Friday, April 20, 2012

Training rides

Just a little background

For those of you who aren’t regular readers of this blog, and based on the stats I’m seeing that would be most of you, you probably don’t know that I’m a fairly recent convert to the bicycling world. 

Oh sure, I rode a bike as a kid.  Back in those days, we all did.  Used to jump on the bike and ride all over Arlington County back in the 60s and 70s, prior to getting a car in 1975. Then, I learned that driving was so much more efficient and didn’t get back on a bike until a couple of years ago. That last attempt was a false start into the world of better health and didn’t last very long, despite purchasing a nice Trek hybrid.  Fast forward to last summer, just a few years later, and I’m cycling with a vengeance.

Truth is, I’m cycling for my health and cycling for charity, too.  At least, that’s the plan come June 3rd when I saddle up with a bunch of people in the annual Tour de Cure for Diabetes.  (Shameless plug and request for charitable donation, just click here:  Even a $5 donation will help me reach my goal of $1500 so don't be shy!)  And while I could just do the easy ride to fulfill my desire to raise money, I always over achieve.  So, I’m riding the century ride.  That’s 100 miles.  In one day. 

Actually, it’s107 miles and I’ve recently learned that there is about 6,000 feet of climbing during the route.  For serious riders, that’s not a big deal and it’s not a big deal overall.  But most of that climb takes place over a 30 or so mile section of the route.  That will get your attention, at least it got mine.  So, I’m in training.

What is “In Training” versus just riding?

I have no idea, but it sounds serious, doesn’t it?  Whenever I say it around the house, My Bride always looks a bit concerned as if I might not make it back from this.  (I think she’s just placating me and I’m good with that.  She really is my biggest fan.  Only fan. Whatever.  She’s even going to come to the Tour de Cure and cheer me on, bring supporting hydration and snacks.  She really is the best!)

It’s not that I have no idea, it’s just that there is way too much information out there on the internet about this.  A quick google search provided me with a dozen different opinions about how to prepare for riding a century.  Some of the advice in one location even agrees with the advice in another.  Like most topics debated by passionate people, there are differing opinions.  (Ask six people, you get 9 opinions!)

One guy put together a five page treatise on how to prepare that includes everything from bike prep to nutrition to exercise.  He advocates planning to a level that would make NASA proud.  I guess that makes sense if the ride you’re going to do is a solo with no support.  Through unsettled territory.  With savages roaming.  (Hmm….I wonder how flat that route is?) 

I’m taking some of his suggestions to heart.  I’ve gotten a professional tune up for my bike.  I’ve been paying attention to what I eat before a ride so I understand how it behaves in my stomach while on the bike.  (Here’s a tip: Spicy sausage dish not recommended without at least a 2 hour wait prior to riding.  Unless you want to practice vomiting in the saddle.  You’re welcome!)  I’m also working on understanding how my body handles hydration in different temperatures.  The learning goes on and will continue until the day of the ride.

Time in the Saddle is an Investment

The one thing that all these advisors agree on is that there is nothing more important than getting the miles ridden.  And lots of them, too.  The gentleman mentioned above even goes so far as to provide a matrix showing 8 weeks of rides, specifically calling out the days, miles to ride, pace to ride, type of workout, and total miles for the week.  That’s really what I mean by “in training.”  So now I have to figure out what “interval ride” means?  My guess is it’s a lot like the interval button on the elliptical trainer at the gym, except there’s no button on my bike. 

Up until this point, I was just out riding my bike.  Some days, I’d ride the hillier course that I’ve identified.  Other days, I’d ride the flatter course.  Still other days, I’d ride them both.  As far as intervals, I tend to think of the rolling hills around here as intervals.  I know they certainly get my chest heaving at a faster rate when I’m headed up the front side of them.

I do find myself logging my rides using an app on the iPhone and iPad called MayMyRide.  It’s a freebie and, when used on the iPhone, it actually tracks the ride as you make it, plots it on the map, and provides you with statistics via GPS.  It even shows how much elevation change you make during the course of your ride.  (It’s really amazing what these little things can do.)

That last one has me worried about the century.  So far, my rides only have me gaining about 400 – 600 feet in elevation over a 30 to 45 mile rides.  That’s a lot less than 6,000.  And a lot shorter than 100 miles, too.   Damn.  That means I’m going to be suffering.  A lot.  I guess I better hit the bike. 

I’ve got a bunch of miles to ride and six weeks to get there.  The good news is, if I lay out my rides against that matrix that the expert provided, I’m right on track to reach my goal.

Let’s get to it!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Odds and Ends

Take a road untraveled

Two weekends ago, I took a new route on my bike in an effort to expand my riding range and to continue to challenge myself. 

I took off Sunday morning, a beautiful day, and headed away from home on a country road that I travel by car several times a week.  It’s always interesting to me how roads that seem flat while traveling by car become painful hills when attacked with two skinny tires.

It was early so the first five or six miles passed in relative quiet.  I heard a dog barking off in the distance. A flock of geese took off from a pond as I went past and spent their first thirty seconds trying to get airborne while honking loudly.  Does the honking help?  Is it similar to my gasping loudly when I’m about halfway up a small climb and running out of breath? Or is it more like the sound I make when I finally crest that hill and head down the other side, thrilled that I don’t have to pedal for a little while and can just enjoy the gravity while I try to reduce the wind resistance?  If I could fly, I’m thinking it would be from the sheer joy of breaking the bonds of earth.

I took the last turn into the little village of Montpelier and started through town, past the library and the baseball field.  Now I was heading onto a stretch of two lane blacktop where the speed limit nudges fifty five and I hoped that the shoulder remained as wide as I remembered for as long as I remembered.  I needed about four miles until I could get off this road and make a turn to a more residential route.  I made sure my blinking red light under my butt was on and continued to turn the cranks.

Ten minutes of so up the road, I spied a couple of vehicles in my mirror coming from behind.  I double checked the shoulder (looking good) and stayed in the center of its three feet of safety.  As the truck and car approached, I heard their speed drop and they both swung out into the middle of the road to afford me a wide berth.  I raised my hand in thanks as they rolled past and both drivers waved.  

I love being out in the country, sometimes.

No other cars passed as I made my way to the turnoff and continued this, for me, new route.  It was totally new to me as I couldn’t remember ever driving on it but My Bride had suggested the loop and she knows what I like to ride.  I continued to the stop sign signaling the end of this road, next to the parking lot of the road’s namesake, Hopeful Baptist Church. 

We have a lot of roads named for churches around here and in every case, the church is still there.  Most have a founding date in the late 18th or early 19th centuries so you know the roads are old and winding.  And rolling, too.  At one point, I had found myself enjoying a series of rollers going ever downhill but then I saw the pond and knew that the hills were about to go the other way.  Sure enough, around a gentle bend, the next series of rollers headed uphill. Steeply.  Dammit.

I took a quick break in the church parking lot, drank some water and ate a Honey Stinger Waffle for some energy.  These are so good, you could eat them like candy; I limit myself to eating them on bike rides in excess of two hours to control the addiction.  It's working so far.

I saddled up and headed off.  The ride continued on, eventually winding up on a road that I frequently ride but in the opposite direction.  When you’ve never gone that direction before, it feels weird.  I didn’t recall it being downhill the other way, so why is it uphill now?  Gravity messes with you, a lot, when you’re on a bike.

I passed my house and continued on a more familiar road that I’ve ridden dozens of times in the past year.  I was heading back into the suburbs of Henrico county and Glen Allen.  Here the roads are a little bit wider so that a cyclist should feel a little safer.  No sooner had I thought that, than two cars passed me with no room to spare and cars coming in the other direction.  

Seriously? Do you just not see me or do you have no imagination of what would happen with a slight mis-judgement?  Must be the latter as I’m wearing an optic yellow jersey.  I look like a new tennis ball with black shorts, riding a bicycle.  Dumbasses.  

Sometimes I hate the suburbs.

Another hour of dodg’ems and I was back in my driveway with no further incidents.  I’m feeling good about my riding and glad that the days are getting longer.  After-work rides are coming up, soon, and with a little more time I’ll be ready for that century ride in June.

Pool Story

I was traveling a few weeks ago, a semi-annual sales meeting, and we had a team building activity one evening at a place called Lucky Strikes.  This is a chain of bowling centers (I learned that they don’t call them alleys anymore; when did that change?) that isn’t aimed at league bowlers as much as it is at young urban professionals looking for something other than just a bar.  

The place specializes in videos, music, a full bar, decent bar food, and (oh yeah) bowling.  They also have a collection of pool tables, at least they have in the three different places I’ve been across the country.  These were 9 foot Brunswick Gold Crowns (nice table!) with red cloth (ewwww!).

Our group had the run of the place with about five or six players on a team.  Everyone was eating munchies and drinking adult beverages while bowling, some for the first time in twenty years, I later learned.  One of my friends from the office grabbed a set of balls for the pool table and asked me if I wanted to play. He knows that I play in a league and he is pretty competitive so I’m sure he wanted to see how he stacked up.

I racked up a game of 8 ball and invited him to break.  He did and made a ball.  He missed his first shot but I could tell he had a decent stroke.  I grabbed one of the house cues, surprised to see it had a decent tip on it.  And then, I couldn’t miss.  It was almost silly.  I ran that rack and then broke, and ran the next rack.  Then I broke and ran the next rack.  Then I broke and ran a fourth rack.  (People were beginning to stop and watch our games.) I was beginning to wonder what was going on and then I noticed how big the pockets were as I pulled balls out of the corner pocket.  At least five inches wide, about a half inch larger than normal.  No wonder!  It was almost hard to miss.

It was fun to look like I knew what I was doing for a little while.  Fortunately, the next game of bowling was about to begin and we turned in the balls.  The guy that I handed them to asked how many racks I'd run.  Jeez, everybody was watching.

Hope I didn’t queer my action, too badly, around here.

Healthy Anniversary

Last weekend brought about April 7th which is the one year anniversary of my decision to change my lifestyle and affect my health in a positive way.  Since then, I’ve managed to lose about twenty pounds and reduce my body fat content to less than fifteen percent, down from over twenty five percent. 

I work out at least three times per week including cardio (elliptical trainer or cycling) and weight training.  This has become an integral part of my life now, so much so that when I miss a workout it affects me mentally.  I’ve figured out how to get my workouts in, even when traveling, and that has made all the difference.

I still eat unhealthy meals, I just don’t do it all the time and I watch the portions.  In fact, if I eat too much my body tells me and is ruder about it than before.  And, I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables to help offset the bad stuff.

I still drink adult beverages but I pick my spots with them.  I occasionally drank to excess before and I expect I will again but I’m much more thoughtful about what goes in my mouth and down my throat.  I know that liquor is a slow poison.  Fortunately, I'm not in a hurry.

I was also able to get off all my prescription medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar (pre-diabetes).  That stuff was treating symptoms, not the root causes; the root cause (me) has been addressed and I don’t need them anymore.  I do still take something for acid reflux and I can’t seem to shake that one but I will.

I’m happy with myself.  I’m happy with my life.  I’m happy with my health.

That’s a good anniversary to celebrate!