Monday, August 31, 2009

Enter the Taper

Though it doesn't feel like it quite yet, mainly because I just finished a relatively hard week (but less so than I've been working with recently), the taper has begun. The thing I like about this phase of the taper is that not only are the workouts less time intensive, but they vary from the traditional to include more bricks and fun stuff like transition practice.

For example, instead of the usual long bike on Saturday (glad those are over with!), it was a brick workout. The HIP plan called for moderately paced ride, follow by a run that focuses on quick turnover and transitions into some solid zone 3 paced running with a finish hitting zone 4.

Just a quick note about my training progress thus far. I've been focusing on my running the past month or so in an attempt to get back my run mojo that I appeared to have lost, while focusing on the bike most of the season. Part of has been the heat I've been running in. My paces have all fallen way off since the temperatures have hit the 90s with high humidity, and naturally so! I primarily train by heart rate and when the temperatures rise, so does the HR. Which then means the pace must slow to account for the higher heart rate, so I can stay within my zones and not push too hard to risk injury. I know its for my own good. Its just difficult to deal with the training and paces when they look slow, compared to how I know I can run in any other conditions. Let's hope for some cooler weather, because if this weekend's workouts were any indication, all this heat training will certainly be paying off.

Back to the brick workout. I set off Saturday morning for a 6 loop ride around my neighborhood with some moderate effort z2/z3. After all these long rides, nothing makes me feel better than knowing I am always only a few miles away from home. So doing so many loops didn't bother me. Besides, it is a great course that has 3 solid climbs (each about .5 miles long), a smaller 4th climb, and very little flat terrain (see middle line for elevation in the file below), so you are constantly working. I haven't ridden this loop since way early in the season and it was staggering to see how much faster I was climbing these hills. These are not mountains by any means, so I was able to climb each of them averaging between 13 and 15 mph. Early in the season, I was riding them between 10 and 12 mph, so I was very happy with those results. Pardon the sudden drop of HR data in the middle. This happens from time to time.Once the bike was over, I quickly threw my shoes on at my transition set up in my driveway, and was on my way. I have been in the process of developing my official race strategy for Patriots Half, so I won't get into too much detail here, but my goal for this brick run was to start the first 1-2 miles at a very pedestrian pace. My best long runs this year have been when I began running the first several miles almost too slow, and gradually build into race pace. This is generally my goal to execute at Patriots. Whether my adrenaline takes over in the race or not, is yet to be determined. But that is how I executed my brick run today. And if this was any indication of my expected times, I am going to be very content with my run results. I ran the first 1.5 miles comfortably in z2 and picked up the pace for the last 2 miles, without feeling like I was running hard (barely touching z3), I was cruising along at paces that had previously caught me in mid z4. This morning was a bit cooler (80 degrees) than I have been running (90+ degrees), so naturally my pace picked up and my HR was lower. By the time I finished the run, I really wanted to keep on going. I just felt so good and knew that I was holding a solid pace I could hold over a much longer distance. I just hope it stays around this temperature range on race day!
Sunday morning brought about my last long run before the big race - 10 miles. As previously stated, my goal on these runs is to start out slow, and gradually pick up steam by finishing strong with quick turnover. Since it was such a nice day, Rebecca decided to join me for the first lap - a sweet surprise! Within a few minutes of running, she was pushing the pace and I was just along for the ride. Similar to how I felt on my brick run from the day before, my HR was low (z1/z2) and we were still moving at a good pace. Once we finished the first lap, I split off and jumped right into my target HR (high z2, building to z3/z4) for the final lap. What amazed me was the pace I was running and my legs felt great! We did this run between 11:30 am and 1 pm, so it was pretty hot (85 degrees with high humidity). I'm just hoping this spring in my step stays for the next couple of weeks! Again - sorry for the loss of HR data...its been a bit finiky lately.
One more week of moderate training and then its RACE WEEK!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Race Report: Reston Century

Another week, another race/organized ride supported by the cycling club at work. What can I say...they like us to be healthy employees ;) This time, it was the Reston Century. Though I hadn't trained for it per se, I was convinced that I had enough fitness to get through the ride. With a handful of long rides out at Skyline, and a bunch of other rides topping out at around 80 miles, I figured I'd be alright. I should also note that this ride marked the culmination of my peak training for Patriots Half, so I had already generated a good bit of fatigue from the previous weeks and the 10 mile run I had done the day before. I was interested to see how my body handled everything.

Sunday morning came around bright (err...it was still dark) and early. I woke up, heated up some of the gluten free blueberry pancakes that I made on Saturday morning, topped them with some peanut butter and syrup for a tasty race ready breakfast of champions, and we out the door within 30 minutes. I then took the short and sweet ride of 8 miles to Reston Town Center where I appeared to be the first person. Seriously. My work had planned to take a team picture for those of us riding the century at 6:30 (others who weren't going as long had until 10 am to start the course, so they could show up later), so I wanted to show up the ride with plenty of time to get things in order. When I pulled up, I had to do a lap around the area, because I saw no signs that the ride was going on. I started wondering whether or not the ride was on Saturday. That would have been a bummer. I finally made it back to one of the parking lots, where I started getting my gear in order. Shortly after, a few other people with bikes showed up so I knew I was in the right place.

After meeting up with some coworkers and taking our group picture we just kind of headed out. The thing about these rides is that there is no "official" start. You show up, meet your buds, and then go. So we started out as a group of 3, but in a larger pack of about 15 that all seemed to be starting together. I rode with my coworker, who is a member of the Reston Bicycle Club, and he introduced me to his friend - a 63 year old beast, who does nothing else in life but ride his bike. You think I'm kidding. He's retired and all he does is ride his bike. So I wasn't surprised when after hitting open pavement that he shot ahead, expecting us to follow at 23 mph. Now on a normal ride, I'd have no objections than going a bit hard from the get go, but this is a century - something I haven't done, nor am I in the shape to hammer it for that long. I may be crazy, but I ain't that crazy. Oh yea, and the main miles of the ride are very hilly (see ride file at the bottom). No need to burn off my legs so early. So when he realized that we wouldn't go that fast, we settled on 21 mph (still faster than I wanted to go) as a compromise.

About 10 miles in, my coworker was leading with me following, and the 63 year old machine behind me. We approached an intersection, and my coworker yells "clear", but also sees a car off to the far right and decides to put the brakes on, thinking that our group wouldn't be able to make it across in time. Fortunately, I reacted in time to skid off to the right. The 63 year old ran straight into me, barely slowing down, slamming his front tire into my leg. It all happened so fast, but somehow I didn't go down. I did get a terrible hip flexor cramp though from clenching from the impact, which must have been what saved me from falling. He, unfortunately fell over. The good news was that he got up and his body was good to go, minus a few scrapes. The bad news was that one of his rear wheel spokes had broken and his brake caliper was bent. After attempting to remedy the situation, he decided to walk back to the closest rest station and see what, if anything, they could do. With nothing else to do from our end, we pressed on.

At mile 26, we had made it to the central rest stop, which is the key link between the two hilly loops. A quick top off of water, and we headed off. This loop, the hardest of the two, was one I rode a little while back on my 80 miler. It is basically a series of rollers and 2 longer, very steep climbs. The steepest of the 2 climbs is about 1.5 miles long, with a section that peaks out at 18% grade (see 1st of 2 back to back steep dips around mile 40). I was glad to have already done this loop prior, because I knew not to tire myself out on the rollers leading up to the climb. I simply spun away until we finally got to the climb. And then I spun some more. Only a lot slower. After that was an extended down hill and then the 2nd climb, which was a little longer and a challenge, because the legs were spent from the climb a few miles back. The rest of the loop was more rollers, but we also got a surprise. We spotted the 63 year old guy heading out on the loop! We found out later that they were able to replace the spoke and adjust the caliper, so he was good to go for the rest of the ride.

We finally found ourselves back at the rest stop again having gone about 54 miles total. This time was actually the first time I wanted to stop. I needed more sports drink, so I topped off a bottle to take with me. And then I headed over to the feed area and spotted a tasty treat - PB&J. But this wasn't an ordinary PB&J - it was a Great Harvest Bread Co PB&J, which meant that each slice was a solid 2 inches think. There were also some awesome oatmeal raisin cookies, which I had to sample. It was sweetness!

Then we headed out for the 2nd loop, which I was told was all rollers. This was true, but there were also some extended hills that you still had to grind up in your easiest gear. About half way through the loop, around mile 70, my legs didn't want to climb anymore. I felt fine, but I had no pull on the back side of my stroke anymore. When we were on a flat, I could hold 20+ easy. But the second we hit a hill, I'd drop back from my group. It was kind of demoralizing, because I knew I had it in me to ride with them, but I just couldn't.

Eventually, with a total of 77 miles done, we got back to the rest stop for the final time. We pressed on toward Ashburn, where the final rest stop was, and where it was rumored that they had ice cream. Most of this part of the course was either on or off to the side of the W&OD trail, which meant that it was mostly flat (thank goodness!). We finally pulled into the Ashburn rest stop with the intent of picking up some ice cream (it was only 9 miles to the finish). But there was no ice cream! Boo. So we left empty handed for the last 9 miles. Although I was feeling weak, I also wanted to finish strong, so I broke away from the group (of course they both quickly jumped to follow on my wheel) and pulled them for the next 5 miles at between 22 and 23 mph. I was pretty happy to be able to keep that pace after 90+ miles, but lost steam as we encountered the last couple of miles which were gradual uphills.

The last notable thing that happened was about 2 miles from the finish. I was eagerly anticipating my watch to show 100 miles. Sadly, it had other plans. The memory filled up at 99.4 miles! You could have felt the air as it was sucked out of me. So sad. But oh well...whatcha gonna go. I did the distance, put in some solid time on the saddle, ate some good food, and had fun. Below is my file from the ride (click to expand):

Final stats
Distance: 102 miles
Elevation: 5875 ft
Time: 5:47:57
Speed: 17.5 mph
Average HR: 132

Friday, August 14, 2009

Always the Rabbit

I don't know why, but whenever I am in the pool, it always seems like I am the rabbit to everyone. Let me give you a brief history of my swimming skillz - I'm not a good swimmer. I'm what I would consider "average", but far below where I am at when compared to my cycling or running. I put in my time in the pool, but it just doesn't materialize like it does for the other sports. I know swimming is different and I need to seek out outside help to improve it. But that is besides the point of this post.

The point of this post is to describe the constant beatings I take in the pool. Not physical though, as much as I love race start simulations. These are of the mental, emotional kind, which are equally crushing. As an "average" swimmer, I don't make the mistake of thinking I should be passing people. I'm used to be passed and I accept it. But what I don't accept is when people use me for me...ummm...my LACK of speed in the water.

Take for example, the other day. Super swim chick was in the pool, splashing her way through some really hard and fast 50m sets. I was swimming sets of 300m, 400m, 500m, so in no way did I expect to be keeping any pace. But I noticed something while I was swimming my laps. She was using me! She'd wait on the wall and then hold until the exact same spot...and then shoot out off the wall like a cannon. At first I thought we were just synched up with each others intervals. But then my breaks were different than hers and she still managed to use me on the next set and just waited for me. But I never made eye contact with her. I should have given her the evil eye to tell her that I knew what was up. Oh well...next time. Not only did it annoy me because I knew she was using me as her rabbit, but she made the water annoyingly rough. Yea, yea...rough water = race simulation. I get it. But some days you just don't feel like it and want a nice calm swim. That day was not a day I felt like dealing with rough stuff.

Let me assure you though, this was not the first time this has happened. I've noticed a trend. Is it my uber triathlon-looking self? Do I intimidate people at the pool? Or do I look like a fool who needs to be used? Whatever it is, I am constantly used as a rabbit for the enjoyment of others. And now I feel abused ;(

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Me (Eat a Peach Ride Report)

I meant to write this up a few days ago, since the ride was on Saturday, but I'm still sweating out from these past days of intense heat. Similar to the Air Force Classic, the Eat a Peach Ride was another ride that was sponsored by the cycling club at work :) Set in hilly Carrol County, MD, this ride is notorious for the relentless hills. A coworker of mine rode this last year and said it was hilly, but I've been training exclusively on the hills all season, so I couldn't imagine anything different that what I've seen. The ride has 4 options, ranging from the "Peach Fuzz", which is a 12 mile route, to the "Peach Pit", which is the full 100 mile route that contains more than 7000 ft of climbing. I opted for the "Peach Jam" - the 67 mile option, which is also part of the 100 mile route.

My goal for this ride was to hit it pretty hard with race pace intensity for the first 56 miles to try and get a good feel for time expectations for Patriots Half, which is coming up in exactly a month. While this course is far from anything I'll see on the flat course for Patriots, I wanted to see how I'd fare on a hilly course, which should give me an indication of where my minimum time should be come race day.

The ride was very informal and had no official start. You just kind of went. So after posing for some group pictures with my cycling club, I set off with a few of them, since they knew where we were going and I did not. After a few short minutes, I could tell I was going to have to try my luck at finding other riders. One rider from my club stayed with me, but when we got to the first rest stop (mile 15), he pulled over! Not needing a break, nor caring to, I pressed on to look for people to pick off.

And pick off people I did. From mile 15 to mile 56 I pretty much rode Zone 3, with spikes into Zone 4/5 on the climbs. For the remainder of the ride, I had nobody riding with me. I'd see a group in the distance and begin to reel them in. While doing so and upon closing the gap, I made sure to stay far left so as to not draft. I wanted to use this ride as an opportunity to race like I would in a triathlon, not in a cycling event where sniffing someone's behind for miles on end is considered commonplace. Plenty of people rode off mine for short periods, but either a smelled or I was pushing too hard, because in a matter of minutes they would be gone.

By the time I hit 56 miles, I was pleasantly surprised at my time. I was just under 3 hours, which is pretty close to 20 mph. But these were no flats that I was riding through...these were constant hills. And not the gradual kind that you can just cruise up with a high cadence and a low gear. I often found myself out of the saddle, because when I was sitting I could not move my pedals fast enough to keep from toppling. There were only a few longer (1 mile plus) climbs. Most of them were .25 - .75 miles, but very steep. There were a lot of people walking their bikes up some of them, but I was not one of them.

After I hit my 56 miles, I continued to push, but without the same fire. I achieved my goal, so it was now time to make my way on home. It was ONLY 11 more miles. But let me tell you...those 11 miles had some serious hills. Some of the steepest and more challenging ones were saved for last. In fact, I hit my slowest speed of the day on what I considered the longest and steepest climb, which occurred with about 2 miles to go - 5.5 mph. I barely kept from toppling over, but I creaked up the climb with my heart rate skyrocketing into Zone 5, as you can see by the two spikes in green (HR) and red (elevation) on the far right in the graph below (click to see larger).

As I was rolling into the last mile of the ride, I saw someone running along the side of the road, who also happened to have their number still on (from the bike ride). I thought to myself that someone was trying to show me up by going for a brick run off the bike. As I got closer, things looked a little more familiar. There was a DCTri jersey. As I got closer, of course I knew who it was. It was Jeanne! I shouted hi to her as I rode by and we eventually met up later under the food tent to discuss the challenging day. Always nice to see a familiar face!

So final stats on the day:
Distance: 67 miles
Elevation Gain: 4741
Time: 3:51
Speed: 18 mph
Average HR: 144 bpm

Quick funny note - before the ride started, I saw this guy roll up on his motorcycle, with his bike attached to the back. The bike almost looked bigger than the motorcycle. I had to snap this picture, because I thought it was hilarious.

After the ride, I went to take advantage of the ride's namesake. PEACHES!

I made appropriate use of my bike jersey pockets in the back and made several trips to stock up on some peaches. Mmmm...tasty! And of course, I also spotted some kettle korn, so you know I had to get some of that action too!

Sunday included some more fun heat training, since it will likely be hot during Patriots by the time I am running. The forecast for Sunday was mid 90s, so I set out for my 1:40 run at 9 am, so I wasn't completely in the heat of the day. But trust me, it was hot! While I was running the temperature was 90, with a heat index at about 95...plus the sun was glaring down...and I ran with no shade cover....on purpose. I finished my run and jumped straight into the shower. And for the first time EVER, I made it a cold shower. Not because of the recovery effect, but because my core temperature was probably very hot. In fact, when I got out of the shower, I continued to sweat as if I was running over the course of the next hour. I re-hydrated and eventually stopped sweating.

One month to go till the big day with only a few more weeks of hard training. Woo!

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Quick IT Related Rant

I just had to chime in here, because I am infuriated at my IT situation at work right now. I am going to caveat this with the fact that I am an IT guy, so I am very familiar with standard release management processes for software, etc.

Listen to this scenario and you tell me if there is anything wrong:

- Work pushes out a security patch to all computers on the network, which requires a restart
- Computer restarts, only to not accept my user name or login
- I call the help desk
- I sit on hold for 30 minutes while the help desk answers other people
- I finally get to explain my problem and they tell me that it is a firm wide problem
- I ask when will it be resolved
- They respond that they do not know and it is considered a "moderate priority" that "they are working diligently to resolve the issue"

So let me get this straight. You have a patch that you released to the whole company and many of those who received it cannot log into their computers, which means no work can be done. (Oh they joys of being dependent on computers...what did we do without them?) Wouldn't you think that you'd make sure this type of thing wouldn't happen before you released it to the whole company? Or how about increasing the priority for resolving it to "HIGH", instead of "moderate"?

So I got into work at 8:15, sat around for 3 hours trying to do things that I didn't need a computer for, and finally gave up and had to come home so I can be on a computer where I can get email and actually, you know, do work.

Thanks help desk. I still can't use my computer. What a waste.

UPDATE: I received a phone call at 3:45 to resolve the issue. After walking through a series of steps, my computer is back to being operational. So I went a grand total of 7.5 hours without the use of my work computer. Now that is productivity!
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