Friday, April 30, 2010

If your first fail is mediocre, try, try again.

After taking a week or so off to allow the bike burnout to slake I had a brief lake ride on Sunday, and a longer 30 mile ride on a new route Monday.

The 30 mile ride started @ Wake Forest University and took to the back roads looking for a few short steep hills (8-12% at times). Felt ok but nothing great after being off the bike for so long. Legs felt pretty wobbly by the end but the steepness of the climbs, putting in ~1750 climbing ft when several of my longer rides had far less, and by trying to focus on staying in the 80-88% MHR range for that distance probably goes someway towards explaining that particular sensation.

This was also the first fail of the week. My cue sheet was slightly inaccurate and I ended up going much further than I planned. I ended up @ the start of the "hope for the warriors" ride I did in March.  Oops! Trying to ride toward the northend of Winston Salem, ending up in a different town on the South West side. Fail.

The following day was not pretty. My legs refused to shut up (a là Jens Voigt) so my lofty goal of putting in 30 miles a day until the end of the month..... fail.

Which brings me to yesterday. Legs feeling better, beautiful day, no pressure on myself to put in a best time or distance, just a little ride around my typical ride routes where I have excellent choice points to ride 12, 20, 25, or 30 miles. If I'm feeling good I'll go for 30 but if not no big deal. Just going for a ride.

Headed out and was not feeling great but I kept the pace slow and let the 'ol body warmup. Went over the first hill and felt ok. Went up the second feeling better. Went up the third and noticed I'm going pretty well. Heart rate's in a good spot, not pushing to hard, got a good rhythm going. OK. First decision, going for a minimum of 25 miles.

Cruising along. Feeling better still. Legs ticking over, practising the whole circle thing, keeping cadence under control, hit the flat section and I'm flying along @ 22+ mph. Effortlessly. Hmmm. What's that weird feeling? Oh Carp. Back tire is going flat.

Did I remember to return my levers? Phew, yes. Ok, lets swap this baby out and keep going. I'm feelin' the leg love.

Wait. This spare is a patched tire. Do I trust it? Should I swap and turn back? Naw, I'll be fine. Let's keep going.

What the....? how does the CO2 thing work again? Did I bring the schraeder version instead of the presta? The cartridge is in, why isn't the tire inflating? Is the seal broken? Woah, don't let it leak out or you'll be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Oh, OK, that's how this works. Yeah! Tire inflated, no leaks. I'm good to go.

Back on the bike. Something is not right. Is the tire going flat? No. Just high inflation, feeling a little firm. Do I trust the patch? Should I turn around? No. We're good. Let's get some rotations in.

Back up to speed. Cruising. Still feeling good. Defintely going for 30 today.

That incline was easy. I didn't blowup, my cadence is steady and climbing @ 15 mph. Heart rate ok. Sweet. I always suck on this part. I really think I'm onto something with this circle 88 hypothesis.  Those last three hills should be fun today. Let's really keep it going and focus on pulling up on the stroke. That's right. Focus on the left leg. Keep it smooth, pedal in circles. Good job. Now the right. excellent. What analogy should I use to keep both legs going smooth. I'll imagine a crankshaft.....NOOOOOooooooo! My wheel is mushy again! please no. Please no. F!#@$! 

No spare, no patch kit, no pump, no CO2 cartridge. I'm done. At least I'm only a few hundred feet from the gas station. I'll call a cab and head home.

I start my walk of shame. Call a cab and while I'm waiting I think, "Did I close the patio door? I don't remember doing it. Oh no! What if the cats get out and chase the ferals? Did I close it or not? I always close it so if I don't remember doing it, then it must be closed. It's an automatic behavior. Where's the cab? Why is everyone looking at me funny? I'm a sad sad man."

Cab finally arrives. The bike doesn't fit in the trunk. Let's try the back seat. No. Wait, slide it this way. OK. We're good to go. $25 dollars later I'm home. Sad.

Clearly the best fail of the week on a long week of fails. If you try hard enough, you can achieve anything.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I must be have not have been loved as a child to voluntarily want to do this

Got the official email from the mountain cabin lady. We are set for July. Now to map a bike route. Put together a simple ride based simply on road map and had a look @ the elevation profile.

I must be insane! I have one good ride up a few 9% 1 mile hills and think this is a good idea? I can honestly saw I'm a little intimidated but excited at the prospect of preparing for this ride or one similar. I think this can honestly be counted as an epic ride even though it is less than 30 miles long.

Repeats on Hanging Rock, Pilot Mountain, and Sauratown are going to be a must. I shall suffer immensely, curse each pedal stroke, beat myself up for even thinking this was a good idea and then bask in the glory of having done something awesomely difficult.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Circle 88

Planned on just going out after class and having a leisurely ride around the lake. The sun was out, the weather pleasant and figured a nice easy circuit to shake out the legs from the weekend would hit the spot. I put on some old tunes (Anne Dudley/Jaz Coleman and some The Art of Noise) for a little distraction and started cruising.

First 6 miles I did exactly that. But then something happened. I got to wondering if this little tidbit of insight I had over the weekend about 88% Max HR being my lactate threshold was true. I've also been reading, absorbing, devouring any tips on climbing I could get my hands on in anticipation of an assault on either Pilot Mountain or Hanging rock. And one thing that I do not pay a lot of attention too kept coming up again and again (it must be true then, right?). Pedal in circles. So, I started focusing on pedaling in circles. First one leg. Then the other. Trying to get the rhythm and seeing how long I could go before my legs got tired.

A funny thing happened. I would lose focus and start to listen to a bridge or chorus before my legs gave out. then I noticed that my HR as getting to about 85-87%. Hmmm. Maybe it would help if I had two things to focus on. I found a gear where I could push with a relatively slow cadence and focus on getting my circles perfect and fluctuating around 88% MHR. I'd pick out a landmark, an promised myself a brief respite if I could hold the goal.

I ended up flying around the course without going excessively into the red. Taking corners at speed and circling up inclines and adjusting the pressure on the legs to keep everything ~ 88%. Turns out that this is a great little circuit to do this exercise. Only three short bumps, some smooth asphalt in places and fun corners to push over. I'm going to start calling this my "Circle 88" ride.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Crushed it!

Mother of Pearl! Went out to support pancreatic cancer research today and did "Rick's Ride", a 50 mile loop around Belews Lake. I fully expected to see some hardcore riders there and some recreational riders and hopefully a few, like myself, that were somewhere in between. I didn't expect to stay with the big boys but I was hoping to stay with them for awhile early on and I did.

From the start, the road was flat to downhill and an early split occurred. I didn't think it was going to happen so quickly so I was fortunate to be in the front half. I'm feeling quite good and we were cruising along @ 22+ mph. I'm slowly making my way through the paceline watching everyone carefully, trying to get a feel for what pace I should be setting and for how long. Feeling a little nervous but also excited. Then all hell broke loose.

We took a sharp right and headed down a steep, curvy wooded lane. I'm third from the front but the two in front do not have as much mass as I do (read I'm a fat frakker). Rather than burn good speed, I try to get around but neither seems to be able to find a good line and I'm forced into the oncoming lane and trying shed as much speed as possible as quickly as possible to get back behind the front two and on the right side of the road. Then, of course, we hit the 15% grade going up. I've got no speed, and I'm scrambling to find a gear to climb in as everyone else screams past. The big boys left me in the dust and I never saw them again. Ah well. So much for that plan.

I settle in and start taking advantage of this nasty, brute of a hill to find a rhythm and start calibrating my effort. Coming off this hill was tough but it turns out there were 3 other 2-3 mile climbs of ~ 8-9% and by the second one I had dialed it in. I was climbing this long, steep hill and just going and going and going. My lungs do not explode, my legs did not stop. Apparently 88% of my Max HR is my Lactate Threshold. Any more and my legs begin to burn and I lose power.

During the ride I was able to link up with 4 others and while we did not always stick together, I was able to keep them in sight and used 1 as a rabbit. i just kept pushing, keeping the cadence high, keeping the HR just under 88%. I'd get closer for awhile then he would pull away but I could always see him. I just kept going. I did remember to put some gels onboard and drink so I also avoided the bonking risk.

As I pull in to the finish I'm a bit over a mile short. I'm feeling tired but there is no way I'm not getting my first half century of the season in today. I keep pushing through and wind out enough to push me over 50. I'm beat but happy. I didn't stay with the big boys but I was somewhere in the middle of the second group. Two other groups were behind. If that was the entire day I would have been entirely satisfied. But then, I had a peek at the Garmin stats. I did the ride in under 3 hours! An average of 17.1 mph. Crushed my previous best at this distance (14.9 and 15.4), I got a new max speed of 41.9, and dialed in my long climbing effort! Freaking awesome day.

I'll pay for this tomorrow but tonight I sleep the sleep of the conquering hero. I really can't express how awesome this feeling is. Today was crazy, over-the-top, maxxed out, top of the line great.... Until next time.

Here's the link to all the gory details

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Early Season Improvement

I love it when the weather changes. The dreary, short, cold(ish) days of February in NC really drain the energy from me. Since I started riding again, three years ago, February has always been my worst month. I begin to wonder if I've lost interest in riding. Will my desire return. Have I gone off the whole thing.

Fortunately, February is short and March returns. The weather makes a turn for the better and I no longer have to force myself to try and get on the trainer. The occasional sunny, warm days become more frequent and riding once again fills my brain (often to the exclusion of everything else). It signals the return of spring and visions of new goals begin to form.

One of the things I love about this this part of the year is that, despite my best efforts, my fitness has suffered and I am not as good now as I was back in September or October. But, and this is an important but, I get better rapidly. Previous skills return quickly and focussing on the new things I want to improve show sweet early successes. This year the goal is climbing. I desire to become a climbing monkey. I want to climb and climb and climb some more. Slowly, then faster and faster. I want to fly up mountains like Contador or Schelk.

To get started I've been heading out on the MOB Tuesday night rides. The route is easy and the company enjoyable. However, there are two little hills that come near the end of the ride (mentioned here) that have kicked my behind. Each week I get better though. Last week I started to get the feel of what kind of rhythm my body likes when going uphill. This week that rhythm has started to take hold. I got over the first one and still had room to go. Going over the second I was feeling so good I kicked it into high gear and pushed until I blew up. i got 2/3 of the way up. Three weeks ago I blew up 2/3 up the first climb. These early improvements are extremely motivating.

One other early success. Since I started to use the lap feature on the garmin, I've seen improvements in the 10-15 mile lap. Last week I was 18'10". This week, 17'30". Not bad. Not bad at all. I think it's time to start thinking about Pilot Mountain in preparation for Pisgah forest in July. Should be fun. Death suckingly painful and mind crushingly demoralizing but fun.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Kindness of Strangers

Had a great ride this past Saturday. We had a small group of 5 who went up around Tobaccoville. The hills tended to have long but low grades, giving me practice climbing at a reasonable pace for extended periods and my companions were a nice mix of a Pro-Continental rider (over from France to visit his family) and two novices who were out on their first long ride of the season.

The pro guy (Rich) kept pulling of the front and circling back and the girls were off the back a lot. However, despite their protestations, we agreed that everyone should stay together and get through the ride together. The three guys each took turns at the back keeping the group together, pulling, breaking the wind and letting the weaker riders draft. While I was at the front, Rich went off and I decided to go with him and we burned up the road for a good 5 miles. My legs were screaming, my lungs were screaming, my heart was screaming, but I was able to keep up for a while (drafting admittedly). After we turned to return to the group I had a chance to do a little solo climbing and when we got back together Rich made a off-hand comment that made my day. It was clearly meant in jest but I felt pretty good about my climb and the comment was opportunely timed.

"You climb like Sastre", Rich said. Obviously I don't, but I was feeling good and that little pick me up really reinforced the good feeling I had. For my part, at the end of the ride one of the girls said she appreciated the time I spent at the back, pulling. I made the ride more enjoyable for them. Since I know what being the weakest riders feels like, having been that on more than one occasion, it made me feel good to finally be able to return the favour.

This kindness came at a good time to jump start the road season. I'm now motivated to get in some more climbing and get to a higher level than last year. I want to get to the same level as last year earlier and then build on that for the rest of the season. Thank you strangers.

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Friday, April 2, 2010

First blood

Hobby park is a great single track ride. I've ridden it before on my regular hardtail, 26" (before it was stolen) and it is tough. Very rooty. Sudden drops followed by sharp turns. There are short steep climbs, flowing corners, rapid corners, rocks, trees and more roots. Your typical single track in these parts. However, I haven't done it in a while and certainly not on my new 29er Kona and today was a perfect day to go. It was sunny, 80F and leaves were starting to come out.

The ride started out nice enough. I'm making the turns. Noticing how the kona handles differently than a typical mountain bike. Slower and heavier. I'm trying different gearing to find the cruise sweet spot. I call this the part of the course the prologue.

The first proper section is very hilly and steep with very sharp corners and it was challenging to find a good line and still have speed to carry me up the next hill and over all the roots. It felt like I was fighting the bike the whole time. Forcing it to turn rather than driving it into the corners and letting physics work for me. The heart rate quickly rose into vein busting territory and the same hill that has defeated me in the past got me again. I got half way up and the roots stopped me cold and my HR was at it's max. No worries though. I expected this. Its a new bike and a technical course and I was happy just to be one the bike and getting familiar with how it handles.

The next section has more sharp drops and quick corners. I was better able to keep the heart rate in the right zone but screaming downhill only to have a 90 degree drop that lands you between two trees followed by a 90 degree corner did raise the old adrenaline levels.

Part three is less hair raising (if I had any) but requires more quick subtle handling. Lots of roots, climbs, navigating over root ramps, between trees, and around boulders. This is where the Mr 29er and I had our disagreement. I come around a corner with a bit of speed, and immediately had to make an unpleasant choice. Straight in front of me were two trees with a very narrow gap (Is it too narrow for my bars? Am I going to fast?) or a sharp right to go around (will I lose my traction and spear myself on that broken branch stub? Can I force the 29er that quickly around that sharp of a bend?). I lay on the rear brake. Now, I've not had disc brakes before and so far I've noticed they are extremely good at rapid stops and I have not yet mastered feathering. On the old bike with rim pads I could regulate the force quite well and even when I slammed them on it took a second to really take hold. Not so with disc brakes. These babies grip and want to sent you over the handlebars (it actually reminds me of riding a horse which decided to stop, lower its head and allow you to carry on forward over its withers if you don't pay attention. This I learned from part two).

I decide to head between the trees. I'm slowing, can I adjust the angle as I pass through? I'm going to try and get the right side through slightly before the right to decrease the apparent bike width even more. Left side through, yes! Hey! where did that rock come from??? My front wheel slides off the edge of this rock, forcing the wheel from it's current left pointing position to immediately straight and slides down the front side. My Left handlebar swings, slams into the tree trunk as I try and shift my body and talk rather harshly to Mr 29er about his lack of appropriate parentage. The bike and I are falling to the right. I can not get myself out of the clips. Oh well, time to prep for blood. The rock scrapes a very thin layer of skin off the entire length of my left shin. It looks white (Is it bone? No. Just skin). Oh, that's going to hurt. First blood on Mr. 29er. You never forget your first.

P.S. if you zoom into the tightest view on the route while in satellite mode, I think you can actually see the two trees and the GPS track between them. Very strange feeling.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Something has to be done

Following Tuesday night's ride, I decided that something had to be done. My confidence shifting has dropped and it adds a tiny sour element to my rides. You see, my front derailleur has lost it's crisp shifting and moving from the small to the big ring does not consistently occur. I throw the shifter and nothing happens, it doesn't grab or starts to click and rub. I then have to shift down, and try again. Also, while in the big ring and the larger toothed cogs on the back (I never know how to refer to these. Should I call them bigger, smaller, higher or lower gears? I think I'll go with lower.) I get clicking, rubbing and, more and more frequently, skipping and cog jumping. Obviously, when the chain is on the big ring and lower gears I expect a certain amount of cross chaining, however it has gotten to the point where I'm no longer confident that my drive train will work properly when in that gray area of deciding whether I should stay on the big ring and muscle through a lower cadence or move to the smaller and shift to a higher gear on the back to keep similar ratios.

As a consequence I've been trending toward staying on the small ring unless I am certain that I'll be in the middle of the cassette when I move to the big ring. That means I often over spin and mess with my HR. Ick.

So yesterday I took Lady Orbea to the shop and left her for a tuneup. She'll stay overnight at the wonderfully appointed Mock Orange Bikes Spa to be pampered, and preened. It's only fair since I've ridden somewhere close to 2000 miles since the last one and she has been so good to me until very recently. I'll get her back tomorrow and we will have a nice 40 mile shakedown ride. Get well Lady. Get well.

In the meantime, today I think I'll head to hobby park singletrack on Mr. 29er and test his mettle through the roots and drops. There are benefits to having a stable of rides.