Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Beans, Beans...

With the bitterly cold temperatures outside, the stove in the attic needed a little extra time to warm the place up last night. I popped in the fourth tape in Carl Sagan's Cosmos series last night that my mom got me for Christmas. It's an interesting flash back in time watching the series and seeing what we knew in 1980 about the Universe. Last night's episode talked about the first explorer robots we sent to Mars, and talked about the possibilities of one day sending robots that could traverse the Martian landscape. Of course, Spirit and Opportunity recently celebrated their one-year anniversaries of their landings on the red planet.

Anyway, listening to Carl's droning voice distracted me from the ache in my thighs as I pressed through my 1.5 hour ride, 15 minutes of threshold work and the rest tempo and fartlek fun. I stood quite a bit and could feel the ache of effort sink into my legs. "This had better do something!", I exclaimed after dismounting the rollers. I'm sure those first few road miles will indeed be much easier because of these workouts. My legs are ready for a night off tonight.

I got home late last night so the post-ride dinner had to be quick. Sue found a new recipe for a super-quick meal, apparently common in Italy on hot summer days when you don't want to fire up a stove. In a bowl, throw in two cans of drained cannellini beans, one can of slightly drained tuna in olive oil, some diced up sweet onion for crunch, sea salt and pepper to taste, and about a quarter cup of virgin fruttato olive oil drizzled over the top. Serve it up at room temperature. It's super fast, good tasting, and a great source of protein, good fat, and complex carbs. And if you're like me, it'll also keep you jet-propelled on the bike for a while the next morning, if you get what I'm saying.

See you on the road.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Weekend Behind/Week Ahead

I got through the weekend in relatively good shape considering. My parents arrived late morning on Saturday for their first visit to the new house. We ate too much and my mom toured the house repeatedly as my dad explored the cable channels. I got in 30 miles of good tough roller riding Saturday evening, and managed to burn off, according to the PowerTap, about 1500 of the calories I'd stuffed in my face over lunch. At the beginning of my third of four 12 minute threshold intervals on Friday night, my rear roller bearing popped out. I spent the rest of the workout time putting it back in and adding washers to take up space on the axle so it wouldn't happen again. I added those two intervals I'd missed to my Saturday evening ride, and then did the 4x4min muscle tension intervals I'd planned. Those felt good. Concentrate on form, drop the cadence to around 65, and lay down some serious wattage. The heart rate stays moderate with the low cadence, but the quads begin to scream for mercy. I emphasized ankle flex to give the calves some good stress too. Sunday, the schedule called for 4x15min threshold intervals, but it quickly became clear that my legs wouldn't be up to turning the wattage I did the day before. I got most of the way through the third interval before my thoughts turned to food and the fact I really hadn't eaten anything for almost six hours. Oops. The wattage kept dropping, and I decided to cut out early, stretch quickly, and run downstairs for dinner.

Below you'll find this week's riding plan. I've decided to post them here as they come up for added motivation. Even if no one is reading, if I think you might be, maybe I'll feel more responsible for keeping up with my plan.

M: 1:30 sub-LT tempo ride (with one 15 min LT interval left over from last night)
T: off
W: 1:30 3x4min power intervals, 4min rest between
T: 1:30 3x8min LT intervals, 5min rest between
F: off
S: 2:00 4x4min MT intervals, 4min rest between
S: 2:00 4x12min LT intervals, 10min rest between

I'm stressing work around P(LT) in an effort to boost it as quickly as possible before the group training rides start later in March. I'm avoiding really intense efforts this early in the season, but I am throwing in a few "power" intervals which will be performed in the VO2max-building range above P(LT). I've been watching my intervals closely, and the average wattage for the same perceived effort is rising with almost every ride.

On one hand, I want it to warm up quickly so I can get out on the road, but on the other hand, the roller riding is going well enough that I'm almost wishing it were the beginning of February so I'd have three more weeks of indoor training by myself before having the reality check of group rides.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Brush with Fame

How's this for a brush with fame?

My brother-in-law's high school friend slow danced with Natalie Merchant in college before she got famous singing with 10,000 Maniacs. Things were going well until she licked his face. A lot, and for a long time. He thought it was pretty hot at first, but after a while passed and she kept doing it, it turns out it wasn't so hot anymore.

Wow, I'm married to the sister of a high school friend of a guy who had his face licked by a future rock star. I'm almost famous.

The Plan

As planned, I sat down Saturday morning to plan The Plan. In just over six weeks' time, daylight savings time will arrive with the beginning days of April and the group training rides outside will start in earnest. Cycling is all about maximizing power at LT, so my goal is to boost my P(LT) as much as possible before those first rides. Unless you're the biggest fish in the pond, group riding frequently forces you to push well above your LT to keep up. Early season miles with that sort of intensity are a recipe for disaster, or at least a recipe for inefficient training. With that in mind, I want to build my LT with many roller miles now, so that I'm more able to stay within my desired zones when the group rides start. Six weeks. I laid out a six week plan that includes many long intervals around LT, with some shorter intervals at slightly above LT. Throw in some muscle tension rides after the first week to get the climbing muscles used to having force on them and some long tempo rides and I should be all set. Well, at least I'll be far better off than I've ever been at the start of any previous season. My first official ride from the plan had me doing 4x10 minute intervals around P(LT) with 10 minutes of rest in between. All in all, I was on the rollers for 80 minutes and it was hard, but I was able to hold my desired wattage fairly well until the last few minutes of the last interval when it became a real struggle, so I think the effort was just about right.

I met most of the other guys on the new Colavita-Spokepost.com CNY Region team at a meeting on Saturday. It's a good laid-back group with some 2s, several 3s, and a few 4s. We started hammering out a preferred schedule of races, and it looks like it's going to be a fun season.

I neglected the drywall sanding I should have been doing in the bathroom over the weekend in favor of building speaker stands for the family room. I had been looking at buying some stands when it occurred to me that they were pretty darn simple construction and I could probably build my own. I snagged some nice poplar pieces on sale at a local big-box home store going out of business and borrowed time on the in-laws' table saw and router. I sanded everything down, drilled holes for the screws, assembled the pieces, sprayed on the primer, sanded the primer smooth and wiped them down with tack cloth, then finished up with several coats of gloss black spray paint and some rubber stick-on feet. With the last few sprays, the paint can which had been giving me trouble really started to clog up and there are a couple areas where the paint looks a little spotty. But, all in all, they came out pretty well for my first "furniture" project.

Sue and I finished off the weekend Sunday by celebrating the first official evening of her week's vacation with cooking up a fine dinner and tackling a bottle of our favorite pinot noir. We're both lightweights when it comes to drink, so we were laughing pretty hard by the end of dinner and my head is still reeling a bit this morning. I'll clear it tonight by punishing myself with deadlifts, squats, and some more LT intervals.

See you on the road.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Longest Hour

My first lactate threshold test with the new power meter is in the books. To establish my power at LT measurement which I'll use to define my training zones for the next few weeks, I ran myself through a one-hour time trial on the rollers. At the half hour mark, it felt like I'd been on the rollers for about three hours, and my brain, egged on by my legs, was fantically searching for excuses to stop the pain.

"Half an hour is enough. We can get a good estimate from half an hour."

My will would argue back, "No. We must keep going. Joe said we have to do an hour to accurately measure our P(LT). The best measure of performance is performance itself!"

Ten minutes later, the pleading started again. "Come on. Forty minutes is plenty! Let's stop. There's a hot crock pot of Sue's chili waiting in the kitchen."

My will responded, "Nope. We need accurate numbers. Just take it minute by minute. It'll be over in no time."

In those last 20 minutes, I'm pretty sure I was nearing the speed of light because the stopwatch slowed way down. No doubt about it. Einstein was spot on with that whole relativity thing. Sue dismounted her rollers and amused herself by snapping some photos of my suffering. I think her first comment when looking at the picture was, "Gee, your legs look funny with hair on them." Yeah, well, it's winter here in central New York, and it's surprising how much warmth is provided by a little layer of fur on the gams.

My will won out in the end and after an hour's time, I'd put in some good work, lost 2.5 pounds of sweat, recorded the numbers, and sat down to a steaming bowl of Sue's fantasic chili and a couple big glasses of water with satisfaction that I'd done all I could do. I'm relatively pleased to find my P(LT) at 282 watts. I feel like I have a long way to go before I'm on form, and I'm feeling like 282 is a pretty good number to start from, at least for me. This weekend I'll sit down in the early morning with a hot mug of fresh dark brew and a pile of cycling books, and ink out a training plan with the new numbers in mind.

It was a hard hour, but I can't wait to put in some hard training and do it all again in a few weeks to see how far I've come. The more work I can put in now, the less of a shock the reality check will be when I hit those first couple group training rides when the weather begins to turn in a month or so.

See you on the road.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Purple Patch

My first hole in the wall is now my first spackling. I had, with trepidation, cut a hole in the drywall and ceiling above the back of the shower. I needed a way to stop the tiny drip that came out of the PVC elbow from rain water entering the sewer vent pipe. The hole in the wall became an oddly shaped jigsaw puzzle as I sawed in different directions looking for the leak, and running into studs, fan vent tubes, and telephone wires up to the bike workshop in the attic. I cut very slowly and shallow until I could identify all the local electrical wires. I'm pretty sure cutting into them would have been a "very bad thing."

I eliminated the rubber coupler from the plan. It was just too big to fit up in there without major deconstruction. I cleaned the PVC pipe near the leak and roughed it up with sand paper. The epoxy clay came in a tube form, with blue clay on the outside, and white in the core. I cut off a section of it and started kneeding as the instructions said. The smell of mysterious chemicals mixing wafted into my nose, reminding me of a couple times as a kid when I watched my dad mixing liquid epoxy. The clay was surprisingly stiff and by the time I'd kneeded it into a uniform color, as instructed, it was several minutes later and my hands felt like my thighs after a time trial. I rolled it into a long thick "string" of clay and pressed it into the PVC joint.

The dripping water had rotted some of the wood under the pipe, but it was only on the surface and the wood was still plenty sturdy. After a day of curing, the clay was as hard as the PVC and I was satisfied that the leak was no more.

I found some spare sheetrock the previous owners left in the basement and cut two jigsaw pieces to fit into the hole, one for the ceiling and one for the wall. Four drywall screws secured the pieces to the studs.

Never having taped drywall before, I bought some self-stick tape that claimed to make joining drywall very easy.

Just peel the backing, stick it on, and spackle. No need to lay down a base layer of joint compound. Sounded great. In the end, it worked fine, but I wouldn't want to use it for large jobs. It took me about four minutes per piece of tape to get my fingernail under the backing of the tape to peel it off. Most of the time, my fingernail would separate the two layers of the paper tape itself, curling up a corner, rather than peeling the backing. In hindsight, laying a base layer of compound probably would have taken a fraction of the time.

The compound I bought turned out to have a color-change indicator, so it went on pinky-purply and turned white when it dried. Very slick. When it all turns white, then you're okay for the next coat or sanding. Because my patches were'nt flush with the wall, I've had to put on three coats so far, concentrating on filling in the depressions. I've been using pretty thin coats to try to avoid cracking during drying. Presently, the patch is all white and I'll be sanding it this weekend. I might end up adding another coat, but I'm going to see if I can even out the low spots by sanding before I slather on more spackle.

Sue's busy trying to decide if she wants the bathroom a different color for when painting time comes. She's not crazy about the cream/tan and thinks white with a touch of blue in it might highlight the few blue tiles in the floor and counter. One thing is definite. We're going to try to do it right this time and prime the patched area with a stain killing and covering paint, and we're going to choose a final paint especially made for the humidity of bathrooms so we'll be less likely to see the stain come through again.

My parents are coming for their first visit to the new house in a little over a week, so we're scrambling a little to try and at least clean up around the ongoing projects and hang some of our pictures and what not. Hopefully any picture hangers we drive into the walls will go well and not create any more spackling jobs right away!

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Steep Slope

Everyone has a curve that represents their athletic ability. The height of the curves makes the difference between the pros and the amateurs. I'm currently enjoying the steep, beginning slopes of my personal curve. With a little training after months of no serious workouts, I'm feeling those big fitness gains that come early in the season, the ones that can only come when you're a long way off form. I need to enjoy them now, for in three months' time, I'll be working very hard for just a little gain as my curve flattens out near the top of my ability.

In early December when I set up the PowerTap for the first time, I had taken a few spins on the rollers but nothing too frequent or too serious. I did a 20 minute all-out effort and averaged 263 watts. I estimated my power at lactate threshold, what I could average over an hour, at 251 watts by assuming that my average wattage for the 20 minutes was 105% of what I could do over an hour.

Last week, I hit the rollers three days in a row for an hour each, riding at a comfortable mid to high tempo. On Saturday, I popped Barton Fink into the DVD player and put 25 miles into the rollers, again at mid to high tempo. I generally love Coen brothers' movies, and really enjoyed this one, but in hindsight I probably should have watched it without the distractions of riding the rollers. My mind is still digesting it.

Sunday, I hopped on the rollers for another 25 miles and right away, noticed that my wattage was hanging around my defined power@LT, and it really wasn't all that hard. I finished up the ride in just over one hour twenty, and my average wattage was over my estimated P@LT, with my best 60 minute interval coming in at 258W average. The motivating part is, it really felt like a moderately tough tempo ride, not like the effort of an all-out time trial.

So that tells me a couple things. Firstly, as expected this early in the season, my wattage versus perceived exertion is climbing quickly with each ride. Secondly, I really need to do a serious LT test to get a more accurate P@LT measurement so I can define my training to be as efficient as possible.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Riding Tempo

I've declared this week "tempo week" for me. After being off the bike for about six weeks now due to uprooting the gym and moving to the new house, followed by a two week bout of fever, coughing and little sleep at night with near-bronchitis, I'm finally getting back to it. I was recently invited to join the local amateur Colavita Racing team, and I'm looking forward to riding with teammates and to the motivation that comes with the peer pressure of being on a team. No one wants to be the slowest guy on the squad, right?

So, last night was my second night in a row in the attic, riding tempo for an hour. For me right now, that means an average of a little over 230 watts. I'm enjoying my new PowerTap, my latest gadget with which to rate my performance. It's an especially good tool for indoor training, as it keeps me from slacking off on the power output while riding the rollers. I'm getting re-acquainted with the weights as well, and starting a plan focusing on deadlifts and core exercises, and of course, plenty of squats to work the quads. I follow that all up with plenty of stretching to keep my knees from complaining too loudly. Cyclists are prone to tightness, especially in the hamstrings and IT bands, due to our limited range of motion, and I'm certainly no exception. Used to be, I'd try to touch my toes and count myself lucky if I could get past my knees. As the years have ticked by, stretching has become more and more important, and I'm finding greater and greater gains from it. Last season, my fourteenth year of racing, was my best so far and I attribute it mostly to increasing my flexibility and speed of muscle recovery through a dedicated stretching plan.

So here I am, at what, for all intents and purposes, is the beginning of my fifteenth season of racing, and I'm going to try to make it better than ever before. Next week, after spending the next few days on the rollers just getting the legs used to spinning again, and getting the lungs used to breathing again, there will be some longer, tougher intervals starting to show up on the schedule.

On other notes, I've declared the leak in the bathroom dead and gone. Stop back to the attic in a couple days, and I'll have some oh-so-terribly exciting pics of PVC epoxy clay and drywall patches. See you then.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

My First Hole in the Wall

I've torn my first hole in the ceiling and wall behind the shower to expose a leaky pipe. Taking a drill and drywall saw to an otherwise relatively fine looking wall is a big step.

We noticed a stain on the ceiling and wall behind the shower would darken every time we showered, and the area felt wet to the touch. I found it hard to understand why the previous owners would run the shower supply lines over the back of the shower, but that had to be the problem. Right?

So Saturday morning, after a trip to the hardware store, I drilled then cut into the drywall. Small hole. Bigger hole. Bigger hole. Bigger hole.

Finally, I'd exposed enough to locate not water supply pipes but the 4" PVC sewer vent pipe. This section of the pipe had a couple elbows as it went over then up to join the original cast iron pipe that goes up through the roof to let sewer gas out and air in during draining. Strange though, as this pipe should be dry since all the drains are below this point. The supply pipes for the shower were nowhere to be found.

I turned on the shower and let it run. No leaks. Yet the remaining stain on the wall darkened.

Ah, shoot. It became obvious now that the wall had been previously patched and painted over. However, they apparently hadn't primed with a shellac-based stain-killer paint, so whenever we showered and water condensed a little on the wall, the stain would show through. Since it was obvious that the wall had been patched, I assumed that the leak had been patched as well at some point in the past and I'd just cut a big hole in the wall for nothing, when some primer and new paint would have done the trick. Sigh.

I packed up the tools and planned what I'd need to start my first drywall patch job.

Early Sunday morning, around 3:30 AM, my pager went off with a problem at work. I fiddled on the computer downstairs for a half hour or so to fix the problem, then headed back to bed. A soft rain was falling outside. I walked past the bathroom door. The house was dark and quiet.




Ah ha! Rain!

I climbed the ladder I'd left in the shower stall and there it was. The second elbow on the PVC pipe was dropping a single drip every few seconds. It wasn't running into the wall anymore, but was dropping off the end of the horizontal framing over the door clear to the floor inside the wall. The rain was falling into the open sewer vent pipe and eventually finding this pinhole leak in the PVC fitting. Left alone, it would eventually work its way down into the kitchen ceiling, leaving a trail of rotted wood along the way.

So, the hole in the wall turned out to be a good thing, and after a couple more trips to the hardware store, I'm now armed with some epoxy, fiberglass tape, and a big rubber coupler with clamps that I'm going to attempt a patch with. A better fix would be to replace the problem pipe with new pipe, properly primed and glued. However, that would require a monster-sized hole in the wall and a new venture into some serious plumbing, something I'm not yet prepared to do. I'll clean it and patch it and hope for the best.

Then come spring, I'll look for a rain-diverting vent cap (do they make them for sewer vents?) and hire someone with a long ladder and an absent fear of heights to scramble up on the roof and put it on.

New house. Better attic.

This is where my blog begins. We've bought our first house and moved in. It's a great three-story 1898 Victorian, much larger than we had intended to buy, but the price was right and we couldn't pass up on the character in the house. Tin ceiling, great woodwork, the whole thing. The house was in disrepair five or so years ago, but the folks who bought it then made extensive, major renovations but then were forced to move. They left plenty of small fix-it projects for us to finish to really make it our own.

The attic is a wide-open finished room and perfect for our rollers, some weights, and a TV with plenty of cycling videos. The attic is where I'll be spending lots of time riding when it's nasty outside, which is pretty often around here in central New York. The attic is where my commitment to my sport will be tested. The attic is likely where the level of my success in the summer's races will be determined. Welcome to the attic.

Drop by for a visit anytime. Most times, I'll be in the attic riding and writing about training and racing. Other times I'll be somewhere else in the house keeping myself busy doing some home repairs, and I'll let you know how those are going just for the fun of it. See you soon.