Monday, February 16, 2009

Double Whammy

As part of my training for the Gold Rush Randonnée, I am working on increasing my speed, endurance and pain tolerance levels. 750 miles in 90 hours in the middle of summer in the middle of California, with some big-ass climbs in the middle, is going to be quite a test for this old body, and my muscles need to start studying now. Last-minute cramming may have worked for the bar exam, but I am pretty sure that method works only for brain muscles.

This weekend offered me a prime opportunity to assess my present level of fitness and mental instability. I had two very different, but equally challenging, riding opportunities, and Monday was a work holiday so I could, if necessary, take a day to recover from any self-inflicted weekend damage.

Saturday was the second in a series of "endurance" rides that the president of my social cycling club (Portland Velo) has designed. It's not really endurance cycling as I would describe it - none of the planned rides will be over 4 hours in length - but his goal is to ride those routes at a higher pace than I would normally ride a brevet. At the end of the ride, he wants his cyclometer to show an average speed of over 16 mph. I know a lot of Randos that can keep that up for an extended period of time, but I am not one of them.  Especially on my bike, which at 32.5 pounds unloaded (give or take an ounce) is definitely built for comfort, and not for speed. But I figured that if I am going to work on speed, there's nothing like trying to keep up with a lot of testosterone-poisoned men on carbon fiber bikes to do the trick. So I signed up. The first ride was on January 31 and it was nothing special.  Just under 50 miles on the flats with an average speed of just under 16 mph. I kept up with the pack just fine, and was tired when I got home, but not whipped.

This Saturday, however, was advertised as a hill assault. Hmm. I wasn't TOO worried.  Hills are my specialty, after all, and I did just get a new climbing cassette. I knew that I had a 200K scheduled for Sunday (#2 in my quest for another RUSA R-12, or #14 in the quest for an R-24, to be more precise), but that would be a relatively flat course and I was planning on riding it more slowly than usual, anyway. So I figured a little extra exertion the day before would be a good test of my early-season limits.

The weather forecast had been changing throughout the week. On Wednesday, the weekend forecast was for a few light showers on Saturday, followed by a partly-sunny Sunday. By Thursday night, the weather people were talking about snow levels dropping to below 700 feet Friday morning and to the valley floor by Sunday. Joy.

It was still dry (if cold) when I got up Saturday morning, so I bundled up (wool knickers, wool knee socks, L/S wool undershirt, S/S wool jersey, Showers Pass jacket, wool liner cap, wool gloves, winter riding boots, chemical hand and toe warmers), and headed out a little before 7:30 AM. I decided to take the long way to the start, which entailed going through town to Washington Park, up Fairview to Skyline, out on Skyline to Old Cornelius Pass Road and down OCP toward Hillsboro. Up on Skyline (a little over 1000 ft. elevation) I was surprised by a few snow flurries, but they quickly passed. I ended up getting to the start earlier than anticipated, so I did a quick 3-mile out and back to keep warm. Consequently, before the "official" ride began, I already had put in 27 hard miles.

The promised hill ride was a map-free mixed-bag, sort of a "Look for a hill, climb it. Look for another hill, climb it" route. The grades ranged from 2 to 9 percent, with the centerpiece being a 6-mile climb at a steady 4 to 5 percent. The group was large (too large for my taste) and the riding styles and abilities mixed. On the hills, I did not find this a problem, because we naturally spread out. When we got to the flats, however, I quickly realized that it was going to be a challenge to stay with the group and ride safely at the same time. In order to maintain the consistent speeds that were the posted goal, a certain amount of pace lining was required. The pace line was a bit chaotic, however, and it took every ounce of concentration I had to hold my line while dealing with the rubber band effect. Every once in while the line would turn into a messy peloton, especially at traffic-controlled intersections where some people stopped and others did not (as someone who stops at stop signs, I must admit it frustrates me when half the group blows through). Between that mental effort and the physical effort of trying to maintain the 18 mph-plus speed that the group was pushing on the flats, I was feeling pretty spent. About three miles before the end, we turned into the wind and at the point I just gave up - I was tired, the road surface was bad, and the group was steadily speeding up like horses scenting the barn. And did I mention my bike weighs 32.5 pounds unloaded? Not only that, I still had at least 23 miles to go to get home, and some of those miles would be steep climbs. Common sense overpowered herd instinct, and I dropped off the line and poodled back to the start at a leisurely 13 mph. Even so, I ended up with a little over 15 mph average speed for just under 50 miles.

After a brief rest to inhale some gummy oatmeal, I saddled up and headed for home. I decided to go up to Skyline by way of Thompson Road, which is one of the easier approaches to the summit. Four miles, never more than a 6 percent grade. I rarely have trouble on it. Even so, I was a little trepidatious (yes, that's a word) about the climb. Oh, well, I figured I would just bail down to my granny gear and slowly spin my way up. I became more and more concerned, however, as I struggled to clear what I would normally consider the minor rollers on West Union on my way to the West Hills (WU becomes Thompson at the base of the hills). Much to my surprise, however, once I actually started climbing, I was just fine. I stayed in the middle ring of my triple, and maintained a steady 7.5 mph pace from bottom to top. Not Speed Racer, by any means, but not too shabby considering that by this point I was 86 miles into the ride.

When I reached the summit, I realized that I would get home with just about 98.5 miles on the odometer. MY OCD impulses immediately kicked in, and I took a slight route detour at the bottom of the hill so I could run the cyclometer over 100 miles. It's amazing how mental illness can override commen sense. I finally reached home a little after 4:00 PM, ready for a hot bath, a cold beer, and enormous amounts of food. Day One was in the bag. I checked the weather report for Sunday's ride (70% chance of rain, high of 38 degrees, steady NE winds of 10 to 15 mph), ate dinner, watched a movie, rubbed arnica ointment onto my legs, and went to bed.

Needless to say (but saying it anyway), Sunday morning came down way too soon. I cranked open my eyes at the first beep of my alarm, and listened for rain. Silence. Well, not exactly silence - the dogs were whining, a cat was meowing in the basement, and Greg was snoring - but no sound of water on the roof. Not that I would have turned over and gone back to sleep if I had heard rain, but not hearing rain made it a lot easier to get up. I got out of bed and peeked out the window. The pavement was dry and the thermometer showed 39 degrees. Not bad for 4:00 AM.

This day's ride started and ended in Newberg. Again. I am getting very bored with the Newberg routes, I must say. But the Newberg routes are the flat routes, and in the winter I prefer flat routes. Anyway, because the ride was out of Newberg, I had to drive to the start. Otherwise I would be tacking 24 miles and 2 hours on to each end, which may be fine in August, but not in February. That meant I had to take extra time to strap the rack on the car, strap the bike on the rack, throw everything that I thought I might need in my giant blue Ikea bag, and throw that in the car.  Then I choked down some oatmeal, covered my mildly complaining legs with more arnica ointment and Tiger Balm, threw on my clothes (regular shorts, Craft "Storm" pants, LS wool undershirt, SS wool jersey, etc. etc. etc.), tossed some energy bars and a packet of Cytomax mix in my front bag and hit the road. At which point I immediately noticed I was almost out of gas. I knew there was something I was supposed to have done Saturday night. Fortunately, I discovered that the station down the road is now open 24/7. Whew.

Newberg is about 24 miles southwest of Portland. As I headed south on I-5, drops of rain began to fall on the windshield. By the time I reached the Newberg exit, it was raining heavily. Rats. Lynne's van was in the parking lot when I pulled in, but no one else had arrived yet. We were supposed to start at 7:00 AM, and it was already 6:45. I set a land speed record for changing into my cycling shoes and water resistant booties, de-racked the bike, locked up the car, and headed off to the Thriftway that has become our regular Newberg contrôle. By that time the rest of the group had arrived: the usual R-12 suspects--John, Joanne, and Bill, as well as our friend Kevin, whom we have sucked into randonneuring.  It was still raining, but not too heavily, as we left town and rode south toward Dallas. We had a tailwind, which was nice but which we knew we would pay for later. The rain stopped within half an hour after we started, never to return. I began to feel better about the day's prospects.

I was surprised, and pleased, to discover that I was not all that sore from Saturday's ride. Tired, yes, but sore, not so much. Lynne and I were quickly dumped by the other four, however, because they were intent on getting done before nightfall. The two of us were just hoping to be done within the 13.5 hour time limit. 

The first 35 miles went by relatively quickly, thanks to the tailwind. We arrived at the Dallas contrôle by 9:45, go some hot chocolate from McDonald's (along with a salty greasy hash brown), and turned back toward Newberg.  At this point we were hit full in the face by the wind. Where our cruising speed from Newberg to Dallas had been in the comfortable mid-teens, from Dallas to Newberg we struggled to stay in the double digits. We were not stressed about time, because we had plenty of cushion from our quick trip out, but riding into a never-ending wind is simply demoralizing. I would have preferred the rain.

We finally got back to Newberg, checked in at the Thriftway and took some time to eat more food. I had been eating pretty much constantly while riding, testing my new theory that I will bonk less if I eat more (concept, huh?), but Lynne had not been able to access her snacks as easily as I could get to mine (she's still waiting for her new front bag to arrive).  I waited while she choked down some fig bars, boiled eggs, chili & lime almonds, and chocolate milk (hmm, in retrospect that doesn't sound very appetizing, does it? At the time it seemed like a perfectly normal meal).  I helped her with the almonds.  They were quite tasty.

Lunch over, we set out for the second, shorter, loop of the ride: 55 miles to Mt. Angel and back, by way of French Prairei, Gervais and Champoeg. We once again had the wind at our back for the first half of the loop, and did our best to take advantage of it. The sun was fully out and temperature was steadily climbing. We began removing layers of clothes, but soon ran out of luggage room and had to keep our long pants on.  But we could at least roll up the legs and expose our pale calves to the elements. Lynne even scaled down to fingerless gloves, but I wasn't quite that warm yet.

The 27 miles to Mt. Angel passed pleasantly enough. About 5 miles out of Mt. Angel, just after Lynne had expressed surprise that we hadn't seen any of the other riders (given that the route was essentially an out and back, we would have expected to see them coming while we were going), who should we see approaching but Bill. He waved cheerily as he passed, and was followed shortly by John and Joanne. They asked if we'd seen Kevin. We hadn't, so assumed he must have already passed the cross-over point before we got there - which would mean that he had really been putting the speed in (which, apparently, he was).

We finally reached Mt. Angel, stopped briefly at the Damen and Herren public restroom and then headed for the Mt. Angel Market for Gatorade and salty snacks (Smartfood popcorn for me, some sort of bread-based Chex-mix-like substance for Lynne). The sun was setting and the temperature was dropping, so we put on the clothes we had previously shed and headed back into the wind for the last leg of the journey. 

I had always believed that winds died down at sunset. Wrong! At least wrong this time. If anything, the wind had increased in power. I struggled to maintain 10 mph on the flats, and was happy to break 15 mph on descents on which I would normally register speeds of 20+ mph. Much sighing, groaning and cursing ensued. To make matters worse, I was finally beginning to feel both the physical and mental toll of Saturday's hard ride. My quads ached, I had a funny pain in my back just above my right kidney, and I was having trouble staying awake. We still were in no danger of running out of time, but I was definitely at risk of running off the road. Fortunately, I have done the stretch from Mt. Angel to Newberg so often that I no longer need a cue sheet and could focus all my energy on staying awake rather than navigating.

By the time we reached the Willamette River crossing, it was completely dark. We had all our reflective gear on, as well as many forms of tail and head light, but the narrow shoulder on that bridge and the great big semis passing within inches still made me nervous. Added to that misery, on the Newberg side of the bridge is a honking steep hill that we had to, as Lynne would put it, "winch ourselves up."   Every stretch of road seemed much longer than usual, and the last two miles went on forever. We both cheered when we pulled into the Thriftway parking lot. We rolled our bike right into the store (they've come to know us quite well there) and got our cards signed. After faffing at the store for quite a while, we headed back to the parking lot, loaded up the cars and went for dinner at Burgerville (it appears to have become a tradition). I was so tired that I worried about the drive home, but after eating I felt a little more alert. Fortunately, traffic was light and the weather still good, so I was able to get home safely despite my weariness. Back home, I proceeded to eat three more dinners' worth of food before going to bed. Tired, sore, but not dying. I wasn't sure what the morning would bring, though . . .

Woke up this morning and cautiously stretched first one leg, then the other. No immediate cramping or bolts of pain. So far, so good. Sat up. Still good. Got out of bed and walked to the bathroom. Still good. Walked down stairs the basement. Still good. Walked up the stairs. Ow! Well, now I know what an inflamed Achilles tendon feels like. Good thing I recently refilled my Ibuprofen prescription (the big-ass 800 mg pills). I had contemplated joining some friends for a short mellow bike ride, but decided to bail on that. I did ride up the hill to Trader Joes's and Limbo for groceries, and that was more than enough to make my quads complain. The true test will be tomorrow morning's commute to the transit center. 10 miles. Uphill.

I haven't decided what I'll do next weekend.


beth h said...

Okay. So you rode, lemme see, nearly 225 miles this weekend, and you wonder what you can do next weekend?

..::bangs head against wall::..

May I very gently suggest Full-On Total Rest, for at least one of your next two weekend days?

Yeah, you're still a MONSTAH, and you have some kinda ocd-fast twitch-insane determination gene that makes you go like the the little pink bunny with the bass drum; but eventually you simply GOTTA rest.

I'm talking the real deal, flat-out resting-no-riding. For real, not just some easy, Beth-paced 30-mile "recovery" ride so you can say you worked on recovery. Please-please-pretty please remember to genuinely rest and give your body the time to rebuild that it so richly deserves. You're a total bicycle rock star and you deserve the full rock star training program, not just bits and pieces of it.

Cecil Anne said...

I only rode 5 miles today - does that count?

lynnef said...

Well, for NEXT weekend I was planning on going to Slug's Bon Voyage open house. I could even ride there. Only one hill :-)

Cecil Anne said...

What, Lynne, you aren't going to race in the Jack Frost before the party? If I had time to get the Bianchi fixed, I'd consider the JF, but I am not doing a time trial on my 32.5 pound Heliotrope Wonder (although it could be pretty damn funny to see me try).

tangobiker said...

If I recall, there are a few folks who do Jack Frost in fully fendered road bikes. Jen Fetheringill of Bike Central, for one, comes to mind.

beth h said...

Um, what I said before. Only add that if you wanted to hire someone to race on HW Jr. and sell tickets, it'd be novel to say the least.

I MIGHT see you at the buh-bye party... Cheers--B

Cecil Anne said...

"If I recall, there are a few folks who do Jack Frost in fully fendered road bikes. Jen Fetheringill of Bike Central, for one, comes to mind."

Yes, but do those fully-fendered road bikes weigh almost 33 pounds?

tangobiker said...

I doubt their bikes weigh 33 lbs, but Jen's IS a steel commuter. Point being, she (and other like her) probably ride out to Vancouver and use Jack Frost for their own training purposes.

At 33 lbs, your accomplishments during '08 are even more impressive, particularly your TWO successful 600K's!

I'd go to Vancouver to cheer you on, Cecil.

Chuck B. said...

I believe there was something in your narrative relating to the depths of your insanity, was there not?

Although you are still my hero, I'm beginning to think that I've attached my worship to some sort of raving loon...

But that's okay, I love you anyway... :>)

lynnef said...

I'd say your mental insanity is right about where it should be, at this stage of the season or perhaps slightly ahead of schedule.

Anonymous said...

Cecil, that's awesome that you're going to do the Gold Rush this summer. I'm jealous. See you at the 200k in March.

--Mike J

Anonymous said...

Well done and good luck on the ride. BTW, congratulations on your and Lynne's R-12 posting (204 and 205) in the latest RUSA newsletter. Steve Davis (R-12 #186 I think) decided the R stands for Rain.


Gene in Tacoma