Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pushing the Envelope

I was overdue for a long ride on Sunday when I found a post on a local club's site asking for a ride partner on a steep 80-miler. We sounded pretty well matched, and I was interested to talk to him about how he lost 60 lbs in the last year. I also liked that the route took in my standard training route's return leg from the Rescue Fire Station.

View Larger Map

The first 20 miles or so we did with another rider who looked to be in his late 20's or early 30's, and at 6ft plus he had the long, lean body to be a great climber. This turned out to be true, as we did Beatty Dr in ElDorado Hills, and it is right at 20% grade. In spite of making good power, my current body weight doesn't make me a great climber. I struggled to keep the 4.0 mph AutoPause on the Garmin from getting triggered, and found it was turning on and off every few seconds, beeping like crazy, and generally annoying the hell out of me! (I reset it at lunch - whew!)

From the top of Beatty Dr through EDH, Cameron Pk and out into the country we were on a wholly new course for me. A familiar pattern set up where he would wait for me at the top of hills and I would wait for him at the bottom of hills. After 15 miles of this I realized I was trying to ride his ride too closely, and decided to free-lance a bit and just ride my own pace. It worked out much better and my heart-rate smoothed out a lot as I was managing my resources, not his ride.

After what seemed like an endless chain of hills through horse, cattle and Llama pastures, we reacquired civilization at Shingle Springs and stopped at SubWay for lunch. I was tired but stuck to my nutrition plan. I had my 3X Gatorade concentrate in the back bottle and when a trip to the men's room showed a need for more hydration I mixed up a full bottle and drank heavily as I chewed thoroughly through a delicious 6" chicken breast sandwich with no mayo or onion. No point asking for trouble!

My partner had something a lot less nutritious, no Gatorade nor electrolytes the entire ride, and an "orangish" drink with lots of high fructose corn poison in it. Actually, as much as I loath HFCS and think it is the root cause of obesity in America, it is not the worst choice for an emergency ride fuel, but consumed in addition to 2 Cliff bars earlier in the ride filled with very slow carbs, it would foreshadow a difficult 35 mi ride home for him.

After fixing a flat on his front tire, we headed out and he was complaining about how hard it was to get moving again after a "long" break. I was having no such difficulties and felt really strong. The German farm boy in me that used to work sunup to sundown, with few breaks in-between, still remembers how to recover fast - it's a genetic thing I think.

After a mile or two I took over the lead as we headed down a very rough connector road that took us back to Green Valley and Rescue. I waited up for him several times until he waved me on. He was 3-4 minutes behind when I had to wait at an intersection for directions, but we'd been riding for 30 minutes by now so I was beginning to wonder about his slow restart.

A few minutes later we turned left onto Green Valley and the Rescue Fire Station appeared out of nowhere across the road. I was thrilled. For the first time in 2 hours I knew where I was, and what lie ahead. I could manage my resources appropriately and get home having left it all out on the road. We again played cat and mouse on the climb to the top of Deer Valley road, but the match was a lot closer, and I caught him on the downhill section before T-ing into Green Valley.

Once on Green Valley we faced a steady wind at about 8-10 mph, so even though we were headed downhill on 4-6% grades, I was adding a lot of power, and keeping my heart nailed in the top of Zone 4. As usual I did this stretch as a cadence drill, and hit 135rpms and 41mph for about 1,000 yards. That HURT! At 102 - 118 rpms I had no problem pushing through the wind at 35mph.

Turning onto E Natoma there is a long, shallow climb of about a mile, before turning for Old Folsom or with the new bridge, across the front of Folsom Dam and down onto the bike trail. The new bridge is a very elegant way to get around Old Folsom, and all of the dangerous and slow traffic, but I decided to wait up to make sure my partner was OK and not just tired. He had talked about wanting to tack on another 20 miles and make it a Century early in the ride, so I was surprised it took almost 5 minutes for him to catch up.

We crossed the bridge and headed down the bike trail, and once again I dropped him, waiting up for him just past the foot-bridge at a water fountain. I waved at him and he just kept going. I smiled and told him I'd catch up. I did, and then pulled him along for a few miles before we came to a short 500 yard, 6% climb. My quads were feeling a little twitchy, but even in the saddle I managed to stay with him in the climb. I later calculated my power at about 400 watts on that climb - not my best effort, but not bad after 6,500 ft and 75 miles. (I think my 60-second max is right at 600 watts)

We said our good-byes and I headed home with my neighbor who showed up while I was again waiting - at the point where I went right and he left to get home. Talking it over it was obvious to both my neighbor and I that my partner for the day's nutrition had failed him badly and he had only been able to ride about half of the ride as a useful training ride.

I am increasingly aware of the crucial role nutrition plays as an enabler of what happens on the bike, of how fast and how well I recover, of whether I get sick after a ride, or am ready to go again the next day, and of how my hydration, heart rate and blood pressure react on and after long rides. I was also struck that in spite of the very steep climbs in the front half of the ride, my heart rate averaged about 10% higher on the 2nd half of the ride. The peaks on the climbs were in Zone 5, but for me, the real power was put down the last 50 miles. Weirdly, my heart rate and power went UP after the 2-hr glycogen exhaustion point. The ride total was 79 miles and 6,750 of climbing from MotionBased. (my AutoPause gaps were filled in by MotionBased AFAICT)

Crucially, I am on the verge of vanquishing the "Big-D" of diverticulitis by adding a fiber drink to my nutrition. This not only keeps me from getting sick after rides, but allows me to avoid the poisoning effect of a stuffed GI tract during rides. Water taken in hydrates this mass, but when it is taken back it is loaded with toxins. Chills, nausea and dead legs. The gel fiber also allows me to eat foods that I need to recover faster, even though they would normally be off-limits. (Man, I am so sick of talking about Big-D! Be gone!)

Post Morten:
I rode a flat 33 miler on Tuesday after a single rest day and except where I rode slow to enjoy the company of friends I met up with, I did the entire ride in high Zone 4 with only cold hamstrings complaining. The little 8% hill on the way home I just stood and stomped at 15mph and 638 watts! Instant Zone 5, but it sure put a smile on my face! My legs felt much stronger from the climbing ride on Sunday. Once home with a couple of Advil in me I felt great and had no leg or fatigue issues. No Big-D issues, and feeling fine today. I am just thrilled I am finally starting to bring everything together. Now I have to figure out how much I NEED to rest, and when I am just being lazy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Are You Wasting Power?

Women's Ruby with SRAM Red

Specialized Roubaix with SRAM Red. Note how top of sifters are ~ level with the bar top. This provides the maximum amount of forward reach for climbing

Tarmac racing bike with SRAM shifters and racing handlebars

Looking at the number and size of spacers, do you notice a trend here? Look at where the headtube's bearing race is relative to the top of the top tube on these bikes. With the arched toptube of the Tarmac, the bearing race is actually BELOW the top of the toptube - not sticking up 25mm (1 inch) above it like on the Ruby.

Look at where the top of the handlebar drops are - your drop position - relative to the bottom of the top tube. Now fire up the bike calculator (upper left of the blog) and remember that with 25mm of extra headtube height, a 20mm bearing collar, plus a 10mm and 2 X 5mm spacers, even when riding on the hoods your Ruby's position is "bar tops" for this calculator.

For a 150lb rider putting out 200 watts into a 5mph headwind the difference between "bar tops", and drops that are actually drops, is ~ 3.5 mph, and relative to aerobars, is almost 4.5 mph. Oh, and those aero bars are only actually aerodynamic IF they are mounted on handlebars mounted at a reasonable height. Now enter a speed of 20.07 mph in the Power from Speed calculator and see how much power you are wasting.

To go the same speed as your 200 watts will power you to in properly mounted aerobars, you'd have to generate 349 watts riding on "bar tops" - which is equivalent to riding on the hoods with a big stack of spacers under your stem. That's a 75% increase in required power to produce the same speed.

The best handlebar height is the lowest one your low back will tolerate. That will almost always change in your favor over time as your body adapts to the new position/s. You don't have to go all the way on the first date, you can move spacers from below to on top of the stem over time, but usually it's best to be aggressive as most people underestimate their body's ability to adapt. Ergonomic changes on a bicycle are a convergence process. Body adapts to machine, and then machine to body, and so on and so forth in an endless cycle.

The single most important factor in how comfortable you are on the bike is how much weight your feet are bearing, and thereby, how little your hands and butt are bearing. How will you ever get strong legs riding in a weak, upright position? Marketing departments like to sell plush bikes with seductively comfortable positions to new riders, but any serious rider should look to change such a stock setup ASAP.

So why set up bikes in such an upright position? Maybe so they can solve your speed "problem" with a more expensive bike. I'm guessing. I don't really know. I just know that 4-5mph is a HUGE increase in speed, more than going from a $500 bike to a $10,000 bike, so get out your 5mm hex wrench, maybe your hack saw, and enjoy the fastest ride of your life!

Cycling Past 50

This is the name of a new book I'm reading by Joe Friel, author of The Cyclist's Training Bible and scores of other books on competitive sports. This is one of the most hopeful books I have ever read. There is more and more quality research showing that regular exercise of good intensity virtually arrests completely the effects of aging on trained athletes.

Among a long list of physiological statistics reported from longitudinal studies are that cyclists and runners who continue to train regularly, and maintain the intensity of their workouts, lose less than 2% of their VO2 max capacity in the 10 years between their 50th and 60th birthdays! One large test group was followed from 45 to 55 and actually increased VO2 max by 5 ml/kg/min. Changes in BP remained statistically insignificant, and resting pulse actually dropped 5bpm. Even max heart rate only dropped from 177 to 170 from 50 to 60. About the only effect of getting older is a greater need for sleep and recovery time.

Just to let all of you 30-somethings in on the big secret, somewhere around 40 you will no longer be able to binge on coffee, push harder, ignore your fatigue, and make it happen. As the poster boy for Type A I am speaking from experience. Trying this is what led to a total collapse, a mis-diagnosis of chronic fatigue, and 3 years of recovery. The good news is there are simple coping mechanisms if you chose to deal with this reality and not try to ignore it.

First and foremost, kill your TV. Get to bed early enough to add 7-10 hours of sleep each week there. Failing that, learn to sleep in on weekends. Go to bed 2-3 hours early on a Friday night and sleep in till noon - or push that back a day if it works better in your schedule. Third, if you can, take a mid-day nap. Even a 20 minute nap will produce dramatic results. Now that I have a BP cuff I know that a nap, and good sleep in general, dramatically lowers BP. I can easily drop from 160/90 to 135/75 from a short nap. I also find a nap does a great job of "rebooting" my mind, and I am usually much sharper and more creative after clearing my mind with a nap.

I hate to say this, because it runs against the grain of being the good husband/wife, dad/mother, but you really have to be brave enough to be a little selfish here. If you are a professional and have one of those jobs where you are working on problems in your head all the time, ask around, and I think you will find these coping mechanisms are common practice for middle and senior management - especially naps. (keep this in mind if you need a favor from a senior manager) Explain this to family members and recruit their support. Decades from now you'll be an inspiration to them when you're still going at a pace within a hair's breadth of today's.

Yes, I wish so badly it hurts that I could still "power through" fatigue and just get it done, but by the end of your 30s, those days are usually gone, and I think when we understand the role of sleep better we will understand that pushing yourself, even in youth, is really about building up a sleep debt - one that has to be paid back. Beyond that, for any given day's performance, going into the event with a really good night's sleep is worth as much as 10% in terms of performance. If you lift weights you will notice this immediately.

So live well, live smart, play hard, but keep the sleep debt in check. It takes a heavy toll on so many of the body's systems that "beauty sleep" is truly the beauty that isn't just skin deep. There are many more decades of joy ahead for those that manage their physical resources well!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

90 mi ~ 6,500 ft climbing

I think I better eat my Wheaties, or just stay home and pretend I did this ride. Did I really put this one on my ride calendar? Really? Can I pretend I didn't? I wish I weren't having to ride this solo. Kind of remote in places, but if I can get this out of the way I can go play with friends this weekend. It should make a great 1st outing for the Garmin.

This omits about 30 miles from and then back to Carmichael Pk. I chose a bit shorter route to keep navigation simple as I may be pretty tired by the end of this ride and not want to fuss with finding my way through strange neighborhoods.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Muzzle me NOT

One of my pet peeves is responding to a product review and then finding out that since I offered actual constructive criticism, instead of an unrestrained sunshine butt blow, it gets tossed out by the site management. This just happened to me here. Then I remembered, I now have an independent voice that no one can muzzle. Without further adieu, here are my comments on this glee factory of a review.

Generally a nice review, with a few caveats from a guy who owns a Roubaix.

First, the 50/34 chainrings make ugly gears with collisions at (34-14, 50-22) and (34-16, 50-25) so two of those gears duplicate each other, meaning you only have 18 unique gears. You need the 34 chainring for climbing, so pitch the 50T and replace it with a 48T TA Alize chainring from Harris Cyclery and get lower and more granular gears.

Ugly gears with collisions and badly placed 34/12 gear

Second, this analysis is referencing a 12-27 cassette, not the stock 11-28, because as you correctly pointed out, the 50-11 combo is a waste. You'll do better just getting in a tuck. The 28T in the back results in a minuscule 0.1 mph reduction in the lowest gear's climbing speed, will make shifting more problematic, and require more chain. Swap it out for a standard 12-27 to get more granular gears in a more useful range. For a guy's bike I can see big chainrings. Guys think about gearing with their little head (how big is it?), not their big one, but gals should be able to stick to the facts and make an intelligent decision here. Specialized should give women more credit.

Beautiful, granular 48-34 / 12-27 compact gearing where the 34/12 gear plugs the 48 / 16-18 cassette gap perfectly

Third, the first time you do a long ride into a stiff headwind you will start looking at tossing all of those spacers under the stem so you can get into a lower position. Ditto for leaning down enough to get a forward position you can climb in efficiently - where your weight is on the balls of your feet. Riding in the flats faster than ~ 15mph you'll have the same requirements.
When you lower the stem by removing all those spacers from the stack, the stock stem will be too short.

People who are serious enough about biking to drop $3k on a bike are going to want a reasonable riding position pretty quickly. The stock "plush" setup does them a disservice because getting there will require a new stem and handlebars with a reasonable amount of drop and reach. You will also need to cut the steering tube when you toss 15-30mm of spacers - or ride with a dorky looking and dangerous amount of steering tube sticking out of the top of the stem.

Finally, those tires will start to get very annoying because they have an exaggerated cap on them that will require you to let the air out of the tires to get the wheels past the brakes when taking them off. They aren't horrible tires, but there are many, many better tires that have better shapes, grip and less rolling resistance. Michelin Pro-3 Race are a good choice. All in all, the Ruby is a great bike, but Specialized could equip it a little better.

An added note. You can lower your handlebars by removing spacers or by flipping your stem over so it angles down instead of up, or you can do both to lower it a lot. Stems come in different angles, so you can get pretty low if you wanted to. Generally though, if you are choosing between removing spacers under the stem or flipping the stem, always choose to remove spacers.

The reason for this is spacers move the attachment point of the stem up on the steering tube, and this makes the handlebars pretty rubbery relative to right down on the bearing or with a small vibration absorbing 2-3mm spacer under it. Even small, light riders will notice a difference when climbing out of the saddle. The more upper body strength you have the more this is an issue.

Before cutting the steering tube. Tailor made to break ribs!

U-G-L-Y and dangerous

After cutting the steering tube. Stronger, climbs better, cheats the wind

The handlebar stem bears more torque than any other part of the bike, save the bottom bracket. This is because when climbing out of the saddle and hammering, all of the off-axis torque your feet generate pressing down on pedals - far from the centerline of the downtube - must be offset by torque you generate with your upperbody which is then transferred through the handlebar stem and downtube.

It should also be obvious from this how inefficient it is to climb out of the saddle and waste all of that upper body strength - all of which must be fueled by starving the legs for carbs and precious oxygen. Even the world's best cyclists, when climbing Mt Palomar during the Amgen Tour of California, did NOT stand and climb out of the saddle. If you recall, Lance took the peleton up that very fast to suck the life out of any breakaway attempts - and he did NOT stand. There are times you should stand and hammer, but do so sparingly. Ride smart. Use your energy wisely.

Slo-Poke Recovery Ride

I was invited along for a ride with some friends Saturday, and we ended up doing 38 miles in about 2:45 minutes. With an average speed of 13.52 it was a nice recovery ride for me, and a good workout for them, as there were a lot of hills on the ride. They were not long, dramatic hills, but there was hardly a flat spot on the entire route. I was glad we started early, well, early for me anyway, because we have been having record heat the last few days and climbing long, twisty hills it got pretty warm.

I took it easy on the hills early in the ride, using my gears and cadence to do the work and keeping the muscle strain/torque in check. After about an hour, and a rest stop at a very quaint nursery which hosted an Olde Tyme coffee shop, my legs started to get loose - just in time for the hills. It was nice to be able to talk and catch up with friends while getting a good ride in, and with only 4 on the ride, there was time for real conversation.

I shunned the pastries at the coffee shoppe, and stuck to my ride fuels. Training rides are priceless opportunities to hone your nutrition. With heat comes a need for more fluids and electrolytes, and blood tasked to cool your core flowing at the skin surface is not available for digestion, so sticking with your nutrition plan and noting how your body responds provides invaluable info for race day when temps climb and you need to modify or abandon your nutrition plan accordingly.

After a few miles of relative flat we turned onto what should be called the Serpent's Back. The road twisted and turned so much you couldn't see the road ahead to even tell if it was going up or downhill 500 yards ahead. This area around Newcastle and Lincoln features roads laid out like a psychedelic spider web laid down over what are foothills to the Sierra mountains 20 miles further east.

At one point we rounded a bend and the road uncharacteristically was visible for a half mile where it climbed up onto the major highway in the area. I decided to test my legs, stand and hammer up it out of the saddle in a sprint. I really expected my legs to balk, but they were very solid, so as I got closer to the top I made it an all-out sprint. I found a great bike computer online that will calculate power from grade and speed, so wanted to see if I could top the 500 watt mark. Too bad I forgot my speed! Arrrgggghhhh!!!

After a short nap I grabbed my Garmin and knocked on my neighbor's door. He loves new toys as much as I do. We decided to go for a ride on Sunday to get an elevation profile for the section from the apartment complex to Rodeo Pk in Folsom - the launch point for most of our serious training rides. Unfortunately, he kept wanting to tack on more climbing and miles, so I was starting to have 2nd thoughts. It was getting late, I still had to make dinner, and the Garmin wasn't set up yet. When I got up Sunday morning I decided I had pushed my luck with my legs far enough, and could feel a bit of fatigue in my bones, so I called and begged off.

After starting my day at 6:00 AM Saturday, and then staying up till 1:00 AM mounting and configuring my Garmin Edge 305, I was happy to stay home and watch the Lakers kick some butt on Sunday. After 35 miles on Monday, 60 miles on Thursday, and 38 on Saturday I was tired. My legs though were holding up quite well. A very pleasant surprise.

It seems that with pouring on the protein, taking a few 300mg Co-Q10 doses, and a daily dose of 1000mg of vitamin C and a lot of calcium, magnesium, & zinc targeted at tendons, I had quieted the quad muscle and/or tendon area and it has now made a nice recovery. The extra electrolytes in my Gatorade might be helping too. With the heat that will be tested soon.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ride to Rescue - Redemption

Folsom To Rescue: Basic Route

Profile sans 29 "flatish" miles to and from Folsom from Carmichael Park

After limping home from this ride with great difficulty last month, I set out to have a strong ride to Rescue yesterday. I didn't have any Acai Berry to spike my Gatorade with, because all I could find at 3 different grocery stores was Acai mixed in a concoction with other fruit juices, all of which had too much sugar to keep osmotic pressures in check unless heavily diluted.

I decided to let this to be kind of a "control group" ride for my Acai spike experiment, so I carefully mixed up Gatorade, but added some Power Electrolyte foil sticks to the mix. The front bottle a full 24oz Polar bottle, I mixed as recommended, except for the added electrolyte spike. The back bottle, a short 20oz bottle, I mixed a 3X liquid mixture in and used a marked cap to clearly indicate the concentrated mix.

This is a nice hydration strategy, especially when doing an O&B where the return is into the wind. When at a watering stop squirt some concentrate into the main bottle and fill up with water. Err on the weak side, even if you have to drink some off the top and then drink from the drinking fountain to get both the bottle and what's in your stomach diluted to the correct amount.

The general idea is to avoid sugar concentrations higher than 8% as the osmotic pressure then causes your stomach to draw liquid out of surrounding tissues, making proper hydration impossible. On most bikes the downtube bottle actually creates more wind drag, so at the turn-around point you can empty all of the excess concentrate into the tall bottle, put it on the seat-tube, and then add water to the small bottle to create a 1X mix. Just remember to swap the bottle caps in case you bonk and lose your mind. It will remind you which is concentrate (about 2X by then), and which is 1X.

Clear cap for water or 1X hydration mix. Black ring with 3 stripes for 3X concentrate

The only hitch in this strategy arose because a key drinking fountain at Rodeo Pk in Folsom wasn't working and I had squirted a bunch of 3X concentrate in my 1X bottle to make more, and THEN discovered it didn't work. At that point I had no useful hydration at all. I first tried the sink in the men's room - ICK - and I couldn't fit my bottle under the faucet anyway. I turned around and slowly cruised around the ball diamond/soccer field to see if there was another. There was, but this was about 4 wasted minutes that all went on my Sigma computer. Aaarrrggghhhh!

The first part of the trip was pretty uneventful, with a moderate tailwind, although the 5:00 o'clock traffic was pretty heavy. Since the climbing is almost all in the first half of this route, I was annoyed that the tailwind was actually making the air more-or-less dead calm as I was climbing between 5 & 15mph. It made my long-sleeve jersey a little warmer than was comfortable, but once I remembered it zipped all the way open I was able to dump most of the heat I needed to.

Once I got through heavy traffic across Green Valley Rd, and onto Deer Valley Rd I stopped, hydrated and ate most of a Smoothie Powerbar. I folded the last 1/4 or so under the foil wrapper and tucked it under my right short leg. I have learned from experience that I can eat on the go with just my right hand and mouth if I tuck bars carefully under my R short leg. I put the wrapper back in the same spot when done. No littering, no sticky hands, no "look mom, no hands" riding. It's good "cockpit management". I started off after a few minutes and took it pretty easy for the first 5 minutes.

After a short uphill and a medium downhill I coasted down, I was into a solid hunk of steep. There are a few hundred yards that are around 18% grade, but mostly it's 8% or so. My legs were good, my cardio was good, and no complaints from my stomach. With my cardio now stronger than my legs, my nutrition/digestion is benefiting from the extra bloodflow. All good. Everything was working well. Nice and solid. I rode up to the Rescue Fire Station in great shape. No bonks, no strain. This was more like it!

I took a long draw from the drinking fountain while talking to the fire crew, and then cracked open another Powerbar. I used the spotless bathroom, took off my gloves and washed the salt off my face. It seemed like the extra electrolytes were just getting sweat right out again. Humm. OK. No harm, no foul, but worth monitoring. I came out of the men's room and the place was empty. The crews were all scrambled and out the door. A half-eaten meal was still sitting on the table with a fork stuck in it. I mixed up a little more Gatorade, and let myself out the front door.

There are some long climbs, some of them in the 8% range on the climb back to the top of Deer Valley, but once warmed up I had no trouble with them. I didn't feel quite as strong though as last time when I was chasing down Bruce. Was it the missing Acai berry? A few miles later after flying downhill towards Green Valley again, I felt very strong climbing that steep little departure kiss Deer Valley throws at you just when you think you're done climbing.

I went wide and turned hard onto Green Valley at close to 20 mph. The wind hit me like a wall, but I got down in the aerobars and started working the gears while headed downhill. The shoulder is pretty rough in spots along this section, so I took the road I needed to be safe and was adding power at 102 - 116 rpms - topping out at ~ 37mph. I'm not sure I would recommend wasting energy on this kind of speed, but with heavy traffic it was a safety issue. At that speed they would just stay behind me until I could find a nice patch of shoulder and they they'd pass en'masse. Besides, you pay for that speed climbing up those hills on this O&B, so it's really a blast to go blowing downhill that fast. OK, it's an indulgence, but I kept the exertion level in check.

I hit most of the lights favorably, and then had to "sneak" through the Salmon Falls light on a stale red, but mostly I was lucky and could carry my speed right through a half-dozen intersections. The downhill from Salmon Falls Rd to the bottom that forms Bass Lake was steep and protected from the wind. I pushed back until my thighs were hugging the very back of the seat, hands in the drops, feet level with each other, knees hugging the bar. I stole a glance at my computer at the bottom of the hill - 41mph! Not bad for zero pedal power! :D

I crossed the foot bridge at Folsom and headed down the west side of Lake Natoma. Just before the long lake-side stretch I started drafting a rider in his 40's who was obviously in shape and was riding a PowerTap rear hub. I tried to talk to him, but he had his earbuds in, so I just stayed on his wheel. He made a few weak attempts to break away but I stayed glued to him, trailing by 7-10 feet - as close as is safe with no brakes on the aerobars. He started fading and I backed off a bit, and then passed him in a straight, shallow climbing section of trail. I could feel the tug of his draft as the wind shifted back and forth, so knew he was still back there and close.

As expected he was playing for time, intending to make his move on a short 500 yard climb of about 5%. He went past me and stood. I stood when he came abreast and started to hammer. I immediately had to back off as my quads started twitching again, but at a slightly reduced power, they held up just fine and we came to the top together. He turned and offered some encouragement near the top - "that's the spirit!" he said, a bit too loud, so I assume over the music. We rode all the way to the Hazel Ave corkscrew where I decided I'd pushed my luck with my quads enough, and shifted into my granny. He stood and hammered up onto the bridge and went flying down the chainlink tunnel, veering right onto the bike trail.

I hate that route, because you have to kill all of your speed to make the turn at the bottom, because you have traffic coming from 3 directions, and because there is a much cleaner and faster way if you go one more block down Gold Country and then drop down onto the bike trail a half mile later. There's also a drinking fountain right at that 3-way intersection, so it's a horrible and dangerous choke point. I was riding above and parallel to him and could see he was tired and resting, so of course I went for the kill. We got to the merge point with me a little ahead so he was more than happy to let me lead.

He stayed on my wheel as I picked up speed - I didn't want to drop him so I pushed the power up slowly. I almost never get to ride in company anymore. Mostly I'm too fast, and the few who are faster are racers and bitch if I stay on their wheel. We got within a mile of Sunrise and he asked if he could offer me some criticism of my bio-mechanics. I thought I knew what he'd say, but wanted his opinion. He was dead on. I rock my hips too much and my knees come out too wide. The first a very old habit developed trying to ride a frame waaaay to large in my teens, and the 2nd I think is due to a 172.5 crank and a 29" inseam. I thought he'd stop at the Sunrise park, but we ended up peeling off in different directions so fast I didn't even get his name. It seemed like we were well matched, so I hope we can ride together again soon. It's lonely at the top! :D

I got home and subtracted 3 minutes for the Rodeo Pk water foraging and a minute or so in the parking lot at the Aquatic Center talking to a guy who I thought might want to ride along (the computer doesn't shut off for 30 seconds once it gets a speed reading, so circling in parking lots and foraging for water at 3mph are counted in the ride time and pace) and got 3:35 for a ride time. That's about what I expected after Party Pardee, because to me they are similar in difficulty. Next time I will bypass Old Folsom and it's many traffic and ped obstacles, and just take the new Johnny Cash bridge over to the Beal's Pt approach and then return straight down the bike trail. I like 3:35 a lot better than 4:12, and that confirms my suspicions about how much time my "broken" legs cost me limping home last time. All in all, a very solid performance. Now to break 3:30...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Riding Naked

On Monday, the 13th, I was finally recovered from my illness and decided to go for a flat ride down to Discovery Park. It's an out & back of 35mi and pretty flat and straight, except for a dozen or so moguls and a few, mostly broad turns. It's the perfect recovery ride when testing sore legs because you can go slow and spin if the legs are tired and sore, or hammer if they are feeling strong. If you over-do it early you can spin home on cadence and minimize the torque.

It was pretty windy, about 12-20 mph, but the bike trail is somewhat protected from the wind, so while there was a noticeable headwind going down, it was nice to have it at my back coming home. Btw, in case you're wondering, wind never helps you on an O&B, because you are heading into the wind where it is hurting you much longer than you are getting a helping tailwind after turning around. This is a basic question on the Private Pilot's exam. If you take off from an airport, have an airspeed of 100mph, and have a 50 mph headwind, your groundspeed is 50mph. If your destination is 500 miles into the wind it will take you 10 hours to get there, (you'll run out of fuel, crash, and embarrass the FAA) so even if Scotty beams you back instantaneously, it will still take as long to get there as traveling both directions with no wind.

I thought of this as I was riding "naked" without a cyclocomputer, as I had returned my VDO and was still waiting for the Garmin Edge 305 to arrive. With no computer to keep my head "in the cockpit" I spent more time looking around, enjoying the scenery. As I passed a gap in a solid wall of tree stand up on the levee, I heard the low moan and muted whisper of a C-130 in Coast Guard colors banking hard entering the pattern at McClellan. The wind was trying to blow him past his downwind entry point, and as he steepened the bank those whopping big 20ft, 4-bladed props bit hard and the turbines started to growl. The bright red and orange coloring on the silver Herc were a perfect juxtaposition to the lush green trees, cotton ball white clouds in bright blue skies, and the dark blue water of the American River. It was Sacramento in a nutshell. It was a moment I might have missed if I'd been watching my cyclocomputer.

The last time I'd seen a Herc that close up was Fleet Week in SF when the Blue Angles support Herc pulled vertically over the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge and climbed vertical, belly side towards us, 500 feet from our perch overlooking the bridge. The Herc is obsolete now as a tactical transport, due almost entirely to the relentless weight creep of the armored vehicles it is tasked with carrying. The USMC is trying to address this issue with the ITV, and has been since DOT declared their Willys Jeeps unsafe on domestic highways 30 years ago.

As a "restraint" mechanism I took my camera along and left my tires somewhat deflated from sitting for 8 days. No temptation to race with that much of a handicap. :D Discovery Park was so green it practically vibrated. The river was covered in 3-4" chop from the wind, but the docked boats made for a wonderful scenic view. I crossed over the bridge towards old-town Sacramento and found a whole new segment of trail. It was late enough I needed to save that for another day, but nice to explore the Discovery Park area finally.

After eating a Powerbar and drinking the top off my 2nd waterbottle I started home at a nice leisurely pace. With a nice tailwind pushing my along though, it wasn't long before I was cranking out some pretty good speed. As I warmed up and I got my legs under me I found myself hammering. I know my gearing pretty well, so I'd guess I did the last 8-10 miles at around 22-25mph. The tailwind definately made the speed easier.

The few miles from William B Pond home are pretty hilly, and there is one steep climb which I attacked. It flew by. I smiled and shook my head. This hill had been such a challenge last year at this time. Now it was a quick gear shift and a quick hammer. As usual, once home I found my face, helmet and jersey salt-caked, so just jumped in the shower and cleaned up. I had lost a pound of water, but no biggie. Not the usual 5-8 lbs like on long rides. (this loss is steadily decreasing as my hydration improves) Dehydration can be a big source of performance loss on long rides as it reduces blood volume just when the blood is tasked with carrying enzymes, glucose, oxygen, triglycerides, fatty acids and heat. It puts a lot of extra strain on the heart, risks heat stroke, and needlessly so.

I swallowed a couple of Advil for slightly sore quads and hamstrings, ate a huge portion of Garlic Fiesta Chicken, and slept soundly. A happy ending - finally - to the Party Pardee recovery.

A Tale of Two Recoveries

I got home from Party Pardee and felt pretty good. I drank about 20oz of OJ with a Power Protein Plus Bar - 23 grams of soy and whey protein and some fast carbs in a nice, neat package. The OJ is always with lots of pulp. My pulse rate was around 75, but BP was 110/55 - far too low to keep a tired heart happy. I needed salt to increase blood volume and take the strain of trying to maintain a normal BP on low blood volume off my heart. I had a craving for pizza anyway, so went to Round Table and ordered a medium deep dish and asked them to make the crust as thick as they could. More carbs. I ate half the pizza and then chased that with some strawberries and felt great the next day. A little tired, but pulse was 52 and BP 137/77 the next morning. My legs were sore, but not painfully so. I was amazed at how fast I had recovered.

The next day I was still pretty tired, and remembered I had finished most of my coffee mug after returning home, and had been unable to get to sleep until the wee hours of the morning. Caffeine is supposed to speed replenishment of liver glycogen, but it didn't seem like a good trade-off for lack of sleep. Tuesday I was hoping to go for a ride, but awoke with no energy and a slight fever. I had frozen the other half of the pizza in Zip-Lock bags and had been nibbling on them the last 2 days, but now I suspected I had another problem. The lack of fiber in the pizza had stopped me up, and my diverticulitis was making me sick. By Tuesday night I was running a fever of 102 and pretty sick. I was in max crisis management mode now, eating tons of fiber, oatmeal, apples, pulpy OJ - and nothing was working.

I got up Wednesday morning and started taking laxatives. My gut was sore to the touch, and the laxatives just made it worse, but after a few hours they worked. I finally had a total system purge by sundown, but was pretty sick from the infection deep inside. The worry is always that the infection weakens the gut enough to cause a breach, and peritonitis - a life-threatening condition. I didn't eat solid food for 2 days, and the only thing I could keep down was Acai berry juice and sweet tea. I lost almost 5 lbs from a week of eating almost nothing. The water loss from sweating out the fever had my BP all over the place. I postponed trying to manage that. One crisis at a time. Interacting system failures are impossible to manage.

By Friday I was starting to feel human again, and by Sunday I was ready to ride. I gave it one more day to be sure, and went for a ride yesterday - finally. I'd rate my immediate recovery protocols very highly, but an F+ for the deep recovery. I need to work on this as I can't afford to take so much time off after every timed ride. The upside was getting 8 days to let my legs finally recover and a lot of time to futz with my VDO cyclocomputer.

This is a disease that is enabled by pockets that form in your gut. They host bacteria. They make you very sick. You can't sterilize the area. You can't clean it. It never goes away. It is your unwelcome companion for the rest of your days. You have to manage it carefully or suffer from fever, debilitating fatigue and possibly death. This is the disease Fidel Castro almost died of.

It's been over two years since I first ended up in the hospital from it, sleeping 20 hours a day, and still going downhill. It is only occasionally a problem now, but intense endurance exercise is still a challenge for me. It's just one more thing to manage, like high blood pressure and a slightly "bent" heart. It's just another challenge. It makes the victory just that much sweeter!

Monday, April 6, 2009

What a Diffference a (1/32nd of a) Day Makes

My "office" on Saturday, April 4th riding Party Pardee

After sleeping somewhat fitfully, I was awaken by the alarm clock. Ah, thank you God. So nice to be able to put the jitters aside and sleep soundly - finally. I got up, stumbled into the kitchen and started through the ritual of making coffee. An old Melita coffee cone, filters, grind beans to a cake, boil water in pan, beat coffee cake into filter, place on Pyrex measuring cup and pour boiling water into filter cone. When done pour into Starbucks stainless coffee mug, add 4 tablespoons of raw sugar, top up with whole milk and put lid on. Simple - except stuff kept crossing my mind I was afraid I'd forget if I didn't do it right then - so with a lot of multi-tasking mixed in, I had a few sips, and decided I was amped enough I didn't need to push myself into "hopelessly distracted" mode and jumped into the shower.

With the car finally packed and bike in the trunk with the rear seats folded down, I rolled out of the gate and headed for Ione. The last time I had been to Ione was on a ride from Folsom in early December. A very nice 61 mile ride done with my club. I was the first one back to the parking lot and had really dropped the rest of the group decisively in 8-10 miles of perfectly sized rollers starting at the 45 mile mark, so I was psyched to ride beyond Ione and explore the steep Sierra foothills heavily damned decades ago to provide for California's bulging population.

With the assistance of a very helpful parking lot attendant I finally got my VDO computer to stop sensing my heartrate monitor long enough to get it into record mode - just one of many, many problems with the VDO system. I also left the camera behind, because it's just too big and heavy to carry on a timed ride. OK, I rode this as a race, and was going to try to chase down my riding group that started 1:15 ahead of me - so no extra baggage allowed. As I rolled out of the parking lot at 8:45 the air was still cold, numbing my fingers and freezing my thighs where the leg warmers end and only the thin Spandex of my shorts was protecting me.

I was relieved I had thrown my PI wind vest into my duffel bag before leaving home, but was still getting cold riding so slow in heavy bike traffic which rode 4 & 5 abreast in complete defiance of the organizer's "share the road" policy. My legs weren't getting loose, they were just getting cold. I needed to make some power and warm up, so after leaving the city's stop signs behind I started passing traffic in the oncoming lane, and barking "LEFT" as I plowed through groups of 20-30 riders blocking the road - sometimes in both directions. This went on for about 5 miles until we hit a stretch where the road surface was good, the route was straight and we'd picked up a slight tail wind.

I decided to test my legs as I had a ton of nervous energy and just wanted to burn the really high octane stuff off the top so I could get warm and then settle into a nice fast ride pace. I settled into the aerobars and put my head down, winding up my cadence and shifting through the gears. At about mile 5 I finally got up to full restrictor-plate racing speed - dialed in at 25-28 mph and blasting right over the tops of small rollers one after another. The 46/38/24 and 12-27 gearing was working perfectly, giving me the granular gears I needed for small grade and wind changes. Not having a cadence sensor yet for the VDO I just made my legs happy, turning something like 90-105 rpms, and keeping the torque in check. Plenty of hills later to torque up if I wanted to.

We hit the first of the hills coming up to Comanche Lake and a familiar pattern emerged. Most of the riders I just passed and never saw again, but some of the stronger riders would pass me on the climbs and then I would pass them on the downhills. Even when trying hard to avoid drafting other riders I was having to ride my back brake to keep from overtaking them when clumped up. On the downhill side of the Comanche climb I passed a long line of 20-30 riders going downhill. My weight is very compact and now with the aerobars I overtake riders churning their 53-11s ferociously. I am learning to relax, arch my back, and open my diaphragm going downhills too, as I can recover very fast that way. It showed up perfectly on the heart rate log. At my age I don't have energy to waste like in my teens and 20s, so I pay attention to details and ride as smart and efficiently as I can.

This was the first ride where I had the VDO in record mode and had the heart rate monitor working right, and found I was riding this section between 145 and 155 with long stretches were the display never wavered from 150 - I actually thought the computer was malfunctioning for a few minutes.

I went through Rest Stop #1 in about 15 minutes, going through the bathroom line and then mixing up some more Acai Berry spiked Gatorade for my front bottle from the 3X concentrate in my back bottle. I left the picnic food for the recreational riders and started to push off when I saw Becky, one of the club riders just pulling up. I was hoping this meant that I had somehow managed to be ahead of the riders I was chasing down. No such luck, as Becky was on the 50k ride, but it was still nice to meet her in person, I think for the first time. We chatted a bit and I pushed off.

The ride from there to Rest Stop #2 was/is a blur. Except for one occasion where I dropped my chain past the granny up front and had to stop to get it back on, I was dialed between 145-150 bpm and passing perhaps a hundred or more riders. Again a pattern set up where I would pass people on the downhills and they me on the uphills. This usually terminated when we came to rollers and I just put my head down, hugged the aerobars and rolled over the hillcrest at 16-18 mph. I was feeling great! Everything was working well, my energy level was good, my nutrition was good and my legs were a bit sore, but doing everything I asked of them. Then the long super-steeps showed up, almost right out of the gate at Rest Stop #2.

The biggest climb of the ride comes at about the 40 mi mark, and you can see it coming for a mile ahead. I looked up as I came around a bend and saw a long line of brightly colored ants crawling up the side of the mountain - the left shoulder of the earthen dam that makes up New Hogan Reservoir. Not wanting to risk another chain drop I shifted my rear dérailleur down from the 27 to the 25 tooth gear and dropped the front chain. It hit perfectly, sparing my legs the strain of trying to pull a 38-25 gear on an 8-18% grade.

For some reason I felt more comfortable in the hoods, so tested my legs and found the 24-25 gear about right for a long, steep climb. I checked my heart rate and it was hovering around 145, so good to go. Close to the top of the climb my quads started to twitch a little so I took a little detour into a Scenic Overlook parking lot where I bummed some water off of a woman with a beautiful Cervelo. We and a very cute couple riding a tandem chatted for 5 minutes or so while I hydrated, mixed some more Gatorade from concentrate, and shook my legs out swimmer style. It was only a few more miles to the final rest stop, so I did the last of the climb a little conservatively and decided to make an extended stop to refuel, stretch and rest my legs.

The approach to Rest Stop #3 was a frustrating series of stops for heavy traffic at small town stop signs capped off by a steep approach to the rest site. There were hundreds of riders there, most looking pretty tired, some discussing getting SAGed in, but most doing what I was doing, steeling themselves for the 15 mile ride home. I needed electrolytes and was happy I had bought some powdered Power Electrolytes foil sticks along - or so I thought. As it turned out, I had left them in the car! OUCH! I tried eating some Sun Chips and immediately felt nauseated. I took the junk out of my jersey and laid down to rest my back and stretch my neck out. The sun was warm and wonderful, but burned the salt cake on my face. I got up after a few minutes to find the men's room and wash my face.

The stench was atrocious, there was no soap, but there was hot water. I washed my hands but gave up trying to get my gloves off, went outside again gasping for air, and tried a few baby red potatoes. They seemed OK, but didn't relieve the nausea. I made my way through the crowd to the hydration area and drank almost a full waterbottle full of spiked Gatorade. At least that tasted good, didn't make me any sicker to my stomach, and had the electrolytes I needed. At the last minute I saw an area to wash my hands and face, but looked at the line and decided to push off. It was starting to get "late", I had been resting quite awhile - at least by my standards.

Rolling down the approach I narrowly avoided getting hit by a rider just clipping in at the head of her group. I think my mountain bike balance skills saved me, because with a heavy truck coming up the hill towards up, I had to balance while stopping almost completely. As I relaxed my grip on my front brake I was happy to be leaving. If I ride this ride again I'm going to stop at the Scenic Overlook and skip the 3rd rest area entirely. The slow crawl through the town, up to the picnic area and then back through the town just kills your speed and is frustrating. I had eaten almost nothing. I couldn't even get down a Powerbar.

I felt sick to my stomach, weak, and decided to stay on the wheel of a kind woman who felt about as chatty as I did. She was riding with her cousin and going slow to let her catch up, so we nursed a 15-17mph pace and played for time. I started to feel chilled, and then my bladder started to complain. I needed a nature break so started watching for tree stands to take care of business as discretely as one can with 1,200+ riders on the same road. I found a nice little stand of trees just at the edge of a small turnout on the (very rough and broken) road, thanked my new friends for the pull, and hit the brakes. I was sorry I'd lost them. They were a big comfort and had done a nice job of pacing me, but mother nature was insistent, so I did what I had to.

Clipping in 2 minutes later I caught the tail end of another small group of 5 riders and soon we were headed downhill at a pretty good clip. We rounded a bend and there at the top of the dam road was a stop light. WTF? A stop light? Here? There's nothing here to stop for. There isn't even a crossing road! Oh, but wait, the dam road is ONE way. OK, cool. I had re-acquired my new found friends and we all had a chance to talk while my head started to clear. I could feel my strength coming back by the second - warming out of the wind on the sun-drenched hillside.

By the time the light changed we were all ready to ride and went charging across the bridge - thankful for tall concrete shoulders on each side as the flag on the control house was blowing straight out - 20 to 30 mph I thought. Of course, we were now going to have to climb up the other shoulder, paying the mountain back for the free ride of the downhill on the approach.

I started shifting gears early to get into granny and find the right gear in back. Early in the ride I would have stayed on the 38 middle gear and the 27 in back, but I didn't want to upset my stomach again or push my luck facing a stiff headwind all the way home, so I ended up turning the 24T in front and 21-25 in back and watched a long line of riders dismount and start walking up the hill. As we went around a bend to the right we were met with still more climbing. It must have been a very long walk for some of those riders. I felt for them.

Finally, we were done climbing, and I was grinning as I flew downhill in the aerobars, passing everything in sight. I took special delight in passing a 20-something rider who was wearing a CSUS race team jersey. He had kicked my butt at the start of the climb, but I had been closing the gap the whole way and was now blowing past him. I looked up - and did a double take - and then another - through sweat streaked glasses. There was a STOP sign 500 yards ahead and I was doing 41mph!

I started with both brakes, but the back wheel started locking up pretty quickly so I just pushed my weight back and clamped down hard on the front brake. The 120mm stem and long reach bars provided tremendous leverage to keep the front wheel pointed downhill, and the SRAM Force brakes and meticulous cable routing did their job. There was a CHP car at the end of the road where it T-ed into the one we made a hard right onto. I didn't stop completely. I didn't want to kill all of my speed or get run over by riders with questionable brakes. That was pretty much it for the steep hills. Thank God. I was ready to be back on the flats where compact power rules - no matter how much weight it comes with. :D

I had not been able to reset my computer before starting the race, so I had to subtract the length of my last ride to keep track of the miles. I was getting a little tired for mental math. A skill honed by years of day-trading, I was finding the effort increasingly irritating. I changed the display. A watched pot never boils - especially when tired.

The headwind was not as bad as the flag had indicated it might be, but people riding upright on tall stacks of stem spacers and on the hoods were taking a beating. I backed off a bit as I passed the first group of 5-7 and let a paceline form. Down in the aerobars I pulled them along at 17mph or so and could hear them shifting gears to stay tucked in tight. The rider from CSUS came roaring by and I decided I had done my good deed for the day, so went after his wheel. A series of fast riders came by, one by one or two up. If I could I would stay with them and pull when my turn, but a couple of them were just too fast. As part of this attack and rest strategy I pulled 3-4 pacelines. Thinking about it later I realized that ALL of the pacelines on that stretch had been pulled by riders in aerobars.

About 5 miles out our little road intersected with the major highway in the area, and I feared a slow and dangerous crossing in a pack of very tired riders. Then a minor miracle happened, the CHP officer stepped out into the road and waved us all through the intersection. I was through the intersection before I realized I hadn't even looked for cross traffic. The CHP were magnificent, and provided this service at several major crossings. I'm sure it saved at least one life as many of the riders were stopped along the road, trying to get a 2nd wind to make it home so they wouldn't have to get SAGed in.

Once across we started up a 2-3% grade with almost no shoulders and I couldn't pass anyone because of traffic crawling cautiously beside tired riders in both directions. We hit a short section of false flat and I managed to pass the back 5-6 riders in what passed for a sprint at that point in my ride, and caught up with a couple riding together at the front of that long string of riders. We ended up going through the front gate together 10 minutes later in a rather anti-climatic finish.

I got home and started looking at the VDO logs and was very disappointed. It looked like my time had been 4:12 - almost out of the top end of my goal window of 3:30 - 4:15. I was very disappointed. I couldn't imagine riding that hard to catch up with my group, having worked my legs almost to exhaustion, and finishing with such a weak time. That was almost exactly my time to Rescue with a similar climb profile and 60 miles length. What went wrong?

After hours of investigating the 10 second data points I realized the computer was counting all of the time my heart rate monitor was going, not the time I was actually rolling. Fortunately I had made a phone call to a friend about 10-15 minutes after I finished the ride, and having a firm start time I focused on estimating the time consumed by my 4 rest stops. I had a solid start time of 8:45, and a pretty solid end time of 1:15, so now it was down to estimating rest time. I can't imagine spending less than an hour resting, especially since the stop at Rest #3 was so extended. I'm comfortable with a 3:30 estimate, and I may well have done it in 3:20, but I doubt 3:15 and anything longer than 3:35. I'm especially happy I was able to recover and ride a strong finish.

I probably spent 4-5 hours piecing together data to come up with the 3:30 estimate, but two things I know for sure. One, I am very happy with my performance and conditioning level, and two, that VDO piece of junk is going back in favor of a Garmin Edge 305. So yeah, 45 minutes is only a 32nd of a day, but what a difference it made in how I felt about the ride. All smiles here now. Tired smiles, but happy, satisfied smiles. I still have a ton to learn, but my training is going really well, so tired and contented smiles! Did I pay the rent ........? ... life calls.

Avg Speed ~ 18.57
Climb ~ 4,150ft officially (MotionBased GPS reports are 4,500+)
Time ~ 3:30
Ride Calories ~ 850 (2/3rds solid, 1/3rd liquid)
Ride Hydration ~ 110 oz
Rest Time ~ 60 minutes
Avg Riding HR ~ 145 (86% max)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Too Tapered

After my 2nd 40 mile ride in two days I felt spectacular last Thursday evening, but woke up Friday morning half dead. I slept most of the day, and Saturday too, and didn't really start moving around and doing boring house chores until Sunday. Even then I was aware of a deep fatigue still working its way to the surface, so I resolved to take Monday off too. I intended to ride Tuesday, but life got in the way, so I was really disappointed when Wednesday turned out to be another blast of pollen laden howling wind.

By last night my legs were in auto-motor mode, my knees bobbing up and down ferociously as I tried to figure out the new rock I bought for Fancy - my blue Roubaix. OK, it's tortured silicon, not carbon, but I went to VDO cause Jared pretty much sucks when it comes to circuits. Finally I did something so rare I can't even remember the last time I did it - I went to a convenience store and bought beer.

If I buy a 6-pack there's still one in the fridge 8 months later, but I was amping so bad I just HAD to get some chill. Of course, what I really needed was a RIDE. Oh damned I needed a ride. Like last page in the black book booty call BAD I needed a ride. I got it today. Finally, but wow did my body let me know how much to taper. Monday I was still a bit tired. Tuesday I was itchy, last night I was climbing the walls with the energy of a 2-yr old.

Four days max - taper no more!

Party Pardee, I'm gonna crush you!!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sweet & Sour Fiesta Chicken

One of the ironies that endurance athletes have to adapt to is that the high-octane, high glycemic index foods we have to consume to fuel our rides are about the worst possible foods we could consume when not actually riding. When fueling the rest/recovery, we need nutrition dense foods like fish, eggs, chicken, milk, vegetables, whole grains, fresh fruit, and lots of fiber to remove wastes.

I have long believed that if one has a widely varied pallet of foods they've introduced their body to, cravings are the way the body cues us to foods containing missing nutrients. With this in mind, I went shopping last week with a craving for protein, and chicken in particular. Fish is usually my favorite protein, so I found this odd, and was a bit stumped because I didn't know any good chicken recipes.

Fortunately, I was at Bel-Air, which has a great selection, so I just kind of followed my nose - literally taking the caps off bottles and sniffing them where possible. What kept popping into my head was the lime chicken sometimes served with southwest style "Mexican" food. I picked up 2 different kinds of lime, and then spotted an exotic looking bottle of Key Lime I just couldn't resist. I then went looking for some white wine vinegar to go with that, and luckily, found a perfect little bottle of balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy, the birthplace of balsamic vinegar.

Once home I thoroughly rinsed a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced it into thin 3/8ths inch strips, cutting across the grain of the meat to make it as tender as possible, pulled the frozen Fiesta vegetables out of the freezer to thaw a bit, put 3 tablespoons of canola oil in a 10" Teflon frying pan, added a tablespoon of sea salt, turned the heat up to high, and waited for the smoke to start rising from the searing hot oil. (if you prefer the taste of olive oil, use a light one, as the flavors in this dish are rather delicate)

Using a pair of tongs I laid the chicken strips in the searing hot oil until the bottom of the pan was completely covered, and waited for the blood to boil through to the top of the meat before shaking about 2 tablespoons of Key Lime juice into the pan. I waited a minute and then shook a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar into the mix, careful to spread it around as I went. I then shook the pan lightly to mix the juices and waited another minute before adding 4 heaping tablespoons of Mango Peach salsa. This is a key ingredient as the partially caramelized mango & peach gives this dish its sweet.

I added another shake or two of salt and let the mixture reduce and "gel" as the salt pulled the moisture out of the solids and a rich, aromatic sauce began to form. I then poured half a package of semi-frozen Fiesta veggies (from Safeway) into the middle of the pan and put the glass lid back on so the edges of the pan were still simmering and reducing the mango & peach while the frozen veggies warmed up and started to cook.

Leaving the heat on high I waited for the broccoli to wilt a bit, stirred the veggies into the mix with a wooden spoon, re-covered the pan and waited until it came to a boil. After 3-4 minutes at a boil I reduced the heat to med for 2 minutes and then turned the heat off and let the veggies soften. The whole house had a mouth-watering smell to it and I was tempted to just dig in, but waited about 5 minutes while the green beans and carrots steeped and added their character to the mix.

I plated the dish into a treasured china plate an old Italian woman had given me as a present, and then rinsed the pan and glass lid in the sink while savoring a first fork full. The veggies were still a little crisp, but the flavor was amazing. The chicken was so tender it fell apart in my mouth. The vinegar and lime start the digestion process in the pan, so I was not at all surprised that I could eat such a large serving in one sitting.

This is an excellent post ride dish. It has white, garbanzo and red beans in it as well as the chicken, so loaded wth protein. It is super easy to digest, and immediately killed my craving for protein. I made the dish again the next day, doubled the recipe, and didn't add any more salt. The dish still worked perfectly with the reduced salt, and my blood pressure thanked me.

I was a bit short on heat with a double recipe, but if you have a gas stove you should have no problem. Total cooking time is 15 minutes, and there is almost no cleanup at all. The high acidity might leave you with a taste for chocolate (oh darned) but most athletes need the acidity after hard exercise, so this should be quite welcome.

Mmmmm. Time to make more!