ITU LC WC 2017 Race Planning

I’ve been looking forward to this race for three years, ever since it was announced. Back in the 80s & 90s, there was a race in Nice, France *which Mark Allen won 10 times between 1982 and 1993. After that, it hosted the International triathlon Union’s Long Distance World Championships 5 times, but succumbed to the entry of Ironman in 2005.   This iconic race enshrined a unique distance: 3 km swim, 120 km (75 miles) bike, and 30 km (18.7 mi) run. After doing a few Ironman races, I longed to compete at what seemed like a saner “long” distance.

When I learned in 2014 ITU would hold its LC World AG Championship in Penticton, BC, less than six hours drive from my home, I knew I would be racing there this August. Qualifying for it was basically a matter of showing up and completing the Miami Man half iron in November, 2016 – USAT rules allow the first 18 finishers in EACH age group a chance to join Team USA for the world’s. So sure was I, that in August 2016, I reserved my B&B room on along the finishing chute on Lakeshore drive (where Ironman Canada held sway for 30 years). Then, in November, I garnered 4th at the USAT National Championship in Miami. At that point, all I needed to do was stay injury free – something I had not managed for the preceding two years. Sure enough, a month later, I snapped my sciatic nerve as it runs through the piriformis, sidelining me from running for over 2 months. I have since rebuilt my run to good form, but am reminded every time I sit down to eat or drive that the nerve is still tender.

My training has been on target since mid-February, when I went through a mini-OS. Since then (21 weeks), I have swum 100,000 meters in 46 sessions, biked 3000 miles over 85 days, and run 120 times for 530 miles. In the past two months, that’s 60,000m/23 sessions swimming, of which 10 have been 3000 meters open water, about an hour each. 1000 miles/28 days biking, with at least one 3+ hour ride each week in the mountains. And 47 runs for 250 miles. The running has improved the most, with an average pace of 8:48/ mile, which is the same speed I was running in 2014, before I started sabotaging my self, averaging 9:10 the subsequent two years. While I can’t run the same top speed anymore, I do seem to have regained my endurance and running strength.

The course is basically the same as old IM Canada for the swim, starting on the beach at The Peach, one loop. The bike is flatter than the old IM – no big climbs in the mountains southwest of town. It starts with about 25 miles (40 k) of flat along the two lakes at either end of town. Then it goes through 15 miles with two climbs, totaling 1000’ gain, before swinging along the southern lake back into town and repeating miles  20-45 – another two climbs and 10 miles of finishing flats. The run is 3 times around a 10k loop, which is a “Y” consisting of three out ‘n backs – very spectator friendly, and also enabling nearly constant checks on one’s competition. Because each age group starts in its own wave (maybe the 60 & over men will all go together), there’s never any question as to where your competition is.

One other note: I bought a new TT bike a month ago. This is a very big deal for me, as I’ve been riding my other one for 17 years. A Quintana Roo PR Six, Ultegra Di2 with compact crank, 11-32 in the rear. My previous bike had 650 wheels, which may play a major role, along with improved aerodynamics, in the primary difference I notice. It seems “easier” to hold speed along the flats (defined as -2 to +2 % grades) – I seem to be able to hold my momentum with less effort. Here’s some data to back that up: I just did an Oly bike ride, 0.921 IF for 40K, with an HR averaging 119. Seven years ago, when I was in super shape during a Kona build (and younger), on the same course with my old bike, I went the same speed (1:11:52 compared to 1:11:53!), with an IF of 0.906, and an HR of 127. I don’t think I bought “free speed” with this bike, but I do think I bought “free fitness”. Sort of like how more swim volume in training, while not necessarily making one faster on race day, nonetheless makes the next two legs easier from improved swim fitness. What I need to do is convince myself that I can convert that free fitness into actual speed, by letting myself work a little harder. More on that in the race plan.

So that’s the set-up. I’ll return in Part Deux with my specific race plan.

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ITU LC WC Race Plan Update

So after all of the discussion with my coach, a couple of really good training sessions on Wednesday and Thursday followed by a super race on Saturday, here’s what I’ve come up with for a plan:

Coach P – I think I get the nudge you were trying to give me about challenging myself more on the bike. I did another mountain ride of 4400′ in 23 miles, as well as an Olympic distance tri this week. You are right to suspect I have been lacking a bit of confidence in what I might be capable of, based on this year relative to what I’ve achieved the past five months in training and racing. I think this is lingering from the past two years when I have been on and off IR with resulting poor performance on race days, compared to the previous 15 years. I’m finding it hard to realise that, right now, I don’t have that worry. On my Oly today, I was able to hold 0.93 IF (for the 22 miles excluding the start and finish) and back that up with a run where I ran 8:50/8:30/8:09/7:52/7:50/8:30 (big uphill in the last mile). On the mountain ride, I seem to be able to lock in @ 0.8 IF +/- 2% and hold it there for 3 hours, at an HR of 115 +/-3. On the Oly today, hard to believe, but I was holding 119 HR +/- 1 bpm for the whole way. I think the new bike contributes to that remarkably low HR relative to IF, compared to what I do on my road bike on steady mountain climbs, or for that matter used to do on my old TT bike.

I reviewed the elevation map for the course, and plugged it into best bike split for a little more triangulation.

Sum of all this is I am finally willing to accept that I can go harder on the bike than I was able to last year in a half and full IM. I have to say that I race PRIMARILY by RPE, on all three legs. As you know, after a couple of decades in this sport, and spending a lot of my mental energy when training on observing the relationship between HR, power, pace, and HR, I think I’ve got a really good internal sense of just what I am capable of within a race, at any given moment along the course, basically, asking myself continuously “Can I hold this effort level until the end?”.

So for me, talking about HR, watts, and pace feels a little too rigid, but I think I need a whip, rather than a rein, so here are some numbers to use as a double check to make sure I am testing myself enough on race day:

  • Bike: HR of 112/3 through the first loop (mile 40/74) if I’m feeling capable at that point, let that go up to 115 through the two climbs on the second loop (mi 63), and then work as I can over the net downhill the rest of the way, maybe getting to 118. I anticipate this will give me an NP/AP of 169/161, IF 0.78, and a time of 3:36-40
  • There are four climbs (2 each done twice) on this course, and I think I can let myself push a *little* bit on each of them, getting up to 200 watts (FTP of 216) on them. But, really, I lose more time relative to the field on downhills, and that’s not something that’s amenable to improved fitness or pushing the envelope. It is what it is, partly my size, and partly my caution. Here’s a link to the course map with elevation if you’re curious: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/21309191
  • Run: Start off with my usual conservative first mile, then ease into a non-audible breathing pattern for the first 10K loop, with an HR range of 118-121; 2nd loop, start to ratchet things up, starting on an HR of 123, building to 127/30 at the end; 3rd loop, start to race, and see what I’ve got, building the whole way to whatever I’m capable of. If the temps are less than 75F, I should be able to avg 8:40-50; if it’s warmer, that will be slower.

One of my key mantras while on course will be “trust (have confidence in, remember what you accomplished during your) training”. My version of “honor your training self.”

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ITU LC WC Race Planning

I’ve been pointing to a race the end of August for the past three years – the International Triathlon Union (the global triathlon Olympic Federation) Long Course World Championships in Penticton BC. I’ve been talking back and forth with my coach about this race recently; here’s that conversation as recorded in EN emails [Ed. note: this is filled with tri-geek talk and abbreviations; proceed only if interested and familiar with the lingo]:

August 2 – I’m feeling really good about my training progress in all three disciplines (see below). What I need at this point will be a focused conversation about race strategy, given that this is a new distance for me. If it were a half or full IM, I’d *know* what IF to pace the bike, and how to structure the run. But these distances are long enough to require some good discipline on race day, yet don’t fit into a structure, “Oh, just go 10% harder than a full.” Specifically, the bike is 74 miles, followed by an 18+mile run. Given the course and my current training efforts, I’m pretty sure I can do that in 3:40-3:55. But I don’t know how to translate that to an IF target.

Training progress: my swim feels steady, getting 1-2 OWS/week, and 1-2 indoor sessions, all about an hour each, which will be the time I should be in the water on race day. On the bike, my weekly mountain rides are progressing from 2 hours worth of 25′ @ 0.82 three weeks ago, to 45′-1:30 intervals @ 0.85, total work time (uphill or flats) of almost 3 hours. Followed by a 2-3 hour bike the next day. Last weekend, I did a quasi-Olympic triathlon, 23 miles @ 21 mph, hitting 0.88 on the bike, with a good steady 4 mile trail run @ 8:30 pace.

———————————-

We missed connections on a phone call past two days, I’m hoping we can connect sometime in the next week or so to discuss my bike pacing for the upcoming 3/120/30K ITU race on Aug 27. Today, I did some thinking on that. I looked at the bike legs of my past three races, an IM, HIM, and Oly. All were FLAT courses (Maryland, Miami, and local), and I was at or near the top of my AG in both the bike and run in each of them. I felt very good about the effort level on each of those bikes, and I was able to pull off a competitive run after each. So I thought I’d see if I could triangulate a power target based on them.

IM Maryland: 100 miles in 5:07 (=5:45 for 112), AP/NP => 132/136    IF = 0.64
HIM Miami: 54.5 miles in 2:37 (=2:42 for 56),    AP/NP => 147/152    IF = 0.72
Oly: 22.5 mi in 1:06                                              NP =>      190     IF = 0.9

I may be a *little* bit stronger on the bike than last fall. Training peaks says my “mFTP” is 232 (3.54 w/kg), I am using 216 (3.3 w/kg) as my FTP. compared to 213 last fall.

Add to the mix, I’ve been able the past 2-3 weeks to go 2.5-3 hours non-stop @ e.g., AP/NP 172/176, IF 0.82 when climbing up mountains. I don’t run after those efforts.

Based on this, I believe my power target should be: AP/NP 145/150 for a 75 mile bike which I expect will take me 3:45. I feel I can hold 0.7 IF/151 watts. The profile of the race has the first 15-20 miles pretty darn flat, with 4 moderate climbs in the last 50 miles. So going easier in the first 30-45 minutes does not make sense to me, as I am best when I am roaring down the flats – I’ve got great aero position, and seem to sustain momentum very well.

Coach responds: …Swim? Check

Bike? I agree with .7 as the baseline with .75 cap on the hills (what’s the Hr cap?) and DNE (do not exceed) .8 — I vote we are strict on those #s so you can really run it out. Sitting up an spinning up those hills will be key, esp if you are hitting it pretty hard out of transition.

Run? I think you’ll still need to be conservative here, esp early given your bike effort. If you can be smart those first 3 to 5 miles to regain composure, no one can close like you do.

Thoughts?

August 6: …I feel very comfortable with using 150/151 W as my power target for the 75 mile bike leg. My current 3 hour power as of three days ago is 153. Two days later, I ran a half marathon and was able to get under 8 min miles (which is low Z3) for the final 15-20 minutes on a warm sunny day (race was from 9-11 AM). And I continue to get do a weekly OWS of 3,000 m in one hour. So I like where my training has me; the trick now is to keep the fitness while developing a little form. I am at peak fatigue – not a super low TSB, but just that deep sense of tiredness that I get with about three weeks to go before an IM.

You noted I need some HR numbers for the bike leg. That’s a bit harder to assess until I do an OWS followed by a race pace bike – that’ll probably come 10 days out from the race. But I’m betting that 115-8 will be my race pace HR, with 123 being the upper limits, that same number being the miles 4-14 run HR. In the ride last Thursday when I got that three hour power #, my HR was 110-112, with 115 coming when I pushed a little, and 121 appearing when I tried popping up a hill 3 hours and 30 minutes into the ride. And when I did an Oly @ 0.9 IF 3 weeks ago, by avg  HR was 124 for the bike leg. These #’s may seem low, but my max HR is probably 160 now, and last week’s FTP intervals on the trainer had me at IF 1.043/HR 127 for the final 15′ interval.

I really don’t have a clue about taper. The race is on a Sunday. I will drive 6 hours on Wed. Tuesday I will be able to swim, OWS or pool. Sunday and Monday I will be driving to and from Oregon to watch the eclipse, and could run, but not swim or bike. Two weeks before, on next Saturday, I’m doing another Oly tri, to test my new bike once again in race conditions (first time with behind the seat bottle cage, race tires/latex tubes, etc.) and run @ expected race day pace – a lazy man’s race rehearsal.

Coach response: …The watts sound good and I hear you on the Fatigue vs Form issue. A strategic day off can’t hurt, but we can discuss how you like to sharpen on the call. The OLY you mention is a great step in the right direction; the volume itself is done, so it’s equal parts don’t get sick/injured and equal parts get a bit sharper.

While you don’t _HAVE TO_ have a hard HR number now, I need you to have it so you can “adjust” your power goals on the fly. For example, if you expect to see 110 to 112 on the bike, then we know what you “should” get your HR down to at the start of the bike…and you also know if you see 140 while climbing on a hot day that you are in a terrible place.  ;)

You’ll want the same “ballpark” HR number for the run…

Tentative Taper Thoughts to Discuss:

  • Mon – OFF / Travel
  • Tue – OWS
  • Wed – Travel + Short Pre-Dinner Run to get loose..30 minutes.
  • Thu – Optional Swim, prefer a Bike Recon of 60-90′ mostly easy with some short 4′ efforts at race pace with 6′ of easy spinning after. Run 30′ off bike or Pre-Dinner.
  • Fri – AM Swim on Site, Pre-Dinner short run of 30′ @ TRP.
  • Sat – OFF / Carb Load / Logistics
  • Sun – RACE

August 9, after a phone call, Coach had this to say: …

Like I was saying on the phone the super pleased with how your performance planned out in the last couple weeks especially on the run. You can’t ask for much more than that headed to a race. Especially a race of this caliber.

 I was asking those questions about  The bike and the run just to see where your head was that about trying to find room for a slightly higher level of performance. I agree, you’re “set it and let everyone fadeaway” strategy is really effective… And that’s what sets you up for the best possible run.

My only thought is that you might hit a spot on the bike where you’re comfortable working a bit more on the hills because of what you’ve been doing the last few weeks… So don’t fight it if that’s the case.
I agree with your focus on the run, it will be interesting to hear afterwards how the race actually played out. For right now you’re talking a very patient and smart game. 🙂

I think if you have the race you’re looking for the last lap will be pretty hard and a great place for you to pick up a few extra spaces. It’s not over till it’s over! …

 

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Particpant or Racer?

Someone on the EN forum posted about his ineptitude at grade school sports. Here’s my reply:

I had a bipolar athletic experience in grade school. Due to an Unfortunate Series of Events, I first encountered the 4th grade mid-year as a transfer, one year younger than my classmates. In gym class, I was short and slow compared to my peers, and started developing an inferiority complex. Everyone was already talking about the spring Track Meet, which included representatives from all the elementary schools in the city. 50 yard dash, triple jump, strength events, etc. You were picked based on performance in gym. I got depressed when my 50 yd time was 7.2, and all the cool guys were 6.8 or something, and the coolest kid was a zippy 6.4.

As the excitement built week-by-week to the big event, I felt more and more shunted to the side, unable to babble with the others about going. Then, the week before, the gym teacher, Mr Walling (its funny how how this comes rushing back – I haven’t thought about it for decades) pulls me aside, smiles, and tells me I’m going! Apparently, the qualifying times and distances are age-rated, not grade-rated, and I make the dash and the triple jump. I didn’t win any medals, but I was proud to even Participate. Still, back at my home school, I was scorned because of my size, yet tolerated because I was one of the Chosen Few.

Then, in the sixth grade, my father promised to buy me a transistor radio (the iPhone of its time) if I joined the swim team at our local pool. I did that mainly because I wanted to listen to rock ‘n roll, and the Cincinnati Reds baseball games. But I was the WORST swimmer on the team, it seemed. Nonetheless, I persisted, finding a niche in breast-stroking, where I went on the get a bunch of red or white second or third place ribbons, because there was always someone on my team or the other team who would beat me at the dual meets. Same thing in high school and college. Masochistically, I kept joining swim teams, and being the worst on them, all because of that transistor radio.

One thing led to another, and here I am @ 68, still slogging away in the pool and on the track. A dilettante at individual sports, but dogged enough to put them all together. (Maybe someday I’ll get to tell my biking origin story, also from grade school)

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Icarus

This weekend, Netflix debuted  the documentary, “Icarus”. For those who haven’t yet heard of this accidental expose, it began as a sort of “Super-Size Me” meets cycling PEDs. Bryan Fogel was an amateur cyclist who was also an aspiring filmamaker and stand-up comic. He finished 14th one year in the French “citizen stage race” Haute Route. He felt the top top were all obvious dopers, and he wanted to see if he could gain a similar edge, so he began a film project to not only document his experimentation with PEDs (HGH, EPO, testosterone), but also successfully hide his use from any doping controls. This led him to a colorful Russian named Grigory Rodchenko, a former athlete himself who was the Director of the Moscow anti-doping lab, and the lab for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Rodchenko cheerfully guides Fogel through the doping protocol, and the subsequent measures needed to hide that doping from discovery. The first 30 minutes of the documentary are funny in the sad way that doping in sports can be absurdist. Ironically, Fogel’s next attempt at the Haute Route places him 27th.

But what follows is anything but amusing. Both a character study of Rodchenko, and and behind-the-scenes look at the explosive New York Times revelation of the Sochi games doping cover-up and WADA report on the Russian program, the film graphically reveals both the scope and mortal risks surrounding doping in big-time sports.

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How To Have An Epic Bike Camp – In Five Easy Lessons

EN asked me for 1,000 words to put int their blog, about this month’s At T ‘Tude Camp. Here it is:

How To Have An Epic Training Camp — In Five Easy Lessons:

For several years, I’ve been hosting Endurance Nation athletes at my home in Snowmass, Colorado (near Aspen) for a week of rigorous training at altitude. They keep coming back for more, so maybe I should share my tips getting the most out of an Epic Week.

Find a spectacular location.

Most training camps feature easy access to multiple bike routes, opportunities to run and swim nearby, and knowledgeable local services. Add to that world class scenery, restaurants, and a culture which encourages and supports vigorous outdoor activities of every kind, and you’re getting close to what’s available in the Roaring Fork Valley. Between Glenwood Springs (elev. 5700’) and Independence Pass (12,100’), the Roaring Fork River flows unimpeded for 60 miles into the Colorado. Both a paved bike path and country roads connect Aspen with Glenwood, 40 miles apart. A dozen or more creeks and rivers feed the Fork, each with its own side road leading up to the wilderness areas which surround the valley. Jagged 14,000’ granite peaks, snow covered all year, jut upwards from those roads, rivaling the Alps for breath-taking beauty.

Invite a dozen of your friends eager to challenge themselves and each other.

One of the inner secrets at EN is how a bunch of highly competitive triathletes can easily develop into a web of friends stretching across the continents. It starts with a shared desire for improvement and success in our sport. We meet online, get to know each other in races all over, and start looking for ways to keep that spirit alive. Training camps sponsored by the team are one way, of course. But there’s nothing stopping us from growing our own camps. For me, it was simply an announcement in the forum, inviting people to come train with me in Colorado. I was overwhelmed by the response; several dozen ENers have come through the house the past few years, pushing me and themselves in ways we didn’t expect.

Cram everyone together into once cozy house.

My sister and I are so lucky – our parents decided 50 years ago to retire in Snowmass, and I’ve been reaping the benefit of that decision ever since. Aspen is well known as a ski resort which has catered to the world’s elite for 70 years. But a common saying there is, “I came for the skiing, but stayed for the summers.” By the middle of May, the snow has melted in the valleys, the road over the Pass is plowedand ready to open, and the short-lived spring is in full bloom. The first two weeks of June are invariably dry and mild, and that’s the best time (apart from the end of September) to get out on the roads and bike. The house is now managed by my son, who keeps it rented to skier groups all winter, hikers and music lovers in the summer. In between, the 14 beds are just waiting to be filled with triathletes who want to be roadies for a week. They wake up with the sun – 5:30 that time of year – slam the caffeine, wait for the pot of oatmeal and platter full of bacon, then slather on sun screen and wriggle into cycling kit. Usually we’re out the door by 8 AM, ride for 3-6 hours, then return to pester each other in that way only truly satisfied endorphin junkies can. You’d better be quick not only in the paceline, but also with a retort when the smack talk goes down.

Pick rides everyone can do, but no one will say were easy.

The groups have been diverse, in age, gender, and athletic prowess. But no one need feel left out. Because of the valley’s isolation, all rides are basically out and back, and start off in one of two directions: up-valley or down-valley. A good example is our ride over the Pass this year. The most intrepid opted to climb the Pass, sail down to Twin Lakes, 50 miles from home, then turn around and, like Ginger Rogers, do the whole thing backwards. In a driving hail storm. Those who didn’t want that challenge were more than satisfied to simply climb up the beast, raise their bikes in celebration at the “Continental Divide” sign, then turn around and head back down. All the while remembering the 1200’ they had to climb after the 4000’ downhill, to get back home.

Finish with a 24 hour Ragnar Trail relay.

One week in June, we designate the Bad Ass Camp. So named, because, after 6 days of riding, close to 500 miles and 40,000’ of climbing, we take on a Ragnar Trail Relay. This year, on June 9/10, about 1000 runners converged on the Snowmass Village Town park, just about a mile down from my house. From there teams of 4 or 8 runners would take on, relay fashion, 3 mountain bike trails or varying length and difficulty, non-stop for about 24 hours, each runner doing each loop once, for a total of 14 or 28 miles covered. In the dark, in the cold, in the heat, under the sun. Not easy all by itself, but after our bike excursions, it becomes the ultimate brick.

So there you have it, the recipe for an Epic Week. Looking back, what makes it truly special are the afternoons, when exhausted riders fill up the suede leather couch, half of them in Air Relax or NormaTec boots, talking triathlon, swapping lies, and exchanging trade secrets. Maybe your Camp Director makes you listen to one his his playlists from the ‘60s and ’70’s, filled with clashing country music and Big Hair rock, with a little John Denver thrown in for atmosphere. As the wind dies down, the Aspen leaves stop quaking, the hot tub empties, and the sun dips behind the ski mountain, the biggest question facing us: BBQ or Pizza tonight?

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The City of Horse Carriages

On June 16, 2017, the five-month old Republican administration announced a tightening of travel restrictions to Cuba. With the warming of US-Cuban relations in 2014 under President Obama, Americans found travel to the island a bit easier. Ever since the early 1960’s, US citizens headed for Cuba have faced rigorous rules administered by the Treasury Department.  Travel was restricted to twelve categories, and required prior approval by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). On Jan 16, 2015, that prior approval requirement was rescinded, but visitors still needed to document that they were going under one of the categories:

1. Family visits

2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations

3. Journalistic activity

4. Professional research and professional meetings

5. Educational activities

6. Religious activities

7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions

8. Support for the Cuban people

9. Humanitarian projects

10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials

12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

During the 1990’s, 100,000s of people went from the US to Cuba under this program. With the advent of a Republican administration, the OFAC became more rigorous, and travel slowed. Since Jan 2015, especially after direct air travel began in the fall of 2016, travel began increasing again, but still under the categories above. A visit to simply plop under a palapa on the beach sipping mojitos and Bucaneros remains proscribed.

(One ironic note: these restrictions based on an economic boycott are of course vigorously supported by those Cubans who fled to Florida in the 1960s. However, these same people – any Cuban citizens who arrived prior to 1970 – are exempt from the regulations, and may freely travel back and forth.)

Many people go under the cover of items 5 and 8: Educational activities, and support for the Cuban people. These are euphemistically known as “People-to-People”, but that phrase appears nowhere in either State or Treasury Department documents. On the flight over, we had to fill out a form and check the proper box, and remain subject to potential audit by Treasury to prove the purpose of our visit. The recent changes are more cosmetic than restrictive. Direct air service remains intact. Travel by individuals is still possible under those twelve categories. The primary new restriction is: no use of facilities owned or managed by the Cuban military, which controls a large proportion of the tourist service base, such as the 5 star hotels in major cities.

Our Canadian bike tour company, which has operated there for over a decade and surreptitiously served Americans, last year began to organize a tour which could operate out in the open. Exclusively for US cyclists, Canbicuba worked with both the Cuban bureaucracy and the fledgling US embassy presence in Havana to design a program which allowed us to honestly check those boxes. Thus, we found ourselves almost daily on one tour or another, visiting the standard tourist stops along our route.

In Bayamo, the capital city of Granma province, we toured the horse carriage factory. Bayamo is known as the city of horse carriages. Non-motorized travel on the roads is quite common. Cuba has no oil of its own. Up until the early 1990s, subsidized Soviet oil kept things moving. Following that, Venezuela under Chavez filled some of the gap. But it has always been tenuous at best. And with imports of vehicles strictly controlled by the government, most travel for the bulk of the population is by foot, bicycle, horse, or public transportation. (In Guantanamo, for instance, I had noticed the early morning commute was about 90% via horse-taxi.)

Alejandro rhapsodized about the romantic town of Bayamo, “the city of horse carriages”.

“We visit the factory where they, um, make the carriages. Bayamo is very proud of its heritage,” he announced as we gathered for the evening’s briefing prior to the next day’s ride. “Maybe you take a tour of the town, see everyone riding in the carriages.”

Cheryl and I stepped outside after dinner, around 8:30 PM. The Soviet era concrete block hotel was singularly uninviting, and the air so balmy. As we ambled down the palm-lined, crumbling entryway, a line of horse taxis waited for the tourists to appear.

“Let’s walk around a bit, I’ve been sitting too long,” I countered when Cheryl suggested we could hop on one and tour the town. The sun had just set, but I felt no breeze yet. My shorts and T shirt were all I needed. With Maps.Me guiding, we wandered west through uncrowded residential streets just on the edge of a slumbering downtown. Outside the Plaza de Revolucion (each town has one), young Cubans sat huddled on a street corner, alone or in pairs, hunched over glowing phone screens. Further on, a building announced “PCC”.  It seemed well-kept, like a community center. A few cars grumbled by, exhaust belching black beneath the weak sodium vapor lamps.

Returning the the hotel entrance, we hailed a taxi. The horse clopped up a few steps, and we negotiated in Spanish + English. It was after 9 PM. We had another day of riding, to Las Tunas with the junior cycling team, staring at us for tomorrow

“We want to go only  30 minutes – how much?”

“10 CUCs for an hours.”

“We give you ten CUCs, we just want to go 30 minutes … see a little of Bayamo.”

Once we were settled, and the horse pulled away, Cheryl asked, “ Is this your horse?”

Our driver explained he only took fares at night, “Not so warm, better for the horse.” He kept the horse behind his home, and hoped to afford another, franchising out the carriage to someone else during the day,

He pointed out the city landmarks. Around the Plaza, he noted “Wi-Fi. Only spot in town. That lady” — he pointed at a sharp dressed black haired woman of indeterminate age, with a line of teenagers snaking past her along the sidewalk — “she selling wi-fi cards. Three Pesos, one hour.” The only way to get on the internet in this country.

As we passed the PCC building, I asked him what the letters stood for. “Partido Comunista Cubano.” Communist Party headquarters.

Crossing over the main street running through the center of town, we entered a jumbled section, narrow alleys jutting off in all directions. The buildings were stucco, not the uniform cinder blocks in the newer part of town. Through the maze, past a few more historic sites, we opened up into a cobbled plaza. There, the driver hailed a gaunt man in a jaunty derby hat, who smiled and waved back. “My friend. He wants a ride to his house.”

Turns out the man was quite comfortable with English, having spent a bit of time in the states. He kept up an amateur tour guide’s patter for the final half hour of our trip. We ended up back at the hotel exactly one hour later.

“So much for only going 30 minutes,” I mumbled to Cheryl. But the evening had been worth it, a much slower pace than trying to see the town in a large tour bus. We gave a 5 CUC tip each to the driver and his “friend”.

At breakfast, our group of rabid cyclists grumbled a bit about touring the factory and thus getting a late start on our real activity – cycling. But we dutifully entered the bus, waited while Alejandro negotiated with he factory manager to allow us entry, and trooped in en masse to the one story shaded work house.

“We will no see them make the carriages today. Not enough orders, “ he explained. As we shuffled past the carcasses of disheveled carriages, I was reminded of our country, in the 1890s, when internal combustion engines were just being placed into horse carriages, and the whole auto industry was run by back yard tinkerers.

The grounds were filled with workers. Some sorted through palm fronds, others whittled at the friends. “They are making brooms.” A bunch of fronds were tied together. The branches were whittled smooth, and the feathery ends cleaned and separated. Finally, they were chopped to a uniform length, and stacked against a wall, right next to the scale models of carriages, which apparently were the primary source of income for this shop, being sold to tourists. A bit mystified by the “City of Horse Carriages”, we hopped back on the bus, to be driven to the outskirts of town, where we unloaded bikes and did what we came to do – bike through Cuba.

Crisis Fuelled Resurgence of Horse-Drawn Carriages in Cuba

 

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Bad Ass Camp Re-Cap

Two weeks ago I hosted my Second Annual Bad Ass Camp (full name: AspEN Al T ‘Tude Bad Ass Training Camp) at my home in Snowmass, CO. This evolved out of earlier weeks from 2011-2015 where I’d conned one or more EN athletes into spending 4-7 days training with me at altitude. I started doing that in Aug, 2005, and immediately had my best IM race up to that point. While riding in the Colorado Rockies around Aspen is gorgeous and invigorating, I got lonely. Once I joined EN, and learned about value of social interaction and media surrounding our inherently solo sport, I started trying to get folks to come join me. Things grew to the point where I hosted two weeks this spring. First was a “stealth” camp with Tim Cronk/Heather Webber, and Dave Tallo. Those guys enjoyed some of the worst weather I’ve encountered while riding in CO. We routinely had to go 2000′ lower in the valley just to escape freezing temperatures and snow. One day we just gave up entirely and went swimming, as it had snowed 8-12″ over the entire valley, from 5700′ all the way up to the top of the mountains. Looked pretty, but even the Canadian wouldn’t go out for much more than a one hour run…

Two weeks later, and a gaggle of ENers joined me for a week of nearly prefect weather: Scott Dinhofer, Mark Maurer, Mark Stahlkopf, Mark Cardinale, Jeremy Behler, Shaughn Simmons, Danielle Santucci, Dawn Cass Filus, Dana Burns, Rich & Anna Stanbaugh, Trish Marshal, Molly Mysliwiec, Matt Limbert, Carrie Larsen; sadly, expected attendees Steph Stevens, Teri Cashmore and Attila Matyas had to bow out before the camp.

We rode from Sunday thru Friday, with the majority of folks getting 440+ miles and close to 40,000 feet of vertical. The highlight for the most intrepid was on Tuesday, when we climbed from 7700′ up Independence Pass @ 12,100′, down the other side, and back again – 100 miles, over 10,000 feet of vertical, featuring a hail storm, bitter cold rain, and brisk winds on top, with balmy 75F when we came back down to town. (I only rode 7 miles, up the backside to the top, SAGging the group the rest of the time.) The next day was 112 miles from Snowmass to Marble and back, with a stop for lunch at the incredibly funky and friendly Slow Groovin’ BBQ, then again for dinner at their new Snowmass outlet.

What makes this the Bad Ass Camp? After six days of riding on the gorgeous and little trafficked mountain roads surrounding Aspen (including one Lance Flyby), we entered TWO teams in the local Ragnar Trail relay. This takes about 24 hours to complete. One eight person team ran three loops each for 14.3 miles up and down the rugged mountain bike trails behind my house; and another 4 person team (Jeremy, Marks S & C, and Dani) went twice that, finishing second overall and first in their Masters category. About 1000 runners from all over the country converge on this race every year, and I doubt any others do the biking we did, ending a few hours before the running started. In honor of our sport’s iconic workout, our teams were named the Bricklayers.

Next year, I hope to host a couple of weeks in spring, between the week before Memorial day and the second weekend of June. The house holds about 13 people in close quarters, and part of the camp experience is spending time with each other lounging in our party pants and going out to eat in the gastronomes’ delight which is the Roaring Fork valley. Although this is an unofficial (and non-profit) EN camp, I’ll follow the usual protocol and invite previous campers first, then others, trying to get 10-12 in each of two weeks.

Also, I’ll be in Snowmass between about Sept 10 and 30th this year, and hope to attract another camp during that time.

Finally, thanks to all the Campers – you guys are keeping me young, and ready for more.

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Recovery From Extraordinary Effort

Two highly successful and motivated athletes joined me last week in the cold and snow for a “volume pop” here in Aspen. One of them asked on the EN forum about recovery from such efforts. Here’s my response:

Dave Tallo said:

…Extraordinary work (like you just did) requires extraordinary recovery…

Talk to us about …The role of rest? Food? Sleep? Specific TSS (or other performance model) re-ramp-ups?   Days off vs active recovery?

My response:

Several times, when I have returned from one of my altitude camps, with a day totally off for travel, another day of “active recovery”, I hit the pool, and assume I’m going to see a bump in my speed. Or maybe I try an FTP test, hoping for a higher number. Like you say, WRONG. That tells me the gains are going to take place over weeks, not days. Most of us follow things like sleep, weight loss, muscle soreness, and sense of fatigue. Maybe HR variability, some other newer metrics. I suspect there are other, generally unmeasured things which will need to get back to equilibrium before the gains from a big volume effort can be cemented. Our bodies are complex systems, and many areas will need replenishment: Hormones (like Cortisol, HGH, testosterone), immune system cells (lymphocytes, white cells, T cells), neurotransmitters, etc. And the actual gains will start coming when the stress placed on the body results in newly minted things such as: neuromuscular units, mitochondria, red cells, capillaries, etc.

All this is happening behind the scenes, and really can’t be tested for directly unless you want to spend a week in the hospital and submit to endless blood draws, bone marrow and spinal taps, muscle biopsies (OUCH!) and assorted imaging studies. So we look to indirect ways to give us clues.

The key thing is not when this process is complete. It will take weeks, at a minimum, and years for those who are consistently stretching the bounds of homeostasis via something like a three-year EN training program. The trick is to figure out how to ramp back up the training without (a) falling into the pit by doing too much too soon or (b) losing too much fitness so that the effort was wasted. A fine balance to be struck.

Signs I use to put a big STOP sign in my training plan: muscle soreness/stiffness, deep sense of fatigue, need for extra sleep, weight loss, grumpy or listless attitude. More than one of those, and I need a full day (or at most two) off, no “active recovery”, no nothing. This is often harder than actually working out would be, as it drives me nuts. But I’ve learned it’s for the best.

After 1-2 days, I then return to my “normal” monitoring systems, but refrain from any interval work on the bike for a week, or the run for maybe even more, until I can do strides without feeling any stress.

I use the data from my Tanita scale to help me understand hydration and caloric needs. Before I worry about my actual weight, I look at my BF% and body water %. These two tend to vary in inverse proportion to each other. YMMV, but my numbers in the midst of a 12 week prep phase ( the final 12 before the race) will optimally be 6.x and 58.5. If my BW% is 58 or below, I work on getting more fluids than I am thirsty for, specifically gatorade, as the sugar aids in getting the water into my gut. If my BW% is nominal, but my weight is low (for me, that would be about 147# during training), then I work on calories, of all sorts. Protein, fats, gluten, starch, dairy … I don’t care, I need them all.

Here’s a list of things I will eat to help me regain what I’ve lost: Dairy – chocolate milk, yogurt; fruits – berries (blue- and straw- especially, black- when they appear in my yard), oranges, apples; grains – granola; nuts – almonds, peanuts (I know, not a nut); fats – olive oil, bacon; protein – bison meat, fish, especially salmon, beans; other – Naked Juice Green Machine, Stacy’s Pita Chips with hummus. Along with my daily helping of oatmeal and PBJ sandwich.

I use the PMC from TrainingPeaks (via the WKO program on my computer) as an additional aid. It hurts, but I have to accept the “dip” in CTL which I will see after a volume pop. That’s when the recovery is happening, I tell myself. I may even let my TSB drift close to 0, from whatever godawful negative number I drove it to. And the “Ramp”, which is basically the rate of rise over a defined period of time (anywhere from 7-42 days; I use 21) is another thing I keep an eye on.

One final thing for the veterans who may be reading this. I did not find that age had any effect on need for more recovery time until I got past 61. So if you are feeling “old” in your forties or fifties, buck up, young ‘un. You can do more than you think you can, if you’ve been doing this at the EN level consistently for 3 years or more.

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Spring Training, Update #1

Returning back to this thread while in a “lull” between volume pops. My spring schedule has been:

  • Mini OS mid Feb-Mid Mar
  • 12 days x 100 km/day in Cuba end of March
  • 3 Weeks of HIM flavored prep work aimed at 3K/120K/30K A race end of August
  • 5 days at the Blue Ridge Camp
  • 5 days to travel, swim, and recoup
  • 9 days of biking and running along the So Cal coast LA & SD
  • 5 days hammering with Cronk and Tallo…

During that time, swimming suffered, meaning I got in 35,000 meters in 21 sessions over the past three months. Enough to keep my form up, but certainly no fitness improvement. I *was* able to get in volume biking, 48 cycling sessions, 1700 miles (8 hours, 120 miles/week avg) and 4-6 days of running each week.

At present, I am as I said in a “lull”, which means I am faithfully following the EN Int HIM plan with an end date of Aug 27. Then one final week of volume biking with maybe one swim session, and 5 runs (but three of them in a 24 hour period!).

When I get back home, I’ll try to remember to examine my Strava and TP/WKO fitness charts, to see what if anything I can learn from this.

Just a reminder, a schedule like this requires acute and constant attention to nutrition, hydration, recovery and fatigue monitoring. It is *very* easy to dig and fall into a hole doing stuff like this. So far, so good…

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