It took longer than I expected to recover from the Winthrop Fondo. As if 157 kilometers and 3,600 meters of climbing on gravel wasn’t enough, the washboard this year made me feel like I had spent nine hours in a clothes dryer. My legs and underside were ready for more very quickly but my upper body and general fatigue level lingered beyond the normal day or two after a big gravel event.
My season kicked off early in 2016 as I began the build up for the Dolomites as soon as the snow began melting. Long rides and intervals filled my spring. Decades of competitive running followed by years of bike racing has taught me to accept the pay now, reap later nature of following a training plan.
During those soggy winter rides I envisioned sunny climbs in Italy. Later I pictured reaching the top of Freezeout ridge and Baldy ridge feeling strong. With those dreams realized this past weekend I now look ahead to easy crisp fall riding and a smattering of Cyclocross races where I don’t even check the results. At this point, it’s all gravy.
My build up in 2016 started much earlier than in years where my focus is Cyclocross. Consequently I’ve been going hard for a long time and I’m ready to back off. Hottie has been supportive in letting me log the miles I needed and in recent months she has built her own fitness and we will share some riding this fall.
After hitting every weekend over the last seven months with a specific training objective, this weekend I’m thinking waffles and riding with Hottie.
Friday, September 30, 2016
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Mammas cover your babies’ eyes; this one gets graphic.
If you are in a hurry just jump down the REVIEW section.
It started in the spring of 2015. I upgraded my fat bike and needed a saddle. My tried and true friend, the Fizik Aliante, had undergone some upgrades in recent years and I got a new one and put it on my Gravel bike and pulled the older Aliante off that and put it on the fat bike.
At this time there was lots of upheaval on the bottom front. Our team had changed kit suppliers and now I had a Castelli pad between me and my saddles. I was also in the process of settling in on Buttonhole as the preferred protector of personal private parts. Finally with some changes to the stable there was some saddle shuffling going on.
All of this contributed to some periodic undercarriage unhappiness. With multiple variables it was hard to point to a single cause.
In the days following the Winthrop Fondo last year it felt, and looked, like I had ridden on a hot clothes iron for several hours. (I warned you!) I didn’t dare get on a bike for a week or so. The red badge of courage isn’t as awesome as they say. It forced me to overcome my denial and admit something wasn’t working.
I spent much of the fall and early winter experimenting with different saddles. With the Dolomites looming, the stakes were high. I tried different versions of the Aliante, with and without cut outs (or grooves in their case) but nothing ever felt right. Some of them felt horrible. I tried a Selle San Marco Mantra that was okay but it clearly was not the end of the rainbow.
As the big trip drew closer I went back to the Fizik Kurve Bull. It worked well enough but I still hoped for something with a cut out. One of our group had their Dolomite trip ruined by saddle sores. That served as a reminder that I needed to get this sorted out. I hadn’t had any issues that would require me to get a saddle with a cut out but once you ride one with a cut out it seems kind of illogical to force your soft tissue to function as a shock absorber when you ride.
I survived the Dolomites but still felt there was room for improvement. About this time there was some serious saddle searching amongst my cycling cohorts. Hottie was looking for a new perch and a good work friend, Alex, had just found saddle Nirvana after his own painful quest. El Chefe had long been a proponent of the offerings from Specialized, though I recall sitting on his prized Romin saddle and thinking it felt like a block of wood. “Not for my ass,” I thought to myself.
I had been pouring over saddle reviews and talking with my friends. My upbringing didn’t include the Catholic-guilt outlook on life, but I was instilled with a belief that any problems I encounter are my fault and I must resolve them by working harder. With that mindset I always feel the answer was out there if I look (work) hard enough.
El Chefe had just outfitted the women of Casa de Chefe’ with Specialized products and they were apparently raving about the results. He offered up one of his spare Specialized saddles for me to try. I accepted the challenge. Alex had purchased a Specialized Power saddle and went from misery to delight. I recalled seeing a Specialized saddle under Horst as well. Specialized seemed to be waving at me. “Okay, I’ll give it a try,” I thought to myself.
I put El chefe’s Evo Romin on my commuter and gave it a go. At first it felt like I was sitting on the corner of a table. Then I rode and it cradled my sit bones and I felt I could pedal with more power. Hmmmm. The Romin was an improvement but still not perfect. I wondered if the Power Saddle would be better.
I got my sit bones measured and paid retail (yes, you heard right…..I paid retail) for a Specialized Power Saddle. They do have a 30 day guarantee so I felt my risk was low.
Specialized Bontrager and Selle San Marco make their saddles in multiple widths. Given that our sit bones also come in different widths this makes sense. The offerings from Specialized come in three widths for women and three for men. Counting the overlap they end up offering four widths; 137, 143, 155 and 168mm. I’ve got mine and you should get yours.
The Power looks like a normal male saddle that went swimming in cold water. It is shorter than most and it takes a bit of trial and error to set up. Obviously you don’t line up the nose but it also isn’t as easy as lining up the back of the saddle with your old saddle. The first five minutes of the maiden voyage I wasn’t sure. It felt hard but I certainly felt supported. In a few minutes I settled in and have come to absolutely love it.
Specialized claim you can be comfortable in an upright position and also roll your hips forward into an aggressive riding position and not squash anything. That is consistent with my experience. It supports your sit bones and lets you hammer away without the feeling that you are straddling your seat. It feels like the saddle stays out of the way of your pedaling. The stubby nose disappears and there are no rubbing issues.
I tried a Selle Italia Flite a few years back and that also seemed to stay out of the way but it didn’t support me as well. On longer rides that saddle would start to eat into my sit bones.
The padding on the Power saddle is minimal but firm. I was happy riding this on the road but was worried how it would be off road on the Tallboy or the gravel bike. It turns out to be perfect in these situations as well. I just finished the Winthrop Fondo on the Power saddle and I rode the next day without issue.
Comfort is way more important than weight and cost does figure into the equation as well. The saddle is light enough and less expensive than the Fizik models. You can pay a lot more to get a version of the Power saddle that is a little lighter with carbon rails- but if Peter Sagan can ride Ti rails instead of carbon then so can I.
The Kurve saddle that I rode in the Dolomites is still on that bike but any new saddles will likely be variants of the Power saddle in my prescribed width.
When I was buying the saddle the guy at the shop said that one of the ways they determine how good a saddle is hinges off of the Specialized guarantee. If they see a lot coming back for exchanges then it isn’t a winner and they don’t order more. He said they haven’t had any Power saddles come back at all. They won’t be getting mine back.
Five of five Evos.
Monday, September 26, 2016
Aaron powering his way to 10th on the day!
I heard the best bike event quote ever: “Near the top I felt so bad I was hoping a bear would eat me so I wouldn’t have to finish the climb.”
The Winthrop Fondo always leaves a mark.
I was able to host a handful of my teammates at our cabin for the Winthrop Fondo. When I first did this event in 2014 it was held in June and just Brad and I represented the black and orange. Last year more of our brethren joined in our mountainous folly and the event featured a new course and a new month, September. This edition kept the new course and fall date and even more of our brothers wanted to share in the suffering.
This event provided motivation to keep training after the Dolomites. With age eventually comes wisdom and there were a number of group rides on gravel over the summer with the unspoken objective of getting everyone ready for this event. For some it was the conditioning, for others it was the bike handling skills.
Putting on our matching costumes and practicing.
Last year four of our group had ridden together Gentlemen-style and had an outstanding ride. In my world of warped values a ride can be outstanding and include hours of pain. McWoodie and Brad were off the front and had outstanding rides that didn’t include as much suffering duration as ours but they claimed to have also had fun.
We gathered at the cabin for pasta the night before and after a protracted discussion on the weather and clothing we high-fived and went to sleep early in anticipation of the big day.
Did Evo say "Go forth and ride" or "Go fourth and ride"
There is a reason FUEL coffee is one of our two team sponsors and there was a pot of their “Get Going” blend brewing before sunrise. In addition to coffee, eggs, oats and bananas would stoke our engines early. Looking at the temperature and the sky we finalized our clothing choices.
Brad had a car at the start so some of our group wore extra clothing to stay warm for the ride to the start.Having secured our race numbers the night before while being mindful that “this is not a race” even though you still have to pin on a number and they record your time. I guess I’m not sure what a race is and isn’t. Our group rolled to the start and marveled at the amazing early morning light.
This is what McWoodie looks like from the front. Only three guys got that view.
We arrived just as the “riders meeting” was starting. The pre-event warning for Leavenworth and Winthrop is amusing as Jake diligently tries to scare off the unprepared.
The neutral start was nice and the peek-a-boo sunshine warmed us as we made our way north on East Chewuch road. Long shadows reached across the road on this cool morning. Our group of four was solidified early. We were able to hook up with a couple nice guys through Mr. T, Mike and Joe, who rode with us off and on the first third of the event.
As the climbing started we quickly passed some riders who had been caught up in the early excitement. The filtered sunlight was amazing and the colors were brilliant.
The crisp air and the knowledge that we had paid our collective training dues fueled an optimism that this would be a great day. The pavement just kept going and El Jefe’ asked when we would get onto the gravel. The theme of things just going on and on would be repeated throughout the day.
When the pavement ended the fun really started. The washboard was as bad as I’ve ever seen it and since we would be returning on this part of the course I made a mental note of the location and where the least sucky lines were.
We passed a woman who was grinding her way uphill. “Is my back tire going flat?” she asked. The soft surface was slowing her. It is a cruel truth that the displacement of the surface as you roll over it sucks the energy from your legs. While we can talk about frame stiffness and rolling resistance all day but the effort to go the same speed uphill on gravel compared to pavement is huge.
I later passed someone and offered some encouragement as I passed, “Good work.” They replied, “You probably ride this shit every weekend?” “As a matter of fact, I ride here quite a bit,” was my reply. It was silent as I pulled away. If I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t do it.
The effort and the sunshine warmed us and we pulled off vests as we climbed and climbed and climbed. We reminded each other to eat and drink ahead of the food stop.
Some kid in cargo shorts had stolen one of our team jerseys
We aren't sure who he is but I got a picture of him pinching the ass of another rider
At the first food stop we refilled bottles and stretched. I shared with Joe that the climb as soon as you leave the food stop was ridiculous but that it would settle down. I recalled the horror I felt embarking on this section in 2014. I was thinking, “They can’t be serious?”
The loose rocks and steep grade lived up to the “Too steep to sit, too loose to stand” billing. Soon we climbed past Rogers Lake and the top was in sight. Don’t think we’ll be there in five minutes I cautioned the two first timers in our group. The road makes a big loop as it ascends to the pass. Coz said he heard the pass referred to as “Skull and bones pass.” It sounds fitting. He warned our group about the final kicker at the end.
Looking up the road I saw a cyclist who was coming down. He approaches fast and my mind searches for something funny to say. Then I notice he has blood on his nose and down the front of his face as if he has a bloody goatee. I’m speechless, he has obviously crashed and is heading back down. Look away Evo, look away.
The fire road here was sandy and finding a good line was difficult. Instead of a well-worn path that revealed the best traction the sand revealed the weaving of previous riders searching for grip. “Maybe here? No, maybe here? That sucked. Let’s try this one again…”
At this point we had been going uphill for two hours and the trifecta of fatigue, altitude and extreme grade meant the man with the hammer was waiting near the top. The grade kicks up to almost 20% for the final push and it’s loose so you have to maintain some speed or you spin out. You have to stand but you are forced to keep your weight back to keep traction. This places a strain on your quivering quads that often tips the scales into the Kingdom of Cramps.
Within twenty meters of the top I saw a rider dismount and walk the last bit, dropping his head in a combination of resignation and exhaustion. Look away Evo, look away. At the top the wind cuts us to our core and we quickly layer up for the descent.
The road down is rough and we take it easy. In 2014 this part of the course was like a pile of jagged rocks littered with riders fixing flats. Two years had allowed the rocks to sink into the soil but it was still ugly. Last year it was rough and this year it was rough and washboard.
My curse on long rides has been adductor cramps and my theory is that the trigger for me is descending out of the saddle. I suspect the strain of hovering over the saddle is something I really don’t train for and after lots of climbing holding that one position leads to cramps. Kind of like a long traverse on a snowboard where you are on one edge exclusively for a long time then you get leg cramps.
Thus as I went downhill I really tried to sit as much as I could. If I didn’t see washboard I sat. When I had to jump a rut or go over rough stuff I got up, otherwise I was in the saddle. El Jefe’ and I were keeping in visual contact of each other which provided me a couple chances to slow down.
A truck was passing us on the fire road so we pulled to the side to let it go by. Just ahead I saw Joe and Mike also stopped. After the truck passed Joe and Mike resumed the battle. El Jefe’ and I shed layers before setting off. We wouldn’t see Joe and Mile again until we arrived at the Barn. Good job guys.
Bold and gold
This area is called Tiffany Lakes and it is remote and beautiful. The fall colors were strong. That may seem like a strange description, but it is accurate. Bold golds and browns against grey snags, silver granite and a bright blue sky with white clouds.
The road here was smooth and we enjoyed ourselves. This is why we came.
Joe and Mike getting smaller and smaller
We climbed and descended two more times in journeyman fashion. After reaching the last of the three peaks that highlight the first half of the ride we were ready to drop down to Conconully.
There is a cruel joke when you come around a rough and loose left hand downhill turn and the road kicks up in your face. The grade is fifteen to twenty percent and although you climb less than a hundred meters it feels like a dirty trick because you thought you were done climbing for the morning.
My mind had managed to forget about this feature and thus I hadn’t warned El Jefe’. We fought our way to the top and regrouped with Mr. T and Coz.
We still had a staggering about of altitude to lose and we pointed our machines downhill. Sections that you could rail last year were washboard festivals. I spotted a water bottle that had been ejected from Coz’s bike and scooped it up. In the next five minutes I added a second water bottle and a stray tire lever to my pockets.
When there are round smooth rocks that are partially exposed they call them “babyheads.” This part of the course had been graded and it had kicked up jagged rocks that were like clothes irons placed randomly on the road. I am hereby coining the phrase “Clothes Irons” and hope it sticks.
Fire roads in the Cascades are often rutted and have washboard sections but this year was something special.
When we reached the pavement for the final run to Conconully we were relieved and let it fly. We heard a gunshot and passed a fellow taking target practice with a handgun. There is just something about the second amendment. We were going pretty fast but I think the targets looked like Hillary Clinton.
As we approached Conconully I became keenly aware that it wasn’t warm. They sky was cloudy and I hadn’t shed any layers despite our drop in elevation. I had a wind jacket waiting in my drop bag and my memories of getting cold on the climb to Baldy Pass last year were heavy on my mind. I resolved to carry every article of clothing I had out of Conconully.
Coz "chillin" in Conconully
At the food stop there was a young fit-looking woman who was wide eyed. She asked about the rest of the route. I told her the climb was long but steady. She said she was pretty trashed and offered the quote of the day that opened this post.
At the food stop I was fairly efficient. I emptied my pockets of trash and refilled them for the duration of our journey. I stocked my top tube bag and swapped the battery in my GoPro. I ate some crackers and the salt tasted good. The reapplication of chamois cream was done discretely and soon we were in formation and heading west.
I had an interloper on my wheel but when the road began to climb, he quickly and quietly vanished. We settled in for the climb that “just goes on forever.” With virtually no traffic we had the road to ourselves and our group of four moved more like an amoeba and less like a paceline.
The sun came through and it warmed up and we stopped a couple times to shed layers. With my vest, sleeves and full gloves in my pockets I rode uphill and enjoyed the warmth of the sun.
The grade was not steep but it was unrelenting. We were five hours in and there was an unspoken nervousness about this climb. We all wanted it done. El Jefe’ went off the front and we let him go. Coz had some stomach gurgling and wasn’t eating so he knew a bonk was lurking. I recalled cramping on this a year ago and tried to moderate the debate in my head between wanting to speed up and get to the top or slow down and be conservative. Mr. T seemed his usual jovial and unflappable self but this day is hard on everyone.
Up, up, up, up
The surface was pretty good but now and then we had to hunt for better lines. At one point, Mr. T was on the edge of the road and asked Coz and I if we thought he was okay or if he was risking a flat. “You’re fine as long as you’re tubeless,” I replied in jest. He said he was running tubes but they were slime tubes so the he was “mostly tubeless.” I furthered the logic and said that if that was the case he should be “mostly fine.”
That thin line is the road we rode to get here.......
This route has one right then one left turn and then you ascend on the south side of a ridge for what seems like forever. We were heading for Baldy Pass which is predictably next to Mount Baldy.
You can see Baldy from way down the valley and it looms ominously between you and the finish.
At this point you are watching your distance and elevation and wondering if perhaps one of them is wrong. The top is supposed to be 106k in and be 1,940m high. I remembered El Chefe and I leapfrogging each other here last year as we both battled cramps and hypothermia. I was glad I wasn’t fighting those battles this year but I was tired and anxious to finish climbing.
As I rounded a right hand corner I recognized the final kicker which my memory had mercifully hidden from my consciousness for a year. The question in my head about distance and elevation was suddenly reconciled. Yes I had less than a kilometer to go but indeed I did have another hundred and fifty meters of climbing.
“Don’t do the math,” I told myself. Too late.
I found my 36 cog and said a silent prayer of gratitude to Horst. The difference between a 32 and a 36 in back on this course was the difference between ridiculous and diculous. I was nearing the top and checked the elevation. My tip sheet was accurate and within twenty meters of the top I thought to myself I didn’t cramp.
At that exact moment my right adductor muscle cramped and the man with the hammer had found me. “Not today,” I said out loud and powered through the cramp to reach the top. I coasted across the cattle guard, stopped and put on all of my clothing.
I was feeling black and white
Sleeves, vest, beanie, wind jacket and full gloves all went on. My knee warmers and shoe covers had been in place since I put them on at the cabin before sunrise.
We formed up, reverently leaving a space in honor of DG, and flew downhill. The surface was smooth, fast and confidence inspiring. As we railed the road the gold leaves on the sides of the road flew past. Looking down the valley we could see we would be dropping for a long time.
We had paid the dues to climb this high and had earned every inch of the descent. We reached the last aid station and I filled one of my two empty bottles. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to drink again until we reached the pavement and that by then there would only be time to drink one bottle.
We set off and I knew the wicked washboard loomed ahead but I was smelling the barn. El Jefe’ went off the front and Coz and I paired up. The washboard started off bad and then got worse. It felt like I was riding in a clothes dryer. I used all of my tricks to work through it but even so at times my beloved Boone was rocking like a jackhammer.
Same guys different event
Up ahead I saw Coz bounce almost to a stop and I could sense the silent profanity that he would later confirm. My hands and arms were beaten from the cumulative vibration over the long day. Coz and I regrouped, launched again only to have the pounding repeated. We were ready to be done.
When we finally reached the pavement El Jefe’ was standing there trying to regain feeling in his body. We exchanged F-bombs. I reached down for the drink I had been looking forward to and found an empty bottle cage.
My other bottle was empty and the closest water was at the finish. We waited for Mr.T to roll up. We prayed that he didn’t flat. We were ready for pizza. A minute or two later he rolled up and we invited Dr. Castelli to join and began the last leg of our Fondo. Dr. Castelli joined but was soon dropped.
The roller coaster descent is a carnival of descending fun. Big ring up front and this is as close to flying as you can get. We pointed out the potholes to those behind as we were zinging down the road.
This is the kind of pounding we took.
Soon we are back on the East Chewuch road with yellow lines and everything. We form a pace line and drill it into town. I’m feeling energetic and take a couple long pulls at the front just because I can. I claim the uncontested sprint for the town line. One minute later we make the turn and we’re done.
They hand us finishing patches and I put it into my top tube bag. I’ve got seven or eight of these in a drawer and sooner or later I’ll figure out what to do with them. It’s trivial but at this moment I’d fight anyone who tried to take it.
Pizzas were consumed at an alarming rate
McWoodie was there and only when I ask does he mention that he finished fourth. We ride on to the Barn and have a slice of pizza. Then Coz and I ride back to the cabin and reflect on a great day. Nobody got hurt. Everyone finished. That’s a good day.
Dinner was a group project that worked better than expected. We enjoyed soft tacos, rice and beans. We listened to the stories of those who finished ahead of us and they took in our experiences as well. We raised a toast to the missing Dave’s and welcomed our new friends Mike and Joe. Brad shared the details of his cramp-a-thon and Mr. T proposed a faith-based solution.
After dinner we hit an awkwardness similar to the end of a first date. We were unsure if we should socialize or collapse into bed. After a few minutes of pretending to be energetic, reality overtook us and we bid farewell to the Mazama contingent and before they were back at Brad’s place the lights were out and we were in bed.
I tried to get comfortable and fall asleep but everything was sore. My hands were sore, my forearms and shoulders felt a warmth that happens after a weight workout. My legs were tired and my low back ached. My neck was stiff and my chest was tender from breathing hard for nine hours. Finally I told myself that was as good as it would get. I closed my eyes and dreamed of riding away from the man with the hammer.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Just when I thought I had finished my search, my long time supplier stopped carrying my chosen undercarriage care product, Buttonhole.
I went to the trouble to email the supplier who told me they had decided their nether region selection was excessively broad and were consolidating. My emails direct to the manufacturer failed to get a reply regarding direct sales so I find myself at a crossroads.
Reading reviews by schmoes like me only fuels the confusion and confirms that we all have opinions.
Not too long ago I found myself ready to set off on a ride without any dippity doo. One of my brethren had some Paceline Chammy butt’r. My recollection of that product was less than flattering but it was this or nuthin. I took a squirt and found the stuff was thicker (better) and stayed in place better than I remembered. It turns out they had changed their formula.
With new players in the market and changes made by the old players it is time for some real life testing to figure out who gets to ride between me and my chamois.
Without getting all laterally stiff and vertically complaint on you; the only way to test products is head to head. Or in this case, taint to taint.
The challenge is to see if one or more of these can unseat the current champions; Buttonhole the everyday chamois cream and Morgan Blue Solid a.k.a. the Flak Jacket fo yo Ass.
It took three shipments from two different stores to stock the test bench.
Testing is underway and I will let my pain be your gain. When I have some opinions I will share. Until then I’ll just remind you that if you love it, lube it.
I grew up in Southern California rooting for the Dodgers and listening to Vin Scully on the radio. What is unfathomable is that other people can also say that who were born in seven different decades. Vin is retiring after broadcasting for the same team for sixty-seven years.
Back when black and white was called TV and the channels were numbered two to thirteen and AM radio was called….. radio, Vin was the voice. I had a small radio in my room and I listened to scratchy top 40 rock and roll on KHJ 930 during the day and Dodger baseball at night.
Of course I was oblivious to what an outstanding broadcaster we had in Vin Scully. His lyrical voice would paint the pictures of the sun setting from Chavez Ravine and the men contesting for glory on the diamond.
He seemed as happy to share the games with me as I was to soak them up from him. He was a consummate professional and through his conduct and words he imparted a reverence for the game and a humanity that transcended sport.
He was never one to seek glory or insert himself into the situation. In my mind his greatest call was of a walk off home run at Dodger stadium. He relayed the count and the pitch and the hit. Referring to the opposing outfielder by name he said, “He’s going back, back, to the wall, if it clears the Dodgers win.” Then he turned the microphone to the field and let the roar of the crowd tell the story. It seemed at least half a minute before he spoke again.
Soon after I moved to Seattle I attended a Mariner game in the Kingdome. I was appalled at the carnival atmosphere that I encountered. Let’s dwell on that a second. A still-young guy from west coast hip-central in Southern California comes to old school Ballard-flavored Seattle only to be shocked by what felt like a lack of respect for the game. Beach balls were bouncing around in the stands and the music they played was not the same as Helen O’Dell at the Wurlitzer Organ in Dodger stadium. This wasn’t the baseball I grew up with.
Over the years I would occasionally catch a game Vin Scully was calling. At times it was a playoff game broadcast into my home or a Dodger game when I was on business travel in southern California. Hearing his voice and his cadence of calling a game was a table piled high with comfort food. It was like finding your favorite pair of jeans (that still fit) after having been lost for two years.
His legacy is more than baseball and more than his humanity. His legacy is the decency and kindness he instilled into generations of listeners just by being himself. Thanks Vin.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Speaking of Cruel Truths; As El Chefe’ said the other day,
“Lycra should not be available to the general public.”
We all know that intervals are the secret sauce for speed. When you are young the recipe is a pretty simple. If you train hard you get the results. Just like the bank; you put money in now and withdraw it later. Those willing to pay the price find success.
When I was a competitive runner we alternated hard days. One day was hard intervals and the next was hard distance. It seemed we just traded pain intensity for pain duration. Easy days were the Thursdays before the races on Fridays. If only that youthful resilience came in a can…..
In those days we ran intervals and the stopwatch told us the truth. Like many tools that measure training it often told us what we already knew in real time; I’m good or I’m cooked.
When heart rate (HR) monitors first emerged they did the same thing but only in real time. “I’m working hard let me check my heart rate. Yep it’s high.” When that technology evolved to a point where it allowed us to record our efforts and look at them later we got lazy. We stopped measuring performance with a stopwatch and relied on HR alone.
Much of the time this is fine. As your speed ramps up so does your heart rate. Over time you can see a stunningly accurate correlation of heart rate and speed.
This is great until it isn’t.
When you are doing intervals and using HR as the exclusive metric you lose the ability to identify the point at which you fall into the abyss of cardiac drift. Cardiac drift is the point at which your performance drops but your HR remains high. So as you look at your HR it looks like you are still kicking ass but in fact you are just getting your ass kicked.
All of the literature tells you that when you hit this point you should stop your hard work and just cool down because more work in this session will not benefit you. The cruel reality is that if your only metric is your HR then you may not know your performance has dropped.
The first four intervals hurt and you went fast. The fifth one hurt just like the previous four but you were significantly slower. If you don’t have a way to quantify that you slowed down you are likely to just keep flogging away. Not only is this flogging not helping; it is probably hurting you.
The world of cardiac drift is a purgatory populated by middle aged men seeking the magic unicorn that is the sweet spot of their training. Elusive to the point of being mythical, we chase the dream.
Could there be a worse reality than the realization that a portion of your really hard, hard work was at best useless or at worst detrimental to your targeted outcome? Such is the joy of cardiac drift.
On some recent training sessions I have found myself in the drift zone. It reminded me of a quote I read recently which said, “In the west we only realize we are lost hours after we actually are lost.” I’ve had some sustained hard climbs where I was thinking, “I’m going fast, HR is high, I’m going fast, I’m going fast, HR is high, I’m going fast….. I’m not going fast anymore but my HR is still high, I’m blown.”
Can I just lay down now?
While this is a sinking feeling I am grateful I can occasionally recognize it enough to back off and recover rather than slug my way onward and grind myself into dust.
I figure that training is just like a lot of things in my life; by the time I figure it out it will be too late.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
As soon as I read the email I knew the ride would be hard and that exactly what I needed. Gravel, over fifty miles in the hills and a full contingent of murderers.
Oh yeah, this would hurt.
When I pulled up I spotted McWoodie loading up his bike. When he turned to grab his bag I picked up a tire iron and shoved it into his front derailleur cage and reefed hard but it did not break. I tossed the would-be weapon into the back of the van unnoticed and went and got my bike.
When we had six fast guys and me we piled into two cars and headed out. We arrived at the parking lot, unloaded the bikes and put on our costumes.
The sun was out and we opted to leave the arm warmers and vests and bet on the day getting warmer. Soon we were rolling on double track that included loose pea-sized gravel. We formed a couple mellow pacelines.
Hey kid, right side of the road !!!!
This part of the ride was on the Iron Horse Trail and we encountered some traffic including a lad who we assumed was English because as he was heading toward us from the opposite direction he wanted our right (his left) and so we all swerved and took the left track.
After a handful of kilometers we turned right and the climbing started. Einmotron, who was an excellent ride host told us the road would get steeper and looser as we climbed.
We're going there
In true murderer fashion Einmotron, McWoodie, Big John and Brad set off and got small quickly.
Look close and you'll see the road cut. We're heading there....
Coz, El Jefe and I formed the chase group and danced between the ruts. With altitude the views opened up. The grade didn’t let up but wasn’t excessive.
Steeper, steeper, steeper
The B2 Bomber is resting at the cabin so I put some fat rubber on the Blue cross rig and assembled a saddle bag and was hoping for the best. On the first descent I was keenly aware I wasn’t on the super stable Boone with the Miracle Max hydraulic discs. It took the better part of the day before I was comfortable on the Blue.
El Jefe, A.K.A. Mr. Stuff was the Minister of Hydration on this ride
I failed to follow my own rule which is that when riding with Einmotron you better load the course on your Garmin. Thus as we neared the top of the first climb I didn’t know how close we were until our ride host, Einmotron came zipping down to check on us and rode us back to the top.
One of our group dressed like a deer and one had a flat
More up and down and some fast riding. We regrouped often and aside from a flat from our one rider NOT on tubeless we pretty much kept going. The road was rough enough that there were water bottle ejections on some washboard descents.
The ride took me to an area that was new to me and it was supercool. The only drawback was there were lots of people exercising their second amendment rights which made me glad I was wearing an orange helmet.
A washed out road required a portage
At our next stop McWoodie mentioned he was having trouble shifting. I guess my jab at his derailleur had worked after all.
Calories are the currency of long rides
As the ride wore on the sun got hotter and our water was running low. After a long climb we regrouped and then Einmotron announded we only had one more climb aside from the final push along the Iron Horse Trail which is a zero to two percent grade.
Fun, Fun, Fun
We set off on the descent that led to the last climb and somehow I fell in with Brad and Big John. When the climbing started I worked hard to keep my pedal stroke round. Big john was out ahead and I focused on my own effort.
Before long I was two bike lengths behind Big John and watching my HR approach my weight. The road twisted back and forth and the sun and shade made it hard to see the good lines. One minute I had great traction and the next I was bouncing on washboard and losing momentum. Then I’d cut the corner and find it was loose.
At one point on the climb I swerved to the right to take what I thought might be a better line only to spot Brad’s front wheel out the corner of my eye. I pulled back into my line on the left side of the road to let him pass but he didn’t pass me. By now Big john had twenty meters on me.
Once again I focused on my cadence and hip flexors and drew close to Big John. By now it seemed I had been climbing for fifteen minutes and Big John started to gap me. A minute later Brad passed me ever so slowly and then I tried to hold his wheel.
That didn’t work.
Soon Brad was far enough ahead that I lost visual contact on one of the many twists in the road. Then I looked up and saw Big John turning his bike around as Brad rolled up to him. I pulled up and I was baked.
Maybe it was just me but I was so tired everything looked a little Rapha at the top
One of the things I really appreciate about Brad is that after a hard effort he acts like it was hard (take a lesson McWoodie).
Nice try boys....
I guess the answer to why Big John was smiling is either that he was done climbing or that he had dispatched all of his teammates.
The rest of our band rolled up and then we started down. My jersey felt cold as my sweat evaporated on the descent. It didn’t take long before it was dry and I was comfortable again.
The roads were better on this part of the ride but my canti’s aren’t Shimano hydraulic discs and I used some caution.
Look at the mountains in the distance
For the final run back to the parking lot most of the guys formed up in a paceline and I recalled a bad experience pacelining on gravel so I kept a few bike lengths behind.
We finished, got dressed in street clothes and headed back to Seattle. I can’t say how it was in the van full of murderers but in our car we were all tired.
I may be crazy but when I’m showering after a hard gravel ride and the water is all dirty from the dust coming off my legs, I smile. I smiled big on this one.