Saturday, March 28, 2009

Party Pardee - Next Saturday

Party Pardee is coming up next Saturday, and at 65 miles and 4,150 of climb, I think I am more than ready, so will ride an "easy" 40 miler on Tuesday and take this weekend off. After the 60 mile ride to Rescue 40 hours after a hard 33 miler to Beal's and then two 40 milers back to back on Wednesday and Thursday this week I am more than ready. The big risk at this point is over-training and tearing up my legs, which are frankly still a bit sore.

Between my two bicycling groups there are over 30 people signed up, most of which I know, so it should be a fun ride. I will try to start slow and ease into it because as my fitness level increases it is more and more important that I warm up adequately. I've read about it, but recently, I've been experiencing it too. Slow at first is better. On a super-strong day I have a feeling I could ride it in 3:30, but will shoot for 4 hours this early in the season and keep my eye on the Mt Hamilton prize in mid-June - my personal goal for the season.

I am intrigued by the Auburn Century though, and if I decide to train for that, I will attempt to ride the Mt Hamilton route and then peel off half-way back to the start at San Antonio - where the Mt Hamilton and the Century routes go in opposite directions - where I'll join the Century route. This will make for around 15,000 ft of climb and ~ 150 miles. I'll have to see if I can get the route sheets for both. (I'd like to see them offer this as another ride since it wouldn't add to their SAG or logistical loads)

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From here to there

Thursday, March 26, 2009

You Might Be a Bike Fanatic If ...

  1. When driving you slam on the brakes at a light and try to twist out of your brake pedal
  2. When speeding away from the light minutes later you're annoyed that your right foot still hasn't clipped into the accelerator pedal
  3. You nearly rip the steering wheel out of your car trying to jump over a pot hole
  4. You find yourself yelling 'LEFT' on the freeway
  5. You spend more on energy bars and Gatorade than on gas
  6. Your REI dividend check is bigger than your tax refund
  7. You spent more on bike computers last year than your PC
  8. You're heading out the door on a Saturday night and realize you only own two pair of shoes that don't have cleats attached to them
  9. You're a guy and you own a delicates bag for your laundry
  10. All of your T-shirts have race logos on them
  11. Your boyfriend splurges and takes you to THAT restaurant. It's not till being seated you realize you wore sports bra under that sheer silk blouse
  12. You have sexual fantasies about Pearl Izumi
  13. You have more water bottles than water glasses
  14. You have a brand new spare tire for every bike you own, but your car tires are bald
  15. You have no idea where your car jack is located but know just where to find those 2 extra chain links you put in a box 3 years ago.
  16. You have no idea where to find a lingerie shop, but can find your way to every bike shop in town blind drunk, and know their opening and closing times by heart.
  17. You've told at least one girlfriend you'd reconsider breaking up with her if she slept outside so your bike will stay dry
  18. You've unzipped your sleeping back, pushed out your chest, told your boyfriend you love his ruggedness and promised him that sexual fantasy he's been bugging you about for the last year if he sleeps outside. As you wipe your bike down with his last pair of clean undershorts, the sky opens up with a deafening clap of thunder. You roll over and sleep like the dead without a single pang of guilt.
  19. When grandma takes the kids for the weekend you shun the soft porn and stay up to watch live coverage of the Tour de'France
  20. It has the same effect.
  21. When you discover they've stopped making your favorite flavor of Gatorade you become hysterical
  22. You cancel an elective surgery because it interferes with your training schedule
  23. Your mother-in-law dies while you're traveling to a race. You send flowers.
  24. Your bikes are all gleaming, but you haven't washed your car in a year
  25. You park your car outside so you have more room for your bikes
  26. He gives you a huge rock when proposing. Your first thought is for that kind of money he could have bought a carbon fiber tandem
  27. You take 3 sports vacations a year, but haven't vacationed with family in a decade
  28. Your parents live 2 states away but you decide to just bike there
  29. Your VISA card statement shows you did business with 57 vendors last year. 3 didn't sell bike stuff.
  30. You drop $300 on a helmet because none of the 6 you already own is the right color
  31. After downsizing half your department you find your riding partner a job so he doesn't have to leave town for work

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

RX for Road Rash

Hands-off, micro-porous, spray-on liquid bandage

Sooner or later we all get to that day when our luck runs out and we limp home with a bad case of road-rash. Even Lance Armstrong has those days. I have found a very effective way of treating road-rash as a by-product of learning to care for a friend with a severely impaired immune system.

The remedy has two parts. Cleaning with Hibiclens, and then shielding with a Curad Liquid Bandage. Hibiclens has fantastic property - it soaks into your skin and continues to kill pathogens for 6-8 hours when protected by a liquid bandage.  

Hibiclens (chlorhexidine gluconate) and the Triclosan used in anti-bacterial soaps both break down into ammonia compounds, so have complimentary chemistry, and doing the initial debriding with an antibacterial soap like Dial (lasts 45 min) gives Hibiclens a near sterile environment to start from. This insures that adequate amounts of ammonia are available to kill any residual pathogens should they emerge from deeper in the skin.

DO NOT USE with a lye-based soap such as Ivory Bar Soap. The lye will react with the ammonia and release all of it immediately - destroying Hibiclens' time-released properties.

Hibiclens is an excellent, non-irritating, pre-surgical wash, safe for hands and skin. It is sold at Wallgreens stores, and except for letting it sit on the skin for a few minutes to soak in, works like any other soap. It will NOT damage skin like peroxide or alcohol, which would almost certainly cause scaring. 

Debriding can be done with a surgical scrub brush, but I find those to be overkill for typical road rash. They are made for cleaning intact skin before surgery, not shredded flesh. It's important to get the wound clean, but not cause more damage, as this will delay healing and cause scaring.

Better is a microfiber cloth, usually sold as dish cloths at the supermarket, because both Triclosan and   Chlorhexidine Gluconate are mildly degraded by organic materials - like the cotton of a cotton washcloth. You might also try using the sleeve of a heavy fleece jacket. These will often brush the sand and grit off the skin, and will create a nice lather that will lift debris from the wound surface, all while being very kind to your skin.
When Hibiclens was sold by Regent they had a great web page link to Connecticut General Hospital which recommended that anyone about to undergo elective surgery shower with Hibiclens the night before and morning of the surgery. It is also very effective for acne, and I personally find it very helpful for ridding my scalp of sores that seem to crop up where the straps of my helmet attach to the hard plastic thing in back. One or two applications is sufficient. It is a liquid soap. Leave it on the wound a few minutes to maximize penetration.

CAVEATS: Since it penetrates and bonds with flesh far below the surface there are a few places it should NEVER go.
  1. Eyes
  2. Ears
  3. Girl parts (betadine is the go-to antimicrobial for this application)
  4. Boy parts with lots of nerve endings (need I say more?)
The Curad bandage sprays on as an aerosol, dries in about 5 seconds, and stays on for 2-3 days. Neosporin can be used to lube the surface for chaffing, but it will suffocate the skin under it and delay healing. Neosporin has some significant risks. Use intelligently and sparingly. It is now sold in a hands-free spray-on package. I carry one in my saddle bag.

In a pinch, 99% isopropyl or 70%+ ethyl alcohol mixed 50/50 with Ceapasol (cetylpyridinium chloride) mouthwash makes a good anti-microbial. Cetylpyridinium chloride was approved by the USDA for sterilizing meat and vegetables and showed 10-log kills 30 days after application, so it's very, very persistent. I just don't like the alcohol on raw skin.

The glycerin in the mouthwash buffers the alcohol very effectively to prevent burning, although it tends to dry just a bit sticky. Anything you can put in your mouth is going to be pretty gentle on rashes. Alcohol concentrations less than 50% are ineffective, so omit entirely below these concentrations. (all mouthwashes used to have 40-50% alcohol until a few years ago when concentrations above 20% were shown to cause an increase in mouth cancer)

A bit off topic, except perhaps for compound bone breaks, but for deep penetrating wounds honey is about as good as it gets for externally applied anti-microbials. Any veterinarian that cares for horses knows this. Certain kinds of honey are preferred for this use as bees add special compounds to the high sugar content - which adds to sugar's primary mechanism of high osmotic pressure in killing pathogens.

For Century riders and Triathletes, showering with Hibiclens the morning of the event seems like a good precaution and will give you a good level of embedded protection already in place should your luck run a little thin.

Monday, March 23, 2009

VDO Z3 PC-Link Cyclo Computer

After months of researching the pros & cons of GPS units and this state-of-the-art stand-alone, I pulled the trigger and placed my order for this beauty today. There were a lot of pros and cons to be sure, but with a 20% off coupon from REI about to expire, and a fat dividend check I didn't want to fritter away on odds and ends, timing turned out to be the factor that forced my hand. Timing also because as GPS units get more reliable at somewhat lower price points, this stand-alone may no longer be available. I doubt any GPS unit under $1,000 will have a comparable altimeter.

If you've read up on Garmin GPS units in particular, you know that the best elevation, climb, and grade data comes from GPS units that contain a barometric altimeter that the GPS unit simply calibrates. Because of my experience as a private pilot, I am very familiar with calibrating barometric altimeters, so saw no advantage there in having a GPS unit do it for me. (being able to correctly set a barometric altimeter is a key question on both the 4-hr written test and the actual flight test)

I do think GPS makes a nice tool for mapping routes, especially for mtn biking where there are no roads (assuming GPS signals can get through) for MapMyRide or Bikely to use when auto-mapping, but the range of data being reported by the various makes and models of GPS units varies by so much there is no reliable estimate available. It's the old dilemma of the man with two watches never knowing what time it is.

VDO makes the instrumentation for Porche, BMW, Mercedes and several motorcycle companies, was until very recently owned by German powerhouse Siemens, and so has the impeccable quality that reviewers rave about. Its 5-yr warranty backs that up rather emphatically. I also wanted to keep my speed and cadence sensors, and add to that a high quality heart-rate monitor and altimeter. Sigma does not have a computer that will do HR, altimeter and cadence, and I have not been very impressed with Sigma reliability. Having all of that data recorded in 20-second intervals seems a waste if you can't pump it into your computer for use in your training logs and analysis.

For triathletes the Z3+ comes with a watch band and can be worn as a wrist watch - sans the cadence and speed data. The software, although documented in a tragically bad form of Germ-glish, is very, very good, and provides a wide range of analytic capabilities, as well as the ability to overlay the data onto a Google Earth map and then animate the ride using uploaded data. I WAS somewhat incredulous that I had to shell out another $50 for a cadence package because for $350 they don't include it. Fortunately, I was able to save about $15 by having it shipped to my local REI store where I will pick it up.

I am also secretly hoping that the VDO people will let me use their API so I can extend their software to do things they don't - like calculate 90-10% and 80-20% inner-percentiles, median and minimum cadence, and standard deviations on speed, heart rate, cadence and altitude. I also intend to write a real, understandable, English manual for the device, as one is sorely needed. I think this will be an indispensable training and planning tool and can't wait to pick it up on April Fools Day :-O

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Le Sacre du Printemps

Being the first day of spring, Friday was an excellent choice of days to stretch my still sore legs after the High Noon Rescue ride last Saturday. I decided to just go slow and see how it went, setting no goals nor expectations of myself. I headed down California St towards William B Pond park to ride a nice, slow, flat, ride downstream to wherever I felt it was time to turn around and come home.

Jeffrey coaxed a good pic out of his camera. The guy's got some talent.

I barely got on the bike trail before I stumbled across some of my bike buddies out for a spring celebration ride of their own. I did a quick U-turn and snuck up on them grinning impishly. As is more and more the case these web 2.0 days, I had corresponded many times with Jeffrey and Sara, but we'd never met in person. Nevertheless, we recognized each other immediately from the many pictures taken and posted on our website.

Phred and Sharel having fun teasing each other. A pretty silly mood all around.

We chatted a bit and they invited me to ride along on what they admitted would be a slow ride with them all on mountain or cyclo-cross bikes, and Jeffrey with a single-speed mtb conversion. Not wanting to push the pace at all I was happy to ride along in back and get my legs loose while catching up with the group gossip - sort of whether I wanted to or not :D The lack of any plan or time pressure was pure pleasure for me, and I chatted happily as we meandered down the trail and caught up with each other's lives.

Taking it easy, bringing up the rear. These girls can talk!

Their planned turn-around point was the picnic area under the Guy West bridge at CSUS campus. We found a few tables and broke out the food and drink while everyone talked to everyone else all at the same time. Somehow it all worked - even as we stole glances at the flood of students pushing off or slowing to go up the ramp to the bridge.

I guess we talked a lot. I was just thrilled to be sharing such gorgeous weather.

We got curious about the pounding sound we kept hearing float across the river toward us and decided to take a little de'tour onto the campus to see what was going on. Of course, about that time the band had taken a break, so we saw the drum corp, but didn't actually hear them until we had concluded our little tour and were back on the bike trail. It was a beautiful day though, and the first time I had been on the campus for many years, so a really fun romp.

Matching gloves! Sara's bodybuilding has turned her into a total hottie!

Heading back we paired off a bit differently and I got to spend 20 minutes talking to Jeffrey, who is Mr. fitness around town with lots of TV, Radio and internet media contacts. He's also one super positive, energetic guy and always good for a big lift. He's been helping the TBF people organize and run a duatholon of running and mtn bike riding and I have been increasingly interested if I can get my back to withstand the pounding of running again.

Sharel peeled off at William B Pond and Phred just past the bridge to the other side of the river. Sara and Jeffrey and I headed back to Bannister and I REALLY tried to stay behind them. Really, I did. The sun was setting fast though, and I still had 12 miles to go to get home, so when they ran into Kevin, who had been riding with them earlier, I bid them adieu and slowly ramped up the power, testing my legs and seeing how they felt.

Within a couple of miles I was locked and hammering in my new favorite gear spinning 90 rpms at 21.5mph. I resisted pushing any tall gears, but was really happy this happy-go-lucky ride had done an excellent job of working out the kinks and now I could put down 300 watts right along with no problems. The scenery kept improving as the sun set, the crimson paint on the dark water was breathtaking. I came upon the Sunrise Y, flew through the park, across the bridge and stood and hammered right up that short little climb that had been all but impossible last Saturday.

Calling "SIDE" 3-4 times as I went, the short ride to Bannister flew past. What a difference 6 days had made! The Bannister Pk approach went by easily standing on 38/27 gears and in a few minutes I was flying down Fair Oaks racing the setting sun. The air was turning a bit brisk as the front bringing rain on Saturday began dropping temps rather dramatically. Brisk as it was, that thick air powered me through the long rollers home at a pace that put some serious perma-grin on my face.

Thank you Jeffrey for the great photography. I owe you bud!

When I pulled up to the gate I couldn't believe I had just ridden 28 miles. Even the average wasn't bad at about 17.5 mph - with that sprint home doing a yeoman's job of balancing out the slow start. It was a great way to welcome in the spring, put a huge smile on my face, and a spring in my step. Just another day in paradise. :D

Friday, March 20, 2009

High-Noon Rescue - Part II

Old Folsom to Rescue Fire Station segment off bike trail

Just as I had remembered it, the steepest parts of the ride are the first couple of miles of Deer Valley Rd. For the first time since I rebuilt my crankset with 46/38/24 gearing I actually used my granny gear - for a few hundred yards maybe - and I was happy the up and down shift of 14 teeth worked without a hitch. I think the 24T granny actually is a lot more sure-footed downshift than the stock 30T was because when the chain drops off the middle ring it wants to drop straight down, not forward as the 30T requires.

By the time I made the turn I expected Bruce might be visible, but after looking over my shoulder a dozen times or so and not seeing him I decided to keep riding as the open pasture was being swept hard by the cold wind and my jersey was soaking wet from climbing. There were about 8-10 stout rollers left to go to get to the ranger station and the downhill a few hundred yards ahead was a welcome bit of fun.

As I started down the backside of the last hill I did a double-take, not quite believing I was looking at the little general store at the end of Deer Valley across the road from the ranger station. Deer Valley had been a bit longer than I'd remembered, but now it seemed to end a bit too abruptly. I guess I was in the zone, because it sure went by fast.

Pulling off in front of the firehouse I coasted into the picnic area, pulled a picnic table out of the shade of a 150 yr old oak tree, dug all the junk out of my jersey, laid down on the seat of the squeaky clean picnic table and stretched out my back and neck. Ten minutes later Bruce rolled by, did a U-turn yelling something about his favorite TV show being on at 3:00 and rode off. Translation: It's a race to my front door. Last one there's a rotten egg!

I had hoped to use the men's room and refill my waterbottles inside while he watched the bikes, and with the contents of my jersey spread out all over the picnic table, empty bottles and a full bladder, I had to do some quick thinking. I decided rule #1 was to ride my race. No, it wasn't a ride anymore, it was a race. I collected my stuff, put it back in my jersey, went inside, took care of business, and hoped my bike would be there then I got back. It was, but it's always uncomfortable for me leaving it unattended. I had put on my balaclava to warm up my neck while lying down, and the sticky rubber of my sun-glasses just wouldn't slide under it, so I paused yet again, folded it properly, and stuck it back into my jersey.

Finally, with everything stowed and filled I clipped in and started up the shallow grade that starts the climb back to the top of Deer Valley Rd at the turn where I had intended to wait up for Bruce. I did a little mental math and decided to make a goal of catching Bruce by that point - about 5 miles or so I guessed. I exercised some restraint to let my legs warm up and then put the hammer down. I came over a rise at about 2.5 miles and saw him 200 yards from the top of the next hill. I knew I'd catch him as he tried to climb the next hill and focused on getting to the top of the one he'd just crested. It went by in a blur and I came charging down the backside in a tight aerobar tuck and caught him 200 yards later halfway up the hill.

As I caught up to him I rode alongside catching my breath and asked him why the hurry. When he told me it was for a TV show I laughed. When's it on I asked. 3:00 he replied. What time is it now? 1:30 he said. The fastest roundtrip time for me was 4:12 minutes in the saddle, so I laughed and wished him good luck. Then I really put the hammer down. I beat him to the crest of the hill, and kept pouring on the power going downhill into a stiff headwind - one becoming less and less a quartering wind and more and more a headwind. I had exceeded my goal by far, catching him in about 3 miles - making up a minute and a half a mile in the process. As I made the turn I glanced back over my shoulder and Bruce was nowhere in sight, but not underestimating him I tucked in tight and hoped the pads on the Syntace C3s would help absorb the pounding from the really crap road surface as I went flying down "granny alley" hugging the center line to find some decent surface.

Flying across a narrow bridge that spans a meandering little creek so quaint it's right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, I was hoping I wouldn't meet one of the many "dualies" used to pull horse trailers up and down Deer Valley Rd with its endless horse ranches. I had about 2 seconds to worry before I was across the bridge and down in the drops downshifting for a short but steep 200 yard climb - Deer Valley's parting shot at cyclists who think they are going to coast home. I was tempted to go to my granny again, but decided to just stand and power over it. My legs felt really strong all the way to the top and as I sucked the saddle under me coming over the hillcrest, I hung onto the drops for dear life as a quilt of road patches threatened to break the bars right out of my grasp. I wondered how much my legs had left.

I carried as much speed as I dared through the right turn onto Green Valley, trying not to swing out onto the road. As soon as I was on the shoulder side of the white line I shifted 2 gears in anticipation, grabbed the aerobars, hunkered down and focused on watching for debris and setting up a smooth cadence. The wind was ferocious in my ears. The wind was 15-20mph right into my face and going down the long 3 mile grade I was turning 102rpms and making about 35mph. I couldn't believe how great my legs felt. The cadence wasn't strained at all, it was just flowing - smooth, steady, liquid power. Sure, I've hit 105, 110, even 112 before at the base of hills when shifting early, but this went on for 3 miles!

I was lucky and hit the first couple of lights on green, before having to coast up to one and roll it out before climbing up the next hill. Again, I just put my head down and cranked out the power. I hit the next light green and then hit an ugly one, visibly turning yellow and then red a mile up the road. Ugly because it was sensor triggered and impossible to predict. I tried to roll it out, but ended up down to 10mph. There was a rider stopped and unclipped waiting, and with heavy traffic I didn't want to go through the intersection side by side, so I watched and coasted. When the light turned I was 50ft back. The other rider was clipping in and rolling slowly, but saw me and moved right into the other road to let me by. With all the coasting I had also been downshifting in case I had to unclip. Now I didn't have time to come out of the aerobars to shift, so I did the only thing I could - spin for all I was worth. I got past him with 2 bike lengths to spare and was really moving.

I stole a glance at my computer - and then another - and then 5 seconds later another. It read 129 rpms and about 36 mph. I let out a whooping war cry and pumped my fist. "Cadence Rulz Baby". I heard a whooping retort and glanced to my left. A stunning blond in a VERY short mini-dress was driving next to me in a Miata with the top down, blowing me a kiss and smiling coyly. I had an audacious thought; maybe I could stay with her till the next light and chat her up. Hey, it was a day where anything was possible. As she sped away I checked the light ahead. It didn't look promising, but I decided it was good motivation and hammered hard going up still another 3-4% grade.

The light turned red and she was well back in traffic, so as I rolled past I blew a kiss in her general direction and kept going. When I got to the light it was red, but the traffic had cleared from the intersection so I carefully approached and then went through. It was a short 100 yards to the top of that hill. As I started coming down the other side, the 7 lane wide road beckoning me, I had a giddy thought - "damned, I could just time-trial this sucker all the way home!" I rolled that around in my head for a minute.

I was about 20 miles from home and while my legs were a bit sore from riding 33 miles just 40 hours earlier they were doing everything I asked and a lot more. I really had no idea where my limits were. My Acai spiked Gatorade seemed to be some kind of magic potent. Beyond strong, I was flying and testing myself with ridiculous challenges and then meeting and exceeding them. The few riders I came up on I passed almost immediately, and came down the hill at Rodeo Pk so fast I almost overshot the ramp down onto the bike-only switchback that took me to Old Folsom and across the footbridge to the west side of the river.

As anticipated, the wind along the west side of the river where the sheer cliffs funnel the wind was brutal. The Powerbar I had eaten while riding down the last of the downhills on Green Valley was gone. It had gone remarkably fast. I made a mental note that my Acai spike seemed to be accelerating the digestion rate and reached for more. The bottle was all but empty, so I took a few swings from the water bottle and kept my head down. As I pushed the pace along the long flat section approaching the Nimbus Dam my quad started to twitch - then spasm. I slowed, came out of the aero position and planted my hands in the drops. The wind slammed into my chest. I slowed some more. My right quad was joined by my left in twitching, in spite of cutting the power in half.

I made the exaggerated U-turn past the dam slowly and started wondering how I would make it up the Hazel Ave corkscrew - a very short 12-15% climb where the bike trail goes up a "spiral staircase" of asphalt before heading down the enclosed wire cage on Hazel where it crosses Lake Natoma. I decided to stand and climb it slowly. Big mistake! I got 20 ft up it and both of my quads locked up hard. I was lucky to be able to twist out of my pedals before falling over. I dug my thumbs into my quads trying to get them to loosen up. I was screaming in pain, legs locked, leaning into my bike hoping I wouldn't get hit by traffic coming down. People stopped and asked if they could help. I asked for Gatorade. Nobody had any on such a cool day.

I was in trouble and I knew it. I needed to get up this damned hill. I needed to get my quads working again, and I needed to get home somehow without being able to put down any significant power. Since the route from the bike trail to my front door was full of long rollers I didn't even know if it was possible. I was a little panicked, I admit. I had worked out with a gym partner who had torn his quad and they hadn't been able to reattach the head, so it moved freely under the skin of his leg, totally useless. God forbid that would happen.

I somehow waddled stiff-legged to the top of the corkscrew, leaned against a signpost and tried to stretch and shake out my legs. I unscrewed the top of the Gatorade bottle and drank the last few tablespoons from it, and then drained my waterbottle. It was then I remembered sweat flying off my face and hitting my jersey while flying down Green Valley Rd. I was collecting myself. Calmer now, I focused on the mental game. Play for time. Put one foot in front of the other. Keep moving. You'll get home. Just dig deep into your bag of tricks and by-god, by hook or by crook, get your sorry ass home.

I sat on the guard rail and tried to massage my quads. My leg warmers were in the way, so I rolled them down and started again. My legs were cold to the touch. Surprising. I felt for my Powerbar wrappers stuffed up the right leg of my shorts. I never litter, but over the winter had also found the foil Powerbar wrappers worked like little space blankets to stop wind and reflect body heat back towards the body. I finished the massage and then carefully opened the wrappers and placed them over my quads - carefully rolling the leg warmers and then shorts over that. They felt better almost immediately. OK, something was working. I was making progress. I just might make it home.

I kept trying to bum more Gatorade or energy bars from passing riders but to no avail. After 5 minutes or so I decided to try clipping in and riding downhill across the bridge to Gold Country Rd. I spun gingerly when the downhill flattened out, made the right turn onto Gold Country, kept the rpms up and slowly made it back to the bike trail. Anything more than 100 watts and my quads would start to cramp again. I was forced to crawl up hills I usually roll right over - sometimes down in my granny gear. I didn't want to risk tearing up my legs.

I made it back to the Y just before crossing the Sunrise foot bridge, unclipped and stretched my legs before hitting the drinking fountain. I filled and drained the 20oz waterbottle twice in under a minute, making a mental note that wind can really mask water loss - to the point of being dangerous. I rested for another 5 minutes and sipped water before topping off the bottle and heading across the bridge for the short but steep climb onto Pennsylvania and the short piece of bike trail to Bannister Pk. I managed to climb it in my granny and shook my head that this was the pathetic role my granny was now playing - nursemaid to get me home - and at the same time I was damned happy I had that option to call on.

One more challenge - the short but steep approach to Bannister Park. I tried my luck one more time, shifted down into my 24/27 gear and tried to keep the rpms up. Somehow my legs hung together long enough to get me up that grade and back onto city streets. It wasn't pretty, but my confidence started to rise. There was nothing between here and home that was steeper. I should be able to pull this off.

Slowly but surely I limped home, arriving at the front gate a few minutes after 3:00, hoping Bruce wasn't somewhere on the road needing help that I couldn't give. I lifted the bike onto my shoulder and climbed the stairs on very shaky legs, unlocked the front door and started peeling off wet clothes. The salt cake on my face burned as I washed my face and toweled it dry. As soon as my eyes were dry I picked up the phone to call Bruce's cell and make sure he was OK. As it was I stepped to the window at just that moment and saw him coming through the gate. I shouted down to him to make sure he was OK. "I should have brought Gatorade" he coughed.

I laid down under the ceiling fan, ate an energy bar to prevent catabolic muscle destruction, and drained a 24oz waterbottle. The neighbor's cat climbed up on my stomach and started licking the salt off my arm, purring like, well, a kitten. I was home and safe. I'd dug deep into my bag of tricks, kept my cool, and managed my way through the crisis. I'd made some mistakes, like not bringing a 2nd Gatorade bottle, and only bringing 2 Powerbars, and maybe doing two hard rides so close together, but I'd kept the mental game together and managed a respectable 4:15 ride.

At that moment I had a thunderous epiphany, for the first time since racing in my late teens, it was no longer my cardio or nutrition that was limiting me, it was my musculature. If you've ever laid on a hospital bed while they wheel you down a long series of hallways, the fluorescent lights flowing past as you twist and turn through pale green canyons destined for an operating room, and know you might well wake up with your chest cracked open like a cheap lobster with a lot of new arterial plumbing installed, or at least, a stent screwed into your coronary artery, you know what elation I felt in that moment. Not since jumping out of a perfectly good airplane have I felt such excitement. I'm sure I have limits, but for the first time in decades, I have no idea where they are, and can't wait to find out!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

High-Noon Rescue - Part I

With Party Pardee coming up in a few weekends I've been trying to get in a ride longer than the 35 milers I do up to Beal's Pt and the many scenic rides my riding club does on weekends. Party Pardee is only a 65 miler, but with over 4,000 ft of climbing I don't want to take it for granted. The weather looked great for Saturday, before the forecast deteriorated a bit, but when an old riding partner decided to join me I committed to going on Saturday.

When Friday night rolled around I went through the usual rituals of cleaning the bike, lubing the chain, running the drivetrain through its paces and fine-tuning the cable adjusters until shifting was smooth and the chain ran silently. I noticed that the Wippermann chain was even silent shifting over the 15,17 gap of my 9-speed 12-27 cluster. All of the cassette gears up to 15 are in steps of one tooth, so this gap has always created a bit of noise, sometimes even when not shifting, which I find very irritating.

I cleaned my waterbottles and carefully mixed a Polar bottle of blue Gatorade and Zola Acai berry juice. Not wanting to risk being caught with a mix that was too strong, I filled the other waterbottle with water and stuck them in the fridge. Since I had a half-dozen juice bottles in the fridge I decided to drink a Bolthouse Acai and Pomegranate as a cottage cheese and wild blueberry preserves chaser. My legs were still a bit sore from the ride to Beal's on Thursday so going 60 miles would be a good test of my spiked Gatorade's ability to speed recovery times.

We started out about 10:30 under blustery, overcast skies. Bruce hadn't been riding all winter like I had, so I let him lead and tried to stay off his wheel. It was a familiar role as he was my trainer and mentor last year, and did a great job of getting me in shape for my first Century only 6-7 weeks after coming off the couch. I hate riding slow, as it takes the weight off my legs and puts it on my butt - a bit sore too after riding to Beal's just 40 hrs earlier - but I kept my word and didn't push Bruce. We were rolling along between 13 & 15mph and I was finding it hard to warm up in bare legs and 15mph headwinds.

A mile or so past Bannister Pk we ran into a friend who had just come down from Beal's and warned us we'd be facing stiff headwinds coming home and wished us luck. Tom's one of those guys you listen to carefully when he speaks because he's done over 100 Centuries, is a regular on the Davis double, has done the LA Wheelmen double over a dozen times, and is a member of the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame. When Tom speaks, people listen. Clipping into my pedals and pushing off I remembered that the winds were forecast to shift from E to W during the day. We might end up facing headwinds in both directions.

After another 15 minutes riding into the wind I decided to stop at the Aquatic Center at Lake Natoma and put on my leg warmers. No point carrying them around in my vest when my legs were cold. It's not a comfort thing; my muscles just don't work well when they get cold. By the time we actually got there I noticed Bruce's legs were starting to turn beet red and assumed mine didn't look any better.

There was an event going on and the crewing skulls were out in force, with their long, lean lines, and shallow draws, they were carried past in droves as I sat on a milk crate, well-protected from the wind, back to a dark block wall which had been soaking up warm sunlight all morning. I took off my shoes and put on the leg warmers one leg at a time while the spectators began to show up in force. As we rode slowly away through the crowded parking lot, I was amazed how much better my legs felt. They had been a lot colder than I'd realized. I took the first long pull on my Gatorade bottle and felt my legs coming back to life.

It was getting harder and harder to stay behind Bruce. I needed to give my legs a stretch and get my core warmed up. We had agreed he would keep his heart rate in zone 3 and I would ride ahead if I needed to. I stayed behind him for another couple of miles until we made a sharp right turn and headed up a short hill. By now I was dying to put on some speed, so stood and hammered the climb out of the saddle for the 45 seconds or so required. As I crested the hill and sat down I stole a glance at the computer - 16.5mph.

I grabbed the aerobars and kept the power coming. I started passing slower riders in groups, until finally passing two very silly college girls out for what must have been a rare ride. As I went past them I checked my speed at 26 mph. Nice, but I'd lose Bruce in short order at that speed so I pulled over and waited for him to catch up.

The co-eds came riding by a minute or two later, laughing and joking. They asked if I was OK and I told them I was their designated pass-ee for the day. They smiled and thanked me jokingly allowing that I was the only one they'd passed all day. Bruce rolled by, I clipped in, and passed them again a half-mile down the trail. They waved and squealed out a faux protest as I smiled back at them and reminded them "payback's a bitch". It was one of those light moments that brightens everyone's day.

Bruce had picked up the pace a bit now, and was making 15-16mph right along, so I was happy to stay on his wheel, nicely warmed up now from my little sprint. As we came up through the back of the parking lot past Bicycle's Plus and Karen's Bakery I waited up just a bit and we went through Old Folsom and up the "secret" bike path up to Rodeo Pk. Neither of us wanted to stop for our usual break there, so we cruised past the new library and city hall buildings along E Natoma.

From that point on the climbing starts, mostly 3-4% grades down to Green Valley Rd, where we had to make a turn from the 5 lane wide E Natoma onto the 2 lane Green Valley. It's the one semi-hairy piece of vehicle traffic on the whole ride. We made the light without incident and narry a blaring horn. For the next mile or so we enjoyed the only tailwind of the trip and it felt wonderful to get down in the aero position and hammer. I was in my top gear, 46/12 and cranking out 29mph at 90 rpms exactly, looking around, enjoying the view.

We started to hit the stoplights between Sophia Pkwy and Eldorado Hills Blvd. I felt like I was pushing Bruce by staying on his wheel, so after sprinting through a light I kept the power down, grabbed the aerobars and started climbing hard. As I went up hill after hill I knew I was dropping Bruce further and further back, but we had agreed this was a base level conditioning ride for him and a training ride for me, so I kept at it until a nice wide spot in the road presented itself. I pulled over, turned sideways to traffic, and broke out an energy bar. I chewed it thoroughly and chased it with a few good draws of water. Bruce caught up a few minutes later and rode right by - typical. He never stops on Century rides either. He rides right past the aid stations.

I caught up with him on the next hill and we rode together again while my legs got a rest and I let some blood flow to my stomach. The spiked Gatorade really tasted good, so I over-indulged a bit, but I knew the heart of the climbing was coming up soon and I'd need that fuel. As we went up the next hill I was talking in conversational tones, and he was out of the saddle climbing. I was pushing him again. I took off and went up the final climb before crossing Green Valley and turning onto Deer Valley Rd.

I didn't see Bruce behind me, but decided I would wait for him up the road a steep couple of miles where Deer Valley makes a 90 degree right turn in open pasture land. We had been riding about 2 hrs, and while still almost an hour from the turn-around point, we were about halfway through the ride by time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bartender, Set Me Up!

Rowing team on Lake Natoma viewed from the "hitching post" off south side bike trail

After banishing the flu bug with a nice high fever, I took a ride to Beal's Pt again, and found something very unusual - water! Folsom Lake is blue again! It hasn't been this full since last spring, so the prisoners at Folsom Prison are enjoying a much "bluer" view while paying their debt to society. I had used the last recovery day putting new cleats on my shoes, adjusting the pedal tension, and raising the seatpost 4mm. I also took a few more links out of my chain and broke out my very favorite shorts, the Novara gel shorts.

Novara is REI's house brand, and for the first time in years, decades even, REI's house brand products are on par with anyone else's. The chamois is quite thin, about 4mm or so, vs the 7-11mm of Pearl Izumi, but that is some amazing gel. I sometimes get sore after a long, 4hr + ride wearing them, but it's at worst a dull achey sensation, not a sharp, chaffy burn-through. It also stays planted very well, not having the tendency of the PI shorts to want to squirm off to one side of the saddle or the other. I had to stop wearing them in Nov because when the temps drop below 40 degrees the gel gets too hard and stiff to be comfortable. The gel also absorbs a lot of cold and your privates are then pretty much sitting on an ice pack. I was happy to be getting reacquainted again with an old friend.

I had resolved to take it easy - at least for the first 5 miles or so, to give my body a chance to warm up and get reacquainted with the bike and adapt to the new seat position. With the thinner chamois and higher seat I expected the forward aerobar position to be a lot more comfortable, but was a little worried about possible pain in the back of the knees - the sure sign of a seat that's too high. I had also moved the cleats a bit to try to adapt the cleat better to my left foot's outward wander, and wanted to make sure I had it set right before I started hammering down the power.

The first part of the ride was slow, and even a bit weak. In spite of stepping up the effort level after 10 miles, I didn't set any new records to the split behind Bicycles Plus where the bike trail ends at the back of their parking lot. I used the stop at a couple of lights in old town Folsom to take long pulls off my Gatorade bottle, and hoped that would put me in good stead for the climb up to Beal's.

I used myself as a Guinea pig, spiking my Gatorade with Zola Acai berry drink. My goal was to see if I could reduce inflammation and increase performance by adding at least some anti-oxidant to the glucose produced from fat, liver glycogen, energy bars and Gatorade. It's somewhat insidious that the very process of oxidizing glucose to produce ATP in the muscles also produces free-radicals that can lead to a cascade of cell oxidation. One of the downsides of consuming the highly targeted foods we need for high output over extended periods of time, is many of the natural compounds that normally are attendant with our foods are omitted - fiber and antioxidants especially.

I used 2 scoops of Gatorade instead of the normal 3 for a quart (which is not at all helpful for filling a 24oz bottle, as a quart is 32oz) - which would have been perfect for 21oz bottles - and then dumped about 10oz of the Zola juice in the top of the Polar bottle before heading out the door. If I had worked out the strength of the mix I would have known better, but doing some algebra here it's obvious why the mix was too strong and gave me the mild cotton-mouth that too much sugar in a sports drink always brings on.

Fortunately, I had also brought a 16oz bottle of pure water, well, OK, tap water. Pure water would be distilled water, and that is of interest too, as it's lack of minerals or anything else in solution would lower the osmotic pressure of a Gatorade mix and may allow for more optimal fueling. Another experiment for a future post.

Alas, coasting down onto the replica of the old train bridge, with it's wood floor throbbing out a dull clatter, and making the turn uphill towards Folsom Dam, I just didn't feel as strong as on that amazing ride a month ago when instead of going up a 7% grade at 9.5mph, I somehow managed it at 16.5mph. After 10 days off with the flu and more, I was reasonable in my expectations and focused on finding a good rhythm and settling into a good form.

The asphalt is still pretty broken up at the start of the bottom steep but when a guy on a cyclocross bike with disk brakes passed me I decided to take up the challenge. I closed up a 25 meter gap in 90 seconds, and then stayed in the aerobars spinning up to 112 rpms to keep from having to move my hands down to the shifters while going through rollers and tight turns. I was on his wheel tight all the way to the construction zone where I passed him. It put a smile on my face, but it was far from my best performance.

Downing more of the spiked Gatorade I stayed in the aerobars, opened my diaphragm and focused on getting my wind back. By the time I made the right turn and headed for the swamped section of the trail where I soaked my feet, I was ready to hammer again. After gingerly trying to forge the flooded bottom of an underpass without hitting anything nasty that might be submerged and hidden, I got out of the saddle and launched up out of the dip and kept the power down until making the final right turn that starts the final climb.

I made one last check behind me to see if cyclocross guy had taken the ad-hoc gravel bypass to avoid getting wet feet, and found myself alone. I had noticed that I could safely slide my elbows as much as 2" forward to get more power in a climb by pulling my hands up until they are half off the bars. Settling in I saw a rider about 500 yards ahead near the top, and made a challenge of catching him before he finished the climb. Not very likely, but I liked the audacity of that hope.

Things went a little better here, and I managed to hold 12.5 until the final 100 yards when I dropped back to 10.5mph - and more importantly - caught the other rider just as he was making the turn for the parking lot. I had hit my legs a lot harder than I intended to, but at least I had something to show for it. It was also mid-afternoon, so no need to hurry home for a change.

Rolling up to the concessions building, long closed now, I was almost blinded by the brilliant blue coming off the nearly full lake. Ok, it's still 20-30 feet below maximum, but at least it's looking like a lake and not like a rutted jeep trail in early May. I drained my water bottle and then walked to the drinking fountain and refilled it and topped off my Gatorade mix. I laid down on the seat of a picnic table and stared up at the sky while I straightened out my back and stretched my neck.

The warmth of the sun on my face was a welcome change from cold, windswept winter days. I closed my eyes for a few minutes and caught my breath. When I opened them I was looking at tan-yellow trees with tiny, bright green buds just coming out against a robin-blue sky. Just then a red-tailed hawk glided expertly along the water's edge 1,200 feet above, skirting the shoreline where the dense, cold air over the water met the shoreline, warmed, thinned and rose in a constant updraft. The hawk was very still in flight, barely a dip or twist as he glided silently across the twig-laced foreground and brilliant blue background. No camera. My bad. This time of year is just gorgeous in California, I have to get a skinny camera for these occasions as they are not to be missed, and my A640 is a bit bulky to safely travel in my jersey pocket.

After a long 30 minute rest I broke open the Energizer Powerbar and chewed it slowly, waiting for it to dissolve in my mouth before swallowing. After reading up on maltodextrin last month I have resolved to use the salivary amylase in my saliva to help break down this starch, instead of spitting out what can be a rather ropey wad. (Gross! I know! ... in my best Craig Ferguson) Taking a few long draws off the water bottle to wash down last of the Powerbar, and dilute it a bit in my stomach, I rolled across the parking lot, powered up the driveway and headed downhill.

After some sparing going down the descent, I hit the flats past Nego Bar and settled into the aerobars for the backstretch of the ride home. I could feel the Powerbar's snap in my legs, and a quick glance at my computer confirmed my subjective impressions. I was holding 19-23mph into a bit of a headwind and passing bike after bike. In fact, from Negro Bar home nobody passed me - a trend I am growing fond of!

At Bannister Park one of the local girl's X-country teams was competing. There was a crowd of about 250 screaming "Girl Power" as I came up that little stretch of 12% grade and as I was about to pass the last of the crowd, noting the girls were turned and already halfway across the soccer field, I raised an arm and shouted "Grey Power". I laughed at what was actually a pretty good cheer, waved, and tried to hide my gasping breath.

The final stretch home from Bannister Park to my front door has a half-dozen long rollers, which I was able to attack and roll right over. I had no idea how the ride had gone in terms of my race against the clock, but hit the stats button as soon as my foot came out of the pedals as it keeps recording zeros for 30 seconds after I stop. I was pretty happy when I saw the numbers, and scaled the stairs, bike in hand, tap-dancing around my neighbor's black cat, anxious to check my ride sheet. I was pretty surprised to find I had just recorded my best time ever to Beal's and back. It wasn't my strongest day, but the aerobars still made it my fastest because I had cheated the headwinds on the return leg so effectively.

It's been about 30 hours now since I finished my ride, and I am quite intrigued that my legs are in pretty good shape. I hit them a lot harder coming home than I really should have, much harder than I usually do, but have had no discomfort and so will continue with my experiment putting Acai juice - about 2 double shots per 24 oz bottle - in my Gatorade made with 2 level scoops of powder. This could be big!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fueling the Ride

Sac-A-tomatoes has been inundated with a very nasty flu bug the last 10 days, and I seem to have had a near-miss. Literally. I got hit. It's more like it's black, hooded, maliciousness slithered past me while I was hiding behind my shower curtain in the midnight hour, but shower curtains being porous and all, I still seemed to have gotten dosed a bit. Still hoping to get in a 75-miler this weekend, but DAMNED I hate being sick. Sensory deprivation with a twist of achy fever!

Hoping to ride today, and not knowing I would wake up in soaking wet sheets with a raging fever this AM, I went shopping last night and scored some of my favorite ride fuels. Some, like the Acai juice drinks, (recession-laced price cut in about half btw) are more for before and after the ride, and the chocolate is for anti-oxidants. (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!) From left to right in the picture...

  1. Zola Acai with Blueberry Juice. Something new for me, it was about the same price as the Bolthouse drinks and may or may not have more Acai content. It is all organic and has a little Guarana' kicker with 24mg of caffeine. Weirdly, it also has some oil in it with 1,200mg of omega 3,6,9 fatty acids. Zola is from San Francisco, so it's blessed by the liberal Gods of planetary salvation. I gotta try spiking my Gatorade with some of this stuff to get some anti-oxidants with my ride fuels.
  2. Bolthouse Do Brazil Bom Dia is a new division of the Bolthouse family from Bakersfield, Ca. I was half expecting a small matter ~ anti-matter explosion in political sub-space with them in such close proximity here - sort of like seating Bill Maher and Ann Coulter next to each other at a formal dinner! The Bolthouse family has been making juices for 3 generations from their home-grown veggies right there in beautiful downtown oil derreks-ville. I love all of their juices and find their carrot juice, in particular, to be earthy and flavorful, without the sticky sweetness of Odwalla's carrot juice.
  3. Bolthouse does Acai in 3 or 4 different ways, and the Pomegranate is very good and perhaps even a bit higher in anti-oxidants than the Blueberry mix. I chugged the Blueberry bottle right after I took this shot (can you see the shaking of my addict's hand as my throat went dry with anticipation? :D ) It sent the flu troll siren-screaming from my presence, or so I hope.
  4. Powerbar Energizer - Fruit Smoothie - is my favorite rocket fuel. It works before, during and after rides. It has actual fruit, including fig and strawberry, and contains fructose as well as maltodextrin. The strawberry at least has SOME anti-oxidants in it. For 100,000 years at least, man has eaten fruit for fast fuel carbs, and all bundled up with those carbs was nature's own gift of anti-oxidants. Perhaps Mother Nature has had a chat with the Power People. In any case, a step in the right direction in my opinion. It also has 100% of your RDA of B vitamins, so while that maltodextrin is sucking up vitamins when being digested, this bar keeps your boilers stoked and protected at the same time.
  5. Powerbar Step 1 - Oatmeal Raisin - which surprisingly, has oatmeal and raisins in it. One of the things I like about Powerbars is the content of the bars actually changes with each flavor, so you can tailor your fuel to your body's unique requirements. Oatmeal is so soothing on the gut it will get you through the worst of IBS, or in my case, the best of diverticulitis. Both Powerbars also have substantial amounts of protein in them.
  6. Gatorade - Frost - mixed from powder at half strength, it allows me to dilute the sugar, and thereby control the osmotic pressure of Powerbars not quite dilute enough in the stomach. Failing dilution, any sugars in the stomach will actually pull fluids out of the stomach lining and make digestion pretty much impossible. Worst case the dilution results in an extra "nature break" or two, but will not leave you in gastric hell. As temps rise, and blood flow is diverted to the surface of the skin to cool your core, this dilution becomes much more important, as digestion suffers greatly. (missed the class photo here due to scheduling conflicts with the football team)
  7. Hershey bittersweet chocolate bar. It's all about the anti-oxidants! That's still my story. Notice how tenaciously I'm sticking to it? :D It makes me thirsty for still more skim milk after rides, as long as I don't overdo it.
To offer a little balance, I should mention what I think doesn't work.
  1. Cliff Bars - the whole grains take far too long to digest and will eventually pass through the stomach and small intestine undigested and will putrefy. The disgusting sound of the word "putrefy" is a good cue as to the resulting gastronomical malestrome that will ensue. Even if eaten while waiting for the US debt to be paid off, it's use of inulin, a fiber attractive to food mfgs because of its creamy texture, which cannot be digested, but loves to ferment in your gut, puts it in the "don't even go there" category. If you find yourself reaching for this product, just lift your bike up, slam it down on your leg sharply, attempting to use your large chainring to flay all of the skin off your shin. Trust me, that would lead to less discomfort.
  2. Cliff ShotBloks - which are mostly brown rice syrup. They are fine, but brown rice syrup is just too slow to digest to make good ride fuel. They would be OK when on a long break, or just before a long downhill like Mt Palomar, but then so would a couple of slices of pizza and a Coke. They come in many flavors, and some contain extra salt and some caffeine, and some both. They are sticky, are a mess on warm hands, and tend to slip out of your hands if you're sweating.
  3. Anything coated in chocolate, because in warm weather the chocolate coating melts and is a mess. If you are on the go your hands are instantly slimed with chocolate, so even on a downhill they are off-limits unless you are fond of the "hey look mom, no hands" riding style when going downhill 55mph. I have worked out a system where my keys are tucked under the left leg of my shorts, and my Powerbars under my right leg. This is because I have found I can handle, open, eat and stuff the empty wrapper back under my right leg using my right hand - while switching hands to stuff the empty under my left short leg usually results in litter on the road. I have lost keys from every other thing/place/person I have ever used to hold them, EXCEPT my shorts. If I am found running around in public without my shorts on, my keys are going to be the least of my problems! The spandex and rubber thigh-grippers seal keys in place through climbs, teary-eyed descents, brutal cobblestone, and bone breaking falls. In 30+ years I have never lost a key tucked into my shorts. My keys are on a ring with a mini-Border's Books card. One swipe and the Emergency Responders will know who I am and that I have a 25% discount coupon waiting for me if I survive - always looking for motivation! :D (The reasoning behind the mini-swipe card from Borders is that it's ID that isn't obviously ID. God forbid, if you should fall prey to foul play, there's a good chance it will be left at the scene. Always carry a good form of photo ID on you with contact info)
The glass colander contains Earl Grey tea. When really wrecked from a ride my food of last resort, even when very nauseated, is very, very sweet tea. How sweet? As much sugar as I can make float! A recent study has reported that caffeine after hard rides is very effective at speeding the replacement of liver glycogen after the 2nd hour. All I know is it makes me feel half human again after brutal rides - at least for a hour or so. Rinse and repeat as needed.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mountain Bike Aerobars

Nope, that bad crack you smoked in high school isn't muddling your vision, it says "Mountain Bike Aerobars". OK, I got'cha now? I didn't put aerobars on my mtn bike, but there is a very cool connection between my mtn bike riding and riding with aerobars on my road bike.

The weather was pretty good this afternoon (notice how I'm keeping you in suspense here ;-) so I decided to risk the incoming storm and get out for as much ride as I could pack in on rusty legs and wheezing lungs. I was pretty well carbo loaded though, having indulged in Haagen Das Acai Berry Sorbet last night. I don't know what secret compound is in acai, but it sure does make for a great ride fuel!

It took me a little longer to get out the door today, as I haven't been on the road bike recently due to the rains, and had to find stuff back, pilfer it back from my mtn bike, and dig it out of the laundry basket (ick!), but finally with fresh Gatorade in clean bottles, one of my new favorite Fruit Smoothie Powerbars (has actual fruit, fructose and 100% of B vitamins) throbbing through my veins, one in my jersey, and leg-warmers and micro-fleece balaclava in my Novara wind vest's back pocket in case the storm rolled in, I went out the front door.

Straddling the top-tube outside the front gate I pressed "Reset All" on my Sigma DTS 1606L and did one last check of gear as the flags flapped loudly overhead and the clouds darkened and moved more briskly across the sky. I clipped in, making a mental note to loosen the grip on the left pedal - a little experiment that failed. I was glad I decided to throw on the vest at the last minute, even though it was mostly a place to stow the leg-warmers. It flapped against my chest as I began going through the gears, picking up speed.

With all the rain over the last few days the trail up to Beal's is now flooded in places, and I really wanted to give the aerobars a good run on the flats, so I headed for William Pond park down California St, past the old Governor's Mansion and through the "rat's maze" that takes you through forests of Eichler style houses and thickets of dead-end streets to Arden and William Pond WITHOUT having to risk rush-hour traffic on Fair Oaks Blvd.

I was surprisingly sharp. My shifting was smooth, my legs had a lot of snap, and when I hit the jets going up a small hill I was off and flying. Surprising, since I hadn't ridden in almost a week. But of course, I had. I rode a nice long ride Saturday on my mtn bike. Humm. Nice.

As I rolled right onto the main parkway trail and headed downstream I went through the gears heading down a short downhill stretch and found my shifter pegged against the high stop - I was already in my highest gear. (I am running 46/38/24 chainrings in front for climbing... or should I say, C-L-I-M-B-I-N-G) I checked my cadence. I was turning 104 rpms. Something was wrong. I know my gear-chart for this gearing almost by heart, so I knew at that cadence I'd have to be going over 30mph. Sure enough, I was still in my middle ring, a 38T. I shifted into the 46T, my "biggest" ring, wriggled down in the saddle, stretched out over the aerobars, and put some power down while I still had some hill under me.

Leaving the park area I was turning 96 rpms and feeling strong. A few hundred yards later there was a slight grade, and then a bit more of a grade. I shifted one gear and tested my legs, hammering hard. I was amazed how strong they were. Eager even. I don't have brakes or shifters on my aerobars (yet) so I decided to test my legs, and went up that grade and down a few and through a series of rollers all in the same gear. I NEVER do this. The whole point of having granular gearing is to always ride at an optimal cadence for optimal efficiency. Right now though, it makes more sense to stay in the aerobars in a headwind than to come out of the aero position onto the hoods to shift - so a reasonable time for such a test.

I was having fun. I was passing bike after bike, weaving through traffic, dodging joggers and all while plowing through a 10-15 mph headwind. I went under the hwy-50 bridge and realized no one had passed me yet. Cool! Usually I am in a "dead zone" where I am too fast for slow riders to stay on my wheel and not quite fast enough to pull strong riders, so I end up riding alone or sucking on a strong rider's wheel. I hate doing this, but I like the feel of speed, and like to spin those out and give my body a taste of what's to come - at least I hope. Once in awhile I get to draft in a group and take my turn at the front. That's more my idea of paying my dues, and if I can pull a paceline, that's even better. No arguement about what that means!

As I approached the Guy West Bridge at Sac State I was acutely aware that my knees and thighs were pink and freezing. That wind was not only strong, but biting cold. I had intended to ride all the way down to Discovery Park, but really needed to stop and put on the leg warmers now, so quickly changed plans and decided to turn around there and then ride back past William Pond to Bannister Pk and return home from there. I turned, climbed the approachway, and dismounted. I realized I was going to have to take my shoes off and put on my leg warmers standing up, leaning against the bridge railing and watching for traffic out of one eye. Not too bad as it turned out, but taking the vest off to fetch the leg warmers out of the pocket my wet jersey felt like ice. As I put them on one leg at a time and tucked them under the bottom of my shorts, I got a knowing smile from a cute co-ed who's legs were pink as cotton candy. "Thank God I'm home" she croaked.

Just as I was starting to pull away a guy with a brand new Specialized Tarmac all decked out in 2009 DuraAce pulled up to put on some arm warmers. He built the bike up from the frame and had done a very nice job. We chatted for a bit about the Amgen Tour and he said he was from Idaho and was happy to be able to ride here in sunny California. It put my mild discomfort in perspective. I rolled out, clipped in and felt the tail-wind pushing hard at my back. Sweet!

Back in the aerobars I was winding it up again - 23.5mph and still accelerating. After a short stretch at 25.5mph I backed off a bit and was happy my legs were still feeling strong. I found a comfortable perch on the aerobars, dialed in and started pushing. I went 15 minutes where my computer never budged from 21.5 and 90 rpms. I love that feeling, where your body is just a machine, cranking out the watts, pushing you along almost effortlessly while you are free to enjoy the scenery, other riders, and dip a helmet to X-Country runners out for practice and enjoying the day. I like to tease them about trying out these new-fangled wheel thingies when I can. They always smile back with a wistful look. I admire them. Running is such a pounding. Too much so for old knees.

A mile or so before hitting William Pond again I noticed the tailwind had died, and I was getting some head wind. WTF? I plowed through this wind and now it was turning from tailwind to headwind? Sure enough, by the time I got to the bridge approach I had a slight, but steady headwind. As I looked over the bridge for traffic I saw the most gorgeous scene I've seen in two years. The deep green trees, the brilliant blue, dark blue and angry silver and white clouds were all hyper-colored by the backlighting sun. I cursed myself for not having a camera. That was one of my life's 100 great views. I slowed down and drank it in. The symmetry was so perfect, with the sides of the bridge framing the scene perfectly, the "heaven's gate" sun pouring through the billowing clouds, yellow sunbeams and churning blues juxtaposed perfectly. Truly astonishing.

As I headed down the back of the bridge I shifted into my large chainring in front and began to add power. Time to see how much the aerobars could cheat the wind again. As the initial descent off the bridge gave way to small rollers and tight turns I downshifted a gear and hit the brakes as necessary. Even an hour into the ride my legs were still full of iron. Accelerating out of turns and into increasingly stiff winds I thought about the physical challenges of my mtn bike ride on Saturday.

With lots of steep hills, fast descents and sandy flat sections that constantly turned, I had basically done 3-4 hours of wind-sprints. I have been increasingly aware of the physiological differences between road and mtn biking, but have never seen mtn biking as adding to my fitness level. Balance, terrain, shifting and braking technique, yes, but fitness level, no. I had ridden with the young, "fastest" group (~25 riders, we'd split into 3 groups, social, fast and fastest) and we had done some hard riding. It was great. The new fork and brakes on the mtn bike had performed flawlessly and I had a blast reveling in my new ride. I just didn't realize I had gotten in such a great workout.

The last 5 miles home from Bannister Park has a lot of large rollers and I stood and sprinted over them. It was such a great feeling to be that strong again. Almost like last summer when I could do that after riding 60 miles. I knew my stats would be good, so I kept the power down all the way to my front door.

I don't have a training log entry for the ride, because I'm not sure I have ever done that route before - maybe once. Door to door was 26 miles. I averaged 18.33, and my cadence was a new all-time high average of 87. Not bad when considering stops and slows for hydration, energy bars, and traffic. I'd guess my median speed pretty close to 20 mph and median cadence right at 90 rpms. Best of all? Zero people passed on the ride! So yes, mountain biking can make for some very strong riding - in aerobars. :D

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Training & Riding A Century

(Rewards for a lot of planning, preparation and one very long day!)

My first "Century" - actually a metric Century of 65 miles as no full Century was offered - is coming up April 4th, so it's time to start getting serious about distance training again. I have been riding all winter and am in pretty good shape right now. I did a 61 mile ride in mid-December and am in better shape now than then, and did a fast 4 hr mountain bike ride over the weekend with a lot of climbing, so, happily, I am in pretty good shape to start the season.

If the weather clears as expected, tomorrow afternoon I will go for my standard 33 mile ride to Beal's Point and see how full Folsom Dam is these days. With all the rains it was wonderful to see so much blue on Saturday's mountain bike ride. Having a standard ride is very useful in judging your overall conditioning. Just ride it on the clock the whole time you are in the saddle and keep some notes along with your computer's stats on an Excel spreadsheet. With standard rides you can compare apples and apples and know where you're at.
  1. Longer rides are much more beneficial in preparing for a Century, and riding a long 80-100 mile ride a week or 2 before the event helps both physically and psychologically.
  2. Long rides have a profound impact on your cardio-vascular system - BPs and resting pulse drop dramatically. Not true with short rides even if total mileage is the same.
  3. Buy a bike computer and keep your stats on an Excel spreadsheet you cobble together. In time you will find all kinds of things you'll want to add. Mine is growing all the time. It really helps you to track your progress. A Garmin cyclocomputer's software makes record-keeping much easier.
  4. When training, allow adequate recovery time, but no more. The line between over-training and losing muscle tone is usually less than 24 hours.
  5. Get lots of sleep, you will need it. Your body is going through more change than anytime since you were a teenager. Kill your TV, but make time for family. You want their support, not their resentment.
  6. In order of importance for endurance rides are electrolytes, hydration, fuel, heat management. ALWAYS bring stand-alone, supplemental electrolytes. Sodium is the key ingredient. Most athletic supplements use sodium citrate for ease of digestion, and better tolerance, but I personally prefer ThermoTabs, which are a time-released preparation of good old sodium chloride - table salt. If you nail your electrolytes, almost everything else will take care of itself. Excess electrolytes will be removed by your kidneys, so error on the side of too much. If your lower back starts aching, its probably your kidneys telling you to back off a bit, but that is massively better than having your heart racing from trying to maintain blood pressure with 3 pints of blood volume missing. In hot, humid conditions, I add electrolytes until my kidneys tell me to back off. It's be best management system I've found. Caffeine is the enemy here. It dehydrates you. Go without caffeine if at all possible.
  7. Within 10 minutes of finishing a ride eat one energy bar for fast carbs to prevent catabolic destruction of muscle tissue. It's NOT protein which prevents catabolic muscle destruction, it's an insulin spike. Within 30 minutes eat some good complex carbs. Fruit, carrot juice, skim milk, oatmeal are all good. (I put walnuts, wheat germ, raisins, cranberries, blueberries, cherries and almond oil in my oatmeal) Mashed potatoes are my craving, but with a glycemic index around 100, these are not complex carbs. I make a huge batch and keep eating for hours. Keep eating mostly high GI foods for at least 1 hr, and up to the duration of the ride in recovery mode. After this time window, high GI foods make fat, instead of restoring muscle glycogen. V-8 juice is low GI, and has the salt needed for recovery too.
  8. Within 30-45 minutes you should supply your body with a good source of protein to help repair muscle damage. Milk and eggs are the best natural protein on Earth. Whey, a milk extract, is the easiest and fastest to digest. The Power Recovery Bar has the needed fast carbs and 24 grams of whey protein all in one bar. Chew well, wash it down with pulpy OJ or skim milk, and you're good to go. Homemade chili with lots of beans and some range-fed beef is excellent, as is fish, which benefits from Omega-3's inflammation suppression. Plant proteins don't create ammonia as a waste product of digestion. All animal proteins do. That's why ride fuels use soy instead of whey.
  9. Skim milk is almost a perfect recovery food. It has sugar (lactose), protein, water, near zero cholesterol, and no fat. You will need the cholesterol savings for the eggs unless you eat just the protein-rich whites. Anything that bleeds makes cholesterol to protect its cardio system.
  10. Fruit, especially berries and apples, have the carbs you need for recovery bundled with anti-oxidants you need. Acai, blue, black and strawberries are excellent, but 8 of the top 20 antioxidants by typical portion size on the USDA's website are apples. Dark chocolate is excellent, as is the turmeric in curry powder.
  11. When you register for a Century, take note if it is being put on by a charity or a bike club. Bike club events always have at least some tools, good SAG, and appropriate food and energy drinks. Charity events typically have no tools, poor SAG, and lots of gastric disaster picnic food. YMMV, but take note.
  12. Eat very little "real food" while on the Century, and carbo load as much as you can in the 2 days before the ride. To carbo load you first have to strip your body of liver and muscle glycogen, and then gorge on carbohydrates LOW on the glycemic index that will continue to dribble glucose to your liver and muscles for long periods of time. I strongly recommend the stripping be done by substituting high quality protein. Eggs, milk and salmon are good choices, but anything but carbs will work. Don't neglect to eat your fiber. Beans provide both protein and fiber. Constipation makes proper hydration impossible and poisons you with toxins all day long as water absorbed primarily by the large intestine. It will kill your energy level and make you miserable with cramps. Fruit meets all of these requirements and provides antioxidants too. Short grain, sticky Sushi rice, with table sugar cut in when fluffing, is the cleanest ride fuel I have ever found, with a GI higher than pure glucose. NOTE: Contrary to the maltodextrin approach, where large, dense polysaccharides are broken down in commercial pre-digestive processes into 6-30 molecule polysaccharides, recent research has revealed that the Intestinal villi mucosa hosts large quantities of the amalyse needed to perform this reduction. As a result, more energy dense long-chain polysaccarides with highly branched structures are broken down quickly at the point of absorption in a combined digestive action. This is why, ironically, rice with a high percentage of amylopectin, a polysaccharide with up to 2 million glucose molecules, is much higher on the GI  than rice high in amylose , with 2,000- 20,000 glucose molecules (93 vs 64). Since the mucous in the small intestine has more than adequate amylase to reduce partially digested amylopectin into glucose, it's higher density works in your favor by reducing the volume required for any given amount of energy, and prevents cramping by avoiding sugar's high osmotic pressure, which causes cramping.  Starch is broken down into sugar in the mouth by salivary amylase, in the duodenum by pancreatic amylase, and in the small intestine at absorption sites by amylase in its digestive mucous. Not only does the stomach play no role in digesting starches and sugars, it actually arrests the action of salivary amylase. CHEW YOUR RIDE FUELS WELL, and swallow reluctantly!
  13. When you ride hard your body isn't going to be able to digest as much. Most of your blood will be channeled to your muscles, and when hot and humid, your skin's surface capillaries to dump heat. In adverse conditions, your digestive tract will get very little blood, and most of the food you ingest will pass through your upper GI tract unabsorbed, and putrefy in your gut, resulting in a gastronomical debacle. Fruit and starches are, to some degree, the exceptions, but even here, tread lightly. Mostly you will be burning starch and sugar supplied by ride fuels like Perpetuem, PowerBars, ShotBlocs, HammerGel, and Gatorade or Cytomax. The latter has caffeine and will tend to dehydrate you and make you go too hard too early. Save it for the end of the ride if you feel you need it to finish, or better, do without caffeine. .
  14. Break the ride into segments. All endurance athletes do this. Considering the ride as a whole is overwhelming. The aid stations are set up at intervals and do a good job of breaking the ride into segments, but if you need smaller segments, pick waypoints for targets. It's vital to just put one pedal in front of the other when you are alone, hot, tired, and feel lost. Play for time to get a 2nd wind.
  15. Never push yourself early in the ride, and avoid pushing hard enough to have you gasping for breath at any point.
  16. Pick a riding partner that knows this and won't do things that require you to catch up or exceed your personal limits. If you don't have a riding partner hook up with a group if you can. A group that is going too slow is best. They will be going fast enough by the 50 mile mark, trust me. They can also provide an effective draft in heavy winds.
  17. When on a rest break eat as early into it as you can to give your body time to digest the food, and drink water WHILE eating energy bars to dilute the sugars as much as possible to lower their osmotic pressure and speed digestion. Salt and sugar both create thirst due to the osmotic pressure they create. Salt is good, sugar should be replaced with high GI starch where possible. Recognize that Gatorade is providing both sugar and salt, and when you dilute the mix with water to avoid osmotic pressure problems (cramping), you won't get enough electrolytes unless you supplement.
  18. When resting, hydrate, then drink some more. I lose 8-12 lbs on a Century in spite of drinking all the time. That's 4-6 quarts of lost fluids. On hot, summer Centuries, with long climbs, 4 water bottles AND a CamelBak are required. Keep sipping, and top off before leaving. It takes time for your body to marshal 2-5 pints of water into blood, intercellular, and intracellular water. It's removed in that order of precedence.
  19. Almost all Centuries have a Metric Century option. It's a good idea to start with one.
  20. Pay for the full century. You are always allowed to ride a shorter route. Usually the 100k and 100 mile routes share initial segments, so you can make your decision 10-20 miles into the ride. Just ask at the registration desk for both route sheets.
  21. Have a clip mounted on your handlebars to firmly hold the route sheet so you can read it while you ride. If expecting rain, or profuse sweating, put it in a ZipLoc bag.
  22. If you think you're lost, the easiest way to find out, is to just stop and take a break. Even on sparsely ridden rides, if you're on the right route, someone will happen by within 15 minutes. On rides like Solvang, where 5,500 people are out riding, it's pretty hard to ever lose contact with the group.
  23. If you get lost, STOP. You aren't in a car. If you get lost you may not have the energy/stamina to find your way and finish the ride. Unfortunately, you will often feel lost when on a Century, even if you aren't. Deciding when you really are lost is a skill that comes with experience, but if you religiously use the route sheet, so you always know where you are, you won't get lost. The culprit here is almost always zoning for miles before suddenly realizing you don't know where you are. Stop and ask the locals. They have probably been watching fools like us ride through their town for years, so they will have a little laugh when you ride away, but a small price to pay for a successful ride.
  24. Even though Metric Centuries are only 62 miles, they are usually less than half as difficult. This is because the course designers usually put most or all of the challenging terrain in the part of the ride the Metric riders don't ride. When you step up to the full Century, it's a big step up.
  25. Many Centuries are laid out so the easiest part of the route is saved for the end. But not always, and unseasonal winds can turn that plan against you in a very bad way. The last 20 miles of a Century usually shows who got it right, and who is really suffering. If the ride goes as the organizers expected, and you executed well on a good plan, you'll be flying past many, many riders who are really suffering the last 20 miles. It really separates the men from the boys.
  26. Plan water requirements based on TIME, not distance. A solid 2 hour climb might only be 5-7 miles, but you will need at least a gallon of water on a hot day. Use a CamelBak if you have to, and especially on steep climbs where maintaining your balance while retrieving a waterbottle, and tilting your head back, is almost impossible.
  27. If you bonk find a cool place (freshly cut and watered grass under a shade tree is perfect) to rest, hydrate and eat carbs. Rest for up to an hour. The under side of bridges are usually cool and damp, with lots of cold running water to cool off in. Excellent. Cool off first, then lie down and take a nap.
  28. Start the ride as early as allowed. Heat forces your body to open all your capillaries to allow blood to flow close to the surface of your skin. This adds a huge load to your heart - as much as 25% more - which has to maintain pressure and flow to your muscles. It also means you have to carry more water weight on the bike. Capillary blood flows on hot days will starve your digestive tract for blood. Cut back on solids of all kinds and focus on proper hydration. It's impossible to ingest enough food under any circumstances to replace what you're burning. The goal is always to delay liver glycogen depletion -  never a 1:1 caloric replacement.
  29. Use SPF 50+ sunscreen. It's chemicals are sacrificial and are destroyed by the sun, so start with a big number.
  30. Carry a spare tube, patch kit, pump, minimal 1st aid kit for band-aids, aspirin, Advil, photo ID, and a bit/screwdriver with interchangeable bits that are stored in the handle. Ride organizers frequently DON'T have tools. Amazing, but true.
  31. Carry a whistle. You will yell yourself hoarse in 15 minutes. You can blow a whistle for days.
  32. Cell phones sometimes work. Worth bringing. Just make sure BEFORE YOU START THE RIDE, that you have a phone number to summon SAG. Amazingly, many route description sheets don't have such a number. Ask for it before you leave and write it in big letters you can see without your glasses in water and sweat-proof INK. Use a Sharpie dry-marker if at all possible.
  33. A Century is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Yes, it's a huge physical challenge. But whether you finish or not depends on your mental game, not your physical training. Be kind to yourself. Any finish is a good finish.
  34. Buy the bling. T-shirts, buttons, patches, pins - take'em all. They are great souvenirs and confidence builders for your wall of fame.
  35. Enjoy the ride. Most have gorgeous scenery, and the 2nd Century is usually much more enjoyable than the first. It gets a lot easier with experience. I have a friend who has done over 100 Centuries, including the LA Wheelmen Double over a dozen times. There is nothing remarkable about him physically just looking at him in street clothes, but he has an iron will.
Many energy bars contain maltodextrin, a common, industrial-grade, processed starch. It's chemical structure is almost identical to glycogen, and it is as close to sugar as a starch can be and still be a starch. It has one big advantage over sugar - it does not create the high osmotic pressure (up to 300 psi) that sugars do. The reason Gatorade is formulated for a 6% solution of sugar is because the stomach cannot work against the osmotic pressures of sugar solutions higher than that.

To get more fuel in your stomach requires something like sugar but without the osmotic pressure problem. Maltodextrin works perfectly. When you caramelize potatoes to make hash-brown, you are roughly putting the potato starch through the same process to make sugar, which still more heat then caramelizes. The Hammer people have more detailed documents on their site, but this is a thorough summary.

(Minimalist tool & 1st aid kits for a Century ride. Add 1 tube and patch kit)

The tool kit pictured is a Sears alloy shank bit driver with 2.5,3,4,5,6,10mm hex bits, Torx 30 and Phillips #2 bits. The T30 bit in the picture is in a ratcheting 1/4 inch wrench. By slipping the ratchet over the hex part of the bit you get 6" of leverage on any bit. The open & box-end wrench is a 6mm, which I need for my seat's pitch adjustment. I also carry a spoke wrench, inner-tube and patch kit.

The 1st aid kit is a Band-Aid box stuffed with aspirin, Advil, Tylenol, ThermoTab (time-released salt tablet) Xacto knife blade, and Band-Aids. The Leatherman Mica tool is in a neoprene case my SanDisk memory card came in. It has a high-quality scissors, tweezers, knife and screwdriver. (the Dept of Homeland Paranoia is supposed to let you take it on the plane with you too) The lanyard is threaded with very strong utility chord from REI. Using that and the body of my pump I can make a tourniquet for my leg or arm. The air pump is tied under my seat bag with 1/8th inch bungee chord. Don't carry a pump in your jersey. You're just asking for a spinal chord injury if you fall.

Carry cell phones, energy bars and extra water bottles in your jersey pockets. Early in the year you may need to stuff leg warmers and a wind vest in those pockets too, but those can also be wrapped in a grocery bag and slung behind you with a piece of utility chord.

A CamelBak MULE will provide still more options for storage, but can add to shoulder, saddle and hand fatigue, so carry water weight on the bike if hydration stops are plentiful. I have an AquaRack by Profile Designs that attaches to my seat post and holds two 24oz Polar bottles very securely behind my butt. In stiff headwinds I will only carry a single small bottle on the frame if using the AquaRack. You can reach behind you and use the bottles on the go. Very nice.

Plan very carefully, and pack everything in a Rubbermaid tub a night or two before. Good planning will go a long way toward making your ride worry free and enjoyable. Remember, the goal is to ride, and finish. It is not a race, it's a ride.

UPDATE - 1/28/2011:
I had a nice conversation with a friend who rides (and trains/seduces others to ride) double centuries. He flatly stated, and without hesitation or qualification, that inadequate electrolyte consumption was the cause of almost all DNFs. I heartily concur. In light of this, I've added more emphasis on electrolyte management in this revision. There's a lot here. Read as many times as you need to for success, and enjoy the ride!