Saturday, January 26, 2008

Desert Geodes

Well, I admit I was not to enthusiastic about this morning's ride. I had a late night, I didn't want to get out of bed, and it was cold outside. In fact it was cold down the road, and there was a bit of a headwind. Today was planned as a bit of a flat ride and it ended up being fairly flat in the end. I kept pressing on not too excited about doing the whole Mesa, Cooldige Mesa thing. I soldiered on through queen creek not really having any get up and go. So, by the time I got to the hunt highway to go around the San Tan's I was thinking of turning around. That is why when I rode around the nw side of the San Tans and saw the sign for Maricopa County Regional Park (Santan regional park), I thought "What the heck, the road looks good and if I hit a dead end I can always turn around huh?". It was a dead end but that is not the whole story. It was actually a fairly good climb heading up to the park, gradual but steady. When I got to the park road (into a pretty stiff headwind I might add, I noticed a little nondescript road going on heading into some hills. Well, it sucked me in fair readers, I had to see where it went. So off I went on a wild desert goose chase. A rather beautiful desert goose chase. This little road kept weaving in and out of passes and was very scening, the reason being is much of the way it was in the park, every once in awhile it would poke out of park boundaries and there would be a house here and there. Then, over the last pass I had to rub my eyes as I could have sworn I was looking at a miniature version of the superstition mountains before me. The pavement ended but the road was really good so I went on a half mile to get a better look at the little valley. It was gorgeous, there were a few houses back there but not too many. Looking back at my maps it is clear why this place had eluded my attention before. The topo maps don't show all the cliffs well so they just look like little mounds. There are not a lot of roads or signs poking back here because this little nook is bordered on 3 sides by the regional park and on the 4th by the gila indian reservation so it is quite literally a dead end culdesac. In my opinion though this little spot is prettier than anything I saw over near the main entrance to the park where all the trails are. Anyway, it truly was a little Geode out in the desert. You never know what is inside the dull rock you pick up until you crack it open. The ride back after that was much cheerier. I found myself riding through Williams gateway airport on the way back and checking out what look like F4 Phantoms sitting out on the tarmac. I ended up with 50 miles. A lot shorter than the original 84 I had planned on but hey, I had fun, isn't that what it is really about?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Of Randonneuring, Depression and Pressing On

Well, this post is cycling related I promise but I have to preface it first with a little info about myself which many may not know about me. I hope it will not lead to prejudice as it likely does when people find out, but I guess if people are really your friends they don't care. You may not know that I share an annoying condition with Peter Gabriel, Tim Burton, Jack London, Jim and Drew Carrey and many many others. Being what I term the Filter in the Family gene pool, I got the receding hairline, and yes indeedy, I inherited bipolar disorder (luckily, not as severe as my Mom has it due to improved meds these days). This creates interesting highs and lows in ones life. Since putting a name to the problem (my Mom went a LONG time without being diagnosed, and luckily when I started to see the symptoms get scary in myself it was much easier to get diagnosed) I have started to think differently about the bumper stickers about people joking about being crazy, or insane or anything like that. I suppose it is sensitivity, but the levity of the statements kind of annoy me, if they really knew it would be a different story and the lightly thrown joke would not be so funny anymore. Anyway, I digress, back to Cycling (the kind that uses the bicycle not the switch between highs and lows) and depression. I have been through a few lows lately, whether they were brought on by overtraining, overscheduling, or life in general I don't know, but I found myself using mental techniques I use in Randonneuring to get through them.
I realize everyone feels down sometimes. When it is classified as chronic is when it lasts longer than a few days or has no cause but is just there for no reason. Personally I can pinpoint the difference in myself in the various solutions my brain presents to the problem. If it is just feeling down, often times spending time with loved ones, faith/religious experiences, or a good bicycle ride can clear the cobwebs. On the other hand, if it is the mind faltering into darkness then the solutions seem darker. Your average person when faced with downs in their life seldomly considers the end of life a solution, and yet I find myself having these thoughts edge in from the edge of darkness often when I am left in a void with nothing to feel but sorrow and overwhelming feelings of despair, fortunately I have many support systems around me and the thoughts are not in themselves overpowering at this time in my life. Often these feelings take days and even weeks to clear even though the degree to which they are evident may only be chronic for a few days.
In the past month or two I have had two of these sessions occur. In both of them I found myself thinking about how in the darkness of night and faced with a worn out mind and body on the edge of exhaustion I often play the one more game with myself. One more leg of the brevet, one more hill, one more turn in the road, just one more and then we will reevaluate. One more hour, If I can get to Picacho, if I can get to La Palma, If I can just get to Arivaca, Sonoita or Tombstone, then I will be able to reassess things. Take the ride one leg at a time Paul, don't look at the whole thing at once. Lets get to Tom Mix first and then move on with things, Lets get to Sahuarita and then look at the next stretch. Just one more. Just a little bit. If you can push on just a little, your outlook will change. All rides have ups and downs. So does life. Press on until the light again breaks the horizon and then starts to dispel the cold and heartless night.
Randonneuring/Ultracycing is itself a way of coping with exhaustion and pain. It is interesting to me that many of the mental strategies it develops in us can be applied in other areas of life. As I found myself struggling to get out of bed and face life on recent mornings, I found myself motivated through the mantra of "one more day" just make it one more day. Stay amid all these people one more hour even if it terrifies you. Talk to one more person before retreating. Smile one more Smile, and of course the most humorous now looking back, "Your thirty seven, that puts you getting your card signed at Arivaca in the great 400k brevet of life if you live to be 74 Paul. You are around halfway there, you can't stop now!". So, yes indeed, all this saddle time does amount to more than recreation after all I suppose. It keeps the phantoms that assail us away one at a time.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

El Diablo de Tortilla

Well, Super Master Rando Ninja was on the prowl again this morning fully decked out as you see above (a picture taken on the brevets last winter) with the exception of his super efficient energy absorption dome cover and his forehead light. Frankly it was cold and the wind blowing out of the NE was not helping matters any. As a matter of fact, in addition to the days mega climbing, there would be heavy winds as well. I believe a few years back a Randonneur declared that a ride might perhaps be an "Epic" ride and that that ride would be the measure of tough rides for some riders for years to come. Well, at times the winds reminded me a lot of the climbs before Arivaca that year when the gusts were blowing through at 40-50 mph. Granted, the gusts today weren't that bad but they did remind me of that.
The morning started with me getting up at 4 am to help my daughter use a breathing appratus to ease her Broncitis that the doctor tells us to do every 4 hours. My wife took the midnight shift and I got the 4 am one figuring I needed to get going early on my ride anyway as I had a busy day ahead and would need to be back by 10. So, when one needs to get a 5 hour ride in, but needs to be back by ten, a five AM start is critical, not to mention good training for 300 and 400k rides which start early in the morning as well.
Fair readers, it was cold. I had an unusual desire to go back to bed, but tricking myself out the door I thought, "If I don't feel better after 10 miles I will come back and go to sleep". Well, 10 miles stretched into 5 hour 62 mile day. "5 hours to go 62 miles" you may ask? "Paul, that averages out to 12.5 mph! You slowpoke!". Well, you are probably not taking into account El Diablo de Tortilla and his ugly stepsister, La Diabla de Canon.
Starting off I found the Aero bars to get me an extra mph even though I was going 12-13 mph. That meant a good headwind. Usually I don't tuck down for anything less than 15 mph or so as it just doesn't make sense. My headlight shone bright into the night and my taillights were working fine. I did see another cyclist on the first stretch which was funny as there weren't that many people out and to see a cyclists was just bizarre. I mean, didn't he know it was cold and dark out here?
Heading up the Apache trail I saw Venus high up in the sky, then it went behind the superstitions and out again. It was beautiful to be out in the darkness climbing up into the Superstition Mtns. Arriving at the top of the first major climb I looked down and saw the lights of Apache Jct far below off in the distance. Then a giant gust of wind hit me and blew me across the road. So, back on task I steeled myself for the large descent before me. It was cold and would be far colder before I got to the bottom but I managed to get through it. I must say I descended a little slower than I usually do as my hands were really cold and not as responsive and then the crosswinds out of the canyons were very erratic.
Somewhere between Canyon Lake (which is starting to look like a lake again now that it is filling up) and Tortilla flat, dawn started to appear. The climb to Tortilla flat was a bit of a drain on the legs and I started to question my plan to ride beyond Tortilla flat. Descending into Tortilla flat I recovered enough that I thought I would give the hill a try. I saw a man walking along the boardwalk in the twighlight but otherwise the Old Western 2 building town was deserted (the guy probably was getting the restaurant ready). Just past the town the creek was flowing over the road so I slowed way down as I didn't need to get wet on this brightening but still cold morning. I made quick work of the 200ft hill just outside of town and was soon staring up at El Diablo de Tortilla. Well, that is what I have decided to call this hill as it is always a devil of a hill and of course it is just outside Tortilla flat so it is the Devil of Tortilla! The headwind howling down the hill did not make climbing it any easier and my heartrate was trying to jump out of zone 3 a lot. Just to let you know how steep this hill is, coming down I stayed at 40-42 mph sitting bolt upright to create an air brake, and also feathering my brakes so this is a big mama devil of a hill. It keeps on like that for 4 and a half quad burning miles. I confess I did take a bit of a breather at one point and crisscrossed the road to lessen the burn for a few seconds. I kept telling myself I would consider turning around after the next turn and several times of that later I was at the top and then over to the end of the pavement sign to "dip" my front tire in the dirt in solemn ceremony showing El Diablo de Tortialla that I had kicked his windy sustained 9%
grade booty.
Going back down I had the song "Fly on the Windscreen" stuck in my head (it's a nice cheery little ditty from Depeche Mode about the randomness of Death and how it could be waiting to take you out at anytime, and I haven't heard it in years). Nice song to have in your head as you whale down the mountain at 40+ mph. I could have shot over 50 easy but personally much over 40 starts to give me medical problems like an agitated and nervous state, incontinence, followed by cries for Mommy and Screams of terror, so 40 is it pretty much it for me. As I said before I was doing everything short of hard braking to reduce speed but this hill is one nasty piece of work. That's why roadies from all over the valley come back here to climb it.
If I were to say that El Diablo had not taken it's toll on my legs I would be lying. They were not jello, but I could feel a good healthy climb in them. The smell in Tortilla flat was blowing away from the road this morning so I was not called to by the Steak and Eggs this morning. I really didn't have time anyway and besides, the restaurant was not yet open (the problem with riding too early I am afraid). After popping up and over the "paltry" little 400ft hill south of Tortilla Flat, I started to see other roadies making their way to El Diablo. I had my side of the road all to myself as I had had the road all morning (one benefit of getting out early) . The first few I saw had a bit of that super ninja look about them but behind them everyone seemed to have made due with arm warmers and leg warmers. Of course, they probably left when the sun was peaking through too so they probably were fine with what they had.
Fair readers, El Diablo's wicked Stepsister is mostly wicked because she comes after El Diablo. The funny thing about this ride is that once you have climbed the 1000+ feet out of Mesa to descend into Canyon Lake, and after you have knocked off the 400 foot hill to Tortilla Flat along with El Diablo, there waiting for you at the end of it all is what I call El Diabla de Canyon. Yes, there waiting for you after you have climbed well over 3000 feet, is El Diabla. She is not as bad as El Diablo in that she has brief respites of less steep sections to let you recover and of course is your last major climb of the day, but on tired legs, she can be an evil mistress indeed!
I can't say that I didn't suffer, but neither did I throw my bike over the cliff in a fit of exhausted rage. The thing about these long hills is mostly to just set a sustainable pace and check the mind out or enjoy the scenery. I don't think racers do this but I find it helps the hills to melt away until at last you are at the top being blown along by a deceptive tailwind that will of course ditch you like a gorgeous supermodel after the money is gone. Yes, that nice headwind which burned so many extra calories and chilled my bones nicely decided now was the time to go away. So, although the rest of the ride was mainly downhill, it was not as fast as I hoped it would be. Although when all was said and done I rolled into my driveway even with the nasty headwinds, the extra clothes (jacket, tights, long sleeve jersey, balaclava, winter gloves), I had shaved 2 minutes off of my time after Thanksgiving last year. So, I am in better shape a month and a half later and find my higher handlebars do indeed help, although I did have a bit of a sore back at the end all told. Topo Usa says I climbed 5700 feet. Even subtracting a bit for Topo USA exageration that is a fine amount of climbing for a 100k ride I think.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Return of the INTERVALS!

Yes fair readers, with a switch in focus back to cycling the mode of workouts has changed. Out comes the forlorn heartrate monitor, off goes the jacket on cold mornings, and up ratchets the resolve and sweat. Mind you, intervals for me are probably a lot slower than other riders I know but hey, you have to start somewhere.
Being wednesday and the middle of my cycling week, it was time to stretch the limits. I originally was going to leave the house with jacket, long sleeve dayglo jersey and tights but remembering the heat generated during heavy efforts opted to leave the jacket behind. Having not done a time trial to judge lactate threshold yet I estimated it at 161 beats per minute for me and I don't think I am too far off after todays workout.
Being eager to get into the intervals it was annoying that it took me about 15 minutes to actually warm up before I could start them proper. Another annoyance is traffic lights so my intervals are occasionally pure intervals and sometimes interrupted intervals. I know these are not the most efficient intervals but they are a heck of a lot more efficient than no intervals. I found once I got into the intervals that I was dressed perfect for the 41 degree temperatures. Next month in the brevet if it is this cold I will likely need a jacket as the slower pace means colder percieved temperature.
Riding at between 85-90% of LT I was holding 22 mph much of the way and a few times hit 24 (although admittedly during that interval I hit 100% LT and 88% of maximum heartrate so I was overdoing it a bit). It was so nice to just let loose on the bike again and cut through the wind (of which in the first 7 miles a 10mph headwind held speeds down a bit and likely cost me a PR on time to work on the roadbike). All in all I made it into work in around an hour and 15 minutes so it was not a shabby workout especially seeing as I was on the roadbike and not the recumbent. Two or three of those a week and I should have no trouble beating my time on the 300k I set last December. I don't think I will beat the 14 hours and 23 minute time of last February which is my best time (but wouldn't it be cool if I did?).
Anyway, It's good to be back training for brevets on the roadbike. I'm supposed to get a new stem in the mail anyday to help me get my bars up a little further to ease the backstrain so I can push harder over the long term without back pain. So, things are looking good, life is great, and I am looking forward to a Saturday of climbing out back of Tortilla flat.

Looking down at the little hill in front of the long and relentless 9% grade behind Tortilla Flat. A 3 mile climb of 1000 feet elevation gain (never mind the fact you climbed about 1700 feet just to get here from east Mesa and will have another 1300 to climb to get out after you are done with it).

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Well, hmmm, You know what guys?

I am not a marathoner. Nor will I be one anytime soon. In the process of training for this marathon I have found out a number of things about myself. Long runs are ok, short runs can be fun. I am a really slow runner and long runs have some good times but a lot of downtimes and boredom. On the other hand, long rides have some down times but lots of good times.
My decision to not do the marathon in 3 weeks comes about as a result of many things. First thing was the foot injury which resulted from bad shoes, then there was the head cold brought about through trying to train for a marathon and bicycle commute at the same time (sickness is just one side effect of overtraining, the other is pretty serious depression which I suffered with on Sunday). Today I had to ask myself why. I will not meet my goal time at this point with all the training I have lost (and the original goal wasn't that fast anyway), It is no longer fun, and last of all but most important, my knees are taking longer and longer to recuperate from these runs and this stupid marathon has already sidetracked me enough from my first love - cycling (well, we are talking love of activities or inanimate objects here of course, my wife and family are the top of the living list). So, in a matter of minutes my whole spring training program turns around and the world seems a little brighter. I can't bike commute and train for a marathon at the same time so the marathon training has to go.
So, this opens a world of opportunity. I can participate in the brevet series this spring (this weekend's 200k is a no go since I still have a head cold) and am planning on the 300k in February. I may run my 200k permanent next week though as I will be missing the 200k brevet, I will have to see how the weekend looks. I also can bike commute worry free without regard to how it will affect my other training and will no longer have to worry about sore muscles from weekend workouts and joint pain. So, I think despite my forays into running and swimming I am deep down really a cyclist and there is just nothing at all to be done about that. So, I guess I am condemned to riding over hill and desert dale with a smile on my face, a helmet on my head and the wind in my ears.

Sometimes I dream

Sitting under a florescent glare,
I gaze outside and ponder,
How I wish to be out there,
By bike, to pedal and wander.

My attention outside the window,
On an ocean starts to drift,
To roads beyond the city glow,
Where troubles, pain, and sorrow rift

To ride! Amid the cactus and hills!
To glide, cross valleys and plains,
To ride the rollers and endless rills,
Forgetting sorrow, and soulful pains.

Yet trapped behind a reinforced wall,
I must bide until the time arrives,
To cast off my malaise and the pall,
riding my bike down endless drives.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ouch. PR Woohoo! Ouch.

Well, when I started the run on New Years day I knew I was in trouble in the first mile. Usually I will run a mile with dead legs just to make sure they are dead and not trying to trick me out of training. Well, they still felt dead after a mile. Hmm, I had two choices, although I really only had one if I still wanted to run the marathon on Feb 2nd. Of course I chose to stay out as I have too much training invested to bag on this. I did determine though that I would walk every couple of miles or less if I needed it. This approach led to a slower pace overall of course, but I think it was the right choice. Getting out a little later to have warmer temperatures was very nice as I was able to leave the jacket and the tights at home. On the otherhand, I had always thought that winds didn't affect runners that much. I now know that although a runner does not notice his percieved wind while he is running, a headwind is definitely noticeable and really slows the pace. The upside of running longer distances each week is that the previous weeks distance seems easier. This weeks distance hurt. The last 2 - 3 miles were really taking their toll on my knees and I can't say that they were fun. The 14-15 miles before that though were actually quite enjoyable. I had a new route that took me down to the canal/floodway and by a ritzy golf course and then up the Roosevelt fitness trail and back (with a quick loop through my neighborhood to get us over 18 miles. All told I feel it in my knees today. Also I am glad I am not doing my last long run until a week from Saturday. Having injured my foot a month ago has really screwed up my training schedule. I figure I lost 2-3 weeks of effective training (and I suppose the 300k brevet didn't help matters but I don't regret it). I did get some new running shoes out of the deal though. They seem to be working fine by the way. I ran for 3 hours and 50 minutes yesterday and I didn't have so much as a twinge in my right foot (last run it started to twinge a bit towards the end) so I think for all intents and purposes it is better. These long runs are really hard. I am not sure if I will do another marathon after this one. Not that I have a problem excersizing for great lengths of time, It just seems running requires a lot more effort. Then again, when I first start cycling long distances that was hard too. Hmmmm.