Thursday, June 23, 2011

Horribly Hilly Hundreds 6/18/11

"Oh, that's right, it's called the horribly hilly hundreds."
"At least it's not the horribly windy hundreds." I replied.

This was the kind of banter and sick sarcasm that was needed in the middle of this ride. But before I get to the middle, maybe I should start at the beginning. A very good place to begin...

I signed up for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds in February. A long time before I knew what kind of shape I would be in come ride time. I just couldn't turn down a event whose motto was "Biking Like a Viking." Could you? I figured I would be in reasonable shape since the last week of school was at the end of May and the ride was June 18. And I was in reasonable shape, more than reasonable considering the fact that I was balancing cycling with med school (among other things); but unfortunately the preceding three weeks before my event were marked with lots less riding (around 75 miles or less in three weeks) than I had hoped for and allergies that were sapping the power I needed to get up steep inclines. And even though I like to fancy myself a climber, I'm not. I'm really just a masochist. A wannabe masquerading in polka dots.

So you can see why an event like Horribly Hilly would appeal to me. 100 miles, 9300 feet of climbing, Viking-like toughness. Not only is that hard to do in a notoriously flat place like Wisconsin, that's just plain hard to do, if you know what I mean. And even though I'm more sprinter than climber, I do have more skill in going upward than the typical sprinting type I might line up against. As the day drew nearer I began to realize more and more what I was really up against. This was going to beastly.

Before the event the weather looked bad. Actually, just "bad" is being generous. I was thinking this was going look a lot from the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy sees her mean old neighbor lady turn into the wicked witch of the west as she gets sucked into the tornado on her bicycle. Thunderstorms were supposed to roll in the Friday night before the ride began Saturday morning and then continue throughout the day on Saturday. I had a campsite reserved in Blue Mound State Park. It seemed like a good idea seeing as the ride more or less started and finished from there, but with thunderheads rolling in it began seeming like a good idea gone bad.

Fortunately the rain never came. Each time I woke up in my tent Saturday night to a peaceful night without rain I said another prayer that the rain would stay away. Thankfully, it did, as a matter of fact it stayed away an entire 24 hours. When I rolled out at 6:45am on Saturday morning the clouds looked thinner, but still possibly holding a shower to come. As it turned out the day only got better. The clouds rolled away and by 40 miles it was actually rather hot.

I rode the first 30 of the day mostly with a guy named John from Chicago who was riding the 200k route. I was disappointed when we had to split, but that's that. So far I had navigated our first real pretest as we rode up the backside of Blue Mound State Park and twice up Scherbel Road Grade where our first rest stop was. The course looks kind of like a cloud or sheep drawn by a little kid with loops around the outside of a central core. This made it convenient because you stayed near the big hills that make the Blue Mounds, WI area interesting, but never got too far from your destination in case you ran into trouble. You can see the route here.

The first section was one of the hardest. It was probably the second most difficult section. For the 150k (actually 100 mile) route the course was divided into 4 sections with a rest area every 25 miles and some water stops interspersed in between rest areas. This worked out very nicely. 25 miles over this kind of terrain was about enough to drink 2+ bottles by the time the sun was out and heating up the day. The Horribly Hilly organizers did a good job with rest station support and water. As a matter of fact, the spread at the rest stops was AWESOME. The food was fantastic, the volunteers were cheery and friendly and did I mention the food was great.

It was during the first section that I met John from Chicago. He was a Cervelo-Test Team clad lawyer riding a Cervelo S2. I keep meeting lawyers while I'm on my bike. Last year I met a lawyer named Steve with whom I tore it up at the Durand Road Race. Hopefully I keep meeting them on the road and not in the courtroom. John had done the event last year, so he helped me navigate the early course when there were fewer people out to be able to follow along with. We parted ways when the 150k and 200k routes split and I didn't see him again. I rode alone from there until the second rest stop which was located at the 51 mile mark. It was a little lonely after leaving all of the 200k riders that I had been riding with because most of the 150k riders started about 15 minutes after me and hadn't had much time to catch up since I didn't stop long at the first rest stop.

I decided rest stop #2 was my lunch stop. I hung out a little extra long, ate half a peanut butter and jelly bagel, a ham rolled tortilla, a Honey Stinger waffle (My new favorite Honey Stinger product), a bunch of grapes, and even threw down a couple endurolytes pills. The day was getting hot, so I decided to make sure I had enough 'lytes on board. By the end of the day I wound up using 6 Nuun tablets and 4 endurolytes. That's about 5 times what I normally use in a day of training. I also figured that I drank around ten 20 oz water bottles over the course of my ride and immediately post ride fueling.

Shortly after leaving rest stop #2, I met up with a couple of riders wearing Copper Triangle jerseys. This brings us back to the conversation I started this post with. One of the guys was from Colorado Springs, CO and the other from Eagan, MN. They both had plenty of experience in the saddle and I rode with them until we started to break apart regularly on the climbs. I then joined Eric, a rider from Chicagoland. He claimed he was in advertising, but his jersey was plain white which I found it rather ironic in a sport that is blanketed in ads. We stuck together until the third and final rest stop before the finish. I took an extended rest there as I put on an extra layer of sunscreen, force fed myself to try and top off my fuel tanks and looked over the map to see what I'd have to make it through to finish.

I took off without any riding buddies seeing as I planned to put it on cruise control over the last 25 miles so that I could save all my efforts for the inclines. I had mentioned that I thought the first 25 mile section was the second hardest. I'm pretty sure that the final 25 mile stretch was the most difficult. Combining the fact that I had 75 miles under my belt and the day was hot, the final 25 miles still had 2770 ft of climbing to do, not to mention the killer uphill finish. As I rolled away from the final rest stop I broke the remaining miles into each portions, each ending at the top of a big climb. Somewhere on those climbs I think I got passed by Robbie Ventura who was supposedly on the course that day.

Finally, I arrived at the killer finale. It had been my goal to try and be an encouragement to anyone who I passed while going uphill, because getting passed while going uphill is typically somewhat demoralizing. I did a pretty good job of this until the final climb. By the time I got there it was just a matter of surviving. I put my bike in the lowest gear and tried desperately to climb out of the deep dark pain cave that I was putting myself in. I don't remember a lot of that climb, but I passed a lot of people who were struggling and those who had given up the struggle on wheels to walk. My ultimate goal was to stay on my bike and not walk. I managed this successfully and crossed the finish line after 6 hrs and 35 min. That comes out to an average speed of 15.3 mph, and I'm proud to have gone that fast.

It was a long brutal day. Maybe one of the hardest rides I've ever done, but it was worth every turn of the pedals. We never had a drop of rain during the ride (although, torrential downpours came that evening), the wind was calm, the people were friendly and the support was fantastic. Finishing the final climb there was chalk-written encouragement all over the road. If I would have had any reserve mental capacity for reading during the climb it would have been really great...okay, maybe I wasn't that deep in the pain cave. All in all, it was a great day. I would definitely do it again and would recommend it to anyone crazy enough to try.

Thanks for tuning in, I know this was a long one. If you get a chance get out and try "Biking like a Viking," you just might get hooked.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Horribly Hilly Ahead

This weekend I'll be riding the Horribly Hilly Hundreds. I am filled with both expectation and dread. As excited as I am to do this event, my fitness level as of two weeks ago was... wanting, shall we say?

In addition, I have noticed that my allergies are exceptionally bad this year. Or I should say they are exceptionally bad exceptionally late this year. The cotton trees are just beginning to drop their large white puffy balls of fluff. I have noticed that when allergy season is in full swing I have a tough time putting out as much power as I would like. My endurance is still there, but my power is lacking. This makes things like sprints (criteriums) and hills (road races) fairly difficult. It's just not a good time of year for me.

I'm hoping that I can just do a nice long slow distance ride this weekend. Given the chances of rain and bad weather, though, this just may turn out to me my next epic bike adventure...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spring Prairie Road Race (WI State Championships) 6/5/11

A week ago last Sunday I raced in the Wisconsin State Championship Spring Prairie Road Race. It was hot and quite difficult. I didn't have my best day. And really before I get any farther let me sum up the race for you in three words:

Legs tore off.

That's the bottom line, really. I just didn't have a great day, not even a particularly good one. I have lots of reasons and perhaps excuses as to why, but we'll get to that later and let you decide whether they are valid or not. Until then, just know; legs tore off.

Sunday was a pretty pleasant day. That is if you want to sit at the beach or hang out by the pool. Unfortunately for me I was bike racing. I had just returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest where the temperature was a mild 75 degrees with a cool dry breeze from the Ocean. I returned home to a day of heat and torture. 65% humidity with temps in the mid to high 80's (maybe higher on the tarmac). It was gross. So hot on the pavement, in fact, that the squiggly lines or tar patches on road were not only squishy but almost slippery in the corners. Tough day.

I lined up with the Cat 4/5 field for our 39 mile excursion in the hottest part of the day at 3:05pm. You can see the route here. Prior to racing I had put in about 32 miles over the past two weeks. Yeah, go back and read that again. 32 miles total in two weeks. Oof, you can already tell that I'm in for a doosy of a ride. This is what happens when Final Exams fall just a couple weeks before a race.

The big selector of the race was the finishing hill on Johnson road. It was claimed at 18%. I don't know if I'd give it that, but it was definitely steep with a capital 'S'. Probably in the 10-15% average range for about 1/3 of a mile. As tough as just about anything else you'll see in this state. The race organizers kindly gave us a neutral roll out that started below this hill, so our six lap route included 7 trips up this grade instead of 6 (note the sarcasm dripping from my keystrokes). Let's just say that the selection began even during the neutral roll out thanks to this design.

I knew from the start that I was going to be struggling just to hang on, so I made that my goal. Just hang on! I tried my best to stay out of the wind and protected in the bunch. It wasn't too difficult as I was basically at the back of the pack the whole time. The first lap was mostly uneventful. A couple small accelerations but no big surprises. There were about 40 of us with narrow lanes and a "no crossing the center line" rule, so it made it difficult to go on the attack.

Finishing the first lap, I got gapped a little bit on the Johnson road grade, but made it back with the pack before too long. Unfortunately, I could tell my selection had already been made. I stuck with the group as we tooled along but by the time we turned back east on Potter Rd I was hurting. A few of us were off the back as the front of the race started to pull away. I looked at the guys around me and did my best to organize a chase. Only two of us were really up to the challenge. We had a headwind at this point and little hope of catching the riders in front of us while on the straight, so we just tried to damage control as best as we were able.

Turning up Johnson road to finish lap 2 was tough. The rider who was with me (Ben from Brazen Dropouts) definitely had more spring in his step for the hill. He got away from me but then waited as I was able to recover some and catch up after getting over the top, but I knew that was the last time my trip up Johnson grade would even resemble racing. I rode with him the rest of lap 3 then told him before reaching our Selectinator (aka johnson), and offered him a big pull before I popped. I launched him at the bottom of the Selectinator and then just survived my third (actually fourth thanks to the roll out) trip up to the start/finish line.

The last 3 laps saw me chugging along by myself, getting passed by the 30+ Masters field which had started 5 minutes before me and finishing in 29th place. Somewhere in there I was caught and passed by two other riders in my field. I tried to work with one of them, but didn't have the legs for it and the other caught me and passed me on my second to last battle with the Selectinator.

Now for the really interesting part. It was a hot day at the race and while I managed to do fairly well with my fluid intake, I don't know that I did well with my electrolytes. I probably only used half of the Nuun that I should have and paid the price on my last trip up Johnson grade. As I approached the bottom I knew it would just be a matter of survival. Sit, stand or crawl I was going to tame this beast one last time. I started up trying to spin, but it got steep enough that I had no choice but to stand. However, when I stood my quads cramped like never before. I actually had to work to straighten them again. In fear of hurting myself or falling over, I sat down but them my hamstrings cramped. Again, hurty and stiff and confusing. I stood again, then sat again, then stood again. At this point is was mind over matter. Forcing my legs to do their work. I made it to the crest and sat back down. Still a hundred meters or so from the finish line I staggered across and coasted to where I could safely stop. (wait a second...Can you stagger on a bike?...well, I did)

I found my wife and parents-in-law who had come to watch me get my butt kicked. My lovely wife watched somewhat worriedly as I collapsed into a camp chair while my father-in-law grabbed me a cold iced tea. Perfect. My nephew then proceeded to quiz me.

"Uncle Craig, why didn't I see you with those other guys?" (aka: the rest of my field)
"Well, because I was riding behind them."
"Why were you riding behind them?"
"Because today I was slower than all of them."
A pause for a moment, a quizzical look and then the knockout punch.
"Uncle Craig, why did you ride your bike so slow today?"

Nice, eh? Nothing like the interrogation of a 4 year old to wipeout any sense of self-pity.

It wasn't my day. Like I told my nephew, I was just slower than the rest of them. That's it plain and simple. Not enough training, too much heat, allergies acting up, whatever the reason I just couldn't keep up. Some days just aren't your day and 6/5/11 was definitely not mine.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Mountain" Biking?

I have no idea what race this is, but apparently, the city is the new mountain bike scene?

Did you see them just go through the inside of that building!?!?!?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Poor Man's Recovery

Cycling is expensive. It costs a pretty penny for all the gear: bike, helmet, shorts, jersey, pedals, shoes etc. etc. Then if you decide to race you are paying race day fees and for your yearly USAC license, plus you may join a club and pay dues so that you can race for a team. Then there's all the time you put it into it. I know that's not money (I don't really think time is money), but it's still a cost.

With all these costs, it pays to be stingy whenever possible. There are definitely plenty of places you can afford to do so. For instance, a $20 cyclocomputer tells you how fast you are going just as well as a new $650 Garmin 800. And that piece of paper you wrote down directions on is still just as reliable as any instructions you'd get from a GPS.

So why all this financial hullabaloo, you ask? Because one area where it doesn't make sense to cut corners is taking care of your body. However, I'm here to tell you that you don't have to break the bank to do what's good for your body. One of the areas of training that is more essential than anyone gives it credit for is recovery. Often the difference between winning and losing isn't necessarily how well trained you are, but how well rested you are. Let me say it again. Recovery is of the utmost importance.

It doesn't matter how much you train and stress your body, if you don't have time to rebuild and repair your performance won't improve much. So let's get down to business and talk practical recovery at minimal cost.

Recovery Priorities:

1) Replenish depleted energy stores.

Basically this means EAT! In my opinion this is one of the best parts of recovery. Especially when you've been out for a really long ride (you know the 2-4+ hour kind). After all that work you're body's glycogen stores are emptier than old mother Hubbard's cupboard. This is the best energy source for your muscles. The recommendation for endurance sports is to replace both protein and carbohydrates. Typically at around 3:1, carbs:protein. There are lots of expensive sports drinks out there that will give you their "ideal" blend. I have teammates who use Recoverite by Hammer Nutrition, but it's pretty pricy.

I prefer chocolate milk. A tall glass of fat free or 1% chocolate milk is just about perfect after an hour or two out on the bike. Plus it helps replenish your lost fluids you lost while you were sweatin' to the oldies.

As it turns out a can of Coke may not be a bad option. A recent study discussed by the New York Times, suggests that athletes that replenished after a hard workout with fructose actually recovered a little faster and lots of people feel that caffeine helps their recovery too.

One Caveat: Just be careful that you don't use your workout to justify eating junk all day long. You have a little leeway to eat whatever you want in the first half hour to hour and a half, but after that it's best to keep on a normal healthy eating plan with lots of fruits and vegetables and reasonable portion sizes.

2) Stop excess inflammation

There are a few options here and the proof that they work is variable. The two main suggestions are ice and compression. You can buy compression socks or tights or all sorts of different garments these days for reasonable prices and everyone says that they make your legs feel great the next day. The scientific evidence for compression garments is lacking, but half of recovery is just feeling better even if there isn't some sort of top secret anything going on in your muscle cells. So if you want to feel better the next day after a hard workout, compression is a good option.

Ice on the other hand is cheap and easy to use: Step one, Remove ice from freezer. Step two, apply ice to recently exercised muscle. The idea is that chemical processes are slowed down by lower temperatures and so the breakdown of muscle tissue is slowed by using ice. This is just difficult to do because it takes some serious self motivation to get out an ice bag for 15-20 minutes after every intense workout or use an ice bath. Unless of course you're a Polar Bear, then you've got an edge on the recovery market.

3) Rest the muscles that just got used

Your muscles need some time to loosen up and rebuild. We've fed them and tried to limit our damages by decreasing inflammation now it's time to rest them and rub them. As the saying goes, "don't stand when you can sit." Lay down if you can. You may not have this luxury since chances are good that you aren't getting paid to lay around at the office, however, if you can sit or put your legs up on a leg rest or another chair you should do it.

Massage is another great tool for loosening up tired muscles. I haven't done any personal research on this but the word on the street is that it's a good idea. Unfortunately, massages are expensive. A foam roller on the other hand is not. Rubbing out your muscles helps keep you flexible and injury free. It also feels great. Check that, the result feels great. The actual process is often quite painful. But it's worth it. (PS- for those of you shaving your legs, the massage part is the one of the most convincing reasons for shaving your legs when talking with non cyclists. If you explain that it's not a lot of fun to have your leg hair pulled out when rubbing your tired muscles and then give them a quick demonstration on their arm if they don't believe you, you will soon have a new convert.)

4) Feel Better

The bottom line is that you want to feel better and to feel rested so that you're ready to tackle your next event or workout. Recovery is just as much a psychological process as it is a physical process. If your brain feels tired, you aren't going to want to get off the couch and do anything. You also won't be sharp enough to be your best at work or play. This part of recovery is very personalized. If it means playing video games, watching a golf tournament (aka napping), reading a book or taking a nap, you can decide for yourself. It's like a choose your own adventure book.

Just remember if you don't have to stand, sit down; and if you can put your feet up or lay down that's even better. Train hard and rest harder.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The June Challenge

After a month off of monthly challenges I have survived spring finals during M1 year of medical school and I'm ready to hit the ground running...or burpee-ing. Inspired by an article in the New York Times, I think I'll make this month's challenge Burpees. I'm going to do 50 a day. Although, after reading the article it might be better to do burpees for a certain amount of time, if you care to join me, you can set a time limit or a number goal. This one will be tough so it's okay that it's a slightly shorter month (I was on vacation for the last week, so I wasn't doing burpees either which means you didn't miss any.)