Thursday, December 4, 2008

Power Numbers from The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen is a bike ride/race that has been organized by Danny Chew (best known for winning the Race Across America in 1996 and 1999) since 1983. Each year, riders come out on the last Saturday of November to ride up the 13 most grueling climbs in Pittsburgh. At the start of each climb, a whistle is blown to signal the start of the climb. Points are given to the top 5 finishers up each climb and the winner at the end of the day is simply the one with the most points. Anyone who has ever been to Pittsburgh knows that there are some serious climbs there. Pittsburgh is a town where a grid system was essentially forced on top of mountains. The result of this is that there are quite a few streets where I have to scratch my head and ask, "Why the heck did they even build this road?". The steepest hill on the DD is Canton Ave., peaking at a 37% grade, which by some accounts makes it the steepest hill in the world. For most, it is too steep to drive up or down. As if that weren't bad enough, it's also cobbled.

Of the 150 riders that showed up at the start this year, probably only 20 were in contention for points, though I can guarantee that each and every rider went through their own personal struggle and at the end of the day they all had a story to tell. My goal was to do my best up each climb and make it through the day consistently. The winner of the event for the last 4 years has been my friend and ex-teammate Stephen "Steevo" Cummings. Being that Steevo is 25 pounds lighter than I am and in excellent form for the cyclocross season, I knew that to beat him I would probably need an act of God, so my strategy was to not even worry about him and pace myself appropriately up every climb as if I were doing a series of 13 time trials. This strategy worked out reasonably well, as I saw quite a few riders blow up in front of me throughout the day. I never blew up and I was able to score points on 12 of 13 hills (I pulled out of my pedal on Canton Ave.). I chose to ride a 34 x 50 compact crank with a 12 x 27 cassette, which turned out to be a wise selection as I needed every bit of that granny gear.

Here are the basic stats from the ride:
Total Time: 8 hours
Total Riding Time: 4:05
Distance: 54.7 miles
Average Speed: 13.4 mph
Average Power: 150
Normalized Power: 323
Work: 2198 kJ
TSS: 389
Average Cadence: 76 rpm
Average HR: 148 bpm
Max HR: 193 bpm

(If you are unfamiliar with any of these terms, see my blog on power terms). Note: all stats are based on riding time, time off the bike is not included)

The first thing that stands out is the huge difference between average and normalized power, which signifies a very non-steady state effort. In fact, it doesn't get any more non steady state than this. Overall, there was only about 35 minutes of climbing in the span of a 4 hour ride, but that 35 minutes was all at a sub-maximal effort. Here are the stats for the individual climbs:

#1 (Center/Guyasta): 0.78 miles, 4:16, Avg. = 481 watts, Max = 890 watts
#2 (Ravine/Sharps): 0.80 miles, 4:50, Avg. = 445 watts, Max = 677 watts
#3 (Berry Hill): 0.23 miles, 1:06, Avg. = 691 watts, Max = 1086 watts
#4 (High St./Seavy): 0.36 miles, 1:50, Avg. = 589 watts, Max = 839 watts
#5 (Logan): 0.34 miles, 2:25, Avg. = 540 watts, Max = 744 watts
#6 (Rialto): 0.10 miles, 0:40, Avg. = 877 watts, Max = 1207 watts
#7 (Suffolk/Hazelton/Burgess): 0.48 miles, 3:56, Avg = 442 watts, Max = 665 watts
#8 (Sycamore): 0.55 miles, 3:32, Avg. = 457 watts, Max = 745 watts
#9 (Canton)*: 0.05 miles, 0:37, Avg. = 597 watts, Max = 695 watts
#10 (Boustead): 0.35 miles, 2:16, Avg. = 504 watts, Max = 787 watts
#11 (Welsh Way): 0.26 miles, 1:26, Avg. = 543 watts, Max = 840 watts
#12 (Barry/Holt/Eleanor): 0.44 miles, 3:28, Avg. = 461 watts, Max = 923 watts
#13 (Flowers/Tesla): 0.88 miles, 5:07, Avg. = 390 watts, Max = 737 watts

* I pulled out of my pedal the first time up Canton, so these numbers are from the second time, when I went as easy as possible.

The first question that comes to mind for me is, "Which climb was hardest?". Of course, if you ask 10 different people this question, you will get 10 different answers. Some will rank Canton the hardest because it is so steep and cobbled. Some will rank Suffolk as the hardest because is is long and steep (and cobbled at the top). Personally, I would rank Barry/Holt/Eleanor as the hardest because it is long, steep, and #12. In the Tour de France, climbs are categorized by a combination of length, grade, road surface and where they appear in the route (e.g. the only climb of the day at half way through the race or the 4th categorized climb of the day after having ridden 200 km). I think that this is a pretty good measure, except that there is still no precise formula, which leaves room for different interpretations.

Power numbers are also a subjective way of measuring difficulty because they depend on how hard you decide to go (or could go at the time). However, if you assume that I went as hard as I could up each climb, average speed would be closely related to average grade and one could get a pretty good idea of how difficult the climbs were by averaging the speed and distance rankings. This ranking system produces #7 as the most difficult climb with #2, #12 and #13 tied for 2nd place, which I would argue is pretty close to correct (though I might not put #2 up there because the steep part is at the beginning and it ends on a lesser grade).

Still, there are some that might disagree with these rankings because it does not take into account road surfaces, technical aspects of the climbs, variations in grade or tactics. Most riders are better suited to one type of climbing than another, which is why I always cringe when an athlete tells me "I am a climber" or "I am not a climber" as if it's black and white. A 30 second climb is one step above being a sprint. On the other hand, a 5 minute climb is a much more sustained effort. If we were climbing in the Rockies, the Alps or the Pyrenees we would be facing 20-60 minute climbs which are an altogether different beast. But climbing is about more than just who has the highest power to weight ratio over the given amount of time. I know many riders with high LT or even 5 minute power to weight ratios that I regularly drop on climbs. This is because they do not have the ability to make accelerations within their efforts and recover from them.

Remember last year's Tour de France on the Aple D'Huez stage? Sastre's effort excluded, the last climb was a very non steady state effort back in the field. Evans, Sanchez, Valverde, Efimkin and the Schleck brothers were taking turns attacking each other and playing cat and mouse games. If your goal is to go up the hill as fast as possible, this is probably not the best strategy but if you want to separate yourself from the others and be first up the hill, well, that's a different matter. The hope of any of these attacks is that you can push your competition over the edge of what they can sustain and snap the elastic. Although this is arguably the goal of any attack, things are a little different when you are going uphill; when you crack there is nowhere to hide. Even if you are unconcerned with the other riders, tactics are still relevant. A steep or cobbled section of a climb can push you over the edge just as easily as an attack.

Throughout the day, I did have to accelerate a few times at the end of climbs to gain or maintain position, even though I knew I would pay the price later on. I also felt like I was going to throw up and/or hyperventilate at the top of every climb. At the end of the day I felt like I had just taken 5 years off my life... BUT... I was happy in knowing that I accomplished all of my goals. I never blew up, I did the best I could and I finished the day in 2nd place (though I had to defend 2nd place all the way to the last 10 meters against a fast and surging Chris Mayhew).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Bet: Episode 3

It's all Over

The Philadelphia Marathon was this past Sunday and while I didn't go as well as planned and I lost the bet, you will never hear the word "failed" uttered from my lips.

A month Ago

It's been a while since my last update on my marathon training and for that I apologize. Everything was going well. A month before the race I was building up the distance and bringing down my average mile times. I was feeling very comfortable at a 7 minute pace and knew with another month I could bring that down a little more.

I headed out one day for my longest run before the race... 20 miles. Everything went fine but a week later my knee was nagging me a bit. I pushed on through because I'm tough (that means stupid, by the way) and 2 runs later I was officially sidelined. With three weeks to go I couldn't walk 1 mile without my knee hurting.

I started doing some researched, as well as talking to the other coaches and realized that my cycling had given me some rather unbalanced legs muscularly speaking. My adductor muscles are not nearly as trained as my abductor. Too, with my high arches my feet were not supported enough so with every step I was stressing the insides of my legs.

When you're injured, or at least when I'm injured I get cranky. I don't want to talk to people about my training or the marathon and I certainly didn't want to post anything on the blog about how everything was falling apart. I never had any doubt I could finish the distance but now there was a very good possibility that 3 miles in I would be done. Not only was it a possibility, it was a certainty based on my last 3 weeks of training.

Add that to family pressures. My birthday was the day before, we had just bought our dream home and we invited my whole family, 3 brothers, girlfriends and the folks out to spend the weekend together. We hadn't all been together for 2 years and no one had seen the house yet so I had this great idea to invite everyone out to take part in the festivities. Everyone ran one of the events, either the 8k, half or full. Everything was set and if I made it 3 miles I would have a hard time mentally getting over that hump for the rest of their visit. It felt like a lot riding on this race.

See, we're all in the same boat. We all have anxiety, we all fear failure and we all get injured. It happens. But what you do with that energy is what makes you who you are. Yeah, I stopped bragging I was training for a marathon; I started setting myself up for excuses in case of failure but I didn't give up in my heart. I started doing some exercises to correct my imbalance, I rode my bike more to keep my aerobic conditioning and I molded some Sidas custom insoles to give me better support in my shoes. And in the end it worked.

The Race

The weekend of the race was cold. In fact, the weather guy the night before said it felt more like January, then paused and said, no even this would be cold for January. My family and I spent most of Saturday night discussing layering, who was wearing what, and on what layer do I pin my number? i.e how many layers do we think we will be stripping over 3.5 hours. (The answer, for me at least, if you ever find yourself racing in cold conditions is a short sleeve and long sleeve shirt with a vest over everything. Tights, shorts, gloves and a hat. I ditched the vest, and gloves at the half way point)

I struggled back and forth with my goal time. On the one hand I really wanted to push myself but on the other I wanted to finish. I finally made the decision the morning of the race that I would stay with my brother, Aaron, the whole race. If one of us had to stop that was one thing but other than that we would finish together. We started out great, keeping the 3:30 pacer in sight the whole time which was my brother's goal time (or maybe it was MY goal time for him. He really didn't have a say in it.) I kept thinking about all the advise I was given, don't start out to fast, to panic if your first mile is slow, etc. and sure enough our first mile was slow but we made it back up my mile 3 and I felt like I would have started out faster, had I not heeded the good advice. At mile 10 we hit a downhill and found ourselves leaving the pace runner. We felt good so we increased our pace to 7:45 for 4 miles in a row. We made it through the halfway point and took on bananas and Hammer drink for the second half. We felt strong and only had 8 miles to go.

Our pace started to slow a little, hovering again at 8 minutes. We were a minute up on goal pace though so we knew we had some cushion and we made it into Manayunk still feeling pretty good. The cheers from everyone outside Cadence kept me going to the end of Main St and back again but once we hit the deadly silence of Kelly Drive again we realized we were slowly crashing. We took as much in as our stomachs could handle (next time I'll plan for more solid foods) and kept moving forward. The legs filled up and it was all I had to keep putting on step in front of the other. The 3:30 pacer caught and passed us but we had nothing to give. We finished 5 minutes later with a 3:35 and given my injury I was excited, though you wouldn't have known looking at me. We entered the shoot and all I wanted was solid food. We were herded through some gates and runners were being handed something wrapped in plastic. "Food!" I thought. Let me tell you, I bet there is no one who has ever been so disappointed to receive a finishers medals.

We got food not too soon afterward and greeted our family. We had a half marathon finisher and some 8k runners. Everyone was tired and happy to be done. So was I.

We walked home and because we wouldn't be together for Thanksgiving we made a turkey dinner and ate until we were sufficiently stuffed. Because that's why we do all of this, right? So we don't feel so bad when we overeat around the holidays.

The Bet

So I didn't win the bet, but I haven't heard an "I told you so" or a mocking laugh from anyone yet. Given the circumstances I am proud of what I accomplished even it what I gained was different than what I set out at the beginning 3 months ago. And it just goes to show how important patience is when training. I had 2 great months of running before I hurt my knee. I steadily increased my long runs and got in my 20 miler. When I had to stop running with three weeks to go I didn't panic. I knew I had put in the work and all that was left was resting my knee until it healed. It is possible I could have done better had I tried to push through the pain in those three weeks but it is more probable that I would have done much worse. Brian said it best, when it comes to the taper, less is definitely more.

I won't stop running now, I really enjoy it and it has kept me fit through the fall where I typically become somewhat of a couch potato. Who knows, maybe I'll start swimming and have an Olympic Triathlon in my near future.

Anyone wanna bet I can't do it?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Biking the New York City Marathon
Bicycle Escort for Wheelchair Athletes at the New York City Marathon
By Ann Marie Miller

I am very pleased to share with you a very “different” Race Report – a report of my experience as a Bicycle Escort for Wheel chair/Handcycle athletes in the New York City Marathon.

Several weeks ago, Richard Rosenthal invited me to serve as a volunteer “Bicycle Escort” for the wheelchair/handcycle athletes in the New York City Marathon because of my experience in bike racing and as a coach and group ride leader. The “bicycle escorts” assist the wheelchair/handcycle racers by serving as “rolling marshals” on the course, giving the spectators notice of the athletes approaching and watching for any hazards on the course. I embraced the opportunity to "give back" to the local cycling community, network with other cyclists and see the 5 boroughs from a different perspective.

I had no idea the bike escort group would include such a diverse group of cycling enthusiasts! Besides networking with many of the local racers I expected to see there, I was impressed with the diversity of the other bikers. I was honored to be included in a group ranging from an Emmy-award winning actor, to leaders in the civic and business community to concert musicians - a real reflection of the palette of New York culture and business!

We met the other riders at 6:15am at 59th & 5th Ave. to ride together to the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano Narrows bridge, were we organized, received our final assignments, and waited for the wheelchairs and handcycles to arrive after their start at 8:30am, well ahead of the actual marathon start. Cyclists were paired with one on each side of the road to lead the athletes, and blow a whistle to warn pedestrians and spectators that the wheelchair athletes were approaching. I think I was more nervous about escorting the handcyclist than I would be about doing a criterium in New York City! The handcyclists can hit speeds of 22-24 miles per hour on the flats, and since the event is "draft-legal", there can be "packs" of handcyclists, making it tricky to negotiate the bike escorts and groups of athletes!

Although there was a strong headwind from the north blasting us in the face as we rode up 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, and 1st Avenue in Manhattan, the ride went very smoothly. It was great seeing the crowds gathering in advance of the runners, and hearing some of the bands along the course. My partner & I were assigned to the first female hand cyclist, who stayed together with another male handcylist for most of the race.

The bike escorts were diverted from the course at the exit from Central Park Drive to 59thSt. (Central Park South) so we did not pass through the finish area with our athletes. “Riding” the New York City Marathon course with the wheelchair athletes was a great experience, and I’m sure all of us bike escorts were as impressed with the grit and determination of these athletes as we’d have been with any world class athletes.

Richard Rosenthal does a great job coordinating the bike escorts, and the entire marathon support team is amazing. I was very proud to volunteer and help with this epic New York City event as an ambassador for Cadence Cycling and Multisport. I'm looking forward to helping with this event next year, and if you are interested in serving as a bike escort, please let me know.

I have attached a photo of the Bicycle Escort team (I’m over on the right side, 2nd row, crouching halfway down, partially hidden in the shadows.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kicking the Water

Freestyle Swimming Kick Training
Holden Comeau

If you’ve been struggling all season with the swim portion of your triathlon training, there’s a good chance that your freestyle kick is underdeveloped. Right now in the off season is a great time to get your legs going in the water. It’s going to take a little extra leg power, and this is the best time to spare it! Below is a reprint of an article I wrote a few months ago for Triathlete Magazine. Check it out and get to the pool! And if you’re having some problems, send me an email and I’ll do what I can to help you out.

"A big misconception that unfortunately persists among the triathlon community is that swim training for the sport requires little attention to the freestyle kick. This is hugely problematic, especially for triathletes who are relatively new swimmers, or for those who experience what feels like an unwarranted amount of effort in the pool. For both of these individuals, gaining control of the kick is the first place to start when attempting to improve their swim.

It is important to understand is that kicking for a triathlete is not intended to directly increase thrust (which the kick certainly could, albeit with a substantial effort). Instead, the freestyle kick should be used as a means of controlling the swimmer’s body rotation and position in the water. For many swimmers, this task is often put upon the pull, creating more effort for the arms than is needed.

With proper training – which involves patient concentration on both the dynamics of the kicking movement and also some pure muscular conditioning – a swimmer can gain enough control over the kick so that it can become both light and also relentless. Once this is in place, body rotation and then the arm stroke cycle can be successfully coordinated to the rhythm of the kick (on this point, there is substantial debate as to which ‘rhythm’ is most effective; 2 beat, 2 beat cross-over, 4 beat, 6 beat, even 8 beat kicking per stroke cycle, are all variations of the kick/arm-cycle coordination. In my opinion, it would be best to experiment with as many different kicking speeds as possible, and work to perfect the rhythm that feels most comfortable and natural. Most importantly, swim with the kick speed that feels most rhythmic).

A great way to get your legs going is to train with some swim fins. These are full-sized rubber training fins – not shorty zoomers. Full size fins encourage correct kicking mechanics (move from the hip and core, not the knee), and also illuminate for the swimmer how best to effectively apply power to water. The fins will ‘grab’ the water more dominantly in one direction, which, for freestyle kicking is downward to the bottom of the pool. Standard interval training with the fins and a kick board works well at intervals ranging from 100-300 meters, and intensity should remain fairly low for all but a few of these laps.

Full stroke swimming with the fins can also be helpful. The exaggerated resistance against the fins will encourage a swimmer to pay more attention to their kick while they swim. Also, the added body stability that is created by this ‘really strong kick’ can, in turn, allow the arms a better foundation against which the swimmer can leverage pulling power. Realization of this relationship – a better kick creates a better pull – will also mean a realization of increased speed!"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Coping with Stress: Distress, Eustress, and Destress

This is a topic we're all getting very familiar with: stress. Biologically speaking, stress refers to the failure of an organism to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats, whether those threats are real or imagined. Short term effects of stress on human beings result in a physiological state of alarm creating elevated levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters associated with blood pressure, heart rate, and insomnia. Stress can also lead to a decrease in serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter which keeps epinephrine and norepinephrine levels in check. This vicious circle can lead to anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, and other physiological maladies including decreased production of dopamine, which controls the human body's way of inducing states of relaxation and mental focus. In fact, it is estimated that between 60% and 90% of all doctors' visits are directly correlated to high stress levels.

Dealing with stress can take a negative and turn it into a positive. In fact, the term "eustress" (derived from the Greek "eu," meaning well, or good) denotes a physiological response to stress which leads to a positive adaptation. One example of eustress is found in the training principle of sports periodization whereby judiciously applied intense intervals of physiological stress (training) produce the adaptive benefit of strength and improved performance.

Another form of eustress comes in the form of regular exercise. Working exercise into your daily routine is the single best way to deal with stress. Exercise can dramatically counter the short term effects of stress by increasing endorphin levels, which in cause disinhibits the brain's production of dopamine and serotonin. Increased levels of endorphins cause the euphoric feeling known as "runners' high," improve mental clarity and focus, reduce insomnia, decrease the desire for fatty and high carbohydrate foods, and generally impart a feeling of control and overall well being.

At Cadence, exercise is the core of our existence. Using our expertise in the fields of cycling, running, swimming, and multisport we are here to help you take control of your life by turning your stress into a positive. Stop by Cadence NY or Cadence Philadelphia and we'll suggest events, services, products, and other ways you can turn distress into eustress so you can feel better about yourself, sleep better at night, improve your relationships, and focus better to take control of your life!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Bet: Episode 2

What You've Missed

I am running a marathon (that's for those who can't be bothered to read old blog entries) After our little bet was made, I knew I had very little time to get into running shape. I think I spent a good week "getting ready" to run. Buying shoes, shorts and tops; reading up on the newest running training theories and sitting down and mapping out my own training on trainingpeaks. I did just about everything a good runner can do... except run. I wasn't really looking forward to that part of it. As a cycling coach who is realizing more and more just how many triathletes are out there, I was excited to gain some experience in the "Multisport" world. If I studied up on running techniques and theories I would be more marketable as a coach and I was thoroughly enjoying my studies... just not the running part. That part I was dreading!


I want to make it clear to everyone that I am not a beginning runner. My pops ran marathons when he was younger and still ran almost everyday when I was young. I'm not sure how young I was, but my mom would wake me up before school and meet my dad at the end of the driveway when he finished his run and I would jog with him for a mile on his cool down. This progressed into running 3-5 miles with him by the time I was in the 5th grade or so. We did this for years until I starting running for school. I was obsessed with running, much in the same way I am with cycling now. I can't get enough of the culture, the people, the places. I love it and I loved running the same way. I continued in high school and was an above average runner. I ran a 16:16 5k in cross country my junor year, which wasn't fast enough to go to state. I missed it by 3 places. I broke 10 minutes in the 2 miles and that wasn't even fast enough to get me out of our conference meet.

Since I took up the bike I, or mostly my coaches, have tried to get me to run during the off season. I never made it more than 20 minutes and then I'd be so sore for a week I couldn't move. So I may not be a beginning runner but I haven't competed or ran for more than 3 miles in nearly 10 years.

The First Run

I knew if I just walked out the door I'd either be back home in 20 minutes or at the pub having a pint. No, I needed a different plan. Then it hit me. I had left my bike at work the day before and got a ride home. I needed to go pick it up later that day anyways, so I decided to run there, from Fairmount to Manayunk. It's ONLY 6 miles. I could do that. Even if I had to walk the whole way minus the first 20 minutes I still would be ok. It was decided. I threw on all my new gear (you gotta look good, even if you're walking) and headed out the door.

Fast forward 20 minutes. I am dying I think. Lungs are burning, legs feel like rubber. Maybe I'll just turn around I thought. But something kept me going. 30 minutes in and I was plateaued. I wasn't hurting worse than 10 minutes ago but I also wasn't hurting less. The good news is I haven't stopped to walk yet. 45 minutes in and something kicked in. I'm not sure what it was but my stride opened up, my HR slowed and a light breeze hit my face. I ran the last 15 minutes down Main St at what I figured was a pretty good clip. I felt like I was back in high school. I stopped in front of Cadence, amazed that I just ran here from home. I looked around and smiled. I can do this.

Tune in next time when I run 12 miles on only my 4th run back. (Stupid!)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Bet: Episode 1

The Challenge...

If you are reading this you are one of two people. You are either a cyclist or a triathlete (somewhere Mike Kuhn just yelled, "What about Mountain Bikes?") We've all been there, riding along the Skuykil river path minding our own business when one of "those" people buzz by us. We utter something under our breath, making massive stereotypes about an entire sporting event. You all know what I'm talking about. Even here at Cadence the cycling coaches and Tri coaches have differing opinions on things.

A few weeks ago in our meeting, we were discussing the schedule of our new distance running class. (If you're just hearing about this, it's not too late to sign up) It all started pretty harmless. We were trying to name the course and figure out our target audience for the class. The Tri coaches thought it should be called "Distance running for Triathletes" to which I said, "yeah but what about those cyclist who just finished their season and want to do some cross training?"

The cycling coaches were silent and the tri coaches chuckled. No cyclist would ever want to do distance running the cycling coaches said in unison. No cyclist COULD do distance running spoke the tri coaches ...

"We COULD," I barked back, "we just choose not to because our sport is better." Oops, I went to far. It was on. We started going at it as to why our respective sports were better than the other. Cyclist are too mean, cut throat racing, Triathletes are too nice to each other, no competitiveness among the masses. Cyclist are bullies, hogging up the streets and paths with their big group rides, triathletes are all over the road and have poor bike handling skills. Back and forth we went and somewhere in there I, for some unknown reason, took the entire cycling world on my shoulders and hushed the room. "I can and will run a marathon. I will train with the class and run Philly at the end of November. I ran in high school and I could get ready for it in 10 weeks no problem." The cycling coaches had a look like I just signed my death sentence. The tri coaches said the deal had to be more than just finishing. I'm an elite cyclist. I could finish 26.2 miles. It may take me 5 hours, but I could get through it. No, it had to be tough, this was for bragging rights. I would have to break 3 hours to win this bet they decided. Something that, I am now learning, is going to take all my focused energy to train and race for.

My racing season has ended and I am in full running mode. Bought the shoes, bought the gear and headed out for my first run Monday morning. But you'll have to wait for the details of my death march until next time...

Til then, happy riding (or running, i guess)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It's Not About the Numbers

It's Tuesday afternoon and that means one thing... The Drives Ride. Every Tuesday during the summer many of the coaches peel themselves away from their computers and kit up to see if we can break each other's legs. I am especially excited this week because I am taking the helmet cam out on the ride to put up on Cadence TV so you all have fun videos to watch while you sit on your trainers all winter.

The Drives

The Drives is my favorite workout of the week and I truly look forward to every Tuesday. I call it my "Redline Workout" because I never go into the ride trying to win; I go trying to lose. Every week I try to hurt myself as much as I can at the front of the group. Can I chase down attacks, ride off the front and take more pulls than anyone else in the group and still have enough left to contend for the sprint? This has helped my racing immensely as I've still yet to hurt myself enough to keep me from finishing with the group. I've come close a couple times but each time I am able to dig deep and grab that last wheel and hold on until I've recovered. It has taught me that I CAN attack after the hardest climb in the race; I CAN cover multiple moves in a row for a teammate up the road in a break and I CAN sprint, even after I've fought in the wind to get into position in the last lap. You can never know your limits if you don't test them.

Off the front

Every once in a while a pro or two will show up and try to make everyone suffer a little more. Tyler Wren, Scotty Z, Geronimo, Dom Rollin. These guys are some of the best in the country and the ride becomes more fun when they show up. A few weeks ago Dom was in town and came out to mix it up with the local guys. The ride was nothing out of the ordinary, high pace, usually right around 29mph with 10-15 guys rotating up front. With a couple of miles to go I found Dom's wheel and stuck to it. About a mile from the sprint sign is a 200meter rise and that is where Dom made his move. He stood and attacked and I gave it everything I had to stick to him. Up and over the hill he went and we didn't look back; I knew we had a gap. 10 seconds later he flicked his elbow. "No way I can take a pull at these speeds," I thought but then I remember why I come out here. Maybe this is the day I can find my limit! I dug deeper than I had ever dug before and took a pull. It was probably only 20 seconds before Dom came around me for the sprint but it felt like an eternity. I had just gone off the front with Dom Rollin, winner of a stage at the Tour of California, Canadian National Champion... what a feeling. I couldn't wait to get home and look at the helmet cam video and download my power file. I bet I crushed my previous 2 minute max wattage.

My best numbers ever!

I hurried home and told my girlfriend, Kathleen, all about my successes. She was thrilled. I flipped open my computer and started downloading the data and then took out the camera to show Kathleen the last 5 minutes. I hit rewind but was confused when it only rewound for a second or two. I hit play and it hit me; I must have hit the off switch when I was putting it in my pocket before the ride began. I had no footage, none. I was devastated. I couldn't believe I had a camera and didn't get any of that great ride. But it was about to get worse. My files uploaded and I didn't see tonight's workout on the list. I looked at the head unit and saw it flashing there right in front of me... FULL. I must not have deleted my files from the last time and I never noticed it during the ride because I was keeping my head up the whole time because of the camera. I had nothing to show from my best ride ever. I couldn't believe it and did not sleep well that night.

The Moral isn't "keep diligent with erasing your powermeter"

As a coach you sometimes become fixated with numbers. Your numbers, your athletes numbers, Pro numbers. Science is easy to fall back on because it is quantitative. You produce more watts for a given duration, you are stronger than you were. Simple. But sometimes we forget that we are bike racers too. We don't do this for the numbers. We do this for race results. We do this to be stronger than the other guy. We do this for wins! The racing gods, in their infinite (though lousy) wisdom would not let me have any proof of that Drives ride... because it doesn't count for anything. Numbers are a great tool to follow progression but they cannot be the end goal. Podium pictures and medals should be what matters; for either you or your team. I wasn't ready to see numbers from that Drives ride because I would have been content with myself when I haven't even stepped on the podium once this season. I would have to prove I could do it in a race.

The Aftermath

So it's Tuesday again and I'm off the front at the Drives again and my legs are killing me. But not because I had a great workout yesterday and got some good numbers. My legs hurt because I spent 60 miles in the 4 man break at the state road race this past Sunday and finished 3rd!

It's not about the numbers unless the number is your finishing place!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cyclists are Warriors

Bob Roll is beloved for his witty cycling commentary and enlightening insider perspective on the pro peloton. Like any great storyteller, Bob's commentary shares elements of fact, embellishment, absurdity, and flat-out falsehood and where the line is drawn between fact and fiction is downright difficult to tell. Reading Bob or listening to him tell a story is akin to reading Jorge Luis Borge or Hunter S. Thompson; it's up to the reader to decipher where absurdity trumps reality (or vice versa).

When I was a 20 year-old going to Ft. Lewis College in Durango, CO all of us members of the local cycling club, the Durango Wheel Club, would get abuzz and excited when rumor spread that "Bobke" was coming to town. At that time, Bob had transitioned from 7-11 to Motorola, and he would sometimes show up on our Sunday morning rides. Bob had made Durango his home along with Ned Overend, John Tomac, Greg Herbold, and a number of other pros who bridged between road and mountain bike racing. But Bob was the one who got everyone excited: his stories of the peloton were notorious even then.

Eighteen years later I heard Bob give a talk on the East Coast to a cycling club in Delaware. Amid raucous laughter causing a steady stream of hands wiping tears from eyes, Bob said something that struck me as particularly profound. He said, "I'd put 200 cyclists against the best army in the world." He then paused, reflected with a rubbing of his chin, and revised: "Nah, that's not right. I'd only need 100!"

I recall this comment because today I sit at my computer instead of getting out for my usual Sunday 4 to 5 hour training ride. Yesterday, after a 75 mile ride, I was all but 3 miles from home when, negotiating a twisty descent I've ridden two hundred times before, my front wheel washed out and I went down hard and fast. When my front wheel slipped I thought to myself, "There's no way you're going to right this ship." In a flash I went from an upright 25 mph to the ground and was sent sliding along moist, snot-slick pavement towards the roadside berm. During what seemed like an interminable chute the thoughts "this isn't going to end well" and "the longer I slide the more damage I'm doing" kept churning over in my shock-addled skull. I hit the dirt, rolled a few times in what I hoped wasn't poison ivy, and came to a ruined rest on my right side: the side opposite that hit the road.

At that point a kind of out-of-body experience took place, and this seems always the same after crashes. I took a mental inventory of my body by looking down on myself in a kind of "view from nowhere" sort of way. At just shy of 6'0" and all of 140 odd pounds I thought, man, you look really delicate lying there covered in dirt, road grime, and everything else clinging to your sweat-sticky flesh. I noticed the top ratchet on my Sidi shoe had been shorn off from friction, and that there were a few live worms stuck to my surprisingly skinny legs. But, nothing broken. Everything accounted for. Right, get yourself up.

Ouch. Already my left hip is three times its normal size and it's straining at my bibshorts. Above my waist, where the iliac crest of the pelvis protrudes, I noticed that swelling is protruding my jersey. My arms are wrapped around my chest because it hurts to breath, and in my hunched-over, stinging state I note that something is indeed missing: a good bit of skin from my from my fore- and upper-arm. But what can one do but right their steed, mount it, and head home for the inevitably curse-filled shower and scrub.

Three weeks earlier while traveling this same stretch of road a souped-up SUV full of teenagers revved behind me and roared to pass. As this multi-ton death wagon raged past I was suddenly pelted with hands full of coinage: pennies, nickels, dimes, and even quarters were hurled at me from this rapidly advancing steel encased tonnage. The final "insult" was an extended middle finger on a skinny white arm which contrasted appropriately against the menacing black body of the SUV. Rage broiled inside of me. What cowardice! What ignorance!

As cyclists, we've all know the insult of ignorant, bullying motorists, and we've all known the injury of the unforgiving macadam. Nonetheless, we trundle on: day after day, year after year, we ride. There's some inner calling, some atavistic drive, that makes us march on like soldiers in a trancelike state following orders. But most of us are just weekend warriors, and even if we're Cat 1 or Cat 2 of even Cat 5 competitors, we have but a fraction of the tenacity and truly warrior-like mentality of the pros who daily do battle in the Grand Tours or over the cobbles of northern Europe often times with broken bones and large percentages of their bodies covered in road rash (a euphemism for burnt flesh). Those guys are the real warriors.

So, okay, I'm back to Bob Roll. And a few years after hearing the above referenced speech, I'm again struck by his comment. Maybe it would only take 100 pro cyclists to stave the world's greatest armies. 100 pros and maybe, just maybe, a few of us regular guys, too.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Racing is "Heating" Up

If you noticed the Philly race last weekend it was clear how much environmental heat and humidity affect performance. The race time was a full 30 min slower than the previous year and less than half of the field finished with many riders pulling out with serious heat stress and dehydration. Adding to the stress is that it was the first very hot and humid day this summer, and many riders have not yet acclimatized to racing in such conditions.

Research on exercise performance and temperature clearly show the detrimental effects temperature can have. In a landmark study by Galloway and Maughn, the exercise intensity that could be maintained on a cycle ergometer for 92 min at 11 degrees Celsius (52 degrees F) decreased to just 51 min after cycling in a 30 degree environment (86 degrees F) (1).

During prolonged exercise in the heat, athletes can lose water at a rate of 1-2 L every hour (2-4 lbs). Think of a 2 L bottle of soda, and that’s just the amount of sweat lost in 1 hour! Each pound of body weight loss corresponds to 450 mL (15 fluid ounces) of dehydration. According to Coyle, every liter of water loss will raise your heart rate for a given intensity by 8 beats per minute (2).

In order to combat this dehydration and resultant cardiovascular stress athletes need to consume an equal amount of water as lost through sweating. A 72 kg athlete (158 lb) requires about 35-70 g/h of carbohydrate and 625-1,250 mL/h fluid during prolonged exertion. That’s about 2.5 typical cycling water bottles full of a 6% carbohydrate solution. Athletes should have no problem drinking this amount and can typically consume 1200-1500 ml/h of fluids, however, many athletes do not drink this amount, and even in moderate temperatures, this can result in a reduction in performance due to dehydration. So for a hard 2.5 hour race an athlete needs to consume at least 7 water bottles of fluid. However, during extreme heat and humidity, especially when an athlete is not acclimatized to it, the rate of water loss can exceed 2 L/h, increasing your requirements to approximately 10 water bottles during a 2.5 hour race. That’s 1 bottle every 15 minutes. At these rates it becomes a losing battle and even if you did consume that amount of fluid, chances are you would not be able to digest this amount fast enough.

So pay attention to your water loss from sweating on your training rides and get an idea of exactly how much you sweat for a given temperature. Each pound of weight loss is approximately 450 mL (15 fluid ounces) of sweat and dehydration. Then formulate a drinking strategy to replenish these losses for each hour of your event. This will give you an idea of what you require to perform at your best in the heat.

1. Coyle, Edward (1994) Fluid and carbohydrate replacement during exercise: How much and why? SSE#50, Volume 7 (1994), Number 3

2. Galloway, SDR, and R.J. Maughan (1995). Effects of ambient temperature on the capacity to perform prolonged exercise in man. J. Physiol., 1995: 489: 35-36P.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Traveling Cyclist

Being a fly fisherman as well as a competitive cyclist I started to reflect on the two sports during my recent trip with Cervelo to the Giro d'Italia. Passionate as I am about both sports, I started to draw (perhaps overzealous) analogies. Disanalogous as the two may in practice be, in principle the passion and diversity shared by their mutual participants is perhaps unrivaled among all other sporting endeavors. From an obsession with products and cutting edge technology, to a compulsive addiction to literature and all things lifestyle-related, cyclists and fly fishermen share numerous similarities, none of which, however, is more similar than the yen to search out the best grounds (or waters!) on which to play.

The search for the perfect stretch of water or the ideal sinew of road borders on obsessive if not obscene. Who, for example, is willing to travel the globe in search of the perfect football (soccer) patch or turf, the perfect basketball court, the world's finest baseball venue, or the nirvana of all tennis courts? Who, other than cyclists, will clear two weeks of their schedule and risk divorce from their spouse to travel to remote, often foreign, mountainous regions just to worship on their sport's most noble battlegrounds? Fly fishermen will literally scour the globe looking for the perfect trout stream: be that in the nether reaches of Chile, New Zealand, even the Kamchatka Penninsula, or as near as the headwaters of the Arkansas in the Colorado Rockies. Like fly fisherman, cyclists (both competitive and passionate enthusiasts) will trundle all around the planet in search of fabled stretches of straight and serpentine streets. These roads--draped and strewn over mountains, meadows, and marshes like spaghetti randomly tossed by God's own hand--are the cathedrals of cycling and they beckon the souls of cyclists with the same persuasive power as the Khalifa calling the faithful to Mecca.

In just the last 8 months I've had the wonderful good fortune to ride in Mallorca, the French Pyrenees, along the coast of the Adriatic in central Italy, and most recently the Dolomites of northeastern Italy. For each trip I've packed my Cervelo SLC SL into a well-trusted Thule bike case and trusted the travel gods to see it safely deposited at each destination. Anyone who has traveled with a bike knows this is no easy task. Aside from logistical problems of lugging a 30 Kg super-oversized piece of luggage, there are the inevitable quarrels at check-in regarding random upcharges and over-size baggage fees. More often than not, your bike will not arrive with your flight, but will show up a day or two later (NB: because you're paying to fly your bike, you can ask for a priority lable to be placed on your bike case: this will insure that it is sent with your flight and will virtually guarantee same-time arrival). The point of all this is that massive dedication is involved in traveling with a bike to a far-off locale. It requires a mental tenacity, physical strength, patience, and fair bit of good humor way beyond that of traveling with running shoes or tennis racquets.

But as the traveling cyclist knows, the pay-off is immense. For the competitive cyclist, the opportunity to train in the Alps, Pyrenees, or Dolomites will provide a clear advantage during racing season: leg strength, sub-lactate and lactate power, aerobic efficiency and sustained anaerobic power will dramatically increase from just a few hundred miles in these unrelenting mountains. For the sporting cyclist, who above all enjoys a spirited ride on the hallowed roads of cycling's greatest feats, the vistas, people, camaraderie, and proud claim "I've ridden there!" whilst watching a grand tour imbue a cycling adventure with a kind of intrinsic worth that goes way beyond the price tag. In both cases, the ability to immerse yourself in the local culture in an extremely intimate way is priceless. Riding a bike in a foreign country does not always come with the same stigma and cruelty one may experience in regions of the U.S., and in many countries, when you're a cyclist, you already speak the local patois: verbal barriers are broken down by a common love for the ride, the bike, and the heroes of the sport.

Most recently I had the very good fortune to join Gerard Vroomen and Tom Fowler from Cervelo on a 9 day cycling spree in Italy. Joining us was Francesco Sergio, who is in charge of European Cervelo sales. With a small cadre of other riders from the States and Europe we delighted in the company of the UCI's #1 ranked women's pro team, Cervelo LifeForce. Stationed in Gabicci Mare, just south of Rimini, the pervasively morbid reminder of Pantani, we enjoyed some seriously hardcore and aggressive training with the team. After 3 days and twice as many rides along the Adriatic's coastal ranges it was time for some Giro action, so we headed far north to our hotel at the base of the fabled Passo Pordoi. The Pordoi was one of the featured climbs during Stage 15 of the 2008 Giro d'Italia and so it also featured prominently in the Dolomites Stars Giro d'Italia Granfondo (actually, Stage 15) which we rode on Saturday, May 24th--one day prior to the pros.

If you have yet to do a granfondo (cyclosportif, in French) it is highly recommended. The tempo you set on such a ride is up to you and your legs: some attend these events to race for the prize money and honor of winning. Others, like our group this year, ride it for the challenge and the lifetime opportunity to experience Europe's great racing roads as would a pro peloton: with support and access only to cyclists. Along the way you'll experience a few crowds cheering words of encouragement to ease your suffering, tremendous views, and a dramatically greater appreciation for what a pro cyclist has to endure to earn a living at a wage exponentially less than that of almost any other professional athlete.

Preparation for riding in any mountainous terrain is imperative: riding a grandfondo likewise requires solid preparation and, above all, a solid hydration and nutrition strategy. Stage 15 was 160 km with over 15,000 feet of climbing, and three words which Brian Walton had emailed me the night before the event kept ringing in my head: Respect the distance. In so doing I kept my heartrate below my lactate threshold for 7 hours, drank 10 19 ounce bottles of liquid, ate 3 ham sandwiches, 3 oranges, 4 bananas, 2 packets of cookies, the equivalent of 4 Italian Twinkies, and in the last 30 minutes of sheer suffering up the Marmolada (a 7 km diabolical, gun-barrel-straight 13% climb that tortures the mind and degrades the body) two sugar intensive gel packs. At the finish I was greeted by a smiling Gerard, who had just finished the 96 km version, and who seemed all too happy to inform me that I needed to change into fresh, dry kit for the 25 km ride I now had back to our hotel!

Passionate cyclists, like devout fly fisherman, will tell tall tales full of embellishments and exaggerated bravado, but we all know this and almost relish in the fact that our achievements--while greater than what 99.9% of the population would even consider doing--are so substantially inferior to what that .01% of professionals can accomplish that it numbs our brains. But when you travel as a cyclist to roads you've eyed since you first saw LeMond contra Fignon you catch an ephemeral moment of personal greatness which elevates you to something better than you were or what you thought you could be. In those fleeting moments perhaps we find the true value of life: it's the memory of those moments, the replaying and retelling of them in embellished states, that makes us feel rather than just be alive.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

kJ vs. kCal

It seems that there is a common misconception that a power meter is capable of telling you how many Calories you burn in a workout. Something I hear all the time from athletes is

"That was a really hard ride... I burned 3300 Calories"

to which I reply, "How do you know you burned 3300 Calories?"

and they answer, "Well, because that's what it says on my PowerTap (under 'e')"

In truth, this number refers to the amount of work you did on your ride (measured in kilojoules or kJ), not the Calories (kCal)you burned. I believe that the reason this misconception exists is because under steady state conditions, a very efficient rider will burn approximately the same number of kCal as kJ. But don't make the mistake of thinking that they are the same thing.

First, let's take a step back to 8th grade Physics class. Work is a measure of energy transfer, calculated as Force x distance. It requires a given amount of work to move an object from one place to another. You can think of moving a pile of bricks from one side of the room to another, walking up a set of stairs, or riding your bike up a hill. Work is not time dependant so whether you do the work fast or slow, the work required does not change.

Power is calculated as Force x Velocity (or Energy/time). So, extrapolating, Energy = Power x time. What this means is that if I move the bricks faster, run up the stairs and sprint up the hill the power is greater and the time is lower. If I move the bricks slowly... walk slowly up the stairs... ride slowly up the hill... the power is lower and the time is greater. Either way... same amount of work.

A Calorie is also a unit of energy, but when we talk about Calories in this context we are usually referring to the amount of energy the body is burning. The conversion from kJ to kCal is 4.184 to 1. So in reality, if you do a 3300 kJ ride, this is only equivalent to 789 kCal. However, this makes the assumption that every Calorie your body burns actually goes into work done on the bike, which is incorrect. In fact, only 1 out of every 4-6 Calories you burn goes into this work. So what happens to the other 75-85% of the Calories? Some are used to support vital body functions, but the majority are lost in heat. And of course, all that heat produced means that your body has to work even harder (and thereby burn more Calories) to cool itself off.

This is where metabolic efficiency comes into play. An efficient pro cyclist on a steady endurance ride is probably close to the 25% efficiency mark (meaning that 1 out of 4 of their Calories ends up helping to move the bike forward. So although 3300 kJ is only equal to 789 kCal, 25% efficiency would mean that that this rider burns 3156 kCal during this effort. A less efficient rider or a rider completing a more variable effort (e.g. race, group ride, etc.) will be closer to 18% efficiency (1 out of every 5.6 kCal goes into moving the bike forward) so this rider would burn 4383 kCal for the same 3300 kJ ride.

No before you go start to get depressed about being so inefficient, think about this: a 165 pound cyclist (me, to be specific) generally does about 35-40 kJ of work per mile. Let us assume that I have a metabolic efficiency of 23%. This means that I burn 36- 42 kCal per mile. A Toyota Prius hybrid gets about 38 miles per gallon. About 159,000 kJ are stored in a gallon of gasoline (37,975 kCal) so it requires 999 kCal to go 1 mile. This means that when I ride my bike I am 24-28 times as efficient as a Prius, or alternatively, for a car to be as efficient as a bicycle, it would have to get 784-912 miles per gallon. Think about that the next time your are thinking about ways to go green!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Is the Sport of Duathlon Dead? Not on the East Coast!

Do thoughts of a mass start swim with 300 plus eager triathlon-types haunt your dreams? Or is it the fear of having to swim in a body of water that might not be as peaceful as that calm pool and the ever helpful blue line along the bottom to guide your progress? Just what lurks in the dark depths of all those lakes and rivers we so freely jump into? Maybe nothing at all, but if you were a spectator for several of the recent New York City triathlons, watching the legions of triathletes emerge from the Hudson river with a slight brownish hue to their complexion might leave you wondering!

With countless triathlons under my belt, I still get nervous before the start of the swim and certainly think twice about those non-wet suit swims (the wet suit is my version of a safety blanket). Does this dissuade me from participating in triathlons? No. My fear washes away once I safely reach that first buoy with my goggles still firmly in place. As the numbers participating in triathlons grows exponentially, are these multi-sport addicts over-looking something which on paper appears far easier, yet in reality might be an even more challenging event – the Duathlon?

Just what is a duathlon (or as some refer to it – biathlon)?

No, we are not talking about that obscure winter sport we only see on television during a Winter Olympic year. You know, the one where the athletes cross-country ski and shoot at tiny targets with 22 caliber rifles carried on their back. While that might be the more global sporting definition of a biathlon, what we are talking about is a triathlon without the swim. Let’s be frank, just as Lance Armstrong revived American cycling, the Ironman has done wonders to the sport of triathlon. In fact, many multi-sport athletes might not even know of the existence of the sport of duathlon. I am willing to bet if you told your co-workers you competed in a duathlon over the weekend the likely response would be a look of utter confusion. However, mention you competed in a triathlon and all will not only understand, but perhaps share their own triathlon aspirations – as the triathlon has replaced the marathon as the ‘in’ endurance event for weekend warriors alike!

A few seasons ago, Inside Triathlon ran a story entitled ‘Demise of Duathlon’. The story cited the go-go years of duathlon, which in the late 80s and 90s had its own national series sponsored by none other than Coors Light (and (boasting huge prize lists for the professionals). Unfortunately, Coors Light left the sport long ago, being replaced on a smaller scale by Dannon, who left the sport in 2004 citing declining participation. While many professional duathletes have followed the money train to triathlons, which is now getting the lion share of the national advertising dollar thanks in part to the growing legions of Ironmen, does this mean duathlon is dead for us amateurs? Of course not!

Every spring for the past decade I have toed the start line for the annual March Madness biathlon in New York’s Central Park, an event which has seen sell-out crowds of over 600 duathletes for the past several years. While quite common in triathlons, a sold-out duathlon is a rare occurrence in most parts of the country. That is not the case for this early season New York City classic (fittingly called the March Madness Biathlon), as dormant multi-sport athletes emerge from their hibernation to test their early season form. This event has also seen some big names grace the winner’s podium over the years, including multi-sport legends Mark Allen (who won here in 1986) and Kenny Souza (won in 1987). Does Dan Honig, president and founder of the New York Triathlon Club (and the one responsible for the March Madness race), think the sport of duathlon is dead? Doubtful, as the New York Triathlon Club schedule of events has been steadily growing every year since the mid-80s and will commonly feature a dozen or more duathlons each season, with many running along side of triathlons – a recipe that is growing in popularity for race promoters.

Personally, I got my multi-sport start with duathlons. A cyclist in high school and college, I had always done some running on the side, so duathlons seemed an easy choice. For years I resisted the urge to do triathlons for several reasons. My first excuse was the most simple – time. Where was I going to find time to swim? Cycling and running already occupied the majority of my free time, so how could I conceivably fit in another sport (especially one I had not participated in since college?) My second excuse would be categorized by my therapist as a ‘fight or flight’ response (ie. the thought of a mass start swim scared the heck out of me). Ironically, it was a running injury that forced me into the pool and my triathlon career began. Have I forgotten about duathlons? No way, as I am a firm believer that the best way to prepare for a triathlon is a nice fast early season duathlon!

But I am a Triathlete – why should I do a duathlon?

When I competed in my first duathlon, my idea of a transition area was a place to put my Green Bay Packers folding chair as I leisurely swapped my running shoes for cycling shoes. With two nearly identical transitions, a duathlon is the perfect opportunity to practice your transition skills. Sure, there is no wetsuit to contend with, but now you have to change shoes twice and you will quickly learn that every second counts as the pack of racers tends to stay closer together when there isn’t a swim to break it up.

Besides the transition area practice, a duathlon is the ultimate combination workout (or ‘brick’ as we have come to call them). As multi-sport athletes, we have to teach our body to perform a variety of athletic tasks while fatigued. If you think the running segment of a triathlon is challenging after swimming and biking, try running twice in an event - it will make that sprint triathlon feel like a walk in the park! Trust me when I say a duathlon is the ultimate ‘brick’ workout.

The final appeal for the duathlon is the lack of a swim – something many of us could do without on occasion. I am not afraid of the water, but I can do without that guy who refuses to swim in a straight line and thus swims over the back of your legs, or better yet feels you in his draft and does a dolphin kick that catches your nose and rips the goggles from your face. That is when my version of panic sets in! Trust me when I say the swim portion of a triathlon does get easier with experience. Perhaps it is this not so uncommon fear of the water has kept potential multi-sport athletes from joining our ranks? If so, what better way to get you feet wet, than with a duathlon?
While the sport of duathlon might not have the same support and following across the country, the Mid-Atlantic States are full of duathlons, with a race calendar that stretches from March through October (check out my own list of local duathlons below). To find out more info on duathlons, go to or visit the only website dedicated to the sport (

2008 Duathlon Calendar for the Mid-Atlantic region (not all races listed)

Mar 30 - Virginia Duathlon (5k/23mi/5k), VA
Mar 30 - March Madness Du (2mi/12mi/2mi), NY
April 6 - Brandywine Duathlon (5k/30k/5k), DE
April 13 - Powerman Alabama (8k/50k/8k), AL
April 13 - Brooklyn biathlon (2mi/10mi/2mi), NY
April 26 - Duathlon Nationals (10k/40k/5k), VA
April 27 - Bronx Biathlon (3mi/20mi/3mi), NY
May 4 - Trooper biathlon (2mi/14mi/2mi), NY
May 18 - Queens biathlon (3mi/18mi/3mi), NY
May 24 - Hammonton Du (& tri), NJ
June 1 - Belleplain du (1mi/15mi/3mi), NJ
June 8 (& Aug 17) - Harriman State Park duathlon (& tri), NY
June 14 - Thundergust duathlon (& tri), NJ
June 22 - Flat as a Pancake duathlon (& tri), Staten Island, NY
June 22 - Westchester biathlon, Rye, NY
July 6 - Philadelphia Women’s duathlon (& tri), Philly, PA
July 13 - Hudson Valley Du (& tri), NY
July 19 - Sunset Sprint duathlon (& tri), Bridgeton, NJ
July 20 - Putnam Du (& tri), Putnam NY
Aug. 17 - Lums Pond duathlon (& tri), Bear, DE
Sept. 7 (& Oct. 5) - Central Park duathlon, New York, NY
Sept. 13 - Fox Run Du, DE
Sept. 14 - Skylands duathlon (& tri), Clinton, NJ
Sept. 20 - Vineland Exchange Club Du (& tri), NJ
Sept. 21 - Endless Summer Du, Long Beach island
Sept. 28 - Cape Henlopen duathlon (& tri), Bear, DE

By Mikael Hanson
Director of Performance - NYC