Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Low-Key Hillclimbs week 4: Berkeley Hills

As we descended back to the Peets Coffee which marked the start of the week 4 Low-Key Hillclimb route, Rich Hill said to me: "has Low-Key ever done a day with 4800 feet of climbing before?"

I paused. Hamilton? Not quite, only 4400. Diablo? Not close. Portola Valley Hills last year? No -- less than 3000 total feet. What about weeks with optional extra climbs, like the Diabolical Double or the Lomas-Marin Ave combo? No and no.

"I don't think so. No -- I'm pretty sure not," I replied.

I felt good about this, because after 6 intense efforts up climbs with vertical gain from 476 to 764 vertical feet, I was cooked.

Details of the route are here. Paul McKenzie designed a route of absolute brilliance, tying together a combination of classic and obscure climbs in the maze-like Berkeley-Oakland-Hills with a minimum of overhead. Of those 4800 vertical feet, 3825 were against the clock, 975 part of the untimed transitions (still timed, actually, but with a 1 hour + 3 min/km time limit which was plenty for relaxed regroups plus a dawdling recovery pace from one to the next). The goal was to have riders repeatedly pummel themselves with one hard effort after another, not stopping until 6 challenging "short climbs" were done. And while I call the climbs "short", that's "short" in comparison to Old La Honda, the canonical middle-length climb, but still long enough to earn a Tour de France cat 4 or even cat 3 designation.

Pacing in a route like this is an exercise in macro-versus-micro. There's pacing within each climb: go out super-hard at the start then try to hold on, or target a steady effort? I went for more of the latter, in deference to the macro-pacing aspect: the week wasn't just a single climb but six, and while there's recovery between them, that recovery is obviously only partial. Yet I had enough faith in my recovery, given my combined running and cycling volume over the past two months, that I wasn't going to hold back too much on the early climbs to save anything for the later ones. Better to push it hard, then again, then again, then again.

And this worked. I faded a bit on the fourth climb, not having started the ride with enough calories (oral surgery has me on a soft-food diet, and all I had was a half-pack of Sharky chews consistent with that, although I probably should have used some sugar solution in my bottles, which I generally avoid due to the difficulty getting the valve adequately clean). But then after climb 4, we reached Paul's parked car which he'd stocked with chews, gels, and cans of Coke. A 1/3 can of Coke mixed with water + a pack of Clif Blocks was a big boost, and I was able to make a good effort up Wildcat, climb 5.

After Wildcat, though, I felt done. If this was an interval session, at this point I would certainly have headed home, feeling I'd done an excellent day of work. But this wasn't an interval session. It was Low-Key. Stopping simply wasn't an option. We still had South Park...

So I recklessly threw myself at the South Park climb. There was no reason not to. This was it, the last climb of the day. And with Patrick Garner (who had skipped two of the intermediate climbs and so was no longer officially part of the "event") dangling in front of me I had plenty of motivation. I wanted, waited for him to crack, even ever so slightly, and I'd have him. But although he slackened his effort just a bit when the road leveled out partially before the final kick to the top, allowing me to reduce the gap, I simply could not catch him. But it didn't matter, really. I'd given everything, drained the tank which I'd thought had already been drained. It was a good, solid effort when there'd been nothing left. Now I was truly, legitimately, done.

This feeling of digging deeper than I had thought I could was intoxicating. For me, the day was a success.

Interestingly the ranking on each of the climbs was virtually identical. People would move up a place or down a place, but with the exception of the Quarry-Volcanic climb #3, which ended in muddy dirt which some people handled better than others, taking any one of the climbs versus their sum would have produced very similar standings and very similar scores. So was the day a waste? You see this sort of argument all the time, for example related to Tour de France stages. "Short stages produce the same results, which are dominated by the final climb, so why waste the time, effort, and expense of longer stages?" This misses the point. It's not just the result, but how you get there where the value is. It's about the story. The story of week 4 of this year's Low-Key Hillclimbs was a relatively unique one, rivaled only by last year's Portola Hills route, which comprised much shorter efforts. Certainly no other week in the 2014 series will be the same.

Here's my VAM from the ride:


I've plotted VAM (rate of vertical ascent) versus time for portions where VAM exceeds 300 m/hr. Tunnel is a relatively gradual climb so VAM is relatively low due to power given up to wind and rolling resistance, with the exception of one surge. On this climb, I was riding with Bill Laddish and Robert Easley most of the way up, the last time on the day I'd be able to stick with them. The pace early was sluggish, so I took the lead, a step I knew was a tactical mistake, but I wanted to establish a solid pace to break the group up. This worked, with only Bill and Robert following, until they took over. I was following them until a glance at the altitude profile on the Edge 500 showed we were what appeared to be quite close to the summit, so I ramped up the effort (see the spike). Unfortunately there were still 2 km to go: the Edge had spontaneously zoomed out, as it likes to do, and without having given adequate attention to the axis scales I thought the summit was a lot closer than that. This surge, however, inspired Bill and Robert to keep up the pace, a pace I could not sustain, and I finished alone in 3rd. This was my best result of the day.

Thorndale was next. This one went very differently, as I'd had my jacket on for the descent from Tunnel and when I stopped at the base of Thorndale to remove it, nobody else paused. I was thus completely at the back. This wasn't too bad, though, as the climb was so steep, with essentially no car traffic, that I was able to pass through the group without much delay. You can see my VAM is nice and solid here, in part due to the steepness of the climb, but demonstrating I had no significant issues with bike traffic. With the grade, any advantage from drafting a rider who'd started in better position was negligible, especially since we had what should have been a tailwind at this point (although despite the weather forecast for high winds, I didn't feel much).

After Thorndale, some of the rain which had been forecast arrived, as as we waited at the top, a light cool rain fell. But it wasn't much, and none of us got wet, even those of us without jackets. Once again I put on my jacket, knowing for Quarry-Volcanic we'd be forced to pause at the start to cross the gate.

By the time we got to that gate, the rain had already abated. There was the question, though, about what the condition would be of the dirt section which finishes this climb.

We began on pavement, though. The start was ragged, with riders heading out one or two at a time, me close to last. It was another steep one, albeit without the sustained steepness of Thorndale, and I didn't see a disadvantage in starting relatively late. Soon, however, we reached the end of that. First there was gravel, but that didn't last, and then we were on dirt. The dirt had a thin layer of mud on the top, enough that my rear wheel would spin with any choppiness in my pedal stroke, or if I let my weight get too far forward. Between watching my pedal stroke, keeping my weight back, and picking a line through the mud I slowed considerably here, and two riders I'd passed early re-passed. This was to be my worst result of the day.

As we finished, riders ahead were unclipping to open a gate, through which they passed. This provided access to a lot from which one could admire the view, which with the low-hanging clouds was worthwhile. The foot-assisted passage through the gate clogged up my mud-intolerant Speedplay pedal-cleat combination, however. I missed the Bebops which now live on my Ritchey Breakaway: they have the float, low stack, and relatively light weight of a Speedplay (at least the Speedplay stainless steel spindle version: the Ti-spindled Al-bowtied spindles on my Fuji I was riding here are lighter), but have no issues with modest amounts of mud. As we descended I couldn't clip in, but we paused again at the gate at the bottom during which a combination of water remaining in my single bottle and scraping with a sharp rock cleared things out well enough for me to get my shoe into the pedal once again.

I was feeling a bit depleted here, as I noted, my pre-ride supply of Sharkies now long since gone. But I knew that Paul's aid station was after the next climb, so I figured I'd be okay. Running has taught me that the typical cyclist addiction to constant water + calories tends to be overdone.

Given that this climb wasn't particularly steep, 10% sustained on Fish Ranch, my VAM here is holding up fine, despite my lack of calories. When we emerged from Fish Ranch onto Grizzly Peak the grade leveled out considerably, to more like 7%. My VAM dropped here until a final effort where I got it back up to around 1450. On this climb I benefitted from using the Garmin course navigation feature where it provides a list of upcoming waypoints with the distance to each: it was the first climb of the day where I used this. Since I knew the finish was essentially at the intersection of Grizzly Peak and Lomas Cantadas, I knew at a glance how far that was. However, this would stop working before the next climb. I've had this mode fail several times before. If freezes, failing to progress. I really don't know why -- one of many little bugs in the otherwise very useful Garmin Edge 500 navigation feature.

After a much-needed break at Paul's excellent aid station, the Lomas Cantadas descent was taken slowly due to its steep turns and the wet foilage on the road from the recent rains, extending into the night before. A faster group had taken a slightly longer route than my group did, however, and we merged at the point where our paths converged.

Two more to go...

Our first climb of the day, Tunnel, is a very popular climb although I'd done it only once before. The next three were fairly obscure, such that even the local riders hadn't all done them. But Wildcat Canyon, our next climb, is one I'd done many times before. It starts steeply enough, nearly 8%, but then levels out substantially for the long run to Inspiration Point, where we were finishing. This made it probably the most tactical climb of the day, with only Tunnel close. It was very important to start in good position then to stick with a good group on the steep portion to assure a descent draft on the gradual section. A small gap at the top of the steeper bit could explode if one were to miss the train.

Climbing South Park with Rich Hill (Paul MacKenzie following us took this photo)

I started fairly well. Bill Laddish and "Wes", another rider who like Patrick Garner hadn't done the full route, took off. I thought my position at the bottom had been descent but I missed this move and I wasn't going to get it back. That was fine, though, as I was in a group with Patrick, Bob Gade, and Robert Easley which was working together very well. Well, by "working well" I mean Patrick put in a killer pull up the whole bottom portion of the climb before the other two shot off together while I retreated to that special place we go when we're just trying to suppress unpleasant human body feedback. I ended up pulling Patrick over the first portion of the flatter section before he said "I'll take a pull", came past, and dropped me. From here to the end was just an exercise in perpetual suffering until I was reprieved by the arrival, at long last, of Inspiration Point and immediately prior of Paul's green line.

I was done, simply done. But being done wasn't an option, so I joined the others for a brief respite before South Park.

For South Park the plan was far simpler: start hard, stay hard, and hold it to the finish. I wasn't going to pay any attention to what others around me were doing. After a relatively late start, trying to postpone the inevitable, I supposed, I eventually caught and passed Rich Hill among other riders, then saw Patrick again just up the road.

I waited for Patrick to relent, just a bit, to open a crack I could exploit. But he simply would not relent. Finally the road leveled out a bit, the calm before the terminal storm, and there I saw my chance. Patrick didn't slow: his speed increased with the decreasing grade, but his effort was clearly off a bit here, and I was able to upshift and reduce the gap. But then the grade increased again and Patrick's focus returned. I couldn't reduce the gap any further and then we were done.

From the VAM plot I'm pleased to see I was able to hold a decent effort over this sixth and final climb of the day. My final surge on the last steep portion wasn't much of a surge, but finally a last effort to sustain the unsustainable pace I'd been holding. In the end, given what I had, I seem to have nailed the pacing on the day fairly well, even if tactically my performance may have been mixed.

But it was an excellent day, and an excellent course design by Paul. I'm not sure what we'll do next year but whatever it is will have a very difficult time living up to this one.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dolphin South End Runners San Bruno Mountain "12 km"

On Wednesday morning I had oral surgery, getting an implant installed. Fun, fun. But the procedure was a lot easier than I had anticipated, so relatively easy I questioned my decision to get anesthetic, something I normally decline during fillings, for example. It hadn't even occurred to me to ask, as I expected such a scene of blood and gore that no rational human could survive the untempered pain and still maintain either consciousness or sanity. But I suspect it would have gone okay.

The worst part was at the end when I was strictly advised "don't do anything to raise your blood pressure for the next 5 days, including any vigorous exercise." No vigorous exercise for 5 days? But I was approaching the end of a recovery week after a solid block of work in Switzerland, and I was ready to get moving again. In particular, Saturday was the Low-Key Hillclimb up Welch Creek Road.

But that would be only 73 hours post-implant: too far short of the 120 hour recommendation for comfort. I really didn't want to compromise the success of the procedure, which given the lame nature of at least my dental insurance, was quite expensive as well as time-consuming.

So instead, I canceled my RSVP for Welch creek and volunteered instead, deciding I'd ride up relatively slowly ahead of the main field to help with results.

But I was extremely pleased when I got an email from the Dolphin South End Running Club of San Francisco informing me they'd be promoting a trail race in San Bruno Mountain State Park on Sunday morning (web page here). Perfect! DSE Running is sort of the "Low-Key Hillclimbs" of Bay area running, organizing a rich shedule of races year-round with low overhead (just a removable name tag you attach to your shorts) and a super-low entry fee ($5 for members, $7 for non-members like me). Most of their races are road, but they occasionally venture to the dirt. San Bruno Mountain offered some narrow, hilly trails which would be a great location for a short trail race. The distance was good, as well: 5 km nominal for the short race, 12 km nominal for the longer race. 5 km is too short, but 12 km would provde a nice quick opportunity to test my trail running legs for the first time since the Woodside Ramble 50 km.

course map

The day of the surgery I rode my bike to/from the train to get to work. This was fine. On Thursday, the next day, I did the same, adding a relatively easy lunch ride. When I got to a short but steep climb, Mora, I tried riding it at slowly, but I tasted some blood in my mouth, so concluded the surgery site was leaking. I turned around and rode back to work. The next day, Friday, I did a flat ride at lunch instead, and was fine. Saturday was the Low-Key.

All went well. Welch Creek begins rudely, with a steady 14% grade. This went fine. Then there's a fairly easy km before an 18% 500 meter section which wipes the smile right off your face. After a short break, there's a 500 meter section at around 13.5%, which feels utterly sustainable after the 18%. Another break, then a final 500 meters at 15% to finish you off.

Perhaps this was a bit reckless, and I tasted just a bit of blood on the 18% section, but I didn't feel as if I'd exerted myself that much. Given the huge difference between Welch Creek Road and the short section of Mora I'd climbed 2 days prior I figured I'd be okay for Sunday morning's race.

I set out for the start on my Ritchey Breakaway just as the skies lightened with dawn, around 7:10 am. I followed the SF2G "Dawn of the Dead" route to East Market, which becomes Guadalupe Canyon which climbs to the ranger station at the base of Radio Road which is where registration was scheduled. I arrived there at 7:50, 10 minutes before registration opened, and so I was the first one checked in and ready to go.

With plenty of time before the start I decided to preview the course a bit. The race was only 12 km, and I knew I was good for at least 20 km based on my running in Basel, so I was willing to do a bit of light running to study the course.

This turned out to be an exceptionally good idea. The route consisted of two loops. The first was the 5 km course: Saddle Loop and back to the S/F area. Then there was a nominal 7 km second loop, a somewhat extended variation on the Summit Loop trail. I noted first how we exited the S/F area for the 2nd loop, then where we entered the trail. From there, I followed the well-marked route up the climb, which I noted was narrow and rocky. Passing in some sections would be a challenge. I ran slowly up to the intersection of the route with the actual Summit Loop Trail, which we'd follow up and to the left. I instead went down and to the right, to return to the S/F. Although I was now running a section of the trail which wasn't on the course, I figured this would be more representative of the actual descent, which was on an different portion. This turned out to be the case: it was still single-track but less rocky.

FInally I returned to Radio Road, which is where the course would also emerge. From here I was a bit confused. Did we cross the road and return on the trails or return on the road? I tried the trails, but it became clear this was just sending me on an unwanted second lap of loop 2. So it must be the road, I concluded.

Then back towards the S/F area, it wasn't clear to me how we reached the finish line, which was clear enough. Did we take the most direct route, or pass the aid station and loop around in the direction the 5 km runners would likely finish? I asked someone at the aid station, but she clearly didn't know. I decided to ask at the S/F line.

I had around 10 minutes until the race start, so I stopped my Forerunner 610 and hit reset, to lock in the warm-up as an activity. Then I'd hit "start" again on the S/F line itself so I'd have a good distance for the present activity. This was a big mistake. Later, I got a warning that it was going to enter power savings mode in 20 seconds... 19 .... 18 ... I hit a button to prevent this. But a later warning I must have missed.

One thing I discovered during this time was a text description of the course posted by sign-in. This was very useful: it pointed out that we'd be descending a bit on pavement at the summit, a section I'd not reached in my warm-up, and also that we'd be returning to the finish by the bike path along the road-side.

Another big win: I was idly chatting with another runner when he told me "the race begins in the canyon": the final climb in the last kilometers where Summit Loop trail emerges from a canyon into which it descends. I'd forgotten about this from my previous visits here, but recalled it when he mentioned it. Good for me, as it gave me a final chance to make up ground after the final descent, favoring both my relatively better climbing than descending but also my ratio of endurance to top-end speed.

But soon it was time to line up. The promoter corralled us, then gave us a description of the course. Notably missing from the description was the detail of the finish. So I asked about the finish: do we loop cut to the finish here or there? He repeated the entire description of the course, once again leaving out the description of the approach to the finish. I decided maybe it was good that everyone now knew the full course in such detail, but I'd need to figure out the finish stretch when the time came.

We then relocated to our actual start position where we reversed direction. I was maybe 3rd row. I don't like starting at the front due to the usual surge of enthusiasm, where I don't want to be in the way.

Countdown, then go.

As I noted already, I realized at this point my Garmin was clearly not acquiring GPS, with the timer ticking but the distance stuck at 0. I'd been here before, and the most straightforward approach is to shut it off, back on, and hope I get GPS signal on-the-run. This unwanted attention devoted to my Forerunner caused me to lose more places: I was in the middle of the herd.

But then we arrived at the decision point where we could turn left to bypass the finish and enter the Saddle Loop trail, or turn right to go to the road from where we'd hit the Summit Loop trail. To my astonishment the pack went right. Once I'd snapped out of my shock at this, enhanced by the fact we'd been given the full course description not once but twice, I shouted "wrong way" and turned back to do the correct route.

Normally I'm a navigational train-wreck but despite my lack of self-confidence, I was sure this was the correct way. And it was, of course. But as a result I found myself running at the front of the pack.

Up the first climb of Saddle Loop I rank, seeing just a few runners immediately behind me. Apparently there was some delay in people getting back-on-route. But approaching the top, I was caught by a group of 4. They extended their lead as we hit the first descent. Then I was passed by one then another solo runner.

A glance at my watch showed my pace was brisk by my standards, so I didn't worry. The race was short, around 12 km nominal, but with the hills I expected it to take close to an hour, a substantially longer effort than a road 10 km, for example. Still, one hour is short enough that I had to stay just out of my comfort zone. I had to be pushing the pace the whole way. I didn't want to slip into some sort of steady-state as if I were on a longer trail race or a training run.

The lead of the guys immediately ahead of me stabilized not long after, so their rapid pass was early-race surge, as I'd expected. I wasn't sure of the leaders but I never expected to follow them.

After Saddle Loop, we turned a surprising right at the bottom of the descent, toward Crocker Road. It quickly became obvious this was an out-and-back to add some distance. Distance is good for me. The surface is "paved", in theory, but is so heavily potholed it's far worse for both running and cycling than decent dirt. As I tried to adjust my form to deal with this, I saw the leaders returning from the turn-around. They weren't that far ahead, actually. Then came the two other guys. Then came the turn-around.

Now the roles were flipped: I was the one with the lead as I surveyed the runners behind me. But I had enough confidence in my ability to handle the upcoming singletrack climb that I wasn't too worried about the gap I had. It was good enough.

Another course feature I'd not caught: rather than stay on the main trail/road back to the S/F, we diverted for the far more scenic bog trail. This drops down to what isn't much of a bog right now approaching the end of dry season, then climbs back. This allowed me to gain on the runner ahead of me, who when we exited the trail was just a short distance ahead.

We now approached the aid station near the S/F. As I got closer I shouted "electrolyte!" since I knew from my pre-race inquiries had an electrolyte drink and water. This would be my only replenishment of any sort during the run, my breakfast having consisted only of espresso and decaf tea with plenty of honey or maple syrup. I like doing races without much in my stomach, and for races this short, it's never been a problem.

The volunteers were on top of their game, and they pointed me at a cup pre-filled with blue liquid. Good runners can drink in full stride, but after some messy experiments in this I decided walking is better for me. So I slowed to a brisk walk, grabbed the cup, drank it all, and deposited the cup on the side of the trail as I started running again. It didn't take much of a surge, a natural response to the recovery I got from the few steps of walking, to get back to where I'd been relative to my friend ahead of me.

We then hit the road from the left side. There was an immediate right turn. He followed the left edge of the road while I apexed the road to the inside. I didn't see anything that this was out of bounds of the course. This allowed me to pass him before we entered the trail. The turn to the trail was marked and since I'd previewed this part of the course before the race I was fully confident of what I was doing. After the race some runners reported having problems making this turn.

I extended my lead as the trail started climbing and soon I saw the next runner ahead: fifth place. I was a bit worried about passing him. First I had to catch him, then I had to get past which might be challenging with the tight singletrack. But then he started to walk. Deja-vu to the final kilometers of the Woodside Ramble 50 km where I passed a runner ahead of me who also started to walk. I had no interest in walking: my legs felt refreshed after the mental break of finishing the Saddle Loop, and I ran past, greeting him as I did so.

He followed me a bit but then when I glanced back he was gone.

The course here was well-marked with chalk, but I was glad anyway for having previewed it before-hand. Soon I was past the point I'd diverged from the race route on my warm-up, the summit in close sight. Another runner was visible on the slopes ahead. Could I catch him as well to move into 4th?

There was a long straight, then a turn, then a straight to the gate to the parking lot at the summit. This might have caused me some concern except I'd read the course description posted at registration, that we had to run down the road to get back to the course. I knew roughly where this juncture with Summit Loop was in any case.

But first the gate.... as I approached the gate it was clearly closed, as usual, leaving me the option of going to the right, going to the left, going over, under, or through one of the gaps. But then I saw there was a warn foot-path to the left, so that's how I went. Minimal time lost...

Through the lot, up theshort hill to the finish of the New Year's bike race, and then I was on the paved descent. I focused on using the whole road, cutting the tangents of the corners, an important optimization so few trail racers seem to do.

The turn to Summit Loop trail wasn't far along the descent. It was well marked, I thought, if you were looking for it as I was. There was a moment of confusion as there's a paved portion which is essentially a driveway for cars, the trail going to the left. This caused me to come to a complete stop to correct my course, but I didn't lose much.

Onto the descent... this was indeed like the portion of Summit Loop I'd previewed, not nearly as rocky as the Ridge Trail and Dairy Ravine trails which we'd climbed. Still, it wasn't trivial: I still had to watch my footsteps. I was worried about being caught from behind, but also thinking about catching the runner ahead.

Finally the descent ended as I entered the canyon. I'd long since lost sight of the runner ahead. It turns out he considers himself a strong descender and was busy gaining ground on 3rd place, leaving me further behind. And it wasn't until I later looked at the Strava Labs activity replay that I realized how close at this point was the pursuit from behind. The runner I'd caught to move into fifth had steadily made ground on me on the descent. Had this final portion been flat, he may well have closed the gap, but with the climb I was able to pull away for good.

I felt good here, keeping a good pace on the climb, knowing there was no need to hold back since the race was close to done.

Once it leveled, I was soon back to the road. There the optimization began once again. I saw no indication that we were to remain on one side or the other, so I used the full width, apexing the two principle corners before we passed under Guadalupe Road for the final few hundred meters. Then there it was: the finish, and I was across, under 1 hour on the clock.

After hanging out near the finish, eating some grapes and drinking some sports drink, changing into my cycling shorts, then finally collecting my 5th place ribbon, I was ready to head home. So I got back on the Ritchey Breakaway, rode back over Saddle Loop dirt trail, descended South Hill Road, and from there crossed Geneva to Italy, worked my way back to Mission, Valencia, and eventually back to Noe Valley.

Overall, I was very pleased with how the race went. My running has been ad hoc, basically running when cycling wasn't convenient. I got some solid run blocks in during my stay in Basel, feeling some decent speed kick in when I wanted it. But I'd done no trail running, in particular no serious descending. I was really happy my quads survived the descents on this race seemingly intact. Indeed, the next day I felt slightly tired, but only slightly.

Perhaps most importantly, despite a full race effort, my mouth was fine. So evidently the surgery site had essentially healed.

I don't know what my next trail run goal will be. Maybe a half-marathon will be a good test. If I focus on getting in 1-2 runs per week during Low-Key Hillclimb series, I think this is doable. Half-marathon is a great distance: more time to enjoy the trails than the 13 km distance I'd run today (according to GPS), but not far enough that I need to worry about the distance too much. I've bonked during 30 km races, but I've always handled half-marathons okay.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dutch Lotto jersey, revisted

Back in July http://djconnel.blogspot.com/2014/07/dutch-lotto-jersey.html for what is at present the Belkin team, but which will become the Dutch Lotto team. It was just a hack. I didn't expect the professionally designed one to actually look similar to any significance:


The actual jerseys of the team for the 2015 season were just revealed:



2015 jersey

Not too bad, I think...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tour de France: 2015 green jersey points favor climbers

There will be a new point schedule for the 2015 Tour de France green jersey competition:

Tour course director Thierry Gouvenou explained the rationale for the changes to the flat stages.

"We have made some changes to the green jersey competition next year," Govenou said. "When we are almost certain that the stage will end in a sprint, we will add a little bonus to first place."

"Previously we've had 45, 35 and 30 points for the top three positions respectively. Now we will award 50, 30 and 20 points. The person who wins the stage will have a bigger advantage over the others, and it's something which brings the pure sprinters back into the frame for the green jersey."

More points for first, but the same points for the top 2 and fewer points for the top 3 and beyond for the sprint stages.

From 2013 results, Sagan with his domination in the rankings would still have won. But 2nd would now be Coquard, a GC rider. All of the sprinters would have lost points relative to what they actually scored. So in conjunction with the number of finishing climbs in 2015, expect a GC rider to have a greater chance at the points jersey as well.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Old La Honda: always calibrate Powertap after battery swap

Despite an early afternoon meeting for which I risked tardiness if anything went wrong, I felt a strong need to test my fitness on the Noon Ride, Wednesday edition, which climbs my favorite climb anywhere: Old La Honda Road.

After the cheap LR44 batteries I'd last installed in my Powertap gave up the ghost a few weeks into my Basel Switzerland experience, I found some superior 357's (silver oxide) in a local combo department store / food store. This should have had me up and running but I didn't have the tool to remove the cover on the hub. I eventually brought it to a local shop, to see if the guy there could remove it with an open-end adjustable wrench, but it was too tight and the metal wrench risked damaging the flats on the hub cover. So I decided I didn't need power all that much in Europe and to wait until I got home.

Indeed, the cover was on quite tight for some reason, and after applying some Tri-Flow to the interface between the cover and the hub, applying the plastic tool, carefully pressing my body weight against the tool and turning slowly, I was bit by bit able to get the cover off. Weird. I then replaced the battery and retightened the cover, albeit perhaps less tight than it had been.

Riding into work from the train I came to a traffic light which I wanted to make, so I sprinted. These sorts of sprints are substantially less than the sprints I'd do in a race or sprint workout: those are all out maximal efforts, this is a "speed up but stay aware of what's around me and in control" sprint. Yet afterwards my Garmin read 656 watts max power. That's not an uncommon number for me to see during a sprint workout. I was very pleased with this number, preferring to be very pleased to assessing if perhaps there was a measurement issue.

When it came time to leave for the Noon Ride, getting to which takes me up to approximately 30 minutes depending on my luck with the inhumanely long Peninsula traffic lights, I noticed I was cruising along at 280 watts without much trouble. Wow -- impressive power. Riding at over threshold hardly feels like work.

The ride went as usual, around the Portola Valley Loop and to the base of Old La Honda. Before we even hit the bridge, Chris Evans took off in close to a full sprint, easily double the speed of anyone else. Obviously he wouldn't sustain that, but the "start hard then manage the crash" approach is one I've seen before from riders with a strong top end. They want to make sure to empty the tank on the climb, and the best time to do that is when fresh, they feel. So blast off, then try to cut back to near threshold the rest of the way, holding on to the time boost from the first minute or so, This works on Old La Honda because the effort is short, around 16-17 minutes for good climbers. For a longer effort the penalty for the early anaerobic indulgence would be payed over a proportionally longer period.

However, not blessed with much top end I've always preferred to ride the climb more aerobically, going out at an optimistic pace, cracking off from that a bit during the ride, then in the final minutes ramping it up for the finish. Anaerobic efforts at the end of the duration don't contaminate the rest of the effort, unlike those at the beginning. But it's harder to make sure you empty the tank this way.

Consistent with my pacing strategy, I didn't want to see more than 300 watts on my Edge 500, which shows 3-second power on my lap page. So I try to keep that nice and steady close to but not more than 300 watts. Doing this will result in an average power less than 300, since when the grade transitions from steeper to shallower, there's a tendency for the power to sag a bit when spinning up the pedals. So I never average my target, as long as I treat the target as an upper bound.

I was feeling strangely good, spinning my 36/23 up the climb. Normally I'd ride a 36/21 or even 46/19. I set a PR with a 36/18. So 36/23 is low for me. But I found with a higher cadence I had no issues with my 300 watt target. Wow -- I'd really gotten more fitness than I imagined in Switzerland!

I finally started to feel the climb approaching the finish, but then it was time to ramp up the effort. I didn't look at the power meter here, rather focusing on spinning my 36/23. Then I was at the top. Looking at the lap timer approaching the finish I was dismayed to see I was over 19 minutes: 19:08.85 I later determined from the FIT file. But the display showed the laps's average power had been 289 watts. What??? That would be among my best-ever powers up Old La Honda. How was it possible I got such a good power with such a mediocre time, especially when I'm relatively light right now (56.9 kg when I weighed myself this morning).

I immediately turned around, headed back down the climb (normally I descent nearby Highway 84, but I was in a rush to make my meeting), then back around the loop the way we'd come and from there rode back to work. Along the way I rode a bit with Chris Evans, who caught up to me when I stopped to get some water. I mentioned the mystery of the high power + long time. "Time never lies," he responded, "your brakes were rubbing or it's power meter error." After we split up, he heading to his job at Stanford, me going further to Mountain View, I stopped to check for rubbing brakes. Nope. I realized it may have been related to the battery swap in the morning.

Eventually I got back to my office where I managed to get some lunch, upload my data, take a shower, get dressed, and make the meeting with a few seconds to spare, albeit with somewhat wet hair, eating some yogurts during the meeting.

Afterwards, I looked at the FIT file and was impressed. I'd gone out at close to 290-300 watts and essentially held that, average power dropping into the 280's but then rising up with my unusually strong late-climb surge to that 289 watt value. My average cadence was 83, which is good for me when climbing.

Tom Arnholt of AlphaMantis responded to my tweet by noting that after a battery change, it's important to do a manual zero of the Powertap: it may not be able to re-zero after this using just the automatic zero which occurs when coasting. This had been my mistake. Not only had my battery died, but I hadn't used the wheel in over a month. So I did the Garmin 500 "calibration" step. It said "calibration successful" and reported a huge offset. So hopefully things are better now.

Here's my data for the ride (yellow solid line) and the data scaled to give an average of 261 watts (estimated by Tim Clark's power estimator (dashed yellow).


I was disappointed with the time. But then I probably shouldn't be. I was targeting the wrong power, which I was largely able to sustain, and I finished with a lot in the tank, since I was able to surge a lot more than normal even after adjusting the power. I obviously could have gone faster. How much faster? Oh, I don't want to guess. Maybe I can try again next Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tour de France 2015: 3344 km

The 2015 Tour was announced, and although it has a brutal series of Alpine finishes, it's a relatively short one. The total distance is only 3344 km, historically low, although this distance falls right on an exponentially decaying schedule I fit to the distances from 1945 to 2010. Here's the plot:

I like long Tours as I find them more epic. The "epic" aspect doesn't show up well on television, but I have limited exposure to the television coverage anyway. However, I appreciate the finishes more if the riders have worked harder to get there. Modern racing has, however, to a large degree neutralized long stages. There's a constant temptation to shorten the routes and focus more on providing novel aspects each day to get people to watch Eurosport.

Maybe I'll go to watch some of the race next year. The concentration of Alpine stages facilitates this.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

what not to do with your Garmin 610 at a race start line

For running races of up to 4 hours, my Garmin Forerunner 610 has been my GPS of choice. It's compact, relatively light, fits well on my wrist, and has decent recording accuracy. I have a wrist strap for the Edge 500, but that unit is cumbersome for a wrist-mount. And my iPhone is too heavy.

DCRainmaker image of Forerunner 610. See his review here.

The issue with the Forerunner is it's very finicky. Here's what I did today during the Dolphin South End Runner's Club San Bruno Mountain "12 km" trail run (actually closer to 13 km, according to my GPS data).

  1. Turn on, acquiring GPS signal during warm-up run.
  2. Run with the GPS on, to record warm-up run.
  3. Finish warm-up run, then hit "stop" and "reset", to lock in the warm-up as a separate activity. Don't turn off the 610: intent is to keep GPS signal active so I'm ready to go at race start.
  4. Approximately 10 minutes later, with 10 seconds to go before race start, hit "start" to record a new activity.
  5. Run race

Seems reasonable, right? WRONG. Mega-fail. You'll start your run, the timer will be ticking away, but the distance will be stuck at 0. The reason is that the Forerunner, when it's not recording data concludes it has no use for GPS, and goes into "power save" mode by discarding its GPS connection. There's a way, I think, to tell it to re-acquire, but I can never figure that out, and the touch screen doesn't work so well anyway, so the simplest approach is to power it off then back on again, hoping it acquires GPS while I'm running, and then hit start when it finally does.

This is the second time in a race this year that I've done this. The real cost is in Strava, where I don't match Strava segments on climbs at the opening of the race. For example, today was a 12 km race and a 5 km race. Both courses did the 5 km loop, the 12 km group moving on to an additional loop. I'd have liked to compare my time on the opening loop (which is a Strava segment) to not only those doing the 12 km course, whom I ran with (I was 7th at this point, passing two of them later to finish 5th), but also those in the 5 km race.

But no luck. The data from the opening 500 meters or so are lost.

Instead what you need to do is turn it on for warm-up, but if you want to isolate that as a separate activity, turn it off, reset, then turn it immediately back on, to avoid it going into power-save mode, which it does only after a fixed delay. It actually issues a warning for a few seconds before shutting off GPS, but it's easily missed in the noisy environment of a race start.

I understand why they do this. As frustrating as it is to lose data at the beginning of the run in addition to the unit taking a lot of attention which is far better devoted to the actual race, it's equally frustrating to realize your battery is half-drained away when you need more to get through the race duration. But the present "solution" is too error-prone.

Other than the limited battery life (not enough for hilly ultras) I like it: it records data, it tells me my pace and distance, I can upload at the end of the ride. That's all I want, really. This business with dropping GPS is the biggest flaw.