Thursday, July 31, 2008

The perfect machine

In the NY Times' Play Magazine, Mark Levine has a great piece about Michael Phelps and the science of swimming. It's all extremely interesting, but here's an especially striking bit about his coach's influence:
Bowman studied music in college and likes to speak of himself in terms of an old-school, authoritarian orchestra conductor, refining the raw gifts of his players. (He has also developed an interest, more recently, in raising thoroughbreds; coaching Phelps, he has remarked, is like training Secretariat.) He started the preteen Phelps on six-days-a-week practice regimens, often making him swim more than once a day, to work systematically on his mechanics, his endurance and his strength. He recognized Phelps’s predisposition to develop gargantuan aerobic capacity and exploited it, ultimately pushing him to swim at least 50 miles each week. He knew that prepubescent children can, through training, increase the size of their hearts and lungs in ways that are no longer possible later on. “The larger the heart and lungs,” he has noted, “the bigger the aerobic engine.” Beginning when Phelps was 12, he worked the swimmer seven days a week, guided by the assumption that competitors who rested on Sundays were at least one-seventh less conditioned. “Michael has a pretty easy life,” he would joke, “if you don’t count the five hours a day of torture I put him through.”

Penguin encounter

My eyes have been opened this week to the allure of the behind-the-scenes zoo tour. I did not get any pictures on Tuesday visiting tigers and orangutans, but it was fascinating learning about how they are trained and fed and what sort of enrichment they get in their cages. Yesterday, the Penguin Encounter at the Florida Aquarium was quite delightful. I also note that the whiteboard manufacturers definitely have a well-developed niche market here: it is like the way they use them on homicide TV shows, only with columns and rows for different animals and feeding schedules! Interesting industrial-size food preparation areas; as the slightly comical guide yesterday at the aquarium held out a metal tray with samples of the frozen squid and small fish and so forth consumed by the aquarium's denizens, they skittered back and forth in a way that reminded me of Fawlty Towers...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

On the road

Not in the least triaspirational, I hasten to add, but this has become the default blog for vacation reports, and I'm out of town for a short break...

Brent and I converged yesterday on a hotel where I once (coincidentally, randomly) delivered a paper on Smollett. We had a lovely dinner last night with Di and Bigun - great food, great company and a chance to meet the notorious Briscoe and the girls!

Today: Busch Gardens. We got drenched in the morning, and though it was on the whole very enjoyable all I can really say about roller coasters is that I believe it is character-building to do uncomfortable things one does not really enjoy and that I have a mild preference for the regular kind of roller-coaster over the wooden ones, but only because I find the wooden ones somewhat dreadful! But the animals are spectacular, and the afternoon sort of turned into one of the best days I have spent, ever.

Utterly delightful: feeding lorakeets; feeding giraffes; feeding (hmmm, a theme emerges!) flamingos! And then what is pretty much the rival for my top favorite animal show of all time (the Moscow Cats Theatre) - it is called Critter Castaways, and though it is on the whole in regrettable taste, and I entirely see why some people are offended at the notion of performing animals, it was truthfully one of the funniest and most amazing things I have ever seen in my life! Including some indescribably good trained cats - and a kangaroo!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Saturday run

8.25 miles, c. 11-minute pace.

It's warm out there: there was a nice breeze, but it's still eighty degrees even at 8:30pm!


I was not wearing my HR monitor (really I know how to pace based on effort, and I thought I would for once spare myself the chafing a.k.a. HR monitor stripe, like a sort of racing stripe around the ribcage), but I must confess that on a hot hilly run like this one it might be I should even go a little slower. I walked a couple bits to get better hydration, I didn't stop the watch at traffic lights, and I think the footpod also measures a little short; I would guess that I was running more like 10:40 most of the time, but that I should nudge it even a little slower in coming weeks as the long run gets longer. Because this was indeed Long Run #1 at the end of week 1 of marathon training!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The lunar-gravity gym

At the Telegraph, an excerpt from science-fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke's posthumous novel The Last Theorem (co-authored with Frederik Pohl) - on the Lunar Olympics!
The "balloonatics" believed in employing gas bags of various shapes, so that the athlete was supported in flight, using all his muscle power to crank a propeller without the need of expending any effort simply to stay aloft. The sky-bikers, on the other hand, preferred to do everything by their muscles alone.

For them sporting goods manufacturers had rapidly invented a whole array of propeller-driven devices. Thanks to carbon-60 nanotubes, the same molecules that made the Skyhook a working means of transportation instead of an idle dream, these devices were so light that even on Earth they could be lifted with one hand - on the Moon, with a single finger!
Hmmm, I am not sure I would have worked out the training and travel arrangements in exactly those ways...

Bonus link: Olympics reading recommendations from Matthew Syed.


Lovely gymnastic cycling. (Link courtesy of Brent, who got it from his friend G.H.)

Friday swim

I only had time for a short one...

Warmup: 6 x 75 kick-drill-swim, choice (I did 2 x free and then all the strokes in IM order)

Main set (x 1 only rather than x 2 as assigned; all freestyle and on :20 rest):

50 fast

100 build

150 pace - smooth - fast by 50

2 x 200 cruise

150 build by 50

100 fast

50 double-arm back cooldown

plus 200 easy back cooldown

1650 yards total

Some useful conversation with the coach on deck about masters swim options. There won't be fall masters swim at Columbia, but it's possible that they'll offer a "lane swim" class in the evening time-slot - this would suit me well. But I still want to find a real masters swim situation, and putting what D. said together with I.'s observations, I am strongly thinking that I need to check out Red Tide. It's relatively conveniently located, relatively affordable and sounds like very much what I want: they have a competition requirement, which I think is great, but welcome inexperienced swimmers also and do a lot of stroke clinics etc. Team New York Aquatics also sounds very good (hmmm, I see one workout is even at the Columbia pool, that would be convenient): bi-gay-lesbian club, but open to all, and affiliated with Red Tide.

D. and I. both also mentioned the New York Flyers running club, so I think I will look into that also when I get a chance. Next few months have book-writing and marathon training as priority, plus school in September, so it may be that this is going to be more what I sort out in later fall and winter...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thursday gym

1 hour gym workout with M., 1 hr. treadmill run (easy zone 2 - would have been easier still if the gym had not been so hot!).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The post-birthday world

c. 15 miles bike, c. 3 miles run. Still very hot and humid here, not pleasant, but the last half-mile of the run felt good...

Tuesday swim

(I've switched to the 11am lane swim slot in preference to 8:30, it is better for my summer schedule to have coffee and breakfast and work time pre-swim than to blow the opening morning hours on swimming and post-swim caffeination and refueling...)

Two resolutions:

(1) Time to start trying those wretched flip turns again. I really abandoned them in May, I have not done any at all since then, this is no good.

(2) Time to start paying attention to intervals and doing more varying-intensity work. I have been doing everything on short rest and medium intensity. Mostly I just ignore the posted intervals because often even the slowest one is too fast (especially for IM stuff) and they are written up with an alternate explanation of :05 or :10 rest interval and it is still too much of a mental challenge to keep track of times and count laps and remember the bits of the set that I'm working on all at the same time!

This is one to ponder - really I am thinking I might need to find more of an actual masters swim team, with more involved coaching, but it is very convenient and affordable swimming so close to home, so it may not be sensible. But this winter, post-marathon, I should check out some other swim options and see what I think. I've got a few recommendations that are worth checking out, one of which seems like it would be logistically appropriate...

Warmup: 2 x (100 free, 75 fly-back-breast, 50 double-arm back, 25 free fast)

First set: 4 x

100 as 75 IM (no free) kick, 25 free
100 as 75 IM (no free), 25 free kick
100 IM
100 free

For cooldown, I just did 50 back and 50 free to get up to the requisite B-Fit B-Day total. They were doing some kind of jackhammer-type work on the pool that was intolerably loud underwater. Not to mention there have been signs up for several days saying that they have taken down a vibrating shower-head in the women's locker-room, only either the sign is lying or it was an underlying plumbing issue that has now erupted on one of the other shower-heads, because you walk into the locker-room and it is like being beaten over the head with noise. Quite overwhelming - not in a good way! One of the good things about swimming is that it is usually quiet...

(There was another set but I didn't get to it, which is a pity, because it is the higher-intensity kind of stuff I think I should be working on more. Basically, it was 4 x [4 x 50] as 1. 12.5 fast, 37.5 easy; 2. 25 fast, 25 easy; 3. 37.5 fast, 12.5 easy; 4. 50 fast. Rest increasing with each set, so that first four are done on :05 RI, second on :10, third on :15, fourth on :20, with 1:00 set rest.)

2200 yards total

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday swim

And after all that I did not have the willpower this evening for a bike ride! It was still very hot, but that is just an excuse, the fact is I did not feel like it...

... which is a pity, because I am internally locked in on doing Roman Mica's wretched but alluring B-Fit B-Day Challenge!

Readers loosely affiliated with the triblogosphere will at this point be already groaning in sympathy - triathletes (aspirational and otherwise) love a challenge, but this one is really inconvenient! I am only doing the silver version, not the gold - I do not have the kind of pool access that would make a three-mile straight swim tolerable ... - but even so it is going to be tight!

The nature of the challenge, for those not in the know, is as follows:
Take your age and in any order:

1) Swim the number of miles in the first number,
2) Run the number of miles in the second number,
3) Bike the number of miles in the combined number.

So a 45-year-old athlete would:

1) Swim 4 miles
2) Run 5 miles
3) Bike 45 miles

If you choose to accept the B-Fit B-Day Challenge you must....

Bronze: Do all three (swim/bike/run) during the week of your Birthday.
Silver: Do all three (swim/bike/run) in the three days before, after, or on your B-Day.
Gold: Do all three (swim/bike/run) in 24-hours to celebrate your B-Day!
So today was my birthday, and I am attempting the silver challenge: over three days, swim 3 miles, run 7 miles and bike 37 miles. I am counting the distances from yesterday's race as part of those totals:

1500m swim (aka 1 "swimmer's mile"? I am counting at 1500 meters/1650 yards per 'mile' and hoping this is not cheating! If anyone feels strongly that I should swim 'actual' miles please say so in the comments and also it might be for the good for the sake of my morals if you mention exactly how many additional yards I need to swim for full scrupulosity!)

40K bike = c. 25 miles

10K run = 6.2 miles

So I went and swam this evening during regular lane swim hours, which are unfortunately a trial to my misanthropic soul. Having recently been thoroughly persuaded by Wendy that all swim workouts should begin with at least 800 yards/meters warmup, I started with a Jim Bolster-type warmup that I enjoy and approve of:

200 free, 100 IM kick, 200 free, 100 IM drill, 200 free, 100 IM swim = 900 yards

I had a nice plan that I was then going to do 8 x 50, 2 of each stroke in IM order, but it was THWARTED by humanity (other people's) and my own misanthropy - we were getting along OK with 4 of us in the lane, but if I switched to doing 50s it was going to make for a lot more hassle, so I did another 200 of free and bided my time. Then there was one more person in the lane, and she was just kind of hanging around treading water first at one end and then at the other, and my misanthropy levels were about to tip over into the unacceptable, so I got out while the going was good...

It was a suitable recovery swim for a post-race day, it is sensible to get out when you are still very hungry for more swimming but before you have become intolerably irritable!

However this means I only did 1100 yards, which means (in my book!) that I need to do 2200 when I swim tomorrow. That is doable, actually, as long as I get to the workout on time. Then I will do a bike ride in the early evening to Chambers Street and back, which is c. 15 miles and therefore suitable in length. Technically I only need to run .8 miles, which is nothing, but in fact tomorrow is the first and fairly low-key day of marathon training so I will run three easy miles afterwards.

And then after a great deal of inconvenience and fretting about details I will have accomplished the B-Fit B-Day Silver Challenge, and I will feel glad!

Action shots

Hmmm, not very flattering to the figure (really I look more proportional than that in regular life!), but race photos can be found here... This is my favorite run one, because I look like I am going quite fast; this gives a good feel for the style of the bike course. This is in my opinion the best of the bike ones, only it needs photoshopping - in its current version it looks like I am growing a hunchbacked lump of flesh out of my shoulderblades!

Race report

I feel it is allowable to blog about negative thoughts, but I prefer not to blog while actually in the grip of them - I spent yesterday afternoon in a most unedifying state of self-criticism which in retrospect probably has as much to do with race-day dehydration and underfueling as anything about my actual race performance.

That is to say, around five o'clock the unofficial results went up online; by that time I had eaten and drunk and napped, and when I looked at them they struck me as entirely reasonable. It was the New York City tri, it was my second triathlon and my first Olympic-distance (but this creates a misleading impression, since my first ever triathlon was the Florida 70.3 race in May!).

If you read here regularly, you know that I am an enthusiastic though not particularly fast swimmer, a timid and fearful cyclist with a hard time making myself even get on the bike and a relatively strong runner whose running has suffered because of the shift to a broader triathlon focus!

The two most pronounced earlier-in-the-day negative thoughts:

(On the VERY HOT run:) What is the point of even TRYING to get faster at triathlon if every single race I do is going to have running conditions of 85-95 degrees F with high humidity?!? I would have to have an EASY eight-minute-mile pace in order to run 9:00 miles today!

(Afterwards, syllogistically:) I am utterly committed to continuing in triathlon. Triathlon leads me to indulge in excessive self-criticism. Therefore I must stop having so much self-criticism!

But HOW?!?

Here are my results within my division, W35-39:

bib number: 1949
age: 36
location: NEW YORK, NY
division place: 130 out of 186
time: 3:23:59.45

swim: 21:19 [NB I am not a fast swimmer, it is just a fast swim b/c of river current!]
t1: 10:14 [Additional NB: 300-400m run to transition, I was not SO much dragging my heels as this number suggests...]
bike: 1:45:45
t2: 3:46
run: 1:02:58

The full story:

I approached the race in reasonably positive spirits, though I have been under a fair amount of stress this year and would have to say I haven't yet fully recovered from it (and I've got one more very stressful deadline to meet, so it's not yet really over - though when is life stress ever over anyway?!?). I had no time goals, other than thinking that I probably could finish in about 3:30 and it would be nice if I could go a little faster than that. I haven't been training nearly as well as I had initially imagined when I registered for the race in November, partly because of continuing bicycle-related anxieties but partly just because life's like that!

The focus of my nervousness was the descriptions of the start and finish of the bike course. If you know Riverside Park, you can imagine that is indeed a bit tricky - very crowded in and out of transition, a steep hill up to the highway and a sharp turn getting onto it. I saw one woman down off her bike barely out of transition, and it's definitely a race where you have to take things very slowly at either end of the bike ride. But I did the transition tour they offered on Saturday afternoon, and it slightly quelled my fears - I felt the race organizers were doing a good job at telling everyone to take it very slowly, and that the alarmist-sounding warnings were actually not geared towards people like me but to heedless fast people!

And we are in the midst of a four- or five-day NY heat wave, so really all expectations on my part were significantly lowered beforehand...

Here is the New York Times story on the race. It's well worth reading (except that it might be more for my mother's peace of mind if she does not read it!). It is a mixture of the solemn - a man died on the swim, and there were a number of heat-related medical situations - and the sublimely ridiculous:
Dozens of swimmers reported being stung by jellyfish, which were variously described as being clear, slightly purplish-pink and about the size of a salad plate. Swimmers said they were taken by surprise because they had not been warned about the jellyfish, which had not been a problem in past races.

“I was in the middle of a stroke, and whammo, it bit me right in the face; the pain spread across the side of my face and down my neck,” said Charlie Redmond, 59, from Demarest, N.J. “Everyone was talking about the jellyfish after the race.”

Burke said he knew of no serious allergic reactions and said the jellyfish appeared to be dissipating when the first wave of pro athletes entered the water at 5:50 a.m. He noted that the majority of the athletes were wearing wet suits. “We didn’t go out and actually blare it on the P.A. system that there was a jellyfish situation,” he said. “I’m not going to overalarm people.”
The swim: it was fine, but it was over so quickly I felt like I never settled into it! It was an in-water start, and we had a sort of rope to cling to so as not to be carried away by the current, but it was extremely crowded, and I did not have a chance to get my wetsuit really properly inundated on the inside with water before the horn went for the start.

Not long in I felt a very sharp pain on my wrist, but did not immediately think of jellyfish - you know, it is the Hudson River, my thoughts were more running along the lines of broken glass or hypodermic needles, only it did not really seem worth losing momentum to stop and perform a visual examination! Then I started feeling a lot of small stings on my face, and fortunately I had the experience of Caymanian thimble jellyfish a.k.a. the non-melodramatically-named sea itch to tell me what it was. Everybody was talking about it in transition! I did see a really big purple one, too, as well as feeling the stings (which made me think, utterly inappropriately but cheerfulness-inducingly, of a phrase in the lyrics to one of my favorite Antony and the Johnsons songs!)...

Bike ride was uneventful but for the most part enjoyable. I was nervous, but only at sustainable levels: some fairly steep downhills made me anxious, but it was fine... I did not drink enough water or eat anything - I used my Camelbak, and I did get some good swallows out of it, but I was nervous enough that I never quite got in the swing of lifting my hand off the handlebars to get the drinking tube into my mouth! Which is ridiculous - but it was a fairly crowded course, you're quite close to other cyclists at all times, I did not want to wobble into someone's way. In retrospect, I should have just gotten off my bike at the turnaround and drunk a bunch of water and eaten some Clif Blox - but I remembered from Florida that it causes volunteers worry when one does this - and I did not want to worry anyone! Next time I will just do it, though...

In Florida, I mentally suffered from seeing a sign that turned out to be an arrow but which I mistook for a "1" i.e. I thought it was only one more mile of biking but it turned out to be more like 5. This bike was a much more manageable distance for me, but I again suffered mentally from a foolish mistake. My hands were getting very numb and pins-and-needlesy from death-grip on brakes, and it was a huge relief to see the signs coming up for the 72nd St. exit - only I forgot what I knew perfectly well, which is that the bike course actually overshoots and goes down to 59th St. for a turnaround! In this case, it was only barely a mile more, nothing to speak of, but I really was ready for the bike leg to be over...

The main thing to be said about the run is that it was hot. I ate some Blox in transition and drank a very warm bottle of water I'd left at my area, and took 2 cups of water and drank them at every water station on the run (basically every mile). But I was kind of dehydrated already, and mentally shot post-bike (that is where there is the most room for improvement in my triathlon performance, the mental energy the bike uses up leaves me with little on reserve for the run). And it really was hot and humid! It felt like a cop-out, but I decided right away that I was only going to run flats and downhills, and walk all the uphills. I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself for deciding this, because I actually felt very strong and not un-fast (given heat/humidity issues) while I was running but did not have the energy to talk myself into a more energetic strategy!

Immediately post-race, I felt very demoralized. I gulped down a bottle of water and a bottle of some flavored-sweetened water-type drink and decided to head back to Tavern on the Green, where they were running free pedicabs back to transition in Riverside Park (more than a mile away). I headed in a relatively crowd-free direction but then realized I had lost my way and had come all the way to the south end of the park, in other words walked at least a mile just getting back to Tavern! And then it was a hot wait for a pedicab, and then, frustratingly, a long hot wait to be allowed back into transition - probably at least half an hour more of waiting in direct sun. They should have had volunteers handing out food and water to the line, we were all getting very restive and grumbly! In other words, by the time I actually got back to my transition stuff, it was at least an hour and a half after my race finish, still hadn't eaten anything other than some more Blox while waiting in line.

Couldn't face riding bike home with huge nerve-rackingly wobbliness-inducing backpack of transition stuff, so I took the subway, which I think was the right choice...

Very discouraged yesterday afternoon about running leg--I did not check the time on my watch, I couldn't stand to, I felt that I had walked almost the whole thing and it must have been intolerably slow! But interestingly, once I looked at the results online it all seemed different to me. Yes, this is depressingly slower than my all-time best 10K from last winter (which was 8:18 pace, if I remember correctly, also on the Central Park course i.e. with hills though of course in delightful wintry conditions). And I am running more slowly in general, because I've diversified into triathlon (with an endurance focus, so NOTHING very fast) and have not been doing any LT runs. But 1:02:58 is 10:06 pace, and given hills and heat and triathlon context that seems to me just fine.

The most interesting thing to me, which makes me think that a run-walk strategy might be wise for me in general in longer-distance triathlons, is that the time isn't that much slower than the utterly awful hot-humid standalone 10K I did in June. I had a pretty awful run that day. I was struggling, it was horrible, I did it in 1:00:01 (obviously I was not watching the time or I would have sped up to come in under one hour) for a 9:40 pace, my slowest race ever (slower mile pace even than the half-marathon I did as a training run the month before)! The weather was similar that day to yesterday, if anything yesterday was hotter but comparable humidity. So if walk-run only costs me 20 seconds/mile but makes me feel that much better while I am doing it, and that much more able to drink a lot of water while running, then it is worthwhile...

In sum, I feel I acquitted myself honorably, which is important to me, and that in fact it would be wholly unreasonable to expect anything much better at this stage. I have not done the bike training necessary to earn a faster time and a better triathlon run - it is this question of mental fortitude almost more than physical conditioning, bike riding just takes it out of me mentally. So I hereby proclaim, with resignation, that 2009 is going to be the year I work to become a decent cyclist. From January through July, cycling will be the top priority - I will keep the running and swimming going very steadily, barring unforeseen calamity of one kind or another, but I really will devote the time (arghhhh, cycling is so much more time-consuming than the other two disciplines!) to becoming a mentally and physically stronger bike-rider. Because really I want to do an Ironman race, but I cannot even think about it until I have become a very strong cyclist! 2010 is probably too soon, 2011 would be more plausible...

Thank you for staying with me for this lengthy screed!

(I cannot find any official announcement, but this rather charming list of dog finishers leads me to believe that they cut the swim leg of the doggy duathlon - maybe on account of the jellyfish?!?)

Best sight of the day: as I trudged south post-race in Central Park through oppressive heat and humidity, I saw a woman pick up her little short-haired brown-and-black dachsund, sort of under the arms, as it were, and lean over the fence to hold him closer to a sprinkler. Whereupon she started swinging him back and forth so that the water from the sprinkler could play over his belly! He seemed to be enjoying it...

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Interesting interview with distance swimmer Micha Burden at Competitor Magazine (link courtesy of the17thman):
PH: Everybody's like, "open water swimming, that's no big deal, and 10K? That's 27 minutes at the Olympics for the guys who run that!" How long does it really take for the best swimmers in the world to swim 10K in open water?

MB: Well it depends where you are, but it usually takes about two hours.

PH: Wow, so do you have aid stations? What do you do for nutrition? Do they just throw it at your mouth, like at Seaworld?

MB: Actually they have feed-boats, usually one or two, on a pontoon boat.

BB: You don't want to stop though, how do you do that?

MB: Everybody stops, because you do need to get some calories and some liquid in your body. It's really hard to maintain that pace for two hours! A lot of people will put gel packs in their swimsuits, and they actually make these little contraptions with a stick and a cup – basically they lower it down to you and you just swim by and grab the cup, and they usually mix a gel pack with a little bit of Gatorade in it and you just take the shot really fast and keep swimming. I think in America, since we don't have that much experience, the first couple of races people wouldn't stop at the feeding stations so it was a risk if you stopped because you might lose the pack. But in the international races everybody knows they need to stop so everybody stops, and if you don't stop and try to break away you're probably going to run out of gas and the pack is going to eat you up.

In the mood

Now I really am in a light-hearted pre-race mood - I have very low expectations, my only goal is to enjoy myself and go steadily throughout, barring unforeseen calamity it is going to be good...

There is something about strict rationing that makes exercise supremely enjoyable. I went to the gym just now for a short pre-race run and swim (just to make sure I remember how, really!): 1.5 easy treadmill miles (the fact that I knew I should not do more gave me a glimpse of the fact - helped by excessive heat outside - that treadmill running really can be perfectly enjoyable) and an easy swim with a self-imposed limit of c. 800 yards:

100 free
100 free drill (50 catch-up, 50 thumb-drag with salute)
25 fly drill - 50 breast - 75 back - 100 free - 100 free - 75 back - 50 breast - 25 fly drill
100 free (strong)
50 free (easy)

OK, quick bite to eat and then I will ride my bike over to transition. It is a ridiculous luxury, the transition is literally barely two miles away from my apartment, in the park that I run in several times a week and that I can enter right across the street - the actual swim start is less than a mile away from where I live...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bike bit

A little tooling around in the nearby bit of the park, more clipping and unclipping, and then I rode down to the transition site at 72nd St. for mild pondering and the realization that really these cleats are fine.

I went to the mandatory pre-race briefing earlier and that also had a more or less calming effect on the nerves - many people who do these races are very athletic and confident, but it does not in fact take magical powers to complete a triathlon, it is just a question of doing the three things in order and sort of taking it all at a sensible pace! Also though I am certain that I am pretty much the single most nervous and fearful cyclist in the entire race, quite a lot of people have qualms about open-water swimming, so it cannot be that I am really the only person who is afraid of something...

It is very warm outside, the air feels almost body-temperature - I was not sorry that I was not running, though I am sorry that CU lane swim only goes till 8pm on Fridays during the summer so that I have missed my chance for half an hour in the pool. I should try to get in there tomorrow afternoon for a quick swim after I've dropped off my bike at the race site.

I have had a slightly comical realization in the last few days: comical because it has come from reading all these books about Niels Bohr and Wittgenstein as I do my research for the book I am supposed to write this summer! I am not a great genius of science or philosophy, or indeed of anything else, and it must also be said that Bohr was a more stable character than Wittgenstein, but both of them are much afflicted by these stretches of exhaustion and insomnia where they cannot do any work and yet work would be the only salve for their state of mind! It will not, I think, strike anyone who knows me who reads this as much of an insight at all, it will in fact seem blindingly obvious, but I am thinking that possibly I am not a permanently utterly neurotic person with a permanently disabling fear of bike-riding and a permanent inability to buckle down and write my novel - I am just still in a state of depletion from a very stressful year and a half or so, and it is taking me longer to bounce back than I expected...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thursday gym

A good workout earlier this evening with M. We took it easy; really, it's extremely hot here (serious heat advisory through Saturday evening), but in the end it was very enjoyable. I am liking these very evil things which I cannot tell you the actual name of which are like a kind of v-raise only holding a stability ball between the feet and then raising legs and arms up up and passing it over to hands, then back down and up again...

Did 2 easy treadmill miles afterwards - vaguely meant to do 3, but I ran out of time and steam.

(And then a very delicious home-cooked dinner at grad student A.'s - that is a modestly concealing initial in this case since a disproportionate number of the grad students writing dissertations with me have first names beginning with the letter A.! - good conversation, desserts from Silver Moon and a most lovely black cat to add to my acquaintance! A highly satisfactory end to a satisfactory though groggy day.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Slightly insane, but...

... you can sign up through the Accenture Triathlon Alert service to receive updates (as text messages or e-mails) as I complete the swim, bike and run legs of the triathlon on Sunday! That really is craziness - the parasitical embrace of triathlon and internet, admittedly two of my favorite things...

I am skipping this evening's projected bike ride because I must get get some work done. Skipping bike rides that I know I really should do seems like one of my few surefire techniques this summer for achieving concentration and applying myself to my work!

Wednesday swim

Today I was on time, but I still had to skimp on it - skipped 2 x 150 at the end, plus half the cooldown. Ah well, nothing to be done about that till I am a faster swimmer!

Warmup: 4 x 125 (100 free, 25 double-arm back)

6 x 150 as 100 free, 50 stroke no free (I did back, back, fly, back, breast, back)

4 x 50 free (25 fast, 25 easy)

4 x 150 as 100 stroke no free, 50 free (fly drill - swim by 25, back, breast, back)

4 x 50 free (25 easy, 25 fast)

Cooldown: 50 double-arm back, 50 free

It is interesting, the fast 25s of free feel almost like a different stroke than regular longer-distance freestyle. A lot more power, a much better feel for driving forward in the water from the hips. Try to keep some of that feel in the longer bits...

I left my bathing suit in the special bathing-suit-wringing-out-machine in the locker-room, I must get myself together here & head back over to the gym to retrieve it before it vanishes!

2500 yards total

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Aquathlon results here: my final time was 1:05:32. I was 91st out of 105 finishers, which may sound terribly slow to some but seems to me at this stage of triaspirationality eminently respectable, I will try and place significantly higher up next year! 1.5K swim was 35:15 (I should have been able to do it at least 3-4 minutes faster if I had not swum so far out!), slow transition + 5K run 30:18 (I started my watch when I left from transition, I think I was doing roughly 9-minute miles but I did not turn the footpod on properly so I do not have exact measurements). Anyway, I am glad I did it, it was enjoyable...

Firefly season

Or lightning bugs as we used to call them when I was little...

A very slow but quite enjoyable 5 miles just now in Riverside Park. First three super-slow, quite pleasant but mildly marred by tired legs, slight indigestion, painful underarm chafing from a cap-sleeved hard-seamed pink shirt that I do not usually wear but plucked from the shelf because I wanted something light-colored for running at dusk. (No cars in the park, but lots of cyclists, I do not want one of 'em to crash into me!) Last two a tiny bit faster and really most enjoyable.

On the way back I noticed the huge and awe-inspiring array of bike racks in the soon-to-be transition area for this weekend's race!

Resolution: the first couple months of marathon training are going to be fairly difficult, it will be hot and there will be a certain number of treadmill days. I must just do the miles, even if they are slower than I'd like, and adjust expected pace accordingly...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday bike

It only had the dimensions of the most timid person's timid bike ride--I wore sneakers, I did not ride on the street, I rode down to Chambers St. and then turned around and with great relief rode back home--and it was worthless for exercise. Zone 0! But it was 15 miles, and it was a bike ride, and that is about all I can say!

On Wednesday I will do the same ride with the cleats and see how I feel about them at the end of it. If they're good, and if I feel like I can ride with them comfortably not clipped in,* I'll wear them for the race. If in doubt, though, I will wear my running shoes and take the tradeoff on speed and efficiency. I think it will be better if I can wear cleats--about 95% of the ride will be definitely better with them on. But if I am unduly nervous about the hills and turns at the start and finish of the bike course, then I should just have the sneakers.

*[ED. Obviously they would be clipped in most or all of the time I was riding! But I want to see how secure they feel when I am riding on the non-cleat side--I am thinking that it would be beneficial for mental health to feel that I had this as an option. One of the women last week, for instance, said she rode most of the ride up to West Point with just one foot clipped in, for peace of mind...]

Training paces

Notes to self, based on some pondering re: my favorite running book, Daniels' Running Formula.

(Because I am an idiot, I had 36 hours of alarm yelping--making me utterly crazy!--before realizing that it was not in fact the smoke alarm, which is genuinely too high up for me to reach & had me passively waiting for the super's minion, but the carbon monoxide alarm, which I can reach if I stand up on a chair. A blessed silence now reigns. I remain in a daze from sleep deprivation!)

Let us say that current VDOT is 36, aspirational VDOT (which I have been at in recent memory, and will hope to reach by early September) 38.

Paces for VDOT 36: easy pace 11:02, marathon pace 9:33, threshold pace 8:55

Paces for VDOT 38: easy pace 10:35, marathon pace 9:08, threshold pace 8:33

Not sure about max HR - I have been counting it as 190, never have seen higher than 188 on my monitor though (barring haywire super-high non-accurate readings). HR associated with threshold pace described as 88-92% of max HR, which would put it somewhere between 165 and 174. Probably lower end will be better--will see how paces and HR align once I start training properly next week, but am thinking I'll aim for 170.

(I usually have raced half-marathons around 165-66, with last mile and a half going into the low 170s--I am not sure if this is training-specific i.e. movable or more permanent, but I have felt that something physiologically unpleasant [mild to moderate queasiness speaking to sudden rise in lactate levels] happens around 173-74, so these numbers seem to me plausible.)

Schedule to follow. I'm basically looking at a modified version of Hal Higdon's Novice 2 program. Nothing fancy! At Brent's suggestion, I'll switch Tuesday's and Wednesday's runs, and add optional hill sessions on Thursdays where my legs aren't too wiped out. So that Tuesday will be the longest and hardest mid-week run, with a tempo/threshold pace section in the middle; Wednesday as a shorter easy run; and Thursday also short with optional hills. Long runs on Saturdays. Plus cross-training.


Results aren't up yet for yesterday's race, but they've put up a fairly copious initial batch of pictures. Below: the swim start (at one of my favorite Riverside Park spots - the hulks in the water [not visible in this picture, but very nearby] always make me think of the river scenes in Great Expectations!); my run finish (hmmm, Coach Mindy would not approve of my form in that picture, too much arm cross-over...).

Monday swim

I was late again, I could not seem to stop snoozing the wretched alarm (ARGHHHHHHHH!), but it was a good one. I was working hard! Only got through the first half of the workout, which is a pity because it was elegantly constructed (you can fill in the rest of the workout for yourself, up to 10 x 25 stroke) but it was solid...

1 x 200 free as warmup

2 x 175 free

3 x 150 IM no free

4 x 125 as 100 free 25 stroke in IM order

5 x 100 free (I did these on 2:05, which was challenging but satisfying - but I wish I were a faster swimmer!)

200 cooldown (50 double-arm back, 50 back, 100 IM with fly drill)

A bit of conversation afterwards with the coach and a looker-on who says that the Aquathlon swim is much harder than the NYC tri one. I had assumed they were very similar, the descriptions of the tri swim really are as though you are whisked into a magically fast little channel of current and cannot believe how soon it's over, so I was mildly taken aback yesterday that it was actually a regular challenging-in-its-way open water swim. I revised my time expectations for next week's swim leg significantly upwards after yesterday's swim! But based on what this fellow says, they really do mark out almost a lane for the tri, it is not a question of buoys quite far out in the middle of the river...

2200 yards total

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Aquathlon race report

That word is virtually unpronounceable by human tongue, by the way.

It was haphazard, it was enjoyable, it was educational, it was slow but satisfying!

The exact dimensions of slowness I cannot tell you, because I forgot to turn on my watch at the beginning (the whole race was a little bit like this, I was not really racing!).

I believe the swim (1.5km plus a LOT of extra meters of try-and-get-back-nearer-to-the-seawall type maneuvering - I would say I must have swum at least 200m extra, maybe more!) was roughly 38 minutes plus; I did time the run bit (5K plus a bit in transition), it was 27:something; I momentarily registered the time at ending and then promptly forgot it but it was perhaps 1:06.

Not bad: steady and strong throughout, and I am sorry to say I could not have run much faster under the circumstances. Will link once results and photos are up at the Manhattan Island Foundation site...

I had barely slept - I am an epically poor sleeper in any case, both Thursday and Friday nights were sleep-disastrous so I took a pill and hoped for the best last night. Popped off easily around 11 but woke up at 1 when the smoke alarm started making an evil yelp every twenty seconds to alert me to the impending demise of its battery! Which is a mystery, because this happened a month ago, just before I went away, and my catsitter kindly arranged for the super to come & replace what turned out to be not just batteries but both the smoke and the carbon monoxide detectors. The mysteries of life? Never really went back to sleep: too anxious about 5:45 alarm, too irked by yelping...

The start was about a mile away from the transition area.

Insight #1: it was not that I was almost the only person wearing a wetsuit, in fact a lot of people did; but I was the only person foolish enough to don my wetsuit at 56th St. and then walk in it up to the pier at 72nd where we were actually starting! That was a strange mile of walking - I did not feel at all bad, but I did feel like a person with only two hours of sleep walking under a hot sun in a slightly rigor-mortisy wetsuit...

(The wetsuit is good. I've got a sore spot on my neck, but it really fits well, and now I've cut a bit off the ankles it is slightly implausibly easy to get on and off. I was contemplating not wearing it, but in fact I was very glad of it during the swim, not for temperature but for floatiness and hygiene! The way it keeps your legs high up in the water is amazing - a modest sacrifice on front-end power [and really it is very comfortable, I have narrow shoulders so I don't feel it limits my range of movement much] is well worth it for the improvement in streamline...)

These summer morning southerly Hudson swims are supposed to be very fast, but in fact the race start was held back about twenty minutes because - worryingly! - the current actually seemed to be going the wrong way! Hmmm....

Strong and enjoyable swim (wetsuit and greater spacing-out of swimmers made it better technique-wise than the Florida one in May), but I have much to work on in terms of sighting and staying where I want to be. We had been initially advised to stay 5m inside the buoys, and then when the current turned out to be problematic the announcer recommended 10m. But do what I might - and it is not sighting per se, I had a fair sense of where I was and which direction I was pointing in - I went too far out right at the beginning, and I kept on finding myself almost right up against the buoys! There was a ton of chop and quite a bit of current going not really so much in the direction I was trying to go in.

Interesting - sort of fun, in a way, and I think I would have been fine without the wetsuit, but it certainly is pleasant thinking that really you could just float along indefinitely in one of those things if you needed to! I have not swum in so much chop before, the suit is beneficial.

At transition I realized I had barely contemplated my practical arrangements. Why had I drunk every drop of my water before the race, so that there was nothing to be done about my disgustingly sea-salty mouth? Why hadn't I even thought to untie my running shoes to save a few seconds?!? Ah well, whatever, I was off on the run with reasonable promptness, and I was reassured to see quite a few pairs of running shoes still in the area when I left...

The run was enjoyable, with the proviso that I felt mildly queasy throughout - I thought about stepping up the pace, but I didn't really have it in me. It was a combination of mouth being very salty with tidal river water (I had to spit a few times, I never do that, I just kind of forgot that in a small race like that - capped at 150 for run-swim and another 150, I think, just doing the swim - there will not be any water on the course - could have stopped at a water-fountain but was worried about effects on morale of stopping and having to start again!) and stomach just lightly unsettled, in some small part due to aforesaid water but more, I think, because of (I love this phrase, I have recently learned it from one of the most accurate language-users I know!) a degraded lactate threshold! I must desensitize myself to the effects of lactate in coming weeks, that is my specific goal for the first part of marathon training...

Anyway I passed a few people on the run, was passed by a few myself, it was all pretty good. And while waiting at the swim start, people were talking quite a bit about previous years' experience in the NYC tri and giving tips of one kind and another, so that was good too. A worthwhile morning all round, although it has left me in a daze that has only been slightly dissipated by a mid-afternoon Starbucks cappuccino...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Saturday run

1.25hr. run (zone 2).

I guess I covered a little more than seven miles - it was pretty slow, but mostly very pleasant.

Sore muscles from working out with M. the other day! (3 x 15 plie squats with a ten-pound weight seemed delightfully easy compared to most of the other stuff we were doing on Thursday, but now I am not so sure...)

Warm but not excessively humid.

(If only I were not running so slowly!)

I am in mild horror that I've got this tune-up race tomorrow morning and the triathlon next Sunday. I am very much less well-trained than I imagined (someone out there is reading this and thinking Join the club!) when I registered for that race in November. I can tell I'm really not going to have any race in me by the time I get to the run, it is going to have to be approached as an enjoyable and amusing training day of a more exciting than average sort. And tomorrow's 5K is going to have to be viewed as a very short tempo run, the swim is the more valuable component because of giving me some sense of what next week's will be like.

I am excited to swim in the Hudson, though! Must sort out all my stuff this evening - I am going to trim some inches off the bottom of my wetsuit legs to enable muscular calf entrance/exiting, but I am already thinking it is like bangs self-trimming, I will have to be careful not to end up with a mid-thigh cutoff...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday practicing

Just spent an hour in the very nearest and most home-like bit of Riverside Park riding around very slowly on my bike and clipping in and out of the new pedals. They are going to be much better, although I must confess that I spent some of that time wondering whether I should do the race next week in sneakers. But I think that really it is safer as well as faster/more comfortable with cleats/clipped in - I will just go very slowly and carefully on the intense parts (hills/turns related to highway ramp situation at start and end of the bike).

Meanwhile: the Doggy Duathlon! These dog-human teams do the full swim and run legs of the NYC tri - check out these great-looking competitors!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thursday gym

A good workout just now with M. Three weeks since I last worked out with him; it proves to be a fallacy to think that running and swimming sort of will fill in for strength training! But it was enjoyable, even though I felt pretty weak--suddenly about two-thirds of the way through the hour I felt much better than I have felt all day...

Thursday swim

I was off to a very bad start this morning, but I think things have been more or less clawed back on course! It was a very pleasant swim, in fact, and I will shortly settle down to do some work, which should have a calming effect...

I had an unrealistic notion that I might have an early-morning bike ride, after being thwarted yesterday evening by thunder and work-related anxiety that made it (sensibly) seem I should spend the whole evening at home reading. So I set the alarm (a new alarm clock, a cheap drug-store digital travel alarm to replace the cheap drug-store analog travel one that has recently stopped working) for 6:15 and went to bed early. Woke up around 4, couldn't get back to sleep, so that when the alarm went off I was thoroughly disgusted and irritable and quite rightly reset it for 7:45 and axed the notion of the morning ride. But I must have subsequently turned it off in my sleep, because the next thing I knew it was 8:23 - swimming starts at 8:30...

(That last hour of actual sleep was a horrible mass of bicycle-anxiety-related dreams!)

However I was in the pool swimming my first warm-up lap by 8:45, which is actually not bad (really and literally the only two things I did at home were brush my teeth and put on my bathing suit and minimum on-top-of-that clothing, I needed to get out the door as fast as possible!), and I had a very solid 45 minutes of swimming. Had to do significant workout-curtailing, but that's OK, it was still eminently respectable.

Warmup: 300 free

2 x 400 1: 4 x 75 IM no free + 100 IM (all fly as drill); 2: odds 100 back, evens 100 free

Something I can't now remember: 3 or 4 x 100, maybe? 3 x 150? Not sure why I can't think of it--there was definitely something...

(Skipped the 3 x 300 free, and the last bit should have been 4 x 200, with odds as #1 below and evens as choice.)

2 x 200 1: 2 x 100 IM on :05 rest; 2: choice (I did 200 back)

c. 1800-1900 yards total

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In lieu

of an actual bike ride, which for one reason and another did not happen (mostly because I really needed to get going on some work stuff, so excusable), a few delightful things from James McGurn's On Your Bicycle: An illustrated history of cycling:
Wanting ten gold-plated bicycles to present to his friends, [Diamond Jim] Brady had his own gold-plating plant built, had the job done, and the plant was torn down again. He gave his girlfriend, the celebrated comic opera singer Lillian Russell, a gold-plated bicycle with her monogram engraved on every gold part. It had mother of pearl handlebars, an enormous amethyst on the headset, and spokes encrusted with precious stones. The machine, then valued at $10,000, travelled with her in a plush-lined morocco leather case.

... Russell acquired a Plaster-cast Self-adjusting Nature-Fitting Saddle, cast according to the shape made by her bottom as she sat and pedalled on the manufacturer's dummy saddle, which was covered in an inch of clay.
Riverside Drive: historic cycling spot?!? (Click to enlarge pictures.)

Wednesday swim

(OK, this is good, routine re-established...)

Fairly slow, and my mind was wandering a few times in unproductive ways, but solid and enjoyable nonetheless.

Warmup: 900 as 200 free, 100 IM kick, 200 free, 100 IM drill, 200 free, 100 IM swim (the coach, when she saw me contemplating this with pleasure, noted that it is a Jim Bolster warmup!)

Main set (I was basically ignoring the intervals I'm afraid--needed all mental attention for counting laps and thinking about technique!):

300 free with every fourth lap breast

200 IM

500 as 100 free, 25 fly, 100 free, 25 back, 100 free, 25 fly, 100 free, 25 breast

200 as 2 x 100 IM

Time was up, skipped the last bit which would have been 3 x 100 free and instead just did 200 cooldown as 50 back, 50 breast, 100 right-arm, left-arm, catch-up, swim.

2100 yards total

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday run

A slow and hot but very solid run with training partner L. Good for the morale - I always start worrying about whether I even can run when I don't do much of it for a week! Call it 5.5 miles at 10-minute pace - it is still in the mid-80s, it is very humid...

"Bork bork"

In the Science Times, Natalie Angier has an appealing article on the musculature of the male toadfish:
A male toadfish may not look the part of an animal Olympian. He spends his time sitting nearly motionless on the bottom of a marsh, his body like a smeared scoop of pudding and old coffee beans, his full, fleshy lips pulled downward in a perpetual Churchillian scowl. Yet it turns out that inside the belly of this gelatinous, seemingly languorous beast are some of the fastest muscles in the vertebrate world, and the most instructive.

Tuesday teeth-gnashing

Hmmm, I was hoping it would seem like a good idea to swim this morning, as everyone who reads this blog regularly knows I am very smitten with swimming: but (I am laughing to myself at the grotesquerie of TMI!) really I must wait one more day. Because as Wendy says, no open sores in the pool! Almost there, though; tomorrow should be fine...

(Really it is better if I work this morning anyway! I have to go downtown to pick up my bike sometime later on, and I'm running in the evening with training partner L., so further triaspirational activities would be perhaps overly lavish.)

Monday, July 7, 2008


One rider's photo gallery of the West Point ride.

Hmmm, I am in two of the ones in the opening waiting-to-get started sequence, I do not know why I caught the photographer's attention in this one but I am thinking in this one that I am making the gestural statement of impending utter panic! (Thanks to Paula for the pictures.)

It gives a good sense of the weekend's riding. I am not in the top-of-Storm-King ones but that is indeed exactly the one I rode up and then down in utter terror. The July 4 parade that was happening in town as we came in was fairly spectacular! And you can see the full glories of the boat ride that I did not go on...

Cyclist's algebra

One highly extravagant bike store trip later...

I did not ride down there, either! Partly it was the usual mild aversion to bike-riding--but I had the good excuse of an extremely painful saddle sore! I am having a rest day, that's how it's adding up--more because of mental than physical exigencies!

"It is an expensive sport," said the very helpful female bike fitter (it is a huge asset when a bike store--West Side location--has an excellent female staff member!) as she rang me up...

So I got the Shimano M324 SPD pedals (which have an SPD binding on one side and a standard pedal on the other so that you do not need to ride in cleats--this is what one of the other riders had yesterday, it seemed ideal) and some very expensive shoes that can actually be walked around in without terrible skitteriness.

(Why are the best shoes always the most expensive ones?!? Once I had tried on all the different possibilities, including some that were--appealingly!--only about a third the price, it was clear that these were incomparably the best, there was no way around it! Fit, comfort, safety...)

Add in two tires and two tubes...

This morning I registered for a New York Cycle Club membership (really, as helpful as everyone was this weekend, it seemed criminal not to!) and I was very glad of it, because it gave me a ten percent discount that actually has already more than paid back the membership charge (in region of $20).

It is like some kind of middle-school algebra problem - how much money did I spend?!? (I hastily add that this was a rhetorical question, I would on the whole prefer you not to contemplate it!)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Off the bike


First, the good news. It was a great training weekend for the NYC tri (Olympic distance), which is coming up in two weeks. Not fast, but lots of hills and very beneficial for bike-riding skills and confidence. 58 miles, 43 miles, c. 50 miles (more about that below).

Also, I now have what I think is a sensible plan for next-step fear-of-bike conquering.

When I got this bike last summer, the whole thing was totally new to me, I had not had a bike since I was eight years old or, probably, even ridden anyone else's (not that I can remember, anyway). And I got a serious road bike, and I got the clipless pedals and shoe-cleat combo recommended by the fellow who also gave me (what I still think was a very good) recommendation on what bike to purchase. Because the gleam of triathlon was very bright in my eye!

(It is a Specialized Roubaix--the cheapest one, I hasten to add; it cost a few hundred less than the bottom-end one listed there. My mother had better not click on that link, though, or she will be mildly horrified by extravagance!)

And everything about riding was totally terrifying to me, so I ignored the doubtless sensible advice that perhaps I would be better off with non-clipless pedals. Indeed the more experienced cyclists I spoke with seemed very confident that I would quickly grow used to 'em--and precisely because everything was so scary (including speediness and responsiveness of bike itself and general fear of everything to do with cars and traffic) I could not separate out the constituent parts.

I kept my eyes and ears open this weekend, though, including paying attention to how I was feeling and what in particular was making me scared, and after three days in a row of fairly serious riding I can say that though I still feel pretty nervous on steep downhills, and I am sure that will continue to be the case, I was doing quite a bit better with that today than yesterday, even going down Bear Mountain. And though I am also sure I will continue to feel nervous about left turns at intersections, that's life, I can accommodate it.

But all of the worst moments today were me having utter craven terror when I didn't make it through the light with the first part of the group and had to clip out and then clip back in at an intersection, and in fact starting up again after even a brief parking-lot rest involves elevated HR because of clipping-related anxiety, and there is no need for me to put myself through this!

I saw some other options that other riders had (mine are these Look ones, which I think for roadies seem very tame but for me are awful, they only go with the kind of bike shoes that you cannot walk in, and the whole thing makes me feel terminally unsteady when I am either stopped or in transition between stopping and going), and either I just shouldn't have cleats at all or else I should get more sensible ones that are super-easy to clip in and out of. You do feel safe when you are actually riding, I see why people think they are great--they are great for an actual race no doubt!--but if I am going to have clipless, it has to be that I can get in and out really easily and that I can actually walk properly in the shoes.

This has been a very long and roundabout way of getting to the point of saying that really, though again I would say that about 60% of today's ride was quite enjoyable, I was in utter shaking terror about 20 times (probably about 20 for 20, i.e. every time we stopped and started, particularly a few intersections where I was in utter craven fear!).

I had two flats, the first one was thoroughly non-traumatic (back wheel, only realized as I lagged further & further behind which was not at all the case the rest of the weekend, then sudden DOH! realization of that distinctive flat-tire sound and feel, called ride leader to leave message and set about taking off the back wheel myself). Two very nice folks (leader and sweeper) came back and helped me, no problem getting back on the road and riding up to where the rest of the group were waiting.

The second one came very near the end of the ride. It was Tenafly/Englewood-type area, really only about five miles from the GW Bridge. Just after an intersection, I realized I had another flat, this time the front wheel. I called out to the rider in front of me (the group was heading left up a hill that I think may be Church Road?) and headed into an empty parking lot. But the floppy tire and rim caught on a sort of rut going into the lot (you know, where if you headed over on the straight perpendicular it would probably be OK even with a flat tire, but a sideways approach makes you vulnerable) and the bike went flying...

I was at a very slow speed at that point--I scraped my right elbow and shin, and I can feel by now that they're a bit bruised, but really I wasn't much hurt, more shaken. Sweeper and another rider came back for me immediately, but the fact of the matter was that I was done for the day--once they had cleaned me up and replaced the tube and tire, I could see it would be better to get back on the bike, but I was so shaky and nervous (and really, frankly, had been pretty much on the verge of hyperventilating from anxiety a lot of times already that day!) that it was prudence rather than cowardice that made me figure I'd be best off getting home via car service...

The rest of the group was waiting ahead, and the two riders with me waited with me in the lobby of the Clinton Inn for the car to come. It was a huge van (with a quite lovely driver whose card I now have in case of future NJ-cycle-related mishap--or, more happily, airport trips! We really had an awfully nice conversation on the way home, it was most soothing), we dropped off the two riders and their bikes with the rest of the group & let the worried leader see that really I was fine, and then I came home in the car. I am sorry I didn't finish the ride, but I am sure this was the more sensible way.

And tomorrow I will go to the bike store (I will put on my sneakers and ride my bike down through Riverside Park, I know I must be back on it as soon as possible, and in fact I do not feel terrified, it was not an accident, just a minor mishap) and get new tires put on and sort out a more suitable pedal and shoe arrangement. Unfortunately when I got the bike they did not give me the regular plain pedals it came with to keep, since I was getting those other ones, but it will be clear to me once I'm there what will be the best thing.

(Yes, I know I should have told them to give me the other ones to keep as a back-up, but I did not think of it!)

So: my first real serious bike-riding weekend. Verdict: sort of more stressful than anything I have done in the last few years other than two multi-day on-campus job interviews (really this weekend was much more stressful than either of those, those are bad in the anticipation but I enjoy 'em once they get going!) and one out-of-town trip to a college classmate's funeral, but a significant step forward in terms of triaspirationality...

(And I found out all sorts of other useful things too--I am going to try and do the SIG-C training thing next year, it is exactly what I need but I found out about it too late this year to get in on it. In the meantime, now I know that I could go on any of the club's C-rides and be fine in terms of fitness and that minor mishaps on the road are eminently survivable...)

(I am not crazy about the social aspect of bike-riding, really I would rather be at home reading a book or wasting time on the internet, the tooling-around aspect of yesterday's ride was sort of confusing to me! Like--why ride all the way to Cold Spring for lunch just so that you can ride back again?!? But that is just me...)

(I think this must be the longest Triaspirational post ever--now I really have to go shower, eat, drink water, etc. etc., but really my urge to blog is always stronger than any of the above!)

Ride safe!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Work No 850


The reward

I am a predictable creature, I think, but I am happy to report that I had an utterly blissful run just now! It was very short, I was only out for about thirty-five minutes and covered barely three miles (a lot of verticality!), but it was amazingly enjoyable. I am glad I did it--first couple miles super-hilly, but as I ran back downhill towards the hotel I felt ecstatically calm--I could feel all the muscles in my shoulders and arms having loosened up in a most appealing way.

The West Point campus is very beautiful. I explored a little (VERY steep) trail with strenuous exercise stop-points labeled with things that I was slightly tempted to try myself (not the obstacle-course type things, just the fitness ones!). I saw streams and reservoirs and several medium-sized mammals (PDF alert--but some of those rodents really have mighty evocative names!). It would be nice to think the one slipping into a rock crevice en route to a stream was an otter, but really I think they were both more along chipmunk-woodchuck lines...

Day 2

43 miles

My hands and wrists are aching from death-grip aftermath!

The first hour today was actually much, much worse than anything yesterday. I was only moderately nervous when I left my room, far less nervous than yesterday, and I achieved a feeling of mild competence by using my multi-tool to tighten the two remaining screws on my left cleat.

But we stood around for quite a while waiting for one thing and another before getting on the road, which allowed for huge mounting-up of nervousness! I actually barely made it onto the ride, I made the error of deciding to walk my bike down the steep little driveway rather than riding--everybody else was off, and I was paralyzed--only thing that got me on was the notion that actually either someone was going to have to ride back and chivvy me onto the bike or that in the case they did not, I was going to have had an utterly wasted weekend! So I got on and caught up...

But almost the first thing we did was climb a mountain--I like riding uphill, but we were riding right along the edge of a huge scary mountain of utter heights-fearing-person's horrifyingness, I was virtually hyperventilating with fear, I think that is the highest my HR has been since EVER--and the ride down was fairly desperately terrifying...


Then a pleasant stretch, with the proviso that even the mildest incline feels to me like a steep downhill (fortunately I can catch back up on the uphills, which are what I like and where I feel strong and in control of the bike), and a very pleasant lunch at the Foundry Cafe in Cold Spring. (I like the dynamic of the group I was riding with today--some good advice-givers, and a good riding partner for me, one of the women from yesterday--we rode the last bit back together, I was glad I was not alone on the road!)

(Oh, and there was one insanely steep downhill that I got off and walked down, it was suggested as a possibility. It is actually fairly scary walking down a steep slippery hill in skittery bike shoes also, I think I would have been safer riding! I think I have some cleat covers at home, that is what I need to bring with me, or get some if I do not have them...)

The bit after lunch was not so enjoyable. A non-terrifying but extremely stressful 15 miles or so on what I think (based on the cue sheet) must have been Route 9D. A very narrow and bumpy shoulder, a lot of big cars. Extremely tiring mentally, and then it was with true horror that I realized that we were not actually stopping as planned before the Bear Mountain Bridge, but that I was being inexorably whisked onto it--and not onto a bike path, either...

(In retrospect, perhaps it was just as well, it gave me no time to build up a fit of nerves. Instead I just whimpered in fear as I rode across it! I am not exaggerating!)

It is possible that one of the useful things about this weekend is learning that the things that I find stressful or scary while biking are actually also stressful or scary to a meaningful proportion of other riders too. A lot of people don't like downhills, and brief post-ride consultation suggests that the narrow-shoulder post-lunch stressful bit was deemed extremely tiring by others as well as me. Hmmmm....

I am determined to go for a run later. I'd like to do an hour, but three miles would be better than nothing. My legs don't feel tired, it's just my hands/wrists, my shoulders and my brain! Plus thirstiness and probable need for calories. So I am going to have soothing internet time, drink diet cola and water, eat whatever part of the blueberry muffin (lunch-purchased) has survived being stuffed in bike jersey pocket, and take a nap. Then I will head out for a run around six o'clock and have room-service dinner while I watch the Olympic swimming trials on TV at eight o'clock. And that really will be enjoyable!

Made-up numbers

Miles I rode yesterday: 58

That's not made-up! NYC to West Point...

Percentage of the ride that deserves the adjective delightful: 5%

Percentage of the ride that deserves to be called enjoyable: 70%

Hmmm, perhaps that is slightly too generous? No, I guess it is pretty much true...

Breakdown of other 25% (in terms of horror rather than duration):

Riding out of NY: 5%

Riding on the bike path over the George Washington Bridge: 35% (would be higher, but duration was extremely brief--but it is very narrow and twisty, and you are VERY close to the edge!)

Riding through confusing country intersections where it is hard to stay with the group: 5%

Clipping out while coming to a stop on an uphill intersection of some sort from which one will shortly have to get started again: 5%

Riding down steep hills: 50%

I was wishing in retrospect that I had appreciated the not-utterly-horrifying aspect of the NYC bit of the ride more--really there was no traffic, it was a holiday, whereas I am still finding these downhill rides extraordinarily nerve-racking!

Really the nicest part was getting into New Jersey and suddenly feeling almost calm. Those are the empty suburban and country bike-riding roads of my fantasies! And we passed a field with horses in it?!? And often there were no cars in sight!

One of the three screws came out of my left cleat at some point, I think just before the descent on Bear Mountain (I could tell it had gotten jiggly, and I was having trouble clipping back in). I am hoping that if I screw the other two back in more tightly, it will stay on for today and tomorrow - but perhaps some well-supplied other cyclist will have an extra screw...

All right, must go and get a move on & get ready for today's ride. But I am relieved to have survived thus far. It is nothing epic by cyclist standards, and I was riding with the slowest group (because the C group has a no-drop policy!), but that is still what I call a real bike ride. This is my big bike training weekend for the NYC tri in two weeks, so I think it worth the sacrifice of the lovely quiet weekend of reading and writing I could have been having at home...

If I can make it through the day in cheerful spirits, I may reward myself and preempt likely stress by skipping this evening's social event, there is something about having dinner on a boat that makes you feel trapped! It will be much better if I stay in my hotel room and read a book and watch Olympic swimming on television (thanks to Wendy for telling me when it would be on)...

Really the title for this post should have been "A screw loose"!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I got up early, but I was too groggy and disorganized to make it to the gym! But I had a tiny little non-triaspirational five-minute sea dip, and it was good for the soul...

Proof that I really have been swimming in the sea:

Picture (taken Monday evening) courtesy of Brent, whose new waterproof camera is truly an amazing toy! The foam strap is excellent--you can tether the camera to your ankle as you swim along, then stop and untether it when you see something worth photographing...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tuesday treadmill

0.5hr. treadmill run (zone 2). Fairly pleasant, actually, after all my grumbling and groaning recently about running on the treadmill.

(Though it was not for my great peace of mind that I did just five minutes at what would be my notional fastest-possible marathon pace, which is not very fast as far as regular running goes, and could not currently imagine running even six miles at that pace, let alone 26.4! ARGHHHHHH. Time to start doing some proper run training--I realize that the main reason I was running fairly fast in the fall was that all runs with training partner S. were basically lactate threshold work!)

Quite sore second toes on both feet from Sunday's run, must see what I can do about that. I cannot switch up to a bigger size of shoe, I already have half a size larger than actual foot size to have room for evil anti-bunion-measure orthotics and the fit will stop working if I get bigger ones. I am reluctant to change models when they otherwise seem to suit me well, but I may have to consider it...