A Look Back at January

Guest poster Don Blount is back (he’s been blogging here more often than I have lately) with a look at his January biking miles, and how they’re helping him build for the coming year.

BlountOnBikingI finished January with 606 miles (975 kilometers), my highest monthly total ever.

My previous high was set in July; I rode 573 miles (922 km) that month.

Winter is when we get the bulk of our rain in Northern California. However, this winter has been dry. So dry, in fact, that we went more than 50 days without any rain and when it finally rained to break that streak, it was a fairly insignificant amount.

However, those dry days provided plenty of opportunities to ride outdoors.

And I took advantage of that.

For the past nine months I have been riding about four to five days a week. I continued that in January while also adding quite a few longer rides, of about 50 miles (80 km) a week.

To put this in perspective here are my previous January mileage totals: 2013 – 260 miles (418 km); 2012 – 291 (468); 2011 – 313 (503); 2010 – 220 (354).

Another change I have made these past few months is riding for time instead of distance. Instead of planning a 40-mile ride (64 km), I will plan a 2 ½-hour ride with the distance dependent on the pace.

And also, I have changed how I use my bike. I ride for fitness and performance. It is part of my cardio activity for staying healthy but I also ride to become a stronger rider. That change may be just semantics or attitude. But it has worked for me.

A bike mechanic once told me that it was more important to focus on the time you spent in the saddle instead of the distance. Distance will build as you put in the time he said (and no, he did not look like the Ancient Mariner).

I did not understand what he meant then but I do now as I go about preparing for rides I have planned for later this year. The only way to prepare for longer rides is to spend time in the saddle. Some of those rides I am targeting will require about 12 hours of saddle time. The longest ride I have done was a full century that took 6 hours 39 minutes.

I feel comfortable and confident spending time in the saddle, I just need to continue building.

In January, my long rides were three to four hours. They will be getting longer this month. I already have planned a ride that I am told will take six hours, it is 87 miles (140 km) with 7,000 feet (2,133 meters) of and a metric century too.

I do not expect to ride 600 miles (965 km) every month, but I take satisfaction in getting off to a good start in building a strong foundation for the year.


Looking Back to Look Forward

Guest poster Don Blount is gearing up for a banner year.

BlountOnBikingLast year ended up being a big cycling year for me. I rode more than 5,400 miles (8,690 kilometers), climbed 111,960 feet (34,125meters), completed a metric century, full century and lost 28 pounds (12.7 kilograms).

It did not start out as if it would be anything special. The first 3 ½ months of the year, I only rode 995 miles (1,609 kilometers) and I weighed 196 pounds (about 89 kilograms).

It was after an April 15 visit to my doctor, who also rides and climbs like a billy goat, that I became determined to lose weight in order to become a better climber.

During the last 7 ½ months of 2012, I rode 4,500 miles (7,242). I tackled rides that I never would have attempted before. In short, I became an overall better cyclist.

That would be looking back.

Looking forward I have a number of riding challenges ahead. 

Approaching the summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park newar Danville, Calif.

Approaching the summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park newar Danville, Calif.

For organized rides, I have planned, so far, a metric century in February. Next are two full centuries, one in April; the other in May. I will ride one with my sister-in-law from Ohio , who started riding last year. It will be her first century and I am delighted she picked me to ride it with her. We are calling it the “In-law Century.”

I am also registered to do the Tour of the California Alps – Death Ride. It is 129 miles (207.6 kilometers), 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing over five mountain passes. It is July 12, the day before my 53rd birthday.

And I am targeting my first double century in October.

My training rides will be used to build toward each event, so I will get in enough mileage, variety, challenges and fun.

Setting a schedule may seem rigid for some but it works for me in helping to plan my riding around my family, work and other obligations. I have never had a riding schedule before. This is a long way from looking at the bike club riding calendar and thinking “maybe I can do this ride.”

It is shaping up to be an interesting and challenging cycling year.

Small Ring Ride Revisited

As part of my effort to put less effort into my cycling this year, I headed out to Dripping Springs for a Sunday morning ride. Riding the rural roads around here is not necessarily an effortless effort, however, because of all the hills on the route. Only one is truly challenging, and that comes early in the ride, but plenty more are scattered along our route.

Earlier this week, Debra had posted that she and her husband would be riding there. When I arrived at the park where the ride starts, I saw Debra, by herself. She was talking with Jerry, another of the club regulars. I made three. That was it.

Debra said she had hardly ridden since the start of the year, and Jerry echoed her concerns. When we rolled away from the park, it was at a painfully easy pace. And as the miles went by, it looked like neither of them was going to do anything to speed things up.

But that played into my strategy for training. I found myself almost exclusively in the small chainring. I could select a range of gears that kept me close to Jerry, and often ahead of Debra. Both were riding high-end carbon fiber bikes today, the combined weight of which was still probably lighter than my own bike. I’m exaggerating, but not by much.

Jerry is a very strong cyclist, who had a nasty experience last spring when he fell during a group ride and broke his leg. He shies away from riding in groups now, and is very content to meander through the countryside with the likes of us.

I decided I would try to do the whole ride in the small chainring. I’d done that before, in training rides around Austin’s Veloway, but I had never tried it on the road before. For the most part, it worked out well.

From time to time, I took the lead in our small group, and before I knew it, I was well out ahead of them. A couple of times, I stopped by the roadside to wait for them to catch up. Once, Jerry decided he was a bit chilly, and stomped it to get the blood flowing.

For me to catch Jerry under those conditions required more than the small ring — so I cheated. I did switch to the big ring, just long enough to rein Jerry in, or to catch him as he waited at the side of the road.

In a few other spots, the route offers some downhill stretches that one just must ride all out, in the big ring. I did with gusto.

But when it was all over, I had spent at least 75 percent of the ride in the small ring. My average speed over the 27-mile course — 12.2 mph — indicated that this was not a hammerfest. But as another training ride to build my base, it worked out very well indeed.

Rediscovering Zone 2

Took a ride with a friend the other day. It wasn’t meant to be anything big, just using streets in our neighborhood, catching up about Christmas and whatnot, and just enjoying our time out. The day was on the chilly side, but sunny. The wind was there, but wasn’t a factor.

As we left one subdivision to enter another, I glanced down at my bike computer. It was blank. I had forgotten to start it when we began our ride after meeting up at a local coffee house. My computer will go to sleep if it’s idle for five minutes, and I have to click a button to make sure it starts registering when I start up again.

At first, I was angry at myself — I’ve made that mistake before. But then, I looked back at our ride up to that point, and decided I really didn’t need the computer’s data for the day anyway. We had covered about eight miles by then, and I know our average speed was probably in the 12 mph area. I wasn’t working any harder than I do when I ride with my wife. I was in Zone 2.

Zone 2 is familiar to riders who use heart rate monitors. It describes the space between 70-85 percent of maximum heart rate. Three years ago, I was in a riding clinic where we were ordered to ride only in Zone 2. The coach said that since we weren’t training for any races, but were just building a base, this was the kind of riding we should be doing during the winter months anyway. Besides, Zone 2 is where your body learns to burn fat.

We were out for about an hour and a half — 20 miles, give or take. During that whole time, the only effort we put out was on the few short uphills we encountered. In fact, my friend suggested we attack some hills, since our riding had been — well — boring up until that point. But on the hills, she decided it was time to end the ride and head home, so we didn’t even get in any meaningful hill work.

But that evening, I could tell I had done some good riding. My weight was down a bit, I didn’t feel bloated after dinner, and I was ready for a good night’s deep sleep. Zone 2 might not test your abilities as a cyclist, but it does good things for your future riding. I enjoyed it so much, I’m going to make a real effort to spend most of my winter in Zone 2. Or at least the next two months’ worth.

Turning Those Pedals — Or, Cadence

Long-time readers of Bike Noob might recall that I used to have a bike computer that measured cadence. When it broke, I didn’t replace it with another cadence unit — I decided I didn’t really need that information.

One thing I found out when I did ride with that unit was that I naturally cruised at a cadence of between 82-85 rpm. Most of the cycling literature I had read indicated that you want to be up around 90 rpm. I did do a cadence workout once a week where I struggled to stay above 90 for a 15-mile ride. I believe that effort did help me, but I also think that because I was working hard on those rides, I was a little bit fitter than I am today.

But as I discovered that I was falling into a biking rut, which I mentioned briefly last month, I decided that one way to break out of it was to vary my workouts — not ride at the same speed under the same conditions all the time. And sure enough, once I started doing that, I also started to pay attention to how fast I was turning the pedals.

I realized that I had let my previous cadence efforts go by the wayside. I started doing some fartlek training again, and made sure that on the fast sections, that I upped my cadence. I don’t have anything to measure it by, and I distrust my efforts to count the number of revolutions in a 10-second section, then multiply by six — I just don’t think that’s accurate, at least when I do it.

Then, when out on a longer weekend ride, I shifted down one gear into something a tidge easier. That also allowed me to increase my cadence, and get used to spinning without necessarily working harder. And I discovered that I like the higher revs. I’m in comfort zone now that must be the result of my earlier cadence workouts. It’s almost certainly closer to 90 that 80 now.

One benefit of increased cadence is that if you have to shift to a harder gear, it’s easier to spin the pedals, because you’ve been training at higher rpm’s anyway. I’ll never be speed demon, but it’s nice to know that when I do have to accelerate, I can do it without having to gasp for breath a mile down the road.

So I think I’ll continue to make cadence a regular part of my biking routine. Not measuring it to any degree of accuracy, but just paying attention to how fast I’m spinning at certain points in my ride. My rides will be easier, my pace will be just as good, if not better, and I’ll be building endurance.

How about you? Does cadence have any role in your riding or training?

Use It Or Lose It

Not riding much lately, and I can really feel it. Not as fast, way less endurance.One of the side effects my kitchen remodeling project is having — besides disrupting our meals and our household routines — is its effect on my cycling. Often, when I would expect to head out for an hour or so, I’ve had to scrap the ride to be at home when the carpenters or painters were in. Although my wife runs her business from our home office, she spends time nearly every day out of the house, making sales calls or running events. My riding has effectively been cut back to Saturdays and Sundays only.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be a big deal, but on Saturday’s ride, I could really feel it. I chose a neighborhood route that would net about 19-20 miles. It’s mostly a flat route, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Whenever I did try to put some effort into my pedaling, nothing happened. On the Veloway, where I push it in a couple of sections, I was halfway through those sections before I realized I wasn’t pushing.

A glance at my bike computer showed my average speed for the route was well below my usual. And to top it all off, a feeling of tiredness washed over me. I couldn’t wait to wrap up the ride and head home.

My poor performance could be ascribed to a variety of causes. My diet lately is terrible, since we’re getting take out for dinner every night. My weight hasn’t suffered as much as I thought it would — I’ve gained three pounds — but the food isn’t doing much to build my reserves. My hours have been thrown off because of the remodeling project, and I’ve been getting about an hour’s less sleep than I should. And finally, as I alluded to a few posts ago, I’m just not riding as much.

The lesson is: Use it or lose it. The falloff in my riding has caused me to lose my certain level of performance. Not that I’m fast or anything — I’m not, as regular readers of this blog know well — but to feel that I’m putting out more effort on gentle hills, and climb them even slower, hurts.

What’s the cure? That’s easy — ride. I got out early for my Sunday morning ride. This was done solo, because I had to be home earlier than the club ride would get me there. It was much hillier than the Saturday ride. And you know what? I attacked the hills with verve. I shifted one gear higher on the flats, and got up out of the saddle to get a good start.

The good news is — even with a period of sub-par performance, getting back to normal is fairly easy to do. I’m looking forward to better riding in the weeks to come.

Biking With Fartlek

I thought I’d revisit some posts from past years of Bike Noob, since a lot of current readers have probably not seen them. Last weekend, I used fartlek on a training ride, and it occurred to me that it’s time to talk about this training method again. This post originally appeared in September, 2008.

Back when I was a runner — okay, I was never anything more than a jogger — interval training was considered the way to go to train for a race. I entered my share of t-shirt runs, and sometimes I even got serious about training for them. But intervals put me off. They seemed too regimented — too serious.

Then I read about an alternative method of training. It’s called fartlek — from the Swedish for “speed play.” A fartlek trainer runs at a certain pace, or tempo, for awhile, and then turns on the gas and runs hard for awhile. The bursts of speed are not over set distances, and recovery times are always different. That’s the kind of training I enjoyed doing.

I thought about that today when I was out for my regular Tuesday ride on the Veloway. I had fully intended to do intervals. I even had the fast sections mapped out in my head. I knew approximately how long my recovery times would last. But when I started my first interval, I just couldn’t get enthusiastic about it.

Then it occurred to me — do fartlek. I started pulling on the pedals through a twisty inclined stretch, a little less than a mile. At the high point, I backed off. I rode through a relatively flat area without pushing hard.  On another twisty incline I stomped on it again, and held the fast pace for almost another mile.  On an ess curve that features a right-angle left followed by an acute-angle right, I laid the bike as far over as it would go without falling (great fun).  Then I coasted back to the start.

I did five laps, and did fartlek for four of them.  Each time, my fast and slow sections were different.  I got the training benefit without the regimentation that takes the fun out of biking.  Tonight, I can feel it.  I fell asleep in front of the TV.  I’m going to bed earlier than usual.  This might partly be because I haven’t had a real bike ride in a week, but it’s also because I had a tough workout.  I like the feeling.  I plan to do it some more.

Sore Butt

It was pouring rain when I woke up at 6 a.m. to get ready for the Sunday club ride. I figured I’d let it play out, and then decide if I would try to ride.

Our club president posted an advisory that the ride would start an hour later, to let the roads dry out — but it looked to me that things would still be wet, so I bagged a ride.

However, around 9 a.m., things were starting to dry out, and my wife insisted we go out for a ride. She’s been busy with her business this week, and has gotten out only once. Even with wet pavement, I thought a neighborhood ride would be fine.

We rode out four and a half miles to a turnaround on a favorite ride of Pat’s, when I suggested we add some distance. She was feeling great, glad to be on the bike, so we set off. We took some detours through area streets we don’t normally ride, bombed down a nice hill, and did a lap of the Veloway. By the time we got home, we had one 15.5 miles.

That’s just getting warmed up for me, but it was farther than she had ridden all year, I think. I took off to add some more miles, since Sunday is my normal long mileage day anyway, but some residual showers forced me to turn around earlier than I’d planned, and I got back to the house with only 25 miles on the bike computer.

Later, as we watched some TV, she said her butt was sore. “I can really tell I was on the bike longer today,” she said.

That’s good, though. Pat has a tendency to do short rides, and not stretch out her distances. Now that summer is here, we can ride farther, and maybe even get her ready for some more challenges, like some organized rides in the area.

In this case, a sore butt is just an indication of a training effect.

Starting Spring Training

While surfing Facebook the other day, I came across a post from the folks at RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa — the granddaddy of all the cross-state tours) concerning training. Even though Iowa is under snow right now, the post noted it’s time to start training for the July ride.

Now, the folks in Iowa have a real disadvantage. There’s that snow I mentioned. It’ll be cold there for quite some time to come. But cycling coach David Ertl, who provides training tips for RAGBRAI riders, is right — it’s time to build up your base.

I, on the other hand, have been doing nothing but base building for several months. I’m lucky enough to be able to ride most days, even when it’s colder than I like (If I want to — sometimes, I prefer to roll over in bed and pull the covers more tightly over my head). But here we are at the beginning of March, and those base miles I’ve built up need to develop into something more.

I’m going to start by lengthening my weekend rides. The club rides I do every Sunday have been dependably in the 30-40 mile range. Now, it’s time to add some decent distance to those rides, and make them in the 35-50 mile range. I find that riding longer is the single best thing I can do to improve my cycling.

Then, lengthening the shorter rides of the week could be added in. That means more time in the saddle, and time doesn’t always cooperate. But my usual 20-mile ride on weekday evenings might have to extend to 25 miles or so. I mentioned Daylight Savings Time in the last post — that will really help with longer weekday rides.

Finally, adding in some hard riding. Last weekend, I attacked a hill that I’ve just been riding up during the winter. It left me gasping for breath. But I’ll keep working it from here on out. It takes me about three minutes to climb, and during last summer, I hit a personal best on that hill of 2:24. I’ll be working to get back to that time.

Intervals are not my favorite kind of riding, but I know from experience that they’re very helpful in building speed. I start out easy: 30 seconds all-out, followed by one minute easy pedaling. The 30 seconds will grow to a minute, then to two minutes. Once I get up to two minutes fast, two minutes easy, I’ll be where I want to be.

Does this sound like a change in riding philosophy for the Bike Noob? Maybe. But I just had yet another birthday, and I want to make sure I don’t let my age catch up to me. More rigorous training will help stave off the aging monster.

And heck, I just want to enjoy my biking. Certainly, just riding brings enjoyment. But riding well brings more enjoyment, because you can ride longer and stronger. So — let the serious spring training begin.

Weekend Riding

I like Fridays, because more often than not I’m able to work from the house — just as I did this past Friday. One of the things I like about working from home is that it’s easy to get out for a bike ride.

Problem is, I haven’t done that now for the last two Fridays in a row. A combination of work stuff and household stuff has kept me indoors, and I can’t even squeeze in the 80-minute ride I usually do on Fridays. And since I don’t get a chance to ride during the week, those Friday jaunts are important to me.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t make something out of riding just on the weekends. Since Sunday morning is the club ride, I can count on 30-40 miles there, and Saturday sees me on a 25-mile route through the neighborhood that includes some decent hills. Taking the advice of our friend Don Blount, I’ve been making sure those weekend miles I get in are “quality miles,” and involve such things as attacking hills, doing short intervals, maybe some fartlek, or cruising along at a tempo pace.

I figure if I can make use of the weekend, I’ll still manage to be in good enough shape when the weather moderates to do some meaningful rides.

One thing in my favor is that Daylight Savings Time is just around the corner — next weekend, as a matter of fact. That means I’ll be able to get in some miles on at least one weekday.