The 220km Route

ARA Nordbayern 200km Brevet 2015

I have put off posting about this Brevet for long enough. I guess I should just get it over with. I have put it off because it wasn’t a good experience. It made me once again question my endurance career and the overall point of spending my free time absorbed in getting better and faster. Since then the bad taste in my mouth (figurative and literal) has gone away, and I am back at training. It seems to be just what I do. Prepare, race, suffer, whine, finish the race (event), vow to never again, reflect, justify, look back with perspective, reassess, and then start training for next event.  Sometimes I go through this whole process within minutes or hours. Sometimes it takes days. I am sure that this process or something similar is familiar to those that have accomplished anything difficult but with results less than what was desired.

Background

As this was my first event on the schedule for the 2015 season, I was excited to see what I could realize resultant from my winter training. During the winter I saw double digit percentage gains in my FTP twice which was placing me in a form I was excited about. In the 8 weeks prior to the Brevet, I had also followed very precisely a Century Road training plan from Trainer Road. Yes, I know 200km is more than 100 miles, but really those last 20 some odd miles in such an event just happen. It is usually somewhere in the middle where the problems occur (according to my experience). Accordingly, the usual pre-event anxiety was minimal because of my preparation. I was planning on getting through the 220km with an average speed near 27km/h. I was confident I could do this and stay within Heart Rate Zones 1 and 2. As I have yet to purchase a power meter, and thus I would be governing my ride according to what my heart was saying to me.

The Roll Out

The morning of the Brevet, I took the train from Ingolstadt to Treuchtlingen and followed some others off the train to the Sports Club house where the start would be located. There were a few hiccups with that part of the adventure, but I made it to the Club house, and picked up my control card and saw that I was in the 8th and last group to start. At 5 minute intervals this was a bad thing. That meant a full 40 minutes behind the first group, and in order to find a good group with which to travel, I would need to make up the ground in the morning (also bad). However, in my group was an individual that I had ridden with previously and he was a power horse, so I decided to stick his wheel and see what came of it. Just before the beginning of the ride, I met up with my work colleague and laughed about when we would see each other again (he was in group 7).

Herr Stümpfl und Ich!

Herr Stümpfl und Ich!

As soon as our number was called, and our control cards were punched, we were given a few brief instructions and allowed to start. It was a brisk morning, and colder than I had anticipated. It took a while of riding before I warmed up too. This also caused issues with my HR monitor. I have noticed that when it is cold, and I haven’t wet the contact spots, then my HR reads high until I have started to perspire just a bit. Knowing this, the early ride readings in the 160’s didn’t bother me too much. I didn’t feel like I was going that hard either. However, after about 10 kilometers and having created a little bit of perspiration, the HR numbers weren’t dropping like I wanted. So I sucked closer in behind the power horse to see if they would drop. They did, and they got back into the zone I wanted to be in, but at a much slower speed than I had anticipated. Hmmm, something wasn’t right. So I decided to stick with my projected average speed until the first climb, and then make adjustments. My thought was that the HR would eventually even out to where it should be.

The Middle Section

During my last Brevet, I had a hard time reaching the second control station. My brain starts playing tricks on me during this middle part. If I watch my computer and see the Kilometers ticking off, I inevitably start whining about how much is still left to go. I still need to develop a mental block for those mind gnomes that continually yell at me. However, one thing of note was that before I got to the first control station, we rode past the geographic middle point of Bavaria. They have erected a nice tower or mile marker of sorts, so that was fun to see. According to some of the riders, it is considered by the Bavarians to be the belly button of the world. OK, you can have that classification.

Just before the second control station I was noticing that I just didn’t have much strength left in me. It was almost like I could have taken a nap for 3 hours and been just fine. This was not a good idea considering the ever worsening weather, and the 120 some odd kilometers to go. I was also noticing some twinges in my quads, which I knew as the onset of cramping. Crap! Looking back on my HR file later with the knowledge of 162 as my Burn-a-Match point, I counted 11 different matches over the first 90 Kilometers and 8 within the first 2 hours. This just didn’t seem logical to me then nor does it now. With that many matches, you would expect that I was in a race, and I was definitely not racing. Something was up.   At the control station, I did what I could to get fat and sugar into my system, but even the sweetest or saltiest of foods tasted like cardboard. I did eat a few packets of mustard as I wanted to stem off the cramps that I knew were coming. Rest and eating seemed to help a little, and I was then on my way again.

120km-180km

I found some comfort in following small groups or single riders during this stretch. Most seemed to know where they were going, and as I was just following my Edge 500, my navigation skills were going to be limited to what I consider the worst feature of the 500 (course/route following). What was interesting with this technique was how often some others were getting lost too. Maybe not lost, but taking the wrong turns. They knew where they were supposed to go, but as bike paths and roads are very abundant here in Germany, you can get from point A to B in many different variations. For the final 20 kilometers before the 3rd control station, I caught the wheel of a 5 bike train that was moving along rather nicely and without the second guessing that was common up to that point. At the third control station, however, after I came out of the restroom, they were gone.

I pushed on solo for a while, and it seemed that most of my strength was coming back to me. The food I was eating seemed to help, and the mustard would take the cramps away for a time. There were a few times where I would stop, and lie down for a spell to let the blood and heart rate settle. Then after a long section of rolling through the Altmuhltal, the course eventually turned to the North, and a climb was in short coming. My legs protested at the sniff of an incline, so I knew I was toast. Just before this I had teamed up with a two guys that were following me mostly because my navigation seemed sure. As I stopped at the bottom of the hill to eat some food and lie down on the side of the road, one of them did the same. I informed him that my legs were shot, and he said his were feeling the same. I told him I had muscle cramping and the Mustard just wasn’t cutting it any more. He asked if I wanted to try some magnesium pills. I had heard and read of the benefits of magnesium, but was skeptical as always. However, at this point, I would have nearly eaten horse manure if you told me it would make the cramps go away. I ate three of those little bitter metallic tasting pills, and almost immediately noticed the pain subsiding. We got back on our bikes and we made it up the hills and carried on.

Hmmm, magnesium huh? OK… However, I did notice that although the cramping had stopped, the lasting effect of the weakened muscles was still present. In other words, this wasn’t a silver bullet in pill form. Maybe so if I take them earlier in the game, but after the cramping had started the muscles seemed to be done.

Dark to the End

Of all things I didn’t want to have to do was ride in the dark on this ride. However, with the late start, the muscle cramping, and the earlier time of the year (before daylight savings) it got dark before we got back. At this point we started using the navigation by committee format. This caused delays, but eventually we say Treuchtlingen in the valley below. We dropped into the valley and made our way across it to the main part of town. We arrived back at the Club house just after 8:30 pm. I was positively sure that I wasn’t going to participate in the 300km Brevet scheduled a few weeks later (I didn’t).

Data Dump and Thoughts

I really enjoy the ARA Nordbayern Brevet series that Karl and Heidi have put together, and would recommend it to anyone that wants to have a good but strenuous time riding their bike in Germany. Karl seems to put as much elevation change into his brevets as possible. That is OK, but for me, it seems to induce muscle cramps. This ride I was able to find some temporary solutions, but I am still going to work on the prevention side of this dilemma rather than the triage. It is the less painful method too. What is still unclear to me is the “Why” of my Heart Rate over the first 30-50 kilometers of the Brevet. It was unrealistically too high. My perceived effort for this same portion was also way too high. It could have been that I was over tired or that the cold temperature was affecting me more than I thought it should. Something was just not right during the first part of the ride. In fact because of the first section of the ride, it made it so that almost no part of the ride ended up being fun to me. That is frustrating. On a good note, I found out that magnesium works for me, and mustard can take the pains away almost immediately, and those are two good takeaways. To end here comes some data and pretty graphs. Thanks for reading.

Overall Data

Overall Data

8 Matches within first 2 hours!!!

8 Matches within first 2 hours!!!

Halbmarathon Ingolstadt 2015

Background

I started specific training for this half on January 4th of this year. Sticking to my theme of free training plans, I scheduled a Garmin Connect Training plan on my calendar and had it push the workouts to my fenix 2. The plan I followed was the Half Marathon Level I plan with heart rate. I chose this mostly because of the desired 3 runs a week as I maintained my cycling volume through the winter. As for following the plan, I would say that the workout completion was around 85%.  I have been wanting to mention an inherent trait of the workout feature of Garmin Connect and I think now would be just as good as any. Due to the way workouts are programmed on the fenix 2, I only have my watch walk me through the interval or interval-like workouts.  When following a workout on the fenix 2 it removes the Auto Lap feature of a normal run which is something that I use to track progress. I have the Auto Lap set at kilometer intervals, and having it buzz or beep to notify me of the last Auto Lap is something I find beneficial. In contrast, when you are following a preset workout, the buzz or beep notification feature is employed to advise you of the next step be it an interval or rest cycle. So in order to still obtain those auto-lap messages for the Long Runs, Easy Runs, Tempo Runs, and Build Runs of the schedule, I stepped through those runs myself, or better said I controlled those workouts by watching my heart rate and pace. Along that same theme, my heart rate governed 90% of my workouts during this training schedule. I know that opinions differ as what to follow with a workout, but I made it a conscious effort to follow only heart rate to compare that style with my previous style of following only pace. I have liked the change, and have found it beneficial. By stepping through this training schedule I found myself as ready as I have been for any race to date. I attribute some of this readiness to my overall fitness gains from my winter training, but for run specific training I was very pleased by this schedule.

Packet Pickup

I really enjoy the packet pickup of each race, and I like it when the race makes it possible the day before the race. Picking up the packet the day before gets you into a good frame of mind for the mental preparation needed for each race. I accordingly picked up my packet the day before and perused the items they offered at discount. This is usually another good reason to pick up the packet the day before, as the selection is better and accordingly I picked up a few things at a discount price that I was eventually going to buy anyways. The pasta was good too.

Race Prep

Although I like the afternoon schedule of the races here in Germany, one disadvantage is that you have to wait all day for the race. This is usually OK for me, but due to the taper week, I was as wound up and full of energy like a coiled spring. Finally the time to leave the house arrived, and the with the whole family piled in the car we looked for a parking spot in the increasingly full lots of the Saturn Arena and Wonnemar. When we finally found one, it had started to rain, and we drug the kids through the rain to meet up with a friend of ours at the town hall in the middle of Ingolstadt. After a little while longer I made my way to the start line. I noticed a lot of people warming up, and I thought that in order to look normal I should do the same. I had no idea what I was doing, but I did a few high knees and some elevated cadence work and called it good. I figured running a half Marathon would be enough running for me for the day.  I also noticed that my heart rate was already pretty elevated due to the nerves and excitement I always feel just before a race.

los gehts

After a delayed start, the pack started slowly moving towards the starting line. I had grouped myself near what I thought was the 1:45 finishers. I started my watch at what I thought was the starting line and off we went. The course for this half was fun, and were it not for all of the people running, I would have really enjoyed it. I had asked my friend to take some pictures of me as I ran by and to my best bet estimated when I would be passing him. Standing near the town hall he would be able to see me pass 3 times. Looking at the pictures afterwards was interesting to see the increase in the discomfort in my face each time I passed.

Looking rather upbeat after 500 meters.

Looking rather upbeat after 500 meters.

21 Kilometers

As I started to tick off the kilometers on the course and see the splits on my watch, I was a little worried about how quick my heart rate had jumped into the 160’s. I was running in my normal Zone 3 or steady state pace, but my heart was already acting as if it was zone 4. This seems to be a theme for me as of late with my HR. It just seems to be 4 to 7 beats faster on race day when comparing it to a normal training day. This was somewhat of a concern for me as I progressed along because I was worried about the proverbial wall. I had set my virtual partner up for a 4:50/km pace (7:45/mile) and by kilometer 10, I was already 1 minute and change ahead of him/her. My HR was now in the low 170’s, and I kind of just had to go with it. Nothing was hurting too much, and though I stopped at the aid stations to get water and bananas, I really didn’t seem to need that much either. I was however, ready to ditch my jacket since it had stopped raining, and upon passing by the town hall another time I threw it too my wife who was a few rows back in the crowd.

Looking to throw a jacket!

Looking to throw a jacket!

In the meantime this little man was doing some running of his own (away from Mom).

In the meantime this little man was doing some running of his own (away from Mom).

The most difficult section of this race was around kilometers 13 and 14. Running along the top of the flood retaining wall didn’t allow for too many spectators to cheer you on, and it also seemed to stretch out forever. After that turn around, things started to pick up and my pace kept right in the same groove. Before long it seemed like I was running through the city center again.

This is the end

I have become accustomed to saying that a Half Marathon is 21.1 kilometers, and that last 0.1 kilometers is the toughest part. This is definitely true more mentally than physically. To add insult to this mental anguish, the finishing 100 meters of this course are on cobble stones. It hurts to run at high speeds on pave. In asking my friend to take some pictures of me, I specifically requested that he be there at the finish line to get the time clock as I passed under it. He did a wonderful job considering it was his first time doing action shots.

Trying to do some mental math.  What is 42 subtract 1?

Trying to do some mental math. What is 42 subtract 1?

Finish Line! 1 minute behind gun.

Finish Line! 1 minute behind gun.

PR in German is PB

42-1 is 41! My watch had to let me know that I had obtained my goal and gotten a PR (1:41:18 officially). Not only that, but knocked off 8:31 in the process. I was pleased. Very pleased. After 5 years of doing this as a hobby, I am finally starting to see the gains I was hoping for 3 years ago. I guess specified training is worth it. I was also on the fast side of the bell curve for a change. Now if I could just realize these gains with my doggy paddle.