For new readers

To get an idea of what I'm trying to do and why I think it's possible, check out the following entries, they'll help get you up to speed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

In the paper

Andy Magness uses Friday's blizzard as an opportunity for a training ride. Magness bikes on Belmont Road in Grand Forks to train for the Arrowhead Bike Race in International Falls in Feb. Herald photo by John Stennes.

I ended up in the local paper (Grand Forks Herald) on December 26th after going out for a brief ride.  In all honesty it wasn't really much of a workout as the riding was so technically difficult i never got my heart rate up.  It wasn't much good for trouble shooting gear issues either - i was hoping to test the merits of the new winter cycling shoes i'd just received from santa but the conditions were so treacherous that i abandoned the idea of clipping in after taking a spill only five blocks from my house where i wasn't able to unclip.  Because the powder was so deep the cleats had gotten quite jammed with snow and it had taken me four of those blocks just to clear them and get clipped in in the first place, i just figured it wasn't worth it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Winter riding

Me just returning from a 2+ hour training ride last sunday.  Notice the 5 inch icicle coming off of my chin.  I was oblivious to it the entire ride.  

I went out for another longish ride (just over two hours) yesterday.  The temperature was about -2 F with 10 or more mph wind - so reasonably cold.  I tried out a new 'layering' scheme - a VB shirt (stephensons warm-lite with 'fuzzy stuff') next to the skin with an IceBreaker merino wool base layer over it.  On the bottom I donned Ibex wool bike shorts, knee warmers, and a pair of Craft Storm tights.  A fleece balaclava and goggles covered my head and VB socks, thick wool socks, inov-8 Goretex boots, and neoprene shoe covers.  I also tried putting toe warmers between the shoe covers and the boots. [note - although i do like most of my gear, i'm not providing the specifics as any sort of a endorsement - rather just because as anyone who has done anything nutty like this can probably attest to - getting a good system down is a huge challenge, if it's possible at all.  I often read other peoples accounts of similar exploits to try to figure out what to do myself and vague and general descriptions of gear are generally worse than no description at all....]

I felt a bit ridiculous heading out into the cold with such threadbare layers on my torso, but knew from two weeks ago that i'd heat up quickly (although it had been nearly 20 degrees warmer then).  I couldn't leave without some insurance so i took a lightweight fleece and a nearly non-existent windshell and stuck them in the bikes frame bag, just in case.  I could have left them at home.

I rode mostly in Zones 2 and 3 on a fairly even mix of 'singletrack' or ungroomed XC ski trails and a paved (though spottily covered with snow and ice) bike path.  I was initially cold but as expected that didn't last long - i was soaked within half an hour or so.  I stayed warm (for the most part) despite my lack of clothing and my wool shirt stayed essentially dry (it was snowing a bit and so some of the flakes melted creating a very slight dampness) so that worked well.  However, when i was on the paved trails i was moving faster and more exposed to the wind.  Because my upper body was leaning slightly forward on the bike, the VB shirt and baselayer were allowed to form a bit of a gap away from my skin.  My sweat seemed to pool there and the gap allowed for the air to cool to a much greater degree - so much so that the sweat froze on the inside of my VB.  Brrrrrr.  It wasn't horrible and i didn't really notice it unless i shifted my riding position, stretched, or had to get off the bike to push for some reason - but at these times it was, well, quite chilly.  My legs on the other hand were toasty throughout and remained pretty dry - i seem to perspire almost exclusively from my torso.   My toes seemed cold - the size 9 shoes are a bit snug with the heavy socks and i think this limits my circulation a bit.  The toe warmers did next to nothing to help.  It's a bit hard to tell the difference between cold and kinda numb and actually numb/frozen - but it's an important distinction.  My left toes were the former, my right the latter.  As a result i got to experience the 'hot aches' for the first time in a while as i re-warmed inside after the ride.  OUCH.  [For those who have never experienced the hot aches - count yourself lucky.  Although luckily of a transient sort - the pain is the most intense i have ever felt and absolutely immune to ANY means of mitigation or desensitization that i'm aware of.  There's a cool video of the experience here.]

My head was also a problem, as i've yet to figure out how to keep my goggles from fogging up, especially during higher exertion levels.  They were unusable about 25 minutes into my ride - the vapor from my breath had frozen in thin sheets on the inside of the lenses.  I rode for nearly another two hours squinting to keep the flurries from hitting my eyeballs.  As a result my upper and lower eyelashes were close enough together to periodically freeze to each other, forcing me to take my hand out of the warm pogie and use my fingertips to thaw the ice so i could see again.  Fun stuff.

I also tried a new 'water' system this time - i placed a 250 ml bottle filled with gatorade (lower freezing point) in each of the pogies.  The liquid was just starting to show signs of ice formation when i got home after more than 2 hours, so I may do this during the race.  the downside is that my hands weren't nearly as warm  - some of their heat going to the bottles.

All in all it was a good day - i worked out a few logistical kinks, developed much greater bike handling skills (due to all the trail riding), suffered a little, and, of course, the icicle.....

Friday, December 11, 2009

Periodization on three hours a week (and why a blog is a bad thing)

As i struggle to feel as though i'm adequately preparing for the arrowhead bike race (even though it's still a long way off) i end up thinking a lot about how best to schedule my workouts while keeping to the three hours a week.  it's actually a bit ironic - although i'm technically exercising only 3 hours a week, the whole effort takes significantly more time than this.  Partly because it probably needs too - there is a lot to consider in order to optimize the time - and partly because it's a means of procrastination.  This blog tends to make it worse - i like writing down my ideas so much that i'm starting to post instead of working on my thesis.  This has got to stop, at least eventually....

I also spend some time thinking about scheduling in an effort to make Dave's workouts as efficient as possible.  One thing i've been turning over in my mind recently is how to best introduce 'periodization' into this program.  it's pretty easy (i've found) to improve handily in a discipline just by doing a fairly balanced, unperiodized set of workouts that incorporate moderate to high intensity efforts.  This is most of what i've done over the past 6 months - one speed, one tempo, and one 'endurance' workout a week - always changing to avoid boredom - with the disciplines changing at least once a week (ie never 3 run workouts in a single week).  But as i'm gearing up for a bike race that is probably going to take me anywhere from 20-40 hours, it's clear that a bunch of one hour workouts is going to potentially leave me underprepared.  I say potentially because the arrowhead will not be a 'fast' race - the environmental and logistical limits that will present themselves with likely determine an optimum speed, which will likely be one at which even my present fitness will see me through.  My proposed ironman however, is another story.  if i want to stand a chance of getting top 25% i'll need to be able to 'push' moderately hard for 12 or more hours.  how do i do this when thats all i train in a month?

I've had a couple ideas.  Joe Friel's 'build' phases in his Triathlon training bible are characterized by 4 week blocks where the first three weeks have increasing volume and the fourth week is kind of a 'recovery week'.  splitting six hours over each to weeks, i can easily emulate this.  for example:

  •  week one (2.5 hours)
    •  a 1  hour bike
    •  one hour run (both with tempo intervals, for example) 
    •  half an hour swim.  
  • week two (3.5 hours) 
    •  30 min run
    •  30 min bike (both with speed work)
    •  15 min swim
    •  45 min bike (race pace or greater) followed by 90 min run
  •  week 3 (4.5 hours)
    • 30 min run (easy/moderate) or even swim
    • 40 min bike (tempo/tt) - much faster than race pace.
    • 3 hour ride (race pace) followed by 20 min run (race pace)
  • week 4 (1.5 hours)
    • 30 min bike (easy/moderate)
    • 15 min swim (race pace)
    • 45 min run (moderate, race pace)
This schedule could be followed the next month by something similar, but with the weeks using 2, 4, 5, and 1 hours to allow for slightly longer 'long' workouts.  Keep in mind that this schedule is based on the fact that i'm a decent swimmer and won't be working much on swimming prior to my race - other than trying to make sure i have a good 'water feel'.  of the 12 hours, 6:25 is spent riding, 4:35 running (or 4:05), and 1 hr (or 1:30)  swimming.  Interestingly enough, looking at this, it appears that these ratios are roughly what i'd hope to be doing in an iron distance event.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Too much of a good thing

Yummy fiber rich foods

I know eating a diet high in fiber is supposed to be good for you.  However, the age old adage "moderation in all things" -which pretty much applies well to almost everything - should particularly not be ignored concerning fiber, especially in individuals attempting intense exercise.  This goes doubly so when said exercise is performed in an environment without nearby 'facilities' - either man's or natures.  

I imagine i've been overdoing it for about a couple of weeks.  While i've always periodically struggled with 'hollow bowels' following abnormally intense workouts, it's recently become more of a regular battle.  Instead of two or three movements a day it's been more like 5 or 6.  Ok, I know that's probably more than anyone needs to know (for some reason having young kids makes this subject far less taboo since it ends up being discussed so frequently with them....) but, well, there you have it.  Anyway - i wasn't sure the culprit of my regular 'runner's trots' as they're commonly called is a high fiber diet, but, according to research this may be a contributing factor.  In thinking back i realize i've been eating an awful lot of veggies, beans, whole wheat pasta, etc. lately and am fairly certain that my average daily intake has well surpassed the recommended 25-30 grams. I'll be keeping track over the next few days to try to get a better estimate and to make sure that i'm eating an amount closer to this range - hopefully i'll notice an improvement.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter's here and training challenges

Well, after an abnormally long and pleasant fall, winter has finally come.  the snow fell and the temperatures dropped simultaneously on Dec. 1st.  It's been white and cold ever since.  I'm pleased really - i needed to get out and start training in it as the arrowhead is only a couple of months away.

Yesterday i did just that - completing my first ride on the borrowed pugsley that i'll be using in the race (thanks again Rick!).  It was awesome.  The thing weighs nearly 40 lbs (without any of the gear i'll be required to carry) and drives like a tank which takes some getting used to, but is really a pretty sweet machine.  The 4.5 inch tires at 15 psi give it the feel of full suspension downhill bike when going over obstacles and provide reasonably good floatation and traction in a variety of conditions.  The pogies that cover the handlebars allowed bare handed riding and were almost too hot at times - which of course i'll gladly deal with considering the alternative.

I learned a few more things from my ride - 1) it's hard to ride for an extended period at high intensity.  There's always resistance because of the snow and low tire pressure, which means it always feels like riding up hill. 2) moisture management is going to be a key issue.  When i'd put it in a big gear and try to push i'd start sweating like crazy which would become rather unbearable in short order under the several layers i was wearing.  When i'd back off i'd immediately get a chill. 3) two hours outside goes by a lot quicker than two hours inside!

I learned some other technical details as well - like the efficacy (or lack thereof) of using a camelback and the fact that i'm going to be soaked no matter what unless i can find an option to the traditional layering scheme (i'll try a vapor barrier shirt next time - although I'll be soaked, maybe my insulation will stay dry) but i won't expound on them here.

I've also been struggling a bit with the confines of my training schedule.  Because my long rides are either limited to a 'cardio bike' which is mind-numbingly boring or outside where it's hard to push the intensity for any duration because of the cold - i'm worried that too much of my three hours is going to be spent doing a less vigorous workout than i'd prefer.  I'm having two great and hard workouts each week, but they've grown increasingly shorter as my long workouts get, well, longer.  This past week they were both only 30 minutes - and while during them and immediately afterwords i feel fully worked, i've found myself raring to go the next day, as they require less recovery.  I've been trying to sell myself on the idea that i need to feel like this so that i can truly hammer on the weekends, but these last two weekends haven't ended up feeling like i've done so (last weekend it was lack of motivation and possibly residuals of the thanksgiving food coma, and this weekend it was the learning curve of the new bike and difficulties associated with the cold).  I know i'll need to have some long outdoor rides to adequately prepare both mentally and physically for the Arrowhead, but i'm a bit worried that my fitness will decrease as these eat up more and more of my threadbare schedule....

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tip #5 - proper (balanced) use of machines

Dave had a bad workout this last weekend - his first since starting my training program.  He'd been crunched for time and was trying to squeeze the 80 minute run in late at night and so ended up at the health club on the treadmill.  Running this long on a treadmill sounds like torture to me and I can't imagine choosing to do it.  In fairness though, I spent last saturday on a stationary bike for an hour and forty five minutes (although I certainly didn't like it).  I routinely choose to do my shorter workouts, however, on the trainer or the treadmill and view these options as extremely valuable tools for a program such as mine.

Why?  Because they create and allow for competition and highly controlled efforts with constant feedback.  I can choose the pace for my intervals ahead of time and have a target to shoot for.  I don't have to factor in wind, road conditions, detours, etc.  The number of variables at play during a given workout are reduced down to possible variances between machines (probably slight or even negligible if you get the same machine) and factors that are stemming directly from the person doing the training.  It is these latter factors that are most important and which are able to be isolated by consistently reproducible training.  Improvement can be tracked very closely and immediate modifications can be made to a training program based on each individual workout.  If you're time-limited enough to be hell bent on maximizing fitness in three hours a week, these things begin to matter.

Another benefit of machines is that they can effectively be used to overcome low motivation or to have a good workout despite it.  A machine, especially when used for interval work, more easily creates a 'challenge to be met'.  Once you set-up that first interval, all you have to do is hang on for the ride.  The belt becomes an adversary - and if grabbing the bar is not an option (or is only an option if it's immediately followed by the expulsion of some type of bodily fluid) then it'll be hard not to walk away from your treadmill glad that it was such a worthy one.  And I'd bet your low motivation is long gone to boot.

Of course most people groan at the thought of treadmill/stationary bike work and I don't blame them.  I vastly prefer running on the 8 lap track at my health club to a treadmill and it offers many of the same benefits - a controlled environment and nearly continuous feedback - but I get to actually move through space.  This brings me to the idea that although, as I just mentioned, cardio machines can be super useful - a well balanced workout plan will not rely on them entirely.

Running outside (or even on a track) is not like running on the treadmill, and unless you plan on racing on one, you'll need to make sure all your indoor effort translates to outdoor results.  It's not only physically harder dealing with the elements, but there are also important mental components that won't directly transfer beyond the walls of the gym.  For example, pacing needs to be worked out.  Perceived exertion and HR levels may differ significantly between indoors and outdoors, usually in a way that favors the one done the most (i.e. if you run inside a lot, it will end up feeling easier than running outside at the same pace).  Ideally you'd develop a balance so that this difference is minimized and workouts can be transported inside or outside with similar results.  In addition, the types and forces of will required to maintain a pace on the treadmill versus out on the road are two entirely different animals.  It's analogous to what's happening with the guy who's barely hanging on at the back of the lead pack rather than out front, driving it.  Believe me, they're both hurting (probably badly), but what's going on inside their heads is quite different.  When you're on the treadmill, you're the guy in the back.  I don't always want to be in back, do you?