Monday, October 27, 2014

Sometimes It's Just About Being There

I like Strava. I don't get to go on many group rides so seeing how I do against others and myself is sometimes as close as I can get. It also helps me to improve as well as humbles the heck out of me. Nothing like riding a slightly downhill segment as fast as I possibly can, then finding out that the pros rode that same segment 10 mph faster during last year's Amgen Tour of California while they were just cruising. Yikes.

On Sunday I did one of my go-to figure eight routes. Not too long but lots of climbing. I've been riding stronger lately so I was curious how I did on one of the hills on the route. My second best time, so that was okay. However, I noticed that my personal best put me in the bottom 15% of the riders for that climb. That's not surprising, though, because I am not a climber at all. I can get over hills, I just do it very slowly because I'm so big. Sucks but that's just the way it is. I looked at the leaderboard again and noticed something else: there are just not a lot of people doing that climb. Almost 3x the number of people do the descent but because that climb is so hard (not so long but steep, isolated, and it can get hot out there), most cyclists aren't even trying it.

Sometimes it's not about how fast you go up the hill. Sometimes it's just that you go up the hill at all.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An 80-Mile Round-Trip Commute to Work by Bike? WTH?

How in the world did I find myself making an 80-mile round-trip commute to work by bike? Like most things exercise-related, I built up to it.

A few years ago I worked at a company that was close enough to me (11 ½ miles) that I could ride my bike to work every other day or so. 23 miles round-trip isn't so bad if you've been riding at least a year. The ride to work was a net downhill and it was close enough that I could get away with "showering" with Action Wipes. I would already have a change of clothes at work waiting for me. Things were working just fine.

Then I moved and changed jobs. If I wanted to ride to work this time, it was going to be 25 miles each way and significantly more climbing. I did it a few times, still using Action Wipes, but then I had my accident and that stopped my riding for almost a year.

When I was ready to ride again, my new employer had an actual shower I could use. It was in a basement but it was still better than Action Wipes for the new ride. This time it was 28 miles each way, 1,000 feet of climbing to work and more home but I could do it in about 95 minutes to work and 1:50 to home. A workout but totally doable. What I would do was drive to work in the morning with my bike gear, a change of work clothes in bags, and my bike in the trunk. When it was time to go home I'd change into my cycling clothes and ride home. The next morning I would ride back to work, put my bike in my car's trunk, grab my work clothes, take a shower, get dressed and go to work. It worked out rather well until the end of daylight savings time because there were certain parts of the route that I didn't want to ride for extended periods in the dark.

Then last July I changed jobs again (it can be like that when you're a computer programmer) but this time my commute was much farther. To ride my bike would not just be a lot farther (40 miles each way) but, obviously, take a lot more time. I started out slowly, only doing the round-trip once a week. I would also take a bus for part of the way home, turning that commute into 26 ½ miles. Then I started doing it twice a week, still taking the bus part-way home. The first time I did the full ride home turned out to be a day when I got food poisoning at lunch. I finished the ride home but the last few miles were pretty tough. It wasn't until that night that I figured out why.

When daylight savings ended I took a month off, then I started riding during lunch. I would try to keep the ride down to under an hour and that worked out fine. I work at a place with some nice rollers nearby so I could hit certain hills hard when I was feeling up to it.

With daylight savings back, I was back to my bike commute. This time, though, after a few weeks I would ditch the bus and do the whole ride home. Because of my schedule, I can do the round trip once every other week, and on the opposite weeks I can do it twice. On the weeks I can only do the round trip once, I try to get in a good ride on the weekend.

We are nearing the end of daylight savings time so I'll be back to doing my noon rides and longer rides on the weekend. It changes things up and I can tackle some of the harder rides where I live that I can't do when I'm putting in all those miles to/from work.

Advantages of putting in all those miles to/from work:

  • Saves gas. Really, it does. My drive is so long that replacing any of those trips noticeably helps my pocketbook.
  • Burns lots calories.
  • I can tune my race nutrition should I get back to doing longer triathlons. Been loving making different rice cakes.
  • Improves your urban riding skills. Comes in very handy when riding in traffic during a race.
  • Put in a lot of miles without having to wake up a lot of mornings at 4am.
  • Toughens you up. Riding home at 5pm means it can still be very hot out. Riding to work at 6am means it can be a bit chilly and dark out. You learn what you need to do to get through it.
  • Four words: guilt-free donut Fridays.

Disadvantages of putting in all those miles to/from work:

  • It does take time. For me, around three hours. That means when I ride home I get there about 8pm and when I ride to work I get up at 5:30am so I can leave around 6am.
  • You will feel tired at work. When you first start doing these, you'll get very tired. However, you'll adapt and won't be so tired. If you have a cushy desk job, like me, that's not so bad, though.
  • Lonely ride. Let's face it, nobody else I know is going to do this crazy bike commute so I have to do it alone. I'm okay with that, though.

I am really, really enjoying these commuting rides. When/if I move closer to work, I'm going to miss them.

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Fun Disaster at the 2013 Hansen Dam Triathlon

Though I have moved out of the San Fernando Valley to Santa Clarita, I still consider the Hansen Dam Triathlon to be my hometown race. It's the race that got me started training and it's a fun course so I try to do it every year. I had to miss last year because of my accident but I signed up to do it this year. However, with my decision several months ago to shift from triathlon to track cycling, this hasn't been a good year for triathlon training. My cycling is better than ever, my runs are limited to once a week, and swimming is pretty much non-existent. Still, I signed up for the race so, if I wanted the race shirt, I needed to do the race.

The big problem is the swim. I just don't feel like swimming much so I haven't done it. So I decided I needed to do at least ONE swim before the race. So, like a good procrastinator, I got in the local pool on the Friday before the race (my first swim in since March 2012). It was pretty horrible. My engine is good but my arms? Not so much. I could swim fifties all workout. Hundreds weren't even so bad. However, when I tried swimming a 200, things got bad. I'm not even sure I made it the whole 200; I might have stopped after 150. When I was done I felt like I was going to be sick. How was I going to do 500 yards on Sunday? Ugh. Horror show. One hope, though: it was my hope that this small workout (just 700 - 800 yards) would serve as a wake-up call to my body and that, somehow, it would respond the morning of the race.

My running had dropped off lately. Between changing apartments and preparing for trial for my never-ending divorce (I know, I know: nobody goes to trial--believe me, it's not my choice), running has taken a back seat for the past couple of months. Still, I knew finishing a 5K would be no problem so the plan was to just cruise through it. A nice jog.

With just my commutes to work (26 miles from work, 40 miles to work), my cycling is better than ever. I'm faster, spending more time in the big ring, and stronger. This triathlon was going to be all about the bike. I wanted to average at least 20 mph during the bike. I didn't care about frying my legs for the run, I wanted that bike split.

Race morning came and I made the trip to the site. The weather was going to be great: not chilly and not hot. I was so worried about finishing the swim that I didn't even bother warming up. I wanted to save whatever strength my arms had for the race. The gun went off and I waded...slowly...into the water. When I couldn't walk anymore, it was time to swim. Nice and slow. The plan was to breaststroke near each of the three buoys of the 500 yard course to give me some rest time. I got to that first buoy and felt pretty good. Hey, I can finish this! So I did. It wasn't fast but I did finish.

No world-class transitions this year. I walked to my bike, switched gear quickly, and was off. Crap! I get about 100 yards and find out I have a flat. I hadn't even had a chance to get in my shoes yet! Grr. Oh, well. I changed the flat quickly (too quickly, it turns out) and was off again. I started my computer at this point because, while the official clock was ticking off during the flat fix, I only cared about my pedaling time. I was breathing heavily at first but was soon able to get past that and the race was on! I wanted to be in the small chainring to start but once we turned the corner onto Foothill, I would switch into the big chainring when we started that slight decline and stay there for the rest of the ride. I was passing people a lot, especially on hills!, which makes no sense. In fact, I passed about ten riders when we went up that little roller past the All Nations Church. I just got out of the saddle and stomped on my pedals. Nobody from that group caught me on the ride. I got to the top of Hansen Dam and was still going strong. Not quite as fast as I wanted but my average speed was inching up towards 20 mph. When you go past the middle of Hansen Dam, there is a very slight decline (at least it seems so to me) but I didn't get the speed bump up I was hoping for. I figured I just had tired legs so I pedaled harder. Then I found out why my speed wasn't what I wanted: I flatted again. What likely happened is that, in my haste to fix the first flat, I neglected to find out what caused it and remove the little pokey. Sigh. If I wanted to finish the race, I needed to walk it in. The big bummer was that the rest of the course was downhill so I was going to hit my goal. I declare a moral victory.

I walked it in, at least a half mile, jogging a bit when I turned the corner to the transition area to milk some applause out of the spectators. I racked my bike, got my running gear on, and headed out for a nice jog on the trail. When I finished, I simply walked around for a bit and then headed to In-N-Out for my traditional post-race meal of a Double-Double, Animal Fries (I only eat them after a race), and a shake. It turns out that I finished last in my age group but only by 12 seconds. Not bad when you consider I lost probably over 15 minutes due to my flats. Even with all my drama, I did have fun. I wouldn't mind continuing to do this race in the future. I would also want to figure out how to better keep my swimming up in the future. Swimming once a week or so could probably do it, as long as I keep my engine up on the bike and run. We'll see.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why I Became A Team Kit Dork

You've seen them. Those guys wearing Radio Shack, BMC, Columbia-HTC, etc. team kit but don't look like skinny pros. Amateurs wearing pro team kit. What's up with that? Are they wannabe pros? Do they think they're fooling anybody? On the other hand, is it really any different than people walking around in a Raiders jersey? I have stayed away from wearing team kit because I wasn't sure about the whole thing.

I now have a confession to make: I have become (a bit) of a team kit dork. What's up with that?

I do have a defense, so hear me out. First, I am doing long commutes to/from work so I want to wear something visible. With (sub)urban cycling long distances, I want all the visibility I can get. I do these commutes with a flashing headlight and taillight to help car drivers see me better. The last thing I want to wear on these rides is some oh-so-stylish Rapha kit than blends into the background. Give me some bright colors! Where to find them, though? Looking around, it seems like striking jersey colors aren't all the rage right now. When I was laid up after my crash, I was watching a road race on the computer. I became curious: which team kit stood out the most in the peloton. I had two answers: Lampre and Rabobank. ProBikeKit had Lampre kit in my size, but not Rabobank, so I ordered me a jersey and bibshorts. It would be several months before I could try it out but when I finally did, it felt fine. I'm assuming that cars can see me well.

Problem, though: that Lampre kit, like most cycling kit, wasn't cheap. In fact, it was a bit of a splurge with my insurance money. A purchase like that wasn't going to be happening on a regular basis. What to do? I needed more than one high-visibility outfit for my commutes. While watching another bike race, my girlfriend commented that she liked the Liquigas (now Cannondale, which she likes, too) kit. Curious, I went searching for the Cannondale kit and that's when I discovered them: sellers in China offering team kit at ridiculous prices. Tempting but what is the quality of this stuff? I decided to place an order for one kit and see what I bought. After a few weeks, my Liquigas kit arrived and it looked pretty good. I have been on a couple of rides with it and it feels great. So far so good. So good, in fact, that I have ordered three more (2012 Rabobank, 2011 Milram (which isn't exactly high-visibility but I've always loved the cow spots), and 2011 Acqua & Sapone) from the same seller. I'll see how they hold up in the long-term but I am hopeful.

How can I order three more if money is supposedly a concern? Honestly, for what I paid for that Lampre kit last year, I can get four of the other kits from China. And it seems to be good stuff, too! As I understand it, most of the official team kit comes from China, anyway, so why not cut out the middle man? I have to admit, though, that price is the biggest factor. Good quality stuff for that cheap? And it's exactly what I am looking for: high-visibility cycling gear. It was really hard to say "No" to all that.

I haven't become a total team kit dork, though. I won't be wearing it on group rides with the LBS or when I start track cycling. I am reserving it for my commutes and solo rides around the area. That keeps me from being a total dork, right?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

At The Crossroads

This started off as one of my standard event reports for the recent California Classic Weekend but things have been swirling around in my head...

The century ride was fun. Aid stations every fifteen miles really helped. I had plenty of nutrition on my own but my feet and butt needed a break. While my fit is much improved, I need a new saddle to get me through rides of much more than two hours. I'm eyeing the Selle SMP Pro but we'll see. I also need to fix my numb feet. I thought loosening my shoes would be the answer but, clearly, that is not the case. I do have an idea regarding insoles, though, so we'll see if that helps. As far as riding went, I was pleased. I had to save something for the run the next day but I did okay. I was especially pleased with my performance up "the hill": three miles averaging 9%. I didn't fly up but I didn't stop or walk and was able to get out of the saddle when I wanted to. Very nice. My goal for next time is to have the fastest time on Strava for that very fun downhill on the ride. It's possible.

The half-marathon the next day was kinda tough. I wasn't in as good running shape as I was two years ago so that wasn't a surprise. What was really tough was my heel getting sore around ten miles in. It wasn't so painful that I had to stop but I could tell that I am not going to be able to do a marathon unless I get this problem fixed. That will likely mean surgery. I'm really not in a position to even consider that right now.

What has my brain swirling was triggered by what happened at the end of the ride. While it wasn't what you'd call a bunch sprint, a bunch of us were trying to cross the finish line first. What happened was that I did...fairly easily. At 50 years of age, I don't think that's supposed to happen. It got me thinking about track cycling again. Do I really want to keep heading down this triathlon path when I don't like the swim training and I have a physical problem that is keeping me from running a full marathon? When there is this other sport, track cycling, which I am much better suited for physically, and where, for the first time in my life, someone commented that I may have a talent for it?

The last time I tried track cycling I had to stop for a couple of reasons. First was a bad IT Band problem that I developed after only two sessions, likely due to bad (rental) bike fit. The second was that I needed to work on basic track-specific skills like pacelines (much tighter than on the road), track stands, etc. before tackling group workouts and races. Then two months later was my accident.

I took another look at the Home Depot Center Velodrome and they seem to have a much more structured way of progressing from beginner, as opposed to the "jump in the deep end" approach at Encino. I'm thinking that using the money I would have spent on my planned iron-distance triathlon, or even the half, would be better spent at the track. I will likely find out in fairly short order whether I have a knack for it or not.

So now I find myself at a crossroads:

  • Off in the distance is the goal of doing an Ironman. It was never a "bucket list" thing or life-long dream. It was just something I thought would be an adventure. It's now looking like it's not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
  • Over there in August is the Hansen Dam Triathlon, which I have already signed up for. No getting out of starting swimming workouts soon, I'm afraid. It's just a sprint so it should be fun. I'm thinking that one of that or the IronBruin or the Merced Gateway will be my only triathlon I do in a season.
  • The velodrome is what I am really looking forward to now. The speed! The newness! The tighter jeans as my thighs get bigger! Yes, even at 50 I can still put on quite a bit of muscle. I know because I was doing it before my accident.
  • Finally, road cycling. Even if I went crazy with the track cycling, I would still need to bike on the road and, more importantly, I really want to keep riding on the road. It was the part of triathlon training that I always liked the most. Riding to work, longer rides on the weekend, centuries and whatnot. I really like it.
Hey, as long as I'm active, getting fit, and having fun, I'll be happy. It just looks like the focus won't be on triathlon like it has been for the past few years.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Building My Bike: #11 The Verdict and Lessons

I have been riding my bike for several weeks so I know enough about it that I can comment on it and the whole building experience. First, building my bike was totally worth it. Besides the obvious cost-savings, I know so much more about bikes now. I am not afraid to tackle almost any bike repair job and, as an added bonus, I now have more tools than I did before.

As far as the bike goes, I really like it. I am a whole gear faster/stronger than my previous bike. Before, if I would ride some section of road in the fifth cog, now I ride it in the (next-smallest) sixth. I'm guessing that it's because my fit is better. With a nine-month layoff before this, it's not because I'm stronger. My hands no longer get so numb on long rides. The bikes corners very well. In what is probably a combination of titanium and the 25mm tires, the ride is less harsh than my previous bike. Sections of rides that I am very familiar with and know to be bumpy are much less so now.

It does have a few minuses, though. First, my feet are located much closer to the front wheel, which comes into play at very slow speeds if I have to make a severe steer (like turning around on a bike path or the wobbles that happen when you slowly approach a red light, waiting for it to turn green). The tire can bump into my feet if I turn far enough. This is a bit unsettling but since I don't have to steer like that too often, I am managing. The frame has some flex up top. I don't feel any flex if I get out of the saddle to climb but I do notice it on bumpy roads and working hard in the saddle up a climb. Finally, my center of gravity has moved backwards such that I have to make a few adjustments. First, on descents I no longer have to slide my butt back in the saddle; rather, I just lean forward (which really isn't a minus). Second, if I am doing a steep climb I can actually pull on the hoods so hard that the front wheel will come off the ground. If that happens I lean forward or get out of the saddle, which also puts me more forward.

These minuses demonstrate to me the value of a custom frame builder. If I had the $$, I could have taken my fit data to a builder and, while the dimensions of the bike would mostly be the same, a builder (I hope) would have noticed that my feet were too close to the front wheel and made an adjustment there. And would have noticed that the head tube should be tapered and the top tube should be bigger to cut down on flex (for example--I don't know if those are true) . Alas, I don't have a lot of $$ right now so I can deal with these little minuses. Make no mistake, I am very happy with my bike.

Here are some lessons I learned during this odyssey:

  • Find the best bike fitter in your area (which is, likely, not some guy in your LBS) and spend the money to get a real fit, preferably before you buy your next bike. It is so worth it.
  • Get the right tools for the job. If you are going to build your bike and don't have the tools to do it, prepare to spend money on new tools. Get good ones from a reputable company and don't try to jury-rig something...unless you are a natural handyman (I am not).
  • That said, know which LBS you can turn to for advice, parts, and repairs. Even though I did this "myself", I went to Bicycle John's Santa Clarita several times for endcaps, a cable cutter, installation of headset, installation of the bottom bracket, a shifter cable, and even some washers. They were great.
  • Cameras are wonderful. Use them when taking things apart (like cassettes) so you can use the pictures for reference when putting those things back together.
  • If you don't already have one, for goodness sake get a repair stand.
  • If you can afford pro-level gear, get it. It may be twice as expensive as something lesser but if that amount is within your budget, get it.
  • Bike assembly and repair really isn't that hard. Once you have the tools, the main thing you need is experience and you only get that by doing so dive right in.

A great experience. Time to go for a ride!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

4221 Snacks

Long bike rides, such as the bike leg of an Ironman, require taking in calories to complete. I like e-Gels by Crank Sports; they have electrolytes, too. I often have a Snickers bar early in a long ride (before it melts). I get some calories from my Michaelade. That's still not enough, though. For training rides, I have been known to pack a burrito or a small beef sandwich (or two) but I have been looking for something else. Something snacky I can take on training rides and races. I hate Power Bars. Hate them. I don't really care for many other bars (or waffles), though Bonk Breakers aren't bad. Problem with stuff like that, though, is they're kinda pricey. Could I come up with my own snack?

I came across a recipe by Leah Vande Velde, pro rider Christian Vande Velde's wife, for her homemade energy bars, so I made them. Not quite right for me so I tweaked and experimented and came up with a recipe that is what I'm looking for and tastes yummy, too. I call them 4221 Snacks. "4221" because that makes it easy to keep the recipe in my head. "Snacks" because I don't make bars out of them. I make balls out of them:

4221 Snacks

  • 4 Cups Cereal (Rice Krispies, Cocoa Krispies, etc.)
  • 2 Cups of Nuts & Chews (Try 1C Almonds and 1C Golden Raisins)
  • 2 Cups of Sugary Stuff (I use 1C Brown Sugar and 1C Corn Syrup)
  • 1 Cup of Thick Stuff (I use 1/2C Peanut Butter and 1/2C Tahini)
  1. Put cereal and Nuts & Chews in a mixing bowl and mix together.
    Generic Cocoa Krispies, chopped roasted almonds, raisins,
    and chopped dried figs before getting stirred together.
  2. Heat Sugary Stuff in a saucepan on low. Stir until it melts.
  3. Add Thick Stuff to saucepan. Stir until melted and mixed.
  4. Apply non-stick spray to a baking sheet.
  5. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Mix until the dry ingredients are well coated. Don't be lazy here. If the wet mixture cools off it will be hard to work with.
  6. Use a disher to scoop the mixture and place scoops on the baking sheet.
    Scoops on the baking sheet ready to be frozen.
  7. Put baking sheet in freezer.
  8. After a few hours (or, even better, overnight) remove the snack balls from the baking sheet and place them in a zipper storage bag. Store in the freezer.

That's it. When I am ready to use the snacks on a ride I take them out of the freezer, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, and put them in my jersey pocket or Bento Box. They hold up well in the heat, aren't too sticky (hold them with the plastic wrap while eating), the Thick Stuff gives them a savory feel that is a welcome change from gels and other sweet snacks, and they don't upset my stomach.

Warning: this snack is only meant to be eaten while cycling or other multi-hour endurance activity. It is fairly calorie-dense so if you eat it while you're sitting around the office, you may feel the need to run around the block several times and/or play a game of basketball to burn off the energy you just ate.

Here are some notes on the ingredients:

  • I have only used the aforementioned Rice Krispies and Cocoa Krispies (their generic equivalents, truth be told). I suspect Cheerios may work, though I do wonder about how its fiber might affect me. Maybe Corn Flakes. Cocoa Puffs sound really interesting.
  • I wouldn't mess around too much with the Sugary Stuff. I find this combination holds things together well.
  • Nuts & Chews is where you can really experiment. Dried fruit, chocolate chips, different kinds of nuts. Just make sure things are no bigger than raisin-sized because it helps them stay attached. For example, if you want to use almonds, chop them up a little.
  • If you use peanut butter in your Thick Stuff, don't use the natural kind that separates (like my favorite, Laura Scudder's). Use something like Jif so it will hold together in the heat.

I first started working on this in 2012 and found that, in combination with Michaelade, I was recovering much better from long, hard rides. I'm not saying that these things are some kind of nutritional silver bullet. More like I was finally ingesting enough calories on my rides.

I use a #12 disher for my snacks, which results in 20 scoops (be conservative and level those scoops because you don't want these snacks to be huge--I've tried that and it's too much). Here is the nutritional breakdown per scoop for the above recipe using Rice Krispies, almonds, and golden raisins. YMMV because of different ingredients, scoop sizes, etc.:

  • 35.1g Carbhohydrates
  • 4.2g Protein
  • 9.2g Fat
  • 226 Calories

Like I said, "calorie-dense". Enjoy and I hope this inspires you to make your own snacks. If you are interested in making your own cycling snacks, you might want to check out Allen Lim's new book, Feed Zone Portables. I haven't read it yet but it does sound promising.