Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bit by stinking bit

The road to hell is paved, so I'm safe on this one...

Finally I feel like I have some decent training under my belt. I am still way, way behind where I was last year. This is a different year with different objectives so hope is not lost.  Last year the objective was the volcanoes trip which involved lots of miles and long, steady climbs.  For 2014 the targeted epic is the gravel odyssey where the miles are fewer, the roads rougher and the hills wickedly steeper.

A tag team of injuries starting last fall and ending in February absolutely killed my base training and my guilt-motivated foray into the world of underprepared road racing just complicated the equation.   Spring came quickly followed by what seems to me like an early summer. It is well past the “now or never” phase.  It is now the “you is or you ain’t” phase.  I think I is.

Typically the training build up goes one of two routes.  The first is where you build strength and then incrementally add intensity.  This is the preferred path as you constantly have the feeling of accomplishment.  You feel that you’ve conquered one level and are prepared for the next challenge. 

The second training route is where you don’t really have the base and are constantly behind the power curve. This route is characterized by the miserable feeling of failing the challenge, but then taking on the next level even though you didn’t master the earlier one.  This is kind of like our public schools. Yep, you failed second grade, now let’s try third grade!  Even if this path ends up in the same place your ego is frustrated by a seemingly endless series of failures and a nearly total absence of successes.  This requires an almost unhealthy mental outlook to continue forward in the face of frustration. Luckily we cyclists are a warped bunch.

I finally have accumulated some base and although I am not sharp, those sharpening workouts are on the horizon.  My two recent Coffee and Lies outings revealed that although I can go all day, I can’t go super fast for very long. Intervals are the answer to that question and those start shortly after the Gravel Odyssey.

I have stolen a few glimpses of fitness including one on my homeward commute just the other day where my pedal stroke just seemed to turn over effortlessly.  It was awesome and I collected an unexpected Strava KOM to validate my self-perceived speed.   My climb up Starvation Mountain gave me a chance to focus on that same pedal stroke but with a lower cadence and I felt some benefit from that focus during my ascent.

The cumulative impact of my hard work APPEARS to be translating into some level of fitness.  At the very least I do have some impressive biker tan lines.  I’m also down to what I refer to as my “France” weight.  That transition seemed to have happened all at once.  I don’t understand why that is but I am just glad it happened.

Between the gravel weekend and the Fondo I managed to convince myself I have the base miles.  I suffered through both of those adventures but I came out the other side in better shape.  Although I recently found myself on Cougar Mountain riding the wrong bike (53/39) with the wrong cassette (a borrowed 11-25) I managed to find a rhythm and pass a couple of my brown brothers who are traditionally much faster on the climbs than Evo.

My self-talk came to a peaked when I rode up Starvation Mountain. I didn’t do the whole climb in zone five or anything but I was pushing harder than when I did the Fondo and when I finished that adventure I was twice as tired.
Tired Belgian Thugs
I showed up for the Coffee and Lies ride yesterday and had not seen any emails that anyone was going longer. I had a single bottle and a lone out-of-date Luna bar.  Before we set out McWoodie indicated some might be up for a few more miles. Fortunate for me, Einmotron grabbed a spare bottle which I gladly took.

The Coffee and Lies portion was wicked fast and took no prisoners. It got crazy both ways. Then McWoodie, Einmotron and I ended up tacking on 45 miles to our usual 34 miles and we rode to the top of Cougar Mountain. When I say the top I mean where the antennas are.  I kept working on my pedal upstroke and although it made me faster my legs were audibly swearing.  My legs know a lot of dirty words; more than I thought they knew.

About sixty miles in my lack of calories on the bike caught up with me and I got the Bonk in a big way. I kept at it convincing myself I was close to the finish even though it would have been smart to suck down a candy bar or something, anything with sugar.
At the Cairo airport once upon a time..
We ended the day with 125k and 1,550m of climbing.  The whole ride was punctuated with hard efforts and I was absolutely blown for the rest of the day.  Every inch of my legs hurt which was a pathetic, but good, sign. Sure I had trashed myself, but the fact that it wasn’t just one part of my legs that hurt was an indication that I had been using all of my muscle groups.  In my training log I gave this ride a ten out of ten for effort.  I don’t give myself a lot of ten’s.

I felt a sadistic satisfaction at the level of effort I had expended. In a way I was impressed I could push my body as hard as I did and considering the bonk it was even more remarkable.  Lucky for me the endorphins kept me lucid the rest of the day although no yard work was started or completed.
The trick now is to use whatever base I do have as a launching pad and get some higher intensity secessions while keeping up the mileage. I do have a plan and I am trying to stick to it.  If you see me riding down the street doing one legged spins, just know that even if it doesn’t help my physically, I will at least think I am faster. Without injuries limiting my riding I am back to the familiar conflict of sticking to a plan contrasted by listening to my body.

Ten days until our Gravel Odyssey and the corresponding Alpha-sequencing that is inevitable. I am glad it isn’t tomorrow, but I expect I will be ready if I can continue to dedicate the time and mental energy to stick to the program.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Starvation Mountain Solo ...Cytomax and Truth

Oh yeah, THIS one hurt
A friend shared a YouTube video that inspired me to want to ride this.  Unlike the vid, there was no music, just me crying.

I've been having so much fun riding Forest Service roads and exploring seldom visited corners of the backcountry.  I could not resist.

I just LOVE this shot.  
I look skinny and you can't see my thinning hair or abundant wrinkles !
With pockets stuffed with food and bottles topped off I set out on now familiar gravel roads towards Beaver Creek.

After a brief paved introduction the climbing began in earnest.  Where exactly is earnest?
I had "created" and downloaded the course to "my little friend"  
I must confess I still don't understand the info displayed here.
I do believe the meaning can be construed as: 
"My name is Garmin; you killed my father, prepare to suffer."
I am always disappointed that when I try to capture an image of an imposing hill -
it too often seems pretty pedestrian when I view the image
When I arrived at the now familiar junction where one must choose Campbell Lake and Pipestone Canyon or up Lester Hill; I went up.  Some hung over campers started shouting at me after I passed.  Their tone told me it was juvenile goading and I elected to ignore it.  

It wasn't even nine in the morning and it was warming up and I unzipped my jersey and climbed in comfort. This could be a long ride and I needed to be about my business.

The first time I descended Lester Hill it was with KB and we were cautious.  Lots of gravel over the last three months has given me either skill or bravado, either way I'm faster and more comfortable.

At the bottom of Lester Hill I turned up the Beaver Creek "road" and took the fateful right turn that is the gateway to epic adventure.  The jersey would remain unzipped for a long time...

Climbing 4225 I was stunned at how chewed up it was. This road was in the final part of the Winthrop Gran Fondo a couple weeks back and all the riders had established some good lines so it was a fast and fun descent.  Today the climb was loose and finding good lines was a challenge.
Okay once again what is the difference between "distance ahead" and "distance to end?"  And what is 54:14 supposed to mean ?  All I know is I'm the dot on the climb and I have some hurting in front of me..
I passed a snake stretched out on the road that didn't move even though I rode a couple inches in front of its nose.  I spotted a young doe on the side of the road and I moved to the middle as I passed and that was enough for her. 

Before too long, but longer than I wanted I reached the junction of 4230 and 4225.  I turned and once a freakin' again this photo doesn't show the loose, steep washboard that turned off the now familiar 4225.

I was mindful that my friend Brad had taken the same road last week and had trouble finding the key turn so I kept my eyes open..
This is the holy grail. This is the connector "road" between 4230 and 4235.  For some reason it is marked 190..
From the turn the road was flat for a hundred feet then it went up a loose rocky, dusty climb that hit fourteen percent and held it for a turn or two. I was glad I was geared low and I kept plugging. 
This was awesome on several levels. The road got better, the grade let up. 
The views opened up. The green was abundant. I was feeling pretty good.
The road that joined the two "main" roads after starting out pretty poorly got better quickly.  After a bit the surface got loose and good lines were elusive.  In no time I was onto 4235 and heading toward Starvation Mountain.  After a brief but wonderful downhill the climbing resumed and soon I was amid the carnage left from the 2006 Tripod fire.
Recovery takes time...
One of the things I really liked about this route was the rapidly changing topography.  On the fondo and many routes (42, 4225, Pipestone, etc.) you are climbing near the bottom of a valley and while you do get to enjoy cooler temperatures, the views seldom inspire one to break into song.  On this climb you cross a ridge and everything changes. 
As I was watching my Garmin I correctly guessed that this was my objective. 
I could see I still had some elevation to gain and just a couple k's.  After this short respite the road turned and the final climb was sandy and slow going. I dropped into my lowest gear and with my jersey still flapping I climbed the final meters to the top.  
The road seemed to be taking me to the top of the world.
I spied an antenna which told me my upward journey was about to end. The top was flat and the trees on the rim prevented any sweeping vista.  I leaned my bike and sat and emptied out some small rocks from my shoes and drank the last of my water. 
Meters baby, meters...  
The faithful Curtlo has answered the call time and again.  The climbs are hell and the descents are worse.  Doug makes a good bike.  This is the bike resting at the top.
I don't know what it is either, but it is at the top..
Something else on top..
I finished my last sip of liquid and ate my last shot blok.  I thought I had brought two gels but my pockets yielded no more. I zipped up, clipped in and took the short loop around the top. Trees prevented any clear view, but between them I glimpsed the water of Conconully down below. Then I pointed my bike toward home and downhill. It knew what to do..
If you look close you can see some road down there.  
The views reminded me I was up there. 
I spotted a fellow on a mountain bike climbing up the road as I was headed down. I smiled and said, "You're crazy." He smiled and said the same and that was that.  I took some comfort that if I splatted on the way down someone would find me. 

It had taken me thirty minutes longer to climb to the top than I expected and the descent was slow going.  Loose gravel, tight turns and unfamiliar roads meant some judgement was in order.  I would be late and I was miles from any cell coverage.  There was nothing to do but keep at it.

The road that joined 4235 and 4230 was less pleasant on the descent.  Then 4230 was loose and the washboard wicked.  I couldn't go fast unless I wanted to end up with a bloody jersey. 

I was relieved to be back on 4225.  I knew I could fly down that road.  I needed more water and at the lower elevation I could feel the heat.  On the way down 4225 I spotted a blue flash in the road and grabbed my brakes.  I turned around and rode back up 70 meters and found my errant gel.  I had passed a car coming up this road that would have driven over the gel.  The gel packet was dusty but intact. I tore it open and sucked it down with pleasure. 

Then the short zig on Beaver Creek and I unzipped for the final climb up Lester Road. This was the finish of the Gran Fondo so I knew I could climb it when I was gassed.  Sure enough I made the top and then paused for a pick or two.
Campbell Lake is always a welcome sight.
Down to the junction where you either go to Campbell Lake or up Lester Road.
I hit the flat roads and pedaled into Winthrop. The climb to the cabin was tough as I was in the land of BONK.  After cleaning up I took a nap.  I took a nap.  I never take naps.

2,142 meters of climbing.  That was enough.  

Friday, July 4, 2014

Coffee and Lies #79 Back in the saddle

A portion of our merry band
Recently I was able to join in the weekly ritual known as the Coffee and Lies ride. As the usual suspects gathered in the filtered morning light we exchanged the usual pleasantries and my brothers in brown told me what they have been up to and I also shared some details of my meaningless existence.

It was great to see the old gang and even El Jefe’ made a cameo appearance and rode the first 300 meters with us.  The sun was fighting to come out and the cool air was invigorating. I was on my go fast bike and true to its assigned duties the stiff bike wasted little time in launching a water bottle right out of my Arundel Mandible cage (big letdown) and into my rear spokes. I stopped and my wheel was hopelessly out of true and I didn’t have a suitable spoke wrench.

Since so many of my rides of late have been solitary affairs I was in shock mode and must have appeared stunned.
Brown comes in all shapes and sizes..
Before I could comprehend what had happened or what was happening; Feral Dave was speeding home on his bike to fetch his car and a spare wheel.  I finally collected my thoughts (they were strewn all over the pavement like an explosion of loose change) and sat down and waited.  Before too long Feral Dave pulled up and I had a wheel and two minutes later we were chasing the peloton who by now had nearly a twenty minute lead. 
As a matter of fact we ARE too fast for normal cameras to focus !
We pedaled hard, leveraging a short cut (poetic license) we caught them in time to join in for the majority of the ride.  It was good to rub elbows with the gang.  Dave had sacrificed a good part of his ride so I could enjoy mine. There just aren’t a lot of people who would do that. He didn’t really even ask, he just said he was going to do it and off he went.  I can tell you that of all the people that I know who would do such a selfless act a whole lot of them wear brown jerseys when they ride. 
Feral Dave front and center !
While we are a USA cycling licensed racing team; I have to admit we are in fact more of a gentlemen’s club populated with kind hearted souls.  We do have women and children on our team so it isn’t quite an explosion of testosterone, but more like a group of like-minded riders who respect the sport, each other and have some perspective.

A while back I had a friend on another team try and recruit me away from the brown team but I would have none of that.  I don’t know how I managed to fool the membership committee on my team, but I am glad to call these folks my teammates.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Don’t worry, I won’t let you down

We had two of our grandkids at the cabin for a few days recently.  We all had a great time. It has been a long time since I had to answer questions about hot lava and the probability of monster encounters.

I was reminded of what a star Hottie is as she spent a big chunk of time teaching Russell to swim in addition to fielding her share of “Grandma, why..?” questions.  It was also amazing how many things get sticky with kids around.  Tux was very attentive and spent extended periods of time with his nose under the picnic table waiting for bits of food to come cascading to the ground.
Kyson  is still mastering using a toilet for its intended purpose and had the quote of the trip.  While he was perched on his throne of big boy-hood I told him I needed to step away to check the stove. I told him to keep pooping.  He responded with unfettered enthusiasm, “Don’t worry Grandpa,, I won’t let your down!”  I have no idea how that phrase enters the head of a three year old, but I was able to suppress a laugh as I checked the stove.
We swam in a community pool, ate scones and ice cream (but not at the same time) made s’mores in the evening and did some “work” by moving rocks outside the cabin.   They saw deer, eagles, hawks and other wildlife.  Their days were full and they slept long and hard.

We have more than a little cleaning to do the next time we get to the cabin, but experiences like this are the reason we got the place.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Reflections on the Winthrop Gran Fondo

This worked for me !
Time heals many wounds and gives perspective to past events.   One of the reasons I started this blog was to document what worked and what didn’t both as a benefit to humankind and as a reference for me the next time I decide to get in over my head.

For an assortment of reasons, most of them physical, I had decided not to push myself too hard on this event.  The reality was that similar to States in Cyclocross at the Arlington Airport in 2012; the course simply wouldn’t let you go easy in several places. 

Here are my takeaways:

Core and secondary muscles are way more important off road compared to riding exclusively on the road.  Between wrestling the bike up hills and around obstacles there was squeezing the seat between your legs on descents and being in a different body position on many descents (tucked in the drops, but just barely out of the saddle).   My adductors and abdomen were sore.  Gotta do more core work.

Denial can only go so far.  Despite warnings and plenty of information that could be found on the web; there were more than a few who showed up on road bikes with road tires (albeit wider ones).  I passed a guy who was changing his fourth flat and this was before the halfway point.  To further complicate his life, he had only brought CO2 and was all out.  Someone had loaned him a pump and given him a tube so he was okay at that moment, but part of doing one of these epics is being as self sufficient as possible.

Nutrition is the holy grail and for once I nailed it!  I drank ten bottles during the event. Eight of those had scratch labs and all ten had nuun tablets.  I dropped 3 Hammer Endurolytes before the start and had the same in my drop bag halfway through.  I ate homemade bars made from almond butter, agave syrup, protein powder with dried fruit and nuts and some grape nuts.  I also had Clif Shot Bloks and some gels.  I kept eating and pounding the drinks.  The middle aid station had normal food and cookies and all manner of temptation.  I showed exceptional judgment and skipped all of that and stuck to bars, gels, bloks and liquids. 

When I finished I ate two pieces of pizza and then felt fine while Hottie drove me back to Seattle.  The next morning I had a scone for breakfast and felt just fine.  Usually after an epic I am eating constantly for 24 hours.  This is a measure of success.   That other food may have been more tasty, but it would not have digested in time to help me out.

Fat is where it’s at.  The 35mm tires I was on are not UCI Cyclocross legal.  They are, however, very at home on rough mountain roads. There were lots of guys on 30, 32 and 33mm cross-legal tires.  I generally flew past those guys on the descents. They looked nervous and they should have been.  I also have over 800k on those tires without a flat.

Pactimo Summit Raptor Bibs are the schizzle.  I can’t think of a harder test that this fondo. Including tooling to and from the ride and the pizza infused park I had over eight hours in the saddle.  I could not have imagined a better performing short.  The muscle compression was a life saver and the pad served two very different missions.  It protected my netheregions from friction and provided some much needed vibration dampening.   They look good, fit great and are a bargain at full retail.

On the downside my Giro helmet kept drooping on bumpy downhills and although the white color was cooler and the venting wonderful I was disappointed in the helmet.   In retrospect I should have worn my headsweats headband to keep the sweat out of my eyes.