Friday, October 31, 2008

The Morning Swim

When the alarm sounds at 4:30 AM, the impulse is to head for the local bomb shelter. Something must be wrong is almost always the first conscious thought of the day, jerked out of REM and that dream you were having, the recurring one about running a red light and having your picture taking while doing so. The most dangerous moments are the next 10-15 seconds that you lie there in the dark, thinking Surely I could swim at some other point today. But you manage to get the light on, brush your teeth, put the contacts in, and at that point there's no chance you'll go back to sleep.

The early early morning swim is quintessentially lower-case pro. PROs get to sleep in a bit, eat, wait, train, eat, sleep, train, eat and go back into the big sleep (toss some massage and stretching in there, for good measure). pros, like age-groupers, have day jobs, so we've got to get to the pool, track, or trainer (I'm assuming you wouldn't ride your bike outdoors before five in the morning; no matter where you live (unless it's Alaska), it's dark then) before we head to that 9 to 5. We arrive at the pool cold, sore, and dreading that first immersion in the alien medium. The coach, usually a former big-time D1 swimmer (and now full-time sadist) plots his workouts from the deck, and heckles. After an hour and a half, wrung out and starving (hanging out in any water temp around 80 signals disaster to your body: survival messages start to flash eat, eat, eat like emergency beacons), you shower, shave, and...head to the office, the sun maybe starting to color the sky the deep blue of early dawn.

But the rest of the day, you feel created. Everything is gravy, as nothing will be as hard as 4-5000M at 5:15 AM. Keep bringing the early morning swim. I hate those first fifteen seconds of consciousness, but the remaining sixteen hours are worth it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rummage Manna

So there's this ad you've probably seen. If you've ever watched the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament you've seen it. It runs, with less regularity, during the baseball championships (college baseball is weird, unless you're from England and understand that huge professional clubs own the rights to soccer players from, say, the age of five). Anyway, it's a pretty straightforward ad, showing college athletes in all their amateur glory. At the end of the ad, the punchline runs "there are x players in NCAA athletics, and almost all of us are going pro in something other than athletics." I love this ad, no matter how maudlin it is. College athletics play a funny role in the serious athlete's life: you're competing at a high level (few high school athletes go on to play in college), but you're pretty sure that the next four years are it. Swimmers leave Division One swimming and, if they don't go the Olympics, join...the local masters team. Soccer players write letters to USL 3rd division teams and beg for tryouts. Runners and rowers move to Boston or Southern California. The next few months hold little. I moped around D.C. for a little while and then started running around the Mall every day.

All of this filters down to yesterday, when I got to go to my other professional job, working with kids at The Catlin Gabel school in Portland, OR. Catlin runs this thing every year called "Rummage," in which the students canvas the city, asking people to donate their unused/unwanted goods (they can't pick up things like, of course, mattresses, gross). Then, after a week of set up at the Portland Exposition Center (think: huge), the place opens to the public. Development raises around $200,000 for financial aid (peanuts, really), but the real gift is the sense of communal effort around Rummage. On Monday the juniors and seniors go; Tuesday is the sophomores' turn; Wednesday the freshman. On Thursday, the place opens, and the word is that people line up outside like those crazy people who lurk outside Walmart on Thanksgiving at Midnight, waiting to beat each other up over...who knows?

Anyway, yesterday I went with the sophomores to help set up, and other than the regular unfocused sophomore boys (whoa), it was a great time. I spent two and a half hours unloading a trailer (of the tractor-trailer variety, that is, f-ing large) with two of the sweetest kids you could unload a trailer with. We unpacked grills, beds, and more baby strollers I've ever seen in one place.

And then, like a little bonus, I found this:

A Mapei cycling cap? Greatest team of the one-day classics from the 90s? Johann Museeuw, Michele Bartoli, Andrea Tafi, and Franco Ballerini? 5 wins at Paris Roubaix between 1993 and 2002? From the extra little "GB" on the cap, I'm guessing this cap dates from 1995-97, and it's probably real, as I can't imagine someone would reissue a cycling cap with one of the sideshow sponsors still on it.

After Rummage, I dropped the cap into a hot laundry wash and headed out for a ride. After walking all day, I managed some of the best intervals of the fall: 4x12:00 @ 360-380 watts. Hard, but not deathly hard. One of those perfect days: good kids, hard work, fun training, and a retro cycling cap. Does it get better (could I be luckier?) than this?

Monday, October 27, 2008

A New Look

Yup, things look a little different around here. Last night, I rode into a headwind that made me get out of the saddle to hold 12-13 MPH, and while I was catching the poor bloke up the road (who maintained a solid 11.5-12.5 MPH for a good ten minutes, the strongman), I thought for the countleth time Why? This question was purely a rhetorical one, since I was enjoying myself. 30 MPH headwind, machine-sharp light, the only thing missing was rain. The enjoyment, of course, only lasted until I got to the turnaround to begin the truly joyous 27.5 miles back with the wind. But I got to thinking about the geniuses over at BKW, who have turned the term PRO into an industry wide term. What does it mean? Pedraig can say it far better than I, so read on there. In short, though, PRO is what the big guys do. Jens Voight, Eddy Merckx, Lance Armstrong, Steve Prefontaine, Mark Allen, Dave Scott, Faris Al-Sultan, Paula Radcliffe, Deena Kastor, Rebecca Wellons and Lynn Bessette, Natasha Badmann, Chrissy Wellington, Paula Newby-Fraser, Michael Phelps, and newly crowned Kona Champ Craig Alexander are all PRO with three capital letters. What does it mean to be PRO? Your training and your carriage are perfect. What does it take to be PRO? Good god, quite a bit, and the sacrifices aren't yours alone. When I was fifteen, and reading science fiction non-stop under the covers, Neal Stephenson pointed out the fantasy that "Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad." No PRO got to where he or she was/is on the burliness of his or her own bootstraps. Coaches, family members, spouses, companies all contributed their time, love, and, in most cases, cash, to the dubious experiment of one person's athletic ego. The PRO was born. I'm not knocking it. Very few could get there on his own. It takes a huge ego and and a vast amount of humility to accept the help of others in the aggrandizement of self.

But what about the others who toil just below the PROS out there, who are good but not quite good enough, who don't have the heart to toss job and family to the wind in the pursuit of something so ephemeral as sport? Call them the pros, and there are 10 for every PRO in every sport. I'm going to try to refocus this blog on the pro, those of us who fall between the amateur and the PRO, the ones that get dusted by the big guys, but would walk away with every local race into which he or she dropped. Who are we? You probably don't know our names, outside of our local circles, but once or twice a year we have flashes of PRO-like brilliance, and we live on these moments. For me, it was outsplitting the Eagleman 70.3 field by three minutes on the bike. My friend and teammate Janda teeters right on the edge of pro and PRO, putting up great results all year long, one sneaker on the podium of triathlon's biggest events. New friend Kevin Lisska throws down a huge day and comes in 8th at the Long Course World Championships in Holland. My other teammate Will Ronco comes in 5th at Lake Placid. Do you know these names? Probably not. As one spectator at Newfoundland said to me: "You're a pro?! Would I have heard of you?" The answer, for most of us pros, is a resounding no.

We know most of each other, although there are a lot of pros out there. We're the guys that age-groupers like to gripe about when they say there are too many pros in triathlon. But there's a good community, and we say hello at the race briefings in the time-honored way of close competitors: we grunt, and look around, and ask how training is going, and say we're glad to see each other again, and what races we've got on the horizon. We say little to each other during the race, but a lot afterward.

What are the PROS like? Well, not too different, besides the blessings of genetics, time, and fortune. For the most part they are great people: generous of their time and kindness. I get the honor of sharing a coach with Craig Alexander (that's about all we share), and so get to bounce ideas off of him now and then. He couldn't be kinder or more supportive. Richie Cunningham is the quietest guy I've ever met to wield such a nasty SBR combination. Many of you probably know Karen Smyers, due to her generosity of spirit. After my first race as a pro (in which I came in last), she only had the nicest things to say to me.

The sign that now occupies the title shot of this blog sums up the prolife to me: you do your best and then deal with what comes along. I race next in Clearwater, 12 days from now. Lots of prep to finish, lots of dreaming to be done. Who knows, I may be PRo on that day...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Oregon Manifest Show

I wandered down to the Oregon Manifest show last Saturday, but to say that my visit was casual would belie how much I'd looked forward to seeing a bunch of handbuilt Oregon 'Cross bikes in one place. The show didn't disappoint, right down to the presence of Voodoo Donuts,
purveyor of the Maple Bacon Cruller, featured on Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations. Here's a shot of the infamous thing:
It's in the middle/right of the photo, and kind of looks like a hot dog. Yes, that's a maple glazed cruller with two strips of bacon pasted to it. As a metaphor for the Manifest Show, the Maple Bacon Cruller isn't far off. There are a lot of wacky ideas bruited about at the manifest show, just as you'd expect from a bunch of 'crossers getting together to drink beer, eat barbecue and tamales, and look at a bunch of beautiful handmade frames. Here are some pictures I snapped of various products.
Yup, that's Andy Hampsten's jersey from the '88 Giro D'Italia. I double-taked and then asked Steve Hampsten if the jersey was for real. He assured me it was, and I chatted with him for a few moments about his work, which is lovely and painstaking. So much to see, though, and I strolled off through this Interbike of the Northwest. What was the buzz here? Mostly about renewable products for bikes. Here are two pictures from Renovo, who makes wooden framed fronttriangles and mates them to alloy or carbon rear triangle. The products are beautiful.
The bikes are about as impervious to wear and grit as a steel-framed bike, so you have to take care to rinse it and wipe it carefully, but the word out there is that the right quality is stupendous, and the carbon rear triangle gives you real stiffness where you need it.

Here are some wooden wheels from Wheel Fanatyk (cheesy alternate spellings abound in the somewhat overfull wheel supplier market, as wheelbuilders try to brand/differentiate their product). These wheels got a write-up in Bicycling or Velonews or somewhere else (I don't remember and was more interested in just what the reviewer said), and it sounds as if the wheels ride pretty nice. Grit can be tough on 'em, but if you're careful, the ride quality is supposed to be supple and plush. Finally, some local wag was using cork and wood to make bar end plugs:

O.K., onto the steel, aluminum, carbon and titanium. Here's a great way to rout your rear break cable, from Vertigo Bicycles:
Internal cable routing on a 'Cross bike! Of course, this makes sense, as it takes away any need to build some kind of cable-stop housing onto the seat-stay. It also looks incredibly clean. I don't think we need to start making 'Cross bikes aero, but when you're hoisting something up onto your shoulder 10-15 times in an hour, it's nice not to have any chance of tangling your hands/fingers in cables. Also from Vertigo are some BURLY dropouts (I think they look more like motorcycle stays and drops): If you look carefully, you can see some mud caked on the opposite side seatstay. This was the builder's bike, and it had clearly been raced recently. That's a good sign, I think. I would think seriously about talking with these guys about a bike, if I were in the handbuilt titanium market. Next up, a beautiful bike from Sweetpea Bicycles:

I talked with Natalie, the owner/builder, and lamented that Sweetpea only makes bikes for women. She let me in on a secret, though, that if you want one bad enough, you can get one. Good to know.

Here's a wild TT bike that is currently
the OBRA TT Championship bike: I asked the builder/rider "What is that, like a 30 cm drop" (distance from saddle nose to elbow pads), and he shrugged and said "I don't know, but it works." My kind of rider.

Lastly, since we're looking at innovative bikes, here are two that I just had to ask about: "How's THAT work?" I asked the builder of this design. "Pretty well," she said. "But we still need to ride it down some sets of stairs to make sure it'll hold up."

And then there was this, from Land Shark: This is a track bike, so you don't have to worry about your rear brake pointing in the right direction, but the real rationale here was to add a second triangle to the rear section of the bicycle. There are two triangles in two separate dimensions, supposedly dramatically stiffening the rear end of the bike, something quite important at the velodrome. I made the compulsory joke about being able to turn only right, but the rep assured me it would go both directions. BikeSnobNYC thinks there's nothing uglier than a Land Shark, but this bike was quirky enough that I wouldn't have been ashamed to take around the curves.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Haruki Murakami is the kind of writer that will, I predict, win the Nobel Prize for Literature in the next decade or so. He meets the criteria: not American (the Nobel Committee, if you missed it, called American Literature "Insular and isolated" a few weeks ago, pretty much tipping their hand that they wouldn't, again, be giving the award to someone on this isolated little backwater of an island); he has a prodigious publishing record (12 works of fiction over less than thirty years); and, most importantly, he has a stripped but oddly lyrical style of prose, Raymond Carver crossed with Garcia Lorca. His closest American component would be Marilyn Robinson (of Gilead fame but, to this reader at least, of Housekeeping renown), whose prose is like clouds breaking up at the end of a rainy day: a dulled but lightening silver. Murakami's stories and books are oblique, mysterious. His characters talk around subjects, and his bailiwick is the juxtaposition of the boring everyday with the mystical. I can remember a period in the late 90s and early aughts when it seemed that every one of his stories revolved around a man, bored with his wife, who is shaken deeply when that wife disappears. And when I say disappear I mean disappear existentially. She doesn't just get on a boat and go, but every record of her vanishes. His work anchors in this bay: what holds us to this world, and how tenuously are we held?

So, when I heard he was publishing a book on running, I waited until the perfect moment to purchase it: an airplane trip, where I could devour the book in one sitting. When I flew to Austin last week I found the book in an airport bookstore and slid it into my pack, telling myself to wait to crack its spine.

The book begins auspiciously enough: "I'm on Kauai, in Hawaii, today, Friday, August 5, 2005. It's unbelievably clear and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. As if the concept clouds doesn't even exist." That parade of location in time and space is quintessential Murakami. He'll locate us now so, when he wants to, later, he can cut the cords holding us to the concrete, and drift us into his wonderful brand of abstract. Three sentences in he maintains this movement, grabbing a common metaphysical image: clouds. Clouds are the kind of thing that feel stale in a hack's hands (see my metaphor about Robinson, above) but ennobled in a real writer's pen. Here we go, I thought. This is going to be good.

Sadly, the book never rises again to the promise of its first few lines. Just a few words later, we get this: During the mornings, when it's cool, I sit at my desk, writing all sorts of things. Like now: I'm writing this, a piece on running that I can pretty much compose as I wish." Uh-oh, the breezy "I just tossed some ideas together for my talk today as I rode up on the train." Would he be so unprofessional? Sure enough, the answer is yes. What follows, for 180 pages, is a litany of "To Be" verbs and lots of telling instead of showing. This could simply be a translation problem, of course, but, in that case, Murakami has hired a freshman in high school to do his translating. Consider this particular passage, from page 95 (he's just been passed, while running, by some young women at Harvard):

Have I ever had such luminous days in my own life? Perhaps a few. But even if I had a long ponytail back then, I doubt it would have swung so proudly as these girls' ponytails do. And my legs wouldn't have kicked the ground as cleanly and as powerfully as theirs. Maybe that's only to be expected. These girls are, after all, brand new students at the one and only Harvard University.
Still, it's pretty wonderful to watch these pretty girls run. As I do, I'm struck by an obvious thought: One generation takes over from the next. This is how things are handed over in this world, so I don't feel so bad if they pass me. These girls have their own pace, their own sense of time. And I have my own pace, my own sense of time. The two are completely different,but that's the way it should be.

This passage not only manages to be ham-handed, trite, and borderline offensive, it trades in the kind of relativism that I'm constantly discouraging in my students, this message that we each have our own way of doing something, and each way is equally viable. I get this attitude from sophomore boys, in particular, who would rather not do the intellectual work to consider a new angle on something. "Great," I'm always telling them. "So why do you think large portions of humanity have decided to speak in languages that let individuals communicate? If doing things our own way were expedient, wouldn't we each be speaking with our own system of grunts and gestures?" I'm not arguing for absolutism, here, but I'm also not in favor of the excusatory power of difference. Things aren't so unnuanced, I hope.

The book is full of moments like these. It's as if Murakami, writing about his hobby and pastime, let his usual grasp on his prose loosen. His affect, throughout, is bemused. I wonder how long this book took him to write, because it still feels like a second draft. He takes us through his unnofficial Athens marathon (he just runs from Athens to Marathon by himself, unsupported), mostly telling us how hot he his, and how hard it is to run a marathon, particularly after 22 miles. Anyone who picks up this book, other than die-hard Murakami readers, know this fact, and it's a little condescending of Mr. Murakami to pass his difficulty off as readable or compelling. He traffics in this vein throughout, telling us how hard the swim leg of a triathlon is, or that getting old and slowing down are hard to handle. It is, in short, the least specific thing I've read all year, spouting vagaries and abstractions (and cliches!) throughout.

There are moments when the real Murakami stirs himself, like this moment when he describes, aptly, the semi-holy sensation of running along the Charles river:

"When I saw the Charles River again, a desire to run swept over me. Generally, unless some great change takes place, rivers always look about the same, and the Charles River in particular looked totally unchanged. Time had passed, students had come and gone, I'd aged ten years, and there'd literally been a lot of water under the bridge. But the river has remained unaltered. The water still flows swiftly, and silently, toward Boston Harbor. The water soaks the shoreline, making the summer grasses grow thick, which help feed the waterfowl, and it flows languidly, ceaselessly, under the old bridges, reflecting clouds in summer and bobbing with flows in winter—and silently heads towards the ocean."

That last, masterful sentence, which even deploys adverbs (something I'm always telling my students to cut away) perfectly, conveys that sense of timeless meditation Melville was talking about when he said his bit about man and the sea. The sentence literally trickles to its ending point, letting your attention waver and flow, inexorably, though, carrying you to its conclusion. There's even a bit of Matthew Arnold at the end there, a whisper of silent armies that clash by night, that takes the paragraph from the temporal and hurls it into the sublime. And again, on page 75, I met the Murakami I'm used to: "Even now, when I run along Jingu Gaien or Asakasa Gosho, sometimes I remember these other runners. I'll round a corner and see them coming toward me, silently running, their breath white in the morning air. And I always think this: They put up with such strenuous training, and where do their thoughts, their hopes and dreams, disappear to? When people pass away, do their thoughts vanish?" Here, I thought, was a passage worthy of Murakami: he marries the corporal with the incorporeal so easily, with that white breath symbolizing our daily thoughts, thoughts that turn white as ghosts and disappear into the cold air. It's a passage equally philosophical and mournful at the same time, and my hair stood on end.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Stability and Vindication

I'm back in Portland, presently, and it's raining/60s outside, which makes it hard to believe that yesterday I was in Austin, Texas, sweating through the Longhorn 70.3, put on by Keith Jordan and Endorfun Sports.

Harder to believe, for me anyway, was how good a race I had yesterday. It's no secret that 2008 has been a difficult year for me in terms of triathlon, and I had little to no expectation for this race. It was a chance to go somewhere I'd never been before, hang out with Amy for the weekend, and have some fun. I talked Kevin Lisska (from Long Course Worlds fame—he came in 8th, yeah, I know that guy) into coming along for the ride, and he obliged, bringing along his food poisoned girlfriend Linden, who was resolute about competing herself.

A few days before the race Keith posted the entrant list, and scrolling through it one saw a list of triathlon stars past and present: Richie Cunningham, Simon Lessing, Tim DeBoom, Joe Gambles, Keiran Doe, Andrew Yoder, Bjorn Andersson. Yikes. I though Tim DeBoom was ultramarathoning these days...

Still, feeling good about the swim volume I'd put in over the past month (not huge, but of good quality), I resolved to have a good race. Here's a short recap, since it's almost 9:30 and creeping up to my bedtime.

The Swim: The swim was beautiful, but short. Keith must have been taking it easy on me for the long swim at Timberman 2007, which was longer than normal (and cold!). I didn't swim well, regardless, getting bounced around early and losing the front group, and then swimming with a bunch of slower folks. Still, coming out of a HIM swim, looking down at your watch and seeing 20:32 is pretty sweet. Worst part of the day, over in an Olympic distance amount of time. Why can't I still swim? I'm not sure. I hate the scrum of a huge pack, and invariably I swallow a bunch of water and get kicked around. Part of me thinks I should swim towards the outside, where there are fewer people, but I know you're giving up time to swim there. It really is better to get mauled at the center while being pulled along. But I just can't make my brain accept that 1900 meters really isn't that far. It sees buoys and sees miles and slows down. The other day I was swimming 1:11 100s in the pool, no problem, and here I was swimming much slower than that in open water, wearing a speedsuit (thanks, BlueSeventy), not taking flip turns. What gives? As with many of these things, it's all mental, and I think some honest swim soul-searching (plus six months of 15K a week in the pool) will make the difference. Anyway, out of the water in just under 21 minutes, about 2 minutes behind the front-runners.

The Bike: Ah, my proverbial bread and butter. I was excited to race my bike today, seeing it had been months (months!) since I'd been out there mixing it up on my favorite of animals. I'd moved my position back to the pre-FitWerx (sorry, guys, it's the truth) position, with the seat forward and the front low. My Vision aerobars aren't great for that position (Kevin's voice is present as I write this, saying, "Dude, aerobars are, like, fifty bucks." I know, I'm too lazy/broke when it comes to bike maintenance), but if I dangled my hands beyond the shifters, and rode with the tips of my elbows on the pads, I could manage a good forward position and still steer the bike, which was a good thing, because after about fifteen miles I lost track of which direction was which. When I rode towards the sun I could figure it out alright, but other than that I was lost. I started passing people, which felt normal and good. About ten miles in I caught up to Kevin, which meant I was having a good day or he was having a bad one. I tried to get him to come with me, and he rode back there for a bit, but after a while I couldn't see him anymore. I did catch one hanger-on who rode my rear wheel for the better part of 30 miles, until he missed a turn and went, like Lance avoiding Joseba Beloki in the 2003 TdF, into the bushes on the side of the road. I was happy to see him go. I know that controlled drafting is a part of draft-illegal racing, but it sucks to know you're helping someone along. It was good to ditch him (his bib said "Kis," but I didn't see anyone with that name on the results), as the last 5-10 miles of the bike course are flat, fast, and beautiful. He might have been working to catch me up, but he was in the process of blowing himself up, too. Total time: 2:13:48. Not the blazing split of Eagleman, but still only around 2:30-3:00 down from the leaders.

The Run: O.K, my weakest leg. I jogged through transition, trying to get the legs going like pistons, rather than the train wheel-like motion of cycling. I grabbed two gels to hold on the way out of T2, with a few other athletes. I was passed quickly by Dominic Gillen and one other runner, and thought Ah, shit. But my legs started coming back after mile one (and a shaky 6:40 mile split). Soon things were ticking away; I re-passed Gillen (he'd re-pass me right back a few miles on), and quickly I was at mile three. O.K., I thought, one hour to go: just pretend it's a 10-lap cross race and each mile you get to subtract one lap. It's remarkable how well this works. When I think of yesterday, I don't think of suffering, ever (which makes me think I needed to go harder), only working hard. The run course at Austin 70.3 is great: it's an honest 2-loop course (not those double out-and-backs, which are so hard on one mentally) that leads through transition twice, so you never feel like you're in no-man's-land (read: Eagleman). There are hills, it's hot, but it never felt long or miserable. You can break the course up into little chunks, and I was surprised how smoothly I ran, for a somewhat hilly course. I made it back home in 1:23:49. Certainly not world class, but dead center of the professional field, and I did get to run past a self-destructing Andrew Yoder at mile 8 (been there, I thought, as I went by, feeling bad for him). For coming into transition in 17th, I was pretty happy to finish 12th. Sure, top ten would have been great, and each leg is not as sharp as I'd like it to be (what I would have given for just one minute off each leg, which would have slotted me into 10th, right behind early run-leader Kieran Doe (who has amazing dreadlocks, btw).

Final time: 4:01:33, which even if you adjust for a short swim (adding 5 minutes would probably be accurate) works out to a pretty good day in the office.

I would like to say, in closing, that this was one of the best-run races in which I've ever competed. I started off racing in Keith's events, up at Mooseman, and I'm always amazed at the party he puts on. The courses are well marked and well supported (not many other races get the Yellow Mavic Wheel Boys to prowl their courses); the food is great; the music is a huge lift; and the corny signs are, after all these years of seeing them stream by, comforting. I can't wait to return next year, and I'd like to thank Keith for having a big part in giving me something I've had precious little of this year in triathlon: fun.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fantasy Cyclocross

I've officially sunk to new lows of dork-dom: Fantasy Cyclocross. Now, the last time I managed any fantasy team, it was for a friend who was leading a three-week canoe trip. When he came back, his team was malingering in the bottom third of the standings, with a Red Sox heavy pitching rotation (I traded Odalis Perez for Alan Embree?! What was I thinking?). I've got slightly better footing here, although my Fantasy 'Cross team (aptly named, I think, "French Death Pimps Dressed All In White," a term connisseurs will recognize, perhaps, from an earlier post) is only MOP right now. I've got a mix of US and Belgian riders that will stand me in good stead once the European UCI season really gets rolling, but my mainstays will be Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers here on this side of the pond.

Leaving in a few hours for Austin 70.3! Updates from Texas will be forthcoming.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Incline

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in Colorado Springs with Amy, and we embarked on a Colo Spgs athletic rite of passage: running The Incline (postcard rendering at left).

The Incline gains about 2000' of elevation in just over a mile, with an average gradient of 41% and maximum gradient of 68%. It makes Alpe D'Huez look like a mild cruise. Of course, when you're running, you don't need to worry about rolling backwards down the mountain.

I was told by my coach that it's a pretty regular Saturday workout for athletes in the Springs, so Ame and I drove out through the amusement park of Manitou Springs and Old Colorado City up to the Cog Railway station (what is it about cog railways and their ability to attract just the oddest kind of tourists? The Mt. Washington Cog is about the ugliest thing in the Whites, and it scatters coal dust over, well, just about everything; yuck). We asked a couple friendly traffic guys where The Incline began, took a short warmup jog, and headed up the trail, jogging from tie to tie. As you stand at the bottom, this is what you see:

For the first half or so, you can jog, and you think This isn't that bad, but then, in Rolf Aldag's words from Hell On Wheels, "Your pulse starts skyrocketing, up towards 200 or more." Soon you hit that 68% grade, and running is no longer a possibility. So you're hiking quickly, and thinking that your heart rate should start coming down, but that's the odd thing about a hugely elevated heart rate: you need to almost stop to bring it down. I didn't have my HRM on (left the strap in OR), but the effort felt like a deep, long one, the kind of breathing you experience twenty minutes deep into a hard 'Cross race: at around 15 minutes, I thought I could puke right now, and I'd feel better.

I topped out at 24 minutes, which is in the realm of respectable. The record is a mind-altering 17 minutes (mind altering in the enzyme-denaturing sense). It's the kind of workout that rewards a ginger start, I think, and a blazing finish, just like the long climbs of classic cycling races. It's about the best workout you can get, if you like 'Cross, time trialling, or triathlons: a long, difficult interval that doesn't shut you down within minutes, one that leaves you gasping like a drowned man and drenched in sweat.

Get out to Colo Spgs and have a go yourself. You'll enjoy the suffering.