Friday, November 18, 2016

Athletic Adventures Part 6 : Giant Duathlon Race 2

It was a fun week. 

With the cruel introduction of Modi's demonetisation plan, I thought I was nearly demonised as a I scrambled to exchange some rupees lying around for the Giant Duathlon Race 2 on Friday 18th.

But nothing was to hit me like two separate events this past week. 

One was the biggest full moon I had seen in my entire life. 

The other was a root canal surgery on my molar the day of the full moon, when the dentist went beserk with his drill and file and howled incessantly as he smashed bits of my teeth to put a manhole and a manhole cover in my mouth.

Duathlon Race # 2 had no particular strategy precisely because the entire time I was racing, I could feel the dentists tools gnawing away at my mouth and my head shaking from the mechanical impact. Skrutch-skrutch-skrutch. 

But thankfully, due some fantastic pre-race photos from Race.ME posted on Facebook, I managed to practice plenty of transitions from the comfort of my own living room chair. I hopped off, hopped on and hopped off the chair several times.  Good practice.

Come race day, I made a deliberation not to bring my lovely wife along. Not only did I get to the race quicker than historical trends, I also had time for a full 12 minutes of warmup routine - 10 minutes for a ride and 2 minutes for a run. Not a bad way to start eh?

So without further delay, how did this race turn out? The little good blurb is that I smashed a PB with a 1:18:19. But the dreaded 2nd run cramp did prove to be a force to contend with. The nice thing is that I had nearly 300g of sodium diluted in my drink and had two bottles of those. So even if cramps did show up, the calves were to be spared but a tingling in the right hamstring would assume it's place instead. 

I have no clue whats going on with this right leg this season, but suffice to say I've been doing more stretches this year than in living memory. I can only conclude that the body is still coming to terms with the intensity this year. 

Data wise, I ran my most conservative first run ever. Clearly 13:13 was holding back around a good solid minute atleast and that proved to be a little unplanned disaster. My best pacing for short events is 6:20 min/mile and keeping that in mind, my potential lies in a sub-12 minute run. Again, I held back, not knowing how the stress of a root canal might dissolve into this race.

The transitions were consistent with my past efforts. A minute each. The biking felt easy to me, which again means not putting in a 100% effort. This could only mean that this course is destined for another PB whenever the race visits District One cycling track again. The final run, with the cramp added in there, was also my slowest run 2 in probably a long time. The elements pieced together nicely in the end, but I find the total potential to be in a sub 1:15:00. Why a top 10 escapes me is something I've got to do some homework on.  Okay, I blame it on Obama and Hillary.

Here are the numbers :

A couple of things that stand out.

I like the cadence on all segments of the race. Critical power is a bit on the low side and that doesn't come as a surprise in the early season. The nice thing to see is the 1.3% improvement in 20 min peak power from October's BeSport TT. Unfortunately, I've found no way and time to improve this than to do more time trial races in the aero position. It's also amazing how a position tweak on the bike even a few millimeters translates into reduced watt demand (or increased watt demand).

A couple of people asked me how I manage with such high heart rates. My body is genetically turbocharged like that and I tend to fall on the right side of the statistics. As WWF says, "Do not try this at home".  Interestingly, over 12 years of cycling and running races later, this has been the same picture. The range of my heart is from a cool 55 beats at resting to 212 beats at red line max, however the 212 has come down to 207 in recent months, which maybe from the training. The bad news is that when I was younger, my maximums were much lower, around 203 bpm, so this can only go to show that coming back to the UAE from the States has led to nothing but decreased time to train and decreased mileages. My body continues to surprise.

Leading up to this race, I was curious about how the parasympathetic portion of my automatic nervous system handles the stress of the week - work, training and medical. Below is an HRV RMSSD plot of the past week. In general, bigger numbers mean I'm more relaxed.

Although I'm not a cardiologist, the dip in parasympathetic response coincides exactly with the day after root canal (15th of November). This meant my body was a bit more stressed than other days of the week and clearly I had to push back training and get some added rest time. Interesting how the numbers agree with "how you feel".

That's all folks. The next 2 weekends are filled with racing so never a moment to fall into a lull. Fun fun! Happy training!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Athletic Adventures Part 5 : GIANT Duathlon Race 1

Being a multi-sport athlete can be fun business as I recently discovered when even your upper body stuff like triceps and fingers get fatigued.

When most people were talking about FTP at the 29th October BeSport Summer TT at Al Wathba Abu Dhabi, I was talking about FBP - Full Body Pain. After entering into a 30K TT with a getting-used-to CBoardman TT Air and a still-getting-used-to aero posture, I put in a modest sub-1 hour ride on a super foggy early morning course without breaking any bones. But what transpired later was interesting.

The positional shock of the TT bike must have been so great that I couldn't get off my bike after the race. 

Pure unadulterated pain stemming from the upper glutes overcame me. Not the crampy type ones, but those that started giving me genuine feelings of  '....did someone just shoot me in my rear end?'

After being placed into the car by my loyal wife, the pain propagated from the legs to the arms. My triceps folded on the steering wheel, then the fingers.  100% fatigue folks. I'll make it short and sweet. It was a painful drive back home for the talented-not amateur Indian athlete in his first B race.

Interestingly, the moment I parked my car at home and got out, the pain vanished. Feel free to dig into theories. I'm going to just label as before - 'positional shock'.

After a few short interval brick sessions last week, I was ready for a long drive out to Hamdan Sports Complex Dubai for the first GIANT Duathlon Race of the season.

As it turns out, a day or two before the race, you have to switch job from being athlete to that of an able manager, sorting out all equipment and logistics of the commute, visualizing in the head that awesome 8 hour sleep before the race, that fabulous 20 minute warmup, that fantastic course recon where you're familiar with every single aspect, what you're going to do when, how much duration, how much hydration, when to eat a gel, when to reach the start line, how to pace, how to dismount, how to run the last split, how to finish.

But reality is always different with me.

Sleep : 5 hours.

Waking up wife : 1 hour.

Driving : Not so bad. A speeding ticket or two.

Reach the course : 45 minutes before race.

Getting equipment ready : Forever

Warmup : Zero. Or wait, a couple of high jumps in the air.

Photo shoots : At the front line of the race. Went great!   *Click*, *Click*, thank you honey!. One more please...*flexes biceps*. Brilliant.

Good stuff below from the start line with fellow Indian athlete Ng Kartik, Emirati athlete Mohsen Hassan AlAli etc.

That said, here's the race report.

Run 1 : Greater than target pace of 7:30 min/mile. Actual pace = 7:12 min/mile. 12:32 minutes.

Transition 1 : Just about enough time for a cup of chai. 1:05 minutes.

Bike 1 : The beginning stretches of the course were great. There were around 3-4 ugly speed bumps in the first 400 meters of the course. Just the thing that vehicles need and cyclists don't. I was worried I would break a wheel spoke, but this is where a fantastic choice of Taiwanese made deep rim wheels makes the difference between splintering a wheel or finishing the race. Leave your pricey discs at home.

Cycling went ok. Target pace = 21 mph, actual = 19 mph approx. Some elements I thought were fun : course size roughly the width of my car, technical turns galore, course marshalls not always doing their job at the Emirates Rd highway crossing, trailer truck passing within 100 meters of racing cyclists, false flats, speed bumps, sand on the course, trying to pass around little kids but trying to maintain the 7 x 3m draft legal zone between you and the guy in front.

An obstacle course with so much to think of that I didn't care to bat an eyelid at the bike dismount line near transition. Paul Venn commanded, brake hard!! or something like that. I was too generous with front brakes and almost went from cyclist to village circus clown in an instance. Thanks Paul. :)

Time = 49 minutes. Not so great.

Transition 2 : Just about enough time to taste a cup of chai but dropping it all over yourself. 1:04 minutes.

Run 2 : In around 8-9 Giant Duathlon races I have done in the past, I've only cramped 3 times on the last run. But I was to add a 4th. It's never easy to figure this one out, because I get virtually no warnings when on the bike. 

So just as I put on the pace, right calf goes into shock and does this nice Arabian muscle dance right before your eyes. Holy cow. 7:12 min/mile pace quickly goes to walking pace as I frantically stretched against a lightpole. Three stretches and an eternity later, the cramp was gone and I was back to running again to pass the folks who passed me before. 

Time = 15:39 minutes. Disastrous. 

Lots to work on before Race number 2.

Some things in my thought process after this past week.

Specificity of training. Specificity of training. 

Be a better manager pre-race.

Ask the course organizers relevant questions? Don't get an answer? Keep asking.

Pay attention to what the ankle is doing while pedaling. 

Hydrate with a bit more sodium content in the bottle than what was used.

1 minute of race time saved = Some more hours of pain.

Sleep and rest better. 

If anything can go wrong on race day, it will. Deal with it.

Thanks to the organisers for keeping it all together in the end and for a fantastically quick post-race processing of the results.

Data dump below for those interested in numbers. Cheers!

GIANT DUATHLON 2016-17 RACE 1 3K Run - 25K Bike - 3K Run

Click to zoom

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Athletic Adventures Part 4 : Rest Week Analytics

Not much time to write folks, although I would like to tell you all about a fascinating recovery week between the 10th and 16th of this month through some images. No, it's actually shocking.

The shocking aspect was realizing how carried away I can get in the act of "sitting around", i.e pure idleness on a chair in front of a computer punching buttons all day. Unfortunately, I size heavy industrial oil/gas equipment for a living where there's a predominance of mental loading than physical loading. I suppose the physical loading comes when you did something you weren't supposed to and get called into the boss' office... 

Not all days of this past week did I wear my activity tracker to work, but when I did, it clearly registered around 8-9 hours average of sitting down (in my defense, some of those hours were spent at home studying quick and dirty ways to get fast before a time trial at the end of the month, so I propose to count these hours as 'mindful' sports-contributive sitting and if there's no such thing I say we define one now)

My wife regularly poked fun at me when I wore my watch to sleep for around 5 nights this past week. The plan was exactly that, to get some idea of how much snooze I'd be getting. I highly recommend you not do this, atleast not after a heavy dinner when one of you, either you...or your loving partner rolls over onto your wrist and crushes the buttons of the watch while in mindless slumber.

So here are the clock plots for your criticism.

Day 1 

Day 2 

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Biomarkers. On the evening of the 6th day, I got a quick orthostatic test done to check my HRV. Although this was done towards the later part of the day, I assess the 77 RMSSD resting as good and 40 RMSSD standing as perhaps indicating I've too much on my mind. Maybe my fight or flight system gets activated, don't know. That said, a result in vacuum doesn't indicate much, but I plan on taking down multiple readings to establish a baseline.

A comparison between similar tests done 2 months back indicates that in general, my RMSSD's have gone up and that's a good thing. Besides, a datapoint during a recovery week is good to refer back to in future. (actually, these statements might all be fancy ways of saying that the hole in your credit card for the month is valid, that such and such expensive measuring device you bought is highly relevant and it gives new meaning to your normally mundane and unquantified life)

Boy. Between now and the end of the month, I take a trip to London where between my work hours, I can squeeze in some run training under colder conditions.  The time trial, a B race, will be in Abu Dhabi at the end of the month which I hope I can attend only if my boss doesn't ask me to stay longer in Britain. Between hoping that I don't get stabbed on a UK train post-Brexit and I don't catch a fever (I'd rather get stabbed than get a fever), I'll hope to push a decently sized peak into the race season in November.  

Stay tuned for more fun...

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Athletic Adventures Part 3 : Spending Money (Unwisely) and First Races

Continuing on from previous posts...

As every amateur athlete who has deep pockets and little talent, the urge to spend money on stuff without putting on much time in training caught up with me last week. 

After looking it up in the yellow book (yes I still use Yellow Book), I found a little known shop known as Das Cycles. It sounded rad, more rad than other cycle shops, especially the Little Flower bike shop, which just made me feel weak in the chest. C'mon, who labels a bike shop Little Flower?

So I went to this Das Cycles, situated purposelessly in the middle of no-man's land past the purposely located sewage plant and demanded some slick new tires.

While being shown around, I picked up a fight with a burly man with the big mustache (maybe Das himself) when he remarked in his infinite wisdom that tires don't make a difference to rolling inertia. Heresy! To make my point, I bought the most expensive set of tires available which told something else on it's packaging and stormed off the shop with a determined nod.

Not to poo poo burly men with moutaches, I love these guys. But don't you think these salesmen should keep opinions to themselves and not contradict with the marketing hype on product packaging? Just make it easy for buyers jeez. It's time salesmen started believing in advertising, or is that not the trend nowadays? Everyone seems to have an opinion!

Wasting money aside, I had decided to run/jog a few miles with what little time I had last week and headed off to my first track meet ever , that's right, ever hosted at NYU Abu Dhabi by the good folks at the University's Athletics department.

The one thing I did quite right the past week was not the running/jogging part but the eating. Knowing that I was fully carb loaded for the early season races, I sucked in all the air in the poshy looking air conditioned 200m track and stood on the start line with a few kids.

With near to zero fitness, I knew the upcoming vomit session wasn't going to be friendly to me. Just as I was about to think that I could brag on Facebook I was the first Indian to do this (as is also the trend nowadays by Indian men), I spotted two other desi guys straddling me left and right on the track. Great. There goes that dream.

I had scratched off a new quick notes on a napkin before the race after copious referering to Google. Even tried Siri on my wife's Iphone 7. "Hey Siri, how do I run this track race...:"   The reply promptly automated from the phone's speakers : "Sorry, to watch this race, you cannot run but must drive 150km", and showed me a location pin to a camel track near the border of UAE and Saudi Arabia.

With something like that race strategy in the back of my mind, I whisked off the start line at the gun shot. For the next 3 minutes, it was indeed lung surgery as I kept the two Indians at bay to take 3rd place at the 800m's. Then as every self-respecting Indian does, I went and shook their hands and started the usual round of questions, shaking my head and all  'ah where are you from in India, ... ah I much is your salary...?'

Results, split times and stride rates for 800m were like so :

Distance       Time        Stride Rate
200m           0:00:42        101
200m           0:00:42         99
200m           0:00:42         98
200m           0:00:42         97

TotalTime    0:02:47

After being the second loser at the 800's, I forgot the fact that I had registered for the men's 1500's as well that afternoon. I peered at my watch! Yikes, not even 3 minutes left for the other race to start. Zero fitness and zero recovery do not go together well, said Abraham Lincoln once when he was cutting wood (Did you know Lincoln also coined the phrase 'my legs feel like wood..' commonly used among cyclists and runners today on social media after hard workouts...)

At the 1500m start line, the Indian dudes had disappeared leaving me like a black man in Middle America. What more motivation do you need to run?

Unfortunately, my heart rate was 250 already and not slowing down. The gun shot went and I fell back, puttered along the track like a poorly maintained padmini, almost puked a little somewhere in lane 5 just next to lane Anerobic Thresholdia (which I was on by the way) and just managed to hop over the finish line as janitors were switching off the lights in the arena.

Results and split times for 1500m were like so :

Distance       Time        Stride Rate
200m           0:00:51         95
200m           0:00:51         95
200m           0:00:51         94
200m           0:00:51         94
200m           0:00:51         94
200m           0:00:51         93
200m           0:00:51         93
100m           0:00:25         92

TotalTime    0:06:21

Two embarrassing finishes later, I took my belongings and secretly existed the premises with tail between the legs.

Thank you NYUAD and Mr. Wayne Young, director of Athletics for the event. Kudos to all the runners who took a shot at racing with Mr. Zero Fitness.

This ends two weeks of sporting adventure. More to follow. Stay tuned. No, watch this space.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Athletic Adventures Part 2 : World's First Strava'd Shopping Experience

In the first installment of this series, I described in brief how I got rid of 70 kgs of dust on my bike and spent a whole sleepless night thinking about a training plan. 

This week, I've upped the ambitiousness a notch up. 

That's right. 

In what might be a world's first for any Indian, I broke into my normal training regimen with a walk through the city block with my wife. The world's first bit is where I went ahead and strava'd the whole experience. 

With GPS and smart watches these days, I argue that husbands need to do more to monitor their health. And when I say health, I just don't mean cholesterol, BP etc. I mean real time transients. Because what goes on in real-time transients is what you don't see, and what you don't see is what might actually put a dent in your life later on.

On this particular instance, the wife whispers in your ear 'let's go on a stroll dear' which you later realize is a cover for mentally capturing items that must, key word must, be bought from retail outlets that dot the walking course. 

We now have data for what this obstacle avoidance workout might be like. 

Initially, things started out for me with a relaxed and elated feeling that this might be a normal walk. With great expectations, I hit "record" on my watch. 

Until a few garment shops came into view and what was a nice outdoor workout quickly turned shape and form into an indoor, potentially disastrous monetary heart attack.

The next few moments as I say were pure dread, with the observation of high prices on some of the tags I was shown and the unstoppable magnetic power of human desire tugging at the credit card which was hidden deep inside three layers of my clothing. 

The instinctual tactic at this point was to slowly increase pace and walk away from this retail outlet before I lost three layers of my clothing and the credit card. 

These moments have been perfectly captured with the spike in heart rate and pace upon realization of what's going on.  Observe the little squiggly in the GPS waypoints and the labeled spikes in walking pace.

Oh...and the last spike in heart rate was not from the near brush with shopping. As I was intently focused on the great escape and whilst looking back sometime during those crucial seconds to see how far I had made it, I collided hard with a street sign in front of me. 

As I sit with a big bump on my head, I stop my breath to think about the enormity of this all. 

This was my first week of training.  I think it's going to be a tough season ahead.... 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Athletic Adventures Part 1 : The Season Plan

After several bouts of serious life disruption from career moves and shifting living spaces, I think I may have finally settled down this year to ink some rough plans to get ready for the Emirates athletics menu.  (Spoiler alert : this is where I ignore the important things in my life and talk instead about exercise). 

My 2015/16 season had been more emptier than a Detroit night street. I had sunk into the glitzy (not) life of utter workaholism where I think my rear end got the better of the workout, if any. After watching Indian paralympians get gold at the Rio Olympics, I figured I've had it, that I deserve some modicum of change in life and I better get out there and check if the 'ol Indian diesel engine in me still purred.

My bike had been sitting in an old apartment gathering fine 24 karat Arabian crud - nasty stuff that gets lodged around bottom brackets and crevices in your brake shoes. What should have been a nice looking 20 kg carbon bike is now 100 kg and you're still not sitting on it. I took the bike into the shower and poured copies amounts of water on it, probably giving Dubai Water Authority a scare that day. 

I've wondered, in my humble middle class mind of second uses, whether bikes could double as dust-o-meters. The dust-o-meter works because it presents you the horror of all that you could be ingesting as well if you were in the same room. Could it be a new internet-of-things thing? Let's ask the right questions here.

A conundrum has been what to shoot for goals as I started thinking about training.  After a night of mental laboring on this issue and burning through midnight oil, I came out with a conclusion. I had two end points in my race calender and a whole lot of empty space in between. 

Point A - Duathlons : I missed the whole multisport mojo the past year so I figured I want to try the Giant Duathlon series this year again.  Things would be faster and fiercer with me slipping into the 30-39 age category and to be anywhere in the top 30 in a total field of 30 would, I imagine, be a great hurdle or I'd have to somehow re-write my passport. This is also the point in your life when you wish there was a category to race against the kiddies, but as all government regulations these days, even this one is banned.

Point B - A Half or Full Marathon : I have never ran the Dubai marathon against the Ethiopians before, so that I thought would be interesting to include as the highlight of this season. But the challenge was that it would conflict with the 4th Duathlon race on January 20th and if I was going to do Duathlons, I would be in it for the long haul. The other option would be to skip the Dubai marathon and focus instead on facing the half Ethiopians at the RAK Half Marathon in February. 

Decisions decisions. Taking a look at the two events above, both require different ingredients in training. The sprint Duathlon is fast and intense from the get go, favoring a strong gastrointestinal system for the puke-recover-puke style of workload. The marathon is a 3 hour jog calling for a disciplined 18-24 week phased approach where you the pretend Alberto Salazar run around the city so much that the local taxi drivers hold you in contempt. Plus when they shout behind your back demanding an explanation , you can't hear them anyway, you're plugged in.

Finally, it made sense I should just dump the full marathon (and associated prize monies) and focus instead on the half. So yeah, probably, most likely, no marathon even this season. That's one less medal I have to worry about finding space for. One less dust-o-meter.  

More soon.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

An Answer to India's Olympics Medal Drought

On the eve of Rio 2016, a BBC‬ writer managed to tie the words "Olympic", "losers" and "India" all in one headline

Cringe worthy? Indian papers say India has it's strongest contingent yet (this includes a 43 year old Leander Paes in the tennis squad!). Critics on the other hand argue ‪that ‎India‬ has a long culture of sublime laziness, kicking athleticism down in the priorities and engaging kids to be studious so they can be doctors or lawyers and a perhaps a better "value" proposition in an arranged marriage. 

Those things aside, in progressive cities like Bangalore, people are "discovering the sports" and a new means of ego-boosting. I doubt the next wave of Indian super-athletes will come from wide waisted middle managers riding expensive carbon fiber bicycles or aunties/uncles running marathons and brandishing their "also ran" medals. It keeps the spirit up but IMO there's little to show performance wise when they compete with athletes from Western countries. 

So what are the options? You can take the current crop of sportstars and keep hammering them to do better. However, there is no substitute to raw talent if you want to beat the best. 

Which is why I maintain this idyllic sense that it's in the cold high mountain states of North India or in poor and isolated foresty villages of Central and South India where people with statistically anomalous genetic potential reside. You would hope that in these parts of the country, teachers, sports coaches and sports governing bodies are keeping ears and eyes open to tap into this potential in a sustainable way, i.e giving new people an opportunity into sports without subjecting them to exploitation.

Ultimately, I think you can, with an outpouring of lots of money, organize fantastic training camps and bring up athletes over a long term to be world champions. But you can't organize training camps without first correctly identifying that golden potential by technically adept coaches.  Its a challenge but it's a big part of the answer to winning more ‪medals. Perhaps there ought to be a serious national hunt for athletes (and even coaches) in the same rigor as we search for beauty pageants, singers and dancers. 

In the following video, Indian coaches compare the Indian runner to the Kenyan runner by going over key physiological attributes required for maximum performance. It's an enlightening discussion on what's missing in Indian athletics by using running as an example.