Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gone fishin'

Well, it looks like that spill I took on the Cranbury 600K back in June actually fractured my humerus. It's funny when you're sitting in the doctor's office and the diagnosis of a broken bone is actually GOOD news. I was very glad to hear that I had not torn my rotator cuff, though. Anyway, it looks like I'm off the bike for four weeks with my arm in a sling. This corresponds with a whirlwind family vacation that was not to include cycling of any great proportion anyway, so the timing is actually not bad.

I'm sure glad I listened to my wife and sat out the recent Lap of the Lake 1000K. Finishing the 600 with a broken arm is one thing, but 620 miles is another altogether. I just submitted my registration and hope to be recovered and able to ride the Endless Mountains 1000K in late August. The doctor didn't say yes and he didn't say no, but I may have neglected to mention the actual distance . . . Time will tell.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Andrey's Amazing 1000K Adventure: Lap of the Lake 2010

The skin on my palms turned into leather. I used the entire chamois cream large tube. It was used on every part of the body, inside gloves, above ears, inside socks and of course most of it went where it is intended to go. On the third day of the ride even it did not help much and I had to stay off the seat for most of the day.

I could not sleep well the night before the ride, plus camping in a tent on an 80 degree night temperature did not help either. 51 riders started the ride at 6 am. To my surprise the pace was very fast as if it were a Sunday group ride. Within the first 15-20 miles, the group started separating into sub-groups of 5-10 people. I was very comfortable travelling in a third group. About 20 riders ahead were just too fast for me (above 20mph) and our group settled into a comfortable pace of 18 mph. At 8 am it was very humid and it felt like the temperature was in the 90s.

Before reaching the first control, I had my first flat and most of the riders passed me while I was trying to insert the valve stem into the rim. Ever tried changing a flat in a shower? That is what it felt like in a 96 deg. humid heat, as the sweat poured down my face and my body. By mile 50 I had 3 flats and I was ready to quit the event. The only hope I had was the bike shop in Oswego that may sell me a new tire and extra tubes, so I could continue the ride. As it turned out, the only tire the bike shop had in 700 sizes suitable to handle a LOL ride was a wire-beaded 700x25 “race lite” tire.

I lost all hope to catch up with any riders, thinking I was the last one, since I lost so much time. Before I reached the second control I had two more flats on the new (!) tire. I still decided to cross the border to Canada, because I did not have any bailout plans. To my surprise I was not the last rider, quite a few people were behind me. Although I think all of them DNFed because of the heat factor on the first day. I could not ride the bridges through the border, since they were way too narrow and I was too wobbly, so I ended up walking them which caused me to cramp up when I got back on the bike again.

I used my last spare tube about 20 miles into Canada. Luckily I was able to ride fast enough to pass some riders and one of them when he caught up with me let me have one of his spares. I also used his HPx pump, since my arm started to cramp up after pumping so many tires with a mini pump. I could not get the pressure high enough with a borrowed pump or maybe just because my arm was tired, but I did not have any flats with softer tire and was able to reach the first sleep stop in Napanee at 2:30 am with a help of McDonald’s cheeseburger.

After sleeping for two hours, taking two showers and installing electric tape under the rim tape of my wheel, I was on the road again. Next morning 3 other riders, Al, Brian and Dan walked into the diner at 8 am where I was having breakfast. RBA Peter Dusel soon joined them, but he was not on the bike any more and now he was in the support car. I rode with Al, Brian and Dan all the way to the finish. We were all rookies at this distance; Brian had only 150 miles as the longest ride before this event. The heat wave passed and Friday presented us with fresh crisp morning air and cloudy skies as we set into Canadian countryside. We could not work together as a group, since Al liked riding on the front all the time and Dan only in the rear. We even finished the ride in this formation.

Around noon it started raining heavily and we spend around 2-3 hours riding in the rain. Brian did not even bring a rain jacket with him and I gave him my arm warmers and vest. At the controls we were catching up with other riders, but they were leaving as we were coming in.        
Riding with a group made me stop thinking about quitting the ride and for the first time I was thinking I might even finish, although some parts of my body were thinking otherwise. At the end of the second day, I was struggling to stay with the group, especially on rolling hills. I realized I had the most gear and the heaviest bike and I was paying for it. I unloaded a lot of stuff including the front bag to the support car that we met at the Bowmanville control.

I soon came up with another reason not to continue the ride since during the process of unloading my stuff, having dinner, stopping at a gas station, etc… I lost my wallet and the brevet card. I thought I had left it in the restaurant on a table, but the plastic bag mysteriously disappeared. I was frustrated but decided to ride anyway, since the group was ready to take off and I needed them to feed me, since I had no money. GPS saved us on the way around Toronto, since there were a lot of turns and everybody was extremely tired to even look at the cue sheet, the spirit of the group was down, since we made one control with only 20 min to spare before it's closing time. We were finally in Toronto at 5 am and decided to meet at 10 am in a hotel lobby and I went to sleep at my friend's house.

The next morning I found my wallet and the brevet card in the bag that I thought I had checked many times the night before and my hopes were back up and we also saw a lot of riders ahead of us leaving the hotel. We filled the Camelbaks and bottles with ice and headed to US boarder at Niagara Falls. We realized that we should start riding faster since skateboarders were passing us on the road laughing at us and the speed we were travelling. Also some shirtless men on mountain bikes passed us effortlessly, but we were enjoying the lake and the beaches at Burlington.

Everybody on the team was very exhausted and we did not even stop at Niagara Falls for sightseeing.  We just went through the customs and crashed for some rest at a fast food joint on the U.S. side.
I lost my team on the way to the next control because of the roadwork on US side of Niagara Falls and ended up riding some “bonus” miles. But I was feeling good and stayed mostly around 20 mph till I reached Olcot. To my surprise I passed my team and saw about 10 rides that were ahead of us at that control. There were a lot of festivities in Olcot with a car show and parade of some kind. There were many nice restaurants right on the shore, but I did not visit a single one, since they were packed, limiting myself to a small “food mart” snack (I paid for this mistake later). I was afraid that my team went back looking for me as I was trying in vain to phone them since I had no reception.

Finally, 45 minutes later they arrived (Brian had a flat) and after a small rest we started the most boring and tiresome section of the ride to Charlotte. Mentally I broke this section into three 20-mile stretches but it did not work well. The road was made out of concrete and had very wide joints that the bike tires hit so hard that I wished for a spring saddle and wide tires. Also this section reminded me of the Taconic parkway with cars flying at 6o mph, but this road surface we were on was in much worse condition. It was getting late and luckily cars were rare.

By the time we reached Rochester I started to bonk. I ate all the remaining two gels and a power bar, but it was not enough. With 20 miles to go to the finish at 1:30 a.m. and no businesses open I felt pretty low and started to wobble. Dan gave me his last Clif bar and I think I ate it with the wrapper. When we rolled in on fumes at 3 a.m. to finish we were greeted with tired applause by the people who finished before us. We were the last riders in, but we still had a lot of time left (75 hours would end at 9 am).

I think I ate all the remaining food on the table, drank a bottle of beer, mumbled something like “thank you” to the organizers and crawled into the tent to sleep, but I was in trouble because of the bonk. I was freezing. I could not find any of my warm clothes, my mind was not working well at that time and I could not concentrate on the issue at hand. I caught myself talking out loud while putting 3 layers of wet cycling clothing on. I think tiredness took its toll and I fell asleep . . .

Al’s tent was next to mine and I heard him yelling to see if I was going to get up today, breakfast was ready. It was 8 a.m. I crawled out and was still shaking and wobbling when I headed towards table with food. People were asking me if I was OK. I guess I looked bad, but after a shower and 3 breakfasts I started feeling better and was able to talk to people and even drive home, pulling over every hour for a nap.

Lessons learned on the ride:
  1. GPS is great, but you still need a cue sheet.
  2. Very strong and experienced riders show up on rides over 600K. It is not your typical 200K ride. I need to train more for rides like this. Riders from Florida DNFed because of the heat-they had training rides in Florida heat for 5-6 hours, but it was not enough to handle the first day of LOL at 96 deg. temperatures.
  3. Need to make the bike much lighter and take less stuff along, I am not sure if fenders should even stay on the bike or may get sacrificed for the weight saving. No front bag for me, jersey pockets work as well.
  4. Camalbak works great on hot long days, ice stays in it for a long time. But need to make sure there is a place on the bike where it could be secured when your back needs rest. Third water bottle cage may be an option worth considering.
  5. Need to put more gel under handlebar tape and the quest for a seat is not over yet.
  6. One cannot have too many electrolytes and too much chamois cream on hot/wet rides.
  7. Ibuprofen was only used on the last day but it does work wonders.
  8. Need to make a mental schedule to eat real food 3 times a day, otherwise a bonk is inevitable.
  9. Pepsi-Cola works as an electrolyte, caffeine and cure for the upset stomach.

 By Andrey Belikov

More great LOL photos can be found here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

DNS: The Lap of the Lake 1000K that wasn't

I’ve always viewed DNS as the somewhat tamer cousin of the dreaded DNF. I’ve seen it as a card to be played only in the most extreme cases, a sign of failure. But as country singer Kenny Rogers reminds us, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run . . .”  By all accounts, I should be admiring the view of Lake Ontario right now with 56 of my new best  friends on the Lap of the Lake 1000K brevet. Instead, I’m sitting here writing about why I’m not.

Knowing when to call it quits is a hard thing for most randonneurs. These are people who generally operate in that zone somewhere between crazy and stupid, courageous and insane.  When is too much TOO MUCH?  I reached my limit this week. A crash on the NJ 600K on June 26th left me with reduced mobility and persistent pain in my left shoulder. I was able to finish that event, but the spill has taken a toll on my season. After the road rash has healed, I’m left wondering whether I’ve done something serious this time around. Unable to get an appointment with an orthopedist until next Monday, I wait and spend less time on the bike than I normally would at this time of year.  The scariest thing is, had my wife not put her foot down, I’d be out there right now figuring that things would sort themselves out (which they might). I worry that my determination to keep going no matter what may lead me into trouble down the road.

Randonneurs understand the psychological buildup that comes from training and planning for a big event. I first learned about the LOL 1000K back in the fall and it’s not been far from my mind over the past six months. While I completed the LEL 1400K last summer, this was to be my first 1000K event and I was eager to test the distance as well as achieve airtight qualification for PBP pre-registration priority next year. I keep reminding myself that, all in all, I’m pretty lucky that my crash was not more serious. Frank Schleck was in surgery deep into the night on Tuesday to repair his broken collarbone ending his Tour and we all know that much worse can happen on the open roads.

As disappointing as it is, I realize that healing is probably wiser than riding this week. I am feeling a bit better each day and with luck, I’ll get good news from the doctor on Monday. Riding itself does not seem to stress my injury all that much. I was out last weekend on a 50-mile spin through the Catskills that included some major climbs. Only once did I feel a sharp jab as I shifted my weight on the bars coming out of my saddle to add heft to my pedal stroke. With a little luck, I’ll be properly mended for the Endless Mountain 1000K in late August. For now, I’ll have to imagine the view of the lake and the adventures that my friend Andrey and others are having along the way.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Close but No Cigar (or how I almost rode 375 miles in 24 hours).

Having followed RAAM pretty closely this month, I’m humbled by what it means for some people to miss meeting an audacious cycling goal. My BHAG (or big hairy audacious goal) this season was to meet the Cyclos Montagnard R60 Challenge. Having completed three brevets (200, 300 and 400) within the time constraints, I was hoping to finish the NJ600 within 24 hours to achieve this honor. Signs looked good: the route was basically flat, the start was at 10 pm (bringing the sleepy second half of the ride into broad daylight), there were reasonably spaced controls (so not too much time would be lost there), the weather looked favorable (if a bit hot) and there were some speedy riders registered so I would likely have company. Despite all this, I was simply unable to do it. Sleep deprivation took its toll and as a result of a reduced pace and a crash in the last third of the ride, I rolled into the finish with a time of 25:50. This marks my fastest time yet on a 600K, but it was not quite fast enough for the R60. Looks like it’s R70 for me this year, but the first three R60 finish times remain on record and are transferable next year. All I have to do is slay the 24 hour 600 and I’m in. Looks like I have my work cut out for me.

The NJ600 brought out 44 randonneurs this past weekend. It was my first nighttime start and I was eager to meet and reconnect with friends and acquaintances. The organizer let the fast riders out first to spread the bikes out along the road. Within the first 20 miles, I settled into a comfortable pace, a bit slower than the two lead riders and met up with Anthony with whom I would ride the whole event. We enjoyed each other’s company, rode at about the same pace, and were willing to manage our ride with our “eyes on the prize.”

The riding on Friday night was majestic. We were blessed with clear skies, mild temperatures and a full moon. The roads were quite smooth and direct and it was pleasant not to have to navigate twisty descents in the dark and we were subsequently able to maintain a healthy pace throughout the night. Anthony and I hit the Jersey Shore at dawn which was a highlight of the day. At this hour it's possible to pedal by marshes filled with elegant shore birds and shore towns free of summer traffic. As the sun rose, though, it became hotter and more humid than was optimal. With temps around 95 on fully exposed roads and a nutrition balance a bit out of kilter, I found myself nauseated for big stretches of the day.

The NJ Randonneurs did an outstanding job of organizing support for this event. We were met at each of the ubiquitous Wawa convenience store controls by volunteers and the highlight was a mid-afternoon cold shower and a few pickles in the organizer’s home. The break was rejuvenating and we set out with fresh legs and full bottles. Chris, one of the two lead riders, greeted Anthony and me as we arrived and took off alone leaving his fellow rider Doug behind for some rest. We would meet up a few more times and trade pulls with Chris along the way, yet despite a sore knee, he was just too strong for the two of us so we let him go in search of his own 24-hour brass ring.

It was hard to stay fast and focused on Saturday afternoon and eventually this was my undoing. At mile 309, in the bright mid-day heart of the desolate Pine Barrens, I lost focus and veered off the edge of the road and into a sandpit. Unable to keep the bike upright, I fell to the ground hard bracing myself with both hands on the asphalt road. Luckily there was no traffic at that time, the bike did not sustain any damage and I was not too injured to continue riding. At that moment, though, Anthony looked at me and said, “Maybe this is a sign that we should back off that 24-hour goal.”

I thought the 10 pm start would actually help, but I think it actually made a fast time more difficult. Since I was unable to sleep during the day on Friday, by time Saturday afternoon crawled along I was mighty tired indeed. An evening start is arguably good preparation for a longer brevet for riders who plan to sleep at some point during the 600 so they get the experience of riding over two nights, but for someone trying to finish within 24 hours, the distance between sleep on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon may be too great for a fast time.

The last fifty miles were pretty brutal. At times, I was literally looking on lawns for places to curl up for a few minutes as I saw objects on the roadside and had trouble keeping focused on the matter at hand. At 11:50 pm, Anthony and I rolled into the finish as riders 2 and 3. While I knew I could have done better, I was grateful that nothing more serious happened out on the roads of southern New Jersey. I’ll need to plan very carefully for sleep and rest the next time around.

The thing about audacious goals is that they push you beyond what you think it possible. As I looked towards this season from the comfort of my winter couch, the Cyclos Montagnards R70 Challenge looked more like my speed. A funny thing happened by setting a higher goal than I thought I could reach. I rode three event distances at "personal best" times and got 3/4 of the way to a level I was not sure was possible. So while technically missing my goal, I have much to feel pleased with and learned what I need to do to go even further next time.

(Photo by Owl's Flight - Flickr CC)