Thursday, July 30, 2015

Learning to breathe.

You can learn a lot from a rabbit.
I think, after all these years of doing it, that I do not know how to breathe correctly.  Astonishing!  Could it be?  This crept into my mind a while ago but just as quickly crept out again.  Then last weekend I was in the middle of a long climb on the Warbird, a climb that was difficult and had me right below redline a good part of the time.  And I became aware of the fact that I was breathing shallow and fast, mostly from the chest/rib cage area.

And I thought back to an article I read that, IIRC, referred to Eddy Merxx and spoke about his 'paunch'...his beer belly look that was a result of bringing into play his belly area to expand the capacity of his lungs.  Now for all I know, Eddy might knock down a beer or two or three and maybe it is a bit of that too, but I never forgot that.

So in the middle of the climb, I began to breathe deeply, consciously allowing my belly to expand, feeling the lungs go just a bit 'more', if you will, then expelling the lungs with a good push.  I found that I dropped farther away from redline and my suffering dropped down a notch.  I did not have a heart rate monitor on, but it would have been interesting to see if that was affected.
I just know that it hurt less and I had more room for harder, short efforts without tipping over the edge.  My legs felt better too, but mostly it was cardio bennies I was seeing.  The funny thing was that I had to really concentrate to breathe this way.  As soon as I stopped thinking about it, I stopped doing it.  As well, it did not feel natural when I was doing it.  It felt good in a way but bad in a way, like I was betraying what I knew how to do well from if I took two steps, then hopscotched the next one before the next regular step, etc.  Just not natural.

So I need to play with this more, but it seems there is science behind this, which actually does not surprise me.

Linky number 1  Linky Number 2

Now I figure it this way...the bigger the belly the bigger the breath.  Bring on the donuts and Fritos, I have a hill to climb.

Look at them lungs, huh? I am gonna crush the next hill.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

A pleasant surprise.

Full of possiblities.
When I decided to build up a "gravel bike", despite having very little real gravel at hand, I was not sure if I was going to like it enough to ride it often.  Boy am I pleasantly surprised.  It is a bike that I have been riding more than any other in the stable and that tickles me to no end.  Who would have thunk it?

Now that I have worked through gearing changes and tire selection, at least for now, the bike is working really well.  And I have been pretty happy with the way that Salsa built the Warbird, although I still do wish they did it in a nice steel too.

At a recent press junket, I brought up the subject of Gravel Bikes to many journalists there and almost to a man they responded back with positive comments.  They either are riding a bike like that or are using their cross bike or maybe even a road bike to get into "multi surface riding".

I call it dirt.

And I find myself planning rides now that have a mix of pavement and dirt; big loops that have a good amount of climbing.  I have a buddy that just bought a Raleigh Willard.  I have another buddy that just bought a Specialized Sirrus and we have been wondering how big a tire we can stuff in there and get into some dirt here and there.  The manager of one local shop bought his and hers Cross bikes and that is what they ride most of the time now.  Another shop here in local SO Cal is hosting regular Gravel Bike rides and is reaping the bennies by selling several models in that genre.

Iowa is spilling over to the Left Coast, so it seems.

Tomorrow's self supported road century ride just cancelled, so I have my options open.  I already have a plan and it includes riding across town early on the Warbird, using local paths and streets. Then I will hit the dirt and climb for 9 miles or so on the dirt, mixing in some abandoned paved mtn roads, then returning on surface streets and paths.

I have been researching another route in a nearby town that will be the same type of mix.  My wife is all ready to take her flat bar road bike with 38s and low gears on this one, we just need to get some cooler weather.

So I think I am getting my money's worth out of this gravel bike deal, in fact I think it is paying me back!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Can a car be a soulmate?

I cannot remember ever feeling this way about any other car, but going back to the beginning of the model line, the Subaru Outback wagon always caught my eye.  It looked like it celebrated all the things I thought were neat in a lifestyle...a bit of practicality, a bit of adventure, and a bit of style that was counter to the Fast and Furious way of thinking about cars and life.

Not once would one go by on the road and not rate a long glance; a follow with the eyes and a swivel of the head.  I was smitten, but at a distance.

A recent trip to Vail, where Subaru is considered the "Official State Car of Colorado", I bet every 3rd car in any lot was either an Outback or a Forester.  I was in agony, driving around in the family truckster Mazda 5, and I whined incessantly about it, much to the chagrin of my wife.

But God was gracious and I am now among the ranks of Outback owners. I could hardly be more pleased.  She's a beaut', she is.

Soulmates, we are, or at least from my viewpoint.  How she feels about this, I cannot say for certain, but I suspect she feels the same.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Crusher Redux.

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"
Robert Browning.

I would not have been so excited about heaven if I had known I would need to pedal to get up there.

In 2014 I entered the Crusher in the Tushar race event in Beaver, Utah.  Known as one of the more difficult races of it's kind, it is a 70 mile bike race over a combination of paved and dirt (or gravel) roads and ascends over a total of 10,000' in those 70 miles, much of that at altitude, ending up at around 10,500' feet at the finish line.

It is, to put it mildly, challenging.  It is, to put it succinctly, freaking hard, and the ex-pro road racer that thought up this thing is the race promoter, T. Burke Swindlehurst. 'T-Bird' is a cruel, cruel man to be sure.  That first attempt at the Crusher found me lacking in speed and I missed the time cut off by four minutes.  Four lousy minutes.  And that was the end of my Crusher.  Done.  And to add insult to injury, to rub salt into my lactic acid oozing wounds, I still had to ride another 10 miles and a few million feet of gain (felt like it anyway) to the finish line at the ski resort.  But 2015 would be my revenge.

Rush hour in Beaver, Ut
Beaver, Utah, population 3000 or so, and the birthplace of Butch Cassidy, sits alongside Hwy 15 between St. George and Salt Lake (more or less) and is nestled at the base of the Tushar Mountains which provide an amazingly scenic background for the race course.  It is the kind of place you would come to to ride on vacation, especially for a So Cal guy like me.

Beginning in town, and it's a small town to be sure, the race has a very grassroots feel to it and the community seems to enjoy having it happen. Held on the same weekend as the Butch Cassidy Days festival, the race mixes with pie eating contests and what not.  It is good fun in a way that bigger towns and cities have lost the ability to provide.  The race caps at 600 riders and always fills up fast, so the difficulty of the Crusher is not scaring everyone off.

The race rolls out of town on the paved State Hwy 153 alongside the Beaver River, and while it is not a steep grade, it is still uphill and the packs of riders are out for blood, so it is a fast pace right off the bat. Also, we are beginning at a 5900 feet elevation so flatlanders like me are sucking wind right away.  After 11 miles it hangs a right and the grade immediately ramps up, at first on a chip seal paved surface, then into smooth dirt, and begins to climb and climb and climb, seemingly forever to the first aid station at 18 miles, pitched by a sylvan lake scene. Then it continues to ascend to the 27 mile point where that looming time cut off awaits at check point 2.  You need to be there by 11:00 or you are done racing.

From there, the course drops off the face of the earth and plummets you down the Col 'd Crush, a 4000 foot descent on a gravel covered, washboard infested road, into the Piute valley where you circle around through a couple of towns, ride through the Sarlacc Pit, which can be sandy and hot, before riding back up that steep and ugly descent you barely survived.  That brings you back to the aid station that was the time cut off point before you turn right and climb a good bit more to reach the high point at the finish in the Eagle Point Ski Resort.

But I never experienced most of that as I was out of the race at aid station two.  No Col 'd Crush…no Sarlacc Pit…just what I read about it.  But that was 2014 and 2015 would be different.

Last year I rode a well equipped 29er hard tail.  It was quite good for the day, or I thought so, and it was comfy and had lots of low gears.  The Crusher is a bit of a puzzler as to what bike type is fastest there, and while a cross bike or gravel bike is the prominent choice, there are a lot of riders that race a hard tail 29er or even an FS 29er.  But this year I wanted to try something different.  I had been curious about owning a gravel bike for a while anyway, so I built one up to see if I liked the genre (I do!) and to see if I could improve on my chances at the Crusher.

This is a very fun bike, it just needs a bigger motor.
The 2016 Salsa Warbird (alu model) was built with a SRAM Rival 22 Hydro group running a 36/46 crank and an 11-36 rear cassette.  That 1:1 low gear had shown to be adequate on the steep climbs at home and with the decent DT Swiss wheels and Panaracer 38C Comet tires, the bike weighed in at 21 lbs ready to ride (no bags, etc).  It is a fast bike, and at home I was setting PRs on Strava anywhere I pointed it uphill.  I figured that would transfer over to the Crusher course, but I was to be proved wrong, oh so tragically, dismally, comically wrong.

I had trained hard, or at least as hard as a very early and hot spring-into-summer allowed for and that a working guy could muster.  I had a strong base fitness, and a couple of recent, hard century rides on the road had showed no cracks in my tanned and chiseled facade.  Every ride I did had climbing in it and I was almost always on the Warbird, working out any bugs in set-up, etc.  I felt ready.  I was mistaken.

Race day was going to give us great weather and Ed the Tall, a riding buddy, was there with me to race the event.  My wife had come along too, and her and the dog were going to ride the course a bit ahead of the pack and I would see her along the path somewhere before the cut off.  

Ed the Tall and his Raleigh WIllard
I only needed to be 4 minutes faster than last year.  I was pretty confident that I could do that, but right from the starting gun I was struggling to stay with the pack of riders I began with, the Men's 50+, who are a group of fast, fast, old guys.  Last year the Men's 50+ winner was only an hour and change slower than the overall race winner.  Seriously.

I should have just ignored my heart rate monitor and done whatever it took to stay with the pack for that 11 miles up the highway before the dirt began, but I was afraid of digging a hole so deep that I could never recover so I managed my heart rate and spun along at a good pace.  Still, I was already concerned as to how hard it was for me to recover from any hard effort.  I never felt like I could back off, rest, then jump hard again.  It just was a long, constant feeling of being under water and suffering.  You see I have the body of an antelope; fleet, lean, and fast.  But it is powered by the heart and lungs of a gerbil - soft, round, and furry.  Or so it would seem as altitude really hammers me.  And living at 1200' above sea level (if I am standing on my tip toes) does not help at all.

The dirt began and I was passing some folks who had passed me back, so that was good.  I just had to really minimize any stopped time and go, go, go.  But even with a very short time at aid station one, I was seeing my time slip away.  I was getting concerned.  The clouds rolled in and the wind came up and the temps fell.  I stopped to slip on arm and leg warmers and lost some minutes, but losing critical body heat would be bad too.  Then my cages rattled loose and I did not want to lose my bottles, so I was forced to stop and tighten them.  More time lost.

But what surprised me was how, after attending to the cage deal, my legs were showing signs of early cramping, something that has plagued me for years, but not recently with a well sorted nutrition plan.  That was not good.  And it had me wondering that even if I made the time cut, could I, or should I, press on? 

Miles and minutes went by and the Garmin was not making me feel better. I was running out of time and I simply could not go any faster.  I was just at a loss to do anything about it, and I was struck with this incredulous realization that history was repeating itself. When I came across the wife and dog, maybe 2 miles out from the second aid station, it was 10:56 AM.  I was done and I knew it.  I rode on, preparing to surrender my timing chip, and was in a pretty dark place.  How could I miss this again?  What could I have done differently? Thoughts came to my mind like "You have no business being here."  "Too old and slow."
I pedaled on with the consolation that even if I made this by some miracle, it might have been foolish to continue with my legs being the way they were.  That thought was of little help.  On the other hand, I was pretty sure I could have recovered in the descent and the road section to follow and even if I crumbled on the Col 'd Crush, I could walk or surrender the fight with some honor, knowing I made it one step farther than last year.  When I rolled up to the check point I looked at my watch and saw that I was almost precisely four minutes past the time limit, just exactly what I missed by last year.  How comically ironic…better bike (maybe)…better plan (maybe)…same result.  I had to laugh.  Other riders were coming up behind me and finding their race over as well, many of them seemingly stunned by the time cut off. Yep…sucks, huh?  Welcome to my slow, slow, slow world.  And I thought to myself that I will never do this silly thing again.

After a volunteer surgically removed my timing chip from my number plate with a pocket knife, I asked if he could remove my broken heart while he was at it.  Just joking, pal. I already had spit out my lungs along the way, so there would have been plenty of room for him to work. I walked my bike over to the aid table and grabbed some water.  Along the way, well meaning folks were yelling "good job" and "you did awesome".  Well, not really.  Awesome usually gets you past the cut off time in a race.  I was four minutes less than awesome.  I was in no hurry now, so I ate a bit, mixed up some energy drink, and hung out for a few minutes, talking to other shell shocked victims of the sands of time. 

This time I decided not to ride up to the finish line like in 2014, but instead I flipped around and headed back down the course to catch up with the wife and dog so we could hang together and then drive up to the finish area for food and festivities.  I did so with a mixed bag of emotions; relief, angst, frustration, wonderment, resolution, confusion and no little amount of bummed-out-ness.  Along the way I felt the life returning into my legs and looked at the amazing beauty around me, something I had not appreciated on the way up with my tongue stuck to my teeth and my sweat dripping onto my top tube like a melting block of salt.  

My mood brightened as the mountains yielded their elevation to me, and down, down I sped till I met up with the family.  Over a tuna fish and cranberry sandwich, shared three ways of course (the dog), and tasting like the most delicious thing I could ever remember eating, I looked at the lake in these pictures and thought how beautiful this place is.  How terribly, terribly hard and frustrating and difficult and beautiful.
And I was already working on a new plan for next year.

Yeah, not bad on the eyes, this Utah.
The registration area blends with the town festivities.

It's a real, honest to goodness pie eating contest.

Cannondale Slate with 45mm-ish 650b slicks
Where it all ended for me.  It was pretty cold too.
The last 1/2 mile of pavement may be the cruelest part of the race.

A rider nears the finish line I have yet to see with a bike under me.  Next year!