Tuesday, June 12, 2012

MIBM Recap: Lessons Learned

Finally back over 4,000 per year, and 500 per month.
 2012 is the first year I made a serious effort to rack up some miles for my May Is Bike Month (MIBM) pledge. While trying for 100 miles each week now for 2 years, I usually end up with around 300 miles a month. Reviewing my rides and mileages on DailyMile, I noticed a few changes I thought I could make to break the 500 mile/month barrier.

577 miles in 13 rides. Some LSD in May
First, I noticed that I never rode two days in a row to avoid muscle glycogen depletion. This was no accident, it stemmed from a combination Friday evening, and Saturday morning ride where the Friday ride leader didn't get us to a cafe in time to recover properly. This led to a disaster of a 60 mile Saturday ride where my muscle glycogen was so depleted I suffered through a pathetic 212 watt ride. I decided to challenge this limitation again, and see if it was a 1-off experience, or a real limitation.

Second, I noticed that general fatigue, weather, or allergies often kept me off the bike for 5-7 days at a time, which wastes a lot of days in the month. Weather is hard to beat, but having good lighting gave me some crucial flexibility to beat heat, cold, and allergies.

Third, I began to notice last year, when I started to get interested in riding a double century, that if you want to reliably get out the door for the long miles required to train for doubles, you have to have spare parts you can use when things break, bend or wear out. (I crashed the 3rd week of Feb, on the last ride of my Big Week, so March broke the trend - temporarily - because I didn't have a spare me).

Finally, I noticed that hand numbing, numbing boy parts, and shoe hot-spots started to take their toll after 100 miles a week. If you've been reading along over the last 15 months, you know I've been relentlessly identifying and addressing these problem areas.

So how successful have my efforts over the last 15 months been? I thought MIBM would be an excellent challenge to test my adaptations, and that turned out to be true. I was also inspired by my ability to steadily increase my monthly mileage starting around Thanksgiving last year. Each month I'd tack on another 10-25-miles.

Only 1 day off, and burning a LOT of calories. My Big Week experiment back in February
I started testing my ability to evade the fatigue that normally comes with back-to-back days in March, and racked up a 214 mile week, with only one (unnecessary, as it turned out) rest day, and generally, long days separated by short, 20-something recovery rides. Fatigue is  a problem if I spend more than 30 minutes in Zone 5, or at 100% of max HR for more than a couple of minutes. Keeping my HR in Zone 3 solved the fatigue problem, except for cumulative fatigue after days of riding. Psychological fatigue played a bigger role than I'd have thought, making it hard to find the motivation to get out the door.

I was inspired to try recovery rides because there was a report published early this year by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that showed cells accumulate various and sundry flotsam when working hard, but they scavenge themselves to find, and burn these fragments for fuel - BUT- this process is triggered only by mild, recovery ride type exercise. The process is called autophagy.  I still need to rein myself in on recovery rides, but if I keep my HR below 130, and at an average of 120, recovery rides help.

I spent almost the whole first week of May off the bike due to high winds and high pollen counts, but then hit on the idea of getting up before 5AM, before the offending plants opened for business, and while the wind was still calm. Having bought good lighting for winter riding, I was safely able to ride early. That approach worked, as long as I finished up by 10:00am, when my throat would start to swell shut. I still had to put up with some red, blood-shot eyes, and sneezing, but the early mornings were quiet, serene, and very cool.

Starting the 4th week the heat became a problem, but once again, early starts, or riding after dark, provided the needed scheduling flexibility to ride comfortably. In fact, the night of the 31st I rode 51 miles, stopping at WBP park, instead of extending down to CSUS because nobody was out riding at 10:00 at night. Weird, since hundreds of people rode after dark all winter, and have the lighting to beat 100 degree heat. I also used my lighting, especially tail lighting, to stay safe in early morning rush-hour traffic when returning home after very early starts.

Early in the month I remounted my custom built Open Pro wheel, and it was pinging and popping till it nearly drove me mad. I did everything I could think of, and nothing helped - except putting the "spare" I'd been riding all winter back on the bike. It's almost an identical wheel, except it has WheelSmith 14/15ga spokes instead of DT Revolution, and it costs half as much. Problem solved. (still need to come up with a long-term solution, like rebuild the wheel using a DT Swiss RR465 rim, but not under any great pressure to decide as the wheel is functional as a spare, albeit annoying)

The most serious problem I encountered were saddle sores, and those are a very serious problem. I've had friends who've been off the bike for months, and those sores continue to limit their time on the bike. I tried chamois butter, talc, shorts with different chamois, and riding the SS bike with it's classic seat. It all helped, but the sores kept getting worse. I finally ordered an expensive Fi:zik Aliante seat, which was even worse than my Specialized Avatar since I spend so much time in the drops and aerobars. Staying off the bike while waiting for the seat, riding my SS, and changing to shorts with different chamois helped, but still wasted 5 days.

I should also mention that the Mavic Cosmic Elite front wheel (made in Romania btw) helped considerably on days when I was tired and the wind was fierce. I ran into a problem with it though on the SBH ride on May 31st, because I blew the front tire off, ruining the inner tube, and the spare didn't have a long enough stem to air up the tire past 35lbs - at least for 10 miles or so. I tried again at WBP and got about 75lbs in it. That was good enough to add a trip up to Folsom and 20 miles to the total.

The biggest problem of all turned out to be nutrition, and for what turns out to be an obvious reason. Ride fuel is cheap and ubiquitous, whereas good nutrition is expensive and time-consuming to prepare.. Tired of baking potatoes after, and cooking and eating rice before the ride (no appetite so early in the morning), I started eating a LOT of french bread - as much as 2 one pound loaves per day. This turned out to be a disaster, as my blood pressure got out of control, diverticulitis and constipation were a constant threat, and fatigue started to set in. I was scrambling to find something that would work.

I went back to potatoes after, and resigned myself to spending the money for commercial ride fuels, and eating them on the bike, especially early in the ride, as appetite would allow. The best recovery meal I had included 4oz of left over T-Bone steak with my recovery potatoes on one glorious Monday. I could almost feel that hit my muscles. My pepper chicken dish really hit the spot too, and the micro-nutrients were so effective I could almost feel myself getting stronger with each bite. Angel-hair pasta with hot Italian sausage, crushed red peppers, and Newman's Own Sockarooni sauce was excellent - but I was often too tired to cook.

Still, I was searching for nutritional solutions while waiting for the new seat and nursing saddle sores, so not so sure the nutrition thing is really fixed. I will have to push the Big Mile frontier again, and see if I can get it dialed in. I did come to love Espresso Love GUs. The maltodextrin really helped put some snap in my legs on a few occasions, though, caffeine should be saved for late in a ride to prevent going too hard too soon, and dehydration.

It's worth mentioning that days of back-to-back riding progressively strips the body of carbs, so getting enough carbs becomes more important. Fruit, whole wheat bread, and pasta, all with GIs in the 20s-30s, are the go-to foods after initial an initial recovery  period of 1hr (or the duration of the ride for rides longer than 2 hours). Start with very fast carbs to prevent catabolic muscle destruction, and taper into slower carbs, and good, balanced nutrition. Midnight snacks play an important role in reloading muscle glycogen. Raisin bran is my favorite.

Quads are still my weakest link, and even now, after 9 days off the bike, my IT bands on both legs ache a little. I need a solution to this problem, and that may be BenGay, compression shorts, massage, or something I haven't considered, (like a wife) but this problem still needs solving.

Overall, though, I was pleasantly surprised that so much worked so well. My wrists were fine, my feet were fine, I had the clothing and lighting to ride as early or late as needed, and I was able to keep motivated with the help of my friends on DailyMile, the MIBM website (which reported rival's miles), and my bike club, the Sacramento Bike Hikers.

Finally, I should mention that shifting on the front derailleur was getting worse and worse, and it finally locked up completely coming home on the 31st. I've torn the shifter down and found one of the release ratchet dogs broke off. There are no user inputs to this mechanism, other than those required to shift, so I'm not sure what happened, but I did find a 1/2" strand of shifter cable inside the mechanism. My best guess is a defect in the metal dating back before mfg began. These are tiny parts, and even tiny defects can cause failure.

I'm  going to blog the entire RnR project, but having not just spare parts, but a spare bike as well, is helpful if you want to avoid any training gaps. Something to think about.

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