Monday, August 15, 2011

Personal Best

I'm still trying to process what happened on Sunday. Claire, Teresa and I decided to do the Pescadero Loop, a 64 mile ride with nearly 5,000 feet of climbing.This was just one week after we'd all done the Marin Century (60 miles). The route involves a climb up my old friend, Old La Honda Road, which has become my personal measuring stick, the only route that I set personal goals for. My goal for OLH had been to break 30 minutes, hopefully by the end of the year, or at least come close. As my previous personal best was around 35 + minutes, I really didn't think I'd ever get much better than that.

I felt OK starting off, not anything special, but I quickly got into a rhythm, much more quickly than normal. I found myself averaging 6.5 to 7 mph and able to hold it relatively easily. Every time my speed slipped a bit, I pushed it back to 6 -- 6.5, sometimes 7. It went like that for the first mile and the second.  My heart rate monitor showed my heart rate in the high 150s and low 160s, around 95 percent of my maximum.  I fought hard to keep my speed above 6 but inevitably as the road steepened, it would drop into the 5s. That was OK, because I was still able to get over 6 as soon as the gradient flattened out a bit (it's never really flat).Once or twice I dropped  into the 4s but for the most part I was able to keep my average close to 6. Usually by the time I hit the halfway mark or a little after, my stamina would start to flag a bit and I would slowly watch my average speed drop out of the 6s into the 5s and by the last half mile or so into the 4s. But this time, the longer and harder I pedaled, the stronger I seemed to get. As I passed the halfway point I decided I was going to  push as hard as I could, for as long as I could. That was the last really rational thought I had. After that something clicked and it seemed I was on auto pilot.  I kept repeating to myself "You can do this... you can do this... you can do this..."

As I pushed up the hill, my breathing grew more ragged and my focus narrowed. All I could see was the pavement in front of me, my speed readout and my heart rate, which maxed out at 168. Oddly I couldn't tell what my time was even though, if I looked down, I could see the readout. It just didn't register and after a bit I stopped looking.  I knew if I could keep going, I was going to set a personal best just because of the speed readouts, but my eyes just wouldn't focus on the actual elapsed time read out. I passed a small group of riders. I know they could hear me coming because my breathing was so labored and so loud. They were chatting away, about what I couldn't tell you. Voices registered but not words. They both looked at me as I passed but I was working too hard; I didn't acknowledge them at all.  After I passed them their voices were a faint echo behind me, for what seemed like a very long time, and then just faded away.

Close to the top I passed another rider and shortly thereafter another rider passed me. I tried to hang onto his rear wheel but by then I really had nothing left. It was all I could do to maintain my, now 5 + mph pace, much less accelerate. I just kept repeating my mantra "You can do this... you can do can do this..." Then suddenly the mailboxes that mark the end of the road came into view and I pushed harder still coming to a stop only after I passed the stop sign.

I unclipped and stood over the bike for quite a while, trying to catch my breath and slow my heart. When I looked at my timer, I couldn't believe what I saw. When I'd started it had read 31:13. Now it read 1:01:04. I had climbed the hill in 29 minutes and 51 seconds, nearly six minutes faster than my best time ever. What's more, I continued to climb strongly for the rest of the day.

Where did that come from? I don't know. What does it mean for the future? I don't know that either. At this point, I don't know what new goals to set for myself. 27 minutes? 25 minutes? I don't know. I really doubt I'll ever reach the level of the really good cyclists, the ones who fly up the hill in 20 minutes or less, even if I do put lighter wheels on the bike, which I'm planning to do.

The real question for me is, how much longer can I continue to improve? And how far can I take it? I guess I'll find out over the next few months. This could be fun.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Yellow Jersey

I've done a lot of riding the last two weeks, right around 200 miles.  That included a 63 miler out to the coast and back with lots of climbing, several runs up Old La Honda Road (personal best time on my last one) and one up Kings Mountain Road which is like OLH on steroids.

The coast ride was the most interesting because if I ever entertained even the most ethereal of fantasies about becoming a "serious" rider or even a racer, I had them crushed. No not crushed, it was more like flicked away the way one would a flea. We rode with  friend of Joel's, Jamie North and her friend Francisco. Jamie, who is barely 95 pounds and is still on the sunny side of 30, works at a bike store, is a personal trainer, a cycling coach and a racer. Francisco works for UPS. While Joel and I rode up OLH in 36 and 37 minutes respectively, very good times for us, the two of them made it in "about" 22 minutes. The rest of the day went pretty much the same way. We'd regroup, start off together and very quickly the two of them would float away from us. Joel could keep up some of the time but after a while, they just dropped us and made off on their own.

Later that week, I was watching the Tour de France on TV and my wife asked me if bike racing was going to be my next adventure. No, I assured her, even I knew where to draw the line. Does all this depress me. No not at all. I know I'll never catch Jamie and Francisco, no matter how hard I try. I might catch Joel, but only if he lets me. Once she gets into training even half-seriously, Claire, who is 24, will drop me like a bad habit. But nevertheless, I still made it up the mountain this weekend and I cut seconds off my best time. I can still look forward to getting better, to climbing a few more mountains, and that's Yellow Jersey enough for me.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Keeping the faith

I rode with Claire and Joel today up Old La Honda Road. It was Claire's first time up this year and she'd been dreading it. Needless to say she motored right along leaving both of us in her wake. Now, I knew that once she'd gotten herself into reasonable shape she'd kick my butt in the hills, but I wasn't expecting it to happen quite so soon, especially since I'd done a fair amount of hill work this season and she'd done very little. Moreover, I was really struggling falling farther and farther behind both of them. I found myself starting to think that all this nonsense about keeping up was really just that--nonsense. I was having a bad day because of age and that no matter how hard I tried, ultimately I was never going to be able to stay with these younger folks. And was I really going to be able to climb Mt. Diablo when I was having so much trouble with Old La Honda?

And so it went, I kept this negative mindset all the way down the hill and for the next several miles where I continued to struggle to keep up even though the road was much flatter. Then at a rest stop it occurred to me that maybe I should check the bike to see if there was something going on and sure enough I found that my rear brake had been dragging all along. Once I fixed it, I had no trouble at all keeping up and did quite well on the next hill.

The interesting thing about all this -- at least to me -- is that the very first thought I had when I was struggling was age related. Not, is there something wrong with the bike? But rather, am I too old? To say that kind of thinking isn't healthy is certainly not terribly profound. I know that the power of positive  thinking isn't going to keep me young, but today I think I was taught a lesson about the power of negative thinking. And I am going to climb that mountain.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Doggin' it

So, no sooner do I vow to ride four times a week than my body decides it needs some down time. Actually, my wife took some much needed vacation and I decided that seemed like a good idea, so we escaped to Monterey for the weekend. That, of course, meant no riding, just a little golf, which really doesn't amount to much exercise for me, especially when we ride a cart. The interesting thing was that this "rest" period didn't make me feel refreshed or invigorated--just the opposite. I felt more tired Sunday for not having ridden on Saturday. I slept in and just dragged around all day. Today, the last day of my mini-vacation, I played golf again. This time I walked the 18 holes and I feel less tired than I did Sunday. Maybe I was just really tired and worn out and needed a break, or maybe I need the hard physical activity to really feel well. Tomorrow I get back to riding again.  We'll see how I feel, but my guess is that I'll feel more rested and less tired. Next week I head to Washington for a conference and then West Virginia to see my east coast grandkids. Don't know how I'm going to get and riding in on that trip. I'll have to get very serious about training up for the MS ride in mid September when I get back.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Going Overboard

I never do anything halfway and that's not always a good thing. Some examples: I couldn't just run for my health after I quit smoking (the first time), I had to run a marathon.  I couldn't just learn to scuba dive, I had to become a divemaster. I couldn't just learn to fly a plane, I had to take up aerobatics. I couldn't just learn to ride a motorcycle, I had to race motorcycles. And so it goes. (I won't talk about my golf game except to note I'm taking lessons.) So why did I think it would be any different when I got into cycling. I don't know, but I did. I was astounded to learn what my friend Joel, who inspired me to take up cycling,  had paid for his bike. Two years and three bikes later I was spending nearly as much. Not only that, I was training for a 150 mile ride sponsored by the MS Society. I'm going to do the same ride again this year, except now I'm also toying with the idea of riding all three Bay Area mountains--Mt. Tamalpias, Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Hamilton this summer. My problem is that some of my cycling friends are encouraging this madness so it will probably happen. It's fine; it won't kill me and at some level it will probably be fun. But I wonder why I do these things.

Today I was supposed to go for a ride with two other people, neither of whom was able to make it. Left to my own devices I decided to ride up Old La Honda Road, which climbs the mountain from Woodside to Skyline Drive. Nothing special about that, except, on a whim, I turned around and rode it a second time. The odd thing was, it was easier the second time than the first.I can't explain that. Right now my quads are sore; they'll probably hurt worse when I wake up in the morning. Oh well, tomorrow, if I'm not in too much pain,  I'll just  play golf. At least I won't hurt anything but my pride.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Another thing about aging is that you don't recover as fast from hard workouts. Sunday I did a 27 mile ride -- short really -- but I threw in some hills and, just to make it more challenging, I rode the longest of them without using my low gears. This morning Claire and I did a short, hilly ride and my legs really protested; I struggled up hills I should have climbed easily. But I'm riding tomorrow again anyway. My legs will just have to suck it up. Now that good weather is finally here, I'm going to try to ride at least four times a week. I have a lot of ground to make up and not much time.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting here trying to figure out how to get myself motivated enough to start writing again so I can finish my final project. I think I'm afraid to try partly because I'm not sure the novel will really hold together. I may have to completely rethink it, maybe junk it for now and do something different. That's the other reason for this blog, to get me writing again.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Climbing the mountain

Not too ago I told Joan, my wife, that as long as I could ride up the mountain, I'm not old. We were talking about my latest passion -- bike riding, a sport I've been pursuing earnestly for a couple of years and one I've been trying to get her to try.

I ride several times a week with a co-worker, and nearly every weekend with various friends-- the oldest of whom is 20 years my junior and the youngest, my co-worker Claire, more than 40 years.  We generally ride 30 to 50 miles, sometimes longer and sometimes we spice up the rides with a three or four mile hill climb to Skyline Drive. How much longer will I be able to do that? I don't know. I know I can still improve (I'm stronger today than I was at this time last year). But at 68, I know that at some point an inevitable decline will start to set in, and despite my best efforts, my body will tell me it won't climb that mountain anymore. I don't know how I'm going to feel about that.  For now, at least, I can keep up and that's all that matters. So that's what this blog is about -- keeping up. For now, cycling. Later, maybe we'll talk about other things. There's a lot to keep up with.

My cycling is organized around getting ready for the annual Waves to Wine ride that the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation sponsors every year. My sister contracted MS about 20 years ago and so I dedicate this ride to her. It's a 150 mile ride over two days. I did it for the first time last year but had to cut the second day short because a new saddle I'd bought was giving me blisters. Butt blisters are not fun! This year I mean to do the whole thing and maybe find another long ride, something in the 100 mile or 100 K  range,  to do as well. Along the way I may climb a few new mountains.