Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A New Ride/An Old Love

Anyone not interested in cycling or the merging of science and art in the form of a modern racing bicycle can and should stop reading right now. (Are they gone?) OK. I debated about writing about the new bike, but I have been asked several questions via email and over the phone, so here it goes.
From the beginning.
In February of 1987 I purchased my first entry level racing bike from Hodson's Bay in West Lafayette, IN. I was attending Purdue and the bike was a graduation gift for myself. Sadly, I cannot recall the brand, but I can still see the brilliant deep blue paint. That bike was nothing special, technically speaking, but it immediately ignited something inside of me. Like a generator used to power a home after an ice storm, that bike recirculated an energy throughout me.
For more than a year, running had been out of the question. Walking 6-8 miles per day in deck shoes that offered no support and little protection from the the concrete sidewalks had reduced even my abnormally fast walk to a hobble. Oh, I had tried to run several times. And I had grown more frustrated each time I walked back home. I was almost a year into my bout with plantar fasciitis in a medical era in which there were few options for treatment/relief and the only one left to consider was a surgery in which the tendon would be sliced lengthwise to promote stretching of the super tight and painfully annoying tissue. I turned down that option faster than I limped away from the the doc holding a syringe full of cortisone.
Within days of purchasing that bike I had ventured well beyond the campus and the city - far out into the vast, flat, dormant, snow-covered, wind-swept crop fields of Tippecanoe county. The really awesome thing about a bike is that it can allow you to self-propel yourself across a substantial distance in a relatively short period of time. And, if you are blessed with endurance and guts while being similarly cursed with stubbornness and naive youthful optimism, that one-week-old bike can take you and your cotton sweats twenty miles downwind to Pine Village in subfreezing temperatures while your porcelain toes are clad in white leather sneakers and your cracked and bleeding knuckles are feeling the breeze - two days in a row. Enough said?
"Hello. My name is Shane and I am addicted to testing my endurance."
Two years later I was riding fifty miles per day on a slightly more impressive race bike while immersed in the world of the USCF. But, mostly, I spent my time "makin' paint." My job as a research chemist in the coatings industry caused me to create a couple of unique touchy, feely "specialty' coatings. I was a company man doing the company thing - working and traveling a lot.
Then it happened. One day, after a man with what seemed like an Australian accent kept interrupting my canned thirty-minute slide show during a coatings convention, I found myself sitting in my hotel room holding a rough surfaced monocoque carbon fiber Kestrel MX-Z mountain bike frame that said man, Cycle Composites president Bevil Hogg, had tossed onto my bed. I tried and failed 176 times to make a primer/paint system stick to the pieces of that frame. Yes! I destroyed two diamond-tipped circular saw blades cutting it up - for science, for progress! Nothing passed our in-house automotive adhesion specs. (And, since paint still regularly and easily peels from carbon frames, I'd say other chemists are still failing to meet those specs.)
That ruggedly beautiful MX-Z frame was a work of art. I immediately set a goal of owning a Kestrel. I bought my first Kestrel, a 200 sci, in 1992 with a small inheritance from my biological father. I loved that bike. It was stiff, yet absorbed road vibrations like no bike I'd ever ridden. I outfitted the white frame with top of the line Dura Ace components and then watched as it was run over TWICE by a 15 passenger van. People yelled, so the driver stopped. And then he backed up. I watched in disbelief - and cursed a lot. The insurance didn't believe that a bike could cost that much, but it eventually paid for a replacement. (That's two, if you are counting.)
In 1994 I thought I was serious enough about multisport to invest in a new frame. I used some adjunct pay to purchase a red KM40. Sweet. Stiff. Addictive. I thought about riding that bike as much as I thought about sex. Yeah, it was that sweet. . . It was my first 650 wheel bike, so it took a few months to get used to the geometry and handling. I moved the Dura Ace components to that frame and added some heavy, but bomb-proof, 5-spoke Aerospoke carbon wheels that were discounted greatly by the Michigan company that sponsored the race series I put on. For the first time, I named a bike. I called her Faith. Faith was a fast bike, so I always felt the desire, the need, to ride her hard and fast. Before long I found myself cruising along on casual rides at 22+ mph. Not by coincidence, I believe, 1994 was the first year that I started riding 2-mile efforts at 30+ mph. The 4 minute 2-mile! Have I stated that I relate to and understand (on more than one level) Ricky Bobby?
It was July of 1995 that I sold Faith. That was shortly after I told USA Triathlon to shove its All-American/Team USA slot - up there. They had refused to disqualify or even penalize the 18-man peleton that had formed behind me, one by one as I caught them, in the wind on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago during the 29-mile bike leg of the 1995 National Championships. Several of those riders had remained in the peleton and had pulled away from me after we turned south with the wind at our backs the second time.
I did not own a bike again until the end of 1998 when I ordered a Kestrel 500 sci from Nytro. That 650 wheel, light blue frame (Faith Two) had the Ironman paint (still the brittle and flaky Dupont Emron!) and was outfitted with the latest 9-speed Dura Ace components. At 49 cm, it was actually a bit small, but it allowed my aging legs to ride faster than I ever had, hitting three 2-mile efforts in less than 4 minutes and covering a 40K course in less than 56 minutes for the first time since my big-mileage years. I studied the market for months before deciding on the 3-spoke carbon Nimble wheels. Though I received no sponsorships or other discounts for those wheels, I have never regretted purchasing them. Honestly, I have never personally witnessed wind tunnel testing, but I believe that those tubular wheels are the fastest I've ever owned.
Because the 500 sci frame was small, I occasionally banged my knees on the aero bars or stem. This resulted in an almost constant blue-green bruise on at least one knee.
The 500 sci was Kestrel's first frame to not have a seat tube. It was still stiff in the bottom bracket and absorbent in terms of road vibrations. That bike was a huge technological advancement from the typical double diamond steel alloy frames of previous generations. I loved it as soon as I stomped down on the pedals and shot up my street. It was an adrenaline junkie's dream. In June of 2000 I was descending my street when my son, on his new bike, came from between cars in a neighbor's driveway and caused me to crash hard. My cleat punched a hole in the top tube. I freaked out. Kestrel casually stripped the frame, rewrapped that top tube, and repainted it before shipping it back to me. I only paid for the shipping! Four days after the crash I was giddily rebuilding the bike.
By the end of 2003 I had put more than 20k miles on that bike. I raced it in MN, IN, OH, KY, GA, TN, DE, ME, LA, and AL, mostly in duathlons. That bike helped me to one of my life's best performances at the 1999 ITU Du Worlds where I ran swiftly (32:42/9.6K and 17:42/5K) and averaged over 25 mph on a technical and hilly bike course in Alpharetta, GA. Considering my level of talent, I have always been proud of that race effort.

By the time the 2004 season started I had moved the components to a 52-cm black Kestrel KM40 Airfoil frame. Also without a seat tube, this "triathlon" version of the 500sci was stiffer and more aerodynamic than any of my previous frames. Again, the word "sweet" comes to mind. What a beautiful frame! I spent a day transferring the Dura Ace components and Nimble wheels to "Bruiser." Bruiser got her name because all of the black paint and carbon weave was accented by blue bar tape and cable housing. By early 2009 Bruiser was sporting Dura Ace 10-speed components and Easton Attack TT bars. I had also invested a lot of time tweaking the geometry of my position to gain maximum power while on the bike. That bike deserved, begged, demanded to be ridden faster than my limited ability could propel it, so I put a lot of time into getting the most out of me.

In March of 2007 one of my Speedplay pedals came apart as I accelerated up the hill in front of my house. I crashed hard and head first, trashing a helmet, but I can still write about it. Without thinking about the incredibly loud, hollow, pumpkin-smashing sound of my helmet and face colliding with the pavement, I jumped up and started looking the bike over. Within seconds I became vaguely aware of the sound of spilling, splashing liquid. Then I saw the blood from my facial wounds puddling on the road and on the bike I was inspecting. "Oh, crap!" I said irritably as I yanked the bike onto my shoulder and carried it back toward the house. Blood still poured from my face as I strode through the house in a state of shock and not really knowing what to do. Eventually, I grabbed a clean white hand towel and held it to my face as I climbed the stairs to the bathroom. There, in the mirror, I saw a face that I did not recognize. "Oh, crap!!" I exclaimed again as I took off my helmet and pressed the towel to my face. "Oh, crap!"
Then, without hesitation I grabbed a large bottle of hydrogen peroxide and poured it onto the towel in my hand before holding the towel to my face. After about thirty seconds I removed the towel and looked into the mirror again. "Wow!!" There were gashes on my left cheek and around my mouth. My upper lip had a long slit in it. While those wounds offered outlets for my precious blood, my gaze and concern centered on my teeth. My two front teeth were both broken. One was cracked lengthwise and half of the other one was missing. I remember thinking, "This looks like it should hurt more than it does." That is called traumatic shock. What happened next is still beyond comprehension - even to me.

I put on the helmet, went to the bike, straightened the handlebars, and rode away. The adrenaline flooding into my bloodstream helped me to, mostly, focus on something other than the wind whipping across the exposed nerves in the broken tooth. That same adrenaline then helped me finish a hill workout at a record pace despite the fact that I had ridden that workout for more than ten years and despite the fact that I, well into my 40's, should not have been as fast as I had been ten years earlier. I was honestly oblivious to the fact that my face and right hand had suffered massive contusions and that my blood had been spilled all over the tile floors throughout my house. When I returned home after the triumphant ride my family members were the ones in shock. They were about to go meet me at the hospital - where they had surmised I had driven myself. Three hours later I agreed to go to the hospital. Diagnosis? Concussion. Abrasions and contusions. Two broken teeth and several more loose and bleeding. And, though I did not learn about this until a year later when the carpel tunnel syndrome started flaring up, the hook of hamate bone was broken in my right hand. It had to be removed.

The picture below shows the titanium post that had just been placed in my gum. "Placed" means the oral surgeon drilled a hole deep into my bone before TIGHTLY screwing that nifty titanium base into the hole - "40 N cm," he bragged. The other front tooth was broken and dead when this picture was taken, but they worked on it for another year before pulling it and putting an identical post in. Interestingly enough, the local anesthetic did not work for that procedure. Yes, it hurt like hell and I needed a saline drip to rehydrate after the tear loss.

It was a full thirty months, six surgical procedures, and dozens of visits to the dentist later before I was as normal as I would ever be. Scars are still clearly visible on my face. The porcelain front teeth look great, but the gums around them occasionally hurt after overnight grinding sessions. That right hand has nerve damage that sometimes causes the entire hand to go into interesting looking and painful contortions. I simply stick it in my pocket or step into the prep room when it happens while lecturing, but the condition will likely prevent me from future free climbing.

Bruiser also got the new handlebar tape she needed. I replaced the blue tape and cable housings with white to match the lettering on the frame. Sweet.
Bruiser's final adjustment came when I bought some used HED 3 clinchers off of Slowtwitch to use as training wheels. Now Bruiser looks intimidatingly fast on training rides. Those wheels are much heavier than the Nimble's, so they make climbing more difficult. After training over hilly courses on those HEDs I rode the rocket named Bruiser, equipped with the much lighter Nimble Crosswinds, to a silver medal at the ITU Du Worlds last September. No, that picture is not blurry. The rain fell painfully hard throughout the opening 10K run and 40K bike legs (actually distances short of those). Bruiser was so comfortable that I was easily able to ignore the rain and navigate the technical Lowes Motor Speedway course. Isn't she beautiful when wet?

So . . . I recently replaced Bruiser. Well, I still have Bruiser, but I have acquired a replacement in the form of the 700c Kestrel airfoil PRO SE. This bike has more Kestrel logos on it than all of my previous (5) bikes combined. It is a stock SE with SRAM Red components, Zipp Vuka bars, and Zipp 404's. I have yet to purchase 700c training wheels. Though the Vuka bars are quite comfy, I feel so comfortable on the Attacks that I am seriously considering a switch.

Like my previous two frames, the SE does not have a seat tube. The comparison stops there. All of the tubes on this frame are shaped differently. The stack height of this 52-cm frame is shorter and narrower. The top tube has a triangular cross section. The down tube is straight and beefier. And the rear triangle is much narrower than the previous model. This frame is incredibly pleasing to the eyes. The wheels? Let me just state that I am not sure how long the giant Zipp logo stickers on the will last.
I've tried to match the position of new bike (not yet named) with that of Bruiser, but I haven't got it dialed in just yet. I have lowered the bars and have ordered a new stem to get even lower before I cut the steering tube.
I cannot wait to time trial and race on this bike. And, of course, I hope to log thousands of miles before I crash it :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Big Saturdays Return

Due to the ambitious and multi-faceted race schedule I have planned for 2010, I've decided to pull most of the tools out of the trusty training shed. Considering my age (46) and my limited gifts, I feel that there is only one way to tackle the goals: pain 'n sufferin'. And one of my favorite applications of pain comes in the form of something I call "Big Saturday."
With the most anticipated events of the summer being the 3-mi run,56-mi bike, and 13.1-mi run Muncie Endurathon Duathlon (new this year)and the Leadville Silver Rush 50 mile run, I've got to acquire some serious endurance this year. I should mention that those two events are on consecutive weekends in July. Enter the Big Saturday - affectionately called BS in my mind and log book.
BS's have been implemented throughout the last twenty years. That is how long I have been pursuing (relatively) fast-paced and (certainly) low-mileage training methods. It was in the early 1990's, after a multi-year bout with plantar fasciitis, that I started running limited miles while continuing to cycle regularly. Since then the log books have consistently been filled with 13-17 mile run weeks and 750-800 mile run years. Likewise, my cycling has consistently ranged between 2500-3000 miles per year - except for 1996-8 when I did not own a bike. Unless the rest of my life gets in the way, I train only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays - with an occasional Sunday ride.
So, what is BS and how do I work it in? It has evolved over time. During the tough years when I was fighting through the arch problems and later while I dealt with herniated discs, BS consisted of a 6-7 mile run followed by a 20-mile bike. Normally, though, BS is a 9-mile run which, from March and October, is followed by a 25-mile bike. The bike ride disappears and the run is lengthened to as much as 18 miles when I prepare for marathons. Preparation for ultramarathons during the past few years has caused the BS to turn into a 20-35 mile run with no bike follow-up. Note that considering the low mileage, those normal 9 mile runs make up 60% of the weekly mileage (15) and 18 milers during marathon training account for 70-75% of weekly mileage (20-24). Hence, Big Saturday.
As far as big cycling goes, I did compete in the Buckeye Challenge in 2000. That "half-iron" consisted of a 5.3 R, 55.2 B, and 13 R on a sweltering midwest day in August. BS's leading up to that race consisted of three 12 mile runs followed by 40-50 mile rides. I normally average 75-80 bike miles per week with the long ride maxing out around 30 miles, so those extra-long rides caused a reduction in the length of the other two weekly rides.
That was the year of my first digital log book, and it is gone. I know I finished the Buckeye in 4th and that my approximate splits were 30:30, 2:23, 1:21. It was a good day despite the dehydration that caused me to fade after taking the lead 9 miles into the second run. I remember being super PO when, contracted into a dried-up saltless ball in the grass somewhere just beyond the finish chute, I learned that the "Gatorade" they handed out during the bike leg was really flavored, calorie free electrolyte free, WATER. Many saline bags were emptied that day. Though my recovery was slow and agonizing, it was likely due as much to the heat as it was to the minimal training. That cannot happen this year.
Thus, Big Saturday ultra style. I will apply what I have learned from my own experiences and what I have learned from reading about and talking to some of the great ultra guys during the past three years. That started yesterday with a 2-hr/17-mi run followed by a 1:45/35-mi ride on a hilly course. I intend to continue logging, and lengthening, BS's every other Saturday until July. How big will BS be? I'd love to experience a 25-30 mi. run and a 60 mi. ride on the same day. We'll see. My ultra experience tells me that I can do it, I just have to keep the pace realistic.
And, of course, I have to make certain to recover in time to complete the mid-week speed sessions required for me to be successful at the 5K distance at Du Nats. Though the groin has already put me behind, I am looking forward to this experiment.
I am three weeks into (and 4 weeks late for) an intense program that will allow me to go hard and fast each mid-week and long and hard each weekend. The physical and mental abilities as well as the finances and time to carry out these self-rewarding "plans" combine to form an awesome set of gifts that I do not take for granted.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tom King, Blackstone, and Lance

When the alarm went off at 4:20 am this morning I glared at the cursed clock - again. My insomnia has been a constant, unwanted companion for the past week. To make matters worse, it brought my old nemesis; the sciatic pinch. These two make up a brutal tag team that seems to find a way to bring me down at least once per year. Right now, it is late and I do not want to think about trying to sleep. I am quite frustrated because my arse is killing me. I mean KILLING ME.
This story started on the Friday before the super bowl. Almost everyone in our school walked down to the YMCA to play a little flag football on a basketball court. Students played students and the winners took on the teachers. Well, I got nailed from behind as I jumped up to catch a pass and ended up hitting the hardwood with a thud. Bones in my left forearm and hip are still bruised and sore. Worse yet, my left groin somehow got strained on the play. The bruised elbow makes it hard to lay on the aero bars and the hip causes me a little pain when I run, but that groin pull limited my motion for almost three weeks. No running and very little cycling. Only in the last week has my running returned to normal. Residual morning tightness in the groin is easily loosened by stretching. The sciatic is acting up because the groin injury forced me to sleep in an awkward position. The nerve pinch has gradually caused pain to move through my right glute and into the hamstring. Experience has taught me how to deal with this problem - sleep in a certain position, sit as little as possible, and complete decompression exercises as often as possible.
And the kid who nailed me? He is OK, but only because I am not 16 anymore :)
The problem with the groin pull is that I had already entered both the Tom King half marathon (today) and the Duathlon National Championships in Richmond, VA on 4-25. Because I lost a huge chunk of base training and only put in one run of over 5 miles since Feb. 2nd, I decided only three days ago to run in Nashville. Racing the 5:50 pace I'd hoped for was out of the question, but I was confident I could go the 13.1 at or slightly faster than my normal training pace of 6:3x.
My anal retentive brain actually spent a lot of time making up excuses to go. 1) Last week's hilly 89 minute 13.5-mile run proved the groin was up to it. 2) I need a road trip. 3) I really like the scenic out and back course that finishes inside the LP stadium. 4) There are microbreweries in Nashville that I have not visited. 5) I have already paid the entry fee.
The 2-hr and 15-min drive was uneventful and I arrived at 7 am for the 8:30 race. Like last year, the temperature was in the low 40's. This year, however, the dark, wind-driven clouds were not pouring rain down on us. After retrieving my race packet I rummaged through my bag for my blue Race Ready trail tank. It wasn't there. It was, in fact, on the floor near the dresser where I had dropped it. Oh, well. The long sleeve shirt I had with me was quite thin.
I let my legs decide the pace for the day. My short three minute warm up was all I needed to know that the legs had some pep and the groin was normal. Scratch Plan A (6:3x) and implement Plan B. This plan called for an easy opening mile and then 5-8 miles at 6:0x before easing back to 6:3x again. I hoped this would be a good workout that would leave my legs fresh enough to run a speed workout on Tuesday.
Plan B proved to be a good one. A 6:24 was followed by 7 6:0x miles that gradually increased my HR until it hit the mid-160's during mile 8 (this is the low end of T zone or about 85%). Miles 9-11 were 6:24's and 13 was a 6:21. The average HR was 163, which is under both my normal 1/2 marathon HR (172-5) and the bottom of my LT zone (166). So, the data indicates that I did not run too hard. The muscles will have the final say in the matter. . .
Mile 12 was the slowest, 6:29, because I had a little trouble putting my shirt back on. I had taken it off just before the 2 mile mark after I realized sweat was pouring over my face. I had held it for a while, then tied it around my waist. Judging from the stares from runners coming at me on the return, I'd say that I probably looked mighty goofy, but I didn't care. A little girl watching with her mother yelled out,"That man doesn't have his shirt on." Many laughs. Several women raised their eyebrows as we crossed paths. They were probably alarmed by the view, but I'll pretend they were excited :)
Near the five mile mark I took a cup of COLD water and half of it ended up running down my torso, giving me chills. A minute later I passed another aid station and they asked if I wanted a drink. "No thanks," I said while wiping my hand over my chest before adding, "I just had some and it was quite cold." They all laughed much more than I expected - I'll assume it was the summation of the at and with laughter.
Like I already wrote, the Tom King course is great. Great if you like trees, and river views, and meadows, and flat out-and-back courses. The urban-ugly opening mile is quickly forgotten as soon as you leave the Vinnylinks golf course and enter Shelby Bottoms Park via a 10-ft wide winding asphalt pathway that quickly passes beneath a train tressle leading over the Cumberland River just off of your right shoulder. The pathway winds through alternating woods and fields while never venturing too far from the river. Eventually, you hit a turn-around and start back toward the rest of the field of about 1300. All of the approaching runners are respectful, so there is plenty of room to run unimpeded. The return has a side loop that strays from the river just before reaching that rail tressle. From there the course continues on its return to LP Field where you appear on the jumbotron and the Titan Cheerleaders are waiting to cheer for you and to hang your ribbon around your neck.
The legs felt fine after the 50-yard-line finish on LP Field, so I continued running the mile or so out of the stadium, to the car, and back to the stadium to clean up and change. I didn't wait to see if I had earned an award. I need another ceramic mug as much as I need another t-shirt.
At the Blackstone restaurant and brewery I enjoyed a perfectly prepared, thick, and succulent buffalo burger with a side of fries. Blackstone's brewer, Travis, was in Wisconsin participating in a brewing convention, so I could not congratulate him on his recipes. I started with a light colored Chaser Ale, then used the Irish Stout to compliment the meal and the St. Charles Porter for dessert. They were all well-bodied and diverse in flavor due to a good combination of grains and hops. I bought a growler of Irish Stout to go.
I watched the TN/KY game and played with my new phone while I waited for the alcohol to subside. I rarely consume alcohol, so three micro brews had made me tipsy.
I made two stops on the drive home. The first was at the Beachaven Winery in Clarksville. Though I have sipped and purchased wine there on many occasions over the years, I had not driven by during business hours for several years. Much had changed - the entry road, the wine list, and the labels on my favorites. There were several women who looked to be mid-20's behind the tasting counter. There were several more young women shopping. The one man on hand was a talker. He was teasing the girls behind the counter in a way that made me think he was a regular. Then one of the girls looked at me and said she could not dispute the boss. Hmmm.
He turned out to be Ed Cooke, the owner. Ed helped his father-in-law, William Beach plant the vineyard 30 years ago after the judge played a major role in changing Prohibition era laws, thus allowing the wine industry to be recreated in TN.
Ed Cooke is funny enough to be a stand-up comic and he is probably the life of every party he attends. When one girl asked me if I'd ever been told that I looked like Lance Armstrong and I replied that it had happened many times, especially with the bike kit on, Ed pointed at me and yelled out, "We have Lance Armstrong in the building." Jaws dropped as everyone stopped and stared. The shoppers got alarmingly excited and looked at me in a new - more interested - way. Hmmm. I laughed and denied, but Ed assured them I was Lance. Eventually, everyone knew Ed was joshing, but they all agreed that I was a Lance look-a-like. Again, I say hmmm. I wish I were a Lance ride-a-like. As I walked out with three bottles of wine under my arm, these wishful thoughts made me think about the fact that I probably wouldn't ride my new bike today.
The second stop came at a Starbucks in Hopkinsville, KY after my eyes decided that they were going to close no matter how much I fought them. I ordered a mocha and an oatmeal cookie (should have also gotten the blueberry scone!) and I had to once again talk about looking like Lance Armstrong. Hmmm. I wonder if there is any money in this? Probably not - legally. That picture above is one I took near the summit of Brasstown Bald during the 2004 Tour de Georgia. Oddly enough, even though Lance was racing that day, several people mistook me for LA as I rode around the area. I will admit to signing a couple of autographs. (I deduced the receivers of these autographs were just dumb enough to deserve being duped.)
All in all, it was a satisfying day. This despite the fact that sitting in the car caused the sciatic pinch to create excrutiating pain in my right arse and ham before the car ride ended. At least it wasn't a 12-hr drive like that painful trip to the Apple Duathlon in MN last year. My right foot skidded with almost every step during those two 5K's. I hope to be back to normal (sciatic-wise) by mid-week now that the groin is not effecting my sleep position.
I have also been working on a piece about my event/travel/training plans for the year. Besides Du Nats, I hope to race a half ironman (du) and the Leadville Silver Rush 50/50. I think I have come up with a good balance of speed and endurance training to allow me to be competitive at these varying distances. It should be fun trying!