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


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 :).