Jun 6, 2012

Sequoia Double Metric - a lesson in pacing

Another year has passed, and that means it was time to embark on my favorite organized ride of all time – the Sequoia Double Metric, organized by the Western Wheelers cycling club. This year, however, I wanted to do things differently.

The ride has incredible support, with the most out-of-this-world food at each rest stop and great treats at the finish. But I wasn’t planning on enjoying much of it. The ride came at an end of a heavy week, with a lot of miles already in my legs and quite a few intense workouts, not to mention a race on Saturday. Setting a goal of a finishing time would have been pointless because regardless of what that time would have been, it would not have been my  “best” time. Not to mention that the course was different this year, with an extra few thousand feet of climb thrown in for good measure.

I decided that this year, I wanted to do this ride on minimal stopping time. Given my past experience with long rides of this sort, I figured I should be able to do it on less than 10 minutes of total stop time. 

So I tweeted this:
Almost instantly, this followed:
Now it was on!

It helps to know where you’ll be riding to confidently state how much rest you’ll need. There are several factors, the main one being the weather. If it’s too hot, more water stops will be necessary. If it’s too cold, more food should be taken “on board” because the body burns more calories as it tries to keep itself warm. 

The plan was to ride out of the Palo Alto VA Hospital with the Mission Cycling Club and then see where my legs take me in terms of pace. 

We departed around 6:30 and rolled together for about the first dozen miles until we hit Redwood Gulch, a pretty nasty climb with some insanely steep pitches. Luckily, it’s sort of a ladder, so you get a breather between turning the legs at 40rmp. That’s where I let everyone who could and wanted to pass me. I kept my legs turning over steady, conserving energy, knowing that ahead are another 11 thousand feet to be climbed. 

I started the ride with two bottles of Cytomax, a banana, a PBJ sandwich, cut in half and individually wrapped in foil, and a little flask of GU. The weather was cool in Palo Alto and we headed up into the Santa Cruz mountains, which were also cool and shaded. I figured that what I had on me would get me through the first 65 miles of the ride and I wouldn’t have to stop until the lunch rest stop as long as I followed my feeding protocol

After passing the second rest stop, I knew that I was ahead of everyone I started with – I heard later many of them were lounging on the grass, probably enjoying coffee cake and hummus (was there hummus again?).  Somewhere between the second and third rest stop, Michael with a few others blew by me like I was standing still, but I kept on clipping along at my own pace. Then a few seconds after, Andrew came up behind me and we continued riding together. He’d drop me on the climbs a bit, I’d catch (and sometimes drop) him on the descents a bit, but we kept each other company. 

Then we came to the first new segment of the route on this year’s ride – China Grade. That was a total “WTF” moment. I’ve never done that climb before. It goes for 1.5 miles, averaging close to 11 percent with many sections over 14 percent. There were definitely a few moments where keeping the front wheel to the ground was a challenge. Unfortunately, my Garmin had mapping issues and placed me on a parallel road, so I have no personal data for that climb other than the memory of it being very slow and painful.  

The good news, however, is that once I was done with China Grade, I knew there was no significant climbing left in the ride other than the eight-mile climb up Tunitas Creek that came at me around mile 96, but more on that later.

Andrew dropped me on the climb toward Skyline and I was slowly catching up to him on the rollers before the turn onto Alpine Road, which lead to lunch. I figured if I didn’t catch him on the rollers, I’d certainly make contact on the 10-mile descent into La Honda. I was right. I caught him on the narrow twisty parts of that road, a few miles before the finish of the descent. I flew into the lunch stop and saw Michael (he told me he had already had two servings of rice and beans). Then it was down to business: bathroom first, water second, food third and back on the bike. 

I lucked out, as there was no line at the port-a-johns, then quickly to refill my bottles. I filled one bottle full of water, drank half of it where I stood, refilled it again, and put Gatorade into the second bottle – can’t believe that still serve this on long rides, but beggars can’t be choosers. Then it was time to find some salt. To my dismay, no chips, no pretzels, no cheesy crackers. Who the hell has the time for eggs, potatoes and rice and beans on my pace schedule? But there was a whole tub of quinoa salad (seriously, quinoa?), so I inhaled a bowl full of that and began to search for some bars to take with me. Couldn’t find any of those either – were they even there? Grabbed a few pieces of banana, hoped on my bike and off I went. 

I don’t think I rolled even a mile before G pulled up from behind and started pulling me along. I couldn’t in good conscience let him do all the pulling, so I said he’s welcome to draft me, but that I would not be matching his pulls, as I had a certain pace to keep and I knew he’d drop me as soon as the road pitched up anyway. Not too long after, Andrew came up behind us with a group of three to four in a paceline. Before I even had time to think, “Gee, what a nice group we have to work together,” everyone but Andrew and G made the turn to do the shorter, 100-mile route. So it was just the three of us, with less than 50 miles to go.

We continued together in a fairly constant pattern: ride the flats together, I’d pop off on the climbs, catch back on (or they’d wait up) on the descents and flats, and so on. 

As we approached the penultimate rest stop at the bike hut, I continued while my companions pulled off for a stop. I knew they’d catch me on the 8-mile climb up Tunitas Creek. However, Michael’s group was the first to catch me and they once again flew up the climb and left me in the dust – no surprise, no worries. I slowly continued to clip away. Then some dude went flying by like he just got stung by something. “Holy crap,” I thought, “he must not be on this ride and just training with some intervals.”  I passed him later on the climb as he was barely turning his legs over – probably hating himself for going out too fast.

Andrew caught me on the steep part of Tunitas, about half a mile from the grassy knoll. I did my best to stay with him and he end up pacing me all the way to the top, where he stopped to wait for G and I proceeded to descent Kings Mt. Road and make my way to the finish. 

I was surprised to see Michael come up behind me with Bruno and Ben, who I thought were long enjoying their It’s It at the finish. I gladly took the invitation to latch on, and did for a bit, before popping off and finishing at my own pace, probably five or so minutes behind them. 

Total stopping time for the ride was around seven minutes, two of which were due to stop lights getting out of the parking lot and on Foothill – I made sure to time all the stop lights coming back as to not actually stop at any of them. 

What did I eat/drink on the ride? 

4.5 bottles of liquid – 2 bottles of Cytomax, 1 bottle of Gatorade, 1.5 bottles of water = 450 Cal.
2.5 bananas = 400 cal
1 PBJ = 300 cal
1 cup of quinoa salad = 200 cal
4 GUs = 360 cal

This is the third year I’ve done this ride, and I’ve never finished it feeling better than I did this year. I’ve said it many times and will continue to say it over and over, nice and steady is far superior to hammer-stop-hammer-stop (unless you’re doing HIT). It’s not easy and it takes discipline. It’s hard to let people pass you know are slower than you. It’s hard not to grab that wheel and pick up the pace, but it’s even worse when after holding that wheel, that rider pulls off to take 10 minutes of rest and you have to keep going, having wasted an effort for nothing, as you would have passed him as he was stuffing his face with coffee cake. 

This way of riding isn’t fun for everyone, and it certainly not the most social way of riding. But I need my rides to be challenging. There always has to be a thought in the back of my mind - “there’s a chance I might fail” – and that motivates me to press on. While for some, riding 120  miles is a great accomplishment and I commend everyone for trying it and succeeding, simply going the distance is not really a challenge for me these days. Good problem to have, I know.

5 comments:

  1. Nice work, a Pliny is coming your way this week! Under 10 minutes stopping is a feat!

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  2. with all this pacing stuff you should really thing about randos...

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    1. Think about it? I love long distance, but you either race, or you do long distance, the two don't mix and match. At least not for most people. It takes at least 3 weeks to fully recover from something like DMD or a 600k of some sort. In the mean time, your training and racing is all messed up.

      FC508 and Paris-Brest-Paris are both on my list of rides to do.

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  3. Nice job, Vitaly! It also takes patience and will power to stop less than 10 minutes. Holy moly! But I full endorse steady pacing -- I'm usually the same pace at the beginning of ride (whether 50, 150 or 200 miles) than I am at the end -- definitely better than killing it and feeling it over and over on a ride!

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    1. Thanks, Tina! We missed you on the ride!

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