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Race report: 2018 Marine Corps Marathon

I had an idea earlier this year: “I should think about trying to run the Marine Corps Marathon.”

Like many of the ideas I have, this one was of questionable value, but it happened this past weekend so I thought I’d write about how it came to fruition.

In truth, I’d always thought that, in the unlikely event I ever ran a marathon, I’d like it to be the MCM. The “unlikely event” part went away back in 2016 when I ran Rocket City, but I didn’t have any burning ambition to do another one. Then I saw that the Marine Corps had added a new race: the Marine Corps 17.75K (1775 was the Corps’ founding year). Finishing it granted automatic entry to MCM. I entered the lottery for the 17.75K and, to my surprise, got in… but the race itself fell on the same day as the funeral of my beloved Aunt Norma, so I didn’t get to run it. I begrudgingly entered the lottery for MCM, not expecting to get in… and then I did.

Training

I strained a hamstring 2 weeks before the Chattanooga 70.3— so since late April, I have been intermittently unable to run more than a couple of miles. My coach has kept me on the bike to continue to keep my cardio base, along with some weight work, and the hammy seemed to be getting steadily better. Two weeks before MCM, I’d planned to run the London Royal Parks 13.1, which went swimmingly. I was encouraged that my hamstring didn’t hurt, and that I felt good during and after that race… to a point.

(skip the below if you’re not a runner or don’t care about running shoes)

See, last year I had a persistent, nagging problem with my right knee’s IT band. Skipping the boring details, let’s just say I eventually figured out that it was caused by my shoes, so I switched shoes but then started having a different problem with my calves. Welcome to distance running! I finally found a pair of Nike Structure 21s that seemed to work really well for me… until I started doing runs of longer than about 8 miles. Then I started having soreness in the outside of my left foot… so back to the shoe store I went, returning this time with a pair of On Cloudflow shoes. They seemed to work really well, except that after the London race I felt the calf pain returning. I waffled for a solid week before my coach finally suggested I run the marathon in them anyway, since they worked fine during the race. This seemed reasonable… after all, who cares if they’re sore after the race? That’s what I planned to do.

(ok, it’s safe to start reading again)

Coach Jon didn’t follow the usual gospel of having increasingly long runs as marathon prep— my longest scheduled run was 15mi, the week after London. I made it through 10 before my hamstring was bothering me too much to continue. For the 4 or 5 weeks preceding the race, I kept seeing people in the MCM group on Facebook talk about their 18, 20, 22, etc. mile runs and so I was a little nervous about being undertrained. However, I knew that, barring a serious injury, I’d be able to complete the race and cross the finish line, even if it wasn’t in the time that I had wanted, so I wasn’t unduly nervous (or so I thought at the time!)

Travel and arrival

My friend Ashley had deferred her MCM entry last year and decided that this would be her year to run it as well. Our mutual friend Erica came along as cheerleader and sherpa, so we loaded up the airplane on a cloudy Friday morning and set out from Decatur. 

 

In the plane

taken while the weather was still nice

We flew into Potomac Friendly (so named because it’s in Friendly, MD). I’ll do a separate Flying Friday post on the flight itself, which was the most difficult flight I’ve ever flown. The weather was, shall we say, not awesome, but I got plenty of solid time in IMC, all hand-flown because our autopilot is down for maintenance. I picked Potomac because it’s one of the so-called “MD3” airports that are closest in to downtown DC (the others being Hyde Field and College Park). Potomac is a small airport with a short runway, but it has inexpensive fuel and is a short drive from downtown (by DC standards). We parked the plane and then Ashley’s BFF Candice picked us up and drove us to the runners’ expo at the Gaylord convention center. 

The expo was fun. Packet pickup was quick and efficient. Each runner got a clear plastic bag (to be used later for gear drop-off) with a mock turtleneck race shirt, a race patch, and a very nice printed race guide. All the major vendors and sponsors were at the expo, including Brooks (the main running-gear sponsor), Carb Boom (the nutrition sponsor), USAA, and so on. I managed to limit my expo spending to one T-shirt, one Christmas tree ornament, and one coffee mug, mostly because I’d already bought a race jacket directly from Brooks. There was a lot of other stuff I could happily have bought, though!

at the logo wall

proud to say I had the only Waffle House shirt in the place— thanks, Anna

Candice suggested Succotash for dinner, and it was superb. The chicken and waffles were the best I’ve ever had. Portions were generous, which is good because it was fairly expensive. (Drink prices are ridiculous, a trend I noted throughout DC, but what are you gonna do.) 

On the advice of my friend Ingrid, I’d booked a room at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, because it’s easy walking distance to the start line. Thankfully I had stashed away enough Marriott points to get it for free. My expectations of the “Ritz-Carlton” brand name were sky high, so I was a little disappointed that the hotel is basically a nicer-than-usual Marriott property, not the oasis of luxury I’d pictured. The staff were extremely friendly and pleasant, and it was marvelous being right next to the Fashion City mall, which has both a DC Metro stop and a Starbucks. 

The day before

There’s a tremendously active (and welcoming!) Facebook group for MCM participants, and they’d scheduled a shakeout run on Saturday morning. I took a Lyft over (funny story for another time about when Lyft thinks you’ve been in an accident in one of their vehicles) and met the group near the Smithsonian metro station. The weather was windy, rainy, and cool— low 50s— but it was a fun run anyway. I hadn’t brought any rain gear, so I was pretty drenched by the time we got done, but in a good way.

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After another Lyft ride back to the hotel and a quick cleanup (and a giant coffee), we met up for a little sightseeing. First (because hello, have you met me?) we went to Port City Brewing to give them a try; after all, their motto is “We put the ‘ale’ in ‘Alexandria.’” Good beer and a nice atmosphere, but they didn’t have any food, which was a bit of a problem. Then it was off to Georgetown for lunch. Candice had suggested an Italian restaurant called Filomena. Let me just be clear and say that this was, unequivocally, the best-decorated restaurant I’ve ever been to and had the best Italian food I’ve ever had.

When you walk in the door, the first thing you see is the room where the pasta is made. In our case, that included an Italian grandma giving us malocchio

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Don’t mess with grandma

Besides the food, Filomena is famous for their elaborate holiday decorations. There’s a discreet little sign at the entrance cautioning parents that they may want to consider their kids’ maturity levels before entering the restaurant proper. Here’s a small sample…

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at this point I was so hungry that no amount of demon decoration would spoil my appetite

The food! I ate a large plate of cannelloni with Italian sausage, plus what seemed like a loaf and a half of table bread, then the remaining half of Candice’s lasagna. I only stopped because I was in literal fear of bursting. This wasn’t just ordinary gluttony, of course; I’d had a very light breakfast and a late lunch, with the intention of having a big lunch and a very light dinner, all with a goal of not having to rush to the porta-potties on race morning. (Look up “ileal brake” if you want to know why this strategy works.)

Neither Ashley nor I wanted to do a lot of walking pre-race, so we drove over to the Navy Yard and explored a bit, then I made an early night of it— I watched maybe the first 15 minutes of the Saints game and then was out like a light, but not before doing one last gear layout to make sure Flat Paul was good to go:

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Race day

Normally I don’t have race nerves. This time, I did, but not for any good reason; I woke up about 4a and tossed and turned for a bit, mostly just because I was excited. Then it was time to get up and get my race prep on. I’d already mixed up 4 bottles of Gatorade Endurance and stashed them in the room fridge, and I’d loaded up my belt with 7 Gu packets. I didn’t do a good job of prepping for breakfast though; I ended up eating a Payday bar, a protein bar, some applesauce from the runners’ expo, and a Gu. The DC Metro opened at 6, so promptly at 6 I was lined up for the turnstile and then took the train to the Pentagon station.

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the first of many lines for the morning

The layout of the race is such that the start is on highway 110 between the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. When I got off the train, I followed the giant herd of runners to the runners’ village, where I checked in the provided clear plastic bag of post-race gear. One neat thing about this process is that each race bib has a UPS sticker on the back with a truck number (mine was 19). To check your gear, you take your bag to the matching truck, then the trucks move to the finish area. Simple and quick. I had plenty of time to mill around the runners’ village, which was pointless since there was nothing there— so instead, I headed out to the start line area, another 10min walk away. It was a scenic walk, though.

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For the first time this year, MCM was using a corral start, but they only had 3 corrals. I wanted to try to grab on to the 4:30 pace group and see how long I could hang on, but they were in the next corral up. Even though I got to the front of my corral, the polite yet firm young second lieutenants stationed there weren’t letting anyone move up a corral. (Somehow Ashley managed to sneak through though.)

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my people at the head of the green corral

This positioning turned out to be pretty much perfect— to my left was a small tower. The event announcer kept up a continual patter leading up to the 745a start for the wheelchair and handcart division, which was immediately preceded by an MV-22 flyover. After their start, we had a few more minutes before the 755a main start, which was filled by another MV-22 flyover and two parachute jumps: one mass jump and one pair carrying a large American flag. Both were aiming for a blue smoke grenade, which was at the small tower near my position, so I had a great view.

Promptly at 755a, the starter fired the howitzer and it was race time.

The race

Some race reports tediously go over every single mile. I won’t do that here (but you can see all the race data, my mile splits, and so on here if you’re interested.) Instead, I want to capture some impressions.

First, the crowd. As in London, I was running with and near people at all times, and it was amazingly energizing. The spectators were a spectacle in themselves. The variety and quality of supportive race signs, and the volume of cheering, far exceeded my expectations. Any time the course ran through a city area, the sidewalks were packed— the only time we didn’t have large crowds were when we were on the open road or a bridge. Take a look at the picture below, taken on Rock Creek Parkway, and you’ll see what I mean.

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Second, the course itself. What a gorgeous tour of our nation’s capital.

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Third, the wear blue Mile. Words can’t capture the emotions of running this part of the course. I took my headphones off and silently read the name of each fallen American to myself as I ran by, not in any particular hurry. It was a tremendously moving part of the course and I’m getting a little teary just thinking about it as I type this.

Overall, I felt really good for the first 14 or so, then started to flag a little coming out of Hains Point. My average pace got a bit slower, and in Crystal City (starting about mile 23) I took a couple of walk and stretch breaks.

And, of course, because this is the Marine Corps Marathon, it ends on a hill. Seriously.

A note on race gear and strategy

I have been really frustrated lately by my Stryd pod. When I use it with my Garmin Fenix3 HR, I get power dropouts just like I did with my Stages power meter on the bike. When I use the Stryd app on my Apple Watch, the pod often disconnects, and when it’s disconnected the app thinks you’re not running— so in London, the app recorded my run as 10ish miles. So I did what any reasonable person would do: I ran with both the Garmin and the Apple Watch. (And my phone, although that was for music and cheers.) This turned out to be a good strategy, because the Stryd app on the Apple Watch just flat-out stopped recording my run when I rebooted my phone, which I didn’t think it was supposed to do.

My original plan was to try and hold a steady power with the PowerRace app on the Garmin. This was torpedoed when I discovered the dropout issue. My backup plan was to set the Garmin to give me an alert if my heart rate went over 150 and then run based on that. I’d also set a 5:00 run/1:00 walk interval timer, just in case I needed it late in the race… but I didn’t, so that was awesome.

My original goal was ‘beat my previous marathon PR.’ My A goal was to go 4:30 or better. I didn’t quite accomplish that, mostly because I ran an extra mile. That’s right. I managed to turn a 26.2 mile race into a 27.2 mile race. At my average pace of 10:49/mile, that cost me just under 11 minutes. However, I also took lots of pictures on the course, stopped for a few stretches, and even drank some whisky, so I am not at all dissatisfied with how things turned out.

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The finish line experience

After running up the aforementioned hill and through the finishers’ corral, each finisher is presented the coveted race medal by a Marine. I got a fresh-cheeked second lieutenant newly sprung from Quantico; he hung the medal around my neck, shook my hand, and called me “sir.” The corral dumps runners out at the base of the Iwo Jima monument, a perfect photo spot.

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Ashley had finished the race before me (of course), but she found me for some photo opportunities.

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Post-race

Surprisingly, I had very few mobility or soreness problems immediately post-race. None of us wanted to walk around a whole lot, so after a badly needed hot shower and some coffee, we met fellow complete human Zach at Farmers Fishers Bakers, another excellent Candice selection, for a celebratory dinner. Once again, I was in bed by 8 and asleep shortly thereafter.

In the following days, I’m delighted to say that I’ve had zero hamstring pain, zero side-foot pain (except some mechanical wear on my toes—no lost toenails etc), and felt great in my recovery work this week.

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I am eager to run this race again next year.

Oh, right— I didn’t mention my finish time yet. 4:55:20, so a solid 14 minute PR. If I’d cut a few more tangents and taken a few less pictures, I could easily have gone sub-4:45, and with a bit more training 4:30 is within striking distance. That’s my goal for the Rocket City Marathon in December. See you there!

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Training Tuesday: Royal Parks Half Marathon race report

I very much enjoy running in new places, and I love destination races. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that I was excited to find out that there’s a giant half-marathon in London, the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon. It’s a fundraiser for the foundation that maintains London’s 8 Royal Parks (including Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and so on); in the 10 years of its existence, it raised more than £36 million for the upkeep of the parks and for other charities. Because the race is run by a nonprofit, seemingly every charity in the UK (and many global ones as well) have fundraising efforts and charity teams for the race. The race course cuts through four of the eight parks, and is almost completely flat. Runners start in Hyde Park, run east through St James’s Park (and past Buckingham Palace!), up the Strand and then back again, with detours through Trafalgar Square and down to Downing Street, then through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The photos on the race web site show an abundance of fall colors and sunshine… which is not exactly what happened.

I’d registered for the race lottery and didn’t get in, so the Royal Parks folks kept my entry fee and sent me a nice hoodie to cushion my disappointment. It didn’t, given that the hoodie arrived in July, which is not usually hoodie weather in Alabama. Quadrotech decided to sponsor a corporate team, so I got in through that route. I later learned that most runners get into the race through charity registrations, and in future my plan is to raise funds for London’s Air Ambulance (which is a charity!) so I can get one of these exceptionally cool running shirts:

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I got to London Thursday morning before the race and worked in our London office Thursday and Friday, running 5 miles Thursday. Both days were cool and gloomy, and there was lots of discussion about Sunday’s forecast of temperatures in the low 50s and rain. Saturday turned out glorious— I ran 8 miles along the Regents’ Canal in lovely sunshine, with temperatures in the high 60s. The scenery was pretty grand…

The Regents Canal

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After my run, I went out for pizza and watched First Man (pretty good; maybe wait for Netflix though.) A good night’s sleep and I awoke to… exactly the promised weather. Lot 50s, steady wind, and rain. I donned the rain gear I’d brought and headed out to the Moorgate Tube station. Once I hit Piccadilly, the Tube was completely jammed with runners and spectators making their way to Hyde Park. That’s one thing I hadn’t considered: even in a city the size of London, a race with 16,000 runners means that there are a ton of people packed into a relatively small area.

Now, a brief sidebar on race organization. The race organizers will mail race packets ahead of time, for free, if you ask them to, which I did; however, because we’d re-registered me as a team member, my packet went to our office instead, so when I got to the race site, I had to meet my teammates to get my bib so I would know what corral I was in, then drop off my post-race clothes at the baggage drop, then make my traditional pre-race pilgrimage to the portapotties, then go to the start.

f you’ve never run a large race, you may not realize this, but most large endurance races group runners by pace and then send them into corrals so runners of similar speed start together. This race had… 3 corrals total. That’s not a lot for 16,000 runners. There were long lines at baggage drop and for the toilets, and I got increasingly nervous as we got closer and closer to the 9am race start time. I needn’t have worried though— it turns out that even with those two long waits, I got into the line for my corral at 915am and actually crossed the start line at 927am. This was fine because the race is chip timed, so the time doesn’t start until you actually cross the timing mat. Here’s what the corral looked like before I started:

The corral

Once I crossed the start line, I was in a crowd until I finished. That’s a major difference from the races I normally run, especially triathlons— since you’re running after swimming and biking, differences in individual speed means people tend to be pretty spread out on the race course. Here’s an example from the leg through Hyde Park late in the race:

IMG 0167One of the best things about the race was the spectator presence. There were people pretty much lining the course whenever it was along a road, and for maybe 80% of the course length through parks. Lots of signs, and at least three or four bands (three drum corps I can recall). Several of the corporate and charity sponsors had big cheering stations set up, which was fun. Overall the race had a remarkable energy to it, the more so considering that the weather wasn’t great.

And then there was the race course scenery…

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Did not see any members of the Royal Family

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This cracked me up. I’m quite surprised it was deemed necessary

A word about race gear: I ran in a pair of On Cloudflows that I bought a week or so before the race, a pair of generic shorts, and my Rocket City Marathon race shirt. I started the race with a light rain jacket and a hat, but shed both of those mid-race— but I was glad to have them when it started raining just after I crossed the finish. The Cloudflows really felt good during the race, but I have since discovered that as I build volume, they aren’t cushioned enough so they’ve gone back to the store. I also bought a pair of Trekz Titanium bone-conduction earphones using some accumulated Amazon gift cards, figuring they might be worth a try. They sound good but feel a bit odd, and I’m not convinced that they’re better than the Plantronics BackBeat Fits I had been using. The Trekz would be great for cycling though, so I may keep them just for that.

I also ran with my Apple Watch paired to my Stryd footpod. This has been my normal daily running setup since April or so, and it’s worked very well, but for some reason on this race, the pod kept disconnecting— my final run showed up as only 10.2 miles. Best guess is that the pod doesn’t gracefully handle the case where my phone and watch are both connected to it. I only take my phone running when I want to take pictures… and I’ll absolutely want to take pictures at the Marine Corps Marathon. In many ways, this race was a dry run for MCM: I tried to use the same gear, nutrition, etc that I plan to use there, thus the test of the new shoes. This particular race prides itself on sustainability, so the race medals are made of reclaimed wood; the shirts are ring-spun bamboo; and so on. there’s nothing available on the course except water (no bananas, gels, sports drink, etc). I ran with a Fitletic bottle belt with 2 extra bottles; the one problem with this belt is that with all 4 bottles on it, the weight of the bottles stretches the belt enough for it to gradually work its way down towards my knees. The solution is to drink from the back bottles first (or just fill them halfway); I’ve already got the length adjusted to its shortest extent. That’s really good to know, since I don’t want to spend 26.2 miles in DC hitching my belt back up where it belongs.

I haven’t said anything really about the run itself so far. It was great. I held a much faster pace than I expected to be able to and ran my second-fastest half marathon time ever: 2:03:14. I took time to take pictures on the course, so that might have shaved another 2 min off my time, but I wasn’t running this for a PR, and I wasn’t wrecked after the race. In fact, I had a great run the next morning before leaving to go to the airport.

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See, I even look happy here despite standing in the rain for an inordinate amount of time.

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The Quadrofam!

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My reward for a good run: a Sunday roast (not shown: the incredible dessert brownie they brought after I cleaned my plate)

Overall, it was a fantastic experience— I loved the crowd energy and can’t wait to carry forward what I learned to the Marine Corps Marathon! I will absolutely be entering the lottery for the 2019 Royal Parks event, too.

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Training Tuesday: riding the Cote d’Azur

Recently I had the opportunity to do something remarkable: go for a bike ride in Provence! I had to be in the UK for business one week and in Nice the following week, so I was debating what I should do with a free weekend in Europe. Once I learned that there were bike-tour operators near Nice, I quickly decided to find one that could get me out on the road for some portion of the weekend.

Thanks to a recommendation from my local triathlete friend Kate, I found Azur Cycle Tours,  whose guided-rides option sounded perfect. There are a fair number of other tour operators that do longer multi-day tours, too, but Azur was the first I found that could set me up for a one-day ride, including use of a rental bike. I made all the arrangements via email with Justin, the owner, who was prompt and communicative in our exchanges.

I planned to arrive at the Nice airport Friday evening, spend Saturday poking around the area, and then ride on Sunday. Justin agreed to supply a road bike, and I planned to bring my PowerTap pedal power meter, a bike computer, and clothes and shoes. I booked a room at the Azur Cycle Tours apartment for two nights, packed my bags, and arrived there shortly after midnight– a good four hours later than originally planned. Justin was kind enough not to snap at me and gave me a quick tour of the apartment, which was exactly as promised on the web site: modern, comfortable, and well situated near shopping, restaurants, the beach, and the Beaulieu-sur-mer train station.

The next morning I woke up to this glorious view…

Balcony view from the apartment

Justin, as promised, had prepared a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, fresh berries, and bread from the boulangerie up the road. We had a pleasant chat about the local area, then he left to go lead rides and I donned a 10kg weight vest and went for a walk around town. I strolled down along the beach (named “La Petite Afrique” for some reason) and then walked along the Basse Corniche up over a hill for a ways. This treated me to some splendid views of the water and the dozens of large seagoing yachts anchored at various spots.

After I walked back to the apartment and dropped off my weight vest, I decided to walk into Beaulieu and find lunch. As I passed the train station, I had a better idea: why not go have lunch in Monaco? I bought a train ticket and headed off, and in 20 minutes or so I was disembarking at the Monaco station. It became clear pretty quickly where I was when I saw this:

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I walked down to the Casino, where I was surprised and delighted to find a classic-car rally in progress. For a “modest” donation to the Prince’s favorite charity (something to do with heart disease, as I recall), you could rent any of a number of privately owned classic cars and drive them around. Here are a few of the stunners on display.

My favorite was the Aventador, though; without a doubt it is the most beautiful manufactured object I’ve ever seen in person. Sadly this photo doesn’t do it justice.

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The casino itself isn’t too shabby either.

I walked around the casino area for a while, taking pictures as the mood struck me. It’s a delightful area for people-watching, of course, and there was plenty of that on offer. I saw and heard tourists from all over the place. Then I took the train back to Beaulieu, where Justin suggested to me that I try dinner at Les Vents des Anges in town. The highlight was this salad, consisting of warmed rounds of goat cheese on toasted local bread with fresh greens and peppers. It was, hands down, the best salad I’ve ever eaten, and the wine and entree (saltimbocca, in this case) were equally good. A short walk back home, and then it was bedtime.

The next morning dawned sunny and clear. Justin and I had planned to meet for breakfast at 730 then roll out shortly thereafter. It took 20 min or so to mount my pedals, bike computer, and camera on the bike, get it adjusted, and so on, then we rolled out. Check out this route….

Relive ‘Do Epic Shit: Beaulieu to Tourrette and back’

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We were able to leave Beaulieu and head west into Nice, starting with a short climb into Villefranche and then riding along Nice’s excellent cycle path that parallels the famous Promenade des Anglais. Then the ride started in earnest. Our first stop was in La Colle-sur-Loup for a snack, which in this case was a marvelous berry tart and a cup of poisonously strong coffee. The whole town square, and most of the surrounding streets, were filled with… a PTA fundraiser for the village school. Yep. You read that right. Change the language on the signs, bring in some box-mix cupcakes, and turn all the volunteering moms into non-smokers and the whole event could have been plucked right from suburban America.

Best. dessert. ever,

Then back on the road! The toughest part of the ride was just ahead: the long climb into Tourrette-sur-Loup, which interestingly enough is part of the Ironman Nice course. This offered remarkable scenery in all directions, including up and down.

We stopped in Tourrette-sur-Loup for a splendid lunch: another great salad and a marvelous lasagna. (Italian food is pretty common in this part of France, perhaps unsurprising given how close Italy is). We also filled our bike bottles at the municipal fountain. Nearly every village has one, and the water at each of the ones we sampled was clear, cold, and delightfully fresh.

After lunch, we rolled back into Nice along a slightly different route– no steep descents, but a very pleasant series of switchbacks and hairpins. It took me nearly this long to understand why the bike Justin rented me seemed so smooth and quiet compared to my Cervelo P2: I have race wheels with a racheting freehub, so when I coast, they make that super-cool clicking noise. This bike didn’t have that, plus the drivetrain was adjusted to approximately the precision level of the Space Shuttle, so it was a delightfully smooth and quiet ride.

Along the way, I was able to pause to take a couple of photos of scenic spots. Also along the way, we made one final stop for ice cream, which I sadly forgot to take a picture of.

A note about the roads: even in this rural area, the roads we rode on were marvelously smooth and well-maintained, with good markings and signage. About 99% of the drivers we encountered gave us a wide passing margin, and I never felt unsafe or threatened. We saw a few dozen other cyclists along the route and everyone was friendly.

Back at the apartment post-ride, I used the provided laundry machines to wash my kit while I drank a beer and looked out at the water, then, reluctantly, I packed my stuff and departed for my next leg of the trip.

Overall, I could not be more pleased with the Azur Cycle Tours experience. Justin was an excellent host, with encyclopedic knowledge of the local area and route. He kept up an informative and interesting commentary about what we were seeing as we rode; he chose a route that was appropriate for my skill level but still challenging, and he made me feel like a welcome guest instead of the tour du jour. I am looking forward to returning and riding a more challenging route in the future!

[ed. note: I wrote this using a Windows machine and I refuse to deal with its stupidity when it comes to entering accented characters– please be reassured that my French spelling is better than shown here.] 

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Training Tuesday: riding bike courses with Rouvy

I got a smart trainer (a Wahoo KICKR SNAP) last November but didn’t really start trying to use it until a couple of months ago. Since then, I’ve had a few different experiences getting it to work with various accessories and features. I now have it working reliably with three different programming sources:

  • I can manually control the trainer using the Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer. This lets me set the trainer to hold a particular effort level so I can just steadily pedal, or to load interval workouts that I’ve created or been assigned in TrainingPeaks.
  • I can drive the trainer using the Zwift app. This allows me to ride through a video-game-looking world with other virtual riders; there are courses that cover London and Richmond, along with a mythical island kingdom known as Watopia.
  • I can ride Sufferfest videos, which I love doing, and the app can control the resistance of the trainer according to whatever workout I’m supposed to be doing.

However, there’s one programming source I hadn’t tried yet– I wanted to experiment with riding a real-world route. Specifically, I wanted to ride the IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga bike course on the trainer, so that I could see the course and get used to the hills, but the weather was bad on the course-preview-ride day and the logistics didn’t work out for me to get there another time. I figured I’d try doing it in software.

First I downloaded Bkool, because a friend of mine had recommended it. After signing up for the free trial, I found that the app would crash immediately after sign-in 100% of the time on my iPad. Thank goodness for free trials.

Then I went to poke around the DC Rainmaker site and found this typically thorough guide to trainer apps. After reading it, I downloaded 2 more apps: FulGaz and Rouvy. Like Bkool, they both have free trials.

I tried FulGaz first and was really impressed with how pretty it was– but it didn’t have the Chattanooga course, so that was that.

Next I tried Rouvy. Signup went flawlessly and I found the Chattanooga course, loaded it, and started riding.

What I didn’t notice is that it was the Chattanooga 70.3 World Championship course. I couldn’t figure out why it was so damn hilly and tough. Eventually I did figure it out. But that’s another story.

Below are a few screen shots from a ride I did the other day along the route for stage 1 of the 2017 Tour de France. Rouvy shows three or four views, depending on how the course is set up. The first view is the default, showing you a Google Maps-based view of the area, with a data pane on the left showing pace, power, etc. You can see that I’m at the very beginning of the stage, which started in Dusseldorf. You’ll see this view any time there’s no video associated with the course.

The course view shows you what you’d see if you were actually riding on the course. You can see power, pace, and so on in the left pane, and there’s a helpful horizontal scale that shows you the current incline (0.7% in this case) along with the upcoming incline. The video is synchronized to your pace, so the faster you pedal, the faster you appear to be riding. Different routes have different video quality, depending on what kind of camera the rider used, whether it was stabilized, and so on.

Rolling through Dusseldorf

The next view is all data. I don’t really want to look at this view when riding, but it’s there if you like it.



The fourth view, shown above, shows you a real-time strip-chart-style view of your 3 key metrics: heart rate, pedal cadence, and power output. You also get the profile view along the bottom to show you the terrain you’re riding over.

Everything I did with Rouvy worked flawlessly: when I finished my rides, they were automatically uploaded to Strava and TrainingPeaks, the auto-pause and auto-resume features worked well mid-ride, and I didn’t have any problems with video dropouts or freezes, application crashes, or other ill behavior.

I need a few more rides with it to make sure, but I love the idea of being able to ride a real course, with video when I want to see it. Typically if I’m doing an interval workout I’ll use a Sufferfest video and stream it to the projector; if I’m doing an endurance ride I’ll put on Zwift (so I get some variety in the route and terrain) and leave it on the iPad while I watch Netflix or something on the projector. The ability to ride a real route, with high quality video on the projector, might be enough to get me to change that habit.

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Training Tuesday: Reykjavik Midnight Sun 10K race report

I just came back from presenting at Office 365 Engage, where I had a terrific time. More on the conference in another post. As a new conference, the organizers’ budget was somewhat limited, so they gave me a 1500 EUR limit on airfare, which meant I could only afford a convoluted itinerary on JetBlue and Icelandair. However, Icelandair offers free stopovers, so I decided to take a couple of days after my trip to sightsee.

As is my habit, I spent some time looking for interesting places to run before my trip. The folks in /r/visitingIceland were very helpful, and I found https://runninginiceland.com, which led me to the Suzuki Midnight Sun run: 5K, 10K, and half-marathon distances, all starting at or just after 9pm. I immediately signed up online for the half.

Logistics

The race website was clear and easy to follow, and I got multiple mails in the days leading up to the race recapping the race routes, where to park, and so on. The race organizers sell race medals and shirts separately, so you don’t have to pay for them if you don’t want them. Packet pickup was on race day only, from 4p-845p, at the Laugardalshöll sports hall; it was well organized and smooth. I got in, grabbed my race number, bought a race shirt, and was out again all within 10 minutes. I made a game-day decision to move down from the half distance to the 10K because of a lingering hamstring problem, aggravated by the 9.5 miles I had already walked while sightseeing Friday; the race staff easily handled the changeover. In addition to the booth selling race shirts, the expo had a small table selling various Adidas goodies. One thing I particularly appreciated is that Laugardalshöll has plenty of bathrooms.

Men’s room? Right this way

The Airbnb I stayed in also hosted two Americans who were running the race, although I didn’t meet them until maybe 2 hours before the race start. We drove over 45min or so before start time, easily found a place to park, and joined the large crowd avoiding the wind inside the hall.

The hall before the race

 

Weather

Friday’s weather was pretty good for running: it was about 10ºC and mostly overcast, but a bit windy: a steady 30km/h wind from the north, with occasional higher gusts. I was sightseeing all day and got rained on and fairly wind-blasted during the day, but the rain had thankfully stopped by 9pm. I wore shorts, a long-sleeve tech shirt, and a light rain shell, which I took off about halfway through the race.

Race start

The RD started with a brief announcement that there were nearly 3000 registered runners, 1200 from outside Iceland, from a total of 52 countries, making this by far the most international event I’ve run in. The half marathon and 10K groups started together. As you can see from the race maps, the two courses follow a common path for the first few km, then the longer distance runners split off. The corral had pace signs and runners were encouraged to group according to their projected pace but there were no pacers.

The race start. Big crowd!

The course

Scenic, mostly on paved paths and some on residential streets. The course runs through a pretty valley and along a stream with a couple of waterfalls, like this one.

Oh, just an Icelandic waterfall

I saw two mother geese with goslings and a few rabbits along the stream, which was cool.

Not shown: large quantities of goose poop on trail

The first 3km has a few small rollers, with a larger and longer climb (maybe 30m elevation change?) from 4km-6km. There was one water stop, which had water, Powerade (a race sponsor), and 2 portajohns. The course was well-marked, with each km indicated and plenty of volunteers to keep runners from going off course. I didn’t see any split timers on the course and there were no on-course timing mats.

My performance

Because my hamstring had been hurting, and my right IT band had joined the party after my warmup run in Haarlem, I planned to take it easy and treat this like a training run. My 10K PR is 54:37 and I didn’t have any ambition of setting a new one on this run. The first 5km or so were fine; the hamstring was quiet and I held a good pace (modulo the time I spent in the portapotty at the rest stop– that cost me 2min or so). About 7km in, my left calf started to tighten, and this progressed into a numbness in my left forefoot. This has happened occasionally around the same distance in both my right and left feet since I switched to my current Brooks Adrenalines, which means pretty clearly I need different shoes. Anyway, it’s damn hard to maintain a good pace when you can’t feel one of your feet, so I slowed down and even walked a few stretches. About 9km it had loosened a bit and I was able to run more normally.

I ended up running a 1:02, well off my PR for the 10K distance. Strava data.

The finish

The finish line featured a traditional chute, right after which volunteers handed out race medals for those who’d bought them in advance. The recovery area had free water, Powerade, and half-bananas. There were a couple of booths set up where you could buy (delicious) Icelandic hotdogs and other snacks. The race also includes admission to the pool complex nearby at Laugardalslaug, so we headed over there. The logistics of using Icelandic public pools are worth a separate post. Suffice to say that you must be fully comfortable with locker-room nudity, large crowds, and crowding in the hot tub… but it was lovely to be able to have a good thermal soak after a long run.

Wrapup

My race experience was a 9/10: a high-energy fun crowd, beautiful course, and the unique aspect of running a race at a time when it would normally be pitch dark all combined to make a great memory. I’d love to go back and run the half, or (better yet), the Reykjavik marathon. Highly recommended.

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Training Tuesday: time to work on my bike repair skills

Warning: this post contains disturbing images of graphic violence that may not be suitable for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

This weekend, Dana and I had planned to go for a bike ride on the Arsenal, so I loaded up my bike. First, though, we’d planned to go see Wonder Woman (which I highly recommend– great flick). Because I didn’t want to have my bike stolen by some miscreant, I secured it to the rack with a cable lock.

After we left the theater, I heard a thump and looked out my rear view mirror just in time to see my poor bike departing its slot in the rack, where it was dragged along for 50yds or so by the cable lock until I could safely pull over.

Dana is not amused.

The first thing I noticed was that I’m going to need new handlebars (and bar tape, which I wanted to replace anyway).

Ever wonder what carbon fiber looks like on the inside? Now you know.

The front tire sidewall was abraded enough to ruin the tire, and the corner of the saddle got chewed up pretty badly too. I think I can duct tape this as a temporary fix.

Sad saddle

The retaining strap that I used to secure the wheel to the rack slot was missing. My best guess? Someone wanted to steal the bike, lifted the top clamp, and then gave up when they found the cable lock in place. I didn’t check the rack so I didn’t notice until it was too late. Thankfully the frame and the carbon wheel fairings seem undamaged, although the rear freehub is making a new noise I don’t like. Bar tape is en route from Amazon and mi amigo Lance is giving me a spare set of bars, so hopefully this weekend I can watch enough YouTube videos to learn how to disassemble my brake hoods and shifters, port them to the new bars, and wrap everything.

Meanwhile, I still don’t have a saddle for my tri bike, so I either better get to Bicycle Cove and spend some money or swap out running for riding for the next week or two…

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Powerlifting meet report: Empire of Renegades, 3 June 2017, Huntsville

I just competed in my third powerlifting meet, Empire of Renegades. It was a blast!

Originally I had planned to lift at Europa Orlando two weeks ago, and had trained for that, but the airplane nose landing gear broke and Matt and I got temporarily stuck in Adel, Georgia. Luckily while I was sulking in my hotel room, I found this meet, which was only about 10min from my house, so I signed up and got ready to kick it. I have long had the goal of getting to 1000# total and I thought that maaaaybe this might be the day, if everything broke perfectly well for me.

Training and meet prep

Most athletes who are preparing for a meet will follow elaborate training programs with a goal of peaking their strength right at meet time. Because I’m coached by the team at Complete Human Performance, I just do what my coach (a pro triathlete) tells me to do. Typically I lift 3x/week (upper one day, squats/deads one day, one day of combo), usually with a LISS run or bike afterwards. The other days are higher intensity cardio. This is liberating since I don’t have to worry about my programming, but undoubtedly means I’m leaving pounds on the rack since I am not trying to optimize my lifts. I lift in my garage, with no spotter or live coaching. My technique probably has lots of room for improvement. So I didn’t do anything super special for the meet other than tell Jon, my coach, three months ago that I had a meet planned.

All powerlifting federations separate lifters into different weight classes. In general, you want to be as heavy as possible within your weight class, but as light as possible overall (because your overall score is computed using your total bodyweight). Like wrestlers and UFC fighters, then, powerlifters have a whole science around trying to drop weight without losing muscle. I usually walk around about 205 lbs, and that would put me in the 220lb weight class against much stronger lifters. I decided to try to get down to 198 or below using a water cut. The idea behind these cuts is simple: by manipulating your fluid and salt intake, you trick your body into dehydrating itself. A typical plan might look like this for a Friday morning weigh-in:

  • Monday: drink a gallon of water, cut down dietary salt, lower the amount of carbs you eat
  • Tuesday: drink 2 gallons of water, with minimal salt and low carbs
  • Wednesday: drink a gallon of water and don’t eat anything
  • Thursday: drink half a gallon of water, no carbs, and nothing after 5:30pm. Spend a little time in the sauna in the afternoon
  • Friday: wake up, go get weighed in, and then start dehydrating and refeeding

I roughly followed this plan, but I didn’t start until Tuesday (Monday I had the Cotton Row 10K race in hot, humid conditions so I ate and drank like a pig until I got up Tuesday morning). That worked fine; I weighed in at 88.1kg. after having 2 gallons of liquid Tuesday with a mostly normal diet, nothing except eggs, cheese, and hot sauce (and a handful of peanuts, I’m weak) with 1 gallon Wednesday, 1/2 gallon and protein only Thursday, then weigh-in Friday morning.

Mid-week I stumbled across Bigger, Smaller, Bigger and will probably use it next time. It makes for a fun read even if you aren’t a powerlifter.

The meet

Crossfit Xiphos hosted the meet; we had 45 lifters arranged into 3 flights. I want to start off by saying that the meet was very well organized and run. Everything was smooth despite the fact that more than half of the lifters were doing their first meet!

A digression about how meets are organized. Each lifter gets 3 attempts for each event. In a full power meet (meaning the lifters will squat, bench press, and deadlift), you thus have 9 tries to lift. Saying that you went “9 for 9” or “2 for 9” thus indicates how successful you were overall. You tell the meet officials what your opening attempt weights will be for each of the 3 lifts, then, if you lift that weight, you can go up (by as much or as little as you want) for each subsequent attempt. There is a lot of strategy behind choosing weights; more on that later.

Once everyone’s checked in, the officials break all the lifters into groups called flights, based on their body weight and the amount of weight they said they’d lift in their opening attempt. The lightest lifter is the first lifter in the A flight, and (in general) the person lifting the most weight will be the last lifter in the last flight. For each lift, the first lifter in the A flight does her thing, then the second person in A flight, and so on. After the last A lifter has lifted, the first A lifter takes a second attempt, and so on. This is harder to explain than it is to do.

I was either #1 or #2 in the B flight for each of the 3 lifts. Based on my lifts, the only reason I wasn’t in A is because more than half of A were novice female lifters (several of whom set Alabama state records, which was extremely cool to see!)

During each lift, there are 3 judges watching you: the head judge is in the center, with one judge on either side. They each have a little switch that illuminates either a red or white light. You need 2 or 3 white lights for a lift to count– get 2 or 3 reds and your attempt is considered a “no lift” and doesn’t count. The head judge gives the lifter commands. You have to wait for these commands before you do anything. For example, in the squat, here’s what happens:

  1. The head judge says “The platform is ready” and you get on the platform and address the bar.
  2. At your own pace, you unrack the bar and walk it out to your preferred position.
  3. The judge says “SQUAT” and you can start the squat, at your own pace. You come up at your own pace.
  4. When you’ve stood all the way up, and have the weight under control and not moving, the judge will say “RACK” and you put it back into the rack.

There are different commands for the other lifts, of course. These commands are what burned me at my last meet– I missed my first squat attempt and was thereafter so frazzled that I blew a couple of attempts just by missing commands. It’s easy to get so focused on your body that you lose awareness of what the judge is telling you to do.

Squat

I warmed up light: 10 reps bar only, then worked up to 125kg x1. I’d planned for an opener at 140kg, with my other attempts bracketed per David Dellanave’s excellent advice about attempt selection. Summary: pick an opener that’s   “a weight you can lift 10 times out of 10 with a cold and a headache,” then decide ahead of time what your second and third attempts will be based on how easy or hard the opener is… and then stick to the plan.

My opener was a headache-and-cold winner: 140kg, 3 whites. Sadly I had a camera problem, so no video of that.

Second attempt I chose 150kg, at the top end of my bracket. Three more whites.

Third attempt I had 155kg at the top of my bracket. I took 157.5kg instead, smoked it, and ended up with a new 12lb PR… sadly, I was too conservative here and could probably have gone 162.5kg. That choice turned out to be important later.

(Side note: we had two dudes go over 700#. One attempted 777# and damn near got it. This was super motivating to watch.)

Bench

I have poverty bench. At 6’3″ with giant albatross arms, my leverage sucks, and my form is, shall we say, unique. I opened at 100kg, well within my cold-and-a-headache range, and got it.

For round two, I had bracketed 105 at my top end and got it, but it was a bit of a fight– probably RPE 7.

Discarding good judgement, and David’s advice, I went for 110kg on attempt #3 and couldn’t lock it out. That was the only lift I missed but I was bummed. Learning for the future: don’t get greedy.

Deadlift

I love the deadlift. I especially love it at meets, when the crowd gets more and more excited as people work up to their third attempts and we see some crazy numbers on the bar. My opener was 165kg, which flew up. However, I got one red light because I lowered the weight before the command– too much excitement, I guess.

I had bracketed 172.5 through 177.5 for my second attempt but had forgotten to look at my bracket before I went on the platform. Sadly I told the scorer that I wanted 172.5 for my second attempt– that proved to be too light, as it flew up. You can see the bar flex as I lift the weight. It’s not that I was lifting a lot (although 380lb is respectable), but that a deadlift barbell has more “whip” in it than a bar that you’d use for squats or bench press. The whip makes a big difference. On my shopping list for my home gym: a deadlift bar. Maybe someday…

For attempt 3 I decided to try for a PR at 182.5. I smoked it too. David talks about the importance of choosing a big third deadlift attempt when you’re competing against other people and trying to win, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t get as aggressive as I could have here.

The aftermath

Only after I sat down did I realize that I totaled at 445kg, just 10kg short of my goal. This goes back to a key point David makes in his attempt selection guide. In retrospect, I could have made up that 10kg by not missing my 3rd bench (putting another 2.5kg on the total) and then getting a measly 7.5kg total across squat and deadlift– both of which I could’ve done.

Despite that I was well satisfied. With two PRs on the day, and 8/9 total, it was a day well spent. My neighbors Ashley, Erica, and Michael came by at various times to watch; Dana was there cheering me on and making sure I had food, and it was a great positive and fun atmosphere. I feel like my hard work in the gym paid off and I look forward to what’s next!

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