Doing it all the hard way...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Reality Check – Don’t Get Greedy

Does Barry's beer make ME look bitter ?
Our ability to rapidly normalize improvements and then ask for more is almost shameful.  One aspect of this is typified by a term my son introduced me to, “Lifestyle creep.”  Cyndi Lauper in her iconic song “Money Changes Everything” has a line in the chorus that “We’re never going back again….” 

As an example when I set my training goals for my upcoming Dolomite bicycle odyssey I had a weight target.   To my minor astonishment I hit that early and of course, wanted more.  Now if I gain and even get near what was once my goal, I am disgusted.  Greedy I am.
As I built my base for the Dolomites I got strong and wanted to be stronger.  I quietly kept increasing my training plans and goals. 

I had gritted my teeth and mumbled under my breath when planning our East Coast Grad trip knowing the dent it would put in my training. The trip was the right thing to do on so many levels but it would put a dent in my training.  My plan was to hit it hard before and after the trip and treat the trip as a longer than needed rest break.

The big miles and big climbs prior to the trip made me fast and strong and light.  My left knee was, however, unhappy and looked forward to the break.  Years earlier I had some knee issues and a week off the bike and a steady stream of anti-inflammatories had resulted in a drastic improvement.  I repeated this on the trip and my knee is indeed better.
All was going to plan until I had some breathing problems on a comically easy bike ride with my son while on the trip.  I assumed that was an anomaly and looked forward to getting home and returning to training and recovering the fitness I knew I was losing while on vacation.

After getting back home I anxiously jumped on my bike and began my bike commute with high hopes.   “How hard should I push it?  Let’s just see how I feel,” I thought to myself.  To my horror the breathing problems were worse than before and even my powers of denial were no match for the reality of my physical experience.

As I slowly ramped up my effort on my morning commute things got weird.  They got weird fast. Typically when I ride at my limit in Z5 (Heart rate in zone five which is 95+% of my max heart rate for those less obsessed) my throat and lungs burn and I want more air than I can fit in my lungs and my heart pounds like it is trying to escape my chest.  This morning I wasn’t riding anywhere near that hard. When this happened in low Z3 I knew I was screwed.
With my dream trip just weeks away and my window for training closing fast I did not have time for any physical bullshit.  In 2012 my good friend Hank had a similar experience (chest pains during exertion) and after heart testing the day before our scheduled departure for France his doctor told him he couldn’t go.  He texted me a photo of his packed bags and boxed bike sitting in his entryway along with the news that he would not be going.  That tragic image is forever seared into my memory.

It took several months but Hank got his life and medication dialed in and has returned to hard riding and nationally competitive rowing.  With a departure in just over three weeks there wasn’t time. I didn’t want to be the Hank of this trip.
Hank of course
I rode home that evening and the symptoms reappeared albeit with less severity.  Now what?  My denial powers are strong, but not that strong.  I was nervous.

A couple days later the symptoms materialized at work and after a phone call with my doctor I set the wheels of our healthcare system in motion.  Everyone’s story is different but also essentially the same and I won’t recount it here.
As a matter of fact I will enjoy this hot dog...
You don't need to see a pic of me looking freaked out
After losing another weekend and having more tests than a full year of college I think we have it narrowed down and it looks like I won’t be the Hank.  Thus I am training now with a trifecta of emotions panic, relief and dedication.
Tommy and Evo

On the first post-you’re-not-going-to-die-ride I saw my mindset creep from “Ode to Joy” at just being able to ride to “Ali in the Jungle” as I got out of the saddle and powered up one climb after another.  So much for gratitude. Backsliding already.  I’ll never learn.
That night as I slipped into bed I was tired from the effort on the bike.  My quads were a bit tender. After a long exhale I smiled and drifted off......

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Leavenworth Fondo Ride Report

When you're with El Chefe' the only suffering is on the bike...

While Evo was laying low, El Chefe was man enough to do the Leavenworth Fondo 
This is his report..

Working for a highly seasonal company whose peak business occurs in the summer, my chances of getting away for the Dolomites trip this year were bleak and eventually faded even though my teammates brainstormed some creative and even plausible scenarios to present to my boss that would have allowed me to participate.  I won’t be making the trip across the pond, but I’ve taken part in many of the preparatory extended team rides that started late last winter, as much to build fitness for the summer fondo season as to be able to hang with this group of guys for whom I have a great deal of respect.

As spring wears on and the days get longer, so widens the fitness and speed gap with this crew.  They’ve been accommodating and have graciously allowed me to sit in.  On more than one occasion, I’ve finished a hilly Dolomite training excursion feeling like I was so slow that my legs must be made of granite, just to return home to find Strava exalting that I had achieved a new PR.  It’s good to ride with people who are faster than you.

The week before Leavenworth saw the normal juggling of family and work obligations as well as the injured reserve list that would determine the team line up.  Who’s going to be Ferrell Dave for this race?  

I was bummed to learn that Davo wasn’t going to join for this one, but even as I dished out some prodding and cajoling, respected his decision not to make his first ride upon his return from 10 days of travel and time with family, GFL.  His company, scones and laminated top tube climb data sheets would be missed.  There would be 6 of us this year, all veterans of the Swakane Canyon Death March of 2015.

The team truck was loaded with an impressive array of carbon frames and file treads inflated to precise pressures and we headed east to the Lake Wenatchee cabin graciously offered by a teammate.   Upon arrival, we dispatched cooking duties like an Iron Chef team.  McWoodie fired up the grill and attended to the salmon while the Wizard of Coz prepped the asparagus and made garlic bread.  Potatoes and a Cesar salad were added to the mix and in no time we were relaxing and fueling for the ride the following day.   Last years’ experience with this ride conjured up a healthy respect and a bit of pre ride tension that began to subside with the meal and we decided that we should find a way to do this every weekend.  The relaxation was shattered with the rumor that the recent rains had caused Swakane Canyon to become impassable and that a new route to be announced shortly, promised to be longer and have more elevation gain, but would not be as steep… Even as frustration mounted with the realization that the routes we had loaded on the Garmins and the top tube data sheets we had prepared were now inaccurate, the idea of skipping Swakane Canyon was appealing.

I donned my lederhosen (yeah, seriously) for the ride to the start.  The air was cool and the sky was showing promising patches of blue.  Debate over the proper kit combination ensued with speculation about what we might expect to find at elevations above 1,250 meters and we studied the new course that would offer 151 km and over 2,700 meters of climbing.  The Coz was encouraged to drop the Gabba and McWoodie loaned him a long sleeve jersey instead.  MT’s choice of 28mm touring slicks, tubes and relatively high pressure was noted and raised eyebrows in quiet disapproval.  I’m a believer that you can ride most anything in any conditions on tubeless Secteurs while wearing a Gaba, but for this course, I opted for more rubber, some tread, a short sleeved jersey and a little embrocation.

The extended neutral start would be the last time that the Wizard of Coz and I would see McWoodie, Einmotron, Whiplaesch and MT.  Taking Davo’s advice to heart, we kept a measured pace up the first climb that quickly transitioned from tarmac to gravel as the pitch grew ever steeper.  Amazing views of snowcapped peaks and heavily forested valleys unfolded as we moved through some riders who opted for the more zealous start.  

The rains of the preceding days left the road surface packed and tacky and the first descent was exhilarating.  This climb in reverse would be the replacement for Swakane and I recall thinking that this wasn’t going to be too bad.  It’s amazing how easy it is to underestimate an 18% grade while descending at speeds of 45 km/hr.  I was too busy being enamored with the performance of the new Boone to care.  Single finger operation of the hydraulic discs and a sublime ride, wow, I was 10 years old again and quickly forgot any life lessons on respect.  Several sections of the road were dappled with shade, potentially camouflaging hazards, but I rode with confidence as I followed The Coz’ skillfully carved lines.  After the descent we rode with the wind at our backs along the Entiat River and warmed up, commenting that it didn’t get any better than this.

Even the notoriously rutted and washboard strewn second descent was in much better condition this year and the first hint of reality set in as we turned south onto Highway 97 and were greeted with gusting headwinds that nearly stopped us in our tracks.  Until now, I’d ridden my race plan, keeping my HR in the zone I wanted.  Headwinds make great friends and three of us that were close began to work together.  The pace was stiff and I watched my HR climb to the upper stretches of zone 4.  I stuck with it because I didn’t like the alternative of battling the headwind along this section alone, but would pay for that decision later.

Coz and I regrouped at the Entiat rest station, refueled and together with two other riders, set out at a restrained pace for the next 18km of moderate climbing through the Entiat River Valley.  The gusting winds swirled in the valley and seem inescapable, even within the pace line.  Visions of the post rest stop section on the 2015 Ephrata ride came to mind.  We caught several other riders, many of which joined our line.  They were a very courteous lot that always made a gap for us to re-enter the pace line so that the 4 of us could stay together at the front. 

We found ourselves looking forward to getting on the gravel again for the final 850 m ascent.  As the pitch climbed from a moderate 5% grade into sustained double digits, my legs began to protest and as much as I willed them not to, began to cramp.  I encouraged The Coz to ride on and he pledged to wait at the top.  The climb was demanding the respect that I failed to give it with a payday loan like interest rate.  When the cramps became paralyzing, I walked and wondered what I would do if the sag wagon rolled by.  

El Chefe' pushing some serious rubber this past winter
Luckily I was never presented with that option.  I drank all of my water and forced myself to down my remaining gels in hopes that they would take quick effect.  I reached the top to find the Coz dutifully waiting.  We could smell the barn and began the descent.  My legs still cramping, I unclipped whenever possible in an attempt to shake them out, but it felt great to finally have some speed and to watch the final kilometers click off.  

As we tuned onto the tarmac from the gravel, The Coz reacted to an oncoming car and the file treads lost their grip on the sand and gravel strewn pavement and I watched as he hit the deck and slid to a stop.  The car drove on and an old coot sitting on his porch began to laugh hysterically, taunting us.  

Coz loves the bandages....
Some choice words of advice were uttered to the old man and he retreated into his house and we attended to the Coz.  It was a good reminder of lycra’s inability to protect against road rash. Bibs a wind vest and McWoodie’s jersey were among the casualties.  The Coz summoned his Belgian hard man spirit without missing a beat, checked to ensure that the bike was ok and we rode the last 15 km to a respectable finish.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Four Generations at Graduation


Four generations of first born males. All with the same last name.

My dad and three of my grandkids. Sampson, Andrew and Sasha.


Grads and Grands...

Evo and Sasha playing in the fountains at city hall in Philadelphia.

Hottie and I are on east coast to hang with family and to see Zach graduate.

It is interesting to see how living in a big city has affected the attitude of little Sasha.

He does still have a softer side......

I did find the east coast offices for our bike team.......


Friday, May 6, 2016

That was then but now it is now

As discussed previously in this forum we all tend to rank, or totem when we have multiples of certain things like clothes and accessories.  By the way, I realize that when I said “discuss” in the previous sentence that I am in fact the only one doing the “discussing.”  If you have a different viewpoint then get your own blog.

It hit me a bit out of left field when El Jefe’ mentioned that he had picked up a new pair of short fingered cycling gloves because the padding on his old ones had worn out.  I looked down at my grey and black Giro gloves and with a knuckle poking out where a seam had finally given up and noting the loss of adherence from the aged Velcro I suddenly realized my gloves may have also had their day long, long ago.

I had to admit that my gloves, like my body, are well past their peak and the incline of the decline is increasing.  Just because something was awesome back in the day doesn’t mean it is still that day.  I looked at my gloves with a critical eye and for the first time the holes and torn stitching stood out.  My trusty old gloves looked more like just old gloves.

The same thing happens when you pull off a pair of your favorite socks only to see there is a huge hole in the heel.  “How did that happen?” you wonder out loud.  Father time remains undefeated.
 Comfort, Safety and Performance are all good reasons to replace old gear.  You may have had a great experience with a piece of gear in the past often time has taken its toll and you didn’t even notice.  When a piece of equipment can no longer do the job maybe it is time for retirement. Sometimes if you love something you have to set it free.

Watts per kilogram

Whilst Tux stays home and keeps an eye on my mother; Hottie and I are off to visit kin in the Eastern Time Zone.   My goal of getting into European climbing shape prior to this trip has been met.  I was due for a rest week and I am treating this trip as a super-sized rest week.
Grandpa, where are you ?
As I confront jet lag and large quantities of food appearing before my face I hope I can maintain some semblance of restraint.  It would be tragic to come back from this holiday having lost fitness and increased my girth.  To my absolute delight I am lighter than I have ever been in my cycling life.  It feels good.  Based on the amount of climbing that awaits me it could not have happened at a better time.
Upon my return I will enter the final phase of my training plan and hope to log another thousand kilometers prior to flying across the pond.  I’m still slightly ahead of plan but I haven’t had any real problems yet.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Coffee and Lies 175 Deliberate Passos

Seven of our Dolomite-bound brethren gathered in the Methow on a perfect weekend to lay down some serious training for our cycling trip to Italy that happens….. (Say it with me)…. next month.  The plan was to do long road rides up big mountain passes on back to back days.  A heaping helping of hurt for all to enjoy.

We expected such an endeavor would highlight any shortcomings be they physical or equipment-related.  The trip is still six weeks away which is just enough time for minor corrections to training and the repair or replacement of any equipment that shows itself to be “unworthy.”

Serious training (or shall we say……. Deliberate Practice) on a bike involves going harder and/or further than you are comfortable going and then recovering.  When that no longer hurts then you go even harder/faster again and recover. Repeat until just before departure then back off.  This practice of “stressing” your body is a time proven method and can be viewed as simply as “No pain, no gain” or as complex as periodized training per Joe Friel.

During the weekend pretty much everyone revealed they were testing some piece of gear (gloves, saddle, gearing etc) by riding the some or all of the equipment they planned to take on the trip.  This shake down was a good idea. A couple of gear failures revealed themselves which could have been viewed as bummers on this trip but were instead considered as “better now than in Italy.” 
Yep thats me.
Saturday we rode from Mazama up Washington Pass.   A last minute cassette change by Einmotron delayed the murders (Einmotron, McWoodie and Whiplash) departure so the mortals had a head start.  I settled into a nice rhythm riding with The Cheetah.   KB and el Jefe’ weren’t far behind. We were caught by the murders and The Cheetah grabbed a wheel and I jumped on as well. The combination of esprit de corps and fresh legs allowed us to hang on as the five of us made our way up the valley.  I watched my HR and kept it real. Tempo riding at its finest. The kilometers ticked by and the meters started adding up.
After several kilometers I was looking around and let a small gap form.  I didn’t want to dig too deep so I let it go.  Avoid Z5 at all costs was my rule for the day. The gap grew and then held at about 35 seconds all the way past the hairpin. 

The air was cool and crisp and the blue sky and bright snow almost hurt my eyes despite my sunglasses.  The air tasted clean.  My legs felt strong but I didn’t want to push it. I found my mind wandering as I took in the glorious scenery and when I looked up the road the gap had grown in the final kilometer to the summit.  I was still pleased with my effort.
Rainy Pass
At the pass we regrouped and filled water bottles from some cached water and then dropped down the west side to ride up Rainy Pass.  At Rainy Pass we high-fived, turned around and rode back down then back up Washington Pass now from the west side.   At Washington Pass there was no KB so we rode back down to find him attending to bike that had decided it was done for the day.
This is what dead looks like. 
In the clearest example of divine intervention I have ever witnessed; when KB declared that he could ride his damaged bike back to the pass and coast down to Mazama his rear tire spontaneously popped with a loud bang.  Reluctantly he acquiesced to what seemed to be Gods’ will. After flagging down a truck KB was on his way back to Mazama.

After bidding farewell to KB we rode back up to Washington Pass for the third and final time whereupon we descended eastward to Mazama. 

From Mazama the more foolish among us scarfed some carbs as we dropped our vests, arm and knee warmers in bags and then pacelined to Winthrop.  Just to be clear the other three Cat 1 and 2 riders pacelined and I sat in (a polite term for hanging on for dear life while teetering on Z5).

From Winthrop, we rode the first twenty-some kilometers of the Winthrop Gran Fondo route up the Chewuch then up NF 37.   To be clear when I say up I mean “up” as in uphill.  The murderers slowed a couple times to keep me in contact and I thanked them for the gesture and threatened them if they did not leave as I feared my ego would fight to stay in contact and I would blow up in a cramping heap. Mercifully on NF 37 they dropped me and I was therefore free to set my own pace and turn around when I saw fit.

Another half hour or so my Garmin told me I had been riding for over five hours and had accumulated over 2,000 meters of climbing the fact I was still riding AWAY from the cabin and had a big day tomorrow struck me as absurd.  In a rare moment of maturity and judgment I stopped, spun around and headed to the cabin.  Moderation is not one of the arrows in my quiver.

At the cabin following quick showers we set to making dinner and before long we were all at the cabin and spaghetti, salad and fruit were spread on the table.  To my personal satisfaction all were showing the signs of a hard day.  
Breakfast, but you get the idea.....
By eight we were all fighting to stay awake and there were long pauses in the conversation. By nine we were in bed.  We may have been party animals back in the day but those days are long past.

Based upon the moaning, wincing and general reluctance to get out of our chairs that I saw Saturday evening I think we all managed to push ourselves effectively.  The distances and speeds were varied among our group but I think all are on a path to Dolomite success.

Sunday dawned clear and it looked to be another great day.  With most of our group planning on departing later that afternoon we had an earlier roll out planned.  By nine we were moving slowly southward toward Twisp with Loup Loup Pass, the targeted high point of the day.
The sunshine helped bring our tired legs to life and ease the lingering soreness from the previous day.   When the climbing began we all found our “all-day” pace.  I was hanging with El Jefe’ and The Cheetah.  
KB was our Lantern Rouge for the day riding his “B” bike which is a single speed so he earned double suffering points on the climb.
We settled in for a long grind and about half way up the climb a coyote darted across the road in front of us and disappeared into the woods. We debated if it had been a wolf or a coyote and although declaring it a wolf would have made for a better story; a couple minutes of post-ride googling convinced me it was a coyote.

Just before the Pass the Creamcicle and McWoodie passed us on their way back.  At the top we explored the ski area, ate a bit then bombed back to Twisp.  We picked up KB who earned the maximum bonus points for reaching the pass on his SS. 
Sunscreen for the medically inclined....
At Twisp we raided Hank’s and with full bottles and happy bellies we headed up Twisp River Road. Eight kilometers up the road we turned onto Elbow Coulee and got our wheels dusty.  The gradual climb was hot and dry and our legs were feeling the thousands of meters of climbing that was now behind us.   The washboard forced us to weave back and forth searching out good lines on our skinny tire bikes.
I’ve ridden Elbow Coulee dozens of times over the past few years and as we rounded a corner The Cheetah asked me, “What is the name of that lake?”  I replied that it wasn’t a lake.  He accurately answered that “it sure looks like a lake.”  It was bigger than a football field and deep enough you could boat in it.  It wasn’t supposed to be there.
The heavy snowfall and warm spring had conspired to make a lake where a marshy valley had been in years prior.  Knowing the topography I figured the lake is about twenty to thirty feet deep.  Sounds a lake to me.  In the spirit of Lake Sammamish Cyclocross when we encountered a few inches of water on the roadway we rode though without flinching.
Evo dipping in both wheels
When we exited Elbow Coulee onto the Sun Mountain Road instead of heading down to the cabin and calling it a good long day we turned left and climbed to the top of Sun Mountain.  Logic can be a scarce commodity when it comes to training. Some bonus km’s and more elevation sounded plausible.  Our congenial pace picked up near the top and this provided the frosting on top of the cake of leg pain.  
At the top we gladly rounded the turn and shot back down and soon we were back and the cabin.

Following showers and hastily packed bags my brethren were headed back to the west side of the Cascades.  I washed sheets and towels and tried to return the cabin to its Hottie-level cleanliness.   I spent the afternoon alternating between cleaning and sitting and saying, “Whoa.”
I was tired but not quite destroyed.  To my great pleasure I had not experienced adductor cramps or low back pain that so often prove to be my limiting factor.  My neck wasn’t sore and while my quads and hamstrings were tired and tender I didn’t have any glaring weakness.  The plan seems to be working.  Frankly it is working much better than I had expected. 

I passed the 3,000 kilometer milestone on Saturday.   My goal is to hit 4,000 before I depart.  I also have a ten day trip planned with no biking coming up fast.   

On my return to the west side I retrieved the remains of the water cache and left no trace. That would leave KB high and dry.

After going for an introductory ride on Friday KB stuck around and went for a fourth day of fun on Monday.  Washington Pass on his single speed.  This is a man of Exceeding Gnarlness.  

Dolomites I challenge you! -KB
By the way, 5,477 meters (pictured above) is like 18,000 feet or something……..

That’s my story.