Thursday, June 03, 2010

Training - Long, Hot Day

Wednesday I needed to go to Bethel to pick up the van. I'd meant to do this each week after returning from Vegas, but each week something popped up - thunderstorms, thunderstorms, or thunderstorms. Okay, last week I had just crashed the day prior, so that was my excuse then.

Since I had to visit Navone Studios last weekend, I drove down last Wednesday.

Meaning I got there but I drove the same car back, not the van. Ultimately my goal was to get the van back home without leaving yet another vehicle at Navone's.

So June 2nd, last Wednesday, I decided I'd finally follow through with my threats to ride there (and, potentially, to race the race before I drove home). I fueled up for this immense ride with... two pieces of toast, peanut butter and fluff applied sparingly, at about 7 AM. For whatever reason I wasn't feeling hungry, so I things alone.

I headed out at noon, a little worry tickle at the back of my head - I hadn't eaten anything else, just some coffee, and I was heading out for a long ride.

I chose a simple route - Head south to 202/44, take a right, take a left on Route 7, and then when I hit 53, follow to Bethel. Two turns - what could go wrong?

Well, it's not that things go wrong. It's that Route 202 is a long, hilly road. About 45 minutes into the ride I realized I had been on a climb for a few minutes, riding at about FTP (250 watts), and the hill showed no sign of ending.

Not just that, I had very little shade, I'd gone through one of my bottles, and I wasn't even 15 miles into my 70-ish mile ride.

After a couple more of these never ending hills, I started thinking of what the Tour riders go through. I mean, I don't know what they go through, I can't fathom it, but I could relate to maybe 1% of their suffering. Doing 4 or 5 hours a day, with a couple shorter and longer days to break things up, the race relentless in its march to the finish.

I read recently an interview with the HTC-Columbia team doctor. What he said was incredible - by the third week the riders are vomiting and have diarrhea, and at that point they define "nutrition" as whatever food stays down.


I started getting really cooked in the heat, my electrolyte drink rapidly disappearing. I thought of my teammates who have registered for various 60 to 90+ mile road races, and what they'll have to do to get through the day.

One thing struck me quickly - they couldn't skip the early feeds, otherwise they'd be in trouble later.

And here I was with two empty bottles, about 50 miles to go.

I saw one of those "gas marts" and pulled in.

(I prefer to pull into those on rides because I don't lock my bike, and with a gas mart, there aren't other folks around - like coffee shop people or supermarket people - and usually gas stations have camera security.)

I bought two bottles of Powerade (one sugar, one not - this would start adding calories to my intake since I started with two bottles of Powerade Zero).

Outside a woman walked up to me. I thought she was walking to the entrance but she stopped next to me. When I looked up, she said hi. And then asked me about nutrition on bikes. What a coincidence, that I'd just been thinking of nutrition and here someone pops up, out the blue, with questions on the same topic.

Apparently she's been training for RAGBRAI and can't go half an hour on the bike without feeling hungry. We talked about calories in/out, protein versus carbs, the hills in Kent (where I trained with my teammate John before we went to Belgium), and some other stuff that I've since forgotten. We both had places to go so we headed out our own ways.

The second leg started getting really draggy - I didn't want to get out of the saddle much, my kit felt baggy on my (shorts and jersey), my neck felt tweaked (slept wrong a couple nights ago, and it flared up), and I started wondering why I was riding this far. I get these thoughts in the middle of most of my long rides, questioning my sanity, but they resolve themselves by the end.

Otherwise it wouldn't be worth it.



Once I made the left on Route 7 (preceeded by a short detour on the new Route 7 highway - I turned around after a few hundred yards), I made a stop at the third gas mart on a long stretch of road. I'd contemplated trying to get to Bethel without stopping once more, but when I filled my bottles, I realized I was pretty much dry.

I guess my thinking deteriorates when I'm tired.

I set off on the final leg of the trip, my legs really fatigued, getting the familiar and unwanted twinges foretelling a cramp. I started pedaling in my adaptive manner - bigger gears, drop my heel more, don't make any big efforts...

Okay, except when a school bus pulled away from a light. I sprinted like a maniac, shifting up through the gears, until I was cruising along at a nice, muscle twinging 40-odd mph.

Then, my energy reserve depleted, I swung off, exhausted.

I spent the next 10 minutes pedaling in a stupor, wondering why I sprinted after the bus.

Oh, right. My thinking deteriorates with fatigue.

My legs must have recovered, and, as Indurain put it, started going through their renaissance, because as we got closer to Bethel, I started pedaling a bit harder.

The Missus called when I was doing a trackstand at a light, and, after a brief chat (she let me go so I could focus on riding), I sprung away from the light, energized. Talking to the Missus must have helped.

Note to self: talk to the Missus when in trouble. If you see me jabbering away on the cell phone with 5 laps to go in a crit...

In this last bit of road, on 53, I kept doing trackstands so that I could get away cleanly from each light, with as little disruption to traffic as possible. I'd sprint up to speed, pedal until the cars got a bit thinned out, then settled into a more reasonable time trial effort as the cars went past me.

One minivan slowed down a bit.

"Nice trackstand!"

I was flying on the bike.

He turned off.

I sat up. Poof. That was it. Finito.

I crawled to Bethel, done. Rolled through the doors at Navone's. Got off the bike, sat down. I was utterly wasted - all I could think about was that I had to drive the van home.

Then, with a Hammer bar (Navone sells them), a Gatorade and a Coke (those too), I started feeling a little more human, enough so that I realized, man, I stinky. With a "y".

The A race went off first, maybe 45 minutes after I got there, so I had an excuse not to race. I spent some time talking with one of the Bethel Spring Series officials. He'd been riding again, having been less serious about the bike for a while. We caught up on news - at Bethel all we talk about is... Bethel.

But at some point Frank (of Navone's) encouraged me to race the Bs, and I finally relented. The Hammer bar, the drinks, and some relaxed conversation, and I started feeling a little more lively. I could do a few laps with them, blow up on the hill, drop out, and be done. I wouldn't contest the sprint, nor would I chase down too many things.

I signed up, pinned on a number, and I was in business.

Coincidentally, my teammate from the Belgium trip (John) happened to show up. I mentioned the chat I had about nutrition and said that I'd mentioned training up in the hills of Kent with "my teammate John". And, look at that, here you are.

We both laughed. That was a totally different time for sure.

In the race my legs betrayed me early on. I found myself in difficulty right away, my legs twinging furiously coming up the hill. I had to slow dramatically a few times, else I'd have cramped (and probably crashed), but to the other racers' credit, no one even said boo to me.

But that's not what caught my attention. What did was that the racers are all 4s and 5s. I realized that I hadn't ridden with "less experienced" riders in a long, long time. Most of the riders were smooth, some were not. I noticed a bunch of things that would probably get much more notice in a Cat 3 race.

One racer was smooth but would make bigger lateral moves than I felt comfortable watching. He'd smoothly move over 5 or 6 feet without as much as a glance (or if he glanced, he ignored any rider in his way). He cut off a number of people, but, to the others' credit, they adjusted nicely.

Another looked really uncomfortable on his bike. I couldn't figure out what was wrong - his elbows seemed bent but his bike made some jerky motions. I think that maybe he was holding onto his bars for dear life, steering with his hands, not his hips.

Speaking of bent elbows, one rider rode with locked elbows. Not very good if your wheel hits a bump, or, more seriously, if your elbow hits a rider.

Another rider rode with a wobbly death grip on the bars. He seemed less experienced and I could see the tension in his arms. To his credit he rode very bravely, even though he seemed uncomfortable sometimes. Pushing limits, without causing crashes, can be a good thing.

Although I wore my helmet cam, I don't think a lot of people realized that I'd used it up (memory + battery) on the long ride down to Bethel. So I have no evidence of any of the above. But, if someone in the race is curious or wants feedback, feel free to ask me. I don't like giving advice when someone hasn't asked me first, unless the rider put me in danger.

As far as doing the B race and recording it, I don't think I'll have an excuse to do it again, but I found it very fascinating.

Now, on the good side, the race had a lot of sprints (it was a points race) and one very team oriented team - Pawling Cycles. They rode really well together, sometimes getting really good results, other times swamped by riders taking advantage of Pawlings' work. Nonetheless they were like Fasso Bortolo for Petacchi at his peak - always chasing down, always leading out.

I chose to sit back and watch all the action, trying not to disrupt the race too much. When Pawling was chasing, I let them chase. I think I pulled back a small group, trying to fan the flames a bit, but most of the time I sat at the back and observed.

I realized that my comfort zone had gotten dramatically bigger, i.e. I was less comfortable in the field. I sat 10 feet off a wheel sometimes, because I felt the need to give some riders that much room to feel comfortable that they wouldn't take me out. I reminded myself not to squeeze through any holes - I didn't want to cause any crashes.

I decided that if my legs felt okay I'd try and demonstrate a leadout to the field. I didn't discuss with with anyone, nor did anyone ask me to do a leadout. I figured that I could do a leadout, pull off, and let the actual racers fight it out.

On the last couple laps I made some efforts to move up, my almost-cramping legs screaming in protest. I managed to get into decent position at the bell, but I had push a bit to get through. I thought about shooting a gap going into Turn 2 of the last lap, but remembered my own thought of not shooting gaps.

I backed off.

But when the gap opened up, I rolled through. Predictably a Pawling guy sat at the front. I yelled to give him warning I was coming through - "Go, Go, Go!" - and went pedaling past. I stayed seated, not trusting my legs to work if I stood, and started accelerating hard.

I managed to hit about 35 mph, held it there for a bit, and started wobbling like crazy as my legs started sounding alarms everywhere. If there were lights on my legs, they'd have been flashing like a fire truck.

I used this opportunity to push through the crampiness, to push through the twinging. I wanted to keep pedaling hard, keep going, to test myself, to see what would happen if I pushed.

Just as the trees opened up at the Mirror Building my legs blew. I knew that another couple seconds of pedaling and I wouldn't be able to keep my legs from completely seizing. I checked my seven o'clock, saw it was clear, and wiggled my right elbow to pull off.

I lifted my head to watch the sprint.

David, the Spring Series helper guy, was stranded out in the wind. Although I hadn't planned anything, he knew a wheel when he saw one, and he'd been the first to respond. My bad legs had dumped him in the wind about 75 meters early.


On his wheel was a Navone guy, one that won a couple sprints earlier. He used David perfectly, launching hard to win the sprint.

Behind them was... a gap.

I hadn't meant it to happen, but I think the early move (relatively speaking) froze everyone into indecision. Hopefully my move illustrated just what one can do to influence a race. Granted, I was sitting in the whole race, but that could be a valid tactic for a helper guy. Or, if a teammate won a few sprints earlier, a fresh teammate could chase after other points.

Whatever, it was all good. I had a slice of Navone pizza, my queasy stomach back. Another Coke, plenty of conversation, and I was on the way home.

I unfortunately had a lot of time to rest on the way back, with two construction delays on I-84. I rolled in to the house, in darkness, about 11.5 hours after I left on the bike.

It'd been a long day.

It'd been a hot day.

But, yeah, it was a good day too.


bigCrank said...

Sounds like a good day on the bike. My one issue with this is getting involved with the sprint in the "B" race. You mentioned you didn't want to contest the sprint or chase breaks.

Providing a leadout was in effect changing the dynanmics in a race you didn't belong in. Your leadout shelled most of the field and probably wasn't a good thing to do.

Aki said...

I agree that my leadout did change the dynamics of the last sprint. However, since it was a points race, and there seemed to be a pattern developing, I don't think it altered what would have happened. The same guy won a bunch of sprints early on, then another guy won a few, then the first guy started coming back strong.

I had a goal in doing the leadout though, and I explained it to one of the riders of the team there at a later date. Basically the leadouts in the race were simply riders lining up while going the same pace as normal (25-28 mph). They didn't go fast enough to discourage any other type of movement. I wanted to go a bit faster, maybe 30-32 mph, to illustrate vividly what happens when a leadout is faster. I went faster than I thought, but at the time I was just trying to not cramp.

The guy who ended up winning that last sprint (the last of maybe 6 sprints for points) won the race on points. However, if the guy in second had the legs, he'd have gone as well (I'm pretty sure he's a Cat 4, and I've raced against him in the 3-4 races in Bethel). It seemed that he wasn't able to contest the last couple sprints effectively - he may have left his legs on the road after making lots of efforts early on.

I hope that the various teams take that lesson into account and it makes for more effective leadouts, and therefore safer sprints.

Anonymous said...


I was in that B race. Actually it was my first race but hopefully I didn't pull any of the sketchy moves you mentioned. I was in the black Trek Fairfield kit. I was spit out the back of the group after stupidly taking a hard pull in my first ever crit. Oh well. Been doing well in the 3 races after that. If you happened to have noticed anything feel free to give me hell.


Aki said...

I don't remember much about the actual kits, other than Pawling and Bethel (since both seemed to be most active). I hope to make it down there again soon, but I'll be doing the A race (and probably tasting some of that B race medicine I dished out).

Since I notice teamwork and sketchiness, if I didn't notice anything about your riding, it's probably a good thing.

brasschaat said...

Never imagined I would try and take a lead out from you. I don't know if you went too hard or if my legs are too old, but I'm pretty sure I account for the gap after the Navone guy. It was great to ride with you again, but I think I will look for a taller, slower building leadout next time.

Your OLD teamate from Belgium