Monday, January 24, 2011

Smart riding as the weakest link

I frequently ride with people who are stronger then I am.  This doesn't mean I am a weak rider.  I am just not as strong as the others in my group.  There are all sorts of reasons for this.  Some are younger.  Many of them have been riding for a lot longer then I.  And, others have more time, or more dedication, to train during the week.

For the most part, this isn’t a big deal.  I can hold my own and we have ended many, many rides together with the only difference being I am perhaps more fatigued, which I can live with.  However, over the last two years I have slipped into a bad habit that is making it an issue.  Some of my fellow cyclists ride hard on Saturday and some on Sunday.  I’ve been doing both and it is wearing me out.

I vowed to change that this year and this weekend provided the perfect opportunity to test my resolve.

On Saturday, I rode with Team Revolution presented by Fitness Journal.  There were six of us setting out for a social ride at our B pace.  I knew immediately that I was the weakest link in this group and it would be interesting to see if they stuck to the plan.  Plus, I had gone over the route with Coach Tim and had a plan for riding specific intervals on the small hills we would cover.

The smart riding began before we started rolling when I announced my plans for the hills.  This means they knew I would drop behind as I worked on my drills but I would catch up on the descents.  It worked perfectly!  I was never that far behind them over the top and I never felt the need to over exert myself to keep up.

After some nice rolling hills at a pleasant pace with lots of chit-chat and laughter, we hit a road where I knew a paceline would form.  So, what’s the smart move for the weakest link at this juncture?  That’s right.  I took the front, started the paceline, and controlled the pace.  The secret here is to set a pace you can maintain without killing yourself that is hopefully fast enough for your stronger friends.  If you succeed, they will enjoy the pull and not feel compelled to come around and lift the pace.  It was another smart move that worked out great.

The rest of Saturday’s ride was more of a social affair that offered a few last opportunities for pacelines and hill intervals.  When it was all said and done, I got in a beautiful 52-mile ride that left me feeling perfectly exhausted.  Now, the next smart decision for this weekend would be to ensure Sunday’s ride focused on active recovery versus pushing the pace yet again.

As I sat around drinking coffee with three other friends on Sunday morning, I knew that once again I was the weakest link and there was a good chance this ride would not be as social as it was billed.  Soon, we are off at brisk pace and immediately my heart rate is higher then it should be for a recovery ride.  I should be in zone L2 and instead I am pushing an L4.  I spent the first have of the ride fighting an internal battle with myself.  Should I go hard to stay with them, repeating my mistakes of the past two years, or should I let them go? 

Finally, I made the smart decision for me and let them go.  Then, something amazing happened.  My heart rate came down over 10 beats even though I was pushing the same pace.  I was much more relaxed and really began to enjoy the ride.  I’m not a doctor, but I think that internal battle was stressing me out and once it was removed the stress went away with it and left me to enjoy spending time on the bike.

Was it worth it?  You betcha!  As I sit here typing this blog I am feeling fresh, relaxed and I am very much looking forward to Coach Tim’s SPINN Fitness class tomorrow night.  And, wasn’t that the purpose in the first place?


Monday, January 10, 2011

Flexibility on a cold winter ride

As I spent the week thinking about Saturday’s ride, one thing was crystal clear.  It was going to be very foggy and very cold, at least by Sonoma County standards.  Still, a couple of us brave souls were heading out anyway.  At least it wasn’t raining.

The plan was to head out with Coach Tim and do what he calls “riding with a purpose”.  He is quite good at setting up these early season rides that are designed to build power, strength and endurance in a very calculated way.  In essence, we are going to do his SPINN Fitness Class on the road.

So, I bundle up first thing Saturday and head out to the West County Revolution Bike Shop where we are starting.  And I mean bundled up complete with my thermal jacket!    We meet at the shop but before rolling it’s over to Coffee Catz to try and warm the soul one last time before we hit the road.

There were eight us of rolling along and having a good time chatting as we “warmed” up.  The plan was to practice pace lines with 10-30 second pulls on front followed by some hill work on a couple of small climbs.  The pace line drills worked beautifully until someone flatted.  When I saw him turn the bike upside down I knew we would be there a while

A few minutes later the flat was fixed and on it was on to the hills.  We practiced high cadence drills for spinning and low cadence intervals for power.  As we topped the largest of the small hills we would climb, I noticed that we had split up for the first time.  Those of us on the front began to soft pedal so the others could catch up.

After a few minutes I knew something was wrong.  They should have joined us by now.  Many minutes later we see them coming and learned that one of them cracked his frame and he is not going to make it to the end since we were only half way through the ride at this point.

Here’s where the flexibility part kicks in.  Tim and I decide that Cary will lead the group for the rest of ride on the scheduled route.  I am going to time trial back to my SUV so I can come get Jim and Tim is going to ride with Jim and his cracked frame.  We explain to everyone what’s going on, put the plan into place and off I go.

After only a few minutes I noticed that the group has  decided to skip the rest of the ride and is chasing me.  Cool!  Now, I’ll have help getting to my car.  So, off we go at a spirited pace, which was my max since I am just starting to build my base for this year.  This lasted for about 10 minutes.  Then one of the riders launched an attack and every followed but me.  Remember, I was at my max.  I also needed to ride smart.  I couldn’t afford to blow up and needed to maintain a strong but steady pace.  So I watched them disappear.  A short five minutes later they were out of site and I was riding alone.

As I rolled along I thought to myself, “This is just like 2010 when I start with a group and finish alone!”  This is exactly what I planned on avoiding in 2011.  Oh well, I just keep pedaling.  After a while, I see Carmen coming back my way.  She told me the pace got too high for her as well so she came back and we rode in together.

I got back to the car in great time, loaded the bike and headed out.  I got a text that Jim was at a Starbucks so off I go.  When I get there I learn that his cousin Vince, one of the riders, had his car keys and was one the way.  So, with Jim taken care of I headed for home.

All-in-all it was a great ride.  I did a little pace line work, rode a few small hills and practiced my time trial.  And, all of this was done with purpose.  I know these rides will continue to make me stronger and I can’t wait for the longer, and warmer, rides of Summer.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Looking in both directions

Well, the first ride for 2011 is already in the books.  So is the first run of the year.  The ride was a short 21 mile affair under the threat of rain.  The run was a 3.7 mile torture fest that still has me walking funny as a result of very sore legs since this was first run in over a year.  I’ll let you decide which one of these activities I enjoyed the most.

Jan2 Pic1 As I was riding along, enjoying the beautiful winter day, I couldn’t help but to reflect on the 2010 cycling year.  I was also wondering what excitement 2011 has in store.  I really do enjoy reflecting on what was and what’s to come, so as I slowly rolled along I allowed my mind to go with the flow as well.

In hindsight, 2010 was a very unique year for me.  I was more involved with the cycling community then ever before.  I helped with the Tour of California, I did a lot of work putting together and leading rides for Team Revolution presented by Fitness Journal, I marshalled Levi Leipheimer’s Gran Fondo, and I joined forces with my friend Carmen who is putting together the first Steven Cozza’s Giro Bella Classic starting in 2011.  Yes, it was a very busy year.

The one thing that was slightly off in 2010 was my riding.  Not only did I not get in the number of miles I am used to, they were a different kind of miles.  In 2008, while training for the Terrible Two, I rode 5,707 miles.  In 2009, I was back down to my norm at 4,771 miles (I usually ride just under 5,000 miles a year).  However, in 2010 I only managed to get in 3,617 miles.  This was mostly due to battling a few colds and an exceptionally cold summer but I also struggled to find my mojo in 2010.

The lack of mojo in 2010 can be summed up in one line.  I did not do enough social rides.  Instead, I found myself in full-on hammerfests or rides where the goal seemed to be racing to the next regroup.  The bottom line – I spent a lot miles chasing the group while riding alone which left me with very tired legs and very little desire to join the next ride.

Fortunately, Coach Tim put me on an off-season plan that has completely turned my mojo around.  Perhaps that explains why I was out braving the rain on Sunday versus hanging with my friends in the spin class at the Airport Club.

With all that as a back drop, my plan for 2011 can also be summed up in one line – more social rides.  For me the joy of cycling is rolling along, laughing with friends, and enjoying the feeling of being alive.  I need to do more of that.  Scratch that!  I will be doing more of that in 2011.

IMG_0448Now, on to the grand plans for 2011.  To begin with, I am once again off to France in June to climb Mont Ventoux for the third time.  This time however I will have company on the bike.  Some of my friends are making the trip with me and we will be doing the climb together.  It’s kind of a 50th birthday ride celebration for yours truly.

I am also going to try and do a few events that I always meant to do but never got around to such as the Tour of the Unknown Coast.  There are still a few mountains within easy driving distance, like Atlas Peak, Mount Tamalpais, and Mount Diablo, that I still need to conquer.  Finally, my Gran Fondo Marshall partner Jeff has already informed me we are marshalling the 100 mile route versus the 65 mile route in 2011.

There you have it.  A 2010 cycling year that I am glad to have behind me and a 2011 year full of promise.  As I plan my various rides you can count on one thing.  There will be someone with me laughing and telling stories as we roll along on our next adventure.