Sunday, May 6, 2018

Getting Ready for Gran Fondo Leavenworth 2018

Two weeks to Gran Fondo Leavenworth! I'm looking forward being out on the gravel, being focused and having fun.  This will be my third GFL outing (previous reports: GFL 2016 and GFL 2017).

Last year I ran over a rock (ha), flattened my back rim, and punctured just outside of Entait on highway 97.  Then, after the Swakane Canyon climb on the way down, I lost air in my front wheel and fell - I'm hoping for better luck this time around!!

I built a new front wheel for the Supercourse - the rim was getting a bit too thin; moreover, the bearings on the 25-year old hub were wearing out. I can no longer find a good balance between tight enough and not too tight - the front hub was just getting a bit too loose.

I also built a new back wheel because in the winter, during cold-weather riding, the pawls in the back hub stopped releasing from time to time, which is no fun at all. I think the problem was related to the cold. I haven't had problems with it recently; still, I thought it best to build a new one. And, well, building wheels is fun.

These are #9 and #10, since I started this project three years ago, and they came together beautifully. I can't say enough about Roger Musson excellent book on wheel building - some people are just extraordinary teachers and craftsmen. 

I've installed Compass Bon Jon Pass 35 mm tires on DT Swiss R460 rims. I'm running these tires in tubeless mode.  Yes! That combination of tire and rim works beautifully in tubeless mode.

This set-up, with about 40 psi in the back and 37 psi in the front, worked pretty well at Gran Fondo Winthrop in 2017. I might use a bit more air pressure for GFL - 40 psi feels a bit soft and squirely on the road. I've not been stopping during these rides to change air pressure but perhaps I should.

I've also given the Supercourse a drive train update: new chain-rings (34T and 48T), 7-speed cassette (12-32T), chain, and back derailleur. Hopefully things will be fairly smooth and reliable.

I've noticed that the new back derailleur, a Shimano RD-M310 Altus GS 7/8-speed Rear Der Black,Long Cage ($15.00), has a new personality, which requires slightly different shifting technique.  And, alas, on big bumps it seems to shift up by itself - I'll need to explore that further.  But, the shifter works for 34 x 14T, which gives me a new gear.  That's nice - another area for exploring. 

Except for getting the flu (week 12), which kept me off the bike for 10 days, and took another 2 weeks of recovery time (a nasty cough wouldn't go away), my training has been quite good. Good consistency, with more or less 2 hard weeks followed by a recovery week. I've ridden about 210 hours this year.

I've been eating nutrient rich food (ha) and trying to say away from sugar, not always successfully. Eating "properly" certainly helps with recovery and slowly but surely my weight has dropped over the last 20 weeks, much like in previous years.

I've been working on very hard threshold workouts. Since January, I've been doing a weekly workout on my rollers, working up to being able to do 4 x (20 min HARD + 4 min EASY). My threshold is about 161 - so, I get into the range of 158 - 162 and hold that heart rate for 20 min. Then, I get a 4 min. recovery.  Then, repeat.

Doing two such intervals was fairly doable last year. Working up to being able to do four has been quite the challenge, but is now quite doable. That's not to say they are easy. Nope.  Far from it.  The first 5 minutes and the last 5 minutes are always hard, often very hard, no matter if its the first, second, third, or forth effort - relax a bit and stop focussing and my heart rate drops fast.

Interval #4 puts me in a kind of dark place - perhaps, its a bit too much. I basically fear it and when I start out I'm uncertain if I will finish. I try to focus on smooth peddling and play psychological games - hold the effort for 5 minutes, okay that's done, only ten minutes to go, so stay smooth, okay just eight minutes to go - got this, etc. A lot of it just seems to be psychological - embrace the discomfort and stay with the smooth peddling and look at the clock every 20 seconds (ha). The next developmental step will be to work toward 3 x (30 min HARD + 4 min. EASY). That will have to wait until after GFL.

Over the weeks, the efforts have become more controlled, with smoother and faster peddling and/or with bigger gears. I've read somewhere that the key to such workouts might be consistency - developing the physiology to handle these workouts takes takes time and consistent work. That said, my goal was to incorporate a mix of these kinds of workouts with V02 Max workouts but I haven't found a good pattern for doing that and, so I haven't done any training in Zone #5 this year (unlike last year where I did a regular V02 Max workout each week but not a threshold workout.)

Hopefully, these highly controlled theshold workouts, even without V02 Max efforts, paired with long easy rides in Zone 1 and Zone 2, and a lot of consistency over the last five months, will give me a good aerobic engine.

Over the last two weeks, with the goal of consolidating my form, I've done three very difficult sessions, where I've spent substantial time "sweet-spotting" (high zone 3 / low zone 4).  Staying at a heart rate of 147-153 for almost two straight hours, for example, was very, very difficult.  Until this past couple of weeks, I am almost never in this heart rate range.

Hopefully, all of this work will give me the physiological capacity to do well on the climbs, recover well on the downhills, and manage the distance at GFL. We'll see soon enough.

For the next two weeks, I'll taper, do a couple of short, hard sessions and some easy riding, aiming for about 8-10 hours next week and 4-5 hours during the week of GFL.

Looking forward to riding with focus and care!

The plan:
  1. Ride the first 10 miles such that I don't take any wind. Hopefully, it will be a fairly relaxed start like the last two years. 
  2. Ride the gravel climb steady, not too fast, at my own pace.
  3. Once under the hydro lines, ride hard to the top and keep riding hard over the flat part. Then, eat and drink.
  4. Ride conservatively downhill - watch out for cars, etc. At the bottom, eat and drink. 
  5. Hopefully, join up with a group in the valley and work together, saving as much as possible. 
  6. Once in Swakane Canyon, focus on efficient peddling, no matter the surface, the bumps, the little hills and flats, the loose rocks, the rocks that don't move, the ruts, the mud. Maintaining momentum on this climb is really hard. Shift the gears and peddle well to keep the momentum going. Ride hard up and over the flat part. 
  7. Take the downhill conservatively; manage the risks and the rough terrain.
  8. Ride hard to the finish, being very careful at the two left turns, which hold a good deal of risk when riding cross-eyed.
It is good to know that exercise can keep aging muscles and immune systems 'young'!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Riding Goals for 2018

I road about 550 hours in 2017, with a fairly structured approach. I didn't accomplish all of my goals for 2017. Still the goals did set a good direction. The 2018 goals: 
  1. Be healthy and ride safely.  I fell five times in 2017, nothing in the serious category. Still, falling is unpleasant - a bruise or sprain that one upon a time would go away in a couple of weeks takes a couple months. Could be something to do with age. It would be nice to fall zero times in 2018. To be able to peddle is a gift. I'm lucky. So, I'll be appreciative; I'll be mindful and focussed in all the riding. Every time I set out for a ride I know I'm at risk. I'll manage the risks as best I can.
  2. Ride three of the Gran Fondos: Leavenworth, Ellensburg, and Winthrop. I'd like to ride the other two Gran Fondos - they look great! - but I don't think my schedule will allow it.
  3. Try to work in some long randonneuring rides into my training.  I'd like to give a 400K and 600K ride a whirl. 
  4. Core strength: Learn to love planks and bridges. Try to build in core strength training throughout the year. Work towards greater variation in the core routine. Start to explore how weights can be brought into my near-daily routine.
  5. Peddling.  Keep working at the improvements to my peddling. (1) One-legged peddling at the start of recovery rides. (2) Work at leg speed (warmup routine). (3) Do big gear low cadence drills and variable peddling cadences on hills. (4) Become comfortable standing while climbing for 15 min.
  6. Structured training and periodization.  (1) Aim for about 550 hr of training this year - that was doable in 2017. (2) Take a recovery week after two hard weeks - recovery weeks are awesome! (3) Do one 4-6 hr ride/week. (4) Work towards doing 2-3 hours of threshold / VO2 Max work / week. (5) Explore training blocks within a week - e.g., back to back days of threshold work, then a recovery day; 4 hr/day + 4 hr/day) (6) Lots of controlled climbing, working various peddling cadences. 
  7. Work up to and try for stupid hard threshold work-outs. For example, work up to 4 x (20 min. HARD + 4 min. EASY) and 3 x (30 min. HARD + 4 min. EASY) in high Z4
  8. Pair threshold workouts-outs with V02 Max workouts. Last year I didn't too much in the way of threshold workouts. Instead, I focussed on weekly V02 Max workouts (4-6 x (8 min. HARD + 4 min. Easy) in Zone 5). There is, I believe, a good deal of debate on the relative merits of VO2 Max v. threshold workouts.  But, this year I'm going to try to strike balance of these two kinds of workouts, especially over the last 10 weeks of training that leads put to GF Leavenworth. 
  9. Re-working the bike.  Looking forward to putting on new chainrings and a new drive train and replacing the cables and back changer. I also need a new front wheel - the rim is worn out - so I'm looking forward going through that process of figuring out spoke lengths and wheel building.
Looking forward to being out there, having fun, trying to develop, N=1 experiment.  Can I be 2% better than last year?  Yes; perhaps. I think it might be possible. Anyway, I'll try to train and ride with care and focus. 

I saw Frank Colich on my evening commute a few days ago. He's looking fit! Looking forward to being out there riding with Frank - well at least trying to stay with him! -  and all the other fit and skilled riders.  

Friday, September 29, 2017

Gran Fondo Winthrop 2017: Ride Report

Raleigh Super Course - After Gran Fondo Winthrop 2017, with Compass Bon Jon Pass tires,
in tubeless mode on DT Swisss 460R rims. 
At the Winthrop Red Barn, we were greeted with a beautiful day in the Methow valley. Cloudy but not too cold and not too warm. No smoke - that was good.

Vicious Cycle Gran Fondo Winthrop was really fun. Beautiful, hard ride. Great people. Terrific organization. And, great after-ride pizza party. (Ride reports for and 2015 and 2016.)

Big thanks to Vicious Cycle for a great day, invigorating and life-giving!  Facebook pictures.

The route is complex and challenging, a fascinating mixture of roads and different kinds of gravel.  Usually I can replay a ride in my mind's eye.  But not with Gran Fondo Winthrop. Sure, bits and pieces stand out: some of the climbs and descents and the views. But, mostly GFW - especially the middle section - is blurry. Perhaps tunnel vision and focus inhibits our ability to remember.

I do, however, remember that I encountered a good number of cows. Like a high school dance, neither the cows nor I seemed to know what to do!

I was riding on 35mm Compass Bon Jon Pass tires, with about 35 psi in the front and 40 psi in the back. This set-up worked well for me, with, I think, good efficiency on the roads and climbs and good control on the downhills. A happy compromise I suppose. But, I do wonder what the experts would recommend. Anyway, I was happy with the set-up. Deciding to not go with the 38 mm Specialized Triggers on the front seemed okay.  Getting the Bon Jon Pass tires to work on DT Swiss 460R rims was quite the challenge for me, but in the end they worked great and I'm glad I persisted (see initial set-up and getting better). After about 2 months since the tires were installed, I injected another 1.5 oz of sealant into them just one week before the ride. I had zero problems with the wheels, which was awesome.  I looking forward to opening them up and seeing what about 3 months of riding does to the sealant, the inside of the tire, and the tire bead

The start was quite fast, a bit like 2015.  I was a good distance back when I noticed a fairly big gap forming just after one of the little climbs and so I decided to go head to the front group. I did not observe, unlike past years, any dead skunks or big rocks on the road along the Chewuch river. Read about the 2016 dead skunk.

As the climb started to steepen, I guess at about 8 miles or so, a group of riders took off. The pace was too hard for me, so I backed off and watched them go up the road. They seemed to be going really well on the pavement, and I figured I wouldn't see them again.  Once we got over the small two-board bridge (about mile 14) and onto the gravel I started to feel better and I got into my rhythm.  I kept drinking from my bottle of Gatorade and bottle of water and on one of the flatter parts on the first climb I was able to stuff a rice cake down without choking or coughing too much.  (Interesting story on rice cakes.)

By the first aid station, I had finished off almost 2 bottles, so I filled them up with water. I took off and up ahead I saw the group of riders working their way up the climb. I kept at my pace and found that I was slowly moving up to them.  I kept at it and by the top of the first climb I was making good progress.

The downhills and middle section were mostly good. One moment of excitement was that I almost fell at the point where the road was washed away, and marked by orange pylons. At the rider's meeting Jake had given a warning.  I should have paid more attention. I was drinking and was going too fast and I had a hard time slowing down. Anyway, somehow my bike and body awkwardly went over the massive washed out gully. It was a completely unnecessary mistake.

Another memorable moment was one of the flat sections where my hamstring cramped - imagine a very sharpe ouch. Not pleasant. I kept peddling but with less force and it got better. Why the cramps?  Probably, I'm guessing, because I'm unaccustomed to long, hard, sustained climbs.  Interesting discussion of cramps at Velonews Fast Talk.

Nevertheless, my rhythm continued to feel quite doable, and, somewhat surprisingly, I found myself  passing people without too much trouble and by the time I got to the high point of the day (Lone Frank Pass, about mile 33 and 6733 ft) I was, as it turned out, in 4th place, with I presume the three leaders a good distance ahead. I rode the long very rough downhill to the Salmon Meadows Campground quite smoothly, with one rider passing me (we would later get over the "Mt. Baldy Pass" or whatever it is called and the final big climb together).

- Two-board bridge; B - Aid station #1 and #3; C - Lone Frank Pass; D - Salmon Meadows; - Conconully.  See the route map and thoughts about segments.

He was just ahead when we passed three mini dirt-bikes, ridden by two kids and an adult. I smelled the 2-stroke engine way before I saw these machines! Getting by them was a little awkward and I hope that I did not interfere with their riding. 

My tires were biting into the gravel well, the brakes were working well, and the corners were all good.

By the time I got past the meadow and onto the road down to Conconully, I could see one rider about 10 sec. ahead of me. After I slowed to eat and drink, I then took off to try to catch him, figuring we might be able to work together a bit on the way the aid station in Conconully.

Then, something "interesting" happened:  Some cowboys were moving their cows across the road and asked us to stop and wait. I remember that one of the cowboys said, please, please, wait and I sensed that he was really concerned for his cows. I didn't want to bother his work. I was out there having fun, but he was trying to make a living. So, we waited, perhaps for as long as 5 or 6 minutes or a little longer. And, in the meantime, 4-5 riders come up to us and we all waited together.

Finally, it seemed safe, and we slipped past the cows without too much trouble and started down the paved road, fast.  Somehow, however, the little group of riders got ahead of me and seemed to be going really fast. How did I loose contact with them? I was slow in taking off I suppose. Anyway, I killed myself for 5-10 minutes trying to catch them on the downhill. What was supposed to be an easy 10-mile ride down to Conconully turned out to be, well, too damn hard. Bummer.  Anyway, I got back to them and all was good.

I finished my two bottles and, by the aid station in Conconully, I had eaten 3 rice cakes, one Cliff Bar, and one roll of shotblocks and four bottles - so the eating and drinking were good. I quickly filled two bottles and took off. Now the big climb (about 17 miles and 4,000 ft), with beautiful views of Old Baldy mountain!

The climb, all in all, was good! I felt quite solid on the bike, not fabulous but not terrible. I rode without a watch and heart rate monitor and just concentrated on being as efficient as I could.  I rode mostly in 34 x 26.  From time to time, I used a 34 x 21 but it seemed to be a bit too hard. If I had one, perhaps as 23 would have been perfect! Occasionally, I had to use my easiest gear, 34 x 32.

Jaimie Van Been - with beautiful and strong and smooth peddling - went by me on the pavement and slowly but surely kept going. I came back to her just before the gravel, presumably because she slowed a little to eat, but then she took off again. For the whole climb, wherever there was a steep pitch and a good line of sight, I could see her, not too far ahead. I tried to bring on just a little more effort to close the gap but lacked the fitness and confidence to push harder. By the top of the climb another rider came up to me (he and I were close together at Salmon Meadows) and I shared some water with him and we cheered each other up.

Once over the pass, we started down the descent and it was all good - about 24 miles and 4,000 ft to the finish!! I was able to control the bike and ride well.  The sun came out for a bit, and the whitish gravel turned bright and the forests were streaked with light - inspiring. But, alas, the details are foggy, as I was in a tunnel, on the lookout for holes and big rocks.

Surprisingly, my arms and hands were not too tired and my back was great, perhaps an indicator that I didn't put enough into the climb. No stopping at the last aid station. On the very crappy washboard,  just beyond the aid station, Geordan Hankinson passed me, flying along, standing on the peddles and absorbing the energy, evidently with great efficiency and control. I was barely surviving on this two mile stretch. I would be interested in his tire set-up because they seemed to be working beautifully for him.

Shortly after Geordan went by me, Jake came by on his Moto. He was trying to tell me something. I eventually figured it out "Your chain is off! Your chain is off!!" I said to myself "My chain is off - how could that possibly be the case? Well. Thank you Jake. I hadn't noticed. I guess I hadn't peddled for the last 2 miles!"

So, with a flip of my front derailleur, I put the chain back in place, and I got through the washboard and over the two-boarded bridge (about mile 14, and rode as fast as I could to the finish on the up and down pavement, encountering only a couple of cars.

I got in with a time of 6:51:36 (good for 6th place), about 7% behind the winner (6:27:32), Thomas Baron (who beat me in the last 100 meters at Gran Fondo Ellensberg!), and 1.5% faster than my time last year (6:57:59). Jaimie put about 4 minutes into me on the big climb and descent and Geordan, after passing me on the washboard, put about 40 seconds into my time.  Here are the results.

So, all and all a super duper great ride!!  So great to be out in a beautiful landscape, riding with such fit and skillful riders. Good to be alive; good to be peddling. Thanks again to Vicious Cycle.

If you haven't done one of these rides - and you are up for a bit of a challenge - definitely sign-up and give it a whirl.

Onward... its time to set some goals for next year.  In the meantime, I'm looking forward to regular commuting and safe riding in the autumn and winter.

Raleigh Super Course. Ready for winter commuting with 27 x 1 1/4 " wheels, 36 spokes and 50-year old hubs, 5-speed, fenders, and a bell. And, it all works, more ore less, just fine ... 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reflections on Training

The start of Viscous Cycle Gran Fondo Winthrop 2016. Frame from cool video by C. Warren, Sept. 25, 2016. 
I've been thinking about the experience of athletic performance. Why do we enjoy being out on a bicycle riding hard? When out on a ride, how does one characterize the sensations, feelings, pains, fatigue, heightened focus, fear, anger, excitement, points of calmness and of slowness, sounds, boredom, clarity, satisfaction, and all the other kinds of things that happen? What might make an effort all out? How might it be well described in words or in numbers? Can the meaning and interpretation of an all out effort even be expressed? These are some of the questions that I've been wondering about.

With science we can characterize performance. In my training I rely a good deal on heart rate and I've been following a fairly structured approach - especially with respect to patterns of periodization, how one balances hard and easy efforts and rest, during workouts, across weeks, across months, and for the whole year. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, to go fast, the research seems to show that you should either go easy (about 80% of your training time) or go hard (about 20% of your training time). But, crucially, you should generally avoid the middle ground, with some exceptions.

I've been riding with a heart rate monitor and being quite disciplined about keeping my heart rate within the targeted zones, and building in recovery days and weeks. Sometimes I think that by relying on heart rate I miss out. By focusing on numbers, I worry that I might not be as in touch with my bodily sensations, which arise from different levels of effort. In other words, perhaps the heart rate monitor is a kind of cheating. On the other hand, perhaps if I use a heart rate monitor in particular ways I'll learn more about the sensations that come from exercise. I conclude that the heart rate monitor as a double-edge sword. And therefore it is up to me to learn how to use it well.

Generally, I think that I can readily tell the difference between Zone 1 and high Zone 2 or above without heart rate feedback. But, the difference between high Zone 1 and low  Zone 2 can be hard to detect.  (I use a slightly different scale and rely on an estimate of my threshold heart-rate to compute my zones but it works to be about the same.)

Norwegian Scale
Zone                % Max Heart Rate              
1                      55-75                
2                      75-85                
3                      85-90             
4                      90-95        
5                      95-100

Often enough I'm not able to tell the difference between Zone 1 and below Zone 1.  That is to say, I can be peddling along happily on a "recovery ride" in Zone 1, and all of a sudden I'm in Zone 0.  Or, at times, I can be peddling happily in high Zone 2 and my heart rate creeps into Zone 3 without my awareness. 

Learning how to adjust my gears and my peddling-rate such that I stay in Zone 2 in rolling up-and-down terrain is a challenge. And, of course, on downhills of any substantial length or steepness it can be hopeless. Stop peddling and my heart rate drops like a rock; peddle and I'm going dangerously fast.  Chasing Zone 2 is easy for 2 hours and not too bad for 3 hours.  But, staying in Zone 2  (not Zone 1 and not Zone 3) for 4-5 hours takes a lot of concentration. 

I've found it takes a good deal of discipline to stay within a zone and, at times, alas, I compulsively check my heart rate which takes my attention away from attending to my environment and my bodily sensations, especially those related to smooth peddling. While I don't like the distraction of checking my heart rate, I believe in the importance of staying within my workout zones. I'm in the midst of a fascinating tension. How might I resolve it? The heart rate monitor diminishes my experience but improves my training.

Similarly, the differences between high Zone 4 and Zone 5 can be hard to sense. Nevertheless, within my body, I am sometimes aware of very small differences. I am sure, for example, that at least at present, and when I'm rested, there is a very substantial physiological difference between 161-163 bpm and 164-166 bpm heart rates, at least when riding on rollers. At present, I think my lactate threshold is 163 - about 2 beats per minute higher that my last test. I think this is true, based on how I feel when doing intervals on my rollers.

Relatedly, 2 x 20 min. at high Zone 4 leads to a completely different kind of fatigue than 6 x 8 min. Zone 5 efforts.  And, both of these interval workouts feel quite different than how I feel after 5 hours in Zone 2. Not all kinds of fatigue are equal.

Can I detect the difference between Zone 3 and Zone 4, that middle ground?  Nope. Forget it - it all seems to be about the same. Nevertheless, the research seems to show that there are key physiological differences among Zones 1 - 5, differences that matter a lot in a training program and athletic performance.

Another key measure, of course, is power. I don't use a power meter. Perhaps I should! I only have the very crudest sense of my power output, namely some estimate related to my peddling rate, my gear, the wind, hills, and so forth. With heart rate (a kind of input to my body) and power readings (the output of my body) a huge amount can be learned about how one's training is going. And, then of course, there is peddling rate (what's the difference between 80 rpm and 105 rpm?), measures of neuromuscular efficiency, measures of fatigue, temperature, and on and on. How does paying attention to such measures change the cycling experience?

And then, of course, there are calories (the protein v. carbohydrate kind) and fluid in-take. Just like training periodization one can periodize the number and kinds of calories. Recently, I've found that consistently drinking a post-workout protein drink to be very helpful with my recovery. At least that is my subjective sense. And, I'm pretty sure that a 45 min. fasted recovery ride in the morning does wonders; indeed, evidently such rides teach my body to burn fat. I think, too, that you can learn how to drink and eat efficiently while riding hard.  This summer, instead of drinking say at the top of a climb, I've been drinking in the middle or two-thirds up a climb - testing the belief I can teach myself to drink fluids efficiently with an elevated heart rate. 

This business of "quantifying self" is of course taken to the extreme in professional cycling. Still, even for ordinary mortals, the technology and methods trickle down. We too can quantify ourselves. But, what do we gain and what do we lose? And, when you are 55 and seek to have fun and grow who cares about the numbers? The famous sprinter Mario Cipollini was quoted as saying this:
We know everything about their watts, their heart rates, but of what interest? That doesn’t tell us anything about them. If we knew that a rider cannot produce more than 450 watts, then yes, that would be interesting to see on a screen that’s he’s reached his limit, but then again this is just data, useless gadgets that imitate Formula 1 and can only interest people who know nothing about cycling. Mario Cipollini
And Alberto Contador was quoted as saying this: 
In the end, the only thing I'm worried about is being healthy, and arriving to the start of the Tour de France in optimal condition. Every year cycling is more mathematical, but fortunately it is still not entirely mathematics and depends many times on training and also the feeling and how you know your body to arrive in optimal condition. Alberto Contador
And so I think there is something very interesting about the intersection between the quantification of performance and the meanings that we invoke about our bodies when we ride.

In any case, in 1965 these guys were racing on bikes similar to mine.  They are racing on gravel, at least in part. I wonder how they quantified their performance? Whatever! These racers seem to be enjoying themselves, at least by some definition of fun!  Check out the awesome video: 60 Cycles, 

Here's some Quebec gravel from 1965!  60 Cycles, 16 min. film,
directed by Jean-Claude Labrecqu, from the
National Film Board of Canada.
There have only been a few times where I've run, cycled, or x-country skied fast, with a radical and intense feeling of heightened focus and calmness. That feeling of pushing, pushing, pushing yet responding with an odd feeling of effortlessness. In those moments, something special happens. Even without that rare experience - can it even by obtained when you are old? - whether riding easy or hard, when dry or wet, being alone or in a group peddling a bike and moving along through the wind is almost always life-giving and rejuvenating.

I'm lucky to be alive. To be able to experience the pleasures of turning my peddles is a remarkable gift.

Looking forward to Gran Fondo Winthrop. I hope the Diamond Creek Fire slows and that the forests and properties in the Methow Valley are safe and that its possible for us to visit Winthrop and ride without bothering the fire fighters and incident personnel.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fun Summer Rides

The riding has been good.  Good to be alive and enjoying the peddling.  I had a couple of terrific days out with the Seattle Randonneurs.

Seattle Randonneurs Summer 200k Brevet. I rode in a 200 km brevet in a very familiar area but on new roads and trails, along a very interesting route. It was a beautiful day out in the sunshine, riding fairly slowly, enjoying the group and the day.

Seattle Randonneurs Four Volcanoes 300k Brevet. I also rode a truly stunning 300 km brevet where I had the good fortune to see four volcanoes: Mount Rainer, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and Mount Saint Helens. From the Hotel Packwood, Packwood, WA, my day began at 3:55 AM! The official  "start" was at 5:00 AM, about 10 miles and 1,500 feet up a gravel road (route). Ride or drive? Seemed like riding would be the better option. The Seattle Randonneurs don't fool around on their beautiful bikes!

Getting ready at the start, around 5:15 AM. We started at 5:30 AM.
From the start, we rode gravel on great roads for almost 35 miles, passing Takhlakh Lake with an amazing view of Mount Adams, and then riding south, basically for 50 miles downhill to the mighty Columbia. We then turned right and rode west along the Columbia river into a stiff  leg-sapping wind.  I had no idea how best to control the bike and was terrified that seeking to avoid the ditch a gust of wind would cause me to over-correct and I would find myself in traffic; therefore, the ditch became my friend. Notably, I had the pleasure of experiencing a nice "draft" from a train running west between me and the river - how odd and interesting. The four or five tunnels were unpleasant, not least because an already intense wind became even more intense as it funneled its way through. At about mile 90, at Carson, we turned north and all was excellent as we rode on truly beautiful roads back to Packwood, eventually passing near Spirit Lake, on roads that are used in the Cascades High Pass Challenge. Riding fast down through the woods on rough roads I focussed on being controlled and smooth, trying to give myself a good deal of room to react to bumps and cracks that appear in the road at the last second.  I'm glad it was still daylight - I turned my front light on anyways, aiming to be visible.  I got out onto the valley, which was golden dry, perhaps with wheat or barley, and with long shadows - the sun that was just above the mountain ridges - and I time-trailed for ten miles, trying for smooth and fast pending. At the finish, back at Hotel Packwood, I happily handed over my completed Randonnepuring card.

Mount Adams viewed from Takhlakh Lake, about kilometer 50.
I had ridden almost 150 miles alone. After 7 hours on a bike, I'm generally done - I don't much like it. But, on this outing, I enjoyed the day - the landscapes, the sensations of seeking to be efficient and fast.  I would have to say that this outing was among the best five rides that I've ever done - the route. I think that perhaps next year I will try some longer rides and explore the mindset that's needed to enjoy the very long outings (400k and 600k). Special thanks to Bill Gobie for designing this adventure and for the volunteers at the controls that made the day awesome.

Lion Gravel Challenge. Photo by Phal Lim.
The Lion Gravel Challenge. Wow. Beautiful country to the east of Roslyn. Amazing views. Intricate route. Some very hard climbing and descending. Big rocks and loose dust. Saw a massive elk and a couple of wild turkeys. Windy, too, on the way back.  Just wow. Looking forward to doing this one again next year! Special thanks to the organizers for this tough, awesome challenge. Beautiful  photographs by Phal Lim.

This looks like a great ride: Washington Backcountry Discovery Route!!  Perhaps, a goal for the future!!!

Vicious Cycle Gran Fondo Winthrop

Five weeks until Vicious Cycle Gran Fondo Winthrop. I see that there are over 120 people registered!

As with last summer, my training has not been so structured. For lots of good reasons, I've missed three weeks of training in the last ten weeks, so the time/effort on the bike has been quite choppy, in hours: 15.5  - 0 - 12.0 - 12.0 - 16.0 - 18.0 - 0 - 1 - 8.5 - 8.0. And, I've not been doing my weekly core routine so, predictably, I am starting to feel it in my back and left leg and knee.

With five weeks to go to GFW, here's the plan: This week, I'll try to get in 12-14 hours, mostly in zone-1 and zone-2. No hard efforts. Then, for week #2 and week #3, I'll try for two hard weeks, aiming for about 16-18 hour each week, with two interval workouts, lots of controlled climbing in zone-2 and low zone-3 and sustained zone-2 riding, and easy recovery zone-1 rides. It will be interesting to see how I respond to this training load. These two weeks, if all goes well, will be hardest of the entire year. After the first week off back in late June, when I came back to training I felt very good.  I've found the rest to be so valuable. So, perhaps, the choppy training over the last ten weeks will have kept me rested and ready for some hard work. Then, for week #4, I'll take 3 days off and recover, aiming for about 10 hours, with one hard, sustained Zone-3 effort, a Fartlek session on some technical gravel trails, leg speed work on the rollers, and easy recovery rides. Finally, for week #5, I'll do 4 hours of almost nothing during week with some easy riding and short leg speed intervals, with the key goal of being as rested as possible for GFW.  I'm looking forward to the structure and seeing how it goes. I think its going to be fun!!

This year will be my third GFW outing. So long as the weather is good, I'll try to follow the same basic plan as last year in 2016. Ride reports for 2016 and 2015.

Tires?  Hmmm.  I think I'll go with a 38mm Trigger on the front and 35mm Compass Bon Jon Pass on the back. (38mm tires are generally too wide for the back of my Super Course frame.) I'll ride both in tubeless mode. Some of the gravel, especially in the middle part, was absolutely brutal last year. I think the volume of the 38 mm will be very helpful, although it will be a little slowish on the road. Hmmm. So hard to know what is optimal.  Perhaps, going with the Bon Jon Pass tires would be just fine - I like their efficiency on the climbs and flats and can manage the downhills ...

After every curve I sprint, until I have to break again. I'm not having any trouble with these curves, I'm much too tired now to worry about matters of life and health (The Rider, by Tim Krabbe, 1979, p. 132). I like the spirit of these curves, but I'd rather ride with élan and be alive.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Gran Fondo Ellensburg 2017: Ride Report

Riding the Raleigh Super Course:
On the way to the big hill.
From Vicious Cycle.
GF Ellensbug 2017 was a lot of fun. No lost bottles or pumps, dropped chains, flats, burps, or falls on this Vicious Cycling outing!

Its good to be alive and riding in such a beautiful landscape, with evidently lots of snow still in the alpine.  (On the way home, Edelweiss bowl at Alpental and the bowl beneath Silver peak seemed to be filled with heaps and heaps of snow.)

My wheels and my Compass Bon Jon Pass 35 mm tires in tubeless mode worked beautifully. At about 43 psi, they felt very good - fast on the road, fast and efficient on gravel when going straight, and not bad in on the gravel corners. My sense is that a little less psi would have made them even better on the gravel corners. After the ride, I checked the tire pressure on both tires. No change!  So, I'm very glad that I persisted with these tires and learned to make them work on my DT Swiss R460 rims. They work great on my 50 year old Raleigh Super Course.

I left from Bothell at 5:00 AM, after my usual big day breakfast: Oatmeal, yogurt, walnuts, banana, two eggs, and two pieces of honey toast. The drive was good. I arrived at about 7:15 after a brief stop at Indian John Hill - what a beautiful view of the valley.

We took off under clear skies. I was wearing my long sleeved jersey and knee warmers. That seemed like a little overkill especially since almost everyone else seemed to be dressed for a hot day. The expected high was 75. I was glad for the extra little warmth, especially during the first hour of riding and on the descents. The long sleeves didn't seem to make me too hot on the climbs and it was easy enough to open the zipper.

The ride followed the rhythm of 2015 and 2016. There was the relatively relaxed 30 mile section from the start until the big hill. As the group of 50-75 riders (107 riders finished) went into the wind there was the usual changes of pace with some slowing and speeding up and so on. One needed to pay attention. Staying toward the back, I tried to be as efficient as possible.

At one point, as we crossed a busy road at a stop sign, the group divided. I was way back. So, I had to expend a fair bit of effort to get back to the front. Fortunately, the front group seemed to keep a fairly steady pace so getting back on was not too difficult.

By the time we got to Cle Elum, I had eaten a cliff bar and a rice cake and I had finished a bottle of Gatorade. So, all good on the eating and drinking front.

Then, the big hill. It demanded a very, very hard effort. Just after the first steep climb on the road, I began my effort. In finding my own hard but sustainable pace, I moved to the front of the group. No jumping or hard efforts this year. Once on the gravel,  some riders passed me. I continued at a good pace, mostly in a 34x32. I tried to peddle well. I figured I was among the first ten riders or so and I followed wheels where I could.

About 1/2 way up the hill as I found it harder to stay stable on my seat I said to myself "Hmmm.  I guess I should have done a more core work - planks, bridges, hip flexors, and sit-ups!!" Still, I tried to relax and tried to focus on smooth peddling. Soon enough I passed one rider and I was pretty much on my own.

After filling 1.5 bottles at the rest stop, I continued, and the ride along the ridge was great. I ate another rice cake and drank some water. I tried to keep the bike going, seeking out opportunities to develop or maintain momentum. I rode the descents conservatively and tried to be as efficient as possible. Without problems or even scary moments, I safely got by the big potholes under the trees as we veer left - I think at Butte Creek at mile 39. As regular readers know (ha!), these potholes almost ate me and my bicycle in 2015 and 2016.  Not this year! I started the climb up to the high point.

Up ahead I saw Thomas Baron, and I tried to move up to him. I went by Thomas. Then, 5 minutes later he went by me!  I thought that was a good sign since perhaps we could work together. I noticed that Thomas seemed to inexplicably speed up from time to time. Later, I realized that perhaps he was using his GPS mapping device to anticipate the top of the climbs. That was cool!

By the bottom of the long descent at the second gate, Thomas and I were even. I passed by the gate on the right; he got through on the left.  I like this section, from here to the yummy aid station.  Its rolling and mostly downhill. I tried to work hard on the uphills and recover on the downhills, aiming to be as smooth and efficient as possible.

At about mile 55, Brig Seidel went flying by me!  "On your left, David," he shouts.  I saw him for all of 20 seconds and he was gone, just like that. It must be said: There's no following Mr. Seidel on the downhills!

Meanwhile, Thomas was close by - from time to time I could hear the distinctive sounds of his brakes. I did the best I could on the extensive washboard and many corners, staying right, since I did not want to encounter an unexpected - and definitely unwelcomed - car or motorcycle. I braked quite conservatively, changed gears frequently, stood on the peddles from time to time, while all the time trying to be smooth through it all.

Thomas and I got to the aid station at about the same time. I filled my bottles and took off. I didn't see Brig - I figured he was long gone!  On the way down to this point my eating and drinking were good.

The second climb was really good. I found focus and a good rhythm and I was able to ride well.  Thomas went by me on one of the steep parts near the bottom.  I kept at my pace. Toward the top, where it gets less steep, I found that I was able to peddle quite well.  I was generally in my 34x32 or 34x26. I think a 34x28 would have been the perfect gear. Anyway, I slowly got back to Thomas.

And, we started the downhill together. I don't much care for this descent because the surface is so inconsistent and it is very steep in places.  Mostly, the surface is fine, but then all of a sudden it gets rough and dodgy with potholes or bumps or loose gravel on hardpack. I stayed with Thomas for about 5 minutes, I'm guessing. It was great following his wheel and watching his lines and when he bunny-hopped potholes. He was faster than I and he moved ahead. I didn't want to push and make a mistake. I'm quite uncertain about my ability to appreciate my limits and act appropriately. So, I didn't try to stay with Thomas - instead, I tried to be controlled and fluid.

On the way down, I experienced the first of two scary moments on this ride. All of a sudden, just ahead of me, I saw a drop-off.  As best I can remember, it was a massive hole of some kind and it awkwardly appeared in the middle of the road out of no where.  What!  I really didn't know what to do!  I was going too fast to dare try to stop and I didn't see a way to go left or right.  So, I just went over it and got bounced around. I was able to maintain my balance and all was good in the end. As I was in the air, however, I had that crappy feeling of "Oh no - this isn't going to end well." I didn't like that. Nevertheless, I did get over it drop-off and I continued, determined as ever to be controlled and focussed and within my limits.  

I got to the bottom! Back on the road, safely. I wasn't sure where Thomas was - he was faster than I on the downhill but I wasn't sure how much faster.  Could I ride up to him? I was hoping that he wasn't too far up ahead, so I was prepared to work very hard for the next few miles on the road.

I finished and got a badge!
So, I got on that terrible, short, steep road climb, just after the aid station and I tried to put as much sustained effort into it as I could, expecting that the next 4 of 5 miles might the hardest of the day. Toward the top, I looked behind and I saw Thomas. He was a welcomed sight!  So, I slowed a little, ate some stuff and drank some water.  (I assume that Thomas stopped at the aid station at the bottom of the hill.)

Then, Thomas and I rode together all the way to the finish. I came in with a time of 5 fours 48 minutes, good for 5th place. Thomas was 5 seconds ahead me. We were about 5% behind the winner, Evan Plews, an extraordinarily accomplished rider.  Here are the results.

So, all in all, it was a terrific day out in the sunshine and beautiful countryside. For making these rides super awesome, thanks to Jake and the all the people at Vicious Cycles.

Compass Bon Jon Pass 35 mm tires work great,
on a 50-year old Raleigh Super Course.