Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cherry-Roubaix Road Race: humbling

This morning, I got up at 3am. Showered. Drove up to Traverse City. Raced in the cat 5 (35+) road race. Drove back. Had a early dinner with my mom. Came home. Mowed the lawn. And showered.

I've had some time to think about what happened. You wanna know what happened? I got my ass kicked. I got my ass kicked as soon as the lady said, "Go!"

It's as simple as that.

I don't know exactly when I got dropped. But it was well before 20 miles into the race. Probably around 15 miles in the race, I was watching the peloton pull away in the distance. The pace was high from the beginning. And unlike West Branch, there was no letting up after getting to the summit of a hill. The group kept churning their legs. Most of the 15 miles before I got dropped, the field was single file. The pace was high. I got caught without a wheel to one side of the paceline for a while several times. And my timid corning had me sprinting to catch up to a wheel after every turn. But unlike Frankenmuth and West Branch, I just couldn't keep it up.

I don't have a very good recollection of exactly where I started struggling to keep up...or even the geographic features around that moment...because I was so gassed. It happened after a corner though. My legs just didn't have enough to catch a wheel yet again after one of those corners. And a big gap formed. I let myself catch my breath for just a bit,  and then I tried to bridge back up. For a second, I thought I had a chance because I was gaining ground! But then after a fast decent and another corner, they were way too far away.

So I let off the gas to let myself recover a bit. A couple riders caught up to me, and I latched on to their wheel. I pretty much rode with them at a semi-leisurely pace all the way in. I took two long pulls. But mostly sat behind them, probably too far away to even benefit from a draft. I was just demoralized and riding around feeling sorry for myself.

Riding with those two guys...I did learn a couple things though. I do fine when the terrain is flat or down hill. I do well when the road pitches up to a grade above 6%. But when the grade is like 3%-4% and long...those bigger, stronger riders really start to gap me without evening trying.

And I need to find some cornering confidence. Even in our group of three, riding at a non-race pace, I'd get gapped pretty good in the corners. But after watching all those guys wreck all over the place in Frankenmuth, I'm very timid.

Anyway...I squeaked by the other two guys with me at the finish. Meh.

This was my most disappointing race so far. Even more so than when I got lapped at my first crit, or when I got dropped at Cone-Azalia. On the heels of Frankenmuth (where I would probably have placed pretty well if not for a crash in front of me with less than 400 meters to go) and West Branch (where I was in it until the last few miles), I thought I would have fared better today.

The most frustrating part is I don't know if I was just having a bad day...or if I was just out classed today. A couple guys I handedly beat at West Branch and Frankenmuth dropped me. Did they have bad days at West Branch and Frankenmuth? Or did I have a bad day in Cherry-Roubaix?

I just don't know! Was yesterday's ride at Kensington a mistake (20 miles of hills, meant to be easy but probably went a hair hard)? Was running three times this past week instead of riding a mistake? Again...I don't know.

What I do know is that I need to get stronger. But that sounds like hard work! Blerg!

I'm signed up for Festival of the Sun criterium next weekend. Sounds terrible at the moment. Hopefully I'll be in better spirits soon! :)

Strava of my race:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Michigan Mountain Mayhem with friends!

All photos of us at 'The Wall' were taken by Hays Photograhy.

This past Saturday, I completed Michigan Mountain Mayhem...the longest ride of my life.

Who's idea was Michigan Mountain Mayhem? Joe? Dan? I can't remember. But on Jan. 5th I made the choice to register for the 160 kilometer (about 100 miles) version of Michigan Mountain Mayhem! It seemed like a great idea at the time. I had begun working out again on December 31st after having been a sedentary lump since the Lowell 50 gravel road race in October. MMM would, in theory, motivate me to keep training. So...there you go. Jan. 5th was my registration date!

I have a poor history of rides that approach 50 miles or longer.  Kendal and I did a 50 mile ride last year in preparation for One Helluva Ride (100 miles). I almost died. The last 10 miles felt like absolute death. So I kept on training. By the time we did OHR, I was in better shape. But I still bonked at around the 40 mile mark. After the lunch stop at 50 miles, I was good again until around the 85 mile mark. Those last 15 miles were at a snails pace. I was in agony! And Kendal had to listen to me whine and complain for a solid hour and a half (yup, that's how slow I was going). And afterwards, my body was ruined for an entire week.

I was much more prepared this time! I'd been training very regularly since the end of April. I felt so confident, that with just a hairs breadth of prodding by Sarah, I switched my registration to the longer 200k version. But...none of the rides I did were anywhere near 130 miles. I felt like I needed to get one long ride in before MMM.  So, six days before MMM (Sunday the 2nd), I did a solo 100 mile ride.

See the Strava info here:

It went very well! I kept a slow, sustainable pace. I also learned that McDonald's cherry pies are simply amazing treats to eat while riding. Similarly, japanese red bean mochi were also an awesome source of calories that went down easy, stayed down, and tasted great! I decided to use these plus some Hammer Gel's as my MMM nutrition. For hydration, I'd use Hammer Fizz.

After my 100 mile test ride, I felt great! My muscles weren't sore at all that night or the next day. The only concern was a slightly sore left knee. I took some ibuprofen and iced it regularly. On Monday, I went riding with Dan and Sarah...probably a bit harder than I should have but Dan was having a great ride! I can't remember him riding so strong in a long time, so I couldn't take it too easy and waste Dan's great day! Downside was that it exacerbated my knee woes. Tuesday and Wednesday, I did a couple slower rides and continued with the ibuprofen and ice.

Rest on Thursday + packing for the weekend. On Friday, after getting home from work, I did some last second packing. Loaded all of our stuff in the car. Then went to pick up Kendal from work for the 4 hour drive to Boyne.

Dan found all of us (me, Kendal, Dan, Rebeka, Sarah, Joe, Charles, Laura) a great condo to stay at for the weekend! And even though we arrived late, everyone was nice enough to give us the amazing master bedroom! One of the perks of the wife being pregnant! :)

The next morning, us riders (me, Dan, Sarah, Joe, and Charles) all attempted to arrive at the start line a little before 6am so that we could start right at 6am (the earliest time they allowed riders to begin the ride). But the logistics of getting everyone up and ready, and transported the 6 miles to Boyne City High School, made for a bit of a late start. I blame most of it on Dan, who forgot his water bottles at the condo and had to go back for them. We all decided to wait for him. And we all began together at around 6:30am.

We never really talked about riding this ride together as a group. But none of us were in a position to 'race' this thing. As a result, we ended up riding as a social group!

Dan was signed up for the 100k...but his knee was really giving him problems. At the 20 mile mark, he made the decision to turn his ride into a 50k. And then it was me, Sarah, Charles and Joe. Joe was signed up for the 160k but was considering switching to the 200k during the ride, depending on how he felt by the 160k turn off at around the 75 mile mark.

The ride was going pretty well! Some of the hills were definitely hard! But, knowing that the ride is a long one, I took it easy up all the hills to conserve energy. We were all riding strong, making our way to the first truly difficult hill of the ride (the 'Super Hill'). It's only about a half mile long. And the average grade is only around 13%-14%. But sections of it reach well into the 20% grade range. And there is a sizable stretch that is over 25%, and hits a max of 32% grade!

My plan was to take it as easy as possible to save my strength for the rest of the ride. However, I'd never climbed anything even nearly that steep. And I didn't realize that there is no such thing as going easy when hills get that steep! You either mash like a mad man...or you fall over! Those are the only two options! The hill got so steep that if I wasn't careful, my rear tire would lose traction with each pedal stroke. But the most disturbing part was that the steepness caused me to inadvertently pop a wheelie! I had to make a concerted effort to maintain a smooth but strong pedal stroke, so that I didn't lose traction. And I had to deliberately put more weight over the front tire, to make sure I didn't flip the bike over backwards! And I just kept mashing...mashing...mashing. For brief periods, the hill would lower down to around a 4%-10% grade where you could "rest." But then it'd be back in the 20's. Mash, mash mash. Finally, I got to the top and started heading back down the hill!

Once I reached the bottom, I got off my bike, took a McDonald's cherry pie out of my bag and inhaled it while I waited for my crew! After the ride, upon uploading my data to Strava, I would find out that I placed the 3rd fastest time on the Super Hill!

And off we went for the rest of the ride! We still had around 93 miles to go. Fudge.

Again, we all rode together and we were all feeling pretty good! If I got to the top of a hill before anyone, I'd slow up to wait for everyone else. Or if I fell behind, everyone would wait at the next stop sign. And eventually, we'd be a group again!

Sometime before the 55-mile mark, I got up one of the hills and waited up for the rest of my peeps. All of a sudden, Charles comes flying by at the back of a group. I really wanted to latch on to that small group and benefit from the draft. Sarah and Joe were still making their way up. I was all by myself in between, with Charles getting farther away VERY RAPIDLY! I made the decision to time trial up to Charles and wait for Joe and Sarah at a future natural stopping point.

Let me tell is HARD catching up to a group when you're a solo rider. I had to kill myself to latch on. But once I did, the draft was GLORIOUS! I was averaging around 19 mph at the back of a group of 8-ish riders. And it was effortless!  We cruised along with them for a while. Then, we came to a rest stop and waited for Sarah and Joe. And we were a group once again!

Soon after, Joe made the decision to do his 160k as planned and not extend it to 200k with us. And then we were three.

At some point, we ended up at the back of a different group. Again, it was amazing! I ended up moving up near the front of this group because the hills broke the group up. I rode with this group until the next rest stop. Charles was starting to bonk and got spit out the back of the group. And Sarah was a bit behind Charles. I used the time waiting for them at this rest stop to eat a bag of Cheetos and an bag of Combo's!

Let me take moment to say that this ride was amazing! The route was gorgeous, marked well, 99% smooth roads that are not well traveled, just wonderful. And the food stops had the nicest volunteers who laid out all sorts of freshly cut fruit, various flavors of electrolyte sport drinks (HEED), snacks and candies, typical nutrition products, was just amazing!

Anyway...Charles arrived at the rest stop not long after me. And Sarah shortly after Charles. We all refueled. Sarah wanted to take off quickly, so as not to get too she took off before us. I decided to use the restroom. And I was ready to go! Charles decided to use the restroom as well. But then...there was a huge line that wasn't there one second ago! It seemed like it took a good 30 minutes! In reality, I think it took about 10 minutes, maybe a hair more.

We took off after Sarah. I thought that we'd probably not see Sarah on the course again. After Sarah left, the group I was drafting departed shortly after. Charles and I were still using the restroom. I thought Sarah would latch onto the back of that group when they went by. And there would be no way that Charles and I could catch that group by ourselves with such a large time gap.

But the two of us headed off and did what we could. I pulled since Charles was feeling fatigued (on a ride this long, you go through ups and downs with your strength). We rounded a corner and started climbing yet another hill. When I got to the top, I looked back and found out that I had gapped Charles by quite a bit.

We were at around mile 87-ish...something like that. I made a decision to see if I could time trial up to Sarah. If I found her before my odometer hit 100 miles, I'd try to slow us down for Charles to catch up eventually. If I didn't find her before the 100 mile mark, I'd just wait for Charles myself.

It ended up being a mountain time trial! I just buried my head and mashed like a mad man. Hill after hill. I'd see a rider in the distance. I'd use that rider as my carrot. Sarah? Nope. Is that rider Sarah? Nope. I picked off rider after rider. Then, in the distance, I saw a rider with a black jersey...and what I thought was long hair. I gritted my teeth and made a push to catch her sooner rather than later. At last! I caught her!

It was a long chase. According to my data, the moment I decided to catch her to the moment I actually reached her was approximately 10 miles...took around 40 minutes...and was over 1000 feet of climbing. Over 1000 feet in 10 miles?!?! We don't have anything like that near Ann Arbor! It didn't help that I was trying to go "fast" at around mile 90 to 100 of this journey!

But...I made it! I was pretty tired when I got to Sarah. I just tried to ride whatever pace she rode and regain my breath. I didn't really know how much that effort took out of me until around mile 105. I was really starting to suffer. I had 'bonked'. Which meant that Sarah had to hear me whine just like I whined to Kendal during OHR. I'm pretty sure I uttered, "My life sucks", and "I hate the world." As well, I probably uttered many other similar statements. I simply cannot properly convey how totally cooked I felt during this stretch.

We finally made it to the last rest stop at around the 120 mile mark. We quickly refueled and used the restroom. Charles got a second wind and arrived very soon after! Just 10 miles left and one big hill called, "The Wall." As we left the stop, I remember saying, "Just 10 more miles! And then I'm never going to ride bikes again!" A guy near us almost spit out his drink trying not to laugh at that moment. But I was serious.

I think all of us, including myself, felt our energy renewed with the knowledge that we were almost done. We just needed to get over The Wall! But the annoying part was that there were several pretty tough rollers before the The Wall! If The Wall had been right after the rest stop, it would have posed no issues. But instead, I felt like I was using up my last reserves of energy on these smaller but still challenging hills! Ugh!

Closer and closer. And finally, the The Wall was within site. There was a sign on the side of the road that told us there was no shame in walking The Wall. Sarah had pretty much made up her mind that she was going to walk up this last stupid hill. I had prepared myself for the possibility myself.

Funny thing though. I'm not saying it was easy. Because it was not easy. My legs were weary. My body was low on glucose for my muscles. It had been a long day. So the dumb hill was hard. was sorta easy at the same time. After the 'Super Hill' at mile 37-ish, all other hills were judged against that hill. And relative to the Super Hill? The Wall was barely a speed bump. Seriously. Not so bad!

Once I got to the top, I turned around to see Charles still riding, coming up to me. And then there was Sarah just behind! Still riding! I'm so glad she decided to give it a go! We all made it to the top without walking!

I like the picture of me climbing The Wall. It shows people walking it behind me! Oh yeah...I forgot to mention that I decided to be a dork and wear a small backpack. I wanted to be prepared for I had a spare tire (yes, tire), spare tube, tire iron, pump, CO2 cartridge (yes, both CO2 and pump), cell phone, drivers license, complete patch kit, arm warmers and gloves (it was cold in the morning), four McDonald's cherry pies, three packs of mochi, four Hammer gels, and a tube of Hammer Fizz. Did I over do it? Probably. I only saw three other people with backpacks...and at least one of them was using his solely for fluid, not a portable storage closet! lol

Anyway...after that, there were a couple more small hills and then...finally...we were back in town, turning in to the finish at Peninsula Beach!

We weren't fast at all. We averaged about 13.5 miles per hour if you include all our stops. And only 15.5 miles per hour if you take out all our bathroom stops and such. Our time put us in the bottom third of all those that did the 130 mile (200k) route. But you know...I think we did great!!!!! Charles was going on 6 hours of sleep total over the past two nights. And he hadn't gotten any really long rides in yet. Sarah also had not gotten in any rides over 60 miles this year, most rides being in the 30-ish mile variety. And I had only gotten in one slow century before this...and had really only been working out and exercising since late April. Plus...we rode most of this course either solo or only with the three of us (in the beginning it was five of us total).

Here's the Strava log for MMM:

All things considered, I feel we did an amazing job! And I'm proud of all of us! Plus, it was just a great time with a really great group of people!

"Wow, that moist hobo sure can squirt!" ;)

Next year, Kendal wants all of us to do the 60 mile version together as her post-pregnancy workout motivator! I can't wait! :)

Not long after the ride, Joe and Charles had to leave to get back to their families. And the rest of us went out for dinner. And you know what? My muscles weren't very tired or sore at all. But my knees were killing me! Once we got back to the condo, it was back to the ice and ibuprofen.

The next morning, my muscles still felt fine! Not tired at all going up and down stairs, no real soreness. So I decided to take the bike out for a solo 10 mile recovery ride before everyone got up. It felt great though I had to take it easy on account of my knees.

Next up? Cherry Roubaix!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

West Branch Classic - well, that sucked...

I raced the West Branch Classic road race earlier today. I finished. But overall, it went pretty badly.

Lets rewind to my last blog post. After Tour de Frankenmuth, I went on a fairly spirited 32 mile solo ride. Then on Monday, I went on a horrible 55 mile ride with my friends Dan and Sarah. The forecast called for clouds and 60 degree weather. Instead, it rained for 40 miles of the ride. And the temperature never got above 50 freaking degrees! With the rain, wind, and felt arctic! My buddy Dan was lucky enough to turn around and go home because of knee issues. Sarah and I continued on, assuming the rain would let up since there was no rain forecasted for that time of day. We assumed wrong.

After that, I didn't get on the bike again until the race this morning. I have been told that was a mistake. But in my defense, I felt fatigued. And non-cycling life kept me busy. Should I have made time for a moderate ride on Thursday? Would that have helped? No clue. I planned on a light spin on Friday. But instead, I mowed the lawn since my wife said we were starting to look like the Clampetts! lol

After mowing and doing a load of laundry, I cleaned up my bike and got all my gear ready. I made the same concoction I used for Tour de Frankenmuth: Hammer Endurolyte, Hammer Fizz, and a 5-Hour Energy. I also wanted to make sure I got some sleep so I took a diphenhydramine pill at around 9:00pm and set my alarm for 4:30am.

When my alarm rang, I was all sorts of messed up! That stupid diphenhydramine did a number on me. Aside from just being very very drowsy, I also just felt...weird! Sort of body wasn't my body, or a out of body experience type of thing. This lasted for pretty much the entire drive as well. buddy Charles showed up and my place at 5:30am, while I was having my breakfast (an apple and a bagel with cream cheese) and we took off. My friend Sarah was leaving from Flushing, MI. We came across her car on the highway with about 45 minutes driving left to do.

We arrived in White Branch at close to 7:30am! We made great time! Charles wanted to stop at the McDonalds right off the highway to use their facilites and to get breakfast. I probably should have done the same but I just wasn't feeling hungry at all. Sarah got a coffee, we all used the bathroom, and we headed for packet pickup. We mistakenly went to the Quality Inn at first, but apparently that was only packet pickup for the previous night. Today, packet pickup was at the race start.

We got there at 8:00am. Charles and my field started at 9:05am. I forced myself to eat a NutriGrain bar while in line because I knew I needed more calories. Then...we waited. For whatever reason, they didn't open up packet pick up and day-of registration until around 8:20am. By the time I got my race number, it was 8:30am. So little time left! We quickly pinned on our numbers, got our bikes ready, and ourselves ready. No time to warm up or even tool around really. It was time to get to the staging area!

That's the elevation profile of the race. Two laps. 44 miles. And a killer hill at the end of each lap, with rolling terrain throughout the rest of the course. I didn't get a chance to pre-ride this course, so despite the above profile I really did not know what to expect. My original plan was to ride near the front. But between the diphenhydramine and not being able to take in a lot of food, I was feeling like absolute garbage.

Result? 3, 2, 1...go! to the back I went. Luckily, the pace was very casual to start the race. That gave me some time to get my legs under me a bit and start perking up. Nothing really happened until the first short, punchy roller. Not very steep. Not very long. But some people started to fall off the back. I was riding in dead last place, so I sprinted around them to latch on to the back of the pack. This happened several times during the first lap and thinned the 30 man field a little bit.

At the end of the first lap was the long hill. It's not ultra steep. I think it reaches around 7%-8% grade at its maximum. But the entire ascent is a good 1.6 miles long...and the steep part is at the very end. It was pretty hard. By the time we got to the top of this hill, a few more riders had dropped off the back (though a couple actually caught back up!).

There were a couple short bursts of speed, but nothing major. I was still near the back. And everything was going fine. I felt like if I could find my way up in the group a little, I'd be in good postion to finish respectably! I knew I was a much better climber for that last hill than a lot of guys remaining!

Then the oddest thing started to happen. I started moving up the field without any effort. Before I knew it, I was in the third spot. There were about 10-ish miles left. I felt like I was in an ideal position! The two guys in front of me really started to slow down. I mean like 16 mph slow. So on the next little incline, I found myself leading the group. Not good. I'm not strong enough to lead and fight the air. I didn't know what to do. So I just spun along at a moderate pace. Then the winds started...and my moderate pace started feeling difficult. What I didn't know at the time was that I'd inadvertently put a appreciable gap between myself and the field. I had just assumed that they were on my wheel. But after the race, Charles told me I was up there way too long...and I also ended up putting a small gap between myself and the field. I did NOT mean to do that. But what resulted was a fairly violent counter attack. All of a sudden, the field swallowed me up at light speed and I was at the back. And I was thankful! I needed some protection from the wind!

Next thing you know, Charles was up at the front! I know he probably didn't want to be up there either! In retrospect, the reason Charles and I ended up pulling for a while near the end of the race was because the heavy hitters in our field wanted a bit of rest before the violence to come.

Charles wasn't up there super long...but I'm sure it still took its toll. He started drifting back, smartly. We had about 6-ish miles left to go. And not long happened. VROOM! The field took off like it was shot out of a cannon! The group of riders I was near, at the back of this field, started to get gapped! Oh no! I quickly dodged around them and tried to catch on with the swiftly departing field. I was mashing the best I could. I found myself in no mans land: behind the lead group, but in front of a few people that got spit out the back. I tried to mash a little longer by myself in no mans land. I could tell I wasn't catching up very quickly and I was burning matches trying. I was tired. Both my calves started to cramp a bit and I had some side stitches happening. I slowed down to ride with the riders behind me. It was now me, Charles, and two other riders. I noticed that the group up ahead was slowing. I started entertaining the idea of catching them so I could be a part of the final uphill sprint. I wanted to bridge all four of us back to the group. Closer. Closer. Closer.  Soooo tantalizingly close to grabbing someones wheel! The main group made the final turn. But before our group got to the turn, a stupid police van pulled out in front of us and came to a complete stop before the turn!!!!!!!! Couldn't see oncoming traffic around the van....and the van was so wide and to the right side of the road, so you couldn't easily pass on the right. @#$%!!!! Finally, there was room on the right to squeeze through! We four squirted through. The main group was still within range! I start to go again. I'm burning matches. I need some help! So I turn to Charles, "You got anything left, buddy?" Charles was gassed. I looked to the two other guys. Heads shaking. And that's when I knew. Game over, about 1.5 miles from the finish line. I shut it down and cruised with Charles. The two other guys passed us and went on their way. At the steepest part of the hill, I decide to give a little bit of gas and scoot past Charles. Then I caught one of the guys that left us. I thought about catching the second guy, but didn't have the motivation to bring myself into the red to do so.

Not sure where I placed. Didn't see where the results were posted. So, I'll have to wait until the results are posted online.

Lots of mistakes for this race. But which ones mattered? And how much did they matter?

1) I should probably have gotten on my bike at least once in the 5 days before the race

2) Diphenhydramine might have been a bad idea. Maybe. Still undecided.

3) I should have eaten more prior to the race

4) I should have warmed up. I'll have to break my rule of not warming up. I need to be ready to go at the beginning of the race...not 20-30 minutes into the race.

5) I had some GI discomfort during the race. And GI distress on the drive back home. Plus, even though I felt like I drank a lot of fluid, it did not satiate my thirst. My mouth was parched and I was dying of thirst after the race! Maybe that concoction I made is not so great. Must try different fluids and calorie source.

6) Why on earth did both my calves start to cramp? I rarely cramp. And I thought my fluids had more than enough sodium and potassium. I have no answers here...I just don't get it.

7) I'm not strong enough to take pulls. I should not have gotten caught out front leading the group, and for so long. And I should certainly not create a gap to illicit a counter, which required me to get on the gas to keep up with them after they blasted past me.

8) Do NOT get caught so far at the back at the end of the race! I'm still not getting that! When the pack made their violent move, I couldn't get around the riders unable to respond...and when I finally circumnavigated around them, the gap was too big for me to close up. and learn. Charles is normally a much strong rider than me. He was having a bad day...and he was over geared for these hills. I'm sure next time, if we're ever in a similar situation, we could bridge up to the group!

Here's my Strava of the race:

Sarah completed the women's cat 4! She had a rough day as well. She finished 5th...not bad! breaks her podium streak. And she ended up working way too hard for the group of five women out front. Plus, the girl that won refused to take any pulls which rubbed some of the girls the wrong way. Sarah and another rider, Kari, are on different teams but willing to work with each other. I told Sarah that next time, they should box her in out front: pin that rider against the side of the road, with Sarah behind and Kari on her left. Make her fight some wind! up is a KILLER ride. Michigan Mountain Mayhem! 130 miles...with 10,000 feet of climbing. I will not be racing this thing. I just want to survive it. I'm thinking 14 mph average. Tops. No joke. This will be tough for me! We have a whole crew going up to Boyne! Me, Kendal, Rebeka, Sarah, Joe, Dan, Charles, and Laura! Should be fun!