Sunday, May 30, 2010

Race ReportS: Cape TT (Disaster Averted), FCP 4 mi., and Overeating

Today started with my third time trial in two weeks (and last for the season). After the Freeport TT last week, I suspected that my threshold might be higher than I thought. So I decided to cover up the Powertap display and just go hard. My friend and friendly rival Bob started right behind me, just 30 seconds back. We both had solid training days yesterday (I biked 2 hrs. and ran 45 min), so I think we entered equally fatigued. He can reach levels in training I can only dream about, especially on the hills. Last week, however, we saw our TT efforts are fairly even- I out touched him by 10 seconds. I knew he wanted to take me down, and by starting behind me, I was afraid I would be a rabbit for him.

A couple of days ago, I said I would ride harder than normal and risk blowing up today. It's funny how easily those words come in front of a keyboard- when it's time to do it, even though there isn't much on the line, it's tough to look into that abyss.

Most of the course was flat with really long, gentle rollers. It consisted of a small 5 mile loop, then you repeat the first 3 miles of the loop as you start a larger 9 mile loop. The backside had three good hills, but they were short enough that I was in the big ring the whole way. There were also very few corners and intersections, so overall, it was pretty fast.

At the start, I jumped out and went for it. Within a mile, it felt like my heart was going to jump through my chest and I could barely take in enough air. At the same time, I realized I hadn't started my Powertap, so hit the button to wake it up and swore at the operator. What an idiot. I don't think I let off the pace much, but things seemed to get under control fairly soon after that.

Here I am on the first loop. Notice the slow shirt and race number holding me back. I need to change those for next year.

Here I am the second time through, obviously struggling.

I stayed consistent the whole way, even working the downhills. I was afraid to look, but expected Bob to come flying by the entire time. The race went by fairly quickly, and at the finish, figured I had done well. I waited for Bob, hoping it would be more than the 30 second gap- it turns out I beat him by 22 seconds, which is a victory in my book. He's a very solid competitor.
I finished 9th OA. As for the data gathering, the numbers were good. Compared to Freeport, my cadence was identical (89), VI went from 105 to 102, speed from 23.6 to 24.4, and average power went from 279 to 286. What's incredible is that my normalized power was identical- 293w. I guess I know where my threshold is.

From the finish, I made my way to the end of the first loop to see Nick and ride with him. That's where we nearly had the worst family disaster you can imagine. For those of you that know Cape Elizabeth, the course turned right (more than 90 degrees) from Fowler Rd. back onto Route 77. We both rode the first loop as warm up, and I explained he was to turn right at that point. He rode the course last year as part of the CELT sprint tri. This time, however, he shot out through the intersection and crossed both lanes as if he were turning left. When I realized what he was doing, I yelled, at which point, right around the double yellow line, still in aero bars, he turned back to the right, going up Rt. 77 on the wrong side of the road. He then crossed safely and proceeded onto the second loop.
This could have been a complete disaster. There were no officials slowing traffic coming in the other lane. And the one marshall directing racers was less than obvious. She was also handling traffic, for both cars and bikes, coming from two different directions. What many race organizers don't realize is that marshalls have no idea how hard we're working and what that does to our ability to think. Subtle waving isn't enough. They need to be out there with big orange flags that are impossible to miss (like the Freeport TT), and be LOUD. I've been to many other races where they fall short. I've even made wrong turns myself. We need to accept partial blame here for our mistake. No question about it. However we're talking about a life and death situation, and there need to be additional safeguards. I could go on and on with my frustrations. I just hope the organizers can learn something from this and improve for next year. Fortunately, we're all in one piece.
Anyway, Nick had a good race and upped his average speed to about 18. Here he is:

After the race, I drove back to Falmouth for a 4 mile road race hosted by Community Programs. I'm on the town advisory committee, so I wanted to support them. I ran around the field a few times for warm up. At the start, I was on the shoulder of the leader for a few hundred yards, and thought, "Uh oh. If I'm near the lead, I have to work hard. And I'm not sure I want to do that." After a couple hundred yards, Mr. Garmin said I was going at a 5:56 pace. Not good. Thankfully, another guy came along, and they left me. It was a great sight to see the leaders move away from me. The last thing I wanted to do was empty an already depleted tank. At about mile 3, I fell to 5th place, which was fine. The course was flat and slight uphill to a turnaround. I split 6:39, 7:00, 6:43 and 6:39 for a total time of 27:10 (or so). I'm very satisfied with the effort.
To cap the day off, my 9 year old Leah and I went to the Sea Dogs game, sat 7 rows behind home plate, and had a great time. We also ate way too much- sausage roll, french fries, chicken nuggets, Sea Dogs biscuit and fried dough (my favorite).
Now I need to recover and fine tune for Saturday. Mooseman is a big deal, my only "B" olympic distance race of the year beside Worlds. I obviously feel good about my bike. The swim could be marginal, but I need to remember that that's pretty good. The run should be fine, but I have some questions about it. This is the race that starts the serious part of the season. I'm looking forward to it. Good luck to those doing the Sunday 1/2 Mooseman and also those going to CT for Rev 3. It's a big weekend all around.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Blind and Fast

I had two good races last weekend. Saturday in NH was a hard uninterrupted effort for 1:12 that produced some of by best power numbers ever. Sunday in Freeport was a surprise. I had a poor warmup, was tired from Saturday, but let it fly when they said "Go." A switch was flipped- racing = fast. Someone says go, I go. Early in the race, I was surprised at my power output. It required looking for small sections to rest, but overall, I beat some career efforts.

I'm really curious about something. I think there are times when we can be held hostage by our data. Powertaps and Garmins are great tools, help regulate efforts over long races, but maybe...just maybe...they act as a cap. Mary had a good post a while ago that defended the use of these toys, as opposed to those who say they we should race and train by feel. I agree with what she wrote, but Sunday showed me that maybe my ceiling is higher than I thought.

I'll use my Powertap in every other race this season. But as an experiment, I'm going to put tape over the computer for the Cape TT. I don't care too much about the place or time (again, other than vs. a few select individuals ;-)), I care about the data. This race is to 1) do something with Nick, and 2) get better for triathlons.

So I'm going to ride blind. No data at all. No power, no speed, no cadence. I know the roads, so I don't even need to see the distance. I'm going to blast out of the start, go hard up Route 77, Fowler, 77, Spurwink, and 77 to the finish. Everything will be all out. If I blow up, big deal. That might actually be a good thing- you can't really know where your limit is until you go past it. We're only talking about 14 miles and 36 minutes in a "C" race.

This should be interesting....and painful....and valuable.........and fast.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Race ReportS: Crank the Kanc TT and Freeport TT

Yesterday started a string of four consecutive weekends of racing- three bike TTs, one 4 mi. road race (all of those in 8 days), the Mooseman Oly and Pirate Sprint Tri. It wasn't my intention to cram so many races into a short period, it's just how it worked out. I also threw in two of the time trials so Nick could join me. He loves riding my former TT bike, and let's face it- any time you can get a nearly-14 year old to do something with you, you jump at the chance. He did the bike portion of a sprint tri last fall and did great despite the pouring rain.

Crank the Kanc is clearly the best test of bike fitness each year. There isn't a swim before or run after to muddy the waters and affect the effort, and it's length really sets it apart from other TTs. Yesterday was the third year in a row for me. I didn't care about my place- there are many more biker-only types there who are faster. I didn't care about my time- weather conditions make a huge difference. For example, the entire race travels approximately west, so even a slight breeze can make a big difference. The only thing about time and place I cared about was how I did relative to the many folks from this area that raced. It's an ego thing, you know. We all know how prior years went, and we're all looking for improvement. What I really cared about was DATA. It's hard to come up with a more pure test of fitness. There are no corners, intersections, or meaningful downhills. It's point the bike west, start pedaling, and go hard for more than an hour. Find the red line, and try to stay right there, especially when it hurts.

The course is rolling for about 16.6 mi, slightly up, all big ring, with only a couple of downhills that you can glide- but really shouldn't. Yesterday I only stopped pedaling once, and for about 10 yards. I also stood up a couple of times to loosen up my back. Then the road turns up for 4.9 mi, all small ring. There are a few spots where you can shift out of the easiest gear, but in general it's a long hard grind.

Last year I made great improvements over 2008. My average power went from 262w to 276w, and I was consistent- I was just 3w higher on the hill compared to the lead-in (as opposed to a 12w difference in '08). I didn't feel my bike conditioning was up to last year's level, but I decided to target the same power- 275w. At the start, I easily pedaled at 300w+, constantly telling myself to back off and searching for the right power / cadence / feel combination. The first 20 minutes flew by. I knew I'd hit the hill around 45-47 minutes. The second half of the lead-in was uncomfortable, especially in my lower back and crotch. In a strange sort of way, I was looking forward to the hill just so I could sit up and change positions. Again, this is a straight shot, so there's no opportunity to change positions or stretch out. Last year I averaged 275w for this portion. this time when I hit the hill, I looked at my average power and saw 279w. Great!

There isn't much to tell about the hill, other than it's tough. I averaged 283w, so again it was consistent with the first part and an improvement (5w) over last year. At the end I let it all out, crossed the line, was able to get my shoes out of the pedals, but couldn't move. Luckily Mark B was there to help me dismount- thanks Mark! In the two prior years, the ride back down was torture. My ass hurt the whole way, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit on my bike. This year it didn't hurt at all, and actually had a pleasant ride back down. I knew it would be important to have a good recovery so I could race the next day.

The results still haven't been posted online, but I have analyzed the data. My peak 60 min. was 281w, and 20 min was 291w. When I compare those numbers to all rides and races over the last 12 months starting June 2009 (248w and 283w), I'm thrilled. In fact, I have NEVER put up numbers like that.

Turn the page to today. Nick and I got up early for the Freeport TT (18 mi). I had everything timed out just right. We went out for a warmup, and about 2 miles from the start Nick got a nice piece of glass in the rear tire. I called Christine, who was just arriving to watch, and she came and picked Nick and the bike up. I pretty much sprinted back to the start because we had about 15 min to our starting time. Luckily, I had my training wheels with us. I put on the rear, telling Nick that it's a 9-speed bike and a 10-speed wheel, so the gears might not be smooth. We then went over to the start line and had about 2 min to spare. That isn't what you'd call an ideal warmup period. I had figured, well, given yesterday's race and what just happened, the pressure's off. Don't worry about the results.

Yeah, right. When I started, I just let it all out. I attacked the course, and the adrenaline kept up a strong effort (normalized power of 303w) for the first 5 miles. That seemed fine so I figured I would keep it up and see what happened. There were a few downhills where I coasted to recover, which made a huge difference. At mile 14, I figured there were only 4 miles to go, not too long to suffer, so I kept up the pace. I ended with an average power of 279w and normalized 293. My peak 10 minutes was 298w, compared to 295 on Saturday. For a race that was a very low priority, and on a day that didn't start well, I feel great about the numbers.

As for Nick, he started 30 seconds behind me. Soon after the start, the road makes a 90 degree bend to the left, crosses RR tracks, and goes up a steep, short hill. He threw his chain at that point, and had to stop to fix it. He then had trouble clipping back into the pedals on the hill- also, yesterday was the first day he had ever used proper bike shoes.

After I finished, I rode the course backwards until I found him. As we made our way up the final hill before the finish, he said "THIS SUCKS." Music to my ears, as long as he felt good about the race after the finish- which he does. TTs, or most any race, is supposed to suck. If it didn't, you didn't go hard enough. His time was 1:05, had an average power of 180w, and speed of 17.0. That's for someone who, while athletic, does zero sustained effort training and hasn't been on a TT bike in 8 months. He finished in 2nd place in the under-18, and walked away with a $30 gift card for Beans! That's more than I can say! As for next week, he definitely still wants to do the Cape TT. That's good news.

Very proud Papa here.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Unofficial Maine Sprint Triathlon Series: Race 1 (Polarbear)

Congrats to all of those who competed today at the Polarbear, the first race in the series. I've figured out the first edition of the scoring system:
1. Races must have a run of shorter than 4 miles.
2. To be ranked, you must do at least four races (currently 11 on the schedule). You also need to place in the top 10 in at least one of the four races.
3. Your top four scores will be used.
4. The season is worth 1,000 points times the number of races. The points awarded to each race will be determined by the level of competitiveness. This can't be determined until the end of the season, so values will change. The more competitive a race, the more points it is worth.
5. Now we get complicated. Finishing times matter. First, for each race, I'll calculate the average time (down to the second) for those finishers in the rankings. That time is awarded points based on the points awarded to the race divided by the number of participants in the race who are in the rankings. (1,000 points divided by 10 participants = 100 points) Second, I calculate the standard deviation of the same group of times. One SDev away from the average is worth two times the points awarded (200 points). I then calculate the point value of each second by dividing the average points by the SDev (100 / 92 = 1.088).
6. If a participant's resulting score is negative, they get a zero.

Again, this is subject to change.

After the first race, Polarbear, here are the standings:

C Sterling 279
Y White 200
A Cox 179
A Bancroft 162
J Mahoney 70
K Abbott 70
E Jacobson 46
S Cimino 30
A Viara 0
E Hatton 0

M Caiazzo 315
O Lisa 171
B Hellstedt 145
D Welling 139
J Huckins 95
J Fisher 69
T Mitchell 59
S Tenney 50
D Vaillancourt 0
J Small 0

Today, Caiazzo and Sterling blew away the fields, winning by 2:12 and 2:53 over the second place finishers. As a result, threw the curve. That caused the 9th and 10th place men and women to not gain any points.

Race Report: Polarbear Sprint

Triathlon is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you're going to get until you bite into one.

The season got underway today with the Polarbear at Bowdoin College. It's always great to see all of the familiar faces you haven't seen since last fall. And it's funny how, even after all of the races we've done over the years, the butterflies were very apparent for everyone. Everyone else looks to be in great shape and we hear training has been going well. So even with a short race like this, you know it's going to hurt. If you don't turn yourself inside out, you can easily lose a bunch of places.

One of the big stories for me today was all of the mistakes I made. First, I got up plenty early this morning, but was late picking up Nick, who slept over at a friend's house last night. So that put me about 20 minutes behind where I wanted to be and caused me to limit my warmup. Second, I was late getting down to the pool, and ended up in the very first lane, against the wall. Knucklehead. I hate swimming against a wall, and having someone in the other half of the lane made it even worse. And third, I racked my bike on the wrong side. I started out on the correct side, but it seemed a bit crowded. The other side was wide open, so I swapped over. Idiot. When I came out of the pool and into T1, I couldn't find my bike- it seemed like an eternity to find it in it's correct spot, but in reality was probably just 10 seconds or so.

Now to the race- The swim almost seemed too comfortable. Was I working hard enough? Am I just slow today and there isn't much I can do about it? Is my day over? Dealing with the side wall was a pain. I didn't want to get too close, but had to look out for the other guy in my lane, even though I lapped him around the 300 ys mark. It seemed like every turn was awkward. Sighting the end was also difficult. Even though the Bowdoin pool isn't 50 meters long the other way, they have lanes painted on the bottom with crosses to mark where turns would be. I was swimming directly over the crosses, and for some odd reason, they threw me for a loop. Anyway, I just tried to stay smooth. I had no idea where others were because I was so focused on all of the walls around me. I also lost count at about 200 yds. Then probably around 400, I saw Mike C, who was on the far side of the next lane, coming into the wall as I was pushing off. He easily leads me in practice these days unless it's a real sprint set. I figured he was about to lap me, which would have confirmed a really lousy swim. Instead, he was actually just behind me, which I discovered as I entered T1. Good stuff.

After the above noted terrible transition, I set out on the bike and actually felt pretty smooth. The watts were there- I seemed to be around 280 to 310 most of the time, which I was pleased with. I also was able to put in extra power coming out of corners or up the shallow hills without it wearing on me. The bike is about 11 miles. Early on, I thought I easily passed Catherine Sterling. She's one of the real hot shots around here, and our times are generally pretty close. So I was pleased. I also knew I was chasing Jeff Small who's been working real hard at IMLP training and is a very strong swimmer. I kept looking and looking, but didn't see him until somewhere in the middle. When I caught him, I wanted to put him away so he wouldn't have a chance of catching me on the run. Remember, he ran away from me a couple of months ago in a 5K. As I passed, I saw the real Catherine, and knew at that point I might see her again later in the race. Boy, was I right. Doug Welling passed me, and I did a pretty good job staying with him for a good 5 miles or so. Then Brett Hellstedt passed me and they took off.

As I was slipping on my sneakers in T2, Jeff Fisher racked his bike just opposite me. This guy has had a great winter of training. Even though the focus has been on the bike, he recently went under 19 for a 5K. Knowing this meant a tough run, I said, "Oh Jeff, why do you have to do this to me?" I ran out of T2 and caught up with a guy (Ted Mitchell) I didn't recognize. He was 39, looked fit, and was obviously on my level when you combine the swim and bike. I didn't force the run like I usually do and instead tried to stay smooth. The turnover was pretty good, and although I was working hard, it felt reasonably comfortable. I figured I would really need something in reserve for when Jeff came up. I stayed on Ted's shoulder for about a 1/2 mile, then took the lead. He stayed right on my shoulder, until just before we entered the woods when he passed. Soon into the woods, Jeff passed us and looked really strong. He put about 10 yards on Ted, who had about 5 yards on me. We exited the woods (we're a bit past 1/2 way), and Ted took some water. At the same time, he slowed a bit, and I thought he might be suffering too much. I closed the gap, and stayed just a couple of yards behind him for a while.

As we entered the woods again, which is a sweeping 180 degree turn, I saw Catherine just behind. Damn. Damn. Damn. Then the psychoanalysis started. Wow, she's running well. I've outrun her before, so do it again. She must be in good shape. Can't be girled. You know, there's no shame in losing to her- she's one of the best around. That chatter continued the length of the woods, and I thought I started hearing her behind me. When we came out of the woods for the final time, with just 200 yards left, I peeked and saw I had about 8 yards on her. Fine. I'll go. I put in a surge for about 15 seconds, peeked again, saw she wasn't any closer, so I kept up the speed and finished six seconds ahead of her.

At this point, the results seem to have many errors- too many to list here. I realize triathlons involve many logistics, and things can go wrong, but it sure is frustrating when the timing is wrong- especially when we had chips on! I think I ended up 8th OA and 1st in AG. I feel good about the effort and execution, other than the stupid mistakes I already mentioned. Strangely, the one word I would use to describe it is smooth. The effort was very even, and I think fast enough given where I am in training.

The next race is in two weeks- Crank the Kanc TT. Then the next day is the Freeport TT which I'll do with Nick. The following weekend, the Sunday of Memorial Day, we will both do the Cape TT at 7:30, then I'll drive back to Falmouth to do a 4 mi road race at 10. The next week is a biggie- Mooseman, the only Oly distance I'll do other than Worlds.

It's good to be underway again.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Introducing the Unofficial Maine Sprint Triathlon Series

I recently wrote an admittedly fatigue induced post that included a missive on the discrimination that exists in our sport against the sprint distance. It's generally used as an introductory stepping stone, or by the more recreational participants. Let me get one thing absolutely clear- I admire both groups. Those that go on to longer and longer races and training devote a great deal of time and energy to the sport, and may be more naturally inclined to succeed at the longer distances. I also admire the less serious among us. I'm an advocate of any type of exercise. It's great for many, many reasons.

This series, however, is geared towards a narrower population. It's for those folks who want to excel at the sprint distance; those who want to go really hard for about 60 (+/-) minutes. It's a pace faster than you'd consider for an Oly distance race- one that is near 100% for the entire time and pays attention to the little things that might save a few seconds here and there.

At this point, I'm very open to any and all suggestions. For a race to qualify, the maximum run is 4 miles. I'm aware of the following- Polarbear, Bethel, Urban Epic, CELT, Pirate, Fireman, Pumpkinman, Colby and Norway. What am I missing? I'm happy to include other races if that's desired. For an athlete to qualify, they need to do at least four races, and place in the top 10 overall for men or women in at least one of the races. I know that narrows the field, but I don't want the recordkeeping to become a second job for me. As for scoring, I haven't thought about that yet. But I'll try to incorporate the following:

1) It will place greater emphasis on those races with more competition- which means that the "value" of races will likely change during the season.

2) It will try to account for times, not just places. If triathlete A beats B by 30 seconds one day but loses by 2 minutes another, B has the advantage.

3) Top four races count. That's a significant commitment, but is also generous enough to allow for different schedules- it's less than half of the races offered.

Notice that this is an Unofficial series. I have no affiliation with any of the race organizers, and reserve the right to change the makeup, methodology or scoring system at any time. For that matter, if it's too much to do, I might just drop it altogether. That isn't my intention, but I need to leave myself an out.

Again, the purpose here is to bring more attention to those who are fast, like to go fast, and work at going fast. Pacing, endurance and nutrition have little to do with these races. If you're concerned about your heart rate, this isn't for you. This is for those who are willing to throw caution to the wind for one hour.

There's one other important component. In 2011 and 2012, the USAT National Championships will be held in Burlington, Vermont. They will have both Olympic and Sprint distances, both of which determine the teams for the World Championships. It would be great to have strong contingents for both races. I can easily see how the "better" athletes will do the Oly race. So if we get really good at the sprint, we could have a great showing in the Sprint race.

Fast is good. Fast is fun.

Training Rethink- Follow Up

I was blown away by the thoughtful responses to my post last week. It was really interesting to see that people picked up on so many different aspects of it. I even had a couple of folks send me thoughtful emails. So here were the takeaways-

1) I will feel lousy in training in the week after a vacation, so shouldn't make any really important decisions during that time.
2) Having said that, I've been thinking along these lines for several weeks now. It's also consistent with my overall training beliefs.
3) It's critical that I enjoy what I'm doing.
4) I need to throw down a GREAT race in Budapest. And have fun doing it.
5) A change in the future is probably a good idea- at least for several months- starting after Worlds.
6) Sprint triathlons, because they are still about 60 minutes, can't be considered true sprints- there is still an endurance component.
7) Doing sprints takes much less training time, involves more intensity, and is more fun.

So now what? Tomorrow I start the new routine. It's pretty much what I laid out last time, except I'm moving the Wednesday swim to Thursday. That will be my only double of the week. Last Friday, I didn't work out in the morning, just a noon swim. And guess what? I had all sorts of energy, swam much faster than earlier in the week, and had staying power to do the entire workout as planned. Funny how that works. By the way, the main set was a good one-
12 x 2 min- 4x150, same times (1:52ish); 1 min rest; 4x125 descend (1:36 to 1:33, not great); 2 min rest with a 50; 4x100 hard, holding the same time (1st 3 were 1:10, #4 was 1:08). I still have a long ways to go, but it felt good.

Yesterday I rode with three others who are way over my head, including Bob and two guys from OA. It hurt at times, but that's how you get better. The hills were ridiculous. They absolutely left me far behind. At one point, I was side by side Scott going the same speed. He was at 280w, about 30 below FTP, and I was at 300, about 25 above my FTP. So it took more work in absolute and relative terms to go the same speed. I guess that means it comes down to body weight- I'd guess I'm about 10 lbs. heavier. I don't think anyone would call me overweight, however. I read a story that said the best climbers in the world weigh 2 lbs. per inch of height. That means I need to lose about 30 lbs. Yeah, right. Maybe I just need to find a course that's all downhill. By the way, the Budapest course is flat.

Polarbear sprint on Saturday. The goal is to have fun. I hope I can remember that as I chase and get chased. It'll be great to see everyone again.

Thanks again to those who responded last week. It helped!