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Monthly Archives: January 2012

The art of the push up in the office workout

I’ve written before about my office workout routine, it isn’t much – I do a lot of push ups and I ride my bike on a trainer.  It won’t get me the build of Arnold, but it builds enough strength in my upper body so that I don’t hunch after running five miles.  Think about that if you have a tough time with distance running – are you slouching as you tire?  That’s a big problem you’ll need to correct if so – it’s one of the major reasons distance running is so tough.

We should all know that push ups are one of the best exercises you can do but also because they’re easy, free and they don’t require a trip to the gym.  For those of us with desk jobs and families, they’re golden.  200 push ups in a day (in five sets of 40 in my case) take about 15 minutes – total, and you won’t have to change clothes to do them.  And over time, they’ll get you ripped, big time.

There is a problem inherent in a push up though and that’s what this post is about.  It’ll be short, I promise.

Have you ever noticed that you tend to favor your dominate hand when you do a push up?  If you haven’t, do 200 push ups a day for a month and look in the mirror.  You’ll see it.  There is a simple fix for this though.  While you’re doing the second half of your push ups, look towards the direction of your dominant arm – simply turn your head.  Your weight should naturally shift slightly to your weak side.  Don’t ask me why, I can’t tell you – I just figured it out a year or so ago out of necessity.

For example, I’m left-handed.  I turn my head to the left (keeping my head on the proper plane), as if I were looking off my left shoulder.  I have to be careful with this though.  The simple act of turning my head adds weight to my right lat (the muscle under your shoulder on your back).  Too many push ups with my head turned and I end up with a bigger lat on the right.  Balance is a funny thing.  So important, yet so difficult to achieve.

By the way, if you’re having a tough time getting from 3 to 5 miles, or from 5 to 7 or 10, if you don’t already work out, try a hundred push ups five days a week for three or four weeks – I’d be willing to bet you’re faster and can run longer because you won’t be slouching as you tire.

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Tri Bike or Road Bike? If It Can’t Be Both

The obvious answer to the question, should I get this [insert class of bike here] or this [insert class of bike here], is:  I should get both given money and spousal approval are not an object in the discussion.  Of course, living in the world we do, money not being an object is rarely the case and if money is an object, spousal support won’t be there.  Take for instance my distant desire to get a Tri Bike.  By distant desire, I mean it’s out there.  Keeping in mind that I am definitely fitting in a Half Ironman in there somewhere, a Tri Bike would absolutely help with the 56 mile ride (and get me to the finish line that much faster).

Now, even if I don’t look at the Trek Speed 9.9 that I’d want (at $10,000 without the upgrades), this is just too far out of my league for the foreseeable future.  More in the realm of “I won’t get served divorce papers” for buying this bike after a couple of stellar years and some intensive pre-purchase discussion, is the Speed 7.0

Trek Speed 7.0

This is a darn fine tri bike with a lot of nice bells and whistles and it retails for less than $2,700.  It’s a full carbon frame with SRAM components.  There is no denying that this bike would be head and shoulders above my current road bike (which is also full carbon and has even better components) for a triathlon.

Now, I’ve read a lot of discussion lately about whether or not one should buy a triathlon bike, assuming that money will be an issue (because we’ve already got the answer if it’s not), you would have to look at distance.  Anything under a half Ironman is a no-brainer…  Buy a road bike, slam the stem and drop a couple of aero bars on it.  Either a half or full Ironman?  Well, now we have a discussion.  I can tell you without a second’s hesitation, I will be doing my half Ironman with my road bike.  It’s not even a question, but that’s my decision.  Yours may be different.

Trek Madone 4.6

Let’s look at the why of this decision though.  The first factor that I have to look at is that I’m getting old.  Too old for a podium finish anyway.  So then I have to look at whether or not I want to blow that kind of coin on a bike I’m going to use for one race, one single purpose, to win my age group.  That’s simple to me:  No.  That takes care of the money issue.  I don’t even have to ask my wife about the spousal support issue.  I doubt she would be angry enough to file papers over the bike (of course,  I wouldn’t be dumb enough to find out the hard way either) but we could do a lot of good things with $2,700 as a family and my 5200 will serve the purpose just fine.  So that basically takes care of the emotional baggage attached to the question.

The mechanics are important too, though.  The images above are of a Trek Time Trial (Triathlon) Bike and a Trek Madone 4.6 Road Bike (though serious attention should be paid to Specialized, now that’s a Tri Bike).  I have the photos stacked on top of one another so that you can see what I’m describing.  Look at the seat tube on the TT bike and the road bike…the road bike’s seat tube is at a greater angle away from the handle bars.  This is great for getting to the drops but not so much for getting to aero bars.  Also, the seat position is meant to work two muscle groups as well – your quads and your glutes.  The TT bike, with its upright seat tube is meant to mainly work the quads, which aren’t used as much in running (if you’re wondering, yes it matters, you save the glutes and thereby hamstrings for the run) and to get your elbows to the rests and hands to the bar ends.  If you’ve ever noticed, even with the tube angle of the TT bike, racers still ride on the front half of the seat:

Don’t read too much into these photo’s of Lance’s bikes…  Hint, look at the seat tube.  He’s Time Trialing…  He won’t be running a marathon after he’s done, guaranteed.  It’s a different set up, I was just trying to show the creep to the front of the seat.

Here’s another with the proper seat tube angle, notice how he’s creeping up on his seat?  In any event, in order to get into this position on a road bike, you’ve gotta keep the elbow rests back of the bars more than you would think or slide your seat forward (or both) or buy a specific seat post to get your butt forward.  If you’re riding less than 112 miles, a road bike can be made to perform the task.  This isn’t perfect, and going cheap has it’s problems (detailed here, what, just yesterday?).  Also, to be certain, we’re talking about doing here, not competing.  Unless you’re looking at a Sprint or Olympic, and have one heck of a strong run and swim leg, you will not be competing with a trained athlete on a Triathlon bike on the bike leg.  The geometry is too race specific between the two bikes and it matters.  If you’re looking at a Sprint, chances are if you have a decent high-end road bike you’ll have an advantage on the pack, same with an Olympic length, though equipment starts getting more expensive there.

Now, I’ve given several technical reasons to get spend the money on a Triathlon bike, let’s look at the numerous reasons to pass and get a road bike.  For training and simply getting your base miles in, a road bike is infinitely more comfortable – a Tri bike is built for one thing, and one thing only, speed.  Also, you won’t be as welcome (if at all) in a group ride with a Tri bike because your hands are too far away from the brakes.  You present a danger to the others that you would ride with because you can’t get to the brakes in an emergency (click on the “present a danger” link and watch the video to see exactly what I mean) .  I am a social exerciser, the more the merrier, so I’m looking very forward to group rides this summer – I can’t enjoy that experience on a Tri bike.  Also, being doubled over for an extended period of time is not fun and it’s a difficult position for climbing and descending – if you want to have a harrowing experience, find a decent hill, something that will get you going about 50+ mph (80 km/h) with a bend or two in it, clip on some aero bars and try to negotiate that with your hands a couple of centimeters apart (when I clip my aero bars on, I turn the handles in so that my hands are right next to each other, creating a triangle with my arms rather than two straight lines punching through the wind – it feels faster to me though it’s aggressive and a little harder to control the bike).  It’s much more stable on the drops.  In short, a road bike is far more versatile.

In the end, I have to choose between form and function and cost when it comes to my ride.  I will be better off in a Triathlon, but nowhere else on a Tri bike, and I’ll definitely be able to ride a Road bike where I can’t on a Tri bike.  And of course, there’s this photo from the Ironman World Championships:

As a side note, for those who didn’t know, look at the distance between the ridersdrafting is illegal in a triathlon.  If you are closer than three bike lengths you have to pass within 15 seconds or you are penalized, so there’s that too.

UPDATE (9-8-2013): I recently purchased a Specialized Venge Comp, the frame of which is based on the Shiv TT bike. The seat post is reversible, giving the rider a 22 mm offset and has enough stem spacers that the handlebar can be dropped to make room for aero bars, making it, in effect, a formidable TT bike. It’s quite a remarkable road bike.

Aw Yeah, A Puddin’ Deconstruction

My wife asked an interesting question the other day in regards to the differences between my Trek and Cannondale.  She wanted to know the difference between the two, or why I like the Trek so much more.  My Cannondale is a 56cm frame while the Trek is a 58cm and she also wondered how there could possibly be a difference in ride with only a 2 cm difference in frame sizes.  I can say this for sure, the differences between the two bikes are great, and now that I’ve had a  chance to ride the Trek outdoors, I can do a fair deconstruction of differences;  I’ll go from most to least important.

I’ll begin with sizing first, because it’s made the most difference and it’s fairly simple.  First of all, the Cannondale is a Criterium Race Frame, meaning it’s a more compact design.  If we were to stack a picture of the Cannondale Race frame and the Criterium frame, there’s quite a difference.  The front rake is completely different on the Race Frame.  This is where I got into trouble on the Cannondale.  Being 6’0″, a 56cm frame is on the extreme low-end for my height.  The problem with the Cannondale is that it’s not only too short (by 2 cm which should not be a big deal or so it should seem) it’s also compact frame with a shorter wheel base.  The top tube on my Trek is 4cm longer than the Cannondale, so when I’m on the hoods or in the drops, I’m stretched out more on the Trek so my diaphragm can actually work properly to suck air into my lungs.  This was very noticeable yesterday.  This lead to not feeling like I was squished and out of breath all the time.   Because the Cannondale was so short and I had my seat way up to get the proper distance from the top of my pedal to the top of the seat, the bar stem – maxed out – was at least 10cm lower than the seat…  So I’ve got the worst of two worlds working against themselves:  I’ve got a short top tube and a huge drop to the bars.  I had to arch my back to get to the bars which compacted my core making it harder to breathe:

Cannondale Crit Frame                                                          Cannondale Race Frame

When you consider that the Trek 5200 is a race frame (so it’s stretched out, compared to Crit frame) and a full 2cm larger, the difference is considerable though it may not be as easy to understand why a difference of just over 3/4″ should matter.  Lastly, and this is a smallish detail, the actual top tube on the Cannondale sits lower by another couple of centimeters than does the Trek:

The difference would be akin to fitting in a Miata in lieu of a Benz SLR:

There is one problem inherent with fitting on the Trek though…  With the seat/bar drop on the Cannondale, I could get lower, in a more “aero” position and slice through the wind a little better (if only I didn’t have to arch my back to do it).  This position can be attained on the Trek, as I learned yesterday, if I only bend my arms slightly in the drops (which is proper form anyway because the bend at the elbows help to absorb bumps).  The combination of the flatter back and bent arms also means I don’t have to crane my neck to see the road which was a huge concern on the compact Cannondale.  My shoulders and neck were always strained and hurting after a ride longer than ten miles.

Another difference between the two is crank arm size.  The Trek’s cranks are 172.5 mm compared to 170 mm on the Cannondale – each arm of the crank is almost a full inch longer.  If I were 5’9″, the 170’s would be right, but I’m not, so I get the natural leverage on the pedals that works with my height.  This means I can power up a hill faster in an easier gear which translates into not being as taxed at the top.

Another difference is in frame material.  Aluminum frames are notoriously stiff while carbon fiber is a little more forgiving.  There are two schools of thought on this and in the end, it’s really up to the rider’s preference.  I could accelerate faster on the stiff aluminum frame of the Cannondale, but only by a second or so.  This translates into getting to speed faster, but once at speed, any little bump provided a little shock that made it harder to maintain my speed.  Just riding on rough pavement (it’s common in my neck of the woods for the road commission to spray tar on the road and top that with fine gravel to resurface the road) made maintaining speed unbearable.  I have a mile and a half stretch on my usual 14-16 mile course that is uphill and resurfaced as I described.  That stretch is the ugliest on my ride – on the Cannondale, I’d have to dig deep just to keep at 15 mph because of the combination of climb and rough pavement.  The Trek’s carbon frame, on the other hand, is a lot more forgiving on the rough roads and I was able to maintain 17 mph on the steeper climb and 19 mph on the flatter (but still uphill) section – and that was with a killer cross wind:

So this comes down to that matter of preference:  Trade the responsive acceleration for a smoother ride and faster speeds on the rough patches or keep the acceleration and pound through the rough patches…  For me, I like the smoother ride.  It translates into a faster overall time at the end – by a long shot and I’m not going to have to fight through the demoralization associated with that climb anymore.  To me, the question answers itself.

Finally, we get into the intangibles.  My 1990 Cannondale was fitted with the RX100 Group.  All of the components worked well (I believe the equivalent in today’s terms would be Tiagra) but the bike had the shifters on the down tube.  The Trek, on the other hand, is fitted with the Ultegra Group and STI shifters.  Shifting is not even in the same ball park – heck, it’s barely in the same time zone.  In addition, the rims on the Cannondale (700×23) are the standard square U-shape while the Trek has V-shaped Rolf Vector wheels.  Even considering the additional material, the vector wheels (while reportedly heavy) are considerably lighter than those on the Cannondale…  Another great plus with the Rolf Vector Comp wheels is that they’re darn near bullet proof in terms of staying true, the Cannondale rims require a little more work to keep true.

There was a very big lesson in this for me too.  I tried to get by on the cheap with the Cannondale.  The price was right, $300 for a road bike is darn good, especially when you consider that the construction of the Cannondale is top notch.  The problem therein was that I tried to fit that 56 cm bike to me to achieve the cost advantage and I figured I could “just learn to accept” the down tube shifters.  I didn’t want to ask my LBS’s opinion because I wasn’t spending the money there (and we all know how tacky that is).  I truly thought in my “noob-ness” that I could make the Cannondale fit me and learn to like it.  In the end, I got a great bike that made me suffer…and now I’ve gotta sell that Cannondale.

My main worry now is what happens if I crash the Trek…  If I go by the rules (#12), the proper amount of bikes to own is n+ 1 with a minimum of 3 – “n” being the number of bikes currently owned…  So that would be for me, minus the Cannondale, would be 3 (two road and my mountain bike).  However, part two of the rule is s-1, where “s” represents separation from the spouse.  Considering that, the number is definitely 2.  I’ll just have to take out an insurance policy on the Trek for replacement cost.

Aw Yeah, $240 Worth Of Pudding, Continued…

On checking the weather yesterday, which showed a spot of snow after the deluge of rain stopped followed by a glorious day today (at 40 degrees F to boot).  I envisioned an excellent ride on my new bike as I drifted off to sleep last night.  On waking, much to my shock and chagrin, we got a couple of inches last night.  The roads were covered and I figured it was unlikely that I’d get out this afternoon no matter how nice it was.

I was mistaken.  The roads dried out at about 3:00 this afternoon.  I just got back from a nice 14 mile ride on my new bike.  I averaged 18 mph with a killer 10-20 mph head wind/cross wind for most of the ride (3 of the 14 had a tail wind), so that 18 was pretty good, not to mention I spent a few minutes stuck at traffic lights.

In  any event, that Trek is one great bike.  Everything fit so well and the bike was so much more forgiving than I was used to with the aluminum Cannondale…  and quiet!

Next season is going to be fun – and I’ll be going into it in the best shape I’ve ever been in.

Tally for the week is 75 miles so far, with a 7.2 mile run due for tomorrow.

Tally for the month:  284 miles.

Total Calories burned for the month:  11,376

Running into The Zone

Runners talk of the joy, albeit usually fleeting, of running in the zone.  For the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume that everyone knows what this is…  That place where you’re cruising right along and you feel like you could run forever.  At first, entering the zone had more to do with the rush of endorphins that I wasn’t used to, those days were awesome but they didn’t last very long.  For quite a while after that the zone was rather fleeting, more like I fell into it from time to time.

This has changed quite a bit since I started working to define my aerobic zones (1-4).  Running in the zone hits around aerobic zones 3 and 4.  In my current level of fitness, taking the cold weather into account, we’re talking about a pace between 8:15 to 8:30 for 7 to 10 miles.  If my run is shorter than that, I really don’t worry too much about the zone because I’m trying to stay down under an 8 minute pace so I’m steadily in zone 4 with moments in zone 5.  In short, I’m working too hard to get there.

For me, getting into the zone is a very delicate balance that can be upset by not pushing hard enough or pushing too hard and this is why dropping into the zone was so illusive all those years.  I have to get it just right.  The beautiful thing is that I’ve been able to get there a lot more frequently lately with less effort – it isn’t so elusive anymore because I know where I have to be to get there.  This process began with the additional cardiovascular gain realized from cycling and my performance in the Crim 10 mile race.  I ran better than I can ever remember running at that race.  In fact, I blew by the two guys that work at my local running shop for the first time and it was awesome.  I could hear the owner say to Adam (the salesman) as I ran by, “Did he just sprint by us on Bradley Hills?” (that’s the second hardest part of the race).

There is a monkey wrench that changes everything with this though…  If running happens to be your thing, it’s a lot easier to find the zone because everything will happen more naturally for you.  Cycling works like this for me.  I may not be the fastest 41-year-old on two wheels, but I’m one of the happiest and I can find the zone easily because I love the work.  If you’ve had trouble finding the zone lately, give this a try – it works for me.

By the way:

I just read Embarrassing Dad’s post, here, and he reminded me of another neat little tip:  Don’t slow down going up hill.  This is where most people slow down to “conserve energy” – if you must, slow up just a touch before the hill and then push up it.  You won’t slow down as much on the flat and you’ll still have energy to push the hill.  When you start back down, lean down the hill by a degree or two and let gravity pull you down.  If you do it right, you’ll feel the pull.  Just make sure to adjust your stride to make up for the speed (I stretch mine out, others speed up the feet but keep their stride the same).  If you get a chance click on his link and give him a pat on the back, he just had a personal best.

 

Buying the proper running shoes

I’ve been noticing a lot of new runners, or cyclists turning to running to cross-train, blogging lately so I thought it apt to post about picking out your running shoes.

I run.  I’ve also made it quite obvious on this blog that I don’t have the same affinity for it that I do cycling.  On the other hand, running is what has gotten me back to a reasonable weight and kept me young – at least physically.  Running did not come easily for me though.  I began with shoes that were too small which lead to a lot of running pain that I had to work though, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing either because I gained a good deal of knowledge in repairing and avoiding the problems that caused it through working with my fantastic doctor, a kinesiologist who doesn’t do sitting on the couch or pain meds unless there’s no other way.

With that said, and I’ve written about this before, shoe size is an imperative.  Equally important is the manner in which your foot naturally strikes the ground – or whether your foot naturally pronates, supinates or is neutral.  The image should be quite self-explanatory.  If your foot rolls out away from your arch, you supinate.  If it rolls in, towards your arch arch you pronate.  Now, I won’t get into which shoe to buy for each because I truly believe in buying my running shoes at a local mom and pops running shop that employs real runners to assist their customers.  You certainly won’t be saving money in doing so but the help you get will be worth a few dollars and far and above that of a big box shop – so has been my experience.  There is one important piece of information to have when walking into the store that every runner (or soon to be runner) should be armed with and that is what your actual footprint looks like so that you can assist the pro in helping you choose the proper shoe.  The next image shows the three footprints (pronation, neutral and supintation), or what they look like if you get your bare (or socked) foot damp and walk on dry pavement.  This is important.  I didn’t have this info on hand when I went shopping, or more to the point, I had to go by distant memory.  I also didn’t have technology on my side yet (phones with cameras hadn’t hit the mainstream when I started running).  The easiest way to handle the footprint is simply to get your feet wet and walk on dry pavement or paper and take a quick picture so you can show it to your sales person (or print the image to the left, do your wet foot walk, match your footprint to the image, circle the right one and hand that to the sales person).  Having this ahead of your first purchase will save you time, effort and possibly money by purchasing the right shoe the first time.

Going back to size, the important point for me was not where my toes ended, but where my arch is in relation to my toes.  If I go by the standard “your toe should be here” method of sizing shoes, I end up on the couch in so much pain that I can’t walk up a flight of stairs because my arch is farther back.  I have to go with a looser size eleven (rather than a ten) in order to get the arch in the right place.  When you are being fitted, pay very close attention to where your arch is hitting on the shoe.  If you can feel even the tiniest bump of the shoe hitting the ball (forward of your arch) of your foot this will translate into disaster after ten miles.  In short, be picky.  I regularly try on four to six pair of shoes in finding a new one.  For the longest time I bought the same brand and style, New Balance Light Weight Trainers.  The numbers change every year with New Balance so care must be taken in choosing.  Ten years ago they were 920-somethings.  This last May I switched to AdiZero Tempo’s because my shop had them in stock and I didn’t want to wait the several weeks required to get the special order shoes in (and I’ve been quite happy with them) because my old shoes were nearing the end of their useful life.

This last point brings up an interesting question:  How do I know when it’s time for a new pair of shoes?  There are a few easy answers to this question.  First is the 500 mile rule.  You should replace your shoes every 500 miles.  It just so happens that’s about what I’ll run in a year so I replace mine every May because that gets me beyond the spring rainy season (I HATE muddying up a brand new pair of shoes first time out).  Second is to look at the soles.  If they’re wearing out, it’s time to trade up – bring them with you to the shoe store so your pro can look them over and see if they’re wearing correctly.  The final way to tell if you need a new pair (whether they look worn out or not) is listen to your legs.  Your legs will tell you when it’s time by giving you little fits of pain.  It won’t be enough to derail you but you will feel it.

Finally, there is a new movement afoot (pun intended) that suggests a minimalist approach to choosing shoes.  The argument goes that the human body has all of the cushioning it needs built-in, you don’t need the cushioning in a shoe.  I won’t weigh in on the validity of the argument as I haven’t researched it and I really don’t care to.  The shoes I have work just fine and I’m not going to a) slow down to learn a new way of running – and the minimalist approach will slow you down, at least for a time or b) change something that doesn’t require changing.  There is one part of the argument that I will weigh in on though.  A friend of mine is fully convinced that there is a spooky running shoe cabal that conspired to create the need for more and more padding in running shoes so they could charge more money for them, while throwing runners under the proverbial bus because this cabal knew that the added heel padding was bad for runners and would lead to injury (based on his reading Born To Run I believe, though this book does not, to my knowledge, sink to that argument).  Hopefully you’ve figured out by now that I don’t have much use for spooky cabal hypotheses as they’re quite usually based on ignorance and the acceptance of minor falsehoods that purport to uphold a baseless argument…  Take for instance this simple truth:  Minimalist running shoes cost just as much as fully padded shoes.  It does make sense that running shoe makers were trying to help runners run as fast as possible so they added a bit of padding to the heel of a shoe to allow runners to stretch out their stride.  This can hardly translate into a desire to injure runners just to sell shoes…  That would be crazy as they would eventually injure paying customers out of running, relying solely on new runners entering the sport to “fleece”.  I don’t care how little you know about business, there’s no such thing as cabal that stupid.

Next up, I’ll post on how to run into “the zone”.  It’s an art.

A Question For The Cycling Purists…

I have it on good authority that  I’m not supposed to wear a camelbak or a back pack while I’m cycling according to Rule #32.  In addition,  according to Rule #29 I’m not even supposed to have a saddle bag (because all of my emergency gear is supposed to go in my jersey pockets – Rule #31).  In fact, according to said rule #32, there is no discussion to be had on exceptions to the rule…

So here’s the question:  If one was to not just wuss out with a 30 mile ride on a nice summer’s day but throw in a ten mile run and a little swimming in between two 15 mile rides, exactly how is one to get one’s jammer and running shoes to the running club.  Now I’m not looking to upset the applecart here, and to tell the truth, I’m going to do what I’ve got to do to get my Saturday miles in regardless (which means wearing a back pack with my running shoes and jammer in it on my ride to the running club)…  In fact, my LBS guru Matt, who is every bit the cyclist, even recommended the back pack when I presented him with my conundrum (because a saddle bag large enough to carry a pair of shoes doesn’t exist).  Now, my problem is that a back pack is unnecessarily big, so I bought a Lake and Trail Camelbak that is just big enough to carry my shoes and swimwear and doesn’t get in the way of comfortably cruising down the road.

So, cycling purists, can I get a ruling?

 

PS:  Read the rest, they’re hilarious.