Monday, January 31, 2011

Bend It Like Janus

Grinding Gravel
Time for a look backward and forth. Last year was a good year for riding. 4011 miles, including 2 centuries. It also marked the end of a decade of having returned to riding regularly, during which I logged something like 28,000 miles. More than I had set out to do.

Did Bike the Barns, a couple of cyclocross races and (well, this year) the Triple D. Rode in the sun, at night, through rain, wind and snow. Logged significant mileage on the Cross Check, Long Haul Trucker and blue Trek sport-tourer; and a few on the Big Dummy and Black Pony.

Looking ahead, the next event on the list is the Madison Winter Fest CycloFrost race, which I also did last year.

Not much then until the end of April, when BALLS ride and the Almanzo 100 fall about two weeks apart.

Later in the season, I'll most likely do the Bike the Barns ride, but am also giving serious thought to the Colesburg 40 and the Unnamed Epic.

For the wintertime, I'm thinking about the 75-mile version of the Tuscobia Ultra and more than likely, a fourth try at the Triple D.

That ought to keep me out of the taverns.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Words About Bicycles, Clothes and Food

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, the confluence of a number of things that went well contributed to my finish at the Triple D this year. The weather was great and deserves much of the credit. Still, there were plenty of factors within my control that could have gone south on me but did not. Many were lessons learned from last time. Here follows a review of some of them.

New Bike
The 9:Zero:7 snow bike from Chain Reaction Cycles in Anchorage is a close relative of the Surly Pugsley. The low-pressure, high-floatation tires make a huge difference in soft snow. It can't just go anywhere, but it can go plenty of places that regular bikes can't. Very useful in the hilly early part of the race. Less useful on the paved segments.

This bike was a big improvement over the Black Pony's 26"x2.5 tires on 47mm rims. It holds a line on the mushy stuff where skinny tires just can't. The aluminum frame and single-wall rims make it substantially lighter than a Pugsley or Salsa Mukluk.

I had obviously overdressed the first two years I did the Triple D, and for most of the training rides leading up to them. Big hat tip to Blogger member Jack London for posting in the comments this link to an article on PsychoVertical about how to dress for exertion in the cold. The outfit went as follows:

  • Head: Giro G10 snowsport helmet (previously mentioned here) and homemade lightweight fleece face mask. Serfas Sike-Out sunglasses and generic clear safety glasses.

    The helmet scores points for ear protection but loses some for being heavy and sometimes too warm. The glasses performed well except that my eyes dried out toward the end of the race. The search for a better pair of goggles resumes.
  • Torso: Under Armour Cold Gear 2.0 base layer and Mountain Hardwear Transition Super Power Jacket. (Please note that I don't name this stuff.)

    That's it. Both skin-tight...I normally wear a medium now, but the UA base was a small. I did get a little damp, especially early on, but changed into second base layer and added North Face arm warmers for the return trip. The jacket has some Windstopper material on it, and it really is properly named.
  • Lower body: Windfront briefs and strategically-placed wool sock; padded cycling shorts, Polar fleece tights and Nashbar C-Pant knickers.

    No complaints.
  • Feet: Two pairs of thin wool socks, Lake MXZ-302 winter cycling shoes (also mentioned here) and Planet Bike Dasher shoe covers.

    Feet stayed remarkably warm. One brief chill in hour 6 that went away after a brief jog. The Dashers are nice in that they are large enough to fit over the boots and give me about 10 more degrees of temperature, but too bad they aren't very durable.
    Hands: Poly liner gloves inside ATV bar mits (mentioned here.)


Experimented with a number of things during the off-season and after reading Matt Fitzgerald's book Racing Weight settled on Accelerade as my primary "food." I really like the orange in spite of a strong dislike for the other flavors. I took two 24-ounce Polar insulated bottles of this inside my frame bag, with a chemical warmer to keep it from freezing. Remixed one of the bottles at the halfway point. Drank all of it, in addition to at least 80 ounces of plain water from my Camelbak hydration pack. (My advice? Stick the bite valve between the pack and your back to keep it from freezing or thaw it if it does freeze. Yes, this really works, even if people tell you it won't, which they will.)

I also ate some real food. Eight whole wheat fig bars, some almonds, a couple of christmas cookies, a banana and a few Peanut M&Ms. Some more non-foods too—3 Gu gels.

Before the race, I had about 400 calories worth of steel-cut oats, two eggs, some breakfast potatoes, toast, a banana, coffee and Nuun electrolyte drink.

Fitness and Training
I took two sessions of a class called Functional Strength Training for Cyclists from the UW Sports Medicine Fitness Center. There is exactly zero time on a bike in this class, but a big emphasis on leg, core and upper body strength and on improving balance. Most of the exercises used body weight, spine ball or medicine ball, resistance bands or small free weights. Felt real improvement by the end of the second session.

Improved strength and dropping my weight down to about 165 on race day really helped me keep moving, especially on hills.

Also rode a lot this year, including 50+ mile rides on each of the three weekends leading up to the race. Pace and endurance have both steadily improved over the last 3 years. Oh, and there was some cyclocross racing too. Helps a little with peak efforts, mounts and dismounts, but placement shall go unmentioned.

Wizzard Cross
Race Strategy
Having never really been a racer, this is one thing I need to work on. The experience from this year certainly seemed to help. Still, it seems like it takes a lot of discipline to make good decisions in the heat of the moment. This went better this time than in years past, but could still use a little work.

Guess I'll just have to put in more miles...

Other Triple D posts: Race summary; race report part 1 and part 2.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Triple D 2011, Part the Second

Continued from Part the First.

The Journey Home
Chad's Pizza is a quaint little joint housed in an older storefront in downtown Dyersville. I walked in with a really huge beardfull of ice and asked where to sign in. I was number 7 on the sheet and put the time down as 1:47. Frank was there and (jokingly) pointed out that I had a little something on my chin. I handed over one of my water bottles (I started out with two 24-ounce insulated bottles of Accellerade) to the staff, asking for a lukewarm fill-up of water and for the location of the restroom. Answered the call again and changed into a dry base layer and added arm warmers. Said goodbye to Frank as he headed back out. I collected my water bottle, added some water to my Camelbak, and headed out myself.

Chad's Pizza
Stopping had let me cool off a bit. I went out to the bike and mixed the bottle of Accellerade from powder I had brought along (note to self: take the powder inside with you next time) and downed a Gu gel and a couple of fig bars. Then I decided that if a little bit higher tire pressure is good, then even more must be better. So I set about pumping the tires to 12 and 14 psi. This took a little while, and my fingers got pretty cold. Another strategic mistake—I lost at least 5 minutes, and my speed didn't improve except maybe on pavement.

As I rolled out onto the street, my fingers were painfully cold, bordering on numb. Passed an arriving cyclist right away, and more as I turned back onto the main highway leading back to the trail. Arriving at the trailhead, I decided that the headwind I was now encountering required the use of one of my homemade face masks. I stopped and put it on (fingers still really, really cold) and called my wife to check in.

Back on the trail, I encountered the same icy, drifty obstacles in reverse order. Passed still more cyclists headed toward Dyersville. Maybe 20 minutes out, I passed a Canadian National freight train headed in the other direction—six huge diesel locomotives pulling well over a hundred black tank cars. It's no secret that I love trains, so this was a considerable boost (you takes them where you can gets them out on the trail.)

Rolling through this section, I could have sworn I heard someone chopping wood. Just the occasional, sharp report of a splitting maul hitting a good-sized block of oak. Okay, after a couple of miles, I figured out that it was the Tyvek number bib pinned to my jacket, blowing in the wind and making a snapping sound. Sheesh.

Just as I was arriving at the Tarley Funnel, I passed Piera, the Triple D's first female finisher. I remembered to go slow on the ice in the tunnel, and was soon rolling downgrade.

Alone With My Inadequacies
Had to stop and answer the call again, meaning that my hydration plan was working like a charm. Everything seemed fine, except that my butt hurt. As soon as I got back on the bike, it was confirmed—my ass hurt like hell, and I wasn't sure exactly why. After all, I had ridden over 4000 miles this year on similar saddles without a problem. Not my sit bones really, but the inner hamstrings where they contacted the middle of the saddle. I had a couple of theories about why this was happening. First, I think I had raised my saddle a little too high way back in Epworth when I pumped up my tires the first time. Second, all of the pushing and climbing early in the race had hit some muscles that weren't properly trained for that much effort. Third, and worst of all, it could be that after all those years of faithful service, a Brooks saddle had finally turned on me.

Thoughts of dropping out crossed my mind now, and I was standing more and looking for the smoothest parts of the trail. I soon stopped and lowered the saddle a bit, which helped some. I also used my clipless pedals to great effect by pulling up on the back side of the pedal stroke, enlisting lots more help from the front group of leg muscles. I finally settled into a decent pace somewhere around 10 mph. Slower, owing to the headwind, pain, and in the 20-degree temps, slightly softer snow. In retrospect, I think I should have gone back to 10/12, or maybe even 8/10 psi tire pressure.

Heritage Trail
Fortunately, the trail got much more scenic, and the distraction helped a little more. I kept a zombie-like rhythm, standing occasionally but not stopping. Finish I kept telling myself.

I hadn't seen a soul in a long time, when I rounded a bend just before Graf and saw someone pushing a bike. I asked, at some distance, whether everything was okay, but couldn't hear the reply clearly. I rolled up and got off, walking now with one of the female bike racers. She was clearly not having a good time at that moment and told me that her ride was over and that she had called to sag out of the race. She told me her fingers were really cold and hurt and that her hand warmers weren't really helping. Deciding at that point that she was coherent and not in danger, wished her good luck and continued on. I later tried to call the sag number to confirm that she was getting a ride out, but I wouldn't get cell reception again for a long time.

The Grind
After passing Graf, I settled into a good rhythm, with my butt feeling considerably better. Somewhere between Asbury and Budd roads, I had a brief out-of-body experience, feeling like I was floating above the trail. Gonna have to chalk this one up to some sort of runner's high, and soon I began to get concerned that I had missed the mandatory checkpoint at Durango.

Heritage Trail
It's strange how much my memory had compressed the route from previous years. Sundown ski area came into view, and I thought Durango must be right around the corner. Turns out that it's almost five miles away.

During this period, the sky was pretty overcast and I decided to switch from sunglasses to clear safety glasses. Took a brief break and did just that, ate and drank a little and got back underway. I was still having a little trouble seeing clearly, and it sure looked like my contacts were getting cloudy. The weak but persistent headwind seemed to be getting the best of them, and chilling my feet and torso a bit besides.

Finally, around the next bend, Durango came into view.

Durango, Iowa
Crossed the last bridge and staggered into the Handle Bar to sign in. Traci (one of the race directors) checked me off on the list and told me I was free to go. I got back on the bike and called my wife to let her know I was about 45 minutes out.

Last Leg
The remaining bit of Heritage was pretty easy, but flat.

Last Section Before Dubuque
Passed some locals out on cross-country skis with their dogs. Rolled through the trailhead parking lot and onto a rough, narrow section to the crossing at Highway 52. It was almost dark, so I turned on my lights, but still managed to get off-trail at the crossing and onto someone's took a short detour over a really rickety-looking bridge got things back on course. Made it through the golf course parking lot and found the course directional markings to the tunnel with the last few minutes of sunlight. I was surprised how narrow the track back through the tunnel was, and not surprised later to find out that others had missed it in the dark.

Now came the absolute worst part of the race. It was twilight, I was having a difficult time seeing through my now-translucent contact lenses, my butt hurt, I was tired, my tires were inflated too much and now Ruby and I were facing mile and a quarter of the same stupid, frozen posthole moonscape from way back at the beginning of the race. I couldn't find a decent line to save my life, so I just grinned and bore it for what seemed like an eternity. Sure, I could have let air out of my tires, but I just didn't have the patience. Never thought I'd be so happy to come to a stretch of clear, dry pavement. Called my wife one last time, giving her an ETA and asking for a bottle of electrolyte water at the finish line.

The return route through Dubuque was firmly committed to memory. Cleaned it in under 15 minutes. Rolled into the hotel parking lot and waved to the spectators looking down from the second-floor windows. Met my daughter in the lobby and my wife upstairs...hugs and kisses all around.

Official time in: 5:24, for a total of 7 hours, 24 minutes out. Time elapsed on bicycle computer: 6:57 for 67 miles. Sixth place right behind another Madisonian, Frank Hassler, who finished just 5 minutes ahead of me.

In retrospect, I could have eliminated several blocks of wasted time and picked up at least one place, but that's the kind of stuff you learn in an event like this. It's intended to serve as a training ground for those looking to break into winter bike racing. I just had no idea that I was that close to Frank. Never saw him once we had parted ways in Dyersville.

Wasn't moving too fast after the race, but felt pretty good. Seems as though my food and hydration plans had worked out well. My eyes were so dry that my vision was cloudy even after I had removed my contacts. Took a long shower, ate some real people food and went down to watch other racers come in. Shot the breeze with the other snow geeks and got a medal and $20 at the award ceremony.

Heading Home in a Snowstorm
Slept pretty well that night, packed up early the next day and drove home in a snowstorm.

The End.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Triple D 2011, Part the First

CN 2576
Funny how it isn't really that much of an adventure if nothing goes wrong, but sometimes that's exactly how a person wants it to go. After failed attempts in 2009 and 2010, I got my finish in the Triple D Winter Race this year, and the bonus was that I placed in the single digits.

Drove down to Dubuque the day before and checked into the hotel. Hung out with some friends, had pizza and beer, dressed the bike and watched a little TV. Finally laid down for a fitful 8 hours, listening to the Packer faithful cheer during, and party after, the playoff win over Atlanta. Got up the next morning and did my routine, got some route maps and went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. They were really slow, and I ended up rushing through getting dressed and to the pre-race meeting. Briefly traded good-luck wishes in the lobby with another friend who was down to do the ski race, and said hi to his family.

Three Fat Bikes
Lots of fat bikes at the meeting. Mostly fat bikes.

The Start
The weather was ideal, about 12˚F, and mostly cloudy with little wind. It was a little different for me this year with my family and our friends accompanying me to the start. A boost, really. We chatted and took a few photos as the racers lined up in front of the Star Brewery, exchanged a few hugs, and I was off with the herd through the streets of Dubuque.

Rollout Through Dubuque
It's a controlled rollout through town, and for the third year in a row, I dawdled. Talking to Bob and Dave a little, I ended up in back as the race was about to start. I know that from a total time and finishing place perspective, this was a strategic mistake, but I like talking to people and not taking the racing part too seriously. I soon excused myself and moved up closer to the halfway point in the pack just about the time the race started.

The Trails
Forgetting to pump up my tires in my rush to get ready that morning turned out to be a blessing. The 6 psi in front and 8 psi in the back turned out to be just about perfect for the unplowed section of the bike trail that came next. Thousands of footprints had been made in melting snow a couple of weeks prior and then frozen into thousands of random bumps. This is where I began to pass people. Anyone with skinny tires or a little less experience on this kind of surface struggled. Finally, we came the tunnel—single file through the gate and then across Central Ave. and out onto the private snowmobile trails parallel to the Northwest Arterial.

Here the real fun began. After a couple hundred yards, we came to the first climb—a 15% grade pusher with an icy base. The toe cleats in my Lake boots seemed to do almost nothing. Tried to kick into the snow to get purchase, but it was mostly too hard. Bit of a struggle for a while. At the top, guys were already stopping to strip off layers, and I passed them too.

Word has it that we climbed 800 feet in the first mile, and I believe it. Lots of sketchy turns with off-camber sections, more pushing climbs, a couple of descents where I went off alongside the trail in the soft snow to keep my speed down. Passed a couple more people and eventually fell in behind Jesus Joe on his Pugsley. I had long practiced riding in the tracks of a fatbike to increase efficiency, and it was working here. Plus, there was no good place to pass and I felt like I should moderate my pace a little. Problem is, I did this for a little too long, and that was my second strategic mistake. I think I could have pushed my pace a little more at this point without exhausting myself.

In a Paceline
(photo courtesy of Mikael Wolke)

Humke Dumpty and the B Road
I passed more folks in the fields shortly after we crossed Radford Rd. and started to pick up the pace a little. We came next to a paved path through an industrial park, and another racer (either Ben O or Curtis) caught up to me there and eventually passed me on the next section of trail west of Seippel Rd. These trails ran over some tough open farm field terrain up to Humke Rd. I had passed a few more racers but was joined by Jeremy, a member of the Iowa City crew. We chatted for a while, passing the time over two or three miles of pavement. Soon, the road curved, but the course did not—we dropped down onto a wide, well-used gravel road, and then onto a rutted, snow-covered minimum maintenance "B road." Jeremy was a little behind me, and I heard him dab or fall down immediately.

Then something really exciting happened. The B road runs downhill through a wooded area, and I wasn't braking. In fact, I think I was hooting something about how great the B road was as I leaned into a sweeping right turn. Suddenly, my front tire caught an icy rut and decided to go to the left. Way to the left, toward a precipitous dropoff at the edge of the road. Out of sheer panic, with the bike almost sideways, I clamped down on the rear brake lever and locked up the rear wheel. The yawing momentum whipped the rear end around to the right and as I put my left foot down, I came to rest, still standing and straddling the bike. Pointed back toward the top of the hill.

"You're facing the wrong way!" Jeremy yelled.

"I know."

"You meant to do that."

"Yes I did."

The rest of the B road was a barely controlled blast. Seriously, you could sell tickets to it.

Cleaning the B Road
(photo courtesy of Mikael Wolke)

On to Heritage
At the bottom of the hill, the B ended and another gravel road that led to some pavement, which finally came to the Heritage Trail. By this time Jeremy had caught up to me again.

The trail is more scenic than the average midwestern rails-to-trail, winding up through a river valley from Dubuque to Dyersville. The trail is used during the wintertime to connect all sorts of snowmobile trails, so it was well-packed and pretty fast. Jeremy and I tried to chat, but there wasn't really room to ride abreast. After a few minutes, we started to pass participants in the running race headed in the other direction. After another 10 minutes, I was struggling to hold 10 mph at Jeremy's wheel, so I excused myself to answer nature's call (which really needed to happen anyway) and stopped to regroup.

After eating and drinking a bit, I got back on and continued riding, which turned out to be another strategic mistake. I had failed to put any more air in my tires. Finally, after maybe 45 minutes after leaving the end of the B road, I stopped at Gun Club road near Epworth and pumped up my tires to 10 and 12 psi and raised my saddle. In the course of doing so, I was passed by 4 or 5 bike racers.

What a Difference a PSI Makes
It suddenly felt like I was riding a different bike. I went from an average of about 9 mph to well over 11. I passed all of the people who had just passed me within maybe 20 minutes, and they were all well out of sight before I reached the Holy Cross road underpass near Farley.

Farley Tree Tunnel
The tunnel was very icy inside and I nearly biffed it. Came out the other side thinking Tarley Funnel icy...bad...slow on the way back. The trail to Dyersville was level and out in the open, with stretches of drifted snow in some places, and big rough icy patches in others. At some point along this segment, I decided that my bike should now become known as "Ruby." Ruby the Red Pony. Clearly, my brain was doing its best to keep itself busy. I also began to wonder where the race leaders were. I took it as a good sign that I had not seen them yet.

Rolling over a couple of really soft drifts, I began to offer Ruby some encouragement. Come on girl, you can clean this one! Good girl, that's my good Ruby! For icy stretches, it was more easy, girl...steady on now. Soon we were rolling down a stretch of smooth hardpack downhill and picked it up to a steady 14 mph for better than a half-mile, which felt really good.

The Leader
Then I saw him, like something out of a desert scene from Lawrence of Arabia—the tiny but growing lead bike coming toward me as I neared Dyersville (though not as near as I had hoped.)

The Leader Approaching
It wasn't who I had expected. I had no idea who it was, but it wasn't Lance (the race director and last year's winner.) I had the camera out, so I yelled "say cheese!" Damn point and shoot missed his reaction though. Soon after, I passed Lance, hot on the leader's tail, and two others before arriving in Dyersville.

I pulled into town past the tank and dropped onto the snowmobile trail adjacent to the road (just like on the route map), discovering very quickly that there were no other bike tracks down there. I immediately got back up on the road and followed it past the grain bins, turning left at the stop sign. I thought I had seen a cyclist in the distance who might have missed the turn and wondered whether Jeremy might have gotten lost. Nothing I could really do about it though.

I rolled up to Chad's Pizza at about 1:45 and signed in.

Coming soon: Part 2: the Journey Home.

Official results are here.

Lots of photos here.

Race reports from the other finishers:
Drew, Troy, Ben S., Dave

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Third Time Really is the Charm

The Racer and His Pony
More details to come (likely in two parts) but the upshot is that I finished the Triple D Winter Race on my third attempt. Sixth place in the bicycle division in 7 hours, 24 minutes for 64+ miles of mostly snowmobile trail. Not bad for a gym class reject.

New bike? Fantastic.
Clothing? Much, much better.
Nutrition? Darn near perfect.
Fitness and training? Check!
Race strategy? Could use a little work.
Weather? Ideal, and the biggest key to most participants' success.

I have a few things that didn't go all that well, but overall I'm calling this one a success. Next year? Please ask again later.

For now, there are a few pictures here.

(See also accounts from 2010 and 2009.)

Update 01-20-2011 Currently writing full account and waiting for official results to be posted...

Update 01-23-2011 Part One is up. Official results here.

Update 01-24-2011 Part 2 is now up.

Update 01-30-2011 Some post-race musing about equipment, etc. here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Out In the Wild

Tuesday Morning Snow Ride
Today was a good day to take the long way to work. About 2 inches of snow, light wind out of the north and about 24˚f. Rode the 9:Zero:7, but could easily have ridden a regular mountain bike. The pavement was clear underneath the snow. For several miles, I was the only track out there.

Tuesday Morning Snow Ride
Took the relatively rural Capital City Trail around the southern perimeter of Madison to my job on the west side. The usual 7.5 mile jaunt through town becomes a 17 mile trip through the country. Well, 7 or 8 miles are rural, anyway:

I overdressed again, with a light poly base layer, light wool mid layer and Gore Bike Wear jacket. Could easily have ditched the wool mid, and did just that on the way home. Much better...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Here We Go Again

In less than two weeks, I'll be making another attempt to finish the Triple D Winter Race. Tried this in 2009:

Post-race Moto
and 2010:

Easy Roll
but dropped out both times owing to really poor conditions. After last year's race, I mused a little about what happened.

Will be trying out a new clothing scheme. Less will be more. New ride too, fresh off the boat from Portland by way of a shop in Alaska:

Snowy 9:Zero:7
But honestly, the benefits derived from training for this event make finishing or not finishing irrelevant. I figure it's a win for me before I even cross the starting line. The first time I did it two years ago, I was an overweight marshmallow desk jockey, and sort of complacent about my health. No direction. Working toward finishing this thing has prompted me to eat better, ride more, exercise more, drop some weight, and hell, I even take a vitamin now. I'm glad I didn't finish the first couple of times. Wanting it more has made me work harder.

Not bad for a little bike race in Iowa.

Done and Done

Badger Trail

2010 went pretty well. I accomplished two arbitrary but important goals right near the end.

First, I had thought it might be nice to ride a total of 4000 miles on a bicycle in a calendar year. I came pretty close in 2007 when I set out to ride 3650 and succeeded. This year came out to 4120 or thereabouts, including my first century ride (followed closely by a second) and a number of rides over 60 miles. Maybe 5000 for next year. Maybe the Unnamed Epic. Who knows?

Second, I had decided at some point that I would like to end the year at "170 pounds of mostly muscle." Happily, I now weigh 168 pounds and, thanks to a couple of strength training classes, feel stronger than I have for years. So there you go.

The bad news is that I didn't give the garden or the house as much love as they deserved, but I'll get back to those this year. I promise.