Saturday, December 27, 2008

On Rainbows and Group Rides

Cartman: Eh. I hate those things.
Kyle: Nobody hates rainbows.
Stan: Yeah. What's there to hate about rainbows?
Cartman: Well, you know. You'll just be sitting there, minding your own business, and they'll come marching in, and crawl up your leg, and start biting the inside of your ass, and you'll be all like, "Hey! Get out of my ass you stupid rainbows!"
Stan: Cartman, what the hell are you talking about?
Cartman: I'm talking about rainbows. I hate those friggin' things!
Kyle: Rainbows are those little arches of color that show up after a rainstorm.
Cartman: Oh. RainBOWS. Yeah, I like those. Those are cool.
Stan: What were you talking about?
Cartman: Huh? Oh nothing. Forget it.
Kyle: No. What marches in, crawls up your leg---
Cartman: Nothing.
Kyle: ---and starts biting the inside of your ass?
Cartman: Nothing!

I had to share makes me laugh every time. I remembered it earlier today when at a light with a group of friends going out for a group ride. I pointed to the patch of rainbow covered pavement to illustrate the dangerous phenomena that occurs when the perfect storm of a pool of motor oil which has leaked out of a car onto the road combines with rain...the oil comes to the surface and acts as a frictionless launchpad for the unsuspecting. Been doing 25 mph into a 90 degree left turn, seen the rainbow of death and had the bike disappear out from beneath me and then felt the all too familiar warmth of friction as my ass acts as a brake on asphalt...thank God for second skin. Hmmm...I managed to work rainbows and my ass into the same paragraph...

I've really been enjoying the group training I've been doing lately. It has been so diverse and truly beneficial to everyone involved. This Wednesday I made up for the 'Threshold Thursday' ride I knew I wouldn't get in due to the Christmas day...I did 40' at threshold in the basement before heading to the store. It's amazing how much more difficult this is to do solo...not to mention indoors. I have certainly benefited as much from doing my threshold workout in a group as anyone else. For me, I simply cannot pussie out, as there are 5-8 others looking for me to lead the ride..the coach can't bail. We all settle into our places quickly after the first 5'. Some ride beside me for a while, pulling ahead at times, while others draft for the workout's entirety...a third group drops off and continues to push themselves in pursuit of our faster group...everyone gets what they need out of the ride...fantastic.

Christmas day was another group ride for me...Don, George, Dee and Donna headed out with me for 2.5 hrs. easily before family time...again, a great ride for all. George and I discussed our strategy for 2009 looks like I'll ride with George in the Pro-123 field in the Spring series, as doing the 3-4 race after dominating it wholly last year offers little challenge for him...this isn't to say I won't be racing for myself as well, just that I will do so in the interest of helping George acquire wins. We encouraged Don to get his upgrade to Cat 3 to join us as his considerable strength will be a huge asset in our races. So, we'll have a squad fighting out for upgrade points in the 3-4 race so that they can join George and me. For Dee and Donna, it was solid base miles for these two super strong women on the comeback trail.

The day after Christmas was a 56 mile steady ride with bro Matt & the Kreb boys from Bellport. Chris J. and I caught up on the bike biz (even though Chris crashed on black ice!) while we noodled around the middle of the island. Almost 3 hrs. at 240W NP was to chat with Jeff C. about his training a bit and how to structure his tapering and peaking a bit better with use of his PMC in Cyclingpeaks. He is a smart dude, having figured so much out on his own...I shudder to think how strong he will be once he starts finding his best legs on race day instead of 4 days after his goal race!

Today was the aforementioned group ride from Sayville. A cool 2 hrs. up the Head of the Harbor and back home...again 240W NP and perfect prior to my Trevor Ride tomorrow. Funny that...the best thing about these group rides is what we discuss post ride over a drink. Today's topic was how, while we always must enjoy what we are doing first, we also shouldn't waste a moment of our training time, as we have chosen to dedicate a portion of our finite time on this Earth to sport, so we may as well go as fast as possible!

Well, that's enough babble for this Cartman might say 'I'm going home'.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Walk

I get up every morning between 6:00 and 6:20, head to the can, weigh my sorry ass (my weight never fluctuates more than 3 lbs., despite my unhealthy obsession with it), hobble awkwardly with tin-man limberness down to the kitchen where my lovely wife, who has already heard the toilet flush, has poured my first cup of dark brown life blood. I take my first two or three gulps and slowly regain the ability to speak, not only in English, but with other human beings (one of which, unfortunately for her and for her family, possesses her father's AM disposition yet, has not become acquainted with my Columbian elixir) with genuine concern and curiosity regarding how they are handling life's/middle school's challenges. Their moods and body language are 'tells', as poker players would say...I know whether it's a quiz day, as opposed to a test day, whether things are going well with their friends, and if I really pay attention to the small details, if there is expected to be an opportunity to be seen by someone in particular...though, I would never dare mention it! I use these signs to gauge whether it's time do some character building or time to just hug 'em.

At some point, I head back up the stairs for one of about two different reasons and it is then that I know, with near certainty, whether my legs are 'ready' for the planned workout for the day. There are 'the days of grace' where I bound up them, knowing that there will be 'no chain' today. There are the days where I know that necessary will be a longer warm up, but that the legs will 'be good'...and I know the days that I'm glad it's a rest day or when an unscheduled one is necessary. I have often wished that I could literally walk up those stairs every day for every one of the athletes that I look after, so that I could make the very best decision for that individual each and every day. With most though, through listening to their voices, through reading their words very carefully, and ideally seeing their body language, I find that I do get to do the next best thing to taking 'the walk' with them.

There is a 'night and day' difference between an athlete burying himself to get through a session that he dragged himself out the door to do and one in which he was eager and he had to hold himself back from going too hard during. Templates don't take this into account...they cannot. It's funny to me that other 'coaches' take shots at my anal collecting of data, but then when we're alone, ask me questions about how I'm helping so-and-so get so much faster. I do try to explain, as I feel for them and their athletes and genuinely believe that the way coaches are perceived, as a whole, affects me too. What they fail to realize though, or refuse to commit themselves to, is that the numbers provide the 'GPS' of where we've been and that together with the record of how the body felt at different points along the way, during the daily 'walk' if you will, is the very blueprint of how to get an athlete to 'perform' at their very best when you want them to...when they want to.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Altered States

Coaching endurance athletes is a never-ending education. The past nine months has been the most profound in terms of what I've learned regarding athletic performance, specifically in terms of how race day results can be above or below expectation simply as a result of the mental outlook of the athlete...and how as a coach I can help encourage the correct mental approach to help bring out the best performances on race day.

Before the reader is filled with fear that I'll be overly 'touchy-feel-ly', let me elaborate. The beginning of my nine month crash course began as I've detailed ad-nauseum, with a crash...with my being bashed up by a hit and run driver. So much of my training and racing over the last few seasons has become rather 'paint by numbers' and simply going through the motions. Sure, I was in great shape for me, but the real enthusiasm for competition, for getting up well before the crack of dawn to shit in the woods in the rain had gone. More importantly, the races had become barometers, tests if you will as to how I was doing...whether I was 'succeeding'... The interesting idea to note was that I realized that not only had racing taken upon a 'work-like' status, but that riding the bike had, too. As cliche' as it may sound, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. As I sat in the basement with one arm in a sling, I longed to ride outdoors once again. I found the joy I'd lost.

What I hadn't realized until some time later was that I was being primed for a lesson of such profound importance that it would reshape my understanding of human performance forever.
It wasn't until I was 'given' a few more clues that it really began to 'sink in' though. At this time, a gifted athlete with whom I'd worked for several years was going through a rough patch, in which we were faced with a fitness plateau and actually seemed to be taking a step backward in terms of race performance. After our athlete/coach relationship was terminated, I realized that I'd missed the signs of an overemphasis on the results instead of the joy we'd felt daily in our 'process'. The thrill of toeing the line, 'throwing down' and seeing how many top pros we could beat had been replaced with pressure that could only lead to fear, which always leads to disappointment. The workouts and the races had become the measuring stick instead of the pleasure they had been for so long. I realize now that you will never beat the opponent who has exactly the same genetic gifts as you, but is thoroughly enjoying what they're doing every day, whether the session goes well or not, whether they 'PR' a race or whether they improve a few places over last year. So, the question still remained, how to avoid this condition in which an athlete is trying to compete with their old self that was clearly enjoying the racing and hence, flourishing when they've now put so much pressure on themselves.

Fast forward to Lake Placid. A number of athletes were emailing back and forth via a yahoo group and were listing key words or phrases to express their hopes for the day. When I forwarded a few to one athlete, to the list of words like 'cool, overcast, calm, dry, perfect' this athlete added his own wishes for the day..."rain, misery, a Sunday in Hell...and simply, 'Game on'". When pressed for his reasons for such counter intuitive wishes he explained how despite being exhausted at times and even dreading certain training sessions that the 'journey' had been so much fun that the race was almost anticlimactic...only in 'the black hole' of misery and pain could he push himself enough to enjoy the experience. He got his wish and he exceeded our greatest expectations...and despite the misery, he smiled for the entire race.

This got me thinking more about athletes that perform below and more importantly, above expectation. Clearly, the ones who welcome the black hole, the opportunity to really feel something, who look to the pain as a peek into the abyss, a sense of really being alive, to face the possibility to fail, are ones that perform best...they are the ones that win. As I type this, I am thinking back to a story about Michael Jordan from his NC days. As an 18 year old freshman in college, with the national championship in the balance and only time for one last shot, his coach and his team passed him the ball...with all the weight of a nation looking down on him, he made the game winning shot. But as he later said, "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." The rest in history as they say.

I have tried to take these lessons in mind more and more recently, emphasizing to athletes that the result really is meaningless...that the experience is what matters...period. Of course, as we work together, the velocity and therefore race times get faster, but the fun must always stay as it was in the beginning.

I was faced with an opportunity to 'put up or shut up' last Sunday while driving to the Pete Senia memorial race in 50F temperatures and pouring rain. I thought of 'a Sunday in Hell' and of my ever-smiling triathlete in Placid and decided that today would be an epic, miserable struggle and totally a blast! Well, it was and the result was good...though completely irrelevant.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Harvey, Sam, Joe & Chrissy

As I drove home this morning from the 'Early Birds Ride', I found my exhausted self trying to put the pieces of what I have been reflecting on this past week in the form of a lesson I can add to my experiences as an athlete an a coach.

I was exhausted thanks to Joe Zaverdas. I showed up at this long-time staple of Long Island summer cycling not knowing what to expect. I knew the ride was attended by the likes of Joe Z, Brian Wolf, in addition to the Charlie Rey's, and the Jeff Cline's (read: hammers) of local cycling. What I didn't expect was 50+ riders intent on drilling the ride right out of the parking lot on this 53 mile loop around the beautiful Hamptons, down Dune Rd. and back through surprisingly rolling terrain of the east end. Oh, and the other thing I didn't expect was the flat exactly 2 minutes from the start of the ride.

As the fast moving group flew by, a few guys asked if I wanted them to stop, but I said 'no, thanks', not wanting to be 'that guy'. I was riding in a rather inconspicuous kit, yet a few dudes recognized me as a rider who could help keep the pace high and politely offered to wait. No one really wants to stop and help and then have to chase a group of 50+ for an acquaintance, so I told them all to go on...then I saw the always intimidating form of Joe coming back to get me. I thought, 'this is going to be so bad'. After we fumbled with the flat that required a boot to make the sliced tired hold, 5 minutes has elapsed. As I tucked the bad tube and the expelled CO2 into my jersey, Joe said 'we'll catch 'em'.

The hollow in the pit of my stomach was cavernous...I was now obliged to stay with him until we caught back on to the group. You see, first, I had no spare at this point and was completely lost...more importantly, the dude had stopped and waited for beg for him to slow or to tell him to go on would mean I was a douche bag...I settled in for what was an act of sheer ferocity and a show of incredible strength on his part and for me, was an act of sheer unadulterated misery. 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 mph with zero let up for 30'...I did what I could...I had to offer to pull from time to time and would do my best, pulling for 45 seconds literally in the 'black hole' over 400W+ simply trying to match his pace and then suffering unspeakable agony trying not to get dropped off his wheel after he miraculously would seem to up the pace, refreshed from his minuscule respite.

In short, we caught the group that was scattering to the 4 winds on Dune Rd. as Joe made the final push over 30 mph into the stiff we made contact, I looked for a larger draft to compose myself in and marveled as he went right to the front of the group to treat the rest to a taste of the agony they had forced upon we crested the climb over the bridge off Dune Rd., he stood up, accelerated, sat back down and simply rode the last 7 of us off his wheel...every single one of us. When we met him at the designated regrouping spot, he quipped to us 'when you guys can stay on my wheel when I surge that that, you can win any race around here' (by the way, the average speed, on roads with stiff crosswinds, turns and a few stop signs requiring significant loss of momentum, the average speed after the 37' chase and 10' ride with the group was 24.8 mph) What Joe seems to have a difficult time understanding is that getting dropped by him isn't a choice any of us made...we simply could do no more.

When I sat down to type this, someone had sent me a link to a story about WC Chrissy Wellington winning the recent L'Alpe Duez triathlon...a 2.2K swim, a 115K bike and a 22K run...she had beaten the second place pro woman by nearly half an hour and beat all the male pros except one....she had come in second overall by a single minute. Interesting to add is that the same link contained an interview with her coach who swears she hasn't really pushed herself in a race yet...In other words, he claims she's cruising...he says her 2:59 marathon is nowhere near what she's capable of...holy shit, I said out loud. On a much grander scale, she is to triathlon what Joe Z is to the rest of us around here...simply in a different category.

Both these events made me think about simple individual physiology that Coach Sam Mussabini (from Chariots of Fire fame) was referring to when he said 'I cannot put in what God left out'.

Similarly, I remembered reading a quote by the great golf instructor Harvey Penick in answer to why he chose a career in teaching instead of tournament play. He said a single event destroyed any thought he had of ever playing the tour...he said "I heard the sound of Sam Snead striking a golf ball"...he adds "I knew at that moment, that the game was about to go to a level upon which I could never play".

I think the lessons of today have reminded me that most of us are simply playing at sport for our own personal competition with ourselves and that we need to understand what our limits are and to be pleased what we've accomplished in that context.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Lesson Learned From A Sunday In Hell

Ironman Lake Placid 2008 has come and gone and with a single exception, each athlete I was looking after either met or exceeded our expectations. As they say, we learn more from our failures than from our successes. The single exception was the result of torrential downpours throughout the day, an extremely lean and fit athlete, and the lack of a rain jacket that I overlooked instructing the athlete to wear.

In my wildest imagination, I never considered that it would rain all day and night from the middle of the swim until 10:00 PM. What I opened the athletes up for was a case of hypothermia...the opposite of what I feared throughout the preparatory phase for this mid-Summer Epic. This low single-digit body fat possessing athlete was forced to stop as a result of his core temperature dropping much too low. The human body (as Dr. Bob Otto would emphasize while discussing this incident) is better prepared to deal with excessive heat than cold. A simple rain jacket (or even a garbage bag) would likely have provided enough insulation to have allowed this athlete to have his breakthrough performance all of his fitness markers indicated he would have. From now on, even in the middle of Summer, every athlete will have a light waterproof jacket handy.

On the brighter side, the other seven athletes had great experiences. For the three first timers, smiles were the order of this "Biblically shitty weather" day. Excellent fitness and the proper amount of fear was the perfect recipe for an experience that each later described to me as phenomenal and nearly unbelievably rewarding. Of the other four, despite the horrific conditions, PR setting or equalling performances were the order of the day. The fastest finisher I looked after ran the 7th fastest marathon split of the day for females including the pro field, had a huge bike PR, and would have, no doubt, gone 20 minutes faster on the bike had the rain not scared her to death on the descents to Keene.

As a sidenote, the first training camp of what I believe will be many has been decided upon. I can think of no better location than my adopted second home of Boulder, Colorado. For the invited athletes, this will be the perfect boost to fitness for their fall Ironman race. With IM Kona, Florida and Arizona coming up, there is a great deal to be gained from this camp at this time of year. We are determined to make this first foray into Ironman training camps unparalleled. From the accommodations, to the support, to the guest coaches & speakers, to the dining, this camp will be second to none. This Rocky mountain altitude trip will include both American and Canadian athletes capable of staying with a fast moving group of cyclists. In the Winter camp, likely next February, there will two groups, be a second, slightly slower group on rides.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Quick Update

In my effort to keep my promise to myself regarding posting every two weeks (or so), I'll give a quick report on the goings on in my little universe.

Personally, the body is continuing to heal well and I am playing a fair amount of golf with my kids, in addition to riding regularly with a number of athletes I am looking after (I loved it when Des Dickey said's so much better in my mind than "MY ATHLETES") and both the bike shop and the coaching businesses are doing quite well.

Golf was my first addiction and as such, seems to be something I can pick up at almost any time and resume a respectable level of competance after only a few trips around the course. My rounds have been limited to mostly a time-efficient 9 holes, but over the last several weeks, I've quickly seen these rounds drop from the low 40's into the high 30's. I am getting indescribable pleasure though, from playing with Becca and Sarah. They are improving at such a quick rate and the time spent with them on the course is the most special of any I have ever spent. We talk about everything...even things I would rather not and every round is an opportunity for a gut-busting comment from one of them. The other day on the practice green Sarah asked "how long will it be before I beat you?" I replied, "you may never beat me" (hoping to appeal to her competitive nature). She quickly responeded "yes, I will get old!".

The riding has been quite pleasurable, as well. It has been mostly limited to relatively easy, longer rides with athletes preparing for Lake Placid, but I am managing to stay resonably thin.
I am currently still 'looking after' 8 of these warriors. This is one more than in '07, as I've picked up a late comer in need of harnessing his talents for the long stuff just as I was relieved of my duties by another athlete.

I feel that all of them are on or ahead of schedule regarding their preparation and have realistic, yet challenging goals. I believe that this is a critical role for the coach to play...the assistance in establishing realistic short and long term goals. As for their training, each program is quite unique, but there are obviously some strong similarities at this point. They will all be getting in their more specific long IM race intensity efforts after having "raised the left" in the months previous, and will be recovering a bit more than most other athletes coached by others (from what I've heard) this week. I've found that we avoid 'digging too deep a hole" at this time and that we can avoid injury/over-training, while maintaining a great deal of quality simultaneously. This also allows a proper taper going forward, without the need for a total shut down that can be quite risky.

The business side of things is also quite good. With the races of Summer approaching, the dissolution of two bike shop competitors nearby and the soaring gas prices, as well as the continued support of our own Team Runners Edge and Team in Training athletes, we are keeping very busy at the shop. The coaching business is going very well, too. I have a business plan that was about to launch with a couple associates in which we could accommodate additional athletes looking for a program like that which I've outlined in previous posts, as well as, put together some training camps throughout the year, but this has been temporarily placed on "the back burner" while additional personnel is recruited. I will implement this plan, but only when I am confident it will be done with the same level of personal attention I try to give to every athlete.

Well, that's about back in a couple weeks with tales of the taper!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Simple Tenets

When I first started coaching about 7 years ago, a close friend advised me, before I began, to read everything I could find regarding the great coaches and their methods, about exercise physiology and exactly why these particular coaches had been successful. He told me plain and simple "Write down your philosophy and always stay true to it". Of course, he didn't mean to ignore what others advised nor did he mean that I shouldn't stay up to date with the latest research in the field...only that I should think long and think hard should I consider breaking one of my tenets. While the original wording has changed over time, the list remains almost exactly the same as I wrote it in my first of many marble notebooks. They are:

-An athlete that is 10% under-trained can have a great day, but one that is 1% over-trained never will.

-The principle of specificity must be honored as often as possible

-Training must be individual

-Training must be takes about six weeks to adapt to a particular level of stress

-Every workout has a purpose

-An athlete is either capable of higher output from their body over a given time or (equivalently) they must be able to hold previous levels of output longer...otherwise, they are not training.

-The primary predictor of success in endurance sports is maximum sustainable (or Functional Threshold) pace/power

-Sessions at/near maximum sustainable effort are the backbone of endurance training.

-The adaptations from L2-L5 (Endurance through VO2) are identical...we merely trade volume for intensity.

-The shorter, hard(er) session(s) precede the longer, easier sessions after recovery

I'll try to keep on top of the blog and go through each in a bit of detail in coming entries.

Friday, May 2, 2008

What's Old is What's New

As Eddy Merckx said when asked how to get better, 'ride lots'...

It's been a while since I've posted because life has been very busy. The doctor says ride as long as you don't fall off or get smashed by a car again...great advice. My body seems to be healing, although it's frustrating at times when I remember what sleeping a whole night without waking up in the middle because some movement caused pain. I am, however, very hopeful that I'll get back to much mentally as physically. Recently, I have been training quite a bit in an effort to resume the seemingly massive amount of fitness lost since the accident while avoiding falling off. I have also been training a bit with several athletes that I am coaching and in particular, a number of them that are training for Ironman Lake Placid.

Training with these athletes has afforded me some new(perhaps, old) knowledge. It has allowed me to recognize that a slightly different approach to my own personal training was necessary. I needed this in as much an effort to 'spice things up' as to prepare for racing without the intensity that actual racing provides. I have experienced, as well as witnessed countless times, the benefits of focusing on plenty of riding in 'The Sweet Spot", at Functional threshold, VO2 max and tossing in the odd Anaerobic capacity session to 'hit' every race system (I know... Neuromuscular power omitted) but, I needed a 'new outlook'.

Part of the beauty of getting older is having been around long enough to see certain ideas come full hairstyles. The 'real' beauty is in being able to mold new ideas into old ones to make something better.

What I am currently doing is completing 2-3 multiple-systems interval training sessions per week and riding 'easy' to 'steady' in L2 the remainder of the time. What seems to be happening is that I am getting stronger as a result of being able to keep my chronic training load high with plenty of TSS points/miles/hours AND I am increasing my power at VO2, threshold, anaerobic work capacity and even my endurance. Clearly, not everyone is capable of putting in the 4+ hour rides as often as I have time for, but for those who do, the benefits are very interesting.

Surprised at how quickly the power output over these intervals has risen for myself, I have been incorporating them into athletes' training schedules at appropriate times in addition to 'the bread & butter' endurance sessions that have been successful for so many and have been receiving some frankly, fantastic results. With the addition of these intervals, I've witnessed a new cyclist's MAP rise about 3W per high intensity, multisystem interval session over the last 6 weeks. What is even more impressive is that I am seeing in myself, as well as others that have long histories of endurance training, and for whom the struggle seems to be trying to get back to where we were when younger, tangible improvements...this isn't to say that an athlete who was otherwise unable to climb Tiorati in the front group will now win Bear Mountain, but I am seeing power numbers that are better than ever before.

Oh..I almost forgot...for those that haven't been around cycling for long...Eddy Merckx is the greatest cyclist that ever lived...he won 5 Tours De France in route to amassing over 500 career wins...think Tiger Woods on a bicycle.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cranky Time

While riding today with a couple friends, it dawned on me that there is a time, usually late in a ride, but almost always late in a ride that occurs late in a training block that tempers get a little, uhhh, short. Hence, the title...cranky time.

There are numerous ingredients that go into the mix to create this situation. Take a group of two or more, introduce a challenging ride and include plenty of fatigue, either acute or chronic, plus a slightly fresher/stronger rider and you have the perfect storm. The rider that is feeling better than his/her counterparts has only to ride "a half wheel" ahead for a few miles or push an extra 10W up a roller and the tempers flare!

Without going into who was to blame today for making me think about cranky time, I thought I'd share a couple of my favorite episodes. Not oddly, as I have trained more often with her than any other person, Danielle was present (and "the cranky one" on one occasion) for both stories.

The first time was during a very hot and long training ride one Summer day very late in a training block for her and I made the mistake of suggesting that perhaps she should drink a bit more...bad idea. She explained in a tone most never hear from her that I was the last person that should EVER tell someone to drink...she muttered something about me being the worst in terms of hydration she'd ever encountered. To this day, I get crap from her for it.

The other time was while we were riding back with Jimbo from the Carter Lake Loop in Colorado. On this day, I was feeling particularly good and Jimbo was starting to feel the effects of several days riding as we headed South back towards Boulder. To be honest, I was feeling better than good...4 hrs into the day, on 'sticky roads' with a slight cross-wind, I was drilling it.

When we finally made it back to the light on Broadway, as we stopped, Jimbo exclaimed "Are we done with the f-ing team time trial?" The full magnitude of his crankiness was apparent when he added, "5 miles ago, I was going to put your luggage at the curb!"

Needless to say, after having been off the bike for far too long and having not ridden hard enough or long enough in 2 months, I am acutely aware of the animosity that can surface and am being especially careful not to yell at a good friend, "Dude, slow the F**K down!"

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Sweet Spot-What is it and how do I get there?

Quite simply, the Sweet Spot (or to abbreviate for Sweet Spot Training, SST) is that rather large span of power output from upper L2 through to roughly, Functional Threshold power. This term was coined by Frank Overton, a man I've never met, but from his website, I would bet we'd see eye to eye on most discussions relating to endurance training. The graph above, which I lifted from Frank's site, was actually created by Andrew Coggan.
There is nothing revolutionary here. Good coaches like run guru Arthur Lydiard recognized many years ago (simmer down, I know that recognition of this phenomena likely predated him by 1000 years) there is a range of effort when training for endurance sports which maximizes 'bang for the buck' because it is hard enough to cause the most desireable adaptations but, not so hard that it causes excess fatigue, requiring extended recovery. This is THE key concept. You can train more at this level, which makes you better, without having to train 20-30 hrs/week. I think this was depicted beautifully in the graph by Dr. Coggan.
The reason it is SO sweet is because by increasing intensity from say 60-65% of functional threshold (typically where athletes self select for their endurance rides) to an effort most would describe as 'steady' to 'comfortably' hard, roughly 75-85% of FTP and doing so for up to about 3 hrs. instead of 5 or 6, an athlete can elicit greater gains in the key components which lead to greater endurance performance, namely increased mitochondrial enzymes, increased lactate threshold and increased glycogen storage and do so in less time. In other words, concentrate a little harder, but not too hard and get a lot better...good deal.
So why not just go as hard as you can then, say L5 or higher as much as possible and then just take a few days off or easy? Well, while this certainly works to improve the aforementioned components of fitness, but it doesn't do as effective a job of increasing the body's ability to store muscle glycogen or to convert type IIB to type IIA as SST does, which for a relatively new athlete is a key determinant of getting better 'endurance'. Plus, training in L5 and higher is really mentally tough!
SST works for all endurance sports and specifically, for all endurance cyclists...that's from 4km pursuitists to Ironman athletes. For the former, as much as 60% of energy produced during this short race is aerobic. For the latter, not only is it aerobic, but lower SST IS Ironman effort, or slightly harder for some. What could be more specific than that?

Thursday, March 6, 2008


It will be 4 weeks since I was struck by a hit & run driver and it is starting to sink in that my body will need a bit more time to heal. On the up-side, the greater tuberosity has remained stationary and therefore, it seems that I will not need surgery. This was not the doctor's first thought because it had been displaced by twice the '"limit in the literature" over which surgery was typically necessary. His reluctance to operate was the result of the second fracture in the upper humorous that would have possibly shattered as a result of screwing the tuberosity back into its rightful place. The down-side is that the shoulder is quite painful, especially in the evening when I am trying to sleep. Coupled with a back that "twinges" and goes occasionally into "spasm", I feel pretty tired most of the time. The doctor feels that the back issues should subside eventually...I hope so...I used to 'knock wood' that I've never had any problem with my back.
The other injuries, namely the deep cuts around my left eye that resulted when my Oakleys shattered upon impact with the ground (anyone else think that glasses marketed for sport should be safer?), are healing as best as possible. I have to apply a scar guard for the next few months and will always have to wear SPF 30+ sun block or stronger. The scar above the eye is partially hidden by the brow and not nearly as gruesome as the one below.
While Dina claims she likes me anyway, I do notice people looking at it when I'm at the shop. A funny aside regarding the eye happened with the plastic surgeon in the ER. Before he operated I asked Dina if she wanted him to do a little 'Brad Pitt thing' and he interrupted with 'hey, I'm good, but not THAT good'...nice.
I've been trying to spend some time on the indoor trainer just to feel like I'm doing 'something', but these sessions are short and somewhat uncomfortable, being that I really cannot stabilize myself to pedal, having only one arm. In addition to this, I perform a brief 'PT' session three times daily which serves to remind me just how banged up I really am.
I am in good hands, though. Dina has gone above and beyond what even a loving spouse can be expected to do and I have complete confidence in my doctor Steven Rokito and my PT and close friend, Don Rourke. The support from so many friends has been the 'silver lining' in all of this. I've reconnected with old friends that fell out of touch and come to appreciate the new ones.
That's about it for now...train hard, rest harder.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Hit and Run Loop

Well, it has been almost a month since my last update. If you are reading this, it is likely because I coerced you into it by having attached the web address to my email signature. They say that most blogs have a readership of one. If that is the case, then thanks, dad. Seriously, if half of the people that have either called or written wishing me well since my accident read, my blog's readership rivals that of Newsday. (But, hopefully is written on a slightly higher grade level)

To summarize, for anyone that does not already know the story, I was struck while riding my bike by a hit-and-run driver. I was riding with Luis, Skip, and Don and had just made the right hand turn onto Vets Highway, ironically in the bike lane, when a red compact car (Honda, Toyota) moving at what a witness claimed looked like 50 mph, crossed into the bike lane and slammed into my left side. Fortunately, the front fender and the passenger side door made contact instead of the front bumper. As a result of the impact, and the subsequent bouncing down the asphalt I sustained numerous bodily injuries. Most notably among them are: a broken left arm (2 places), 30 stiches to my my face, and extremely annoying back, neck and rib cage, as well as, numerous aches and pains seemingly around my entire body... not to mention, road-rash over a large part of my body. I know the accident just happened and I am hopeful that most of my injuries will heal. There, that is the down-side.

Now for the upside. As mentioned above, our group had just turned and as a result, was spread out far enough that none of my friends were hit. The tremendous outpouring of concern from so many people has been truly moving. From simple get-well emails and phone calls, to visits to my home, to offers to help run the bike shop while I am recovering, the generosity of others has been non-stop. My brush with fate and this reminder of the importance of friends and family will serve as a "reset", helping me better prioritize my remaining time.

Only time will tell if lessons learned will "stick", or how much of my old self I will get back but, one thing is certain, my first ride will be on the hit-and-run loop.

That's enough for now. Sarah is getting tired of typing and we have other, more important stuff to do.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Indoor Trainer...

Having just checked the temperature on weather dot com and found out that it's 15 degress outside (no, I couldn't just go outside...I have to check the internet) I have decided to "ride" indoors today. I really do love my indoor trainer. It's a 10 year old, noisy wind trainer. I don't like the quite liquid kind...too much harder than riding the road...not enough inertia either, for my taste.

Typically, I've been writing about cycling training with a power meter, but the indoor trainer allows those without one to have an objective measure of fitness that isn't possible outdoors with a mere cycling computer. This isn’t such a crazy notion if you hear me out. When paired with a rear wheel mounted cycling computer, your indoor trainer can becomes a home based “lab” where you can assess your fitness gains periodically by testing yourself in controlled conditions.

With swimming and running, athletes can rather easily check fitness gains by completing a standard set in the pool or on the track, or running a flatter race. By doing timed distances in these disciplines, athletes can compare with confidence, current fitness levels with those in the past. But, what about on the bike?

Unfortunately, there are many more variables that can affect your bike TT when performed outdoors than with the other events. Wind speed and direction are the two most obvious variables that can confuse outdoor fitness evaluation results. Air density is significant also. This also assumes that you complete the test on the same course, let alone using different courses with different road surfaces and gradients. For those of you that have ridden around Hecksher from one day to the next, you know that one day you can ride 2 minutes faster per loop than the next.

So, this is where the old trainer becomes useful in assessing fitness. While temperature and humidity will affect your strain (heartrate may be higher) in the basement differently, these factors will not affect how the bike is rolling through the air. So, go into the basement or garage, put your fan as close to you as you can, put it on high and go, go, go.

What to do. First, try to keep conditions between tests as consistent as possible. Time of day, state of restedness, pre-test meals, and even music being blasted should be the same from test to test. Warm up thoroughly, then either ride a set duration, looking for an increase in distance “covered” or ride a set distance and compare times. Since the most informative fitness marker for the triathlete, actually, every endurance athlete, is maximum sustainable power on the bike or pace running or in the water, you want the test to reflect what you are interested in measuring. For this reason, the test should be sufficiently long. Either 8-10 miles or 20-30 minutes, depending on your preference. Most coaches test once every 4-8 weeks, typically at the end of a recovery week. I prefer a little “opener ride” the day before, otherwise, I feel a bit “blocked” during the test. Keep the opener ride as close to identical as possible by doing this on the trainer the day before, as well.

What to look for. Well, faster times for a given distance or more distance over a set time. If you are not improving, you have to re-evaluate your training. Unless you are increasing your maximum sustainable power on your bike, you aren’t’re maintaining, or worse! As an aside (as if I could avoid slipping this in), those of you with portable power measuring devices, like a Power Tap, can forego the indoor test and do it outside, wherever you choose. A watt is a watt and you can compare average watts for a given duration anywhere for a quick comparison, anytime you would like. Personally though, since using a power meter I rarely formally test, as every training day becomes testing as I compare my body’s sensations to recent history. But, that is for another entry.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ten (More) Years on the Bike...Just the Numbers

I read a comment about a week ago by Dr. Andy Coggan in which he stated that in the last 10 years (in his case, from ages 38 to 48) he hasn't lost a single watt at his VO2 max or at his functional threshold.
Having hit "the big four-oh" on New Year's eve, I began to ponder where my fitness is and, for comparison, from where it had come from in the last 10 years.
While knowing where it was 10 years ago isn't quantifiable for me because unlike Andy, I "only" began training and racing with a power meter after the 2001 racing season. I do, however, know exactly where my fitness was in the winter of 2001 coming into the 2002 spring race series.
It was at this time I purchased a power meter and tested my fitness with some field tests designed to indicate the status of certain key elements of my fitness and began to correlate them to each other. I chose this time because I had just finished the 2001 season and had experienced the best race results of my racing "career" and was feeling even better as the new season approached.

I mention the state of my fitness at this time because I believe that at this time it was better than it had ever been. I had been (finally) training with a plan in 2001 and was able to stay healthier throughout the season and place consistently higher in races than ever before. I had been performing certain training sessions that I'd use as marker sets and was doing so better than any point in the past year. So, roughly six years ago, I began to keep a record of my fitness that I am still keeping to this day.

In the last six years I have increased my power at VO2 max by 10%, my functional threshold by 12% and my 5-second power by 20%. Better still, I have managed to increase theses power outputs while decreasing body mass by 2 kg. By understanding the actual intensity of my bouts of cycling training via a portable power meter, and through correlating intensity with perceived exertion, I was able to find and push through the old "ceiling". I know not only how long and how it "felt", I know at what intensity I elicited these results. The single biggest advantage for me to this has been knowing when I need rest. By knowing when to rest, I have actually managed to get better as time has passed.
I'll keep on keeping on and see if I can manage to hold this for the next 8 years or so.