Sunday, May 31, 2009

Too tired

Yesterday I took Alistair to the Jr. Crit. in Livermore. I signed up to do the masters 35+ 3/4. It felt like the right thing to do. As soon as the race started however, I knew it was a huge mistake. First, I fumbled and could not get my foot in the pedal, causing me to have to chase right from the start. Even then I could feel that my legs were trashed. I did get on but I was stuck at the end of the pack. I was not able to move up and a few laps later I lost contact -blame it on my poor cornering skills. I rode one lap alone and almost caught back up (a mere two bike lengths), but it was useless. So, five minutes into the race, I called it quits and went home.

I went to the pool and swam 2,000 yrds instead. That felt better. Livermore was also my second experience with RockTape (a Kinesiotape lookalike). I cannot say it did me much good. It also came off in the pool. 

On Friday I rode my mountain bike for 22 miles and the superglue held. I was just about to start bragging about superglue and tubeless tires, when I noticed -this afternoon- that the tire is flat again. I would say that superglue is a great temporary measure, something that will get you home, but once the tubeless tire has a hole, it is history. So much for a $50 brand new Michelin XCR Dry. I think it lasted for all of 75 miles (being patched twice with superglue to boot).

On Thursday I ran on the treadmill for an hour. I ran 8.3 miles, matching my best time and a confirmation that I can hold 8.3. It may not sound like much but I run all of it in a hot room with little cooling and most of it at a slight 0.5% incline to simulate the road. 

Today I rode on rollers for an hour. I warmed up and then rode 16 minutes at high speed, followed by a ten minute easy roll. Then I did another 10 minutes at speed, and I finished with some easy spinning. It was a good workout. Alistair did the same workout in preparation for next week's time trial in Davis.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start of summer. This year, it felt more like winter. There was fog all day on Saturday and Sunday, and temperatures dropped into the low 50s. Not fun. On Sunday I went to the club and ran for 1hr on the treadmill. I ran 8.3 miles, which is about as far as I have ever run on a treadmill in one hour.

On Monday, the weather was better and I rode 30 miles to the top of Redwood road. I averaged a normalized power (NP) of 288, one of the highest NP readings ever. I rode quite hard.

On Tuesday I ran for 9.3 miles on the trails around Grizzly Peak. First I ran up to the "Steam Trains" and then back down and on the backside trail to Sibley. From there I went home over Grizzly Peak Blvd. The weather was much better and it felt quite good to be out.

Today I swam 160 laps in the pool.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sad day for cycling, triathlon

Friday, May 22 2009, was a sad day. Steve Larsen, the only pro road racer, mountain biker, and ironman triathlete died at the age of 39. He collapsed while on a training run. The cause is as yet unknown but a heart attack has apparently been ruled out by autopsy -not as easy to do as you might think. Attention is now focused on the breathing problems Steve developed over the past week. 

Steve Larsen, who used to live in Davis, where he had a bike shop, recently moved to Bend Oregon and had a real estate business there. He retired from pro racing but kept competing at the amateur level. In the early 90's he raced for the Motorola team alongside Lance Armstrong. He also won Ironman Lake Placid, and came in a respectable 9th in the Hawaii Ironman. He won the National XC title twice and competed in XTerra events. He leaves behind a wife and five children.

The kids were off from school Friday for the Memorial Day weekend. Alistair and I rode 50 miles on Mines road around noon. It was quite warm at 84F and surprisingly windy. We rode out past the county line and over the first climb (midway to San Jose) to mile marker 23. The road continues as San Antonio valley road and then Hamilton Rd. The markers go up from San Jose and climb to 27 at the county line. Then they count down from 20 to Livermore. We took only one water bottle each and were quite dehydrated by the end of it. We also rode hard in sections and that may have added to our water deficit.

Today I swam 166 laps or 3,000 meters in the pool. I started out strong and fast -certainly as compared to the other two pool users, but faded a bit near the end. I took a brief stop at 106 (half ironman distance) to clear my goggles. Then I swam until 152 when I had to stop for a cramp in my foot. I continued on for another 14 laps with breaks in between.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More superglue

Superglue on the inside of the tire seems to be working. It is a bit of a hassle but filling the gash from the inside makes more sense. The glue forms a little patch and when it is situated on the outside it tends to get rubbed off. Also the outside is under stress when the tire is inflated and that makes it more likely that the glue patch will give in other ways as well.

I rode 20 miles on Wednesday, most of it on the trail and the tire held up. Then I ran 7.5 miles on the treadmill -6 of which at a good clip and with some elevation. Overall a very good workout.

On Tuesday I swam two miles and some extra laps (180 in total). Today I rode 33 miles on my tri-bike. I rode to the top of Redwood and noticed several cars driving at excessive speeds on both Redwood and Pinehurst Roads. The area is already pretty dangerous due to motorcycle morons and now it appears the car-racing crowd has discovered it too. I am afraid this will not end well.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


On Sunday I drove Alistair to the Panoche Road Race (Junior State Championship). I rode in the follow car with Andrew Lanier Sr. and got to watch the race. Even though team Specialized carried the day (1-2 in the 15-16, win in the 17-18, and a masters win too), the Junior "team" did not ride like a team. It is quite clear that Specialized wins because they have the best riders, not because of any team strategy. I guess juniors have a lot to learn. It was quite interesting to watch.

Afterwards, I rode my mountain bike, but when I got to Redwood park I flatted. There was a large gash in my tire and I had nothing to fix it with. A friendly guy took me home and I replaced the tire-which was quite worn- with a new one and set out again. Would you believe that I rode to Redwood and flatted on the same spot? Another gash, this time in a new tire. I called Barbara who took me home. So much for training;)

On Monday I rode 22.5 miles on the new tire, now superglued to perfection. Or so I thought? Because as soon as I got to Marlborough Terrace (about 0.7 miles from home) the tire started losing air again. I quickly rode home. Not wanting to throw out a new tire, I took it off and superglued the inside of the gash. So far, it seems to be working. I need to ride it to find out. As for the superglue -I took it with me on the 22.5 mile ride- it made a nice mess inside my saddle baggie. Apparently, my "superglue strategy" needs more work.

Today I swam 180 laps or a little bit over 2 miles. It went pretty well and took me about 1:15. Not a record setting pace, but all free-style and all non-stop. Probably the longest I ever did freestyle.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nothing better than a cold beer

After Ironman Switzerland we were offered cold beer. Here in America, where recovery drinks reign, that would be considered heresy. But I have found that nothing tastes better or is more satisfying than a cold beer after a hard race. Especially when it is hot.

Please spare me the lectures that will say how alcohol dehydrates the body, or some other non-sense that is really trying to cover up the fact that you do not approve of anyone having a beer. I say, if it feels good there must be a reason why. That is, in general how biology works, and things that feel good are good for you (in moderation of course).

After Coeur d'Alene, I walked by a bar where a number of students were drinking beer from a pitcher. One started talking to me, and I -in my post-race high endorphin state- thought nothing of it to ask him if I could have a glass. To my surprise he promptly obliged and they filled a glass for me and the whole group toasted to my race. Man, that felt good.

Today it was quite hot and I ran 10.5 miles in the hills. That after having spent three hours this morning working in the sun. I was quite dehydrated. I drank several cups of water, all of which tasted so-so, some nuun, which tastes better, and even a Rockstar energy drink. But nothing really satisfied my thirst or ended my craving. In the end, I drank a beer and that really hit the spot. It was just amazing really how good it felt.

Cheers to all of you! Keep up the good work.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Stroke? Try muscle

Another image to make the same point: what counts in swimming is muscle. Take a look at those deltoids. Michael Phelps in the pool.

Today I rode 56 miles at an average speed of 16.8, which is not bad given all the hills. I got a flat in Alamo, but fortunately there was a bike store nearby. I was a bit shocked at having to pay $5.40 for a tube, but the store people were quite nice and they helped me change my tire.

Yesterday I rode 20 miles on my mountain bike, essentially the redwood loop except that I went straight back on the West trail instead of making the extra loop that follows Redwood Rd. I was a bit pressed for time so I had to make concessions. The straight trail however, makes up for lost distance by inserting a lot more climbing.

On Wednesday, I came home early from the Neurotech meeting and took the kids to the pool. I ran 8.5 miles on the treadmill while they swam. On Tuesday I swam 164 laps or 3,000 meters. On Monday I took a rest day.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mendes Criterium Pleasanton

I had a good time on Saturday at the Joseph Mendes Criterium in Pleasanton. Although I was never much of a criterium rider, and although I don't train for this sort of intense burst activity, I managed to do pretty well in the 45/55 masters. I stayed in the pack until the very end and that was more than I had hoped for. A decent showing I would say.

It was my first race of the year, as I have been without road bike since my Merckx frame broke last November. Last year I applied for a cycling license so I can race when I drive Alistair to his events. Since he races nearly every weekend, that worked out just fine. I can race too and so I don't have to stand around for hours. In general, I aim to get a good workout, while trying to avoid crashes or other mayhem.

This year things did not work that well. Without a road bike, there are no races to be had. Saturday was different because the Junior race was hours before the Masters event so I could use Alistair's Specialized. He rides a 56 and that works well for me. Most "experts" would say it is a bit too small, but I like the more upright position. It helps my back although I do pay a price in the aero department.

During the crit, I had to move up in the pack on the backstretch on every lap because I would lose a few spots on the tighter turns closer to the finish line. My line is not optimal and I also try to avoid cutting it too close. The last thing I need is a crash before Lake Placid.

My strategy worked very well and I managed to keep my spot in the middle of the pack that way without too much trouble. Overall it was a fast race and I got a good workout.

Today I ran 10.5 miles in the hills.
On Friday I rode 30 on my mountain bike.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Or you could try syrup...

I happened to stumble across an edition of Mythbusters last night that got me thinking more about swimming, viscosity, drag and power. The infamous Mythbusters were trying to see if people swim faster or slower in syrup. Ironically enough they quoted the Boston molasses disaster as an inspiration for their endeavor. Not that it mattered much, but it just so happened we were on the Duck Tour while in Boston for the marathon, and the molasses story is a big thing over there. I had never heard of it before.

Getting to Mythbusters results is not as easy as it seems but I recall from seeing the show that one of the two guys swam the same speed in syrup or syrup-like goo as he did in water. They also invited an Olympic champion, whose name I forget, but who swam slower in goo. But then, after talking to him about his results, they decided to discard them because he faulted the unfamiliar situation for his slower speed. Apparently, when he can not see the bottom, it throws him off and messes up his stroke.

Then, today I found another result from an experiment done by the Chemical Engineering Dept. at the U. of Minnesota. These guys filled the entire pool with gooey stuff and had many people swim in it. They found that individuals swim the same speed in both media, regardless of stroke used (the MB only tried freestyle). One conclusion was that human swimming is so turbulent (despite the beautiful superman-like wind tunnel picture of Ian that I posted yesterday) that the effect of viscosity is relatively small. The results are on their blog.

And that once again confirms what I mentioned before. Swimming is a matter of muscle power, first and foremost. Maybe, if you are to become an Olympic champion you can shave off some seconds by working diligently on your stroke, but unless you have the power, don't even bother.

Today I rode 30 miles on my tribike.
Yesterday I swam 2 miles in the pool (in water!)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Or you could try this...

Ian Thorpe in the windtunnel. Here is what you can do once you have all the muscle you can build. Or take some steroids? Apparently there were allegations at one point...

Today I swam 2 miles. It took me a whole lot longer than Ian but I feel pretty good about it. I think I did well.

Yesterday I did a brick in the gym. 50 minutes on the stationary bike and then a 30 minute, 4 mile run. On Monday, I swam 165 laps or a little bit more than 3/4 of an Ironman swim (about 3K). And on Sunday I did the same gym brick I did yesterday. Saturday I spent 1:15 minutes on the stationary bike. The reason for all this indoor activity? Cool and rainy weather, look no further.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

You be the judge

Take a look at those deltoids, pecs, and lats. If you want to know why some people swim fast, here is your answer. 

Compare that to the average upper body of a cyclist or a runner. Remember that Greg Lemond was worried about a bit of extra shoulder muscle after some cross country skiing in winter!

Once you have this kind of upper body muscle you can focus on your stroke. You can eke out some extra speed by changing your position a little bit. You can do all the things the swim books tell you to do. 

What is also striking when you see Bernard is the size of his hands and feet. He has veritable flippers, but so does Thorpe and so does Phelps.

Monday, May 4, 2009

First things first

Ask any swim guru about swimming and they will tell you that it is all about "technique." Read any book on swimming and you will find the same recommendations. No wonder then that everyone thinks they need a swim coach to teach them the subtleties of swimming. No wonder everyone is spending so much time trying to perfect their stroke. Stroke drills, you don't see any runners or cyclists doing these types of drills, now do you?

The focus on technique has always bothered me. Surely technique is not what stands between me and swim glory.

And then there is this piece of wisdom. You need to lift weights. Why, is anyone's guess. My guess is that gyms like to get customers and gyms are all about weight lifting. Most coaches and trainers work out of gyms so it is not surprising they think (or are made to think) that all those weights must be useful for something. But there is one thing here that does matter. One thing that makes sense. Weight lifting, as some have pointed out, mostly benefits swimmers.

Now take a look at those swimmers and what do you see? Tons of shoulder, back, and upper body muscle. When I first saw Alain Bernard I thought he was a weight lifter. If you saw him out of the pool and did not know who he was, you would think the same.

Here is another tidbit. Scientists recently measured the power of the dolphin tail stroke. The results were surprising to everyone. It had always bothered people that dolphins could jump so high or swim so fast. For years everyone had been looking at drag (drag is related to technique), and that led to strange postulates about special skin properties. Remember the shark skin craze?

What scientists found recently however, was that dolphins produce a lot of power. At least an order of magnitude more than earlier assumptions. These dolphins are very strong. Earlier data and estimates on dolphin power output were way off the mark. These puny estimates were the main reason everyone went looking elsewhere for an explanation. Technique? Drag?

And that brings me to my key point: swimming is all about muscle. Muscle is key. Without a lot of muscle you will not swim fast. And poor me, a late comer to sports, who always focused on cycling when I finally did work out, I have no upper body muscle to speak off. So, it is no surprise that I am a poor swimmer. Building muscle where there was none before has not been easy.

First and foremost, swimming is about muscle. I am slowly learning this truth. So, unless you are a good swimmer -a natural so to speak- forget about stroke and stroke drills and focus on power. You will need to build muscle. All the rest will follow later, your speed, your position in the water -once you get some upper body muscle, aka pounds, you will no longer be out of balance with your legs hanging down-, etc.

So does form matter? Sure it does. Once you are a good swimmer you need to focus on your stroke. Because that is the only place where you can make additional gains. Once you have built all the muscle you can support and perfuse, your only options are to focus on drag and stroke mechanics.

Unfortunately for us mortals, that is where swim coaches spend their time. They work with individuals who are excellent swimmers to begin with. Those guys do not need any more muscle. They need form. They need that little bit of an edge that will make all the difference in competition.

But us mortals, what we need most is power. So forget about your stroke and focus on your power output. Focus on building muscle. That is where the big gains are. That is what will get you to where the competition really is.

3,000 m in the pool today 5/4
a gym brick 50/30 yesterday, 5/3
1 hr stationary bike on Saturday, 5/2
1:10 on rollers on Friday, 5/1