Thursday, 23 July 2009

Information - Help or Hinder

Anyone I have communicated with who is remotely involved in cycling, and many people who are not would have been informed with not very much humility of my Mt Coot-tha climb on Tuesday morning.

It was dark, it was cold and I confess to asking myself just what the hell I was doing there.

I did the alternative approach to the start line by going up through Bardon and past Sommerville College. Yes, the soft way. At the right hand turn onto the mountain road, I stopped to adjust my headlight - it was very, very dark - and waited a moment deciding whether I would continue or not. But being there, it seemed silly to go back and I reconciled the situation by deciding on one only accent.

Just as I reached the start line, another cyclist came up beside me and said hello calling me by name. I had no idea who it was in the dark and must have looked puzzled until he said his name, Stephen.

Stephen is a very strong cyclist and was straight out of the saddle doing a strength exercise riding a 54/18 and continued to do so until he was out of my site some about 5 minutes later.

On crossing the start line, I hit the timer and just settled into my rhythm, aware that in the dark I was unable to read my bike computer or heart rate monitor therefore having no idea of speed, cadence, time elapsed or heart rate.

Having nothing to distract me, I simply concentrating on my pedal stroke and breathing.

My perception was of doing a reasonable climb but due to the recent hamstring injury restricting my training, I had no expectations of a great climb. I was thinking something around the 12 minute mark.

Up I went, pedal stroke and breathing. I overtook a few people and was aware of being overtaken (once). I was also aware I was not breathing anywhere near as heavily as the others on the mountain so I pushed a little harder.

This is a regular climb and I have several land marks I aim for. There is a part of the mountain that kicks a few percent for 300 or so metres. I have a tree at this part of the climb after which I allow myself to get out of the saddle but only until the armcor barrier starts again. (I usually count 100 pedal strokes). I was a little surprised to get to it seemingly quickly and in no distress so I clicked it up 2 gears, got off my butt and started counting to 100. And at 75, clicked it up another gear.

I settled back in the seat after 100 down thrusts and regained rhythm until the last 100 metres where I went for the line. Hitting the timer as I crossed the line I was thinking a time in the high 11 minutes. Stopping to get a look at the timer in the bike headlight, I was shocked and surprised to see 10 minutes 49 seconds. By far my best time.

So what does this tell me?

Perhaps it tells me that riding on feel and concentrating on doing the genuinelly important things really well is the key priority. After all, what is more important than breathing and pedalling when cycling.

Perhaps it also tells me that having speed and cadence data available means I actually hold myself back at some level of perceived (but not actual) maximum effort.

I do ride to some heart rate rules determined by my cardiologist. I therefore expected my monitor download to reveal that I had exceeded my required limits. But no, if anything, they were on the low side when compared to other Mt Coot-tha climbs.

The questions I have are:
  • Can all the on board data we have available actually result in us applying some form of mental hand break on our performances?
  • Is how we analyse and use our data in planning training and assessing race performances more important than having the information on hand during the ride or race?
I think the answers are to combine both - somehow.

By the way, does anyone have a spare power meter?

For the record, I completed the loop and then headed up the short side to the Cafe - just to cool down.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Spaced Out

There seems to be considerable interest in the 40th anniversary of Man walking on the moon

I was a young boy in the late 1960’s and an avid Space Junkie.

On the day of and the day after the moon walk, I convinced my parents to purchase each of the daily newspapers then published in Melbourne and still have them to this day. The Sun, The Age, and The Herald. And I kept the entire newspaper too rather than just the sections on the moon walk and they are today among of my prized possessions. Worthless to anyone else; priceless to me.

As a student in Grade 5 of Canterbury State School in Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs, the Space Missions of the year were followed with keen interest and passion. On the day of the moon walk, the class moved across the road to a fellow student's residence where we gathered around a black and white television and watched in amazement as Neil Armstrong descended the ladder of the Lunar Landing Module, took the final step and uttered one of the most well known phrases of the century.
Man walked on the moon. And I am sure I was one of many, many millions to gaze at the moon that evening wondering if it looked any different.

But the mission that most took my attention, and is remembered by me with even clearer recollection is the flight of Apollo 8.
The Apollo 8 flight took place between the 21st and 27th of December 1968 and was very, very special.

It was the first time a manned space craft had been powered by the Saturn 5 rockets that formed the cornerstone of the moon missions.

It was the first flight to have hot and cold water options for the astronauts. As a result, there was a far more expansive diet than ever before.

It represented the first time Man had entered the Moon’s orbit. It was also the first time Man had viewed the “dark side of the moon”.

And the photos of the moon rise were spectacular to say the least. And by all accounts, we were lucky to have them.

Apollo 8 only circumnavigated the moon 1o times and a key task of the time spent in lunar orbit was for the crew to take photographs of the surface of the moon. Photographic mapping you might say.

The objective was to try and locate suitable areas for the eventual landing on the surface of the moon.

They had been on the “dark side” and out of radio contact with Mission Control. To facilitate the photographic assignment, the craft was rotated in its orbit so that the windows were more directly facing the lunar surface. The rotating of the craft also meant the radio aerials were turned away from the Earth but as there was no contact possible on the dark side this obviously did not matter.

As they began to emerge from the dark side, the Commander commenced the process to rotate the craft back to its usual position so that radio contact could be resumed. It was when this began to happen that the Astronauts effectively looked over their shoulders and witnessed the amazing spectacle of the Earth rising above the horizon of the moon. With camera’s still in hand, they snapped the scene unfolding in front of them and in doing so, captured what perhaps rank among the most famous and most viewed photographs of all time. (other than photos including people)

I recall a discussion at school about these photos. The teacher was talking about the Christopher Columbus voyage to prove the world was round however, it is only as a result of photos such as those taken by Apollo 8 that we really do know the world is round. The thought that it has taken the Apollo 8 mission to prove the “round earth” theory certainly captivated my young adventurers imagination.

Looking back now, even though the Apollo Spacecraft possessed less computer power than a simple calculator, the technology must have been mind blowing.

We have certainly lived through an incredible revolution in electronic communications technology.

But in this era, over a relatively short lifetime, the revolution in human transportation (or human personal communications) was nothing short of remarkable.

My Grandfather was born in 1896. His life started in an era when the internal combustion engine was in its infancy and the four wheel motor car were being invented. By the end of his life, international jet aircraft travel was an everyday event and man had not only walked on the moon, but was basically "over it". It must almost have been beyond belief to his generation.

And, this evolution must surely rank with, if not surpass the change from transmitting morse code by wire to the world of mobile technology we enjoy today. In fact, if it was not for the space program, the communications revolution would not have occurred.

So, next week on the 21st July (Australian Time) spare a thought for the pioneers of the 1960's who conquered the moon. But also, spare a thought for the ground breaking Apollo 8 team that in many ways, made it all possible.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

A Weekend that Was

A rather 'large' weekend is coming to a close.

The schedule:

1. Bike Race Saturday Morning

2. Watching Bryce (youngest son) play Division 2 hockey game at Colmslie

3. AFL Game at Gold Coast - Richmond v Adelaide (Bryce is a Richmond supporter)

4. Tour de France commences (a must see from Monaco)

5. Gold Coast Half Marathon.

I wont bore you again with comment about the bike race - the report is on titled "If you are a Goose - Stay on the farm"

I wont even bore you with the hockey game - which is code for we lost.

In fact, I missed the first 20 minutes. There had been a fatality on the motorway so all traffic had to divert through the city. A 20 minute trip became a 65 minute trip and I actually missed the first 20 minutes of the game.

Fortunately, Bryce had gone with his Mother much earlier and was there on time.

The trip to the Gold Coast was uneventful. Before going to the game, I needed to call in at the Gold Coast Convention Centre and collect race kit for the next day. I had also decided to change from the half marathon to the 10 kilometre event. I figured that one run of about 6 kilometres every 3 weeks over the last 12 weeks may not really be quite the right preparation for a 21 kilometre event. Besides, doing something as sensible as the 10 k event may be a long overdue sign of maturity and common sense. Who knows?

However, changing events meant lining up and standing in a slow moving line for 70 minutes is not my idea of a relaxing time.

On to the game. It was cold, very cold and because of the earlier delay changing events, all seats were sold. Standing room only for nearly 3 hours. It was a pretty ordinary game and Richmond lost.

Now it would have been easier to stay on the Gold Coast - and that was the intention however Bryce had made (late) plans for Sunday that only a 16 year old can make. (not as if I needed to know)

He did enjoy the game despite the Richmond loss. It is actually the first time he has seen them play live. Mind you, the fact that a group of about thirty girls aged 15 to 17 arrived just after we did and took up residence just in front of us perhaps added to his enjoyment. (Although he did tell me they were too young)

Game done at 10 pm and the drive back to Brisbane was uneventful and concluded with enough time to make a cup of tea before the Tour de France coverage commenced.

Being very disciplined, I decided that common sense dictate I only watch a few riders in the Time Trial - perhaps until Lance goes through. So I see Lance go through and he sets fastest time to date. I better wait and see how long that holds up. It doesn't hold for long but Levi is on a fast time so better wait and see if he takes the lead. He does. I wonder how Kloden will go? Better wait and see. Well it is now 2 am and I head off for a couple of hours sleep before the trip back to the Gold Coast.

The good thing is the start of the 10 k race is 25 minutes later than the half marathon - bonus.

Alarm set for 4.10 am and I am awake almost before I am asleep. Up, dressed, wetbix x 6, cup of tea (and one for the car), water bottles, Gu's and jelly beans - all set.

I then collect "the colleague" and off we go. I should explain "the colleague". The colleague offered to come along and be my support crew and if need be, relief driver. However, I am under threat of punishment "worse than death" if I make any reference at all the the colleague's name, sex, occupation, hair colour, eye colour or dress etiquette. Hence "The Colleague".

A quick trip back to the Coast and a car park is found in a side street a short walk from the start area. Easy. The half marathon runners have just got underway and we are called to marshall. Off with the tracksuit, stretch, jog, stretch again, jog again etc etc and all ready on the start area, taking my place with the group who nominated a time per kilometre of between 4 and 5 minutes.

I was looking around at my fellow competitors in this category and wondering what the hell all these elite athletes were doing starting with my group. And why are they all about 30 years old?

While waiting, my mind wonders. It occurs to me that my preparation for the race over the last 24 hours might be unique and I am wondering if this is an advantage. I mean, there is no point being unique unless you get an advantage is there?

I wonder who else has drained themselves in a bike race the day before, stood up watching a hockey game, driven to the Gold Coast, stood up in the cold for 3 hours at an AFL game, driven to Brisbane, had a touch over 2 hours sleep and driven to the Gold Coast again. I am thinking I must have a competitive advantage hear.

I then wonder if my pre race diet this last 24 hours will be equally beneficial. After some thought I tick off a 24 diet of a weet bix breakfast pre bike race, 3 fruit muffins, one cup of pumpkin soup, 2 plain multi grain rolls, about 10 cups of tea, a grape fruit, 3 apples, another weetbix breakfast and a vanilla bean Gu. This did not seem good at the time - and looks even worse when I see it in words now.

In the meantime, the Colleague is trying to take some photos.

Remarkably, the race begins and I am feeling good. Rhythm is great and I am certainly overtaking more people than are overtaking me.

I start to pick out a person 50 or so metres in front and concentrate on stride pattern consistency until I overtake them before repeating the process, again, and again.

On checking my heart rate, I realise that 165 is probably too high but I am coasting so I ignore it and concentrate on beathing patterns which brings it down to around 150 without costing pace.

Inevitably, these events form an almost "bell curve" shape. They thin out at the front and the rear and bunch up in the middle.

We are coming into the 5 k sign and I realise I am at the back of the strung out line at the front and am ticking over 4 minute k's - easily. Hell, time to up the pace and effort.

Keep the rhythm I tell myself, this fun.

Coming into 7 k's and still feeling good. Heart Rate around the 155 mark but not long to go. Right hamstring is a little tight, but it usually is - after all, it has literally been pulled or strained 20 or more times.

At 7k's there is a drink station and I grab one slowing down to drink it before ditching the cup and getting back to my pace and stride.

Onwards, 100 metres, 200 metres 300 metres and the runner behind sticks a screw driver in the back of my leg about 10 cm above the knee. Or that is what it felt like.

Of course, it wasn't a screw driver but it was a feeling akin to something pinching my hamstring every time I took a stride. I try taking shorter steps to relief the discomfort but that doesn't work so I try longer steps which also doesn't work. I try various strike methods - outside of foot, different heel pattern etc etc all to little effect so I try limping and this doesn't work either.

All the time I refuse to walk - to walk is to lose.

I am going slowly now.

I try to take my mind elsewhere to take my mind off the pain and this sort of works for small periods of time. I imagine I am looking out across the waters of the Whitsundays to Bali Hi, I am reciting the words of Man from Snowy River,and do I know all the words from Smoke on the Water?

And where is that blasted 8 k sign. I must have reached it by now. I have it appears as there is a 9 k sign up in front. Thank God.

Looking down the road and what do I see. The last kilometre is mainly up hill. Great, however running an incline actually seems to be easier on the hamstring.

We turn right and enter the last 400 or so metres through a barricaded area lined 4 and 5 deep on both sides with spectators cheering. It was electric.

I have played a fair bit of sport and coached too. I have also played at a reasonable level. Unfortunately, the sport I have played most, does not attract crowds very often. I have perhaps only played in front of significant crowds on 3 occasions and recall it being a thrill.

Running these last 400 metres through the crowd was awesome. The noise raised the adrenalin level and I hardly felt the leg at all. It was amazing.

My last 2 kilometres took forever and really destroyed my time. I finished in a touch over 50 minutes. If I had been offered this time at the start I would have gladly taken it but given where I was through 7 k's, it was ultimately disappointing.

I will be back next year for the half marathon and I will prepare properly.

This weekends events on the Gold Coast are sensational and I want to be part of it again, and again and again.

In the meantime, I will be reacquainting myself with physio staff at Queensland Sports Medicine Centre this week.

As an aside, when the Colleague and I headed back to the car, we couldn't find it. Well we did, but only after wasting 90 minutes looking. Amazingly, it was where we had parked it. I blame the Colleague.