Aug 31, 2011

No satisfaction

No, this is not some sort of bike tribute to the Rolling Stones. This is all about my cycling and somewhat about my life philosophy.

I may have mentioned this in one of my other posts, but one of my best friends and a very accomplished athlete (read: multiple times record holder) in his own right, has as his email signature the following phrase: “Development ends where satisfaction begins.” Allegedly, it’s something his coach in college, John Hudson, used to say.

Frankly, I never consciously lived or trained by that motto, but in essence, it succinctly summarizes my approach to cycling and how I feel about the challenges I choose to tackle (on or off the bike).

This came up after I finished DMD, as it has after the Ride of The Immortals. People often ask why, after having suffered so much on the bike, I long and wait with excitement to do the same ride again in year’s time?

I think people can generally be classified into two categories. There are those who have a list of challenges they wish to accomplish, and after finishing each one, they check it off the list and move on. Then, there are those who after finishing a challenge ask themselves: Yes, I’m done, but is this really the best I could do? I am definitely the second type.

After finishing a challenging ride, my feeling of self-pride and accomplishment is quickly overtaken by self-criticism and reflection. What could have been different? Where could have I shaved more time? What do I need to do to do better? No matter how great my performance may have been – relative to my previous performance or as compared to other participants – I am never satisfied with just having “done it.” I don’t take my accomplishments for granted, but I don’t put them on pedestals either, so to “speak.”

The way I see it: If I’m completely content and satisfied with my performance after an event, it is the equivalent of admitting to myself that this is best I can do, and I unequivocally refuse to do that. How can it be any other way? How can I be completely content about having done something while at the same time knowing that I wasn't at my fullest potential? In my mind, this is a catch 22-type question because I feel that I can ALWAYS improve, which in essence means I'm NEVER at my fullest potential. (I'll stop that here because another sentence in this direction and I'll be tempted to quote Voltaire on metaphysics, in French!)

After finishing ride of the immortals, having beaten my previous finish by almost one and a half hours in much harsher conditions, the joy of the accomplishment was almost in an instant replaced with an unrelenting desire to do it again and faster. I felt the same way after DMD, and after Mt. Tam double and after Mulholland Double (unfortunately it looks like I’m not going to get a chance to repeat this one as this was the last year of this ride, but fingers crossed).

Am I missing out on something? Perhaps. Maybe I’m missing out on basking in my own glory and relishing my accomplishment for days or weeks to come. But honestly, I don’t see it that way. I feel that what I gain in motivation, drive and the desire to make myself a better cyclist, among other things (as I said this applies to other aspects of my life I don’t blog about), far outweighs the prolonged admiration of my own accomplishments.

I’d be very curious to hear what those of you who read my blog think about this.

Aug 29, 2011

Ride of the Immortals (a.k.a. Son of Death Ride)

Immortality is hard to come by these days, so this weekend, Chris Z., Jesse G. and I set out to find it somewhere in the middle of nowhere, California. Chris and I arrived in Ridgecrest (a town 23 miles from the start) at 8 pm on Friday – it was 97 degrees. This was the first time I was anywhere where it was 97 at 8 pm. I knew then heat would be a factor. I did this ride last year, so I was familiar with the terrain, but it wasn’t nearly as hot. In fact, I don’t believe it ever got above 100.

Last time, I finished the ride in exactly 12 hours, which put me somewhere in the middle of the group of finishers. This year, my goal would be to finish the ride in under 11 hours and hopefully be among the top 10 finishers.

Chris and I got to the start around 5:35 and got ourselves together. We checked out at 5:48 and were on our way (Jesse had started about half an hour earlier).

The ride began, as it always does, at the intersection of Highway 395 and 9-mile Canyon Rd., and the climbing starts virtually immediately. Chris and I rode together for maybe all of 3 minutes, and then he decided to test his legs and promptly dropped me. I, on the other hand, wanted to start slow and let my legs open up. I had two hard and one moderate day on the bike preceding the ride and this would be my fourth day in a row, so I didn’t want to go lactic right out of the gate.

The first climb began mildly and then pitched up, varying between 4 and 8 percent for the first 10 miles. At which point, the climb flattens out and gradually goes to approximately 7200 feet.

As I made one of the bends along the hillside, I looked to the side and marveled at how beautiful the desert looked under the rising sun. While I was still shaded from it by taller mountains, the sun remained my friend, but I knew we would soon battle like the worst enemies.

Around mile seven of 15, I felt my legs open up and I started pushing a little harder. After mile 10, the pitch flattened out and I pressed on even faster. After starting at the desert floor in 80 degrees, it was nice to get to altitude where the temperatures slowly dropped into mid 60s.

 At the top of the climb, I estimated that my time this year was about 15 minutes faster than last year – it was actually almost 20 minutes faster – so I knew I was making good progress.

Following the 15-mile climb is an 8-mile descent – this is an out and back course, so this would also be my last real obstacle on the way back – dropping back to 6000 feet. Before plunging down the 8-mile descent, I stopped at the rest stop to fill my bottles and throw a bar in my back pocket. The next 31 miles would be a rolling climb toward Sherman Pass from the east, up to 9200 feet.

I was happy to be at altitude and out of the heat. My Garmin told me that the temperature had subsided and I welcomed the cool wind, knowing it would not last very long. The climbs leading up to Sherman Pass from the east are not very long, and the road surface is considerably better than it was last year, but there was some sand and loose gravel on the road, so it was crucial to be aware of the road conditions especially when descending. I did my best to hug the yellow line on all the downhill portions because that was the only place on the road where I was certain there wasn’t any gravel.

Four and a half hours after I started, I was at mile marker 54, ready to take the plunge over Sherman Pass toward Kern River. First, however, I made a quick stop at the rest stop and made sure I had full bottles of water with ice – I knew very well where I was headed.

As I began to descent, I grabbed a bottle to take a drink and only then saw I was very quickly approaching a cattle guard, so I planted my hand with the water bottle on the handlebars for stability, but the shaking knocked the bottle out of my hand and resulted in a bit of a back track and bottle catch action – better than going over my bars, I think.

Now it was time to take a 15-mile plunge. It took me about half an hour to make it down to 4000 feet, and it felt as if I was put in an oven and the heat was slowly being turned on. A lot of pain and suffering lay ahead. The descent was fast and super technical. There were many 180 degree switchbacks and the road surface was not the best, with many cracks and potholes, so it was key to always look ahead and slow down going into blind corners because even when I was confident I’d be on my own side of the road, I wasn’t sure what that road would look like.

As I approached the bottom of the climb, I saw Jesse beginning to make his way back up, but what concerned me is that I haven’t yet seen Chris anywhere on the ride and was expecting to see him coming back a long time ago. There was only one turn to make on the ride during this whole time, and I was afraid he had missed it.

I had reached Kern River and the sign telling me I was half way there. I have just ridden 69 miles and climbed approximately 10,000 feet (all of that in the first 54 miles), and now I would have to turn around and climb for 15.4 miles, from 4,000 to 9,200 feet, in 107-degree heat. It was now all about survival.

The night before, I had cut out Rocktape strips to put on my left leg to keep my left Achilles tendon happy (it worked as always), and the backside of the tape had interesting inspirational messages on it. Two that came to mind when I did my 180 on Sherman Pass Rd. at Kern River were, “ride until you cry,” and “pain is weakness leaving your body.”

Sometimes inspiration is found in the oddest of places.

The climb back up to Sherman Pass from Kern River starts mellow for the first four miles, but then pitches up to anywhere between 4 and 9 percent. I knew what my body does in this kind of heat and I knew what I needed to do to survive. If I pressed hard, my body would overheat, I’d get to the verge of heat stroke and would be forced to stop and take minutes of rest to cool off, or worse, get sick and forced to abandon – though knowing myself, I would probably have to be unconscious before giving up. Instead, I dropped my heart rate as low as I possibly could while still maintaining non-wobbling forward motion.

I don’t like heat; my body hates heat. To me, anything above 80 is uncomfortably hot, so 107 was the equivalent of sending me up this climb with a 50lb backpack in normal temperatures. Except that probably wouldn’t be as bad because the sun would not be relentlessly beating me over the head.

Two miles into the climb came the first rest stop and check in point. I stopped briefly, grabbing some food, taking a bio break and filling one of my bottles with ice and Accelerade (for drinking) and the other with ice and water (for drinking and watering myself). I also saw Chris descent past the rest stop. I thought he was behind me because of wrong turn, but it turned out the altitude wasn’t agreeing with him very well and he had simply taken a long break at the second rest stop (something I learned much later). As I left the stop, I was 71 miles into my ride with about 13 minutes of rest time and 13 miles of suffering ahead of me.

And so I went, one pedal stroke over the next; tenth of a mile at a time; realizing it would be at least a couple of hours before I reach Sherman Pass once again. It was time to start bargaining with myself and to keep myself motivated to stay on the bike. The heat was relentless; the air was super dry and super hot. “Just go one more mile and if you can’t turn your pedals, take a minute break,” I told myself. But the mile went and the legs were still turning over, so no stopping. Soon, I heard Chris coming up behind me (as expected) holding a very fast tempo. I handed over my car key, knowing he’ll get back faster, and proceeded to climb.

I would hear another rider approach from behind and pass me pushing a very large gear. I was too exhausted to turn my head, so I just lifted it as the rider went by and all I saw was a lot of grey hair under the helmet – at that very moment I had to reflect on how humbling a sport cycling really is.

Finally, I made it to mile 7.5 of the climb, where I knew water would be waiting for me. My bottles were nearly empty. I filled them again with ice and water and stuffed my mouth with food. I knew it would be hard to force myself to eat on the climb without breaking my aerobic rhythm or throwing up (not that it’s easy to stomach food in 107 degrees while standing still), so it was worth the extra 20 seconds to make sure my body continued to take in calories.

I was half way there, just another 7.5 miles in 107 degrees. The heat was starting to take a toll on my body and I started getting nauseous. I’m not sure if it was just the heat, or the fact that I was somewhere above 7,000 feet, or the combination of the two that had me on the verge of throwing up. I continued to bargain with myself, distracting myself with numbers, songs, interesting thoughts about riding and even plans of what I would have to do at work on Monday – anything at all to take my mind off the heat, altitude and fatigue. At around 8,000 feet, I was passed for the third time on the day by a young rider who was keeping a very strong pace up the climb. He asked, “how are you doing?”  “A little hot,” I said with a smirk. He said something about it starting to cool off near the top, but my Garmin was still showing triple digits.

The heat did subside slightly on the last mile as more trees lined the road and I could catch the cool of the shade once in a while. Other times, a breeze would come by and breathe energy into my body, and I could get out of the saddle and hammer a few pedal strokes before the gust subsided and the heat went back to its oppressive role, forcing me to sit down and drop my heart rate once again. Finally, it was in sight, the sign I’ve been longing to see for two and a half hours – “Vista Point ¼ Mile.”

I was there! I made it! I survived the most difficult climb of the ride with only two water stops along the way. I was now 84 miles and 15,000+ feet of climb into my ride. It was time for my long (10-minutes or less) break of the day and it would be non-stop 52 miles to the finish from there.

As I rolled into the rest stop, I was shocked to see Chris still there. It was the altitude again that made it hard for him to eat on the go, so an extra long break was required to take in calories and avoid a hard bonk later on. He commented that we were both making very good time. I quickly ran the numbers in my head and realized that if I can make it back in two and a half hours, 10:30 was a reality.

After downing a coke, some food, a few salt pills and ibuprofen for my onsetting headache, I was ready to roll and so was Chris. We took the first two or so miles together as they were all downhill, but then the longer rollers began and Chris went forward as I kept my own pace.

Most of the rollers on the way back aren’t bad, but there is a 1.3-mile category four climb that adds 400 feet to the climbing total and by itself, it’s not a big deal, but it did stall the fast progress over the rollers to another crawl, forcing a change in rhythm. After 15,000 feet, any sustained climb is a chore, at altitude and in heat it is also a pain.

Once that climb was behind me, ahead lay 17 miles of rolling downhill that would bring me down to 6000 feet. I went as fast as I could, tucking on the steep pitches to maximize my speed and pedaling through when the road flattened out. As I approached mile 102, I knew there would be a rest stop, but I didn’t want to stop. I looked at my bottles and they were both three-quarters full. I felt that would be enough to get me to the finish.

I flew by the stop, seeing Chris get on his bike. He chased me down, went ahead on one of the rollers and we stayed at about 200 meters apart while the terrain was still pitched down. However, once the last climb began, Chris pulled away and I had another hill to climb.

I kept telling myself that I only have 8 miles to go until the end of the ride because the last 15 are a flying downhill that is more fun than work. Despite reminding myself how close I was, the usual adrenaline kick wasn’t coming. I had no more go to give than I was giving. With about three miles to go, I began to mentally crack. Every roller that was ahead seemed like the last one that led to the downhill, but time after time I found another climb behind the roller and my sprits were crushed over and over. At one point, I could no longer stay on the bike and I had to get off. I stopped, unclipped, laid my head down on my forearms and stayed that way for about 20 seconds.

“You have to go and finish this thing!” That thought got me back on the bike and I moved on. Shortly after, I passed a daunting mile marker that said 17.5 miles – that meant that I had another two miles to go until the slope turned down. I hoped with all that I had in me that the mile marker was wrong, that it was misplaced, that the end of this final climb was only around the corner, but that was not so.

I noticed a silhouette about 300 meters back and gaining (was I really just about to be passed for the fourth time after passing dozens and dozens of people?). The chase gave me reason to push, but my body had apparently conspired with my mind and I was once again on the brink of a mental breakdown. I had to take another stop, same procedure, same position. Almost instantly the rider appeared behind me and asked if I was okay. I only had energy to nod and watch him pull away behind the next turn.

I got back on the bike, started to turn the pedals and decided to crunch numbers again to see what my possibilities for a finishing time were and to get my mind off the pain. I saw that 10:30 was out of the question, but there was still a possibility that the first three digits of my time would be a one, a zero and a three, and I wanted to do all that I could to not go into ten-forties. That was the figurative slap on the cheek I needed to get a steady tempo going and power over the last few changes in pitch that culminated in that infamous last roller and marked the start of my descent.

The plunge down was fast and it looked like if I bombed the descent, I would be in the ten-thirties at the finish. A few miles down the hill I saw the rider who passed me earlier and I was determined to catch him. After the first five miles, the descent really pitched down and once I was reaching speeds of over 40 miles an hour, it was only a matter of time before the catch would be made. I caught the rider half way down the climb as I was taking no prisoners going down 9-Mile Canyon Road. My only problem was the severe cramp in my inner left thigh that developed in a prolonged left turn, where my left leg had to be flexed. Turn after turn on the winding road meant my left leg would either be straight or flexed. It would be a couple of minutes before the road straightened out and I could spin some air (because I was going almost 50) and relieve the cramp. The road ran hillside on the southeast side of the hill, so I had no blind right turns and was scanning the road ahead and using as much road as could to carry all the speed possible through corners. At one point, I was flying into a corner at 45+ mph and knew that I was in the process of absolutely crushing last year’s ride time.

I could sense the finish. Only 1000 feet to drop. The hot desert air was hitting my already sunburned face and dry lips, and then there it was, the final downhill straight and the cars going back and forth on 395. I was there! I made it! I survived 107 degrees and all I had the strength to do was stop my Garmin and yell out, “four twenty-five!”

My non-official total time was 10:35:20, with a riding time of 10:08:18. I set a new course PR by one hour, 24 minutes and 40 seconds. I beat my goal by a huge margin, but there I was, dizzy, delirious, overheated, barely able to speak or understand what I was thinking, and on top of it all my ears were popping from just dropping 5000 feet in a little over 26 minutes. Through all of that mess that was I at the finish of that ride, one thought came through clearly and resoundingly: “I will be back next year and I WILL finish this ride in under 10 hours!”

Aug 24, 2011

University Road Race report

I woke up on Sunday with one thought in my head, “how much pain will I have to endure today?” That pretty much sums up my mental preparation for University Road Race. I knew that this would be a race of survival and much suffering for me as the pure climbers would tear the field to shreds, and I’d have to fend for myself on my already very, very fatigued legs.

The course is short and simple – a 2.7 mile loop with a 1.2 mile climb, followed by a 1.7 mile descent. The climb starts after a sharp right at the light. It starts very mellow and then kicks up a bit and holds that way through the start/finish, which is in the middle of the climb. Another 100 meters past the start/finish and the climb flattens for a about 250 meters and then kicks up to 13-15 percent for the last 50 meters before turning into a bombing descent. Simple enough? Now repeat 15 times.

My goal was to line up in the front and stay that way until we get to the base of the climb for the first time, but by the time I got to the line, I had about 60 guys ahead of me, so lining up at the back was the only alternative. The whistle blew and we were off, my only immediate goal was to get to the front, so I started to maneuver around the guys in the field and quickly made up ground as people were just getting going, but I still had about half the field ahead of me.

The first fast sweeper on the descent came and brakes started screeching and I knew I had to get out of the pack. Once we hit the straight part of the descent, an interesting phenomenon developed. The whole field contained itself between the first white line and the yellow line (the yellow-line rule was in effect), but ironically, no one rode in the “bike lane.” I saw that as my chance and shot down to the front of the field and was now sitting on the nose coming into the sharp right. Another rider came next to me and asked if I’d let him go ahead and be the first around the corner, and not seeing any problem with that, I let him through. As we climbed, I hung on to the field and let some of it pass me before we reached the summit again. Another downhill and up the hill we went once more.

On the third lap, I became unglued and the fatigue made itself felt big time. Now it was all a matter of finding a rhythm and staying within myself. I’ve done enough hilly races to know that if a lot of climbing is to come, the best climbers will get ahead of me no matter what I do, but if I hold a steady tempo, I’ll pick off those guys who think they have more in their legs than they actually do.  So over the next couple of laps I settled in with a group of 5 guys (all of whom I’ve caught) and we’d move together for a few laps, pacing each other up the climbs and helping each other up the descents.

After we would pass the finish line, the group would sometimes get a bit ahead of me, but somehow I always caught them on the kicker, where my legs didn’t have problems pushing up the steep slopes – maybe because that’s pretty much a segment on every single ride I do from home. Times that I was first at the kicker, I was able to put in a gap on the group, but they would chase me down on the descent. On lap eight or nine, we hit the climb and I, climbing at my pace, realized I was dropping everyone in our little group and figured their legs must be close to cooked, but I pressed on at my pace.

As I approached the finish line on lap 10, I looked back to see the main field coming up behind me, as I was about to be lapped. I didn’t try to latch on, but kept going at my pace, knowing that I had four more laps to suffer through (we all finished on the same lap). In another lap or two, I would be completely alone, passing climbers and not really getting passed by anyone else, as anyone who could have passed me already did. The little group I was with earlier was now somewhere behind me.

Finally, the bell was ringing and I knew it was one lap to go. Getting to the top of the hill on pure adrenaline, I flew down the descent one last time and dragged myself across the line. The hardest two-hour race I’ve ever done and one I’ll definitely do again. Because of the lapping, and relapping and all that going in circles, the results appear to be completely screwed up, as I’m listed 61st out of 75 riders, but I know I wasn’t top 10, so anything beyond that doesn’t really matter. In the 37.3 miles of racing, I climbed almost 5000 feet – good mini-prep for Everest Challenge.

[Edit: I almost forgot this crucial part. I wanted to thank M2, who while making it to the race, wasn't able to get registered and still stuck around for 2 hours to cheer me on. That meant a lot! Thanks, Mike!]

Aug 23, 2011

San Ardo race report

To make up for royally screwing up my start at Dunnigan Hills, I was really looking forward to doing some racing. I was planning on racing competitively, but keeping the focus on fitness and staying safe because, as I’ve mentioned earlier, everything from this point to the end of September is being centered around Everest Challenge.

The San Ardo course is a 22.8 miles loop with a few rollers in the beginning and a very flat middle part. The finish is not on the course, but is a sweeping left turn after the last lap, just past the feed zone.

There were about 40 of us at the line for the start; the whistle blew and we took off at a very, very leisurely pace. I missed most of the instructions at the start line because I was taking my last bio-break, so at some point in the first few miles I turned and asked the guy next to me if we were neutral. We weren’t.

About 15 or so miles into the race, second wheel hits a rock while riding no handed, lands on the ground and the whole front of the peloton just collapses. I was back far enough that I was able to get around it and proceed. That was as exciting as things would get for a while, as the group neutralized itself to wait for those fallen in the crash. Those who could return to the race did.

Then there were several attacks and a couple of racers went off the front and got a bit of a gap on the field. Webcor, which had numbers in the race (six or seven guys maybe?), obviously had their own plan as they quickly got on the nose and chased the group down. A few attacks later, and Jason from Webcor broke away with another guy, and they developed a gap of 1:30 as we were now somewhere in lap 2.

We had a great official follow our group. And he would travel between the peloton and the break and give us time splits, so we had an idea of what was happening ahead.

A few guys started to try to chase, but Webcor blocked and no organized chase was forming. This was pissing a lot of riders off. I don’t know why they were angry; these are tactics - that’s what you do to help your teammate. Moreover, there was only one guy from Webcor doing most of the blocking – one guy against 35 shouldn’t make anyone angry. In fact, if anyone should have been angry, it should have been the Webcor guy who did the work that should have been shared by the other five teammates he had in the field.

At one point, a Roaring Mouse guy rolled by me and asked if I wanted to chase down the break with him. I felt like working my legs some, so I said “okay.” We traded three or four hard pulls with Webcor sitting third wheel and no one else coming through. We made a bit of a dent in the gap, but I wasn’t going to leave all of myself on lap two trying to drag the entire field to the break, knowing that once it was caught, someone would attack again. So I rolled myself back into the field, about 15 wheels back, and figured I’d let the front of the group organize some more before joining the effort.

Shortly thereafter, a large group went to the front and pushed Webcor back, so the chase was on. It would take us almost an entire lap to catch the break, with about 12 or so miles to go in the race. However, what the front of the group didn’t notice after making the catch is that two guys quietly went off the front. As we were casually rolling toward the finish, our ref informed us that there was a 55 second gap and a frantic chase began.

My plan was simple, stay back until there are three miles to go, then move up and see what kind of legs I have for the finish. The chase strung out the peloton and I was sitting 12th wheel or so. Guys were popping off the front one after the other and with about 1.5 miles to go, I found myself on the nose. Immediately, I think to myself that this is not good. Another guy pulls around me, but no one else wants to go and as we approach the bridge right before the turn to the finish, attacks start flying and I realized my legs have nothing left for the finish. So I rolled across the finish line in the back of the pack. Good race, but a screwed up finish. I wasn’t too upset at the poor finish as I was mainly there for fitness, but a thought did cross my mind that maybe I should have just ridden with the Roasters and saved myself the 5 hours in the car.

If you’re wondering, the second break was caught within 500 meters of the finish. 

University RR report coming tomorrow.

Aug 15, 2011

(not) Dunnigan Hills report

If you’ve come here looking for the Dunnigan Hills race report, it’s not here for reasons laid out in more detail below; however, what is below may in fact be far more entertaining than had I actually made the start of my race and written a report. Experience has shown that while it’s very pleasurable to write a report about a race that went according to plan, it is far more entertaining to write (and read) about how everything got completely FUBARed. To quote my good friend Reid, “An adventure is a tragedy that never happened.” So here’s Saturday’s adventure.

I got up at the luxurious hour of 5 a.m., quickly got ready and was out the door by 5:30 or so. I got to the staging area slightly after 7, said “hi” to a few familiar faces, casually got my bike off the rack and rolled over to registration, which was about half of a mile from parking.

Number in hand, I proceeded to shift some things in the trunk of my car, getting my bottles and kit ready for the race. Then I decided I needed to walk over somewhere, I don’t even remember where, maybe I needed another run at the port-a-johns; whatever it was, I shut my trunk and heard my car go “beep.” Then and there I realized that this morning became highly unusual because inside my freshly locked car were the keys of the said car and I had about 40 minutes before my field was to start to get that problem sorted out.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, there is one and only one possible way to lock your keys inside a VW GTI. You start with the car in locked position, unlock only the trunk, put the keys inside the trunk and close the trunk. And I managed to do exactly that.

But we live in a world of smart phones, right? So I google a locksmith in Yolo, CA and find a website that promises to have one there in 15 minutes. I’m genuinely surprised when someone answers the call at 7:30 on a Saturday, but get skeptical when the girl on the phone asks me to spell “Yolo.” You’d think that someone answering the phone from a website called “Yolo Locksmith” would know how to spell that. The pleasant receptionist takes my info and promises to have someone there in 15 minutes. 

“Great!” – I think to myself, “I can still make this start, or even if I’m slightly late, I might be able to chase on.” Twenty minutes go by, no one is there. I call back and am told the tech is on the way and they will have him call me. No one calls. I call again and go through the same routine. Forty minutes come and go, and even the 15-minute, “standard” VeloPromo delay didn’t help me as I stood with my bike and watched my field start without me.

You would think that I’d get angry with myself or the world, or frustrated, or annoyed. But none of that happened. I was at all times in complete state of calm, and now, on top of that, there was nowhere to rush – I’ve got all the time in the world, but I still need to get the damn car unlocked. So I walked over to the highway patrol officer and asked her if there is any way she could help me out. She handed me a slim jim and said I could go play with that and see what I could do. I knew there was no chance that would work, but I tried it anyway. I was right, and just FYI: most foreign cars built after 2000 cannot be opened with one.

Some more waiting around and few phone calls later, still no luck on the locksmith. I walk over to the highway patrol officer again and ask if there is a local service she can recommend. Then she suggested we walk over to the local sheriff (who was also there for the race) to see if there is anyone local who might be cheaper. As we approach the sheriff, he’s busy in conversation with a worker of the railroad and Rick. If you’ve ever raced a VeloPromo race, you know Rick – he’s the guy with the large beard who greets you with “Hey, Brotha’!”

So the nice highway patrol officer says to the sheriff, “This gentleman (referring to me) locked his keys in his car.” When all of a sudden, Rick, in a very nonchalant way says, “Oh, I can get that open. I’ve got everything in my truck.”

Now, pause here and reflect for a moment; take in the situation in its entirety. Just think how much it would suck to lock your keys in your car 40 minutes before your race, miss your race, wait for two hours while the locksmith doesn’t show up, only to learn that the guy who was there all along had everything you needed to open your car.

Then and there I could have gotten angry again for not asking around, for not knowing, for not screaming at the top of my lungs in the middle of the parking lot, “Can anyone help me get this f**king car open!” But instead I laughed, and laughed some more. And I’ll quote Reid once again – “People say in a year from now you’ll look back at this and laugh; why wait?”

Turns out, all you really need to crack open a 2010 VW GTI is a pair of tire levers and a long metal rod. Pictures or it didn’t happen, right? Here you go!

See the blue tire lever sticking out of the car door?

So now I had my car unlocked, and the people at VeloPromo felt so sorry for this idiot were so nice that they even refunded me my entry fee without me asking for it.

But I still needed my four hours on the bike that afternoon, so I drove myself to San Rafael, which is exactly the same distance mileage wise from Yolo as my house (as it turns out) and did this in 90-degree heat (the coast was thankfully much cooler):

Around 10, when I was already on my way to San Rafael and 2.5 hours after originally making the call, I got a call back from the locksmith service telling me that the only available locksmith in the area had a family emergency and would not be coming to help me. 

Aug 12, 2011

As the focus narrows ... on Everest Challenge

I can finally see the light - the light at the end of the tunnel that is this road-racing season. I don’t write that with a feeling of relief, as if I can’t wait to get it over with because if I wanted to, I could stop racing today. It’s not like anyone’s paying me to do it. Rather, I say it with enthusiasm, as regardless of what happened this entire season, I can now focus on one thing and one thing only – Everest Challenge.

While racing this year has been a lot more fun and way more successful than last year, I’ve only made ever an ever so slight progress toward that Cat. 3 upgrade. There are still quite a few races to be raced this season (10-12?), and I’m certainly not going to stop trying for places and Ws, but I feel that I must now shift everything toward performing well in that race. This has been a rest week, but with tomorrow’s Dunnigan Hills road race starts my last really hard three-week training cycle, followed by two weeks of taper and then EC – my last race of the season and the one I’ve been waiting for the most.

My goal at EC this year is simple – kick ass! But the only ass I’ll be focused on kicking will be my own. Despite having finished among the two-thirds of the original participants (in the whole race and the E4 field - the attrition rate just happened to be about the same), I wasn’t very satisfied with my time of just under 17 hours, which put me way low in the bottom 50 percent of those who finished, and I now want to crawl back to at least the top third of my field.

It’s a bit too early for me to summarize my season and to reflect on what has happened and what has gone right or wrong. However, reflecting on how I feel right now, I can honestly say that I feel great and 10 times better than I did the same time last year.

I remember that last year, by the time Patterson Pass RR came around, I was already burned out and had to take time off. My mind wasn’t in the game anymore and my body was just beat up from me riding it into the ground with no rhyme or reason.

Contrast with this year, I feel great. I’m still excited to saddle up for the last dozen or so races left, and physically I still feel very strong and ready to race. It is now a matter of executing the three-step plan of hard training, tapering and racing my ass off. Step one begins tomorrow.

I’m going to fight the temptation of making a prediction of my time this year and wait until I ride the Son of Death Ride at the end of this month. If I do as well there as I suspect I can (10.5 hours, give or take), I’ll make the call on EC then. And now … well, there’s hard work to be done!

Aug 8, 2011

Mt. Tam Double Century ride report

This was my last planned double of the year, and if you recall, the goal was to go sub 13 hours.

I got to the start/finish way ahead of schedule - because I’m just that neurotic - so I had a ton of time to get ready and get to the line. It was a cool morning and Mt. Tam was probably going to be wet, so I had on my knee warmers, arm warmers and a wind vest. When I got to the line, there were already plenty of people lined up, but I made sure to squeeze myself near the front. The plan was to start with the lead pack and hold their pace until I feel I shouldn’t. I knew that if I went to the back of the field to line up, I’d never make it through the cyclist soup to the front pack.  After some instructions …

Miles 0 – 38 up Mt. Tam

… We were clear to start the ride. I immediately made an effort to get to the front of the field and was riding top 10 riders all the way up Lucas Valley Road. Once we hit the climb, there were perhaps 10 of us in a group, with everyone else shelled off the back. I honestly didn’t look back that often (because I was blinded by all the lights), but at some point, it appeared that a huge chunk of the field caught up on the descent.

The next and slightly harder dig was going up White’s Hill from the north. We again shelled most of the field and about 7 or 8 of us made it over White’s together. If you’ve never descended White’s at night, don’t! I don’t know who was better off, the guys who don’t usually ride here and don’t know about all the cracks in the road, or those who know they are there, like I do. After a blistering descent, which Strava tells me was my PR at almost 38mph, our group made a turn up Bolinas-Fairfax road and toward Alpine Dam we went. I held the group’s pace over the first few bumps, but then I let them go. I felt that I was putting in a bit too much too soon. Soon came mile 25 and the first rest stop; I didn’t even think of stopping and pressed on.

From there I headed alone to Alpine Dam, it was surprisingly not foggy there. As I began to climb up from Alpine Dam toward Ridgecrest, I kept looking back, and couldn’t see anyone even close behind me. I figured we must have put in a good chunk of time on the whole group. I proceeded to climb at a comfortable, but far from leisurely, pace. As I came closer to Ridgecrest, the fog got thicker and began to rain from the trees. After turning onto Ridgecrest, I found a very interesting surprise – there was a gate blocking the road. I still can’t figure out how they could have not known about it to let us know. Not like some gate was going to stop me, or anyone for that matter. I crawled through the railing, then lifted my bike over it and proceeded on to climb Seven Sisters.

Ridgecrest was very foggy for most of the Seven Sisters, at one point it was hard to tell which sister I was on. However, the conditions weren’t quite as bad as they were for last year’s Mt. Tam hill climb. As I approached the parking lot before the last three-mile segment toward East Peak, I was above the fog, and blue skies and sunshine were above me. I knew that after the parking lot, it was exactly 1.4 miles to West Peak and then another 1.5 miles of mostly downhill toward East Peak. But first I’d have to do another dismount and hop my bike over another set of rails. At this point, a rider had caught up to me, and crossed the gate right after I did.

As I was approaching East Peak, having temporarily dropped the rider who caught me at the gate, I was expecting the few riders that were ahead of me to start coming back on this short out-and-back segment. However, I was pleased to see that no one was coming back until I was almost half way down from West Peak to East Peak. That meant I was only a few minutes behind the lead and making great time. I counted the riders coming back toward me, and I figured that I was either seventh or eighth at the time. There was a checkpoint at East Peak. I yelled out my number, rounded the first light pole and headed back down toward Muir Woods.

Miles 38 – 73 to Pt. Reyes

As I descended toward Muir Woods, the fogs came up and were much higher than I had just experienced, as parts of top of Mt. Tam that were sunny moments ago, were now filling with thick fog. I would not see sunshine again for almost 130 miles. I had to take my sunglasses off as quickly as I put them on because I couldn’t see where I was going in the fog. Luckily, I’ve done that descent more than once, so at least I knew the roads themselves were in decent shape.

Twelve miles of mostly downhill later came another check-point. (This was also the point where we could have dropped gear, but the last thing I wanted to do after descending 12 miles in the fog is get more naked, so I kept all my stuff on.) By this time, two riders had caught me on the descent, one passed me (the guy who caught me earlier at the gate), and another was riding with me up to the check-point. I pulled in only long enough to top off my bottles and continued going. The rider I was riding with only yelled out his number and kept going. I knew that I would probably catch him on the climbs out of Muir Woods, so I proceeded to ride nice and steady, slowly closing in on him. On my way from the checkpoint, I noticed three riders coming back and learned later they missed a turn from Panoramic and had to double back for the check-point.

Pushing a steady tempo, sure enough, by the time the final descent toward Stinson Beach came along, I caught the other rider and we were riding together. As we hit Hwy. 1, I pulled alongside him and suggested we do one-minute pulls; he agreed.

We continued this way for the next four or five miles, we caught the other fellow and briefly rode together. We were lucky, as the wind was at our back, and we were able to go 22 to 24 mph at a moderate effort. If the winds had been form the north, it may have been a different story. Soon after the intersection with Bo-Fax, Hwy. 1 begins to climb and the other two guys just started pushing a bit harder than I wanted to at the time. I knew what I needed to do and where I needed to be.

My goal was to be at Pt. Reyes by 9:30 and it appeared as if I was going to easily make that time, so there was no need for me to start climbing at someone else’s pace just yet. I hit Pt. Reyes at 9:10 on the dot, way ahead of schedule. I rode into the rest stop and found out it wasn’t a check-point, so I filled up my bottles, made a brief bio stop and on I went.

Miles 73 – 91 Pt. Reyes to Petaluma

I left Pt. Reyes alone and would stay that way until crossed Nicasio-Valley Rd. and began passing riders who were doing the other Marin Century events going on that day. It was a fairly fast jolt up to Petaluma, and I rolled into the rest stop asking where I need to check it. It took me a bit to find the gentleman in the white hat taking our numbers. I had a quick sandwich, topped off my bottles and stuffed some things into my pockets. I was told that I was the seventh rider to pass through the check-point and the first one to stop there.

Mile 91 – 148 – Petaluma to Valley Ford (twice)

As I was making my way out of Petaluma, I met up with another rider, Mitch from Sacramente, who was doing the double as well and we proceeded to ride together. We chatted along the way, which made things go by a bit faster. Other than a few rollers, there was nothing that was too challenging the first time to Valley Ford, not counting a few spots where the directions were not so clear and we had to take a pause to make sure we weren’t missing our turn or taking the wrong one.

We got to Valley Ford the first time at mile 123. I had to leave my bike outside the rest area and walk to check in. I had ridden these first 123 miles with a total idle time of 10 minutes and I was starting to feel it. My legs were starting to get achy and I had developed an annoying headache. As I checked in, I was told I was fifth, which meant that some guys who were ahead of me royally screwed up and forgot to check in – I knew there were more than four people ahead of me.

I filled up my bottles, grabbed some food and went for a brief bio break before taking off. As I was getting out of the rest stop, the road split and I was reading the signs of where I needed to go. I then remembered that I had forgotten to take my ibuprofen for the headache. I grabbed a couple pills and reached for a water bottle only to discover that I had left my bottles at the food table. I made a quick dash back as Mitch was leaving the stop. I quickly grabbed my bottles, swallowed the pills and began a 25 mile loop that would bring me back to the same stop.

After a few short miles, I caught Mitch and we continued to ride together toward the first major challenge on the remainder of this ride – Coleman Valley Road. I have to admit, I didn’t give Coleman Valley Road the respect it deserves as a climb. The first time I did that climb was during Levi’s Gran Fondo last year, which was one week after I was done racing Everest Challenge. What’s a two-mile climb after you’ve just climbed above 10,000 feet three times in one weekend by bike? Plus, I had hit it after taking about 30 minutes at the rest stop to wait for a friend.

Climbing Coleman Valley with 134 miles and over 10,000 feet of climb in my legs was a whole other thing. My legs hurt, then hurt some more and then some more again. The pitches were relentless for long stretches and I just kept thinking that I need to put one leg over the other and soon enough this would be over. It flattened out and then dipped down some and my legs were able to recover. Then came another bit of climbing and another check-point.

I’m going to back track for just one second and say that while we were coming up to Coleman Valley Rd., another double century rider caught us, he was riding a fixie! We passed him on the climb, but he was just a minute or two behind us to the rest stop.

One more short stop for a bottle refill and food, and we were back on the road (I also slammed a Red Bull here). The descent from Coleman Valley is horrible, and the road surface leaves a lot to be desired. At the bottom of the descent from Coleman Valley Rd., we somehow united with more double century riders and there was now a pack of five or six of us (fixie rider among us) heading back to Valley Ford. The pack proved helpful here as we headed south and into the wind that a few hours ago helped push us north along the coast.

My goal was to be at Valley Ford for the second time by 2:30 p.m. As our group approached the rest stop, there was a volunteer at the entrance taking numbers. Everyone gave him their number and kept rolling, but I knew that I needed to stop, even if it meant proceeding alone. I pulled into the rest stop, it was 2:27 – I was three minutes ahead of my goal time. I was now 75 percent into the ride and I was feeling fatigued, but in decent condition, considering I just did just shy of 150 miles in 9.5 hours.

It was time for my one long break of the ride and then it would be pretty much non-stop for the last 50 miles. I grabbed a coke and half a burrito (I know, I was playing with fire with that one), sat down in the shade and ate. I stretched my legs a little, grabbed a few pieces of fruit from the table, a couple bars into my back pocket and at 2:40 I was back in the saddle.

I had 3h20m to make it back to San Rafael, 52 miles away, in order to make my goal of sub 13 hours.

Mile 148 – 200.7 Valley Fort to San Rafael (finish)

As I left Valley Ford and turned south to make my way toward Marshall, I seriously started to doubt that would be able to make sub 13 hours. The winds were fairly strong from the south, and I was now heading into a headwind, knowing that that’s the way it would be until I turned onto Marshall Wall. So instead of just the climb to slow me down, the winds were doing it too. I knew that I needed to find a body quickly. Luckily, shortly after I had that thought, I saw another rider up ahead with a yellow number on his back (all the double century riders had yellow numbers and everyone else had white ones), so I tried my best to catch up to him and after a steady, but hard effort, I finally caught him. I told him that I would sit in to give my legs some rest and then would give him some help in the wind.

I noticed he was riding a Volagi bike that I had seen a demo of at Sea Otter. It is the first bike designed to be compatible with disc breaks. Frankly, I think this is the way the sport will go and in a few years discs on road bikes will the norm.

We were alternating taking pulls and tackling rollers. Rollers were not what I expected before Marshall Wall, but there they were, an insane number of them. One after the other, with steep pitches (I saw 15 percent on one). This was totally screwing up my rhythm.

Around mile 162 on my Garmin (this is important), we turned onto Marshall Wall and settled into the climb. We introduced each other - the other rider’s name was Barley and he worked at Volagi – and talked about innovation, breaking, cornering and how much the UCI sucked. As we reached the top of Marshall Wall, he got a flat, and once again I was on my own. I asked if he had what he needed and dropped down the other side of Marshall Wall.

The downhill and the flats were a pleasant reprieve as I made it toward the next rest stop at mile 168 (Garmin). It was exactly 4p.m. I asked the guy checking numbers what mile that was and he said, “175!” “Wow,” I thought to myself, “this means I can actually make the cut! I can finish this under 13hours!” I new that even after 175 miles I could easily average 12.5 mph over the next two hours.

I topped off bottles, grabbed a bar and was on the bike all in a matter of a minute. I now had new life breathed into me. I was as surprised to learn I was seven miles ahead of where I thought as Phileas Fogg when he learned he actually made it to back to London on time. (“Around the World in 80 Days” allusion, for those of you wondering) I pressed on, making sure I squeezed every little bit out of my legs in the last 25 miles.

The next rest stop came at mile 183 (Garmin) and it wasn’t a check-point, so I didn’t even bother stopping. On the route sheet, the rest stop was supposed to be at mile 188 and the previous stop was supposed to be at mile 173. All of this number info, coupled with the fact that I had just passed a sign saying “San Rafael 16,” told me that I would finish the ride at mile 196 on my Garmin and I was approximately five miles off the route sheet. I was still making great time, with only one climb left I now saw that could definitely make it under 13.

My ascent up Lucas Valley Road started at 5 p.m. and I knew I had about 10 miles to go. With a slight tailwind, and knowing that I was going to come in way under my targeted time, when only moments ago I thought it wasn’t going to happen, shot a jolt of adrenaline into my legs – there was nothing to save them for. It was no longer a question of whether I was going to beat 13 hours; it was now a question of by how much.

A twisty descent from LVR and a blisteringly fast (27-29 mph) roll toward San Rafael, and I crossed the line in exactly 12 hours, 33 minutes and 57 seconds. I was the 14th rider to check in at the finish line of the approximate 300 who started that morning. I took a deep breath and reflected on this moment, and then I thought to myself, “not bad for a kid less than two years out of the flatlands (Chicago)!”


As if this post isn’t long enough, right? Below are the top three reasons I feel I managed to do this ride in such a great time for me and finish feeling strong. 

1. Weather. Completely out of my control, but the weather was perfect for me. It was cool and cloudy most of the day, which meant I didn’t have to deal with the heat, and the sun only came out the last 30 miles of the ride, but by that time the winds were already cool and it wasn’t a big deal. Had it been a 90-100 degree day in Marin, the above report would have been much uglier. And no crazy headwinds. Yes, there were some, but I know that it could have been way worse.

2. Almost no stopping. I had less than 40 minutes of rest time for the whole ride, and it made me go faster overall. My theory is that it’s mostly psychological. When riders don’t limit their break time before ever embarking on the ride, they often hammer in between rest points, knowing that rest is coming, and then take a long break. It is not a zero sum game, however. The long rest periods don’t let you recover from the increased efforts in between, and eventually it catches up to you, forcing longer and longer breaks, an slowing the in between progress. It’s one thing to pace yourself knowing you’ll be able to sit down and rest in 20 miles, it’s quite another when you’ve told yourself from the start you don’t get to sit until mile 150, and even then for only about 10 minutes (which is exactly what happened).

3. Fueling. I don’t think I have ever eaten as much on the bike as I did on this double. The first gel came out of my back pocket at around the 30-minute mark, when it was still dark, and the last bar I had I was eating on LVR going back to San Rafael. I ate so much that I wasn’t even hungry when I finished the ride. In fact, I was never hungry on this ride, so at some points I forced myself to eat. The constant flow of calories prevented the undulation of energy I have sometimes experienced on longer rides.

Number one is never in my control, but I’ll definitely keep number two and three in mind in my future rides and try to replicate the practice as best as I can.