Monday, October 4, 2010

2010 Great Ghost Rider Ramble

This was my first century ride, so I really did not know what to expect. I knew it was not a race, but beyond that I had no idea.

I got to East Central High School a little before 7am. I checked in and got my wristband which allowed me access to the aid stations. The weather was clear, but chilly, in the upper 40F’s. The forecast said it would warm up to the low 60’s by about 1pm when it would cloud up and there was a chance of rain. I dressed in long tights, thermal base layer and a nylon shell. I wore full gloves and a nylon skull cap under my helmet.

I got ready with my drinks and food and pedaled around the parking lot while other riders showed up. There were groups of two or three milling around until the 7:30 scheduled start when I saw a group of about 20 riders start out. I thought there would be some sort of starting instructions or something, but this was just my first lesson in the informal nature of a ride.

I hurried out and caught up to the group. I started talking to Mark, who was also riding solo. We had a nice time at the back of the pack talking. We rode together with this group until the first aid station at about mile 31.

The first part of the ride was fairly flat and the pace was a nice 18-20 mph. The course headed out through the farm land in south eastern Indiana. It is a very pretty country. Many of the corn fields had recently been harvested. The brown stalks complimented the trees’ autumn colors. With the sun coming up under clear skies it was a beautiful morning. Once, while I was pulling up front I became engrossed in the scenery and started drifting out to the left and gave up my pull a little prematurely. Oh, well – there would be more pulls to come.

I had left my Garmin 205 at home since I knew the battery would not last for 5 to 6 hours. Unfortunately, my inexpensive cycle computer went out for a few miles right at the start. This made it hard to judge exactly where I was in the ride.

The initial group stayed together until the first significant hill at mile 26. This splintered the group and, much like in the Sunflower, I found that I was a stronger climber than many in the group. I wonder if it has more to do with my gearing, I have a double chain ring, than my conditioning. In any case, I took advantage of my climb to get out in front of the group, pull over to the side and take a pee break in the woods. That is one thing my running and cycling events have in common.

By the time I got back on the bike I was near the back of the strung out pack. I started working my way up the line and was surprised that 1) no one was waiting on other riders, even though they clearly knew each other and 2) no one latched on to my wheel as I pulled ahead. It was a little strange.

At mile 31 we had our first food stop at a church. Unfortunately, since we were the first group there, the food had not arrived. This was another clue to me that I was not in a race. Everyone stopped, used the bathroom, grabbed a snack, socialized and discussed if they would do the whole century or cut it short. I was thinking “Let’s get moving! Time is wasting! Plus, I have things to do today.”

Eventually we started out. I learned at the food stop that some riders planned to turn right at the bottom of the next big hill and only go 70 miles. When we reached that point I turned left along with Mark and two other riders. At mile 37 we hit another big hill and Mark was not able to stick with us. It was the last I would see him that day. I hung with the other two riders, Brad and Nathan for the rest of the ride. We were pretty evenly matched and worked well together. I felt bad for Mark because I did not know when anyone else would come along, but he could just not keep up.

We hit two more very significant climbs over the next 20 miles. The scenery was beautiful, but the climbs were really sucking the strength out us. By the time we hit the next food stop at mile 57 we were ready to re fuel. This stop was at a park and had peanut butter and jelly, trail mix, fluids and hot chicken soup. I would not have thought it before the ride, but that soup hit the spot.

We were the second group into the food stop and the first group left about 5 minutes ahead of us. We would wind up passing them shortly after we started again. I think they might have cut their ride short.

The rest of the course was a steady climb up to mile 87 where it leveled out. However, during those miles we would hit some rather short, but steep climbs. They would not have been so bad at mile 10, but by mile 80 they felt like a category 5. The other obstacle was the wind. We could see clouds rolling in from the west and with them came strong, gusting wind. In many ways it was worse than the hills. You would turn a corner and the wind would hit you like a 2x4 without warning. You would not see it coming and you did not know when it would end. All of a sudden I started to wish the corn had not been cut down so that we might get some relief from the wind. It was hard taking a pull out front into the wind. We started looking for a bend in the road so that the wind might be behind us or a clump of trees to give us a break.

The last food stop was at mile 90 and the three of us decide to skip it. I think we were worried that we would not want to start again if we got off the bikes. I was really starting to feel sore all over. Six hours in the saddle is a long time, but we pushed hard, everyone taking a turn pulling up front.

At mile 95 it started to rain. Just a few drops and a little off and on sprinkle. It was just enough to give us a chill, but not enough to make the riding dangerous. At this point that I got a second wind and took a good long pull up front at 20-22 mph. I don’t know how or why. Maybe I was like a horse wanting to get back to the barn.

The three of us rode into the high school parking lot together. We were the first century riders to arrive, but now I knew this was not a race. There was no sprint to the finish, no finish line, no one even there to greet us. I congratulated Brad and Nathan and they packed up their bikes and hit the road. I went to the high school and had some of the pasta they were serving up as part of the ride. That too hit the spot.

I finished the ride in 6 hours and 10 minutes. I felt tired, but not as beat up as when I had run a marathon. Riding a century was one of the goals I had set out for myself after my running was over. I am sure I will ride more centuries, though I would like one with more riders and maybe even one that has a bit more of a competitive nature. That is not to say I thought this was easy – this was tough enough for sure.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

2010 Sunflower Revolution 100K

2010 Sunflower Revolution 100K

I rode down to the start of the race with Holly’s boss, Cern. He is quite the athlete and a fast cyclist. He and I had exchanged good natured trash talk for a couple of weeks before the race. There was no way I could keep up with him, but he had challenged me to go for a sub 3 hour time. Last year I had done the race in 3:08. I was in better condition this year and a little more experienced, so I thought it was doable, but I had to get into a group that was riding that pace. Cern encouraged me to ride hard at the start to find a group riding at sub 3 hour pace and then work hard to stay with them, particularly on the climbs.

The race started at 8am. It was 60F and clear skies. I started in the middle of the pack of about 250 riders. The first few miles of the course are fairly flat and the road rather wide. I hop scotched between groups trying the find one that I thought would average about 20 mph. The groups in these initial miles are very fluid as they try to establish a pace. This is particularly true for people like me that are riding without a pre-established group. Unlike less formal rides, people in the Sunflower seem to be riding for a time, especially those riding in some of the faster groups.

At mile 7, the course starts a climb that is not too steep, but fairly long at just about 3 miles. This starts to break up any groups that had formed up until that point. I went hard up the climb figuring that any group I hooked up with at the end of it would probably be one that could get me home in less than 3 hours. By the time we reached the top and turned off to a side road, I was in a group of about 15 riders that began to string out as we started a long steep descent.

At the bottom of the descent we turned left and after about a mile hit a very steep climb. This again broke up the group, but the climb was short enough that it soon formed back up. It was fun to see that people had written on the road “Allez” and “Almost There” and drawn pictures like you see at the Tour de France.

After this climb we started a long section of rolling hills. I found that I tended to be stronger on the climbs than many in the group. I think my training on hills had better prepared and conditioned me for climbing than some other riders. This was great, but it caused problems if I did not anticipate the climbs and position myself where I would not get boxed in. Twice I almost crashed when I was boxed in on the right side of the rode and the group slowed quickly on a short climb. Once it slowed so fast that it caught me in my large chain ring and I almost came to a complete stop. The group pulled away from me while I tried to get into a lower gear and recover going up the hill. Since there was no one behind me within sight, I had to work hard to get back to group or risk being left on my own.

By the midpoint of the race I was averaging 20 mph and, even though the race is billed as a 100K, I knew I was in good shape to complete the 59 miles in less than 3 hours. It was about this point when the group started to break up a little. There was one rider, in a Huntington Bank kit, that seemed to be in charge. I got the impression that he was riding with a few other people in the group. He would set the pace, drift back and then when the pace started to slow a little he would charge back to the front and increase the speed of the group once again. Eventually, a group of about 8 of us start to split the group and the Huntington Bank guy did not follow.

We were keeping a 20-22 mph pace and everyone was taking a turn to pull up front. At about 40 miles we overtook a tandem that was being ridden by two women who were obviously serious riders. We absorbed them into our group and that turned out to be a big plus. While the tandem was a little slower on any uphill, they flew down the descents and could really pull on the flats.

By this time the big hills are behind us and the course is relatively fast. It does include one long steep descent at 45 miles where I got up to over 40 mph. That was a little scary, but thankfully it is a straight descent and the road is wide and smooth.

By the time we got to about 50 miles I was certainly starting to feel it in my legs. The group was working together, but you could tell it was tiring. The girls on the tandem were a big help. It was at this time that I took a long pull at front. It was on a side rode that went through a corn field. It was full of potholes and corn cobs from the recent harvesting. I thought that all I needed now was to go down on a corn cob.

With about three miles to go the group had started to break up and I wound up in front with everyone else falling off. I decided to try and make a break for it. I went hard, but was not able to keep it up until the finish. A little more than a mile from the finish, the tandem came up next to me and I was very happy to see them. I fell in behind them and rode with them until the finish.

I came into downtown Milford and crossed the line at 2:46. I had taken over 20 minutes off my time from last year. My conditioning and weight lost had made a big difference from the year before as had my better bike handling skills. This ride gave me confidence from my upcoming century.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Riding In Place

Well here I am deep into the indoor season. With the outside temperatures in the 20’s and streets that never seem dry, I have put on the trainer tire and hooked up the bike to the trainer.

My plan is to ride inside until the first full week of April. Then I start outside again.

The trainer is a fluid trainer with the ability to vary the resistance. I tried a mag trainer, but the fluid trainer seems like a more consistent resistance and it is much quieter. The mag one I had borrowed could be heard all through the house.

I have set up in the basement, in my workshop. The term workshop is probably a misnomer since I do little work in it other than working out. In addition to my winter biking station, there is also a treadmill and a universal weight station. With all this workout equipment and the usual assortment of basement storage, it is pretty crowded.

I have placed a fan in front of the bike and an old portable television hookup with an inexpensive DVD player. I recently purchased off e-bay a complete season of the original Star Trek series on DVD. I know, it is kind of hokey and the special effects are comical by today’s standards, but the stories are actually pretty good and of course they are nostalgic for me.

I have been riding 6 days a week since the year began. I try to ride a 60-70 minutes a day four days a week and lift weights and ride for 30-40 minutes a day twice a week. This gives me about 120 miles a week on the trainer according to my cycle computer.

I really thought I would dread the months of training indoors – the monotony of riding without going anywhere. The truth is that I kind of like it. There are a number of reasons:

1. I don’t have to worry about the weather. I don’t have to plan for rain or cold or how to dress. I just put on my shorts and hop on the bike.

2. I can plan my work out exactly. If I want to go a certain mileage or time I can. I don’t have to worry about routes and if I have enough time to fit in another loop. If I am feeling good I can go longer and if I am not I can stop without worrying how far I am from home.

3. I don’t crash. If you read my previous posts, you will see that this of some importance to me.

4. I can do other things at the same time. I can listen to podcasts, watch television or a DVD, all while riding. Far from being boring, it is both a good work out and entertainment I look forward to.

While all this is good, I do miss being outside. There is no way to really simulate the effort of climbing hills or the terrifying rush of the descent. There is something about covering ground, even if it is ground you have covered many times before.

And after all, moving is what bikes were meant for – it just seems right.

Friday, November 13, 2009

From Dayton to Cincinnati

Every year my neighbor participates in a bike ride with some friends and this year he invited me to join in. Steve’s friend lives near the bike trail here on the outskirts of Cincinnati. His friend’s brother lives in Dayton and every year they organize a ride with family and friends from one brother’s home in Dayton to the brother’s home in Cincinnati, a trip of over 70 miles.

On Sunday, I woke at 5:00am and went next door o Steve’s house. The morning was chilly, about 42F, and we were bundled up for the ride. We loaded our bike in Steve’s car and drove to the Cincinnati house. We picked up some other riders and drove to Dayton. The front yard of the Dayton house had bikes on it and people were going in and out to use the bathroom and get one more granola bar and banana before the ride.

There were 9 riders this year which was down from previous years. This is a sort of family reunion with relatives coming in from Atlanta and California. I was one of 3 or 4 non-family riders and was just meeting people for the first time. Even so, I was warmly welcomed and included in the friendly banter.

The ride started out and wound through some of the suburbs of Dayton and even rode by the Wright Brothers home (quite a nice place for bike shop owners). We rode into downtown Dayton and soon picked up a bike path that took us east towards Xenia Ohio. During this part of the ride we were really riding easy as a group, just trying to get warmed up.

We reached Xenia station and took a break. Xenia is the head of a portion of the Little Miami bike trail; a rails to trails bike path that goes through my little village to the east of Cincinnati some 50 miles away. At Xenia station there is a nice little park with water fountains and bathrooms. They have done it up nice.

Once we started back on the path we came upon a portion of the path that was wide and without anyone else on it. We formed a double pace line. This was the first time I had ever rode in an actual pace line and it was very cool. I found that I really had to concentrate, particularly when it was my turn at front since I had a tendency to want to speed up. With the double pace line you were only in front for less than a minute, but it really increased the speed of the whole group and going 20mph felt almost effortless. We would repeat the pace line a few times over the course of the ride, but as we got closer to Cincinnati the path got narrower and more crowded and the group broke up. It was very fun while it lasted.

The path follows the Little Miami River and is very rural for most of its length. Every so often it would go through a portion of a small village that has set up a park along the path. While riding the rural sections it is not unusual to see farm livestock and other animals along the path. When I ride this path in the morning I regularly see deer, foxes and small forest animals. At one point of this ride we even had a call of “Chickens Up!” as a flock was wandering across the path.

As the day wore on it got warmer and with the clear blue sky is was a very pleasant ride. We were not pushing the pace, but it was by no means a casual ride. There was really not much opportunity to talk while riding and being a newbie I was concentrating on my bike handling and trying to avoid the walnuts, sticks, wet leaves and other riders/walkers/runners.

Finally we reached the turnoff from the bike path and started up a nice climb to Steve’s friend’s house. It was here that I saw the real race begin as there was a sprint up the hill to be the first one home. When I arrived back where we had started there were dozens of people waiting as the family reunion was in full swing. Once again, everyone was welcoming and there was plenty of food and drink to go around.

The ride had been 72 miles and was the longest I had gone. I am not really sure how long it took, but this really was a ride and not a race. I did feel like I could have gone further and it made me confident that a century is in my future.

The Sunflower Revolution 2009

One of the things I miss most about running is the race day excitement. When you show up at the starting area of a road race, the feeling is electric. You are nervous, excited and thrilled all at once.

I wondered if I could have a similar experience at a bicycle race, so I registered for the Sunflower Revolution 100K. This was a 62 mile ride out through the countryside of Clermont County just to the east of Cincinnati. I trained for the ride by taking training rides that finally topped out at 55 miles.

The first thing I learned is that it is not called a race, but a ride. I also noticed that they had different levels of medals depending on how fast you finished the ride. Hmm, sounded like a race to me.

A great thing about this ride is that it started only two miles from my house, so I could ride my bike to the start. The 100K ride started at 7:30am, and as with any race I got there a few minutes early. I got my timing chip (remember this is not a race?) and took in the scene.

The Sunflower is one, if not the, largest rides in the Cincinnati area. It has about 1,000 riders. The largest running event in Cincinnati will have upwards of 15,000 runners, so the start area seemed pretty empty to me. An upside of that was that there were no lines for the port-a-potties. The mood, however, was much like the start of a running race. There were, people meeting friends, checking their equipment, exchanging training stories, and a few, like me, looking a little anxious.

As the start time approached I moved to the starting area. I had decided to start way in the back. My biggest fear was that I would cause a crash if I started ahead of faster riders. The starting corral was a little tight and I did not yet trust my bike handling skills in a crowd.

The race started on time and we were off. The first few miles were crowded and I really tried to be careful to keep clear of people. The major intersections were monitored by police and the side road intersections by volunteers. Still, there were times you had to wait for traffic to clear. A major difference between this ride and a running race is that the roads were not closed. Particularly on the small portion of the ride that was on major roads, you had to be very aware of cars.

At mile 10 we turned off State Rt. 50 on to a side road. Soon we came to a covered bridge (yes there are covered bridges in Ohio) and we all had to dismount and walk through the bridge and its’ very uneven planking to the other side.

After the bridge we had our first significant climb. It was here that I saw my first crash. We were all laboring up this hill and some were standing on their pedals. There was a lot of weaving side to side and someone off to my left lost balance and went down. I think he took at least one other person with him. I really don’t think I had anything to do with the fall as I was being very careful to hold my line, but we were still bunched up after the bridge. It really had an effect on me. I had to be careful.

The hill, and some nice descents, had the effect of thinning out the field. I soon found myself out on my own. Up ahead I saw a group of about 10 riders and decided to try and catch up. Using my running experience I started to reel them in slowly.

Before long I had caught up and found that I was riding with Team Portman. For those who don’t know, Rob Portman served in Congress for a number of terms, and was the Budget Director and US Trade Representative under G.W. Bush. Rob is an avid runner, cyclist and the presumptive republican nominee for US Senator from Ohio in 2010. Rob lives in my little village, and regardless of political party, everyone knows him as an intelligent person with a solid family and an all round good guy. It you want to know what pressure is, be a newbie biker riding inches off the wheel of a possible US Senator. I definitely did not want to be the known as the person who wreck Rob.

This was my first experience with drafting and riding in a pace line. It was a very informal pace line since the members of Team Portman were really more interested in having a good time and conversing, but the rest of us hanger on’s were happy to draft. It was my first experience in any type of group ride and I was amazed at the drafting effect. The decrease in effort needed to keep up a higher speed was more dramatic than I ever thought. I really noticed it when I took a turn at the front.

I rode with this group for a long time. The ride wound through the country side of Clermont County, past farms and fields of corn hard against the road that towered over our heads. The weather was great with blue skies and temperatures in the 60’s. It was really a perfect day for a ride.

At about mile 50, Team Portman pulled off at a rest stop and I kept on with a handful of people. We took turns leading in a very informal arrangement. It was certainly not an organized pace line, but it kept our speed up until the finish.

I rode across the finish line in 3:08, which was much faster than the 3:45 I thought I would finish in. I attribute that to the race day effect, and the help of the pace line which increased my average speed from 17.5 mph on my training rides to 19.5 miles on this ride. It also helped that my Garmin had the ride as only about 60 miles. My time earned me a “Gold” finisher’s medal, short of the platinum (remember this is not a race), but ahead of the silver.

While different from running, I found the ride a great experience. It was fun how people worked together in the pace lines and I found that I had to really had to concentrate throughout the ride while in a group. It was, however, definitely a race rather than a ride, and I loved it. I can’t wait until next year and do my first century.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Start of My Bikeing Adventures

Well I finally have a bike adventure to tell you about, but nothing like riding through France.

This past Wednesday I went for my morning ride. I have a headlight on the bike, a flashing taillight and I wear a head lamp. We have a nice paved bike path that goes through our neighborhood. It actually runs for over 50 miles, but I use a 5 mile section for some out and back speed work. I was just starting out and getting up to a cruising speed of about 20 mph when all of a sudden I see a big tree across the bike path. We had storms come through the day before and this old tree must have fallen then. I know it was old because there were no leaves on the tree which made it hard to pick up in the dark, even with all my lights. The tree trunk blended into the paved bike path.

I hit the tree at what I figure was 15 to 20 mph. I literally flew off the bike and over the tree. Thank goodness I did not hit a part of the tree during my flight. I landed some 10 to 15 feet on the other side of the tree. I lay on the ground groaning for a few seconds until I realized that I was not hurt and that I really did not have anything to be groaning about. I got up and found that my bike had also landed on the other side of the tree.

I got up and started to assess the damage when I saw the light from two other riders approaching. I flagged them down to stop. They told me they had seen my lights and had recognized my double headlights from previous mornings. They had wondered what had happened as they saw my headlights suddenly disappear.

We tried to move the tree, but it was no use. One of the riders left his light on the tree until he came back from his ride and we placed warning branches on the path about 30 feet on either side of the tree. We always see a few other riders on the trail in the mornings and we did not want anyone else to take a flyer.

I was able to limp home on my bike. The only thing I suffered was a few minor scraps on my hand and shoulder. I must have instinctively rolled when I hit the ground, though I do not remember my landing. I was very fortunate and glad I had said my prayers before starting out on my ride. My bike got the worst of it with a bent front fork which will need to be replaced. But even that I count as minor considering the collision. I am out of commission for at least a week, so until then I can only walk on the treadmill – my kids get on me if I do any running.

Maybe I will do a follow up podcast now that I have something interesting to talk about.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009