Monday, May 28, 2012

Two races in two days; excellence in mediocracy

Some things just go together; chocolate & peanut butter, pizza & beer, cars & seat-belts or Sonny & Cher.    Other things don't go so well together; oil & fiji water, pizza & mayonaise, Facebook & privacy or running & cycling.  Triathletes may beg to differ but let's be honest; you can't reach your full performance potential in either running or cycling races by training for both.  Last time I checked no world records in running were held by triathletes (sorry guys).  I had the opportunity to demonstrate this athletic discord in races the past couple months including back to back cycling and running races this long holiday weekend.

Before I get to this weekend's races let me just say that I love both running and cycling.  Also, after 15 years away from bike racing I'm really enjoying getting back at it - especially here in the road cycling mecca of Northern California.  Tons of people here ride, the cycling infrastructure is pretty decent and there are many, many great races to test your mettle.  That said, with 8 cycling and 5 running races done so far in 2012 I'm beginning to feel the limitations of a split training plan.  More specifically, since I'm putting most of my training time into running, I can feel the lack of cycling specific fitness (power) in my bike races.

Here are some numbers for consideration.  So far in 2012 I'm averaging 7.5 hours per week running vs. only 4.8 hours per week cycling.  That's not a huge time difference but consider that almost all of my quality high-intensity training hours (speed, hill workouts & races) are spent running and most of my rides are either a flat low-intensity ride or a race.  Before this year I assumed my overall running fitness would help me in bike races and to a limited extent it has.  Where I feel limited is in my ability to sustain a high power output on the bike and in 40+ mile bike races.

The good news is that what little time I do spend on the bike has been helpful to my running strength and my 2012 running races have been getting progressively better.  Also, unlike past years I've been able to sustain 65+ miles per week of running and for the past 6 week have been doing track-work and uphill threshold runs.  Considering my big goal races for 2012 are two running events next month I'm ok "sucking" a little bit on the bike (for now).

So, back to the last few days of training and back to back races.  Last Friday I'd planned to run twice for a total 10-12 miles but after Thursday's 14 mile / 3000' hard ascent/descent workout, the muscles deep in my abdomen were unexpectedly sore - and not is a good way.  I may have pulled something during Tuesday's track workout and exacerbated it running downhill for 3000'.  Since it didn't hurt while running I opted for one Friday workout - a 5 mile flat easy run.  Saturday was more of the same; my abs felt a little better so I ran short but with a little intensity at the end (6 minute miles) to make sure all systems were "go".

Sunday was race (#1) day - the Mt. Hamilton Classic.  For lowly Category 5 racers such as myself it was an 18 mile sprint to the top of 4200' Mt. Hamilton just East of San Jose.  While all the faster categories raced the full 62 miles to Livermore I was perfectly happy to end at the summit and save a little something for Monday's running race.  My goal for the race was to beat my time from last year (1:22:04) set on a 1984 Torpado Super Strada steel bike weighing 25 pounds.  With a new 17 pound "crabon fibre" beating my old time shouldn't be hard - the question would be by how much.

While some of my fellow freds warmed up on stationary trainers and rollers I ran two miles......cause I'm a runner and I do as runners do....I run.  Last year I raced in the 2nd Cat5 / citizen wave which included several folks on mountain bikes (?!?!).  This year I registered early and upgraded to wave #1; an all road bike crowd with predominately carbon fiber rigs and many a shaved leg(s).  If nobody in the crowd was fast, they at least looked fast so I lined up in the front and resolved to stick with the leaders for as long as I could.

Unlike last years slow roll to the official start of the climb, this years field got on the gas right from the start.  Within a couple miles the starting group of 50 was stretched out into two ever lengthening long lines lead by "Stanford" and "Webcor".  Stanford looked to be a strong and fit 20 years old and not at all laboring at this pace.  Webcor was also in his 20's and rode like a hot mess with shoulders rocking and rolling with every pedal stroke.  I reached my highest heart rate (166) in these first few miles but my legs felt good and I was content to follow wheels among the top few riders.

Once we got to the middle "flat" section of the first climb the pace continued to be high and lead group rode single file at a steady 20+ mph.  By the top of the first climb the original group of 50 was down to about 15 or 20 riders.  At the base of the second climb the select group bunched up again and set a surprisingly moderate pace.  So moderate that I raced that section slower than in a training ride earlier this year.  In spite of the slowish pace we still dropped some riders and were down to about 12 at the top of the second climb.

I took the lead on the last downhill only because I didn't want to get taken out if one of my fellow riders over-cooked the blind closing radius turn that sent one rider to the hospital last year.  After we crossed the bridge the real action started as Stanford burst into the lead followed by 3 or 4 riders.  I knew my limits and kept a steady pace as more riders passed in an attempt to catch the breakaway.  About a mile into the final climb I looked back to see I was the last rider from the original selection (oops).  The good news was that about 6 riders were within sight ahead on the road and not pulling away.

With 5 miles to go I set my sight on clawing back 6 places by riding hard and steady.  Slowly but surely I passed 5 of the 6 riders ahead including Webcor who was still hammering away with a significant about of body english.  At the final turn 200 meters from the finish it was clear I wasn't going to catch the 6th rider; unfortunately I wasn't looking behind me.  At 100m and 50m to go Webcor and another rider stormed past me in full sprint.  Oh well, I don't love getting out-sprinted but my real goal was to set a decent time and holding off two riders wasn't going to translate into that many seconds.

The official results have yet to be published but according to my Strava my time on the official course was 1:18:04 - exactly 4 minutes faster than last year.  Faster is always good but considering I used a much lighter bike than last year I'd hoped to be closer to 1:15.  Unlike last year I wasn't completely spent and cramping after the race.  I felt pretty good at the finish where I turned around and headed straight back to the start to get home a rest up for Monday's running race.

Today I drove up to Kentfield, CA for race #6 in the USATF-Pacific Associations Road Racing Grand Prix, the Marin Memorial Day 10k.  My legs felt pretty good but certainly not fresh as I ran my warm-up on the flat course around The College of Marin.  My plan would be to run a steady & controlled 5:30 pace and if I felt good try to pick up in the pace in the final mile or two.  It was hard to watch guys pull away that I've been able to beat in past races but I knew it was the smart move if I wanted to prevent a blow-up in the final miles.

The race unfolded about like I expected it to.  I went through every mile in 5:30 pace +/- a couple seconds.  Also as I expected a few guys came back to me in the second half of the race so I was able to pick up some places - valuable for the team scoring in this event.  What I didn't expect was the headwind in the final mile which made it my slowest mile in spite of it feeling like the hardest mile.  As I turned on the track for the final 300m an NB Excelsior teammate yelled words of encouragement from behind.  It was great motivation to keep the pace high and push through the latic acid pain.

Results have yet to be published but i think my time was just over 34 minutes - a good result considering the previous days bike race and right on my 5:30 goal pace.  Overall I'm happy with the combined results of both races.  I certainly could have biked faster if I'd done more cycling specific training.  I could have run faster if I'd not done the bike race. the end of the day I really like racing because it's fun!  I also really wanted do both races and was willing to accept whatever the outcome even if it was mediocre.

There will always be more races.  There will always be more fun.


  1. I think it is easier to be a competitive runner and incorporate a little cycling as a cross training activity. To be a good bike racer, you really need to log big miles, develop threshold power, and work on your spin. Cycling can be used as a recovery exercise for runners as it allows you to get off of your feet, yet still get in a cardio workout.

    These days I run and ride too, similarly, because I like both sports. That being said, years ago when I raced semi-pro and pro mtb's, I never ran during the competitive season. It's fun playing around with different sports and seeing how they affect your performance.

    1. I think you're right on Rob Hult. My serious competitive cycling friends are all non-runners - especially during the racing season. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. RB

    2. One guy to watch this year will be Lance Armstrong. He is supposedly going to ride the Vuelta at age 41 as a 'retired' athlete in preparation for Ironman. Granted, the guy is far from your average competitive athlete, but I think it is really cool to see a former top cyclist giving it a crack at other sports. If there is one guy out there who can redefine what it means to be a cyclist or a runner or a triathlete, he's the man.