Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Training - Las Vegas - Red Rock 13 Mi Loop

After my most awesome Friday ride out to Red Rock, to the Strip, and back to the hotel, I told the Missus that I wanted to do a longer ride. Saturday was out - we'd spend the whole day doing a Death Valley Tour. We arranged our social calender (seriously) to give me a full afternoon of riding on Sunday, 4 to 5 hours.

And after fulfilling our social obligations Sunday midday, I returned to the hotel room, prepped, and went out on the bike.

Because the highs were supposed to be close to 90 degrees, I couldn't justify wearing the long sleeve Leader's Kit (designed for a March/April spring series in New England, not the 80-odd degree Nevada weather). Instead I ventured out in my regular Expo kit, albeit just shorts and a jersey.

As soon as I set out, I started to worry. My legs loaded up right away; I couldn't breathe really well; and nothing seemed to "flow".

In other words, my legs felt flat.

I pushed myself going up Charleston Blvd, knowing that the road felt deceivingly hard, being a false flat as well as a headwind.

I passed by Pro Cyclery, the shop that totally bailed me out during Interbike. I looked at the heavy steel gates and remembered the insane pain when the door closed on my shoulder. Or, rather, remembered that I felt insane pain; the pain itself I can't recall. Good thing, I think.

I got up to the Red Rock casino place - the flags remind me of the Akira Kurosawa movies, Ran especially, with the samurai soldiers running around with their lord's flags. They fluttered furiously in the cross-headwind. In my world they didn't represent danger from arrows or spears. Instead, they offered a hint at why my progress had been so slow on the bike.

Pushing through, I continued into the Red Rock area. The hills I made such quick work of yesterday felt longer, tougher, and harder today.

Mentally I'd been paring my planned four hour ride down to three hours, skipping the 13 mile loop within Red Rock altogether. But with my pace now, my three hour loop from yesterday would be an almost four hour ride. I started thinking not just of cutting out the loop but of cutting out the second half of the loop.

In other words I was thinking about turning around.

I figured I'd turn around at the loop, but when I finally got there, I thought that, well, since I'm almost out of fluids, I'd get some water at the Red Rock info center just a short bit up the 13 mile loop. I'd just turn around and sneak back out after loading up on water.

Decision made, I turned in. I hesitated at a sign with a fee schedule. I tried to read it but a car stopped right next to it, obscuring the sign. Finally the car moved - no bike fees listed. I felt unsure, since the bike lane merged into the pay lane.

Luckily a rider rolled up just then.

"Do we have to pay?" I asked.
"Not yet."
"Not yet?"

My heat-adled brain did some calculations. It was April something. April something is before May. Therefore no fee.

I rolled through the gate behind him. I figured he knew what he was doing.

"You doing the loop?" he asked.
"Yeah, I was thinking of it."
"You doing it fast or slow?"
"Slow," I replied, thinking of my grim morale just a minute ago.
"That's a great answer!" he cracked a grin.

We started riding next to each other, the road letting us double up safely. We felt out each other's riding history and I realized I was in way over my head. I did have one saving grace, but let me present the facts.

Going against me:
- Former Cat 1.
- Raced back when I raced, as a Junior.
- Former and aspiring RAAM competitor (you have to qualify each year).
- Lives locally, knows this loop inside and out.

My translation of the facts:
- Probably a 350+ watt FTP rider (versus my 250w).
- Knows how to ride a bike.
- Won't screw up any corners or descents on the loop.

My saving grace?

He was setting out on his TENTH LAP of the 15 mile loop (13 mile loop plus 2 miles to get back to the start).

In other words, he was starting with about 120 more miles on his legs than me.

I figured the 120 mile handicap put me slightly below his level, with any extreme efforts heavily weighed in my favor.

We set off on a steady climb. I was already at the edge, the heat cooking my already baked legs. Scott mentioned something about the climb to the top, and when he clarified, I realized he was describing most of the climb of Palomar Mountain - five miles of 7 or 8 percent.

I immediately eased a bit, said to Scott that this may be a bit much. He eased too, and asked cheerfully if I wanted to go easier. He'd adjust to my pace. I knew that I could go as hard as I wanted and he'd be fine, so I tried to hover at the redline - my redline.

As we went higher and higher my morale crumbled more and more. I couldn't shift any lower because I was already grinding out my 39x25. I started losing Scott's wheel, making some big efforts to get back on. Suddenly he mentioned that where "that car" was the road leveled out.

"Great," I thought, looking across the narrow valley to the car in question, "I have to climb another mile!"

It was more like 400 yards, and life seemed so much better when we started accelerating, even putting it into the big ring. We started going through some switchbacks, all in a pattern - a left curve, with the rock wall on the outside, followed by a right curve, blind, with the rock wall on the inside.

The rights were fun, the lefts seemed slow.

Scott rode the curves conservatively, safe enough for even a heat-affected visitor of questionable fitness to make it without problems.

We started down some slightly more straight roads, and Scott pointed out The Wall off in the distance. It's a steep, two bend climb, just 150 meters or so. A steep Bethel hill, really, preceded by a fast descent. Scott told me that I could attack it as hard as I wanted but that the hill would zap my legs no matter how I did it.

Scott led out, I coasted up to him, and as we approached the hill, I yelled out that I wanted to sprint the hill.

"Go for it!" he yelled.

I went for it.

I went blasting up the hill, big ring, leveraging my freshness against his fitness. I hammered around the two curves, and up to the visible crest.

I say "visible" because, of course, the road kept rising afterward. I shifted to the small ring, big cog, and waited for the inevitable fly-by.

Scott took it easy on me and eased as he caught me. He checked to make sure I was on, mentioned that it was all smooth sailing downhill from here, and then started pulling like mad.

We caught and passed a car or two, and then kind of stalled as we held position about 200 meters behind a set of cars. Scott seemed a bit tired, I rolled forward, and he seemed to ease. I looked back, saw Scott rolling easy, and I decided that I wanted to get in a good jump.

I jumped.

I sprinted up to the cars, eased when I caught them. Scott came rolling up a few seconds later.

"I didn't have the legs," he happily admitted.
"I'm sorry," I apologized, "I just had to go."
"Hey, don't worry," he replied, "I totally understand."

We spent the next minute or so describing how slower moving cars seem to attract cyclists.

"They're magnets," he stated. "Aluminum magnets!"

We finished up the loop in good order. I was tired from my two hours; he from his twelve. He graciously offered me some water - I was running on empty - and sent me on my way.

I felt much better somehow, even though I felt really queasy. I couldn't drink any of the precious water in my bottles, but otherwise everything felt great. My legs turned over pretty quickly - I kept seeing 107 rpms when I looked down, and I was in my 53x12. No, I hadn't turned into an time trial monster, I just happened to be on a mainly rolling downhill section of road with a helpful cross-tailwind.

Scott drove by in his van. I waved, but I couldn't see if he waved back. I hunkered back down into the drops and kept motoring.

On Charleston Blvd, on the way back, I managed to catch a bus, one that was way far off. I kept finding myself pushing hard, 30 mph or more, legs whirling, wondering when I'd blow up.

At some point I had to ease, the cumulative fatigue getting to me. Three hours yesterday, two plus today. High in the high 80s. Powerful sun beating down. Pavement acting like the bottom of an oven, reflecting heat back up to me.

I rolled into the hotel, not quite so bright as yesterday, a lot more grey and black in the kit. Off the bike, sitting on a chair, I felt tired, I could feel the salt on my skin, and I knew that I'd underestimated the heat of the day.

I had to wait a couple hours before I could eat or drink anything.

But it was worth it.


Connor Sallee said...

it's always cool to find a nice person to ride with when you're not local. cool write-up, aki

Aki said...

thanks. This guy was the second RAAM veteran I ran into. I'm just amazed that he was on his tenth lap of the 13 mile loop. Incredible. I could see he was suffering from the heat - goose bumps on his legs, his edge definitely dulled. But he was so strong, such a powerful motor. I got the loop on the cam so I may edit it and post it. If nothing else it's a decent reference for the downhill stuff.