and Wendy: A Popular Race Made More Meaningful

For the past few years, the Five Star Triathlon in Douglas, MA has been a very popular race attracting a good size field of athletes ranging from beginners to elites. Starting this year, it has become a more meaningful race. Renamed the TDD Triathlon, it is a memorial race for Tyrus, Dante, and Daniel Vescio, triplet sons of Don and Elaine Vescio who are well known local athletes. Plus the TDD Triathlon is a fundraiser for the University of Massachusetts Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Worcester, MA. Don and Elaine view this race as a celebration of their sons’ brief lives and an opportunity to help other babies live long, healthy lives.

Set in beautiful Douglas State Park, the TDD Triathlon consists of a ¼ mile swim in a placid lake, an 11 mile bike ride over varying terrain, and a 3 mile run. Join us on Saturday, September 19, 2009 for this special event. As the last triathlon on the 2009 FIRM Race Calendar, the TDD Triathlon is sure to be a great finale for the local triathlon circuit.

Click here for more information about the race: 


See you at the races!

Wendy and Bill

Tri This! : The Vasa Swim Ergometer- A Swimming Power Meter

The Vasa Swim Ergometer is simply the most powerful swim tool on the market both figuratively and literally. The “erg” can be used as a supplement to your pool training, or in place of a swim when you cannot get to the pool. This can lead to valuable time savings for training.

Many triathletes would like to improve their swimming, but extra time in the pool usually comes at the expense of cycling or run training time. I have found that as little as 2 to 3 fifteen minute sessions per week on the swim ergometer can yield incredible results.  

The Vasa erg displays time, distance, pace, wattage, and strokes per minute. In addition, it contains a metronome to allow work on tempo, and allow you to set up workouts with specific distance intervals, time based intervals, and recovery times. This allows you to fine tune your optimal stroke rate to yield the best power output.

Some of the key benefits of training on the Vasa erg include:

  • Allow for power based swim training
  • Develop an efficient and powerful stroke
  • Develop fatigue resistance
  • Find optimal stroke rate
  • Reduce shoulder impingement injuries
  • Fine tune stroke mechanics
  • Increase swim frequency
  • Add focused training
  • Train with variable resistance levels

I have found the erg to be an essential tool in my training of beginners, time crunched age groupers, and elite professionals. People who are new to swimming need to develop specific muscle endurance and power to be able to safely and confidently complete the swim course, and to develop swim skills. The Vasa erg is a great teaching tool as immediate feedback is available from the coach and the display monitor. 

Busy age groupers can jump on the erg for a quality 10-15 min session following a strength session, of after a bike or run. This increased swim frequency leads to higher quality, and time effective training. 

For the elite swimmers, who already have good swim form and body position, the erg will build power and fatigue resistance to give them more distance per stroke.  

In conclusion, the Vasa Swim Ergometer is to swimming what the Computrainer has done for cycling. If the swim is your weak link, you need to check out the erg. You can learn more including reviewing demo videos at, or contact Tim Crowley at tc2coaching@ to set up a teaching demo. 

Tim Crowley is a USAT Elite Level Coach. He runs TC2 Coaching LLC, and is the Director of Fitness at Wayside Racquet and Swim in Marlboro.

Local Highlight—Meet Gayle Galletta: Mom, Wife, ER Doctor, Ironman

Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed competition.  I started swimming when I was 10 years old, and specialized in butterfly sprints.  When I was in high school, the track/cross country coach recruited me for the team because it looked like I had runner’s legs.  However, I did not turn out to be the natural runner that he had anticipated, and I was instead entered in the shot put and discus, in order to gain points for the team since there were (and probably still are) a paucity of girls interested in doing those events.

I did one triathlon on a mountain bike when I was in high school in 1986.  In 2006-2007 I did a couple of sprint races in Worcester on a borrowed bike.  Finally, in 2008 I decided to take the plunge and buy a triathlon bike to see how I would do.  I entered approximately ten races last year and made steady improvement as I learned about race strategy, transitions, etc.  Last year, the day before the Danskin race, my husband asked me what my goal was.  I jokingly said "to win," and when I came in sixth place out of 2400 women, I thought "maybe I could be good at this."

My favorite triathlon segment is the swim.  I have started thinking of the start as if it were a water polo match, and expect to get bumped around.  It's a bonus if the start is smooth.  As a swimmer, I feel that this segment gets the short end of the stick.  I try not to do races where the swim is shorter that 1/2 mile, otherwise it is not worth the hassle of getting wet in my opinion.  Biking has quickly become equally as enjoyable for me.  I found out that I am suited for biking and should have started this earlier in life.  I have no cycling background and am relatively cautious, so I am happy with triathlon's no drafting regulations.  The thought of getting a flat terrifies me and the bike shop laughs at me because I have no idea how large my cassette and rings are.  My least favorite segment is definitely the run.  This is the segment where I notoriously get passed.  (I am not sure if I should be sharing this with my competition.)  It is frustrating to get passed during the last half mile of the race.  After a race my children ask "Did you come in second place again?"

I turned 40 in May, and had quite the mid-life crisis.  I wanted to prove to myself that I was still young and healthy, so I decided to sign up for an Ironman.  I raced my first Ironman in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on June 21st.  I prepared for this race for eight months.  Prior to this, my bike training consisted of riding my bike to and from work (Shrewsbury to Clinton) twice a week, swimming once or twice a week, and running three to six miles about three days a week.  I had never biked more than 30 miles.  I bought myself a Computrainer for Christmas and started biking indoors.   I am probably one of the first persons on the face of the Earth to have crashed on an indoor trainer.  My husband suspects that our son may have sabotaged the trainer by loosening a screw.  After 38 miles, my bike fell off with me still clipped in.  I came crashing down, narrowly missing the flight of stairs.  The sad part is that only my dog came up to investigate the loud crashing sound.  I also received strange looks from the bike shop as I handed them the mangled wheel for repair in mid-February.

Early in my Ironman training process, I consulted with a friend, who has had quite a successful IM career.  I used his recommendations to find a bike fitter, a nutrition consult for my race fueling plan (very important), and most importantly a coach.  My coach took the guesswork out of planning workouts, recovery weeks, the taper, and pacing during the race.  I had two significant setbacks during my training (tachycardia requiring an ablation and a bursitis in my knee).  Each time, my coach was able to adjust my workouts and get me back on track.  At the peak of my training, I was working out close to thirty hours a week.  My longest bike ride was 120 miles (which took me over seven hours), followed by a short run of course.  Since I work on weekends, I had no option but to do my long rides on Tuesdays all by myself.  I was lonely a lot.  Fortunately, there are beautiful places to ride in the area.  I would bike from Shrewsbury, around the Reservoir through Clinton, then up Wachusett Mountain, then back to Shrewsbury to re-fuel and repeat the circuit again.  The seven-hour rides made the three-hour runs seem easier.  If I had a moment of downtime, I would do sit-ups, planks, or yoga. 

As far as food is concerned, I have always had a healthy diet.  I have been a vegetarian for 20 years.  I didn't make any changes to my diet except eating a lot more and adding a recovery drink to my post-workout regimen.  

When I am not working out, I can usually be found at work.  I am an ER physician and work Thursday through Sunday at Clinton, Marlboro, and UMass Hospitals.  It is an exciting and rewarding career, and not having to be on-call is beneficial for training.   

Last, but not least, I am the mother of three wonderful children: Erik age 6 1/2, Nikolas age 6 (adopted last year), and Annika age 5.  They love to watch me race, and together with my husband make up my support team.  My husband, Bjørn, is also my technical support.  He spent the night before my Ironman tutoring me on how to take off a bike tire and change a flat.  Other than an occasional 5K road race, my husband has no interest in competing. 

The Ironman race itself went very well.  I was not the least bit nervous which I attribute to being well prepared.  I have been more nervous in previous sprint and Olympic distance races.  I started the mass swim up front and on the inside and had relatively smooth swim.  The water got a little choppy on the second lap.  It was a very relaxed swim as I did not want to get exhausted prior to the 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run.  I was truly sad when the swim was over.  The biking weather was a perfect 64 degrees and overcast.  I had to pull off the course briefly early in the ride to remove a rock from my sock.  I adhered strictly to my coach's pacing plan and had a negative split on the second lap.  The bike course was breath-taking (figuratively and literally).  The landscape was a lot like New Hampshire with beautiful lakes and rolling hills.  I forgot some of my nutrition in T2 and had to run back for it (so I really ran 26.3 miles).  The first half of the run went well.  At mile 15 (one mile after passing my special needs bag with my long-sleeved shirt) the weather turned foul.  It dropped 12 degrees and started raining.  By the time I hit mile 20, I was hypothermic and had to run/walk the rest of the way wrapped in a space blanket.  Miles 20-25.5 were definitely the low point in my racing career.  I wondered why I had signed up for such a crazy race and told myself that I would never do this again (I have since changed my mind).  At 25.5 miles, I turned the corner and could see the finish line at the bottom of the hill that was lined with very enthusiastic spectators.  I was cheered on at the finish line by my family who had seen me at every pass through downtown.  Everyone was wet and cold, but we had all endured the race of a lifetime.  

At the moment, I do not have any more Ironman races on my calendar, due to the time commitment that is required.  My next race is an Olympic distance in Oslo, Norway on August 15th with a very civilized noon start time.  We were going to be in Norway visiting Bjørn’s family and friends, and I couldn’t resist.  I just hope that I can understand the directions and announcements.  I have also signed up for Timberman 70.3, Title 9 Sprint and Lobsterman.   

Someday I hope to surprise my children by actually winning a race.  In order to do so, I will have to adhere to the simple advice that I give others:  “Start out up front and don’t let anyone pass you.”

Coach’s Corner: Get Aero by Opening Your Hips! 

By Don Vescio, Vescio Multisport Performance Services 

The single most important factor in achieving optimal aerodynamics on the bike is to focus on the position of your body.  The latest and greatest wheels, frames, and helmets contribute no more than 20% of a rider's total aerodynamic drag under the best of conditions; before investing your funds on equipment that may or may not work for you, consider your bike fit first.

In general, there are no secrets to establishing a solid aerodynamic position on the bike:  You want your head and shoulders low enough to reduce your front profile into the wind without significantly compromising your power and you want your hands and arms fairly close together.  That’s it--sounds simple, doesn't it?  The challenge is in how to meet these two objectives.

There are two physiological factors that impact on our aerodynamic positioning: our body size and morphology; our flexibility.  In order to get down into a low aerodynamic position and still be able to ride powerfully, one needs to have fairly good hip, lower back, and hamstring flexibility.  A critical component of this equation is the angle described by the top of a rider's thighs and his/her torso (this is called 'hip angle").  In the stick image below, the red arc indicates hip angle:

Figure 1


Now, the tighter one's hip angle, the more one feels constricted when riding in an aero position, and in extreme cases, a rider's thighs actually may hit the abdomen or chest while pedaling.  Additionally, tight hip angles can reduce the amount of power generated by a rider because it is more difficult to move the crank over the top of the top of the pedal stroke (tight hip angle=less leverage).   

Achieving an aero position on a road bike is difficult in that most road frames are designed to be ridden with the seat set back behind the cranks.  This design works very effectively when riding with traditional handlebars--it really hasn't changed in over one hundred years--but it doesn't work so well when aerobars are added to the equation.  Adding aerobars to a road bike significantly tightens the rider's hip angle:

While one can establish a remarkably aero position with aerobars on a road bike, the tradeoff most likely will be loss of power, lower back and hip pain, and potentially compromised bike handling. 

The reason why triathlon bikes have steep seat angles (i.e., the seat is positioned much more forward of the crank than on road bikes) is to enable a rider to get down into a low aerodynamic position without constricting the angle of the hip.  Try visualizing it like this: one can keep the hip angle the same when lowering the aerobars by moving the seat forward, which will rotate the entire body clockwise.  Because the body itself is being rotated forward, the hip angle remains the same, while the arms drop lower:


Figure 2: Aero position on triathlon bike:
Arc=hip angle; rectangle =  seat; circle = crank

Figure 3: Aero position on a road bike:
Arc=hip angle; rectangle =  seat; circle = crank

In figures two and three, note the relatively positions of the seat and crank:  the more forward the seat, the lower the aero position can be, while preserving a relatively open hip angle.  The take away is relatively straightforward: in most instances, if one wants to use traditional aerobars and achieve a good aerodynamic position, then a triathlon frame with a forward seat position is a must.  Putting aerobars on a standard road bike will result in either a significantly impinged hip angle (not great for power or comfort) or aerobars placed so high as to negate any aerodynamic advantage that they might offer.

But suppose you already have a triathlon bike and want to get lower to be more aerodynamic, or suppose you already have a pretty good aero position but want to get a little more power.  The next variable to look at after seat position is crankarm length. 

There are many studies that indicated that crank length in itself does not measurably impact power output.  Traditionally, long crank arms have been used for time trials because they provide, the argument goes, more leverage than short crank arms; the more leverage one has, the bigger the gear one can push at a given cadence, which means more speed.  The problem with long crank arms is that they describe a much bigger circle that a rider's legs must travel for each revolution of the crank; making this circle bigger effectively tightens the hip angle, as the leg must travel higher in relationship to the torso to complete one pedal revolution.

If an open hip angle is advantageous to power production and comfort, and if one wants to maintain or achieve a lower aerobar position, then it would make sense to go with a shorter crank arm length, especially as short cranks have little to no impact on overall power production.  In other words, by moving from a long crank to a short crank, one can either open up the hip angle for one's current position, or realize some play to drop the aerobars for a more aggressive position.  But in order to go the same speed with shorter cranks, the rider will need to slightly increase his/her cadence to compensate for the loss of gain.

This is where a little math is needed, but it's not so bad and you're almost there.  Traditionally, riders have measured gear size by expressing it as a ratio (which is not too intuitive) or distance traveled per revolution of the crank (called "development").  For example, suppose that you're riding a bike with a 50 tooth chainring and a 25 tooth cassette cog; this combination can be expressed in a variety of ways:

  • Gearing: 50x25

  • Ratio: 2:1

  • Gear Development:  54 inches (chainring divided by cassette cog, multiplied by wheel size; for a 50x25 gearing combination, the bike will travel forward 54 inches for each revolution of the crank)

The problem with each of the expressions above is that they don't take into account the effect that crank arm length has on gearing.  The concept of gain ratio factors in the circle described by the crank; while the math is fairly simple, the real take away is that long cranks have a greater impact on overall gearing than short cranks.  Here's an example based on my own riding:

I've been using 175mm cranks for lots of years for TTs; I prefer a large gear and a slower cadence (~75-80), which has tested well for me in terms of power and HR. I'm also 5'7" tall, which makes 175mm cranks long for me by most traditional standards. 

Okay--if I figure out the gain ratios for 175 and 170 cranks, I get the following approximate values for a top gear: 

  • 170-->radius ratio ~2; 2(56x11)=10.18 gain ratio
  • 175-->radius ratio ~1.95; 1.95(56x11)=9.92 gain ratio
  • Difference between the two gain ratios is ~2%

What this tells me is that while the numbers say that I'd need to spin slightly faster for the same gearing to be at the same speed if I went to shorter cranks, the difference would only be 2%--which isn't very much.  

But--by going with a shorter crank, I would reduce my hip angle, which means that I either can get lower in front for a more aero position (which I don't need to do), or I should be able maintain my current position, but push the same watts more efficiently. In other words, it looks like a shift to a shorter crank length for one my height might have more value than the benefits traditionally associated with using longer cranks for TTs.

What does all of this mean?

  • Body position is the single most important variable in establishing an aero position on the bike.

  • Tight hip angles can mean lower power output and greater physical discomfort.

  • Low front positions on the bike generally mean better aerodynamics.

  • Moving the seat forward (or adopting a triathlon-specific bike) enables the aerobars to be lowered while maintain an open hip angle.

  • Short cranks (say 165mm or less) can be advantageous in further opening up the hip angle.

  • Switching to shorter cranks means that there needs to be a slight increase in cadence to achieve the same speed for a given gear ratio.

Again, there are many variables that factor into a good, aerodynamic bike position and it is worth the time and expense to visit a professional fitter to help you get started.  One you have a solid baseline position, you'll be able to experiment with seat position and crankarm length to further optimize your performance.


 Don Vescio, a cycling coach at Vescio Multisport Performance Services, has set numerous course records in cycling events in the United States and Canada. You can reach Don at

Gee Whiz! Inexpensive Custom Disk Wheels

You know that a rear disk will be the fastest possible wheel in all conditions, but you don't want to spend the money for a single wheel that you'll use only for time trials and disk-legal events.  While disk wheels can cost well over a thousand dollars, there is another option--Wheelbuilder's Aero Disk Covers.

Wheelbuilder will custom fit their lens-shaped plastic cover to fit virtually any wheel.  Wheelbuilder covers are easy to use and offer the same aerodynamics as a structural disk for less than $100.


For more information, visit:

Special Offers from Our Sponsors

Vescio Multisport Performance Services

Vescio Multisport Performance Services is thrilled to once again be the official coaching organization for the FIRM Race Series. We are looking forward to helping FIRM athletes achieve their athletic goals in 2009 and beyond. 

Sign up for either the Vescio MPS Platinum Level Triathlon Training Service or Gold Level Triathlon Service by September 30, 2009 and get 20% off the first month’s coaching fee. To receive the discount, enter “FIRM20” in the appropriate space on the client sign-up form. This offer may not be combined with other offers.  

Wilderness Experiences

FIRM Triathletes take 10% off your entire purchase at Wilderness Experiences. This includes any purchase of regularly priced in store items. This offer cannot be combined with any other offers or discounts. If you need an item ordered, we’ll remove any special order fees such as shipping. We are dealers of TYR, Aquasphere, and Cressi who are manufacturers of goggles and swim attire. And of course we are a specialty store for kayaking and scuba diving. Offer expires 12/31/09. Visit our website for more information:

Please contact us with any questions. 413-569-1287 or


Vasa and FIRM Racing Sweepstakes 

Vasa and FIRM Racing are pleased to announce the Vasa and FIRM Racing Sweepstakes with the grand prize - a Vasa Swim Ergometer (Retail value $1899).

Earning entries for this sweepstakes is fun. You earn entries by competing in FIRM’s multisport races in 2009. The more you race, the better your chance of winning.

  • Earn one entry each time you participate in a FIRM multisport race.

  • Earn additional entries by placing in the top five of your race category in FIRM multisport races. Categories include: elite, age-grouper, Clydesdale, Athena, and relay team. First place earns eight entries, second place earns five entries, third place earns three entries, fourth place earns two entries, and fifth place earns one entry.

  • Earn double entries for Grand Prix events and triple entries for FirmMan MA and FirmMan RI

The winner’s name will be drawn at the FIRM Grand Prix awards banquet at the end of the race season. The person whose name is drawn must be present at the awards banquet to win the bicycle frame. No exceptions. The date and location of the awards banquet will be announced next month. So update your race calendar and start earning entries to win a Vasa Swim Ergometer.