2012 was not one of my top performance years on the bike. With less than 3800 miles, it was my lowest total in 10 years. I was really slowed down by four physical ailments, none of them major, but all debilitating: acute bronchitis (June), back strain (August), mild concussion (November) and influenza Type A (December). I’m still getting over the flu.
It’s hard to imagine that two years ago I was riding Quadzilla and three years ago riding the Endless Mountains 1240. For 2013, my goals are more modest.
1. Complete a hilly Super Rando series. Because of scheduling conflicts, this probably means riding a 200k in PA on March 23, a 300k in NJ on May 4, a 400k in Pa on 5/18 and a 600k in the Catskills on 6/8.
2. Volunteer with the wife, Jill, on the Endless Mountains 1240k. I think my experiences in 2009, while epic I’m sure, were enough to last more than four years.
3. Get back into a healthier exercise routine, and keep the mileage at about 4,000.
4. Continue toward the long-range goal of 100,000 lifetime riding miles. I’m now about 86,000, so I’m about four years away if I can stay healthy enough to average about 4,000 per year.
5. I think 4,000 is a good mileage total. That still permits some long rides but allows for some balance as well with family and friends.
We’ll see. It’ll be back to the gym tomorrow morning at 5:15. The February 2, 21013 PA 200k, my first target event, is only four weeks and change away.
Anyone who stumbles onto this site may wonder where it’s been. Well, I have been meaning to write entries, but haven’t. Part of the issue is that I haven’t done any randonneuring rides since the last entry. I’d planned to enter the NYC 200k in September, but threw out my back trying to lift a ridiculously heavy box at work. There was absolutely no reason for doing this except vanity and showing off. I suppose I got what I deserved.
It is now mid-November. My on the bike mileage of about 3500, has me on a pace to do just slightly less than 4,000 for the calendar year 2012. That’s more than 10 miles a day, impressive for most people, but the lowest for me in 10 years. I’m still planning on organizing the Princeton 200k again this spring, enter a full brevet series and volunteer on the PA 1200k. But I don’t have a real, bonafide, challenging goal for next year. I am also looking to get a new rando bike. I don’t know if I should get a custom frame or buy off the rack. Mail order or in person. Carbon fiber, titanium or still?
Maybe more on this soon . . . A blog is a little like a garden.Neglect it, and it gets gradually overrun, in this case by spam messages, which I have to delete out of the filter.
There is strange thing that sometimes happens when you are forced off the bike for a couple of weeks. You come back stronger for the time off.
In mid-March 2008, just as I was in the middle of my base training, I crashed and got substantial road rash on my left side. It slowed down my training schedule, but I ended up riding very strongly in August and September, setting a five-minute wattage figure of 339 that is still my best and posting my best time (6 hours 33 minutes) and average wattage figure (172) for the Hillier Than Thou time trial.
This year bouts of bronchitis in February and June have probably set me back about three weeks each, in terms of training, including having to miss the Whiteface Uphill Bike Race for the first time since 2004. But over the last week or so, there are signs that I am coming back strongly. Last week I rode well on a 76-mile tempo ride with Neil C., Mark H. and Gina. This week was supposed to be a rest week, in preparation for next week’s PA 200k. I decided to do some wattage testing, just to see if the numbers backed up my good feelings.
I have two favorite roads for testing wattage, both of them uphill. I find I generate more watts on uphill courses than flat ones. For one-minute wattage tests I like White Pine-Beekman Road, which is about four miles away. For five-minute tests, I prefer Dutchtown-Zion road, which is a 30-minute car drive and about a 75-minute bike ride away.
This past Wednesday was the Fourth of July holiday, so I decided to try the Dutchtown route to see how my training was progressing. I’d just ridden the hill in 313 watts a week or two before. With its steepest pitches in the final half, it is a good testing hill, as the steeper slopes counteract the natural tendency to lose power during the test.
I rode the climb consistently and was pleasantly surprised to find that my wattage average was 323. That’s about 15 percent off my all-time high in 2008 (339) but equivalent to my bests for the years 2011 (323) and 2010 (324) and much better than anything so far this year. It is not the only indicator of strength on the bike, but it’s a good one.
After riding a hilly 48 miles with the Princeton Freewheelers on a club ride yesterday in 99-degree heat, I at first thought about simply taking today off and resting. Then I thought a recovery ride was a good idea. Then again I thought, what the heck, I’ll just do my leisurely eight-mile out and back and throw in an intense one-minute wattage test on White Pine. I was back in 35 minutes.
Since I started keeping track of wattage in February 2006, I have attempted wattage tests on White Pine Road more than 50 times, with results ranging from 369 watts to 512 watts. Most of the time the figure ranges from 400-450 watts. One-minute wattage tests your ability to sustain short spikes of power, especially useful when you are trying to close a gap to another rider. But it also seems to roughly measure your overall climbing strength, though not quite as effectively as a five-minute test does. But the one-minute test is much more convenient to do.
White Pine is not the perfect course. Unfortunately, it tends to flatten out toward the top, making it hard to keep your wattage from falling. I got a good head of steam at the bottom, standing for the first 20 seconds or so, then sitting down, mashing the pedals in my highest 52-11 gear, and trying to compensate for the steadily flattening terrain. As usual, I was gasping for breath.
When I finished, I felt like I’d made a good effort. I wasn’t thinking in terms of surpassing my personal best set two years ago of 512 watts, but thought that I should easily better my best so far this year of 419 watts, set in late May, just before I got ill again. Maybe even 450 was possible.
When I got home and ran the data through the Training Peaks software, I found to my surprise that I’d averaged 499 watts, my second best performance ever. In fact, the best figure I’d managed in the two previous years was 467.
I have no magic secret to explain this. I haven’t trained unusually hard and have no major goals for this summer to provide extra motivation. I intend to ride some centuries and 200ks. I’m thinking about trying to get a group to attempt averaging 20 mph for one of those centuries.
Getting sick is no fun. But it’s nice to know that some forced time off the bike doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.
Since my last post nearly six weeks ago, illness and work stresses have kept me from posting. Well, that’s not strictly true. I didn’t get around to posting and I’m blaming illness and work stress. Here’s what’s been going on:
I signed up for the PA 600k but never rode it, because I had too much going on at work and couldn’t afford to spend the two days doing the ride and the third day recovering (I have returned to work on the Monday morning after a 600k and my brain is usually mush.) Then, a couple of days later, what started as a minor cough morphed into bronchitis and then an asthma fueled lung ailment of some kind. I got these spells of intense fatigue and a nasty hacking cough. Then Jill and I went on vacation to New England for 9 days. I was sick the entire vacation but it seemed to clear my head and I returned with some new ideas.
I wasn’t concentrating well at work. The new idea was going in very early. My commute, which is 45 minutes without extra traffic, was routinely lasting an hour or more in either direction. I figured by coming in early, I could get more done without distractions. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to do most of my exercising in the evening. I’m still trying to work all of that out.
Now, four weeks after I got the bronchitis, I’m more or less getting back to normal. I’m doing less coughing and the fatigue is gone. I rode this morning with Neil, Mark and Gina for 76 miles, the most I’d ridden since the PA 400k, and my power numbers 139/165 were not bad considering that the temperature was 97 degrees when we finished. My goal of completing a fourth Super Randonneur PA series is gone. Now I’m thinking about riding a century with some friends at a pace of 20 mph. I may even be a little more regular on this blog.
Despite a chafed butt, burning feet and aching legs, I usually finish brevets in an upbeat mood. This did not happen yesterday on the PA 400k.
My problem was not a lack of good companionship. I rode at various times and enjoyed conversation with familiar faces like Bill O. and Ed D. and newcomers to randonneuring like Michelle H. It was not for lack of beautiful views of the Pennsylvania valleys and mountains. There were plenty of those. No, I just did not feel good. And part of that, make that most of that, was my fault.
On Thursday I woke up with a stomach ailment. If I hadn’t had an important assignment at work, I would have stayed home. Even Friday things weren’t staying down the way they usually did.
Like an army, a randonneur travels on his/her stomach. When your body isn’t getting the food and liquid it needs, its performance starts to deteriorate. That’s what happens when your healthy. Throw in a malfunctioning stomach that isn’t metabolizing nutrients and you’ve got a real problem.
My wife Jill, as usual, saw the warning signs and expressed concern. A stomach ailment and a 400k bike ride don’t mix very well. Why don’t you skip this event, she asked. I assured her that I was getting better but, if I felt a recurrence was coming on, I wouldn’t go. But I went, despite a little remaining discomfort in my digestive tract, which was Contributing Factor No. 1. My fault.
Contributing factor No. 2, also my fault, was riding with the big dogs early in the ride. I have missed a lot of riding time this year and wanted to gauge my fitness against the front riding group. It should have been a warning when I was gasping for breath and my heartrate was skyrocketing at the top of hills, while better conditioned riders were carrying on normal conversations.
My goal was a sub-20 minute time. My times in the three previous PA 400ks I had ridden had been in that range, 19:10 in 2007, 20:10 in 2009 and 21:25 in 2010.. I had finished the 300k this year in 14:57. I just had to average 12.5 mph, including stops, to do it.
The 2010 PA 400k ride should have been a red flag. I rode that year with Shane B. and, again, rode with the front group too much to start out. The course lends itself to this, because it is primarily downhill for the first 30 miles or so. That year temperatures rose into the 90s and, the combination of heat and riding beyond my capabilities resulted in our slowing down considerably later in the ride.
Heat, in fact, was Contributing Factor No. 3. It got into the 80s, instead of the forecast mid-70s, and combined with the stomach bug and irresponsible pace, did my in. And when I say did me in, I mean the letters DNF (Did Not Finish) were a frequent visitor to my thoughts.
This year’s strong finish in the 300k provided another clue, had I seen it. On that day two weeks ago, my frame pump fell off my bike and the main pack sped away and I never caught most of them. That was just as well. I set my own comfortable pace and even eventually gained two compatible riding companions.
Tour de France Commentator Paul Sherwin often speaks of a rider having to “dig deeply into his reserves.” His assumption, which I think is valid, is that an athlete can overextend his/herself during an event for a short-term gain, and therefore compromise his performance long-term. I was overextending a body already compromised by a recent illness.
I rode a 16 mph pace for the first four hours, covering 62.5 miles, a quarter of the course. I covered the last 187.5 miles in 18:50. That’s about a 10 mph pace, including stops. Take away the illness, take away the irresponsible riding approach and there was probably a 20-hour time in my legs. In fact, I wobbled into the hostel finish at 22:50.
A man has got to know his limits but I seem to ignore mine all too often. I hope to be healthier and wiser for the 600k in two weeks.
This was the first of three four weeks in the third and last base cycle of my training.
This is my 10th year in randonneuring. Five times I have completed the super randonneur series of 200k, 300k, 400k and 600k. I have set a goal this spring of completing another PA series, which would be my fourth, in addition to my two series completed in NJ. Saturday was the 300k, leaving out of the familiar Weisel Youth Hostel in Quakertown, PA.
There were 30 riders who began the 300k route and three others who opted for 200k. I now had two 200ks completed over the past month or so, but my mileage was still under 1000 for the year, so I had lingering questions about my endurance. It seems as though there is a rule of 2/3rds in play here. If you have successfully completed 2/3rds of the distance in an earlier ride, you are decently prepared for the extra length.
The super randonneur series is well calibrated to building endurance. I’m not saying that you don’t have to put in other miles to be ready, but to some extent just completing the 200k gets you ready for the 300, which prepares you for the 400, etc. But no matter how many times you complete the series, it seems like a daunting task when you’re doing it.
I’d completed a PA 200k with Roy in late March, and struggled to keep up with him. At that time I had gone seven months without riding any brevets, as family commitments made it impossible for me to ride long distances. We finished the ride in 9:55, which put us in the bottom third. Given the strong, determined riders that RBA Tom Rosenbauer attracts for the PA rides, there is certainly no disgrace in that. But I thought I was feeling strong in the last couple of weeks and thought I could do better on the 300k.
The 4:00 a.m. start was tough. It was dark, I only got 2 hours of sleep and I kept worrying that I forgot something. (I had, but only a bandanna, not a helmet or shoes.) I started with the pack but then my frame pump fell off the bike, as I hit a big pothole. By the time I remounted, the main pack was gone. That was just as well, as I wanted to pace myself on this ride.
I decided to aim for a time below 15:00. Last year I rode with Shane and Roy and we finished in 15:05, but I had nearly twice as many miles in my legs. During the first 38-mile leg of the 188-mile course, I picked my way through the last half of the field, until I caught a large pack of about a dozen riders in Bethlehem PA at the bottom of the Route 378 hill. I rode with that pack until the first controle, where we arrived just as the convenience store was opening.
Walt P., who also had not been riding as much lately, joined me for the start of the second leg, but his usually very strong climbing legs were not there yet and I pulled ahead on the climb of Blue Mountain. I past several riders on the climb and then caught three more at the foot of the descent, including Dan B., a PBP finisher last year who decided to ride with me. We would end up staying together the rest of the ride. I told him about my sub-15 hour goal, but he wasn’t convinced he was going to be able to do it.
Walt caught back up a little before the second controle at mile 68, which was the apple pie and hot dog place in Water Gap, PA. It turns out that there were about eight riders in front of us of the 30 starters. At the start of the next leg, Dan was convinced we had taken a wrong turn. I called out to him that it was correct, but he was confused and continued to backtrack down a hill. Not wishing to add an extra hill, I kept on and shortly after the crossing of the Delaware into NJ, I caught up to Frederick C., and we ended up staying together, along with Dan, who caught up at the Hainesville control.
My power meter wasn’t working so I was just judging speed by my watch and the cue sheet. We reached the half-way point at mile 94 in about 7 hours. That meant that we could break 15 hours with a 9-hour second half. That sounded reasonable, although my legs were already protesting loudly. Somehow, though, we kept going through the next two controles at a slightly lower pace and made it back to the hostel in 14:57, having achieved my goal. It was Frederick’s longest ride to date, so quite an accomplishment for him. Dan has completed many PA 300ks but he still seemed happy with the result this time. This time we finished in the top third, which for me is always a challenge on one of Tom’s rides.
I definitely could feel I was getting some endurance back, which is a good thing. Now it’s on the PA 400k in two weeks and then the 600k two weeks after that.
During the cold weather months of November through March, I spend a good deal of my exercise time on the stationary bike. It has a calorie counter that my TrainingPeaks software converts to watts, so I can get a pretty fair wattage reading for my workouts. I can even compare inside riding with outside riding.
Inside riding presents certain problems, particularly too little motivation and too much heat. Unless you have a nice strong fan blowing at your face, which I can’t seem to rig at the gym, you end up in pools of sweat after 20 minutes. You can get the automatic rush of air outside on the bike. The problems outside depend upon whether you ride alone. Riding alone, motivation and road conditions are the problems. Riding in groups, it’s watching out for the group and road conditions.
Yesterday I missed the local group ride so I plotted out a 90-minute course that was flat to rolling. My target was to average 180 watts each way. I ended up averaging 187 watts for 90 minutes, my best performance for that time period in 2002 and just four watts off my best performance for 2011. The splits were pretty even on the first and last half. though slightest stronger on the first half.
Concentration always plays a big role in time trialing, inside or out. There are distractions constantly that can lower your power output. Sometimes you have to slow down because you’re turning into traffic or avoiding a pothole or other obstacle. Red lights are particularly frustrating. Invariable you break your rhythm, having to slow down and stop, then start again. I lose a watt or two each time, which can take miles to claw back.
For generating sheer power, nothing beats a good steep hill. My best 90-minute power reading ever was during a race up Mount Washington in July 2006, where I finished in 1 hour, 29 minutes and 20 seconds for an average wattage of 229. The combination of the steep grade and the incentive to keep up with your fellow riders is hard to beat for motivation.
In the same way, I usually ride my fastest and strongest trying to keep up with a spirited group ride. That’s why yesterday’s results were especially heartening. It was probably the highest wattage I’d done for 90 minutes alone in a few years.
When my local cycling friend Roy and I set out from Milford, N.J. on the PA Blue Mountain 200k yesterday morning at 7 a.m., I had a lot of hopes and a lot of questions. I hoped that riding only 324 miles in three months in 2012 would not cause my legs to desert me over 125 miles in one day. I hoped that having ridden no more than 53 miles in a single day since early October would not leave me unable to handle the inevitable pain the first long ride of the season brings. Most of all, I questioned my own commitment to the sport of randonneuring. Was this really worth suffering for?
For the first 55 miles or so, through the first two controles, I was smart enough not to push the pace. My threshold power is 250 watts. To avoid blowing up, I scrupulously stayed below it, even on steep grades like the one near Phillipsburg in the early stages of the ride. But the climb of Blue Mountain at mile 57, and resulting pain, convinced me to pick up the pace to get the climb over with. I averaged 265 watts for the last five minutes of that climb, the hardest I pushed myself all day.
Once that climb was over, the pain in my legs really intensified and I mentally was ready for the ride to be over. But I had more than 70 miles left. Luckily, Roy stayed with me the whole ride and I drafted off of him a good bit, which helped a lot. But even Roy couldn’t bring me back all on his own. I would have to drag myself back to the starting point on my own steam, in my own pain.
Then a small miracle happened, somewhere around mile 70 or so. Somehow, I managed to reach a sort of equilibrium that long-distance riding can sometimes produce. You’re in pain, your legs are stiff and you are far from your strongest, but you keep going, controle to controle, mile to mile. You keep the cranks turning, as organizer Tom R. likes to say.
The last time I rode anything longer than a metric was last August 13, probably my strongest day of 2011 on a bike. I finished a ride of about the same difficulty, the PA Water Gap 200k, in 8:45, one of my fastest times, at a power average of 161 watts, third best ever for me on a 200k. If I had not done that ride, if I had never done a 200k, or if I didn’t know the hills in this area, I’m not sure I would have finished yesterday.
But memory can aid an out of shape rider. I had no real endurance built up and I found myself in constant pain for the last half, but somehow I knew how to keep going. I wasn’t sure I’d find that place, but I did. Roy and I rolled in to the finish with a time of 9 hours and 55 minutes, which was a remarkable accomplishment for me. It was only, in fact, about an hour and 1o minutes later than that strong August ride.
The power numbers were nothing compared to that ride, course. One loses a lot in seven months. I averaged 125 watts this time, a dropoff of more than 15 percent. But my split wasn’t so bad. I averaged 132 watts for the first half and 119 for the second. Yes, my last climb of Staats Road at mile 117 was a masterpiece of positive thinking and fear of embarrassment. I won’t get off and walk, I said. I won’t get off and walk. I had ridden that climb many times and I don’t remember ever walking it before. I didn’t walk it yesterday, either.
As I sometimes do on such climbs, I refused to look too far down the road, for fear of being demoralized by the grade and the distance. Somehow, I struggled to the top. Even if I had to get off, which I have done on other rides on other days, it would not have spoiled this day. My body feels the familiar fatigue today. But I can feel it getting stronger. I even felt it getting stronger during the ride, in the middle of the pain, if you can believe it. Most importantly, in my head, I answered the biggest question: I still want to finish these rides. And that means I’ll probably be back for more.
This morning I tried a 20-minute threshold workout on the spinner at the gym. I started the winter doing these once or twice a week and in early February set new indoor wattage highs for 20 minutes (258w) and an hour (233w). Then I got bronchitis and I hadn’t tried to do threshold work in six weeks or so.
I did a 10-minute warmup gradually going from level 6 to level 11 on the machine (I need level 11 at about 90 rpm to generate 250 watts) and tried to keep a 70kcal pace for each five minutes). I was right on schedule with the first five minutes (70 kcal) but struggled to get to 10 minutes and began considering a stop. But I decided to try to finish the first half, knowing that if I dropped out I seldom did in the second half. I finished the first half in 141 kcal, one above my goal pace.
The third segment I did in 71 kcal, giving me two above the target. The last section I did in 76kcal, which showed I had a little something left at the end after all. I finished at 287 kcal, or 239 watts. Not a great showing compared to my peak, but quite encouraging under the circumstances, four days before the PA 200k.
When I last posted on February 2, 2012, I had just that day broken a new record by averaging 258 watts on the spinner for 20 minutes (off the spinner my record is 289). A few days later, I reached a record 233 watts for an hour on the spinner (off the record is still 250 watts on the 2005 Whiteface Mountain Race). I was obviously in good shape then, but the past six weeks have eroded a lot of that. The past three weeks I have struggled with bronchitis and I just got back to serious riding this weekend.
I rode 53 miles on the Frenchtown practice ride yesterday. We had a group of 12, including five newcomers to randonneuring, along with seven returning regulars. That’s a nice mix, although the great weather should have encouraged more to participate. Two years ago, with weather less appealing, we drew 30 to this event.
This is the first step of what I hope will result in successful completion of all four Pennsylvania brevets (200k, 300k, 400k and 600k) I’ve completed a full PA series three times before (in 2007, 2009 and 2010), but never with this little of base effort. To date, even with the 65 miles this weekend, I have a grand total of 324 miles for 2012. That’s about half of what I normally have. The ride yesterday, which included Adamic Hill Road, was my first truly hilly course since September.
The power numbers showed how far I have fallen due to lack of riding. I averaged 142 watts regular power and 178 normalized power. I have previously done this ride in 165/210, which is about 15 percent higher. That’s quite a dropoff, but it doesn’t particularly worry me. I was more concerned about losing my mental edge or going too hard and injuring myself.
When you start these comebacks, you are long on enthusiasm for riding, but short on patience and caution. It is no accident that most of the sore knees I get I get in the spring. Yesterday I held sometime back on Adamic (273 watts compared with 307 last year, but 273 was still my best since last fall) and managed to finish the ride about the time I was running on empty. I didn’t force anything, though.
Next week I plan to tackle the PA Blue Mountain 200k, because the regular PA 200k event on April 21st conflicts with the Princeton 200k, which I am organizing. I’ll have to curb my enthusiasm and ramp up my patience, as my comeback continues. It’s great that life is allowing me a little more time on the bike again.