Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mt. Evans Hill Climb

(Here's an image of the last half mile of the race. Not exactly what one wants to encounter when exhausted from already having climbed 6,000 feet.)

My Garmin file for the Mt. Evans Hill Climb

A quick hill climb race report:
The Mt. Evans Hill Climb is a 28 mile climb from Idaho Springs, altitude of approx. 7,500 feet, to the summit of Mt. Evans, at right around 14,200 feet. I partook in the CAT 4 race, which was about 150 strong including some 17/18 year old juniors doing a shorter version of the climb.

This being my first cycling race, I positioned myself in the middle of the large pack at the start of the race. After an early pack separation, maybe a mile or two into the race, I ended up at the back of the lead pack. This proved to be a bad position.

For a while my position was fine. Though the pack separated two or three more times, each time I was able to find a wheel on which to ride back up to the lead pack. Still, I always just rode up to the back of the pack. I should have moved forward so I wasn't off the back every time the pack separated.

Around five miles into the race -- I'm now at the back of a lead pack that's down to maybe 25 riders -- the pack split once more. No one in my group was making a move to catch back up to the pack up the road, so I went on my own. The problem is that when I reached the pack up the road, I realized that it was not the front group. In fact, the lead pack had split into three groups. I had only moved from the third group to the second, and now the first group was still a ways up the road. I gave it a shot to catch up to that group, but after 20 minutes of hard work I was not successful. I still had nearly 20 miles to ride, and I was on my own. Had I been further up in the pack, there's a better chance I'd have been able to stay with, or at least bridge the gap to, the lead group. My lesson is to be a more aggressive with my positioning in the pack so I'm better prepared to respond to gaps.

Now on my own, I kept trying to reel in any rider I could see up the road. For the next 30 minutes I was able to pass several riders that were dropped from the lead pack. Eventually, though, the distance between myself and any riders up ahead just remained constant. My morale dropped as the climb progressed but my position did not. Toward the very end of the ride, three or four guys passed me and I didn't, or maybe couldn't, put up much of a fight.

The results aren't posted yet, but my 2:24 time is not spectacular. I'm guessing somewhere in the top 25% of the CAT 4 field. My average HR was 161 bpm, which makes this the hardest 2+ hour ride I've done.

Despite a lackluster result, the race should position me well for Boulder 70.3 in a few weeks. Plus, the ride is extremely scenic; there aren't many chances to be on a bike at 12k+ feet, let alone above 14k feet.

As a final add-on, I just found this video of Tom Danielson (9th place going into yesterday's TT in the Tour de France) at the hill climb a few years back. He holds the record for a time of 1:41.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Product Review: Coco Hydro instant coconut water

Coconut juice or water -- I'm not really sure what the difference is -- is all the rage at the moment. I first tried the stuff out of curiosity last year, and my initial impression was not positive. I almost tossed the can after just a few sips! However, like coffee, beer, and most good bands, the taste grew on me. Now, I can't get enough coconut juice. Seems I'm not the only one, either: I was in Boulder at Whole Foods after a ride a few weeks back, and at least half the people eating outside selected coconut juice as their beverage of choice.

Coconut juice is marketed as a fluid replacement drink for athletes, as well as a hangover cure. I just drink it because it's delicious on hot days. In the winter coconut juice is only pretty good, but when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees, coconut juice becomes a vastly more tasty beverage. With the temperature in Denver forecast to be around 100 degrees for the rest of this week, it's prime coconut juice drinkin' season.

On hot days I could drink 3 cans of coconut juice a day, no problem. Well, except that my favorite brand, Amy & Brian's, is $2 a can. (Side note: the 16oz. can of Amy & Brian's is superior to the 12oz. can, which inexplicably has a strong hint of caramel.) As a result, coconut juice is more of an occasional treat than an every day part of my diet. While coconut juice is palatable, $6 a day for a beverage is not.

Enter Coco Hydro. I spotted it at Whole Foods today on a granola run. For $8 one gets 25 servings of cononut water powder. Just add the powder to water and, voila, homemade coconut juice. An inspection of the ingredients revealed only three: evaporated coconut juice, dextrose ("as a processing agent", whatever that means), and sea salt. Intrigued, I bought a packet. (Another aside: there are other brands that sell similar products; see, e.g., here.)

The directions recommend about a tablespoon of the powder for each cup of water. I opted for two tablespoons into about 10-12 oz of water in a pint glass, and then I topped it off with ice. The powder dissolved with just a few stirs, and unlike protein powder there was not a lot of residue stuck to the spoon or the glass. After stirring and allowing a few moments for the water-turned-juice to chill, it was time for a taste test.

The Coco Hydro coconut juice has the same great flavor as my aforementioned favorite, Amy and Brian's, although the flavor is a bit more subtle with Coco Hydro. Also, there's a bit of a soapy taste with Coco Hydro, which I'm guessing is due to the addition of sea salt. I will try adding a bit more powder next time so that the flavor has more "pop" to it, but I fear that more powder will also exacerbate the soapy issue. Overall, the soapy or salty taste isn't too bad, and my taste verdict is positive. Coco Hydro is no Amy and Brian's flavor-wise, but it's also 1/3 the price.

Amy & Brian's remains the gold standard of coconut juices. If I'm going to treat myself to coconut juice after a long ride or run on a hot day, Amy & Brian's remains my first choice. If, however, I'm going to drink coconut juice more frequently -- like I probably will this week -- Coco Hydro is tough to beat because of its substantially lower price.

I will update this review after I finish the packet. And since guerrilla marketing online is no good, I'm happy to say that I have no affiliation whatsoever with any of the companies whose products are discussed herein. I buy both Amy & Brian's and Coco Hydro at Whole Foods at regular pricing. Not that I'd object if either company wanted to send me copious amounts of their products...

UPDATE: Make sure to stir the powder in very well; don't stop when the powder has merely dissolved. After a 2:45 ride in 90+ degree weather today, I had another glass. This time all the salt was at the bottom...not tasty!

Wavves "King of the Beach" is a good song for running intervals on a nice day:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ironman Coeur D'Alene Race Report


My goals for the race were not lofty back in the spring. All winter I was sidelined by an Achilles injury and did no running from September 2010 to March 2011, and I wasn't running at anywhere near IM volume until mid-April. That's basically 1.5 months of rehab running and then a bit under 2 months of cautious IM training. With a new home, a new job, and a dog that I can't leave in his crate all day every weekend, I struggled to get in long IM specific rides. Back in the spring, my goal was simply to enjoy training and racing and not get fixated on my result.

...And then goal-creep, the phenomenon whereby one's initially mild goals morph into ambitious, difficult to obtain expectations, set in. My running recovered surprisingly quickly, my cycling metrics were great, and I thought I had a good shot at an Age Group win or first amateur overall performance. Sure, I questioned my swimming prowess and my run durability. But I reasoned a poor swim isn't an Ironman deal-breaker, I could easily ride a low-5:00 ride, and then my natural running talent could carry me through the race.

In fact, I worried enough about my run durability, and perhaps overly confident about my cycling, that I decided to ride the first loop of the bike nice and easy to save more than usual for the run. So that was my plan: swim like normal, ride easy, run like normal.


The 58 degree water, give or take 2 degrees, was a non-issue for me in only a wetsuit and single swim cap. The first loop was all about positioning myself not to get too beat up, as this was the roughest swim in which I've partaken. The second loop I paid a bit more attention to finding feet, sighting, and my stroke. Surprising, I matched my IM swim PR with a 1:05.

I kept repeating "Ride to run, ride to run" in my head throughout the first loop of the bike. My effort was low, and I erred on the side of energy conservation at all opportunities (e.g., by not passing groups of riders, by spinning up each hill). Based on my training, I expected a 2:30-2:35 first loop. My recollection, fuzzy now several days after the race, I that my time for Loop 1 was 2:38 or so.

No problem, I'd just increase my effort to regular IM effort for lap 2, finish the ride in the low-5:00 range, just like always, and then have a solid run. However, even as I increased my effort, my second loop time was a bit worse than my first. On the positive side, the easy first loop left me feeling fantastic throughout the ride. While I normally am hurtin' by mile 80 of the bike, this race I passed the mile 80 marker thinking how great I felt and how easy the ride was coming along.

For my future records, I rode at an average of 138 bpm (whereas my past three IM average bike HRs have been 147, 147, and 151) and put out an average of 200 W (vs. 205ish W for my past three IMs). I was and still am a bit shocked that 200 W only resulted in a 5:17 ride, while just a few more watts got me 5:07 or something like that at Lake Placid.


Now is when the goal creep came into play. After an easy ride, I was rewarded with fresh legs. With such great feeling legs, I made a game-time decision -- literally -- to go for the AG win. My guess was I'd need to run in the low 2:50s to have a shot. With my legs feeling fresh, I thought I had a good enough chance to achieve a fast marathon that the reward outweighed the risk blowing up.

My plan was to push really hard the first loop of the run in hopes of reaching the front of the AG race. If I could do that, I'd hope to hold on and allow my natural running ability and competitiveness to carry me to the finish line. The biggest question mark in my head was whether my lightly trained running legs would withstand 26.2 hard miles.

Instead of capping my HR at 160 bpm, like my normal and prudent plan, I went by feel and tried to run as fast as I could without feeling like I was straining. My HR was in the mid-160s and my PE was surprisingly low as I ran the first 13.1 miles right around 6:30/mile. The pace felt easy enough that a 2:50 run seemed possible, even approaching the halfway point of the run.

I continued that pace for a few more miles after the turn-around, and then had to start pushing really hard to hold sub 7:00/mile as I went reached the run course hills around miles 16-17. Climbing the steepest hill on the course shortly before the turnaround zapped my legs of their remaining energy with around 8 miles to go and my pace dropped to around 8:00/mile at its best. Hello, death march.

Fortunately, my death march pace isn't too bad and I was able to finish the run in a respectable 3:07. (Side note: I am extremely impressed by the number of athletes that ran below 3:10 -- the results are littered with low 3:00 runs!) My quads were so shot after the run that in the med tent after the race I could not move my legs. I had to ask volunteers to help my change my legs' position while resting on a recliner. My legs gave all they could during the race.

I wonder how my race would have gone if I'd held typical IM effort on the bike. I lacked confidence in my ability to hold 220 W for the ride and still run well, especially coming off so few run miles in training. But, it is also my experience that I don't need to work that hard to have a good AG bike split. So in retrospect I think my race plan on the bike was good. I'm just surprised at the result.

I also don't regret my suicidal run pacing. Sure, it didn't go as perfect as I'd hoped (knowing a 2:50 run was a long-shot). But despite my hard run, I still podiumed, and more importantly I didn't hold anything back. Winning my AG will require taking risks during races, and running with a HR in the mid 160s was a risk I knowingly and willingly took.


-- 9:37, which I think is my second fastest time, although almost 20 minutes of my PR.
-- 4th in my AG, and 4th straight IM podium.
-- 30th overall, which is my second worst overall placing in my 6 IMs. This despite my second fastest time...


Ironman CdA fell on Stacey and my 1st anniversary. Yay, us! (As opposed to the typical "yay, me!" theme of the blog.) What adventure can we do next year?


Not only did the race fall on our anniversary, but my brother Conor and his wife Teresa also competed in the race. Congratulations to all of you. Special congrats to Stacey for shattering her goal by 20 minutes!