Friday, March 7, 2008

Long rides vs. Hard rides

I've been cycling for almost a year now and have done a lot of different kinds of rides. I started out training for a century ride, which meant just a lot of hours in the saddle. There wasn't a lot of intensity to that, just a lot of time. Now I'm training to race. The time factor is still huge, but I'm not doing 5+ hour rides every weekend any more. I'm doing shorter rides, more often, and with a different focus. I've noticed some really interesting changes that went along with the training switch.

First let me define what I'm talking about. Long rides = 3 or more hours at a moderate pace. Terrain is not a big factor. Hard rides = Usually 1-2 hours involving constant or repeated efforts of 80% or more maximum ability. Whether on flats or hills, these rides always involve some serious suffering.

Long Rides:
- During the ride I wouldn't get really tired. Except for that one time I gave blood the day before, but that doesn't count.
- After the ride I would be exhausted. Barely able to keep my eyes open kind of exhausted.
- I ate like a starving hyena. No food was safe around me, both during and after the ride.
- My muscles would be very tender for the rest of the day. Not really sore while using them, just very tender to the touch. This was not good for my post-ride massages.
- I slept more on the day of the ride, and then would go back to a normal sleeping pattern for the rest of the week.

Hard Rides:
- During the ride I use up every ounce of energy I have available. By the end I can barely push the pedals and I feel like I'm going to puke. That's how I know I did the workout right.
- Once the ride is over, I don't feel the need to fall into bed and sleep for a few hours. I'm physically exhausted and don't want to move much, but not mentally worn out. I do become an even bigger klutz for the rest of the day.
- I don't want to eat. I will eat while riding if I have to (only if the ride is more than an hour) and I will force myself to drink a protein shake afterward, but I'm not hungry.
- I get weird cravings and dislikes for the rest of the day. Once I am hungry my stomach feels very sensitive and a lot of foods make me feel sick. Then I start craving strange stuff. I figure it's like practice for being pregnant.
- My muscles aren't tender, and massage feels great. But it hurts like a bitch to walk up stairs. The next apartment I get will be on the ground floor.
- I need about 9 hours of sleep every night. More on the days I actually work out. Otherwise I turn into a non-functional zombie.
- I sometimes get grumpy after rides and my patience goes right out the window. I don't know what that's all about.

I used to think that my long rides were hard on my body, and in a way they were. I was building a lot of endurance in a relatively short period of time. But because I wasn't directing all the energy I had into my legs, I could still eat normally and pretty much function normally while on the bike. Once I got off the bike, I would eat a lot more and my body would say, "Ok, time to shut down and digest and recover!" and I would fall asleep. My muscles would be tender from the sheer length of time they were at work, but there was a limited amount of real damage and lactic acid because I hadn't been working them that hard. They would only need a good night's rest and then they'd be recovered and ready to go.

On the other hand, intensity workouts tear my body apart so that it can be rebuilt stronger (faster, better...). My heart and lungs are pushed to their maximum level, allowed to recover a little and then pushed again. My muscles scream in pain and I have to convince my brain not to listen to them. Overall, I am training myself to cope with suffering. Sounds like fun, huh? That kind of ride allows no extra energy or blood flow to be directed toward digestion, which is why I can consume only liquids. I don't know what causes the weird temporary likes and dislikes. My legs always take about 36 hours to feel even close to recovered. I'm guessing that's a combination of glycogen depletion and cellular damage from the intense strain. And then I sleep. I do about two (sometimes three) intense workouts each week, but I need seven nights of good sleep or I can feel the fatigue seeping into my legs. The sleep allows me to heal, brings my resting heart rate down, and clears my head for the next bout of suffering.

I don't actually know what I'm talking about. All the science-y stuff up there was just conjecture. But it sounds good to me. In the end, it's all about increasing my ability to suffer. Like Lemond said, "It never gets easier. You just go faster."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Banana Belt #1

First, let me show you this picture. Notice how calm and happy I look. Also, admire my ridiculously stylish eyewear.

The photographer managed to catch the only moment during the race in which I looked relaxed. My experience yesterday was the exact opposite of that picture. I was not calm, or collected. I did have fun, but I can't say I was happy while doing it. I was suffering. For almost a little over an hour and a half and 33 miles I hung on for dear life. I tried to start each hill near the front of the pack so that, as I lost the ground I knew I would lose, I would at least still be with the others at the top. That strategy worked until the last big hill before the finish line. I couldn't claw my way up to the front in time and eventually watched the pack crest the rise at least 5 seconds before I managed to make it. I then hammered as hard as I could down the backside of the hill, but there were a lot of them and they could smell the finish line. I didn't have a chance.

So I crossed the finish line not with the women, but with some of the Cat 4 men that finished immediately after my pack. At least I wasn't by myself. The results came up this morning, and it turns out that I was not the only one who suffered miserably through that race. I ended up 23rd of 34ish. I had expected to be much closer to that 34th spot. Somehow knowing that I wasn't the only one suffering that badly makes it seem a little more worthwhile.

Next week is the same course, but in the opposite direction. Opposite direction means harder. I'm trying to decide if I want to pay for the pleasure of suffering even more than I did yesterday. Though, in hindsight, it sure was a lot of fun.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Jack Frost

I think this race was called Jack Frost because it's usually cold, rainy and miserable. Instead we got another glorious out-of-character day for February in Oregon. I didn't even wear arm warmers. I didn't exactly follow my plan, either.

Here's what actually happened:
Saturday: Bail out on the team ride because my cold decided to get worse. Instead I rode about an hour at a nice leisurely pace on my own. I made the important discovery that sneezing while in aerobars is a bad idea, so I invested in some decongestant for the race day. I also bought new tires. They feel very good.

Sunday: Wake up plenty early enough, pack things up, get a quick massage and stretch from my pit crew (she's my hero) and then get on the road to Vancouver Lake Park. A few miles onto the interstate and traffic comes to a halt. Turns out there was an accident ahead. Thanks to this accident it took almost an hour instead of 30 minutes. During the sitting in traffic I am getting progressively more stressed and nervous. Not exactly my favorite way to warm up.

We finally arrived and I got myself ready to ride. I warmed up for all of 10 minutes, which is not nearly enough. When I got to the start line they had already been calling me and I only had a minute before my start time. I downed some water, got ready to go and then the holder grabbed my bike so I could get clipped in. They gave me a 5 second countdown, I began to roll forward, with no idea which gear I was in, and felt a hand pushing me by the butt so I could get some momentum and didn't topple over (that was standard procedure, not special treatment). After about a mile of the 12.6 mile course I felt warmed up and my legs were spinning much more smoothly. So I sped up. I managed to pass 2 people before the turn around at the halfway-ish point. I passed another pretty soon afterward. Then I spent the rest of the race staring at the back of an Ironclad girl that just would not be caught no matter how much I tried to slow her down with my psychic powers. There was a sign at 1km to go. I sped up there, but still couldn't catch her.

Once my ride was over we just packed up and went home, the results were not going to be posted for a while anyway. On the way a milkshake helped keep me from passing out due to lack of energy and excess of phlegm. Did I mention there was much phlegm-spitting along the road during the TT? I'm sure you wanted to know that. Anyway, the unofficial results are in and I managed 10th of 24. My overall time was 34:44:04, about 2:44 slower than first place. There was no way I could have taken that much off my time, even if I had been thoroughly warmed up and phlegm-free. So I guess I'll just have to get faster and more confident. I can do that. But right now I'm just going to try to recover from both the TT and the cold. I'll think about Banana Belt tomorrow.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Plan

Friday night: Sleep as much as humanly possible.
Saturday morning: Wake up with no more sore throat or stuffy nose. Ride around Hagg Lake a couple of times with the team. Don't overdo it.
Saturday afternoon: Relax. Maybe sleep more. Eat a lot.
Saturday night: Try to sleep and not lie awake obsessing over the time trial.
Sunday morning: Wake up feeling recovered and refreshed and ready to ride hard. Go to Vancouver Lake and warm up in beautiful sunny weather.
12:12:30pm Sunday: Start Jack Frost time trial.
12:50:00pm Sunday: Be finished with Jack Frost time trial. Celebrate heroic victory. Go home. Eat. Sleep.
Sunday evening: Continue celebrating heroic victory.
Sunday night: Sleep like the dead.

Now that you've seen the plan... I'm going to go. And show the plan to somebody else. I mean, um, implement the plan. Right. I'll let you know how that goes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cherry Pie Report

Sunday was the opening of the road season in Oregon. It was also my first real race (that one time at PIR doesn't count). I had some goals for this race:

1. Finish the race
2. Don't finish last
3. Learn something (that one came from my coach, can you tell?)

Cherry Pie took place on an incredibly beautiful day that had everyone thinking, "What the hell is wrong, I thought we were in Oregon!" I had three teammates to ride with in the Cat 4 women's race. We started with a long neutral rollout that let us get our legs in working order. At some point the guy in the lead car shouted, "You're racing now!" and we sorta sped up a little. The first half of the race for me involved a lot of careful not panicking and trying to avoid getting shunted to the back of the pack. I managed pretty well, and eventually secured a spot about a third of the way back, content to let someone else do most of the work. That's about when someone right in front of me went down and took a few others out with her. Somehow I managed to stay upright, despite running directly over someone's wheel. That little bit of excitement was enough to let the front third of the pack (including all three of my teammates) get a good lead up the road. Another girl (with hot pink tires and bar tape, no less) was stuck at the front of the stragglers, but didn't look like she was making much progress in closing the gap. No one else was taking the initiative, so I dived in and somehow managed to bridge the two groups. There was a very gratifying series of, "Nice Job!" "Thanks!" and "You Rock!" from the girls I had pulled with me. At that point I figured I had done something to be proud of and really didn't care how the rest of the race went. Unfortunately, the finish line was still 10 miles away.

The rest of the race went something like this: I sat behind my teammates trying to recover from my heroic effort. We somehow end up at the front of the pack. We make the 90 degree turn that was supposed to signal the beginning of the end and then hit a hill. I knew the race would end with a hill, so I gave everything I had to get up this hill (everything was very little at this point). A few people pass me, but I feel pretty good. The road levels out a bit, and then we hit the second half of the hill. No one knew that there was going to be a second half. I'd already used up all my reserves on the first half. A few more people passed me. Then some more. My legs screamed. A lot. Then I saw my cheering section (Thanks guys!) and somehow made it across the finish line. According to OBRA I finished 14th.

So, that's it. I survived my first road race and accomplished all of my goals. Time to start thinking about the next race.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Building a better bike shop

Lance thinks he can build the coolest bike shop in the world. The problem: It's going to be in Austin, TX. Now, I don't have anything in particular against Austin, but it's not the coolest city in the world. And it's definitely not the coolest cycling city in the world. So, why does it get the coolest bike shop in the world?

Portland, on the other hand, is among the coolest cycling cities in the world. It ranks #1 in the USA and is pretty high up there internationally. Even Lance admits that we're better than Austin. We've got Gentle Lovers, bike boulevards, Halloween cyclocross races, and much, much more. Sadly, what we don't have is the coolest bike shop in the world. We have some bike shops that up their cool factor with free espresso and a shrine to Eddy Merckx, or super friendly staff and the presence of an adorable puppy, or even through good deeds and community service. But none of these shops really transcends into the realm of the ultra-cool. So, Portland, I'm calling you out. I've seen what the cyclists in this town are capable of and there is no one, not even a seven time Tour de France champion, that can compete with us. Bring it on, Lance.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Switching gears...

We're going to go from science to math today:

bike + windy descent = high speeds
high speeds + bike = danger
windy descent + car = poor visibility
car + bike + 2(windy descent) = high speeds + poor visibility
high speeds + poor visibility = LOTS of danger
LOTS of danger = bad

Summary for cyclists: Wear a helmet and let cars pass when it is safe.
Summary for drivers: PLEASE do not try to pass on a windy downhill road when the bike in front of you is already exceeding the speed limit. Homicide is not pretty.

We will return to your regularly (sorta) scheduled science eventually... right now the weather is just too pretty to be riding a trainer.