Greetings, fair viewers, it has been a while. Now that I am once again unemployed and have copious amounts of free time, I have decided to try and blog again. Previously, with the micro-blogging of Twitter and the photo/video sharing on Instagram, it really felt like I was mostly covered with sharing little tidbits into my life with people. Also, with a full-time job and biking 12-18 hours a week, it became increasingly hard to find the mental energy to really dedicate to writing. And, if I am being perfectly honest, we're subscribed to at least three streaming services right now and I would hate to miss out on all the excellent shows that are out. Seriously, go check out "The Orville: New Horizons" and "For All Mankind", if you are even remotely into science fiction.
So, with a bit of free time on my hands, I went through my various websites and upgraded all of their libraries/packages/code to be up to date with current and (supposedly) more secure versions. During that process, I got mildly infuriated about how much effort I was putting into updating my CMS/blog just to be more secure without gaining any really useful features. It's been years since I started using it and basic search features were still not available in the admin panel. Features that were in ExpressionEngine–the CMS that I wrote a long, long time ago–had in its very first version. Bleargh.
And then I started thinking about how I usually write (in a text editor or notes app) and just accepted that I was not enjoying the writing experience in that CMS at all. So, I tossed it to the curb. Unwilling to use a hosted platform like Wordpress.com for snobbish reasons, I posted a tweet and someone responded that Eleventy might be worth a look.
I dragged my heels a little bit as I was hesitant to learn Yet One More Thing in technology, as it feels like my brain is already crammed full of knowledge about web development. Eventually I took a couple hours to play with it and once I got the hang of things, found it to be a pretty compelling choice. Basic templating, combined with fast loading static files, and each entry its own file. Simple, fast, and not terribly hard to build a blog on. You can see the current iteration up on GitHub.
Rebuilding the blog and design took a couple hours, tweaking a few things for serving and deployment took a couple more hours, and then finally I wrote a quick script to output all of my current blog entries into the new files. Probably, all told, about 10 hours of work. Easy peasy, relatively. And with GitHub's built in ability to add/edit your repo on the web, pretty simple to create content from anywhere.
RPI’s Queen Stage Race was THE race we had been waiting for. Our entire training program for the summer had been focused on preparing us for this race. Point of fact, neither of us had originally signed up for this multi-day race and instead had only registered for the Baked Potato, which is the very last stage. But thanks to people dropping out, we both got invited to join the full stage race in mid-July. As rather ambitious individuals, we had both already been following the stage race training plan, so we were more or less on the right track training-wise.
We arrived the afternoon before the first stage and decided that our shakedown ride should be on the Harriman Trail, which made up the second half of the first stage. And we were so glad we did. Our gravel rides around Boulder seem to be evenly split between smoother gravel roads (groad) or more technical off road trails. While we have areas of deeper gravel, they typically are short and mostly on the bends of downhills. The Harriman Trail had some seriously deep pea sized gravel for many miles. It required more focus and careful line choosing than I expected for a mere “path”.
I am not saying I was worried but part of my brain was preoccupied. It is a funny thing the mental aspect of biking. There are days I simply click and enter the smooth flow that makes gravel riding almost effortless. And then there are rides I start off, and for whatever reason (an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato, etc.), I feel just a bit shaky and my brain needs to warm up to the challenges of speedy gravel riding. The Harriman Trail shakeout ride was definitely the latter.
STAGE 1: GALENA & HARRIMAN TRAIL ADVENTURE DAY
After discussing it with people who had raced in previous years, we decided to drive up and park at a pullout near Galena Lodge opposed to taking the shuttles. This gave us a chance to sleep in just a tad longer and have all of our things with us in the car. It ended up being the right choice as we got within a couple hundred meters of Galena and were able to stay warmer while prepping our bikes for the race.
Oh, and it was COLD up there. The car recorded a temperature in the 30s and the sun was behind the mountains, so it was incredibly hard to stay warm in race clothes without having multiple extra layers on. We tried to do a warm up ride 15 minutes before the start, but I honestly think it made me colder as we descended back to the lodge. Next time I think it is worth bringing insulated down pants and a larger drop bag to hold them.
I was unprepared for the start. Let’s put that in writing. When the race started, I somehow did not expect it to be an all out effort on a single lane forest road straight up a rocky hill. It was only a few hundred feet of climbing but the air was cold, my legs were not remotely warmed up, and it was so crowded that choosing a line was nigh impossible. There were a number of people who could not make it up that hill and trying to navigate around them safely was taxing.
And then that first descent was dusty with riders from a full range of abilities going down it, which made it a bit chaotic. I pushed as hard as I could through that first bit, as it was pretty obvious that position was super important. At the bottom of the first hill there was a creek crossing (I jumped off and leapt over the water instead of taking the crowded bridge), followed quickly by the steepest hill I have ever tried to bike. Everyone was off their bikes huffing and puffing up that steep ass trail. Every so often an ambitious individual would try to ride around others, but they ended up usually behaving like a jerk and making things slower when they stumbled off.
Finally we got on the downhill single track and that was exceptionally fun, if a bit unnerving. Broken branches and tree trunks were just off the trail and with the dust, you sometimes only had a couple seconds of visibility for the next bit of trail. At one sharp turn I heard a clanging sound and I thought my saddle bag had flown open or fallen off. I pulled over to find out I had simply hit someone’s dropped spare gear roll. Nuts.
The single track was exhausting, bone rattling, scenic, challenging, painful, and ultimately everything Rebecca said it was. You really could not believe you were doing this kind of terrain, on a gravel bike with 42mm tires, at this speed. I lost my chain on a swoopy bit where I shifted too quickly before it became a steep, punchy uphill. Pulled over and it took a hot minute to untangle it from my pedal to put it back on the crankset. I now have a long area of paint missing from my chainstay. Shortly after this area, on a fun descent among skinny trees with a handful of riders around me, I heard Tina give a whoop right behind me.
You can read about her RPI here, but that is the last time I heard or saw her for the next 1.5 hours. Thanks to other riders and the race course, I got a smidgen ahead and stayed there until I saw her near the turn around on Harriman Trail.
Once out of the single track, we descended to the paved highway and did a water crossing to get onto the Harriman Trail. I biked into the water a short ways, leapt off, and enjoyed the chilly water as it quickly went above my hips; all the while a photographer documented the moment for posterity.
Once back on my bike (and with some severely water logged shoes), I zipped down the Harriman Trail towards the turn around 11 miles away. For the first half of this section I only saw a dozen or so riders. Seems the single track had spread the field out well. One little turn I came up a bit too fast and had to go straight off the trail to avoid sliding out; given the number of other tracks I saw in that spot I am guessing this turn caused a number of racers to have a tiny scare.
The turn around went well, if a bit confusingly since it was a small little path to a tight circle that had a timing mat and then back the way you came in. A different path for riders going out would have been safer and less confusing, me thinks.
On the way back, I saw a few Basecampers I knew and also Tina! The cheers exchanged were a nice motivator to keep going strong. And then, while making a sharp turn on the far side of a wooden bridge, my wheels slid out from under me. I remember having the thought as I went down that, “Oh, this is where I fall.” It was onto my left elbow/knee/ankle on my non-drivetrain side, so I picked myself up, quickly checked that the bike still functioned, and kept on going. According to Training Peaks, the entire event took only 20 seconds but it felt much longer.
That crash took a bit of wind out of my sails. My elbow was supremely sore and I could see a nice patch of dried blood and dirt on it. The last 10 miles were a bit of a sufferfest as I climbed back up to the lodge to the finish. Got passed by a handful of people but did not have the oomph to stick with them. In the end I finished in 3:43:18 and 56th place (out of 141 men). Not too shabby. Learned quite a bit more about racing during that stage, particularly on gnarly terrain and with a cold, crowded start.
STAGE 2: DOLLARHIDE SUMMIT TIME TRIAL
This stage had a 20 mile neutral roll out, a 4.5 mile uphill time trial, and then a leisurely return downhill to Ketchum. Of all the stages, this is the one where I felt I would do the worst relative to other racers. While I have decent power, when you compare it to my weight it is nothing really stellar. So, on climbs I tend to do well but never really excel.
Since this stage started later, we had a more relaxed morning getting ready. The bikes were all prepped the night before and eating breakfast does not really take that long, so I luxuriated in bed for an extra five minutes after the alarm went off. Bliss.
The neutral roll out was definitely neutral, but there were definitely segments towards the end were I was with a group of riders in a paceline and we were pushing a bit harder than necessary. Also, the gravel road was not closed to vehicles, which unfortunately meant that there were trucks and RVs interspersed among the group of riders. I ended up behind one truck for a solid 10 minutes sucking in its exhaust until the road widened enough to pass it safely.
Anyhoo, reached the time trial start in about 90 minutes and Tina magically ended up only five spots behind me. We got a chance to drop our extra gear, take a bathroom break, and fuel up a bit before our turns. About thirty minutes after getting there, I was given my wave and raced up the road to the summit. My legs were no longer warmed up but they seemed to mostly click into place after a minute. My power averaged 285 watts (3.5w/kg) for both the first and second halves, which is about 10 watts below my FTP, which seems just about right after the previous day’s hard effort.
My overall goal was to finish it in under 33 minutes with a crazy dream goal of breaking 30 minutes. Well, I got one of those. Official time of 31:52, giving me 49th place for the TT. As expected: good but not exceptional.
REST DAY: CHAMOIS BUTT’R FUN RIDE
Rebecca’s Private Idaho encompasses four races really. The Queen's Stage Race (196 miles over 3 stages), Baked Potato (102 miles), French Fry (56 miles), and Tater Tot (20 miles). The Queen’s Stage Race is done over three days and its final stage is the same race as the Baked Potato.
So, Sunday is the big day when a mass of riders converge on Ketchum to ride all three courses. That means Saturday is the perfect day to have a fun ride for racers to meet each other and enjoy the expo. For stage racers, Saturday is a day off and the fun ride serves as a way to give their legs an easy spin to facilitate recovery.
It was damn chilly at the start (my hands were repeatedly in my armpits for the first few miles), but once the sun came out the fun ride was just a leisurely lap around the Tater Tot course with old and new friends. We joked around, got free stuff at the end, and ate many a sugary snacks
STAGE 3: BAKED POTATO ROUTE
Well. This one had a rough start. I probably got, at most, two hours of sleep the night before. Not sure what happened, but my body would not fall asleep. My mind was an empty room and I even took a half dose of Zzzquil, but I just laid in bed for hours and hours. When Tina finally woke up, I seriously considered not racing that day. Mentally and physically I was in a poor state. The surest indication that things are not going well for me is when I am just completely silent and will not crack a single joke. That morning my silence was like a dark cloud over everything.
But I arose, finally, and made a STRONG ASS cup of coffee and ate my oatmeal slowly. Afterwards I made a glass of Skratch’s hyper hydration drink mix because I knew I was dehydrated and the Baked Potato course was going to be long, hard, and dry.
By the time we biked over to the start line, I was slowly coming back to life and as we lined up, I felt almost energetic. Once again we began with a neutral rollout, but you could tell by how quickly things spread out that there was a bit of speed up at the front. Once pace car pulled aside and the neutral roll out ended, we started the climb up to Trail Creek Summit. The first part of this climb felt almost relaxed for me. I even spent a hot minute talking to Phil Gaimon, part of which ended up in his video. Once the climbing started in earnest Tina easily pulled away, but according to Strava we were never more than ten minutes apart during the entire race.
Frustratingly, further up Trail Creek the road narrowed and we ran into a line of motorized vehicles going up with an occasional vehicle trying to come down. Add in a few hundred bicyclists and it was extremely tricky to navigate. At times I was completely stuck behind cyclists and cars with no ability to move over or pass anyone. A strong thumb down for this section, especially with the exhaust.
Once over the summit though, it was a quick descent into Big Lost River Basin and the traffic disappeared. I stuffed a bunch of food and liquid into my mouth during the descent, which caused me to choke and spit out a chunk when I hit the washboards a bit too fast. Oops. I was traveling pretty fast here and quickly picked up a few friends who wanted to draft; by the time we got to the first turn, a group of a dozen riders were working together. Real racing, folks!
That fun, fast racing went on for a few miles. We caught new riders, skipped the second aid station, and headed straight into Wildhorse Canyon. This is where things got a bit thorny. I stayed with my group, but there was deeper, loose gravel on this road with lots of dust being kicked up and only a couple good paths to follow. Visibility was important but almost non-existent at times.
At the turn around, our group fell apart as the road got rougher. I tried to keep up with the leaders, but as we pulled out again I was near the back. And then, the rider I was right behind slowed down and I watched as the main group moved slowly away. It took precious minutes for me to find a safe time to pass, but by then the group was 150 meters ahead. I burned a couple matches to catch up and then the same thing happened again. The last rider just slid off the back and I was caught behind them with no ability to pass.
As I turned onto 135 again, the main group was less than a quarter mile ahead. Tantalizingly close. I burned a match and got a bit closer. Took a lot of deep breaths and burned another, got just a smidgen closer. At one point I was only 100 meters behind them. But I could not bridge that gap. And they just kept pulling further and further away. Soon it was just me. I looked behind and saw nothing but empty dirt road. Shit in a handbasket.
There was nothing to do but just keep pedaling. Spent 6 miles by myself, lost in the wilderness. Eventually a large group came up from behind and sucked me in. This is where having a power meter comes in handy as I can compare the before and after. Once I joined that group, my average watts dropped by 30 but my speed increased my nearly 2mph. The power of aerodynamics.
Was doing fine for food and water (yay hydration backpack!), so I skipped the next aid station and kept on going. New groups came and went, chatted a bit with a fellow, and reached a high point where some kind souls were passing out sodas. Decided to zoom down the descent and continue going since I knew the next aid station was where I wanted to resupply. Joined a group of three during this descent, including a fellow Basecamper, and we just flew. 65 miles into the race and I was feeling far better than expected.
At the aid station I took a 4 minute break to loosen a shoe, fill up my water bottles, suck down a couple GU liquid gels, and throw spare gels into my back pocket. And then I was off again. And I swear to god, within moments I was by myself. I passed one rider right after the aid station and another a few minutes after that, but then the nearest rider ahead was about half a mile. I got all the way back to Trail Creek Rd without sharing the ride with a single soul.
Back on Trail Creek Rd, a solid headwind was blowing and I found more cyclists at last. Sadly none of them were matching my pace, so I passed them very slowly and enjoyed the dirt being kicked into my face by the off roaders driving the opposite direction. Finally I made it to El Diablito, which was a rough, slow bit of road that was very much like single track. My body was aching here and I definitely lost ground to a few other riders who had wider tires or more technical skills.
And then the final climb. Oof. This one dragged on. Washboard road, headwind, longish climb, and all after multiple days of racing. I skipped the final aid station (all downhill from here!) and cruised the 1300 feet down to the pavement. Remembering Rebecca’s words that one would not win the race on this part but one could definitely lose it, I took this descent reasonably chill. My body was pretty much through with my shenanigans and that drop off to the right is no joke.
Back on the pavement, the headwind was still being a jerk, so I just kept on pedaling and tried to stay reasonably aero. Half a mile from the official finish, a small group of four caught up to me and we crossed the line more or less together. To my surprise, I earned a bolo tie, having finished as one of the “fast” male racers in the Baked Potato.
After a few photos, I cruised back to the start line where the end of race party had started. Tina was already there having finished 15 minutes before me and I did a couple bunny hops for the crowd as I came through the corral. And that’s pretty much it. Finished 90th in the Baked Potato with a time of 6:28:03.
AND IN CONCLUSION…
Eesh, that was a long weekend.
According to the official results, I finished 42nd in the Queen’s Stage Race. Which is not too bad. All of my times were slightly faster than what I put into my fueling plan and my ranking got better every stage I did, which shows that all of that fatigue resistance training really paid off.
Could I have done better? Probably a little bit. That crash on stage one definitely affected me for days afterwards. Not sleeping before the final stage was less than ideal. And, I probably could have picked up a few minutes and saved some energy if I had not lost my first group in Wildhorse Canyon. But, ultimately, for a 42 year old rider who got his first gravel bike this year, had only done one race prior, and is still new to structured training…I am pleased.
Back in mid-March, in what I can only assume was an uncharacteristic streak of blind optimism, I signed up for three gravel races in less than two days. The first one on the calendar was Ned Gravel whose goal was to build one of the most challenging gravel races in the world. And last weekend, I did that race.
The night before there was a thunderstorm and there was every indication that another storm would occur during the race with possible flooding happening in the canyons. As we drove up to Nederland in a steady rain, we discussed possible bail out points if the conditions deteriorated. We parked at Eldora Ski Resort, organized ourselves, and biked the 5 miles downhill (in the rain) to the starting line.
And then, a miracle. Barely 10 minutes before the race started, the rain magically stopped. And for another five hours, not a single drop of rain fell.
Since we're in the middle of training for Rebecca’s Private Idaho Queen’s Stage Race in Sept, we treated Ned Gravel as a "B" race–a way to test our fitness and preparation but not drop the hammer and go all out. Based on our scouting of the course and my knowledge of the conditions, my goal was to finish in roughly 5.5 hours. Oh, sweet, foolish summer child.
Given we were not intending to push crazy hard, we put ourselves in the back of the pack in the start corral; in fact I was the 147th person to cross the start line. It was a neutral roll out, so I just cruised with Tina up the first hill until out of the blue she asked if my back tire looked a little low. And it did. I popped off my bike at the top of that first hill and did a quick look for a puncture. Nothing. So I jumped back on and quickly caught up to her assuming it was just the low tire pressure of the wider gravel tires I was using.
With the wet but not muddy gravel roads, the course felt fast. The first gravel section was fairly non-technical and it was a hoot to get caught up in the race energy. Tina and I stayed mostly together but once we got onto Sugarloaf Rd, my tire definitely looked even lower. I waited until I was at the top of a hill before jumping off and discovering that my valve had worked itself open. Shit. Closed it tight and figured my tire pressure was fine until I reached an aid station.
Tina was now a couple minutes ahead of me and while I caught glances of her for the next hour, I never caught up. After zooming down Switzerland Trail at a speed that previously would have felt a bit insane, I reached the aid station. And they did not have pump. I had CO2 in my saddle bag but I decided the tire was not low enough to justify losing the time required to pull it out and add 5 psi. So, on I went.
Next we went up the north part of Switzerland Trail. While I had been passing people regularly up to this point, this is where I felt my training really allowed me to just keep moving up and have the oomph to quickly skirt around people on the rocky terrain. The descent down Lefthand Canyon came in no time at all and based on my original plan, I was already 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
On the 12 minute descent, I crammed as much food and drink into my mouth as I could. Finally, I reached the dreaded Lickskillet and there was not a single other biker to be seen. I started up and made it to the first sharp turn before I saw someone ahead walking his bike up. I kept pedaling for another two minutes before I realized I was straining my legs but losing ground to the person ahead. Popped off my bike and started pushing the bike uphill–sweating like no one's business the entire time.
When I reached a point with a long view uphill, I saw Tina's helmet ahead and she was still on her bike. Ever the climber. During this section I got passed by two bikers who were still pedaling but ultimately I think I made the right choice by walking. Sure I probably could have ridden up it a minute faster but only by expending a great deal of effort. Knowing how much riding was left, I conserved my energy.
At the top I jumped back on my bike, skipped the water station with a friendly wave, and zoomed down Gold Run Rd nearly two minutes faster than I had ever done it before. The power of racing energy.
And then began the long, gradual climb up Four Mile Rd before the race continued up south Switzerland Trail to Peak to Peak highway. Nearly 15 miles and 2450' of climbing total, more than half on rough trail. I stopped at the aid station at the bottom of Switzerland and filled up a water bottle, scarfed down food and electrolyters, took a deep breath...and biked about 3 minutes further uphill to find a place to pee while a four wheeler went around me.
And then I started up Switzerland Trail in earnest. At this point, I was definitely feeling the race. Despite the cooler weather, I had been sweating profusely and in just three hours had probably burnt over 2300 calories. And there was still a third of the race left with challenging terrain ahead. Time to dig deep.
Halfway up Switzerland Trail, you could see that the distant sky was darkening and could feel a bit of extra weight in the air. Another storm was definitely on the way. Around this point, I met up with another rider and we traded places back and forth for the next 30 minutes or so. This was the first time in the race I really worked with another rider to keep going and had an actual conversation. Definitely helped keep me motivated, but I could have used another gel as we were cruising.
As Switzerland turned from rocky trail into a potholed gravel road, the other biker flagged and I passed him. I was out of food at this point and did not know how much water was left in my hydration pack, so I stopped at the last aid station for a water bottle and a gel. Still 10 miles left in the race but with half of it downhill. A second gel might have been smart, but I was the proverbial horse smelling the barn and I zoomed off.
The next 4 miles flew. Zooming down gravel roads was a hoot after all of that climbing. You get back on Peak to Peak highway for a short while and then there is one last climb before you start heading back towards Nederland. I saw three different bikers walking up that climb, nearly spent. At the top you get on an easy dirt road, then at a junction the rest of the route is downhill. More zooming. My legs loved this recovery and I pushed pretty hard downhill doing 28-30mph.
Finally, you reach the pavement again and you enter Nederland. This is where it got a bit messy. Nederland is not large but is popular on a Saturday in summer, even without a race. I had to maneuver around numerous cars before I could take the turn leading to the finish. Tina had reached the finish ten minutes before me and was taking photos/video, so as I cross the finish line I did a little bunny hop for the camera. Fin.
15 minutes later, it started sprinkling and within 45 minutes it was full on raining. We stuck around for the awards ceremony (Tina got 1st place in her age group) and then drove home still pumped from the race. According to the tracker, my race time was 4:44. The night before I had planned to be out for 5:30, so the race went significantly faster than planned. The combination of rain before the race and the cool temperatures during meant the course was super-fast.
I am rather pleased, especially since I only took two days easy before the race, ended the race with energy left over, and was still able to do my planned 4 hour endurance workout the next day. Seems all this training has been incredibly effective at raising my fitness. And the course is great. Just that perfect blend of scenic, challenging, and thrilling. I highly recommend it. If I am around next year and keep on training (maybe get some more climbing power and technical gravel skills), I would like to treat it as an “A” race and see if I could knock 30-40 minutes off my time.
I am getting really good at failing at Everesting. Although, if you graph my three attempts thus far, it seems probable that I will succeed by my fifth attempt. I am not sure if that is encouraging or mildly worrisome, especially for a theoretical fourth attempt.
This attempt was supposed to be different though! Instead of doing my own version of "training", I was following a professionally created training plan specifically designed for bikers who wished to Everest. What the training plan did not factor into play was a week of >90° temperatures and then my Everesting plan needing a drastic revision at 1am.
Given the hot temperatures, I decided to do my Everesting attempt a couple days earlier than planned and to do the majority of my riding in the dark. This was to take advantage of the fact that Friday was going to be drastically cooler than the rest of the week with a high of only 82°. Friday morning itself was forecasted to be a frosty 52°. Loverly.
For safety and convenience, I chose the nearby NCAR hill since it has a beautiful bike lane to the top, a reasonable grade for climbing, and has a parking lot at the top that is open to the public and the origin point for a number of popular hiking trails–which meant it had a Porta-Potty.
The ride started well. The sun disappeared behind the mountains and the growing darkness made the temperature bearable (though still 80° at 11pm). A strong wind picked up and blew me around a bit, but it was manageable if mildly nerve wracking on the descents. Around midnight–20 laps into a 69 lap Everesting attempt–we were paid a visit by two individuals in a small SUV labeled “Security”. We were informed that the parking lot closed at 11pm and that we could potentially be ticketed by the Boulder Police with a fine of $1500.
Well, shit in a hand basket.
I think it is important to state right now that there is no signage at the bottom of the hill or in the parking lot that indicates this. We scouted it out the day before and purposefully looked for anything that might indicate a problem. The NCAR visitors page has nothing about it. The City of Boulder NCAR trailhead website also says nothing. We checked! Afterwards, the only place we could find a possible mention of the parking lot maybe being closed was on the Boulder Open Space Rules & Regulation page under a “Curfew” tab. And it is still not clear that it applies to the NCAR parking lot. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So. We had both our cars there. Mine was full of my support gear, backup gear, a cooler, and a wide assortment of snacks. And then Tina had her car with her stuff and also the ability to go home to fetch anything that might be needed. Our first action was for Tina to immediately move her car past the bottom of the hill into the neighborhood. Not an ideal location for support, but it would work. I would continue on my laps while she would come back up and move my car down.
A small wrinkle but manageable or so it seemed. On my way back up NCAR, this same SUV flashed its lights at me and a woman leaned out the window and told me the NCAR road was closed and I should leave. ::blinks:: This happened around 12:15am and I will state for the record that two cars had driven past me on the NCAR road while I was doing this lap. At this point I had been biking for five hours and had done over 9000’ of climbing, but I was not even a third of the way done. My mental state was in a just-keep-pedaling mode and not ready for this curve ball.
Tina arrived in the parking lot soon after this, so we moved my car and I sat down on the curb of a dark street to consider my options. And then I had an allergy attack. The wind had been blowing grass pollen around for hours while I had been sucking it in while climbing a hill repeatedly. Once the adrenaline stopped coursing through my blood, my body let loose with snot and sneezing as I have not experienced in years. We found a Benadryl in my first aid kit and it slowly abated. My throat and lungs felt pretty raw for days afterwards.
Back to the Everesting. Obviously we needed to stay off NCAR. Being told off twice like that made it a non-option. And it was way too late to start all over on a new hill. The only real option was to switch from a normal Everesting (one hill, repeat until 8848m) to a 10K Everesting Roam (anywhere, 10,000m climbing, at least 250mi, 36h time limit). Or, you know, quit and go home.
The 10K Roam Everesting was actually what I had started planning the previous week. It is more my style of biking and also gives one’s body a chance to stretch different muscles as it is just not hill repeats. But it is a longer and harder challenge and the hot temperatures made it seem like a terrible idea.
But quitting seemed like a waste. I was out, I was all suited up, and I had already done all of that climbing. Tina was also on board for supporting me for another 30 hours. So, why the hell not?
This required an entirely new strategy and making many off the cuff decisions that could make or break the attempt. First, Tina would need to take her car home, bike back to my car, and start supporting me by driving it to break spots. The rest of the challenge would also be ridden solo and with significantly more mileage and elevation than originally planned. Let’s be honest, 1am is not when you want to loosely plan a 10K Everesting Roam attempt, but we gave it our best shot.
And so I biked. First up Flagstaff. Then Sunshine. Over to Hygiene. A break at Lyons just as the sun was rising. Next, a lap up to Peak to Peak Hwy. At this point I had been going for over 12 hours and was definitely feeling the lack of sleep. Tina had a work call to take, so we decided I would descend back to Lyons (gotta get that easy mileage) and we would drive home to restock as well as plan the next half of the challenge. 16K feet of elevation gain and 131mi done done by 8am.
At home I started a load of laundry (why not have freshly clean bike clothes?), showered, ate food, and took an all-too-short two hour nap.
By the time we headed out again, it was 3pm and it was sunny and hot. Given the heat, we drove the car up Lefthand Canyon a ways to a dirt pull off at around 6600’. While the sunlight lasted, I figured I could do laps up to Ward and enjoy cooler temperatures and maybe some shade. That worked out rather well and over the course of three and a half hours I added another 5800’ of elevation gain to my total.
However, as the sun began to set, it was getting chilly up there and my body was rejecting the bars, gels, and treats I was still trying to force feed it. The only real option was to head down to town so Tina could fetch a real meal for me to eat with the hopes my body would find that more to its liking.
While she went to find food, I reached Linden Drive (Tina’s Everest hill from 2 weeks ago) and…I barely made it one lap. I genuinely almost got off my bike to take a break halfway up a 1.6 mile climb. It was very disheartening. While my body felt like it still had energy, I was having a hard time pushing the pedals. Tina arrived at the bottom of the hill with food and I told her that there was a very real chance that I might be done.
I sat down and slowly ate a very tasty combination of beans, rice, sauce, and guacamole while thinking my predicament over. I still had 9,000ft left to climb. It was almost 9pm and the sun had already set. There was only 10 hours left for me to complete the challenge. Doable, but it meant another sleepless night with me biking nearly the entire time. And I would definitely need to find a shallower hill. Tina was willing to stay out all night supporting me, but she also had a gravel clinic the next morning and had barely slept as well.
Mentally I was just not on board with what completing the challenge required. So, at 9pm, 26 hours after starting, I officially stopped with 194mi and 23,774' done.
Here we are a week later, and I am still not even remotely disappointed. Previous to this Everesting attempt, the longest ride I had ever done was 106 miles. The most elevation I had ever done on a single ride was 16K’ during last year’s Everesting. This was significantly more on both counts. And this had the added fun of extra warm temperatures and only 2 hours of sleep. Not a bad day’s work, honestly.
Also. And Tina reminded me of this afterwards, Everesting is frequently the purview of great and exceptional climbers. While I am a good climber, perhaps even categorizable as strong, I would never say I am great at it. I can put out a fair amount of power but I am also quite heavy, which is a huge detriment on climbs.
Will I try again? Maybe? It is a vexing thing to apply myself towards a goal three times and fail each time. This attempt also felt like a rather poor attempt, all things considered. I know I have the fitness to complete either an Everesting or a 10K Everesting Roam, but it would surely help if it was not attempted during hot summer weather with a plan that did not go belly up at 1am. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
After three weeks of my training plan, I have reached my first recovery week. That means it is time to absorb all of the training that I did by giving my body the time to rebuild and rest. Woo!
And I, for one, am all for it. Last week had me biking for 15.5 hours with 19,000ft of elevation gain. On top of the bike workouts, I also had two separate hour-long core sessions and my daily 20-25 minute walk. It all adds up. By Sunday, I could feel the stress as it took a good 30 minutes for my body to really click into the day's endurance ride. Also, let's not forget that I got my second vaccine shot last Sunday, which knocked me flat for all of Monday. Overall, not a bad week, not bad at all.
Recovery week mostly means I take the first two days off completely and then have three days of easy rides before I start preparing for the next four weeks of training. And that preparation includes an FTP test. Ohhhh boy!
Let's start with the days off. By the end of the weekend (having spent 7 hours climbing in the mountains on Saturday and 30 miles of endurance on Sunday), Garmin was telling me that I needed 3.5 days off to fully recover from my efforts. Given the strain of the weekday workouts, the vaccine shot tanking my energy, and then my "fun" weekend, my body was pretty well wrung dry and hurting a bit. My calves were tight, my quads and hamstrings were sore, and even my chest felt a bit roughed up. Let's not even talk about my caloric needs, since I easily polished off an entire packet of Trader Joe's Speculoo cookies Sunday night.
So, today is Tuesday and my second, completely-off-the-bike day. This morning my resting HR was 48bpm, which while higher than normal is lower than Sunday's. Also, since I had a book at the library, I enjoyed a 4.5 mile round trip walk this morning. When I got home, my watch said my recovery time was down to only 23 hours. Progress.
The next three days only have me biking four hours total and always at a fairly relaxed pace. No hard efforts and no intervals; nothing but endurance riding. That's because Saturday is the FTP test!
No one really gets excited about FTP tests. In all honesty, I have to psych myself up for them. They are meant to push you hard and are used to determine what your training levels will be for the next block of training. After a warmup that gets the legs spun up and ready for some hard efforts, you do 5 mins at the maximum effort you can sustain. It tends to leave one feeling like Rocky at the end of a round–still standing but a little uneasy on the feet. And then, oh then, you switch to 15 minutes of endurance to "recover" before your 20 minute max effort.
That 20 minute max effort tends to leave me gasping over my handlebars, with a faint taste of copper in my mouth and a desire to collapse and moan "medic" at whomever is within earshot. Since I intend to do this test outside–weather permitting–I will complete the ride by ceasing the melodrama and biking my tired ass home.
And the FTP test signifies the end of rest week and the return to training. More and harder intervals, longer endurance rides, and continuing to build up my ability to maintain power when tired. I will be interested if the FTP test shows any improvement in just three weeks. I think I have noticed an ability to climb hills faster and also maintain my power when I am tired...but...it could all be in my head. When it comes to training, data matters.
Exactly two days ago, on Sunday mid-morning, I got my second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Having had multiple friends that had already received their second doze of Pfizer or Moderna, I had a solid idea of the likely symptoms: very sore shoulder where the shot was given, headache overnight, mild fever, trouble sleeping, and a solid chance of overwhelming tiredness.
And yup, that's exactly what I had. The shoulder got more sore as Sunday went on and my sleep on Sunday night was poor. Woke up both chilled and mildly sweating at 1am with one heck of a headache. Dosed myself with ibuprofen and woke up again at 5am with the light fever gone but the headache back and feeling completely drained of energy.
Monday was just weird. My body felt like it had energy but my brain could simply not access it. Even with a cup of coffee and a cup of green tea, my mental energy to do anything was nowhere to be found. Ended up watching a couple movies and taking at least two full naps on the couch before lunch. Tina and I went for a walk in the early afternoon and for the first time in ages, I felt unsteady on my feet. A 25 minute walk required me to come home, have a snack, take more drugs, and pass out for nearly half an hour.
By Monday evening a bit of my energy had returned and I was able to read a handful of the short stories in my current book. But, let's be honest, I was still little better than a lump on the log. Prior to bed I took a long, hot shower and some Tylenol, which helped me sleep through the night until I woke up at 6am.
And I awoke with energy! This morning was sunny and warm after two days of rain, and I felt practically reborn with life. Got up, got going, and while I still felt only around 90% of my normal energy levels, it was such a significant change from Monday morning that it hardly mattered. Go, modern science!
Since I have a Garmin Fenix watch that I wear to bed nearly every night, I got to see some objective data about how the vaccine affected me too. My resting heart rate is usually around 46 beats per minute (bpm). While sleeping Sunday night, post-vaccine, my rest heart rate was 62 beats per minute. My body was definitely stressed and working hard. Tuesday morning it was down to 52 beats per minute, showing that my body was starting to come back from all the energy it had diverted into my immune system.
Garmin also has something called Body Battery that is "a feature that uses a combination of Heart Rate Variability, Stress, and Activity to estimate a user’s energy reserves throughout the day." Even on hard training days, my body battery rarely dips below 40 (out of 100). On Sunday night, my body battery was 26. A solid night of sleep almost always gets my body battery above 80, but on Monday morning it was still at a paltry 40 despite at least 5 hours of sleep. And, crazily, my body battery actually slowly increased over the course of Monday. By the time I went to bed it was at 59 and I woke up with a complete 100. Definitely reflects how I felt my energy levels changing.
According to the NY Times, as of today, the COVID-19 virus has killed at least 577,378 people in the United States. And then there are all the individuals who have survived COVID-19, only to have serious, long term health problems. This does not even begin to scratch the surface of how this virus is continuing to cause suffering and death in the world.
There are three different vaccines available in the United States and they are free to everyone. Not a single death has been caused by these vaccines, their effectiveness is even better than forecasted, and the chance of side effects is ludicrously low. I have no hesitancy in recommending this vaccine to anyone. For only a day and a half of discomfort, I am protecting myself and everyone around me. Completely worth it.
It is nigh impossible to talk about starting a training program without bringing up the new, shiny technology required. Effort needs to be measured, progress needs to be tracked, and pretty graphs must be squinted at. Also, I am a bit of a gear junkie who finds joy in researching things online for hours.
The used 2017 Wahoo Kickr that I purchased at the beginning of winter was my first introduction to the world of tracking power output. For every workout, I could see the precise amount of effort I was expending to climb hills and go fast but also when I was casually cruising. The advantage of tracking power is that it is both more precise than using heart rate and more accurate than riding by feel.
My Kickr did not have the ability to measure cadence, so when I got more experienced with the Zwift workouts and understanding my power output, I also bought a cadence sensor that I attached to my crank arm. Most people implicitly understand that it is easier to spin your pedals on the flats than when you are slowly churning pedals up a steep climb. Power (watts) is torque (force put on the pedal) times rotational speed (cadence), so cadence gives you one more way to evaluate your cycling work. Everyone has their preferred cadence in different situations, but you can also train yourself to use different cadences and use cadence to improve your fitness. In short, it's a handy thing to know when training.
Now, none of my outdoor bikes have a power meter or cadence sensor built in. Before doing my winter workouts on the Kickr, I honestly did not think I would ever really need to care about such things. Even when doing all of that Everesting training last year, I mostly just went out and biked at whatever pace, speed, and grade that I felt like doing that day. And for the most part, that actually work reasonably well. If you want to do long distances, you need to bike longer distances. If you want to do long climbs, you need to bike longer on climbs. Your brain just exploded with that amazing knowledge drop, I know.
But–and the past 10 days with this training plan has really proven it to me–at a certain point you need to buckle down, see where you as a cyclist need to improve, set some goals, and actually focus on improving. In other words, you need to become scientific about your training. And that, my friends, requires data and analysis.
So. Last week I had my very first power meter installed on my road bike. It streams its data over Bluetooth, which means the Wahoo app on my phone was able to receive my power and cadence instantly from my bike. Since I had a phone mount for my bike already, I took my Saturday workout and did it outside.
It definitely had its challenges. The outside world has cars, other cyclists, pedestrians, stop signs, stoplights, and wind from every possible direction. Trying to keep an eye on the world around you while performing a workout based on data displayed on your phone is tricky. Definitely felt myself struggling numerous times and my workout numbers were not exactly what was specified in my training plan. At the same time, I was outside and that is rather preferable to being on a bike trainer in the garage.
The one major hiccup was that the Wahoo app drained my phone battery almost completely dry in 3 hours. Not the ideal situation for someone who frequently does even longer rides. To be fair, our phones are not designed to have their displays continuously on full brightness and streaming data from external devices for hours on end. Enter the bike computer, stage left.
A bike computer is another one of those purchases that I thought I would never make. They are designed for serious cyclists, who are out there training every day and want GPS navigation from their handlebars. And, ladies and gents, lo and behold, that is now the type of cyclist that I am!
Tina was fortunate enough to find a friend in her training group that had an older bike computer to give her. I, on the other hand, fell down the rabbit hole of researching the purchase of a brand new bike computer for the better part of a week. There are many options out there to choose from: super lightweight and aero, those with a touchscreen, those with only buttons, color or grayscale, one based off the Android operating system, and those that have days of battery life. They all have pros and cons, of course, but all of them have the ability to read sensors from your bike and do basic navigation.
In the end, I wanted a bike computer that would last at least 15 hours (2 full days of riding without charging), solid navigation, customizable data screens, easy syncing of my rides, and buttons for when it is wet or in winter. Ideally, I wanted one released in the last couple years and for under $300. Given this was my first foray into bike computers, I also was hoping to pick it up from REI since it has an excellent return policy.
The one that most perfectly fit my needs was the Garmin Edge 530. And once I made my decision, I was able to purchase it at REI the next day and try it out an hour after getting home.
And, it seems to be working out pretty darn well! My watch and power meter connected to it without problem. The mount took all of 2 minutes to install and is exceptionally stable on my handlebar, even on rough gravel. Garmin has a well-earned reputation for having so many features and abilities that one can get overwhelmed, but I found that with a littleeffort I was able to set it up just how I wanted. And the battery life is exceptional; a two and a half hour ride this week only reduced the battery 8%. Rarely am I so pleased with a purchase.
Doing workouts outside will still be challenging, but I feel like I am now set up for success. And since I am training for gravel races, I am considering adding a power meter to my gravel bike as well. And, while these workouts are definitely challenging, it is obvious they are focusing on my weaknesses and making me stronger. So far, so good.
Around the middle of October, Tina and I acquired two Wahoo Kickrs thanks to our local bike shop, Boulder Bicycle Works, having a couple used ones to sell. While they were definitely a couple years old and well loved, they were only 40% the cost of new machines. Since COVID was still raging and snow storms here can be a bit intense, it seemed a wise choice to have a way to exercise throughout the winter.
This led us to doing our first FTP tests, completing all of the Zwift Academy workouts, and even participating in a Zwift races. As the rabbit hole deepened, Tina signed up for Basecamp, an online winter cycling training program, for three months and dedicated herself to not only keeping her biking fitness but improving it.
Challenge-focused individual that I am, I focused primarily on things like the Thanksgiving Groad, the Rapha Festive 500, and doing 350 miles in a single week. Yes, I still spent time on the trainer–mostly attempting to improve my climbing abilities–but I was not nearly as dedicated as Tina.
My outdoor fun over the winter convinced me that I was finally willing to invest in a dedicated gravel bike. While my lovely carbon road bike can handle quite a bit, after a particularly rough ride that left a couple decent scrapes in its frame, I decided it was time to stop beating it up and get a real gravel bike. So, on my birthday I got a Giant Revolt. It's pretty darn spiffy.
If this blog post has a point, it is that escalation is a very real thing in biking. I came to Boulder with an 11 year old aluminum bike, and 18 months later I now own four bikes and easily spend 12-18 hours a week riding. Crazy.
What's even crazier is that for the first time in my life, I have signed up for a bike race! Oh, but not just a single bike race. No siree! I am currently signed up for three different gravel races in 2021. And some seriously challenging ones too:
Ned Gravel, July 31st, Tungsten route: 66 miles and 8,200’ of climbing.
Is "audacious" the right world? Seems like it might be.
An FTP test last weekend showed that I not only kept my fitness over the winter but actually got a smidgen stronger since last October. And I did a 350 mile week at the beginning of March, so the distances are not too worrisome. Gravel riding over long distances is more jarring and exhausting, but a recent gravel-filled weekend makes me think it is manageable with the right tire size and additional training.
However. Part of me would like to do really well in these races. And, I would definitely like to be so fit that finishing (barring a mechanical problem) is a foregone conclusion.
And so, I have started my first structured training program. It is an 8-week plan written by one of the leaders of her Basecamp group and is meant to improve my strength, resiliency, and ensure I can survive a long, hard day in the saddle.
I am only four days into it and boy oh boy has it already given me a couple decent workouts. Today is a rest day with a relaxing one hour ride before a delightfully hard weekend of climbing and endurance riding, and I very much need this recovery day. Many of the more structured workouts will probably be done on my Wahoo Kickr, but I just bought my first power meter to allow workouts to be performed outside too.
Feels a bit weird to take exercise this seriously, but with races on the calendar and a partner who is kicking ass with her own cycling, I thought it was time to up my own game a bit.
Tina has informed me that I cannot read her blog entry about my second Everesting attempt until I finish writing my own and post it. So, here I am, almost two weeks later, reminiscing about yet another failure. Oh, yippee.
Let’s see. What to say, what to say.
It started early. 2:54am to be exact. It was cold. Mid-40s is my best guess. And it only got chillier as the night went on, thanks to the clear night sky. Obviously, that meant layers. Thermal tights, cold weather biking jacket, a light puffy jacket, long fingered gloves, wool skull cap, buff, and shoe covers. Hot coffee in an insulated thermos, naturally.
Cold weather plus climbing is tricky. Roughly 1600 feet of climbing every hour with an equal amount of descent. Makes it challenging to balance between staying warm and not sweating so much that you get chilled on the fast descent. This meant a fair amount of zipping and unzipping with a regular rotation into dry gloves
The first quarter (12 laps, 7300 ft) went fine. It was chilly but I did a short warm up beforehand and kept myself well fueled with bars and cookie dough. I had plenty of bike lights and the road had virtually no traffic. No animals rushed in front of me this time and while there was some wind, it was not a significant hindrance.
All that being said, it was really nice when the sun rose. Layers came off and my cold feet warmed up in no time. The canyon above Jamestown stayed fairly cool and you could definitely smell autumn in the air. A small amount of leaves had already dropped and a few, eager deciduous trees were already changing colors.
Part of me was a little disappointed that this was not a normal bike ride up in the foothills as it was idyllic in both weather and ambiance.
Around 11am Tina returned and joined me for lap 23 with approximately 13K feet of elevation gain already in the bank. And by noon, I was halfway done. All according to plan.
It sounds good on paper, but in reality it felt less than superb. When I started my first Everesting attempt, I felt strong. My energy levels were good and finishing felt not only possible but almost inevitable. Not sure what was going on with this ride, but I simply never clicked into a good place mentally or physically. I was tired from the start.
Maybe it was the wildfires pumping smoke into the air for weeks beforehand or the consistently hot temperatures in Boulder during August or the stress and exhaustion from working while the entire country seems to be falling apart, but even the first lap felt like effort. You know those rides: you’re there and you’re going to do the time, but it’s going to be a struggle.
And then that damn, stupid leg started hurting again. I cannot emphasize how frustrating it was during the first attempt when it got so painful that I ended up limping for almost a week afterwards. You do months and months of training with literally 100s of thousands of elevation gain, and then on Game Day it decides it wants to break down.
The month between this attempt and the last attempt I really worked on rehabilitating it. Hot baths, massages, stretching, and gradually ramping up to more and more climbing. When Tina did her Everest and I ended up doing 10K of elevation gain with no pain, it seemed like I had recovered sufficiently to try again.
Nope. It started getting unhappy again around 12K of elevation gain. I had modified my segment to take off the steepest section to improve my chances, but by the halfway point it had become a serious concern again. I was getting out of my seat frequently to help stretch it out and reduce the repetitiveness, but that had the consequence of using up more and more of my precious energy.
Somewhere around 15.5K feet of elevation gain, I started feeling pain in my knee again. At 16.5K I was so exhausted from trying to do anything and everything to reduce the discomfort and growing pain that I just threw in the towel. The pain was less sharp than last time, but even so I found walking unpleasant for days afterward.
Blargh. Over 11 hours. All of that biking and no Everest. Again.
Suffice to say, I am not trying again this year. It took me nearly two weeks of recovery to handle today’s Ward ride and I simply cannot fathom losing two more weeks to tapering, especially when the weather is even further against me in October. Nope. Back to fun, shorter, challenging rides in the hills until the snow returns.
I am thinking about getting a Wahoo KICKR to prepare for next year though…
It has been four weeks since my first Everesting attempt. That attempt ended when an already sore quad was combined with cold temperatures and eight hours of biking to result in serious knee pain. It was extremely disappointing to prepare everything, get over 13K of elevation gain, and then have to quit at 3am because I rushed a bit into my first attempt because of weather concerns.
I spent a few days off the biking completely and also drugged myself with ibuprofen to get the leg and knee less cranky. I eased into some slow, short rides and after a couple weeks was back up to moderate training rides. When I pulled off a SuperJames + Ward ride, I felt I was ready to start considering another attempt.
Last weekend the conditions aligned and Tina made her Everesting attempt on Monday. Despite a couple hours of chilly rain at the end, the majority of her ride went pretty darn smoothly. I actually considered joining her so we could Everest together, but I decided that being her support crew was more important. Many things can go wrong during an Everesting but some of those are addressable with a support crew, so it made sense to have that as my focus. Even still, I joined her for 10K feet of climbing. The leg and knee were a bit sore afterwards but overall they held up without much complaint.
With Tina’s Everesting a success, it was time to start considering my own. Labor Day seemed like a reasonable day to make an attempt. I already had it off from work and it gave me roughly a week to taper.
On Friday, I drove up to Jamestown and did a subsection of my segment twice. My original segment had a third of a mile of 11-14% grade at the end and I am fairly sure that was the root cause of my knee pain. Doing that manner of grade repeatedly in the middle of the night with a sore quad is not relaxing. With my leg still not completely healed, I wanted to consider a segment without that stressful bit at the end. It means an increase in the number of laps to reach 29,029’ but a far kinder grade for my knee.
So, here we are on Sunday afternoon. And, Monday is off the table. A winter storm system is supposed to arrive tomorrow night with snowfall predicted for Tuesday. Preceding the storm, Jamestown is forecasted to have 20-30mph wind gusts starting at noon Monday and lasting for four hours. Not a deal breaker but not exactly encouraging with my leg at less than 100%.
No, what has killed this attempt is our heat wave for the past few days with high temps in the upper 90s and low 100s. Combined with some wind, the forest fires nearby have flared up and smoke has filled the skies of Boulder. We stepped outside 30 minutes ago and the smell of smoke is strong. As I look out the window right now, the mountains are no longer visible.
With the shorter days and the nighttime temperatures lowering into the 40s, my window for successfully Everesting this year is quickly disappearing. I also do not wish to lose fun, autumn bike ride for this project. There are other routes I want to do before the weather changes. We shall see what next weekend brings. I may give it two more weeks and then call it for this year.