Life Off The Bike

My ailments

My ailments

Hello, there.  Long time, no post.

Some of you may be mildly interested in what I’ve been up to.  I have been bombarded by literally several inquiries as to my whereabouts.  Basically, I’ve been busy running and since this is a blog concerned with cycling activities, I did not find anything particularly relevant to share with you, Dear Reader.  Still, I shouldn’t have just departed without explaining myself.  That was rude and for that I apologize unreservedly.

After my succussful foray into triathlon, I became a full-time runner.  I had a little over two months to prepare myself for the Army 10 Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon, which are run on consecutive Sundays in late October.  I was nursing a chronically sore calf muscle, so I rested a week and started with the basics:  a three mile run.

A simple three miler is a humble starting point for a fellow who wants to run 26.2 miles in ten weeks, but I felt that was the best course of action.  If I added one mile a week (with a couple of exceptions where I’d add two miles) I could get up to a run of 15 miles.  That was going to have to be enough training because that’s all the time I had.  It actually was slightly better than what I did last year when I unexpectedly ran the marathon on five days notice. I busily studied running and training strategies and became an adherent of the Galloway Method of running, which encourages regular breaks for walking to prevent the running muscle group from tiring too quickly.  I bought new shoes.  I put away my bike and focused on my goal.

What followed were ten weeks of modest success punctuated by regular setbacks.

Despite being almost obsessively concerned about injury prevention, the injuries still came.  Most of the nasty joint-related pains in my ankles and knees failed to materialize, the result (I believe) of superior shoes designed to prevent the pronation that causes those injuries.  Instead, muscle-related injuries occurred.  Slowly, the pain moved up my leg, either do to overuse or compensation or both.

Things started this Spring in my foot (#1 in the above figure).  Severe nerve pain under my toes hampered most runs and made cycling rides over 40 miles an exercise in extreme pain.  Discarding my new cycling shoes and making changes in other footwear largely solved this problem, but not before a chronic pain emerged in my Achilles Tendon (2).  Rest seemed to cure this problem, only to have my old friend the calf strain (3) return during my triathlon training.  I know how to handle this condition and it didn’t disable me the way it has in year’s past.  This is where I was when I finished the triathlon.

The pain moved up my leg as marathon training became serious – runs of eight or more miles caused significant soreness in my quad muscles (4).  I wasn’t going to let that sort of thing stop me and simply increased the massages, hot baths, and stretching in that area.  But then a particularly nasty pain developed in my hip (6).  I’m still not entirely sure if the pain is in the joint or the hip flexor but it hurt quite a bit.  I began taking glucosamine to help with my joints and I must admit I didn’t notice a large improvement.

I battled on, with runs now at 13 miles.  Then, on an innocent four mile run on a weeknight, it happened:  a torn hamstring.  This occured a mere two weeks before the Army Ten Miler.  It was only a slight tear and I stopped running immediately, but this was a major setback.  My only recourse was to rest it for the last two weeks, show up at the Ten Miler, and see what happened.

The Army Ten Miler

The Army Ten Miler

Things felt pretty good on the morning of the Ten Miler.  I was stretching with no pain and my first two miles were at the encouraging pace of 8:20/mile.  As I passed the Lincoln Memorial and the marker for Mile 2, I felt a twinge in my hamstring.  Not good.  I dialed my pace back to about 9:00/minute a mile and found I could continue without too much pain.  My hamstring was letting me know it was there, but seemed agreeable to the new pace.

After five miles, the slight strand of tissue that was holding my hamstring together gave notice that it was no longer going to participate in this charade and stopped working.  At this point, you can see the air slowly leave my balloon in each mile’s pace:

Mile 6: 10:08

Mile 7: 10:24

Mile 8: 10:37

Mile 9: 11:09

Mile 10: 11:55

I got across the line with the disappointing time of 1:38:26, about thirteen minutes slower than I hoped for.  In addition to my hamstring, my hip was screaming at me for the last two miles.  It was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to run the marathon.  My great training schedule had netted me almost nothing.  I had accomplished more last year with far less focus on my running training.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve continued to rest in the past two weeks and most of the pain has subsided.  Although I still plan to run some local races (and triathlons), I suspect it will be a very long time – if ever – before I make another attempt at a marathon.

I haven’t been on my bike since September 14th.  Much of the nice Fall weather is gone and the onset of cold weather is only weeks/days away.    I think it’s time to go for a ride.

Marine Corps Half Marathon

halfmarathonroute

I was running again.  This time I participated in the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon, held in “historic” Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Truth be told, there isn’t very much about Fredericksburg that is historic, except that on one December day in 1862 several tens of thousands of Union soldiers proved that assaulting prepared defensive works on high ground is extremely unwise.

Despite all of that, the Marines always put on a good event and Sunday was no exception.  About 7,000 runners gathered at a convention center on the outskirts of town on a drizzly but warm morning.  There were an additional 3,000 runners participating in 5K and 10K races that were being run simultaneously.  There was plenty of excitement at the start, what with a Marine band, color guard, town crier, one of the Washington Nationals’ famous Racing Presidents – George Washington, and actor Sean Aniston.

I can now say I’ve run a race with a hobbit.  Incidentally, the hobbit beat me by about two minutes.

There was much pre-race drama for me on a personal level.  Heavier than expected traffic pushed our arrival back to almost the very last-minute.  This made things exciting for a co-worker, who was waiting patiently for me to arrive with the race bib I picked up for him the day prior.  I managed to arrive shortly after the invocation and just as the national anthem was beginning.  My buddy had about five minutes to spare.  I then set about turning on my GPS and grew increasingly frustrated at its refusal to synch with the satellites.  After varying amounts of cursing and pleas to an unseen GPS God, the necessary signals were acquired literally as the firing of a cannon signified the start of the race.

I then began to execute my rather unconventional race strategy.

The big (literal and figurative) feature of the race is a large, mile-long hill known as Hospital Hill.  It is very appropriate that there is a hospital on the top of this hill – there are plenty of potential patients struggling up it.  Most people budget some energy so they can take on this hill.  Not me.  I decided my only hope of reaching my ambitious goal of two hours was to run as fast as I could on the downhill portions early in the course, build up a reserve of minutes which I would then cash in when it came time to climb.

So off I went at a sub-8:00 min/mile pace, shockingly fast for me.  I even left The Diesel in my wake.  After three miles of downhill running, I had two minutes “in the bank” and was feeling good.

After four miles, I was beginning to tire.  I amused myself while running on Sunken Road by thinking of the thousands of Confederates who once used it as a bulwark against the Federal assault.  This did not amuse me for long.

After five miles, I was definitely tired.  I tried to eat some energy jelly beans I had stowed in my shorts pocket.  This was a mistake and I quickly learned my stomach has a MUCH different reaction to eating while running than while cycling.  This added to my distress.

At Mile 6, The Diesel reeled me in.  We were in downtown Fredericksburg in a quaint shopping district.  She asked me if I was injured and I said no.  Then I said goodbye.  Then she was gone.  She was nursing a strained hamstring but still had a shot at breaking the 2 hour barrier.

By Mile 9, I had used up all the time I had put in my bank and was now running at an even 9:00/mile pace.  Hospital Hill was still a mile away and I knew there was no hope for me to meet my race goal.  I trudged along the Rappahannock River, enjoyed the view the best that I could, and braced myself for the hill.

Hospital Hill was precisely as advertised.    After making the long climb at a 12:00 minute pace, I found the remaining two miles to be a drizzly test of will.  I eventually found my way to the finish line at 2:14.  Once there, a Marine Lieutenant presented me with my Finisher’s Medal and I made full use of the free water, fruit, pretzels, some tasty banana desert that was served cold, and a cup of beer.  The beer was especially nice.

My “middle of the pack” finish for my age group was a little deflating and The Diesel came three minutes short of breaking the 2 hour barrier, her leg injury keeping her short of her goal.  Still, she finished in the Top 20% of her age division – a fact that seemed to impress me much more than it did her.

Exciting action photo at the finish.

Exciting action photo at the finish.

I continue to be impressed with the spectacle of running events.  This “small” event of 10,000 runners dwarfs anything I’ve seen around here in the cycling world.  Huge sponsorships, mascots, famous actors, great staffing, music at the start/finish and along the course – you name it and it is first class.  There’s a lot of fun to be had being part of such an event and it’s also quite nice to complete a significant challenge in a little over two hours.  It frees up plenty of time for other worthwhile weekend activities, like napping.

Still, I looked with dismay at my monthly riding totals and see I have actually run more miles than I have ridden.  Rest assured, I’ll be fixing that this week.

Marine Corps 17.75K Run

1775k route

The year’s first running event went off without a hitch yesterday.  I am happy to report that I finished the race without mishap and now have exclusive access to register for this October’s Marine Corps Marathon – an event which typically sells out in less than three hours.

Rather than the Garmin GPS snapshot I typically use for ride reports, I have posted the race’s course map so readers may quickly discern the elevation data along with road names and distances.  No thank you’s are necessary.

I have difficulty writing compelling reports about running events, so those of you who are routinely bored by my cycling reports are forewarned – this will be worse.  Running events don’t have nearly as many topics to consider when telling a tale.  Consider the distance – eleven miles may be a fairly lengthy route to run but I routinely gloss over longer distances with a mere sentence or two, or perhaps no mention at all.  Now I am obliged to regale you with each turn and dip of the road.  I am certain you are thrilled at the possibility.

The shorter length is not the only challenge for your humble scribe.  Unlike cycling events, there is very little chatter between participants due to the enormous effort spent on breathing.  There is little in the way of race strategy; there’s no drafting.  There are no breaks for enjoyable meals and the conversations that they frequently generate.  It is difficult to bring a camera or to even admire scenic vistas.  Alas, the run – at least for me – is basically just a lot of running and hoping I don’t get injured.  Although I enjoy the event, I don’t think there is much of interest in me relating to you how I ran as fast as I could and then finished.

Having properly warned you, here goes nothing.

Posting the colors at the start (images taken from the event's Flikr page)

Posting the colors at the start (images taken from the event’s Flikr page)

This race started a mere five miles from my house, which made the drive to the start a pleasant change of pace.  Spring was still frustratingly absent and the temperature at the start was 31 degrees.  This was a relatively small field of runners – only 2,500 due to the narrowness of the course in several points.  Because every finisher gains an automatic entry in the Marine Corps Marathon, it is extremely popular.  Registration sold out in 40 minutes.  After a short opening ceremony featuring the posting of the colors, a prayer, and the national anthem, a starter’s pistol was fired and we were off onto Route 234.

We ran up a gentle rise for 2.5 miles, the men and women of the Prince William County Police Department guarding the intersections en route.  It is at these early points in any run where I quickly do a check of my various maladies and determine if everything is settling in properly: inflamed nerve under toes on right foot, plantar fasciitis on right foot, right ankle, right calf, left calf, and left knee cap all were functioning properly.  Oddly enough, a pain soon developed on the side of my left foot.  That was a new one for me and it mercifully went away by the time we turned into Prince William Forest Park, where we would spend the rest of our race.

Trail running

Trail running

The first mile inside the park was on a forest trail which consisted mostly of dirt and stones.  I don’t do a lot of trail running so this was a new experience for me.  I can’t say it was particularly eventful other than I understood every step was an opportunity to twist my ankle on the uneven surface.  That didn’t happen to me and I was pleased to be able to catch up with The Diesel who (as usual) scampered ahead of me on the rather large hill leading up to Scenic Drive.

Scenic Drive

Scenic Drive

Scenic Drive was a pleasant paved road in the middle of the forest.  It should be noted that it was very quiet due to the fact there were absolutely no spectators on the route.  Logistics would not permit anyone besides race volunteers to watch the event from anywhere other than the start and finish lines.  The only motivation came in the form of signs the Marines had placed along the route, with phrases designed to capture the “hardcore” spirit for the Marines such as, “I’ve seen pond water move faster” and “Quite whining.”  I can’t say they were very motivational for me.  Fortunately, I was not relying on placards for my motivation.

After a pleasant three-mile descent to Mile 8, it was time to climb two very nasty hills (see the elevation guide on the map above).  I remember riding these hills a few years ago on my bike.  My thought at the time was that they were quite steep.  My thought on the run was that if they were steep on my bicycle, they’d be hell on foot.  I was right.  My 8:30/mile pace slowed to a mere 10:30/mile at this point.  Then the road leveled off and we once again moved to a very gravelly trail for the final mile.

As is typical for the Marine events, this final mile featured another hill.

A crowded and narrow scene at the finish

A crowded and narrow scene at the finish

In the end, I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:40:35, earning me a respectable if not spectacular 618th place out of 2,500 runners.  I quickly met up with my wife who finished a few seconds ahead of me and we stood in a lengthy line waiting for some water, Gatorade, and food.  We emerged on the far side of this tent and wandered about a post-race party which featured massage tents, some stretching rollers, more energy food stands, and a local radio station playing music.  Eventually we found what we were looking for – the tent that was issuing Finishers’ Coins and a password that allowed for early registration for the marathon.  Having secured these items, we beat a retreat to the buses which took us back to the starting line and our car.

We pulled into our driveway at 11:00 AM, a mere four hours after we left for the event.  This was a huge change from a typical cycling ride which guarantees an entire day of riding and traveling.  It was nice to have some time left in the day to do other things of interest.

As of this writing, I am happy to report no ill effects of the run.  I got through it in better shape than normal and at a pace which equaled runs of similar distance last year, despite far more hills and trails.  I’m off to a good start on the running portion of the season.  Cycling is doing ok, but I need to get some more miles in.  Eventually, I will need to put myself in some water and swim a bit, but that can wait for a while yet!

Paperwork

Businessman Buried in Paperwork

I learned today that the 2013 edition of Bike DC is cancelled because “[t]he restrictions and road blocks to getting permits from the National Park Service and some DC agencies have made it impracticable to continue this event.”

Well, isn’t that a fine “How do you do?”

This is disappointing as my wife and I were looking forward to the event.  It has a unique combination of moderate distance (about 30 miles) and fantastic scenery that make it a great day out on the bike for both of us.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to get the necessary permissions to close roads in the nation’s capital.  Still, one wonders how the group was able to do it for the past several years but is no longer able to do so.  It would appear the ever-expanding bureaucracy has overwhelmed this organization’s ability to cope.

This seems to be a growing trend in our area.  In 2011, The Jingle All The Way run organizers mentioned that they had hoped to make the event a traditional 10K run but were forced to shorten it to the unusual distance of 8K due to the challenges of getting approvals from the various organizations which have oversight on such things in the District.

More recently, the finish for next weekend’s Marine Corps 17.75K run mysteriously changed from previous years. Instead of wrapping things up in a very fitting setting in front of the Marine Corps Museum, the route will be lengthened inside Prince William Forest Park and the finish will be at the significantly less interesting venue of Pinegrove Campground.  The only logical explanation (to me at least) is the race was unable to get permission to use local roads needed to get everyone to the Museum, which is a shame.

I wonder if others are experiencing similar challenges in their area?  Rest assured, I shall keep you updated on this issue as events warrant!

The About Page

A strong dislike of running?

A strong dislike of running?

You never know who might stop by your blog.  Over the months and years I’ve come to know many of you and I often feel like I can start a post with the assumption that people have been “following the story” over time.  But there are many newcomers all the time who haven’t been following the ebbs and flows of this blog.  That point was recently brought home to me when The Diesel mentioned one of her coworkers noticed the following sentence in the About Page:

An expanding waistline and a strong dislike of running caused me to renew my relationship with cycling.

The coworker thought this was an odd thing to say, given that I am now a regular runner who participates in many organized events with The Diesel.

It looks like I need to update my About Page.

That sentence was written almost three years ago.  A lot can happen in three years.  Here’s the short version:

My hero

My hero

When I wrote that sentence in early 2010, Diesel was beginning her journey as a runner.  She had been a dedicated walker and had only recently convinced herself that running was even an enjoyable activity.  As any proud husband would be, I was excited to see her improve.  And what improvement it was – nothing short of remarkable.  I encouraged Diesel to sign up for organized runs.  I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1993 and thought she would really enjoy that sort of experience.  In 2011, she did well in a small 5k put on by the local police department and decided she was ready for bigger challenges.  We signed up for the Army Ten Miler and had a great time.  Since then, Diesel has continued to improve and regularly finishes very high in her age group.  She ran a half marathon.  Then a marathon.  She has inspired friends and coworkers to become better runners.

She’s inspired me as well.

Teacher on the right; student on the left

Teacher on the right; student on the left

Along the way, Diesel showed me that running doesn’t have to be the drudgery I considered it to be when I was in the Army (try running in formation for 20 years – it gets old).  Running can be fun.  She also exposed me to things like proper shoes, proper running technique, calf sleeves, massages, and lots of other things that help with my injury problems.  I’ve learned that I tend to lose more weight when I run than when I cycle.  In short, there’s a lot of positive things about running that I hadn’t considered to be the case way back in May 2010.  And it should be no surprise I enjoy doing things with my wife.  Likewise, she has been known to hop on a bike and take a spin with me.  Those times are also very good.

So here’s where I’m at in early 2013:  I still consider myself to be a cyclist and I love the feeling of being on the bike, but running has long stopped being drudgery.  It’s actually a nice change of pace, especially when you find yourself doing it with your wife of 26 years.  I guess you can say I am a cyclist who runs.  Where I’ll be in another three years is anybody’s guess.

I know this though: I’ll be sure to update my About Page.

Resolutions

calvin-and-hobbes

With the New Year comes the tradition of making resolutions.  In the sports world, making resolutions is often referred to as “goal setting.”  As with most forms of human endeavor, it is possible to find people for and against this practice.  Advocates believe that setting goals motivates a person to achieve something greater than he would otherwise have done in a random fashion.  Opponents argue that setting goals turns a fun activity into work, and work is not the sort of word we want to associate with our hobbies.

I see both sides and believe that goals can be used for good or bad purposes, kinda like “The Force” in Star Wars.  I tend to think of goals as a direction I wish to travel.  I also think that although it is helpful to have a plan, one should always be open to opportunities and changes in priorities should they present themselves.  There’s no harm in running a marathon on five days’ notice, for example, and there is no harm in preparing for a challenging brevet for nine months.  There’s a place for both in my cycling life.

So without further ado, here are my 2013 Resolutions:

Get In Shape.  I’ve been cycling quite a bit for the past three years and running a fair amount as well.  What I haven’t been doing is any sort of strength or flexibility training.  I’ve read that this sort of thing can help your performance on the bike.  We’ll see about that.

Go Ridiculously Far (For Me, Anyway).  200 km was a personal best for me last year.  Those crazy folks at DC Randonneurs go much much farther.  I think I might go one rung up the “crazy ladder” and join them for a 300k.

Swim, Cycle, and Run In Succession.  Participating in a triathlon is a clear violation of Rule 42.  Although I am very interested in the rules of cycling purists, I have never included myself amongst their ranks nor felt more than passing embarrassment at my failures to follow their etiquette.  I think a triathlon might be fun to do.  I think a couple of triathlons might be even more fun.

Ride The Vasaloppet Without Getting Lost.  I’ve gotten lost both times I rode the Vasaloppet.  This vexes me greatly and I will make it my business to actually complete the course this year no matter how convoluted the route may be.

A Better Pace In The Crystal Ride.  It’s funny what 0.1 mph can mean.  For me, it means the difference between the 17.9 mph average pace I’ve set the previous two rides and what I hope to do on my third trip.  With less weight, better nutrition/hydration, and a more serious attempt to stay in pacelines, I might be able to pull it off.

Shrink.  I’ve discovered an interesting thing about weight – the less you have of it, the easier it is to ride, climb hills, run without injury, and do just about anything else you might be interested in doing.  Ok, that may not be a revolutionary concept.  Still, I think losing a few more pounds will be very helpful.

Take Some Pictures Without Breaking My Camera. I’ve got a nicer camera which should let me take some pics that were not possible with my simpler versions.  Sadly, cameras and I don’t have a good history.  Here’s hoping the current model withstands the abuse I will try my best to avoid giving to it.

Have Fun.  If it’s not fun, then I doubt I’ll be doing it very much.  So fun is important.

Cycling v. Running

As I staggered into the Fredericksburg Pizza Hut at the conclusion of last weekend’s 200k ride, I was well and truly knackered (a British expression meaning exhausted, or “ready for the knacker’s yard,” meaning a worn-out farm animal ready for slaughter).  As I chatted with other ride finishers, I mentioned that this was the hardest physical thing I have done since I ran a marathon in 1993.  After expressing incredulity that I actually ran 26.2 miles (if you saw me in person, you’d understand the reaction), the conversation turned to a comparison of endurance running versus endurance cycling.  Specifically, we wondered how far must a person cycle to equal a marathon?

My answer?  It depends.

I often wonder how cycling translates to running.  When I got back into cycling, my thought was three miles on the bike equaled one mile in running shoes.  As my fitness improved, my opinion on that ratio  shifted to about 4:1.  I now believe anything approaching an ironclad ratio is not possible.  Thus my official answer – It Depends.

Cycling and Running enjoy a complicated relationship.  On the surface, the disciplines are similar enough to invite comparison.  They both involve large amounts of cardiovascular fitness, traveling/racing over an agreed-upon distance, and legs are the primary power source.  Both sports allow for large differences in abilities, meaning you don’t have to be elite to enjoy and participate.  Both have rides and races of varying distances.  For running, the most common “masters level” distance for testing endurance is the marathon.  For cycling, it’s not so clear.

Many people point to centuries as being the equivalent of a marathon.  I can’t say I entirely disagree with them.  Centuries are certainly the most common long-distance ride and the longest distance most serious cyclists will sign up for.  Centuries are almost exactly four times as long as a marathon, thus supporting the 4:1 Ratio Conversion Theory quite nicely.  I have only one problem with this comparison: my century rides, while very challenging, have never tested me the way a marathon has.  Not even close.

When I finished my marathon, I was in agony.  Every step was difficult.  I was near total exhaustion and every part of me ached.  I shuffled to a reception area where a volunteer put a medal around my neck, a shiny blanket around my shoulders and handed me an orange to suck.  I was grateful.  I recall having to climb a small hill to get to my car and just how difficult that was to do.  The next morning, I had difficulty walking downstairs.  It took me about a week to fully recover.

Not so with centuries, after which I am usually quite tired but not overwhelmed.  If there is a meal to be had, I’ll eat it.  If not, I’ll go find a meal.  Beer is always welcome.  I may be saddle-sore, but I am fully able to walk about.  I may need a nap and the next day may have some stiffness, but that is about it for long-term recovery.  The extra 31 miles in my 200k (plus 8,700 feet of climbing) definitely made me feel more like I did after a marathon.  Still, it was only close to the experience, not as bad.

So for me, the 200k distance is most like running a marathon.  Your mileage may vary.