Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Threshold Power

I headed out the door mid-afternoon yesterday for a fast ride down to Discovery Park with the goal of timing my ride while on the American River Parkway Trail - excluding the segment of the ride on the hills getting to and from it. Unfortunately, I forgot to hit the lap button on the Garmin when I got to William Pond, but I did get a nice reading on this flat stretch coming back from Discovery from CSUS to William Pond.

The trace is shown above. I am really liking my results on this section of ride as everything is completely locked in. My average HR is 153 - very close to my max here of 156, and as you can see, I was pretty much glued to 153 this whole segment. The speed is also very consistent, as is my rather slow cadence.

The slow cadence was intentional, as I haven't ridden at a low cadence in about a year, and wanted to see how it affected my breathing, power, speed, and fatigue. I'll say for the record, this ride HURT. Pushing tall gears does save some cardio, but wow does it ever create muscle fatigue. Of course, the blistering pace did it's fair share of damage too.

The entire ride was done solo - IE: zero drafting time. The winds seemed a little unfavorable too. I must have passed a dozen riders on this stretch, and nobody even tried to jump on my wheel. It's a pretty good indicator of how challenging the speed was with the prevailing winds. I'm going to keep at this ride, perhaps once a week, and see what happens. My legs are still sore, 24 hours later.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Night Moves

I ride with two bike clubs here in river city, and one is more about fun than hammering, so when they offered a night ride I jumped at the opportunity. I find the discipline to hammer solo easy, but I do like having an opportunity to have fun thrown my way.

I Velcro-ed an LED flashlight to my aerobars, put my red flashing light in it's mount on my seat post, stuck a red LED ribbon onto the back of my (new) red helmet, and headed out the door sans my Garmin. It's a fun ride, so no point in fretting stats. The ride was advertised as being a slo-poke ride for newbies and the adventurous at night.

I was a bit late getting out the door, grabbing a waterbottle at the last moment, but made quick work of the 5~6 mile transition to Jamba Juice off Sunrise and Gold Country. There were about 20 riders there, and everyone had a smile and a fun attitude as our ride leader Jeffrey went through his talking points - the important one being to stop after the William Pond Pk bridge and turn right, so as NOT to continue on the bike trail all the way to downtown Sacramento some 15 miles downstream on the American River.

We had a strong Delta Breeze, and the air was cool, but electric under a full moon. It was a simple course. We were headed for an upscale coffee shoppe 10 miles away - Bella Bru. I've begun rides just outside their doors many times, but never knew they had a beautiful shoppe with dark veined marble floors and counters with chocolates, coffee and fruit tarts to die for. Fortunately for us, they also had bike friendly parking and long tables to accommodate large groups.

After admitting it was her first ride on the bike trail, I "adpoted" one of the new riders - Christine. Steven King references kept running through my head as the sun set and a full moon rose to take its place. Not to fear, she sat down next to me at Bella Bru where the conversation was interesting and never touched on old cars with sinister intentions.

After a half hour of talking around the table we all headed back outside to suit up for the return leg home. It was fully dark by then, and all the lights came out and on until we collectively resembled a long, brightly colored dragon. Christine found a rider with a light to lend with dead batteries, and another rider with spare batteries. It worked quite well and I stuck close to her once we got back on the bike trail and the lights faded until only the full moon shone to light our way. (The light I borrowed for the ride wouldn't fit my handlebars)

Like most experienced riders, I tend to think of the American River Parkway Trail as flat, but it isn't flat at all. Unlike road beds, which are graded to remove all the small undulations before the paving begins, the bike trail embellishes these small grade changes. Riding a mountain bike with lots of knobs and bars to suck at the wind, we were going pretty slow up those small hills. It was a reminder to me how easy it is to overlook these watt-burning features when planning rides.

Near the middle of the ride we found ourselves riding alone, and I was struck by how different everything looks in the dark. The familiar was hard to even recognize without glancing around and getting my bearings. Somehow a small group of riders got separated at the back, but our ride leaders were out in force riding back to find them. I have to say, Fred's HID headlamp mounted on his helmet turned night into day. It was brighter than all of our lights put together. They're expensive, but necessary on the night mtn bike rides he often leads.

We stopped just before the Sunrise bridge, and waited for everyone to catch up. I spent a lot of time talking to newbies about shifting, gearing, tires and aerobars. Nobody seemed in any particular hurry to get back and end the ride. At some point I noticed how perfect and caressing the breeze was - about 70% humidity, about 68 degrees, and ~ 5-10 mph, it reminded me of the breeze at sunset in the Florida Keys. Lying in a hammock it seems to caress you.

The brilliant lights of our ride leaders, and their rescued lost, foretold a successful regrouping. After a few minutes of rest for the weary, we set a leisurely pace for Jamba Juice and rode together in a nicely spaced group. Once back we took another group photo, some candid shots, and said our good-byes. I gave Christine a hug, shook hands good-bye with Jeffrey and Fred, clipped in, and pushed off.

I headed home solo amazed at how many things there were moving around me as I rode cautiously through the night. Something big and black, perhaps a dog, coyotte, mtn lion or small deer (they were everywhere) flashed across my path on a lonely stretch of road. I vowed to get a better light. Arriving home just after 10:00 I was grinning ear to ear.

The next morning I awoke surprised I was a little sore. It was only then I remembered bridging up from the front of the pack to one of the stronger riders who wanted to hammer. I did the ride with only a bottle of water, as there was plenty of fuel at each end and at the pace there was more than enough glycogen on tap for the 30-some miles.

All in all it was a really fun ride. Hammering is great fun, but from time to time it's so refreshing to just go have fun, reconnect with the joy of our sport, and the great opportunities to ride with others and enjoy their company.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


A delicious Karen's creation. Reason enough to ride.

Our club, the HammerinWheels group, has a "family reunion" every-other month at Karen's bakery in Folsom. It's always on a Saturday, and I can ride there from my front door, so no need to pack the car and change clothes. It's a chance for all the members of the sub-groups that always seem to develop to get together, share ideas, made suggestions, and just catch up with each other's lives.

I was really looking forward to this particular one because my friend Lourdes was the ride organizer and because we sort of got into a competition with our sister mtn biking group to see how many we could get to show up. I think they had 75 riders at their last pizza social, so we got our butts kicked with "only" 37, but we made it a theme ride in honor of Michael Jackson's Birthday, so we got the win for originality.

The anticipation kind of got the best of me on Friday night, so at the last minute I went out the door for a fast sunset ride down the bike trail to the Guy West Bridge at CSUS. I hadn't really been feeling well the last 3-4 weeks - not awful, but I just didn't have much energy, so I took it kind of easy the first few miles. Once on the trail I decided to continue with my weak-point training and push some tall gears.

I NEVER push tall gears, as spinning is the magic elixir that keeps muscle fatigue at bay. Exercise physiologists have been telling cyclists for decades that the optimal cadence for breathing efficiency is 60 - and cyclists have been telling them to go screw themselves every single day since. You can get your wind back in 30 seconds, when your legs are gone, you're done. In short, cardio efficiency is a distant third to muscular endurance and nutrition. The propeller heads still don't get it from what I've read. Pro riders, in particular, always self-select for a cadence between 90 and 100 to maximize muscular endurance.

So why push tall gears? The same reason I focused on threshold power, speed, and max HR last month, because I never do. It's important to periodically go back and revisit weak areas, that because of injury or training requirements, get neglected. I still want a bigger triangle. Also, I had a hill ride coming up on Sunday, so some strength training was well-targeted.

There is some climbing on the way home from William B Pond park, so I used my Garmin's Lap facility to record my time while actually on the bike trail, and got a respectable 19.1 mph. I don't think it was my fastest ever ride on that stretch, but riding solo it was still a good average speed while pushing tall gears.

Warren and Jeffery doing the MJ tribute on his birthday. Cool cake Lourdes!

I got up early and went out the door without my Garmin for Saturday's ride. This was a ride about friends and relationships, so I didn't even want to tempt myself to ride with my head "inside the cockpit" by bringing my telemetry along. Instead, I spent my time riding up to Karen's moving up and down the line of riders so I could catch up with friends, say hi and have a few laughs.

Lourdes and Mica, my ride leaders for Saturday & Sunday's outings.

Our group was one of the earliest to arrive, and the riders continued to trickle in for 45 minutes. As they did I was surprised by how many strange faces there were around me. It's a sure sign of a sucessful club, but I sure had to hussle to meet all the newbies, and frankly, it just wasn't possible to meet them all. I also got to catch up with old friends.

"Old" is now a little more than a year IIRC. My how time flies. It is a bit weird though when you realize you're an "old timer" and a lot of the new people don't even know who you are.

Me, Kip and Mica enjoying a beautiful morning and the warmth of friends

Sunday I had to get up really early because I don't have a garage and had to pack the bike and bling in the car after breakfast and hygeine. I got there a bit early and had time to recycle some coffee before parking, unpacking and suiting up. It was a sea of strangers, and they were all in "The Zoo" - animals who ride animal miles 6 days a week. The ride was a steep hill climbing ride that Bikely underestimated by almost a thousand feet, so I knew I was in for a very tough ride.

Fortunately, it was led by one of our newer members who has just enough of a laid-back attitude that he kept things in the sane zone. 3,700+ feet in 33 miles (Garmin 305 barometric stats) is a tough ride, but this one also had a long super-steep near the end of the ride, so I was a bit anxious after a long layoff from climbing after Mt Hamilton. We also had some very strong women riding, and while I do hate to get 'chicked', I think it keeps the testosterone levels out of the red zone having a balanced group of riders.

C32: Tour de Folsom with MORE EDH Kickers

We headed out on familiar streets, and the climbing started almost at once. Not the huge stuff, but lots of 3-6% stuff. As usuall I got passed on most of the uphills and passed riders pedaling hard coasting on the downhills. After a hilly, nicely shaded jaunt through a residential neighborhood we headed up a long hill and I got passed by rider after rider. I might have even gotten chicked, but since I'm telling the story.... :D We lost 2 of our 18 riders at that point. At the pace we were riding they were overwhelmed.

We regrouped at the top of the hill and headed for Green Valley. The same road that takes me to Rescue all the time. We continued climbing well past the turn-off for Rescue at Deer Valley and I was getting dehydrated. I found myself at the end of a long line of riders, and I HATE it when that happens, but I still stopped, as promised, at a school to dilute my Gatorade. I had 3 bottles and they were all too strong, so I mixed and watered until they were all about half strength, while drinking about a half gallon to rehydrate. I was trying a new 3-bottle system, and got bit straying from my usual hydration protocol. I did it to save weight, and because the route was relatively short.

When I rolled back out to Green Valley, there wasn't a rider in sight, but I knew the route so shifted through my gears and rode at a pace that kept me just under my lactate threshold. They left a rider back for me at the turn onto Bass Lake Rd, and a hundred yards later I saw the whole group waiting. Uuuugh. Not a great feeling. My spirits lifted when I learned they were waiting for the ride leader to fix a flat - for the 2nd time - and not me. I seems he put on a previously flatted and still unfixed tube on the first attempt. I took another drink of water and then helped out by rolling up his old tube and putting it back in it's box.

We rolled out onto Bass Lake Rd and I heard a flic, flic, flic from my back wheel. I pulled off into the gravel shoulder and found what looked like a small leaf stuck to my tire with some gum. I wiped it off and hurried to catch up with the group again. We went over a series of rollers and then started downhill. Wheeee, I was riding my brakes or passing riders, it was my kind of terrain!

We turned onto Serreno Parkway and the downhill started in earnest. I finally gave up trying to stay in formation and moved into the center of 2 lanes. The only traffic was that of golfers coming home from the country club nearby, and it just wasn't safe to have so many riders bunched up at high speeds riding on a 3 ft strip of bike lane. As anticipated, as I coasted past rider after rider in a beautiful aerobar tuck the lane behind me filled with riders - a much safer arrangement.

After a short transition of 3-4% we headed down a shallow grade on El Dorado Hills Blvd to the base of "The Beast" - a climb up Wilson, Ridgeline and Powers roads to the top of the El Dorado Hills ridge. Again I ground up the 10-13% grade staying within my lactate threshold. This time though, a fair number of riders were behind me for the whole climb. I thought of my blogspot friend Rachel Richards and knew she was in the middle of her IM Canada at that very moment. I pushed a bit harder and hung tough at the top when a couple of riders that had been breathing down my neck faded. I got to the meetup point where we waited for the stragglers. I was smiling. I had finished in the middle of the pack on by far the toughest climb of the ride. I'm a strong finisher - in part because I stay within my limits when I ride.

After a short transition across the length of the ridge, we waited, and waited, and waited for the last of the riders to show up. I decided to check my brakes and tires one more time before heading down Beatty Dr. Speeds close to 60 mph are possible as it is super steep - over 20% in places - and a crash at that speed can be fatal. My back tire was almost flat, so I borrowed a large frame pump, aired up the tire, asked the ride leader if it was OK to go ahead so I could go slow, and roasted my brakes to stay under 35.

At the bottom of the grade I pulled over to wait. Not a scrap of shade in sight, and the wait lasted for > 15 minutes. The stragglers had flatted within a few yards of each other, and after one sheared a valve stem off her tube, things got ugly. Fortunely, the ride leader was patient and thorough and sent 2 riders back to find them. One of them still had an intact tube, so eventually all were able to reform on me. I had used the time to find the culpruit for my own slow leak - a very stout thorn that had penetrated right at the edge of the protection strip I put in last month. It was really jammed in there and I decide to leave it in and hope for the best.

We all headed up Sophia Parkway for the top of Iron Pt Rd, once again shuffling positons as the grade slowly ramped up from flat to 7%. We were headed into a strong wind, but more of a concern for me was my ever-flattening rear tire. I could really feel the drag, and hated it as rider after rider passed me - again. I wasn't the last to regroup at the top of the hill, but the flat definately hurt me. I aired it up again, this time to nearly full pressure as we were headed down Iron Pt's 10% grade and I wanted a full tire under me.

Half way down Iron Pt the light changed, and I hit the brakes doing about 40. The rubber that had melted onto the rim from braking while descending Beatty Dr locked the rear wheel when it hit the brake pads and the back of the bike started to skid. I got off the brake immediately, but those milliseconds of crisis management had distracted me from the maximum effort braking I'd have needed to stop in time, and I found myself running a red light at better than 20 mph. Fortunately the only driver on our side of the intersection figured out I was in trouble and never took his foot off the brake. It was a scary and embarrassing moment, and set a bad example for the group, but I had no other option.

Less than a minute later there was a right turn which I prayed I could get through. I was going about 10 mph and managed to make the turn, but going over a set of railroad tracks a block later I could feel the back tire was completely flat. I nursed it along for another half mile and then threw in the towel and stopped to fix it. One of the new riders, Burt, stopped and kept me company while I did my flat fix thing. I've gone through 14 tubes now in 2 months, so it's a well practiced, if unwelcome chore.

Burt was from the north SF Bay area, and we struck up a really nice conversation about my old stomping grounds while I did my chore. He's going riding with Levi Leipheimer next week up in Santa Rosa, and that got us talking about the TDF, Lance Armstrong, Leipheimer's absence's likely impact on the outcome, and Contador's poor sportsmanship and tactical blunders. We said our goodbyes at the parking lot after breaking down and loading up, and I felt I'd made a new friend.

Three rides in three days is a first for me. I don't usually push my recovery luck that far, but again, weak-point training. It's good to know I can do it, because sometimes when training the weather or life gets in the way, and it's nice to know there's an out there if it's really needed. Time for a nap now. It all kind of hit me today. I'm tired, but it's been a really wonderful weekend of riding.