Brilliance!

It’s not too often that I talk about companies or products here.  I have talked about some cycling, running and triathlon related products over the years, especially once I’m confident that it’s something that I like.

This is one of those times.

Actually, a moment to rave about some phenomenal customer support from one of the companies.

The company is Light & Motion, creators of personal lighting systems for pretty much any activity you want to engage in, on ground, in the air or in the water.

The story:

I bought a set of Stella 300 Dual headlights back in autumn of 2009.  I needed them for my bicycle commute to/from work in Germany.  If you’ve lived in Germany, the winters are cold and dark.  Very dark.  Especially if you spend a large amount of time riding through the forest, hoping to dodge any deer or boar that want to cross the trail.

Brilliant riding!

They treated me extremely well through 3.5 brutal German winters, including two in a row that the German weather service declared “the worst in 40 years”, followed by “the worst in 41 years”.

Days like this:

Winter Riding in Germany

Except when I was commuting, it was pitch black except for what the Stella would illuminate.  Which on a snowy ride like this, pretty much everything was illuminated for a good 30-40 yards ahead.

Like I said, brilliant riding.

Here in Oregon, I don’t need them for daily commutes, instead breaking them out on occasion, like every Monday to get home from the bike polo game.  A couple of months ago I realized they were not working as they had, or should.  So I contacted Light & Motion.

A bit of talking back and forth and they suggested that I send it in for a look.  Which I did.

They arrived back at my front door today, an almost completely brand new set.

Looking at the work order, it mentions that they replaced the cable (that runs between the battery and the lights) as well as changed out the lights.  In other words, they rebuilt a new set, which is great since they no longer make this model.

So the lights are almost five years old and completely rebuilt.

They covered it under warranty work!

The quote that they gave me prior to the work was extremely reasonable, coming in at around 1/10 the cost of buying a new light kit.  I was pleased with that, knowing that their standard warranty length is two years.  But three years after that point, they still covered it.

Amazing service that was completely unexpected.  Unexpected, but greatly appreciated.

Broadcasting their excellence to the world is the least I can do.

So if you’re in the market for headlamps or headlights or dive lights, buy from Light & Motion.

I know any lights I buy in the future will be from them.

 

Pensive

Goddess and I returned from a weekend of being tourists and screaming fans.  Well, I probably did all of the screaming, but that’s OK.  She’s enjoys the show and pageantry.

Sunday started out early as we grabbed some breakfast and then drove the two hours from Trier, Germany to Maastricht, Netherlands.

Why?  Stage 1 of this year’s Tour de France was starting in Liège, Belgium, just south of Maastricht.  But we had to make the side trip to pick up a few people who were going to join us as we criss-crossed eastern Belgium, chasing the peleton as they raced through the Ardennes.

And trust me, trying to keep up with the pro peleton in a car is not an easy task.

Our two fellow cheering fans were Ray Maker and his lovely bride, Bobbie, who had just moved to Paris the previous Tuesday.  They certainly hit the ground running, catching a train from Paris up to Liège on Saturday so they could catch the Prologue, then stayed overnight to catch Stage 1.

I’ve “known” Ray for many years, virtually over the interwebs, mainly through his wildly popular triathlon and gear related website.  Ray introduced us to Bobbie a couple of years ago while they were dating.

And while I’ve met several people in real life that I’ve met through the interwebs, those have all been mostly photography-centric.  Although we certainly had the photography covered.  He was even giving Nikon a test run that day.

Once we picked up Ray and Bobbie, we made our way down to Liège to the start.  Along the way we got caught up in the traffic headed to the race, but so did the team busses.  So we knew we were doing OK.

After a quick walk around the team area, a ring around the block where each team bus was parked and the bikes were set out, ready for their riders, we headed to the start line just a few moments before the start.

The riders queued up and waited.

Which is when I caught a glimpse of George.

Goddess likes George.  And she accuses me of having a man-crush.

I like George.  Always the consummate professional teammate.  A rider who’s been at it for the past 24 years, really mixing it up with the pros since 1994.

This year is his last year in the peleton.  And he’s still schooling the young ‘uns.  During his 17th Tour de France.

I like that.

At 39, George finished the prologue just 20 seconds off the lead, amongst racers a decade or more younger.  On stage 1, he lost two minutes, but that was because he did what he does best, hammering like hell to pull his team captain, this year Cadel Evans, to the front just a few kilometers from the finish.  After which the course got ugly, ramping up with some brutal short, steep climbs, some covered with cobblestones.  He was spent, so he lost a fair chunk of time.

George knew that at the start.

Pensive. George Hincapie, Stage 1, 2012 Tour de France

I do love that Canon EF 200/2.8L.  It can pick through a crowd and focus tightly on the subject.  And provide some creamy out of focus areas.

Well, That Was Fun!!!

If you look up at the top of the page, it says “Bill’s Racing, Rambling and Photos”.  For the past couple of years it’s been more like “Bill’s Photos and Rambling”.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been any racing (which there really hasn’t), but there have been a few posts that leaned towards the athletic.

But if you look at my Races tab, the last race I have entered was back in January, 2010.  That was a great race in a blizzard – the Rodgau 50K.

Since then, it has mainly been play.  Fun runs in the Alps and fast stair climbs.

Then there was a grand bike tour.

But that’s not a race.  Although there was some racing.  Mainly me trying to catch up to the pack every time the road moved off of level or we hit a secteur pavé.

Although I could leave the fellas scattered by the wayside once I got the diesel engine wound up and started the sprint from a kilometer out.

And while that’s all great, great fun, it’s not an organized race.

And the reality was, as I posted in February of last year, I was athletically rudderless, not really interested in pursuing a specific athletic goal.  Mainly because most of the ones that interest me take so much time away from Goddess.  In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m quite keen on the Goddess.  That means I am quite protective of my time with her, so I wasn’t wild about the 4-6 hour (or more) weekend training days that marathons, ultra-marathons or grand bike tours require.

So I just kept an unfocused training regimen, focused on having fun and staying fit, while not demanding too much time from Goddess.  And I kept a thought in the back of my mind, which I did verbalize to a few folks, that I wanted to remain fit enough that I could fake my way through a half, whether that be a half-marathon or a half-Ironman triathlon.

That brings us to today.

On a lark a couple of months back, I signed up for the Heidelberg Half Marathon.  It was to be interesting, since I had no plans to specifically train for the race, just rely on my fitness and see how it worked out, since my training at the time was focused on a grand bike tour.  Plus, considering that I have not run greater than seven miles in the past two years, save for one other lark of a 14-miler that involved running straight up the side of the Alps, then back down, running 13.1 miles was going to be a stretch.  Especially this one, with some pretty steep sections and 3,400′ of cumulative climbing.

I was going to have to rely on the diesel engine and hope that the suspension held up.

Here’s the race map, overlaid on terrain:

Heidelberg Half Marathon
Heidelberg Half Marathon

That gives you an idea of the terrain.  But it doesn’t tell the truth like the profile does:

Heidelberg Half-Marathon Profile
Heidelberg Half-Marathon Profile

Like I said, this was a lark.  In the previous week, I had run three times, including a fairly fast 1.5 miles for my fitness test.  Before that, I had not run in a month, thanks to a combination of things.  I had injured myself playing frisbee, which halted any running.  Then I went on the grand bike tour and didn’t have time to.  Then I got back and came down with some crud that kept me down for over a week.

And that led into this week.  Monday was a slow 5-miler to make sure everything still worked properly.  Wednesday was a hill run which included the same set of stairs in PR; this time I set a new PR and ran up the entire set of stairs without stopping, although the pace was decidedly slower than 9:35.  Then on Friday was my PT test, so basically it was a short race.

In short, I didn’t train for this half-marathon, nor did I taper.

I was walking into it cold.

When I signed up, I took a stab at a finishing time and selected two hours.  I based that on the terrain and hope.  Unfortunately, hope is not a technique.

I seeded myself appropriately in my corral (#4 of 4), towards the back.  I cracked jokes with a few first-timers that I’m surprised we weren’t surrounded by people with walkers, complete with tennis balls.  We were only there a few minutes, then the gun went off for our group (some 850 people).  It was time to settle into a comfortable pace and see how the day worked out.

It wasn’t long before I was passing people.  That turned out to be the theme of the day.  I started out near the back of the 3,445 that finished and I finished 1,416 overall.  The math is simple – I passed over 2,000 people in 13.1 miles.  On this course.

Luckily a good portion of this run is on familiar ground, with the first large hill being part of our normal Monday run.  So I knew what to expect.  However, the course splits from where we normally head back down to the valley and continues upstream, then crosses further up than I am familiar with.  Then heads straight up the other side so that we can loop behind the Heidelberg Castle.  So after the midway point, it was all new territory.  And that kept my effort in check.

The only spots I walked were the water points.  No sense in trying to run and drink, instead sloshing water all over myself.  Although plenty of people did and gained nothing from it.  I did find it interesting that so many thought that they were saving time, although they had to slow down so much to prevent the sloshing that they might as well have been walking.

The flats were OK.  The uphills were great, probably because that’s where I passed huge chunks of people each time.  At one point, in the closing miles, we were climbing a series of cobbled switchbacks that were steeper than 20% grade and I had a flashback to the grand bike tour.  And the downhills were fun, cruising past many folks who just weren’t comfortable with letting go.  I was amazed at how many were walking the gradual downhills, even only halfway through the race.

As you can tell, I had a great time.

But there was one significant annoyance, for which I’m partially at fault.  The race is capped at 3,500 registered participants, mainly due to the narrow streets in Heidelberg as well as the narrow trails through the forest.  My fault was ignorantly seeding myself way at the back.  The annoyance were the many, many, many runners who could not hold their line while running, instead darting side to side even though they gained nothing from the maneuver.  I spent more time than I cared guiding people with my forearm, especially when their erratic movement threatened to push me off the trail and down the hill or into a ditch.  Or gently guiding someone forward who would dart into an open spot, but not overtake the people around him, while many of us were flying downhill at a much greater pace than they were.  But once we got past that section (and ran straight up a wall), the crowds were all but torn apart and the running became smoother.

My piriformis started talking to me at about the eight mile mark, but nothing more than a gentle reminder that I was abusing them.  In the closing miles, my calves started twinging, telling me that they were close to cramping up.  I’ve been there before, so knew how hard I could push it, keeping right at that point where they would twinge, but nothing more.  In the last half mile, a time where I’m usually flying past other runners, I didn’t.  But none caught and passed me either.

So the time?

1:58:03

Without training for it.

Just keeping myself fit with a good mix of high intensity and endurance training, mainly on the bike.  And that time fit nicely within the cluster of times for the half-marathons that I trained specifically for.

The trick will be seeing how I walk on Tuesday morning.

Now about that half-Ironman…

Rudderless

Last weekend, while standing on the frozen ground, waiting for the men’s race at the Cyclocross World Championships, I realized that the annual Rodgau 50K was run that same weekend.

And that’s when I realized I hadn’t raced in a full year, since last year’s 50K.

A full year without a race?  It’s been a while since that’s happened.

And I don’t know what to think about that.

It’s not a bad thing, nor is it a good thing.  It just is what it is.  I really haven’t felt the need to push through more marathons or ultra-marathons.  I really haven’t felt the need to chase a half-marathon PR.  I haven’t felt the need to focus more on bike races.  And without a pool nearby that opens at a reasonable hour (say, before 10am), that leaves swims (and triathlons) out of the picture.

So I haven’t registered for any races.  And without a race on the schedule, my training is pretty non-focused.  I just do what I do.

And I’m actually OK with that right now.

I can still grind the big gears for an hour if I want to.

Then follow it up with a a pretty hard 10K.

I can even still outrun most of the young ‘uns at work.

And that’s a lot of fun.  :^D

Heck, I could even fake my way through a half-marathon tomorrow if I were properly motivated.

But that motivation would require focus.  Focus that I’m lacking right now.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article recently covering endurance sport widows.  And I think the article gets to the core of my lack of focus.

I told Goddess that I won’t train/race anymore Ironman-distance tri’s until after I retire.  It just takes too much time away from her, especially those 5-7 hour training Saturdays.

I haven’t told her, but right now I have no desire to train for the marathons and ultra-marathons mainly because I don’t want her to have to see me step out the door for a 3.5-hour run on Saturday and a 90-minute run on Sunday, almost every week.

Lately (the last few months), I’ve either been out of the house for work averaging 13-hours each day.  Granted, that includes my bicycle commute to and from work, but that commute isn’t much longer than if I drove it every day.

So I already spend too much time away from her.

Mind you, she’s extremely supportive, understanding that I need to be doing something.  Even during some of my more reckless endeavors she’s been there supporting me, even if it means getting up at ungodly hours to drive to a race, then sleeping in the car while I run through the mud in a cold pouring rain.

And tolerates me when I say “I’m going to do that again”.

That’s just one reason why she’s a Goddess.

So I don’t have anything scheduled for this year either.  Unless I run across something that really piques my interest.

But something tells me that I’ll be spending way too much time away from Goddess as it is, so I’m not looking too hard.

Whew

All done with this training cycle.  Now for a bit of active recovery this coming week.

But first, I need to give credit where credit is due.  I’m married to a true Goddess.  The one who asks me what I want to do during my holiday break, to which I answer “sleep and run”, and she gives me that “Are you serious?” look, to which she already knows the answer.

So that’s what I did over the past two weeks, which was my last Base period before racing at the end of January.

All told, 110.97 miles of running in the past two weeks; 50.43 miles last week, 60.54 miles this week.  Snow, rain, well below freezing, well above freezing.  The whole stinkin’ gamut.  And it was all good.

I did get a few commutes to/from work on the bike, but swapped one ride home for a run, which served two purposes.  And instead of 35 minutes to get home, it took 1:20.  So it really didn’t impact the home life too much.

And the runs were a mix of short hill runs, medium tempo runs and long steady runs.  In other words, a normal training plan.  But it wasn’t all normal.

- A 10-mile tempo+ run last Monday, which started out slow thanks to the 50 miles of the previous week.  The first three miles were OK, but nothing to get excited about.  Then the gears switched and I was rolling through the forest at a comfortable clip, finding my groove.  The (+) portion of the tempo was when I decided to go visit an old friend, the pain cave, whose threshold I hadn’t crossed in quite a while.  I didn’t want to get too deep in, but decided to head over, open the door, look around the make sure that the drapes hadn’t been stolen.  Nothing was disturbed, but there was definitely a layer of dust from lack of use.  I’ll have to get back there soon.  So even after the slow opening miles, I finished the 10 miles just a few minutes off my 10-mile PR.  But I did feel it the next day.

- The 20-miler on New Year’s Eve was a mixed bag of weather.  It was a steady 45F, rapidly changing from sun to pouring rain and back again.  Since the rain was going to be intermittent, I left the shell at home, which made for a few borderline hypothermic moments.  Luckily it cleared out just before sunset, which let it cool down quickly into the upper 30’s(F).  So soaking wet, cold.  I couldn’t get into a warm shower fast enough.  But that worked out well, since it was New Year’s Eve.

- New Year’s Eve detraining – lots of resveratrol was consumed, which my doc (“drink early, drink often”) swears is good for my heart.  And let me tell you, the German’s know how to greet a new year.  I swear every family up and down the street bought hundreds of euro of fireworks.  It looked like a war zone out there.  It did my teenaged-boy heart good.  And though I was perfectly fine the next day, I just didn’t get out the door to run.

- Today’s 15-miler through the ice/snow was great, especially considering the amount of miles these legs have endured in the past 14 days.  Although after a poor night of sleep, I wasn’t too motivated.  Goddess got me through that (something about “get out now”).  The legs were heavy and tired, but found their rhythm after a few miles.  Then a nice negative split.  Nothing too drastic, but considering the abuse that I’ve put myself through, I can’t be anything but pleased with that.  It was a great way to close out the cycle.

So now it’s a recovery week, which will include some thigh-busting skiing in the Alps.  And if that doesn’t teach the quads who’s boss, I don’t know what will.

=====================================

Year in Review – 2009

Lots of thoughts during these long runs about posting a year in review.  Some discussion with other folks on their year’s in review.  For me, the review is only meaningful to the one posting it, unless the numbers posted are compared to the year’s goals and/or previous year’s totals.  Otherwise they’re just numbers.

So for those of you who want numbers, you won’t find them here (unless you read above).  I look through my numbers fairly often in both Training Peaks and SportTracks.  Matter of fact, I keep a rolling 10- and 28-day chart in my SportTracks to make sure I’m not doing anything too crazy.  With the move to Germany this year, there wasn’t any sense in setting annual goals, since there were way too many variables.  All of my short-term goals were early in the year (March’s LBL 60K and April’s Country Music Marathon) and were resounding successes, even if I didn’t meet certain time goals.  I learned quite a bit, including how much I enjoy a good trail run.

But thanks to the commute to/from work, my bike mileage jumped considerably over last year, which had a six-month chunk taken out thanks to a deployment to Iraq.  No cycling during that time.

And what will 2010 bring?  Who knows.  A 50K at the end of January, then I’ll start searching for something to do later in the year.  The Antwerp 70.3 looks fun (I love that distance triathlon), but finding a swimming pool with good hours is a trick.  The local pool is open 10am-10pm, but is too far from work for a lunchtime swim.  After work I’m usually too knackered to do anything.  Plus, that’s Goddess’ time.  So unless I think I can pull off a 70.3 without any lap time…

So here’s to a great year for each and every one of you.  If you’re one that makes resolutions, I hope that the resolve you currently have lasts through the year.

Building Up & Breaking Down

Lovin’ the weather here in Southwest Germany.  Winter finally arrived last week, smack dab in the middle of my recovery week.  Not just a tease, but a full-on, in your face arrival.

Thursday morning’s very isolated snow-shower pretty much shut down any commute for anyone on the south side of Heidelberg.  But not for me.  Gotta love the bicycle.  I floated through the forest and across the fallow fields on a pillow of fresh snow.  Shaking my head at all the poor folks in their single-file parking lots.  Once I got into town, I dropped the tire pressure to 35 p.s.i. and the studs stuck to the ice.  No issues at all.  My commute was extended by only 2-3 minutes, which would be about the time that it took for me to let the air out of the tires as well as account for some creeping around corners (I haven’t found the edge of control with the studs yet).  For those on four wheels, the commute was extended anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes.

Friday was a bit more of the same in the afternoon, but everyone on four wheels seemed to behave themselves.  Then the cold set in.

Saturday was a bit chilly, dipping down to +4°F (-15°C) and gradually warming up to +12°F (-11°C) by early afternoon.  Luckily there wasn’t much wind, so the run wasn’t bad at all.  Matter of fact, I layered too much and was peeling off layers, caps and gloves just a few miles into the run.

Here it is, Monday, the Winter Solstice, and we still have a fair covering of snow on the ground.  Perfect for jumping in to the next Base period.  But I’m jumping ahead of  myself.

As I said above, last week as a recovery week.  That made it week three of my Base 2 cycle for my next race on January 31st.  Being the “old guy” that I am, following Friel’s protocol of using three week cycles for folks over 40, vice the four week cycles for those under 40, has worked quite well for me.  Especially since I’m not focusing on long-course triathlon right now, but instead basically living the life of a duathlete.

So Base 2 was a good cycle.  Through the second week I pushed my running mileage up to 35.5 miles.  Nothing extravagant, but on top of my 90-miles of commuting each week, the legs are getting abused a bit.  And with another Base cycle, leading into my Build cycle, I’ll be dancing very close to my upper manageable limit of 60 miles per week of running.  That’s not counting the commute.

Besides, if I’m to run more than 60 miles per week, I better be getting paid for it.

The workload wasn’t overwhelming, but for some reason the recovery took a bit longer than normal.  Perhaps all of the holiday parties?  Typically I’m good to go by Wednesday.  Last week it took until Saturday before I felt fresh.  But that’s OK. 

It’s the result of doing good work.  And some good parties.

Today’s run, warmer than this weekend, looked similar to the photo at right, although not as deep.  The nice thing is that it adds a nice bit of strength training to the run.  Although strength training in the middle of 10-mile runs are typically not the best thing for the legs.

But it’s good work.

Since I’ve taken this week off from work, the commute isn’t necessary.  So that leaves my legs fresh for the runs, which will tally up to ~50 miles.  Next week there will be just a few commute days, so bike mileage will remain low, but I’ll have to ramp up the miles through the weekend, seeing how close to 60 miles I can dance without overdoing it.  And then rush headlong into the next recovery week, which includes several days of skiing.  But it’ll be good recovery from running.

What’s interesting is that right now, with a full Base cycle followed and Build cycle still to come, I’m aerobically in better shape than I was going in to last March’s 60K Trail Run and significantly better than when I ran my 40-miler in September, 2008.  That isn’t a subjective feeling, but looking objectively at output from the Training Load plug-in for SportTracks.  So things are looking good.  The trick will be keeping injury free over the next few weeks as I ramp up the miles.

Then crank out an enjoyable 50K in six weeks.

But my challenge right now isn’t with the running.  It’s with eating.  I know that’s a funny thing to say during the holidays, but it is what it is.  With this workload I need to be ingesting approximately 4,000 calories per day on average.  That’s a lot of food, especially since I don’t eat a “normal” western diet, full of processed carbs, fats and salt.  Basically, if I can’t identify it as something that came directly from a plant or animal, I eschew (or would that be “won’t chew”?) it.  Within reason, of course, because life’s too short to be that strict about anything.  And although I could reasonably identify a Whopper as mostly coming from animals and plants, I stay away from that stuff as much as possible.  And the recent results of my blood work tell me that I’m definitely on the right track.

So I’m typically falling short of that 4,000 calorie mark by somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 calories.  That’s a lot to miss.  It does hamper my workout recovery.  And since it’s such a large daily deficit, I’m not losing weight since my metabolism is slowing down to hold on to every calorie I ingest.  Basically, my body is going in to survival mode. 

Someone hand me a cookie!

<DISCLAIMER: Any and all training that I describe works for me and flies in the face of much conventional wisdom.  The reason it works for me is that I have a few decades of activity and fitness under my belt and know that my body can recover quickly from a given workload.  So don’t think that you could, or should, jump from 35 miles of running one week to 50 miles the next.  If you do, you’ll get hurt.>

2009

Well, life’s mapping out the coming year.  It will be another year without triathlon.

About  a week after Son graduates, Goddess and I will pack up the house and move again.  This time we’re off to Germany for a few years (whoo hoo!).  That will take a huge chunk out of the summer, which negates any meaningful triathlon training/racing.

Over the past few weeks I’ve jealously watched everyone fleshing out their 2009 triathlon calendar.  No such planning for me.  Instead I’ll keep the run focus going.

So I’m sitting here this evening, enjoying a few very dark beers that are sliding down a bit easier than they should.  Goddess, fresh off a new 5K PR this morning (YAY Goddess!), is egging me on by reading through the Runner’s World’s 2009 Marathon Calendar and tossing out suggestions.  Very helpful suggestions, better described as schemes.  For example, Luxor (Egypt), the Great Wall, Belgium, Iceland, Athens and Switzerland.

Even a few in the states, while doable, would really throw a wrench in the moving works.  But of that list above, Switzerland may be doable. We’ll see.

So while she’s sitting over there giggling and throwing out locations, I’ve come up with a couple that I’ll consider in the coming days.  Once I decide for sure, I’ll post them to the left.

As of right now, I’m considering a 60K (37.2mi) trail run and two marathons, both of which will be held on adjacent weekends.  And the beauty is that all are a short enough drive from here that we could sleep in our own bed before and after.

So running it will be.  Now I’ve just got to make it through the year without any glute issues.

Headphones

I had to laugh at this one.  I get this question a lot, especially by the folks at work that try to wrap their brains around running for three hours, riding for six, or swimming for two (not that I’ve done the last two this year, but it’s happened).

I don’t wear headphones.  I don’t listen to music.

Except what’s playing on mental radio.

I agree with Frazz.  I’ve got to hear what’s going on around me.  And music is too much of a distraction.

Every time I run a race, I am reminded of why it’s a good idea to not wear headphones.  Little islands unto themselves, runners with headphones take hard right turns with no warning so they can get a cup of water or get to the curb to tie their shoe.  They cross center lines on the (open) road, not hearing the car on the other side, just so they can jog with a bit more space (even loud screams couldn’t get this guy’s attention).

I understand the desire to distract oneself from the discomfort and pain.  I do wear them when I’m on a dreadmill or trainer.  But never outside.

I must be one of the old diehards that this NY Times article is referring to.