Downward spiral

(Authors note: I was considering writing a post today that talked about my continued recovery from my latest crash and what I am learning from it. Well it would be a short post. I learned I am frustrated. Frustrated that I cannot ride as hard as I want. Frustrated, and a little worried, that I cannot train for my race in two weeks. But then I thought about a friend of mine who is going to get a knee replaced on Sept. 11. He has been in constant pain for a while. And I felt, well stupid, for whining about a pain that will go away in a bit. My race is only 46 miles on a “relatively flat” course. SO yeah I may not be able to hammer it like I wanted to, but finishing won’t be a problem. My friend hasn’t been able to do the things he wants physically for a while. So shut up Doug and get over it 😉 )

(Second note: Noah and I are famous. We made Lisa Nelson’s , AKA the Hammer, account of her Leadville Experience. Read it if you haven’t!)

I will now continue then on my story of the downward spiral upward death march to Leadville 2013.

We left off with my journey after buying my first real bike, and getting hooked. Totally hooked. I rode my first half century on that bike. (That seamed like a very very long ride.) So hooked in fact that I started looking at road bikes. This one was a hard sell at home. Road bikes look a lot like touring bikes. When I talked about getting one, that was the conversation at home. Eventually I we settled on me saving my weekly allowance and holiday money to buy a road bike. And off I went.

But what to get? I settled on a hand built steel frame road bike made by Alan Wanta.

Steel frame, steel fork, Durace drive train. Sweet ride. Why steel? I love the feel of steel frames. I love the durability of steel frames. I love that it was a hand built lugged  frame. Weight about 19 pounds. Not super light, but no worries.

On this bike I really began my long distance journey in 2010. The first spring I had that bike, two friends and I rode our first century. It was the 100 Miles of Nowhere, a charity ride sponsored by the FatCyclist. Then I rode and rode and rode some more. I finished off the summer by riding in the LiveStrong Philly ride. By the end of the summer I had ridden about 4500 miles on my bikes.

The next summer it was more riding. Lots more riding. I did 4 century rides that summer. The 100 Miles of Nowhere (again), LiveStrong Davis, LiveStrong Philly, and a local fundraiser ride. LiveStrong Davis was a blast. I rode in a large pack with Fatty, the Hammer, and a bunch of other Friends of Fatty. We flew, and I set a personal record for a century ride. I rode 4400 miles that summer.

Three things happened that summer. First, I started to have trouble with “Death Wobbles” on my road bike. Google “Death Wobbles” it is NOT fun. They happen when you are going fast (usually down hill) and cause the bike to shake uncontrollably. Very scary. (There will be a follow-up to this at some point, worry not.)

The second thing is that officially became almost skinny at about 172(ish) lbs. Coreen made me buy new clothes because I looked like a “hobo”. (I have managed to be very very constant on my weight since then. Even in the winter. That’s good cause I haven’t gone back up. Its a little troublesome because I want to be about 155 for Leadville, and that means the easy weight is already gone!)

The last thing that happened in 2011 is what lead me to Leadville. After I finished LiveStrong Philly I realized that road biking had become “easy”. I remembered when we stressed about a 50 mile ride. It was the end of the summer epic. Now I was doing 50 miles on the spur of the moment. Century rides? As long as I had a place to buy some drinks along the way, no problem. This is not to say that a 100 mile bike ride is easy or isn’t tiring, it had just become a routine do-able ride. So what next? Where was the next challenge?

I read Fatty’s post about the 2011 Leadville race. I watched the Race Across the Sky video from 2010. And I was officially…… in trouble….heading down a road to a dark place, where there is no oxygen.

 

In the beginning

I was never what you would call an athletic kid. I was active, but never particularly good at any of the typical sports that kids in America play (baseball, football, basketball? Nope not me). In gym class my friends and I (there was 4 of us) were allowed to play tennis instead of doing the other gym sports. We played, even in the winter, because we just didn’t like or do well with the classic gym sports.  And so I, like many other kids, slipped through the cracks. I had a bike and rode it on my paper route, with friends, etc. but it was never something that I got into. Funny since I remember watching the Tour even then. I saw Greg Lamond win and thought it was really cool. But it never clicked for me.

Fast forward a number of years. In college I had a bike like most other students. I rode it mostly as a way to get around school. Dabbled a little bit in using it as exercise but for some reason it still never clicked. At the time I graduated from college and grad school I would have qualified as a Clydsdale (200+ lbs) hitting my peak lifetime weight (over 220).

Fast forward again. I am working for the Navy in Maryland and I purchased a hybrid cruiser bike and started to ride a little bit more. I would ride around our subdivision and bike for an hour or so. I started to get into it. (Funny aside, Coreen is actually the only person to ride that bike on an organized group ride. She liked groups rides. I ran a little bit when I was working at the Naval Academy. Now she runs more than bikes, and I, well I bike a bit.)

When we moved to Potsdam I decided I would bike to work. The shortest route to my office is about 5.5 miles. During my first summer in Potsdam I put about 300 miles onto my bike that way. I wrecked the drive train, which wasn’t built for that kind of “serious” biking. That’s when I made the fateful decision that would lead me into first group rides then century rides and then races (it also lead me to red zones, bonking, spandex, endos, failed wheelies, and Leadville).

My first “real” bike was a Fuji World touring bike.

Steel frame, Shimano 105 divetrain, 32 mm tires, spare spokes on the frame, a rack for carrying stuff, fenders for keeping the water off. Total tank of a bike. (His name is Truck BTW, I still have him and he has never let me down. He is also not at all jealous of my other bikes. He sits in the garage waiting and is happy when I pull him out to ride.) Total heaven.

The first summer I rode my bike I put about 1500 miles on it (that seamed like a lot). I stopped being a Clydesdale. I was hooked.

Ouch

So I’ve spent the night trying to figure out how to make this one heroic. “Bailey’s pet rabbit got out. Realizing that Bailey would be destroyed if I hit and killed his beloved pet I attempted a jump over him. There was loose gravel (i.e. skree) and in the process of landing I wiped out. I did save the rabbit, but it was at the expense of my body.” Great story but a total fabrication. Sometimes the truth is not so glamorous, sometimes its funny (even if its embarrassing).

The truth is that Noah and I had just finished a ride. I wanted to do a little more and so I started to do a little skill practice. Riding over a railroad tie in my yard, up and down some bumps. Then I figured I would do some wheelies. Wheelies are a great skill  for mountain biking. Getting your front wheel over an obstacle allows you to go over some really fun terrain. I had been having trouble getting my front wheel up off the ground but I had read a book about mountain biking skills (no comments here, its a good book inspite of the outcome yesterday) and had figured out what I had been doing wrong. Need to load the front shock then up. So I did it (Doug, you should have listened to the voice telling you to do it in sneakers instead of being clipped in fool. Oops was that out loud?). The wheel came up and I thought cool. But the wheel kept going and over I went. Right smack onto my butt.I had just failed a move on a bicycle that 10 year olds master. That’s the truth. Total fail on a a move so basic its not even really a move.

Fu##!

“Dad are you OK?”

“Nope”

Then from Coreen (who came running up after hearing me to tell Noah Nope) “are you hurt”.

“I don’t know give me a minute.”

Now I have a “fair” (i.e. really high) pain threshold. I think that’s one of the things that makes me a good long distance bike rider. To give you an idea, when my appendix ruptured I thought about calling an ambulance and decided not to (I learned a lesson in that incident, as you will see very soon). Here I rolled over so I was face down on the ground with tears coming from my eyes, it hurt that bad. I managed to get into the house and then down onto the bed. Decided that it was probably a good idea to go to the hospital to make sure I didn’t break anything. (See I’m not a total idiot!) Off Coreen and I went.

If you ever want to bring  a little joy to the people in an ER, just come in after having hurt yourself doing something silly. Not weird stupid (you know like getting something stuck were it shouldn’t be so that they will talk about for years and years), nope I mean shake your head silly.

“What happened sir?”

“I crashed my bike.”

“Motorcycle?”

“Nope bicycle.”

“What happened?”

“Pulled a wheelie too hard and went all of the way over. Then I landed on my butt and am worried that I broke it or something else.”

“Where did it happen?”

“In my driveway.”

“Wow that’s unfortunate.” With a little smile sneaking out……You can see the real joy on their faces through their knowing smile. This conversation was basically repeated 3 or 4 times with different people over the course of an hour.

The people in the ER were actually really nice. Couple of xrays later, nothing broken just abrasions and contusions (and a severely bruised ego). Have some advil to keep the swelling down and take it easy for a couple of days.

So I’m sitting at home taking it easy. (Yes I can sit thank you very much….and get that freaking smile off your faces, you are supposed to be my friends. OK I’m smiling too, it IS kind of funny.) I was supposed to do a road bike ride in the mountains today and was looking forward to it (Sorry Jen!). Had to put that off. But nothing broken so it looks like the race in September is still on.

Should have listened to that stupid voice. Seams that the voices aren’t always bad.

Earworms

Probably most of you have experienced the “Earworm”. That time when you get a part of a song stuck in your mind and it plays over and over again. Distance bike riders ofter experience that (we hear voices too, usually they are nasty voices, but that’s a story for a different day).

Sometimes earworms are helpful and sometimes they are a problem. When I was riding in Philly last weekend I experienced two earworms. In this case they were helpful and made me smile while they were playing. The first one occurred when I was doing the Landis Store Climb. This climb is the longest climb of the day. Its not the steepest grade, but it is a good long climb that you can really get into. This was playing in my mind. Any guess where that came from? Come on guess……Give up? OK, thats the music that is playing in Race Across the Sky when the racers are hiking their bikes up the Powerline climb towards the end of the race.

This one made me smile. Heck, I wasn’t in the hurt locker anywhere near what I will be in Leadville next year on that climb.

The ride continued and I finally reached the 5 mile to go marker. And my internal soundtrack switched to this. Which is the music they play in the movie when the racers they follow in the movie are finishing. Super upbeat music to finish Philly.

Wow, am I obsessed or what? Yup. Stoked to go to Leadville next year. (Its going to be a long winter ;))

 

But here is the music I really want playing in my head next summer when I cross the finish line…..

Just thinking about how totally cool it will be to see my family and friends at the finish line.

A little math problem

OK. So here is a little math problem for you to ponder. (I promise the math will be simple, and quick!) A 100 mile road bike ride will take me about 5:30 to complete. Let’s just take that as a round estimate, since not all century bike rides are created equal. Some will be faster, and some will be slower. But if you are riding with me budgeting time 5:30 is a good number for you to keep in mind.

If you start biking in the morning (I am a morning person, but again the math works equally as well if you are not) you would probably have a nice big breakfast to power you through the day. So for the sake of my little story problem you eat at 7am and leave for your bike ride. (OK here comes the math) That means you will finish at 12:30pm. What did you miss during your bike ride? Probably a bunch of things, but the important thing here is you likely went past lunch time.

Why is this important? Well for a biker food is fuel. And what this post is really about is the importance of eating while doing long bike rides. The problem of eating becomes compounded when you ride a race (presumably you are biking harder when you race since you want to go fast and don’t care about the beautiful scenery, or dropping your friends who are riding with you), and becomes even more compounded when the race is REALLY REALLY long (say 100 miles on a mountain bike over really big mountains that will take you about, oh, 10:19 to finish). You just cannot get enough calories on board to be able to ride that long without going into deficit. (Aside: you probably could eat a HUGE breakfast and consume those calories, but I would drop you like a bad habit, even on a friendly ride, while you are rolling on the ground puking your HUGE breakfast up shortly after we start. Its not a good idea is what I am saying.)

Its important to eat while you are biking long distances. That awesome breakfast you had is not going to be enough to finish quickly or may bring on the dreaded BONK. (Pst. if you don’t know what bonking is read that last link, it will tell you, then search for “bonk” on Fatty’s blog and see how many hits you get. You will get the idea. Its a problem.)

This past weekend I rode in the LiveStrong Philly Challenge. In my last post about the Importance of Riding With Friends you will eventually come to the last line in which I declare then when the gun went off I rode hard (just to see how hard I could ride). OK. It wasn’t a race, but hey that’s me and my friends expect me to do that. I had a plan for this ride. An experiment lets say to see what would happen if I followed “The Plan”.

The Plan? Well I was going to eat every 30 minutes regardless of if I was hungry at that time. Honey stinger waffles and gells, PBJ, oranges whatever. The Plan is important, nay crucial, in being able to finish Leadville next year and I wanted to see how my body would react. And because I had ridden LS Philly twice before I had a reference on how well I was doing. (This is especially true since I went very very hard last year.) I was also following The Plan because I was pretty sure I had faded when I rode the Willminton Whiteface Qualifier this year due to lack of food.

For reference here is the course profile for the Philly ride.

That’s about 9000 ft of climbing in 100 miles. I think it qualifies the ride as a “hilly” ride.

So off I went. Every 30 minutes down went a honey stinger. I stopped at 3 rest stops and had PBJ, oranges, and jelly beans.

The results?

I finished feeling strong (not as strong as when I left, but strong enough to keep riding for a long long way). On all but 1 of the climbs I was faster this year than I was last year. And on the one climb where I was not faster I was only 10 seconds slower. I ended up finishing with a 18.2 mph average where last year I was at 17.6. And I finished 15 minutes quicker (which is really a lot more since last years course was 5 miles shorter).

Bam! Success! The Plan is a good one and will work for me.

There is an addendum to this story. A cautionary tale if you want to follow “The Plan”. A, umm, side effect to eating like this while you are riding. When I finished I went to the hospitality tent to have some “real” food. One bite and I realized that was NOT going to happen. And by “happen” I really mean “stay down”. I had really put a strain on my internal system and real solid food was not an option at that point. I stopped at a Wa Wa on the way back to the hotel (umm, Wa Wa hot dogs, ohhhhh…..Nope not an option) and picked up a quart of chocolate milk. That worked. A little while later some yummy apple pie in the room (thanks Jenni!). Then when dinner came (4 hours later) so did my ability to eat normal food (yeah Philly Steak Sandwich and cheese fries!).

The imprtance of riding with friends

News Flash: I am not, and I never will be a pro bike racer. I know that’s probably shocking to hear but its true. I’m just not good enough, and I won’t ever be. The sad part about that is that means I won’t ever have enough time to ride my bike. There will always be other things I need to do (luckily I like what I do, so I have that going for me).

OK. So that’s the bad news. The good news? It means I can spend the time I do get to ride riding the way I want to. This year has been a little more serious for me from a biking standpoint. I was training for the Willmington Whiteface Qualifier aiming for Leadville and that really affected how I rode this summer. This weekend there was another race that I was looking at doing. It was the Hampshire 100. Another epic long distance mountain bike race. My chance to do that race was quickly lost as I found out that the LiveStrong Philly Challenge was on the same day.
I’ve ridden in the LS Philly ride for the past two years and through it I have met a great bunch of people. I was teasing them this weekend about their veto of me riding in New Hampshire so that I would have to come to Philly to spend the weekend with them. I’m glad I did and hear is why (sh, this is a secret I am going to let you in on): Its important to spend time riding in situations that are fun. Yup. That’s the secret. It was fun to ride with my friends.

Look. If I was lined up at the start of the Hampshire 100 would I have looked like this?

Image

Probably not. I probably would have been nauseous and quiet. I would have had my game face on. I might not have talked to anyone. In short, I would not have been much fun. Weekends like this weekend are about friendship, common interest, and shared experience. These weekends help to keep me excited about riding and grounded in who I am. There is nothing wrong with finding some challenging goals, pushing and competing. But its important to not loose perspective.

Next year when I go to Leadville, I sincerely hope that my biking friends get to come to help me out. I know their friendship will help in ways they and I cannot imagine.

Oh, and yeah, this weekend, when the riders were released? I went hard, just cause I wanted to see how hard I could go, but my friends expected that. 😉

Riding at altitude, with an attitude….

The Leadville 100 poses a unique set of challenges for a bike rider. Its long (over 100 miles), has a lot of climbing (over 12,000 ft worth) and its at altitude (between 10,000 and 12,500 ft). Of those three I have the first two covered. I feel good about long rides and I can gut out lots of climbing. I may not be fast up hills, but I can keep the cranks turning (or I can keep pushing my bike if needed). But altitude, now that’s the one thing I cannot simulate here in the relatively low conditions in the Adirondack Mountains.

Our trip to Colorado gave me the chance to live and ride at altitude for the first time. And it was revealing.

During my vacation I rented a mountain bike so that I could try my hand at riding at altitude. And I had a blast exploring a new area on a bike. But what was it like to ride high in the mountains?

I got a minor case of altitude sickness when I got there. The symptoms I had were experienced mostly when I was sleeping (or more precisely not sleeping). OK so its technically not altitude sickness, but it really stunk. I would fall asleep and wake up totally startled feeling like I was unable to breath. And that made getting back to sleep really difficult. That settled down a little bit after the first couple of days, but I would classify my sleep as poor to crappy the whole trip. (Authors note: I am still catching up on my sleep a couple of days after we got home.) Next year when I go out for the race, I will get a prescription for Diamox (and maybe Ambien ;)) before hand to help with that. I also experienced some minor headaches throughout my trip, but its hard to say if that was from altitude or from lack of sleep. I’m going on lack of sleep for now.

Riding at altitude was better than I had expected it would be. What I found was that terrain that I would find easy at home (flat and up to 6% grade) was still easy at altitude. I was able to go pretty much as fast and hard under those conditions as I would down here closer to sea level. When the hills went over about a 6% grade, then it got hard. Bike riders talk about “the red line”. That’s the point at which you are biking harder than you can sustain for even a short period of time. We do that to say get up a steep hill quickly, or put some distance between you and someone who is riding with you, or to catch up to someone in front of you. That causes you to loose energy that you may not be able to get back through less exertion or food or whatever. And you have to be very very careful when and how much you do that, or you might not be able to finish.

What I found was my “red line” level of exertion was lower at altitude than it is here at home. So what does that mean for racing in Leadville? Pretty much nothing, except it provides a caution for riding in the race. When I rode the Willmington Whiteface Qualifier I found I got excited and went out very fast. Too fast. And along with not eating enough it sapped my strength for the end of the ride. Riding last week at altitude just reinforced the need to ride my own race. I need to listen to my body and not go too fast. My race is not with the pro’s, or even the really good sport riders like Fatty. My race is with myself, to get to the finish, and to see what I can do. (Etch that into your brain Doug!)

So my goals for next year?

1. Finish in under 12 hours. If you do that, you get the buckle and you finished the race under the time limit.

2. I am going to train and shoot for being totally average in this race. That means I am going to try to finish in 10 hours and 19 minutes (the historic average finish time). Totally average would make me very happy.

3. Always keeping in mind goal #1 Doug.
If I do that, then I get to see this….

then you all will get to see this…

OK, only with me (not Lance) and probably a couple of hours later than him (if he were to ride it again!)