Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blow Out The Candles and Raise the Bar

I don't celebrate milestones with a lot of fanfare. I generally start out determining my goals for the next year some time around November. Then it's a matter of revising and refining until I get where I need to be. The milestones are in there somewhere.

This year, as I'm getting ready for the Hotter 'n Hell 100, I felt that a good goal would be riding 50 mile bike rides by my birthday. My birthday was Saturday and I thought that 50 miles for 50 years would make me feel like I was on the right track.

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating with the time-line and so I kept missing the cut. Saturday I had to cut out at 17 miles. Sunday - don't even go there lol. Monday was another 17 miles and the first time I got caught out in the rain. I headed back to the car in a panic, thinking about rusting derailleur cables. I finished Monday with an hour on the elliptical.

Today - no chance of rain, no excuses. I still don't have the battery for my bike's computer but I know my turn-around point on the Blackstone River Bikeway is 8.5 miles and so I just wore my heart rate monitor and logged 3 separate sessions, pausing at the half-way point in order to get an accurate assessment of my fitness level.

The first go-round was a high cadence spinner to warm up the legs. The second time out, I used a higher gear on the flats (read: 98% of the path) with about a 65-70 RPM as a strength session. The final out and back put me in new mileage territory this year so I put in one of those coast-and-cruise efforts in order to back off some of the pressure on my knees.

I noticed that while it was quite congested over the weekend on the paths, it was practically desolate today. Perhaps the warmer weather is keeping people indoors? I know I spent a little extra time at my car cooling off with towels dipped in the melted ice from my cooler. It's usually much more crowded, even during the week. Today was much easier going than Monday's crowd that was combined with a surprise Box Turtle Slaloms course. Some of those puppies could send a clueless cyclist like me into an endo.

Nutrition-wise, the three breaks at the car were split between one yogurt and 2 Mojo bars and the turn-arounds were 2 Chomps each except for the last break which was a GU Rocktane. After the ride, I had a coconut water and when I got home, a fresh kiwi fruit. I didn't seem to suffer any ill effects during or after the ride.

So, at least I made it before June. 50 years and 51 miles.

It's nifty at 50. Now, I'm half way home.
Friday, May 27, 2011

Saddle Time

After a rainy period that conjured up images of an Ark, the past few days have been rather pleasant here.

Tuesday was overcast and rain was predicted in the late afternoon. Temperatures into the 80's were also predicted so, with my A-list Hotter 'n Hell 100 event in mind,  I had to jump at the opportunity to train in the hotter, muggy weather in the Noon sun. I got out of work and went over to the bike path. I had hoped for a semi-epic-for-a-middle-aged-broad 50-mile base training ride but the clouds started to darken after my first 17-mile go-round. I also realized I had no extra nutrition and only one more bottle of water left, so I decided to hit the loop one more time and pack it in at mile 34.

I try to set some sort of goal for every ride I do. First off, I never worry about time (unless I'm off-course and people are waiting for me). Time and endurance come naturally with the right practice and better efficiency so there's no point in thinking about long-course racing when I don't cover the mileage on a training route yet. The idea is to get to the point where certain aspects of riding are second-nature to me. Some days, I work on the basics like drinking every 10 minutes while riding. Other days, it might be to assess a new piece of gear like bike shoes and cleat adjustments. For this 50 mile ride, it was to see if I could handle carrying two 24-ounce water bottles with ice, a multi-tool, a chain tool, two tubes and a new Topeak Road Morph G frame pump without crashing or bonking. I wanted to make sure I could hold my own on some upcoming long group rides and carrying an arsenal of bike paraphernalia is paramount to my success.

As I realized I was only good for a second 17-mile ride, I changed up and carried the load utilizing a high-cadence drill. I figured that this would be the best workout under the circumstances and it really did not disappoint. First off, when I drop to a lower gear and buzz up the legs to close to 100 RPMs, my average MPH dropped from 16-17 down to 13-14 but my heart rate started churning. Secondly, the path only has three small hills - none of which are worthy of categorization and I only see a handful of people standing on their pedals to climb them - but when my spinning legs hit the base of those little hills, it was definitely met with some leg and lung discomfort. Moving into a place of discomfort is, of course, is the point of a training ride and so I just decided to be satisfied with the results in spite of the darkening clouds and shorter mileage.

On Wednesday, I decided to try again. I loaded up a small cooler with ice, water, and a yogurt for lunch. On my way out, I stopped at the local bike shop for some energy bars and GU gels (nasty but effective, I guess). Unfortunately, on the second go-round on this second day, only about a third of a mile from my car, I noticed my front tire was soft. Now, I know I have the new frame pump but I also know I have, from the previous owner of the bike, Slime tubes. I don't know if I was being irrational, but I had to wonder if by not taking off the tire to seal the tube and really getting a chance to examine the tire, I was setting myself up for disaster with a potential tire wall separation. I couldn't really see a problem with the tire but decided to just ride back to the car and call it a day after 17 miles.

At home, I still saw no problem with the tire but decided to use the frame pump instead of my floor pump to add air and re-seal the tube. The idea was that if I can't make it work at home, there's no way it's going to happen on the road. 24 hours later, the tire was still holding its own. So, again, while I'm not happy with the mileage, the chance to test my gear without running into a catastrophe made for a successful, albeit short, ride and I now have more confidence in my frame pump (but still with only a small amount of confidence in the tubes).

I had a session with my swim coach Thursday afternoon and opted for a spin class that evening. After the harder, high-cadence drilling I did two days earlier, the spin class was harder than usual and I started hitting a higher heart rate. I was happy about that and decided to take a day off the bike before (hopefully) jumping into some longer miles this weekend.
Monday, May 23, 2011

Throwing Us a Curve

My Dad once gave me some very sage advice when he said, "Kid, always be ready to improvise." Since I would never be a Boy Scout, it took on a more personal tone than, "Always be prepared," and, as a jazz musician, I could take it literally or apply it figuratively. It was advice that has served me well and so, as the weather in this region has pushed many endurance athletes indoors for extended periods this Spring, it is advice I've had to apply to my training. Most of us in the Northeast have had to re-think and revise our training or risk losing recent gains.

I won't bore anyone with the sets and reps I've been doing. Suffice it to say that I switched to an extra week of strength training, focusing on leg drive and core work.

Before the past week-and-a-half 's complete washout, I did manage to get out and log more base miles before my impromptu Tour de Rhody. While I was riding, it suddenly occurred to me that while I am always jealous of the wide shoulders shown on the roads of the Pedal Pushers' blog, we here in the Northeast have something Texans have very little of... that would be water.

As the greenery is starting to replace the brown here, I decided to take a couple more pictures of the Blackstone River Bikeway.
You first get a glimpse of the power of the river at the first rest area.

A highway overpass at about the 6 mile mark. Cyclists cross the river on the lower bridge.
A cyclist just crossed the lower bridge.

One of the larger mills. The river is between the tree line and the building.
This bridge is my turn-around point at 8.5 miles. Great place to stop.

When the sun finally broke through Sunday, I did what many other dedicated amateur athletes do... I went to the baseball game. One of my sisters-in-law (I have six) gave me and my husband tickets to the Sunday night game at Fenway Park. It was an early birthday present to me.

This game was between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox. As I was born in Wrigleyville, right down the street from Wrigley Field and was raised in the 'burbs, I grew up as an avid Cub fan. After I married and re-settled in Boston, it seemed highly unlikely that the Cubs would ever play against the Red Sox except in a re-match of the 1918 World Series. Therefore, it seemed completely harmless to become loyal to the local Sox. As an added bonus, I realized I had some things in common with Red Sox fans:
  • We both dislike the White Sox
  • We both dislike New York (Cubs against the Mets, Boston against the Yankees)
  • We both hadn't won a World Series since the Mesozoic era
  • Both teams play in historic old parks
Until the last couple of years of inter-league play, it's been easy to keep my alliances with both teams.

Sunday night, we met up with my husband's brother and one of his sister's husbands (commonly referred to in our family as my brother 'out-law'). I had my hands full catching flak from the boys as I was now cheering on the Red Sox instead of the Cubs, but it's very hard to follow the Cubbies while living in New England and so I stayed local with my loyalties instead of jumping on the visitor's bandwagon. Truth be told, it was "no-lose" situation for me that night.

In the end, it was a chilly evening but rain-free.  A round of beer was replaced by a round of hot chocolate and, as you can tell by the picture below with the warning sign of watching out for foul balls and flying bats, we had great seats.
Sitting in row 5

There are signs that the weather is about to change. I would expect that we will see Spring for oh, about 3 hours until the temps start to move into the 80's and 90's. Still, it will be nice to finally be able to ditch the thermal underwear for a few weeks.
Sunday, May 15, 2011

Remembering Murphy

I drove down to Tiverton, Rhode Island Saturday morning to ride in the Rhode Island Ocean Tides Senior Games. There was a 4-mile course and an 8-mile go 'round (2 loops of the 4-mile course) starting immediately after that. This isn't a qualifier for the Senior Olympics so it's very laid back and very few people showed - maybe 10 racers tops. I really just wanted a little more racing experience and felt this to be the perfect venue. I wasn't concerned with winning but being timed can help give me an assessment of my current level of fitness.

I figured what can possibly go wrong - right? Right.

I arrived first and took a parking space to strategically psych out my competitors.

When the Port-o-Potty arrives, the party can get started.

I did a quick maintenance check on the bike, topped off the tire pressure and sat in the car and waited for everyone else.

The view of Nonquit Pond was not very conducive to a hard-core race mentality.

The race start was a 30-second interval time-trial start - one person takes off every 30 seconds. We lined up and I had only one guy left starting behind me. I passed the only other woman in the race early on (Julie is 74 years old and wears a knee brace - I mean....) Up the road a ways, there were a few orange cones surrounding either potholes or frost heaves that I negotiated around rather easily and continued to ride hard.

The next racer up was tough. There were a few men in the group that obviously raced often and I just don't have the base training or experience that these seasoned racers do (or the head start, for that matter). It was a pain trying to close the gap and while I managed to make up some ground, I just couldn't make up the total difference. It also seemed like this course was longer than I thought it would be. I didn't know the course until the race director put it up on a white board right before we took off so I really couldn't preview it. Instead, I just focused on trying not to lose time off the next racer.

Then I saw a Little Compton squad car but thought that a lot of races I do and plotted courses I ride cross into other towns so it wasn't that unusual to see signs of the town next door.

I hadn't re-set the odometer on my computer for several rides. It's a little fussy and I get impatient with it. I usually just do an 18 mile base ride anyway. Then I noticed that I'd been on course for more than 15 minutes. At 15 minutes, I felt that I should have been close to finishing, not still looking for the half-way mark, but I was just convinced I was that slow. Then, after what seemed like I had been cooked forever, the racer I had been hanging onto turned around (red flag #1 - they were lost, too?) and that's when I realized I had been trying to hang onto the back of a 20-something woman (red flag #2 - not even eligible to race). Oh, boy. Those gender-neutral ANSI yellow jackets leave something to be desired in the I.D. department.

Then I started to ride into a harbor inlet area and not the pond we're supposedly riding around (the bigger boats were a big clue) and I flagged down the next Little Compton squad car I saw and told the officer what happened. I pulled my bike in front of her car so as to avoid an accident with a passing car. She, in turn, put on her flasher's to alert them. Shades of the crack-down on cyclists in New York City, I had a fleeting thought that the people in the passing cars were probably wondering what I had done to get cited and some were, no doubt, loving every minute of it.

She pulled a tourist's map out of the squad car and showed me where I was (Sakonnet Point) and where I needed to be. She said, "You've got quite a ride back." I told her that was okay but also asked her to inform the Tiverton police department that I was on my way back since they would probably be out looking for me in ditches and such places and she graciously did so. I then started back and, knowing that at least the organizers would probably still be there, tried to hustle as much as I could.

On my way back, a volunteer from the race found me and I stopped to tell him what happened and that I planned on finishing (that was going to be the only way I was going back but didn't say it at that point). I had just reached the turn that I missed - two miles out - and he gave the "okay" to keep going.

Remember those orange cones? Yep. Not frost heaves or potholes, they were marking the turn-off that I so incompetently ignored. Oh, boy.

With a little over a mile to go, the same Tiverton police officer who had stopped traffic for us out on the Main Street turn came up to me in his squad car from the opposite direction. I heard him yell, "ARE YOU EDIE??" I yelled back, "THAT'S MEEEE!" as I continued to ride and he turned around and followed me to the finish.

Most everyone was still there cheering me when I pulled into the parking lot and I had to sit there apologizing profusely for screwing up. I turned to the policeman who had followed me into the parking lot and thanked him and he said, "You're welcome. Well done."

They all crowded around and asked where I had been and when I pulled out the map the Little Compton policewoman gave me and showed them, they all freaked out. "Sakonnet Point" had actually been a quip that the race director said when someone wondered how far I had gone (and he told me that everyone had laughed). While Julie won 1st place and a blue ribbon medal (go girl!), they gave me a blue ribbon medal for what the race director decided to call the, "Magellan Award." They figured I earned a top award just for screwing up so badly and still making it back in one piece. They also gave me extra packages of cheese and crackers and a second t-shirt.

During the post-race photo-shoot, I told everyone that I was going to ask for a Garmin for Christmas.

When I got home, I mapped it out and it added up to about 18.25 miles. They didn't have a watch on me by that time but figured I had been out on course a little more than an hour. Oh, boy.

What could possibly go wrong - right?

Friday, May 13, 2011


After reporting on a less-than-stellar run at the Sudbury Spring Tri and an admission that I don't have a training program for the run at all anymore, Ben from Becoming Timberman suggested that we push each other to run more. To that end, I decided to squeeze in mini-runs shuffle/jogs when I can in an attempt to up my run volume.

For instance, on Tuesday evening before I drove to spin class, I found myself with about 30 minutes to spare. Instead of catching up on Tweets or Facebook, I went over to the clubhouse, jumped on the elliptical for 15 minutes and then did some interval work on the treadmill for another 10 minutes.

It may not seem like much but when your runs are measured in minutes and not miles, it will (hopefully) add up. The added bonus is after you finish running, the body no longer has 24 - 48 hours to recuperate and starts adjusting it's recovery rate accordingly. Also, since I was on my way to a class that I use specifically to train anaerobically, I didn't have to worry about pushing my body on the run which saves some wear and tear on my knees. I've noticed several seasoned runners doing these types of multi-sessions at the gym so it's worth a shot.

Yesterday (Thursday) I thought that I'd be on the bike but the morning temps were convincing me to take another evening spin class. Since I had more time on my hands after work (I get out of work at 10AM on Thursdays) I decided to get on the road with my new running shoes and start breaking in those puppies. Once I was out there, I was glad I had on a jacket and wished I had on gloves. It was pretty nippy out there even for a run.

Anyway, I've been thinking about my shuffle/jog and "Chi Running". Author Danny Dreyer suggests a 90 RPM cadence. At my age, this is barely possible on the bike much less a run but I suspected that this is more than likely the reason I walk faster than I run and so I decided that I would first concentrate on increasing my leg turnover rate before adding on time to a pre-determined schedule.

I took the very manageable "Run one minute, walk 2 minutes, repeat for 20 minutes" Beginner's session and just focused on moving my legs faster. I immediately recognized that this is a key issue that needs to be addressed because when you have to push your pace just to run to the pace of the Sound of Music in your head, you're not running, you're shuffle/jogging.

I kept hearing the Do-Re-Mi song and Julie Andrews and those little kids chiming in... but I kept changing the lyrics:

"Let's start at the very be-ginning. A very good place to start.
When you read, you being with (Little Kid)'A-B-C'.
When you run you begin with, "I can't breathe." (Kids) "I can't breathe."
(Julie)"I can't breathe. The first three words just happen to be...COUGH! COUGH! GASP! CHOKE! COUGH!"

A sacrilege to The Sound of Music and Oscar Hammerstein II fans perhaps, but at the same time, maybe a thought that Andrews' late husband, Blake Edwards, might have appreciated.

Of course, if I'm running that slowly, I definitely need to pick up the pace and so the first order of business is to start running with my metronome (I've mentioned that I've tried all of this before so I've picked up quite a bit of gear along the way and a tiny golf-swing metronome by EyeLine Golf is one of those things) and just work on these simple 20 minute sessions until I'm up to pace, but for now, the only similarity between me and a doe is deer ticks and Lyme disease (yeah, I've had that, too.) I know I'm not running like any female deer, fer sure, fer sure.
Monday, May 9, 2011

Living the Cliche'

What Man Can Conceive and Believe, He Can Achieve.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.
You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying.

Let's start here... at some point in our lives, if we are truly fortunate, we will find a mentor. A person who believes in our potential when others only see our failures. A person who takes the time to show us our own greatness when all we see is a wall before us. If we have any brains at all, we take the lessons our mentors taught us and apply them to all aspects of our lives. This will make us better citizens, better family members, better spouses,  better friends, better us.

My mentor was my high school band director. Yeah, I know - shades of Mr. Holland's Opus and all that - how cliche'. Still, his skills at motivating a couple hundred kids to play for a President, march in the Orange Bowl parade, and win a national marching band championship were NOTHING in comparison to how he motivated the community of those kids. My Dad was wearing his band jacket on the golf courses of the Chicago suburbs long after I had finished my time at the Berklee College of Music and people would still ask him about he was involved with the band.

Kids get their parents going, parents get the community involved and all of a sudden, you've sold enough grapefruits, pizzas, and concert tickets to keep on keeping on with new uniforms, new instruments and a new equipment truck. It's the reason I support local farms, local businesses and local sports teams today - it creates a synergy wherein they can help locals in need.

Yeah, my band director taught me that. This guy was so good that he actually left teaching for a time to take gigs as a motivational speaker.

So suffice it to say that I have heard most every motivational quip and quote over the past 35 years and I also know how much work you have to put into anything in order to succeed in life.

I also know that none of what I just said applied whatsoever to my participation in Sunday's triathlon in Sudbury.

What Man Can Conceive and Believe....

I realized Saturday night that I could well be facing my very first DFL (that's Dead _ Last, to those who've never heard it and just fill in the blank.) Oddly, I so convinced myself that this would be the ultimate result that any ideas I had about having a respectable swim and successful bike segment simply disappeared. I decided instead that a more practical goal would be to just the finish the thing.

Let's pick this apart:

Failing to Plan is....

Rule #1: Don't change anything on Race Day.
Reality Check: I have yet to find an electrolytic/calorie replenishment system that works for me. I concluded that I didn't need any gels for a 90-minute race and just went with a single bag of GU Chomps I had just purchased for the first time. Unfortunately, I started eating them 3 hours before the race and really don't know how effective they are when used as directed.
Result: I have yet to find an electrolytic/calorie replenishment system that works for me.

The Swim:
Rule #2: You don't improve by practicing what you know. You improve by identifying and correcting your weaknesses. You can see this in proprioceptive training - you get better at cycling by cycling. You don't get better at swimming by cycling.

Reality Check: I have been in the pool maybe 5 times this year. When I registered, I put in a very slow finish time, figuring I'd submit a more accurate time when I got to a lap pool as I usually practice in a kidney-shaped pool. I never got into that lap pool and hadn't been in a lap pool in over 20 years. Out of approximately 500 entrants, my estimated finish time put my start at number 472. The only friend I would have is my push-off from the walls. I had no clue if I could even swim in a straight line any more.
Goal: To finish the swim in one piece.
Result: Success! Well, sort of. With a finish time of over 15 minutes, I actually did DFL on the swim and since my swim coach estimated my finish at about 10 minutes only two years ago, it just goes to show that you get out of it what you put into it. Evidently, I was lucky to get out of the water at all.

The Bike:
Reality Check: I suddenly realized Saturday night that I have never used my triathlon shoes on my new bike. While I did check the float on the pedals to make sure I could clip in and out without issues, there was a concern that something could go wrong.
Goal: Try not to embarrass myself on the bike.
Result: Success!

The Run:
You Never Fail Until....

Reality Check: I don't run and I don't like to run. I used to sprint but I have never had any distance endurance.

Except for one recent outing that involved loose dogs and improvised hill sprints to get away from said big dogs, what I do these days doesn't actually qualify as running either. It's more of a Middle-Aged Broad shuffle-jog/walk.

Chugga, chugga, chugga - walk. Repeat.

Books, online articles, offline articles, downloaded programs, B.A.A. marathoners coaching me, interval training, base training, and even participating in a Chi Running clinic have helped me reach a point where I can sometimes hit a blistering (just say "yes" to sarcasm) 11-minute mile on a good day but that's it. Ben from Becoming Timberman - you could kick my butt up and down a 5K course. Rule #2 applies here as well and since I loathe running, I don't practice it like I should and I never improve anymore. Somehow, I'm okay with that at the moment. It's also why I figured to take the DFL.

Goal: Finish the shuffle-jog/walk to finish the race, run (metaphor) home, shower, change and head off to my mother-in-law's house for Mother's Day.

Result: Success! I tore up the run course with about a 17-minute average mile (Not kidding). In comparison, it took me more time to run 2.3 miles than it did to ride my bike 7 miles. I also made it to my mother-in-law's for Mother's Day.

Amazingly enough, I didn't take the overall DFL. It was my bike riding that kept that from happening. Now, back to bike training with some swim cross-training thrown in there for a tri I've got scheduled in September.

No rest for the wicked.
Then, as I opened my email client today, my calendar reminded me that I've got 2 cycling races in the Rhode Island Ocean Tides Senior Games next weekend.

Oh, boy.
Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wait a Minute - A Triathlon??

I received an email from Firm Racing a little over a week ago. Firm Racing runs a series of popular triathlons and other endurance events in New England. Receiving an email isn't unusual as I subscribe to their mailings. What was different was the subject that read, "Sudbury Spring Sprint Triathlon Athlete Packet."

Sudbury... I remember. Sudbury was a triathlon that I signed up for a couple of years ago. It's a straight-forward sprint distance with a 400 yard pool swim. I thought it would be easier than jumping into a lake in New England in May. I bailed on it anyway when I work up on Race Day with a miserable cold.

This was supposed to be a "group" thing that several us would do together and this year, I jumped on the email announcement so that I would secure a spot, only to later discover that none of the other women in my group had any intention of racing this year.

Fabulous. I became so involved with the cycling that I forgot about it.

Until the email which "reminded" me that the triathlon is scheduled for Sunday, May 8th. Oops.

Eh, no matter. While I enjoy training for tris, I really dislike competing in them so I enjoy just participating as an event. It's easier on my schedule and my body. I get a t-shirt, maybe a sandwich, and a chance to get on my bike without worrying about being clipped by too many cars, then I'm home in time for the ball game.

So I figured I would take the first weekend in May and put in some heavy swim and run sessions, letting the cycling take care of itself. This plan was wiped away in one EPIC BRAKE FAILURE and I'm talking about on my crap car, not my bike. I was quite fortunate as I'd been riding around Rhode Island and Massachusetts, running errands, hitting my favorite bike path and bike shop - normal stuff I do on my day off - and my brake lines decided to fail just as I was pulling up to my front door to unload my bike. A brake line failure at 7 mph is unnerving but not terrifying... shift into neutral, hit the emergency brake, repeat to get it into a safe parking space, call the garage and AAA, and (first and last and everywhere in-between,) say as many, "thank yous" to as many different deities as you can think of because someone or something was looking out for you that day and I like to cover all of my bases.

Still, that put an end to training on Friday. Saturday was spent waiting for the station to call with an estimate on the price. Sunday was spent waiting for the thing to get fixed. I got it back at 6:30 PM Sunday evening - just in time to get ready for work on Monday.

The price? Oh, yeah. Well, I would have junked the thing but my husband decided to let them fix it for $1300 which was the price he negotiated down from the original $1800 estimate. I had put over $600 into brake lines, rotors and pads 2 years ago at another garage. All of that was wiped out. It not only needed all of the above again, it also needed a new master cylinder. This from a car that endures a simple 7- mile round-trip commute on a 40 mph road four days a week and I rarely drive over the speed limit these days - a result of smaller paychecks and nasty speed ticket fines in Massachusetts. I mean, what the.... That obstacle was an epic fail on my upbeat attitude.

I did manage to get in another bike ride and treadmill run this week and put in a workable 975 total yards in a swim session yesterday (Friday) morning so we'll see how it all plays out tomorrow.