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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Making do

Grand Forks this morning.  Sundogs appeared as the temperature
dropped and ice crystals filled the air.  Photo by Eric Hyden
Last year it didn't snow up here in Grand Forks until Christmas day.  For some reason i was counting on this happening again.  I'd planned three big paddle training days (big for me, not for the other Yogaslackers - big for them really means epic for most folks) leading up to my departure for Abu Dhabi on Dec. 7th.  I did manage to get one of these in - i went out last sunday despite 3-4 inches of snow falling overnight.  It was exciting to say the least - that morning my rudder snapped (i'd never paddled without it) and i was using a new wing blade and donning a never before worn (by me) dry suit which was less than straightforward to put on.  At the boat ramp, solid ice lay under the new snow and extended like a skin six feet out onto the river.  Thoughts of breaking through and falling into the river as i tried to put in were pretty terrifying, dry suit or not.

I considered calling it a day.  But I'm stubborn and had been looking forward to some adventure so opted not to.  instead, i sat in the boat and pushed off, sliding down and out across the ice which broke and parted with the weight of the boat.  I wasn't at all sure how i was going to get back out, but figured i didn't have to worry about it for an hour ad headed up river.

It took some getting used to steer without the rudder, but i managed ok.  I wan't able to go at full intensity but that was ok too - it was my first paddle since nationals in late october.  What I loved (once i got over my nervousness) was trying to dodge the floating sections of surface ice.  Some were approaching an inch in thickness and weren't fun to hit - i almost got stuck on one and had to struggle to chop away at it with the ultralight carbon fibre paddle.  Some were just a thin skin, millimeters thick floating islands of ice moving with the current, and offered almost no resistance to my bow as i plowed through.  I found myself marveling at the simple (or perhaps not so simple) phase change that i was witnessing.

The night of that paddle it snowed again - another 3-4 inches - and got colder.  The highs have been in the teens I've given up the idea of paddling again.  Today though, i did manage to get an hour and a half outside on the bike (thanks sean).  I figured i've got to use what nature provides and had a great ride up and back along the greenway - opting to take the mosquito control trails whenever possible.  It was tough pushing through six inches of snow, and squirrelly too - i endoed a couple of times and went down at least half a dozen others when the front wheel decided it wanted to be at a right angle to the rest of the bike.

Far from ideal training conditions perhaps, but i made do.  I told myself it was just like riding through sand, and tried to pretend i was in the middle of the desert, pushing hard, only wearing alot more clothes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I feel like I need to train more.  Either that or I need to stop watching videos like this one about last year's race.  Hmmm.  Fear is healthy, right?  Three weeks and counting!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Speed bump

The speedbump
I woke up this morning unable to move my upper back - the muscles on one side had contracted with vice like intensity and were pulling my spine out of alignment.  Its been over three years since i've been plagued by this problem, which first occurred (and lasted over six months) as the result of a high jumping accident and was made worse/prolonged by a high stress.  Once again these two factors have coincided - a good crash at last Sunday's cyclocross race and the fact that I defend my thesis again (having 'failed' the first attempt last summer) in five days time are likely causes of the 'injury'.  Bummer.

On a positive note i have lots of experience with the issue and know that i can at least train through it (activity, even strenuous activity never seemed to make things worse, although it may indeed have kept things from getting better).  My fingers are crossed, however, that the emergency 30 minute massage i've managed to schedule with a very gifted professional this afternoon will essentially set me right again and keep me from having to.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gym cycling workout (inspired by thoughts of the UAE)

What my cycling looks like now
I'm trying to train as specifically for Abu Dhabi (specificity is the key, and with such a limited training volume, it better ALL be targeted, as much as possible, towards what I expect) and one of the things we'll face on the bike (according to the rest of the team, who are veterans from last year) is the lead groups of riders trying to instigate break-aways at multiple points on the bike leg.  In addition, the large field may splinter forcing us to leap gaps up to a lead group in order to stay with them.  As such, unexpected, semi-prolonged (2-4 min?) efforts at or above aerobic capacity (Zone 4/5 for those familiar with Joe Friel's training zones) will be required.  As the weather is getting worse up here and my training time is so tight, at least one session each week ends up being indoors on a stationary bike.  Rather than bemoan this fact (a strike against specificity, just in terms of riding geometry, etc) i've tried to make the best of it and use the tools that i have to come up with a workout that will improve my ability to generate these kinds of efforts. 
Here's how it works:

What it'll look like in Abu Dhabi

I use a 'random' program on the stationary bike and cover up the screen that displays the resistance profile(or hill profile as the machine calls it) so that my only indication of the resistance is the read at the bottom of the screen.  I've then set 'mile per hour' benchmarks for each of the levels (or pairs of levels).  These will obviously depend on the fitness of the rider and the type of stationary bike being used.  I think the bikes i use are Lifefitness, though i'm not sure of the model number.  To create a ride that will mimic (as much as possible) what i'm after, i've found setting the target speed the same for two successive levels works the best.  My last ride I aimed for 18+ mph anytime i was at levels 6 or 7, 19+ for levels 8 or 9, and 20+ for levels 10 and up.  This ride came on the heels of a 30 minute run (No-slo-random-pro), and so i was already slightly fatigued.  One key to making the workout pay the biggest dividends for Abu Dhabi (and perhaps in general) is to set the target speed for the base level that will appear in the program such that you are firmly in Zone 2/2+ - not Zone 1 (where you might typically recover).  I have a strong suspicion that even sitting squarely on the wheels of a big group of the lead riders is not going to find me twiddling my thumbs and chatting casually about the scenery (Zone 1) so i'll be damned if i'm going to spend any time there during training.  This philosophy is very similar to what i've used very successfully in my running - unless i'm doing very short duration sprint work i try to keep limit my recovery (during a workout) to that which can happen in Zone 2 or above. 

My hope is that using this workout over the next few weeks will get my mind and body a bit more ready to deal with what some of what i expect to face out there in the desert.  Now if only i could find some sand.....

Friday, November 12, 2010

The pain cave

During a twisty bit
As a way to jump start my cycling training for Abu Dhabi, i decided to partake in the second of a three race cyclocross series being held locally here in Grand Forks last weekend.  I'd never done cyclocross before but had heard about how tough it was from my brother in law, John, who's a top amateur on the circuit out in Idaho.  I don't own a cyclocross specific bike so i decided to show up on my frankenstein mountain bike and do what i could.  Sporting a vintage proflex frame, an old Noleen ELT front shock and an elastomer rear one, the bike is a classic.  Unfortunately it had recently suffered some abuse at the hands of a visiting racer in our fall adventure race.  In an effort to make it rideable i'd removed the front brakes and front derailleur - i could still 'shift' between the front chain rings but only by hand - something not really conducive to a race situation.  Pre-riding a section of the course i decided i'd stick with the middle chain ring and just dismount and run up the sections where the course climbed steeply up the dike.  A quick lesson from Erik Sanders on how to do a running dismount for the obligitory low hurdles section of the course and i was set to go.

Exploring the pain cave, looking for a way out.
 Right off the bat i ran into trouble, bouncing the chain off of front rings 1 minute into the race.  Stopping to put it back on had me bringing up the rear - 10th out of 10 in the 'advanced' category (which just means more laps as the course is the same).  Half way through the first lap the chain bounced again, but this time settled on the smallest chain ring.  Rather than stop again i just figured i'd ride this way as long as possible - it was fine for 75-80% of the course and only slightly slower (I was still spinning while in the biggest rear cog) for the rest.  I pushed hard - suffering so much in the first two laps I wasn't sure how i'd make 8 of them. 

Charging after Sanders (to no avail)

The field spread out a bit and i quickly caught and passed 4 riders but could make no headway on the other 5 - three of whom had cross bikes (and of course they were good riders).  I rode the rest of the race by myself, gaining a bit on those i'd passed each lap and losing a bit on those ahead of me.  By the fourth lap i'd settled into a rhythm and knew i'd be fine and set a goal of keeping my lap time under 7:30 and not getting lapped.  The course fun - a good mix of flatish, faster sections, steep hills, and sharp twists between the trees.  My heart-rate was always changing, resulting in something that felt like a solid interval workout. 

The race ends when the lead rider does 2 laps more than the lap he's on at 45 minutes.  During the ride i kept thinking i'd only have to do 8 laps, but as it turns out i did 9.  I went for broke on the last lap and it took it's toll - my lungs burned deeply for what seemed like a long time after finishing.  It was a perfect race to use for training, particularly the high intensity type of training that i favor - short enough to allow it to be part of a training week and motivating enough to ensure a hell of a session.  Hats off to the folks at the UND cycling club for doing such a great job of setting up the event and creating such a friendly and accomodating vibe.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The weakest link

Me at Nationals - very nearly (but not quite) broken

This post has been rattling around in my head for a while and it's time i got it out. But before i get into the meat of it i'd like to extend a big congratulations to Dave Madvig for finishing the toughest Iron Distance race in the country yesterday - the Silverman Triathlon, held in Las Vegas Nevada.  Despite very limited training Dave managed a solid finish - a testament to his determination to push through perceived physical limitations.  Way to go Dave!

I had at one time planned to race both Nationals (adventure racing) and the Silverman (with Dave), but life had other plans, and i had to give up the silverman.  I was bummed for quite some time (more at the thought of not getting to visit with Dave than racing) but all that went away last sunday as the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) started to set in from our 19+ hour effort out in Moab.  As it turned out, the effects were severe but short lived and i may well have been able to knock out the race (though in less than top form) - but i imagine the lasting effects may well have been detrimental to my training efforts as they are being applied towards my biggest race of the year, Abu Dhabi, which is only 5 weeks away.  And i've got lots of training to do.

For the first time in a long time, maybe ever, i found myself the weakest link on a team.  I wasn't just slightly weaker either - the difference between my fitness on the final 3 hour bike to porcupine pass and that of any other team member was startling.  No matter how long i'd been on tow, the moment i came off i started to fall behind.  I had no power to speak of.  My forward progress was limited to spinning in my easiest gear, even on moderate grades.  Every time i tried to stand to get some 'ummphhh' both my quads would cramp or start spasming.  I didn't feel particularly tired (though i was a bit sleepy), nor hungry or thirsty (in retrospect, i probably didn't eat enough, or at least that's the opinion of my team-mates).  I realize now that i was probably bonking - though the experience was decidedly different than anything i've experienced before and much more subtle than i would have expected.

I've got lots to think and worry about now - not only am i taking a second stab at defending my thesis in two weeks, but i also need to get (much) stronger in a short amount of time on two wheels.  Not being able to keep up with the front bunch of riders won't be an option out in the desert if the team is to have a chance of finishing in the top 10, which is our goal.  While i initially thought that maybe i'd just have to scrap the whole 'three hours a week' thing during this final preparation phase, the way things are working out i'm going to be lucky to be able to stick to it - grad school deadlines are quickly approaching and the amount of work left to be done is startling -  and this coupled with all the other demands i'm facing (having been gone for a week at nationals and then leaving for 10 days only six weeks later means i need to put in some extra hours on the family front!) makes scheduling even this minimum amount of training difficult.  We'll see how it goes....

My planned training schedule is now up under training links - it'll be modified and filled in as the days pass.....