Archive for May, 2011

Climbing and Hammer Products

The stress dreams continue, with The 508 as their centerpiece. Typically, they all involve iterations of those all-too-familiar high-school nightmares: the showing up naked for class or forgetting about the exam that will determine the course of everything to follow. My 508 dreams center around oversleeping for the start. My parents are always my crew in these dreams, which is ironic, given their propensity for punctuality; specifically showing up 15 minutes early for every date. They are always nonchalant about missing the start, and they tell me things like “Oh, well. It’s probably for the best anyway. That’s such a silly race.”

Clearly, the best way to combat this kind of subconscious stress is to get out and ride. Hard. To help fuel that training, I placed an order for Hammer Nutrition products, and I was excited to try out a couple new additions to my cycling fuel. In particular, I order Anti-Fatigue Caps and Endurance Aminos. I know what some of you are thinking. “Seriously? It’s a cult to Hammer Nutrition.” And I won’t deny it. But, I figured since I had such a good discount on their products as a 508 participant, that it would be worth some experimentation.

Yesterday, I did a 50-mile hill-repeat ride consisting of 2 loops over both sides of Shannon/Kennedy roads, culminating in a climb up Hicks Road, which is my nemesis. There’s nothing as steep as Hicks on The 508, so it’s a good measuring stick for me to climb it (and improve climbing it) as I get closer to the race.

There was some confusion about my training schedule, and I thought I was supposed to be out for 6 hours, but my coach sent me a 2-hour ride, so I ended up splitting the difference to ride 4. Of course, that’s what I ended up doing, not what I planned on, which would come back to bite me in the ass by the end of the day.

To start, I prepared a couple 1-hour bottles (2 scoops of HEED in each) as my primary fuel source. I grabbed three Hammer Gel packs and a tin full of Endurolytes. Prior to heading out, I took 2 each of the Endurance Aminos and the Anti-Fatigue Caps, then hit the road. It was lousy weather, with the temps never getting out of the 50’s. It was raining for a good portion of the ride, and there was enough wind to make it unpleasant. But, I figured I could handle it for 2 hours.

I got to the base of Shannon Road, and, as is always the case, I had to decide between going straight (Shannon road, which is shorter but steeper) or hanging a left (onto Kennedy, which has a couple short steep pitches, but is a longer climb) for the short climbs there. I opted to go straight, since I hadn’t done Shannon in awhile. It felt good to zip up to the top (“zip” being a relative term), and descend off the back side. Since I was only out for a couple hours, I originally intended to head on home, but I decided I could stand to climb a little more, so I turned around and went back up Shannon, which is a longer climb but not as steep. Up and over the top, and down the other side, when I decided to turn onto Kennedy and climb it, too. I felt good after descending the other side of Kennedy, so I turned around there, too, which is a couple miles to the top with a few steeper pitches, but a nice leveling out towards the top.

I don’t remember the last time I did a whole Shannon/Shannon/Kennedy/Kennedy circuit, but it felt good. And rather than heading home, I decided that it was a good idea to push it. It was cold. It was raining. And I, of all people, was pushing myself to climb. I shifted into progressively bigger gears, and completed the whole circuit a second time. I didn’t know what had gotten into me, but it felt great to be riding aggressively on climbs.

The last time up Kennedy, I had a rabbit in front of me. He had made a snide remark at the bottom while I was off to the side of the road swapping out my water bottles. He said something about his not needing to stop when I asked him how he was doing. I just laughed it off and let him go up the road. I try to not get caught up in testosterone poisoning, but after giving him a really healthy head start (100 meters?), I quickly realized I was going to close on him. He kept looking over his shoulder and then digging in to go faster, but I was on his wheel in just a couple minutes. He said something about racing me to the top, so I simply stood up and cranked past him. The last thing I heard him say was “Jesus! I can’t do THAT!” It’s rare that I drop anyone, so I gave myself a few minutes to be proud of it before heading home.

Funny thing was, though, that rather than turning for home, I decided I’d give Hicks a shot. I hate this road. I’ve never been able to climb it. But, I was having a good day, so why not? Onto Hicks I went, and when the road tilted up, I immediately questioned my sanity. My legs were getting tired, and I was out of gels. Despite keeping up with my Endurolytes, I was nearly out of HEED, and I had been nursing it the entire time. Still, I decided I would get further up Hicks than is usual for me before allowing myself to even consider stopping. I had to serpentine my way up (sorry to the descending cyclist in the Rabobank kit who I genuinely scared to death), but I gained a lot more elevation before having to unclip. I’m not climber. I don’t pretend to be. Still, for me, it was a good day, and the hill repeats will help me in the long run.

On the way back down, I cramped pretty severely in both legs. I got a cramp right behind my right knee, which was a knew spot for me. On the left leg, I cramped on my inner thigh, which is a more common place for me to cramp. It was my own fault for not preparing and staying hydrated enough. Still, after a few minutes off the bike working out the cramps, I was able to get back in the saddle and pedal home. I was slower than I would have liked, but I was definitely thankful for that headwind!

All in all, a solid day on the bike. It wasn’t until afterward when I figured out that maybe the new Hammer products had a hand in my climbing better. I’ll have to keep experimenting there to see, but it was definitely an up-tick in my performance level yesterday. And I enjoyed being one of the few cyclists out on a cold, windy, rainy day in the hills. A hundred more rides like that one and I’ll start to feel confident about The 508. 🙂

Up next, the Davis Double Century this weekend.

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Champing at the Bit

(First, a disclaimer: it really is “champing,” not “chomping.”) heh

I have my bike back, but it’s the last week of the semester, and I’m scratching and clawing for time to ride. This past week was, fortunately, a rest week for me, but I am getting super nervous about the lack of riding over the past couple of weeks. The Davis Double Century is coming up in 2 weeks, and I’m going to try to get out there and hammer through that one. I need to be on a bike for long, consecutive hours.

For now, though, I’m stuck in a grading spiral. I’m hoping that the next two days will be enough to get me over the hump. But I. Want. To. Ride.

OK. Enough procrastinating on my blog. Grading now so I can roll tomorrow (well… not literally tomorrow, but you know what I mean.)

Tour de Cure

I didn’t think I’d make it to this one. New jobs. Big stresses. Etc. Etc. There just wasn’t time.

Long story short, I decided I wanted to do it, so I got up insanely early and drove to Napa Sunday morning, arriving at 6:15 to prep for the 100-mile ride. Having been out on the route, I now see why people like this ride. It’s absolutely flat (to me) and fast. Of course, there are some issues, as I quickly discovered.

My timing was spot on. I had just enough time to ready my bike, fill my bottle, stuff my jersey with food and fuel, and check in at registration. After pinning on my bib number, I headed to the start line 2 minutes prior to the roll out, where I saw a friend from my team. We chatted briefly, then headed out in the middle of the pack. After a couple of laughs, I shifted into my big ring and stood up to hammer to the front of the group… only to drop my chain and have to dismount and stop.

It was a sign of things to come.

Thirty seconds later, I had the chain back on and was heading back out to the group. The first few miles are slow and easy over a very nicely paved bike path. I don’t really care for riding on bike paths for this reason: they’re crowded and challenging to navigate with more than a single rider or two. I picked my way up a few riders at a time, until we turned out onto some city back streets and I was able to leapfrog large groups. After a few minutes, I was back up toward the front and in a forming paceline with one other rider who seemed equally interested in going faster, and a big guy with lots of leg strength and plenty of wind break for me to draft behind.

By the time we got to the first major road and the right turn, a few people stopped. I kept rolling, and a couple others (we lost the big guy, but not Scott, a very strong rider) quickly caught up and we started working together. Within five miles or so, between the railroad crossing and the first rest stop (about 17 miles in), we saw three other riders up ahead, and we overtook them at speed.

“We just blew past Chris Carmichael,” I said. “That might be bad form.” (Carmichael markets himself as Lance Armstrong’s coach, and he’s authored a couple books on cycling, and is no slouch in the saddle. He was the lead out for the 100-mile ride, and I don’t think he was expecting a short paceline of three riders to hit a pace that fast, let alone reel him in while he was off the front.)

Scott looked over his shoulder and jokingly asked if we should go back, and I told him I didn’t think that would be necessary. “Besides,” I said, “I plan on blogging this!”

A few minutes later, and as we all suspected, Carmichael and his two riding companions were back up with our group, and the fun was in full gear. With a breakaway of six riders, including myself, we hammered. I have never worked that hard or fast over the first 30 miles of a ride. It was… well… FAST!

The first rest stop was on us before we  knew it. None of us had even touched our bottles, so the stop was entirely unnecessary. We blew past the turn off and headed north toward the outer loop. We all took even pulls at the front, and the highlights of my day were drafting off an Olympic cyclist, then taking my turn at the front when it was my turn. We all were solid bike handlers, so the gaps between wheels were super tight. It’s an adrenaline rush to ride a bicycle at 30 mph with just 3 inches of space between my front wheel and the rear wheel of the cyclist in front of me.

In terms of distance cycling, this course is flat. We went over a couple small rollers, and Scott joked that we had just completed the second-hardest climb of the day. We still were over 20 mph during the incline, so I started doing the math. We were going to finish the 100 miles in under 5 hours, which would be a first for me. As a distance cyclist, the pace was way too high for me, and I knew I couldn’t hang with them for the entire ride (my heart rate was steady in the 150s, which is not sustainable for the duration). But I was determined to hold on as long as I could. We were just a handful of miles from our first rest stop, which we’d also go past, opting to stop after the outer loop. The road had just tilted up a bit, on the only actual climb on the course, and were all still on our big rings, when the group split violently. We had just come on some rough pavement, and it happened too fast for the lead riders to point out the potholes. Instead, they just dodged, which left me, who was second to last in line at the time, to hit it hard.

I’ve hit potholes before. It happens. But this one was violent. Both my bottles flew out of their cages, and I had to peel off to pick them up from the middle of the road. I did it quickly, because I didn’t want to lose contact with my group. But when I went to pedal, my chain had dropped once more. This time, though, I wasn’t able to fix it quickly. A couple minutes went by, and I when I finally got the chain back on, it was clear I had a big problem with my drive train. I’d pedal, then the entire bike would “pop,” and I’d lose power. Pedal, then that hard, violent shake that rattled the frame. Pedal. Pop. Pedal. Pop.

I dismounted. I tinkered. Pedal. Pop. Pedal. Pop.

Ten minutes later, and the next paceline passed me on the climb.

I tinkered some more. Pedal. Pop. Pedal. Pop.

Fifteen minutes off the bike, and the second paceline was through. After 20 minutes, the riders started coming by in small, fragmented groups. And when, after 30 minutes, I started getting passed by a steady stream of individual riders, I knew the bulk of the 100-milers overtake me soon. I was able to limp slowly up the hill at the county line, then descend off the back, but I couldn’t pedal to keep up with them. It was incredible to see how far ahead of the main group we had gotten. And it was disappointing to know I wouldn’t be able to finish the ride.

I limped into the rest stop at the start of the outer loop an hour and 28 minutes after starting. I let them know I was a “mechanical DNF,” and I waited for the SAG to pick me up. My friend Matt made it safely to the rest stop, and we were able to joke a little bit. We talked bike stuff before he rolled out to finish his ride, and I was jealous. It had been cold at the start, but it was up to 80 degrees, and all I wanted was to push around the outer loop and finish.

I did see the group of guys I had been riding with when they rolled into the rest stop after the outer loop. I told them what had happened, and they were all wondering what had happened to me. We talked about who was fast, who was strong, who was climbing well. Then I got in the SAG wagon and headed back toward the start. A few miles from the finish, a mother and son on the 10-mile course had a mechanical breakdown, so I volunteered to get myself back under my own power. I coasted the rest of the way in, then spent a couple hours catching up with other Citadel Riders at the finish line.

After completing half the course, all I can say is I want to go back and do it again next year, hopefully without the mechanical difficulties. It’s ironic to successfully ride 500 miles through harsh terrain, but then break down for the first time on a “leisure ride” in wine country. That’s cycling. But I walked away with still a great experience on the bike, and the confidence that I can keep pace with some very strong cyclists. That part was an absolute blast, and I look forward to getting back out there again.

As soon as the drive train on my bike is fixed. 🙂