Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"When I Say Spin, You Best Spin, Muthafucka"

Pardon the allusion to the classic new wave track "Dance Mother Fucker Dance" by The Violent Femmes (though it's more of the rock-a-billy genre).

Spinning is a time-honored practice in bicycle racing. Coaches will demand your base miles all be done in the small chainring. This is mostly to ensure you don't damage anything from trying to push a hard gear when you don't have the base miles, but it also means you have to turn a high cadence to go fast. Developing leg speed is a crucial aspect of bike racing.

They will advocate riding rollers at a high cadence to smooth out your pedal stroke and keep you riding smooth straight lines. This can be accomplished with stationary trainer, but it's easy to get sloppy at a high spin on a stationary trainer, and it doesn't really do anything for your fitness if you don't have to worry about keep the bike up. No, spinning classes don't help with spinning the pedals on a road bike, unless you're starting from scratch. Even the Great Eddy Merckx loathed stationary trainers for anything other than warming up. His famous quip on the subject was 'all you learn from riding a wind trainer is how to pedal squares'. They didn't have magnetic or fluid trainers in his day, but the concept is the same. Sitting on a stationary trainer (as opposed to rollers) allows you, and almost coerces you, pump your legs up and down, not pedal circles. (OK, I know it isn't exactly what he said, but it's the gist, and he did use the term 'pedal squares'. If you're anal enough to worry about the exact phrase over the intent, then I suggest you shut the fuck up and get on a set of rollers).

This brings me to the actual subject of this post: Fixed Gear Training.

I'm not talking about track racing, I'm talking about riding a fixed gear bike with a ratio in the low to mid 2s for a few hours at a time on the road.

My Friend and fellow blogger Exemplar Solobreak has a post on power training, where he referenced the idea of mashing a big gear over varied terrain as a training tool.

But, That's something to be saved for later, _after_ you develop your base miles.

It's winter. When the roads are clear, I love riding a fixed gear. Last year was tough since it snowed so early and we had snow on the ground from the day after thanksgiving through the end of march. This year does'nt look much better for winter miles so far, but you know what they say about new england weather, all this snow could be gone next week (though I find it highly unlikely)

So, let's talk about riding one gear, no coasting, trying to keep a cadence of about 100 rpm on flat ground, while keeping your HR in the low aerobic range, about 80%, for two to three hours.

This teaches you several things:
1) Spinning a cadence on a fixed gear makes you pedal a circle. If you have a bad pedal stroke, keeping the bike smooth and steady as you zip along at a higher cadence - say 120 - will bounce you all over the road.
2) It prevents you from taking it too easy. If you want to get home, you have to push the gear. No coasting, no shifting up/down on the hills,
3) It teaches you to be attentive - while I personally would _never_ go out on the open road without two working brakes, it's a good learning experience for keeping your pace steady, especially when riding with a group.

Of course, the right gear for your area is essential. in flat areas, like where Solo lives, you can get away with a heavier gear, possible something pushing a 3.0 ratio. Where I live, we have a lot more rolling hills with some short steep climbs. I've been using a 42/16 for almost 20 years (2.625:1). I can ride most of the local hills and still keep my cadence over 70, and they aren't long enough to horribly stress my knees.

This brings us to another aspect of fixed-gear training. Depending on the route, I can pick out hilly route to work on power, or longer flat routes to just work on base miles. Of course, the hilly routes are much shorter in duration, and the beauty of the smaller gear is that I can get an effective warm-up/cool-down by spinning to and from the hills I want to work out on.

Conversely, on some of the _downhills_, in isn't uncommon to spin up to 160 rpm. This brings me to a question I'd like to ask from anyone who may skim past this blog that has any knowledge on the issue. The question is 'spinning vs. being spun'.

A coach that I hooked up with a few years ago was not a fan of fixed gear training. He felt that it didn't really teach you to spin a high cadence smoothly, since usually the high cadences one experiences on a fixed gear occur on the down hills. He said, there is a big difference between spinning and being spun. I think I see his point, but I think it's relative minor. I think the benefits of fixed gear training vastly outweigh any detriment from 'being spun' on a downhill, and I also think there is a benefit to letting the bike push your leg speed up past the 160 rpm range. I think that pushing your legs in a circle at that speed is something that _must_ be done consciously, and therefore it _does_ teach you how to spin your legs smoothly.

Did you notice how many times I wrote "I think" in that last paragraph? Hell, I'm not a coach, and I'm quite mediocre as a bike racer, so it doesn't really matter what I _think_.

Tell me what _you_ think. Any professional coaches that may wander this way are especially welcome.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mill City Relay

(warning - long read)

The Mill City Relay is a point-to-point relay race from Nashua NH to Lawrence MA. 27.1 miles broken up into five legs. This year had 140 5-person teams enter. This is the skinny:

I'm normally not one to get up before dark on a weekend without a damn good reason. Years ago, when I had just been bitten by the bike racing bug, getting up at 4 am sunday to make a 9 am start in the wilds of vermont or maine wasn't a problem. But I was younger then, less jaded, and less tired......_way_ less tired. So, when my alarm went off at 5:30 AM , sunday, December 7th, 2008, it was to my resignation and my wifes' chagrin. I half-way expected her to accuse me of some twisted 67th commemoration of the Pearl Harbor attack.

"what the hell are you doing?"
"going to that relay race, I _said_ I had to get up early"
"You said it was in lawrence"
"it starts in nashua"
"in the dark?"
"just go back to sleep"
"oh my gawd..." and she rolled the pillow over her head.

I normally don't have to worry about waking her up. She gets up at about 4 am every day, usually. She doesn't want to, she doesn't set the alarm, she just wakes up on a circadian rhythm...except for today. I had most of my stuff together, so I threw what else I thought I'd need in my bag and headed out.

It was cold. Cold enough to show, though it wasn't yet. I stopped off at the local Dunkin Donuts and bought my usual prerace meal - large medium regular coffee, a Chug of OJ, a Chug of milk, and a bagel.

I was surprised by the turnout in the claddagh parking lot. I got one of the few available parking spaces. I had never met any of my teammates before, so I wandered the parking lot looking for Frank. I asked several people if they had seen Frank.

"Frank who?"

Ummm....hmmm...drawing a blank here. I remember the email from Frank.....something. I hadn't anticipated that there would be pretty close to 100 people milling about in the claddagh parking lot at 6 AM.

"Frank, the captain of the masters team"

Finally someone pointed him out. We got the rest of the team together, hopped in Franks minivan, and headed out.

Frank Row
Brian Reeves
Todd Lagimonier
Janos Mako

Now, I had been scheduled to run with the Masters Co-ed A team, headed up by Tina Dowling. A week before the event I was asked to run with the Master Men A team. Before I responded, I looked up the other names on the team in cool running results. One of the first listings was for Janos, at the 2006 masters indoor track championships, 5:15 in the mile.....I stopped looking, I didn't want to get depressed. But, "OK, I'll bite, if you can't find anyone else I'll do it, but just be aware that I'm generally speaking about a minute per mile slower than any one of you.....just so ya know....."

By the time we hit new hampshire in the min-van it had started to snow quite heavily. The ground was completely covered, the snow was getting packed, and it was slick. No one had thought to bring anything other than road running shoes, so traction was dicey at best. Brian was to run the first leg, so as soon as we got him set up with the baton, we hit the road. Dodge mini vans aren't known for their adverse weather handling, so we needed time. Fortunately, both Todd and I had worked in the nashua area for some time, and advised against following the race route. Single lane roads, runners looking for traction.......let's not get hung up. We went through downtown nashua, over to the DW highway, across the new 3/3a bridge, and made it with time to spare, although Frank bringing the van sideways approaching an intersection on the DW highway gave us pause that we might not make it.

During the ride there we had been talking about races and results. Brian, I was told, had been running a 5:30 pace for the past two months. At that point Janos looked at me and asked, "you want to switch legs?"

"YES!!!! I've been thinking all along that it's probably a good idea to have your slowest guy run the shortest leg"

So Brian pulled into the transition area in about 33 minutes.

Exceptional considering the conditions. The MVS Open Mens runner came in first had a good minute over second place overall. Brain was about 10th or so. The transition in the parking lot was treacherous. The driveway itself had turned to ice forcing the runners to stay on the grass. I saw a few runners down in the parking lot slip out and hit the ground. Janos took the baton and hit the road. Uh, bad euphemism. He took off, he didn’t actually ‘hit the road’, though we found out later that he _did_ take a spill out on the course. We caught up to him and frank got a few pictures, then proceeded to the tech school for my transition.

MVS still had a big lead - over a minute - in the overall at the 2nd transition. The Kid strolled through relaxed and smooth, taking long strides, almost smiling. He's one of those guys that makes it look easy. Down in Lowell the snow was very slight, and the roads were wet, so the run downhill into the tunnel was no problem. I took the baton from Janos, and headed off. There was a runner in a yellow shirt in front of me, maybe 15 seconds, that I looked to be gaining on slightly. I felt smooth, I had a good stride, I was running within my limits. Once we got out of the school though, the runner in front of me at first held his distance, then pulled away slightly, and kept going.

I'm new to this running thing. When there is someone right with me, it's easy for me to hold a pace and keep my form. But, when I'm completely alone, my stride drops off. My steps get very shallow. This happened repeatedly sunday; I would 'wake up', then drift back to the bad habits. I'm hoping, with time, this will change. Eventually, another runner came up on me, and I managed to use him to pace. The runner in yellow had pulled to about 30 seconds ahead by the time we reached the roarke bridge, and I was still only a few steps behind this new runner.

We came into the 3rd transition, and it was a mob scene. People standing all over the course. I had planned to run through it, handing off the baton to Todd, but I had to dodge other non-runners, as did the guy in front of me. Todd had to weave around someone in front of him after the hand off.

I'm not sure of my time, I forgot to start my hrm. Afterwards I was thinking I'll just get everyone elses' time and do the math. Well, it turns out Janos did the same thing, so with two variables in the formula and no corresponding simultaneous equation, there would be no reliable answer. At the 3rd transition, I ran into two of my cycling friends. One is one of the better masters riders in New England, and wins about half a dozen races a year. Turns out his wife is Cathy Pearce, who runs for Whirlaway and has this annoying habit of running a sub-six pace at the age of 44 - not bad for a girl (oops, sorry, gender stereotyping, bad blogger) . The other is more of a mutli-sport guy, but a good training partner. He has one speed - fast.

The temperature was now well into the 40's and good for running. We caught up to Todd at about the 5 mile point and he looked smooth and comfortable. He had passed one runner (at least), probably from that team that passed me at the end of my leg, and looked to be distancing another runner behind him. He said he felt good, so we left him and waited at transition 4. He had definitely put a gap on the runner that was behind him at that point. That change went off without a hitch, and Frank went on his way, taking on the only real hill in the entire course.

We went to the top of the hill and waited for him. Two runners came by, one was from whirlaway, followed by gate city. By the time Frank made it to the top over 1:40 had passed. Since this was about the two mile mark of a 4.75 mile leg, it didn't look too good for frank to catch them. There was a young kid behind Frank that had paced him up the hill, about 10 seconds behind him. As we headed toward the finish, we passed the gate city runner, but the whirlaway guy was gone. They had crossed the hill about 15 seconds apart, and the whirlaway guy looked like he was dying, but he must have hit the downhill like Bode Miller. He had a good minute on the gate city guy at that point, finishing 1:10 ahead of him. Frank came in 2:30 later. and managed to put 30 seconds on the kid behind him.

We finished in a time of 2:43:17. That was 7th over all and the 4th place masters team. I'll probably do this race next year, if they'll have me. The next thing I have planned is the millennium mile, and I'll be attending the indoor track works to prepare for that. But that was it for a while, I took the past week off. I mean, _really_ off. I haven't had my heart rate over 100, and I've been eating _lots_ of food. No, not all the Gu that was given away at the relay. It turns out, Frank had worked some race recently, and the gave him like a dozen cases of Gu. 48 packs in each one. He handed me two, that's 96 packs of Gu. Well over $100 worth. I'll be sucking orange gu for awhile. If you see me, ask for some.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Another reason to love Liz Hatch

From an interview on "Triple Crankset"

"Racing on my own gave me a lot of freedom to make my own moves. I would always think "WWLD", What Would Ludo Do? Haha, maybe that's odd but I totally dig Ludo Dierckxsens style of racing. Or Jacky Durand."

A drop-dead Gorgeous professional female cyclist who considers Ludo Dierckxsens and Jacky Durand to be role models......What's not to love?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Previous Life - My Friend Roko

In 1994 I took a job at a start-up telecommunications company, that had just been courted for acquisition by Hewlett-Packard. I was looking for an engineering position, but the job market was tight, the job I had at the time as a hardware engineer at the Massachusetts Eye and Eay Infirmary's Audiology REsearch lab was driving me insane (actually, it was my boss, the only person I ever _really_ wished would die a horrible death). So I took a job in manufacturing as a senior technician, one of three.

Another one of the three was a character named Roland. Roland was quite odd, and under the influence of several medications from several different doctors. My first exposure to his quirks was when he used to eat his late breakfast at his workbench, a bowl of shredded wheat, and he used to sing a little ditty he made up:

"when you eat your colon blow, everything will floooooowwwwww!"

Since he was on meds for his mental stability as well as a heart condition (brought on by years of partying with many different drugs, though he was under 50 at the time), he would often have extreme emotional reactions to his environment. One afternoon I came back from a meeting, and he was sitting at his bench in nothing but his underwear, socks and shoes, his clothes neatly folded on his workbench besides him (he was always very clean, manicured, neatly dressed, and his work area was spotless). His excuse was that he was very hot.

But I liked Roko, a lot. I knew we were to become friends after the following exchange: I had only been there a few weeks. The manufacturing engineer (who had hired me) was giving a functional description of a new feature in the product, and it wasn't working right.

Eng: I think I should call someone
Roko: Who, any vegetable?
me:Well, who are gonna you call, Billy?
Roko: (with a look of joy) Billy was a mountain!
me: ethel was a tree growing off of his shoulder!
Eng: (at me) DON'T GET HIM STARTED!!!
me and roko : biiillllyyy the mooooouuunntaaaiiiiiinn!!!
Eng: dear god, what have I done?.......

Yes, Roko was a fan of Zappa.

He also had a complete video collection of everything John Waters made with Divine. He could quote from Pink Flamingos as well as the rest of us could recite the ABCs, and knew trivia about the two of them that the rest of us neither knew nor had any reason to seek out.

Roko was also a fan of Yoko Ono. Really. I'm not kidding. He genuinely liked her music...er...performances...er....what ever you might wish to call them. He had seen her live several times, and had pretty much every recording he could get his hands on, including a laser disc from japan of some concert she did there.

He had seen her video creations, including one called 'erection' which was a 30 minute slow motion video of Johns penis getting hard, and one called 'fly', which follows a fly around a room which was empty, except for a nude woman lying on a table. She dubbed in 'fly' sound effects with her own voice, as an interpretation of the sounds a fly would make if you could hear it.

The real kicker was the Ono Box. Ono Box was a small road case with a lock, and a handblown glass key, designed to hold her new CD box set of 'greatest hits' and 'rarities' (this was all yoko - no john, no beatles). The key had a tag that was numbered and signed by Yoko. In 1996 he paid (I think) 125$ for it - this was _without_ the CDs.

This is what earned him the nick name 'Roko'.

Other fabulous Roko-isms:

* he would listen to CDs at work with headphones and sing loudly. He had an exceptional voice, so we really didn't mind, though it was startling sometimes ( he was the front man for a local band in the late 60's/early 70's ). However, it was annoying when he would sing to Ono music, which sucked. Often he would simply jump up and start dancing, usally some pop dance from the '50s like the Mashed Potato.

* One day, when the doctors had been tweaking his medication. He came up to me at work, more glassy eyed than anyone I had ever seen, smiled, and said "I am soooo stoned" then fell asleep on the table in the break room.

*Since he had the longest tenure of the technicians, he was given field returns. One day, one of the sales people (whom none of us liked) went up to him when he was wearing his headphones to ask him the status of a repair. Roko never took his headphones off or turned down his music. He looked the salesguy right in the eye and said loudly "I CAN'T HEAR YOU, I HAVE MY HEADPHONES ON", then turned away and went back to work.

* One late afternoon, he was drumming wildly on his bench. I asked him what he was listening to, and he replied, in key, with a maniacle laugh, then "WIPEOUT". Taking the bait, as he drummed madly on his bench, I jumped up on a swivel stool and pretended to surf. Without missing a beat, he looked past me and said loudly "isn't he good?". I turned around and the General Manager was shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

Roko Often used to say it was a good thing he stopped his substance abuse before he met me. I would have to agree, for both our sakes. Roko and I had great times in and outside of work. I can only imagine what would have transpired if drugs were involved.

I don't hear from Roko anymore. I can't say as I miss him, though I do longingly wax about that time in my life, and about friends like him. That 'silliness' is sadly missing from my life. Roko would be unable to fulfill that void, due in some part to his age, and some part to the fact that he no longer needs medication. Still, I have an unmeasurable appreciation for him and the piece of my life that he helped create.

Till we meet again, my friend....

Monday, December 1, 2008

An Extreme Amount of Suckage

I'm not sure if it was the lay off after the minor ankle sprain a few weeks ago, or that I just had a _really_ good day at the Lawrence TIP 5K, but my time at the Feaster 5 Miler on thanksgiving was was lousy. I never quite recovered from the hill up to Andover Center, and the lack of miles in addition to favoring the left foot the past few weeks lead to my left gastrocnemius cramping at ~ 2 1/2 miles.

I wasn't sure what to expect in general, never having run in a race with more than a couple of hundred people. I knew this event was going to attract a significant amount of regional talent, so I had no illusions of placing in any position that would get my name printed anywhere other than the overall results sheet. One thing I wanted to make sure of, was that I didn't have to run through alot of traffic at the start. With that in mind, I got the the start line 20 minutes before the scheduled start, then just jumped around and stretched, while the road filled in around me.

I was surprised how many people were dressed in bare legs and one or two thin layers on top. There's an old rule of thumb in bike racing 'geared' at keeping your knees healthy, which is to wear knee covering below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It's quite rare that I do not follow this advice, and since I'm really only starting out in competitive running, I'm not about to start experimenting with what's worked well for me for the past 20 years. So I wore two medium weight layers on top, gloves, doo-rag (I don't have a real 'doo' to keep my head warm) and medium weight tights. This is still significantly less than I would have worn if I were riding on the road that day, but about the same as I would wear mtn biking.

As the start time approached, the pomp and circumstance one would expect with an event of this magnitude began. Tom Licciardello made the most of his MC duties. He was comfortable, yet energetic. Also gracing us were Bill Rodgers, Dick & Rick Hoyt, and Barry Burbank. We were also treated to not only the American National Anthem by MVS member Tracie Gardner, but God Bless America by Joey Griggs, the same confident tyke who sang our National Anthem at the Lawrence Veteran 4 Miler.

I was reminded of the scene in the movie 'Mystery, Alaska', where a local town hockey team managed to get the New York Rangers to come to their town and play. The residents of Mystery were used to playing in single digit weather, so in order to chill the Rangers who were used to playing in climate controlled arenas they contracted Little Richard to sing long, slow, soulful, bluesy versions of both the American and Canadian National anthems. Fortunately, it was pushing 40 degrees by that time in andover, and I was in a swarm of warm bodies.


mile 1 - 6:29 - I started out running well, comfortable, and smooth. According to Cool Running, I had a 5 second differential between the gun and my start, so I probably had a couple of hundred runners in front of me. I was passing people and getting passed. At one point, about 1/2 mile in, I got passed by a a kid, probably high school, wearing nothing but running shorts and shoes. brrrrrrrrrrrr. He must have lost a bet. We hit the hill to Andover center, and I dialed it back a bit, following my breathing. The first mile ends pretty close to the top of the hill, and it showed 6:29. I was cool with that, considering the hill.

mile 2 6:32/13:01 - This is what I get for not previewing the course. I'm very familiar with all these roads, by bike or car. Running them is a different story. From the top of the hill in andover center to the left turn on Morton Street is flat by car or bike. Not on foot. Neither is Morton Street. I attempted to pick it up after hitting the center of town, but that started pushing me into an anaerobic zone. Too much, too soon. Finally the downhill section on Bartlet allowed me to stretch out. Going past the park, a Dixieland band struck up a tune. Whenever I hear a banjo, I think of "Last Child" by Aerosmith. Allegedly, there is a banjo somewhere in that song. It's listed in the album credits. As a teenager, I listened to Last Child hundreds of times (loud, soft, with headphones, but never backwards, that would be just wrong), trying to hear the banjo, I never could make it out.

The water station came up, I reached out to grab a cup, and muffed it. No biggie, I didn't really need it. Then as the mile marker came up, I noted 13:01. Damn. I could feel I didn't have the lungs to pick it up. This was going to be a disappointing day.

Mile 3 - 7:26/20:27 - At the two mile mark the road starts a small incline again, and zig zags through some side streets in Andover. I passed a large throng of residents and a home made sign that said 'Give Us A gobble'. No thanks, I feel enough like a turkey at this point, lets not make it worse....but worse it got. Coming around that corner my left calf cramped. I slowed to a walk/limp. One Samaritan running by asked if i was OK. I'm not sure what he would have done about it if I said no, but I waved him on anyways. I walked half the length of Washington ave, which explains the 7:26 time for mile 3. Alright, let's just turn this into a fitness run, screw the racing. Take it slow on the hills, Stretch out on the downhills, and pace the flats. Once I started running again, I was in the group of runners with the strange breathing and odd gaits. The was a 'stomper' coming up behind me before we started the downhill, One foot would land with a loud STOMP.

Mile 4 6:53/27:20 - There was a decent amount of downhill and I usually do well at stretching out. It's quite rare that I've been passed running downhill. I managed to use this to catch a few runners that had just passed me. The next water station was successful. However, coming back onto high street is where the 5K and 5M course come together, and also where the walkers are on the course. I tried to keep a pace through, but the slow pace of the walkers, many of them spread across the road, made that difficult. Not because they were in the way, there were only about three times in the last mile and a half where I had to alter my course (one woman walker actually took a sharp right directly in my path. I managed to avoid her but had to hold her as I went by to void knocking her down). It was more of a case where it's hard to judge your own speed when there are literally several hundred people moving in the same direction as you but slower. I also had a number of people pass me at good clips. I'm thinking they started late, maybe were running the 5K, but there's no way I could have hitched onto their pace.

Mile 5 - 6:30/33:50 More downhill, more stretching out. As I got to the intersection of rte133 I knew it was downhill, flat and less than a mile, so I started digging in again. Three young men came by me very fast....Geeze, where the hell did they come from? Coming to the railroad bridge a dixieland band was playing, with a group of walkers that had stopped to sing "when the saints go marching in". Just under the bridge is where the woman I mentioned above walked in front of me. Earlier, when I was walking to the start line, I took a glance up the finish hill. There was a banner a bit more than halfway up, and unfortunately, I took this for the finish line. I hadn't bothered to look at the course map on the Feaster Five website which _clearly_ shows the finish about 50 yards past the _top_ of the hill in the Brickstone square parking lot. I was cooking it down the little slope and into the corner, intent on keeping some momentum for a strong finish.

Now, my eyes aren't as good as they used to be. So I wasn't too concerned when I came around the corner for the last 100 yards to the banner and didn't see a timer or sensors across the road. No, I didn't freak out until I heard the guy with the megaphone on the step ladder under the banner yelling "200 yards to go!"


Ugh, I faded like an old Polaroid. A little kid sprinted by me. I'm lucky I wasn't walking when I crossed the line.

128th overall, 20th out 393 in my age group. Mill City Relay coming up, unless I get kicked off the 'team'.