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Blog Archives

7/1/07 Warped

I'm starting to notice that my perspective on life is shifting back to where it was in my 20's. That's to say, it's pretty warped.

Last night, Kate and I went to a wedding reception. We had a great time. However, all day long I was stressing about how much I'd eat and if drinking too much was going to mess up my training. A couple years ago, I wouldn't have worried about that. In 1987, I probably would have simply not gone to avoid the "problem".

Building the rest of your life around your training is rewarding, but you have to do it carefully. I trashed my first marriage by being so wrapped up in training that I wasn't able to make even the smallest compromises. I was none too happy when I realized what I'd done, but I can't say it was completely tragic. To lose my current family life would be devastating in a way that the first divorce couldn't even approximate. So, I'm trying to lighten up a bit (but I still want to be light!)

7/2/07 O at the Arch

I'm guessing that if you took a hundred random people from North America and asked them to name the first thing that came to mind when they heard "St. Louis", you'd get somewhere between 80 and 90 of them saying, "the Arch." It's as distinctive a landmark as you'll find anywhere.

What most people don't know is that the Arch is situated on a nice little park that would make a great sprint venue. Today I took a 1:5000 aerial photo of the Arch grounds (the official name of the park is The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, but nobody calls it that) and laid out a sprint course. The course was about as good as the 15 minutes of thought I put into it would predict, but the grounds are definitely worthy of a better effort. So, how come we don't have a map?

Probably because sprints are a relatively new phenomenon. The park is too small for anything much longer than 2K without resorting to gimmicks. The lack of any shelters or picnic areas may also have diminished interest. I'm hoping it's not that the rangers won't allow an orienteering meet there. I doubt that. They had no problem with the St. Louis Track Club using the main road for the Riverfront Mile back when I was meet director for that event. The only way to know is to ask. That's precisely what I intend to do, because if the answer is yes, I think a sprint at the Arch could be the centerpiece of a big summer meet.

7/3/07 Riding in

I rode to work today. It's the first time I've ridden to work since the Alton debacle last year (see 2/24 and 2/25 entries). Today was rather different from that.

The ride from my house to my current assignment is about 16 miles. The direct route uses some fairly busy roads, but that's not much of a problem at 5:30AM. At that time of day, all the stoplights are just flashing yellow, so I had few stops for the first half of the ride. At 6, the lights revert to normal, so I was slowed down a bit. It took just over an hour at an easy spin.

So far, so good. The reason I haven't been doing this all along is what comes next. How to go from being a cyclist to a suit & tie wearing manager? One of the few downsides of working for a large financial institution is that they tend to be a bit uptight about dress code. Fortunately, somebody already thought about that and they have a really nice locker room where you can store a week's worth of clothes. I've known of it's existence for a while, but only got around to checking it out last week. As soon as I saw it, I knew that it would be no problem to ride in regularly and just bring several suits in the car once or twice a week.

The last issue is getting home. The direct route is feasible, but certainly no fun. On days like today when I have time, there's a really nice route that heads north along the Mississippi River. It takes well over two hours. Other bike-friendly routes range from 90 minutes to 2 hours. All in all, it's a pretty sweet deal. I plan to ride in quite a bit this summer.

7/4/07 Saving a workout

The plan for today was a serious brick with 90 minutes each of paddling, mountain biking, and terrain running all in quick succession. I figured I do it at Castlewood, since that's a fine venue for all three (one of the few places where you can run off-trail in the summer around here - most of the woods are too thick).

Then, I got a saddle sore. That hardly ever happens to me. I'm pretty fanatical about cleaning myself up right after a workout. I never hang around in wet shorts. But, even with the best of prevention, if you ride enough you will get one now and then. This one is particularly problematic because it's far enough back that just regular sitting on a hard surface aggravates it just as much as being on the bike. So, three hours sitting in wet shorts was obviously not a good plan.

This is where it's helpful to know exactly why you are doing a workout and what you hope to gain from it. Rather than do a scheduled workout that is counterproductive for whatever reason, you can switch to something else and still get most, if not all, the benefits.

So, what was the point of today's workout? There were several:

  1. Endurance (obviously the primary motivation behind any workout of that length)
  2. Running in the terrain when tired
  3. General training in all three disciplines

Obviously, the last thing isn't going to happen if paddling and cycling are out. That's OK, the other goals can be saved. I ran for two hours on the Chubb trail and then did an hour of orienteering practice at West Tyson (which also remains runnable year round).

On the surface, the two workouts look very different. In terms of what they accomplished, they are very close. This kind of flexibility is necessary if one wishes to keep training through minor injuries without turning them into serious problems.

7/5/07 Acclimation

When I tell people I'm running a championship meet in Colorado this summer, I often get asked if I'm going to "acclimate". By this, of course, they mean going out beforehand to get used to the altitude. The short answer is no.

I believe altitude acclimation is one of the great myths of sports. There's no question that performance degrades above 10,000 feet. There's also no question that at very high altitudes (above 17,000 feet), it is difficult to even function, much less perform, until the body has adjusted. What is much more dubious is the idea that acclimation is needed for performances in the 5,000 - 10,000 foot range.

My own experience has been that it doesn't make any difference. I spent the better part of a summer training in Colorado in 1991. The day after I arrived, I rode the Bob Cook Memorial which finishes at over 14,000 feet (at the time, it was the highest paved road in the world - I have no idea if that's still true). I was fine up to 10,000 feet. From 10,000 to 12,000 I began to fade and the last bit to the summit was pretty tough. Still, I finished in the top third of the pro field with no acclimation whatsoever.

I did a number of races over the next couple months. Most were in Denver or Colorado Springs and stayed below 7,500 feet. Many of these races were time trials on the track where objective comparisons could be made. I noticed no improvement in results during that time other than the incremental gains one expects moving further into the racing season. On the other hand, shortly before heading back to sea level, I did a bunch of passes in Rocky Mountain National Park and found that I was handling the altitude between 10,000 and 12,000 much better.

I've subsequently done a few races at around 8,000 feet and my experiences have been the same: I do just as well on arrival as I do after a few days (I haven't had an extended stay at altitude since 1991). My conclusion is that a well trained aerobic athlete is already acclimated by virtue of the repeated exposure to oxygen debt. The acclimations that matter at mid altitudes can be achieved through rigorous training at sea level. At true high altitude, there doesn't appear to be any substitute for breathing thin air.

One side note that may explain why the myth is so prevalent: the air at altitude is generally very dry. What many people think is altitude sickness is really just dehydration (the symptoms are similar). Drinking a lot and staying out of the sun will help a lot more than getting out there six weeks early to acclimate.

7/6/07 Reverse acclimation

So, what if someone went the other way? That is, they're training in the mountains of Colorado and then they suddenly decide they'd like to do a race in St. Louis in July. Let's leave aside the fact that almost no sane person would make such a decision.

There's very little evidence to suggest that altitude training does much good when you compete at 450 feet above sea level, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Dealing with the humidity is another matter.

I don't know if there are actual physical adaptations that occur when you repeatedly train in hot and humid conditions. What I do know is that everybody struggles with the first few days when the dew point climbs above 70 degrees. However, those who get out in it find that after a few weeks it's possible to train hard.

Most of the running races around here are held in the early morning hours to mitigate the risk of people literally dying from heat exhaustion. That puts a bit less of a premium on being able to deal with the heat (although it can still be plenty hot and sticky at 7AM). Thus, a lot of runners simply avoid training during the day, figuring they'll get in better quality workouts in the early morning or late evening.

Adventure races and orienteering events often go through the afternoon, so if you haven't trained in the hot part of the day, you're in for a jolt. I try to get in a lunchtime run 2-3 times a week. We had a few hot days in May, but the sustained hot weather didn't start until about 2 weeks ago. Yesterday was the first day that I felt fine running in it. That seems a bit quick for an actual physical adaptation, so I suspect a lot of it is simply your mind coming to grips it.

7/7/07 Team Inertia

Kelly Sumner is an adventure racer from the other side of the state. He posted a comment on my AttackPoint log a few days back. I didn't know he was on AttackPoint. I usually check the new entries on AP every few weeks to see if anybody I know has started logging there.

Anyway, from the short history he has logged, it appears his training is pretty well balanced. Might be worth following. You can also read more about the team at their site.

7/8/07 Bounce

I'm not quite sure why, but running this evening was very fine indeed. Just one of those days when it doesn't seem hard and there's a lot of bounce in the stride. Had me really wishing that I wasn't having surgery in two days. I'd love to take this form to Colorado.

7/9/07 The ultimate commuting bike

Today, I rode into work and then we got hit with some thunderstorms in the afternoon. I knew this was possible, but I don't really mind riding in the rain. What I do mind is cleaning up the bike after the ride. I started thinking about the best setup for riding in bad weather.

I used to use a fixed gear bike with two rim brakes. That cleans up pretty quick as you have no derailleurs to mess with. Just wipe down the chain and the rims and do a quick lube on the chain. I think you could do even better by starting with a rigid MTB frame and fork. Add a fixed gear drive hub on the back, disc MTB hub in the front, lace up 700C clincher rims, and put on some fairly beefy 700x25 tires. Add a disc brake to the front and drop handlebars and you'd have a pretty bulletproof bike that would weigh less than 20 pounds and roll about as well as a road bike.

Such a bike would be usable even in the snow (not that we get much of that around here) - just swap the tires with 700x32 cyclocross knobbies. You could even get studded cross tires if you really wanted to be hardcore and ride in ice. The disc is self-cleaning and works in just about any conditions. That would leave you with just the chain to clean up after riding in bad weather. A 60" gear would be ideal training, but if you wanted to get to work a bit quicker, you could go as high as 75 unless you had big hills.

I don't know if I'll build such a bike or not. The regular road bike handles just about anything and it's certainly less work (and money) to clean it than to build a whole new bike from scratch. Still, it's fun to think about the "perfect" tool for a job, even if I already have something that works.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that Kate was already bopping around town in the car with Yaya when the storms hit, so she picked me up at work. Not particularly tough of me, I suppose.

7/10/07 Uncut

I'll still need to get it done, but my surgery has been postponed. I can't say I'm too unhappy about it. I'd like to go to Colorado with decent form and I'm not sure that would have happened if I had to take three weeks off from running.

The plan now is to have it done as soon as I get back (mid-August) which may mean I'm not 100% by Sprint Finals in September, but I care a lot less about that than I do Long Course Champs. I should be back on form for Adventure Racing in October.

7/11/07 Lessons that stick

Every parent (well, every parent that isn't hopelessly negligent) tries to impart some sense of what things are to be valued on their kids. I like to think we've done a decent job with Yaya, though much work remains. In particular, I've been trying to get her outdoors as much as possible. It's not that I care if she becomes an Adventure Racer, I'd just like her to think of the world as something that was given to us rather than something we built.

This morning's conversation between Kate and Yaya indicates that she's been paying a bit more attention to the fact that I'm hungry all the time:

Kate: You've got a nice daddy. Your daddy takes you out to do fun stuff.
Yaya: Like getting ice cream!
Kate: Yeah and he takes you on hikes.
Yaya: And we go to Dewey's Pizza!
Kate: Yes, that too. He takes you canoeing.
Yaya: And we go to the grocery store!
Well, she comes by it honestly.

7/12/07 Grant's Trail

St. Louis has three bike paths that actually get you somewhere (as opposed to loops in parks or short neighborhood trails). The longest is the Katy Trail, which follows the Missouri River for most of it's path through the state. It's one of the longest dedicated bike trails in the country. Another is the Mississippi River Trail (MRT). The portion of the MRT that is bike only follows the river connecting the Arch with the Chain of Rocks Bridge about 10 miles to the north. Both of those trails get a fair bit of use, but the one that really gets folks out is Grant's Trail.

Grant's Trail runs from south City out to Kirkwood (around 8 miles). Like the other two, it is a Rails to Trails conversion, so it's basically flat. The popularity of the trail is mainly a function of where it's located. It skirts the southern edge of the dense city suburbs making it convenient to nearly half a million people. Another factor is the quality of the trail itself.

Rather than the standard 6-foot pathway, Grant's trail is at least 10 feet wide everywhere except for a few bridge crossings. That makes a big difference in how easy it is for people of different speeds to use the trail. You can safely pass, even if someone is coming the other way. The surface is also excellent; in fact, the asphalt has just been resealed. Finally, because it was a working railroad when most of the streets were designed, it has far fewer crossings than a comparable road route, so you don't have to stop very often. It all adds up to a pretty nice way to get out of the city after work.

7/13/07 Fit versus primed

I used to race the same car that I drove everyday. The rules for the class I raced in (Street Touring) were written so that you could have a pretty competitive car that still functioned as your primary transportation. Kate hated it because the suspension was so stiff (if people knew what a "race tuned suspension" really felt like, the car companies would never ever mention it in their ads). But, if you didn't mind loosening a few fillings and changing over to race tires at each event, you could race, and even win, without having to own a dedicated race car. As I only raced time trials, the chance of wrecking the thing was pretty small.

The other nice thing about racing in street classes is that you basically turn the key, the car starts, and you're ready to go. It's a good idea to let the motor warm up a bit, but you don't have to mess with it just to get it to run. At the start of each event I'd always see the folks in the prepared classes squirting stuff into their intakes and adjusting this and that just to get the car fired up. Once running, they'd have to nurse it along through the pit area to keep from stalling. Of course, once they got moving, they were mighty fast.

What brought this to mind was an interesting comment from Kari Sallinen (thanks to Spike for pointing it out) about feeling fit. He says he thinks about how everyday tasks (climbing stairs, etc.) feel to give him feedback on his fitness. I find this interesting because it's totally contrary to my experience.

When I'm training a lot and my fitness is good, moderate everyday exertions feel terrible. Sometimes, I'll be climbing the stairs at work and realize I'm slowing down some guy who's 50 pounds overweight behind me. I can go faster, but I don't particularly want to. I remember the last time I was back in Ithaca, Carol's husband Paul came over and played soccer with Olivia. He took one step out the door and started running all over the yard with the ball. Paul's reasonably fit, but I'd certainly take him in just about any kind of race. Yet, I felt awful running around with him. The reason was that my body wasn't primed for effort. I could force myself to move, but if I had really wanted to go fast I'd warm up for 20-30 minutes first.

All the improvement from training happens when you are not training. The training wears you down and forces adaptations that take place while you're resting. When your training load is heavy, your body doesn't have much time to recover so it's pretty much in adaptation mode all the time you're not training. Asking it to do even a modest effort without preparation will generate a complaint.

It's entirely possible that I've misunderstood Kari's point as I never saw the original interview. My point is simply that the only reliable feedback I've ever had on fitness are quality workouts or full-on competition efforts preceded by the appropriate physical and mental preparation.

7/14/07 Bashing

There's a thread on Attackpoint right now on the recurring subject of orienteering coverage in the media (or, rather, the lack of coverage). These discussions almost always devolve into bashing the major sports and pointing out how foolish/lazy/distracted the typical American viewer is to want to watch them. This one got there almost immediately (second post).

I'm not suggesting that people should refrain from expressing their opinions (that would be rather futile on a web forum). Nor am I particularly offended by it, even though I rather enjoy watching an (American) football game every now and then, which makes me the target of the criticism.

What I don't understand is why participants in minor sports feel this way (and I realize that many don't - but it is a prevailing view). Why should athletic achievement be so narrowly defined that people who don't pursue it the way we do need to be knocked down a rung so we can feel validated in our own pursuits? I suppose a lot of it is envy, but that also seems odd to me. I couldn't care less whether orienteering or adventure racing is on TV. I'm certainly not looking to get on TV myself (I've been interviewed on TV a few times and it's not a forum that flatters me).

When I got started in bike racing in 1978, there was no coverage at all on TV. By the early 80's, the Tour de France would be covered in a two-hour highlight show each weekend and every once in a while a network would pick up the Paris Roubaix or World Championships. My cycling friends and I would all get together and watch these broadcasts with great excitement. On other weekends, I'd get together with different friends and have an equally good time watching a football game. But I felt neither validated by the former nor threatened by the latter.

7/15/07 The flip

Most adventure races have at least two people in each boat when using canoes. If you do all your training with a partner as well, you may not have the need to carry a canoe by yourself. However, if you do, it sure helps to know how to do it right. Yesterday, I took Yaya paddling. It had been a while since I'd carried a canoe myself and I strained a muscle in my upper back getting the boat on my shoulders.

That was pretty dumb, because if you do it right, it's not a motion that requires a lot of strength. I decided I needed to brush up on my technique a bit and found a good site with instructions and pictures.

7/16/07 Breather

I don't take too many off days when I'm in base period - generally 2 or 3 per month. When I'm doing a lot of volume, but not much intensity, my body seems to do better without the break. Of course, I do have shorter days that allow active rest, but if I take a day off completely, I'm just stiff the next day.

While this may seem somewhat maniacal, the truth is that I enjoy long miles and rarely struggle with overtraining or burnout. But, every once in a while I just won't feel like training. When this happens, I usually don't fight it.

Saturday, I paddled with Yaya and then spent the rest of the day with her and Kate. I expected to train on Sunday evening, but really didn't feel quite right, so I skipped it. I didn't get around to doing anything today until late in the evening so I just went for an easy run. That's a pretty light 3 days for base period, but it was refreshing and I'll have plenty of chances to get in some distance this week.

7/17/07 Show Me

I'm more than a little curious as to my fitness right now. I feel fine, but haven't done any real hard efforts in quite some time. This weekend, I should get an answer as I'm trying to go for 4 in a row at the Show Me State Games Duathlon.

7/18/07 Recovering from the Alps

With the Tour de France moving out of the Alps, there will be more opportunities for recovery. The long, tough, mountain stages cut into my sleep time. Yes, my sleep time. Did you think I was talking about the riders?

7/19/07 Soggy sprint

Today's sprint was our first Thursday evening event in the rain. And, boy did it rain. Actually the really heavy stuff was prior to the race. For a while it looked like we'd have to cancel because nobody showed up. But then some folks did arrive and we had a fun little race. By the end of the event, the rain had stopped, so we got in a little socializing as well.

Anna Shafer-Skelton was the mapper and course setter. I believe these were her first efforts in both tasks. The map has a few rough edges, but was free of any serious errors. The course was quite outstanding; one of the better sprints I've run. I'll post a full report with the map tomorrow.

Here the brave souls that showed up:

Eric Buckley9:45
Rick Armstrong12:24
Rudy Schwarz12:32
Mark Geldmeier12:58
Dave Welsh13:43

7/20/07 Third Thursday meet report

... and map are posted.

7/21/07 Don't show me

Never ask a question you don't want the answer to. I've decided not to ride the duathlon at Show Me State Games tomorrow. Actually, while I doubt I would be able to win it again, the reason I'm skipping is a desire to run reasonably well at the Forest Park Sprints in the afternoon. I don't think the sprints would be much fun on dead legs.

7/22/07 250

Something of a milestone was reached today. I won my 250th race. I'll admit up front that included in that number are a lot of "local" wins against pretty soft competition. Fittingly, today's win was a local orienteering event (although not without some quality in the field - I won the first sprint, but got nipped in the second). Here's the breakdown by sport:

Orienteering101
Cycling83
Auto racing33
Running13
Adventure racing9
Multisport (tri/bi/duathlon)5
Sailing5
XC Skiing1

7/23/07 Forest Park Sprints

Meet report is here.

7/24/07 Poison!

I've been teaching Yaya to recognize poison ivy. If she's going to be following me around to activities in the woods, she'll need to know. She's getting pretty good at it. When she sees some she yells out "Three leaves!" or "Poison!"

I could have used that assistance at the meet on Sunday. On the way to the second leg of the first sprint, I took the route through the woods. They looked pretty open. They were, until right before I got to the far side. The last 20m was a sea of knee-high poison ivy. I'm glad I didn't wimp out and try to find a way around, because I didn't win by much and stopping there might have blown it. Still, I don't particularly care to get a nasty rash just before taking a vacation to the beach (or any other time, for that matter).

When I got back home, I scrubbed down with Technu to get the oil off. Two days later, I don't have a rash, so I may have dodged a bullet.

7/25/07 From base to race

Normally, a base period is followed by a buildup period and then a taper for a major competition. That's optimal, but not necessary. Given the choice between the buildup and base, most coaches would encourage getting in the full 15-18 week base period as long as some quality training is included.

That's what I'll be doing for US Short and Long Course Orienteering Champs in two weeks. Because of the placement of the marathon in February (which had me peaking at a time when I'd normally be in base), there wasn't any time to work in a buildup. Therefore, I've just been extending the base period and now I'll taper to get everything rested up.

That's actually going to work out fairly well, as I'll be having my surgery as soon as I get back. After recovering from that, I'll be ready to start a fall buildup for the late fall races.

7/26/07 Vacation

For the first time in about five years, we're taking a vacation that has nothing to do with relatives or races. We're going to Florida today to hang out on Longboat Key for a few days. It should be a nice way to start taper.

7/27/07 Damn, it's hot

And I thought St. Louis was bad. We're in Longboat Key on vacation (our first real vacation in about 5 years) and it is crazy hot and humid down here. Still, it is a really nice beach and the wind helps take the edge off, so I'm not complaining. I just don't think the original plan of going for a 25-mile run tomorrow is looking too good right now.

7/28/07 Doh!

I do dumb things all the time, but today's thoughtless act was particularly bad. Bad not only because I should know better, but also because the consequences may be fairly serious. Ok, we're not talking life and death here, but I may have hosed my chances to win a national championship.

I decided to run an interval workout on the beach. I went barefoot. I've done that before and not had any trouble; my feet are pretty tough. However, given that I haven't run barefoot in over a year, it was a silly risk to take so close to a major competition. Anyway, my feet blistered right near the end. It's not clear yet how serious it is, but it will certainly cut into my running between now and the meet.

7/29/07 Hollow win?

Alberto Contador has to be thrilled that he's won the Tour de France. Nobody ever wins that race on a fluke. However, you have to feel a bit bad for the way he got it. Rassmusen didn't test positive for drugs, he just missed a test prior to the race. During the event, he was stronger. Would Contador's impressive effort in the final time trial have been enough to take Yellow? I think it would have, but we'll never know.

I applaud the UCI's efforts to clean up the sport (although I think they're going about it the wrong way), but it seems that if you're going to DQ somebody for something that happened prior to the event, you shouldn't wait until they've established themselves as the strongest rider to do it.

7/30/07 Mainstream

We were out getting ice cream this evening and overheard a woman talking to her kids about a triathlon. I injected a couple comments and soon we were talking about the Tour. Not just idle chat either; she was a bit fuzzy on who was who, but basically knew what was going on. Having that conversation with a stranger on the street would have been inconceivable when I started cycling in 1978.

7/31/07 Levy trail

I took the really long way home from work tonight. After riding north along the Mississippi to the Chain of Rocks, I crossed into Illinois and picked up the levy trail. I had been told that this trail was not much fun to ride because the road crossings are barricaded so you have to dismount. I have to disagree.

First, the road crossings are really no big deal. You can snake your way through without getting off, but even if you do dismount, there are only four of them on the whole 8-mile stretch, so it's no worse than hitting a few traffic lights.

More importantly, it's a nice ride. Because you're up on the levy, you can see quite a bit. Maybe that's the complaint - this stretch of the Mississippi isn't exactly the stuff of postcards. But, it's interesting in its own way. You also get to check out the choppers going by on Rt. 3 on their way to Fast Eddies. (Warning if you're reading this at work: the link is to a page with a soundtrack).

Anyway, it's too long of a route to do regularly, but I enjoyed the change of scenery.

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