Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pretty Photos 007 - Cycling when the world is asleep

Although I love going out to ride in the early morning, I hate the cold and unless I am dedicated to riding with a group or a friend or two, I tend to delay my rides in the AM until it is a bit warmer. But, when I do get out in the early mornings to ride, I love it a hundred times more. There's something magical about having the roads all to yourself (which happens particularly frequently here in New Zealand). We ride on state highways, one laned, and in the morning we'd have maybe 20-30 cars pass us over a 3-4 hour ride. It is GLORIOUS. 

My friend and I did the gnarliest ride: it's only 90k but it is either UP or DOWN, and some sections are absolutely grinding it out 45rpm, in the granny gear, don't even want to stand up b/c you feel you'll fall over. No climbs are long, it's just a long series of bitchy short ones (less than 10 minutes long). It's the hilliest 90k I've ever done without straight up going over a mountain pass, as you can do in, for example, Colorado. 

But now I'm in the long-awaited rest week, and there's been a lot more time to take it easy, still eat as if I am training 20 hours/wk, get massages, go jetboating, make supper without eating half of it before it's ready, and best of all: sleep in. The weather is warming up and I think once I'm on the other side of this rest week, it'll be full-blown summer! Time to slap on the sunblock every hour, including on the ears. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Barefoot Running

There's been a particular popularization of barefoot running and minimalist running in the last few years. Although I commend the rejection of overly cushioned shoes, the rise in injuries as a result of jumping into barefoot running too quickly is problematic.

I have read Born to Run, and after I did I, just like many others, decided to give minimalist running a go. I too quickly transitioned to far more minimalist shoes before my calves, glutes and feet were ready for it, and I developed debilitating shin splints. That took a while to bounce back from, and now I've taken an altogether different approach to what I have termed barefoot, or minimalist "movement". You shouldn't be a minimalist just while performing the act of running, you should be a minimalist walker, hiker, and eventually runner.

I've got a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, although I prefer my New Balance Minimus trail shoes, and I wear them while walking absolutely everywhere. That's how my second attempt at minimalist running has started out. I've now noticed that I prefer the ground feel and movement of these minimalist shoes while walking around town far more than I do my clunky road or trail shoes, or even flip-flops, which cause bizarre biomechanical movements. I've been using them for hiking as well, and they are fabulous. I feel very light on my feet rather than how I would usually feel in hiking boots: clunky and like a box monster.

Secondly, I've also been running barefoot as the w/u and c/d of my track session - our track in Wanaka is a 400m grass track. I then slip back into my running shoes (yes, the rather cushioned Saucony ProGrid Ride).

At the moment, that's where I am at. I very rarely go for a 20-30' run in my NB Minimus trail shoes, mainly because my calves are REALLY still feeling it after that run. Best take it slow, rather than regret it later.

I have noticed that here in Wanaka there is a huge portion of the population (most people, in fact) that are barefoot walkers. At our run group, there is always one or two that do the track session in VFFs. Rugby practice and drills are mainly conducted barefoot. Pickup games in the park are barefoot, for the most part. The kids at school play outdoors and run around barefoot in spring, summer and fall. Those that wish to wear shoes, do. They are neither encouraged or discouraged from barefoot or shoe-shod play. Walking around town you've got many people walking around barefoot, and in the summer months, I'd say a good 20% of the people shopping for groceries at the supermarket are barefoot. Although I love that I can do that here, I'd never be comfortable doing so in a proper large town or city. The hazards of large city streets on your feet and health are overwhelming.

Where do I want to transition to with the barefoot movement? I never want to be an actual barefoot runner. I always want some form of protection on my feet, particularly from thorns. I would like to see myself use the NB Minimus trail shoes more often on the trails, but that still requires plenty of calf strengthening. I'd like my regular run shoes to be a bit less cushioned with a more neutral heel-to-toe drop. I'm just not there yet. And I'm definitely not rushing it.

On another note, here are some pretty pictures from an early morning ride with the girls:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pretty Photos 006 - The road curving away...

It's a little orgasmic when you're climbing hills and you see the road curving away ahead of you. I LOVE IT. And photos never do it justice!

We're getting our spring winds here in Wanaka and most days the winds are so strong that crosswinds are quite likely to blow you over. Headwinds, tailwinds, all manageable. Crosswinds? GET THE HELL OFF YOUR AEROBARS!! Holy batman!! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pretty Photos 005 - It's spring!

It's spring and the flowers are blooming. Doesn't get much better than this!

I'm getting into mountain biking and I'm at that stage where I oscillate between:
- Oh god, oh god, a corner, how do I turn? Ahhhhhh.... and *fall*
- Sweet, I'm awesome, let's go through this turn reallllly fast... and *wipe out*

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spending time in the water

There are a lot of triathletes out there that have a love-hate (or just plain hate) relationship with swimming. It's understandable, as swimming is the least "intuitive" of the three sports. Water is definitely not a medium humans are naturally accustomed to. Although I am not a triathlete that despises the swim, in fact it had been my favourite of the three for years until last year, when my love for all 3 sort of blossomed out equally. One thing that I am a huge proponent of is swimming OFTEN. I like to swim 6 days a week, and definitely not all are HARD days, or even low intensity big-volume days. I believe in swimming often just to maintain a really good feel for the water, so never more than 48 hours goes by without me experiencing the sensation of propelling myself through this liquid medium.

Here's how I've broken it down per week:
- 2 group sessions lasting 1 hour, they are in the early AM and they are "SWIM FAST AND HANG ON"
- 2 group sessions again lasting 1 hour, although these are relaxed with maybe 30-40' of solid swimming but a huge focus on technique, with the middle 20' solely technique work. In those 20', we'll cover maybe 300m tops, as we focus on one part of the stroke or another (e.g. 20' of hand entry work)
- 1 group OWS; in the last few weeks the water had been too cold to venture out for more than 20' so it'd been a short burst to the buoy line in the lake, up and down it a few times, then back in and hope to god your feet don't fall off. Now, however, the water is a pleasant yet still chilly 11-12C (51-54F) so we can put in a solid medium length swim of about 2k.
- 1 solo pool swim, some decent mileage (maybe 3-4k), free-focused and with specific time or effort intervals that I need to hit.

It is the frequency of swimming that I believe to help the most in improving my swim economy and speed, and also I just plain love it. There is variety in effort levels and water conditions, group and solo work. Also... if I didn't attend the Sunday morning open water swims and had slept in, I wouldn't have had the pleasure of seeing these views:

Caaaaaaalm lake, that doesn't happen often! 
Swam out to The Rock, about a 2k trip. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tour de Femme 70k road race -- the report!

Wanaka always surprises me. Last year, we had the hottest November on record, with most days in the 30s Celsius. This yeas has been... slightly different. The day before the 70k road race,  we had a southerly from Antarctica move through and dump snow down nearly to town level. Out of nowhere, I got hailed on! The winds were whipping fiercely (maybe 50km/hr, with gusts upwards of 70? Not a gale, but close).

The day of the Tour de Femme 70k road race dawned and we were greeted with 7C (45F) temperatures, with wind. The race itself starts at the Lone Star bar just outside Wanaka and climbs up the Crown Range Rd, a 35k climb starting at 300m and topping at ~1200m before it turns right back around to finish at the Lone Star again. It's a very gradual climb up into the mountains over the pass, except for the last 3-5k which are significantly steeper. On a summer day, it's a beautiful ride as we pass over the Cardrona river numerous times, with flowers everywhere. On this particular day, we started off cold, and we rode up to even colder terrain. Snowy mountains, glacial rivers and ice starting to creep onto the roads. Given the conditions on the road, we were forced to turn around about 1k from the top because of all the ice, grit and snow above.

Pre-race, I just had had a caffeinated gel, get ready world.
Photo credit: Emberly W.
Just before the start gun.
Photo credit: Emberly W.
I had never been in a road race before, I didn't even have my road bike (it's in Canada). So, I felt out of place on my geeky tri bike. Nevertheless, I hung with the front pack of girls for as long as possible, but got spit out the back around Cardrona, about 22km in. I worked with 2 girls, first with the hopes of catching the group, and when we realized that was impossible, we just worked together to keep up a good tempo.

Once we hit the turn around, we were all smacked HARD in the face by a brutal, cold Northwesterly wind, maybe 50km/hr. You couldn't BREATHE going into it, and it was cold as shit (1C - 34F). Our group, now of 5 girls, had split up a bit at the turn around and I worked my balls off trying to catch up and get a draft. The difference was huge. The 5 of us worked together to bring it back home. If you were at the front, breaking the wind, you couldn't breathe and stayed up there for 2 minutes, max. If you were behind and had a draft, you were pretty much coasting. It was difficult to split the pack up any, just because there was absolutely NO WAY you could break away in that wind. Nevertheless, we brought it in quickly, everyone sharing their pull equally.

Then tensions rose a bit as we approached the end, but I had no idea as I'd never been in a cycle race so was just drafting along in 3rd position in our 5-woman group. The girl in the front had GONE OUT HARD, and the girl ahead of me couldn't respond. I finally realized what was going on (duh), so gunned it too, dropping the 3 girls behind me. I ended up coming in 3 seconds behind the girl I was chasing, for a 4th age group place in the 20-29 category. I was 2:20:17, 10th overall out of 21 girls. The girl that won was a beast, and came in at 2:03:17. In those conditions, holy crap!!

So, first cycle race and I freaking loooooooved it. What a blast. The race was in its inaugural year and all the ladies enjoyed themselves despite the tough conditions. It could have been because we were then provided with a free meal and a small bottle of champagne each. Maybe.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pretty Photos 004 - Deans Bank

Switchbacks, baby

Views of the Clutha River
There you have it, I love seeing shots of other people's trails! This one here's a mtn bike track that is so twisty and curvy your GPS doesn't even know what to do with itself.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

5 stitches!

So, in my ever-impressive life, I've managed to slice open my finger while cutting pumpkin. I even recollect thinking, as I changed the angle of the knife: "My, this would be bad if it slipped". Slip it did. I cut through the skin, the subcutaneous flesh right down to the bone and the tendons. I thankfully did not sever any tendons and so all that really needed to be done at the medical center was the cauterization of cut blood vessels to stop the blood gushing, and 5 stitches to sew me back up.

No swimming for 10 days! No braking on the left hand side (back brakes) for 10 days -- who needs back brakes anyway?? I didn't when I went for a group ride today! And no falling over onto my right hand side while trail running for 10 days, which is a big ask for me. I did indeed fall yesterday while running on some steep as downhill mtn bike tracks and landed, HARD, but thankfully on my right hand. Close one!