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)

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