February 16, 2012

It's just a cycle

I haven't ridden a single mile since the last 200km on February 2nd.  
I've hung it up, but only temporarily.
The last ride unfolded with relative "ease", what with the 50+F temperature, clear roads, and light winds; however, the calendar still reads "February" - and for me, mentally, things become difficult during this month.  What I have to complain about, or struggle through, I can't possibly imagine; we've dipped into the single digits exactly once this year, and the region received a touch of snow this week, but, it really wasn't that bad - so if that episode comprises our "winter", what's the problem?  I *should* be riding, not wasting, this rare and moderate February!  The snow has since melted away, yet, even with temperatures climbing, I don't feel a yearning to grab the bike and ride.  I would be foolish to resist my own, natural cycle.
Year after year, the second month's posts read nearly the same.  Dreary, dreadful, laments about how tired I am, how pointless it all has become, blah, blah, blah.... the signs of trying too hard, flaming out, shrinking into the shadows of a long, hard winter's season.  One grows tired of pulling on so many layers, squinting into a biting headwind, fumbling with gloved fingers ... and, even this year with those elements partly absent, one at least feels an inkling of having been riding in a continuous streak for one or two weeks too long.  Time for a break.
"Did you ride today?"  It escapes me why this question comes so often, now, while I rest - more than any other time of year.  Guilt?  No... not this year.  For once I am content with my decision and don't find it necessary to make excuses.  Unfortunately, the service life of some of my gear has done that for me.  Personal breaks aside, a string of equipment failures has popped up - so, the bicycle needs a rest, too, it seems.  Wheels are rebuilt, spares in rotation, tires on-order... all in good time; I nearly beg the UPS man to take his time, afford me these minor excuses so that my brain might rest ... just for a couple weeks.  Come Monday, it'll be alright...
Surely as I write this, though, the next distance attempt looms.  I have to maintain some semblance of an 'edge' to my blade, so cross-training continues.
I'm sleeping well, eating well, training well -- all while making note of the sun's gentle march northward on dawn's horizon.  I wait, patiently, with my saddle at arms length, for that moment to arrive -- when my helmet buckle clicks home and pedals engage with their satisfying reports, I will set off into early Spring, renewed, refreshed and ready.  Ready for ride "number nine"....OH yes....
"...wait for it.... now."

February 6, 2012

Smiles & Shadows - The Groundhog Day 217k

The groundhog never saw us coming.

Randy, Terry and I set off into the darkness in 40ºF temps; temperatures optimistic for the "high" on a February day in Kansas, and yet we were planning on breaking 60 later in the afternoon.  I had planned this ride date about three weeks back, honestly not knowing WHAT to expect.  January was a roller coaster, weather-wise.  How could the "other shoe" not drop by the time early February arrived?  My plan was to take the earliest possible ride date in the month in case I would have needed to reschedule due to ice, snow, impassible-by-bike conditions.  So much for THAT idea - not even needed, not even close.  Even today, as I type this, the skies have opened with heavy rain and north winds, low-40's, chilly... and still, for February, that wouldn't have been all that bad.  If the kids hadn't been out of school today, requiring my presence at home, I *would* have been out there in the drearier conditions - and, yet, the weather still reminds me of March.  Very strange... and makes me wonder what March itself has in store.

Performance, speed, gains...patience, Grasshopper... Thursday's ride - for me - involved "painting the fence", and "waxing the car".  Spinning.  I took a leaf of advice provided by Alex last month and made a concerted effort to stay off the big ring and keep the cadence high for this ride, and for the last several commutes.  I don't want to start going numbers-crazy, and I have no plans to get a computer that will provide cadence - but, I do want to keep the revs up for a few more months and try not to do my usual gear mashing.  The mental note seemed to work; when I felt the revs drop I shifted and spun... and the chainlube markings on my cassette afterwards confirm I was at least 2 gears taller on the cluster than usual.  This worked out very well, and I feel surprisingly fresh today - though I can definitely feel that I was seated a lot more than usual.  With the motivation of some very strong riders in Terry and Randy, however, I still managed to finish the 217km (135 miles) in 10 hours, 40 minutes, roughly.  Not bad for total time!  My rolling average ended up being 15.4MPH, wonderful for this time of year!

I'm conscious of potential burn-out with all these super-nice weather days for 200k rides; mentioned last month, speed must be tendered a little in the "off-season" to ensure recovery if performance gains are to be realized.  I can already sorta feel it happening - I still want to chase riders faster than I am, and I'm tired.  Note to self: SLOW DOWN, let them go!  While I'm not 100% sure what goal I'm shooting for, I maintain a desire for speed-at-distance and testing myself at longer and longer events later this spring and summer, and a large part of that means following SOME kind of methodology.  I don't know, honestly, how those guys down in Texas (though they've had more snow than WE have this winter!) keep it going year-round.  The mileages are higher, the average speeds higher, and, somehow, the smiles are wider!  One of these days I'll figure it out - but I have a strong notion it comes from the tedium of commuting.  On that note, I'm purposefully looking towards a light February, to help the mind reset from winter.

"What winter?"  Aside from a frozen face back in December, I don't recall enduring much in the way of winter weather; even on either side of the December ride date were 50F days!  With clear skies overhead, we enjoyed an amazing sunrise and saw our shadows all day long, confirming there are 6 more weeks of whatever-we're-calling-this-season.  I fully expect a blizzard on the solstice in March.  Thursday, though, what can I say?  Gentle headwinds on the trip down to La Cygne, comfortable, unrushed stops along the way, plenty of clock to play with, lots to see, confused birds singing, hawks hunting, the occasional squirrel... and DOGS.  Lots of dogs.  I lost count, seriously, but far more than usual for this route.  I should know... and I should get a special prize; this trip marked my 12th running of the Free-State Border Patrol route.  I suppose I should have expected this, having designed it with a start location only a mile from home; I can't ignore the convenience factor of this route.  When I can skip having to pack the van, having to remember this and that, having to figure transit time to a remote parking lot, I feel more at-ease like I'm giving myself a small break - plus, the route seldom gets old.  Strangely, the Border Patrol seems shorter and easier, because I've ridden it so much.  I keep thinking I'll end up with some weird, Bill Murray flashbacks or hallucinations by riding this route SO much.. but, thus far it hasn't happened.  I could use a good hallucination now and again... weird recurring theme for THIS ride, I sporadically kept "seeing" approaching cyclists up the road, but in each instance a trash bin, mailbox, or some kind of roadside ornament eventually materialized.

Perceptions of ease notwithstanding, I have to do the time and the distance... ten hours plus requires food.  Nutrition delivery:  I'm still playing around with delivery systems - this latest foray I've employed a miniature musset bag composed of mesh hung from a lanyard around my neck.  The mesh allows crumbs to fall through to the ground, keeps the weight low, and it holds enough chow for any distance between controls.  First run, not so bad; although it was difficult with the limited dexterity of gloved hands while riding in the dark - and I ended up with an interesting abrasion on my neck afterwards.  Still, having food at easy reach ensured my tank was topped off all day, and as an added bonus the small bag became my third hand at controls; I could carry around my wallet and route card and such and have both hands free for bottle filling and other duties.  Granted, back pockets also do this, but it seemed to make my control routine smoother and faster.  Surprisingly, contrary to my expectations, it didn't get in my way while riding or climbing.  Ultimately, I can't get around the neck chafing so I may just suck it up and go back to a stem bag, which also has worked in the past.  I have a problem adding bags and "clutter" to a bicycle which has (what I feel are) very clean lines and simplicity... but, time and again, if the food isn't readily at-hand, I go too deep into deficit.  I'll come up with something just in time for winter to be over, when my back pockets will be open and free again.

Nutrition this time:
Perpetuem Solids - 18 in total, spread over the 10 hours. (3 = 100 cals)
Hammer Gel - single serve packs - 3 total, 90 cals each
Casey's hashbrown - single (unsure on cals)
Peanut Butter sandwich crackers - 22 total, across 3 controls/3 pks purchased
Carboplex, 1 serving, 220 cals/52g carbs - at La Cygne on return (note, should have been at halfway)
Powerade Zero (0 cals, delivery for Carboplex + electrolytes)
GU Brew electrolyte tabs dissolved in water, all day (5 cals ea.)

Not bad - but, I think a bit of a deficit, overall.  In the last 20 miles I began to feel a bit of an energy drop off, but nothing nearly as dramatic as last month's mid-ride near-bonk.  The difference at previous rides; at each control that carries them I'd consume something from the Powerbar folks, and that may be the little extra to keep me on top.  On this excursion, the single hashbrown at Casey's represents the only real-food intake on the whole ride.  Adding the Powerbar selections (at least) back into the mix, even if I pocket them and eat them on the move (as I did the PB crackers), should help.  I did well in the hydration department - maybe too well - requiring far more roadside nature breaks than I'd prefer and some sections of extended discomfort where roadside nature-break "shelters" didn't present themselves.
We pick up the action at sunrise, on US-69 highway's wide shoulder.  Warm air dances around my head as we three, spaced a little bit apart from one another, make our way to the first control at La Cygne.  We've been lucky, timing the traffic for schools and those headed to work rather well.  Finally, off the big highway, we regroup and chat for a bit while taking in a few snacks.  There were nice occasional breaks like this off-and-on during the ride, and I liked it - compared to a few years back, I enjoy having time in the bank.  On Jingo Road, the dog-festival began;  first it was the 399th street crew, then more action from a big black Labra-Doodle a mile later.  I kept to my small-ring theory, letting them (hopefully) run themselves out of gas before my counterparts arrived - at this point I think we still maintained spacing at about 1/4-1/8th mile between us, before finally regrouping where K-152 and Jingo Road meet.

We stopped here briefly for another regroup and a nature break atop the "Welcome to La Cygne" ridge.  What a view!  Then came the long downhill into the La Cygne valley - always a treat - and the first control.  I decided this time out to skip the usual cheesy potato bites, recalling sluggishness during climbing on my last trip to Pleasanton - the result, combined with my spin drills, seemed to level-out the climbs before me.  Not record-breaking speed, but easier somehow; even Flathead Pass felt controlled and steady, instead of the usual method of trying to figure out how much I can give before inevitably collapsing into the saddle at the summit.  I'm told the real trick involves continuing this kind of training until I can successfully feel the same level of control and ease, but in larger gears.

More dog encounters for the return leg, but more smiles than frowns.  With such weather, a few dog chases can't possibly get me down.  At this point I've shed some layers; the warmth of the day continues to build.  Eventually, I'd be in short sleeves with uncovered ears and fingers...in February!  Amazing...and far from wishful thinking - at times I found myself genuinely HOT rolling northbound with a tailwind and full sunshine on my back.  Complaints?  No way!  After another unplanned nature stop, we fly north on the shoulder of US-69 towards Rutlader, KS., slowing ticking off the miles towards the finish.  I find myself wishing I'd booked a 300km permanent only to have the extra time to soak it all in.  Sure, days like these will become the norm in only a few more weeks, but, to ENJOY the February permanent?  Bliss!

All-in-all the rest of the ride proceeded very well.  We slipped out of Louisburg (usually busy with traffic in the afternoon) without issue, enjoyed the scenery as we practically coasted through Aubry, tailwind increasing, and on to Stilwell.  After another brief rest at 199th near US-69, only 10 miles remained.  I was almost sad for the ride to be wrapping up, but thicker clouds began to cast over the skies - the promise of Friday's rainy forecast beginning to show its dreary face.  Still, keeping up the spin -- and, admittedly, feeling tired (calories, or all those extra revs?) -- we geared down, enjoyed the high-speed blast down Antioch Hill, and slowly ticked off the remaining miles on the ample shoulder of 175th street.  Finally back in Olathe, the 7-Eleven quickly came back into sight; a celebratory chocolate milk recovery drink wrapped up the day's c-store fare.  Not a bad way to end...

Equipment note: 
Upon finishing the January Princeton Roundabout route for last month's R-12 grab, I'd begun to notice a new "knock" or "thunk", timed with each wheel revolution, when braking the rear wheel.  Still dead-true as always, even after 2-years use (thanks to the skill of Dale at BikeSource, who builds a terrific wheel), I couldn't quite figure out what the noise was all about.  A sticker?  Wheel seam?  Looking closer, days later and after more mileage from a few commutes, I discovered a crack in the side of the rim on the braking surface.  After just these couple years, and as a byproduct of simply using the brakes, the machined braking surface had worn thin and had started to separate; tire pressure then caused a 2" long section to begin bending outward, causing the once-per-rotation "thunk".  Uh-oh...

Knowing I'd be putting myself and others at risk by continuing to use the wheel, especially on a 217km ride, I worked quickly in the days leading up to this ride to procure a spare, and ended up purchasing a Mavic Aksium.  My preference, of course, would have been a rando-specific wheel similar to what I'd been running, but time was too short to make it happen.  Since my garage was without a spare rear wheel anyways, the Aksium simply fills that role now... or does it?  Several folks I know have run or are running these "entry-level" pre-built "race" wheels on rando-bikes and commuter-bikes alike and have had terrific luck, so the choice was easy.  After this ride, I'm having a hard time justifying the purchase of a "rando-style" (32-spoke, 3-cross laced, silver box-section rim, mid-range road cassette hub) to replace what failed.  The Aksium rolls fast and smooth and is no heavier or lighter than what it replaced.  The freehub noise rates a bit louder than I prefer, but not annoyingly so, yet, aside from that mechanical observation -- remedied easily with a drop of oil on each pawl -- aesthetics comprise the only remaining criticism.

So, spare???  A wheel this good?  We'll see.... I do prefer a certain look to my bikes, but I'm having trouble faulting this wheel simply because it doesn't look "retro".  Functionally, it represents a terrific value, and may be on the bike for a while.  Hard to ignore the lack of spokes, however; the Aksium has 20, and my preferred set-up has 32 - ride quality, field serviceability are potential concerns:  but, in the same breath I've replaced a spoke on a Mavic Ksyrium before using a FiberFix spoke, and managed to finish that ride - so, should I be concerned?  We'll see.
March is coming.... along with it, spring...  and nothing but good thoughts fill my head.  Stay tuned!  Number 9 is next!!
The rest of February involves contiuation of spinning, patience, and "taking it easy"... if I ride very much at all, that is....I think this method will prove best towards guarantee a good springtime campaign.

Stay tuned!

Songs in my head:

Thanks for reading!

Check out Randy's superb post (with photos!) here

February 2, 2012

February 200k completed...I think?

I mean to say, I THINK today falls in the month of February!  Along with Randy R., and Terry B. from St. Joseph, MO., I completed today's 217km Border Patrol route (my 12th personal running of this route, upon counting - yikes) in the best conditions I could have hoped for, considering the month.  We started out under clear skies, light breezes, and 41ºF on the thermometer.  Diving in and out of valleys, the temperature did fluctuate - but, all-in-all it was very warm, even pre-dawn.  Up came the sun, and up shot the temps - eventually topping somewhere in the lower-60's.  Acclimated to colder riding from the last few months, I heated up quickly, and ended the day with only knee warmers remaining in place... and in the end I wish I'd ditched THEM, too.

Short sleeves in February, in KANSAS????  Un-real!!!!!  LOVE IT!  More to come... time for food and rest.... 

R-12 update:  this marks #8.... four to go!!!

I hope everyone managed to get out today and enjoy this amazing weather!
Full post to come!