Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Stinkin' Rest Stops

Last Sunday I went out at 12:30 with two flasks of gel and two bottles.  One large bottle and one very large bottle.  Initial plan was to do the zoo loop, the 42-mile south loop of Grizzly Peak Century through the Oakland Zoo, but as I was going out the door, I conceived of something longer -- either Fruit Stand, a 62-miler or Dublin Grade, a 70-ish mile ride.  A couple of miles into the ride I decided on Dublin Grade, mostly because I'd done Fruit Stand, which David Newman affectionately calls "Fruit Loop" the three preceding weekends and it was time for a longer and a different ride.

We've had a stretch of wonderful weather -- dry, with high temperatures in mid-60s -- and last Sunday was no exception.  It was a bit breezy in the hills, but calm on the flats.  Two miles into the ride I caught Doug-the-Hair-Man, a guy I've seen riding up Tunnel since the early 1990s.  He used to ride without a helmet, bib shorts over a T-shirt, mid-back length dark curls streaming behind.  Now he rides a bit slower, so the curls just hang there, especially when he rides uphill.  I caught up and we chatted a bit, then I rode off.  Just as I reached the Grizzly-Skyline intersection, my neighbor Bob Lee caught up.  Turned out he was doing the Fruit Loop, so I had company for a while. 

I'm not sure if I'm riding faster than in years past or Bob is slower, but he used to make me ride just fast enough to be out of my comfort zone.  On Sunday, I was still in my comfort zone, its upper edge, to be sure, but definitely still in it.  We rode and talked toward Castro Valley.  We had perfect riding weather and I wasn't riding too hard, so not sweating excessively, I didn't need to drink that much and I had more than enough gel.  I thought, "why not try to do this ride without stopping?"  My longest ride without rest stops is 50 miles, which I did on the last quarter of 2009 Mt. Tam Double.  Seventy-five miles would be a significant step up.  While I wouldn't have 150 miles in my legs before attempting the 75, I also didn't have the endurance base I had back then.  Clearly, a challenge.

Bob and I parted in Castro Valley and I rode on toward Dublin grade.  Eastbound, Dublin grade is a three-mile drag that starts out around 4% for a quarter to half a mile, flattens to a steady 2% for two miles, then steepens a bit for a quarter mile before it crests.  My legs weren't feeling great, so I climbed conservatively and, as I gained altitude, the wind stiffened, making the climb more challenging.  I decided to spin and see where that got me.  Well, I was spinning 50x19 at 15mph into a headwind.  The legs felt better, so I spun faster, going around 17 during the last third of the climb.  Properly spent as I crested, I coasted into Dublin.  My very large bottle was still a quarter full and the large was untouched, so I was optimistic that I had enough hydration and nutrition to get home without stopping, but would I have enough legs?

[I should mention that this no-stopping business excluded traffic lights.  I had to make my first stop at a red light in Castro Valley and knew that there would be additional stops at lights on San Ramon Valley Blvd aka Danville Blvd.]

There was a steady 5-8 mph head wind on San Ramon Valley Blvd.  I got into the brake hoods and spun.  Drops would be uncomfortable on the back and neck and pushing a big gear into a headwind is a recipe for cramps.  This position and leg speed seemed a good way to deal with the conditions.  I was in the big ring and somewhere in the middle of the cassette, twiddling away.  Spinning felt good and the legs recovered.  I think all the high cadence work in VeloSF classes helped.

I thought I was making good progress, but I had no data to back up this subjective feeling because my computer's wheel sensor battery was in hospice care.  I'd begun the ride with 2988.3 miles on the computer, but the sensor picked up data very sporadically.  I was looking forward to turning over 3000 miles, but two hours into the ride my computer was still telling me that I'd ridden less than 10 miles and I had doubts as to whether I'd get to 3000 miles that day.  But I really was making good progress, notwithstanding the half-dozen traffic lights, reaching Danville sooner than I thought I would.  This was encouraging, as was the computer's reaching 3000 miles.  I still had nearly a full bottle and just 25 miles to get home.  More spinning from traffic light to traffic light, but now I welcomed these red light respites because I had a hard time controlling myself and was riding at a faster than endurance pace, flogging myself pretty good.

Got to Walnut Creek, turned left and left again to get to Olympic Blvd. which got me to Lafayette, where Olympic presents a cyclist headed back to Oakland with several unappetizing options: (1) Reliez Station Road -- a third of a mile at 13% -- then a descent toward St. Mary's Road, which is a 2-mile first false flat, then uphill drag to St. Mary's college campus; (2) Lafayette-Moraga bike path -- mostly flat but used heavily by walkers, joggers, dog walkers, and very casual cyclists, making it slow and potentially dangerous; (3) A quarter mile on the bike path, then a slow ride through a quiet residential neighborhood to downtown Lafayette, then a left on Moraga Road, a 1.25-mile climb on a very busy two-lane road to Rheem Valley in Moraga.  I went with number 3. 

My friends hate Moraga Road because of traffic.  I love that climb and am willing to overlook the traffic.  Most of the time, for me it's an aggressive big-ring climb.  On Sunday, I geared down and spun.  Never having climbed here in late afternoon light in January I did not know that I would be climbing into the sun.  Coupled with fast traffic and a very narrow shoulder it was not a safe place to ride, but I negotiated it just fine, again riding a bit harder than my legs would have preferred, but what the heck, it was training.

I rode through the flats of Moraga then, onto Pinehurst, toward Canyon, where it must have been 12 degrees cooler and my stubbly legs became goosebumpy, which hurt.  As I rode past the post office, a cyclist remounted his bike 10 yards before I reached him, and he set off at a brisk pace.  Chase or not?  Legs are OK, so chase.  I caught him and passed him.  He drafted.  On the rise to the driveway to John McCosker Ranch, I rode him off my wheel and charged to the foot of the climb, where I lost my enthusiasm.  Legs were good enough, but with 70 miles in my brain as well as in my legs, I did not have the motivation to do an 8-minute interval to Skyline.  So, I called truce and sat up.  He passed me and seemed to be pulling away for a while, and at times I'd lose sight of him.  But then he appeared to lose interest too.  We climbed about 25 yards apart, then I felt better and started reeling him in.  At the top he was about three-four yards in front of me.  I blew past him on Skyline, wishing him a good ride as I went by, and descended home.

Arrived home just before 4:30.  So, a four-hour ride of 70-something miles without stops.  After all that, the legs and the brain felt pretty good.  I need to figure out a way to carry a third bottle on the bike and then I can go for an even longer non-stop ride.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Short-Term Progress Report

I don't know if it's my Computrainer spin classes, semi-regular core workouts, or the combination of the two, but my legs felt really good during and after last Saturday's 65-mile ride.  Most of the ride was at conversational pace, except for two significant efforts.  One was on about two miles of slight uphill of Crow Canyon Road from Castro Valley to San Ramon, where I drove the pace at near time trial effort.  It was hard, my heart rate reached 178, but I drove until we turned off onto Norris Canyon Road, where I recovered.  But I was willing to continue pushing the pace at a sustained, hard effort and keep going as long as necessary, though I was glad when it was over.  The other hard effort was on Glorietta Road in Lafayette, which has a short, nasty steep pitch of 13-14%.  I stood up and led my group of four in 36x19 gear.  Again, it was hard, but I felt strong enough to climb it aggressively and pushed harder than I may have two months ago.  Then, unbeknownst to self, I climbed Pinehurst in 36x19 and was surprised to discover I used that gear when I reached the top.  I was tired and sleepy all afternoon and evening, but my legs were relatively fresh.

During the ride, I felt very comfortable climbing standing up, standing longer and riding more aggressively than usual.  I attribute this to the Velo SF Computraner classes, during which we do repeated standing intervals of two minutes.  After a while these intervals get hard, but it appears they serve me well on the road.

So far, after almost a month of Velo SF I am happy with the results.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Going Nowhere Fast

I belong to Club One.  I joined so I could go to spin classes.  I didn't go to spin, preferring to ride outside.  I paid $90 a month to not go to the gym.  When the weather turned crappy I went to spin and discovered that my cleats were worn out and I kept popping out of SPD-style pedals.  Replacing the cleats would be an enormous hassle because I retrofitted my shoes to mid-sole cleats and the cleats were practically glued in.  Removing them might damage the shoes' carbon soles.  Meanwhile, I found another gym -- a cycling gym.  You bring your own bike, hook it up to a Computrainer, and train with power.  Works great!  I quit Club One.

To make training effective, it's a good idea to get lactate tested.  So, I got tested.  Start at 100 watts, stay there for four minutes, monitoring heart rate, rate of perceived exertion, and blood lactate level (blood samples from earlobe),  increase resistance by 30 watts and do it again until lactate saturation reaches a certain level.  Mercifully, this is not a go-to-failure type of test -- my mind usually fails gives out before my body does when I do those -- you go 8-9 RPE and stop.  It turns out, my lactate threshold level is 200 watts, in other words, if I stay below it, I can ride forever provided I eat and hydrate properly.  Good enough.  Lactate saturation levels and heart rate are plotted on a graph against power numbers, allowing a coach to come up with training zones.

Armed with training zones, I go to VeloSF regularly and spin like crazy with a number of like-minded individuals.  The vibe here is completely different from typical gyms.  People are FIT and serious about cycling; there are no dabblers here.  Coaches are serious national and international level cyclists and triathletes.  You get feedback of power and speed numbers you generate in addition to RPE.  Music is good -- coaches respect our ears and age and don't play garbage.  Exercise rooms are air-conditioned and there are wall and floor-mounted fans to cool us down.  All this is terrifically motivating, which is essential because the training is hard.  I am completely wrung out after 90 minutes of structured work.  I've been at it for two weeks. 

I hope I am getting stronger.  I don't ride super early in the morning so much anymore and I don't see my friends as much, but I get three hours more sleep on the days when I used to ride early.  Also, I am doing about 15 minutes of core exercises three to four days a week.  We'll see how these changes in training affect my doubles rides.  I'd like to get PRs at DMD and at AA-8 or Terrible Two this year.