Monthly Archives: September 2011

Missed opportunities

On Saturday, when out for a quick ride before my flight to Omaha, I crashed.

I was riding along the Rillito River path, bent down to grab my water bottle, and then next thing I knew I was in an ambulance being taken to the hospital. I was on a back board with a collar restraint and couldn’t move. I don’t recall anything about the incident. From what I’ve been told, some passers-by called both the paramedics and my roommate who picked up my bike. Needless to say, I missed my flight to Omaha and my race on Sunday.

I am grateful for whoever stopped to help, the paramedics, the trauma team, and everyone else who helped me on Saturday. I escaped with minor scrapes, cuts, and bruises… and a concussion. Firefighter and paramedic Matt from Tucson Fire Station 5 was very kind to me in the back of the ambulance. I owe him a big debt of gratitude.

If anyone knows who stopped to help an unconscious man on the path on Saturday morning, please have them contact me. I would like to say thanks.


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Force reps

force reps map

Doing some force reps along the multi-use path.

Today the training plan called for something I haven’t seen before: force reps. The description that came along with the plan said to find a straight-and-level surface to do them on. Then, select a gear where you can only manage 50-60 revolutions per minute (RPM) while seated and mash for up to 20 revolutions. The training plan didn’t say mash, but that’s what it would be. Repeat up to 10 times. Sounds easy, no? See my Garmin Connect activity profile.

The first step was finding a suitable flat spot in Tucson. The Rillito River park is about as flat as you can get. The path along the Santa Cruz River park may be flatter, at least it seems so to me, and it always seems to have less walkers and runners, but it’s a long way from my house and wasn’t prepared to do the commute first, then the workout. So the Rillito it was. I took Campbell over the river made a 270-degree turn westbound on the path and I was off to start my warm-up. Looking at the metrics below, you may be thinking, “where’s the warm-up?” It wasn’t a very good warm-up, but it was actually better than usual. I got the legs spinning at pre-dawn hours and the blood flowing a little. Heart rate only got up to 130 beats per minute (BPM) but I was feeling a bit warm. Not sweaty, but ready to start the reps.

After 20 minutes my watch beeps at me. I can set it to do intervals, which is basically what this training session was. It was time to do the first rep. I start changing to harder gears while simultaneously slowing my cadence. I wish I had a cadence meter so that I could show that data in the metrics. As long as I’m wishing, I wish I had a power meter too. C’est la vie. I quickly find that I’m in the 50×12 (my hardest gear) and standing. Doh! I wasn’t supposed to be standing. Even so, after a minute I started to get really tired. You see, I had set the intervals on the watch for 2 minutes. How did I come to that number? I have no idea. At the most, the intervals should have been 20 seconds. 20 revolutions divided by 60 RPM equals 1/3 of a minute or 20 seconds. I think I got confused and just put the 2 in the wrong slot in the watch. I actually didn’t realize that while riding, so these were actually about 1 minute intervals.

force reps metrics

Speed (blue), elevation (green), and heart rate (red) during the reps.

If you count the spikes in the heart rate in the metrics, you’ll see that there are eleven. I can’t even get that right. In my defense, the beep that starts the cool-down sounds very similar to the beep that starts an interval. It was only after that 11th one that I looked at the watch and it said I was supposed to be in cool-down mode. Jeez, I can’t get anything right with this workout.

So it turns out that 50×12 at 60 RPM isn’t that hard to do on a flat surface. As an aside, 50×12 for those that don’t know the lingo means that I had the chain in a 50 tooth front chainring and a 12 tooth rear cog. Why is the front called a chainring and the back a cog? I have no idea.

If my hardest gear wasn’t hard enough, what was I doing wrong? I had already quickly dismissed the idea that I was already at the top 1% of 1% of all athletes in this particular drill. A little searching on the web turned up this blog post by none other than Joe Friel of TrainingBible fame. It turns out that I was doing them wrong. Friel explains that they work best when done on a hill with a 5-8% grade. Hmm. Why not just call them hill repeats then? I think because the gear is specified to be such that RPM is maximized at 60 instead of sitting and spinning all the way to the top. And not standing too. But “sitting low-cadence hill repeats” would have been a clearer name for what I was supposed to be doing.

He also explains why he calls them reps and not intervals. See, his intervals always have a set time between each set. So an example would be 10 1-minute intervals with 1 minute rest. With reps, there is no set rest period between sets. So you get to rest until you feel you can complete the next rep. He also explains that this exercise is for more advanced cyclists who should ideally have several years of racing under their belt. Actually, he doesn’t say that in the blog post. I remember that from the TrainingBible. Why would I, a new cyclist with less than a year experience and no racing experience, be doing this workout? Because I don’t have a coach; or more accurately, I’m trying to self-coach myself, and I screwed up.

What I’m finding is that coaching yourself is more difficult that I ever imagined it would be. It was really nice having someone tell me what to do everyday and all I had to do was go do it. Sitting down, making a plan, and executing that plan is hard work. But I’m determined to stick with it until at least the end of the year. I have the Tucson Marathon coming up and before that a whole lot of other shorter races. After that, I will re-assess my goals and see if I need (and can afford) a coach.

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Filed under cycling, daily report, training, tucson

Weekly Roundup: September 12-18, 2011

It’s been a long week. So long that I haven’t had time to post anything juicy in a while. Don’t worry, I have 2 other posts in the works and they’re both really good.

So I’ve seen these weekly recaps on other training blogs and I think they’re a good idea. Since this is my first one and I haven’t been keeping track, this one kinda sucks, but I promise next week’s will be much better. The last 7 days saw me training for 16.5 hours with one recovery day. I logged over 40 miles running and over 150 miles biking. That seemed like a lot, and to tell you the truth, I’m more than a little beat today. This week is also going to be weird because I’m flying to Omaha to run a half marathon with my lil sis, so this is sort of a recovery week. But I need to step it up it up if I want to make my goal of a peak week of 50 miles running, 250 miles biking, and 10 miles swimming.

I eventually want to log all the food I’ve eaten, weight training sessions, and weight (as in body mass) too. But I don’t have those numbers for this week.

So here’s what I did:



  • Weights: 2 session for 2 hours, 30 minutes
  • Running: 40.69 miles in 6 hours, 19 minutes, 27 seconds
  • Riding: 154.79 miles in 9 hours, 30 minutes, 30 seconds
  • Swimming: None. Shoulder/arm still too sore.


Filed under nutrition, training

Documenting the Mountain Avenue bikeway

This morning I decided I’d take a long my Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot camera and document the bike riding conditions along the Mountain Avenue bikeway starting at the Rillito River Park and ending near the University of Arizona. The route is about three and a half miles (thanks to I started at about 8:30 and got to campus at around 8:50 for an average speed of 10.5 miles per hour. I would usually go much faster than this, but was going slow to take the pictures.

mountain avenue map

Map and elevation profile from

So the route isn’t much to look at. It’s straight south on Mountain Avenue. The elevation profile shows a continuous uphill climb, but if you look closely it’s only 200 feet over a distance of 3.5 miles. So that’s like a zero percent grade. Okay, it’s more than that, but it’s relatively flat and even the most novice cyclist should have no problems riding this route. I started documenting when I got to this little park within a park on the Rillito River Park multi-use path. There’s a couple tables to sit at and enjoy a snack or picnic plus a garbage can to throw your trash in. So don’t be a litterbug.

picnic area at river path and mountain crossing

Picnic area where the Mountain connection meets the River Park multi-use path.

Immediately adjacent to the picnic tables is a bridge that connects the linear park to Mountain Avenue. Both sides have a nice arch that proclaims it to be the River Park Gateway bridge. It is a very nice bridge and I’m glad I live in a community that thinks it’s important to build infrastructure for biking and pedestrian use. I have no idea what it cost to build this bridge, but thankfully the City of Tucson was wise enough to do so. I always see people using the bridge whether on bike, pushing a stroller, and even on horseback. And this wise investment was built with tax dollars.

river park gateway bridge

Crossing the River Park Gateway Bridge.

After crossing the bridge there is a sharp 90-degree turn that you need to negotiate which is followed within a few dozen feet by this T-intersection. The 90-degree turn will soon be another T-intersection as the south side path is completed. Make sure to be especially careful in this area as there are short sightlines and high volumes of traffic moving at different speeds. I was thinking that to myself this morning as I was taking this picture and making my left hand turn onto the connector between the river path and Mountain Avenue.

northside of path open

On the north side of the connector bridge, the path heading west is now open.

Then I saw this pedestrian enjoying the cool morning Tucson air with his dog followed by a cute couple with a stroller. As I said, this section of the path always seems to be busy. I’d suggest slowing down to a walking pace if you’re on your bike. It may take you a few minutes longer, but the added safety is worth it. Can you imagine what would have happened if that couple with the stroller had been just a little earlier and I had taken that blind corner at a little higher speed? Not good.

connector from rillito river park to mountain ave

A short connector from the Rillito River Park to Mountain Avenue.

The connecting path comes out at the intersection of Prospect Lane and Mountain Avenue. This is sort of a weird intersection. I wish I would have got a picture of it, but there was a lot of traffic due to the start of the school day at the nearby Rio Vista Elementary School. In fact, just as I was passing I could hear the morning announcements being read through the loud speaker. Ah, I remember those days. Announcements being read to grade school kids as if they cared.

south on mountain just off path

Heading south on Mountain just off the connecting path to the Rillito River Park.

Once on Mountain, there is a dedicated bike lane all the way to campus. Here we see a speed bump to slow automobile traffic but it doesn’t extend into the bike lane. It’s a nice touch although I don’t think that metal pole is necessary. Also, the low branches on the trees restrict the bike lane to about the left half. So even though the bike lane is striped to be 5 feet wide (estimated), only about 2 feet of it are actually useable at this point.

approaching first intersection

Approaching the first intersection heading south on Mountain.

The first traffic control device you encounter on Mountain is at the intersection with Limberlost. Here we see a stop ahead sign with lots of cars backed up waiting to get through the intersection. There usually isn’t that this much traffic, and I’m attributing it to the time of day. The bike lane at this point is nice and wide with no obstructions, but you can see up ahead that there are trees overhanging the road. This will get interesting.

mountain and limberlost no stop sign

Almost to the intersection of Limberlost and Mountain, but no stop sign is visible from the bike lane.

As we approach the intersection, we can see where the cars have stopped, but there is no visible stop sign. In fact, due to the overhanging tree branches, the stop sign is invisible to the point of uselessness for cyclists in the bike lane. If you forget that it’s there, you will run this stop sign. I’ve done that once and almost twice. The second time I barely avoided a crash with a car turning left from Limberlost north onto Mountain. This is a dangerous intersection because of the obstruction to viewing the stop sign. I would highly encourage whoever is responsible, be it the City of Tucson or Pima County, to trim the branches on these trees so that the stop sign is visible from the bike lane.

this car made sure to hold up traffic so I could get through

Looking east on Limberlost.

Here’s a picture looking east as I’m traveling through the intersection. I wasn’t going to snap anything here, but the woman in the SUV clearly didn’t know how to behave with a cyclist at a 4-way stop. She arrived at the intersection before me at about the same time as another vehicle from the opposite direction. The other vehicle, which can be seen in the photo above, correctly assumed the right of way and drove through the intersection. The woman in the SUV did nothing beside wave me through. The car next to me didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I and the car next to me went through. Everyone was delayed and put at increased risk, and all because this woman didn’t know the rules of the road.

south of limberlost wide path

The bike lane south of Limberlost gets a little wider.

As we finally get through the intersection, the bike lane gets wider. Well, it sort of does. I think the official bike lane is still just the portion of pavement to the right of the right-most solid white line. But the car lane is offset by another solid white line with a buffer of about two feet. While this provides no extra safety for a cyclist if a driver sways into the bike lane, it does provide a safety margin that makes it feel safer. That may be enough to get more riders on this segmet of road. As you can see, the road at this point is not well-kept. It has lots of cracks and weeks growing through the curbs. Thankfully, there is hardly any traffic on this segment either.

mountain and roger

The intersection of Mountain and Roger.

The intersection of Mountain and Roger is pretty mundane. At this point, Roger is a two-lane road. In all my time going through this intersection, I can’t remember it ever being as busy as it was today… and you can see that in the picture above. There was an SUV travelling eastbound and a car travelling westbound with a string of cars heading south. The lane markings are a little weird. There is a marked bike lane seen by the solid white line on the right and then a dashed white line as well marking the right turn lane. This lane is not wide enough for a car, so when they turn right they either do so from the through lane or use the bike lane. I’ve seen both, but I’m assuming they want the cars to use the bike lane.

south of roger brick dividers

Just south of Roger, the bike lane picks of a row of brick dividers.

The intersection with Roger marks a turning point for the Mountain bike lane. From here to the university it gets more use and the condition of the surface is much better. We can see here that there is a row of red-colored bricks that now seperate the bike lane from the car lane. This is a nice touch. It looks pretty and provides extra room for cyclists to manuvour in the bike lane; whether they need to avoid debris or pass a slower cyclist, they now can do so hopefully without conflict with faster moving vehicles in the car lane.

median with trees

The brick dividers are gone, but there's now a median with trees.

At Knox Drive, we see the start of this median. I’ve noticed that the cars travel much slower when they are on this segment of road than on other parts. I don’t know if that’s because of the median or not, but in any case, I like it both for it’s aestetic and practical qualities. I like it much more than the bricks that we saw earlier, and will see again later. Medians like this act as great traffic calming devices by restricting the field of view of the drivers which naturally causes them to slow down. As the trees grow, this effect should get larger.

approaching prince

Approaching the first stop light at Prince.

The intersection at Prince Road marks another major milestone as the first stop light. From the Rillito River Park to campus there are only four stop lights, but all of them are at major intersections. One of these can be easily avoided as we’ll see later. Approaching the intersection, we notice a line of cars about 5 deep and a cyclist in the bike lane. I saw a lot of this cyclist this morning as we were going about the same speed so I didn’t want to pass him and then have him pass me while I slowed for a photo and then me pass him and then… you get the picture.

prince and mountain

Stopped at the intersection of Prince and Mountain.

For some reason, I always seem to have to wait at this intersection. Fort Lowell and Grant I hit green a fair amount of the time, but I can’t recall the last time I did so at Prince. I have the sneaking suspicion that the red light is longer at Prince due to the higher volume of traffic compared to the other two intersections. I don’t know how long the cyclist ahead of me was waiting, but he looked like he was there so long he was actually getting comfortable. I like the one huge pannier on the left side of his rear tire; I wonder if that makes it harder to steer.

looking west on prince

Prince is a wide road. Looking west from the intersection with Mountain.

Traveling at 10 miles per hour, it took a little while to get through the extra large intersection at Prince. So long that I decided to whip out the camera and snap a quick picture. I didn’t have time to actually try to compose this shot, but I think it turned out well. Price at this point is 5 lanes wide; two in each direction with a suicide lane. I’m sure they’re officially called something less drastic, but that’s what my mother called them the first time she saw them and the name stuck for me.

brick dividers come again

South of Prince, the brick dividers are back again.

The nice median is gone and is replaced with the bricks again. There’s not a whole lot to see at this point in the ride; it all starts to look the same. Two lane road for cars with a wide bike lane with brick dividers. There was still just the one cyclist and me using the bike lane.

I like the brick crosswalks

Some of the crosswalks were marked with the brick too.

I don’t recall which side road this was taken at, but some of the crosswalks were paved in brick as well. I thought that was a nice astetic touch as well as clearly marking where drivers should stop. Also notice the great photography with the shadow of my head getting in the image.

approaching fort lowell

Approaching the second stop light at Fort Lowell.

Off in the distance is the second of four stop lights. Medians again with no bricks. Also, no more cyclists.

car on the sidewalk

A car blocking the sidewalk.

As we get closer to Fort Lowell, there’s this car parked on the sidewalk. This is the first time I’ve seen that on this road. I’ve seen plenty of cars parking in the bike lane, cars using the bike lane as a turn lane, and all other sorts of shinanegans. This one was odd though. The licence plate is visible if anyone from the city wants to have a chat with the owner. I’m sure any pedestrians who were trying to use the sidewalk this morning would appreciate it.

mountain and fort lowell

The intersection of Mountain and Fort Lowell is busy at this time of day.

The busy intersection of Fort Lowell and Mountain. We can see a car legally using the bike lane to make a right turn. While it may be legal, it is still dangerous for cyclists. The rider ahead was coasting so he wouldn’t get right hooked by the car making a right from the through lane. I had to slow up due to the confusion and barely made it through the light. Today that wouldn’t have been a problem, but I usually don’t like stopping at stop lights if I don’t have to do so.

ghost bike mountain and fort lowell

I pass by this ghost bike every day on the way to work.

Ghost bike. Not much to say. A rider died trying to make it through this intersection. I pass by every day making sure I’m extra careful.

south of fort lowell

South of the Fort Lowell intersection to bike lane gets even wider to accommodate more bikes.

Here the bike lane gets even wider. However, it’s at this point that the surface condition starts to get worse. I noticed a lot of spiderwebing and cracks due to neglect. Routine maintanance would have prevented some of the problems on this stretch of road, but funding seems to be extra short these days. Remember that great bridge that was built with tax dollars just a few pictures ago? Wouldn’t it be nice to continue that great infrastructure all the say to campus? Yeah, it takes money.

even the pavement markings have helmets

Even the pavement markings have helmets!

I love the pavement markings on this road. The cyclists all have helmets! I wish I could say the same for all the cyclists I see riding on the Mountain bikeway. Helmets may be a pain, they may not prevent all head injuries, but they do prevent some. They are cheap and if you’re in an accident, they could save your life. Please wear a helmet.

approaching gless and mountain

Approaching the last of the stop signs at Glenn and Mountain.

Glenn and Mountain marks the last stop sign. At this point we also pick up another commuter on her way to campus. I’m assuming she was going to campus, that’s where most of the riders on this road are going. We also see a lot more cars. For some reason that I can’t figure out, they also seem to be going faster in this segment as well. I don’t know if that was psycological because there were more or if they actually were going faster. I do have a hypothesis though: if they were going faster, it’s probably because they were university students trying to make it to class without being late. I’d suggest riding a bike instead!

first major debris in the bike path

South of Glenn, I encounter the first major debris in the bike lane.

One major problem on Mountain is the amount of debris in the bike lane starting at Glenn and continuing all the way to campus. Here is the first bit of loose gravel that I encountered just south of Glenn. This seems to be the most problematic the days following a large rain event. And last night we got rain, and the last few days have been extremely wet. As the number of cyclists ride over the gravel, it gets kicked to the side of the road and the path eventually becomes clear. Either that or the city finally has a street sweeper go through.

passed by a fixie

Between Glenn and the university there were a lot of cyclists. Here I'm being passed by a guy on a fixie.

South of Glenn I also noticed that there was a very large number of cyclists. I noticed this because I was going so slow and they were all passing me! Here I got passed by a guy riding a fixed gear bike. I’ll take all 20 of my gear combinations, thank you very much. Although he was going faster, so maybe he’s on to something.

grant in the distance

The last stop light at Grant is in the distance.

Way off in the distance you can barely make out the stop lights at Grant. The last major intersection before making it to campus. I didn’t get a good shot of the actual intersection, which is why this lousy one is posted here. You can also see the guy on the fixie avoiding a large gravel deposit in the bike lane.

south of grant quite a few cyclists

Looking south just after crossing Grant on Mountain with quite a few cyclists up the road.

After crossing Grant. The fixie is way off in the distance. The bike lane has switched to concrete and is much nicer to ride on. Sometimes. There are some places where the junction of two of the concrete slabs doesn’t line up just right and if you’re not prepared you’ll get a bone-jarring bump. As I’ve ridden this road so many times, I know where all the bad places are and can generally avoid them without thinking. Also of note in this picture, you’ll see how far I am to the left. I was avoiding a bunch of glass in the bike lane that the guy ahead of me ran right through. I hope he didn’t get a flat. As I was snapping this, I heard “on your left”, which of course made me swerve a little to the left, causing the faster rider to pass on the right. Straight through the broken glass. Sorry guy. Hope you didn’t get a flat either.

plants overgrowing into the bike lane

Going south on Mountain there is not too many obstacles. Here some shrubs are overgrowing into the bike lane. The northbound lane has low overhanging trees that will smack you in the face.

As you’ve seen in most of the photos, there hasn’t been much in the way of obstructions to the bike lane. Here we see some shrubs that have grown a little to big and should probably be trimmed. I don’t think at this point that they are causing a safety hazard, but if they get too much bigger they will cause cyclists to avoid them.

left turn top of the hill

A cyclist attempts to make a left turn as we approach the top of the hill. It's all downhill from here!

The last obstacle southbound on Mountain is this little hill. It’s not that big, you can make it. But I have seen quite a few people on bikes that look like they weren’t going to make it. Just keep pedaling and it’ll be over soon enough. It’s downhill on the other side. The rider on the left is trying to make a left hand turn. He made it without problem, but at the previous intersection I saw a woman on a comfort bike that looked like she was really nervous trying to make the left onto southbound Mountain. I’m not sure how, but it would be nice if there was a safer way for cyclists to turn left onto this nice bikeway.

after the right onto helen

I turn right onto Helen to get to the Olive Underpass.

Off the Mountain bikeway and onto Helen. Up ahead is the Olive Underpass which avoids the stop light at Speedway. After the underpass, you’re on campus!


Filed under cycling, daily report

Should I try for a PR at Omaha? Semi-random musings

A few days ago, I was musing about trying to set a new PR at the Omaha Half. Don’t worry; procrastinator that I am, I haven’t made a decision yet. But I’ve been thinking about it. I have two competing thoughts on the matter. On the one hand, the only half marathon I’ve run has been the Lake Havasu Half. I signed up for it on a whim about three weeks prior to the event. At the time I was training for the Whiskey Row Marathon in Prescott. There was no specific training that went into the Havasu Half besides showing up and running. There was no taper period involved since the week preceding the event consisted of a full running schedule. Even so, I was able to mount a very reasonable 1:42:06 for a first half-marathon. Since then, I’ve continued to run and am in much better shape now than I was then. Therefore, all things being equal, I should have no problem breaking my record set at Havasu.

But all things are not equal. The most important difference is that I am not only training for a running event. I am also training for cycling. At the moment I am not swimming because I broke my arm a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a serious break and it was in a location where they can’t cast it, so all I could do was take pain medication. It still hurts once in a while, but I’ve been riding and running for the last two weeks. The broken arm hasn’t slowed down my running that much. It’s the training hours I’m putting in biking that have me worried. I spend about 75% of my training hours on the bike. In terms of distance, it’s a lot more due to the speed differential. But the load on the legs feels about the same for each discipline. So at the moment I’m basically training for a marathon – twice! I’ve also added a weight lifting routine that I didn’t have before.

Last week alone I had 17 hours of training on the bike. That doesn’t include the average 34 minutes daily commuting to and from work. I also had 4.5 hours of training scheduled running. I don’t have easy access to my TrainingPeaks account right now, but I think I was pretty close to hitting all the biking hours and I was right on for the running. So it was a hard week. This week’s load is lighter, but not by much. For instance, I have today completely off besides commuting!

Last night I ran 8 miles in the rain. In 80 minutes. Yes, you read that right: 10 minutes/mile. That was what I put on the training plan, so that’s what I did. But it was slow running because I had lifted immediately prior. And because of my broken arm, I am restricted to leg work in the gym. Actually, both the gym and run yesterday went great and I’m sort of bummed I don’t get to do anything today. Although that’s mostly because I like eating, and when I workout I get to eat a lot.

So I’m not sure what I should do. Any random passersby have comments?

Life on the road continues…

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Filed under half, running, training

Thoughts on self-coached endurance athletes

Should I hire a coach or can I do this alone?

There comes a time in every athlete’s training when they think that they might need a coach. For some people, that point comes when they first decide to get into endurance sports. There are many coaches that specialize in taking someone who is not particularly active and putting together a training plan to get them to their goal. Usually that goal is to finish an event of some kind; that could be a 5k, marathon, or Ironman Triathlon. For some people running or walking for 5 kilometers (3 miles) is an enormous feat and they have no idea how they can get from their current level of fitness to a level they had only dreamed of before. It makes sense that if you’re starting a completely new activity that you seek out the guidance of someone who is more experienced that you.

On the other end of the spectrum is the professional endurance athlete. For obvious reasons, someone like Lance Armstrong is going to need a coach. In fact, Lance Armstrong during his prime probably had at a coach, a manager, a sports psychologist, a nutritionist, a doctor, and probably more dedicated to him winning the Tour de France. Unfortunately, you are not Lance Armstrong. That’s why you’re reading this article. But it’s not just top professionals that need coaches. Elite amateurs are likely to need, or at least want, a dedicated coach. In the sport of road cycling, this would consist of those who compete as category 1 and 2 racers. Most elite athletes have accumulated the knowledge to coach themselves, but what they usually lack is the time. Self-coaching takes a lot of an individuals time and someone who trains 40+ hours per week simply doesn’t have it!

This leaves a lot of ground in-between and I don’t want to lump all these people into the same category. But there is a wide spectrum of people who may want a coach, should have a coach, or don’t need a coach and they just don’t know where they stand from high-school to masters athletes. What these athletes have in common is that they are endearingly referred to as age-groupers. This simply means that they are not competing for the overall win in an event, but are competing against other athletes of the same age, gender, or skill. Running and triathlon events will typically split age-groups in age and gender; cycling events are sorted by skill level, with pros racing with the elite riders. Generally there are awards, monetary or not, that are given to age-group winners, so there is competition among them!


Growing up, I was active in sports. Throughout grade and high school I played basketball, baseball, soccer, and golf. Baseball is almost exclusively an anaerobic sport, which means that the body uses energy from a system that provides bursts of up to 2 minutes. Soccer is primarily an aerobic exercise where one needs to run almost continuously for a long period of time, with short bursts of speed every so often. But even a soccer match is only an hour and a half long. Someone new to running, for instance, could take well over four hours to complete a marathon. Then I met my match. During my last year of high school I did not make the soccer team, I barely made the basketball team, and golf doesn’t really count. After one year of baseball, I gave that up. I had spread myself too thin, both in terms of athletics and academically. I was never a great athlete, so during high school I focused most of my time on studying, which contributed to the decline in my athletic abilities. During that year, I got my first taste of coaching: I was asked to coach the 5th and 6th grade soccer team where I went to grade school. It was great fun, and I learned a lot, not only about coaching, but about myself.

As I went to college, my participation is sports dropped to zero… unless you count bowling. And while it’s certainly a sporting competition, there is very little aerobic about it. Then I got accepted to graduate school, where my studies took an even further step forward. The limit of my physical fitness was now walking up three flights of stairs. I ballooned to 220 pounds. I was feeling crappy pretty much every day, and feeling run down most days. Then I decided to change everything: I was going to lose the weight I had gained since high school. I made a goal of finishing a marathon within a year.

That first year was hard. I still remember those first few months. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to run outside, so I took up running on the treadmill. I would put the treadmill on 6 miles per hour and run for 10 minutes. Then 15 minutes. Then 20 minutes. Then 30 minutes. That first time I reached 3 miles was the turning point. That’s just shorter a tad than a 5k race. I knew at this point I could make the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. But I knew I needed a plan: I couldn’t just wing it. So I searched the Internet and found Hal Higdon’s novice marathon training plan. It looked good to me, but what did I know? I had never done this before! As it turns out, I would still recommend that plan for a first-time marathoner. What’s more, I learned through those 18 weeks what it meant to be self-coached. And there’s a whole lot more to it than simply following a pre-packaged plan you find on the Internet.

Since that first marathon, I completed several half-marathons, many shorter running races, and a sprint triathlon. And most importantly, I’ve hired two coaches along the way to help me out. One was a coach to help me with the triathlon and the other was a swim specific coach. I signed up for the triathlon 9 weeks before the event and didn’t know how to swim. I’m glad I got both coaches. There are definitely positive and negative aspects of hiring a coach.

At present, I do not have a coach. I am training for the 2011 Tucson Marathon and at the same time training for a full season of cycling during 2012. While I have no delusion of grandeur, I no longer consider myself a newbie endurance athlete. I am entering the world of the self-coached athlete. These are my thoughts, subject to change, about being your own coach.

Your Job as a Coach

The first job of a coach is to sit down with a new athlete and talk about their goals. As a self-coached athlete, this may not require any spoken words, but it is still a very important part of your job as coach. It is important that your create S.M.A.R.T. goals: they need to be (S)pecific, (M)easurable, (A)ttainable, (R)elevant, and (T)ime-based. As an example, one of my goals is to run the Tucson Marathon on December 11, 2011 in under 3 hours and 40 minutes. The setting of goals is a job of both the athlete and the coach. As a self-coached athlete, you must make certain that your goals are realistic to achieve, yet not so easy as to not provide a challenge.

Once the goal is set, it’s now the coaches job to sit down and make a training plan to accomplish that goal. For my goal, I am using a modified version of one of Hal Higdon’s intermediate marathon plans. But because I’m also training for a full season of bike racing, I need to add that in too, which makes the job harder. A very important thing you need to realize about being your own coach is that it’s not as simple as it sounds. It takes a lot of time to effectively coach yourself. It probably takes a lot of time to coach others too, which is why it costs so much to hire them! So don’t sell yourself short: allocate an hour per day to really looking at the daily, weekly, and monthly schedule and see if it still fits in with your goals.

Setting a truly customized training plan takes a lot of time an effort. There are many books dedicated to the art and science of taking the human body to the edge and achieving peak performance. This article simply cannot distill all that knowledge into a coherent summary. I would suggest looking on the Internet for free training plans for whatever it is you’re trying to achieve or visiting a local library. Joe Friel has training programs for both triathlon and cycling called Training Bibles. They are written for advanced athletes, but are probably useful to all but the most beginning self-coached athletes.

Your Job as an Athlete

The hard part is over, right? Now that the training plan has been made, it’s now your job as an athlete to simply follow the plan. If it was that easy, then there would be one plan available for each sport and there would be no need for coaches at all! The fact is, there is an enormous amount of work you need to do outside of training. There is a need for communication between athlete and coach that as a self-coached athlete is both easier and harder. When you have a coach, it’s easy to become lax and just follow the training plan without knowing what the coach is doing behind the scenes. You just send your daily workout log to the coach, look at the schedule for tomorrow, and complete the job. If you have questions, aren’t feeling well, or whatever, there’s always a chance to call the coach and see what she thinks.

A self-coached athlete still needs to provide feedback to your coach! It’s just in this case, you are the coach. Being your own coach makes you less objective than someone else would be, but it offers the advantage of knowing exactly how you feel. Did you just have a terrible workout in the pool and feel you need to work on your swim stroke more than running or biking? It’s easy for you as an athlete to tell your coach (you) that’s what you want. It’s harder as a coach (you) to make an objective decision based on what you’re feeling.

One of the main jobs as a coach is to push an athlete to their limit but not passed that limit. Overtraining is a condition when the body has endured too much stress without adequate recovery. It is extremely easy for self-coached athletes to overtrain. It is also extremely easy for self-coached athletes to undertrain. As an athlete, you need to provide feedback to yourself so you can make an objective decision about coaching. I would suggest using a program like They offer a free place to log workouts, meals, and daily metrics such as body weight. The pay version allows you to pre-plan workouts, meals, and lots of other great things not available in the free version. I forget what exactly you get with the pay version, but it’s well worth the money. I forgot to renew my membership, and was horrified to find that most of the tools I use were no longer available. TrainingPeaks, or similar logging tools, provide a way as an athlete to tell yourself as a coach what exactly you are doing.

TrainingPeaks works best if you have a heart rate enabled GPS device. I use a Garmin Forerunner 405CX. It is very good at what it does, and I highly recommend it, although any GPS would work. For cycling, a power meter would probably be a good product to buy if you have the money. I don’t currently own a power meter, but it’s on the wish list. The GPS, heart rate monitor, and power meter provide quantitative (as opposed to qualitative) metrics on daily workouts. If you don’t have a GPS, heart rate monitor or power meter, it’s important that you log how hard each workout seemed based on a rating of perceived effort. There are several common scales in wide use; I prefer the 1-10 scale. Make sure to log any qualitative comments you may have as well! I’ve left comments like these: “felt slight twinge in left knee” and “very hard workout in pool (8/10), but HR not above 150”. These will allow you to go back, as a coach, and see how you’re progressing and, as an athlete, if you ever need to see when you sustained that injury that keeps recurring.

Concluding Remarks

I certainly cannot tell you whether it is better for you to be a self-coached athlete or not. I’ve only been self-coaching myself for a few months, and I’ve only recently forayed into the arena of endurance sports. However, I can tell you that I am having a great time not only being an athlete, but being a coach as well. They are different sides of the same coin. It is possible to be a great athlete but a horrible coach; it is possible to be a great coach and a horrible athlete. It takes a special blend to be a great athlete and a great coach, and a spectacular blend to be your own great self-coach.

But I do think that in this age, where almost everything can be found for free on the Internet, that self-coaching in the future. Most athletes that are not extreme beginners or extreme professionals will be self-coached. So take the plunge and join the ranks of self-coached athletes. It’s time-consuming, but it’s not a waste of time. It will make you a better athlete to have a coach, even if it’s yourself.

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Filed under coaching, cycling, goals, marathon, running, swimming, training, triathlon

Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers – Marana/Tucson

stephen siller

Stephen Siller was a New York Fire Fighter that died on September 11, 2001. (This image has been lifted off the web and is presumed copyrighted. It is used under fair use.

Sunday is race day. In southern Arizona, mid-September marks the start of the fall racing season for running events. But today is not just any other day; today marks the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The local race this weekend, along with many around the country, was dedicated to Stephen Siller. A firefighter in New York City, Siller was off-duty on September 11 and was on his way with his three brothers for a round of golf when he heard the news of the airliners hitting the World Trade Center. Siller turned back toward the city and tried to go under the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but was unable to do so because it had already been closed. Siller ran, in full equipment weighing around 60 pounds, the three miles from the tunnel to the towers. He was last seen alive at the base of the World Trade Center at West and Liberty streets.

My 3.1 miles today is dedicated to the memory of Stephen Siller and all the other heroes who lost their lives 10 years ago.

Onto the race report. Up until a week ago, I did not know this race existed. I was not planning on racing today as I had raced just six days ago in the Labor Day 8-miler. But I got an invitation from Active Advantage saying they had a deal and that five people would get free registration. The catch was you had to be an Active Advantage member and be one of the first five to claim the prize which started at a specified time. I got lucky and got it! If you didn’t get one of the first five, there was an offer to get $5 off the regular $25 registration.

This event was put on by Tagg Running Events. They are a small company that has been producing running events since 2002 in San Diego and since 2004 in Tucson. It looks like most of their events are not in Tucson, but either in Marana, Vail, or Sahuarita. The races actually in Tucson seem to be dominated by the Southern Arizona Road Runners. You could tell they were operating on a budget. But the event was well-organized, though it could have used a few more volunteers.

As far as I’m aware, there was no pre-race packet pick-up, which is okay by me. Prior to the event, I did not receive any email or confirmation from Tagg Running Events. I made sure I was registered on and hoped for the best. I got to the race a few minutes early, got my bib number, pinned it on, and started a brief warm-up. I wasn’t planning on trying for a personal record, or even going that fast, so my warm-up was kept short. Just a few 100 meter jogs and one sprint to get the blood flowing.

At 6:50, there was a procession led by the Flowing Wells color guard from the congregation area to the start line. Then there were a few words spoken about Stephen Siller, the singing of the National Anthem, and then the 5k racers lined up to go. I started near the front, probably about 5 rows deep on a fairly narrow path. The race route followed a multi-use path paralleling the Santa Cruz River. We travelled up the paved river path for about a mile and turn retraced our steps on a parallel dirt path back to the start line. This would probably been a decent route if we had not got over an inch of rain the night before. The dirt path was mud. It wasn’t that hard to run in, but it wasn’t pleasant either. I’m not sure if it slowed any of the faster runners down, but I did see that at least one of the walkers slipped and fell. After we got back to the start line, there was another out-and-back on the path and dirt trail going the other direction. Then around the baseball fields, through the park to a finish on some very wet grass. I also slipped transitioning from the concrete to the grass, and I did see one other runner slip and fall.

What was the most amazing thing about this race was that there were firefighters who ran in full gear in honor of Stephen Siller and the other 9/11 first responders who lost their lives 10 years ago. For the first 3/4 of a mile, the fastest of the firefighters carrying his gear kept up with my pace of 7:30 minutes per mile. Then he slowed down. He finished in around 26 minutes. Unofficially, I finished with a clock time of 22:22, which was a few seconds faster than my watch-based pace of 7:30. It was a good workout, but not really a good race. I could have definitely gone a lot harder, which is the same thing I said about the race on Monday. Maybe I should have since I took yesterday off, but with 2 races in a week along with a 20+ hour training schedule, I didn’t want to push too hard with a half marathon coming up next weekend in Omaha.

I was originally planning on pacing my sister next week. It’s her first half marathon and only her second race. She did the 5k in Lake Havasu City when I did the half. Now I’m thinking that I may try for a new half marathon PR. My time in Havasu was 1:42:06 on a pretty flat course. That translates to a 7.8 min/mile. I originally planned for a 1:50 time, so made up almost 8 minutes during the race. At this point in time, I’m thinking of trying to set a PR. We’ll see when the time comes. I think a 1:30 is doable. That’s a 6.8 min/mile.

No pictures from me during the race, although there were a couple of photographers out on the course. I also did a loop of the foothills on the bike after the race. I may post on that later today or tomorrow. It was a really good ride.

Keep the legs moving…

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Filed under 5k, race reports, running