Saturday, February 28, 2009

Report: Santa Clarita Half Century 2009

The first Santa Clarita Half Century (they had a full century but with my first triathlon next weekend, doing that would be a bad idea) was a nice and challenging ride. I had looked at the course profile months ago but not recently and had forgotten it. Let me describe it for you: "A". The first 60% is up, the last 40% is down. What the profile doesn't tell you is that there are headwinds during the up. By the time I got to the SAG stop at 25 miles, I was so sick of headwinds and uphills.

Let's back up a bit. The century riders left at 7am but the half century started at 8am. I've never been to a cycling event so everything was going to be new for me. Guess I wasn't keeping track of time because as I was riding over to the restrooms the ride was starting. However, there were a bunch of people in the parking lot who seemed completely unconcerned with leaving at the start time so I was, too. I did my business, downed an energy gel, and headed out on the ride.

I have ridden in Santa Clarita before and I was glad to see that the first several miles would be on that great bike path that parallels Soledad Canyon Rd. Once we reached the end of the path (and by "we" I mean "we riders" because I was solo pretty much the whole ride) we turned onto Soledad Canyon Rd. itself and from here on out it would be all new to me. Here is where the "up" began in earnest. It turns out that this road is what the Amgen Tour of California riders were riding during Stage 7 so I got to see some of Lance's leftover chalk messages on the road. As I describe my riding, I am slower than some and faster than others so I passed and got passed. I did spend some time climbing out of the saddle, which wasn't nearly as tough as it used to be (and is a good rehearsal for UCLA next week). Heading into the first water stop at the 15 mile mark I was riding behind a group of three (that drafting stuff is really cool).

Fuel up, drink up, and I was off again. Some down but mostly up and the headwinds were picking up. I was pretty sick of riding by the time I got to the aforementioned SAG stop. However, they had lots of pretzels, bananas, and oranges, which hit the spot. I didn't think my tummy would like soda and chocolate cookies so I passed on those. I also realized that I should have been fueling up on my schedule rather than waiting for the scheduled stops. Lesson learned. Funny thing at this stop was that I took my shoes and helmet off but I was, literally, the only person who took off either. Maybe it's a point of cyclist pride or something but I thought getting my piggies and noggin cooler were more important. It was also at this time that I looked around and, sure enough, I had the oldest bike around. Funny.

Rest up, fuel up, drink up and it was time to finish this thing. There were a few, teasing downhills and short uphills before the big uphill. It had to have been 2, 2.5 miles of up. At this point I decided I would go into survival mode: granny gear, slow and steady. At the top I fueled up again and headed off. Flat for a bit, the rest of the ride would mainly be downhill. I actually hit 40mph at one point and kept above 30mph for the majority of the rest of the ride. I also got passed while going downhill, which was kinda fun. Sorry, but my bike's stability only goes so far. Plus it was still windy and every so often a big gust would hit and surprise the heck out of me, not to mention knock me around a bit. There was even a more technical portion which, since the course was not closed, I was kind of wimpy on since I didn't want to meet a car coming the other way while I was cutting a corner. All this downhill fun made the misery of the first half worth it.

I finally arrived at the finish, 3:51:21 on the bike and 53.16 miles after I left. I racked my bike, changed shoes, and grabbed some lunch at the deli setup they had and, oh, did it hit the spot. Cold cuts, potato salad, Italian salad, and a cannoli. Yum. After that I wandered the booths that were there then headed home.

All in all, a fun time. Not bad for someone who's only been riding for six months. I have a ways to go until I'm ready for a century but I can definitely see myself doing one.

Lessons learned:

Fuel up on my schedule, not the ride's.

If you even think it's going to be warm, go with a short-sleeved jersey and arm warmers instead of a long-sleeved jersey.

On a long ride, save your knees and go to a lower gear. Save grinding up hills for shorter training rides. Your knees will thank you for it during the last half of the ride. At least until you know your knees can handle it on longer rides.

Just because you are wearing a long-sleeved jersey does not mean you should skip the sunscreeen...on your face.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ring Around UCLA

After my run this morning (and the less said about that the better) I headed over to UCLA to ride the triathlon course bike route. What fun it's going to be. Once you get out of T1 you have about 30 yards to clip/strap in before you turn into the second half of the route's steepest descent. A slight up, then a short, steep up which gets less steep quickly. Still, you want to redline this hill because once you crest it's downhill and flat for quite a ways. Just when you're getting cocky from all those downhills and fast turns you've been making, a steep uphill shows up. No problem, you can see where it flattens out, right? No, that's just a turn, the hill keeps going and going. Once that crests you go right into the beginning of that steep descent. I predict a lot of passing on the downhills because it's going to freak a bunch of people out, which should make some of those turns pretty interesting. Four laps of this course (I did three today). It's gonna be great.

One note about this morning's run. I am wondering if this cramping (actually exhaustion) of my tibialis is due to poor running technique. I'm slow and heavy right now so I'm not so much running as I am shuffling along. Maybe if I kicked my foot up a bit higher after pushing off I wouldn't need to use my tibialis to lift the front of my foot up so much. I have strong hamstrings so I don't have to worry about those wearing out. Initial results are promising but it looks like I'm going to have to do another run next weekend to know more. I was hoping to avoid a run next week so this may be just a short two-miler.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Almost Nothing New on Race Day

My tri suit arrived this week and I am happy to report that it fits. I don't look horrible in it but I'm not going to be so pretty on the bike :-). I don't expect to be self-conscious about wearing it at the race and I'm planning on riding in it next weekend but I am so not running or swimming in it before the race. Sorry but that will have to be something new for race day. That and my transition bag and I am done with goodies before the race.

This week's swims were okay. I think I need to have an easy swim workout rather than easy swim weeks. I seem to lose fitness by doing a whole easy week. I was really out of gas at the end of Thursday's swim.

I volunteered at the Amgen Tour of California today. I did my 29-mile ride this morning then headed off to the Rose Bowl. It started off a bit frustrating with all the roads to the Rose Bowl closed. How was I supposed to get to the volunteer parking lot? I finally found a way in and got checked in. Free t-shirt and free lunch! After checking in I had a few hours before I had to go to my post so I walked around the Lifestyle Festival. Lots of bikes and components that I can't afford. $30 for an official ToC cowbell? The ToC jerseys were okay but nothing I had to have so I passed. Watched the race on a jumbotron for a bit before it was time to get ready to move out. I brought my bike so I changed shoes and rode off to my post. I was a Course Marshall and we're supposed to clear any debris and make sure nothing (people, cars, animals) get on the course once it's closed. I was out in the boonies so I didn't expect much to do (and Pasadena is so clean there was no debris to speak of). However, just as the CHP are coming down the road there's some bozo on a mountain bike. I wave him off and the CHP encourage him to get off, too. The breakaway comes in first but I can't take a picture of them because I'm telling two women to get off the road and onto the sidewalk. The peloton arrives a few minutes later but I didn't get any good pictures at that time. After a while the caravan completely passes and we volunteers race down to catch the circuit around the Rose Bowl, which was very cool. I got pretty close, too:

That's tour leader Levi Leipheimer with Lance Armstrong right behind. Sports photography on an iPhone is not a piece of cake. Anyway, it was a fun day. Next year I will either volunteer again or make a run on the course ahead of the pros. We'll see how fit I am in a year.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Weekend in Transition

The weekend started with my 45-mile ride from Sylmar into Santa Clarita and back. I wasn't going to try and go faster than my last time on this route but based on my recent rides I figured I end up going a bit faster. I took a couple of fueling/stripping breaks but none due to "I can't make it up that hill" this time. I felt good and came in twenty minutes faster than last time. Next time on this route I will try and go faster since I'm a bit more used to the route. Hit 37mph on one of the downhills. 32mph used to be my freak-out limit so I'm making some kind of weird progress.

On Sunday I went for an easy 10-mile ride to get some of Saturday's ride out of my legs. Before I started my ride, though, I played around with hopping on my bike with the shoes already clipped in to the pedals. I have seen videos of people doing that where the shoes are not secured with rubber bands. I have decided that those people did not have size 13 shoes. I am definitely using rubber bands (which I need to get a good supply of). When I ran out of rubber bands I headed out on my ride without socks (nothing new on race day, right?). On a whim I detoured on top of Hansen Dam to get my first preview of this summer's triathlon route. Nice ride. After I came down off the dam I went into one of the park's parking lots and practiced the rest of my transitions.

The first time I practiced bike transitions I thought that they were really hard and wondered if I had enough time to get competent at them. After I figured out my system, though, I have to say I got pretty good at them. Pedal on the shoes, slip my feet into the shoes and strap in, then pop my feet out of the shoes. If it goes well at UCLA I might even make a video of doing it because the transition videos I've seen aren't very good or detailed enough.

Today I wanted to take advantage of the three-day weekend and get in a run but the weather was pretty miserable. That wouldn't deter me from a bike ride but I'm a bit skittish about my running right now so I waited to see if the weather would get better. It didn't. Then my family and I went out to the movies. When we came out of the theater the weather looked better so I decided to race sundown when we got home. It was just a three-mile run but the calves mostly held up. I did take a planned break halfway but things went well. The front of my calves started getting a bit tight towards the end but not nearly as bad as last weekend. We'll see.

Next weekend is a two-hour ride before I head out to be a Course Marshall at the Amgen Tour of California. On Sunday, after a run, I will head over to UCLA and preview the bike part of the triathlon course.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Swimming Into the Wall

As with my cycling last month, I have reached a point in swimming where I can't just keep adding yards and swim hard all the time. On today's workout I could tell pretty quickly that I was going to be too tired to finish my planned 650yd long swim so I just did 400. Funny thing, though, is that when I did my sets of 50 my times were consistently 40 seconds. That's not so remarkable (unless you're 11) but just last week I was doing them in 43 seconds and today I wasn't trying to go especially fast. Odd. Even my hundred time was 1:28, which was a couple of seconds faster than last week. Odd. I was running out of gas towards the end so I only did 1400 yards today.

This Thursday I'll do an easy workout and work on those flip turns. That will coincide with my long ride this weekend. After that I will need to figure out how to cycle my swim workouts along with my cycling workouts. That's a good thing, though.

I am starting to get tired of being cold. If I wasn't working out it wouldn't bother me because I'd just bundle up and that would be that. However, swimming in the cold. Swimming in the rain. Riding at 6:30am. Riding at 5:15am (tomorrow). I can hardly wait to be sweating like a pig during my workouts...except for swimming, of course. I whine too much.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Granny Once Removed

The drizzle was just starting around 6:30 when I headed this out morning on what I thought was going to be a 35-mile ride. The drizzle turned into a soft rain but nothing heavy and it seemed to keep the cars off the road. Today, the rain was my friend. I had sore quads from my run yesterday but, otherwise, I was just fine.

Have I mentioned that I take breaks on my rides? After sixty minutes I pull over and do what I need to do: drink, gel, remove a layer of clothing, etc. An hour is about 15 miles on my routes so I'm going the distance of most of my planned races before I stop so I don't think it's cheating :-). Anyways, it's only a few minutes. It's just the L.A. Triathlon where I think I'll need to fuel up while on the bike (it's a 20-mile ride) so I can work on my mobile nutrition logistics later.

Back to the ride. At my first break I noticed I was right at 15mph, which is good. I rode down Rinaldi and made the turn onto Balboa. Instead of going right into the granny gear for the climb I usually go into granny+1 until it gets too hard and then I downshift into the granny gear. However, this time I didn't downshift. Without any planning and just because I felt good, I went up the whole Balboa incline, including the second, steeper one, in granny+1. This is a huge deal for me and translated into 1-2mph faster up the hill because I was keeping a pretty good cadence the whole time (around 60). After yesterday's depressing run, this brought me back up.

After coming down Balboa and turning onto Foothill I saw numbers on my Garmin that didn't make sense. It turns out that my 35-mile ride was just a 33.75-mile ride. Next time I'm going to need to find a way to make it longer. On the bright side, I did this route almost 20 minutes faster than the last time I rode it. Woo hoo!

Next weekend is my killer 46-mile route into Santa Clarita. Last time I rode it it wiped me out for the whole weekend. This time I'd like to squeeze in a run on Sunday (and maybe an easy 10-mile ride after that to get the junk out of my legs). We'll see.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Depressing First Run

I was going to do my ride this morning but when I woke up the rain was coming down pretty good. I checked the forecast and it said rain today, partly sunny and a chance of rain on Sunday. I figured I'd do my long ride on Sunday and run during a break in the rain today. A few hours later the rain stopped and it wasn't such a bad day.

I went out for my run and did my usual quick warmup to the stoplight, rest, and start the real run. First time I've ever run with the Garmin and, yes, it feels as stupid as it looks because the thing is so freaking big. I was heading out at a 10:00/mi pace, which is slow but that's what I have to deal with. After about a mile, though, I can feel my left calf starting to seize up--on the front and back. Crap! I make it to the turnaround at the 1.5mi mark and take a break by walking around. Maybe this is happening because it's my first run? Crap! After a few minutes I start up again but another half mile and the front of that left leg starts giving me problems again so I take another break. Crap! I walk and do some rubbing then get going again. I make the mile back home without further incident. Crap!

I download from the Garmin and get to analyzing. I ended up with an 11:17/mi pace, which is awful, of course. The calf thing really has me worried, though. With swimming you're floating in water and on the bike you have the machine but on the run it's just you and gravity--and I have a lot of gravity. I was thinking of doing just one more run before UCLA but now I am thinking of adding one more on the 15th. The slowness does bother me, though my lungs were just fine, but I really don't know about the calf.

After UCLA I can progress slowly on the run while I'm losing weight on the bike. That has been the plan as I head into the summer racing season and it does look like the way to go. I just may have to accept that this season I'm going to do well on the swim, okay on the bike (though I want to do great on the bike at Hansen Dam), and suck on the run. I'll know more in a few months.

My Swim Workouts at the 600 Mark

I just wanted to record what my swimming workouts are like these days:

2x50 warmup
1x600 (or whatever the long distance du jour is)
4x50 @ 1:15 (I'm coming in at about :42 these days so a bit over :30 rest)
1x100 (coming in around 1:30)
4x50 @ 1:15
4x50 @ 1:15
1x50 almost sprint (about :38)
1x50 cool down

That's how I get in almost a mile of swimming in under 45 minutes on my lunch break.

Next week I will do 700 yards for the long swim on Tuesday. I'll probably do it on Thursday, too, but I want to spend much of that day working on flip turns. If I have the lungs for them (and that is not guaranteed, believe me) I think they'd be fun to do at UCLA. I nearly did one during my "almost sprint" but my breathing was wrong as I approached the wall so I chickened out. I'll be mindful of the breathing next time.

Monday, February 2, 2009


It occurs to me that I really need to plan my training leading up to my first triathlon. I have my first run this weekend, a second run two weeks after that, a half-century the week before the tri, volunteering at the Tour of California the week before that, I need to practice my transitions, I want to try riding without socks to see what that's like, and I want to ride the UCLA route before the race. Yeah, I need to get organized. I sat down with a calendar and a list of all that I need to do between now and March 8. I think I have it nailed. The big question mark is my running. I'll know more on Sunday!

Last Sunday's ride went better than I thought it would. I noticed that on Saturday's ride I was shifting more confidently than I used to. It's an old bike and the shifters are on the downtube. I was pretty shaky on the bike after I first bought it so shifting was scary. I'm much better now so I decided to do more shifting on Sunday, which seems to have helped me with an almost identical time to Saturday despite tired legs.

I stayed in the saddle up the Woodley hill but tried to power up it rather than just survive. I got about 3/4 the way up before my heart felt like it was going to explode. Progress, progress.

The Crank Sports gels have been working out well. They are a bit on the sweet side, so I wouldn't want to live on them, and I miss the chocolate Gu. However, for the shortish distances I am doing they are just fine and the price sure is right.