Sunday, May 16, 2010

First 50 mile bike ride

Yesterday was my first 50 mile bike ride. I went with the group that goes out every weekend, Saturday and Sunday, knocking out probably 70-80 miles in the course of the two days. So they are experienced and tough! The group includes a plastic surgeon, vein surgeon, philosophy professor, occupational therapist, computer scientist/entrepreneur, and usually a cellist (who was not along for this one). I like to join in when the training calendar allows because this group pushes me a bit and they are a lot of fun.

I'd been hearing about this "Bradshaw loop" and the uphill switchbacks up Old Catawba and frankly I was intimidated by it. But I signed up for the 58 mile option of the Wilderness Road Ride in two weeks and wanted to get a longer ride in and build up some confidence. So when I heard they were hitting this route and at a "leisurely pace" I figured the time was right.

It was a great ride, but I would not describe it as leisurely. We averaged 16 mph and most of the time my HR was in the threshold zone (150-155 bpm). I was solid up the switchback climb, led the ride for a chunk of time, and my endurance held throughout. However, for some reason I was toast the rest of the day. Today, I feel fine, my legs and body feel normal, but I'm taking a day off so I can start the coming week off strong.

Now that I've conquered this, I see Mountain Lake as the next thing to tackle!!

Ride route (top); Switchbacks (bottom)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Epic Trail Run at Pandapas

Today's workout was supposed to be a nice easy aerobic 11-ish miles. I chose to do this out at Pandapas Pond, in the Jefferson National Forest, where I had some....errrr...navigation issues a few weeks back. THIS time, armed with a great trail map (click here to download) I set out with a plan to do some warmup miles on the flat, then head up Snakeroot (which I have come down) and then come back down Beauty (where I have never run). I had some great miles along the ridge line where I felt like I was in the primordial forest, but I never did find the turnoff for Beauty. I saw a few dead-ends, and lots of NO TRESSPASSING signs and such and after a while I began to wonder....

After a few false leads, I began heading down a deep gulley cut into the red earth, bouncing off the banks from side to side and trying hard not to slip or slide. Turnoffs appeared, trails here, trails there, and no clearly dominant one. Things deteriorated quickly as my trial-and-error approach did little good. I had two choices: (1) continue on down or (2) turn around and run the 8 or 9 miles back. (My watch was off for part so the mileage on the Garmin report was inaccurate). The prospect of turning around, admitting defeat, and essentially taking the long way back did not make me happy. I continued on and the road eventually widened into a reasonable dirt road, one that I knew had carried traffic. I heard voices and approached, asking, "I'm a bit lost, where exactly am I?" Fortunately there was a very kind and clean-cut older gentleman (72 years old, I later learned) who had come up there to turn around and he agreed to drive me back to my car. Good thing, because this was not the kind of street where you'd send your kids to sell Girl Scout cookies.

That was how I met Snake Davis of McCoy, Virginia. Born and raised here, along with his 4 brothers, and 5 sisters. On the 25 minute ride back to my car, down gravel pitted roads, I learned more about this fellow than I ever learn about most people. He has four sons, the oldest is 50, and they all live in the area. Three of his brothers passed away, one from diabetes. His father drove a truck for the coal and oil business. Snake was drafted twice into the Army, but never left the US, he was stationed in Georgia and he had two of his four sons at the time. Snake was a painter at VT but he has since retired and he spends some of his time coon hunting with his coon dog that he trained himself. The dog has one kind of bark to indicate he has spotted the coon, another to say it is treed. Mr. Davis carries two lights (you coon hunt at night) in case one fails. He knows every inch of these mountains and assures me bears are not a problem. There aren't many and they won't bother me unless they have "young-uns." There's a lot of coyotes, however. Snake doesn't drink, smoke, chew, do drugs, or drink coffee but he does like soda. There was a bottle of Dr. Pepper in his immaculate truck as evidence of that. He's never been sick, except for once. It was his liver and he was in the VA hospital for 8 days. They thought it was cancer, but it wasn't, and they never told him what it was. He has two trucks, a full size Chevy, and this small 1999 Chevy. The one we rode in he bought from a woman south of Roanoke who was selling it to pay for a funeral for her son who had killed himself.

Mr. Davis delivered me to my car, handed me a single wrapped life-saver, wished me well, waited for my car to start, and gave me a big wave as he drove off.

Thank God for putting Mr. Snake Davis on Bobcat Lane.

Addendum: I have since learned there IS no sign for Beauty at the top of the mountain because it crosses private property. So I didn't miss the sign. But I still missed the trail!

Good day of workouts

Yesterday was a great day of workouts

Workout 1: 7 am 1500m swim ladder

Workout 2: move 72 concrete blocks up a ladder to the roof of the Y

Workout 3: Resistance training starting with deadlifts and a PR of 240 for 4 reps!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon

Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon Race Report


The weeks leading up to this race were challenging on the job and family front. I was in the throes of installing and debugging a wind turbine, managing our class contributions to Earth Day, advising a student group who put on a community bike ride, and editing a self-published class book. Fortunately, I was still able to get all my workouts in and do so with good focus and energy, and in many ways I believe the training is what helped me to get through this challenging time. I wrapped up many projects in the days leading up to the race and by the time I left town I felt a huge burden lifted.

I got a cabin for the weekend for the family and it turned out to be very nicely appointed and just about 60’ or so from the water’s edge. The weekend was sunny and clear, with temperatures ranging from the 60s to the 80s, perfect for an early May race! Here's a bunch of photos from the weekend.

My goal was to race MY race, keep my composure, be speedy and efficient, but avoid any technical snafus.

Race Day


Grant, Me, and Spencer

I felt relaxed heading into the swim since I had a pretty uneventful swim in the first triathlon last year, and this time I had many more months of training under my belt and the added buoyancy of a wetsuit. I was in the second wave, and at 9:05, off we went into the 64 degree water. The temperature did not seem to bother me, but being a part of the mess of rubber-coated bodies in the water was rather distracting. For the first 200 meters to the first turn buoy I couldn’t seem to get a clear area to swim in and I had this sense that the whole group was just breezing by me. My thoughts turned negative and I was surprised at how hard the swim seemed to get, considering 750m in practice was pretty routine. In the middle of my swim I broke into a few bouts of breaststroke and for one brief period, I resorted to kicking on my back wondering how I would finish and if I had just blown the race. I got to the second turn buoy and resumed freestyle, but then ended up swimming wide and getting peeved that I was wasting even more time by not swimming straight. Exiting the water I just told myself to leave it behind and do my best from this point forward.

Coach Jim and me Pre-Swim

Grant, a member of my fabulous cheering section, encouraging me out of the water


Fortunately I had THE closest bike rack to the bike start so it was easy to find and I didn’t have far to run with the bike. All this time I had worried about getting out of my wetsuit, but I ended up with the second fastest T1 time among the women (helped by the transition practice Jim held for us the previous week and my primo bike location). The course could not have been more to my liking with a good road surface and rolling hills. I kept thinking about the advice Jim offered: (1) wind is your enemy so stay aero (2) hammer hard, take small breaks if you need them on a downhill, but get right back to work and (3) go easy at the bottom of the hill and get more aggressive at the top. I had to remember the no-drafting rule too (no closer than 3 bike lengths, then 15 seconds to complete a pass) which was tough because it was fairly congested.

I really enjoyed the bike phase and mentally it didn’t seem as tough (or maybe I didn’t push hard enough?). I passed a number of people and was myself passed by only a few, and my suspicion based on their pace is that they were the lead men from the wave behind me overtaking our wave. There were two turnaround points and I began to get the sense that there were not as many women ahead of me as I thought so maybe I was still in this race. I saw Jim each time too, working hard but efficiently, and it was a good reminder to step it up a notch.

I love my bike setup, tucking into the aerobars, feeling my quads kick in, and barreling along. It’s so exhilarating!! I averaged about 19.8 MPH and I’d like to break 20 soon. Coming into the final mile, I spotted Jim’s family, then my family, and was pretty excited to know just the run remained. The flying dismount was fairly smooth and I ran the bike down to grab the run gear.


The run is probably my strongest of the three sports, but that doesn't mean the run is ever easy. The early parts of this course were uphill, and coupled with the warmer temps, I felt my initial enthusiasm quickly waning. My intention (and Jim’s goal for me) was to run a 7:00 – 7:10 first mile split and save myself from going out too fast. I ran a 7:01. But rather than speed up, I ended up backing off even more, stopping at the aid station to pour water on myself in the hopes of a needed attitude adjustment. I got behind a woman in my age group and decided I needed to bide my time and wait until I was sure I could blast past her without giving her the chance to catch me. Mile 2 was a 7:37 which is pretty pedestrian for me but I continued to pick some folks off. Fortunately, I found my needed racing gear for the last mile, passed my age-group competition, and logged a 6:45. I entered the final few hundred yards and a kind spectator reminded me to pull my race number around to the front, helping me to avoid a 2 min penalty. (Note to self: make race belt tighter next time).


After the race I enjoyed the company of so many folks from the NRV. It’s a heck of a strong triathlon community around here! Coach Jim topped the male master’s division, my student Leah dominated her age group, one of Jim’s 18-year-old athletes, Justin, topped his age group, and there were lots of other Hokies on the podium. One of the really fun surprises was to discover that Ryan Day, a fellow I’d just recently gotten to know as a fellow swimmer at the Blacksburg Aquatic Center, finished third overall! He’s so humble and understated, as most of the athletes really are. Even though we come together to race, it’s very much a personal quest for each of us -- to push a little harder, dig a little deeper, and further silence our doubts and fears.

And on this particular quest for me, although the swim was a mess, it set me up for a truly positive experience because it showed me that I could turn the situation around. It may seem cliché and overused, but yeah, to “never give up.”

For next time

On June 5th, I will have another opportunity to sharpen up the swim at the Shenandoah Triathon. I will remember to swim at my pace and not worry about anyone else. I will start way slower than I think I should, keep my cool, find my rhythm, and NOT break out of freestyle. If all is going well, I can ramp it up in the latter parts of the swim, but it’s not worth the risk at the start.


TOTAL - 01:19:28 (5th/118 women racers)
Swim – 0:15:32 (33rd)
T1 – 0:1:29 (2nd)
Bike – 0:39:07 (7th)
T2 - 0:0:50 (13th)
Run - 22:31 (5th)

2nd overall Female Masters, 5th female finisher overall
Complete results here: women's, men's, women's by age group, men's by age group

Leah and I with our bounty!