Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 9: Albany Sprint Triathlon

How do I do this again?? The first race of the season is always a rust-blower, but this year it definitely felt more awkward than usual, owing to last summer's broken arm and lack of a triathlon season. I had to scramble to assemble all of my triathlon gear from wherever it had gotten to in the last two years.

Thankfully, like riding a bike, it all comes back the second you start setting up your transition area. It didn't hurt that we had one of the first truly glorious days of the year with sunshine and warm temperatures beaming down on us. Several of my Aquaducks teammates did the race, and it was nice to ride up to Albany with friends and encourage each other.

I decided to ride my new bike (of course!) even though I'm still messing around with the fit. That turned out to be a great decision as I got to see how really fast she is! This was my fastest bike split in years, turning a 34:08 for the 12.5 miles, or a bit over 21 mph. I didn't get my swim split until the end of transition, but it totaled 13:20, so I'm guessing somewhere in the 11:30 range. And my run was a disappointing 27:30, but then given my lack of running over the last six weeks, I guess that's to be expected.

All in all, a 1:16:22 was my 2nd fastest Sprint Tri finish in the last 10 years, and good enough for 2nd in age group and 4th overall. Even better, all of the Aquaducks did amazing, turning in strong times and in almost every case an Age Group placing! Most inspiring to me was one of our swimmers, who not only beat everyone in her own age group (60 - 65, which I could not believe as she looks so much younger) but also beat everyone in the 50 - 54 and 55 - 59 groups as well.

One thing I absolutely loved about this race was just how pretty the course was. The bike went out through the countryside around Albany, and it was like a series of postcards: Red barn with brown calves blinking in the morning sunshine. An old windmill turning beside an oak tree in a pasture. White sheep and lambs in an impossibly green field. A tree bloomed out all in pink. Although I was working hard on the bike, I could still take in these beautiful sights along the way and my heart just sang through the course. The run course went through a park and on a bike path, with only one section on a road with traffic. Thankfully, the day did not feel as hot as I feared it might (after all of our cool weather) and the sun felt good as I ran.

Next week: building up the bike and run mileage as we hit the homestretch toward IMCdA!

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Pinkalicious, Pinkatastic, Pinkarrific Bike and Birthday

Yes, I know it's PINK. Really pink! And I'm not usually a pink kinda gal, but all will be explained....You might've guessed from my last post that I was leaning towards buying the Quintana Roo CD01. I'm not kidding when I say this decision cost me several sleepless nights (as my husband can attest). I know a lot of people just pick a bike and are done with it, but I don't get to upgrade my bikes all that often (and with one kid starting college classes right now, I can foresee no new bikes in my immediate future), so I wanted to make sure it was absolutely the right decision.

In the end, it came down to fit (as it should in all bike-buying decisions). The CD01 is an extremely adjustable bike. The seatpost has a very clever adjustment system that lets me monkey with my seat angle to my heart's content, and a series of carbon spacers makes adjusting the handlebars just as smooth. So as we speak, I'm dialing in the fit on this fast flying machine. But why all the pink? Apparently, there's more than a few of last year's bikes left over in this paint scheme (this year's is a much more sedate black with purple striping) and I got a smokin' deal on it.

But as it turns out, pink is an auspicious color right now. My daughter Asa had just gotten the lead role in the musical "Pinkalicious" being produced locally. So she is constantly practicing lines and songs with lyrics such as "Pinkatastic, is a pinkatastic dream come true". When my mom visited last week, she showed up in a pinkarrific outfit of her own and they went off for a pinkatastic afternoon of lunch, shopping, and movies (aren't grandmas the greatest??) Thus, the bike has been dubbed "Pinkalicious" (though my hubby keeps referring to it as "Pepto Bismol", and my son commented on the pink camouflage color scheme: "the only place that thing would be camouflaged would be in a cupcake factory".

Still, I think it's the best thing that's happened to me on a birthday in many a long year. How can turning forty-six be bad when you have an awesome bike like that to ride? And ride it I have. Though I had the first triathlon of the season looming this weekend, and was supposed to be tapering, I couldn't resist taking it out for over an hour a day. It rides like a dream, and I have to tell you ladies, that Adamo saddle is just a wonderful thing. No more squishing of the girl bits.

 Luckily, the good weather also arrived just in time for my birthday weekend, and the pinkalicious fun continued with a run through paths of pink flowering trees in the glorious, wonderful sunshine! Hubby and the kids met me for a walk with the dogs and Asa picked a pink blossom for me to sport behind my ear. I am still trying to wrap my head around being forty-six. How come I still feel like I'm twenty-one? Oh yeah, because I TRI!!!
 And all that Tri-ing deserves some chocolate pudding, don't you think? My son Mackenzie, knowing that I am not really a cake person made up some of my grandma Minshall's famous 1-2-3 chocolate pudding recipe for celebrating with. He even wrote "46" in red frosting on it (being a 15 year old boy, he is automatically allergic to touching anything pink), but the frosting kind of bled into the pudding, making it look more like a zombie apocalypse kind of birthday (probably more to his liking anyways). But it tasted great, with an appropriate mountain of whipped cream on top. All in all, it was just a wonderful way to celebrate being on this planet for forty-six years. I know how lucky I am to have my family, my health, good friends, a beautiful place to live, and now a gorgeous pink speed rocket to ride around on.

So on this pink-a-tastic day, I'll leave you with my grandma's pudding recipe. You can make this up with coconut and almond milk, or regular old milk. Any way you make it, it's very tasty stuff. And my grandma lived a long and healthy life into her 90's, so there's got to be something said for chocolate pudding every now and then!

1 Tbsp Corn Starch
2 Tbsp Baking Cocoa
3 Tbsp Sugar (Mackenzie used a mixture of coconut sugar and xylitol from birth tree bark

Stir into:

1 Cup Milk

Microwave 2 minutes, then stir. Microwave 2 more minutes until pudding forms. Double the recipe for a hungry family of four!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Which Bike Did I Pick? The Final Three

In my bike-choosing decision, the final choice was a very tough one. It came down to the BMC TimeMachine, the Specialized Shiv, and the Quintana Roo CD01. These are all great bikes with terrific frame designs, and they each had a lot to recommend them.

Overall, I'd say that the BMC Timemachine was the nicest riding bike. It handled well, climbed well, was smooth enough on the bumpy roads but still stiff enough to feel responsive. It was a very nice bike, and it's unique Euro look and feel make it a standout in the current triathlon/time trial offerings. The biggest detriment to choosing it was that it's just a more expensive bike. It's not as mass-produced as some of the others, and that meant I would have to accept a lower component set if I bought it. Since I was already taking a step down from Dura-Ace on my last bike to the Ultegra price range for this one, I felt I didn't want to go all the way down to 105 components. Maybe if I lived in Texas or Florida, I would consider it. But every ride I do here starts with hills, ends with hills (I live on a hill) and most likely has hills in between. I knew if I was shifting constantly and having to endure chatter from my component group, I'd be irritated, no matter how nice the frame was.

So that brought me down to the final two. The Specialized Shiv Comp Rival had a lot to recommend it: a very innovative fast frame, with that cool integrated in-frame drink holder (thus eliminating at least one extra bottle or fluid-holding device attached to the frame), a great set of aerobars, and a comfortable fast ride. I took it out for another hour of road testing and let's just say I didn't want to turn around! One of the plusses is that my local bike store carries it, which means that I would have help getting the bike set up and fit right to me. The downsides that I saw were that Specialized intentionally designed the frameset with a very flat riding profile, meaning it's hard to achieve a really deep aero position. Word is that Chris McCormack had to ride a size Small just to get it steep enough for his riding position. While the Small fit me fine, it was clear from starting to adjust it to my fit that I would be in a more flat position on this bike, and I didn't relish the idea of going to an Extra Small, especially with 700 wheels.

On the other hand, the Quintana Roo CD01 is meant to be ridden steep and aggressively. With my extreme flexibility and strong core, I can handle a more aggressive riding position than most triathletes. So this was probably more important to me than it might be to other people with stiffer backs and tighter hip flexors. The CD01 is an incredibly adjustable bike, with a seat tube that's readily marked with the different angles right on it, and a one-bolt adjustment to quickly change your angle. To get the same kind of flexibility on the Shiv, I would have to buy a different seat post and flip it around, change the seat around, etc. Also, in the same price range, the CD01 comes with full Ultegra, while the Shiv comes with a SRAM Rival/Apex mix that puts it in a slightly lower component group. The downside is that I would have to order it, which meant no hand-holding from my local bike shop and more of the work of fitting it myself.

Tomorrow: the shocking selection!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tri Bike Face-Off: Argon, Scott, BMC, Felt, Specialized, Quintana Roo, Cervelo

So, my new triathlon bike arrived today and it's on my trainer right now, being tweaked for fit. It's beautiful, sleek, and fast... but what is it?

As promised, I'll give a brief review of all of the cool bikes I got to ride and test on the way to picking out The One. When you are in the market for a new bike, I highly recommend doing this - riding as many bikes as possible, as close together as possible. You get a real feel for the differences in the way they ride, handle, fit, climb, and feel. When you see them all on a website or glossy catalog, or in the bike racks at a triathlon, they all seem like they would be fairly similar. Most of the bikes in the same price range have comparable features, they all claim to have the most aerodynamic frame ever tested in a wind tunnel, and in the same price range you'll get roughly the same component group. But when you ride them, you can feel some pretty significant differences, and picking the one that's best for you can often mean that you're surprised by what you like the most.

For the record, I was looking in around the $3,000 - $3,500 price range. That puts me pretty squarely in the Ultegra component grouping, although the BMC that I rode came with Shimano 105 in that price range, and the Specialized Shiv had SRAM Rival/Apex.

The bikes I looked at were:

  • Argon 18 E-112
  • BMC Timemachine TM02 2012 
  • Cervelo P3
  • Felt DA4
  • Cannondale Slice3

  • Quintana Roo CD01 
  • Scott Plasma 10
  • Specialized Shiv Comp Rival
  • Specialized Transition

Of those, I did not ride the Cannondale, the Specialized Transition, or the Felt, just looked them over. The rest of them, I took out for about a half an hour each. I rode each on the flats and on a winding hill, trying to get a feel for speed, climbing, comfort, and handling.

Here's the standouts:

COMFORT: The Argon 18 E-112 wins in the Comfort category. This bike felt s-m-o-o-t-h, like you could just keep riding it forever. It wasn't the best handler or climber, but it really absorbed the road chatter and would be great for long rides on back-country roads.

HANDLING: The BMC Timemachine TM02was above all the nicest feeling frame that I rode. It turned on a dime, and climbed so easily it really surprised me. This frame was one that I hadn't heard much about, it's not all that common, but the Athlete's Lounge in Portland carries them. I have to say I was very very impressed with this bike. Probably the biggest strike against it was that in my price range, it only came with Shimano 105, whereas the other bikes I rode were Ultegra. I'm a pretty big believer in getting the best components you can afford, so this really made me waver on buying the BMC. I'll have to say that this is one bike I'd keep my eye on in the future.

SPEED: The Specialized Shiv and the Quintana Roo CD01 tied in the outright "OMG this bike is FAST" category. Both of them just felt slippery as heck in the wind. At one point while riding the Shiv, I was sure I had a strong tailwind, only to turn around and head back and still have the same feeling. The Quintana Roo CD01 I test rode had a pair of Reynolds aero wheels on it, and I thought that might be why it felt so fast. So I had the store put some similar wheels (actually better wheels) on the Argon and rode it again right afterwards. Nope, it wasn't the wheels (although of course they help), it was the bike.

The rest of the bikes were nice, but none of them felt outstanding in any way to me. So it really came down to these four in my mind. The Argon, while comfortable, did not feel like it had anything outstanding in the speed, power, or manueverability categories, and I decided that comfort was not enough. So that left the BMC, the Shiv, and the CD01.

Tomorrow I'll go into detail on those three, and let you know what I ended up with.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 10: My Bike Gets Revenge

Ever since I started test-riding other tri-bikes, my bike has been mad at me. Then it started getting revenge on me. The chain keeps jumping off. The brake started rubbing. The handlebars got loose. It's like it's trying to kill me. Honestly, this bike has been so completely reliable for 8 years that I've never had to worry about it, and now I fear for my life every time I ride the thing! I can't wait for my new bike to get here.

Besides fearing for my life, I'm starting to fear for my Ironman. I did something scary yesterday: I  looked at my training logs from my last Ironman. You know, the one where I got to train in the summertime when the weather was good and I had motivation to be outside. Yeah, so by this time in my training cycle, I was regularly doing six hour bike rides (I've topped out at three so far this year) and three hour runs (I'm currently at 1.5 for my max). I am starting to worry about how bad this will all hurt if it hurt THAT MUCH last time and I was twice as well trained and six years younger to boot.

So here's hoping that the new bike is perfect, that I'll instantly leap on it and not only be able to ride for hours and hours but that its new perfect aerodynamic shape will make up for all that training I haven't been doing (hey, I can dream).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 11: Bike Shopping

I have now been a triathlete since 1986, and in that 26 (gulp!!) year span of time I have had just three bikes. I loved each of them in their own way.

My first, a steel Peugeot that was solid and steady, probably only had about 12 gears but it got the job done. I toured on that bike, raced on it, rode up my very first big hill, my first sprint and Oly distance races, and my first 50 mile day. When I finally upgraded to my first real "tri" bike, I kept it and loaned it to friends for their first triathlons, and to a teenager who did his first bike tour on it. It was a trusty steed that saw decades of service.

By 1990, I was a serious young triathlete. So when the Giant Cadex came out with that there new-fangled carbon frame stuff, and those gigantic Scott DH aerobars, well I just had to have me some of that brand new technology. Yes, I've been riding on aerobars for over 20 years now. No wonder my neck has a permanent crick in it! Wow, just look at the size of those enormous bars! And the round back in my rather upright aero position. Ah well, it took me to some of my first victories and gave me a decade of triathlon memories.

Then, in an extremely Blonde Moment, I inadvertantly drove into my garage with my bike still on the roof of the van. Whoops. That was the end of one carbon Giant frame. For a season, I was reduced to riding hubby's steel Bianchi touring bike with clip-one aero bars. Not the most comfortable or fastest ride, and it's my least-favorite shade of yellow. But it let me carry on. Luckily, my homeowner's insurance chipped in on a new ride, so I went bike shopping and ended up with my next beauty.

This was my current bike, my Quintana Roo Picanti, a titanium-framed tri bike that came out when they merged with Litespeed. When I started shopping, I thought I would be getting the Cervelo P2, which was the talk of the town at that point. But when I rode it, I hated it. And after test-riding seven or eight different bikes, I got on the QR and loved it. It's not the most aero frame, doesn't have a flashy paint job, and isn't the sexiest bike in town. But it fit my odd frame (long legs, short torso) just right, was comfortable, and made short work of the 112 miles of my first Ironman.

Being a mom of two kids who are happily into all sorts of money-sucking endeavors (a million dance classes, camps, sports, and activities), I don't get the chance to upgrade my hardware all that often. And I haven't wanted to spend the money until I saw that bikes had made another large qualitative leap forward in technology. But I think that day has finally arrived. The new generations of frames are considerably different than what I'm riding, and it was time to start thinking about what I wanted to ride next. I resolved to start selling off some of my old toys that I no longer use (two motorcycles gathering dust in the garage, three parachute rigs in the closet) and use the money for a two-wheeled speed demon.

So I did my research, and headed to my local bike store to ride what's available around here, then took a road trip to Portland to hit up the triathlon stores and get a wider variety of brands to ride. All in all, I looked at seven different bikes by Specialized, Felt, BMC, Argon, Quintana Roo, Scott, and Cervelo, all in the Ultegra price range ($3000 - $3500).  What did I think of each of these bikes? What two made the final cut? And which one will I be riding next week? Stay tuned!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Ironman Race Day Nutrition: Gluten and Dairy Free

I'm probably not the only athlete who responded with a resounding "Huh?" to Ironman's news that they were going with "Bonk Breaker" bars for their race day nutrition at Ironman races this year. I mean, everyone's heard of Powerbars, but Bonk Breakers, what are those? Imagine my little Paleo-ized heart a-flutter when I visit their site and find out that they are gluten and dairy free! Since I haven't eaten gluten in so long and since the last time I did, it did not play nice with my intestinal tract, I was worried about either having problems with the on-course nutrition, or having to pack all of my own along, looking like some overstuffed dromedary with nutrition hanging out of every available pocket.

Even better, unlike many popular bars, they are also free of hydrolized soy protein, or soy protein isolates. As someone with half a thyroid gland, I avoid soy like the plague and thus there's a lot of bars I won't touch including the aforementioned Powerbars.

Now, I am going to hustle my self down to REI tomorrow, apparently the only place in town that carries these things, and buy a few to try, maybe the Fig, Almond Butter and Honey, and Espresso Chip varieties. For those who are strict Paleo, they won't cut the mustard. They contain oats and other ingredients like rice syrup. But as I've noted before, I'm having to be a bit less strict with my in-training nutrition and there's no way I'm doing a totally Paleo thing in the Ironman. I think that would spell Gastric Distress for sure. When going the distance, there's something to be said for highly refined sugars and easily digestible ingredients.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Proof That I Am Not Just A Weather Whiner

So I live in Oregon. You all know it rains a lot here, right? So much that there are a whole host of Oregon rain jokes like:
"How do you tell an Oregonian? By the moss growing on the north side of his nose."
"Last year in Oregon, 120 people fell off of their bicycles.... and drowned."

That last one's not quite so unrealistic these days.

So I'm used to the rain. I don't have to like it, not when I'm trying to train for an Ironman and I'm in serious danger of drowning while riding my bike... (see above photo from this week here in town)  but I live with it. This last month however has had me at my wit's end. Even the cats can't believe how much it's raining. They ask to go out, then when you open the door for them they just stand there looking out, and they hiss or howl mournfully. I just say sadly "I know how you feel buddy. But it's Oregon."

But lest you think I'm just a weather whiner like my cats, the local news came out with the fact today that it rained TWICE AS MUCH in March as it normally does here. When "normally" is a bucketload of rain, that's one unhappy fact. So yesterday when I was out test-riding bicycles (more on that exciting bit of news later), I had to come in and prop each foot up in the sink of the bathroom at the bike store and run hot water over it until it stopped looking all white and freaky and frostbitten. It's a cold rain that's dumping on us around here, and I'm ready for it to be over with.

Here's to April Showers that are in the "normal" range, bicyclists that don't need scuba gear to ride, and a much happier household of kitties.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 12: Fit Enough To Train

A happy but unexciting post for the day: Today marks the start of my official training plan in the final build to the Ironman in June. Luckily, with the help of my chiropractor, and taking some time off of everything, I do feel well enough to begin training harder and longer. Last week I decided to run very little - just a few 30 minute sessions, nothing to set my back off again. That strategy seems to have been a good one, as everything feels fine for now. Instead, I put in six hours on my bike (unfortunately still on the trainer as it is pouring rain outside) and tried to bank up some bike time. This weekend has a scheduled 3.5 and 3 hour rides. Eep! I've done one 2:45 ride and that's my longest so far, so I think I can survive it. Onwards and upwards!