Friday, September 23, 2011

The Off-Season is On

Now that my races are behind me for 2011, it's time to start the off-season training. Since I still don't have a car, I can't meet up with other cyclists so that leaves me with swimming, weight-training and running.

I decided to kick off the weekend with... a cold. That meant I wasn't getting in the pool - no way, no how. So it's been a good week to get that run thing going.

My running goal is always like that New Year's resolution everybody makes and 90% give up on 6 weeks later. I just give up on it before I reach the end. So this season, instead of trying a new down-loadable program, I'm just going to take what I know I've got and try to improve on it.

Starting From Scratch
Not having been on a consistent running schedule, I'm pretty much starting at square one. That's okay by me since I never really got past square 2 anyway.

I was going to get a new 5K time but since I had no ambition to get on the road with this cold, I'm just using my only timed 5K road race as my starting point. In that race, I finished at 42:42. It was a hilly course but no matter. The average walk/jog/shuffle-y thing speed for that race calculates out to about 4.35 mph so I'm going to approach this from three angles (which might be a bad thing given my distaste for geometry).

1) All workouts will be done on a treadmill. This will force my legs to keep a steady pace until I am comfortable keeping pace outdoors. The lighter weight-bearing activity will prevent injury and this also eliminates the weather as an excuse for not running. I'll keep the grade at 1% for a flat road.

2) I'm starting out at a pace below my 5K time - 4mph which is what on the bike would be considered "base mileage." It isn't running yet - more like a brisk walk - but the muscles will start getting the message that this going to be the adaptive workout du jour.

3) All workouts will be 45 minutes long. If I actually get faster (you'd think I would but who really knows) the runs would get shorter as I progressed if I only measured my workouts in distance. Starting at 45 minutes at 4mph also pretty much guarantees that I'll be covering at least a 5K every time.

So the trick then is to push a little faster each week through the winter until I'm holding a 6 mph jog every time. At that point, I should be strong enough to add in some high intensity interval training and some higher grades.

The first two workouts have gone fine although I do have to go 47 minutes to get that last 1/10th of a mile in for a complete 5K. I should have brought more Kleenex with me, too. I'm sure things will start to get interesting when I start creeping up to the 4.7 - 5.1 mph mark since I can never decide whether I'm walking or jogging at those speeds.
Saturday, September 17, 2011

Moving Along

As I sit here today, waiting for my piece o'crap car to get fixed ( for weeks now, my husband has been battling National Tire and Battery about my car), I thought I'd write an update on what's been going on and what my next goals are.

My Car
Although it's safe to drive, it still isn't legal. Because of this, I missed my last triathlon of the season simply because I'm not taking my car out unnecessarily and my gear doesn't fit in my husband's little jeep. That means my official rides and races are over for the year. My first goal is to get a sticker on my car. My second goal is to get a new car.

I Need to Finish Something
I finished one triathlon early on in the season with less than flying colors and the rest were DNFs (except for that race in Tiverton, RI, but I didn't get an "official" finishing time). I definitely have too much unfinished business on my plate to look at more difficult venues. I just need to get done what I set out to do.

Lose 30 pounds
Lighter is faster. Period. I thought that my weight-loss goal was 25 pounds but the new data by triathlon fitness expert Matt Fitzgerald puts me 30 pounds over my racing weight. I have all winter to do it so I don't have to go to extremes to get it done.

Personal Trainer Certification
About mid-week, my manager at the gym sent me an email that one of our partners - Dr. Patti Mantia of Holyoke Community College and AFAA consultant - is holding a 6-week Personal Training Certification course on Saturdays this Fall at our gym. She comps one gym employee per year to attend these sessions and I'm the lucky duck that gets the free ride. I've always had some sort of schedule conflict that prevented me from doing this earlier but it appears the Timing Gods have finally smiled on me.
I'm very excited about this and have already started creating flash cards to help me memorize the bones, joint movements, and muscles. I actually woke up the other night and the first thought that came to me was, "Sternocleidomastoid!"

I found a nice indoor lap pool not too far from home that I can access once a week. I can work on technique in the pool at my gym (I think I've mentioned it's a kidney-shaped pool in the hotel so it doesn't lend itself to endurance laps). I'll then compliment that training with laps at the other pool. I'll see if I can find a timed, 1 mile open water swim event in late Spring or early Summer that I can lead into...

Half Ironman Aquabike
That's a 1.2 mile swim and a 56 mile bike ride event. I know I can ride the bike, it's just a question of that water thing. This off season I won't be waiting until February to get back into the water. I know my legs won't hold up for a half-marathon this year but I'd love to get in a longer timed bike race... and get past that water thing.

George Street Challenge - Worcester, MA
Distance - 500 feet. Average Grade - 18%.

Well, this actually does fall under the "more difficult venue" category but it's been on my radar for awhile and the work I need to do to complete it falls within my training schedule for the year.

George Street in Worcester (pronounced "WooH-ster" or "wuh-stah" if your native accent is thick) is well known in the area as the training ground for one of the first pro African American cyclists named Marshall "Major" Taylor. He won the U.S. circuit championships in 1899 and 1900. He also won the world one-mile professional cycling championship in 1899.

Right now, I think I can get to about here:
About as far as I can climb

To achieve this goal, besides losing the weight and continuing with my strength training, I'm going to find a steeper hill a little closer to home that I can repeat. In all likelihood, that hill will be Tower Hill Road which is just over the Mass./Rhode Island border from home. Tower Hill is 1,113.5 meters (under 3/4-mile), has an average gradient of 8.3% and maxes out at 16.7%. I've never even bothered to try and climb it. Now, I'm going to try and repeat it... if I ever get to the top just once.

The "Goal within the goal" is to beat Ginny Fanning's time of 86.53 seconds. Due to copyright rules, I can't re-publish her picture here but follow the link and you'll see that she's 71 years young and did the climb in sneakers!

Run a 5K in less than 30 Minutes
Oh, boy. Here I go again. The thing is, if I can't run, there's really no point in doing even sprint-distance triathlons because I simply dread what should be an easy finish. I'm going to change up my training a little this year and I'll outline the new strategy later on. If I can at least get closer to a 30 minute 5K as opposed to a 45 minute 5K, then I'll feel more confident about entering full tris again... especially if I can also get past that water thing.

Hotter 'n Hell Hundred 2012
You knew this was coming. I managed over half the course this year and really only pulled out because of the excessive heat. I was working out at the gym 2 days later. In other words, the experience didn't scare me off or sour me on the event (although I think it scared some of the people at my gym because I'm still getting questions about it). Still, a DNF is a DNF so there are definitely a couple of things I'll be doing differently. After all, I'd like to finish it this time.
What the heck, in the HHH, I don't even have to deal with that water thing.
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Archer City

As you may have noticed from my pictures of Holliday, Texas, there really isn't much to look at in the area. As such, you have to look at the details to find inspiration for your next adventure.
110 Degrees is Uninspiring

Found Inspiration on Main Street
That red arrow isn't pointing to a street sign. It's actually a mileage sign to the next town. The next town is Archer City, 20 miles away. Archer City is the hometown of actress Angela Kinsey who plays Angela (go figure) in The Office. While that is kind of cool, the city is best known as the birthplace of Pulitzer prize-winning author, Larry McMurtry.

Location shots for The Last Picture Show and Texasville were shot in parts of Archer City, Wichita Falls, and even little Holliday. Holliday isn't listed in the IMDB location filming credits but my cousins have the Kodak moments of Jeff Bridges talking with the locals in-between scenes to prove it. In contrast, Cybill Shepherd was nowhere to be seen. (Rumor has it that she was hiding away, terrified of catching something from the natives.)

McMurtry's story is semi-autobiographical and it was a little intriguing to see where the films were shot, but it is also worth noting that while he lived in the Washington D.C. area he and two partners started a used book store in Georgetown called Booked Up, Inc. He opened a branch in Archer City and it is now one of the largest used book stores in the United States.

As I'm a big fan of the dying culture of the used bookstore (you can't get that smell from a Kindle,) that's the kind of inspirational detail that I'm always looking for. It was then that I knew I must make a pilgrimage to Archer City before I left Texas.

I originally thought that the trip would be a solo ride by bicycle. As you may already know, my earlier local rides didn't turn out so well. Once again, I hired my sister to be my Sherpa guide (paid for with endearing begging) and we took off for the local Hollywood launch pad.

The ride there was pretty much what I have already showed you. We did stop at the rest area so I could take more pictures.
Cooking on grill is not recommended.
Nearing the town, my sister noted a sign for the Lonesome Dove Bed and Breakfast. We were definitely in Larryville. There is one thing that stands out about Booked Up that I never realized before my visit. There are actually four buildings that hold the nearly 450,000 books in its collection. Each of the buildings is somewhere around the courthouse and that makes sense since most of the town is around the courthouse.
Archer City Courthouse

We went into Building #4 first since it was closest. It's right next door to the Royal Theater  which was featured in The Last Picture Show.
Royal Theater from Booked Up Entrance

Then we went into Building #4.
Building #4
Inside Building #4, I found an interesting sign. It seems the only clerks around are in Building #1. The other three buildings have surveillance cameras to not answer your questions. You simply bring your books to Building #1 and pay for everything at once.
You are Here. Pay Over There.
Over in Building #1, I found a small vignette honoring the Old West section of books.
Local Steer Posing for the Tourist
While I was browsing in Building #1, I spotted Leo, the cat, resting near the back door. I tried to take a picture of the snoozing kitty but Leo had other ideas. A proper host, he came over meowing and greeting his visitors. He acted like he was really happy to see us. I finally started petting him just to get him to sit still long enough to get a picture.
Leo Welcomes Me to Booked Up, Inc.
What's Missing Here?
What's missing in all of the pictures are people. There weren't any. This was Tuesday at around lunchtime. The only two people in the bookstores besides me and my sister were the two clerks in Building #1. Dying culture,indeed. Mirroring the bookstore was the town square around the courthouse. Archer City is practically a ghost town. As far as I could tell, there were more bookstores than restaurants - one cafe' and one Tommy's Donuts and Fried Rice restaurant (I'm not kidding and I don't want to know). You can also get lunch to go at the local Oodles Market (a convenience store, really). My sister and I grabbed large cherry limeade slushes at Oodles to keep us cool for the trip back to Holliday.

Side note: Has anyone else ever suffered brain freeze in your chest? Man, that is seriously painful and scary.

On the way home while sniffing and searching the area for wildfires, I wondered how much longer McMurtry could sustain Booked Up, Inc. and if Archer City, which primarily a rancher's town, could rebound from the drought in the current economy.

I also decided that I'm happy I trusted my instincts and didn't try to ride to Archer City by bike. The local market was on the other side of town from where I would have entered and I could see myself falling apart looking for it on those hot roads.

Score one for common sense.
Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hotter 'n Hell Hundred Report

Welcome to Texas
A drought-ridden area. An announced optional start one hour early to beat the heat. 84 degrees at 4:30 AM. Sweat running down my back while standing next to my bike in the dark at 6:00 AM. This could be... not good.

It wasn't.

The Lead-in
I guess it really starts with the extra time it took my LBS to pack my bike. That extra day and a half backed up the shipping arrival. While I arrived in Holliday - outside of Wichita Falls - on Friday, the bike didn't arrive until Tuesday. That left me with three days of race/walking to try and get used to the heat and nearly every day was a record-setting heat-blaster of a day. That also left me with the strangest taper I've ever tried to do.

I took some pictures of Holliday that I'd like to share.

Here's the heart of the bustling downtown area.
Downtown - Where all the lights are bright.

Do a 90 degree turn to the left and you're looking down Main Street.

Here's the local jail, circa 1925. They've built a new one since then.
Who needs waterboarding when you have this.

After spending most of Tuesday putting the bike back together (UPS, I have said ugly, unprintable things about you and your handling of bicycles) I finally got out on the bike Wednesday and decided to go out after lunch. Maybe I should have gone out a little later after lunch... okay, I SHOULD HAVE WAITED LONGER - happy now? If you ever get antsy when you haven't been on your bike in awhile, you get an idea of how I was feeling. I ignored the big glob of gunk in my gut and started pedaling away to see how I did on the chip seal roads. The goal was to do somewhere around 20 miles at an easy pace.

My cousin would later note that about the time I was outside, it was 110 degrees. That would explain the cramping and the decision to turn and head back before I was 5 miles out. Riding on a full stomach on a road that makes you feel like you're the ice in a bartender's cocktail shaker explains other near-catastrophic events (no need to further paint that picture). I managed 9 miles in 45 minutes and was gasping and nearly suffering from heat exhaustion. So much for Acclimatization Ride number one.

At least I had the local scenery to keep me company.
Simulating Race Day Conditions

On top of all of this, my tendency to not tighten things like guys tighten things came back to haunt me. By the time I got back, my seat had lowered and my handlebars were drooping. My husband was on the phone scolding me and telling me to find a guy to tighten the bolts. I ignored his chastising.

Thursday, everything seemed to be working out better except that around mile 6, I realized that the same cleat issue I had before I left Massachusetts was occurring again. I turned around and headed home. That day, I felt better about the ride itself but still had mechanical issues to deal with. A trip into town for some silicone sealant, tightening everything up (again - yes, I still didn't tighten it up right) and a quick test ride around the block and that was as good as it was going to get.

The day before the ride, I added salt to a 32-ounce bottle of Powerade and spent the day drinking that and eating salty crackers, etc.

The Ride
The race day itself played out almost as I expected. When they gave us the go-ahead, I stayed to the right - out of harm's way to avoid the "dodgers" that were going to jut in and out of the slower riders in an attempt to break from the pack.

When the crowds started to thin out after 20 miles or so, it was easier to pick up a little speed. Not having had a chance to check out the hills on the course, I decided to do easy spinning on the smaller slopes to conserve energy.

At the mile 50 rest stop, I made what would turn out to be a crucial mistake. I had only 13 miles to go before reaching the Hell's Gate cut-off and it was only a little after 10;00 AM so I figured I was making great time. I also noticed that more and more people were starting to get treated for heat-related issues so I decided to stick around and bring my heart rate down a tad. I had two cups of Gatorade and spent some time under a tent and eating ice and a package of Honey Stinger Chews (I should mention that unlike the Powerbar Energy Blasts, they didn't melt in the heat.) Feeling refreshed but aware of a noticeable increase in the temperature, I took my time getting to the next rest stop. The people of Burkburnett were out with hoses for the riders and we snaked along the route to get a shot of each one. I also took the time to ride up and high-five the lines of kids that were cheering us on.

I arrived at the mile 60 rest stop only to be informed by one of the awesome volunteers that due to there being an increase in cases of heat-related stress and a temperature at 103 degrees, Hell's Gate had just closed. Yes, they closed the gate at 11:00 - one hour earlier than I had anticipated - and there I was, about 3 miles away.

Emotionally, I guess it was downhill from there. Between the heat, the missed Gate, and the fact that I couldn't get a clear idea if I had 30 miles to go or 13 miles, I pretty much gave up. I took my time getting going again - even taking time out to call my sister and tell her I'd missed the Gate and would be in early. When it neared about Noon, I saw a SAG wagon on the side of the road and, remembering my fun lunch time ride from 3 days earlier, decided that I should take myself out of the game before someone had to peel me off of the pavement. Once I felt the A/C in the cab of the truck, I knew I wasn't getting out until I was back at Finish Line Village.

One thing that ticked me off when we got there was that some riders actually jumped back on course to ride through the finish line and get medals. Here in New England, we call that, "Pulling a Rosie Ruiz," for the woman that in 1980, won the Boston Marathon only to be found out later that she actually jumped into the race a half-mile from the finish. Nice going people.

On the bright side, I was delighted to finally get the opportunity to meet Roy and Christine from the Pedal Pushers cycling club of San Angelo. Purely by chance, we met at the convention center where we were supposed to meet the evening before. The heat and health of my sister (she's a wimp - okay, she's got some health stuff that affected her that day) forced us to miss a meeting the previous evening. Chris and Roy invited us back to their hotel room where they presented me with a Pedal Pushers cap. Roy even gave me his Finisher's medal as a souvenir. That was incredibly generous of him.

We had a great visit talking about cycling, equipment, blogs, and the record heat and how miserable it was to ride in that climate. Of course, before we had even had a chance to shower, we were discussing how we would be revising our training strategy for a more successful ride next year.

Gotta love endurance athletes.