Monday, March 29, 2010

A lot of running

I certainly ran a lot this year and I covered a lot of distance. More so than other years I am sure. In recent years I have gone into marathons without ever running more than 10 miles at a time, in the months beforehand, although I did do speed workouts every time. While I do think omitting long runs affects performance, the speed work does make up for some of it.

This year, I did not do much speed work at all so it will be interesting to see how I will do in the upcoming Boston marathon. Although I did not run any really long distance -I have never done so before a marathon in any case, I did run quite a few 14 and 15 milers in the hills.

I will say that running 14-15 miles in the Oakland hills is probably equivalent to running 18 or 19 on the flats. All these runs include at least 1,000 ft of climbing and some of it is steep to boot. In any case, it does take me more than 2 hours to run that distance in the hills, and I am not running slow. Some of these runs would definitely qualify as tempo runs or, at the very least, they did contain serious stretches of tempo running.

On Friday I ran 15 miles, through Montclair, over Joaquin Miller and back on Skyline. This loop includes a famous steep 1.2 mile climb to Skyline and a further one mile climb to the top of Skyline for a total of 765 feet. On Saturday I rode 35 miles on the road and on Sunday, I once again ran the Joaquin Miller loop. Today I rested.

Sunday was also the first running of the Oakland marathon. The new marathon that is, because 25 or so years ago there used to be an Oakland marathon. I think I may run that race next year if it is still around. Cheaper than going to Boston and better for the environment too!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Swimming in a Vegas Pool

I just got back from Vegas where I was invited to a meeting on CNS drug development. The meeting was held at the Four Seasons, a hotel inside the Mandalay Bay. The meeting was quite interesting and I met a whole bunch of new people there. But it was also very busy and I barely had time to get some exercise in.

That exercise consisted of swimming for 45 minutes in the Four Season's pool. I probably swam about 3/4 of a mile. As it was quite windy and overcast there was nobody there so I got the pool all to myself. I am afraid that my swimming has not improved much since I quit doing it. I am still unable to breathe every other stroke and I still have a very strong preference for breathing on the right.

Other than that the trip was unremarkable. I never left the hotel/resort, which was definitely a first for me, but I guess it is something many people do. Actually I did that once before when I visited Puerto Rico for a meeting and stayed at the Conquistador. But that resort was quite a bit bigger and much more isolated than the Mandalay. In Puerto Rico there was literally nothing nearby.

On Tuesday I did a 24 mile ride. On Wednesday I traveled to Vegas, sat on a 3hr panel, and had dinner with the group. Afterwards we went to Mix a fancy bar with a spectacular view of the Strip (See photo). Today I swam as described.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chain reaction

I barely fixed one problem when another popped up and derailed Alistair's hopes of a podium position in the NorCal High School Mountain Bike League. I am happy to say that my Easton crank is working fine, Dura-Ace part and all. I was also able to fix the hub on my HED3 wheel, making it so that we now have a dedicated trainer wheel. Even so, a series of chain mishaps marred our weekend.

This past weekend was the Folsom Challenge. The second in the NorCal series, and Alistair's first race as part of the Oakland Composite Team. Because his mountain bike is now too small, he had hoped to ride mine. Then, during a training ride last Wednesday, he broke the chain. We were forced to go out to Folsom with the 17 inch Specialized.

First I want to remark that the NorCal race was an eye-opener. Unlike the regular road cycling races, that are held in lonely and deserted places, at inconvenient times, this race was held at a prime venue in the middle of the day. It was extremely well organized and well attended. There were spectators too, tons of them, and they were cheering!

Furthermore, the NICA organization -which is separate from USA Cycling or NORBA- appeared to have no trouble keeping track of 500+ competitors in different divisions. They posted real time results while races were ongoing and provided free wireless and 3G access. They had monitors on course to keep track of lapped riders and technical issues. No cheating here!

Because this was his first race, Alistair had to race freshman division and start in the middle of the pack. He did struggle a bit in the first section, which was on deep sand and by the time he disappeared into the woods he was probably as far back as 20th place. Nevertheless he managed to come back and by the end of lap 1, he was in the 10th spot. He moved up further and was assured of a podium spot when his chain broke, forcing him to drop out of the race. That is two broken chains in one week!

He was quickly rescued but visibly disappointed. If he had landed on the podium it would have been a first for Oakland Composite.

In the afternoon, we stopped by the Land Park Criterium and he raced Cat 3 for training. It was a shock to go from the well-attended, professionally run NorCal race to the same-as-usual, ncnca mishmash in the park.

Saturday I ran 8 miles in the hills. On Sunday I rode around a bit on my road bike, but mostly rested.

Monday, 15.5 miles in the hills. It's getting better but we are not quite there (for a PR in Boston that is).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dura Ace to the rescue

Two weeks ago I mentioned how I lost a piece (the preload adjuster nut) of my Easton EC90 crank. I called Easton customer service and they were extremely unhelpful in this matter. I was not too happy. Left with a $700 crank that was out of commission because of a missing piece, I was downright ticked off at Easton.

Then it occurred to me that all these pieces are made in OEM fashion in big factories in Taiwan or China. That meant there had to be other branded parts around that would fit Easton's crank. And sure enough, I did not even have to look very far. It turns out the Dura Ace crank arm fixing bolt FC7800 is a perfect fit. I was able to solve my unsolvable problem for less than $20!

Yesterday I rode 41 miles over Redwood to Morago, to Orinda and back over Grizzly to Skyline.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sort of hard, all the time

Beginning racers who don't have a coach tend to make one of two basic mistakes. The first is to substitute distance for intensity. This is rather more common in the older age categories, where competitors prefer to abstain from hard efforts and indulge in distance rides instead. These athletes seem to believe that they can make up for going hard by going long. Alternatively, they may think that, because they are training for an endurance event they should avoid intensity and concentrate on distance. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The second, equally devastating approach is to go hard all the time. This is more common in younger riders who think they need to go to their max every single day in order to get better. It is also common in triathletes, many of whom appear addicted to training. The result is a near constant state of fatigue that lulls some people into thinking they are doing all they can to improve. While some will become frustrated about their lack of improvement, most eventually resign to the status quo and believe they have reached their peak.

Here is a nice rule of thumb. Unless you have practiced an activity for 10,000 hours (see the 10,000 hour rule), you can always improve.

In addition to a lack of improvement, ineffective strategies also lead to overreaching, overtraining, and burnout. None of these are good and like so many things in life, it is easier to prevent these conditions than to remedy them.

The key to improvement in training is high intensity. Without it nothing else matters. However, it is important to realize that you cannot perform at high intensity unless you are both healthy and well-rested. Effective training programs will allow sufficient time to recuperate before key workouts.

Exactly how often and how much you should rest depends on your specific genetic makeup and training situation, but if you don't feel excited and enthusiastic before races and key workouts, chances are you are doing too much. Apart from periodic (one to two day) rest and recovery, you also need the occasional long (>1 week) recovery in order to do well and improve.

Yesterday (Wed 3/17), easy 25 mile ride;
Today 12 mile hilly run (the Strawberry Canyon trail loop).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Training is a whole body experience, and since I am not a dualist, I include the mind in that as well. Most athletes seem to think that training is specific to muscles and the heart -some will say lungs because they are unclear about the role of the cardiovascular system in limiting performance. In any case, it isn't just your muscles and heart and whatever else you may think off that adjust to training.

Every single part of your body, at every level shows some adaptation to training. When people first start running long distances, they often experience chafing, redness and other skin irritation in sensitive areas. Vendors are quick to grab on to that and supply us with all kinds of ointments, bandaids, nipple covers, and what have you. Inexperienced people are often alarmed by such phenomena and go out of their way to buy solutions. But the simple truth is that most-if not all- of these problems will go away with more training. There are some exceptions but they are few and far between.

When I first started running, my nipples were often sore. One time they started bleeding creating two red spots on my top and lots of weird stares from the crowd. I was unaware of the condition and wondering why people were looking at me in horror. Friends immediately started recommending various cures such as nipguards and other remedies, but after running several more races, the problem took care of itself. The same applies to nearly every problem one experiences. Just like muscle, your skin and your sweat glands have to adapt to increased exercise loads.

One more example, on my very first run -I was over 30 at the time- my head hurt so bad I had to stop running after less than 2 miles. That too went away after a few weeks without any special measures.

Unfortunately, not only are humans very susceptible to snake oil salesmen, they are also very prone to making spurious correlations. It is not uncommon to have an upset stomach when you first start running, or when you do your first long race. It is very tempting to correlate that upset stomach with something you ate or drank beforehand. But the most likely cause of such upset is the higher intensity of exercise that causes a relative hypoxia (low oxygen level) in the gut.

When I first started running I could not eat, nor could I conceive of anyone eating while running. After a few ironman races however, I was able to eat almost anything and keep running. It is not that I recommend eating while running. It does affect performance after all. It is just that one needs to realize that adaptation is universal and that a body can get used to nearly anything we throw at it.

Despite its global scope, training is very specific. You adapt to what you train for in a very specific manner. If you train to run, you will be able to run. Your cycling will also improve a bit but not nearly as much as you might think. To improve your cycling, you need to cycle.

The specificity is even more detailed than that. If you train by running long distances slowly, you will be prepared to run long and slow. You won't be fast and you won't get much faster this way either, no matter how long you train for. To get faster you need to train by running faster.

Yesterday I ran 11 miles in the hills. I did the full Shepherd Canyon loop, including the dirt hill, and then some extras at the end.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Driving to exercise

It has always struck me as ironic to drive somewhere to work out. Why not just go from home? Why waste gas on a workout? Especially since getting there could be a valuable part of that workout.

I understand that it is sometimes impractical to start from one's house. If you live in a city, it may be difficult to ride there, or even dangerous. Depending on the type of activity you prefer to engage in, it may be necessary to travel to a suitable location. If you play soccer, or basketball, that is not something you can easily do at home or in the street near your house. But usually there will be a field nearby where you can play. I can understand you travel some minimal distance.

I also understand that competition sometimes forces people to travel for longer distances.

However, in most instances people travel because they can. They drive because they can afford to do so, even if nothing else is gained by doing so.

Last weekend we drove out to Madera for a bike race. Why we had to drive 6+ hours to ride our bikes is beyond me. It is not as if we can't ride here. There are better and more challenging rides that start right at our doorstep. Although the scenery in the valley was great, with the snow-capped Sierra's in the background, I doubt if many people really cared.

I can understand that pro cyclists travel. When you are at that level, you need to travel to find suitable competition. When you are one in million in terms of fitness, you need to go find your competitors in far away places. But most, if not all the people who went to Madera were not in that league, not by a long shot. Nearly all would have found sufficient competition in the Bay Area or even in their city of residence. Yet they all decided to drive out to go on a few rides.

We take all this for granted. You probably wonder why I bring it up? Yet it is crazy, no matter how you look at it. These people could have saved a lot of gas, and a lot of time and trouble just riding a race locally. They would not have missed out on anything. All the competition they need is right here.

It is not as if anything was gained by going out into the boonies. It is not as if there was something exceptional in Madera that we could not replicate (or even improve upon) in the Bay Area. No, the only reason we all went there is because we could do so. Gas is cheap enough and we are conditioned to think this is a normal state of affairs.

It is not just bike racing unfortunately. People think nothing of driving several hours to go see a movie, or eat at a restaurant. Are these movies different, or the restaurants better? In many cases, the answer is no.

A bit of a backlog on my workouts:
Fri 3/5, 1 hour on rollers
Sat 3/6, 30 mile ride to the top of Redwood, here I lost my preload adjuster nut
Sun 3/7, 25 mile ride on the mountain bike
Mon 3/8, 7.75 mile run in the hills
Tue 3/9, 10.5 mile loop (Shepherd loop) run
Wed 3/10, 1 hr rollers
Thu 3/11, 41 mile ride to Castro Valley
Fri 3/12, 1.1 rollers
Sat 3/13, 1 hr bike in Madera
Sun 3/14, 15 mile run in Chowchilla
Mon 3/15, 40 mile ride, Orinda

Monday, March 8, 2010

Easton's customer service, or lack thereof

One would think quality manufacturers stand behind their products. That would include having spare parts when needed and offering assistance to customers. However, when I lost a small part of my Easton EC90 crank, I was surprised to find out that Easton had no spares and offered no help. Lousy.

The EC90 crank is a high end product. It sells for $699 and is said to be one of the lightest and stiffest cranks around. I have no qualms with those statements. The crank does seem to work as advertised. However, on Saturday I went on a ride and somehow the crank arm came loose. But what was even worse is that the end-cap (A), a piece Easton calls the preload adjuster nut fell out on the ride. Since I did not notice it happening there is no hope of ever finding such a small piece again.

So this morning I called Easton and to my surprise they answered right away. No endless holds and no machine voice options. A real person and quickly too. Unfortunately that real person was anything but helpful. After a long delay she returned and told me the only spare parts Easton has for the crank are called bottom brackets. All further attempts to get help were in vain. She was mute. She kept on repeating, each time with more emphasis, that the only spares we have for a crank are called bottom brackets.

Suggestions? None. No use whatsoever.

So here I am stuck with an almost-new $700 crank that won't work because a small part is missing! Can you believe it?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Racing, Flanders style

I happened to be in Belgium for Opening Weekend. Unfortunately I had a family matter to take care off during the Omloop so I did not get to see the race. I did see a short report afterwards, showing Tom Boonen suffering from a flat tire just as the deciding break took off. The unfortunate event did it for Tom and he was never able to regain a good position. Ultimately, the race was won by Juan Antonio Flecha, who outsprinted Philippe Gilbert.

Sunday was a totally different matter. The weather was downright awful, with wind and rain galore. I know because I happened to go out on a walk. There were times where I felt I was going to be blown off the road it was so bad. The weather took its toll on the semi-classic Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Only 26 riders finished the race. Two hours into the race, the pack split and the 40 or so dropped riders abandoned on the spot. From then on, one rider after another called it quits.
Tom Boonen, who won last year, stepped out of the race, saying he was cold and felt no need to "throw away four months of training in one afternoon." Flecha and Pozzatto followed suit.

The Cote de Trieux climb was scrapped when a tree blocked the road. Later the course was shortened by about 20 km because the riders were so late. Speeds hovered at 17-18kmh (10-11 mph) in the wind.

It was an epic race in the good tradition of the Flandriens, except for one thing, a Dutchman Bobbie Traksel won the contest. He did so by out-sprinting his two non Flemish companions at the line.

A friend of mine took part in a beloften (U23) race on Sunday. Same story there and only 8 riders finished. Several did get blown off their bikes, and nearly everyone was borderline hypothermic when they got off their bike.

I took a break from Thursday to Tuesday, doing nothing but walk a fair amount on Sunday of all days! Yesterday I rode on rollers for an hour.