Archive for February, 2010

2010 MS150: Bill vs. Yarik the Barbarian

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, the official 2010 training season for the MS150 kicked off with a charity ride out in, wait for it, the Katy prairie. The ride benefited the Jersey Village Gold Dusters drill team, but I couldn’t help translate this into Gold Diggers. Cue Kanye West, I suppose.

If you haven’t ever done it, riding on the Katy prairie is pretty flat (it is a prairie, after all), and that means wind. Depending upon local weather, the wind can either be from the north (brr!) or from the south, but there is usually at least a little bit of it. On this particular ride, there was a lot. Like “riding in a paceline and redlining” lot. I had caught up with some of my West End friends, and proceeded to get dropped about 20 miles in.

One “entertaining” occurrence, though, happened trying to get into rest stop #1. RS#1 was in a park to the left of the route, which required that you make a left-hand turn onto a second road and ride a half-mile until the proper park entrance. After we turned off the main route, I spied an unoccupied portalet in a satellite parking lot before the rest stop proper in the main parking lot, so I peeled left early — on this secondary road.

“Oh my god!”

Apparently a woman had decided to HAMMER into the rest stop (a definite etiquette/safety violation) in the oncoming lane (a definite etiquette/safety violation) without announcing her presence with the requisite, “On your left!” (a definite etiquette/safety violation). I heard her back tire skid a bit, so I widened out my own turn and braked, fearing that I was either about to get T-boned or I was going to hit a metal gate post because of this idiot.

Fortunately, she tightened up her turn enough and sloughed off enough speed to both avoid hitting me and allowing me to avoid the gate post. Without a word, she takes off towards the rest stop (winner!). I, on the other hand, am on a “mission from gahd”, and move smartly to the still-unoccupied portalet.

Battling Yarik for Supremacy
Yarik strikes again. Sorry, let me re-phrase, YARIK strikes again, as in “Yet Another Ride In Katy”. For whatever reason, the wind and the cold doesn’t seem to scare people away from charity rides the way hills do, and so the charity rides in Katy seem to get a much broader cross-section of the cycling public, and by “broader cross-section”, I mean stupid people. Unfortunately, this also means that people tend to put a lot of rides out in the Katy prairie (like 2/3rds – 3/4ths of the training rides), forcing me to come up with acronyms to describe what has become a relatively indistinguishable, and yet continually sub-optimal, experience. Like CSI: SKU, but in real life.

This past weekend was a ride benefiting the Faith West Academy athletics department, and while it, too, included Yarik in the cast, it also included a nice 20 mile leg between Burleigh and Bellville, with lots of great rolling hills. Attack! The only downside, of course, is that it was 35 degrees when we started, and it didn’t really get appreciably warmer until after 1pm. This presented a bit of a challenge because I was under-dressed. As a result, I had to ride fast enough to keep warm, but slow enough not to get sweaty. Sweaty won, and I lost. Whenever I stopped, I quickly cooled through perspiration and evaporation, making my wind breaker a mess.

However, I did finish the full 70 miles and added a “long” Taco Ride (~40mi.) on Sunday morning for my first >100 mile weekend in a while. That felt good. Very good. Saturday I am driving SAG for the ExxonMobil/Chevron training series, and Sunday is a ride to make me happy: the Tri-County Hill Hopper in Warrenton/Round Top (BFE to you city folks, but lots and lots of hills!). I am TERRIBLE at climbing hills, but I do so love doing it.

It’s for the Children…
Some of you might have seen that I officially launched my fundraising efforts for this year’s MS150 campaign. For those that did not see it, here is basically what I wrote:

Of all the worthy causes out there that you could support, the fight against Multiple Sclerosis is one of them. If you ordinarily support the MS Society, then please consider doing so through my link. If you support other causes, then good for you! If you are looking for tax deductions for 2010, then this is one way to do some good and avoid sending as much cash to Uncle Sam as you otherwise might.

I’m not saying that Multiple Sclerosis is so dire and awful of a disease that you should exclusively focus your philanthropic activities solely towards its eradication. Really, there are other awful diseases out there, and we should be working toward cures for all of them. In fact, I’ll ride the Tour de Pink (breast cancer treatment) and the Tour de Cure (cure for diabetes) again this fall, and I may even ride the Tour das Hugel (cure for hills), if I’m in shape enough come mid-November. If you want to link some of your charitable giving to my cycling, then I’m definitely interested in cutting a deal!

That being said, the Lonestar Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society puts on one heck of a bike ride between Houston and Austin. When I originally started riding, I had a plan to “just finish” the shortest route. In year two, I was going to see about doing the slightly longer course, avoiding the “challenge” route. In year three, I though that I might try the challenge route. Based upon almost a year’s worth of training, we’ll cut out the middle-man. This year won’t be fast (15 – 18mph average, depending upon wind), but it will be 180 miles of every hill on the course.

Please consider supporting a rider, and if you run out of riders to support, consider me.

Bike Around the Bay – Day 2

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Somewhere along the way, I never got around to finishing up my commentary from Bike Around the Bay, the two-day trip around Galveston Bay. In part 1, I covered the eastern portion of the trip, including my race through downtown Galveston.
Bike Around the Bay – Day 1

I also offered up some commentary about what I saw riding through the Bolivar Peninsula:
Bike Around the Bay: Bolivar Needs a New Fairy

We spent the night “roughing it” at the Moody Gardens Resort (and Conference Center), which was a great way to spend the evening, even if we had to start the ride gawdawful early in the morning. According to the weather forecast on Friday, Sunday’s weather was supposed to be better than Saturday’s. I need to quit using Sunday started dark and ominous, with an increased wind out of the north and heavy “mist” off of the bay. Somewhere along the way, I had tricked myself into believing that the ride organizers were going to supply us breakfast at the start line. To quote Doug from Up: “I know a joke…”.

Instead of breakfast, I got a muffin, some overly hot coffee with fake “creamer” and harassment from a Dutch woman. She told me, not asked, “I’m going to draft off of you today.” I usually prefer words like “Hi!” or “How’s it going?” when someone first sits down near me and tries to engage me in conversation when I haven’t had a cup of coffee yet. In her defense, she had made a declarative statement, not asked for permission or even for any hint of interaction from me. She merely told me what she was going to do. This could not have been a worse omen had an albatross fallen from the sky right then.

Eventually, light started to break and we headed towards the Galveston causeway bridge on our bikes. This was a signature part of the ride since the causeway is part of the Interstate system, which means no bicycles. Prior to the crossing, we re-marshaled ourselves in the parking lot at Target/Home Depot to divide into three pace groups. I headed for the middle group and waited for the cops and ride organizers to release us.

“It’s all for a Good Cause(way)”
After some inspiring words from Bill King, the director of the Galveston Bay Foundation, like “wind” and “thanks“, we were truly off for the bridge. I was towards the front of the middle group largely because on the ride over from Moody Gardens, I had been behind a father and son duo where the twelve year old son appeared to be the more mature rider. Neither was anything I wanted to be anywhere near in a pack. “Hey, watch this!” is not something you want to hear with 2,000 cyclists around you and your only bolt-hole is in front of an uncaffeinated redneck fisherman’s front bumper.

So we rode out. The hammerheads went and then the “sport” group took off. While I was towards the front of the middle group, I kept passing people as we headed the couple of miles to the base of the bridge. At one point, I saw a big gap between my group and the next, so I yelled “gapping up” to indicate that I was doing a temporary speed increase, and then I was suddenly on the back end of the hammerheads. Weird.

Since climbing is a function of power-to-weight ratios, I expected to get dropped out of the back of the peloton by every other rider in my class. Apparently this was not to be. In fact, I continued passing people on the way up. Wow, that’s a climb. However, while the view was not great, I always refer to downhills as “the payoff”, and the downhill was a blast! Since PE = MGH, My “M” translates into more V when the PE becomes KE, a fact inconveniently unknown to the Galveston County Sheriff’s Deputy who tried to move a large orange construction barrel right in front of me as I’m headed for a ten foot gap at 30mph. Fortunately, I saw him in time and tapped my brakes a bit to give him time to finish his boneheaded maneuver.

Wind, Wind and More Wind
Off of the causeway, we were headed dead into the wind. I paced a guy for about a mile and suggested that he and I take turns and work together instead of riding side-by-side alone. This worked pretty well into Texas City, where we made a turn, and I saw that we had over 50 people on our tails. I knew we had picked up a number of people along the way, but I had no clue the line had gotten that long!

Being at the head of the paceline, using the term loosely since there were about 48 wheelsuckers back there, had its advantages into rest stop 1 since it meant that I got to the restrooms before everyone else. It also means that I got out of the rest stop before the leeches could latch on. I heard one guy in line behind me start talking about how great that was, but that “we really needed to learn to do an echelon”. No, we really needed to learn to rotate in and take your damn turn. The finer points of positioning can wait until after we master that little skill!

After Rest Stop 1, the next couple of miles were along the Texas City Dike. Unfortunately, I dropped my chain on the climb up the dike, which meant a delay in getting away from the leeches. Shortly after making it onto the dike, I heard words which will scar me forever:

“I make my own energy bars.”

Yes, Dutch woman had caught me, and she was feeling chatty. For the next five miles, while I was killing myself into the wind to drop her, she was chatting along without a single word from me. And then she invited others to join in. From my perspective, if she had enough energy to tell me her entire recipe collection for energy bars, then she can take a pull, and the appropriate answer to “You know, you could help out?” is not, “I’m doing fine!”. Insert choice curse here.

Fortunately, the road turned 90 degrees at the end of the dike, and I could not only drop her, but leave her in the dust. In fact, I even skipped the next rest stop to make sure I put time between me and her. Just short of Rest Stop 3, the skies opened up, and it got cold. Irritatingly so. I threw on my Wind Catcher, I mean, Breaker jacket, and pedaled dejectedly into RS3. At that point, I was tired (30+ miles into a stiff head wind), it was wet, and I wanted out, so I called Bob and made plans to have her pick me up from the lunch spot. Fred Hartmann can wait for another ride.

cold wet Bill rescue
Bob rescued Bill from the cold and wet

Sadly, Bob and I miscommunicated and I caught on to a fast moving paceline (caught me from behind) only long enough to make it to our rendezvous point, but there was no Bob! Much hilarity ensued, and by hilarity, I mean shivering, but Bob and I finally connected. Rescue complete!

Bill finito
Luggage retrieved and heading for home
We headed for the drag strip where the finish line was, and I had hoped that there would be a portable shower facility there. No such luck! Time to grab my luggage and head for lunch. Even though I didn’t make the full 75 miles on day 2, I had spent a long time pointed into the wind, so I deserved a french fry or two!

cyclists on Hartman Bridge
We passed cyclists struggling over the Fred Hartman Bridge

Taking Bill for a test ride…

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Robin and my mother collaborated on a gift for me for Christmas this year. It was something that I had toyed with mentally, but had never really seriously considered spending the money to get — at least not yet. In other words, it was a great gift. Something I really wanted, but something I wasn’t going to buy for me. What was this super awesome gift? Testing. Yep, only an unrepentant geek thinks that a test is a gift. However, this wasn’t your garden-variety math quiz (“Bill on a bicycle leaves the starting line at 15mph headed north. The head wind leaves Canada three days prior heading south. How long is it before Bill starts swearing?”). Instead, what I got was testing on my bicycle.

Resting Metabolic Rate
Before we can do testing, though, we need a nap-that-is-not-a-nap, aka the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) test that measures how many calories I burn … just sitting there. And not sleeping. That last bit is harder than you might imagine.
resting metabolic rate

After the RMR, it’s time to get sweaty. Johnny Shelby at Third Coast Training hooked my road bike up to a “trainer”, and I did a light warm-up.
metabolic profile
After the warm-up, it is time for the real testing to begin.

Lactate Threshold Testing
Most people who lived through the Eighties have heard the word “aerobics” before. For most people, they naturally think about their heart. Somewhere in the last 20 years, this changed over to “cardio”, but the concept is roughly the same. Your body has two distinct metabolic mechanisms: aerobic and anaerobic. The distinction between them is whether or not oxygen is used during “combustion” and the turning point between them (loosely) is the lactate threshold (LT). Reality is a bit more complex, but we’ll save the detailed metabolic discussion for some other post.
pedal faster
LT testing involves pedaling against an increasing, but known, resistance…
lactate testing
…while the tester periodically pokes my finger to draw blood and measure lactic acid and a mask measures every gasp of oxygen and exhale of CO2.

The test works in 3 minute intervals, with the work load increasing in 30 watt increments until nominal failure. There is a slight variation on the test that measures power output that goes until true failure, but the (slightly) cheaper test Bob and Mom paid for only tested my LT, so we didn’t go deep into my anaerobic capacity. As you can imagine, though, the test was long and exhausting. Johnny apologized at the end that he had “started me too low”, and then proceeded to go through the results with Robin and me, talking a lot about racing once I was “down around 180”. Let’s get within spitting distance of 200 before start talking about 180!
That was a workout!

So what did I learn?
I got a bunch of pretty charts and graphs out of the deal that basically told me to go ride a lot. Why? Well, I apparently burn over 1,200 calories per hour even at a pace that’s easy for me to hold for hours on end. I also learned that my power output at my Aerobic Threshold compares favorably with trained bicycle racers, just at twice the mass, and my VO2 Max puts me into the “above average” category for the broader population. If I were 2/3rds the size, that would start inching up closer to the “elite” categories. Net-net: I’m not bad at this stuff, but I have a LONG way to go.
Bill – in a nutshell.