Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Skyline Drive Virgin No More!

I remember growing up (and even as short as a few years ago), we'd drive down (and up and up and up) Skyline Drive. Within reasonable distance to DC, it contains the closest major mountain range, the Shenandoah Mountains. Skyline Drive is the most scenic road that takes you up and over numerous peaks, lookouts, camp sights, and also through part of the Appalachian Trail. So as a kid (and more recently as an adult), I'd gawk at the idiots who would sit on their bicycles and grind away at the long and twisting road. Why would anyone choose to ride a bicycle up any road that even cars have difficulty driving? Well now I know...because I am one of those idiots!

The HIP program organized a ride for today out at Skyline and since I have gone 5 years without growing enough courage (or stupidity) to tackle the beast, I figured why not? At least now I'd be riding with other people. Turns out about 10 of us made the trek out there this morning, including all star triathlete and blogger Jeanne. But let me back up a bit for a moment. I had heard it takes about 1.5 hours to get out there from some other people, but I was surprised that it would take that long, given some of the other places I've been to that are near that area. So I planned for enough time to be there early, even if it took that long, but realistically, I figured it would take about an hour, since I live a bit further out from DC now. Sure enough, it took me an hour.

So once I realized I was going to be there about an hour early, I started to think how I could kill time. I could tinker with my bike - already did that the day before. How about take a nap, since it was so early - I'd probably still be asleep and miss everyone. So I was left with only one option left. You guessed it - go for a warm up ride! And then I remembered reading some of Ray's posts about his time spent at Skyline and remembered that he always went back downhill from the Visitors Center, to get in an extra 1000 or so feet of climbing. You read that right. 4 miles, 1000 ft. Turns out, its one of the most challenging hills in all of Skyline. So I got all geared up, and zipped 4 miles down the hill to the bottom and made the turn back up hill. Within seconds of starting the climb, I was in my easiest gear. I pretty much stayed in that gear for the rest of that hill. 25 minutes later, I was back at the Visitors Center, with all the other DC Tri peeps, who were just getting ready. Now that's what I call I warm up!

After speaking to a bunch of the people, it seemed like a few were going very long (100+ miles), but a couple other folks were thinking of going 60 (30 out and 30 back). Since I haven't ridden Skyline, nor have a truly ever ridden mountainous roads, I didn't know what to shoot for. Internally, I was thinking I'd be happy with 45, but I'd like to shoot for 60. Of course, when you factor in the 8 miles I rode before people showed up, it would be more like 65-70, depending on where we decided to turn around. Yikes! I really wasn't quite sure how that was gonna feel, so I just played it safe for the first hour or so and road very conservatively. After the first couple of climbs, I eventually began pulling away from the group I was riding with. I was still riding within my ability and not trying to push it. Eventually after about 12 miles of virtually all up hill riding, I lost all signs of them. Up and down, up and down is pretty much how the course goes and since I had already gained significant separation early on, I figured I would just press on by myself, since I felt comfortable.

One of the many lookouts - there was amazing visibility

After I hit 34 on my watch (including the 8 miles I did pre-ride), I told myself that if I turned around anytime soon, I'd hit my 60 miles mark, so I just left it to how my body felt. I was feeling great and just continued on a bit further, since I was on an extended downhill. Of course, what I should have been thinking was that an up hill was now in my future, since on an out and back course, any downhill becomes and up hill on the way back. I began the next climb (beginning of the left side of the elevation chart), only to start having doubts that I should probably turn around because A) The furthest I've ridden this season was 62 miles on a relatively flat course compared to these mountains, B) The last thing I need to happen is to bonk on Skyline Drive, and C) I vaguely remember looking at the elevation profile and noting that the hill I had begun to climb was one of the few other huge climbs. So I made an executive decision to turn the ship around. Good decision!

After a few miles of riding back in the other direction, I spotted the other two people I started to ride with and shouted out of words of encouragement. What was waiting for me about 5 miles later was, what felt like at the time, the mother of all hills. The first "warm up" hill I did from the start of Skyline to the Visitors Center was definitely the longest and most challenging of the ones I rode, but by the time I hit this hill, I already had about 40 miles in my legs. It was steep, and with multiple switchbacks, where I would just grunt with pain as I rounded the next turn, only to see more of the same - up hill with no end in sight. Ugh. Eventually (a miracle, perhaps) the turns stopped and I reached the top of the climb. I zipped past this lookout point on the way out, but since I was spent from the long climb, I figured this would be a good place to snap a picture or two. This was the highest elevation I hit, though there are numerous other peaks beyond where I turned around that are higher.

The better question is: Is this elevation measured at the sign or at the top of this climb?

After the big climb, there were 2 other less ridiculous climbs to get through till I made it back to the Visitors Center. One quick, funny story. You probably can't make it out from the photo below, but this group of motorcyclists had stopped at a lookout to take a group picture. The funny part was that they were almost all wearing antler hats. So obviously, I had to inconspicuously take a photo!

When it was all said and done, I totaled 65 miles, averaging a paltry 15 mph over the course of about 4:15. Hey - they were mountains I tell you (with photo evidence)! My watch registered 62, but the watch and I had a little issue restarting after one of my short pit stops at a lookout and I decided it was best to wait till I wasn't going 40 mph to figure things out. This ride was a blast. I don't think I've ever had this much fun before while on the bike. Between the weather (mid 60s to start, mid 70s by the end), the sights (what's not to like!), and the sense of accomplishment, I couldn't have asked for a better first ride out there.

Shortly after rolling into "transition", it was out of my bike shoes, and off for a quick 15 minute brick run. Amazingly, my legs felt fine off the bike. I started out holding a great pace with relatively low HR, but as is with anything at Skyline, the only place to go was up a hill, so that spiked my HR a bit. 15 minutes came and went in a flash and before I knew it, I was back at my car.

After the ride, I had only one thing left to do: buy some kettle korn! Why the "k" instead of a "c", you ask? Because, this place spells it that way, so those are the rules. I was too excited about eating it to actually take a picture of the van to prove the spelling, but I did get a picture of the bag before I tore into it like an animal. If you are ever out this way (also passed on the way to Luray, VA), get some and stop at the Apple House and buy some original Virginia products. They have wines, apple butter, bbq sauces, jams, etc. I've always gotten great stuff there.

Kettle Korn in all its glory before I attacked it!

And yes, in case you are wondering, I saved plenty of kettle korn for Rebecca too! That would just be mean ;)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Need For Speed

For the past month and change, I have shifted my run focus. So far this year, my running has primarily been of the slow to moderate and long variety, focusing on training for the National Marathon and then more or less just maintaining the fitness I had developed from that point. But that got kinda boring running the same stuff week after week and I think my running plateaued. One can only do so much moderate effort running and reap the benefits. It became more of the law of diminishing returns. My mileage was there, but I wasn't really improving my endurance or speed, so what's the point in consistently training that way anymore.

What I found was that my heart rate ranges were pretty consistent for the high Zone 2, low Zone 3 stuff (low to moderate effort), but in order to meet some of the goals I have set for myself for Patriot's Half and for long distance running in general, I need those paces to drop (or the HR to drop given a specific effort/pace). And the way to do that is by adding in some faster paced workouts into the mix.

I've been able to get by week after week by doing only 2 running workouts a week (while triathlon training post marathon), since I have been focusing primarily on the bike and swim. Now that I've had my cycling race, my focus can shift back to the run and swim, while keeping up much of the cycling routine I had been doing and building off of the fitness I've already developed in that event.

My run training goal now consists of three runs per week (its a goal that isn't always met, but still something to shoot for). My shift in running is based partly on the HIP program I am working from, as well as insights from Jack Daniels Running Formula. Specifically, using his VDOT Calculator to determine my paces for my workouts. In the past, I'd think of a reasonable goal to shoot for in an upcoming race, and run a pace that would be close to it in training. Using the VDOT Calculator, you can use proven race experience to determine how fast you should be running. One recommendation I'd make to anyone using this methodology, is if you are training for longer distances, enter in a time from a recent long distance race (half marathon or marathon) to determine your score/paces. Similarly, if you are training for a shorter distance race, enter a time from a recent short distance race (5k or 10k) to determine your score/paces. Doing so will give you a more accurate pace to run for your workouts, so you don't overstress your your body from doing too much too soon. You'll find that you may have a higher/lower VDOT score depending on the distance you are training (I know I do), so you'll want to make sure you use comparable numbers depending on the distance (long versus short).

So without further ado, I bring you my three running workouts:

- Workout 1 - This consists of a moderate effort run where I start with a warm up at easy pace over the first half of the run, consistently picking up the pace, and negative splitting the run on the 2nd half, reaching top effort in mid Zone 3. This is typically fit into the week wherever there is room, but is not a key workout. It is more just to add some additional quality mileage.

- Workout 2 - This is my long run, the staple of the long distance running program. Typically, this is done on the weekend for me, because I have more time to fit it in. I've backed down my mileage of this run from where it was just after my marathon (12-14 miles), because of my focus on speed to 10 miles or so, which will gradually increase back up into the 12-14 miles range. The purpose of this run is all about maintaining the endurance I have and trying to keep a low HR and a moderate pace.

- Workout 3 - This is my speed workout, the newest addition to the program. This typically consists of intervals or repeats at faster paces than I have been running. The purpose of these workouts is to develop some additional speed, increase lactate threshold, and improve running economy. This is performed mid week, and I've been following it up with a recovery swim, which seems to break away some of the stress from the hard running.

Based on the few shorter distance races that I've run this year and the success I've had in shattering my PRs in each race, I'm hoping the addition of these speed workouts will allow me to continue to progress. While I don't have any specific intentions of racing 5k or 10ks, I'm sure I'll sign up for a few along the way to see how this training is working. I just want to improve my overall running economy in the hopes that it will translate into faster overall running in both short and long distance races. What I can say though, is that after my speed workout last night, I am feeling a whole lot better at running the pace I've been targeting (6:30/mile), based on my VDOT score from those recent races. The first 2 weeks were a bit tough, but my last 2 weekly speed workouts have gone great. I'm hoping this is the first sign of improvement.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Road ID And An Offer For You Too

I'm sure you've seen the ads in Bicycling, Runners World, or Inside Triathlon. Road ID is a product that comes in a variety of types (wrist band, shoe strap, ankle strap, etc) and contains contact information in case of emergency. I don't know about you, but one of the things I always do before I head out the door for a bike or run is to stash my drivers license and health insurance card in an inner pocket. Sometimes, especially when running, this extra gear in that pocket limits the number of gels I can carry when also factoring in the key I'll also be carrying around. Well with Road ID, you don't need to carry around your bulky cards anymore (sorry, you still need to key if you want to get back in your house/car).

You may remember that I won a $15 credit toward the purchase of a Road ID at the awards ceremony of the Patriot's 8k back in May. Well I finally got off my lazy a$$ and mailed the form in. Sure enough, within a week, I received my personalized Road ID. I opted for the Original Wrist ID, because I wanted contact information on the band itself, rather than the Interactive model, which allows you to maintain an entire profile, with medical info, contacts, etc, but someone would have to call the 1-800 number on the band or go to the website link in order to get the info. I just feel better knowing that I have multiple contacts on my wrist in case of emergency.

So that brings me to the benefit you get from all of this. The Road ID folks sent me an offer for friends. See the information below:

Hey Everyone,

I just ordered one of the best products ever. It's called a Road ID - perhaps you've heard of it. If you haven't, go to their website and check it out. Road ID is a great product that could save your life someday.

When I ordered, they gave me a coupon that I could pass along to my friends. Here's the coupon number:

Coupon Number: ThanksAdam493300

The coupon is good for $1 off any Road ID order placed by 07/01/2009. To order, simply go to RoadID.com or click the link below:

http://www.RoadID.com/?CID=ThanksAdam493300

If you prefer, you can call them at 800-345-6335.

You can thank me later,

Adam

Oh by the way, their website is awesome, the customer service is outstanding, and the owners are very smart and good looking.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Race Report: Air Force Memorial Cycling Classic 100km

Yesterday was the Air Force Memorial Cycling Classic, held in Crystal City. This race was part of a weekend of cycling, with the Clarendon Cup on Saturday and the Air Force Classic on Sunday. Both races involved a Pro circuit, but the Air Force Classic also offered the Crystal Ride, which I participated in. The Crystal Ride is described as "a non-competitive ride that will begin and end in Crystal City and pass by the Air Force Memorial. It offers a 12.5 kilometer course open to both serious and casual amateur cyclists, but closed to traffic! Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals will be awarded for those who can complete 2, 4 or 8 laps within the 3.5 hour window that the course will be open for the ride. 8 laps will equate to a metric century (100 km)."

Going into the race, I had no real goals, other than to get a great training ride on closed streets, while throwing in some competitive pacing to see where my legs are at this point in the season. The only other timed ride of close to this distance was Eagleman, which was obviously part of a triathlon, on a flat course, and was not draft legal. In other words, I I made up some goals as something to shoot for while I was out on the course. Since 100km is a slightly more than 60 miles, I figured 3 hours sounded like a good time. That would give me an average of a bit more than 20 mph, and since I am not in what I would consider top cycling shape for this type of distance, I thought it was a reasonable goal to shoot for.

I awoke race morning to what sounded like rain and thunder. I looked outside and there was rain, thunder, AND lightning! Sweet! I immediately checked the radar and found that the line of storms was rolling through, but would be gone shortly, so at least it shouldn't be raining during the race. However, because it was still coming down hard on the drive to the race, I opted to put my bike inside my car, rather than on the bike rack in order to keep my seat and aerobars dry.

We got to the race site and I began setting up my bike and load it up with all my stuff, since the ride to the race start was about 2 miles down the road from the parking area. After checkin, I noticed that my bike computer was no longer picking up my stats. I assume that while it was in my trunk, the sensor must have been nudged a bit. I fiddled around for a few minutes and finally got it to start working again. Shortly after, I made my way over to line up for the start.

After a 15 minute delay from having to push away as much standing water from the earlier rain, the horn sounded and we were off! The pace started out pretty furious, and this being my first cycling race, I did what any newbie would do - GO HARD! Of course, I wasn't the only one. However, there was one little snafu. My friendly little bike computer was now reading 0.00 MPH. The first mile of the ride was spent leaning over my handlebars to try to nudge the sensor a bit closer to the magnet on the wheel. I feared that if I pushed it too hard, it would hit my spokes and I'd go tumbling, causing the greatest pileup in amature cycling history. So after a couple of slight attempts, I gave up. It was recording something, just not my speeds. At least I was able to pull this data off to give an idea of the course and my effort (via HR and elevation). Strangely enough though, it did record my mile splits. Too bad it never told me during the race what they were. I'm pretty sure some are off though, because it only recorded up to 58 miles. Oh well. You get the picture of the profile of the course (in maroon), as well as my level of effort throughout the ride (lots of Zone 3 riding - in bright red), and mile split times (in blue). Being in a cycling event versus triathlon, made me realize I could do things that most people would consider "illegal" by triathlete standards. Mainly, drafting. But after the first couple of laps of working with some packs, I started to get frustrated with the riders. Some knew what they were doing, others did not. And sadly, they were not holding consistent paces. So I'd ride with a pack for a bit, get frustrated, and break away on my own. Then about 4 miles down the road, they'd pick me up again. Go figure. So I did this for a while. I quickly found that I would rather ride solo and push harder, controling my own speed, than sit in with a pack doing a lot less work, and going slower than I know I am capable of. Its too easy to fall into a pack, reserve your energy, and save it for the end. But that was not the purpose of my ride. I wanted to ride hard and get the full benefits. While I consistently rode with similar people throughout the whole race, I tried not to wheel suck too much. In laps 5, 6, and 7, I found a group of 3 other rides that all had the same mentality, so we rode together, taking turns pulling hard for a bit. If I wasn't riding with this group at this point in the race, I would have finished a lot slower. They kept the pressure on my to hammer it home.

Then I hit the last lap and was subsequently dropped by 2 of them, while I dropped the last guy. I rode the last lap solo, with very little left in my legs. Finally, with the last uphill in sight, I gave it all I got, posting my slowest split on the hill by a solid 25 seconds. Oh well! It was at this point that I started paying attention to my watch. With the last half of the lap left, my watch read 2:50 or something close to that. I knew it was going to be close. I pushed on harder. I kept trying to get out of the saddle to mash some pedals as I raced toward the finish. As I approached the final 1/4 mile of the course, I looked down at my watch and it read 2:59:xx. I hammered again, as I rounded the final corner to hit the straightaway at the finish. About 50 meters from the finish, a volunteer started yelling at my to slow down. I had a time to beat! I rode hard till the last second and stopped by watch. It read: 2:59:57. Phew, that was close!

Overall stats on the race:
Distance: 100 km
Time: 2:59:57
Pace: 20.72 MPH
Avg HR: 152 BPM

After the race, Rebecca, my parents, and I bumbled around the expo area to see if there were any good deals. Unfortunately, we left empty handed. We decided to stick around and watch some of the pro race, which was about to get started. It is always amazing to watch how fast these guys are going, and to see them in a such a large pack when they come by, you feel the brush of the wind. Its pretty sweet.

Anyways, thats it for the race report. Pictures to come from my personal photog extraordinaire.
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