Tag Archives: cycling

Havana, day 2

Day 1 of our trip was about getting settled in. Day 2 was all about race prep.

Lance and I got up early-ish and went for a short run along the Malécon. We started from our apartment (the little red pin on the map), so you can sort of see where we were situated compared to the rest of Old Havana. This was just a short shakeout run, so we made a couple of stops for picture-taking along the eastern leg. You can’t see it in the map, but there’s a really interesting old fort across the strait to the east.

Running along the Malécon

Running along the Malécon

Called Castillo de la Punta, its construction started in 1590. It offers a great landmark from anywhere along the shoreline to the west because its promontory is further to the north than the rest of Havana. It makes a great scenic backdrop, too.

Castillo de la Punta

Castillo de la Punta

Further to the south along our run route, we saw a couple of cruise ships jockeying for entrance into the port. Non-US-flagged cruise lines have been stopping at some other Cuban resorts for a few years now but having them come into, or just offshore, Havana is fairly new.

Paul and Lance on the run

Paul and Lance on the run

After our run, we met up with the rest of the posse and finished getting our gear and bikes together. This was quite a production, as Julio, the 6th member of our group, was staying one block away. We’d arranged for Eric to bring a friend with a truck, so we set out on the half-hour drive from our apartment to Marina Hemingway, named after Papa himself. The drive took us through a row of embassies (not including the US embassy; more on that later) and some scenic residential neighborhoods. The marina itself was pretty well representative of Cuba: dilapidated in spots but still functional. The marina has two hotels: Hotel Acuario and El Viejo y La Mar (“The Old Man and the Sea”), which is being renovated.

The Old Man and the Sea-themed fountain

The Old Man and the Sea-themed fountain

The registration events were all held at Acuario, more or less. We were told the workflow would go like this:

  1. Get a race number and athlete wristband
  2. Drop off our bikes and bike bags in T1
  3. Drop off our run bags at T2

In my race report, I alluded to a certain degree of disorganization at registration, so it may not surprise you to know that things didn’t exactly work this way. We stood in line for a solid two hours to get in and register– registration opened at 10 and we were in line about 1015. The registration process itself was a maelstrom of people milling around trying to do 4 simple things: sign a waiver, sign up for race photos, get a race packet with numbers and so on, and get the coveted wristband. The volunteers seemed overwhelmed, and the layout was such that the crowd was funneled to the photo station first.. where you couldn’t sign up without your race number, which you wouldn’t have at that point. You get the idea.

Eventually we survived that process and walked back over to where we’d parked to get our bikes and bags. Each of us had to take all of our stuff and pack it into the event-provided T1 and T2 bags, so that took a few minutes. Then it was back to standing in another line to drop off our bikes and bags. This process was more smoothly organized: each of us had to find our numbered slot in the bike racks, park our bike, and hang our bike bags on the corresponding numbered hook. Run bags? Oh, yeah, we had to leave those too. At various times we were told that we could set up normal transition areas near our bikes, that we must set them up, and that we could not set them up (also that we could and/or could not leave helmets and shoes with the bikes). Oh, and also that we would and/or would not have access to our run bags before the race. You get the idea here too.

After another hour or so of fumbling around in the heat, everyone had their gear staged and we wandered off to find lunch. This was a bit of a challenge; our drivers had left, and the marina only featured one restaurant. Lonely Planet characterizes by saying that you can eat there, if you have no better options, which you won’t if you’re at the marina. They were right. Nothing was bad but it was, at best, mediocre. I had shrimp pasta; the shrimp and pasta were perfectly all right but they were served in an odd not-Italian tomato sauce.

Cuban pizza

Cuban pizza; note the skeptical looks of Tony and Julio

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The Cuban national tourism agency had offered a tour package for triathletes that included airport transfers, rooms at the Hotel Naciónal, and some other goodies. We found a bus going to the hotel and got on it; no one asked if we were supposed to be there, so we enjoyed the air conditioning and ended up at one of Havana’s most venerable institutions.

The imposing Hotel Naciónal

The imposing Hotel Naciónal

The hotel is set on a hill, and it has a commanding view of the water from its back terrace. Naturally, we immediately went there, whereupon I met a new friend… because of course he’d be there.

No word on whether he supports Fidel

No word on whether he supports Fidel

We hung out at the hotel using their wifi for an hour or so, then Lance and I took a classic-car taxi back to the marina while the others went home.

Riding dirty

Riding dirty

The idea was that we didn’t need to all go to the race briefing, so Lance and I volunteered to go find out two important factoids: whether the swim would be wetsuit-legal and whether ITU rules allowed swimming bare-chested. The answers turned out to be “maybe” and “yes”, and we were able to avoid having to wait until 7pm or later to find that out. We left the marina on foot and walked around the area a bit, including crossing the small and sluggish Rio Jaimanitas, before we caught a taxi back– a late-model British MG sedan that had seat belts and air conditioning– the only vehicle I rode in the whole trip that had either, much less both. On the other hand, I’d just as soon have no seat belts and no AC if it means I could roll around in this beauty all day:

What a beauty

What a beauty

We got back to the apartment and back-briefed everyone on what we’d learned. They’d already had dinner, so Lance and I walked a block over to the Malécon to look for dinner, where we found Castropol. Named after the town in Spain, and not You Know Who, this was a lovely surprise. It was easily on a par with the best meals I’ve had anywhere else; I had a grilled chicken breast with arroz moro, some fried plantains with garlic and salt, and a no-kidding-really-delicious bottle of mineral water (usually that stuff tastes awful but this was great). Portions were generous, service was friendly and quick, there was great live music, and the sidewalk-level people watching opportunities were excellent. They also have a second level of the restaurant where they specialize in Italian food, but we never made it back there to try it.

Grilled chicken? Why, yes, thank you

Grilled chicken? Why, yes, thank you

Full and sleepy after the 10 or so miles I’d walked/run that day, I headed back to the apartment and was in bed by about 830p. Now might be a good time to mention that I’d been getting steadily more and more congested– going through a pack or so of Kleenex and 2 12-hour pseudoephedrines per day, yet still continually honking like a foghorn. I was feeling a bit run down but was optimistic that a good night’s sleep would set me right. If you’ve read my race report, you already know how that turned out.

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Training Tuesday: Havana Triathlon race report (25 Feb 2017)

(The Garmin Connect app doesn’t work on Cuban government wifi, so I can’t post course maps, etc. The final race results aren’t up, and since I didn’t have my phone I don’t have any pictures from the race itself, so this report is all you get for right now.)
Summary: great experience, awful performance. 8:12 for a 70.3 is nothing to get excited about. I guess I was not as well prepared as I thought, but there were a couple of other external factors. First is the fact I was sick. I didn’t realize how sick until today (Tuesday), 3 days post-race, when I’m feeling normal and comparing it to how I felt the day before and the day of the race. I had been sniffling and snuffling all week, since maybe 2 days before we left, and was regularly taking 12hr pseudoephedrine for a solid week before race day… not a great setup for the race. I was short on sleep ( people here don’t really get their nights started until midnight or so, so we’ve had significant traffic noise and street noise each night), averaging about 5hrs of real sleep each night for the 4 days pre-race day. I also ate poorly, out of necessity, the day and a half before the race. Those aren’t excuses, but they were definitely factors.

Prep

We spent the entire day before the race getting registered, dropping off our bikes and transition stuff, and so on. I logged about 10 miles of walking. This was not a good idea. Race registration was at the marina; it took about 2 hours to get through packet pickup, then we had to drop off our bikes. The best word to describe the race was “disorganized.” There was a lot of mis-information and non-information, and the whole experience really made me appreciate how hard RDs have to work to put on a smoothly running race. This is only the 3rd year for this race so I am confident that they will improve.

This was a point-to-point race: all our bike stuff went in 1 bag, and all our run stuff in another. We dropped the bike bag off with the bike and gave the run bag to the organizers, who staged it at T2 for us. This put a very high premium on making sure the right stuff was in the right bag, which for the most part I got right. However, that process adds some mental stress, even if you’re a heavy checklist user, as I am.

I had a small lunch (shrimp pasta in an interesting but odd not-tomato sauce) and a good but small dinner (grilled chicken, rice, black beans, a few slices of fried plantain) and got to bed about 830p, where I slept for maybe 5 hours total.

Pregame

I got up at 410a, had breakfast (small pack of honey roasted peanuts, a protein bar, plenty of water), and met the others downstairs for our van ride to the marina. The organizers had told us that we’d have access to our bikes so we could fill bottles, etc, and this turned out to be true. They had also said we’d have access to our run bags, which was not, so I started the run with no water… more on that later. There were nearly 800 participants in the race, for which the organizers thoughtfully provided two (2) portapotties. With no toilet paper. That was awesome. Luckily I had some Kleenex with me.

There was a great deal of confusion over where the swim was supposed to start. Nothing was marked, and none of the volunteers seemed to know what was what. Once the sprint swim started, the RD eventually herded everyone to the right area and collected our after-race bags. Before the swim, I put my glasses, street clothes, etc. into that bag for access later.

Weather and conditions

It was mid-70s at swim start, with a water temperature of about 76. The wind was calm until later in the day– it started to pick up about 11a and reached its peak when during the run leg on the Malécon. The forecast high temperature was 85. I don’t know how hot it got, except that the temperature sensor on my watch registered a max of 105. When it’s on my arm, it reads about 15 degrees higher than ambient FWIW.

Swim

The RD said wetsuits were optional, so I swam with my sim shorts. The plan was to jump in the water at the land side of one of the marina’s berthing lanes, swim down that lane, across the mouth of the adjacent lane, and back down the next lane, for a total of 2100 yards or so. I don’t have good data from the swim– my watch showed I swam 1375 yards in 48:08, but the other guys with me all had correct distances, and the race results aren’t posted online so I can’t cross-check. I felt pretty good on the swim overall, at least until last night when Lance told me he saw two of the yachts in the lane we were in pumping gray water overboard as we swam past. One interesting note: when I jumped in, I forgot to hold my nose and so pumped my sinuses full of marina water. My nose was fine for the rest of the race, go figure.

T1

T1 took 11:08. FAR TOO LONG. This consisted of a 1/4mi or so run from the swim exit to the bike area. Our bike bags were hung on numbered hooks, and volunteers were checking numbers so that by the time each athlete got to the hook, they’d pulled the correct bag. ITU rules don’t allow setting up transitions in advance, so I had to dig through my bag to get socks, shoes, chamois cream, a shirt, sunglasses, bike computer, and nutrition, then get it all put on or tucked in pockets, then run out to the bike and set it up the rest of the way.

Bike

The bike course started with a couple of short climbs that I wasn’t expecting. I’ll put the route map on my blog later when I have Internet again (or you can look it up if you follow me on Strava), but basically we rode around a residential district, then up Linea (one of the main drags) and through El Tunel Linea, then turned around and reversed the route and diverted onto the main east-west autopista. There were tons of volunteers and cops managing both vehicular and pedestrian traffic; they had shut down our side of Linea for racing, so all the traffic was squeezed into the opposite side of the boulevard. I give the race organizers full points for this.

Havana is not what I’d call a polluted city but there is much more vehicle exhaust than Americans are used to– lots of poorly tuned 2-stroke gas engines and big diesels. Riding through that was not my favorite. In addition, there are tons of road hazards. I would describe the overall road conditions as fair– the worst of the roads we rode are no worse than some of the hot spots on Redstone Arsenal or the area near my house (I’m looking at you, Burgreen Road). There are lots of potholes, sunken manhole covers, and so on, and none of them were marked, but they were easy to see.

On the autopista, the course was a series of very long 1-3%climbs and short, quick descents out to about 35mi, then a turn back into the city. As the day wore on it got hotter and windier, with a moderate cross headwind on the way back in.

There were 5 or 6 aid stations with bottled water on the bike course. I drank probably 6 bottles of water on the bike, had a Honey Stinger waffle each hour, and had a small banana (maybe 5″ long) at the turnaround rest area. At the first rest stop (maybe 20mi in) I stopped, put on my arm sleeves, and soaked them, my head, and my jersey with water. That helped a bit. At the turnaround rest stop I stopped again and drank an incredibly tasty can of the local equivalent of orange Gatorade– muchas gracias to the volunteers who thought to have that on hand.

After the highway the route took us back up Linea and through the tunnel again. (I did shout “TUNNELLLLLLLLL” each time I rode through it, like the kids and I used to do when driving through tunnels, so that was fun). There were several groups of uniformed schoolchildren along the route who went nuts whenever they saw a cyclist, so that was really fun.

I tried to stay in the prescribed power range but on the back half of the bike course was trying to make up time and started pushing harder. This was a critical mistake. 3:41 on the bike, when I was hoping for 3:15 or better, was rough.

T2

T2 was set up right near the US embassy and Monte de las Banderas, a local monument with some Fidel-era slogans. Racers biked in and handed their bikes to a handler, who racked it, then ran down the chute to get their run bags. I did that, found a changing tent, and started trying to change, but I was in a fog– I put my belt on backwards, couldn’t get my shoes on the right feet, and went the wrong way leaving the chute. There was no water in T2, so I started the run with empty bottles. 8:05 in T2, most of which was spent sitting trying to catch my breath. I was so hot I actually had goosebumps. I’m lucky it wasn’t longer.

Run

I ran for, maybe, half a mile and then my legs just gave out and I walked. Occasionally I burst into a dispirited sort of trot but I was having trouble moving my legs. Eventually I shuffled through the first aid station and got some water in my bottles, on my arm sleeves, over my head, and down my back. I wish I could say that I magically revived but no. I nearly quit about a dozen times but kept shuffling to a 3:20 finish. That is by far the worst half marathon I’ve ever run, both in terms of time and of quality. There is no way to dress it up or make it look better.

Oh, did I mention that there were no bathrooms on the bike or run courses? No? Because there weren’t. I barged into a restaurant on the Malécon for my run potty break. Twice. Hope they didn’t mind.

The finish

All my friends finished before me, so I had a great welcoming committee as I crossed the finish line and got my medal and finisher’s shirt. I plopped down and collected myself for a few minutes, then Craig and I took a cocotaxi back, which was like riding inside the Devil’s lawnmower, with lots of exhaust and swerving. Warren was kind enough to ride my bike back for me and put it away. 

Post game

Literally all I could do when I got back to the apartment was sit in a chair, stretched out. I couldn’t really turn my head because my shoulders and neck were so tight, and I didn’t even have the energy to banter. I have never felt so sick or tired after a race. I eventually straggled upstairs for a shower and a half-hour nap, which helped. The thought of food was absolutely repulsive, so when the posse went out for dinner I went to bed instead about 830p and slept for maybe 7 hours total. The next morning, I got up and picked my way listlessly through the excellent breakfast buffet at the Parque Central hotel and then shuffled through the Museum of the Revolution (more details on both of those in a later post), then went back to the apartment for a big long nap. I didn’t really start feeling normal until Monday afternoon but am now fully recovered. Lots to learn from the overall experience, including a) don’t race when you’re sick and b) make sure your race prep is strong. Onwards!

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Training Tuesday: training with heart rate variability (HRV)

[For some reason this scheduled post didn’t post on Tuesday so I’m manually reposting it day late. Selah.]

Normally, I’m not a big podcast listener because I (thankfully) don’t spend much time in the car, and I find having people talking in the background while I work distracting. However, working on the Office 365 Exposed podcast with Tony has helped me see that lots of people do like them, and that I might be missing out, so I’ve expanded my listening a bit. When I found that my coaching team at Complete Human Performance had a podcast, I subscribed. The most recent episode was with Dr. Mike T. Nelson, and he was discussing something called HRV (heart rate variability). It was a fascinating topic so I want to try to summarize what I (think I) learned:

  • HRV refers to the variance in the amount of time between heartbeats (not your heart rate itself)
  • It’s calculated based on heart rate measurements, from an EKG or other methods.
  • The most commonly used scale gives you a rating from 1-100.
  • You want your HRV to be high. A low HRV is generally a bad sign, and may in some cases even indicate impending heart problems.
  • The trend of your HRV is a useful indicator of fatigue, stress, and so on.
  • People who have low HRV values after heart surgery tend to have worse outcomes

Tracking HRV is especially useful for endurance athletes because it gives you a data point showing the total amount of stress that your cardiovascular system has been under. Mike Nelson, in the podcast, said that you should think of HRV as reflecting the cost of everything you do. Exercise, diet, rest, job stress, and personal stress all add to this cost. Factoring all those in, and measuring your HRV daily, you should be able to intensify or ease your workouts to keep your day-to-day HRV in the desired range.

“You can measure HRV with an app,” he said, so I did– I paused the podcast, grabbed the iThlete app, read its instructions, and took a reading. Mid-50s.

Nelson went on to outline a number of strategies for adjusting training to take HRV data into account– you want to get the most effective training possible, while still not having a long-term negative impact on HRV. I’m not doing that yet because you need a solid baseline of data to see what your “normal” HRV is. Mine looks like it’s hovering around 60ish. I don’t know enough to know if that’s good, bad, or what considering my age and physical condition, and I don’t yet understand the relationship (if any) between my resting heart rate and my HRV. I’ll keep an eye on it for another month or so and then start considering, in consultation with my coaches, what, if anything, I should use it for besides another nerdy data point.

 

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Training Tuesday: Rocketman 2016 Olympic race report (28-Aug-2016)

The fine folks at reddit’s /r/triathlon have started using the format below for race reports, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Race information

  • What? Rocketman
  • When? August 28, 2016
  • How far? Olympic

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
A < 3:15 No
B < 3:30 Yes
C PR bike, swim, or run Yes

BLUF

PR’d the bike and swim. Had a craptastic run. Beat my time on this course but didn’t get the Olympic PR I was hoping for. 3:23 overall.

Race strategy

My first season, I tried to relay this race and DNF’d due to a bike mechanical. Last year I straggled in at 3:30. Earlier this year I PR’d Renaissance Man at 3:17, so my goals were to PR again, or at least beat last year’s time, and to PR at least one of the events.

Pre-race

In the week leading up to the race, I had an unusually tiring business trip– I averaged 12+ hour workdays and had no juice left for training while on the road, so I wasn’t well rested (plus a big “screw you” to the hotel I always stay at for putting me on the noisy I-5-facing side of the hotel this trip). I rented a pair of Reynolds Strike race wheels from the gang at Blevins Bicycle to see how I liked them. Because of travel Thursday and epic thunderstorms Friday, I wasn’t able to ride them until Saturday, when I took them out for a 40-minute ride with Dana. It was supposed to be an easy Z2 cruise but it was more like a mid-Z3, and then to top it off we added a short brick. Probably not a great idea in retrospect, but I didn’t want to go into the race without having ridden the wheels at least once, and I didn’t think the brick would tire me out too much.

Race day prep

I packed everything into my car the night before and went to bed at a reasonable time, after having eaten sensibly and hydrated pretty much nonstop (I probably doubled my normal fluid intake on Friday and Saturday). I’d previously volunteered for body marking, but the RD told me he needed help with parking, so I got up at 0415 to get to Hobbs Island and start directing traffic. That went well, and I had plenty of time to get set up in transition, say hello to my friends, and see the athletes I’d been working with in Fleet Feet’s Tri201 Olympic tri coaching program. It was clear, 78 degrees, and about 80% humidity when I got to the venue before dawn– an omen of how the day’s weather would develop.

Swim

The Tennessee River is warm this time of year– I heard the race morning water temp was 85 degrees, which wouldn’t surprise me. I actually like river swims, so that didn’t bother me.

Because of the swim course layout, the race uses a wave start– you go down a slide (which is covered with carpet, so you don’t slide, you sort of scooch) into the water, assemble near the start mark, and then swim. I purposefully stayed near the back of my wave when getting in the water, both to minimize the amount of time I’d have to tread water at the start and because I didn’t want to get run over by all the faster swimmers behind me.

The first swimmers went into the water about 30min late because, for whatever reason, the buoys weren’t out on time. This was really strange because normally the RD and staff at Rocketman have everything down to a science (this is the 23rd year, after all) and stuff happens promptly when it’s supposed to. Turns out that this delay was important later.

The course is about 500y upstream, then 200y or so cross-current, then the remainder on a long diagonal back to a pier. Partially thanks to the current, I swam a 1:46/100 pace, which for me is stupid fast– but it wasn’t all current; I was working harder on this swim than usual and I felt it when I got out. Unfortunately, because of poor sighting technique, I swam an extra 400y, so my swim time was 35:xx. That was a PR, though, so I’ll take it.

A quick jog into T1 and I was out again on the bike in 2:xx. For this race, I wore a tri top into the water instead of putting on a bike jersey. Thanks to Dana for suggesting that– between that and the tri bucket she suggested I use, my transition in this race was half what it was at RenMan.

Bike

First: I committed what should be a USAT foul when exiting: I started my bike computer but forgot to hit the lap button on my watch, so now Garmin shows my t1 as having an average speed of 16.x mph. Oh well. You may remember I did the same thing at RenMan. Maybe next race I’ll remember.

The bike course is fairly flat L-shaped out-and-back, with a few rollers, but it’s all two-lane and mostly on a busy segment which isn’t closed for the race. At various points I got stuck behind a landscape truck, nearly wiped out by an asshole in an SUV (right in front of a parked sheriff’s deputy, who ran out into the road yelling, pulled the guy over, and ticketed him– thanks, MCSO!), and saw one each dead possum, skunk, and armadillo. The outbound leg on the long part of the L had a quartering headwind, which was fine; I was able to stay in aero most of the time, though I did have a few scary swerves when wind caught my wheels. I finished in 1:27, which was a PR, so yay me. As usual, when I was looking at my times after the race I thought “dang, I should have pushed harder on the bike.”

The run

I thought this was the worst 10K I’ve ever run (I was wrong, but more on that later). The run course is flat and has some shade, but not much: you run out and back along the river for about 2mi total (with an aid station at about 0.5/1.5mi), then take a shadeless leg through the marina, then onto a local greenway for the remaining distance. I couldn’t sustain any kind of run pace; it was more of a shamble, with frequent walk breaks. My arms and hands were tingling by about mile 3, and I was barely sweating, so I slowed way down and tried to drink as much as I could, knowing that there was no way I was going to PR the run or the race. Selah. I saw lots of other tough athletes suffering on the course, too, including many locals who I know are acclimated to typical temperatures– but thanks in part to the late start, it was 95 degrees when I crossed the finish line, and God only knows what the heat index was. Not a great time. (Turns out I was still faster than my time last year but it didn’t feel like it!)

The first aid station had cold towels, which felt awesome, but sadly most of the other aid stations had room-temperature water and Gatorade. I had brought a Headsweats visor, but sort of wished I had a hat. And some ice. And cooling sleeves, like my coach suggested. Some more sunscreen would have been nice too.

Post-race

The post-race expo at Rocketman is always fun, and I enjoyed catching up with my friends who’d raced. This year, the Renaissance Man and Rocketman RDs offered a challenge: complete both races and get a custom transition towel (I’ll try to post a picture later). Along with the excellent Rocketman visor and shirt, this completed my swag haul since I certainly didn’t podium. I visited for a while, then headed home for some Advil and a nap.

I can’t wait for next year! PR, here I come. Thanks to RD Mike Gerrity and his wife Debbie for their many years of making Rocketman such a great race for athletes!

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Training Tuesday: just call me Sir Paul

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my plan to seek Knighthood. That’s how I spent Saturday, March 19th: on a bike, communicating with my fellow CHP athletes (including Rafe, who wrote his own Knighthood recap) via Skype and Facebook, and pedaling. A lot.

(Side note: if you don’t know what I’m even talking about, you might want to poke around the Sufferlandria web site, which explains the culture, customs, and traditions of that mysterious land.)

I set up my bike on the trainer in my living room, using a dog crate to hold my laptop (for communications), my iPad (for streaming video from the Sufferfest app), and snacks. It was cool outside, so I opened several windows and turned on the ceiling fan; one of my gripes about riding indoors is that you don’t get the cooling breeze from forward motion because there isn’t any.

The Sufferfest videos are organized into a few general categories: racing, endurance, climbing, and so on. They feature a mix of sustained riding at a predetermined pace, intervals at specific power levels, and race simulations (which include both). There are attacks, breakaways, climbs, and all sorts of goodies.

Here’s what happened, as best as I remember.

I got up, had a cup of coffee, checked all my equipment, and had a banana and a protein shake. The night before, I’d laid in a huge cache of supplies, including Oreos, beef jerky, M&Ms, and a bunch of other stuff I wouldn’t normally eat. I weighed in at 199.3 pounds, got dressed, and headed towards Sufferlandria.

(n.b. Cyclists take note: each of the video links below includes a description, a short trailer, and a ride profile showing the intervals and intensity levels.)

We started promptly at 0730 my time with The Rookie (55 minutes). This video’s theme is that you are the newest rider on the Giant/Shimano team, so you start riding as a domestique but actually get to lead a breakaway by the end through 3 10-minute race intervals. I rode this scaled to 75% of my FTP, so my threshold was 146W, and the app was smart enough to scale my performance targets accordingly. The ride went well– I felt good when I was done. Refreshed, you might say.

Next up was 48 minutes of The Wretched, the overview of which starts with “Perhaps one of the most difficult Sufferfests, The Wretched is the tale of a Sufferlandrian who has fallen from Local Hero to Zero.” The conceit here is that you’re simulating a stage of the Tour de France, so there are attacks galore. This one went well too; after finishing I had a few handsful of trail mix and a few Oreos, along with another shake (consisting of 1 scoop of Karbolyn and 1 scoop of Optimum Nutrition vanilla protein powder; I nicknamed this a “pain shake” after the famous Sufferlandrian beverage).

Video 3 was A Very Dark Place (51 minutes). I definitely felt this one.  It featured 5 4-minute high-speed intervals, each with a different theme (solo breakaway, holding onto the race leader’s wheel, etc), which provided pleasant variety in the midst of the pain. I hadn’t done this or The Wretched before, so it was fun experiencing them for the first time while watching Rafe, Todd, and Torrey suffering on Skype.

Power Station, video 4, is 50 minutes of climbing– low cadence, high-power climbing that will burn your quads to a crisp. I’d ridden it before so I knew what to expect. It’s a tough workout, especially after the preceding three, but I am lucky in that I have really big quads and hamstrings relative to the rest of my legs (or my entire body for that matter). That makes me a crappy sprinter and a comical rider at 100+ rpm cadences, but I can handle hard low-cadence work.

I had some more snacks. In fact, you should assume that I snacked in between each video because that’s exactly what I did.

Video 5 was Angels, which I hadn’t ridden before: 3 8-minute climbs, which were not fun even a little tiny bit. I had just saddled up when Dana came over with the kids… and more snacks. They kept me company through both Angels and Nine Hammers, the following video. Both were tough but the company made the time pass much faster than I would have expected. Lilly drew me two signs, one for each video, and Dana made me what I must say was the best PB&J I have ever eaten.

Coach Alex prophetically said “this will be the worst part of the day” about video #7, Hell Hath No Fury… 75 minutes in which you race 2 20-minute race intervals against professional female cyclists. a 20-minute race interval is no joke; two of them back to back even less so. I was certainly feeling the burn by the end of this one. By this point, I was starting to have some persistent discomfort in the IT bands of both knees, as well as an occasional twinge in my left ankle. My legs were burning more or less constantly. I’d been taking Sportlegs, in which I am a firm believer, and they helped, but I found myself muttering Jens Voigt’s famous mantra: “shut up, legs.”

Video 8 was Do As You’re Told (47 minutes), which I think was the first Sufferfest video I ever rode. Familiarity didn’t make it any more pleasant; this video is all intervals / sprints, so it was punishing. I hung on, grimly, and used every second of the 10-minute break to refill my bottle, snack up, and stretch out my aching quads.

Video 9 was The Best Thing in the World (48 minutes). This is a flat-out lie, as it contains two 13:30 race simulations, which are not even close to the best thing in the world.

We closed with Blender (1 hour and 40 minutes). That’s right: 100 minutes of various intervals at the end of the quest. Many of the folks in the Knighthood-attempt Facebook group were horrified that we finished with this instead of doing it earlier, but that’s how Alex rolls. I was really dragging during some of these intervals; the recovery intervals weren’t nearly long enough to suit me. However, I managed to struggle through, finally dismounting the bike after successfully completing Blender, to loud cheers from the cat.

I staggered around the living room for a bit, then sat down. This was a bit of a mistake, because it was mighty hard to get up again. Luckily Dana and her kids brought me a pizza, which I gleefully consumed along with a Belgian beer I’d been saving for the occasion. After dinner, I filled out the Knighthood submission form, and earlier today I was rewarded with mail from the Minions containing this beauty:

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I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest of the Knighthood swag I’ve earned, including some custom bike decals. More than that, I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to raise nearly $3,000 for charity along with my CHP posse, and to have completed the single most challenging athletic event I’ve ever attempted. Many thanks to all who donated or who supported us with moral support, snacks, drawings, or PB&J sandwiches.

On to my 70.3!

 

 

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Training Tuesday: get knighted or die tryin’

I have become a big fan of the cycling training videos from The Sufferfest. They provide high-intensity workouts with a nifty backstory: you are a citizen of the nation of Sufferlandria, a cycling-obsessed country with a completely unique culture. The videos present various entertaining scenarios, such as riding high-power intervals for an hour and forty minutes or trying out for the Giant-Shimano cycling team. The videos are well-produced, feature great music, and are damn challenging.

One feature of Sufferlandrian culture is their titled nobility: Knights of Sufferlandria earn that title by completing 10 of the videos, back to back with no more than a 10-minute break in between. This totals out to between 10 and 13 hours of riding, depending on which videos you choose. There are some other rules, explained at the link above, but the bottom line is that you have to Suffer, ideally while raising money for charity, in order to earn the coveted title. Only about 600 people worldwide have done so… so naturally, when Alex Viada suggested that we do a group Knighthood attempt at CHP, I was all over it.

On Saturday, March 19, I will undertake to earn my Knighthood (along with Alex, Kelly, my lifting buds Derek and Rafe, and about a dozen coaches and athletes). Our team is spread all over the US and UK, and we’ll all be riding at the same time. As a team, we chose two charities: Oxfam and Puppies Behind Bars. “Who?” you ask. Here’s what PBB does:

Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and explosive detection canines for law enforcement. Puppies enter prison at the age of eight weeks and live with their inmate puppy-raisers for approximately 24 months. As the puppies mature into well-loved, well-behaved dogs, their raisers learn what it means to contribute to society rather than take from it. PBB programs bring the love and healing of dogs to hundreds of individuals every year. The dogs bring hope and pride to their raisers, and independence and security to those they serve.

I am excited by this opportunity and look forward to Suffering for a good cause. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a live stream put together, too. I invite you to consider donating– 100% of the proceeds are going 50/50 to our two target charities.

For more details on the event, and to donate, please visit this page.

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Training Tuesday: “The Hybrid Athlete” (Viada) review

Fitness is a huge industry in part because it offers the promise of self-improvement. Look better! Be thinner! Run faster! There are low barriers to entry; anyone can hold themselves out as a fitness expert, and (much like weathermen or stock analysts) no one ever checks back to see if the promised results were actually delivered. One result of this combination is that there are a lot of people who uncritically accept some principles that turn out to be completely false. One example: “cardio kills your gains.” Another: “if I lift weights I’ll be too blocky and slow to run or cycle fast.”

Alex Viada has addressed this lack of knowledge rather neatly in The Hybrid Athlete. The book’s landing page defines a hybrid athlete as “a unique breed who can excel simultaneously in both strength and endurance activities.” Examples might include firefighters, members of military special operations forces, or even people like me who want to be unusually strong and have unusually good endurance. I bought the book sight unseen, although I had the benefit of being coached by Alex and the team at Complete Human Performance, and seeing his unique approach in action, for a few months before it came out. Sadly, I didn’t get around to finishing it until last night, but I’m glad I buckled down— I learned a ton. A few of the things I learned:

  • what causes rigor mortis (page 34)
  • the stomach isn’t an absorptive organ (page 170)
  • swimming burns 10x as many calories per mile per pound compared to running (2.9 cal/mi/lb vs 0.29 cal/mi/lb, page 173)
  • The average hard-training, non-steroid-taking man can gain between 1 and 1.5 lbs of lean body mass every 2 months— far below what I would have expected (p176)
  • That thing you’re doing that you think is Tabata? It probably isn’t (page 66)
  • Trappist ales are perhaps the finest recovery beer yet known to man. (page 232)

The book’s divided into 13 chapters. The first four are primary introductory material, covering hybrid training philosophy and the physiology of muscles and metabolic pathways. There are specific chapters for the critical components of strength and endurance training and chapters covering sport-specific training (along with an appendix listing sample hybrid programs for various combinations of sports, such as a powerlifter who wants to run marathons). To me, three of the chapters were particularly valuable, so I want to dig into those a little more.

First is chapter 7: “Cutting Out the Noise: Eliminating the Waste.” This might seem like an odd chapter title, but when you consider that consolidation of stressors is a fundamental part of hybrid training, it makes perfect sense. The question poses a simple question:  

“Will performing this particular part of my workout routine improve my final performance more than any other potential component?”. If the answer is yes, include it then move on to the next. The answer will go from a firm “yes” to a more general “yeeeeeees” to, eventually, the dreaded “I think so”, or “the internet said so”. Any primary component of training should be both necessary and sufficient to improve sport performance in one particular component of a given sport. For a powerlifter, the squat, bench, and deadlift are all primary. For the triathlete, the tempo run or time trial. For the ultra runner, the long slow trail run. For the Weightlifter, the Snatch and C&J.

This is a really powerful concept once you understand and embrace it. Doing more miles on the bike, more time on the treadmill or road, or more laps in the pool will not necessarily lead to better sport performance. It sounds heretical, but Alex provides a really concrete example in the training template for powerlifting plus triathlon— the swim and bike distances are short relative to traditional triathlon training programs because swimming 5000-8000 meters are “very counterproductive to upper body power production.” Plus, they take a great deal of energy and focus, and it’s questionable whether swimming 8000m to prepare for a race distance of 3800m (in the Ironman-distance swim) is better preparation than spending the same amount of training time on other activities. Alex refers disparagingly sometimes to “junk miles,” referring to distance for distance’s sake, but intensity is a critical element too— for me, perhaps the most valuable single sentence in the book was found on page 66:

…many endurance athletes go entirely too hard on their “aerobic” or “low intensity” days, and end up gaining neither the discrete training benefits of higher intensity work nor recovery benefits of the lower intensity work.

He might as well have started that sentence like this: “HAY, PAUL, PAY ATTENTION BECAUSE THIS IS YOU:…” 

Chapter 11, “Strength for the Endurance Athlete,” pulls no punches in calling out how awful most strength training routines in the fitness press are for triathletes. He points out, rightly, that no matter how much time you plank (to cite one example) it’s not going to help you stay aero on the bike as much as actual resistance training for your core muscles. This chapter (and its companion, “Conditioning for the Strength Athlete”) clearly lays out the specific adaptive benefits of strength training— improved ligament and tendon strength, better bone density, and improved sport-specific fitness.

Finally, Chapter 13, “Nutritional Support for Hybrid Training,” exploded a lot of false knowledge I (thought I) had about the process of feeding my body for the best possible performance. I haven’t worked all the way through the (simple) data gathering and associated math, but essentially I am eating roughly the right amount of calories but in the wrong proportion of macronutrients. This is easy to adjust and should give me better endurance and perhaps a little bit of weight loss.

Overall, this is a superb book. Alex’s writing style is clear and direct, with occasional flashes of his extremely dry wit. The degree of research he’s done, and knowledge he holds, is evident (and bolstered by the bibliography and recommended reading in appendix C). I strongly recommend this book for any triathlete or distance runner; I’d recommend it for powerlifters and Strongman competitors too, but all the ones I know are fellow CHP athletes and they know this stuff already. At $47, it’s cheaper than a jar of good protein powder or a new pair of bike shoes, and it will have much longer-lasting impact on your fitness, health, and performance.

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