Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Focussing on areas of improvement

So as the season comes to a close, I am looking back at what I and others are referring to as a breakthrough season for me. I got two 4th place finishes in my age group in my last 2 races of the season and consistently finished within the top 15 overall.

I have seen huge improvements in all areas of my triathlons, especially my my bike leg and transitions. I am now up with the fastest in these areas. My run was by far my weakest part last year but I did see encouraging improvements over the season. Finally, my swimming seems to have improved greatly in the pool but for some reason in the open water I am about the same as last year.

So taking a look at where I am, I feel that I have 2 main areas or improvement for next year. I need to be up with the first pack of swimmers from the start so I really need to nail what is slowing me down in the ocean. It could be a comfort thing, or a lack of racing experience in the water. It could require a better warmup structure before the race, or just better technique in my stroke. Lots of areas to look into.

The second area of improvement is in my running. Although I have increased in pace from 8:00 miles last year to 7:00 at the start of the season and then a peak of 6:35 at the end, I need to get under the magic 6:00 by next season to be able to hold off the fastest runners at the end of the race. 6:00 pace for a 5k would be great. 6:00 for a 10k pace would be even better.

As priorities go, I am going to focus on my running first while trying to keep a base level of swimming and cycling going over the winter and we will see how things go from there.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Playa Del Rey Triathlon - Race Report

After my success in Malibu, I was looking for one last race to finish off the season. I was tempted with LA Triathlon but I am still unsure about the spread out location of the race so I settled on a local event in Playa Del Rey. This was the second year for this race and I heard from my friend Josh that it was pretty good last year. I signed up and turned my attention to training again.

My buildup to the race was mixed with ups and downs. I had been doing some speed work both in the pool and on the track. I did my first 6:00 mile run, (on a treadmill), and my fastest 100m swim time of 1:15. Both these were encouraging but they were also relatively short bursts of speed so I have lots to work on for next year with the aim to be able to maintain these speeds over a much longer distance. Just while things were looking up, I injured my back again. This time it was caused when trying to perform squats on an unstable surface for the first time. Although not excruciatingly painful, it stopped me being able to do stuff and hit my flexibility hard. To add to this, I managed to contract the Hand Foot And Mouth virus off my son with 2 weeks to go before the race. Normally people get this as a child but coming from England, this must not have been the case for me.

Luckily for me, my symptoms were not as bad as my wifes but I was still given doctors orders to take it easy otherwise the virus would stick around longer. I had no choice but to hold of the training. I was also due to race in a 5k the weekend before the Playa Del Rey triathlon but I had to pull out of that one.

Race Day

I was excited about the race, not only because I felt that I could do well, but because I knew my wife and son were going to come down with me to watch me race. My wife has watched all of my triathlons leading up to this year but since our son Ben has been born, we felt that he was too young to wake up so early and drag him to the races. This was the first triathlon he would attend and I was excited to have him there. I'm guessing he won't remember it when he grows up, but daddy will and that's what counts.

I realized that I wasn't feeling 100 percent for this race but I also thought that being a small event, I still had an outside chance of placing.

On the way to the car, we looked out of the window to be greeted by a blanket of fog. Not great I thought. The race was due to start at 7am and I felt that the mist would not clear. I wasn't looking forward to a duathlon so I kept my fingers crossed that the fog would lift.

As it turned out, the organizers of the race delayed the start so that the fog had time to clear. They also spaced out the waves a little more than usual to allow the swim to clear of one wave before the next one started. I was in wave 3 so I made sure I was in the water warming up before and during the first waves start. Not only was this a recommended time to warm up, but it gave me a great view of my Sony team mate Jamie Specht getting in the front pack on the swim and exiting 5th with the leaders.

Wave 2 was all of the women 49 and under. With the extra spacing of the start waves, the worry catching the slower swimmers was removed which meant clearer water for us. They did however let the girls go at an unfortunate time as a huge wave came in just as they were entering the water. I have never seen so much chaos at the start of a swim. Bodies were tossed in all directions. Very unfortunate. They got going in the end.

The Swim

It was our time next. The gun went off and I was one of the first to touch the water. I had a good start. There were no big waves. I remember a couple of high knee steps, a couple more dolphin dives, one dive under a wave and then into the swimming. There was one crest that nearly caught us out but it only resulted in a missed stroke and we were on out way. I think I was about 10th around the first buoy which I put down to bad sighting and then myself and the other load swimmers started to stretch out. I tucked in behind a swimmer, but he ended up being all over the place so I looked around for someone else to follow. There was no-one nearby so I tried to swim cleanly for a bit to try to see if another faster swimmer would come by. Finally I decided to drop back behind someone that was fairly nearby but for some reason they came by me and I couldn't seem to latch on. I had messed up my swim a little but I kept moving forward and rounded the last buoy. The was no surf on the way in but I had a good swim right up into the shallows and exited strong.


I ran up the long beach section, through the water containers to remove some of the sand and into transition. I saw about 10 people in my wave that were already there but for some reason, they were still all there when I left for the bike portion of the race so this made up for the slightly weak swim.

The Bike

My main comment would be that I did not feel strong. I was passing riders from the wave ahead but I could not see any of the riders I was racing head to head with. I was averaging about 23 mph but before the race I was hoping for close to 25 mph. It seemed to be windy in every direction. I guessed it would be the same for everyone else so I kept my head down and pushed as much as I could. At the first turn around point I noticed the group of riders that seemed to be racing hard from my wave. There were four or five of them and they seemed to be holding the same sort of pace as myself. They were a couple of minutes ahead of me but I took the turn and pushed hard to catch them. I took down a GU gel on the slight decline at the end of Westchester Parkway and took down some Gaterade as I headed back down Purshing. The gap seemed to have closed to a couple of the riders by the second turn around point but it was only towards the end of the course that I caught one of the riders.


The dismount went smoothly and I ran into a fairly empty T2. Helmet off smoothly, taking my glasses with it for the second race in a row and I grabbed my race belt and hat and set off through transition. I had stored the empty GU gel wrapper up my tri shorts so I decided to extract it and throw it in the trash while I was in still in transition. It didn't slow me down and I felt good about not littering.

The Run

Simon told me that I was in 4th place in my wave as I entered the run course but I didn't know how that equated to my age group so I set off with two main tasks in hand. To try to catch the runners ahead and to try to hold off those behind me. My pace felt solid for me but I always felt that it wasn't quick enough for either task. I was picking off runners from the waves ahead of me but it was only as I approached the half way mark that I saw anyone from my wave ahead of me. They were heading back and about 3-4 minutes ahead and running strong. Not long after I turned, I saw a runner from my wave in hot pursuit. I was about 30 second up on him but he looked very strong. I dug in and tried to hold him off. With less than a mile to go, I heard the footsteps behind me of the runner I had just seem. He slowly came past me and I upped my pace to stay with him. This I only managed for about 30 seconds. Although I didn't have my GPS watch on, it turned out afterwards that he was doing sub 6:00 mile pace. I'm getting there but was not quite ready for that at this time. It also turned out to be a pass for 3rd place which was very disappointing even if I wasn't quite feeling 100%. I had come so close to a podium position but was pushed into 4th in the last mile. Next year, the run will be my weapon along with my bike. I had run my fastest 5k in a race with a pace of 6:35 so this was very promising given the way I felt. My wife said that I wasn't looking my best as I came to the end of the run so I'm wondering if I dropped off the pace a little in the second half or whether my stride now makes my running look easier. I'll assume the first and work on this for next year.

Race Roundup

As a round up to the season, this was a great event and I really look forward to doing it again next year. I had set a theoretical target of 1:04:35 based on my malibu results and purely scaling them for the new distances and ended up only 1 minute and 16 seconds shy of that. The swim was slightly over but the longer run up the beach may have accounted for that. The bike was nearly 2 minutes longer than anticipated but as I was still one of the fastest on the course, I would put this down to the conditions and the layout of the course. Finally my run was nearly a minute faster than my estimate which I am really please about. I need to continue to improve in the run and really work on racing in the water before next season.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Malibu Triathlon - Race Report

The week leading up to the race was supposed to be a nice taper week. I was intending to swim all week, ride gently to work but hold off on the running as I didn't want to compromise my very relaxed muscles. As a result, I actually tapered even more than that and just rode to work. I thought at one point I was coming down with something but lots of healthy fruit and veg seemed to keep things at bay.

Against advice, I had the odd glass of wine, even though I had far less on a normal week, but the intention here was to remain relaxed and to take my mind off the race which I regarded as much more important.

Thursday night was not a good night for sleep. For some reason I couldn't take my mind off the race. It was like it was the night before the race. I still had 2 more nights to go. This was not encouraging, especially as I know how important sleep is for performance. Luckily, Friday night was much better and I felt great. I had been a little worried about that before as we had been told not to worry about sleeping the night before the race, The important night is the night before that. We had been out to Rush street as a team for a Carb Load dinner. Lots of pasta and a pint of beer seemed to so the trick.

Saturday was the usual case of driving up to Malibu and doing the packet pickup. The only difference that day was the extra trip I did to Triathlon Lab to pick up a set of race day wheels. I had rented a set of Zipp 808's. These were the most aerodynamic wheels that they had. They really require a longer race to make the difference but they look great on the bike. I hope that if I looked fast, I would be.

Once home, I got all my gear together in my newish transition bag and packed it into the car, which I had left out on the road so that I only needed to walk my bike down on it's own in the morning. At 9pm I went off to bed. I didn't really sleep much but as I was getting up at 3am I had to give it a try.

Race Day

As usual, I woke up before my alarm. I kissed my wife goodbye, grabbed my bike and set off for Malibu. The drive was great and I managed to consume a breakfast cookie and some of my smoothie that I had been experimenting with.

2 Bananas
Almond Butter
Protein Powder

I got to the parking lot right on 4:30am when it was due to open. It was already open at this time so there were no cues and the traffic was light and free moving. Parking was just as easy which was great. I parked up and sent my text message to Sam, drank some Gaterade and exited into the darkness of the carpark. As usual, there was a buzz in the air from all of the folks arriving at the same time.
I got my bike out, pumped up my tires, grabbed my bag and headed off. The transition area was already open. I found my rack with about 8 members of my team already there. At first I thought I had missed out on a great spot but by chance, the rack I was on was the next one and at this time it was totally empty. I grabbed the end spot and got all my stuff out. I hadn't forgotten anything which was a first for me. I think the transition bag really helped with this. I also got a couple of last minute tips from Ian Murray as he walked by.

The call came to leave the transition area so I slapped on the Body Glide, put on my wetsuit and headed out to the race talk. This was the usual stuff but it was great to see everyone. As the talk closed, I headed straight into the water for my warmup. I had about 20 minutes before my start so I had to make the most of it. The water was a good temperature and my practice entries and exits were good. I saw Mario Lopez on the beach as I exited and he gave me that look that says "Should I be doing that?".

I watched the first two waves go off from a distance and then headed to the start line as I was wave 4. One thing that was very obvious was the current heading up the course. Lots of the early waves drifted way up stream of the buoy. This was quickly picked up by the experienced athletes and they subtly edged to their left. The count down started and the gun went off. Go Go Go....

The Swim

Due to moving across to my left for the start, I hadn't been able to get right to the front of the pack at the gun, but the run down to the beach separated everyone out and I was pretty close to where I wanted to be. The tide was high so we knew that the incline would be shallow at first so this allowed for a good period of high knee movement through the water. I managed to transition to dolphin dives pretty well and make good progress through the surf, diving under the bigger waves with relative ease. The swimming seemed to start early and I got past the surf zone in the anticipated two waves. This was positive. Sighting for the Buoy also seemed relatively easy. Half way to the buoy I dropped in behind another swimmer and relaxed a little. I was concerned that I wasn't going fast enough so I popped out of his draft a couple of times during the swim but I didn't make a lot of progress so I decided to sit tight and conserve energy. I stayed on the lookout for other faster swimmers but I think I had already let them go. The good think about the guy I was drafting was his sighting. He stayed on a perfect line for the whole race. I checked every so often but he was great. We rounded the last buoy and headed for the shore. I didn't manage to get any body surfing opportunities but I did what I had been told in training and made sure I was always moving forward and making progress. I exited the water in a time of 00:14:22. Although 14 seconds faster than last year, I know that I am capable of much faster. This works out as a 1:48 pace for 100m and in the pool I have been doing 1:35. This would work out at 00:12:40 so I really need to work on closing this gap.


I used the water shower briefly, but more importantly, I splashed my feet in one of the puddles that had formed. I was told to look out for this as it's a quick and effective way of removing lots of sand. From here to my transition spot was about 30 meters or so. I had delayed taking my wetsuit off my shoulders as I knew I had time during this run. I managed to get it fairly low on my hips by the time I reached my spot so the final bit was pretty easy to remove. I saw Josh Wills just leaving with his bike so I knew he was about 45 seconds ahead of me. I put the helmet on very smoothly considering it's tight fit. It's one of those aero helmets so the ear covers get in the way whilst putting it on. I fumbled the catch a little but I only lost a couple of seconds. The glasses went on and I was away with my bike.

The Bike

My shoes were on the bike already so running barefoot was easy. I got to the mount line and did a flying mount which went very well for the first time on this bike. I put my feet in pretty much straight away which is unusual but it means that I can get up to speed quickly before tightening the straps. My task was to hit 25mph as quickly as possible. I did this and started to sort out my feet. My left Velcro strap had come out of it's buckle but I was able to fix this at speed so not a lot of time lost. I set out to catch Josh. It surprised me that I caught him at the first underpass. I then unfortunately witnessed Josh's water bottle flying out as he tried to avoid a pot hole in the road. That part of the course catches a surprising amount of bike bottles and in past years I cycled through it while holding my bottle firm. This year I was trying out a carbon water bottle cage which hold them tighter so everything went well. They are not cheap but I had been told the benefits of their stiffness and I managed to find one that paired up nice and tight with my target water bottle.

I passed Josh as we got on the PCH and I picked up the pace. My target speed was supposed to be 35 mph but I felt good and there was little wind so I upped the pace to 28 mph. Even at this pace I was passed by a guy named Peter Smith who was absolutely flying. Just before the first hill, I eased slightly and took on some fluids. I picked up the pace again for the hill and attacked it as planned. Peter was going faster than I would have been comfortable with so I had to let him go. He was in my age group but he earned the place. I later found out that he did a 41:06 split for the bike which was probably the fastest amateur time for the day and 8 minutes quicker than my last years time.

I got to the turn around point still feeling strong and ready for the climb back up from Leo Carrilo. I took it fairly easy as climbs go, but I remained in the big ring and kept the pace around 15pmh. At the top it was a case of cranking up the gears and getting back up to 25mph again. The rollers that follow allow you to hold your speed pretty well and there was only really one more hill to climb and I hit that really hard. I felt good still and I had passed quite a few of my age group. I had no idea exactly how I was doing but I was having fun.

I managed to take on the GU Gel that I had taped to my top tube and swigged down a good amount of fluid to go with it. All was going to plan. I got to the turn around point as you enter the Zuma car park and decided to check my bike computer. I was shocked that it was only just ticking over to the 40 minute mark. This meant that I was way ahead of schedule. My task now was to keep the pace going until the very end. I did this but as I was approaching the dismount line, I was nearly taken out my a spectator that crossed onto the course in front of me without looking. Luckily I swerved enough to avoid her but it was a close call made more theatrical by the gasps of the onlooking crowds.

I got my feet out of my shoes and placed them on top, one at a time. The mount line approached and I carefully pulled to a near stop with both legs on one side. A gentle skip off the bike and I was smoothly into transition.

I didn't look when I got to T2 but my bike split was 44:29 with and average speed of about 24.5 mph. This was about 2 minutes faster than I had hoped and 5 minutes quicker than last year. I think my new bike with its bike fit had worked.


T2 was a blur to me. It started with a very smooth dismount, leaving my shoes on the bike and followed by a smooth run with my bike to the my transition area. I didn't get lost and for the first time in a race, I didn't mess around. I was intending to keep my glasses on for the run but they fell off into my transition area when I took off my helmet and I didn't want to waste time recovering them. I slipped on my running shoes that were already adjusted with elastic laces and grabbed my race belt and visor and set off. Simon Gowen saw me and shouted "Go for it Dan" which was nice encouragement. And I was out on the run.

The Run

I had decided to keep run without my GPS as this would allow my transitions to be much faster so I had no idea how I was doing on the run. It felt good, and it definitely felt faster than previous years. I was quickly passed by a guy named Andras Heczey who was running for the Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. I had passed him on my way back into the parking lot on the bike course but he was very much the faster runner. I picked up the pace a little to try to keep him in sight but I definitely wasn't catching him. In the first mile my legs felt pretty good, but I did start to cramp in both. Instead of slowing down, I tried to pick up the cadence and relax into it. At times I thought it was going to develop into a full on cramp but luckily it held off and after about a mile, I had relaxed into my running. I saw Jamie Specht from my team running back the other way. For some reason I though he started only 5 minutes ahead of me and I had calculated that he was way further ahead now. As a result, I tried to maintain a good pace and limit my losses. I later discovered that I had been wrong and that he had started 15 minutes ahead of me in the first wave. Not so bad after all.

The turn around point came without incident and I set off on the way home. At this point, I was looking out for Josh again. I had no idea how close behind me he was and the out and back course would reveal the gap as I passed him on my way back to the finish. I saw him before entering the Zuma Car Park. He put on a spurt which worried me but I figured I was over half a mile ahead of him with under two miles to go. All I could do is keep my pace up and home that he didn't have the legs to catch me.

About 300 meters from the finish line, I caught Josh's brother Zach. He had set off with Jamie and was having a great first race at Malibu. He has a strong kick so I said hello and tried to keep up the pace and open up a gap. This wasn't to last as the next think I saw with about 60 meters to go, was Zach come sprinting past me. I joined in the fun and put in an all out effort to hold him off. Unfortunately for me, the course organizer's had put in their usual right angle bend just before the finish line and I had no way of getting around it cleanly. Zach had edged ahead by this point and I conceded the sprint to him. I looked up at the timing clock and saw 01:43:59. A great time on its own, but I had to take 15 minutes off this to get my finish time. I had been shooting for 01:35:00 but this was showing up that I did it 6 minutes quicker in a time of 01:28:59. The sprint had got me 1 second under the 01:29:00 mark which was a real bonus and a nice prize for my efforts. My run split ended up being 00:27:31 which was exactly 4 minutes quicker than last year and 30 second faster than my target time. Running a sub 7 minute mile is by far my best in a race. If I can get this close to a 6 minute mile for next time, I will be very pleased indeed.

Post race

Before the results came in, I headed straight for the massage tent. 2nd in line was another great benefit of finishing fast. I wanted to make sure I was loosened up as I normally suffer after a race like this.
After the massage I dumped my belonging with the LATri club tent and jumped in the ocean. This felt great. I don't normally do this either but in practice with Simon Gowen, it had done wonders for my muscles so I made sure it was part of my post race routine. Finally I headed back to the expo to check it all out and speak to some of the other Sony Pictures finishers.

The Result

The results were posted and I had placed 5th in my age group. This totally exceeded my expectations and due to the top 5 placings all getting a podium position, I got to go up and accept my medal. As it happens, the first place finisher was Andy Boldwin, a celebrity best know for his appearance as the Bachelor in the TV show of the same name. He was in my devision but had set off with the celebrity wave so was 15 minutes too quick on the official timing. This meant that I finished 4th in my age group and 14th overall out of just under 2000 competitors. What a day and what a result.

A Bit of Last Minute Coaching

I met a guy called Simon Gowen pretty late into my training. My first contact with him was purely as a radio listener. His show, "The Simon Gowen Show", is a weekly occurrence on LA Talk Radio. It was brought to my attention on one of the LA Tri forum posts. At first, I thought it was a one off featuring the topic of triathlon but I later found that this was the central topic for the show. What a great way to talk about the sport. It's something that I can listen to at work without taking me away from the tasks I need to achieve. As the weeks went on, I found that I was picking up many tips and the focus drew more and more to the Malibu Triathlon. Special guests like Ian Murray (who did my bike fit), Chris Foster (A local Pro), and Brooke Davison (A female pro who was flying in for the Malibu Triathlon), all gave pointers that would ultimately improve my race.

One day, an email came through saying that Simon was to do a talk at Triathlon Lab at their new store in Santa Monica. Unfortunately, I would not be able to make it over that way but I sent some members of the Sony Pictures Triathlon Team over there to check it out. The feedback was great and to top it off, one of our members, Felicity, managed to have a chat with Simon and asked if he would come and talk to us as a team. After some minor arm twisting, Simon agreed to do a lunchtime talk about the mental preparation for the race.

He was a big success and I feel like I gained a lot from what he had to say. The big breakthrough however was the fact that Simon would be training up at Zuma beach in Malibu at the same time as us and asked us to join him. I was intending to do some in and out practices before my main swim but Simon took this a step further and made a full In and Out clinic for us. This may sound basic but getting in and out of the ocean is a fine art. Doing this at race pace is even harder. That weekend, Simon taught us to race.

As a major bonus, Simon also agreed to allow me to tag along with him for the ride on the bike course. He said we were going to do it at 80%. This, I am assuming was his 80% as I quickly ended up pushing it very hard. This wasn't helped by the fact that he put me out in the lead and shouted encouragement and instructions of how and where to attack the course. It also helped to learn good places on the course to drink. This is something I have not done well before so this was encouraging.

The bike was feeling great after my proper fit from Ian Murray. My worries about it not being racy were removed straight away when we managed to finish the ride in 46 minutes. This was 3 minutes better than my previous best and we needed to stop for a stop light and the closed barrier at the turn around point. All very encouraging.

We didn't do the run after the ride as normal and instead, Simon got me to jump straight back into the ocean. This was our ice bath. Getting the muscles into that cold water was lovely and I could feel my whole body relaxing and cooling down. I need to remember that one. I haven't felt so loose in years.

I felt like Simon had helped me out so much that day and I believe I was so much more prepared to race.

To add to this, I had had steady communication with Ian Murray. He has been giving me lots of tips on little things I can do to improve my racing. He is also a great swimmer so as well as the bike fit, I intend to get Ian to look at my swim stroke. Anything to get me faster in the water would be a real bonus and I hear that Ian is one of the best in the business, especially with triathlon specific swimming. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be able to get my stroke looked at before Malibu but it is on the cards for a future time.

I'm also considering getting Simon to coach me on a casual basis. I have a tight weekly schedule so my time is limited but hopefully he may be able to help me with my running speed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Shoes

Okay. you may have realized by now that I am buying rather a lot of new stuff this year. This isn't necessarily out of need, but rather choosing to get a tool for changing some of my techniques. I have been running pretty well for a number of years with some great Asics running shoes but this year my focus is on racing. I have always raced in running shoes before now so I thought it was time to try some racing shoes. We are not talking about track shoes with spikes, but rather lighter weight shoes that are designed to not allow you to get away with a poor running style. I really wanted this to help me avoid my usual breaking action that I am certain I do when plodding along at the end of a triathlon. I know I can run faster than I do but I can't seem to get that efficient technique going in a race.

I checked out the shoes at my local Triathlon store and found that that the main choice was between Zoots and Newtons. I have heard good things about Zoots but in this case, the recommendations seemed to point towards the Newton Racers for me. Both pairs are much lighter than the shoes that I currently run in. The Newtons however had the added bonus of forcing my running style to change in a way that would stop my breaking action from taking place.

There was a big catch however. I only had 4 weeks left before the Malibu triathlon and I needed to get used to the shoes and more importantly the running style they promote. With most new shoes, you essentially need time and distance to run them in. Newton however describe the need for the owner to be run in themselves. The difference is that you need time to mold into the style of running that the shoe requires rather than the shoe molding into the shape of your foot.

This is a process that shouldn't be rushed. 4 weeks was probably just enough time for this process. You need to get about 20 miles in, but you also need to start gently, a mile at a time. I found out pretty quickly why. My calf muscles hadn't really factored into my foot strike before now. After switching to forefoot striking, the calf muscles came into play as a shock absorber which forces your foot to work more like a load and release spring action. This puts a lot of stress on your calf muscles and the result after the first couple of attempts was very sore muscles.

Compression socks, ice and a lot of kick drills in the pool seemed to help with this, but it was still a painful process. At the same time as getting the new shoes, however, I was shown a piece of equipment that would really aid in this process. It was called an Alter-G Anti Gravity Trainer. This was essentially a treadmill with an enclosed bubble that helped to lift you up a little while running. You are able to dial in a percentage of your weight to run at. This allowed me to train with my new shoes while reducing the stress on my muscles. It also allowed me to jump straight in with speed work, so that I could feel the difference right away.

Another important factor was that I was intending to race without socks. These shoes instantly felt better than my asics when not wearing socks but I was able to improve the feeling further by using a product called blister shield. This is a powder that acts like micro ball bearings. With careful placement of this powder in the areas where the foot rubs against the shoe, the requirement for socks is removed. I plan to use this on both my running shoes and my cycling shoes so that socks are not needed on race day. In practice this is working well so I am pretty confident that I will not have issues in the race.

I now had a setup that would really allow me to race. I haven't concentrated on my T1 and T2's before but this time I am going to really cut down the time needed to transition by not having to put socks on over wet skin.

Lets see how this works out in the race.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My bad leg

In the last blog I highlighted an issue I have been having with my leg. This has been going on for a while now. I have been getting numbness down my leg and into my foot. At best, it's just a little numb sensation, but at worst, I lose all feeling and control of my leg which essentially stops all motion. I have nearly fallen over a couple of times when I thought I had moved it to walk and it had stayed in its original position. Not a good situation to be in.

After my bike fit highlighted that something was very wrong, I went to the doctors to get an opinion. I was told that it was most likely nerve damage of some kind but it would require further tests to work out the impact and whether it was old damage, a current nerve restriction or something else.

I was ordered to go to a neurologist up in Beverly Hills to get an Electromyogram (EMG) done. This would involve sticking needle like electrodes into the muscles of my leg to listen to the electrical signals that were passed through the nerves. These test ended up revealing that I had lost 40% of the nerve function in my calf muscle.

So what does this mean. It means that 40% of the nerves that travel into this area are not carrying any signal to and from the muscles. This sounds really bad, but the body does cope with this situation somewhat. The remaining nerves branch out into these dead areas to fill the gaps. The signal is a little diluted and it does also mean that the control and feedback can be a little vague as to which exact area is being stimulated but the muscle does still work. It is a little weak but with some strengthening, I should be able to balance out my body a little more.

Unfortunately this more permanent damage is being added to by ongoing issues with my back which is resulting in spasms in my lower back muscles. For this, the treatment is Physical Therapy to loosen them up and try to strengthen my core muscles.

Massage and PT for me. I am now getting a massage at work every Friday and go to Physical Therapy twice a week at Evolution Physical Therapy over in Playa Vista. We are working on loosening the muscles around the spine and strengthening the leg muscles. This all seems to be helping so hopefully we are solving the problem.

Bike Fit with Ian Murray

So I have my new bike. This is good. I know I have the correct size for me as I had a pre fit with Ian before my trip back to England. Triathlon Lab did a basic fit for me when I bought the bike so it should have been pretty close but I was still debating whether I should take it back to Ian and spend even more money to make sure it is fitted properly to me. I had just spent over $3k on the new bike so spending another couple of hundred dollars on top of this was a real question for me. Would it really be worth it?

I did some research on the web and as it turns out, it is. There is a lot of science and mechanics going on when considering transferring power down affectively between the cyclist and the bike and when it is done correctly you don't waste as much power as you pedal. You also have to consider comfort on the bike and the aero position that can be acheived.

So after spending a lot of money on a new bike, the general consensus is to spend just a little bit more to make sure you are getting the most out of it. Otherwise you are essentially wasting money.

I met Ian through LATri Club and have always found his information helpful and as he was regarded as one of the best bike fitters around I decided to get it done properly. I also knew that the bike I purchased, a Cervelo P2 is very familiar to Ian as this is what he rides. He knows every trick about this bike and was even able to fix a couple of manufacturing design faults while he was at it.

This bike fit highlighted two main things. The first was how much more comfortable the bike is when it is correctly fitted to me and the second thing was how smooth the power seemed to be put down through the pedals when all of the leg and hip angles were correct. Actually there is a third discovery that came out of the bike fit and this was just how bad my left leg is. I thought my left cleat was incorrectly fitted but actually it turns out I have some pretty serious neuromuscular issues happening with my left leg which is resulting in weakness and loss of function and control. It is a knock on affect from some back problems I have had in the past but more about this next time.

So back to the bike fit. We found that the saddle height was a little too high. After needing to cut the seat post down a little so that we could lower it a centimeter of so, (a job that I couldn't have done myself), we found that the original drop was good so we removed some spacers from the stem and got it back to a fairly aggressive 12cm drop. This means that my saddle is 12cm higher than the pads on my aerobars.

The next job was to widen the distance between the aerobars so that I could open up my chest a little more and get more oxygen in.

The bike felt really good. Very comfortable which worried me a little. I wanted a really racy position and I was concerned that it was going to be comfortable but not fast. I am however a believer in science so watch this space.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


The most natural thing in the world, breathing. That is until you introduce water into the equation. I have been swimming for a while now. In fact, I would class myself as a bit of a water baby as I could swim fairly well from an early age. Apart from children's swimming gala's and recent triathlons, I would say that I have never swum competitively. This means that I have also never had professional coaching when it comes to swimming.

I have been training with the Southern California Aquatics (SCAQ) on and off for a number of years now and during this time, I have noticed clear differences in the level of performance that the other guys are achieving over me. There are 4 lanes of increasing ability and I have always been stuck in lane 4, the slowest.

I have always put this performance difference down to a combination of better technique and swimming fitness over me. The fitness is easy to address. I just need to attend training more often and for longer periods in the year. The technique question has always bothered me though. I can see them pulling out body lengths on me each stroke and I want to know what I am doing wrong.

As I try to keep up with them, the first thing I notice is that I cannot sustain my breathing. I am straight away out of my comfort zone and I know that I need to back off otherwise I will have no chance of completing the sets we are doing for the day.

I have been told before to breathe out while my head is under water and then breathe in when my head is rotated to the side but for some reason the exhaling part has always felt wrong for me. Recently, I have been following up on this issue again and I think I have finally cracked it. I had been doing it all wrong.

I have always been holding my breathe during my stroke to some extent. In the worst case, I have been holding my breathe throughout the stroke and when I turn to breathe, I have been exhaling and inhaling in the short time my head is above the water. This results in short, shallow and rushed breathing, but even worse, as I have just found out, I have been letting Carbon Dioxide build up in my lungs during my stroke. This is apparently what gives you the feeling of needing to breathe more so than the lack of oxygen.

The secret then, is, as I have already known, to breathe out while my head is under water. More importantly, i should be breathing out the entire time my head is under water. In addition to this, I have found that I do not breathe out anywhere near enough during my stroke. Someone pointed out a good drill to identify if you are breathing out enough. You should try to sink down to the bottom of the pool in the deep end. While sinking, you should exhale quickly but smoothly. If you are not exhaling quickly enough, you will float back up to the surface before sinking.

I tried this the last time I went swimming, before I started my warmup. I was surprised how much I had to exhale to achieve this. I was also surprised how easy it was to breathe back in afterwards. This is the bit I have always struggled with and it seemed to come very naturally after my initial practice.

As a side affect, I also found that not holding my breathe totally relaxes my body and helps me improve my swimming form dramatically. I think I have found the key to my technique issues so I now need to exploit this and hopefully solve the other issues with my stroke without being held back anymore. I am already swimming in lane 3 at SCAQ now and am keeping pace. I still have a long way to go, but this is a huge improvement for me.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My New Bike

So I have finally taken the plunge and bought myself a new bike. I wanted something that was a definite upgrade from what I currently ride, (A Marin Fairfax), but without going too over the top.
I had already decided on a Triathlon (TT) bike over a standard road bike as I really wanted the aerodynamic benefits that this would offer me in the race. I also like riding TT style rather than road race so this backed up that decision. I headed down to one of our Sony Pictures Triathlon Team sponsors, Triathlon Lab down in Redondo Beach to check out my choices.

My next decision was whether to go Carbon or Aluminum. The bikes that I had been looking at were the Cervelo P1 and P2. The P1 has an Aluminum frame while the P2 is Carbon Fiber. The weight of the two bikes is very similar with the aluminum bike only slightly heavier than the Carbon version. The aerodynamics is slightly better on the Carbon frame as well but the price was about $1000 more than the $1750 of the P1.

On the way to the shop, my head was telling me the P1 would be ideal and within budget while my heart was telling me to go for the extra styling and aerodynamics of the P2. (My wife surprisingly was also telling me to get the P2). In the end, the test ride broke the internal indecision.

The Carbon frame felt so smooth. It soaks up the high frequency vibrations. This was allowing me to put the power down in a smooth and controlled fashion. The power also seemed to translate better to the wheels making the bike seem to accelerate faster.

Finally my mind was made up. The next issue was availability in my size. There was only one bike in the shop with the correct 58cm frame for me and it was on a slightly more expensive Dura Ace setup. It was actually a mid year 2008-2009 model with last years Dura Ace components so the price was less than this years equivalent but with everything essentially the same. This in fact was also the bike I test rode so I thought it was best to stick with what I knew I liked.

So here it is. My new bike. I have been riding to work on it for most of the week and first impressions are amazing. I have a section of the Ballona Creek that I have been timing myself on and with my old bike, my previous best was 12 minutes and 7 Seconds on my Marin Fairfax.

On only my second time out on the bike and my first timed run using my Garmin Forerunner 305 over the 4.8 mile section, I completed it in 11 minutes and 22 seconds. That's 45 seconds quicker but most importantly, a 1.5 mph increase in average speed. Obviously conditions can make it hard to compare but I feel that the two days were similar.

So a big thumbs up from my triathlon point of view but a bit of a dent in the wallet that now needs addressing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My focus changes to swimming

So I haven't posted for a while but I have a few developments. A short while back I did the Redondo Beach Triathlon. This was my first triathlon of the year. It's a pretty short coarse so is ideal as a stepping stone to a larger race. It went well and I thoroughly enjoyed the day, but the one thing that really came out of it was my lack of swimming strength. I would say I am an average swimmer at best but in this case, the swim in the race was my first for a good 9 months. I don't just mean first race for 9 months, (which it was), but my first time in the water and especially the ocean for 9 months. As expected, this came as quite a shock and I dropped my pace to a comfortable cruise and finished the swim leg about 20% slower than I would normally hope.

All this got me thinking that I really should be getting into my swimming training by now. I had a slight holdup due to a planned trip back to England, but now that I am back in California, I have rejoined the Southern California Aquatics (SCAQ). I only have 6 weeks left to train but I hope this will be enough to make a big difference. I am also hitting this hard and hope to address my lack of upper body and core strength.

For more details on SCAQ please go to www.swim.net.

Final comments: I bought myself a new bike at the weekend. More to follow.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Playa Ridazz

So, I have been doing lots of riding in the form of a commute to work which has been really good for my base fitness but I have been lacking the distance thus far. My daily ride to work is about 8 miles each way which is just enough to make a training ride out of it, but not enough to really work on my endurance.

As a result, I have joined a local cycling group that is part of LATri called the Playa Ridazz. As a standard route, we start in Playa Del Rey and head south until we get to Redondo and then turn back. This basic route, which involves a timed sprint early on while on Vista Del Mar, is about 18 miles. With various bonus add-ons at the half way point, we can easily extend this to 24 miles.

This is a great distance for triathlon training as it matched the typical distances of triathlons in the area.

At the weekend there are numerous rides including our own Team SPE ride in Santa Monica that can easily extend the distance I do into the 40-60 mile realm.

Taking this all into account, I am now riding about 140 miles per week. I love being on my bike and California must be one of the best places in the world to ride. I know that Lance Armstrong is the first to agree with this statement.

PS. I still haven't got myself a new bike. I may continue to hold off for the moment.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Getting my swimming under way

So I have started my swimming training. It's good to be back in the water and it's also the recommended activity for my back problems.

I'm fairly happy that I haven't lost too much of my technique but all of the strength has gone from my shoulders so I am pleased that I am finally working them out. Swimming is great for overall fitness but one of the things that I like is that with the use of swimming aids such as fins and paddles, you can easily introduce resistance training that works towards strength training.

At the moment, I am getting brief moments when I can really feel the water but then it goes and I feel that my technique gets a little messy. When I say that I can feel the water, I don't mean that I am getting cold and wet, I mean that I can feel that I am connecting and anchoring well to the water and pulling through strongly. Because of this, I feel that my body is long and sleek in the water and that I am gliding well between strokes. Everything just feels effortless. This is where you really want to be.

My task is to get this feeling throughout my swims. Most novice swimmers have never felt this before so it is often hard to portray what it is that I am describing. One way to find out is to use fins. Fins allow you to move through the water faster and to balance your body towards the waters surface. You need to be fairly good with your technique for this as the fins are there to help you get the last percentage correct. If it all happens well, you will feel a rush of water around your body. You will feel like you are locked into the water with your hands and just climbing over them.

Keep your head low in the water so that your forehead is just breaking the surface. Look at the bottom of the pool just in front of you and let your body rotate as you reach forward. For the best position in the water, try ti make sure your buttock and feet just breaks the surface while you swim. If you are too low in the water, try pushing your face lower in the water and you bottom up towards the surface. This may feel awkward at first but you will soon get the hang of it and as your speed through the water increases, you will naturally find the right position.

As for breathing. When you rotate your body to the side in order to reach forward, instead of looking at the bottom of the pool, allow your head to rotate with your body without lifting your chin. You will naturally be able to breath in this position as your mouth finds a pocket of air that is made by the bow wave made by your head breaking the waters surface in front of you. Give it a try, you will be surprised how little you need to raise your head.

To make breathing easier, breathe out steadily through your nose during your stroke and breathe in to the side through your mouth as it breaks the surface.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Santa Monica Classic 5K - Race report

So I did my first event of the year on Sunday. It was a 5K run on the roads of Santa Monica. I have only recently started my running training so this race was going to be interesting. I don't think my base training would have had time to show any improvements yet and I haven't really been working on speed work at this stage so the race would give me a base line for where I am at and what I need to do to improve.

Two friends of mine, Geo and Bruce, were also doing the event. Bruce, I know is a great runner and Geo is a bit like me, just trying to get a reading of where he is. I decided to run with Geo as we had similar targets. We plucked a very ambitious time of 20 minutes out of the air and arranged to meet at the start line.

The warm up went well. I had already cycled about 7 miles to the start line so this got my core temperature up. I followed this with some stretching and then went for a 1 mile warm up run. I never normally do enough warm up so this was definitely an improvement. I still think I can do a lot better though.

Geo found me just before the race start. We positioned ourselves towards the front but with the really fast runners ahead of us. This was to avoid having to pass too many slow runners on a tight start.

The gun went off and the race was on. It took us all of about 10 seconds to work out that we were going to start our run considerably below our target race pace. We allowed this as we intended to increase the pace as the race went on.

The course took us up Barnard Way and onto Main street. Our heart rates were already in the high 160's so we knew there was no hope of any aerobic running that day. As we approached Santa Monica we continued to lift the pace. After turning onto Ocean Avenue and passing the 2 mile marker the leaders passed us on their return to the finish. My friend Bruce, then passed us running back towards the finish. He was doing really well.

Just before the turn Geo raised the pace a little more. At first I went with him, but he slowly broke away. I held him to about a 20 meter gap but I couldn't pull him back in.

I finished in a respectable 21:13.1 and Geo finished ahead of me in a time of 20:59.9.
My friend Bruce finished with an great time of 18:10.1 placing him 30th overall.

Geo finished 92nd out of 1173 with me finishing 10 places behind him just outside the top 100.

My average pace was 00:06:51 minute miles. Not bad as a starting point. I need to try to get comfortable with a 00:06:30 pace by Malibu.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Training with your heart

I have been focusing my training at the moment on my run. I have the Santa Monica Classic 5k coming up soon and I would like to be comfortable with this relatively short distance in a fairly quick time. The thing that I am noticing when I run however, is how high my heart rate is going.

With a bit of a calculation, it seems that I am running at about 90% of my maximum heart rate. This is well into the anaerobic zone, meaning that my body is not able to take in enough oxygen for sustained activity. For short periods this is not a problem, but for endurance events, this is not good.

Also, I am not even running at the pace that I would like to do the race in so things are likely to be worse still. After talking with some friends and doing a little research, I have found out that I need to do mainly training with a much lower heart rate.

This is the process of training at whatever level will keep my heart rate towards the top of the aerobic zone. This zone is between 70% and 80% of my maximum heart rate. This can all be calculated using the following link.

My desired heart rate works out to be about 148bpm. This is about 30bpm lower than my usual intensity which is a lot more than I thought it would be.

I did my first training run this morning using this guide and as expected, I was required to run at a much slower pace than normal. I started out at about 7mph and settled into a constant pace of about 6.5mph. Every so often I needed to adjust the speed by 0.1 in either direction, dropping down to 6mph at times in order to keep my heart rate constant. My average speed over a 20 minute period was about 6.5mph . That's at least 1.5mph lower than my previous running speeds and about 3mph below my desired speed.

My research tells me that if I keep this up for a couple of months, I should slowly see my speed increase with the same intensity. This is good news for me as I would love to be able to run 8mph comfortably within an aerobic zone. I believe it may take several years of this to really get up to speed but I am willing to do that for the improvements that I want.

I'll keep you posted on my developments. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Starting a healthy addiction

Right. So we know we have an event to do in 5 months time. Doing your first triathlon is both an exciting and daunting prospect. Getting nervous is part of the buzz, but 5 months is a long way off so what's the best way to get started if we haven't already.

It's pretty easy to keep putting off training as we still have plenty of time, but what we need to remember is that the more prepared we are for the day, the more fun we are likely to have. I mean prepared in both the mental and physical sense. Practice and training will cover both of these. Following a structured training program is always the best way to prepare the body and mind for what is to come.

Theoretically, this is straight forward but being motivated to train can often be a difficult thing. Quite often it is just the starting process that is the problem. Once we are into it, the rest becomes much easier. In fact, the body has a mechanism to help us out here.

Exercise is actually pretty addictive. During exercise, our bodies produce and a type of hormone called an endorphin from the pituitary gland. An endorphin is a type of opioid made by the body. This has the affect of blocking pain, reducing appetite and creates the feeling of euphoria, that some describe as an exercise high. If we exercise for more than about 30 minutes, the level of endorphins in blood can increase up to five times that of resting levels. Most importantly, after several months of exercise, our bodies become more sensitive to the endorphins and they tend to stay at higher levels for longer.

After, months of exercise, the pain blocking affect allows you to train longer at a comfortable level and the natural high lasts longer making exercise more pleasant and leaving you wanting to return the next time.

So ideally we want to get to this euphoric state kicking in as soon as possible to help us along. If you are anything like me, you leave things to the last minute and then panic. If the panic comes early enough we may still have enough time to half prepare for the task and scrape on through. The obvious problem here is that we are missing out on conditioning that prolonged exercise will give us.

I solve this problem by picking manageable intermediate steps. This means picking an event and committing to it. The event should be a much smaller challenge but in the not too distant future. There are normally nominal cost involved with these events but it is enough to not want to through the money away.

I have picked the Santa Monica Classic 5k run in early May. I only have about a month to train for it which means I needed to start immediately. I also picked a running event as this is the weakest part of my triathlons. By starting early, I hope to allow enough time to improve my run and make it a more enjoyable part of a triathlon.

I am now about two weeks into my training and I am already enjoying it immensely. I am also a lot happier that I have finally started my training.

Hopefully, this will inspire you all to start now and be more prepared by race day.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spin it out

I have already mentioned in a previous post that I have been playing with my cycling cadence. This week I have done a number or runs and hard rides in high wind and rain that have fatigued my leg muscles so that it hurts to even walk. I also have a cold so this has taken the zip out of my energy levels. For this reason, I have been finding it harder when cycling in to work and back.

To address this, I have been concentrating on trying to keep my speed up. I don't like looking down at my speedo and seeing figures less than 20mph. Even when I am struggling into the wind on my way home, I will put the extra effort to counter this and bring my speed back up as close to this 20mph mark. I see it as similar to attacking a hill climb. My ride is normally very flat so this brings in some variety even on the same route.

With the extra fatigue, I have been finding this hard, but with some minor adjustments to my techniques, I am finding I can still ride above 20mph, even into the wind. Spinning fast and smoothly is the trick.

This proves a good point. In a triathlon, we try to use techniques during each event to leave us as fresh as possible for the following discipline. We heavily favor our upper body while doing the swim which leaves our legs fresh for the bike stage. But when it comes for the run, we are using our legs again.

In my experience this week, I have reversed the order of the bike and run and fatigued my legs during running training. I have then had to try to keep up my speed on the bike, even with this fatigue. Just pounding my legs down on the peddles does no good. I can feel that I am grinding them around and getting very little performance out of trying hard.

When however I raise my cadence to about 90rpm, and use a smooth cyclic motion, I feel that pain and fatigue drop away and the speed rises. I stay in the same gear but am now comfortably traveling at over 20mph. If this is done correctly in a race, this should result in my leg muscles being capable or taking me through the run and onto the finish in a good time.

I love understanding the science behind this. The smooth circular motion introduces different muscles and takes the strain off the main power houses that will be needed for the run. A good lesson learned

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How the wind improves my training ride

So, this morning I got down to the end of the bike path (The Ballona Creek), and turned sharply into a strong head wind. Okay, so most people experience this every so often, but my particular case is different in one crucial way. Most of a triathletes training ride is typically done as an out and back ride. This is to say that the rider picks a start point and rides out from here. They can either choose a loop to ride or just a particular road or direction and turn around at the half way point. Either way, the rider is traveling in one direction for at most half of the ride.

If there is a wind involved, the rider can choose how to work with this. They can either favour a cross wind. or choose to ride out into the wind to start with and have a nice tail wind for the return journey. Or if they are doing a loop, quite often, one part of the loop is more sheltered than another and the rider can take advantage of this. (This can be the case if hills of forests are involved). By choosing to ride a certain way around the loop, the headwind can be worked into the sheltered section and thus reduced to a minimum.

Now back to my case. I am working my training rides into my commute to work. I ride 16 miles in total but it is split into 2 parts. Riding to work in the morning and riding home in the evening. The main problem with this is that I am not getting a solid distance in, only 8 miles at a time. But there is an additional factor. My ride is a fixed route. It takes me from the coast, inland to Culver City. So you may be thinking, what is my point. Well. back to head winds. Especially at this time of year, I am riding to work with a pretty strong and consistent head wind. Some people may find this an issue, but for me, it turns a fairly short ride into a quality work out.

Now, most people would think that this would result in a return journey that has a tail wind, but due to my return journey being at the end of the day, the offshore wind in the morning has changed to a strong onshore wind in the evening. In other words another quality ride home, or rephrased, a tough ride home if you try to keep the speed up, which I do.

Those lucky enough to be doing the commute in reverse will be enjoying a constant tail wind for both journeys, but for me, I am happy to turn my 8 mile ride into a quality and tough training ride.
I should add that I am lucky enough to have showers at work so I can afford to put in the extra effort without stinking the place out when I get there.

If you want to understand sea-breezes more click here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Looking at bikes

I went to a bike shop yesterday while I was out and about to get a feeling for what I may be looking for. I am really liking the Cervelo's and took a look at the P1 which is a triathlon bike and the S1 which is the equivalent Road bike. I love the look of both but there is something about the P1 that I love.

I have a history of being a speed freak. I love fast cars and bikes and when I got my Motorcycle license back in 2002, the first bike I bought was a Suzuki GSXR 600. This was a super sports bike and for a first purchase, suited my profile. It was the only type of bike I was going to feel right on.

Anyway, back to bicycles, I have the same issue with these. I just will not feel right on a beach cruiser. Just not my style. It needs to be racy.

The S1 is a racy bike but the P1 is truly awesome. The aerodynamics on this type of bike is what it is about. How can I make the rider go faster is what the bike is asking.

This however leads back to the main problem. I know I want a Triathlon bike, and this one is a really good price for what you get, but is this all that I need the bike for?

I do other events during the year, including a century ride from Irvine down to San Diego for the MS Society. Last year I did this on my Marin Fairfax and although my preparation was not good, I feel that a better road bike would do me good.

I feel that if I go for a triathlon bike, I will be compromising my Century rides and if I go for a road bike, I will be compromising my Triathlons.

For me it comes down to the triathlons being a race and the centuries being a challenge, thus taking away the importance of improving my ride. I will keep my Marin for training anyway, so I could probably keep doing these rides on that.

I think I am favoring the P1.

Watch this space.

PS. I decided to show you my favorite FAST car that I owned before moving to the US. Love it!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reaserching for a new bike

I am currently looking for a new bike that I can use for competing on. I am not sure whether to get a road bike or a tri bike as I probably intend to do other events or charity rides outside of the triathlon circuit. I do however feel like my triathlon race is the driving force for the purchase so I am steering in that direction.

I have found a good article here which I think really helped.

Triathlon Bike or Road Bike?

The other main thing I am confused about is the components on the bike. My current commuter based hybrid race bike has Shimano Sora which I know to be the novice style components so I am definately looking to upgrade. My question is what components should I be aiming for.

There are lots of choices which confuses things but I do know that Dura Ace is the top group from Shimano, I just get confused over Ultegra and 105 and which one is better and why.

Again, by the same person I found my answer in an online article so I though I would add it here too.
It is strangely, exactly the information I wanted and even referred to the same situation I have with my current bike.

Dura Ace vs. Ultegra vs. 105

This has given me something to think about so I will leave this here.

Seat Position or position on seat!!!

Just a quick one. I have noticed that while I am down in my aero position, I have the tendency to creep forward on my seat while I am cycling. Although this initially feels more comfortable, I am realizing that I lose a lot of efficiency. As I consciously move myself back, I feel a serge in extra power. This is something to note. I may need to adjust my seat position backwards to help but I am not sure yet. I will give it a go and see what happens.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


As I said before, I was disappointed with my initial cycling speed last Friday when I got back on my bike. It felt like I was putting in the same effort as before but my comfortable gear is now 2 cogs less at the back and my resulting speed is a good 3-4mph less. This may not sound a lot but this equates to a reduction of about 13% performance than usual. Baring in mind that my intention is to get my bike speed up to around 25mph for the race, this is a huge deficit before I have even started.

Given the two days of riding that I have done since this disappointing performance, I have been looking at my riding style to see if there is more to it than just a lack of fitness. I should at least be able to ride as fast as before, even if just for a few hundred meters.

The first think I noticed was with my cadence. I have a bike computer is hooked up to my front wheel that will tell me the speed that I am travelling, but it is also hooked up to my crank so that it can measure my cadence, that is for those not bike savvy, the speed that I am peddling. For those that think this measurement is not important when looking to pick up a bike computer, I warn you. It is one of my most important weapons on the road.

Just like a car engine, the human body on a bike has a very similar trait. We all have a power band. This is essentially the speed in which we most efficiently work. Most people would see this as the speed in which they can go on a bike without getting tired, but actually it is the speed we can efficiently move our legs and thus produce the power that drives the bike. The gear we are able to use with this leg speed ultimately affects top speed but for now I want to concentrate on pure revolutions per minute or cadence as it is known.

Again, using the motor engine as an example, as for what it is worth, this is what we are on a bicycle, we need to understand that each engine had different statistics and abilities. A big V8 engine generates lots of power but will not generally rotate as quickly as a small revvy 4 cylinder engine. The maximum power on this latter engine is likely to be much less, but it is still possible to drive quickly using it.

Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich are a good example of this. Jan is the big V8. He has big powerful legs and rides at a slightly lower cadence and Lance who is much slimmer and likes to peddle at high cadences.

Like an engine (again), breathing is important. If your engine can breath freely, it is possible to run at much higher speeds. Lance again is famous for his lung capacity which could be one of the reasons why he is able to peddle so fast. Hopefully, working on my fitness will help with this later on.

Anyway, back to me and my issues. I don't have big powerful legs and when looking at the cadence readout on my bike computer I decided that I was peddling at a slower rate than normal. My readout was about 70-75. I was essentially outside of my power band. I was putting in the same effort as before my accident but my peddling was not efficient and as such I was struggling.

If you have ever tried to drive a stick shift (manual) car and tried to pull away in 3rd gear by accident, you will understand this lack of power. As the revs slowly rise, the car starts to spring to life and eventually feels powerful again. The same goes for an automatic. There is a reason for when flooring the accelerator peddle, the car chooses to rev the engine more by changing down a gear or two. It is trying to find the power band for you.

So, with this observation in hand, I tried to experiment a little. I put in a quick effort, without changing my gear, until I was peddling at 85rpm. This instantly felt better, although I was putting in a little more effort to begin with, overall, I felt like my overall effort was less. I was travelling about 2mph faster than before with no perceived effort chance. There of course is a limit to this. As I have said before, gears are an important factor and of course, wind resistance increases the faster you go, so more power is needed, but the main limiting factor is how fast you can move your legs. It should be possible to peddle at over 100rpm but you will soon fall out of the top end of the power band if you go much further.

I found that I can increase my cadence up to 95rpm without feeling like I am putting more effort in. The peddling pressure should in fact feel lighter but the emphasis will switch from your legs to your heart and lungs.

I am finding at any given time that I can balance the emphasis between my legs and organs throughout my ride so that I don't over stress either.

Spinning classes are great for working on this skill. I am pleased with my choice of words there as leg speed is definitely something of a skill that needs to be and should be worked on. Peddling fast without the correct technique can feel awkward if not impossible. Trying to work on a cyclic motion with your peddles rather than a down push or even a push pull motion is a must. This smooth cyclic motion can be extended up to much higher speeds.

Anyway, I am pleased with my instant improvement so the search continues for anything else I can work on other than fitness.

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Starting Point

We all have to start somewhere and while there are many ways to measure or even perceive progress, I am going to use one of the standard methods to start with and add in other stats as and when I get to them. I would like to see how my body adapts physically as I have never tracked this before. I know I am out of shape at the moment and a quick tape measure around the waist gave me a minor shock.

I guess friends would describe me as a tall lanky fella. Apologies for the Britishness of that description. I'm 6'2 with a medium build. I never have an obvious problem with weight and can generally eat what I like, but the issue I do have, is any excess sits in a little pot belly. You know, The ones that old men have. I also don't have a well defined chest so the problem is increased with the appearance of a slight land slide. I am slim but I don't exactly appear athletic at the moment, especially when I take my top off.

So, one of my goals by the triathlon is to actually look more like a triathlete. I want to have the functional body of a triathlete and thus improve my performance along with it. I intend to track my strength as I go but for the time being lets record my body shape.

Height: 6'2"
Weight: 172.4 lbs
Fat %: 12.3
Muscle %: 43.5

Waist: 35" or 90cm
Chest: 38" or 96cm
Shoulders: 43.5" or 110cm
Left Bicep: 12" or 30cm
Right Bicep: 12" or 31cm
Left Thigh: 21" or 53cm
Right Thigh: 21" or 54.5cm

Ultimately, knowing my body type, I am expecting my weight to actually drop down to the mid 160's, my waist to drop to 32". I want to get my fat percentage below 10 Percent and my muscle mass above 50 Percent. Hopefully all of the other measurements should increase as I build muscle.

Correct fueling and nutrition should do the trick.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Okay, So I have been cycling into work everyday for the past month. This is an 8 mile commute so not really a training ride as such but I have been increasing the effort that I put in so that I am pretty tired when I get there. Okay, Not tired but hot and out of breath. I figure I only have 8 miles so I may as well go for it.

Friday morning was different though. I have been following the Tour of California this last week and my god are they inspiring. It makes me want to just jump on my bike and ride for hours. Unfortunately, time is my limiting factor and I need to get to work. This mornings difference was that I felt ready to get on my own bike. The bike that dropped me prematurely to the ground. I know I'm blowing this all out of proportion but I have had this thing about road bikes. Historically, while growing up, I always had a mountain bike. Maybe it's the width of the handlebars or the fact I never had toe clips that gave me a sense of security. This is probably why I have the bike that I have. The brand name should tell you something. It's a Marin. Marin are not known for their road bikes, well that is to say, they are mostly known for their mountain bikes and I understand that this whole revolution started up there in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had a Marin Mountain bike in England when I was a teenager and loved it. I could do anything on that bike and had all of the confidence in the world when riding it.

This is probably the reason, why in 2006, when arriving on American soil, I decided to go with a bike that I knew well. It was not a mountain bike as such, or a road bike for that matter. It was a commuter style street bike. The Marin Fairfax. If you were to take a mountain bike and blend it with a road bike, this is what you would get. All of the components are from the mountain bike devision. The handlebars with their bar ends are truly mountain bike style but the geometry and tires were that little bit more road bike like. This gave me the sensation of familiarity that I am accustomed to while having something that little bit more efficient on the roads.
This was a good bike for about $550 and I think I made a good choice for commuting. The problem was, I was asked by a friend if I wanted to take part in the Malibu Triathlon. I jumped at the opportunity but I didn't really have the budget or the room for another bike. What I decided was to work with what I had and try to make it more into a road bike while keeping the components and the frame the same.

I started with adding the tri bars just so that I was getting the correct sensation. My tires were 28mm and with slightly thicker rims than standard road wheels, I decided to to put on higher pressure 25mm tires. This made for a slightly faster and improved rolling resistance.

After a number of comments from other cyclists that I had tagged onto during my commutes I made the biggest move and the one I was most nervous of. I got some clipless peddles and a set of road shoes. I had been taking spinning classes using the same shoes for a while by this point so I was familiar with the sensation and the slightly different muscle groups that are utilized.

With a bike computer measuring my progress, this seemed to add considerable speed to my commute. I had a bike that I could race on. Okay, so it was a Frankenstein job on a hybrid commute bike but I was holding my own with club cyclists on the road so I went with it.

As the geometry placed me quite upright, I reversed the stem so that the angle dropped down rather than raising up and removed the spacers on the headset which further lowered the handlebars.

A year later I made the jump to slightly deeper dished rims and 23mm slick, racing tires. I now had a racey looking commuter bike. It was confusing everyone. I am hoping that this is the fastest Marin Fairfax on the planet.

Right, lets get back to the main topic. This Friday morning was different as I had decided that it was time to leave my wife's bike at home and take my own bike again. I put on my cycling shoes for the first time since falling off and took the bike outside. I jumped on and instantly felt like I was about to fall off the front. I had never realised how aggressive this bike was set up. The changes had been made gradually so I always assumed they were subtle and of very little effect. Now that I had gone from an upright geometry bike to my custom effort, I realised that I had done a pretty good job. It is important to note that I got the Marin Fairfax in the first place due to a recovering back injury that resulted in surgery. I wanted the more upright geometry in order to aid my cycling position. Now that I had made all my changes, I had eased myself into a more aggressive race position.
This really caught me out, but I eased my way down to the start of the cycle path, slowly getting used to the now, not so familiar, position.

On the path, I got up to speed and dropped down onto the tri bars. By now I was getting used to this again. The main problem however was my speed. Without looking down at my speedometer, I felt like I was going fast. Much faster than on my wifes bike. But the gear was not my usual commuting gear and the speed was much slower. I tried cranking up the speed but there was nothing there. I was only doing 17.7mph when I would usually be traveling at 20mph+.

Although phased, this gave me a reference point and only added to my inspiration. I knew what I was starting the year with before any training and I had something to monitor my progress.

I put a fair bit of this slowness down to the lack of training in the tri position and the fact that I had not been clipped in. The muscle groups used between these two scenarios is different and not as transferable as I would have hoped.

So next time, I will record my starting stats so that I really have my progress to track.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Back on my bike

Still recapping, 2009 swings in and I am heading back to work after a month off.

With a new baby at home, it is easier to try to get on my bike instead of trying to coordinate getting the little one up and out of the house in time to get to work. I should point out here that we only have one car and I would prefer that my wife has it at home to use instead of having it be parked in a car park all day long until it is time for me to return home.

The weather is still cold and the mornings damp so I figure I don't really feel comfortable getting on a bike that is set up for triathlons, especially the thought of clipping my feet in and the look of those slick racing tires. I have the jitters but I really want to confront my fears and get back in the saddle.

I decide to compromise and use my wifes commuter bike. It is a Giant FCR3 and I think it is even a male frame due to the colour being more appealing than that years female alternative. I only needed to make minor adjustments to get it to fit me. Okay, the frame is a little small so even though I can get the height right, the geometry or length is a little short. It makes for a safe feeling, upright position so I am happy and setting off to work at a sedate pace makes me feel good. I'm wearing Jeans and a fleece so this indicates that this is not a training ride by any means but I am back on a bike and feeling good for it.
As the days pass, I realise that jeans are not appropriate attire for cycling, especially as I am starting to build up a pace. I have no clips and chunky tires but even so, I am cycling at a faster pace every day.

One morning, I decide to adorn my cycle jersey and shorts with all of the cold weather trimmings. I can cycle at a faster pace but I am feeling a little out of place all tarted up but not on a race bike. Oh well, I will have to take things slowly until the weather improves.

Incidentally, we have been experiencing lots of rain for California so I am definitely sticking to my wifes bike for the time being.

Out and Injured, but I do have something better

So, while I was out injured in December we had a little boy named Benjamin. He is our first child and is such a bundle of joy. We are loving every minute. I am also pleased to say that I am able to pick him up without any major issues with my elbow or wrist so it looks like I am making a good recovery. I will keep this entry short as I am not doing any exercise or training except for wrist rotations which I don't really think are going to better my triathlon times. (Although it may help with the swimming).