Friday, October 26, 2007

I hate cars...

...even more than I hate being self-righteous and judgemental.

Since I own a car I feel I can hate cars without being labelled an anti-car bigot. ;-)

Sometimes it's very hard for me to look at what cars have done to our world and not feel angry and sad. Yeah, I know we need cars, well, at least some of us do, some of the time. But do we really need so many of them? And do we need to devote so much of our non-renewable resources to acquiring, maintaining and refueling them? Not to mention the incredible amount of our efforts we've invested in all of the roads and other infrastructure needed to support them. I'm not so sure we haven't fought wars for our cars either.

I can't even begin to count the number of people who I saw driving their cars, alone, to work this morning. Some of them drove hybrids, some of them huge SUVs, some of them mid-size sedans. But almost all of them drove solo. It seems we just can't be bothered to, gasp, carpool!

I don't expect people to bike-commute like I do, or take public transportation; I'm a realist. But carpooling isn't that tough. It seems our personal space is more important to us than the costs of driving so much.

This morning I rode my bike up HWY9 on my way to work when I approached what looked like the big burlap bags that gardeners use for yard waste and sometimes lose from their pickups because they're in too much of a hurry to secure them properly. It fluttered in the wind, on the shoulder of the road.

As I got closer, I found myself instead making eye contact with a beautiful doe, gasping for breath, eyes wild with terror and pain. Somebody had hit this deer and driven off. I was shocked, but not surprised, and stopped to get the deer some help. I had to stop a slight distance past it, for my own sake as well as the deer's, and called my wife to ask her to find the right people to contact. She arranged all of that while I continued my ride. She sure is wonderful. I couldn't help the deer any further, and I couldn't bear to watch it suffer. I was shook up, but unlike the deer I'll get better.

Yeah, I hate cars, but I will try not to waste my energy hating them.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is my training program crazy?

I'm all for listening to my betters, and many of them insist that the off season is when we should take a break from cycling, and then ride nice and easy as prep for the race season. But this time I will be continuing to ride hard during the off-season as prep for my 2008 racing season, based on stuff I've read here and there, and what my friend/coach Mark Edwards sez.

But Larry Nolan, local hotshot cyclist and National Champion at various times, has this to say:

Folks that are doing 100% intensity work in late October are either training for some late season event (eg season cut short by injury) or they have no clue as to how to structure a racing season. It is my hope that riders will stick to their plans during the day and get the workout that they had planned. Heck, I encourage riders to have a plan for EVERY ride! ... Larry

Boy, that really hit home for me! I am literally clueless in his eyes by riding hard now. And he could be right, after all he has the palmares to back up his program! And I had great success with my 2007 season training, following a program similar to his.

Pez Cycling News also had a guest coach write something similar.

I really can't say that I'm right and he's wrong. If I follow a traditional training program I will be following safely in the steps of giants. But unless I have his natural abilities, which I doubt I do, I will forever be doomed to being an "also-ran" against guys of his caliber. By taking a chance on my 2008 training I have the potential to train smarter than him.

In the meantime, I need to recover from a cold I picked up last week. Larry would probably say I caught it by overtraining!

We'll see whether my gamble pays off, or not, in about a year! :-)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ahhhhh, Pain, Sweet Pain!

I was at a wedding with our good friend Rob Jensen, of LGBRC, and mentioned to him that I was going to skip the wine so I could be at 100% for my 40-minute maximum-effort workout ride the next day. He, in contrast, went on a beautiful, 75-mile long, medium-paced ride over the hills and out to the coast with fellow club members. He thinks I am crazy for doing hard rides in the off season, because I will be burned out by the time the regular season rolls around.

He has a good point, and I have worried about overtraining. Last fall I was doing the exact same type of rides Rob is now doing, for that very reason, but my training for the 2008 season is quite different. My friend Mark Edwards, the unofficial coach of Team Bicycle Trip and a USCF-certified coach, has some newer training concepts for us to follow. Rather than lose the fitness we worked so hard to achieve for the 2007 season by taking time off, riding slow, cross-training etc., he advises us to continue to build our fitness year-round for longer efforts; the kind of fitness that can take years to build up. He's not alone in advocating this; many experts now recommend this approach.

The 2x20-minute intervals I rode up Page Mill Road last week, and the 19:50-minute TT up Old La Honda before that, were the beginning of this new training for me. I think I will probably just do one 40-minute interval instead of 2x20's because I always feel sluggish after the break, and the effort level seems to be the same for any interval longer than about 8 minutes, I feel. I stopped doing the 6x4-minute hill repeats I did during the regular season. Instead I will do these long intervals twice a week during the fall and winter, and perhaps once a week during the regular season. As the regular season approaches I will add the shorter intervals back in. I still need to work out the details with Mark.

Yesterday I fitted that 40-minute interval into a nearly 3-hour ride up HWY1 to Davenport and up to the top of Swanton Road... it was awesome! I first rode through town at an easy pace and up HWY1. Then, at Wilder Ranch, I went as hard as I knew could manage for the duration of the interval. The constant headwind promised to crush my soul, even as it provided the perfect resistance needed to bring out my maximum effort. Yes, I first had to suffer through the burning legs and gasping breath, convinced Rob was right and there was no way I'd be able to ride like this year-round without getting to hate cycling. But I persevered, and when I reached the top of the hill on Swanton Road with its gorgeous view of the ocean, some 40 minutes after I started my interval, I quickly forgot all about that and revelled in the sense of accomplishment I felt. On the long return trip I even had that tailwind to push me along and make me feel strong. Since I added the hard part of the ride into the beginning of a longer ride, I was able to ride all-out at first, then use the return trip as a gentle, pleasant, zen-like, calorie-burning weight-control ride. What a perfect workout!

I also learned how important it is to be well-rested for these types of workouts. You can hardly pick up a training book without it telling you to eat and rest adequately, but it takes time to appreciate how hard that is to fully practice, and how beneficial it is when you actually manage it. I always thought I followed that advice, but I now realize that I didn't practice it to the full extent. Because I ride so many "junk miles" I find it very hard to be fully rested, no matter how slow I ride on the easy days. By the time I do my hard workout rides I'm usually too low on glycogen (muscle energy) to give it the effort it demands. I end up either cutting the session short or riding slower. That's not the way to get faster!

For this particular workout ride, I had two days off of my bike, plus two pigout dinners, so I was pretty close to 100%. I also made sure to fill both of my water bottles with energy drink, which I rarely did in the past. Just because I don't bonk on a hard ride doesn't mean I'm operating at 100%, so it's important to refuel during a hard ride like this instead of trying to use energy depletion for weight control. Another lesson I'm learning.

When the cold, gloomy days of winter overwhelm me and threaten to derail my training plan, I will try to remember how good I felt on this ride and let that inspire me... and remind myself how to stay focused.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Protein, creatine, huge muscles and hill climbing

I started adding whey protein to my smoothies early this year, because stuff I read indicated that protein is more important to even endurance athletes than previously thought. I'd always had problems recovering quickly enough from hard workouts to feel fresh for the next one, usually I had to take several days off to feel fresh, and perhaps low protein was one of the reasons.

I'm not vegetarian, but adding whey protein was an economical way to get more protein to work on repairing and building my muscles. They generally say that somewhere around 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day is a good amount to eat. This almost doubled my daily protein intake to around 130g.

Creatine is something I'd read about before, but I always associated it with body building; not what I'm into. Then I started reading more about how it also helps muscles recover from hard workouts, and also helps store more muscle energy. That's a real benefit for frequent, long, high-intensity workouts. And it's naturally occuring in food, just like protein, so no need to worry about whether my body would be harmed by normal dosages. I started adding about 5g of creatine per day to my diet this summer.

I now feel stronger and fresher than before I started adding more protein and creatine to my diet. I've been upping the weights I use for my upper-body excercises too.

The downside is that I have also gained weight, though at least it's not from fat! I keep a detailed diet and workout log, and there's no reason I should have gained any weight based on the calories I consumed versus the calories I burned during this time. It seems that most, maybe all, of my weight gain is caused by the creatine and the water and energy it stores in muscle cells.

But if I'm to do well in hilly bike races I will need to limit my weight. I read that it takes about a month to lose the weight from creatine supplementation, so I suppose I could stop taking it a month before my first priority hilly race of the season to get my weight back down to normal. I will have to carefully balance the costs and benefits of creatine when deciding when to stop supplementing with it.

By the way, how much does weight slow us cyclists down? The Analytic Cycling web site has an online tool for determining how much weight slows you down on hill climbs. And see what my teammate Steve's posted for some great info on his own real-life experience with weight and hill-climbing performance.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Back from Disneyland!

We celebrated my wife's birthday in fun style, in her favorite place on earth; Disneyland! Our friends Debbie and Diana even joined us!

The trip culminated in a wonderful dinner at Napa Rose, a very highly rated restaurant. I had pheasant and Margaret had awesome jumbo prawns and pasta. We opened two bottles of Mer Soleil chardonnay, usually one of our favorites, before we gave up (both were sub-par) and got a bottle of Shafer Red Shoulder. Diana brought a surprisingly good bottle of 1994 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Rocchioli vineyard. Surprising because even good red burgundies rarely age well that long, and California pinots especially so. We had a glass of 1999 Chateau d'Yquem sauterne with our desserts. 1999 isn't one of their best years, I think, but I was still blown away!

I'll post the cute photos in a few days.

I love Disneyland, and I love eating... I gained 9 pounds in four days! Maybe I have a problem, but if I enjoy it then it can't be a problem, right? ;-) Most of that is water retention (from excessively salty food, the airplane flight, etc.), and it will be mostly gone in a few days, but a bit under a pound of it is solid matter and will require some workouts and diet discipline to keep off! [I lost 5.5 pounds after the first day home!]

To get a head start on burning off my vacation fat, Steve Rosen and I did our first hill intervals on Page Mill Road today. It was beastly! It took me about 56:30 (or maybe 57:30 I got confused) to get from my office, to Old Page Mill Rd, to Skyline Blvd. Then another half hour to descend back to my office. Steve said my time-trial E.T. was about 46 minutes, with the slower down time included, but would likely have been around 42 minutes if I had done the whole climb all-out with no breaks, as defined by the competitive cyclists around here with whom this climb is a popular test. That's for comparison with other guys who keep track of these things. If we keep these on our agenda we will both be super fast by spring!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Old La Honda Road ITT

It's tradition on the peninsula for riders to climb up Old La Honda Road in Woodside and time themselves for comparison. Today I, and teammate Steve Rosen, did just that. So, for anybody who cares, my time was:


That just barely put me in the under-20-minutes club, and is considered a decent time. The fast guys are usually around 17-18 minutes, so I have a long ways to go. My friend Mark Edwards does that climb in 18:42. Steve told me Eric Heiden (the great Olympic skater and cyclist) has the unofficial record: under 15 minutes!!! Hoo-wha!

Steve and I plan on riding 2x20's twice a week this fall and winter as prep for our 2008 season. That's two 20-minute intervals per session, riding as fast as we can for the full 20 minutes, for a total of 80 minutes at 85-90% of max heart rate per week. Cruel and unusual punishment, though easier than my 6x4 workouts which I will do only during the regular season. On weekends we will try to get the second 2x20 in, or maybe join a fast group ride for variety.

Since OLH (for short) takes about 20 minutes that's a great place to do 2x20's, but we might use Page Mill Road instead, so we have less downtime (it takes 25 minutes to get to OLH from the group ride's start point on Old Page Mill Rd, but only maybe 10 if we just use Page Mill Road).

Feel free to join us!

Monday, October 1, 2007

My Legs are Sore Again...

And that can only mean one thing: I attended another track session! This is my second beginners session at Hellyer Park, San Jose, and when I complete my third session I will be eligible to race as a "C" racer. The California State Elite Track Championships I raced probably doesn't apply, otherwise I'd be eligible right now, though I could probably persuade the guys at the track. Funny.

This unusual Sunday afternoon session was run by Richard Brockie, of Fremont Freewheelers Bicycle Club, and I was very happy with his instruction, much more so than the instructor at my first session last fall. The session is pretty low-key, and way easier than racing, say, a criterium. But you do have to keep on your toes as some of the students are not used to riding in tight groups. There were about a dozen students and two instructors, Gary of FFBC and Alex Miller of Alto Velo. I rented a Specialized "Langster" track bike, named after none other than Don Langley of the Morgan Stanley team; the guy who keeps winning my criteriums! I brought my bike fitment chart and adjusted everything to fit my physical dimensions, and installed my own pedals. They charge $5 for the bike, and $5 for the entry. Pretty cheap thrills.

Richard had us start out with a moderate 30-lap paceline, with each of us pulling for a lap at a time. The instructors watched us for errors. It's a good way to warm up and practice pacelining on a banked track.

Then he had us practice bridging by forming us into groups of four riders, and having two groups on the track, one half lap apart. When he blew his whistle the leader in each group had to jump forward and catch the other group. A good workout, and good track practice again.

Next we practised team pursuits, using the same groups as before, and chasing each other around the track in pacelines. I accidentally dropped one of our riders when I took my first pull... I didn't want the other group to lap us! The second time I held back and we all stayed together, at the cost of a slower pace.

I asked Richard if we would get to try some flying-start 200-meter sprints, as we hadn't gotten the chance at my first session (my friend Rob Jensen had to sneak one in for me after the session was officially over). These are important for track competitions as they are often used to "seed" riders, and a great sprint workout too. He told me we would, and he'd even time them! I wanted to use the time as a benchmark for future reference.

We all lined up for our 200m sprints, and he showed us the start line, right at the exit of turn 2, and the usual finish line after turn 4. Gary gave us a demo run. We each took turns with the track to ourselves, starting with a warmup lap, then a windup lap, then we were on the clock for the final 200 meters. The trick is to position yourself to travel the shortest distance around the track, and also to use the banking in turn 2 to use the "downhill" to advantage. It's also really important to understand how hard to push yourself in the windup lap, leading up to the start line.

When I did that underground 200m last fall, I thought I should go at maybe 95% effort up to the start line, then accelerate up to 100% down turn 2's banking toward turn 3. I also stayed "on the rail" at the top of the track almost until the start line, then dropped down diagonally toward the "pursuit line" in turn 3. Wrong! Those techniques gave me a mediocre 13.8 seconds or so for the 200 meters (32.419 MPH). This time I instead drew an imaginary straight line backwards from the back straight up turn 2, and used the point where it hit the rail as a reference point for starting my drop out of turn 2. And I also made sure to hit 100% at the start line. With these new techniques, and even with a headwind out of turn 2, I got the best student's time, 13.04 seconds! Cool! That's 34.308 MPH by, the way. Since I didn't get tunnel-vision this time, and there was that headwind, I know I can easily break into the 12-second range. Once you're in the 12s you're a "made man" at the track! I was feeling good!

I think my gearing was better this time too. It was probably something like the 47x14 that Rob installed for me at the State Championships. In old-school terms inherited from the high-wheeler era of the 1870s, it would be called 84.9-inch gearing (equivalent to an ungeared wheel of 84.9 inches in diameter). Here's a couple of online gearing calculators.

By then we were all done, and getting a little wiped out, but Richard asked if any of us were interested in a 10-lap "scratch" race. That's just like a typical mass-start criterium, but on the track. About 10 of us wanted to race, so he got us all lined up on the rail for the start. He blew the whistle and we trundled off at an easy pace for a lap. I was unwilling to hammer for 10 laps, especially since I was likely to fade before the line and get pipped by guys drafting me, so I sat back in second place.

On lap 2 a couple of FFBC guys dropped out of turn 2 and attacked past us, and suddenly I found myself working hard to catch their wheel and hold it. That took almost a lap, but I was soon happily drafting them in third place. Perfect! Every time we ht the back straight I could feel the headwind and was glad to be back a little. We had also dropped the rest of the group. For some reason the leader rode on the "stayer line" halfway up the track, which I thought was a mistake because we could attack around him on either side. But after a few laps he got tired, no kidding, and our slower pace allowed the chase group to catch back on. Darn. Now I was facing the prospect of a mass sprint finish on the banked track. I looked over my shoulder occasionally, and noticed Gary the instructor was back there, so I was worried he'd attack soon. We were still moving fairly fast, so I was sure most of the guys were getting winded, and unable to "mark" (respond to) any attacks.

I kept an eye on the lap cards, and soon we were down to "2" remaining. I got ready, but no attacks came, so as I exited turn 4 with just over a lap to go, I dropped down around the two FFBC guys and launched the hardest attack I could, going about 95% down the home straight into turn 1. I nearly got tunnel-vision but was able to maintain a hard pace. I looked over my shoulder on the back straight and had about 25 feet. Hanging on for dear life I spun that 47x14 and took one last look as I exited turn 4; I still had a good gap! Woo-hoo! I could almost relax crossing the line, but with a fixed gear you have to keep pedalling! What a session!

What did I learn from all of this? That I am not a natural at the 200m, but pretty good nonetheless. From the State Championships I learned that I'm better at 1K, not so good at 4K. So my natural abilities, since I haven't specifically trained for any of these discplines, would make me best (or least bad!) at something more than 200m, but less than 4K; I guess 1K "kilos" really are my thing! Awesome, but not surpsing given my mid-pack finish in the State 1Ks, because that translates to a strong finisher at most criteriums!

When I finish my third beginners session I will be able to race on the track for real. But they don't rent out bikes for the races, so I'd have to buy one to take this training to the next level. I doubt that will happen, but it is tempting. I can always revert to my Walter Mitty ways and just dream about it! Anybody got a really cheap used 52cm or 54cm track bike for sale?