CitySports: Northern California's Fitness Magazine
For a number of years this was this was the website for the CitySports is Northern California's Fitness Magazine.
Content is from the site's 2003 archived pages. providing a glimpse of what this site offered its viewership.
CitySports is Northern California's Fitness Magazine. We have a passion for triathlon, running, biking, swimming and endurance sports in general. We cover those sports with the same passion. For the best in Northern California fitness coverage, make CitySports your source.
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We were in Utah, near Moab, driving Highway 128 in a crowded courtesy van on a day like a furnace. “I’ve never seen so much chrome alloy in my life,” gaped one member of the automotive press, referring to a line of restored muscle cars coming from the other direction. He looked for some sign of agreement from me, if only because I was the stranger sitting next to him and he was trying to be polite, conversational. Of the dozen passengers in the van, however, I was the only one whose eyes weren’t glazing over at the sight of those Chevy’s and Fords. I was fixated by the red rocked buttes and canyons on both sides of the road, and the Colorado River, that unwound spool of pale green spool ribbon to my right.
I wanted to say something car-ish, something about horsepower or turbo-charging, or at least mumble something knowledgeable about paintjobs. But I know nothing about cars. At the risk of sounding un-American or un-male, I don’t care to know about cars. I have absolutely no clue what chrome alloy is or why it exists. So, at the risk of being rude, I knowingly nodded my head and said, “oh, yeah,” averting my eyes lest they give away the lie.
It had been that kind of day. The global automotive press and I, the sole representative of the endurance sports media, had come to the Utah desert to witness the final day of the Land Rover G4 Challenge. It is the first event to meld adventure racing and offroad driving, and perhaps the most ambitious competition ever staged. Sixteen select competitors had mountain biked, rappelled, kayaked, and orienteered their Land Rovers across parts of three continents by the time they arrived in Moab for the finale. Beginning with a triumphal drive down Broadway a week spent racing through upstate New York, the competitors had flown on to Australia and South Africa before returning to the American Southwest. The format was roughly comparable to the sort of agreeable weekend outing the average adventure racer might undertake, wherein a bunch of gear is thrown in the back of the four-wheel drive, a bumpy ride down dirt road leads to a trailhead, the truck is parked, the gear is unloaded, and the human-powered part of the adventure begins.
Make no mistake, however, it’s about the car. Hence the armada of Land Rovers and all those automotive writers hanging out in a very un-Detroitlike setting. Which is not a bad thing. It’s nice attending an event with a different format and to see new faces in the competitors and the press. Outdoor sports seem to reinvent themselves every few years, and the merging of the automotive with the adventurous was a natural evolution, particularly when a brand as synonymous with the outdoors as Land Rover becomes a player. New terms were added to the adventure lingo -- maximizer, hunter, strategy pit – thanks to the race format. What I found most fascinating was the sort of hybrid athlete G4 is producing, a combination of rally driver and Indiana Jones indistinguishable by gender because men and women compete as equals.
Take the American representative, Marine Corps public affairs officer Nancy Olson. Twenty-nine, with a mouth like a longshoreman and a singular inability to sit still, Olson was in the thick of the competition until the final week, when a series of navigational blunders dropped her into thirteenth place. The format of the final day of competition had athletes racing in waves of four, based on their ranking going in (1-4, 5-8. etc.). The one hour stage asked racers to challenge a four-wheel drive course, rappel off a butte to a waiting mountain bike, ride several miles across the desert, kayak down the Colorado, undertake an orienteering course, run, drive again, then jumar back up a rope before sprinting the final 50 yards to the Land Rover marking the finish line. Pretty basic stuff on the surface, the anaerobic nature of the racing and difficulty of the driving led Olson to make a kayaking error. She flipped and was unable to right herself, then was dragged down the Colorado upside down. When she finally righted herself, Olson flipped again. By the time she reached the finish line Olson was fuming at herself and on the verge of tears for slipping to fifteenth place. But she blamed only herself for the troubles (“the problem wasn’t the wind,” she replied when an excuse was offered, “the problem was me and my lack of strength today”) and enthused about the G4’s diverse experiences: kayak portages, the red savannah of Australia’s Pilbara region, driving the verdant South African coast. “The G4,” she explained, making a fine semantic point, “is not a race. It’s a competition.”
Meaning, it’s not the fastest athlete who wins, but the smartest. Which is why Belgium’s Rudi Thoelen and Franck Salgues of France held the top two spots going into the final day of racing. After three weeks they were separated by just fifteen seconds. The intense Salgues was introverted to the point of stoicism, but and a brilliant tactician and natural athlete. Thoelen, who flies F16’s in the Belgian Air Force, was also a master strategist and top athlete. He was a favorite of his fellow athletes because of his outgoing nature and warm disposition.
In the final week of competition both men had vaulted from the middle of the rankings. They would race alongside Arabia’s Chris Perry and Turkey’s Cuneyt Gazioglu for the championship. First prize was literally waiting for them at the finish line: The first one to touch the hood of the waiting Land Rover would take the vehicle home.
Standing atop that butte alongside the Land Rover, watching the competition unfold on the desert just below, I knew in my gut Thoelen would win. He looked so confident, so relaxed. The competitors who had raced in previous waves cheered openly for him, even when he and Salgues pedaled side by side down to the Colorado. There was a composure to Thoelen that Salgues and the other two lacked, an aura that said the car was his for the
And so it was. Salgues, the Frenchman, disintegrated under the pressure. First he let the Belgian fighter pilot get away on the mountain bike leg, then he blundered about the orienteering course and let the Arab and Turk pass him. Meanwhile, Thoelen made a small lead very large. He did not relax as he jumared up the rope to the finish. No, that would wait for later, after he had leapt onto the hood of his new Land Rover and claimed it for his own. He was on the verge of tears, finally able to rest after three weeks of competition.
Later that night I sat down with some of the auto guys. It was all I could do to stay awake as they discussed compression ratios and maximum torque. The talk shifted to the G4 itself, and what could be done to make it better. We all agreed that the point system had been confusing, and that the competition could have been more grueling (even the competitors were saying they had too much downtime). But all in all, it was a grand event, with the sort of majesty and global viewpoint very few races manage. Here’s to hoping there will be another G4 next year. Maybe by then I’ll figure out what chrome alloy is.
“I’d keep playing. I don’t think the hard stuff will be coming down for quite a while yet.” — Carl Spangler in Caddy Shack
By Bob Babbitt
The Jamba Juice Wildflower Half Ironman is pure as the driven snow. The swim in Lake San Antonio is guaranteed to get your body temperature down, there are more sudden ups and downs on the 56-mile bike ride than Mike Price’s Alabama coaching career and the 13.1-mile run is scenic and hilly and dastardly all at the same time. That is the essence of pure. Deal with the conditions. Hot or cold, rain or sleet, it’s going to be tough. And when you’re finished? Take your $3,000 sled and all your soggy, smelly gear and schlep two miles up hill back to your car.
To add to the fun this year on May 3, the rain played that old family relative game. You remember that one, right? Your relatives leave Buffalo or Akron or Philadelphia for an extended weekend at your place on the West Coast and the extended weekend becomes a way extended pain in the ass. They never, ever leave.
Ditto for the rain.
Race director Terry Davis had made up his mind before he went to bed Friday night: Even though his run course meandered off-road and was a slopfest from the wet stuff, the course was not changing. The aid stations were in place and the miles marked. Heck, they were all buttoned up and ready to put the half Ironman on three days before race day.
At 3 a.m. on Saturday, the rain woke Davis up and he knew he had to busta move. The Noah-like downpour forced him to create a two-loop run course that stayed entirely on the roads. In the blink of an eye, his staff moved all of the aid stations and made it happen.
Steve Larsen — two-time NORBA National champion, former roadie from Team Motorola with Lance Armstrong and triathlete-come-lately — had his breakthrough race at Wildflower two years ago when he finished fourth. He followed that up with a win at the Vineman Half Ironman, another win at Ironman USA Lake Placid and ninth place at Ironman Hawaii.
In that race, he rode his way through the field and built up an eight-minute lead by the end of the bike ride through the hellacious winds of the Kona Coast. Tim DeBoom passed him on the Queen K Highway to win his first Ironman title. Larsen faded to ninth.
Last year was a wash for Mr. Larsen. He tried to become a triathlete, incorporating swimming and running into his schedule. His cycling went backwards and injuries limited his running. This year, he decided to scrap the traditional triathlon training and go back to what worked for him before: Ride like a beast and then pray for the best.
After the Jamba Juice Wildflower he came on THE COMPETITORS RADIO HOUR with Bob Babbitt and Paul Huddle on the Mighty 1090 AM (www.mighty1090.com) to talk about his second-place finish.
Bob Babbitt: Steve, you rode great out there at Wildflower. The rain seemed to slow everyone down on the bike but you. You out split the field by 12 minutes.
Steve Larsen: It was a pretty exciting day. Tim DeBoom made a heck of an effort to catch me with about a mile and a half to go in the run.
Paul Huddle: This had 2001 written all over it. It looks like you learned a few things from last year.
SL: Hopefully I’ll have a bit more closure at the end of this season. But yeah, the idea is to get back to what works for me.
PH: We notice you are not only riding well again, but you are running pretty well again too. What have you been doing?
SL: I would say that I am riding stronger than 2001. I had a big dose of humble pie last year when I experimented with training a little more like a traditional triathlete, and for whatever reason at this point in my career I found that I didn’t respond real well to the added run mileage. The injuries took away my strength on the bike and, although it is not something I would tell an athlete that I coach, I’ve gotten back to focusing on my strength and hoping that my weaknesses diminish a little over time. I pushed hard on the bike this year and I think it showed at Wildflower. It has paid dividends and hopefully I can carry that through the rest of the season.
BB: Steve, if you look at the 30 days before Wildflower, how much cycling did you do?
SL: Man, I haven’t added it up. It started after Ironman New Zealand in March. I took about two weeks easy and then I basically jumped into the national cycling racing calendar, which started with two days at McClean, four days at Salano, four days at Redlands and four or five days at Sea Otter. I did a local race here and then five or six hard days at the Tour of Georgia. Then I had about five days to recover for Wildflower.
PH: So out of 30 days you raced 25.
SL: At least.
BB: And you ran about…
SL: I ran one mile on the Tuesday before Wildflower on my treadmill, and ran 1.5 miles on the Wednesday before Wildflower.
PH: You swear?
BB: That’s it?
SL: I swear to God. I did one other run after New Zealand to see how my stress fracture was doing, and it became very obvious when I did a photo shoot for Pearl Izumi in Boulder that I could barely run 10 feet back and forth to take the pictures for their run apparel. It was just one of those injuries that just needed time to heal, and I was fortunate that when I rode the bike it didn’t hurt at all. I just said that I’m just going to ride the bike, and I think it paid off. Obviously, Tim’s a phenomenal runner. I’d say he is the fastest runner in our sport. I could bluff my way for about eight to 10 miles with that kind of lead, but I was happy to just be there at the end. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to start the run, let alone finish a race like Wildflower in second place.
PH: I was going to say, with a stress fracture, the way they modified that course really helped you out, didn’t it?
BB: Yeah, that nice steep downhill, twice on pavement.
SL: It pretty much couldn’t have been worse. I tried not to worry about it too much. But like I said, I didn’t expect to do the run so I was focused on getting in a good swim and hammering the bike like I did in New Zealand. It’s not that I didn’t want to run, I just knew the last time I had run three weeks before, I couldn’t do it. The fact that I was able to run through that and do as well as I did, I was pretty pleased.
PH: How is the leg now after that brutal half marathon?
SL: I’ve pretty much been crippled for the whole week.
PH: I’ve got a training-oriented question for you because I think a lot of triathletes are out there right now going, ‘hey, I don’t have to run anymore. I’ll just ride the bike and do what Larsen does.’ But what’s interesting, here you are coming from what would be your best discipline, which is cycling, and you went through the triathlon training thing and it didn’t work for you. You came back to just cycling and it’s obviously working.
In the past, Wolfgang Dittrich was a great swimmer, good cyclist and a so so runner. But in the off-season, that guy did nothing but swim. He swam meets; he swam everything. Jurgen Zack, the great cyclist, just rides.
Do you think there is something to an athlete focusing in on their strength as opposed to their weakness?
SL: I think for athletes at this level, there’s no question. I became a world-class athlete in the sport of cycling, and I’ve been doing it since I was 13. Although I have the engine to go out and run fast and run hard, my body isn’t prepared for that type of pounding. It took a couple of years to figure that out for me. I could probably make quite a lot of money on a book “How I Won the Hawaii Ironman on a Mile a Month of Running,” but for most people that is not realistic. But for guys that are already at the top of their game in one of the three disciplines, I think it makes sense.
At this point in my career, at my age, there is a risk verses reward that I have to be careful about. Thankfully, the bike is my strength, and that is certainly an area where I can make huge gains on the competition. By increasing my run mileage, I got slower. In my case, I would agree with you. But I wouldn’t necessarily say it would work for every athlete. Any pro cyclist that comes into the sport, I’d encourage him to run at least 60 to 80 miles a week.
BB: We’ll pass that on to Chann McRae.
It’s interesting: When Steve was swimming a bunch last year, he obviously gained upper body strength. He also gained upper body weight that hurt him in the run. When he won Ironman Lake Placid, he ran sub-three hours and it was off of nine miles a week running. When you went to New Zealand, Steve, you ran a what — a 3:20?
SL: Yeah, and most of the winter I was running 40 miles a week, so go figure. When I won Lake Placid, I was about 154 pounds and I looked much more like the typical emaciated pro cyclist. Since then, I’ve gained about eight to 10 pounds of mostly muscle, but it’s still eight to 10 pounds you have to lug up and down a course during the run.
BB: You’re faking the run anyway, and now you are faking it with 10 more pounds.
Steve, you’re now cycling with a Power Meter. How has that helped you on race day?
SL: It’s a pretty interesting tool. At both New Zealand and Wildflower, I did use a power meter. The key, like any heart-rate monitor or any other device you use, is to quantify the workload. You have to use it in training, and you have to have a realistic number to shoot for. I do the testing here with Dr. Testa at UC Davis. On the Thursday after the Tour of Georgia, we did a round of testing and we were able to predict very closely what kind of wattage output I could hold at Wildflower. That became my target for that race. We did the exact same thing before I left for New Zealand, and when you download the files, I was within five watts at the end of the day of what we predicted I could do. I was within 90 seconds of my finishing time at New Zealand based on what I thought I could do from the testing. So, it is one thing to have a device, but you’ve got to use it enough — and have the right people helping you use it — to utilize it effectively in your racing.
PH: Are you looking at achieving a certain average power output throughout the race? You’ll target say 300 or 400 watts?
SL: Yeah, and like any of those devices, it will vary from day to day. I may have a goal to hold a 170 heart rate. On some days, you may hit that very easily and have to adjust on the fly, and another day you may go ‘God I’m killing myself to hit 160.’ It’s only a number, and I’m never a slave to the number. Some days I go ‘Wow, I’m holding 10 or 15 watts higher than I thought I could,’ and you just run with it.
There’s also a point of diminishing returns. If it were an Olympic distance race, I would say ‘Okay I’m just going to bury myself.’ But in a half Ironman or certainly an Ironman, there are going to be times when you can’t sustain it and there is going to be an ebb and flow there. In New Zealand, for example, I had a very, very even power output for the majority of the race except for right after I caught Chris Lieto on the bike and we spent the next 20 miles or so in the same vicinity of each other. My wattage output went down considerably and that was partly because it became more of a tactical race. You lose focus instead of just sticking to your own game plan. Once I got back out by myself, boom! I just locked on that number and it became real easy. It’s a guideline. But you also have to measure what is going on in the race and know the course well enough to go, ‘okay, there’s a five-mile climb and I’m going to exceed my average number.’ But that’s part of racing. Then you make up for that on the downhill.
It’s only a tool. It gives me one more thing to look at — and keep me from turning into a total vegetable on the bike.
BB: Thinking ahead to the rest of the summer and obviously since you qualified at Ironman New Zealand you don’t have to do another Ironman until Hawaii — is that the plan, just avoid the long stuff until Hawaii?
SL: You won’t see me at the start of any other Ironman race except Hawaii. After the injuries I dealt with last year, I want to be working the top end, staying fresh and really come into Hawaii chomping at the bit. I don’t want to feel beat down from a race like Lake Placid. I want to be ready to give my best and although there’s no guarantee, I feel like that’s the best course of action for me and that’s the approach I’m going to take. I’ll continue with what I have done this spring to find a balance between the road-racing events and some select higher profile half Ironman-distance races.
BB: How big of a lead do you need off the bike in Kona to win the Ironman?
SL: No lead is big enough, that’s for sure. As big as I can get; 30 minutes is a nice round number that sounds good. It’s going to be a tough race. I had an exceptional day at Wildflower, and I hope to be able to duplicate that kind of level on the bike in Hawaii. I think that would have lent itself to at least a 25- or 30-minute lead going into the marathon. But Hawaii is a whole other beast, and I think the level of competition will be quite a bit higher. I think if I had a solid 15 minutes, we could make it a pretty exciting race.
PH: How big of a difference is a non-wetsuit swim going to make for you in a race like Hawaii? You have so many great swimmers there, even among the age groupers.
SL: The group part will work to my advantage, at least from what I found in New Zealand. I much prefer mass starts to wave starts because if I do have a bad patch in a wave start against 40 pros, I can get isolated and be left in no-mans land quite easily. With 1,500 phenomenal age-group swimmers around you, although you might get clobbered here and there, you do get the benefit of getting carried along with the pack. I’m not so concerned about the non-wetsuit swim or the mass start as I am about just making sure I don’t swallow too much salt water because most of my good races have been fresh water swims. My real bad experience in Hawaii was due to the salt water. I am going to have to spend a little time there and make sure I’m always blowing out when I’m supposed to, and not swallowing as much water as I usually do.
PH: In 2001, you had Lake Placid at the end of July. So what are you going to fill that part of the season with on your way to Hawaii?
BB: Xterra, baby!
SL: Yeah, you’ll see me on the start of a few Xterras this year. I’m going to do my best to fill in for Deadly Nedly [Overend] and lead the Xterra University. I’ll try to teach some new Xterra athletes how to ride their mountain bikes well and enjoy the Xterra experience. I’m thinking the strength that you gain from those runs is kind of along the lines of doing a half Ironman.
I’ll be mixing in the road racing, so I will be scouring the national racing calendar and be doing whatever stage races or big road races make sense. I’m going back to Philadelphia for the U.S. Pro Championships in three weeks, and I’ll even tackle events like the Davis Double Century and just throw down for 200 miles against all the fastest tandems in the west. I’m finding ways to challenge myself that won’t beat me up quite as much as an Ironman. Yet at the end of the day, it’s still an eight-and-a-half-hour day and you’re taxing your body in similar ways.
PH: Steve, I know you don’t want to give it all away right now, but what is going to be your biggest running week leading up to Kona?
SL: If it’s 100 percent more then this week, it will be a whole four miles.
BB: He is my hero, Huddle. He runs like I do. I love that.
SL: I honestly don’t know. I pulled off Lake Placid on literally an average of six to eight miles a week. I know that’s not ideal, nor do I hope to only be running that much in preparation for Hawaii. But if that’s what ends up happening, and I’m riding as fast as I think I’m capable of riding, then hey, I’ll take my chances.
Listen in to THE COMPETITORS every Sunday night on THE MIGHTY 1090 AM from 8-9 p.m. You can also listen in live at www.mighty1090.com. Upcoming guests include Dave Scott, Mark Allen and Lance Armstrong.
2003 HUMMER H2: A CHIP OFF THE 'BIG KAHUNA'
The H2 Hummer is the smaller, more civilized offspring of the original H1 sport-utility vehicle, based on technology developed during Desert Storm. In this case 'smaller' is a relative term.
The H2 Hummer is the smaller, more civilized offspring of the original H1 sport-utility vehicle, based on technology developed during Desert Storm. In this case 'smaller' is a relative term. With a wheelbase of just under 123 inches and a 69.4 inch track, the H2 is still one of the biggest trucks on the road. It's also one of the heaviest and most durable, weighing 6,400 pounds, with a 7,000 pound towing capacity.
Like the H1, the H2 is engineered for outstanding off-road performance. Designed to climb sixty-degree grades, the H2 has ten inches of ground clearance, making it highly maneuverable on the most challenging off-road trails. Manufacturer's claims that the H2 can travel through water 20 inches deep and climb sixteen steps or rocks are no exaggeration. A 33:1 crawl ratio means that the Hummer can climb steep rocks slowly and in control, and the Vortec 6000 engine's 360 ft. lbs. of torque give the H2 an ample reserve of low-end power.
During a test drive at the off-roading facility near Hollister, California, the H2 proved that it was not only capable, but exceptionally comfortable to ride in while traversing rugged terrain. The Hummer feels extremely stable, even in situations where one wheel is off the ground. Those situations are rare, due to the suspension's generous wheel travel. The four-wheel drive system with multiple transfer-case settings is so effective at maintaining traction that the standard four-channel antilock brakes and traction control systems almost seem redundant. A new optional self-leveling rear air suspension system maximizes ride quality and automatically adjusts the weight balance front-to-rear when towing heavy loads.
Despite its size, visibility around the Hummer is pretty good, thanks to some well-engineered side mirrors. The only exception is the rear window. The standard spare tire mount inside the truck blocks the driver's vision to the back. The optional tailgate rack-mount not only improves visibility out the back; it opens up a significant amount of interior cargo space.
While the H1 Hummer is too wide to maneuver through some urban traffic, the H2 is much more adept. One reason is its two-inch smaller track, which keeps the H2 well within standard urban lane boundaries, and allows it to fit inside a typical shopping mall parking slot. A tilt-down feature on the outside mirrors makes it easier to see the curb or other obstacles to either side when backing up or parallel parking. The outside mirrors are also heated so they don't frost up in cold weather. The Hummer's height can be advantageous for navigating through heavy traffic, because it allows the driver to see over the top of most sport-utilities and light-duty pickups. Its size and weight make the H2 less nimble than some smaller sport-utility vehicles, but the 6.5 litre turbo-diesel V-8 has enough power to propel the H2 up an entrance ramp at speed, for merging onto highways.
Around town, the steering feels responsive and effortless. If anything, the steering effort is a little bit too light at highway speeds. Large, four-wheel disc brakes do a good job of stopping, but as with any heavy truck, the Hummer requires more stopping distance than a compact pickup or smaller passenger car.
While the H2's exterior styling is reflective of Hummer's military heritage, the interior is as plush as a luxury sedan. The standard bucket seats are large and comfortable. Eight-way power adjustments for the front driver and passenger seats make it easy for passengers of all sizes to tailor seat height, seat-back angle, and lumbar support to their individual needs.
The shoulder belts are mounted to the front seats, so they travel with the seat backs for a better fit. A height-adjustable steering wheel keeps it out of sight-line of smaller drivers. Standard heating with three temperature settings for the front seats keep the driver and front passenger warm during cold winter mornings. Second row occupants get heated seat cushions.
The second row jump-seat tumbles forward and out of the way to ease access to the third row seats. Both second and third row seats can be tumbled down to create a large, uninterrupted cargo space in back (up to 86.6 cubic feet). Large, functional center consoles between the first and second rows of seats will hold compact disks, cell phones and other small electronic devices, with top surfaces large enough to hold a pad of paper or palm-pilot.
Standard safety features include front airbags and four-way adjustable headrests for front passengers. OnStar, the telematics system which automatically notifies E.M.T. personel and local police if an airbag deploys, is also standard.
Dealer-installed accessories for the H2 Hummer include a cargo-area liner, a roof rack system designed to hold a lockable plastic cargo carrier, fork-mounted bike rack, ski and snowboard carriers.
Standard vehicle price for the H2 is $48,445, plus a $735 destination and delivery charge. The Adventure Series package which includes the air suspension, brush guards, first aid, tool and flashlight kit, and crossbar roof rack costs $2,440. Average transaction price is about $53,000.
Endurance Role Models
By Matt Fitzgerald
A role model (according to the dictionary I use to elevate my laptop to a level that won’t strain my neck) is “a person who serves as a model in a particular behavioral or social role for another person to emulate.” There are models for every role, including the role of endurance athlete.
What makes a good endurance sports role model is not talent, because we cannot emulate talent. Rather, a good endurance sports role model is one who, through smart preparation, makes the most of his or her own talent, who has fun training and competing, and who balances sports with career and relationships in a healthy way.
For your inspiration and enlightenment, I present to you four such people living here in California.
Of all the benefits of the endurance sports lifestyle, the greatest is probably its potential to stimulate personal growth and discovery. Ralph Pilley, 53, a plumbing contractor in Marin County, has made full use of this potential, first as a runner and more recently as an adventure racer.
“What motivates me is setting goals I’m not sure I can achieve,” says Pilley. “When you put yourself in a situation where you’re suffering and struggling to accomplish what you set out to do, you get to see what you’re really made of. For me, training and racing is about trying to maximize myself as a human being.”
Pilley first got into ultra-running in the late 80s, after overcoming a cocaine addiction. (After leaving the Navy, Pilley spent 20 years – most of them jobless and several of them homeless – living in the Haight as a post-60s hippie.) “Running gave me a new direction to channel all the extra energy, drive, and focus that I had been putting into drugs,” he says. Once an avid tennis player, Pilley attempted his first marathon on tennis fitness alone and dropped out at 16 miles. The following year he trained for all of six weeks and finished.
A former high school sprinter, Pilley gradually built greater and greater endurance, and as he did, he entered longer and longer races. After doing the famous Double Dipsea twice, he moved up to the Quadruple Dipsea, and later to the 50K distance. He even won his age group in a few of these races, but soon thereafter he lost interest in ultras.
“When I reached the point where I was running marathons and ultras as fast as I was ever going to run them, I needed a new challenge,” he says. That new challenge turned out to be building a large (6,000-square-foot), solar-powered house in San Geronimo with his own hands, a project that took him seven years to complete.
Around the time he finally moved into it with his wife, Maryann, Pilley began seeing adventure racing on television and decided this was something he had to try. Inexperienced in mountain biking, paddling, and land navigation, Pilley set about learning all of these skills. His progress is evidenced by the fact that his team recently won the open coed division of an orienteering competition.
So far, Pilley has completed four, one-day adventure races, including one in which he raced solo. Always focused on the next challenge, he now has his sites set on the Primal Quest, a multi-day race that will take place in September in the Lake Tahoe area. “I want to put a good team together and finish as close behind the elite teams as possible,” he says.
His training for these events is surprisingly low-key. He lifts weights six times a week, runs three times (usually with a heavy pack), bikes a couple of times, and paddles once. “I’m an adherent of the low miles, high-intensity training approach, not for philosophical reasons but because I’m lazy and I have a short attention span,” he explains. That said, Pilley does throw in the occasional 10-hour team workout on weekends. His part-time work schedule allows plenty of time for training, recovery, and putting the final touches on his house. “I wouldn’t trade this life,” he says.
Asked to offer one line of advice to fellow endurance athletes interested in trying adventure racing, Pilley says simply, “Keep looking up, don’t look down.”
Many endurance athletes believe that, if you want to keep improving, you have to keep training more and more, harder and harder. San Diego runner Tamara Lave, 34, is living proof that the true key to improvement is consistency. Lave’s race performances have advanced a little each year for the past decade, yet she still peaks at about 70 running miles a week, fewer than almost any other elite marathoner on earth does.
“Running is the most democratic of all sports,” says Lave, a Pittsburgh, PA, native. “Talent matters, but more important than talent is doing the work day in and day out. If you’re disciplined and patient, you will get faster.”
Thanks to her own discipline and patience, Lave has achieved personal best times of 33:47 for 10K, 1:13:46 for the half-marathon, and 2:37:32 for the marathon. Significantly, all of these times have been recorded within the past two years.
The main reason Lave does not train more than she does is that she works a demanding job as a public defender. Many have asked her why she does not take an easier job, and she has even had opportunities to join elite groups such as Team USA California and become a full-time runner, but Lave’s work is no less valuable to her than her running. “I wouldn’t want to do a job that wasn’t important,” she explains. “We need public defenders. Our work goes right to the heart of the principles of our Constitution.”
Not only one of the fastest runners in her area, Lave is also among the most beloved and respected – a true pillar of the San Diego running community. She has trained with the San Diego Track Club under coach Kevin McCarey for seven years and has raced (and won) many of the county’s classic road races multiple times. Lave highly recommends immersion in one’s local running community as a means to improvement. “Training with a group is really motivating,” she says, “and you also learn a lot from other runners, if you listen and pay attention.”
Lave cites a recent example wherein an occasional training partner convinced her to try the new sports drink Accelerade, which contains a small amount of protein and has been proven to prolong endurance. Lave liked its effect on her training and decided to use it in last year’s California International Marathon, where she broke her PR by six minutes and met the 2004 Olympic Trials “A” qualifying standard.
Next to consistency, Lave sees learning as being the most essential factor in long-term improvement. “By paying attention to your body and always being on the lookout for new ideas to try, you can make little refinements to your training each year,” she says. Ever the example, Lave just recently took the full cross-training plunge, making yoga and deep water running integral parts of her training program.
“There’s always something you can do to improve,” she states.
Michelle Beltran, 34, of Chico, is a living reminder that it’s never too late to build a new dream and chase it. Beltran discovered endurance sports relatively late, just two years ago, when she got the inspiration to participate in her first triathlon. But in training, she quickly discovered that she had a tremendous knack for cycling, so she quickly narrowed her focus to triathlon’s middle leg. “It felt as if I was born for it,” she says.
Last season, her first as a dedicated cyclist, Beltran moved from category IV to category II and earned a spot on the highly competitive Santa Monica-based Red 5 Racing team. In only her third bike race, she placed third in the Master’s National Championships 30-34 Division. Now she dreams of competing for a professional team.
Whether she gets that far or not, Beltran is already living one dream – that of helping others in need as a law enforcement professional. She works as a probation officer for Glenn County, specializing in supervising the parole and rehabilitation of drug offenders. Her duties include helping her parolees to overcome addictions, getting them trained for gainful employment, and, when relevant, arranging parenting skills counseling for them.
“It’s very challenging work,” says Beltran. “A lot of the people I deal with relapse or go back to jail. But there are just enough success stories to keep me going.”
Beltran relies on a variety of resources to keep her going on the bike. Like Tamara Lave, she is fortunate to work under an understanding and flexible supervisor who gives her time to train and race. Another resource is her boyfriend and training partner, Chris, a former pro whose coaching has been invaluable to her.
She also takes full advantage of cutting-edge training and nutrition information and technology. For example, “I never go anywhere without my Endurox R4 recovery drink,” she says. “I know a little about nutrition and the science behind it intrigued me. I noticed a huge improvement in my recovery time when I started using it.”
An interesting wrinkle in Beltran’s story is that, for several years after graduating from Cal State Chico, she was a competitive fitness model. That’s right, she spent hours and hours lifting weights and tanning, stripped down to a bikini, and strutted her stuff onstage before a panel of judges. But after a while, Beltran realized, “It just wasn’t me.”
To her credit, she had the courage to quit and try a type of sport that is very nearly its polar opposite, but which beckoned her spirit nonetheless. “When I was doing fitness competitions I thought I was in the shape of my life,” she says. “Now I’m in the shape of my life!”
Chris Van Howten
If Chris Van Howten can find time to train, any triathlete can. As executive producer of Level 7 Productions, a Los Angeles commercial film company, Van Howten works long, unpredictable hours and travels frequently for location shooting. “I’m jealous of my friends who can do masters swim workouts at the same times every week,” he says, “because I sure can’t.” The reason is that he's in huge demand shooting film and video for large clients. He's won many industry awards, like the Dolly, for his innovative approach he used to capture the essence of Clean It Supply's online marketing campaign using online video to market cleaning supplies and products to businesses.
Yet thanks to determination and more than a little creativity, Van Howten, 36, manages to train well enough to have completed three Ironman triathlons, many shorter triathlons, and numerous marathons. Married but without children just yet, he is a beacon of hope to other triathletes with demanding careers.
Frequently, Van Howten actually rides his bike trainer on the set while overseeing shooting. If he works until 10 o’clock at night, he will run at 11:00 and catch up on sleep over the weekend. He knows every trick for finding hotels with good fitness facilities located near lap pools, even as far away as Tokyo, and he’s not afraid to let a client entertain himself for a while so he can break away for an hour or two and work out.
“When I first started getting back into doing triathlons a few years ago,” says Van Howten, who did his first triathlon as a teenager back in 1984, “I had a hard time balancing work, training, and my marriage. But because all of these things were important to me, I kept pushing to find a way to make them fit together, and eventually I got there.”
A former baseball star at Calabasas High School who went on to play in the minor leagues, Van Howten competes in the Clydesdale division of triathlons and says he doesn’t mind being a mid-packer. “I’ve had the experience of being exceptional in a sport,” he explains, “and that’s not something I need to get out of triathlon. For me it’s just a lifestyle I enjoy, and a way to test myself.”
Van Howten’s next challenge is Ironman Coeur d’Alene, where he hopes to lop an hour off his Ironman personal best.
Making the Most of Limited Training Time
If you can’t do much about the quantity of your training, never fear. There’s probably a lot you can do to improve its quality, and with it your race performances. Here are eight ways.
1. Focus on key workouts.
Triathletes commonly react to the feeling that they don’t train enough by trying to “make every workout count” – that is, by making most or all of their workouts hard. Perhaps doing so is better than going too easy in every training session, but it is not the best approach to training. The reason is that no matter who you are or how much you train, most of your fitness gains will result from the longest and highest-intensity workouts you do. What makes a workout truly high quality is not just how hard it is but also how well you perform in it relative to your potential. And in order to perform near the limit of your potential in a workout, you need to be well recovered from previous training, which is unlikely to be the case if you train hard in every workout.
Single-sport endurance athletes should do three to four key workouts per week. Multisport athletes should generally do two per discipline. In taking this approach you will be able to train at a higher level in your designated key workouts than you would do in any workout if you never took it easy, and you will enjoy a bigger fitness payoff.
2. Train at the right intensities.
Intensity is the most important training variable because it is the primary determinant of the effect of any given workout. The more you train at any specific intensity level, the more your body will adapt to perform at that specific intensity level. In order to get the most out of your limited training time, you need to train at each of five intensity levels in the right proportions and at the right times.
For an in-depth discussion of the five training intensities for endurance athletes, check out my book, Triathlete Magazine’s Complete Triathlon Book (Warner, $16.95). You can also learn about intensity from a licensed coach.
3. Target your weaknesses.
It only makes sense: you’ll make the most improvement in the areas where improvement is most needed – if you make the effort. This requires, first of all, that you pay attention and identify your strengths and weaknesses as an athlete. Your weakness might be strength, or flexibility, or speed, or raw endurance, or something else. If you’re a multisport athlete, you probably have a weak discipline. Train hardest in your weakest discipline, at least until you’ve realized most of your potential for improvement in it, and then return to a more balanced training menu. For example, if you’re a triathlete who works out seven times a week and swimming is your weakest discipline, try doing three swims, two rides, and two runs.
4. Fuel your workouts.
Practicing proper sports nutrition during workouts will help you perform better in them and get more out of them. Use a 6-8% carbohydrate sports drink during all workouts. In your key workouts, consider using one of the newer sports drinks such as Accelerade that also contains protein. Recent research has shown that the addition of a small amount of protein to a sports drink increases the rate of carbohydrate delivery to the muscles, resulting in greater muscle glycogen conservation and prolonged endurance.
5. Practice step cycles.
Step cycles are recurring patterns of training that last two to four weeks and end with a week of reduced-volume training for recovery. In a two-week step cycle, a week of hard training is followed by a week of lighter training. In a three-week cycle, the first week is relatively hard, the second week slightly harder, and the third week easy. In a four-week cycle, the third week of training is slightly heavier than the second.
Planning recovery periods into your training in this way helps ensure that you don’t accumulate fatigue during a long training program. It also makes the fitness building process more gradual, and the more gradually you build toward a fitness peak, the higher that peak will be when you get there.
Whether two-, three-, or four-week cycles are appropriate depends on several factors, including your fitness level, the type of training you’re doing, and which phase of training you’re in. Shorter cycles are generally better for less experienced athletes and during periods of high-intensity training.
6. Keep your body in balance.
Consistency is an important way to get the most out of limited training time, and one of the best ways to stay consistent is to stay injury-free. Muscular imbalances that develop through repetitive motion contribute to a majority of the overuse injuries triathletes suffer. Stretching and strength training are required to prevent and correct such imbalances.
The most important muscles to stretch are the calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back, buttocks, and chest, while the most important ones to strengthen are the anterior shins, hip abductors, abdomen, lower back, upper back, and shoulders. You should strength train twice a week and stretch at least three times a week throughout the training cycle.
7. Sharpen your technique.
Performing just a few minutes’ worth of drills to improve your technique each week can pay big dividends in the form of improved energy economy in each of these disciplines. In running, do one or two sets of strides, concentrating on maintaining good from. Mix it up, doing some strides on flat ground, some uphill, and some downhill. In cycling, do 30 seconds of one-legged pedaling with each leg on an indoor trainer, then “spin out” – pedal as fast as you can in your lowest gear – for 60 seconds. In swimming, do 200-400 yards of drills such as the catch-up drill and the count stroke drill following the warm-up in each swim workout.
8. Fuel your recovery.
Nutrition is the foundation of post-exercise recovery, because it provides the raw materials with which your body can make physiological adaptations in response to training. If you take in the right nutrients, in the right amounts, at the right time after workouts, you will recover far more quickly and thoroughly than you will if you don’t practice proper nutritional recovery.
Timing is essential with regard to post-exercise nutrition because your body is primed to sponge up needed nutrients at this time. The most important nutrients to take in immediately following each workout are water and electrolytes for hydration, carbohydrate to replenish muscle glycogen stores, and protein to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. The most convenient way to get all of these nutrients is simply to continue drinking the same carbohydrate-protein sports drink you used during your workout.
Matt Fitzgerald coaches triathletes online through Carmichael Training Systems (www.trainright.com) and is the author of Triathlete Magazine’s Complete Triathlon Book.
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