Monday, March 30, 2009

More updates

On Thursday I rode over Papa Bear and Happy Valley. I got a flat on the descent after I hit a major pothole. There was a crew working and a piece of road was missing but I could not see it because it was in the shade. When I did see it, it was too late.

On Friday I ran my 10.5 mi hilly loop over Shepherd Canyon. I think I am getting back in shape!

On Saturday I rode 40 miles to Castro Valley over Redwood. I was going really fast and my ergomo -sans speedometer because I lost the magnet somehow- registered 2,000 calories, 230W average power, 260NP.  So, it wasn't just subjective. I did ride fast. I completed the ride in 2:17, with two short stops (one at the golf course).

On Sunday, I took Alistair to the Ronde van Brisbeen. I ran the course in reverse, watching the masters 1,2,3 and the cat 4s. Alistair did really well. I ran 13.6 miles (8 loops) and became somewhat of a celebrity to the spectators, who started cheering me and taking pictures of me.

Today I swam 1.75 miles. The first 53 laps (1/4 IM) were fast, and even at lap 70 (1/3) I was well ahead of a 1:15 ironman pace. That is more than seven minutes off my best time. I am not sure if I can hold it that long, but it is the fastest I ever swam.

The latter half was a bit slower, but overall I did the 154 laps in just under 1 hour. My swim had definitely improved. I just want to confirm it for the record, somewhere in a timed event. The reason: more muscle, and maybe a tiny bit better positioning?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

26.2 days to go

I got a message from the Boston marathon that read, 26.2 days to go to the 113th Boston marathon. How is that for originality? 

I am planning to run a whole lot more this week and next just to make sure I am ready.

Today I swam 2/3 of an Ironman swim in the morning (140 laps) and another 1/3 in the afternoon (72 laps). Overall I had the feeling I was doing very well. I think I have my "catch and pull" down and it seems to make a difference.

The only troubling fact is that my right shoulder starts hurting when I swim more than 1 1/2 miles. My right shoulder suffered a grade III AC separation last year. You can still put your finger on the tip of my clavicle and press down and it feels like pressing down on a piano key. Even so, it rarely hurts (apart from swimming and that is new) and it does not seem to limit my mobility much. It sometimes feels funny when I make certain movements but it does not really bother me.

I am not sure if this because:
1. I am doing something wrong. My swim position is off (not very likely, my position is probably better now than before).
2. I am using more power so the stress is greater. Compared to a year ago, I am putting in a lot more power now.
3. Something else happened to my shoulder (arthritis, micro-trauma, that too seems unlikely).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Listen to the coach

Read this in a recent publication. Advice for parents whose kids want to do triathlons. Get the right gear was the title. For the "RUN: A pair of good fitting running shoes. I recommend you spend the money for good shoes; it's cheaper than knee surgery later."

Wait a minute? Who said there is a connection between (bad) running shoes and knee injuries, requiring surgery? And what exactly are "good shoes?" I suspect most parents will read expensive shoes. Better buy expensive shoes for junior lest we have to pay for knee surgery later. The run-barefoot people would disagree.

Just an update on my recent activities:
Wed 3/18: 10.5 mile hilly run. Up Shepherd Canyon.
Thu 3/19: 7 mile run in the hills, at tempo
Fri 3/20: 1.5 mile swim. I was getting tired.
Sat 3/21: took Alistair to Sacramento for a race. Rode 40 minutes on rollers afterwards.
Sun 3/22: 8 mile run, over Grandview to backside trail.
Mon 3/23: 32 mile bike ride with the Specialized.
Today: 8 mile run, up Broadway Terrace to Skyline and back.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Swim, spin, swim

For a while we were thinking about driving to Monterey and do the CCX cross country race at Ford Ord. But neither Alistair nor I managed  to produce enough enthusiasm to make it happen. It is possible that the weather had something to do with it, because Sunday was cold, cloudy and rainy. After sitting around all morning, I decided to go to the pool and swim 3,000 meters.

After a good strong start, I slowed down considerably midway and near the end, it turned into a slog to the finish. Not fun. Seems like I will never feel my best in the water.

Yesterday was even worse. After spending the whole morning on a conference call, I couldn't get started and by the time I did there was barely more than an hour left before I had to pick up the kids. I ended up riding my rollers and that too turned into a drag. Without a functioning power meter, or even a speedometer for that matter, I had no idea how hard I was working. All I know is that it felt very hard. After an hour, exhausted, dehydrated, and ready to cramp up, I called it quits.

Today, the weather finally cleared up and the sun reappeared. I spent the morning writing and after lunch I decided to give the pool another try. I swam 160 laps, with only a brief pause at 80 and 120 to clear my mask. Overall it felt pretty good and I think I was doing well. I did not time my effort exactly but it appears I did the 160 in a little over an hour. For me, that is an excellent swim pace.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

More running

I ran another nine miles on the treadmill today. I set the inclination on 0.5 to make the run more realistic. It has been said that treadmill running is easier than running on the road because the resistance is less on moving belts. That may well be true, but on the other hand the lack of efficient cooling induces a stress that is absent when running outside. When one runs instead of walking, and runs for longer than 20 minutes, that stress becomes a real factor to be reckoned with.

Anyhow, just to make things more "real" I compromised and ran "up" a 0.5% grade the whole way.

I finished 8.2 miles in the first hour and ran another 0.8 miles at a slower pace after. For the first time ever I was able to run for an entire hour without having to look at, or hear that annoying TV set. But nearly as soon as I was finished someone came in and turned it on. I understand that lots of people think it boring to run on a treadmill without doing something else, but I for one, really like it. 

Maybe those other people are not working hard enough? Personally, I have little extra bandwidth to devote to inane TV programs. Furthermore I find these distractions spoil the peace and calm that I get from the run. They make it hard for me to imagine running a real race, with spectators cheering as one approaches the finish. 

Very often, I "use" the images of a previous ironman finish to push myself through the last two or three miles, and to increase my speed at a time when my body yells, slow down now, this is enough. A blaring TV set makes it that much harder to entertain these fantasies. How about you? Do you use imagery to push yourself when you run?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Painful run and no-so-painful bike

Yesterday I ran 10.5 miles in the hills. My "regular" run, down to Montclair village via Temescal, up Shepherd Canyon to Skyline, and back home over Grizzly. Granted there is some serious climbing here, but distance-wise it isn't that far. Not for someone preparing for a marathon.

I was quite surprised at how sore I was afterwards. Especially my calf muscles. They felt like someone chewed on them for a while. I'd thought for sure that after my 100 K run week, I would be up for any challenge. However, a careful look at the calendar reveals no hill running for almost a month. I guess hills are different from treadmills. This run is also a lot longer than the one hour sessions I did during the 100K week.

Today I rode about 30 miles on my mountain bike. I went to Redwood, rode the West trail and went down to the stables. Today was the first time I rode the hill to the observatory. I had never managed to do it, and surprisingly enough I did not find it all that hard. Go figure!

From the stables on Redwood road I went to McDonald. There I climbed the trail that turns into a creek bed after the rains. Although it hasn't rained for a week, there was still plenty of runoff. It wasn't really bad but there were a few sections that were extremely slippery and muddy. I had to walk one steep part because there was no traction whatsoever.

I continued on to the stone bridge and up the grade to the water-fountain. There I filled up and turned around  and rode to the Bort meadow parking lot. I took the road down and then up to the top of Pinehurst, where the the East side trail is. It felt good but I was spent when I got home.

I am quite tired now with faint aches in my calves as I sit here, but overall it things are pretty good.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

three miles

I swam over three miles today. This morning I swam 160 laps or 3,000 meters, and after lunch I added another 110 laps, or 1.25 miles. 3 miles is 264 laps in our pool. Needless to say, I am very happy. 

First off, no problems whatsoever, no cramps, no tight feelings in any muscle, no tired arms, no nothing. That is very good. I can now be pretty sure the long swims "did their thing" as they say in the business.

Second, although I did not time it, I have the distinct impression that I swam fast too. It certainly felt fast. Unfortunately there was nobody in the pool this morning to compare to. In the afternoon, Alistair swam and even though I did not stay with him, I wasn't that much slower either. It was certainly a lot better than I had done previously. I also felt as if I could have stayed with him if I had wanted to push it a bit.

All that sounds good, but as they say in England, the proof is in the pudding. We'll see once I get to Lake Placid in July. Hopefully, I can keep up the training and then, we might show some real telling numbers. I know I have said this many times before, but this time is different, believe me. I would be surprised if it did not pan out on the longer distance.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An eventful ride

You should never leave home without a spare tube, a tire lever and a pump. I have known this for decades. Yet today I did not only that, I also took off on a bike with a rear wheel that had a slow leak. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I knew but for whatever reason I neglected to pay attention to it.

The weather was nice, albeit quite cold. I got dressed up and left around 10:30. After a good 10.5 miles I could tell my rear tire was losing pressure. I stopped and sure enough, it was very low. To my dismay I found that I had only another leaky tube in my saddlebag. Not even a tire lever. So much for that.

For some odd reason there weren't many people on the road. So I sat there a while and finally a woman came by and stopped. All she had was a cartridge. I did not want to waste the cartridge on a leaky tube so I told her I would flag down another person. More waiting. Finally, a guy came by and he too, only had a cartridge. Left with no options, I decided to inflate the tire and see if I could make it down the hill to the bike store (about 3 miles). It worked.

After buying a tube, levers and an inflation cartridge, I replaced the tube and rode most of the rest of my planned ride -I had to cut it short to be back in time for an appointment- without much problem. Approximately 35 miles, on the Specialized SL. It is a nice bike, too bad the tube was leaky.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bike fit and more

The key criteria for a good bike fit is comfort. Forget about what you may have read or what people may have told you. Find a bike that feels right. All the rest is secondary. If you feel comfortable, your power output will be greater and your endurance will be better. That will more than make up for any aero advantage or disadvantage you -or anyone else- may perceive.

That said, unless you have a really stiff back, you should try to position yourself as low as possible, and keep your width as narrow as possible. If you are younger, and you have a comfortable fit, but one that puts you nearly upright with a very wide stance, you may want to think about SLOWLY changing that to a more aero fit. But I would only recommend doing so if your position is significantly out of whack. If you sit up and look out over everyone's back even though you are only 5'5, or if you need a small car's width to pass, you may want to explore your options a bit.

For all the talk about flat backs - and from an esthetics point of view, they sure look fabulous- there are quite a few world class time trialists that don't even come close to being flat. It also bears keeping in mind that the flatter you want to be, the more you will need to rotate your hips, and the more likely you are to sit upon, and do damage to, some very sensitive and important parts of your anatomy.

Although this isn't discussed openly, saddle comfort is a key determinant in long term cycling success. I personally know of professional riders who had to cut short their career because of recurring saddle sores, numbness, and what the medical profession calls, genito-urinary problems. Usually such problems can easily be avoided by a shorter top tube and a somewhat more upright position. 

A new position is usually the only option, notwithstanding the current crop of saddle shape modifications. These ingenious contraptions often do nothing more than shift the problem, or in some cases, create new problems where none existed before. Cutouts may reduce pressure in some locations, but because of less material they are likely to increase pressures much more in other spots. Gels heat up after a hour or so in the saddle and thusly promote inflammation. As a rule, the solution for a saddle problem lies not in the saddle but in the overall position of the rider.

Today, 3,000 meter swim (160 laps). Weather is nice but on the cool side.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Busy weekend

This weekend's action started with the Berkeley Hills Team time trial. Alistair was signed up with Marcus Smith, but he has been sick all week and so he was quite anxious before the start. Things went more or less OK, although he could not keep up with Marcus on the climbs -he is a faster climber than Marcus.

That made him feel bad about letting his team down. However, I think he did quite well considering the state he was in. He still has a cold as a leftover from a week long flu with some pretty bad diarrhea and stomach upsets. He stayed home from school for 3 days.

I took my mountain bike and rode up Papa  Bear and part of Mamma, where I waited for them to show, then I rode back with them over Papa to the parking lot. After we got home, I rode another 10 miles. The weather was good and I rode quite hard. I was quite tired afterwards.

Today I went for a swim. I swam 150 laps (3,000 yrds), all free-style with no stops. It has been a while since I last swam but it went fine. I took the kids and they played in the water for a while.

I heard we had two more people signing up for Team Cindy at Ironman Lake Placid. Slowly but surely I guess. Can't ignore the bad economy;)

Friday, March 6, 2009

100K week

I did it. I ran 64.4 miles in seven days, or 9.2 miles a day. 103.4 Km. It is the most running I have ever done in a week's time. While it may not impress the hard-core distance runners among you, it did not come easy for me. Although I have to admit that the last two days were better. I did see a dip in the middle.

Every day for the past week (starting on Friday Feb 27), I ran 9.2 miles on the treadmill. I usually started out at 7.5 mph for a short .75 mile warmup. Then I would increase the speed to 8 mph or above. Every day except one, I managed to run slightly more than 8 miles in the first hour (including the warmup). A few days I ran over 8.2, which is pretty good for me. At no time did I ever reduce my speed during the first hour.

At the end of the hour, the treadmill would reset and I would continue at a slower pace -usually 7.0-7.5 for 10-15 minutes.

As a rule I lost slightly more than 2 pounds in fluid each and every time. The room temperature was a balmy 72-74, but I did use a fan to cool off.

I suffered no injuries, although once my left knee did act up a bit, and a few days later I had a diffuse ache in the other knee at night. I did develop a rather big blood-filled blister on my left little toe and some other smaller ones on other toes on my left foot. I also suffered a rubbing spot on my left ankle over the Achilles. Nothing major really.

I hope this will put me on a good base for the upcoming Boston marathon.

Misunderstanding science

I just received a publication for coaches with an article on "how to read a research paper." Although well-intentioned and containing some good points, the article also shows how little people know about science and how distorted their understanding really is. I have often remarked that even practicing scientists -or I should say card-carrying scientists, if that is what one can call PhD's- promote ideas that are very unscientific indeed. Their track record is often as poor as that of the general public.

There are erroneous statements throughout the article I mentioned, but here is the creme de la creme. First, about "proving," the author states, "science does not really "prove" anything: what science does is to find the truth." As I have remarked many times before, equating science with truth is pervasive in Western societies and it is wrong. What science really does is build models and prove that those models are internally consistent and work to approximate the truth within certain boundaries. 

Newtonian mechanics is a model that works very well under normal circumstances of every day life. Within those boundaries, it approximates the "truth" to within several decimal places. It no longer functions adequately when speeds are approximating the speed of light. Similarly, the Ptolemian model -with the earth in the center- is useful for everyday navigation on the high seas and for those who find themselves with dead batteries in the GPS. It is sorely inadequate for space applications.

Another great example is the "body of evidence" argument. Here the author basically argues that a single study should never be used to overturn a body of evidence, meaning -in this case- a number of previous studies. This idea, that science is about democratically voting what is right and what is wrong, is also very pervasive. It is very wrong too. Even a single observation can invalidate centuries of consensus. Science is not democratic in that sense.

While it is true that practitioners in a scientific discipline hold a consensus -what Kuhn called a paradigm- and even interpret new findings within that context, that does not mean that such a consensus is in any way "scientific." As a matter of fact, many historians of science have shown that precisely such a consensus often prevents new breakthroughs ("revolutions") from happening sooner. The consensus is a modus operandi of the community, but it is not part of the scientific method. 

The third kicker is the assumption that publication in "peer reviewed journals" means something is scientifically proven. This too is deeply ingrained. It is one area where the scientific community is highly complicit and insincere. This loathsome behavior is endorsed financially as well and scientists are often awarded jobs and promotions based on the number of peer-reviewed publications they have. Unfortunately, the average peer-reviewed publication is no better and no more valuable than the average subprime mortgage.

Nothing should be called scientifically proven until it has been duplicated by at least one independent outsider. No amount of peer-review can substitute for a single, well executed experimental confirmation by another researcher.

There are many more problems with the article, but I will limit my review to just one more, very common misunderstanding. This one has to do with statistics. Once again the author can be forgiven because the vast majority of "card-carrying" scientists do not understand statistics either. It is probably fair to say that statistics is misused in about 3/4 of the peer reviewed papers. The numbers are even higher in biology, medicine, and related disciplines.

The argument made here is about statistical significance and it shows how easily people can be misled. The author argues that sometimes, an improvement of 1% can make the difference between a gold medal and no medal. He shows that in some disciplines, less than 1% separates the fourth placed athlete from the winner. No problem here.

However, then he goes on to equate that 1% difference with a 1% difference between experimental and control groups in a study. In such cases, 1% may not be enough to reach significance. What that means is the 1% is very likely due to chance. I.e. there is no difference. That is not how the article reads. It claims the 1% is real but somehow ignored because researchers think it is too small to matter.

He says:"In the real world of coaching, one has to look beyond the issue of chance and look at the actual effect. For instance, if an intervention can increase performance by 1%, it might be statistically unimportant. However, in real life a 1% increase could mean victory."

How is that for mixing apples and oranges? And believe me, it is an argument I have seen in many times in many places. If the 1% is real then surely it will matter in some circumstances. The problem here is that the study where the 1% difference occurred is not powered to show that that 1% is for real. The 1% is likely a fluke. What we need in such cases is not "expert judgement" to resolve an issue. In this case, there is no information to base an opinion on.

What we need is another study. Our current study simply does not have the information we seek. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

45 miles so far

This is proving harder than I thought. I have never run every day for seven days in a row, let alone run fast (fast for me that is). I am running this whole exercise on the treadmill just to make sure I keep the pace. That works out just fine because the weather outside is miserable and wet.

Yesterday I forgot to bring my running shoes so I ran in my tennis shoes. They felt much heavier and maybe because of it, I ran slower. I finished a little over 7.9 miles in the first hour and had to work pretty hard to stay there. Overall, I ran 9.2 miles. No problems with my knees but I ended up with a pretty big blood blister on the bottom of my left little toe. I punctured it and lots of blood came out. But overnight it filled again.

Today, I squeezed some more liquid out of the blister and cut away the skin and covered it with a band-aid. So far so good. I ran 8 miles in the first hour and continued to run 9 overall. I am now 45 miles into my 100K (63 mile) week. I can definitely feel it in my calves now.

Although it was hard, I managed to run faster than yesterday and I ran the second half at 8.2 mph and the final 10 minutes at 8.4 mph. Just fast enough to finish 8 miles in one hour. The first two days I ran 8.2 to 8.25 in an hour.

When I was finished I noticed that my left heel had a rubbing spot where the skin was gone. It was bloody. Blood had seeped through my sock and stained both my sock and my shoes. I only noticed this later and although it hurt in the shower, I had not been aware of it before.

I have been checking my weight post run and I lose about 2 pounds every time I do this. But no cramps, so far that is. Two more days to go.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Today was the third installment in the 100K week. I will try to run 100K this week-nine miles a day for seven days. Having said that, today I actually started doubting that I will succeed. During today's run, my left knee started acting up and 45 minutes into it, it was moderately painful. It did however, stay contained and I was able to finish 9.2 miles at a good pace.

I ran 8.2 miles for the first hour -including warmup- and then another mile at a slower speed of 7.2 miles per hour. The treadmills I am running on will only allow a 60 minute workout max. Then they either stop, or, in case of the more expensive version, they enter a mandatory "cooldown" period where speed drops to 4 mph. There are workarounds but it is kind of messy. In either case one has to briefly stop before going fast again. Not that I really want to run all that much longer at the pace I am running at. 8.2 and that is quite fast for me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Opening weekend

For all you die-hard cycling fans out there, this was opening weekend. Never mind what went before, that was all just fun and games. Yesterday and today was "koers" for real. On Saturday, Omloop Het Volk, now renamed Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, -because the latter paper bought Het Volk-, was held under relatively mild conditions. There was even some sun on the course. Spectacular video on the internet on Look under "wielrennen," i.e. cycling.

The Omloop ended in a rather bizarre way and a crash near the finish left many competitors, including Boonen in a bad spot. The race was won by Thor Husvod from Norway. Today Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, in somewhat worse weather, saw a spectacular win by Tommeke in a sprint finish. Both races are held in Flanders and cover some of the same cobbles and climbs.

I, for one, decided not to ride this weekend and Alistair came down with a rather nasty stomach flu. Furthermore, the weather in Northern California wasn't much better than in Belgium and I already did four days of that recently. Additionally, the Boston marathon is coming up and I need to train if I am to do well. So once again, I absconded to the gym and ran on the treadmill. I ran the same 8.8 miles, keeping nearly the same pace as yesterday, which is pretty good I say. 

I am thinking about running 100K this week, or 62.5 miles. To do so, I would have to run nearly 9 miles a day every single day of the week. That may be a bit much but we will see how things evolve. Maybe I need to insert one or two slow days, where I take a bit more time to get to 9.