Saturday, August 1, 2009

I climb like a lead weight

I rode the “Dog Daze” Century today, although in all fairness, I only did a half of the century. The Brandywine Valley Bike Club puts this ride together, and they offered a choice of a 27, 50, 77 and 100 mile ride. Dom, Mike and I opted to do the 50. Well, I opted to do the 50. Those two did the extra 27 after the first 50. I went home. 50 was enough for me. Official Ride Report:

This whole Dog Daze ride came about because earlier in the week, genius Mile had this bright idea of riding the Wilderness 101 MTB Race up at State College. The Wilderness 101 is a 101 mile mountain bike race. For most average human beings, that’s about 12 hours on the bike. Sunday past, Mike raced at the Summer Sizzler in NJ, and banged up his wrist. Friday, Mike did a mountain bike ride at Brandywine, and made the decision that the wrist would be enough of a problem that riding 12 hours would be tough. Um, riding 12 hours would be tough enough, with or without a band wrist. As I told Mike, a bad wrist is the least of your problems in a 101 mile mountain bike race. Training, or lack there-of, would be the bigger problem.

FYI if you want to skip the rest of this and get right to the Ride Report, scroll to the bottom

Mike is a tough SOB. Go read his blog. The kid did a trail marathon with no training while he was recovering from cancer. Could he do a 101 mountain ride without the proper training? That’s one question I would have a hard time answering. This is what I told Mike a couple of days prior, when he came to me for advice:

  • The first two hours – no problem. We do MTB rides close to or exceeding two hours or more (although I have yet do one over an hour this year). And you have to assume that the pace would be more relaxed than what we normally do on our rides
  • Three hours: If you can do two, you can do three
  • Four hours: now you’re getting slightly tired. You're not hitting the hills with same “snap” as you did in the first two hours. You feel your back getting twingy
  • Five to Six Hours: Welcome to the pain cave. Your back is sore. You arms and shoulders are tired. You’re having some difficulty riding over small trail obstacles.
  • Seven hours: You get your second wind, and things are starting to look brighter. Your getting into a groove.
  • Eight to Nine Hours: you realize that you still have four more hours of riding. Add that mental strain to the pain in the rest of your body, and the prospect of four more hours doesn’t seem like its going to be “fun.” And anything resembling “speed” left two hours ago
  • Ten hours: You cant ride more than 2-3 minutes without having to stretch on the bike. Your arm and shoulders are burning. You have slow to a near stop to get the bike over a log. You’re probably stopping to stretch with increasing frequency. You might have to start walking hills that would normally not even cause you to change gears.

I am stopping at ten hours because quite frankly, from a physiological and psychological standpoint, I do not know what the expectation would be for performance. Now bear in mind, I am putting this entire conversation into the context that there has been no real “training” leading up to this type of event. General riding doesn’t really translate well to an endurance event. I wouldn’t run for an hour per day, 4 days a week, for two months and then try to run a marathon. Mike would, but he’s a nut.

Could I ride for 12 hours without the training? Assuming the answer would be yes (by some miracle of god), it would not be fun. It would be pain. It would be a suffer first of the highest order. I am at the point that I do not need an event to “prove” that I that I can push my body to the limits of physical pain and achievement. I think I had mentioned in a previous post, to me, at this point in my life, it’s all about the “experience” of the event. For example, Dom and I have had this idea about doing a team 24 hour mountain bike ride. We have already convinced Mike to do it. Anyway, to me, the point of doing a 24 hour mountain bike race is the “experience” of the race itself. It’s all about the “team” – hanging out, busting balls, suffering together. There would be no reason for me to show up, alone, and do the event. I have nothing to prove to myself. I have nothing to prove to anyone. And quite frankly doing something alone, even a simple ride, doesn’t hold a candle to doing it with some friends. That’s not to say that I won’t ride alone, or go to a race alone, but the thought of doing something so outrageous as a 100 mile mountain bike race alone simply does not pencil for me. Yeah it would be great to walk away from it and pat myself on the shoulder for the fact that I completed such a crazy event, but it would be even better to have some peeps doing it with me.

The marathon was an anomaly. Quite frankly, any idiot who can follow a training plan, and who has been running for at least a year, can do a marathon. The marathon has become such a “watered-down” event- look at the shear numbers of people who complete a marathon on a yearly basis; the numbers are staggering. So, from my perspective, completing the marathon really isnt that big of a deal. For me, at the time, it was just another race to “check off” on my list of races –5k, 10k, half-marathon, etc. I wanted to “bat for the cycle” but I had no desire to do an ultra-marathon or anything like that. I think most people (like me) think the natural order of race progression is 5k, 10k, 15k, half-marathon, and marathon. But for some, the list keeps going, and that’s fine, but its not for me.

The same vibe holds true for my blackbelt. My goal was not to become a 5th level Grand-dragon – I wanted to get to the blackbelt level and that was the goal- the blackbelt is essentially the “marathon” of martial arts – with enough years of practice and discipline, you’ll eventually get to the blackbelt level. But it takes an extraordinary amount of time, energy and patience to get to the really advanced level of martial arts, and that type of dedication is only for a very small minority of martial artists.

Taking it one step further, I can make the same argument about the multisport events that I have done. I have done the sprint level stuff, but does that mean I want to do an Ironman? I give huge props to the people who can endure that type of physical activity. Its just not for me.

The fact of the matter is, I know what I am capable of. I know that deep down inside, with the right amount of dedication, training, and discipline, I could do a 101 mile mountain bike race without killing myself in the process. But why would I want to? To me, that’s the bigger question. Pain is fun but only to a certain extent. I like it small, controlled doses. I’ll be honest, and maybe I am a puss, but the pain involved with the MS150 is just about the level that I could put up with. Anything more than that, I start wondering what I could be doing with the time that I am spending sitting on this bike, sitting in the pain cave. Playing with my kids? Yes. Gimme a nice two hour mountain bike ride, and I am happy camper. Sitting on a bike in the middle of Jersey for four hours in 90 degree weather pushing my legs as hard as I can just to try and stay on the back? Not so much fun. And besides, I am all about getting fast and being fast, but I dont race the bike anymore. At least with running, I race occasionally, so I have an added motivation to try and stay in semi-fast shape. The incremental amount of pain between doing a ride at an 19 mph average versus a 24 mph average doesn't seem to pencil sometimes. I am getting stupid-fast for what reason? I dont race the bike. I dont do crits. I do road races. I dont do tri’s anymore…

What also makes it even harder for me to think about doing some event thats on the edge of the envelope is the training itself. I found very easily that the training required to do the marathon was very rigid. Same with mountain bike racing when I was really into that. Training for a singular event lends no time for other things (which explains why I was attracted do multipsort- the training is very diverse). If I want to get fast on the bike, that means I have to ride. All the time. Very little time for running. That sucks. I’ll take the trade-off – loose some speed and keep my sanity. That’s what makes Mike and Dom such good cyclists – that’s all they do. I dont know if I am ready to make the sacrifice of giving up the variety that I have been accustomed to.

OK, now for the ride report. So, I haven’t done a road ride longer than 20 miles in the month that I have the loaner road bike, so to say that I was woefully unprepared for this ride wouldn’t be an exaggeration. But I have done many, many long rides in the past, so it’s not like the prospect of doing 50 is a crazy idea. However, its sort of crazy when you take into account my lack of training, coupled with the fact that I am riding with two clowns who are in superb shape, and who are both great climbers, and then add in the fact the course is very hilly. Most of my previous riding experience, even the longer rides, are mostly flat at places like the Valley Forge Trail, which is flat as a pancake. And the cherry on top is that I am not a good climber. As a matter of fact, historically, I am an awful climber.

The ride started out easy enough – we were cruising on the easy side to get warmed up, and the prescribed course started with a really nice downhill that seemed to last forever. Mike and Dom were taking it easy on me, and I think they were also keeping things in check only because we had a long ride ahead of us, so there is no sense in blowing a gasket early.

As the ride progressed, the hills came. At first, they were not bad- short little rollers. For every hill we climbed, we had a nice downhill on the back side. I wasnt staying with Mike and Dom on the hills, but I wasnt getting woefully dropped, and in most cases, I was able to re-group on the descents. On the flats, I was ok. I was not taking any front pulls, but as long as I stayed with those two, I was ok, and we did a fair amount of passing other rides as we flew along some of the twisty Chester County Roads.

Then the real hills started. Long, slow doozies. I wound up getting split from Mike and Dom, and I jumped on with two folks on time trial bikes who had been drafting on our wheels for a good while. It was only fair that I let them drag my ass up the hills.

The last hill before the first rest stop at the 20 mile mark was the killer for me. I had done some passing leading up to that hill, but at the base of it, I happened to glance up at it, and I knew I was in for trouble. I was soon out of gears, and alot of the folks I had passed earlier were starting to overtake me and pass me. At one point, I got passed by a dude on an old steel Harry Havnoonien road bike with a pannier rack. He passed me like I was standing still.

I got split from Mike and Dom at some point not to far out of the rest stop. I caught with a group of about 8 people (including two WCCC triathletes that I had just met at the rest stop). I jumped in with them, and we were doing a nice paceline. We were moving along pretty well, and our speed was somewhere in the 20-23 range. I was tucked in near the back, and I was feeling ok, so I figured that I would stick with them as long as I could (or as long as I could manage to not have to take a pull at the front).

As luck would have it, we caught up with another group that was pacelining, and I could see Mike and Dom tucked in with them. We were now riding a double paceline with that group, and my group was actually staring to pull through. I knew that when I passed Mike he would shit his pants, since he probably figured I was way behind him and Dom. So as I slowly pulled up next to him, I made a noise at him and he started cracking up. He yelled “one of these things doesnt fit!!!” and he couldnt have been more correct.

Anyway, we hit a traffic light, and both groups stopped, and when we started off again, our two groups joined up and quickly formed up another combined paceline. This is when I got into trouble. I was ahead of Mike but behind Dom. The pace of the combined group was faster than the pace of my original group, and after about ten minutes, I knew that if I kept this up, I would be kaput, and I would be in real trouble when it was my turn to pull. So I made the decision to pull out of the line. That was the last I saw Mike and Dom.

I wasnt too worried. I was more then halfway through the ride, and there were tons of folks on the road, so I knew I could hook up with another group of folks. There were a TON of WCCC’ers out there and this would be a good opportunity to meets some folks.

Not too soon after I left the group, I started to hear this weird noise from the front wheel. I pulled over and quickly determined that my front brake caliper had shift and one of the brake pads was pinned against the rim. I tried releasing some of the tightness on the cable, as well as some other odds and ends, but nothing helped. Another rider event stopped and lent me a mini-tool and I tied to center the calipers with the centering screw. Zilch.

I’ll be honestly, the rubbing wasnt all that big of a deal, but the psychological effect drove me crazy. There’s nothing more agitating than thinking something  on the bike is making you go slower than you already are. I was at mile 30, and I had ten miles to the next rest stop. I figured I would get there, see if I could borrow some tools from someone, fix the friggen thing and finish up. In the meantime, I had no front brake. WTF.

I get to the rest stop, and by shear luck, the SAG wagon was there, and the mechanic lent me a couple of allen wrenches. It turns out that the caliper bolt that fastens the caliper to the frame was loose. It took me about ten minutes to get it fixed, and I was off.

The rest of the ride was uneventful. I felt very good, and rode alone for most of the ride, and I was doing a decent pace (for me). I met one other guy out there, and we rode together a bit before he shot away from me on a climb, like I was standing still. I finished up the 50 milers, and I was ready to ho home. It was hot as a motherf*cer out there. Mike and Dom did another 27 and they had left way before I managed to get my sorry @ss into the finish.

The ride was a nice way to end my brief foray into road riding. I am giving the bike back to Tim tomorrow. I checked my exercise log, and I managed to put 160 miles on the bike in the short time that I had it.

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