Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My 2016 Season in Review

Wow, another year has passed already, and I haven't even posted once since last year's retrospective! Perhaps I've been too busy training toward my goals to write about them.

My year in general has revolved around large amounts of weight lifting and very short sprints on my bike. As a consequence, my bike mileage has dropped from over $10,000 miles/year, to about 3,000 now. And I've gained weight; while some of it is fat, much of it is muscle.

If you read my retrospective from 2015 season, you'll see that I actually accomplished the goals I set out for 2016.

Some highlights:

Wearing my first National Championship jersey and Gold medal!
7-11 Velodrome, Colorado Springs. 

So I'd definitely say this season surpassed my expectations, and could well qualify as my best season ever!

Next year, the 2017 season, I will raise my sights a bit higher, and venture into greater challenges. My priorities for 2017 will include:
  • Set new PRs in the weight room (while avoiding injuries!). 
  • Increase my sustainable speed in 1 km distances (mostly to improve my man #3 contribution in team sprints). 
  • Repeat my District Track Championships successes. 
  • Enter my first UCI Masters World Championships (in Los Angeles)! 
The first point above, setting weight-lifting PRs, is not directly correlated to cycling sprint speed. But there does seem to be some amount of transference, so getting stronger should also make me faster on my bike. Last winter I had Clay Edgin, at Santa Cruz Strength, coach me in the gym during my off-season. I'm doing the same this winter, but I think even more so.

The second point above, my 1 km speed, is a complicated matter. Judging from my split lap times, I'm not the fastest guy in longer efforts, such as lap 2 and 3 in team sprints. That can be a function of several things, including:

  • The speed of the guys leading me out (the faster they are, the more fatigue affects me). 
  • My physiological characteristics (I'm a pretty good man #1, starting from zero and riding one lap, instead of three). 
  • Aerodynamics (both my own, and the guys ahead of me). 

So, I may not be the perfect man #3, but I'm good enough for a National Championship, and an excellent match to my team sprint teammates, Ray Gildea and Brian Moore. Ray's explosive starts are very hard for anyone to match, so the team needs a guy like me who is fast enough to not get dropped at the start, and who can still maintain a high-enough speed on the last lap. I can stay with Ray from the start, and that is a big component of my contribution to the team.

Assuming I can do well with my training the results should follow. Staying consistent, and following the advice of my coach, Jeff Solt, is a great start.

I haven't yet decided whether I'll race at Masters Track Nationals again; in 2017 they'll be held in South Carolina, in muggy, hot August, during hurricane season. Masters Worlds will be in October, and is something I'm pretty excited about.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

My 2015 season retrospective

Another season has passed, and I must look backward to evaluate how the 2015 season went before I start to plan my 2016 season.

Last year I made big changes and was very happy with my 2014 results. So continuing in that direction for 2015 was an easy decision. My coach, Jeff Solt, was able to evaluate how my 2014 season and training had worked for me, so he could refine my training for 2015. The biggest changes for me were:
  • Increased weight training, with heavier weights at lower reps. 
  • Increased training on my track bike, including motorpacing at the velodrome. 
  • A brand-new Dixie Flyer track bike. It has made a huge improvement in my high-speed handling.
My weight training over the 2014/2015 winter was pretty intense, as I shifted from lower weights at high reps, to heavier weights at lower reps. Here's some examples of how things changed:
  • My bench press went up to 185 lbs at 3 reps. 
  • I started doing squats, and maxed out at 315 lbs. at 2 reps (on a Smith machine though). 
  • As the season progressed, Jeff had me add bench jumps to my weekly training. I would usually do 3 or 4 sets of 8 jumps on benches, steps, logs or whatever, up to about 24 inches or so. 
Jeff had me back off on all of this in May, with just minimal weight training to maintain the strength gains I made. Instead he stepped up my motorpacing and on-bike drills, with a nice mix of standing-start sprints, rolling sprints, and flying sprints. All of these were mixed in with various gear choices, from very tall to very low gears (including max-RPM cadence drills), to promote specific physiological adaptations.

Here are some of my accomplishments during the 2015 season:
  • I set a personal best standing-start 500 m individual time trial by a full second (36.2 seconds vs 37.2 in 2014)! In the process I won another State Championship, one I could be proud of. 
  • I also did well in the team sprint there; my lap #2 was 22.75 seconds (I also got another State Championship, but since we were unopposed I'm not proud of that). 
  • I entered my first National cycling event: Elite Track National Championships, in the team sprints only. Didn't do well as a team, but I did well on my lap (#2 lap). Our splits (on the 250 m track in Carson, CA) were:  
    1. Tim: 22.722 seconds
    2. Dennis: 15.707 (38.429 e.t.)
    3. Bobby: 15.250 (53.679 e.t.)
I also won a small road race, the Salinas Criterium (35+ 3/4 race), and did OK in the Masters State Criterium Championships (50-54) but none of that was a priority for me.

My priorities for 2016 will be very similar, except...

My weight training has already changed a lot, in that I hired Clay Edgin, at Santa Cruz Strength, to provide more specific programs for me during the off-season. He has provided a wide variety of workouts for me, far more than I would have done otherwise, and made sure I could do them at my work gym at West Marine (p.s. I quit HP in July, after 12 years there!). I am hoping I will soon be reaching new personal records in my training.

I will then start my cycling training with Jeff Solt again, in February, but will need to figure out how to transition from the off-season weights program to a combined cycling/weights program (currently my cycling is reduced, and only meant to maintain some general fitness).

I will also be entering the Masters Track National Championships, focusing on the team sprint, match sprint, 500 m ITT, and possibly the Keirin (if they even have one). My team sprint teammates aren't definite yet, but the two guys I've been chatting with are motivated to enter with me! This year they will be held in Indianapolis, in August, so travel will be an issue.

One thing that worries me is that I'll be 55 years old, and it's hard to say whether I can improve at this age. It might be more that I try to lose less performance than my competitors! They're facing the same issue, after all. Either way, I will be out there giving it 100%.

We shall see!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Dixie Flyer BTB track-bike review

My Serenity's remains.
Some of you may know that I had a rather traumatizing incident while driving home, with my friend Nils, after a night race at Hellyer Park's velodrome. 15 minutes after leaving Hellyer we heard a weird thump from above. We stared at each other, I immediately stopped my car and we both got out to see what was wrong. What was wrong was that my beloved Serenity Marvel track-racing bike had fallen off of my car's roof rack! As we stood at the side of Highway 17 an oncoming Jeep, with a shower of sparks underneath it as it ground my bike into the pavement, told me that I'd need a new bike. It was on Friday the 13th of June, no less! In 25 years of hauling bikes, this was the first time this happened to me. But the story has a happy ending. 

I'm very fortunate that I have both homeowner's and auto insurance from AAA. I honestly believe that not only are they awesome, but having both covered by the same company ensures that I will be more likely to be compensated for my loss (when you have different companies for each coverage both can claim the other is responsible). I was able to quickly get a check for the full replacement cost, whew! 

After looking at my options and talking with various friends at the track, as well as my coach, I decided to give our local hero, Bobby Walthour, my business. He started a bike-building company in the last few years, and is a highly-respected track cyclist with an impressive family legacy to follow. I was also able to test-ride one of his Dixie Flyer Bicycles (named after his great-grandfather, a world champion from track-cycling's heyday!) before making my decision, and was very happy with it. 

One of the problems I've had with track bikes is that I sometimes get a high-speed wobble in the front wheel, which is obviously very dangerous and detrimental to my competitiveness. Some of it is no doubt due to my riding style, but I am also certain that some of it is due to the bike itself, so the importance of the bike's characteristics cannot be overstated. The geometry of the Dixie Flyer "BTB" is slightly different from that of my old Serenity Marvel. Also, the 56 cm size of the Dixie Flyer's carbon frame is closer to ideal for my physique, as I was in between the available Serenity frame sizes (54 cm and 57 cm). 

Bobby delivered the bike to my house, personally, after it arrived from Taiwan, where the frame production is outsourced (almost every carbon frame in the world is built in China or Taiwan). Within just a couple of days I was able to install my old bike's surviving parts onto the new frame. Unfortunately the pedals, handlebars, stem, and saddle were beyond repair; the wheels (fortunately not my Zipp racing wheels!) too, of course. I was able to upgrade the pedals (to "VP"s with built-in strap holders) and the handlebars to 3T Scattos, an amazingly tough sprinter's setup, so that, too, is an improvement. 

The finish is top-notch, with smooth carbon and perfect paint. I like the sturdy dropouts, and the chain-tensioning screws (they are great for preventing wheel-axle slippage without the need for high nut torque which causes dropout deformation). The seatpost is a standard round mountain-bike post, which is more sturdy and dependable than the fancy carbon aero posts (which tend to slip or break).

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, so I was very anxious to test-ride my new bike at Hellyer's 23°-banked, 335 m velodrome. I'm very happy to say that it performed beautifully on the first attempt, and in all of my subsequent sessions there, as well as in an awesome racing event at the StubHub VELO Sport Center's indoor 250 m (45° banking) velodrome in Carson, near Los Angeles. And not once have I experienced wobble!

My completed Dixie Flyer BTB track-racing bike.
The frame is ideal for sprints and standing-start races, as well as mass-start races, but Bobby has even won Nationals time-trials with his. He also sells a road-bike frame. The bike hasn't needed any adjustments at all, and (knock on wood) has been stable at all times. I look forward to racing it throughout the 2015 season! 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My 2014 season retrospective

In the large picture my 2014 season was a radical departure for me; from the typical road/mountain training to the esoteric specialty of track sprinting. This new focus resulted in my best-ever season!

The big change last year was that I shifted back to periodized training for 2013, with a ton of help from Steve Heaton, which gave me my best season since 2007. So I have now continued with periodization in 2014 (and will for 2015 too) as it's hard to argue with the better results. I no longer believe consistent, year-round, unvaried training makes sense for anybody. Too many experts will tell us so, and my own experience argues in favor of them.

My better results at the track over the previous few seasons convinced me that concentrating on track racing was a move in the right direction, and that doing so even more for 2014 would be an exciting change. And to focus even more on my now-known strength as a sprinter; a direction I started going in 2013, but have now embraced fully. 

But I was very uncertain how to train specifically for track sprinting. In the past my races lasted between 40 minutes and 3 hours; now my longest priority race is under 1 minute! I had read tons of posts by cycling coaching authorities shooting down any cycling benefits from weight-lifting. But all of them were coaching for typical types of racing (endurance), not for track sprinting. I needed an expert to help me negotiate these unknown waters, and I knew weight-lifting was likely going to be a big part of my training. Even though I was initially skeptical that lifting weights would make me any faster. 

So I made the big change and hired a real coach, Jeff Solt. He has helped me tremendously in what is uncharted territory for me (and not the subject of specific scientific studies). In the past I either self-coached, or followed Mark Edwards' team workouts (for 5 years, with no significant change in my power).

But I started last fall by working with our very own Ed Price, a Certified Personal Trainer. We focused on light weights, with lots of reps. Then we progressed to heavier weights over a few months. 

In January I agreed to have Jeff coach me, and in February I started working out at Mike Bodge's gym, Capitola Fitness, as Ed didn't have all of the equipment I'd need. Jeff also had me do various on-bike workouts, from rolling- and standing-starts in various gears, often on my track bike, to moderate tempo road-rides. 

I guess 'the proof is in the pudding.' All of these changes bore fruit, even over my great 2013 season:
  • Set new personal best standing-start 500 m individual time trial (37.2 seconds vs 38.67 in 2013).
  • Set new personal best flying-200 m individual time trial (12.04 seconds vs 12.26 in 2013). 
  • Set new personal best first (standing-start 335 m) lap in team sprints (25.47 seconds).
  • Set new personal best peak power (1402 watts vs 1391 in 2009; this may not seem like much, but I'm 53 years old now!). 
While I did race a little on the road, my only 2014 road win was at a CCCX circuit race, plus a few other podiums. The rest was mediocre, plus a couple DNFs. I expected this, as my training no longer makes any effort to prepare me for that. But I was able to improve my track results, with a Masters State Championship gold and two silvers, plus an Elite State Championship bronze.

My training seems to be helping, and I hadn't really approached my potential in weights at the time I set these PBs. During this off-season I'm focusing on gaining strength, as all of the signs support that direction, and I'd be surprised if I don't get further improvements. 

I'm looking forward to the 2015 season! 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free... how about hype-free?

When I was a little boy most people simply ate whatever made sense to them, based on things like their childhood upbringing, the cost and availability of foods, ease of preparation, and personal taste. As I got a little older my mom started to warn us to avoid eating fat, and thus began a whole series of attacks on our diets, all based on sound science... or were they?

For millennia humans have, in fact, been surprisingly adept at discerning patterns; it's something hard-wired in our brains to help us survive in a hostile environment. Mothers did their best to raise their children to be healthy and strong, based on the anecdotal evidence in the lives of those around them and the advice their own mothers passed down to them. And I can easily pull up many sources of historic nutritional advice, including advice from famous philosophers.

But the post-World War II era saw the emergence of the first large-scale studies of our diet. Most famous was perhaps the Framingham Heart Study, in which 5,209 people in a small Massachusetts town were followed for many years, starting in 1948, in an attempt to uncover risk factors for heart disease. The study of Korean War soldiers followed it, along with many more. But the conclusions drawn from these studies weren't always justified.

Every time a well-intentioned study has come along, revealing some new connection between diet, exercise and health, there has always been a pattern:

  • New information is cautiously (usually) presented to the scientific establishment, suggesting a possible link between whatever and our health. 
  • The conclusion from the new study is presented in a simplified format to the general public. 
  • The media jumps on the simplified conclusion, simplify it even more, and emphasize the most controversial aspect of it. 
  • People overreact to the media stories and demonize or praise the whatever. 
  • The food industry is happy to "feed" the hype in order to sell higher-margin products. 
  • A backlash occurs, people start to question even the initial cautious scientific conclusion, and they revert back to their previous behavior. 
  • Eventually things calm down and a more sober assessment of the data results in a more nuanced approach to the whatever. 

Look familiar?

That's what happened with the war on fat: After some initial hype resulted in a decline in fatty diets and a commensurate decline in heart disease, we instead had a huge increase in type 2 diabetes as people ate/drank more carbs in place of fatty foods. Eventually people came to understand that not all fats are bad, and some are essential to our health, in moderation.

Then we had the war on cholesterol: Since cholesterol was the sticky substance that was blocking our arteries, it seemed obvious that reducing the amount of it in our diets would be beneficial, right? Well, since 75% to 80% of the cholesterol in our blood is produced by our own livers, not from the food we eat, that idea has declined in recent years as scientists have instead uncovered evidence suggesting it is really much more complicated than that, and it may be far more inflammation of the arteries that allows this blockage to occur.

That was followed by the war on carbs: After the low-fat, low-cholesterol diets resulted in type 2 diabetes people started to revert back to higher-fat diets. When the initial euphoria associated with unlimited fat intake died down (along with some of its adherents), people realized that not all carbs are bad and avoiding them altogether was not improving our health. Who would argue that the carbs from fresh fruit are unhealthy?

That's happening now with the war on gluten: After the the initial discovery of yet another culprit in our poor health, people are now questioning the value of the war on gluten. Soon all of those expensive gluten-free foods at the store will be gone, and people will revert back to regular old wheat. Yet, perhaps gluten really isn't essential to our health, and perhaps we can get the nutrients in grains from other, healthier food sources?

The wars on alcohol, coffee, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and more continue unabated, more or less.

I believe the biggest source of this pattern of hype/rejection is that the "causality" of the issue is oftentimes ignored. That is, the conclusions from scientific studies often don't truly separate the causes from the effects. Example: Is it the eating of cholesterol in food that causes coronary artery blockage? Or is the blockage caused by something else, that in turn allows the cholesterol to accumulate? The human body is exceedingly complex, as is nutrition... when you combine those two very complex subjects into one subject you can imagine how the complexity must increase tremendously. We will probably never fully be able to separate cause and effect, but we can certainly narrow down the possible answers.

The old saying "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water" still holds true: Within those large cycles in popular and scientific opinion there are always some truths that don't change. We shouldn't rely on the popular media, our friends, family and personal trainers for advice about diet. We should rely on a cautious examination of the best possible scientific evidence when making decisions that affect our health. That means we should read the original scientific studies rather than rely on the simplified message we get from the media or others trying to profit from the conclusions.

That said, I don't pretend to read the full texts of the many scientific studies, but like all humans I am hard-wired to find patterns, and when I see a pattern I try to learn from it.

Good luck, we need it!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

My 2014 season plans

After a good 2013 season it might seem strange that I am completely changing course for 2014, but there are many reasons. 2014 is the season I am finally committing to an all-out pursuit of my strengths in racing.

Why my 2013 season wasn't a full success: 

My podium appearances at road races were in the less-competitive Masters Category 3 and 4 circuit races at CCCX. I am still not podium material in the real contests where I have to compete against talented and experienced Cat 1 racers. Years of training for this haven't changed things for me much. My placings in the other road races (usually Masters Cat 1/2/3), criteriums and even mass-start track races I entered this year weren't spectacular; even though I did consistently finish near the front I could never seem to sprint much.

When I tell people I am a pure sprinter they immediately think of guys like Mark Cavendish or Peter Sagan... they are not pure sprinters at all, but what I would call "road-race sprinters." They can ride for hours at a high speed, then sprint hard out of the huge mass of riders, something I have never been that good at as I am usually too tired from the high typical speeds. While it's true Cavendish has twice won world championships on the track it was in the "Madison" race, not track sprints at all. The more I know myself the more I know how different I am from guys like them.

Why I should change course for 2014: 

My two silver medals from the 2013 Masters State Track Championships follow the bronze medal I won in 2012; all of this was in pure track sprints. This is far more telling to me; I did well without even doing the very specific training required for these races. Well, that is all changing...

What I am doing about it: 

I am still a big believer in "riding lots," to improve in bike racing, but I am ramping down my cycling with just shorter, easier rides filling in the gaps as I feel like it... I do love riding and these moderate rides sure are a pleasant change from the pain of my old workouts. Conversely I am now starting to ramp up my gym workouts, even going so far as to pay my teammate Ed Price, a Certified Personal Trainer, to help me.

Strength training seems to be the accepted training for track sprinters (though I am still researching this topic). Currently I am doing lots of lighter weights with high numbers of reps (repetitions) to build up my strength gradually as I enter the 2014 season. Recently Ed started introducing slightly heavier weights with lower reps, and plyometrics (dynamic jumps and such) into my weekly workout with him. So far I am actually really having fun and look forward to these 2-hour sessions, much to my surprise! Who knew gym workouts could be fun? Ed's energy sure helps too.

My trusty, but sold, 2010 Felt TK2
Another step I took was to buy a new track bike, though it's actually a slightly used bike. My 2010 Felt TK2 was a nice, solid bike, but not as nice as the carbon Serenity Marvel I bought. The TK2 also had a nasty shimmy  (speed wobble) from the front wheel during maximal sprints that was frightening; several adjustments didn't fix it and I was told a larger frame would help. Buying used equipment also allowed me to upgrade to a much higher level than buying a new bike would have allowed within my budget.

My Serenity Marvel has a larger frame (57 cm vs. 53 cm) and is much stiffer (full-carbon vs. aluminum). And with the money I saved buying a used bike I was able to buy a Zipp carbon wheelset with tubular tires: a 2006 808 front deep-dish wheel and a 2005 900 rear disk wheel. Plus, the guy who bought my TK2 didn't want its wheels so I got to keep them as spares, perfect for warmups too!

My new-to-me Serenity Marvel, with Zipp wheels
One hiccup occurred early on: Shortly after I bought the Serenity I started testing it at the Hellyer Park track and I was still getting a bad shimmy during all-out efforts at high speeds (over 35 MPH). That was frustrating as that was one of the reasons I sold my TK2, and here was that same problem resurfacing. Fortunately Jeff Solt, who has coached me a little in the past, was available to help me sort the new bike out and after changing the handlebars and stem my position on the bike was what he called "...pretty much perfect. There are many sprinters who have worked a long time to get as good a position." That reassures me that if I can do everything else right I will get as close to realizing my full potential as can be expected in this imperfect world.

My 2014 season schedule: 

I plan on racing just about every single track sprint race at Hellyer that I can manage, including match sprints, team sprints, 500 m time trials, and perhaps even an occasional Keirin just for fun. Then on June 7th and 8th I will try for gold again at the 2014 Masters District Championships. And since the USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships are in Redmond, Washington this year, I will try to race there too, even if just for the experience.

I must admit that I have been moving in this direction with some reluctance, because my heart is still fixated on the glorious image of epic road racing over vast distances, up and down mountains. But I also must admit that I love to win, or at least feel like I have a a chance, and the track is far more inviting to me for that reason. And the more I explore track racing the more fascinating it is.

Now I just have to keep training properly and keep my mind aligned. Exciting stuff!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My 2013 season retrospective

The season is pretty much all done, and it's always good to look back and see what worked, what didn't, and where to go from here.

The last couple of years I was considering returning to a "periodized" training program, as I did in the past before I joined Team Bicycle Trip and Mark's consistent, year-round FTP-focused workouts ("FTP" is "functional threshold power," one's 1-hour power). I felt periodization was best for me for a few reasons:

  • Fun! Variety is more interesting. 
  • My power levels have barely changed at all after 5 years of consistent FTP workouts. 
  • Align my workouts more with the type of racing I do: short with highly variable efforts. 

I was putting my periodized plan together last fall and happened to show it to Steve Heaton on our way back from Race Around Lake Tahoe. He was more than happy to help me flesh out the weekly program with a huge variety of workouts to choose from to suit the various periods in the season's workout schedule.

For 2013 I ended up following Steve's workouts very closely, incorporating them into Mark's team workouts whenever possible. So, where in the past I might have done steady-state intervals up the various long climbs in our area, this year I would instead make the pace much more variable to simulate the way races surge, slow down, sprint like crazy, slow down, etc.

This ended up being quite fun, as I would often draft my poor teammates and then attack around them. Since that's usually considered rude I always made sure to clear that with them first. But the upside was that I was able to stay with some of the fastest guys who would usually fly by me on those climbs, all while improving my ability to sprint and recover quickly.

I would usually do a few rides every week at L2 ("level 2") or L3 power for a full couple of hours; a nice 'tempo' pace that's tiring but doesn't cause suffering like the usual 20-minute L4 intervals. The other rides would usually involve very hard, but short, efforts in L5 or L6, separated by easy pedaling to recover before hitting it hard again, time after time.

One workout I liked was the "3x5m(30s L5/30s L2)" workout, as I wrote it in shorthand. I would warm up, then for 5 minutes I would alternate between 30 seconds in L5, then 30 seconds in L2. This I would do 3 times (sometimes with the team at the UCSC workouts), when a given week called for this type of workout. Another was in L3 with L6 sprints every few minutes, with no recovery, followed by a few sprints. The hardest was a "3x10m(15s L5/15s L2)" workout (if you can decipher that you will see why!).

The result? My best season since 2007! I had two 1sts at the CCCX circuit races, two 2nds, several other podiums, some track 1sts, plus two silver medals at the Masters State Track Championships.

Interestingly my results for criteriums weren't that good (my best was 11th at the Masters State Criterium Championships), nor in mass-start track races (I got 4th in the Masters State Track Championships scratch race). I thought I'd do better... but I have learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses and how I respond to training.

Mostly I have to acknowledge that I am a pure sprinter. So much so that when the pace is high I am too tired to sprint very well. I have known this a long time, but this year I have had to finally accept that no amount or type of training will change that.

That's OK; knowing all of this helps me decide on a course that will best suit my potential, instead of trying to be what I am not. So... on to 2014 and a whole new beginning for me!