Saturday, November 26, 2011

Soundtrack of my life

Cheesy title aside, I'm going to take the time this week to do a little more informative blog-post.  I invite you, the intrepid reader, on a little journey that details what goes on inside my head when I'm training.  Well, to be more specific, not what goes on in my head that involves thinking because -frankly - letting anyone in there would be an interesting experience...

When I'm riding my bike, I'm generally listening to music.  Even when I'm riding with someone if it's a tough ride with some intervals I'll generally leave one earbud in just to kind of have some noise to drown out any pain (and still be able to hear the other person/people and traffic).  If I'm running about 1/4 of the time I'll run with music.  That really depends on whether I can find my shuffle or not.

I'm a lover of most kinds of music; I've been known to listen to decidedly non-pump-up stuff and ridiculously-will-explode-your-heart type pump up music.  So really, anything goes.  I tend to like "harder" stuff on my bike rides and mellower stuff when I'm running.  Well, that's the way I'm feeling this week anyway; next week might be something totally different.

So here's what's on my playlist right now and this is in no particular order

I'm sure there are people out there that are "real" Snow Patrol fans; they've enjoyed them for a long, long time and way before they got big.  Well, congratulations.  That and 1.79 will get you delicious medium coffee at Dunkin Donuts. Delicious.  I think I first heard this song in Scott's 4-banger (otherwise known as a 4-Runner, no funny ideas) several weeks ago and I knew that I needed to have it.  As soon as I got home I downloaded that sucker and it became my new Heavy Metal Drummer (Wilco).  For those that don't know (and Seth might be the only person that does) I overplayed the living daylights out of that song my senior year of college.  I loved (loved) Wilco, but especially that song.  This song just makes you feel...happy, for lack of a better emotive description.  The bass line and the refrain make it upbeat enough to be a good workout song.

Disclaimer: I'd never before seen this video, it's definitely a little weird.  The song itself is a little weird to be honest.  I've never really been able to decide why it appealed to me but I think it's the sort of electro-rock sound it has going for it.  I'm definitely a fan of electronic music and rock music and one might say this blends the two with an odd synth sounding vocal line that I don't really understand but all in all the package works for me (now).  I'm fairly confident in saying that this song won't last a whole lot longer but it's got a place on the list for now.

This song combines two of my more favorite musical likes: the crystal method and Emily Haines (of Metric).  I think I've essentially decided that I REALLY like female lead singers.  Especially when they're backed up by sweet electro-pop sounds (well, Crystal Method would probably not agree with being called electro-pop and I agree with that; I'm just making a sweeping generalization!).  I've had this song on my playlist for quite some time now but it hasn't ever been removed, in spite of the list going through many revisions and edits over time. I guess it's a keeper!

Just because that last song got me thinking of Emily Haines, here's a song that's been in my top 25 most played for quite a long time.  In fact, it might have the longest tenure there of any song currently in my music library.  Emily Haines is kind of a cult goddess (good evidence of why can be found in this video; she dances around on stage in tiny shorts, heels and a mix of instruments...pretty awesome) but I originally liked the music and later stayed because of her.  I guess that's kind of like saying you read Playboy for the articles but what are you gonna do? They're intelligent and well-written...

This is probably one of the greatest rap songs of all time.  Residing on one of the greatest albums (of any genre) ever made.  I don't say that lightly.  I rarely, if ever, listen to rap anymore but hear it every now and then on the radio and listen to some of the "top" songs that show up on iTunes (I realize that's not representative of all rap but Eminem's songs were both top of the charts and critical successes) and rap has gone rapidly downhill since this album.  Even Eminem's new stuff (and older new stuff post Eminem Show) isn't even in the same league as this album.  "Lose Yourself" gets a lot more playtime at athletic events because it's more age-appropriate but this song belongs on those playlists as well.  If I ever need to feel jacked-up, this is WITHOUT A DOUBT on the go-to for "play me right now."

Let's change directions here (and by change directions I mean a 180!) and take some time to appreciate an artist that I like, unabashedly.  Katy Perry has several songs that have been or are on this list but I'm taking "Firework" and giving it this blog-immortality (so few covet, so few receive...).  I mean, who else recently has put so many hits? I kissed a girl, Hot and coldTeenage Dream, California Gurls, ET, Waking up in Vegas...ummm I should probably just stop now while my hole is only 5' deep...

Alright so let me try and regain some credibility with this next one.  I haven't really listened to much Arcade Fire but I think I first heard this song on some sort of google web project (I don't remember what it was called but this song provided the background in some way).  I'm not sure exactly how I'd describe this song.  It's kind of like when you go into iTunes or a music review or something and read the description of the artist/album/song whoever writes those can come up with the most perfect descriptions of whatever is happening but I have NO idea from where they pulled that stuff.  I think half of it is made-up words that have since become common vernacular.  Or common at least if you're ''in the know.'' Not me.

The Chemical Brothers are one of the greatest electronic music groups of all-time.  Although, when you really think about it, electronic music hasn't been around all that long and has since evolved into all different kinds of music (house, trance, house trance, acid house, trance techno, techno, etc) but Chemical Brothers has remained one of the most popular groups in the over-arching genre.  Trent Reznor (NIN) was the first to do the entire soundtrack for a move (Social Network), followed very quickly by Daft Punk (Tron: Legacy).  Chemical Brothers joined them with "Hanna" which, although much less popular than the prior two, was very good.  This song is a long, multiple tempo romp that's great for long intervals on the bike or a couple of miles during a run!

There are tons of examples I could put for Daft Punk.  They are SUCH an awesome group.  It's just these two guys that nobody ever sees (they wear masks and costumes and never do interviews in person so nobody knows what they look like) so they are super mysterious which only adds to their cache.  They've been around for a long time, have produced numerous top hits and put on an amazing live show (at least from what I can tell in videos; they don't do live very often but I'd do ANYTHING to go see them live if it was anywhere near me).  I had the Tron: Legacy Reconfigured soundtrack on repeat for a while on my shuffle and before that had the original soundtrack on there so I've heard all versions of those songs multiple times...but luckily I listened to them long before that movie elevated their popularity to a more "general" audience because some of their best stuff is way older.

So that's part 1; I may or may not do a part 2.  Hopefully I can get around to it tomorrow because I know many out there are DYING for the next post!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Forgive me coach, for I have sinned

The title might be slightly inflammatory but it gets the message across.  The opportunity arose late this week for a chance to race in the NCCX series of races in Charlotte and I felt like this was a once in a year opportunity that I should not avoid.  In this situation, I'd advocate for a "do as I say, not as I do" kind of interpretation.  I'd never recommend someone doing this in what is supposed to be "downtime."  But, I thought long and hard and 3 minutes later decided to sign up for the race.  Beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission, right?

For those that don't know, the NC Cyclocross Series is a series of cyclocross races in North Carolina.  Uhhh, well...I guess that summed it up nicely?  For those that are unaware of what cyclocross is - and I'd guess that if you're reading this you have a pretty good idea - it's kind of like a cross (haha...good one me) between mountain bike racing and criterium racing.  The bikes are slightly modified road bikes (to accept wider tires and cantilever brakes) and the race is held on "trails."  I say "trails" but really the races are roped off in existing parks and rarely are there true "trails."  It's basically an off-road crit.  For good measure, organizers like to throw in fun obstacles like barriers, sand pits, stairs, steep hills (up and down), tight turns (sharper than 90 degrees), off camber turns, off camber descents, roots, rocks, trees, other riders...wait, I've gone too far.  Anyway, long story short, it's a mix of sections that require technique and fitness.  Obviously, my technique is crap but I'd like to think that my fitness is good (or at least better than most in the CX 4 category).

I got to the race site early because races were going on all day and I figured it'd be a good chance to watch and see how others approached the main obstacles (steep hill, sand pit #2, barriers), both for the better and for the not-so-better.  The first one on the course was the steep hill.  It seemed like with enough speed one could get up the 20' or so without getting off the bike.  The problems started when it was crowded or you weren't powerful enough (or just didn't "set up" the hill properly in the lead-up).  Here is an example:
So that can happen.  There's also the danger of it being so crowded that it's just impossible to make it up to the top without un-clipping as you're relying on the person in front of you to make it up and the person in front of him, etc.

The second main obstacle was the sand pits.  More specifically, the second sand pit.  The first had a good lead-in and you could maintain speed through the sand but the second was after a sharp turn and had a sharp turn in the pit so you basically had to get off and carry your bike.

The third and final (main) obstacle were the two barriers.  These were especially tricky because they were on a slight downhill with a long, straight lead up and to further complicate matters the ground was quite bumpy beforehand; making it difficult to modulate the brakes and slow speed in a controlled manner.  There are three ways of going over barriers: bunny hop (I was not about to try that), portage (carry your bike), or crash.  I was going for option two.  This video was of the Pro 1/2 race and shows the first two options:
The guy that bunny hopped those is crazy.  Not really sure how he did that and I'm not about to try and figure it out myself.  While we were watching one guy got off his bike too late and caught his second foot on the first barrier and basically went sliding head first into the second barrier.  Luckily, he was wearing a helmet and was (mostly) unscathed.  The only time I fell was in the practice lap; as I was going over the second barrier I caught the rear tire on it and tried to hop on a bike that wasn't there.  Needless to say, the results were that I didn't get on the bike...

So needless to say, I was amped up to start the race.  Not in small part due to the fact that I just wanted it to be over!  Luckily Bob and Melissa were there to support (Bob in no small part due to the fact that I was riding his cross-bike!) so they were helping me get excited and cheered a lot during the race.  All the CX 4's started to line up at about 2:25 for a 2:30 start.

The first issue I encountered was that I arrived after everyone had already started to party.  At least 30 people had already lined up and were waiting to I was relegated to the back; I'm not about to be "that guy" in a 'cross race.  The officials did a "call-up" for the top finishers from the week before so that stuck me even further back.  I'd say that there were probably ~50 starters and I was in the last 10-15.  That was bad.  Given the importance of the start in CX events I was already handicapped.  At that point, however, there wasn't much I could do about it....

At the start of the whistle everyone clipped in and sprinted for the holeshot.  I did not get clipped in very smartly but managed to get started ok.  The course started off slightly uphill then took a right turn and went down the same hill and up the very steep climb.
I come in at about 25 seconds on the far left in an all black kit with a blue tri top over some Under Armor (yea, I was that guy wearing a tri top...I love it).  On the first lap it was way, way too crowded to try and ride up so I hopped off early and ended up running past a bunch of people and continued running well past where most people were re-mounting their bikes.  That proved to be a pretty good strategy, surprisingly.  The course then took a couple of twists and turns then hit a downhill off-camber turn (in the first lap a guy on the right slid down this hill) before a quick uphill followed by a longer uphill climb to the finish line area.  Then there was a series of twists and a little straight before an off-camber right hand turn in which the high line was the best followed by a straight then a sharp left turn then some more turns, then some more turns, then some more turns and maybe a straight or two and then the sand pits.  Some technical sections then a sharp downhill followed by a sustained climb onto a paved parking lot area that was a false flat then some twists and turns before eventually getting to the barriers, then some more twists and turns before getting back to where the start intersected with the course (followed by the downhill and steep climb).

The first lap was basically a mad-house.  Of the 4 (4.5 laps really since the start was not the same as the finish) laps we did the first was the most worthless.  I was stuck in the back and didn't know where I'd be able to move up; luckily for me the uphills provided a great opportunity.  On the first lap alone I think I passed 20+ people, mostly (if not entirely) on the 20-30 seconds worth of sustained climbing.  Of course this meant that by the end of the first lap I felt like my heart was going to explode.  It's difficult to explain to people that haven't experienced these feelings (and it's pretty rare in a triathlon to do so...) but you know when you have to pee really bad and it feels like your bladder is pressing really, really hard against you, trying to force it's way out?  Well, imagine that being your heart.  Your heart is so worked up that it wants to pop like a balloon and shut off the pain.  The only others times I have felt this have been during bike races, hard group rides, and intense make-out seshes.  Just kidding about the last one.  I've never done that.

Needless to say, I wanted to slow down but didn't want to be a wuss so I kept on the pressure and made it through lap two feeling virtually the same but gradually making my way up closer to the front.  I consistently lost a little ground on the tight turns and more technical sections but could make up all of that and much more on the sustained climbs.  Once it cleared up a little bit each of the "obstacles" became much easier to tackle.  I was able to ride up the steep hill on the last 3 attempts at going up:
The sand pit also became much easier.  I think with two and a half laps to go I had moved up into top 10 and wasn't that far behind the leaders (although I had no real idea where I was unless Melissa and Bob shouted at me, like so:
Towards the end of the race the barriers also became "easier," just because there were fewer people to deal with and be aware of; luckily I never had any problems during the race but was definitely very careful as this seemed the prime location to injure oneself.
I trod gingerly each and every time over those bad boys.  With one lap to go I had moved somewhere in the vicinity of the top 5 and towards the end I had caught someone in a team kit and was basically keying off his pace throughout the second half of the lap.  We each approached the steep hill and made it up without getting off and continued through the twisty turnies before hitting the climb to the finish.  At this point, I took the outside line and powered around him to the line.  I found out later that resulted in a 5th place finish.


All in all, I was pretty pleased.  I'm a pretty good bike handler as far as roadies/triathletes go but when it comes to off-road my skills are vastly inferior.  Mountain biking was always difficult for me and in this race it was obvious I had a severe lack of finesse through the technical portions.  Luckily, despite my lack of real training recently, I'm still pretty fit and that helped me out immensely.  I think that with a better start - both in terms of location and speed (due in no small part to one's location...) - I could have contended for the win.  I passed almost the entire field throughout the race so that was certainly good.  I'm not sure how many more of these are in my future (probably not many) but it was certainly a fun experience.  I definitely went against the"plans" but I think that, since it was so short, I didn't "hurt" my downtime (too much).

Other than that, this week I swam twice, ran twice and biked thrice (including the 30 minute race).  Next week will be the same (but without a race).  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


A lot of triathletes (and athletes in general) seem to buy into the idea of an off-season.  It seems to me that the idea of an "off-season" in triathlon is a by-product of American sports.  The so called "off season" in sports like basebally, football, and basketball are filled with moves made by an organization but frequently a LOT of downtime by the athletes.  Many of them typically report back at the beginning of the year fat and out of shape.  While this comparison isn't completely accurate, it serves to make my point.  Calling this time of year an "off-season" only really leads down a path to fatness.

For most triathletes that actually want to be good, there should be no such thing as an off-season.  Everything has a purpose, and this time of year has the purpose of making you better, just in a slightly different way.  Too many see downtime as a week of light workouts and eating crap (if the latter were a determiner for an off-season I'd be on that plan every day...but that's another post) which is a terrible, terrible idea.

Now, if your off-season consists of a week of rest and recuperation then two plus weeks of very light, barely structured workouts then you are like me.  I THOUGHT - before this year - that I knew what downtime really meant.  I was wrong.  You have to look at season down time as equally important as workouts during the season.  As much as you tried to nail every single workout from March to October you have to focus as much on nailing things like:

1) Getting enough sleep.  Seriously, forego some workouts in favor of some extra sleepy deliciousness.  There is nothing better than sleeping.  Well, more of it is better I suppose...!
2) Using your legs as little as possible.  If you're not working out (very lightly duh) then sit at the desk, on your couch, or in your bed.  Slap on those compression tights and socks.
3) Eat well.  After a big race, focus on eating good proteins (not the crappy ones like I do) as if you think about it, THOSE are the nutrients that your body is going to use to rebuild your muscles.
4) Do other stuff.  Yoga.  Sleeping.

When you're training hard in February and March (like you should) you can look back and realize how awesome it was.  You have to "detrain" to "train."  To have a peak there also needs to be a valley.

Sleep more, workout less.  It feels SO good.  You will wish you had in Spring of 2012 :)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Racing Review of 2011

2011 Races - for each of these I'll list some of the first things I think about when I remember that race and one split that I really like...

2.27 - Donaldson Center Road Race - 1st place Cat 4

Nervous, first road race in FOREVER.  Got in a breakaway, did most of the work, in the lead with 1/2mi to go and nobody came around me.  Surprisingly HOT for February.

3.13 - Blythewood Omnium Circuit Race - 1st place Cat 4

This race wasn't nearly as difficult; surprisingly easy to win.  Got the final points necessary for a Cat 3 upgrade.  Excited to one day get enough for a 2!

3.27 - Cool Breeze Triathlon - 6th OA

Pretty forgettable.  Horrible bike ride on borrowed Fletch-mobile with two dropped chains.  Head wasn't in it but had a decent run. 17:51 5k, not bad.

4.17 - New Orleans 69.1 - 5th AG 34th OA

Nothing bad to say about this one.  It was well-executed for both the bike and the run.  Probably the race I'm most satisfied with this year; really wish I had gotten to swim.  That was frustrating. 11minute half-ironman run PR (1:21:XX)

5.1   - May Day Biathlon - 1st OA

Set a new 5k PR (race was a 5k run, 35ish k bike) of 16:32 on an accurate, flat course.  Got a good gap and rode hard to take the victory.  Some of the old guard of NC was there (Sonni Dyer and Jay Curwen), good to compete against them.

5.7   - White Lake Half - 5th OA

Dealing with some major blister problems this week; good bike but bad run.  Struggled to hold it together.  Another canceled swim. Same (exact) watts as NOLA for a 2:16:low vs 2:16:high.

6.11 - Tri Latta - 3rd OA

Decent swim but dealt with those dang timing chip issues that plagued me during the summer! Good bike as well, rode with Donny most of the way for the top two fastest bike times that course has ever seen.  Not a great run and didn't have the legs to duke it out with Scott for 2nd place. 40:01 or so for the bike.

6.14 - Summer Track Series 5k - 3rd OA

Wanted to go sub 16:30, went 16:35 mostly solo instead.  Jay and Paul (and me) plus a couple of other guys took it out a little to slow for a fast time (for me anyway).  Time trialed the rest of the way, stayed pretty consistent.

7.16 - Stumpy Creek International - 3rd OA

Bad swim (timing chip meltdown), ok bike (if I hadn't had to get off the bike and stretch my hamstring at mile one I would probably remember this ride better), very good run.  Almost 5 minutes faster on the same run course versus last year (35:5x vs 40:xx, which admittedly was a terrible run...).

7.17 - Amica 19.7 at Stumpy Creek - 1st OA

Good swim, good bike (minus computer falling off), ran in the lead and just mailed it in; I was RIDICULOUSLY sore after Saturday's race. Umm, don't have a good split in mind haha. Swim probably.

8.20 - Age Group Nationals - 22nd AG

Pretty good swim minus some sighting issues, very good bike (15th fastest OA and left some watts on the table), miserable run.  No spark in the ol' leggies from the get-go. 59:00 40k on a fairly hard course.

9.10 - Best of the US Amateur Championship - 5th OA

Fantastic swim (3rd out of the water in a wetsuit legal swim not wearing a wetsuit, thanks Blue Seventy!), ok bike, ok run.  Really remember this as a "solid" race.  Nothing spectacular, just a good race. 58:20ish 40k.

9.25 - Augusta 70.3 - Not sure

Complete meltdown.  This picture is at some point during my 28 minute mile 2 split... Most memorable split was the 28 minutes it took to get from mile 1 to mile 2! Awesome!

10.8 - Myrtle Beach Triathlon - 1st OA

Good swim, good bike, very good run.  Other than NOLA, I'd say this was my best race.  Felt like I was floating on the run and in my head could have switched into another gear if I had been challenged.  Qualified for my pro card at this race. Went through 10k in about 35 flat.  Next year will hopefully see some 34:xx times?!

10.29 - Beach to Battleship Half7th OA

Ok swim, "ehh" bike, "ehh" run.  Incredibly tough conditions on the bike with ridiculous headwinds, tried to go for it on the run and just didn't have the gas.  Residual sickness may have played a factor; who knows? 2:29:xx bike split is the slowest half split I've ridden since NOLA 2009 (my first triathlon...)!!!