Friday, July 30, 2010

A big weekend

We're now just 3 weeks out from Timberman, which means one more heavy week of training and we slowly start to taper our training up until the race. Our first taper week isn't really much of a taper, but the second week our hardest workout is a 1800 yard swim, so you know that's an easy week.

The next 9 days however will not be easy. We start tomorrow with a 1800 yard swim, spend 55 miles on the bike climbing hills, and end the day with a 2 mile run. I may actually have to be carried during the 2 mile run. I'm not sure Rach's little guns are up to the task, so maybe we can hire movers who will simply push me two miles on a dolly. Until an off day on Friday we don't have a workout day less than 3 hours.

We're going to be ready for this race. As Rach has planned for my physical preparedness, I'm building up my mental preparedness.

- I printed out the elevation chart of Timberman bike and put it on the wall of my cube. Every time I want a cookie or snack, I'll look at that and think twice. Every time I want to take a day off or skip a workout, I'll look at that and know I have to have the strength in me to do it in 4 hours.

- I have the workout plan for the next 3 weeks on the wall right below the chart. It helps me to see that while those two big peaks in the bike climb are gonna be there; the training I need to be able to tackle them will be there too. I should put up the workout calendar for the last 9 months too, which would remind me of the work we've done all year. (But that would probably just make me lazy).

- I've been talking to a bunch of the folks on Beginner Triathlete who will be doing the race as well, and it's providing both extra motivation and reassurance. I've never done a race like this, and right now the course is just a series of numbers and pictures and my head. Mostly evil pictures filled with Death Stars, broken glass all over the road, and steep climbs lined with a great many clowns. Yes, I said clowns. While I dislike long days at work, and I loathe really difficult climbs, I despise clowns. And the only thing that could make a big climb harder is having the spectators all be dressed as clowns. Although that may actually creep me out enough to give me an extra adreneline surge to get up the hill faster. So having these folks help me put the difficult parts of the race in perspective really helps. Many have done the race in the past. Others have already scouted the course.

- Talking to Rach. We're in this together, have been all along. And while this blog has focused on my own personal struggles, none of the hard work I've done or successes I've had would be possible without her. On the days I can't make myself train, or the days that I feel like I'm going backwards, she's there to point me back to where we're headed.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

less of a pain in the butt

If you ask my friends about me, they'll say "nice guy, but a pain in the butt sometimes". Aside from my often incredibly good luck, I also have the knack for not making things easy on people. It's not always a bad thing, but it often is. I'm sure even my wife will tell you (in great detail when prompted) that I am a pain.

One of the many things I've been working on about myself aside from losing weight (and by physically being smaller, I technically will be less of a pain in the butt),  I am looking to make things a bit easier on the people around me. I have a lot of areas where I can grow, and some of those things are evident in preparation for triathlon. The two biggest issues I think I can define easily.

dedication - I still have room to grow in my general ability to be dedicated to things. Sure, i have an addictive personality, so the things I like, I really like. But a couple of months ago, I was talking to Bengi, and I realized that the things that are hard for me I usually don't push myself to keep working at. It's part of why I'm still fat. A lot of things come easily to me, so the ones that don't I don't always work as hard at. I've noticed a big change in that in terms of my dedication to triathlon. Sure, I have bad days, on in the case of the time before the honeymoon, bad weeks. But even though I'm not particularly good at this sport I keep pushing myself anyways. Unless it's 5:30 AM, and I don't want to get out of bed.

self-restraint - On my gambling trip to Mohican Sun, I spent more than I had planned. While thankfully this doesn't usually happen on gambling trips, it tends to happen on other vacations, or just whenever. My self-restraint is especially bad when it comes to food. Like I said, when I like something; I really like it. I think has been my single biggest problem with food. Sure it's gotten better, but my ability to control my food intake has definitely affected my performance at triathlons this year.

Doing better at both of those things will make me less of a pain in the butt to the people around me.

Speaking of less pain in the butt, the new saddle definitely seems like it's going to work. I'm still playing around with it, and getting my bike fit to my size without paying someone to do it. That makes a difference into how I ride in, and out of, the saddle. Either way, it was definitely less painful after we got the saddle changed yesterday.

Notes:

- Rach is still sick and I'm starting to worry. She's feeling better but she's still getting tired on longer rides, especially these past couple days. If this keeps up through the weekend, it's back to the doctor for her.

- Rainy day today, but thats fine as we swim this afternoon, and then just 5 miles running. Even if it's raining that'll be a good workout.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A little information goes a LONG way...

Back a few hundred years ago, power came from having a sword and a bow, or even having an army of people with swords and bows. Nowadays, when bows and swords will only get you laughed at as a nerd, power comes from information. The more information you have, the more powerful you are in terms of what you know, what you can learn from, and what you can prepare for.

I have mentioned in the past that when I'm not practicing for my role as a half-ironman superhero, I work as an analyst in an IT department. And one of the things I've learned is that unfortunately, a little information can go a long way. And by that I mean that it's often having just a little information that makes us feel less prepared than we actually are. I have two examples of this, both related to Timberman.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across Women's Ironman World Record holder Chrissie Wellington's web site. On the site she recounts her 2009 Timberman win. She mentions the bike course being "rather hilly" in an off-hand sort of way. When one of the best triathletes on the planet says "rather hilly", well that probably means it's a giant *&^%$( mess of climbing torture. So of course I went back to my buddies on Bike Forums with my tail between my legs and a graphic of the course elevation and said "HELP!". Of course, by the end of the thread, they told me to stop worrying about it, that the elevation averaged out to about 2% grade, which with training they said I'd be able to handle without too much work. Sure, there'd be some tough climbs, but I'd get through it. Just go out and train by riding some hills, which I did and continue to do.

Then today, I was looking back over the Timberman site, thinking about making a trip up there this weekend to look at the course, and I noticed something I missed previously; the course grade includes a couple of climbs at or above 9%. When you think about numbers and how most people use them, 9% doesn't sound like very much. I mean, if I say "I ate 9% of a bag of cookies", that doesn't sound like a whole lot of cookies. When used to mean a percentage of total, it's a small number.

But that's not how road grading works. The percentage indicates how much a road climbs over distance. For example, if a road climbs 200 feet over a mile, it's grade is calculated by taking 200/5280, and then giving that answer as a percentage (in this case 3.8%). To achieve a grade of 9%, would mean a 475 feet change in elevation in just a mile. That's a lot of climbing, and based on the course map, there seem to be at least TWO climbs like that on the course. 

So the insecure, fat, lazy, double cheeseburger eating part of myself is pretty damn scared about the bike course right now. I don't think I've climbed a hill that steep once yet, let alone twice in the four hours I'll need to do it in to have a decent shot at finishing the race inside the time limit. I know what I'm capable of in the swim, and on the run, but it's the bike, my favorite part of the race, that will really make or break this race for me.

Thankfully, I have my friends at Bike Forums, Beginner Triathlete, my readers here, and of course my inner cycling wunderkind to remind me that I CAN and WILL do this. These hills are small pieces of the race, tough ones, but small pieces none the less. And they are pieces I can get through, even if it means walking the truly tough parts of the bike course to do it. So, I'm going to try and find a hill here locally tonight that is close to that level of difficulty and ride it. And then maybe try and ride the one on the Timberman course this weekend. 

By doing that, I'll have more information, and therefore more power...

But I'm still gonna bring my sword, just in case. (Yes, I have one. Yes, I am that big a nerd.)

Notes:

- Last night I replaced the factory pedals on the new bike with platform pedals I had taken off the GMC Denali bike when I got it. These will make me more comfortable on the bike for at least the next week while I decide between SPD shoes and cleats (already have compatible pedals) for the race, or working with better toe clips/cages that fit my shoes. The determining factor is balancing the pedaling effort lost by using standard pedals versus any issues I might have walking in SPD shoes pushing the bike up hill. I know I wouldn't want to do too much of that in the old road shoes I have, thats for sure. More to come on this front next week.

- While the pedal decision can wait, the saddle decision couldn't. I really liked the saddle I had carried through from my first mountain bike all the way through to the bike that was stolen. Unfortunately, there are no Performance Bikes here locally, and I can't wait for one to be shipped from their web site. There are two bike shops within walking distance of work, so I wandered over to the one with a better selection of accessories, and with the help of the nice folks there walked out with on very similar to my old saddle. It looks a tiny bit longer, and it's 1 cm narrowed, but otherwise it seems to be similarly sized and looks pretty similar in design, and is a better built saddle. I'm anxious to put it on tonight prior to the 30 miles we're putting in on the bike. 

My butt is already thanking me.
- We only did 10 miles last night. Rach is still not 100% and just didn't have it yesterday to do much more. I on the other hand could have gone for quite a bit longer, but I was happy to have an easier day with the next 4 days we have looming.

- Lastly, Rachelle's blog for today. I don't want to ruin it for you, but the last couple of sentences really made me laugh.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Perception makes all the difference

So, for a long time I thought it was preparation that made all the difference in racing. I'm coming to realize while preparation is indeed very important, perception is even more important.

I'll give you an example. On January 1st of this year, I participated in the Lowell 1st Run. To say I felt it went poorly would be a gross understatement. There I was in FREEZING weather, having celebrated New Years Eve with a big dinner, running without much preparation. I came in last, with a time of around 1:32. It was a dreadful day. I felt slow, fat, and unhappy. In the end it turned out to be the starting point for this years weight loss, but it's still a feeling I wouldn't be happy to repeat.

Which is where the perception comes in. Last night, I did 6 miles out on the Esplanade. My GPS time for the distance was 1:23. I paused the clock for short water breaks after miles 2 and 4 because I had to go out of my way to get the water. Even with the water breaks, I'd have been no more than 1:25. While it's only 7 minutes faster (and .2 miles less) it felt worlds better than what I did in January. Weather conditions played a part I'm sure, but just having done so much work, and gotten into better shape.

Unlike in January where I made myself jog past the point of being tired, last night I did intervals of 5 minutes of jogging followed by 2 minutes of walking. I was able to keep that up through the entire time, and was only really feeling tired the last half mile or so. Considering I have less than 3 weeks of hardcore training time left until taper week, I'm going to have to push my miles these next couple of weeks but I am really starting to feel confident that I'll be able to push myself through the half-marathon after the swim and bike.

As I've always stated, my goal for Timberman is just to finish. I'm basing all my estimates, plans and goals on the fact that my run is my weakest leg, but that it's reliably weak. I'm fairly sure what times I'm capable of putting up even with tired legs. I feel that training for ~13:30 miles will allow me to average no worse than 15:00 miles on race day, meaning I need 3:17 to finish the half-mary. My previous 2 half marathon times were right around 3:20, but those didn't follow a 56 mile bike ride. Giving myself some extra wiggle room means I need to allow 3:30 for the run.

So if I need 3 1/2 hours for the run, that leaves me 5 hours left for everything else. Assuming the swim takes me an hour or so, and say 15 minutes for the two transitions means I have approximately 3 3/4 hours to do the bike ride, so I'll have to average 15 MPH. Not an easy ride, but certainly doable. If I can keep the second transition down from a time perspective, I can probably give myself a few extra minutes for the bike.

While none of this is going to be "easy", and I am starting to get nervous (it's less than a month away!), I honestly know this is something that I can accomplish. It will take significant effort. It will hurt somewhere along the way. I will be tired, and I might even want to quit at some point.

But I can and WILL do this.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The long ride is over

As with all big new purchases, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the purchase of the replacement bicycles. And by bicycles, I mean bicycle. Rach was happy and relieved to have hers, but excitement was probably too big of a word to explain her feelings about it. She was merely getting a bike she already had before. I, on the other hand, was ecstatic.

Until we took the bikes for a long ride on Saturday that is.

When you're riding a bike there are 3 contact points between you and the bike: The hands, the feet, and the seat. If any one of these are a bit off, you can overcome it with a minor adjustment to the component, or changing your position on the bike. But when 2 of them are off, it can be a real cause for concern. The problem is you can't really tell how far off the contact point is off until you're about 20 miles or so into a ride. By that point you're getting tired, and the muscles that can counteract the discomfort no longer work as well.

And about mile 20 of a 45 mile ride is where I found myself really feeling the discomfort coming from my feet and my seat. 

Let's start with the pedals. They're really nice pedals with integrated toe clips and straps to make pedaling more efficient. The problem I have with them is that they are too small. For a personal with regular sized feet, and with shoes that fit properly, they're probably the perfect pedal. Unfortunately, I've got size 12 1/2 feet and am wearing a size 13 shoe because I have trouble finding comfortable shoes. Because of the toe clips, I wind up pedaling with my toes, and just the front of the balls of my feet. Not enough space to apply my foot in order to generate all the power I can. I wound up with numb toes for the better part of 25 miles.

Then there's the seat. Have you ever straddled the point of a roof? If so, you have an idea of how I felt riding on my new saddle. To start with, the saddle is too narrow. Instead of being nicely supported on my sit bones (sit bones: the bones in your butt), I wound up having all my weight carried on the soft tissue (soft tissue: muscle and fat) in between the sit bones. By the time we got to the the halfway point on our ride, my bottom was good and sore. Plus, this saddle has the added "benefit" of having a slightly raised nose, so that not only did my rear hurt, but the other areas you ride on (aka the man-bits and associated areas) were extremely discomforted as well. For most of the ride I home, we were taking breaks every 5 miles or so for me to stand up and give my behind a rest. 

I will say it was the first time that at the end of a long ride that my legs were the part of me that felt the best. For 45 miles, with a decent amount of climbing, I felt like I was overall doing pretty well. There were a couple of spots I needed a breather and we skipped one particularly brutal hill, but otherwise it was nice to have a successful ride with climbing a week after DNFing during the ride at MA State Tri. In fact, one of the hills Saturday was very similar to the hill last week, and I had no problems with it.

And while we were finishing our long ride, so were the guys in the peloton of the Tour de France this weekend with a Time Trial on Saturday and a fairly easy ride into Paris on Sunday. In the end it was Alberto Contador "three-peating" as the yellow jersey winner, with a 39 second difference over Andy Schleck. A 3 week race, decided by 39 seconds... man that's gotta sting. The kicker to all of that is that Schleck had a mechnical problem caused by a shifting issue in the mountains that accounted for that exact amount of time.

Finishing an even longer ride (metaphorically speaking) was Lance Armstrong, who ended his professional cycling career (at least in terms of the Tour de France) on Sunday. Team Radio Shack won the overall team classification, which isn't the most highly sought after prize in the race, but a podium none the less. Lance has already announced he's moving on to triathlons next year, so it's not like he's completely getting off the bike. It's just that he'll be even more relevant to this blog, so expect to hear more about him next season.

We took Sunday as our rest day to recover and other than some walking, doing a lot of cleaning for family that will be visiting soon, we had a pretty laid back weekend. It picks up again today with a good long run. And the rest of the week will be pretty high tempo as we start barreling closer to Timberman.


Notes:

- Here's a pic of my old saddle. A good shape, a little bit wider, and a nice cutout in the middle to take some of the weight off the important stuff. I'll be looking to buy something similar to this very soon. Long term, I'll experiment with some higher end saddles, but I don't have time or money for that right now:
- It is REALLY hot out, which is not great for enjoying your day, but it's great for training. If you can suffer through a few hours in 90 degree weather, you can suffer through the same in 70 degree weather.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The new bike

It's funny how things happen.

Sunday night, our bikes were stolen. Bikes we treasured, bikes we loved. Bikes we sweated on, trained on, and raced on. A bike that felt like it could make me, a slow, fat man, fly. It wasn't much, but it was mine. It made me happy not just because riding it was the one area I felt like I could compete, but because like myself it started as not much to look at and didn't work all that great when called upon in a race. But with some effort and improvement it got through most of the races and I failed it more than it failed me (except that dumpy front derailer).

So last night when Rach and I stopped by International Bicycle looking at Treks, it was with a mix of emotions. I was excited to be buying a new bike, but disappointed that I wouldn't be given the opportunity to do any of the work myself this time. At least in the short term. I was also excited to be buying Rach the bike she wanted again, replacing her stolen wedding gift with the same bike. And while I really liked the Trek 1.1 (women's design) for Rach, I was only so-so about it for me. I've become a bit of a bike snob, and while almost any road bike would meet my needs, I wanted something that more than met my needs. Unfortunately, based on the insurance check and what we could afford to add it prevented me from going beyond an entry level bike.

Or so I thought.

Today, as I perused craigslist, I came across an unusual listing: a brand new bike still in the box. Not brand new per se, as it was a 2009 model year, but unassembled and unused, in pristine virgin condition. Amazingly, not only did it appear to be my size, it was also in our price range. And for the money, about 2 levels up in terms of components, which is what I was looking for. What was probably the most surprising thing of all is that it was a Fuji. If you'll remember, the road bike I sold a couple of months ago was a Fuji, and I'm a member of Team Fuji for the season.

So, before we headed over to International Bike to pick up the bike they'd assembled for Rach, we stopped out to take a look at the bike I found online. The seller tried to play hardball on the price, but in the end I got the bike for $24 less than I would have paid on the entry level Trek after taxes. Plus, because it's new, I have a full warranty from the manufacturer. And because it came in the box, I got to put it together myself. I'll still want to get it tuned up by a professional at some point, but I can certainly get some riding in before then. The only thing wrong with it is that it isn't blue.

Without further ado, my new Fuji Newest 1.0

From humble beginnings...
Add a little elbow grease...
In the end you get something wonderful
For those who are into bike specs, you can read them here. For those who don't know much about bikes let me just say a couple things:
  • The current model with almost exactly the same features sells for the $1,099
  • All of the components except the rear wheel are better than anything I've had before.
  • The front fork is carbon, which makes it a lighter, smoother ride
  • Just look at it, it's freaking awesome
It came partially assembled, so I was able to get it ready to ride in about an hour, and put in a quick 1 mile ride on our well lit street. I didn't get my 30 mile ride in today, but I can guarantee with the new bike that ride will be made up for by the weekend.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This weeks workouts and some other stuff

As I continue to implement "The Plan", i'm having to be agile enough to adjust it to fit the hectic schedule I've had going on. From yesterday, you may remember that I got in 4 miles in the morning in the form of 8 reps of 1/2 mile each. I'd been having some pain in my left leg, which strangely went away when I ran.

I had planned to swim last night, but I realized during the day that International Bicycle had a sale going on Trek Bikes through the end of le Tour. This is the time of year that the new model years bicycles start to come out, and deals can be had on the prior years models. Looking into the bikes, we found that we could replace Rach's bike with exactly the same bike for $59 less than I paid for it in September.

As for my new bike? Unless you're from Bike Forums and privy to my decision, you'll have to wait until tomorrow.

So, back to the Tour for a minute. There's been so much going on in my life that I've sorta not had time to post about what's been going on in the most famous bike race in the world. Today isn't the final stage, but it is the most important one. The two leaders, Contador and Schleck are a mere 8 seconds apart on a stage that ends with an insane climb, after theyve already made 2 other insane climbs. I'm taping it for later, and still streaming it live if that tells you anything about how excited I am.

Oh, and you'll probably remember me talking about the workout plan for the rest of the week. After some reorganization, here it is.
MON                     TUE                   WED                    THU                    FRI                       SAT

OFF
Week 10 (4)
OFF
AM: Speed Run 8 x .5mi

PM: Bike 30mi

AM: Swim 2500yd
PM: Run 5/6mi
AM: Swim 1700yd
Bike 45mi
Run 1mi
A lot coming up, but nothing we've never done before except the bike distance. And we'll get through that. 

Notes:

- I was mentioned in the new USA Triathlon in regards to the photo caption, and even better, Matty Reed (who I mentioned in the caption) re-tweeted another readers mention of the caption.
Matty Reed sharing my work with his followers
And she was kind enough to share a picture of it as well, and my name is even visible. Saving me both the time and effort of scanning it myself. We get two copies of the magazine, so we already have ours for posterity.



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In sickness and in health

There's a part of the traditional wedding vows that I think people might not always put enough weight on and that's the "in sickness and in health". I'm not talking about something life threatening like cancer, heart disease, or anything else like that. I'm talking about the changes that happen in your daily life when someone has an illness that makes them just need more space, so sitting on your very small couch next to them is impossible.

Right now, Rach is that sick, and has been really since before the honeymoon, and it worsened enough that for a person who never really complains when she's sick, she's now visiting the doctor a second time. The first visit to the doctor provided cough medicine and antibiotics. The second visit today yielded more of the same plus being told to take sudafed. They believe it's a viral infection and those simply take time to work through. At least her cough medicine has codine, so she's able to get a little bit of physical relief from the aches and pains.

The problem is of course that we don't have much time with Timberman now just a month from tomorrow. We obviously don't want her overdoing it, but at the same time, right now is not the time to be missing training. I haven't been feeling well myself, and wound up taking last night off of training for an early bedtime.

The good news is that I have at least a temporary bicycle. My friend and co-worker John had a steel framed 10 speed in his basement, a quality bike he wasn't using, and gave it to me. It's a bit tall, and I haven't given it a ride yet, but it does seem like with some new tires and tubes it will service until we're able to get me a new bike.

And, this morning I was able to do my planned AM workout 8 x .5 miles running. It took me a bit over an hour to do, but I was averaging 7 minute half miles, which isn't terrible at this point considering how little running I've been doing. I need to do 15 minute miles for the race if I expect to finish, so being under that right now is a good start. I had a short break each half mile so my total time was like 1:04, but by the time race gets here I know I can have that ready.

We've got a decent length swim tonight, and it'll be interesting to see how Rach gets through it. Plus, hopefully we'll be able to go replace at least her bike tonight.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rolling with the punches

As you can read for yourself in the previous posts, the past 48 hours really didn't go much at all as planned. In fact, I would say dropping out of the race and having our bicycles stolen really is basically the exact opposite of anything I had planned to start the month between the MA State Tri and Timberman. But now that the shock from all of that is out of my system it's time to react and plan.

The reactions:

- First and foremost, I need to recover from the way I felt on Sunday. Monday with all of the craziness of filing police reports and insurance claims, I barely had a minute to breathe. I was late to work which led into a day filled with paperwork and stress. And with various parts of my left leg still strangely feeling the effects from Sunday, I decided that last night was not a good day to run. I'd have biked, if I had one.

- Replacing the bicycles. I've started looking already and we have plenty of choices for Rachelle's all about the same price. We could probably find something cheaper online, but we can't afford to wait the 7-10 days for the bikes to arrive. There's a Giant brand bike store opening in our neighborhood this weekend, so we're looking to make our final purchase by Saturday at the latest, letting us go for a good long ride on Sunday. If I wind up having to build mine up, I need to start buying parts Wednesday so I can finish the work by the weekend.

- Getting a new bicycle car rack. This will eventually have to happen, but for now we just won't keep the bikes attached to the car, except when we're at a race. Even the night before the race we always take them into the hotel. Just bad luck on timing I guess.

Now for "The Plan":

- I'm going to work really, really, really, really hard to get ready for Timberman. We have a good solid plan for the next 3 weeks, which I'll follow very closely. We might mix up some dates to account for the lack of bicycles, but Rach has spent a bunch of time customizing our workout plan and it should do everything for me I need in order to get past the DNF and ready for 70.3 miles of suffering. The plan starts with swimming tonight, and there will definitely be running tomorrow. 


- I'm going to eat like I'm supposed to. I woke up yesterday at 310 pounds, and being that I was about 314 the day before, it was pretty obvious dehydration was a big part of what happened to me at the race. So, I have cut myself off from the crap food, and started drinking more water. I don't expect to go cold turkey on the soda, but I'm doing my best to limit even diet soda right now. I still need the caffeine from time to time though, and I can't stand coffee.

- I'm going to make sure that each day I'm accountable for getting in the work I'm supposed to do so I'll be posting the workout plan for each week and getting the work in against it. I have a tall hill to climb (literally and figuratively) but I'm going to do it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Things finally start turning around...

Hello all. In a rare violation of my 1 post per day maximum I am providing much needed good news. Thanks to the help of a superior claims adjuster, we have already settled with the insurance company. Thankfully, the bikes are covered, and even after our deductible, we'll have enough money to buy at least one bike and put a good chunk of money towards another. We should have the money in just a couple of days, and that should allow us to be riding again by the weekend at the latest.

The fun part of this will be getting to go bike shopping again! If you've been reading Rachelle's blog about how much time I spent staring at Tour de France merchandise in Paris, you'll know how much I enjoy shopping for bike stuff. And these are actual bikes! If it weren't that Rach's bike was my wedding gift to her, and that I had almost gotten mine exactly where I want it, it wouldn't be such a bad thing. We might even be able to get both bikes at the same time as matching models which would also be fun.

Of course, not everything is peachy about this: It clearly points out we need a new more secure bike rack, and further, I'm going to have to invest in another custom built rear wheel in time for Timberman. I don't want to trust a lesser wheel and have it give out during the longest race of the year. I can probably train on something less for now, but I can't let it go very long. We'll see what this weeks paycheck looks like. Hopefully we can do it all in one fell swoop, even if it means I'm buying a bike off Craigslist and starting from scratch. Other than a strong rear wheel, It means more to me that Rach has a good bike to work with that won't cause her problems. She's a better athlete (and an inferior mechanic) so she should have a bike commensurate with her skill.

Speaking of Rach and skill, you should read her blog about this weekends race. While I disagree with her opinion that finishing last would have reflected less highly on her training and skill; she's a proud person and has her own opinions on how she should be doing. She's not only a better athlete than me, she may be a better blogger too.

Finally, in the last bit of bad news from the weekend, we left our swimwear at the hotel by the race, so we'll need to go collect that stuff. Maybe we can head out there this weekend.

Notes:

- My swim time for yesterday was 47 minutes. 1550 yards in 47 minutes is pretty good, especially for how I was feeling. If there is any positive from yesterday, it's that I know I can finish Timberman swim inside the time limit. After that it's all about putting in 15 MPH for 3 1/2 hours.

- Today's little mishap is not going to stop my plan for VENGANCE at Timberman! I'll post tomorrow about all of it. Tonight, a short run as I'm still not 100% from the race, and then tomorrow back into full time training.

Bad to worse: bikes stolen!

Last night, we left our bikes locked to the truck, as I was planning on taking them in for service this week. We came out this morning to find our bikes gone. I've already called the police and insurance company. We don't really have money to replace them at anywhere near the quality of rides they were so I'm hopeful the insurance company can take care of us in the time we have before the race. We can do some riding on the trainers for a week or so, but past that we'll start getting to where we need our bikes.

I'll update as I can later today. And I thought I was pissed yesterday.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Humbled

Today was the hardest day I've ever had in the almost 2 years of triathlon and in fact since the day I started training for that first road race back in 2007. And it's not because of the heat, or the course, or anything that's actually a part of the race itself. It's because I quit today. My body betrayed me and I had to stop in the middle of the race, turn around, and ride back to a point where I could be picked up and driven back to the starting line.

But before I get into what happened during, let me tell you a bit about what happened before, and what I learned from all of this. These aren't excuses, at least not today. Today, they're the only reason I'm not crying right now.

1. The honeymoon - We spent 7 amazing days in Europe just two weeks before this race, and with the lead into the trip and recovering from enough to even train a little; I went about 11 days without training. And while we walked everywhere, we ate exactly like you'd expect tourists on their honeymoon to eat. Less than healthy food, and a lot of it. And worst of all, I really didn't drink much water. Water is rarely cold in France. What they keep cold is Coke, so that's what I drank. How I didn't gain any weight is really beyond me.

2. Sleep apnea - Something I just realized I'd never mentioned before on the blog is that I have sleep apnea. If you don't know what apnea is, it's a condition where the throat closes at night, leading to stopping breathing. The most obvious symptom is snoring, but others include fatigue, headaches, and increased appetite.  There are a lot of causes for this treatable medical condition; mine just happens to be the obstructive or "I'm fat" variety. I'm not really sure why I have never mentioned this before. Probably because I don't think about it all that much due to the fact that I treat it with a CPAP machine. Which I conveniently forgot to take with us for the overnight hotel stay. So while Rach might have had some of her sleep interrupted due to my snoring, I actually stopped breathing multiple times last night, waking fully every hour or so, and not really getting any rest at all.

3. Letting Rach pick dinner - My wife is the love of my life and my #1 supporter (sorry mom, you've been bumped). But she's also a normal healthy 23 year old athlete who can eat whatever she wants, and gets bored with eating the same things. Me, I have to keep a strict routine so I can lose weight and mostly just so I can keep making smart food choices. So when I suggested Subway for dinner last night, with it's low calorie tasty healthy subs; Rach countered with pizza. And of course I caved. And I wound up eating 5 slices of pizza the night before a race. And drinking Mountain Dew to go with it. Real smart, I know. Not her fault at all, but just have to remember to point to my belly every time she suggests a poor food choice

So, let's see: lack of training? Check. Lack of sleep? Check. Poor eating? Check. It's a trifecta of disaster just waiting to happen.

So we get to the race, and I'm a mess. I've slept so poorly that I'm groggy and disorganized. I couldn't find anything, and worse my goggles were completely missing. Turns out I had put them in Rach's bag instead of mine (this is the one mistake that's ok; the bags are exactly alike and I always know where to find her), so at least that one was solved. I got my transition set up only to realize that I hadn't gotten around to putting air in mine or Rachelle's tires. At least the bike support team was already in place, so we were able to fill up without retrieving our own pump from the car.

This isn't the first time that I've participated in a race with two different distances, but it's the first time that I've been signed up for the longer race, which meant a lot of waiting around. It was nice to talk to some Wheelworks teammates, and it gave me an opportunity to see Team Hoyt in action. If you've never heard of Dick and Rick Hoyt, it's a story worth reading to be sure. In short, for 33 years, Dick has been pushing his son Rick, who has severe physical handicaps in races from 5k's to the Ironman. They did the Feaster Five with us last year, but we didn't see them. They did the sprint distance today, and I got a chance to watch Dick swim, pulling Rick on an inflatable boat behind him. It's really amazing to see their dedication to racing and to each other.

When it came time for my wave to start we waded up to the starting line and I had just enough time to get wet before they said "Go!". Today's swim was .9 miles (1550ish yards), and for the first few hundred yards I felt pretty strong. I managed not to get passed by the wave behind us for a while, and some folks from my wave were still behind me. About halfway through I started tiring, and could tell I hadn't been swimming in a while. I resorted to mixing freestyle and breaststroke because I was having trouble with keeping my breathing even. I knew it was a long swim, but I didn't finish last, and as I approached the shore, I asked one of the lifeguards for the time, so I knew I'd done ok.

It was coming out of the water that I felt the first signs of trouble. My thighs were sore, which is very unusual for me after a swim. I use my kicking only to keep my legs up, and I don't kick hard at all. So my legs being tired and sore didn't seem right. As I jogged up to the beach I could feel even more that my legs just didn't feel right. I tried not to think about it, got myself together drank my 5 Hour Energy, a little Gatorade, and some chocolate Gu, and took off.

I was moving along ok on the bike at first. It was about mile 3 and I was slowly starting to feel better when I came to the first of the only 2 hills on the course. My legs were still tired, so I shifted into "granny gear" to make sure I could get up the hill without burning the little energy my legs were building when it happened; my front derailleur wouldn't go onto the small ring. Rather than stop I just gutted it out and pushed through the first hill.

Big mistake.

By the time I got to the base of the second hill, I was still feeling the affects of the first, and as I climbed, I got so tired and out of breath that I had to stop. I played with the bike to force it into the lower ring and took off again. And that's when I noticed I was feeling light headed. I've been feeling it every once in a while since we got back from the trip, but this was pronounced; I was literally seeing stars, and feeling hot. So again I pulled over, drank almost all the rest of my Gatorade and tried to cool down. After a few minutes I again got on the bike, now in my easiest gearing and started back up the hill.

There are several plateaus in this almost mile long hill and it was on the last of these plateaus that I really thought I was going to pass out. My heart was racing, my breathing ragged, and the lightheaded-ness that would dissipate when I sat down would come back the second I stood up. I could literally see the top of the hill and hear the other riders cheering as they reached it. I knew I could probably reach the top of the hill, and take the mostly downhill course beyond and keep going for a while. I also knew that when I came back around I'd be in this same place again, with even less energy, and the lightness in my head was not going away. I decided then that I was going to call it a day before I felt worse.

The sad part is that all those reasons above are basically bullshit because Rach had all those same experiences, except the sleep apnea, and still finished. And she's fighting a viral infection to boot. This whole day tells me I'm going to have to be a lot smarter, a lot tougher, and a lot more prepared for Timberman just a month from now. This is my first DNF, and I am NOT HAPPY about it. As the day has progressed, I've gone from depressed to angry.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you how I'm going to focus that anger and disappointment into something that will help me be ready for Timberman.

Friday, July 16, 2010

sick, tired, and ready to race!

Rach was still feeling poorly yesterday, so our swim session was scrubbed. Instead she ran a little during the day, and I did 2 miles when I got home from work. During the run, I was fairly sore throughout my left foot and leg, and my hip hurt this morning. I didn't do anything too hard, and I only averaged 14 minute miles. It's just getting the body used to those movements again. I did 5/2 intervals yesterday, because I knew I wasnt ready to just try and blast through a couple miles.

Rach sees the doctor today, and we're planning on a bike and swim depending on the outcome of the doctor visit. I'm getting on the bike regardless. I'm looking to do a fairly easy 12 miles, just to get used to turning the cranks and maybe a couple of uphill efforts just to gauge my strength. The swimming I'm not all that worried about. Sure it'd be good to get in an open water go before hand, but if need be I can head to the pool for an hour if Rach needs to rest.

It isn't getting back to a regular exercise schedule that's going to give me problems; it's getting my eating back on track that will be the issue. My body still has me on Paris time. I wake up super early, and am hungrier than normal. My will power against food is almost non-existant. If I hadn't already had a big breakfast, I can't imagine how poorly I'd do facing the Morning of Temptation today. 

The good news is that I'm not upset with myself. This has to be a pretty typical response to being back from travel like what experienced, and how the body responds until it fully adjusts. It doesn't help that I've got to bed very early each of the past few nights, which doesn't really push my body much to make the adjustment. I've been really tired, and not feeling 100%. Plus I want to be there for Rach, who is having a much worse time of it than I am.

With the race this weekend, and the additional training we'll be doing over the next few weeks in the lead up to Timberman, I'm sure I'll be able to get it under control. I just don't want to rely on exercise alone to bring my weight under control. Because when we back off training a little in the fall, I don't want to see my weight start to climb again especially after all the work I've done this year. 

Even though we havent been training, I'm going to set some goals for this weekends race. I want to push myself to come out of this race with respectable times. I have a couple days of rest planned following the race before I go hardcore into 3 weeks of heavy training leading into our pre-Timberman taper period. I think I can go hard on Sunday without too much risk of significant injury. 

For the swim, I'm looking for a sub 1 hour time. It's a .8 mile swim, so I'm thinking a 50 minute target for the swim is a good one. For the bike, I still have high expectations. This time absolutely can't be over 1:30. With only one real hill, even if repeated twice, I should be able to average 15 MPH, and push through a couple flats to get under 1:30. The run is of course the tough part. my best ever officiallly timed 10k is around 1:30, so I'm going to shoot for that and be hopeful of a good outcome. 

Notes:

- I haven't been commenting much on le Tour the past couple days because until yesterdays finish, it's been pretty boring. Flat stages with not much going on lead to a fairly uninteresting race. that changed at yesterdays finish when during the bunch sprint at the end of the stage the best lead out guy in the game decided to headbutt a competitor multiple times for what he felt was being too close. That leadout man was ejected from the tour following the stage. A severe punishment to be sure, but he basically cheated his sprinter to a win. They didn't punish his sprinter Mark Cavendish, because technically he did nothing wrong. It all leads into todays ride with 5 climbs, and hopefully a ton more action.

- I just ate a bagel. Really, I've got to get this food thing back under control pretty soon.

- We're staying at a Super 8 hotel this weekend. From a 4 star European hotel to a Super 8 inside a week. No one can say I don't know how to show my lady a good time.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Post-departum depression

I think by now most folks are aware there is a real and serious condition called postpartum depression that occurs in some women following childbirth. It's a situation where they become depressed due to a drastic hormone change in the 24 hours after the birth of their baby. What I'm experiencing is a far less well known and far less serious condition called postdepartum depression. It occurs when you go from seeing this every day:


To seeing this every day:

Yep, aside from coming home from the most beautiful place I've ever seen, the weather here in Boston has been pretty much crap since we got home back. It probably wouldn't be that big a deal, except that we've now gone 11 days without a formal workout. Yes, we walked all over Western Europe, and we climbed to gigantic monuments, but we have run, swam, or biked in almost 2 weeks. Some of that was our hectic schedule catching up to us on the trip, and the rest can be attributed to Rach's cold getting worse.

If you're a longtime reader you're probably thinking, "Wait a minute! Wasn't he making a huge deal about wanting to bike on his trip, and going on and on about the glory of cities with bike sharing programs?" Guilty as changed. But remember back to elementary school when you got caught giving a piece of gum to a friend? The teacher would say "Unless you have enough for everyone, you have to get rid of it", knowing full well you don't keep 30 pieces of gum in your pocket and if you did, you wouldn't be inclined to share it with John, the guy who eats paste.

That leads us to the point that sharing isn't really sharing unless it's with everyone. So, it is with sadness that I must share that the Paris bike share system didn't share with me. Unlike seemingly every store in Paris, the bike share kiosks wouldn't take my debit card. I was pretty disappointed standing there in front of a row of city bikes just waiting for a rider, and not being able to partake of their upright riding goodness.


 I can share some interesting tidbits on the process. You can purchase daily, weekly, or monthly passes, and the cost of the ride is very cheap on a daily basis. You swipe your debitcredit or monthly pass card, pick a bike that has its battery fully charged, and away you go. Yes, I said battery. It's not there to assist the locomotion, but it does power the lights and perhaps an automatic shifting mechanism, as I couldn't find one on the bikes I saw. They're covered in an interesting shell of metal and plastic, and the kickstands must add 5 pounds to the weight of the bike. They offer integrated locks, a shock absorbing seatpost, and a front mounted basket. If only I'd been able to ride one.

So here we stand with a mere 3 days until the Massachusetts State Triathlon. Our lack of recent training is of some concern, but I'm weighing the fact that we essentially did endurance training as part of our forced march through the streets of London and Paris. And while I haven't done any biking lately, climbing the Arc d' Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower stairs certainly has to provide a similar benefit. Not as much as I'd probably like, but I'm banking that getting the heart rate way up and pushing myself as long as I could before I needed rest wasn't bad for me.

I admit this is the least prepared I've gone into a race since my very first one. I have far more training under my belt this year, and I'm going to run and swim tonight and bike and swim tomorrow before taking Saturday off to rest. But we've never seen the course, it's our longest race in all 3 distances thus far, oh and did I mention we've taken basically the last 2 weeks off?

The .9 mile open water swim will likely be the biggest challenge in the day, as we've trained this distance but never swam that far in a single open water session. Rach did a lot better in her last swim, but she's still struggling with open water, so we're hoping to get out twice before the race. It may be too warm for wetsuits, but I'm not sure if that will be an advantage or disadvantage for her. Ideally, she can get used to it these next couple days and wear it on Sunday.

The bike is a mere 24.4 miles, which we have exceeded in training on many occasions. The difference of course is that we don't know the course, and I'm told there's at least one long hill about 3/4 of a mile long that we'll see twice as it's a loop course. Watching the course video tells me it's not a steep hill just a semi-continuous climb for an extended period.

The run is where the interesting part comes into play. I destroyed my best shoes in Paris, so I'm on my backup shoes. My running, never my strong suit, tends to get weaker over longer distances. This will be our longest day of effort before the running even starts. With highs expected in the mid 80's it will be very warm by the time I take the run course. It looks to be a mostly flat run, so that's certainly a good thing.

The strange thing is, I'm not scared this time. Maybe it's because of everything that's been going on that I simply haven't had time to worry about it. Even with these past couple of days to start focusing on it, I know I can finish this race. I'm hopeful I can finish this race on a pace that shows me on track to finish Timberman within the time limit. And I'm confident the time I have remaining to train following this race will allow me get to where I need to be.

Notes:

- I will eventually stop talking about Europe and get back to weight loss and working out, so please bare with me.

- Rach has covered all of the details I seem to be missing from our tip on her blog.

- I weighed 314 again this morning. The 310 plateau as a brief stay prior to the trip, but I'll get back down there once we start training again.

- Now that I'm back, I am hungry all the time, but especially when I wake up. My stomach is on Paris time, and thinks I've missed 2 meals by the time I get into work at 8 AM.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The end of an era (and a honeymoon!)

(Warning: long post ahead. I tried to fit 2 1/2 days of Europe in one post. You've been warned.:D )


When I'm in the US, and I need to blog but have a time crunch; I simply skip everything else until the blog is done. No video games, no TV, whatever. But when you're on a honeymoon, and the time crunch happens, the blog is what gets skipped. So sorry if this is a couple days late in coming but being in Paris I thought it was worth it to spend the time having fun and filling everyone in later.


The good news about this post being late, is that what I'm about to say about Le Tour won't be a spoiler. On the day of the 8th stage, there were some pretty serious climbs, and likely to be some pretty serious fireworks. Unfortunately for Lance Armstrong his most interesting moments came not on the climbs, but on the crashes. Yep, the guy who never crashes or flats has had more than his fair share of bad luck this tour, and it didn't get any better on Sunday. Lance was involved in 3 crashes, including one that saw him skidding across the pavement at about 65 Km/h. Thankfully, no serious damage other than to his hopes at winning an 8th Tour, as he wound up almost 11 minutes back on the day. I was saddened to see his chances go by the boards on our last night of the trip, but it's been a terrific run, and I'm sure he's got one or two more surprises for us before the end of this, his final Tour.


So now back to Paris, and where I left you on Saturday morning; right before the hardest day of walking I think I've ever done. By the time we got to Paris, my feet were hurting pretty good. We'd walked about 40 miles in London over the 3 days there, and another 10+ on Friday in Paris. So what did we have planned for Saturday? The Louvre, Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle (another church), and more shopping. Doesn't sound like much, until you consider the Louvre is 10k of walking just by itself, and that's if you only walk it all once. We didn't walk it all, but we did enough backtracking to cover the full 10k to be sure.


Glass Pyramid? Oh, that. We just call it the entrance.


I have to admit, I was somewhat underwhelmed by much of the Louvre. The building itself is stunning, and perhaps the best part of the museum. While I enjoyed the Venus De Milo and some of the other masterworks in the museum, the Mona Lisa is a giant, or should I say miniature dud. Not to ruin the trip for anyone, but if you're going to France to see the Mona Lisa; don't. There are hundreds of better pieces of art that you can actually see well in the museum.


Her real secret is that she isn't all that.
Notre Dame was absolutely worth the trip, the wait (almost none), and the cost (free, because we got there during choir practice). I can't say enough about this beautiful church. Many, many places lived up to or exceeded their billing on our trip, but Notre Dame was probably the single most beautiful and powerful places we visited. I'm sure it didn't hurt that choir practice was ringing in my ears as I made my way around the church. I lit a votive and stood in awe of the stained glass windows before we moved on.


You don't realize you're staring at it until your neck starts hurting.
Saint Chapelle is undergoing significant renovations, and was also the first line we waited in since we got to Paris. So of course it was a huge disappointment. Beautiful windows, but after you've seen Notre Dame, not much else compares. At least it was small enough for a quick exit and then dinner where Rach finally got the crepes she's been dying for. Then it was time to shop!


Shopping in Paris is everything people say it is. Every boutique brand you've ever heard of or seen and hundreds I never have are available here. On top of the big flagship stores along the Champs, they have large shopping malls that are full of the same brands, but with a difference; these larger malls have sale prices. The items from the prior season that haven't sold get marked down, and for tourists on a somewhat realistic budget, it can mean a chance to get something you normally couldn't. In our case it was an expensive purse from Coach that we got about 50% off. 


That is one blingy bag
I finally made a breakthrough on my souvenir hunt as well on Saturday. I found a Team Radio Shack jersey in close to my size, so I jumped on it. Still need to lose some weight before I wear it. Sadly, I got suckered on the TdF yellow leaders jersey I bought.The tag said 2XL as did the jersey, but someone at the shop had actually put 2X stickers over the tags of an XL jersey; a very small XL jersey at that. It is so small, I significantly doubt I will ever wear it. More than likely it will be framed as a keepsake.


I started with Sunday, and that's where I am going to end. Rach and I visited the Musee d'Orsay on Sunday Morning. It's everything the Louvre is not: small, easy to cover in a couple hours, and most importantly to me; full of works by Monet and Van Gogh. The Louvre is more well known, but the d'Orsay has the more select collection. It was my favorite art destination of the trip.


After a trip to the base of the Eiffel Tower and a boat tour down the Seine River, we retired to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Our reservations for dinner on the Eiffel Tower never materialized, so we relied on our hotel concierge to find us a suitable place for dinner with a nice view of something Parisian. 


Our view from the dinner table
As you might imagine, I tipped the concierge handsomely. This is pretty good on a couple hours notice, oui? Not only did we get the Tour in it's beauty, we got 10,000 vuvuzela blowing soccer fans at the FIFA Fan Fest for the beginning of the World Cup Final. Dinner was magnificent, and the atmosphere was the perfect blend of classy french culture and classless soccer hooliganism that suited Rach and I to a T. 


After dinner we hopped a cab to the Arc d' Triomphe where we made use of our 2 day museum pass (a terrific bargain) for the final time of the trip. A few months ago, I climbed the Bunker Hill monument and had to stopped a couple of times along the way. Climbing a similar number of steps up the Arc, I only stopped once more than halfway up, and for just a minute before continuing on. Yes, I sweated through my shirt, but the effort was so worth it.


300 steps into the sky
Climbing was it's own reward, but climbing the Arc at dusk brought us a special view as well.
Imagine the electric bill
I know I said I'd finish with Sunday, but I have one thing from Monday morning I'd like to share: I climbed all 650+ steps to reach the second floor of the Eiffel tower. One break between each floor, and a couple minutes rest on each floor. It was a lot of work, but was SO worth it. Our last bit of exploration before the plane ride home. 

Why thank you. It is an awesome hat, isn't it?

Notes:


- The trip home was mostly uneventful once we managed to pack all the souviners in our suitcases without going over the weight limit. 


- Speaking of weight limit, I managed to stay under mine for the whole trip. I'll see where I am thursday after my body gets itself sorted out, but even now I'm certain I didn't gain any weight during the trip.


- I found a little yellow jersey cyclist metal figuring to go with my soldiers from England. They now have a place of honor on my desk at work.


- Tomorrow I'll talk about whats right and wrong with Paris bike share, and start looking ahead to the Massachusetts State Triathlon which is coming up this weekend.


- Not a single workout this weekend, unless you count walking about 90 miles in 7 days. Which I do. Tomorrow we'll ride, Thursday we'll run, and Friday we'll swim, and that'll have to do it for getting prepared for this race.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

More and less of the same

If England was like going to a place where everything was just a bit off from the norm, then France takes everything and skews it again, just in different directions. Driving is back on the right side of the streets, so we're less likely to accidentally step in front of a bus. But the language barrier is occasionally real and palpable as we look in boutique shops, or just want a cold water. (What is it with Europe and room temperature drinks?)

The travel was super easy. In fact; it was scarily simple to enter this country. You get off the plane, a man looks at your passport, stamps it, and off you go. Not a single word was said to anyone in line before me, or after. I guess they really have an open policy of visiting France. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but it certainly doesn't seem very secure.

Our only trouble of the whole trip so far occurred at the hotel when they didn't have our reservation. Thankfully, we have our documents showing we are prepaid. They simply entered us into the system, and even gave us an "upgrade". If you visit Europe, and don't stay in a American style hotel, be prepared for surprises. Our hotel here is nice, but frankly even with an upgrade, this room is about the size of my first one bedroom studio back in Columbus; only with nicer wallpaper. It's a nice hotel, but certainly not what I thought I was getting for what I paid. I'll definitely book my own rooms next trip here.

France itself is exactly like I pictured it; the old architecture, the Arc d' Triumph, and the "Royale with cheese". That's right, my first meal in France was at McDonald's, and I'm proud of it. I have now fulfilled every Pulp Fiction fans dream of ordering a Royale with Cheese. Or rather, I was going to, but they had better looking sandwiches not available in America, so I got one of those instead. But I could have gotten one, so that's what counts.

Sadly, when it comes to what I can't get here, it seems that there is not a store here in the middle of Paris that specializes in Le Tour merchandise. The tourist shops all have some jerseys, and I even found some that are 2X, but none with this years date. They told me they don't sell the dated ones so they can keep selling them all the time. We found a bike shop, but they only had some from 2006, the year Landis doped his way to a win. Not exactly what I'm looking for. If worse comes to worse, I'll order one from the official site the last day we're here so it can at least be ordered from France. But I'll hold out hope til then.

We spent most of yesterday on the Champs-Elysees looking for an expensive handbag for Rach and my jersey. We went 0 for 2 on that front for most of yesterday. Rach wanted to turn in early, so I was given free roam of the city. Because I didn't want to venture into areas that I wanted to see with Rach, I stayed on the Champs and looked at the travelers and the remaining open shops. That's when the street vendors came out.

The street vendors here aren't like the ones from Boston or New York. Apparently, it isn't just illegal here, they actually go after the people doing it. So the folks selling wares have straps on their little mats and when they get word the cops are coming they just pull up on the strings and take off. Fortunately, a couple of guys selling knock off purses were set up long enough for me to pick one up. I'm not looking to get out of buying Rach a nice one, but if she can't find a bigger bag we can swing, at least she'll have one from here that will work.

Finally, while I didn't get a chance to ride a bike in England, I will most certainly get to ride here in France. The bike share program I read about is real, active, and all over the place. We're likely going to take part in it tomorrow, but I'll provide details of what I've learned about in my next entry.

Notes:

- Splurged a bit yesterday on the food, today I'm back on the wagon. Hopefully it will all balance out as we've simply been too gassed from all the walking to get a workout into our schedule. We'll be riding bikes on Sunday or Monday, so we'll at least get a chance to do that.

- At one point before I got into triathlons, I was strictly a competitive walker. I could walk fast and for long distances. Oh how times have changed. My feet have hurt every day since we started the trip, and I've been wearing my best workout shoes (which are now completely trashed). I'll have to try to balance recovery time and training next week as we do final prep for the MA State tri.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Time flies when you're having tea

When you're just riding along in the peloton of a race, just trying to get through the stage safely is called "sitting in". The past two days in the Tour, Lance and the Radio Shack boys have been doing just that. Stage 4 (yesterday) and 5 (today) were stages for the sprinters. And with 3 days of upheaval in the rain and on the cobbles that came before, I can only imagine how it must feel to have a couple of stages to recover.

Alas, I can only wait for my time to recover after our trip, as we pressed on  yesterday with our nearly non-stop travels across the town. With a late start, we missed our guided walk of the West End by about 5 minutes, so we focused on the nearby park that Rach wanted to visit. On our way back to the hotel to regroup, we stumbled on the changing of the Guard again. This time we got a much better view of the Guards being paraded to Buckingham Palace. I was in marching band as a kid, and a lot of people thought we were nerds. I guarantee nobody calls these guys nerds and gets away with it.

video

We wound up spending most of our afternoon in  Hyde Park. We had a wonderful dinner at a pub recommended by a colleague of mine, and then spent our evening in Piccadilly Circus visiting a couple of pubs.While cyclists are tied up in the Tour right now, the rest of the sporting world (aside from the few folks who actually care what Lebron is going to do) are enjoying the World Cup of Soccer/Football. Being here in Europe, there are just a few fans of the Spain side, that played it's way into Sunday's final match. Walking into the circus, we came across a public celebration that I just can't imagine seeing the likes of back in the states.

video

It's not a great video but I think you get the idea. The party was going when we got there, and was still going pretty strong when we left the pubs to head home. They even managed to get a Spanish flag atop the statue at the middle of the square. I guess this is why some places have open container laws, but frankly even with the alcohol, they didn't seem to get out of control.And with the bars closing around 11, leaving only clubs and a few restaurants open later to serve booze, it's a good thing you can carry around a beer.

Last nights celebration might have reminded the English of their soccer inferiority of late, but today's stage of Le Tour saw Mark Cavendish win in a balls out bunch sprint, much to the delight of the folks here in England. Hailing from the Isle of Man, Cavendish has been called out for his lack of success so far this tour, but he outdueled all the big guns today for a win at the line, and without his full HTC lead out train.

Finally, while Rach got the PC first AGAIN and provided a lot better detail of our past couple days, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my new favorite place in the UK; Tower of London. That place is simply alive with history, and while the women obviously will be drawn to the Crown Jewels, there's way more stuff that guys will dig. Canons, swords, suits of armor, and of course stories of betrayals and executions. We were fortunate enough to have one of the leaders of the Yeoman Warders (aka Beefeaters) as our tour guide and he was a fantastic storyteller. We wound up spending another 2 hours after the tour exploring the whole place, and could have spent another hour at least.

Two Beefeaters, and 1 guy who isn't as picky about his meats.
Tomorrow, we leave for Paris.

Notes:

- Other than a couple beers, we've actually eaten pretty well, and I'm feeling skinny. Our only big meals have been breakfast and we're definitely walking that off long before we have a late lunch. I have no idea what I weigh, but I can't believe I've gained anything, and I'm guessing I've lost some.

- I was hoping to find a bike shop or a bike share here in London to ride for a bit while were here. Alas, it was not to be. But I'll definitely be riding in Paris for sure.

- Too many great pics to share them all here, but this is the one I took of Rach at the park yesterday that I just had to share. She looks great, though my ability to pose her puts me on par with a very average senior portrait photographer (at best).

Hyde Park in London, or Congrats to the Class of 2010? 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Oww, that hurts!

Good morning from London! Sorry for the lack of posts yesterday but we were busy being tourists. Actually, we started our trip on the 5th, flying out of Boston around 6 PM. We arrived in London around 5 AM local time, and from the minute we got off the train it was a non-stop day of walking and 'sploring. Our hotel puts us right in the middle of everything; just across a park from Buckingham Palace and a little over a mile from Westminster Abbey and Big Ben.

In France, the 3rd stage of the Tour was poised to be somewhat of a differentiator between some of the GC guys, and it was; just not in the way many expected. All those miles of cobblestone tore up the peloton. For one, Frank Schleck crashed out, which can't be a benefit for Andy Schleck's effort for Saxo Bank. Lance was having a really good ride, about 30 seconds ahead of Contador, when he got a flat while riding along the gutter of the road. It cost him over a minute and at the end of the day, he was 50 seconds behind last years winner. He's sitting 19th right now about 2 1/2 minutes back, but this really doesn't mean much right now. There are only 3 people ahead of Lance that really have a chance at wearing yellow at the end of the race. The real stages are still the mountains, but it adds more intrigue because if Lance is going to win he now has to come from behind to win. 

So on the day in the Tour were putting themselves through all sorts of pain riding on the pave, we absolutely killed our feet with more than 15 miles of walking throughout London. Touring Westminster Abbey was amazing, and standing amongst the tombs of kings, queens, statesmen, and writers who previously were no more than names in a history book was something I'll never forget. Built over hundreds of years, it's seen everything, and is now the place where royalty is crowned. Sadly, it's one of the few places in town where photography is not allowed, so I don't have any shots of the inside of this wonderful place.

We followed it up with a long walk out to the East End of London to participate in a Jack the Ripper walking tour. It was truly interesting to hear about this gruesome series of murders hundreds of years ago. I learned the City of London itself is only 1 square mile, and everything else around it is a suburb. Pretty amazing to see this many sites, so many things that are so old and so well preserved. Heck in the Abbey, I actually touched a door that is almost 1000 years old. It's unreal how amazing everything is.

We've seen most of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I liked that but was even more impressed with watching the changing of the Horse Guard at their building. It's all been pretty amazing but what's funny is that my favorite place here so far is actually a shop. At the Guard Museum, they have a toy soldier shop. They sell all sorts of metal soldiers painted and positioned in various acts of combat, parade or guard. They have hundreds of different kinds available, and if I had tons of money, I would have bought quite a few. I picked up a medieval knight and a Scottish Guard (the guy seen below). I'll probably pick up one or two more of the ones on sale yet before we leave for France. 
Discipline: Standing still for 8 hours in THAT hat
In terms of eating, we had a HUGE breakfast because the room wasn't ready and we were exhausted. It's difficult eating on a trip like this because most places I have no idea how many calories I'm eating. Thankfully, we're walking or cycling everywhere from the trip except to and from the airports, so we're getting plenty of exercise, even without our planned workouts. My (United) Kingdom for a scale!

They're preparing for a very violent game of polo.
Notes:

- You can get more and better details on our first day on Rach's blog. She got to the PC first, so she got it for longer. We're off to tea soon, so I could only fit in a little post.

- Proof that douchebags are everywhere: bikers all over the place here, and about 1 in 10 is a helmetless brakeless hipster on a fixie. In a country where it rains a lot.

- I get to take an english tea!

Rach and I in the park across from Buckingham Palace