Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back At It

I spent the rest of Sunday and all day Monday limping around and feeling the toll that the Horsetooth Half Marathon extracted from my body. A couple of trips down the stairs brought me to the realization that the biggest strain on my legs had been running down hills. However, that is not to say that running up them didn’t also create some soreness.

While I was not worried, there was a nagging question in the back of my mind about whether or not I’d be ready to resume training this week. Just after 5:00 Tuesday evening, I got to find out.

The ride out from my neighborhood to the E-470 bike path and west from there is something of a staple for me. While I’m not crazy about riding on paths, I’m less crazy about worrying about cars during the afternoon rush hour. I might as well be invisible for all the care the average driver shows the average road cyclist.

During the week before the half marathon, I took it easier with just a couple of swims and one bike ride. Though my season is triathlon-focused, I still think there is a lot of value in being well rested before any big event. Now that it is behind me, more of my focus is going into being ready for HITS in July. That’s not to say I won’t ease up a few days before the races that are happening between now and then, but I’m still planning on pushing myself to be ready to spend something like six and a half hours on the course.

And the results of my Tuesday afternoon ride? Pretty good, actually. Despite feeling a little sore and tired, I managed to maintain a 17.5 mph moving speed and attack hills without feeling like my quads were going to explode. Even better, I felt okay after the ride with no signs that I pulled something or exhausted myself. That leaves me feeling ready for more work as the week goes on including intervals on the run and the bike, two swims and another 40 mile ride on Sunday. Oh yeah, and a couple of strength work outs thrown in just for good measure!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Race Report: 2012 Horsetooth Half Marathon

Having read my last couple of posts, it would not be hard to surmise that I had high hopes for a PR at the Horsetooth Half Marathon. While facing some steep hills in the beginning the course has an overall net elevation loss. I figured, not unreasonably, that if the hills didn’t throw me off pace, then I’d be able to run the rest of the course faster and turn in something along the lines of 2:05.

Sunday morning broke sunny but cool with no discernible wind at the starting area next the Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins. My brother, sister-in-law and I arrived about 30 minutes before the start which was enough time to hit the porta-potty, drop off our bags and do a short warm-up jog. A local Boy Scout troop was transporting bags to the finish and a big shout-out to them for a job well done. It’s nice to have a place to keep your post-race gear during a race, and even nicer to have it transported to the finish on a point-to-point course. This was also done free of charge.

There were definitely some stragglers still trying to park as we approached the 8:30 start time but I don’t believe that was the fault of the race organizers. If you are doing a race, especially one with something over 2000 registrants, don’t show up 10 minutes before the start.

While delayed, we were underway at 8:36 which I consider to be a completely acceptable delay. The start was slight up hill for the first third of a mile or so and then the first of a number of steep hills began. Initially, it wasn’t bad: more of ramp than a hill. Then we turned the corner and started into the really steep stuff. Conversations stopped and people began huffing and puffing as the grade took its toll. It was at this point that I realized I had overestimated how fast I could attack this slopes. I had planned for my pace never to fall below 11:00 per mile during the steepest hills but it was over 12:00 in several places. I just had to accept that given my heart rate jumping into the 160 zone. Pushing harder would have only pushed me into Z4 and that would have done more harm. As it turned out, I had underestimated how fast I could run down the hills and I was fairly sure I was making up for any lost time.

As we crossed the first damn, we had gained over 300 feet in altitude from the starting line. My focus was, and needed to be on the race, but it would have been nice to be able to snap a picture or two from this vantage point. It’s truly remarkable what a view you have looking out across nearly all of Fort Collins from this perch. High as it was, we still hadn’t reached the top yet.

The biggest hill on the whole course starts at about 1.2 miles in and you gain about 255 vertical feet over the span of a little over a half mile for an average grade of 8.6%. However, at places, it was an even steeper 9.2%. Even in your most upright position, it’s so steep that most of what you see in front of your face is the road. That’s just as well because gazing up this hill could be frustrating. Once you’ve crested this sucker, you’ve climbed the highest and steepest, but not yet the last hill on the course.

Considering the challenges I had already faced in the first two miles, I still felt okay. Heat was proving not to be a factor and while elevated, my heart rate felt under control. Running down hill beats you up a little bit, but I was able to recover the cardio some and keep a sub 9:00 pace for long stretches. I took water at the first of four stations and in retrospect that proved to be too few. I also should mention here a little something about race etiquette. Stopping in front of the water station is NOT COOL! I would imagine that any readers of this site already know so this, so sorry for preaching to the choir, but if you plan on stopping or even walking through a water station, you need to take your cup, keep moving and then get out of the way. Hundreds of your fellow-participants are behind you and your need to treat the station like it’s a bar slows their momentum. Okay, putting away the soap box now!

Another big hill began at 3.85 miles and crested at 4.41. It was obviously not as long nor nearly as steep and I was still feeling pretty good as I hit the downhill side. In fact, the next couple of miles were going to be all downhill and I hit them ahead of the pace-per-mile that would have me on target for a 2:05 finish. I was starting to feel a little tired, but I took comfort in the fact that I was running ahead of the pace.

At 6.9 miles, you hit the last really tough hill on the course. It’s about 4.6% but by now, you’re not nearly as fresh as the start and it’s nearly half mile length was a very tough climb. It also has a fairly sharp left turn so you can’t see the summit when you start. Like all the other hills, however, it was followed by a downhill and again, I picked up speed and recovered my heart rate. I was feeling a little more tired, but now I had gone over eight miles and other than one slight rise, there were no more hills.

A left turn puts you onto a street called Overland Trail for less than a quarter mile before you enter the Poudre Trail bike path which is the mostly flat stretch that runs east to downtown Fort Collins and the finish. In my pre-race planning, I viewed this as a good opportunity to run at or maybe even slight ahead of the 9:30 pace that would have me on track for a finish within my goal time. And it’s here that I made a mistake in my strategy.

I approached this race with a fair amount of concern for the hills. They’re steep, they’re long and they are frequent with four of them within the first eight miles. I was concerned about how spent I might feel after getting to the top. Would my slow pace up the hill be followed by not-much-better run back down because I was so winded? Would I pull a muscle? Would it cause pain in my knees, shins or Achilles tendon? None of those things happened so I felt like I was going to be on track. It might be close, but I figured I could always pour on a little more speed at the end if I had to.

As I ran east into something of a breeze, I began to feel more than just tired. My legs were very sore and muscles were tight. It was as though I had stopped running and allowed them to tighten up. My heart rate also started increasing into the upper 150’s. I just put my head down and kept running into the wind, telling myself that if I could just stay below a 10:00 pace, I’d still have a shot at my goal or at the very least a PR. Through miles 9, 10 and 11, that seemed to work. I ran each slower than planned but still under ten minutes. But as I approached mile 12, I was feeling pretty awful. I had slowed my pace, but my heart rate was still high. With about a mile to go, I slowed to a brisk walk and the relief I felt made it clear it was the right decision.

For the last mile, I ran walked and then ran again, finally finishing up at 2:09:50. Was I disappointed to have missed my goal? Sure. But not overly so. I know that I left just about all I had on the course. Had I tried to push on and run, I doubt I would have still hit a PR and it didn’t seem worth injury or illness to shave a couple of minutes off my time. The race was also a wake-up call for HITS and has me rethinking my strategy for the run portion of that event.

So here’s the review of the race:

The bad:

On-Course Support: Four aid stations are probably not enough. The day was cool, but it could have easily been much warmer and dehydration could have become a serious issue. As it was, I found myself very dehydrated. That’s my responsibility, but even if I had been taking to cups instead of one, a few degrees could have overwhelmed someone like me. What’s more, my sister-in-law who was around 15 minutes behind me actually had to pull it out of the hands of a volunteer who said she was running out of cups. If I were a race director, I could not imagine having to instruct my volunteers to never refuse water to a participant so I can’t really blame them for that. But running out of cups? Come on. This race has been running for many years and this is the stuff of logistics 101.

Post-Race Support: Every finisher is given a pint glass from the key sponsor, New Belgium Brewery and you were able to take yours and fill it from a multi-faucet pipe as much as you want. No Gatorade buckets. However, these same glasses allowed earlier participants to wipe out all of the sports drink. Keep in mind, this was after a race that did not have enough water or sports drink on the course. The food was also mostly depleted by the time I got there. It sort of seemed like they were expecting a smaller crowd.

Results: As of this writing, it has been well over 24 hours since my finish and I cannot find results anywhere on the website nor have they been sent to me in the form of an e-mail. Keep in mind, this one was electronically timed with chips attached to the bib. I’ve gotten results faster from races that were using the old-fashioned tear tag system. That those results, in an at least preliminary form, are not up yet is disgraceful. They should have been up by last night.

The good:

Pre-Race Information: The website for the event had all of the information one could need a detailed map and elevation profile. Other details on transportation, aid stations, prizes and bag storage were easy to find and I felt like I had a good idea about the race before I registered. Registration itself was done via which is not my favorite vendor, but it went easily enough.

The Course: This one is really tough, but I see that as more positive than negative. Despite the steep hills, all running was done on paved, smooth surfaces and did not contain annoyances like big rocks, stairs or slippery surfaces. Parts of it were open to traffic, but major choke points and spectator locations were all closed off. At the one place where the bike path crossed a street, a signal man was there and he very correctly gave priority to the runners.

Post-Race Party: This was pretty good. Every participant was allowed to enter a beer garden where volunteers from New Belgium were serving a variety of their brews in the aforementioned pint glasses. Non-runners could also get one for a $2 donation. The beers they brew are among the best in the craft-brewing industry and I have to admit, a pint of Fat Tire Ale tasted pretty good after my run.

Finishers Medal: I've got a lot of medals, but this is the first one to commemorate the course by etching the altitude onto it. Very cool:

Point-to-point Transportation: In other races I’ve done where start and finish are not the same place, organizers have used school buses to get you back to the start where you presumably have parked. That’s always been fine with me. Just get me back to where I need to be. This one used comfortable, air-conditioned motor coaches, ours driven by a friendly professional. I felt pretty spent by the time we boarded the bus for the ride back and I was glad I wasn’t packed onto a school bus. It was a nice touch.

Probably the ultimate review of how good a race was is on whether or not I would run it again. In this case, I’m inclined to say yes. I’m feeling especially sore today, but I’d like to go back next year and run a better race. Now that I know what to expect, I think I will. I do hope that the slow results are just a glitch for the current year and that lessons will be learned regarding water and nutrition supply along the route. If the organizers can address those items, I think they’ll have an excellent race.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ready to Race!

I just checked the forecast for Fort Collins on Sunday morning and it is a beaut! Temps will range between 53* and 62* during the time I’ll be racing and the winds are going to be all of 3mph.

Every race has its own inherent obstacles. At the Rock & Roll, it was crowds. At the Rock Canyon, it was...well rocks. The Horsetooth Half has that 9% grade in the first two miles. But, if the forecast holds, I won’t be dealing with 30mph wind gusts in my face during the long flat stretch on the second half of the course. I won’t have to watch my footing on ice or snow.

What it all ultimately means is that, more so than not, it’s up to me. If I’m properly hydrated, adequately nourished and keep my focus on my pacing, I’ve got the opportunity for a pretty good day.

Race day is almost here. Let’s do this!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Feeling the On-Coming Season

The 2012 triathlon season is approaching with the metaphorical rumble of a freight train that is out of sight, but getting closer. The rumbles are taking the form of e-mail communications from race directors, the ever diminishing countdown and the proximity of my current position on my training calendar, relative to my events.

Beyond these external signs, I can feel myself becoming nervous and anxious and it is a both new and familiar experience. New in that this is the first time I’m anticipating repeating events from last year. I’m no longer a rookie, as it were. Familiar in that I recall feeling this same mix of desire to get started with nervousness about how I’ll perform. It’s a feeling that preceded every race I did last year.

With these feelings in mind, it’s time to consider what I’m expecting out of 2012. These may change, but here’s where I stand right now:

1) Improved times in both repeat events. The SOST is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison in that last year it was a duathlon. In that regard, I’m hoping to ride and run faster than I did last year. The same holds true for Greeley. Last year, I was second fastest in my age group for the swim, but I feel like I rode too slowly on the bike.

2) Faster transitions. I learned a few things last year. For example, I wear my singlet under my wetsuit and don’t bother trying to put it on in T1. I also learned that it makes more sense to have the bike facing out. This one is variable since the size of transitions and the distance from the previous event is can be a short sprint or a quarter mile run, but it will be a focus. I’m still not so sure about a flying mount, but I’m thinking about it.

3) More demanding training. The only way to get used to riding in the mountains is to ride in the mountains. I’ve got two races that involve significant climbs in mountainous terrain: Boulder Peak and HITS. While I enjoyed the quiet open back roads around Bennett last year, that won’t serve me so well when I’m riding up a 10+% grade this summer.

4) Finishing a 70.3. This is the real wild card. I’m doing a half marathon this Sunday and have done two since the end of last season. I’ve ridden 56 miles and easily swam 1.2 or more in the pool. Individually, I feel good about any one of these events. Putting them all together over the better part of six and a half or seven hours? It will be interesting, if nothing else!

All of this is going to make me tired and sore. It’s going to tax my leisure time. I’ll be hot, winded, exhausted and depleted. God help me how I love it so!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2012 Goals Update #1

I’m in the sixth week of my plan that culminates (though actually does not end) on week 20. That being the case, I’ve had enough time pass to gather a few data points on my goals. Since it is so early, the data are, well….a little choppy still.

The best news is in the water where I feel I’m swimming as well as I have in my entire life:

Biking is going well, but there are a lot of trainer rides in there as well so that does not really give an apples to apples comparison. I need a power meter but one expensive piece of equipment at a time.

And running is all over the place due to a short run I had last week to make sure my new shoes were going to be okay. I’m running in a pair of Nikes for the first time in years.

So for the three disciplines of triathlon, I’m fairly pleased though cautiously so. It’s going to be interesting when I start doing things like interval runs on the track and bike rides in excess of 50 miles (to say nothing of riding on a new bike). Unfortunately, my main spot for open water swimming is not going to be available until May 19 and I have other plans that day so my first swim will actually be an event. I’m really hoping that I’ll see those faster times once I’m in the wetsuit.

The season is getting close! I’m excited about it! More on that in the next post.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Walking down the BolderBoulder Memory Lane

As you may recall from my post last year, the BolderBoulder is without question my favorite foot race. It’s also the one I’ve done more than any other. This coming Memorial Day will mark my 15th race going back to 1983 when I ran it as a 13 year-old.

Fifteen out of 30 races going back to 1983 you ask? Well, there was a very long gap in there between 1991 and 2005 when I was running almost not at all. I did a couple of 5K’s and made a few half-hearted attempts to train, but I lost my interest. Hence, the gap. There were also odd years like 1989 when I just didn’t train very hard and 2010 when I was recovering from foot surgery. But last year I was back and with my registration just this week, I start a new streak.

I recently discovered that they have kept excellent records back to 1981 with only a few gaps. As a result, I have managed to find the finishing time of every race I’ve done.

Getting data from races within the last seven or eight years is less of a big deal in the era of chip timing and results that can be texted to you, even as you race. But pulling my time from a cold, rainy day in 1983? That’s amazing. Being able to confirm I was as fast as I thought I was in 1987? Way off the cool scale!

If you’ve run the race in the past, the link to their website with the historical results is here:

Perhaps you’ll enjoy reminiscing about past results as much as I have.

DOMS Update

Just a quick note to say that my bout with what I think was delayed-onset muscle soreness seems to have cleared up on its own.

Resting both Sunday and Monday left my legs feeling fresher and up to a 20 mile ride on Tuesday.

Cycling Kit: I Don’t Get It

You’ve seen him or her out there. You’re doing a training ride and you see that person decked out in some really sharp looking gear with the logo of some cycling-related company splashed across the jersey and maybe down the leg of the shorts. The helmet may be logo-free, but it is probably closely color-coordinated with the rest of the kit.

If you’re like me, you probably think “nice get-up” and then don’t give it a lot more thought. But what if you did? Would you ask the questions I’m asking?

Here’s some food for thought:

1) Why are you paying to advertise for someone? To some extent, we all are. I wear a lot of Pearl Izumi gear and you’ll see their logo on the shorts and on the shoulders of the jersey. Likewise, my bike has its brand and model splashed on the side. But why would I advertise for Garmin, Hammer, Polar, Gatorade, or much of anyone else unless they were paying me to do so. More over, why would I pay them? On a recent trip to a bike shop, I was asked if I wanted to buy their kit. You mean after I’m dropping three grand on a bike you want me to pay you a fee to advertise your shop?

2) Are you being paid to wear that stuff? Okay, it’s not only pro-athletes that get endorsement deals. To promote their brands companies like the ones I mentioned above do occasionally pay folks or at least provide the gear for free. But I see far too many people out there in full kit with sponsor’s names blazing for all of them to have been the lucky recipients of an endorsement.

3) Are you a professional or Olympic team hopeful? If I lived in Boulder rather than Parker, I suppose that would be a question to which the answer would be yes more often. Still, how many “wannabes” are riding around the flatirons hoping to be confused with one of the pros that train and make their home there?

4) Do you think it makes you look cooler? Huh. If you say so. It’s probably wise to remember that it’s a fine line between cool and douche bag. That line get’s crossed more often than you think.

5) Do you think it makes you better? Ah. I see that a lot. It’s not the hours and hours of training, the getting up before dawn to go swim, the ride in the driving wind or the run in the heavy snowfall. Nope. It’s the gear! You’re better because you can afford to be!

Me? I think I’ll keep wearing the more or less generic jersey’s I find on sale on Amazon. Unless, of course, I find one that makes me look cooler or faster!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Do I have DOMS?

DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a term I don’t recall having heard before recently reading a reference to it in the latest issue of Bicycling Magazine. That article was about whether or not compression clothing is doing any good at helping recovery.

I’m not going to go into the merits of compression (though I think there are some) but rather discuss how I came to my self-diagnosis.

Last Saturday I went for my third in a series of interval rides designed to improve my overall speed on race days. These have been more than just rides with specific segments for pushing hard and then recovering. This is heart-rate based recovery so as my HR came back down, I was ready for the next set. It has also been a good opportunity to start doing more riding in aero position—something I’ve largely neglected on the trainer during the off-season.

The course I rode was fairly flat and straight allowing me to ramp up my speed to over 22mph between rests except when I was riding back into the wind. I don’t have a power meter to confirm this, but I suspect I was putting in just as much if not more effort on those into-the-wind sets but obviously, speed suffers, even when I’m in good position.

The upshot of all of this is that I came back home feeling spent like I always do at the end of a hard work-out, but not totally wrung-out either. I certainly felt much stronger than after the 56 mile ride I had done three weeks earlier. That was good because the next day I had plans for a 10 mile long run as part of my preparation for the Horsetooth Half Marathon which is now less than two weeks away.

On Sunday morning, I found myself sore and very tired. I had planned to get up around 8:00 and go bang out the run and come back to have Easter brunch. But I felt so tired that I turned off the alarm and did not wake up for another 90 minutes! I’m no stranger to sleeping in, but that’s very late for me. When I got up, my legs hurt. Not a sharp pain like you might experience with a muscle pull or a bruise from a contact injury, but more of a dull, tired feeling. Knowing clearly that I’d probably do more harm than good from a ten-miler, I called it off and just rested.

Unfortunately, the problem persisted into Monday so that’s when I did a little research. I found a good article in Running Times online. Like a lot of people, my gut instinct told me the issue was lactic acid. However, intuitively, I knew that could not be right because lactate dissipates within an hour or so of the completion of exercise. DOMS is actually related to micro-tears or, to be more accurate, trauma to the muscle cell membrane. In other words, it’s more physical than chemical. This description from the article is an apt one:

This micro trauma creates tiny micro tears in the muscle fibers, which leads to inflammation, and thus soreness, fatigue, stiffness and reduced range of motion.”

Soreness and fatigue. I definitely felt both. So the next question was what to do about it. One suggestion is to apply the R.I.C.E. method (also known as P.R.I.C.E.) which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. (The P refers to protection but I think that applies more to an acute injury like a sprain).

The R was taken care of taking both Sunday and Monday as rest days. The Ice in this case actually refers to an ice bath. We’re not talking about a sore knee but general soreness in the quads, hamstrings and glutes. Might do some good, but the evidence is anecdotal at best. And finally there is elevation. Same issue as the ice and no, I’m not going to stand on my head to keep both legs completely elevated.

One other way to treat DOMS is in the prevention. I feel like I do a fairly good job of warming up before doing a hard work-out, but it’s possible I was still a little cool on the Saturday ride. The temperature was in the low 60’s, but the wind made that feel colder. I probably needed some more spinning before that first set. I’ll have to be more cognizant of warming up on future work outs.

My real hope is that the R in the R.I.C.E. method will return the greatest results and that my legs will be feeling fresh and stronger soon. I’ll post how it all worked out when I know.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Interval Rides

The last three Saturdays have found me on the bike doing what I can to improve my riding for the upcoming season. It’s a little hard to believe but race number one, the Summer Open Sprint is only five weeks from this coming Saturday. Crazy!

While the bike was probably the part I enjoyed the most in my races last year, it’s also been my weakest event. Indeed, in my two Olympic events, the Creek Streak and the TriRock San Diego, I only averaged about 18.9 and 17.2 miles per hour, respectively. That’s not bad for a first season, but at the same time, I see some opportunities to improve my pace and therefore my overall time.

A key point of the book Heart Rate Training talks about the usefulness of doing interval training. The basic idea is to go harder than you would expect to be able to sustain over the full distance of a race and then build recovery intervals into your set. During those intervals, your heart recovers to the lower end of Z1 and then you’re ready for the next set.

I’ve been reading about this and planning for it during much of the off-season. On Saturday, March 24th, I took to Cherry Creek State Park for my first ride:

The park is relatively flat so it’s a good place to go at a true speed without hills factoring in too much. There are few, but they are not terribly steep and are short. When I did the Creek Streak at this location last summer, I found the cycle course to be not as challenging as I expected.

A factor that can’t be selected, however, is weather. Specifically, high winds, which have come back to Colorado as they do every spring. My day started out pleasant enough, but the wind soon made riding at my targeted speed of 20mph pretty much out of the question:

Last Saturday I was back up in Weld County. It was a cooler day than either of the last two and I had hoped that wind would not be a factor, but alas, it was. The back roads were relatively free of traffic which made the ride more comfortable. But the wind out of the east was pretty strong at points and again, it kept me below my target pace on most of my intervals:

The video below is of the second ride on March 31. While Cherry Creek is relatively flat, the road is bumpy (as you’ll see). That definitely takes its toll over the course of the ride.

Thanks for reading!