Race Report: Lake Nockamixon Time Trial

Since I have never competed in a cycling race (outside of triathlon), I was excited for the Lake Nockamixon 20K Time Trial, which was on an out-and-back course over rolling terrain. In terms of performance, I figured I could ride between 275 and 285 watts, or 108-110% of my estimated FTP. I thought this might be good for around 30 minutes on the 20K course.

Grimacing

There wasn’t much fanfare in this time trial. Each rider received a time, showed up at the start a few minutes prior, and set out on the course in 30-second increments at the specified time (mine was 8:44:30). When the time came, I took off and was immediately grateful for my power meter because I realized I had no idea how to pace myself. With the adrenaline of the start, I was pushing 330-350 watts right away and, knowing these numbers were unsustainable, coached myself into a more manageable pace around 300.

I had my Garmin set up to give feedback every 2K so that I could mentally parse the effort into 10% segments. When I came through the first segment in just under 3 minutes with average power just north of 300 watts, I knew I was where I needed to be. The second segment was largely uphill, and with my eye on my power I diligently kept my watts under 320, holding back the natural inclination to push hard going up.

After the first big hill, I settled into a steady rhythm with my power and cadence. It took concentrated effort to hold power on the descents, and at times 270 watts was all I could muster in my 52-11. After the turnaround, I knew I could maintain through to the end. In the last 2K, I gave what I had left to finish strong.

The end result was an average power of 298 watts (~4.6 W/kg) and a time of 29:36 (~25 mph) for 1st place in Category 5 (cycling newbs). I was thrilled to have knocked my power target out of the park in a very evenly paced effort.

As I continue to work on increasing my power, I know I need to work on my position (this is obvious from scrolling through the race photos–I have one of the most upright positions of the participants). I had a cursory fit when I bought my bike, but the wrench who set me up knew it was my first TT bike and set me up in a very non-aggressive position–very comfortable, but decidedly un-aero. ~300 watts should get me more than the velocity it did, even on a hilly course like Nockamixon. Now, where to find $300 for a professional fit.

Advertisements

Training Week: 7/21-7/27

Swim: 14,100 Yards (3:06)
Bike: 200 Miles (10:04)
Run: 25 Miles (3:10)
Total*: 107 Points (16:20)
————————————————————————

Swim: Slowly speeding up in the pool. It’s hard to stay motivated here, and more often than not I’m dreading the impending workout as I walk to the gym. However, the Olympics is helping, and I got in a nice Ironman-length open water wetsuit swim this week, which is always a treat.

Bike: I continue to progress on the bike, though I am finding it difficult to get in both volume (>200 miles per week) and intensity on the bike in addition to running. While I managed to get in two 50+ mile tempo efforts (one on the Poconos 70.3 course, which I’m coming to know well), at no point in the week did I feel capable of really hammering a good 2×20 threshold workout or V02 intervals–my legs were just too fatigued.

In this week’s edition of near-death cycling incidents, I was rapidly descending a hill in the Poconos when I spooked a deer, which scampered out of the brush directly toward me on the road. Luckily, the deer halted just as I roared by, but I was so close to it that my front wheel rolled over the top of the deer’s hooves. Despite being down in the aero bars, I held control of the bike after the minor speed bump. Scary stuff…inches could have made for a gnarly accident.

Run: While my hip is still nagging me, the pain seems to be easing slightly. I managed to run for three consecutive days after laying off the first part of the week. The highlight was hill repeats in the rain, which was a nice break from the heat.

Total: Despite only six days of training, this was my highest-volume week since I’ve been in Philadelphia. I have one more week of heavy volume planned for this training block, followed by a couple weeks of lower-volume, higher-intensity work. In terms of fitness, my swim is almost where I’d like it to be, and a 20K TT (report forthcoming) gave me confidence that I’m improving on the bike. For the run, I just have to be patient and hope the pain eases enough to let me maintain my conditioning.

*I have a non-standard system for quantifying my training output. (Swim Dist x 4) + (Bike Dist / 4) + Run Dist = Total Points. Listed time is time spent swimming, biking, or running, not rest between intervals, walking, etc.

Training Week: 7/14-7/20

Swim: 12,300 Yards (2:41)
Bike: 194 Miles (9:44)
Run: 24 Miles (2:54)
Total*: 100.5 Points (15:19)
————————————————————————

Swim: Despite hitting the pool more regularly, I am still well behind where I was just a few short weeks ago. It’s dispiriting to see slow splits that I haven’t swam in two months. All week it was a struggle. In swimming, there are commonly workouts in which you just can’t get a feel for the water. I can’t describe what that means, but you know if when you feel it (or, more aptly, don’t feel it). But usually those incidences are more isolated…I’ve felt this way for days. Regardless, success in this discipline is a “long, patience-driven and sometimes frustrating path of years and yards,” according to James Haycraft, whose post sparked quite the swimming debate on Slowtwitch this week.

Spotify on the iPad, Trainer Road, & The Tour

Bike: The highlight of the week was near death at the mercy of a bike hater and his gas guzzler. There I was, riding through the Manayunk section of Philadelphia on perhaps the most bicycle-traversed road in the entire city–it connects two disjointed, paved segments of the Schuylkill River Trail. Though there’s no bike lane, it’s so much of a bike route that large white bicycles with forward arrows are imprinted on the pavement. I was waiting at a stop sign when a dark SUV behind me began honking repeatedly. I eventually threw up my hands in exasperation while waving it past. The truck pulled up to my left, and the driver rolled down the window, hurling obscenities. I returned the treatment, at which point he swerved in front of me onto the curb to cut me off. Luckily I was up on my hoods, so I locked up the brakes and, with a couple feet to spare, stopped in time to avoid slamming his rear passenger-side door.

Furious that he had willfully endangered my new wheelset, I was trembling with rage. I pulled my bike up onto the sidewalk even with the front window, and shakily inquired as to the driver’s problem. A large, graying husk of a man barked with a bastardized Italian accent: “My problem is that you’re biking the f- in front of me. Why the f- are you in front of me?” Me: “Because I’m riding my bike. I’m not impeding your progress…it’s a bike lane.” (In retrospect, “impeding” may have been a bit advanced for this malcontent.) This thread continued–he spewed hatred; I supplied reason–and with cars stacking up behind us, he ultimately decided the middle finger and the f-word trumped logic, and peeled away. Having filed the incident under “Philadelphia cons” and “Colorado pros”, I pedaled on, though I am still disturbed about the reckless endangerment of my wheels.

Altercations aside, improvement on the bike continues to be my training concentration. I did two flat 52-mile rides this week with focus on staying in the aero position and on holding an upper-tempo/lower-threshold wattage level (i.e. “sweet spot” work, close to half-Ironman effort level). This wattage does not feel very “sweet” at all, but the point is to come to know it and know it well, such that holding the pace in a race is second nature. Next weekend brings my first ever cycle race: a 20K TT with rolling hills. Having done no supra-threshold/VO2 Max work on the bike, I am completely unprepared to perform well at such a short distance, but it will be a good chance to get a sense of my 20-minute wattage and a great workout. I am shooting for between 110% of current FTP and 108% of goal FTP.

Run: The hip still nags, but I was pleased to fit in three runs this week. I felt good on Sunday night, when I had what I call an “extemporaneous threshold run”–when the intent to run fast/hard isn’t necessarily there at the outset, but feeling smooth and strong encourages you to gradually increase the pace until you’re running at a threshold pace. A storm moved in and the cool rain gifted a rare respite from the summer heat. Having clocked a controlled 10K in about 38 minutes, I know the fitness is still there. My bike workouts may be helping to preserve my run, since I hadn’t run fast in nearly a month.

Total: This was a solid training week to kick off an important 3-week block in my Pocono 70.3 prep. Next week is more and the week after is more still. Swimming, while a struggle, will come around with consistency. Cycling work continues in earnest. Running remains the wild card with the hip trouble, though I haven’t lost much, and I’ll start physical therapy soon.

*I have a non-standard system for quantifying my training output. (Swim Dist x 4) + (Bike Dist / 4) + Run Dist = Total Points. Listed time is time spent swimming, biking, or running, not rest between intervals, walking, etc.

Training Week: 7/7-7/13

Swim: 10,600 Yards (2:23)
Bike: 144 Miles (7:23)
Run: 16.6 Miles (2:21)
Total*: 77 Points (12:08)
————————————————————————

Swim: I got back in the pool after a short dry spell, and I’ve lost a good chunk of fitness. My splits are dreadful. It continually amazes me how consistent one has to be in swimming and how quickly fitness goes, as opposed to cycling and running fitness, which hang tough in periods of inactivity. They say you lose 2 weeks of work in 1 week. Rough.

Bike: Highlights included a) a hot, tough ride of the Poconos 70.3 course (and back to the car) for 80 miles with the new 404s/PowerTap (yes, I train on race wheels, and I’m making no apologies); b) a taxing 2×20 to verify a new FTP level; and c) a three-lap loop of the Philadelphia “Drives” with some nice periods pushing threshold wattage and zipping along at 23+. Climbing up the table and within striking distance (<5%) of my 70.3 goal wattage (as measured by 85% of FTP).

Run: Hip flexor pain with running continues, and I was only able to get out on my feet twice this week. I am losing ground with my run shape, but my chief concern is getting healthy. Once I can run ~30 miles per week again with at least a third of that around threshold, it’ll only be a matter of weeks before I’m cruising again.

Total: The bike (i.e. the weakness) continues to be the focus. Now that I have a power meter for my bike I can be just as precise about my training outdoors as I have been indoors…the power of information is huge in cycling (pun intended). The swimming will come back with consistency–I’d be happy to maintain where I was two weeks ago, when I blitzed an 8 x 300 set, but it may take a month to get back there.  Running is a huge wild card. If the hip improves, I’m set; if not, I’m screwed. Simple as that.

*I have a non-standard system for quantifying my training output. (Swim Dist x 4) + (Bike Dist / 4) + Run Dist = Total Points. Listed time is time spent swimming, biking, or running, not rest between intervals, walking, etc.

Background

In the fall of 2011, I was trudging through a trail run in the foothills when I became privy to the exotic sensation known colloquially as “runner’s high”—an experience that serious runners, with a kind of earned condescension, refuse to acknowledge to their more sedentary counterparts. Privately, most admit—there you are, physically suffering but mentally high, hurting in the legs and lungs but overwhelmed by feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being…euphoria. The ideas are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them. Sometimes it happens that the most insane thought, the most impossible conception, will become so fixed in one’s head that at length one believes the thought or the conception to be fated, inevitable, foreordained. That’s when I decided I would become a triathlete, and not just any triathlete, but a bona fide, long-course-proven Ironman.

I had some reasons: I had been a good runner in my younger days (those days were long gone, having recently clocked a 1:31 downhill half marathon, just fifteen minutes shy of my personal best from high school). I had started frequenting Saturday morning group bike rides, where I failed to stay on the wheel of even the most overweight middle-aged warriors. I swam back when my age was a single digit and thought Michael Phelps a swell guy.

Reasoning aside, I decided I would do this thing, and I would do it as well as I capably could. Like anything I ever opted to do in life, I’d go full throttle, because what was worth doing was worth doing well, or else I might as well quit, give up, walk away for other pursuits. Moderation has never been possible—all or nothing, on or off, heavy on the accelerator or stopped dead in the tracks.

But first, I had work to do. I didn’t sign up for a race; I signed up for a lifestyle. I became a student of the sport, designing my training regimen and fitness roadmap with all the foolishness of a novice, but with all the necessary pieces: swimming, biking, and running in large doses.

Since starting my training on October 1, 2011, I have found in triathlon a lot that’s mean and a little that’s sublime. But most importantly, what I’ve found is what I knew already: triathlon, like real sport of any kind, reduces you to your lowest terms by challenging the basest part of your being, your physical limitations…your threshold. To martial the tenacity of your mind in order to tempt that threshold for a day; to summon the strength or the courage to supersede that threshold for a week; and, perhaps, to wage warfare on the disquieting protests of your head to raise the threshold of your corporeal self…for years—and, to emerge victorious!—that’s the hardest, meanest, most empowering life there is. The self-created, self-granted, self-assumed power to bend your body to your will—by god, that is the point. If done right, the component parts of raising your threshold—the 200 meters or 20 minutes or four miles, repeated—will permeate all the bone and marrow of your being and produce a life that is sturdy and true, calcified…Iron.

May this be a record of one such life.

——————————-

Having now set the stage with totally unnecessary, overwritten pomp, I hope to use this blog for more practical reasons: to post a weekly training update, race reports, other training tidbits, and to air the occasional multi-sport focused commentary.