Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mountain Bike Mud-Fest

I got a killer deal at Performance Bike on a Panaracer FirePro XC 2.1 knobby front tire and with 30% off decided to go for broke on lightening up the front wheel and picked up a LunaLight innertube, which added just 95 more grams to the featherweight 580 gram tire. I didn't get the tire for weight though, I got it because in thick mud the WTB WeirWolf LT 2.55s just don't clean out well. The Panaracer's tread is sparse, and with good edges, so knowing I would need all the help I could get, and at about half price, I took the plunge.

I spread a 12x20 tarp, folded over twice, over the floor of the trunk and rear seats in my old car, stuffed the bike in the trunk, and headed out for Old Folsom. It's a good solution since I don't have a bike rack for the car yet. I also humped a CamelBak and duffel bag with a dry change of clothes for beer and company afterwards. We met at the Folsom rail station. Tons of free high-rise parking meant for rail commuters, but always plenty left for other uses, and a boom to business in Old Folsom.

 Partners in Crime :D

With the calf tear, and re-spraining the ankle, I haven't ridden this particular trail in about a year, and haven't had the mtn bike out at all this winter, but I was a little surprised when I showed up and only knew 3 of the 16 riders. Some I knew by the many pictures allows us to upload, and some I knew by reputation, but it was so nice to finally be introduced to everyone.

We all rolled out from the rail station and I realized my seat was still a little low, so I bit the bullet, stopped and raised it another inch. No problem. This is a leisurely ride and I have started as late as 20 minutes and caught the group a few miles up the trail.

Did I mention it's been a year since I last did this ride? Yeah, well about that 'leisurely' pace, NOT!!! I thought I must have taken a wrong turn or something, because except for a few fresh tracks, there was no indication anyone was ahead of me. I pushed the pace as much as I dared on unfamiliar tires. Trust and new tires just don't go together - at least not at first.

Our ride leader, Marsh, has been on a mission to get in shape for a Moab mtb trek our mtb club has put together for this summer. He's dropped at least 35 lbs and has been hitting the weights, doing spin classes and even Yoga these days. I had to stop and turn around for a fallen tree blocking the trail, but still, we were almost 7 miles in before I caught up with the back of the pack. Marsh later announced this was the fastest time yet for the ride. No question in my mind.

I rested a little, trapped behind a few slow riders on single-track, but did manage to hit the Aquatic Center regroup point about 2/3 rds of the way back in the pack. I was hot and dry, and welcomed the opportunity to take a long drink and chew through some ride fuel. I was also overdressed for the pace - in part because there are some nasty thorns on this ride, and I don't want my legs and arms exposed. Even with pit zips wide open, and both front zippers half-way open, I was sweating profusely.

We took off after a 10 minute break, went over the Hazel Ave bridge and went blasting down the 30% slope of the cork-screw towards the Nimbus Dam. It's pretty flat after the dam, at least for a half-mile or so, and stank badly of horse manure. (I'm investigating having equestrian traffic halted until the rains stop because with heavy rains again last night it's pretty clear raw sewage is being washed into Lake Natoma - ICK - and both Folsom and Carmichael draw water out of the river for drinking water. Ewwwwwww) I was very happy to have that tarp at the end of the ride!

The flats ended soon enough and we started down some soggy single-track. I was testing the tires as I went, turning up the sides of the trail ruts, crashing through the middle of mud puddles, and gingerly pushing over wet rocks and roots in turns to get a feel for the grip of the tires. I was very happy at how well the tread cleaned out. Nothing adds work like lugging 10lbs of mud around on your tires. The trail was pretty sandy in this stretch, punctuated with lots and lots of 4-20 ft mud puddles at the bottom of endless rollers.

I was a bit preoccupied with this and almost crashed into the back of the leaders. They were all stopped for tree branches, or in some cases, whole trees, down across the trail. Marsh had a folding saw with him and was having a ball cutting and clearing brush. Later we all had a good breather waiting up for him as he tried to clear an 8" bough from the path. I have a folding saw myself, and think I'll bring mine next time.

It takes months of bureaucratic red tape cutting to get permission to do this kind of work legally, and in the meantime, people create new by-passes, which creates a lot of erosion problems. Quick action is so much better for all concerned. All of the government cutbacks in California are making things worse, so I hope responsible maintenance will catch on with trail users. We are the same people that do the work as volunteers anyway, so why not get it done in a timely way?

The last 4 miles we took a completely new route, at least new to me. It starts with a steep climb over a rock garden of 3-5" river rock. I have never been able to keep the tail of my hard-tail planted well enough to get up that hill, and still can't. River rock, round and smooth is a very poor choice. Any civil engineer would have spec'ed a mix of 3,1 1/2 and 3/4" crushed rock, so not sure what happened here, but we all attempted the challenge, regrouping briefly at the top of the climb.

With a long, shallow climb, this fire road continues to climb until up on a plateau, with a breathtaking view of the Rainbow Bridge over a sheer cliff. I knew the trail we were on rejoined the bike trail again 300' below, so was wondering how the trail would get us down. About that time, cruising along on the left fork, watching most of the group riding 100 yrds to the right, I looked up and realized I was 4' from going over a cliff.

The trail is well traveled, so I assumed this was not a suicide drop, but it was a real gut-check when I saw the bottom was a good 10 ft down. My brain fought panic, screaming at my stupid hands to say the hell off the brakes, as I pushed back as far as out-stretched arms and forward-rolled shoulders would allow. I was pretty sure the tires would hook up in the decomposed granite, and the 100mm Reba Race fork (the frame geometry was designed for 80mm) has been spectacular - confidence boosters as I leveled the pedals, stood up on my calves, and landed the fall as solidly as possible.

With only a slight off-balance bobble I was psyched, but looking up the trail to avoid 'look down - fall down' on the drop, I noticed the trail again disappeared from view, and I was approaching the bottom of the run-out area and visible trail quickly. There was a lightly traveled by-pass to the right, but no trail visibility there either, so I stuck with the main trail and found myself going up a 3' ramp with a little 2' kicker just a few feet past it. I didn't want to land straddling the kicker, so jumped, and went airborne.

3-4 ft off the ground, flying over a dozen feet of descending terrain, I had but one thought - 'I'm too OLD for this shit' Of course, once the pucker factor subsides, all's well that ends well. I really like this challenge, and will take that fork again on the next ride, but I did tell Marsh to warn riders about it, because this trail is advertised as advanced beginner, and on that fork, it ain't!

What followed was a long series of high-speed sand and decomposed granite (dg) surfaced single track switchbacks with lots of soggy green grass on either side to scrub off speed. The new fork added almost 2" to the wheelbase of the bike, so it's a little slow in turns, but the extra front-end height and better grip of the Panaracers allowed me to ride aggressively and make up some ground on the leaders.

Sand and dg soon gave way to mud and brush as the trail continued it's descent. Not long after the two forks merged I came around a turn with 3 riders on my tail, shouted STOP, and hit the brakes. A large 3-4ft tree was down across the trail and we all had to creep under it. Not comfortable! When I worked for the USFS I was almost killed by an identically sized tree rolling over me, so was happy to be up and riding when on the other side. That fix will need some chainsaw work.

We had a few other stops for boughs, and I fell climbing up another rock garden when my front deurailler wouldn't shift into a lower gear and the torque from my feet ripped the handlebars out of my hands. At least I was able to fall into the uphill slope so the 2 riders behind me could pass without falling.

The last important feature was a wooden bridge with a sharp uphill turn at the far side. I was anxious about it all day, because the Panaracer reviews had reported they didn't hold well on wet wood and rock. Because of the climbing turn on the far side, you really want to carry a lot of speed across the bridge, but I slowed to a modest pace, and was pleasantly surprised that the front tire hooked-up well, and gripped the wet rocks in the turn a lot better than my WeirWolfs had. In fairness, the wood wasn't all that wet, but I was relieved to have that test behind me. The truss and railing structures on the bridge, and rocks in the stream below, would make  a fall pretty painful.

We ended the ride in a local cantina in Old Folsom sharing a few beers - OK, just one for me - but a nice hour getting to know my riding partners. I was especially impressed with  Katie, who suffered some very serious spinal injuries in a snowboarding accident, but still pursues her love of mtn biking.

Arriving home I spent 20 minutes with the hose blasting the mud off the bike and shoes. Time to go do some laundry now, but the sun is out today after a night of more rain, and I am sore all over, but smiling with an impish grin at my little mud-fest adventure.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Getting Some

After days and days of rain, the skies kinda, sorta, cleared up today, and we even had a few rambunctious rays of sunshine, so I headed out the door to get a ride in.

I mounted the Garmin and turned it on, or so I thought. I suited up, and donned my helmet. Well, after checking myself in the hall mirror, and **gasp**, almost forgetting it AGAIN, I donned my helmet. I locked the door behind me, went down the stairs, clomp, clomp, clomp, checked the Garmin, and frowned. It wasn't on. Didn't I do that 10 minutes ago? I turned it on again, and then again. It would come up for a second and then go blank. I'm burning daylight. To hell with it. I need a ride!!!

S-L-U-G-I-S-H. Oh my, how thick can blood get anyway? The first 8 miles I just didn't have any snap in my legs at all. When I turned around at the Fish Hatchery and headed back for Sunrise I realized I wasn't quite as sluggish as the headwind had led me to believe, and I was quickly shifting through gears to bring my cadence under control.

I was passing one bike after another, sometimes 3-4 in groups, but no trailers. Then, about a mile past the Sunrise 'Y', I caught up with a couple of riders who were riding close to my pace, so I decided to sit on their wheel and catch my breath. We started working as a 3-man team, passing a lot of idiots riding two-abreast in spite of repeated shouts of 'LEFT', and one really GREAT group ride where everyone of a dozen bikes were completely off the pavement on the shoulder.

The locomotive in our little ad-hoc team dropped back and I took up the center spot just before Hagan Pk, focusing on being nice and smooth going through tight little turns in an area where the trail is pretty exposed to the wind. I could tell the guy ahead of me was starting to tire (Eric) so stayed on his wheel a little loosely, and a few minutes later, asking if he wanted me to lead.

'Yeah' he replied as he dropped back. I put some power down for 20-30 yards to help him drop back (a fair amount of oncoming traffic today) and then settled back into a comfortable pace for a few minutes to let everything settle down and let the guy catch his breath at the back of our 3-man 'pack'. After a few minutes I picked up the pace, listening for heavy breathing, setting a nice 22-25mph pace, hoping they could keep up.

We started though some long, sweeping turns and then into a small set of short, steep rollers which I hammered over hunkered down in the aerobars, pushing hard with gluts and quads trying not to rock the bike. I dropped them both briefly, so coasted down the backside of a couple of shallow rollers before torquing up a short hill. The last mile before the WBP bridge we were in pretty good formation and pushing hard. When I glanced back they were about 10-30 ft behind until this last stretch, so I think they got a really hard workout. They'll be sore tomorrow, but were looking to get some, so were all smiles.

We went over the WBP Bridge together and they introduced themselves, thanked me for the pull, and remarked on what a beautiful day it was for a ride. A lot of riders out there today in bad need of their endorphine fix, me included.

I had a few scares with wet leaves and sand, and a inch or so bough down in the bike lane on Fair Oaks, but my biggest surprise was almost losing it going through a turn when my trailer drifted from the center to the shoulder. It felt like I got pushed into the shoulder, and I was lucky I was able to control it. That can happen in a quartering wind, but it still caught me off guard. No fault on his part or mine, just a surprise. Live and learn...err... re-learn.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What to Eat on a Rainy Day

It's been raining for about a week here now, and the air smells so fresh I've been walking in the rain just to drink it in. Pile on the clothes, and throw the windows open, it's too clean & fresh to shut out. It seems to be affecting my appetite too, as I have been craving salads. It doesn't hurt that the salads have turned out to be excellent for building liver glycogen either, but mostly, its just the clean taste I've been craving. This was dinner last night.

Safeway organic baby greens, organic spinach, craisins, wheat germ, Bumble Bee very low sodium tuna, balsamic vinegar, and LiteHouse balsamic vinegar salad dressing with freshly grated Parmesan Cheese on top. I used the Peri organic yellow onions instead of the usual shallots, and they didn't disappoint. A little balsamic vinegar helps soften the spinach. What an explosion of taste.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Planning Intervals

I've been riding the flats hard (not quite flat, and a few sharp turns, but close) for time to try to get an idea where my lactate threshold is and how long I can hang there. I'm trying to establish a baseline so I know how long my intervals should be, and at what HR I need to exert myself for the intervals to be effective.

The reason intervals work is because they allow you to exceed your steady-state effort level, and then recover so you can repeat the process. These excursions through your LT overload your cardio, but not so much that you can't recover. As you become better conditioned the HR will stay the same, but you'll be going faster, so it's best to plan intervals by time, not distance. This can be a problem unless you have a lot of flat real estate to work with. Hills, for example, don't allow themselves to be shortened and lengthened. They also make it nearly impossible to recover as you can't coast, or at least not at low levels of exertion.

Miles and miles of short rollers are excellent. You exert yourself hard for a relatively long period going up the roller, trading off sitting and standing, or some dynamic optimal mix of the two, and then recover for the much shorter time interval speeding down the back side. It's also easy to track your progress as you can just measure your total time over a long course of rollers. This is my favorite way of doing intervals, but my favorite set of rollers is 20 miles from here.

My choice of flats for this timing was William Pond Park to the Guy West Bridge at CSUS - or as you can see - something pretty close to the bridge. I got distracted by a guy pulling a nifty trailer and wanted to talk to him about it. He was riding with his son in it wearing his iPod, so it was a lot of frustrating waiting for no conversation. (not very safe for the son either) I was able to mathematically remove the sag at the end though, and got 21.1 mph. (there's a map of the ARPT linked in the left margin if you're from out of town) Glances at the Garmin had my HR pegged between 147-152.

I'm going to use 21 as my baseline, and keep the fast interval under 10 minutes. I think 2 minutes should be enough recovery, but it might work best to take a minute off the fast and give it to the recovery on each interval. I'm not sure my Garmin will do this, but it's pretty versatile, so think it will. That would give me something like 10/2, 9/3, 8/4, 7/5, 6/6 for an hour's workout. As you can see from the sprint to 25+ before pulling the plug, I still had quite a bit left after 10 minutes, but I'll be pretty wrecked after an hour of this.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

Gloriously, the sun finally reappeared today, so I saddled up and rode up to Beal's Pt at Folsom Lake. After eating a PowerBar I started sluggish. Not sure why this carbo-loading kicker slows me down like this, but it does. I made up for it on the return leg.

Highlights were:
  1. Beautiful sunny day and deep blue water in the lakes and river
  2. Sun isn't setting till after 5:00 again
  3. Met a couple of friends up there
  4. Averaged 18.2 mph for the 12 miles from Beal's Pt back to Sunrise
  5. Got in about 2,300 ft of climbing using a slightly flatter return from Bannister Pk
  6. I could feel the lower density of the warm air today, but just pushed hard and wracked up 21 minutes in Zone 5
  7. My calf wasn't hurting today, perhaps because of a snowboarding sock with lots of thickness over the calf
  8. I "starved" myself again, eating nothing during the ride except 1 bottle of Gatorade. Working on getting my body to burn more fat to stave off liver glycogen exhaustion
  9. Friends chained to their desks were crazy jealous that I got to go ride in the middle of a warm, sunny day

    I found myself looking through Colorado Cyclist's wheel building site again last night. Thinking of going with a Mavic CXP-33 aero rim instead of the Open Pro. The Ultegra 6700 hub is only available in 32 spokes up front, and since that is more than I need for strength and durability, I am thinking of taking on 65 grams of weight to get  a more slippery wheel up front where the airflow is ahead of the frame, and therefore, still clean. I love the strength of the Open Pro's double eyelets in back, but not needed up front. Whew. What a great ride!

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Alpha Hammerhead

    I did my little 20 mi route again this afternoon, as dull, gray and dreary as the weather is, because tomorrow it will be raining again and rain and cars don't mix in my book. I seemed to be pushing myself the whole ride, but didn't seem to be getting much reward for the effort. Every time I checked my speed it seemed slower than either of the last 2 times.

    I am German though, so I doggedly kept hammering and hoped I would find another gear somehow. I didn't eat this morning, so was pushing, in part, to exhaust my liver glycogen and dig into fat stores. Good training for long rides to come this summer. I actually think I pushed a bit too hard and felt I needed a long pull off my Gatorade bottle near Hagen Park, but kept pushing anyway.

    I passed a guy riding a nice Lite Speed a few miles before that and had a feeling he was hanging around back there somewhere, but looked back and didn't see him. Finally, on that little downhill just before the approach to the William Pond bridge I gave in and drank a full 16 oz from my waterbottle. Sure enough, he caught up with me a minute later and we went over the bridge together.

    I was very surprised when I got home and uploaded my Garmin. I actually took a full minute and a half out of my ride time. Losing 1.5 minutes on a 70 minute ride is pretty good. Looking at the comparison trace, I had few peaks that were higher, but overall my speed was consistently a little higher, and without any major sags, not much opportunity for unwelcome time to creep into the ride. Ahhh, now that's more like it!

    My BP was once again in the 110/55 range, down from 168/89 last night, so drank a full 18 oz of tomato juice after eating a nice big potato. Just the right combo of fast carbs, potassium, slow carbs and salt. Within 20 minutes of drinking the tomato juice my BP was back up to 135/75 and pulse rate down 15 bpm. Great recovery food. My calf still hurts pretty bad when hammering this hard, but it is getting better.

    It's true. I'm a hammerhead. I love speed. What's the point of going slower than flat out? (at least on a short course like this) Of course, I did somehow manage to do all of this with only 12 minutes spent in Zone 5, and even my average HR was down, but damned, that one HURT. Pretty hard to argue with the progress though. Picked up the average speed 0.20 mph too. Relentless forward progress. ;)

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Solo Blast

    I missed a couple of great rides on Saturday. I couldn't have ridden both, and choosing between them was really hard. The shorter one was with my favorite bunch of riders, and the longer, steeper one I could ride to from my front door. As it was a 2 day road trip to Barstow and back left me feeling under the weather. Thought it was the flu, and was sneezing, but suspect now it was just bad road food making big D raise its ugly head.

    Yesterday my gut finally felt better, and the sun was actually shining through an almost clear sky. We get days on end this time of year in the San Joaquin valley where there are ugly steel-gray skies,  rain threatening all day, lots of fog, and only an hour or two of sun at best. If you've ever lived in Chicago you know what I'm talking about. Yesterday was a fabulous exception and it did wonders for my mood.

    I headed out the door suited up in tights, balaclava, knee socks and space blanket shoe covers deciding to do the same route as last time - Bannister Pk to Sunrise to the fish hatchery, back to Sunrise, down to WB Pond Pk, and home to Carmichael Pk. It's almost exactly 20 miles with ~ 1,400ft of rollers in the 8-9% grade range. (was really surprised when I checked my Garmin they were that steep) There's also one short hill of 15% grade I use to test leg strength and cardio recovery as it is short enough to stand and hammer in tall gears. When in peak form I can make about 900 watts for that hundred yards or so.

    Speaking of the Garmin, there is one trick I really like to make use of. If you have a short hill like that you can get a much better trace if you remember to hit the lap button just before and after it. This brings up another good use for that technique though.

    If you roll into an area and end up milling around a bit, like when searching for a bathroom or water, just hit the lap button before and after it because when you get home the Garmin Training Center software allows you to delete these little garbage laps so you get a good time. You can then upload the edited trace to GarminConnect and get a good comparison. Obviously this can be abused, but there would be little point in having a training tool only to cheat it, so not all that tempting.

    I didn't start really strong, like last time, but know my rides tend to average themselves out, so just let the ride come to me. The sunshine really helped. I was grinning most of the way, and even though the temps were in the high 40s, it seemed a lot warmer. The 3-4 mile stretch from Sunrise to the salmon fish hatchery is an O&B, which normally I find boring, but this stretch has some nice hills and I actually enjoyed seeing the same people going in both directions. The difference being I was down in the aerobars and hammering by the return leg.

    The section of the ARPT from Sunrise to William B Pond is pretty fast. It has some tight turns, even a hairpin turn, and a couple of short grades to climb, but I find I can really hammer this stretch of trail, and did just that. I was looking for a challenge as I blew by one rider after another, but no one did. With the wind just slightly, I was able to hang between 19 and 23 mph, centered on 21 or so. I have started to notice that my wind is better when I slow my cadence, so I have been riding with a bit slower cadence of late. I am going to have to work on speeding that back up, but right now I am liking the ground speed.

    Careful to hydrate on downhills, I got to WBP in pretty good shape and was able to keep my speed up transitioning back onto surface streets. It's easy to coast a bit there, which I am becoming more aware of, and trying to avoid. Back through the "rat's maze", up that little 15% grade and then onto a 2 mi stretch of California, past the old Govoner's Mansion, and home. That stretch is so rough it's almost unridable, and a real challenge to keep the speed up on. The traffic wasn't too heavy yet so I was able to ride in the left wheel rut some of the time, and that helped. The softer ride of the new rear wheel is a really big help here.

    When I got home I uploaded the Garmin to my computer and was disappointed that I had such a strong ride and yet finished in almost exactly the same time as last time. I was looking at the comparison trace and noticed one section that was a lot faster last time - and then remembered I had drafted with a couple of strong riders last time and really scorched a 5 mile section between Sunrise and WBP. As I studied the comparison trace further I started grinning from ear to ear. The speed difference was only 0.1 mph.

    Almost the entire ride was faster this time, and even riding solo, I came close to my drafted time. Part of this is due to moving my seat forward so I am in a better time-trial position (still not far enough and I need to remember to move it forward more), and part of it is just better cardio. I will say I was getting worried about my right calf. It still hurts and threatens to cramp because I can push so hard in this thick winter air.

    When I get time I'll post the comparison trace, but suffice it to say I had a great ride. I spent 10 more minutes in Zone 5 this time, 24 vs 14, but it was exhilarating!

    I've been itching to ride to Rescue, so when the weather clears up again I'll bring my camera and share those vistas of the snow-capped Sierras.