Archive for Fitness

Three P’s

I’ve written about mistakes I want to avoid, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to avoid them.

I’ve given advice, but it’s advice given from the comfort of my living room, not the harshness of the road.

I’ve finished The 508 once, but that was part of a two-man team.

For all the positive thinking, I can come up with a “but” statement that makes me nervous. And seriously, if you aren’t nervous prior to undertaking The 508, something is seriously wrong. There are times when I can see myself achieving even my loftiest goals, but more often than not, I can conjure up imaginings of the wheels coming off.

All my cycling friends are tapering now. My own taper starts on the other side of this weekend. The one comment I get from them and others, though, is “are you ready?” As I said yesterday, “No, I’m not ready. Who’s ever ready to turn themselves inside out the way this course asks you to?”

And that’s really it, isn’t it? There isn’t a rider who will start in Santa Clarita who can’t finish 508 miles in 48 hours. Every single person there has that ability. But what happens out on the course convinces us otherwise. Weather goes squirrelly. We blow up on a climb. We fall “behind,” and get demoralized. We DNF (myself, included. I’ve DNF’d a lot!) not because we physically are incapable of finishing. We DNF because we beat ourselves.

During my ride yesterday, I had plenty of time to think about what it is I am trying to do. I was feeling amazing. I was riding well. I was riding fast. My heart rate was right where I wanted it. Then I hit a hill and things fell apart, quite literally, within a 2-mile stretch. That’s what cycling does. It humbles you. An observer can almost see the exact moment when things stop functioning smoothly. That observer can almost see the moment it becomes a struggle. It was hot yesterday, and this one little climb 50 miles from my house just about did me in. And what do I think? I think “What if that happens on Stage 1? What if this was San Francisquito, and I still have 458 miles to go?”

I rode through it, but it gave me time to consider what it is I need to get me through to the finish.

Patience
I’m not a patient rider. I want to be faster than I really am, and I end up being far too competitive during rides. It really is a struggle for me to ride for the long-haul, not the immediate circumstance. It’s hard to ride for Baker when I’m not even to California City. It’s hard to dial it down a notch when I think about not making Towne Pass before the middle of the night. It’s hard to maintain perspective, which I guess could be another “P.”

Persistence
If I just keep pedaling the end WILL come. (Which, by the way, it always does.) As long as I keep moving forward, I always reach my destination. I have never quit a ride because I thought I couldn’t go one more pedal stroke. I quit rides because I think I can’t go 100 more pedal strokes. Just keep going… the end eventually gets here; the climb eventually summits; the legs eventually feel better. I have keep riding, because I’m too afraid not too.

Perseverance
I had met a group of people from the Bay Area during last year’s race, and we kept in touch. About a week after the race, I got an invite to join them for a ride. It was really tough on me, and I’ve thought about it every day since. I couldn’t ride the race last year because of some health issues. This year, I want to go on that post-508 ride wearing my own jersey. To do so requires perseverance. It requires tenacity and stick-to-itiveness I often wonder if I possess.

This race isn’t just a bike race. This race, for those of us at the back of the pack, is about personal discovery. It’s about growth. It’s about learning what’s inside us. I’m afraid, sometimes, of what I might find. In just a couple weeks, I’m going to line up with a couple hundred other cyclists in Santa Clarita, and I’m going to attempt to ride farther than I’ve ever ridden. I’m going to try to do something I’m not entirely sure I can do.

I’m going to ride in The Furnace Creek 508.

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My Ride

My Body (Tells Me No) (Young The Giant singing my theme song for the 2011 Furnace Creek 508)

Over the past year, I have changed as a man. Forget about riding a bike for a minute. I spent more time working on myself, my identity and what matters most to me, than at any other point in my life. And the end result? I like me. I’m so far from perfect, but I know some things about me I didn’t know at this time last year.

My body tells me no.
So, I’m going to go ride this 508+ miles in the desert in just a couple weeks. People ask me “why?” And I don’t have a logical answer.

But I won’t quit…
And maybe that’s the answer. I grew up quitting. I quit football. I quit track. I quit things that were hard, or tough, or challenging. Then I joined the military, and for once I stuck it out. I discovered that I can accomplish some amazing things when I put my mind to it. I like not quitting, even though there still are times when I can’t make my goals.

‘Cuz I want more.
And don’t we all really want more? That’s why there’s a hall of fame for The Furnace Creek 508. That’s why we keep showing up at start lines; why we batter our bodies and spirits in the desert; why we roll in to the finish hours later than we ever thought, and for a shirt.

It’s my road.
Because it’s my road. There are 230 other cyclists out there? Good for them. I’m going to beat some of them. Some of them are going to beat me, and handily. But it doesn’t matter. Fast. Slow. Somewhere in between. Win? Dead fucking last? Both get a medal. Both get a jersey. Both get bragging rights.

So here’s the deal, folks. It’s your road. It’s your ride. There’s no right way to ride 508 miles. There’s no wrong way. You want to stop and sleep 4 hours in Furnace Creek and eat a massive sandwich and bag of potato chips? You go right on ahead. Want to go on a full Hammer Nutrition regimen? Great! You want to ride a triple chain ring? If that’s what it takes, do it. You want to hire a coach? Then god bless.

I can give you advice, and so can others. I’ve only ridden the course once, and that was as part of a two-person team. I don’t have any great insight you don’t already have yourself. I just know what works for me. I have a coach. I ride a double chain ring (however, I did just put on an 11/28 cassette). I use Hammer Nutrition. Why? It works for me.

In 2009, my teammate spent the better part of the drive from 29 Palms back to Santa Clarita telling me that I wasn’t ever going to be the kind of cyclist who needs a coach. That I should get off the Hammer Nutrition. “Get yourself a triple and ride the way you’re supposed to.” Thanks, but no thanks. That’s HIS ride, not mine.

We all begin at the start line smiling and laughing and expecting to do great things. Many cross the finish line looking beleaguered and destroyed. Many others will have to stop along the way and take a DNF. The only time we’re all on the same program is there at the start. Once the wheels start turning, each rider is on his or her own. What works for me won’t work for you. Just as what works (relatively speaking) for my former teammate works for him, but doesn’t come close to working for me.

It’s your road. It’s your race. Go ride it.

We each have our own ride. All the advice in the world doesn't change it. I hope everyone, myself included, has an amazing ride.

Common Mistakes I Hope To Avoid: Stages 5-8

I’m sorry for not giving stage-specific tips or observations at this point. Honestly, though, everything here starts to blur, and when I think about the things I want to make sure I do right, and the things I don’t want to do wrong, they repeat (and there already are some repetitions up to this point), so it seemed more logical to just go with a final compilation.

Mistake 1: Get Him To The Greek!
2011 marks the 4th time I will have gone through Shoshone. Each time has been a different experience. When I was crewing in 2007, we got here late, and there was a long delay. It had been a long night/morning of just getting to that point, and the road to Baker was welcome.

When I got here in 2009, I crawled my wind-ravaged carcass into the back of the van and really have no recollection of what was going on until someone told me it was time to get back on the bike in Baker.

In 2010, I got to have breakfast at a diner in “town,” and I watched the early-morning racers pass through and get going.

It seems like every time, Shoshone to Baker is the psychological break. It’s a shorter stage, and it seems well within reach. “Just get there” becomes the mantra. Those who are feeling good will cruise up Ibex Pass and make the ride into Baker feeling good. For those who are fatigued and starting to flag, this stage is a killer. It’s hot. It’s usually windy. And it’s just enough to sap the last vestiges of strength from a racer. For the crew, Baker is awesome, because there are actual food options. But Baker scares me as a racer. In 2007, we spent so much time in Baker with a mechanical issue (the result of a lighting system that was far too complicated to be practical), that finishing was in doubt. In 2009, I just got on the bike and rode. I didn’t wait in Baker for anything. And in 2010, I sat and ate lunch and watched racer after racer throw in the towel.

When I get to Baker, I don’t want to stop. I want to yell out my totem, grab some bottles, let the crew rest up and get a bite to eat, but just roll on up the forever grade that waits.

Mistake 2: I’ll Just Rest Here For A Minute
The farther the race extends, the more creative riders get to justify being off the bike. In 2007, over the course of the final three or four stages, my racer kept getting off the bike every hour on the hour. It was like clockwork. Sometimes it was for a clothing change. Sometimes it was to mix his own bottle or find his own food. Sometimes it was to just give his feet a rest. Eventually, I broke the news to him that if he kept on like he was going, he wouldn’t finish within the time limit. He was mad at me, but it was the truth, and he kicked that habit at that point.

My goal is to stay on the bike. To finish, everyone has to stay on longer than he or she thinks is possible. The main thing here is for a crew to know when to get me off the bike and when to keep me on it. But all those things I need, be it clothing, nutrition/hydration, or something else in the van, the crew can get for me. They don’t need me back there, and I’ve let them know that.
Mistake 3: I Don’t Need To Eat Right Now

Mistake 4: Thank You!
This one really is a big one. In 2007, just off Sheephole Summit, my racer dropped back to the crew van and started thanking us for all the hard work and telling us he couldn’t have done it without us. But we still had 26 miles to go. It was 3:00 a.m., and he was riding 7 mph. I told him he wasn’t done yet. His wife asked if he wanted a sandwich. He cursed at us and gutted out the finish.

In 2009, I left the last time station feeling exhausted. But it was the last stage. Even out of it, it felt “downhill.” I was so out of it, in fact, that halfway up the climb to Sheephole, I pulled over and told the crew that I needed to rest before starting the climb. When they informed me I was already on it and nearing the top, I just looked at the road, said “Oh.” and kept on going. At the bottom of the descent, though, I just pulled over, got off the bike, and started throwing up. I was only a few miles from the turn into town, and I had to get back in the van, sip a Coke, and find the reserves to make it the final distance.

This race ends at the finish line. There’s not an easy stretch, not even the end. My crew was genuinely worried that I was going to DNF at the 500-mile marker. At that point, it’s not about the training or the physical fitness. It’s all about the mental toughness to turn the pedals one crank at a time. I swear, that was a record for the slowest bike ride ever. But that’s how this race is. If you cross the finish line with a full tank and lots of energy… well…

Mistake 5: Just A Little Bit Longer

It’s simply too easy to look ahead to the next time station, the next leg of the race, the finish line. It’s too easy to back off and feel like I’ve accomplished things before I actually have. Much like the premature congratulations in “Mistake 4,” this course really tests more than just a rider’s physical fitness. It tests fortitude, courage, doubts, fears. The highest highs and lowest lows all come out. In 48 hours on a tough course like this, a rider can experience every emotion imaginable.

I have planned ahead, but I have to ride in the moment. The first mile is as important as the last. There are no easy miles, and no shortcuts on the route. If things are going well, I’ll be out there long enough for that to change. And you know what? If things are going poorly, I’ll be out there long enough for that to change, too. The next time station is farther away that it feels. The rider up ahead is likely faster. The rider behind is likely faster. And sometimes, I’ll surprise myself and overtake those amber lights, or drop the ones behind me.

There’s only one certainty about the 508: Chris Kostman is standing in 29 Palms under a banner. He has a jersey there waiting. And a medal. And crossing that line is worth it. Whatever it takes, just get there. Ride the last 10 miles the way I ride the first 10 miles. Nothing is over until I’m standing there in front of the AdventureCORPS sign.

**********

You know, I’m not a “fast” cyclist. I’m not really a strong cyclist, either. But I have this crazy idea that sometimes I can pull off small miracles on the bike. That’s what the 508 is. It’s an opportunity to achieve something amazing. These mistakes I’ve been listing aren’t things for everyone. They are observations for me. They touch on my strengths and weaknesses. They address the pitfalls to which I know I’m susceptible. In the spirit of this race, I am sharing what little I know in the hopes it also helps someone else.

Out there on the course? We’re competitors, yes. And we also are our biggest supporters. Crews help out other teams. Racers give advice and encouragement. Before and after the race, the 508 is a family. I’m proud to be a part of it, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the start line. With luck, hard work, determination, and possibly divine intervention, we’ll also get a chance to say hello at the finish.

Good luck!

Common Mistakes I Hope To Avoid: Stage 4

On paper, this is my favorite stage. I simply love Death Valley. I’ve had my best and worst rides on this single stretch of road, and it’s the only stretch on which I truly never know what to expect. I love the changing colors and conditions on the valley floor. But during The 508, cruising along in the middle of the night, this is the stage where the reality of the race really starts to set in. In Spring of 2009, I rode in 5 hours to Shoshone from Furnace Creek during the Spring Death Valley Double Century. In the fall, it took me 11.5 hours to cover the same road. Nobody could have expected winds like that. In 2007, I watched the sun rise in the valley floor. In 2010, I saw just how many racers stop to rest and sleep, and how others shine when the sun goes down.

In '09, the climbs out of Death Valley were brutal after the headwinds on the valley floor. I was demoralized, but my crew was awesome. So was the crew of another racer in front of us. The Spirit Of The 508 is humbling, and attitude is everything.

Mistake 1: Dark Thoughts

It’s obvious on this course just how long and hard it is. After Furnace Creek, the physical challenges take a turn. When the sun sets and the dark of night settles in, racers have pushed beyond “double-century” distance and physical issues and into “ultra-marathon” distance and physical issues. In 2009, I was demoralized by the winds. I really did just sit down in Badwater and cry before my crew (who said later they wouldn’t have blamed me for quitting) got me back on the bike (actually, I walked into the wind, because I wasn’t able to clip in) and at least moving.

In 2010, the difference between those who were doing well and those who were struggling (this is a sweeping generalization, mind you), was positive attitude. One of my friends, Western Wood PeeWee, was climbing out and smiling on Jubilee. Butterfly was enjoying the course much more than in ’09. Jaguar was riding briefly with another cyclist and sharing some experience. Attitude is everything.

Mistake 2: Forgetting The Plan
At this point in The 508, it really stops being about the other racers (with notable exceptions for those in the front of the pack) and starts being an “individual effort.” Even though those blinking amber lights look close, they’re often well up the road. There’s no right or wrong way to handle the night. Some of my friends plan on sleeping a couple of hours. Others plan on pushing through to hit Shoshone by dawn. And others are going to wait and see how it goes. I would prefer to not get off the bike to sleep, but I have no way of knowing how I’ll feel once I’m out there. The only thing I know is that I’ll do what’s best for me. If I need to sleep, then I’ll sleep. And if I can get up and over the exit passes in the dark, then that’s fine, too. The fact of the matter is that I still have a double century to ride even though I’ve put 300 miles on my legs.

Mistake 3: The Silent Treatment

The crew is in full-on follow mode, but they still need to be coming up and checking in. It’s easy to get inside your head and question everything: training, planning, distance, speed. Doubts skitter across the mind like the scorpions on the road (Yes, there are scorpions. Lots of them.). In 2009, I was thankful every single moment my crew pulled up to just check on me and give me 15 seconds of conversation. I couldn’t have done it without their encouragement.

Mistake 4: The Silent Treatment, Part Deux

And while I’m talking about crew, here’s where your coherent decisions to choose the right people to sit in that van really pays off. I’m hard headed. I think I know it all out there. “Gels? Nah. I’m good.” It’s easy to be on good terms with the crew in the opening stages. Much different is that conversation in the middle of the night when I’m miserable. I don’t want to eat? Too bad. I think I’m going smooth and don’t need to take 5? Too bad. I think I’m taking in enough fluids and electrolytes and can skip this bottle? Guess again. I have to communicate to my crew. And when I’m not communicating with them, they need to be able to do what they know is right, even though I might be babbling an argument to the contrary.

Mistake 5: That Sinking Feeling

Go back through and read the blogs of 508 Finishers. Read the blogs of those who DNF’d. And read the blogs of those who, like me, barely made it through alive. One common element is stomach issues. It’s amazing how the body just shuts down and says “Yeah, I think we need to be done now.” That relatively civil statement, in my case, was expressed through vomiting and dizziness. Not so much fun. Pay attention to the body. I had been complaining of stomach discomfort for quite some time up Jubilee Pass, but when I descended that short mile off the back, my body just quit. I didn’t want to eat anything at all (sound familiar?). My crew, though, finally convinced me to try a single bite of a Hammer Bar.

Turns out a lot of my “distress” was just being hungry. I’d get sick again (and not just a rumbly tummy from hunger) before the end. But it’s safe to say that expecting the unexpected from your body is a safe bet. As my coach is fond of saying: it’s better to sleep it off and finish in 46 hours than it is to give up and take a DNF.

Mistake 6: Satisfaction

Hey, the “tough part” is over, right? But there are still 200 miles to go. Around Shoshone, I thought it was good to start realizing what I’d already accomplished. I drew determination from what I’d already conquered. After the winds of 2009 in Death Valley, nothing was going to keep me from finishing. Still, we hadn’t finished anything. Ibex Pass isn’t a leg breaker, and if you can make it through Furnace Creek without stopping, you can do the same in Shoshone. Seriously. Just get to Baker. From there, you really can start thinking ahead… a little bit. ๐Ÿ™‚

(To Be Continued…)

Common Mistakes I Hope To Avoid: Stage 2

Finally on the road during the 2009 FC 508. Just three pedal strokes from the Time Station in California City, I was enjoying the tailwind.

Stage 2 is an odd little stage. There aren’t any terrible climbs. The adrenaline of Stage 1 has warn off, and the reality of Stage 3 is looming just over the horizon. But Stage 2 has its own challenges.

Mistake 1: Railroad Tracks

There are some tracks crossing the road just before the climb up to Randsburg. Prior to the 2009 ride, my coach and others had warned me to be prepared for them. In hindsight, I don’t really recall the crossing with any specificity. I remember vaguely thinking “that wasn’t so bad,” then crossing another set and thinking “Oh. That’s what they meant.” The crossing requires you to dismount. It’s just a few seconds. Better safe than sorry.

Mistake 2: Nutrition and Hydration

By the time a rider leaves California City, the weather for the afternoon will be in place. In 2009, the tailwind was incredible. Since I was on a 2x relay, my adrenaline kicked in and I averaged just under 20 mph for the entire stage. It was a great ride. In 2010, as an official, I saw how the lack of tailwinds and increased heat really took their toll. There’s no cover on this stage, but it’s still a pretty quick road. It’s easy to lose track of time and the need to hydrate and take in calories. It’s pretty easy on the climbs, but the crew will need to spot the right location for safe handoffs during leapfrog support.

Mistake 3: Stop Sign

Just down the road from California City, there’s a right hand turn toward the rollers and the climb to Randsburg. In 2010, I parked my vehicle, which clearly said “Race Official,” right in front of the stop sign at that right turn. Seriously. The intersection is a T, and it was impossible to make that turn without looking directly at the Official Vehicle parked across the street. But the first two riders blew the stop. Time Penalty. It’s one of only a handful of stops on the course, so pay attention. There’s some desert voodoo going on at that intersection that somehow renders that stop sign invisible to some racers. Circle the intersection on your route sheet, and make sure your crew is in place, outside the van, ready to remind you of the requirement to come to a full stop.

Mistake 4: Testosterone Poisoning (Redux)

In 2009, I was going like a bat out of hell (sorry for the cliche). The Randsburg climb is a good one. As you can read in a lot of route descriptions, it’s not that bad, but it gets steeper toward the top. I do remember enjoying the climb. I passed a couple riders just before it, and I passed a handful more on the grade, itself. It felt good. And I was in my big ring. Later, when I was going over the race with my coach, I bragged about that last fact. His quote: “Why did you do that? Just because you can ride the big ring, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.” I thought about that for a long time. I’m not saying that the big ring was absolutely wrong. But it’s true that I could have climbed to Randsburg in nearly the same time but with much less strain and effort on my cardiovascular system and my legs.

Chris Kostman and the AdventureCorps staff van caught up with me on the road just as I was on the first roller. I didn't make the final cut of the '09 recap video, but this pic proves I was there!

Mistake 5: Ignoring the Rollers

Here’s where it gets a little tricky out on the course. We all think about the big climbs and the big descents. In looking at the searches that lead people to my blog, I see one of the most common being a search for “grades” of the climbs, and “elevation gain.” I’m not saying to ignore the climbs. They really are big. But after working hard on the climb to Randsburg, I was on the road to Trona in just a few very fast, short miles. The rollers surprised me with their stiffness. These aren’t 50-foot bumps. These are rollers that last a half mile to a mile. There are three of them. And by the time I was up and over that last one, I was really ready to be done with them.

Mistake 6: What Crosswinds?

The descent off the rollers is long and fast. At just 15 miles or so from the Trona Time Station, I was in a hurry to get there. Now, I’m not the world’s most confident descender, but there really wasn’t a way for me to prepare for the speed of the 508 course. A few yards into that descent off those rollers, I was at 45 mph and climbing. I was kind of having fun until that first gust of crosswind hit. I was riding a shallow-rimmed Mavic Ksyrium wheel with bladed spokes, and that gust nearly lifted me off the road and across it into oncoming traffic. We had not idea that the winds were a taste of things to come. But rest assured, I’ll be ready for the crosswinds right there.

Mistake 7: Are We There Yet?

The last 15 miles of Stage 2 are some of the longest. The road is flat, and you can see a very long way. It’s tough looking for a “destination;” in this case, the time station in Trona. It didn’t help that in 2009, when riding this stage, that we hit our first headwinds just outside of town. When I got to Trona, I was genuinely thankful to be done with the stage and take a break. In 2010, as a race official, I saw a lot of racers, both solo and teams, on this particular stage. There was a concentration of cyclists coming into Trona between 4:00-6:00 p.m. In going back to make sure lights were on for night support, I saw a lot of riders on the side of the road, disappointed at how far “behind” they were. With all that effort awaiting on Stage 2, it can be tough to get into Trona late.

Mistake 8: Machismo

Stage 1 is all adrenaline and glee. Stage 2 starts off fun, but the reality of the length is setting in by Trona. Here, too, was the first place the crew became vital for a lot of racers. I saw a lot of crews bickering, arguing, and already discontent with the race. I saw others already kicking into “support” and “cheerleader” mode. At 150 miles, there’s some fatigue setting in. The Queen Stage is up next. There’s a mixture of fear, anxiety, happiness, anticipation, confidence, trepidation, and god-knows-what-else going on in the rider.

I was very happy with my Stage 2 time and effort. Here I am naively smiling like The 508 is something fun to do. I had no idea what was up next. I did, however, enjoy a burrito!

Mistake 9: Dinner

Trona is where the crew eats. Period. The burritos wouldn’t be much special in any other setting. In Trona? During The 508? It’s mana. Seriously. The best burrito I’ve ever had was that burrito in Trona. Considering what’s ahead for the crew, make sure they stop. Join the herd. Eat a burrito (or taco). Tank up on gas for the van and fuel for the folks. It’s great to support the local community there (If you’ve never been to Trona, trust me, I’m sure they appreciate every cent of business we can give them.), and it’s a big morale boost to have hot food.

Up next… well… you already know what’s up next.

(To be continued…)

The van signage for the 2011 FC 508

I am so excited. I got my van signage in the mail over the weekend, when I was out of town. I just picked it up in the rental office, and I couldn’t be happier. For those who don’t know, The Furnace Creek 508 uses totems rather than bib numbers for racers. I really had a tough time figuring out what kind of totem I wanted to claim as my own.

In 2009, I competed as part of Team 2xThrasher. That was the totem of my teammate, and definitely did not embody my personality. In 2010, I had registered for The 508 and been accepted under the totem of “Plow Horse.” That name came from the 2009 race, when I was the lucky soul who had to ride the Furnace Creek-Shoshone stage. For more details on that stage, you can go back through my blog and read about what it’s like to ride into 50+mph headwinds. At the low point (literally) in Badwater, one of the crew told me I was like a plow horse out there. It seemed fitting.

However, I had some health issues last year, and I had to bow out of the race. I was a race official, instead. And it was around that time that I got myself tickled. I was mulling over various totem names, and I was thinking about my own (I wanted something alliterative), when I realized I wanted something a bit more on the lighter side. I had just seen Rob Zombie in concert, and it hit me that I could easily alter the spelling of the name, and have a totem that really did speak to my personality.

The ZomBee was born!

Fast forward to 2011, and you have my approach to The 508. See, here’s my philosophy. This race is something special. And when you get to the start line, you’ll see more than one approach to it. The rules are pretty specific about what has to appear in the way of signage. However, there are few specifications as to HOW that signage should appear. I’ve seen vans with totem names spelled out in duct tape. And I’ve seen vans with low-resolution paper printouts plastered to the sides with painter’s tape. Others have shelled out the bucks for car magnets and big time graphics. I’m somewhere in the middle.

I don’t want something cheap. It just seems… disrespectful. Of the race. Of the effort. I also couldn’t afford several hundred dollars worth of car magnets. So, I opted for vinyl lettering and a couple of vinyl graphic signs, like the one pictured in the blog. I ordered a few bumper stickers, too, to give to sponsors, family, and friends. Do I need to have spiffy van graphics and signage? No. But having a little more investment in everything, not just riding a bike, serves as healthy motivation. This morning, looking at the signage, I’m thrilled. I’m one step closer to October 8th. I might die out there on the course. I might DNF. I also might surprise myself. Whatever the result, at least I’ll look good doing it! ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Up next, the Davis Double Century this weekend.

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.ย 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 ย 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Training. Training. Training.

“How is your training?”

Yesterday at the bike shop, a friend of mine (and 508 entrant) asked that simple question. My pat answer really doesn’t change: “Not nearly enough.”

No matter how much I ride, I feel like that answer always is accurate. I’m at the point now where I’m breaking down the intervening months and calculating the time remaining between now and the race. In this case, six months just isn’t nearly as long as it sounds. Last week was a rest week, which is tough for me. It just feels like I’m stagnating. This week, given the fact that I am juggling 4 jobs to make ends meet, I’m cramming my cycling in catch as catch can.

It feels rushed. It feels, in a word, inadequate.

But I trust my coach, and I trust his plan. I had a good ride Sunday, and Monday was… well, it’s weird. I don’t really remember it at all. How is that? Tuesday was a threshold training ride, which means up on the trainer inside giving my cardio a workout, and yesterday was a recovery ride. Today, I’m back on the bike for another threshold training session, and a simple recovery ride tomorrow. Then I’m into the weekend. I’ll have an endurance ride Saturday morning, and that will be good. I need to get out and stretch the legs.

Sunday is a longer ride, and I’m hopeful a couple friends of mine will be joining. I’m also taking a friend/bike mechanic out on the road with me to see if crewing is something he wants to do. I need a bike mechanic in the van. After that, it’s just a matter of finding a third person who can be a jack-of-all-trades to help drive/navigate/motivate/etc.

Monday is another long ride, so I’ll have to be up early to get on the road.

When the semester ends, I basically have 2 months to hit the training as hard as I can. Then I’m off for 6 weeks and my summer visit with my son. That period makes training tougher. And on the other side of that, I really only have 6 weeks to make sure I’m ready to go before the race. That’s nothing. It feels too soon. It feels too fast. It feels stressful. I’m starting to obsess again. I go to sleep thinking about rolling out of the start; meeting the crew vans; descending into Panamint; climbing Townes Pass; Death Valley at night; trying to maintain a pace Sunday; crossing the finish line. Sometimes I’m that confident. Sometimes, doubt derails one of those imaginings, and I start thinking about how things go wrong. I think about breaking down in Badwater and crying during an insane windstorm. What if I can’t make it? What if I DNF? What if the training isn’t enough?

I feel too big. I feel too slow. I feel too weak. I need to ride into much better shape. I need to get faster. I need to climb stronger. I need to have a different answer to that question: “How’s the training?”

Enough.

That’s the answer I want to give. I want to say enough. I want to say that my training is enough to know I’m going to be there and give it my all. I want to say it’s enough to silence the doubts and negative thinking. I want to say I’m on it; I’m doing it.

I’m not there yet.

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