Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Selfie 100 - Road Pixie tries rental thighs

"If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together" -African Proverb

Today was a perfect weather day here in Minnesota, light wind, big sun, okay a bit hot at about 90, but it isn't Florida so now weather that is making IronK swoon seems rather tame.

After last weekend's 600k, I was of course ready to hit it again.  Many asked if I would go and do the 300k with the Driftless Randonneurs yesterday, but I've been out of town riding enough.  If I was going to do a 300k, I'd do the one that leaves from my house.  And I went to sleep thinking I would do just that.

Of course, this morning, I got up, made coffee and had my daily chat with IronK.  We have spent an hour chatting at 5AM every day for the last 18 years.  Fortunately, I haven't run out of things to say.  The topic of conversation was partially the 600k.  I had to reflect on the advice I had given a friend recently about training for 1200ks.  Sure mega miles will get you strong, but they can also grind you down too.  I realized I hadn't ridden a long ride by myself all year.  Talk about a major wish being granted, I'm going to have to call my fairy godparents in Seattle and say thanks.  I also recently committed to what will undoubtedly be the biggest challenge I have ever attempted on the bike, or off it (unless you count living through peritonitis - nothing is ever going to be tougher than that).  I asked myself honestly, what was going to make me a stronger rider?  Was it doing yet another long ride going to get me through PBP and what I think will be bigger than PBP?  The resounding answer: no.

So my traditional, beat the miles into the ground changed.  Instead of riding a long, hot 300k.  I'd ride my favorite 100k permanent, the Caffeine Express.  At 69 miles and, now, about 3,000 ft of climbing, it isn't long, but it has absolutely constant rollers.  Big ones, little ones, and due to construction, it currently has a thigh-killing 15% grade that, were it longer, would give Freedom Road a run for the money.  Perfect PBP preparation and I would ride it as fast as I possibly could.   I would pound the hills without my usual hawk-like regard for my blood sugar tank.  The point would be to hammer on a hilly course and see what could be done.  Besides, as pretty as it is, I hadn't ever taken good pictures of it and that is just too bad.  So this would be my selfie ride.
Okay, not such a bad selfie...
Which is appropriate because 1) I am terrible at taking selfies and 2) I am generally terrible at going fast especially when climbing.

So promptly at 8:00AM, I left and headed down Minnetonka Blvd having visited the YesMart (which is gradually turning from a mini-mart to a head shop).  I universally hate this road mostly due to traffic and the fact that familiarity breeds contempt.
Father's Day Fishing - Ride the Bike to the Lake and off you go
But this morning was actually pleasant - probably all the fathers are sleeping in.  The turn onto Baker Road was welcome and I rode the rollers up and down for about 10 miles noticing that instead of my typical pace, I was able to steadily maintain an 18 mph pace.  I briefly detoured to get a look at the Minnesota River Bluffs trail.
Typical Trail Sign
It has been closed for a year due to last year's torrential flooding.  Maybe someday it will be fixed, but not yet.

The turn onto Pioneer Trail puts you on giant rollers, the kind I always associate unconsciously with PBP.  In 2011, I ran into my friend, Ron from Seattle, who advised me after the first one, "lather, rinse, repeat".  These don't last for long, but instead of conserving energy for later, I pounded my way up like I had an ax murderer behind me.  I would get to the top sucking air, but still going fast and recover on the way down the next.  The legs burned.

The descent to Chaska on Audubon Road has a fabulous panorama of the Minnesota River Valley.  On a different day, I would have done my 200k that travels along the river, but not today.
Descent to Chaska on Audubon Rd
I screamed down the bluff at about 40 mph and turned into the first control at 19 miles, in only an hour an 10 minutes.  Hmmm, I checked to make sure I put my own legs on this morning - this wasn't very typical for me.    At the Holiday Station, a very major victory in that they now stock almond milk.  I bought two.

A mile later, I came to a screaming halt.  At Walnut and Chaska is my favorite picnic park, the Fireman's Park.  It's old and has a historic building on a beautiful lake with a free water fountain and a shelter.  I've weathered so many storms there, used the bathroom, filled bottles and picnicked with IronK on the tandem there.  The old house was lifted onto a trailer an the entire park had been bulldozed!  Nothing but mud remained - the lake was full of goo and orange cones.  What a loss for the community.  They will probably build something completely unremarkable like a strip mall.  I nearly cried.

The next fun was that my favorite ascent out of the valley, Creek Road, is also still closed after the flooding last year.  It was under heavy construction.  I dutifully followed the detour which included a far longer, steeper climb.  Happily, my rental legs (they sure can't be mine) still got up what was probably a 6% sustained grade at 10-12 mph.
Long Rollers on CTY11
Prairie - there is still some left
However, this was also the start of "hmm, where do I go next".  Good thing I'm doing this instead of someone else - I'll have to be adjusting the cue sheet for the closure.  At the top are yet more rollers to Victoria, again the giant PBP-like ones.  A coyote trotted across the road directly in front of my and plopped himself down in a patch of flowers.  Unsure at first what he was, I stopped halfway up and we just stared at each other for a full minute. Then my brain said, "take a picture stupid"; of course, he dashed off as soon as the camera came out.

This area alternates between lakes, corn fields, and parks.   The rolling terrain offers some really impressive views that go on for miles and miles.  The barns on the horizon across of field of resplendent corn (twice as high as usual for this time of year) reminded me of how rural Minnesota can be, even 30 miles from downtown.
Carver Park Reserve
At Victoria, I continued north on rollers through Carver Park Reserve, where I favor skiing in the winter.   I continued to maintain the peppy pace even on Hwy 7, not my favorite road, but more big rollers with views that pleased.  Through St Bonifacious and finally the turn north past Swede Lake to Watertown.

Watertown used be the home of Crow River Coffee, which had a mean panini.  It had been closed for a year, but as I rolled into town - more construction and that entire side of the block had been razed.  The small bridge was decimated, and no left turn available to get to the MarketPlace Foods.  I again followed the official detour - straight up the bluff at 15% - I kicked into my lowest gear and spun up as fast as I could.  Which was pretty fast!

A few blocks and then it was 15% down to the control.  I had some rice cakes that turned out to be moldy.  Sure wish I had looked before that first bite.  I threw them out, rinsed my mouth and bought some pomegranate juice and water.  I was also trying out a new powder called UCAN.
It was made of some kind of space age starch.  Big thumbs up for pomegranate juice.  The UCAN tasted like cornstarch, meaning chalk.  It was some of the nastier stuff I have let pass through my lips on a ride.  Back to Scratch for this kind of thing.  I'd gotten to 40 miles at a blistering 2:38 of pedal time with about 30 minutes spent watching wildlife, taking pictures, and figuring out where I was after the detours.  Yowsers, the rental on these legs was probably going to max my credit card.

Crow River at Watertown
Only about 29 miles to go.  Unsure how to navigate the one way cone festival up and down the bluff, I found a pedestrian bridge over the river behind the control that plopped me right back on the route without any climbing.  Hallelujah!  CR24 back to Mound was yet more rollers and there was almost no traffic.  

A few miles outside Mound, a guy on a go-fast bike (the kind that has flat tubes and more carbon fiber than the Trek Factory) passed me with that, "out of my way inferior female putz"
Outside Watertown
Cty Rd 24 From the Top of the Roller
air about him. Sure I was on my rando bike with a big handlebar bag, but I was just not in the mood for such things. So instead of just taking it in the lip as usual, I hit the gas and gave chase.  I was probably 20 ft behind him when he turned his head around and saw me right on his tail.  His eyes got really big and he stood to climb the last few feet of the roller we were on.  Undaunted, I stood too grabbed the bars and took off over the top of the roller like a rocket.  Down the other side and I passed him going into Mound on the flat stretch outside the city limits at 28 mph.  We met at the Main Street stop light and the sweat was just pouring off of him; take that kitted racer-dude, you've been dusted by a middle-aged female who is NOT the one having the hot flash right now.  He gave me a stunned look, talked about putting on sunscreen and pulled off the road.  I continued on.

Of course, something like that does not come without cost.  I'd pretty much emptied the tank in a sprint that long and I suddenly had a not so good feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I had to slow up for a couple of miles and start eating gumdrops to avoid bonking.  The UCAN was undrinkable and I didn't have anything else.  Fortunately, the grace of the universe put an 8 year old on the trail next to the  road with a lemonade stand.  I threw out the UCAN and gave her $10 for pretty much her whole supply (filling both bottles).   Sure I probably overpaid, but it was for a good cause and I didn't have change.

The trip in on Shoreline Road is quite pleasant and I sped up having downed half the lemonade pretty much before getting back on the bike.

 Wayzata is also under construction and despite the fact that every cyclist in the city seems to be riding through the closed road, I'm just too lawful for that.  You can get ticketed for something like that.  So I took the detour instead.  Of course, instead of a largely flat, sweeping road, the detour took me up near a frontage road with some very steep climbs.  I grated my way up them and continued through the hills finally rejoining Minnetonka Blvd.  That construction project is both huge and a pain.  I'm sure what was a very pretty intersection at the 101 and Eastman is going to be an impersonal freeway when there are done.

So back to the YesMart I arrived.  At this point, it was 90!  I was out of lemonade and bought some Pellegrino Blood Orange which was the only classy thing to eat or drink in the entire place.  Someday, I will purchase a hookah and send the receipts to Crista - just for a laugh.

So I pulled in having done the whole thing at an average of 15.7 mph.  Believe me, with all the hills and the stop and go, I had to generally go a lot faster for that to be an average.  But I got my wish and I've decided to temporarily keep the rental legs.  Until I can trade up.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Cinereal 600k

I love the GLR rides.  They are beautiful and incredibly challenging in terms of terrain and, at least this year, weather.    The 300k had no rain, but had almost 100 miles of heavy headwinds and cold temperatures, the 400k had rain and cold temperatures, and this ride, well, frankly it was the best of the bunch and that doesn’t mean it was a flowers and sunshine.

As a randonneur, especially in a PBP year, I like good challenges early.  If one is going to the Grand Event, one doesn’t really want to be experiencing anything for the first time.   PBP is notorious for wind, rain, heat, cold, and just about everything else.  However, having done a bunch of 1200ks, I’d also point out that that is the case for just about any of the multi-day events.

I had ulterior motives for riding in the form of my friend, Lisa, who 1) had never ridden in Wisconsin and 2) was going to her first PBP this year and who, as a resident of San Diego, perhaps had less experience with the rolling terrain and rain than the average Midwesterner.   Sure the SD brevet week had some nasty weather, but 2 wet, cold rides in the day does not familiarity make.  There are all sorts of different odd things that can happen with bad weather – particularly at night.  It might sound like I am a sadistic friend, but really, if you are going to experience all night riding in lousy weather, you don’t want to rely on your first good experience with it to be at PBP.  The last time she had done something like this had in fact been marred by a now famous crash on the Jarbo Gap in the Gold Rush, which is how she wound up meeting me in the first place.  I love the circularity here.
Lisa's Bike - New Gear

Summer Knight - Minus a bag
So even though there was a major chance of rain for this ride, in the end, it was the best training ride we could have come up with.  Both of us were already qualified so risk taking was the entire point.  This was a trial run for a slew of new equipment, bags, racks, rain gear, lights, clothing, fitting, etc. as well as a first for traveling with a bike on a major airline.  As for me, this was to make a grand total of 2,600k in a 30-day period – that is a truckload of riding – a serious test of my ability to recover.

The Ride

After a bit longer than expected drive to Delavan, we readied the bikes for the ride.  The first, and worst, discovery was that I had omitted my front bag from packing the car.  That included my inhaler, medication, SPOT tracker, and my cue sheet mount.  Yikes!  I would not have a cue sheet for an entire 600k.  But I reasoned SpinBob was on the ride, Lisa had a cue sheet window and a Garmin, though I wasn’t certain how up to date the route was since she had gotten it from RideWithGPS and not the semi-official one from the GLR site.

The ride was again to start in a gentle rain, but this time, the temperatures were to stay very stable in the 70s for the entire ride; winds were to be light to non-existent.  That was a blessing since gentle rains and clouds would keep the heat down and I’m still mentally recovering from the heat in Florida.  The grey day brought out the vibrancy in the greens and as we rolled out of Delavan, I marveled at how much the corn had grown in a mere two weeks!  I managed brief introductions with SpinBob who then zoomed off on a speed mission, the first of my backups for no cue sheet disappearing into the distance.
That is a lot of colors....riding out of Delavan

Lisa and I enjoyed a pleasant pace almost precisely the same as my pace 2 weeks earlier.  This allowed us to chat and enjoy the scenery as the rain started to lighten and eventually lift.  We pulled into Edgerton and made quick work of the stop.  Another rider was just in front of us wearing a green jersey.  I never did catch his name, but we wound up leap frogging with him all day.  I mentally named him “Green”.

Lisa and I both share a common interest in creating our own ride food.  We had an array of rice cakes and homemade bars.   This dramatically decreases control times and, at least for me, I get more even digestion by eating a little continuously and avoiding big sandwiches or meals at controls.  I also can’t eat peanuts which pretty much nixes most traditional ride fare.  I had made 3 different kinds of rice bars for this ride.  I had about 10 of them with me on the first 400k of this ride.  By the time we hit the second control at Verona, they were half gone!  Ugh.  Most fortunately, Lisa had the same number and offered to share.

The rain largely ended after Edgerton and we easily rode the rollers to Verona through Stoughton.  Here, I made my first navigational error in missing the turn on Pace St.  Going through Stoughton was new this year so I assumed the failure of the GPS to point it out meant that we had last year’s route loaded.  There were some significant differences between the 2 years that I thought I would have to keep in mind.  We lost a few minutes, but not too much, retracing our steps.
Interesting barns...

Between Verona, another quick stop, and Sauk City, Jim and Bob were manning a secret control at the top of a long descent that is a climb for the Ironman Route.  Despite the gray day, the tri-riders were out in full force and as we descended the hill, we passed bike after bike grating their way up.   We paused to take pictures since this was a new state for Lisa and she was additionally trying out a point and shoot camera that allowed her to take photos without stopping – a skill I had spent quite a bit of time developing.  One of my favorite climbs is on this section and I was feeling abnormally peppy on climbs.  I suppose riding 2,000k does eventually do something for one’s thighs – even lame ones like mine.  But early in a 600k is no place to be making time.

At Sauk City, we pulled in and had some soup and a slightly longer break of 20 minutes.  At 95 miles, this signals the start of the larger climbs into the Baraboo area.  Not that we hadn’t already been climbing.  At this point, three riders that had started an hour late caught up looking a little breathless, but happy.  I gathered that they were somewhat new and I look forward to seeing them in the future.

Lisa and I left a bit after Green and another rider wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jersey – I never caught his name either but mentally named him Blackhawk.  The grey day kept on, but with no wind, we continued to enjoy the ride, pausing for pictures at some of the very lovely, sweeping views of the Baraboo bluff.   The route was even more powerfully alive than 2 weeks previously and you could almost see the plants in the fields pushing towards the sky.

The 3-stage ascent of the bluff on Freedom Road and Happy Hill Road is among the most difficult on the GLR rides.  I have literally heard one man’s voice quiver in fear at the mere mention of Freedom Road.  Personally, I like it because it has multiple tiers, a view mid way and a fabulous descent.  At the top of the second section, we paused with the sweat dripping off us.  For those randonneurs not in our particular gender and age group, whenever that happens, there are multiple reasons, one or more of which might be true: 1) You are working your a__ off 2) You are having a hot flash and 3) Your companion is having a hot flash and you are sympathetically having one yourself.   I’m pretty sure all three were going on, though who was sympathetic might be up for grabs.  I briefly thought I was back in Florida.
Top of Freedom Hill

The View from Freedom Hill

We arrived in Baraboo again at nearly the same time as 2 weeks previous.  Both of us had been eating on the route, so we skipped subs and instead continued on to Lodi, which promised a bit better fare.  At this point, Lisa had eaten only 1 rice cake to my 9 and gave me 3; in retrospect, that should have really set a loud bell off in my head but only resonated at a tinkling.   Somewhere in the back of my mind, it occurred to me that I had gotten up at least part of Freedom Road first; that NEVER happens.

We took off out of Baraboo and passed the circus museum and headed for Devil’s Lake.  This was probably my favorite visit to the park.
At Devil's Lake
 The grey day had kept most people at home and the lake was serene and almost deserted but for a few fisherman and hikers.  We stopped on the shore to take some photos.  The grey weather had really started growing on me, though I again noticed that climbing was going slower for Lisa than I had ever seen it.
Riding in the Park
I put it down to travel, jet lag and lack of familiarity with the route.  I’m inevitably slower on routes that are new – there is too much to see to rush.

We stopped at the Merrimac ferry and I had some popcorn, the salt really appealing.  Lisa had an ice cream.  BlackHawk and Green both made the ferry with us and when we got to the other side, both Lisa and I picked up the pace to Lodi.   I kept wondering about what the weather might do and asked her to check when we got to the control.  It was around 7 when we got there and I bought some lemonade, watermelon to share.  I’d been munching my way through my bag though my primary sugar supply was untouched.  I’ve found that rice cakes excel at maintaining my blood glucose even and spare the drain on my liver – total bummer they can’t go to PBP.  Being that my liver is just about the only digestive organ that works well, I strive to make its life better.   I felt better at 230k than I had at 100k.
At Merrimac Ferry
From Lodi, there were a couple of rollers out of the Wisconsin River Valley and we gained a bit of time on this section arriving in Columbus just after dark – a bit behind my pace two weeks ago but still in the window.  The weather was still quite nice and we looked to be on track to finish up around the same time.  But the forecast also called for rain after midnight.
Sunset outside Columbus

As we left Columbus in the dark, the lack of a cue sheet and the darkness caused problems for navigation.  My computer, adjusted again for my 650B wheels, was off by MILES – about 4 for every 40 miles.  That made figuring out where we were on a cue sheet that neither one of us could see easily difficult.  To make matters worse, I usually ride this route with SpinBob, who likes to ride in front and navigate, in the dark so the landmarks that I relied on had not sunk in.  We inevitably went straight where there should have been a left to stay on the road.   This blew about 20 minutes as we stopped and puzzled over where we were, asking a guy with a dog for directions eventually.  Losing time in this manner was not really what we were looking for.

Fortunately, River Road, despite some possibilities was not flooded from the previous rains.  We eventually caught the other two riders and were together for at least a few miles.  Long enough to be together when the inevitable hecklers showed up in their pickup truck to harass us for riding at night.   Really?  How is it that all these guys drive white pickups?  Is it some kind of strange advertising?    After all, we all know that serial killers favor white vans with no windows.  Random jerks keep with the white, but go for the flatbed.

The section just before Lake Mills is marked by large, plop-like glacial features called drumlins.  Just as we arrived, the first major plops of rain arrived on cue.  I stopped and rolled down my rain legs, grabbing my rain jacket and just getting it zipped as the sky opened and absolutely poured!  I haven’t been in rain like that since the Gold Rush.  Gee what a great friend I was for dragging my friend out into the path of the Kraken.  Fortunately, she had new rain legs.  Putting on rain pants would have been a project on the road and we had so little time before the deluge she’d have been soaked to the bone before they were on.  Love rain legs, so easy to deploy….

The two of us enjoyed the benefits of stellar lights and rain gear and we continued to be able to ride at a decent pace despite the pouring rain.  5 minutes later, both men were nowhere to be seen.  That had not been my intention, but I figured they would catch up.   The rain was a bit cool but the temperatures continued to be warm and though I was a bit sick of it, we got to Lake Mills without an issue at about 12:30.  At this point, air conditioning was freezing so I went inside with cards to get hot chocolate while Lisa checked the weather and sent a text to Shaun.  The clerk looked at me like I had 3 heads.  I’m not sure I was interpreting correctly, but there seemed to be disdain in her voice, “it sucks that you are riding”.   I had her sign the cards, paid up and left the store as quickly as possible giving her what I hope was a cheery goodbye.  The cocoa turned out to be a nice break and the guys again pulled up as we left.

Leaving Lake Mills, we were on what I thought was a new route and the rain and darkness made things difficult to see.  We turned at the correct turn onto what we thought was Mud Lake Road, but somehow missed a fork where Mud Lake diverges from CTY A.   About 10 bonus miles later, we were back on the route, the sleep stop now considerably shortened.  This also ensured that we would ride in the zombie hours – which is notoriously bad for me.  Another person would not have taken this as well as Lisa did.

So we passed the guys, again, which surprised them.  But at this point we were on a mission.  Unfortunately, the proverbial clock struck 3 and right on time, my brain decided that sleeping was a great idea, no matter what the weather.  I proactively did caffeine and I know that a 5 minute nap would have fixed it, but in the pouring rain, that just wasn’t happening.   I was so wasted-sleepy that my tongue loosened as if I’d drank about 8 shots.  Lisa now knows WAY too much about me.  Fortunately, there is that old randonneuring tradition that what happens on the ride STAYS on the ride.  Otherwise, I may have to change my name and move to Brazil.  I think at one point, she might have been truly frightened, but I eventually did manage to wake myself up.

By the time we got through Whitewater and back to the room, we still had about 3 hours in the bank.  I threw off all my wet clothes, set an alarm and used a blow dryer on the wet brevet cards while eating.   Lisa took a shower (I think) and crashed like a rock.  We had an hour and a half of sleep and she was so far into REM that I practically had to shake her to wake her up.  The rain hadn’t let up at all and we ate what we could, refilled the food on the bike and departed at about 8:30.
Riding away from the Kraken!

As we started, it absolutely poured.  Fortunately, I knew the 200k better than the 400k and it was easy navigating to Brodhead.  It let up and I was briefly hopeful, but then it poured even harder.  To add insult to injury, a quarter mile of the route was gone and now a big pile of mud.
Damn, I cannot see without my glasses
Lisa, in mountain shoes, had an easier time of it and I wound up trudging in tall grass since my cleats would have been very hard to clean out after walking in mud.

Then a miracle happened.  It stopped raining and a white line showed up on the horizon!  We both paused at the same time and took the same picture of the black clouds now receding into the east as we continued west.  Within 15 minutes, the sun made an appearance and it heated up to 80 degrees.  The rain had left us both a bit worse for the wear and, though I was still climbing better, both of us were equally awake.  A subtle idea started working its way into my thoughts.  A couple of riders passed us having waited out the rain.  We paused for more pictures and got to Brodhead to see 2 other bikes at the control.   Here, I bought a couple of Mighty Mango juices and Lisa got some really nice potato chips that I clumsily dropped on the ground.  We ate them any way – 5 second rule.
Rollers on the way to Brodhead

I also realized that I had forgotten sunscreen and it was downright sunny.  We had an extra stop at the Piggly Wiggly for about a gallon of it – the only size for sale.  We only had 15 miles to Evansville and those miles were fun.  We rolled in, had some ice cream and rolled out quickly since Oregon was also not far.   We had a nice chat but something was clearly off.  We pulled into Oregon later than either of us thought.  Another quick stop and as we turned onto CTY A for the last 50 miles, the idea I had been tossing around suddenly crashed into my frontal cortex like a freight train.  Aside from a couple of ice cream cones and a few bites of fruit, when had I seen Lisa eat any simple carbs or sugar at all?  I had actually eaten at least a third of her supply of rice cakes the previous day and I was pretty sure she had finished with some extra.
House in Evansville

Bucolic Roads of Wisconsin
 She hadn’t gone for lemonade or anything really sweet besides cocoa the night before.  I knew she had real concerns about blood sugar, but I was suddenly reminded of my first ride with IronK in which she languished in frustration on hills despite having some major muscles.   I reached into my sugar stash and selected my current favorite, a gel pack of Vermont maple syrup (the good stuff).  This ride was about experiments after all.

In 5 minutes, we were going about 17 miles an hour and she was back to being the woman who beat the living crap out of me all winter.  I’ve seen some epic comebacks, but this one tops them all.  For an hour, the length of time that 30g of sugar lasts, we cruised along at our fastest pace for the entire ride.  I could kick myself for not getting it sooner.  It had been a silent bonk all the time: the kind where you eat just enough sugar to keep your brain happy, but not enough to ride well at tempo.  I had battled the same phenomena 10 years ago when I first really started doing distance.

We pulled into Edgerton, catching a rider we hadn’t seen since Brodhead who looked at us with shock at how fast we had to have been going.  We left before him having purchased lemonade and after some additional sugar.
The last 28 miles were done at about 15 mph, the same pace as the first leg of the ride.  Despite the weather and the challenges and having a bit shorter sleep stop, Lisa still had her fastest 600k by 6 minutes.
Selfie at the finish - 


Having read Lisa’s blog, I know that she could sense something in my puzzlement at our pace.
Biking Friends
I was never frustrated at us going slow, my main worry was that, far from a simple case of not eating enough sugar, her situation was the same one I faced last year: the onset of a chronic illness.  At one point, she asked me why the End of World climb in Arizona so terrified me but Freedom Road was a personal favorite when Freedom Road is by far a more difficult climb.  I spent quite a bunch of needless time explaining that the End of the World will always be the place where I realized that my body was sick with something that I might not ever recover from.  Freedom Road was the climb after 3 months of hell that convinced me I had finally beaten it.  I feared the reverse might be true for her.  To solve a puzzle like hers on this ride, before the same thing happens on PBP and destroys a dream, what better use of my time could there possibly be?

It isn't everyone that has a friend willing to fly halfway across the country to ride their bike with you. Riding with someone for a long time can change you in subtle way that take a long time to understand.  I know that I am a better climber for knowing Lisa.  I'm also not sure that either of us would have made it through without the other.  I shudder to think what riding alone in pouring rain with limited access to a cue sheet would have been like.  There is a satisfaction that comes with being able to share an experience instead of just live it.  That is what makes friends from riding partners.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Beware the Silent Bonk

I first experienced severe low blood sugar at the tender age of 13 years old.  I was at band camp in Cincinnati and after an afternoon of marching around with a saxophone on a hot day, I recall a sudden sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach.  That was followed quickly by a short view of the ground approaching and then a bunch of paramedics.  One month and glucose tolerance test later, I was informed by an endocrinologist that I was likely growing at an uneven rate and that my pancreas was confused as a result or I was going to develop juvenile diabetes.  In any case, a blood sugar level of 37 is just not a viable way to live.  So I did a massive amount of research on the topic of blood sugar when other girls of my age group were likely reading Judith Krantz books.  It's a topic that has never really gotten old, I still spend time keeping up to date on the latest biochemistry of metabolism.

Though the endocrinologist was correct and the worst part of the problem went away as I completed my teenage years, I've always had to be careful of my blood sugar.  My marathon running uncle does have juvenile diabetes and I really have no desire to join him.  Alas, it's a family of autoimmune diseases, but we do manage to get the job done as far as living goes.   Though I, like every other cyclist on the planet, have my bonks, I am pretty good at feeling them approach and warding them off. Something sugary is always somewhere close by and I am chronically careful to keep my sugar tank full.  Riding multi day events is all about recovery and my liver and blood glucose are key in that.

Over the years, especially riding the tandem, I've come to appreciate the various kinds of bonks.  Sure we all experience the hammer-in-your-face-cannot-continue kind of bonk.  But the most insidious kind of bonk is what I call the Silent Bonk.  It happens most frequently in distance - the longer the distance the more insidious it is.  Though I have only my own research to really base this off of, I might also admit to having a certain quantity of blood testing to augment my conclusions least in myself or perhaps you may have experienced it yourself.  In a Silent Bonk, you feel fine, not ill or dizzy or any of the other tell tale signs.  But you just can't seem to get going either.  You aren't hungry or cramped or anything else and you still get through the ride thinking, "gee, that just wasn't my day".  Every hill seems like a pain, sure you can climb them, but you make excuses like there being a headwind or overtraining or whatever.  And unlike other kinds of bonks, I'm convinced that the Silent Bonk can go on for days.

If you go out and read about your metabolism, there are a few really important things to remember.  First, your brain uses sugar only and it consumes about 20% of the sugar resources in your blood.  If you don't have enough sugar in your blood, your brain doesn't work and you wind up feeling - you know it right away and that is the classic bonk.  In a Silent Bonk, you manage to keep enough sugar in your system to keep your brain working, but you don't have quite enough to keep your muscles and other organs happy.   If you are doing big sprints, this probably won't happen to you because you blast through all your reserves and the line is very far behind you when you start feeling it.  But if you are cranking along as randonneurs so often are at a pretty aerobic pace, you might not notice that you are skirting closer to the line than you want to be.  

Which brings us to the second thing that is important.  In order for your body to change stored fat into sugar, there are metabolic processes that must happen first.  Those processes require sugar to run, so you can't burn fat unless you have a supply of sugar.  It's a chicken and egg thing and the body solves it by storing about 2,000 calories of sugar as glycogen in the muscles and the liver.  That store is the "tank" that all endurance athletes must watch.  It literally can take days to refill it completely.  If you run out, you can't burn fat and you run out of energy until you consume more sugar.  That is why doing a gel will cure the bonk, but if you do nothing else, you'll probably bonk again in an hour if you keep it up.  Once the tank is empty, all you can really do is consume sugar as you burn it and that is very hard to do.  The best thing to do is consume sugar to keep the tank full in the first place.

Non distance riders who bonk will do a gel, finish, and then the ride ends.  They go home, eat dessert and a few days later, everything is back to normal.  But what happens if you don't stop? For a day, two days, three days, four days, etc?  What can happen is that the tank slowly drains and when you do stop to eat, you replace just enough to keep moving and keep your brain working. Let's face it, as a randonneur, it is almost impossible to keep up with the calories that you are burning, especially in multi day events.

So if I am on a 1200k and want to ride well for all 4 days, I have to safeguard the tank if I don't want to wind up pedaling at 8-10 miles an hour and have a Silent Bonk.  Sure there is fatigue to consider, but a big part of doing multi day events is keeping your metabolism running well for all the days of the ride.  

You can read all kinds of books by nutritionists and trainers.  But most agree that while you are riding an endurance event about 60-80% of what you eat needs to be carbohydrates.  Then some fat and protein.  Protein is really interesting because it is actually the distant second for fuel.  If your body is running out of carbs, it will start breaking down protein into amino acids and creating sugars that way.  In fact, fat is last in the line of things to break down.  And guess what the biggest source of protein in your body is: those muscles you spent all winter in the gym trying to build.  That's the absolutely most cruel part of the Silent Bonk.  As you are puzzling what is wrong, you are likely damaging your muscles so that next time you ride, you have less to work with.  You get progressively weaker over a long period of time.  Beware this effect, it's nasty!  

Strangely enough, it happened to me early in my ultra days because I was trying to be careful of my blood sugar in the first place.  As a person who had been lectured on how evil it was to have a blood sugar spike and crash (and who had them with alarming results), I mistakenly assumed that all sugar always caused a bunch of insulin to be released.   I avoided ever eating sugar while riding.  I liked to eat nuts - great source of fat, lousy source of continuous energy.  Sure I never had a spike, I just had a continuously downward trend.  To make matters worse, when I wasn't riding, I then had a sweet tooth to battle.  And I got progressively slower over the summer.

What I finally figured out was that blood sugar spikes occurs when you consume sugar at rest, in other words, when you aren't using it. Insulin is the hormone that helps the body store sugar as fat (which is way more compact than in sugar form - look at the calorie counts on a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of sugar).  If I am pedaling 250 miles, the chances that I will not have a need for the sugar I am consuming is much lower.  Nonetheless, that is why more complex sugars or starches are preferable - they are available for a longer period of time - an hour or so.   No one wants to be constantly chewing for 20 hours at a time.  But if I don't eat enough carbs, my performance gets lackluster and over multi day events, I just start slowing down. 

Figuring all this out was a big ah-ha moment for me.  I have since watched it in 3 different people that I know.  The first was a randonneur who, like me, was terrified of spiking his blood sugar.  He was on my flèche team.  After 3 hours, we were not running well as a team.  Then the rest of us convinced him to start eating clif shots.  His speed increased dramatically.  We finished the flèche by buying him an entire bag of gummy bears at Walgreens.  The second was training with IronK on our tandem for a hilly Cycle Oregon.  Due to lung issues, she had limitations on how hard she could pedal hard and also wanted to lose weight.  Alas, on a tandem, she would bonk on most hills.  So we initiated the "gel at the bottom of the hill" rule.  That allowed her to pedal like crazy coming up, but not overshoot or fall apart.

The last time I saw it was someone I'd ridden with many times.  After 320 miles of what I could see was complete incredulity over lackluster riding, I pulled a packet of maple syrup out of my bag and handed it to them.  In 5 minutes, little wings sprouted out their back and their pace increased by about 3-5 mph.  Not really the kind of negative split one is looking for.  We picked up over an hour on the clock in only 25 miles.

I encourage anyone reading this blog to not take my word for it.  Google endurance and carbohydrate - beware articles by sports drink companies and read things from nutritionists, trainers and the NIH.  But here is my recipe for avoiding the Silent Bonk and any other bonk:

1.  Don't ride too fast at the start!  Your metabolism needs a few to get into the groove.  It's the most important time to ride your own ride.

2.  Eat a mixture of foods and drinks gradually and eat about 100-200 calories of carbohydrate an hour depending on how hard you are working (big honking climbs require more).  60% of what I eat  is carbs, with protein and fat second and third.  I eat more fat than protein while riding.

3.  Avoid high fructose corn syrup.  If you can drink it, by all means do so, but it upsets my stomach and I like juice and lemonade with real sugar better.  Fresh fruit is sometimes available at mini marts - bananas aren't the only one either.

4.  Keep the tank full - Don't quit eating just because it is dark or raining.  This is still a big problem for me.  I don't feel like eating on the bike when I'm paying more attention to other things.

5.  Find what works for you and then find about 10 other things that work too.  On a 1200k, you get bored easily.  You don't want to quit eating just because you already at that same gel for 2 days.  I use a powdered gel, maple syrup, honey, sugar packets, organic gumdrops and stars from Whole Foods, and several cookie recipes.  I've also been known to eat a donut or two and Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies, which have an appalling amount of calories in a tiny space.  Many really go for chocolate milk, but lately I only do it if I find it made with whole milk with sugar. 

6.  Don't forget electrolytes - all of them.  Everyone knows about salt and potassium.  Don't forget calcium and magnesium.

7.  Do the ride backwards.  I try to ride on day 1 the way I think I will feel on day 4, then day 2 like day 3.  The idea is that by day 4, I still have energy for a sprint to the finish!  I avoid redlining while climbing or in a headwind.

8.  Eat your biggest meal of a multi day event before you sleep at the sleep stop.  Your digestive system can then avoid competing with your legs.  If you eat a bigger meal at a control, back it off for half an hour to give your stomach a chance to empty.  This really helped me avoid getting nauseous.

9.  Accept the fact that to finish, you might have to eat a Twinkie.  I know someone who would rather bonk and DNF than eat something they don't consider nutritious enough.  Consequence, they bonk and DNF a lot.

Randonneuring is a great sport.  But it also requires hours and hours of training.  Getting to the start of something like a 600k requires commitment and dedication.  Don't let nutrition be the foil and beware the Silent Bonk.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Release the Kraken's second cousin, Sid

Sid, you got no game for me!

First off, this statement is not meant to mock anyone who ably started this ride and didn't make it.  Frankly, they are probably smarter than I am, or at least haven't run into the kind of things that I have.  As Krakens go, Sid wasn't that hard.  No one wound up in the hospital - I've seen that more than enough times in my time!  Also, no one wound up crashed on the side of the road in a downpour.

That said, I must also say thank you to the many who sent me emails about my thighs in response to the previous post, Postcards from Florida.  I'm touched that so many have a better opinion of them than I do.  Clearly, they haven't seen me climb....

The Great Lakes Randonneurs have great routes which are varied and challenging.  That is the reason I love them so much.  Even though I had no business doing a second 400k after the 400k the previous week and the 1200k the week before that, I simply couldn't say no to this ride.  Sure Sid was already on the radar, but no way was he getting in the way of Wisconsin in the spring.  This was THE ride for a flower lover like me.
After years of riding in it, the rain doesn't phaze me in the least.  If you are ever going to do a 1200k, rain is in your future so may as well like it.
After a gentle rain...
And I got an email from SpinBob saying he wanted a nice relaxing ride for his PBP qualifier and not one whose speed was negotiated by that other male body part.  

IronK also came to the ride!  This will hopefully be happening more often in the future since she has family in the area and we really do enjoy them.  Especially Aunt Evie, who at 95 is as spry as ever.  Of course, the Summer Knight with his impressive metal fenders wasn't back together, so the fenderless Princess was steed of the day.  But I really didn't find that to be all that bad either.  I wax philosophical on the weather.

I arrived the night before to do my registration and get my card.  Somehow, everyone thought I was doing the 600k since most were.  The 400k and 600k are the same route for the first 400k.  Despite preregistration and me saying so, I still wound up with the wrong card.  If it was a sign from the universe, this time I was having none of it.  400k was all I had time for.  

There were also some other friendly faces at the start in the from Paul, who I finished PBP with in 2011 and Cindy, who I rode with in North Carolina.  Also Dave, with whom I completed the 600k last year on the same course.  

The forecast went from dire to not so bad in the days before the ride.  The start was one of those gentle rains at about 65 degrees that I really like.  It makes everything seem even greener than normal. The locust trees were in bloom as were the phlox.
Locusts in bloom
I really like phlox and you could see just about every color there was poking out of ditches, around trees and clustered at signs.  The rain was accompanied by a gentle tailwind and ended just before the first control at Edgerton.  Then it ended and the tail continued pushing us along.  The warm temperatures and the light wind made the cloudy day more ethereal than depressing and we were moving!

Just before Stoughton, Sid showed up with a Big Bang.
Approaching Sid...
 One minute, we had little wind and 70 degrees.  Within 10 minutes, temperatures plummeted down to 53 and a major wind kicked up from the east.  That would have been really bad except that we were headed west which meant that for the most part, we now had a 20+ mph tailwind.  Sid, you really were going to have to do much better to phaze me.  I munched on some lamentably old panallettes and got some gum drops out.  SpinBob and I continued to make good time.  About half an hour later though, Sid managed to cough up some rain so out came the rain legs.  If you have ever seen rain legs, they look like nylons chaps and are, in my opinion, an absolute must for a randonneur.   Easy to deploy, they weigh next to nothing and they keep you dry without being a tent.  And they are warm at night too....

We pedaled on through the rain enjoying the big tailwind.  The route became more rolling and I had a rice cake and a sandwich in Verona.  Many riders who I typically think of as fast, we're having a lazier day and probably a good idea not to push hard.  Most were on the 600k after all.  We blew through Verona quickly and left as the rain ended again on the progressively hillier course towards Sauk City.  We were riding with Alex, who had completed brevet week in Iowa a week and half earlier.  He and I apparently have a similar pechant for pretty rides (or epic pain, you be the judge).  

The rain came back again as we approached Sauk City.  The final climb over the ridge to Sauk is a personal favorite.  I love the way the trees hang over the road and the flowers poke out onto the asphalt like fairies gazing at their reflections in a pond.  Today did not disappoint!  As we pulled into Sauk City there were a large number of bicycles already at Kwik Trip.  The rain was coming down steadily at this point.

I was a little cold and had a tub of macaroni and cheese along with some whole milk (thank you divine being who spared me from lactose intolerance).  Bob and I made a quick stop of it, but wound up pulling over to put on arm warmers.  We still had that tailwind but the low 50s is the low 50s.  Well worth the time it took.  As we came out of Sauk City, the rain receded and finally died out as we went up and down the rollers through farmlands, now even greener than before.  The corn crop was going to love this day.  The cooler temperatures make the increasing climbing not so bad and the hills did a lot to block the now cross wind.  Now I had long fingered gloves on which make it harder to eat out of my bag.  Oh well, the flowers continued to delight.  
Flowers along the road
In my mind, the highlight of the 400k is the assault of the Baraboo bluff on Freedom Road.  It's a three stage climb, sure it's steep, but there are very cool looking old log cabins and the whole thing has the feeling of a time warp.  I really like it despite the double digit grade.  The rain had ended and the pavement was dry as we climbed up.  I had to drop back after another rider came up and slowly ascended in front of me with his red blinky going at a pulse of about heartbeat rate.  That always puts me right to sleep and I wound up staring at my wheel and slowing until he was out of sight.   But the climb was great and so was the descent!  We rolled through Baraboo to the 20 mile mark literally on the same pace as I had been on last year.  So long Sid, your time has past.

The river at Baraboo
I expected to see many at the control, but the hordes had opted to visit a laundromat instead to dry clothes.  I had foreseen the rain and worn a bunch of wool so I saw no reason to dry off.  We had a quick bite and left quickly.  A few came in as we left, including Dawn, who had recently purchased Bob's Rivendell Rambouillet.  She had a great looking white showers pass jacket on.  Very visible and I like visible.

The next few miles are really fun on a summer day.  Baraboo was the winter grounds of the big circuses in the late 19th and early 20th century.  The circus museum is here along the river and they play music if you are lucky enough to get there by 4.  We were not, but the old box cars and big tops are cool all the same.  Then a few short climbs and a great pedal through Devils Lake State Park,
Road thru Devils Lake
almost deserted for once.  It's truly spectacular and on any other day would have been packed.  Today, we almost have it to ourselves!  No rain and the clouds are just starting to lift!  
At the ferry, so long Sid
Next stop is the Merrimac Ferry.  The town of Merrimac has steadily voted down a bridge across Lake Wisconsin in favor of their ferry which on a hot day has ice cream for sale at the dock.  The ride takes about 5-10 minutes and the sun is now poking through the clouds.   Still in the 50s but it warms a little and we finally see shadows as we cross rollers on the way to Lodi.  This really brings the flowers out and I can't help but take pictures.
More flowers
We roll into Lodi around 6:30 pm.  Bob sits down and eats, and I have some watermelon and potato chips and use the time to put on a wool shirt and the rest of my clothes and to stash the raincoat finally.  A few come in behind us, but we leave with Alex in short order.
The Sun appears
The final climb out of Lodi is a series of big rollers and the sun is behind us, the sky clearing rapidly as the golden hour approaches.  With a northeast wind, we have a bit in our face, but the wind has calmed dramatically since the afternoon when it was such a help.  I completely dry out except for my shoes.  I even pulled out my raincoat and wore it to dry it off in the sun.
Bob and Alex
Many don't like this section, but I enjoy the big, green, open fields.  It's a fun contrast to the forests and wetlands of the previous 40 miles.  I take quite few pictures here of old barns and a fantastic sunset as we roll into Columbus, only 79 miles left.
The moon appears

At Columbus, we enter the control and the first thing I see is an abandoned cue sheet with a pair of long finger gloves still on top of it.   It's really the first hint I have that others might not have my appreciation of the rain.  I wish I had eaten more here, but I made a valiant attempt.  I also realized that I had forgotten caffeine tablets and, not wanting to aggravate my stomach with HFCS, I tried buying some.  Seems that caffeine tablets are out of favor at truck stops and I wound up with some kind of caffeine plus Chinese herb capsule.  I'm going to have to find out what was in them that did not work.  They didn't keep me up at all and instead seemed to make me not want to eat anything.  Not really a good thing.

Temperatures plummeted with the sun and by the time we left, it was in the low 40s heading for the 30s.  My 10 year old tights were just barely adequate with rain legs and I realized replacing them was in the near future.  When I get cold, I tend to get sleepy and by the time we hit Lake Mills, I was dozy and tried eating all kinds of sugar to wake up, but things seemed very unappetizing - even fresh cinnamon rolls....we wound up stopping for a brief nap on the side of the road an hour later.  At this point, we were leapfrogging with the Danhaus tandem and some others.  At the final control at Whitewater, I got some chocolate milk down and a few potato chips, but nothing else.  Only 18 miles left.

The three of us, now joined by a third 400k rider, Woody, all left and I could not stay awake.  I tried all my usual tricks and even resorted to punching myself in the face.  Geez, what was in that stuff?  Alex finally gave me a Starbucks coffee drink and I pepped up immediately to finish the ride at about 18 mph.  We rolled in at 4:41.  Nearly the same time as last year.

I don't usually bother, but I got an email from Bob a few days later thanking me for such an epic ride.  I went and looked and the overall DNF rate for this was about 30% for both the 600k and 400k.  This somewhat surprises me, but maybe it's just the comparison to rides like the Gold Rush, 50 degree pouring rain all night in the mountains, or to the Titanic 400k in Arizona - 30 to 50 mph headwinds for 125 miles.  Or maybe I burned up part of my amygdala in Florida.  Either way, I'll be back in 2 weeks for the 600k with Lisa and she can be the judge.