Friday, December 18, 2009

Presence



The season is over. 2009 carried some amazing highs and terrible lows in all the aspects of my existence, as every year carries: love, racing, teaching, writing, and training all conspired to reiterate that constant message: change and flux is the only constant.

I've been reading A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle, and I won't bore you with the New Age details. Suffice it to say that, if it speaks to you, it speaks to you, and Tolle wants to tell us that looking at the world in terms of "highs" and "lows" is a dangerous way to look at the world. The goal of his book is what he would probably call "presence," and I talked a little bit about it my last post about 'Cross Nationals.

Simon Whitfield is, to me, the kind of athlete who embodies presence. People present in the moment seem to radiate calm and happiness; that is because they are not worried about the future of ensconced in the past. It strikes me as odd, though, that an endurance athlete, someone whose "successes" and "failures" are measured by the cold hands of the clock, could find himself so outside of time.

Try to remember your last best run, swim, ride, or race. If it truly was your best experience, the clock probably meant little. You floated through the workout, lending credence to the pain and pleasure of the effort in equal parts. At the end of the workout, you probably felt peace instead of relief. That sense of peace is what the best athletes in the world are looking for, I believe. I don't think they actively search for it, but it is the thing that keeps them coming back, and keeps them successful. The ego is a voracious thing, and you could say that the ego is what makes these athletes return to the starting line. But athletes motivated by ego, I believe, post uneven results, and eventually disappear from the sport or turn to illegal means of athletic success. Old friend Janda Ricci-Munn always said, when discussing dopers, "How could they be happy with their results?" I think that they are never happy, whether or not they are winning races. Think of poor, distraught Marco Pantani, or Frank Vandenbroucke, both victims of their own egos and addictions.

Athletes like Simon, though, or Greg Bennet, or Jens Voigt or Katie Compton or Barry Wicks or Chrissie Wellington all come to races and experience the race, and themselves, for who they are. The races do not foster an artificial sense of self, for them. For them, the deep discomfort of racing allows them to remain totally in the moment, and that is why they stay successful season after season.

As I walked to the coffeeshop this morning, the sun shone through the mid-December air. Wreaths and evergreens hung on doors and fences. The city felt hushed: school's out, businesses are quiet, people drive more slowly. I listened to music, remembering Emerson's words that music is one of "God's revealers." What does he mean by that, since Emerson wasn't the most traditionally religious philosophers out there? To Emerson, as to Tolle, one finds God in the moment of presence, and music gets us out of our thoughts (which are not us) and worries—we walk along, buoyed by the beauty someone else has brought into the world. I think this fact is why athletes often perform better if they listen to music while training or racing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tour de Merde, Final Stage

Yes, this is a picture of me, and you can find it on Velonews. Here's the direct link. I got a lot of comments each time I rode past the beer tent: You look good in white!—Why white?—White? Bold! When I passed Ben Ross, the Velonews photographer who took this photo, he said "Whoa, nice skid marks. Lemme take a picture. Could you turn around?"

The Nationals Course, warmed up by the 40 degree temps, was a blast. I got a bad start, but moved up pretty quickly, kept the rubber side down, and ended up 29th, 12 spots in front of my 41st place call-up. Every one knows, though, that if you're out of the top ten you're mostly racing to be a part of something beautiful, and this race was no different. I left everything out there, and ended up dry-heaving at the finish-line, so I can't ask for anything more, but more importantly I felt so present in something. Racing 'cross is different from road racing, or triathlon. You really can't spend time letting your mind wander, as you can a bit during a long road race or IM bike leg. You simply are what you are, for 45 minutes or an hour—can I move up here? How hard am I going? God this hurts.

I didn't start very well, per normal, but raced well, I thought, breaking away from a small group of five eventually, despite some shifting problems with my (somewhat) faithful ride. I am always amazed each time I finish a 'cross race, because there are deep moments in which it seems the pain will never end, that five more laps is an impossibility. And then there you are, shivering at the finish line and laughing with the guys you recently, desperately, hoped to drop.

The rest of the day was a dream, except for the fact that Amy couldn't come. I and the other guys from CXM went to see Brian Vernor's new film The Cyclocross Meeting, and I'm happy to report it's his best, most complete film yet (although I'll always love the wacky, off-beat nature of We Just Work Here). As a bonus we got to see some of Vernor's footage from 2005 and 2006 Nationals in Providence, and some races in Belgium, all set to the music of Talkdemonic, a Portland band who has some kinship with Stars of the Lid, one of my favorites. Talkdemonic is a violin/drumset duo who do some amazing things with a looping device, a macbook, and a keyboard through which you blow air. Here's the trailer of the film:

As always, I'm a little sad to see 'Cross disappear for the year. I feel pretty good about 29th, and am thinking about getting the UCI card for next year. We'll see what the coaches say.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cross Nationals 2009 Course

I'm gonna be Nationals rabid for the next 11 days, y'hear? Here's the first look at what might be in store for us at Nats in just a few short days. I really, really love 'Cross. Don't you?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tour de Merde, Stages...Ah, Who Knows?

There has been one race and four days in Utah as the Tour de Merde has soldiered on. I've missed three days on the bike—one was a day on which work consumed all, one was a rest day, and one was a travel day. So I guess today was stage 18, and there are 11 days until Nationals. No missed days from here on out.

What have the stages been like? Well, I had one standard cross week (easy Monday, short and really hard Tuesday, longer and slightly less hard Wednesday, endurance Thursday, recovery Friday, recovery Saturday with a few short stomps, and race Sunday. You can see what the race was like to the left. Yes, it was muddy. If you ever doubted that having two bikes is an advantage in cyclocross, those doubts disappeared out at Kruger's Farm last Sunday. When the gun went off I found myself near the front, riding the wheel of Portland/Kona superstar Erik Tonkin. He disappeared quickly, however, getting a fresh bike twice a lap, each time he went past the double-sided pit.

I finished on the lead lap, I'm proud to say, in 14th place out of 29, which is not a bad effort out here in Portland, really, especially when Erik Tonkin is driving things.

Then a couple of work heavy days passed before Amy and I headed to Moab for our usual Thanksgiving festival of Turkey, Stuffing, and Mountain Biking. We were a little lighter on the Mountain Biking this year, but I'm happy to report that I'm a little stronger or a little ballsier. I once asked Captain Dondo what kind of mountain bike I should buy to become a better bike handler, and he said "How about you go up a testicle size? Or go down a brain size?" That seemed to be working, as I was able to push up really steep sections without worrying about tipping over backyard, and roll down steep sections without locking up the brakes.

Moab is a special place. The riding is exquisite, the town is lovely. Amy and I got back to Denver before I flew back to the great Northwest and started looking up realty prices in Moab. It's that special. As soon as you leave the town you want to turn around and come back. This year, it didn't last nearly long enough. Happily, we did have our serving of Thanksgiving oysters in the middle of the desert.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tour de Merde, Stages 2—6

It's raining in Portland, oh yeah, oh yeah...

Or thus would begin any jazzy ballad devoted to the Northwest's muddiest (if it can't be the grungiest) city. Stage Two of the Tour de Merde was a 40k affair, starting at the shop (see left) and winding through Forest Park on the famous Leif Erickson trail. It was muddy, cold, rainy, and wonderful. You can see the result in the picture. As usual, my body warmed up and then cooled drastically, leaving my hands burning in pain.

Stage Three was the Washington State Cyclocross Championships, and I was one of only six entrants, so I got my best starting spot of the year. All that was for naught, though, as my technical skills let me down and I couldn't stay with the guys killing it off the front. I just haven't found that top 10% of my engine that triathlon season has taken away. But I've got a few weeks until Nationals, and several races. I'm gluing my first set of 'cross tubulars, and I think those will make quite a bit of difference.

Stage Four was a rest day, since I had to work at Open House. Boo!

Stage Five was a quiet recovery ride, flushing out Open House.

Stage Six, from last night, can be viewed here. This workout hurt. It's a cycling field test and it requires two all-out eight minute efforts. I went out a bit hard in the first one and faded, and the second one was better. I averaged 434 watts for the first test and 403 for the second. Those values, interpreted by my coach, should give me my threshold zones for the next month. I'm hoping to re-test after Nationals (think: final day Time Trial) and see some improvement.

Apologies for the delay in posting—life has, as always, intruded.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tour de Merde, Stage One

I dragged home from school today, still feeling a bit achy, but thought if I don't get out for some exercise today, I don't think I should go race in Washington on Saturday. Happily, it's the kind of Fall Northwestern day that makes you want to ride your bicycle and then eat some french fries. I rolled up to Thompson Rd and then down Thompson Rd, and then pedaled out towards the agricultural zones northwest of town. It's the middle of the week, which is when you make your hay for the weekend races during 'cross season, so I decided to toss in some VO2 max intervals, the kind of work that is short—but very painful—and is intended to, basically, raise your pain threshold. 5x30 seconds full on, 30 seconds full off. Take a five minute break and then repeat. I used Old Germantown road for this workout, looping back down between sets.

Halfway up the second time, I got an idea.

I'd been talking to Chris B. (no, not myself—my training partner) earlier this year about how we develop the different skillsets that make up triathlon. He recalled a friend who had done insane training blocks of each sport, one after another. He'd do three weeks of each sport then move on to the next, a kind of stage race set. He would mix in short stages, long stages, time trials, mountain stages (difficult in a pool), windy stages, flat stages. It sounded a bit crazy, but I guess it worked for him.

November and December can be bleak months in the athletic world. We're inclined to watch sports, not compete in them, and the fitness we've been working on all year is still there, in the bank, just waiting to be withdrawn. There's too much to eat and too much traveling to be done. I'm feeling the disappointment and confusion that comes out of losing my last A race of the season, but at least I have cyclocross season. Here's what I'm going to do:

30 stages of 'cross riding, between now and December 12th, when I go to 'Cross Nationals in Bend. There will be a few rest stages, but I'm going to do this right. You can check in here every day to see how things are going, and I'll try to post the maps so you can them, just like in the Tour de France.

So, today's stage details:
Distance: 31 kilometers (you don't have to do distance during 'cross season!).
Cumulative Distance: 31 kilometers
Climbing: 862 m
Time: 1:30:31
Workout: 2 x (5x:30 all out, :30 off).
Max HR: 177
Map

Thanks, as always, to Athlete's Lounge, who kept me warm and dry in my Craft stuff.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sick

Some days you get the bull, as the saying goes, and sometimes you get the horns. After an exhausting run-up to the Clearwater 70.3 race, I've come down with the flu. I don't think I have the pig, but it's been pretty exhausting, and I've decided not to head back to Florida for my yearly tangle with the world's best. Strangely, I'm not too bummed about this decision. My first year in Clearwater I ran 3:59:57 and came in 24th. Last year it was 3:59:11 and 27th. This year there are 85 professionals in the men's field, and I don't think I'm much of a different athlete than I was 12 months ago. The answer? Shut down the season, take some time to just ride Cyclocross, and try to refocus on what needs to change for next year. After three years in the professional field, I'm ready for a change. On the good side, I've picked up a sweet sponsorship deal with nuun. I love nuun, and am extremely excited to represent them next year. On long 5 and 6 hour rides, using nuun is the only thing that keeps me feeling relatively normal. Since I'm making the move up in distance to IM racing, being normal for 8-9 hour training days will be crucial, and I'm excited to have as much nuun as I can dissolve.

The Swim: I've still got a bit of a monkey on my back about the swim. Although I swam relatively well (for me) at Austin, coming out of the water in 25:53 (my first sub 26 minute swim) I still gave up three minutes to Brian Fleischman and 2:30 to Richie Cunningham, the eventual winner. Swimming for time just doesn't work in the pro field. You have to swim with the leaders, no questions asked. This will be my big goal for the off-season. The swim, although it doesn't matter too much time-wise, really sets the tone for your day. Come out a little behind and you feel like you've got ground to make up. Also, the whole "out of sight, out of mind" attitude comes into play.

The Bike: This is where I need the least improvement, but I'm not putting up the crushing bike splits I used to. I'd rather think of myself in terms of a Chris Lieto or TJ Tollaksen, so picking up a few minutes on the bike is another goal. It means more time at that 332-350 watt range that's just above my threshold.

The Run: Yikes, I don't even know where to start. More volume? More intensity? Both? Lose 10 pounds? The run is really my bogey, and I need to sort it out. Giving up 12 minutes to the leaders in 13.1 miles is just not good enough.

Still, the off-season is a lovely time. You get to rest, refocus, and put next year's goals into play. I'm looking forward to five straight weeks of Cyclocross and my first trip to Cross Nationals since 2006.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pre-Game Day

I'm sitting in a hotel room in North Austin, TX, watching the Longhorns beat the tigers out of Missouri (who picked tigers as an apropos mascot for Missouri?). Tomorrow is the Longhorn 70.3, and Amy and I have completed a long, erratic ("You guys are too unpredictable," says training partner Phillipe) pre-race day. Here's how it went down:

9:30 AM. Wakeup. We slept in, having had a long, long work week.
10:10 AM. In need of our rental car (and in need of arriving at the pro meeting by 11), we start jogging to the rental car place. What else would you do, really? Call a cab?
10:55. We realize we won't make the pro meeting.
11:15. Arrive at race site, catch last five minutes of pro meeting which, judging from the glazed look on my competitors faces, featured the regular no new news of pro meetings everywhere.
11:30. Attempt to navigate check-in line. Can someone please figure out a good way to do this at triathlons? Why does it never work?
12:15. Leave race site, on the hunt for a bicycle for Amy (oh, right, hers didn't show up from the airport—minor detail).
12:20. Eat "breakfast" and have first coffee of the day. We were so hungry and in the throes of caffeine withdrawal that we could barely focus on ordering. I kept forgetting I'd ordered food, the addiction center in my brain was so pleased at finally receiving coffee.
1:00. Arrive at Jack and Adam's, an Austin-based cycling shop, to try and sweet-talk them into renting Amy a passable bike. In a move of surprising generosity, they let us demo a brand new Felt road bike and spend about an hour fitting it to Amy. Go and see them if you're in Austin, really. Tell them thank you for us.
2:00. Head back to hotel to try and get everything we might need. Amy and I don't really read those athlete guide things, so we were a bit confused about what we needed to do. We headed back to the race site, hoping to get in a bike and a swim.
3:30-4:00. I try to get some air into my notoriously finicky wheels (disc and tri-spoke wheels are great, but they can be a bitch to inflate). Discover that THE MAVIC NEUTRAL SUPPORT MECHANICS DID NOT BRING A STANDARD CRACKPIPE/DISC WHEEL ADAPTOR. To be honest, I didn't remember to bring mine, so this is all, really, my fault. I forgot rubber bands, too, and electrical tape. For the millionth time, I told myself that I would pack one race bag, or a little stuff sack, that has all this little but important stuff in it.
4:00. 20 minute ride. Everything, amazingly, works!
4:30. We walk into transition as the announcer says "Ladies and Gentlemen, transition is closed." We set up our bikes and head back to the expo, to drop off our second transition bags (Longhorn is a two transition race this year).
5:30. We hit the water for a swim. It looked deceptively short, but took me 28 minutes to swim it, even with a wetsuit. I wasn't pushing, but I thought it would take a shorter amount of time.
6:15. We meet an awesome German woman named Miriam in the parking lot, who asks us about race numbers and tells Amy she's beautiful. Turns out she's doing her first half-iron, and she's straightforwardly German in a refreshing way. She points out that there are a lot of jerks in triathlon, which is true.
7:00. We hit Whole Foods (see the above picture—even WF gets into the whole Texas Longhorn thing, it appears) and buy barbecue, cheese, peanut butter, and bananas.
8:00. Dinner, packing for the race, hanging up wetsuits, checking things.
Soon. Collapse into bed. Amy and I have a unique ("unpredictable," again says Phillipe) way of getting ready for races. Sure, we had a curveball in finding a bicycle to borrow, but pre-race days always have curveballs. Right now we're lying in bed together, happy to have gone through a scattered day together. The great thing about having too many i's to dot and t's to cross is that you don't think about the race too much. Pre-race days when everything is taken care of, well, usually lead to an over-thought race, I've found. Still, it might be nice to lie around all days with your legs up in the air. Tomorrow there is webcasting of the race, so if you find yourself near a computer, head to the endorfunsports webpage to see how they do with it.

Game on!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kaboom!

Every now and then, you just kill a workout.

Here's a "picture" of my run workout from today. The postmodern implications of taking a "picture" of your run's "data" are heavy, I'm sure. Just as postmodernity took away the importance of the text and installed ideas such as self-awareness and irony in its place, the rise of training software has removed the central nature of the workout and installed, in its place, this, a representation of the workout. We don't run or ride or swim for the run or ride or swim any more or the fuzzy implications of "feel-based training" (ooh, creepy)—we do the workout to upload the data and find ourselves among the data points. Think of it as reverse constellating: instead of seeing ourselves in the heavens, the best possible mirror, perhaps, we see ourselves as a collection of points on a graph.

Well, this post has taken on a certain overblown tone, hasn't it? Odd, seeing that I've not only found myself in the data's constellation, I just had to tell you about it. Bear with me, though, since I have a reason. If you'd like to have a closer look, you can see the actual workout here. Nick, my coach, told me to try to hit this workout today, a standard 3x10' at 10k pace and then 5' at 5k pace. I did this workout nine days ago and you can compare results here. For those who don't want to open two whole new tabs and figure out how to navigate TrainingPeaks sometimes clumsy interface (those scroll bars are tiny!), here's the short version:

Wednesday, September 23rd
Interval 1: 10'; 1.7 miles; 5:54/mi.; avg HR 166
Interval 2: 10'; 1.69 miles; 5:54/mi.; avg HR 167
Interval 3: 10'; 1.66 miles; 6:00/mi.; avg HR 165
Interval 4: 5'; .87 miles; 5:48/mi.; avg HR 166

Friday, October 2nd
Interval 1: 10'; 1.73 miles; 5:48/mi.; avg HR 173
Interval 2: 10'; 1.75 miles; 5:42/mi.; avg HR 174
Interval 3: 10'; 1.73 miles; 5:48/mi.; avg HR 173
Interval 4: 5'; .92 miles; 5:30/mi.; avg HR 175

There are a few interesting trends and questions here. My heart rates were all about 4% higher (except for that last interval, which was closer to 5%) on the second day. Distance-wise I was 2.5%-5% farther (faster) for the same amount of time. The paces were much closer the second time to paces I would expect for 10k and 5k racing, respectively (I think I could rattle off a high 16' 5k right now, although it would be hard). Here's the other curve ball. The first workout took place one day after a light day (easy swim, easy run) and two days after a day off. The second workout took place on the week's 4th day of training (usually an easy day), two days after an hour-long cyclocross race, and the day after an easy day. I was definitely still feeling the 'cross race (sore back, anyone?) and my calves felt like someone had gone after them with a poker. Still, I was much, much better the second time around. Possible causes. The first is the obvious one: I'm 9 days fitter and probably fully recovered from IM Canada (most people say it takes a month). I would offer the 'cross race as an opposing point of view on that one. Oddly, though, I'm also gonna offer the 'cross race as the reason why I ran better. O.K., weird, right? Well, not so much. If you do want to geek out on training data, here's the file from that race (HR only, folks, no powermeter on my 'cross bike). You'll see my warmup (the low red line), and then the extended high red line. If you select that whole high red line and then scroll down, you'll see that my average heart rate for an hour was 172, a whole five beats higher then my highest average from day one's intervals.

When I learned to run, for real, two summers ago, with Derek Treadwell (yup, that's actually his name) on the fields of Bowdoin College, he learned me that high heart rates are actually important to going fast. I had always thought that, if you want to go long, you need to go fast at the lowest possible heart rate. Completely wrong, actually. Heart rates are notoriously individual, and the only thing that matters is where your lactate threshold is (that's the point where you start making more lactic acid than your muscles can clear—the jury is still out on whether or not lactic acid is what makes you slow down but one thing is clear: once you're above that point, the clock is ticking, for whatever reason). The more you can raise that thing, the faster you can go without setting the timer on the bomb. So in training, a high heart rate is good: it means you're A) going fast and B) raising your LT. Still, HRs are finicky: you can be dehydrated, tired, depressed, or hungover. OR your heart rate can be affected by a workout you did days ago. Yes, that's true too. That's why you'll see cyclists sprinting two days before a one-day classic and then tootling along the day before: you've got to "open up the lungs."

Nothing opens up the lungs, of course, like an hour of suffering on a bike in a field with crazies shouting at you and pouring beer down your skinsuit. I hobbled around yesterday, swam lightly, jogged, and then discovered, today, that my cardiovascular system had morphed into something akin to a '68 Shelby Cobra: I could run fast, and hard, and ignore the discomfort building in my legs.

My reward? You guessed it: an hour of swimming, a 45 minute jog, and a lazy 3.5 hour bike ride tomorrow. Heaven.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

DZ Nuts Hard Ride Review and Blind Date at the Dairy Race Report

I got lost on my way to the Alpenrose Dairy, missing the exit off of 26 Eastbound and worrying that my perilously underinflated right front tire would blow out, leaving me stranded on the way to my first Cyclocross race of the season. The tire held, however, and I found my way to the Portland cycling hotbed by following the other cars laden with road bikes wearing suspiciously wide tires.

Joe Field, the father of one of my students, actually runs the race, and I volunteered to help out with registration in exchange for some community time and a free race entry. I've never registered a race, and discovered its chaotic nature, especially for a weeknight, mostly informal affair. An quick hour passed of taking $15 payments and highlighting names, and then I left to change and warm-up. Sitting in my front seat, skinsuit hooked over the steering wheel to better pin on my number, I experienced one of those Proustian moments, drifting back through all the 'Cross races from the past year. Racing at night, though, is different, and all your usual associations are crossed with the giddy anticipation of green fields lit by powerful lights—the warmup has a little more zip; the air buzzes, powered by the abundant literal and figurative electricity.

Number pinned on, warmup jersey over my shoulders, water bottle in the back pocket, I jumped astride the bike and started pedaling towards the road. The gearing was too high and I tried to downshift. I heard several clicks and felt...nothing. I looked down. No shifter cables exited the hoods of my newly installed shifters. I had asked my mechanic to install some new brakes and brake cables; I'd assumed he would have shift-cabled the bike, too. It was my fault. Not giving your bike a once-over taking for things like, say, the presence of shift cables, bespeaks a wildly unfocused and incompetent nature. No matter, I thought. I'll just ride as a singlespeed. No matter that I'd signed up for an hour of racing in the Men's A field.

I got through my half-assed warmup (30 minutes of light riding and some sprints), rode half the course, and rolled up to the line. Just in front of me: Molly Cameron, Portland Cyclocross superstar and European racer. I said hey and waited nervously for the start. An official came over and fixed my number, saying she couldn't see it. I said not to worry, since I assumed I'd be so far off the back with only one gear that scoring me wouldn't be important. She patted my shoulder and said, laughing, "Good luck!" Joe, the race organizer, passed out last week's money (winners had to stuff the money, dancer-style, into their skinsuits) and an official gave us the dreaded/adored Thirty seconds...

At the whistle, I instantly gave up a row of spots, trying to push my 36x12 gear. The course began flat and paved and then instantly turned right onto a gravel path. I don't think any one went down, but we all fought for the one packed single-track on which you could really push. The pack strung out fast, as it always does, and I sat probably about 20 riders back. The course was short, grassy, and serpentine, with two single barriers (the second one leading into the requisite Portland run-up, replete with mutton-chopped crazies screaming "RIDE IT, RIDE IT!!!") and one set of triple barriers. It was dark when we began (about the light of the above picture, taken by the brilliant pdxcross) and we raced through pools of light and darkness, a profoundly unsettling feeling (I wonder what's at the bottom of that shadow...).

As usually happens, I found myself part of a chase group of five, including super-frame builder Ira Ryan. It's nice to race around with someone well known, as spectators give you greater attention. Soon the group came apart at the seams, and the five of us became more of an accordion, stringing out and coming back together. It was at that point in the race, about 30-40 minutes in, that every one in the race seemed to be wearing the same kit. Why do all of these guys have on those "Gentle Lovers" kits? Cyclocross races, at about a moment 2/3 through, have an odd effect on the psyche—as bile begins to build in a stomach that is shutting down due to lack of blood flow, the brain also begins to drift, making wild associations: did I just ride through a manure pile? What number is that, exactly, on the lap card? Where did I park my car?

I eventually escaped my group of five and picked people off throughout the race. I would guess that I finished fifteenth or so, but that's not really that important. After the race I had some scraped shins (no idea when that happened), a sore back, and euphoria.

The DZ Nuts held up great throughout the race, and I smelled pleasantly of tea tree oil throughout. No chafing, so I suggest it heartily.

'Cross on :).

Monday, September 28, 2009

DZ Nuts Chamois Cream Preview

Chamois Creams aren't created equal, even though it seems that providing undercarriage lubricant for male cyclists (do women use these products? Speak up, ladies) would be pretty easy engineering. Who hasn't, no cream left in the tub, reached for that pot of aging Vaseline in the medicine chest, the one sitting right next to rusting nail clippers and toenail scissors?

I'm still quite surprised by the number of cyclists and triathletes who don't use chamois cream. My excellent fiance, Amy, burns through several tubes of lip balm/chapstick a season, and I usually say something to the effect of "I hear that that stuff just makes your lips dry out faster afterward." She shrugs and says "So I'm addicted—my lips are moist, though." Chamois cream is the same way. Apply once and you're hooked forever.

In honor of the Blogs with Balls shout-out last week, I'm dedicating this whole week to that phrase's second noun. We're starting, of course, with DZ Nuts, a wag's title if I've ever heard one. I'm gonna give you a preview today based mostly on scent, and then take the embrocation through its paces. Each cream is going to get a short ride, a hard ride, and long ride, so you'll unfortunately be hearing about this stuff for some time. I'll give you all the details for Dave Zabriske's product, and then give you summaries for the other contenders (Assos, of course, and then other less PRO applications such as Chamois Budd'r and its ilk).

DZ Nuts comes in a stylish black tube apropos of a high end hair salon. It describes itself as a "High Viscosity" chamois cream. I wonder if this title is a misnomer. Could you have a "Low Viscosity" cream? Maybe heavy cream is low viscosity, since it still flows, but I think we all assume these products to be of a consistency that will allow them to spread but not...run.

On the nose you definitely get a lot of tea tree oil, which I like, and perhaps some menthol. It's a pleasing scent, one you probably wouldn't mind spreading through your hair until remembering that it's meant for a whole other region. I've got high hopes for this one, especially since it came recommended.

Tomorrow: the short ride!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Well, now, THIS is weird

When Fantasy Cyclocross kicked off last fall, I blogged about it (can someone remove "blogged" from the dictionary as a viable verb?) in that kind of ironic but earnest manner. Sure, Fantasy Cyclocross is worthy of irony...but it's just the kind of thing you might sink your proverbial embrocated nuts into (I sure did—came in 37th out of thousands last year, and my team is looking better—and more Belgium—than ever). I have discovered, however, Fantasy Triathlon, and, wouldn't you know it, as a card-carrying professional triathlete, I am eligible for YOUR TEAM. Just head on over to Fantasy Tri and pick out your team. No worries about the particular rules, just make sure that I am on your squad. For real, I'll get you "underrated value" (or whatever it was they were talking about on 95.5. THE GAME today while going through fantasy picks for the weekend—who are some of these guys?) when I post a top twenty at Clearwater this year. Oh yeah, you heard it here first.

Top Twenty? Top Fifteen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Bigtime

There's a Tom Waits tune off of Mule Variations Called "Big in Japan," and it's more or less an ironic rant about bands, artists, and people who can't really make it in the mainstream, but are big elsewhere. Big in Japan has long been the cry of those who feel that they're undervalued at home. Of course, this is Waits we're talking about, so any kind of attempt at labeling him as ironic or earnest or post-modern slips off him the way light slips off a convex mirror. Where is all this maundering going? I've hit a patch of good luck, recently, publishing-wise, getting notified by four separate magazines that I'll be in their publications come 20101 (Surfer's Journal, Wend, Mountain Flyer, and another story in Cyclocross Magazine. This blog, too, has gotten some notice, on Blogs With Balls, a venture that seems attached to ESPN. Check out the publicity here. In honor of that website, in a Waits-ian turn, I'll be doing a review special of chamois creams over the weekend. I know every PRO loves Assos, but there are a host of other products out there, such as the even more suggestively named DZ Nuts, courtesy of, of course, David Zabriske. I'll go and pick up an armload of the different types and post a review over the next few days, to justify my "Blog of the Week" status at BwB.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Guest Blogger: Introducing Ben Russell

I don't know why I never thought of asking others to send me submissions...perhaps it was my sense that no one was actually reading. Well, that may still be the case, but a former student read an earlier post and sent me a note on FB. His response was so well written, and so better captured the ideas I was trying to explain, that I felt I had to post his excellent reply. His musings remind us that, no matter how often we tell ourselves that we can see new stories, all the stories in the world have been told again and again, were old even by the time of Homer.

Enjoy—

I don't follow tennis actively but I do like to read about genius. Regardless, I had a thought while reading your piece that I wanted to run past you. I couldn't help but compare these players to Homeric heroes. It's not just their physical prowess or the "warfare" on the tennis court but also the nature of these players. Federer is obviously Achilleus. His skill, manner and confidence on the court completely mirrors the swift footed half-god in battle. You even describe his shot as sublime. This is a just word.

But what really stamped this idea in verification was your depiction of Djokovic in the wake of the godlike shot. "I'm not going to win this match—even if I am at my best, and I am, there is no way for me to defeat or even come close to this man. " For your interest (whether it be large or small), look at this passage from the Iliad where Hector is fighting Achilleus in front of the walls of Troy. "And Hector knew the truth inside his heart, and spoke outloud: 'No use. Here at last the gods have summoned me deathward... So it must long since have been pleasing to Zeus, and Zeus' son who strikes from afar (Apollo) this way; though before this they defended me gladly. But now my death is upon me.'" Though Hector credits his strength to the gods and Djokovic credits his skill to himself, the feeling of helplessness in the face of divinity is mutual.

Federer's jump of unabashed celebration of his shot also harkens back to the vaunting that Achilleus does over bodies that he has slain. "But what I can do with hands and feet and strength I tell you I will do, and I shall not hang back even a little... I think that no man of the Trojans will be glad when he comes within my spear's range"

Interesting.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Week In Review—9/13-9/20

Quality, not quantity...it's a theme pounded into us by our coaches, teachers, and parents. When I used to run Workharder.com, though, I really did believe that some of the quality of long-distance training came from its quantity. It's easy to fall back into quantity as just a number to hit, but we have to remember that there's a reason (beyond our physiology!) we like long-distance racing: we like long-distance training. That said, my week in review comment is that I spent fewer hours training this week than I would like to, but the workouts were all high quality. I've updated my training profile link on the right, so you can see what I'm up to. The long and short, however, is below:

Tuesday: 3.5k swim with group; strength workout, lots of pulling. 45 minute recovery run.
Wednesday: 4k swim with TriDamian; MS 15x100 at 1500M pace (1:05-1:10) leaving on 1:40. 2 hour ride with 5x12' @ 40K pace (330-360W).
Thursday: 1.5 hour recovery ride. 1.5 hour run w/9x800M on 5:30 pace.
Friday: 4.1k swim with TriDamian; 6x200 on 2:40 into 6x100 on 1:30 hold 1500M pace.
Saturday: repeat Wednesday's ride; 45 minute recovery swim.
Sunday: 1.5 hour run with 4x8' @10k pace. Did this workout at altitude. It was hard.

My total time was only 13 hours this week, but plenty of fast, hard stuff. This week goes up to a more normal 20 hour number.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pure Sweet Sweet

Short post today. The week is going well: back to full time training (1 quality ride, 1 quality run, and 2 quality swims so far among the standard endurance swims, bikes, and runs), but a couple of days ago brought two pieces of sweet news: Athlete's Lounge will be sponsoring me during the Cyclocross season and Cyclocross Magazine asked me to write a profile of Brian Vernor, 'Cross filmmaker extraordinaire (of Pure Sweet Hell fame). Vernor has a new film that he will debut at Cyclocross Nationals, and yours truly gets to chat with him about it, filmmaking, and 'Cross in general (is there such a thing?) in the upcoming weeks and months. Oh, and I'm on my way to see Amy!

Here's the trailer for Pure Sweet Hell. You've probably all seen it before, but why not watch again?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Back at it

This week marks my first real return to training, and I'm tired! Returning to a full-time job and full-time training is difficult (I'm coaching 6th and 7th grade soccer, too!), and I find my energy lagging by, well, right around now. On the other hand, Cyclocross season is just around the corner (I've started uploading OBRA's 'Cross results to one of my favorite websites: Crossresults. A Wednesday night series has popped up here in PDXLand, reminding me of my first year tearing around the backyard of the West Hill Shop in Putney, VT. When I moved to Portland the lack of a dedicated community 'Cross practice confused me, but the world seems to have rectified the issue for me.

What's left of the tri season? Austin 70.3 and Clearwater. Hard to believe that the season is already mostly over.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Genius

I just watched Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic convincingly, even on a day when Djokovic was good—excellent, even. Each set went to seven games for the winner (7-6, 7-5, 7-5), which just goes to show how little separates the excellent from the sublime. Djokovic managed to win 16 games to Federer's 21. If you set aside tiebreakers and advantages, that's a difference of only 20 points, a tiny margin in tennis's bizarre scoring methodology (do you need any other evidence that the sport was invented—or at least popularized—by the French court during the Renaissance?). The shot that gave Federer match point against Djokovic was something we've come to expect from him, even as the physical reality still strikes us as amazing, impossible. To see Federer hit this between-the-legs revelation is to believe, for just a moment, in the awful perfection of great athletes. The shot is, literally, sublime. Its power lies in its almost ungraspable nature. To me, though, the real revelation is the slow-motion shot that shows Djokovic's reaction. He almost sheepishly wipes his mouth in slack-jawed appreciation and then turns for the baseline, the knowledge writ all over his face: I'm not going to win this match—even if I am at my best, and I am, there is no way for me to defeat or even come close to this man. The confidence and brilliance is what we've come to expect from Federer, and even though the game has lost some subtlety as players' serves have turned the style of play into a baselining affair, we know we can turn to him for the confidence we admire (and wish to emulate) in the greatest of athletes.



I thought Melanie Oudin displayed, if not the genius of Federer, at least the same tenacity and expectation of victory. Watching her third round defeat of Maria Sharpova (she knocked out, pretty much, most of the Russians in the tournament), I was struck by how much she seemed confident that she would win. Brash, even. She kept saying "Come on, come on!" whenever she made a mistake, as if defeating some of the best players in the world were simply a matter of stirring herself to her proper abilities. Her play isn't as beautiful or as awe-inducing as Federer's, but she's still young. I found myself riveted to her matches, mostly because I enjoyed watching an athlete for whom victory is the supposed nature of things.

Any endurance athlete battles with doubt, with demons that say it would be easy to stop, that someone is catching us. These two athletes remind us that things are easier up front, especially if you expect to be there. Leading gives you confidence, which makes you better. The chicken-egg question is developing that confidence. Some athletes are born with it, as Oudin seems to have been blessed, but others like Federer, who glide through matches as if on a cushion of grace, give us the sense that confidence can be mastered, like solving a puzzle a dark.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Iron Dreams, Tin Realities

Don't let the title of this post get you down or wrong—I did finish IM Canada, and I'm more than pleased with my 9:31 finish, but I've got that Unfinished Business kinda feeling when I think about the race in Penticton.

I'm getting ahead of myself, mostly because there's just too much to talk about. So here's a short blow-by-blow of the race, and then I'll post-the-mortem.

The Swim: I can't believe I'm about to write this, but I really enjoyed the swim. The water is comfortable (just under 70 degrees) and cleaner than anything in which I've ever swam. The race organizers do a great job of never having you swim directly into the sun. I swam next to the pack for a little while and then got brave and joined the second pack. Ironman swimming differs greatly from the HIM distance, where you've still got to go pretty hard. In this race I was able to find feet and even jump from group to group. I never felt buried or even as if I was working hard. I could have gone faster, though, than my 54:08. Don't get me wrong—I'm perfectly pleased with that time, and I'm happy to know that I could go even faster.

The Bike: I came out of the water in 23rd, 8 minutes back (Amy did some great split reporting for me). IM cycling is interesting—you've got to push enough to catch people, but you really can't bury yourself. Remember, there's a marathon lurking after all this. I did start moving through the pack, and had moved up several spots by the time I got to the other side of Richter Pass, the second climb on the course (the first climb is little more than a long hill—don't worry too much about it). I went into a little valley after the halfway point due to some long rollers and a headwind. Eventually a guy whose number belt read "Mathias" passed me and I wondered what I was doing. He and I rode together for the next two hours, almost, as we passed and re-passed each other, working hard to keep the requisite seven bike lengths between us. A small group began to form as we headed up the second climb, to Yellow Lake. At this point I started to feel tired, and decided to let the group go so I could spin my legs on the way into town. This is also where my brain started to get a bit fuzzy. I followed my nutrition plan on the bike perfectly: a gel every 25 minutes, a PowerBar at 2:30, and water with Nuun every five minutes. Five minutes may seem excessive, but I'm a big guy and it was a hot day. Still, as I rolled back into Penticton I was seeing things: I imagined a man without his shirt on, wearing blue and white camoflaged cargo shorts, standing next to TriDamian. It tured out to be CompuTrainer Kurt, but he certainly wasn't wearing those shorts—lesson: your brain does funny things during an Ironman.

The Run: Everybody told me, before the race "It's all about the run, Chris." Well, as I started to run, feeling invincible, I thought "It's all about the run, and I'm about to run down almost every one in this race!" I can't explain enough how good my legs felt. Good enough to only eat two gels in the first hour of the run. I can already hear your sharp intakes of breath. No, that wasn't enough food. After passing a bunch of people on my way south, away from Okanagan Lake, I hit the hils at mile eleven and things started to come apart a bit. I'd run 6:40s since the start of the run, and looked and felt great:


This is probably the last place where I look good. Soon, taken apart by bad nutritional decisions, hills, heat, and wind, I was walking the aid stations. I started giving up the places I'd taken. Mathias, my partner on the bike (I'd passed him two miles out of town on the run) passed me back at mile seventeen and went on to 14th place. Coming into town I pulled things back up to 8:00/miles, but the damage was done. After running 7:00s for the first half, I ran 9:00s for the second, and my marathon time was 3:30, well off my hoped for pace.

9:31 for a first IM is better than fine, of course, but what gets me is the standard "What could have been" thoughts. If I had kept running the way I felt (Was I really just 200 calories away from a much faster run? Is it really that little?) I would have charged into the top ten.

Still, put the Shoulda Woulda aside, right? Let's talk about the why.

Jordan Rapp won with a convincing victory, tearing away from the field and winning by more than 20 minutes. Jordan can be a prickly guy, a little hard to talk to sometime, but you have to respect him, and I believe that he is, at heart, a more than alright guy. Within hours of his win, he was offering advice and help to age groupers on Slowtwitch. I've always loved athletes who make themselves available to their fans, and Jordan deserves praise. He also deserves praise for his attention to detail. Anyone who knows Jordan knows that he is a details guy. He is obsessive about his preparation, and instead of slagging him, people should respect him for that. IM requires obsessiveness, I think I see now. There's so much that can go wrong, so much time for things to unravel. If you're not careful, more than careful, your times will suffer. As someone a lot smarter than me said, "Failing to plan is planning to fail." I had a great plan for the swim and the bike, and then foolishly believed that the run was just a double-HIM run. 26.2 is very different from 13.1 (as any 6th grade mathematician will tell you) and you just can't think of them the same way. I'd like to think that not too much separates me from Jordan; we turned pro about the same time, have similar strengths and weaknesses, and have had some similar results (he, of course, has dedicated himself to the sport more than I have—another good lesson). So I'm turning my eyes towards my next full Ironman eagerly, looking forward to the chance to put everything in order.

For a while, on that run, I really did feel unstoppable...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Inactivity

The thing about training full-time is that, suddenly, you have tons of time on your hands.

After going to masters' practice this morning (felt good in the water for a change—must be the five days in a row thing...who knew that technical sports required practice?), I sauntered over to Wooglin's Deli, checked my email, ate a bagel sandwich, and eavesdropped on Alison Dunlap, who was having breakfast at the neighboring table. I thought about introducing myself ("Hey, Alison, it's Chris Bagg, the writer who wrote a profile about you for Cyclocross Magazine...yeah, it is weird that we've never met in person, isn't it?) but then figured she probably wanted at least some time in the day when people don't introduce themselves to her. Presently I'm sitting on the front porch, with my legs up, waiting for UPS to arrive (and, good God, I hope I get the above-pictured UPS truck) so I can get my bike and wheels back from their sojourn across the country. Then it's off for a four or five hour ride through the Eastern Coloradan Countryside (read: flat). But other than that, I don't have poop to do, and I find that fact wildly unsettling.

The life of a professional athlete is an odd one. When you're really focused (and I am, presently, after the dalliances of our two-week vacation (too many cookies!)), there isn't much to life except training, fueling, and sleeping. I know many age-groupers who espouse a desire for this monklike life, but I wonder how many people are actually suited for it. We all live busy, busy lives most of the time, and subtracting the ebb and flow of a regular workday can leave you feeling, well, antsy. Witness the productivity of this blog. When I don't have anything to do, I turn to this outlet. But I feel the post winding down. I hope UPS arrives soon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ordinary

If you can see the pursed lips and flat expression below the visor's shade, you can sense the disappointment in this shot. Of course, it's almost indistinguishable from the pictures taken during the Boulder Peak Olympic race, just over a month ago. A few reasons for the similarities: Boulder 5430 takes place at the same location as Boulder Peak and, since this is Colorado in the summertime, the weather is almost always exactly the same (I'm almost able to set my watch by the afternoon thunderstorms, one of which currently rumbles outside the window); second, I've gotten to the point in the season when the race kit is exactly the same from top to bottom; third, I've got the same kind of "not bad, but not good, either" kind of feeling from Boulder 5430, a half-iron that, sadly, will fall under the purview of the WTC and its insatiable gorge next year.

After the race, I chatted with Simon Thompson for a few minutes. Last year, Simon came from way back to overtake wire-to-almost-wire racer Tim O'Donnell, catching ToD in the final 400 meters, a tiny distance over 70.3 miles. Simon finished one place ahead of me, in 7th out of 8 professionals (yes, I was DFL among the pros, something that hasn't happened to me since my first pro race, almost three years ago in Chicago). I asked him how he felt and he said "Ordinary." Contrast that description with Tim O'Donnell's 2009 race performance, which had him leading out of the water, off the bike, and in the run. Usually, that kind of day results in a win, and O'Donnell crossed the line for the win in a very un-ordinary 3:45, twenty-five full minutes ahead of me.

But this post isn't to be a hand-wringing post. 4:10 and change is respectable for a half-iron, if not a professional half-iron. Talking with my coach, Nick White, after the race, he asked me what the previous two weeks had held. I'd gone back home to visit my and Amy's families, and the pressures of home (going out with friends, going out with family, making time for every one, sleeping in, seeing my new nephew, eating too much, and training too little) had caught up to me, perhaps. Toss two cross-continent flights in there, and you start to see a less than ideal prep for a big race. Nick also reminded me that Boulder 5430 was supposed to be a B race, with Canada IM (later this month) providing the second of my season's three A races (Boise, Canada, and Clearwater).

"Did you feel like you could keep going?" he asked.
"For a while," I said.
"Well, good, then," he replied.

And I was being honest. I never felt deeply challenged on Sunday, but I also never felt like I had the capacity to be deeply challenged. The legs were willing, but the lungs and heart (and, perhaps, head) were looking down the road.

The final dose of perspective came two ways at the end of the day. The first was wonderful, the kind of thing that makes you happy to associate with this sport. My only coaching client (my excellent fiancee, Amy) went into Boulder 5430 having only swam with one arm the day before (she tore her triceps and deltoid less than a month before, during an off-road race in Deckers). Having paid her entry fee she decided she'd float through the swim and see how she felt.

She PR'd by almost half an hour, coming home in 5:29:and change.

How'd she get there? After slow-stroking through the swim in 40 minutes, she went sub-three on the bike (2:58 or so) and then ran a 1:50 half-marathon, getting within 10 minutes of her open half-marathon time. But the numbers, as always, never tell the whole story.

"I decided to push it," she said afterward. "I didn't know how to do that on the bike, before."

This was a huge validation for me, since I've been watching her train all year long, and I really felt that she had a strong effort in her. She, having no datapoints with which to evaluate her performance, doubted whether or not she was going to even be able to race. The day of, however, it turned out her engine was ready to go. To say I was proud would be to wildly understate things.

Perspective number two was less positive. When we returned to the car, it became clear that someone had stolen the race wheels off of my bicycle. Now, this event was wholly my own fault. The bike was hanging off the rear of the car, unsecured in any way. I returned to the race to watch Amy come in and hang out in the beer tent. But I had higher hopes in the kind of person who races triathlon on a beautiful weekend in August in Colorado.

The problem with having something stolen from you (beyond the attendant monetary difficulties) is that you lose all faith you have in humankind. Everyone becomes a thief, for the next few days, and that fact, more than anything else, put me out. It would be wonderful to trust in the world, in the essential goodness of ordinary people. I hope I'll be able to do that again, but I'll also be securing my wheels to the car in the future.

Insult to injury, upon returning to Colorado Springs I discovered that my car had been impounded. Ha! Ordinary!

Monday, July 20, 2009

On Difficulty

I've stolen the title from one of Jorie Graham's poems for this post, in attempting to explain the Xterra Mountain Cup race in which I competed this past Saturday. I'm choosing that title because, like Graham's poem, the appearance of difficulty did not match the actual difficulty. That is to say, it was much harder than it looked or, upon reflection, with lots of numbers and equations, much harder than it was computed to be.

I'm making a reach, here, comparing excrutiatingly difficult contemporary poetry with an off-road triathlon, but when you come upon a poem by Graham called "On Difficulty," you believe that things will finally be explained. The curtain will rise, the numbers will reveal their manifold truths, the trees will part for a second. Unfortunately, Graham's poem does little to explain her poetry in general, choosing instead to flirt with your sense of clarity. Reading it is a little like knowing you have to dance a tango (difficult to begin with), but that you've got to do it in the dark, with a dwarf, accompanied by an orchestra on, at the same time, amphetamines and oxycodone. Here's a chunk of her poem "Just Before:"
At some point in the day, as such, there was a pool.  Of
stillness. One bent to brush one's hair, and, lifting
again, there it was, the
opening—one glanced away from a mirror, and there, before one's glance reached the
street, it was, dilation and breath—a name called out
in another's yard—a breeze from
where—the log collapsing inward of a sudden into its
hearth—it burning further, feathery—you hear it but you don't
look up—yet there it
bloomed—

OK, confused yet? And still, there is something lovely in this section of poetry, the cadences are regular (even though there isn't anything you might call a "rhythm" or "meter" to it), and there's this kind of bemused sense of wonder and exploration, the feeling you get when, as I am now, you sit at your desk in the summertime and listen to the myriad sounds of the world coming in through the window.

Right. Where am I going with this? The race on Saturday, in Beaver Creek, Colorado. My first off-road triathlon. I'm going to approach this (obviously) from several oblique angles and one quite direct angle. The direct angle: it was hard. Very, very hard—similar to, perhaps, competing in two 1-hour cyclocross races, and then popping off the bike for a nice, lung-cleansing run up a mountain. That description, though, doesn't capture the difficulty of the race. I have, in my athletic career, felt so buried exactly three times, all of them cycling events, not triathlon. The first was the Cat 1/2/3 Exeter Criterium a couple of years ago. That was my first 1/2/3 race (the top three cycling categories, for those of you who don't carry a USCF card around in your wallets), and we traveled 28 miles in 56 minutes, according to my bike's computer. That's exactly 30 mph (or just under 50 kph) for close to an hour. Any description of "how hard" that was doesn't come close to how I felt afterwards: elation, hallucination, despair, desperation. If you've read the section of Once a Runner when Quenton Cassidy runs 60 1/4 mile repeats at sub 4:00 pace, you might know how I felt. I won't bore you with the details of the other two times, but one took place at a mountain-top finish after 100 miles of racing, and the other at a 'Cross race, where I came over the finish line and then dry-heaved for about 200 meters.

The point? Sometimes these races seem elementary, simple, straightforward, but the pain and anguish your body goes through belies all of those descriptions.

OK, here's the number crunching section, since Justin tells me that Brandon would kick my butt in a geek-off (well, that's obvious, but I've got to fight back somehow).

Cycling power has become the buzz-tool for defining effort and training these days. You can calculate it using a power meter, but if you're going pretty slowly, you can figure it out longhand, too. Why slowly? at around 9-10 mph, the resistance between your tires and the surface over which those tires roll is pretty much equal to the resistance between you and the air through which you're traveling. Faster than 9-10 mph (or 4.4 m/s) and you get into some pretty hairy equations that involve calculating the frontal area of a human on a bicycle. I'm not going to go there. Still, for your own fun at home, here's the equation:

Fair = ½ Area CoefDrag Dair Vair²

Happily, the formula for rolling resistance is much simpler:

Froll = 9.8 W CoefRoll where:

W = Weight of the rider and bike, kg

CoefRoll = Coefficient of rolling resistance, dimensionless (wooden track = 0.001, smooth concrete = 0.002, asphalt road = 0.004, rough paved road = 0.008)

I'm going to assign a value of .012 to a standard, sandy, Coloradan singletrack for the coefficient of rolling resistance, and I + my rented bike = 93.63 kg. So Froll = 11.01. I'm calculating a force, here, so I'm assuming I'm figuring this all for Newtons? Not sure. Anyway.

Another important consideration, of course, is the force of gravity. This one is also pretty easy to figure out. First you have to figure the average gradient of your climb, which is simple. I'm going to use the opening climb of the race, which was brutal. Coming out of the lake, you pedaled along a nice paved road for about a mile before kicking directly upwards. You then climb 2000 ft (610 m) in 5 miles (8 km). That's an average gradient of 7.6%, and you've got to do it on dirt and sand and grass. The force of gravity is computed as such:
Fgrad = 9.8 W grad. Here we go. W is the weight of the rider and bicycle, in kg. So we get 9.8*93.63*.076 = 69.74. I know I should be labeling my units, but I just don't know what they should be. It will all come out in the end.


Power can be figured out as such: P = (Fair + Froll + Fgrad) V. Happily, as I said earlier, I was only traveling around 10 mph (took me 1:35:00 to complete the 15.5 mile course), so Fair= Froll. Thus, we get the following figure: P = (11.01 + 11.01 + 69.74) 4.4 m/s. It comes out to 403 W.

403 watts is a big number, and you can take the time it took me to make that first climb (around 45 minutes) to figure out the work I did. Power = work/time, so if you just slot in 403 W = x/2700 s (we're working in seconds, here, remember) you get 1,088,000 j, or 1088 kj for simplicity's sake. It works out to about .302 kwh.

What do all these numbers work out to? Well, like I said above, they are big numbers. 1088 kj is a lot of work. 403 W for 45 minutes is a large outlay of power, probably one of my better figures.

I got passed by close to 20 people on the bike leg of this course. Now, I'm bigger than most (80 kg is huge, for cyclists), and I was hauling around a relatively heavy mountain bike (I did get some props/stares for showing up to a professional race on a rental), but a lot of these guys went past me with ease. They certainly went past me with ease on the downhills, too, where my weight, ostensibly, should pose an advantage. Sadly, this isn't on-road racing, where things are straightforward and the only limiters are a) your fitness and b) your mental ability to do things that your brain really really doesn't want to do. I learned, the first day I raced Cyclocross, that the strongest guy doesn't win. On Saturday I was neither the strongest or most skilled guy, and I finished somewhere in the top 30, well out of the professional field.

All of these numbers, however, and assurances from me still don't tell you the whole story. Riding your bicyle uphill can be quite hard. Coming back down and then running back up the mountain (400 m in 9 km) is even harder. I spent most of Saturday sitting in the passenger seat of the car, eating, saying things like: "It was quite difficult," in a meager, confused tone of voice.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Jens Loses It

Yes, we all love Jens Voigt. I've gone on and on about him in these pages before: he's strong, he's selfless, he understands that you have to attack and attack and attack (perhaps he's been tutoring Nicki Sorensen, and helped the aforementioned to his brilliant stage 12 victory—as the breakaway was about to reel Sorensen and Sylvain Calzati back into its clutches, I found myself saying "attack, attack, you've got to attack again," and, seconds later, Sorensen sprouted wings and flew away, the kind of thing that Voigt would have done).

I also love Jens because he just sounds like a genuine crazy man. Listen to his rant about cereal and food in Overcoming, or, for more immediate satisfaction, just tune into this New York Times website spot (anyone else notice that they NYT website has really come into its own recently?), in which four riders talk about what bugs them the most during a twenty-one day stage race at the center of the universe. If you only listen to one thing today while you're waiting for your Friday at work to finish, make it this audio post.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Single Speed

Yes, single-speed bicycles are hip (but not as hipster as fixies), and they have their applications. They'll make you a stronger mountain biker. They're perfectly fine for cyclo-cross (less chance of dropping your chain, too!). When an athlete becomes single-speed, though, something may be up.

At the beginning of Boulder Peak last Sunday, I felt flat and unmotivated. Toss in the fact that I slept brilliantly the night before, and I knew that something was up with my brain. Sleep well two nights before a race, but if you sleep well the night before...I don't think you're excited enough.

What followed was pretty easy to predict: I swam below my potential (even on a slightly long course...probably around 1650M) and cruised into T1 about 3:30 behind the leaders, way too much of a gap for an Olympic distance race. I biked well, making it to the top of Old Stage road in Boulder in around 26 minutes, one minute slower than my goal for elapsed time from T1 to the top of the hill. The next 18 miles, for contrast, took only 39 minutes. I biked solidly, but not spectacularly. The run, well, let's just leave it at the fact that I was able to outrun IM distance guy Bryan Rhodes, who greeted me at the finish line with a resounding "Jest croosing, mayte." Croosing indeed. Looking at my times, I basically raced half-iron pace: swam 1:25/100M (that's slow, actually), biked 24.8 MPH (slow, again, but there was a bloody big hill right in the way), and ran 6:13/mile, or right on my current half-iron run-split speed.

I'm a single-speed.

That's not that surprising, actually. After the frustration and disappointment, I realized that I'd done no specific speed work for about four weeks leading up to the race, as I acclimated to Colorado's altitude. The last hard workout I did was Boise, exactly one month prior, so I was pretty much racing on that work.

The solution? Well, other than the obvious, I've decided to mix things up a bit. I'm racing an Xterra race this weekend, in Beaver Creek, Colorado. I don't own a mountain bike. The last trail run I did still haunts my nightmares (The horrific Spring Runoff 10k at the Teva Mountain Games: my 59 minute split was only ten minutes off the leaders, to give you an idea), so I'm looking for solace...in the swim? I know, sounds crazy, but my difficulties with the swim are largely mental, so maybe a slightly less intimidating swim race will bode well for me.

On the other side? Race pays 8 deep, and ony 3 men are signed up thus far. Natch.

(I'm sure the field will swell by Saturday. Think of me on that day, as I try to climb 3600 feet in just a few miles)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Fit


















Last November, at Clearwater, I was stronger on the bikel; had a lighter, more aerodynamic, faster bicycle; felt more focused and stable in my training environment; usually feel stronger than everyone else on the bike. The result? I was two-and-a-half minutes slower than the previous year. My watts were high (around 320 for 2 hours and 8 minutes), so something with position was wrong. I called Dean Phillips, at Fitwerx in Peabody, MA, for help.



Here's Dean, riding a very similar set-up to my current bike (Cervelo P3, HED Aerobar, Zipp 808 front and 900 disc rear). Dean is a wildly strong cyclist, but for all his power he's gotten faster over the past few years, as he's added some years, while his watt numbers have remained mostly the same. How? Well, he's a nutcase about refining his position, and he's had a lot of success using some very complicated aerodynamic protocols for testing that you can use on the open road. Like any good scientist, he's deliberate, exact, and controlled, and he uses the same techniques when you go to him for a fit. This below information may be boring as hell to the non-triathlete/time trial crowd, so I urge you to go and read Brandon Stafford's post on his excellent blog pingswept about leveling the floor in his partner's office. It's much easier to understand.

I'm posting this information not only to give a shout to Dean and Fitwerx's excellent program, but to dispel some myths about bike positioning. We've been conditioned to believe some truths:

  1. Lower in front is better. We're triathletes, not cyclists, but we look at Fabian Cancellara's 17 cm drop (that's the difference in height from the saddle to the aero bar arm rests, distance "I" in the figure above and table below) and think "I better go lower in front."
  2. Narrower in front is better. A narrow shape cuts through the wind with greater alacrity, right? Well, maybe not. We've got to remember that we're dynamic shapes as we move through the air, and things such as how the air moves around our upper arms and across our (literally!) cycling thighs change with different body shapes.
  3. Compact is better. A brief perusal of Slowtwitch's accounting of bike positions at Kona last year seemed to make the point that more compact will get you onto the podium. Again, that's probably true if you've got a body type like Craig Alexander or Normann Stadler. That kind of position might not work for Bryan Rhodes, Mike Lovato, or me.
OK, now look at the numbers that Dean found for me in an incredibly useful bike fitting session this past January. Numbers in regular font are my old position (Clearwater '08). Numbers in bold signify my new position. I've put in italics the three items I outlined above: saddle-to-armrest drop (I), armrest width (G), and length of cockpit (C).

Existing TT Position
Recommended Baseline TT Position

A Saddle Height over BB 79.8 cm
A Saddle Height over BB 80.3 cm
B Crank Arm Length 175 mm
B Crank Arm Length 175 mm
C Tip of Saddle to end of Aero Bars 77.0 cm
C Tip of Saddle to end of Aero Bars 85.0 cm
D Nose of saddle to BB +2.4 cm
D Nose of saddle to BB +2.3 cm
E Aerobar Angle 4 degrees
E Aerobar Angle 0 degrees
F Saddle Horizontal Tilt -2.5 degrees
F Saddle Horizontal Tilt -3 degrees
G Aero Bar Pad Width (Center) 21.25 cm
G Aero Bar Pad Width (Center) 22.0 cm
H Aerobar Size/Extension 35.0 cm
H Aerobar Size/Extension 37.0 cm
I Top of Saddle to Top of Armpad -14.5 cm
I Top of Saddle to Top of Armpad -13.3 cm

Let's talk about saddle-to-armpad drop first. Instead of getting lower in front, Dean raised my front end by 1.2 cm. That might not sound like a lot, but raising the front end opens up the angle between your torso and your thighs, and can improve your power output. Tradeoff? Well, you're higher in front. What do you do to go faster on your road bike? That's right, ride in the drops, lowering your front end. So, in order to counterbalance that move upward, Dean moved me outward, as in statistic C, distance from tip of saddle to tip of aerobar extensions, or, in shorter terms, the length of my cockpit. Dean moved my hands a full 8 cm forward. If 1.2 cm is significant in bike fitting, 8 cm is a galaxy of distance. Part of that number comes from the new HED aerobar Dean installed, the extensions of which are 2 cm longer than my previous bodily torture Profile Design standard-bend devices. But even accounting for that equipment stretching, I'm 6 cm farther out in front. Dan Empfield at ST is probably smacking his forehead as I write this, but here's what Dean has to say about it:

"For larger cyclists and triathletes, extending the front end of the cockpit can make air flow more easily under the arms and across the thighs."

Dean lengthened my cockpit, and then counseled me to keep my wrists twisted in, so my shoulders would shrug and come in closer to my body. This wouldn't have been possible in my old position, as my back would have arched up into the air. An arched back? I'll agree with Empfield that an arched back is the key to a slow bike split. So, if you're a big cyclist, maybe everything you've heard about being low and compact might not work for you.

The third myth I'm going to dispute is the "narrower is better" myth. Dean moved my armpads out 3/4 of a cm, again to facilitate airflow between my arms and out the space created between my arms and thighs. The slightly wider position also gives me a greater power platform against which to push.

The result of all this? Let's compare my bike split at Clearwater (2:08:29) with the winner's, Terrenzo Bozzone (2:01:29), exactly seven minutes. Remember, Clearwater is a perfectly flat course, supposedly my powergel and clifbar. Now let's look at the numbers from Boise.

Christopher Bagg: 2:10:40
Craig Alexander (winner): 2:10:09.

Not bad, I say. If I can bike in Craig's company, I'm sold. I believe Dean's fit is the difference, as my bike training hasn't been too different this past spring. Go and see Dean. Or at least remember that you are a unique athlete, and may not benefit from a riding style of what you see on the streets of Monaco.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sleep

The tour is off and rolling, with my prologue picks ending up somewhat suspect (sure, I picked the winner, but who didn't have Fabian Cancellara?). I didn't count on Tony Martin blowing the doors off or Roman Kruzeiger having such a great ride. The tour is now into its traditional first week sprinter's parade before we get to the first mountain stage. The first week of the tour provides great final seconds, but the run-up to the line usually consists of long breakaways, disinterested pelotons, and, in the words of Cyclingnews.com's live reporter, "not a whole lot of action."

I'll take this lull in an interesting sport to return to triathlon for a few days and the particular importance of sleep. I wrote a piece for Cyclocross Magazine recently on the comeback of Alison Dunlap to the professional cyclocross circuit. Alison is a gifted athlete, no doubt, with 12 total national championships to her name and a world title on the fat-tire bicycle. Her greatest limiter? "Sleep," says her coach Jay Gump (weirdly, I know Jay pretty well from my time kicking around the Pioneer Valley; he runs Incline Training in Greenfield, MA, and has a lot to say about triathletes and how we can better take care of ourselves and our equipment). "Alison's most important workout, out of all her threshold workouts and sprints, is the '10PM' workout. She has to turn the lights out a 10PM and go to bed. No work, no internet, only recreational reading." Jay is a great coach ("He's a genius," Dunlap says) and we could all listen to his holistic approach. In my little work with him, he's counseled me to worry less about things like body composition ("some body fat will help you recover, stave off injury, and race for longer periods of time, so don't try to get down to, like, 3%!" he says) and worry more about focusing on having fun and getting rest. We all put in the training, but many of us eschew the little parts of racing, like changing our chains on time (more from Jay about this in a later post), getting proper rest, doing yoga, and eating correctly.

I just finished up a big week for me: 25 total hours of training, 40 miles of running, 225 miles on the bike, and 15K in the pool (that should have been higher, but the prologue party kept Amy and me out of the water Saturday morning). Complicating things was the fact that I wasn't getting great sleep (my sister was pregnant to bursting this weekend, and that plus moving concerns tended to flood my REM time over the past few days). Last night Ame and I hit the sack at, get this, 7:30. Yes, the sun was still high in the sky. We slept until around 7 this morning (Amy also put in a big week, finding about 20 hours of training while still doing her full time job). Today is the traditional athlete's holiday, with only about 2K in the pool on the schedule for both of us. We're both racing this coming weekend, so sleep at this point is the training priority—you can't make any more hay at this point, but you can make the hay you've got better hay (I'm reaching, perhaps, with that metaphor). So our goal for this week? 9 hours of sleep a night, ten if possible.

A final note: I've added a sponsor this past week: Newton Running. I've worked with Newton before, but now I've got a real deal with them. I've run my fastest 70.3 runs in Newtons, and like the effect they have on my gait (a little shorter, a bit more efficient). I'll have reports on their various models as I try them out over the next few months.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Handicapping the Prologue, Part Four

Phew! Last post on the Prologue (pre-Prologue, that is) which makes these posts some kind of Ur-Prologue, or Proto-Prologue. Here are the last of the twenty riders I see making a possible impact on Saturday, although most of the guys mentioned here are more top ten figures than top five types. I know little about them, so the posts here will be pretty brief. Go back to Part One if you'd like to review the rules of my little game, but essentially you're picking the top five riders in the prologue tomorrow. You get bonus points if you get any of the top three in the correct finishing order (it's a lot like The Kentucky Derby betting in that regard). Alright, without further ado (and there sure has been a lot of ado on these pages the past few days).



Gustav Larssen:Whoa, you're thinking. Gustav Larssen is a graph? Well, in prologues and time trials riders really are graphs. You aren't racing anyone but your own training ability, and here's a great way to see a rider's ability to push watts. I'd point your attention to the lower left portion of the picture, where you see the number "561" under "Avg. Watts." Yes, Larssen averaged 561 watts for an hour and twenty three minutes during the Solvang Time Trial at the Tour of California. He only came in 6th with that kind of effort. He is a bigger man (around 170 lbs. O.K., he's big for a cyclist), and that TT is pretty hilly, which will amplify one's watts. Still, holding that kind of wattage for that amount of time is nothing short of, well, remarkable. Larssen could, with a massive effort, squeak into the top ten, but I think there's just too much talent ahead of him.

Mancrush Factor: His wattage number are dreamy, and his name is Gustav, for god's sake. Rides for SaxoBank...hmm...a respectable 7.

EuroScore: Again, spiky, blond, goes by a Viking's name. Pretty Euro. 4.

Team Scandal Score: What have I been giving all these SaxoBank guys? 9s? 9.

Form: He is your Olympic Silver medalist, and he came in second at the Criterium International, behind only Jens Voigt. I'm gonna lend him an admirable 13.

Course Suitability: 5. Take another look at that graph.

GL Total Score: 38, putting him on par with Lance Armstrong? I may need to rethink my numbers.



Yaroslav Popovych:Popovych is a domestique with the abilities of a GC man, which means that he fares pretty well at the ITT. He was 4th in the discipline on the final day of this year's Giro. He's been in the top ten at the Tour before, in 2007. He can climb. He can certainly descend (he's got one of those awful Phil Ligget given nicknames like Contador's "Cobra" or something—maybe Popovych's is the Pelican, for his diving ability; that sounds like good old Ligget to me), doing things on downhills that scare the crap out of his peloton-mates.

Mancrush Factor: I like domestiques, especially if they're from Eastern Europe...Western Russia...whatever. 6.

EuroScore: Ukranians are a bit more willing to be continental, I believe. Ukraine isn't in the EU, but I'd append a big old yet to that description. They've had a democratic revolution (European) and then a terrifyingly Soviet attempt at assassination when President Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned. Poisoned! What is this, the late 1800s? Anyhow. Let's give Popovych a 6.

Team Scandal Score: Astana. 4.

Form: If you're riding in 4th place at the end of the Giro, you've got form. He hasn't raced much since then, but let's assume he's on the same kind of plan as Lance and figure his form is red hot. 13.

Course Suitability: Watching Popovych on this course will be fun, as his bravery on technical descents will net him some time through those tough corners towards the end. 5.

YP Total Score: 34.



Michael Rogers:Rogers is all the way down at 80-1 in some of the betting sites out there, which surprises me, as he's good on the TT bike. He's lower than George Hincapie, perennial bridesmaid, which also strikes me as odd. Hincapie is, what, 50 by now? Rogers is a three time time trial world champion, but he hasn't done too much recently. I do think he should be mentioned, however.

Mancrush Factor: Hmmm...Australian, tall. Kinda boring, though. 5.

EuroScore: Australians can sometimes be Euro, unless their names are, like, Cadel Evans. Witness my friend Tim Berkel, who looks like a girl much of the time. Rogers looks like he could be Euro, but he also looks like he could have stepped out of an Iowan corn field. 5.

Team Scandal Score: Columbia-HTC (anyone out there know who "HTC" is? I'm getting tired of typing it without knowing what I'm saying). Boring. 10.

Form: Gee, who knows? He was 8th at the Giro. Tired? In shape? 12.

Course Suitability:4.

MR Total Score: 36.



Jose Ivan Gutierrez: I'm slowing down, here, at the end of all this noise, so these last two might be kinda quick. Gutierrez has been Spanish National Champ at the TT, so he know's what he's doing. He deserves a look and will certainly be in the top 20 tomorrow, I'd say.

Mancrush Factor: He's Spanish, but he's listed in Velonews as 5'11.5." Who lists himself as 11.5 inches? Just have some huevos and call yourself 6 foot. 7.

EuroScore: The Spanish are quite European. They may even have defined the term, along with the Germans. 3.

Team Scandal Score: This is Alejandro Valverde's team, remember, and Caisse d'Epargne has never really been able to get out of their own way. How far away was Operacion Puerto? 5.

Form: 10?

Course Suitability: 4.

JIG Total Score: 29. Yikes.



Sylvain Chavanel: Chavanel gets in here ahead of folk like Vladimir Karpets (now there's a name. Dude should be a sketchy rug dealer) and George Hincapie because I like him, and he's the only person in France that seems to know how to ride a TT bike. He's wildly aggressive, in Jens Voigt territory, always trying, it seems to get a win for his country instead of his team. Chavanel alone seems to want to erase the many years of French mediocrity in the sport that country adores. Other French riders like Christophe Moreau and David Moncoutie seem to give the good old Gallic shrug at their MOP status. He's won his country's TT championship twice and always always always attacks, even when it seems there cannot be any hope of victory. He's the kind of rider you love to love.

Mancrush Factor: Anybody who gets out there as SC does has more than my respect: 9.

EuroScore: He's French, but he's really tough, and racing for a Belgian team. 7.

Team Scandal Score: Can you imagine what the QuickStep-Innergetic parties are like: mountains of Tom Boonen's blow abounding while all the other guys get bamboozled on Belgian brew? Yikes. 5.

Form: If you're going to attack all the time, your form eventually suffers. 11.

Course Suitability: Chavanel is good at climbing and descending, but I think someone with a bit more power might prevail on this course. 4.

SC Total Score: 36.

O.K., that's it! Leave me a comment with your picks. Winner gets virtual recognition.