I thought long and hard about whether I would write up a review of the ride I did in California last month, The Death Ride, because I did not want to bore anyone with a long saga about how hard it was or how much my crotch hurt at the end. However, I thought that the experience I had and the lessons I learned out there would be of value to those of you training for the most challenging races of your lives.
Just a little background, and to give credit where credit is due to the guy who got me into this; I NEVER would have signed up for the Death Ride, if it were not for my very good friend and best riding buddy, Paul Resnick. Over the last 6 years, Paul and I have ridden
hundreds of miles together in all kinds of weather- crazy hot days with 100 degree + heat indexes, or leg beating 25 mph headwinds (both directions), or rain like something that could have scuttled the ark; through them all we have enjoyed every minute of it together.
Paul is a retired Coast Guard officer (and a former marine) who used to fly fighter jets and helicopters in all kinds of weather and conditions and would think nothing of risking his life to save a few souls in the course of a day’s work. As you can tell, Paul is my hero. He also happens to be 75 years old and this year was the 11th time he has done the Death Ride. When I tell people his age, I can see them thinking that we must ride on the sidewalk at about 7mph, but actually we ride somewhere between 18 and 24mph depending on the day, and Paul looks and rides like a 45 year old.
The Death Ride takes place on much of the same course as the Pro Tour of California and starts in the teeny little town of Markleeville, elevation around 6500 feet , and climbs 5 peaks for a total of 15000 feet of climbing over 129 miles. The highest peak tops out at about at 8750 feet and the other mountains are not much lower.
As I could not take the 10-14 days ahead of time that it takes to acclimate to altitude, I decided to fly into Reno (which sounds much cooler than it looks) the day before the Death Ride and took a shuttle into South Lake Tahoe (about 20 miles North of Markleeville). As we drove towards town, the mountains came into view and my anxiety spiked immediately! I had known I was training for a ride in the mountains, but living in South Florida (elevation ZERO), I can’t really conceive of anything over about a 200 foot high bridge span. So, when I saw those snow capped mountains (yes, high enough to still have snow on them) it dawned on me what I had really come to do. I had done all the training I had laid out for myself but I still doubted whether I was up to the task when I saw those peaks. I have never been a good climber anyway, even when I lived in more hilly terrain in N. Carolina, so what on earth was I thinking? These were not hills, these were MOUNTAINS!!! For the first time in my endurance event life, I actually thought I might not be able to do something I had signed up for. I am generally very positive going into an event, so this was a whole new experience for me. I knew that that mindset (doubt and fear) was not going to get me up those mountains the next day. I decided to write this race review because I wanted to share what an important role our minds play in helping us to finish an event.
Rather than tell myself for the next 15 hours till the event that I could not do it, I just said to myself “you will ride till you can’t and then you will rest and then you will ride some more.” After all, all my athletes know I am doing this as I had the smart idea to tell them- I can’t fail!!!! I reminded myself of all the things I have done that were really hard, I thought about all the strength and courage my mother had and the Ironman I did in her honor, I thought of all my athletes who dare to train for events that scare the tar out of them, I thought of how much I love to ride my bike in beautiful places and how lucky I was to be able to do this ride, and I thought of all the support I had from friends and clients and family. Then I picked up my bike from the shop I had it shipped to (they put it together for me- lovely), went to registration, had a beer, had dinner, prepped my bike and fluids, and went to sleep.
3 a.m. and off the alarm went- shower, shave those legs, take care of other business, eat, and off we went to Markleeville. Though I was very nervous, I kept repeating to myself that I would just handle each moment as it came- I would find a comfy cadence, I would ride by keeping within my HR targetsand allow my quads to find the right gearing so that they did not blow up. I kept saying to myself “calling all angels.” Mum was watching, Jan was watching, my best buddy was with me, and friends on facebook were all so supportive. How could I fail?
I had always felt I was a lousy climber because I used to try to race up the hills (mainly because I was in a pace-line and I can’t get dropped!) but an event like this is simply about finding your groove and settling in. I had imagined that Paul and I would be at the back of the ride, with everyone pedaling away from us, as most of the participants either had mountains to train on and/or live at altitude- so how could we flatlanders from sea-level possibly keep up?
However, Paul and I were always mid pack and we beat all the time cutoffs comfortably, even though we took our time at rest stops. It was the most amazing sight climbing all the peaks: there was always a long, long line of riders (3500 of us) climbing up the side of a mountain in complete silence- at speeds ranging from 4-9 mph most of the time. During every other event I have ever done there has always been lots of chatter between participants, but not so today. We all climbed in complete silence; all you could hear was the sound of each of us breathing hard and grinding up the mountains. Many athletes found the going too tough and had to stop and get off their bikes. I have never seen so many athletes on the side of the road cramping up or simply walking their bikes up the mountain- in bike shoes!
Each peak takes between 1.5 and 2 hours of climbing and about 20-30 minutes descending. After you reach the first summit, you strip off various layers of clothing (sleeves, jacket, etc) only to find you need them on the way down. I was going down at such high speed that when I started to shiver I thought I was gonna crash! I spent the day dressing and undressing.
What were the keys to my successful finish?
A long day of climbing has a very different riding style than a shorter ride where you might power over a short hill with a higher cadence and/or stand to power over the top. For this ride, I took a compact crank (even though, I am horrified to admit, that I wanted a triple
crank!) and a 12-28 cassette and I had just about enough gears (although there is one 12% incline at the top of the 3rd peak that I would have liked one more gear for ). The key to finishing this puppy was to carefully control my exertion- all I looked at all day was my HR- I did not have a cadence or pace target, except to find the ones that allowed my quads to feel as loose as possible. I kept my HR in Z2 as best I could all day, with a few forays into Z3 and 4 when the incline just got to be too much and I had to stand or fall off my bike because I was standing still. I only looked at my speed twice- once on such a rude incline that we were all nearly standing still and once on a descent when I saw 57mph and decided I really ought to be looking at the road. My cadence was in the 50’s and 60’s for most of the steeper inclines, with some 70’s when it “flattened out” to a 5-6% gradient. Had I tried to keep my cadence in the 85-95rpm range that I do here for a bridge or the odd hill in Clermont, I would have bonked way before the end of the first climb. I also did not look at distance covered. Actually, that is a lie. I looked at it once and it threatened to de-rail me so I did not do that again. You know, the ride was going to take as long as it took, and as long as I stayed positive and kept on top of my hydration and nutritional needs, I would get it done.
My mind was probably my biggest ally; I stayed really focused on each moment, I thought about my form, I used my mantras, I listened to my breathing, I thought about how gorgeous it was and how extremely lucky I was to be able to go to Cali and do this ride, I thought about how great it was to do this ride with Paul, I thought about all my friends and loved ones who believed in me, I called all angels, and after I got the first peak done I KNEW I could finish. I was euphoric. I did not compare myself to other riders, I did not focus on how hard it was, I did not worry about speed, I did not think about how many miles there were to go. I honestly LOVED EVERY moment of this ride, even though there were some very tough patches. Just like in an ironman or a marathon or any other ultra-endurance event, there are moments when you feel great and times when you feel really bad, but they always pass.
The Death Ride is called the tour of the California Alps and it was truly as fantastic as that name implies. Paul and I got our photo taken at the crest of the last peak and it was a tremendous accomplishment and a great honor- and I whooped and hollered as we pulled into the rest stop at the top of Carson’s Pass.
I think I am a good climber now and I don’t dread hills anymore! I went out two days later to find some more hills to climb- and I think I got a bit carried away as I found one with a 15% grade that had me wobbling all over the place! I rode around Lake Tahoe three days later and the 2854 feet of climbing in 75 miles felt like nothing and I ENJOYED those climbs.
Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Jan, and thank you to all my friends and clients who supported me and followed my progress. Thank you, Mum, for giving me these legs, this heart, and this great life.
Training Tidbit- Is it hot in here?
Performance is always negatively affected in the heat. The optimal running temp is 58 degrees and we have not seen that here since 5 minutes in the morning back in February. Without exception, all my clients are talking about how hot it is and how it affects their workouts negatively. My article “Beat the Heat” (http://www.tricoachdara.com/pdf/beatheat.pdf) talks about what you can do mentally to help deal with the heat, but there are also some other techniques you can use to keep yourself a little cooler during the long, hot workouts that we are all in the midst of.
The jury is out on whether wearing cover ups helps us stay cool, and I think at this point it is just personal preference. I have some clients who swear by their spf sleeves and some who feel like they are in an even hotter sauna even just wearing compression socks. One thing is for sure, you won’t get sunburned and that can be an advantage on a long training day. Whatever you wear, it should be a technical fabric that wicks, not a cotton fabric.
Pre-cooling definitely works, but the logistics of this are tricky (there are not a lot of air-conditioned rooms in the transition area of a tri or while you wait for a bike/road race to start). However, you can supply your own cooling device with cooling neckerchieves or a body vest that holds ice. You can take a look at a couple of examples here: Cooling neck scarves: http://www.healthandbodystore.com/coolingaids.html?gclid=CPu9o-6XvakCFZtd2godGCjGfw . And here: Cooling body vests: http://coolingvest.i4u.com.au/cooling-aids/sporting-vests.htm.
Other things that help a little:
•douse yourself with cold water during the workout.
•re-fill your bottles with cold water during your longer workouts. Plan to run/ride by convenience stores so you can get some ice cold water- it is a really nice pick-me-up when your luke warm (or positively hot) sports drink is suddenly refreshing. (I take concentrated Infinit with me that I fill up with ice water and it is such a treat).
•use insulated bottles so that your drinks stay cold longer, because even with ice in them, un-insulated bottles seem to heat up within 30 minutes.
•Probably the best tool to fight the heat is to get out silly early! Get out for your run at 4 or 5 in the morning. I know this seems extreme but I am way more tired after a run that I did too late in the heat of the day than I am because I had a little less sleep but got my run done by 8am, while there was still shade on the streets and no sun burning a hole in my head.
Stay on top of your hydration and nutrition plan- don’t get behind! Slow down! We simply CANNOT run as fast in the heat as we can when the temp is an ideal 58 degrees. Check out the heat index (combo of temp and humidity) and don’t run when the heat index is going to be 105 degrees or more. Check out this from the national weather service: They consider it dangerous to exercise when the heat and humidity meet (or exceed) the below combinations:
86° F 90%
88° F 80%
90° F 70%
92° F 60%
94° F 55%
96° F 45%
98° F 40%
(See noaa.gov for the complete chart.)
•Stating the obvious, light-colored clothing will reflect heat, loose fitting clothing will let air circulate, tho some athletes prefer skin tight gear and some studies have found that these do not inhibit evaporation.
•Wear a hat which will block the suns rays, allow you to relax your face instead of squinting into the sun (which will eventually cause your shoulders to rise up and cause poor form and fatigue), and of course you can stick some ice under there too.
•Speaking of sticking ice in things, sports bras provide an excellent shelf for ice, and as Macca demonstrated at Kona last year, tri shorts can hold ice and cold water quite nicely.
•Do your speed/hill work on a treadmill. I know, we all hate the bloody thing, but you will get a MUCH higher quality workout in. Just keep the workout short so you don’t want to stick a pencil in your eye just so someone takes pity on you and you can get off the treadmill.
There is an article in this month’s Runners World that is quite interesting (and I was consulted for! Whoop whoop!) that talks about some mental tricks you can use to deal with the heat.
•imagine you are running in a freezer, and tell yourself that running in the heat is easier on your joints – you don’t feel as tight.
So, get the right gear, do your long workouts early, stay hydrated and have a good attitude!
Another recipe to enjoy in the middle of the summer. Light & healthy!
Avocado & Zucchini Burrito
1/4 cup low-fat refried canned beans
1/2 avocado, chopped
1/4 cup zucchini, chopped
2 Tablespoons salsa
1 whole grain tortilla
Wrap beans, avocado, zucchini and salsa in tortilla. Serve room temperature or heat in microwave.
320 calories, 17g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 600mg sodium, 36g carbohydrate, 11g fiber, 3g sugar, 8g protein.
Mental Tidbit: Imagery.
There is a great piece on the use of imagery in this week’s USAT “Multisport Zone” that I think you would all enjoy reading, and if you did not get that email, you can find the article here http://www.usatriathlon.org/resources/multisport-zone/multisport-lab/use-imagery-to-excel-this-season.
If you have read my piece on mental training, you will remember that the type of imagery Dr. Cleere (the author of the USAT piece) is talking about is what I actually call visualization. This is a very potent technique for improving performance and having a great workout or race. What I refer to as imagery is slightly different- it conveys more of a feeling and can also really help you on race day. Of course, if you don’t practice either of these techniques in training, they will be no good to you on race day.
In a study by Orlin and MCaffrey (1989) they found that elite athletes used daily imagery and visualization practice (among other things) to aid their training and racing. Imagery can help you start the race/workout well and keep that feeling going to the end. You can use it to conjure any positive image of strength, endurance, efficiency and speed. Perhaps you could use imagery that conjures a motorcycle for the bike, running like a wolf for the run, and a dolphin-fluid, smooth and powerful for the swim.
Below you will find some ideas for you to start with, but it would be best for you to come up with your own, or to modify my suggestions so that they become yours and they “speak to you.” Whatever you come up with should feel very emotive and immediate. Remember to
practice during every workout.
For the swim
•you are a dolphin
•you are a barracuda
•the feel of the water against your skin evokes feelings of SPEED and ease.
For the bike
•maybe a steam train
•your legs are pistons
•a crotch rocket motorcycle, or
•a spaceship, or
•see your legs moving as pistons- smooth, powerful , unstoppable.
For the run
•pretend you weigh 50 pounds and you are light and free
•imagine your legs are pistons
•that you are riding on a “hovercraft” skateboard (from the movie “Back to the Future”).
•imagine that you are a formula 1 racecar- accelerating out of corners, low to ground, smooth and fast
•your legs are wheels, like the Road runner (beep beep) in the cartoon.
•run like a kenyan/gazelle/cheetah!
•imagine you are being pulled forward by a string that comes out of your hips or your chest.
What can you come up with? Use as many senses as possible and let the imagery flow. During your next workout really give some consideration to what imagery works for you- come up with your own powerful tool!
What works for you to help you feel free, fluid, alive, strong, happy
Mark Jacobson (in his own words).
I completed the Club Med Olympic race in April, a goal of mine for over a year and a half. When I started, I could only swim a lap, didn’t have a bike, and could only run about four miles. Four miles of leading with my heels and keeping straight as a flagpole.
The first several months of training for this race were frustrating as I kept injuring myself. I’d done sports when I was in school and back than, could practically do anything physically and still bounce out of bed the next day. But not now.
I needed to do things differently. And. than I did a very smart thing: I asked Dara to help me train. Dara, of course, was just great, greeting me with a big smile, full of confidence. She brought me into her studio, plopped me on her training bike, took some measurements, and gently pointed out about a dozen things I was doing wrong. With this good orientation to her program, I left feeling that I just might be able to do this.
Day after day, I’d follow her customized weekly program posted online, and record my results for her to see in the evening. The next day I’d receive Dara’s comments and feedback, as well as answers to the dozens of questions I asked. She was relentlessly cheerful as well as patient and reassuring about my many lapses. “Life happens.” she told me once after one of them. I liked that one so much that I started using it as my go to excuse for any day I fell short. “Didn’t get to the run portion of this workout, due to life happenings.”
I made several mistakes, especially in the first several weeks, but instead of setting me back or knocking me off my plan, they became with Dara’s oversight, valuable lessons, critical notches in my learning curve.
Through sickness, travel breaks, and a lot of life happenings, Dara never seemed to waver in her belief that I was on schedule and would be ready to go in May. And on my part, I did try to follow her schedule as closely as I could.
Race day finally arrived. The swim–despite jellyfish stings and the constant need to reset my course (I discovered I didn’t swim straight in open water)– went much better than I expected. As I ran to the transition area, I flashed a big smile and thumbs up to my wife. I started biking along the loop course and despite Dara’s many warnings about sticking to my race plan, to my RPE limits (as I’d never really gotten the hang of the heart monitor), I forgot all about that. Instead, excited that I seemed to be in the middle of the pack, or at least not one of the last ones, I began biking faster–racing!–even though I still had many miles to go. Occasionally I would sing a snatch of a song out loud to check my RPE, and as I could still do so, would go even faster.
I finished the bike and with wobblier legs than usual, I set off on the run, faithfully sticking to my bike cadence. But again, I was going fast, faster than my training pace. At the first mile marker I was breathing hard, sucking wind, but at least I’d passed many runners along the way. At that first aid station though, I discovered that they were only handing out water. This was a real setback because I’d assumed, despite Dara’s repeated warnings to check with the race prior, that they’d be serving some kind of energy/ calorie replacement drink. Throughout my training I’d prepared my Heed and would drink from it every ten minutes. Now I was venturing into scary new territory, the deprived zone. All of Dara’s wisdom and teachings about nutrients for oneself, and the folly of not doing so, came back to haunt me as I ran on.
When I looped around at the 3 mile point, I gave my wife a reluctant thumbs up, a wan smile, as the low gas in my tank turned on the warning light . By then, I had slowed way down and runners that I’d left behind were now catching up and passing me. I was huffing and puffing like one of those trains going up mountains in old westerns, and the three miles to go in this almost shadeless golf course, made me feel like I was entering some kind of runners’ purgatory reserved for those unfortunate souls that strayed from their coach’s teachings and wisdom.
By the five-mile mark, I was still running just to say I wasn’t walking; the speed was about the same. I knew I was looking rather pitiful because the amount of onlooker support increased substantially: ‘you’re almost there, just one more mile to go” etc.. However, somehow in that hot sun, that featureless golf course, and perhaps due to race volunteers that had called it a day, I missed a turn and ended up doing one of the big loops all over again, adding about an extra mile.
When I finally crossed the finish line, I didn’t even bother to raise my arms in victory as I’d planned to for my now rather worried wife’s photo shoot. Instead, I just collapsed on the grass and had her pour bottles of cold water over me. One of the Club Med officials came over to make sure I was OK. I babbled to him about the extra mile, the missing race volunteer, but he just looked on with concern, telling me to relax.
As I hope is clear in the above telling, I basically ditched Dara’s great race plan and suffered the consequences. Consequently, I didn’t quite get that sense of accomplishment, that sense of closure that I’d expected. Thus, about three weeks later, I ran the International at Key Biscayne, but this time carefully paced myself, followed Dara’s dictates to the letter, and had a totally different experience. I arrived at the finish line, having just passed several runners in the last mile, feeling energized and exhilarated, and this time, holding my arms high in victory.
Bonnie – Top 5% in AG and Gender, Nautica NYC Tri! and 2nd place Female Masters, Key Biscayne Triathlon
Michael – NYC Tri – survived the bacteria levels of the Hudson and followed his plan to the T! A perfectly executed race!!
Ralph – Kicked butt at IM Boulder 70.3.
Eric – Had a super strong swim & bike at IM Boulder 70.3 but had to stop racing due to adverse effects of elevation & dry heat.
Fran – 4th place AG, Key Biscayne Triathlon
Julia – She left to cycle the mountains of France. Looking forward to hearing about her trip! She is climbing Galibier!!! And having a croissant and chocolate at the top!!!
Melissa C-W – Weir’s Lane PR last month ( 3 x 1.1 miles of quad busting climbs!) and even splits this month. Also a good race at the Niagara Duathlon. Used this as a great training day!
Adam – Had a great TT, as usual!
Patrick Anderson-45th overall , Key Biscayne Triathlon and a great turnout for my newest newbie!
John – NY Tupper Lake Half Iron- but the race was rained out and too dangerous to do, so he made lemonade from lemons and had a killer 60 mile bike and 13 mile run up there in the hills!
Raul – Races every Wednesday. His power numbers have gone up & he’s close to the podium!
Carol – Has a metric century ride coming up. Go girl!
Catherine & John – Ironman Louisville! Big day for these two but training has been going great and they will have great races!!
Did you Know?
47% of triathletes have traveled more than 500 miles to race a triathlon (Triathlete Magazine, May 2011). Are you one of them? Please share your experience & what made you make that journey?
Last month, our poll asked who you thought would win the Tour de France? The choices were Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, or “Other.” The majority voted for “Other.” Oh, how you were right! That was a fantastic Tour this year. Cadel might have a funny accent but he was AWESOME at this year’s tour!