I get to race a nice bike at cool places thanks to these guys:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nick Backstrom: A More Reasoned Reaction

My entry on Sunday was a quick scribble of knee-jerk reaction and a regurgitation of select facts, combined with bonk-fueled speculation about Nick Backstrom's positive drug test and his subsequent disqualification from the Olympic Gold Medal game in Sochi.  I've had a few days to look for some better information, and I am decidedly not writing this entry immediately after a 2.5 hour workout.

To be fair, I still am unclear as to which organizations are pulling what strings in this ordeal.  Is it the IOC pressing this matter, or the IIHF?  Is WADA even involved?  Are the using WADA's banned list?  Without knowing these things, I can't do more than unintellligibly shout that this is someone's fault.  Still, after looking through all the details I have been able to find, I am still holding to my original general consensus that this isn't any one person or entity screwing up badly, it is more likely a sum of a number of unfortunate happenings all snowballing into a very, very sad result for Nicklas Backstrom.

The first 'shame-on-you' finger you'd throw if you are a Nick Backstrom fan would be pointing straight at the Olympic officials...that is to say, whatever group/s that are in charge of drug testing and subsequent rule enforcement.

I was right there with you in being angry with these folks.  At the very least, they have admitted by apology that they took too long to analyse Nick Backstrom's urine sample, and you'd have to assume that they 'get it' about how poorly timed the actual disqualification was.  Still, I would contend that if they were truly compassionate to what has happened here, this matter would already be concluded: they would have given Backstrom a 1-game suspension (the Gold Medal game he was pulled from) and awarded him the Silver Medal that his team earned.  Per Greg Wyshynski on Twitter, the IIHF Chief Physician says Backstrom is "an innocent victim".  This is important.

Shortly after I posted an initial rant on Facebook about this affair, an old coach of mine and devout hockey dad forwarded me an old Sports Illustrated article from 1998 titled 'Hockey's Little Helpers.'  I assumed this was going to be something about mighty mites on ice, but after clicking on it, my eyes immediately parsed the word Sudafed a few lines into the article.  The piece goes on to describe how NHL players and trainers admit to pseudoephedrine being used deliberately as an ergogenic aid during games.  This caused me to have a very big sad.

If you are a cycling reader of mine, then this sort of documentation about the abuse of drugs in sport will be 'cute' compared to reading details of blood doping taking place on team buses in between races.  If, however, you are a hockey fan who discovered my blog just the other day and are not used to investigative journalism on doping, I implore you to not go very far down the rabbit hole.  It is an extremely toxic subject that can ruin the way you look at players and spoil your enjoyment of the game.

The main takeaway I took forth from the SI article is not that 'some hockey players cheat', but that the IIHF likely knows to look for pseudoephedrine abuse.  If Hockey is (or was) saturated with Sudafed abuse, it is understandable that the initial reaction for a positive drug test of the substance would be to impose a sanction, regardless of the indicated quantity of pseudoephedrine found.

Still, the IIHF had its Chief Physician quoted as saying he (Backstrom) is an innocent victim.  Surely he can read between the lines and see the difference between a daily dose of Zyrtec-D, and gobbling more than a few sudafed pills right before a game.  Yes, rules are rules, and Nick Backstrom has indeed broken the rules by taking enough of his allergy medication to break the allowed threshold for pseudoephedrine.  Yet, I still maintain that WADA, as recently as 2010, adjusted the allowed limit of the substance to eliminate punishment of those taking it for reasonable medicinal uses.

The 150 microgram per milliliter limit was an extrapolation of what they found in tests to be the average concentration of the substance you would find in someone taking a standard dose of Sudafed (240 mg).  The actual verbage in the WADA document describing their threshold reads:

The threshold level has been established based on the intake of therapeutic doses of 
PSE, defined as a maximum daily dose of 240mg

I highlight average because, while there is an allowable limit, everyone's metabolism is different.  (Cited is a study showing how multiple people can take the same dose of pseudoephedrine and come out with different urine levels)  This means that, despite WADA allowing some leeway for an athlete to take an acceptable amount of the medication, you can take this dose that they attempt to make legal and STILL go over the threshold in a urine test.  I maintain that WADA is trying to do the right thing with this threshold allowance, but unfortunately, I think they are setting the cutoff a little bit too short.  One other bit that isn't taken into account is the residual buildup of pseudoephedrine that occurs when taking it daily over a period of time.  I don't have any studies to cite and back this point, but it is only logical that this drug will show up in your urine for more than 24 hours, and so, when taking it daily for reasonable medicinal purposes, your urine concentrations of pseudoephedrine are going to rise.

I'm concluding this 'sciency' part of my analysis by saying that hockey blog and forum commentors insinuating that 'maybe Nicky does dope...is that how he can stick handle so well?'  No...just...no.  Read into that SI article posted above; a veteran player believes a lot of the angry and hyped-up, dirty play could be a result of players taking stimulants before games.  Nick Backstrom is one of the coolest, most calm players you will see in the NHL.  I'm not going to say that I know how pseudoephedrine effects different people, but he doesn't look like he has been taking a bunch of uppers before games for the past 7 years.

Moving on, I'd like to clarify some of my conspiracy theories I jotted down the other day having to do with Team Sweden.

As an athlete eligible for USADA and WADA testing, I would be expected to file a TUE if I took Zyrtec-D every day (for you cycling heads, I hate the -D formulations of antihistamines and rely on regular Zyrtec and Benadryl for my own issues) .  Nick Backstrom says the Swedish team knew about his Zyrtec-D, and he made certain that the doctors knew.  Perhaps they could have filed a TUE with the organizers?  The form is right here!

Secondly (and I am far too lazy to research this), what if the team doctors live in a country where Zyrtec is not offered in the variant that contains pseudoephedrine?

Here in the U.S. you can buy brand name decongestants that have taken pseudoephedrine out of the formula and replaced it with phenylephrine.  This is the difference between the sudafed you can pick up off the shelf, and the sudafed that you have to show your I.D. for.

I see two instances where the team doctors could have reasonably 'dropped the ball' here:
- Misunderstanding Nick's Zyrtec-D for a formulation that does not have pseudoephedrine
- Not being aware that the 240mg 'allowance' set by WADA is not rigidly reliable, (as we've explored above)
Prospective blame aside, these teams have a lot to do in a very limited time to prepare for international tournaments.

Let's move on to how Nick Backstrom is, well...moving on from this.  Yesterday, Monumental Network posted a press conference with Nick held at the Kettler Iceplex.  The Capitals' local sports reporters immediately asked questions about his Olympic experience and its tragic end.  By his answers, it sounded like Nick's head was in the right place: not focusing on what has already happened, not dwelling on the toxic and murky nature of doping sanctions, and looking ahead to his NHL teammates and the remaining regular season campaign.

Reading into this press conference, I compare it to past interviews of pro cyclists who would later be revealed to be dopers, denying accusations and proclaiming that they are 'clean'.  To be honest, there is no comparison to be made.  Nick is forthcoming in his answers and the most frustrated we see him is when he says 'next question.'  Look at Lance Armstrong's "I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles" speech, or Floyd Landis' explanation of Jack Daniel's roofing his testosterone levels.  Then there is the often repeated, stern assertions of being a clean athlete.  Nick simply stated that he's taken the drug before in international play, and it has never been a problem.

As Team Sweden said: this is NOT a case of doping.  Given the circumstances, the limited level of pseudoephedrine found to be above the legal threshold, and the rocky stance the NHL has in allowing its players to compete at international tournaments, I sincerely hope that Nick gets his medal.  The Sochi games hooked a lot of new hockey fans over the past two weeks, and I'm sure that the familiarity of so many NHL names was no small part of that.

Yes, he broke the rules.  Yes, the IIHF have good reason to be proactive against this drug in particular.  Yes, Team Sweden should have filed a TUE.  Yes, an officer of the IIHF knows this is not a case of stimulant doping.  So far, this is a calamity of errors.  Let's cross our fingers that the IIHF and IOC put an end to this negative cycle and do the right thing: levy no further sanction against Nicklas.

I leave you with a photograph of me, beginning a bicycle commute to downtown D.C. wearing my Nicklas Backstrom jersey over top of my backpack.  I hope this all brings out the Mean Lars for the last half of the NHL season.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Nick Backstrom Positive

Warning: wall of text ahead!  I'm not going to bother proofreading this, but I wanted to get it out there.  I've seen a lot of unsure information on the web today, and wanted to voice some science and editorial.  I'm sorry if I'm missing recently published information; I was on the bike all afternoon and started punching away at the keys as soon as I got back.

Today, Nick Backstrom was disqualified from the Sochi Olympic games, roughly 2.5 hours before he was set to take the ice in the Gold Medal game against Canada.  The reason for his DQ was a substance test of his coming back positive for psuedoephedrine.

Let's set things straight here: psuedoephedrine can absolutely be used to gain a competitive edge on your opponents.  It is a stimulant that is expressedly prohibited by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), and it is commonly known as the Sudafed that you have to get from behind the counter at your local drug store.  

According to Nick Backstrom, Team Sweden, and the Washington Capitals, he suffers from severe allergies, and uses an allergy medicine regularly to control his symptoms.  By the reporting, it appears he uses Zyrtec-D (good choice!)  Also reported is that his doping control test showed 190mg of psuedoephedrine.

The very first thing I want to clear up is the technical side of the chemical being in his system, and what that means.

The bit going around the sports reports of his test showing 190mg is an accidentally false statement.  The way they do the test (unless things have changed since WADA published its 2014 Banned Substances List), they look for concentrations of chemicals in urine.  Psuedoephedrine is actually legal by WADA's standards up to 150 MICROgrams per milliliter of urine.  If Nick Backstrom pissed a sample that contained 190 mg of psuedo, he is going to be the subject of a spinoff from Breaking Bad.  More than likely, someone misheard micrograms for milligrams, and along the story went.  From here on out, I'm going to assume he was popped and the findings showed 190 ug/ml.

WADA's limit of 150 ug/ml is set up to allow for the reasonable use of common medicines in amateur athletes.  In the sport I participate in, cycling, there are many opportunities for me to race at a high level where I will be subject to drug testing.  Rather than expecting every athlete under the sun to read the rules (which you are usually required to), they found it easier to put a threshold number out there so that someone who took a sudafed two days ago wouldn't have to go through a positive doping control.  

This 150 ug/ml limit is derived from a rounded estimation of how much pseudoephedrine you would expect to find from a urine analysis of someone who took a recommended day's worth of Sudafed.  See here for a WADA document detailing this.  This is actually really cool stuff that WADA thought things through so that you can take a day's worth of sudafed in whatever form it might be dosed out as, and after it breaks down in your body and you pee it out, you should be under the threshold!

Well, they only really thought about that first day of dosing.  In Nick's case, he is taking Zyrtec-D on a daily regiment.  The thing about drug testing is that different substances stay detectable in your body based on your own body's metabolism, as well as their basic half-life.  For Nick, taking Zyrtec-D every day keeps a concentration of psuedoephedrine going, its metabolites build up quicker than they can be totally cleared from the body.  The end result is that while he may only be taking a standard dose of Zyrted-D or Sudafed each day, he is pissing out a bigger number than WADA built in to their threshold level.  

I know this because I am an amateur athlete with major allergy problems.  Because I compete at the top level of amateur cycling, I educate myself on the rules that I sign my name to when I am issued a racing license.  A few years ago, I saw an allergist and tested highest level sensitivity to every allergen except for peanut butter (which is ironic, because I always thought I was allergic to PB!)  Right then and there, I was given an albuterol inhaler, a few epi-pens, and Zytec-D along with orders to go through a few years of weekly allergy shots.

Without thinking, I switched out to regular Zyrtec, and only used Sudafed when my sinuses became congested.  For me, I feel like crap when I take Sudafed and try to train.  I feel weak, a little feverish, and I bonk pretty easily.  Still, daily Zyrtec and allergy shots changed my life.  In years past, I would lose weeks of training in the spring due to various eruptions of hayfever and sinus infections.  I'd blow all my sick days and more because I was incapable of operating on a basic level.

This might be a conspiracy theory, but what if Backstrom's susceptibility to migraines is not a result of Rene Bourque's horrible elbow-to-the-head, but rather his allergies blowing up?

Rene Bourque should be universally booed in the DC Area

When I have a REALLY bad allergy day, things get so bad that I am sort of like white-blind or snow-blind.  I've gotten on the wrong Metro train before, gotten off at the wrong stop, went to get food and walked around the block mindlessly for 15 minutes because I am unable to constructively figure out what I am trying to do.  

I am also very sensitive to other athletes using allergies as a con.  While I was given an inhaler to use, I never do.  I feel that it opens your lungs up too much, and causes you to suck in whatever allergen you react to deeper than your body's natural defenses would otherwise allow.  I used my inhaler once before a race during allergy season, and I ended up wheezing really badly at the end all the same, and ended up sick for a week afterwards.  I once advised a fellow racer on seeking advice for how to deal with allergies.  He asked me so incessantly on where to go, who to see, and what it was that got me the inhaler...I answered him truthfully and in particular, that I advice against using an inhaler for racing and training.  Three weeks later, I am beside him at the starting line of a race and watch him pull an albuterol puffer out from his pocket and just go to fucking town on the thing.  'You are fucking kidding me' I muttered, and never spoke to him again.

With my personal story said, I understand Nick Backstrom's issue fairly well, and I also understand why WADA needs to have a line that you cannot cross...they problem is that they drew the line in the very middle of an extremely grey area.  

As an allergy sufferer, it is insane to think of traveling and sleeping in a hotel without loading up on antihistamines.  Sleeping on a foreign pillow can give me bad congestion and sensitivity to light.  When you travel to a different area, sleeping accommodations aside, you have to think of the new local ecosystem, what different types of grass or tree pollen there might be, and what time of the annual allergy calendar it is there.  At the Sochi games, Nick Backstrom did inform his team management that he took Zyrtec.  This is where things get even looser.

Backstrom earns his primary paycheck from an NHL team, the Washington Capitals.  The NHL seems to be responsible for drug testing its own players, rather than leaning on WADA or USADA (US Anti Doping Agency).  I don't know this for a fact, but I believe it to be true, as Nick and the Capitals state publicly that he's been taking this allergy medication for several years, and it has never been an issue.  Any USADA test would have triggered an adverse analytic finding, and this discussion would have been on a different day under much less devastating circumstances.  

The NFL is another example of a league that deals with athlete doping in-house.  You occasionally hear about positive drug tests (most recently, one of the Seahawks' secondary players taking adderall), but because it is kept in-house, the NFL can manage how (and possibly IF) the information is released to the public.  In this instance, under international rules, there is no league entity looking to protect itself and its players, similar to my sport of cycling.  Cycling continuously turns out doping positives because every single possible positive is IMMEDIATELY published and propagated.  There are some organizations in cycling that are responsible for hosting major races such as the Tour de France, but they have only loose associations with teams, and do not fully cooperate with teams.  As such, the sport is very 'open' which allows for new teams to participate, but it misses out on the stability that sports with built in governance enjoy (such as the major sports here in America.)

Back from that tangent, the takeaway is that Team Sweden and Nick Backstrom should have thought to register for a Therapeutic Use Exemption, or TUE.  A TUE is a document that you get a doctor to sign off on saying that you have a legitimate reason to use a prescribed amount of a banned substance because of clinical reasons.  

It is reasonable to say that Nick simply didn't think about this.  Being a member of the NHL, he likely doesn't have to worry about this sort of thing and it didn't cross his mind.  He did go as far as making sure Team Sweden knew about it, which leads to another wild thought: what if the team Doctor didn't think about a TUE because Zyrtec is not sold containing Psuedoephedrine in Sweden?  This is a wild, shot-in-the-dark explanation for how the ball may have been dropped multiple times by multiple people; I'm just trying to illustrate how this is all such a grey area that you could call it...50 shades of grey.

Finally, I will get to my pissed-off-fan-of-Nick-Backstrom side:  why in the hell did it take the IOC decide to disqualify him two and a half hours before the gold medal match?  As an athlete, I've raced against guys who have been busted for LEGIT performance enhancers: steroids, EPO and the like.  It always takes WADA and USADA months and months to actually do anything to someone who gets popped.  Meanwhile, the athletes who test positive area usually allowed to finish out their seasons before any announcements are made.  One particular local rider won a National Championship on the dope.  Months later, USA Cycling would DQ the result and award the win to the rider who placed second, but that rider never got to enjoy the victory.  They never got their photograph on top of the podium with the national champion's jersey on their shoulders.

In Sochi, at the highest level of competition, it seems only reasonable that, not only are they taking urine samples for doping controls, but they are running the tests on-site so that they can catch cheaters immediately.  The worst thing of this whole story is that, apparently, Backstrom's sample that tested positive for 190 micrograms per milliliter (or milligrams...whatever) was taken a WEEK ago. Edit: Reader Ron W points out that his sample was taken on Wednesday, which would allow three days to process and analyse his sample.  To stick to my ranting tone, I am not editing any further text. They let him play though games all week, and only two and a half hours before the biggest game of this man's life do they sent a man in a coat to escort Nick from the dressing room and inform him that he has been disqualified, that he cannot help his team bring home gold for their country.  Imagine what thoughts and sorrow must have been going through Nick's head as his teammates struggled to find the back of the net against Team Canada.  I'm sure he felt cheated, felt confused, and felt that he somehow let down his teammates.

Still, what if none of what I wrote is true.  What if his allergy story is just a story?  What if he was trying to one up his abilities in hockey by taking a drug?  If you were a professional hockey player, and would stop at NOTHING to win a gold medal in the olympics, what drugs would you take to play 'out of your mind' as they say?  Testosterone?  EPO?  Maybe you'd look into HGH?  How about a stimulant?  I heard adderall is all the rage in the NFL and crossfit gyms, it must be pretty good.  What about something simple and legal, like loading up on caffeine?  There are lots of studies about how caffeine is a legal performance enhancer that works...Naw, screw that.  Give me some psuedoephedrine!  I'll take one 24 hour tab, plus a tiny bit more, that will work way better!

Please.  I'm so glad that anti-doping attention can be placed on a beloved Swede who took Zyrtec-D, while the EPO positive of a biathlon athlete has gone mostly unnoticed.  I hope that that Nicklas receives the silver medal his team earned without him, and that his forced and untimely disqualification per a substance rule that should be adjusted is punishment enough.  Again, while it is awesome that WADA had the foresight to build in some tolerance for reasonable use, their 150 ug/mg limit should probably be bumped up just a little bit to accommodate therapeutic use spanning multiple days, but not so high as to accommodate abuse.

Picture ripped from RMNB

TL;DR: Nick Backstrom took Zyrtec-D daily to combat allergies.  WADA prohibits excessive use of the 'D' ingredient.  Their limit as to what 'excessive' is accommodates roughly 1 day's typical use of the drug.  Nick probably took it every day, so he was over the limit and produced a positive drug test.  This is against the rules, but the rules were not laid out to 'bust' people who took regular amounts of allergy medication.  Also, fuck the IOC for waiting until just before the gold medal match to disqualify Nick Backstrom.  Finally, I threw away all my maple syrup in my fridge.  (that's for you, Jared Neiters)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

2014 is Here

What a busy stretch it has been since I last had the time to write an entry here.  This weekend, the William and Mary Tidewater Classic is happening, and I am going!  With that, I thought I'd jot down some things that have been on my mind since last August.

The first thing a lot of you will notice if you find me at the races is that I'm shaving my head.  Not razor to scalp, but close enough.  For the past few years, I've been losing my hair, and I went through your typical 20-something obsessing over their image phase for a while.  I did Monoxidil, Nizoral shampoo, and even Emu Oil (which is actually awesome for the skin).  My takeaways are that Monox gave me the little documented 'aging' look in the face, and didn't help at all with hair loss on the front.  I never even considered Finasteride...too much risk of permanently changing your body chemistry with that.  Nope, after a few years of seeing it happen in the mirror, I finally too the guard off the clippers and chopped all the hair off, and I couldn't be more relieved.

All that anxiety because my hair was falling out and I was freaking.  I should have just accepted that I was going to lose my hair and shaved it and dealt with it once it really started.  When Monoxidil was kind of keeping it in check, I didn't look at my hair and say 'yeah, awesome'.  Some people care a lot about their image and go a lot further to preserve or regain their hair, and that is great if that is what they want to look like.  Me, I don't really care about what people think of my appearance, and it was only some phantom insecurity I developed because I thought I wasn't going to look young anymore.  End of 20's going on 30's isn't exactly young...my parents had me when they were 21/22!

There is a lot more I could write about the topic, but the moral of the story for me is that I came away with some personal growth and a little bit of 'recalibration' at how I need to hold myself in society.  I still feel like I'm the same person as when I was 13, but I'm certainly not, and I need to remind myself of this every once in a while.

Anyways, if you are reading this and are in a similar position, just know that no one else really gives a shit about your hair except for you.  Go see a hair replacement clinic if that is what will make you happy, but don't make the mistake in worrying about how others perceive you.

On a different note, I've been making a concerted effort to stay more in touch with family.  I had a slightly alternative upbringing, with seasonal stepsisters, custody agreements, and an entire family on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.  I was never able to spend as much time with everyone as I wanted to, and I fell into a sort habit of solitude.

This is a little bit ironic for me, but a product helped me out; I got a MotoX smartphone a few months ago, upgrading from a hand-me-down HTC Incredible (1).  My new phone runs all the apps and has a front facing camera.  I can easily hit up all my family members on all the different channels they hang out on.  Facebook, Google+, Txt, Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, etc.  This has been so awesome that I even went and got an iPod so I could facetime with people who use that as their primary channel.  I'm really late to the 'stay-in-touch' party, but I'm trying to make up for lost time...

Peace from the Salt Ponds

Monday, August 19, 2013

Update to Stages Post


I messed up on the last post.  I didn't crop the power files correctly to compare my average power.

Here are some pictures to compare:



Yeah, these are EERILY similar.  As I'm posting this, I'm going back into WKO+ to make sure that they are, in fact, from different devices.  The full files are different (Stages drops power data at under 30 rpm...when I crossed the line and ultra-soft pedaled around after the finish), but I wanted to show the interwebs just how close the Stages compares to a known high-standard power meter (honestly, I think of Powertap as a secondary Gold Standard, similar to SRM) at the expense of giving away my super-secret power numbers.

After cropping both files more carefully (one of them left out some of the starting lunge), the averages are: 303 and 303.  I don't think there is anything more I need to write (except can we have an Android App to upgrade the firmware?)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Stages Power Meter: First Thoughts

For six years (I got mine when I was 24), I've been a devoted Powertap user.  When I started using my Powertap, I had no ideas what the numbers meant, but was happy that I could boast about what I did up a hill with my friends after a group ride.

Through the seasons, I began REALLY using the thing and training with purpose.  For a while (the second half of the year I wore the 'Your Ad Here' kit), I did the 'Training and Racing with a PowerMeter' plan...entailing a lot of 2x20's at 90-95% FTP.  My big weakness, endurance and long-range power, increased a lot with a healthy dose of BORING work on the rollers, staring at Powertap numbers.

In 2011, the North Tek year, I made some STRONG progressions, with some big peak performances at Wilmington and Altoona.  Again, I knew enough about FTP and sweet spot training to self-coach my way to all of this.  in 2012, I rolled my way to the Nature Valley Grand Prix, where I focused on keeping a high average power on 4+ hour rides and starving myself to a svelt weight.  I had a massively disappointing performance at Nature Valley, and it was after some chats with Lindsay Bayer that I decided I needed to suck it up and invest in a coach.

The last half of 2012 I was coached.  The holes in my fitness were quickly sured up, and I began to rack up power data from more 'traditional' style workouts, with plenty of high-intensity efforts, and a HEALTHY portion of vomit-boiling sprint work.  Unfortunately, that November, I tore a muscle in my leg and was relegated to rehabing couch-potato style for 3 and a half months.  This May I resumed business as usual and got back to hard pedaling with my trusty Powertap.

One thing that ALWAYS bugged me was having to chose between running my Powertap on race day and collecting the data, or using a race wheel.  While I can't say I've ever won or lost a race because of this choice, the mental boost you get from having your nice hoops on is significant.  In my case, I have an 808 front, which quite frankly, looks ridiculous paired with a standard alloy rear rim.

Enter the Stages Power Meter.  A few weeks ago, Bike Doctor Waldorf became a StagesCycling dealer, and a few of us on the race team decided we wanted to get into crank-based powermeters.  For me, there were three factors in wanting to try StagesCycling: I LOVE Shimano cranks, and have been apprehensive about Quarq for this [silly and personal] preference.  Secondly, I cannot afford an SRM.  Third, Garmin Vector [was] in my mind, VAPORWARE.

Knowing full-well what the prospect of left-leg only power measurement could bring, I decided to get a Stages Dura-Ace crank.  For you numbers-weenies, I do lurk on Wattage and Slowtwitch, so I know about the poo-pooing that has been levied upon this product.

When I got the crank, I ran it in tandem with my Powertap, borrowed an extra Garmin 500, and recorded a workout.  Disappointingly, the Stages meter was significantly off from my Powertap readings.  The next day, I found a friend with an iPhone 5, and used the free Stages Cycling app to check the firmware.  Sure enough, there was an update available, that was easily applied to the Stages unit.

Again, I went out and did a workout with two Garmin 500's.  HAPPILY, the numbers I saw in WKO+ that night were VERY congruent (for the most part).  Some numbers over 3 minute intervals agreed between my Powertap and Stages crank.  I checked calibration before and after the efforts.  While the numbers are not 100% in tandem, I would say the Stages was easily 'close enough' to train by and go home and see what you have done.  I'm talking 6-8 watt difference in Avg over an intense 3 minute effort (some jerky launching and desperate pedaling going on!)  On Saturday I raced at the Church Creek 40km Time Trial, running both my Powertap and my Stages crank.  Over the 52:35 effort (*pats self on back*), there was a TWO WATT difference in the avg power recording between the two power files.  Spoiler alert: I did a 301/303 average.  I'll let you do the math as to the percentage error that is...

More significant than the difference in power recording was the difference in Elapsed time between the two Garmin 500 units.  They were 25 seconds off of each other, and neither was consistent with the official measured time (we had timing chips on our bib numbers!)

When I mentioned for the most part I should fess up that the Stages doesn't do a great job in showing similar numbers when I do sprints, but in its defense, I've read that the Powertap tends to give high peak power readings.  More to the point, there is no 'wattage zone' you need to stay in when you do sprint work.  You pedal as hard as you can.  There is no pacing, aside from the difference of a 10 second max and a 30 second sprint.  The only significant thing I've used sprint numbers for is to stroke my own ego when I start to break the 1x00 w barrier.

All that said, I think the Stages Cycling powermeter is a great product.  You can get into reliable (but not the most pure) power measurement for under a grand, you can swap your meter between bikes a little bit quicker than an SRM or Quarq (as long as you have multiple base-cranks!), AND YOU CAN RUN YOUR DURA-ACE CRANKS!  Also, not worrying about what make/model/size chainrings are on those cranks is another plus (although this is not the big issue it once was).

If you are considering a Stages powermeter, I'd say go for it.  It isn't the perfect powermeter solution, but it is a great way to getting in to training with power, or racing with a powermeter if you are economically constrained to a Powertap laced to a training rim.  Since I bought mine, Garmin Vector MAGICALLY FELL FROM THE SKY and became available to consumers.  The Vector looks like another great new addition to the power meter market, but at Quarq-like prices (and I hope you don't mind using an Exustar pedal body and cleats).

To put it simply, if I the 24-year-old me were shopping for my first powermeter TODAY, the Stages product would be a no-brainer. If you started the whole powermeter game with a Stages, a few seasons on, you'd have a tough time finding a reason to drop over $1.5k (up to over $3k) to get a little more 'sciency' with your power measurement.  You can feel confident in riding a Stages powermeter, and use the money you could have spent on an established 'premium' meter for a coach, good food, and race travel funds.

See the folks at Bike Doctor Waldorf to order yours, and get some empirical data to go with all of your Strava records!

An elegant and affordable solution to power measurement!

No one has said anything about my mismatching 6700 and 9000 arms!  My bike LOST WEIGHT when I installed this power meter!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Getting Fit, and Getting Fit

Two weeks ago, I took part in my first race back from the injury (if you don't count my false-start at the All-American RR), the Clarendon Cup Pro Race!  This was my first time taking part in the Men's Professional event.  As a teenager growing up in DC, I'd always follow the event, hoping that one day, I'd be in the pro peleton with the big boys.  As a bike shop employee, I LOVED Clarendon weekend, because you'd be casually visited by ProTour riders who are out-and-about on the bike, keeping their legs loose!

I've raced in a number of Pro-1 Criteriums before, so I generally knew what to expect, but the distance of the Clarendon race was really intimidating.  I was still sporting some sore hands and a banged up knee, and I was still early in the training build.  Sitting at the start line, I was thinking lots of negative thoughts, but a veteran and personal peptalk from +Joe Mazza got me out of the funk and took a lot of the jitters out of my stomach.

I started at the back, which if you have ever raced a criterium (specifically THIS criterium course), you will understand how big of a disadvantage that is.  I spent an honest amount of time early on in the race gauging how easily I could move up, trying to find a sweet spot in the peleton where the cornering and braking was a little bit smoother.  

For my non-bike-racer readers, there is a lot of technical skill disparity between riders, even at the pro level.  When a peleton approaches a tight corner as a pack, there are so many small movements which can ultimately prevent you from having maximum exit speed, which in turn will cause you to have to put in a hard effort to match the speed of the front of the race (which is now 10 seconds ahead of you, and flying down a straight-away).  

Eventually, I gave up on finding a smooth part of the pack where I could carry my inertia all the way through the corner without braking, so I tailgunned.  Tailgunning is when you hang out at the back of the back, let the pack roll away from you slightly on the straightaways, and then you corner faster than them and make up all lost ground exiting the turns.  You do have to pedal a little more in some sections, but you minimize the amount of sprinting you have to do coming out of corners.  

Once I was settled, it was a 2 hour and fifteen minute battle for draft, preferred cornering lines, and time to reach for an energy gel or grab a sip of water.  I wasn't having any physical issues in hanging on (besides putting in the HARD effort to stay in), but the MENTAL effort it took was surprising.  If you relax and stop paying CLOSE attention to every minute detail of your position, use of energy, and your prudent entry and exit lines in the corners, you notice the physical price you have to pay QUICKLY.  On two or three occasions I sort of fell asleep at the wheel, and by the time I realized it, my HR was going upwards of my own danger zone, and it would take 2 or 3 laps to settle back down.  

As I said, this went on for over 2 hours.  Eventually I came unglued off the back of the race when the rider in front of my blew a tire approaching a turn, and I had no safe and fast line to get around him.  After the corner, I had clear space to move past, but there was a 30 meter gap to the next rider (and the draft box behind him).  Those 30 meters might have been 30 miles.  I gave about 10 seconds of effort to try and close the gap, but the engine room was SPEWING steam...my legs were well beyond their limit.  I went into time-trial mode, hoping to keep riding quick enough to finish the distance without getting pulled by the officials.  I did entertain myself by trying to get as many kids to give me high-fives as I passed.  Don't worry, I was soft-hands-ing it.  No missle-five from me!  

I did, sort of.  On the final lap, I could see the leaders behind me, and United HealthCare was quite obviously shredding the field, so I COURTEOUSLY pulled to the side and let the leaders fly past me into the final two turns.  Clipping back in, I pedaled the rest of the way to the finish, crossing my fingers that I would be counted in the final results.  I was!  

Post race, I enjoyed a DELICIOUS HAMBURGER AND MILKSHAKE from a really cool crew of people at BGR on Wilson Blvd.  After over two hours of fast and furious racing, that brought me back to life like no endurance recovery product could.  It was a great day; I [barely] finished the Clarendon Pro Race, and my wife and parents had made the trip to watch the whole thing unfold!  The drive home, however, was less enjoyable.  MY F***ING BACK HURT LIKE IT WAS MY FIRST BIKE RACE EVER!  

In the weeks prior, I had been considering consulting the folks at Bike Doctor in Waldorf to take a look at my position on the bike.  The Clarendon race was a wake up call to go in and get it done, as I had never had a proper fit done.  

The fit is a topic all it's own.  Spoiler alert: I needed to change my position.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Where Was I This Spring and Other Facts

The 2012 season went incredibly well for me.  I had a head full of steam in the spring, qualified for the Nature Valley Pro Chase, and went absolutely bonkers preparing myself for the Nature Valley Grand Prix.  The story of how I disappeared this spring probably starts there...

NVGP is known for the Menomonie Road Race and the Stillwater Criterium.  Both courses have mondo-climbing.  Those who know me in real life will be aware that I climb as well as a rock dropped into the ocean.  Local Pro-Am racer Tim Rugg attended NVGP the year before me, and gave me as much advice as 'get ready for hills, dude!'  And so I did.

I went beyond monk-mode nutrition wise and was chronically underfed as I prepared for NVGP.  I went straight through my healthy racing weight of 180-185 (where no one calls me fat), and continued to plummet below 175.  I made it to 167 with many restless nights of trying to fall asleep before my hunger kept me awake.  All this weight loss was done while training very hard, racing our local Wednesday Night Training Race in Greenbelt most weeks, and putting in some 100+ mile megarides.

It was all too much, too quickly.

I was VERY flat at NVGP.  You can read about how the racing went down in my past posts, but I came home knowing that I had dug myself into a hole with my rapid weight loss and my ad-hoc self-training.  Going forward, I knew I had to be more honest with myself about my body, my abilities, and my knowledge.

The first step in recovering from my slightly heartbreaking performance at Nature Valley would be to allow some weight to come back, and feed myself after I trained.  I quickly came back up to high 170's and low 180's, and felt better, day-in-day-out.

The second step would be to recruit the help of a cycling coach, who turned out to be Ken Lundgren of Elite Endurance.  I knew a few riders who worked with him, and his philosophies and methodologies 'clicked' with me.  I can nerd out with the best of them when it comes to cycling equipment and wattage theory, but I prefer to have some 'old school' thrown in there.  We don't race by comparing w/kg figures from power files, after all...

The third step was to reload for a late season event.  I frequently participate in the Mayor's Cup in Boston, held in September.  I ALWAYS got popped in this race, and I wanted to see if I could get myself closer to the finish this year before getting pulled.  With a more reasonable approach to nutrition and coaching from someone who knew what they were doing, not only did I get further at the Mayor's Cup than I ever had, I finished the race!  Not only did I finish the race, but I landed myself in a few off-the front moves.  One of these moves in particular, I found myself HAMMERING on the wheel of a dude in a neon green Liquigas kit...Ted King.  Pretty cool.

With the pride I took in finally finishing the race, I was ready to go nuts in the offseason and put in some hard work.  Unfortunately, as I did in a similar fashion prepping for NVGP, I went a little TOO nuts and tore my left hip flexor and the accompanying tendon.  It took me 3 and a half months of couch potato training for the tear to properly heal.  Using the clutch in my car SUCKED, I couldn't walk up stairs very well, and I was all over the place in terms of daily pain.  As frustrating as it was, I FINALLY healed up enough to ride as the race season was well underway.

My first real ride back was the All American Road Race, which I won the previous year.  I weighed a noble 205 lbs and got dropped with some many miles to go.  I took no shame from this, and continued on a solid, healthy track of progress.  With Coach's guidance and no aspirations to starve, I've steadily seen my fitness rise as the spring rolled on and we arrive to summer.

Last weekend I raced at the Tour of Washington County.  I have NEVER finished that RR with the main field.  I still didn't, but I made it to the end of the main loops and cramped up BAD departing the race loop and rolling up the finishing straightaway.  This, on a course where, in the past, I'd have been so freaked out that I was over some number of pounds in bodymass, I finished without once having the thought of 'I wish I was sub 180' or 'going back on the lettuce and coffee diet'.  It feels FAR better to pedal with some drive behind it than to be starved and go about 200 yards further with the field because your watts per kilograms are technically better.  Also, who doesn't prefer seeing bigger numbers on the powermeter to smaller numbers on a scale?  Okay, there is definitely a limit to all this, but I think you get my drift...I wasn't taking care of myself before and I'm healthy now, blahblahblah...

With a shortened race calendar to go, I look forward to continued improvement, and a lot of fun on the way!