Sunday, February 22, 2009

They Call the Wind Mariah

I usually have a shorter word for it.

Even the most gravity-challenged cyclist prefers hills over wind. Hills end, and then you get to enjoy the view from the top for a minute, and go zooming downhill. Wind never seems to end and - although a tailwind is better than a headwind - you don't so much "zoom" downwind as you "sail."

Many of my pet names for the wind were going thru my head Saturday morning, riding from Almaville down towards Eagleville. For about five miles, the wind was dead on my nose, blowing at a steady 10 mph with gusts up to 25. Finally, I turned east, so that I could stop fighting that headwind.

And got my bike blown out from underneath me.

If you've never had that happen, it's impossible to describe. It's kind of like hitting a rock wrong and having it jolt your wheel over. Or maybe it's like having both your wheels slipping the same way on an icy patch of road. The difference with getting blown over, however, is that the bike isn't so much as coming out from beneath you, but more like you and the bike are being picked up and tossed to the side.

I was going so slow that I was able to fall well, and ended up more dirty than bruised. However, once bitten twice shy (Ian Hunter version - not that wimpy remake), and I spent the next few cross-windy miles hunched down over the bars, keeping the center of gravity low, sliding under the breeze as best I could to keep the bike verticle.

One thing that occurred to me during this stretch was that I needed to append my blog about snot rockets. Just like the song says, "You don't spit into the wind." Well, with a cross-wind, you don't fire a snot rocket that way either. You have to somehow blast both nostrils under your downwind armpit. It takes some reaching, depending upon how big your nose is and/or how short your arms are, but you can do it.

At College Grove, my route finally turned more northward. While the wind was not quite behind me, it was at least no longer pushing me over. Heading up Eudaily Covington Road, I could hear it shaking the tops of the trees and rattling the corrugated metal roofs on some old barns. But the sun was out, the temperature was a relatively balmy 50 degrees, and I was on a bike. Life was looking better.

It made me think of the Greatest Fleche Ever.

The Greatest Fleche Ever

In April 2006, my first year of randonneuring, I rode a fleche with Bill Glass, Alan Gosart, and Jeff Sammons. We went from Watertown, TN, to Johnny Bertrand's house in Georgetown, KY.

If you've never ridden one before, a fleche is a 24-hour ride of at least 360 kilometers, done Easter weekend. Unlike a brevet, 24 hours is not the maximum time - it is the time. You cannot finish the fleche less than 23 hours after you begin, and you cannot spend more than two hours at any one spot.

It's also a team event of up to five bikes (a tandem is a bike - not two riders), and at least three of the bikes must finish at roughly the same time. Thus, you stick together and help one another out, which is easier if your team is composed of riders of similar capabilities, speed, and temperament.

In 2006, for The Greatest Fleche Ever, we had temperatures dip into the mid-60s at night, and get up to the lower 80s the next day. The day was sunny and the night clear, with a full moon.

And we had a tailwind. Oh, what a tailwind. It never veered to the side or onto our nose, and was just strong and steady enough to hasten our speed and cool us ever so slightly. It nudged us along like a patient grandfather, allowing us to ride at 20 mph without really working at it.

We left Watertown at 7 pm, and cruised into Kentucky four hours later. We then rolled effortlessly through the quiet night, stopping at controls for a snack and a nap along the way. We ate a leisurely lunch in a lovely little town, and then napped on benches in the private dining room for an hour. When we got to Johnny's house - right on time, of course - we all felt like we could have ridden another 100 miles.

I thought about that wind as I turned east onto Spanntown Road for the last five miles yesterday, and the crosswind again tried to knock me down. "That was then, this is now," it said. Maybe Mariah is a good name for the wind. Like the song "Bitch" by Alanis Morissette, says:

I'm a bitch
I'm a lover
I'm a child
I'm a mother
I'm a sinner
I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell
I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way

Maybe, though, the wind represents the never-ending battle - the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Sometimes, it will be there to help you get home. Other days, it will be there to help you get stronger. And sometimes it is there to keep you humble, reminding you of your place in life - sitting on your butt on the side of Swamp Road outside of Eagleville, TN.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Caught Up in the Moment

Did you ever notice how all the cruise lines run a lot of ads during Christmas? It's pretty smart of them, really, because they know that we're all sitting around, shivering under blankets with the space heater turned way up, listening to the wind sandblasting the siding off the house with sleet and snow. At that point, you are understandably receptive to the lure of warm Carribean waters and beaches.

The Amgen Tour of California is kind of like that to me during the winter. I TiVo it (of course ... who wants to watch 500 commercials with grinning Bob overdosing on Enzyte?) during the day, then watch it when I get home, dreaming of riding the warm California hills.

Well, okay, the first few days were not exactly what I was looking for. Watching the pros ride long distances in a deluge is gratifying only in the sense that I can see that they, too, corner carefully on slick streets. And during stage 4 I kept trying to not look at the snow piled up at the edges of the road as a breakaway with Tyler Hamilton held off the peloton.

But by stage 5, things were looking warm and the sun was shining. And while I don't even want to try to do five-hour 200K - which the pros did that day - I do want to ride a bicycle fast in warm sunshine.

Speaking of Tyler ...

I'm going to rant a bit here. If you don't like to read rants, skip down to the end.

Sunday I was talking to some friends about the ToC, and my friend commented that "All of the dopers are back." He was referring to Tyler, of course, as well as Floyd Landis and Ivan Basso, who've also been convicted of using performance-enhancing drugs. But he then went on to put Lance Armstrong in that category, adding that Lance "just never got caught."

I won't get into whether or not Tyler, Floyd, and Ivan should be allowed to race again. As with anyone convicted of any crime, they've done their time and should be given the opportunity to resume their lives. Lance got into it with a journalist last week about this, and I agree with him.

But, just as it's not fair to continue to punish those who've already been published, it is not fair to punish thost who have never been convicted. Just because there is no fail-proof system for catching all dopers does not mean that we can assume that anyone suspected of doping and/or accused of doping is a doper. If we are going to assume that everyone that performs well on the field only does so because they are using performance-enhancing substances, then why should any athlete even compete?

Further, must we assume that anyone with the potential to do a crime has done that crime? By that logic, I am a murderer. I live on a planet where people keep getting killed, and I don't have an alibi for all of those deaths. My motive? Well, there's this blog where I talk about having to contend with automobiles - and thus drivers - on the roads where I ride. I'm probably trying to cut down on my commute traffic.

Those guys on Criminal Minds, who catch a serial killer every week, should be busting down my door any minute now.

Rant Over

Sorry. I just needed to get that off my chest.

One more thing, though. In this new "everyone pees in a cup and gives blood three times a day" world of WADA, it's great to see Tyler and Floyd are still performing pretty darned well. Ivan, however ... not so much. Makes you wonder.

Anyway, back to watching the ToC.

Last night, I had to do an hour and a half of tempo riding. Last week I was able to do this with the Harpeth Bicycle Club out at the Nashville Motorplex. That was a blast, since it was easy to maintain a 225-watt average riding a long flat oval over and over and over again.

But, since it was very cold last night, the bike club didn't do the track this week, so I had to put the Bianchi on the trainer. As I said, however, I had TiVo'd the ToC, so I watched that while I rode. It was still not as much fun as being on a real road, of course, but the time passed faster than it usually does while you churn away on the vomitron.

At the end of the stage, the peloton swept up a four-man breakaway (surprise) and the sprinters' teams set them up for the usual mass chaos. When you're on a bike on a trainer at this point, you really get into the action. It was funny looking at my numbers on the computer later, because about this point there's a gradual rise in power, then a spike as Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish duked it out at the line.

Also, I have to admit that, about halfway thru my ride I finished a water bottle and flipped it thru the air towards the kitchen. That felt really cool. And then the Randodog got hold of it and chewed it up.

I may murder the Randodog.

P.S.: I wrote a bunch of stuff about my team, Gran Fondo Heart of the South, and our upcoming 517-mile race. It's on the site of the Greatest Bike Shop in the Universe, Gran Fondo.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Women's Intuition

Actually, it's the Schick Intuition, and it's not just for women any more.

It is, ordinarily, the best way to shave your legs. I'm not going to get into the whole waxing vs. shaving thing, because I've never waxed and have no interest in it. I watched "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and it looked like that hurt.

I normally like Schick's Sensitive Care model, because it smells nice and moisturizes my dry legs, but any of them are great for that weekly depilitation that makes cyclist legs so gosh-darned pretty.

However, there is no good way to get the long hair off when you haven't shaved in three months.

I managed it this past weekend, mostly because I went through two shaving heads. I only got one nick, and it was pretty minor. The shower did, however, run out of hot water, mostly because of the way that hair kind of mats up between the three blades. You have to do this violent rinse/flick thing to get the hair out.

So now my legs are smooth again. And of course, now it is turning cold again.

Speaking of Shaving ...

Elden "Fatty" Nelson of the very popular Fat Cyclist blog managed to get Bob "Tour Day France" Roll to agree to shave the last remnants of hair from his mishapen melon, if he can get $5,000 in donations at a special LiveStrong Challenge page. I donated $50 in memory of Kojak, Mr. Clean, and other follically challenged heroes. I think Bob would look good shaved ... well, he couldn't look much worse.

Fatty was live-blogging on the Amgen Tour of California, and this was just one of the hilarious topics he brought up there, along with references to "vestigial arms" on cyclists and the poor placement of some lettering on Rock Racing's kits.

"Bring out yer dead!" Just kidding, Francisco, leave your dead buried.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Air Hanky Panky

Today's post is kind of a nasty subject, which ordinarily means that it has lots of opportunities for humor. But it's also kind of a serious subject, because it's one of those cycling things that people do not talk about, and they should. But Randoboy does not shy away from unsavoriness ... unsavority ... gross stuff. So here goes.

Between the cold outside and the cold inside -- my head, that is -- I've been exploring the science of snot rocketry lately. It's not a sweet science ... it's often a little salty, truth be told. Or did I just share too much?

Anyway, if you ride anywhere that it's cold you will eventually be forced to avail yourself of the "air hanky." Sinuses become aggravated and seek to slough away the irritant and/or keep the mucous membranes moist, so that the nose "runs."

Really, I can't go into much more physiological detail than this. If you have never had this happen, just go read someone else's blog.

So, the nose is running and you have three choices:
  • Short, hard inhalations that attempt to bring the mucous back into your rapid-filling sinuses (works about as well as Hoover Dam does for the Colorado River)
  • Dripping sinuses, which can be cloaked via a good balaclava (which will eventually become a very soggy balaclava)
  • Blow your nose
You could excuse yourself, pull over to the side of the road, pull out a monogrammed silk handkerchief, and daintily blow your nose. And maybe you have friends that will stop, or at least soft-pedal for you, while you do this.

Most of us in the real world, however, use this techique:
  1. Signal and pull out of the paceline (unless you're at the back). You do this to avoid spattering the poor schmuck behind you. Not that you care about the poor schmuck behind you, but snot paybacks are a real bitch. European racers talk about "flicking" a rider, which means to insult him or her. This kind of "flick" is a whole new level.
  2. NOTE: Be very careful to pull way out of line if there is a recumbent in your paceline. They're really low to the ground, and tend to catch more snot rockets than other riders.

  3. Move one hand towards the center of the handlebar, and put the other hand over the nostril on the corresponding side.
  4. Lean slighly over, to aim the un-blocked nostril under your armpit.
  5. Exhale forcefully to launch the snot rocket.
  6. Quickly repeat steps 2-4 with the other nostril.
  7. Get back on or into the paceline.
Sounds easy? Sometimes it is.

Sometimes, however, nothing comes out. Usually this is when your nose is running, but not enough to get good shot volume. This is referred to as "Failure to Launch."

More common is the "Crash Landing." This is what happens when you fire the missle, but it hits your leg, arm, or jacket instead of the pavement. This is why we wear cycling gloves.

Other times, you don't get one nostril quite closed, or something else happens to totally screw things up. This is an "Aborted Takeoff." Just as with real rockets, this usually has nasty consequences. For astronauts, it almost always means a 21-gun salute at Arlington -- for you, it just means a faceful of snot.

You can take care of that faceful of snot however you want. It's why I wear long-sleeved wool during the winter.

Or did I just share too much again?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Jamming It All In

At work, I sometimes get impossible requests. Occasionally, I like to fulfill these requests, thus proving to the company for which I work that I am really Superman. Or at least Super Clark Kent, because I do nerdy stuff for which a cape and the curl of hair on the forehead is not suited, but glasses are.

I don't like to brag (although it does give me pleasure to state observations that place me in a favorable light), but I am pretty damned good at what I do for a living.

Sometimes, however, the request is truly impossible. Somebody needs something that will take a lot of work, and they need it way too soon. The requester usually tells me that they have money in the budget so that I can bring in contract help, and that I can pull other folks off other projects. In these instances, I fall back on one of my favorite truisms: It takes one woman nine months to make a baby, but nine women cannot make a baby in one month.

This is even more true when training. If the schedule for the week calls for one hour of tempo riding, three hours of foundation miles, weight training two days, two off days, and a time-trial, you should not try to do all of that in one day.

Especially the two off days, since that would be like a heavy-duty rest day. I think they call that "a coma."

My training this week had called for
  • Two days with 1.5 hours of foundation mile each, which I do by riding to work (done)
  • Two sessions in the weight room, on the foundation mile days (sorry, I only did one)
  • One tempo session for 1.5 hours (meant to do that at the track Thursday night)
  • Two one-hour time trial sessions
  • Recovery ride (scheduled for this afternoon)
To get a rest day, I would have to combine my foundation mile days with weight-room days.

This schedule would make me so strong. I get goose pimples just thinking of how strong I would have become.

But it was cold this week, and really windy Tuesday. And the bike club canceled the Thursday night session at the Nashville Motorplex because of the cold. And the Randowife was sick (she got my cold from last week), so I wanted to take care of her. And my teeth felt funny.

Yes, I could have probably still done my sessions on the trainer indoors. I should have.

But instead, I tried to cram the tempo and both time-trials into a single ride yesterday, in the middle of a 200K.

Dog Meat. Again.

Jeff Bauer -- one of my teammates for the Heart of the South in April -- and Peter Lee joined me on Jeff's tandem to ride my Dog Meat permanent. Now, if you've never drafted a tandem, it can be an exhilarating experience. And when you get two strong, fast, light randonneurs like Jeff and Peter, it can be an ethereal, out-of-body, transmogrifying experience similar to committing sepuku with a dull potato peeler, while being forced to watch the entire film catalog of Pauly Shore.

About 10 miles in, we were coming up on the hardest climb of this route -- Paw Paw Springs Road. Jeff suggested that, since they would be slow going up this, I should go ahead and do my first time-trial effort starting here. This sounded good, so I attacked the climb and got the heart rate up -- I had to maintain just under 160 bpm for the full effort -- and dropped them.

A few miles later, they passed me back. I didn't see them again until the control.

Meanwhile, the route turned south and I discovered it was a windy day. I'm staying at 158 bpm, head down, and still only crawling along at just over 15 mph.

Very disheartening.

55 minutes later, I got to the first control, and I was tired. We all grabbed something to drink, and I tore off my tights and jacket. I was wearing a long-sleeve wool jersey, and it was soaked. Even my hat was soaked with sweat. The temperature outside was almost 60.

The next leg was dead into the wind, but I planned to just sit in behind the tandem and recover for the next 21 miles.


Jeff and Peter excel at working over flat terrain into a stiff wind, and they maintained a 17-mph pace. I checked my heart rate monitor after a few miles of this and I was still clicking along at 145 bpm -- tempo pace for me. This was not the recovery I would need.

At one point, Peter pulled out his camera and snapped a few pictures. Then he passed the camera to me, and I got this shot.

Two things about this: One, you can tell that they are working pretty hard, staying tucked out of the wind, and riding strong. The other is, when I pulled out to take the picture, I realized just how windy it was. It took me less than a minute to frame the shot, make sure I got it, give the camera back to Peter, and get back on that wheel. But that minute toasted me for the next five miles.

After Shelbyville, we headed for Chapel Hill. During this stretch, I did my second time trial effort. The wind was now more from our left, but still against us, and it was a rough hour. By the time we rolled into Chapel Hill at noon, my morning had been
  • One hour foundation miles
  • One hour time-trial
  • 15 minutes rest
  • 1.5 hours tempo
  • 15 minutes rest
  • One hour time-trial
I walked into the Subway in Chapel Hill looking like this:

If we had not had a tailwind for the rest of the ride, I'd still be there.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Shift in Gears

February is here. I have to change my training strategy.

Not that "training" is something I usually do, per se. I tend to go with the old Eddie Merckx maxim: "Ride lots." I've been doing it for years, and although I do not ride like the Cannibal, I eat like the Cannibal. (No, not human flesh. Just Belgian chocolates.)

Unlike certain ex-Presidents, I have nothing against science. I believe in lactic threshold training and power-to-weight ratios -- probably because I've been on the wrong side of that equation before. It's just that I like to ride a lot, so old school training usually suits me.

Three of them, to be precise. And, as with Chico, they are like brothers (and a sister) to me.

Enter the Heart of the South 500

I'm part of a four-person team racing the Heart of the South 500 the first weekend in April. Jeff Bauer, Alan Gosart, Vida Greer and I will attempt to ride 500 miles in northeastern Alabama and northwestern Georgia as fast as we can. This route includes climbs over Fort Mountain, which used to be on the Tour de Georgia, and Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama.

Part of the fun will be that we are self-supporting, so that none of us will get much rest. When you ain't biking, you're either driving the support van, navigating the route, mixing up and passing out bottles to the rider, or refueling/recovering so you can get back out there soon and ride yourself. Since it's 500 miles, and we figure we will be lucky to average 17 mph, this will mean about 30 hours of this kind of fun.

The other part of the fun will be the riding, which ordinarily would be more fun that the support stuff. However, it will be very hard riding. As I said, we'll be trying to average 17 mph, which means you really have to do 20 mph on the flat sections and do what you can on the climbs, and try not to lose anything at the rider exchanges, going through towns, or various other things that come up on these kinds of races. And, nibbling at the back of your mind as you ride are thoughts like
"If I can go a little harder, maybe we can be done earlier. Then I can sleep."
"If I do go a little harder, will I be able to go out and do it again in one hour?"
But, ultimately, you keep thinking this:
"I must not let my team down."
So, basically, you ride your hour at just under time trial pace. This means staying right at the edge of your lactic acid threshold, trying to keep your muscles from filling up with toxic things that will make them jump right out of your body, bitch slap you, and call a cab home.

There is no "I" in team, but there are lots of them in Mississippi. And some of them should be "me's," as in "You'uns wants to go to the movie pitcher with I?"

That's probably not relevant here, but training at time trial pace has been known to kill a few brain cells.

Uncomfortable Pause Here

Oh, yes. Training.

During the next few months, I'm going to ride fewer miles, but they will be more focused. For example, this Saturday I plan to ride one of my 200-kilometer permanent routes, Dog Meat, but will have two intervals where I ride at time trial pace for an hour. Between these, I will take the pace down to an endurance mileage level for active recovery. After the second interval, I will look like this:

Although I'll probably be wearing bibs and a jersey.

The theory is: By tearing myself down to this level on a regular basis, by April 4 I will look like this:

I have the Randowife's unflagging support in this effort.

The First "Real" 200K of 2009

For most people, winter is about staying indoors, sitting by a hot fire with your loved ones, drinking mulled cider and eating fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies. You venture out into the frozen tundra only to trek to work or school, shop for more cider or spices or chocolate chips, and to occasionally frolic in the snow.

Oh, Norman Rockwellian bliss!

For most cyclists, winter is about riding the trainer in your basement in front of a blowing fan, watching last year’s Tour de France on TiVo. You try to keep something in your legs as you grind away, churning miles to nowhere, eyes glowing dully as you chant “All Watts and No Play Makes Lance a Dull Boy.”

Less Norman Rockwell — more Edvard Munch.

Then there’s randonneurs, for whom riding during the winter is an exercise that involves designing the perfect combination of embrocation, base layer, jersey, outer layer, and chemical warmth to make you only marginally miserable as you slide over frozen roads against 20-mph headwinds, doing at least a century ride every week so that you can be ready for that 1200K this summer.

Pain in preparation for more pain.

And then there are the fools that came out Saturday for this:

For those of you who are blissfully ignorant, this is a topographical projection. It shows the changes in elevation traversed by a specific route. Ordinarily, for winter rides, it is less jagged, because climbing tends to put you on top of mountains, where it is cold. And it makes you suck in lots of superchilled air, which causes ice to form in the respiratory bronchioles, where it bursts the lungs and makes your chest fill up with blood, which then freezes again as it pours out of your mouth, so that you become a red popsicle and fall over and go skittering back down the cliff/road to crash on top of the pile of other red-popsicles-that-once-were-idiot-randonneurs at the bottom.

There is no artist that paints this way, although baboons come close when they fling scat at the wall.

OK, I'm Exaggerating

Actually, most of the ride this past Saturday was not that bad. There were even 20 masochists who started the Harpeth Bike Club's first 200K brevet of 2009, riding in the gentle hills of middle Tennessee, enjoying temperatures that began at 23 F, but rose into the pseudo-balmy mid-50s.

I got to the start just before 7 am, in time to grab brevet cards and wave everyone else goodbye. I chatted briefly with Bob Hess, whose baby daughter had been born two weeks earlier, and Alan Gosart. Jeff Bauer and Vida Greer could not make it to the start until 7:30, so I climbed back into the RAAMinator to wait and ride with them.

By the time the three of us started, it was almost 30 F, so we rolled out wearing fewer layers, and were only frozen during the first hour of the ride. We took it pretty easy during that stretch, chatting and averaging between 15-17 mph. When we turned onto Locke Creek Road, however, Jeff warned us that he would probably have to walk part of this road, since he was riding his fixed gear with a 48-16 (Oops! Make that 48-17 ... RB) setup. This is the hill he was talking about:

Yeah, he walked.

Fortunately, Vida and I had lots of gears and rode it out. We both had to stand for much of the climb, but doing this hill seated would probably put enough weight on the back of your bike that you would flip backwards. And that’s not good.

Once past this bump, we moved briskly through the second control in Liberty, TN. We began passing some other riders at this point, as we picked up the pace and enjoyed the relatively easy grades. We managed to get over the second major climb of the route on Big Hill Road, and caught up with more riders at the third control, in McMinnville. We quickly filled bottles, shed some clothing layers, grabbed food, and rolled out, with Bill Glass joining us.

The route was more level from McMinnville, with a general decrease in elevation, but the winds were not kind. Bill, Jeff, Vida, and I formed a nice rotating paceline for most of this stretch, enabling us to keep our speed up without wearing ourselves out. We thus surprised a number of the faster riders as we pulled into the penultimate control in Bell Buckle.

Michael Revelle, riding his first brevet, joined us for the last fast 17 miles. With the wind now mostly at our backs, we zoomed along the final miles, getting back to the start just after 4 pm – well before dark. There, George Hiscox and Peter Lee were packing up, having gotten in 15 minutes earlier with the lead pack.

Is this a hard ride? Did you not see the topo map above?! But, unseasonably temperate weather – especially considering what we have had so far this winter here – and great riding companions made the trip more than bearable. Think an edgy Norman Rockwell.