Archive for July, 2008

24 hours to go…

Twenty four hours from now, I’ll be starting the short walk from my condo to the San Diego convention center so that I can start my preparations for taking the bar exam.  I’m not sure how to describe how I feel right now other than to say that I’m at peace right now.

I’ve worked my butt off for the last two months and I know that I’m as ready as I’m going to be to take this test.  I have no doubt that there are people who put in more work than I did, but if there’s one lesson I’ve learned from my training it’s that you should never compare yourself to others to determine how well you’re doing with your own goals.  Just like it’s no good to compare one cyclists speed to your own on a training ride because you don’t know what his or her focus is–you only know what your focus is–similarly, it doesn’t do any good to compare the study habits of others to yourself.  I’m a firm believer that after four years of undergrad and three years of law school, all of us have a pretty good idea about what works for each of us as individuals.  

I have a pretty relaxed day set up for myself.  I went to my masters practice this morning and I plan to go on a nice long run this afternoon.  In between, I’m going to run some errands and make sure I have everything I need for the next few days since I’m not going to have much time to run errands and I doubt that I’ll be wanting to run errands with the little time that I do have.  Tonight, I’m going to have a healthy dinner with a glass of wine and then probably watch a movie before I hit the sack.  

I’ll be repeating this last part each of the next two nights and will be working out both before and after the bar each day.  Exercise is the easiest way to reduce stress, so I’m going to do a pretty spirited workout each morning and follow it up with a very easy, relaxed workout each evening.  

I’m looking forward to Thursday evening.  Not only will this process finally be over with, but I’ll be celebrating with my friends and I plan on being about four shots of whiskey down before I even make it home.  

Good luck to anyone taking the bar out there.  Just trust in your preparation and remain confident.  Stress and not believing in yourself are your two greatest enemies at this point.  Time is irrelevant.

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July 28, 2008 at 8:18 am Leave a comment

Adapting to Training With Power

A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing sometimes.  Over the last week or two, I’ve come to realize that this maxim holds true even in the area of training and especially training with power.

The reason I say this is that after I got my power meter I did what I always do–I started to read everything I could get my hands on that had to do with training with power.  This, in retrospect, probably wasn’t the best thing I could have done because I think it discouraged me a bit.  

First, there were the power profiles in the Allen & Coggan book which allow you to rate yourself in different areas based on your power:weight ratio for various time periods.  When I started, I realized that despite the fact that I had been training, I wasn’t even registering on many of these scales.  Granted, I think that these scales might be a little inflated (e.g. I have a hard time believing that a non-trained, non-racer of my weight (175) could put out ~1000 watts for 15 seconds, but that’s where that ratio places you in their book), but still it was a little discouraging.

Even more discouraging was the stuff that I read about how it is very difficult to raise one’s power by 10% or more within a season.  I found this discouraging because when I first got my power meter I couldn’t even hold 200 watts for 30 minutes, let alone over the course of an olympic distance (40K) race.  

I realize now a few things:  

First and foremost, two months biking does not make one “trained” on a bike.  Bicycling endurance is built over years and years–not months.  This was present in various things that I read…I just didn’t catch it the first time around.

Second, in order to improve in an area, you have to focus on that area.  My lactate threshold did not start to improve dramatically until I started to focus on it.  I built up a semi-decent base before I started to work on this, so that helped, but I’m hoping that the base I build during the offseason will allow me to push this even higher.

Finally , I realized that the 10% power maxim does not apply when you are a newbie.  In the past month and a half, I’ve raised my 30 minute threshold power over 25%.  Currently, I’m able to hold about 240 watts over a 30 minute period.  I say “about” because when I started I was initially planning on doing a 60 minute time trial, but decided that I wanted to do 30 about 10 minutes in.  The average was 238 for the full 30 minutes, but I held 247 over the last 20 minutes.  For me, these gains are very inspiring because it seems that every time I set out to do a LT session I’m improving the watts I’m able to hold.

My goal is to get myself at or above a 4:1 power:weight ratio for my functional threshold (or 60 minutes).  In order to do this, I’m trying to drop down to 165 pounds (or about 74.8 kg) and get my average power up to 300 watts.  

I realize that this is a huge jump in power, but I believe that I have the ability to do it.  My legs always have been and always will be far and away the most powerful part of my body.  I squatted 400 pounds as a freshman in high school and have been able to walk into gyms without having touched a weight in years and been able to sets on the leg press machine with 700+ pounds.  I’m not positive, but I’d venture to say that the vast majority of age-groupers (or even road racers) out there can’t say that.  What this means for me is that it’s not simply a matter of building more power in my legs…it’s a matter of adapting that power to powering a bike.

Even though I have four races (yes, I added another sprint) in between now and the end of my season, I’m really looking forward to the offseason because I plan on starting next season as a very strong cyclist.  I’ve come to accept the fact that I’ll probably never be a great runner…it’s just not my body type.  So, if I’m going to be competitive, I need to put up some great bike legs and then be decent on the run.  

Here’s to hoping.  42 hours to go until the bar exam…ugh.

July 27, 2008 at 1:42 pm Leave a comment

All things eventually come to an end

Many people have said it before me, but the fact that all things (good or bad) eventually come to an end is coming to the forefront for me today.  

On a slightly less serious note, the Tour De France is coming to an end today.  The riders are having fun, joking, playing games and overall just enjoying the ride towards the finish on the Champs-Elysees.  I visited Paris last winter and though I never really thought about it when I was there, the Champs is an amazing place to end a race; not so much for the street itself, but rather for the fact that it is in Paris and the city must simply be electric as they await the approaching riders.

The other thing that is coming to an end for me today is my studying for the bar.  The bar starts on Tuesday and, as of now, I plan on taking tomorrow off and just relaxing.  Quite frankly, if I haven’t learned it by now an extra day of studying probably isn’t going to cement it into my brain.  I simply need to make sure I’m on form with the stuff I do know and, most importantly, not fall victim to the biggest reason people fail the bar: stress.  

In my opinion, the biggest contributing factors to a person failing the bar are procrastination and stress.  Oddly enough, these two often go hand in hand together.  Stress and anxiety, in combination, are one of primary reasons a person procrastinates and the longer one procrastinates, the more stress builds up as a result.  It’s a wicked cycle.  

I really wouldn’t be surprised if one were to tell me that the people who failed the bar generally fell into two categories: those who procrastinated and, thus, didn’t study enough and those who stressed out the entire time and studied more than anyone they know.  The former of these is easy to see why it would be a problem.  The latter, however, isn’t quite as intuitive.  

I have a friend who has been freaking out about the bar for the last two months and, in particular, for the last month or so.  She’s been so stressed out that she’s convinced herself that she doesn’t even have enough time to go out to dinner–she has to study.  I know that this is just silly and I’ve tried using logical arguments with her, but these all fall on deaf ears.  She’s convinced herself that she is somehow inferior and “just not getting it” so she has to study more and harder in order to compensate for her inferiority.   

It’s sad, I feel bad for saying this and I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she failed.  Studying when you’re as stressed out as she is doesn’t do anyone any good.  There’s a reason she’s “just not getting it”: It’s because when the mind is stressed out it is very difficult to focus and concentrate on something.  As counterintuitive as this sounds, she probably would have been better off by studying two hours less a day: spending one hour exercising outside and the other just giving herself a mental break.  

On Tuesday morning there will be a number of people that will be little balls of stress.  A little bit of stress is natural; the key is to not let yourself get completely freaked out before you even walk in the door.  Think about it: what’s going to happen if you’re already a little stress ball before you walk in and then you open up that first essay packet and see an issue you don’t completely understand?  You’re probably going to have a conniption fit right then and there in the middle of the bar exam.  It’s these types of meltdowns that cause people to fail…not the failure to study every hour of every day for the two months leading up to the exam.

Well, I guess I should embark on my last day of studying now.  37.8 miles to go in the TDF and just over 48 hours until I start the bar exam.  I only hope that everyone I know passes the bar (including myself), however, I know that this hope isn’t on my side, statistically speaking.  With 1 out of every 4 first-time test takers failing the test in California, I’d say that the odds are that I will know at least one person who fails…I just hope I’m wrong about who that one will be.

July 27, 2008 at 7:37 am Leave a comment

Live Blogging Stage 20’s Time Trial

Today is the day and within the next 30 minutes or so, we’ll know who will be the likely winner of the 2009 Tour De France.  I’ll be writing throughout the next 30 minutes or so, so if you want to find out who wins just read this all the way through.

Aerodynamics & Water Bottles

I can’t remember whether or not I mentioned it in a post after the first time trial, but I know my thoughts were echoed in a post by Chris Carmichael (Armstrong’s former coach) on Bicycling.com, but the use of water bottles on the seat posts continues to surprise me. 

To be clear, it is not surprising that they have water on this time trial given it’s 33 mile length (although, many riders had them on the much shorter earlier TT, which I didn’t understand at all), but rather the placement choices being made by professional teams.  Whereas the placement of a bottle might not make that big of a difference for somebody like me, these guys are pros and every second will count–additionally, the higher the speeds, the more drag there is.

Generally speaking, research shows that cylindrical shapes are the absolute worst thing for aerodynamics.  This is why you see manufacturers moving towards bladed tubes, aero bars, etc.  With regards to bottle placement, research shows that bottles placed on the frame are the absolute worst possible placement for aerodynamics, with placement on the seat tube worse than placement on the bottom tube.  Rear placement as well as the use or aero drinks are both shown to be superior in terms of aerodynamics.  Now, I can understand why a rider might now want a rear placement (e.g., not comfortable reaching back for it), but the use of a slim aero drink bottle would significantly improve aerodynamics.

You might be wondering why an aero drink would improve aerodynamics, after all, doesn’t it increase the frontal surface area?  Yes, it does.  However, wind tunnel testing has shown that frontal surface area is not the end-all-and-be-all when it comes to time savings.  The SHAPE of those areas on the frontal surface actually has a bigger impact.  By using an aero bottle, it actually breaks up the air flowing across the head tube–the one area manufacturers haven’t been able to turn into a bladed design–thereby keeping the air on the bike longer and thereby reducing aerodynamic drag.  Additionally, using an aero drink allows riders to remain in the aerodynamic position while drinking.

To be sure, I know that I’m not the only one with this data, so there must be something more to the choices being made out there on the tour–most likely rider preference and good ol’ fashioned peer pressure.  Until one rider actually breaks ranks and decides to look silly (in comparison to other riders on tour) for a race or two by using an aero drink and has a good performance, the riders on tour aren’t going to fall in line.

I was happy to see that Cadel Evans has topped off his ever so amazing Ridley Dean with the best alternative to an aero drink–bottom tube placement with an aero bottle.  

Aerodynamics & Wheel Choice

One of the more interesting things to look at is the choices of wheels the various riders are making.  All the riders are using a rear disc, but the front wheel choices are varying quite a bit.  Aerodynamic testing shows that the depth of the front wheel has a greater aerodynamic impact than the rear wheel.  However, with the front wheel you also have to take into the effect that the depth will have on the overall handling of the bike.  The deeper the wheel is, the heavier the bike is and the harder it is to control the bike on turns and in the wind.

Carlos Sastre is using a very aggressive front wheel: The Zipp 1080.  Cadel Evans, on the other hand, is using a front wheel that appears to be about 60mm deep (he’s not on Zipps).  Even if you assumed that the aerodynamics of Evans’ wheels were the same as Sastre’s (which Zipp would no doubt debate), Sastre’s aerodynamic advantage would be at least 10 seconds over a 40KM time trial (this race is 53KM).  I say “at least” because that 10 seconds is based on Zipp’s tests using an 808 front and a sub-9 rear.  However, the 808 is an 80mm front which is deeper than what Evans appears to be using.  

Overall, definite advantage for Sastre here.  When you have to hold a 1:34 lead, every single seconds counts and the choice to go for a 108mm front wheel will definitely save him a few seconds over what is a pretty flat TT course.  Amazingly, Sastre went with an even more aggressive choice than Schleck who chose to go with an 808 front.  

Frank Schleck’s Podium Hopes Gone

He just didn’t have it today.  Granted, not many people expected him to turn in an amazing time trial, but he definitely had a chance for finishing in the top 3.  No longer.  [Update: To give you an idea how bad of a day that Schleck is having, he’s being caught by Carlos Sastre who started three minutes behind him.  However, the more I think about this, I wonder if this was planned.  Having a rider in front of you can be a great incentive to really get moving in a TT.  Schleck might have decided that he just didn’t have it, so why not wait until your teammate catches you and then try to help him.] [Update 2: Guess not…Sastre just flew right by Schleck.]

Looks like Sastre is going to win it all

Evans has not been impressive today…at all.  Granted, Sastre’s performance has been great, but with about 10 minutes to go before Sastre is finished, it doesn’t appear that this is even going to be remotely close and definitely not within the seconds that many commentators–including myself–though this might come down to.

Evans put up the seventh best time and came up nearly two minutes behind Schumacher.  He will remain in second, it appears, as Kohl wasn’t able to maintain his lead over Evans, but he will not win.

And Sastre Keeps Yellow and Will Win the 2009 Tour

Sastre will win the 2009 Tour De France.  Sparked by an amazing performance in the Alps, Sastre had a great time trial and managed to maintain about a minute lead over Cadel Evans.  What a great performance, what a great tour.  I’m sad to see it go because it’s been an amazing three weeks but nobody could have asked for a better race, so that’s something to take away.  

Here’s to next year….

July 26, 2008 at 8:34 am Leave a comment

Three Weeks and over 2000 miles comes down a final 32.9 miles

We’re down to it now; at the end of what has been one of the most captivating Tours in recent history and the race will, fittingly, come down to a 32.9 mile time trial.  Evans (pictured top) trails Sastre (bottom) by 1:34, with two riders in between, but Evans is far and away the best time trialist of the top four riders and it is expected that the battle for yellow will come down to a difference of mere seconds.  I don’t care if you haven’t watched a single stage yet…tomorrow will be great.

I’m not sure why, but I have a sneaky feeling that Sastre is going to have the time trial of his life tomorrow.  Granted, this may be a little self-serving, as he was my pre-race pick to win it all, but I think that the fact that he has been protected by a very strong Team CSC throughout this entire race has kept him in form and he will be up for the challenge tomorrow.  They always say there’s something about the maillot jaune and that it tends to give riders super human strength, we’ll see if Sastre can summon some of that power tomorrow and take home the yellow.

On a side note, the Ridley TT bike that Evans is going to be riding tomorrow is SICK.  Take a look at this beast:

This is the Ridley Dean, set for production in 2009.  I don’t know much about the Ridley brand, but I do know that this bad boy gives me goose bumps.  Ultimate bike porn show right here.  If I hadn’t just bought my bike, this one would be at the top of the list for a test ride as soon as it came out (and probably will still be, just for fun).

July 25, 2008 at 8:37 am Leave a comment

Thank you Masters, I’ll have another

I’ve come to the conclusion that if you have a good coach of your masters squad, you just need to trust that they know what they’re doing.  My coach is a Level 5 swim coach (not exactly sure what it means, but that’s pretty high…I know that much).  Despite this ranking, I was a little skeptical of some of the drills he has us do and I started to think that either (a) I could do this myself, or (b) these drills aren’t applicable to triathlon swimming.

However, recently I’ve started to time myself a bit more and I’ve realized that there is a method to his madness: I’m getting faster.  Prior to starting with my masters team, I’d be pushing it to make 1:30 on my 100 yard splits–and there’s no way I could maintain this split.  However, this morning I was cruising (literally, not even pushing it) and was making slow turns (I’m not a kick flipper) and I was still putting up 1:40 splits over some longer sets.  Without the turns, I was actually closer to 1:30 splits.  I’m not sure if my technique is getting better, if it’s the type/combination of training my coach has us doing, or a combination of multiple factors; all I know is that I’m getting faster!

Granted, I’m not going to break any world records at this pace (let alone be first out of the water), but it shows that I’m getting quicker and I haven’t really been swimming as much as I plan on doing after my last event this year.  I’m planning on placing a very heavy emphasis on cycling and swimming for the entire month of October in an effort to improve in both of those areas.  The running will come, but I’m hoping to make significant gains in these areas in October.

So, I guess, in sum, if you’re wondering whether or not you should join a masters swimming program, I guess I would say yes, you should–especially if the coach is good.  

Happy training

July 24, 2008 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment

Comic-Con Invades San Diego

The invasion of San Diego has begun.  For the next four days, the city will be subjected to guys dressed like characters from Heman (see picture) and all other sorts of characters.  As I sit here in my condo, I can see the hordes of people headed to the convention center and it simply amazes me.  

For anyone who has never been in San Diego during Comic-Con, you might think that this is simply another convention.  Let me assure you, it’s not.  The entire downtown area is invaded, hotels are booked solid throughout the city and all the way up the coast, parking (paid or otherwise) is nearly impossible, and every bar in downtown looks like it is hosting a halloween party every night.  When I called it an “invasion”, I meant it in every sense of the word.

Personally, I’m not sure what amazes me more: the fact that there are this many adults still interested in comic books (and associated characters, movies, games, etc.) or the fact that so many of them are willing to spend their money, vacation days, and time to come to San Diego so that they can dress up and go to a convention about comic books.  I just don’t get it.  Granted, I was never really into comic books growing up (more of a sports kid, myself), but I guess I just feel like one would naturally grow out of such things.  Then again, it doesn’t take too many hard core fans to overwhelm a city.  

After the next four days are through, the crews at the convention center will clean it out and prepare one of the ballrooms for the bar exam, which starts on Tuesday morning.  It’s getting close now, and I’m looking forward to it just being over with so I can go back to living a normal life (i.e. a life that doesn’t involve analyzing preposterous hypotheticals about things like the admissibility of Dave and Peter’s statement that they shouldn’t have been on “Ludes and Snow” while they were driving…yeah, I’m not joking…that was a real question).  

Eight more days…

July 24, 2008 at 12:43 pm Leave a comment

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