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!

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