Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hills of the West Coast Recovery Week? I Don't Think So

Miles: 45 Climbing: 3900’ Route: Sam Smith—Honda Hill—Newport Way—Issaquah—Mountain Parkway climb on Squak—Sunset climb to Olympus on Squak—Montreaux or 164th climb—behind Newcastle Golf Club—Coal Creek—89th—Mercer Island—Sam Smith Attrition Rate: 0% Cima Coppi (in honor of the Giro): 1st Tom Meloy 2nd Roger Violette 3rd Mark Clausen Wildlife: One black bear cub, approx. 30#

Notwithstanding the holiday weekend and the significant threat of rain, we had 11 solid riders at the start line today. The plan was to head through the tunnel, see what the weather looked like on the eastside, and head out to Squak and Cougar Mountains for some climbing if things looked OK. The goal was to get in as many hard climbs as we could, and then turn tail if and when the weather started to close in. Late May just doesn’t feel like the time to ride in the rain.

Given the crappy weather of late, and the fact that I only got in two rides last week instead of my normal five or six, I felt like I needed a hard ride. I expected everyone, including me, to feel very rested and ready to go hard.

Despite the “bike holiday,” as soon as I hit the first little hill riding out to the start from downtown, I could tell that something wasn’t quite right. We mostly went pretty easy all the way out to Issaquah, with a good warm-up climb up the Honda Hill. Don’t get me wrong; I feel I climbed and rode well today. What was a little bit of a shock was just how much my legs hurt while doing so. Yes, the legs always hurt on a hard climb, but this was different. I had great energy, but it wasn’t until late in the ride that the extra special pain sensations went away.

As a coach, part of the advice you give a rider is how to build recovery weeks into a build cycle, as well as how to taper properly before a goal event. For someone who rides as frequently as me, what seems to work best is to scale back the intensity and volume, but maintain the frequency. I have a feeling that I would have felt great from the start today if I had done a short, easy ride on Saturday just to loosen the legs. I find it also helps to throw in 3-5 minutes of hard effort as part of a 1-2 hour mellow ride.

All this is great in theory, but I have come back from a week long non-cycling trip and felt like Superman from the first minute of the first ride. So who knows what works best from one week to the next? I guess trying to be consistent is the best solution.

In any case, I was not really sad when we decided to head back home after two good climbs on Squak, and one hard climb on Cougar. Our weather timing was good, and we never had more than a few sprinkles of rain. Today’s HOWC was not nearly as hard as recent editions, but I got plenty of training effect out of it. Everyone rode well, and it’s nice to see everyone’s form coming on, particularly Mark and Emil’s.

Mike was out in front as the group ground up Montreaux, and about two thirds of the way up, a brown bear cub trotted across the road in front of him. It’s that time of the year, and Mike was glad that momma bear must have preceded baby bear, as he never saw her. This brought back memories of a solo trip I took in 2003. Leaving Whistler/Pemberton on June 2nd, my first day riding, I rode over and through the stunning glaciated mountains to the northeast. Later in the day, somewhere near 100 Mile House, I was descending at about 40mph, when a full grown bear ran across the road in front of me. He was quartering in from the right and behind, kind of coming almost over my right shoulder. The bear bounded over the guard rail and was gone.

A few days later, as I was entering my cabin in the Mt. Robson area I noticed a quite large bear standing up with its head and “shoulders” squished through a window in the cabin next to mine. When I told the proprietor about this, he described the bear as if he was personally acquainted; he even had a name for it! Two or three days later, after spotting two or three more bears, as well as elk and a fox from the road, I was going by Bow Lake in the Canadian Rockies, south of Jasper. Off to the right, down below the road, was a full size grizzly bear; at least he looked full size to me. Outside of the zoo, this is the only time I have ever seen a Grizz.

I knew I was taking a chance on the weather doing this trip in early June, but I also knew I would likely have very light traffic, which I did. It seems that summer holiday doesn’t really start for Canadians until July 1st. Here I was, riding through spectacular country, including Banff and Jasper, and the critters all had their guard down because they hadn’t seen many folks for awhile. Gotta love western Canada.

Perhaps today’s pain in the legs was a payback for doing something new to them yesterday. For the first time in my life, I was riding with hairless legs this morning. I guess I can’t even use the “s” word, although technically it was a Nair job. Never having even been curious about the bare leg thing, here I was, succumbing. Tracy’s promise of a daily post-ride massage might have had a little bit to do with it.

In any case, no one on the ride today noticed, or if they did, they were kind enough not to mention. It must have been the knee warmer coverage, because there were quite a few regulars on today’s ride; not that we check each other’s legs out.

My legs look pretty goofy to me. That in itself is not enough to go back to being hairy. I’ll have to see what else comes with the territory before I make smooth legs a permanent condition.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Turning Pro

I would think that I would fall into most people’s definition of “serious cyclist.” And what do serious cyclists do? They shave their legs, of course. And what has this serious cyclist never given one iota of consideration to? You got it, shaving my legs.

It has always seemed to me that two major categories of people shave their legs: women and professional cyclists. I think it’s pretty clear why (most) women shave their legs, and it’s well known that having smooth legs facilitates certain things for cyclists. Professional cyclists fall off of their bikes a lot, and many get daily massages, at least while they are racing. Smooth legs make dressing wounds and massage easier.

The other day, Tracy and I caught a stage of the Giro that ended atop the mighty Mount Zoncolan. This is the final week of the race, and the week where they try to make the racers whimper. Somehow we started talking about shaving. Before I knew it, I said I would do it if she would give me a massage after every bike ride. She said, “When you shave, I’ll start.” Hmmmm…

Oh, yeah, I forgot another category of people who shave their legs: local racers. No, they are not “Pro,” but I think many would like to be a pro, and looking pro (specifically Euro Pro) is the next best thing.

Despite the tarnished reputation of professional cycling in general, I still follow the sport. Having ridden many of the Euro climbs, I think I like that the pros get to race up them on closed roads. Of course, I am also a bike junkie, and I love seeing all of the different bikes.

Do I like to look “Pro?” Well, I’m kind of skinny, I wear Euro clothes, and its Campy Only for me. What do you think! Well, should I “Turn Pro?” In some eyes, my having white bar tape, saddle, and shoes makes it almost mandatory.

Just go easy on me when you see me if I do this.

I hope to see you on the road (maybe.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

5-9-2010 Hills of the West Coast Mother’s Day Edition

Miles: 56 Climbing: 5800’ Route: Sam Smith—Honda Hill—Horizon View/Summit climb On Cougar Mountain—Newcastle Golf Club—May Valley—112th/Licorice climb on Squak Mountain—132nd climb on Tiger Mountain—Issaquah—Mountain Parkway climb on Squak—Montreaux climb on Cougar Mountain—Extra Credit Montreaux extension to Fire Station on top of Zoo climb—Forest—Enatai—Mercer Island—Sam Smith Attrition Rate: *0% Soldier(s) of the Day: Bill Lindsay (for sacrificing his energy during strong pulls, and still climbing like a mountain goat) and Jeff (for perseverance)

Last week’s Soldier became this week’s General. Steve led the ride to meet part of the requirements to become a Ride Leader for Cascade Bicycle Club, and he did a great job. Of course, having a group of experienced riders never hurts and we had another great group today. Steve did a nice job with the pre-ride safety talk, and as always, emphasis was placed on emphatically pointing out hazards to the riders behind you. For an example of what can happen when riders are too cool or distracted to point out the odd brick in the road, check out Demolition Day at the Giro:

Sometimes the pointing and calling out gets a little over the top on the HOWC, but better to have that than have somebody crash because they ran into/over something they never even saw.

Technically, the attrition rate today was not zero. Jeff and I left the ride to get back earlier, and Bill told the others to go on when he flatted at the bottom of Montreaux, but no one bailed due to pain and suffering. Tracy is not a mother, but her mother is, and we were having Tracy’s parents over for Mothers Day. I get to ride a lot, so I really like to hang out with Tracy as much as possible on the weekends, and that’s one of the reasons I like do the ride with few stops and get back early.

Besides, I am leaving on Thursday to coach and ride at the first annual Cycle U Chelan Skills and Hills Camp, and I want to be well rested. My goal for today was to get a good solid ride in, but not punish myself like I usually do on the HOWC. That’s not easy to do when you are climbing long and steep grades, so when we got around to Issaquah and Squak Mountain, I bailed and ride newcomer Jeff came with me.

Jeff is brand new to Seattle from Denver, and he had not ridden much over the last few months. I think he might have been a little shell-shocked as to how hard some of the area climbs are, but he hung tough, and I have no doubt he could have finished the full ride if he wanted to. As it was, I pulled all the back from Issaquah mostly at a nice tempo type pace, so I got what I wanted to out of the day, and Jeff got a little tow back to the start.

Speaking of area climbs, just how fortunate are we to have the fantastic climbs of Cougar, Squak, and Tiger Mountains? Today’s ride fell one climb of Tiger short of completing the Triple Bypass X Two like we did two weeks ago, but 5800’ in 56 miles is empirically and mathematically tougher than the 6000’ over 61 miles we managed on that ride, as well as the 5200’ over 50 miles of last week.

I was never really into climbing super hard today, perhaps because I have been doing a fair amount of it recently, but more likely because I had already decided before the ride commenced that I was going to take it “easy” when I could, and bail early. Jeff S told me after the ride that everyone eventually wound up a little into the Hurt Locker at one time or another, but that it was the good type of Hurt Locker pain.

It must have turned into Type Two Fun, you know, the kind that is only fun when it’s over.

I hope to see you on the road.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

5-2-2010 HOWC Ride Report Soldier of the Day

Miles: 50 Climbing 5200’ Route: Sam Smith Park—Mercer Island—Honda Hill—Newport Way to Issaquah—Wildwood Squak climb—Montreaux climb on Cougar—Horizon View/Summit climb—Cougar Mountain South climb—Montreaux descent—Northeast Somerset climb—Enatai—Mercer Island—Sam Smith Attrition rate: 11% Soldier of the Day: Steve Hullsman

In seven years of leading the HOWC, I'm not sure we have ever had two consecutive weeks where a woman rider showed up…until today (Rachel rode last week.) Carol did an admirable job handling a somewhat over the top hard ride, digging deep and finishing every climb she attempted, which was all of them except the last. Oddly enough, the last climb was the “easiest” on a day where I had the climbs perfectly in order of most to least difficult, at least the way I view them. I think Carol’s motor finally ran out of gas, but all of us were very impressed with her riding and her fortitude.

Fortitude is a term that the military likes to use, and why not, as it sounds pretty good: “mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously.” It’s also a term that partly defines what it takes to get honorable mention in my new header category of “Soldier of the Day.” More on that later.

Over these last seven years, I am somewhat proud of something I have managed to pull off. I normally finish the HOWC plenty tired, and with that great overall feeling that a really hard ride generates. But, I have never “cracked like an egg.” Call it fortitude, if you want. I call it good strategizing. There used to be a saying in the mountaineering world that “the leader must never fall.” Well, it’s my personal feeling that it is very bad form for the leader of a group ride to crack, and I ride with that in mind. Because of this, you will rarely see me at the front during the first half of the ride. The HOWC is a “group” ride, and part of a group ride is shouldering the responsibility of the hard work at the front. People share that responsibility in different ways.

Regardless of the difficulty of the route, I try to gauge my effort after I see what kind of energy I have for the day. I don’t have the option to go full 100% nuclear on a climb, knowing I have the luxury of bailing on the ride at any time if I hit the “Wall of Tired.” I also like to get a feel for how the group will work together, and whether I’ll have to spend much energy “managing” the ride. Most rides these days run so smoothly that all I have to do is call out the turns. Normally as we head back home, if I have metered out my energy properly, I try to do my share of the work on the front. I try to be strong at the end of the ride, as I would prefer to birdie #18 than #1. The big bets are won on #18, and no one remembers who wins the first hole anyway.

Ideally in a group ride of any size, the optimal situation is to have everybody of about equal strength, and all riders fairly sharing the work on the front if the pace is high. Things rarely come together this way; there is always disparity among the riders, not only in strength, but in terms of eagerness to put their nose into the wind. With a group of twelve, for example, there is usually a cadre of three of four people stronger than the rest, and these are the people that one would expect to spend a lot of time on the front. On a typical ride, there are also usually three or four people who may be in over their head, fitness-wise, and you would think that they would spend a lot of time in the bunch, just hanging on. That leaves the middle group of riders, who are fully capable of staying on the wheels of the stronger riders, and spending some time at the front as well.

For some reason, that’s not how it goes.

If indeed there are several riders barely hanging on, common sense dictates that they conserve their energy. I have found that the ride goes faster and much smoother overall if they do so. If barely hanging on progresses to full time plunging into the Hurt Locker, the group winds up spending a lot of time waiting around. Early in the ride, riders off the pace will usually leave the ride, but late in the ride, you hate to see somebody be forced to bail after putting out a dig deep effort all day. Quite often, future Hurt Locker candidates will go to the front early in the ride and take a hard pull, and expend too much precious energy. What am I to do? Ask someone not to help? That’s a little awkward to pull off tactfully.

Conversely, on some rides the strong riders are not to be found on the front of the ride. They may be saving their energy for late in the ride, to put in a strategic “attack,” or just may not feel comfortable going to the front for some reason. I’m sure I am not the only one to notice who spends a lot of time on the point, and who does not. I always try to personally thank the helpers at the end of the ride, because the contribution of the riders on the front is so important. Pulling sucks up a lot of your energy, and enables others to conserve their go power.

In a perfect world of group riding, riders would spend time on the front in direct proportion to their relative strength amongst the group. Not last week’s group, where a rider might have been one of the stronger riders, but relative to today’s bunch. After all, it’s really not that hard to tell who is who.

As I mentioned, I will be adding a new category to the header of this blog called “Soldier(s) of the Day.” Rather than publish the score of which riders climbed the fastest, I’ll be listing the riders who stood out by unselfishly helping on the ride. Today that was Steve Hullsman, just as it often is. Steve is always eager to jump on the front. So eager, as a matter of fact, that late in today’s ride, I would ride up around him to give him a break and inevitably, he would ride alongside of me instead of on my wheel. Maybe Steve subscribes to the triathlete in training mantra of, “You may share my wind, but you may not take my wind?” Seriously, Steve did spend time not on the front, but he was up there a lot. Given the amount of climbing we did today, there were not a lot of bona fide paceline opportunities, but for me that just made it even more obvious as to how much Steve was helping out.

The HOWC is not a race, it’s a group ride where we look out for each other, rather than simply try to tear each other’s legs off. The best rides for me are the ones where we work together, take turns helping on the front, and don’t focus on keeping score as to who is riding the hardest. For those reasons, I generally don’t mention the strength of individual riders in this blog, other than to compliment someone on their fitness.

What I do think is worth mentioning is when someone does more than his fair share of work, and unselfishly puts the group first. Now, that is a strong rider. Today that rider was Steve Hullsman, and Steve, my hat is off to you!

I hope to see you on the road.