Saturday, October 6, 2012

Banks to Vernonia

I checked the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook. It told me that even thought I have not been training or riding like I planned this year, I still needed to at least ride the Banks-Vernonia trail once this year.

I was a little sensitive about it; my pulled hamstring is not fully healed, I have not ridden further than 20 miles all year I do not think and have not gone longer than 10 mies in at least 3 weeks. But Fluffy the Cat had blown off my Springwater Trail offer for Sunday, the Goose wanted me out of the house so she could clean, and the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook must be obeyed.

I decided to set rather modest goals. I would try for 40 miles and 10 mph. Really, the 40 miles was a pretty aggressive goal...and considering my lack of training, my injuries and my nigh-complete lack of mental toughness, the 10 mph was pretty optimistic, too. But I need to push myself...

I got to the trailhead too early. It was still dark. I unpacked the bike, got everything ready to go and passed time until it was light enough. I took off a couple minutes short of 7.

I started off pedaling easy. Fluffy tends to like to start off at speeds that approximate a Merry Go Round which I think I kind of get on his nerves because typically my version of easy has us rolling about 16 mph within 3 he has pointed out to me at least twice on this ride. His pace, if I were not driving him, would probably be more about 8 - 9 mph.

Today, his pace would have been a rocket compared to mine. I usually start slow and, as my legs warm up, it gets easier to pedal so I shift up a gear while maintaining the same cadence until I am rocketing along in 20th - 22nd gear range while maintaining the same cadence.

This time I was plodding along in 13th-15th gear at a slower cadence...and that was on the flat.

I was actually happy with that. I was riding smart.. And still at the 5 mile mark I was feeling suggestive tweaks that indicated it might be a good time and place to turn around. Had I checked the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook I very well may have. Instead I checked my ego and it said, "Smurf no you ain't quitting."

So after making my first stop of the day for about a minute, I hopped back on and started riding. Oddly, it was so cold I was alternating putting my hands in my pockets. That would be a problem all day. And at the 7-1/2 mile mark something happened that shocked me.

I got passed. Not just passed...the breeze from him blowing by me almost knocked me off the path. And it was not even a real bike: You know those nautilus treadmills where the handles move back and forth with your hands and your feet never leave the tracks? It was one of those. Dude looked like he was running and it was driving that bike along at least 15 mph and probably faster.

Anyway, I was fighting leg fatigue, frozen hands, and mental fatigue; riding alone is just not all that much fun.

But knowing I had posted my goals publicly, I kept going. I clicked off landmark after landmark.

If you have ever ridden that trail, you know the feeling; you climb, climb, climb..oh, look, a bend in the trail What could be on the other side?

Another hill to climb. So you climb and climb and climb and then another corner. Guess what is around it?

Yep, another hill...

Finally at the 12 mile mark I got a super steep downhill that obliterated all the climbing I had done. Unfortunately, it has really sharp switchbacks so you cannot really ride it fast. In fact, signs indicate you are supposed to get off the bike and watch it.

If any park rangers are reading this, that is EXACTLY what I did. For the rest of you...I enjoyed the ride downhill despite its slowish pace.

Of course, what goes down...must go up. It is about a half mile of super steep switchback trail. I decided to make a run at it. Not only did I make it...I made it easily. Easier than I ever have before. But at a cost. I felt a brief twinge in the hamstring.

This would have been an excellent time to consult the medical portion of the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook which plainly says, "Smurf your goals, turn around now and head back." I did not check it and did not heed it.

In fact, I started feeling stronger. My pace increased. I started enjoying the ride. I was bumping up to 21 st gear...22nd gear...even slightly uphill. I was bombing along. I was singing praises to my riding ability and already planning to extend my ride to 50 miles and figuring I would be under 4 hours since it is always quicker on the way back.

Until the 17 mile mark.

I got passed again. It took me a while to figure out what passed me. It was not a person. It was not an animal. It was nothing wind blown. What could it be?

I figured it out at the 17.5 mile mark when I fell. Not literally...figuratively. My hamstring exploded in pain. It almost brought tears to my eyes it was so bad. That was when I figured out what passed me.

Pride. Because pride always goes before a fall. And fall I performance fell. My mental state fell. I pushed on because I was not going to fall short of 40 miles. I even figured it was going to be a passing pain and was assuming it would go away and I would complete my 50 miles anyway.

Problem is I was getting slower and slower. Then my left leg quad showed its sensitive side and started having sypathy pains. Just past the 20 mile mark I stopped for just the 2nd time all ride.

I got off the bike. I stretched the quad. I leaned down. I consumed a snack and drank some sobe. I stretched. I tried to get back on the bike and could not lift my leg over the seat. I stretched more. I thought about calling my wife to make the drive to come get me...but I was not sure she would know how to find me. I thought about asking the guys working on the shop across the street to give me a ride back to the trailhead.

It continued to hurt abominably. Finally I got back on and started back. Now I was traveling at a stunning 5 miles per hour. I made it about 2 miles and had to stop again.

I decided to stop showing my progress and ended my Map My ride recording.

I tried to figure out a way out of it but really there was nothing for it except to suck it up and ride home. It was going to hurt, it was going to take forever but it had to be done.

Somehow I got back on the bike. One rotation...two...three...I was moving, albeit slowly.

Now, normally the way back takes much less time. When Fluffy and I ride it, if it takes 2-1/2 hours on the ride out, the ride back will take 1-1/2. It is just an easier ride.

This time I could have sworn it was a thousand times harder. Flat stretches felt like inclines, gentle inclines felt like hills, hills felt like mountains.

I kept yelling at myself, "Suck it up and pedal".

I started passing people on the outward journey. I kept thinking that around the crest of the next corner on the hill the downhill portion would start and I could coast.

I was counting down the mileage by half miles. 15 to go. 14.5 left. 14 more. 13.5.

I hit the switchback section. The ride down was easy. there was a van at the trailhead disgorging four bikes. I gave serious consideration to begging for a ride to the Banks trailhead. Inexplicably I passed them without saying a word.

Even more inexplicably, I started the Walk of Shame on the the flattest part. Walked about a tenth of a mile, then got back on and rode up the steepest part. Someone sometime will explain that maneuver...

I kept going and wondering how I could make the last little bit.

I hit the downhill section. Fluffy and I have averaged over 26 miles per hours for the next 4 mile stretch. I would never exceed 25.9 the whole way down.

Every rotation was a nightmare, every bump wrenched forth a was pure torture. None of the delight I normally take in a ride.

9 miles to go. 8.5 to go. hour left? I can make that. 8 miles left to go. 7.5 is all I need to make. 7 is a do-able number. 7.5 lef....what the bloody smurf?

Was I hallucinating? I had seen the 7.5 mile sign. I had seen the 7 mile sign. Apparently I did a reverse walk of shame or something because I was going so slow in comparison to my normal speeds that I actually found a way to go backwards!

By this time I was not even nodding to the people heading on the outward trail. I was just grinding, rotating my legs again and again.

4 miles to go. 3.5 left. I was recalculating how much longer this agony would last with every signpost.

I was poking along slower than at any other point on the entire ride and trying to do pain/speed calculations; what hurt more, going faster for less time or slower for longer?

I would have tried both except by now I was so physically wasted I could not go faster if I wanted to.

Finally I limped into the parking lot thinking it had to be at least noon.

It wasn't. It was about 10:40.

I saved the second portion of my ride; shorter and slower though it is usually 35% faster.

But I made 40.38 miles in 3:40. I hit both my goals. In fact, I beat my speed goal by 17% despite blowing up my hamstring and my quad. And that includes stop time. My riding time was at least 10 - 15 minutes less due to my stops.

The Junior Woodchuck Guidebook says good job.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Well, after posting some mildly ambitious but frankly reachable goals, Fluffy the Cat and I promptly fell of the cycling map.

I spent the preceding 8 months becoming a solid racquetball player, reacquainting myself with tennis, and reshaping my body with weight training...but no biking.

Today the weather was reasonable in the high 70s so we went for a bit of a jaunt.

It is clear he also has ignored the Junior Woodchuck Guide to Cycling and not been maintaining his biking fitness.

We both were demonstrably slower and less full of endurance, though still both equally full of....smurf.

Today while riding together we clocked 19.78 miles at a blistering pace of 9.8 mph.

Compared to last season when we routinely clocked 30 - 50 mile rides with speeds more in the 13 - 15 mph range.

I did manage to do something i have never done before...ride all the way to each end of Fanno creek trail on the same ride. For the day I clocked 25.59 miles in two spurts; the longer one mostly with Fluffy the Kitten (to be the Cat one must show more endurance and speed...and on a completely unrelated note, on this blog I shall henceforth beknown simply as Darth must EARN the sobriquet Weasel...) and the shorter one to get to where we were meeting.

Yes, I find it funny that my short, "warmup ride" was at 13.2 mph...because I think I proved I have essentially no chance in Siberia of maintaining anywhere near that pace.

But the thing I love is biking is still fun and I cannot wait to get back out there and ride again. Be good to get my legs back in shape.

And while the century, sub 4 hour Banks to Vernonia, and frequent rides to work goals may be dead...the riding spirit lives.

Now if you will excuse me, my legs have asked me to kindly pass out. I shall acquiesce their most reasonable request.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The second ride of the year

Fresh off the first ride of the year I decided to bike to and from church this am since the sun is out again.

Well, okay, so already I have violated dictum one of the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook. I have allowed the foulness of dishonesty to discolor the electronic page. As it turns out, the word "fresh" had little in common with the condition of my quads, lungs, motivation, legs overall, endurance...

I had made my plan the night before in accordance to the magnificent enlightenment forthwith found within the respected page of our guiding book. I should commence my pedaling a full half hour early that I might A) ride more slowly and thus arrive at the sacred institution devoid of sweat or B) if I should prove typically unable to restrain the raging might of my legs and put forth such powerful effort that sweat fell like a mighty waterfall upon the pavement beneath as I thundered through the trail I should have sufficient time to cool down and allow said waterfall to dry up prior to entering the inner sanctum of devotional worship.

Knowing I had extra time, I took a longer, more roundabout route. Early on I was working on my form. I find that unless I consciously think about it, I allow myself to slide the middle of my foot over the pedal and push with that. But when I take time to think about it and use the ball of my foot I easily jump 20% in power.

I know this because with my heart rate staying the same, the simple switch of using proper form jumped my speed from 14.5 mph all the way to 18.5 mps with no noticeable increase in effort. And it made increasing effort almost unnoticeable and soon, on the flat, 6 minutes into my ride, I was thundering along at 24.6 mph but did not feel like I was pushing even in the slightest.

Now, a careful examination of the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook has some magnificent tips on how to ride safely and marginally cleanly. One valuable suggestion is to NOT ride through mud puddles. So I had numerous extra stops that involved getting off the bike and walking over puddles.

Now my shoes are wet and have a hard time gripping the peddles. Which in turn slowed me down. As did the numerous stops to let traffic go by every time I passed an intersection. So then I was doing repeated stop/start intervals which got my legs burning. When I was able to ride steady I was constantly between 17 and 23 mph, but there were so many pauses that I ended up averaging just 13.3 mph for the 8.52 mile ride.

I also arrived about 25 minutes early. I took the time to let the sweat dry, catch up on email and texts, let the sweat dry, etc. There was a lot of sweat.

Meanwhile, my heart rate while riding was consistently between 140 and 153. And even a 30 second stop saw it drop instantly to between 120 and 136.  No clue what that means except my heart rate drops pretty fast.

It was on the ride home that my poor preparation and overwork caught up with me. All I had eaten was a single slice of pizza and a Dr. Pepper. So I was hungry, undernourished, and honestly...over trained.

See, when I designed my plan, I had set hours of training to do each week. And my weights and racquetball count against that. See, part of the philosophy of the plan is to tear the body down and rebuild it stronger with rest, and proper rest is a foundational point. I was supposed to top out at 4 hours last week. I played 6-1/2 hours of racquetball, worked weights for 1-2/2 I nearly doubled what I was supposed to do.

Now, on the one hand, no problems...I was having fun, my training plan is for two truly recreational rides, not a racing season. Also, I am training so I can do fun stuff like play racquetball, and honestly, if my training plan prevents me from doing these things I enjoy so much I will insta-scrap it.

As I explained to the trainer who was trying to convince me to sign up with him, I do the weights and workouts so I can do the biking, tennis, racquetball, etc for longer. If it detracts from that I have no interest in it.

However, it did show up in my effort. The familiar burn was back and, oddly, so was an occasional hard time breathing.

The sun had brought out lots of people, so the ride home was a struggle with even more stops. I am simply amazed how many people teach their kids that family rides are best done 4 wide on a path where it is questionable taste for two bikes to be side by side. Or who think "coming up on your left" means turn around, stare, see where I am riding, and move into my way even more.

Meanwhile, i took a more direct route home...and found a place I had to carry the bike for about 30 yards through the mud and water.

So now I could not pedal with proper form at all which slowed me down even more. Knowing I was riding slow led to discouragement. Which slowed me down even more. I never did get more than 2 or 3 minutes of pure riding and by now I had no reserves left to power through stop/start intervals.


5.56 miles at an extremely pedestrian 12.7 mph. And that is the direction that should be quicker.

I am going to get proper rest by not working out today or tomorrow so i should be at full strength Tuesday. Though the temptation to ride to work tomorrow is very strong...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The first ride of the year

The Junior Guidebook is a wonderful tome, full of wisdom beyond ken, passing on knowledge both inscrutable and scrutable.

Of course, of the two, the scrutable is the more useful because it can actually be scruted whereas the inscrutable is, by definition, unable to be scruted and thus highly unlikely to be of any use.

At the risk of losing my Junior Woodchuck Loyalty Badge, however, I must point out one tiny flaw with the magnificence of our favored text.

With knowledge comes an adjustment in thinking. But first, the ride.

My friends Riot Kitty and Fluffy the Cat, aka Attila the Honey Bear aka Mr. Wimpy Pants Who Will Only ride his Bike When It Is One Billion Degrees Celsius were meeting me at the theatre to see modern day entertainment fest The Adventures of Tin Tin (2012).

Taking advantage of an unseasonably warm 54 degrees, I decided to ride my bike instead of driving. So consulting the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook, I quickly discovered it is preferable to get your brakes fixed prior to riding along the TV Highway so off to the bike shop I went.

13 minutes and a shade over 3 miles later I arrived at the bike shop. I explained to them how  last time I rode the bike they took all my 'emergency ride money" to adjust the brakes...and the brakes gave out after a half hour.

So they looked at them again and discovered a problem with the breaks, so I need a new something or other...brake caliper maybe?

They of course do not carry them in stock so while they tried to figure out how to special order one I drooled over a sexy number that someday shall be mine...maybe...


Anyway, we got the part ordered and I continued with my ride. The next section was long the TV Highway so I pushed it a little bit. Up hill and down dale, from hither to yon, zipping along at a modest pace.

After 5.66 miles at 15 mph...a pace I am particularly proud of since it was constant up and down hills of varying steepnesses...I arrived at ye olde theatre.

The marvelous thing about the hills is an oddity I noticed; when I am on the trainer I am not a big fan of intervals. But when riding on the roads I love intervals. Let me explain.

When taking off from a light, I do a close resemblance to modified spin ups...I start in a moderate gear and rapidly increase to a high cadence, then shift to higher gear after higher gear while maintaining the same cadence. While doing it, I actually have better form than at any other time, and actually get that "not quite sitting on the seat, almost dancing" movement. My legs piston forward with the power of Thundering Typhoons*, the bike feels nigh weightless, and I attain speeds I did not realize I was capable of. I am also able to maintain this pace for longer than I can typically hit that cadence in that gear.

And it gives me that release of endorphins, that happy, nearly euphoric feeling. I love those intervals.

Anyhow, on the ride back I am not going to lie...I was scuffling a bit. See, I am still in the "cross-training" I may have played almost 6-1/2 hours of racquetball last week, but I was on the bike for zero hours. My legs are stronger, but not bike stronger.

And here is where consulting the knowledge bases is detrimental.

Normally my thought processes would be something like, "My legs are tired and hurting. I am pushing too hard." And a bit later, "I am short of breath. I am pushing too hard." And "My lower back is hurting. Ow."

However, consulting the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook along with other, lesser books by mere doctors and world famous trainers, now my thought process goes like this.

"My legs are tired and hurting. I am building up lactic acid faster than my body can disperse it. I am definitely riding past my LT (Lactate Threshold for those of you who have not studied either the might Junior Woodchuck Guidebook or the aforementioned lesser books.) and it is too early in the season for that."

"I am short of breath. I have reached the anaerobic threshold. It is too early to be there, I need to work on my conditioning."

And last but not least, "My lower back is hurting. It really hurts. Ow. OW. OW. Oh, please stop hurting."

So as you can see, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

The funny thing is, though I was admittedly scuffling and riding slower, noticeably worn down after a relatively short ride...I noticed my form was slipping. So I made a conscious effort to work on my form. Toes to the front of the pedal, elevate the heel, power through...

And promptly had the strongest portion of riding for the entire day over the last 2 miles. Faster. easier. No crossing the LT or hitting the anaerobic threshold.

Score one for training and knowledge.

Still, I averaged just 12.8 mph on the last 8.57 mile ride...very slow by my standards, but acceptable for not having been on the bike for a couple weeks.

For the day I managed 15.26 miles in 1:06 for an overall 13.9 mph average...I will take those numbers. Especially on a stop and go series of rides like those three.

So while the knowledge gleaned from the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook and its subsidiaries has some drawbacks, I believe I still have overall shown progress.

I really look forward to the next ride.

* In the movie Tin Tin the Captain repeatedly blasts out this innocuous phrase, each time garnering gales of laughter from those of us in the audience.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Junior Woodchuck Training Plan

It has been a cold, bitter winter. The Junior Woodchuck Guidebook has wise advice for maintaining bike fitness, but I did not earnt he relevant merit badge, so I have not been following it.

Well, having completed the study of The Cyclists' Training Bible, I spent a fair amount of time putting together my training plan for the planned attempt to conquer the Banks-Vernonia Trail in less than 4 hours...a marked step up from the 4:45 I believe our prior best time has been.

That would be a 17% improvement in time, just to come in at 3:59.
In a similar vein, riding a century would be a noticeable jump from our longest ever ride of what...55 miles?Something like a 45% increase...though honestly that feels like much less of a challenge. Riding further has seldom been an issue for us. We typically are able to add 10 - 20 miles any time we wish as long as we have a non-repeptitive ride scheduled.

But adding that much speed...that is different.

So I now present the plan based on the aforementioned book.