Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Trending down!



Although I awoke this morning to watch a lunar eclipse, because of the cloud cover, I am simply getting ready for work. I'll go in early and try to get out a little early. Since I'm up though, I thought I'd make a quick update.

The weight and body fat % is trending in the direction I have been hoping - DOWN! Here's a quick screen shot of my charts:


An interesting note: My Body fat % seems to vary much more than my weight in the day to day. This is reflected more in the chart for BF%. As you can see, the slope is not as steep and in fact it had a little upwards trend for a couple of days. I think the BF% is more dependent on my hydration level at the moment I step on the scale.

The food is making all of the difference. I'm really not exercising any more than before, just making much better choices with the food I'm eating. Perhaps the biggest change is the variety of foods I've been eating. I didn't realize that your body gets used to what you eat, therefore your metabolism becomes complacent. WHO KNEW!

Well, between Coach Jeni's advice and the meals from e-mealz, I've been eating a lot more variety. Not only is that good for my body, it's also good for my head. The best part, I feel satisfied (as in I'm not feeling starved throughout the day) with the meal plan I've been working with.

With the last round of Holiday meals coming up this week, it will be interesting to see how next week's chart looks!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Progress?

Progress, moving forward, keeping goals in sight and working towards meeting them. It's important that we can see progress being made. Progress comes in many forms, for some of my friends, it is in the form of completing a half or full Marathon. This weekend, MANY of my friends went to Kiawah and met goals they had been working towards for many months.

For some it was their first half or full and that was the goal. For others it was to set a new personal best. Congratulations to all of them for their efforts. Some perhaps didn't do as well as they'd hoped, but all were pleased with their result in the end. And, I suppose that counts big - one must be able to look oneself in the mirror and truthfully say 'I gave everything I had'. Kudos to all of them!

It's been a week since I posted my
tale of the tape. Not a long time really, but progress towards the goal is being made, bit by bit.

So far, the changes are not big, but I'm not worried about how fast things change, only that they are changing and going in the right direction. Recall that my reported numbers are a 7 day average value. In fact, I don't calculate a value unless there are at least 5 data points.

Of course, being an Engineer, I keep all of this data in a spreadsheet and I have a little chart that shows the (5 to) 7 day average values. This allows me to watch the overall trend. I know, NERD!

In my spreadsheet, I actually started recording data points on November 3rd. Because of a couple of business trips in November, I have a bunch of days where I did not have the opportunity to obtain my weight and % body fat. I did have two points that I could count, as those first couple of points are actually 6 day averages.

While I posted last week's numbers in my tale of the tape posting, I should use that first point from November 10th as my starting weight. That value was actually 181 lbs (6 day average calculated on Nov 10, 2010). It shows up in my spreadsheet and in my chart, so it will be visible to me. The point in last week's tale of the tape was to report the information all at once - including the body measurements.

I did weigh myself on November 20th, but it is not a 7 day average (or 6 or 5, it is only one day) and that day's weight was 182.6 lbs! Since this is not an average value, it is not counted and not shown in my weight chart.

So, what do my weight and % body fat charts show?
Here's the screen shots:

Yes, you can clearly see a downward trend in both the weight and the % body fat. I like that. That is progress towards my goal and it gives me motivation to continue.

What other progress have I made? I suppose it is visible in the chart above, but in my head it feels like a huge deal. I've been able to resist that stupid bowl of chocolate that lurks at my office! This has been the bane of my existence for a while now, and I knew it was not helping me one bit. We've moved into our new offices this past week, and that bowl is even further from me than before - that is a great thing!

The other big deal for me, I've been really good about the liquid carbs. Yes, I still like to have a beer (or two or three...), but I've pretty much kept that at bay even when I go out to a social event. Not totally, as I do enjoy a quality beer (for example a recent Pizza party I attended), but I'm making much more intelligent decisions about what
and how much I eat and drink.

And speaking of eating, the funny thing is I feel like I am eating more food now (and losing weight / % body fat!) than before! I certainly do get hungry, but my plan says I should be eating a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack! These are the times when that bowl of chocolate usually began calling my name. Instead, I have a healthy snack that tides me over until my next meal. It is awesome!

There it is, progress is being made. I will watch as those charts continue to show a downward trend over the next months. I do have some significant challenges ahead - Holidays with the family is going to be tough. Then, in January, I have to have some surgery as part of my orthodontic treatment. I'll be eating soft foods for a month or more. These will be challenging times to maintain a healthy balance of nutrition.

I've made it successfully through the Thanksgiving Holiday, so I have confidence going into the next phase of holiday parties. I've started the trend towards my goal, now I need to continue to progress!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Tale of the Tape

So last week I wrote about goals for 2011. I also wrote that I would be taking some measurements and putting them out here for the record. I’ll tell you how I take the measurements.

Weight:
My scale measures both weight and % body fat.
Each morning when I awake, I take a quick trip to the restroom before stepping on my scale. I take the measurements while wearing my birthday suit. The best I can hope for is consistency in my procedure. Because my weight can vary from day to day, I use a rolling 7 day average for both weight and % body fat.
My base weight: 178.7 lbs, 26.4% (seven day average taken from Nov 30 to Dec 5)

I took some body measurements so I could establish a base. I used one of those cloth measuring tapes and made the measurements in inches.

Body Measurements
Here’s my baselines for the following:
Chest: 43.625”
Waist: 38.5”
Hips: 40.0
Thighs: L: 23.875”, R: 24.0”
Calves: L: 16.25”, R: 16.375”

Interesting that my legs are not symmetric. Not a big difference, but a difference nonetheless. Hopefully, I’ll end up losing only the fat and not any muscle during the next several months.

With my baseline established, I guess I can now set a specific goal for a percent body fat reduction. Since the ‘healthy’ body fat ranges I found in my internet search fell around 14-18%, It makes sense to target something in that range.

It’s interesting, if I multiply the weight above by (1-0.264) it should give me my lean body weight, right? The result of that equation is 131.6lbs. If I then take a ‘healthy’ body fat percentage of 16% (might as well target the middle I guess) and re-calculate a corresponding weight (using the lean body weight from above), I get a weight of 153 lbs.

I can’t imagine myself at 153 lbs. Even when I was in the Military, I weighed between 160 and 165. Thankfully, since I’m not targeting a weight but my body fat percentage, I’ll just monitor my weight and see how things go as the BF% drops.

It will also be interesting to see how things end up with the body measurements. I’ll post occasionally and re-take those measurements to see how it progresses.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Facing Challenges and setting goals for 2011

It’s interesting this time of year. So many of my friends are athletes. The great part is that while they are not ‘professional’ athletes, they are certainly more than ‘weekend warriors’. These friends of mine have set some pretty lofty goals for themselves. Because I know them, I have full confidence that they will meet those goals. Several of my friends are setting their sights on Ironman triathlons while others have goals associated with racing or charity events.

2010 was my first year of actually setting goals of this type for myself. I was pleased and a little surprised at how well I did. I definitely met my racing goals. It would be easy to argue about whether I met the goals for the Assault on Mt. Mitchell and Six Gaps. I feel good about my performance in both of those events despite the fact that my finish times were slightly longer than my specific goal for each event. Truthfully though, I hate that I have to put an asterisk next to those events.

So, what about 2011? There are a lot of things out there that I could challenge myself with. Removing the asterisks from the Assault on Mt. Mitchell and Six Gaps are certainly on my mind. I’ve been nominated to take over as Captain of the Greenville Spinners Racing Team so there will be some team goals along with my own racing goals. However, I have something else in mind that should actually help me in meeting those other goals.

I need to start with this: I HAVE NO DOUBT that I can complete any physical challenge I put to myself. Obviously, I’m not saying I could go out tomorrow and complete an Ironman - I would have to find a training program and apply myself to that program. In fact, I think the biggest challenge in completing an Ironman would be finding the time to do all of the training necessary.

Generally, when folks (me included) do something for the first time they have a 2 part goal. Part 1: Complete the event. Part 2: Meet some time goal they have selected based on their ability. This is pretty much how I set my first goals for the 2009 Assault on Mt. Mitchell. I had no doubt whatsoever that I could complete the ride. My only real question was whether it would take me 12 hours or 8 hours. I set my time goal at 8 hours and was pleased when I beat that goal.

I have a problem though. I’ll never really take training for an event like that totally seriously. I like spending time with my friends and enjoying a number of social activities. When it comes down to it, I’m pretty unlikely to do a 100 mile ride if all of my friends are only doing a 60 mile ride. Or, if I am scheduled to do a 20 mile run and none of my friends are running that day, I’d probably choose to join them on a bike ride. I want to hang with my friends during and after whatever activity we choose.

Part of the reason I would not take a training plan totally seriously is because I really have no doubt I can complete the event. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely NOT saying that {name the physical challenge here} would be easy - I know it wouldn’t be easy. Also, This is not pure arrogance on my part. What it is, is a statement about how well I know myself.

I’m sure it goes back to my Military days. There were days that really sucked. I can’t even put into words how bad some of those days sucked. Days where I was lucky to have 2 or three hours of sleep, one meal, carrying a 80 plus pound rucksack (along with assorted other gear weighing upwards of 20 plus pounds) up and down mountains, through swamps, at night, rain, snow, you name it. If there was a mission to accomplish, we were out there. In fact, we had a saying - if the weather was really bad (and worse was better), we would say ‘This is Ranger weather’.

Obviously when it came to the weather conditions, There wasn’t much we could do. When it came to the mission, the only things I could do was my job. Sometimes I had input on how, when and where we moved, but even then, I’d take bad weather over good weather any day. The enemy is a lot less likely to detect you when they are trying to stay warm or dry or awake. So, we put ourselves out in the worst conditions imaginable. Yeah, we could and did complain about it, but that was usually before or after the fact. During the time when it sucked so bad we usually had a strange smile on our faces. You learn to adjust your attitude about what you are physically experiencing when you know you are the baddest MFs in the jungle (or mountain or swamp or whatever).

Not surprisingly, that ability to cope (and sometimes thrive) when the conditions suck the most has stuck with me. That is why I have no doubt about completing an event (given an appropriate level of preparation). So, when I consider these types of events (half or full Ironman, marathon, others) the level of challenge I feel is a little diminished. So, what am I going to do?

I thought about it a lot. For all of the challenges I considered, only one gave me pause. In fact, in my mind, I question (still, even after several weeks) whether I’ll be able to attain the goal. I’ve fought this feeling of doubt about this goal for a long time. My whole life probably.

So, what’s the goal? The goal is to bring my body fat percentage down to a level of what is generally considered healthy. I haven’t picked a number yet, but according to what I can find, normal male body fat levels should range between 11 and 22 % (One site says 11-22%, another I've found says 14-18%). I’d rather find myself nearer the lower end of that scale than the higher end.

This is really not just about some level of vanity I have. Of course, I want to look more like the cyclist I really am, and certainly I want to be more of an animal when I climb. Most importantly, I want to make a positive change in my lifestyle that hopefully will provide me with a long and healthy life. This has to come through a healthy nutrition plan - something at which I am NOT good.

Where am I today? Well, I’m above the ranges listed above for body fat percentage. This Thanksgiving holiday hasn’t helped, nor has 2 weeks of business travel leading into this holiday. Worst perhaps is this crazy problem I've been having with my left calf when I run - keeping me from getting out and running as I would like to when traveling.

When I get home, I’ll post up ‘the tale of the tape’. Taking some general body measurements (weight, % body fat, some measurements - stomach, thighs, chest, etc.) and posting them up. As much as I am embarrassed by it, I’ll even post a photo. I'll also give details about how I'm making these measurements.

I need the help of my friends. This challenge intimidates me more than any physical challenge I’ve ever considered. I’m really nervous about whether I can do this. Help me stay motivated and on track with my eating - also, help keep me accountable for my food choices. A big thanks to Coach Jeni for putting up with me already.

There it is, it’s in writing so it now becomes even more real.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Giving Back

Giving back. To a cause - any worthy cause is the greatest gift one can give to his brothers and sisters. And, in some strangely selfish way, one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.

You might wonder why, I certainly did. It was about a year ago that I was in final preparations for a life changing experience. That experience was the Palmetto Peleton Project's Challenge to Conquer Cancer. Last year was the 2nd annual, so of course this year it is the 3rd annual.

Because of other personal commitments, I opted out of the experience this year, but many of my friends have dedicated themselves to the cause. They have worked tirelessly to raise awareness as well as funds to meet their individual goals. The riders - the ones with the easy job - had to raise $5000 each while the Team Managers (a much more fitting name than 'support' as they have been called in the past) had to raise $2500.

I have missed many of the training rides for the C3 team this year, participating in only a few. It is amazing to me that so many people of such different backgrounds can gel as completely as this group of incredible individuals. It shouldn't be, as I've seen it first hand.

Riding with them a few weeks ago, I could feel the sense of purpose they had. Each individual is motivated in different ways, but each individual has been affected in some way by cancer. Some are warriors themselves - currently battling the disease. Others are survivors - those who had their major battles years ago and came back as a stronger and more determined self. Others have lost loved ones - maybe a relative, maybe a friend, but always someone for whom they cared deeply. All of them now working together with a common goal, a true sense of purpose.

It's that sense of purpose that brings all of them so close. They are a family already - the training, the fundraisers, the meetings have done that for them. As they depart on this awesome journey, those bonds will form into an unbreakable chain. They will forever be linked together by their shared experience and passion.

Its funny how things work out that way. You can try many things over many years to find that sense of belonging. You don't find it in individual pursuits - things that most likely benefit only yourself. You find it when you take yourself out of the spotlight and bring that worthy cause to the forefront.

This is the strangely selfish part of giving back. A group of individuals came together with a common purpose to give everything they can to knock out cancer. What they gain is a tremendous family. A family that will welcome them and love them for the remainder of their years.

So I have to ask then, what better gift can you give to yourself than to join in giving back to a cause for which you have great passion?

Follow along on the C3 ride at www.ridetoaustin.com
Don't forget, if your hectic schedule doesn't allow time for participation, you can participate by making a donation. Pick a rider or just give to the general fund. It's a great cause, and you'll become part of the team.

I couldn't close this post without wishing that family (my family too!) all the best for their upcoming voyage. All of you are an incredible inspiration. You'll be in my every waking thought until you are safely returned to your homes. Enjoy the experience and PLEASE write about it. I'll be living vicariously through you! Safe travels to each of you.

jd

Sunday, October 3, 2010

visiting an old friend

It's been a long time since I saw this old friend of mine. I don't recall the date of our very first meeting, but I do recall it was love at first sight. She was really hard on me that first time, treated me like a complete rookie. Stripped me down and beat me - like the bad boy that I thought I was. It was a little different today though.

How was it different? Well, mostly because I knew all of her tricks. I was not going to be so easily seduced by her beauty this time. She wasn't going to leave me breathless and spent when we finally met at the peak. This time our satisfaction would be mutual.

It all started innocently enough - I drove over for a relatively early morning rendezvous. She likes it early I think - she is fresh in the early morning. Later in the day, the tempests rise around her and she is not as accommodating. Arriving around 9am, I thought things looked perfect for us to find the bliss we both needed so badly.

After all I've written about bicycling, you'd think that is what I'm talking about. No, in fact, this is another mistress completely. It's been a long time since I had fallen to her seduction, but today was the day for me to make it up to her. I was ready - you don't know how ready I was.

After 6+ grueling hours at the six gap century last week, I was feeling the need to mix things up a bit. With many mistresses to serve, you'd think it would be a difficult decision, but she was not to be denied - I'd been dreaming about her for a couple of months lately. It had to be soon or I would burst!

As I made the drive over to her place, I reflected a bit on our shared experiences. She's taught me a bit about myself, and she's punished my body when I deserved it most. She'll do that to you because she can. She's a demanding bitch sometimes.

As I got closer, I glimpsed her in a new light. Yes, I've seen her over the years since my last visit, and I've felt the guilt of not paying homage to her. Today, I would do my best to make it up to her. She and I would become one once again.

Today I saw her in a new light. I hadn't ever seen her this way. It was kind of a surreal experience. She exposed herself to me and it left me breathless. What kind of mistress was this who could demand such a reaction? On such a fine autumn morning, she welcomed me as if I had never strayed.


Yes, Table Rock is the mistress I served today. She and I had an incredible experience that left both of us fully satisfied. She gave to me those things I had been missing since I'd last seen her and I gave to her my heart, lungs and legs. As I lay spent, relaxing in the late morning sun overlooking the Piedmont, I found myself content. While she demanded my best, she gave to me her very best.

At the overlook, I had 30 minutes completely to myself. Ample time to enjoy that late morning sun and to watch in wonder at the birds on the thermals. It was so peaceful. It was a visit that was a long time in coming, but as with any old friend, it was as if no time had passed at all.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

HARDEN THE F*** UP!!

So, the title is a reference to a video posted on none other than youtube. This Aussi dude is telling Australia to HARDEN THE F*** UP!! Here's the video, then I'll tell you what it has to do with me. NOTE: This video is NOT work friendly, NOT kid friendly, and if you have sensitive ears, you probably don't want to watch it. But it is pretty damn funny, so enjoy.


What's it got to do with me? "Harden the F*** up" became my little mantra today. Today was the Six Gaps Century out of Dahlonega, Ga. I'd been looking forward to doing this century since I heard about it last year. I signed up pretty early, and friends of mine made arrangements for us to spend the weekend in this awesome cabin for the entire weekend (fri, sat, sun nights). Really cool.

Most of us arrived on friday afternoon and we went to downtown Dahlonega for a great dinner. Saturday was a beautiful day of sunshine and we got out on the bikes for about an hour. Just a nice easy spin to get the legs, lungs and heart working.

The clouds started moving in last night and the rain began sometime around or after midnight. When I woke briefly around 2am, the storm was in full force with plenty of lightening. This didn't bode well for good riding conditions for the Six Gaps.

When I awoke around 5am, it was still raining. I hate starting a ride in the rain. We were all checking our portable devices to see what the forecast was supposed to bring. The forecast called for rain, so I told myself to HARDEN THE F*** UP! and I got my gear together, packed up the car and headed to the start / finish at the high school.

I sat in my car and posted to my facebook page "...its raining cats and dogs". Further, there was plenty of lightening. Definitely not a good day for a ride. I thought about bagging it and heading back to the cabin, but my mantra rang repeatedly through my head. HARDEN THE F*** UP!

So, of course, I got my gear together and mounted my trusty steed. This year, they were staging those riders who were a shoe-in for beating 6 hours at the very front. Earlier this year, I had targeted 6 hours as my goal for this ride. However, despite my recent post, I really wasn't feeling it in this torrential downpour. However, I did line up near the front of the 'normal' pack.

As I rode out, I chatted briefly with a guy whose target was 7.5 hours. I told him my target had originally been 6 hours, but was not sure how things were going to shake out - not the best motivation and bad riding conditions sure can mess with one's head.

It didn't take long for me to start hearing that dude say "HARDEN THE F*** UP". So, of course I started stamping out a strong cadence to pull myself up further towards the front.

I grabbed on to probably the largest lead pack. I'm thinking there was probably a smaller pack off the front, but this pack was perhaps as much as 75 or more riders. I hung at the back as we rode through a bunch of rollers on our way to Neels Gap. As we rode, more and more riders were being spit off the back and I moved up as possible.

As we got into the heart of the climb to Neels Gap, I too got spit off the back of this pack. No problem, I was just trying to stamp out a nice tempo pace - on the climbs as well as on the descents, flats and rollers. In fact, although I lost touch with the big pack, I managed to gain sight of them a few times between Neels gap and Hogpen gap. I never really caught them again, but I was surprised to see them.

Another interesting thing - because I was just stamping out a tempo pace, I managed to ride really strong in between the hills. I was a little surprised by this. Except for the hills, my legs were just moving and keeping that steady pace. I felt good.

As we rode through Jack's Gap and Unicoi Gap, I would be passed or left behind by other riders on the climbs, only to reel them back in and pass then in between the climbs. Many times today I looked back and found a pack of wheel suckers just hanging on behind me. Pretty funny and I really didn't care. I was out there by myself, so just holding that pace was all about me. In fact, with the wet roads I preferred to be out front - that rooster tail from riders goes right into your face if you are following in these conditions.

For a while, we actually had some good weather - for parts of the Neels gap climb, all of the Jack's Gap climb and I think all of the Unicoi Gap climb. However, as we finished the descent of Unicoi gap, the rain started again. It stayed with us pretty much for the rest of the ride. We had to deal with some pretty hairy fog conditions out there as well.

Hogpen Gap was as hard as I have heard. It was steep, and it was long. I found myself standing up quite a bit up there. As we approached a flat area very near the top of the climb, another rider who knew the route rode up next to me and said "200 yards - then we get a break". Man was I glad to hear that! It gave me a little boost as we rode that 200 yards and I rode next to this guy for a little while. As we rode through this little false flat, we chatted briefly. He knew the route pretty well, so he gave me some hints about what to look for. Appreciate that guy - he helped me a lot when I really needed it.

The descent from Hogpen was pretty hairy. Even in good conditions, it would be a tough descent. With rain, fog and traffic, it was horrible. Most of the riders were taking it a lot easier with these bad conditions. Eventually, I ran up behind some cars who were having trouble getting around another cyclist.

In good conditions, I would have considered passing these cars and putting the hammer down. However, with the conditions we had, I had no interest in endangering others or myself by trying something like that. A pretty big peloton formed behind these cars until they finally got around the other riders.

The next climb was Wolfpen gap. This climb seemed about as steep as Hogpen gap, but several miles shorter. By this time, I was really starting to feel the effects of the efforts I had put out. I still felt pretty good on the descents and flats, but I was losing steam on the climbs. The top of Wolfpen is about 78 miles into the ride. I kept hearing that dude say "HARDEN THE F*** UP!!"

I was glad to crest Wolfpen as I knew that was the end of the really hard climbs. There was still one gap to go, but it would be relatively mild in comparison to Hogpen and Wolfpen. Check out this elevation profile. To review, the order of the gaps is: Neels, Jack's, Unicoi, Hogpen, Wolfpen and Woody.

Once past Wolfpen Gap, I was pushing myself. I still had some chance to hit the 6 hour goal. As stated earlier, I was good on the descents and flats, but the rollers and hills were the challenge. I tried to push hard on Woody Gap. When I crested Woody, I tried to hammer the descent (as much as weather conditions would allow), but again, I ran into a train of cars having trouble passing some bicyclists. This really has everything to do with the weather conditions. Fog had rolled in and the descent was treacherous!

My buddy Bo had said sometime yesterday that the last 10 or 15 miles sucked the most. Well, it is TRUE! By the time you have covered that 85 or 90 miles, you're just beat down. Thankfully, there is some descents that allow you to drive your average up, but for me, the rollers were killing me! I pushed as hard as I could, got into a little rotation with a couple of other guys who were trying to catch the 6 hour goal. They ended up leaving me on one of the rollers, but they didn't really get all that far in front of me, I could still see them when we made the final turn back into the High School.

As I made that final turn, I was thinking I was way outside of my 6 hour goal. I was pleased to see the clock ticking through 6:10:?? (don't know what the seconds were when I passed).

So, despite not really meeting the 6 hour goal, I'll take it. with the conditions today, I can honestly say that in dry conditions, I would have definitely have beat that goal.

The final words I can say is HARDEN THE F*** UP!!!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The South Carolina State Road Racing Championships

were held September 18th at the Fork Shoals road racing course. This was the same course we used for the Spring series earlier this year. I knew the course well, but took advantage of several opportunities to pre-ride the course with my friends from the GHS Every Woman Cycling team.

Although my race was not scheduled until 2pm, I arrived at the venue early so I could cheer on those very same friends. The Cat 4 women's race started at 840 and I really wanted to be there to give support to them. I'm glad I did - my friend Courtney ended up crushing the field to take the win. She'll be crowned today during the USPro cycling championships. Congrats Courtney!

With lots of time to kill between the women's race and my race, I did my best to relax and not think too much about my race. As I got suited up and started on my warm-up, I found I did have some butterflies floating around in my belly. I felt good, but a little nervous.

For the most part, the race was a typical cat 5 race. A few guys got out and did the bulk of the work. I did my share with several pulls on the first lap, but I limited my exposure. The pace wasn't bad, but it seems like we were in for a group ride that was going to end in a sprint. On the first lap, team-mate Dave got out and drove the pace for a while. This was the catalyst for the entire field to pick up the pace. Great job Dave!

I did my best to keep a position near the front and was successful for the entire race. I felt really good and my bike was performing flawlessly. I had full confidence in every shift and she didn't let me down. I even dropped to the small ring on some of the hills just to try to keep the legs as fresh as possible. She did everything I asked of her.

As we made the right turn onto dunklin bridge road on the second lap, a guy attacked. The peloton set off in chase, but when the guy out front started to tire, no-one pulled around him. I was back in about 8th wheel and had a clear opening to the right side, so I made the move to bridge the gap. I got into my time-trial position and stamped out a strong cadence and quickly bridged the gap. This guy I passed and kept pulling for a short distance before relinquishing the lead to someone else.

Shortly after, another guy attacked and opened a slightly larger gap. Again, a similar thing happened. The peloton was chasing and closing, but no-one pulled around as the leader tired. I came around I think on the left this time and pulled us up to the attacker. He had a pretty good pace, so I didn't feel the need to go around him. Plus, I wasn't going to spend too much more time out there. I needed to have something left for the finish.

There was no other attacks after those two and the peloton continued at a strong pace as we turned onto Cedar Falls road and headed into the last stretch of rolling terrain. There are two hills on this section that have potential to string out the field. The first isn't too long, but it does take some effort. I stayed in the big ring for this one and for the descent leading up to the next hill.

This final hill really has potential to break the field. However, the pace we set up that hill was not as strong as it could have been. We were definitely in for a field sprint. I crested the hill and made the left turn onto Turner road in 3rd position. I was good with this position, and held it until the guy I was behind started stamping out a strong pace and began to stretch out the field.

He pulled us all the way up to the 200 meter mark where I decided to make my move. I came around him, but I made a critical mistake - I didn't grab a couple of gears. What this did was cause me to have to let up a little while I was in full sprint mode so I could grab another gear or two. This cost me.

One guy came around followed closely by another. I had lost enough momentum that a third guy was approaching fast. He and I crossed the line side by side. A true photo finish. I knew how close it was, so I could only wait for the official results to be posted.

I was at the trailer when the results came up. They scored me in fourth. Since I knew they had the video camera, I decided to protest the results. I wanted to ensure they used the camera when they scored the race. It's my right, so I informed the judges.

Wouldn't you know it, the official camera had malfunctioned and they didn't get the video. They told me to find the guy and they would ask him. He was nearby and of course he contends that he beat me. Hey, if the roles were reversed, he would have probably contested the results the same as I was and I would have said the exact same thing.

While I was standing there, many others came to protest the results. Without the camera, they only got the first five across the line and the results pretty much put everyone else in numerical order based on their rider number. Bummer for those guys, but one guy's girlfriend or wife had a few camera shots showing the finish.

In one photo, she had captured the 2nd place guy and the photo finish. Unfortunately, her perspective was head-on and all we could say for sure was that it was a photo finish for me and the other guy. The space between his front wheel contact patch and the line appeared to be the same as that same spacing for me. When we zoomed in on the photo, it didn't clarify anything except that the only way to know with absolute certainty would have been with the video for the offical camera. I really wish I would have asked her to send me that photo.

Since this was the only photo evidence available, I withdrew my protest and accepted 4th place. Not a bad finish on the day.

My emotional state

is directly linked to the mechanical condition of my bicycle. It's funny how it could possibly be this way, but I have clear evidence (at least in my head) of that now.

For the last couple of months, I've been a little off in my confidence, in my ability to stay focused and just feeling a little run down. It seems like it started when I crashed my bike the week before the French Broad Classic road race. I didn't know it at that time, but in that crash, I picked up a few gremlins - mechanical and emotional.

The mechanical gremlins are the easiest to describe, because they affected every ride I did since that crash. Shifting problems in the French Broad classic wore on me a little, and those same shifting problems followed me for nearly two months until I finally broke down and ordered a new crankset.

I spent plenty of time trying to diagnose the problem whose symptom was the chain coming off the pedal side of the crank when I shifted from the small ring to the big ring. In fact, it even happened several times where the chain came off when I shifted the rear derailer while riding in the big ring. On one particular ride, I nearly threw the bike into the bushes along the side of the road.

During this time, I still felt that funk. Although I was riding well, I was feeling exhausted at the end of the weekly C-1 ride at SCTAC (the ride which I have been leading most of the summer) . Not just physically exhausted, but a kind of mental exhaustion that really wore on my confidence in my ability to ride. I found that it also extended to other parts of my life - affecting my personal relationships as well as work.

I finally put my engineering head and my dial indicator to the issue. Even with new chainrings, the problem was occurring. Obviously, it wasn't just about the chainrings. When I measured the lateral run-out of the big ring, I found it to be 0.035" at the gear teeth, and about 0.020" at the bolts. This didn't seem like much, but I had another crankset I was borrowing (standard gearing - 39/53) that wasn't having any shifting problems. Thus, I knew this runout was an indicator that the spider arms on the crank were bent. The only solution was to buy a new crankset, so I went over to Sunshine Cycle and picked one up.

The next couple of rides worked out pretty well. I no longer had the problem with the chain coming off the big ring, but I just didn't seem to have that same precise shifting that I had grown so accustomed to. I played with the rear derailer to improve that, but still, no real improvement - in the precision of the shifting or my mood / emotional state.

Normally, I have a little stand upon which I put my bike during maintenance. This stand is nice, but it is home-made and only lifts the bike off the ground by about a foot. Even when sitting on my little workstool, the rear derailer is still well below my line of vision.

Then, last weekend, I needed to do some maintenance on my bike, and decided to put the bike on the Jeep's bike rack to work on it. With 35" tires and 5 inches of suspension lift, the arms of the Yakima rack that hold the bike are above my head. Of course, this puts the rear derailer just below my eye-line while I am standing.

With the bike in this position, I could clearly see that the rear derailer hanger had also gotten bent during that crash two months ago. I wasn't able to get to the bike shop to pick up a derailer hanger until Wednesday or Thursday of this week, so when I finally installed it, the only chance to ride before Saturday's State Road Race Championships was Friday evening.

WOW! What a difference! The precision shifting was back! as I rolled around Cleveland park, I had such a big smile on my face. Strangely enough, it was during this easy roll around the park that my belief in my riding abilities came back to me. As I said, I had been riding strong these past couple of months, but I didn't feel it mentally. That feeling came back to me as I pushed myself up the small hill near the baseball fields. Good timing for sure - the very next day I would be contending for the Cat 5, 35+ State Road race Championship.

As I rode and flashed my smile at every passing pedestrian, runner, biker and dog walker it really felt as if the black cloud that I had been under for the late part of the summer was lifting. Not only was my belief in my riding abilities coming back to me, but a sense of clarity about some personal stuff began to come to me. It was an incredible relief.

I would never have really thought my emotional well-being would be so closely tied to my bicycle. These past couple of months seem to indicate she is part of me - a very integral part. When she is hurting, it is reflected in all I do. I better make sure to take good care of her. Not only does she heal my body and make it strong, she also heals my mind.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

You have a training plan??

yep, it's true. Had you asked me several months ago about having a coach make a training plan for me, I would have told you it's not worth it. Partly because deep down inside, I know what I need to do: More core work, more upper body, eat better, etc. If I'm not doing that on my own, why would it change if I had a written plan?

Why? Because now I actually have something that challenges me and interests me. On my own I would have been going to the Gym and lifting weights. I would have gotten some benefit from it, but very unlikely that I would really make huge gains with it. The fact is, I really don't like working out at the gym.

So, what's the difference now that I have a plan? The difference is in the interest I have in the program I have been assigned. There is the Ab workout, two different upper body workouts, a plyometric workout and a stretching program. Most of the workouts are about 1 hour. Except the ab workout - it is about 20 minutes. Probably the toughest 20 minutes of all the workouts.

Part of the interest is because I can't do some of these moves (and I'm always up for a challenge). Thankfully, my coach Jeni is way smarter than I am when it comes to exercise. She showed me a few ways to improve my performance and actually be able to complete the exercises. Pretty simple solution, but until she showed me, I was simply clueless.

Another part of my interest is that I can do it right in my living room. No travel time to a place I really don't like to go anyway. I can get up in the morning and get all or part of the day's workouts in before work.

Finally, the workouts are designed to work together to address the complete body. This is something I would not have gotten by working by myself at the Gym. Yes, I could have paid someone to develop a plan for me that included gym workouts, but I like this solution better.

The other thing she has put on my plan is two runs per week. The short run on Monday is 3-4 miles. The longer run ranges from 5 miles to 8 miles. Admittedly, I'm not as strict on meeting the requirements she has laid out for these runs. I do the mileage, but she has specific time goals that I am not really abiding by.

Similar with the bike. She has distances I'm supposed to meet, but I really haven't necessarily paid attention to them. I mean, on the weekends I'm getting in solid 4+ hour rides. Sometimes (like a couple of weeks ago with my Spinners Team-mates), they are pure hammerfests. How do you balance a distance with intensity? She hasn't really indicated intensity on the rides at all.

To be totally honest, the most important thing for me on the runs and the rides is that I enjoy myself. I have to admit, I'll never be a pro biker, runner or triathlete, so keeping it fun must take priority. If that means going hard when I feel like it, or taking it easy because I'm not feeling it, that is what I am going to do.

That being said, having a written training plan is making a noticeable difference in the number and quality of my off-bike workouts. And, I'm actually enjoying it - all of it!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Giving back to the community in support of young athletes

Yesterday was a really fun day for me. It started out at Furman University relatively early in the morning. I was there to volunteer for the 'Tri to Cure' youth triathlon.

I was placed as a course marshall on the bike course. If you know Furman University, you'll know the mall area and you'll know the footbridge that crosses the road near the music building. I was stationed just uphill from this footbridge. The riders would be riding up the hill as they passed me.

I didn't really think about the significance of this hill - for me and most of my friends who ride from Furman frequently, this is not something that we even think about. However, I was to find that it is a significant challenge for some of these young athletes.

Since the athletes are staged and released for the swim based on their swim times, the first athletes I saw on the course were in the upper end of the 6-15 year age requirement. Many of these young athletes surmounted this little hill without difficulty. Some of them were truly flying up that hill. There are some talented athletes coming of age here in the Upstate of South Carolina.

I had brought my cowbell and had decided to cheer on every athlete as they passed my station. I had a great time doing this. My calls of 'GO GO GO GO GO GO!!!!' and 'GET MEAN WITH THAT HILL' and my personal favorite 'YOU'RE AN ANIMAL!!!!!' received looks all the way from 'is this guy crazy or what' to huge smiles that seemed to say 'thanks for cheering me on'. In fact, I might have had more fun than some of the athletes!

As the athletes passed my post, their ages got younger and younger. The hill was posing more and more difficulty for them so I continued with my cheering. I had two very memorable experiences out there.

The first involved a young girl who had to have been just at 6 years old. I think her bike had 12" wheels - she was a tiny little thing! She was near the back of a small pack of riders (and the younger kids were pretty much all over the road!) as they approached the hill. A couple of riders passed her as the grade increased and I watched as her speed dropped further.

Not quite half way up the hill, her speed went to zero and her eyes filled with tears. I felt so bad for her. I went over and gave her some encouragement (with my indoor voice of course) while giving her a little boost as she pedaled up the hill. As she got further up the hill, the crying stopped and she built momentum such that she no longer required my assistance. I sent her off with more words of encouragement and turned to cheer the next group of riders up the hill.

Not long after, I saw perhaps the coolest sight of the day. Here comes a little guy on training wheels! Again, this little guy must have just made the minimum age for the race. It must have been his mom jogging beside him giving him encouragement. As he started up the hill, of course I was there to cheer him on as well. As with the young girl, as the grade steepened, he lost momentum. However, his mom coached him to get off the bike and push. So here he is, this little guy pushing his bike up the hill.



That was really cool. I'm really glad I took those 2(ish) hours to help out with this event.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

French Broad Road Race - calling all climbers!

This weekend is the French Broad Cycling Classic held up in Marshall, NC. They actually have three races - last night's Cane Creek time trial, today's Liberty Bicycles road race and tomorrow's City of Asheville Criterium.

While some of my Greenville Spinners Racing Teammates are going for the omnium, I participated only in today's Road Race. This is a very hilly 40 mile route

Several of my teammates ride in the Cat 4 group. In chatting with them briefly after the race, it seems they felt pretty good overall, but each was challenged on the most significant climb of the day. The best result was a 15th place for Peter with Brian, Kirk and Randy coming in 33rd, 37th and 41st respectively.

I'm still riding cat 5, and this makes my 6th race. A few more and I won't have a choice but to cat up to 4. No problem, having fun is what it's all about anyway. Today Allen joined me in the Cat 5 group. He made a difference for me in the beginning. I really felt like he was watching over me because of my shifting problems. Probably my imagination, but hey, I was glad he was there. Allen pulled a 16th on the day so a great result for him.

The ride actually starts off flat for about a half mile. Wouldn't you know it, as we turn on Marshall's main street, I shifted up into my big ring and the chain popped off the pedal side. Bummer, I pulled to the side (but kept rolling) to get it sorted out and had a super nice guy ride up next to me and push me for a moment. I said thanks to him, but that I had it. He continued and I got the chain back in place.

The route turned up pretty quickly for some big rollers - I would almost say these were bordering on actual hills based on the length of these things. I did my best to stay with the lead pack and found the pace to be hard, but manageable.

Shifting was a big problem for me today. Obviously, I damaged the big ring in last week's crash. Every time I shifted from the small ring to the big ring (near the top of the climbs of course), I had to be super careful. I found if I shifted while in the biggest cogs, it wasn't too bad, but if I was in any of the 4 or 5 smaller cogs, the chain wanted to go over to the pedal side of the chainring. A number of times I had to use my foot to insure the chain stayed on the ring. Things worked out ok, but it took energy that I needed for the climbs.

Around mile 13 or so, the road turns up for the first part of the biggest climb of the day. It's really two climbs with a descent in between. The first climb is not too bad - the grade is manageable and the pace was not crazy. I managed to stay mostly with the lead pack. Occasionally, a gap would open (as normal) through turns between the riders at the lead and the riders further back. I tried not to let this happen, but I was staying away from the very front - probably in the top 20 riders or so. That far back, the accordion effect is pretty pronounced. Burned some energy pulling back up to the pack when that happened.

As we finished the descent from that first part of the main climb, we entered into a relatively flat and very straight section of roadway. Wouldn't you know it, a crash occurred about 10 bikes in front of me and I had to take evasive action.

Thankfully, I heard after the race that no-one was hurt, but I watched one guy go over his handlebars when he hit the guy in front of him. Unfortunately, a very strong rider I know and who I have ridden with several times got caught up in the crash and it took him out. Not because of injuries to his person, but to his bike. Bummer as he was riding really strong today.

For me, my evasive action put me into the grass. I kept the bike upright and got it stopped in time, but that was the problem, I couldn't go around the crash due to the terrain - I had to stop. Meanwhile, the lead riders who were in front of the crash kept going.

I quickly dismounted and brought my bike back around the other side of the riders who were now untangling their bikes and bodies. I re-mounted and took chase. I caught up to a 2nd group that was chasing the lead group. One guy commented to me "I guess they're not going to wait up". "Nope", I said, "they're going to make us work for it".

Then, the gradient increased and we were into the largest climb of the day. Not the steepest, but certainly the longest. It was about 5 miles long and as I rode up the early part of the ride, I managed to gap that 2nd group I briefly rode with, but the lead group was gapping me. I did not push hard enough to reel the leaders in.

I did manage to collect and gap a number of riders on my way up, but one rider who I have ridden with in the past caught my wheel as I rode past him. He and I worked together on the climb, then we collected Senior on the early part of the descent.

As we passed Senior, I called out to him "Come on Senior!", and sure enough, he grabbed our wheels. The three of us worked together as we rode through the very beautiful North Carolina countryside. It was mostly a descent, but the grade was not steep. Still, we could carry (relatively easily) 25 - 29mph in most places. Senior and Tom would pull for long distances in the beginning, but as we all began to tire, they slightly shortened the time they spent out front. This left a little more load for me, but I was feeling pretty good (and if you know me, I love to get out and pull anyway).

As we started the final 2 mile climb of the day, Senior called out his thanks and began his own pace. Tom and I tried to keep a solid pace up the hill. It was funny, because as with other riders I have known, he was commenting on his physical condition. I actually told him he can't look at it that way - it is self-defeating to talk about how tired or sore or how badly your legs want to cramp.

In fact, my legs were getting pretty tired by that point as well. I kept it to myself and as the grade was not getting any easier, I kept up my pace. Tom did a great job of staying with me, and in fact several times he pulled slightly ahead. But I knew based on the way he was talking that I would be pulling a gap on him later in the climb.

Sure enough, with a little over a half mile to go, the gap started widening. We thanked each other for the work as we rode along the river, and I started to slowly pull away.

There was no other Cat 5 riders close to me, but I continued to pass the stragglers from the womens / masters / cat 4 group that started in front of us. I crossed the line by myself thinking maybe I got lucky enough to make top 15, but surely I got top 20.

When I pulled up the results, I was quite pleased to find that I actually crossed the line 10th for the 50 rider Cat 5 field. That makes me feel pretty damn good!

Reviewing the race after the fact: I felt good and did well up until the crash. I was riding with the lead pack and even with the shifting problems, I felt like I could hang with them. When the crash occurred at the base of the most significant climb the lead group gapped me.

The question I ask myself - would I have been better off to bridge up to that lead group? I had been keeping with them for the entire ride to that point, but once the gap formed, I went into my climbing mode - not necessarily my race mode mind you. I went into my little zone where it is me, my bike and the road. I could see those guys for a while, but it got a little confusing as we were catching up on the tail end riders from previous groups who set out before us.

Had I bridged up to the lead pack, I may have pushed myself a little harder on the climb which could have resulted in a better finish.

However, they obviously were good climbers as they were pulling a gap on me as I climbed. It is also possible that I could have blown myself out on that first climb and had nothing left for the relatively flat descent along the river. I suppose I'll just have to keep working on my climbing and try again next year. Until then, I'll have to accept the 10th place.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Going in hot (too hot in fact)

Another great weekend of riding here in the upstate. It started with a ride from Tigerville, over Callahan Mountain, up the watershed, along Mine Mountain and then up a dirt road past Pearson's Falls. That road brings you out right at the Bakery in Saluda. From there we went out Holbert Cove Road and circled around to climb the switchbacks on Green River Cove Road.

It was a great ride with a bunch of good guys. Four of my Greenville Spinners Racing team-mates met up with a half dozen or so guys from the Cyclists Against Cancer team (formerly Myers Center). With these guys it is always a hammerfest.

I felt pretty good going into the day - managed to stay in the top third or so for Callahan Mt and the first part of the watershed. Kirk and Randy and one of the CAC riders (Joe) were riding really strong on those climbs and pulled a pretty big gap on me.

At the right turn for the second part of the watershed climb, Kirk, Randy and I waited for our team-mate Abhay before we set off in chase of the CAC guys. They blew past us as we circled around for Abhay.

Kirk set a blistering pace up the road. Even on the steepest section, I was working my tail off just to stay on the wheels of those guys. Eventually, he pulled off the front and I expected him to tag right on to the back. Unfortunately, Randy kept up that blistering pace and Kirk didn't have anything left to grab our wheels.

After a little while, Abhay had enough and pulled out of the line. I grabbed onto Randy's wheel and he kept up the pace. With Kirk's blistering leadout and Randy's diesel motoring up the climb, we had the other guys in sight. I recognized the signs of fatigue in Randy, so I pulled up next to him to take the lead.

We weren't that far away and I love a good chase, but unfortunately at the state line, I was still about 8 bike lengths back from that group. A little more distance, or maybe if I would have sprinted I could have caught them, but alas, I didn't quite make it. It was a blast hanging on Kirk's then Randy's wheel before making the final bid.

I stopped at the state line to wait for those three while the others kept on rolling. We set off in chase, but didn't catch them until after we made the turn onto Mine Mountain road. We all played racer along Mine Mountain, but when the time came to make the turn, they turned right to climb the grade, we turned left to climb the dirt road.

Once at the Bakery, we convinced them to follow us along on the Holbert Cove / Green River Cove Road ride - it would add about 20 miles to the ride.

The last time I rode this section of roads, they had just re-done the chip/seal paving on Holbert cove road. As we made our way along it this time, the amount of gravel was significantly reduced. I was pleased as this is a really fun road with some hard rollers that are almost real hills (relative to the effort you have to exert to get up them).

Pretty early along the road, Randy set a blistering pace. At the top of one small climb, he and I were at the front, but he had about 4 bike lengths on me. As we crested the top, I saw him shift and knew he was going for the break. I briefly considered sprinting to catch him, but I had a line of riders behind me and that would defeat the purpose of Randy's break attempt. So, I actually backed off slightly and let Big Mike come up to the front. It was my job now to simply hang with these guys and respond to any attacks they might make.

Randy built a sizable gap pretty quickly and was soon out of sight with all of the twists and turns this road takes. As we road along, I remembered a pretty wicked hairpin turn right at the bottom of a pretty steep little hill. I warned those guys about it as we approached, but we still went in pretty hot.

I was behind Big Mike and Will was behind me. Scott and Joe were also riding along and I think they were behind Will. Bringing up the rear was Abhay and Allen. As we all braked for the hairpin turn, I watched Mike roll across the other lane and into the grass. I had managed to bring my speed down pretty well and was able to roll through the turn. When I looked back, I saw that both Will and Scott (and perhaps Joe) had gone across the other lane and stopped in the grass on the shoulder.

Of course, being in a racing mindset, I saw this as a great opportunity to go for a break. I went through a couple of other turns, and then I came upon another right hand hairpin. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't fully prepared for this one, and despite my best braking efforts, I couldn't get slowed down quickly. Compounding the situation was some areas of gravel that caused me to get the bike completely sideways at least once.

It was this sideways action that made me fully realize my error. It was then I knew I wasn't going to be able to make the turn. Unlike the first hairpin, I didn't see any run-off area by going straight ahead. So, I simply increased the radius of my turn while I continued to scrub as much speed as possible. I crossed over the other lane and went into the grass just past mid-way through the turn.

Of course, I was at a pretty good lean angle (even though I had straightened up as much as possible due to the gravel) so about as soon as I went into the grass, I went down on the low side.

Of course, the low side is generally much preferred over the high side, so I was pleased about that at least. I was also pleased that I was completely off the pavement before any part of my body or bike hit the ground. However, I saw the right shifter / brake lever jam into the ground pretty hard and the bike did actually do a 180. I had to roll my body along the ground as my right foot was still clipped in.

When I came to a stop, I took a brief moment to do the self-check - no broken bones, no head injury (didn't even hit the ground), untangled myself from the bike and stood up to assess the damage.

The chain had come off, and there was damage to the hood on the right shifter / brake lever. This caused me some concern, but the only way to check it was to ride. Of course, as I was checking out the bike, here comes the rest of the crew.

I got the chain in place and set off to keep with them. It was then I realized I sprained my left thumb. It hurt quite a bit and I couldn't shift to the big ring with my left hand. I also realized the right shifter was a little out of wack. It wasn't shifting cleanly and didn't seem to be returning all the way after I used the brake.

I played around with it for a while and it seemed to start shifting a little better. Because my hand was sore and I was unsure of the damage to the rear brake lever, I tried to stay out of the rotation and at the back. Last thing I wanted to do was to cause an accident while riding in the pack.

We continued along Green River Cove Road holding a pretty good pace. My shifting seemed to get better as I used it. Made me think that there was probably some grit down there and through the use it was getting worked out.

As we got closer to the switchbacks, Randy and Allen made a break and opened a sizable gap. Nobody responded, and I was still riding near the back. I was starting to feel better, so eventually, I managed to open a gap as well. I overtook Allen before the switchbacks, but Randy was going strong.

As we started climbing, I could see Randy as he was generally on the same switchback as I was. I worked towards reeling him in, but was watching behind.

Sure enough, Big Mike was powering up the hill like a madman! He pulled past me looking really strong and overtook Randy pretty quickly after that. Joe was coming on strong behind him, but I managed to hold him off for a little while. I can't recall now if I passed Randy before Joe passed me or not, but eventually, it was Big Mike, Joe, Me, Randy and Scott. The order after that was unknown to me. I tried to stay on Joe's wheel, but he was pumping away and I just didn't have it to stay with him.

We took a store stop and decided the best course of action would be to head back along the traditional bakery route (essentially straight down the watershed). The fun part was riding through town - the Coon Dog Day Parade was going on and we managed to ride through as part of it! Big fun!

Going down the watershed was as fun as going up it. From the state line, Randy set a hard pace and we had a short line of bikes rolling behind him. It ended in a sprint to the 'stop ahead' sign where Randy inched me out (dammit!).

We made the turn for the final descent down to Dividing Waters road. This time I took the lead and started at a reasonable pace, but gradually wound it up as we descended. As we approached the turns, Randy came flying by followed closely by Scott. Of course I took Chase! Randy and Me against one was better than any one on one!

We rolled through the turns and ended up in a 3 bike rotation. Randy took the first pull and gave a great effort. I did my best to keep up the pace and did my share of the work. As I dropped off to give the lead over to Scott, Randy said to me "let's take it all the way to the line". I wasn't sure exactly what line he was talking about, but I thought what the hell - I'm game!

When Scott took the lead, we were maybe a mile from the intersection of Callahan Mt Road - this is the line Randy was talking about. As I rode in formation behind Randy, I saw him tap his thigh. Obviously he was about to make like a rocket!

No doubt - he stood up and hammered it! Had he not warned me, I would never have been able to respond. But, because he did warn me, I was ready for it. I stayed on his wheel as we flew past Scott. After a moment, I looked back and saw Scott trying to respond, but our attack was so swift and we opened a gap so quickly, he had no chance.

I stayed behind Randy until I sensed he was starting to tire. At that point, I pulled around him and kept on the gas. As I approached the Callahan Mt road intersection, I looked back and Scott was still well behind Randy who had let up a little after I came around him.

Despite going into one corner way to hot, it was a super fun ride with some great peeps. We worked ourselves pretty hard on the climbs and on the descents. When I was loading up my bike, I pulled the hood back on my right side shifter and found a rock wedged between the brake lever and the hood!

I rode again today and the shifting was no problem - at least until the cable broke. But that is a tale for another day.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

l'Alpe d'Huez Individual Time Trial - last chance for Glory!

Today was my last day of riding here in les Alpes surrounding Bourg d’Oisans. It’s been a great week so far and the weather has been unbelievable! Ironically, as I sit in the community area of the B&B, I’m watching it rain like hell outside.

In fact, the rain started earlier today – I had already done my ride and turned in my bike. I sat down at a restaurant in downtown Bourg for a great meal. I seldom take photos of food, but when this salad was delivered – I had to!



It’s called a ‘salade dauphinoise’. It seems it is a local specialty. I’m really glad I took the photo – not only because it was presented well, but also because my taste buds were truly on cloud 9! I mean I seriously was thinking about how happy my mouth was as I ate this thing. I could have stopped there, but it was followed up with a great fillet, some grilled veggies, some great squash and scalloped potatoes. After all that, I had to go with a Dame Blanche (vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup). It was the best lunch I’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m glad it was on my last day in the Alpes!

So, back to the rain. As I was finishing up my dessert, I looked out the windows across the restaurant and saw water dripping from the awnings. I was really surprised because it had been so beautiful when I went into the restaurant. I double checked out the windows to my rear and sure enough, the road was wet. First rain I’d seen since my arrival a week ago. Awesome that it happened after the bike was already turned in.

I arrived back to the B&B to sunny skies and dry weather. It stayed nice, although it seems the clouds started building as I packed my bag for tomorrow’s departure. When I sat down outside to write my blog, I got a few sprinkles, then in about 15 minutes, the skies opened. Thankfully, I got myself and the laptop inside without any trouble.

So, where did I ride today? Of course, it started with the time trial up l’Alpe. I’ll get to my effort on l’Alpe, but first I’ll share some photos I took today.

To descend from l’Alpe, I selected a different route that took me through a small ville called Villard-Reculas. Thankfully, it was pretty much a descent along this route, as I wasn’t really interested in pushing it hard by that time. What made it best was the different perspective I got as I stopped for photos of the switchbacks leading up to Alpe d’Huez.

Here’s a view of a small ville called Le Rosay-Chatelard (it might be La foret de Maronne??):



Another view of that same ville, but now you can see the switchbacks and a little more of the terrain.



Here’s a view of Bourg d’Oisans in the valley, the mountains surrounding it. Look to the left side – you can see the first couple of switchbacks heading up to l’Alpe.



As I continued past Villard-Reculas, the road continued to descend towards the town of Allemont. We rode through this town on our way up to Croix de fer, and I took (I think) a photo or two of the lake in this next photo. The sky is really beautiful – I wish I had the skills and equipment to really do this view justice.



Not sure of which ville this is, but I really thought it was cool with the church standing out so prominently (it was actually more prominent in real life).



The ride was really easy back into Bourg d’Oisans and the guy at Au Cadre Rouge gave me a 10% discount on my week long bike rental (155 euros for the week).

So, what about the individual time trial? I had to see if I could better my previous time (set on the first day of riding) of 1:07:39. To put things in perspective, Marco Pantani holds the course record with a time of 36:45 and Lance Armstrong did it in 37:36 in 2001 (5th fastest).

Here’s a link to the top times up l’Alpe.

I knew beating my own time was my goal, so as I rode the 5k to the base of the climb I tried to get warmed up. Of course, it would have probably been better to do more warm up than just 5k, but hey, I am who I am, and I decided that 5k would be enough.

As I passed the start line, I reset my computer on my bike. This would make it much easier to get my final time at the top – usually, I just mark the time and do my best to remember it. This can be a little difficult if it is an odd number of seconds. Today, there would be no mistake.

The first part of the climb – maybe the first two switchbacks are pretty long and pretty steep. It pays (as with any time trial) not to go out too hard, so I tried to simply set a solid pace. I had immediately switched down to the small ring to prevent losing my chain (as I did on the first attempt). I also changed the view on my computer so I wouldn’t be watching the time – I ended up switching it over to the total mileage on the year. Thankfully, I didn’t take note of what the odometer said, so I didn’t distract me during the climb.

After the first two switchbacks, the grade eases a little, so I tried to kick it up a gear or two whenever I could. I also kept from tracking my progress by not really looking at the signs on every switchback.

These signs are pretty cool actually. I took a couple of photos of the signs as I walked down from the top yesterday. Here’s one of them:



This was one of the few that actually has a US rider on it. Many of them actually had names of guys from the Netherlands.

I did my best to maintain a strong effort. If I felt my respiration / heart rate was dropping, I kicked it up another notch. As my friends know, I don’t use a heartrate monitor, so it is really all about my perceived effort. Somewhere there is a balance between going as hard as possible and having enough left to finish the climb. I tried to find that balance.

Somewhere maybe around switchback 9 or so, I started feeling it in my legs. This was good and it was bad. It was good because it took this long before I started feeling it. That means all that walking I did yesterday (maybe 12 miles I walked yesterday) didn’t have a super negative effect on my ride thus far. It was bad because of course I still had 9ish more switchbacks to go!

I did feel things were going well – at times I had kicked a gear or two (and sometimes 3) and stood up to gain more speed where I could. Of course, that was generally on the easier grades (generally, ‘easy’ on l’Alpe is about 7%)

I knew I was getting closer when I saw the first photographer on the course. I think he sits around switchback #4. From there, I did start watching the signs because I wanted to be ready for that last switchback and the final stretch home.

The second photographer was at switchback #2, and she got a couple of good photos of me.

See if this link works for the photos (look for photos 7606 – 7611).

I was feeling pretty good at this point, and I knew I didn’t have a long way left. The photographer wished me Bon Courage! as I passed. I had one switchback to go, so I kicked it up a couple of gears and stood up. Of course, I couldn’t go the entire remaining distance in that gear and standing up, so I sat back down, selected a gear to give me a high cadence and kept pushing.

As I rounded the last switchback (or the first – depends on who’s counting), the road gets really steep. Here’s another photo I took yesterday on my walking descent:



Not sure the photo does it real justice, but you’re really feeling it at this point. I stood up again and pushed. I passed a number of people as I came up this section. I was still feeling good. The section is long, but it crests about 100 ft before the finish. I pushed to the finish and as I crossed the final few feet, I switched my computer over so I could see the ride time.

It was pretty good – I did manage to beat my previous time. You always hope you’ll do better, but when I do the calculation, I trimmed nearly 6% from my previous time. Interestingly, the seconds rolled up to 0 just as I crossed the line. Of course, that meant the minutes increased by one. The final time: 1:04:00. It will have to do for this trip. The distance for the climb is 7.5 miles (12.1km).

What’s left to say as I prepare for my last night here in les Alpes? It really has been fun. I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve met, I’ve had incredible weather and the scenery is amazing. I’ll miss it, but perhaps I’ll have another chance to make a visit sooner than later.

Next up – a couple of days in Paris before my return home.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

La Berarde

What is ‘La Berarde’? Here’s what my little guidebook says about it:

“This route will take you to the village of La Berarde, an old shepherds’ village, which is at the end of the road and literally at the end of the world! You will be cycling along an extraordinary road in the midst of a high mountain landscape! The silhouette of the peaks which stands out against the sky and the pure fresh air will invite you to put your feet up and just revel in this indisputably great natural wonder.”

It was a great little ride – 68km (42.3 miles) with 1000m (3280ft) of climbing. The climbing came in several forms. In some areas, it was a relatively gentle grade winding alongside the glacier fed river. In others, it steepened to quickly gain altitude. The guide book also says:

“After Bourg-D’Arud, a slope of 11% incline over 3km will lead you to the ‘Plan du Lac’ and the ….”

This was the steepest part of the ride, and I was testing out my knee a little. I didn’t push it too hard though. It felt ok, but I am really, REALLY, glad I have a triple on this bike. While these climbs are certainly doable with a compact crankset (and as Jamie proved also with a full crankset – if you are something beyond human), with my knee, I was glad to be able to take some stress off by using the small ring.

Here’s a few photos from the ride up





I did pass through several small villes on the ride. These little villes are very cool. Buildings are situated at the very edge of the very narrow road. In some cases, there is a traffic light on each end of the town (we saw this on yesterdays ride in fact) and only one direction of traffic can pass through that section at a time. In these small villes I passed through today there was no lights, but the streets were that narrow.

Sometimes too, the ville is located directly on the slopes of the mountain so the road switchbacks through the town. Really cool. Saw this today as well.

There were a lot of riders out there today. There was some kind of big event for cyclists who had come up from Grenoble. I chatted with one woman (in French of course). They had started in the small ville of Rochetaillee with a turn-around in La Barade. I am really having fun being able to converse with people here.

I had other opportunities for conversations as well. Most others were rather short, but it felt good to chat with these nice folks. It is even more fun I think when I have a chat with a person in French, then I hear that person talking to someone else in English.

At La Barade, I found a snack bar and had a croque monsieur (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and a portion de frites (fries). Of course, I sampled a couple glasses of ‘pression’ (draft beer) with the sandwich and fries while I read my book.

Once I finished my lunch, I found a shady spot near the river where I could sit and read a few more chapters. The water in these rivers out here is just awesome! The color is almost a teal color as it comes directly from the glaciers / snow banks high on the mountains above. I tried to capture it in some photos, but they just don’t do it justice.






Like many of these rides out here – especially out and back rides like this one, the ‘out’ is uphill, while the ‘back’ is downhill. This ride wasn’t all up on the way out, so it wouldn’t be all down on the way back. However, the up on the way back was nearly not even worth mentioning. In sections, I could just coast down the mountain without even touching my brakes. In other sections, where there were switchbacks, I kept my head about me to make sure I can ride another day.

Tomorrow I’ll re-visit l’Alpe d’Huez. This time, I’m going to take a shuttle to the top (without my bike) and find some trails to do some hiking. It should be fun.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

An 'easy' 100km

Actually, it was a little over 100km and in fact the term 'easy' is completely relative to the other rides that are in this area.

Yesterday was a complete rest day. After la marmotte, I felt is was necessary to kick back and relax for the day. I found a great place right downtown Bourg d'Oisans next to the river to sit and write about la marmotte.




It was super peaceful. One pretty cool thing - as I sat there writing my blog, I watched a guy in the river removing trash. This is something I don't see in the US (at least I haven't seen it). I thought it was really cool that the town would take such pride in their natural surroundings.

It took a while to download all of the photos for la marmotte, but I think in the end, that ride deserved all the time I spent working on the blog. Can I say yesterday was an epic day of writing???

Today Jamie and I took off to do part of a sportive called la Vaujany Sportive. In france, the organized group rides are called Sportives - although much like la Marmotte, it is also timed so I'm sure it ends up being a race.

La Vaujany Sportive has three routes. I had thought I would do the Parcours Master which is 173km, but after our loop of la marmotte (almost), I decided that the Parcours Senior is more interesting. In fact, we didn't do the complete senior route, we did a more scenic and slightly easier route called 'Le tour du Matheysin par Laffrey'. This route is listed in my little guide book as being 93km (looping out from BdO) with an elevation gain of 1250m (4100ft).

Because we are staying at the B&B which is 5km outside of BdO, of course we have to add 10k to that distance. No real change to the elevation gain though. Our hosts suggested we do the loop backwards from what the guidebook indicates. This allows us to start and finish on a descent! How's that for great? The other advantage is it puts us descending the busiest road early in the ride rather than climbing it at the end of the ride.

Nothing exciting about the descent of that busy road. The scenery is great, but no real time for photos when we're trying to stay out of the way of the cars. The descent was probably close to 15 miles. The road was pretty straight, so again, nothing super exciting about it.

Once we found our left turn through Sechilienne, the road turned up as we knew it would. This was perhaps one of the easiest climbs I've done. Reminded me a lot of Caesar's Head. Similar in distance and similar in grade. One big difference - this climb pretty much kept that same grade the entire distance to the town of Laffrey. I felt pretty good after my rest day, and kept the bike in the middle ring for the entire climb. I stopped once for a photo before resuming the climb.




After Laffrey there was a little more climbing, but not bad. Then, we ended up in this beautiful rolling countryside for a good number of miles.







This was the easiest riding I have seen since I've been here. Still, the rollers were there and they were a little bigger than what you might find in Greenville county.

We finally made the final turn for the col d'Ornon and started our final climb of the day. Like the earlier climb, this was a constant grade that was relatively easy. Again, I kept it in the middle ring, but Jamie set the pace all the way to the top.







A brief stop for a couple of photos before we began our descent. The descent was something on the order of 8-9 miles and it was a great descent. As per everywhere you go out here, the views are awesome. Here's a couple of shots:






I like how the little village is set right on the side of the mountain. Also, in the last picture (click on it to enlarge) you can actually see the line of the road built right into the edge of the cliff. It is near the top. Awesome.

One problem for me. My right knee gave me a couple of shooting pains today. A little ache I can deal with, but these were not good signs. I'll have to take it easy no matter what ride I do tomorrow. There is a relatively easy ride of about 52km (32 mi) with only (remember, it's all relative!) 1000m (3280ft) of elevation gain. It is out and back, so I figure if my knee starts to hurt, I can always turn around.