Monday, July 27, 2009

The ironman at Lake Placid

After a very quiet week, where I only swam twice and nothing else, the ironman kicked off on Sunday July 26. It had been raining all night and the roads were wet when we drove to transition. The clouds looked threatening but it was dry for now. The forecast was for scattered thunderstorms, some severe, with the chances of rain increasing as the morning went along. I was quite apprehensive after my downhill-in-the-rain adventure on Thursday.

When we got ready for the swim, the skies opened up and a cold rain fell. It kept on raining throughout the swim, in short bouts that were quite intense. I started on the far right hand side to avoid traffic but even so the swim was a battle all the way to the turn buoy. It was a bit better on the return but not much. I swam 40:56 in lap one. In the second lap I swam closer to the midline and was able to follow the yellow string that connected the buoys. But it was a fight all the way to the finish and at one point my mask got kicked off. Second lap at 40:25 for a total of 1:21:21.

It was dry now but the skies were dark. After a long run to the transition I decided to take it easy and make sure I had everything. Transition one took me 10:46, another first. The first loop on the bike went very well, although the start was slow. I raced downhill to Keene, hitting speeds of 47-48 mph. The low profile front wheel really helped my steering. What a difference a day makes. Just two days ago, I had eased down the descent in driving rain, trying to survive in one piece. Now the roads were dry, the wind was easy, and the road was clear. An exhilarating ride, those 9 miles!

I rode well for the first 36 miles, often hitting in excess of 25 mph. My first split showed 21.72 mph even though it contained some short but nasty climbs. The second time around I would average 20.27 on this stretch, showing the first signs of fatigue.

My splits were 1:39:28 for the first 36 miles, 1:11:30 for the half and then 1:46:35 to 92 and another 1:18:33 to the end. That last 30 I did at 15.28 mph! Talk about a slog.

Overall it worked out to be 18.87 mph. Not too bad, especially when you realize that all was more or less OK for the first 86 or so. Then my speedometer battery died, and so did I. I had to drag myself up the last hill. Overall, the weather stayed dry except for a few sprinkles, but there was a ferocious headwind up the Whiteface climb to the finish. I could really sense the lack of long distance riding here.

It also became very hot and muggy and I was sweating profusely making the second major downhill feel rather chilly.

When I hit T2, I could barely walk. My left foot hurt badly -not sure why- and I was crampy and stiff. I also felt empty. T2 took 8:07, another long delay. But even that was not enough to allow for some recovery. The run was painful and slow and I was unable to find a pace that I could hold. I ran and walked the first half at 2:19:06 and the second half at 2:20:45, for a total of 4:39:51.

I knew the race was over when I hit mile 91 on the bike. I just wanted to finish. I did so in my slowest time ever, 12:16:11. Even Switzerland was faster by a minute, but in Switzerland I did not have to deal with a complex transition process.

It never rained again during the day, other than a few sprinkles on the climb. But it was plenty hot and muggy. For some reason the weather here is never very good. It is either cold and windy, raining cats and dogs, or hot and muggy. And it can change in a heartbeat too.

I am glad I finished but it is clear I wasn't ready for an ironman. Having no racing bike and having done only a few long rides so far this year, I was sorely lacking in preparation. The bike leg killed me. It took 5:56:06, again one of the slowest.

Although Lake Placid is tough, I don't think it is any harder than Switzerland or Canada. I just need to prepare better next time. No excuses here!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lake Placid

It took me exactly 24 hours to get here. I left my house at 2:45P on Tuesday to catch a 5:52P to LA. After a long layover I caught the red-eye at 9:45P to Newark, NJ, where I arrived early in the morning (5A local time). I had to wait until 10:45A for a ride to Lake Placid and that ride arrived at 5:45 in the afternoon on Wednesday. 24 hrs to the minute. I could have traveled half way around the globe...

I ran on the treadmill on Tuesday morning for 45 minutes. I included a fast 5K in 20 minutes, with the first mile at 10 mph. I did nothing on Wednesday, other than take a shower, have dinner and fall asleep. It is pretty here, but rather cool (in a temperature sense) and quite wet. We have had rain twice already.

This morning I swam 1.2 miles in Mirror Lake, very nice and clean and with a buoy line that went all the way across the lake so you could follow it. Open water swimming with pool-like convenience. It was fun. Unfortunately it won't work that way on Sunday and I am sure the line will be pretty busy. The lake is small enough that 2,000+ people will create a whirlpool-like current, or at least that is what the locals say. It may very well be true.

Then I registered and picked up my bike. In the afternoon, we drove the bike course. Early on there is a 9 mile downhill and our tour guide had this great idea that we should ride it. It goes through a rather narrow canyon with lots of traffic, but the descent is fast enough to keep up with the cars, or so they say.

Once again, reality was a bit different. There was a rather strong headwind and then, as if by magic, it started raining as soon as we started riding. That made for a very treacherous descent with lots of traffic trying to squeeze by, and a tremendous soaking. I was totally wet by the time we reached Keene, the little town where the road flattens out. My shoes were full of water, my socks soaked, my race suit drenched, and I was very cold to boot. Not fun. Certainly not something I would do for 112 miles. At one point the rain fell so hard that it stung like hail -or maybe it was hail.

Less than 9 miles, all pretty slow due to the wetness and the headwind and I was toast. So much for that. There is rain in the forecast for Sunday as well. I can't wait;) Where is Arizona when you need it?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Open water

Today I took my wetsuit out of the closet and headed for Lake Temescal. It was an interesting experience, my first open water swim since Ironman Arizona last November. I noticed that the wetsuit is quite constraining on one's arms, but it also provides nice buoyancy.

I tried to breathe every other stroke but without much success. Also not working so well was breathing on the left ("the other side"). I think I will stick to my old habits on Sunday. What I did notice is that I could swim uninterruptedly for much longer this time around. That felt good. I also was more comfortable and that is good too.

We'll have to see how it works out. In general, I have done better with two lap swims even though there is the extra short run on the beach. Lake Placid is a two lap so I am hopeful. Not so good is the dreadful weather prediction.

On Friday I rode 26 miles, to Bort Meadow and back. On Saturday I ran intervals on the treadmill for about 50 minutes. After a 15 minute warmup I ran a mile at 10, and then I ran three more 3 minute intervals (half a mile) at 10. I felt quite good.

Yesterday I rode my mountain bike to Montclair and back over Shepherd. Some extra climbing--I added Manzanita, but overall pretty short and sweet. In the afternoon I took Alistair to the cat 3 Berkeley Bike Club Albany crit. He rode quite well and finished in the pack. His objective was just to get some intensity before Nationals.

Tomorrow I leave for Lake Placid.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cycling and more

I am trying to arrange a trip to Belgium for Alistair so he can cycle over there, where there is competition. It is far from easy. The logistics are just mind boggling but I keep chipping away at it hoping things will go well in the end. That is only if air fares stay within reasonable ranges. I shudder at the thought of how much extra I will have to shell out to have him travel by himself, AND, take a bike.

I took the non-functional Ergomo off his bike and then "investigated the unit." If it wasn't broken before, now it sure is. And there is probably nobody around to fix it.

My preparation for IM Lake Placid is so-so. I went to the pool today and swam 160 laps or 3/4 of an ironman swim. I inserted 30 laps of breathing on the left (helped with a buoy) but I cannot say I am ready to adopt this new technique yet. I think it will be a great success if I just go freestyle for the entire distance.

On Tuesday I rode 35 miles with Alistair, pushing on the climbs. Then yesterday I dropped off my bike and took the little ones to the pool, where I swam a mile and a half with some technical stuff in between. I swam some laps with Annelise, who is really getting better and she is now almost as fast as I am swimming freestyle (goes to show you how slow I am).

Monday I ran 8 miles on the treadmill, doing a "fit" test in the process. First successful, uninterrupted 4.5 miles at 9 mph. Then I ran another mile at 9 later. I keep on thinking I did not do enough volume for the ironman. But that is small potatoes compared to the horrible weather forecasts for Lake Placid. I hope I don't have to go 140.6 in the freezing rain.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bike problems

Nothing much happening in the Tour. One wonders why they went to the Pyrennees if only to have 30 plus miles tacked at the end so everyone can regroup? Lance also disclosed some of the internal tension in Team Astana. And for some odd reason Bruyneel does not want to talk to Sporza, the Flemish television channel.

There was a revealing moment during the flight to Limoges. Lance was sitting next to Bruyneel -showing the power structure of the team- when a Sporza camera showed up. Lance tried to get Bruyneel's attention -he was looking out the window- saying, "Hey Johan, Sporza.." Bruyneel said something like "Not now," and then Lance said, motioning to Johan: "It's him, not me."

On Saturday I did a third "fit test" and was only partially successful. Although everything was going well, I once again hit the panic button at around 21 minutes. This time I was able to restart quickly and I ran another 1.5 miles at 9.1 mph to make up for the break. I felt pretty good. I get the impression these "tests" aren't just tests, but they add to my conditioning. How else can you explain that I seem to do better each consecutive time?

Today I rode my bike one last time -it has to go to shipping tomorrow- but it wasn't a great success. First my disk hub came apart, and once I fixed that, my derailleur started skipping. I suspect the freewheel is in poor shape but I can't find my freewheel removal tool. Go figure! I also think my Ergomo bottom bracket is a bit stickier now and the power numbers are no longer very good. They always seem too high. Not sure what to do about that. There isn't really much I can do without spending a fortune, so I will just go with what I have.

Let's hope I don't suffer too much on the bike.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Not following the plan

Astana revealed its true colors today. Alberto mounted a late attack and managed to gain two seconds on Lance, putting him in second position. That was not by the book according to Bruyneel, but face it, what else could Contador do? If I were him, I would have attacked too. If Lance gets yellow, Alberto can kiss his tour goodbye. On the other hand, even if Alberto gets yellow he will have to keep looking over his shoulder for the Texan and the rest of "his" team.

Don't get me wrong. I think it is super that Lance is riding. It shows great spirit and determination. It brings attention to the Tour and the sport of cycling. It helps clean up the image of the sport. Tons of good things for sure, but Lance wants to win. That too is normal and if he wins, kudos to him! The only sad thing is that Contador, a young rider of great promise happens to be on the same team as Lance. That is the worst possible place to be someone like him. Johan and Lance are tied at the hip in more ways than one.

Today I noticed that I lost a chainring bolt and nut on my tribike. Unfortunately, Campagnolo is using a proprietary format for their carbon crank. The upshot is that I can't find a bolt and nut anywhere and the few places that have it (on the web) charge outrageous amounts of money for it. Furthermore, I need to get my bike ready by Monday for shipping so there is no way to get the parts in time. I think I will switch out the carbon crank and put the aluminum one back on instead.

Speaking of Lake Placid, fundraising is lackluster, the cost is high and the preparation is not quite there. On Tuesday I ran a "fit test" (9 mph for 30 min on the treadmill) but had to stop at 4 miles, or 3:10 short of my goal.
On Wednesday I rode 38 with Alistair going down Wilcat, over the Bear, Happy Valley and then back over Wildcat. I felt pretty good.
Yesterday I tried another fit test, but I hit the panic button by accident and the treadmill stopped at 3 miles. It took some time to get it going again. These treadmills have too many fancy features making it pretty hard to just run. When it finally got going, I did some additional running at 9 mph but I have no idea whether I would have passed the test or not.
Today I swam for about an hour. I swam 1.5 miles and did about 30 laps breathing on the left (with a buoy to help me out).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lake Placid

The ironman is coming up. Fundraising is not as easy as last time. Many are hurting because of the poor economy. I also suspect things will get worse before they get better. That does not bode well. I have received tons of messages citing the economy as a reason for not contributing.

My ironman training is going well, although I did not get in as much volume as I normally do. I am a bit worried about it, especially since Lake Placid is a pretty tough course. But what worries me even more is the poor weather (rain, cold, etc.) that has been battering the place. I do not care much for racing 10+ hours in freezing rain. I like sunshine.

No more time to add volume either. I am tapering now. If worse comes to worse Lake Placid will be a training session for Ironman Canada in August.

On Friday I rode 42 miles to Castro Valley and back. On Saturday I ran 8.5 miles along the backside trail and through Roberts park. On Sunday I swam for an hour, working on my technique a bit more, and on Monday I rode 31 miles with Alistair (to the top of Redwoood Rd.)

I have also been watching the tour. One thing I know for sure is that I would not want to be Alberto Contador! Talk about a no-win situation! It kind of reminds me of those early Indurain years, when Miguel had to forgo wins to help Pedro Delgado. But Alberto is in a much worse trap than Miguel was. How do you ever get out of the Lance shadow? He should have switched teams earlier in the year when he was offered a deal by Caisse d'Epargne.

I suspect all of Astana is a snake pit from top to bottom. The sponsors are unhappy, Bruyneel is trapped, the team has divided loyalties and everyone tries to keep up appearances and smile in the cameras. It is amazing how Disney it has become. The happiest team on Earth!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Last weekend in Mariposa I went on a ride with a varsity distance swimmer, whose kid was in the same bike race Alistair was in. Inevitably we discussed triathlon and my poor swim results. I braced myself for another onslaught of the swim technique and body position speech, but to my surprise he did not go there. Rather he said, swimming is all about breathing.

It is something I have remarked on before and I immediately sensed that this guy might have some useful hints. He was also prepared to listen and he started out by asking how often I took a breath and whether or not I was breathing bilaterally. Then he asked if I kicked and how much I kicked. He recommended I kick slowly and only enough to keep my legs up. That is something someone told me years ago when I asked about freestyle (and before I knew how to swim freestyle).

He told me buoyancy was key and I needed to control my buoyancy with my lung volume and with a slow and steady kick. He recommended that I breathe only every third stroke and told me if I could not keep that up I was working too hard. He also said I should be able to swim a pool length (25m) without breathing. Ironically enough I can do that and I always start out my swims that way. I also noticed that this first lap is really my fastest lap of the day.

He advised me to learn to breathe bilaterally so I would develop equal amounts of strength in both arms, and so I would go straight naturally instead of doing so by making subtle corrections with my one arm (and wasting energy in the process). He also said breathing slows you down and when you breathe out completely you sink, which is not good.

Since that day I have gone to the pool twice and tried to follow his recommendations. It is not easy. I can't seem to get into a good rhythm and I never get enough air. So far, I totally fail at breathing on the left side and I run out of air quickly, plus it appears my legs sink deeply every time I try to breathe on that side. I realize this will take time, but so far the experience has been a dismal failure.

Monday, a one hour swim, mostly focused on "technique," i.e. breathing on the left and swimming while breathing every third stroke. Not a great success.
Tuesday, a 10.5 mi hilly run.
Wednesday, a 30 mi bike ride to the top of Redwood Rd.
Today (Thu), another hour of thrashing around in the pool trying to breathe on both sides and/or to breathe every other stroke (I decided to take it one step at a time and even that is not going so well).