Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, June 29, 2015

Coffee and Lies # 131 Shake it up

The green flag has dropped on Summer Vacation. Several of my orange-clad brethren are out of town gathering experiences that will be fodder for post ride coffee lies in the coming weeks. Often in the middle of summer our weekly rides have more than a dozen members. Only four of us rolled from the hill this past Sunday. Missing from our group were the riders who typically ensure the rest of us hurt on our "Social" team rides. McWoodie and Einmotron don’t suffer slow riders but they weren’t riding this day and Big John would be joining late. Moonlight is off in Europe so there was a chance for a sane ride.

The road to recovery from the Ellensburg Fondo turned out to be very curvy. While I felt invincible Sunday, Monday and Tuesday after the ride, my bike commute on Wednesday had been a slugfest and when I bumped my quad Saturday it was remarkably tender. As we rolled along Lake Washington my legs let me know they didn’t feel like playing today. Why didn’t I listen?

We picked up The Wizard of Coz and we were now five strong. The morning was hot and despite the early hour my jersey was already wet from sweat. These are great days when the pile of laundry from a ride could fit in your helmet. I recommend you don’t actually put it in your helmet as that already has its own smell issues.

Off the back already I let the gap grow on the bridge to Mercer Island. On the short climb onto Mercer I unzipped my jersey a few inches as the distance to my compatriots expanded even more.

There is a spot where we traditionally stop to shed layers and regroup before initiating the throw down. With the temps already in the high seventies there were no layers to shed. Tradition dictated a stop anyway. There they stood waiting for me. Without a word I rode past the group and launched on the downhill.

I was flying !!

I figured that since my legs already hurt I might as well have them hurt a lot and didn’t expect my bluff to last long. If I went out on a solo breakaway then when they passed me I could drift back having earned some imaginary and ultimately worthless points for my foolish effort.

Doing the unexpected often results in a slow reaction as was the case here. I still had a good gap when I started the first climb. The orange train caught me near the top and I was able to latch on taking advantage of the lesser grade.

Coz took a long pull and Aaron was his usual strong self. El Chefe took a full turn at the front as did Guy. At one point we slowed and I attacked again just to mess things up. I was expecting a protest but the group responded by letting their legs do all the talking. We reformed and I rotated back. It was a dirty trick but I felt little remorse.

I feel just turribull......Ha !
It was the perfect day to have a mellow ride and I would have been the first to sign up for that yet here I was dishing out some pain. Why I was so inclined to poke the bear I have no idea. I was dreading an afternoon of bathroom demolition and this may have been an opportunity to exercise some demons.

As we hit the hill I attacked seeking KOM points. As my cadence slowed my quads screamed yet I embraced the hurt. I tried to make them hurt more. At the top I collected max points and was predictably blown. One by one the orange men passed me. I imagined them silently cursing. Soon it was just El Chefe’ and I trading pulls with the other riders fading from view up ahead.


On the return trip I thought we would be able to "keep it real." Then we spotted Big John who had come to join us. Under the leadership of Coz we formed a double paceline and rotated through once executing near perfect military precision. On the second rotation my ADD nature kicked in and I asked El Chefe if he thought Big John would jump on my wheel if I attacked. He didn’t need words as his expression seemed to say, "Does the Pope shit in the woods?" Big John had raced a crit the day before and if ever there was a day he should let me go this was it. Did I think logic would prevail?

Not a chance.

If it makes you feel better to call it, "drafting" go right ahead.......

I attacked from the back so I had some good speed as I passed my teammates. In a nanosecond I could feel the orange helmet of Big John on my wheel. My breakaway caught, I soft pedaled to slow back to the previous pace but Big John kept the heat on and I found myself struggling to hold on. "Hey guys, I was just kidding," I pled from the back of the now-rollicking paceline.

There was no slowing and Big John had possession of the sharp end and seemed to have no intention of letting up.

Hang on......If you can !!!
On the penultimate short stinger before the final downhill and final uphill I jumped again and Coz was quickly on my wheel. I still don’t know what motivated me to keep stirring the pot this day. On the climb I caught and passed the bunch only to blow up again as Aaron powered past me followed by Big John.

My legs had felt dead when I started this ride and now they felt "even more deader" on the way back to Fuel for coffee. On the climb up Madrona my lowest gear didn’t seem low enough but I was able to make it without audible profanity.

Perhaps my logic had been that if my legs hurt I wanted everyone else’s legs to hurt as well. Maybe I had forgotten how slow I was and needed to push it so I could be dropped and find out. I typically don’t raise the ante in a game I expect to lose and my ability to bluff is limited.

As we neared Fuel I took an early turn and managed to get to Fuel first. I figured the least I could do after instigating repeated unnecessary suffering upon some of my best friends was to take care of the bill for the coffee.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ellensburg Fondo Report The fifth book of the four book trilogy

When I finish the video, the link will be HERE !

Three weeks was not enough time for the scars left by the Leavenworth Fondo to heal. The Post Traumatic Stress was significant. Perhaps that is why there were half as many souls willing to partake in the “bonus” Fondo known as Ellensburg.  In conversation with the other entrants/idiots there were many who related having complex internal dialogues that preceded participation in this event.  Some of us learn from our mistakes; some of us do not.  

This was the inaugural Ellensburg Fondo and with predicable patheticness the usual suspects assembled out of fear of missing out on the suffering each considered their foreordained destiny.  This had been a series of four of fondos and “New for 2015” was this addition pain festival that brought the total to five. Having five fondos ruins all of the “grand slam” references but it is what it is.

Incorporating the lessons learned on previous fondos I think I finally have the routine dialed in.  The curveball this time was that the event took place on a Saturday instead of Sunday. After work on Friday I went home, cooked some pasta, ate, loaded the war wagon and headed out so I might spend one more night in a hotel with a view of the interstate.

The hotel was just fine and the only issue I had on Friday was a recurring twinge in my right calf hinting that it wanted to cramp.  I hadn’t run for a few days so my tight calf was a complete mystery.  It was just enough to keep me wondering if it would attack on one of the climbs. We all need some fearful thought that can dance across our minds as we drift off to sleep don’t we?

The refreshing change compared to Ephrata and Goldendale was that when I looked out of my hotel room window in the morning there was no rain falling.  There would be a headwind going out, but that paled in comparison to the suffering that had been served cold and wet in March and April.  I was glad to stay in a hotel to avoid an alarm going off at three in the morning like I had the morning of the Leavenworth Fondo. 

The morning followed the usual pattern.  Coffee, breakfast, dress, drive to the start, sign in, load up and wait to line up.  

Then it went sideways.

My Garmin mysteriously shut down and when I turned it on again the battery was dead.  I am pretty geeky about keeping it charged so I can only conclude it got bumped and turned on subsequently draining the battery during the previous day or two.   As we all know there really isn’t any reason to ride if you can’t record it on a Garmin so I prepared to pack up and go home.  Realizing I had already applied Buttonhole I figured there was no turning back now.

Following an unusual moment of wisdom and good fortune I borrowed a power stick from El Chefe and connected it into the Garmin to charge it and stuck the whole wired contraption in my jersey pocket.  

I was curious to see if Jake’s pre-ride instructions would be as stern as they had been at Leavenworth.   His pre-ride words before that ride felt like he was trying to persuade us to skip the event and go home.  This time the information disseminated did not feel like it was intended to strike fear but to inform.    When we finally took off I didn’t feel like had a reasonable expectation that I would survive the day.

There were about a hundred intervention candidates who departed Ellensburg and headed for the hills. The neutral start lasted longer than usual and I tried to soak it in. When the lead car honked and the pace picked up our little band of orange clad riders had no plans to go hard but we did want to hold a reasonable tempo.

On a short climb one of our clan dropped back as a result of some medical issues. A gap formed and the leaders slowly pulled away. I hated to see them go. Actually I hated to see their draft go. We had a headwind and needed all the help we could get.  We settled in and our group picked up friends who were saving their powder for the climb that we all knew was looming thirty miles up the road.  I dubbed this behavior the “Leavenworth Hangover.” 

In the true spirit of sarcasm a coworker had presented me with the ribbon shown below and I spent much of the first hour of the ride fielding questions from other riders about the ribbon flapping around behind my saddle.  

There were many who coveted the maroon ribbon.   Lou Zers.

We traded pulls and tried to keep our anxious legs in check.  Everyone was drinking and eating as if drinking now could somehow retroactively reduce the suffering of Leavenworth twenty days prior.  Once bitten, twice shy as they say. 

We kept looking ahead and to the left where we would soon be climbing. The hills presented a stern front with no obvious gaps.  We spotted a road cut high on the mountain and joked that is where we would be riding. Little did we know that steep line was exactly where we were headed.  By now the morning chill was gone and the sun felt good on my black shorts. I welcomed this rare and fragile time when the temperature was perfect.  I expected I would be baking soon.

When we arrived in Cle Elum I pulled out the Garmin and the charging had worked and the Garmin appeared ready to play.  I switched it on and El Chefe told me we had had thirty eight kilometers in the books already.  I would be doing the math the rest of the day.

We arrived at the first water stop and refilled our bottles.  We knew the flogging would commence shortly. I could sense the uneasiness in the air. It was not unlike the waiting room of an outpatient surgery center.  With bottles full we took a collective deep breath and clipped in.

Leaving the water stop the grade kicked up right away.  A few minutes later the slope eased up and we were back to taking turns pulling. We collected stragglers and all too soon came the sharp left turn that indicated the wait was over. Many in the group faltered and it was just the boys in orange at the front. 

At the end of a Cul-de-sac the gravel started and the grade went from eight percent to fifteen and it was loose and sandy.  Looking ahead I could see riders getting off and walking after only ten feet of gravel.  That just is not the kind of omen you want right away.

I was with the Silver Bullet and we rode past the walking riders and kept going. The grade didn’t let up but the surface did improve just a hundred meters in.  The road ducked in and out of shade and the temperatures were warm but far from oppressive. 

Every rider was in their lowest gear.  There wouldn’t be a lot of shifting on this climb. There would, however, be cursing, sweating and wishing for bigger rear cogs.  The Silver Bullet wished for my 32. I wished for el Chefe’s 36. El Chefe’ wished for McWoodie’s legs.  McWoodie wished the climb was longer.

The climb was steeper than the final climb of Leavenworth but it did come earlier in the day. Despite having a cheat sheet with the elevation of the big climbs taped to my top tube I was afraid to look at the altimeter on my Garmin for fear it would scare me.

One could oversimplify the ride by saying you ride thirty miles of road to get to the gravel then climb thirty plus miles of gravel roads tallying 8,500’ of climbing then you ride thirty miles back to town.  Metaphorically the ride is a sandwich and this was the first bite of meat.  It was a big bite and I was trying not to choke.

I experienced a moment of panic when the road kicked up a bit more and I realized I was already in my lowest gear and the climb would only get steeper.  I was passing riders who had gone out hard and were now paying the price.  I offered encouraging words using precious breath.  Soon I would have none of either to spare.

                                      The views opened up as we climbed

Gravel climbs are harder than road climbs in every way. Gravel roads tend to be steeper than paved roads. The loose surface means you can’t just stand when you want because you may lose traction and spin your rear wheel. The surface also causes you to lose energy rolling over small rocks and a portion of the effort you put into your pedals is lost kicking up rocks and just displacing the surface.  Many of us drop our heads and concentrate on long climbs but you have to watch the constantly changing surface so you can avoid the bigger rocks and loose dirt.  You also find yourself dodging rocks and potholes which strains secondary muscles that have already reluctantly been pressed into service by the difficulty of the climb.

The upside of most gravel climbs is the beauty of the scene and the constant scanning of the road takes your mind off the profanity coming from your legs.

The climb was, as expected, relentless. This was what I had come for. The climb I had seen on paper was now under my wheels.  So far; so good. The dry road climbed up the mountain in a series of unforgiving switchbacks.  You could see the end of each switchback and for reasons I still can’t understand you worked toward it like a goal and were glad to reach it.  Your only reward upon reaching the switchback was the road turned, continuing on just as steep as before.   The corners were usually looser than the rest of the road and you had to almost attack the corner to keep from losing traction and spinning out. In hindsight it was like looking forward to a root canal.

I was now deep in my own personal pain cave and the door was locked. My jersey was unzipped and I was sucking down gel and drinking my preferred potion to fuel my legs. I no longer said anything as I passed riders. I wasn’t trying to be anti-social, this is simply how it works.  We all find our rhythm and this was mine.  My HR was 172 but I felt really, really good.  I didn’t feel like I was redlined and decided to keep going and ride by feel.  My calf twinged now and then but my adductors were fine and I was climbing well.

I stopped at a vista and took some photos.  It took me several tries to get going again on the loose steep slope.  The lesson here was that if you stopped you might not be able to start again. This climb was not for the faint of heart.  

                                       This is what 15% looks like
I recalled that I had felt good on the first two climbs at Leavenworth and feared a reprise here. There was a water stop just short of the top of the first of three progressively higher summits.  The break felt good.  I waited for one of our riders who was having a rough day.   I recalled what a good descender he was and decided to roll on and let him catch me on the downhill. 

                                        Water Stop near the top......
I knew the second climb was short so I allowed myself to push it a bit.   We were dipping in and out of forest and the scenery was impressive. I kept looking for the third summit which was also the Cima Coppi of the event.  I rounded a corner and the road pointed down and with no fanfare I had just passed the high point of the ride. 

The Silver Bullet punctured and he proclaimed his faith in Tubeless was now gone forever.   With a tube in his tubeless tire (irony noted?) and El Chefe again in the fold we followed the road downhill toward the food stop at 57 miles. 

                                         Yeah, I'm heading for those roads..
El Chefe descends fast.  I figure that if his wonderful wife loves him she’ll help him get a disc brake equipped Boone 9 and thus he will be safe on these sketchy descents. As it is, he risked life and limb flying down the gravel washboard. All the while he was hoping his life insurance is enough to get his daughters through college.  Such are the thoughts of this noble man.

The Silver Bullet and I waited at the food stop and when El Chefe’ failed to appear I began formulating how I would tell the widow Chefe’ the bad news.  To calm my nerves I ate a handful of tortilla chips and the salt and tiny bit of sugar-absorbing fiber hit my stomach perfectly.  “Remember this,” I thought to myself.

                                                           FOOD !!
Finally a rider came in and reported El Chefe’ had a flat and needed a tube.  We grabbed an extra tube (worth more than gold on these rides) and headed back up the steep road we had just come down.   

                                               Ready to get back to work !!
We received puzzled looks and told the riders coming down that we just needed a few hundred extra meters of climbing.  Going backward to help a teammate is noble. Going backward and uphill earns an honor rewarded by getting to wear the orange of 20/20 Fuel.

                             There were about THIS many flats at the food stop....
Chris of Cucina Fresca came down and told us he had given El Chefe’ a tube and a couple minutes later the man himself came bombing down.  The three of us coasted down to the food stop.  We repaid the tube debt and El Chefe picked up his drop bag and filled his bottles and we were onto the final climb.
The steady four to six percent grade felt easy after the thousand meters of double digit steepness we had behind us. I found a rhythm and felt super strong.  Three to five percent is my specialty. At the top we fist bumped then flew down.  Within a mile of the pavement that would carry us back to Ellensburg the Silver Bullet collected anther flat.  The gash in his sidewall had exposed the tube.  We needed a boot to hold the tire inside the tube.  The ribbon was up to the task.  Sacrifices had to be made.

                                                 The ribbon to the rescue
Just after getting on the pavement we rolled into the final water stop. We loaded our bottles and pointed our wheels toward Ellensburg.  Two hundred yards from the water stop we hit a climb the Silver Bullet described as “Spicy.”  A sixteen percent grade sixty miles in was plenty spicy.  Soon enough we topped out.  The wind that had been in our faces in the morning was at our backs and we welcomed the tailwind as we flew down the road.

We could look up the road and see riders who had passed us while changing flats or that had been at the water stop when we pulled in.  My legs felt frisky and I convinced El Chefe and the Silver Bullet that we could chase them down as a final hurrah.  

There were a few stinger climbs sprinkled in to disrupt our rhythm.  As soon as we reached the top of each little climb we would regroup and charge on.    Soon the valley opened up and there would be no more climbs.  We caught the riders and invited them to join our train.  They were either spent or offended by our bad breath and did not latch on.

 We came around a corner and the little red arrows that had guided us all day now pointed us onto loose gravel.  We were on the Iron Horse Trail now and the gravel was like an ocean of marbles.  We kept our front wheels aimed straight and our rear wheels swam back and forth like a hook and ladder as we pedaled.  I felt like I was riding a salmon.  El Chefe and I had contemplated a long ride on the Iron Horse Trail.  Those thoughts died an instant death at this point.  For the riders who were baked this power sucking section may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

A few miles further on I spied the finish tent ahead and took my hand off my bars to fish my race number out of my pocket. The gravel pulled my front wheel and I swerved and grabbed my bar to avoid going down.  I tried again with similar results. I stopped and put a foot down and retrieved my number which I flashed for the folks recording finishers. 

I collected my finishers patch and fist bumped my mates. We still had a few miles to ride to get back to the parking lot.  My legs felt really strong and the last bit passed quickly.  Before long we were in clean clothes and eating post race burritos. I should clarify that statement. We were in clothes that were clean before we put them on and we were inhaling burritos.

With the power of cilantro-infused beef flowing through our veins we departed the parking lot and began our assimilation back into the world of the living. 

This fondo did not leave us staggering but we were tired. The ride clearly exceeded my expectations.  The roads to and from Cle Elum turned out to be better than expected and the scenery in the middle had been impressive.  Even though we had a short stretch of the course right next to I-90 the course still felt remote which is consistent in this Fondo series.

I am glad we have more than three weeks before we resume our Fondo Odyssey in Winthrop. I will clean the bike....

Monday, June 15, 2015

Go back Jack; do it again. Wheels turning round and round

They say that short memories are a good thing for quarterbacks and pitchers.  The ability to forget about the interception and throw boldly is a valued asset.  I have always eschewed looking backward as my ability to alter the past has proven to be very limited.  While I do think we should learn from the past; excessive time spent revisiting past decisions is wasted energy.  

Just as I find myself finally able to stand erect after the sweet torture that was the Leavenworth Fondo I am looking forward to the next round.  I have graphed the elevation profile and swapped cassettes in anticipation of yet another superlative-laden adventure. 

This one should be hotter and steeper. 
What could go wrong ?
I plan to gather with a close-knit group of fellow slow learners and assail the Cascade Range from the eastern side on the eve of the summer solstice.  What I find morbidly amusing is the drop off in participation following a particularly challenging event.  After the washing machine ride that was the Ephrata Fondo, the number of riders at Goldendale was down significantly.  If a particular Cyclocross race is a sloppy mudfest the week following will have far fewer riders.  I expect a number of battle-weary Leavenworth riders will skip the next event at Ellensburg.  Your loss....
It takes a special mindset to find these type of events enjoyable. Psych wards are probably full of folks with this “special” mindset.  For those of us lucky enough to be high functioning and still have an outlook on life that allows us to find joy amid this suffering; we know who we are.   Making eye contact with our fellow crazies yields a unique connection.

Our selective memories don’t remember the numb hands or frozen feet.  We are more familiar than we should be with the fine line between extreme discomfort and danger on the hypothermia scale.  We can wipe the drop of vomit from our sleeve or wash the salt from our helmet straps and erase the memory forever.  If someone reminds us we typically resond with, “Oh yeah, I forgot….”  We take a perverse pleasure, somewhere between analytical and masochistic, in reaching our limits.

I heard that one definition of tact was telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the journey.  Those of us who pin a number on for these events know exactly what we are getting into and yet not only do we do it again, we look forward to it! 
Why must you humiliate me for your perverse entertainment ?
At this stage of my life the prizes and accolades for riding a bike faster than some other idiot are meaningless. It is egotistical (or maybe Zen-like?) to say that as far as racing goes the only opinion that matters to me is my own. It thrills me to ride to the top of a mountain and take in the view.  I take pleasure in finishing a ride exhausted, having tickled my physical or technical limits. I find these Fondos complex problem-solving challenges that require the right combination of fitness, equipment selection, nutrition, riding finesse and luck. When I get it right I feel omnipotent. Riding with Hottie or with my friends is far more satisfying that standing on a podium.

I don’t think I am lowering the bar by preferring the journey over the results. I prefer to think I have found a better bar.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Headlamps to Sunglasses

The days are reaching the apex of their freakish summer extremes.   I just put my headlight away and this week I left the house at 5:30 for my bike commute into the office and I had sunglasses on my nose.

This is the time of year that makes up for those dark, wet, cold winter days.  I am glad I did those long rides with El Chefe back in January and February.  The numb feet and frozen hands are pretty much forgotten.  Now my arms and knee are getting darker and my smile is wide.

I ran stairs on Monday this week and instead of needing a headlamp and rain jacket like I did in the pre-dawn blackness of March I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt under blue skies. There were five others enjoying the early morning sunshine in contrast to the solitary experience of my winter workouts.
I absolutely understand there is no prize or glory that comes with being marginally faster.  It is unquestionably more enjoyable to be faster and I am enthralled by the challenge of the complex puzzle that is middle aged fitness. Figuring out the plan is significantly harder than executing the plan.

I am still trying to master the hard/easy mix that is optimal for the athlete with grandchildren.  When I get it right I can turn on the power as if I have a switch. This is a function of the smart rest I am finally beginning to understand and paying my dues during those chilly months that chase many cyclists indoors.  Being able to power up a climb or accelerate on the flats feels wonderful. 
My recovery takes longer and I have reluctantly accepted that. Instead of a one to one ratio of hard to easy days it may be a hard day followed by two or even three easy days. Those easy days typically include at least one day of total rest.  I also try to make the hard day really hard.  Instead of an easy week every four or five weeks I do an easy week at least once every three weeks.

I think this is working.  I blew up in Leavenworth and was still pleased with my time. On a recent team ride I put my head down and pulled away from a couple guys who typically drop me on that same climb.  I felt like superman at Ephrata and Goldendale.  It feels weird to rest more to go faster but it seems to be paying off.  If only donuts helped you climb.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Extreme Fondo Hangover: Why do we hurt so very, very much?

If you know where this is, you've been around....
In the days following the Leavenworth Fondo I communicated with my brethren via text and email. We all were feeling sore on the Monday following the Sunday event.  No surprise there. What was unexpected was that we were ALL still very sore the next day as well. It seemed the Fondo took a significant toll on all of us.  This was a pretty deep hurt and among my peers it was universal.   Even later in the week one of our band of merry men described feeling, “empty.” Two of us found that to be the perfect illustration of a feeling that had lingered too long.

By coincidence I had been in a conversation preceding the Fondo about competing as an “older” athlete.  Someone proposed the idea that older athletes might do better because their pain tolerance was greater than when they were younger.  My theory is different. I think that as we get older we have the ability to ask and get more from our bodies than we did when younger.   

My belief is that for a given level of fitness I can get more out of that level of fitness than I could when I was younger.  I’m saying that as we get older we can squeeze more juice out of the lemon. Trying to explain why that is just leads to speculation.  Let the speculation begin!

One tangent of the theory is that by default in our training we find ourselves going harder some days and easier on other days. We simply don’t have the time or motivation to go hard every day.  Thus when the going gets really hard, your body knows you won’t be doing this same hard thing tomorrow and that there will be some recovery.  Our bodies therefore are more willing to dig a bit deeper knowing that tomorrow will be better.

A competing tangent theory is self mastery. This is me telling my poor body to shut up and do something it does not want to do yet for some reason it now obeys my every command.  As we get older (or more experienced) perhaps we just get better at ignoring the smaller aches and pains or have an improved ability to focus when needed.   We can call this one experience.

Another competing sub theory is the fight or flight theory.  Perhaps your mind has wrapped so much around this event that you have a constant drip feed of adrenaline and your body is doing the equivalent of a race car running on nitrous.  Perhaps your body has no idea what is going through your mind and it figures that if you are going this hard then maybe sharks are chasing you and your body figures this is life and death and exerts itself accordingly.  This serves you well until you finish at which time all bills come due and the pain that has been postponed comes crashing down on you.

A final tangent theory is the Whisky Tango Foxtrot theory. This is the idea that you are doing something so hard and for so long that your mind and body just can’t believe you are doing something so extreme and does not know how to react.  You go at a high level of effort because you have trained your body to do so and pretty much every other time you go this hard you stop after forty or fifty minutes.  Then when you are pegged at that level of effort for four plus hours you body is just dumbfounded and assumes you are moments away from stopping.
It was clear to me during and after the Fondo that if you want to do events that go hard for five to eight or even ten hours with any frequency you had better be a young, exceptionally fit specimen.  It was also clear that if you are an old grizzled biker who is willing to pay a higher price before, during and after such masochistic events then those young bucks had better be looking over their shoulders.   

I can still do what those young bucks do, it just takes me longer to do it and the recovery is way longer.

What did come to light following our internal and external discussions was that the ride was our first hot weather ride of 2015.  It was the first hot weather ride for nearly everyone who did it.  That would explain the widespread cramping and general ass kicking that we all experienced.

The body does take time to adjust to riding in the heat and it doesn’t come in a can and all the electrolytes in the world can’t train your body to adjust to heat; they can only help.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Leavenworth Fondo Ride Report Ouch, that hurt !

Here is the video

Respect and compliancy seldom occupy the same space at the same time. On those rare occasions when they do; one or the other quickly departs. El Chefe had reminded me that the scope of the task demanded respect.  The Leavenworth Fondo is comparable to the Winthrop Fondo. The Winthrop Fondo was the kind of thing you have trouble believing they let people do without a more vigorous screening process.  More than once during the Winthrop Fondo I remember thinking: “They expect us to ride THIS??”

Despite the seriousness of the challenge that the Leavenworth Fondo would be I had planned to forgo the usual proven methodology of a decent nights’ sleep at a hotel close to the start and instead would depart early from a work obligation and drive to the start the morning of the event. 

They say that bad decisions lead to great stories.  As if to prove this point I have a great story.  What sounded plausible in February turned out to be pretty tough.  There was a lot of type two fun involved.

As the Leavenworth Fondo grew closer I started doing the math and reality smacked me right between the eyes.  The drive to the starting line from my company retreat was longer than I thought it was.  That meant I would be getting up earlier. The Fondo started at 8:00 instead of 9:00 like the others.  Okay, an even earlier alarm would be required. The company dinner Saturday night would go later than I thought so I would get to bed much later than I had planned.  The Fondo itself would have more climbing than I recalled and it would be about ten to twenty degrees hotter as well.  I’m not well suited for riding in the heat.  The perfect storm was brewing. Oh boy!

All of this swilled around in my head and in the days leading up to the weekend I started to get nervous.  Had I grown complacent?  Was I treating this event with the respect it deserved?

The Silver Bullet happened to be in the Methow last weekend and we had done a four and a half hour gravel ride. It hadn’t felt that hard but I had some really good times on some STRAVA segments on that ride. Things were hinting that I might be in pretty good shape.  I was down a kilo or two as well. My training leading up to the event included weights, stairs, intervals, distance and rest and I was very pleased with my conditioning.

The stars were aligning.  What could I do to mess this up?  How about getting up at the same time others are going to bed and then driving for three and a half hours?  The morning of the race routine I have perfected through trial and error over the past eleven years of racing was out the window as well.  

Embarking on a ninety mile gravel ride with 9,000’ of climbing and temperatures expected to tickle ninety degrees is daunting enough without throwing in sleep deprivation and nutritional compromises.

My mind shot back to a mountaineering trip that was kicked off after an all-nighter when I was eighteen. Back then I was at the peak of both my physical abilities and my naiveté.  Then I remembered that it was Scott who really struggled and that Chris and Richard and I had reached the summit. I began to think that maybe, just maybe I would be okay.  Hope does spring eternal.

If ye are prepared ye shall not fear too much.  I think it was Bill Murray who said that. I’m not sure, anyway, on to my story.

Approaching the challenge like a complex problem I came up with, and refined, what seemed like a plan. 

The fateful weekend came and I got to bed as early as I could Saturday night and was glad sleep came quickly.  The alarm also came quickly and I was jolted awake feeling my sleep had been less than ideal.  I splashed some water on my face, dressed and kissed Hottie goodbye.  

As I snuck out to the dark parking lot I could hear there were still people partying.  I slipped into the war wagon and was off.  It was dark.  The moon was nearly full and was sinking into the water west of Semiahmoo.  It was a beautiful sight. Not worth getting up at three for, but since I was up I enjoyed it.  I felt tired.  What did I expect?  It wasn’t much past three in the freaking morning.  “Don’t do the math,” I told myself.

I cranked up the music and picked up speed.  The music that is on at three AM just isn’t what it used to be.  In a few minutes I noticed the eastern sky was beginning to show light. It was now 3:44 AM.  Time was the only thing between me and the starting line and every minute I saved would provide needed buffer to an overly aggressive plan. I emerged from the mountains into the Skagit Valley and over the Cascades the pre dawn light brought out the silhouette of the mountains hinting that the day would be special.  

I turned east at Everett and found an open Starbucks just past five AM in Monroe.  I indulged myself and put in two sugars. The coffee gave me an unwarranted sense of comfort as it provided some hint of my morning routine. I was slightly ahead of schedule and was stunned at how much that knowledge eased my psyche.

The towns along Highway 2 are even more unremarkable before six in the morning. I topped out at Stevens Pass with a bowl of grape nuts in hand and following a pause that refreshes at a rest stop I arrived in Leavenworth and found the Fondo starting area.  It wasn’t quite seven and I was only mildly disoriented from lack of sleep.  That lack of sleep reminded me I could make a mistake along the lines of forgetting to put on my helmet or the like.  I tried to take it slow.

I got my bike ready and put my drop bag in the designated box.  I paused a moment and closed my eyes and pretended to power nap.  I took the time to convince myself I was rested and ready to go.  Better to be in shape and tired than out of shape and fresh.  My teammates showed up and soon the lack of sleep was forgotten.

After an unusually stern pre race warning/instructions/lecture from Jake, we got underway.

We rolled out and I had trouble settling in. We were going faster than I wanted. This would be a long day and the first hour and a half is all uphill so there wasn’t any need to hurry.  Similar to Goldendale we stayed together all the way to the gravel.  I kept thinking I shouldn’t be within a hundred yards of McWoodie thirty minutes in.  On the gravel the field spread out quickly.   The grade was fairly steady and I watched my heart rate settle in at 170.  I would have liked it lower but I wanted to catch Big John, the Wizard of Coz and El Chefe, and it felt like a pace I could hold all day so I just kept at it.

The road had a bunch of switchbacks and as I climbed I could hear, then see, riders below.   The climb would top out three thousand feet above our starting point and I began watching my Garmin to see how close I was to the top. I watched the last two hundred meters tick by and then the climb topped out. The road snaked back and forth and as much as I wanted to relax I felt inclined to keep up a reasonable effort and soon I was zipping back and forth.  It reminded me of a dirt version of the east side of Mercer Island.

Almost imperceptibly the grade went from flat to slightly downhill then to steep downhill.  The surface went from smooth dirt to light gravel to lumpy rocks and finally rocky washboard.  There were ruts that had to be avoided or jumped. Riders were going down this steep stuff at five miles per hour and twenty five miles per hour and everything in between. I was closer to the twenty five side of the spectrum though more than a couple guys flew past me.

One rider on a flat bar bike passed on my left on a particularly rough downhill.  As he tried to get in front of me and then onto my line he couldn’t stop his left to right traverse and was grabbing the brakes as he rapidly approached the ditch. I was watching my lane in the gravel and once he was clear of it I kept my eyes looking at where I was headed.  HE was on his own. Just as he was leaving my peripheral vision I could see he was sticking out a leg to serve as an outrigger for what would be something between an awkward stop and a crash.  I do not know what transpired next.

The descent was littered with ejected water bottles. I even saw one where the top had blown off. I must have seen between ten and twenty lonely bottles on this descent and I would speculate there were less than a hundred riders in front of me which would mean a double digit bottle loss rate.

Finally the grade settled in at about a 3% downhill and the surface also became more palatable and I was able to relax and let it fly.  With little warning the gravel ended and I was at the first water stop. I refilled a bottle and poured in some Skratch labs powder and I was riding again. Total stop time was less than two minutes.

The road soon turned uphill and the climbing resumed. I felt slow and it felt hot.  I unzipped and drank and settled in. The grade was not as steep as the first climb and soon I was in an excellent rhythm.  I was sweating now and it was cooling me off and I began passing people.  There was a fair bit of sand and it sapped our speed and strength as you would expect.

I found myself working at the back of a group of three near the top.  They seemed like roadies and the rough terrain challenged them.  We topped out and I passed them one by one on a dusty rutted descent. I found myself jumping ruts as the road dropped toward farmland.

I had a super positive feeling as I had finished two of the three climbs and still felt pretty good.

When the terrain allowed I was aggressively drinking and soon I was on the final rocky descent to a valley I had ridden with Hottie as part of the Wenatchee century many years ago. We were now close to Lake Chelan.  Once I hit the pavement I pointed my trusty bike toward the Columbia and cranked. I had cooled down on the descent and it took a while for me to get a sweat going and be comfortable.  Along the Columbia it was hot and there was a headwind.  Jake thought of everything. I rode alone to the food stop 51 miles in.

I was feeling okay and as I set my bike down one of the helpers took my bottles to fill them with water while I found my drop bag.  I refilled my gel flask and stuffed some shot bloks in my pockets. I restocked my mini nuun tube and then mixed my potion into my bottles. I took a handful of Endurolytes (electrolytes) and swigged them down.  I found Big John and Coz and John was chomping some cookies. They looked good and I grabbed one from the table.  This was a deviation from my plan, but I just love cookies.

Big John and the Wizard were about ready to go and the three of us departed.  I realized that El Chefe must have been behind me but I suspected I would be battling cramps later on so I expected he would soon catch us.

After a couple miles we caught a ride on a paceline and took it most of the remaining eight miles to the turn.   After ten hot dry miles we turned up Swakane canyon road. It was rocky, dusty hot and dry. This wasn’t Ephrata in the rain. I didn’t expect any hypothermia issues today.

As I made my way up the dusty road I could see Big John’s orange helmet and the Wizard just behind him. Coz had bonked at Goldendale and we had ridden together and now he was dropping back to return the favor.  I felt a twinge in my left adductor muscle as I approached Coz and told him I would be okay and that he should ride the climb like the wind. He tucked in behind me and soon we were picking off riders as the climb up the valley began to take its toll.

On paper the climb looked like a steady 5%. In reality it was a series of kickers that ranged from eight to twenty percent. These steep sections were loose and dusty and rutted. Climbing them took not only power, but more bike handling finesse than a guy should have to muster five hours in to a bad dream.  Stand up and you spin out. Sit down and you have to fight not to stall. These stair steps were separated by really sandy sections where you could neither build speed nor recover.

On one of the early sections a rider in front of me couldn’t stay on the high ground between the deep wheel ruts and he stalled and fell to the side Laugh-In style. He only hurt his pride, but it foretold the seriousness of the climb. Riding this with fresh legs would be a challenge. Riding with five hours of climbing in our legs was purgatory.

There were patches of shade now and again that didn’t really cool you, but just served to remind you how hot it was in the sun. The filtered sun of the morning was gone and now a merciless yellow orb was blazing down on us.  I caught Big John and turned to comment to Coz only to find it wasn’t Coz who had been behind me but some interloper who had been wheel sucking for fifteen minutes.  Where was Coz? 

Coz was in fact, bonked, barfed and heading back.

John and I stopped at an unmanned water drop and filled bottles. I dropped a nuun tablet in his water and told him I was cramping and had to ride on my own rather than try and match someone else’s pace. We departed and I fought my way up a long loose pile of dust that served as the road here and continued the fight alone.  Big John was riding his steel commuter that must weigh forty pounds.  He is a beast.

The climb was an epidemic of cramps and blown riders. Racers would ride then cramp and get off and walk up the steep parts. We were leapfrogging each other. A rider would pass me only to cramp and I would pass them either standing or walking.  Then they would pass me and we would repeat the cycle.

At one point I was on a steep section and I approached a rider who was stopped on the side of the road stretching. The loose surface demanded my attention yet out of the corner of my eye I could see he turned toward me. I listened for a comment, encouragement or smart ass remark. His silence told me he must have recognized that I was in the pain cave and he held his tongue out of respect.   There was suffering, oh yes, there was lots of suffering.

Similarly the words of encouragement were now few and far between. We were all in our own private battles and anyone who wasn’t you was irrelevant to your situation.  I would like to think that if someone was hurt we would all have stopped but I’m not sure we would even notice if it wasn’t in our path. The only sounds were creaking bikes, crunching gravel and heavy breathing.  

The single cookie that had looked and tasted so good was rebelling in my gut and while not debilitating, it was a distraction I did not need.  Lesson learned.  Stick to your food plan.  Just because Big John can eat that and then get on the bike doesn’t mean I can.  The queasy stomach meant I didn’t have a lot of gel or shot bloks as my appetite was gone.  I kept drinking and supplemented my powders with nuun just to be safe.

Both adductors were now cramping as was my right hamstring. The cramps would come and go and if I tried to keep a smooth pedal stroke I could keep rolling through the cramps.  At times I felt a sensation like someone was touching my leg which was an indication the cramps were about to resume.

The final thousand feet combined the good news of more shade with the bad news of even steeper sections. Some riders were walking these steep parts just because they were too spent and the road too steep to stay upright. These were inclines that would be hard to ride even fifteen minutes into a ride. It reminded me of the old rider describing a hard climb, “Then when I was on the steepest part of the climb I came around the corner and it got even steeper!”

At 113km (or 76 miles into our 90 mile festival) I came to the final water station. I filled one bottle and topped off another.   There were only three more miles of climbing.  Maybe I should have skipped the water and just pressed on? In five minutes I had completely consumed one of the bottles.  The other would be gone before the finish line.  Quinn’s water pack looked pretty smart about now.

My jersey was unzipped and I looked down at my black bibshorts and noticed they had white crusty salt deposits.  After the ride my helmet straps would look as if they had been painted with baking soda. I was a chemistry experiment in motion.

What no longer mattered was distance or heart rate or time.  The only thing that mattered now was elevation. I watched my Garmin and knew we had less than 150 meters of climbing left. Like some evil video game where the reward for conquering a given level is a harder challenge the final climbs were now even steeper. By now I was the only one within sight not walking and I was cramping but somehow able to keep pedaling.  My cadence was in the thirties and forties in a 34/32 climbing gear.  I was at my limit for this day.  There were times my riding was only marginally faster than walking.  I kept at it. I didn’t know what else to do.

A road sign unintentionally marked the highpoint of the climb and I zipped up my jersey and headed toward the promised land of the finish line.   As fun as this was……………I just wanted to be done.

Similar to the first descent the road at first was very gradually downhill and then became rougher and steeper.  There was a wonderful section of switchbacks on gritty gravel and my tires just railed it.  I felt total control with the discs and a couple times I was stunned I was taking the corners as fast as I was but my traction was akin to riding on sandpaper.

My cramping had let up and my legs just felt tired.  They felt really tired.

Finally there was a long straight run in and the welcome sight of pavement. As much as I like it when the pavement ends, it is pretty sweet when it starts again. Less than ten kilometers to the finish and I would be done. I was baked.  We were now heading back on the same road that had taken us out from the start. I tried to pedal harder and that just didn’t happen.  I had one speed and that was it.  

At the start of the day we were all jacked up and the temperature was low so the grade of the road had seemed mild.  Now on the descent I realized the road was steep.  I was so glad we were going down this steep thing and that the climbing was done. I switched modes on my Garmin and watched the last couple kilometers tick down. I crossed the line with an on-bike time just under seven hours.  Even with my cramps I was pleased with the time.

I was still a couple miles from the parking lot where we started and the war wagon was waiting.  My right pedal had been clicking and I noted the grease seal was blown.  With about a mile to go I started feeling more and more pressure as if the pedal didn’t want to turn.  I figured if I was feeling localized pressure through my freakishly stiff carbon soles something was wrong.

I unclipped and rode the last mile with just my left leg.  It was still a slight downhill so it wasn’t too bad.  Then as I turned into the parking lot I tried to keep going on the slight uphill.  Jake, the race organizer, presented me with a finisher patch just as my left hamstring cramped from the one legged pedaling.   I winced as he handed me the patch.  I looked at my car fifty feet away.  I wondered how I would get there.

I got off my bike and limped to the war wagon and began the long journey back to normalcy.

I washed off and put on some clean(er) clothes. I drank and drank and drank. I foraged for food and ate what I could find. McWoodie, Mr. T and Coz all congratulated me.  Big John and El Chefe rolled in and all had been accounted for.  We went to the post race meal which consisted of brats, salty chips and water.  Maybe that wasn’t the typically prescribed meal, but it was welcomed and wonderful nonetheless.  We licked the salt from our fingers.  We needed sodium.

This was a hard day for the men in orange and all of us fought cramps and more than one had tossed their salad.

The day had combined type one and type two fun.   While there had been suffering there had been enjoyment, beauty and camaraderie.  This ride was one of the few “A” events I focus on during the year.  I was pleased with my ride.

One after another each of the men in orange independently described the ride as hard. What was interesting was that nobody used words like “hellish, miserable, torture” or any words that could be interpreted to mean that any one of us wished they hadn’t done it. I didn’t hear anything along the lines of, “Never again!”

It is hard to describe this to a bystander why we do this and have it make sense. We all got pretty much what we expected. We are all better men for having gotten dirty this day.  We are closer as friends and know a bit more about ourselves than we did last week.  Hard things are good for us.