Saturday, December 29, 2012

Creating your own Local Training Loop

A few years ago while diligently studying a Mountain Bike magazine I came across an article that taught how to train for cross country races. It was built on the idea that you should create your own short loop. This is a trail system that is easy to reach and is reasonably challenging but most important of all, it has to be fun. It has to beg your attention more than once a week.

Simple concepts often whisper truth in a language we assume that we understand. My assumption was wrong. Hopefully others can benefit from the mistakes I made.

I thought the short loop was a great idea so I started tracking one out near my home in Massachusetts. Unfortunately I made a series of amateur mistakes. First, I couldn't settle on one set course. I kept changing my mind. Second, each time I altered the route it got a little longer. My desire to get in a complete workout while also advancing my abilities was like weight lifting on a treadmill.

I tried to include every hill, berm, drop, jump and climb in a ten mile radius. After a couple months my short loop was 21 miles long, it traveled throughout Myles Standish State Forrest and it was truly arduous.

That long, difficult route was too much to handle. One trip would physically wipe me out for days. I was lucky if I got to ride it once a month. This indecision defeated the purpose of having one set route. The goal was to hit some of the same elements over and over thus allowing yourself to get comfortable, balanced, skilled. Only by repeating a tight turn or struggling over a rooty section can you get good at it.

I have never been short on ambition but I've always been short on patience. It was this flaw that made my design plans fall through. Lesson learned.

Here in Englewood, Florida I was initially upset with the lack of trails appropriate for Mountain Bikes but that's because I didn't know where to look. I have ridden the Ann Dever trails and the Oyster Creek park but each has little nuances that cannot be discovered in a single day. In fact, it took a couple years of exploring to assemble all of the connectors to make a good system.

 On Christmas Day the final piece of the puzzle emerged. The end result is a simple 9 mile loop that can be accessed from my home. It is mostly off road, rides on sandy singletrack and crush shells with some short grass and pine needles. It crosses and re-crosses 6 bridges. There are rooty parts and stretches of road. It is an excellent mix of all the available surfaces and elements.

Combining the pieces was well worth the wait because now I'm psyched to wake up early and get to pedaling. The pressure of forcing myself to do long distances at a high rate of speed has subsided. No more pushing hard only to burn out time after time. I'll still need to hit the streets for endurance rides but this short loop is where I'll keep my skills sharp and retain my love of going off road.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Night Riding in the Carlton Reserve

One of the joys of Mountain Biking is the sense of exploration. The opportunity to escape the confines of paved lines and stop signs, to distance oneself from the sounds of honking cars and busy lifestyles. Nothing says exploration like trying something for the first time. Recently I got the opportunity to do three different things for the first time and all of them took place on the same ride. 

My new friends at Real Bikes Englewood told me of a regular Tuesday night group ride. They would all meet at an agreed upon location at sundown, armed only with the normal riding fare plus a few thousand lumens worth of light. I decided to give it a try. I bought a basic model light for my bike, clamped it to the handlebars and met the riders at the Sleeping Turtle Preserve in Venice, Florida.

Remember those three things I have never done? Here they are - I have never gone on a group ride in Florida, I have never explored the Carlton Reserve Park and I have never done a night ride. On this cool evening less than a week before Christmas I would be trying all three at once.

About 19 riders slowly gathered at the parking lot and began introducing themselves. I had befriended a number of cyclists on Facebook over the last two years and on this night I met many of them for the first time. They brought along every imaginable type of bike. From a vintage steel frame with drop bars to a cyclocross bike and a singlespeed to full suspension 29ers. 

The gathering broke up into two groups A and B. The A group was made up of hardcore riders. They were aiming for a 35 mile ride at a high pace though I later learned they had to make a couple stops for the sake of avoiding alligators. The B group was more my speed, lead by Randy and Eric of Scorr (Sarasota County Off Road Riders).

We set off down the road and the eight of us drifted into the trails of the Carlton Reserve just past 6pm. It was already dark but with a clear sky illuminated by stars and a shade short of a quarter moon. The trails are what you would expect from a Southwest Florida park, grassy curves with sandy singletrack. Each section of trail undulates back and forth until it reaches one of the endless fire roads.

Had I ridden these trails in the daytime I would not have been impressed but there is a better energy when you are riding with a group. Plus, our ride leaders knew the composition and undulations of every path so we always knew what to expect. Secondly, riding at night makes everything more exciting. Each turn of the trail is a slightly ominous dark corner that could reveal a sounder of pigs digging in the dirt or a stray coyote or as the A group encountered, an alligator.

Best of all was the sheer freedom that comes only in the evening. When you are lifting your bike over a fence chained shut or riding under a cloud of fog lifting your arm so your fingers caress the grey, ghostly surface. For that short time you feel like a kid again. You feel like you have escaped the confines of the real world and chosen to travel in a dreamland painted with picturesque night skies and deep curving tunnels.

Photo from the Carlton Reserve website
Fifteen miles was a hearty workout. There were sections of spongy grass and pig holes that kept the ride challenging. I usually stayed in second or third position shifting up or down only to alleviate the ache in my quads. My single light was adequate mostly because everyone else had such brilliant hardware but I would recommend something more powerful.

We returned to the parking area just after eight o'clock and enjoyed some fluids as the nippy air cooled our exposed skin. Our ride leaders were real characters. Not only did they tell amusing biking tales while in the woods, they continued their stories afterwards. Had I not been starving I would have stayed longer just to enjoy more of the conversation.

If you have never been on a night ride, I would strongly recommend it. This ride is regular on Tuesday nights at 6pm (Excluding Christmas of course) and meets at the Sleeping Turtle Preserve parking lot. It is open to anyone and there is no cost.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Personal Record at the Frosty 5K

Frosty 5 K

Who says you can't have snow or a snowman in Florida weather? I saw them both at the Frosty 5K run at Twin Lakes on Clark Road in Sarasota. Ok, the snow came from a machine and appeared to be more foamy than frozen and the snowman was wearing running shoes. Regardless of these minor details, 500 competitors enjoyed the 60 degree weather during a fun morning of racing, charity and comradery.

The park is somewhat smaller than I imagined but it did have a fun 1/2 mile jogging course that circled round a small pond. This meant that most of the race course went through adjoining neighborhoods. These were quiet suburban back roads that made for flat, straightforward runs. Parking was packed, this is clearly a popular year end race. I know that the Zoomers Run Club uses it as their race series final so I was happy to get in at least one score in 2012.

The Frosty 5K is put on by the Active Suncoast Foundation and they did an excellent job. The goody bags were huge and full treats including an attractive white logo dri-fit t-shirt. Vendors were present with athletic related products and even the Baltimore Oriole showed up. The food lines were very long but being exhausted I didn't stick around for photos and awards.

This race had a similar atmosphere to the Turkey Trot I ran a month ago at Edison College. The crowd was diverse, well humored and accepting of new people. Active Suncoast runs their times a little differently than I'm used to. Instead of attaching an electronic tag to your laces it was attached to your race number. The numbers themselves were very colorful and made for a prize in themselves.

As for the outcome, The Male Open winner was Sarasota's Jeff Vereckt. How many 40 years olds do you know that can run a 5K in 16:45? That is an impressive time. In the Ladies Open  we saw North Port's Heather Butcher take the win with 18:30. The youngest runner to complete the course was Sarasota's Mark Schroeter. This 6 year old finished in 44:45 beating out 60 other runners. The eldest runner to finish was 85 year old Edward Shearer of Venice who scored well with 52:32.

2012 Frosty 5K Results

My start was a little stiffer than usual. Friday night before the race Terri and I had a full schedule which included reporting on a race at Tampa BMX. After which we had a 2 hour drive home. We got back at midnight. I didn't fall asleep until 2:30am then awoke at 5:30 for the race. 

Otherwise all was right on track. I remembered to warm up fully, I remembered to use my Ironman Timex to track the split times and I remembered to steadily increase speed only by small increments. All of it worked perfectly. At the one mile mark I was sitting pretty at 7:57. My pace slowed a little in the next mile but by then I was in a groove and was able to shift into that next gear. I sprinted across the line in 26:12, a new personal best. The results put me in 13th place out of 27 runners in my age group plus I was 151 out of 495 overall.

This was my 3rd and last running race of 2012. This new hobby has encouraged me to lift up my home training so that I'm now running 4 mile routes, the most recent only took 38:48. I'm planning on continuing to attend one race per month starting in the new year. Now that I have started running it is hard to imagine that I could ever stop.