Apr 28, 2011

Devil Mountain Double prelude

Everest is known as the mountain of firsts: the first man to summit, the first woman, the first one-legged man, the first father and son team, the first septuagenarian, etc. It is the tallest of all mountains on Earth, which is why it draws such a frenzy of climbers each year. Though now that I’ve typed it, it seems that the transition I was going for here is a bit too attenuated, but I’ll run with it.

To get me to do a ride on a bike, all I need to hear is that it’s in a class by itself: the toughest, the longest, the most number of climbs, the steepest pitches. Whatever the ride has that separates mentally sane people from those like I am is what attracts me to it the most. So when I read that DMD was the toughest double century in California, it was a done deal. I also managed to talk a few people into doing this ride with me, and I hope that after we’re done they will still be talking to me.

This will be double two of three of my California Triple Crown pursuit, and I’m as excited to tackle this bad boy as I was about riding Mulholland Double. This will be a slightly different double than Mulholland, however. There will be longer climbs in the early part of the ride, and the climbing appears to be more evenly spread out, which means lower average speeds early in the ride and also a bit more fatigue as the climbs come later in the ride. Sierra Road will probably be an equivalent of Deker, which was one tough climb coming up at mile 160.

My goals for this ride are finishing uninjured, and as with Mulholland, in under 14 hours. My total time for Mulholland was 13:42, but DMD has an extra 5 miles, which assuming they are extra flat miles and I’ll be able to do them at 20mph, still adds on another 15 minutes, which doesn’t leave much room. The ride also has an extra 1.5k of climbing, which certainly will eat its share of time. It seems that if I can keep the same pace as I did for Mulholland, the only place to gain time is to take less breaks. I definitely could have taken less breaks if at least one of the rest stops had potato chips. Instead, I had to stop at each one after Deker to check if they had any – no such luck. I can likely limit my rest to 45 minutes to 1 hour, which would buy me an extra 15-30 minutes to still come in under 14 hours.

With all of that out of the way, here are some things I will try to implement at DMD that I took away from Mulholland:

1. Don’t be afraid to start hard. I started with a large group and stayed with the leaders for as long as I could, about 50 miles. After which, I settled into my own pace. Going hard doesn’t mean burning too many matches early on, but there is a tendency to be a bit too conservative early on in rides of this length, which is understandable.

2. Use any group I’ll be in to the max. These are not the types of rides where dropping people on the flats will lead to any substantial gain. If they are stronger climbers, they will catch me; if I’m the stronger climber, they will fall off on the climbs regardless. Energy saved on the flats in a group is energy that can be put into a climb later on.

3. Eat, drink, eat, drink – lather, rinse, repeat. At around mile 140 of Mulholland, I definitely felt the jolts from the Powerbar Gels I was eating along the way, and I started eating them at 15-20 minute increments instead of 30-45. I will make sure to start doing that much earlier in the ride to make sure to keep my calories up as well as my energy level – those things pack caffeine. Another thing that worked for me yet again, is sticking purely with Accelerade. Two bottles at the start, send enough mix for two bottles up the road with the gear, and that should be enough to get me through the ride – obviously I’ll be taking in a ton of water in between those Accelerade refills.

4. Leave enough kick to finish strong. It’s an amazing feeling to be riding the last 20 miles like they are the first 20 miles. The key to doing that is proper pacing and proper fueling, the adrenaline seems to take care of the rest. When I smell the finish line after all those miles, I just naturally speed up.

And that’s about is. If I had to make one more point, I’d remind myself to have fun and lift the head up once in a while to enjoy the views – hopefully they will be good! Expect a lengthy report sometime Sunday or Monday.

Apr 25, 2011

Chicago riding

This past weekend I came back to where it all began for me with regard to cycling - the Midwest. Like a musician and his instrument, I packed my Kane into my Time bike case and took off for Chicago. The previous week it was unclear whether the weather would cooperate and let me get two nice rides in over the weekend, but luckily it stayed dry both days and gave me a chance to get out and ride with my former teammates and friends. 

The plan for Saturday was to ride a new route called the "Hatchet," designed by Neil, taking us out of Deerfield, IL through north suburbs up to Wauconda and back down to Deerfield for a total distance of a little over 60 miles. I felt like I really needed a good workout on Saturday, so before I even showed up for the ride I planned on spending a lot of time on the front, taking nice long pulls and getting my watt's worth. 

The instant I left the house, I realized that I was not in San Francisco anymore. In the 4 miles from my parent's house to the start of the ride, I dodged more potholes than I usually do in probably a month in San Francisco and Marin. But I guess that type of maneuvering just comes with the territory when riding in the Midwest.

When I ride in San Francisco and people find out I'm from Chicago, one of the comments I usually get is, "oh, you must be used to the wind." Then I have to explain that the term "Windy City" actually comes from the political climate around the turn of the last century and not the weather. Well, on Saturday it was definitely the weather. It seemed like a strong headwind was pursuing us most of the way, which made it kind of fun and was a good replacement for hill. 

There were about seven of us in the parking lot as we set out on the new route. Once we got into a rotating paceline, the pace started picking up and less and less people were rotating in. In a few minutes, it was just Neil, Steve and I. The pace was very, very hard and I was very happy to be able to get this race-effort ride in - very good for fitness. I was also pleased that my achilles tendon was not bothering me one bit, which made it much easier to push higher watts. The ride continued with attacks, counter attacks, accelerations and long pulls throughout.

At about 3 hours and 10 minutes into the ride, I decided to scroll through the screens of my Garmin to see what my average watts were so far. I was very surprised to see 240 watts. To think that about two years ago, I could barely hold 250 watts for 40 minutes and on Saturday I pushed 240 watts for over 3 hours. "If this wasn't race pace," I thought to myself, "It sure as heck came close." The rest of the ride was at a much more relaxed pace, which let me spin my legs a bit before we settled into some Starbucks chairs with come much needed caffeine booster.

The weather for Sunday looked like it was going to be just a bit cooler, but dry, which is the important factor. A mixed group of A and B riders showed up in the same Metra parking lot for a West Loop route. As it is still early season in Chicago, the shorter 43-mile version of the ride was planned for the day. The A group left the parking lot first in a double paceline at a warmup pace. I wasn't planning on pushing the pace, nor taking long pulls because my legs were rather sore from Saturday's effort, and I spent most of the previous night eating and drinking at my friend's 30th birthday party, and I only got about 4 hours of sleep. But at the same time, I wasn't planning on letting anyone get the best of me either. So it was a roll-with-the-punches kind of deal.

Once we got about 10 miles out of the parking lot, we started in a nice, controlled rotating paceline. [Aside: rotating paceline is something I miss the most about riding in Chicago. It seems that it's almost impossible to get 5-10 people together in SF who know what the hell that is and how to execute it properly.] Then, Vitor started making attacks, Andre and I countered and pretty soon it was the three of us rotating with the rest of the group hanging on the back. My legs were in a lot of pain, but my ego would not permit me to sit back and rest up while others were doing the work. After all, I have been riding/racing since winter and the weather only recently became decent enough to ride in Chicago. I quickly realized that I was in for another race-type ride and told my legs to shut up. 

After the brief bio break on Chevy Chase Rd., the pace picked up even higher. I attacked on the next climb, looked back and no one was on my wheel. I don't like riding alone, so I sat up and waited for the field to come closer and we regrouped. Having not ridden the route in quite some time, I missed the next right turn, but the yells from the back of the group set me straight in rather fast order so I made a quick U-turn and was back on course but in the back of the group. That's when Vitor attacked, Andre followed and I made an acceleration around the rest of the group so he could bridge me to Vitor

We re-grouped at next major intersection and picked up the pace again down Fairfield. The pace is always high down that stretch of road going back to Long Grove as the road tilts somewhat downhill. There were a few of us taking turns on the nose and we quickly came to our rest-stop at the gas station. A refill of water for some, bio break for others and we were ready to roll. As we came out of the parking lot, another group of riders came through. Some of whom we knew, so the groups merged and we proceeded back to Deerfield at a more relaxed pace. Frankly, I was happy the pace died down because I wanted just a few miles to let my legs spin easy in hopes that some of the lactic acid would get flushed out. If some of it did, it wasn't much, as I'm still very sore today.

As on Saturday, coffee and good company marked the end of the ride. I look forward to coming back later this year and riding with the Chicago Colavita club again. Hopefully in somewhat warmer weather and maybe some repaved roads, but I'm not really holding my breath for either.

Apr 19, 2011

Looking for a hobby

I don't remember if I've ever put in six training days in a row on a bike, but I know for sure I've done five, and that wasn't easy, so I'm guessing six isn't any easier. But forcing myself to be off the bike for six days was a lot harder. The first day was easy because I was still in pain. The second day was also easy because I remembered how painful the day before was and there were still some lingering effects. Third day was harder because the Achilles tendon didn't give me any pain, but in the back of my mind I knew that there was no way that it healed overnight. But by the fourth day, it became very, very hard to stay off the bike, so I went to Sea Otter with a friend. I mean what better way to keep myself off the bike than to be around everything bike? Yeah, makes no sense to me either. But it was a lot of fun and I knew that I was doing the right thing by staying out of the saddle - I even resisted the temptation to enter a sprint competition near the Timbuk2 tent. And I even passed up the opportunity to arm-wrestle for schwag – I was undefeated among my high school class in that highly intellectual activity.

By Sunday, however, things became altogether different. There was no Sea Otter (I mean there was, but I didn't go there) and I also kept myself off the bike, though I almost gave into Dan's invitation for a 3p.m. easy cruise. What I realized, however, is that I'm in a desperate need for a backup hobby. When I'm totally healthy and on the bike, I barely have time to do the things I need to do (like shop or get a haircut), let alone think of another hobby, but if I'm forced off the bike for a long periods of time, I think I need an activity to fall back on. Come to think of it, I don't really recall what I did during Chicago winters. I think I just trained indoors and went to the gym to lift weights more. So I guess this is a call to make off the bike hobby suggestions. Here are the requirements:

1. Don’t suggest running. If I can’t pedal a bike, I probably can’t run, and if I can run, I’m going to pedal a bike. I also just really, really, really don’t like running as a form of exercise. I’m fine with it as a necessary part of an activity, like soccer or football, but that’s about it.

2. It has to be something I can pick up and drop at any point in time. So in other words, this hobby should not involve long term projects, like building model ships or gardening, although I have heard that growing herbs can be a soothing activity … or was that smoking herbs? Hmm, I forget right now, but in any event, no long-project type hobbies.

3. It should be something that doesn’t require a lot of motor skills, or something where you don’t lose those motor skills easily as you abandon this hobby for months at a time. So martial arts, which I’ve actually studied extensively in my youth and young adulthood, would not be a good suggestion, as it requires consistency and commitment.

4. It has to be cheap. I can only afford one expensive hobby at a time, and cycling has in an overflowing fashion filled that spot. In fact, after it filled it, it sprouted very deep roots that I think run directly to my bank account. So this hobby that I hope you will suggest has to be something that requires very little to no gear.

5. In case you forgot, see rule number 1.

Here are some things that I’ve been considering, but I’d love to hear more suggestions because I’m not really crazy about any of these.

Swimming. Pros: great exercise, very good for cardio, low impact and probably beneficial to whatever injury I may be nursing. Cons: I’m a very lousy swimmer – could never get the whole “turning head to breathe” technique down, though my back stroke isn’t too shabby. I also don’t want to join a club or something like that to use a pool. Is there a place that you can go swim with a drop-in fee in SF? I’m also afraid that if I start getting good at swimming, I might get the crazy idea to train for Ironman and then I’d have to start running, and if you missed it, see rule 1 above.

Bowling. Pros: I was actually very good at this. Placed at state when I was 11 or 12 and bowled in a league for a few years after that, but that’s where that kind of stopped. I have all my own gear, so the costs of going to a bowling alley would be less. Cons: I would have to spend time around middle-aged, overweight men drinking copious amounts of beer and being obnoxious. I can’t wear spandex bowling.

Baking. Pros: I like to cook and learn to cook new things. Baking is often more challenging than cooking, so it would keep me interested. Cons: raceweight.

That’s all I’ve got and I’m all ears (eyes). Looking forward to reading your wonderful suggestions.

P.S. To those interested in how my Achilles tendon is doing: Went up McCullough six times today with no pain on the climbs, but with some mild discomfort once I was off the bike. Iced the area for 15 minutes right after getting home and it hasn’t bothered me so far. I’d say I’m about 75 percent right now as far as tendon health and close to 100 percent as far as potential effort on the bike. I think use-and-ice will be my recovery strategy, unless the tendon starts getting worse. 

Apr 14, 2011


Injuries suck! There is really no way to sugarcoat that statement (not that I’m a fan of such things anyway). Injuries plain and simple suck. They derail training and make uncertain everything planned out for the season. When I first felt that tingle in my left Achilles tendon on Mulholland Double, I figured it was something I’d just sleep off and it would go away. Apparently, riding 40 miles on a “tingling” tendon is not the best way to get it to quickly recover. Lesson learned, but frankly, I would not have done that ride any differently than I did.

Another thing I learned about being injured is that coming to terms with an injury is much like dealing with grief. First there is denial: Nah, it’s not that bad, I can go on an easy Headlands Raid. Followed by, “oh, it feels fine, why don’t I try to push it up this hill and see if it holds up.” Then, when I could barely walk to work that morning, I realized it probably wasn’t a great idea to do that and moved on to stage two – guilt.

“Oh why was I so stupid as to go that hard up that hill? This is my rest week after all, so I could have easily taken a couple more days off to see if everything will work itself out. But nooooo, I had to push the envelope and now probably made it even worse than it was after Mulholland.” I really didn’t spend much time in this phase as I’m more of a “what do we do now?” type of person, as opposed to a “why the hell did I do that?” type of person. Dwelling on the past is pretty useless; so I moved on to stage number three – anger.

All of a sudden, I got really angry with my stupid Achilles tendon for acting up and not healing (oh, I was so tempted to spell that with a double “e”) quickly. I don’t enjoy being sick, injured or in any way, shape or form disabled, so this is really bugging me. I’m also seldom sick, injured or disabled, so it’s a lot to get used to. I think people who deal with sickness a lot don’t really enjoy it either, and it probably bothers them just as much as it bothers me, but I feel that mentally they can deal with it better because it happens so often. I, on the other hand, am completely mentally unprepared to deal with this Achilles fiasco. So part of me is stuck in this anger state, while another part of me has moved on to step four – depression.

But not really the kind of depression where you can’t eat, sleep, drink, function or do anything. That’s the clinical kind, I just have a quotidian kind we often interchange for the word “sad.” I’m sad that I might have to stay off the bike for longer than I would like, and that my training will be disrupted, and that I’ll lose fitness and have to claw my way back mid-season. So all of these annoying things are circulating in my mind, while I quietly hope that tomorrow morning I’ll wake up with a healthy tendon. And while part of me is still angry and another part is sad, the part of my brain responsible or reason is taking me to the last stage (that’s right, I skipped two because I’m so awesome) – acceptance.

Something needs to be done to promote recovery and I’m doing all I can. I’m doing stretches and massaging my foot, even if my co-workers do find it odd that I take off my shoe and sock and rub my foot in the middle of the office. I’m also doing my best to stay off my feet and have even resorted to taking a seat (when available) on Muni – something I usually never do because invariably someone gets on the bus/train who I think needs it more than I do. Yesterday, walking more than three blocks was uncomfortable, not painful, but uncomfortable. Hoping for a better feeling tendon today.

With this rest week coming to a fast close and the next training week around the corner, I’m really anxious for this thing to heal, but if it doesn’t, I guess I’ll have to come up with plan B of how I’m going to maintain fitness and not aggravate my ankle any further. I’m hoping it won’t have to involve copious amounts of ibuprofen. 

Apr 11, 2011

Mulholland Double ride report

April is a month of doing something different, if we choose not to count the Apple Pie crit, that is. Something different other than racing every weekend. While I love it and genuinely enjoy it, the routine does get to me at some point, and I figured it would be good to take April off from racing bikes and do the other cycling things I like – ultradistance events. April is also the month where I plan to complete two-thirds of my California Triple Crown requirements of riding three double centuries in a year. The first of these was Mulholland Double starting in Agoura Hills, CA.

Evgeniy and I woke up at 3:45 and started getting ready. The start was about 45 minutes from his house and we needed to be at the starting line at 6:15 for a mass rollout. I originally planned to wear a light wind vest over my jersey in the morning, but after looking at the temperatures, I quickly changed my mind and opted for its heavier counterpart. It was 33 degrees at the start of the ride and the first 20 miles were mostly downhill and flat. “This is going to be a frosty one,” I thought to myself.

Around 6:10, E and I pull up to the start, drop off our lights with the staff, got the final instructions and the go signal. There was a split start, with some slower (by self-designation) riders starting at 5:30 and our group at 6:15. I didn’t take a head count, but it seemed that there were about 20-25 people in our group, with some who may have been running late to the start, as there were a few people getting ready in the parking lot when we rolled to the start. I had on knee warmers, arm warmers, a heavy vest and long fingered liners under my cut-off gloves and I was still extremely cold. The 33 degrees alone was enough to make me chilly, but rolling downhill and on the flats, with the wind, made it feel like way below freezing. I was on the verge of brain freeze quite a few times within the first few miles. I did my best to hide behind someone from the wind. My fingers were in pain from the cold and the only soothing thought that came to mind was that feeling them in pain was better than having them be numb.

This went on for about the first 10 miles, and then we started getting closer to the coast where the ocean air made it feel about 10 degrees warmer and my body slowly started to defrost. By the time we got down to the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), I was feeling pretty good and the sun was also helping quite a bit with the defrosting process. At this point, I think most of our 20-person group was still together, in a strung out peloton rolling down PCH toward our first climb up Topanga Canyon. This is where things started to shake up. The strong climbers came to the front and started to set the pace. I was about 3rd wheel out and held my own as we made our way up the first climb. We were going at a very stong pace, but to my surprise, most of our group was still together.

This is where I realized the toll that a few months of racing had taken on my brain – I was racing a double. I wasn’t consciously thinking that I need to beat the guy ahead of me, but my body and mind seemingly conspired and forced me to do my best to hold the wheel of the guy ahead of me. There were two guys on the ride who were clearly mountain goats and had great climbing legs: one was in a Helen’s Cycles kit, the other in a dark kit with a Mt. Tam Hill Climb water bottle (I’m going to call them HC and MT). At some point on a climb, I mentioned it to him and asked if he was from the Bay Area – he was – but I didn’t get his name. These guys set a pretty high tempo and by the time we reached the top of Topanga Canyon, the field was shattered.

There were probably about seven of us as we hit the first descent, and I was second wheel, but gave the guy ahead of me plenty of room. By this point, we were heading back inland, so the temperatures were dropping again, but with the climbs, it wasn’t horrible. And the sun had started to come out even more, which helped a great deal as well.

By the time we climbed up to the Rock Store (mile 46), HC and MT had about a 30-second gap on me, and I knew that eventually they would drop me and the rest of the field, but while my legs were feeling good, I figured I should do my best to keep up. E was a bit behind me, but always close enough that I knew he’d eventually catch up, which he did. In fact, as we started to climb Little Sycamore, E, HC and MT went ahead of me and that was the point where my legs and my brain realized that there were another 150 miles to be ridden and that I need to stay with my double century pace.

As I reached the top of the climb and the first stop at around mile 53, HC and MT were saddling up and heading out – that was the last I saw of them – they would both finish the ride in around 12 hours. I topped off my bottle, inhaled a banana and quickly went to make use of the Port-A-Jon. What followed was the worst descent I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering. Every single line I picked ended up having a crack or gravel in it – too much braking, too much unevenness, too much bumps and an occasional oncoming vehicle made it a huge pain in the ass.

The long descent took us back down to PCH and warmer temperatures. By this time, we were going at a scorching pace for a double, averaging near 20mph. E and I grouped up with two more guys and started to get into a rotation on PCH, then for an unknown reason to me (at the time), E got on the front of the group and took a monster 8-mile pull. I was sitting last of four guys and observed at least once where the guy in second tried to pull through, but could not make it around. Once we turned onto Las Posas, the other two guys pulled around and began to pull. I asked E why he thought it was a good idea to pull for eight miles and he apparently thought that someone would go around him. I explained that all was necessary was for him to move over and wave people through – group ride experience comes in handy at a time like this.

As the two guys got to the front on Las Posas and took their turn, E asked me if maybe we should drop them. I told him to relax and stay behind me and out of the wind for the time being. I knew both of us were stronger climbers than those guys so there was no need to drop them on the flats. It would be much better to “use” them as much as possible to get through the chore miles. As we navigated the flats into a headwind, we came upon another rider who was one of the few who held on during the climb, but I didn’t really notice when he went ahead of me, so I was surprised to see him up the road. My guess is that he skipped the stop at mile 53 and rolled on while I was in the bathroom. So now there were five of us approaching the next climb, Potrero Grade.

Potrero Grade started off mild, but kicked up to 20 percent near the top. As we churned our way to the top, I got a gap on E and everyone else. I crested first and continued to descend, knowing that it was only a matter of time before the others catch up to me. Sure enough, on the flats they came up behind me in a few minutes. I turned to one of the guys and said, “Well that was a bitch near the top.” He looked at me and said, “That’s nothing, wait till we get to Balcom, that goes up to 26 percent.” So there, I had something to look forward to now.

One climb remained before we hit our lunch stop, Potrero Road. It wasn’t a big deal of a climb and we all rolled up it at our own pace. As we were going up, a guy (whose name I later learned to be Rick) rolled by and I jumped on his wheel. Turns out he was in front with the others, but got a flat and caught us. I kept pace with him and the two of us dropped everyone else, but I was pretty sure that E was going to catch up, and so were others. However, they didn’t really catch us until we rolled into a park for lunch. There we had a large regrouping. At this point, we were at mile 92, with 108 miles to go and we were looking at a pretty good finishing time and my goal of a sub-14 hour finish seemed to be within reach. The two fellows who joined us earlier on PCH were much faster eaters than we were and were off as I still had bottles to fill and use the bathroom. I would not see them again.

After lunch, E, Rick, another rider and I all set off together. The next few miles or so were rather boring as we navigated suburban streets. Then, Rick got another flat and he and his friend were left behind, and it was just E and I now. As we exited the residential area, we rolled into some farmlands and orange groves. There was nothing exciting, other than the headwind, which seemed to be coming from all directions – this was odd to me. At around mile 120, there was another small water stop I was going to skip, but before I did, I asked how long until the next one. After hearing that there wouldn’t be a stop for about 50 miles, I figured it would be a good idea to top off my bottles and eat a bit of something. But we really didn’t spend more than two minutes there before continuing our journey.

Up to now, we were used to yellow arrows marking nearly all the turns, so it was no surprise that when the next turn came along without any markings, we missed it. It wasn’t a big deal, as the road we were on ended about half a mile after the turn we were supposed to take, but alerted me to the fact that I need to keep my route sheet handy.

At this point, we were at mile 120, and my legs were beginning to feel fatigue. Then we hit the wall. No, not the kind of wall where you sugar drops and you want to fall of your bike, but the kind of wall called Balcon Canyon Road. It starts as a rather innocuous climb, but as we were warned, it quickly pitched up to way over 20 percent. The best I could so in a 34x28 was about 45rpm and quickly wished I had another gear – something that almost never happens with that setup. I got out of the saddle once or twice, but that was probably counterproductive as the grade was so steep that my rear wheel was slipping slightly. I figured I’d sit and mash the pedals until my legs stop working or I reach the top. Luckily, the latter happened first.

The next 20 miles were really boring again, and as previously, into a headwind. They took us through strawberry fields, open roads and farmlands. I noticed that E was getting a bit fatigued and offered to do the pulling, but anytime I took the speed up over 17mph, I’d gap him. After a few times of this, I figured I should just press on, and let him catch me on PCH (if he could), where the headwind was not as bad.

I hit PCH for the third time in one day at mile 144, and I knew it was about 13 miles before we were to climb Decker – the last hard climb of the day. There was no headwind on PCH and I could roll at 18-20mph without much of an effort, so I figured I’d keep it in this gear and see if E would catch me, which he did in about five miles. I pulled the rest of the way to Decker. I figured this would be my 8-mile pull on PCH to pay back for the one earlier in the day.

Decker is a 3.6-mile climb that we hit at about mile 157, and it averages around 8 percent. I knew all of this before we even started to climb, but what I didn’t know was that the climb started at between 10 and 14 percent and would not level off until very close to the top. E got ahead of me from the get go and I let him go, thinking I would either catch him after settling into a rhythm, or we’d meet at the top where all of our gear was waiting for us.

About a mile into the climb, something I never had happen did. A sharp pain in my left Achilles tendon shot up through my leg. “Great,” I thought, “just what I need right about now, with about 2.5 miles of this climb to go!” The pain was very uncomfortable and each time I tried pushing hard on the pedals, it would shoot up again. I finally made it to the top, with my left leg very unhappy with me.

I got off my bike, and asked for ibuprofen and some Enduralites. This was mile 160, and I was starting to feel really beat up, and tendon pain wasn’t helping things. All I really wanted at the time were potato chips, but alas, there were none. So I stuffed my face with whatever goodies were available at the aid station, mixed more Accelerade into my bottles and proceeded to get my lights on the bike.

It was early in the day, and I knew that there was only a remote chance that I would need them, and that I would definitely be done with the last big descent before nightfall. With that in mind, I only put one of my headlights on my bike and stuffed the other one in the back of my vest. While all of this was going on, Rick and his friend caught us, did what they needed to do at the rest stop and kept going. A few minutes later, we rolled on. I was hoping that the mild rollers and the big descent down Mulholland Hwy would give the drugs enough time to dull the pain of my tendon – that never happened. I knew that I would have to spin an easier gear, which is easy on the flats, but on the climbs I’m used to a slower, harder cadence of about 70rpm max.

As we left Decker checkpoint and started to roll up the first roller, E got a flat and told me to go on while he worked on it, which I did. Over some rollers and down the big descent I went, coming upon the next rest stop at mile 175 or so. Normally, I would have rolled by having just stopped a little while ago, but I really wanted potato chips and hoped they would have some. They did not, but there was Ramen Noodle soup, which was a great salt substitute, and one of the staffers there happened to have a bag full of pickles, one of which I munched down with the soup.

By the time I was done with my salt feast, E rolled by and we took off to finish the ride. We were now joined by three more riders. There were another 5 miles of flats and rollers ahead, followed by a 4.7-mile climb and a 2-mile climb. All of this time I was trying to spin easy and not aggravate my left tendon. There was some yo-yoing back and forth with the riders as we’d beat them up the rollers and then they would catch us on the downhill and flats.

Finally, we made the turn toward Piuma climb. And this is when something totally weird and unexpected happened. I don’t know what it was, but my legs felt fresh all of a sudden, and I felt like I just started the ride. I started turning my pedals at a very fast climbing cadence for me – about 84 rpm. I dropped E, then caught and dropped everyone else who was near us at the time. Up the climb I passed Rick and his friend, who were stopped for something or other. A guy about my age tried to stay with me up Piuma, but half way up, I dropped him and by the time I reached the summit there was no one in sight. I felt great and really strong, like I could tackle another 100 miles.

I dropped down for a bit, then made a left turn and I was on the last climb of the day. I had energy through the roof and pedals were turning at a bizarre rate for this late in the ride. In a matter of minutes, I was at the top of the climb where another rest station was set up. I rolled in and before I could even unclip, I yelled out, “I need water a coke and a sticker!” Turns out they weren’t really giving out stickers at that checkpoint (as they told us they would), but I got the other two things in pretty short order. While one of the great volunteers was filling my bottle, I gulped down half a coke and off I went.

I bombed down the 4-mile descent at about 30mph average and was out on Mulholland Highway again. Then, it finally happened, I had a tailwind and there were only two turns and about 10 miles separating me from the finish. I looked down at my Garmin and realized that a sub-14 hour finish was about to become reality. For the last time that day, I got into my drops and hammered it home. I could smell the finish and the adrenaline was pumping at full force.

After the final turn on Agoura Rd., there were only 4 miles to the finish and I started hammering it with all the power I had. Over one of the rollers, my tendon shot up pain through my leg again, but I didn’t slow down, I just kept pedaling with the other leg. Nothing was slowing me down. Then, I saw the place where I parked my car and knew that the finish line was just a couple hundred yards up the road. Into the parking and across the finish line I went, giving my number to one of the ride staff. I was 10th out of 46 people to finish the ride and had attained my sub-14 hour goal. 

Apr 7, 2011

Eating right and racing light

As I was finishing up my counterclockwise Paradise Loop last Saturday, I ran into Alex and Silas heading in the opposite direction, so I jumped in with them and did the whole thing (all 8 miles of it) in the opposite direction. Along the way, Alex asked if I would write a blog about what and how I eat to get to race weight. The information in this blog is half from my own experience of dropping 10 pounds this season and half from a book which helped me do it, Racing Weight. If you’re an endurance athlete and don’t feel you are at your optimal weight, I suggest you get it and read it. At about $13, it’s absolutely worth every penny.

Why lose the weight? Well, as a cyclist who likes to race and enjoys climbing, I want to climb faster and along with building power, the other gravity-defying technique is to have less mass dragging me down. Awhile back, I recall reading somewhere that each extra pound on the bike equals to 3 watts you have to put out to move it up hill (for the life of me, I can’t find the source now). Obviously grade and wind matter, but let’s just go with 3 watts. I can hold 330 watts for about 12 (maybe if I’m really fresh and feeling strong 15) minutes. On the other hand, I can hold 300 watts for close to an hour (it will be very painful, but doable). So you can see that losing 10 pounds makes quite a difference with respect to climbing.

In my opinion, the first step to creating a workable diet is understanding yourself. Know the foods you like, know the foods you don’t and be honest with yourself about your eating habits. Do you snack on junk between meals? Do you have an insatiable sweet tooth (or a salty tooth, like I do)? This is key because even the best diet planned out on paper is doomed to fail if you set up insurmountable barriers. Not only will you not be satisfied with how you eat, but you will constantly beat yourself up mentally each time you slip off and have something you know you shouldn’t or just too much of something.

In general, the diet I speak of is very, very simple. It is a diet I’ve advocated for years and the one that was reaffirmed as the best approach in Racing Weight – calories in < calories out. So after you’ve had an honest discussion with yourself about your eating habits, the next step is to decide how much weight you need to lose and how quickly you want to lose it. If you are really heavy, weight loss will come easy at first and then plateau, so don’t get discouraged if you drop 10 pounds in your first month, but only 5 pounds in the subsequent month. There is not such thing as diminishing returns in weight loss: loss is loss. On the other hand, if you only have 2 or 3 extra pounds, those can be the toughest to lose off the bat. In general, you shouldn’t lose more than 2 percent of your body weight per week, especially if you’re training hard because you won’t be fueling your body sufficiently to keep up with the demand.

The “how fast” question is often easier to answer than the “how much” question. And because I imagine you’ll be using the information above to decide the former, you really need to figure out the latter first. There is no magic number and we are all different. What you should be striving for is you ideal weight for the events in which you compete. Hilly road races and flat criteriums are probably the extremes of the spectrum, and through trial and error, you need to figure out at what weight you feel the best and perform well. I came into cycling after years of heavy weight training and at one point, my weight peaked at 205 pounds. As I scaled back on the lifting and continued to do more cycling, it went to 190, then 180, then lingered in the 175-180 range for a long time, and this year, I was finally able to get it to a sustainable 168. This all took years, not months, but I also had a lot of upper body muscle I needed to shed, and believe it or not, it’s very difficult to do. As my upper body continues to “shrink” and bone density due to cycling drops somewhat, I will probably be able to dip into the 163-165 range, but I doubt that will happen this year.

After you have an idea of how much you want to lose, you have to decide how much you have to eat in order to lose that weight. The question is twofold – how much and what? To decide how much food you can consume daily, you will have to count your calories in and estimate your calories out. Livestrong.com has a great calorie counter with a variety of foods already entered (even from some of your favorite fast food places), so you can easily track how much you’ve consumed. On the other hand, I’m not a huge fan of their calorie goal estimator. To estimate your daily need, you have to estimate your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and then adjust it for your level of activity. You can make the estimate using this online calculator.

For example, for me, a 28-year-old male at 6’1” and 168lbs, my estimated BMR is 1850 calories per day. Which in simple terms means that I can burn this amount by sleeping all day. But I don’t do that, I’m active, I’m on the bike five to six days a week, so clearly that needs to be adjusted. For that, we use the Harris Benedict Equation:

1. If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.22.
2. If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
3. If you are moderatetely active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
4. If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
5. If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9

I use number 4 and come up with my daily calorie total of about 3,240 calories. Now you just need to know one more magic number – 3500. That’s the number of calories that equal to one pound of fat. So if my body burns 3,240 calories daily and I want to lose one pound a week, I divide 3500 by 7 (days) = 500 and then subtract that amount from 3,240. This tells me that in order for me to lose my pound in a week, I have to consume about 2700 calories daily.

So now you supposedly know how much weight you need to lose, how fast you want to lose it and you know how many calories you can eat daily to get to that number. This is where it all gets incredibly dangerous.

This writing is not intended for couch potatoes, but rather for athletes who routinely stress their bodies. Aiming for numbers alone is a dangerous trap because you can snack all day on carrots and have two burritos and be at your daily calorie intake, but that doesn’t do much for your body in terms of keeping it optimally fueled for continued training. If you don’t properly fuel, your workouts will suffer and you risk injury.

In trying to meet your calorie goals, pick your foods for optimal efficiency. As an endurance athlete, you need carbs, so if you’re going to eat high calorie foods, make sure that the ratio of calories to carbs is about 4 to 1, at least. There are very few foods that exceed the 4:1, so don’t be disappointed if you have a hard time finding them. Some of the best calorie to carb foods are:

Oatmeal ~ 150cal to 30g carbs (per serving)
Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal ~ 180cal to 43g carbs
Sourdough toast ~ 100cal to 20g carbs
Trader Joe’s Greek Yogurt 0% fat Vanilla 200cal to 22g carbs and 18g of much needed protein

Quinoa ~ 170cal to 30g carbs
Cous Cous ~ 230cal to 45g carbs
Israeli cous cous ~ 220cal to 46g carbs
Potatoes ~ 110 to 150 cal/each depending on size to 25 to 35g carbs

Of course, there are always rice and pasta, and when shopping, try to find the brand that has the best ratio of calories to carbs. This way, you’ll be sure to meet you calorie goal (i.e., not exceed it) and still get the carbohydrates you need to fuel your body. Another great source of carbohydrates is fruit. I eat at least three servings of fruit daily and sometimes up to five. I rarely exceed five, because some fruits do carry a hefty calorie count. A banana, for example, packs about 120 calories.

Carbohydrates alone, however, are not enough. For your muscles to heal and rebuild, you will need to fuel them with protein. An endurance athlete doesn’t need as much protein as a bodybuilder or a power lifter, but post-workout protein is a must for improved recovery. I highly recommend dairy protein for post-workout. This casein protein is complex and takes time to break down, slowly fueling your muscles and helping them recover. During workouts, whey protein works better because it is a simple protein and your body can break it down easier under stress.

Two of the best sources of dairy protein are Greek yogurt and Kefir. With Greek yogurt, you will notice that the lower fat content results in higher protein content. I prefer the “Trader Joe’s brand vanilla-flavored 0 percent fat” kind because in addition to 18 grams of protein per serving, it also packs 22 grams of carbs and come in at about 200 cal. With regard to Kefir, it’s an Eastern European thing. I grew up drinking it and to me it’s very natural. Some of my American friends who’ve tried it had very different reactions to it – some love it, some can’t stand it.

With all this talk about carbs and proteins, don’t forget about veggies, legumes, vitamins and all that other stuff that makes your body function well. Throughout my day, I typically have 3 servings of fruit, 3 servings of veggies, 1 serving of meat or poultry, 2-3 servings of dairy and the rest is some combination of high carb foods I listed above.

Now that you’ve hopefully had the chance to digest the above (pun so intended), here are some tips. Don’t make any radical changes to your diet. Add and subtract things slowly, so everything doesn’t overwhelm you. If you’re already a healthy eater, this will be easy, but if not, then take it one step at a time. Reward yourself with some “bad” food once in a while. If you’re generally good about your diet, have something that you’ve sacrificed. If you do it in moderation, it shouldn’t set you back. Try to work with foods you enjoy as much as possible. Part of changing your diet maybe just preparing the foods you already enjoy in a different way. Not everything needs to be smothered in cheese and butter. If you don’t know how to cook, learn. It’s much easier to control calories when you are in control of what goes into your food. Lastly, once you’ve hopefully achieved your weight loss goal, don’t forget to increase your calorie intake to maintain the weight, but don’t fill the “new” calories with junk. 

Apr 4, 2011

Apple Pie race report

Before I get into the details of Apple Pie, let me do some conscience clearing. Those of you who have thoroughly enjoyed my account in the previous post, should carefully look at the date of posting. If you believed it to be true, I assure you, you were not alone.

It was a beautiful day for a race. Of course when I arrived in Santa Rosa, the signs of day were nowhere to be found. It was dark and rather cold, at about 43 degrees. Registration was in the finishing stages of being set up, so not wanting to waste any time, I set up my trainer, bike and laid out all of my race gear. By the time I was done setting up, registration was opened and I went to register and get my number. All proceeded without incident, and I got my 800-series number, and went back to the car.

So I’m sitting on my trainer warming up, out of the corner of my eye I can see the course and the Cat. 5 racers already on it. I’m also seeing a lot of 400-series numbers rolling around. “Funny,” I thought to myself, “why would all these people show up so early for their race that’s clearly not until our Cat. 4 race.” I didn’t really give it much thought at the moment and proceeded to continue with my warm up. Then I saw a guy who I knew was racing in my field with a 400-something number and began to suspect that something wasn’t right. With about 10 minutes to race start, I ride to registration and have them check my number. Turns out I was accidentally placed in the wrong field with a wrong number. Frankly, at 6 something in the morning, I can’t lay too much blame on anyone – I can hardly think straight myself at that hour.

This is where gluing numbers truly pays off. With a swift motion, I peel off my number, grab the new one, ride to my car, give it a good spray and stick it where the old number used to be. All in time to take a lap with the rest of the Cat. 4 field before lining up on the line. This was probably the most anticlimactic start to a race I’ve ever experienced. After a series of instructions that were somehow mostly unrelated to the race itself, the official just stepped off the line. We all sort of looked at each other with that “what now?” look. Then, realizing there was something missing from her repertoire, the official said, “you can go.” That was our starting whistle. [Edit] Here's a video (thanks, Ashley!).

This was a very wide and fast course. The corners were taken very fast and by the time we reached corner five, the one before the start finish line, the pace picked up quite a bit.  Somewhere within the first 10 laps, I was taking corner five on the inside when out of the corner of my eye I saw people going onto the curb and off the course. “Just keep going,” someone yelled from the field and we kept motoring along. On the next lap I could see the riders were up and no one seemed seriously injured. Most laps were in the 24 to 25 mph range with my fastest one being around 28mph.

I’m still trying to get this crit racing down and this being my third one, it was definitely another learning experience. I haven’t yet made up my mind as to whether I like racing these from the front, or from the back, or from mid-pack. You’re definitely safer at the front, but I end up spending a lot of energy to constantly stay there. In the back, while it’s also relatively safe, there is always a risk of a mid-field crash that would create a big gap. In the middle of the pack, there is a larger risk of getting taken out, but I would be shielded and close to the front, so moving up in the final laps would not be as difficult. I guess the only way to find out what works for me is to race a few more and experiment.

But getting back to the action. Around and around we go, I was toward the front most of the race, slipping back to mid pack only a couple of times to recover. With about five laps to go, a big guy (I don’t recall the team) went off the front and I figured I should probably jump into that break, but no break materialized. I ended up dragging the whole field to the already fading breakaway rider and we proceeded to take the remaining laps at an even faster pace. Then it was one to go and we were all together. Things were winding up before the last corner and once out of it, the sprint began. I gave it my best shot and crossed the line 13th, which is by no means a grandiose accomplishment, but it is the highest placing I’ve had of the three crits I’ve done by almost 20 places, so I’ll file that under “progress.” As I later learned, one of the riders in the back of the field ended up crashing in corner four and had to be taken to the ER with a broken collarbone. Hope he heals fast.

Another thing I need to learn/improve on is positioning going into the final turn. Somehow, when I’m on the straight going into the final corner, my position appears to be good, but once we come out of the corner, things get stretched out and I end up much further back than I was. But again, something that I’m sure will come with doing more crits. For the record, however, I’m not planning on doing a ton of crits and I still by far prefer a nice long road race, with a hill or two. 

Apr 1, 2011

The hazards of cycling

Ever tell a non-cyclist you just went down a hill at 40mph and have them look at you like you’re crazy? Well that has happened to me plenty of times and I’m not even close to a daredevil descender. We all know about the hazards of cycling: the crashes, the road rash, broken collarbones, torn uniforms and bits of carbon flying around. Watching this video of Beloki taking his career-ending spill in the 2003 Tour still gives me goose bumps.

There is, however, a whole other hazard to cycling – animals. It seems like in every major tour there’s a pooch that inadvertently ends up in a rider’s path causing some cataclysmic crash, with half the audience being concerned for the cyclist and the other half for the pooch.

In the more terrifying category, a story comes to mind told to me by a friend about a time when he was climbing somewhere in the hills along the West Coast. As he was nearing the summit of a Cat. 1 climb, a black bear happened to have positioned himself on or near the road. Do you know what to do if you encounter a black bear on a road ride? Yeah, neither did he. Nothing serious happened, but I bet he was a bit startled. Maybe his chamois even got a little moist.

All of that, however, pales in comparison to what happened to me this morning. Due to a late night yesterday at the office, I didn’t have to show up until 11 this morning and with the weather the way it is now, I simply could not pass up a chance to ride. It was going to be an incredibly easy roll because my legs were still bitching at me from the torture I put them through last night at M2. So I figured I’d do a regular Headlands Loop and get one good run in up Conzelman before it closes for repair through September.

I luxuriously rolled out of the house at 7:30 and proceeded to ride toward the bridge. Once I was already on Arguello, however, I looked down only to realize I somehow managed to leave the house without my Garmin – I felt very naked. “Oh, well, I guess I won’t have any reason to go hard up any of the climbs because I won’t know how I did on Strava anyway,” I thought to myself. At that point, I was fully committed to an easy slow roll. I would just have to look at my phone once in a while to make sure I’m good on time.

The sunny climb up Conzelman to Hawk Hill was absolutely amazing. It wasn’t hot that early in the morning, but a base layer and arm warmers were all the extra gear I had on, and I was very comfortable. I then dropped down the one-way descent and continued to clip along toward one my of my favorite Headlands spots – the climb overlooking Rodeo Beach. I went through the gate and whistling a tune turned the pedals toward the top, where I stopped to enjoy the sunshine and take in the view for a moment. As I was about to make my way toward the descent, about 30 feet in front of me, I saw something that looked like a cat. I rolled a little closer and saw that it was not a cat at all, it was a young baby bobcat. Not like a newborn baby, but not a fully active young cat either. “Shit,” I said to myself, “all I need now is for this tyke’s mama to show up.”

Sure enough, as that thought went through my mind, I heard a growl over my shoulder. I turned around quickly and found myself in a place where you probably never, ever want to be – between a bobcat mama and its baby. At this point, one of my legs was still clipped in, but the way the bobcat was standing, the only place for me to go was downhill and I didn’t know if the damn thing was going to chase me or not, and crashing down that hill was not something I planned on doing that morning.

So I stepped sideways, awkwardly maneuvering my bike, to make sure there was a clear line of access between the cub and the adult cat and started to slowly back away standing over my bike. When I got far enough that the bobcat was comfortable, it ran to its baby and then got between it and me and looked like it was going to charge. I knew I needed to distract it for a just a moment to give myself enough of a head start down the hill that it would quickly give up the chase. I reached into my jersey pocket and the only thing I had in there that I was willing to part with was a Forze Fruit and Nut bar. I grabbed it in my hand and chucked it at the big cat as hard as I could (at this point it was about 10 feet away from me) and hit it smack in the nose, which made it jump back about 8 feet (sorry, Andrew, this is one wrapper you’re not getting). I don’t think I even waited for the bar to hit the ground as I darted downhill. And wouldn’t you know it, the damn thing started to chase after me.

I had no idea how well bobcats can corner, so I used as little braking as possible making sure I remain upright and not go over the edge. Apparently, I was better at cornering than that beast, as after I passed the first corner I heard a loud thump, then gravel rumbling, then a whimper. The next turn gave me a chance to look back and it appeared as if the kitty skidded off the road and managed to catch itself on some rock and dirt over the edge. For you animal lovers, it looked perfectly fine, but I wasn’t about to go check on it. All of this was a matter of seconds. I finished descending the hill, quickly got through the gate and hammered as fast as I could to get as far away as possible. I don’t think my HR came down below 150 until I got to the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot.

I like that ride a lot, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever head that way alone again. Or if I will, I’ll definitely have to bring a hunting knife or something, or just not stop for anything and keep rolling. Of all the hazards we face as cyclists, it’s the ones you least expect that scare you the most.

Ride safe and beware of the wildlife; it was probably there first.