Saturday, March 7, 2015

Just Under the Wire (or The Walkway Over the Hudson 100K Rewind)

As anyone in the Northeast will tell you, it's been cold, really, really cold this winter. Not only has it been uncharacteristically cold, but it's also snowed more than average and since we've not experienced a single thaw, most of that snow is still right where it fell. A few weeks ago, I read this interesting article about the work that ice breaking ships are doing to keep the Hudson River clear for shipping. Did you know that 70% of the home heating oil in the Northeast travels up the Hudson River? I didn't. I thought about this, though, on my recent attempt at the Walkway Over the Hudson 100K permanent as I looked down from the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge at the long trail left behind on the river signifying that life goes on despite the deep freeze.

Last weekend was not my first attempt at the Walkway 100K during the month of February, but it would be my last. I had set out the week before during what I thought was a suitable lull in the snowfall. I left my house on Saturday morning after the temperatures climbed to 17F from below zero at dawn. The forecast called for snow at 3:00 pm so I thought I would have just enough time to complete the loop before things got dicey. Sadly, this was one of those days when the local weather team underestimates the speed of a storm and so I found myself pedaling into a slippery whiteout 30 miles from home as I neared the turnaround.

So Old George would have likely soldiered on into the storm, but getting hit by a car on a brevet will teach a body a few things about second chances. As a result, I decided that successfully completing a P-12 was not quite as important as living to tell the story, so I reluctantly called my wife and asked her to pick me up. Imagine, if you will, how delighted she was to get the call. Torn between the joy that comes from realizing that your husband has developed some common sense and the irritation that comes from being asked to leave a warm couch by a cozy fire to drive into a snow storm, my wife came to my rescue. In the meantime, I needed to find a safe place to wait for my wife to arrive in the 18F weather. I spotted a school building on the horizon and pedaled over to seek shelter out of the wind. Being a Saturday, the school was sealed tight, but I found an unlocked van nearby and climbed inside to wait. I called my wife to talk her through a white-knuckle drive past emergency vehicles and spun-out cars when what should I hear but the worker in whose truck I was sitting return to pick up a few tools. Needless to say, this gentleman was not pleasantly surprised to see a lycra-clad stranger sitting in his truck. Luckily, I was able to talk him out of hitting me, but I soon found myself standing on the sidewalk again in the cold wind. What normally takes 30 minutes had taken my wife over an hour to cover since traffic had slowed to a crawl. After giving the matter some thought, the electrician invited me into the building to wait.

One of the reasons I was so intent on completing this 100K permanent on the second to last weekend in February is because without it, my quest for the P-12 would be dead in the water and I was off to Boston during the final week of the month to attend a conference leaving only February 28 to get the job done. So after failing in my first attempt, I was stuck shoe-horning the ride in at the last minute. As luck would have it, though, we experienced a thaw last Saturday with temperatures rising into the mid-20s. While still well below freezing, I was able to extract a small stream of water from my frozen bottles all the way to the turnaround and there was no fresh snow on the roads. The sun, now approaching a nearly spring-like position in the sky even gave the illusion that this winter wonderland may some day give way to green pastures.

In order to ride in the warmest part of the day, I delayed my start until 12:45 pm. I realized during the ride, though, that this late start left a question mark looming as to how I would recross the Hudson at the finish. The Walkway Over the Hudson, for which this permanent is named, is generally a lovely way to return home from a long ride, but the gate schedule is somewhat more mysterious and unpredictable than I would like. Would the it close at 5:00 pm or at sundown which was scheduled to arrive at 5:49 pm? How would this team of chilly park rangers interpret "dusk," which is advertised as the formal closing time of this narrowest of state parks. The alternative to crossing the river at this latitude is the Mid-Hudson Bridge that includes a pedestrian walkway, but one that is not reliably plowed during the winter months. The thought of a DNF on this ride and a call to my wife for a rescue terrified me in equal measure. Luckily, as the sun dipped low on the horizon, I approached the Walkway to find the gate open and slipped through to pedal across the crusty, snow-covered span to my awaiting car.

Up next: the Westfield Early Spring 200K. One day this winter must end. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

(More!) Base Miles on the Trainer

The importance of long steady distance (LSD) training for endurance athletes early in the season has been well-documented. Several years ago, I began organizing my training around a periodization model outlined by Joe Friel in The Cyclist's Training Bible that combines base miles with interval training in the early season to lay down a strong foundation for endurance and speed later in the season. The trouble is, at the exact moment that LSD training would be most useful, the temperatures plunge into the single digits (or worse!), the snows kick in and black ice covers the surfaces of many of the local backroads. In other words, it's just about impossible to get out safely in February to lay down the kind of base that would be most helpful to a strong endurance engine come July. This is where a good indoor trainer is essential in upstate New York where I live.

It's pretty easy to get onto the trainer for an hour or so here and there, but while interval work is critical for early season training, these short rides don't do much to lay down a mileage base. That's where Troy Jacobson's Spinervals series has been a godsend. Each winter, these DVDs have enabled me to extend my time on the indoor trainer significantly and as a result, establish base miles while the roads are still too hazardous. The discs I find most helpful for this purpose are the "Virtual Reality" DVDs that essentially follow Troy, and in some cases a few friends, over assorted iron distance courses filmed in mild weather. Staring at my laptop on the card table in front of the trainer is surprisingly absorbing as Troy barks commands regarding gears and levels of exertion. The courses and lengths of each of the discs vary, but each typically clocks in at about three hours and covers 50-60 miles. Today I rode in Madison, Wisconsin whereas last week it was Lake Placid, New York.

Nothing compares to simply riding on the open roads, but when the thermometer doesn't rise above 30F for weeks on end and snow storms blanket the roads, other strategies are required. While I'm carefully watching the forecast and hoping to get out to ride a 100K permanent next weekend, it's good to know that my training won't suffer if another storm heads into town (which is more than likely).

Saturday, January 31, 2015

PBP 2015 - Planning Logistics

It's hard to believe that I've not posted once yet in 2015. With heavy work and family demands as well as a string of terrible cycling weather, it's been hard even to get out for a ride these days. I have had a chance, however, to drill down into some of the details related to PBP to aid with my long-range planning. The release of the full event brochure in mid-January has helped me to visualize the course and has reinforced my decision to start with the 84-hour group on Monday morning.

Transportation.  I am generally not a package trip, travel agent kind of guy. As a result, my first inclination was to assemble my logistical plans for PBP a la carte, shopping around for the best deals and customizing hotels and flights to best meet my specific need to arrive with all of my gear in one piece, well-rested to take on the event itself. I'm no stranger to budget airlines and often prowl sites like Kayak for the lowest fares, cross-referencing airline sites for baggage charges and hidden fees before finally purchases tickets. As I began that process this time around, I also factored total travel time, number of stops and ground transportation from the airport to the hotel into my calculations. Between New York City and Paris, the difference between a non-stop and multi-stop flight can add up to $400 - $700. Yet a multi-stop flight also adds from 3 - 10 hours to each leg of the journey as well as the possibility that bicycle and rider do not arrive at the same destination at the same time. An additional factor in my planning has been the ground transfer between Charles de Gaulle Airport and the hotel.

In 2009, I hauled a 50lb. bike box along with a small carry-on bag and suitcase from Heathrow Airport to an apartment in central London on public transportation. As a long-time New Yorker, I was not averse to the idea of a long subway ride with multiple transfers, but in reality, the schlepping of heavy and awkward containers up and down countless stairs was not something I would like to repeat. Also, I soon discovered that not all trains are created equal in London and some of them were quite small and awkward to navigate. Above all, my physical condition following my 2010 accident includes vulnerabilities that I do not want to aggravate before even arriving at the PBP starting line. As a result, I've decided to arrange a non-stop flight along with ground transportation through Des Peres Travel. While this requires that I spend a bit more money than is absolutely necessary to get from JFK airport to my hotel, I am confident that this will be money well spent. As I learned a long time ago, sometimes a bargain is not quite a bargain.

Accommodation.  Several years ago, my family and I spent a week with friends in the Parisian suburb of Versailles, which lies just 10K from the PBP start. As a result, I was thinking that I would just establish a beachhead in that small city within easy striking distance of both Paris and the event start. I began to reconsider this plan, though, as I thought about all of the excitement and pre-ride community that builds in the immediate area of the start as riders pour in from all corners of the globe to prepare for the big event. Having missed out on this fun on LEL in 2009 when I stayed at a friend's apartment in central London, I decided that for an event like this, spending the days and nights immediately preceding and following PBP with fellow participants should be the best way to go. As a result, I've decided to reserve one of the hotels within several kilometers of the start through Des Peres Travel as well. Sure I could find a cheaper place to stay, but how often do 5000 riders come together for an event like this? Every four years, I suppose, but for my first PBP, I'll be taking full advantage of pick-up rides and the opportunity to hang out with people I see far too rarely. Paris is also a quick train ride away, so a trip or two into that fair city is a real possibility as well.

Support.  I like to think of myself as a fairly barebones type of cyclist. Since I will not have any personal support en route and based on all I had heard about the time suck at the PBP controls due to the vast volume of riders, I thought that riding self-supported through PBP would be my first choice option. After carrying all that I needed for three days around Lake Ontario this summer during the Lap of the Lake 1000K in a rear Ortlieb pannier, it seemed like a no-brainer to do the same for PBP. Connecting with PBP anciens who used the Des Peres drop bag service, I have begun to reconsider my options. I've tentatively signed up for a drop bag at Loudeac, but may change my mind after riding around and weighing my fully-loaded bike this spring. Riding a hilly 200K in potentially hot and humid weather is tough enough without adding an extra 10-15 lbs. to the load. We'll just have to see if the weight savings justifies the cost and potential time lost.

So, all in all, I am taking a far more deluxe approach to travel with PBP than is my customary style. While the cost is a bit hard to swallow, I am confident that there will be more than enough details related to PBP itself to obsess over. I am not planning to arrange any on-course hotels, but rather casting my lot in with the accommodations provided at controls along the way. While I'm open to the possibility of arranging something during the ride should the need arise, having to coordinate and plan for a specific arrival time sucks a bit of the joy and spontaneity out of the ride for me. I'd much rather arrive at the starting line well-conditioned and well-rested with a general plan for approaching the route without being locked into any specific demands along the way.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Catskill Climbfest: Festive 500 Edition

The Catskills Climbfest is one of my all-time favorite 200K routes. The roads are remarkably quiet, the views spectacular and the terrain quite varied with plenty of climbing (about 9,000 ft) accompanied by well-placed valleys and control points. As a result, the route provides a super workout without feeling like the Bataan Death March. A drawback is the unpredictable mountain weather in winter, so I typically consider this a three-season route. The weather has been so mild this week, though, that yesterday's ride made a perfect addition to my Festive 500 plans.

My friend Robin and I clipped in at dawn and began the climb from Rosendale to the Ashokan Reservoir with temperatures already in the upper-30s. The route either crosses or skirts preserve lands throughout the day so the scenery is generally pleasing no matter where you look. The first major climb is found on 23A between Palenville and Haines Falls and takes riders right into Catskill Park and passes the historic Katterskill Falls and the Hunter Mountain ski resort before hitting a magnificent decent into Phoenicia where hot baked goods and strong coffee await.

After refueling at Mama's Boy, we hit the trail again and climb slowly along Route 28 to the town of Big Indian where the second big climb of the day awaits. Robin and I have ridden this route enough to know the importance of removing layers before climbing Slide Mountain-Oliveria Road to Frost Valley. I nearly run out of pockets as I strip off my merino arm warmers, glove liners, and neck gaiter, but I will not be sorry as my engine switches into climbing mode.

Upon reaching the top, we enter a glorious valley filled with alpine fields, farmhouses, stands of pines and fast moving rivers. It seems like another world in the Catskills High Peaks and the slight descent through Frost Valley to Grahamsville makes us feel like super heroes after a climb that sapped so much of our reserves. Luckily, the next control is not far off and we both hear chicken salad sandwiches beckoning.

After a late lunch at the Grahamsville Deli, we clip in again and ride through the magical dense forest lands along Peekamoose Mountain Road. We reach the top of the long descent back into civilization just as the sun is setting and so turn on our lights and enjoy the smooth ride down to see the Ashokan Reservoir one last time before making the final approach into Rosendale. Luckily, the temperatures stay moderate since the loss of elevation returns warmth that the setting sun removed at the higher altitudes. Our last treat of the day is riding along a very quiet Route 213 with stars and the moon prominent in the sky. The warm evening air reminds us of what spring holds in store.

Next up: still a few more Ks to go in the Festive 500!

Monday, December 15, 2014

2015 Begins! The Festive 500 Season Opener

While I still need to sit down to design a detailed training plan for 2015, I do know that it will begin with volume. I also know that 2015 starts for me on December 24 with Rapha's annual Festive 500 Challenge. This will be my fourth time completing the challenge and each year I've found it to be a remarkably exciting way to kickstart the season ahead. In 2011, I was even a finalist in the competition for the Trek Madone 6.9. I completed the challenge in 2012 and 2013 as well, but my wrap-up posts were apparently a bit less comprehensive. You can see my individual Festive 500 posts by searching with the keyword Festive 500 in the search bar to the right.

Admittedly, riding 500 kilometers in one week is not a huge deal for the experienced randonneur. What makes this challenge so special, though, are two things. First, it comes at a particularly dark and cold time of the year. The weather around the winter solstice in the Northeast can be pretty grim, yet marshaling the discipline to complete this challenge despite the elements (while thinking of the warmer and brighter times ahead) is downright uplifting. 

The second reason the Festive 500 is so amazing is because of just how, well, festive it is. Over the past several years there have been tens of thousands of participants from around the globe joined together with a single purpose: to ride at least 500K in nine days. Sure there are the young guns in the southern hemisphere whose goal is to climb the leaderboard with thousands of kilometers, but most folks seem to be just scraping by in hopes of finishing. I've made friends I keep to this day through the Festive 500. How cool is that?

The Festive 500 rules really encourage community as all participants must upload their GPS tracks to Strava in order for them to be applied to their challenge total. While on Strava, it's easy to follow other riders and read posts about their accomplishments and setbacks along the way. Lots of folks also post updates to Twitter and Facebook so it really feels like a global event unfolding in real time across thousands upon thousands of miles. While I may look down my nose at participants in the southern hemisphere, it's nice to read about what they're up to if only as a foil to my own suffering.

So join me, whatever 2015 holds in store for you. Log onto Strava today to register. It's free. With 9 days until the start, there are already 34,012 other riders in the mix. All mileage logged between December 24 and 31 counts. And, if you finish, you earn a patch. Sounds almost like randonneuring, right?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

PBP: The Film

In this early planning stage, I've spent a some time watching assorted video clips and documentaries of past events to build enthusiasm (as if I need more enthusiasm), learn a bit more about how to prepare and soak in the ambiance. It was in this frame of mind that I found myself sitting by a warm fire on a cold December night watching the official PBP 2011 video below.

If you've not yet watched this short film, it is well worth your time. The countryside looks even more luscious and the villages more beautiful than I imagined and the enthusiasm of the French people and the hearty spirit of the participating riders just leaps off the screen. I know that somewhere deep into a cold, wet night of riding in late August, I'll wonder why I let myself be duped by such pleasant fiction and curse the day I set off on this adventure. In the meantime, though, in the comfort of my warm living room, PBP looks like just about the best possible goal a person could set for him or herself.

Up next: I clip in tomorrow morning to ride the Walkway Over the Hudson 100K permanent populaire.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

PBP 2015: The Planning Begins

Planning to train for and participate in something as physically ambitious and logistically complex as Paris-Brest-Paris is not done overnight. I am pleased to announce, however, that with fewer than 260 days until the start, I have begun the process to turn this dream of mine into a reality. Here are the first three steps I have taken on this journey.

  1. Building Enthusiasm / Learning from Past Experiences
  2. Blocking out the Time / Building a Plan for 2015
  3. Researching Travel Arrangements / Making Reservations

Building Enthusiasm / Learning from Experience

PBP has seemed pretty remote for quite some time. A few weeks ago, as I settled comfortably into the "off season" pace of recovery rides and coffeeneuring, I grabbed the RUSA 2011 PBP Yearbook from my shelf and began to work my way through the articles written by past participants.  To be honest, as a result of my deep disappointment for missing out on PBP 2011 following my 2010 accident, this is the first time I have been able to bring myself to read this outstanding publication. My first impression, leafing through the essays and photographs, is what a fantastic job Janice C. did collecting and organizing reflections from a wide range of randonneurs from the seasoned ancien to the eager first timer. Both fast and slow riders are well represented and my enthusiasm for the event grows with each page I read.

I've also begun the process of seeding most conversations I have with PBP anciens, either on- or off-bike, with questions about what they've found to be the best way to approach to the event. Questions such as: How crowded are those controls, really? Where did you sleep? Did you arrange transportation yourself or use a travel agent? pepper my conversations. I've also been pleased to see PBP pop up more frequently on the Randon listserv, which has prompted me also to search the archive for past discussions related to PBP planning.

Blocking out the Time / Building a Plan for 2015

Reserving the time to train and travel to the event is no small matter for a busy professional and parent, so I made sure to lay the groundwork early. Last summer at a staff retreat, I made sure to put in a vote for calendaring 2015 work events so as not to collide with my plans to be cycling through northern France in late August. I also added primary and back-up brevet dates to my calendar after the 2015 ride schedule was published on the RUSA site in early October. As you probably know, RUSA maintains a robust database of past and future events as well as member results to help all of us keep track of our riding and plan for the future. The more I use these tools, the more I am impressed. Just this fall, I realized that it is possible to search for events in multiple regions simultaneously, which is a great service for randonneurs like me who live within a reasonable driving distance from several regional series. Once I identify possible events, I transfer them to a color-coded Google calendar I maintain titled simply "events." Once I see a pattern that looks optimal, I transfer selected events to my "events plan" calendar and hope for the best. While my wife can become a bit irritated by my penchant for "claiming" dates so far in advance, in the final analysis, having complete knowledge of the possibilities really helps with the necessary juggling. This is especially true this year since completing an SR series before the end of June is a requirement for the big show in August.

Researching Travel Arrangements / Making Reservations
Once the basic dates leading up to the big event are carved out, it's time to develop a travel plan. Having successfully completed LEL in 2009, I am confident that international rando tourism fits comfortably in my wheelhouse, but planning any trip involves considerable research into both the past experiences of others and the currently available options. Knowing that Des Peres Travel is available to arrange the full compliment of services is comforting, but I am much more likely to save a few bucks and arrange my travel a la carte, which fits more within my general trip design strategy. It looks like I will be traveling to Paris without my family this time around, so it is likely that I will plan to simply arrive a few days early to settle in, adjust to the time change and see a bit of Paris before the ride.

Just a few days ago, there was a post on the Randon listserv announcing that the ACP was exploring the need to modify the event's start date so I will wait just a bit longer to secure non-refundable airline tickets and hotel accommodations before and after the event. This will give me a bit more time to conduct research into the Byzantine world of airline baggage policies and Trip Advisor hotel reviews. Having stayed in Versailles in 2010 with my family, I am familiar with the area and will likely opt to sleep fairly close to the start of the event rather than right in Paris proper. I would rather take a thirty-minute train ride to the center of Paris for excursions than rush to the 5:00 AM 84-hour start on Monday morning or limp home after the event itself. I stayed at a friend's apartment in London before and after LEL and was stuck taking a cab all the way home from the finish due to a labor dispute on the suburban train line. Stumbling into a warm bed a few miles from the finish is much more my style.

Up next: The Journey Continues . . .

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lanterne Rouge: My Coffeeneuring Wrap-up

To say that the Coffeeneuring Challenge was not my highest priority this fall does not convey my fondness for this unique and growing phenomenon. I feel honored to be one of the original coffeeneurs and set out this fall with plans to build upon my past accomplishments to take this challenge to a new level. The trouble is that life simply got in the way. To begin with, October has become a harried month in my calendar with school accreditation visits to supervise as well family demands that have grown rather than lessened now that my daughter has begun her first year of college. With a few six-day work weeks and a trip to Ohio, it's been nearly impossible to squeeze in even the most rudimentary coffeeneuring excursions.

Yesterday, for instance, I was committed to riding a 100K permanent populaire to keep my monthly streak going after dropping off my wife to teach a workshop for childbirth educators in New York City. I selected JB's Yorktown Heights 100K, which begins and ends in Yonkers. The route itself is both pleasant and challenging with over 20 miles of rail trail and additional miles along sleepy (hollow) backroads throughout Westchester County. The only way I could fit in a coffeeneuring ride while staying true to the challenge rules, however, was to add on a two-mile loop after completing the permanent ride. 

Today, with the curtain closing on the 2014 Challenge, I managed to fit in a five-mile loop beginning and ending at the state park where my son was playing in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. While I was able to succeed, I did not excel -- and this, sometimes, has to be good enough. Out with a whimper rather than a bang. Lanterne rouge it would be.

I can tolerate a Dunkin' Donuts coffee, but I typically don't enjoy it unless I've ridden several hundred miles before drinking one. This was not the case here, it was simply the best I could do under the circumstances. As with randonneuring, not all rides are inspired, but the satisfaction of completing a series is very sweet indeed. So with gratitude and humility, I thank MG for her fine organization and inspiration and promise that I will put in a superior effort in 2015. 

November 15
Dunkin' Donuts, Yonkers, NY
Dark roast coffee and a Pumpkin Pie donut
2 miles

November 16
Dunkin' Donuts, Arlington, NY
Regular coffee
5 miles