Monday, February 23, 2009

3-Day Triathlon

I had myself a little 3-day triathlon this weekend. Ran 9 miles ( 14.5k) on Friday, biked 52 (83.7k) miles on Saturday, and swam 1 mile (1.6k) on Sunday. Taking the times I did on all of these events, extrapolating them out to the full distance, and I get an 8:03 finish time. That doesn’t include transition times, so add another 5 minutes or so to that. As of today I will not make the cutoff time.

This site is really helpful for calculating that, btw:

Specifically, my run pace was 12:57mpm (5:32mpk), my bike was 12.8mph (20.6kph), and my swim was 2:45/100m. All of which are quite slow. I have 5 weeks to go. Can this event be salvaged?

Or should I give up, knowing that I can't beat the cutoff time? I would save myself from being pulled from the course by the clowns in the big white ice cream van that comes by and grabs you with a hook after clock strikes 8. Small children dressed as monkeys hang from the corners, rails, and doors of the van, chattering, screeching and mocking you for failing the whole way back to the finish.

I don't want to have to throttle a monkey.

But I committed to do this. A lot of people try and don't succeed, I may just be one of them. I'll get as far as I can get.

I have 5 weeks until the big day. As a friend points out, it's really only 4 training weeks because the last week is tapering. I hate to point out to her that most training plans call for a 2 week taper.

In any event, how do I shave off some minutes in the time I have left? Well, there's room for huge improvement on the run. It seems I've lost interest in running and I don't enjoy it any more. I used to. These things go in cycles, apparently. I can go a lot faster than 12:57, even over 13 miles. It's time to suck it up and work on my running again. 3 runs per week, some speed and tempo work. Get back to at least 11 mpm (6.8kpm) over the full distance. That'll still allow for some run/walking, which I'm sure I will need.

I don't see much hope for the bike. I'm learning that riding a bike fast is all about suffering. I don't like suffering. No. I'd rather ride up a hill in a comfortably difficult gear rather than feeling the extreme burn of muscling up for the sake of speed. Ergo, I will never be a good cyclist.

But I'll improve as much as I can in the remaining time. I figure 3 more long rides, 50-60 miles, with hills, will at least make my legs stronger and give me more of a chance to make it through the run.

I thought I was ok with my training for this course, but as the event gets closer more and more people are talking about how difficult the bike course is. Great. I've always heard it is 1/3 flat, 1/3 hills with 3 steep ones, and 1/3 into a headwind back. Not a great deal different than the course I am riding for training right now. But now people are saying, 'oh no, you'll need to be able to ride double that to do Oceanside!' Great.

The Oceanside course profile is this: Oceanside 70.3. 3 big, steep hills. A fair number of people walk their bikes up at least one of these.

We've signed up for the Solvang ride, 2 weeks before Oceanside, and it will be difficult. I'm doing the Half Century, Basta the full. I'm hoping it'll make Oceanside look easier.

I don't see much changing on the swim. Pull harder. Faster arm turnover. Blah blah blah. All I want to do is get through the swim without drama or physical stress in under an hour.

At this point I think the biggest thing I can do to improve my time is to lose some weight. Will I get another mph on the bike for every 5 lbs I lose? Every 10? Will my running pace pick up by :15 or :30? It'll surely help.

It's funny, looking back at the changes in Basta's body when he was training for his first half. He lost 10 pounds almost instantly, and he was thin already. I haven't lost a thing. He was probably training more than I, but I'm training a lot. I'm not slacking off here. I just haven't changed my diet much, and I've perhaps fallen into the, 'oh I'm working out hard, I can afford these extra calories' trap. I can't afford to do that any more.

My resting heart rate has gone from 82 last year (yes that's high) to 68 now. I have a 'suzuki heart' and my RHR has always been high. To see 68 is almost unbelievable to me, but now I expect it to go lower. My blood pressure is 95/60. I'm pleased with that. Exercise really does affect your health dramatically. But the body fat? Not so much. I need to get a strong hold on my food intake and drop 10 pounds or more before the event. 5 weeks - 10 pounds (4.x kilos) -- doable. Goodbye, four evil whites (sugar, flour, rice, potatoes). Hello, small portions and lower calories.

Monday, February 16, 2009

It's All About The Bike

First, the obligatory Basta update (OBU?): He (we) did the Tour de Palm Springs on Valentine's Day (aw) and it was his first Century. He finished in 5 hours, 47 minutes for an average pace of 17.5 mph (28 kph). We're both pleased with that. Much as I believe he can average above 20mph like other guys in his age group, I now know that it will take another year or two for him to get there. Speed on the bike just doesn't build that quickly. He's gone from 15mph average last year to 17.5 now. Maybe he'll see 20mph next year. Or he'll be closer to it, anyway. He's doing well.

He finished strong and was still bursting with energy. He came back to the hotel, dropped off the bike and put on his running shoes, then did a half hour brick. He said that felt fine. So all is well with his training.

Now on to me (me, me, me). Triathlon is all about the bike, as we all know. Santa gave me a nice chunk of change for Christmas and when I saw that check my first thought was, 'oooo, tri-bike.' I started shopping in earnest, trying to find the right tri-bike for me. But something was holding me back. A little voice in the back of my head saying, 'buying a tri-bike right now is a waste of money . . .' Well I've heard that little voice give me sound advice enough times over the years that I try to listen to it. What would a tri-bike actually do for me?

I know what a tri-bike does for most people. My much-read post on the topic explains all that and I still believe it to be true. The question is what will a tri-bike do for ME. Me, me, me. That niggling little voice in my head kept saying, 'nothing. '

And then I found out why. This article here explained to me what I was feeling. Tri-Road-or-Tweener

Key points in that article:
1. If you're slow, a tri-bike won't help you. You'll probably be slower on it. You need the riding skills first, then the tri-bike. A fast rider will be faster on a tri-bike, a slow rider will be slower.
2. If you're not going to ride aero at least 90% of the time, you won't benefit from a tri-bike
    a. You're not going to ride aero much if your belly gets in the way of your legs in the aero position.
3. If you're fat, you'll be a lot more uncomfortable on a tri-bike. That's because the tri-bike shifts your weight forward and you'll be sitting on your tender lady bits instead of that big fat cushy butt. If you're slow to boot, that just means that much more pressure on the lady bits.

Well, as I've mentioned here before, I'm slow. Not just slower than you, but really truly slow. I'm working on that, but I know it will take time and dedication. I'm not there yet.

And then, I have some weight to lose. I stated just last week that I'm not particularly fat, and I'm not, but I'm not triathlete taut either. I could lose 20 pounds. I'd really like to lose 20 pounds. I've worked very hard to lose 20 pounds but they stubbornly refuse to budge. My belly plus my general hip stiffness makes riding aero difficult for me. If I can't ride aero most of the time, I will be slower on a tri-bike.

Plus there's that simple power to weight ratio. I can spend thousands of dollars on a tri bike that weighs ounces less than my road bike. Or I can lose ounces off my body and accomplish the same weight to power improvement at no cost. I really need to lose these 20 pounds if I ever hope to get faster on the bike. I'm working on it. As always.

Finally, I just need more time in the saddle. More leg strength, more pedal efficiency, more speed. I need to get faster on the road bike before I can hope to see benefit from a tri-bike.

So I'm not going to buy a tri bike this year. Maybe next. Maybe cable-less shifters will be all the rage then. That'll be fun. So what should I spend Santa's money on now?

Once I decided not to buy a tri-bike I knew I needed to plunk some money into my road bike. I wanted help on the hills, so I bought more gears. Which required a new chain, too.

And I bought clip-on aero bars. No, I don't think I turned my road bike into a tri-bike by doing that. I will not see any improvement in my running from these clip-ons. I still push and pull down and up on the pedals, not back. So why put them on?

Well, to make me ride more aero. In every picture I see of me on the bike I am really upright. I look like I'm riding a beach cruiser. My bike doesn't feel like it fits quite properly, but the more I look at it the more I think the fit is fine, it's just me that's not riding it right. I'm supposed to be laid out a bit forward when I ride, and I'm not. I'm stiff. I'm too upright.

Then there's the simple rest factor. My shoulders, arms, wrists, all get sore when I'm riding. With the aero bars, I can rest my arms in the pads and hold my upper body up with my humerus bones. Then all that hurts is the neck from holding the head in aero position, and that more than makes up for any discomfort I felt before. I trust that will improve with practice. Right now I'm riding up until sore, then aero until sore, then up, then aero, etc.

Riding aero is really interesting. It's fun. I makes me feel really technical, and that makes me pay more attention to my pedal stroke and cadence. That results in me riding somewhat faster. The weight on the arm pads makes the bike squirrely as hell, too. It really teaches you how slight changes in your weight affect the direction of the bike. It magnifies any upper-body movement, too, so I think it will make me a 'stiller' and more efficient rider. All in all I think the aero bars added to a road bike offer far more advantage than I imagined.

They still don't turn a road bike into a tri bike, though. That's a whole different story.

So I did the Tour de Palm Springs 55 mile (88k) course this past Valentines Day (aw). The aero bars were attached and I used them at times during that ride. The wind for the first 10 miles was utterly brutal but I think the tailwind later on made up for a lot of that. I did 55 miles in 4 hours 15 minutes, which is 13.1 mph (12.8 kpm). That's just riding time and doesn't include 3 sag stops where I had rest, some sustenance, and a visit to the porta-potty. I felt strong at the end and like I could ride at least another strong 10. This is good.

My goal for Oceanside is a 4-hour ride, so I am not there yet but I am close. The Oceanside course is harder (hillier) than Palm Springs. It won't have sag stops. I will have swum beforehand so I will be wet and cold for much of it. But still. I did the distance this past weekend and I am in the ballpark of my time goal. I'm pleased.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Surf City Marathon 2009

The BQ attempt.

To qualify for the Boston Marathon is a big deal for a runner. In the United States, anyway. I have no idea if it is outside of this continent. I know a number of Canadian marathons are touted as Boston Qualifiers, but do the Europeans care? The Latin Americans? Anyone else? Somehow I doubt it, but I don't know. Crister? Can you shed any light? Boston? BQ? Mean anything to you and your running friends in Sweden?

Assuming that the entire world doesn't know what a big deal Boston is to us in the US, let me explain: It's a big deal. To runners. You have to qualify to get in, so it's an elitist thing. It's also the oldest annual marathon in the world, so you have an historic event as well. Pros do it. It's televised. Every American runner, in their heart of hearts, would like to be able to say they qualified for Boston once. Big deal.

Well. According to Wikipedia, the world does know about it: Ok, then.

With Basta's very fast Half Marathon at Surf City last year (7:44 pace (4:48k), we thought there was a possibility he could qualify for Boston. He decided he wanted try, along with doing Ironman and a bunch of century rides and plenty of skiing and all of the other things he wants to do. He needs an 8:35 (5:20k) overall pace to qualify in his age group.

I don't know if I clearly communicated that he hasn't run at anything faster than a 9:30 mile (5:54k) in quite some time. His sciatica problem kept him running but slowly. His bursitis or baker's cyst kept him from running at all for a couple of weeks. When all of that was gone he was running, he just wasn't running very fast. It was like his speed had just vanished.

Maybe it was the Ironman training. For that, long steady distance is the key. Not great speed you can't sustain all day long. But maybe he just got tired of running. Or maybe the suffering through running while not at 100% left him with thinking this was his new pace now. I don't know.

I tried to get his speed back through speed work, intervals, and tempo runs, but it didn’t help. He was doing the miles but doing them slowly. He said he just didn't feel like pushing himself to run that fast. He seemed to have lost his interest in qualifying for Boston, too. He'd just run the marathon and have a good time with it.

Then, about a month ago, his speed returned. Out of the blue, he went on a typical training run, and he ran fast! He looked at his pace watch and was amazed to see 8:30 (5:16k) when he was used to seeing 9:30 (5:54k) or higher. Maybe it was that his injuries had finally fully healed.

So hope for Boston surfaced again. A little glimmer of hope, anyway. 8:35 (5:20km) pace over 26.2 miles (42km)? He could run shorter distances at that pace, but a full marathon? He did his last long run prior to the event at 11:30 (7:08k) pace, making it a leisurely jog and stopping often for bathroom breaks and phone calls. I didn't think a BQ time was even in the realm of possibilities, but he thought the excitement of race day would pick up his pace as it always does. For 26.2 miles (42k)? Nah.

During the week before and up to the morning of I was giving him all sorts of sage marathon advice: Run your own race. Don't start out too fast. Don't get swept up in the excitement at the beginning and go out too fast. "Bank it now" is what will enter your mind but it's the worst thing you can do. Save it now or pay for it later. On and on. I told him to save himself in the first half, then let it out in the second. He agreed with all of that. I wrote goal times for the 5, 10, 15, and 20 mile marks on his arm right before we took off for the event.

We rode the bikes down again this year. Nice little warmup, that is. This event has always been well-run and it seems to get a little bit better every year. Backpack check-in was a quick, easy and secure thing. There were almost no lines at the porta-potties . We heard from friends that parking was no big deal, either.

The event started on time. Wave starts, so you can actually start out running and don't have to waste your first mile waiting for clear room to run. Basta was off in the first wave, running with his buddy Robert. Robert is a pretty fast runner and this was his first marathon. He was planning to run an 8:30 pace as long as he could and was hoping for a sub-4 hour marathon, so he and Basta would be able to run together for much of the distance.

But alas, they took off way too fast. Basta said they ran several 7 minute miles and once he glanced at his watch and saw 6:30 (4:02k). Too fast, boys. Way, way too fast. Spend it now and pay dearly later, remember?

They did not remember. Or they did not believe it was true. Basta said he did tell Robert they needed to slow down, several times, but Robert didn’t slow down and Basta stayed with him. So much for my, 'run your own race' advice.

They got to the 5-mile mark and cheered that they were 7 minutes ahead of the goal time I'd written on Basta's arm. Any seasoned marathoner could tell them that wasn't cause for cheer. That was practically a guarantee of a meltdown around mile 20 (32km).

Meanwhile, I was toddling along, doing my own run. The course looped around here and there so you could see people at various points. I saw Robert around what would have been his mile 21 or so. Ahead of him I caught a glimpse of what could have been Basta, running at a much faster pace. If that were indeed Basta, they had just separated, and Basta was still running well.

I looked at my elapsed time watch and did some calculations. He had 5-6 miles to go and about 45 minutes to do it in. His started in a different wave than me so my elapsed time was a bit different, so maybe he had a few less minutes. But maybe that was actually mile 22 or 23 where I saw him, not mile 20. Maybe he'd taken off from Robert in a sprint and was going to blow himself out with just a few miles to go. Maybe he was still strong and was going to nail this. Maybe he was going to come close and miss it by a few minutes. Would he try again soon if that was the case? Oh wait -- that guy could be Basta -- if so then he has no chance of BQ'ing. Oh, nope, that's not him. Good.

So many what-ifs to ponder while trotting along, trying to ignore the growing discomfort in the hips and thighs.

I finished my run, then found Basta and Robert in the crowd not long after. They were both hobbling a bit and looked tired. "How'd you do?" I asked.

Robert responded with a frown and a down-thumb sign. "I tanked at mile 20." Shockingly enough.

"And you?" I said, looking at Basta. He held out his watch for me to see. 3:41:37. He'd BQ'd with 4 minutes to spare!

Joy and celebration! We headed off to the beer garden and had our first taste of adult beverages in a month. Others in the beer garden heard us talking of his BQ and came over to congratulate him. He was very happy. I was very proud.

We rode the bikes home after a few beers. Everyone was amazed that he could ride at all after completing a marathon, in BQ time at that. But he was thinking, 'oh piffle. I'm an Ironman. This is nothing.'

In analyzing his splits afterwards, though, I have to say -- I'm amazed he managed to do this. He ran a foolish marathon. He started out way too hot and held that for far too long. He did fade considerably in the last 6 miles but held on to enough pace to make it to the end in time.

He said those last miles few miles hurt but he gutted it out. He does have an amazing capacity to continue on when a normal person would say enough.

Now I'm thinking . . . If I could somehow get him to run a strategically sound marathon, what time could he achieve? I don’t think a 3:30 marathon is unrealistic for him. Or, if he's not interested in that goal, at least he can finish in a BQ time but with much less pain. Maybe I can get him to run with a pace group next time.