I'm on the starting line of the Duathlon National Championships, and I start my Garmin's stopwatch and read the message, "Total Rest Today, training will negatively hurt your fitness."
That might freak most people out, but I just laughed!
Only 17 hours earlier, I won the duathlon draft-legal National Championships in Tuscaloosa. It was a wicked hot, windy, and hilly afternoon race. I went as hard as I could for over an hour. And yes, there was the chance that I could suck racing again the next day, but I felt confident.
I was on the starting line to try and win again!
Mentally I tapped into some great experiences I had in multi-day bike stage races. Or those mornings after a few hard days climbing in the Alps, when your legs are sore, but it turns out to be a magical day.
The simple algorithms built into your Garmin watch or canned internet training plans are based on the average expected result. In this case, my Garmin knew that I pushed hard yesterday, and the predicted response was a poor performance the next day.
But the human body is truly unique, and everyone is different.
I tend to recover quickly after short, challenging races. And I see the biggest jumps in performance after I race. When I lined up for the second race, I was relaxed and ready.
The race was a blast, much more enjoyable than the day before. In Saturday's race, I pushed hard but felt blocked or forced. Sunday, I was relaxed and raced more strategically. I had good legs, got with a good group, and flew on the bike. My time was over 2 minutes faster on the same course (even on a road bike), and I won another National Championship!
Please don't get me wrong. Many factors affect your performance and recovery. To name a few, training, rest, taper, sleep quality, nutrition, hydration, race intensity, and race length.
The takeaway is don't limit your performance based on the average prediction of someone's algorithm. Chances are, you are way above average!
A good coach can lead you to your best results. Visit the pain cave often to learn what you are truly capable of!
Shit happens, and if you race enough, even with the best planning, you will have to deal with unexpected challenges. When you do, I hope this story helps!
Next month is Duathlon Nationals, so I picked a few prep races to step up my game. One was the "Escape from Ft. Desoto Duathlon."
I left my house and 3AM to make the 2 hour drive to St. Petersburg. Pre-race it was hectic with 500+ athletes setting up their bikes in the transition in the dark. Riding to transition, when I pushed my Shimano Di2 shifter nothing happened! And to make matters worse, the bike was stuck in the hardest gear.
I jumped off the bike and checked the battery indicators, nothing, not even red. **My bike was fine the day before, but to be safe, I charged the battery until I saw a solid green LED indicator. This problem was totally unexpected.
At this point, I became acutely aware of the 15 mph steady wind. We were on a barrier island, so at least half the race would be riding into the wind. My mind started doing calculations. I wondered if I could even pedal my bike for 5 miles into a strong headwind with the hardest 53/11 gear? I optimally race at about 95 RPMs, and I calculated this would require grinding it out at 45 RPMs. Ouch!
*But then I thought of a great Tower of Power Song, "We Came to Play." I came to race, and I reframed the race with the new challenge of completing the bike leg in the hardest gear. I knew I had to be ALL IN to do this!
Besides the mechanical problem there was some excellent competition in the race to content with. Small world, another former National Champ in my age group, Marty Steigmann, was at the race. Marty used to live in the Carolina's and I in Connecticut. We got to know each other, racing at Worlds and Nationals. Now he lives in Sarasota, and we race together all the time.
Game on! I had a good first run and was in the lead but was passed in the last half mile. I elected to stick to my pace as I knew the worst was coming and entered transition about 5 seconds back. After a quick transition, I moved back into the lead. I was the first onto the bike course and even had a police escort!
The good news was that this was a tailwind section. My legs were fresh, and I was able to churn at 70 RPMs for 26.5 mph. I got to the first turnaround before getting caught. But turning 180 degrees put me head-on into the wind. I was having trouble keeping the cadence over 50. A few times I even had to stand just to keep the cranks turning. I imagined I was climbing a 12% grade in the French Alps (which would have been much more pleasurable)!
When I was grinding into the wind, two triathletes passed me like I was standing still. I must have looked like a novice muscling way too big a gear. The course was shaped like a v, and once I passed where the race started, we jogged to the right and picked up a slight tailwind. By this time, my legs were cooked, and I was having trouble staying on top of the gear.
Before the last turn around, I was passed by the Duathlete who had passed me on the first run, and Marty wasn't far behind. We had about 3 miles to go into the wind.
I settled into the same pace at draft legal distance behind the lead Duathlete. My mind screamed, pass him! I sprinted out of the saddle in the way too big gear. This was not only brutally hard; it is terrible for aerodynamics and requires even more energy! Well, I passed him only to slow down 2 minutes later, my legs flooded with lactic acid. He passed me back. I learned my lesson, not today with this gear.
I was happy to see the transition area and get off the bike! The only question was, what price did my legs pay from muscling too big of a gear?
Another challenge! As soon as the run started, we had to run up a zig-zagging sidewalk to the top of the ancient fort. At the top, I saw the leader about 200 yards in front. Next, we had to run down two big flights of metal stairs. My legs were tight.
The rest of the run was on a nice wide bike path that went along the sand dunes and beach. I found my legs and rhythm and reeled in the leader around mile one. I picked up my pace slightly and had a good gap by mile two, and went on to win the race. Marty, my Team USA teammate finished second.
Honestly, pre-race, I had no idea what would happen. I raced with the hand I was dealt, and it turned out great! Who knows, maybe the special big-gear training will give me a boost at Nationals!
Trust your training and believe!
*If you love music and never saw TOP Live, check this out. We Came to Play
**In troubleshooting the Di2 problem I ran across a thread on SlowTwitch where someone said that plugging the charger into a wall socket USB converted can cause a problem as the amperage is not all the same. This is exactly what I did at one of our stores and used the converted they had. The next day I had the problem. The day after the race I charged the system up plugged into my computer and it has been working fine for 3 days. So likely the wall charger was the source of the problem.
Lately I’ve been a bit obsessed with using technology and science to better understand human sports performance. Both in the athletes I coach and understanding myself. This blog dives deeper into that rabbit hole. How our DNA predisposes us to speed or endurance.
I started writing this blog topic, two other times over the last six months, and never posted it. I thought it would be too controversial. But today I got some information that reinforces my belief that although training affects performance our DNA ultimately decides if we will be best at speed or endurance races.
With triathlon we can choose to compete in events that last anywhere from less than an hour to 15+ hours. The question I pose is are you competing in the race distance that will give you the best results?
As a runner I’ve always been fast in short events, even with little training. As a teen I had good success running the 800 and mile in track before I turning to soccer full time. Later in life I raced everything from 5K’s to Marathons. And although I was a decent marathoner, I was able to win 5K races.
The same has held true in multisport. I’ve competed in events that took as long as 12.5 hours. At a National Age Group level I had the same results as running, excellent at sprint distance, good at middle distance, and fair at long distance. Yes, I modified my training to match the distance of a target A race, but on a World or National Championship level I only got podium results in a Sprint Race.
Recently I heard that genetic testing now looks not only hereditary but also about health factors. I was curious if my DNA data would match my race tested results.
I got the results today and the report said “Greg, your genetic muscle composition is common in elite power athletes.”
This really confirmed what I already knew. If I was racing with an Elite field my age, my best change would be in a short race. Maybe because this comes more natural to me I also enjoy short fast races rather than slogging it out all day.
If you are not sure if you are more fast twitch or slow twitch, and this gets back to the blog I started writing a while back, look at your peak power curve on the bike. If it has a high shoulder on the left and high max wattage you are likely more fast twitch. If you have a more slow twitch make up the curve will be flatter. You could even have your DNA tested!
The takeaway is find a race distance you are good at and enjoy, and it’s likely to give you your best result!
What makes you run fast?
It’s widely understood that technique plays a huge part in swimming speed. Swimmers constantly practice drills to optimize their position and movement in the water. Yet running form and technique is also critical yet rarely analyzed or optimized.
In this blog I will share some great running insights that I’ve learned by combining video analysis with Garmin’s powerful Run Dynamics
To record Run Dynamics, you need to use wear a Garmin HRM heart rate strap and use the correct Garmin watch. Sensors in the strap measure the following KPI’s (key performance indicators):
Like any study you need to collect data before you can see trends and draw conclusions. I had our group of six athletes run a series of tests while wearing the HRM strap and Garmin watch. The group contained a good cross-section of athletes, 2 women, 4 men, beginner to elite, ages 35-62.
Everyone first ran at endurance easy pace. We the ran two half mile repeats at the athlete’s 5K pace. And finally, a quarter mile fast at their mile pace. I entered the data into a spreadsheet and some clear patterns emerged. Not only can you common patterns of when each runner ran at a faster pace but you could also see how the metrics were different between the athletes.
Common denominators to Running Faster: When each athlete stepped up their speed the following metrics changed…
What Metrics did the Fastest Runner Have?
Left to Right Imbalance: A year ago I used slow motion video to show an athlete that his right foot pronated excessively with ground contact. But Run Dynamics measured his run balance at 54 Left – 46 right, which was much more than I suspected. Research has shown that only a 1% imbalance can have a 4% decrease in run efficiency. You can clearly see the variability in the runner’s stride and contact time in the graph in the photo gallery. This athlete is starting treatment with a physical therapist to correct the imbalance.
This is a great example of how both Run Dynamics and Video Analysis work together to understand the problem. The Run Dynamics clearly point out the severity of the problem but not the cause. The video show that excessive pronation of the right foot is the cause.
Vertical Oscillation Example: There is a direct correlation between slower speed and high vertical bounce or oscillation. This was clear when every athlete ran faster in our test series. One athlete has a background in gymnastics and pole vaulting is used to springing up when she runs. Run dynamics confirmed that she had the highest vertical oscillation. This knowledge is huge! Just by working on decreasing this metric she will become a faster and more efficient runner.
Ground Contact Time Example: There is also a direct correlation of faster speed with a short ground contact time. This is measured in milliseconds and it’s amazing that Garmin’s Run Dynamics can capture this. When I look at the slow-motion video of the runner with the longest ground contact, I can see that her foot strike starts with the heel and is slightly in front of her knee. This robs rebound energy and increases ground contact time. We are working on more forward hang time, not rushing her stride and landing mid-foot under her knee.
For over 20 years I’ve used Dartfish motion capture software to analyze and optimize a cyclist’s position during bike fitting. I’ve also used this technology to help athletes see and understand their run mechanics. But Garmin’s Run Dynamics raises the bar to a whole new level! The data enables you to measure key metrics and also track them every workout to see if you are making progress.
Run power is the next frontier, stay tuned a will be covering that in my next blog!
It’s widely accepted that dedicating a part of the year to low intensity base training is a key to a successful racing season. But in our Strava, share everything age I don’t actually see much of that taking place.
When you combine the instant gratification of Strava’s KOM’s and kudos with the great Florida weather and long racing season it becomes a recipe for overtraining and stalled results.
The situation was much different when I lived in New England. There were no races from December to March and the cold winter was the perfect time for everyone to slow down and log some base miles. And we did!
In my last blog post I wrote about Phil Maffetone and the training methods he used with some of the top triathletes in the world (Mark Allen, Mike Pigg…). Phil believes that building low heart rate aerobic fitness is the key to racing success. I am happy to say our group practiced Phil’s methods for a 10 week training block and had some great results!
I first got our Pain Cave athletes together and explained Phil’s philosophy on training. Due to Covid, the whole training and racing calendar went out the window, so I proposed that we do a dedicated 10 week low heart rate training block. Everyone was enthusiastic and eager to give this a try.
Following Maffetone’s protocol we started by doing a Maximum Aerobic Function or “MAF” test. I assigned a maximum heart rate value for each athlete based on 180 minus their age.* We went to FGCU and ran 4 miles watching our heart rate and adjusting our pace to stay at or below the assigned heart rate (MAF pace). Everyone used a Garmin and I reviewed the data in Training Peaks.
It wasn’t easy! The average age of our group is about 50 so we are talking about a maximum of only 130 beats per minute! For me it was a whole new challenge. Instead of rocking along at 6 min per mile pace and 175 heart rate, I found anything more than a super easy jog put me in the MAF red zone. Very humbling.
But the carrot is that this training would improve our health, fitness and circulation. When this happened our MAF pace would increase at our MAF HR. And then later when we added speed training we would see greater jump in improvement.
During the 10 weeks we kept all of our training intensity low and monitored our HR. We did a MAF retest every two weeks to establish a test baseline, and we also worked on our diet to cut back on carbs and sugar.
Here are some of the key points I learned from the testing...
A key to coaching is understanding that not all athletes respond to training the same way. One of our athletes, Jason, saw an immediate breakthrough in his running performance! Jason saw over a 2 minute decrease in his running pace per mile.
I’ve been coaching Jason for about 6 months. He has played ball sports all his life, he has been a weight lifter and is new to triathlon. Jason is happy to dive deep into the pain cave and has good short burst speed, but had trouble running for extended periods.
He would push too hard on the run to the point where his heart rate spiked and he had to walk. We worked on putting a limit on his heart rate during training and that helped, but he really didn’t improve dramatically until we did focused MAF pacing.
The MAF test forced Jason to run at a super slow pace for extended periods. This not only improved his endurance and aerobic fitness it got him used to getting relaxed running, and doing it for an extended period. This is super important for him and anyone planning to for a ½ or full Ironman distance race.
So it’s awesome his endurance improved, but he also had an immediate breath-through in his run speed! Last week we were doing bike-run bricks at FGCU. We bike 6 miles at sprint race pace, then run a mile hard, and repeat. Before our MAF endurance training on August 6th, Jason’s second mile brick was 10:43. Last week his second brick mile was 7:28! He looked great and was super pumped!
For myself and some of our other athletes who has been racing for several seasons we saw an increase in MAF pace, but as expected our fast interval speed was a little detuned from not racing or doing speed-work. But I am confident that with some focused speed-work we will reach a higher racing peak!
Yes sometimes you need to train slower to go faster!
Enjoy the ride!
*Note: Maffetone's 180 minus your age for max HR is a ballpark guideline and your effective racing age (your fitness compared to others) is probably more accurate to use vs. your chronological age. He hints at how to adjust for this, and I have a good sense of where mine is (younger). But the bigger point is just to train at a controlled low HR, so being conservative doesn't hurt the objective of improving aerobic fitness.
Recently one of the athletes I coach, Jason Evers, asked "so was my blog "Headroom and Heart-Rate" like Maffetone's MAF Method?
My first reaction was wow I haven't heard that name in 25 years, and then I told him EXACTLY!
It truly is a small world. In the mid 1990's I was 100% focused on bike racing and got in a bad bike accident. I had two compression fractures, one in my back and one in my neck. The buzz from the local athletes was that I should see Peter Gorman a Chiropractor in Westchester County, New York.
Gorman was a big help in my recovery and before I knew it he had me on his trainer in the office doing lactate threshold tests! His business partner was Phil Maffetone and they took a keen interest in my athletic potential. They shared an office and over a several year period they ingrained a lot of information about heart rate training and nutrition. Their holistic approach was natural, I tried it and it worked for me!
Back then they were coaching Tim DeBoom and his brother. The DeBoom's would have training camps based out of Maffetone and Gorman's office and I shared with them the best places to ride. Tim went onto win the Ironman World Championships in 2001 and 2002.
It's been 25 years, so to prepare for this blog I did a little research to see what Maffetone has been up to. I was surprised to learn that before the DeBoom's he coached 6X Kona Winner Mark Allen! Back then I was so focused on bike racing I really wasn't too clued into what the tri world was doing.
Of course Mark Allen went on to form a very successful coaching service. There is a good interview with Mark Allen where he talks about Maffetone. Here is an excerpt:
TC: Is Maffetone is relevant today?
MA: Phil is relevant because the guy is a genius at what he does. He knows how to keep somebody’s body working at peak performance better than anybody I have experienced in this sport. He will have you training right and eating right and keeping all the energy systems at peak performance and in the right balance.
Here is another good story Phil wrote about Tim DeBoom.
I live mostly in the moment and don't spend too much time reflecting how I got to this point, but I have to say Maffetone and Gorman were huge influencers in how I train and race. And of course I pass on the good stuff to the athletes I help out.
Check out Maffetone's website for more info. There is a free book you can download so some great diet information.
Ciao! See ya on the road.
A great PA system and a great athlete share something in common, they both have a lot of headroom!
Headroom is mostly an audio music term, but I think it makes a good analogy for using heart rate zones for training and racing.
Back in my musician days we had to be careful setting microphone, PA or recording volumes. If the volume was set too high distortion occurred and ruined the sound, so we had to keep our settings below that point. The difference between our normal playing volume and where distortion began is called “headroom”.
A great PA system and a great athlete share something in common, they both have a lot of headroom!
For an endurance athlete the goal is to do most of your training and long distance racing at a controlled heart rate that is well below your heart rate’s redline. Peppered with controlled high HR intervals.
If you are able to train and race with your heart rate well below your threshold you have the headroom to react to the increased strain and heart rate from hills or when a competitor attacks. You can crank it up as needed and settle back down to your normal pace. Something like this could happen 20X in a race, and the athlete with the most headroom is the one who usually wins. In bike racing we called this “burning matches.” You only have some many to burn so you have to use them wisely!
I can understand the frustration with new runners or cyclists that have to ride or run at their redline just to keep up. In this state the repeated surges or pulls at the front really take their toll and no matter how hard they try they eventually can’t hold the pace.
This is really a simple matter where the new athlete has to ride or run in their red zone just to hang. They are suffering and right on the edge. The experienced more efficient athlete is cruising at 15 beats below their redline and have plenty of headroom for surges, hard pulls and longer duration.
The key is to know where your redline is and to do most of your training below it. As you develop fitness, form and technique your efficiency increases and you will be able to cruise faster at a lower heart rate and have some headroom. Be patient this takes time.
How to find you HR Zones: I like Joe Friel’s method for finding HR zones. You can find this in the “Training Bible” and also it is incorporated as a calculation method if you use Training Peaks. It is based on your Functional Threshold Heart Rate or "FTHR". This is what you can sustain for an hour when going as hard as you can. Very important: you need to do this HR calculation for each sport. It is normal to be higher for running than cycling.
The easiest way to calculate this is to run a 5K or to have your HR monitor on when you do a cycling CP20 FTP test. Just take the average HR and multiply it by .95 and you have your FTHR for that sport. The Friel method then applies percentage of the FTHR for each sport.
Below is my run FTHR calculated by the Friel method. I can tell you first hand that it makes a lot of sense. When I am fit and in pain cave I can hold run around 181 HR average for a 5K. This is a little less than 20 minutes and if I take .95% it yields a FTHR of 172. I can stay around this HR for a long time on a run (half marathon). And 180 is my redline and where my time is limited, although I can rev right to my max of 192 at the end of of a race.
Read on below the graphic to see how I use these zones and some tips I've learned along the way about using HR.
aHow to use HR Zones for Running....
Zone 2 Aerobic: Most of your running miles should be here.
Zone 3 Tempo: Build to this pace in medium distance runs then back down the last mile to cool down.
Zone 4: This is a good place to do your longer interval repeats or long fartlek runs.
Zone 5A: 10K to 1/2 Marathon Race Pace
Zone 5B: Short interval repeats, 5K races, sprint triathlons or sprint duathlons.
Zone 5C: Last 400 meters of a race!
Tips on using Heart Rate for Training and Racing
Using a heart monitor is a powerful training and racing tool. It is easier than ever to use a HR monitor with the wrist based watch systems. I've found that you need to have the strap pretty tight to get an accurate reading. But the same holds true for chest based straps which always tend to slide down on me when running.
Living in Florida it is painfully obvious how heat effects your performance. You will see your HR increase on a very hot day even in your intensity or speed is the same. The bottom line is that you need to focus more on your heart rate than on your pace per mile when it is really hot. Your body can't survive very long with your HR in the 5C zone. Heed that warning and back off until it comes down... unless you see the finish line!
There is a lag time from the time you go hard until your heart rate goes up. Be aware of this when doing short races or intervals. In a short race like a 5K I focus on my mile split for the first mile, then focus on heart rate after.
Heart rate threshold and max are largely determined by genetics. Mine hasn't changed much over 40 years of collecting data. My speed changes with my training and fitness, and has gotten slower as I age but my FTHR has stayed about the same.
When I am really in good shape my heart (like an engine) rev's freer. I can crank it up to the 180's and then recover fast and then ramp it up again.
I've know a lot of really good master athletes who have had trouble with irregular heart rate of AFib in their 50's. I'm not an expert, but one aspect of this problem is that you HR goes up and then doesn't come down for an extended period. There are certain factors that can bring this on such as dehydration and exhaustion. But for sure if you ever experience this condition get checked out by a qualified specialist.
In conclusion using a Heart Rate monitor is a beautiful thing, it speaks the truth and guides you to reach your limits!
I hope you reach yours!
We are all creatures of habit both good and bad. Sometimes we find ourselves making the same mistake again and again. It’s like we are riding a bad line on the bike, caught in a rut.
The thing is often the “rut” doesn’t seem too bad, so we ride it out… again, again and again!
Think about it, even if you are slacking on one thing you are likely repeating this same bad habit. And it’s the multiplier effect that is the real problem. These ruts lead to much greater problems.
The solution is simple! Stop, reset and change it up. Fix it!
Here are some common ruts that negatively affect athletic performance:
I’m guilty of all of these too! And in fact I just fixed something which sparked the idea for this blog topic. Here are a few of my ruts and solutions:
Running Race Rut: I’m about mid-race and running my target pace and there is this guy right in front of me that is sounds like he is about to die, almost gasping for breath. To make matters worse he has a hitch in his stride. After about a half mile I realize this is how he must always run, but it is stressing me out and distracting me from my race. Yet somehow I am still next to him. We are coming to a hill and I decide then that’s it I need to change this! I threw in an attack. 30 seconds later I settle back to my pace, it’s quiet and I get back to running my race.
Bike Racing Rut: This has happened plenty of times, but I specifically remember a criterium and there was this squirrely guy who was strong enough to keep getting in the way, but his bike handling was bad. Somehow I kept finding myself behind him as 80 of us hit the corner at speed. His line and braking were bad causing me to get on the brakes more and then causing me to sprint out of the corner. He was an accident waiting to happen. And if he went down so would I. Mentally I had to flip a switch and change this bad situation. I attacked hard solo off the front. Four other strong racers bridged across to me. The break stayed away from the field and I never saw that guy again.
Bike Maintenance / Setup Rut: About 8 months ago I setup my new Trek Speed Concept. I used a custom aerobar that created a problem putting a water bottle between the bars. I modified an X-Lab setup that kind of fit but banged on the bars constantly. I MacGyvered it with some foam and tape, but it still vibrated and made a racket. But it kind of worked and I rode that way for 8 months! It took a vacation away from the Speed Concept to open my eyes. My road bike was so smooth and quiet, a joy to ride. My first ride back on the Speed Concept was hell. As soon as I got home I ripped off the X-Lab. The next day I rode 2.5 hours without a front bottle or even a Garmin and it was heaven! It’s funny how just a little thing like a rattling bottle cage can distract you and effect your ride and workout. I ordered some new parts and will solve fix it.
What is your rut?
Don’t live with it.
The cycling in SW Florida can be boring and tedious but the weather is hard to beat for year round training. Back in New England we would ride in almost any conditions. Some of those epic rides, have almost turned into folklore.
Here is one of those stories...
12/13/2009: Perhaps our training ride was too ambitious for two weeks before Christmas, but not really so unusual for our hard core roadies. The plan was to start at the Starbucks in Carmel New York and meet with Morgan Stebbins who would lead us over by his house in the Garrison, New York. From there we would cross the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge and do the six mile climb up Perkins Memorial Drive.
The day before the ride the weather forecast got worse, but not horrible. The predicted temperature for our 8AM start was 27 degrees. It would warm up to close to 40 with a chance of showers at noon and rain later. If everything went according to plan we would get back from the 60+ mile ride around noon, and even if we got wet for the last half hour no big deal.
Of course not everything goes as planned...
Morgan gave me a call as I was walking out the door to leave for the ride. He said "did you see the forecast?" I said I did but why don't we go as planned and if it starts to look bad we can turn back sooner. The sky was clear and deep blue as I drove over to Carmel. But I was a little concerned about the temps displayed on the Mini's dash. I passed through pockets as low as 13F and up to a very crisp high of 17F. Way colder than forecasted, but hey the optimist in me said it was going to warm up.
A big group of our club's hard core riders showed up, Chuck, Frank, Chris, Andrea, Johan, John, Morgan and Justin rode up from Mahopac. Just as we rolled out we can see a big cloud front moving in from the South.
The next 25 miles over to Garrison just flowed. We warmed up on the gradual long climb on 301 by Fahestock State Park and then bombed down the long descent toward Cold Spring and the Hudson River. Morgan picked a great spot, the Garrison Deli, to stop for coffee. We thawed out inside with the brick oven stove warming us. Johan and Frank checked the local radar on their iPhones and even though we could see the front slicing through Northern New Jersey there seemed to be plenty of time before it would reach us. Like Everest looming above base camp, we really wanted to summit Perkins which would take about 45 minutes from here. Morgan was concerned and offered the suggestion of taking the hilly route back now, but we took a vote and the consensus was to proceed.
Pace-lining south on 9D we hit Bear Mountain Bridge in no time. This is a very scenic bridge that has been used in many commercials, not long but it traverses high above the Hudson in a strategic spot. Soon enough we started the steady climb to the outlook on Perkins Memorial Drive.
The final two steep miles are off the main road and we found locked gates blocking the road as it is closed to traffic during the winter. No fear we weren't in cars, we are on bikes with 23mm tires. The road looked clear, except for the occasional ice flow, so we climbed over the gates and proceeded with the climb.
It was gray almost eerie quiet with just us cyclists on the mountain. We took a picture at the top, but didn't want to stick around too long as it was cold and getting darker. The descent was fun but I was freezing by the time I got to the gate. I tucked behind Morgan for the next four miles of descending I could feel occasional rain or maybe frozen ice.
We regrouped before the bridge and checked a map to confirm the fastest route back. It was around 11:15, we had at least 25 miles to go, and the rain was coming earlier than predicted. We were going to get wet, but really that was the least of our problems...
The shortest route was what we originally had planned, to head down the hairpin road from the bridge toward Peekskill which the locals call the "goat path". Fortunately we had to climb a mile before the big twisting descents. I was freezing and was happy to climb and get my core temp up a bit. I could hear the clicking of frozen rain hitting the road and as we headed south the rain got stronger. The descent was a bit tricky and road was getting crunchy. But in a matter of minutes the roads changed from crunchy to wet to ice! The rain instantly froze when it hit the 19 degree road surface.
Stopping for a quick huddle, we figured we had about 90 minutes to go if we could put the hammer down and go for it. But over the next 10 minutes the road turned to a sheet of ice and we got separated into smaller groups and really couldn't communicate with each other. I was with Chuck and Frank.
We were freezing and it was pouring just rain now. Everything was covered with a thin coat of ice our clothing, our helmets, and bikes. I could feel the ice on the chain and cogs, and on the rims when I hit the brakes. This was one extreme test for my new Shimano Di2 equipped Cannondale.
We didn't have much choice but to keep going heading north on Route 9 about 10 miles to Cold Spring. If it got warmer and the roads got better we could attempt the 20 mile pass east on 301 to Carmel. I rationalized we could warm up on the long climb and then bomb down to our cars. And if that wasn't possible my ace in the hole was doing an impromptu visit to my sister's family in Cold Spring.
The next 10 miles were not pleasant. It was getting colder as we headed North, riding in driving rain and very sketchy roads. By the time we got to our turn Chuck, Frank and I were frozen and the roads were barely ridable. We needed shelter soon and there was absolutely no place to get out of the rain on 301. No option, we forged on and rode two miles more to sister Patti's house. The backroads of her neighborhood were a skating rink. We barely were able to ride the last uphill 100 yards.
Looking like frozen aliens we banged on the back door and my brother in law Mike laughed and said come in! I've been riding a long time but I never experienced anything like this. All of our clothing had a clear coating of ice on it. We were lucky to make it here. Patti gave us coffee as we dripped all over their lower level.
Mike graciously offered to drive us back in their 4 wheel drive Subaru. We were able to get Chuck and Frank's bike in the back, and I left mine to retrieve later in the week. A collective sign of relief from the three of us. But wait it's not over yet!
Mike avoided the treacherous back roads and took Interstate 84 over to Carmel which would normally take 20 minutes. All was well until we hit stopped traffic and learned that the highway was closed due to multiple accidents! It took us close to an hour and a half to move the next mile to the nearest exit where all the traffic was being diverted. During that time we passed all types of crashed and stuck cars and trucks. We were able to reach our other training partners via our mobile phones and were happy to learn that they where OK but in a similar situation.
Justin, Johan and Bill were stranded in a remote deli in the middle of nowhere. The roads got so bad that Bill crashed and they all had to walk about a mile as it was impossible to ride. Justin lived pretty close to the deli and they waited for the roads to clear and for his wife to give them a ride. Andrea and Chris made it to Morgan's house in Garrison and had to walk a stretch near the end. They also were on Route 84 a few miles behind us, and I was able to alert them it was closed before they got caught in this mess.
By the end of the day it turned out to be like an episode of the amazing race. Our bored and competitive personalities wondered if we would win the "race" back to the cars. I put my local cycling experience to good use and directed Mike on some less travelled backroads to avoid the 84 diversion mess winning our crazy version of the "amazing race". Big thanks to Mike for the ride!
All and all our day turned out to be an epic adventure but it could have been far worse. We all made it back safe. And we weren't the only ones to get caught by surprise by the bad weather forecast. And at the end of the day we even got a good workout in! 54 miles and I could feel the 4+ hours in my legs. Perhaps Morgan summarized it best; "let's put it this way: we won't forget it, and we lived to tell the tale - woohoo!"
Over the years I have written many bike and product reviews, but this is the first time I am writing about a bike that is 9 years old. It is interesting to evaluate something looking through the lens of time.
And the bike holds up very well!
Owning a bike shop (Bethel Cycle) that specialized in making custom bikes, I was lucky to have some awesome custom bikes. This bike, a custom Guru Evelo R has a special place in my heart and has some history. In fact it is the only custom bike I didn’t sell off over the years.
Here is the story…
In 2009 I won the USAT Duathlon National Championships and my dream was to become the World Champion for Team USA at the hilly ITU World Championship race in Gion Spain in 2011. I custom designed this bike for that race.
The bike leg in Gion went along the sea for a bit then hit a steep 3 mile climb followed by a technical descent back down to the sea. I felt that I could climb and descend better on a bike with drop road handlebars (road bike style) with clip on aerobars, rather than tri bars. But I didn’t want to sacrifice too much speed on the shorter flat sections, so I wanted drop bar handlebars (road style) and clip-on aerobars with triathlon geometry clip on aero bars and a decent aero position.
The problem was that this bike didn’t exist, and still doesn’t today.
If you put drop bars on a steep seat angled tri bike the bars are much too close, and putting on a very long stem puts too much weight on the front wheel which is not good for high speed descending or handling.
The solution was designing a custom bike which I called a “DBTB” or Drop Bar Tri Bike. I did have a choice of custom bike vendors but I really liked what my friends from Montreal, Guru, were doing with custom carbon. Not only were they making great custom bikes, but they were in the forefront on bike fitting technology. They were the first to make a computer driven fitting bike called the “DFU”, Dynamic Fitting Unit and we had one!
(Sidebar: I acted as a consultant for Cannondale and their parent company Doral, who eventually bought the fitting technology from Guru).
With the DFU fitting bike you can make the tube lengths and angles whatever you want, so I started by using my tri bike seat position and then from there dialing in the cockpit reach to my road bike handlebars (this resulted in a very long top tube). I threw some road bars on the DFU and did some minor tweaks and voila, DBRB!
Guru had a few models that I could choose from, but I chose the Evelo-R for a few reasons. I wanted the front end of the bike to be stiff and not flex during high speed descents. The Evelo-R had a nice stout fork with an oversized steerer tube, oversized headset bearings and oversized BB30 bottom bracket bearings. Keep in mind this was 10+ years ago when these technologies were not common on most road or tri bikes.
I consulted with one of the owners and designers, Robert Pinazza to dial in the geometry and handing for the bike. I wanted the bike to be more responsive than a tri bike in the handling department but also stable on high speed descents. With a pure custom bike the designer can tweak the fork rake, fork trail, wheelbase and head and seat tube angle to tune the ride.
Robert nailed it! They also custom painted the bike in Red, White and Blue to match my National Champion kit!
The bike felt like some of the best dialed in road bikes I have owned. The closest comparison would be the Colnago C50. But with the steeper seat angle and resulting hip angle I was able to get low in the front on both the drop bars and clip on aerobars. I pushed the bike hard in the hills of Northwest Connecticut and it shined!
The bike rocked in Spain! I didn’t achieve my dream of winning but I did get on the podium. The bike was awesome. I was in first after the bike leg, but suffered from some bad leg cramps at the start of the second run. I worked through the cramps and finished strong passing two people in the last 200 yards to take 3rd place. Later I saw I was only 8 seconds out of first.
Recently I dusted off the Guru for a training weekend at Clermont, the Florida hills. The bike was like a trusty old friend. It shined on the climbs and descents and was comfortable for 3 long back to back to back days in the saddle. I only wished there was longer climbs that 250 ft risers in Clermont.
The World Championships are near Amsterdam this year and I will be racing in the draft legal sprint distance duathlon. There are no hills, but since no aerobars are allowed in the draft legal race the Guru may just be my bike of choice as I can ride in a lower more aero position.
I still have my dream, and I may call on my old friend for help in Holland!
Lets face it when you are racing at your limit time is not normally your friend. You are counting down the miles and minutes before the suffering ends. Even on a great day you might be just trying to hold off your arch rival until the end of the race.
Imagine if you could change your perception of time? Imagine what a powerful advantage you would have if somehow you could escape time for the last 5 miles?
It is absolutely possible, and I can give you a few examples that have happened to me.
Before you starting thinking I’ve been training in Boulder and visiting the dispensary, what I am talking about is being so deep in the zone that your perception of time alters. It’s almost a trance like state where you become so hyper focused and in the moment that your sense of normal time disappears.
This is called “flow” or “being in the zone” and here are a few real world examples I’ve experienced…
The first example is music. When I was young I was a pro drummer that also sang. Of course the drummer is responsible for laying down a solid steady beat or groove. When it’s fast and you are hitting hard it’s not easy. Yet there are those magic nights that the music just flows from you. You are not conscious of the timing, the words, the rhythm the past or the future. The music just flows from you. It’s a spiritual and euphoric feeling.
When I was playing well with great musicians this happened fairly often. But this gift only came after many years of practicing and performing.
In sports this zen state is harder for me to find, but I do seek it, and when it comes it’s a blessing. Often it just a few minutes but sometimes it has lasted almost an hour.
My most memorable cycling “zen race” was competing in Sutton Quebec for the Masters Cycling North American Championships. And the experience became obvious because of “missing laps” that bookmarked the experience. This race was a late afternoon criterium which the 3rd stage of a stage race.
We had to do something like 40 laps on the technical and fast course. At one point we were blasting down the highway at 30 mph, then diving into a tight corner with a hill on it. The first few laps were ripping fast. I was near my limit and recall coming by the start finish and reading 28 laps to go and thinking how the hell am I going to hang in that long.
Once we got on the back straight there was an attack and I sprinted flat out to get in the move and everything started flowing. I was so deep in the moment I wasn’t thinking, just flowing with the move. The next thing I knew was heard the bell clanging for the last lap! And I recall being shocked and thinking, how did that happen!
It turns out I got boxed in right at the end and finished 5th. But on that night top 3 was a very real possibility. And I can say for certain at the level of racing, on that night, that was only possible by being deep in the zone.
Again I can’t make this happen at will but there are a few things that seem to be common when it does happen:
It is possible that my DNA makes me more susceptible to finding the zone. I am a notoriously right brain driven (creative vs. analytical) and I often live in the moment and trust my subconscious mind to guide me.
That said I suspect everyone could benefit by finding the zone from the time to time.
Here are a few good books and articles about this elusive place.
Breath deep, let go, and let this happen!
With all the cancelations due to the coronavirus virus it looks like I will have some free time on my hands.
I want to stay productive and have decided to start a new blog.
I've been lucky enough to help out and coach a few local athletes so this blog is really a format to share some of the lessons I've learned over the past 40 years of racing with them and perhaps a few of others.
Fair warning... I think there is a lot of misinformation written about cycling and triathlon and some of the more important things aren't even talked about, so some of my topics may seem controversial. But that is exactly the reason I think they need to be said!
I guess the best place to start is how the blog, and my coaching, got it's name.
From 1999 to 2015 I owned Bethel Cycle in Northwest Connecticut. We had an awesome cycling and triathlon team and were part of a vibrant cycling scene. My shop was in the hometown of Cannondale and we raced all season in the Industrial Park where Cannondale was located (that just reminded me of a another cool story about Cadel Evans).
There was a local hotshot bike racer about 15 years younger than me named BeeJay. We became friends and he worked in my shop part time. BeeJay could suffer an insane amount and then pull off a monster sprint. I started bike racing late in life, and I think Beejay saw some promise in me and was good enough to show me the ropes and give me some solid advice.
One of his funny sayings was "the more you race the more stupid you become." And it was true! What he meant is that bike racing is so hard that you almost have to do it all the time to go numb to the intense pain. It only starts working when you can go on autopilot and not think about it too much.
Anyway one late summer day BeeJay and I and a few others were out ripping up in the Litchfield Hills. We were all super fit from a hard season of racing and at some point the ride turned from a training ride to an all out throw down. I remember being in pain and looking at my power data. I was on BeeJay's wheel and was cranking out 420 watts on Route 7 along the Housatonic River! It was as hard as any race I did that year. I jumped for the Cornwall Bridge Town Line and BeeJay yelled out "Pelican you are putting me in the pain cave!"
Soon after we stopped to refuel at a country deli. And we got in a little argument. I said "why are you going so hard?" He said "Pelican you put me in the pain cave." And he was right. There is a knife edge point when competition changes from being really hard to a flat out fight where your animal instincts take over.
That place is called the Pain Cave.
I'm not suggesting that every training ride turns into a race, there is a time and a place. But I do feel the natural reaction is to back down, not go harder when you get to this point. And if you want to win you need to cross that line not only racing but in controlled training sessions.
Have you visited the Pain Cave lately?