2011 Ride the Rockies – Looking Back…

About the time I crossed the Oklahoma border I knew my Colorado vacation was officially over. The temperature gauge in the truck said 105 degrees, and it got worse by the time I reached DFW (thankfully it was a bit cooler once I reached the coast). One day prior, I was standing on top of Berthoud Pass shivering in the ~40 degree temperatures after a nice climb up the pass.

Day 6 – Granby to Georgetown

My last day of the tour went rather well. After reading Ingrid’s description of her day 6, I am very glad I slept in and avoided all the bad weather. I usually wake up around 5am while camping, but hearing the rain and feeling the cold is a great motivator for not leaving the sleeping bag. I didn’t make it out on the road until almost 8am on Friday, and by that time the rain had stopped in Granby and I never had any more for the remainder of the ride. It was still rather cool, though – when I made it to Winter Park the local banks showed 44 degrees on their clocks, and the sun never really peaked out of its clouds for the rest of the day.

Day 6 was one of those days that looked rather intimidating in the route map booklet. Berthoud Pass is not small, and I had driven it several times the week before the ride. Based upon that, I assumed it was going to be the 2nd hardest climb of the entire tour. In reality, it turned out to be one of the easiest. According to my gadgets, the climb from where the pass begins in earnest, just pass the Robber’s Roost campground, was 6.3 miles with a 4.3% average grade, climbing a grand total of 1821 ft. That’s really rather mild compared to many of the other climbs we did. Granted, it doesn’t tell the full story, as a lot of the climb occurred from Winter Park to this section of the pass, but that was even a shallower grade.

Chad on Berthoud Pass
Chad on Berthoud Pass

Regardless, I arrived at the top a lot sooner and a lot fresher than I had expected. It was certainly cold at the top, but thankfully the ride organizers had one of the motor coaches waiting at the top for us with the engine running to help riders warm up some. A nice hot coffee from the lovely ladies at Gypsy Crepes, followed by the obligatory picture of the pass sign, and then a relaxing warm-up in the bus was a great way to chill out after the climb.

The descent down from the pass was one of my favorites. I knew the road well from having driven it so much the week before, so I felt comfortable going full speed down. The several 15 mph switchback corners make great bike turns, especially with the gigantic shoulders that exist on this pass. The road quality, which seemed rather horrendous in my truck, was fine and mostly smooth on the bicycle. And then there was the reality that the descent was just plain fast, with little wind, little traffic, and really long. I barely had to work all the way down to the intersection with I-70 at Empire, and even after that the “climb” into Georgetown was really more of a gentle rolling road and was a great way to end the tour.

Day 5 – Steamboat Springs to Granby

Snow on Rabbit Ears Pass
Snow on Rabbit Ears Pass

My day 5, on the other hand, was not nearly as enjoyable as the last day. In fact, it was pretty clearly the one “bad” day of the tour I had. Granted, it started out fantastic with the climb up Rabbit Ears pass. I treated day 4 as an active recovery ride, and that plus a good yoga session left me in great condition to tackle that pass, especially since it started so early in the ride. My legs felt great, my energy levels were dialed in just right, and the altitude was relatively low so I was able to get into a climbing zone and hold it, all the way to the top. Looking back at my ride data, I can say with confidence that this was my best climb up a mountain ever. It was great fun, and the views at the top of the pass were fantastic. Lots of snow left, but it was melting so fast that all the streams in the meadows along the top were raging torrents.

The quality of the ride changed quite a bit once we began the descent off the pass. Instead of a lovely, fast descent, we encountered a rather stiff headwind. It really limited my downhill speed and frankly mostly ruined the I expected coming down off that pass. Perhaps that, plus the reality of 5 days in a row of hard work, put me in a bit of a cranky mood for what was to follow.

Towards the end of the descent, I hear a shout behind me about a rider passing – my first reaction was “yes!” since rarely had I noticed riders calling out if they do pass on a descent. What followed was a pace-line of 6 riders, going at least 40-45 mph (I was descending at 35). Descending in a pace-line is a rather dangerous and stupid behavior on a group ride, but what most surprised me was that in the back of the pace-line was a rider with OFFICIAL taped to his bag and helmet. He made the classic newbie-racer mistake of cutting back over to the right when he thought he was well clear of me. In reality, his rear tire brushed my front tire and nearly caused me to wipe out. I was pissed-off enough when this happened to me, but then I saw the same scene repeating itself for the next half mile of road, as the same group would continue to pass small groups and then cut sharply over to the right immediately in front of the riders they were passing. Incredibly reckless and negligent behavior on a group ride, especially from someone who should have known better – you can get away with that crap on a closed-course race circuit, but don’t do it on public roads with 2,000 other riders.

There’s an well-known truism in life that it is your own reaction to events that matter the most, not the events themselves. Certainly my reaction to the above incident put me in a foul mood for the rest of the ride. The strong headwinds didn’t help. The bad road conditions and heavy traffic on US40 didn’t help, either. But all of the normal little acts of rudeness and lack of courtesy from other riders seemed twice as bad as they normally would have. I really just did not have a good ride all the way to Kremmling. At the aid station here, I took time to chill out (a cookie is always a great de-stressor) and forget about the events that had transpired so I could focus on the rest of the ride. It helped knowing that the road direction was changing, and we were going to have a slight cross- and tail-wind for the remainder of the ride.

In fact, that rest of that day was fantastic. The trip to Granby was fast and scenic. The canyon near Hot Sulphur Springs was a joy to ride through, as all of those narrow, tall canyons tend to be. Granby itself was my least favorite town of the tour, but great beer was drunk, and good food was consumed, and all troubles were put aside.

Looking Back…

Despite the speed-bump on day 5, this year’s Ride the Rockies was my favorite bike tour to date. My training and fitness was the best I’ve done yet, and the few weeks of time I was able to spend at altitude before the ride clearly made a big difference for me. The views were stunning, especially of the Steamboat Springs area, which was a brand new part of the state for me.

There are still a few little things I think the ride organizers could do better. Having some basic medical supplies at each aid station is just a no-brainer. People forget sunscreen, lubricant and anti-inflammatories, or sometimes they just fall out of their pockets. Having a few of those things available, or even if some of the aid station vendors would realize they could sell these things, would really help out a lot of people that run into a situation where they need some. Likewise, even though the organizers do a good job pushing safety, clearly this message isn’t getting through to a lot of the riders, and the ride officials.

This post also appears on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/22/looking-back-on-ride-the-rockies-2011/1304

2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 3 – Tough day, but great views

I wouldn’t have guessed from looking at the official route profile for the Edwards to Steamboat Springs ride that it would turn out to be my hardest day of the tour. Sure, the length of the route is 5 miles longer than the previous 2 days, but there were only two relatively small climbs shown on the profile, and a long downhill into Steamboat itself. A piece of cake, especially when compared to the Cottonwood Pass climb we did on day 1, right?

Not so much, as it turns out. The day started out fast and fun, with great weather, calm winds, and a nice mostly downhill ride out of Edwards. Once we hit Wolcott, the climbing began with a nice 1,000 ft climb and then a fast descent through Bond and then ending at McCoy where aid station 2 was located.

The bad news we heard about a rider crashing and later dying on a descent yesterday seemed to affect everyone I saw descending. There seemed to be a little reluctance to go as fast as the previous two days. It might have just been my own perception and awareness, but in general everyone seemed to be a lot more cautious than I have seen before.

After leaving aid station 2, we began the biggest climb of a day, a nice, long, winding climb along highway 131 heading towards Toponas. The terrain changed from high desert to a slightly more lush wide valley, with plenty of aspens and wildflowers to color the landscape along the way. This climb was really a lot of fun – the grade was just right, steep but not too steep, and it was long enough that you just needed to find your zone and keep the pedals turning.

There was a short descent after this hill towards Toponas, and this is where the trouble began. The mostly westwardly winds seemed to get stronger, and became a headwind for most of our route. The speeds coming into Toponas were much slower than I expected and once we reached aid station 3, we knew we were only halfway done with the day.

I took a long break at aid station 3, and indulged in some Nutella and banana crepes from one of the ride vendors. I’m sure it was an excessive amount of calories, probably more than I burned on the entire ride, but it was completely awesome and total worth it.

I wasn’t looking forward to the remainder of the ride, as we were going to have a headwind almost the entire way. But, I had a couple of guardian angels that showed up and made the next 20 miles amazing. A couple on a tandem that I had been hopscotching with all day passed me on a windy straight-away, and another rider and I latched on and used them as a nice, big windshield. I stayed with them until aid station 5, going at least 5-10 mph faster than I would have been able to maintain alone.

Stagecoach Reservoir
Stagecoach Reservoir

The Stagecoach Reservoir where aid station 5 was located is gorgeous, and frankly, so was the remainder of the ride coming into Steamboat Springs. This was my first time ever in this part of Colorado, and the first time to Steamboat Springs. The route through the lush valley coming into town was gorgeous, and hats off to whoever picked the route, and to making sure all the road obstacles were well marked. It remained windy, but luckily the downhill grade was enough to overcome it and I maintained a nice, fast pace coming all the way into town, even with the few rolling hills along the route.

This turned out to be my longest day in the saddle thus far at 5 hours and 45 minutes. I also wound up doing quite a bit more work than before too, pedaling out 2,977 kilojoules of work compared to 2,500 on the previous two days. Maybe that crepe wasn’t too many calories after all.

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/14/day-3-the-hardest-day/871/

2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 1

Today was the day I was looking forward to the most during this year’s Ride the Rockies. I’ve ridden up Cottonwood Pass before, but never got a chance to descend.

Chad at the top of Cottonwood Pass
Chad at the top of Cottonwood Pass

The weather looked perfect starting this morning so looked like a perfect opportunity to finally get a chance to see what this pass really looked like and how fun the descent would be.

Like everyone I talked to, this morning’s cold weather really made getting out of the tent and going difficult. I waited, as snug as possible, until the sun finally made it over the mountains before venturing out. I still managed to get on the road by 7:30am so not too much time was lost waiting.

Taylor Reservoir as seen from Cottonwood Pass
Taylor Reservoir as seen from Cottonwood Pass

The ride down to Almont was amazingly fast, and a great way to start the day. Likewise, the ride through Taylor Canyon has great – perfect weather, gentle climbs, and little traffic to contend with. Once we made it over the Taylor dam we were blessed with one of my favorite sites in Colorado – the Taylor Reservoir with the mountains beyond it.

 

The climb up Cottonwood Pass itself was great fun. Even though it’s a dirt road, it’s in such good condition that there’s very little lost traction to contend with. The weather on the climb up was cool, but not too cold – perfect climbing weather. Even though Cottonwood Pass is one of the highest, the road grade coming from the Taylor Reservoir is rather gentle and makes the climb a lot of fun.

Granted, once the we cleared 10,000 ft it was really hard to keep the pace up as before. I got into a groove and kept it there, just happy to be there and enjoying the climb in great weather.

The best view of the day came just before reaching the stop of Cottonwood Pass by looking back down and being able to see the entirety of the pass road and the Taylor Reservoir in the distance.

And finally, the descent (but not before indulging in a quesadilla!) – fast, smooth, and a blast. Car traffic was well-behaved, it wasn’t raining, and the wind was mostly playing nice, with only a few big gusts to contend with.

Day 1 – what a gem.

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/13/day-1-what-a-gem/422/

My Houston Marathon Experience

On January 18th, 2009 I ran the Chevron Houston Marathon – my first full marathon – and finished in 4 hours, 54 minutes and 42 seconds.

The Event

2009 Chevron Houston Marathon Course Map
2009 Chevron Houston Marathon Course Map

The full and half marathon events began at the same time with groups separated into two waves. The second wave, which I was in, began 10 minutes after the first wave. The half marathon group started a block away from the full, but joined back up at mile two.

Both the full and half marathon events start and finish at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. The course winds through The Heights neighborhood, through the Montrose district, meanders through the Rice University area, leaves the loop 610 boundary for The Galleria and Tanglewilde districts before turning to downtown via the Memorial Park area.

My plan was to find the runners in the 4 hour, 15 minute pace group and stick with them throughout the run. I intended to use the Jeff Galloway technique of running a few minutes followed by a brief walk. At my pace, he recommends a 4 minute run followed by a 1 minute walk. This pattern is supposed to be repeated until approximately mile 18 where you can then turn on the steam and finish strong. In theory, that is.

As it turned out, I immediately lost sight of my pace leaders even though I was perhaps only 25 yards behind them at the starting gun. The sheer mass of people made it difficult to go the full pace for the first three miles. The massive crowd also made it difficult to start the run/walk cycle right from the beginning, although I did pick it up around mile three.

Between miles 5 and 6 we ran in The Heights neighborhood, and right along the two streets that border my parents’ street, so they came out to see me run past. About this point I ran into – no pun intended – a few of the runners from my running group that run about the same pace I do in training. I started maintaining a running pace that stayed with them and we each began to push the pace a little faster as the crowd thinned out some. This is telling from the result data… over the first 6.2 miles I averaged 5.9 mph or a 10 minute, 7 second per mile pace. During the next 6.2 miles my average pace was 6.0 mph or a 9 minute, 57 second per mile pace – right where I wanted to be.

At mile nine, in the Montrose district, the half-marathon group reached their turn-around point and suddenly the streets became a whole lot less crowded. The spectators thinned out as well, although still remained thick and loud throughout most of the remainder of the course when located on residential streets. The effects of a cheering crowd in an event like this cannot be underestimated. All of the runners have their names printed on their bibs, so you literally have thousands of people calling out your name as you run by; never underestimate the power a flirting woman cheering a name can have on the competitive male psyche!

Almost Halfway
Almost Halfway

I finished the first half of the marathon within 30 seconds of my previous two half marathons I ran in October. That lifted my spirits but fatigue began to set in a few miles later. Just after the 14 mile point we turned onto Westpark and climbed a very large overpass. We also left the residential neighborhoods for a few miles so the combination of the distance, lack of cheering and fatigue of the hill climb finally got to me and I dropped off the pace. The next seven miles proved the most difficult of the race; during my 13.1 to 18.6 mile split I averaged only 5.3 mph or an 11 minute, 18 second per mile pace.

At around the 18.6 (30K) mile point to mile 20 I reevaluated how I’d run the rest of the course. Unlike many of the training runs, I had not bonked but rather muscle fatigue had set in. I decided to take it easy, concentrate on finishing well, and walk as much as I needed to. I did find that keeping a relatively fast running pace felt better than a slower one, but I had to walk much more often to recover. As a result, my last split time was only an average of 4.5 mph or a glacial 13 minute, 17 second per mile pace.

Around mile 20 the race officials also changed the flag risk from green (run as planned) to yellow (ensure adequate fluids and cooling; slow pace as heat increased) as the temperature approached 70 degrees. It really was a near perfect weather day, except runners would really prefer it to be 20 or 30 degrees cooler than that for racing.  I felt comfortable and cool enough, but noticed I was running slower with the same heart rate as I was earlier in the day (which I try and keep between 160 and 165 during a race).

During the last three miles the head coach of my running group, along with the coach of my pace group and several other members of the group caught up to me and did their best to encourage us to keep up and finish strong. I picked up the pace for a little while but fatigue won out and they wound up passing me around mile 25. In the end they finished just under two minutes ahead of me, but it was neigh impossible to keep up at that point.

It really was a wonderful experience crossing the finish line of a marathon. It was tough, although I think my first 100 mile bicycle ride years before was probably a tougher challenge. I was not nearly as exhausted as I thought I would be, although that should not underscore just how amazingly worn out I really was.

After the Finish

Still Alive!
Still Alive!

Immediately after crossing the finish line the organizers herd you into an area where you get a finisher photograph taken. After that you are brought inside the George R. Brown, given your finisher medal and then herded over to the medical area where you are weighed. They compare your weight after the race to what you weighed the previous day when you picked up your packet at the event expo. In my case, I was the same weight so they were concerned I might have hyponatremia.

They took me back into the medical area and had me fill out a questionnaire with the gist being how much water  you drank during the race and how you feel. In my case, I felt great (sore muscles aside) and I had been using an electrolyte add-in for my water during the event. In fact, towards the end I suspected I needed more fluids than I had drunk because I was covered in a thick layer of salt and I did not have to urinate at all during the event. After checking out my questionnaire and making sure I really felt okay they let me go, but this is an interesting data point for me and future runs.

After that little distraction, which unfortunately took a half hour, it was time to herd through the food area, get my finisher’s t-shirt and other goodies, pick up my checked baggage, change clothes and then find my friends. They of course were terribly worried about me since they were not sure when I crossed the finished line and then I was MIA for the extra half hour after I did.

Once everything was squared away we left, found ourselves an IHOP for lunch (mmm, pancakes and eggs!) and then went home. I treated myself to an ice bath as soon as I got home, which was more enjoyable than it sounds, followed by a wonderful shower and a slow, short bicycle ride in the park behind my neighborhood. Amazingly, I didn’t collapse into a coma as soon as I was done with all of that but stayed up until a normal time, even though I had been up since 3:30am.

One of the more amusing things to do after any endurance event like this is to add up just what all you ate during the day. In my case:

  1. Breakfast: banana protein cake
  2. Pre-run: 1 Gu packet
  3. During: 3 bags of Clif Shot Bloks, 2 bananas, 1 Gu packet, and 10 (!) cups of sports drink, plus about the same amount of water
  4. Post-race: 1 slice pound cake, 1/4 bagel, 1/2 cup scrambled eggs, 1/2 cup potatoes
  5. Lunch: 1/2 omelette and 1/2 harvest grain ‘n nut pancakes @ IHOP
  6. Snack: cottage cheese, granola, and raisins
  7. Dinner: banana protein cake

Wow! All of that sounds excessive but I likely did not really eat enough during the day as my heart rate monitor reported a energy expenditure of 3,878 kilo calories during the marathon itself. And let’s face it, you run a marathon and it is pretty much a license to eat whatever you can handle that day. I should have ordered a pizza!

The day after the marathon I found myself extremely sore, but not nearly as much as I thought I would be. I was slow, but fully functional. I did notice that as the day went on my entire back was highly sore, which is a new experience for me.

Today, two days after, I was less sore but my muscles were still screaming at me. It was time for a massage (which I stupidly scheduled in advance without thinking it was the exact time of the presidential inauguration, whoops!). Deep tissue massages are a bit sadomasochistic to begin with, but this one was truly an amazing amount of pain. The old cliché about muscles you didn’t know existing being sore was so true. Nevertheless, it is an amazing recovery tool and I found myself feeling wonderful afterward. The muscles in the middle of my back and my right shin were the most sore and the massage went a long way to relieving their pain.

I am supposed to take  break from all exercise until Thursday, at which point I can go for a short run or walk. This weekend the bicycling training season begins anew, and a gentle ~40 mile ride in the country will likely be a wonderful recovery tool as well.

The Training

I started running in late April, 2008 after the MS150 bike ride between Houston and Austin. My cardiovascular conditioning after the bicycle training season was excellent, which made pushing myself during the runs easy, but my running technique itself was not sound. My good friend Teri noticed how I was running and offered a few suggestions which dramatically changed how I ran and the impact it had on my body. After that point, running became relatively easy.

I signed up with Fort Bend Fit to utilize their training program for the 2009 Houston half-marathon. My training progressed much faster than I expected and I ran my first half-marathon in Albuquerque in October, followed by the warm-up Houston half-marathon a week later. At that point, I decided to switch to the full marathon race and continued to follow the full marathon training program.

During the training season I ran 600.5 miles over 120 hours and 56 minutes, expending a whopping 75,711 kilo calories – not including any of the cross-training I did. The Fort Bend Fit training program was a full 28 weeks long, making it possible for anyone to go from being able to do a 5K distance to a full marathon during that time.

During the training season I ran 2 5K races, a 5 mile race, 2 half-marathons, a 25K race and a 30K race, not to mention all of the nurmous additional training runs in between.

It was a truely awesome experience.

Now What?

The day of the marathon, and the following Monday, I had zero interest in ever running another marathon. Zero. I like bicycling a whole lot more, and that experience is a whole lot easier on your body (unless you crash). But today I noticed I am already looking for future events and reading different recovery scenarios for the first time marathoner. D’oh. Maybe I should just give in and start doing triathlons. An ironman would be fun…