Doing it all the hard way...

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Coffee and Lies # 103 Shifting gears

Cyclocross is over and there is snow in the mountains. Winter, as I define it, is in full swing.   The rituals of the season though familiar are for a moment, fresh.  The audible click when my boots locked into my Nordic bindings was a sweet sound I had forgotten until I heard it again.  When I heard it I smiled.  Assembling and donning the proper layers of clothing to cope with cycling in the cold and/or chilly rain brings a satisfaction when it all works out.  I go to work in the dark and I come home in the dark.  It isn’t good or bad; it just is.  When I need to work on bikes in the garage it is cold down there. 

This past Saturday El Chefe’ and I started at sunrise and spent the first four hours of grey daylight riding and talking. We wanted to be sure and finish before the day got dry and comfortable.   We achieved that goal. When we finished we had more than a hundred kms which was the longest either of us had ridden in a while, yet we both felt pretty good. El Chefe’ was still in race shape but was kind enough not to drop me.

We bumped into McWoodie on the I-90 bridge.  You can always spot the brown kits from an amazing distance.  We finished with a loop of the island. It was good to catch up with El Chefe’ and I was reminded that he is an exceptional human.

It felt really good to go long.  After a season of intervals four hours seemed like forever. The slower pace necessitated by the distance and road conditions was welcome.  Saturday afternoon my legs were tired.  Not sore, not tight, not achy, just tired.  It was a great feeling. The voluminous mound of post-ride laundry reflects the season as much as anything.

The Sunday morning rendezvous for Coffee and Lies was surprisingly populous with a peloton that peaked at eleven riders sporting the brown.  For perhaps the first time all year we had our entire executive committee riding.  I was wondering if we might get a State of the Team Address from el Jefe.  That didn’t happen; we just rode.  That was enough.

Our team rides in deep winter are a treat. Although conditions are typically bleak the pace is slower and during the ride I get some unhurried time to spend chatting with each rider.  This is the season of base miles. 

Before it was the Coffee and Lies ride it was known as the “Hank Ride.” Ironically Hank hasn’t been on his namesake ride for about three years.  Hank’s passion has gone to the dark side and he now competes in rowing events and uses cycling as a supplement to his rowing training.  How misguided…

A similar story with a very different ending comes from another neighborhood ride.  That ride goes four days a week and on Sunday it departs before the Coffee and Lies ride.  Those riders are known as (fake name to protect the innocent) The Flanders Boys Ride named after the group’s leader Tim Flanders. 

For the majority of this year the Hank ride and the Flanders Boys rides had no Hank or Flanders.

Mr. Flanders spent last year battling cancer.  In my “denial is the key to success” way, I acted the coward and kept up on Tim’s illness from afar.  In the spring months things looked grim.  Time to talk about time grim.  By summer things were looking better and by fall, Tim had begun riding again.  His outlook isn’t ideal; kind of along the lines of something is better than nothing.  Compared to nothing, something is infinitely better.  Sometimes something is enough.

On our ride our group met up with the Flanders Boys including the man himself.  During the conversation Tim mentioned how painful it had been when he returned to riding a few months ago.  I asked him if he enjoyed that pain.  He met my gaze and matter-of-factly confessed that he had enjoyed that suffering.  His expression told me he knew what I was asking. 
As our group gets older our priorities are shifting away from the podium.  We still relish being known as “The nicest bunch of guys that will kick your ass.”  Don’t get me wrong; we aren’t ready to trade our carbon and titanium bikes for wheelchairs.  I am just noting that as much fun as it is to kick people’s asses we are finding great joy in just riding and sharing those experiences with each other. We have finally figured out the quality of a ride can be expressed without using speed as the primary measurement.

It was enjoyable to catch up with my band of brown brothers.  It reminded me what a special group we have.  I hope they don’t do any retroactive background checks and boot me out.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

THAT was a bad decision

This would have come in handy...
As my co-worker asked with sincere concern in his voice, “Is there some point where you decide it isn’t smart to ride?”  After a brief but awkward silence I tried to answer with a hint of knowledge in my tone while at the same time conceding I had just done something foolish.  “Yeah, when it gets like this you shouldn’t ride,” I confessed.

While it can be said that bad decisions often lead to great stories, sometimes they just lead to pointless suffering.  No great story here, just cold hands and a hint of shame. 

After a long holiday weekend of riding fat bikes and skiing in temperatures in the teens I was not about to let temperatures just below freezing stop me from bike commuting.  I had already made two or three commutes with temperatures in the twenties so I figured this would not be a big deal. I was wrong.

My bike commute to work stays on lightly travelled side streets for the first half of the trip before hitting a bike lane on a busy road.  I was having a great ride looking up at the stars and singing quietly to myself.  I saw folks scrapping the ice off their windshields and was glad I didn’t have that chore this morning.  It was cold, but I was warm and all was good.

Then my route ventured out onto a busy road that has a nice wide bike lane.  We had been at the cabin when the Puget Sound received a token snowfall last Friday but I wasn’t paying attention.  I had no idea there would be ice in the bike lane.  After a couple miles where there was ice only in the curb half of the bike lane the ice took over the whole bike lane. 
Not my photo, but you get the idea

Now what?

I stopped and considered my choices: 1) Ride on the icy bike lane and assume that if I go down I will be squashed like a grape by a passing bus. 2) Ride on the sidewalk where the snow had been trampled down so while lumpy, it wasn’t glazed over with ice. 3) Ride out in the road and hope traffic would go around me rather than tailgating me so that if I did fall the last thing I would hear would be automobile tires sliding on ice whilst heading for my head. 4) There was no fourth option.  I was twelve miles into my seventeen mile commute.  I had a morning meeting.

At this point I put the “Pro” in “Profanity.”  Fortunately my riding collar was pulled up to muffle my mumbled words.

I chose to ride mostly on the sidewalk and venture out into the bike lane when the ice didn’t cover the whole bike lane. As I made my way gingerly on the bumpy sidewalk I grew colder.  Because I was forced to go slow I couldn’t generate much body heat and my poor choice in gloves this day was dramatically exacerbated and my hands were slowly turning into meat paddles. My ride now had the feeling if a story from “Accidents in North American Mountaineering.” I used the old woodsman trick of windmilling my arms to force blood into my hands but I knew I was fighting a losing battle.  Wildly swinging your arms while riding on a slippery surface is just piling on to an already bad situation.

I hadn’t fallen and contemplated making a deal with the devil to ensure my safe passage.  Years ago I would have made a deal with God, but I found out just last year God was in fact working against me.   In a 2013 Cyclocross race I battled against a rider trading places back and forth the last two laps. On the last lap he gapped me on a loose corner and in spite of my hard effort he held it to the finish. After the race I congratulated him and he said Jesus had helped him that day.  I felt pretty screwed when I found out that Jesus was trying to make me lose. It was, however, an answer that explained a lot in my life. Now that I know God is (and has been) working against me, I’ve started making my deals with the devil and so far it seems to be working just fine.   

I made it to the office without crashing and after a hotter than usual shower I regained feeling in my hands. I discarded my usual bravado and when asked how my ride had been.  I responded truthfully. “It was pretty bad.” I hoped the day would warm enough to melt some of the ice for my evening ride home. 

In an effort to feel warm I drank so much coffee my ears began to itch.

Looking out a window from my office I spotted a patch of ice that I decided would be representative of the bike lane on my route home.  I checked it during the day and noted only a hint of improvement.  I employed Google Maps for alternate routes to the bike lane and found a contrived maze of side streets that would keep me away from the Polar Express.

When it was finally time to punch the clock I changed clothes in the phone booth and loaded my bike for the evening adventure. I had written out a Cue sheet. Yes, it was in a very large font.  I’m no longer a young man. Thanks for highlighting that and reminding me of another of my many shortcomings.

It was a few degrees warmer and with a higher cadence I was able to keep almost all of my hands warm.  Only the tips of my fingers were cold. When I started on my “snow route” everything looked promising.  Following my directions I turned left, stayed right then took a right turn. The road was ice from curb to curb.  I chose what looked to be the best line and pedaled smoothly. My real wheel slid a bit but I stayed upright. I just tried to stay smooth.
Still not my photo, but it captures the feeling...
The snow route had almost no traffic but in places the roads were icy.   When I was fully past the fire swamp and had no more fear of R.O.U.S.’s or ice, I relaxed, resumed my singing and had a pleasant ride home.  My diversion took a full twenty-five minutes longer and when I hit the doorway of Casa de Evo I was hungry.  

Hottie had spaghetti cooking and before long I was clean and warm with a full belly.   Hard to believe I can keep thinking I know better yet I still find myself doing stupid things.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Seasons change

You get the idea
Thanksgiving 2014 is turning out to be a time of transitions.  In years past the holiday didn’t provide any watershed demarcations. When I declared my Cyclocross season over earlier in November I left the door open in the event I wanted to cap my season with a race at Enumclaw or perhaps the now pending UCI races the first weekend of December.  I wondered if my appetite for mud and racing would resurface.  It has not. It is with no great emotion I hereby shut the door completely.  Finito.
 Just another moment of reflection on my journey to nowhere
I am in full off-season mode.  Between now and January I am riding for fun and my only constraint is that I don’t go hard.  That may be difficult but I am willing to try and comply.  Following a season of hard intervals and hard racing, easy spinning is feeling rather enjoyable.  Sometimes you just gotta go slow.

With my beloved fire roads snowed over my gravel riding season for 2014 is done regardless of my emotions or desires.  What a revelation gravel riding was in 2014!  I may ride on some of those roads before next spring but I will do so not with a carbon bike and 35mm tires.  If I ride it will be with four inch wide tires at nine psi on a fat bike.  Riding a thirty-six pound bike on snow is predictably slower than a carbon bike on dirt but fun is what the season is all about and fat bikes are nothing but fun. Try and find a picture of someone on a fat bike who is NOT smiling.

They just closed Highway 20 for the winter so for the next five months our trips to the Methow valley go through Wenatchee. The driving requires more time but less mental focus so in my head it is about the same.  I recall this past spring how awkward the first trip over Highway 20 felt.   
Whiplaesch chillin'
For the next four months I will start most days checking the Nordic trail report for the Methow. Even if I am not there it is a thrill to keep up to date. It may sound silly but having a MVSTA season trail pass has been a dream of mine for years. Hottie and I will be skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking every chance we get.  I agree with you that I don’t deserve this. Pinch me.
Cozy !
My once or twice a week bike commute is dark both morning and evening.  Temperatures have ranged from the twenties to the fifties with wind, rain and ice.  My extensive glove and beanie collection is being exercised on a consistent basis. My love for the Showers Pass Jacket Hottie got me a while back has been rekindled.  It is a red security blanket. “Rain, I laugh at your face!”

Tux finds himself in transition as well.  His muzzle seems to get greyer each week.  He has stopped fighting when he has to get a bath after wading in at the beach.  He hurt his hip running several weeks back and he still favors it which makes me think it has done all the healing it is going to do.  As a result he hasn’t opened up at full speed on the beach since the original injury.  He’s still walking with Hottie and running with me as well as frolicking with other dogs on the beach, but he hasn’t flashed his jaw dropping speed for some time. His fondness for flopping his furry self on our high thread count bed sheets is unaffected.  Welcome to doggy middle age Tux.
The war wagon is entering its tenth year of faithful service.  I have asked a lot from the sand colored machine since it rolled off the lot nearly 170,000 miles ago. Just as we unconsciously adapt to our own infirmaries as we age; it is only after driving Hottie’s car that I noticed the clunking and creaking that I had grown accustomed to from the wagon.  There is a succession plan in place but it requires a couple more years of saving up.  We need to alter our thinking and weigh the vehicular endeavors rather than recklessly taking on all challenges.
The shed is taking on the look of a ski shop...
On my biking side I am enjoying riding as much if not more than ever before.  I am not lusting for any bikes or wheels or anything.  I’m thinking about the quality of the experience as opposed to flat out speed or weight. I am excited Hottie is now set up as well. The old rule of how many bike should a guy have being present number plus one no longer applies.  I’m set. That is a transition. 
Hottie loves me.  She'll follow me to nowhere...
A final transition that perhaps has been more gradual than the others but has reached a point where I noticed it is a hint of discretion in my thought process.  My decision to defer a ride from an icy morning to a safer afternoon, though prudent, is historically uncharacteristic of me.   I tend to get focused on something and ignore all data inconsistent with my plan.  I can’t claim this approach has served me well.  It also makes explaining injuries sustained while riding on icy roads or redlining on slippery trails after dark appropriately awkward.
Strutting !!
I enjoy the tranquility of an early morning ride as much as anyone. The chance to test yourself against the elements is thrilling. The sense of accomplishment, the buzz of doing something hard while others didn’t is a good feeling.  There are times, however, when the smart thing to do is sleep in and make waffles. 

After all these years of getting older maybe I am finally getting smarter.  It’s about time. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

That didn’t work. My 2014 Training experience

 Let me be brief....
My experiment this season was using a coach and it did not produce the results I was hoping to see.  When I first got hooked up with my coach he asked what my goals were for the season.  I basically said I wanted to move the needle.  My results over the past three seasons had been remarkable only in their consistency of unremarkableness.  I wanted to know if I could improve those results as my previous variations had seemed to have no effect on my race placing.   As I measure my results against those I raced with over the last three years my results this season are pretty much identical to the previous three.

For all of my hard work, and there was a lot of very hard work, I didn’t see any improvements.  I followed the plan and while there was a short lull in the middle when I was sick, I expected to see something. In the end I am forced to conclude I saw nothing.  When diets fail it is generally because the person on the diet strays from the prescribed plan.  I stuck to the plan with OCD precision.

My training took a lot of time and it was high value prime time.  Instead of working my training into my bike commutes and YMCA workouts as I had in prior years I would come home from work at dinnertime, kiss Hottie, pet Tux and get on the bike.  As the days grew shorter, training meant getting on the trainer downstairs.  Riding on a trainer is not something you look forward to.  It is boring and your only distractions are listening to music and enduring pain.  It is so boring that you look forward to the pain.
When I finished my workouts I would shower, start the laundry and sit down for dinner somewhere between seven-thirty and eight.  After dinner I was typically pretty useless as far as getting stuff done at home.  Home projects were neglected.   Typically I’d surf for a few minutes and start thinking about bed. Two or three times a week I had morning workouts as well. Hottie ended up having a bunch of dinners alone and was commendably supportive of my folly.

If this effort had produced results I could weigh the value of improved performance against the sacrifice and determine where I wanted to be on that continuum. I expected to see something. I expected to see improvement.   To work that hard and sacrifice that much and see nothing was heartbreaking.  This is why I had no qualms about calling it a season following the MFG finale.
Just like this awesome pancake, I'm done !

The training I did this season was not all wasted. I did learn something important.

In high school and college I competed in track and cross country running.  I did very well and I won more races than I lost. The thinking back in the day was based on your mix of fast and slow twitch muscle you were destined for a certain distance.  All the training in the world couldn’t make a distance runner into a sprinter so the trick was finding an event that matched your physical make up. 

The distances I excelled at were the 400 and 800 meters.  I could compete in the 1,500m (actually the mile back in my time) but I would usually win the 400 and 800 races.  I was competitive in Cross Country (5,000 meters – a tad over three miles) but I didn’t win.  I also would tend to fade during the cross country season.

In hindsight and in light of my most recent training episode I think I finally figured it out.  I’m all about base and volume.   My body responds well to lots of miles and less so to short intervals.  In cross country (and Cyclocross) as the season progresses the mileage goes down and the speed and intensity of intervals goes up.  The hard intervals certainly hurt, but I don’t think they helped me much.  What my body noticed was the decline in long efforts and I would lose fitness.  It is hard to believe that my fitness was going down as my suffering during intense intervals was going up.  Looking back, peaking really never worked for me.  I needed the miles.  When I peaked in high school and college I actually started to feel out of shape and my results toward the conclusions of my seasons were consistent with that theory.
Grandpa planks
I recall competing in the 400m at an off season open track meet at a time when my training for the prior three months had been exclusively long distance.  I was less than two seconds off my PR at the time. I remember thinking at the time that it seemed like an awful lot of hard work to only gain between one and two seconds. 

My one success this season was my first race.  I was still logging big miles and the intervals were still long (twenty and thirty minute efforts as opposed to one to six minute intervals later in the season).  As the season progressed my long rides decreased and the intervals got shorter and harder.   My results returned to the middle of the pack and my befuddlement increased.

I think back to a mini gravel weekend with McWoodie and Einmoton.  We rode eleven hours in three days with thousands of meters of climbing.  Those guys are beasts and I struggled and still couldn’t keep up. Although my legs were quivering on the final day beginning the next week I felt invincible.  I think that is the kind of training that makes me faster.

To be clear I’m selfish and this blog is all about me.  Just because short intense intervals don’t work for me does not mean they won’t work for you.  I’m just happy that I figured it out.  For that clarity alone, the experiment was worth it.  Look for me in 2015 !!