Monday, July 14, 2014

Training - EVEN Hotel Recon Rides

A very short time ago I got a vague email about helping out with a non-competitive ride. It was a weekday ride, it was early in the morning, and they wanted it to last a maximum of about an hour. This seemed pretty straightforward except for missing a few details. I asked a few questions, the person that contacted me gave me a few answers, and it seemed really doable. After figuring out how to handle Junior (he'll be at half day day care that morning and I'll have to pick him up at noon the day of the ride) I committed to helping out.

For a fun ride the permitting process through USA Cycling is a bit more forgiving. No officials, no scoring, no road closures, so it's just a group ride. USAC offers insurance for group rides, basically letting a club or shop permit their evening or weekend rides. To encourage this they keep the hoops and hurdles to a minimum.

This helped a lot since I first heard the details of the ride just two weeks before it was to take place. If it was a race there'd be no way to permit it (2 weeks is the minimum time required to permit a race). For a fun ride, aka "a group ride", we just had to pay the somewhat substantial late fee and we'd be set.

Of course I needed a route as well. Fortunately for me I grew up in the area, and in fact I trained on roads literally a little bit up the road starting when I was 13 or 14 years old. Back then it was a big deal for me - I was riding in the next town! My friend Allan and I would ride to a hobby shop in Norwalk to check out plastic models of tanks and planes.

Later, when I started training for racing, I rode some of the same roads with a friend and teammate in high school, Kevin F. He and I last rode together just a couple years ago, exploring some roads near my  "new" hometown. Back in the mid-80s we trained together somewhat regularly. I remember turning left into a road and cutting him off - his frame ended up breaking in that crash.

Actually, now that I think if it, it was about then that we stopped training together.

Ironically I ended up buying a house just off that left-turn-road, my home for a good 16 years or so.

At any rate, 7 years after moving away, I needed to refresh my memories of the area, including those roads that I explored so many years ago. Naturally the roads would have evolved so I wanted to know the conditions of the various roads, widths, stuff like that. Many of them are smaller roads, more neighborhood roads, and some are busier roads.

I mapped out a route that might work on gmap-pedometer, eventually mapping it out on Strava.

I also did some research on exactly who was doing this fun ride. It ends up that it's a new concept hotel,  EVEN Hotel, a healthy lifestyle hotel. It's one of those ideas that you think, "Oh, that makes sense!" when you hear about it. Basically it's a hotel where you don't have to sacrifice your health oriented lifestyle just because you're traveling. For me, when we stay at a hotel, it means eating foods that we normally don't have at home - processed foods and the like. It means traveling with, sometimes, push up bars, so I can do push ups like I do at home. With EVEN Hotels it seems like they want to handle that part of it for you - they'll handle your non-business stuff, you just do whatever you're there to do, like work or visit family or whatever. I'll have more to report after I stay a night there and go through the whole experience myself.

I figured that this fun ride was at just one of many locations but to my surprise it ends up that the Norwalk location is kicking off the EVEN Hotel chain, being the first of the hotels.

Well now.

I've done two recon rides now, adjusting the route slightly, and I'm pleased with what it is, at least based on the area. My goal was to make for a safe ride that challenged, encouraged, and rewarded. The ride starts on a short, steep climb, has some rollers, lets you get some speed up, then hits you with another short, sharp climb. Finally you roll back on friendly terrain, a nice cool down. All the major turns are right turns, although there is one left on a not-quite-quiet road.

The front of the hotel.
The inside is really, really nice. No pictures yet.

I've only been in the lobby area so far but it was unlike any hotel I've been in - for me it was more like a spa than a hotel. One of the people behind the desk in the lobby told me that someone walked in the day before and asked if it was a spa, it's that nice and peaceful. I didn't take pictures on my brief visit but I will Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The kicker is that it's not a super pricey hotel.

At the end of the first recon ride I headed down a bit that's now off the route. There's no shoulder (as evident in the picture), there's a no-turn-on-red, and there's no shoulder or sidewalk for the few hundred yards of busy road back to the hotel.

However, on this first recon ride, there was a minivan in front of me with "Happy Birthday Trevor" on the back window. A boy was leaning out of the window, watching me do a track stand. He motioned to me.

That is not Trevor, the birthday boy, but Trevor is in there somewhere.

"How do you do that?"

I thought of the technical aspects of doing a track stand, the idea that steering allows a rider to stay upright, that you have to move back and forth minutely while steering minutely in order to stay upright.

"Practice", I replied.

He grinned.

I nodded to the back of the minivan.

"Are you Trevor?"

He looked puzzled for a moment.

"Oh, the letters are still back there? No, I'm not Trevor, he's back here."
"Tell him I said Happy Birthday."
The boy duly poked his head back into the minivan.

"He says thank you."

And with that they were off. I concluded the ride (this was the first recon ride) and decided I had to test two alternate ideas. Otherwise I was pleased with the route, with the whole progression of challenges and rewards and such.

During the second ride, with one of my two personally-vetted ride leaders, I tested the two alternate ride bits. One has to do with the last bit of the route (the Trevor bit), the other to do with a "straight with no stops" versus "three stops but less traffic". We're going with the "no stops" option, for what it's worth, and that second ride made all the difference in making those two decisions.

After the first recon ride I headed north a bit to Outdoor Sports Center, the sponsor of the Bethel Spring Series for the last few years. They've been a great help both financially as well as in spirit. The sponsorship helps, of course, basically keeping the race afloat, but the owners would show up at the race and one of the owners showed up pretty much every weekend we had a race. They set up a tent, they gave away gift cards to their store, they wrangled all the raffle prizes we gave away, and basically brought the race up a level. They didn't just write a check, they really participated in promoting the race.

I'm working on the 2015 Series now and so I figured it would be good to stop by the shop and give them an update on how it's going. More on that as it happens.

Outdoor Sports Center.

With that out of the way I headed back. There's still a lot to do before the ride and I want it to go smoothly.

If you're interested in doing the ride, in checking out the hotel, you can sign up here at BikeReg. You get a free t-shirt, some refreshments, and a view of a brand new hotel chain. If you're around in the afternoon/evening there's more stuff happening, some food served, and some health/fitness type folks giving presentations and such.

The ride itself is at 7 AM, Thursday, July 17th. The route is on the BikeReg page but it's about 10 miles long and it's such that even I can do the route without struggling too much (and I really don't climb well). We have four ride leaders at the moment and it's absolutely a no-drop ride. All riders have to wear an EVEN Hotel t-shirt during the ride, that's the price of admission.

I'll try to have one more update on Wednesday but realistically the next post on this will be about the ride on Thursday. If you can make it I'll see you out there!

No comments: