Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Day in The Life: Thurs-day, Wet-day

If I told you I was a lawyer or a teacher, you would have a pretty good notion of what my daily schedule looks like.  Appear in court.  Take a deposition.  Teach 5th period English.  Patrol the lunch room.  But when I tell people I am a "professional athlete and coach," there is clearly a [blank] where their mental image of my lifestyle and day should appear.  [Smile.] [Nod.]  Sometimes they might be envisioning Donovan McNabb or LeBron James, neither of whom I am, just, you know, in case you were suffering some type of disillusionment.  Heck, I'm not even Meb and he actually runs. 

On the flip side, people sometimes wonder how "working out all day" can be a "job."  In their minds I wake up late, sit in coffee shops all day wearing lycra, take naps, and tool around on my bike.  Some days I do do that.  Some days we all do that [or the equivalent]!  But those days are usually preceded by a significant amount of hard work.

So here's a day, a little more training than most, but overall pretty average.  I don't pretend this is scintillating, but I do think it's normal - for me and other professional triathletes, at least that I know or am acquainted with - and realistic - for my profession and other professions with which I am familiar.  Life isn't cut and dry, coffee and doughnuts; you start with a to-do list, make a schedule, and hope for the best.  But my pay-day isn't at the end of the week, it's at the finish line and it takes many weeks to get there.

Here goes a Thursday....

5:45 AM - It's dark and raining and I'm awake.  I got to sleep in 15 min today because my swim workout is a little shorter.  Dress, vitamins, make and start consuming breakfast #1 (smoothie), grab the bag I packed last night, and jet. 

6:00 - 6:30 AM - Ride to the pool in the wet dark...but where I'm going is wet and dark so does that make this my pre-swim?  Continue to drink breakfast #1 at any stop lights.

6:30-7:30 AM - Swim: right, left, right, breathe, left, right left, breathe, right, left, right, breathe, repeat.

7:30-7:45 AM - Take off wet swimsuit, Shower #1, put on wet clothes, eat orange and anything left of breakfast #1.

7:45 - 8:15 AM - Ride home.  Still raining but now it's light out.  I swear they sell crazy on the corners when it precipitates in DC.

8:15 - 10:23 AM [had hoped for 9:30 AM] - Now I get my more traditional morning.  Deal with wet bike and clothes.  Breakfast #2: oatmeal, scrambled eggs, coffee...I'm not a big coffee drinker, but I've been wet and cold for long enough this morning already.  Check the news, email, weather - yup, it's raining and will continue to do so for a long time.  The entire Eastern seaboard is a green blob of heavy rains and flooding, tornado warnings, and high winds thanks to the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole.  Longer emails and more involved web stuff gets held for later.  Ultrasound a knee with one hand while eating with the other.  Bike maintenance for the bike going out.  My bathroom is already beginning to look like a laundromat and my sink is already getting pretty full.  Received an email from a friend I forgot was going to be in town so my evening plans of sitting and watching TV will likely change.

I engaged in the age-old bad-weather training debate: is the weather bad enough to train indoors?  The sides are pretty obvious: go out to preserve mental sanity, get a better workout (if it involves hill intervals like today's), and prove I'm not a wimp; or stay in to stay (relatively) more comfortable, not get sick (if it's cold), and avoid potential precipitation-related accidents.  The calculus can change slightly when I have some OnDemand shows I want to watch (I'm an athlete, not a monk!) or if that specific day, I just can't stomach riding indoors for that long...again or I just can't face being cold and/or wet for that long...again.  Changing up the routine, length of the workout, and mental sanity play a major part in these decisions.

I have very few good excuses to stay inside so the decision is made and the appropriate clothes are assembled.

10:23 AM - 1:32 PM - Ride.  Wet, as advertised, but not cold.  I did a weekend group ride route backwards, so it started by heading out of town through RCP.  Big mistake as RCP has another strike against it - it floods at the first raindrop.  There was more creek in the road than there was in the creek.  In fact, some stretches were all creek and no road - so twice I was wading knee-deep with my bike on my shoulder because there are no roads that would get me off and away to another useful route.   The third time of wading I cleared some trees on a corner and everything I could see ahead of me to the next turn, maybe a quarter mile, was low-grade rapids from the trees on one side to the trees on other.  There were waves in the middle of the street!! I turned around to head back and walked off the edge of the road (which was under at least a foot of water) and almost got my shoe sucked off.  So yes, my "ride" included maybe 5 minutes of me, wading through knee-deep water, carrying my bike on my shoulder, "up-stream" [and then "downstream"] along a major thorough-fare in our nation's capitol.   That's what the weather is like in DC right now.

Got a slow-leak and rode it home because I was disinterested in stopping and changing it in the rain. 

1:32 PM - 3:35 PM - Lunch #1, immediately, like I started eating standing in my kitchen wearing all my wet clothes from the ride (my parents know all about this part...), partly because I'm hungry and partly because I have a run to do and I have to wait to two hours after a big meal to run or it ends up on my shoes.  Shower #2 to rinse off road grit and warm-up.  The key is to walk into the shower fully dressed - everything gets rinsed and doesn't smell quite as bad as it dries.  Then more food, all told it was smoothie, rice, avocado, turkey breast, brownie (remember, athlete, not saint!), some apricots and almonds, pretty much whatever I saw and could reach that wasn't dairy or gluten.  Ultrasound.  Deal with wet bike and clothes.  I wish I could say I dealt with some emails and my kitchen, but really I wanted to stare off into space for a while and then I had to get ready for my run.

3:35 - 4:30 PM - A cute little run.  The rain stopped, but now it's hot and I'm still coming home in completely soaking wet clothes.

4:30 - 4:56 PM - Shower #3, again walk in fully dressed.  Though first I had to remove the bike that was in my shower, drying off.  After the run I have hanging in my shower: 1 bike jersey, 1 pair knee warmers, 1 pair capri tights, 2 sports bras, 3 pair bike shorts, 1 running hat, and 1 running shirt.  Remove toe nail.  Lunch #3/Snack #1 - nectarine, yogurt, cottage cheese - while I pack up for the gym.

4:56 - 5:13 PM - Ride to the gym in Dupont.  Still no rain.  I wanted to go to a different location in order to take an abs class, but I just didn't have the, shall we say, interest to climb the hills to get there.  I can do abs on my own.

5:25 - 6:25 PM - Strength training.  Most enjoyable part: it was dry.  I guess my "work" for the day is done, but what I eat for dinner and when/how I sleep is also work so...

6:35 - 7:15 PM - Snack #2: green/yellow split pea stew with quinoa and avocado, apple.  Raining again.  Ride home and run an errand along the way.  Hear from friend about dinner plans.

7:15 -7:43 PM - Dry off, change, stare into space for a few minutes.

7:43 - 9:18 PM - Dinner #1 with an out-of-town friend down the street.  Lamb burger, sweet potato fries, heavenly.  Heavy rain now; the forecast is calling for up to 5 inches on top of what already fell today.  The paths for my long run tomorrow are going to be messed up, to say the least.  I just hope it has stopped raining by then.

9:18 - 9:31 PM - Walk home while having daily chat with The Support Staff.  Still heavy rain so now I have two socks and a pair of jeans joining all the other stuff in my bathroom.  It's like a tropical rain forest in there.

9:57 PM - Stick a fork in me, I'm DONE.  I wish I could say that my sink wasn't still full, that I had responded to more than 1 overdue email, that I had started a load of laundry, that I had taken better care of my legs or properly cleaned my bikes....  If I wanted to get the ten hours of sleep I probably need, I would have been in bed at 7:30.  Oh well.  Up at 5:30 and to the pool...

The End.

[NOTE: I did not choose today because of the weather.  I decided last night (Wed) to do this post and although I knew the weather would be unappealing, I didn't know it would be this bad.  That said, it didn't change anything about my training or routine except the sheer amount of clothes and wetness I went through.  Oh, and the wading.  Usually I ride my rides.]

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Co. of Cost

Costco. I blame ADP, who gave me a glimpse of the wonders within, and LJ and Snow, who made the wonders usually available as daily provisions, for leading me down the path of bulk buying enlightenment.  When I returned from a month in CO/IN/ID to an entirely empty kitchen and pantry it was time to take the plunge on my own.  The one little hiccup: buying bulk gets big and heavy, fast, so transport of the wonders is tricky.  Oh well, nothing's perfect.

However, the economics make sense: what I consume in abundance, they sell in abundance.  [Plus cars, tires, and gas in case I ever decide to address the pesky transportation problem.]  Seriously, what I save on frozen fruit alone pays for my annual membership.

I buy - and usually eat - for one, but sometimes I'm eating for up to five - me, my arms, my legs, my stomach, and my heart - and plan and shop accordingly.  Before big series of days or weeks, I make sure I have everything on hand.

One tip: make large batches of a bunch of grains (I do lentils, rice, quinoa, and crock-pot split pea stew) on one day (Sunday afternoon is a good choice) and store them in tupperware in the refrigerator and you will have a week's worth of meals/snacks.  Add steamed frozen veggies; some scrambled eggs; top with salsa/cheese/whatever; and you will have a meal/snack - in exactly those five minutes between the end of your session and when you face-plant straight into bed.

Here's my usual Co. of Cost shopping list:


Unrefrigerated (until you open it) soymilk - the base for all my smoothies (fodder for another post) and sometimes I just chug it out straight out of the container after a run.  If I didn't buy soymilk in bulk, I would be at the grocery store every other day easy.

Seltzer water - my drug of choice is Diet Coke but to cut down on the chemical consumption, I throw some Crystal Light into some seltzer, close my eyes...and still feel a little jilted


Fage (Greek, aka extra thick, yogurt) - more base for my smoothies, or a cheaper/bigger (because who eats just 6 or 8 oz of yogurt?!?) low-fat yogurt mixed with honey/jam

Cottage Cheese - throw in jam or eat it straight out of the container...yum!

Cheese (not pictured) - Costco has a great selection of hard/sharp cheeses, my favorite, but the LAST thing I need is several pounds of cheese sitting in my refrigerator


Frozen fruit(s) - Costco carries three types: blueberries, strawberries, and the trio freezer stocks them all, several bags deep, because they go into my smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, cottage cheese...

Fresh fruit(s) - my goal is to eat four pieces of fresh fruit per day, so I try to have at least four different kinds on hand; they get carried in my bike jersey for mid-ride eating or in my backpack for post-session fueling; the bananas also go into my smoothies or get spread with some almond butter


Frozen veggies - Costco carries 3 or 4 different types: broccoli, the asian stir-fry mix, the normandy mix (broccoli and cauliflower), and the basic mix (peas, carrots, corn)...I stock the broccoli and the normandy and along with the frozen fruit, can barely close the door of my freezer

Fresh veggies - there is no way I could photographically do justice to Costco's fresh produce selection.  I mean, they have a room bigger than my apartment to keep the most sensitive veggies super-cold.  I buy the 2.5 pound bags of spinach to blend into my smoothies.

Healthy Fats and Protein

Avocados - yum, just plain, on top or with anything (except fruit)

Nuts - Costco carries endless assortments of mixes, trail mixes, and nut-bars, but the basics are almonds, pecans, walnuts...I stock all three and put the walnuts into my smoothies

Eggs - lots of training can be done on 36 eggs for less than $3, need I say more?

Dry Goods

Oatmeal - the unofficial food sponsor of triathletes nation-wide...who wouldn't want 110 servings of it?!?

Honey and agave nectar - for smoothies, coffee, yogurt...

Training Nutrition, aka Dried Fruit

Along with almonds, dried apricots and prunes are my ride nutrition.  Not kidding.  Snack-size zip-lock, several handfuls, and enough water and I could go for hours.  I also use chunks of roasted sweet potatoes when I have them.

Sadly, just like any grocery store, Costco has its deficiencies.  My world would be more complete if Costco carried sweet potatoes; a much better brand of almond butter; rice in bags less than 50 pounds; and grains like lentil, quinoa, green split peas, and yellow split peas.  Oh well, nothing's perfect.

And my kitchen is already bursting at the seams!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Criss-Cross'll Make Ya

Get your Belgian knee warmers (definition on the right side, halfway down) and cowbells ready, loyal readers, it's 'cross season!!

And right on cue it started raining, hard and cold.  The sun was just rising - and visible - when we left The Support Staff's house, but the closer we got to the race site, the harder it rained.  Yup, must be 'cross season.

Now I don't race 'cross - or road or mountain bike, for that matter - and ride bikes that tend to have negative traction off-road, but I feel other bike-related events are kindred spirits to the kind of training and riding I do.  Also, after the high-strung, straight-laced atmosphere at an IM event, the culture of a 'cross race is refreshingly...Woodstock-like.

Registration is a little more expo, but day-of sign-up is allowed!

Fewer port-a-potties...but no lines!
And although the race today did not have this extreme of weather or over-whelming crowd support, true Belgian 'cross racing is like the Super Bowl in a muddy and grassy field, with beer, frites (french fries) and waffles, and cow bell.  I can not recommend enough spectating a 'cross race, just once.  In Europe and in winter, even better.

Last year, this race was The Support Staff's first ever 'cross race - and ended rather inauspiciously: him walking to the finish line, bike on one shoulder, tire-less wheel on the other.  Thus began the Great 'Cross Wheel Tubular Gluing Experiment of 2009.  So this year I set the unspoken unofficial goal as to finish not walking.  [fingers crossed...or actually, still glued together from 2009]

For me, 'cross season means not only honing my support staff skills, but also starting my long rides from random parking lots in Virginia and Maryland and then returning to finish them on a trainer next to the race course.  It is very easy to keep your own effort high while watching people whose heart rates are so high they probably should be bleeding from their eye balls.

Box seats baby!!
There goes The Support Staff, tires still I spin...
The weather cleared up, I got in my workout, The Support Staff finished in fine riding style, and some frites were had...all in all, a successful season opener!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Day In The Life: Fri-day, Long Run-day - With Bonus Picnic and Tick Story

I live in a big metropolis, without a car.  Most days I thank my lucky stars I don't have to deal with the headache of driving a car in DC. Other days I'd give anything to not have to deal with the headache of riding public transportation in DC.  Training-wise, to avoid as many headaches as possible and keep my schedule on track, I usually stick to the 'hood, starting and ending at home.

Now this metropolis of mine has a good amount of natural space so running on a forgiving surface is possible - and for me, a necessity.  Most people view Rock Creek Park (RCP) as a driving-worthy destination, and if I didn't live mere blocks away, it would be for me as well.  But do two-year's worth of long runs - and practically every other run in between - in there and well, the mystery and excitement just ain't happening. 

Today I wanted the mystery and excitement back so I pulled the change of scenery card.  Where the scenery still includes a soft surface.  Yes, the change involves public transportation - *sigh* - but the 2-4 times per year I pull the card, it's worth the extra time and hassle.

Now I know that I was a bit stingy with the CandyLand directions, in order to protect a favorite place of mine from being trampled by the masses.  But a picture is a worth a thousand words!  So you get my Fri-day, Long Run-day in pictures - and thus thousands of words worth of directions to find another favorite place of mine.  If from these pictures you can successfully find my change of scenery location, then you are a mass worthy of trampling a favorite place of mine.

You start at this metro station - with your bag and bike
Get on the metro line that takes you past this
And past this
Get off at this metro station
Ride not very far, to this bus stop sign and lock your bike to it (yes, that's my bike)
Here's a hint: the bus stop is across from this church
Walk into the woods behind the bus stop until you reach this spot
Another view of this spot, which is the best place to stash things
Run one loop counter-clockwise, following the yellow blazes and signs for the Perimeter Trail
Run one loop clockwise
Run an out-and-back for time...not so sp*rkly white anymore!
Enjoy your bonus post-run recovery picnic
View from post-run recovery picnic - not bad for city living!
I did just over two hours there and saw one person.  I admit that you can hear cars pretty much the whole time and see cars fairly often.  But in just over two hours of running I crossed maybe 50 feet of pavement and had to stop only twice, both by my own choice for nutrition. 

One last direction: check for ticks.

If you have made it this far based only on pictures, don't belie your intelligence now.   Check for 'em.  Here's the cautionary tale why (from the last time I pulled the change of scenery card):

Pa Support Staff:  Hel...
Pa Support Staff: What?
PSS (and Ma Support Staff, joining PSS on speaker phone): Why do you ask?
Me: I went trail running and now I have ONE ATTACHED TO MY STOMACH!! AND IT'S STARTING TO DIG IN?!?!
MSS: Well, what we do with the dogs is...use one hand to twist the tick counter-clockwise until you arm can't bend anymore, then use the other hand to hold the tick in place so it doesn't twist back while you adjust the grip of your other hand.  Oh and make sure to grab the head, not the body, or the body will break off and the head will just keep digging.
ME: [puts phone down to have both hands free]

The tick perked right up when it realized someone was determined to remove it from its happy digging place.  We proceeded to engage in the death match of twist-and-not-break right there in my bathroom.  Since I'm writing this post we can assume my superior multi-handed strategy prevailed.  But I have the tick death match scar to prove just how close it was.  CHECK FOR TICKS - AND ENJOY YOUR RUN!

[And McGrath, if you're reading this, no fair using the comments to post useful directions.]

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pushing Back The Black Fog

** Side Note ** Tonight two people - to whom I am not related by blood! - admitted to me that they read my blog.  Yip!  One of them is my own Track Torturess, hence why I found this topic timely.  Those readers who are related to me by blood have admitted to being slightly appalled by the situation.  Ma Support Staff says "I never thought I would follow anyone through their blog, let alone my own daughter.  But it's the only way I know you're alive!"  It's like 21st Century smoke signals....for parents who don't text. ** End of Side Note **

I think everyone experiences extremely challenging moments differently, both as compared to other people, and as one would compare their physical experience to their mental experience.  Furthermore, I know everyone responds differently, especially mentally, to their personal physical and mental cues of an extremely challenging moment.

Whether or not an individual's physical and mental responses to those cues are or are not under their immediate control is a subject of great debate.  Matt Fitzgerald, who writes for the Competitor Group and others, is the current standard bearer for this topic and he believes "training the brain" - to address the responses to duress - is as imperative as training the body.  I guess, as you will read, I kind of agree with him, since getting through my days and ways requires a little of both of these types of training.

[For the purpose of this post, let us define "extremely challenging moment" as a short-term moment brought on by physical effort and exertion, removed from a hunger flat or nutrition plan failure (meaning not bonking, hitting the wall, or otherwise running out of calories).  I am not referring to a moment of public embarrassment or something.]

For me, the physical cue of an extremely challenging moment is what I have come to call the Black Fog.  During an extreme nutrition plan failure, most people see stars, spots, or flashes of lights - because their brain, which runs only on a supply of ready simple sugars, has literally run out of fuel.  Again, I am not talking about those phenomena, although my Black Fog sometimes does have similar fake visual cues.  But most often, my Black Fog is simply that: a fog.  Things and time passes, but their passage is not especially noted.  The world gets very small, limited to the here, the now, the next 30 sec or 50 meters.  The body keeps on ticking, although mostly through subconscious neuromuscular patterns.  And most notably - the source of the Black - my eyes desperately want to close.  I feel literally too tired to keep them open and keeping my vision clear seems like the greatest feat in the world. 

The mental cue, not surprisingly, is "I'd like to stop now please.  I want off this ride."  [Again Mr. Fitzgerald would argue that this mental cue is really your body telling your mind to tell you to stop.  A mental feedback loop created to protect the body from seriously over-extending itself....] But I can tell you, if I obeyed that order every time I heard it, I wouldn't get very far in this sport.  If I obeyed that order every time I heard it, I wouldn't learn just how low my body thinks the threshold is for over-extending itself.  Oh ho ho, loyal readers (all 2 of you), if we obeyed that order every time we heard it, we'd all still be crawling because we would never have learned to walk.  "I want off this vertical ride."  A bit on an over-exaggeration, but yes, that is how artificially low the threshold can be.  But we only realize this once the previous threshold has been shattered.  If I obeyed that order every time I heard it, I would never know just how high the threshold can be.

So....the crux of the post, topic, and larger push to succeed at sport does anyone get past the mental cue and this seemingly too-restrictive-for-growth mental feedback loop?  Or since this is my blog, how do I get past this mental cue?

It's oh so simple, but also oh so devastatingly hard.  Partly because what works for me won't work for you, and partly because what works now won't work forever, and partly...and this is the crux of the have to believe, deep down, what you are telling yourself.  Your body simply will not believe infomercials and the Home Shopping Network in this state.

Some people respond with The One Thing.  The one thing is your ultimate carrot-and-stick.  A Kona spot, a certain finish time or place, the promise of a certain food at the finish line.  What would you walk over hot coals for?  Because believe me, I've run an IM marathon on what felt like hot coals, and you have to pretty in touch with your ultimate desires and truly believe what you are telling yourself in order to not ease off, give up, or otherwise throw in the towel.

But The One Thing - the identification and use of internal motivating factors at say, mile 22 of an IM - is different from pushing back the Black Fog - a short-term coping mechanism for the oxygen debt and do-or-die of that last interval, last quarter mile, last 30 sec. 

And the mechanism that works for me, right now is:

"This is the next challenge [or extremely challenging moment] I am going to face today."

When the Black Fog descends and I can't see where I am swimming, riding, or running and "I want off this ride," I silently counter with that, just that.  The gauntlet is thrown.  My body and mind already know the length of the bargain - to the end of the interval, usually - so it's not some infinite deadline, but a small, manageable, known quantity.  Very occasionally a nutrition plan failure and/or my personal check engine light will grind any sort of continuing-under-duress negotiations to a halt, but otherwise the goal is to pick up the gauntlet, stand up to myself, and short-circuit the feedback loop.

Sometimes we are our own biggest competitor.  How far back can I push the Black Fog?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Are You Savage Enough?

 So we already know I spent the weekend in western Maryland, in and around Deep Creek Lake State Park (DCL).  What drew The Support Staff and I - along with 1,000 other athletes - to DCL is the SavageMan Triathlon (SM), the hardest triathlon on Earth.

[I should clarify that I did not race, other crazy people did that.  The Support Staff was the run course director and I volunteered my two arms and two legs to carry empty water jugs, bags of trash, and course-marking signs between bouts of training and general flogging of my legs.] 

You know when someone says "the swim is the flattest part of the race"?  About SM, it is absolutely true.

 One half-mile out of transition the bike course goes up a quarter-mile long hill that averages 9 percent grade, with a max of 16 percent grade.  Just so everyone at home knows: that's steep.  And it only gets better?  worse?  steeper!  from there.

"It's not how fast you want to go.  It's how fast you can go."

The course then descends to the Savage River, paralleling the river on Savage River Road, before starting the attack on Big Savage Mountain and then later climbs through Savage River State Forest...I hope everyone is noticing a theme here...

The attack on the 6-mile Big Savage Mountain climb starts in Westernport, at the Westernport Wall:

The Wall

I know it doesn't look like much, but it comes after a pretty unpleasant intro (you can see The Wall in the distance):
These are the people flocking to tiny rural town to spectate people climbing a hill...
The total Westernpost climb is 1.2 miles long, averages 12 percent grade, and tops out at...[drum roll please]...31 percent grade.  Let me repeat again for those following along at home: that's steep. 

Allow me to try and create a scene here: friends, family, town residents, and race organizers flock to the side of a section of road in a rural town (with a paper mill) a 3-hour drive outside DC.  The Rocky theme song plays on repeat for 90 minutes as race participants approach and attempt to ascend a section of road that is closed to car traffic and not paved using modern technology.  Spectators dress as devils and taunt/encourage/scream/cheer/chide riders in graceful - yet stricken - upward flight.  This is one case in which there may not in fact be any need for more cowbell.  Some truly enlightened (?) individual added vuvuzuelas this year.  Participants who successfully scale The Wall without touching the ground except with their two wheels are rewarded with a brick, engaged with their name, placed in among the slowly eroding bricks that make up the road's surface. 

And after that little bump in the road, the climb continues - for almost five more miles.  But don't worry, it only averages 6 percent and tops out at 21 percent. 

There are mountains out in them thar hills!?!

The hilliness continues, combining to create the toughest 30 miles in all of triathlon.  Eventually the course reaches Killer Miller, another climb complete with devils, vuvuzuelas, and a significant change in altitude caused by 1.3 miles at 8 percent (and a max of 22 percent).  I once rode up Killer Miller on a flat rear tire because I knew if I stopped to change it, there would be no starting again and walking up that grade can hurt more than biking up that grade.

There is actually one last steep hill after that, but really by that point you are kind of bored with climbing and the percentages stop meaning anything.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the descents.  I love to descend, but these...are terrifying.  You know when you approach a descent and there is a lip where it begins and you can't see anything after the lip.  Kind of like an inner-tube ride at a water park?  Yeah, those.  So personally I spend 56 miles oscillating between cramping legs and cramping hands (from squeezing my brakes for so hard for so long).   

The run course does not disappoint after that excitement.  It's crowning jewel is a climb up a fire road that the leader escort bikes sometimes don't climb because it is not a given that someone can bike up it faster than they can run/power hike up it. 

SM is a great race with a local feel that has developed a cult following in a few short years.  I just prefer to observe it from a bike with a camera or the front seat of an SUV-load of trash bags.

Are you Savage enough?


I spent the weekend in western Maryland, in and around Deep Creek Lake State Park (DCL).  The training is tortuous and natural surroundings are beautiful enough to distract from the suffering.  A unique place for a race...more on that in the next post...

Oftentimes visiting a place has benefits that aren't immediately apparent.  At first glance, other than the terrain for training, DCL is a pretty common lake front tourist draw with a ski hill, golf course, and lots of All-American restaurant options in case water sports aren't your thing.  But, oh ho ho, what the locals are hiding from everyone trumps any ski hill that could be built in western Maryland.

I present:
There are actually two locations, hidden inside otherwise unassuming produce-heavy grocery stores.  It is actually ironic: half the store looks like the over-achieving bounty of a rural backyard garden and the other half looks like this:

Hundreds of extremely well organized and labeled bins full of every candy known to man - and many that are known to only a few with very long memories.   And every candy available is available in every flavor and/or color ever made.  All four flavors of Andes Candies and all the colors of Circus Peanuts.  Did you know they make multiple colors of Circus Peanuts?!?!  Or about five flavors of Smarties?

And as the sign says (if you can read it), all candy is $3.59 per pound.  Unlike other bulk candy stores, CandyLand allows you to put any and all candies in the same bag, which creates scenes like this one:
This is not my basket I SWEAR!!!
I talked to one lady and her husband who had four bags going - one for her, one for him, one for the grand kids, and one for the school kids.  It took them a cart to hold it all and they and their cart were not alone in the aisles, not by a long shot.

Oh, the marshmallows.  I dare not forget the marshmallows.  These are not your Mama's Safeway S'more-makers.  Oh no.  These are bags of marshmallows from popular sugared cereals, but without the downside of the boring cereal part.  Think Lucky Charms, think Count Chocula, but with only the marshmallows.  Pure.Genius.  And Very.Inexpensive.

So for a weekend (and every weekend I go to DCL) I'm training to eat.  And because I need all the calories I can get my hands on to power me up those hills, no directions for you!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

All That + The Kitchen Sink

I'm in a mood.  So you may want to lock up your wives, children, and small dogs.  Cause this post is going to blow your dress up, your hair back, and your eyebrows off.  You've been warned.

It was a lovely morning in DC as I descended into Rock Creek Park for my usual mid-week blow out of the aerobic tubes.  My shoes even managed to stay squeak-less for more than hour in the humidity.  This was bordering on momentous; I credit the previously discussed new pair.  Then I headed up and out toward home.  Bad move.

One block I was told Nice Form.

Why thank you!  I'm glad someone appreciates my rear-fore-foot landing and land-load-lift....wait a're wearing Timbalands and clothing that on average is two sizes too big.  I doubt you would recognize nice form if it ran past you in a burqa.

Down by the intersection I was informed that I jiggle well.

WHOA.  Exactly what I wanted to hear, smooth operator.  Hallmark is calling.  They want you for their Valentines 2011 campaign.

One block later the road narrows (one lane only, no parking) with sidewalks on either side.  I am running on the sidewalk, facing on-coming traffic.  And a guy driving a panel van watches me approach and when I reach him, not before and not after, but when I get even with him, he spits.  Not on me, or I might be spending the night in jail, but certainly not in his Big Gulp.  I heard it, I saw it, and figured no matter what, I was already taking a shower anyhow and just kept on running.

Is that like your Michelin rating system? One loogie for "worth a stop," two for "worth a detour," and three for "worth a special trip"?  Your consideration is appreciated, kind sir.

But the sheer gravity of what I apparently can't admire or understand for myself was made fully clear several hours later.  Being car-less, I was biking to The Support Staff's house from the metro with all the trappings for a weekend get-and-train-a-way.  I had a back pack on my back and duffel slung across my chest and balanced on my top tube to leave my knees free for pedaling.  Despite the rain, a roofing contractor, driving in the opposite direction on the other side of the median, rolled down his window and honked incessantly.  How do I know it was aimed at me?  I was the only human being on that side of the block.  It was either me or the squirrels. 

Ok, now that you've got my attention, let's assess the situation.  You're heading in the opposite direction.  And driving a roofing contracting truck.  I'm riding a bike.  With 30 lbs of gear.  On a small highway.  In a thunderstorm.  

If you're honking to tell me I'm all that plus the kitchen sink - and that my acerbic wit can remove paint from walls - get in line. 

If you're honking to tell me I'm crazy and/or stupid, get in line. 

Either way I'm just trying to get on with my life here. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Beauty of New Shoes and Ugly Feet

Behold the beauty of new trainers.  They're so sp*rkly white!

My feet, and frankly the rest of my body, respond with "AWWW...."  You can feel new shoes from the ground up: the metatarsal joints (aka metatarsophalangeal articulations), the arches, the ankles, the knees, the hips....

My previous pair had been with me since February, through March camp and training for two IMs.  But as someone who has spent decades in and hundreds on orthotics and fresh trainers, I can tell the exact run when shoes need to be retired and it was time.  I aggravate a lot of orthotic makers with my attention to podiatric detail... in many cases I have been wearing them longer than they have making them...

The real beauty of new trainers?

The fact that they signify hard work - and were earned with ugly feet.

One of the books truest to the nature of endurance athletic training and living says "what was the secret?...the most unprofound and often heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule the very tough rubber that comprised the bottom of training shoes."  [All credit to John L. Parker, Jr. and Once A Runner]

Not to mention the nerve-rending process of removing toenail by toenail. 

I've got a nice nearly-matched set at the moment.  I'll save you all the horror of that picture.  Not so sparkly white.  One nail off, five ready to take the plunge, and the first one in line will make the left a mirror image of the right.  I'm not the mani/pedi type so this loss will make my feet the best looking they have been been in years!  [And anyone who says losing nails can be avoided with better fitting shoes has never done long runs in the humidity of DC and marathons in shoes soaking wet from Gatorade, Coke, sweat, etc ....]  

The one downside of new trainers.  The sound!  Ugh!  In high school cross country we required a trail run whenever someone wore new shoes.  Bonus if it was raining.  I kind of kept that tradition even alone, but I had some errands to run on Monday so I ran them.  Every single step sounded like I was ripping masking tape off the sidewalk.  Every.Single.Step.

Oh well.  Just have to run the new shoe sound right off them soles :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

How-To: Finish Your First Triathlon

I want this blog to be as much an education as it is a journal, so from time-to-time I plan to enlighten my readers with helpful information and how-tos about triathlon, racing, and occasionally life (although that last part may be taken worth a grain of salt).

One day I want to volunteer for an IM and work the transition area, but until the day I'm in town for an IM and not racing or sherpa-ing for someone, I'm sticking to local triathlons and running races.  On Sunday, I had the opportunity to work on the bike course for the Nation's Triathlon.  Any triathlete, even a professional one, can learn a LOT simply by closely watching participants while clapping from the sidewalk.  Any triathlete can also have a few absolutely gut-busting laughs by closely watching participants. 

Here are some thoughts on how to finish your first triathlon, gathered only through Sunday's observations:
  • DO be prepared for any and all weather conditions.  Races go on in everything except lightening - because there is no piece of clothing that can protect you from that.
  • DO a see-through clothing test before race day.  River water, sweat, rain, liquid nutrition...your clothes are going to get wet somehow and one goal for crossing the finish line of your first triathlon should be doing so with some dignity and secrets remaining.  I'm especially looking at you Asian women and European men who think racing Kona in all white is a good idea.  
  • DO NOT think just because you are an elite wave male and can average 25 mph on the bike, you are impervious to sliding out and crashing into a stone guard rail when you refuse to slow down at a turn-around.  Because then you and your gashed elbow bleed on me and we all get a whole lot closer to that "guts and glory" thing than any of us anticipated.
  • DO NOT race on a bike you have never ridden before - and trust its owner when he says you won't get a flat, especially if you do not know how to change a flat.
  • DO bring all necessary parts to change your flat.  If you are riding deep dish rims, a flat kit definitely includes a valve extender.
  • DO wear thick socks on the bike if you do not know how to change a flat or have a complete flat kit...because you are going to end up running back to transition in those socks.  So make sure they're socks you can run in for 6 miles along a rain-soaked highway gutter. 
  • DO wear an LL Bean Storm Jacket while preparing to volunteer/spectate in any and all weather conditions.  My wallet is my clothing sponsor at the moment and boy was I glad it decided to buy me this jacket.  I spent 6 hours riding very slow around the same 6 miles of the bike course in everything from outright down pour to drizzly gray and was dry and comfy the entire time.

Here are some of my volunteers...not wearing LLBean, poor things.
  •  DO NOT warrant a police escort, unless it means you're winning.  [I wish I had a picture of this one, but my camera died.]  The last two women headed out, chatting away to each other, and they came back, chatting away to each other.  Behind them, cleaning up cones and opening the roads: 5 police cars with lights flashing, 1 SUV, 1 U-Haul, and 1 bus picking up volunteers.  All riders had to be off the course by 12:45 and these women were not going to make it back to transition by then, but it wasn't 12:45 yet and thus the two ladies could chat away until then, at which time they would be escorted into the bus and their bikes into the U-Haul.  
  • DO be prepared to be on the course as long as it takes - whether you make it to the finish line or get escorted onto the bus - because perseverance is a pretty darn good prize too.
    • DO always support your fellow participants, volunteers and spectators along the course, and your friends and family who got you to the start line and will greet you at the finish line.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Shaping Young Minds

    Poor young minds.

    Think of the profession most diametrically opposed to being an athlete/coach.  Now go 5 degrees further.  That is what I did in my previous career. 

    Yes, I worked in politics, more specifically I worked on Capital Hill.  Not a huge stretch for someone living in DC, especially since I moved to DC after college to work on The Hill.  So in that regard, I was quite successful: in five years, I held four different positions (not uncommon; not a black mark on the record) while working my way up The Hill ladder.  Interestingly, working on The Hill is generally acknowledged to be one of the least lucrative jobs in DC...but it is far more lucrative than my current one!

    So I played professional adult for a while, wearing suits and reading the newspaper while commuting with the masses, but I had spent college summers in third world countries, working in t-shirts and flip-flops.  In DC, I ran most days, then bought a bike to supplement my feet, and picked up swimming laps during recovery after a marathon back in 2006.  When you start showing up for work in spandex, with your suit in your backpack next to your wet swimsuit and towel, and trade high heels for clogs...the end is nigh.  I loved the people - talking to them and helping them - but I became less and less about the job and the cause and the hours and the weight gain and the always needed-it-five-minutes-ago pace.  Ultimately, politics and The Hill was not for me.

    BUT I do know how those who are all about that stuff can get in the door.  And the residents of Teter Hall at IU, where Ma and Pa Support Staff are Floor Fellows to 54 freshman, will be getting a 45 min talk about how to get in that door.  I get to shape the young minds of tomorrow, tonight.

    Forget poor young minds.  Poor World.

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    And I Thought IM Was Long...

    Official Crew Chief Motto
    Round about 8:30 PM MST on Saturday, I saw a time on the official race clock that usually indicates I am either finished or very close to doing so.  But in this case, we weren't even halfway done with the event.  Oy. 

    Backing up for a second, Team Flatlanders registered and set up camp at the race site on Friday afternoon.  All singles (people riding alone for all 24 hours) and teams (2 or 4 people trading off laps over the 24 hours; every team member must do 2 laps, one during the day and one during the night) had tents and RVs in the same field
    Home of High Altitude Suffering Since 1983
    at the base of a miniature ski hill - the climbing of which starts each 17.8 mile lap.  It was like an outdoor self-contained psychiatric facility for mountain bikers.  Spandex, beer, and Gus featured prominently. 

    Half of Camp Team Flatlanders
    Between Friday night and Saturday morning our group grew from 4 to 8, then bumped up to 12 on Saturday afternoon, but was back down to 10 by Sunday morning.  Food, tents, sleeping bags, bikes, clothes, chairs, mattress pads, camping cooking equipment, cars, was good that two team members are West Point graduates as there was some military maneuver precision involved.

    The race started at 10 AM on Saturday as Leadville races do - with Ken and his shotgun.  Singles and the first team riders assaulted the ski hill and everyone else settled in for food and their turn to ride.

    The early hours were easy going - the weather was pleasant, bordering on hot, so the riders weren't shivering when they come back; riders weren't exhausted and could easily find/gather/identify food to eat; the sun was up so things couldn't get really lost.  Our riders were finishing laps between 1:39-1:51, and our entire group would troop over to greet the returning rider and immediately send off the next.

    ...wait a sec, this hill is big...
    Somewhere in the afternoon the South Africans showed up, bringing an RV, lots of beer, and Waldo, the pig to be roasted for the awards celebration the following afternoon. 

    The Support Staff's older sister brought a surprise cake to mark my birthday.  Yes, I was spending my birthday living in a tent next to a line of port-a-potties in a dusty field, feeding shivering, starving bike riders hot soup in the middle of the night.  No, I wouldn't have it any other way. 

    But at about 11 PM (13 hours race time) the excitement - and caffeine and sugar - wore off and the grind set in.  Kids disappear into sleeping bags and riders crash for fitful naps between laps.  Between 11 PM and 7 AM my routine went like this:
    • wake-up ~15 min before the current rider was due back to make sure the next rider is up, dressed, fed, and lighted up (night rides required front, back, and helmet lights); and to start heating water and soup
    • go over to the finish/start line with the next rider and whomever else was up to greet the current rider and send off the next - and eat a handful of potato chips myself in the athlete food tent
    • help the previous rider change before they started shivering uncontrollably and prepare hot soup/beverage with cheese and crackers - and have a slice of cheese myself
    • rinse dishes and bed down in the back of the van until 15 min before the now-current rider was due back (anywhere between 40-60 min)

    To give you a sense of the weather: a 12-hour team left at 10:30 PM and bequeathed us a partially used bag of ice.  It sat untouched (this story itself explains why) on the ground at the edge of our tarp until the next morning at 9 am, when it was thrown away - entirely intact. 

    Our group arrived back in Breckenridge at 2:30 PM on Sunday - after leaving for the race site at 7 AM on Saturday.  I was wearing exactly the same clothes as when I left - minus 1 of the 2 layers I had added during the night - and we all simultaneously collapsed and/or descended into a hilarious stupor.

    Some more pictures to better convey what in memory is quickly becoming one big blur:
    Where's Waldo?  In the smoker.
    How You Fuel A 24HR Race: Chocolate Cake and Gatorade
    How You Dress For A 24HR Race: With Everything In Your Closet
    How You Feel After A 24Hr Race: Drained...But Smiling

    Sunrise (facing west): sun shining over mtns to the East (behind the camera), hitting mtns to the West (seen), but the entire Leadville valley hasn't been touched

    Solo Rider Tent Row...the fastest solo rider did 12 laps, our team of 4 did 12 laps...
    The Miraculous Bag of Ice
    Team Flatlanders - VICTORIOUS!
     But the best way to summarize the entire weekend:

    1 Crew Chief (me)
    2 Tents
    3 Cars
    4 Riders
    5 Kids
    24 Hours of Leadville, The Inaugural Riding

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