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8/1/06 What matters

One of the interesting things about Adventure Race training is that you can turn just about any task into a workout. Yesterday, I was planning on paddling with Vicki. She was bringing the boat, so I decided that I would ride over to Creve Coeur Lake rather than drive. It only takes five more minutes to ride it and carrying paddles on the bike is something one might have to do in an adventure race, so it makes sense to figure out the best way to do it and test it out in a workout.

I found that by first binding the paddles together with little bungees, I could slide the handles through the helmet loop on my pack and they stayed pretty much out of the way. The tips of the handles did hit the seat when I'd stand, but it wasn't a problem. The blades also stuck up over my head and they'd whack low hanging leaves that I would ordinarily miss. Again, no big deal, but something to be aware of when ducking under a less moveable limb.

Vicki was unable to make it, so I was stuck at CC Lake with a bike, pack, and paddles but no boat. I wanted to get some training in, so I took some laps around the lake on the bike path. You get some strange looks riding around a park with two canoe paddles strapped to your back. I decided a long time ago that if it came to a decision between doing something I liked and doing something that impressed strangers, I'd pick the thing I liked. I actually found the reactions a bit amusing.

8/2/06 Dialing it in

One of the most common mistakes made by amateur distance runners is taking out a race to quickly. The combination of the excitement of the start with the fact that you're running on fresh legs (assuming you've properly tapered for the race) makes the right pace feel terribly slow. It's not at all uncommon to go through the first mile 20-30 seconds faster than intended pace.

While such an error might not destroy short event like a 5K, in longer runs it is devastating. The conventional wisdom in marathoning is that every 10 seconds fast in the first mile is given back in the last six (thus costing you an entire minute). My own experience confirms this. In 1996 I had planned on running the St. Louis Marathon in 3:15 (7:27/mile), so I was a bit shocked to hear 6:50 called out at the first mile marker. The pace felt so easy that I assumed the marker was wrong and continued through mile two at 13:45. I quickly backed off to my intended 7:30 pace and held it for the next 18 miles, but the damage was done. I slipped steadily after that. By mile 23, I had given up an entire minute of pace. Mile 24 was 8:45 and 25 was nearly 9:00. Only the scent of the finish got me through the last mile and a quarter at something resembling a run. The 100 seconds gained in the opening two miles were paid back with hefty interest and I finished just under 3:23.

After that debacle, I added a pacing workout to my taper week before a big race. I run 8x400 at whatever my goal pace is for the race. This is a short enough workout that it doesn't take anything out of the legs. In fact, it provides a nice stimulus to keep them from getting stiff in the final few days. More importantly, it helps program in what the proper pace should be. I haven't had any big pace mistakes since I started doing this.

Today I ran 6x400@90 in preparation for the Flat Five, where I'm still hoping to break 30 minutes. That will be a stretch given the weather prediction (expected to be nearly 80 even at the 7AM start), but I'll still at least start the race with that as the goal. If I can't hold it, I've got two more races in the following weeks to put in a good showing. I only ran six reps today because it was so hot. I was also doing a pretty good job of running them right on pace, so I think I've got a 6:00 mile pretty much dialed in.

8/3/06 Taper gone wrong

Another common mistake is to screw up your taper for a race. Normally this comes in one of two forms: you refuse to back down your training so you aren't rested for the event or you quit training altogether and are stiff for the event. This week I've messed up my taper in a more novel way.

First there's the heat. When you get hit with a heat wave during taper, the best thing to do is just find a way to train indoors. If you have to train outside, do it in the very early morning or late evening. I was doing OK with this, except for my dial-in workout yesterday, which I intentionally ran in the heat because the race should be hot too, so I need to know what the pace will feel like in those conditions.

Next there's volume. From Monday through Saturday, I had planned 3 hours of light training, 1 dial-in workout (moderately hard), and one depletion workout (5 hours, very easy). The depletion workout was to come on Tuesday, giving five days to fully restore the muscles. The depletion workout went out the window because of the heat, but everything else was about right until the wood chips arrived.

We just built one of these backyard playgrounds for YaYa. It's not huge, but it's bigger than your standard swingset. We built it in the shady part of our backyard because the grass never likes growing there. We figured we'd cover that area with woodchips and have a nice surface to play on. Yesterday, 7 cubic yards of wood chips were dumped on my driveway. It took three hours to move them to the back and spread them out. The temperature was over 100 degrees for most of the time.

Even though the effort was reasonably low intensity, it was a long time out in the heat. It also brought my 7-day active total to 16 hours, which is a bit high, although no worse than it would have been if I'd got the depletion ride in. I don't think this has ruined my chances this weekend, but it's clearly not optimal. If this weekend's race was really important to me, I'd not be happy about it. I think my buildup has gone pretty well and it sucks to spoil a good buildup with an error in taper. However, I'm a lot more interested in the two races that follow. This weekend's race was always intended to be a benchmark race, not the race. The original target was the 1000-Day (I was just going to do the events from 8/11-8/15), now it's the Babler Beast Duathlon (8/13) and Alligator's Creek Triathlon (8/20). I should be able to do a proper taper next week to be ready for Babler and then hold the peak for a week after that.

8/4/06 The BEST brownie in St. Louis

I can't claim a definitive answer on this because I haven't tried every one and such things are subject to individual tastes. But, if I haven't found the best, I've found something mighty close.

A little background on why this is important to me. Most people would describe me as thin. I don't see myself that way - I think I'm just what a normal fit person should be - but every time I go to buy clothes I'm reminded that the majority of the population is not particularly fit. When people see how much I eat, they tend to assume that I'm just one of these folks that burns up everything with a high metabolism.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm actually a big fat guy who trains 600 hours a year. The year I quit semi-pro cycling, I gained 60 (!) pounds. That's right, five pounds a month for a whole year. I decided I didn't like that, so I started working out again and am now back to close to what I used to race at. I eat a lot, but I have to watch what I eat. In particular (and I've stated this before), I really have to be careful not to eat too much sugar.

Which brings us to brownies. Of all the sweet things in the world, brownies are my favorite. Since I can't eat them very often, I've been on a quest to find a brownie that's so good, I can be satisfied eating it only once or twice a month. I've turned up some good ones, and not always in places you'd expect (Montelle Winery in Augusta, for example, has an outstanding brownie, but that's a bit of a ways to go for a sugar fix). The hands down best brownie I've had in St. Louis (maybe anywhere) is at Straub's Market.

Straub's is not a place you go looking for a bargain. It's an upscale grocery store in Clayton. Their brownie is $1.95, which is the most I've seen anybody charge accept for some crazy cappuccino-infused concoction at Starbucks or the absurd 8-ounce gut buster at Schnucks. When I asked the girl at the bakery counter for one she responded, "Have you had one of these before?" When I conceded I hadn't she smiled and said, "You made a good choice." Well, that's the sort of confident salesmanship this country was built on. And, in this case, it was well placed.

8/5/06 - YaYa's Birthday

Actually, today is my birthday and YaYa's is Monday, but weekends are better for parties, so we switched. Here she is on her new swing before the party starts.

8/6/06 - First race

YaYa has done (and won) an orienteering race with me, but today was her first solo effort. The Flat 5 had a Toddler Trot event as well. Here she is lining up for the start.

Even though she doesn't turn three until Monday, she was taller than almost all the three-year-olds in the race.

It took her a few moments to figure out what was going on, but then she ran pretty fast and wound up third. Most encouraging is the fact that she liked it so much, she wanted to run it again after all the other kids were gone.

8/7/06 Falling short

My first boss was a guy named Rich Ruscio. He was smart and demanding. Some people thought he was too much of a hard-ass, but I thought he was a good mentor to me. The first time I failed to get something done on time he shrugged and said, "If you never miss, your target is too easy." I still believe that and don't get too upset when a performance falls short of expectations. I do think it's important to identify whether the problem was an unreasonable goal or failed execution, especially in cases like yesterday where it wasn't a small miss. I think yesterday's run had some of each.

Certainly, breaking 30 minutes for 5 miles was a reasonable thing to shoot for. My track workouts have all been targeted for that level of fitness and my heart rates have been right where they should be. I was a little light on tempo training and my taper could have been better, but that doesn't explain missing by over a minute. (For those who don't read my training log, my time was 31:20).

It didn't feel like the heat (low 80's, dew point around 70) was that big of a problem, although I certainly was sweating. Given that most of my track and tempo work has been done in far more severe conditions (at lunch time or early evenings whereas the race was at 7:00AM), that seems like a bogus excuse. I think that if you can run the workouts at the appropriate heart rate in tougher conditions, you should be fine, even if race day is less than ideal.

Execution started off quite good. First mile was 6:03 and the second was 6:07. That's just about as close to nailing the opening as I've ever been. Run even sixes the rest of the way, kick at the end, and mission accomplished. Unfortunately, the next two miles were 6:30's. I probably could have run the last mile under 6:00 as the course was shaded at the end, but there didn't seem to be much point. Running a 6:10 did move me up a couple places to finish 8th.

As hard as it is to admit, there may be an issue with mental toughness. Most of my racing over the past year has been very long (adventure racing), technical (orienteering), and/or sporadic effort (bike racing). I haven't done the sort of events where you need sustained effort at near VO2Max. I sort of sensed this at the Show Me State Duathlon, but chalked it up to over-thinking strategy (I intentionally backed off on the bike to have better legs for the run). I'm now thinking that I just need to learn how to put out a real effort again.

The problem with this is that you really can't train it. If you start doing maximal efforts in training, you'll just crush your body. Only in races should you subject yourself to that sort of strain. I've got two more races in this peak period. They're both multi-sport on hilly courses so results are a little harder to evaluate, but my goal now is to keep my concentration high and not let the effort slip midway through.

8/8/06 How steep?

Cyclists generally talk of steepness in terms of per cent grade. This is the height of the climb divided by the horizontal length. At grades that are rideable on a road bike, the actual length of the road (the hypotenuse) is close enough to the horizontal length that it doesn't really matter which measurement you divide by.

If you pay attention to such things, it doesn't take long to develop a feel for what various grades feel like. Last night, a teammate of mine asked me for a local example of a 10% grade. I hadn't measured any climbs of that grade around St. Louis, but gave her a climb I thought was close. I later measured it on a USGS map and found that it was, in fact, 10.2%. Having some example climbs is useful because then if someone says that a race will have a climb of certain steepness, you can think back to one you've ridden.

Good example climbs are hard to find in St. Louis, because most of our climbs tend to follow reentrants up ridges, so they have a short steep section where the road pops up onto the spur. I looked at some of my favorite local climbs and found a few examples with reasonably steady grades.

5% This is the grade at which most people start thinking they are climbing. Your pedaling style changes because you can no longer coast through the dead part of the stroke. You typically move your weight back a bit in the saddle and move your hands to the hoods. An excellent example of this grade is the lower part of the Six Flags climb on Allentown Rd (from the employee entrance to the private road on the left). Height 45m, length 950m, grade, 4.8%.

6% This is still "fast" climbing where you usually stay on the hoods for aerodynamics. If you're drafting, moving to the uprights may be more comfortable. Marine Road from Creve Coeur Lake to Dorsett Road is a fine example. 45m, 750m, 5.9%.

7% This is the grade that most people think of as "power" climbing. You're out of your big gears and aerodynamics is becoming less important, but you still should be turning the pedals quickly with a steady stroke and no bouncing. One of my favorite roads for hill repeats is the 7% grade up Marshall Rd from the Meremac River to the train overpass. 67m, 980m, 6.8%.

8% Elite riders still consider this power climbing, but just about everybody else has switched to "pure" climbing at this point. Small gears, high cadence, hands on the uprights. The first climb on route T (from Bassett Road to where it first levels off) heading from St. Albans to Labide is representative. 50m, 620m, 8.1%.

9% Well into the pure climbing gears by this point. This is about the grade where alternating standing and sitting makes sense. Wirth Road (the westernmost road in Babler State Park is slightly steeper than this from the base to where it starts to level off. 33m, 350m, 9.5%.

10% Most people are running out of gear at this point and have to stand for at least some of the climb. Wild Horse Creek Road heading NE from Centaur is the example I quoted to my teammate. 58m, 570m, 10.2%.

11% This is getting into the realm of "steep" climbing, where cadence is slower and the bulk of the work is done out of the saddle. Short climbs of this grade are a fine opportunity to put in really hard attacks as there is no benefit to the draft. Long climbs of this grade are relatively rare, but if you hit one, you'd better have a pie plate on the back wheel because grinding a 39x23 for more than a few minutes will kill your legs. Hog Hollow Road in Chesterfield is what I use to practice this type of climb. 52m, 470m, 11%.

12% Even pro riders give this grade it's due and switch to a 25-tooth plate for races featuring a significant 12% climb. John Cochran Drive (the easternmost road in Babler State Park) is 12% from Bates Road to Lodge Road. This is a little deceiving because you have a fast descent into it. If you want the real experience, enter this climb from Bates Road. 52m, 430m, 12%.

Beyond 12% Grades above 12% are generally taken in the smallest available gear, and usually out of the saddle. These are the climbs where if anything goes wrong (missed shift, pulling a foot off the pedal, etc.), you generally wind up on the pavement. It's too steep to recover before coming to a stop. I've ridden up roads as steep as 28% with a 39x25, although it's faster to hop off and run. Pros encounter climbs in excess of 20% in some of the spring classics and will sometimes get off and run, especially if the road is wet. Extended sections of paved road over 12% are rare in the St. Louis area, but there are plenty of short bits. One such example is the base of the Orville Climb up from Eatherton Road which rises 15m in the first 100m (15%). For a taste of the absurd, the Greensfelder Time Trial in the Tour of St. Louis features a short section of 25%. Unfortunately, it's the wrong way on a one-way street, so it's kind of dangerous to train on.

8/9/06 Making the grade

What about all those slopes below 5%? Such inclines are usually not dignified with the term "climb" unless they are very long. Instead, "grade" is used to indicate that you're not really changing your riding style, just putting out more effort to keep your speed up. They generally don't get much attention, but learning to ride them well can pay some pretty big dividends in races.

Conventional wisdom is that you should attack on the steepest part of the climb. That's not terrible advice - nothing busts up a field like 500m at 16% - but there are three reasons you might want pick a different target: 1) everybody rides the steep sections hard, so you're going to have to work for every meter of the gap you open, 2) the steep sections are usually pretty short, so you won't get a very big gap, and 3) really steep sections are the domain of the pure climbers, so unless you're one of them, you're not likely to be successful.

Grades, on the other hand, offer lots of promise, even to those who don't climb particularly well. Drafting is still very much an issue on grades and nobody likes to tow the whole field along, so you might catch a break and get away without much of an initial chase. Meanwhile, the fact that the incline is adding a lot of work means that your extra effort translates into a bigger speed increase than attacking on the level. The result is that you can often open a much bigger gap with less effort by attacking on a grade than a climb.

Two local hills serve as good examples (unfortunately, neither is particularly well placed to ever be used in a race). The first is Adam's Road in Kirkwood. Heading east from Ballas, you first get 1.5Km of what's called "false flat." The grade is just over 1%. You can see that you're going slightly uphill, but it feels more like riding on the level with a soft tire. The road then steepens to 4% for half a kilometer before settling back down to 2% for the remainder of the grade.

Attacking on the steep section won't buy you much - it's neither long or steep enough to get a decent gap. However, attacking right at the top of the steep section when the field is starting to relax could have you 10-20 seconds off the front by the top. A more sophisticated strategy would be to line up some teammates to set a blistering pace on the false flat. This will get you to the steep section with the field strung out. Attacking from the front when the field is single-file is very effective because only the first few riders are in a position to respond.

Another grade I like to train on is Woods Road in Ellisville. As with Adams, the first 1.5Km are an easy grade (although this one is 2.5%, which is more "steady grade" than "false flat"). At this point, the road becomes a bona-fide climb with half a kilometer of steadily increasing pitch and then a final 200m section over 10%.

This hill isn't too interesting to a pure climber. The steep section is too short to do any real damage so the only way to make a move stick is to hammer away on the flat after going over the top. That could work, but another possibility is to go right from the bottom. People will be reluctant to chase because nobody wants to get shelled off on the steep section (particularly when it's reasonable to expect that the field will stay largely in tact - getting dropped at the top of this one most likely means your race is over). That sets up one of four likely outcomes.

  1. You get a pretty good gap on the grade and stay away over the top.
  2. A response forms about halfway up the grade and you get caught by a small group on the steep section.
  3. The field keeps you close enough that you get chased down on the steep section.
  4. The field chases you down on the grade and you go to pieces on the steep section.
The first two outcomes are highly desirable. The third is a wash and the fourth is obviously a disaster. The actual likelihood of any of these depends very much on how your abilities stack up against the rest of the field, but for most I'd say the chance of getting one of the first two is significantly greater than the fourth and certainly better than the chance of making an attack at the summit work. Getting results requires taking a few risks.

8/10/06 Bliss

I really will get back to writing about adventure racing one of these days, but here's a photo that just needs to be shared. Do you even remember when something could make you this happy?

(Click for full-sized image)

Olivia is reacting to seeing The Wiggles come out on stage last night.

8/11/06 Summer flu

I think that's what I've got right now. I'm not entirely sure. Since this was supposed to be a light week for training, anyway, I'm just waiting it out. I certainly won't be racing on Sunday if I still feel like this.

Generally, I bounce back from sickness pretty quickly. My most dramatic turnaround was a couple years ago when I went to the Badger A-meet in Wisconsin. I got sick on the Thursday before the meet. The whole drive up on Friday, I was really miserable - I could hardly breathe. I took generic Claritin the morning of the meet both days and ran fine, missing the day-1 win by 2 seconds and finishing 2nd for the 2-day combined time.

You can get away with impaired fitness in technical races like orienteering and adventure racing by minimizing your mistakes. In a duathlon such as this weekend's race, it's a little harder to hide when you're off. Still, if this is the flu, I should be OK since that usually passes in a couple days. The important thing is to get plenty of rest. If you shortchange your sleep, you may still get over the sickness, but you'll be tired from fighting it. I think my success in coming back from sickness is largely due to the fact that I'm really conscientious about sleeping extra when I'm sick.

8/13/06 Must be present to win

I've written about this before, but today's performance at Babler Beast was probably the most extreme case of the "feel bad - race good" phenomenon I've experienced. Although I felt that I was completely over being actually sick, there was no question my body hadn't completely recovered from fighting it (whatever it was - I never did figure that out). I decided I'd ride to the race today, using the time to loosen up and decide how hard to push. I was ready to just call it a training day if that's all my body had to offer.

In the early going, I was thinking to myself, "this is how my legs feel after racing, not before." In particular, my calves felt completely blown, which is not a good thing on a hilly course. By the time I got to the park (I took my time, so it was over an hour), most of the soreness had subsided, but I still felt like this was going to be a medium workout at best.

Then the race started and things started working right. I've speculated that when you feel bad at the start of a race, you adjust to the effort quicker because you're expecting it to hurt. I think that was true today. I found a good rhythm very quickly and kept my effort very consistent throughout the event. At the finish, not only was it a performance I was happy with given my condition, it was a performance I would have been happy with under any conditions. I knocked nearly a minute off my times for both the bike and second run legs (the first leg was also a run this year since the pool was closed).

I very nearly blew this one off, figuring I just wasn't up to it. I'm sure glad I didn't. Granted, winning my age group at a local duathlon isn't exactly a legendary performance, but it's nice to get at least one good result out of this buildup cycle.

8/15/06 Back to the Woods

We got a break in both the heat and humidity today so it seemed like a good day to get back into the woods. I ran at West Tyson. West Tyson is runnable year-round, but I usually don't bother training in the woods in July. I've found that if I get in a few sessions in August and then really hit it in September, my nav is sharp by the time the October meets roll around.

8/17/06 Chiggers

Some of the more annoying bugs in the St. Louis area is chiggers. They hang out mostly in tall grass and weeds along the edges of fields. Their active season here is roughly June through August.

I've never had problems with them at West Tyson before although they are very active right across the river in Route 66 Park. I seem to have found a bunch of them when I was running there on Tuesday. My left ankle is loaded with bites.

Fortunately, chigger bites usually heal up pretty quickly. They sure do itch in the mean time.

8/19/06 808

Today was the maiden voyage of my new 808 wheels. I rode some easy repeats on the Creve Coeur bike path. A few observations:

They are really fast. Most aero equipment is only noticeable in a wind tunnel or if you time yourself over a distance in similar conditions. You can tell these are faster just by feel. Most of that is due to the fact that they are so light (weight differences are easier to feel than aerodynamic differences).

Although they are light, they don't seem to like changing direction. The handling takes some getting used to. These are legal for mass start events but I'd never use them in that context. This is mainly because I'd be afraid of wrecking them (they're twice as expensive and not nearly as durable as regular road wheels), but also because I like the quick response of a low-profile wheel.

The front wheel is reasonably stable, even in a good crosswind. I had considered the 606's, which use a lower profile front. I'm glad I didn't go that route because these are just fine for someone as heavy as me (a really light rider might think differently). Since the front wheel is the bulk of the drag, the deeper section is better as long as you can keep it on the road.

They sound fantastic, especially on concrete. Not that you'd buy a set of wheels just because they sound cool, but it's a nice perk. The carbon fiber really does a nice job of resonating the sound of the tires.

8/20/06 Feel bad - race bad

Feeling bad at the start of a race doesn't always make you fast. Yesterday I noticed that I was getting whatever has been making YaYa cough all week. I still felt fine, but there was a fair bit of fluid in my lungs at the start of today's race, the Alligator's Creek Triathlon.

The swim went fine (how bad can a 5-minute swim go?), but once on the hilly bike course I was coughing up really gross globs of yellow stuff at the top of each hill. At the time, it didn't feel like it was slowing me down all that much, but my bike time was a few minutes slower than I expected and well behind some folks I usually beat.

The run went a little better. The run course was even hillier than the bike course, but I guess I had pretty much cleared everything out by then. I finished OK (13th), but had been hoping for a top-5 placing and maybe another 40+ win.

I'm glad I had a good result last week. This hasn't been a particularly successful peak. The result at Babler certainly indicated that the fitness was there. Sometimes you do need a little luck as well.

Things could have been worse. As I was finishing the run, I saw one guy come into the downhill finish turn on the bike and wash out pretty badly. Hitting the pavement at 30 mph really sucks. It looked like he got away with just a bunch of road rash.

8/22/06 Sick again

After going through a pretty heavy base and an 8-week buildup with no illness, I'm sick again for the second time in two weeks. I think that suddenly reducing your training can screw up your body just as much as suddenly increasing it. Mostly, though, I think it's just bad luck. Both times, YaYa and Kate have got it first. When you share a house with a couple sick folks, you run a pretty high risk of getting it yourself.

This time it appears to be just a normal chest cold. Conventional wisdom is that if the sickness is above the neck, keep training, otherwise take some time off. This is definitely in my lungs, so I'm taking a day off today (and probably tomorrow, too).

I don't remember ever getting sick right after a really hard effort. It's hard to tell how much of my aches are normal muscle soreness and how much is from the cold. I walked over to the pool (about half a mile from my house) and sat in the hot tub for a while. That helped a lot in terms of working out some of the stiffness.

8/25/06 Time to sharpen up

I got in some good training at Cuivre River yesterday. I had more trouble than I would have expected early on. Not big mistakes, but little bobbles approaching controls. One of my season training objectives is cleaning up my approaches. I obviously have more to do.

Not too surprisingly, when I increased my pace near the end of the workout, I was much better into controls. I've written about that before - that slow paces make you sloppy. The problem is that most adventure race navigation is necessarily done at a slow pace. I'll need to work on keeping my focus high even when moving slower.

8/26/06 Busse woods

In most sports, it's normal to develop rivalries, some friendly, some less so. A friendly example is the Buckley-Frei death match has been going on for quite some time (although we don't seem to be facing off against each other very much lately).

I've also developed a rivalry with a little patch of forest west of Chicago called Busse Woods. I've competed there a half dozen times and it has generally not gone well. I've done a similar number of training sessions there, also with mixed results.

The problem is that Busse Woods is flat. Not completely flat, mind you. There are contours, just incredibly subtle contours. The contour interval on the 1:10,000 map is 2m and the lines are often more than 100m apart. Most of the features are a single contour line.

There are other features to use: marshes being the most prominent, but they too are mighty subtle by usual standards. Most of the marshes are only identifiable by a slight change in the forest floor. You can see it when you're in one, but they are very difficult to identify from more than a few meters away. In short, lose contact on this map and you're screwed.

I try to train on this map every time I get a chance. I ran a course from 2003 on it today. I ran at a fairly easy pace, although the heat made it feel a little hard. I was reasonably clean - only a few bobbles near the end. I'd consider it one of my better runs on this map, even though I wasn't moving that fast.

I think my main struggle on this map has to do with the fact that I don't really know how to simplify this type of terrain. Relying on bearing and pace are too risky because there aren't many good catching features. Staying in contact is the only way to go. Normally I can do this by just noting a few features along the route, but here I find I have to read just about everything because features are so easy to miss (or misread for parallel features).

One of my training objectives for this year is to work on flat terrain. When I set that objective, I had this map in particular in mind. I haven't had any revelations just yet, but I'm determined to figure out how to read this stuff. I've had one really good run at Busse - just over 7:00/K - so I know it's possible. I just can't do it consistently.

8/28/06 Adventure run

Adventure runs are like adventure races, except that they are done entirely on foot. The navigation is typically pretty easy. The idea is to present the sport in a way that gives good runners who lack nav experience a chance to be competitive. That's not what this post is about.

I like to go out on training runs where I have no real plan for the run aside from some general goal for the workout (distance, tempo, etc.). Yesterday, I had to pick up my car form the long term parking at the airport (I drove back from Chicago with Kate and YaYa who had been up there all week). I didn't really know the best way to get to the airport on foot, but figured it couldn't be too tough to find. I figured the run would be somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes.

My route took me through some areas that I wouldn't call dangerous, but are certainly not places I'd choose to hang out after dark. I've lived in some genuinely tough neighborhoods, so I don't get too freaked out when I see, for example, a girl running down the street being chased by her boyfriend. I thought about intervening on that one, but he was really fat and it didn't look like he was going to catch her. I got quite a few people asking what was in my pack. I guess they don't have too many adventure racers cruising through the hood at 11PM.

The run ended up taking a lot longer because once I got to the airport, I couldn't find a good way to get to the parking lot. I finally ended up hopping the fence and running along the interstate. I got to my car in just under two hours.

Of course it's good to have some structure to your training, but I find that runs like this, particularly the ones where you run into some unanticipated difficulties, have a rejuvenating effect on motivation. I spend so much effort trying to be in control of things it's fun to let go for a while. We're training for races where the unexpected is the norm, why not bring some of the adventure into training runs as well?

8/30/06 Yasso 800's

I've decided to do another marathon. I haven't run a true road marathon in 10 years. Maybe that's how long it takes to forget why you went 10 years without running one.

Actually, running a marathon is not that big a deal if you've prepped. It's the preparation that kills you. All those long runs on pavement take their toll on joints and muscles. I'm going to try doing almost all my long runs on trail and just do a few on roads in the last couple months before the race.

A popular marathon workout, that's also an excellent workout for any endurance event is "Yasso 800's". This workout was concocted by Bart Yasso, an editor at Runner's World. I take most of that mag with a grain of salt. It's not that they're wrong, but if you tried every great new idea that they espoused, you'd be overhauling your training every month. The Yasso's do seem to work, however, provided you don't run them too often. The original article can be found here.

Yasso 800's are 10x800 at your marathon time divided by 60 with equal recovery. So, if you want to run a marathon in 3:15:00, you run 10x800@3:15 with 3:15 recovery. That's a much longer interval workout than normally recommended (usually 5 or 6 800's is plenty), but it helps develop the mental toughness to maintain a pace when you are already feeling tired. It should still be intervals though. If you're going anaerobic and gasping for breath on the last 2 or 3, you're going to fast and won't likely hold your pace in a marathon.

Because it is a tough workout, I run Yasso's more as a predictor than as a regular part of marathon training. Last night I ran them starting at 2:59 and then slowly worked down to 2:55. I find that working down from your goal time increases the chance of a successful workout. If you start running into trouble halfway through, you can back off a bit and still get in 10 good reps at your goal pace. If you don't run into trouble, you have the confidence of running slightly faster. I'm hoping that by January, I'll be able to start at around 2:56 and work down to around 2:53. My goal is to break 3 hours, and I'd like to have a little breathing room.

8/31/06 Solo

The longest solo race I've done was a 24-hour bike race in Michigan many years ago (I didn't like it much). More recently, I ran the Flatlander 12-hour run, which was a much better experience. While both of those events were solo, they were marked course events with other competitors and meet volunteers around.

The longest solo event I've done where I was really on my own was three hours and ten minutes at the SLOC 3-hour last year (the 10-minute overtime costed me the win, too). The longest solo adventure race I've done was under two hours.

All that is going to change in a few weeks. With Vicky racing with an old teammate and Doug helping out the ThoughtProcess team, I entered the Berryman Adventure in the solo category. Winning time is projected at around 15 hours.

I'm not really sure what to expect. On the one hand, it will be nice to not have to worry about what anybody else is doing and just focus on getting through the course. On the other hand, 15 hours is a long time to be out there on your own. Having teammates around can really help with motivation when fatigue sets in.

There are those who would claim that solo adventure racing isn't adventure racing at all; that teamwork is an integral part of the sport. I don't really disagree, but I wouldn't know what else to call it, so I'll go ahead and call it solo adventure racing. Some other things that will be different:

  • Paddling will be slower for sure. Two people in the boat are faster than one, even if the one is a touring Kayak (which is what I'll be using). As paddling is still my weakest discipline, I'll need to work hard to limit my losses there.
  • Running through the woods will be faster. Even if everybody on the team is equally good at getting through the terrain (which is never true, but I've been on a few teams where we were all pretty close), an individual can still do better than a group. The reason is that on any leg there are micro route choices (this side of the fallen tree or that side) that make a few seconds difference. Some members of the team will take different micro routes. Those taking the slower route slow down the whole team. Staying single file solves this to some extent, but then you have people getting whacked in the face with branches. If everybody got a map, this would be offset by redundant navigation (top orienteers run in packs in mass start races for just this reason). But, with only one set of maps, there's no advantage to the group.
  • Finding controls will be a lot harder. On a true orienteering map with standard control flags and good clues, I lose very little time approaching controls. On the rough maps of adventure racing, having multiple people looking for the control (whatever that might be, although I believe Berryman does use standard bags) is a big plus. Even though I'm typically the lead navigator, I'm usually not the first person to spot the control.
  • It will be lonely. That's not necessarily a bad thing; solitude is one of the things I like about endurance sports. My biggest fear is a serious problem with the course (like a badly misplaced or missing control). In a team, you can huddle up and figure out what to do. If that happens when I'm out there all alone, it will not be pleasant. Of course, the worst case scenario would be a serious injury. Hopefully, I'll be close to the front of the race so if I'm really in trouble, I can flag down another team for help.
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