Friday, July 26, 2013

Lost and Found Podium Part 2: Padden Road Duathlon

Last weekend, I did the Padden Road Duathlon. Again, down the street from me. I told my teammate Bart the other night that the real reason I'm running these days is that it pissed me off that I couldn't run a couple miles without hurting myself. I don't think I quite knew it myself until I said it, but now that I have, I realize that's the primary reason. My wife would say that since I had some trouble with running, now I had to conquer it.

This is a local duathlon put on by the City of Bellingham Parks and Rec department. Everyone shows up from serious triathletes to people who couldn't think of something better to do with their Saturday mornings. It's one lap around Lake Padden, then a 19ish mile bike leg around Lake Sammish, and finally another lap around Lake Padden. The Padden lap is fairly hilly by running standards, and the bike leg has a moderate climb right at the beginning, rolls for a while, and finishes with a pretty stiff climb.

In keeping with my current attitude about pace, I did the first run as fast as I could - actually I think I might benefit from a little pacing in running, at least until I develop either better running fitness or a better sense of my efforts when running. I jackrabbited the start a little bit, so a lot of the "real" runners passed me in the first mile, and my position was still eroding a bit by the time I got to the first transition.

I don't practice transitions. This is my second multisport event and I will probably continue to do them at a rate of around two a year. But I at least stage my stuff, and I was running in shoes with elastic laces. So I managed to get out in about a minute. The transition area is at the bottom of a steep driveway, which is itself at the bottom of the moderate climb. I got to pass quite a few people on my way up to the top, which was kind of fun - all the stronger runners who don't ride that much. After that, I was more-or-less just racing the clock, although there was a group of three cyclists who were in front of me for probably about five miles. I knew I was faster - I'd had to chase on to visual distance. But they kept hanging out in front of me for a while and it really took until we all hit a grade that lasted a little longer for me to pass. A few people on TT bikes passed me during the leg. The sound of the carbon is unmistakable. I think if I was going to be serious about an event for which TT bikes are legal, whatever that means, I'd need to acquire one. Kind of a problem with our sport, but c'est la vie.

The course finished with another climb, so of course I buried myself on it. I had this idea that whether I wanted it or not, I was getting a break during the transition. I did get some Strava PRs, so that's something... My second transition was not as smooth as the first. For some reason.

The second run was really hard! As soon as I started running, I felt uneven, and my hips and hamstrings felt tight. I was sure I had to be going at a snail's pace, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. The first time the course went up slightly, it took me real force of will not to walk. And the first time the course turned down, once again, it took me real force of will not to walk. After that, I still felt awful, but I felt like I was at least at a pace that I'd be able to sustain until it was over. The three people it had been hard for me to pass during the bike leg caught me, but I think I managed not to get passed by anyone else. That has to have been purely on the strength of whatever cushion I built myself on my bike! Finally, I saw the big inflatable arch over the finish line. Purely as a "best practices" thing, I forced myself into what passed for a sprint at that point, and ran the last 100 meters or so. There was a guy about three seconds behind me when I crossed, so I guess my best practice held me one more place.

In training, I've often been attacking hills when I run, and then recovering, much as I do when I ride my bike. At race pace, this really didn't work. I guess I'd heard that runners go for more of an even effort, and in future, I think I'll try that too. In the first run, there was a runner who passed me near the foot of a climb, who I passed back, and who then repassed me. I didn't see her again until I passed her during the bike leg. Certainly made the "attack hills" thing feel pretty dumb in the context of running. I think it's something about only rolling when things go really wrong during a run, whereas a bicycle is supposed to roll all the time.

There weren't many bicycles in the transition area when I finished that leg and I didn't get passed by many people when I ran, so I figured I probably did alright. The results came out yesterday, and it turns out I finished 3rd for my age group. There were only 7 Men, age 30-34, so maybe not the most highly contested 3rd of all time, but I've been having several weeks of being pack fill, so why not. The first, second and third place overall went to men, in the 20-24, 40-44 and 30-34 age groups. Only 107 people finished, so I think the groups were sliced a bit fine, but maybe USAT wants it that way.

I'm bummed out to be further away from the MTB scene, and it looks like road is further away than I want to travel on the weekends. But Bellingham puts on a lot of things locally that are fun too.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lost and Found Podiums Part 1: Padden Mountain Pedal

It's been an odd season for me. As a lot of you already know, I got married in April. I also moved and got a Real Job, and I had a couple of difficult classes in the winter. While a lot of this stuff is really positive, I've been struggling a bit on the track and I've been to exactly zero of the BuDu Racing races.

On the other hand, I've actually done some (gasp) intervals and I have a Book.

I did the Padden Mountain Pedal about a week and a half ago. I was a little nervous about this because I haven't been riding my mountain bike as much as in some years, and I wasn't really sure if my fitness was where it was at the same time last year. But it's a course I know well and it's now, quite literally, down the street from me. So I went.

It was even more sparsely attended than last year, which is a real bummer. I really like the race course behind Lake Padden - there are real climbs and descents, so while it's not the huge loop of, say, White River, it definitely feels like mountain biking.

One of the things I've learned from starting to use more gadgetry in my cycling is that if I think I'm pacing myself, I'm really just selling myself short. So I hit the climbs as hard as I could all four times, and finished four laps in a 1:35 - par for me, so at least I'm not slower. All of three people showed up for Sport Men 19-34, and I beat one of them. Podium for me. While I did have positive splits over the course of the race, my last lap was maybe two minutes longer than my first - so a less than 10% slide from beginning to end. Compared to my lap times when I think I'm racing smart, much faster. To hell with racing smart!

This is a great course, so I hope to see more of you out there next year! While there are some races that I don't really care about coming or going, the Padden Mountain Pedal has been going on for over twenty years and it would be a real shame for it to fail.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A Couple of Reflections on Car Sharing

I'm thinking about this because I was recently made aware of a promotion from a new car-share company.  I have a car, but I was curious about them because their model is that their cars are parked all over a designated area, in this case a good chunk of Seattle, and one simply gets in a car, drives it somewhere, and then leaves it there.  It's really a little more complicated - it's possible to reserve cars and they have to be left inside the designated area.  But it seems like it should be very easy.  The promotion was that it was free to sign up, while normally there's an application fee, and I get 30 minutes of free driving - they charge primarily by time, with a mileage charge that can kick in if someone drives a lot of miles.  Like, 180 - seems pretty unlikely.

The last encounter with car sharing in a post-rental model that I had was with a company that had a much more complicated system.  They had a lot of different cars at a lot of different rates.  The cars had to be reserved, and they had to be reserved for a certain block of time.  So I might reserve one for two hours.  There were penalties for late return.  The cars had to be picked up from and returned to their designated parking spaces.  I found it very stressful.  Things took longer than I expected and I had to return the car before completing everything, and I felt like I spent a lot of my reservation just dealing with the location of the share car, not actually doing my errands.

One of the things I like about renting a car is that while it certainly has all of those rules, I have it for the whole day.  I don't need to worry about things taking a little longer than I thought, I don't need to pad my time estimates, and if I want to take care of a couple of other things that are easier with a car but not the reason I rented it, I can do that.  Possibly in response to car sharing, a lot of rental companies have also expanded their locations, meaning that if I have to go and pick up a car anyway, chances are not bad that there's a rental near me.  At least one rental company allows people to set up an accelerated renting process, so that a lot of the rigmarole associated with renting a car is streamlined out.  They've decided to keep competing with the car sharing companies, meaning that the car sharing companies offer much less that's different or easier than they did when they first started.

The thing that attracts me about the new sharing approach is that they really are all over my city, much more so than the previous type, and while I still have to get to the car upfront, I don't need to budget time in my rental to return the car once I'm finished.  I can just park and walk away.  Also, I don't have a set end time on my use of the car.  If things take longer, fine.  Finally, they can be driven one way.  Most models require that cars be returned to where I pick them up, at least to avoid an upcharge.  But there are a lot of trips I might do for which I only want the car in one direction.  I might be picking up or dropping off my own car from the shop.  I might be doing a series of errands by foot and picking up something heavy at the end, or taking something awkward in one direction but not the other on a commute I usually do by foot; this could extend to buses if I used them.  The airport isn't in the area for the new sharing service yet, but that seems like an excellent application to me - getting to and from the airport on public transit sucks, but my car is just costing me extra money every day if it's in a lot next to the airport.  In other words, I have the ability to use one of these share cars the way I'd use a taxi, except that I drive it myself.

The last thing that appeals to me about the car sharing concept is that it seems like one of the places for self-driving cars to start to be commercialized.  Car share companies have the ability to offer a better service if their cars can drive themselves, no driver base to alienate, and they spend more on fleets of cars every year, so may have the ability to have self-driving modules installed before they become common on personal cars. And if there's anything I'm looking for from driving a car in the city, it's not having to drive it.

I'm going to have to try the new car sharing idea when I get my membership card.  I'm very curious - will it turn out to be as good as I think?  Probably not.  I can also imagine finding it doesn't work very well for me if, for example, the density of the cars is low enough to make walking to get one very annoying or there are never enough free ones at the time that I want one.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Using Google Drive to Automatically Back Up "My Documents" in Windows 7

In the past, I've been pretty bad about backing up my files.  It's always been too much of a pain messing around with CDs or DVDs, and I'm too much of a cheapskate to get an external hard drive for the exclusive purpose of doing a backup.  It's also something that would still require intervention from me, meaning I'm not likely to do it regularly.

Since beginning to use Google Drive anyway, it occurred to me that perhaps I could start backing up my files without also having to screw around with it all the time.  It turns out not to be totally straightforward.

First, when installing Google Drive on your computer, make sure to put the Google Drive folder somewhere you actually want it to be.  The default location isn't necessarily bad, but it wasn't great for me.  While there are instructions for moving the Google Drive folder after the fact, they didn't work in my case - I had to delete it and have Google Drive create a new one in the correct location.

Second, navigate into your user account folder and right-click "My Documents."  Open up the Properties dialog box.  One of the tabs is "Location."  I used the "Move..." button to move "My Documents" to a new location within Google Drive.  While I did give that folder a name, it didn't get created that way - it was created as "My Documents," only within my Google Drive folder.  That's fine with me, so I just let it happen that way.

I did a little bit of testing and it does seem to have broken the recent documents links in Office.  So, be warned.  However, the libraries folders and start menu shortcuts work correctly and by default, things will save into the new location.  So all in all, I'm okay with how that turned out.  Google Drive is now syncing all of my stuff, which was the goal.  I think I now have my computer taking care of that important but annoying backup task for me.  Future migrations to new computers should also be more straightforward, using Google Drive to pull the contents I want on a new computer back down from the cloud.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Distributed Processing and Robot Taxis

I went to a seminar earlier today that was concerned with getting networked dynamic systems to pursue their own goals and then merge on a common state at the end of a certain time interval.  Pretty abstract, and I have to admit that the math was impenetrable to me.  But it got me thinking - what if the systems went to a distribution, rather than a single point?  And, what if the times were arbitrary and mismatched?

I really, really want my next car to be able to self-drive.  It seems feasible, too, if I can hold out for a few years.  One of the things that commentators bring up with self-driving cars is that the model of individual car ownership may lose a lot of its advantage.  If cars can drive themselves, why should a car have to wait for its owner to get back?

In New York, people take taxis under certain circumstances.  Taxi drivers know the times and places when people want taxis the most, and try to put themselves there.  This works well for knowledgeable taxi drivers because they can stay quite busy, and works relatively well for potential customers, as long as they follow a common pattern.  It's not so great for someone doing something a little unusual, though, the taxi fleet has a limited ability to scale, and the way that taxis are leased by drivers often means that the taxi fleet is operating well below the capacity of the equipment.  Drivers get tired, and don't use all 24 hours.  (Nor would I want them to!)

Imagine if a city had a fleet of self-driving taxis that networked with one another and reported their states to a central dispatcher.  Further, imagine that the dispatcher could receive calls via cell phone or app.  The communication was a key aspect of the seminar today.

The selfish vs. team aspect of the individual systems' behavior was a big part of the seminar's theme.  But instead of having synchronized behavior changes, the taxis would decide based on different weights assigned to their needs at different times of day.  During commute hours, all reliably operable taxis would stay available until they picked up fares.  During lower-traffic periods, fuel and maintenance needs would be assigned greater importance.

The team aspect of the taxis' behavior would be to try to maintain a certain geographic distribution, with varying densities based on frequency of calls.  A lot of taxis would attempt to travel to areas with historically greater call frequency when available, while fewer taxis would station-keep in areas with low demand.  By networking with nearby taxis, taxis could put themselves in the right places to maintain the right gradient in available taxi density.  Having all taxis maintain good records and download information to the same place would facilitate development of really good statistics about when and where the demand was.  Taxis would know to go to residential areas in the mornings, to bring people into commercial cores, they'd know to be around offices for evening rush hour, they'd know when the bars close.  Because the taxis would be trying to maintain a distribution as a team, this behavior wouldn't imply abandoning a neighborhood - a few taxis would still stay in areas with lower call frequency in order to maintain the right proportional distribution of taxis, so someone using a vehicle against the general pattern wouldn't have a taxi too far away.

Without human drivers, robo-taxis could be operative during almost all hours, with a greater proportion refueling and undergoing maintenance at off times.  They could potentially serve many more fares in a day, and without a human driver, they could be cheaper.  Maybe a fleet of robo-taxis would fit into the right need to take a few cars out of parking lots and spaces, maybe off the roads entirely - they'd reduce people's need to drive to work "just in case" or because they'd be carrying something heavy for a small part of their return trip.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

More on Gadgets

Over the last few weeks, I've tried a few different heart rate monitors.

The first was the Polar RS 300X.  I was given this by a teammate.  Depending on the accessories used, the RS300X can measure heart rate, speed, and speed by counting strides.  It's designed more-or-less assuming running.  The RS 300X can remember intervals workouts with up to three intervals and any number of repeats.  This means that it can remember a warmup, a work unit, and a cooldown, or intervals using two or three intervals, but not the warmup or cooldown.  I had the heart rate sensor only, no GPS sensor, and in that setup, the device can remember structures only by time - distance and location can't play into it.

In practice, this meant that I could program mine to follow my current running workout pretty well, as long as I guessed the amount of time taken by my warmup reasonably well.  But if I was doing something more complex than a warmup, run, and cooldown, I'd have had to change the program for different parts of the workout.

As far as recording, the Polar tracked elapsed time and time spent in each heart rate zone.  Heart rate zones are manually configurable, as percentage of max heart rate only.  I track my training volume and the Polar does a cool training load measurement, but it makes it difficult to figure out things like trends over the course of a race, or to do a Lactate Threshold measurement protocol easily.  The Polar does have a lap button, so all the same information can be broken out by laps.

I want to be able to see my heart rate on a time axis.  Being able to see my lap times this way in the past has told me a bit about how my speed at a race compares to how I feel at a race - they're not the same thing.  So if I can measure heart rate at all, I want to be able to measure it pinned to time and location in a way that lets me mix it into the same set of data.  I was also very curious about Garmin's Advanced Workout feature.

The next device that I tried was the Garmin ForeRunner 405CX.  This thing is big!  It's a GPS and Garmin's tcx format seems to be pretty dominant as a standard for a lot of the fitness software to use.  So uploading to Strava and Garmin's own site, Garmin Connect, is pretty easy.  The 405 also has the Advanced Workout feature I was so curious about.  It's quite straightforward to program a pretty involved workout protocol with this feature.  So far, I haven't done much with it, but I now have my run workout setup so that the warmup lasts until I press the lap button, then I do the work unit and it ends automatically at the preset time.  It can be set with alerts to help me maintain the same pace or effort level, something I find handy since sometimes my mind wanders and I slow down and sometimes I go out too fast, and I've been trying to limit speed so I don't hurt myself again.  The advanced workouts are quite straightforward and transparent.  I'm a fan.

As far as recording, being able to see pace and heart rate together has made it easy for me to set up pace guides for a run that I want to be in heart rate zone 2.  With the Polar, I could only set them up for the heart rate itself, and it turns out to take a couple minutes for my heart rate to reach its steady-state rate when I come up to speed, and about a minute for it to drop down to its steady-state walking rate when I stop running.  So using pace directly means that I don't have that delay.

I still haven't gotten to doing a LT test, but it was easy to set up the protocol as a workout.  Garmin Connect can show average heart rate broken up by lap, so it'll be easy to read threshold rate right off the main screen describing the workout.

Since the 405 was a loan, I still had the question of which device to talk my "sponsor" out of.  The current model is the 410, and another model, the 610, has a similar feature set but uses a touchscreen instead of the weird bezel used by the 405 and 410, and it adds a distinct cycling mode.  It's also smaller.  I decided to go for the 610.

I played with it some today and went for a run with it.  The separate running and cycling modes are pretty cool - the training screens are already set up according to the sport, and playing with one sport's screens won't mess up the other's.  So in running mode, it displays pace and there's no cadence screen while in cycling mode, the display shows speed and there's a cadence screen ready should I get the appropriate toy to be able to measure it.  Pretty cool.  An irritation I had with trying to load workouts onto the 405 has also been solved by the 610 - I can put several advanced workouts on it without having to do the little hack required to save more than one onto the 405.

I'll be curious to try to follow some more complex workouts with the 610 over the next season, but so far it's looking very promising for doing the two things I'm looking for - guiding me through a workout that I'd lose track of on my own and giving me more data about what actually happened during a race.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Some Thoughts on Busyness and Training, and Gadgets

2011 was my last year including classes at Seattle Central Community College, and I actually did a fair job following a relatively high volume plan to be a faster cyclist while I was there.  I did an entire series of short XC races that were at venues that tended to be pretty technical without a lot of vertical - sort of the opposite of what I see myself as good at - and some longer races with a bit more success.  Last year, I also started taking classes at UW.

I started this year planning to follow a more structured training plan and really make the most of the time I had.  Somewhat unrealistic expectations and a really hard class during the Winter quarter pretty much torpedoed that, and I didn't really replan when I could have.

This summer, I had my first regular schedule in a long time.  I went to the same place every day and finished at more-or-less the same time.  I planned my training around that, and I actually managed to follow my plan for more than a week - I followed it pretty well through the summer.

I think that a couple things were different about this summer.  First, I had a realistic plan for myself.  Second, I was specific about my plan.  I think both of those contributed to me actually doing what I set out to do with my fitness.  I've also figured out how to be a bit better about bills and my disaster of a room, along similar lines.  (And it's only taken me until I was 31!)

Part of the early part of this year's lack of realism was that I was on one bike or another for close to 450 hours in 2011.  I thought I could do that again.  Turns out engineering graduate school and my current frequency of travel are really more time consuming than that.

I've already sort-of started my 2013 plan, which is to say that while I haven't "officially" started or switched Excel files yet, I'm trying to take what I figured out this summer and apply it with more specific goals.  I'm trying to hit 7 hours/week, including my rides to and from school, and all my non-commute workouts are specifically endurance workouts.  I recently acquired a heart rate monitor, and have been starting to incorporate that in my training.  It's interesting.  So far, all the cliches about rec. cyclists seem to apply to me - I have a sense of what my effort levels are that's fairly realistic but am pretty variable about what I actually do and my endurance rides are too hard.  I'm not sure if my supposedly hard rides are too easy, and honestly I haven't been doing enough of those anyway.

For next year, the idea is to follow a training plan I built up using Joe Friel's The Mountain Biker's Training Bible, and put the workouts on my Google Calendar with some attention to realism.  That seems to help hugely in following the plan.  As in this year, I'm not starting Base until January, so the holidays will have been and gone, and won't be able to torpedo my plan in its first weeks, something that happened in 2010, and which I allowed to color my attitude about the whole thing.  I'll still use Excel to record what I've done; that seems to work well for me.

I'm going to try to do some specific workouts during the week.  If I can make it work with school, I'll try to fit in a longer mountain bike ride on Wednesday afternoons, but homework and my impending wedding may not mesh well with that.

All that leaves a really big question:  What races am I doing?  Dunno.  But I'm going to be in shape for them, this time!