Thursday, July 19, 2007

Creative Climbing

Training for one of the hilliest 1-day multi-sport races in the world while living in the flattest country in the world is .... well, paradoxical to say the least. Perhaps it's the isolation from hill country that makes this hillseeker yearn for the impractical. To make up for not having the Eiger (or the North Georgia Gaps or Denver's Deer Creek Canyon) in my backyard, I've been forced to enter the realm of creative hill training. Here's what I've invented thus far:

Col du Stairs
  • I'm fortunate to work in a building with 17 floors. I made the mistake of mentioning this to Coach Lisa when we started to design my training program. My first 20-minute stair run was TOUGH in a "why on earth would I intentionally subject myself to this insanity" kind of way. My heart-rate went from 70 to 170 in the first five steps -- 1 flight in and I was almost at max heart rate. Six flights up and I was cursing my training directions that said "keep your head up and spring off each step". Yeah, how about I keep my head in my gut and use the rail to hold my weight while I slowly drag each foot up a step. With time though, things improved and now it takes at least a flight and a half to get to max heart rate!
  • Stair machine ... oh , how I can't stand the stair machine. First, it's got the word "stair" in it. That's just not a value-add word and doesn't conjure up the goose bumps on my skin like the words "peak", "summit", and "drinking wine while looking out over a glacier in a desolate Alaska national park". Second, it's a machine that has no bling value -- no titanium, no carbon fiber, no aerodynamic properties -- just a blocky, dull-looking machine. Third (and perhaps the biggest issue I have with it), it's tied to the indoors. If I could take the stair machine for a run through the forest, I'd have found a winning formula. Anyway, once a week, I have to will myself to stand in place in the gym (usually when the weather is stellar and everybody is outside except for me) stepping up and down, up and down, boring, yawn.

  • What the Netherlands lacks in hills, she makes up for in wind. It's that in-your-face kind of wind that never seems to pause to catch it's breath --- "blow, blow, blow (ha-ha!) blow .. I'm still blowing while I'm talking to you ... blow ... I'm mocking you Mr. cyclist on your aero bars trying to escape me ... blow ... oh, you think you can tuck in and hide from me .... blow ... how about this ... blow ... from the side and the front ... blow". The downside is that it simulates a mind-numbing (and annoying) 2% incline. Enough to notice and to create a pace that doesn't seem slow enough to count as climbing, but doesn't seem fast enough to deserve credit for an athletic cycling experience. And there's just something about mountain views that makes real climbing so spectacular. Wind-climbing is mental, oh yes, very mental.
  • Wind-climbing is taken to a whole new level when I'm on my SUV bike. That mega basket on the front (the milk crate that weighs more than my road frame) is the ultimate wind catcher. On rides home from work I've literally been stopped in my tracks by gusts of wind that seem to grab that basket in a dozen spots and hold on for dear life trying to throw me over the handlebars. At times like that, I try to bend over to become more aero, but that's like hiding behind a 4x8 sheet of plywood that you're pushing into the wind. It's just no use. Fortunately, when it's windy like this, it's also usually raining. I actually love it when the weather reaches a point that it's so bad that it's just laughable. I've had more than a few nights riding home in the dark, in a nice suit, in a rain and wind storm -- just laughing a mad scientist's laugh!

  • Tacx trainer. Here's where we get to the Cool factor (bring on the gadgets!). I learned about the Dutch company Tacx a couple years before I had any idea I'd be living in Europe for a while. I looked them up once I got settled here and jumped on the chance to bring the French Alps into my living room. Tacx has created a very cool PC program that is integrated with what looks like a typical wind trainer. It's far from typical though. I'll save the description of this fine gadgetry for their own website, but what I will mention is that it allows you to bike inside with your performance synchronized with real life video of some of the most famous cycling routes in the world. While you're taking in great scenery (and hurting on 10%+ inclines), you get all kinds of data on the screen -- which tech-heads like me really enjoy (like heart rate, wattage, % incline, cadence, etc.). Having now suffered through ... I mean enjoyed ... multi-hour indoor climbing sessions on the bike, I can say that it's possible to bike the big mountains (e-mountains) while confined to the flats of Amsterdam.

  • Perhaps this is cheating, but the final way I've found to get in hill-training is to go to the hills. I've already mentioned our train time in visiting the southern part of the Netherlands and Belgium. With most of Europe within two hours of flying, we were able to escape to Girona for early season hills and recently we snuck away to France for our first riding in the Alps (future posting) and to Switzerland for mountain running (and more gawking at stunning peaks). While we're getting bored with the flats of Amsterdam, we're very happy to be really close by air to some of the best cycling in the world!
A final note ... a few weeks ago, I had my first (and hopefully last) injury in preparing for this race. It led to a few days off from training and a week of frustrating deviations from my planning routine. Want to know how it happened? Remember that huge bike lock that I described in My New SUV. Well, I did a big 5 minute ride on my city bike to the train station, hefted that mega lock out of my panniers, bent down to lock the bike, and bam -- out went my back. Reminds me of my "stupid injuries" post from a few years ago -- well, that's another one to add to the list!

Thanks for reading,


Sonia said...

If you guys ever move to Seattle, you'll get to experience the perfect frequency of weather "so bad it's great" -- once or twice a year. I know what you mean about the mad scientist laugh. Bwah-hah-hah-ha-ha! :-)

Karin said...

Sipping my planters punch at a beautiful island Martinique, looking at the moon mirroring in the Carribean Sea I'm wondering whatever drives you to do these terrible things. Martinique is full of hills... upto 1400 metre, the vulcano Roads are very steep.....whilst driving you can't see the cars coming from the other side until you're over the top. We saw a cycling championship in 30 degrees and 85 percent humidity.... Yuk... How lazy feel in our villa with simmming pool or sitting (again) in a nice creole/local restaurant enjoying langouste with carribean bears or cocktails.. After which the siesta is obligitory......
Keep up the wonderful spirit! Best regards from Karin with Herman and kids from the non-english, really non-english speaking island Martinique....
X Karin

Karin said...

Sipping from the planters punch enjoying the moon of Martinique mirroring in the carribean sea I really feel very lazy reading all your adventures. Lots of hills upto 1400 metres (vulcano) here as well but I would't stimulate you to climb them. Driving here you sometimes can't even see the cars coming to you from the other side of the hills... so steep and then in combination with the temperature! 30 degrees with humidity of 85%!!! Only weather for swimming, snorkling, dining, cocktails and siesta! 3 weeks of laid back attitude :-) But I must say, reading about your stairs experience... sign up for the NN competition in Rotterdam! But please feel not attracted by this island. It's very beautiful, warm and very green, but its still french....everything is in French, English is for aliens... :-) If you don't speak french you hardly can get to the right places..... Pfff... fortunately we know some french so we can get around..and order the necessary langouste, acras, and creole rice.
Nous vous salutations avec nos meilleurs sentiments,
Karin et famille.....

Sean said...

Sorry to hear about your back! You can't afford to slow down now. ;-)

Good luck with the last bit of training time that you have before the big day! I've got less than ten weeks before the 50k...gotta figure out what I'm going to do with all of that time. Ha!...maybe run, run and run some more?

Take care of yourself! Oh, and good luck with move prep.