Saturday, March 28, 2009

Prelude to Summer

What a day for a mountains ride! Dave P and I went up to Lincoln to ride some real hills. Forecast looked great and was pretty much spot on - sunny and 50's by the afternoon. This was my one chance to get a respectable hill ride in before flying off the Hawaii for some of the biggest hillclimbs in the world.

We parked at the White Mountains Visitor Center just off Exit 32. Another rider rode by while we were kitting up. It was still chilly at 9:30am, so therma-fleece tights and two layers up top were needed. I opted out of the wind shell. I brought my Dean Ti road bike out to play, getting sick of my winter tank that is past due for new tires and drivetrain. The plan was to ride over Kancamagus Pass to Bear Notch Rd, turn around and go back over, pass through Lincoln, climb over Gonzo Pass to Rt 25, turn around and go back over to finish. Simple, right? Just two roads and two passes. I've never climbed both sides of both passes in one ride before.

Kancamagus Pass

Riding the Kanc (Kancamagus Hwy) out of Lincoln when Loon Mtn is still open kind of sucks. Lots of skiers were coming up for one of the last days of the season. Once we got past Loon, traffic was minimal, maybe a car every 2-5 minutes. The sun was coming out. Legs were fresh. Life was good. We traded pulls until we got into the 9% stuff. Pulling didn't much matter at that point. I was putting in a good effort and Dave held my wheel closely. I inched it up a bit. He's still there. Inched it up some more. Yep, still there. I was feeling good and reached near Mt Washington race pace, digging a hole early in the ride as I often do. Dave eventually capitulated just shy of the summit. I would pay for this outburst shortly. The summit is about 2100ft net gain from Lincoln.

We bomb down the other side, first five miles at 7% or so, then five miles of nearly flat to Bear Notch Rd. Bear Notch is still closed, but that was a good reference point to turn around at. There was a slight headwind heading back towards Lincoln. We traded a few pulls starting out. Dave took the lead when we got to the 7% grade. I was feeling the earlier effort in my legs. I struggled to hold his wheel. After more than a mile of this effort, Dave motions for me to set pace. I couldn't come around him. Dang. Dave doesn't volunteer much information about his training methods. The gym work has made an obvious upper body impact. But what about the cardio? I guess Buff Dave has not neglected cardio work either. We reached Kancamagus Pass together. From Bear Brook Rd, the Kanc gains 1600ft. That's two 30-40 minute threshold paced intervals down, two to go. I began to fear what condition I would be in by the fourth climb riding at this pace.

Dave cresting Gonzo Pass

After grabbing some replenishments at the car in Lincoln, we crossed I-93 to climb Gonzo Pass (Rt 118). This is another big climb, about 1800ft gain from N. Woodstock. The sun was out in full force now, and the temp was rising rapidly. I still had the layers on I started with and was overheating. My legs were also starting to get that noodly feeling. Rt 118 had some major frost heave issues. We had to be careful on the descent. On the back side is where Bill Dunkerly crashed last spring, sustaining serious injuries. At Gonzo Pass, I had reservations about going down the back side, away from the car. To do so meant there was only one way back to the car, and it involved a 1700ft climb. All great rides should encroach on deathmarch territory, right? Down the back side we go.

The Franconia Ridge and Mt Washington with Lincoln in valley below.

Since we hadn't climb the back side yet, we didn't know where the bad spots were. A lot of braking action was required to be safe. Plenty of sand still nestled in the low spots between heaves, inches deep in places. Scary stuff at 40mph. We stopped just long enough to shed a layer and and inhale Oreo cookies at the bottom. Yep, this last climb would be the finishing nails in the coffin. When we got to the guardrail chicane section, either Dave imploded or my Oreo cookies kicked in. I pulled away. I then surmised that once cresting the summit, it was 9 miles downhill back to the cars. I might as well empty the tank on this one. I maintained highest perceived effort of the ride for the remaining 15-20 minutes of the climb. Really hit the spot. I was crispy critter done.

My heartrate jumps 30% when viewing profiles like this.

Despite snowbanks being 6ft high in places, the roads were clean. The Kanc had just a few short wet spots, but Gonzo was completely dry end to end. Traffic was very light on Gonzo too. I think a 20 minute span went by on the return climb where no cars came by in either direction. The view from the clearing near the summit was spectacular today, with white-capped Mt Washington in full view. The ride went 79 miles with 8358ft of climbing in 4:28hrs riding time. There was nothing dubious about this ride. Four 30-40 minutes threshold intervals were just what my legs were ready for.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Structure and Tread

Looks like the Sugarloaf race last weekend was my last ski of the season. A long ride is planned Saturday. Sunday looks like warm rain in the mountains. As such, I put the skis up with a coat of storage wax this evening.

Warm/wet conditions structure on left

I first took a photo of the bases of the two skis I used most the last couple months. When I bought a used pair of softer flex skis with a fine structure, I had my gouged up RS:11s ground at S&W Sports in Concord, NH. Not sure of their expertise in this area (they are primarily an alpine shop in winter months). I had them give me a warm grind structure. Only cost $10. They look very much like skis that had been rilled for wet conditions. The one time I used them when the sun softened things up, they clearly seemed to be faster than my skiing partner's skis. In new snow on another day, they were much slower than my cold grind skis. This is obvious to those that have been skiing a while, but only recently did I prove how obvious this is to myself. For you mountain bikers out there, you can kind of think of this as full knobbies vs. semi-slicks. You wouldn't want to ride the knobbies on hard as pavement trails. They squirm out around corners and are slow. Likewise, semi-slicks would not suffice in loose gravel or typical slimy New England rocks and roots. With tire tread, you try to optimize traction for the conditions. Ski base structure, along with appropriate wax, can have similar impact on skiing performance and enjoyment.

Wider toe box boot in right side of image (left foot, black). Both are size 41 and a third.

I made another change right at the end of the ski season. While picking up my re-surfaced skis at S&W, I noticed their boots were on clearance. I have never liked the Salomon Carbon Pro's I bought a couple years ago. In fact, virtually nobody I know likes them. The toe boxes were too small and your feet we either scream for mercy after a couple hours or immediately go numb if it was cold out. It turns out the newer comparable model, the RS Carbon, had a completely re-designed toe box. The exact same size boot felt almost too big. I could even wear a normal XC ski sock in them, not having to resort to ultra thin socks to get my foot to fit right in the previous model. Does one boot appear bigger than the other in the picture? They are both 41-1/3 size.

Right thumb still swollen all the way down to the wrist with shades of green

Last but not least, I will probably carry a reminder of a great ski season well into summer. My right thumb is getting back to normal size but still is pretty much useless. It has some interesting shades of yellow and green to it. It will be many weeks before I regain full use of it. I either need to learn how to go down hill on XC skis or learn how to crash without jamming my thumb into the hardpack. Others offered great practice advice for next season. At least my thumb doesn't hurt on a road bike. I haven't tried MTB shifters yet, where the thumb actually needs to do something. I crash maybe once or twice per year on the mountain bike. Since I log a lot of solo miles in the woods, I do tend to ride descents conservatively. On the road, I've experienced only one crash in perhaps 50,000 miles. It was a freak lunchtime recovery ride thing where the guy in front of me somehow unclipped going uphill. He piled in, and I piled over him. A helmet clearly saved my noggin.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weight Control

I've never had a problem with weight control. I was never a skinny kid growing up, but certainly not fat. Then when I got married, had a child, and adopted a totally sedentary lifestyle, I packed on about 60 lbs over my high school weight in 10 years. There was no struggle involved. I ate poorly, avoided exercise, and the poundage multiplied.

When I got my wake up call that all was not well in 1996, I began to modify my diet. Most importantly, I caught the mountain biking bug. Hours on the bike per week more than anything else took the weight off. When I reached my current steady state weight in the 160's, I found I really didn't have to regulate calorie intake. I ate healthy foods and let the volume of exercise regulate body weight.

I've owned a Tanita body fat scale for about five years now. I bought it after meeting another individual that obsesses over body fat. If you ever get to know this individual, even barely, he's not shy about asking you to strip down in his bathroom to step on his super fancy Tanita scale and report the numbers. For me, the body fat is really irrelevant. I let health and real performance be the measure of optimum body fat. Those scales primarily measure hydration level anyway and only indirectly compute percent body fat through look-up tables based on other data you enter about yourself. They are not very accurate in an absolute sense, only relative sense.

I periodically log my weight and body fat, maybe a few times per week. The results are interesting. First, my body weight has been very consistent over the last five years, deviating no more than +/-3 lbs. Body fat stays right at around 9%. Weight may go up to 166-168 in the winter then drop to 162 in the summer when cycling volume is highest. Also notable is that last year my weight didn't drop much in the summer, yet I PR'd several hillclimbs. I produced higher Watts/kg, weighed more, thus must have produced much higher absolute Watts. Many factors could explain this, but this at least proves you don't necessarily have to lose weight to be faster on the climbs. Another notable feature is that my weight didn't peak as high this past winter. I've ridden decidedly less in January and February than in previous years, skied more, but total less volume. I do know that most of my work this winter was at higher average intensity than in years past. Maybe a lot higher. This not only burns more calories per hour while exercising, but also boosts the metabolism for hours after exercising. This perhaps helped keep the weight in check this winter. I certainly didn't constrain myself on the eating front whatsoever.

It's really hard to say how the past three months of training will play out once the cycling season gets underway. It's not something I fret over. I wouldn't trade any of the incredible skiing in for riding, especially since skiing conditions where mostly superb and riding in same conditions sucked. I have less than 1000 miles on the bike, no hours on the trainer, and nearly 500 miles in the mountains on XC skis. This adds up to a healthy 100,000ft of climbing so far this year, mostly on snow. This ought to count for something.

Hoping to get a long ride in Saturday before heading off to the islands. Options are a Gonzo/Kanc up-and-overs, or even a 4NaaP ride if I can confirm Bear Notch is open. More likely though, it will be a SNH loop, hitting all the local walls like Parkers, Abbot, Pead, Purg and maybe Unc.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sugarloaf 50k Race Report

This post may be my last ski report of the season. Waterville Valley suspends regular operations for the season as of today but may open for two days next weekend. Then that's it. When I get back from Hawaii mid April, I have bike races lined up.

I made a late decision to do the 50km race at Sugarloaf. It clearly cuts into prime cycling training. It was a three day weekend for me (my company works 80 hours in 9 days and has every-other Friday off). It would have been nice to get in some big rides this weekend. But no, I had to squeeze the last bit of juice out of this epic winter by doing the season closing race. Skiing only once in the last two weeks added to the insanity of signing up. In fact, I've skied less than 50 hours so far this year. Seems like I've done a lot more than that.

I went up the night before with Dave P. We stayed at his wife's folks place in Hartland, ME. Dave and I were doing the 50k race, Beth was doing the 30k tour. They prepared a pasta feast for us skiers. Very yummy sauce, salad, fresh bread, even an icecream based desert. I cannot say no to stuff this good, even if I'm way past the full threshold. I think there was a sinister plan in there somewhere. The Woodbury's certainly know how to host athletes. The meal and room were much appreciated.

Now only if the race could go well, it would be a flawless weekend. Reports from Saturday were to expect some boiler plate on the course. Brett R. went up earlier in the weekend with his son for some Alpine skiing. He also went out on a Saturday morning surveillance lap of the course. The report scared me. With my Hawaiian trip only a week away, injury was not an option. We got to the venue plenty early. It hadn't snowed overnight. The course looked to be tilled up nicely, very coarse granular that sounded like gravel under your feet. But just an inch or two under that was solid ice. Crap. I just knew after the first lap all that wonderful granular was going to be scraped off the descents.

400ft climb up right side of image

I did a very minimal warmup before lining up. Much to my surprise, we were staged according to registering order. I registered just before it closed on, so I was in very nearly the last row. The gun goes off and we begin double poling across the bog. I saw only one skier tangle up and go down. Then we get into the trail. Immediately things grind to a halt. This sucked. I was stuck behind a long line of college team girls. Every little rise we came to saw the speed go to zero or close to it. At one point, things stopped, and a girl came up beside me and stopped with both her skies standing on one of my skies. I could not move. I was stuck behind this slow moving mass going up the 400ft climb. It was maddening. A few of the girls were even chatting, not too concerned there was actually a race going on. A couple others would not budge despite repeated calls to pass. About 75% of the way up the climb, I finally cleared this mess with a huge gap ahead of me. In fact, I don't think I could even see the next skier. That is how far back this group was in just the first 3-4km. I very quickly opened a gap behind me.

Beginning the hairball descents on lap one, I immediately knew there was going to be trouble on laps two and three. The course is 16.5km and we do three laps. I utterly suck on icy descents. I did not know the course at all. I unnecessarily braked a few times, got too much speed other times. The granular cover was still good, but by the time the rest of my field plus the 30k race and tour fields staged behind us came through, there was going to be ice.

Lap #1 was a breeze. Conditions were lightning fast despite plowing through deep loose granular. It probably didn't matter what wax or ski structure you used. I was able to press hard into the big climb the second time around. I passed a couple guys and had no interference from a chatty group plugging up the trail. It was my fastest time up the 400 footer and the only time in the whole race where I actually felt like I was working hard. Then came the descents. The steep straight-away with sweeping right hand turn caught me off guard. I had way too much speed going when I realized hockey ice is not a good surface to scrub speed off on. I went down hard, possibly at 30mph. Bruised sit bone and thumb jammed back wicked bad were the result. The two guys I worked so hard to pass came flying by. I was flustered now. In the next two minutes, I went down two more times around bare ice corners with a wee berm to hold your outside ski. I am completely clueless how to ski stuff like this. I think somebody like Colin R would crush the competition on this course though. I was now pissed and quite certain I would hang it up when (if) I made it to the finish area. Sustaining an injury that would wipe out a tropics vacation was not worth it.

I get back to the bog and reconsider my desire to quit despite my thumb throbbing so bad I could not squeeze gels with it. I figured I can't quit a race Dave was certain to finish. Descending is not one of his strong points either, but I figured I lost so much time on that descent he was surely just behind me. He beat me by several minutes at Rangeley last year. We're both improved this year, so it was up in the air who was going to finish first.

With two of three laps complete, I still felt fresh going into the wall climb the final time. This race just wasn't taking anything out of me. It seemed half the time I was putting the brakes on, not doing any work. I skied with about 50oz in my Camelbak again. I only took gel handups, of which I could only get half that crazy thick stuff out each time. I passed the two guys again that passed me when I was in crash mode. I flew past them in fact. I can put minutes on them in a single 400ft climb, yet give it back just like that on a descent. I really need to learn that trick. It could take 10-15 minutes off my race time easily.

A brief, heavy snow squall moved through. It dumped just enough saturated soggy snow on the course to really take the speed down in some areas (not on the scraped off ice though). It made things really tricky, as you'd alternate between granular (fast) and soggy snow (like glue) instantaneously. It made it almost impossible to maintain fore/aft balance in places. Many others I talked to after the race experienced this. You could barely see the new snow pellets, but you sure could tell when you skied on it.

Beginning the hairy descents for the third time, my mantra was "don't crash, think Hawaii." I crashed again anyway. At least this time I knew where all the bad areas were and scrubbed speed before getting to them. There was no edge to be had on any of the steep stuff. I even managed to pick off another guy dusting himself off around one of the meanies. I saw several others go down, even on the first lap. This was easily the nastiest conditions I've raced on. I think Sugarloaf did the best they could given recent weather and lack of snowfall. Send a hundred-plus skiers around a few times, that sugary stuff has nowhere to go but pushed out of the way, leaving boiler plate exposed.

Hickup in lap three might be crash impact related

So I managed to hold off several skiers I passed in the last lap to the finish. I finished in 3:02hrs and change, my fastest 50k marathon yet. Next year I would like to get below 3hrs. I should have been able to do it here today. This course is way easier than Lake Placid, yet I was only 4 minutes faster. The conditions were "too" fast in that it made control dicy, thus having to ski defensively at reduced speed. The third lap soggy dump didn't help either. The 50k race had nearly 4000ft of climbing in it. Didn't seem like it, but all those rollers add up. That was the easiest 50k race so far for me. No bonking, no cramping, still going strong after three hours. I've felt more trashed after some of my Waterville ski sessions. Two PR's today, fastest 50k, and the most crashes by far in any race. There's irony in there somewhere.

Dave finished about 5 minutes behind me. He too has skied only once in the last two weeks and a handful of times in the last couple months really. Beth finished her 30k tour strong, amazingly having skate skied only once this year. Brett finished solidly at 4th overall in the 30km race. I think we all agreed that we'll do it again next year. Many thanks to the Colby crew for staffing this race. I finally met Luke, who manned the first feed station.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Volume vs. confidence

Between busy work schedule and a very wintry winter, I've logged the least number of hours on the bike thus far this year than I have in at least five years. I've averaged 5.5hrs per week on the bike year to date. Last year I averaged 7.8hrs per week to this point in the season, 42% more volume. Total volume when bringing skiing into the picture is off too.

I do recognize this in my training. It is pretty well established that intensity trumps volume when you can't get the volume in. In other words, if you only have a few hours per week to ride, ride them like you mean it. Last year I was getting in 3-4hr rides most weekends in February and March. This year the best I can do is a 60-90 minute session at lunch or an occasional 2-3hr trail ride if I'm lucky.

Bike bloggers are filling their pages with epic rides in exotic places right now. 440 miles in four days? Yep, that's out there. I'll get my chance in Hawaii in two weeks, but it won't exactly be a spring training camp sausage fest. Last year I packed April with two riding trips, one to Arizona, the other to Virginia. A 100+ mile MTB ride in the desert certainly was a mental toughener.

When I look at the package deal of skiing and riding, I'm confident I'm in the best overall shape I've been in, ever. Would this translate into PR'ing a local climb right now or being able to stay in the lead pack at Battenkill next month? Most likely not. Balance has value that doesn't necessarily translate into specific results. I have one more ski event this weekend before I begin losing that balance. Perhaps this will be the summer I attempt to maintain some balance with dry land workouts.

Many athletes follow a prescribed plan to "peak." I have never subscribed to Friel's periodization technique. It's not that I don't think it works, I'm sure it does for most serious folks. It's more that I don't want to put all my training reward eggs into a small basket. Say I did periodize my training to peak in August for the Mt Washington hillclimb. I would be giving up some performance early and later in the season to attain a brief bump-up in performance. I might even be able to achieve a stellar result. What is the value of this? Will it add to my self worth? Bragging rights? I see a few athletes that attach too much self worth to how they perform at certain events. When the goal has not been reached, they are in the dumps, ready to hang up cycling.

While being competitive is important too me, it is only a portion of the total return on training investment. Traveling to new places and doing 4-5hrs rides several days in a row have at least as much value as a podium finish. It's not about the result. At 46yrs old, I am blessed to be able to do this. With a sour economy and everybody that is still working having to work harder, I see many at the office losing the battle of the bulge. My training is the reward, not simply a means to some other reward.

I did get in a couple good lunch rides this week. Tuesday, still messed up from stairclimb repeats last Friday, I went out with Steve G to hit some real hills. This was the first big hill work on the bike I've done since last year. We did an Uncanoonuc/Chestnut loop. Alpe d'Unc, as some call it, gains about 1000ft. The last 600ft are steep. I was wicked slow but pushed wicked hard. I never cease to be on the verge of puking on this 6-8 minute climb.

Wednesday I had a 1hr window to ride, and while the rest of the lunch gang was still airing up tires and such, I made it their bounden duty to chase me down. They left about 2 minutes after I did. About 10 miles out on Boston Post Rd, I see triathlete Dan and Steve gaining on me. Dan is one of the region's top Olympic distance tri-guys. On his aero bike into the wind, he can out ride me on classic road bike. There were a series of small rollers coming up. I put my head down and left nothing on the table going over the rollers. They neutralize Dan's aero benefits. I avoided getting caught before Dan turned off. I didn't know he turned off, so I continued to bury myself the rest of the way back. This ride was essentially a Mt Washington TT effort. I stayed right at threshold for 68 minutes. So does this ride count if I don't have any quantitative power, HR or other baseline metrics to compare it too? Absolutely. Playing the role of rabbit positively pushed me harder and longer than I could have just riding solo.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

WV/Otis double header weekend

When I awoke this morning, it felt like somebody had taken a ballpeen hammer to both my legs. They were still reeling with DOMS from my stairway workout Friday morning. I think the soreness peeked Saturday night. After a small handful of ibuprofen and moving around for an hour, I decided I wasn't going to let another fine day go to waste.

From what I read about DOMS, you can train through it. As long as you don't have a muscle injury, you won't worsen the condition. It just hurts like hell and you probably won't be at full potential. This was my situation Saturday. Dave P and I went up to Waterville to ski, possibly our last recreational ski session of the season. Next weekend is the Sugarloaf race, then it's Hawaii for me.

This is my favorite time of year to skate ski. Usually the snow is transformed into sugar granular. This can mean simultaneous speed and control. These were exactly the conditions we had Saturday. On a scale of 1-10, I'd rate speed at 9 starting out, control at 8. Afternoon sun softened things up a little, so speed deteriorated at the end. We did a full perimeter sweep, starting with the north end. After a Swan's/Moose/Wicked warmup, a punch up Osceola primed the muscles for Tripoli. Despite being beat down from the stair workout, I decided I should get at least one good interval out of the ski session. I drilled Tripoli, even timing myself from the Y. Normally I TT from the road a little further down. I reached the top in 17 minutes, 23 seconds. Not bad, but I don't have a previous PR baseline from this starting point.

With sore legs and an interval to add insult to injury, I went downhill for the rest of the ski session. Dave proceeded to pommel me up Livermore and Cascade. Thought I was going to die. We (really just whiny me) bagged going up Beanbender this time, opting for the much easier direction going down it. Insanely fast. The Nordic center shoveled snow across the several paved sections so we didn't have to take our skis off today. Sweet.

We still had the whole south end perimeter to do yet. This included the Jennings Peak, Upper Fletchers and Criterion climbs. I consumed only two Gu's and 50oz Gatorade and did not bonk this time. Finished on fumes though. We did 45km, 4100ft climbing, in under 3hrs moving time. I think this was the best or at least tied for the best skiing day of the season. Later that night I could barely move.

Back to Sunday morning. I got to Otis later than I normally do. Still many cars there. Conditions were approaching short sleeve. Brilliant sun, zero mud, snow or ice to be found anywhere. In fact, some areas were starting to get loose and sandy.


I nearly ran into a raccoon. It is very odd to see them out midday. You first think rabies. I scared him good and he piddled all over himself scampering up a tree. He seemed healthy and timid enough to probably not be rabid. A short time after that, I saw the biggest tom turkey ever. His head must have been a foot higher than my handle bar.

About 80 minutes into my ride, I ran into a huge group of riders. As I flew by, one yelled out my name. It was Thom P with what looked to be a shop ride. He invited me to join, so I tagged along. I occasionally join large NEMBA rides or participate in fun rides like Turkey Burner or Wicked Ride of the East. I try to time them with "off" days, where the drive to maintain a certain pace takes back seat to the social aspects of off-road riding. Today wasn't one of those days however. I was looking to get about 3hrs of steady tempo effort in and barely enough time to do it. Large group rides can be quite peaky with lots of down time. After a couple stops, I told Thom I'd catch up with him another time and continued on. I hate to be a dick like that, but I needed to stick to the plan.

Covered almost all of Otis with little repeating

I rode for nearly two more hours, stopping only to eat a Clif bar to ward off the bonk. It was definitely the nicest riding day so far this year. It might only have been 50-55F on the Cape. It was much warmer inland driving home. I managed to cover almost every area with trail in 28 miles, 2900ft vertical, 3.2hrs riding time. It is interesting to note yet again I skied faster with more vertical the day before than what I can do on my bike on relatively flat trails at Otis. How is that? I do tend to go much harder on skis, so I survive only on leftover crumbs the next day when I ride. 7000ft total climbing in 56 woods miles is a great weekend. Skiing will be done when I get back from Hawaii in April, so the pace will pick up on trail rides. Need to bring the Titus out to play too. I rode my hardtail today. Needed the gears for my sickly legs.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Concentric = good, eccentric = bad

Stair climb repeats did a number on my legs. Last night when I went to bed, I felt fine. This morning, I could hardly go down the stairs. Tonight, I don't even want to think about getting out of my chair. I have the worst case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) I have ever experienced going on right now. Best I can figure, it was going back down the stairs that has caused this. It is strange that I have been riding for going on 12 years and skiing in the mountains all winter, yet I can't go down a few flights of stairs without destroying my legs.

Cycling and skate skiing utilize 100% concentric muscle contraction. This means the muscle shortens under force, where the force developed by the muscle is greater than the force working against it. This would be pushing the pedal down and it moves away from you. Your quadriceps are contracting while this happens. A similar thing happens in skiing when you push off.

Going down stairs is a different beast however. Each time you step down, your legs must decelerate the drop of your body weight. Thus the quadriceps starts contracted, then elongates as the knee bends to absorb the impact. This stretches the muscle while it is under very high force, just the opposite of cycling. Studies show that it is this eccentric contraction that causes DOMS. Studies also show that even a little eccentric conditioning at light effort is enough to ward off DOMS. I must get zero conditioning. When I hiked Mt Chocorua last fall, I had shin splints for a week. Now I destroyed the very muscles I bike and ski with. All of my quad and calf muscles are extremely sensitive to touch, and any eccentric activity is completely off limits until the pain subsides.

I ran up 1120 steps by two's Friday morning. I went down easily one step at a time. I calculated my power output while running up to be 440 Watts, quite modest for one minute efforts. I can do much higher for a minute on the bicycle. But it was the negative wattage, probably on the order of 300W, that killed my legs.

All this makes me wonder if I'm leaving something on the table by not incorporating eccentric activity into my weekly routine. DOMS is not well understood. Many theories exist, some suggest that the primary workhorse fibers are not involved. Maybe eccentric work would not make me faster on the bike but would stave off these unpleasant bouts I go through every time I break out of the narrow training mold I keep myself in. Body builders rely heavily on eccentric contraction to build mass. I believe they call them "negatives." The strongest endurance athletes don't look bulky though. Perhaps Mooky can shed some light on this.

Friday, March 13, 2009

First time workout

Red = Capital Crescent Trail, Yellow = Rock Creek Trail, Blue = Mt Vernon Trail, 4.6hrs worth of riding

I dropped my rental bike off on Thursday morning after riding, as Friday was going to be stressful enough without having to drop a bike off and barely make a flight. Thursday's ride was relatively easy, about 1.6hrs worth putzing around the nation's capital and a jaunt up the Rock Creek bike path. Nice climb at the end, actually, about 300ft vertical. So after I sifted through work email, I pondered how I could anneal the muscles before what was sure to be tough meeting coming up.

Brett travels more than I do, and he often finds himself in high-rise hotels. Nobody uses the stairwells in those things. Perfect personal gym actually. He'll do repeats. One time he intervalled 40 floors three times. I was in a much smaller hotel, only 14 floors, and only 12 of those were connected by a continuous stairway. Still could work, I thought. I brought some casual running style attire along for just such a contingency.

Along Rock Creek

The idea is to run up by two's at a pace you barely hold for the duration. I had no idea how quickly I could run up 160 steps, in my case. There were 19 u-turn landings along the way too. I brought the HRM along just for curiosity, a device I haven't used in maybe a year now. First time up, about 1.1 minutes. I took steps down by one's to go easy on the knees and reduce risk of rolling an ankle. It was perfect built in recovery. I continued doing repeats. As I warmed up, I was able to take seconds off each time. I got it down to well under a minute. Heart rate was still rising rapidly upon reaching the top. These were pure, explosively anaerobic intervals, something I don't regularly do on the bike. It was all quadriceps. After seven of these bursts in 20 minutes, I pretty much managed to turn my quads into jelly. Mission accomplished. I'll definitely have to keep these kinds of workouts in mind for future business travel. I'll select hotels based on how tall they are. I never encountered another person during my workout. They probably would have exited at the nearest floor, seeing this freak fly up stairs at 10x the speed most people go down them. Wish the Washington Monument was still open to the public. 555ft of stairs. Unofficial record is 6.7 minutes, although I bet it wouldn't be as vacant as my stairway was this morning.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Forever Lost

So I fly in to Washington DC Tuesday on schedule. While waiting for my bag, I decided to call a local bike shop to see if they had a rental my size. They did. Big Wheel Bikes was just a couple miles from my hotel in Arlington. I made a last minute decision to pick up a bike in case any holes opened up where I could ride.

My rental car had one of those Never Lost GPS thingies in it. I punch in the address to the bike shop and after a few minutes it tells me it is recalculating. I followed the instructions precisely, or at least as best I legally could. The recalculated route had me making illegal turns. Before you knew it, I was on the DC side of the Potomac. I finally found a place to turn around, look at a map and start over. I started the same way as the first time heading up the George Washington Pkwy. I ignore the Never Lost instructions. I found the shop.

I punch in the address to my hotel and left with a Schwinn Le Tour. Never Lost guides me past the hotel, over the river into DC, then tells me to make a U-turn. Apparently there is no way to make a left at the hotel itself. Not only was it illegal at this intersection, I think you would quite certainly get creamed. So I turn left instead and follow Canal Rd. I was now trapped on the wrong side of the river again! I was livid. Now I was going to be late meeting the team at one of my company's office buildings in Arlington. Canal Rd grinds to a stop-and-go halt. There was no way to U-turn on this road either, as it hugs the river to the left with no bridges for miles. Eventually there is a side street to the right where I got turned around. Hertz should call those things FORever Lost. Totally worthless in the DC area. They just don't have things mapped out in enough detail to capture what is doable at various intersections.

We met until about 9pm. Obviously I wasn't riding any more that evening. I did bring an LED lamp. We were starting up at 9:30am the next morning. I figured I could squeeze in a quick hour before that. The company office is only a 10 minute walk from the hotel. I get up at 6:30. I didn't realize how far back daylight savings time pushed daybreak. Even at 7am, it was still very dark out. Heavy overcast didn't help.

I went out at 7am without a light. Went over the Francis Key Bridge right at the hotel to ride the Capital Crescent Trail on the other side of the Potomac. My map didn't have enough resolution to show the intricacies of how the bike route system worked in tight areas. There are bridges over bridges over bridges in places. Generally, bikes are always segregated from traffic on the paths, but you did have to know what side of the bridge to be on to go down or what level to be at to go across, etc. I got down to the dirt tow path and thought maybe I'll just ride this instead. I ride dirt all the time with my road bike back home. But I use known quantities for tubes and tires too. I didn't know what kind of tubes were in the cheap Conti tires or what pressure they were pumped up to. But I was ready to get a hard hour in, so I ramped up the intensity quickly.

I quickly encountered soft spots, loose spots, and lots of embedded rocks. It was very dark out, just light enough now to tell the difference between tow path and the canal. I nailed something very hard, nearly ripping both hands off the bar. That was close. I few seconds later, I encounter a stairway which led down to a paved path, the one I really wanted to be on. There was a narrow strip of pavement outside the stair railing I decided to ride rather than shoulder the bike down the steps. This was steep, not intended to be ridden. I immediately ran into trouble. The front tire was flat. It was too steep to stop, so I had to ride to the bottom. I was certain the tire was going to roll off the rim. It didn't.

Great, so now my ride time just got dinged. I quickly fixed it and was on may way. I must have passed hundreds of commuters coming in to the city. They all had lights on even though it was getting much lighter out now. Really cool to be in a city that gets it. I bet I was the only one out there not going anywhere but back to where I started. It was 43F. I had medium weight tights on with heavy jersey and wind shell. A lot of old guys with ripped legs wore shorts. I get to where the Capital Crescent Trail dumps out into big time urban environment and turn around. A lot of descent back to the river was to be had, maybe 200-300ft over several miles. This made a big difference in pace. Going out, I got in about a 22 minute threshold interval. Coming back, about 18 minutes. I had enough time to head back out again, which I opted to do over something more risky like venture on to another path I didn't study before hand.

Coming back from my second out and back, my legs felt quite cooked. When the path comes back down along the Potomac, it is flat, yet I was really lumbering along. I thought wow, those three intervals must have been the real deal. Then I realized that no way could a hard hour explain my sluggish performance. I looked down at my rear tire to see I was nearly riding on the rim. I would have noticed this on my own bike, but when the handling and feel is so different on a cheap rental, this just don't jump right out at me. But man, second flat in the same ride? I wonder how long it was soft. The leak seemed to be quite slow, so I tried the pump it up and pedal like crazy trick to see if I could make it the remaining two miles back. I did, barely. I thought I would be late again, but I had just enough margin to shower and make the 9:30 meeting.

The full crew spent the day going over a customer briefing. Some light was leaking through another crack in the schedule for a potential evening ride. Now the daylight savings time was working in my favor. I get back to the hotel, kit up in summer clothes (it was muggy 70F today), grab the bike only to realize I still have a flat to fix. At home I would just grab another bike.

One of my colleagues said this is us giving the rest of the world the middle finger.

This time I stayed on the Arlington side of the Potomac, rode past the Pentagon, Reagan National Airport, out towards Mount Vernon. There are bits of urban riding on this route, especially through Alexandria. Quaint town, but a zillion all-way stops had me a bit tentative. The local commuters seem to have a sixth sense through intersections and don't even lift their head to look most of the time. Gives me the willies to go 20+mph through and intersection when you can't see if anything is coming.

I went out about 12 miles on the Mount Vernon Path, far enough that I would have just enough time riding back to meet the team for dinner at 7pm. I went out at easy pace and was quite smug how fast the miles went by. I must have been riding with a 40mph tail wind. I had to kill myself to get back in time. My legs were reeling from the morning workout the way it was. What ever we were eating tonight, I certainly was going to earn it.

For a trip I thought would break one of my goals (not use a trainer all winter), I made out pretty good for one day's worth of riding. Over 53 miles in just under 3 hours. Plenty of quality intensity thrown in too. Trail users play nice with one another here. Even though the paths were crowded with riders, runners, roller bladers, stroller walkers, all sorts of users, I rarely had to slow down. All the paths have a yellow line up the middle. Most paths are wide enough for three cyclists to pass at the same point. Instead of lamenting I had to use a trainer tonight or show an altimeter profile of 14-floor stairway repeats (one of Brett Rutledge's favorite travel workouts), I got to ride a real bike outdoors. What a treat.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

How to maximize ski race suffer factor

Headed to the Rock Pile for the Ski to the Clouds race today. I almost bagged the race, seeing a lot of rain fell there last night. Deja vu all over again. Last year it poured the day before then temps plummeted to scary cold. The course then was like skating on 2" ice cubes frozen together. Conditions were vastly different today, but not necessarily better.

Get ready for some whining. Jill from Alaska embarks on a 350 mile bike race on the Iditarod trail, gets frostbite and may lose portions of toes, yet I haven't seen any whining on her blog. Guess I'm a wuss.

Staging area. Standing water, bare patches, >40F.

So how do you maximize sufferage during a ski race? Here's how:

1. Do your federal tax return the night before. This will raise your blood pressure, heart rate, and make you cuss. Just try to figure out the 2008 stimulus thingy that carries over into 2009 if you didn't get it all in 2008. You will go to bed late and spend eons calming down before you fall asleep. To maximize the impact of lack of sleep, do this the same night the clocks jump ahead one hour. I swear I no more than fell asleep when the alarm went off for the 2.5hr drive north.

2. Get in four hours of training on the bike in the two days prior to the race. You will surely feel this in your legs even if you take it easy. Ski to the Clouds wasn't exactly a priority race for me, but I got more than I bargained for.

The lead pack entering climb. Courtesy Great Glen Trails Photo Library.

3. Look at the weather report to see plummeting temperatures predicted with overnight snow, then bring your cold structure skis with cold wax when conditions were just the opposite. The temperature was over 40F at the base, warmer than the high forecasted for the day. There was standing water in the staging area. The Mt Washington Auto Road was stir-with-a-spoon pea soup. I had my old RS:11's ground with a deep warm/wet structure. They would have been perfect with a yellow fluoro. Instead, I had flat structure with two temperatures colder wax. To make sure the climb was extra soupy, the sun came out, yet the wind carried rain over from the black cloulds over the Wildcat side of the valley.

4. Overdress. I overheated before we even got into the climb. A simple skinsuit would have been enough, even for the descent after the finish. I wore AmFib bib tights, heavy base layer, and Pearl Izumi thermal layer. At least I ditched the hat and put on some light gloves.

5. Eat a bagel with Gatorade within 1hr of race start. Less than 1km from finish, I developed a side-stitch. This wasn't one of the pansy rib cage ones, but rather lower like in liver area. I've gotten these in intense MTB races before, and you can kind of soft pedal them out. How do you do this going up 12% grade in ankle deep slush at 3mph? The pain kept getting worse, and I kept pushing through it. Eventually my liver told me if YOU DON'T STOP NOW, I'M GOING TO EXPLODE! I doubled over in pain, waiting at least a minute for the pain to subside. Two people I fought hard to pass and stay ahead of passed me back. One was Donovan, Justin Freeman's dad. I never caught him back. Between broken wheels (2008) and side-stitches, I think the Rock Pile has put a curse on me.

Race profile. Pronounced dip in HR near end is where I doubled over with side stitch. Weston level HR for an hour!

Not much of a race report, eh? All I can say is that I have never suffered harder for 62 minutes on skis. That's right. I measured only about 9.2km distance and it took over an hour. They don't call it America's toughest 10k for nothing. So Justin won it by one second in a sprint with Jesse Downs. Duncan Douglas was third overall (he was 5th overall at the American Birkie, and he's 43!). I was way down at 26th overall, 24th for men. There were 70 finishers. Full results and photos here.

Given my whining above, I didn't do any worse relative to Justin or others in my peer group than last year. Last year I was 37.3% slower than Justin, this year 36.3% back. Everybody took longer this year, partly due to shortened course last year. I'm a little faster relative to world class cyclists on this mountain at 32% back, yet finish in the top 2% out of 600. Skiing is a humbling sport. Maybe next year I'll treat this race more seriously. That is tough, as I really like to ramp up cycling hours this time of year. With the race being on Sunday, it kills the whole weekend if you are tapering for a race. Overall, it was a good day. I had a chance to talk with several bicycle hillclimb enthusiasts after the race. Carol Meader (PVC) and Bob Donahue (Gearworks) raced today. Steve Vosburgh (CCB) spectated, nursing an injured ankle. Would I do this all over again? In a heartbeat.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Weston from the middle of the pack

What's a cyclist to do when you get a big snow dump in March? You ski it! Not only did I get a chance to ski tonight, I got to race the last of nine races in the sprint series. I competed in five of them. The last few weeks have had some dicy conditions, and being busy at work I felt the haul down to Weston wasn't worth the time commitment. Tonight was worth the drive. Conditions were likely the coldest and slowest of the season. I heard one skier comment "who'd expect packed powder in March!" The snow was a bit squeaky though, and after three laps of the long course, it was pretty chopped up.

After a respectable warmup, I lined up. There were a ton of junior skiers there tonight, I believe some are going to the junior Olympics. Great. I was going to get smoked by 14 year old girls. There had to be the biggest crowd there ever. I could not see the back of the staging line. 100+? I settled into around 25th place and held it for a while. Passed a few, a few passed me on the first lap. I saw a pole laying in the snow and didn't think much of it. Shortly later, I pass Marv Wang, sans one pole. I've never beaten him, now I'm thinking great, the only way I'll beat him is with one arm tied behind his back, almost literally.

On the second lap, I'm riding the Jamie/Victor train. Marv comes flying past, now with two poles. I was impressed with that recovery. The suffer factor was uber high. I was quite certain I was skiing at a two lap pace, yet we had to do three laps. We shelled a couple skiers out of our group, yet a couple others bridged up. It seemed I was playing a zero sum gain in this race. I really hadn't any expectations other than getting a spanker of a workout. I was not recovered from a hard weekend.

Beginning the third lap, my GPS armband velcro strap came loose. That really sucked. I was not going to forfeit a $500 GPS to a training race. I had to coast for about 10sec and fiddle in the darkness to find the strap to pull it tight again. I lost contact with the train. I killed myself going over Mt Weston to regain the guys I was with. Jamie and Victor are good guys to draft. After sweeping around the flats, coming back around Mt Weston, you go up the steep little hill by the lodge. I was overtaking another on it and caught the other guy's pole with my ski tip. I went down. I got up immediately, but the train had left the station. There was nobody behind me at that point, so I more or less soft pedaled the remaining kilometer or so to the finish. The hills got chewed up good and were very slow. Lots bunching up on hills and tripping on poles and skis were going on throughout the race. I might have caused another skier to bobble too, so I guess I was even.

Don't have a finishing place, but my time was 29:07 for about 9km. Warmup and laps after the race netted 24.8km, 320m vert in 94 minutes for the night. It was chilly, 19F at race start and dropping from there. Got the spanker workout I sought. The endorphin juices were freely flowing on the 45 minute drive home. Lets you think new thoughts, and you'll never fail a pee test for this kind of buzz.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Got it backwards this weekend

I had high hopes of another Waterville/Otis double header weekend. The weather could have cooperated if I had a crystal ball. We planned earlier in the week to ski on Saturday, ride on Sunday. It poured mightily in New Hampshire Friday night. Then the temp plummeted. So what does this mean for ski conditions? General suckiness.

Saturday turned out to be a gorgeous day for any activity, especially a Cape trail ride since it was a bit windy. But we committed to skiing. Waterville had started to groom their trails in the morning. Very little was groomed when we got there. The snow was still saturated with water even though the temperature dropped below 20F overnight. I waxed with CH8 but should have used an HF. Trails that were groomed earlier in the morning were set up rock hard. Brett commented it was just like Weston last Tuesday. It didn't seem that fast to me though. Maybe standing water in some of the trails had something to do with that.

50k race pace first 80 minutes

Brett, Dave and I skied out Swans Way to the north end since that is where grooming was taking place. The flat Moose Run/Wicked Easy loop actually skied quite nicely. After one lap around we hit the Upper Osceola climb. The descent was near fear of death. We opted for another lap around Moose Run/Wicked Easy before hitting the biggest climb, Tripoli Rd. The parts that refroze after grooming were hard and fast. The parts that were still saturated with water were soggy and slow. Either way, it took less than 19 minutes to climb without killing ourselves, a respectible pace. Brett led, saying he was going strict tempo pace. On fresh legs I can drop Brett on this one, but he was putting the screws to me pretty good this time. At the top he asked how the pace was. I said that was the easiest tempo pace I ever did. He told me to f-off. I knew it. He hammered it. Coming back down was actually slower than when conditions are slow, as control was quite marginal. I crashed hard coming down this a couple years ago and never want to revisit those kinds of injuries. It was back to Moose Run/Wicked Easy again, cruising at an aggressive pace. Coming back, I got Brett and Dave to aggree to one more Tripoli climb. This time we did go more of a tempo pace.

Dave and Brett were ready to call it good and headed back. I felt like we were skiing near 50k race pace thus far. I was hoping to get closer to three hours in, so I crossed over to Livermore Rd and climbed it to beyond the Cascade Brook trailhead. I promptly imploaded. Just like two hours into the Lake Placid Loppet, I bonked hard two hours into this training ski. I ate similar amount (less than 200 calories plus Gatorade) both times. What is it they say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? I will have to work on this for the Sugarloaf Marathon.

I limped back to the Nordic Center on fumes in the tank. I finished with 48.3km, just about 1000m of climbing, in 3:05 hours. This is about same distance and time as I recorded for the Lake Placid Loppet, but less climbing. A high value training ski for sure.

When I awoke Sunday, it was even colder, and the Cape webcams showed the ground was already white there from the precursor to the big storm that is supposed to hit Sunday night. Scratch the planned Otis ride. Turns out this snow fell only in coastal Mass, not up-state NH at all. The Waterville trails had drained and were fully groomed to sugar granular. Dang. Should have rode sunny Saturday and skied shivery Sunday. So what to do. It was windy and 19F. A road ride seemed very unattractive. I prepped the winter beater MTB. The rear tire was flat, as salt corroded the valve stem to tube interface (happens a lot if you ride salty roads a lot). I rode from my house, hitting a small loop through the woods along the Merrimack river in Hudson before hitting the "Hudson Powerlines."

Hudson Powerlines

There were patches of frozen ground, crusty snow, but mostly lots of icy ruts left by the ATVs. Tricky business on studded tires that are way past due in being replaced. I managed to stay upright though, mostly because I was uber trashed from the marathon ski effort the day before. I was too tired to go fast. I hit Merrill Hill, Bush Hill and Seavey Hill, all 300-400ft climbs. Pretty much everything was rideable. I finished the loop with 21.1 miles, 1908ft of climbing in 2:25hrs. I actually skied longer with more climbing at a faster pace than riding. That makes 51 miles, >5000ft vert in 5.5hrs, almost all off-road, for the weekend. Monday will be a complete rest day.

For the first two months of the year, my training hours are pretty nearly split 50/50 between biking and skiing. I'm averaging over 10hrs per week. In April, this will switch to 12hrs per week, all riding, unless I try to squeeze in rollerski sessions on my recovery days. I think that would really suck though, after such a fantastic winter.

I figured it was time to update my simplistic blog layout. A three column format will let me put more info I wish to highlight at the top of the page without it disappearing off the bottom of one screen. You may notice a 100x100^2 logo there. I will add a link with explanation at later date. The hillclimber types may get what it means. The 100 is 100 miles, the 100^2 is 10,000ft of climbing. So a 100x100^2 ride goes at least 100 miles and entails at least 10,000ft of climbing. 6-Gaps is the biggest in the series with 132 miles and 14,000ft of climbing. I hope to nail down dates for some of the other rides as the summer schedule solidifies. I'll extend open invites to some of these rides.