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10/01/06 Back to the Woods meet

SLOC held its Back to the Woods meet today at West Tyson park. I don't have any time to write about it tonight, so I'll just post the map.

10/2/06 Blast pics

Here are some pictures from last weekend's New Town Blast.

YaYa at the petting zoo.

One of the many turns in the 5K. This one 800m from the end.

YaYa in the basket at the balloon glow. She was a bit scared of the flame.

10/3/06 Hull speed

I paddled my Kayak around Creve Coeur Lake this morning. I've been doing that quite a bit lately. It's a nice spot and it's less than 10 minutes from my house. Despite the fact that I change my intensity, it always takes between 50 and 52 minutes to get around the lake.

In running, the difference between 50 and 52 minutes for a training loop would not mean much. Both runs might well be in the same training zone. In paddling, those two minutes represent a pretty significant difference in output. Paddling around the lake in 52 minutes is pretty relaxed. Getting around in 50 is a race-level effort.

The reason for this is that, unlike running, the speed curve for paddling is not linear (OK, it's not really linear for running either, but it's pretty close for speeds slower than 10 miles per hour). To run 10% faster, you just put out 10% more power. To paddle 10% faster you put out about 33% more power. If you were to plot speed as a function of power, the curve would start off quite steep and then level off. Once you're on the level part of the curve, it takes a lot of extra power to make the boat go even a little bit faster.

The shape of the curve and, more importantly, the speed at which it levels off, is determined by the hull of the boat and how much weight the boat (including passengers and cargo) is displacing. Generally the longer or lighter the boat, the faster it goes before leveling off.

If you're in a pure boat race, this isn't too important. Extra effort will still result in faster speed, so you put out as much as you can for the duration of the race. In an adventure race, knowing where the curve flattens off is useful. There's no point in putting out a bunch of extra energy just to go a tiny bit faster. You'd be better off saving your effort for the running portions where extra effort pays big dividends. On the other hand, if you're on the steep part of the speed curve, you want to up your effort and take the speed gains.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to know if you are on the flat part of the speed curve. On most canoes and kayaks, hitting the flat part of the speed curve is accompanied by creating a bow wake (as opposed to just a wave with no white at the top). The top part of the wave will curl over and create a small, but quite visible wake. Usually you don't even have to see it because it's audible as well. Paddling at just the effort where you create a small bow wake will get you quickly through the paddle section without wasting a lot of energy.

10/4/06 O-Intervals

I should state at the outset that I've read the training logs of quite a few top orienteers from around the world and haven't seen anybody who does this - at least not the way I do. Therefore, it may be a great new idea, or it may be something that's been tried and discarded. Anyway, I think O-intervals are a good exercise and I do them about once a month.

The purpose of O-intervals is to add mental activity to the physical aspect of intervals. In terms of time and intensity, these are similar to normal track intervals. I typically do around 10 of them, so they most closely resemble a Yasso 800 workout, although I usually have a little more recovery time built in.

Unlike simply running track intervals while reading an unrelated map (a more common exercise), O-intervals are done by navigating an actual leg in the terrain at roughly VO2max effort. You would very rarely do this in a race, because oxygen-starving your brain is a really good way to lose contact with the map. Even a fairly simple leg can be tough when run at this pace. Running full speed in the terrain while reading the map is also an invitation for injury, so I typically set legs where the interval leg is uphill and I recover going back down.

Here is the course I've set for today's session. The solid lines are the interval legs; the dashed lines are the recoveries. I try to use point features so I'm really navigating, but also make them pretty obvious so I don't have to slow down to find the control.

10/5/06 New boat

I finally got around to buying a canoe. Not sure why that took so long. Anyway, it's a not too heavy 14-footer from Mad River. I took Yaya out in it this evening at Creve Coeur Lake.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. It's certainly not the swiftest boat around, but it tracks reasonably well for its length. A longer boat would have been better for tandem paddling, but I expect to do a fair bit solo, so the extra maneuverability will be nice. The shorter length also makes it easier to carry and put on the car by myself. I'll be interested to get in a session with Doug and see just how much slower it is than the 16-foot aluminum we've been borrowing from David.

Today was rather windy, so there was a lot of chop on the lee side of the lake. Yaya loved that; she particularly liked it when I'd mess up my paddle entry and splash her. The boat has a shallow v-hull giving only modest primary stability so we got tossed around a bit. The secondary stability appears to be quite good. A couple times, Yaya leaned over the edge and got us pretty tipped, but it never felt like the boat was about to roll.

10/8/06 Long winding road

I don't know how many century rides I've done; probably between 200 and 300. During the base periods of my competitive cycling years, I'd do a 100-mile ride once or twice a week. Yesterday, I tried that distance on single track and it sure is a different thing.

The venue was the Burning at the Bluffs 12-hour mountain bike race. The course was a 13-mile loop around Council Bluffs Lake. Over 12 of those miles were technical single track. Most of it was hard pack, but there were a lot of rocks. I ran tire pressures closer to what I'd run in an adventure race because I didn't want to get a bunch of flats. While effective, it meant a lot more vibration. By midway through the race my hands were getting pretty sore. Today they are all swollen and blistered.

The course had lots of little climbs, but only two significant grunts. Total climb was around 1500 feet per lap. I stayed in pretty low gears and my legs felt good right to the end. The limiting fatigue came in my shoulders and forearms. By the last lap (which was in the dark), I had lost some of the fine motor control in my arms and was messing up sections that I had run pretty cleanly early on. That slowed me down quite a bit. It was a pretty common problem and a lot of folks had some nasty wrecks near the end. Happily, I stayed upright all day. My only incident was a broken chain that I fixed in less than ten minutes.

I was pretty happy with how I held up. While I was no match for the top riders, I managed a respectable 5th place in the solo category. I learned a lot about endurance riding on technical trails. I'd like to go back next year and try again.

10/10/06 Alton

I've been working in Alton, IL this week. It's a little town north east of St. Louis. Since I don't have access to locker rooms here, I've been going for walks at lunch rather than my usual midday run. I enjoy walking along the Mississippi River.

Like most river towns, Alton is located where the river bank is fairly steep. That hasn't completely shielded them from flooding. Here's a picture I took during my walk today (click on the pic for a larger image). The lines on the door frame show the water levels from the "100-year" floods of 1844 and 1973. If the residents thought they were in the clear for another century after 1973, they got a nasty shock just 20 years later. The line above the door is from 1993 - the worst flood ever recorded on the Mississippi.

It was shortly after the 1844 flood that Congress first heard testimony that building levies on the river would only make the situation worse in the future. Obviously, that didn't stop them from funding such efforts. The river is now levied along nearly its entire lower length. The sad part about this is that not only are the levies making things worse for populated areas that should be protected, they are also preventing the flooding of land that could really use it. Flooding provides rich topsoil to farmland. Because these lands are now protected from floods, a lot more artificial fertilizer is required to keep the land productive.

10/11/06 Nice "terrain"

Actually, a nice mix of terra and aqua. I was running last evening at Pere Marquette State Park. Driving up from Alton, I was marveling at the intricate islands at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and how they could provide some interesting navigation. Most of the paddling legs in Midwestern adventure races are of the "go down stream until you hit the takeout" variety. You could set some controls in this area that would require some solid map reading skills. The penalty for error would be fairly high, because both rivers have a pretty good current.

10/12/06 Monotonous adventure

A lot of things that sound exciting are actually really boring. Take flying a jet. You'd think that would be pretty cool. I worked for a flight simulator company a while back. I remember a comment from an Air Force pilot after testing a simulator we wrote to drill them on all the procedures they have to go through when starting the jet, taking off, landing, etc.: "It does a very good job of showing how tedious this stuff is." Very little of what they do involves pulling G's and shooting at folks.

You read the journals of Lewis and Clark or Mark Twain and think that voyaging up the Missouri River might have been exciting. I'm sure some of it was. But, during my lunchtime walk along the Mississippi the other day, I noticed that I was actually overtaking a barge headed upstream. This was no small barge either. I'm sure that big tug makes better progress than the boats those explorers used. Covering 20 miles in a day and knowing you only have 1000 more to go must have driven some of those guys mad.

Adventure racing is much the same way, albeit on a smaller scale. The individual activities are interesting enough, but in a race of any length there are going to be some sections that just seem to go on forever with the only challenge being to stay awake. Staying focused in such situations is tough. The penalty for losing focus is larger than one might imagine.

I paddled with my GPS the other day. It wasn't intended to be a particularly tough workout; I was paddling about as hard as I do in a long race. Looking at the track afterwards, I could see that there were periods where my speed dropped 20-30% for no apparent reason. Such little lapses don't seem like much at the time, but losing 20 seconds six times an hour adds up to full hour in a 30-hour race. That's a lot of time to lose to daydreaming.

10/13/06 Daizy

Our boxer died last night. While sad, it wasn't a surprise. She had a stroke about a month ago and declined very quickly after that. The last couple of weeks, all she would do was walk around in circles bumping into things. We had to confine her to her crate most of the time because she was constantly cutting her forehead.

I prefer to remember her in happier times, like when this picture was taken.

If it's not obvious from the photo, Daizy wasn't the brightest bulb on the tree. She had the usual boxer craziness going on, but she took to training pretty well. She seemed happiest when she knew what was expected of her. She graduated at the top of her obedience class. Even just two days ago, when she could hardly even walk at all, she tried to stay on my left hip when I took her outside for a walk.

Daizy was a pure sprinter. The few times I took her running, she'd practically drag me for the first half mile and then want to stop. She'd whimper the whole rest of the way. I decided our physiologies did not make for compatible training partners.

She was an exceedingly sweet dog. She'd put up with all kinds of nonsense from Yaya without complaint (so much so, that I was happy that our other dog, Lucy, was less tolerant - kids need to learn that dogs have teeth). Yaya doesn't really understand what's happened, but Kate is really sad. Daizy was closest to her.

10/15/06 Running shape

I ran a marathon today. Not competitively; it was just a training run that happened to be marathon distance. I ran it in 3:34, which comes to 8:10/mile. That's a little on the fast side for my long runs, but not by much. It felt fine and I'm sure I'll be able to train normally this week.

I mention that not to boast (there's really nothing all that impressive about it - a 3:34 merely requires putting in the preparation), but to point out a distinction that is sometimes lost on athletes that don't do a lot of running: being "in shape" doesn't mean you're in "running shape."

In 1993, I was in very good shape by nearly any measure. My best form was a few years earlier, but I was still able to hang with the Pro/1/2 fields in bike races. I was invited to Masters World Championships on the velodrome. I knew I was ending my semi-pro career, so I decided that, while I was "in shape", I'd run a marathon. I wasn't coming in completely unprepared; running was a big part of my off-season training and I would occasionally show up at local 5K's and do fairly well. But, there's no substitute for base miles in a long race, and I didn't have them.

I got a taste of that in my long training runs leading up to the race and realized that, even though my 5K time predicted I could run a 2:36 (no way in hell!), I was going to have to shoot for something considerably more modest. I decided to run around a 3:15 pace, but even that was too aggressive. I folded at 18 miles and limped in with a time well over 4 hours. I was in shape, but I wasn't in running shape.

I suppose that there are certain collision sports, like football, that can leave your body in worse condition than running a marathon. I'd be willing to bet, however, that most NFL players could play two days in a row, albeit with a much higher chance of injury. Running a competitive marathon on successive days is simply out of the question. Sure, there are people who have "run" many marathons in a row, but they are running them at a training pace. I could probably run another 3:34 tomorrow if I had to. If you run it at your best, you aren't racing again for a while.

Sometime in the 80's I saw a quote from Greg Lemond saying the Tour de France was like running a marathon 22 days in a row. With all due respect, he's full of shit. Cycling is not a weight bearing sport. While you may be really tired at the end of a long stage, it's not even remotely the same as what happens to your muscles when running a marathon full-on.

I don't write this to put runners up on a pedestal. To be exceptional at any sport requires an exceptional athlete. The relative demands of different sports simply dictate what is and is not possible. And, in running, going fast for long periods of time is simply not possible without a ton of base miles.

Many multi-sport athletes and adventure racers eschew a big running base because running takes a lot out of them. They reason that they can do their base in other disciplines and just work quality when running. This is effective for shorter events, but if the running portion of your race is more than a couple hours long, it's a recipe for disaster. Being in "running shape" requires giving base miles their due.

10/16/06 Get out the door

A simple quote stands out in my mind amid all the fuss that followed Francesco Moser successfully breaking of the "unbreakable" hour record in 1984. It had nothing to do with aerodynamics, blood doping, altitude, etc. It was a response to a reporter's question about training. Moser's advice: "Get out the door." (Note that this quote predates Nike's "Just do it" campaign, and may have even been its progenitor).

Such a simple thing, but often neglected. There are, of course, days when one is well advised to give the body a rest. There are also days when outside conditions are so atrocious that training indoors does make more sense. But, as practitioners of all-weather sports, his advice is rock solid. Get out the door. Do the workout you intended. No excuses.

Today, I had planned an easy recovery run. This is the sort of workout that's easy to blow off. How valuable can half an hour of slow running really be? Quite, actually. Active rest is a crucial component of the base period. Without it, your chance of injury or overtraining goes up considerably. But that's really beside the point. If the workout made sense at the time you put it on the schedule and the underlying reasons haven't changed, you need to get out the door and do it.

Conditions today were rather unpleasant. Cold, rainy, and very windy. Both the guys I run with at lunch had second thoughts about running. But we got out anyway. Once we got going, it really wasn't that bad. I certainly feel better now than I did before I started. Furthermore, having gone out in the nasty weather and found it to be tolerable, I'll be less hesitant when the even nastier stuff arrives during my buildup phase for Pensacola. Getting out the door doesn't just get in the current workout - it raises the prospects for an entire training plan and, ultimately, career.

10/17/06 Dipsh*t

I generally try to keep this blog free of both rants and profanity, but some situations demand to be called as they are.

I was out running at lunch today and saw a guy riding his bike while talking on his cell phone. OK, I think that's dumb, but reasonable people could disagree. Generally, I don't answer the phone when riding unless it's Kate. The caller can always leave a message if it's important. If I do take it, I pull over, but if you really want to ride and talk, that's a personal decision. The problem was the manner in which this moron was doing it. Riding no handed, at about 12 miles an hour, weaving just enough on a busy narrow road that a whole queue of cars was forming behind him.

This is why many motorists hate cyclists. It only takes getting stuck behind one rider like this to leave a bitter memory that lasts for weeks. The fact that the guy was wearing the uniform of a major European team doesn't help either. Motorists will associate his actions not just as those of some jerk who doesn't know what he's doing, but as those of a serious cyclist. The hundreds of impressions of serious cyclists using the road properly will be overwhelmed by this one hugely negative image.

If you're going to ride on roads, particularly if you're going to ride on busy roads dressed as a pro, try to remember that all of us pay for your indiscretions.

10/18/06 Lucky?

American adventure racer Jason Poole got bit by a Brown Snake at World 24-hour orienteering champs in Australia last weekend. After getting out of the woods with help from his teammate, he was brought to a local hospital which immediately sent him on to a larger facility to get further treatment. He seems to be recovering fine. The doctor told him he was lucky; Brown Snakes are capable of killing you quite quickly.

It's hard to appreciate just what a dangerous place Australia is. Unlike North America, where we've done a pretty thorough job of wiping out species that prey on us (at least the parts of North America where I do most of my racing), the Australian Outback is loaded with critters that can mess you up, if not kill you. I know several people who have raced in the Outback and all say it's a bit unnerving to realize just how ferocious nature can be.

That's not to say that there aren't hazards back here at home. I've seen poisonous snakes, spiders, wolves, and various other animals that can get you if you're not careful. Falling off a cliff or getting hit by lightening is just as deadly here as it is anywhere else. And, of course, we've got plenty of vegetation that, while non-lethal, is certainly best avoided. But, relative to the parts of the world where we haven't asserted our dominance, our woods are pretty tame. Some might argue that's unfortunate, but I prefer to see the upside.

10/19/06 Quantity

You don't have to read too far into any popular fitness magazine to find an article extolling the virtues of "quality" versus "quantity" training. While I'll certainly not debate the fact that some big gains in improvement come from high-intensity workouts, I don't at all buy the idea that quantity is not important.

Consider the case of Mikell Platt (aka Swampfox). Here is an American orienteer in his late 40's who trains around 900 hours a year. A lot of it is pretty serious stuff, too. Nobody in the US orienteering community trains as hard as he does. You can check out his training log for yourself.

Platt is no stranger to success; he's won US Orienteering Championships a bunch of times. Still, his goals for this year (make the US Team, Place at Nationals, among others) are pretty aggressive for a guy who's pushing 50. Yet, he not only made the US Team, he won a qualifying race. He not only placed at Nationals, he won it outright.

There are, of course, plenty of other examples. There are counter-examples as well, but they are harder to find. I don't hold this one case up as proof, but even skeptics have to admit it's pretty compelling. It certainly seems that (as Stalin is believed to have said) quantity has a quality all of its own.

10/20/06 Lower Meremac

Most web sites and guidebooks covering Missouri Rivers dismiss the lower Meremac as nowhere you'd particularly want to be. They site the fact that the last 30 miles to the Mississippi are increasingly urban and lack the beauty of the upstream portions.

Now, I'll certainly not debate that the upper Meremac is more picturesque and offers better paddling than the lower part. That can be said of almost all rivers. But to suggest that the lower Meremac is ugly is doing something of a disservice to those who are looking for places to paddle.

Yesterday, I paddled the section between Greentree in Kirkwood and Winter Park in Fenton. Yes, there were two major highways and some power lines crossing the river. But, mostly it was just a really nice paddle with the woods on both sides showing their fall colors and very little current (making the return trip a lot more pleasant). One set of rapids was easy to negotiate in both directions.

Today, I did some nav practice at Castlewood. As I almost always do when I'm there, I went up bluff above the river. I've seen it a hundred times and I am nowhere near being sick of it. You can see up and down river for miles. Along the banks are thousands of acres of State and County parks. There are several sets of rapids in this section. All are easy to go down, all are really hard to paddle up, especially this time of year when the river is low.

There are two reasons I take issue with the guidebooks. First, it dissuades people from using the lower part of the river, which in turn means less interest in keeping it as nice as it is. Second, it encourages people to travel by car way upstream when they could be enjoying the environment rather than damaging it closer to home.

If someone was coming from far away to see the best paddling Missouri had to offer, I'd certainly suggest they put in further upstream. Then again, I don't think I'd recommend the Meremac at all since there are even nicer rivers in the middle of the state. But locals really ought to ask themselves if two hours in the car and one hour of great paddling is really better than three hours of really good paddling.

10/23/06 Missed by a mile

One is probably wise to never take the official distance of a trail run too seriously. Even if the course is measured accurately, your time will still be very heavily dependent on trail conditions and total climb. Nonetheless, I don't think I've been in a running race as poorly measured as the Wild in the Woods "Half Marathon" last Saturday.

I missed the first mile marker, but mile 2 came up at just over 15 minutes. I was running as a hard training run, not a race, and the first couple miles had been uphill, so the time seemed plausible. Subsequent splits were varied, but made sense (anywhere from 7:50 for a tough uphill mile on single-track to 6:10 for a big downhill mile on a gravel road.) I passed the 11-mile mark at just over 79 minutes and figured I was right on schedule for running in the mid-90's, which had been my intention.

Then, I spotted a parking lot. I was pretty sure there were no parking areas along the trail I was running except for the lot at the start/finish. As it became apparent that it was the start/finish area, I thought maybe they were going to have us do a little loop right at the end. Nope. Off the trail and right into the finish chute for a time of 86:37! It would be nice to think I could run a trail half in that time, but I'm afraid that's not the case. It seems that they must have gotten off by a mile when measuring and laid out a 12.1-mile course rather than 13.1.

Nobody was too upset by it (probably because they can all go tell their friends they ran PR's), and the rest of the race organization was pretty good.

10/25/06 Yuck!

It's 40 degrees and raining right now. I hate this stuff. Cold doesn't bother me much. I've raced in sub-zero weather and enjoyed it. Heat gets me a bit, but I've pretty much learned how to deal with it. Thunderstorms, wind, hail... not nice, but I can take it. I can't stand 40 degrees and rain.

Fortunately, we don't get much of that around here. St. Louis weather oscilates pretty quickly between summer and winter. The transition takes a couple months, but most of the days are one or the other. Most of the miserable in-between stuff is at night.

In the mean time, I guess it's time to set up the trainer in the basement. Yes, I know I just wrote that you should get out the door in all conditions. Nobody's perfect.

10/30/06 Downhill control picking

Well, well, seems I've been neglecting the blog lately.

Last week was a pretty tough training week. No one workout was all that big, but the cumulative effect made it the hardest week of this base period. Not surprisingly, my legs were a bit soft for yesterday's navigation practice. I decided to try a different approach to the control picking portion of my workout.

The point of control picking is to stay in constant contact with the map. The controls are so close together that even a small deviation requires a correction. Control picking should be run at close to race pace because you want to be practicing your accurate reading while on the run. I knew I didn't have the legs for that (especially at a place like Rockwoods Range), so I set the controls so I'd be running primarily downhill. Not steep downhill, just enough that running at race pace was easy to do.

Obviously a downhill course can't go on forever so I broke the session into a series of very short courses (each had 5 controls in just over half a kilometer). I'd run these at race speed and then slowly jog uphill to the start of the next course. This also gave me around five minutes of rest between each course. I think the session was a very effective way to get in some quality nav practice while allowing for physical recovery.

10/31/06 What a difference pace makes

This may sound obvious to the point of being trite, but I was struck yesterday by how different something is perceived when you change the intensity of the experience. We talk of courses being "hard" or "easy", but in fact it's not the course, but ourselves that matters.

There are of course, differences in minimum efforts that are real. Finishing the Western States 100 is much harder than finishing a local 5K. But if we instead look at the more important issue of what is needed to achieve one's best performance, the distinction becomes much less clear. To this day I feel that the "hardest" race I ever did was the 4000m pursuit that qualified me for Olympic Trials in 1992. That race was completely flat (on a velodrome) and lasted only five minutes. Normally, the agony of effort fades over time, but the last minute of that race will be with me forever.

Conversely, I ran at Pere Marquette yesterday and found that it's actually a really pleasant trail. The promoters of the Pere Marquette Trail Run bill it as "The toughest race in the Midwest." I'm not taking issue with that - it's a brute to run well. The hills are steep and there's not much room between them for recovery. The distance is just short enough that you need to run the hills anaerobic to do well, but long enough that it really hurts to run that way. You also have to keep your wits about you as the trail has some really bad footing in spots.

Pere Marquette is far enough away from my house that I only go there for the race or for quality preparation workouts. Until yesterday. I was working in Alton again, so I decided to drive up after work and do my long run on pretty trails rather than the more familiar roads near home. Naturally, I set out at a pace far below what I've run the trail in the past. About halfway through the first loop, I realized that in addition to being wonderfully picturesque, the trail is really a pretty friendly run. Sure, the hills are steep, but they aren't that long. If you take the edge off them, they go by with no real discomfort. Even the infamous steps on the finish loop, while creating a noticeable burn in the quads, weren't any worse than the steps at Creve Coeur Lake or Castlewood; neither of which I find particularly intimidating.

I think Pere Marquette holds a mystique because the vast majority of competitors only run there once a year and that one time is a race effort. Running the trail at a relaxed pace allows you to see that it's just another trail and what makes it hard is that you're trying to run it as fast as you possibly can.

Don't get me wrong, breaking an hour at PM is a lot different than running a couple laps at 76 minutes per loop. But I think it will be easier to approach that task knowing the battle is with my own limits and not the trail.

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