Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tundra Time Trial

Today was the Tundra Time Trial (TT), the unofficial kickoff to road racing season in Georgia.  It certainly lived up to its name this year! (about 28 degrees at race start)  It could have been worse, though.  At least the wind wasn't bad.  Even though the weather at Tundra is generally pretty rough, it's always a fun event.

This was my fifth year doing Tundra.  For a number of years it was held on the Silver Comet Trail.  The organizers eventually moved it from there because it got too dicey with so many other people (walkers, recreational cyclists, etc.) using the trail at the same time.  For the past three years Tundra was held in Adairsville in North Georgia, which worked very well.  However, this year the original organizers weren't able to continue.  That's certainly understandable because it takes a lot of time and energy to put on such an event.  The cycling community thought there wasn't going to be a Tundra TT this year, but then just a few weeks ago, Todd Muller and Reality Bikes jumped in to keep Tundra going.  Thank you, Todd and Reality Bikes!

I certainly wasn't looking forward to the particularly cold temperatures predicted for today's race, but I've been training in some pretty yucky conditions all winter.  Besides, I'm trying to subject myself to adverse conditions as much as I can to prepare for RAAM.  It's good for developing mental discipline, and I'll have to ride in whatever conditions occur during RAAM (rain, wind, dark, low oxygen at high altitude, etc. - sounds kind of like the post office, at least in Colorado).

Usually, I wear my team skin suit for TT's, but it was cold enough today that I opted for more therms at slight aerodynamic expense.  My heavy-duty tights on bottom with a base layer, short sleeved jersey, and my best (fairly aero) winter cycling jacket on top actually kept me quite comfortable.  I wore my heaviest cycling gloves, too.  My fingers hurt with cold when I first started warming up, but even they thawed out after not too long.  My trusty shoe covers, a snug hat, and my TT helmet completed my ensemble:

I warmed up with my road bike on a trainer.  I can't tell you how much I appreciate Robert, my super sweet husband/soigneur, who takes care of so many of my equipment needs.  For example, I asked him about switching my power meter, which is in my crank arm, from my road bike to my TT bike, and he had already done it!  By the way, Robert raced, too, but in the men's Merckx division.  Merckx races, named for the famous pro Eddy Merckx, do not allow TT bikes or any other aero equipment; racers use regular road bikes like they did during Eddy's heyday.  Robert has gotten away from TTs and sold his TT bike.  Therefore, he entered the Merckx category for fun since he was coming along to support me anyway.

After about a 30-minute warm-up, it was time to head to the start line.

On my TT bicycle for the race itself

Although I hadn't ridden or driven the course beforehand, I had checked it out via street view on Google Maps.  I didn't see anything unusual, and the course turned out to be pretty much like Google Maps said.  Additionally, the volunteers did an excellent job of directing the racers to make sure they knew where all of the turns were.  I really enjoyed the course.  It was 10.8 miles and had two main loops.  Because it had regular turns as opposed to a U-turn on an out-and-back course, which is common for TTs, it made handling my TT bike much easier.  (TT bikes are designed for going in a straight line - turning, not so much.)  Also, the course had lots of gentle rollers with few straight, flat sections, which played to my strengths.

I rode hard.  My nose was dripping from the cold, and my mouth hung open in its usual TT gape as I gulped in the frosty air.  Whatever thoughts I can muster during a TT can be rather out-there.  Because today I was wearing mostly black instead of my usual TT garb, I imagined I looked like one of those grim reaper masks I often see at Halloween:

This year I have to focus on RAAM and, therefore, didn't do as much TT-specific training leading up to Tundra as I usually do.  Still, I felt like I was well prepared.  I finished strong and knew that however I came out in the standings, I had a good race.

While we waited for the results, Reality Bikes held a raffle.  Each winner got a water bottle and a choice of an item from a big box of swag.  Robert's number was called!  He selected some Skratch, an electrolyte powder that you mix with water.  What makes this product unique is that you mix it with hot water!  He got apple cinnamon flavor, and we tried it when we got home.  It was quite good, tasting like apple cider.  We decided that next time we go to Tundra, Peach Peloton, or another winter event, we'll mix up a thermos to drink after riding in the cold.

After the raffle, we continued to wait for the results.  And then we waited some more.  It seems like it always takes a long time to get Tundra results, but it took extra long this year because they used a magnetic sensor at the finish line, which didn't function very well in the very low temperatures.  I'm not complaining, though.  I've been on the hosting end of the Macon Cycling Classic with my Georgia Neurosurgical team, and we've had our share of snafus, particularly with getting results posted in a timely manner last year.  I understand that sometimes things happen beyond the organizers' control.  Besides, the wait time gave Robert and me time to catch up with our friend Ronnie, a cycling buddy we often see at TTs.

Also, I made a new friend named Pete:

Since I was wearing my sock monkey hat, of course I had to meet the guy in the fox hat!  It turns out that Pete owns Outback Bikes in Little Five Points in Atlanta.  Several years ago I went to Outback Bikes for a bike fitting.  (The fitting was Robert's anniversary present to me - way cooler than jewelry!)  From fellow roadies to mountain bikers to tandem riders to the incoherent guy in Bolingbroke who wears a fluorescent vest and yells at other riders - if you power yourself on two wheels, you're one of my kinsmen.  I'm always happy to meet another tribe member.

At last the results were posted: yea!  I was very pleased to place 2nd among the Cat 4 women:

Also, I was 3rd overall for the women.  The 1st overall woman was also 1st in my category.  Her name is Lenae, shown at the top of the podium above.  She beat me by about 41 seconds.  I couldn't have gone 41 seconds faster, but I sure wish I could have!  They had wonderful trophies for the overall male and female finishers:

Aren't these beautiful?  Reality Bikes kept the Tundra tradition of commissioning Lillie Glassblowers to make the overall male and female awards.  Every year these awards are uniquely different and just lovely.

I have to admit that I'm happy that I shouldn't have any more cold races this year.  In fact, I don't expect to do many other races at all this year besides RAAM.  That's largely because there simply aren't many TTs on the Georgia race calendar this year.  Also, I don't have room in my RAAM training schedule.  Besides, I do have a few non-cycling commitments.  For example, next Saturday I'll be coordinating the Middle Georgia chapter MATHCOUNTS competition, part of a nationwide program to promote excellence and achievement in math among middle school students.  I have loved volunteering with MATHCOUNTS for the past 16 years.  As an organizer for MATHCOUNTS, I have an appreciation for the effort involved in putting on a large event like a bicycle race.  I'm just glad there's a lot less risk involved in solving math problems.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Pine Mountain Challenge

Pine Mountain Challenge: how can something so hard also be so much fun?  Saturday’s ride truly was a grand finale to Peach Peloton (PP) season.

I’m glad we had a good crowd, about a dozen of us.  It was interesting to note what varied representation we had from Georgia’s cities: Macon, Columbus, Athens, and Atlanta (not to mention the smaller towns of Gray and Monticello!).  Our Atlanta riders were Jennifer and Korey; I’m so happy that two of my RAAM teammates were able to join us!

Jake has done a great job of organizing our PP rides all season.  Here he is pumping up his tires before we head out.  He has a cool electronic pump that I had never seen before – appropriate, since Jake is a mechanical engineer.

Although our PP rides usually begin in Macon, the Pine Mountain Challenge begins in Barnesville and makes a big loop to Pine Mountain and back.  It’s always around 125 miles, making it the longest PP of the season.

By the way, I couldn’t help but chuckle during the first pee break of the day.  Usually being the only woman rider, it was a novel experience to have pee partners!  Jennifer, Korey, and I found a patch of woods a little up the road from where the guys stopped.  As the three of us spread out and squatted, it kind of looked like we were praying.  This was my prayer: “Please don’t let the guys leave before I can finish and get back on my bike!”

February must be one of our drier months because it seems like it’s always sunny for the Pine Mountain Challenge.  Also, it’s usually one of the first noticeably warmer days after getting through January.  Saturday’s sky was clear blue, too – beautiful!  This sign at an inn on top of the Pine Mountain ridge summed up the day quite well:

The one real stop of the day was for lunch at Dowdell’s Knob on top of Pine Mountain.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt often picnicked at this spot.  With the beautiful view of the valley below, it’s easy to see why this was one of his favorite respites.  Just a few miles away are Warm Springs, where FDR went for treatment of his polio, and the Little White House, which was a second home for him.  Between the history, nearby Callaway Gardens, and the unique natural history of the area, this is one of my favorite parts of Georgia.

Who knew that FDR is a cycling fan?

Korey, Jennifer, and me

The Pine Mountain Challenge is the one PP where we have a sag vehicle.  I packed a lunch, but Jake brought tons of provisions to share, too.  Over the years I’ve learned from the PP guys that OCPs (oatmeal cream pies) make great bike food.  I can’t vouch for the Moon Pies, though.  I didn’t try one since I didn’t have an RC Cola to go with it.

After lunch I was ready to hit it hard for the second half of the ride.  And that we did.  Throughout the day, I sat in and never pulled or took part in the rotations because that’s the only way I have a chance of staying with the group for the whole ride.  Even so – whoa! – sometimes it got tough!  One time we were hammering down some road with a chip-seal surface, and I thought the vibrations were going to rattle my brains out.  When we got through that section, my hands were stiff from gripping my handlebars so tightly.

Later in the ride, Jennifer went down in some sand and gravel at one turn.  Thankfully, she wasn’t hurt too badly, but I hated that she crashed.  The guys at the front of the peloton didn’t hear us when we yelled for them to stop.  After our group tended to Jennifer, we all got back on our bikes and started pedaling again.  We assumed we would catch up to the others at the other planned stop, a covered bridge several miles away.  We didn’t see them at the bridge, and so we kept pedaling.  It would have been nice to linger a moment to check out the bridge, but we didn’t want to get any farther behind the others.

The covered bridge was on a dirt road section.  Wouldn’t you know it; Jennifer got a flat tire.  (She’s not going to come down to ride with me anymore!)  We stopped to fix it, and then here come the guys who had been in front of us!  Not having a route map (d’oh!), they had taken a couple of wrong turns.  I was glad that the whole group was now back together.

We had a few other mishaps throughout the day, including another flat or two and a broken derailleur.  I had a mechanical myself about 100 miles into the ride, clumsily dropping my chain as I downshifted on the approach to a stop sign.  It took me about 10 times as long as it should have to get my chain back on, mainly because my gloves kept getting caught in it.  The peloton continued on, not realizing my difficulty.  Fortunately, our sag vehicle saw me, and I got to motorpace back up to the peloton.  Cool!  We continued hard to the end, even giving it one last strong push up the hill leading back into the Gordon College campus before finally turning into the parking lot.

I don’t always feel it the next day after a long ride, but I definitely did this time because of the intensity.  Originally, I had planned yesterday to do 50 miles’ worth of RAAM blocks.  However, when I got up in the morning, I could tell that my body was too fatigued to go that far.  Therefore, I changed my plans to do 30-40 miles’ worth of RAAM blocks, hoping to be on the 40 end.  Alas, it was not meant to be.  I did my first 20-mile block and couldn’t even hold 70% of my threshold power.  I rested for 30 minutes and thought I had another 20-mile block in me, but when I got back on my bike, I decided that another 10 miles was enough.  On the 10-mile block, I held only 57% of threshold.  When I got home, I took a nice, long nap.  I think that did my body a lot more good than another 10 miles would have.

PP rides are long, cold, and strenuous, but I’m really kind of sad to see the season end.  It’s a great group of cycling friends, and there’s such a sense of satisfaction from working hard.  Thank you to Jake for organizing all of the rides.  Thank you to Jeff, Robbie, and A.J. for driving the sag vehicle on the Pine Mountain Challenge.  And thank you to everyone I got to ride with during PP season.  Now it’s time to look forward to Tuesday Worlds once Daylight Saving Time begins again.  See you on the road!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

RAAM Blocks

Race Across America!  (RAAM!)  I’ve mentioned it in a few previous posts, but let me officially introduce our Sorella RAAM cycling team:

L-R: Lauren Schrichten, me, Korey Gotoo, and Jennifer Klein
We are so excited about completing this epic journey; Expect Adventure, indeed!  We’ll start on June 20, 2015 and cover 3,000 miles from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland in 7-8 days.  One of us will always be on the road, 24 hours a day.  A crew of about 12 will follow us in several vehicles.  Also, we are so pleased to be partnering with Wellspring Living, an organization that helps victims of domestic minor sex trafficking develop the courage to move forward and the confidence to succeed.  I’ll be posting a lot more about our RAAM training, logistics, etc. in the coming months.

Today I’ll describe a little bit of my training approach.  When I first decided to be part of my RAAM team, I envisioned hours and hours of riding my bicycle, during both training and the race itself.  That turns out to be only partially correct.  Yes, I’ll do ¼ of the 3,000-mile course (about 750 miles), but it won’t be hours at a time on the bike.  My teammates and crew members with previous RAAM experience explained that a 4-person team is a different animal from a solo RAAM racer or a 2- or 8-person team.  Our team will work in pairs.  The pairs will alternate 8-hour time blocks, which means we’ll take turns riding through the night.  During an 8-hour “on” block, those two riders will alternate back and forth between riding 30 minutes and resting 30 minutes.  Each 30-minute effort will be fairly intense, allowing us to keep up a race pace.  Thus, I have two training goals, which are somewhat in tension.  I need to ride as many miles as possible, but I also need to train in short blocks with periods of rest in between, mimicking the way we’ll race.

I’ve set weekly mileage goals for myself, increasing each month from January (150 miles per week) through May (575 miles per week) and tapering for about two weeks before RAAM.  I set 575 as my longest weekly mileage goal because I don’t want to do the total RAAM mileage (750 miles) until the event itself.  It’s kind of like how someone training for a marathon doesn’t get all the way up to 26.2 miles until the actual race; his/her longest training run might be 20-21 miles.  I used a similar proportion to determine that 575 miles would be a good target for my longest weeks.  Additionally, I’ve mapped out my training schedule week-by-week on a spreadsheet.  Because of work and other commitments, I won’t actually be able to ride the total mileage goal every week of every month, but I’ll definitely be trending upward.  As the days get longer, I’ll be able to ride more after work.  Also, I’ve built lots of long rides into the weekends, including brevets, permanents, charity rides, a ride to Atlanta on Mother’s Day to see my mother, and a lot of just-get-out-there-and-do-it rides.  I’m confident that I’ll get in plenty of miles to be ready for RAAM!

My other main type of training is what I’m calling RAAM blocks.  Brigette, our crew chief, emphasized that I need to do event-specific training, becoming used to getting on and off the bike.  So far I’ve done two RAAM block training sessions on the past two Sunday afternoons.  The first time I rode a 10-mile block and a 20-mile block with a 30-minute rest between.  This past Sunday I rode three blocks, 20-20-10, with 30-minute rests between.  These aren’t lollygagging blocks, though; I ride at 75-80% of my threshold power.  I’ll probably experiment with shorter blocks, too, maybe 10 miles max at a time.  Also, I’ll work up to 100 miles’ worth of blocks (20 miles each) with 30-minute rests between, which also will help me achieve my weekly mileage goals.  As I add blocks, I anticipate having to back down a little on my power, maybe about 70% of threshold.  I’ll be curious to see how it goes.

My RAAM blocks are loops that I ride from my house.  This allows me to do a little housework, e.g. fold laundry, during the 30-minute rests.  One of my biggest challenges between now and June is balancing training, work, church, home life, volunteering, and down time (ha!).  My training spreadsheet accounts for just about every hour.  I have to admit that I’ve already been feeling the pressure.  I wouldn’t be able live with such regimentation indefinitely, but I feel like it’s more than worth it for these few months.  Ride on!