Who is Ted?

I'm the father of two beautiful daughters and an amazing wife. For fun, I enjoy the long hours of seemingly endless suffering that endurance sports (mostly running, cycling and triathlon)provide. During my "down time" I'm an avid beer snob and self-described gourmet chef (in other words I like to burn things on a stove or grill).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Finished Fixie

A few weeks back, I did a post about a "fixie" that I had purchased at Walmart with plans to tear it apart, repaint, and upgrade some of the components.  Since then, I've put a lot of work into the bike.  This was a great way to learn a little more about bicycles and get a peek at some of the moving pieces to see how they work.  And while I didn't get into some of the more technical parts of the bike like the wheel hubs, or the bottom bracket, I did get to do a fair amount of tinkering (and a lot more sanding!) to get the bike ready.  Along the way I decided to add some different parts to the bike as well.  I was able to get a lot accomplished, but in the end, I wound up taking it to the LBS for a few final repairs and a brief inspection, just to make sure that I'd done everything right!  This evening I was finally able to pick it up from the shop and bring it home.  The next chance I get to ride to the store or to school, I'll be able to take my fixie.  Here's a final  rundown of the project:
The beginning:  I purchased this bike from the local Walmart for a mere $100.  Originally, it had a black frame, yellow handlebars, a red wheel with a yellow tire, and . . . wait for it . . . a yellow wheel with a red tire!  Those folks at Walmart sure do know how to make a bike fun.  Even more exciting, the bike came with a plastic chain guard that was attached to the bike by a steel tab that was welded just above the right side of the bottom bracket.  In short, this bike was fifty shades of UGLY!
One word: Quirky
Getting started: After disassembling various bike parts and removing the snazzy decals, I got down to the nitty and very gritty business of sanding.  Originally I started with some steel wool, but  wound up using  a palm sander with regular sandpaper that I had laying around.  This worked quite well on the larger surfaces of the bike, so I only really needed the steel wool for some of the harder to reach places and for the finishing touches.  The sanding took several sessions, and as I worked on it further, I eventually wound up removing the fork, the cranks, and the chain from the bike.
Painting:  Despite my efforts to get some community input into the color of my bike, I wound up choosing a yellow and black scheme for the bike.  In truth, the colors are not very flashy, but I really didn't want something that stood out (If that was the case, I would have kept the original color scheme).  I settled on a pale yellow hue, that contrasted nicely with the black handlebars, wheels, and tires on the bike.  I finished it with a clear coat to protect the new paint job.
Upgraded parts:  I made a few minor upgrades to the bike as well.  First, I added a set of bullhorn handlebars to replace the standard bars that came with the bike.  When these arrived, I discovered that the original stem would not work, but I was able to find a replacement at a fairly low cost.  I also invested in a new set of black tires to replace the red/yellow scheme from the bike.  Finally I wound up buying a new chain, a rear tube,  and a new brake lever since I jacked those up when putting the bike.
The finished bike

Total cost (Bike, parts, steel wool and paints, etc): approximately $275.00
Total hours spent: approximately 12 hours
Final thoughts:
1) This is probably not the cheapest, nor the best way to get a fixie bike.  There are plenty of outfits online that will sell you a customized fixie bike for about the same out of money that I wound up spending. You might spend just a little more, but you will likely get a better bike with nicer components.  If your desire is just to have a cool fixie to ride around, then purchasing a "turnkey" bike is probably the way to go.  If however, you are more of a "hobbyist" looking for something to do, and you don't care if the final product is perfect, then doing this as a project is a good way to go.  Because the costs were so low, I didn't have to worry about jacking the bike up or breaking any of the parts.  And even if I did, I was certain that I could replace them at a low cost, and any significant damage to the bike, wouldn't leave me out several hundred dollars.  Plus, I now get to bask in that sense of pride and accomplishment that only comes from "doing it yourself."
2) It's a good idea to read books, watch videos, and seek out other resources when working on a bike.  I had previously purchased a copy of Zinn and the art of Road Bike Maintenance  and this was my "go to" resource when taking the bike apart, and putting it back together.  This was especially helpful when taking the cranks off of the bike, as I don't know that I'd ever understood how to do that without reading something.  I also watched a few "You-Tube" videos, and even used an app on my Smartphone to better understand how the bike worked.  Reading through some bike forums was another way to pick up some ideas about working on bikes from others.
3) Sanding and painting a bike only looks fun.  In truth, sanding the bike down, applying a couple of primer coats, painting the bike, and then applying additional clear coat, was a hassle.  I spent many hours in the garage going over the bike with a fresh coat of paint, only to find after it had dried, that there was still a patch here or there that had been missed.
4) Unless you're experienced, it's a good idea to take the bike to a shop and get it looked over once you're finished.  Once I had finally reassembled the bike, I was having some trouble with the chain jumping all over the place.  I then decided to remove a link or two from the chain, and while this fixed that problem, it created another.  I tried to put a link back into the chain, and failed miserably.  I was also unhappy with the brake set-up on the bike.  I liked it even less when I snapped the brake lever bracket in half while trying to get it onto the handlebars.  After wrestling with different pieces of the bike for about an hour, I decided that I was no longer having fun,  and so, although it hurt my pride slightly, I decided that I'd had enough maintenance for this project.  I took it to the bike shop for a couple of small repairs, and asked them to check it once.  A wounded ego is much less painful than what would happen if the handle bars came off of the bike in mid-ride!
So that was my fixie project, and I look forward to having a bike that I can take for short trips around town.  I may add a rear rack for panniers or a plastic crate to make grocery shopping easier at some point, but for now, this bike is done!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Maffetone training

It was a pretty short hill.  Fairly steep, but I've run it a hundred times easy.  Just before the hill, the trail rises gradually for about 300 meters. Not a big deal, this hill.  I wouldn't even give it a second thought.  I look down at my heart rate monitor at the base of the hill.  I'm only running at about a 15 minute pace at this point, but it already reads 139 bpm.  I shuffle my feet and slow down, noticing the pace drop to 17 minutes and change. My heart rate dips slightly, but as I move up the hill, it breaks 140 and moves to 144.  I slow to a walk and finally reach the top of this small hill.  After another 20-30 seconds of walking, my heart rate slows down to the low 130's and I'm able to run again.  Eight miles in, and it's near the end of my run.  The cardiac drift has set in, so even though I'm running only at about a 13:30 pace my heart rate is steady at 139.  After an hour and 53 minutes, I finally reach the front steps of my house.  It has taken me nearly two hours to cover a meager 9 miles.
In the past, I would never have been "okay" with a 9 mile run that took this long.  I've owned a heart rate monitor for a few years and occasionally I've used one to get some feedback on my running or cycling, but I haven't really used it purposefully.  A while back, I stumbled across a reference to the Maffetone method and the benefits of training just below the aerobic threshold for extended periods of time.  With a long winter ahead, it seemed like a good time to give it a shot.
Dr. Phil Maffetone developed a method for calculating the aerobic threshold.  This threshold is important because it is the dividing line for your body between converting fat for energy versus utilizing glycogen and blood glucose (which occurs at the anaerobic level).  The best way that I've heard it described was in an article by Mark Cucuzzella MD,FAAFP on a site named Freedom's Run Training.  Training at just below the aerobic threshold helps you to build a bigger "engine."  Calculating your aerobic threshold is extremely easy.   Take the number 180 and subtract your age.  That's basically it.  You can add a few beats if you have a high level of fitness, or subtract a few if you are just getting back into it, but 180 minus your age is the key.
Not a recovery sandal . . . a mitochondria!

During running, the goal is to keep your heart rate below that threshold at all times, as you train your body to convert fat energy more efficiently.  As the body becomes better at doing this, you will see an increase in your pace at the same heart rate.  After several weeks (3-4 months really), the difference should be quite noticeable.  The key to tracking your improvement is by doing a Maffetone test.  Basically, you select a consistent run (flat course, track, or treadmill is best) and run 5 miles at just below the threshold pace.  This test is repeated every month or two and you can see the difference in the pace.
Unfortunately, I didn't perform this test correctly a month ago when I tried it.  Instead, I ran at closer to my Lactate Threshold pace.  It was still pretty interesting to watch my pace drop over the course of 4 miles while maintaining a heart rate of about 160 bpm.  However, I will be redoing this test in the next week or two so that I have an accurate baseline to measure progress.
Training with the Maffetone method is extremely hard for reasons that are the opposite of what you might think.  It's not "hard" in the traditional sense of the word.  In fact it's quite easy because it takes place at such a low rate of exertion.  But this can be extremely frustrating, like today when I had to stop and walk a couple of times because my heart rate was starting to rise.  In a couple of weeks, I have the Rock Canyon half-marathon, and I shutter to think how long it will take me to run it this year (Last year I ran it in a snowstorm in 1:42:58).  I'm anticipating at least another hour this year.
Despite the current "slowness" of training right now, I'm going to stick with it through the winter.  Since I'm already about a month in, I figure I will continue to train this way through February with a monthly test.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Feeling a bit off during the "off season"

For the last few months, I've been taking it easy.  With no races to train for and a mountain of work that's included a lot of weekend time, I've continued to exercise, but it has been very irregular and unstructured.  I've been much better at extra slices of pizza, sampling craft beers, and seconds on dessert.  With the onset of winter, I can see my super-fitness from last July getting buried in the snow.
I think this is a common challenge for many athletes as we struggle between the need to take a break sometimes, and the fear, anguish and stress caused by training less.  Endurance athletes are hard-wired in ways that are in direct contradiction to relaxing and taking it easy.  We thrive on training cycles that involve short term/ long term goals, structure,  and regimen.  Even the most "zen" focused athlete has a healthy dose of Type A coursing through their arteries.  Endurance athletics is beyond a hobby or a pastime, it's a lifestyle.  I don't know if it defines who we are so much as it's how we express the nature of our personality to begin with.  So, to step away from these things for a time each year seems foreign and unnatural.  Triathletes seem to deal with this in many different ways, some better than others.  A few folks continue to train year round, and many others pursue other activities at this time of year.  The truth is, there isn't really a good answer that fits for everyone. 
This fall has been particularly difficult in that regard for me as I feel unbalanced by the "off-season."  A number of times I've returned from an enjoyable Sunday run brimming with best intentions to stay consistent and get more workouts in during the week.  Before bed, I'll set out my running gear convinced that I will get up and run before work, only to find them still waiting again the next evening.  Or, I'll carve some time out between the end of work and dinner so that I can jump on the trainer for a short 30 minutes.  Instead, I walk in the door at five-thirty, grab a beer out of the fridge, and take it easy. I'm trying to keep perspective on this, reminding myself that I don't have to be training, but it's definitely a struggle, and I wrangle with feelings of guilt and frustration for not doing more.  I know in my heart that I will never let myself go completely, and I'm already plotting which marathons, triathlons, and bike rides I might do in 2013, but it's making me a little crazy.  I need to find balance and I need to learn to deal with this whole "off-season" thing differently.
During the last couple of weeks, I've decided that I do need some goal during the off-season.  The "on season" is quite a ways out, and if there isn't something on the near horizon, I get a little listless about the whole thing.  Last year, I participated in a Winter running Series, which kept me active and helped me to maintain some training.  At the same time, I was dealing with some minor injuries, so I had a great reason not to train as much.   About two weeks ago, I signed up for a local half-marathon that takes place in early December.  I have no intention of "racing" this event, but I'll use it instead as a piece of "off season" fitness, and a chance to work on my base.  Having something to train towards has injected a little more motivation into my outlook.  I've created a humble, very manageable training plan to get ready for the half.  It consists of only three workouts a week (including one long run on the weekends), but it's enough for now.