Thursday, April 12, 2018

How the race was worn

Every spring I start going outside and I forget, “what do I wear today?”  So after years and years of trying to remember,  I recorded these layers over the past year and made some tweaks. It is so easy to overdress and be miserable. These are geared towards racing, so if training long, maybe consider going one range colder. That way, at lower intensity you can stay warm.  As always, experiment with what works best and customize.  Layers below work best when using Verge clothing.  They make great stuff using modern patterns.  There are two exceptions noted below for very specific garments.  But buy Verge whenever you can!!

Above 65: dry or wet: short sleeves and shorts, base layer. Maybe a vest and arm warmers in the pocket if rain gets cold on descents
55-65: Dry: shorts, SS jersey, base layer and arm warmers, vest in the pocket maybe if you are feeling chilly. 
55-65: Wet: same as above but add light leg warmers if chilly. 
47-55: Dry: jersey, shorts, base layer,  arm and leg warmers, vest, maybe oversocks/shoe covers
47-55: wet: leg warmers, shorts, long sleeve jersey with long sleeve base layer underneath. Vest or jacket
40-47: Dry: leg warmers, shorts, long sleeve jersey with long sleeve base layer underneath. Vest or jacket, booties/shoe covers, maybe buff/gaiter
40-47: wet: arm and leg warmers, long sleeve base layer, LS jersey, jacket, long gloves, thick booties, buff/gaiter
Sub 40 or Rasputitsa: Gabba Jersey LS baselayer, shorts with base layer underneath*, leg warmers, booties, long gloves, buff/gaiter 

*Many years ago, I bought a few pairs of baselayer shorts that were sewn inside out so the seams weren’t against the skin. They were made by Andiamo, and they provide just a little more insulation without bulk. 

Never put on a fleece as an outer layer, as it provides no insulation unless in still air. Still air = no forward motion!  This is actually part of old Polartec marketing. “Provides best insulation relative to bulk in still air” or something like that. In most cases, it would just absorb moisture and make you colder. 

Make things modular if on the bubble. Allow for stuff to be removed if it gets too warm. That’s why leg warmers vs tights are key. Vests that can tuck into a pocket if required.  Look at the weather, especially if you are out for 4 hours starting at dawn.  Temps can change, and the new weather tools can really help identify how things may change.  This is where armwarmers and vests are key.  Manage pockets thinking of this.

Most of all, enjoy.  Conquering the weather makes you feel alive.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Zwifting for fitness

So I just dove into the electronic trainer game full force. I bought a Cycleops Hammer, and took the rear wheel off my bike.  Now before everyone is all like “trainer riding is lame, ride outdoors!” I give you exhibits 1 and 2: it’s -6 F out and my kids have activities at every moment of every day. Riding in the AM on rollers for me has been the way I get things done for a long time during winter. I have been training with power for about 17 years and have been used to that feedback, augmented by metrics in TrainingPeaks. 

But electronic trainers and Zwift etc are a pretty cool development. And it isn’t that you can ride through a virtual world and have the resistance change while going uphill. (Believe me, it’s only been a month and if I see that climb to the top of the cable car once more...I might lose it).  Rather, putting workouts into Zwift and having the software control the power output in erg mode is where the real benefit lies.  You can connect your TrainingPeaks account and it’s designed workouts with Zwift. If your coach assigns warmups, tempo, warmdown etc in a workout, “erg” mode in Zwift allows you to have the power controlled. 

I have ridden long tempo blocks and held a reasonably consistent average power. I have watched my Power/HR metric and felt good that it was staying below 5%. But Zwifting a long tempo block is another level of difficulty.  When it says: Ride “X” Watts for 20 minutes, it doesn’t know you tire at the end of the set. And since power is proportional to torque, and torque is affected by  cadence, when you get tired or lose focus and drop cadence, the electronic trainer ups the resistance to increase torque and keep power constant.  This is motivating because if the resistance gets too are grinding it out at low revs!  Watching a power number and keep it roughly at the average yourself is not the same as a machine constantly making it exactly obvious that you will ride “X” Watts and that only. 

So this is where the real benefit of winter training on electronic trainers becomes so much better for getting you fit. When you are pushed to complete sets on target and to the end, you build muscle endurance and increase conditioning. The intensity of the set further drives this home. Riding 10 min at threshold there is more opportunity to fade vs 49 min at aerobic or easy pace. 

Mixing this strength work up with regular roller rides at lower intensities as well as open rides on Zwift where you can ride with others and sometimes race them is a good diversion. And always, there is the 4th and 5th options: riding on the road when it’s safe and fat biking the local trails. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sometimes everything goes wrong...almost

Not everything is easy...or definite.

Photo credit: Kurt Maw
When I was younger, and a Cat 4, I read an article from my coach about planning for the day of the race.  What to prepare, when to leave, how much time to allow, etc.  I still follow that roughly to this day.  One of the key bits of this is arriving at the race and not being [too] stressed out.

When you are late, it seems like everything goes wrong.  But if you are repeatedly early and on time, you develop a muscle memory for what to do before the race and you know what to expect. This routine becomes tested when life throws you a curve and you have to adapt based on the time left. 

Like when you arrive 40 minutes before the start of a cross race.  So what do you do?  Evaluate the nice to haves and need to haves.  First of all, you won't arrive at the race magically late.  On the way, relax and do a mental checklist.  Then...well, you need a number, and you probably need to visit the porta-john.  You need to have your kit on and you need that number on your kit.  Don’t fuss with warmup and race clothes, just put on the race kit.  Then, when you are done with that, you probably have 20 minutes to go.  So, pull out the race bike, evaluate the course, put in the right tire pressure and go.  No pit bike, no pit wheels.  Just go.

Ride to the start, maybe ride to the start as fast as you can to get some blood pumping.  Evaluate staging and then ride the start so you don’t take the whole field out going left when you should go right.  Come back to the start and be there before they start staging.  And so it is done.

At this point, you are probably thinking “no warmup, ugh!!” but you have one bit on your side: Adrenaline.  This cagey chemical in the body is helpful and hurtful.  But in this case, it’s getting you ready for the whole ordeal because deep down you are nervous and scared.  Both things that excite the adrenal glands.  Vocalize to yourself that you’re nervous and then relax and give it your best.  One thing that will happen is that the first lap will feel horrible because you aren’t fully opened up.  So be patient, and let that happen.  On the second and third laps you will begin to feel better and start hunting folks down.
Photo credit: Benjamin D Bloom Photography

This happened to me this past weekend, and a guy next to me that I’ve known for a long time said “Eh, whatever.  You have no expectations, you will probably just relax and have the best race.  It’s not like you are late all the time, then it would be a problem”.  It wasn’t the best race, but what it wasn’t was my worst.  I got 5th with a late surge.  Sometimes you get thrown a curve, and you have to wait on it, adjust and get to the line.  Once on the line, hit it with what you have.  Yes a perfect warmup would have been nice, but you are here to race, so practice racing.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Wednesday Night Training Race....

Why you should really do that training series

When I was younger, racing as a Killer B in CX, for some reason, I thought it was ridiculous to race the Wednesday night CX training race.  I have no idea why.  Perhaps I thought it was not enough training volume.  Perhaps I wanted to do some “quality training” or “key workouts”.  But, in reality, that’s not correct at all.

The Wednesday night series that seems to be almost everywhere: Catamount, Fifth Street, Wednesday Night SuperPrestige, or Wednesday Night Worlds at Alpenrose.  These are fields of varying ability with one goal: 40-60 minutes of drilling it cross style.  When you are done, you have done some quality training.  What else?  You have practiced the age old skill of turning without falling while riding on the rivet.  There is no doubt, when it’s a race or practice race, your psyche knows and puts the game face on.  Things are tougher and you can utilize this as a chance to try things. What you ask?

The Start
Let’s begin at the beginning.  Line up roughly where you would for a Saturday race.  Listen for the whistle and concentrate on clipping in and getting going.  Did you choose the right gear?  Did you go hard enough for too long or not long enough?  Evaluate the start terrain and make decisions: “Do I need to be in the top 5 before that corner”.
The settle
How far do you hammer to get off the line?  The start is a sprint, and you go into a pretty significant debt.  But it takes much longer to recover the longer you sprint.  Evaluate how far you go before you settle into the pace of the race.  There is usually a sprint, a tussle to get with the group, and then a settle to a pace you can maintain.  Push the envelope and see what the results are.
Changing lines
Perhaps early in the race you see someone ahead taking a different line and it seems faster.  Try that next time.  See if it can help you through a corner.  Also, concentrate on looking through the corner and not at the post at the exit of the corner.
No left hand
The front brake can be the death of you.  Applying it in a corner basically makes you lose a little cornering traction and increases the odds of crashing or sliding out by 709%.  Why do you hit the front brake?  Because you are coming in at what feels like a pace that is too hot.  How do you fix this?  I practice a philosophy that my co-worker Bryan preaches: Slow is Smooth, and Smooth is Fast.  Next time through a hot corner, approach it slower, physically remove the left hand from the brake lever, but keep the right one in the brake position.  Tweak the speed you enter this, and play around with finding a hot smooth line by starting slower.  You’ll also give yourself a chance to recover with this technique and as soon as the power section opens up, you’ll be able hit it harder.
Take a break
There are no crossresults points on Wednesday.  So after you dig too hard on the first lap, sprint too hard out of a smooth section, ride a lap a notch down.  Then re-enter the scrum and hit it again.  Sometimes hammering all the time is good, and sometimes, you don’t get enough of a clear view of the trail because you are hammering.  Taking a break lets you bring the heart rate down, and look at some features at a slower speed, and then attack them on the next lap.  Also, coming off of a recovery lap, practice closing a gap to someone as if it was a real race.  What if that racer up ahead is the $12 zone??  Practice closing because it’s hard.  And don’t worry about people who are going to be pumped that they beat you.  There’s no points.  And there’s no harm in looking at the long game: Saturday and Sunday.

In closing

So, in short, there are so many benefits to the weekday race.  You can practice so much technique in a real atmosphere and make improvements before race day.  And who knows, maybe you’ll even get a brat and a beer in the parking lot. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Day of Race Routine for Cross

Day of race routine. Getting to a CX race and getting organized

Getting to a CX race and getting organized is key to a successful venture. I have been using the same routine for the past few years and it works well for me. Perhaps sharing this will help you get ready as well. 

Time the food and arrive early
I like to arrive so that I can get there and ride the course casually right away. This means, arriving before the race three before you is over. Get there and get your pit bike out and get changed into non-race kit.  Put in the required pressure and go to the start/finish. Once the winner goes through, begin riding the course slowly observing tricky spots and opportunities. You should be able to slowly get in 2 laps, being careful not to foul racers completing ahead of you, and not run afoul of the officials by riding the finish straight. 

Once done, head over to reg and get your number.  By now, your are less than 2 hours to race time. The race meal should be already eaten. I like to eat my breakfast 3 hours before which is usually oats with walnuts, blueberries, maple and butter. Sometimes a yogurt too. Always drinking water to supplement.  In the final 2 hours I like to top off with either a banana, a partial Clif Bar, or an Gojo applesauce packet if I get hungry. 

Once back at the car, PIN numbers on the race kit and start a warmup. The actual warmup is the subject of another article. But this should be about 1:40 before the race now. Do a structured 20-30 min warmup, and be ready to go back onto the course for 2 hotlaps as the race 2 before you finishes.  Identify areas of the course that you need to concentrate on and consider tire choice and pressure. 

The final hour 
Once this final course inspection is done, things are getting compressed. Get back to the car, get both bikes ready or get the pit wheels ready. Change into race kit and do a some warmup work to stay loose. With warmups on, a bottle in a pocket, and  your espresso and untapped maple in the other pocket, bring pit bike/wheels to the pit at 30 min to go. Find an area near the start to stay loose and get ready for callups.  Sometimes I will ride slowly or jog a few 50m strides in my riding shoes on the grass. Yes, I said jog.

With 15 min to go, take the espresso and untapped and get ready for call ups. Keep the warmups on and hang them on the start fence at 5-10 min to go. 

Go time
The hope here is that you will have a sequence of events, planned with enough time, to get optimally ready with the most self reliance. It is always great to have pit help and jacket handlers, and when they arrive, it's a bonus. If they aren't around, be ready to help yourself with this guide. 

Nothing ever works perfectly. However, concentrate on the key tasks at hand and be ready for curve balls. The number one thing is to be on the line ready to start. Warmups can vary and food may be forgotten. But keep an open mind and be positive, and you too can be charging to the front effectively when the whistle blows. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Time efficiency -- Make your lunch

Make your lunch

One of the key factors of good training regimen is eating right. Consistent nutrition is a building block that will help you every step of the way.   I am a huge fan of eating real food as part of training. This is important to me off the bike as well. 

One of the best things you can do to control your diet and eat well is make your own lunch. It has so many benefits. One, you save time overall. It may take a little time to make in the morning and you then have to get it to work, but it pays off. It takes me 5-10 min to make lunch snacks for the day. It rarely takes me 5-10 to go get lunch. What do you do with that time?  Eat at your desk or go for a quick run and eat at your desk after. Two, you eat way healthier than food you can get out in most cases. Pack things with a minimum of ingredients: almonds, carrots, Greek yogurt, apples, bananas, oranges. For a sandwich, I usually just eat a PB&J on wheat bread. But it is just as easy to grill some chicken one night, and then slice that up for a few sandwiches. Make a wrap with avocados or other veggies.  

Making your own lunch is so key to a healthy race weight and feeling great, try this challenge.  If you eat a little less than healthy for lunch (giant burritos, burgers, meatball subs) commit to making lunch for 5-7 days. Just try it. Then, on the next day, go get your old lunch. Note how your stomach feels at 2:00 and how you feel.  I guarantee making a healthy lunch with a minimum of preservatives will make you feel better. 

Not every situation at work works. But if you can some or all of this into your day, you can get some extra miles in, feel better, and be on the way to being a better athlete at any sport. 

Openwater swimming for your first triathlon

OMG!!  The Swim!

For any new triathlete, the swim is without a doubt the hardest hurdle to overcome if you haven't come from a competitive swimmer background. There is no doubt an advantage to having years of laps in a pool and swimming races when you line up in open water. But, being a non-kid swimmer myself, sometimes these expert swimmers don't quite understand what anxiety this leg brings to a non-fish.  Having panicked HARD in my two first races I developed a plan to try and overcome. 

One, plan to buy a wetsuit. The buoyancy you get from this is measurable. The first time you get one and go into the water, you will feel like you are popping out up to your chest like a channel buoy.  You can get a decent sleeveless wetsuit for $99-$150 that is cheap insurance.  Not only does it help you float, and keep you warm, it helps you swim a little bit faster too!

Two, on race day, get into the water before the race and get your face wet. Acclimating to the water temp is very helpful to overcoming the initial shock of getting into the water for a scrum with 50-100 friends.  Also, during acclimation, pull on your suit to make it as comfortable as possible on your chest. I find that in putting on the suit sometimes, it doesn't come up my legs enough and the arm straps are pulling down too tightly. Pull up on the crotch of the suit to get more of it up into the upper body and relieve this pressure. If you can't  get into the water before the race, wade in at your start slowly and take a few seconds before starting. 

Three, don't fight the crowd. If the first turn is a left, line up on the right side and slowly start off. Lining up with the crowd only lends to increasing anxiety as you bump and collide with other swimmers. Quick geometry says that you are adding only a minimum of meters by doing this. Racing in calmer waters will help you relax and get into a rhythm. In most cases, things will bunch again at the first turn if it is in the first few minutes if the swim and then string out.  Some races offer streaming starts where 3 people start every 10-20 seconds. This is an amazing development for new racers. Check this out if you need it. 

Four, be as fit as you can. Swimming 2-3 times a week is the best way to get fit for a minimum of time. If you are just starting, swim a portion of the race distance for a few weeks and then work your way up. Your first triathlon should be a sprint or Olympic distance. That way, you are swimming 500-1500 yards in the race. When starting, if you haven't been swimming in a while, swim as many laps as you can consecutively, and then take a 30-60 sec break.  In the race, this could be simulated with swimming freestyle a bit and then popping up for a few seconds of breaststroke to get your bearings and breathe if required.  

One thing the start of a race brings on is panic in many. Being out of breath compounds this. After swimming for a few weeks, integrate what I call a start drill into your workout. After a warmup of 200-500 yards, do the following:
2x50 yard sprint with 5 sec rest after each
2x100 yard swim at your pace with 15 sec rest after each
Repeat this 2-4 times
This workout gets you breathing hard, and then you have to turn right around and swim a consistent 100yd while managing your breathing. The first 100 in each set is what I have found best simulates open water starting. This ability to swim and manage breathing will give you confidence when you have that feeling in a race. 

Hopefully you can put these few things together to help your first swim. Triathlon is a great sport that requires a lot of skills that produce great overall body fitness. Completing your first open water race will also give you the confidence and mental toughness that will help in many other situations in life.

Dave Connery is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach, Masters/Age Group Racer, and father of two kids.  H-factor Training is a business that works with real world athletes trying to balance their activities with their work and family at any level.