August 31, 2012

Strava Just Called Me Fat

I recently started uploading ride data to Strava, the online competitive social site for cyclists and runners. You go out and record a ride with your GPS enabled device and then upload it to the site. Then, in a split second, you can see how you stack up against other cyclists who have ridden the same segments of road.

I've always known in the back of my head that the extra pounds I'm carrying have impacted my cycling and that I have to work a little bit harder in order to keep up with a skinnier cyclist of comparable fitness. It's simple physics. Friction and gravity resist you as you go up a hill, so having more mass means gravity pulls you more, meaning you need more power to go up the hill. Being bigger also causes more surface area, which creates friction as air drags around you.

I knew this. I understood it cognitively, but I had never seen it quantified before. How big of a difference could a few pounds make, really? What I kept noticing in the leader boards over and over again was people with less power output besting my time. Again and again I would see things like this example below (my time shaded pink).

At first I was thinking, how is it possible that I put out more power but yet have the slower time? Then I realized that the pics of these people who bested me were all of people 50 to 100 pounds lighter than me. They were going faster because they didn't have as much gravity and friction counteracting their power. So, they required less power to go faster.

It's unrealistic for me to aspire to the ideal cyclists form because I just don't have the frame for it. However, I can still do a lot to improve my performance by shedding the extra pounds. And now I've got just a little bit more motivation to do so. Ironically, that motivation comes in the form of laziness. I don't want to work that hard (over 50 watts harder in the example above) for my slower results. I want it to come easier. 

August 27, 2012

Steelhead Half Ironman Relay Recap: Run

A note from Joe: On August 19th three Speedy Chubs took part in the Steelhead Half Ironman as a relay team. Debbie swam 1.2 miles, I biked 56 miles, and Dan ran 13.1 miles. This is part three, the run, from Dan's perspective. Part 1 can be found here and part 2 can be found here.

When Joe threw out the idea of doing the Steelhead as a relay team, I jumped at the opportunity pretty quickly.  I run quite a bit and dabble in cycling, but the idea of swimming 100 meters let alone 1.2 miles seems like a terrible idea.  Swimming for me is more of a “oh no, I feel out of the canoe, let’s not drown” sort of affair than a competitive past time.  With that in mind, there is little likelihood of me completing an Ironman event solo but participating in the event and seeing an event of this magnitude sounded like a great idea.

This would be my fourth half marathon (and incidentally my slowest after a long winter of ouch).  I knew I would survive the race but it wouldn’t be a fast time for me.  My biggest concern was the relatively late start for a race (for my leg) in the summer that had been pretty hot.  I did a lot of heat training leading up to the event doing my long runs in 90 degree heat.  I am thoroughly glad that I don’t have to do that anymore.

As Joe and Debbie mentioned, our morning started in the darkness that is 5:00am.  It was actually kind of cold out and I felt for Debbie having to jump into the waters of Lake Michigan.  We drove ourselves to the Whirlpool headquarters and shuttled over to the race start where the mystical coffee truck was waiting with an overly caffeinated young man waiting to perk us up.  Thank you.

Now came the waiting and wondering.  After seeing Debbie off, Joe and I began the wait for her to swim to us for transition.  She arrived shortly after the vomiting man that Joe mentioned and Joe was off.  Debbie extracted herself from her wetsuit and we went off to the Athlete Lounge to wait for Joe’s triumphant return.  This is where the waiting really took place.  Joe’s best guess on his cycling time was somewhere just north of 3 hours.  To me this meant that his finishing could be one of three times.  1) 2:45 if the adrenaline kicked in good and hard and he had the ride of his life.  Joe didn’t really see this an a possibility at all but I didn’t want to miss the relay hand off.  2) 3:00 if Joe’ optimistic goal was met.  3) 3:15 if everything went relatively smoothly and he met his realistic goal.  Joe came in at about 3:15 meeting his realistic goal which meant that I had been standing in the relay pen for about 30 minutes.  Joe looked depleted and had clearly pushed for the finish.  I was off.

I think a picture of my race route is now in order.

The half marathon race turned into more of a mental challenge than I had thought it would be.  There are four main points I wanted to write about with the actual race, the numbers above are roughly where I was when I was having these thoughts.
  1.  I always start too fast.  It is a given.  I run way too fast for the first half mile and then settle down into my pace.  Normally this isn’t too much of a problem.  At Steelhead though, they put a monster hill about half a mile into the race.  Instead of settling down I was climbing a mountain (a bit dramatic, but it was steep).  Heart pumping out of my chest at the top I was finally able to settle down a bit and get into a groove.
  2. This was by far the nicest section of the race.  Wide open roads with minor changes in elevation that didn't require much extra effort.  It is at this point that I thought the race was going to be a pretty easy run.  My “scouting” of the race map prior to the event put in my head that the first hill was the only bad one.  I was wrong.
  3. This is where we turned into the loop.  We got to run this section twice.  Hooray!  A couple of key thoughts at this turn.  I could see people already had finished their second loop and were on their way home.  That was sad for I knew I had about 9 miles of running ahead of me on this loop.  The second thing that came up was that at every mile marker there were 2 numbers.  One for referencing your first lap distance and one for your second lap.  Nothing like a reminder ever mile that you had a second lap.
  4. Another turn where I got to see my future.  I went right at this intersection to do a short spurt through a nicely wooded section of the trail.  This was actually a really nice area.  Some shade and something to look at other than your basic roadway.  The downside was that when I went right I could see the people finishing the little side lap and heading straight into another giant hill.  Something to look forward to, twice!  Incidentally, when I turned left on the map before spot 4 there was car load of people cheering us on playing the Final Countdown.  Thanks for cheering us on, but could you pick a different song.  It was also at about this point that I started to wonder where I was supposed to start my second lap.  A little anxiety crept in worrying that I was going to miss it and end up getting our team DQ’d.

After completing the second lap I was on my way to the finish.  A mostly downhill finish made for a decent finish.  Crossing the finish line I was rewarded with 3 relay medals and 3 finishers hats that I gladly passed on to Joe and Debbie.  We then made our way out of the park and towards home.  I dropped Joe and his bike off with his family and then proceeded to the nearest McDonald’s.  Time to live up to the latter half of the Speedy Chubs…

August 23, 2012

Steelhead Half Ironman Relay Recap: Bike

A note from Joe: On August 19th three Speedy Chubs took part in the Steelhead Half Ironman as a relay team. Debbie swam 1.2 miles, I biked 56 miles, and Dan ran 13.1 miles. This is part two, the bike, from my perspective. Part 1 can be found here.

Somehow I had managed to sleep well, but 5am was still early. I crammed down some breakfast and pulled on my cycling gear. The rest of the team got their stuff in order as well. Our quiet group went out to the cars and drove to the race site. It was pitch black out. As we arrived at the crowded parking lot I was very glad I had dropped my bike off the day before and that we had all done the body markings early. All we had to do was drop my gear off and then walk Debbie to the swim start. The shuttle bus from the parking lot dropped us off near the transition area, but waiting for us, just across from the bus, was a large van-turned-coffee-shop. The folks at Bear Claw made us very happy. Three coffees and a dropped off helmet and cycling shoes later, we were on the beach walking to the swim start. We walked. And walked. And kept walking. It was at this point that I appreciated how far 1.2 miles of swimming would be. It was also when Dan gave Debbie the "don't die" pep talk. You see, Dan figured he could twist an ankle, I could possibly crash, but Debbie could actually drown. I'm not sure how effective his pep talk was, but we both thought at that point that Debbie had the harder of the three legs of this race. Oh, and did I mention that we were all wearing sweaters because it was 60 degrees out? I know the last thing I would have wanted to do was jump in the frigid water of Lake Michigan with thousands of other people. We sent Debbie off at the start and made the walk back to the transition area.

Arriving at the transition area we noticed how few people there were around. We had the place nearly to ourselves. Need to use the restroom? No lines. Need something to eat or drink? No lines. This made sense because the only people around were spectators and the very few people doing the event as a relay. The rest of the 'real' athletes were busy floating furiously and fastly to the transition area.

I got myself situated in the relay racer pen along with a handful of other racers. Then I waited. There were people constantly running up the beach, but they were all from the previous waves. Then people from Debbie's wave started showing up, so I started looking for purple caps (each wave had its own color swim cap). A man, looking ghost white, hobbled up the beach, leaned over the fence at the transition area and regurgitated his probably-not-well-selected-or-timed-breakfast and then lumbered into the transition area in search of his bike. The fact that someone had just barfed less than 3 yards from me was not quite as disturbing as how nobody seemed to think this was a noteworthy event. Then suddenly some woman was shouting at me. It was Debbie! She had taken her swim cap off so I didn't notice the purple. I've worked with Debbie in an office setting for over a decade so it's amazing I nearly didn't recognize her in a wetsuit with flattened out wet hair and an amazingly exhausted looking expression on her face. I grabbed the wet, sandy timing chip band from her, yelled that Dan was "just over there" and then ran to get my bike.

The transition area for Steelhead is rather long and I was on the extreme opposite end of where the biking started. It took me a full two minutes of 'running' (I say that in quotes because it's not quite running when you have bike shoes with cleats on) with my bike to the start line.

Away I went. Sometimes you hear road bike racers talk down about triathletes and USAT style bike racing. This race is different from a road race because, at least by the rules, you're all supposed to be in a single file line with at least four bike lengths between each rider. The only time you can be in the draft zone, or next to a rider, is during the 20 seconds you are allowed to pass someone. "What if the person you're passing speeds up so you can't pass them in 20 seconds?" someone asked at one of the athlete meetings. "That's called racing", was the response. Indeed, racing. Something I'm rather new at. I've done plenty of biking before. Lots of long distances, and I've biked 'fast'. But I've never biked in an event where my goal was speed rather than just completing some very long number of miles.

The early part of the course had a lot of sharp angled turns before we got on a stretch of long road. This is when I noticed that I could pass a lot of people by taking the turns as if I were racing in a road race. You see, most people took the turns as if they were driving a car. They stayed in the far right of the lane, slowed way down, turned right at a complete right angle, then sped back up. I started the turns as wide left as possible, cut the corners sharp and exited a little wide. This longer arc allowed me to maintain most of my speed, slingshot past a few people, and feel smug and overconfident. It may have even shaved off a whole two seconds from my final time. Maybe.

Then the long haul began. I was going at a pretty good clip, but it was cold out and I was feeling good. The pace was fast, but it felt sustainable, so I went with it. I was ascending hills at paces faster than I had expected my average pace to be. I was going fast. At around 25 miles into the race the weather changed. The sun came out and all of a sudden it went from 65 to 80 degrees. This is about the same time I realized I had made the mistake of not keeping up with my hydration. The cold weather and the race time excitement had conspired against my brain and made it forget to pick up the water bottle as frequently as I should have. Then around the 35th mile my back started aching. This sent my mind reeling. When you're giving it all you've got and there's nothing else to think about the mind has a way of fixating on things and blowing them way out of proportion. I slowed way down and overanalyzed the situation. I'm only just over half way done and my back is in pain already? What if it gets worse? I don't want to go to the ER again. How long would I have to lay on the side of the road before the SAG wagon gets me? Turns out I was just fine. A few miles later I was back to going fast. Then my legs decided they weren't fine. First they started telling me that the pace I was going was not, in fact, sustainable. As if to drive the point home my right calf decided to cramp up. Then after another 10 or so miles my right hamstring cramped up while I was taking on a hill. I was struggling. Each revolution of the pedals was becoming a conscious effort.

It was difficult not to think about the fact that most of the people who were passing me had just spent about an hour swimming before zooming past me. When I get to the transition area that would be the end of the race for me, but for them they'd have to get off and then run a half marathon. This was a very humbling event.

Somehow I managed to get myself to the transition area. I grabbed the timing chip band while pedaling, hopped off the bike and 'ran' to the relay pen. Dan found me quickly and I handed him the sweaty, wet, sandy chip and bid him well. I put my bike away, found Debbie, and hobbled over to the athlete zone to stretch, cool off, and hydrate. I had finished 56 miles in 3 hours and 18 minutes, a new personal record.

August 21, 2012

Steelhead Half Ironman Relay Recap: Swim

A note from Joe: On August 19th three Speedy Chubs took part in the Steelhead Half Ironman as a relay team. Debbie swam 1.2 miles, I biked 56 miles, and Dan ran 13.1 miles. This is part one, the swim, from Debbie's perspective.

"Dear Steelhead race organizers, Last summer I trained for 14 weeks to take part in your half-Ironman triathlon. You canceled the swim portion of the race due to riptide currents in Lake Michigan. I'm coming back on Sunday as part of a relay team to do the swim leg. Please (please!) don't cancel the swim again this year. Thank you."

I posted the message above on Facebook the day before the race. I’m happy to report that the swim was NOT canceled and I finally had the chance to swim 1.2 miles in Lake Michigan as part of the Steelhead race. It kind of stinks that I didn’t get to have the full 70.3 experience in 2011 after training for so many weeks, but I think I’ll get over it.

When Joe suggested forming a relay team in February, I jumped at the chance. I’ve never done a triathlon relay before, but my 70.3 experience felt incomplete without doing the swim part of Steelhead, so it was perfect.

We showed up for the start of the race on Sunday about an hour and a half early. We got Joe’s gear settled near his bike in transition, then proceeded to walk 1.2 miles to the swim start. Most triathlons start and end the swim in the same location with the swimmers doing a triangle-shape course, but Steelhead is different. Depending on which way the current is going, they either walk the athletes north or south on the beach, then have them swim back to transition.

I stuffed myself into my wetsuit and got my cap and goggles on and proceeded to wait for my wave to start. It was so pretty to watch the sun rise over the water while standing on the beach with about a thousand other people, most of them waiting to throw themselves into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan. The announcer mentioned that we would swim past 16 buoys. The first eight would be yellow, then there would be eight orange ones. I thought that was brilliant.

The swim start was typical, with some people swimming chaotically and others taking right off. I’m not a fast swimmer, but I settled into my stroke fairly quickly. A few times, someone swam up behind me and hit my feet and lower legs before figuring out they were about to swim over me and moving left or right. I was pleased to see that the buoys were numbered so I was able to count 1 through 8 for the yellow buoys then 1 through 8 for the orange ones. I even stopped at the halfway point to check my watch. I was expecting to do the swim in about 50 minutes and I was right on track at the halfway mark.

I train with another triathlete who is in his 60s and we refer to him as ‘Coach Larry’ due to his sage training advice. As I was swimming the course, I could hear Coach Larry telling me to enjoy the race, to stay in the moment.  I tried to enjoy every last moment of the swim and it ended all too soon. Actually, I was pretty darn tired by the time I reached the last buoy and made a right-turn towards shore. I pulled off my purple swim cap and ran the long, sandy path up to transition. I found Joe in the Relay Pen and handed off the timing chip that was strapped to my ankle.

I decided last summer to retire from triathlon after 10 years and close to 20 races. This was a nice ‘last race’ for me and I will remember it fondly.

The team, (from left to right) Joe, Debbie, Dan.

August 11, 2012

Challenging days

Some days it's just really tough to get a workout in. First you have to battle motivation. Sometimes weather. Usually a schedule gets in the way or at least complicates things. Today I just had to do a 1 hour 20 minute easy ride. Easy, right? It was cold and rainy, but I got myself out the door. With my son. Because of schedules the only way I was going to have time to complete this ride was if I took the boy with me. No problem, he and the trailer just adds 75 pounds to the back of my bike. Sheesh.

We're moving along fine and I'm monitoring my heart rate going quite slow to compensate for the added weight and to keep the ride in the "easy" category. The boy, in his warm, dry trailer entertains himself by shouting at me to go faster and comparing my speed unfavorably to his mothers.

While ascending a hill at about 3 miles per hour I hear a "pssss pssssss pssss" sound gurgling up from behind me. I get off and I see bubbles on my rear tire. One of the few advantages of riding in the rain is that it make diagnosing a leaky tire very easy. Luckily I had just enough air left to get us home.

Let me pause for a moment to tell you how much I love my Michelin Krylion tires. They have taken me 3,000 miles in all kinds of weather and road surfaces without ever a flat. One of them even took a nail and didn't flat. I could throw anything at them and they just shrugged it off. So, it took quite a large shard of very pointy glass to create a hole big enough to flat the tire. In fact it wasn't just a hole, more like a shredding gash of a laceration.

So, that ended the workout session and put me in the market for new tires. Later in the evening we stopped by a local bike shop and I discovered that my beloved tires were discontinued by Michelin. No!!!!! But the salesman assured me that the Pro 4 was actually more puncture resistant and had even longer tread life. Well, we'll see. They do look pretty sexy on the bike though. Here's to hoping tomorrow's easy ride is easier and less expensive.