Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Training - Palomar, For Real

On Tuesday I took action on a plan to attack Palomar. I know I climbed Palomar on Saturday, but I felt that it wasn't a "true" climb because I didn't ride to the base. I wanted to fix this little detail before I left for home. With questionable health (as in I slept all day Monday) I wasn't sure if I could even make the attempt, but with Tuesday my last full day here, if I was going to make an attempt, it had to be that day.

The weather forecast went all over the place - 50s on the mountain, mid-60s down a bit. But with clouds starting in the early afternoon, this would cool down the mountain a bit (40s?), and the sunny morning would add a perceived 10 degrees or so to the "lowland" temperatures.

To avoid carrying too much gear, I decided on wearing only a long sleeve jersey on top. Normally I wear a short sleeve jersey as a "base layer" but I felt too warm when I suited up like that. I also set aside knickers but decided instead to wear shorts. I brought my rarely used knee warmers "just in case".

I learned the descent off of Palomar is very manageable and comfortable with windproof long finger gloves and a wind vest, so I brought those along too. A thicker headcover works well too so I brought along a nice thick Descente skull cap thing.

And, because I have them, I brought my brand new shoe covers, bright blue imprinted with Connecticut Coast Cycling. I didn't wear them on the way out because, frankly, I climb like I'm stuck in molasses, and I didn't want to embarrass myself wearing such race-day gear. But I can descend like mad and they'd be appropriate for the long TT back home.

I packed other gear as well. I brought along the GoPro camera. After reading the brief manual I decided that the camera shut off after a random time (7 minutes and change) due to a low battery. I made sure that it would stay on, thought I cleared the memory on the card, and decided I'd buy batteries at two spots - top of Palomar and, if the batteries quit before the bottom on the way down, at bottom of Palomar.

I brought three of my FiberOne bars, two bottles of Nuun electrolyte water, and a Ziplock bag with a credit card, license, and about $15.

For the bike I left the GoPro in its spot where the Superflash blinkie would normally go, and I took the precautionary step of mounting my flashing headlight under the bars. The Superflash went into my pocket - if I got caught in the dark, I wanted to be able to make it home okay. And since virtually all the streets have bike lanes, and since many of them are lit, I'd be okay with just the minimum of lights.

With my corset-like jersey zipped up, I left feeling just a slight bit overloaded. I had the Superflash and my cellphone in one pocket (the "battery" pocket). In the middle I had the long gloves, vest, kneewarmers, and at some point the skullcap thing (the "bulky" pocket). On the right sat my three bars and my little money pack (the food plus "no battery" stuff - didn't want to wipe out the strip on my credit card by packing it with batteries).

I set off a bit late due to some stomach issues. My legs didn't feel too good, I couldn't eat very much in the morning (basically 2 eggs, 2 strips of bacon, two pieces of bread, and coffee, all of it about 2 hours before I left), and when I went up the first little hill, my legs loaded up right away.


I mentally went over my schedule. 2 hours to the base. 2 hours to climb (based on Saturday's time - I hoped I'd be better, but I'd be more tired since I rode there, and I didn't want to crest totally wasted). 35 minutes to come back down. 2 hours back home.

My semi-functioning mind didn't remember food stops at the base, at the top, and maybe one more stop, nor the stops to check the GoPro, nor the stop to swap the GoPro for the tail light. So although I left with just enough time to make it back at dusk (5:45 PM), I really didn't.

I prefer oblivion sometimes (especially when watching a new, super-hyped movie) and today my lack of mental acuteness helped me along in many ways. With no clue that I rode on borrowed time, I happily pedaled away from home base.

I took the most direct route, hoping that it would lead me along some flat valley roads. But no, I faced a long slog up some road we (I) drove just the other day. Ten minutes into the climb I remembered having to let the car slow a bit so it wouldn't shift down at 60 mph. No slouch, this rise, and it's the hill I rode when I first came out here - but back then it was still under construction, one narrow jersey-barriered lane wide, with me sprinting frantically from one pull off to the next (and lots of patient vehicular traffic following me).

On one of the flats I ate Bar #1. I hoped that it'd be 30 minutes before the climb and I could use some blood sugar then.

I reached the base of the climb a few minutes ahead of schedule, and I hadn't even finished both of my bottles. I took this as a good sign because Saturday, with a fever raging, I drank like a fish. Today, not so much.

I stopped at the little store at the base (good for non-secured bike shopping), picked up a Diet RockStar, and left. The climbing starts right away and I settled into a reasonable rhythm. Saturday I'd started out going 250 watts consistently, but today I tried to keep it down a bit. After a while I just ignored the SRM - I couldn't ease up anymore because I'd just stop.

45 minutes later, I made it to the turn off to South Grade. Saturday it took 45 minutes as well, so I was doing fine. This day I rode conservatively because I wanted to ride a bit better up SG, and I had to keep in mind that I couldn't be wasted at the top because I'd basically turn around and zip back down. In my "crested" state Saturday there was no way I could have descended well - it took about an hour before I could form coherent thoughts.

Saturday I downed a lot of my remaining fluids, but I ran out before the top. Today I drank more conservatively, helped by the fact that suddenly I didn't like RockStar. I debated eating Bar #2 but decided I'd have it on the climb if I really needed it.

It really helped that I knew some of what to expect on South Grade. I rode it Saturday, rode it vicariously on Sunday (in 32 minutes!), and now it felt familiar. I passed the two open spots where I stopped Saturday, the mesh O-ring net holding up one cliff, and, at some point, the 4000 foot mark. I knew there'd be a 5000 ft mark, and I knew the top was a bit further than I thought after the 5000 ft mark.

I also got to experience some (faded) chalked notes scrawled on the road. My somewhat tired mind noted that Levi and Lance shared the bulk of the messages, Hincapie got a few, and very little else. I did note that I saw only three painted messages, and I think two were official state things (like for where to put a pipe or something).

I also realized that at the speed they climb, they would not be able to read anything shorter than 3 foot tall letters which were at least 6-8 inches wide. I think a sprayer (garden sprayer or some pressurized thing) full of chalk dust would work better than chalk sticks.

I made one "attack" when I heard a pair of motorcycles (they made about 6 passes before they went to get gas or something) approaching. I was just entering one of the long switchbacks, I was on the inside, and I didn't want to have one of them apex through my rear end. So I sprinted, briefly hit about 600 watts, went as fast as 12 mph, and made it through the corner. The two bikes zipped by and I shifted down and tried to recover.

4000 feet came pretty quickly, but that's when my legs started to go. My cadence dropped into the 30s, the cooler air didn't really inspire me to climb faster, and I just slogged away. No weaving though, no pauses at the top of each pedal stroke. Just push and push and push and push. I felt better than normal, but I worried about time.

Finally I got to 5000 feet (there is a sign there). I had 300 feet to go, but the mountain loomed above - it went up so steeply you couldn't see the top. I finally peeked at my watch - it was 3:15, four hours after I left. And one turn later I saw the Yield sign painted on the road. I'd made it.

1:15, after checking the files. 15 minutes faster than Saturday, and I'd ridden 2 hours prior to the climb.

I did my normal stop, got a quart of Gatorade (drank some, filled one small bottle), a postcard, two AAA batteries for the GoPro, and some peanuts because I was convinced I'd get hungry. I ate Bar #2 too.

Sitting there, with almost no one around, it seemed a totally different world from Saturday. The clouds had rolled in too, and I felt chilly. I slipped on my long finger gloves, zipped up my LS jersey, put on my vest, put on my knee warmers, and put on my skull cap thing.

A guy walked by, asked how much my bike cost. I told him ones "like" it would be a couple thousand dollars. Ends up this guy is one of the owners of the general store (named, appropriately, the General Store). He talked about how inspired he felt to see the "bikers" on Saturday, then on Sunday. He talked about how he used to ride, but now he doesn't. He lives up at the top of the mountain so he could even ride his bike to work.

(Later I thought about where he could go to train - every ride would entail descending some crazy distance and riding back home. He'd either be a great climber or quit.)

Another guy walked by and stopped to chat to the General Store guy.

"I think you have to be crazy to want to ride a bike up the mountain", he said, grinning and looking my way.

Hopefully I could register a grin on my tired face. Apparently I did because the other guy kept going.

"You know, Sunday was crazy. I ran out of hamburgers at 10:30 and I just made hot dogs for the rest of the day. At least business was good."

The talk went to business for a while, then the non-General Store guy had another observation.

"I noticed something about the bikers. No litter. After Sunday there was almost no litter to clean up."

I smiled to myself. I am proud of you cycling fans! I really am. No litter and basically one spray painted sign (and hundreds or thousands of chalked ones). Good job!

With the feel good stuff flowing through my blood I figured I should get going. I went to the post office to send off another post card, my fourth ever, to the missus. My hands were like icicles and I could barely write. I scrawled something on the card and walked up to the desk.

"Hey! You're back!" the clerk greeted me.

Feel good stuff just went up another notch.

I noticed, for the first time, that they had about $5 in pennies in their penny thing, and I saw lots of silver there too. You could go shopping on that money, and I mentioned that to the clerk.

A postcard stamp is 27 cents. I took out two quarters from my Ziplock bag.

"Sorry, I don't have pennies."

"Um, we have those pennies you just talked about."

"Oh. Right." <- Oxygen debt + fatigue = forgets things in 2 seconds.

One quarter and two borrowed pennies later, my second card was on the way. I swapped the batteries in the GoPro and started down the mountain. At the 5000 foot mark, just after all the wet pavement (melting snow), I stopped, wiped off the lens, and started the camera. I hopped on quickly, wanting to capture every second possible. I quickly got into a rhythm, slamming into the turns, letting the bike accelerate on the straights.

Palomar, on South Grade, is an awesome descent. Switchback after switchback (21 of them, according to the race reports, but I've never counted them), S-curves, and maybe three or four spots straight enough to sit up for a second or three. It's not fast either - I never really break 40 mph, at least not significantly, but I never get to spend so much time leaned way over.

Luckily, today, the GoPro captures the whole South Grade descent. I stopped once to check if the red light was blinking (means it's recording), and it was, so I quickly hopped back on and took off.

I push my luck and keep going down 76, the 45 minute "pre-climb". Here there are less curves, more straights, and no corners as sharp as South Grade. I didn't feel like sprinting up to speed so I topped out at only 45 mph, although in years past I've gotten well into the 50s. I couldn't tuck as low all bundled up so 45 will have to do it for me.

I stopped at the bottom to check the camera - it captured the whole thing! I debated stopping for food but didn't feel the need - I had my peanuts, Bar #3, a small bottle of Gatorade, and a half bottle of RockStar. I took the vest and kneewarmers off but left the shoe covers and skull cap - it was warm but not hot.

I started going, and the rest of the ride was pretty much anticlimactic. I felt pretty good and kept pushing, pushing, wanting to get home before it got too dark. My normalized power went up for the last two hours, almost getting back up to my starting average. My legs would fall away after short efforts though, and I think that's where a lot of training makes a difference - you can go and actually hold the effort.

I stopped again at the top of Lake Wohlford road, a much shorter descent (it takes me 30 minutes to climb), not as crazy corners, but with a much closer edge (and drop offs). The GoPro gave up on that, capturing only the very top. I did manage to catch a pickup truck on the descent, and though he'd pull away on the straights, I was right there when he stopped at the light at the bottom. Yay.

A short time later I stopped to swap the GoPro for a taillight, put the vest back on, and finished up the ride home, lights flashing. I got back to home base, satisfied and tired. I never needed that third bar, nor the peanuts. I barely drank any more of that Gatorade and I couldn't bring myself to even sip the RockStar.

I had a lean meal (for me), and although later that night I had a bit more food, it was also a lean snack.

Later today I'll be going back home. I may ride if it's warm outside, but I don't feel the need. I have to pack and prepare for the trip. It's been good, even being sick the entire time, but, as I pointed out to one of my hosts the other night, it takes a week before I start missing home. I miss the missus. I miss the kitties. And though I may have lost some time in a delirious haze, it's well into Week 2 of my trip.

Of course Bethel is coming fast - it starts this weekend on Sunday, with a Sweep Day on Saturday.

Back to the real world.


Bram said...

Six hours + in the saddle and a decent climb... sounds like a sweet last training session.
Good for your morale and I hope you recover well for the bethel series

Aki said...

I hope so too! I felt okay on the way back, so hopefully that means something. But I'm kind of dreading the racing coming up - I have a feeling I'll be fodder once again.