The Long Road Back

The great concert pianist, Ignace Paderewski, is quoted as saying: “When I miss a day of practice, I know it. When I miss two days, my teacher knows it. When I miss five days, the audience knows it.”

As you know, I’ve missed the equivalent of a month on the bike, with just a few days sprinkled in there where I actually got a chance to ride. And boy, do I know it.

Our friend, Don Blount, has just told us about the rehabilitation regimen he’s putting himself through to return to biking from surgery. Don is a focused, goal-driven kind of guy. I take more of a recreational approach to my biking. I want to have a good day on the bike, maybe cover a decent amount of ground, and feel like I’ve accomplished something when it’s over.

It didn’t feel that way Saturday.

My own fault, really. We’ve had a good amount of rain here this spring — for Central Texas, that is — and my yard has exploded in green. The growing grass, combined with the live oaks that have shed last year’s leaves over the last few weeks, have left me a mess to take care of. I spent much of Saturday morning shoveling leaves into bags (that’s right — there were so many in such big piles, I didn’t have to do a lot of raking), trimming overgrown ground cover around trees, and cutting the grass in the front yard for the first time this year. By the time I was done, I was bushed.

But it was a beautiful, 90-degree (32C) day, and there was no way I was going to pass up riding under these conditions.

I picked a favorite route, one that would take me through my neighborhood and out to Austin’s Veloway. If I did two laps of the Veloway after the trip to get there, I’d have about 18 miles.

But halfway around my first lap of the Veloway, I knew I had had it. I completed the lap and headed home. Fifteen miles, and I was so tired that I flopped on the bed in my bike clothes, immediately fell asleep, and didn’t wake up for three hours.

Okay, it was the yard work and the 90-degree temps that did me in. Sunday would be better, because I was going out first thing in the morning.

I met my riding buddy Maggie, and we agreed to take a new trail (new to us) that would get us up a hill to a busy road. She had been on the trail once, and was unsure about the exact route, but she led the way without a hitch. The trail was rough in spots, but a good one. We circled around to a paved hill near my house, and she suggested working our way over to another trail that would take us back down the hill.

Maggie grabs a drink before we head down the rocky trail.

Maggie grabs a drink before we head down the rocky trail. (Click to enlarge.)

This is a rough trail. I glanced off a rock, and my foot flew off the pedal. It was all I could do to keep the bike under control as it picked up speed down a rocky cut. I didn’t want to brake too much, because if I hit a rock at slow speed, it could mean an endo.

We got down it okay, but the skies decided to open up then, accompanied by bolts of lightning. We headed over to my house before the worst of it hit.

My wife was happy to see Maggie, because they had a lot of catching up to do. After a half hour or so, the weather had cleared, and she headed home. I showered, then sat down at the computer to do some work.

It was getting up that got me. The hilly trails rendered the backs of my thighs really sore. I could walk it off all right, but for the rest of the day, whenever I stood up, I had to wait for the soreness to pass.

Maggie told me she had had hip problems at the same time I was off the bike, so we’re both embarking on comebacks of our own. I hope it won’t be a long one — there’s a lot of riding to be made up. But I’m out of practice, and I know it.

 

 

Let the Training Begin!

Finally, I’m back in the swing of things. It’s Spring Break, and I have a week off! I got on the bike Friday, and have ridden each day since then.

It’s important that I do so, because I’ve committed to a bike ride at the end of the month that will involve some challenging hills. It’s not a race or anything — just a semi-organized ride over some roads in Northwest Austin that I’ve never ridden, but have always wanted to.

But my lackadaisical attitude this winter has set me back, fitness-wise. If I’m going to ride hills — and on a ride whose mileage is not a challenge — I need to start training for hills.

Today, I did. I headed out through my immediate neighborhood and worked my way over to Convict Hill, a place I’ve written about before. I used to climb Convict Hill regularly, in both directions. But I haven’t been there in weeks, and I hadn’t ridden it in weeks before the last time I rode it. I knew I’d be pushing myself.

Sure enough, I was. I’m still not quite over the hacking cough that’s been bothering me for the last week, but I’m almost over it. It’s not badd enough to keep me off the bike, anyway. But when I hit that hill, I could tell I hadn’t been there for awhile.

Where I could climb it in the big ring before, I struggled in the small ring today. But I rode all the hills on the route, even if slowly, and reminded myself of where I need to be in a couple of weeks, fitness-wise. If we hadn’t had to be at an event in the afternoon, I’d have ridden longer.

When I pulled up to the garage and hopped off the bike, I was anxious to see just where I stood, according to Strava. How did I do today compared to previous rides on that route?

I’ll never know. I had one of those pesky Strava fails. It registered exactly zero miles on the ride. (Before I could delete it from my account, one of my wise guy friends gave me kudos.) I retraced the route on Map My Ride, and it came out to 17.4 miles. Problem is, I have no idea how long it took. I didn’t check my watch when I started, and I didn’t bother to bring the cheap bike computer along on the ride, because Strava is always there.

That’s okay. I intend to ride every day this week, so I’ll have a chance to cover the route again soon. In the meantime, it’s fun to have something to shoot for.

Thinking Time, Not Miles

It occurred to me the other day that once again, my riding has settled comfortably in the 25-mile range. Oh sure, I’ve got some longer rides under my belt — but nowhere near the metric centuries I did semi-frequently a couple of years ago. It seems that lately, my rides have been stuck in a range of between 23-27 miles.

A few years ago, I bemoaned the fact that I rode so many 25-milers. I felt that I was shortchanging myself — not putting in enough effort to improve as a cyclist. And I did work to get those long rides to longer distances. But now, I hardly ever think about distance.

In fact, if I pay attention at all, I pay attention to the number of minutes I spend on my bike. A long ride is anything over two hours. At my 14 mph average, that’s a 28-mile ride.

Most often, I keep my riding to familiar routes around my house. I can combine any number of roads and streets and the Veloway, and wind up with a ride that includes challenging hills, fast sections, and recovery segments. Most often, I knock off after I’ve done between an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes. I feel refreshed. I’ve had some good exercise. I’ve spent time on the bike, which I really enjoy.

Then, if I want to push myself, I get out the mountain bike. A two-hour ride on that thing, and I’m ready to pass out. And I’ve probably covered only 14 miles or so in that amount of time. But the next day, I can tell I had some strenuous exercise — much more than a road bike gives me in the same amount of time.

So, I’m not complaining about the 25-mile ride anymore. Some might say I’ve gotten comfortable, but I say I know what works for me. I’ll continue to ride as often as possible, but I’ll keep an eye on the clock — not the odometer.

Big Ride for the Death Ride

Our pal Don Blount is at it again, as he prepares for his big ride of the year. Here’s his account of a little(!) training ride.

BlountOnBikingTo prepare for big rides, you have to train for big rides — and often that training is painful. On Saturday, July 12, I am riding the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride. It is 129 miles (207.6 kilometers) with 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing over five mountain passes.

I have done a number of “big” rides to prepare for the Death Ride, including two double metric centuries and two century rides.

But I had never ridden at altitude, so two weeks before the Death Ride I headed up to the mountains to do a few training rides.

I joined my buddy Paul, who is also my doctor, and is experienced riding up in the mountains. He also climbs like a billy goat. The most I would see of him would be his back as he climbed waaaaay ahead of me.

Our plan was to do an 83-mile ride (133.6km) with 11,000 ft (3,353m) of climbing over four of the five mountain passes that are included in the Death Ride – both sides of Ebbetts Pass and both sides of Monitor Pass.

Mountain views can be spectacular. (Click pix to enlarge.)

Mountain views can be spectacular. (Click pix to enlarge.)

We started at 8:55 a.m. from Hermit Valley, Calif. at about 7,100 ft. (2,164m) elevation and we gained just under 1,600 ft. (487.68 km) within the first 5 miles (8km) to the summit of Ebbetts. Riding at altitude was difficult. I felt that no matter how deeply I breathed in that I could never take in enough air. This would be more problematic later in the day.

We headed down the other side of Ebbetts, dropping about 2,800 ft (853km) in 13 miles (21km). The views would be spectacular, the downhill riding fun.

My friend Paul channels Martin Short with a "There Amigos" pose while taking a break during the descent of Ebbetts Pass.

My friend Paul channels Martin Short with a “Three Amigos” pose while taking a break during the descent of Ebbetts Pass.

Monitor Pass was next. These two climbs were difficult. The first gained 2,400 ft (731.52km) in about 9 miles (14.5km), then dropped into a canyon that we had to climb back out. This back side of Monitor Pass was a bear. It would take me nearly two hours to ride just nine miles. But that nine miles included 3,100 ft. (945m) of elevation gain.

I learned or was forced to learn to keep moving; to not stop and lean over the bike but to get off and walk. Mentally this was tough to accept but pushing my bike at two miles (3.2km) per hour was better than standing still; at least I was still moving.

Don Blount looked fresher than he felt after summitting Monitor Pass on the second big climb of the day.

Don Blount looked fresher than he felt after summitting Monitor Pass on the second big climb of the day.

After climbing the last side of Monitor we headed into Markleeville, Calif. for lunch.

The final climb, over the other side of Ebbetts, would be the toughest of the day. It was hot and long. Starting from about 5,604 ft. (1,708m) of elevation, we would ride 17 miles (27.3km) and gain 3,000 ft. (914m). It would take me nearly two hours and 22 minutes to summit. Again, I stopped and walked several times. And three times someone stopped and asked if I needed assistance. I declined in part because I wanted to “HTFU.” I also wanted to punish myself by not taking the easy way out. And I did not want the mental image of quitting when I came back on this route for the Death Ride.

I was more than happy to reach the top. Paul was waiting, anxious to escape the mosquitoes that nagged him.

Returning to Hermit Valley and the car was bliss. The ride took about eight hours and 10 minutes. Total time out was just under 10 hours. Click here if you want to see my stats for the day.

The following day we did another ride of about 21 miles (33.8km) with 2,000 ft. (609.6m) of climbing. I actually felt much better this ride. Here are my stats for this “recovery” ride. Over the two days we would ride 104 miles (167.4km) with 13,000 ft. (3962m) of climbing. I left anticipating that the Death Ride would be hard. I guess that would be expected for any ride with “Death” in its name.

Riding a Double Metric Century (Part 2)

Guest poster Don Blount continues his account of his metric double century, a ride he’s using to prepare for his killer “death ride” next month.

BlountOnBikingI was nearly halfway through the Tierra Bella Double Metric Century in Gilroy, Calif. as the voices began getting louder in my head. I had been riding for nearly 4½ hours, which is a long time to spend with your thoughts. When doubt takes a seat in there, strange things happen.

And as I thought about being able to stop if I had a mechanical problem with my bike, an unsettling crunching sound came from my cranks and they jammed.

I got off the bike, looked and tried pedaling them again. Nothing.

The front derailleur had fallen into the big chainring. As I fiddled with it, one rider stopped to help and another. One held the bike, while the other chatted. The talker was local and told me that a bike shop was not far away.

And then the SAG van pulled up. By that time I had gotten the front derailleur into the low chainring. Instead of hopping into the SAG wagon, I pedaled to the bike shop. I was not the only Tierra Bella rider there, several others were also getting repairs. A mechanic there confirmed that my derailleur was broken and that the bike could be ridden within the small chainring without worry.

And now that I had an excuse to quit the ride, I did not want to. I had too much time and effort invested.

I decided to do the last part of the ride in the small chainring. I still had a lot of climbing to do and would spin on the flats.

So I spun. And I spun and spun and spun for the next 25 miles (40km) before reaching the final climb at Hicks Road.

This climb gained 739 feet (225m) in about two miles (3.2km). It would take me about 20 minutes.

On the return trip I missed one turn but traced my steps to get back on course and ended up with a group of riders that I would stay with the rest of the way.

It was good to ride with someone as the afternoon winds in Gilroy picked up.

I rode 127 miles (204km), and my Garmin showed me with 8,632 feet (2,631m) of climbing in 8 hours 54 minutes. That does not include the hour of time I lost while fiddling with my front derailleur.

The Tierra Bella Double Metric Century was a challenging ride that I would do again. I learned how to deal with adversity and work through those negative voices that creep into your head during challenging rides.

I had a long car ride in front of me and just wanted to get home for a hot shower and to unload my gear. I also wanted my quads to stop screaming at me.

Riding a Double Metric Century (Part 1)

Guest poster Don Blount is gearing up for a big, big ride — and he’s using what a lot of us would consider a big ride to prep for it. Here’s his account.

BlountOnBikingMy big midyear ride is The Tour of the California Alps, Death Ride on July 12. It covers 129 miles (208 km) with 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing over five mountain passes.

I have other things planned after that ride but my preparation has been geared toward the Death Ride.

Intensity, climbing and saddle time are all components of my training. And yes, I used to hate hills but a 30-pound weight loss (13.61 kilograms) and improved fitness changed my attitude toward them. I can proudly say that I am a decent climber.

Through mid-May I have ridden about 2,800 miles (4,506 kilometers) with 71,000 feet (21,641 meters) of climbing in about 164 hours.

As part of my training, I took on the Tierra Bella Double Metric Century in Gilroy, Calif. in April. The 200K was listed as having 9,600 feet (2,926m) of climbing.

Gilroy is about 1 hr 45 mins from my home in Stockton, Calif. The early start required an overnight stay in Gilroy, which bills itself as the garlic capital of the world. The Ramada Limited was not five-star but it was fine for a night. I spent less than 12 hours in the room.

I rolled out from the Gavilan College starting point at 6:51 a.m. It was cool and I started out wearing a vest and arm warmers. I thought about wearing a long-sleeved jersey and for the first three hours of the ride I wished I had, but one thing about long rides in the spring is that the temperature can fluctuate by 30 degrees (16 degrees Celsius) or more and that is what the forecast called for. In a few hours I would be grateful for the short sleeves.

I rode at a comfortable pace, speaking with a few people along the way. Yet I was still thinking of the climbing that waited ahead.

By the time I reached the first rest stop at Gilroy Hot Springs, I was still cold but felt good. My goal was to finish in less than nine hours.

 

It was cool early in the double metro century as Don Blount arrived at the first rest stop.

It was cool early in the double metric century as Don Blount arrived at the first rest stop.

I had never ridden in this area before this day. However, I noticed how many areas reminded me of routes where I ride regularly. I felt fortunate to live in a good biking area and felt confident about being able to handle what waited ahead.

The real climbing began at about mile 38 (61 km) on the way to Henry W. Coe State Park headquarters. Over the next 11 miles (18 km) we would gain nearly 2,300 feet (701m). It would take me 1 hour 16 minutes to complete the climb.

The big climb is completed. Arriving at the Henry W. Coe State Park rest stop in Morgan Hill, California.

The big climb is completed. Arriving at the Henry W. Coe State Park rest stop in Morgan Hill, California.

I was spent by the time I reached the rest stop. I lingered as I waited to recover. A friend had told me about eating some chicken soup at a rest stop when he was not feeling well during a ride. Son of a gun, there was some Cup Noodles soup. I never eat this stuff but I did this time. It was hot, salty and won’t be a regular on my menu anytime soon. But it helped.

 

Despite the smile, Don Blount was not feeling that great.

Despite the smile, Don Blount was not feeling that great.

Eventually, I started the descent. I exited the park and thought about the remaining 62 miles. I specifically had two thoughts: 1) If a SAG van came by right now, I would be tempted to get in. 2) If I had a mechanical, I could quit now and blame the bike.

I would soon be reminded to be careful what I wished for.

In his next post, Don recaps both the mechanical and mental challenges of the ride.

How Do I Know I’m Improving?

onbikeWhen I started cycling about six years ago, I was gratified by how quickly I seemed to improve. I built up the number of miles I could ride, I lost a little weight, I recovered from strenuous efforts faster.

But after several years of riding, I fell into a rut.

My long rides weren’t very long — it was rare that I roe for more than 40 miles. I found there was no way I could hang with the A riders in my club, and I was starting to have trouble handing with the B’s sometimes, too.

The lack of improvement got me into a funk, and I was unmotivated to do much riding at all. Heck, I was spending more time organizing my stamp collection than riding the roads around here (not that there’s anything wrong with stamp collecting).

So the question became, how do I get back on track?

For me, there was no blinding flash of light on the road to Damascus. I noticed that little things were coming together — over time, not all at once — and that my interest in cycling was picking up again.

A small, but dependable, group of B riders came out for our Sunday club rides. Sure, maybe there would be only two or three of us on any given week, but at least we could ride at our own pace, and not worry about being dropped by the main peloton.

We started doing variations on our usual rotation of rides — adding new routes or modifications to old ones, so we weren’t riding the same routes over and over.

And then I got Strava. Now, lots of people hate Strava. In fact, I was one of them — as long as I didn’t have it. And even after I started using it, I ran into some problems with data discrepancies between it and my old bike computer.

But I’m finding the thing about Strava that is helping me improve my cycling — perhaps more than any of the other changes I’ve mentioned — is its segments feature. Routes are broken up into segments, which are created by cyclists. And you can compare your times on certain segments with times of other riders.

For example, I do laps around our Veloway two or three times a week. One of Strava’s segments is the “Veloway Loop,” almost a complete lap of the 3.1-mile track. I was a bit disheartened when I started using Strava, because it clocked times around the Veloway that were much slower than I thought I was riding it. Often, 11 or 12 minutes a lap were the best times I could manage.

Now, back when I was just getting into cycling, and constantly improving, I know I could circle that track in less than 10 minutes. So I started paying closer attention to my Strava times for the Veloway, and checking the times of acquaintances to see how they stacked up against me.

I guess I could have gone all out and tried for a Personal Record, or PR, each time I did a lap. Instead, I continued to ride my routine laps. I registered a 10:04 — not too bad, but not what I was after. A couple of weeks later, 10 minutes flat! Only four seconds, but that nice round number represented something of a benchmark.

Depending upon how I feel on a given ride, I might or might not push it a bit when I reach the Veloway. If I was going to set a new PR, it would have to be when I was still relatively fresh — and usually, the Veloway lap comes near the end of my ride, not the beginning.

This morning, I reached the Veloway 12 miles into my ride. I hadn’t thought about a PR, but then noticed how effortless my pedaling was this day. That was on account of a brisk tailwind, and that could be good for my time. But it would also work against me on the backside of the lap, when I was dead into it. What the heck, I thought. Let’s go for it!

I applied an even effort around the track, drawing encouragement whenever I passed another cyclist. When I swerved through the ess curves near the end of the lap, I hit 23 mph — I try to reach 22, so this looked good.

Then, on the way home, I got a green light at a major cross street, and powered up an easy, half-mile long hill past a supermarket. This one has been giving me fits, too, but again, it looked like I’d have a decent outcome.

And I did. Back home, I looked at my segment times. All were pretty mediocre, except the Veloway, where I set a new PR — 9:59! Broke 10 minutes! And the hill — I slaughtered it. My previous best had been 1:25, and today I did it in 1:18 (Yes, I had a tailwind, and yes, I did not have to start from a dead stop at the bottom of the hill, thanks to the green light, but a PR is a PR).

So yes, I’m improving again. Not only are my times getting faster, slowly but surely, but my interest in biking has come back. Biking isn’t all about fast Strava segments. It’s about the ride. After some time in the funk, I’m enjoying the ride again.