An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pavement routes are easy...

Among the cogniscenti on Velocipede Salon, there's an annual event called "The Baller's Ride" that happens over Memorial Day weekend. It's a two-day event that involves one day of incredible climbs over gravel roads on one day, an easier road ride the next, sandwiching a night that is a combination of party and bike-builder-extraordinaire symposium (Richard Sachs, Crumpton, etc). Reports have been awesome, and every one who has attended has come away impressed.

Unfortunately, this is on the east coast (Virginia).

Since reading about this event, I've had a vision of a West Coast version of Baller's. And we certainly have no dearth of bike builders on the Pacific Northwest, from Portland to Seattle.

But finding the routes has proven to be problematic.

Pavement is easy -- maps are generally accurate, making loops is not a challenge, and traffic patterns are relatively apparent.

Gravel roads? Right... Everything from private property, and thus gated off, to paths that become goat-tracks only peter off into nothing (but are shown as through roads) make route planning a chore. The problem isn't so much finding a gravel road, it's finding one that GOES somewhere. Reconnaissance is mandatory, with lots of time (and gas) allowed for back-tracking and re-routes.

I've been planning something in the Capitol Forest for a little while, and have gotten a couple people on board (a builder and a shop owner) with the idea. I had a decent route planned, a nice diner to use as a start/finish base of operations. My thought was to do the gravel road day as the lead-in this year, and let it grow from there into a 2-day event with the evening get-together. The second day road-route is already set up -- that's the easy part.

The best laid plans, and all that. Yesterday my wife and I drove out to check the roads. After the second dead end, and no time left, we had to abandon.

More route planning this morning, using more satellite photos, and I think I've got it ironed out. Just need to get out there and make sure the roads go where I think they do. Aerial views look promising.

And then I get the email from the state Department of Natural Resources... Permitting and event registration... Dead in the water for 2013.

Oh well, at least I have a jump on 2014.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Trofeo Strada Bianca -- Hampsten's awesome ride!

Climbs, dirt roads and trails, good riders, awesome food, nice weather... For what more could one ask?

That sums up the Trofeo Strada Bianca, a 60-mile (I had 61.5 all-told) ride from North Bend, WA, over the summit of Snoqualmie Pass to the Hyak Park-n-Ride via dirt roads and Denny Creek, then back via the Iron Horse trail and through the 2-mile tunnel at the top.

Strada Bianca is Italian, literally translated to "white road". But the meaning is a little different, because in Italy, most gravel roads are made with crushed limestone, and so are white. Thus: Gravel road. Trofeo means "trophy" or "prize". On this day, the ride itself was the prize.

Clear skies and nicely warm temperatures greeted us at the North Bend city parking lot. Under the banner of Hampsten, custom bike maker out of Seattle, we gathered some 35-strong, the first group leaving at about 9:10. Within three miles, we were off pavement and on smooth rail-trail conversions.

After some time we turned off the smooth trail, had a short paved section, then found ourselves on a fairly chuck-holed dirt road for several miles. Between the dust from the riders in front of me and the intermittent sun/shade, I had a difficult time seeing the holes and had to ditch the sunglasses (helmet manufacturers take note -- make the holes in the helmet coincide with temple width please!).
Another short stint on pavement (this time along Interstate 90), then taking the Tinkham Road exit and following the road up from Denny Creek to the summit.

This, like the Leavenworth Gran Fondo, was not a race, but that doesn't mean the lead pack wasn't going at a good pace. I kept with them until the final pitch up to the summit, which was mercifully paved. Over the top of the pass, then a short downhill by the highway... Arriving at the Park-n-Ride below the Hyak ski area (which is now dubbed "Snoqualmie Summit East") we were greeted by the van toting our lights and jackets (for the trip through the tunnel on the way back) and a spread of food that would make a king proud.
For me, the highlight of the offerings were these rice/date/pecan/honey cakes. Delicious! Not too sweet, full of carbs.

And VINO! A first for me at any ride food stop.

Heading back down, the tunnel greeted us almost immediately. I put on my arm warmers and a vest, turned on the light, and eased my way through. There's something about tunnels that plays tricks on my sense of balance. With absolutely ZERO ambient light (this tunnel is two miles long), there's a very real sense of tunnel vision (haha). My light was initially pointed too high, and it was just swallowed whole. Pointing it downward helped a great deal, and within a few minutes my eyes finally adjusted and I could build some speed. I was very surprised at the number of people walking and even riding (with CHILDREN!) through the tunnel without lights...

Coming out, the warm air hit. Doff the arm warmers and vest, snap a pic, and we were off to the gentle downhill all the way back to North Bend on the Ironhorse Trail.

We were watching the count-up of the marathon mile markers, and JUST at their 26 mile mark, my rear tire blew. Fortunately the hole was just small enough that I could boot it and get finished with the ride (which was mostly on pavement from that point).

Some burgers and drinks at The Pour House afterwards, some congratulatory conversation among the cyclists, unanimous sentiments of "great ride" and "I can't wait to do this again next year", and we were back on the road to home.

Trofeo Strada Bianca. Look for it on Facebook. Awesome ride.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The 25-hour day, circadian rhythms, and burning the midnight oil

I'm convinced that my physical, internal clock isn't set for a 24 hour day. It seems that about every other month I find myself not able to sleep, waking up at odd hours feeling fully rested and getting up to do things around the house. Two a.m.? Sure. But then I'm ready to go back to bed around 6 or 7 a.m. But by that time I'm already at work, so taking a nap isn't an option.

This past week has been a prime example. On Wednesday morning, I woke up at 12:30, and just couldn't get back to sleep. I gave up after a while and just got up. Read for a while, futzed around the house a bit, cut my hair (clippers and a #8 guard made it easy), got ready for work, and left the house at about 3:30 for an early start to my day job. Cycling to work was VERY quiet at that hour.

But I was ready to knock off for the day at 6:30 p.m. Falling asleep while watching a DVD of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, we turned the lights off and just called it a day. I was up again at 2:30, after laying awake for a half hour fully awake. Hit the road again for work at 3:45 for another quiet commute.

This morning was slightly more normal -- 3:30 wake up, only 45 minutes before my usual weekday alarm. I still made it to work a half-hour early, on my eight-hour work day, which will make for an earlier afternoon as well. Silver linings and all that.

I remember back in college (yeah, the dark ages) in my Psychology 101 class, a study was mentioned where they put subjects into quarters that were completely cut off from the world -- no clues about time of day, day of the week, allowed to set their own daily rhythms. The results of that study were that, on average, the subjects settled into what equaled a 25 hour day, with no change in the amount of time they slept. Within 13 days, their sleep cycles had gone completely opposite of the norm, and at 24 days they were back on a similar bed time to when they'd started.

What could be further surmised from this study is that, if the natural circadian rhythm is 25 hours, then those people would find themselves completely off-kilter twice a month when forced by the outside world to conform to the standard 24-hours-a-day clock.

Sound a little like you? It does me.

What's the solution? Well, if you have the luxury to be your own calendar and clock setter (meaning you have complete control of your schedule), then you can live your life according to your unique body clock. The trick is to figure out exactly what that is -- 25 hours? 26 hours? It'll vary individually.

And if you don't have that luxury? I don't have any quick (or even not quick) answers to that situation. When I find one, I'll let you know. But for now, I just get up when I have the energy and get some things done. Soon, that will likely be feeding a baby... Good times, that!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Safety vs. Damage Control

I got a chuckle this morning on my way to work -- the driver of a car that stopped at a red light beside me was trying to engage me in some conversation. I had trouble hearing him over the engine noise and the traffic crossing the other direction, so I scooted closer.

"Pretty economical way to go, eh?" I finally heard him say.

"Sure, but I mostly just like to ride," I replied.

"How many miles per gallon?" Okay, now I knew he was just trying to make some fun, being the smart-guy in front of the two passengers in his car.

"About two-thousand," I said.

"Hey, I'll give you ten bucks to run this red light."

"I'll pass."

"What? You're wearing a helmet! You're safe. Yeah, I thought you'd be scared..."

At that point the light turned green and we were off. But it reminded me of something that is prevalent in motorcycling and bicycling -- the mixed up idea that we wear "gear" to be safe.

In motorcycling, there's armored jackets, armored gloves, boots with ankle support and sliders, full-face helmets... ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) is the mantra drilled into us by our "safety" instructors from before we even throw a leg over the seat.

In the US of A, if you race a bicycle, you wear a helmet. Period. And since about 1985, many states, counties, and municipalities require cyclists on the road to wear helmets. It's the "safe" thing to do, right?

Well, I submit that all this gear, the helmets, have NOTHING to do with safety. Nada. Bupkiss. Zilch. 

Don't get me wrong -- I wear a helmet every time I ride any of my bikes. In fact, the only time I ever DON'T wear a helmet when astraddle a bike is when I'm giving a worked-on bike at the shop a shake-down in the parking lot to either hunt down that elusive tick/creak/squeal/thunk or afterwards to make sure it's quieted and shifting right. On the motorcycle, I've got a full head-to-toe get up that I wear (with variations for temperature) every time I ride. So what's the deal?

I'm not fooled into thinking that any of this gear makes me "safe". Why?

Safety is all about what happens BEFORE the unscheduled get-off. It's how aware you are of what's going on around you and how you react to it. That bubble of awareness where you are keeping tabs on every potential threat and friendly. It's about respecting what's around you and under you, knowing what to do on an instinctual level so that there isn't any time wasted thinking about it. It's about being predictable and visible. It's about knowing the limits of your machine and NEVER going over them. It's about not doing Stupid Things to put yourself into danger.

Gear is all about damage control -- limiting how broken up you are once Safety fails. There are situations where you can train some amount of physical reactions to limit damage, like how to roll when the bicycle is no linger under you (and how NOT to roll when the same thing happens with a motorcycle). The lid is about keeping the pulp inside the melon. It doesn't make you safe, but it may keep you alive, with fewer broken bones.

Why is this important? Because I see so many people admonish their kids to put on their helmet before they ride, and then send them out the door with NO instruction on how to ride on the street -- it's the motorists responsibility to avoid them now... That's not safety. That's just trusting in an increasingly untrustworthy population, and thinking that an inverted beer cooler makes them safer riders.

Don't be that kind of rider. Don't be that kind of parent. TEACH safety. If you need to, get some instruction on riding safely. Pass that knowledge along.

Be safe out there.

And wear a helmet. It not the "safe" thing to do, but it is smart.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Back to the Future

On June 29th, I raced in the BuDu Racing Five Mile Lake Sprint Triathlon, in the "Retro" division. This is a group outside the normal racing population which supports the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation(a portion of all the entries went to the JDRF, but this division makes an additional donation), and disallows the use of wetsuits and any aero bike equipment, getting back to the roots of triathlon as it was raced "back in the day". Speedo's are encouraged, as well as costumes of any iconic image from the 60's, 70's, or 80's.

Having raced triathlons back in "those days", it's a bit of a coming-home for me, less of a money race and more of a race of truth -- strength and mental toughness will get you across the finish line ahead of your competition.

Last year I did this race in the retro division with my wife, one of only four that signed up to race in that wave. This year, with my wife having only 6 weeks left before our daughter is due to deliver, I was racing on my own, and decided to "go for it" speed wise.

Also, there were five of the Rock Steady kids racing in their respective age groups. I had laid down a challenge at the first workout with them, that any of the kids who beat me at the Labor of Love Bonney Lake Triathlon on Labor Day weekend would receive a "pretty cool" prize. The Five Mile Lake race gave me a bit of a yardstick against which to measure some of these athletes, some of whom have qualified for the USAT Junior Triathlon National Championships (draft legal format).
The JDRF folks truly cater to the racers in the retro division, carrying any gear from the start at the lake shore, offering dry towels at T1, and generally pampering the athletes like well-paid butlers.

The last start wave is reserved for the retro racers, which is a bit of a showcase, but also affords the most numbers of people to pass for those that are motivated by such things (count me among those). We forged into the waters 10-strong for the quarter-mile three-sided swim.

Coming out of the water, I was third, but made a fast transition and got to the bike leg first. Within a mile, though, I was passed by the latest addition to the retro wave, the decision made because he had forgotten his cycling shoes. He was riding fully aero, however, and would be disqualified for it. I forged ahead, continuously picking off riders from the previous waves. Riding a Scott Waimea configured as a road bike (set back seatpost, drop bars, this bike is my dedicated trainer bike), I managed to average 22 mph over the slightly rolling course, only a minute off my previous best time from 2007 which was done fully aero.
Another quick transition and I was on the run, passing the lone retro participant that was in front of me.

On the lead, I metered my effort carefully to a 6:36 per mile average, 
and arrived at the finish fully spent.
My final time of 1:07:10 would have gotten me: 
7th in the 30-34 AG, 
6th in the 35-39 AG, 
5th in the 40-44 AG, 
2nd in the 45-49 AG, and 
1st in the 50-54 AG (my AG).
The post-race feast was the usual BuDu Racing feast of bagels, sandwiches, fruit, bars, and spreads. I refueled, waited for the awards to be given out, then got ready to make my ride to my moonlighting job as hired wrench at Inspired Ride Bicycles.

Those kids? Well, one of them beat me soundly by a good three minutes, though most of that was on the run. I was only six seconds slower on the bike. Another one, the elder daughter of the head coach, was less than one second behind me in overall time, and I made all that time on the bike -- she was eight seconds faster on the run, and close to two minutes faster in the swim. Looks like I have my work cut out for me, eh?