Monday, November 24, 2008


Yesterday I rolled to the line for my second 'Cross race of the season. I had three goals: A) Stay upright, B) Don't come in last, and C) Don't get lapped.

Two out of three really isn't that bad. Just shy of a D+, actually! O.K., no need for irony or sarcasm; I left the race cold and happy, having achieved goals A and B. Staying upright worried me, as I've still got my wholly inappropriate Ritchey Speedmax tires on my bike. After one warm up lap, the tread had disappeared, turning the tires into brown slicks. Not too much mud adorned the course, although one long stretch, just after the Start/Finish, rode like a Northeastern sand pit lightly watered. The fans made riding that section both A) harder and B) fraught with peer pressure as they piled up a makeshift barrier out of trashed pumpkins. If you looked carefully, you could see spots where a tire might fit, and cranking hard would bring you over without requiring a dismount. Making it over without running brought a huge, drunken cheer from the PDX crowd, while carrying brought whistles and derision. About four laps in I started worrying well in advance of the pumpkin barrier: They won't like me if I dismount! See a great picture of the pumpkin barrier here.

I started fairly well, about 2/3 back from the front, but bobbled badly after the first set of honest barriers and lost the front group, which kept streaking ahead. Soon I was off the back but not riding slowly, and I picked up a few spots. I learned later that I am basically the canary on the 'cross course, as getting passed by me appeared to be the nail in your race's coffin. Everyone I passed (except one crucial figure) dropped out of the race. One bloke left trailing a long strip of race tape, as if he'd just left the bathroom. My cranks were making this sound like they were about to fall off or had been filled with gravel. Although my 'Cross fitness sure isn't where it needs to be, it appears my barrier running remains solid. One spectator, alone in the fields by a set of barriers (placed there, I'm sure, to keep riders honest), lauded my technique each time through, and I did feel pretty smooth going over and back onto the bike. Only problem was, he called me "Big Legs" on one lap. I do forget that I don't quite cut the svelte figure of most cyclists. Final result: 23rd out of 24 finishers (you gotta leave out the four or five that I, personally I'd like to believe, forced out of the race). I did get lapped, on the last time around, but only by the lead group. For racing the As, and only finishing my first race of the season, I'll count that a success.

'Cross in Portland is everything it should be. It's every bit as fast and hard as the races in New England, but the spirit is wackier. Near the other set of barriers (I counted, actually, four full sets of barriers, leaving out the pumpkins; put that in your pipe, UCI!) congregated the bike shop tents, with their beer-drinking crazies, folks who had already raced that day and therefore felt justified in yelling things like "Run it, fattie!" and "C'Mon, this is a race!", all while spewing beer over the riders. Someone had lit a bonfire, and Belgian flags flew. If you want to see the true spirit of cross, head over to Someone there knows his or her photography, as I quickly lost count of the beautifully composed and honest pictures. You get the sense, looking at the black and white, sharply focused pieces, of 'Cross's outward pleasure and inward pain. People always say: "Looks easy, they're not going too fast." Get those same people out there on a bike in the mud, and they'll look at the sport differently, afterward. The photographer composed these pictures with that contrast in mind, and I think captured the weirldy Calvinist beauty of this sport: All that work and pain for...what? An afternoon in the mud?

Last night, aching in several places, I went to sleep happy.

Friday, November 21, 2008


(Thanks to Carrie Goodbrake—a pseudonym if I've ever heard one—for the beautiful picture; see it in it's original format here)

When I saw this lovely, albeit 'shopped, photo yesterday, I finally admitted that this 'Cross season is, officially, a wash. The Cross Crusade, with its not-heavily-veiled proselytizing, gathers more people to one race site for eight weekends in a row up here in the PacNW, and I planned, back when my tri season was folding up like a cheap lawn chair, to focus on the Mecca in my backyard.

Things happened. I couldn't afford a new bike for a while; my tri training picked up and two solid results followed; I spent a few other weekends settling into my new digs, or spending time with Amy, two things I wouldn't trade, even for a 'Cross race. But something had to go, and 'Cross went. I'm hardly regretful, probably more bemused at the choices we have to make in our weekly, monthly, and yearly lives. Interested, I contacted two athletes I respect deeply: one is a professional triathlete many of you know; the other is a retired athlete on the comeback trail who killed it, back in the day, racing 'Cross nats when pedals had toeclips, steel bikes got chopped into 'Cross rigs in your backyard, and wool was a technical fiber. I asked both of them what they'd had to sacrifice to "make it" in their respective sports (I've got "make it" in quotes because, in both of these pursuits, making it is more about finding personal and social success, rather than financial).

My triathlete friend laughed at first, and spat out "My 40K a year job!" He later (mostly) retracted this statement, since his coaching business runs smoothly right now, and instead said that the only thing about which he's got any reservations is how training can affect his mood, and, by extension, his partner (I thought this was a pretty admirable concern to note–the names have been changed in the following quote):

"I'll also be honest in saying that I'm not always a fun person to be around, especially for poor Alison; If I'm not tired and cranky during the big training blocks, I'm nervous and on edge as race day approaches. I think that it's also fair to say that my focus boarders on self centeredness the vast majority of the time. As such, I'm not the only one that has to sacrifice. Ali has to deal with a lot of B.S. thanks to my constant mood swings, lack of interest/energy in most things non-triathlon related etc."

He followed this admission up with a frank "But... I don't regret a thing. I'm doing exactly what I've always wanted to do so it's all good. I take the good with the bad, do my best on the athletic, personal and professional fronts and plow forward. I don't plan on staying in the sport after my days as a 'PRO' come to an end, so my attitude is that I'll have plenty of time for the house, kids, money and leisure time/activities in the not-so-distant future."

You'll not he used upper-case letters; it's o.k. He deserves them. My other study subject, a garrulous fellow with whom I share a lot of loves and issues, responded thus: "At the time I would have said, 'Sex.' But looking back, knowing what I know now about teenage boys, the answer is, 'Working at a Joe Job to earn enough money to operate a car so I could partake in the fruitless pursuit of sex.' I worked at Joe Jobs, but only long enough to earn a stash for tubulars and entry fees for the coming season. Most chicks don't dig guys who can't afford to take them out and entertain them. I suppose later on I had some educational and career opportunities that I turned down because they were incompatible with my training lifestyle, but one of my training/racing buddies was a med school student, so I'm not sure I wasn't just using the bike as an excuse to dodge boring jobs and lifestyles. Maybe that's where my materialism got sacrificed, but that's a plus in my book. I don't know, Bucky. There was a lot of physical pain required to do what I did, but it really was a panacea for the emotional pain I was in during my teens and twenties. I may have sacrificed a lot of beer drinking and recreational drug use because, after a 350-mile week, I was pretty much looped on two beers. I'm not sure my liver thinks of it as a sacrifice. Overall, I think of the whole thing as more of an indulgence than a sacrifice. I'm never covetous of other people's mundane stories, but they sure like to hear about old racing tales."

I think most of us can sympathize, here. Picking up an "indulgence" that's actually more about pain than pleasure, but that also whispers, quietly, to you for other good reasons: there's a camaraderie of pain and, of course, the objective appearance of steady improvement. I wrestle with these issues a lot, as you know, wondering if the payoff is worth the pay-in, the decisions made, the other interests sacrificed. I guess, if had decided it weren't, I wouldn't be posting this, today.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Turkey on the Trail?

O.K., a tangent. Thanksgiving's my favorite holiday, because eating is just about my favorite thing to do. But this year is different: Amy and I are going to Moab for three days of mountain biking, and we'll probably spend the day in question picking gravel out of my knees. What, do you think, is an acceptable Thanksgiving day meal, consumed on the side of a singletrack trail? Any great suggestions from the admittedly tiny peanut gallery? What would you eat that A) would be different from your standard during-exercise nosh and B) is plausible, considering we probably won't have access to an oven or the ability to consume a monster like the one above, here.

Gobble gobble.

Monday, November 17, 2008

1st Day Back

When the alarm went off this morning, I wondered "What's that?" Taking a week away from training quickly erodes the Pavlovian Workout Response. Ascending the responsiveness scale to just below Alert and Oriented, I swung the legs out of bed and switched on the light. I'd packed the night before (always a good idea) and soon found myself driving across the St. John's Bridge, in the dark, headed for that morning swim.

My lane at Masters boasts a murderer's row of athletes: Michelle, who's swum the Channel (and is planning to pull the yo-yo there, soon), the Catalinas swim (10+ hours straight), and numerous other long distance swims; Greg, whose easygoing manner belies his age-group winning swims at Alcatraz; Curtis, a lanky businessman who swam for Auburn University, I believe, and a I-Shit-You-Not Russian named Vlad who answers to the sobering sobriquet "Parrakeet." Swimming in their lane, I most steadily worry about getting lapped.

Today that worry seemed very real. The workout was nothing special (all distances in meters):

400 pull descend by 100s
6x150 kick-drill-swim by 50s on 2:30
8x150 on 2:30
200 pull DPS
6x100 on 1:30
200 CD

But not swimming for eight days had me floundering in the water, and Curtis seemed scarily close on those swim 150s.

Still, day one of aiming for those 15,000-17,000 YPW, and I got around 4500 today.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What's Wrong/Awesome About This Picture?

Cyclists and Triathletes, comment away. Can you find five things that:

A) Offend your sensibilities as an athlete?
B) Define you as an athlete?

Thanks to Natalie Ciocca for the picture. Apologies to all 'cross riders wincing as they look at this picture.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Off-Season, Day One.

Sunday was a recovery day, Monday is my usual day off, and so today, Tuesday, day three of no training, officially marks the beginning of a profound shift. We’re all familiar with economic terms these days, and know that two straight quarters of negative growth equals a recession. For an endurance athlete, more than two days off equals sickness, injury, or that other two-headed beast, the off-season. Taking a break now seems so counter-intuitive, while our fitness is at its peak; I had, arguably, the best race of my career the other day. But I know that it’s time for this season to be over, and the lessons I learned will make me a better triathlete in 2009, if I listen to what 2008’s races taught me. And the next few weeks hold the promise of something sweet: rest. Not too much rest, not, like, six weeks, but a good, controlled pattern of rest. That pattern looks like this:

This week: zero. Nothing. Really. Nothing.
Next week: some light swimming, a little time on my ‘cross bike, perhaps a ‘cross race at 75%.
Two weeks: One workout per day. Still just swimming and riding. Five days of Thanksgiving mountain biking with Amy.
Three weeks: Two light workouts per day, two ‘cross races over the weekend.
Four weeks (second week of December): Back to two full workouts per day, especially if my Plantar Fasciitis has improved.

For next season, I’m going to focus on training goals, instead of performance goals. Most of us are familiar with Peter Reid’s apocryphal quote that “With training comes confidence.” The last two months, with their 12-13,000 yards of weekly swimming, and 40-50 miles of quality run training, gave me the confidence to push it on the swim and run. My bike training has always been pretty good, and those 315 watts point to a solid bike split (my aerodynamics, it appears, say otherwise; friend Brandon, in response to a question about how my bike split could have been so slow, rejoined: “Headwind? Flat tire? Fat?” Touché, Brandon. The off-season provides a great time to lose some weight).

My training goals, then, for next season, here on day one of the off-season.
1) Swim 4-5 times a week, totaling 15-17,000 yards per week.
2) Train like a real runner: higher mileage, more quality.
3) Maintain my bike strength, and play with aerodynamic options to develop a powerful AND fast bike split.

2009 Race Schedule on the way.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

70.3 World Championships

It's funny how quickly races pass. 24 hours ago I was already about fifteen miles into the bike leg of the race, and the next few hours, with packing, checking work email and getting to the airport, will probably take much longer than the four hours it took me to finish the race yesterday. Races have this odd compression/expansion of time. They really don't take that long, but the distance traveled (roughly Boston to Athol, Ma, if you take route 2 the whole way) and the intensity of the experience make it seem much longer. To come over the finish line yesterday and realize it was only 10:45 in the morning was vaguely surreal: what would I do with myself for the rest of the day?

Lie around and eat, of course (and take a deep two-hour nap). But so much collapses into that small window of time that I see the appeal of these sports. Yes, racing hurts, but where else do you get that intensity for such a sustained moment?

The swim: the swim has always been my bogey, and today was only a little different. I did have my best swim at the 1.2 mile distance (26:14, just what I was hoping for), but the front of the pack swam an absurd 21-22 minutes, putting four to five minutes into me on the swim. If I'm going to make the step from pro to PRO someday, my swimming has to improve. Those 15-20 guys in the front pack all came out of the water together and, while they weren't explicitly drafting, rode together for a good bunch of the bike course. It's perfectly legal, but if I want to have better results, I've got to be coming out of the water closer to the front. This means swimming in the middle of the pack and getting bounced around, something I hate. Still, I'll happily take the 26:14. And, for the third race this year, Chris Legh and I swam together. That gives me some hope, since I know I can ride like him (see Eagleman), and if I run the way I did yesterday, I can post some Chris Legh-like results. The other bonus was that everyone could see it was Chris Legh as we came out of the water, so I heard a lot of "Go Chris!" as I ran up the shute to the transition area.

The bike: my bread and butter turned into my, I don't know, crumpet and marmite yesterday. I felt good, was putting out good numbers (averaged 315 watts for the whole ride), but posted a disappointing 2:08:25, a full two minutes slower than last year. I'd given up all (and more) of the gains I'd made on the swim. Something must be wrong with my position/equipment, and I'm thinking back longingly to my HED disc and trispoke I sold after Eagleman. My slow time, coupled with the crazy times of the guys up front (lots of 2:00 and 2:02), consigned me to a MOP finish. Still, some good things happened. I used the downhill into transition (about a mile) to lightly spin my legs, and I think that helped immensely going out on the run.

The run: this went surprisingly well. Leaving transition my legs shed the standard leaden feeling post-bike, and I found myself running well. First mile went by in 5:47, and I figured I was on my way to a PR. Good splits kept showing up on the watch, and I actually got faster as the leg went along. I finished with my best 13.1 run in a triathlon, at 1:20:06 (oh, how I would have loved to have broken 1:20!). I ended up 27th out of the pros (five spots lower than last year) and 34th overall (10 spots slower than last year, but there's so much drafting in the AG ranks that I'm only going to remember the 27th part) but the field, this year, was much stronger. Still, I'm not totally satisfied with this race. To do that much work on the bike and only put up a 2:08 is frustrating. At 315 watts for a flat course, I should be right around that 2:02-2:03 split I was hoping for, and I would have been in the top twenty, a select group. Full results are here, and a quick perusal shows some pretty big names.

The course, for the pros, is a nice one. For the AGers, I imagine it's disastrous. Some narrow lanes, and it's so flat that athletes can't help but draft (which is funny: all that money getting aero and then getting a lift from your neighbors). I saw some bike packs come in that were 40-50 strong. I think WTC should be a little careful that they don't drive people away, because a world championship should be one of the hardest races of the year, and to have your PR blemished by a drafting asterisk takes away the honest pleasure of accomplishment. I don't think many AGers set out to draft, but there's really nothing they can do about it on that course.

Next up: one week completely off (although I may jump in a 'cross race next weekend, ha!), before I start swimming religiously. I've got 3 more weekends to race 'cross, so I'm gonna take advantage of those, but I'll be hanging up the running shoes for a bit (throwing them out, actually, as I think all four of my pairs are played out). The next few posts are mostly going to equipment related, I believe, as I try to sort out my position for next year.

Thanks, everybody, for your support in leading up to this race. I met three separate people who read this rag of a blog (can it be a rag if it's all contained on a piece of silicone somewhere?), and that, more than anything, amazed me. Time to turn up the quality control.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Day Before

(N.B. I don't know if this picture is earnest or ironic (the police tape makes me think it is earnest) but either way it is pretty awesome—the FosterGrant bit makes me think it is ironic, but that might be too generous)

The day before a race is sometimes more stressful than the day itself. Triathlons, sadly, aren't like bike races, which make good on the imperative to simplify. Triathlons require the kind of obsessive checking and re-checking that makes our sport attractive to the more type-a professions out there: doctors, or businessmen and women, people who really love lists (it's funny that more cooks don't turn into triathletes).

Races with "clean transition areas" make the day before even worse (although they make the day of better). You've got to put run stuff in the red bag, bike stuff in the blue bag, and make sure the bike is ready to roll with shoes attached and helmet clipped.

Here's the day that was:

7:30 AM get up and run: 20' with four 20" strides
8:00 AM oatmeal and coffee
9:15 AM ride to race site with my amazing homestays
10:00 AM check in, get the aforementioned colored bags, talk to another Vermont transplantee
10:30 AM swim course (I got in about 2000M, I think)
11:00 get bike and gear back from gear bag check-in.
11:00 AM-12:00 PM purchase new tire for dicey rear wheel, drop bike with mechanics, cruise expo, move water bottle back from downtube to between aerobars (had a great, conclusive discussion with Chris from Cervelo; I asked him why the CSC guys ALL had their water bottles on the downtubes during the tour TTs this summer. I wondered if, for the P3C, that putting the bottle down there might actually be beneficial. No, it turns out: "It's the worst place to put it," Chris told me. "The CSC guys put it there because of tradition, and because they say the bike handles worse with the bottle up on the aerobars." Happily I won't be doing anything technical tomorrow (the course is about as technical as making cereal), so the bottle is back on the aerobars), check out THIS:
12:00-1:00 PM sort gear into blue bags and red bags. Recycle all the garbage that was in the race packet.
1:00-2:00 PM pick up bike, check in with a friendly volunteer named Natalie (she surprised the hell out of me by saying she'd read going pro; I thought only friends and mom read the damn thing)
2:00-3:00 PM pro briefing, and good god there were a lot of PROs in attendance (no Craig Alexander or Paul Amey, however): more Volcom, shaved legs, and chunky sunglasses this side of a surf competition in Malibu.
3:00-3:45 PM attempt to hydrate, get a pre-race massage from a kindly portly chap named Manfred. Yes, Manfred. He was marvelous.
4:00 PM-Present moment return home. Start re-hyrdrating. Shave legs (Belgians everywhere are going nuts), try to deal with stupid rookie wetsuit hickey I gave myself this morning. Eat.

Soon I'll be off to bed. Race report tomorrow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On my way!

This'll be fast, as I'm currently sitting in KCI Airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Tampa by sucking down a sandwich and a coffee. What a week! New Prez, and a final shot at an excellent 70.3 race. Rumor is that the weather in Clearwater is excellent: 60s at the start and 70s by midday. Perfect for a big guy like me. Swimming's been great this week: lots of 1:08-1:10 100 yard repeats in the pool.

Updates from the traditional day-before-madness will come tomorrow.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Race Week

Here we are, final week of the 2008 triathlon season. I'm excited to go back to Clearwater, more than I thought I would be, since the course is a bit soulless. But it is a big event, and I think that my fitness has come around in the latter part of the season. You might have noticed that I've put a link in the sidebar that connects to my training log. The race week prep is up there, although it isn't anything ground-shattering (we're working on mixed metaphors here, too, obviously): short workouts with short, but intense, pieces. Lots of swimming, comparatively, to keep some water feel. My goals:

1: have the best swim of my 70.3 career. I don't want any more of this getting out of the water four minutes behind the leader." I hate the opening scrum, so I'm going to sift to the side of the pack, giving up some seconds, probably. I'll be able, however, to swim my own pace, and not get punched/dragged down/kicked around.

2: hurt the rest of the field on the bike. I know I can do this part, as evidenced by my Eagleman bike. Last year people were flirting with breaking 2 hours, and I put down a respectable, but not blazing, 2:06. I want that number closer to 2 hours. 2:02, let's hope for.

3: stay positive on the run. My toughest leg, since I'm not a natural runner. Last year I had a good run, mostly by not worrying about the painful first few miles. By the last four miles, I was still running well.

Every time Ame and I travel to a race, she wakes me up on race morning by saying "Race Day!" So here's to Race Week.