Friday, June 27, 2008

Smoke, What Smoke?

Oh, That Smoke

So it's been a bit hazy here in the Bay Area for the past week due to the fires in Northern California. Of course the warnings are out about the health consequences of exercising with the smoke in the air, but come one, can it really be that bad? I mean I used to smoke close to a pack a day (maybe two packs on bar nights) when I was in college (ahhhhhh Camel Lights, I miss you so); can this smoke really be as bad as that? I don't really know the answer but I tell myself no because I'm going to be out running or biking in it anyway.

The only thing that I really missed this week was one day of Masters; instead of swimming I did a home lift which of course is not as good as swimming but at least I did something.

Monday - Ran 6 miles w/ 4 at tempo (tempo averaged around 7:15ish)
Tuesday - Rode 14 miles in the morning w/ Jen, swam 2,600 yards at Masters after work
Wednesday - Ran 8 miles in the morning, AP 8:13
Thursday - Rode 30 miles after work with Jen
Friday - Ran 4 miles in the morning, AP 8:00

Tomorrow I have my last long run before The Jungle Run which is on the 13th. Next Friday I'm planning on running a 5k then heading to some BBQ's for some drinking and eating.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Less Heat, More Smoke

Well the temperature has cooled down into the 80's but the smoke from the nearby fires has steadily increased since Sunday. The sky is hazy and you can really smell it in the air but it's not that bad.

Weekly totals for last week:

Swim: 5,700 yards
Bike: 91 miles
Run: 26.5 miles

Last Thursday evening I had eight miles on the schedule but when I got off work it was close to 100 and I was really tired so I took a nap on the couch and just spent the evening relaxing. The next morning I got up and ran five easy miles to make up for what I had missed the night before. Luckily I didn't have anything on the schedule for that evening since it was 103 when I got off work. I spent the evening relaxing, watching The Rundown, and eating some pasta and garlic toast.

Saturday morning I knew I should plan on getting up at 6:00 and heading out for my run; instead I slept in till around 7:30 and hit the trail a little after 8:00. When I started the temp was in the mid 70's. The first 4.5 miles I was keeping my pace around 8:10/8:15 and was feeling good. I decided to do a loop that includes a large hill because I was tired of the same ole out and back route. While approaching the hill I noticed that the cross walk indicator was about to go to red and the light would be changing so I picked up the pace and dashed across the street. The hill starts right after the crossing so like an idiot I kept up the increased pace and pushed hard up the hill - yeah, that didn't work out so well. I did learn a lesson about pushing hard in places where I should be conservative even if I feel like I have an energy store because chances are I will need that energy later on in the run. I stopped at the top of the hill and had a drink and my first ever Gu (I usually have Clif Blox); I have to say it was pretty darn good. Tasted just like vanilla frosting. About a mile after having the Gu I started getting a side ache but I can't say if that was from drinking too much water during my break, pushing hard on the hill, or because I was heating up. The next six miles of the run are shadeless and I could tell that the air temp was heating up fairly quickly. I looked at my Garmin and knew I was going to come in over the 10 miles that were on my schedule so I tried to slow down a bit and take it easy. In the last three miles I took a few breaks and finished my water. I thought about taking a diversion to a park to refill my bottle but I was really starting to feel burned out so I decided to stop at 11 miles, buy a bottle of Gatorade, and walk the remaining half mile back to the house. When I got home I checked the temp and it was 95; by 12:30 it was 105. I spent the afternoon napping in the air conditioning and watching TV.

Sunday morning I woke up rested (thanks to the eight hours of sleep that night and the four hours of napping I did Saturday afternoon) and headed out for a group ride on a new route. The ride was supposed to be 47 miles so I figured I would get around 51/52 by riding to the meeting spot. We headed out a few minutes after 9:00 for what turned out to be a great ride. The forecasted high that day was 88 and it felt wonderful compared to the previous days. The ride had some long steady climbs which led to some really great views of the surrounding area. We got out onto some winding roads which are primarily used by locals and motorcyclists so the traffic was very minimal and the road condition was pretty good. The last 20 miles of the ride I pushed really hard because I needed to pick Jen up at the BART station a little after 12:00. I'm not sure what my average pace was for those miles, or the ride in general, because my computer died about five miles into the ride. I checked the route out on Google so I could remember the turns and plan on taking Jen on it sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Train on you Crazy Trainers

Well I haven't been very good about posting my weekly totals or really any workout specifics at all lately but what can you do? ("There's nothing you can do" - "Yeah, that's what I said" - Tony Soprano circa 2007).

This weekend Jen and I ran 12 miles on Saturday in the early summer heat; by the end we were both hot, tired, and ready for some breakfast. Sunday we rode 40 miles with the group and got in some good climbing. We rode up to Lake Del Valle which has a climb of approx 3 miles going up and 2 miles coming back. On the climb up I stood up out of the saddle at the bottom for a bit then decided to see how far I could go before sitting down. Once I approached the half way point I started to think I could get close to the top; at the 3/4 mark I knew I could make it. Sure enough, I climbed the entire time out of my saddle and was able to pass everyone but one guy in our group. The downhill after the climb was sweet - I hit 40.8 mph.

So today I decided to lay out my schedule for the Santa Cruz Sprint which is coming up in early August. I'm currently in a unique situation with my training because I'm helping Jen train for her HIM which is coming up on August 2nd while at the same time training for a sprint tri and a HM. Really I am just ramping up my running for the weeks prior to the HM but still doing quite a bit of riding and running. My volume never gets too bad but after the HM (July 13th) my riding volume increases quite a bit because I will be doing some faster rides solo in the morning then some longer rides in the evenings with Jen. I really need to be sure I keep up on my sleep and most importantly my nutrition during those weeks where two a day workouts are the standard.

I've considered picking up some tri shoes (leaning towards Sidi T2) for my next two races but lately I have been practicing getting out of my Nike shoes as I ride to my apartment and that has been working pretty well. The straps open to the inside so that's a bit annoying but really I only need the shoes for two more races this year and I really don't want to spend the $$ to get them at this point. One benefit from getting them would be that I could have them on my bike in T1 so I can just jump right on and get my feet in the shoes as I head out for my ride. On the flip side, that might only save me like 20 seconds and it's also just one more thing I would have to practice.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Last night at Masters I heard something that made me reminisce; the high school water polo team was practicing and the coach yelled "Swim it up Johnson, come on", or something to that effect. It made me think back to my track and basketball days in high school and make some comparisons to when I coached 3rd and 4th grade boys soccer and basketball in college and our Masters coaches.

High School Coaches

Every high school athlete, good or bad, has experienced the verbal abuse dished out by a coach at some point. Often, the better you are the louder they yell. "Show some effort", "What the hell do you call that", "Move your feet", and "Get your ass in gear" are all popular sayings for these coaches. I can still see my pole vault coach ripping his hat off his head, throwing on the ground, point and me, and saying "What kind of shit was that?!?" "Have you considered trying?!?". Ahhhhhhhh - nothing like a little verbal abuse to help get my ass in gear. At the time it pissed me off and I had a few choice words to yell back, which of course led to me running laps for the remainder of practice (this was when I hated running so it was pure hell). Looking back I realize that it actually was quite motivating and when I did have a successful jump my coach was the first one to pat me on the back and tell me what a great job I had done.

Coaching Youngsters, aka YMCA Coach

Ah, these were the days. "Hey, great job", "We'll get em next time", "Great effort", and "That's ok, try it again", are popular sayings with these coaches. This is the time for development and having fun. Sure learning some skills helps, but believe me, getting kids to do drills when they would rather scrimmage, or play tag, or do anything other than drills is impossible. Everyone gets to play equal time, everybody is a winner, and everyone (for the most part) has fun.

Coaching Adults, aka Masters Coach

Masters coaches are great. This is the time in life when you know you want to be there so you try your best and don't get yelled at. All you need to get motivated is a friendly "come on guys, let's go". You realize that you will only get better through training/practice and that's why you are there. The socialization with fellow swimmers is great, it's a good workout, and it's enjoyable. I guess it's sort of like college, you are paying for it but don't really have to be there so you only go if you want to. Our coaches are good in that they nag you just enough when you miss a couple of swims so that you make sure to show up at the next practice.

The Tri or Running Coach

I've never had a tri or running coach (other than Jen) so I can't offer any insight on this subject. I have to assume that a good coach would have an excellent balance of motivational "yelling", great encouragement, and good advice. I imagine the fact that these people do this for a living, and since there is not a lot of people chomping at the bit to get on the team like in high school, these coaches are pretty good people that can help you achieve your goals.

Finally, Are You Your Own Best Coach

Really, what it all comes down to is, are you your own best coach? Can you take the advice given to you and work on it? Can you get up at 5:15am to ride 25 or 30 miles before work? Then after work can you go swim 3,000 yards? Will you get up the next morning for your six mile tempo run? "It's cold", "I'm tired", "I'll go tomorrow" - can you tell yourself to shut the hell up and get out of bed? I can be my own best coach but I'll admit that I can, and often am, my own worst enemy. Having a wife that shares my interests and trains hard is a huge help, but in the end the choice to work out or not is up to me.

I guess the best way to sum it up is that what works best for me is yelling at myself in my head like a high school coach, listening to the advice given to me by those that are better than me at X discipline and putting it to use, encouraging myself in success and failure, and remembering to have fun.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Showdown at Sundown Race Report

Race day we headed out from our house for the drive up to San Pablo Bay around 12:30; transition was opening at 1:15 and we wanted to get there in time to pick a good spot, get set up, and relax for a bit before the race. Once we arrived we walked over to check in before unloading our bikes and gear. There weren’t too many people up there yet so we didn’t have to wait in line to check in which was great. After picking up our numbers (74 me, 225 Jen) we walked back to the car to grab our stuff then headed over to transition to set up.

The racks were assigned by bib number, I was the first person to my rack and there was only one other girl on Jen’s rack. My rack was right by the bike in and out and was a straight shot from the run in from the swim and run out from T2. I picked the end spot so I would have a little protected area to set up my transition items. We stood around and talked to a couple other folks in the transition area then we found a spot in the shade and hung out with Jen’s Mom who was down visiting from Montana.

After hanging around for a couple of hours it was time for the pre-race meeting where the course was reviewed and the rules discussed. One important item of note was brought up in the meeting – the extremely steep hill that was about 20 yards after the mount line. Jen and I had walked up it earlier to check it out and we both had our bikes in the easiest gear in anticipation of the hill. The dismount line was at the top of this hill to avoid people flying down the hill into a sharp curve. We discussed our options on this and decided it would be best to take our shoes off at the dismount line and run down the hill barefoot instead of in our bike shoes which wouldn’t offer much traction.

Once the meeting was complete it was time to get the wetsuit on and get out in the water for a warm-up swim. We had about 20 minutes until the first wave started which was perfect. The team competitors were starting first followed by all the men then all the women. We both swam about 200y as a warm up just cruising along by the shore then it was time to get out and get ready.

The Swim
I stood on the beach with my heart pounding in anticipation of our start and I took a few deep breaths to relax. I glanced off to the side and saw Jen who gave me a big smile and a wave which made me smile and relax a bit more. I had positioned myself near the front and to the left side of the pack; since this was going to be a short swim I knew I would be going pretty hard and didn’t want to get caught up in the washing machine in the middle. There were 112 other men starting at the same time as me and I figured it would be better to go out strong and get passed instead of having to fight my way through a bunch of people. The countdown began, the horn sounded, and we charged out into the water to the sounds of applause and cheers from those in the back of the pack and all the ladies on the beach. I ran out a few paces then saw an opening in the water so I took my chance and dove in and started swimming. The first few yards were like any other starts, head out of the water for a few strokes, head in the water for a few strokes. By the time we had gone about 30 yards the pack had started to thin with the fastest taking the lead and the rest of the lead pack stretching behind them. I noticed a lot of other swimmers out 10-15 yards from the buoys but I was holding a nice tight line which allowed me to pick off some swimmers once we started heading back towards shore (the course was a half moon). I was able to get onto a pair of feet and draft for a large part of the second half of the swim which was great. Not only did it make the swim a bit easier but this guy was also going in a straight line so I didn’t have to sight quite as often as I did in the first half. Once we rounded the second to last buoy I started kicking hard and passed my draftee and a few other folks that were ahead of me. I swam right up to the shore until I was clawing at the sand then I stood up and ran up the beach to T1. Swim time plus short run to T1 – 5:52.

I was pretty discombobulated coming out of the water and running hard up the beach didn’t help much. Luckily for me I had spent some time visualizing my transitions so I knew what I needed to do without having to think about it. I had my wetsuit off and biking gear on and was out of T1 in 1:41.

The Bike
They weren’t kidding about that hill – it was tough. Even after the talking about it during transition set up and the warning from the race staff in the pre-race meeting, some people still were geared too high and were having trouble with the hill. Luckily no one fell over in front of me but I did have to swerve around one guy who was struggling and near to tipping over. After the really steep part there was still a bit more of a climb and there were a couple of people that decided they would run their bikes up the steep part then mount on the not so steep part; turns out that wasn’t such a good idea after all. As I passed by I heard them saying “I need to get further up the hill before I can get on”. Mounting on a slope is tough enough, doing it after a hard swim and a run up a steep hill is nearly impossible. The course followed the side of the park entrance then turned onto the road and headed out along the beach. There was another short climb right away followed by a nice downhill stretch with a few flat sections thrown in. As I was flying down the road thinking “this is great” I suddenly remembered “oh shit, this is an out and back” and knew there would be some climbing in the last couple of miles. For the most part the course was rolling hills with short flat sections in between; the hills weren’t as steep as they were at NAPA but they were steep enough and frequent enough to keep me from really catching my breath for the first three or four miles. After I was able to get a couple drinks and settle into a rhythm I caught my breath and focused on picking off a couple of riders in front of me. I passed five people on the bike and was passed by three people. There was one rider who would pass me on the flats only to have my pass him on the climbs; this was nice though because it gave me a goal to work towards on the climbs and then again on the flats as I would try to keep him behind me for as long as possible. He passed me on the final descent back into the park area but I blew by him in T2 and didn’t see him again until about a mile into the run. On the final stretch before the dismount line I got my left foot out of my shoe then I clicked my right foot out at the line and quickly pulled my shoe off. I held that shoe in my hand and ran my bike down the steep hill back into transition. Several people in front of me didn’t take their shoes off and they were doing all they could not to slip and fall as they tried to run down the hill. Bike time – 30:21.

I ran my bike into transition, racked it, pulled my shoes on (quick laces are freakin sweet), took my helmet off, grabbed my hat and race belt, and ran to the exit. T2 - :59.

The Run
The run started the same way as the bike did, with a steep climb up some stairs and a dirt trail. I reached the top with my heart pounding and I was breathing hard but was able to relax a bit and get in a groove on the slight downhill on the way out of the park. The run course turned onto the same road as the bike leg had but it went to the left instead of the right. I was holding a good pace and could hear a couple people behind me for the first mile or so then I heard someone making a move behind me; guess who it was? That’s right, the guy from the bike leg. I recognized his outfit and finally got a good look at him – he was about my age so I picked up the pace a bit to stay a few feet behind him. On the final mile I noticed that either I was picking up the pace or he was slowing down a bit; as we made the turn back into the park he waved me by saying “it’s all you” or something like that. I pushed past him and headed up the final hill into the park which took all I had left in the tank. Near the top I started to feel like I was going to puke so I took some deep breaths and told myself that I was almost to the top and that it was all downhill from there. Right as I hit the top of the hill I could hear the announcer saying that the first place in my age group had just crossed the line. I didn’t know if anyone else in my AG was ahead of me but I knew that there was a good chance the guy I had just passed could be so I pushed the pace down the hill to stay ahead of him. At the bottom of the hill I glanced behind me and saw that I was a good 400 yards ahead of him at this point. The finish line loomed ahead of me and the final surge of adrenaline hit as I pushed hard to the end. Run time – 21:56.

Total Time: 1:00:46

I stopped at the end and congratulated the guy behind me. He said he just hit the wall and couldn’t go any harder when he waved me by. We talked for a few minutes then I went to stretch and watch for Jen. She came in a few minutes later and I cheered her on and told her push it and pass the guy in front of her, she did - (Sorry Robert Avery). I knew there was a chance I had placed in my AG so we hung around until the results were posted. Turns out I was 3rd in my AG and 15th OA. Jen also kicked ass and was 5th in her AG. The awards were three deep in 10 year age groups; the award was a bottle of wine in a cool customized box. Since I don’t drink wine I got the box as a prize and Jen got the wine. Final note – the guy who waved me by was named Jeff and he was in my AG.

3rd of 17 M 20-29
15th of 211 Overall

74..Zach Barnes..Dublin,CA...29.....M.....01:00:46....3....15

Friday, June 6, 2008

Showdown This Weekend

This weekend is the Showdown at Sundown up in San Pablo Bay. I'm looking forward to the race but will once again be a bit nervous about swimming in the ocean. The swim is a short 1/4 mile followed by a nine mile ride and a three mile run. The race starts at 5pm and the weather is supposed to be in the 80's - it will be different to start in the warm part of the day instead of the cool crisp morning.

Even with working late a couple nights this week I've been able to get in a good workout every day:

Monday - Swam 3,100y at Masters in pm
Tuesday - Ran 6 miles in am - 47:06 - 7:51 AP
Wednesday - Rode 14 miles in the am - 17.5 mph avg
Thursday - Ran 6 miles in am - 46:00 - 7:40 AP == Swam 3,100y at Masters in pm
Friday - I might go for a short run this evening to try out these elastic laces in my shoes to make sure they will work for the tri this weekend. I hope they workout because tying shoes in T2 sucks.

I really haven't thought too much about goals for the race this weekend but I do have an idea of what I will be shooting for. Of course my overall goal is to have fun and not get a flat on the bike leg.

A Goal: 6:00 swim; 19mph avg on bike; 20:00 run
B Goal: 7:00 swim; 18mph avg on bike; 20:30 run
C Goal: 7:30 swim; 17mph avg on bike; 21:00 run

I'm not really sure what the bike course will be like but I think it is small rolling hills. Hopefully I can get into a good groove but that just depends on how "rolling" the hills actually are. No matter what I'm sure it will be a fun race and I am looking forward to it. This will also be Jen's first race of the year and her Mom will be in town to watch and cheer us on as well.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Big Swim Week and First OWS Event

This week was my highest volume swim week ever and it included my first ever open water race.

Weekly Totals:
Swim: 10,650 yards
Bike: 85.2 mi
Run: 25 mi

May Totals:
Swim: 30,350 yards
Bike: 264.2 mi
Run: 72.5 mi

This weekend Jen and I participated in our first open water swim race ever. The big difference between this event and the swim portion of a tri was the fact that you could not wear a wetsuit. I really didn't know what to expect for a time and I really didn't try to "race" it; I was just happy to survive. We both opted for the .75 mile course instead of the 1.5 mile course. Several of the people from our masters team did the .75 as a warm up then raced the 1.5 mile - that didn't sound the least bit fun to me, maybe next year.

When I swam the .5 mile leg of the NAPA sprint earlier this month it took me 13:49 or something like that. This .75 mile swim without a wetsuit took me 25:37 - granted I didn't try to race it but I was still surprised at the length of time it took me compared to the half mile swim in the tri. Something else I noticed was that I was not nearly as wore out as I was after the NAPA swim - this could have been due to the fact that I was not swimming all out but I think a large part of it was better conditioning thanks to masters practice. The real test will be this Saturday when I race the Showdown at Sundown - the swim is only 400 yards and I plan on swimming hard (for me that means 1:35-1:45 per 100) so we'll see how well conditioned I actually am.

Saturday Jen and I ran 10 miles up near Moraga on a paved trail that she really enjoys running on. It's an out and back with the first five miles on a consistent up-grade and the return slightly down. Our average pace ended up being around 8:57 w/ a significant decrease in average mile pace for the second half. That afternoon we relaxed around the house and I baked some cookies for the OWS event which was Sunday morning.

Sunday after the swim we grabbed a quick bite to eat then headed out on the Iron Horse trail for a nice 50 mile ride. There are quite a few sections of the trail that are very lightly used so we were able to get into a groove for some pretty long stretches. Once we turned around we ran smack into a headwind which lasted for 20 of the second 25 miles. Once we were home we relaxed with some chips and salsa, drinks, and a movie.

My evening swims are in limbo for a while due to the fact that I will be working late most nights for the next couple of weeks. I'll try to get them in on the evenings when I can and make the best of it - hopefully I can make it at least twice a week.