Monday, May 21, 2012

Beyond me ...

Blue Marsh Lake
This weekend, I planned for some big mile training in preparation for the upcoming Granogue 12 Hour.  So after a Yin yoga class on Friday night, the plan was set for a good long training ride at Blue Marsh Lake on Saturday.

I've used Blue Marsh for distance training as long as I have been doing endurance races. Back in 2009, while training for the 24 Hours of Nine Mile, between June and July I did about 3 or 4 off-road centuries out there. I was never as concerned about the pace as I was the volume. The 12 hour will be my longest race of the year this year, so volume training is important right now. But I wanted to try something different this year. Because I pretty much ride the Misfit exclusively these days, I needed to do more than just build up distance. I already know I can ride far if I don't push hard on the singlespeed. But I wanted to up the ante this time around. I wanted to be train not only to distance but also to a more aggressive pace in that distance. I figured that I've been doing this long enough now to figure out how to balance a good push with a long distance.

At least that was my thought process going into my training ride Saturday morning. I got to Blue Marsh around 10:30 in the morning. Originally, I had toyed with the idea of going for 75 miles at a steady pace. But as I headed out, I kind of got it in my head that maybe I'd forgo the extra miles if I could get two laps at harder pace instead. That would still give me 60 on the day and if I could hold a good hard pace throughout, then I'd get a gauge on where my long distance race fitness is right now. It may sound odd to say that given that I've already done four endurance races this year already. But I'm talking about fitness for the biggies. Races of 12 hours or a hundred miles or more are just a different animal than "regular" endurance events. There is definitely value in knowing how I respond when I hit the wall and keep trying to push anyway.

Now, until April of this year, I had never done the 30 mile loop in under 3 hours. I didn't think I'd go for that on Saturday, but I wasn't going to sit back and just pedal either.

I always judge my pace by how long it takes me to hit the 10 mile mark. There is one really big climb at about 7 miles into the ride, so if I can get over that climb and then over the fire road climb up to nine miles and through the first creek bridge to the 10 mile marker in under an hour, I'm in pretty good shape. And on Saturday, I hit them easily, and was on the same pace more or less as my 2:45 back in April. So I thought that was good. The closer I'd get to going sub-three, the harder I'd push in the first lap, which would put me in the fatigue zone I wanted to be in for the second lap.

And sure enough, I matched my best time of 2:45 for the full loop. I was really feeling it this time, mainly because of the heat (mid-80's.) And so after I swapped out my bottles and headed back out for the second loop, I was already aware that it was going to be a tough lap.

But I kept pushing. Admittedly, on the steeper climbs, I actually had to stop a few times to get my heart rate down. For some reason, it would jack up and stay up -- my recovery just wasn't there. I felt good otherwise. My legs felt pretty good. But my heart rate was just pinning and I'd have to actually stop to get it down. It sort of made me feel like I was doing 30 miles of intervals. That's not good.

But I kept it under control and kept going, and as I hit the inbound section, I started to realize something   I was on pace for a second sub-three hour lap. That was unthinkable, but I couldn't stop thinking about it once it seemed within reach. I started pushing pretty hard in the flat singletrack and kept my pace over 12 mph from about mile 21 to mile 25. Then the last few hills were all I had left between me and a crazy day. So I started to really dig in. And I was really feeling it. By the time I hit the last climb of the day, I knew I had nothing left. My legs weren't cramping, but my core was shot -- my abs were killing me and I felt a little nauseous. I crawled up that last climb -- it's not steep or even all that long, but it felt like an eternity at that point. But once I crested, I came over the top with a big smile on my face and realized that I was going to get it - I was getting two sub-three hour laps. That included about 7000 feet of climbing. I was ecstatic!

But the real value of it, aside from being a PR for two laps by a country mile, was what I could take from the experience. There was a lot. A pretty good list of "shoulda's" would include:

  • I should have drank more plain water. I mostly drank Zym, which was fine, but what I needed more than that was pure water. I think part of my stomach trouble was due to drinking too much mix. Plain water would have been easier on my stomach and better for constant intake.
  • I need to eat more real food. I was empty and circling the drain by the end of that push. I usually do eat more on these big rides, but because I was focused on moving faster, I ignored the food intake. That was a mistake I won't repeat.
  • As I've expected more and more lately, for me going slow can make me faster. I'm talking about on the hills. I've grown to love the 20t on my SS. It's easier and slower on climbs, but I just settle in and keep a steady pace that allows me to recover faster and go harder in the sections where I can actually build speed.
  • Sunblock is critical for me. (It's an Irish thing.)
  • Finally, pushing hard doesn't have to equal cramping. Being smart about where you push only helps you go faster. I'm still working this out, but I'm seeing improvement.

So there it is. Possibly my best training day of the year so far. Not because I went faster or did better, but rather because I gathered the data I needed to understand what worked and what I need to work on during a day when I could have just marveled at a ride that was really beyond my level. All in all, just what a training ride should be!

Took one photo out on the trail -- I was exhausted and stopped to take a breath. 
Sunday, I headed down to Wissahickon for a recovery ride after doing lawn work all morning. It was an easy pace for about another 14 miles. Still about 1500 feet of climbing, but no aggression in it. Just a nice pace with the only real effort being hard pushes on the down hills -- another area I definitely need to work on!

So I'd say all in all, mission accomplished for the weekend. Had a great time in great weather. It may be a few days before I can get back out on the trail because of the rain in the region, but if I have to I'll pull to the rollers. Still a lot of work to do if I'm going to survive a 12 hour day at Granogue!

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