Jan 31, 2011

Rest weeks aren't easy


You would think that after three weeks of hard training, consisting of high volume and intensity, I would be looking forward to rest week. You would be right. Last Sunday, after my “easy” recovery ride with the SF2G guys, which turned out to be a team time trial around Tiburon, I was really ready for a break.

One of the things I was looking forward to the most was going on my usual morning rides with the Headland Raiders. Due to lots and lots of alone training and a ski trip on top, I nearly went an entire month without a Headlands Raid – can we say, "withdrawal"? So it was good to be back in that respect. It was also good to know that I was only going to be doing two rides during the week and a longer ride on one of the weekend days to cut my volume in half from my training weeks. Interestingly enough, after being absent from the morning Raid for nearly a month, I found I didn't recognize half the people on the ride - but it was great to see some new faces join the morning group.

I was okay through Thursday, with a day on, day off type deal, but by Friday evening, I was starting to feel a bit restless, with a ton of excess energy (having only ridden 40 miles up to that point), that I desperately tried - and to some extent succeeded - to extinguish with some margaritas and Chimay Red. But then again, Friday wasn’t that bad either, because I had already committed to a nice long ride on Saturday. The ride out to Pt. Reyes with Matt and Jon was going to be my last one for the week and would put me at about 120 miles for the week – exactly half last week’s total – perfect!

I felt very good on the mostly easy paced ride to Bovine Bakery and back, until the mist started to hit us in Nicasio and a full on drizzle settled in around Olema. Surprisingly, the city of San Francisco was dry when we crossed the bridge. Being used to always expecting the worst (colder, cloudier, foggier, rainier, etc.) weather in San Francisco, it was a pleasant surprise to finish out the ride dry. Dry it was, but not without incident. About a mile from my house, and almost right in front of American Cyclery, I got a flat. Nothing I dislike more than changing tires in wet, sandy, gritty, dirty conditions – but what’s a guy to do? Luckily I was able to use their pump and not burn an O2 cartridge, so a silver lining there. Apparently, riding 80+ miles, even at a relatively easy pace, takes a lot of a guy, as I ate, and then passed out for five hours. I don’t recall when was the last time I “napped” for so long. Does that even still qualify as a nap, or is there some point at which a nap can no longer be called a nap?

Then came Sunday morning and the rain. “Good,” I thought to myself, “what a perfect day to schedule a rest day!” But in 30 minutes, the rain stopped, and the sun came out (I didn't know that was only going to be momentary), and something inside me wasn’t sitting quite right. I wanted to be on the bike and kept telling myself that I have other things to do and that this is rest week. But all that self-convincing didn’t make staying off the bike any easier that day. Despite all the interesting things I did on Sunday, being in the saddle was somewhere in the back of my mind at all times.

Speaking of interesting things. I was amazed at how productive I was on Sunday. I’ve noted before that on weekend days I don’t ride, the amount of things I can accomplish is astonishing. For example’s sake, let’s compare Saturday and Sunday. Saturday: wake up, breakfast, ride, dinner, sleep (that’s it). Sunday: wake up, breakfast, clean the kitchen, two loads of laundry, two-hour lunch with a friend, trip to Lowes for a home improvement project, trip to Performance Bike for supplies, trip to Trader Joe’s for grub, build a wheel organizing system in the garage with the Lowes supplies, mount new race tires, third load of laundry, dinner with friends, prepared lunch for Monday, phew! So I guess while staying off the bike is hard, I do get a lot of stuff done. 

Sunday night was actually the hardest because not only was I restless from not riding, but I knew that I wouldn’t ride on Monday as that was also a planned rest day. I guess the only thing to do is to take all this saved up energy and unleash it on my legs in a furry of intervals tomorrow morning. 

Jan 26, 2011

My views on doping

I think in this particular climate, this post is very timely. With the heat being put on Lance Armstrong and today's verdict in the Alberto Contador clenbuterol controversey, doping seems to be the topic of the day. Be warned, however, that you might not agree with everything I have to say and some of this might make you very angry. But please understand that with this post, I'm not pushing a viewpoint, I'm merely raising questions that I feel merit some thought. If after reading this to the end, you feel like writing a long angry reply, please read this again and try to understand exactly what I am trying to say. 

I begin with a premise that dopers aren't slackers. I think this is the perception among those who criticize them and are generally antagonistic toward the practice. However, if you think that athletes who dope then sit on their asses and wait for their performance to improve, that's just plain absurd. I would posit that they work just as hard, if not harder than those who ride clean. 

With that bit out of the way, it's important to understand what doping is. On the very basic level, it can be defined as putting something into your body that is designed to enhance your performance in a given sport. Let's go with just that for now. Where do we draw the line of what's considered doping and what isn't? Sports Legs are designed to enhance performance, so is Optygen, so are amino acids and sports drinks (think Accelerade, Cytomax, EFS, etc.). Yet, we, cyclists, don't consider any of those things as doping. Why? Because they haven't been deemed illegal by the UCI or USA Cycling? Is that really our golden standard? WADA has an extensive list of prohibited substances, and chances are that many amateur cyclists have ingested at least some of them without even knowing it. One of them is insulin, for example. Keep this one in mind, I'll address it below. But if we truly want to keep the playing field even, give everyone at the start of the race an identical energy bar and have them race only on water. What's wrong with that?

There is another definition of doping - cheating. Few of us really care how these prohibited substances affect the athletes' bodies. What really bothers us is that the playing field isn't even. But is it ever? The playing field cannot ever be even. We all have different bodies, different genes, different sizes and different predispositions for one thing or another. If someone is working as hard as he can, doing all he can, living and breathing the sport, but he just can't get up to par of the top 10 percent of athletes in his field, can you not in your mind rationalize of why he would consider helping himself out? Wouldn't doping in that case actually be considered leveling the playing field because it would give this hypothetical athlete what his genes couldn't? I don't claim to have the answer, but I think before the practice is condemned, we need to think long and hard about why we are so eager to condemn it. I don't think anyone would condemn a diabetic for taking insulin, for example.

Now, let's pretend that nothing was banned, everything was legal and WADA did not exist. Would it really matter? Would doping still be as condemned? Enhancers have been consumed in cycling almost with the inception of the sport, and only recently have they become banned, condemned and persecuted, and in some case prosecuted. I will hypothesize that this swing was set off by science. As the science of doping got more advanced, the practices - blood doping being a good example - became so egregious that we could not reconcile the concept that these great athletes (heroes and role models to some) were engaged in them. With the disenchantment, came the notion that all of this should be banned. But was the origin of this notion noble or fiscal? Was this done to truly preserve the sport, or to preserve the fans who pour money into it? I don't really know, but this too is worth thinking about. Let's take a step back into the 70s: If all that cyclists were doing was taking stimulants and things of that sort, would we still feel the same way about doping as we do now? 

My other hypothesis is that we feel doping is fundamentally unfair because some methods are simply unavailable to many cyclists. Teams with huge budgets can afford doctors who can implement very scientific doping regiments. Other, smaller teams simply cannot do that and therefore have no chance of competing with the top level, Pro Tour teams. But if that's really another aspect of why we have so much disdain for cycling, let's take a step back from the professional field and take a closer look at the amateur one.

I'm not trying to suggest that many amateurs dope, though there have been reported instances. What I want to talk about is equipment. On the pro level, equipment is pretty much on par, but that is far from reality in your local race. Is the playing field even when the stronger athlete loses to the weaker one in a TT because the weaker one has a $10k bike with disc wheels and the stronger athlete rides his steel bike Eddy Merckx style, or with some snap-on aero bars? How is that not doping? I mean it isn't according to the definition I set forth above, but is it a level playing field - I think not. So if we, as a cycling community, are so hell bent out of shape on making things even, let's get some equipment regulations going. Let's start weighing bikes like they do for the pros, so no one show's up with a Delta 7 to a hill climb. But we would never think of doing such things because for some reason, we think that spending thousands of dollars for better, advantageous equipment is not the same thing as dumping a ton of money into substances. But if the end result is exactly the same, why the distinction? Is it the ends or the means that we really have issues with? And if the latter, in light of the above, why is that so? This last question is purely rhetorical, for I think that everyone has their own justifications and reasons for their approbation of disdain for the practice. 

I think it is fundamentally unfair to question everyone's motive without setting forth my personal views on doping. This is the paragraph you can get angry with or agree with - up to you - but these are my views. If you're an amateur athlete and you're not making money with your sport, doping (the chemical kind) is plain stupid. It has long lasting effects on your body whether you like it or not, and none of your successes in the sport will truly be your own. With regard to equipment, buy as expensive stuff as you want, as long as you are getting it to enjoy your experience more. If you're getting parts because they are grams lighter than the previous parts you have, that's up to you, but in my book, that's pathetic. As much as you want to think you can, you cannot buy watts! Now, if you're a pro, and this is how you make your bread, I feel that the rules as they are now are way too strict. I'm no proponent of blood doping - that should be banned - but popping a few pills here and there, something that's available to everyone across the pro field, shouldn't really be a big deal. Ban the things that are truly harmful to the athletes bodies, but everything else that can be safely implemented, i.e., won't kill you on the ride, I say leave it alone. To be clear, I feel that as long as all of that stuff is illegal or banned, no one should be using it and those caught should be punished to the full extent. I just think that more things should be legal for the pros than currently are.

Jan 24, 2011

A lot of it is mental

Disclaimer: The following is nothing I have ever read in any training manual, nor is it something that has ever been advanced by any coach to me personally. Below is my training philosophy and why I do certain things the way I do them, or at least try to. Try it if you dare.

I’m sure most of you, who have played any competitive sport, regardless of how seriously, have heard it before: “it’s all in your head!” Well, what is it that’s in your head? I have no idea – it is YOUR head after all. But here’s what’s in mine. What often screws up my performance  is the fear of the unknown or the unexperienced (not to be confused with “inexperienced”). To give a simple example: When I practiced martial arts, the brick was never going to break until I saw it break in my head. Once I saw it, then I knew and it broke. Once I knew, there was no internal mechanism in my mind that would stop my hand from driving through concrete. How I came to know in that particular context is way beyond the scope of this blog. So let’s move onto cycling and what I really want to share in this blog.

When I train, I like to train hard, I like to train until it hurts, and I like to train until the point where I can barely tolerate the pain, the fatigue and the muscle aches. (This is partially why I do all my hardest training alone – it’s not a pretty sight). Don't get me wrong, I'm not a masochist, and when I say I "like," I'm not trying to convey an idea that this pain brings me joy. What brings me joy is being done and knowing I can survive it. I feel that the only way I can be successful - an ambiguous term in and of itself - in racing is to not experience pain, fatigue or soreness in a race that I have not experienced in training. In training, there is always a safety net; you can always stop, pull over, sit down and have a breather. So there is no fear of pushing too hard or blowing up. It is training after all and the worst that can happen is you’ll discover another limit in your body that you can train, push harder and expand.

Of course, there are other considerations that play a role here. Not every training ride should be that extreme in it's entirety or overtraining is bound to set in. However, in every training ride, there should be at least one effort – be it a short interval, or one of the hills, or a sprint for a city limit sign – that will push you into the pain box in the way you haven’t been pushed before. I guarantee that the second time around, the pain will be more familiar and not as bad, and as you continue, your tolerance for such pain and the length and/or strength of your maximum efforts will increase. After all, one key element to a successful time trialist is the ability to tolerate pain.

This is one of the reasons why I regularly seek out some of the longest, hardest rides around. My teammates often question why I do double centuries with thousands of feet of climb if none of my races this year will be that long or that hilly. To me, the answer is simple: If I can ride two hundred miles and climb thousands of feet in a day, physically that will prepare me for some of the longest, hilliest races I have to face with knowledge that I can finish them and hopefully do well in them. The mental aspect of it is that during such long, hard rides, I will be in the pain box many, many times. Sitting in the saddle for 12-15 hours in a day is one of those discomforts. Climbing a steep grade at mile 150 is another, wanting to be done and hammering with all I’ve got at mile 198 is yet another. This is the reason I’m often tempted to answer questions like: “How do you train for such a ride”? With: “This ride is the training!”

Learning from all of those experiences makes my racing easier. When I’m in a race, trying to hang on to the pack, sometimes I’m in pain, but if I can go back in my mind and recognize that this is the type of pain I’ve already experienced and got through, there is no mental block holding me back. On the other hand, if the pain or suffering during the race is the kind I have not felt before, there is a good chance that my mind may force me to hold back in the interest of self-preservation and fear of the unknown, e.g, “if I push harder will blow up and finish dead last.” I don’t pretend that this is some sort of a winning formula, or that it will guarantee success – after all, no matter how strong the mind, the body has to be in shape to handle the load. However, while mental preparedness may not guarantee great performance, it’s absence will most likely dictate failure.

I recognize that not every person’s psyche works that way. Some can throw it all in without regard to anything else; others stop at the first instance of pain. There is something to be said of both of those. However, I just know the way I function and what I need to do in order to overcome my mental blocks. What works for me, might not work for you, but figuring yourself out from the inside is a step to figuring out what works.

Jan 21, 2011

One year anniversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of my arrival to California. Actually, it may have been yesterday, but let’s just say it’s today, and even if it was yesterday, then today would be the anniversary of the first time I woke up in California as its resident. So either way, I have an excuse to have a beer or two tonight. The drive to California was certainly an adventure in and of itself. Considering it was in the middle of January, I couldn’t wait to get out of Chicago and the cold, which is probably why I ended up driving almost 20 hours, non-stop (other than for gas). I don’t recall exactly where I stopped the first night, but do recall driving through the Texan panhandle. You might be wondering why I took that route as opposed to taking a straight shot on 80. Well, that was because that week saw epic snow all over the place, and I really didn’t feel like being snowed over in Wyoming. 

I recall stopping in New Mexico for lunch, at a Subway, it was in the mid 40s and the lady behind the counter asking me, “Is it cold enough for ya?” My response was, “Is THIS as cold as it gets here?” She said it was, in response to which I chuckled and told her I just drove from Chicago. 

Of course, only a few are so lucky as to have a 2500-mile drive be completely without incident. My VW GTI was bursting at the seams with stuff I had packed into it, and was also supporting two bikes and a pair of skis on the roof. About 1500 miles into my trip, I heard a creak in one of my Thule rails.

I think this pack job should qualify me for the title of Tetris grandmaster.
I promptly pulled over at the next gas station and examined the weird noise. Old Thule rails attached via one bold to a rail. The part onto which the bolt is tightened is welded into the rail and is about a size of a quarter. The increased creaking was due to a crack that had developed half way around that bolt – another good pull, and my MTB would have been suspended on the side of my car only by its rear tire, not good. So the first order of business was to swap my MTB and my TT bike as there is some significant weight differences and thus, less torque on the rail. The next challenge was figuring out how to secure it. Wal-Mart to the rescue! The lesson I learned that day is that duct tape and zip ties can hold pretty much anything in place. After a quick patchwork, I was ready to hit the road. (In case you are curious, the broken rail was returned to REI after two years of use with no questions asked and replaced with its newer, stronger counterpart).

Then, after some more driving, and another night in a hotel, I hit California and its beautiful desert, the rolling green hills (the few months out of the year they are not yellow) and the woods. It made me giddy with joy to think that I would soon be riding my bike all over this wonderful state. However, my first order of business was to take advantage of the epic snow in the Sierras and hit the slopes in Tahoe. In four years of skiing, itwas the first time I skied true, waist-deep powder and learned that I have still a lot to learn about skiing. 

I took my first ride in California on January 27, 2010. I was staying with friends in Mountain View for a bit before moving up to San Francisco, so chances are I hit something like Old La Honda, or Page Mill, but whatever it was, I was just happy to be on a bike in the middle of winter. Six thousand miles and five hundred thousand vertical feet later, I still feel very fortunate to be living and riding here and can honestly say that there was not a single day where I’ve regretted moving out this wonderful state.

Jan 20, 2011

Smell of racing in the air

The new season of cycling is well under way and my race season is about a month away. In fact, it’s a month, minus a day away. I know that for some, the race season has already begun with Early Bird Crits and the San Bruno Hill Climb, but I will patiently wait until the end of February to try my legs at Cantua Creek and then the next day at Pine Flat.

I frankly don’t see the point of jumping the gun and starting to race in January. We have an incredibly long season in California – it starts on January 1, and ends in the middle of October. However, my last race of the season will be Everest Challenge (again), which is typically one of the last weekends of September. So while I’m somewhat tempted to jump the guy and do one of these early races – the Early Bird Road Race looked very tempting – I’m going to stick to my plan and wait until Cantua Creek. It was my first race last year as well. In fact, it was my first mass start road race ever, and I’m very excited to go back and see how I’ve progressed. I do feel very flattered that as compared to the Masters 35+ 1/2/3 group’s 52 miles, the Elite 4s will be doing 78 miles; however,  I can’t help but scratch my head and think, “What the hell are the organizers thinking?” But it doesn’t really matter, it’s a C priority race for me, with many of the registered racers doing Pine Flat the next day, so I can’t imagine it being too much of a hammerfest, but if it is, just so much more fun to be had. I’m also very excited to test myself against other racers. I’ve been tracking my own progress, which has been substantial, but the only way to determine how much work remains to be done is to see where I measure up against the rest of the field. It is all relative, after all.

I think everyone to whom I’ve spoken about racing knows about my reluctance to do criteriums and my preference for road races and time trials. There are several reasons, the primary one is that crits typically end in a high speed, wind it up type of sprint that often results in nasty crashes. I just really don’t feel like sliding on asphalt with bikers riding over me. A trustworthy source reported that at last week’s Early Bird Crit, there were seven crashes and four ambulance trips and that’s not really a trip I’d like to be taking this early in the season (or ever, for that matter), not to mention the equipment damage. Of course, there are also crashes in road races, but the ones I’ve seen, were mainly due to someone taking a corner way hotter than advisable. Unlike crits, road races are not won and lost in fast downhill corners, the climbs typically dictate the winner. I will say that I was involved in one crash during a hill climb last year, but it was too ridiculous to be dangerous and the only thing that was damaged was my mojo.

My second reason for not doing crits is probably someone else’s for not doing road races. Forty minutes of racing is not enough for me. Not that it’s not tough, not that it doesn’t hurt, but I like a long effort in the saddle, two to three hours, and more in some extreme cases. In addition to road races, I like long distance endurance events and I think the two complement each other way better. If I were older, or a Cat. 3, that would be a different story, because then I could just jump into two races in one day: an Elite and a Masters race or an Elite 3/4 and an Elite 1/2/3 race.

Somewhere toward the middle or end of the season, I might jump into a crit - once everyone has their kinks worked out and everyone prone to crashing has already crashed - but until then, I’ll stick to road races – there’s one almost every weekend. I’ve also discovered that road races make much better blog entries than crits (at least the ones I’ve read), which typically go like this: draft, draft, draft, pull, draft, pull, sprint/crash, finish.

Now, for something completely unrelated, but only because I have the time and might forget about it later.  RadioShack came out with their casual clothing line today. I’m a Lance fan, and a Levi fan, and a McEwen fan, but I just can’t bring myself to buy any of that gear (or wear it if given to me for free). Not that money is necessarily an issue, it’s the branding. When you wear a Garmin-Cervélo item, people know you support a cycling team, or have no clue what the hell it is. Same with Robobank, or Liquigas, or even BMC. But when I see someone wearing a RadioShack cap, I can’t help but wonder if they’re about to try to sell me some batteries or a phone. I think the marketing folks over at RadioShack need to make an effort to separate the store brand from the team brand, at least on the clothing line. Told you this was completely unrelated.

Jan 18, 2011

Rest days


According to the Bible, even god needed one. This morning, I woke up at 5 a.m. with the intention of heading to M2 for a morning mash session. But when I woke up, my legs quietly screamed into my ear, “are you out of your damn mind?” The fact is that this would have been my fourth day on the bike in a row, with some long miles logged and a hard interval workout yesterday. Not that four days in a row is extreme – I’ve done it before – but with the uptick in weekly mileage and ride intensity, this early in the season, I try to limit myself to no more than three consecutive days of riding before taking a day off. So, being my own personal coach, I decided to devote this day to resting my legs, though I will still probably do a core workout in the evening. 

There are many lessons to be learned from this morning. The first of which is knowing how to listen to your body. We all know how it feels when our legs are sore, or when our back hurts, or when our stomach is turning, but learning to interpret what all of that means is a whole other story. Leg pain, for one, is part of the sport. But you have to know whether it’s a burn from a hard effort – non-damaging pain, or a muscle pull – could be an onset of an injury. With the former, you can safely press on, but with the latter, it would be wiser to stop. Frankly, if you’ve been a part of this sport for at least one season, you shouldn’t have any difficulty telling the difference. A much harder distinction is between soreness and fatigue. 

When I used to power lift, sometimes my leg workouts on Monday would leave me sore until the following Thursday, or even into the weekend if I had taken a bit of time off before getting back into it. If I hit the squat rack heavy on Monday evening, on Tuesday morning, my legs were probably a bit fatigued, but by Wednesday, the energy would be back, even if the soreness persisted. 

Cycling works the same way, kind of. If I feel a bit of a tingle on Thursday from the intervals I did on Tuesday, that doesn’t stop me from another workout if I feel rested. If I feel rested, I can still push hard and get the most out of my workout. If, however, I’m feeling very fatigued, even if the soreness is not that bad, the workout will probably be half-assed and I’m better off taking a day to fully recovery and come back full strength the next day. Clearly, this is not the way you approach a race, but as far as training goes, this seems to work for me. So the lesson here is simple, learn to distinguish between pain that means soreness, pain that means fatigue and fatigue that comes without pain. 

The only way I know how to learn this is through trial and error. Get out of bed in the morning and train, your legs will let you know soon enough which one of the three you’re dealing with. But make sure to make  a mental note of how you felt when you got up in the morning. This way, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. Another tip is not to automatically assume that you are fatigued because you are sore, you might not be. However, if you are sore, make sure to warm up properly or else you are at a heightened risk of injury.

Another lesson learned is that rest is a necessary part of training for several reasons. First, physiological: When you train hard, you break down muscle tissue that then rebuilds and grows stronger. Continually breaking it down without a chance to rebuild is not very productive and can, in fact, be very destructive, leading to overtraining. 

Another reason for rest is mental. This is actually a two-fold. Training when you are fatigued can be very mentally straining as you are not performing up to par and perhaps beginning to feel depressed about your level of fitness. This might not happen if you realize that you are training while fatigued, but if you know you are fatigued, why are you training? The second part, at least for me, is motivation. I really like to be on the bike, and when I’m off, for even a day, I can’t wait to jump back in the saddle. This enthusiasm combined with rested legs often results in very productive workouts, and definitely helps getting me out of bed before sunrise.

Rest is important, and considering it looks like this is going to be my third week in a row of near, or over two-hundred mile totals, next week of rest and easy riding should be very beneficial for all of the abovementioned reasons.

Jan 16, 2011

Team Camp

I know that my posts have been less frequent in the last few weeks. This has mainly been caused by the start of my training routine and getting my time management issues resolved. Believe it or not, it does take some time to tap out 1000 plus words and try to make things sound more or less coherent, and sometimes even entertaining. As things get settled down, I promise to return to my previous frequency of five to six entries a week. 

The fact that I love to ride my bike is well known, but even more so, I love to ride my bike in places I've never been before. This weekend was the weekend of the Colavita NorCal team's annual camp in Nice, California. Nice is situated on the banks of beautiful Clear Lake. I arrived at our condo on Friday evening, right as the pizza was coming out of the oven and the salad was coming together - good timing on my part. One of the many benefits of riding with a team based in Sonoma County is the wine. Steve brought a case (or maybe more) of his Rainborne Pinot Noir, which I would like to say is one of the better Pinots I've tasted to date. In addition, many more bottles of Cab, Zin and other varietals were "on tap."

The main point of the weekend was team bonding, so there was no strict schedule of when we'd ride, or at what particular pace, which was great because no one was under any pressure to get to bed early or get up at an ungodly hour. This left plenty of time for socializing and bonding. We were also very fortunate with regard to the weather. A week ago, Nice was seeing temperatures of 27 degrees and the chances of rain for this weekend were predicted at 60 percent. However, by the time this weekend approached, chances of rain were down to zero and temperatures were promised to be in the mid-sixties - perfect riding weather. 

We got up on Saturday, had a nice breakfast of pancakes and other eatables and were ready to roll about 10 o'clock. The planned route was a circumnavigation of Clear Lake. It's a 68 mile route which is mostly flat, with some short climbs and nice downhills. The route started off mellow with many miles of beautiful flat roads with great views of Clear Lake. The only hard efforts were the sprints - every city limit sign is a sprint. I was a bit behind the ball on the first sprint as it came about at approximately mile 4 and I completely missed the jump. I noticed that the next town was about 6 miles away, and I made a mental that at mile 10.5 another city limit sign was likely to make an appearance. I looked down, it was 9.6 miles into the ride,  andI figured I should be getting ready for another sprint. All of a sudden, I saw the sign. I was third wheel out and just at that time I saw John look back, there was no need to wait. I took off and gave it all I had. I ended up being first across the "finish line." Information retrieved after the ride showed that I was pushing 1240 watts for at least 5 seconds during that effort. That was a very pleasant surprise because the highest I've ever seen my wattage was just over 1000 watts. Looks like the training to date has been paying off. 

On the next sprint, I was caught of guard by the bikes blazing past me, but I was able to catch the first wheel and had I had another 5 meters of space, I probably would have had that one as well, but that time, 1200+ watts were only good for a very close second place. Nevertheless, all those sprints were a ton of fun. After the sprints, we moved on to some nice climbs, followed by a group of rollers and very, very fast downhills. The downhills, however, were a bit sketchy due to some wetness and potential freezing, but because the temps rose into the 70s, freezing was really not an issue. The final miles back into Nice were pancake flat and offered the opportunity to spin easy and get the blood circulating to promote the exit of lactic acid. 

Once back at the condo, it was chow time. Carla marinaded and grilled chicken, Phil made some awesome chilly, there were some yummy salads and a ton of delicious deserts. My Russian apple pie turned out to be a great hit, if I may say so myself. Of course, all was accompanied by a ton of great wine and conversation. The plan for Sunday was to do the same route but in reverse, unfortunately, that was not to be. 

We woke up to some very bad news, Paul's bike was stolen out of his truck over night. To add insult to injury, his truck was also missing a half tank of gas. At first, we all though that Paul was targeted for the bike, but as I started thinking about it on the drive back, I realized that it was merely an unfortunate coincidence. More likely than not, his truck was targeted for the gas, and once the thieves began the process, they saw the bike and decided to claim some extra loot. I mean who comes to rob a car with a container for gasoline? There is some hope that the bike will be found, however,  as it was one of only 5 Luma frames to ever be made in that particular color scheme - white. So if any of you see a white carbon Luma riding around, shoot me an e-mail or leave a message on this blog. 

After we found out about the theft, needless to say the mood was somewhat dampened and we all opted for a shorter, flatter ride to finish off the weekend. We rode out to Kelseyville and back - the flattest ride I've ever done in California, but a perfect route for a recovery ride. After the ride, it was a quick change back at the condo, a beer, a few bites of food and back to San Francisco. Tomorrow is a longer ride out to Nicasio with some hard, short intervals en route. We'll see where my legs take me as far as wattage, but hopefully I can hit 1200+ at least once.

Jan 12, 2011

Howling coyotes and dieting

The Coyotes

On today's menu was a set of short, lung-busting intervals, ranging in time from 30 to 90 seconds. A great way to wake up the legs in the morning, that's for sure. Last night, I was happy to see that I wouldn't have to brave the thirties this morning, but would rather embrace the high forties and maybe even something with a five as the lead digit. The five didn't happen, but it was a pleasant change from last week's chills. Every morning, I wake up and the first thing I do is check my iPhone for the current weather status. I actually had a dream that the iPhone said 55 degrees! But when I woke up and actually checked the phone, it was only 49. You would think that my subconscious mind would be a bit more optimistic, I mean why not dream of 65 degrees? Am I that much of a realist?

I got appropriately dressed and headed out the door. Because the first half mile out of my house (if going through the Wiggle) is downhill, I did get a little chilly, but the little uphills on the way to the bridge warmed me up. I decided that the perfect place to do my intervals was on Bunker road - accessed through the one-way tunnel - because heading east it is a gradual incline ranging from 2-4 percent and obviously the opposite heading westbound - a perfect place to work, then do a 180 and recover.

My ride out to Bunker was in the dark and the sun just started to lighten up the ski as I exited the tunnel. Then, all of a sudden, it really lightened up and all I heard around me were howling coyotes. I've ridden down that road many, many times and have once seen coyotes running next to our little group as we rode (they didn't look very menacing), but hearing so many of the howl without seeing any of them, did make me pedal a touch faster. Interestingly, the howling only lasted about 15 seconds and then all was silent, as if the critters said "good morning" to one another from across the prairie and then went about their business of hunting rabbits.

The interval workout itself was fairly uneventful, other than it was hard. But that's a good thing. Right? However, by the time I was done and checked my Garmin's on board clock, I noticed that I was running a touch late for a work event I had to attend this morning, so I had to do another interval - from GGB to my house in the Castro. I made it in a record 23 minutes, that's at least 7 minutes faster than usual. 

Dieting

I don't refer to dieting in terms of losing weight, but rather in terms of restricting certain foods, and more specifically staying on a certain macronutrient intake regiment. But yes, I am trying to shed a few more pounds for those hilly races. In any event, what I've discovered by tracking my daily calorie intake is that I'm not getting enough calories during the workday, which leaves me hungry after work and results in huge dinners, not because I'm so hungry, but because I feel I have to get my fill of calories and carbs to maintain my training intensity.

The problem with this, however, is that huge meals in the evening, leave me feeling not 100 percent up to par in the morning, as well as a bit heavier than I would like. So I'm going to try a new approach, which I guess in one way or another has been advocated for many, many years - front load most of my calories during the day, and cap off the evening with a light dinner and fruit. This way, I can hopefully get my necessary calories and macronutrients and still feel great when I wake up the next morning. I'll try this out for a couple of days - starting today - and report back on how it's going.

Jan 10, 2011

Reviewing Golden Cheetah - learn from your ride

So I figured out what I have to do to train. I got my intervals all figured out, I have my power ride under the belt - one could say, I have my ducks in a row as far as what I need to do. But after I get home and hook up my Garmin to my Mac, what next? Strava is a great tool for amusement. It tells you how fast you went up the hill and what category the hill is and whether you beat the last guy who went up the same hill, but truly, it's a pretty worthless tool in analyzing your performance. A great tool for motivation, however. Don't get me wrong, I love Strava and can't live a day without it, but to figure out what my ride data really means, it doesn't really cut it.

In reading Joel Friel's book, I came upon a software called Training Peaks, so I decided to download a free trial and check it out. But alas, they don't make a version that's readily compatible for Mac. Really?!? In this day and age they didn't have the foresight to create a piece of software to run on the fastest selling personal computer? Fine, I'm totally pulling that statistic out of my ass, but there are a lot of Macs around, and not making software for them that you charge $100/year for is pretty damn stupid.

Guess what was the next thing I typed into Google: Training Peaks alternative for Mac. What came up was amazing - Golden Cheetah. Not only is this software an amazing analytic tool to squeeze the most out of your training ride, but it is absolutely free and for the technically inclined among you, it's open source. Because it's free, I don't really feel obligated to rave on and on about it because you can all just try it out for yourselves, but here's a brief preview.

You get your basic ride summary, most importantly your KJs, so you can keep track of your workload.
You also get the topo of your ride with the basic metrics plotted. 
One of the best features here is that you can smooth your lines, meaning you don't get crazy squiggly lines due to minor variations in power, cadence, speed, etc., but you can see smooth curves by looking at the metrics as they would appear as an average taken over a brief period of time - 1 to 600 seconds.

Critical power curve.
You know you can push 330 watts for 30 minutes, but what should/could you be pushing in an hour-long time trial? Well, here's your answer. The program takes your efforts over the course of the rides and plots them into zones. That's represented by the red squiggly line in the above picture. Then, it plots a critical power curve - the dashed red line - to estimate what you could potentially push for one or two-hour efforts.

Histogram plot of how much time you spend in each power zone over the course of your ride.
The program keeps track of your progress from training session to training session.
In addition to the above, there are hundreds of different metrics you can play with to track your training and performance, like aerobic decoupling, for example. And the best part is that it is available for whatever program you prefer to run on your machine - Windows, Mac, or Unix. Since you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, I strongly suggest using this software to get a closer look at your workout, but only your workouts. Personally, while I think this is a great tool to analyze your ride, you really don't need to upload your recovery or casual club ride into this program - that's not what this was designed for. So give it a try, you've got nothing to lose and everything to learn.