Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hills of the West Coast: Fun or Focus?

Miles 74.3 Climbing: 2662’ Route: East Lake Sammamish/Avondale/Bear Creek/Mink/Maltby/Snohomish/Monroe/Tualco/West Snoqualmie Valley/Ames Lake/244th/212th/East Lake Sammamish Participants: 8 Attrition Rate: 1 Soldier of the Day N/A Cima Coppi N/A

Now that we have done enough Issaquah based HOWC rides, I kind of have a sense as to how things are shaping up.

Almost every week I am left to ponder how I am riding relative to the group. Over the years that we started the ride from downtown I was occasionally in the little front group, often in the top “quartile” in terms of relative strength to the other riders, in the top third most of the time, and almost never lower than mid-pack.

Since we have started in Issaquah I am often mid-pack at the start of the ride, but if we lose a few of the riders who are struggling a bit, my “ranking” drops dramatically. No, I have not been DFL…yet, but I have been a little baffled as to why I don’t seem to be riding as strongly as in the past.

Certainly I am not as quite as fit and sharp as I would like to be in mid-July, but I’m not in bad shape, and there isn’t anything physically that is holding me back. Yes, I am another year older, but let’s not go there.

I can only come to one conclusion and that is that we are getting stronger groups starting in Issaquah than the already strong Seattle groups we had. Every week a new rider or two shows up, and inevitably they are very, very strong riders. It simply isn’t easy to ride mid-pack or above with these guys. We had a light crew of seven (starting with eight) today on STP weekend, but there was nary a slacker amongst them.

We did the short but steep 244th climb up to the Sammamish Plateau at about mile 64 of a hard 74 mile ride. I went hard, and despite taking two seconds off of my previous best on this climb, I was still eight seconds or so behind the lead group. The HOWC gang always hammers this climb, so it’s not a bad benchmark.

One would think that this performance gap would provide ample motivation to not only dig deeper on the ride, but to get out and ride (I prefer this word to “train”) with some serious intensity one weekday in addition to doing the HOWC on the weekend. Regardless of any other goal, every year I focus on the goal of riding well on the HOWC, and that normally provides ample motivation to put in the quality (and quantity) miles to prepare to do so. For some reason the focus with my riding is not there this year, but the fun is. As always, I am really enjoying riding my bicycle(s). I speculate that I must be distracted somehow and I just don’t have the tunnel vision required to get the job done.

I feel much less competitive in spirit on the ride this year than I normally do. Perhaps I’m not excited about hammering hard and competing because I sense I am not as competitive with the group I am riding with? Paradoxically, maybe I am not enjoying riding hard because I am not quite fit enough?

So far this year, we’ve done a lot less climbing specific routes than typical. With the Issaquah start, I can take the ride far out into the hinterlands (Snohomish, Black Diamond-Enumclaw, North Bend-Rattlesnake Lake) within the context of a 60-75 mile ride. Starting from Downtown Seattle we would often do a “Six Pack” of two climbs each on Tiger, Squak, and Cougar Mountains, totaling 60+ miles and 6000+’ of climbing. Since we now start at the epicenter of those climbs, the same route results in only 40-45 miles, and it seems contrived to tack on supplemental miles to hit the 60-70 mile range. Especially given my state of mind, it’s been much more fun to take the ride out on a big loop, introducing people to roads that they have never seen. No doubt we sacrifice some training effect by not doing the hard Issaquah Alps climbs, but so far everyone seems to love these new routes.

Today we averaged 21mph for the full ride, riding most of the time in a paceline around 23-24mph. There is no question we could have just kept riding and easily finished off 100 miles in less than 5 hours. Rolling along in these pacelines felt almost “easy” when I wasn’t on the front, and there were enough of us that no one had to take long pulls unless they wanted to. I never saw a wheel out of line, and the pacelines felt about as comfortable as a paceline can. I normally don’t enjoy pacelines much, and while I certainly can’t fathom what it’s like to ride in a peloton for 2100 miles like the Tour riders do, I must admit that I am having fun participating in the solid pacelines we have had. Taking the pace up to 25-26+ like we normally do in the summer would certainly change the sense of relative calm for all of the riders, and at this point, I just don’t think the increased risk of increased speed is worth it.

I don’t have any specific cycling goals for this year, other than my normal annual goal of defying the odds and proving (to myself) that I have not aged a year aerobic capacity-wise, even if I have chronologically. I do this by selecting five local climbs that I frequently time myself on and striving to establish new PR’s on each one. At this point, failing to achieve this would actually not disappoint me, but “taking a year off” is not the smartest thing I could do. In addition to not having any specific cycling goals, I have a shiny new 2012 Specialized Epic Expert Carbon 29er waiting to be assembled at Cycle U. Since living in Issaquah, I have really enjoyed learning how to ride mountain bikes now that I can roll out my garage to great singletrack. Maybe I am distracted:)

Coaching somebody like me would be difficult right now. You say that you have no real goals? What’s that, you aren’t psyched to ride really hard? Just why are you riding? You say you want to ride just for fun this year, and what should I do, coach?

I’d say take two fun pills and call me when they wear off.

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