Saturday, August 4, 2012

Training Carnage... Sort Of

Training for LOTOJA has been rolling along nicely (pun intended). Many miles, both forward and up, have been logged. I even had a successful race now that I have accepted my place as an "old lady" citizen rider. The Tour de Park City Gran Fondo wound 94 miles up and over Wolf Creek Pass and climbed over 7500 feet. JB and I hung in there and finished 2nd and 3rd in our class (and there were lots of women in our group). Our efforts would have placed us similarly even if we were in the younger "old lady" group.

This week our family is vacationing in Sun Valley, and the road bike was hauled along to continue the training, as the big race is only 6 weeks away. With my daughter planning hikes, runs, mountain bike rides, and treading water tests, my energy levels were challenged. Still, I rode 23 miles 2 days ago, and yesterday I logged 25 miles on the way to Red Fish Lake. After the family picked me up, we all embarked on a 6 mile hike in the beauty of the Sawtooths. As we drove back to our condo, my husband asked if I wanted to be dropped off at Galena summit and ride the 30 miles back. I had a lame excuse about not having enough water, and after the kids combined the ice from their drinks and a few ounces at the bottom of a couple of bottles, I had no choice. "Suffer now or suffer later" is the motto for LOTOJA training, so I opted for some immediate suffering.

It wasn't much suffering, as the first 8-10 miles were steep descent, and I could easily spin or coast. The long flat leading back to Ketchum can be brutal because of up-canyon winds, but I was surprised with a solid tail wind that kept me going near 30 mph much of the way. Although conditions were terrific, I was still tired from all the vacation activities. As I approached the outskirts of Ketchum, I began to think that I should get off the highway and onto the bike path... for safety. I was cruising at about 25 mph and missed the first opportunity to get off the highway, so when the next turn-off came up, I acted quickly. It didn't take long to realize that I took the turn too fast, and to make it worse I noticed the turn was sharper than 90 degrees. My first instinct was to slam on the brakes, causing immediate skidding. Now I saw that the road was covered in black sand. I tried to ease off the brakes and extend the turn into the far lane; I ran out of road. Before I knew what happened, I was down on my side, sliding down the road. My head slammed the pavement, and then the slide continued on my front side. Instantly, I was standing up; a guy on the highway slowed down to ask if I was all right... I said yes before I even had a chance to assess anything.

I untangled the my chain and got it back into place. The bike looked O.K. I had a little blood on my knees and my wrist was also bleeding, but I had too much adrenaline in me to feel any pain. I got back on and headed home. Realizing I slid on my ipod side, I touched it, and the music started again. Guess all is well. When I was within a couple of miles from home, a little family was coming toward me on the other side of the path; mom, dad, little girl, and little boy taking a leisurely ride. Of course the little boy wasn't watching where he was going; he crossed the center line, sending me into a post-traumatic stress emergency. We didn't collide, but now I was crying.

In ten years of recent road cycling, I have never crashed until now. It's interesting to get a sense of what those poor guys in the Tour de France go through... kind of a weird rite of passage. Still, I could do without the aches and pains on every prominent surface of my right side; my cheek, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and shin. I'm wondering if my elbow is broken, as I can't completely straighten it, or bend it too much either.

I'm taking a couple of days off, and I'm sure I can resume my training plan after that. These things ultimately make us stronger; I'm counting on it.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Racing? Seriously??

Yesterday was the Porcupine Hill Climb, which starts at the base of  Big Cottonwood Canyon and climbs about 3500 feet over 14 miles. I planned to sign up for this event, as the climb would be good for my preparation for LOTOJA. Plus, having accomplished the Mt Nebo Century, which was nearly twice as much climbing, I was feeling confident that I could do well. Herein lies my flawed thinking.

The Nebo event was composed of a group of enthusiastic cyclists, but few actual "racers" were signed up. In fact, I only noticed two female "racers", and they passed me and almost everyone else on the ride like we were standing still.

Fast forward to the Porcupine Hill Climb... I could have registered as a citizen, but my friend (this is same friend who got me to do Nebo, but then bagged out on it at the 11th hour) convinced me to enter a race category. I had already experienced racing with the Master's 35+ women's group at the High Uinta 10,000 this year. We were a group of seven, three of us not really racers at all; the other four, it turned out, were Cat 3 veterans. It was because of my interaction with these women that JB has forbidden me to talk to cyclists, unless she has approved the content first. All I did was try to have a little conversation, momentarily forgetting that we were racing. I saw that one girl's jersey matched a big group that does the MS ride every year, so I asked if she did that ride, or did she "race". She looked at me quizzically (and with a tad of scorn) and replied, "Aren't we all racers?". After my and JB's next pull, the girls pulled away, leaving me gasping for breath for quite a while. Apparently, riders like us are not welcome, and as we watched their small group continue at basically the same pace as us, but out of reach, JB decided it would be best if I kept my mouth shut from now on.

Anyway, I was coerced into signing up for Porcupine in this same group, the gnarly Master's 35+ women. My friend told me it would be better, as the citizens would be starting an hour earlier, when the canyon winds were stronger.

On the morning of the race, we rode for about 10 miles to the base of the canyon and studied the crowd. I didn't really recognize anyone, but I did notice that there were not any of the big guys I had seen at the Nebo event... these guys were skinny. As the start grew near, everyone got into position for the mass start, and unfortunately, I was near the end. When the race began, it took a few seconds for the front of the pack to move and for me to even start to coast out of the parking lot. Of course, I couldn't get my foot into my clip, and as we crossed the road about 100 feet from the start, the mass was already flying ahead. My legs felt like cement as I tried to stay in the pack, and when I backed off a little, the entire mass slowly moved further and further away. I didn't dare look back, because I wasn't sure if I was dead last or not... and I didn't want to know.

I told myself that some of these riders would blow up, and by the time it got steep, I would be passing quite a few of them. It wasn't quite that way; in fact, I think I only passed a handful of riders the whole way. One of them was that kid in the Specialized commercial that they are showing in the Tour de France; the one where the 11 year old is wildly sprinting down the dirt road, imagining someone chasing him? At least the kid I passed was about the same size, which looked to be about 3 sizes smaller than his bike. After that surge of confidence, I came upon another guy and passed him too; he said he was riding a lot slower than he did last year. Yeah right. It was pretty quiet for quite a while, no one in front, and as far as I knew, no one behind, although I still would not look. I went as fast as I could, but still there was no one in sight. It was extremely disheartening. What was I thinking?! Signing up in a racing class when I'm just another week-end warrier basically.

As I neared the top, I think I passed about 3-4 more people. They were probably recovering from organ transplants or something. One of the guys looked really fit from behind, which gave me a boost, until I saw his front side as I passed. He had a gray beard about a foot long and was maybe 70, 75 years old. Still, I pushed to the finish, even trying to pick up the pace a little. Fortunately, when I arrived, the party was still going on; a band playing music and breakfast of bagels and fresh fruit.

Before heading back down the canyon, I checked out the result board, which didn't have any of the groups sorted out yet, but it did have times. I saw my name at the very bottom of the list. Perhaps they hadn't updated all the times yet? I still don't know, but I do know that I am going to rethink this racing thing. It's definitely out of my league, and given the amount of riding I have been doing, I'm not sure if it will ever be in my league. I'll just have to find a venue that fits a little better.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

550 Miles and 33,562 Feet Later...

I feel bad for not keeping up on this important task that ABSOLUTELY NOBODY is following, but today is the day for an update!

June has been a great training month for me, which culminated with the Mt Nebo Century yesterday. At a friend's suggestion, I signed up for this well-supported, scenic ride that included a 20+ mile climb to 9300 feet. I almost convinced my best riding partner to join me, but the smoke from the nearby wild fires currently consuming the state kept her away. Turns out the friend who suggested this ride also opted out, leaving me alone. What follows is the play by play action that I drove an hour in an un-air-conditioned car to accomplish:

It was a dark and stormy night.... actually, it was a bright and sunny morning albeit with a pretty thick smoky haze all about. I met a few people at the start and was grateful that we had a few miles of flat for a warm-up, as I didn't want to log any extra miles warming up before the century. The group seemed antsy, and being at the end of the train provided some excellent slinky effect. These little catch-up sprints were making me nervous, as I knew the climbing was going to be horrendous. I wasn't disappointed!

As the road wound up through beautiful forest, containing a surprising number of maples which don't normally thrive here, I settled into a pace that was "comfortable" for me and hoped that not too many people would pass. The switchbacks were pretty extreme at first, providing short and flatter areas for reprieve. After about 4 or 5 miles, the grade became more constant, reminding me of many of the hard climbs I had done before, although this climb just kept going. I tried not to look at my Garmin, knowing that I had more than 10 more miles to climb. I definitely made no calculations as to how long it would take. Near the top, there are several false summits that I was told about, so I avoided any feelings of elation until I knew I had reached the real summit. There were some great, short descents through the cooler air, followed by shifting lower and lower until no gears were left.

Near the top, I was all out of water and looking for the aid station. When I got there, food was aplenty, but they were short on water. Being the generous (aka stupid) person I am, I only took half a bottle, knowing there was more aid ahead. Seven miles and a few hundred more feet of elevation later, the next aid station had no water... just ice cubes. I filled my bottle and started the long-awaited descent. Soon, the cubes were rattling noisily in my bottle, as the road had just been prepared for resurfacing: picture chip seal on steroids, plus a little loose gravel just for fun. What could have been a thrilling flight down the mountain became a brake-twitching epic search for a path between gravel. Even so, it was better than the climb. The long flat at the bottom was into a hot head wind, and I desperately searched ahead and behind for anyone... no one was there. Fortunately, after a few miles there was another aid station, and this one actually had water and ice.. woo hoo! I drank and ate as much as possible, realizing I was already low on everything and still had 50 miles to go. By now it was hot, and the expected temperature for the day was 101 degrees. Two guys left the aid station, and I jumped on their wheels. We took turns pulling, first into the wind, then downwind after the course headed back north. I was feeling great, especially because we were making good time.

I have to say, I have never ridden with strangers that were so good to me. As time went on, I think the heat or dehydration or fatigue or something was getting to me, and I dropped back a little, fully expecting them to move on. They both slowed down to pick me up again! After mixing with a couple of other groups, the pace increased too much for me again, and this time one of the guys came back and tried to pull me back to the group. I tried to take advantage of this most unexpected heroism, but I had to send him on. It was almost 80 miles into the ride, and I was determined to.... quit. I just couldn't ignore the massive signal in my brain that was telling me to stop, even though my legs weren't in agony. This stretch was a blazing sunny flat through farms, with absolutely no shade... except one tree. I sat under this tree for a minute or two, texted my husband, hoping he might pick me up... thought about crying for help or just crying. No response, so I got back on my bike and spun along, determined to get to the next aid station and then get a ride back. It was about here that the road was newly paved, the darkest black possible, not smoothly, but with chip seal. As if 100 degrees weren't bad enough, we now had some extra heat waves beaming up from the ground; I tried to sit tall.

The last aid station was 6 miles from the end, and I demanded a ride back. A really nice lady had me sit down in the shade while she got me some ice water, which I poured down my gullet and over my head. After resting for a little while, I figured I might as well continue and ended up making it back in one piece, in time for a nice lunch in the shade with other survivors. 100 miles (actually 101) and 6578 feet of climbing in and above the smoke during a major heat wave. It was a great end for the month. I'm looking forward to the start of a new cycle, beginning with an easy week.

Next time... why JB won't let me talk to other cyclists

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mostly Talk, Little Action

Well, it's better than all talk and no action! More proof that most things aren't black and white, but shades of gray. Still, as I predicted, I did not do any cycling exercise while attending my conference in San Francisco - but I did a lot of walking... and quite a bit of wine drinking. I also stocked up on Trader Joe's goods, and have upped my eating volume too. If only I could approach training like wine and dark chocolate!

One thing about getting older and wiser is that you do really see the grays in life. This wasn't so in the early 1980s when I found myself in Utah. I had a steel-frame 10-speed that I inherited from my older (and considerably taller) brother, complete with 5 pound kickstand. My roots are in rural upper Michigan, so I grew up doing lots of activities, mostly just for fun. So, as I cycled up Emigration Canyon in Utah, with my baggy sweat pants tucked into my knee-high tube socks, I was amazed at how many decked-out cyclists there were. It seemed that everyone here specialized in something and sported all the latest gear and clothing. I was unaware that shoes specially made for cycling even existed. For me there were only uphills and downhills, with flat places grouped with the downhills. Having no skill or training in cycling but exceptionally strong legs from ski racing, there were only 2 gears also; 5th and 10th. It simplified the process of riding, as I only had to work with a single shifter; 5th for climbing and 10th for everything else. It was a blast!

Eventually, I discovered a mail order catalog that contained all types of cycling gear, and I bought some Italian shoes and padded shorts. I can't recall when the helmet entered the scene, but it was not after a head injury, so I was lucky. The intricacies of shifting came next, as I learned that not all hills are created equal... shades of gray. Today, I can sense and appreciate the slightly flatter sections during a steep climb and breathe a little easier. Those small breaks provide just enough respite to keep going with a small amount of renewed energy. This is a life lesson!

My job involves research of pathologic pain and fatigue, and I have met many people who face major challenges. Recently, we tested a woman who was part of an experimental drug trial. Her fatigue and pain were so severe that she spent almost all of her time in bed, except for about 2 hours each day. She felt that the treatment she was receiving was helping, reporting that although her pain was still bad her fatigue had improved. In her uphill challenge, she was experiencing a little "flat" spot in which she got a small break; respite. This got her moving around for about 4 hours each day. While this does not seem ideal or even good to you or me, for her it was a major breakthrough, and she was happy. I guess it is all relative... if we feel we are getting better, this is a major accomplishment.

Lately, I'm not too encouraged about my goal to become the fittest I've ever been when I turn 50. I'm also pretty sure I'm not going to make a video that goes viral and appear on the Today show either. But, every day, or every week I can find some joy whether it's on my bike or somewhere else. It's all relative.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Girl Power?

Now that I am gaining some momentum in the midst of my endurance block (I've ridden 7+ hrs this week), work is taking me to San Francisco for a few days. I hope to find a stationary bike in the hotel to keep up, but I'm guessing this week is shot. This trip is precluding me from riding in a classic all-women ride north of Salt Lake, Little Red Riding Hood. It would be good to get a century under my belt.

Which brings me to the topic of all-women rides... they are cropping up all over the place. Part of me thinks it's great; a venue for all types of women riders to gather in a non-stressful environment to cycle together. I get that many women are intimidated to participate in cycling events with men, who tend to be more competitive and may be intimidating. These all-female events draw hundreds of riders, and it's great to see the diversity; young, old, skinny, fat, tall, short, etc. Although it sounds weird, it reminds me of the time I went to see the Vagina Monologues. I was incredibly moved by the beauty of women of all types. It was wonderful to see and accept that women of all shapes and sizes are lovely. Events like Little Red promote the idea that you don't need to be an Amazon woman to enjoy a cycling challenge.

BUT... over the years, Little Red has also been extremely disenchanting, as I have watched clueless riders take up an entire lane, mindlessly chattering to each other, while frustrated drivers wait to get around them. Efforts to educate these cyclists on rules of the road have been mostly ineffective; it's still a melee of swerving, nervous braking, and road clog... and every year there are threats of revoking the event license because of unnecessary crashes and traffic interference.

As I browsed the Little Red blog last week, I realized that the educational message this time was directed to riders like me! The site preached that Little Red was not an event designed to provide opportunities to achieve your fastest century time. Translated: competent female riders need not apply. Because efforts to educate novices on riding etiquette have failed, the strategy now is to rein in faster riders who possess the ability to use a pack to move along quickly.

It gets even better (or worse, depending on your perspective). Little Red is a venue to promote other all-female rides, like Pamper Fest, in which you can get your nails done and have a massage too, all in a sea of pink fluff. (maybe they should consider liposuction and face-lifts as well). The message I'm getting is: women can't really ride, and they shouldn't lose sight of their real purpose... to look good. So, the heavyish granola woman on the mountain bike should consider a manicure to improve herself.

It's not for me! I'm not young anymore; I'm riddled with wrinkles, gray hairs, and mysterious brown spots. I can ride a bike, and I'm getting better every year, even at this late date. It would be great to encourage women to focus on what they've accomplished and where they are headed, rather than this constant message to stay looking young. Let's raise the bar and focus on substance and celebrate the many ways women are great!

I'm disappointed that I don't seem to fit in the all-women venues or the "real" cycling races. I'm somewhere between and spend most of my time cycling alone, but I still experience the joy of almost flying during an acceleration or fast descent, and I guess that's the point - to find joy. I hope that the variety of opportunities out there help others find that too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Southwest Women Rock

Iron Horse Classic

This year's Iron Horse road race, a 6000 ft climb from Durango to Silverton, was epic! A pack of 83 women in the combined age categories 45+ and 55+ rolled out at just before 8 am. This time I wasn't too quick to judge cycling fitness based on hair grayness or other superficial observations... I knew these ladies were tough. My plan was to stick with the group for as long as possible, but if they attacked the first hill too fast I would ride my own pace, rather than blowing up. I actually had a note taped to my frame that told me how long each section of the course was, how fast I should be going, and what time I would reach each landmark. Sounds ridiculous I know, but it sets some goals, provides something to think about (other than pain), and is remarkable accurate.

The biggest challenge we faced this year was the weather. Driving into Durango on Friday evening, the sky was tinged brown with dust kicked up from strong wind and gusts of 60+ mph. Saturday began calm, but as we approached the two higher passes, wind was definitely a factor. There were moments of elation, as a powerful gust shoved me forward; other times I was pelted by pine cones or nearly stalled in the headwind.

Early in the race I identified a woman who pedaled at a steady, fast cadence that I was able to stay with. She looked to be about 30 from behind, but when I saw her from the front I realized she was one of "us", the older ladies. I later learned that she was in the 55+ group. We switched places off and on all day; she led the climbs and pulled me on the flats, and I usually slipped away on the descents. Had the wind not been so scary, I might have been able to stay ahead. As it was, my descents were tempered, as I thought about how fast I wanted to hit the pavement if a gust knocked me over. Luckily that didn't happen, but at one point I was pushed sideways with my wheels literally off the ground.

I managed to finish the race 10 minutes faster than last year, which was exactly my goal (I have the piece of paper that was taped to my bike to prove it!). However, I did learn how important fluid and calories are. It's not like I hadn't realized that I would need to eat and drink, but I didn't appreciate the degree of energy expenditure required for this 3+ hour event. In 3 hrs 21 min and 6000 ft, I only ate 2 energy gels and drank only 2 water bottles for a whopping consumption of about 400 calories (and my Garmin indicate a total expenditure of 1400). I should have consumed at least 900 calories and at least 3 bottles of fluid. So how do I know this was even a problem, especially since I bested last year's time? It happened at the finish, or rather just before. As I was pounding my way to the line, a girl from my group appeared out of nowhere and pulled ahead. My counter-"sprint" got me no closer to her; she was too well-rested from drafting me (excellent strategy, by the way). Anyway, in dealing with her plus another couple of citizen riders, I barely heard this guy standing in the middle of the road say "Racers, left". My mind did not comprehend who he was or what he was saying... and by the time it sank in, I was already corralled in the right side lane.... and I missed the finish! Definite brain drain... Lunch after the race was also interesting, as my friend JB and I tried to carry on a conversation, but neither of us could hang on to a thought for more than a second or two.

The brain problem was evidence of an energy shortage, but more importantly, the Garmin data shows that on the last climb my pace and heart rate kept dropping off. The inability to maintain power on each of these climbs illustrates an important deficit in my training... the lack of a deep aerobic base. Obviously, quite a few my fellow "pushing or pushed" 50ers did not have this deficit, as my result was around 23rd place, middle of the pack. In fact, quite a few of the 55+ ladies cleaned my clock. These ladies from Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico were amazing, and definitely an inspiration! So, beginning now and for all of June, I'm working backward to a base training regime... endurance block, here I come!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ready to Roll?

I wouldn't say that my preparation for the Iron Horse is ideal by any means, but there is a pattern that indicates a method to the madness. My excuse for inadequate training, which is shared by countless others, is that I don't have enough time... It's true that work has been crazy busy this month and that there have been numerous parenting responsibilities, so this excuse is credible... even to me. That is, until I met up with an old friend on a ride the other day, and she invited me to do hill work with her friend on Tuesday morning at 5:45. The fact that I have rarely considered dragging myself out of bed early (when there are never any schedule conflicts) demonstrates that time is not necessarily the problem; it is committment. At this point, I am unable/ unwilling to interupt my morning sleep to do the work necessary to really progress. At least I am considering the possibility now, and I might change my ways!

For now, I am pursuing the "here and there" training plan, getting 2-3 week-day rides and 1 longer week-end ride. In the 4 weeks leading up to the Iron Horse, I noticed my so-called "plan" actually looks pretty good, and I have more confidence now that I've analyzed my numbers. This week (week 4 of the training cycle) is my taper week. So far, I rode 18 miles and did 3 5-min intervals at a heart rate at the edge of my sustainable rate. These intervals will improve my ability to cope with sudden pace increases, like when the ladies dropped me last year. The plan is to do this type of work again today, and then do an easy ride on Friday before the race, just to keep the legs loose.

The stunning realization I had when looking over my Garmin data was that weeks 1-3 were nicely periodized. This essentially means that week by week I increased my training load. The increase can be via mileage, ride duration, elevation climbed, etc. To illustrate, here are my numbers (keep in mind that I put less effort into this than probably any other competitor signed up for the Iron Horse.. but that's another topic). Week 1 was 50 miles, 3 hr 14 min, and 3110 feet of climbing; Week 2 built up to 69 miles, 4 hr 43 min, and 6447 feet of climbing; and Week 3 was 106 miles, 8 hr 21 min, and 9049 feet of climbing. Perhaps this has something to do with my fatigue feelings last week, as this is a rather steep progression (happens when you take two weeks off to go sea kayaking). Now, it's kind of a relief to know that I am essentially finished preparing for this event; all I can do is try to keep hydrating, eat well, get plenty of rest and do 2 more rides. After the race, it will be time to start another training period, and the work begins again. Maybe this time I will approach the task with a little more committment and a more concrete plan; then again, who knows!

For now, I'm signing off, as I realized I could look at my Garmin data from last year's Iron Horse... I'm going to see what pace worked, what heart rates were achieved, and where the major climbs are. I know less about mental preparation, but knowing what's ahead is almost as good as complete naivete!