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.

Rollers, Rollers, Rollers

That squeak turned out to be a worn chain. I’ll get a new one this week. In the meantime, I lubed it up and headed out to meet my biking buddy Maggie for a Sunday ride.

I didn’t want to go far because of the chain. She had done a longish ride the day before, and wasn’t up for a long one, either. We set off for Buda, about 15 miles away. When we ride there with the A’s, we often get there in record time. This week, we lazed our way along.

On the outskirts of the small town, we took a bio break at the Walgreen’s. That’s a favorite stopping point for both of us, because the water fountain by the bathrooms always runs cold.

“Where should we go from here?” Maggie asked. We have a routine route — head for the historic downtown area, then make a choice between turning toward Cole Springs Road or heading out on the road past the cement plant. Cole Springs is the more scenic, if rougher, road. The cement plant road is slightly uphill for three miles, and we prefer to take it on the way back, where we can rack up some real speed.

The bike was rolling well with its freshly-lubed chain. I suggested a route we hadn’t taken yet — one I hadn’t ridden in four or five years. We’d turn in the opposite direction, cross under Interstate 35, and pick up the country roads.

Almost as soon as we crossed east of the Interstate, we hit the rollers. This land might be called “Blackland Praire,” but it’s anything but flat. Rollers can be fun, though. Work a bit on your way up, then coast at anywhere from 20-25 mph on your way down. This went on for several miles.

A typical view as we approach more rollers on Turnersville Road.
A typical view as we approach more rollers on Turnersville Road.

A left turn sent us north, but still up and down hills. We saw a dog stick its head out from a driveway some distance ahead, and got ready to fend him off. But he apparently called his friends, and as we got closer, four other dogs dashed out onto the road, charging us and barking loudly.

Two of the dogs were little things, and a shouted, “Stay!” was enough to stop them in their tracks. The first dog we saw looked friendly enough, and hung back, but a brown and white pooch bared its teeth and made some threatening moves. Maggie pulled out her water bottle, ready to squirt. But her yells kept that one away, too — until I drew even with him. He let me get a little ahead, then came after me. I yelled, but that didn’t faze him. Finally, I built up enough speed, and we were far enough past his place, that he stopped.

We turned at a busy ranch road, that led past the local landfill. It’s a huge operation, and its claim to fame is an exotic game ranch around the back side. But this time, a beautiful large African antelope of some kind was right next to the road, behind a fence, of course. I would have stopped for a picture, but the animal was skittish. He backed away when Maggie drew close, and I figured if I stopped, he would run off. I kept going.

Turn again, past some back holes on a golf course, and up and down more rollers. Suddenly, I was having trouble catching Maggie, who was pulling away from me. I realized it wasn’t my bad chain — it was my bad fitness. The previous night, I went to bed an hour earlier than usual, since we were planning an early start this morning. But the dog barked to be let out at 3:45 a.m., and I never got back to sleep. Now, I was feeling it. The tiredness just washed over me.

We had a civil conversation with some guys in a Boss 302 Mustang while waiting at the light to cross I-35 again. They thought what we were doing was dangerous, because the intersection is always busy with heavy traffic. We explained that this was the only way for us to cross the highway, and we’d grit our teeth and get through it as best as we could. Of course, the unspoken subtext was that we weren’t supposed to be riding on the roads. As I say, at least the conversation was civil.

Two miles farther on, I called for a stop at a convenience store. We don’t usually take a break there, with only about eight miles to go before reaching home, but I needed to recharge. Some Shot Bloks, Fig Newtons, and ice water, and I was good to go.

Still had to climb the backside of Davis Hill. By this time, the food from the stop had kicked in, and I had little trouble. “I hate that hill,” Maggie said, and I agreed. I pedaled well all the way back, but later at home, was knocked flat by cramps in my thighs. I got to the kitchen, made myself a good lunch, then conked out on the bed for two hours.

Rollers are fun, and are a good conditioner. But next time, I’ll make sure I tackle them with a full night’s sleep under my belt.

 

Thinking About Hills

Anyone who has read Bike Noob knows I’m not much of a hill climber. In fact, if anything, my hill-climbing ability has decreased in the past couple of years — I’m getting older, you know. Yeah, that’s it. (All right — I still haven’t managed to get my weight down to that level where hills are doable — but I think I’ll stick with the age angle.)

But it’s spring, believe it or not (It must be — we’re under our second wind advisory in a week! It was tough out there today!), and as we point toward our nice weather riding (It will come again, I promise), a lot of us will add hills to our training regimens.

Yes, even I climb hills in training. But the hills I climb close to home aren’t anything like the really challenging hills we’ll face on some of our targeted rides.

One that I think I’ll try to handle — maybe in the fall, after I’ve had lots of time to train for it — is Fulton Ranch Road. It’s not too far from Austin, and has been part of the 100-mile version of the Livestrong Ride here. It’s got a grade that I think is just within my abilities, but the problem is, it’s a lot longer than most of the hills around here. To whet your appetite for some warm-weather climbing, here’s a YouTube video of the hill.

But Fulton Ranch Road pales in comparison to the real monster. That’s the Westernport Wall in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Its 31 percent grade — that’s 31 percent! — is steep enough that the road is closed to motor traffic. But bikers are welcome to take a stab at it. And to make matters worse, the Wall is only part of the story. It comes in the middle of a triathlon! If you can get to the top of the Wall without clipping out and walking, you get a brick with your name incribed added to the rough and uneven surface of the road.

Makes my .4-mile jaunt up Convict Hill look like a walk in the park. Maybe by the end of summer, it will be!