Saturday, June 4, 2011

Hills of the West Coast Ride Report...From Chaos Comes Order

Miles: 52 Climbing: 2647’ Route: Tibbets—East Lake Sammamish—187th—Rt. 203—208th—Novelty Hill—Trilogy Parkway—232nd—Old Woodinville-Duval—Cherry Valley—Kelly—Carnation—Fall City—Issaquah Highlands—Tibbets Participants: 14 Attrition Rate: 1 (mechanical) Cima Coppi: Ian L, and it wasn’t even close

Normally the first weekend in June is when we turn the intensity dial up on the HOWC. Today it appeared that we had some people who were expecting the full-on summer pace, even though I listed the ride as a “HOWC Lite” and described the route as about as easy as the HOWC uses. I’m struggling with what to do with the ride this summer, but I’ll get to that later.

Early in the morning the Issaquah Triathlon commenced. We had lucky timing, as we headed north on East Lake Sammamish just after all of the racers had made the turn at Inglewood Hill and were headed back to the south. One of the volunteers called out to us, “Good job, good job!” but I guess they didn’t notice our twin pacelines, because if they had they would have called out, “You’re cheating, you’re cheating!” Drafting is a no-no in a tri.

From East Lake Sammamish, we rode north up 208th, a climb that I did yesterday for the first time. A quite steep section through a tunnel of trees on 208th is reminiscent of the hairpin section of Zoo Hill, except 208th has a perfectly smooth surface. This is a great climb, and it pleases me that I can still make such discoveries around town. After 208th, we worked our way out to Snoqualmie Valley, and then rode a Cherry Valley-Kelly loop from Duvall. While today’s route was far from flat, good portions of the ride were perfect for pacelining, provided the group wanted to work to stay together. Given the lack of the normal number of hard climbs, today’s ride could have been one of those rides where everyone contributes and feels good about it.

With the ride start now in Issaquah new people are coming to the ride in addition to regulars, and that’s great. With this mix, there is bound to be an “adjustment” phase or learning curve until the newcomers feel comfortable with the ride protocols that have worked well on the ride for the last eight years. In addition, I’m riding on familiar roads, but with a different start point and sequence. I am not quite “finding the groove,” so the ride Karma is different. It appears that I also require an adjustment phase to the change in ride start location.

With 14 people on the ride today, it was a pretty good sized group for a hard ride like the HOWC, at least if you want to have the ride go smoothly and be as courteous to car drivers as possible. The primary focus of the HOWC has always been safety, and I continue to stress that. Today’s ride never felt unsafe to me and we had a lot of very strong and skilled riders. Sometimes that makes for a smooth as silk ride, but not always, especially if there are different agendas and levels of “strong” amongst the riders. Early on, the ride felt quite chaotic to me. I had great difficulty getting all of the riders to work together as a group, and at times we had four or five splits on flat roads. Several people really wanted to push the pace.

The HOWC usually works best with 10 riders or less. With more than that the ride becomes difficult to “manage.” By manage, I mean not only keeping track of people, but ensuring that everyone feels safe and has a good time. If someone shows up who is obviously in over their head, I deal with that as well. If it gets to the point where I am devoting more energy to thinking about the group than pedaling, I know that something is going wrong.

I had promised several people in advance that we would adhere to the advertised “Lite” pace of 20-22mph on the flat. For the first half of the ride I tried hard to make that stick. I always figure my primary responsibility is to the people who came to ride how we said we were going to ride. But the ideal on these rides is to work out a way that allows the largest number of people to have the most possible fun. Compromise is inherent to that strategy, and sometimes the compromises have to be adjusted on the fly.

We stopped several times for short “meetings” to talk about how the ride was going, which, quite frankly, wasn’t that great. We discussed the pace of the ride, and an option for riders who wanted to ride harder to break off from the group and ride on their own. No one wanted to do that, and I only brought it up as a suggestion; I didn’t consider it the best solution. After some on-the-road-thinking, I decided to resort to a riding style I refer to as “remote re-group” riding. After we were in the Snoqualmie Valley navigating was straightforward with few turns, and it was easy to stop and explain directions for a re-group 3-5+ miles down the road. So that’s what I did. Splits immediately formed, but now I didn’t have to worry about people getting lost or feeling like they were going to be dropped despite being able to ride the stated pace.

Disorder became order, and everybody seemed to relax and enjoy themselves after we went to the remote re-grouping strategy. Although it meant a lot more (albeit quick) stops, it was definitely safer and easier for cars to get around us, and everyone got to ride as hard as they wanted to. I know that we will get back to the point where many of the rides operate like a well-oiled machine like we did on so many of the Downtown start rides over the last few years. It just takes time for new groups and people to gel.

Regardless of who shows for a ride, unless we are on a deserted road I plan on breaking up large groups into multiple pacelines spaced 100-200’ apart, with each paceline consisting of 6 or seven people. Not only is it easier for cars to pass us, it makes for safer pacelines. You don’t have to be a math whiz to figure out that the more people who are riding very close together, the greater the chance for a big accident. In addition, shorter lines means the riders rotating off the front are out from the line and exposed to traffic less on their way to the back of the line. Of course, two or more groups mean more groups to keep track of, and I can only be in one group at a time!

So the feel and flow of the 2011 Issaquah HOWC has yet to take form. It’s my “job” to define that, and as I mentioned, I am not clear on things at this point. First of all, I do not feel as fit as I need to be to run the ride at the super hard summer pace, especially without the help from other ride leaders that I have come to depend upon. I suspected that I wasn’t as fit as I normally am at this time of the year, but riding a few HOWCs with friends I ride with a lot confirmed it. I’m not as strong as normal in early June, but many of my friends are. How did everyone (but me) manage to get so flipping fit with the awful winter and spring weather we had? Have they been riding the trainer 14 hours a week all winter when the weather was crappy? J)

We’ve only had four HOWC’s, the first taking place on May 1st, and none of them climbing based. I’ve missed my normal April/May HOWC hard climbing “build,” and that leaves me with tough choices. While I think I am probably strong enough to hang with the pace on a full on summer HOWC, I may not be strong enough to enjoy leading it. It’s bad form if the leader of the ride is one of the hangers-on. The solution to improving my fitness is obvious to me but will be difficult to achieve.

Looking out my window, I see some of my favorite climbs on Squak Mountain. What I need to do is ride a hard HOWC every weekend, and then pound up those Squak climbs mid-week. Yeah, that’s the ticket; do some Vo2 max pace climbing, because that is what I will be doing a lot of on the HOWC. This means a hard ride on Saturday or Sunday and again on Wednesday, and rest or mostly short easy rides on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Given that this is the time of year to just get out and ride, I’m not sure that I am willing to make the sacrifice. I’m leaning towards saying “screw it,” and just riding however and whenever I feel.

And then there are the distractions. Living a three minute walk to a Tiger Mountain trailhead, and being able to ride to Grand Ridge singletrack in about the same time does present a dilemma. I have so many options, and only so many B.T.U’s of energy available! There is nothing stopping me from going out for an after dinner hike or MTB ride, or at any other time for that matter. Choices, choices, and more good choices; what a nice problem to have.

Hey, I’m riding for fun. I always tell the people I coach to write down their goals. Maybe my only goal this year should be to have as much fun as possible. I think I’ll write that down and then figure out how to accomplish it as I ride.


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