Blogs tagged with "cycling"
|My 2013 (new) Specialized Tarmac (my husband Jim referred to this
photo as "transportation upgrades" - the 2014 Outback replaced
my 1999 Rav4 totaled when I was rear-ended last year)
I bought a new bike. Not because I needed one (although this can always be argued). And not because I wanted one (although doesn't everyone?). No I just wanted to find out what it would be like to be a real road biker for a change. And - because I want to get faster and I found out the best way to do that.
I'm back to my old tricks - gathering shreds of comparison data for confidence-building before Ironman St. George. A month ago, I posted a blog comparing last year's CompuTrainer data to this year's data for the Ironman St. George real course video. I rode the simulated course several times last year to prepare for race day, and each time, I saw improvement. This year, I've done the same thing, but now that I've actually ridden the "real" course and know what to expect and what I'm capable of, I've been comparing this year's data to last year's data to get an even better idea of my preparedness.
|The view from our vacation|
This month, I was "forced" to use a few days of work vacation carried over from last year. It's weird to actually get vacation time, and I wasn't aware I even HAD it until late December. At that point, it was too late to use it. Besides, I was ridiculously busy at work during the December holidays (isn't everyone?). Using vacation time has not always been easy for me, and because I only received three days per year for the past five years, the time I DID take off was either to race or get out of town for a couple days. Faced with three days of use-or-lose time, I had NO idea what to do with it - indecision was compounded by the fact I was in the last two months of Ironman training.
My husband Jim and I tossed around many ideas - London, San Francisco, Cape Cod, Arizona. We finally decided that where we went had to meet the following criteria: (1) somewhere warm, (2) close enough to drive to bring my bike, and (3) there had to be a place to swim. Despite my pleading to Jim that Cape Cod in March would be AMAZING (not based on my own experience but on my reading of Henry Beston's The Outermost House), we opted for a place we could both enjoy for the first time: the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
|Cape Cod or Outer Banks?|
The Outer Banks would afford me my "Cape Cod fix" - they're both strips of land with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a bay on the other, mostly covered with sand and dunes. It would afford my aeronautical engineer husband a visit to the birthplace of aviation - Kill Devil Hills - where the Wright Brothers changed the world. Jim could fly his stunt kites (after all, the WIND is THE reason the Wright Brothers chose the area), and I could bike, run AND swim. This time, we also chose to "take a [real] vacation" by traveling during one of my recovery weeks - eliminating my need to be up by 5:00 am every day or feel guilty about spending the whole time trying to fit my workouts in.
|Soon to be shark bait|
Thus, it seems, when I don't worry about my workouts, I actually enjoy them. Or maybe it was just the change of scenery. When we woke up on Friday, the first athletic thing I HAD to do (and an obligation as a fish in a former life) was swim in the Atlantic Ocean. After almost freaking myself out by Googling "Outer Banks" and "sharks," (don't do it), my love of the Atlantic still won out - and besides, I felt the need to test my ability to persevere on May 5 in the frigid waters of Sand Hollow Reservoir in St. George. I donned my wetsuit - AND neoprene cap AND neoprene socks - and jumped in the extremely cold water. This resulted in instant disaster: two failed attempts to keep my face in the icy water for more than a minute, and I gave up. It was painfully cold - achy cold. Jim took out his phone and looked up the water temperature online - I assumed he would tell me it was in the 40s.
And that was the day I learned my temperature sensors were in desperate need of recalibration. Just up the coast, at Kitty Hawk, the ocean was 56 degrees F. Realizing it was time to "face" the facts, I reluctantly turned around and forced myself back in the water. About five minutes of swimming in that water gave me some new information - the aching pain in my face DID, indeed, go away. It was replaced by numbness.
The most bothersome effect of the cold, though, was losing control over my fingers. Numbness in my hands resulted in the inability to keep them in a paddle shape after 30 minutes. I decided to call it a day. Based on this swim, I predict that I COULD survive in St. George if the water were 56 degrees on race day (a very real possibility). However, just in case, I have resorted to prayer - for a six-week heatwave to hit southern Utah.
My second athletic endeavor was to run on the beach - one of my all-time favorite things to do. The only thing I did wrong was forget to bring sunscreen. And not wear my hat. My forehead and shoulders were therefore burnt to a crisp, which was advantageous in the greater scheme of things because they now matched the colors on my neck from my wetsuit chafing (yeah, that's from also forgetting to bring Body Glide).
|No explanation necessary|
By Saturday, the only athletic thing left to do was ride my bike, and since it was my "easy" week, I had only planned a three-hour workout. I got up early to avoid greatly impacting our vacation, and by the time I finished, I figured it would be just about time for breakfast. Before I left, I looked at the forecast to note the wind was from the south - and since there are only two direction options in the Outer Banks - either north or south, I (obviously) chose "into the wind." It would give me an opportunity to see Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the early morning light and hopefully get a glimpse - and photo - of one of its famous lighthouses along the way. Our tourist guide noted that the ride is "good for riders of all abilities" because there was only one hill, and it was man-made - the bridge.
|Bodie Island lighthouse|
It seemed like a match made in heaven: me, my bike, and two of my favorite things - bridges and lighthouses. I set out that morning with the excitement of a kid on an adventure. Seriously, after many months of tedious ironman training, it surprised me that I was still able to get "up" for a ride. It must mean that deep down I enjoy it, right?
My first observation was this: you know you're in trouble when the plants and grasses along your route are so badly windswept that they have been permanently bent in the direction opposite to the one in which you're riding. With only one quarter of the ride finished, my nerves were almost completely fried from non-stop fighting with the wind. The ridiculously flat road was beckoning for speed - it was taunting me! But the wind had other plans. Reaching a decent speed on the bike (I managed to hit 21 mph, big whoop) meant I had to force myself to remain the aero position. Don't get me wrong, this was excellent aero training for Ironman. But not so good for sightseeing - and yes, I DO enjoy looking at sand dunes.
You should also realize that the wind will be a factor in a place where all the telephone poles have to be anchored with guy-wires. And yet, when I think back to it, the most annoying thing of all was that the wind, at 8-10 mph, wasn't even blowing that hard! I stopped a couple times to take photos, but for the most part, the first half of my ride was basically 30 miles into the wind averaging a dismal pace of less than 19 mph. I KNEW the ride back would have to be somewhat faster - ok, I HOPED it would be faster because I didn't want to spend the rest of my (our) day sulking in my slowness.
|The one hill on route 12|
I decided to turn around when I reached 30 miles, just before reaching the town of Rodanthe, about an hour and forty minutes after I started.
The rest of our vacation was spent watching the Ohio State Buckeyes make it to the NCAA Basketball Final Four and enjoying local food and brews. All-in-all, it was not only a respite from work and working out hard, but it also renewed my faith that I still love my chosen sport(s). Now all I need to do is remind myself of that - on race day.
|The Wright Brothers proved anything is possible.|
|Time to put on my goggles and look at data.|
It's that time again - time to go all "mad scientist."
Choosing to do an early-season Ironman when you live in the northern U.S. is a huge commitment. It means many weekends of indoor long rides and runs. Mostly alone. It means if you run outside, you spend most of your time running in the dark. Alone. It means frozen hair after every swim. It means very few opportunities to race before the Ironman (unless you have the budget). And it means difficulty in simulating race conditions during training. But if you tough it out, you stand at that starting line knowing that you have developed not only physical strength, but a new degree of mental strength because of the harsh training conditions.
The difference this year is that I know what to expect from the terrain and the weather in St. George. This can be a blessing or a curse. I know how to race St. George, but now I have expectations for my performance. And despite a decent performance, things did go wrong last year - there's that problematic nutrition thing hovering over my head like a storm cloud.
On March 4, 2011, nine weeks before Ironman St. George 2011, I rode a loop of the Ironman St. George RacerMate Real Course Video. Saturday was March 3 - exactly nine weeks before Ironman St. George 2012. If I were to ride the Ironman St. George Real Course Video this past weekend, I would HAVE my one-to-one comparison. Same weekend, same course, in training for the same race - this would surely be excellent data to compare and draw conclusions from.
- I rode earlier in the day than I did last year (yep, the stats file was date- and time-stamped).
- I was not using the same nutrition regimen as last year - I have switched to Gu Roctane drink, and I am still in the process of determining my electrolyte needs with this new fuel.
- And finally, I was watching different movies. This year, as TV scheduling would have it, I was treated to Goodfellas, and I can't say this didn't affect my ride intensity - although I don't know what I watched last year or even if it was a gangster movie (which, I argue, trumps all film genres for long trainer sessions).
I was looking for notable differences. In the case of power and speed, I wanted the blue line (this year's ride) to be higher than the red line (last year's ride). And for heart rate and cadence, I wanted the opposite to be true. Although it wasn't overly notable, I was relatively successful in three of the statistics and horribly unsuccessful in one: heart rate.
The heart rate stat was confusing for more than one reason. While I was riding, my perceived exertion was relatively low but I noticed (and wondered why) my heart rate seemed high. I don't know if sustaining a higher heart rate (even with a lower perceived exertion) is something to worry about. I'm happy I could ride with my heart rate so high for so long and not be seriously affected by it, but I find myself wondering if it's a sign of overtraining - or something worse. What's more confusing is that usually my heart rate and cadence go hand in hand (pedal faster - heart rate goes up). This is the exact opposite of what happened in the two rides. I've also read that dehydration can raise your heart rate, so that's also an avenue to explore. I need to figure out what's going on with my heart rate before race day.
Another confusing stat was the lower average power output and higher speed over the last ten or so downhill miles of the course. Both Jim and I got hung up on that one. If you think about it, in the real world, coasting downhill is speed without power, right? But on the trainer, there must be power to make the wheel move at all and more power = more speed, right. I feel like an idiot here, but it's baffling me. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense - higher speed at same power (= higher gear?) = good, right? Ok, now that I wrote it down.. the more I think about it, the less it makes sense. If anyone has a clue, help me out. I was calibrating the CT every half-hour - so, unless it's broken (eek), that wasn't the problem.
The other thing I learned on this ride was more about my nutrition requirements (and, something that might back-up the theory of elevated heart rate due to dehydration). After the one IMSG loop was finished, I kept riding because I had a longer ride planned. I did no additional electrolyte supplementation because I needed a starting point for the Roctane. Near the end of the ride, I got really nauseous. I took two Thermolytes - it took a few minutes to recover, but I did recover, and then I felt much better. In my upcoming long rides, I will further refine these needs, and, perhaps, warm up the temperature in the room because, on race day in southern Utah, it could be 90 degrees or worse - and the heat seems to be where everything falls apart nutritionally for me.
Now.. about that swimming and running data...
|Cleveland roads in February|
If you've been reading my blog, you know I've spent more time than most contemplating pre-race anxiety, mid-race splits, and post-race fallout inside the blue translucent walls of a porta-john. But on Saturday, during my longest bike ride since Kona, I found an unexpected advantage of what's inside those plastic walls - and it's likely I never would have finished my ride without it. And oddly enough, it had nothing to do with internal distress of any sort.. well, unless you count panic as internal distress.
I scheduled my first outdoor long ride of the year for last Saturday because it was the best weather day of the weekend. By "best," I mean the forecast high was 40 degrees with only a 20% chance of precipitation (in the form of snow). I had an underlying goal to get my first 100-miler in before the end of February. And after several mind-numbing 4- to 5-hour rides on the CompuTrainer, I knew the only way it would happen was if I could get outside. If the temperature hit at least 40, I would grit my teeth and bear it.
There was one major fault in my logic: I didn't consider the wind.
You may ask: how does a person in Cleveland (in winter) NOT consider the wind? I don't know. Seriously. Call it a momentary lapse or just general scatterbrainedness, but I completely disregarded the wind as a factor in my decision to ride on Saturday. I dressed for sub-30 degrees with windstopper mittens and jacket, and I started out with the wind and uphill - it all served to give me a false sense of security. I was already soaked with sweat by the time I headed north/west and into the wind - and I would learn the true meaning of mind over matter while fighting the wind, wet, and cold for the next three hours.
Being a stubborn masochist, I was determined to see this thing through (the usual recipe for disaster). The other option was to turn around early and finish on the trainer. I don't know about you, but getting a taste of outdoor riding then having to go back inside for many hours was even more horrifying to me than suffering in the cold.
So I gutted it out for three hours into the wind - disappointingly slow - while the feeling in my hands and feet came and went with intermittent sun and snow. I continued only with the knowledge of how wonderful it would feel the when I finally turned around to have wind at my back. All the while, I paid close attention to flags just in case the wind direction threatened to change (don't laugh, it HAS happened on more than one occasion).
|First major Gu shipment|
The only other thing I wanted to focus on was my nutrition. This ride was my first test of Gu's new Roctane Ultra Endurance drink. It wasn't the best day to practice race nutrition, but I did learn some things. Roctane it is the most palatable thing I've ever had on a long ride. The flavor is not too sweet or too strong for the amount of calories you get. And it gets into your system very quickly, saving me on this ride more than once. Suffering and struggling to keep my bike upright in strong wind and cold, the last thing I wanted to do was take my hand off the bars to grab a water bottle. I consumed very little in those first three hours, but thought about it only when I felt lightheaded and fatigued. Roctane brought me back from near oblivion in just a few minutes. It probably also helped that the lemon-lime flavor has caffeine in it. Whatever it was, it worked! I'm looking forward to using it properly on a ride - instead of the "drink-half-the-bottle-once-an-hour-so-you-don't-have-to-risk-losing-control-of-your-bike" method. The one thing I can't comment about yet is whether Roctane tastes as good warm because, for the first time EVER, I still had ice in my bottles when I finished the ride (no, I am NOT making this up).
At long last, after suffering for many miles along the lakeshore while marveling over the whitecaps (waves in Lake Erie?), I was finally heading back and riding with the wind. My expectation to "be going twice as fast once I turn around" was soon dashed to pieces upon realizing my legs and body were toast from the first three-hour ordeal. It was going to be a long day indeed - but the sun came out and I had some moments of warmth.
That is, right up until I got a flat tire. Only ten miles of cruising with the wind at my back and I was sidelined with a flat - just as the sun vanished behind a layer of dark clouds. I was at about the farthest point from home on a miserable cold windy day. There was only one redeeming thing - it happened at Huntington Beach. There might be shelter there. It didn't change the fact that I still had to take my gloves off... or that my hands were already numb. It didn't change the fact that I still had more than 2.5 hours of riding to do AFTER I stopped to change my tire. I walked my bike to the park hoping I could find shelter from the wind next to a building or something - or in the restroom. But the restrooms were boarded up. I called my husband Jim.
Jim's take on this? "By the time I get to you, you'll already be a popsicle [his exact words]. You better at least attempt to change it.... but call me when you're done so I know you're on your way."
I looked up. There was one possibility for shelter from the wind.. in... you guessed it, a porta-john. No, this wasn't just any porta-john. It was one of those huge blue handicapped ones - big enough to have a party in. It was even big enough to... change a tire in. I opened the door and wheeled in my bike. Sure enough, it fit - with room to spare.
Those plastic walls didn't change the fact it was cold outside. They didn't change the fact that I blew out my back tire. And they didn't change the fact that my fingers were numb. But they did keep me out of the wind, and I was able to get the tire changed in about 10-15 minutes. I might even say the cold was a blessing in this case - my nasal passages were so plugged that I was oblivious to any unpleasant odors. My only regret is that I didn't at least take a picture of the whole scene. I just couldn't risk my compromised fingers dropping my iPhone in porta-john nether regions.
|I had only 10 miles of hills to go at this point - I still
didn't make it before dark.
But then came the hard part. Shivering and stiff-legged, I still had to get home before going hypothermic. And there was one more thing I hadn't accounted for: the dark. I had begun my ride at midday - and after extremely slow going and now this, getting home before nightfall was no longer a given.
Once I was back on my bike, I rode extra hard to warm up. I even managed to get the feeling back in my fingers for a bit. But, alas, I couldn't outrun the dark. With about 13 miles left, I called Jim to tell him where I was - and ask him to come find me if it got too dark before I made it home. As usual, it did. I don't remember the sun ever going down that fast. But it was winter. In the northern hemisphere. This is what happens. And I was wearing sunglasses.
I took a slight shortcut home to avoid the dark backroads, and when I finally took the turn onto my my street, I stopped one final time to call Jim and let him know I was almost home. He had already left to find me but turned around and managed to get home just as I pulled in the driveway.
I looked down at my odometer. Devastatingly, it read 99 miles. But I was done. Once I saw the garage door opening, neither my body nor my mind could take another spin around the block. I only hope that what I gained in mental toughness (stupidity?) was worth the extra mile.
|Scene from "The Goonies"|
The title is a quote from one of my favorite scenes in "The Goonies" - it's when the young Sean Astin realizes the only way out for him and his friends is to follow the pirate treasure map. It's not so much a statement of excitement as it is a statement of resignation. Basically, it was the beginning of the adventure and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Today, I feel the same way about my 2012 season. Once again, I find myself registered for Ironman St. George. I have resigned myself to the training necessary for racing an Ironman the first week of May. I did it (and survived) last year, but I can't say I'm looking forward to an adventure. Instead, I'm looking at a long, dark, and cold winter of power-building and epic-long sessions on the CompuTrainer, long runs in well-below-freezing temperatures, wind from the Alberta clippers, ice and snow, treacherous driving to the pool, and wet hair in the cold after swimming. I'm looking at dry, chapped skin from the cold and the chlorine, numb fingers and toes, constant shivering, even more lines on my face, and heaven-knows-how-many new scars from slipping on ice.
My husband Jim has to live through my constant over-analysis of CompuTrainer stats, complaining that I'm always cold and numb and my skin is always dry, and wondering if the next time he sees me I'll be covered with blood - from slipping on the aforementioned ice.
When I cross that finish line on May 5 in Utah, will I (we) be able to say that it was all worth it? (I mean, that's the big question, isn't it? Knowing the hard work paid off?)
As I get older, I am reminded of a former cycling buddy who, on the worst (cold, rainy) days, would ask: "Jeanne, are we having fun?" If we agreed the answer was "No" (not frequently), we would pack it in and go have a beer (or breakfast). Training has to be more than just the sense of accomplishment, but I do enjoy that daily "high." I also enjoy the hard training as it gives me internal rewards - feeling stronger or tougher for having done it. Racing has never been a need, but it can be the icing on the cake.
Racing Ironman, however, requires a huge commitment. It doesn't just give me a reason to do what I love. It involves a serious financial commitment - currently over $600/race plus travel expenses - well before the training commences. And I don't think I could do Ironman without goals because I can't say I enjoy the training enough to just do it for fun. So here I am, looking at the beginning of my training cycle for Ironman St. George.
There has to be a starting point, so I chose to start with a comparison. As I'm coming from my "off-season," I decided to do my first long-ish ride on the RacerMate St. George Real Course video and compare it to the first one I did in training for IMSG 2011. This year, I rode for 3 hours and covered 49 miles of the course. Last year, my first course ride was in mid-January - I rode for 3.5 hours and covered 54 miles. Thus begins the CompuTrainer over-analysis:
|On the IM St. George course, this plot shows that on Saturday (red line)
I reached the same point (49 mi) faster than my first ride in January
|Power (watts) vs. miles on IM St. George course.
My power on Saturday (red line) was similar to Jan 15, but in some
places was consistently higher (good, right?).
Overall, I feel like I'm in decent shape at the start of my Ironman training, but only time will tell if I can stay healthy and motivated through winter of 2012, and come out fighting in May. I hope it's the beginning of a long and rewarding season - oops, I mean "adventure."
Two major Ironman training-related things happened this week: (1) I saw a promotional video of Ironman St. George that scared the living daylights out of me and (2) I did a retest of my cycling FTP (Functional Threshold Power). These two things seem unrelated, but people like my husband Jim would have you believe that they are cosmically intertwined. Let's just say it was a random coincidence that they occurred within 24 hours of each other.
First, the scary thing. I got the link for this video from one of the athletes I follow on Twitter - he blogged it. I am now blogging it because, in it, Ironman St. George looks like the perfect follow up to the series of race disasters that has been my Ironman quest. The CompuTrainer real-time video makes the bike course look easy compared to this video. And I've been told the run course is even worse. This video was supposedly shown at the pre-race banquet at last year's inaugural race - can you imagine seeing this for the first time knowing race morning is almost upon you? This video may have been directly responsible for the Ironman race nightmare I had the night after watching it:
Two major Ironman training-related things happened this week: (1) I saw a promotional video of Ironman St. George that scared the living daylights out of me and (2) I did a retest of my cycling FTP (Functional Threshold Power).
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