Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Getting Dirty: A Case For Taking Your Winter Bike Training Off-Road

My cyclocross bike is my weapon of choice for winter gravel grinding.
Winter bike training can really be pretty miserable.  Let's not kid ourselves here, it really isn't any fun to ride at road bike speeds when the temps drop.  No matter how many layers of "wind proof" cycling gear I put on, I still get cold.  Riding the trainer is also no fun.  It has it's place for high intensity interval training but there's nothing enjoyable about a 2 or 3 hour steady trainer workout.  So what is a triathlete to do?  We have to get our base miles in, right?  Well,  I was recently introduced to Gravel Grinding by some of my cycling buddies and I think it just might be the holy grail of winter training for triathletes.  Why, you ask?  Gather 'round kiddies and I'll tell you.

Climbing up Rich Mountain in East Tennessee.
Let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room.  The burning question: Derek, what the heck is a Gravel Grinder?  Well, again, I'm glad you asked.  No, I'm not referring to a piece of construction equipment, I'm talking about a kind of bicycling.  A glorious kind of bicycling.  A kind of bicycling done on gravel (and sometimes dirt) roads.  Sounds simple enough right?  It is actually that simple.  All you need is a gravel road and a bicycle.  Why do I love gravel riding so much?  It presents several really great benefits over traditional road miles.  First, it builds strength.  The gravel/dirt and knobby tires create more rolling resistance than a paved road so each turn of the pedals is just a wee bit (or sometimes a great deal) harder.  Second, there's very little traffic... if any.  This is big.  Not having to worry about getting run over takes a huge worry away letting you focus on the road ahead.  Thirdly, gravel riding will without a doubt improve your bike handling.  You will notice the first time you put wheels to a gravel road that the stability of tarmac is a thing of the past.  The bike can and will slide around, and that's fine.  You will begin to get a better feel for the bike under you and how it reacts to reduced traction.  The last thing is a bit regional but being living in East Tennessee means there's no shortage of hills both on an off road but the hills off road are generally quite a bit steeper and sometimes more technical.  Embrace those climbs, they will make you nothing but stronger.

Mountain bikes also make great tools for exploring your favorite
gravel roads.  This is Norris Watershed, one of my go-to winter
training spots.
Before you ask, no, you do not need a "special" bicycle to grind the gravel.  Any mountain bike or cyclocross bike will do just fine.  I prefer to use my cyclocross bike as it fits very similar to my road bike but a mountain bike will probably feel more stable to you initially on the loose surface.  If you are going to be riding after dark, a headlight will be necessary.  My preferred setup is two lights, one mouted on my helmet and a secondary one mounted to my handlebar.  This gives you a fixed light on the path in front of you and a spot light that follows your line of sight.  I would also like to point out that riding alone... after dark... in the woods is not a great idea.  Besides, graveling is best done with friends!  Look around for local bike shops that shift their winter rides to the gravel or just find a few friends and go explore this whole new world of bicycling.

If you want to dig a little bit deeper, a quick google search for "gravel grinding basics" will turn up several good articles.  You can also check out www.gravelcyclist.com for a good bit of information on gravel setups, gravel racing and the like.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tri Life: The Travelling Triathlete (Training on the Road)

Here's a post that I wrote for the Rev3 Triathlon Blog a couple months back.  Reposting here for posterity.  Enjoy!!


As endurance athletes, whether we be triathletes, pure runners or pure cyclists there is one common thread: WE ALL HAVE TO TRAIN!  For most of us, to even enjoy doing the things we do "for fun", it requires a certain personality type.  There are the exceptions, but a great deal of us obsess over our training.  We have our plans laid out and we follow those plans religiously to reach our goal.  Seems easy enough, right?  Well, what about when it's not?  Take, for example, this week.  I had to go out of town for work Wednesday through Friday.  Great, but what about my Wednesday swim workout? What about my Thursday bike workout? Travelling can be fun, but the challenge is finding where and how to get my training in while on the road.  No matter if travelling for business or for fun there's a few things I always think about.

What training resources will I have at my disposal when I get to my destination?  Am I staying at a hotel that will have a fitness area?  Most nicer hotels will have at least a treadmill or two.  Some even  have stationary bikes, elliptical trainers and weights. Am I staying with family or friends? If so, do they have fitness equipment or will I have to improvise?  Is there a gym nearby?  A lot of gyms will do a free or inexpensive one-day or two-day pass.  This is a great way to get in a swim workout, spin class or a run on the treadmill if you need one.  Another great resource is local clubs.  Do a quick google search for tri clubs, cycling clubs or running clubs in the area where are you headed.  Make contact with them either through social media or their website.  I like to see if there are any favorite running routes, greenways or the like around where I'm staying.  No need to pound out miles on a treadmill if there is good weather and a safe path nearby!  

After I figure out what training possibilities I have, then next thing to consider is packing.  What do I need to pack in order to get my training in?   I will go ahead and say that for the majority of my travels, I pack running gear and that's it.  A pair of shoes, some socks, a pair of shorts and a shirt.  Done. Easy. With those things, I can go for a run, I can do a strength workout, I can even spend some time on a spin bike if I so desire.  Depending on how long I'm staying wherever I'm staying will dictate the number of clothes required.  If I'm taking a bike or planning to ride, then things become more cumbersome (especially in the cooler weather) but sometimes it's quite worth it.  Before Christmas I made a trip to see my family in Cincinnati.  After a quick search online, I found the Cincinnati Cycling Club was going to be doing a group ride that I could potentially attend.  I decided to take the bike and joined them.  It was a great time, I got to meet new people and see a part of the country in a way that I hadn't seen it before.  Of course, if all else fails and room allows, a bike trainer is quite portable.

The last thing to consider is nutrition.  I'm not just talking about how many bars, gels, drinks etc do I need to take.  That's important but what's more important? How am I going to keep up my nutrition and not sabotage my training with poor dietary decisions.  I try to maintain a relatively clean diet.  Travelling makes that quite a bit more difficult.  Both driving and flying present their own sets of challenges when it comes to food but where there's a will, there's a way.  When driving, keep an eye out for national or regional chain restaurants that you know have healthier options.  The grilled chicken sandwich is my go-to road meal most of the time as it can be had at most fast-food chains.  I stay away from fried things most of the time but ESPECIALLY when travelling. Nothing is worse than the fried food gut bomb when on a road trip.  I also usually eat quite a bit lighter when travelling.  I tend to eat smaller meals and snack (on healthy things) as I go rather than eat a big meal.  This helps to keep me focused and not feel sluggish and sleepy when I'm driving.

In the end, the most well laid plans can always fall through.  No matter how much I  plan, how much I pace, how good my intentions are, I may not get to strictly adhere to my training plan.  The trick, for me, is: think on the fly, improvise where I can and don't sweat the missed workouts.  At the end of the day, a missed swim workout is not going to derail and entire seasons worth of work.  Any training is better than no training!

Race Report: Rev3 Knoxville 70.3 (or IMLP 140.6 Midterm Exam) - May 22, 2016

This race was one that I've been looking forward to for quite some time.  Really, since AtomicMan 70.3 at the end of last season.  I was excited to see how far my fitness had come and how much I had improved upon my experiences from my two half distance races last year.  In December, I found out that I made the Rev3 Ambassador Team.  This gave me even more reasons to look forward to Rev3 Knoxville.  I would get to show off my "home" race to lots of new people and I would get to see and hangout with my new team mates again!

Leading up to Rev3 Knoxville, I have been in full on 140.6 training mode.  I've been putting in a lot of miles on the bike and doing some serious work in the water.  I felt like my run was a bit behind due to a minor foot injury I had been dealing with over the winter.  Over the last 4-6 weeks, however, my run form has been coming back and I've been able to log some good miles and get some speed work in.  This race was going to be really a three fold test for me.  1.) Nutrition for the full distance 2.) Pacing for the full distance and 3.) Can my run hold together.   

Got my race plan early in the week from my coach.  It contained my pacing plan as per usual but this time, there was also a rather large section detailing my nutrition leading up to the race and then the race itself.  I race with caffeine.  His suggestion was to eliminate caffeine for the days leading up to the race so as to maximize its effect on race day.  That meant.... no coffee.  That alone made me skeptical.  I kept reading.  Everything made sense to me as to the taper nutrition. Getting the body used to fueling with simple carbs by tapering the complexity of foods leading up to the race.  Then... race day.  Here's where I started to doubt.  My breakfast was to be applesauce.  Lot's of applesauce.  I would pair this with a scoop of protein powder in water.  Right.  I would then consume 5 bottles of fluids on the bike (2 more than either of my 70.3's last year.  I normally plan for 1 bottle per hour).  Run would be on course sports drink and water with gels as needed.  

Race plan was pretty straightforward.  Push the swim.  Relax on the bike and keep the power around 200 watts on the flats and 250 on the climbs.  Once on the run, keep the pace slow and HR in upper Z2 until mile 10, then push.

So how did everything go?!  Well, I survived the nutrition taper including cutting out coffee (yikes!) and the applesauce breakfast.  I will say, sitting on the couch at 4am "drinking" and entire jar of unsweetened applesauce was a little bizarre. BUT, it seemed to work.  I got to the race site feeling good and wasn't hungry at all leading up to the swim start.  Everything went smoothly in the swim.  After the gun, the first stretch to the buoy was directly into the sun so couldn't see anything.  Just kept following the mass of people.  I really couldn't find any clean water.  I tried to weave my way around and through the mass but just couldn't seem to get any clear space.  I decided at that point to just settle in as best as I could and conserve.  No point in getting frustrated.   There was a point at which I ended up next to this guy that couldn't seem to stay out of my way.  He kept weaving in front of me and cutting me off.  It seemed no matter what I did he was there. I finally got annoyed with that and kicked on the jets at the buoy turn and tried to put some space between us.  I felt like I got a pretty good gap but I think he just held onto my heels and I drug him along.   Oh well.  By now the exit was in sight so head down and point myself at the exit.  Made it to the dock and hauled myself out of the water.  Got the wetsuit half stripped with no issue and trotted into T1.

Swim: 36:46 1:37/100yd

T1 was smooth.  Strip the wetsuit.  Helmet on, shoes on, glasses and away we go.  The bike went as planned for the 20-30 miles.  I was getting my nutrition in as planned and my pace was on point.  I passed the first aid station at mile 9 as planned without taking on additional supplies.  After finishing the serving of custom sports drink in the aero bottle, I refilled out of my rear bottle cage with more of my custom sports drink. I tossed the empty bottle and took on some clean water at the next aid station around mile 27.  By this point I was almost through that second bottle.  This time around I refilled the aero bottle with water.  It was soon after this I realized the front of my bike felt a little funny.  I looked down and realized the front tire was low.  It wasn't totally flat so I figured it was leaking slowly.  I stopped and refilled the tire with CO2.  I figured with a little less than half of the bike course left I could limp it back without changing (even if I had to stop another time or two to fill it.)  Well, that didn't last.  I glanced down at my Garmin, then back up just in time to see a small rock.  I hit it.  Dead centered it.  I heard the soul crushing hiss of not only one but BOTH of my tires going flat.  Yep.  Double flat.  I wobbled to a stop, cussed a few times, then set about changing my tubes.  I always carry two tubes with me.  With luck, the support car passed and stopped to help me out.  I used his floor pump so I didn't have to use what was left of my 1 and a half CO2's.  10 minutes later, I was back on the road again.  Nothing I could do now but keep on going and enjoy what was left of the day.  Heck, I wasn't winning nor was I trying to win so no biggie.  Just stuck to the plan and kept going.  I finished the water refill and then hit my last bottle of sports drink.  Passing the last aid I tossed the empty water bottle and got another water to finish the day.  Before getting back to T2 I got all 5 planned bottles in.  Coming back into town I saw several riders coming in from a side road.  I was confused but just kept riding.  Turns out, another event came out to mark their course early that morning (using the same colors as the Rev3 course markings) and some riders had gotten lost due to them.  Very sad but goes to show the importance of knowing the course.  I kept on and made it back into town.  Cruised into T2 and got ready for the run.

Bike: 3:10:33 17.6 mph (factoring out the roughly 10 minutes for the flats was right at 3 hours and around 19 mph)

Run felt very good.  I was making a conscious effort to enjoy the day.  Especially after the flat tires on the bike, I really just wanted to enjoy the run.  I headed out of T2 with my pacing firmly implanted in my mind.  No matter how good I felt, I was going to hold to a Z2 HR and just let the pace fall where it may.  I switched the display on Garmin to show only HR Zone and Current HR.  First miles flew by and I was holding steady in the mid 9's.  I said hi to all my friends and high-fived my club mates and team mates as I passed them.  I joked with volunteers and spectators and smiled.  I smiled a lot.  I don't remember having that much fun on a run in a long time.  Sure it was hot and I was tired but I was having a blast.  I alternated Gatorade and Water at the aid stations and splashed water on my head to keep me cool.  Mile 6 I hit a Double Latte Powerbar Power Gel.  Talk about a wake up!  The next four miles went by the same as the first 6.  More smiles and high fives and encouraging others that were having a rough go.  Fatigue started to set in a bit around mile 10 so I hit another gel.  This time was a Pomegranate Blueberry Acai Power Gel.  No caffeine in this one.  Wish there was.  Still, the calories did the trick and I picked up the pace heading into the last 3 miles.  Best part of the day, however, was when I rounded the corner of the finish chute and see my wife waiting for me.  She was volunteering and had been posted there.  She threw her hands into the air, I did the same and ran simultaneously into her arms and across the finish line.  

Run: 2:03:50 - 9:27/mi

Rev3 Knoxville 70.3 Final Time 5:55:37.

Looking back, I had a really great day.  I got out of the race what I needed to.  I got a good, solid test of my 140.6 pacing and nutrition. I had a great time, racing a great course and hanging out with my Rocky Top Multisport Club and Rev3 Team and I came across the line upright and unhurt into the arms of my wife.  Really, what more could I ask for?!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Race Report: Inaugural Old Copper 20 Mountain Bike Race

I arrived at the race site on Friday. I had been talking with my buddies about whether or not to drop to the 20. Storms were supposed to move in around lunch time and knew I didn't want to do several hours of gravel riding in the rain. It just wasn't worth the risk. I didn't want to jeopardize my tri season for what was going to be training ride. I knew, however, if I dropped to the 20 I was going to race it. We had pre-ridden the first part of the 20 earlier in the day and I knew it suited me well. After careful consideration, I did it. I changed my registration to the 20 and picked up my packet of goodies for the Old Copper 20. A little added intrigue was brought about by this being the first year for the 20. There was catered pasta for the racers. We had our fill then headed back to the cabin for the night. After some general chatter and banter, it was off to bed.

Race morning came as usual. The 20 started at 8:30. I got up and wandered to the kitchen. The 65'ers were up and readying their breakfast. I did the same. Oatmeal. It was instant, and rather meh. It was carbs, that's about it. After breakfast, I got dressed and we loaded up and headed out to the race site.

The race started as a neutral roll out for around a mile. Once the trail opened up to the gravel road, we lined up and they started us by category. I was racing open class. I had sized up a couple of potential competitors during the morning and the roll out. The first mile or so of the race was a steady climb up the gravel road. My plan was to test the legs on the lower slopes of the climb and try to keep the leaders in site until we hit the singletrack. I did just that... except that I was one of the leaders. I was marking this speedy looking kid who turned out to be not quite as speedy as I thought. Another guy passed us. I upped the pace and kept him around 100yds or so in front of me. Before long, I looked back and the rest of the group was fading behind me. We were dropping the whole pack.. on the first climb. I began to worry a bit that I was going out too hard and they knew something I didn't. I did a quick mental check, glanced at the HR and saw it was good. I knew I could sustain the pace and decided to keep going. We neared the single track and put in a quick attack to bridge to the guy in front of me. I wanted to be with him on the singletrack so I could stay with him. Before long, the trail turned up and I could tell he was suffering. He let me by. He stayed right on my wheel for a while. We chatted for a bit. He was also from Knoxville. We agreed to try and work together to build our lead. Eventually the trail opened up onto a gravel decent. We were flying. The next section of trail came up and we turned off the gravel once again.

This section of trail would eventually meet up with the Big Frog/Cohutta course and would merge with them for around 6 miles. During this section I was able to get around some slower riders from the other races and put in another big attack on a fire road section. I could tell my buddy didn't have the legs to stay with me so I left him. After the fire road, we entered some more singletrack. I worked my way through the groups and finally came up on a group of speedy dudes from the 65. I hung with them and used that opportunity to recover a bit. I knew there was another big gravel climb coming up and I wanted to attack again there. Finally the trail opened up to the gravel and I settled in on the climb yet again. I pushed hard here. I wanted as much time as I could get. The course turned off onto a HUGE gravel decent down the road we initially climbed. This is where the 20 milers split off from the other groups again. I was alone. I looked over my shoulder occasionally knowing I would see someone gaining. No one. At the next turn, we hit the same singletrack section from the beginning for a second time. I checked behind me again. No one. On the winding singletrack climb I could see a LONG way back down the mountain. No one. I was beginning to think I could actually win this thing. There were only 4 miles left at this point. I would have to flat or crash or possibly stop for a sandwich and nap to be caught. Still, I pushed. I just KNEW someone would catch me. At the next split, where first the course went right, it now went straight. This section was AWESOME. Technical, bermed, superfast downhill singletrack bliss. I blistered that section. At the bottom I made the turn back toward the pavement for the final mile of road back to the finish. I was constantly looking over my shoulder. Still, no one was there. I was going to do this. I came through the final bit and almost missed the final turn. I yelled to a girl walking by, “where's the finish?!” She was VERY surprised but pointed me in the correct direction. I rode, alone, across the line in just under 1 hour and 55 minutes.

This course was absolutely fantastic. I felt like it was tailor-made for my riding style. Long, grinding climbs; flowy singletrack; technical singletrack all rolled into a little slice of mountain bike heaven. I am glad I opted to drop from the 65. The 20 was the perfect ride for me today. I got everything right. It's not often that happens but today... was a good day.