Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer of Suffering

The theme for 2014 is endurance.  Mandy did the Flying Pig half marathon and I've already done the Mohican.  We've got two of three Kentucky Century Challenge rides under our belts.

Mandy's signed up for the Iron Horse again.  I'm signed up for the Rugged Red.  I've also got my eyes set on the Cloudsplitter race.  I've talked a little bit with Jeff about the possibility of doing 12 Hours of Capitol View either as a team or solo.  I've also got a promise to myself to keep to run Rough Trail and Swift Camp Creek Trail back to back this year.  It will be either a heavy half or fifteen miles depending on how much climbing I want to do.

The Red is Rugged

I signed up for the Red's first official trail half marathon.  It'll be in October, so I've not been stressing about it.  This past weekend I ran about five miles of the course on a 7.5 mile trail run.

On the way home I stopped by Joe Bowen's house.  He's the primary sponsor and he came up with the idea for the Rugged Red.  I sat down next to him on his front porch and read the newspaper while he finished up a phone call.  As he said goodbye I put down the paper.

"Hey man! How you doin'?"  He asked with a big grin.

Real serious-like I replied: "Before we get to being nice I've got to punch you in the mouth."

Classic Joe, he turned his head and pointed at his chin.

We both chuckled and he asked why I wanted to deck him.  I explained that I'd just been out for a run on the a Rugged Red course.  Joe beamed.

I had underestimated the difficulty.  I've ran some tough trail sections in the Gorge.  The Grays Arch to Rush Ridge and Rush Ridge to Pinch Em Tight Ridge sections of Rough Trail are...rough.  There are portions so steep that running is almost impossible.  I've ran the westernmost section of Rough Trail from the Martin's Fork Trailhead to the Grays Arch Trailhead and it's brutal as well. 

Along Buck Trail
In short, the Red River Gorge is rugged.  There are no long gradual climbs. The original trail system was built out prior to the development of modern sustainable trail standards.  Ridges are nice.  Stream side trails are nice.  Climbs and descents are torture.  I've resolved to walk the hills.  But at least I can walk them as fast as I can run them.

The other day I started my run at Koomer Ridge Trailhead.  I ran the nice Koomer Ridge Trail 1.4 miles to the split with Buck Trail.  Buck me!  That trail is phenomenal and brutal.  The descent into Chimney Top Creek is good.  It's not too technical or too steep.  But climbing out to the Sheltowee on Pinch Em Tight Ridge is an epic affair akin to a protracted military engagement.  My cardiovascular fitness was taxed.  A plan to better develop my cardiovascular fitness was drafted.  My spirit was broken, melted into my shoes, was bitten by deer flies, and rose from the soggy ashes a few times.

Once on the Sheltowee I was able to kick the pace back up, and that's when I really started to find a rhythm and flow.  After a mile and a quarter or so of good solid running I hit the rough descent.  Down, down, down into the Right Fork of Chimney Top Creek.  Looking down into a drainage that you know you'll have to cross can be heartbreaking.

Buck Trail along Chimney Top Creek

Buck Trail nearing the junction with the ST on Pinch Em Tight Ridge

Crossing the Right Fk of Chimney Top Creek

Looking down the Koomer Ridge Trail

Climbing out of Chimney Top Creek back to Koomer Ridge

There was a picturesque section of trail along the creek before the slog out.  And slog it was.  That's when I resolved to walk the insane sections.  Gaining Koomer Ridge again was a chore.  I ran when I could and fast-hiked when I couldn't.  It's hard not to be cognizant of the fact that I'm going to have to train for running these hills if I want to win the Rugged Red it's inaugural year.

Do the Locomozer

I'd barely had time to get home from my run and settle down (we were actually at the pool) when I got the following text from Jeff:

Gorge loop time trial tonight?

I texted him back and bemoaned my mechanical problems.  After the Preservation Pedal I had a weird gremlin wobble in the Dogrunner.  I'd hoped Minus would be my salvation but...

I've got the Bianchi but the rear wheel is slightly out of true.  That would be an easy fix if I knew someone with a truing wheel.

To which Jeff responded:

Well get those tight Chainring buttocks up here!

He worries me sometimes.

Mandy and the kids rode up with me and I took both road bikes.  We repacked the rear hub, added some grease to the front hub, and checked the headset.  All was well with the sporty-sport bike.

Jeff gave Minus an alignment as well, and then we decided to set off for the Gorge while the wives and kids went to hang at the Red River Regional Bikeport.

Did I mention I had run 7.5 hard miles that morning?  I felt bad, because from the outset it seemed as if I was going to be holding Jeff back the whole way.  I struggled to maintain a reasonable pace for the first half of the ride.  And as inspiring as it was to climb Sky Bridge Hill and surf the rollers out to Pine Ridge on that fresh, smooth new pavement I just couldn't hang with Jeff.  But after refueling at Sky Bridge Station I was ready to make a legendary run for home.

Low on Sky Bridge Hill

Cruising out Sky Bridge Ridge
Jeff started pulling and I held onto his back wheel by my fingertips.  And so begins the Strava bragging.  Despite my ragged thin connection with reality I managed a PR from Pine Ridge to the top of Slade Hill averaging 18+ mph for 4.4 miles. 

Then I nabbed 7th overall on the Slade Hill Descent.  But more impressive was a PR and second overall on the long 11 mile Slade to Stanton segment.  Jeff and I averaged 20.8 mph for 11 freakin' miles.  I couldn't have pulled that off alone that day.  Only by drafting the Locomozer was I able to cover that long 11 mile section of the return trip home. 

For long stretches I meditated on his wheel.  It was surreal to watch it churn out a ribbon of blurred asphalt as I locked myself into a steady, but hollow cadence.  On even the slightest hills I either had to stand up and stomp on the pedals to avoid losing all my momentum or I had to fight hard to catch back up when the road flattened out again.

Finally we came blazing into Stanton.  Mandy had promised homemade pizza and it was all I could think about.  I didn't even notice the ugly little Steamshovel Hill in my way as I fought the last two miles home.

In the end we did a hard 48 miles in 2:58.  There was an added significant climb to get out of their house.  The first half was slow, but we made it up and then some in the last 22 miles.

The next day I was useless.  Oh, I tried to mow the yard and work in the garden, but my system kept crying foul.  Finally I concede ld defeat and plopped down in front of the TV.

Go Run the Trace!

Matt Hoyes is at it again.  He's attempting to thru-run (with support) the Sheltowee Trace.  I'll have a more in-depth treatment in the near future.  June has been a month of Tour Dividing, Trans Aming across the continent, and not ultrarunning on the Sheltowee.  Pretty exciting for a transitioning arm-chair endurance racer like myself.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Diminishing Fleet

I’m down to a single working bike.  And I’m going to have to steal it’s wheelset for one of the others.

Broke spokes on the mountaineering bike. Replaced with too thick spokes and discovered that was a bad idea.  Now need to rebuild wheel.  Then I remembered that I still have the stock (non-tubeless) wheels.  They’re currently on the Cannonball.  I still have the wheels I took off the cargo bike when I upgraded.  So the wheelsets will migrate back to their spawning grounds.

The sporty-sport bike, the faithful Dogrunner, has been run down without stopping for over a year and a half.  I’ve done very little maintenance to it.  I can’t ignore it anymore. Currently its ballbearings are strewn like blood splatter all over the Bike Cave.  I’ve got to regrease everything, crank down some hex bolts, and see if that corrects the weave/wobble.  If not then I’m not sure what.
I brought Minus home from the cubicle only to discover the rear wheel (a Sta-Tru) is out of true.  Gnarfle-the-garthok that makes me mad! I found out after I had swapped pedals, mounted bottle cages, and put some used but better tires on it. 
See why running is simpler?  Your feet either work or they don’t.  End of story.
Compounding the issue is the full set of waterproof Ortlieb touring bags I won.  I entered a photo in the Alliance for Walking and Biking’s Showers and Snow photo contest .  I’m not sure how this kind of stuff keeps happening to me.  I’m not complaining, except they should have had a contest to win a touring bike before they offered the contest for touring bags.  I don’t have a single bike that would work with this full set of bags right now.  Neither the Allez nor the Bianchi have rack mounts.  If I had P-racks for the Xtracycle I could mount it all up to it, except with the Jones bar on the front the handlebar bag is useless.
This is a real conundrum.  For years I’ve wanted to be set up for long distance touring.  I don’t know when I’m going to get to go, but having the gear is a good first step.  Once the window of opportunity opens you can just dive through. Santa Claus brought me a full set of bikepacking bags this past year.  So I’m basically set up to go heavy or light.
In a perfect world I would purge my existing bike fleet (excluding the Cannonball) and start over with…I don’t know.  Recently I looked a little harder at the Surly Ogre.  I think it would be a good do-it-all bike.  You could put on slicks, squiggly handlebars, and fenders.  It would make a good commuter or touring bike, and it would also make a good singletrack surfer or bikepacking mule.  For the price it would be hard to find a more versatile bike for my needs.
I’ve also considered the Salsa Fargo.  I think I’d have to ride both to decide between the two if money were no consideration.  Of course it is. It always is. 
In my biketopia I would obviously have a bike for each purpose, but in a pinch I think I could get by with something like a Fargo or Ogre with two wheelsets: a mountaineering set with knobbies, and a touring set with slicks.
Running is so much simpler!  But cycling is so much fun!
Mark and I have this ongoing debate.  I like endurance racing.  I speaks to me.  I like to cover a lot of distance in a short time.  I like to maximize the time spent filling in my mental map, my life experience map.  And despite my steady forward pace for most activities I do see a lot of the landscape I pass through.  I have a very clear memory of most places I’ve visited.
I have had my moments when I wished desperately that I could slow down and take my time; that I could be content with lower miles and deeper resolution for my memories.  I finally had to accept that I’m just not wired that way. It’s rare that I am content being still.
Mark call’s me out on it sometimes.  I’ve mentioned endurance races and he’s scoffed at people racing by stuff without taking in the world around them.  I’ll concede that many people do miss too much by going too fast.  I don’t feel I’m one of those people.  I go forth with the intention of experiencing as much as I can, and I do that by exposing myself to as many different scenes and conditions as possible.  This is something my primal mind compels me to do, but it is also a very efficient way to learn the lay of the land for later (slower) explorations.
I’ve started to see that benefit somewhat since we’ve returned to Kentucky.  I have managed to slow down from time to time because I want to savor this place I love so much.  By accepting the beautiful limitation of the bicycle you do that anyway.  I could drive to each destination and then spend a small amount of time enjoying my recreation or I could, as we’ve chosen primarily to do, ride my bike as recreation and to recreation.  You necessarily see more from the seat of a bike than you would behind the windshield of a car; no matter if you’re putzing along in granny gear or crushing the pedals and going 20 mph.  Cyclists still see terrabytes more of information for each yard travelled than motorists do.
Preservation Kentucky has the following quote posted on their website for the recent bike ride they held in Clark County:
"Cyclers see considerably more of this beautiful world than any other class of citizen."
      ~How to Cycle by Dr. K.K. Doty, 1892 
That quote struck me.  And it is so true.  

The other thing about competitive endurance racing is that it’s a new thing for me.  I’ve never been a competitor.  There’s a need in me to compete though, that’s sprouted in my latter years.  I don’t know if it’s a creeping mid-life crisis or just a natural need to prove myself.  It’s likely just latent machismo that I suppressed in my earlier years, but regardless it’s there, and the monster must be fed it or it will consume me.

Y’know, I just realized something…my new touring bags would hitch up to Mandy’s bike.

Friday, June 27, 2014

On My Endurance Obsession and the Resulting Brain Injuries

I joined the Springboro (Ohio) Junior High cross country team in the fall of 1987.  It was late in the season and as we lined up to take off at my first meet it began to snow.  I ran the entire race as flurries whirled around my scantily clad and skinny frame.  I was hooked.

I signed up again the fall of my freshman year at Springboro High School.  I ran a lot more that second year and eventually lettered through a fluke (I’ve written about extensively elsewhere).  When we moved back to Kentucky I signed up for track because Powell County didn’t have a cross country team then.  I hated track.  I was stuck running the mile and it just wasn’t my forte.
During that autumn of running I developed a mindset for fitness that would resurface continually throughout my life.  I had a fantastic coach who was able to convey running strategy to us in a way that stuck with me.  My team was amazing.  We were supportive and positive throughout the season, and I felt like I was a crucial member of the team even though my times weren’t in the ballpark of what the seniors were running that year.
In short, it was the single best athletic experience of my life.  Full stop.  My Leadville experiences built on all that I learned that year and in the ensuing years.  It was the culmination of decades of effort and knowledge.  The foundations came from my high school cross country team.
After dropping out of track in Kentucky I didn’t keep running for fun or exercise.  I became an urban cyclist my first year of college, and after dropping out of college I took up hiking as my primary activity of choice.  I was a long and fast hiker covering dozens of miles a week.  Very infrequently I would slip on some old beaten up shoes and go for a run at the track or on a trail.  I was inconsistent and random when it came to my fitness regime.
When I was basically unemployed and had a lot of free time I lived in Slade, near the Red River Gorge.  From time to time I would drive or bike out Tunnel Ridge Road or to the Whittleton Trailhead and trail run.  Typically I ran the trails when the weather was rainy or cold and I was feeling particularly feverish of the cabin persuasion.
I got married and we moved to campus at EKU.  Both of us ran at the track near married housing, but for me it was completely forced: a chore to stave off weight gain and lethargy.  I never felt like I enjoyed it during that year and the few years following.  I didn’t sign up for organized runs.  Every once in a while I would think about doing a 5k, but I never committed to it.
We moved to Colorado.  I evolved into a hardcore cyclist.  I rode and rode.  Thousands of miles over five years.  18,000 and change actually.  Running entered into the picture from time to time, and I began thinking that maybe I needed to get back to running.  I could see that my body didn’t respond to cycling the way it did to running.  I could ride a blue-jillion miles on the bike and still gain weight.  Running was/is a bit harder on me.  But as hard as it was, I knew if I mastered it running would do for me what nothing else seemed to be able to: get me fit.
As we turned tail and moved back to Kentucky I took interest in running once again.  Early last year I went in over my head on a trail run at Pilot Knob near Clay City and sprained the heck-far out of it.  That was a major setback.  I eased back into running, and eased even more slowly into running trails.
Trail running became my new interest.  A fellow Kentuckian attempted to thru-run the 307 mile Sheltowee Trace Trail in 2013.  Matt Hoyes put forth a grand effort but fell short of his goal.  I had been talking about a speed record for thru-hiking or thru-biking the Trace for some time.  And while I had never seriously considered becoming an ultra-runner Matt’s run attempt convinced me it would be possible, even for me.
That fall my wife and I trained hard for the Iron Horse Half Marathon in Midway, Kentucky.  All through our training runs I felt good.  I was improving my times.  I was gaining a base of miles to carry me farther and farther.  I struggled against shin splints, sore joints, and perpetual tiredness from running so much.  But I felt good about the race.  On the day of something broke down.  I ran, and knocked out a 2:14 for my first half marathon, but I didn’t feel good.  For the first time that summer I walked a considerable amount.  After the Iron Horse I didn’t run as often.  I started to put on weight.
Late winter of 2014 my body seemed to be rebelling against me.  My knees ached all the time.  Stiffness in the knees and hips slowed me down, robbed me of my youthful mobility.  At 40 I get around pretty well.  But at 40 and three months I felt like a crippled 60.
As the Mohican 100k (mountain bike race) approached I tried in futility to ramp up my training which included running.  Then something strange happened.  The chronic pain in my knees was gone one day.  I plowed through the Mohican with very little pain, and before and after I was running more regularly and back on the road.  The knee pain was minimal.  Manageable.
I signed up for the Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon in my home turf of the Red River Gorge.  And remembered the Sheltowee scheme I had come up with.
Currently I am thirty pounds heavier than I should be to be a seriously competitive runner (or cyclist).  But what I’m seeing in myself is the ability is there, underneath the doubt and stored up French fries, there is a long distance runner.
I love cycling.  I especially love long distance mountain biking.  I guess I love self-imposed suffering.  But running is simpler. And covering many miles on foot is more appealing to me that using a bike to go five times as far.  Simple.  Strong.
My long term scheam/dreme is to one day, perhaps next year, complete the Cloudsplitter 100 along Pine Mountain in Southeastern Kentucky.  This year is the inaugural year.  I wish I’d had the resolve to train for the 100 mile length as soon as I found out about it.  I only have about three months and 100 miles is so much farther than anything I’ve ever ran before.  Well, I did the Iron Horse:  13.1 miles.  Three months to go couch to 100 miles?  Sure, I’m that stupid.
This year I want to do the 25k or 50k distance.  Both seem reasonably attainable to me if I go from where I am now and train up to the distance.  This is a puzzle I know I can solve.  It will be hard.  It may be the hardest thing I’ll have ever done in my life.  The chasm has been crossed.  I’ve gone from “I could never do that” in reference to a 100 mile mountain bike ride to having complete faith that I can run 100 miles in a single effort. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Crossing Paths

Herein is where I do some shameless self-promotion and bragging.

How Do You Say “Allez” in Italian?

I had my one good chance to see some Trans Am Bike Race participants on Tuesday afternoon.  I blazed south from work after anxiously watching the Trackleader updates as Paolo Laureti and Giorgio Murari closed in on Berea.  Adam Guske of Fort Collins trailed behind close enough that I figured if I completely missed Laureti and Murari I could wait him out. 

As the “peloton” crossed through my neck of the woods Mike Hall closed in on the finish as Jason Lane and Ed Pickup spread themselves across Virginia.  Jesse Stauffer and Juliana Buhring had passed through Berea earlier in the day and were tracking across Eastern Kentucky.  The two Italians I came across were running sixth and seventh.

Trying to pin someone down with Trackleaders isn’t as easy as it would seem.  The Spot trackers aren’t exactly live, and if you’re trying to get close to someone it’s maddening when the point updates and they’re twenty minutes down the road.

I was hoping to get ahead of them and get photos as they came through downtown Berea past Boone Tavern, but after I got off the interstate in Berea I saw they were east of town heading for Indian Fort.  I headed on down the route and shortly came across the two cyclists.  I drove on ahead to a side road where I could pull off out of the road and got photos of them coming past.  Giorgio gave me a big thumbs up as he cruised toward Big Hill.

"The Italians are coming! The Italians are coming!"
Paolo Laureti (in front) and Giorgio Murari along KY 21 east of Berea

At least he didn't jam a frame pump in my spokes!

I got back in the car, passed them once again, and drove up Big Hill to wait and get photos of them coming up the long steady climb with a backdrop of Pilot Knob and the surrounding Cumberland Plateau.

I knew it would be a few minutes so I scouted my shots and then sat back down in the car to wait.  Soon enough they came quckly up the hill, both sporting big grins as they climbed Big Hill.  Then they were onto the Plateau and heading on for the Atlantic.  I headed home to see what images I captured.

Laureti and Murari mostly traced my Drip Rock Century route from McKee to Booneville and stayed overnight in Booneville on Tuesday night.  Mike Hall was gunning for the beach as they bedded down.  He finished at 12:30 am June 25 in Newport News, Virginia after starting in Astoria, Oregon on June 6 and following US Bicycle Route 76: the Trans America route.  Over 4,400 miles in 20 days…un-freakin-believable!  And unsupported!

I can’t help but fantasize about the possibility of doing this race someday. 

June 25, 12:30am

Master Planner

"I'm going to present the trails plan to the First Lady on Tuesday.  Someone from your office should be there," Elaine Wilson of the Kentucky Office of Adventure Tourism said to my boss.  We were meeting to go over final edits on the plan.  Shane looked at the calendar on his phone.

"Uh, I'm on vacation next week," and then he looked at me.

It made sense that I was a second choice to go.  I took over writing the plan when the original writer left to go have a baby.  I'm not the author of the plan, but co-writer is an apt title for my role in the drafting of the first Cross Kentucky Master Trails Plan.  The authorship was a collaboration between Adventure Tourism, the Sheltowee Trace Association, and the state ADDs with Bluegrass as the primary ADD doing all of the grunt work including the actual compilation of information, writing, and mapping.

Initially I was simply a consulting member of the team due to my modest experience with trail development and construction.  But once my co-worker left on maternity leave and the deadline came rushing headlong at us I was asked to step in and take over primary writing duties.  Even still there were no less than three other writers, our graphic designer, and our GIS guru.

It's been slightly surreal even before the invite to Frankfort to meet the First Lady.  A week before our wrap-up meeting Elaine emailed Shane asking if we could look into ways that the USDOT could better incorporate equestrian facilities in the state.  The Governor and First Lady were meeting with Secretary of Transportation Foxx the next day and needed any suggestions we could provide.

I found out when I received a near-frantic phone call at home: "Can you look into it and see if there's anything we can offer?"

I hung up and giggled to myself.

"What?" My wife asked from the other side of the kitchen table.

" I can say I've been asked to advise a White House cabinet member."

Okay, so maybe that's an exaggeration, but it makes for a good story.  In the end we blew that opportunity, but it came out of the blue and we only had a few hours to consider the issue.

The trails plan, on the other hand, seems like we batted it out of the park.  There were four of us that met with Elaine, First Lady Beshear, Secretary (of Tourism, Arts, and Heritage) Stewart and their respective staff members.

Alas, we blew the photo op with the FL too, but I got this one of the Capitol dome from the inside!

The meeting went very well.  We've got some edits and additions to make, but all-in-all everyone seemed to be pleased with the plan.

So it was a token what?  For a moment I had the First Lady of my home state's undivided attention.  Maybe it's a fluke I ended up there, or maybe it's the result of a lot of hard work.

Today I'm back in the office and plugging away at mundane work.  And that's okay.  It's actually somewhat relaxing to plug in my headphones and zone out to some mind numbing data entry.

I felt like taking a mental health day but all this grandstanding has put me behind on my regular duties.  I’ve got to get caught up and maybe get ahead a little.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Off the Couch!

Did I mention that my wife rode her second ever century ride with almost no preparation?  Yeah, she’s amazing that way!

She’s tougher than she gives herself credit for, and more so than I usually credit in my blogging.  It’s not that I don’t see it, but that I’m not comfortable delving into such personal elements of someone close to me. Sure, fine, I’ll tear Jeaph apart like a starving hyena tears apart the weak wildebeest, but I just can’t pry into the psyche of my wife and expose all of the skeletons in her closets.  She knows where I sleep.

I do want to say that she’s struggled over the past few weeks with debilitating tendinitis in her Achilles.  After her school year was over and the days got longer and warmer she started running more.  And the more she ran the more pain she had.  Knots developed on both of her heels.  And after a little research she came to the conclusion that she had Achilles tendinitis.  I know tendinitis.  Elbow tendinitis shut me down as a boulderer.   It was a major contributor to my 2006 to present climbing hiatus.

She wants to run.  She’s signed up to run the Iron Horse again this fall.  But running causes pain.  So she would walk instead.  But walking isn’t running, and walking still caused pain.  It was getting her down.

Since the Redbud Mandy’s not ridden much long distance at all.  She rides to town and back frequently which is a four to five mile round trip jaunt.  So it’s not like she hasn’t touched the bike, but she’s not been getting out even on regular 20 mile rides, much less anything closer to 100.  I know she and I and Casey did the Gorge Loop in early May.  Other than that I’m not sure if she got out much.

We were signed up for the Preservation Pedal.  She’s also signed up for the Kentucky Century Challenge.  Mandy and I (and Jeff and Casey) rode the Old Kentucky Home Tour last fall for my final KCC ride and her first ever century ride.  Last year the entire Powell County cycling community was in much better shape.  We were riding like cats and dogs rain.  Anyway, we’re signed up for the Century Challenge and since we skipped the Horsey Hundred the pressure was on to do both the PP and the upcoming Hub City Tour in September to get our jerseys.

There wasn’t much talk ‘round the Chainring dinner table about the lack of miles being ridden in the weeks leading up to the recent century ride.  I just took it for granted that I could grunt through whatever life threw at me that day.  I’m kinda old hat at this now.  I forget that even though Mandy has been caught up in all of this century and racing culture over the past few years she’s not really been riding all of the rides I have.  I didn’t consider her preparedness for the Preservation.

I think she may have mentioned on Friday night that she hadn’t ridden at all to get ready for the ride on Saturday morning.  I’m pretty sure I brushed it off and figured she’d do well anyway.  I’m overly confident in the ability of others that way.  But even in my over-confidence I underestimated my amazing wife.  I just believed she’d fake it.  But when it came down to it she had to fight through some tough physical and metal terrain.

We were nearing the end of the Red River Road section of the route on Saturday.  A third of the way up one hill, as I was telling her about an amazing leap I saw a deer make over the road at that particular point on a previous ride, I realized she wasn’t listening.  And when I stopped talking and looked at her I also realized she wasn’t having much fun.  She unclipped and stopped her bike.

“I don’t feel so good,” she said.  And she didn’t look it.  We weren’t far from Trapp, but we still had one last hill to climb to get up to the relative flats of KY 89.

“If you can make it a little farther I’ll buy you an Ale-8 at Fox’s,” I encouraged.  It was hollow on my part.  She’s not as easily motivated by sugary drinks as I am and both of us knew one boost of sugar and caffeine alone wouldn’t carry her for almost 70 more miles.  I knew what was wrong: neither of us had eaten a substantial breakfast and she was fast approaching a bonk.  Sucking down a pop at Trapp would only delay the inevitable.

She pedaled on out of the rugged Red River terrain and we coasted into Trapp where I bought the promised Ale-8.  We had a few miles to go at that point to the next rest stop, but it was significantly easier if not exactly mundane.

I coaxed her on and she seemed to be feeling somewhat better.  At the halfway point we managed to eat real food and get a good rest.  Plus running into the Tomahawk always boosts the spirits.

From that point on she rolled steadily toward the end of the ride.  I worried about her, but she had it in her the whole way to finish.  She’s come a long way in the years we’ve been together.  I’m not saying she didn’t have it in her way back when, but we had some epic hikes and bike rides that I was unable to help her work through.  Sometimes I expected more than she could deliver at a given time.  It took a long time before I was able to accurately ascertain her potential enjoyment level in a given activity. 

I guess in a sense I’ve come a long way since we’ve been together.  Pacing is a good thing.  I didn’t always know that.  Maybe I learned it two sentences ago.

Deep down I think she does enjoy a good sufferfest as well as the rest of the PoCo cycling contingent.  She’s good for a surprise or two out on the bike too, sometimes going farther and faster than even she would guess.  That’s one of the things I love about the bike: it brings out inner strength.  And that’s one thing (among so many) I love about my wife: she has a deep inner strength that I rely on more than any other. 

Correction: my wife has ridden a total of three centuries this past year--the Old Ky Home Tour, the Redbud Ride, and the Preservation Pedal.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The First Step

Yes, I've been blathering on about being an ultra-runner.  I talk about things I might do.  I share schemes that sound ambitious with little conviction other than wishing into my hand.  It's time I put my first foot down on the path I say I want to tread.

We just finished the Preservation Pedal.  It was an exercise in mental endurance.  Saturday was hot.  None of us—except Tom and Mark—have been riding much.  I didn't feel wrecked the next day, but only because I didn't go all out on my ninth ever century ride (seventh in the past year) and push myself into the red.

And so after mile 70 the chore was to keep turning the pedals.  My thoughts on the route and scenery for the last 30 miles were basically: "I need to come back when it's cooler and I'm in better shape."  In my mind it was a great ride.  My body argued otherwise.  To keep turning the pedals proved I wanted that slick 2014 Kentucky Century Challenge jersey.  And by opting not to do the Horsey Hundred the pressure to finish the Preservation Pedal and the Hub City Tour (coming up in September) was going to be stronger.  It’s one reason I worried about Mandy not finishing the ride.  Her chance at the jersey would have gone out the window.

We both recognize if we were to lose our personal target weights (30 pounds for me) then we’d be able to much better enjoy these events. Less fat around my middle wouldn’t have been like installing air conditioning on my sporty-sport bike, but I could definitely have gotten off the ride hours earlier.  I know I can pull off a sub-five hour century if I were in the shape I want to be: hauling one less bag of Quikrete than I am now.

Running performance follows this same logic.  I’m in good shape considering the weight I carry and my age.  Mentally I have the tools to be competitive.  I just don’t have the fitness level.  And while I don’t believe in “get-rich-quick” schemes to stay fit, I do think running is the key for me to build my general fitness level and drop the flab.

If I want to be serious in this pursuit then my first step—my first honest step—would be to commit to a lifestyle diet change.  For me that will be the most difficult step.  It’s the step I am holding back. 

The Trans Am Bike Race has entered Kentucky.  Mike Hall blazed through the state as a few of us were piddling around the eastern Bluegrass on Saturday.  On Sunday he left Kentucky on his way to a blistering finish, setting a pace of 230+ miles a day.  By the time this post publishes (I typically schedule a couple days in advance) Mike Hall may have finished.  As of Monday morning Ed Pickup, the racer in third, was nearing Berea.  The next cluster of riders were bracketing Madisonville in Western Kentucky.

I can’t help but wonder what Mike Hall's eating and drinking and how he maintains that pace for almost three weeks.  That’s the kind of endurance I would love to have.  It's the kind of endurance that I know can be a degree.

I’m down to two bikes now.  My lard butt has broken spokes on the mountaineering bicycle.  I finally tore the wheel apart to extract a spoke so I would be able to get the right sized spokes to replace.  The sporty-sport bike is suffering from some mysterious mechanical issues.  For a long time it’s needed some serious cleaning and tuning, but I’ve continually put it off because I’ve focused on keeping the MTB and cargo bike rolling. 

Toward the end of the Preservation Pedal I noticed a weird pull seemingly from the front wheel.  On fast downhills the bike wobbled slightly back and forth.  I though maybe the wheel was out of true, but it doesn’t look out of true and the spokes all seem tight.  Sunday evening I swapped with Mandy’s front wheel and took the bike out for a ride.  The wobble was still there.  So it’s either in the rear wheel, or I have a frame or fork problem. 

I brought Minus back home.  I’ve been keeping the Bianchi in my office, but now it’s really the only fast bike I have.  It’s not that I don’t like riding the X, but it’s not a good bike for longer rides.  So I’ve got to find the gremlin haunting the sporty-sport bike.  I’ve got to rebuild The One’s abused rear wheel.

Or maybe this is a sign that I should become the ultra-runner I keep whining that I want to be.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Another Challenging Kentucky Century: Preservation Pedaling

“It’s gonna take a century for me to finish,” Tomahawk said to the audience at the Sewell Shop/US 60 rest stop at mile 57.

“I’m gonna have two birthdays on this ride.”

The volunteer crew and the entire Powell County contingent (minus Mark, we lost him) cracked up laughing.

As we left the fourth rest stop me and my red bike hooked up to the Locomozer.  I caboosed into North Middletown and the fifth rest stop training behind them.  Mandy had texted me to go on with them: that she’d keep riding with her dad and catch a lift back home so I could find Mark and get him back to the county before he turned into a pumpkin.

We’d started out sorted into completely different groups.  Tom started out at 6:15 am from Winchester and Mandy, Mark and I struck out into the fog at 7:05-ish.  Jeff and Casey came later.  Mark pulled away from us after the first rest stop.  We collected with him and Tom at the second.  They both left out ahead of us.  We never caught Mark after that, and it took until the third rest stop before we caught up with Tom again.  Jeff and Casey rolled into the midway point just as we were getting ready to pull away, and caught and overtook our group again at mile 57.  They dragged me along with them.  For the remainder of the ride we were all (Mark included) stretched out over three rest stops.  This caboose fell off of the Locomozer for good after the sixth rest stop.

The Pelexoton

The first section of the ride down to and over on Waterworks Road was enjoyable.  Fog still hung heavy over the rolling ridgetops.  “Rolling” became the theme of the day.  “Bluegrass surfing” is more like it.  For most of the ride you could describe yourself at either a crest or a trough.  Otherwise you were bombing down a descent too fast to describe anything, or laboring up a climb and gasping for breath, wiping sweat, and cursing gravity.  If it had been ten degrees cooler I would have been in miserable climbing heaven.

Riders leaving Winchester early

Along aptly named Waterworks Road

Ford, KY

Along Bybee Road

The Pelexoton (Lexington peloton) overtook us just after we turned off Bybee Road onto Two Mile Road.  I saw a group of matching local bike shop kits go past in a blur.   Never saw them again.  Most of the other pelotons represented alternately the Central Kentucky Wheelmen, the Louisville Bicycle Club, or various out of state groups.

It was nice to revisit my route from The Long Commute Home.  I love Fourmile Road along the Kentucky River, the wooded climb of Bybee Road, the open rolling ridges of Cole Road, and the remote and rugged beauty of Red River Road

Cole Road

Bombing onto Red River Road

Recently my lone KOM efforts in this area have been pulled down by a couple of other local riders.  I was cognizant of the fact that after Saturday my created Strava segments in Clark County would go from a three person leaderboard to dozens of rungs on the ladder back to KOM.  On the approach to Red River EB# 1 I decided I was going to give my best effort knowing I would have to in order to place high in the dogpile that would result in the Preservation Pedal deluge.  On the 1.1 mile segment I sorted low: a mere 41 out of 62.  But on the crux segment I held a more respectable 24 out of 62.  The next few segments I was pacing Mandy so I was purposefully reserved.  My intent was to ride easy and make a strong effort on a short climb at Ecton Road just east of the L&E Junction junction.  Before Saturday there was no segment on that particular climb.  I was planning to give it my full effort.  Of course I knew my chances of setting and holding a KOM were pretty slim.  Believe it or not, fat boy has some hill climbing skillz in him.  More on that segment later.  

Go Left at Rightangle/Welcome to Rabbit Town

Mandy hit a wall on Red River Road.  Those relentless short and steep climbs pummeled her spirits.  I promised her an Ale-8 from Fox’s General Store at Trapp.  That didn’t seem to bring her out of the funk she found herself in only a third of the way into the ride when the sun was still lurking behind a low cloud cover.  I was worried initially.  She definitely wasn’t in a good place, and it was too early into the ride for her to be talking about ending it.

Now, to be fair, my beautiful wife cranked out on her third ever century in “off the couch” status.  I’ve ridden very little this year, and she’s ridden even less.  She did the Redbud on a handful of 50 mile rides over a few months.  Considering the base miles she had going into it she did amazingly well.  We’ve been going into these events with far less focus too.  They’ve started to be old hat, and the result is we don’t plan ahead well for child care, morning-of fueling, and the like.  I threw everything together less than twelve hours before the ride and we woke Saturday morning having not really considered what food we’d take with us and what we’d eat before leaving the house.  Along Red River Road I feared my own impending bonk.  I forced myself to eat.  I noticed I had not been drinking much either.  My early finish line was racing to meet me.  Had Mandy already met hers?  That’s what I kept wondering as I looked sidelong at her climbing slowly beside me out of the Kentucky River drainage.

Fox’s store came into view and my own spirits rose.  Jeff and I often ride specifically to Fox’s, grab an Ale-8 (one of the official sponsors of the Preservation Pedal), and then head back.  We’ve even detoured miles out of our way to get Ale-8s there.

We sat on the front porch drinking our Ale-8s and watched Preservation riders cruise past.  While it felt good to get a cold and fizzy drink down the gullet, I have come to the realization that you can’t rely on sugary food and drink to keep you going.  I’ve crashed too many times trying to keep the engine going on simple sugars.  While it’s refreshing to get a cold drink, it doesn’t always have the desired effect.

We left Trapp onto more familiar roads.  One of my earliest Fred-type rides was in the Rightangle/Rabbit Town area way back in 2007.  I love those roads and being out in that country again just made me want to wander over to Log Lick, cut through to Pine Ridge Road, and surf Willis-Rupard.  I’d hoped the route would take us up Pilot View Hill, but am thankful it did not.  I want to get back out there soon though.

Welcome to Rabbit Town

 I was holding back to keep an eye on Mandy.  I knew we needed some real and good food—better than convenience store fare—and wanted to pull my favorite SAG mama to substantial sustenance.

Looking forward to the Indian Fields and L&E Junction area I roamed ahead to Goff’s Corner.  There I collected my wife and we rode together across the flats to the turn onto Schollsville Road.  Then began the long steady climb to one of the route highpoints and the next rest station beyond.  I held back for awhile, but eventually decided to break away to the rest stop and wait for Mandy there.  Tom was sitting there in the shade when I pulled up.  We chatted for a minute but then my hunger took over and I headed inside.  I was getting ready to procure a feast for my wife when she came into the fellowship hall of the Bethlehem Christian Church.  We both got sandwiches, drinks and other food and went out to sit in the shade and refuel.

Indian Fields

Halfway point rest stop

After a long repose we were ready to head out on the road again. 

The 42nd Peloton

From the church there is a nice general descent down through a picturesque valley through L&E Junction, past Hedges Station and Stoner-Ephesus Roads, and on out to Ecton Road.  I geared down and crushed my pedals for the first time in a long while.  I passed rider after rider keeping up a 25 mph pace until the dog.

A gnarly looking little mutt came rocketing out of the yard of a house by the road and almost breached my hull.  I few yards after he fell off the chase I grabbed brakes and did a u-turn.  Mandy and Tom were behind me and would probably not have enough speed to outrun the furry missile.  I extracted my Halt! from the handlebar bag and pedaled back to do battle with the mongrel.  He met me mano y dogo and got a face full of pepper spray for his efforts.  I continued on down the road at a clip to give warning.  Mandy came along and I fell in beside her.

“There’s a dog ahead,” I warned and positioned myself between her and the edge of the road.  As we pedaled past the house I saw my defeated adversary off in the back yard trying to lick his own eyes.  That was satisfying.

Tom caught us and I recounted the battle.  Mandy pedaled off as I pointed out the remnants of the Lexington – Big Sandy railroad to Tom.  As we passed Stoner-Ephesus Road and started up a short hill three things happened: a car approached from the opposite direction, I slowed to maintain my conversation with Tom, and the 42nd Peloton overtook and enveloped us.  

On the narrow road there was room enough for maybe one cyclist to pass between me at the edge of the road and the oncoming vehicle.  One cyclist didn’t try to pass as I slowed down—a dozen did.  One guy, probably the 42nd  Peloton Team Captain, bellowed at me: “You’re making us all stop!”  Of course I wasn’t.  I was riding at my own pace on the far edge of the pavement.  Their timing was unfortunate, but not under my control at any point throughout the day.  The rest of 42P grumbled as they surged around me after the car had passed and then pulled away at a blistering pace.  Well…

I had intended to claim glory on the Ecton surprise hill.  Just after we were sorted out of 42P we turned on Ecton and saw yon hill.  The 42Pers were spreading themselves out on the 0.7 mile 107’ climb when I launched my attack.  And in a few short seconds (106 to be exact) I passed every one of the disgruntled Pedalers.  On the newly created Ecton Surprise segment I was 7 out of 74.

Mandy overheard more grumblings.  Apparently my chopped pace really annoyed 42P, but in my defense, I wasn’t taking up the whole road, nor did I encroach into anyone else’s personal space.  Maybe after my rocket ride up Ecton Surprise I stopped to get photos of the members of 42P in front of some particularly spectacular scenery.  I wasn’t intentionally trying to offend.

Along Ecton Road

Turning on Sewell Shop Road

 At the fifth rest stop the entire Powell County contingent (minus our library staff) collected for a few minutes.  Mandy seemed to be in better spirits and Tom entertained as usual.  We chatted with the volunteers before heading off for North Middletown.  The remainder of the route would be all new roads to me.  That should have inspired me to feats of speed, but the heat was shriveling my resolve.  That’s when I got caught up with the Locomozer though, and we pedaled strongly over some of the finest road riding anywhere as we talked about the ride and riding in general.  Since we’ve not been out much recently we’ve been trying to catch up on stuff in fits and spurts.

North Middeltown, Bourbon County

After North Middletown the heat really sapped me and I started to lose interest in the ride.   The rest stops were so close together I wanted to skip every other one, but because of the heat I used them as an excuse to get off the bike, take of my helmet, and fill up my bottles with ice water and sports drink.

Rollers Behind and Rollers Ahead

I worried about Mandy from North Middletown all the way to the last rest stop at mile 92.  She’d texted me there and was only one stop behind me with her dad.  They were moving on.  But as bad as she’d felt at mile 30 I couldn’t imagine she could be holding up under the relentless heat and constant rollers.  I knew she would be having trouble surfing the rollers effectively.  It was hard for me and I'm an accomplished surfer.

When you can’t keep up a good pace you end up losing all of your momentum and having to climb each hill.  If you can keep up the speed you can literally glide over each wave crest and surf through the troughs.  It’s not that I didn’t think my wife knew this, or could do it, but I knew she was suffering quietly as she pulled herself along the route.  I couldn’t help but split my thoughts between all of the rolling terrain between me and the finish and all of the rolling terrain I had crossed that I knew she still had ahead of her.

I considered waiting at a rest stop to make sure she as doing good, to try and cheer her on, and to have a little company myself.  But her texts were plain that she was doing well and that I should keep going.  So I did.  Selfishly I wanted to be out of the sun.  But even as I thought about getting free of the heat, getting food, and into clean clothes I realized they were going to be out at last an hour longer in the sun and heat.  It made it hard to rush on to the finish.

 This was the view from the last rest stop at mile 92

The scenery was pretty grotesque

After Clintonville (the sixth stop) I picked up the pace; I felt a little better after another bottle of ice cold sports drink and was able to power into a rhythm over the rollers heading south.  I stopped at the last rest and got yet another cold fill-up.  Then I was on a sprint for downtown.  I didn’t drop much below 16 mph all the way into town and hit 20+ in a few sections.  On and on I drove my faithful and dogged sporty-sport bike toward the end.

It was anti-climactic as I rolled up to the Kentucky Century Challenge check-in.  I signed my name.  I stopped my Strava at 103 miles (I'd backtracked some), and then I headed for free Ale-8s and food.

Mark, Jeff, and Casey were finishing up their lunch as I sat down.  The Locomozer headed out to get their kids and I called my dad to see how mine were.  Mandy and Tom were on their way in from the last rest stop and she texted me that I should get Mark and the kids on home.  I obliged.

For his first organized ride Mark did well.  He enjoyed the ride and the route much to my surprise.  I didn't think it would be his thing.  Of course I didn't think it would be Tom's thing either and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself.  But then, the Redbud and the Preservation have both been smaller and well organized rides.  It was hard not to have a good time all environmental conditions aside.  Though after this year I really hope I have no continued reason to make the Kentucky Century Challenge my "thing."  It might be time to move on.

Finally Mandy and I collected at home.  We licked our wounds, ate, and fantasized about what we would eat next.  We moaned out loud to take our minds off the minor aches.  It was an early bedtime in the Chainring household Saturday night.  Another Kentucky Century ride behind us…

Last year the "Challenge" didn't seem so much.  In the past year I've ridden seven centuries.  The three it took me to get a jersey were small potatoes in the whole scheme of things.  This year, despite a rough winter, the early Redbud Ride wasn't much of a challenge either.  I think we all went into the Preservation Pedal a little too casually.  Finally, I think I saw the Kentucky Century Challenge for what it is.  I see the appeal from a different point of view.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tracing a Line

The new state master trail plan is smoldering.  Soon it will be hot off the presses.  Having worked on it for most of this past month has me frothing to go use some of our state’s trails.  In particular I want to get back to the Sheltowee Trace.  I’ve schemed about it for a while now. 

After Matt Hoyes' attempt to run it last year I began to develop an interest in ultrarunning.  The concept didn’t appeal to me at first, but then I considered it for a while.  It suits me nature and personality.  I am drawn to protracted suffering.  I am drawn to long distance traveling under my own power.  Why not ultra-running?
A) I have a family.
2) I have a full time job.
III) I’m old.
Quatro) I’m fat.
Training to be an ultra-runner takes time.  You have to run.  Lots.  Running long distances, even if you’re fast-fast-fast, takes time.  To train to run a 307 mile trail north-south across the state would take a lot of time.  I can't maintain the balance I want in life if I am always out running the roads while my family is wondering if I'm ever going to get down to the nitty-gritty of being a husband and father.  But I digress.  This post was supposed to be about mountain biking.  Or was it about the Sheltowee?
Recently I had opportunity to ride another portion of the ST near London, Kentucky.  I’ve trekked most of the trail between Cave Run and Heidelburg either on foot or on a bike.  I’ve ridden at Laurel Lake and Cane Creek near London.  The other day I rode the section from KY 80 south to FR 4255.  I did an out and back jaunt of 4.3 miles on a shared hike, bike, dirt bike section of the Trace.  Surprisingly the apparent dirt bike traffic hasn’t wrecked the trail for the most part.  It still has an intimate singletrack feel.  That was heartening.
Small stream crossing

Nice singletrack
Realistically I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the trail with dirt bikes present, but the condition of the trail is fine despite obvious use by motorized bikes.  And the trail rode well.  The climbing turns were reasonable.  There weren’t horrible ruts in the trail (except in one spot, see above).  It was an enjoyable ride.
Then I discovered another broken spoke.  Yep, my fat behind is breaking The One* down like a circus bear breaks down a cheap department store unicycle.  Actually, after consulting with Jeaphre we agreed the problem seems to be that he replaced five of my thin broken spokes with beefier new spokes perhaps putting greater (or less?) tension on the remaining original spokes.  The hub is in good shape, as is the rim (sort of) so all I need to do is procure 25 or so beefy spokes and nipples to replace the existing thin spokes, hypnotize Jeaph into thinking he wants to rebuild my wheel, and then ride off into the sunset (and hopefully not tacoing a different wheel in the process).
But I digress!
I had to cut my ride short once I realized I was in mechanical distress.  Of course since I was doing an out and back ride cutting it short meant I was still halfway into the ride.  I took my time and care in getting back to the car as I tucked tail and headed back to civilization with fewer miles than I’d wanted for the day.  But that’s alright, I’ll be back soon enough.
These interlocking concrete tiles were used to harden some hill sections.
They were pretty awesome too!

Limping back to the trailhead
The whole excursion into new territory got me thinking about the possibility of a trip down to Big South Fork to sample the MTBing there.  I need to ride more of the Sheltowee too.  I won’t be attempting a thru-hike, run, or ride anytime soon, but maybe by this time next year I can have the logistics worked out.  Maybe I’ll have my act together and be ready to give it a solid go.
As I see it there are many iterations of a thru-whatever of the ST:
  • Unsupported minimalistic thru-run (I estimate a strong runner could do it in 6-7 days)
  • Supported thru-run (5-6 days)
  • Unsupported minimalistic thru-hike (10 days)
  • Unsupported thru-mountain bike (2-3 days for uber-strong rider, 4-5 for mere mortals)
  • Supported thru-bike (2-3 days alternating mountain and road bikes)
I continually reiterate “minimalistic” because I have no desire to go heavily loaded on such a long jaunt.  Also, my intent in any of these efforts would be a single effort push.  I don’t want to necessarily section hike, run, or bike the Trace.  I want to travel end to end without stepping away and returning.  Stopping, in my case, would be quitting.  There is nothing to be proven by chopping the trail up into smaller bits for consumption.  It must be swallowed whole.
That’s what I want.  If you see it differently that’s fine.  I’m not saying you’re wrong.  I do think to claim a speed record on a long distance trail, or to claim to have thru-hiked it when you’ve done it in separate sections or with extensive support is being somewhat dishonest.
Speed efforts are about long term endurance.  Anyone could sprint the whole trail in 100 yard increments and claim to have done it in 20 hours.  Well, maybe not anyone, but you see my point?  Good style means you call your effort what it is and not try to portray it as something more than the accomplishment it truly represents. 
Endurance racing is not about speed alone.  It’s about being able to manage pain, manage pace, and manage your mind through a complex series of conditions, mental states, and obstacles between two points.  It’s about not being able to see the finish and yet striving toward it with intense focus.  It’s about looking many moves down the board and holding the strategy in your mind.  It’s about adapting to changing realities.
Endurance is the ability to mitigate suffering and delay failure beyond what seems reasonable.  Chasing these long-distance dreams is a way to temper the ability to face down any of life’s trials and to endure the unforeseen hardships that lie somewhere beyond the horizon.  These long distances are getting longer all the time.  I made the big mistake of the 100 mile Leadville trail run: “I would never do that.”  It’s a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.  When I say things like that I tend to be drawn to exactly the thing I didn’t think I could or would do.
On our hike the other day Mandy and I talked about organizing local trail events.  The conclusion seemed to be that a series of underground grassroots events makes the most sense.  Small, unofficial, no fee, no award, ITT-style efforts are kind of the up and coming thing.  This is the kind of thing I can do and do well.  We'll see what becomes of it.
*See my previous blog.  I call my Cannondale mountain bike “The One” because it was the chosen bike when I set out on my obsessive Leadville 100 quest.