FIRM Racing News: June 2012


A Message from Wendy and Bill: Taking to the Open Waters

June brings the start of our open water swim triathlons, and its accompanying natural beauty, controlled chaos, specialized gear, and the fears and triumphs of the athletes taking on that challenge. 

In this issue, we cover this unique aspect of triathlon with a look at how to enjoy the fun and exhilarating aspects of the open water, we provide info on some local training opportunities for the open water, and we take a closer look at the features that make up a $1200 wetsuit. (That's not a typo!) Wendy is thinking about getting one of these wetsuits because they come with abs painted on the front. So dive into this issue of FIRM Racing News. 

Triathlon Swim--Fun and Exhilarating Versus Dark and Scary

By Elaine Vescio, USA Triathlon Coach with Vmps

The biggest mistake that people new to the sport of triathlon make is to underestimate how different it is to swim in a lake with a group of people versus in a lane of the pool with one or two other people. You see these people at almost every triathlon. They are the ones who turn back soon after their swim begins or who need assistance from the life guards or who eventually complete the swim after spending a lot of time floating on their backs or swimming with their heads out of the water with a terrified look in their eyes. This is completely unnecessary. One or two practice swims in the open water can dramatically transform how a person reacts to the novelty of a mass start triathlon swim. 

Here are some of surprises the open water swim has in store for a first timer:

·         It’s dark.

·         You can’t touch the bottom soon after starting to swim.

·         It’s challenging to swim in a straight line.

·         You get breathless due to heightened anxiety and colder water temperatures.

·         Sometimes you get a mouthful of water instead of air when you go to breathe because the water is a bit choppy.

You can deal with these factors with a little practice. The first two are givens—lakes are dark and deep, but that doesn’t matter. There is nothing under the water that you need to see in order to be able to navigate the swim course, and you don’t need to touch the bottom to be able to swim. Instead you navigate by swimming towards the swim buoys that mark the swim course. You can do this by peeking forward occasionally while swimming, looking for the next buoy or for another landmark behind the buoy. This is referred to as “sighting”, and is what helps to keep you swimming somewhat in a straight line and on the course.

Read More....

Write a Race Report and Win a Free Sprint Triathlon

We love hearing your stories about our races so much that we have started a new contest. Send us your race report on a F.I.R.M. event for our newsletter, and if your article is selected, you win a free sprint triathlon. Pictures are always nice too. Submit articles to  

Winning Entry in Race Report Contest: Racing Gives You Wrinkles

By Christine Johansen

The past week was, shall we say, a little “trying” around the J-Girl Household. We, ummm, had a whole lot going on.

Let’s leave it at that.

Pressure can apparently be a very good thing. I channeled all the insanity to run-bike-run my best race ever. This time, my best was good enough to earn first place.  Not “just” first place in my age group, but first place OVERALL.

Yep, you read that right: yours truly was the very first freaking woman to cross the freaking finish line at the freaking Wrentham Duathlon on Sunday November 6th thankyouveddymuch.

Today everything hurts—including my cheeks from the nonstop wicked-big-smile, which has already etched permanent lines around my mouth and eyes. You can keep your Clinique—no wrinkle cream for me, no siree. I fully intend to cultivate super-deep, super-prominent 1st place-overall (OA) race wrinkles, oh yes I do.

Read More….

Get Ready for the Open Water with Swim Clinics and Training Races

Athletes in this area are fortunate to have the opportunity to train for the open water in a fun and safe environment. Local coaching company, Vmps, offers open water swim clinics and training races to help people become more confident and effective during the swim segment of a triathlon. 

The open water swim clinics are instructional and practical. Topics covered include triathlon swim starts, dealing with anxiety during the swim, swimming straight in the open water, swimming with a crowd, turning at buoys, drafting, and exiting the water. The first swim clinic is June 8, 2012. 

The open water swim training races are a progression from the swim clinics, giving the participants a chance to practice those open water skills in a fun training environment. The first open water swim training race is June 13, 2012. 

CLICK HERE for more info on swim clinics

CLICK HERE for more info on open water swim training races

$10,000 Cash and Prizes at FirmMan Rhode Island

We are celebrating the 20th running of FirmMan Rhode Island, with a $10,000 prize purse ($10,000 cash and prizes) for this premier half iron distance event. Set in the resort town of Narragansett, FirmMan Rhode Island offers scenic courses, enthusiastic volunteers, live music, a fabulous Saturday night pasta dinner, a hearty post race bbq, long sleeved tech shirts, and a guest speaker who will wow the compression socks off of you. 

CLICK HERE for more information

TYR Freak of Nature Wetsuit: The $1200 Wetsuit

What happens when you take the fastest rubber on the planet, and make a whole wetsuit out of it? Add in some huge technological advances and you get something with freaky capabilities and a hefty price tag.

The entire Freak of Nature wetsuit is built with Yamamoto #40 neoprene – the most flexible wetsuit rubber. Lance Armstrong swam in a Freak of Nature when he raced Xterra triathlon last fall because it “felt the most natural” of the suits he had tried. The Yamamoto #40 neoprene torso conforms to the swimmer instead of compressing the body to match the suit. Although other suits have exceptionally flexible arms, the Freak of Nature has an unprecedented ability to mold to the swimmer, which erases potential imperfections in each individual fit.

Most wetsuits, including the Freak of Nature, have thin panels of neoprene under the armpit to minimize resistance against arm extension, but these slender segments aren’t as buoyant as the thicker panels at the center of the body. As a swimmer rotates onto his or her side to start a stroke, these thin panels are pressed into the water, causing a suit to become slightly less buoyant. The Freak of Nature counteracts this buoyancy issue with incredible efficiency. It has large patches of ultra-buoyant aerated neoprene – neoprene with small, sealed pockets of air inside the rubber – on the outer thighs and hips. These panels plunge into the water as the swimmer rolls onto his or her side and maximize buoyancy during this all-important phase of a swim stroke. As a result, the Freak of Nature kept testers at the surface of the water through an entire swim stroke without any bobbing.

Another area where the Freak of Nature outperforms  the competition is with the V-GCP “pull panels” on the forearm section. A number of wetsuit manufacturers have built some type of grip device onto the forearm to increase forearm “traction” and surface area in the water. The idea is to “hold onto” water better as you pull yourself forward. The V-GCP section also increases the surface area of the forearm allowing the swimmer to hold even more water, and as a result, go faster.

The final unique feature is that the Freak of Nature comes with slick six-pack abs painted on the stomach. Who says money can’t buy happiness? 

TYR Hurricane Freak of Nature wetsuit is available through Vmps. Vmps is offering 15% off all wetsuits (including the Freak of Nature) during the month of June. Contact or 508.612.3000 for more information. 

F.I.R.M.: We Want Your Input

This year we implemented many of the suggestions from the responses we received to our survey last fall including:
  • Earlier and more streamlined awards ceremony
  • Podium for the awards ceremony
  • GPS measured open water swim courses
  • Bigger buoys on the swim course
  • Better quality tech shirts and in more colors
  • Water bottles for goodie bags
  • New post race refreshments--stews, chowders, fruit
  • Finisher announcer

We want to do even better. Please email Wendy with your responses to the following questions and/or with any other information that you believe would enable us to improve your experience at F.I.R.M. events.  

  1. List the top 3 things you look for when choosing a race? 
  2. Why might you choose a race put on by a different company instead of a F.I.R.M. event? Price? Location? Course Length? Race Management? Other (please describe)
  3. What can we do to help you choose a F.I.R.M. event over a different event? 
  4. What do you think of the food being provided this season? (Chowder/stew, watermelon, fruit cups)
  5. In warm weather, what would you prefer for post race refreshments? 

The Aero Hierarchy: How to Go Faster Without Spending a Lot of Money

By Don Vescio, Vmps Cycling Coach

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on cycling, especially as today’s newest and greatest is replaced in six months by an even better model.  To go fast on the bike, one needs to factor three connected variables: training (preparing your body to race); strategy (determining optimal pace, etc.); equipment (maximizing performance gain through appropriate equipment selection).  What is especially interesting about cycling is that you can focus on any one or all of these factors.  The most successful competitors will strive to maximize gains in all three.

What follows is a basic hierarchy of aerodynamic return on investment.  The following recommendations will help you realize significant performance gain, while also providing you with a rough guideline on the best value for your money.  Note that the hierarchy below is organized in descending order of importance--that is, the greatest gain is listed first.

  1. Your body will contribute over 70% to your overall aerodynamic drag deficit.  The fastest time trial or triathlon bike and the most expensive aero wheels will not offset the penalties associated with a poor position on the bike.  Your first, and most important aerodynamic investment should be a proper fit on your race bike.  A good fitter will help you balance aerodynamic gains with biomechanical efficiency; a fit will help you maximize your application of power over time, which will result in significantly greater performance. (Approximate Cost: $250 and up)

  2. The next step would be to work with your fitter to properly place you on aerobars.  The importance of aerobars cannot be overstated.  This past spring, I did a series of wind tunnel tests in which I compared two equally fast aerodynamic bikes, with the only difference between the two was the handlebars used.  Paying close attention to detail to minimize controllable variables, I found that I realized a 40 watt advantage when using aerobars as opposed to traditional drop road bars.  40 watts is a huge difference--at my race speeds, it factors out to be an approximately 1.5 minute advantage for ten miles.  Aerobars also provide mechanical advantage for the rider, too: rather than using your musculature to support your upper body when in race position, properly fitted aerobars will enable you to transfer your body weight to your handlebars via the bony structure of your arms.  For most riders, this will yield significant savings in energy and economy of the course of a long ride. (Approximate Cost: $100 and up)

  3. You’ve been fitted and you now have aerobars; it’s time to take a look at helmets.  There are many different makes and models of aero helmets on the market today, and most have relatively distinct design philosophies.  One feature that the best aero helmets share is that they have smooth and continuous surfaces, that their shells are not interrupted by sharp shapes or vent holes.  The basic principle is sound and replicable: the more vent holes in a helmet, the slower the helmet will test aerodynamically.  What about heat build-up on hot days?  Research suggests that a significant amount of cooling will take place via the exposed face and neck and that full-shell aero helmets do not appreciably add to a racer’s overall heat load in most conditions.  Don’t have money for a full aero helmet?  Consider covering the front vent holes of your standard road helmet with clear packing tape, which will provide you with surprising aerodynamic gain. (Approximate Cost: $125 and up)

  4. Hydration is critical for all endurance athletes, and there has been a lot of research into different ways to carry liquid while on the bike.  In most instances, carrying a standard round water bottle will offer little penalty over the more expensive and sometimes harder to use aero water bottles.  For most riders, it is advantageous to place a water bottle on the seat tube to help direct air flow around the rear wheel.  Also note that behind the seat bottle mounts work best when the bottles are closely tucked underneath the seat; bottle that extend backward from the seat tend to fall into the air flow that is directed over the rider’s back, which can be a considerable source of aerodynamic drag.  Need a second bottle?  Consider mounting one horizontally between your aerobars.  Carefully position, a bottle placed in this location actually can act as a fairing for some riders.  Vertical hydration systems that fit between the aerobars also can work well for some riders--just keep the drinking straw short. (Approximate Cost: $50 and up)

  5. The rear wheel of your bike sits in a complex aerodynamic location--it is partially faired by the seat tube on some frames, but it also forms part of the bike’s trailing edge that can experience relatively choppy air flow.  The front wheel, on the other hand, forms the leading edge of your bike and enters relatively clean air.  In relative terms, then, greater aerodynamic gains can be made by focusing on the front wheel first.  A good aerodynamic front wheel will have a low spoke count (<20), and spokes will be bladed (good) or oval (best) in shape.  Rim depth will be in the range of 50 millimeters or deeper, with the ideal depth determined by rider speed and wind conditions. (This is a complex topic that deserves its own separate article.)  In addition to selecting a front wheel that has few spokes and a deep rim, care also should be placed on the width of the tire in relationship to the rim.  In general, strive to keep the width of the tire equal to or less than the width of the time. (Approximate Cost: $400 and up)

The five recommendations above focus on how to manage airflow around the front of your bike.  Additional gains can be made by managing airflow around the trailing edge (the rear) of your bike, but your financial cost for performance will be relatively high for your aerodynamic return.  Next month’s article will take a look at finer, more granular strategies to optimize aerodynamic investment.    For now, the take-away is relatively simple:

  1. Get a good fit
  2. Use aerobars
  3. Wear a smooth helmet
  4. Pay attention to where you place your hydration
  5. Find a low spoke count, deep rim front wheel


Win a Quintana Roo Triathlon Bike


Two lucky participants in the 2012 FIRM Race Series will win a new Quintana Roo triathlon bike. That’s right, two winners! Quintana Roo, the official bicycle sponsor for the 2012 FIRM Race series, has donated a new QR Seduza triathlon bike (MSRP $2,299) for one lucky gentleman to win, and a new QR Dulce triathlon bike (MSRP $2,299) for one lucky woman to win. 

Earn entries each time you complete a F.I.R.M. event, and earn extra entries by placing in your category. (Extra entries are added in at the end of the season...ah the beauty of technology). Drawing will be held at F.I.R.M.'s Halloween Duathlon on October 28. So race often and you just may find yourself racing on a new QR triathlon bike!

Race Highlight: Webster Lake Triathlon (June 24, 2012)

Set at the beautiful five mile long, fresh water, spring fed lake named 
Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaugg, this triathlon offers a beautiful, rural setting that is conveniently located in Central Massachusetts. 

For you trivia buffs, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaug means 'you fish on your side, I'll fish on mine, and no one fishes in the middle'. 

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaugg offers a gorgeous setting for the half mile swim with its clear waters and panoramic views. Typical race day water temperatures are in the low to mid 70's. The bike course is a single loop 12 mile course going through Webster to the infamous hill. Ride the nice quiet back roads into Connecticut passing the Wild life refuge and back into Webster to the beach. The out and back three mile run course with gentle rollers meanders through the neighborhood of Birch Island. There you pass Waterfront Mary's. Their margaritas are worth stopping for during and/ or after the race. 

CLICK HERE for more information

Stratton Mountain Triathlon Festival

Check out New England's newest triathlon festival, the Stratton Mountain Triathlon Festival, August 4-5 in Stratton Mountain, Vt. The festival begins with the Muddy Mayhem, a 5K mud run with 8+ obstacles. Then (after a bubble bath, hopefully), there's the Race to the Summit, a grueling two mile run from the ski lodge, through the meadows, and up Mike's Way to the summit. See if you can be crowned King or Queen of the mountain. Saturday continues with a whole bunch of partying, but get a good night's sleep because on Sunday it's the Stratton Mountain Triathlon, a sprint triathlon in a quintessential New England town. Do one, two, or all three events. Bring the family or just a few friends. But don't miss out on New England's newest triathlon festival. Great rates on places to stay. 

CLICK HERE for Muddy Mayhem 5K
CLICK HERE for Race to the Summit
CLICK HERE for the Stratton Mountain Triathlon

Vmps: Everything You Need to Love Triathlon Even More

- USA Triathlon and USA Cycling Certified Coaching
- Open Water Swim Clinics and Training Race Series
- Time Trial Training Race Series
- Six Week Power Swimming Classes
- Twelve Week Swim Prescription Program
- Bike Fittings and Performance Testing
- Triathlon Boot Camp for Women
- Vmps Triathlon Team
- Retail Center with triathlon bikes, wetsuits, wetsuit rentals, tri gear, sports nutrition products, and more...

Triathlon Center is located at 45 River Street, Millbury, Ma 01527. 

Summer Hours: Tuesdays 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM; Thursdays 10 AM to 2:00 PM; and Saturdays  2:00 PM to 5:00 PM, or by appointment. 

Current Specials: 
15% off wetsuits for the month of June
40% off TYR Ironman Triathlon Apparel
40% off Rudy Project helmets and sunglasses plus free Rudy Project sunglasses or helmet with your purchase

For more information or to register for a Vmps clinic or training race:

Visit  or call 508.612.3000 or email

Swim Angels Needed

F.I.R.M. is looking for volunteers to serve as swim angels at our sprint triathlons. Swim angels swim beside a participant who is especially nervous about the open water swim segment of the race. The angel provides guidance and motivation to the participant as needed. For more information or to volunteer for a specific event, email

Upcoming Races

June 10--Holliston Triathlon at Stoddard Park in Holliston, Ma. This longish sprint triathlon combines a pretty race venue, a placid lake swim, and rolling terrain for the bike and run. A fun extended sprint triathlon and a great tune up for those of you doing an Olympic distance or half ironman this season. 

CLICK HERE for more info

June 17--Ashland Sprint Triathlon and Ashland Lions Triathlon (Olympic distance) at Ashland State Park in Ashland, Ma. The swim is in a reservoir surrounded by pretty forest, the bike course has rolling terrain with one hill, and the run is varied terrain. The races are held concurrently on the same courses. 

CLICK HERE for more info

June 24--Webster Lake Triathlon at Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaugg in Webster, Ma. This sprint triathlon has the half mile swim in the lake with the longest name in the world (and it's pretty too). The bike ride is a single 12 mile loop through the rural streets of Webster and Connecticut with one challenging hill, and the run is an out and back on fairly flat terrain. 

CLICK HERE for more information

CLICK HERE for our complete calendar of events

Sponsors for the 2012 F.I.R.M. Race Series