Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Home Is...?

For some who see these words the ending is obvious. But I've been rethinking this concept lately and asking myself "Where am I truly home?"

For the past week I've been in Washington D.C. I've really enjoyed being here. The area is a lot greener than I would have imagined. There are trees and rivers everywhere. And HUGE parks! But what I think I'm enjoying the most is seeing so many runners and cyclists everywhere. Now some of the reason for this could be because I'm staying in a hotel close to George Washington University. But for the most part the trails and bike paths seem to be almost endless. And because of this and the easy availability of mass transit, I've walked almost everywhere except from the airport.

What I'm also finding interesting is even with all of the traffic, there is very little evidence of the smog or air pollution that you can become quickly conscious of in some Texas cities while riding or running outdoors. I'm starting to believe the reason for this is wherever there is a high concentration of trees, the air is just cleaner. What I think is also necessary is the presence of mature, old growth forests. Makes you think twice about that rainforest someone is currently cutting down somewhere in the Amazon.

But I digress. D.C. aside from being quite forested is also very humid and very hilly. My runs here have been hour long sweat drenched, quad shredding affairs. The shortest run this week has been 45 minutes at an average pace of 7:20 per mile (this counts as a tempo run in my book). The longest run has been 1:30 which featured climbs of anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. And I thought I was getting a break after leaving the Bay Area last month. No such luck. It seems everywhere I want to travel these days has significant climbing involved.

I never really thought I'd find myself saying this, but I can't wait to get back home to some "flat and dry" training. All of this humidity and hill running is killing me. I forgot my cable so, I'll post some pictures after I get back tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm...."

So here are the pertinent numbers. 04/22/08 - Time 22:16, Ave HR 167, 07/22/08 - Time 22:21, Ave HR 157. There are other numbers. But I think these pretty much say it all. Same course. Of course. Almost same conditions except it was about 5 degrees hotter yesterday.

And you know I was actually amazed at how good I felt while I was cycling yesterday. If I hadn't compared the two times I would have sworn to you I went faster yesterday. I was relaxed. I was spinning a good gear. A bigger gear. But I wasn't mashing. I remember the sense of "white, hot pain" from the effort in April. That was brutal. No this was nothing like that. I was attacking climbs, being aggressive with the course and my attitude. Wow. I felt fast. I felt... Alive. I was taking no prisoners and at the end of it all, right there in black and white, I was 5 seconds slower than before.

I've said before we all need a healthy dose of the truth every once and a while. And like the track, a time trial on a known course can be sobering. But at least now I know exactly where I stand. The possibility exists that could point to more efficiency in my cycling. I'm producing the same speed with much less effort. I'm done chasing speed for the year. My goal now is to create as much efficiency as possible so that I am capable of running a half marathon well after a 56 mile bike.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This Week...

So this week I'm flying off to a conference in Washington DC. I wonder what awaits me there beyond a week of work related stuff. I'm sort of praying for a little synchronicity and and an equal helping of divine intervention. Otherwise I could be in for a long week. I've sort of figured out what types of workouts I'll do in place of my normal triathlon training. I'm going to primarily focus on strength and technique work while I'm away. This should keep me occupied and uninjured while I'm out of my normal routine. I spent this weekend loading videos of my planned strength workouts and some yoga routines on my Ipod. Yeah, I'm geeky like that. Truth is I probably won't need to watch the videos that much in order to work out. But if I get stuck, there they are. No excuses, you see.

Post race my training has gone well this last week. I'm moving with more and more ease each day and my endurance is really starting to come around. Both my running and swimming paces are starting to pick up and my cycling is definitely stronger. Since my schedule at work changed I've been able to do long rides of 4 or more hours at least once a week. This is one of the areas I had identified earlier as a problem with my cycling so, it feels good to address it consistently.

The first weekend I was able to do this Du Shun had to come back after 2 hours to get to work on time. I was really annoyed because it was technically too late to find anyone else to ride with by the time we got back. I had all but decided to ride the last 2 hours by myself when my buddy Jason called. Within a few minutes I was back out on the bike and got in another 2:30 to get 4:30 for the day. Luckily for me Jason had done Buffalo Springs the weekend before and was still recovering. That guy is a beast on the bike. All I know though is after the ride was over I was really tired but I had this sense of euphoria that seemed to last for days. I suppose long rides make me happy...

This past Saturday I spent another 4 plus hours on the bike. This too was a really good ride for me. We hooked up with a couple of other cyclists as we rode south toward San Marcos. These guys, both racers, one a Cat 1, were winding their way down to New Braunfels to enjoy some tubing, drink beer and chill out at the music festival. Thanks to their presence as we shared pacing duty, I was able to maintain a consistent heart rate similar to what I would sustain during a time trial effort. I was also able to get a good sense of my fluid and nutrient requirement during the effort.

The interesting thing about the ride from my perspective is that I had been out late the night before because I allowed someone to drive me to a concert. Because the person driving had a little too much to drink, I didn't get home when I had planned. As a result, and because I intended to ride no matter what, I drank lots of water. So much so that whatever meager amount of sleep I would get was interrupted about every 30 minutes for another jet to the bathroom.

The next morning, I was running late and forgot to bring some packets of electrolytes I intended to try out. I do tend to ride without "sports" drinks for most rides lasting less than 2 hours. But given all of the circumstances surrounding this ride, I made sure to stay well hydrated and even used Gatorade at the 1:30 and 3:00 hour marks. Because of this (I suspect) I actually experienced the sensation of getting stronger as the ride progressed and found myself taking longer pulls in the front as the ride wore on.

Unfortunately this would not be the experience my riding partner had. About 4 miles from home his legs would cramp up so severely, he would not be able to move and I would have to ride home and bring a car back for him. My point here is while I observed the circumstances of the ride and watched the dynamics change with the addition of two young (they were both 22) and highly fit cyclists to our ride, I was forced to reevaluate the situation and make some changes both in how I road and in what I drank. Those two bottles of Gatorade have to be the first time I've had anything I could buy in a convenience store in about a year. My partner chose to hydrate using straight water the whole way and I think it caught up with him. As a result I'll be paying even more attention to what I eat and drink while training.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Perfect Paces Make Perfect Races...

I only want to say, "Let it be known that I do on rare occasions actually race triathlons, versus simply writing about training and taking pictures."

So going into the first race of the season for me, I was thinking about the phrase "Perfect paces make perfect races" a lot. I decided I wanted this race to simply be a dress rehearsal for the pace I would like to hold for the 70.3 race I'm signed up to do in October. As such even though my first race of the season was a sprint which would normally be a license to push as hard as I possibly could, I decided I would work on a little self discipline and maintain more moderate intensity levels. I set some heart rate goals and wore a monitor to insure I stayed within my preset limits for each event. I also would not use the big ring on the bike unless my cadence got above 110 RPM. So basically no big ring, no mashing of gears, and no heart rate above 157. This heart rate is about 10 beats below aerobic threshold so I would be able to sing while racing if asked. Fortunately for all concerned, I wasn't asked.

What did happen however was that as I was stretching prior to my swim start one of the race volunteers saw me do a Deep Prayer Squat, which is basically squatting down between your knees, with the feet remaining flat on the ground and your bottom as close to the ground as it can go without falling over. You can bring your hands to a prayer position and use your elbows for some leverage against the shins to really open things up. So anyway, the volunteer came up to me and asked me about the stretch so, I explained its benefits of opening the hips, loosening the shins and ankles as well as being a nice stretch of the piriformis muscle. At which point, he proceeds to tell me, and I'm not kidding you, the stretch reminds him of a jingle on a kids TV show in the 50s that went something like, "Plunk your magic 'twanger' Froggy!"

Now I don't know about you, but that was probably the last sentence I expected to hear come out of his mouth. Now understanding the context of this reference, I can honestly say I find it a little bit funny. But I have to admit before learning of the phrase's meaning, I thought it was some sort of secret agent code signifying a shared agenda. You know like, "Don't eat the red strawberries." And then you respond, "Of course, everyone knows they taste better when they are blue."

And if that first meeting wasn't funny enough, this eager volunteer proceeded to greet me with said secret phrase each time I entered or left the transition area as well as at random spots on the race course if I happened to go by. I do have to admit it did help to break the single minded focus that can be a two edged sword on some multi loop courses.

So at any rate overall I think my race went pretty well. I maintained a very even effort from start to finish that felt "quick" though not fast, and gave me a sense of the type of pace I want to have in my first 70.3 attempt. The swim went really well for about the first 75 meters or so to the first turn. In fact I felt so good I actually sprinted out to the first buoy and backstroked around it in a flash. It was so quick and I saw so much open water in front of me I sort of freaked for a second. Then I settled into my stroke but for some reason I was having a really hard time sighting the buoys to the next turn so I had to breast stroke to get my bearing a lot more than I would have liked. (To be honest I would have liked to have not breast stroked at all). But it was what it was and after the awesome start I was a little disappointed with my swim time -- it was off by about a minute and a half of what I'd predicted. I pretty much assumed I was well behind everyone else in my age group at this point. But given my meager swimming this year, I was happy to be swimming at all.

My transition was uneventful, except for the volunteer screaming about "Froggy." I opted not to attach my shoes to my pedals so I didn't really have any issues mounting and riding. The ride was pretty flat but it was a little windy. I kept my cadence at about 100 and my heart rate as averaging 155. About a third of the way into the ride I started noticing I was riding my way up into the age group ahead of me. By the turn I had ridden well into the next age group also. I was feeling pretty good on the bike and it was cool passing all these folks even though I was also remaining deeply aerobic.

I came into the transition area with two guys in the age group just before mine. The bigger of the two took off like a rocket, while the other opened up a 30 meter gap which would hold to the turn around. Off the bike my legs felt OK but my turnover was a little slower than I would have expected. But I just kept telling myself that I wasn't running distressed and that soon that idea should creep into my legs. Just before the turn around it did. At this point the challenge became not speeding up but slowing down to keep my heart rate goal. I caught the first guy I left the transition with and then started passing anyone in sight at will. I came across the line with a lot left in the tank and feeling pretty good.

I have never done a race at completely aerobic pacing so the feeling of not being spent at the end of a race was new though not unwelcome. I must say it was really hard to let some folks go and stay focused on my larger goals. But I learned a lot from it and I do feel like the workout/race made me a stronger triathlete in a couple of ways. The biggest is the sense that I race for me and my own reasons. Not to prove anything, or beat someone. I can race just for me and that too is satisfying. And I did learn there is some truth in the whole "Perfect paces makes for perfect races" thing.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Just Funny How Things Work. The Rogue Training Store

So this morning I'm on my way home from work and things appear to just "NOT" be going my way. Twice cars on the freeway sort of managed to position themselves in such a way so that I was unable to take either of the normal exits I use to get home. This meant I had to go the long way around my house and drive back to it. But I suppose there really is a reason for everything.

Because I took this route home, I ran (literally - as she was out for her morning run) into an old friend of mine, a person who I probably went to more races with in my early triathlon days than anyone. Anyway, I drove ahead, parked and waited on her to run by, clapping and shouting encouragement as she passed. On her way up the street she called back, "We just opened a new store."

You see, my friend is none other than Ruth England, co-owner of Austin's Rogue Training Systems. If you don't know about Rogue, you should. They are a great group of folks offering all types of training services to the Austin fitness minded community. And now they have opened a retail store for your training equipment and gear as well. I think we should all take note. There's a new training store (read "sheriff") in town... Its gonna be interesting. For more info about Ruth and the Rogue Store look here.

For more on Rogue Training Systems look here.