Staying Positive

I have a vision on how this summer is supposed to go. It has me being uber ready for the Wilmington Whiteface 100k in June. I obliterate the time I put down last year by at least 45 minutes. In the process I move up two starting corrals in Leadville. I then build endurance up to the point where I can do 103.7 miles, at 10,000 ft elevation, with 12,000 ft of vertical climbing on my terms. I finish that race in a fast 10:20 time.

The great thing about plans is it allows you to visualize how how things will proceed. It allows you to plan how to approach what it is you want to do. The bad thing about plans is that sh!t happens and events rarely follow the script. Plans have to be adjusted and you have to do the best you can with the cards you are dealt.

I’ve been thinking a lot about training, and trajectories, and expectations, and suffering. I see similarities between training and racing. The difference is in the time scale. You start the process with great fan fair and excitement. In Leadville they start you out with this as the fan fair. You start and your legs  are strong. Then life happens. You might walk some of St. Kevan’s because of the people in front of you, you might flat going down the Power Line, then of course you are going to have to go up Columbine. At some point you are going to experience adversity. Its pretty much guaranteed. Whatever plan you have is going to have to be adjusted, or abandoned. But you are going to have to face and overcome the adversity. You are going to have to be mentally tough. Then you grind. And finally, if things go good enough, you cross the finish line.

Training is kind of like that, only in slow motion. It starts out with some great excitement. Its fun and challenging for a while. Then it kind of becomes routine work. You have to stay focused. Something might happen. I don’t know, you might hurt a knee,  or you might get really sick, or maybe you crash and break something, maybe you have a bad result in a race. The plan or vision might need to be modified. How you deal with that sets the tone for the rest of training. Its determines how you finish.

So here I am working the recovery plan. Today’s ride was a little rough mentally. I felt good, got into the riding, rode kind of hard (“moderate” is what Coach Drew would call it) and then I had some pain/soreness in my knee. Urrg. I did the smart thing and shut down the ride. I didn’t push it. It was smart, but it was frustrating. When I got home, I iced my knee. The steady diet of RICE continue.

Tomorrow I see the PT to see if they have anything they can do to help me. That’s part of the (now revised) plan. I don’t know what is going to happen with my knee. That unknown is uncomfortable. Whiteface is coming up quickly. I may have to adjust my expectations for that race. It might be a long training ride in which I go as hard as I can, for as long as I can, and see what happens. I might get better quicker and be able to peak for that event. I don’t know. Regardless, eye on the real prize. Whiteface will be there to crush next year if I need.

Drew’s advice: stay positive and take care of what you can now (i.e. heal up), don’t worry about the other stuff.  I’m learning to stay focused and tough. I’m learning to not look to far down the road, but take things and deal with them as they come.

Right now its time to focus on  what I can do that is positive: rest, some work from the PT (and maybe some tape :)), and ice. It’s not what I was expecting to be working hard at. But its what I HAVE to overcome right now.

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Bike Fit

Yesterday I continued to follow my knee “recovery” plan. Time for a bike fit.

If you bike seriously then you have probably heard of bike fitting. If you don’t, then you might not have thought a lot about what it means to fit a bike to your physiology. Bascially a bike fit is getting a bike set-up to match your personal body. When I was a lower case “b” biker I would set the bike seat up so that my legs were more or less straight when I got to the bottom of the pedal stroke. I knew that you were not supposed to have your leg completely straight so I adjusted the seat height so that there was a little bend. Bamm. All done. No fuss no muss.

Well when you start capital “B” Biking there is a lot more to it then that. There are specific angles you want your legs to make. You want your body weight to be properly set between your rear end and your hands. You want to be sitting on your saddle in the proper way. You want your shoes to engage your pedals in the proper orientation (you know that serious bike shoes have cleats that attach to the pedals kind of like a ski boot, right?) If your bike is not properly set-up then you risk injury. Many times injury to your knees (humm). Given that I am having knee issues right now it seamed like it was time to get my bike fit checked. That requires a professional.

Two years ago I had my road bike fit and it made a big difference in how strong I felt on my bike. I never had my mountain bike fit. I basically set my bike up similar to my road bike. But that clearly wasn’t working for me. Off to the local bike shop that does bike fitting Wear on Earth. What did we find?

1. The angle my leg was making while on the bike was wrong, by a lot. The solution? Raise the bike seat. The bike seat went up by about 2 inches. With the seat so low my leg was too high on the top of the pedal stroke, putting a lot of extra strain on my knees and legs.

Authors note: This was somewhat my fault. I had read that MTB seats are generally placed lower than road seats to allow for better maneuverability so I had set my seat a little low on purposed. I went a little too far. But the bike geometry was also different between the bikes. That lead to the super low seat. Also the lower seat recommendation really depends on what kind of mountain biking you are doing. The kind I am doing is a lot more like road biking than something like downhill. My MTB really needs to be set-up more like a road bike. Newbie mistake.

2. I was not sitting evenly on my bike seat. That meant I wasn’t pedaling evenly with my legs. The problem? Bike seat too wide. The solution? A narrower saddle. That might sound counter intuitive but a seat that is too wide is not as comfortable as a seat that it the proper width. With a properly fit seat your body has a more consistent, solid point of contact.

3. The last thing we found was that my right leg was “chopping”. What you want when you pedal is to have your leg moving in a plane parallel to the bike frame. When your leg chops it means that your knee moves in and out with respect to the bike frame. Lateral movement on a joint that is fixed two places (your hip and your shoes) means extra strain on the knee (which the the one thing that has some lateral freedom). That leads to knee injury. This is a shoe issue. It means that your arches are collapsing as you push down on your pedals. The solution there is arch supports. We added some wedges into my shoes to provide some more arch support. Interestingly, I was using my mtb pedals and shoes at Battenkill, so even though my road bike was properly set-up, I was having a chopping issue then. I suspect that the initial injury was a result of improper knee motion while pedaling really really hard on the uphills at Battenkill.

After my bike was fit I did my (still light and easy) training ride for the day. The immediate reaction? Wow so much higher on the bike. That’s definitely going to take some time to adjust too. The first single track ride could be exciting. Helmet required. I felt stronger and faster on the bike (that may just be emotional, but I did feel that way, so who cares 😉 )

The process of bike fitting takes about 2 hours, but it is well worth the time. I’m hoping that these changes will fix the knee problems and make me strong. Feeling much more positive today. OK, time for my morning dose of RICE. The knee is still going to take some time to heal, but it will get there.

Lows

In general I would classify myself as a problem solver. I am a “identify the problem and work your ass off solving it” kind of person. As Dr. Phil would say I am “solutions oriented”. That works for me most of the time. It is however a real issue when the solution to the problem is inaction rather than action. (Yeah I know, inaction is action. I have a hard time philosophically with that one.)

That of course is front an center right now with my knee. Today’s scheduled workout has two parts: 1. RICE 2. 1:00 Easy ride. If it hurts, stop.

For those of you unfamiliar with RICE it is; Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Plus a healthy dose of NSAID’s (non-Steroidal Anti Inflamitories).  ( I wonder if I could get some SAID’s from Lance….Humm)

Today’s workout should have read something like: 2:30 Warm up for 20-30 minutes, Tempo  zone 3 for 40 minutes, follow with 2x descending intervals, finish zone 1-2.  (OK I just made that up, but this week should have been a very very hard week on the bike. I should have been crying for my mom by the end of the week.)

And so in many ways this week is the most challenging week I have had in my training to date. It’s hard to stay up and positive when I feel like important training time is slipping away, or that I won’t be properly placed to go for my goals, or that my knees just won’t get better.

I’m working the plan I have.

I saw the doctor yesterday (not my normal medical professional, she was on vacation, boo!). I had a 40 minute wait, for a 3 minute exam, in which I used 2 minutes to get across the fact that I hurt myself on a bike not a cycle. The outcome was a referral to a PT (which I self prescribed that already, and made an appointment for before I got the needed referral). I see her next Tuesday. Today I have my bike in my car and we are going to check the fit to hopefully fix whatever is wrong geometrically with my set-up that is causing my knee issue.

This morning I iced and took advil. Repeat at lunch time. Then at bed time.

The plan I really want to follow is more like something from Rocky:

“Cut me Mick..”-Rocky “You don’t wanna do it kid!”-Mick “Cut me.”-Rocky

Only for me its more like: “Just tape the dang knee and get me back on my bike…..”

Set Backs

Life is rarely a linear process.It almost never happens that you even proceed on a journey is a orderly fashion. And so it is with my trip to Colorado for Leadville next summer.

Last week I rode in the Tour of the Battenkill. The story is there to be read. What isn’t in that story is that my right knee was sore after that ride. Somewhere in the middle it started to hurt. Not an unbearable hurt, but more than a dull ache. Now being a red blooded male unless there is bone sticking out and blood gushing there is no reason to go see a doctor. And well it got better in a day or so. I rocked out two good runs and two hard rides last week and felt great going into the weekend’s riding.

Saturday I had a 3.5 hour moderate tempo ride scheduled. That ride was interesting. I mapped out a new ride that included a detour to the local “big hill” and then went back onto my usual “long route” I have been riding. I added a couple of other detours in case I had time. The weather was bad. Well, not bad, REALLY bad. Winds about 25 mph steady. Rain? Nope no rain. There was only a 10% chance of precipitation in the forecast. Nope. It snowed. It snowed so hard the snow accumulated on me while I was riding. It snowed so hard I had to put my sun glasses on so that I could see instead of having sharp stinging things flying into my eyes.

Then to top it off, my knee started hurting again. When I got home it was sore. Sunday it was still sore. I tried to do my ride, but couldn’t push as hard as I wanted to. Probably pushed harder than I should have.

Pretty sure it patella related.

Pretty bummed out because that knee has never had any issues before.

Chomping at the bit because waiting and resting are not my strong suits (stupid universe, I don’t want your lessons!)

Sad because its finally warm, sunny and no wind and all I want to do is go outside and ride.

Irritated because I finally give in to ask a medical professional for some help, and she is on VACATION. Seriously?

Anyway, I am solution oriented. So here is my plan:

1. Bike fit check. I had my road bike fit a couple of years ago. I have never had my mtb fit. I did some measurements and there are a couple of things that are vastly different. Time to make sure they are OK. Also time to make sure my arches are behaving properly.

2. Work some back door magic to get another doctor to give me a referral for PT, ASAP. Just tape me up and send me back in doc…..(its actually startling how easy it would be to get into that thought process. Somewhere half way through my ride yesterday I thought that if this wasn’t going to result in permanent injury…well anyway).

3. Rrrr…..rrres……..rrrressst. Ugh. There I said it. OK leave me alone.

Build

The Tour of the Battenkill ended the “winter” portion of my Leadville training. Monday it was time to check in with Coach Drew again.

“OK so tell me how the race went……” (In case you missed it, the race went like this.)

We talked about the good things and bad things that happened. What I could do better, what I did pretty good. We talked about how this was not the prize and we were not preparing for this race. Then we talked about the races that we were preparing for.

I am 9 weeks out from the Willmington Whiteface 100k. Its time to focus, ride long and get fast at long distances. This:

last_run

marks the end of my running (for now anyway). That was my training run from yesterday. 4.2 miles and a 8.9 minute/mile pace. Not too bad for someone who doesn’t really like to run. The dog is probably going to be the saddest about this. Its also going to be time to put the weights away.

The counter intuitive thing about training for something specific is that you need to get specific in the training. OK maybe that doesn’t sound counter intuitive. But here consider this. In terms of general longevity, healthy living, etc. focusing on bike fitness is not the best way to go. Its too limited. In terms of surviving Leadville, general fitness is not the way to go. Its too general (yes that helps, but only to a point).  Training at this point is not about general overall fitness. Its about bike fitness. Time to put the time and effort into the bike.

Rumor has it the next two weeks are going to be tough….

Weight

In biking weight means a lot, especially when you are talking about a bike race that includes a lot of climbing. Simply put the same amount of power output goes faster for a lighter object. That’s basic physics. Sometimes bike riders get caught up in having the lightest bike possible.

Here is an example. I ride with SpeedPlay peddles pedals on my road bike. I have the Chrome-Moly version which comes in at 108g for each peddles pedals. That’s a whopping 0.238 lbs per peddles pedals. They make a lighter version. Its made from Stainless Steel and comes in at 103 g (0.227 lbs).  That’s an eyepopping 5 g (0.01 lb) difference. OK per peddles pedals, so 0.02 lbs different. Price difference? $70 (54% of the cost of the chrome-moly version or $7/per gram). They also make a titanium version that comes in at 83 g (0.183 lbs). That’s a saving of 0.1 lbs for a pair of peddles pedals. The cost? Well….$335 (a real steal at $4/gram saved).

In case you cannot tell, it can get expensive to make a superlight bike. And let’s not even get into durability. Realistically I am not going to get a sponsor to buy me new bikes every year (I did get brake and shifter cables for free from my LBS last year. That was the sum total of my sponsorship.). I know my wife would not be excited about me having to buy an uber light bike every year because they wear out. Its just not realistic to for me to have the super lightest bike out there.

The thing though is that for most civilians who ride there is low hanging fruit in the weight equation……the rider. Never forget the rider. Weight wise I have been holding steady for about 2 years right at 172 lbs. I’m proud of that. Somehow my body has settled into an equilibrium of exercise/eating that is pretty well fixed at that point. Remarkably (or maybe not so remarkably) I weighed myself this morning and I was, well 172 lbs. (I did weight myself last week after a 2 hour indoor bike trainer ride and I was 167 lbs, but that was cheating ;)) And so we come to this. While I am WAY close to my ideal weight than I was say 6 years ago, there is still some useless weight on my frame. Probably I should be coming in around 150 lbs given my height, but lets be realistic about that one too. I’m not sure I have what it takes to get that low. It is 9 weeks until the Willmington/Whiteface 100k race. Being less than 172 lbs for the race is a good idea. Its time to eat right, snack right, and see how low we can get that number. In the end it will be cheaper to drop 0.1 lbs that way then by buying new peddles.

(Now if only my family would stop buying ice cream….)

(Note: Spelling error discovered by Ms. Jenni of JenniBlog. The author thanks her for her kindly pointing this out, and will someday get revenge return the favor :D)

Tour of the Battenkill

April 13, 12:25 pm. Cambridge NY. I am lined up and ready to go for the 2013 Tour of the Battenkill. Cat 5  Group F (35+). Schreeech. Lets back up a minute.

Friday April 12. We have an ice storm in Potsdam. The kids are off from school. Seriously? I have a bike race, outside, tomorrow. I’m feeling nervous. Its my first road race. What’s it going to be like to race in a pack? How bad will the dirt sections be? Will they be muddy? (All I want is to survive the day without too much damage. Its good to have high goals right?) In the end none of those things really influenced my day.

The weather turned out to be just fine. It was cloudy but had warmed to a balmy 50F. Properly dressed the temps were actually not bad. Most importantly the roads were dry. So traction would be goo. There I was getting ready to ride.

Battenkill_prepping_bike

And after warming up for 30 minutes I grabbed some last calories..

battenkill_ready

…and headed off to the starting line.

battenkill_set

The announcer at the start nicely warned us about all of the ways we could hurt ourselves. Something about 50 mph descents on dirt roads. Piling into people in feedzones. Etc. My mind was wandering a bit and so I was looking at the eye candy all around me. I noticed something. Most everybody had 28 tooth rings on the back. Wait (start the ominous music) I only have a 21. And then we were off.

battenkill_go

Things were going great. I was close to the lead.

battenkill_midpack

Oh yeah, it was a neutral start so we were not really racing yet. But that my friends was as close as I would come to the front of the pack for the rest of the day. (At least we have a picture of it!)

Leading up to this race my Fellow Friend of Fatty Jeff (who was also in the Battenkill, but in a different group) predicted that I would finish in 3:27. I am notoriously bad at figuring out how long something will take me before I actually go and do it, so that was the prediction I went with.

Here is the profile for the race…battenkill_elevation

That shouldn’t be too bad. There is nothing really big. Right?

The first 4 miles were pretty flat and in the big bunch we were really going fast. I was warned that at about 4.5 miles out we would turn off the main road, go through a covered bridge and hit the first climb of the day. And so when we turned off the road and went through the covered bridge, I was ready…..

….Well not so much. I was completely take by surprise at how fast these guys hit that first hill (that little one right before the 5 mile mark). And in a blink of an eye, I was off the back of the lead pack.

Meanwhile. My (moral) support crew was supporting me from afar.

Battenkill_moral_support

Having lunch in a cafe.

battenkill_lunch

This was quite probably about the time that I hit the first real climb of the day  (that double peaked thing on the map above) and realized that it was going to be a very very long day indeed.

I also realized that the two things I was most worried about (riding in a pack, and riding on dirt) were the two stupidest things I had to worry about. There was no pack to ride with. And the dirt was in perfect shape. The rain had smoothed it out. And it dried enough to be hard. It was a complete non-factor. Nope the thing one thing I should have worried about before the race was the last thing on my mind: The Course.

Nothing was so exceedingly steep (although I do question the validity of the race organizers claim that it was a max 12% grade, I seriously question that). But it was that short choppy climbing that I hate so much. (I also think they they somehow, through some warping of physics, eliminated any 1-5% grade hills from the course and the only stuff out there was 6-12%. But I have no conclusive proof of that.)

It was hard. Much harder than I thought. I was passed by the group that started 10 minutes after my group at about mile 30. I tried to catch a wheel there, but couldn’t (lost it on the uphill again). I got passed by the leaders of the group that started 20 minutes after me at about mile 40. By then I was just riding my own ride, and didn’t even try to catch on of their wheels. The rest of the day was a blur of uphill grinds, and seemingly short short downhill recovery sections.

The worst section of the day was the second peak on the second to last hill (right at about mile 52). It was brutally steep there, and I was tired. They had a photographer at the top of that hill and he snapped a couple of pictures of me. I tried to ask him to delete those, but it came out as a croak.

In the end I crossed the finish line in 3:53. About 20 minutes slower than Jeff had predicted for me. But I crossed the finish line.

battenkill_done

I was more than ready to pack up and call it a day.

battenkill_lets_go_home

People have asked me how I feel about my effort. While I was riding I was really dissapointed.I felt slow. That’s a leg sucking feeling while you are riding in a race.

But as I kept riding I kept passing people. People from groups that started ahead of me. (I was clearly not suffering the worst, or the slowest person out there.) And I also passed people from my own group who had dropped me earlier in the race. The last time I was passed by someone in my group was at mile 30 (I don’t really count him passing me either. I passed him a couple of minutes before and then he came motoring past me. I figure it was some sort of technical issue). From there on in I picked up about 5 riders from my group. And so by the end of the race it was more complicated than “I feel dissapointed”.

I ended up finishing 21 out of 36 riders in my group. I was 51:00 behind the guy who won. I would have felt really good if I had finished in 3:30. So the time felt slow. It still does. But I didn’t give up and kept turning the cranks.

I don’t want to make excuses. A couple of factors played into my time. I think my cold last week really played a part (probably the largest part) in how hard I was able to ride. I also think my gearing also played a part in how fast I rode. The triple in front saved my bacon, but I rarely had the right gear to allow me to sit and peddle in a climb. That came back and hurt me. And it was my first race of the season, and my road race ever. Things can only get better.

In the end I need to work on my climbing. Plain and simple.

Now I have about 8 weeks until the Willmington/Whiteface 100K. Monday Coach Drew and I are talking about how this race went and the next 8 weeks. Its time to ramp it up. Its time for more intensity, more climbing, and longer rides.