Thursday, April 28, 2016

Old Saybrook 300K: Simply Perfect

How is it possible that I haven't posted anything to this blog since January? It certainly can't be due to my outrageous training schedule. Those plans didn't fall into place as I had hoped. I guess things just got busy around here with work and family and there didn't seem to be much to write about in the doldrums of winter. Now that spring is here, though, I feel reborn as a randonneur.  Recently, I was presented a nearly perfect brevet experience. The weather was ideal, the route was spectacular and well-suited to early spring riding and the company was quite pleasant.

I've wanted to ride the Old Saybrook 300K out of Westfield, MA for many years, but the timing never seemed to work out. This season, though, it fit into the spring calendar just perfectly. The route is advertised as "moderately hilly," but it seemed mostly flat to me as I pedaled with enthusiasm from the foothills of the Berkshires down to the Connecticut shore and back. While I haven't gotten out for as many long rides as I would have liked, perhaps it was the rest immediately before the event that left me feeling full of energy.

It was great to see Bill R. at the start, but I knew that with his sleek velomobile well-suited to the terrain this would be the last we saw of each other for the day. Little did I know that Bill would rack up a personal best on this route with a nearly 10-hour finish. After RBA Don P. said a few words to those assembled at the 6:00 am start, I quickly fell in with a spirited group at the front and hung on until just before the first control when I decided to back off the pace a bit to preserve my stores for the long ride ahead.

My favorite section of the route was the state park we crossed on our way to the shore, which was peaceful and beautiful with the early spring sunshine cascading through the trees. The pavement felt like butter under my new tires. I'm a sucker for a ride with a destination and the Connecticut coast did not disappoint with deep blue water glistening in the mid-day sun. The rest stop at the turnaround just a few feet from the beach was maintained by a very enthusiastic group of cyclists from a local cycling club who pulled out all the stops to provide world-class care and feeding. After a tasty barbecue chicken sandwich, I was back on the road again.

I reunited at the controle with two of the fast riders I had been riding with earlier in the morning and we continued on together for the second half of the day. I had ridden with Simon and Jan on previous brevets and it was great to catch up as we enjoyed the weather and the route on our way back to Westfield. After the penultimate control, when we started to smell the barn, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. Luckily, since I had held back a bit in the morning, I still had plenty of energy under the hood. As a result, I jumped to the front of our little group and laid the hammer down for the last 20 miles into Westfield.

I had privately set a goal of finishing within 13:30 as this was both my time on a different Westfield 300K route last year AND the time at which we were required to switch on lights and don reflective gear. These were both motivating enough to keep me going and I was pleased to end not only within my target time, but also without having to stop to set up my lights.

Up next: "The Return of the Five Boro Bike Tour" starring George and Elias

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Lucky Day: No Snow as Far as the Eye Can See

As the latest Snowpocalype devastated our southern neighbors, we were blissfully spared her wrath. So while my Facebook feed filled with images of shovelers up to their waists in snow, I took to the roads to enjoy a brisk afternoon along the icy Hudson River. It's a bit late in the month to be riding a permanent route that I'm hoping to apply towards a P-12 award, so my nerves were percolating this week as the forecast for a snowstorm of Biblical proportions intensified. Having missed a P-12 award last year (presented by RUSA to riders who complete at least one permanent route between 100K and 200K each month for twelve consecutive months), I am determined to finish what I began this past October.

The sky was a lovely crystalline blue this afternoon and the ambient temperature hovered around freezing. With a slight 5-10 mph wind out of the northwest, any extra work was front-loaded into the first half of the ride as I made my way north to Red Hook. Along the way, I stopped at a waterfront park managed by Scenic Hudson, our local Hudson River preservation champions who had recently created a small teaching area right at the water's edge. The sign above is a helpful reminder of where we stand relative to our neighbors and my proximity to the river allowed me to see not only the historic lighthouse off in the distance, but also the various ice formations arriving at long last from the north.

The roads were generally quiet today, but there was some pedestrian activity at the Bard campus with students returning from winter break and in Rhinebeck, which always seems to enjoy a festive atmosphere. As I followed the riverside roads south of the village, though, I was often the only one in sight for long stretches, which suited me just fine. Perhaps the storms to our south kept the tourists and weekend warriors closer to home today. Even the Walkway Over the Hudson was quieter than usual for a Sunday in January. As a result, there were not many witnesses to see the magnificent ship being pushed northward by a strong tug as it made its way beneath the span on which I stood. While I completed the route successfully, in February I'll be sure to plan my P-12 ride in the first half of the month assuming the weather cooperates.

Friday, January 1, 2016

As 2015 Ends: My Festive 500 Recap

For the fifth year in a row, I've rung in the New Year by participating in a global cycling challenge sponsored by Rapha known as the "Festive 500." The premise is simple, log a minimum of 500 kilometers between Christmas and New Year's Eves and post evidence of your progress on Strava, Instagram, Twitter, etc. This year over 61,000 riders signed on (or at least clicked the "join challenge" button on Strava) yet fewer than 10,000 completed the challenge successfully.

As with most endurance training, it wasn't the distance on the bike that made the challenge so difficult, but rather finding the time to log the miles. Fortunately, my work schedule is very light at this time of year, but with my daughter home from college and various houseguests and holiday parties to contend with this week, I wasn't sure that a full day in the saddle would go over so well. As a result, I planned to get out for medium-sized rides over the course of five or six days. Unfortunately, I didn't follow the classic randonneuring strategy of front-loading my riding distance as a precaution against the unexpected. As a result, when a curveball arrived to derail my plans, I found myself with 250 kilometers left to ride in the final two days. Luckily, the weather (thanks to climate change and El Nino) cooperated so we were blessed with mild temperatures for most of the week and I was able to complete the challenge without too much difficulty.

What I really love about the timing of this challenge is that it falls after a time of rest and recovery just as planning for the year ahead begins in earnest. Reflecting on the past year and planning for the one to come are best done sitting in the saddle of a bicycle, so most of my hours on the bike this week involved remembering the highlights of 2015 and fantasizing about what the future holds. 2015 was an incredible year. Work and family could not be better and I was finally able to conquer a major life goal by completing Paris-Brest-Paris and thereby symbolically and fully returning to randonneuring following my 2010 accident. I have exciting plans for the year ahead and am very grateful that 2016 has finally arrived. 

Keep the rubber side down.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Avascular Necrosis: Two Words I Really Did NOT Want to Hear at the Doctor's Office

Well, the dreaded day has finally arrived. I was just diagnosed with a case of avascular necrosis of the left femur. While I knew this was a possibility, I was hopeful that I would be able to hide among the 70% of hip fracture patients that do not wind up in this category.

Avascular necrosis is a fancy way of saying bone death due to blood loss. In my case, the condition is the result of a femoral neck fracture I sustained when hit from behind by a car on a 1000K brevet in Eastern Pennsylvania in 2010. The femoral neck is the narrow section of bone that connects the "ball" of the femur with the rest of the leg bone and when mine was shattered the surgeon immediately put it back together with the addition of several pins and screws. [See lovely illustration below]. I've not regained the full range of motion I once had in my left hip, but pain has not really been a factor . . . until recently. Over the past year, I've noticed a subtle weakening of and soreness in my left hip that's particularly evident when I get up from sitting in a soft chair or the driver's seat of my car after a long drive. I haven't yet developed a pronounced limp, but increasingly it takes me a few steps to sort things out.

In cases of avascular necrosis, the bone slowly dies as the result of inadequate blood circulation. There's nothing to be done to slow, stop or reverse the process and eventually, the joint will simply collapse into more of a "block and socket" than a "ball and socket." The great news here is that my cycling is not dramatically affected and does not contribute to making the condition any worse. The bad news is that it's only a matter of time before I will need a total hip replacement. So what's next? Well, my orthopedist suggests that I continue to live my life and enjoy my time on the bike with the addition of some strengthening and stretching exercises to keep things strong and limber. I'll be heading back for a follow-up visit in a year unless I notice any dramatic changes and it may be 3-5 years (or longer!) before I need a new hip.

My goal this year is to continue to strengthen my overall performance on the bike. I hope to build greater endurance, speed and climbing fitness with the overall goal of strength and comfort rather than a podium finish. Floyd Landis may have been able to win the Tour de France on a broken hip, but I'm shooting for something a bit less dramatic (and less drug-fueled). While I was hoping that 50 was going to be the new 30, at least it looks like won't be the new 70.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My Coffeeneuring Round-Up (2015)

Autumn is a lovely time to be alive in the Hudson Valley and this year was no exception. In fact, it's been one of the most spectacular years anyone seems to remember. Mild temperatures, dry weather and gorgeous foliage have all contributed to create pretty much ideal riding conditions. While work and family demands kept me off the bike more than I would have liked, I was still able to get out for some remarkable riding and the Coffeeneuring Challenge helped me to make this happen for a fifth year in a row.

Coffeeneuring helps us celebrate and enjoy not only the coming of fall, but also the restful transition between the intensity of summer riding and the buildup to base-training for the cycling season ahead. No wonder this global phenomenon is so popular!

Ride 1 (October 17)
The Mudd Puddle - New Paltz, New York
3 miles
Double espresso

An important autumn ritual involves bike maintenance at the end of a busy season of riding. I stopped at the Mudd Puddle, one of my favorite cafes in New Paltz, on my way to the Bicycle Depot to have them investigate some shifting trouble I was experiencing. Turns out I needed a whole new drive train. Maybe I should have had something stronger than a double espresso. Ack!

Ride 2 (October 18)
Fika - New York City
8 miles
Black coffee and a blueberry muffin

While I had to work in NYC on this particular Sunday, I made sure to stop off for a coffee and a muffin on my way downtown from Grand Central. I was finally able to justify an annual CitiBike membership now that the network has spread above 59th Street and riding in NYC never gets old. It may have been the most expensive cup of coffee in this series, but it sure hit the spot.

Ride 3 (October 24)
Minnewaska State Park - New Paltz, New York
25 miles
Hot chocolate and chocolate covered macaroons

My daughter arrived home for a week-long college break just as the leaves reached peak form. I took the opportunity to swap my road tires for a pair of Clement 35mm cyclocross tires and we hit the gorgeous carriage trails in Minnewaska State Park to enjoy the season in all its glory. Since there were no coffee shops for miles around, we decided to fill a Thermos with hot chocolate and brought along some gourmet chocolate macaroons for nourishment.

Ride 4 (October 25)
The Apple Bin - Esopus, New York
14 miles
Black coffee and an apple cider donut.

One of the several short rides I was able to fit in this fall brought me to the local Apple Bin farm stand where I was able to enjoy a hot cup of black coffee and a fresh apple cider donut, one of their seasonal specialities.

Ride 5 (October 31)
The Bakery - New Paltz, New York
51 miles
Black coffee and a classic black and white

On my longest ride in the series, I arranged to meet up with my friend Doug, a fellow PBP ancien, to explore the carriage trails in Mohonk Preserve while discussing our travels to Paris in August. On the way home, I stopped at The Bakery in the village of New Paltz for a hot cup of coffee and a classic black and white cookie just in time to see the award-winning pumpkins in the annual Halloween pumpkin contest.

Ride 6 (November 14)
Slabsides - West Park, New York
4 miles
Black coffee

I spent the penultimate day of the challenge blowing thousands of leaves off my lawn with a rented leaf blower. As a result, there was no time for riding until sundown when I grabbed my bike, a light and some coffee and headed for the top of the ridge behind my house to the site of John Burroughs' rustic Slabsides cabin to watch the sun set.

Ride 7 (November 15)
Shaupeneak Ridge - Esopus, New York
10 miles
Black coffee

I spent the final day of the challenge on some important seasonal house chores, but I was also able to get in one final ride up Shaupeneak Ridge as the sun fell low in the sky. Thank goodness for the Coffeeshop Without Walls rule or I would not have made it this year! Thanks too, MG, for all of your Coffeeneuring leadership. Onward to 2016!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Paris~Brest~Paris as Seen in the Rear View Mirror

To say that my recollections of Paris~Brest~Paris are impressionistic is as clich├ęd as it is true. I have many memories, some vivid, some faint, but they are not tied together neatly into a linear time sequence despite my best efforts to reconstruct a logical narrative of my adventures. This has been one of the most challenging writing assignments I’ve faced since sophomore year in high school. How do I capture the magic of PBP? Where do I start? How do I end? Ultimately, I’ve chosen to present my memories in a thematic fashion to try to make some sense of the whole experience while leaving the chronology behind.

As I’ve written many times before, PBP was a goal toward which I have worked for many years. After being struck by a car in 2010 while training for PBP 2011, I was faced with many months of hospitalization and rehabilitation and a long period of rebuilding both strength and technique so that by 2015 the time for redemption had finally arrived. This exceptionally long build-up to the event turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing in that I was singularly focused on completing the ride within the timeframe I set out for myself and careful and deliberate in my planning, but it was also a curse in that it was bound to disappoint in some areas as my long-held fantasies met reality.

To maximize my comfort and the likelihood of success, I selected to ride with the 84-hour group, which provided me with a morning start time of 5:00 am. Not only did this mean that I'd sacrifice six hours on the road, but I'd also traded the opportunity to ride along with the large and festive group of 90-hour riders. As a result, I was not surprised that my ride was somewhat more solitary than I would have liked at times as there were fewer than 500 riders in the 84-hour start as opposed to more than 5000 in the 90-hour group. This was both good and bad. It was good because there was barely any congestion at the controls and bad because some of the exuberance of the event itself was undoubtedly dialed down with only 1/10 the number of riders on the roads.

The Start. I spent four days in St. Quetin before the ride connecting with old friends and making new ones as we prepared for the big event, but I only recognized a few faces at the start. We were released exactly at 5:00 on Monday morning and the first ninety minutes or so of the ride were shrouded in darkness, so I maintained a small buffer between myself and other riders to ensure that none of us got into an accident as the field began to stretch out. The excitement of an early morning group start always seems to lead to an elevated pace and this ride was no exception. I tried to refrain from riding full out, but it was hard to contain my enthusiasm and so I spun along with a group of fairly fast riders even though I knew that my pace was not sustainable over the long term. Watching the taillights ahead in the distance, it was easy to gauge the shape of the route as we wove our way through suburbs and then farmland in our westward march toward Brest. As dawn broke across expansive fields, the crisp air made us feel good to be alive and lucky to be part of this grand tradition.

The Riders. While I knew very few riders in the 84-hour start, one of the riders I did know was Keith C. with whom I rode a 400K out of Rochester this spring. Keith was in the 5:15 start and I knew it was only a matter of time before he caught up with me as his pace is brisk and his legs are strong. It was shortly before the first control that I heard Keith’s familiar voice, and it was nice to catch up with one another so many miles from our last encounter in the Finger Lakes. We rode together for a spell, but I knew that Keith’s pace would soon surpass mine and as it was still very early in the ride I wanted to protect my reserves. We ran into each other at several points along the route, though, and it was always a pleasure to see Keith and his friend Kristen who was providing support. Their good cheer and generosity of spirit was a real lift along the way.

It was not until well into the second day (or early in the third day), that I met up with NJ Rando stalwart Paul S. who was riding alone as well after becoming separated from his two riding partners, one of whom was riding a bit faster and one of whom was riding a bit slower. This meet-up came at a very good time for both of us as our energy was flagging and good conversation and companionship was a real morale booster. As it turned out, Paul and I rode together for a big chunk of the middle section of the ride. I’m a bit foggy on when exactly we teamed up, but we rode together until the stage between Villaines and Mortagne when I urged Paul to catch up with his riding partner Chris who was resting at the Mortagne control. It was a good thing that Paul took off, as my pace was grinding to a near standstill on what became one of the slowest and most molasses-like stretches of the ride for me.

The Spectators. The route between Paris and Brest is beautiful and very pleasant to ride. The roads are well paved and quiet, the hills are never too severe and the rollers and small villages provide interesting yet predictable variety. More memorable than the terrain, however, are the amazing French people who line the roads and occupy the villages along the way. Never in my life have I experienced such enthusiasm, support, encouragement and love from perfect strangers. Cycling has a long and storied history in France and the enthusiasm for PBP seems like the exact inverse of the typical reaction cyclists receive in the USA, where we are generally scorned and treated like trespassers on our own roads.

In contrast, the Bretons revere cycling in general and PBP in particular. It was possible to feel like a celebrity riding with enthusiastic families lining the streets, cheering us on, and offering us food, drink and words of encouragement at every turn. At times, I found myself weeping as a result of the pure joy, gratitude, and pride I felt to be a part of this amazing cultural and historical phenomenon. It felt like I was a part of something truly important. At times, the relationship between the riders and spectators and volunteers seemed actually symbiotic. We needed and derived energy from them just as they needed and derived energy from us. We reinforced each other in ways that brought joy and satisfaction to us all.

The Controls. Approaching the control at Villaines was especially thrilling as spectators lined the roads and cheered our progress on both the outbound and inbound legs. Early on the first day this was my first experience with what would become fairly typical in the layout of a French control. I quickly discovered that the various services were pretty spread out with the control point at one location, bathrooms in another, water in another and food in yet another. Luckily I did not need to rest or visit health services as these were in different spaces as well. One could burn up considerable time in a situation like this without even realizing it, and we did not even experience the delays and lines that plague the large bulge of 90-hour riders since they had long past this point. 

The Iron Rider beautifully and aptly described the route in his blog as a “charm bracelet of small quiet French towns linked by long and winding roads that border spacious golden fields.” This pattern with its predictable variation was both comforting and enjoyable. Entering a village was always a thrill with surprises around each corner, gorgeous historic buildings of all shapes and sizes and deeply appreciative locals around every corner. No one seems to mention the nearly unbearable stench of manure throughout the agricultural sections of the ride, but this was another reason I looked forward to the break that the villages provided.

Sleep. Managing sleep throughout the 3-1/2 days of PBP seemed at times to be a much greater challenge than pedaling my bicycle for 1200 kilometers. There never seemed to be enough time for rest and as my margin of time shrank, my time for rest shrank just when I needed it most. Things started out well enough, but they eroded considerably over the course of the event, as I will describe. On the first night, I held to my plan to cycle the 278 miles to Loudeac before sleeping. I rolled into the control at 2:19 am, about an hour and 19 minutes behind schedule. 

After checking into the control, I grabbed a little food, showered, changed clothes and signed up to sleep for 3 hours. The sleep area at Loudeac, fondly referred to as the “disco morgue” by several of my friends, was an amazing example of French organization and efficiency in action. Riders interested in sleeping simply pay a few Euros, indicate the time they wish to be awakened and place full trust into the hands of complete strangers to find them in a numbered cot among hundreds of other snoring and farting riders in a darkened room that resembles a large airplane hangar. Once I surrendered myself to this arrangement, I got some of the best sleep I can recall. After nodding off immediately, I shot bolt upright certain that I had overslept only to discover after dressing and running out the door that I had awakened 30 minutes before my appointed time. Oh well.

Following my long sleep at Loudeac on the first night, my sleeps got shorter and more frequent. Throughout the first two days, I was able to maintain a time cushion of over two hours. This lasted through to Loudeac at mile 485 on the return leg of the journey at which point I had reduced my buffer to less than an hour. It was from this point forward that I felt as if the clock controlled my every decision.

The Dark Times. While most of the ride felt like a magical adventure, a few sections were downright unpleasant. These times were dark both literally and metaphorically. I fully expected periods of great physical and emotional difficulty from my previous experience on long rides, but no matter how much this is anticipated, when the dark times hit, they can be somewhat overwhelming. While I generally love riding at night with the unique perspective on the world that this time affords, it can also be difficult, especially when riding on very little sleep.

The most challenging section for me came on the third night as I was beginning to feel like I was running on fumes having slept so little in the preceding days. Sleep depravation was wearing me down just as the coffee was losing it’s staying power, just as I was running up against control closures, just as I needed to ride through some pretty hills sections. As my time margin shrank, my ability to sleep or even to rest decreased dramatically. This had a snowball effect that was hard to correct. I was fighting off sleep as I rode and increasingly found myself taking 20-30 minute catnaps at tables hunched over my cell phone alarm.

To make matters worse, I began to hallucinate a bit as I rode through the stretch between Villaines and Mortagne. One of my emergency measures was to take a caffeine tablet that Paul offered me since there was no coffee at hand. As it turned out, my body responded very well to this intervention and I was chatting away in no time without a care in the world. I also swapped out my old contact lenses (that had become foggy and distracting since I had left them in for over 24-hours) with my glasses that I had luckily thrown into my trunk bag at the last minute as an afterthought. 

While these techniques helped me stabilize my safety and feel better about riding this stretch, my pace had slowed to a real crawl, which did not help my secondary problem of riding much too close to control closure times. When I snapped to attention and realized the combined impact of riding slowly, climbing hills and stopping periodically, I realized that it was entirely possible that without a concerted effort, I could easily run out of time. I dug deep into my reserves and began to chant (literally and out loud) the mantra “Relentless. Forward. Motion.” It is a phrase I attribute to my friend Susan O. who tells me it is one she learned from Mark T. himself.

Whatever the original source, I found this simple reminder to be remarkably helpful. Even slow progress in a forward direction is helpful while any time off the bike is potentially destructive. This mantra allowed me to focus on the only thing that mattered (moving steadily forward) and remove the things that did not matter (lack of comfort, sleepiness, the big questions related to WHY in the hell I was doing this, etc.) from my mind in a way that contributed to my success.

The Final Push to Paris. After that long uphill slog through the dark third night, I finally arrived in Mortagne with time to spare, which was a huge morale booster. With 28 minutes until the cutoff and dawn not far away, I was able to eat, charge my phone and take a short nap before heading off for Dreaux, the penultimate control another 50 miles down the road. I picked up the pace considerably with renewed energy and excitement knowing that Paris was less than 100 miles away. At times, I was hammering along at 20 miles an hour and even as a light rain came, my spirits were not dampened. When I arrived a Dreaux, the rains had stopped and the sun began to poke its way through the clouds. I had also increased my buffer to almost 1 hour and 15 minutes so the time pressure was greatly reduced. 

In fact, as a result of some curious route calculus, I found that I had almost 6 hours to ride 40 miles and so timing out was no longer a serious concern. My dream was about to become a reality; I would make it back to Paris within 84 hours. I could feel the stress leaving my body. That was until about 45 minutes after leaving Dreaux, when I heard the telltale sound of air quickly escaping from my tire and pulled to the side of the road only to watch dozens of riders zoom on grateful not to be sharing in my fate. It was remarkably time-consuming to change the rear (why is it always the rear?) tire as my mind and fingers were not working at peak efficiency. I decided to swap out the entire tire rather than simply change the tube just to be sure that I wouldn’t develop another puncture from the culprit that had caused the current flat. In all, it took me almost 25 minutes to change the tire, but I was then back on the road with a light tailwind at my back. What I had envisioned as a fast and triumphant victory march all the way to Paris, though, was now a fairly gentle and mostly solitary ride plagued by a (probably irrational) concern that I might run into additional mechanical troubles that would claw deeper into my time buffer. 

As it turned out, I did not experience any further trouble and crossed the finish line 82 hours and 33 minutes after I set off, which left me with almost 90 minutes in the bank. While this was MUCH too close for comfort and leaves tremendous room for improvement, I had achieved my goal. What did it feel like to finish? Was I elated? Was I disappointed? In all honesty, it was a bit of an anti-climax. Since the large bulge of 90-hour riders finished hours earlier as a result of their Sunday night start, I ended my ride without much company, fanfare or enthusiasm. It would take over 24 hours (10 of which I was sleeping) for me to begin to put the ride and my accomplishment into some sort of perspective. Only in the days that followed, as I caught up on my sleep and began to feel like myself again and share in the excitement of others, was I bathed in a feeling of great satisfaction and excitement.

Postscript. I lost sleep in the days leading up to PBP, nervous that I had given myself a 6-hour handicap in exchange for a morning start, but reflecting back on it I think I would make the same selection again. While I missed out on some of the fanfare, I don’t particularly like crowds and beginning with a morning start got me off on the right foot. The general pace of the 84-hour riders was brisk and familiar and with additional training and a knowledge of the course, I think it will be possible to shave several hours off my time, while also affording myself the opportunity to stop more often between controls to enjoy Brittany’s culture and culinary riches more fully.

The most peculiar sensation I felt during the ride as I approached Paris on the return leg, though, was a feeling of relief. It’s not easy to hold onto a goal for such a very long time. In a weird way I feel like completing PBP has actually set me free. I’m no longer that guy with a single-minded goal on the horizon. I no longer feel the need to worry about whether I can ride long brevets again with my reconstituted physical condition following my accident. I was so fixated on FINISHING the event that dialing in speed and strategy was not really so high a priority. Successfully completing PBP feels like the end of an era and the beginning of a new one with the future unknown and the sky as the limit.

One of the fairly disorienting outcomes of a serious injury is coming to terms with one’s new strength and ability in the aftermath. In 2010, I was actually training for a Charly Miller (sub 56:40) finish at PBP. Whether or not that would have been possible, I doubt that such a performance is in my future at this point. Now that I have a solid 1200K finish behind me, though, I’m eager to test the new limits of my speed and climbing strength. Having just transitioned into my 50s this year, I'm eager to consider ways to make this my strongest decade yet as a cyclist. In fact, I just ordered a copy of Joe Friel’s recent book Fast After 50 for advice. 

Two things I know for sure, I am back and I’ll be back. I’d like to include a final word of gratitude to my loving wife and family for their eternal support and confidence in me and to all of my friends - thanks for your ongoing patience.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Top Ten Things to Remember at PBP

I can’t remember the last time I approached something with this much anticipation. Getting my driver’s license as a seventeen year-old, perhaps? Having been sidelined from the last edition of P-B-P in 2010 following a run-in with a car, I have been steadily building towards this event for the past five years. I first learned about P-B-P during 2007, though, during my inaugural year of randonneuring, when it seemed that everyone around me had caught the bug.

With fewer than ten days to the start, I’m afraid that we’re long past the time when additional physical training will provide any benefit. In fact, hard training this close to an event is more likely to leave a rider tired, sore or even injured. At this point, the best I can hope for is not screwing things up. Here are my top three goals at the moment:
  • Showing up with everything I need.
  • Showing up well rested.
  • Showing up with the best possible attitude.
While there will be many things running through my mind during the event itself, here is a list of the top ten things I hope very much to remember along the way:
  1. Enjoy! This is an amazing cultural, historical and athletic experience. I have no real goals other than to finish within the time limit and to enjoy myself throughout the event. I hope to connect with old friends and make new ones as I soak up the beautiful countryside and spirit of this unique event.
  2. If it won’t hurt in two weeks, keep riding. This famous advice attributed to Lon Haldeman has helped inspire countless ultra cyclists to work through difficult times. While it’s easy to focus on the discomfort or pain during the ride, it’s also important to place things into context and remember that most ailments feel better shortly after the ride ends.
  3. This too will pass. Every long brevet or ultra race I’ve completed has had its share of highs and lows. I’ve been known to compose Craig’s List ads for my bicycle during certain lows, but I’ve also found over and over again that the lows always pass and the highs will return. A short break, a tiny nap, some additional calories, a good conversation - these are just a few strategies to shift the energy.
  4. It’s really just a long bike ride. As special as this event is, I don’t want to be intimidated by its uniqueness. It is, after all, just another bike ride. I hope to keep my focus on completing the various stages within a favorable timeframe, while remembering that I have successfully completed events as physically demanding in the past.
  5. Sleep mostly at night, ride mostly during the day. I chose the 84-hour start since it provided the opportunity for a morning start, which is my strong preference on long rides. I can function on very little sleep, but riding through the night without sleep has left me in unpleasant and unsafe situations in the past. While I love night riding, I feel safest and most productive during the day and so hope to complete most of my riding in daylight.
  6. Every minute counts. Time not wasted can be applied and enjoyed elsewhere. I don’t plan on pushing the envelope through every moment of this ride, but every minute I save through careful efficiency is a minute I have in the bank.
  7. Eat before hungry, drink before thirsty. My nutrition plan hinges on moderation and never getting so hungry or thirsty that it affects my performance. I’ll be riding with a range of pocket foods, but hope to also eat mostly real food in moderation.
  8. Keep focused at the controls. A great deal of time can be consumed in the controls. My top four priorities at every control in order of importance are: get the card signed, fill the bottles, use the bathroom and grab some food. If the lines look terrible, I’ll be sure to grab food or use the bathroom outside of the controls, but this will mean separate stops, which of course means more time off the bike. 
  9. Shoot for a negative split. While I don’t imagine that I will literally be able to ride stronger in the second 600K than I will in the first, I try to imagine that I can do just that throughout the event to help me preserve the gas I've stored in the tank. 
  10. Stop and smell the roses from time to time. Since this is such an amazing event, I want to savor every minute. By riding efficiently, I hope to be able to stop for the occasional photo or take advantage of the unexpected. 
If I'm able to stay focussed on these ten things, the rest should take care of itself. Now if I can only be sure to show up at the airport with everything I need.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Rapha Rising Challenge: A Little Bit of Cramming for PBP

Like clockwork, the Rapha Rising Challenge appears each year in the third week of July to coincide with some of the most epic climbing stages of the TdF.  This year, though, I was unable to lock in any of the details despite several attempts, so I figured they made a shift at Rapha HQ. As I've said before, I'm a sucker for a good challenge. If I know that a group of cyclists are off somewhere trying to do something possibly not possible, I have a hard time not joining in. Throw in a patch and I'm there! As luck would have it, I happened to be scanning Instagram a week ago Saturday and found that #rapharising had begun that very day. The challenge? Climb 9366 meters (30,728 feet) in 8 days. What could be so tough about that?

Climbing is good training. On this there is no debate. Ever wonder why the winner of the Tour de France is always a good climber? In part because being good at climbing makes you good at other things, too. It's also easy for a good climber to put some serious distance on a poor climber, but that's another story. I love that I live in a hilly area because I've found that riding hills can often make up for limited time on the bike. My general equation is that as a ride shortens, it needs to go vertical. Climbing this much in a week would hopefully make the hills of Brittany a bit easier to roll over next month.

It occurred to me more than once while I was riding this week that 30,728 feet is a respectable cruising altitude for a 747. It's almost 6 miles above the Earth! To climb this high on my bike was going to take some planning. Since I was working this week and needed to take care of a few important family jobs, I didn't have endless time to get this done. As a result, I chose some of the steepest hills in the area and rode up and down them multiple times. Since I live near a ridgeline with multiple hills, this wasn't as monotonous as it sounds, and doing a few hours a day of hill riding put me in some very lovely spots.

My planning wasn't perfect, though. On the final day of the challenge, I awoke with over 8200 feet left to climb! To make matters worse, it was raining with thunderstorms in the area. I had risen at 5:00 am to get out and finish things off in the first half of the day by riding over the Shawangunk Ridge in New Paltz multiple times, but when I got there in my car the storm had actually picked up intensity and the entire mountain was shrouded in fog. This was not looking like a particularly safe way to train for PBP, so I threw in the towel and drove home. Who needs a stinking patch anyway? After sitting in bed reading the paper for a few hours, I saw the sun poking through the clouds and threw on my kit and rode out the door to hit the ridge a bit closer to home.

As a result, my profile looked like this:

All in all, I slipped in under the wire. My patch should be here when I get back from Paris.