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.

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.