Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Changes in latitude, changes in attitude

Traveling can sometimes interupt training, and sometimes can add a little bit of spice. The sights, sounds, even smells of a different venue can put a spark into the "same old, same old."

Case in point:

The family drove to the Carolinas this last weekend, with a two-fold mission: see my alma mater (WVU) play a football game, and visit my wife's long-time friend and sorority sister in Durham. Since the football game was late Saturday afternoon, I had plenty of time in the morning to get up and get my run in.

Durham is home to a very nice rail-trail, the American Tobbaco Trail, that's only a few minutes walk from our friend's house. Screened from the highway and businesses by trees and earth banks, the trail is surprisingly quiet, and the flat, paved surface had a crushed gravel border that was ideal for running on. All in all a delightful place for a run, especially as I passed through areas of pine forest, where a bed of needles absorbed my footfalls. I passed families with strollers, recreational cyclists, walkers, runners, dog walkers; all in a good mood and enjoying the shared community of the trail.

And the run? Good!

Coach Debi had me scheduled to "run" for 30 minutes, split up between 2 minutes running and 1 minute walking. This was 10 minutes more than I've done before during my knee rehab. The running felt good -- no limp, good speed, and the knee felt very stable underneath me.

It's two weeks now until the Giant Acorn Tri, and I'm feeling confident. The run will be slow, but I'm sure I'll get through it OK. Anyway, it'll be nice to do a race after missing the entire season.


Monday, September 18, 2006

All hail granny!

I love my granny gear. For you flatlanders, it's the third chain ring on the front, the really small one. Pop into your granny gear when you climb, and spin your way to the top.

I hear that some cyclists look down their noses at granny, preferring to display their machismo by grinding their way up the hill in bigger gears. Well, if I could, I guess I would to. But as a guy in his late 40s who's only started getting "serious" about cycling in the last few years, granny and I have a good relationship.

Around these parts, you 'll find many riders with the third ring. Charlottesville, Virginia isn't in the flat lands. Just to the west of town, the Blue Ridge mountains rise up from the piedmont. There are epic climbs there: Vesuvius, Reed's Gap, and more, featured in a tough local century ride, the Blue Ridge Extreme (I've got that on my "to-do" list for 2007). When you get to the top of the mountains, Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway offer long, long climbs, albeit at gentler grades.

But before you get to the mountains there are miles of good roads for cycling in Albemarle County. And the foothills at the base of the Blue Ridge offer lots of nice riding, with plenty of elevation change (here's a pretty typical ride). I found out early on that it was a lot better to stay in the saddle and spin in the low gears rather than try to stand up and climb like you're conquering Mont Ventoux on OLN.

While I'm coming back from my knee surgery, my coach has forbidden me to go beyond the second chain ring. Instead, keep pressure off of the knees by keeping the rpms up. It's worked for me -- I'm increasing my mileage, getting faster, and still feeling pretty fresh when I get off of the bike. And I'm getting even better with that granny gear all of the time.


Make sure I'm staying busy -- check out my training log.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Liquid Zen

I know from reading triathlete blogs that a lot of tri newcomers are pretty spooked by swimming. And even if they're not freaked out by the idea of swimming, it's not something they look forward to doing. Much better to get out the bike or lace up the running shoes.

I've got to admit I don't fit into that camp. Swimming's never been something I've worried about, and I've always loved getting into the water. Now, swim training -- that's a whole different animal.

At various times in my life I've swum laps for fitness. Once or twice a week I'd head to the pool in my baggy swim trunks and splash up and down the lane lines. 400 yards? A hell of a good workout!

It all changed when I took the plunge and started swimming with the Masters class at my gym. They were encouraging and patient as I brought up the rear of the circle swim, and didn't laugh when leg cramps made me thrash around like a shark had attacked me. To make it more interesting, I was the only guy in the class. Fortunately my ego didn't take too much of a bruising by being beaten like a drum by a bunch of fast women.

A year or so out, it's fun to look back at that. Somewhere along the way it all started to click. No one's ever going to mistake me for an elite swimmer (far from it!), but now a 2500 yard workout seems pretty reasonable, and my distance and speed are improving all the time. Experienced swimmers will tell you that technique and strength go hand in hand. And it's true -- the better your technique the more you can swim, and the more you swim, the stronger you get.

Sometimes the improvement is slow, and sometimes it comes quickly. Sooner or later though, you push off from the wall and everything just feels right. You glide, one stroke leading into another, like you belong in the water. Liquid Zen.

It's a great feeling.


As always, check out my training log if you're interested.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

She's not a spiffy tri bike, but I love her anyway

I got my Lemond Reno back in the summer of 2004, before I'd thought much about doing triathlons. It was an upgrade from my old Trek touring bike, which was a nice comfy, dependable ride (but a bit on the heavy side).

The Reno has been a good fit for me -- it wasn't too expensive (about $900), but it has an aluminum frame that rides very smoothly (the carbon front fork helps). As I've gotten into the sport, I've tricked it out a bit: clipless Shimano pedals (basic stuff from Performance Bike), clip-on aero bars, and my favorite addition -- a new wheelset.

I put a Rolf Prima Tempo wheelset on last week (picked up during a nice sale at C-ville Bike and Tri) with Michelin ProRace 2 tires -- wow, what a difference. There's a whole different feel to the bike: accelerations are easier, and I pick up speed downhill like a bat out of you-know-where. Not to mention that the new wheels with the red and black tires look like a million bucks. Money well spent!

Trainings been going well: a short run/walk this morning (all my coach allows right now), followed by weight training. Thursday morning it's into the pool for 3000 yards, running/weights on Friday and Saturday. Sunday I'm allowed to ride for two hours. It'll be the first time I've been out for more than 30 miles since last year.

As always, check out my training log at beginnertriathlete.com.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Alright, my tail's officially on the line now for the Eagleman 70.3, June 10, 2007.

No doubt I've got a long ways to go to get ready for this. Especially so, in that I'm not racing to "finish." Don't get me wrong -- you're not going to see my name at the top of my age group, but my sights are set relatively high -- top half of my age group is the goal.

To get to the top half of the 45-49 year old males, I'll need to complete the course in around 5:45 minutes. A respectable time, in my opinion. How do I rate myself on each of the disciplines right now?

Swim -- Good. Surprisingly, this is probably my best event right now. I'm getting in 5000+ yards a week, and my speed and endurance are steadily improving. I'm not going to underestimate the challenge of the swim, but I certainly don't fear it, either.

Bike -- Decent. While my knee surgery kept me off the bike most of the spring and summer, I'm slowly rounding into shape. Significantly, I'm now faster on my training rides than I was last summer. I attribute most of that to weight loss. I'm currently now at around 175, whereas I was 185-190 last year. Since I can't afford a carbon fiber or titanium bike, that's the only way I'll drop weight off of my bike. I've got a lot of riding yet to do, though.

Run -- Poor. The knee surgery has left me miles to go on this. It's going to be a long struggle to rebuild my running base and endurance. The good news is that I've run enough long races (8 marathons) that the half-marathon distance in and of itself doesn't intimidate me.

Mental -- Good. I've got a good background in endurance sports, and I've experienced the ups and downs that are inevitable any time you put yourself out on the line for a long time. No surprises there, I hope. I've also gotten smart enough to start working with an experienced tri coach, so I'm not beating myself up trying to construct and evaluate a training plan on my own. I just have to follow orders.


P.S. -- Stay tuned for the next post, when I talk about my new wheels -- with pics!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

And suddenly...

It's been over 17 weeks since my knee surgery (not that I've been counting). While it has continued to improve every week, running has been the slowest to recover. Even though I've been slowly increasing the amount I've been running, I've had a hard time shaking a queasy inner feeling -- "will it hold up?" As I run, I subconciously expect my left knee to explode in a shower of bone fragments and ripped cartilage, collapsing under me in a bloody froth, like a special effect out of a bad action movie

Until today.

Somehow, for some reason, the uneasy feeling was gone. I ran, and it felt -- well -- pretty normal. Not 100% yet, and I have to work to keep my gait smooth and consistent, but suddenly I wasn't in fear anymore. I can run -- still slow and still conservatively, but somehow it's become running again.

It's a nice feeling.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Working through the weekend

No breaks for me this Labor Day weekend!

I kicked things off by volunteering at the Charlottesville Women's 4-Miler, a great local institution that supports breast cancer research. My wife's a cancer survivor (3 years now) and runs it each year. She did it in around 46 minutes this year, a good effort on her part.

I occupied the weekend with a Saturday run/walk at the Charlottesville HS track. It's got a great surface -- I need to run on it more often. The usual for me -- 2-1/4 miles in 27 minutes, including the walk. This upcoming week Coach Debi has me doing 60 steps run/30 steps walk for 25 minutes (with a 5 minute warmup walk), so I may start getting close to 3 miles per run. Hey, it's progress!

Sunday morning I got out for a ride with my friend Ken. A great 26.5 mile ride ride out in the Blue Ridge foothills (check out the route here). I was totally in a groove -- Ken's a bit slower than me, so I stayed very fresh throughout the ride, with plenty of energy on the climbs. The average was 15.5 MPH; about one MPH slower than I usally do. If you think it sounds slow, don't forget we have lots of hills around here!

Monday's swim rocked as well. I hooked up with two of my Master's class buddies, Andy and Debbie, and we put in a very solid 2500 yard workout. I stroked a 200 in 3:15, a very nice PR for me. The swimming is coming along very strong lately. I anticipate it will be the easiest part of my training when I kick into Eagleman mode later on.

Rounded off everything with a trainer ride and brick run this morning. 50 minutes on the bike, and 10 minutes run at the end. Legs felt pretty good right off the bike. There's more emphasis on this in this month's training plan -- I'm looking forward to seeing how they go.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A new month begins

(OK, I lied in the previous post...)

The remains of TS Ernesto are blowing through Virginia as I write. Nonetheless I'm going to do my run outside this afternoon -- there's nothing like the smug feeling of satisfaction gained from doing something marginally stupid.

Well, it really shouldn't be that bad. Some gusty 20+ MPH winds and heavy rain, and I'm only going to be outside for about 30 minutes. Should be fun!

A blank month ahead of me on the calendar, but I can look back on August with real satisfaction. I nailed every day on my training plan, kept my diet and weight under control, and continued a regular program of strength training. In particular, my swimming has been a strong point -- I shook off the nagging shoulder pain and slowly worked back up to a couple of solid swims a week (around 2300 yards/session). In the process, it looks like I've gained some speed as well.

Losing the summer to knee surgery has been a bit of a downer, but I've come through it stronger, lighter, and just as fast in the swim and bike. I'm sure the run will come around, and I'm looking forward to competing in the Giant Acorn sprint on October 8.