Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To be fast, you have to run with the fastest

After a day off Monday, I entered Tuesday with the idea to do a double.  However, I switched things up and took my easy run in the morning instead of the usual tempo run.  So I went for an easy 7 in beautiful weather in the morning.  Then in the afternoon I decided to really stir the pot...

I'll give you a quick rundown of the running scene in Baltimore.  Every county and Baltimore City each has its own running club.  Most of the clubs are made up of average mid pack runners with each club having a few studs.  I am mainly affiliated with the Baltimore Road Runners Club and without bragging too much, I am essentially their ace.  In the annual club challenge race, I was their top guy and in all their races this year, I have either won or been the first BRRC member to finish.  In addition to the "county" clubs, some of the local stores have teams and training groups.  Most of those are also made up of mid-packers.  There is certainly nothing wrong with this since the mid-pack runner has made our sport into the popular success it is today.  The only problem I come across is that there is almost no one to run with at my pace.  When it comes time for workouts, I usually have no choice but to solo them just because I know no one who can keep up.

That was at least until now.  There is one group in Baltimore that has locked up nearly all the fast runners.  Falls Road Running and their team also known as "That's what she said" holds workouts on Tuesday evenings at one of the high school tracks in the area.  Though I've sort of known about them for a while, it was not until relatively recently that I had any shot at staying with their mid to top guys.

As I got faster, I eventually realized that about 90-95% of the runners beating me out there were Falls Road guys.  Some Howard County Striders and other random people were in the mix too, but more often than not, Falls Road cleans up.  For a while, I resisted joining them, opting instead to coin them as the enemy and use it as motivation to get faster.  However, Lebron James had the right idea.  So I finally caved and went to a workout.

I joined a small group that was doing 4x 2miles at 5:45 pace with 2-3 minutes rest.  It was awesome.  We hit the first rep a bit slow at nearly 6:00 pace.  The next two were at 5:35 pace.  During the final one, someone dropped the hammer with 1200 meters to go, but I went right along and he eventually faded as I took the last bit of the final rep.  I absolutely loved being able to do a workout with people around my ability.  I ran a much tougher workout than I would have solo and got a solid 11 miles with warm up and cool down for my afternoon run.  Quite the solid day.

I'll be joining them as much as possible over the next few months.  It should help shake things up a bit and possibly propel me to a higher level.

Run More..Run Faster!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The 10K That Was Not, and Irene Ruining the Best Laid Plans

Since my 5K race, I've put some more running and cycling mileage in, getting closer to where I need to be.  For the week ending on the 21st (my training schedules run Monday-Sunday), I ran a total of 60 miles and biked 130.  I ran a 10K race that ended up being closer to 6 miles but regardless of the distance, the race was quite even with splits of 5:41, 5:35, 5:40, 5:47, 5:37, and 5:40 for a 5:40 average.  I would have been very close to a PR, finishing just a few seconds off.  Of course, my current 10K PR was on a relatively hilly course while this race was flat.  Regardless, it is certainly a step in the right direction, and not too bad the day after a 14 mile run.  Immediately after the race, I rode 20 miles on my bike with someone else.  Drafting off a tri bike and using aero bars in tight quarters can be...exciting.

I decided to bump my mileage up for this coming week.  With the tempo run and two races the previous week, I figured I could get away with one workout and one race this week.  I hit another good tempo run on Tuesday morning, running 9 miles total with 4.5 at tempo pace, once again 5:40/mile.  My 3 1.5 mile loops were: 8:36, 8:19, 8:37.  I'm finally over the sluggish 8:50+ starts and that second loop was quite strong.  I'll be adding a 4th loop once September rolls around but it's good to see the times approaching sub-8:30 slowly but surely.

The rest of my runs during the week were just easy runs for distance.  I also rode 40 miles on Tuesday (after the east coast earthquake) and 50 on Wednesday.  That 50 miler was the longest I've ridden in a couple of months and the first time I did that much back to back.  I managed 20.8mph for the 40 and 20.4mph for the 50 on a somewhat hilly ride with decent flats and no climbs.  My right knee bothered me a bit during the 50 and didn't feel right Thursday.  By Friday though it was fine.  I may have to tweak my seat height just a tad, but we'll see how I handle more of those back-to-back style days.

Friday afternoon I did a run-bike-run brick workout.  To be honest, I have not been doing enough of these and am trying hard to get at least one in a week.  The problem is just how long they take.  This particular one, a 2 mile run, 31 mile bike, and 6.3 mile run took me around 2.5 hours with "transition time" to pull my bike out of my car and put it back when I was done.  Between my longer rides and my long run, it's certainly a lot of time out there.  I certainly don't mind it, but it just takes some getting used to!  I managed 21mph for the bike ride, my first ever ride with an average speed over 20.  I'm really starting to get a good groove going on the bike.  My cadence is pretty locked in and I can tell when I'm not riding in the optimum gear.  Between my new wheels and just practicing, I get more out of standing in the saddle to power over hills and keep that speed up.  In general, I'm just getting better at being able to apply my strong aerobic base to the bike now that my bike legs and technique are catching up to my other abilities.

I then went off the beaten path Friday night which unfortunately made for a rather hellacious 18 mile run.  In my best impression of a collegiate runner (I've heard rumors...), I stayed out rather late Friday night and had quite a few more drinks than I've had in a long time!  It was certainly worth a night out in Baltimore's Harbor East/Fells Point, but when I finally got myself home and went to sleep at 1:30AM, I knew that 18 miler was going to be painful!

With no substantial dinner after that brick workout, too much alcohol, and 4 hours of sleep, I stumbled to my car at 5:45AM to meet up with a running group to get a 6AM start on 18 before hurricane Irene reared her ugly head.  Though it was cloudy and there was a cool breeze, it was humid as crap, and I felt like crap!  I ended up doing nearly the entire run with someone else back from a year long injury who has been struggling badly to get her times back down (including going back under 3 hours for the marathon).  I've run with her a couple of times now, just to give that slight extra push on the pace to nudge those times down.  It also gives me an opportunity to get in slightly more relaxed long runs, rather than banging them all out at sub-7 minute pace as I usually do.  Of course, we're still talking anywhere from ~7 minutes to 7:45, so its not like I'm slacking!

Today though, I think I was the one getting dragged along.  Somehow I survived though I felt pretty awful most of the way and at the end.  I was quite dizzy too thanks to my clinic of what not to do before a long run: drink alcohol, and don't eat a lot.  However, it certainly counts for fighting through rough times!

I was supposed to run the Annapolis 10 Miler tomorrow, but unfortunately, it got cancelled now that hurricane Irene is pummeling Maryland.  Regardless, I will still attempt a 10 mile run tomorrow (yes outside) when I see some "reasonable" conditions.  I've already run through a tropical storm once and my share of snow storms so this won't be anything new.  If I manage that 10, I will have run 70 miles for the week and biked 121.

My next race will be a 20 miler next Sunday, which has just become much more important.  Of course, I was doing a lot of tempo work in preparation for the 10 miler that never was, but this 20 miler should also give me a decent evaluation of how close I am to a sub-2:40.  I just need to decide on my starting pace, either 6:00/mile or 6:20/mile.  6 flat would certainly be aggressive, but it should be doable for at least 10-15 miles (I hope).  There is really only one way to find out...

Run and Bike More!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Regaining That Which Was Taken From Me: BRRC Track 5K RR!!

Today, at long last, I finally have a halfway decent indication that things are going well.  I ran a 5K track race put on by the Baltimore Road Runners Club this evening.  The race was stacked with a whole bunch of fast runners.  It made for some good competition, that's for sure.

A 5K on a 400m track is quite an experience, with 12.5 laps making up the whole race.  The best approach is just to hit your pace, zone out how much is left to go and just power through lap after lap, turn after turn, and straight after straight.  The excessively large amount of feedback on pace can both help and hurt, especially for a runner like me who does not use GPS or heart rate monitors, just a watch and "feel."

My goal for this race was to go out at 5:20 pace and see what happens.  Quite the plan, eh?  5:20 corresponded to 40 second 200 meter splits/80 second 400 meter splits.  I knew it would be a bit hard to keep track of pace since I had no interest in hitting my lap split button every 400 meters, but I've done many track races before so I knew to just deal with it.  The race actually starts on the back of the track and finishes on the front, so that the clock at the finish becomes next to useless since your splits are all with 200 extra meters of running.  Thankfully, some guy was calling out splits from the original start line which really helped.

I toed up to a very crowded start line and we were off in a flash.  A massive pack of about 10 runners took the lead with me and 3 others hanging on in the back.  We went through the first 200 dead on 40 seconds.  I hit 80 for the first lap.  Though the main pack was pulling away, I stayed put and two other runners followed suit.  I stayed behind the second runner and just settled into a steady groove.

Mile 1: 5:15.  A bit fast, but I felt rather relaxed.  As we approached 6 laps to go, the middle runner in our group started to fade and I went around him, tucking in behind the runner in our trio that was leading the way.  As we pushed forward that runner faded out of hearing range.  Things were getting a bit hairy as we started lapping people.  That's what happens when you have 29 runners on the track all running very different paces.  However, most people actually got out of the way (which is certainly very appreciated), but even the ones that didn't were no problem.  I never felt impeded in anyway and their encouragement was very helpful!

Around and around we went until we hit 2 miles in 10:33.  Some quick math made me realize I just banged out a 5:18.  As far as I'm concerned, that was dead on even!  I also kept that little bit in mind that the runner I was tucked in behind was probably starting to fade a bit and I would have to make a move soon to keep the pace up.

As we hit 3 laps to go, I started straining a little.  That smooth relaxed pace was getting tougher to maintain.  Regardless, I dove out to lane 2 on the front stretch and got around the runner I had been following for mile 2.  After a clean pass, I put distance on him and eventually took him out of the picture.  There were some fading runners ahead of me, but I never caught up.  I was more concerned with just trying to hold on.

With 2 laps to go, I knew a big success was in my grasp.  I don't remember my exact time, but I do remember the thought that even a 3:00 800 meter would still give me a sub-17.  I thought to myself, no way will I slow that much!!  Around and around I went again, slowly getting more tired but still running strong.  As I approached the final stretch, I threw down whatever I had left and crossed the line in:


2 seconds faster than my 5K road race PR.  I ran that race back in March on a stress fracture.  In fact, I shut it down for good just a couple days after that race.  That was a race in which the first mile was all downhill and the rest flat.  In my opinion, this race was harder.  Regardless, three things hold true:

1. I felt strong during this race and strong at the end meaning my 5K legs are back
2. It was so relieving to be able to race a 5K without nagging pain in my left leg
3. My confidence is really making a come back

It only takes a couple good races for everything to fall back into place.  I'm still not ready to even think a 2:39:59 is possible at Philly since 5Ks mean jack in marathons but this is another important step in that direction!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Du the 2 Additional Notes...Splits and Pics

This race was so awesome that I'm going to talk about it again.  First, here's a link to an article summing up the day:

I actually got mentioned for leading the first run.  The video also has a short interview they did during my second transition.  You can even get a great look at my weird running form when they show the leaders at the end of run #1.

My first run, clocked at 11:13.  I actually crossed the 2 mile point in under 11 minutes, but the timing mat was at the start of transition.  I was #1 going into T1.

Here are some picks.  I'm the guy in the white/blue/black/green Liquigas Cannondale jersey.  Sooner or later I'll have an Adventures for the Cure jersey to represent my cycling team, but until then, I'll pretend to be a pro rider...
Some notes.  The guy directly behind me, also a Back on my Feet runner is a much stronger cyclist than me, but I'm a better runner.  He crushed me on the bike and actually had a faster second run.  I've been trying to keep up with him on rides, but he's still got more speed!

#218 was the overall winner.  He runs as fast as I do, but is also a cat 2 road cyclist (aka a beast).  He crushed the bike course and his overall time was 10 minutes faster than me.  I still beat him to T1 though!

I had a decent lead going into the turn to transition and was feeling quite pleased, as you can see by my expression...

Lots of bikes!  I knew exactly where mine was, nothing like getting lost and hunting for your bike.

"Hey look at that runner trying to transition!"  If I had psyched anyone out on the first run, they probably realized right away that I was a fraud, a sheep in wolf's clothing, or whatever cliche you want to use!  T1 took an agonizing 1:22, good for 84th overall.  I was in 6th place before even mounting my bike!  I spent most of my time on my cycling shoes, had trouble unracking my bike, and wasted too much time with my helmet.  I've already got ideas for next time...  Including: putting my stuff near my down tire since that is the side that is easiest to unrack the bike, strapping 4 of my 6 straps on my cycling shoes, and doing the shoes first followed by the helmet, without standing in between.  Hopefully that will get me down to the top spots.

Running on speed play zero cleats is tough, but I'm getting pretty good at it.  Right behind me is that Back on my Feet runner.  My Cannondale SuperSix with RS10 wheels is certainly no match for his Slice was 59mm deep aero American Classic carbon wheels.  Though even with my upgraded stuff, I probably am still too slow!

And I'm off!  That dude in front of me was a beast on the bike and killed it out there.  I made it back to transition eventually right on his heels, but he killed me in the run.

Start of bike lap 2.  A slight climb, hence riding on the hoods.  I tried to spend a lot of time in the drops with all the downhills.

Near the end of the bike.  I had just blown past a triathlon bike and was coming in real hard at the end.  I had to give it a little bit of braking before hitting the last corner!  If it wasn't wet out, I would have gone full bore because I hit that last corner dead on.  The runner in the background is the same Back on My Feet runner who was now well into his first running loop.

Dismount, approaching transition 2.  Bike time for 26 miles was 1:15:45, good for 26th overall.  Only 5 minutes separated me from 10th, so there were a lot of cyclists doing similar times out there.  My new aero bars and wheels alone would have bumped me up a lot!  Training more would help too...

Even with shoes that don't need to be tied, I have a lot of trouble...  1:15, good for 69th and that is with quick tying shoes!  I need to dismount faster for one, but I'm afraid of falling.  The good people unclip one foot, swing over the back of the bike, and have both legs on the same side.  They come almost to a stop, unclip the other foot and jump off while immediately running.  I come to a stop and unclip, which takes forever.

The agony was showing on my face.  I was also completely drenched in sweat because of the humidity.  This is lap 1 of the 4 mile run.  Before this race, I did not buy into the idea that triathlon bikes save your legs better for the run.  However, I've discovered scientific tests that have proven this idea, and based on how crappy my legs felt, I agree with it!  The geometry of a triathlon bike supposedly works your legs slightly differently so that they don't feel as heavy on a run afterwards as compared to a road bike.  Oh well...

I think this is the second loop.  I look even less happy!

At long last, the finish.  Run 2, 25:48, 6:45 pace, about 4th overall.  A few people only did one loop on the second run which screwed up the rankings but after removing those individuals, my 2nd run was 4th fastest.  It was good for 12th overall and first in my age group.  I apparently looked like hell crossing the line.  This stuff is harder than marathons, believe me!

And finally, a relieved that it is over picture of me and the bike.  Of course, this pic is already outdated!  My bike actually looks a lot sexier with the new wheels and aerobars.  I'll have to get a pic of it after my next race!

Imagine those bad boys on the bike.  Note the matching color scheme, black rims and white lettering.  And yes, bikes can be hot!

Until next time....Run + Cycle More!!

Duathl...wait never mind

This past week was rather successful.  I got in 64 total miles of running, my highest week in a long time.  I did a 16 mile long run at 6:45 pace, my longest long run in a while and I biked 126 miles, the most I've done in a week.  One of those rides was a 40 miler and felt rather doable.

On all fronts, things are certainly moving forward!  My tempo run on Tuesday was at 5:47/mile pace for 4.5 miles.  Though still about 10-15 seconds slower per mile than pre-injury, it is more or less exactly where I was at this exact time last year.  Assuming I make progress similar to last year, I am rather confident that a 2:39:59 at Philly is possible.

My long run pace is equally slower, about 20 seconds per mile.  However, once again, it is comparable to last year.  When I finished that run, and still felt great despite the slower times, I realized that being healthy and able to run was more important than being 100% on top of my game.  I'm not forcing any times, and am really just enjoying the steady comeback.  This resurgence has really reminded me that times are not everything, miles are not the be all end's all about just being healthy enough to get out there and get done what you can handle!

After that Saturday long run, I got my bike ready for the Lums Pond Duathlon that was to take place Sunday up in Delaware.  I "borrowed" a friend's apartment nearby (my former college roommate is the man) and was excited for the fast and flat course.  This duathlon was to feature a 2 mile run, 19.5 mile bike, and 3.2 mile run.  I had upgraded my bike this week with carbon aero bars and full carbon aero wheels.  The aero bars allow me to get into a more aerodynamic position (while sacrificing some handling and control).  Though not as good as a triathlon bike since a road bike does not quite have the same geometry, I can still get a pretty good boost on flats and downhills.  The wheels, quite a hefty investment, are both lighter and more aerodynamic than my previous set.  This wheelset, the Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLs were the perfect compromise between durability, weight, price, and aerodynamic character.  They spin up so much easier making it easy to accelerate, stay spinning fast, requiring me to fight less at high speed, and are much stiffer making climbing and cornering easier.

So I've got this sweet bike and bike legs that are starting to click, all ready to go and what happens?  Rain, of biblical proportions!!  It rained A LOT this weekend and Delaware got hit the hardest.  I got to DE 7pm on Saturday night.  About 20 minutes after that, it started raining and literally never stopped the rest of the time I was up there.  When I woke up at 5:00AM on Sunday to go the race, it was a torrential downpour.  I drove through a few washed out roads and somehow didn't crash on my way to the race.

When I finally got there, the rain still had not let up.  They finally announced the inevitable...the bike leg for the Du was cancelled, and the swim and bike for the Triathlon were also cancelled.  They decided to combine the two run loops and make a 6 mile running race for those that chose to stay.

On one hand, I was a bit disappointed that I would not get to try out the bike and that I paid $110 for what would end up being a running race.  On the other hand, I was relieved, because it was dangerous out there.  I figured at the least, I could win the whole damn thing now.  No way I was going to get out run by some multisport athletes!

A lot of people stayed, creating a rather large field of a couple hundred runners.  The plan was to do the first running loop (2 miles), run through transition, do the second run loop (~3 miles), run through transition again, then do the first loop one more time and cross the finish.  I know that doesn't equal 6 miles, but a few garmins confirmed that was the distance.

The Du and Tri were to be scored separately despite the mass start (yay timing chips!).  Regardless, my plan was simple..beat all these fools!  The rain slackened a little for the race but it was so ridiculously wet out there that it really did not matter.  The first 2 miles largely to my surprise were on trails.  While running through puddles, mud, water, and slipping everywhere, I thought to myself "so I was supposed to do a duathlon, but now I'm in the middle of a freaking trail race, great!!"

I knew everyone would have the adrenaline flowing after all the hoop-la about the changed race, so I made sure not to go out too hard as about a dozen other people did.  I was easily 10-12 at the very start.  After the first mile, 2 runners had separated themselves and ran close behind the lead vehicle (a yellow ATV...the most bad ass lead vehicle ever!).  I did more sliding than running on the trail parts but as the footing got better, I slowly closed on those lead runners and dropped the rest of the fading pack.  They looked pretty legit, as oppose to the others that just burned out too fast.

We ran through transition and hit some solid pavement for the next part of the course.  I continued closing bit by bit, inch by inch on the leaders.  The pair started to break apart and just as that happened, I caught up and went shoulder to shoulder with the overall leader.  I would later find out that I blew the duathlon field out of the water and I was only racing triathletes.  Though I had already locked up the victory, I fully intended to be the first athlete across the line, period!  We made the turnaround to head back to transition and do the first loop over again.

During the race, I did not know for sure that this was the plan, but based on my watch, I figured that was it.  Good thing I was right...  I poured it on during this part because I knew things would get hairy once we got back to the wet grass and trails.  I put some solid distance on my foe, though he stayed in the vicinity the rest of the time.

I was now in an ideal spot.  I had not led from the start (I hate doing that) and was now in the lead with less than 1/4 of the race to go.  All that was left was to seal the deal.  As we ran through transition again, I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder.  As I looked back forward, I almost ran into a volunteer who was trying to get me to run over the correct timing mat.  I ended up slipping and busting my ass, falling on my left side.  I immediately got back up and started running again.  It took a few strides to shake off the pain, but I kept going.

I pushed forward, over the grass, through puddles, sliding through the mud, around and around until finally I started heading back towards the finish.  My last time through the muddy area was almost horrible as I slid real, real far but somehow stayed upright.  I usually slip on my trailing leg which is easy to catch, but at this race I kept slipping on my lead leg which was causing me to almost fall right on my butt every time!

As I rounded one of the final turns on wet grass, once again, I slipped real bad and fell this time busting the right side of my ass.  At least it was even now...  Before this race, in nearly 14 years of running, I had fallen a grand total of 3 times.  Now, over the course of a 34 minute race I fell badly, twice!  Talk about an adventure...

Of course I did the same damn thing the last time I fell, got back up and kept running.  I didn't feel much pain this time, because I was hell bent on finishing first.  Thankfully, I had a big enough lead that my mishaps did not cost me position (though I may have been able to break 34 minutes if it was not for that!).

I ended up crossing the line 1st overall in 34:18, 5:47 pace on a very slippery course in which I fell twice.  Talk about a strong run...

For my trouble, I got a big gold medal and actually got to stand on a podium for the first time.  Not to mention a lot of kudos from all the tri and duathletes out there.  I'm actually quickly becoming known in the multisport world for being such a strong runner.  I'm really hoping that I'll someday be comparable on the bike, because then I can really do some damage.

So it was that I won my first "duathlon" even if it turned out to be a run, run, run (yes they actually called it that...) instead of a run, bike, run.

I'll get two more chances to test out my running legs at a BRRC 10K this weekend and the Annapolis 10 Miler next weekend.  This race gave me a lot more confidence in my tempo pace!  Now let's see what I can do in some real running races.  My next duathlon will hopefully be at the end of September, unless I can find one sooner!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Second "A" Group Ride...slightly better results

I went out for a second attempt at staying with AFC's "A" group for a 35 mile bike ride of torture.  My cycling computer decided to not work (the sensor was out of alignment) so I don't have speed data.  However, based purely on staying with the pack, I did a bit better.

This time, I survived the first hill and made it to the first area that they sprint.  I was stuck in the back, for some reason I never seem to stay in the middle of the paceline since riders are constantly rotating.  I guess I have to pay more attention to the flow around me.  There is certainly none of this in running!  Anyway, just before the sprint I was behind two other riders who fell off the pace a bit so I went around them and dropped the hammer just in time to catch up to the main group.

The actual sprint lasts about 1.6 miles.  It seemed like they were in a double file line with the leaders dropping back every so often to allow a fresh cyclist to lead.  I never did bother working my way up to the front.  It pretty much took everything I had just to barely stay with it.  My heart was pounding through my chest and I was breathing about 5K effort hard (some others seemed a bit more comfortable!).  My quads and hamstrings felt like they were going to explode out of my legs.

As we neared the end, the pace picked up to another level that I did not have and I slowly lost contact with the pace line.  However, I was certainly not the first to do so, as only a small handful of the rather large group actually made it to the end in the line.  We regrouped at the conclusion, and I was happy to still be with the group.  I had already improved over last week to last this long.  Not to mention that sprinting down the road with 10-15 other cyclists is quite the adrenaline rush...

The pace slackened as we approached the first decent hill climb...Lawyers Hill.  I don't know how long this hill is, but it certainly feels like it goes on forever.  Of course, I thought I was hot shit at this point, still being with the A group this far into the ride.  As we climbed the hill, I was able to stay with the group rather easily, especially on the steep part.  As the hill started to level out, I once again somehow found myself in the back.  One of these days, I'll keep myself in the middle!!  Some people started to drop and I was stuck behind them.  A gap started to form and I went around to try and close it.  However, I seemed to have very little left in my legs as that all too familiar feeling of getting dropped reared its ugly head again!

No matter what I did, the pelaton slowly rode off until they were out of sight.  Defeated by the hill!!!  A few of us had a rotating pace line going in an attempt to catch back up.  I also now finally know what to do in a rotating pace line (definitely still a newb here...).  It involves a continuous circle basically.  The lead rider moves left and lets the second rider in the line take over while he falls to the end.  Then after a few minutes, the new lead rider backs off and so on.  In this rotating fashion, everyone gets to hide in the draft to recover and the pace quickens.

Unfortunately it did not work, and I didn't know what I was doing anyway!  I went through the next section, the one true hill climb on the course and managed to out climb the 4 riders around me.  Just as I was cresting the hill, the bulk of the A group started going off, their rest complete.  I had two choices.  I could have gone after them with no rest after my hill climb or rested and dealt with either trying to catch them or hanging back with the other stragglers.

Since my heart was about to blow out of my chest, I decided to rest.  I went off in an attempt to find the A group but never caught back up.  It was irrelevant anyway, I had almost nothing left in the tank at that point.  Regardless, I was happy with the results, being able to hang on just a bit longer and being able to push myself harder to the point that I truly was beat.

Talking to one of the other riders, he mentioned my best bet was to just get as many miles in as possible and by the start of the next riding season, I should be able to keep up.  This was the last group ride of this season, so now I have until March to get my ass in gear.  Very much like running, just riding a lot should really help.  Clearly, I just don't have enough in the tank hit the number of hard efforts they make during these 35 mile rides.  With some practice on my own and some longer rides, it should all come together!

I found a triathlon club that does duathlon style brick workouts on Wednesdays, as well as another group that rides Tues/Thurs to hold me over for the remainder of the riding season.  I even found a group that rides during the winter (much more difficult than running in the winter).  Hopefully all of this will continue to develop my cycling skills and by this time next year, I'll be talking about pulling along that A group instead of holding on for dear life!  During the winter, spinning becomes a viable option for cyclists but honestly, I don't know if I'll be able to stand it.  After my experiences during March/April, I don't know that I could ever use aerobic exercise equipment again!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Du the 2 Race Report

This is going to be a preliminary race report since I'm still waiting for all my splits, but I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper.

Du the 2 was my third duathlon in my still very young multisport/cycling lifestyle.  I was looking forward to this race for a long time for a few reasons:

1) It was to be my longest duathlon to date, 2 mile run, 26 mile bike, 4 mile run...twice as far as my other two Duathlons.  This was also advertised as the largest Duathlon in the Mid-Atlantic region despite being in its first year.  With over 500 registered athletes, that was more than twice the size of my previous two races combined!

2) The bike course was awesome, all rolling hills.  I rode it many times leading up the event and was excited to finally hit it during a race.  Even though the race is over, I'll continue riding in that area regularly because it is so good for road cycling.

3) A bunch of people from my main running team, Back on My Feet were doing the race.  For many, it was their first multisport event.  For a couple of others, it was one of many, though the first we were competing together.

4) My new cycling team, Adventures for the Cure was also going to be there.  If you have not heard of them, you should look them up.  The group was founded by two college roommates to raise awareness for diabetes.  Three of them went on a 6000 mile bike ride across the country on fixed single gear bikes (no coasting) to raise awareness.  Truly awesome...

The forecast was not looking very favorable.  There was a 50% chance of thunderstorms, and it had actually rained the night before.  If this were just a running race, it would be fine.  However, rain can make bike races quite dangerous.  Thankfully, there was no additional rain.  It just proved warm and humid, reaching nearly 80 degrees by the race start of 7am.  We have overcast skies though, which certainly helped.

The first two mile run was a very hilly looped course and I felt strong the whole way.  I went toe-to-toe with the person I knew would win the whole thing.  He is ever so slightly faster than me at running, but he is also a maniac on the bike, and I knew I would have no shot.  Despite getting to transition first (~10:50 for the first run), I was probably about the 5th guy out.  I still have no idea what happened.  I did not do anything different than last time and didn't fumble too much.  I think I was just outclassed by people who knew what they were doing.

Regardless, I ran out (pretty fast in cycling shoes) and got on the bike in about 5th or 6th place.  Now, I should say that this race did not have a mass start, but rather a wave start based on age groups.  Therefore, my exact position for the whole race was tough to tell, so any positional report is really just based on my wave position.  Youngest did get to go first though...

The 26 mile bike course was two loops, so I knew we would run into a lot of lap traffic on the second loop.  I decided to enjoy the wide open roads while I could.  I got passed by about 4 or 5 cyclists the entire time.  I'm not sure of the exact number though.  Most had triathlon (aka aerodynamic) bikes, or at least aero bars on their road bike, allowing the rider to get into a more aerodynamic and faster position for flats and downhills.  I've already decided to upgrade my road bike a bit to make it better for these races.  I can't afford a dedicated aero bike at the current time, but new wheels and aero bars should help me a bit.  More on that later.

Knowing the course since I rode it so many times proved to be a great asset.  I knew just how long every hill was and how sharp every turn was.  I hit the course as hard as I could without anything held back.  There was one rather dicey moment early in the race though.  The course was still damp from the previous night's rains.  Though there were no massive puddles, there was still enough water to get my tires, brake tracks, and brake pads wet.  Wet brakes means less stopping power and wet tires (especially paper thin road tires) means significantly less grip.  It can make braking quite tricky.  I was approaching a turn and planned on taking it aggressively as I have started doing.  However, I misjudged the turn a bit and realized I was probably coming in too fast to hold the line, especially with the slick ground.  So I decided to brake just a bit to get my speed under control.  I'm not sure if I hit the brakes too hard, or if the water played a roll, but my front wheel locked up.

When that happens, the tendancy is for the bike to lean forward with the rider getting tossed over the handle bars.  Since I ride with clip in pedals though, my feet stayed engaged with the pedals and my rear wheel momentarily lifted off the ground as I came out of the saddle.  The moment I knew what was happening I released the brakes and pointed the handle bars forward.  Going straight when you lose control is your best bet because the tires get maximum grip that way.  When my wheel hit the ground again I fish tailed a bit, but I managed to regain control.  The whole white knuckled event lasted about 5-10 seconds.  The volunteer and police officer at the intersection gasped, so at least I put on a show for them.  I did end up crossing the double yellow line during the incident, but no officials were around to assess a penalty, so it was all good.  Despite the incident, I was not gun shy the rest of the way, I just used my brakes less and took the turns harder, trusting my cornering ability more.  The course also dried out a bit by the second loop.

My entire bike race was centered around two other cyclists who I tried to stay with.  One rider had a road bike with areo bars and was one tough SOB because he hit everything hard with reckless abandon.  I was a stronger hill climber than him but he hit everything else so hard and got out of his saddle frequently for extra power a lot.  Another cyclist on a triathlon bike passed me late on the first loop but never really put significant distance on me.  He would pull away on downhills and flats but I always got right back on him on the hills.

We had to all contend with lap traffic on the second loop and ended up riding mostly on the left which you are only supposed to do when passing in multisport events.  However, with the large line of riders, it was perfectly acceptable.  Though, this caused multiple issues.  First, since there were a lot of first timers out there, people were unintentionally blocking riders on the lead lap.  I had to yell "on your left" quite a few times.  It can get dicey when you're riding nearly 10mph faster and overtaking people quickly.  Unfortunately, not everyone moved out of the way either, requiring me to "bend the rules" and ride on the double yellow line.  Theoretically, the other riders would be called for a blocking penalty if officials were around (there were officials on motorcycles and penalties were handed out, so always follow the rules at these big events!).

My second issue was with that tri-bike rider.  As the 2nd loop wore on, he was clearly getting tired.  I could see him coasting just a bit longer after each uphill.  I was also coming up just behind him on many of the hills, but keeping my 3 bike length distance.  Passing him would not have made much sense because he would have just passed me right back after the hill.  With all the lap traffic around us, there was no room anyway since we were both out on the left passing people.

As we closed in to the final few miles, I decided I was going to pass him.  I had been tearing up the bike course up to that point and knew I was going to pay for it on the second run.  Without knowing what would happen post-transition, I was pretty sure I would need to pass the tri-bike before the bike course ended.  As we went up the final hill, I once again pulled to within 3 bike lengths of him.  After the crest, I pedaled harder to keep my speed up and stayed with him.  As I waited for my moment, I got real fired up after cheering for the leader (who was already on his second run) and getting cheered by a friend on his first bike loop.  With the adrenaline flowing at the point and a gap, I laid down a massive sprint.  I never bothered to look at my computer, but a few people told me afterwards that I was cranking it hard.

I overtook and blew past the tri bike.  As we hit the final downhill I continued to put distance on him despite his aero advantages.  I even caught up to the other road biker with aero bars.  I averaged nearly 21 mph according to my computer, which was awesome considering back in early July, without running beforehand, I barely managed 19.9.  After dismounting (and almost falling), I ran in, racked my bike, switched to the running shoes and ran off to try and catch that road cyclist for good.

Only problem was, my legs were finished.  The hilly 4 mile run certainly did not help.  I was also completely drenched in sweat.  I never caught the other runner, but did not get passed either.  Without splits, I don't know what my second run time was but it certainly felt slow.  I managed to cross the line in about 1:55, for a win in my age group (25-29) and a ~13th place overall; still waiting for the official results.

Overall, it was an awesome and challenging race.  I felt strong on the bike the whole way (taking a bottle of Gatorade helped).  All the bike miles and riding with faster people are slowly starting to pay off.  I still have lots of room to improve on the bike, but I'm heading in the right direction.  For that second run, other than just training (I found a triathlon club that does run-bike-run workouts complete with racks to keep your bike in between), I think eating on the bike will help.  The Gatorade certainly kept me sharp for the bike leg, but I was just completely exhausted for the run.  Part of that was just because I took the bike all out, without worrying about the run.  However, a gel or two might do the trick, especially since I can consume more on the bike without getting sick (compared to running).  My cycling jersey has pockets, but they are hard to get to while riding fast.  I'll have to invest in a little bag that sits on top of the frame to hold some food.  It also makes it very easy to stow trash (since dropping anything off your bike incurs penalties and disqualification).

Additionally, it's time to make my bike more aero.  I'm certainly getting stronger out there, but I will most likely never win a duathlon with a straight up road bike.  The road bike is a requirement for group rides and competitive cycling races (I want to get into bike racing a bit), so it is much more flexible than a triathlon bike.  It also handles corners and hills better.  However, as I said, you can't be the best with just a road bike!  Right now, I cannot afford an entire new triathlon bike.  Plus, just buying a tri bike won't do the trick anyway because I still have a lot of room to just improve my cycling legs (aka engine).  I do however have enough money to buy two upgrades that should help my bike leg a bit:

1) clip on aero bars
2) lighter AND more aerodynamic wheels.

The areo bars will give me a 4th riding position in addition to the 3 standard road bike positions (bar tops, hoods, and drops).  Whenever riding downhill or on flats where I don't need much braking or shifting, I can get into the aero bars and have more of a forward leaning and down position to cut through the wind better.  Though not as good as the aero position on a true triathlon bike (thanks to the seat angle of road bikes), it will still get the job done.  With more training on my part, the aero bars should at least help me to pass tri bikes that I catch up to on hills.

The wheels are rather interesting.  Aside from the frame, it is said that wheels have the second biggest effect on ride quality.  There is no doubt my bike is awesome, but the problem with the entry level Cannondale SuperSix is that they really went el-cheapo on the wheels.  My current wheels, Shimano RS-10s offer no aerodynamic advantage at all and weigh in at a fat and heavy ~1850 grams total.  By comparison, most low to mid range aerodynamic wheels are around 1700 grams.  Aero wheels sacrifice weight for a better profile and yet, reasonable aero wheels are lighter than my road bike wheels!  Truly a joke!  Mid range non-aero wheels are usually ~1500 grams from my research.

Of course, there are probably more wheel brands and varieties than there are bicycles, each offering advantages and disadvantages.  As you get more aero (deeper rims), you theoretically can cut through the wind better, but become more affected by cross winds.  It also becomes harder to go up hill with those heavier wheels.  Not to mention some wheel brands offer wheels that cost more than my entire bike.  Therefore, I'm looking at decently aero, stiff carbon wheels (~51 mm deep rims) that weigh in at about 1750 grams.  They will still be good enough for road racing and shouldn't be too affected by cross wind.  The wheels, Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLs are actually the standard wheel on the higher end Supersix.  After seeing the wheel in person, I'm convinced it is the one for me.

With my continued dedication to riding, these upgrades should hopefully give me more confidence to go after more riders (and tri bikes!) on the bike leg.  Sometime in the more distant future, if I get strong enough to contend for the top spots, then I'll take the plunge and invest in a triathlon bike.  Until then, I'll just keep grinding away!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Busy Busy Busy!!!

I have not updated this blog in a bit, mostly because I've been too busy running, riding, working, eating, and sleeping!  However, I'm sacrificing some sleep to put some thoughts to paper.  This is quite an interesting time in my active lifestyle as things seem to be changing for the better.

First, my training over the past weeks...  I've stayed in the 50-62 mile range for running, and 86-106 miles for bike riding.  All in all I feel like I'm getting more bang for my buck with less chance of injury this way.  The bike seems to be playing a its part in getting me back into shape.  My speedwork times have tended to be about 5 seconds slow for 800 repeats.  This could be caused by the weather, by me doing the workouts at 5am instead of the afternoon, by me being out of shape, or a combination of the three.  My tempo pace is about 10 seconds per mile too slow while my long run is about 20.  I'm not concerned or forcing anything right now.  I'll keep plugging along and as my mileage increases and the weather cools, I'm hoping for a drop in my paces.

On the racing front, I do have a new and shiny PR at the 1 mile distance.  I managed a 4:49 a couple of weeks ago, a 7 second PR.  Now I can legitimately say I'm a sub-4:50 miler.  It was all done on rather even splits too.  I also ran a 5K that was about 1/3 of a mile too long, and all uphill at the end.  I believe it was in the high 16s, similar to what I ran back in May but don't know for sure.  I managed to finish second overall.

Now onto what is quickly becoming a massive conflict of interest.  I joined a cycling team, Adventures for the Cure.  I was told by a few strong cyclists that the best way to improve your cycling legs is to join a team, ride with the fast group, and get yourself destroyed until you can keep up.  Well, that is what I've been doing.  To all the runners out there, you might want to shut your eyes, because the rest of this post will be about cycling.  Since this is my blog, I'll write what I want!

The group ride in cycling is a substantially more interesting dynamic than group runs, largely because wind resistance has a much greater effect on cycling.  In the group ride, you can draft off other cyclists to go faster, bust your butt to stay with the pace line, and really push yourself much harder than riding solo.  Imagine riding in a line of cyclists, someone overtakes the leader and then "pulls" the group on by increasing the pace.  You have no choice but to stay on the wheel in front of you, because if you get dropped, it becomes you against the wind solo trying to catch back up!

I've done two group rides with AFC.  The first was with their slower B group, partially because I was late to the ride, and partially because I had no clue about group riding.  It is not as hard as it looks, but it can be intimidating riding so close to so many riders at once.

Today, I dared to try the A group.  I had just raced a lot of these guys in a 5K and handily beat all but one of them.  So of course my pride got the better of me...  The A group ride goes on a 30 mile course through Catonsville, starting across from a park-and-ride off of I-195.  There are two designated sprint sections, one crazy hill people are supposed to attack, and another hill just thrown in there for kicks.  Some of the other terrain can be quite challenging as well.

The first sprint was to come at around Mile 8-9.  This was also unfortunately the day this group was going to try and break their record on that sprint (my thoughts were: oh F$%*&).  We started off and kept the pace somewhere between 20-25mph, occasionally dipping under 20 as turns and traffic forced us.  It was rather exciting riding in a group of 15ish riders, flying down residential and park streets at the speed limit, not having to worry about cars behind us because we were the traffic.  I would later discover I was experiencing what is known as "hiding in the draft."  Essentially, the group was not pushing all that hard, and the pace felt good to me thanks to drafting, covering up my weakness at cycling.  My key mistake was staying at the back instead of riding more in the middle of the peloton (aka pack), which varied between a single file and double file pace line.

As we approached the area of the sprint, the pace started picking up early.  Apparently someone decided to go for an early pull.  It also killed him and he got dropped from the group big time.  We hit a decent uphill before the sprint, and I started to lose contact.  This happens on hills as the better climbers overtake the weaker ones, but I also think I was overreacting to how bad I felt and probably should have just gone for it.  I'm also not used to how quickly things happen on the bike.  I thought decisions in 5Ks had to be fast, but decisions on the bike are even more intense.  Lose concentration for a moment, and you've already been dropped!

Regardless, as the pace continued to quicken, I struggled more and more to stay in the slipstream until finally I got dropped about a block or two from the sprint street which is conveniently called Race street.  Apparently they sprinted so hard that a few of the regulars ended up blowing up also.  A random road biker who realized I was dropped actually started riding with me and we drafted a bit off each other to try and get me back to the group (without actually exchanging words) but it was no good.  I was riding at best 22mph and they were clearly over 30.

I regrouped with some other casualties and we got to the 2nd hill climb which you can cut out to catch back up with the group.  So I chose that option in order to try and finish the ride with the group.  After they climbed the hill, I rejoined them for a rather long, winding, technical decent.  I hit close to 40mph in a about an adrenaline rush.

As we got closer to the end, I rode further up in the group to try and stay put and it helped.  At the very end there were a couple more decent hills followed by a relatively flat 2-3 miles back to the park-and-ride.  Our group was rather small by then as a lot of the area cyclists broke off to ride home.  Though I fell behind a bit on the hills because once again, I didn't really push as hard as I could, I did manage to catch back up on the last flat.

We did one more sprint, and this time I was determined to stay with them.  After the signal to go, the pace immediately went from the low 20s to right around 30mph+.  There were 6 of us and I was riding in the back, cranking those damned pedals as fast, hard, and smoothly as I could.  I don't think I've ever gotten as much benefit from my clipless pedals as right there.  I was barely, just barely staying on the rear wheel of the cyclist in front of me and my legs were hurting bad.  But I managed to hold it together and stayed with them the rest of the short way back.

That successful sprint at the end really sparked my competitive spirit.  I am certainly over matched, though just being a little more confident in "riding harder" will help me in the future.  Rather than be discouraged, I'm already counting down the days until next Wednesday, and my next shot at staying with that group.

All the while, I'll be training for the Philly Marathon, which I've officially signed up for.

Don't just RUN MORE...CYCLE MORE too!