Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The B-I-G Ride

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This is the one I have been putting off for 6 weeks now for a variety of reasons. Now that I've done it some of them seem silly, and some, like no cell phone coverage, and having to ride alone for lack of riders who will attempt it, are very real concerns. Added to that is glass all over bridges, very rough surface and almost zero shoulder on Marshal Grade with drop offs into a rocky ditch 10-12" from the white line.

Because of the problem with the Garmin I got a very late start - about 1:15. Riding in the heat, sitting around burning through glycogen stores for hours, and having to take a double dose of BP meds to counteract a dose of Claritin taken the day before, all made for a very tough ride. Vasodilators and hot weather riding don't mix well at all. It's hard enough for the heart to keep up with all of the demands for blood to deliver glucose, oxygen, core cooling, and lots of fat from a broad cross-section of adipose tissue, but when the entire vascular system is artificially dilated, it becomes almost impossible. Lesson learned!

The ride to the Rescue fire station went well, and fast, at 2:04. I put the Profile Designs AquaRack on the seatpost and rode with 2 extra small bottles on that, a small Polar bottle with a 4X Gatorade and Power Electrolytes mix, and one full 24 oz Polar bottle on the downtube. In addition I had a Power Gel, a Cliff Java Gel, and 5 PowerBars. I had everything I needed in the way of nutrition and hydration, but did manage to consume everything but the 4X concentrate bottle and 1 PowerBar by the time I got home.

From Rescue on my legs just didn't have much snap, and by the time I got to the base of Marshal Grade I knew it was going to be a very tough day of riding. I stopped and ate half a PowerBar, drank and drank an entire bottle of Gatorade. I was surprised how much hydration support was available on this leg, but once at Marshal Grade I drank my water and Gatorade down to half bottles.

I started up Marshal Grade at 4:15 and it was very hot. I was sweating profusely, so much so I had to do the entire climb in the saddle because with only 4" shoulders in places, very rough surface, and a rock strewn ditch a foot off the road, my hands were so slippery I couldn't hang onto the brake blocks well enough to maintain control. I tried to stand and shake out my legs on the one and only turnout, slipped, and almost fell. My gel chamois was so soaked it made squishing noises against the soaked seat. (Later, in the cool air along Lake Natomas, the water would evaporate and leave only a searing hot salt mix grinding into my bottom side) Suffering though I was, I just flat out refused to give in, kept my legs going, tried to zone out, think about something engaging, and NOT look up ahead at the road.

Unlike the Mt Hamilton climb, Marshal Grade is rather straight, so you can see the climb for miles ahead. It is unnerving if you keep looking up to see how much farther it is. Mostly I was thinking about Kobe's gritty performance in Saturday's game, of my friends Savorn and Jeff completing the Davis Double two weekends ago, and about the math problems attendant with nutrition and hydration needed for the rest of the ride. I thought of our guys fighting in the "sandbox" in terrible heat and danger and hoped my legs wouldn't cramp up on me. Like the Mt Hamilton ride, this climb comes at the half-way mark of the ride, although I didn't do this one as an O&B. (It would have saved me 1,200 feet if I had, but that wasn't the point of the exercise)

I consumed the PowerGel and half a PowerBar along with 20 oz or so of water and ~ 8 oz of Gatorade, and was pretty much dry on water with only the 1X and 4X Gatorade left heading back down from the summit. I had rested 15 minutes, cooled off, and washed the sticky mess of the Gel off my fingers. Never again. Just go with the slightly drier bars and avoid all the mess. It's the same stuff. My gloves were still wet and slimy though, so I was cautious going down Marshal Grade. I broke out the up and down legs as Laps 3 & 4, and as you can see, my speed wasn't that high.

Frankly, for all of its fierce reputation, it was a disappointment. First, it isn't as long as the Mt Hamilton climb. Second, being a major road, it's a very consistent 10% grade, but not as steep as parts of Hamilton, which is over 20% in a few spots. I think to get a perfect training ride for Mt Hamilton, this climb should be done twice, back to back. I sure didn't have that in me on Sunday, at least not doing it at 4:30 in the afternoon.

I got back to hwy 49 and decided to keep going as the little honky tonk bar didn't look very inviting as a place to bum water. I had remembered this stretch of 49 to Pedro Hill fire station as fairly flat, but it was far from that. In fact, it was as steep a climb as that stretch of Green Valley I love to fly down and use as a cadence drill. It was also heavily traveled and littered with piles of broken glass all over the road. The scariest point on the ride was heading across a narrow bridge, showered in broken glass, partially hidden by the low sun, with the sound of heavy traffic bearing down on me. There are times I'd be happy to shoot me a truck load of drunken red-necks or two.

I was down to my last Gatorade and zero water as I crossed 49 and started up Pedro Hill Rd. It is mostly 6-8%, but has a nasty stretch of 13%. At least traffic was non-existent and it was mostly shaded by trees and a now very low sun. With Folsom Lake full of cold water it was the first time I felt the evening chill in the air.

I stopped, as planned, at the Pedro Hill fire station, drank till I felt bloated, and then began to mix more Gatorade. The place was abandoned until I picked a spot of shaded concrete to lay down on, and about then a couple of firemen showed up in a truck at the fuel tank. They immediately asked if I was OK. I assured them I was, but also allowed that I was pretty wrecked right about now. They asked if I needed anything, and I replied wryly, "a taxi?". Honestly, I wasn't sure at that point if I was going to make it home or not, but I hadn't come this far to just give up, so I was sure as hell going to find out.

They asked me 3 times if I had really ridden all the way from Carmichael, so assuming they were testing my lucidity, I gave them my route in detail. They were pretty amazed. I thought it weird that they would find that amazing as those guys are in amazing shape. They have to be. In the coastal fire we had the first 2 weeks in May, they fought fires till they dropped, slept a few hours and went right back at it. Driving to Flagstaff I passed huge caravans of firemen and trucks heading down I-5.

After laying down, resting and stretching my back - OMG did that feel good - they let me into the crew quarters to use the men's room. Another hydration warning there, so I went back and drank another 16 oz of Gatorade and finished the 3rd PowerBar off with half a bottle of water. I stuck my head under the spigot and let the water run down my neck, washed my glasses off, and rinsed out my helmet - which had been dripping sweat into my right eye all afternoon. Finally I put everything I had left back in my jersey pockets, mounted up, hit the Lap button on the Garmin, and headed downhill for Salmon Falls Rd.

My legs were just dead, but at least they weren't cramping. I knew the first leg up Salmon Falls would be a tough climb, and it didn't disappoint. The initial grade was kinder than I remembered, but there was a 2nd section that was much worse, and then the false flats and climbs around the corner started. I knew there was a long downhill section to the American River, but was growing weary of waiting for it. Naturally, that's when the long downhills started, with only a few brief interruptions.

Unfortunately, the ride from the river bed back to Green Valley just seemed to go on forever. I also was breathing shallowly, and my chest felt a little tight. I wanted to push out my chest, spread my arms back, and take a deep breath, but felt instead like I would start coughing if I tried to breath any deeper. I also noticed my HR had been steadily dropping despite the subjective sense that it was pounding away at 142 like I was down and hammering. I believe both of these are due to the vasodilator and its effect combined with early glycogen exhaustion, and heat.

The first opens up everything more than everything else. The 2nd requires that a lot of blood be flowed to a broad cross-section of adipose tissue to get to a lot of fat reserves fast. The third requires that a lot of blood flow close to the surface of the skin through wide-open capillaries. The last 30 hours tracking my BP once home has confirmed this in my mind. The 2hr+ BP was 121/51 with a pulse of 83. This tells me my heart was able to produce adequate pressure when it contracted, but it was pumping against a wide-open vascular system so the BP quickly collapsed to 51 psi between strokes. 30 hours later the top number is up to 138, but the bottom number is only back to 62. Pulse is a nice 62bpm. I assume all that adipose tissue is still being serviced - this time to reload it. Once this restoration process is complete my BP will return to normal.

Once I made it back to Green Valley I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Though pretty sure I was going to complete the ride, I was still 20+ miles from home, but I knew the rest of the ride would be almost entirely downhill or flat. I had over 6,000 ft of climb on the Garmin unit, and knew that would increase once I uploaded to MotionBased and got the use of their detailed maps, so knew I had done the hard part of what would be an epic ride. Emotionally, I rallied a bit going down the last of Green Valley's 5-6% grades. Mostly it was just going to be putting one pedal in front of the other, and getting home before dark.

I crossed the Johnny Cash Bridge, headed down the bike trail, stopped at all the usual places (very comforting to know the route when wrecked from a ride) and made my last stop on top of the little rise just as you leave the park complex at Sunrise for Bannister Pk. It was getting dark and that was the last spot not covered in trees before total darkness. I quickly mixed up the last of my Gatorade, and turned on all of my lights. I actually felt pretty strong the last 10 miles or so, but was happy to be home 20 minutes later.

I called a friend to let him know I was safe and sound, chugged some OJ, swallowed 4 Advil, ate half a Power Protein Plus bar, jumped in the shower and warmed up. The last 10 miles had been pretty cold, and my hamstrings were cold and hurting bad. Finally out of the shower I sprawled across the bed to cool down and relax before putting on the BP cuff. An hour and a half later I opened one eye to the world, saw the time, took my BP and HR, wrote them down with the time, and chugged 40oz of fat-free milk. I woke up every 2-3 hours all night and ate carbs, carbs, carbs. It really pays to do a good job of grocery shopping before a long ride. The Barsotti apple juice was perfect for recovery carbs. Liquid, quality carbs, and tasted great. I drank the whole gallon jug!

Looking at the Mt Hamilton ride and this one, and having ridden them both (well, pretty much), I think they are very close. I hope to ride this ride one more time before the event, starting much earlier in the day, and will try doing the Marshall Grade climb twice. I might also try Prospector's Grade, which is the old road that runs parallel to Marshall Grade. My hunch is it is the same average climb, but with much steeper pitches in places. 30 hrs later I feel nearly fully recovered after consuming a huge pile of salty mashed potatoes for lunch today. This was the 3rd toughest ride I have ever done, after my first ever Century ride, and the Mt Hamilton ride I failed to complete. I'm very close to where I will need to be to rectify that failure. A big ride, at least for me, at 83 miles and 8,366 ft of climb.

PS: Before turning in last night I checked my BP. It was 148/80 and HR 62. Fully recovered in 31 hours.

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