Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Labor Day & Tri-Rock Sale!

All in-stock Newton Shoes 15% off Saturday through Monday.
Last Year's Zoot Running Shoes - 50% off.
Last Year's Wheelsets - 20% off
Check out our clothing clearance rack,
plus oh so much more!

Still a few awesome deals left. Road, Triathlon, Mountain, and Cruiser Bikes are 15-25% off! Check out our 2013 closeouts.

16g Co2 Cartridges will be $2 for Saturday through Monday only!  Stock up.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pacing on the Bike

by Jack Mott
Missy Ruthven of ATC Racing finishing the Mopac TT

Position, power, and pacing are three keys to a solid time trial or triathlon bike leg performance. Obviously, you want to be capable of producing as much power as possible by training hard. We previously talked about position and equipment setup. Now let's talk about pacing. Optimal pacing gets you the most speed for your available energy. To a very close approximation, the best pacing strategy on a flat course is to hold constant power for the whole course. The most common mistake is to start out too hard because you feel good, which you pay for later.

40k TT - a little too hard the first half, but not bad
To illustrate the kind of time that can be wasted by bad pacing, we can run some numbers through the website Analytic Cycling. Suppose a 75kg rider is capable of producing 250 watts for an hour, and completes a flat 40k time trial with perfectly even pacing. This rider would complete the 40k in about 59 minutes and 24 seconds.  Now suppose that this rider makes the classic mistake of going out too hard and does 275 watts for the first 30 minutes, then starts to blow up and has to average 225 watts for the rest of the ride. This would result in a finishing time of 59 minutes and 32 seconds, about 8 seconds slower for the same average power.  That doesn't sound too bad, but in fact it would be impossible for the rider to maintain that power output of 225 watts after going out too hard.  The harder you push, the bigger the physiological price you pay, and if you start out too hard you will not be able to maintain the same average power.  A more realistic scenario is that the rider would have to drop down to something like 200 watts after starting out that hard, which would bump the time to 1 hour and 53 seconds. Almost a minute and a half slower.

So you don't have to have the new Cervelo P5 to see significant gains. You can potentially save more time by pacing properly than you can by upgrading your bike (of course, you could do both!). All you have to do is practice and ride smarter!  The most sure-fire way to nail your pacing perfectly is to use a power meter, but with practice you can do quite well without one. We will discuss how to approach both situations.

Pacing with Power

The first step to pacing an upcoming TT or triathlon bike leg is to pick a power goal.  For time trials, you should estimate about how long the event will take you to finish, and then look at your past power data to figure out what power you are likely to be able to do for that duration.  The Mean Maximal Power chart (or MMP) is very useful for this.  At a glance you can see what your best ever power production is for a given duration. For example, suppose you have an upcoming event that will take about 20 minutes.  Load up your MMP chart with some of your recent training history. In Golden Cheetah it will look something like this (WKO+ has a similar chart):

Click to Zoom
At a glance I can see that the best 20-minute power I've done is around 280 watts, but I can also see that there is a little bump around 17 minutes, where my best power is 300 watts.  This implies that I've never done an all-out 20-minute effort, and am probably capable of doing a little more than 280.  So a reasonable power goal might be 290 watts for the upcoming TT.  Be sure to take into account weather conditions and your fitness and fatigue levels when setting your goal. Hot weather will often lead to significantly less power, for instance.

Triathletes will usually want to set their power goals by doing practice bricks or by extrapolating from past races.  A great way to set a power goal is to do a bike ride that simulates race conditions as closely as possible, and then do a short run afterwards to be sure the pace left you fresh enough to run well.

Once you have your goal power, you don't want to follow it blindly on race day.  You might be capable of more, or you might have aimed to high. You need to listen to your body to some extent, but you also need to try to defy it sometimes when it tells you to slow down!  Since the most common mistakes are to start out too hard and to give up too soon, I like to use the following protocol:

1. For the first half of the event do not ever go above your goal power, but if you feel terrible, you may go under it.  This is especially important in the first few minutes.  It is okay to surge for 4 or 5 seconds to get up to speed, but then settle down, no matter how amazing you feel. It will pass, I promise.

2. For the second half, never go below your goal power, but if you feel great, start trying to raise it up gradually.  This ensures you won't totally miss out on any unexpected fitness or heroics.  We are all naturally capable of more than we think, so no matter how bad it hurts, never drop below that goal power in the second half, you can do it.

That is all there is to it. With this general approach you can almost guarantee you nail your bike legs and time trials every time. However, don't skip the section below where we talk about pacing without a power meter, because sometimes mechanical problems will leave you without your power meter, and you should be ready to perform well, and without stress, when that happens.

Pacing by Feel

The challenge with pacing by feel is the incredibly strong tendency to start out too hard.  The adrenaline of race day and your fresh anaerobic stores will leave you ready to go 100 watts or more too hard for the first few minutes, for which you will pay dearly later on.  Do not go out too hard. Do not go out too hard!

The most important thing you can do is practice. If you have a 40k event coming up, practice 40k TTs a few times. If you have a half iron race coming up, practice a 56-mile bike ride, evenly paced with as few stops as possible, and then run afterward.  Pay attention to the wind, your speed, and how you feel to get an idea if you have paced it well.  An evenly paced time trial will generally feel very easy for the first few minutes.  As you get near the halfway point, things will start to be very hard; you will not believe that you can keep up the effort the whole time.  After halfway begins the ultimate suffering that you must fight through and never give up. A well-paced triathlon bike leg will be quite different. Ultimate suffering should be avoided and used on the run instead!

With practice you will get to know what it feels like to pace evenly.  You can even borrow a power meter or use the CompuTrainers upstairs at ATC to practice.  If you do own a power meter, occasionally practice with the display covered by tape, and then review how you did after the fact. This will leave you capable and confident on race day even if something goes wrong with your power meter.

Pacing the Hills

Hills will disrupt the simple plan of holding even power. The proper approach to maximize speed on hills is to go a little harder on the uphills and a little easier on the downhills. The most common mistake is for people to launch out of the saddle and throw an extra 100 or 200 watts on the uphills. This is too much; instead, raise power by 20 to 50 watts depending on how steep the hill is, and lower it by about that much on the downhills.  For longer distance triathlons, consider putting a cap on your power output about equal to your threshold or one-hour power to ensure you don't dip into anaerobic reserves.  If you don't have a power meter, just remember to raise your power on the uphills, but don't hammer like a mad man. On the downhills don't give up and coast; keep a little bit of effort on the pedals and shift as necessary to keep moving well.  Again, longer distance triathletes may want to consider coasting on any decent downhill to conserve energy for the run to come. Time trialists and short distance triathletes should keep pedaling whenever possible!

Pacing the Wind

Wind follows the same pattern as hills, but to a much lesser degree.  The harder the headwind, the higher you should raise the power, and the stronger the tailwind, the more you should reduce your effort. However, the optimum change is very small, only 2 to 4 watts in either direction.  This is so small of a difference that it can be hard to put into practice even with a power meter, so you can feel free to just ignore it and pace evenly for the most part.  Exceptions include cases where the tailwind on one part of the course will be so strong that you run out of gear. In extreme cases like that, you will want to push much harder into the headwind since you will get a forced rest with the tailwind.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hotter Than Doo Du Race Report:
A Two-Sided Story

Duathlons in the Austin area attract athletes of all stripes – triathletes, cyclists, dedicated runners, first-timers, maybe a retired pro or two. Until race day dawns, you never really know who’s going to show up as the competition.

Jeff Shelton and Ben Munguia, though both ATCers, had never crossed paths before. Both are real runners, the kind of guys that you simultaneously want to feed a quarter pounder with cheese and recruit on your zombie apocalypse team for decoy duty. They’re also remarkably humble, so make no mistake: on both the bike and the run, though especially the latter, you can expect a blistering pace. Read on to find out what happens when you put two uber fast competitors in ATC kits out on the course together for the first time.
Jeff Shelton, “the old man’s perspective”:

If you know me, which you likely don’t, but if you do, then you know I’m a runner. It isn’t because I choose to be a runner, but because it is in my DNA. I’ve always been a runner. According to my parents, my first steps at nine months were more of a jog than a walk, and it seems as if I've been running almost every day for 45 years. Once upon a time way back in the late ‘80s, I wasn't too bad of a runner. I wasn't too good, either, but rather just hoping on a weekly basis to be chosen by the coaches to be on my university's traveling cross country squad.

I give you this worthless background so you’ll understand when I say I don’t worry too much about running. It sort of just happens. I may have slowed down a tremendous amount, but I'm still a runner, so a duathlon should be easy, right?

So how does this relate to the Hotter Than Doo Du last weekend? Well, the crazy thing is that I love to run, but I’ve been spending a fair amount of time on the bike lately. My running now consists of taking our Weimaraner and Vizsla for their daily 4:30 a.m. exercise whether I want to or not. Let's just say that I'm not run-fit at all. I wouldn't say that I’m bike-fit, either, but relative to my running, I have a higher level of bike fitness.

The thing is that I want to be a good cyclist, but I needed help to understand why I have the weaknesses that I have on the bike. The list of weaknesses is too long, so I'll spare you, but let's just say when it comes to running I'm not too worried to run with others, but on the bike I'm constantly worried about getting dropped. I worry so much that I've been given the onerous nickname "tick" by a few riders. No, not the cool animated TV character from the early ‘90s, "The Tick," but just plain old "tick.” It would take too long to explain, and it is a discussion for another time and place. 

Recently I started working with Rothe Training with the caveat that I’m still a runner and I need to do a couple of run workouts in amongst cycling. I want to be as good as I can be on the bike, given the poor genetics I got doled out. So I started working with Rothe Training, and Stefan has worked running into my cycling. I'm improving on the bike, and I'm still able to run. 

So, again, how does this relate to the Hotter Than Doo Du? When the opportunity to compete in a duathlon arose I thought that it would be easy to run, bike, and then run again. What I learned was just how wrong I was. I knew that most competitors would be triathletes, with maybe a few runners or cyclists tossed in the melee, but I only recognized one person, who was ultimately the overall winner. He also served me up a big ole piece of humble pie. More about that in a minute. 

My race strategy was to just stay with the leaders on the first 5K and on the bike ride just hard enough to stay within one or two seconds of the leaders, then crush the second 5k since I’m a runner. It is what I am and what I do. It all sounded so easy in theory. 

The race organizers had the Sprint and Olympic distances start together, so on the first run I wasn’t too shocked to see a couple of teenagers shoot out of the gate. Quickly our herd narrowed down to near single-file, and the race was on. The young kid, who I later learned was Ben Munguia, and I were running along most of the time shoulder-to-shoulder, and I thought to myself, “Okay, he can run pretty well, but I know something he doesn’t know: I’m holding back for the second 5K.” Then I started to laugh because I was thinking about a scene from Princess Bride. I thought of the words of Inigo Montoyo, "I know something that you do not know. I am left handed." Ben and I chatted a little on the run, and before I knew it we were back at T1.

Ben was first out on the bike, but I wasn’t too worried. I just kept him close, all the while telling myself, “I know something he doesn’t know. I’m holding back for the second 5K.” What I didn't know was I was about to get a lesson from the youngster. Ben had a little something in store for me on the second run.

The bike course was four loops and very narrow, and we often had to ride outside of the cones while passing other competitors. I just wanted to be close coming off the bike, because, hey, I'm a runner and I'm going to just drill it on the second run. We returned from the bike, and I was first out of T2, but that would be the last time I was in first. The first 10 steps my legs felt weird. I felt as if I was running in slow motion. I looked at my Garmin, and the feeling was confirmed. I was moving slowly. It wasn't long, and I heard steps from behind, and they were much quicker than my own. Oh no, my strategy had backfired, and soon after leaving T2, Ben cruised by me, and he looked like he felt good. I tried to quicken my turnover, but nothing happened. Then I thought back to my wife, who had suggested that I might want to get in a few brick workouts while preparing. Nah, I told her. "I am a runner, what could possibly go wrong?" I've done one duathlon prior to this a couple of years ago, but I was running at least 60 miles per week then, and the second run just came easy. This time I was struggling on the run and could do nothing as Ben quickly disappeared around the first bend and disappeared.

At the turnaround I determined how much time he'd put on me, but I refused to concede at that point. By then I felt that I finally had my running legs, and I might get lucky since anything can happen. I closed the gap a little, but he must have been feeling good, as I saw him dash towards the finish line and he looked to be flying. 

Was I disappointed? Yes. I'd just had my butt handed to me by a better athlete; however, I will say it was a great way to start a Sunday.

Ben Munguia:

The race directors were on the money when they named this duathlon. Without a swim to cool things off from the start, the 7:30 a.m. opening 5k made the rest of the race hotter than du. I'm hoping to have some strong late season races, so I wanted to use this race to get in a solid effort, without taking away from my normal weekend training. I did make sure to avoid the Austin Tri-Cyclist Saturday ride, though, and opted for an easier loop of the dam with a friend.

During my warm-up, I recognized the good-looking Austin Tri Cyclist race kit on a fellow competitor. It was Jeff Shelton, who I'd never actually met, but had seen zipping around Lady Bird Lake enough times to know that the man can run. I did a longer warm-up than normal, which left me drenched, and I struggled to get my race kit past my head. Race kit on, Thunderbird Energetica bar down, and I was ready to roll.

The run course was an out and back along the Brushy Creek trail, and luckily we had a decent amount of shade for the majority of the run. We took it out controlled, but Jeff and I maintained an honest pace to create some separation from the other competitors. Jeff casually chatted away, while I labored up the short climbs, thankful for the distraction and good conversation. Side note to Jeff: Sorry if my responses sounded more like uncomfortable grunts than words. As we came back into transition, Jeff thanked me for the company and said he probably wouldn't be seeing me on the bike since he just took up cycling. I had my doubts, though.

Sure enough, I looked back after lap one of four on the bike and saw Jeff not too far behind looking pretty comfortable. We stayed like this until I decided it was Jeff’s turn to set the pace for the first half of the last lap. Then I started to strategize the best way to gain some time on him going into the run. I didn't want to come off of the bike with him after seeing how comfortable he looked on the opening 5K. Instead, I decided to put in a good effort a mile or so out from T2 to see if I could get some separation. FAIL.

I rolled into T2 a second or two ahead of Jeff, but left T2 a handful of seconds behind. I had laid out a different pair of shoes (race flats) with quick laces for the second run to allow for a quicker transition. At the last minute I decided to stick with the same, more cushioned shoe I wore for the first run to minimize the post-race soreness. The adjustment had me fumbling around in transition to lace up my shoes again, and Jeff took off before me. I closed the gap in the first minute or two of the run and decided to push on and see if I could open things up. Fortunately, I was able to create a little gap. It was tempting to look back to see how much time I had, but I just kept pushing until the turnaround. I made the turn and saw Jeff flying down the hill not too far back. This made me a little nervous, but I knew I only had a little over a mile left. I figured if I kept the pace up, then he would have to run about a five-minute mile for the last mile to catch me. Luckily for me, I held on and finished about a minute ahead for the win.

It was a great local race, and one that I will be sure to do again in the future. The race directors did a fantastic job, and even gave out some great prizes – a rarity these days. Be sure to check out the Hotter Than Doo Du next year if you are looking for a great local race.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Driveway Race Report, Hamburger Face & A Little Soul Searching

by Kat Hunter

If you think race-day involves packing a lot of equipment now, just wait until you have a baby. Bike stuff, baby stuff, 40 things “just in case”...the indomitable little brown Prius was stuffed to the gills. August 1 was our first trip to the Driveway since Theo was born, and my first time back racing.  

I was so nervous and excited that I could barely string a sentence together, which meant that one of my rare opportunities to be social as a new parent was largely a wash. I’d been preparing for my race, the Women’s 123, all week. I’d skipped the usual hard Wednesday group ride to save my legs, doing openers instead. The morning before the race, I’d gotten another short opener session in—a ride to the grocery store followed by 2x1min at 280 watts with a package of Pampers in my backpack.

Bike Racer DNA?: Eloise Speed & Theo Mott
I wasn’t sure how I would perform, physically or mentally. I went through all the different race scenarios in my head, always with the idea that I’d go for the win, accompanied by the nagging fear that I’d be spit out the back. What I never imagined, given the small field size and my familiarity with the other riders, was that I’d spend a good chunk of my evening in the Brackenridge ER.

It all started smoothly. I bought an annual license at Driveway registration when I realized I didn’t have one for 2013 yet. Jack helped me get my gear together, and I fed Theo in the car with the AC going full blast. As odd as it was to unzip my race jersey and breastfeed in the parking lot, it was the only time I’d felt relaxed all day. Motherhood is good at providing perspective—nothing is as important as a hungry baby, and if you don’t remain aware of that fact, baby is going to provide a quick and high-volume reminder.

I warmed up on the course with my ATC Racing teammates Anne Flanagan, Allison Atkinson, and Marla Briley. The Driveway Ladies Nights, a new series of women-only races on the first Thursday of each month, are held on the top loop of the course while the Masters’ race goes on below. Other weeks, the women’s open race is combined with the Masters 35+. It was the fourth Ladies Night and the last of the 2013 season.

Jack wanted me to go all out from the gun. After 45 days or so of riding since Theo’s birth, I was nearly back to my pre-pregnancy power for short durations, though I wasn’t back to my pre-pregnancy weight. Fortunately, the race would be completely flat and only 30 to 45 minutes long. But at the start line, nerves got the better of me, and I was slow to clip in. I could hear Jack yelling at me to go. Better late than never was my thought, so I attacked on the first long straight.

I realized quickly that I wasn’t going to stay away on my own, but still thought I might be able to break up the field a little, maybe get something going with a handful of other strong riders. At any rate, I’d be wearing down my teammates’ competition. When I looked back, the field was strung out from the end of the first straight section all the way back to the initial turn. This gave me a feeling of satisfaction, one I’d almost forgotten in my time away from racing.

Kathleen Hattaway, another top sprinter and very likely candidate for the podium, was the first to catch me, and I had dreams of the two of us staying away, but they were soon put to rest. Everyone was here.

From that point, I did more sitting in, always migrating against my will to the middle of the pack, and always jealous of the way skilled crit racers like Kathleen and Jen seem to effortlessly hold their ground closer to the front. But my first-race jitters were still with me, and I wasn’t ready to fight for wheels. I just wanted to settle in and get comfortable with the course.

I knew I couldn’t stay where I was, though. This Driveway course was like the first day of the Georgetown Crit two years ago that I’d fared so poorly in—do or die before the last turn, because if you were going to be anywhere near the podium you couldn’t be strung out halfway to China on the final turn when the leaders entered the straightaway. The battle for the win would happen well before the finish.

My teammate Marla was a superstar. Two years ago, I’d raced with her during her first crit and Driveway race, and you wouldn’t think she was the same rider. She made several strong attacks, one time getting away with three of the main players in a short-lived breakaway. I knew she hated this course and wasn’t comfortable with a lot of the turns, and yet she was off the front more than any of us on the team.  I also knew that she was giving everything she had during the attacks, so whatever qualms I had about moving up at the key moment were going to have to go.

The race was the kind I like—lots of attacks, a good pace, no coasting and waiting around for something to happen. I was proud of our local field for putting on a good show.

I worked my way closer to the front when the official started shouting out the number of laps to go. Around four laps to go, I went again, and a group of four of us had some separation from the rest of the field. From there, I’m not sure whether we held onto it until the end, or it simply happened again, but the same four of us were together just before the finish.

I’d already given myself a little pat on the back for getting where I needed to be. I was on Kathleen’s wheel, and Jen was ahead of her. After taking that last turn over and over again during the course of the race, I’d scaled down my expectations for glory. I wasn’t as fast through that section as some of the others were, notably Kathleen and Jen, which meant that a solo break was no longer a valid strategy. Of course, there wasn’t much more than a slim-to-none chance of beating them in a short sprint, either, but I figured I’d give it my best shot.

Throughout the race on that sweeping turn, I’d let a little gap form between me and the rider ahead, wanting to give myself some wiggle room in case something went wrong.  The last lap around was no exception, and I let Kathleen pull a little ahead. I knew that would be a mistake in the final sprint, but I was still very happy with where I was. I was certain, at least, that I had third in the bag and was safe from any mayhem. There was nothing but wide, empty road ahead of and around me. Now, just the finishing straight after the last little bit of the turn, the chance to see what my sprint was like post-baby. The pace had been high going into the corner, and still was.
And then the rider behind passed me on the inside as I was entering the corner. I still had a moment where I thought everything was going to be okay, even when she slid out in front of me and I hit her back wheel dead center...

I somehow managed to smash into the pavement with the left side of my head and face, the top of my left shoulder and bottom of my left forearm, the front of both knees, and my tailbone. I have no memory of it. On later inspection, my bike was okay other than for some damage to the front of the hoods, which seems to suggest that it hit the ground vertically.

My next clear memory was sitting under the registration tent, people asking me questions. I started to realize that I couldn’t answer some of them, and that scared me. I couldn’t remember which direction we’d been riding on the course, or how I’d gotten to where I was. I had that feeling you get sometimes when you first wake up—I couldn’t tell if the conversations and events I was remembering were real or part of a dream. They said they were going to get an ambulance. I hate hospitals, and we’d just that week gotten all the insurance deductibles and bills sorted out from the birth. Jack was there, and little Theo in his carseat, and I was about to burst into tears, or maybe I did. At one point Theo threw up all over Jack, and he left to get a towel, but I don’t think I noticed.

Checking into the hospital
I started feeling better soon after that, and Jack drove us to the hospital. It had been long enough with no further problems that they skipped the CT scan, but they x-rayed my tailbone. Probably just bruising, the doctor said, and it would be better in three to six weeks. For the abrasion on my face, his best advice was to stay out of the sun to avoid scarring.

I kept replaying a moment over in my mind. Under the registration tent, one of the medics had said to another, “And she has a two-month-old baby...” It sounded like a character judgment, or maybe I’d just heard what I was already telling myself.

I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. My infant son was in the emergency room from nine o’clock to midnight because his Mom has this crazy hobby where at any given moment she can fly through the air and crack her head on the pavement.

I could say it wasn’t my fault, but that would be a lie. One, in cycling you are your brother’s keeper—you can’t rely on other riders to do the right thing; you have to prevent them from doing the wrong thing. Maybe if I hadn’t let a gap open up. Maybe if I’d taken the turn faster. Two, that kamikaze move is going to happen sooner or later, no matter how careful you are. It was stupid of me to think that I wasn’t taking a big risk. There seem to be two mindsets in cycling: the people who don’t care that they’re going to crash, and the people who persist in believing that it’ll happen to everyone else but not to them. I’ve always been one of the latter.

Over the next couple of days, my face swelled and oozed, my head ached, the pain in my back slowly improved, and my mood soured. Housebound, I began to ponder the deep philosophical questions that I don’t usually have time for. For starters, what was I doing with my life? For a long time, I’d been treating my workouts like a job, even when I was pregnant. If I get one thing done during the day, it’s always my workout. Forget my work projects, the dishes, the unpacked boxes gathering dust in the corner. Years ago, when I was marathon training and working full-time for a publishing company, I remember my uncle, who’s an art professor and artist, telling me that if I treated my writing aspirations the way I do my workouts, I’d be successful with them. I’ve sunk a lot more time into cycling than I ever did in running, so who knows what sort of novel I could have written by now.     

And now I had Theo. I was beginning to understand on a more personal level that parents who quit their sports after having a baby aren’t necessarily showing weakness or lack of resolve—in many cases it’s a sense of practicality, or duty, that makes them give up their old goals. I’d been so proud of getting back to racing so quickly, but I was realizing that a lot of people wouldn’t see it that way. There are a hundred thousand ways a mother imagines herself negligent, or a failure—now I could add another one to the list.

It’ll be a while before Theo tells me what he thinks about it all. And as for Jack...I married a man who, for better or worse, has always been very supportive of my obsessions. When I told him what was bothering me, he said that risk is inevitable, so we might as well do what we love. The goal of complete safety—in addition to being impossible—wasn’t worth the price.

I love my son more than anything in the world. Now that I’m a parent, I do those things that used to always annoy me. I tout his weight like he’s a prize turkey. I worry about germs and biting insects. I discuss the variable color palette of diaper contents with other mothers. I can’t help it. But after much deliberation couchside, I wonder if I can’t help racing, either, if it has become some piece of me that can’t be put aside, like a tumor that’s made bedfellows with important bodily organs.

If you criticize a mother, one way or the other, for what she chooses when it comes to bike racing or any other sport, I’d ask you to stop and consider one thing: no matter what she decides, whether she continues or gives it up, she’s sacrificing something important, and more than any other person, she’s well aware of it.