Monday, March 23, 2009

Cycling versus running

The newest member of our cycling group made an inference on her Facebook page that running was the best of the 3 triathlon sports. My only thought was that she must be insane. How could running ever be better then cycling?

I thought about this a lot yesterday as I went for run versus riding the bike. This had less to do with preference and more to do with the 20+ mph wind gust we were experiencing. Currently, I am only running for a little cross-training. So I have a nice little 3.3 mile route from the house that takes me through the older parts of Santa Rosa. On Sunday, I decided to go run at Spring Lake Park. It's a beautiful park in the city with a comfortable 3.7 mile loop. It also has hills.

In fact, you start on a hill. So up I go and from the minute I start I am feeling slow. Very slow. And this is by no means a big hill. So over the top I start my descent and this is where I really notice the difference between running and cycling. If I was on my bike I could simply quit working and let the bike and gravity carry me down the hill. On foot, I am still running. Maybe not has hard as the climb but I am still exerting energy.

My heart rate is another significant difference between when I run versus when I ride. I feel like I am putting out about the same effort but it is higher when I run. Coach Tim finally pointed out what should have been obvious. When cycling, your upper body is really just along for the ride. But in running, the swinging of your arms engages more muscle groups so of course your heart rate will be higher.

As I make my way around the lake I say good morning to my fellow joggers. Less then 25% say anything back. WTF! It's very hard to pass a fellow cyclist on the road and not get a wave or at least a head nod. Even in my years before cycling, I was amazed at the number of runners who plug in the Ipods and disconnect from the world. Try that on the road during a ride and you are just asking for a ambulance ride.

As I reach the half way mark, I am really tired. I don't know if it is the small hills or the really intense ride I did on Saturday, but I am not feeling it. If I were on the bike I would simply change the route to something a little easier. As in - let's avoid hills. But when running around Spring Lake there is only 1 route. So you are forced to man up and finish the run you started. (There are actually more routes but they are all longer and hillier and that didn't seem like my best option.)

As the run was winding down I finally found my old hill rhythm. Work up the climb and then recover on the descent. I am feeling a little better but finding it hard not to stop. I am also being blown sideways by the wind. It wasn't until the final mile that I felt I was running well. Still slow, but well.

As I finally make it back to the car I check my watch and was pleasantly suprised. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. After a little stretching, very little, I head home. I fired up the laptop to enter the data and discover that I was only running about 10 seconds a mile slower then usual. So it was not as bad as I felt.

As I change out of my simple wardrobe of black tights and gray shirt (versus a full multi-colored matching bike kit), I start to feel a little better about the run. I also decide it is time to increase the distance, speed and hill work. Just as long as it doesn't interfere with my rides.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Playing Hooky

Last Friday, Sherry and I played hooky. Ok, it wasn't hooky in its truest form since she has every other Friday off and I took a vacation day. But, we were both free to go play on a work day so it felt like playing hooky and that's all the really counts.

The plan was pretty simple. I was going to ride in the morning while she slept in. We would do a little house cleaning, I needed to get my hair cut, we had our insurance guy scheduled to look at the kitchen remodel, and so on. However, in the middle of all that we also planned to head out to the town of Sonoma for one of our long lunches.

I got up bright and early as normal and spent some surfing the web and playing around on Twitter and Facebook. I read all the latest cycling news on Paris-Nice. And then I checked outside. Damn! After 4 mornings of driving to work under brilliant blue skies there is a very wet marine layer that rolled into town. I don't want to ride in that mess. I want sunshine! Just as I was resigning myself to be cold and wet I thought - "Wait a minute! I have the day off and can go ride this afternoon once the sun comes out." So, with the situation resolved, I poured myself another coffee and enjoyed the slow pace of the morning.

After Sherry got up we had a quick breakfast of cereal. While I was eating I made a mental note that from now on it would only be french toast on hooky days. We did our house cleaning and then headed out to Sonoma. After a little shopping (there is a great cook ware store on the Square) we headed for lunch.

The Girl and the Fig is one of our favorite restaurants. They have a beautiful outdoor patio and the sun has now burned the fog away leaving us with plenty of sunshine to dine outside. After a short wait at the bar, where we felt obliged to order drinks, we made our way to our table. Lunch was fabulous. A simple little 3-course meal with wine. This beats my normal Friday deli sandwich any day. After our leisurely lunch it was time to head home.

Our insurance guy had to reschedule so now the rest of the day is free. Time to jump on the bike and hit the road. I toy with riding the single speed but decide on Paolo (my bike with gears). I have the sunshine I was hoping for but I also have wind, which I had anticipated. Still, I am only wearing about half the layers of clothing I would have had on that morning so I am a happy boy. And with my pre-ride meal of assorted Artisan cheeses, fig and arugula salad, duck confit served on a bed off white beans, profiteroles and a half of bottle of wine, I am ready to ride.

Back home from a tough 40 mile ride (the wind really was pretty challenging) it is time to just relax for the rest of the night. Neither of us wanted to cook so we ordered pizza. Then we just sat back watched a little TV, chatted away about nothing and everything, and starting planning our real weekend.

Now that's the way to spend a Friday.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Back on the road

Finally! After 3 weeks of no road rides due to work and rain (mostly rain), I was able to get out this last weekend. It definitely wasn't Spring but at least it was dry. I could hardly wait to get back on the bike. I was like an excited little kid waiting for the cookies to come out of the oven. And like a child, I completely over did it. After 3-weeks of short trainer workouts and even shorter runs, I decide to kick out 128 miles in 3 days.

Friday morning was a good day and since I did not have any meetings until later in the morning, I decided to hit the road. I take the bike path along the creek out of town and it's really cool to see it so swollen with rain water. Once I clear town I decide to make the ride count. But I have be careful. We have big group ride schedule for Sunday so I don't want to flog myself.

Still, if I was on the trainer I would be doing intervals so off I go. I start kicking out 2 x 2 speed intervals. That's 2 minutes at intense effort followed by 2 minutes recovery, which I repeated 5 times. I then recovered for a solid 5 minutes and did a second set. Man it felt good to be hammering the pace on the road. I finished with a whopping 23 miles. It was a little more intense then I planned but Sunday's ride was going to be at an easy pace so I should be fine.

Saturday when I woke up there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I headed out and played on the hills near the house. Nothing major, however I was feeling the impact of Friday's speed workouts. I managed to get in some good climbs and a total of 43 miles with over 1600 feet of climbing. I am feeling the efforts so thankfully the ride on Sunday will be a little easier. I will use that as a recovery ride.

I also had plenty of time to think on Saturday since I was riding solo. It is amazing the thoughts that go through my mind. Like, why after a couple of weeks off the road is your ass the first to go? Everything felt fine on Friday's ride except my back side. I guess you can't replicate the constant bouncing of Sonoma County's rough roads on a trainer. If you decide to try it, please be kind enough to video it and post it on YouTube so we can all have a good laugh.

Sunday morning Coach Tim and I ride to Sebastopol to meet the gang. A total of 8 of us head out to go various distances. And while we started nice and mellow that's not how we finished. The pace seem to keep lifting and at times we were flying. There were even more times the group was flying as I was dangling off the back. I am now feeling every interval and every hill from the last 2 rides. About 35 miles into the ride my legs basically said "we're done!". It was time to find a pace I could manage for the rest of the ride.

Part of the group was going long, so we settled into a more leisurely pace and rode on. Eventually Tim and I peeled off and headed for home with a stop at Bad Ass Coffee along the way. By the time we reached Bad Ass I was yawning I was so tired and was basically just riding along with my head down. Tim was in the same boat and our only conversation was about how much harder that ride was then we thought it was going to be.

I was also getting hungry. It wasn't that I didn't eat plenty of GUs and Shot Blocks but more that I needed some real food. So at Bad Ass I had an apple turnover (for some fruit) and a peanut butter cookie (for protein) along with my coffee. With my energy restored, I was able to complete the 20-minute ride back to the house in only 30-minutes. The final tally for the day was 62 miles. In the end, I was tired and fatigued but it felt great.

Monday morning my legs reminded of the saying that revenge is best served cold. It doesn't matter. I had a blast and would do the whole thing all over again. In fact, this weekend I think I'll do just that.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mt. Evans Epic Climb

About a month ago I submitted this story to a local writing contest where you basically spoke about an epic ride you completed in 2008. My story deals with our climb to the top of Mt. Evans during our Colorado road trip. Since submitting the story, I have not heard a word. So, I decided to post it here. I spent too long on it for it to remain hidden in "My Documents" on my computer.

(Note: This a little longer then my normal blog.)

You know it’s going to be an epic adventure when you start planning a year in advance. In July 2007, a friend of mine participated in the Courage Classic, which is a 3-day charity ride in and around Copper Mountain, Colorado. When he returned, he could not stop talking about it. So a plan was set in motion for a bunch of us to hit the road in 2008 and road trip from Sonoma California to Colorado.

This was going to be a very cool trip for me for many reasons. First, I have never cycled in Colorado and I simply love the idea of turning the pedals in new places. You see I only started cycling about 5 years ago so there is still a lot of new road to ride. But perhaps even more importantly, I have never done the whole “road trip with the guys” thing.

After months of planning it finally came down to 6 guys heading out for 8 days. Another good friend owns Fitness Journal, an online system for tracking your activities. He also has a fully wrapped RV and decided to sponsor the Courage Classic. So at 6:30 on a Tuesday evening, we piled into the RV with a trailer full of bike gear in tow and headed for Colorado.

Since this story is mostly about the Mt. Evans climb, allow me to simply provide a synopsis of the trip to Colorado. The margarita machine was running full speed and 4 of the crew were hammered before we reached Reno. We spent the night under the stars in the Nevada dessert; cycled Colorado National Monument's Rim Rock Drive; had a waitress at a brew pub offer to help us make a guy puke and finally, we totally freaked out our Mormon hotel van driver when we ask – “Where can a guy with $900 in cash find a hooker with a hump in Grand Junction?”

By Thursday afternoon we were all checked into the house we rented and began planning Friday’s ride. The destination was Mt Evans. For those of you who are as unfamiliar with Mt. Evans as I was, let me provide a few details. The summit is at 14,240 feet although the road only reaches a mere 14,130. It is the highest paved road in North America as it rises from an elevation of 7,555’ in Idaho Springs. I’ll let you do the math on the elevation gain. The total route is just over 28 miles. That’s right, 28 miles of uphill adventure. The only consolation is that unlike Sonoma County climbs, which regularly exceed grades of 10% and higher, Mt. Evans ranges from 1.2% to 6.3% with the overall average weighing in at a respectable 4.45%.

We arrive in Idaho Springs bright and early Friday morning. As we all began assembling the bikes and preparing for the ride, I felt like I was part of some Continental Pro team. There we were, 6 guys in matching kits pulling bikes out of a matching RV. It was too frigging cool! After some final photos we are off.

The plan is for everyone to climb at his pace so we anticipate splitting up. At first I gave some thought to breaking Tom Danielson’s record of 1:41:20. Then I remembered I was on vacation and settled into a more relaxed rhythm. I found my pace and settled in for the long haul. My best guess was around 3 and a half hours of climbing were coming my way.

Up and up I go. I managed to stay in the middle ring and just kept turning the pedals at a pace that allowed me to soak up the scenery. I am not a professional and I wanted to thoroughly enjoy my Colorado riding experience. At the 14 mile, and 10,600’ mark, we stopped at the Echo Lake General Store to restock. Just past the store was the Ranger’s Station where we each paid $3.00 for the right to climb 14 more miles.

At 12,000 feet we left the trees behind and were treated to expansive views of the Rockies and Mt. Evans itself. Every time you came around a curve you had a new majestic view. In some cases, you could see for miles across the valley to the road you would eventually reach. Mt. Evans came in and out of view depending on the road. People are driving by in cars with the same quizzical look on their face as if to ask, “Don’t you know you can drive to the top?”

The final push consisted of a series of 13 switchbacks. I was beginning to fatigue so my mind started playing tricks on me. I was asking myself if the mountain actually had a summit and reminding myself if I see bright light do not go towards it. The lack of oxygen was not helping. And suddenly, I was in the parking lot with people everywhere applauding my efforts.

I was the fourth member of the team up. So we hung around and waited for the others while answering questions like, “Did you ride from the Ranger’s Station (14 miles)? No we replied. We started in Idaho Springs. Each time we said that invoked a look of either great admiration or great stupidity with nothing in between.

After waiting out a lightening storm, we begin the descent. The road is not in great shape for the first 10 or so miles down. So between rough pavement, no guardrails (like they would help) and drops that lasted for thousands for feet, we all take the descent pretty easy. I was most impressed with the cars. Each car we caught from behind pulled aside and allowed us to pass. Now that’s a sign of respect.

We regrouped at the Visitor Center and took off again. This is where the road became very smooth and we are letting it rip. We are all hitting speeds of 45 miles an hour or more. It was simply heaven on a bike. All that changed when it began to rain. Then it started to rain hard. Then we were pounded by hail. Now our kick-ass descent became a matter of holding on for dear life.

We all made it down to the General Store, which had a bar. Let it rain! We’re getting something to drink. But, since we still had 14 miles of wet road to descend we settle on hot chocolates and watch it rain. Finally, the rain subsided and we are rolling once again. The rest of the ride down was pretty uneventful but very fun.

Back at the RV it was time to pack up and head into town. We found yet another brew pub and settled down for a lunch of burgers, beer and stories.

The grand total was 3 hours and 30 minutes to the top and just over 1 hour of ride time back down. Add to that the feeling of conquering the highest paved road in North America and hopefully you can see why this ride defines epic for me. In the end, the scenery, the challenge, the descent, and the camaraderie where worth every ounce of effort I used to reach the summit.

I cannot wait to see what epic adventures the future has in store. Until then, I’ll just keep riding my bike.