Sunday, May 12, 2019

Back in the Saddle on the Cranbury 200K

The climb back to event fitness has been slower than I imagined following my total hip replacement in October 2018. For planning purposes, I naively assumed the shortest possible recovery time, as if personal will had anything to do with it. As it turned out, however, my muscles were pretty out of whack following eight years of adaptation first to my 2010 fracture and then to the slow decline that came with the avascular necrosis. It turns out that some of my pain was the result of improper muscle use and general overuse rather than direct joint pain. So over the past six months, I’ve had to retrain the correct muscles to engage which has involved both mindfulness, physical therapy, and training.

In late April I felt prepared for my first 200K having ridden both 100K and 100-mile training rides earlier in the month. I selected the Cranbury 200K in part because it was organized by my friends down at NJ Randonneurs and would provide a great opportunity for brevet socializing and also because the route is blessedly flat. As the date approached, it became clear that the weather gods were on my side. With the exception of a nasty wind, the conditions could not have been better. It was cool and sunny with dry roads and lovely spring foliage in abundance throughout the day.

The enthusiasm for this ride was impressive with over 80 riders registered. I clipped in, following an overnight at my mother’s house where we enjoyed our annual joint birthday soiree and enjoyed the energy and camaraderie that comes from riding with dozens of riders heading out into a brevet. A field so large on a 200K almost ensures that one need not ride alone and this proved to be true for me as I enjoyed catching up with old friends and acquaintances and meeting new ones along the way. I rode much of the first two stages with NJ Rando stalwart Joe R. and we swapped stories about bikes, PBP and friends we have in common.

Just as I was approaching the Jersey Shore near Bradley Beach, though, I felt the tell-tale softness coming from my rear triangle that could only mean one thing. My tire was in need of immediate attention. Not more than five miles from the location I flatted on last year’s Cranbury 200K, it felt like some sort of cruel joke. While I replaced my tires the night before with brand new Continental GP 4000s, I seem to have installed my tubes too hastily causing a pinch flat to develop about 60 miles into the event. Luckily, I was able to replace the tube within eyeshot of the beach while sitting on a fresh patch of sod.

Having spent 20 minutes fixing my flat, I decided to pass straight through the lunch control after having my card signed and rear tire inflated and headed off into the hinterlands of South Jersey alone. While I do not recall much in the way of tailwinds throughout the morning, we all definitely experienced some major headwinds on the way home in the afternoon. The winds were of the 20+ mph variety with gusts up to 40 and there were several times I found myself struggling to stay upright. Luckily the route was not a straight shot into the wind so we were afforded breaks along the way. Not only that, a group of four of us teamed up together to ride in a paceline for much of the afternoon making the return journey much more enjoyable as a result of both conversation and workload reduction.

The final control on the well-organized Cranbury 200K offers a welcome banquet of pizza and beer. While I passed on the latter, I had plenty of the former and enjoyed some great conversation with friends new and old. The best part of the day, of course, was what I learned about my physical condition. While a bit tired at the finish, I was sore in all the right ways. Any discomfort came from my undertrained quads and adductors and not and from my hip which was stiff rather than sore. Not only that, but I somehow shaved 20 minutes off my 2017 finish time.

Up next: The Bash Bish 300K

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A New Day is Dawning in 2019!

It's that time of year again. The very beginning. That moment filled with hope and anticipation, fresh starts and optimism. After eight years tolerating a steadily deteriorating left hip, I had mine swapped out in order to reset my system for the decade (or more) of endurance cycling ahead. The first big goal on my horizon is Paris-Brest-Paris in August and I have a nice, progressive schedule of brevets lined up to get me there starting on April 6.

While only time will tell, it seems like I may have timed my late October hip replacement surgery just perfectly. I've experienced steady gains over the past two months but just this week, I've been walking entirely pain-free and feeling stronger than ever. This has been such a welcome change following so many years feeling stiff, weak and sore. It's remarkable how much we can get used to over time and I don't think I fully realized how old all of this made me feel.

But today's a new day. After six weeks of physical therapy, I recently switched from working out on the recumbent trainer at the gym to using my own bike on the trusty Cyclops trainer at home. I'd been resisting the need to throw my leg over the top tube until I was a bit more flexible and steady, but the positive feeling of clipping into my own bike after so many weeks cannot be overstated.

I've been taking it slow and steady on the trainer, though, gradually adding higher levels of aerobic resistance here and there to build strength and a foundation for the more ambitious training I envision as the season progresses. I'm not in any real rush to get out on the roads this winter, but look forward to doing so once I develop more strength and stability on the bike. Perhaps a nice warm day in late January. In the meantime, I plan to ride for at least an hour a day, five or six days a week, while increasing my aerobic load and my duration each week. This may become a bit challenging as my travel schedule picks up, but that's what hotel gyms are for, right?

So for now, the operative words during this season of base training are patience and consistency.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Under the Wire, Under the Knife: Coffeeneuring 2018

When I scheduled my total hip replacement for late October, I was focused solely on creating enough recovery time to include both rehabilitation and training to finish strong at Paris Brest Paris in August 2019. The impact of this schedule on my Coffeeneuring Season did not occur to me until too late. Fortunately, Her Royal Highness of Coffeeneurlandia, has a big heart and allowed me to get an early start by logging some pre-season coffeeneuring in order to complete my 8th year (!!) of coffeeneuring just before getting my left hip replaced. My last day of coffeeneuring was on October 23rd and my surgery was scheduled for October 24th. I would have ridden to the hospital, but I couldn't get a clear confirmation that they would store my bike for the during the procedure.

Ride 1 (September 29)
Mudd Puddle - New Paltz, NY
8 miles
Black Coffee

On a beautiful fall afternoon, my wife Jessie and our friend Jasmine and I teamed up to discover the beauty of the new River to Ridge Trail linking the quaint village of New Paltz with the majestic Shawangunk Ridge.

Ride 2 (October 7)
Apple Bin - Ulster Park, NY
12 miles
Black Coffee

What can I say? Backyard ride. Had to get a quick one in on a day that involved a few other obligations.

Ride 3 (October 9)
Greca - Tribeca, NYC
22 miles
Cold Brew

Nothing quite like a cold brew on a warm day. I grabbed a quiet table on the streets of Tribeca on my way home to my in-law's apartment after a long day of school visits.

Ride 4 (October 14)
Cafe Dolce - Kingston, NY
24 miles
Double Espresso

I always enjoy a quick trip to Kingston's historic Rondout District. These few blocks sure pack a lot in with hip cafes, antique shops, 18th-century homes, old ships, and even the Hudson River Maritime Museum.

Ride 5 (October 16)
Rough Draft Bar and Books - Kingston, NY
4 miles
Black coffee

I arranged a quick loop through my other favorite neighborhood in historic Kingston on my way home from a conference in Albany. I threw my Brompton in the back of the car and enjoyed a short 4-mile jaunt from the Senate House to the new Rough Draft Bar and Books. Bar, Books, Coffee? What's not to like?

Ride 6 (October 22)
Coffeeshop Without Walls - Walkway Over the Hudson - Highland, NY
10 miles
Starbucks Frappuccino

As my time started to run thin, I threw my Brompton in the back of the car again and rode down to the lovely Walkway Over the Hudson where I enjoyed a cool frappuccino from Starbucks one evening at sunset.

Ride 7 (October 23)
FIKA - Tribeca, NYC
22 miles
Black coffee

I made sure to enjoy in some great urban miles on my last day of riding for at least six weeks until my hip is adequately healed from the total hip replacement the following day. After a lovely coffee and a tasty Swedish treat, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the top of my favorite bridge to see one of my favorite views in all NYC. It felt just like being home again.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Recovery: Week Two

Week Two was filled with milestones. My gains have been pretty dramatic and super encouraging so far. During this week, I:

  • Said goodbye to all painkillers stronger than Tylenol,
  • Had all of my staples removed,
  • Packed up and sent the dreaded leg pump device back to the hospital,
  • Graduated from in-home PT to out-patient PT,
  • Started driving,
  • Voted, 
  • Attended a conference and made presentations both with and without my leg pumps, and
  • Met with my surgeon and received some really great news.

My mobility has increased and my pain has decreased at roughly the same rate. The simple exercises I've been doing several times a day have helped to strengthen my hip and leg muscles and improve my range of motion. The swelling has dropped dramatically and I no longer need pain medication stronger than Tylenol. A nurse came by on Thursday to remove all 42 of my stapes which left me feeling much better.

Also on Thursday, I met with my surgeon who confirmed that my surgery was smooth, my progress has been impressive and that I'm well on my way to recovery. He also told me about some very interesting discoveries he made about my body during surgery. While he knew that my femur was deteriorating, apparently my hip and leg muscles were doing all sorts of weird things to compensate. Much of the pain and stiffness I've been feeling since my 2010 crash, he suggested, may simply have been the result of adaptations my body was making to compensate for the fractures and displacements. In other words, the progress I made with walking and riding may actually have created additional problems and pains that ultimately caught up with me.

The great news is that this should all be fixable. While the doctor told me that my muscles were going to be "pretty unhappy" with me for the next few months, ultimately my body should regain proper alignment and I should be stronger than ever. Perhaps the best news, though, to come out of Week Two is that there are times when my hip feels much, much better than it has in a long, long time. While I feel some occasional discomfort, especially in my hip flexor when I stretch in certain directions, there are some pains I had gotten quite used to that seem to be gone for good.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

My Long-Term Recovery Begins Anew

I used to write a blog about my love of randonneuring and the many joys it brings me as well as the challenges and obstacles I face as a parent and a professional maintaining a sense of balance and harmony in my busy life. Well, looking back at the past year, it seems like I've been losing the battle. Two posts in 2018 . . . ugh!

This has been a hard year for sure. Most dramatic and upsetting was the decline and then death of my dear father-in-law whose long fight with cancer was both an inspiration and a frequent distraction. With family in need far away in New England, my wife and I spent many weekends on the road this year and rarely with a bicycle. All things considered, I would not have spent my time differently, but trying to maintain a training and event schedule in the face of constantly changing needs left my head spinning more than usual and led to the cancelation of multiple riding plans with only short rides on Block Island on many a weekend.

While I rode more than I blogged in 2018, my riding declined rather dramatically as well, not only due to conflicting obligations but also as the result of gradual physical changes I've been facing in recent months that made riding more challenging and less enjoyable than in years past. As I have discussed before, I was diagnosed with avascular necrosis in 2015, a byproduct of the 2010 crash in which I originally broke my hip (and 24 other bones) while riding in the Endless Mountains 1000K.

This year I was not able even to muster a simple super randonneur (SR) result despite the best-laid plans . . . In fact, all I completed was the Atlanta 200K, the Bash Bish 300K, the Portland-Boston 400K, a few 100Ks, and a solo Catskill Climbfest 200K. I had sketched out such a lovely season, which was to be capped off by the epic Cascade 1200K I've been dreaming about for so long, but life, as they say, had other plans for me.

While my performance on the bike has declined in recent years, the issue that really got my attention was the increasing pain I felt in my left hip at first following and then during long rides. Randonneurs are remarkably adaptable and so it took some time for me to realize that I had been shortening, slowing and flattening my rides to avoid pain for some time. Finally, I determined that enough was enough and met with my surgeon to make plans. The only cure for avascular necrosis is to remove and replace the dead tissue so I consulted my calendar and scheduled a total hip replacement for a date this fall that would allow me enough time to recover and train for PBP 2019.

I'm pleased to report that the operation went very smoothly and ten days later I'm already well on the road to recovery. There are some significant differences this time around. I was shocked by how easy it was to stand on my new hip, for instance, the pain not nearly as dramatic as it was the last time I had to work through rehabilitation. I took a week off from work to focus on my recovery and can already see a light at the end of the (not too dark) tunnel.  

My surgeon tells me that I should be riding on a stationary bike within a few weeks and then back out on the roads within three months. This timeline seems perfect for a solid return to randonneuring in 2019 capped off with a strong finish at PBP, which is my concrete long-term goal. I've got spring rides reserved on the calendar and plans for plenty of winter base riding, strength training, and interval work.

It feels like a fresh start. More to come. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Channelling Flèche on the Portland Daytrip 400K

I'll be honest with you, the 400K has not been my favorite distance over the years. Oh, there have been 400s on which I've enjoyed myself and I generally feel the powerful sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing one, but as far as sheer joy goes, the 400K ranks pretty low.

Unlike the 200K and 300K, which are both essentially long days out on the bike, and the 600K, 1000K and 1200K, which are grueling multi-day adventures where just about anything can happen, the 400K often feels like a mind-numbing slog. It seems like a ride that should fit comfortably into one day, but it seldom does. Something was going to be fundamentally different about the Portland Daytrip, though, I could just feel it.

For one, the Portland Daytrip is a destination ride. Riding a bike from one major city to another (and back!) is an accomplishment tied up in the histories and cultures of the two locations. There is something fairly epic about it. Mention to someone in a control that you're riding from Boston to Portland and back and he or she immediately perks up and shows you some respect. "That's a long way in a car," they may say. Unlike much of randonneuring, civilians get it.

Second, the roads that New England Randonnuers selected for this brevet were out of this world. The route was quiet, scenic and took in a wide range of beauty over the course of 250 miles. We hugged the coast for a long stretch on the way north, for instance, and the views were simply spectacular, especially on this clear, dry day. At some points along the way, I felt like pinching myself to make sure I was awake.

It was more than these qualities, though, that made the Portland Daytrip so enjoyable: could it have been that a group of us simply decided to make it so? For much of the day, I rode with a somewhat eclectic group of between 4 to 8 riders, each of whom seemed to be having the time of his or her life. Our merry band included PBP anciens and 400K first-timers alike, men and women, locals and travelers.

The turnaround in Portland was especially fun for me since I arranged to meet up at the control with dear friends that I've not seen for a few years. After a few hugs, they handed me an awesome pair of lobster-themed cycling socks I will wear with fondness for my trip to Maine and convinced me that I need not cycle 250 miles to come back to see them next time.

Our group split up a bit at the turnaround control as often happens with each rider taking a slightly different amount of time to refuel and reorient. No one was in much of a hurry, though, and it was not long before our core group reassembled on the 50-mile stretch to the next control. It was here, as we sat in the lawn refueling, that Emily professed her love for the flèche. As she extolled the flèche's many virtues (teamwork, cycling at a relaxed pace, heterogeneous groups riding together undaunted by time pressures, etc.), we began to wonder why we could not simply apply these principles to our current ride. 

As night fell, we donned reflective gear, turned on lights and rode off into the quiet, still and mild evening with full bellies and a shared committment to each other and to fun itself. There were word games for those feeling drowsy and enough turns to keep things interesting. At one point, we passed by an amateur speedway with highly-tuned engines crying out, a reminder that we were not the only ones enjoying our time outdoors on this mild summer night. As we all rolled into the final control, it was clear that each of us had achieved something special on this long day and night in the saddle with the help of each other, whether it was one's first 400K or one's tenth, the day was a reminder that the social side of randonneuring is powerful and extraordinarily rewarding.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Southern Hospitality on The Gainesville (GA) 200K

How is it possible that my last post to this blog was made on December 4, 2017?!? I guess I've been busy . . . At any rate, the brevet I am about to describe took place on March 10, 2018 and it was quite special for several reasons that get right to the heart of why I love randonneuring so much.

Every year in late February/early March, thousands of independent school educators from around the country converge for an annual conference and this year’s event brought me to Atlanta where I’ve never really spent any time. Getting in an early 200K in the Northeast is always a risky proposition, so I scanned the RUSA calendar and realized that Audax Atlanta was hosting a 200K not far from Atlanta the day after the conference closed.

This realization led to a series of emails to the RBA and then the ride organizer to see how I could make this all work. When I asked about bike rental options, the organizer asked my frame size and quickly offered up one of his own bikes for the job. This would be the third time in two years that a generous randonneur loaned me a gorgeous bike for an out-of-town ride. A recent post in the "randon" listserv asked for input on the "spirit of randonneuring" and to my mind, it's generosity like this that goes straight to the top of the list.

It turns out that Atlanta is a pretty spectacular city. While I could easily have been trapped for days on end in the Georgia World Conference Center, I decided to buy a cheap monthly membership in the Atlanta bike share program, thanks to the recommendation of my Facebook friend and fellow randonneur Scott C., which allowed me to roam the city streets and bikeways with a light blue cruiser each day before, between and after my conference sessions. 

Once my conference ended on Friday, I took the train to the airport where I rented a car to drive out to the ride start in Gainesville 90 minutes north of the city. On the way out of town, I stopped at the ride organizer's house to get my loaner (a gorgeous and comfortable Rivendell complete with downtube shifters, handlebar bag and Brooks saddle) dialed in. Andy A. and I chewed the rando fat for a while before I drove the rest of the way to the cute college town of Gainesville in northern Georgia, had a nice meal and got to bed early in preparation for the big day ahead.

The ride began at 7:00 AM and, with a forecast for a day filled with rain, most of the field kept a steady pace early on to put some miles under our wheels before the skies opened up. Since I had very little mileage in my legs at this time of year, I decided to take it easy and settled in with a nice guy from Atlanta named Bradley D. with whom I rode most of the day.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect on this, my fist brevet south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The route, one of Audax Atlanta's oldest, weaves its way through the hills of Northern Georgia on quiet, low-trafficked roads with nice views. Since the roads never freeze like they do in the northeast, they are buttery smooth rather than frost-heaved and cratered as they are up north at this time of year. 

I'd heard that dogs tend to run a bit freer in the south than they do in the north and this proved to be true, but not dangerously so. While the sign below was a bit unsettling to see early on in the day - shortly after being chased up a hill by a barking hound - things settled down a bit and so my worst fears were not realized.

Luckily, the rain held off until mid-day after we hit the turnaround, where Andy met us with a carload of treats, but when it did arrive, it made for a pretty soggy slog back to the start. Bradley and I split up at the mid-point, as he was eager to see the lunch spot that involved "goats on the roof," whereas I preferred to keep the momentum going. 

The route is a classic out-and-back and the second time I passed Lake Rabun was as pleasant as the first. Unfortunately, when the rains really started hammering, I missed a cue, turned the wrong way at a T intersection, and added about six miles EACH WAY onto my ride. I would have cried if it would have done any good, but let's just say I was a bit grumpy as I slogged back in the pouring rain along the only heavily trafficked main road on the route. It started to get pretty cold and my fingers grew increasingly numb as I reached the penultimate control where I ran into Bradley and a few other randos including a strong recumbent rider named Graham S. who dragged be back in to the finish control. 

It was nice to have company on the final push and it was very pleasing to make it back before sunset. The Rivendell performed like a charm even if the rider was a bit rusty and everyone I met in my travels was welcoming and fun to spend time with. This Southern hospitality business is no joke! I'm already looking forward to my next opportunity to clip in and share the roads with the folks at Audax Atlanta. Thanks for the good times!

Monday, December 4, 2017

One Step Closer to the Elusive RUSA Cup

"You're driving to Boston to ride a 100K? I didn't think you'd drive that far to ride a 200K." 
~ My wife the night before the big (little) event. ~

That's right, I rolled out of a perfectly warm bed at 4:45am on a cool fall morning to drive to Boston in order to ride 100 kilometers on my bike. Why? Iron Rider provides an answer in this great piece written a few years ago outlining the difficulty locating and completing a 100K populaire, one of the rides needed to earn the RUSA Cup - an award that has eluded me for several years. While I will wrap up this challenge in June with the Cascade 1200K, I did not want this shortest of all RUSA events hanging over my head in the meantime. 

With 7+ hours in the car to ride an event of 4+ hours, I was violating one of my cardinal rules of randonneuring: don't drive more miles to the start of the event than the event itself covers. In other words, I try not to drive more than 125 miles to a 200K, 187 miles to a 300K, 250 miles to a 400K, etc. In this case, I simply did not care. The RUSA Cup is that important. Mercifully, the ride did not start until 9:00 AM, which gave me time to drive to the start in the morning rather than stay overnight in the area. 

It was brisk at the start where we were greeted with smiles and hot coffee by Boston RBA Jake K. and his partner and Dill Pickle Gear CEO Emily O. It remained chilly throughout the day, but I never felt too cold to ride; my new Endura gloves performing as advertised. Soon after the start, I settled into a comfortable pace alongside a nice local randonneur named Jacob and together we covered some lovely roads in the suburban and rural areas north and west of the city, riding through Concord and Lexington and plenty of other historic towns along the way. Take Thoreau Farm below, for instance. Simply beautiful.

The best part of this ride, though, was the feeling of exhilaration that comes from a burst of athletic enthusiasm following an extended period of rest and recovery. So with this ride, I formally launch my 2018 cycling season. With an exciting new training book on my nightstand, this promises to be my best year in a long time. Now only the 1200K remains between me and that elusive RUSA Cup.