Posts Tagged ‘Bicycles’

This Shit Just Got Real

hehe

OK, you can decide if the headline of this post is a) an homage to the Bad Boys II movie, or b) an homage to Hot Fuzz.

Tonight was our “crew meeting.” After a day of teaching and working at the bike shop, I dragged my entire crew (and very important wife of one of those crewmen) across the street for mediocre pasta (I didn’t eat pasta. I ate a charred piece of salmon over a salad) and a conversation about The 508.

Man. Talk about making things seem much more real. I don’t know how this race manages to “sneak up” on anyone. But it sure feels that way. Afterward, I made the statement: “On the one hand, I feel like ‘Are you kidding me? It’s only 2-and-a-half weeks until the race?’ Then I stop and think and say ‘Are you kidding me? It’s still 2-and-a-half weeks until the race?'”

But two hours later, we’ve gone over the “ZomBee Bible,” complete with route printout, rules, checklists for food and everything else, nutritional sheets for the racer, goals, stage break-downs, hopes, fears, and everything in between.

By the end, I was just sort of babbling and repeating myself and saying things like “I’m just so humbled that you all are willing to go through all this to support me. I don’t want to let you all down.”

Sigh… this race really is a big deal. I think my crew better understands that this isn’t just a couple of crazy guys in the desert. (Well, it IS that. But you know what I mean.) It’s a production. It’s a big event. And it matters to everyone, not just me.

Here’s the itinerary:

Wednesday, 5 October, I rent the van and get it all prepped with signage, bike racks, etc.
Thursday, 6 October, depart from the bike shop around 4:30 in the afternoon. We’ll stop for dinner along the I-5, then make it into Santa Clarita around 10:30 or so.
Friday, 7 October, deal with all the last-minute stuff, inspections, and everything else.
Saturday-Sunday… yeah. Just a little spin with a couple of crazy guys in the desert!

I still have a few odds and ends to pick up, and I need to take care of getting the bikes tuned and ready. But it’s close now. After tonight, it most definitely did “just get real.”

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!

Thoughts On Jim Swarzman and Bicycles vs. Cars

A year ago, I stood in the parking lot of the Santa Clarita Hilton Garden Inn. I was a staff volunteer for AdventureCORP’s Furnace Creek 508, and I was one of two officials inspecting cars. Parked near the entrance of the parking lot was Gyrfalcon’s van. Trust me, you’d recognize it if you saw it. It was “vintage.” And they were having some difficulties with a fuze or a tail light, and I had a few minutes to talk with Jim Swarzman about his training, the upcoming race, and the whole process. It wasn’t a long conversation. He was distracted, obviously. I spoke with his crew and enjoyed the fact that they were one of the few vehicles parked in the shade.

It was all very brief.

I doubt they would have remembered the interaction.

In all honesty, I hadn’t really thought about until earlier this year, when I read the news that Jim Swarzman was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Today, that driver was “sentenced” for his crimes. It’s a travesty. Here is the story: http://www.cbs8.com/story/15441987/hit-and-run-driver-who-struck-bicyclist-in-encinitas-sentenced.

As a cyclist who has been hit by a vehicle driven by an inattentive driver, I’m outraged. Simply as a bicyclist, I’m outraged. As a taxpayer, I’m outraged. As a motorist, I’m outraged. As a human being, I’m outraged. How is a man allowed to murder another, flee the scene, and be eligible for parole in under a year?

I am amazed at Mr. Swarzman’s ability to forgive his son’s murderer. I’ll try to follow his example. But I don’t have much forgiveness for The Court, the judge, or a legal system that says a life is not as valuable simply because it rides a bicycle.

I didn’t know Jim Swarzman prior to that one brief interaction. I don’t know his family or his fiancée. I hope she is at the start of this years Furnace Creek 508. I hope we honor her as much as we honor Jim. I hope we remember not only Jim and his life, but all cyclists killed needlessly by automobiles. I didn’t need to know Jim to be impacted by his senseless death. All who ride are impacted by it, and by the terrible message sent today by the courts.

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. 🙂

(To Be Continued…)

One Arm

All That Sacrifice To Practice Sign Language

We ride so that a 3,000-foot climb can take on enough of a personality to deserve genuine ire.

It really does feel sometimes as though my life is sucking down the drain as I prep for this race. I think the biggest surprise for me when I first got involved with The 508 is just how much dedication goes into it.

The Furnace Creek 508 is not just a weekend in October. It’s a year-round obsession.

Part of it is riding, and riding smart. That still translates to riding 6-8 hours a day most days, with longer endurance rides thrown in.

Part of it is logistics and preparation. I don’t make much money, so I don’t have the luxury of just running out and buying the things I want or need. I have to save money throughout the year, then not be afraid to pull the trigger on the items I need. That new Jamis Xenith SL? Yeah. I work in a bike shop for a reason.

Part of it is outright neglect. We neglect friends, declining to go to parties or dinners. We neglect our families, testing their patience and support. We neglect ourselves, stealing hours of sleep to go out on the bike. We neglect work, but don’t tell our employers that our “working from home” day last week was really a day of hill repeats and a cell-phone check in at the top.

Part of it is salesmanship. How else do you explain convincing three people to take time off work to drive down to SoCal, to then drive through Death Valley and Mojave…and 15 mph, for two days and nights? I started off crewing, and I know how tough it is. In many ways, I think crewing is the tougher job. The cyclist just has to pedal. The crew? They have to be part pit crew, part mechanic, part massage therapist, part psychologist, part drill sergeant, and all saint.

Despite all the planning and all the preparation over the past 12 months, however, I still have a massive list of tasks that need my attention. I’m stressing that list. And I’m at the point of paranoia. I’m no longer shaking hands with anyone, and I’m a hair’s breadth away from wearing a flu mask for fear of getting sick before the race. I’m begging off important events (Baby shower for my best friends? On a weekend? Sorry. I can’t make it. And yes, I realize you are the same friends whose wedding I missed because it conflicted with The 508; a wedding in which I was asked to be one of only three groomsmen.)

When I was growing up, my Dad would always say he was “busier than a one-armed paper hanger.” Until The 508, I didn’t really understand what that phrase meant. And this 2011 version? I feel like one arm would be a damned luxury at this point.

So, Why Did I Switch Bikes?

I’ve been asked that question a couple times over the past few weeks, since I acquired the Jamis. So, I wanted to answer that question.

It really wasn’t a question of “need.” It was a question of want. My cycling year centers on The Furnace Creek 508. I may do a double century here or there, but they’re training rides. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with my Cervelo R3. In fact, that bike is very much “right” for The 508.

So, here’s my logic.

When I successfully completed The 508 in 2009, I was on a two-man team. My teammate and I were roughly the same height, and we both rode a 58cm frame. I rode the Cervelo, and he was on a Trek Madone. Between the two of us, we had two complete frames. Had catastrophe struck, and some terrible mechanical malfunction befallen one of us, we could have each ridden the other person’s bike with a couple of minor adjustments to the bars or saddle/seat post. Now that I’m on my own and going for a solo completion of The 508, I don’t have that luxury.

I started weighing my options. I thought about buying redundant systems: a second chain ring, second cassette, second wheelset… Well, very quickly I realized I had a second bike at that rate. I just needed another frame. But buying a second bike really wasn’t in the realm of financial ability at the beginning of the year. I was making due with what I had laying around. When I started working at La Dolce Velo, though, I earned a steep discount on merchandise, including bike frames. So a whole new set of possibilities opened up for me.

Why The Jamis Xenith SL?

Once I made the decision to buy a second bike, the real question became “which bike do I buy?” As I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with the Cervelo. And I’m not selling it. The point wasn’t to get an upgrade. The point was to get a compliment.

In looking at various bikes, I wanted something that would perform in a way the Cervelo wouldn’t. My choices were the Jamis, a Bianchi Sempre, or a Look 566. All three are fine bikes. But the 566 was simply too much like my Cervelo without being as good. It’s a plush ride, but the Cervelo is plenty comfortable and it can take a beating. I wanted something snappier, more responsive, and able to give me a little get up and go when I’m tired and feeling sluggish.

With the Look  out of the picture, it came down to the Jamis and the Bianchi. There wasn’t any competition. The Jamis is, quite simply, the most responsive bike I’ve ever ridden. Also, it’s a much different geometry than the Cervelo. The top tube is the same length, so I am still quite comfortable on it. But the wheelbase is 5mm shorter than the R3. And, given that it’s a 56cm frame, it’s a much more aggressive bike than the Cervelo. I feel like I have two bikes that will ride quite differently from one another, and I’ve now got a ride for any road condition or elevation.

Rather than go with a triple chain ring (which I simply won’t do), I can go with different gearing ratios and a compact on one bike, and a beefier cassette and standard double on the other. The Jamis won’t be as comfortable as the Cervelo, but I intend to start on it and complete the majority of the race on the SL. When I hit the large aggregate pavement past Baker, I’ll start looking at the R3 to get me through that area. Also, with the fatigue factor setting in, the shift in geometry will allow my body to work in a different way, and hopefully take some of the sting out of the final climbs.

In riding the two bikes, I feel like the Jamis will “buy me a stage” somewhere on the course. It is so much faster and more responsive, and the effort is so much more contained to the large muscle groups, that I’ll get a lot more miles out of that one before fatiguing to the same level I would have on the Cervelo alone. And buying the bike in mid-August means I have plenty of time to ride it, break it in, and get myself comfortable on the new bike before the start line in Santa Clarita.

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.

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. 🙂

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.

« Previous entries