Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Sound of Gravity

In the last five miles of the climb, the road tips sharply skyward and bends back upon itself like a long piece of asphalt spaghetti draped randomly over the mountain by an ill-humored god. It's about this point that the music that had been playing in my right ear stopped, the end of the hour long album having been reached. It is here you discover what gravity sounds like.

Having started early, the beginning of my ride began in bone chilling shadow. Occasionally in the climb up Hoosier Pass I reached a point where the morning sun had crested the surrounding ridges and streamed down into the valley through which I was climbing. In the sharply slanting light, steam rose off the headwaters of the Blue River and the beaver ponds.

But with five miles to go, the music stopped and I heard gravity. When the rise is moderate, say 3% to 5%, gravity sounds like the gently gurgling water in the drainage ditches and and beaver creeks alongside the road. It sounds like the rhythm of your breathing and the whisper of your tires as you move aerobically skyward. But when the ride tips above 7% and reaches 10 and 11%, it sounds completely different. The gurgling of the creek becomes a torrent and a rush. Breathing is faster and more ragged as you have to stand to whip the bike around a hairpin switchback approaching 15%. And then there's the groaning--as the internal combustion engines downshift and complain in an effort to climb.

And once you're over the top, having smirked to yourself at the folks who waddle from their minivans to snap a picture of themselves in front of the sign marking the Continental Divide, gravity is a scream. Your freewheel whirs like a cyclone of angry hornets as the valley floor on the other side comes up to meet you. And you'd scream too, only your heart is in your throat. You know you're supposed to relax and flow with the descent, but the warmth and sweat of climbing in the morning sun has given way to the bone chilling sweaty terror of descening in the shadows on the other side.

You can see the demarcation point where the shade of the mountain ends abruptly in bright sunlight, and you hope you can hold on with your rapidly numbing fingers until you get there. You start to wonder whether you got the headseat of your bike assembled correctly, whether everything is tight enough, whether your tires are sound, whether feathering the brakes will cause your rims to overheat and blow the tube, whether the road is in good enough condition to be going this fast . . . and how relaxation is possible when the windchill must be in the 20s.

But finally, Alma, Colorado comes rushing up to meet you, and you pedal downhill through town with the wind at your back, matching the speed limit for cars. And you continue to warm and hammer your way over to the Brown Burro in Fariplay, Colorado, the location of the object for today's ride.

A hot latte enjoyed at a picnic table in the warm sunshine.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Eats Colorado

I'm trying to get back on the wagon.

Really, I am.

I'm shedding my Houston-get-it-done-yesterday-state-of-mind.

I'm shedding the unknown number of pounds of goo around my middle that comes from undisciplined eating.

(You know, if no one sees you eat it, the calories don't count. I have this on good authority).

I'm shedding the attitude that is all too willing to hypothesize about the meaninglessness of non-key workouts 4 months before an Ironman race.

And I'm trying to become un-pissed-off about UPS losing my bike, ripping off the luggage tag labels that were supposed to be unrippable, having it arrive two days late in a bike box where all four locks had been cut off and with a rear deraillure bent.

I need to find my pressure points. Woooo-Sah.

I need to eat more plants.

I need to eat less chocolate.

I need to ride my bike.

And I need my friends to show up here in Colorado as soon as physically possible so that cold nights can be properly spent over whiskey and beer doing absolutely nothing.

I am so glad I'm here. And now that my bike has joined me, let's find some Iron and get ride of this gut.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Come to Papa

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, I'm sure you know the significance of today? You know, July 20?

Yeah, moon landing, whatever. One small step for MAN (sexist pig), yadda yadda. Nope. wrong.

July 20 is the day Garmin releases the new 310xt upon the world.

My old Garmin needed a lobotomy as it became very unreliable and would not boot up in the morning. Finally, this week, it gave up the ghost, just as this lil' baby came out. It's got all the GPS and heartrate and cycling functions of the prior Garmin devices, but you can also swim with it.

AND its got enough battery life that it will last through an entire Ironman--even if you do your Ironman races Trigreyhound style (i.e., finishing well past dark).

It matters not whether you are an elite, professional level endurance athlete, or whether you are a middle-aged, desk-bound office worker who has plateaued at "slow and mediocre" and couldn't get onto the podium with a gun and a Marine Force Recon platoon behind him.

Not that this would be descriptive of anyone you know.

Nope. Whoever you are, you too can have more computing power on your wrist than was available to the Apollo XI command module. For simply trading in some American dollars (or swiping your magic plastic wish master) you too can have new shiny things to invigorate your triathlon training and give your coach raw data over which to cogitate.

So, just about the time Coach Kris was about to pull his few remaining hairs out by the roots for lack of data from his remedial athlete, I'm about to receive my new shiny thing.

Over the past month, I've tried two local stores without luck: one took my name and never called and one had no idea Garmin was coming out with a new toy. I tried my usual, online source for tri-gear, but today I got an e-mail saying the device was still back ordered. So, one google search later, I found a Google Ad saying "Garmin 310xt in Stock" and ordered the sweet little confection for overnight delivery. A couple hours later, I got an e-mail saying it had been shipped and giving me a tracking number.

Yeah, baby. Is that a stimulus package, or are you just happy to see me?

Come to papa, darlin'

Oh, yeeeaaaaaahhhhhh, baby. Right there. Mmmmmmmm, that feels gooooooood . . .

**blink** **blink**

I'm sorry. I forgot you were here. What were we talking about?

I mean, I NEED this, right? What's the point of riding over the Continental Divide and doing epic climbs in Colorado if I don't have Garmin data to record the whole experience?

Yeah, scenery. Nature. Whatever.


Because in the blogosphere, there are two rules:

1) no pictures means it didn't happen; and

2) no data means you didn't work out.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I heard of a study the other day setting out the inverse relationship between temperature and productivity. Supposedly for every degree higher in average temperature, a geographical area will have 3.5% less in economic output. By this measure, Houston should be draining the nation's economy rather than powering it, for we have had the most brutal summer since I moved here 15 years ago.

Every morning when we awake, it is 80 degrees or very nearly. There is dew on the grass because the humidity is even higher than the temperature. The Garmin 305 finally and completely gave up the ghost, and so all the training feels artificial, i.e., with no numbers to upload, the training really never happened--notwithstanding the persistent fatigue and dehydration of just existing in the Bayou City. With no race in the immediate future, few if any friends really stoked about getting out in this weather, and no numbers to motivate me, this past two weeks has been very unmotivated. Times and distances have been completed, but it is all very pedestrian.

Usually, I will have had my sojourn to the mountains by this time of the summer, the better to cool my freakishly large brain and find again some reason to continue on commuting to my air conditioned box in the sky where I organize electrons into words and sentences and paragraphs designed to demonstrate the truth and justice of a client's position. This year, however, I have been delayed. The month of July has been a doldrums just waiting for that day to arrive.

Mrs. Greyhound left for the mountains in early July, and so add the training doldrums and the heat and the job to an empty house. I now know why unmarried men die sooner than married men. With no one here to motivate my better nature, all I want to do is eat bad food and drink alcohol while the clutter mounts up on every side. Again, it is a real challenge just to "get up and do what needs to be done."

And then, of course, the blogging. No blogging to speak of because who wants to hear "woe is me" from me? Not me. Not you either, I suspect.

But at least there is the tour. Although this year's route left a lot to be desired through the first two weeks, Phil and Paul are my soundtrack to July. I am even writing this in a posh, British accent whilst I dream of climbing my own alp. I arrive 9000 feet above sea level on Wednesday and Delilah, my road bike, arrives Thursday. I want to be dancing on the pedals not long after that.

And I want to be cold again. I want to sit outside in the evening with a hot drink or perhaps a good whiskey as the setting sun paints blue shadows across Peak 9. Maybe it will even rain. And as the light grows short and the shadows long, the air will chill. You can see your breath and know for certain that you're alive.

Wish you were here.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Man

I've started doing little news items for my Tri Club's website. I'll post them here from time to time if they have appeal beyond the local. This one does. Check out this guy. Whatever training secrets he picked up at Tri-Club have obviously been withheld from me.



What do you call a 50-year-old man who beats every female professional and all but 11 age groupers on one of the toughest half-iron courses in the world? You call him whatever he wants. And so we await direction from Houston Racing member, Roger Wacker, concerning the name he prefers. Perhaps simply, “The Man.”

Roger qualified for the Ironman World Championships at Ironman California 70.3 in April, but why coast into Kona? On June 28, Roger competed at Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake in Lubbock. Roger turned in a sterling 4:31:25 performance to win the Grandmasters title, swimming 1.2 miles in 29:22, biking 56 miles in 2:22:57. and running a hilly half marathon in 1:35:27.

Very few of us can imagine Roger’s disappointment in being passed by professional athletes young enough to be his offspring. Really. We can’t imagine it because we’ve never ever bridged up to professionals on the race course. Roger has. Roger’s swim time beat 10 male professional athletes’ times. His bike time, 8th fastest among all age groupers at an average pace of 23.5 miles per hour, beat 8 male professionals, including multiple Ironman champion, Cameron Brown. And his run time, 7:19 pace, found Roger being edged out by a 30 year old and a professional female.

Of the age groupers to beat Roger, the youngest was born when Roger was 31 years old. That 19 year old athlete only beat Roger by 2 minutes, 21 seconds. The oldest age grouper to edge him out, a 45 year old, only nipped him by 29 seconds. The nearest female professional was more than two minutes in arrears and his nearest age group competitor was twelve and a half minutes back. Indeed, Roger’s time would have placed him second among men 30-34 and third among men 18 to 24–that is, it would have if he had not been born during the Eisenhower administration.

Hearty congratulations to Roger Wacker for a superior race result judged by any standard.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

120db of Cyclist Rights Luciousness

I can't wait until Thursday, because the Wells Fargo Wagon (or FedEx or UPS) is gonna bring me sumpin' special. I was reading the comments on a cycling blog where someone had experienced a near miss and an annoying honking motorist, and one of the contributors turned me on to this little number:
It is a 120db air horn for your bike with a reservoir that recharges to 80psi by just using your bike pump. I'm sure i's highest and best use is warning a motorist who is about to pull out in front of you or right hook you. Supposedly you can blast it 50 to 80 times before pumping it up, and it is loud enough to be heard inside a car with the windows rolled up and rattling to Eminem.

Beyond this noble purpose, however, I'm also thinking it is a fitting response to the red neck who gives you the "git off'n the road, fag" message with the horn on his pick'em up truck. Now you can honk back and say:

"Hey, Clem or Jed or Rick Perry or whatever your name is, you toothless, mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging waste of carbon. I've got one too!



But I'm not bitter. I'll let you know how it works when it gets here and I get it installed.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


The Almighty hates Texas triathletes

Anybody out there a fan of "Bull Durham" like me? Do you remember the scene in the locker room where the coach starts to berate the players for their lack of effort?

    What're you laughing at?!

You guys lollygag the ball around
the infield, ya lollygag your
way to first, ya lollygag in an'
outta the dugout. You know what
that makes ya
That's one of the big differences between me with a coach and me without a coach. When I was following "Coach Greyhound" I lollygagged for a week or two after a race effort. Coach Kris is not so down with the lollygagging.

Apparently, he's all about the gagging without the lolly part, because yesterday I had the Eurobrick from hell on the schedule, and this only a week after a long half-iron effort.

Why "from hell" you ask? When it is well over 80 degrees in your garage before you open the door at 0530 in the morning, when you start riding your bike before sunup in hopes that you'll be running before Satan quits for the day because of the heat, when you are dripping down onto your top tube one mile into your ride in the dark, when your heart rate jumps into zone 5 while running at 10:00 pace, and when the dogs that usually bark at you don't even lift an eyebrow because it's too hot to give a sh!t, you are in hell.

Or, perhaps it's just Texas.

But hey, our Starbucks will stay hot in the car all day long. So, we've got that going for us.

Which is good.

Why "Euro" brick, you ask?

Well, it's not because "Le Tour" is on, although I am again addicted to the spectacle, suspecting all along that much of the athleticism I am watching is about as authentic as professional wrestling. (Side note on stage one: I have serious reservations about anyone who beats the best cyclists in the world by more than 20 seconds in a 15.5k time trial. If you see a performance far outside the bell curve, you should suspect pharmaceutical intervention. Just as Barry or Roger.).

But I digress.

My brick Saturday was a Euro brick because I was in metric, not by conscious choice.

My Garmin Forerunner 305 went missing over the Buffalo Springs half-iron, and I did not want to replace it before the Garmin Forerunner 310xt comes out on July the 20th. I spent all this effort to hook my old Polar up to Delilah, my new road bike, so as to have data to crunch, because every good triathlete knows that if there are no numbers on Training Peaks, the workout did not happen and it provided no physical benefit.

In all that effort, I somehow got all the units set in Euro numbers instead of good ole American miles per hour. (Of course, we know that's why Lance won all those Tour victories. He trained in miles instead of doing baby Euro, metric centuries. Ever hear of a Canadian tour winner? Non! Coincidence? I think not.)

Anyway, there I am sweating over my bike and riding the first 45 minutes of my ride before the sun even peaks over the horizon, and I'm just waiting to see what my pace and distance are like. I'm giving it my all, trying to maintain a good cadence and level of effort, just anticipating first light when I can see the pay off. Then, all I see is . . .



And after two hours of incalculable, metric suffering, I pull back into the garage, and throw on my running shoes. Last minute, I reach into the bento box on Carmen Tequilo, my tri-bike, still crusted with mud and ill-used from her half-iron effort, in order to grab a spare gel pack for the suffer-running to come. Low and behold, what do I find?

Il y a Monsieur Garmin, n'est-ce pas?

Oui. C'est vrai.

So not only do I not know how I rode in the Gulf Coast Stank we call "air," I know exactly how slowly I ran for the last 55 minutes, and exactly how high my pathetic little heart rate was for all that.

I decided to take a "heat discount," by walking in the last five minutes, for which I received the "no lollygagging" e-mail from Coach.

Okay, I get it. Mexico in November=Hot. Houston in July=Hot. Pefect bank of Ironman I have here. Seems like I should at least get a toaster or something for opening up an account in this blast furnace.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Chasing Butterflies: Iroman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. "

--Nathaniel Hawthorne

I think my mental processor must be getting slower, or else my RAM needs to be upgraded. I have been trying to process a race report on the Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake for days and days, and yet it just would not gel. It is a great event, and I am glad I undertook the challenge, and I had a lot of fun. But at the same time, it was the Murpyh's Law of weather--windy swim and bike, rain in Lubbock (WTH??!!!) and then a sunny hot run with high humidity -- in Lubbock??? How do you write any kind of unified account of that type of experience.

Then, things went from bad to worse when I read the race report from Crazy Jane, M.D., who seemingly just floated, unworried and untroubled, through conditions that I found very challenging. Since Jane has a license to practice medicine and the ability to prescribe medications to her psychiatric patients, I immediately suspected that she had been self-medicating. That, and I rationalized that the swim did smothe out for the later waves and the wind died down for the later waves on the bike. So. See, it was much harder for me. (Blah blah blah excuses and rationalizations).

And then I read a version of the quote set out above in reading a recent magazine article in connection with the Boston Marathon about Bill ("Boston Billy") Rogers. And it kind of snapped into place. I have been chasing butterlies, trying to get faster and be happier with my skills as a triathlete. The worst moments of the weekend happened when I was chasing the fastest, the inability to sleep the night before worrying about swimming open water without my wetsuit, bumming out about my swim time, being judgmental about my bike performance, pulling the plug in the last mile of the run rather than risk puking. The happiest moments of the weekned were when I just "sat quietly" (or as Mark Allen says, "quieted the mind") and just focused on the task at hand--making a good swim stroke, efficient pedal cadence or rapid foot turnover. If I had done that more, the race, which all in all should be considered a success, would have been even more of a positive experience.

The Swim

I swam what?

I swam what time?

The day began very windy, me shivering in the water before the swim start, sans wetsuit. I had decided to swim without one to begin getting accustomed to the feeling in advance of Ironman Cozumel, which is not wetsuit legal. I ran and swum a good warmup, which allowed me to start swimming without hyperventillating. I thought I was doing OK and would swim somewhere in the mid-40s, which is my normal, pedantic, half-iron pace, but it was not to be. I found the lake to be fairly choppy and sucked down much water. The swim times in the pros and the rest of the field would indicate adverse conditions and perhaps a course that was long. I saw myself bouys being blown and moved during the race. That said, with all the improvements to my swimming of late, I was not expecting to swim ELEVEN MINUTES SLOWER than I've swum the course before. I was not happy, as you can see:


Starts with "F" and rhymes with "Duck"

Note to the race organizers: 4 main buoys spaced 400 to 500 meters apart is not adequate for a half-iron race, especially one that starts in the dark and has lake chop. It certainly would neither kill you nor break the bank to have a little round buoy every 100 to 150 meters to aid in siting and provide interim goals for iffy, middle-aged swim novices.

The Bike

The bike involved a much quieter mind, and although I was not as fast as I had hoped, I showed some gains in fitness. I narrowly edged out my previous performances on this course, notwithstanding much tougher conditions than the last two times I did this race. I wanted to average a touch over 18 mph, and through the first 40+ miles I managed to do so. A stiff 20+mph wind from the north, and the last two northerly-oriented climbs out of Ransom Canyon, however, served to lower my average speed to such an extent that I could not bring it back above 18 by the time I re-entered Buffalo Springs Lake Park on my way back to T2.

Re-entering the park, one had to deal with car traffic on the road--getting stuck behind cars during a race?? That probably cost a couple of tenths of an mph off the average, but the main issue was one of safety. Note to the organizers: close the road over the damn to incoming traffic until the race is over.

On the Flats

The good news is that the parts of the course most like Cozumel--flat and windy--I did just fine. If the road does not tip up, I am in my element. I was able to just relax, hunker down, focus, and chip away at time and distance. Hopefully, this is a seed of confidence for a quiet mind on race day in November.

The Run

The good the bad and the ugly. The good was the relatively flat portions of the course where, notwithstanding some tired legs, I was able to get a rhythm going and set a sustainable pace that chewed up the distance and got me from aid station to aid station in good stead. I even overtook Coach Liz about a mile after T2, which surprised me to no end because she's a hard case and a great athlete. But, I took a cue from Hillary Biscay, "no walking in Ironman," (at least on the flats in my case) and every time I had a wave of discomfort, I just focused on my stride and rationalized, "the fastest way to get this overwith is to keep running." That is what one needs on Ironman day.

The bad--three very steep hills. It made no sense to run them on the day, so I power walked. It's just a tough course, so no excuses but no worries either.

Heat Run

The ugly--chasing butterflies. I wound up running a better pace on this course than I have in the past, due to my consistency (if not speed) running the flatter sections. Had I known that, I would have been content to keep the mind quiet in the last mile and a half and just suffer a little more discomfort and done even better.

At the time, however, I was thinking about the PRs and the time goal butterflies that had gotten away--indeed they were unrealistic given the swimming and biking conditions and might have been unrealistic even under ideal conditions. In so doing, the butterfly chasing brain began to ask, "what's the point? No need to puke if you're not going to PR." And so I began walking instead of channeling my inner-Hillary-Biscay. Coach Liz passed me back at about 3/4 of a mile to go. I should have run with her and finished a fun race with a friend, but I quickly cut her loose and hobbled until the finish line was comfortably in sight.


So, again, I finished Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake. I did not get near the numbers that I had placed on myself, but in a sense, those numbers will come when I stop chasing them and just get down to the business of putting one foot in front of the other during individual moments.

Even more important than the numbers, however, was the experience and its fruits. I put some big deposits in the Ironman Bank on which I can draw in Cozumel in November, and learned a ton. Better still, the beer was great, the comeradery authentic, the after party loud and boisterous, and the hunger for more such races rekindled. The road goes on forever and the party never ends.