Thursday, October 1, 2015

Tachycardia and Misdirection

On August 1st I started my seventh consecutive ride of the Mt Tam double century - the only double I have completed every year since I started riding doubles in 2009. This would be my third year doing it on the recumbent and I was hoping for a PR as my training had gone well so far. Little did I know that it would result in a two month excursion into the world of cardiology.

I went to bed early on the Friday evening as I had to be up at 3:00am for the drive to San Rafael. I woke up at about 1:00 with night sweats, which was perhaps a bit ominous, but I felt fine. Drank a cup of coffee on the drive up after my usual pre-ride breakfast of oatmeal and banana. The ride started at 5:00am in pleasant temperatures and was easy going for the first couple of hours to the first rest stop. I almost certainly hadn't drunk enough, a common failing in early morning rides in cool weather, and I had added another cup of coffee to my usual Perpetuem drink mix. I hadn't filled my Camelbak at the start, but did so now for the long climb ahead. The weather was typical summer morning weather, overcast and foggy and by the time I had climbed from Alpine Dam at 600' to the start of the Ridgeway I was in the cloud. There are seven big rollers on the Ridgeway with some 12% grades before the turn off on the East Peak road at around 2000'. As often is the case, shortly after the turn I climbed out of the cloud into very dry and warm air. Mt Tam is a double peak and I was closing in on the first summit, heart rate about 140, at about 2300' when I started to lose the feeling in my legs. Never felt anything similar on the bike. I got off and next I hear a beep from the Garmin notifying me that my heart rate was too high at 163. Since I'm just standing by the bike this is odd and even more that it is still climbing. At 175, which is close to my max, it finally peaked and started to come down but slowly. At this point I elected to walk a bit and when the heart rate got a bit lower I tried to ride again, but the rate just started climbing right back up. Although I didn't have any chest pain, I was quite concerned that I might have a serious problem as this was all very unfamiliar and I knew of several riding friends who had heart attacks or heart issues on a bike ride.

When I reached the first summit I cruised down to the saddle and then walked up to the top having asked several passing riders to alert the volunteers at the top that I needed medical attention. Despite walking very slowly my HR stayed unexpectedly high. I had already decided that I was done for the day and wanted to get checked out properly. By the time the paramedics arrived I was basically back to normal but feeling a bit shaken. The paramedics didn't find any problems on the EKG but took me into Marin General ER for a complete checkup. The tests showed no indications of a heart attack but they were puzzled by the loss of sensation in my legs. I was discharged with a diagnosis of Super Ventricular Tachycardia (PSVT) and told to follow up with my doctor, which I duly did on the Monday. He got me a referral with an Electro-Cardiologist but the first appointment was not for two weeks.

Meanwhile I got on the web to find out more about TachyCardia and learned that (a) the condition is quite common, but comes in a whole variety of forms, some a lot more nasty than others and (b) that endurance athletes seem more prone to developing the condition. For example, this rather timely article in VeloNews made rather scary reading. At this point my hope was that it was an isolated event caused by dehydration and too much caffeine as these are both known triggers. Indeed I had been advised on the discharge instructions to cut out caffeine. On Monday I did a recovery ride that went fine. Tuesday I started one of the moderate 60 minute training rides that I had been doing regularly and at around 30 minutes my heart rate started to climb with no corresponding increase in effort. I had by this time learned about the Valsalver maneuver that stimulates the Vagal nerve and lowers the heart rate, and I managed to bring the rate down but abandoned the session. So not a one-off. Since I was supposed to be doing the Raid Pyrenean in early September and leaving on August 28th I was getting concerned. So I did the squeaky wheel thing and messaged my doctor. He upgraded my referral with the cardiologist and I was able to get an appointment for Thursday. Wednesday is my usual day to go into the office which is on the third floor and, of course, I took the six flights of stairs. By the time I reached the final flight I was struggling and my heart was pounding. Needless to say this did nothing to improve my mental state. The visit with the cardiologist wasn't very helpful as he wanted data from a two week heart rate monitor that wouldn't produce any results before I left for Europe. I was scheduled for a stress test and heart ultrasound the following Thursday and fitting of the monitor. On Friday morning my heart rate spiked during our gentle early morning dog walk. I decided to be a squeaky wheel again and called the cardiologist's nurse to see if I could get the monitor fitted sooner. They said they could do it today and when I went in I asked if I could have a 48hr monitor, on the grounds that I really wanted to get an early diagnosis so I could make an informed decision about the bike tour.

So I left the clinic wired up with a 48hr Halter monitor, which is like a continuous EKG. I did several rides on the trainer and had an attack each time, so the data was there. I even printed off a portion of the graph from TrainerRoad showing the heart rate spike:

The results came back early in the week but they only showed Sinus Tachycardia which basically means increased heart rate but no abnormal rthymn. While this was good news, there was still no explanation for it.

The stress test was interesting. I had had two previous tests, several years earlier, mandated before I could take my "miracle cure" Migraine drug. This time was a bit different owing to the ultrasound component. Before the test I was given the ultrasound at rest, which involved holding my breath, as the lungs evidently get in the way. Then I did the test, which went fine and at the end had to very quickly get back on the table for a second ultrasound with the heart pumping hard. Needless to say trying to hold your breath in that state is virtually impossible, but evidently they got the data. After the test I was fitted with the two week Zio monitor, which was much less invasive than the Halter monitor, but couldn't be immersed in water, so no swimming or hot tubs.

At this stage I was feeling much more upbeat and thinking I could do the Raid Pyrenean. On the Saturday I did a moderate, 1 hour, ride on the trainer. While I did have one heart rate spike midway, I got the rate down with a Valsalver maneuver and was able to finish the session with no further incidents. A couple more lighter sessions went well also.

On the Tuesday I had a follow up with the cardiologist. He didn't have much input and was waiting for the results from the Zio. Basically if that didn't show any abnormalities, he said he would pass me on to someone else.

So I decided the time had come for a real test. I hadn't actually been out on the road since the Mt Tam event so I decided to get my travel bike (Lightning P38) set up and go climb a hill or two. The warmup was going well on a route that I have ridden many times, up Alpine road to Portola Valley. The grade picks up slowly and never gets more than 5%. My heart rate was about 130 when suddenly, for no apparent reason, it started to climb. When it got to 150, a rate I would normally expect on, say, an 8% grade, I dismounted and did the Valsalver maneuver. It fairly quickly came back into the 120's but it was clear I had failed the test as I hadn't even got to the real hill. So I turned around and headed home. It was an easy cruise back down the 2-3% grade to Foothill followed by a short 3% grade which I know is actually the last uphill before home.

But that slight grade caused yet another spike, which really surprised me. I decided to ride it out as I knew the section was short and it would flatten soon. However I abandoned that plan when the rate went through 150 and kept climbing. By the time I got off the bike it had reached 165 and the Valsalver maneuvers weren't working. As soon as I stopped the maneuver the HR started climbing again. After a while another cyclist stopped to ask if I was ok and I said I wasn't sure, so he stayed with me. In an incredible coincidence this cyclist had also been on the Mt Tam double! Eventually with my HR still high I decided I should lie down. Of course that attracted a lot of attention. A car stopped and a young couple, one of whom had been a cardiology nurse stopped and also stayed. My HR was still about 120 at this point. Someone must have phoned 911 as then a police car showed up. I assured him that I would be fine and that I had called my wife to collect me and the bike, but he really wanted to summon the paramedics (I was only about a mile from Stanford Hospital), so I acquiesced. They did the EKG test (fine) and when I told them I was seeing a cardiologist they didn't push the ER option, which I knew would be a waste of time and money. By this time my HR was below 100. Shortly afterwards my wife arrived and we loaded the bike into the car and went home.

I duly cancelled the Raid Pyrenean trip. Of course, being stupid, I hadn't taken out cancellation insurance. I briefly considered going along as a tourist but decided I would likely be miserable not being able to ride. Fortunately I was within the 50% refund period, but I lost the money spent on the expensive RyanAir flights (pre-paid bike case). A lesson learned - stuff happens.

I didn't ride the bike for a week, but did one final easy spin on the day before we left. Shouldn't have. HR spike after 10 minutes from 120 to 150 and again, couldn't get it down. Lay down for 20 minutes and it eventually passed.

And so to England and two weeks vacation consisting of visiting friends and family and not riding, but doing some walking. To this point I had never had an attack unless riding or walking, but woke up on the plane around midnight with a full blown attack. Breathed my way through it, but was a quivering wreck for 20 minutes.

Midway through the first week I got a message from that a new test result was available. I knew that this would be the Zio patch data, but I decided not to look at it. If it was bad news it would spoil the vacation and, anyway, the data almost certainly needed to be interpreted by the cardiologist who I would be seeing the day after I returned. So it sat there in my mailbox tempting me, but I held firm. No attacks for over a week but then a mild one while solo walking my sister-in-law's dog, climbing a hill. I was getting quite good at breathing through the symptoms, but I still found the whole experience unpleasant. It's also so darn random. The following day I did a solo 6 mile walk on Dartmoor, involving a few steep climbs without any events.

By now I'd read everything I could find on Tachycardia and was still searching for the cause of the original event. Given that the Halter monitor didn't show any abnormalities, I'm pretty sure that the Zio patch won't either and, indeed, that is what the cardiologist tells me when I meet him.

So, what really happened? While talking it over with my wife Jenny and friends and family on the trip, I concluded that all the attacks except the first were basically anxiety attacks. I was focusing on my heart rate and if my legs felt slightly odd or the rate ticked up a bit, my mind decided the original event was happening again; cue the adrenaline and a vicious cycle ensued with a rising heart rate guaranteed. But that doesn't explain the first attack. Eventually the penny dropped. I had just bonked (hit the wall), or to give it the technical term: hypoglycemia. I didn't know this before, but hypoglycemia releases adrenaline to force the liver to make glucose in a hurry, which explains the rapid heart rate rise, plus the anxiety I was feeling from my losing feeling in my legs fed the vicious cycle. I had never bonked before so I really didn't have a clear sense of what it felt like. Evidently it can manifest in many forms, one of which is a complete loss of function in the legs.

Ok, so why did I bonk so early in the ride, having never bonked before? I'm guessing muscle glycogen depletion, given that it was my legs that went out. Everybody talks about "carbo-loading" before an athletic event, and what this really means is trying to load your muscles up with as much glycogen as possible. You will still run out on a long endurance ride, especially if your effort level takes you into the anaerobic level, but the more you start with, the longer it takes to deplete. Plus, provided you keep topping up with sports drinks and high-carb food, you should be ok. Now, for the past couple of years I have been on a lower-carb diet, basically cutting out most sugar and junk carbs, and in the weeks prior to the ride I had dropped my carb intake a bit more. So I'm pretty sure I went into the ride without a full load of glycogen, which I then compounded by not eating or drinking enough in the early going. And the Mt Tam climb is long, with quite a few steep pitches, so it is quite plausible that I bonked near the summit.

What is slightly depressing is that neither the paramedics nor the ER doctor suggested this as a cause; the ER doc even consulted a neurologist about the loss of feeling in my legs. Several times when explaining the event, I wished I could relive those few moments; loss of feeling is how I remember it, but it was very fast and it stopped as soon as I got off the bike. Nevertheless, everbody, including me, was focused on the PSVT diagnosis. Now, as my cardiologist explained to me, PSVT is technically a correct diagnosis, as Sinus Tachycardia is one form of PSVT.

I learned a lot during this process. I know know a lot more about heart arrhythmias (way more than I need to). I also learned a lot about proper breathing techniques having discovered that I had a rather shallow (chest) breathing habit, rather then deep diaphragm breathing. Most important for endurance cycling I now understand a lot more about the way the body metabolizes energy and the benefits of keeping carbohydrate intake down even while exercising in order to keep insulin levels low and maximize fat burning. I can highly recommend this website for lots of information on the subject.

A fellow endurance rider recommended the Metabolic Efficiency/Lactate test at the UC Davis Sports Medicine department. Last week I did the test and was very pleased to learn that I am above average and my carb/fat burn ratio is 25%/75% at typical riding levels, whereas this ratio is reversed in most people. The not so good news was that my heart rate training zones were very compressed which is another way of saying that my heart rate is high even at low efforts. So some of those spikes that I thought might have been anxiety might just have been my HR rising to the level it needed to be. Of course, this is new, as my HR used to be extremely stable and closely correlated in a linear fashion to my power output. The sports medicine doctor suggested getting a Ferritin test as low levels can cause an increased HR, but that came back normal. At which point both my primary care physician and the cardiologist had no further suggestions.

Anyway to cap it off, I'm back in base training, monitoring my heart rate (invisibly to avoid any anxiety spikes). It still seems a little high but the trend is down, which is good. I have yet to do a sustained climb, but I'll get there soon.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My 2015 Schedule

Nothing like publishing your plan to provide motivation. I count this as my first full year on the recumbent, as I am starting healthy and ready to ride in January for the first time in a couple of years. I'm really hoping to get some of my speed back and perhaps get close to my banner year in 2009. As I turn 63 in February, I need to allow adequate time for recovery, so I'm aiming for one big ride a month. I'll also doing a series of training plans in midweek using the TrainerRoad app. I've just finished Sweet Spot Base 1 and start Sweet Spot Base 2 this week. My goals are to complete all three CTC Stage Race rides (starred) and be in great shape by September to have a fun time on the Raid Pyrenean. On the weekend midway between the rides, I'll do a century, focusing on climbing in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

SFR 600K, May 2014

My fourth time on this ride, considered by many to be the most difficult 600K in Northern California, owing to the likely headwinds (the ride heads NW into the spring prevailing wind direction), the amount of climbing (~20,000') and the logistical difficulties due to the remote nature of the 80 miles on CA 128 between Cloverdale in the US101 corridor and Ft. Bragg on CA 1 on the coast.

My first ride, in 2010, was on my old steel Dawes Galaxy and never written up in detail, although referenced briefly in the other writeups. The second ride was in 2011, the Paris-Brest-Paris year, and a qualifier for that, on the custom steel Waterford I had made for PBP. I wrote about that in a Facebook Note. In 2012, the year of Ride Across Britain, I rode it on the same bike, and blogged about it here. I would have ridden it in 2013 on my Bacchetta Aero recumbent, but family issues meant I missed the ride.

So to 2014. Having fallen out with the Bacchetta, I switched to Lightning recumbents which, amongst other things, are considered above-average climbers. On the flip-side, being less reclined, they don't have such an advantage in headwinds. Initially I was planning to do the ride on the P38 version that I will be using on this year's Ride Across Britain, but in the end decided to use the R84, which has the added virtue of being a few pounds lighter due to the carbon frame, and having a (limited) suspension system. I'd been doing quite a bit of hill climbing training on the R84 and was beginning to get some of my speed back.

Up at 3:45, breakfast, leave the house at 4:30, find somewhere to park in the Presidio, where they are slowly turning all the parking spots into paid 24hr limit. No difficulty this time, short ride to the start on the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Lights check, reflective clothing check, get Brevet card and we are off at 6am. Beautiful calm morning with the sun coming up. The best time to be at the bridge, which is usually windswept and foggy. Unusually, I am the only recumbent rider today.

I enjoy the ride to Point Reyes, especially the new road surface through the state park, which used to be a real boneshaker. I'm about 15 minutes faster than the 200K in March and feeling stronger on the hills. First pit stop at the Bovine Bakery, mix the coffee with the Perpetuem and scarf down part of a Bear Claw pastry, eating the rest on the route to Petaluma. As I ride up the easy grade to the Nicasio reservoir, I notice the wind picking up. This does not augur well as it does not usually happen until much later in the day, and it means headwinds starting as soon as we turn north in Petaluma. After the control at the Safeway, where I do the usual load up on supplies, the wind is indeed blowing quite hard already. However, while the Lightning is not especially reclined, there is some benefit and I quickly drop a couple of riders.

I'm not that fond of the segment from Petaluma to Healdsburg as there is a lot of urban riding and stop signs, but I'm making good time. After Santa Rosa I come across a pelaton of riders stopped fixing a flat, most of whom I know quite well. I stop and chat but then ride on, confident that they will reel me in in due course, which they do. But then they get another flat! We end up arriving at Healdsburg Safeway at about the same time. Sushi, banana and chocolate milk for lunch and then off we go heading for Cloverdale. For a while I hang on at the back of the pelaton, but eventually decide that they are just a bit too fast for comfort, so I drop off. I stop briefly in south Cloverdale for an ice-cream and more water and, on the north side of town, spot the pelaton pulling out of a gas station; they probably were loading up supplies also for the long remote segment ahead, including the biggest climb of the day, to about 1200'.

The climb is fine, the wind is blocked by the hill and it's not hot like it so often is. Wonderful new road surface on Hwy 128 on the descent which continues all the way to Boonville. This section is long, over 20 miles, and the only place for supplies, the Yorkville Market and Deli, is sadly closed for renovation. It's endless rollers as the road oscillates constantly between 600 and 800 in elevation. Great final descent into Boonville, where I finally meet up with the pelaton again. They are stopped at a market, which is a bit puzzling as the SFR hosted "rest stop" is only five miles down the road at Indian Creek campground. I decide to push on. This is where the good road surface ends as the next few miles have only been scraped and "grooved" in preparation for resurfacing. The Lightning suspension is very helpful here, although the steering wanders due to the grooves. This is followed by a thankfully short segment of truly awful road that is hopefully next for resurfacing.

The rest stop at the campground is manned by very helpful volunteers and they rustle me up some pot noodles which taste great; getting a bit of a salt craving after so much sweetish stuff. Most people, in fact everyone but me as it turns out, will be riding back here from Fort Bragg in the wee hours. I plan to be back here by 8am and confirm that the volunteers will still be here at that time. So I just take the minimum from my drop bag, basically a change of clothes, and set off for the remaining 42 miles. Light is fading and it's very dark in the redwood forest, but at least there is no wind. The lead rider passes me coming back on this stretch. He is way ahead of anyone else. I realize he is about 70 miles ahead of me! [His total ride time ended up at 26hrs 22min].

I don't quite make the coast before dark and once up the hill onto the coastal bluffs, the wind is back, plus I need to put on my helmet light to help see around the corners. I get colder not moving so it's not too much later that I decide I need another layer. I pull over under a street light at a junction to do it and while I'm there a police car stops to ask me if I'm ok. Crazy yes, but ok. The next 10 miles or so to Mendocino have lots of quite steep rollers, as the road drop down to sea level at a river and then climbs back up. On one climb out, I hit a hairpin bend that is much steeper than I was expecting and, because it's dark, I didn't see it and I'm in the wrong gear, so I have to push hard to get around and feel my left hamstring twinge. I'm careful all the way to Fort Bragg and just a bit worried about it. Thankfully this section has been resurfaced since I last did the ride and that helps. I see lots of returning riders on this leg, of course, as I am pretty close to the back of the pack.

I arrive at Fort Bragg at about 10:30pm and check in at the hotel immediately. The restaurant closed at 9pm, unfortunately, but it's too late to eat a big meal anyway. So I empty my bag and cycle the couple of blocks to the Safeway, which is the control, and buy some food for tonight and tomorrow. Safeway's are open 24 hours, which is why they are popular control points, but there is only one cashier and very long line of people, including some other randonneurs. I do not envy them their three-plus hour ride back to the campground. I get some instant oatmeal for breakfast, bananas, and a quart of milk (deciding that a liquid dinner is the best choice), plus the all important receipt as proof of passage. Back at the hotel, the shower is incredibly rejuvenating and I am thirsty, downing nearly all the milk before hitting the sack. Ideally, I'd have been in bed by 10pm, giving me six hours sleep, but four will have to do. Tomorrow will be a long day. It was 181 miles today so that means 194 tomorrow.

I wake a bit before am, feeling ok. Get the instant oatmeal going in the microwave and some coffee. My hamstring feels ok, the rest evidently helped. It's going to be colder that last night so I put on all the layers and head out into the darkness at 4:30am, right on schedule. It's very calm and the run back to Mendocino is easy as the grades on the long rollers are slight. The downgrades on the steeper rollers on the next section emphasize how cold it really is, with the added wind chill. The Garmin is reading in the low 40s (5-6C). Dawn rises on this section with nice views off to the right of the Pacific Ocean. There is something magical about riding at dawn, it's still and quiet. I just wish it was a bit warmer! As I drop down to sea level and the 128 turn off, the temperature drops into the 30s and I know it isn't likely to warm up in the cover of the redwood forest. Indeed, inland it is foggy which is blocking out the rising sun. I still have about two hours riding before I reach the campground. My hands are getting pretty uncomfortable despite the wool inners and the full finger outers with the nylon finger covers. But then I discover another benefit of the recumbent; I can easily ride one handed and warm up the other by sitting on it! The temperature slowly drops, until it reaches a low of 35F just before I reach the campground. I'm slightly ahead of schedule as it's not quite 8am.

The volunteers are packing up, but they have saved me some coffee, which goes down a treat. I load up my remaining food supplies (mostly bags of Hammer Perpetuem mix), drop off yesterday's clothes into my drop bag, which I will pick up at the end of the ride, and bid them farewell. The last rider left the camp about 6:30 so I'm not likely to meet anyone for the rest of the day. The sun is now climbing fast and burning off the fog and I sense it's going to be a bit warmer than yesterday. Having successfully navigated the road works, I'm back in Boonville and the temperature has risen to 12C (54F) so I decide it's time to lose some clothing for the upcoming climbs.

I call Jenny to let her know how I'm doing. I really enjoy the ride into Cloverdale; truly riding doesn't get much better than this. The temperature is comfortable, the road surface is good, there is very little traffic, the hills are still green and I am riding through a truly beautiful valley.

The descent off 128 is fun, especially as I'm not bothered by traffic, and so into Cloverdale where I stop at Starbucks for breakfast, although by now it's closer to lunch. When I first did this ride, I got here at 5am after riding through the night. Back then this was a timed control and it closed at 8am so there really was no option. Now there are two info controls a bit further on and the only timed control is at Point Reyes at 6pm. Still I'm going to have to hustle to make that as it's 80 miles away. I notice some other randonneurs sitting outside the Starbucks only to discover that they have given up. I remember passing them fairly early yesterday and they must have had a hard time in the wind. So they are waiting for relatives to come pick them up. I eat two breakfast sandwiches, fill up another bottle of Perpetuem, with the remains of my Mocha thrown in, and head off towards Healdsburg.

Not far down the road I notice my Garmin has a blank screen. Duh! I know it's not out of battery as I've been charging it, but I can't get it back to life. It starts up ok but then immediately goes blank. I discover after the ride that I had hit the well known (but not be me!) "track full" bug which happens around 260 miles. I should have reset it at Fort Bragg. The bad news is that the first info control is an archway with an inscription that I have to find at around mile 274 and I won't know where that is now. Indeed, I do miss it. I text a couple of riders ahead of me hoping they can give me the answer, but they don't get back to me until after the ride ends! It turns out that lots of riders missed it, so I just fill it in on the brevet card at the end.

Westside Rd pass the vineyards is nice, even if the road surface leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, it's still early enough that there aren't many cars on wine tasting outings. The weather is definitely warmer and the wind is less today so there are a lot of people on 116 through Guerneville either heading for the coast or a day on the Russian River. Guerneville Safeway is another info control where I have to find the price per lb of bananas! 79 cents is the answer. The clock is ticking and, having ridden the next segments many time, I know I can't let up the pace if I am going to make the 6pm control. I'm happy to get off 116 at Monte Rio and start the climb up the Bohemian Highway to Occidental, then descend into Valley Ford meeting back up with Hwy 1. I usually stop here but not this time. There are two tough but short 12% climbs on the next section with a great straight descent into Tomales. It's interesting that, although I am definitely not climbing as fast as I used to on my upright, since I started spinning at 90+ with my new low gearing, I find hills quite a bit less stressful. After Tomales is the "wind tunnel" in the estuary. It doesn't seem to matter what direction the wind is, there always seem to be swirling headwinds by the river. Then it's back onto the coastal rollers, diving down to sea level and back up 100-200' feet to the headland, rinse and repeat all the way to Marshall, where it flattens for a while. There are some steep 12% grades on some if these rollers and just before Marshall I overdo it one one climb, all because I'm worried about the time, and feel a twinge in my right hip flexor. I stop at Marshall for a pee and take stock. It's just before 5pm so I have enough time to make the control, but I am seriously annoyed with myself as it is clear that I have strained the hip flexor. The question is how much and how it's going to affect me.

So after going too fast, I now have to slow down and take it easy. Normally I like this segment but today is the worst experience ever. The roads are full of Bay Area drivers who have been taking in the oyster and chowder places and in a rush to get home. They have absolutely no clue how to deal with bikes on narrow roads. Personally I blame the ubiquitous use of bike lanes in the urban areas. It encourages the mental model of "I always overtake a bike, we are in separate lanes". So in the "country" with substandard width lanes, and no shoulder either, these folks don't adapt, they still assume they can overtake whatever. Several times yesterday cars coming the other direction blared their horn because drivers overtaking me were almost over the double yellow (At least those were giving me 3 ft, unlike a lot of them). These guys don't even slow down. Car coming, blind corner? - no worries, I'm feeling "lucky". The solution, as the "Cyclists as Drivers" advocates would say is to "take the lane". There were times when I did that, always on a fast descent. But you need a seriously thick skin. Yesterday after taking the lane on a 25mph curve descent, I waved the car behind on as soon as I could see it was clear and a car three back, blared his horn when he passed, presumably for me having the temerity to hold him up even for a few seconds. Taking the lane on an uphill with bends seems inherently dangerous given the racetrack speeds these folks are moving at. Share the road indeed.

I make the control at Point Reyes with 20 minutes to spare. It's an open control so any receipt will do. I usually just stop at the gas station on the way in, grab some water and chocolate and mosey off. Now I can relax a bit as the timings are based on a 10mph minimum speed and I'm confident that I can do that, even slightly lame. I'd like to be in by 9pm but given my condition it's more likely to be 9:30. There are some more hills on the way in, but I know them well, having done this segment dozens of times. Happily my hip flexor has benefited from my slow-mo ride into Point Reyes, and feels better on the way out, but I'm definitely not going to push it. Darkness falls on the Camino Alto climb at the end of the urban segment through the Marin towns. Tricky and bumpy descent in the dark, very glad to have the helmet light to see into the bends. Then the bumpy ride across the tidal marsh on the bike path and into Sausalito. A few hours ago this was no doubt a zoo but it's quite now. Just the final, brutal, climb up to the Golden Gate and then a nice peaceful ride on the "pedestrian" side of the bridge because it's after dark. Arrived at the control at the bridge plaza at 9:37pm and two rather cold volunteers are very glad to see me as they can now go home! I am definitely the lantern rouge!

Happy to find my car still parked where I left it in the Presidio. Have to fight the sleepiness a bit on the way home, so loud music and lots of air is good. My eyes are really quite sore I realize, from two days of wind. It's been a good ride and I'm happy that I finally managed to pull off the plan of sleeping at Fort Bragg. However, I think this may be my last 600K. They take an enormous toll on the body and I'm not quite fast enough to make the logistics comfortable. Maybe if I can raise my average speed 2-3mph I might reconsider, but I've been trying to do that for a while and mostly going in the wrong direction.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Knoxville Double Century, Sep 2012

It's been a year, so I thought I ought to post this before I do the ride again next week!

I rode the Knoxville double in 2009 and 2010, but pulled out in 2011, as I was so wiped out after Paris-Brest-Paris and had some delayed onset knee pain. However, in 2012, I was feeling really good after the Ride Across Britain (RAB) so, despite having previously decided that RAB would be my last ride before the recumbent conversion, I decided to do one more ride on the trusty Waterford. The previous rides were on the light carbon Trek 5200, so I know I'm likely to be slower, but hopefully somewhat more comfortable.

Vacaville is just a bit too far to drive to for a 5am start, so I drove up on the Friday night and stayed in a motel on the strip. Too late to register on the Friday, so up a bit earlier to get that done. The parking is always a bit random at the start, it being of off-road in a county park in the dark with no parking marshals.

I'm off by 5am, dynamo light showing the way, wearing my RAB jersey. Owing to resurfacing work the outbound is different this year; basically we are going out the way we come back, which means an early climb up the aptly named Cardiac hill to the dam. It's surprisingly misty and cool all the way to the first rest stop on the edge of Lake Berryessa and I'm still sporting arm and leg warmers and a sleeveless wind jacket. The road follows the southern edge of the lake in a westerly direction, and it's new to me. Nice and flat so a good speed into the Napa Valley. We are entering the valley much further north than usual, so it's just a short trip up the Silverado trail before turning off to climb Mount Howell. I missed seeing the usual hot air balloons in the Napa Valley. Fantastic fog in the valley from the top of Mount Howell, then the exciting descent into the Pope valley. Finally, the sun is out and it's warming up, so I stop to lose some clothes and put on my sunglasses. About a mile up the road I have one of those feelings that I've left something behind, in this case my regular glasses. Sure enough, I can't find them anywhere. I'm pretty sure I left them at the stop so I retrace my path, getting strange looks from riders going the right way. Thankfully, there they are on the ground right where I had stopped.

A steady climb up and over the hill and then down to the west side of Lake Berryessa and rest stop #2. Lots of old friends here working the rest stop and I'll see the same crew later in the afternoon at rest stop #4. Next up is perhaps the hardest segment of the ride because it is such a long grind and the temperature is usually getting into the 90s. There's this interesting tunnel towards the top of the steeper segment, just before the water stop, but I always forget that there's a lot more distance to go before the real summit, even if the grade is easier. Then a nice downhill, and one more climb before rolling into the lunch stop at south Clear Lake. Always nice, because there are tables under a big shelter from the sun.

But then, the big one, up to the top of Cobb mountain at 3000', with some serious grade in the main section. I don't usually suffer them, but this time I'm getting quad cramps on the steep section. I'm not alone, this climb is famous for cramps, probably because the long, hot. grind before lunch is very dehydrating, even when you are drinking, and it's easy to lose electrolytes. It's nice on the summit in the pine trees and the descent is one of those that you live for. Recently resurfaced, the road is as smooth as a billiard table, with nice fast bends and, as luck would have it, no cars. It's worth the entrance price on its own and I'd love a trip back up to do it again.

After Middletown at the base, the road flattens out and it's a few miles to rest stop #4 by a small lake, with the same crew from rest stop #2. We're at about mile 135 here, and that's the point where the tiredness usually starts to kick in. Quite a few people crashed out in the deck chairs recuperating. I'm feeling reasonably good although the usual neck and shoulder stress is well set in by this point. Lots of rollers and a few short climbs to get back to the Pope Valley and finally a nice twisting 5-6% descent to the east side of Lake Berryessa and rest stop #5. There's always a good crowd hanging here before the climb up to Cardiac and they have hot dogs and soup. The latter is great, so long as I remember to add some ice to stop burning my mouth in my hurry to drink it. After the initial climb, there is a long flattish section before the final climb to the dam. The light is beginning to fail and it's dark by the time I start the descent, which is a pretty good one. As we are entering the central valley zone, the temperature often rises here, despite the sun going down. One final quick rest stop and then the final 13 miles down Pleasant Valley road into the finish and the always excellent pasta post-ride dinner. I love the post-ride dinners even if I'm often almost too tired to pick up my knife and fork.

The final act is attending the annual California Triple Crown awards breakfast, at the same park as the ride start/finush, sporting my RAB hoodie. Always an emotional affair, but good to finally see Becky Berka accept her award for being on the podium for the Stage Race.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ride Across Britain - Index

For easy access in chronological order:
  1. Prelude
  2. Arrival Day
  3. Day One
  4. Day Two
  5. Day Three
  6. Day Four
  7. Day Five
  8. Day Six
  9. Day Seven
  10. Day Eight
  11. Day Nine
  12. Postlude

Ride Across Britain - Postlude

One reason the organizers prefer to do the ride north to south is that Lands End is a bit closer to civilization than John O'Groats. Of course, that makes getting to the start harder but there is probably something to be said for an easier exit at the finish. So those of us on the bus had a very long day ahead of us getting home.

There was no wake-up call in the morning and the thought of missing the bus was quite frightening, so I set all my alarms. There were a lot of hungover people around the camp site, not surprisingly. One final breakfast, and I have to say they were all very good, and onto the bus. The itinerary was Inverness airport, the hotel at Inverness where some lucky people, without bikes, had spent the night, Edinburgh airport, Newcastle train station and finally York train station. I had opted for Newcastle. Given where I was heading, there was no benefit of going to York as trains are faster than buses (in the UK anyway).

We started late and basically lost time at every stop, so I had missed my scheduled train by the time we arrived at Newcastle. Fortunately my ticket was good for several subsequent trains and there was one leaving in about 10 minutes. In comparison to the bus, the train was sublime. Fast, smooth and quiet. The only downside of the trip was that the connection to Northampton terminated unexpectedly a few stations short owing to electrical problems on the overhead lines. A bit of a panic, but we were instructed to board a Virgin train heading to London, get off at Milton Keynes, and then catch a local train back to Northampton. The Virgin train was seriously fast and in the end, I lost very little time. A 15 minute taxi ride and I was back "home", at the house of my mother-in-law, at about 9pm. So a 14 hour day, but mostly spent in recovery mode. The next day we were off to the Harry Potter studio exhibition near London, and then flying back to San Francisco the following day.

So how do I feel about the whole event now that it's (long over)? Well, overall, it was a great experience and I was happy that I actually felt stronger at the end than the beginning. I wonder whether other people felt the same. I had thought and, indeed opined on the RAB rider hub website, that we would all be steadily draining the tank as the days passed, getting a bit more tired and, correspondingly, a bit slower each day. This was based on my experience from multi-day randonneuring rides. However, for me at least this was not the case, almost the reverse in fact. The neck and shoulder problems I suffered with at the beginning got steadily better. I put this down to there being an adequate recovery time on each day of the ride. I was firmly in the middle of the rider pack, time wise and, perhaps if I had been at the back, with more hours on the bike and less recovery time it might have been different. Certainly, multi-day randonneuring rides do not have anywhere near adequate daily recovery time, they are basically an exercise in survival. I know some riders would have liked a recovery day, basically a really short mileage day, but clearly that would either make the other days tougher or extend the number of days, and it is already quite long.

The fact that I was already an experienced endurance cyclist obviously helped and there was nothing on the ride that I hadn't faced before in some form. Even the long day was really "only" a 200K brevet. None of the climbs compared to those in California in terms of length and gradient. The first day was hard because it was relentlessly up and down, but I had recently done the Mount Tam double century, which has a similar profile. So this speaks to the importance of appropriate training for the event. Although I didn't follow them, because I had my own plan, the monthly training plans provided for RAB looked really good and I am sure that anyone who followed them was similarly adequately trained.

The organization of the ride was outstanding. Even in the flooding crisis at Penrith, the organizers pulled it off. Many people have already commented on this, but I will also note that the attitude of the staff and volunteers was extraordinarly positive. One could forgive the people filling bottles with Powerade day in, day out, for getting a bit glum, but if they did, they didn't show it. It was just amazing how friendly and smiling the staff were. Perhaps this had something to do with the riders. My experience is that endurance cyclists are a pretty easy going bunch and not wont to complain. Certainly, everyone I interacted with, riders and staff, seemed very likeable, and I have been on rides where this is definitely not the case. No Prima donnas on RAB!

I liked the route overall, although some of the "green lanes" in England were a bit tricky and the urban section from Haydock was truly awful but might be better in the opposite direction, as it wouldn't be in the early morning rush hour. The road surfaces in southern Scotland were bad, but the north of Scotland was great, and overall my favorite part of the ride.

I met a lot of very nice people on the ride, not least the entire Bigfoot team. One of the features of the catering tent was that you were pretty much forced to sit with someone new at every meal, so the opportunities were always there to meet new people. One thing that I think would be a good idea would be to provide a rear-facing bike tag with the rider's name on, in addition to the front facing numeric tag.

One thing that didn't go very well for me was fundraising. I didn't go into RAB thinking of it primarily as a fundraising ride, unlike other rides like the Multiple Sclerosis Waves to Wine ride, that I have done a couple of times. Instead I viewed it more as a tour, since I was paying a significant entry fee. However, it was clear that fundraising was a big thing for many of the riders, and the organizers stressed this a lot in the daily briefings. My fundraising started well with close friends and family, but I drew a complete blank from email solicitations and Facebook posts, even from people who I had sponsored on their rides. Possibly there are now so many fundraising rides that people are burnt out and/or just don't respond except to direct requests.

So, if you are thinking about doing RAB, I can certainly recommend it, provided you are prepared to do the training. It's a unique experience that you won't forget. Will I do it again? Perhaps, especially in the other direction, but not next year as that's just too soon, and there are other rides out there!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ride Across Britain - Day 9

And so to the final day. The organizers had arranged an early start to allow people to reach John O'Groats in time to pack up their bike and make their transport connection. The weather forecast was mixed; rain at the start of the day, then clearing but with showers later in the afternoon. I, along with a small number of other riders, would be returning to the Kyle base camp for one more night. In my case because I had to take my bike with me, and the only bus transport that could accommodate bikes was returning to Kyle and then continuing on the next day. Most riders were having their bikes shipped back in the UPS trucks for pickup at various drop off points the following weekend, but we were returning to the US on the Wednesday so that didn't work for me. At least I didn't have to clear my tent and pack everything up, just a day bag with some clothes to change into at the end.

Once again, I set off in the company of the Bigfoot train. Sure enough it started raining almost as soon as we set off, but it wasn't torrential. I had fenders (mudguards) on my bike but surprisingly, given the probability of rain, very few British riders did. That meant that group riding was at bit unpleasant at times when the spray from the bike in front hit you in the face.

The Bigfoot train in motion

After passing through a few small villages, we entered the moorland and settled into a long very steady and slight ascent to just under 900'. Although we were nominally on an "A" road, it was single track in places. We were in Sutherland now and probably contributing significantly to its total population. We really were a long way from anywhere populous by this stage.

By the time we reached the summit, the rain had stopped and there was serious brightening of the sky to the north and east. The descent was steady, a bit steeper than the ascent, but the temperature was only about 7C (45F).

Heading down towards the light
The descent went on for about ten miles and by the time we reached the first rest stop there were a lot of pretty cold riders. The rest stop was at a small pub and people were crowded into the bar trying to get warm. However, not everyone was feeling the cold.

The latest in biking shorts?
After the rest stop, the grade dropped and we rode alongside Loch Naver for quite a while.

Loch Naver

The road was doing a lot of short ups and downs as it wound its way alongside the Loch and eventually I started to warm up. The sun was coming out so I stopped to lose some clothes and also decided to drop off the Bigfoot train and ride a tourist pace. The valley went on for about twenty miles before we reached the coast. It was at this point that I realized I was quite confused about the direction we were taking. I had assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that we would follow close to the east coast. In fact we had gone due north and had reached the north coast. Scotland at the top has a long straight north facing coast that meets the east coast at John O'Groats. So whereas I thought we would be turning left, instead we turned right.

What followed was a long series of small climbs and descents, seven in total, spread over about 30 miles along the north coast. The first climb was about 400' and the rest about 200' each. At the start we went through a small village with an unlikely name. Here we were, nearly as far from the English border as you get, with most place names sounding very Scottish, e.g. Altnaharra, with a village called "Betty Hill". According to Wikipedia, the Scottish name is Am Blàran Odhar.

Towards the end of the seven hills was the second rest stop in the car park of a hostelry of some sort, and lots of people were inside including, it turned out members of the Bigfoot train. I didn't stop beyond picking up supplies and they passed me some way down the road. The train seemed to have lost a few carriages. Unfortunately, one member was suffering knee trouble so they were coming in at a slow pace.

The remainder of the ride became progressively flatter as we approached John O' Groats. We passed by the Dounreay Nuclear power stations, now decommissioned and then went through Thurso, the main town of note in the areas, before the final very straight and flat run parallel to the north coast. Finally we turned north and rode down to the finish arch at John O'Groats. Lots of noise and my name being announced on a PA system.

After the congratulations and being presented with a medal, it was time for the matching photo to that at Lands End. I was lucky that the line was pretty short as the whole procedure took quite a while.

It was still early afternoon but, much as I might have wanted to just take it easy for a while, I had the bike to pack up and, knowing that it always takes longer than I think, decided to get started right away. Most riders were boxing their bikes up in the car park, but I found a nice spot on some grass adjacent to the finish arch. So I could hear the riders being announced on the PA while I was packing. I had great views of the coast and the Orkney Isles just to the north.

Everything went well to begin with but I had some problems with the fit in the case. The problem is that there really is no margin for error, everything has to be in exactly the right place for the lid to close. After a few retries, I was satisfied and it was time to go and get a shower at one of the shower trucks that they had brought up. Talking of showers, the threatened late afternoon rain shower showed up while I was waiting in the queue. It was pretty intense and we all took refuge under the cover of the snack area. While in the queue I got chatting to a guy who had done the ride on a Bike Friday. He was a Deloitte partner and had done the ride previously and felt he needed a slightly different challenge this time. He survived the ride but one of his knees was unhappy from spinning the small wheels of the Bike Friday.

Just about everyone except the people like me going back to the Kyle base camp had departed by now, either in taxis to Wick airport or buses to Inverness. Our bus didn't leave until 6:30, and the small cafe was doing a great business, unfortunately running out of beer. An enterprising fellow had set up a stall across the road and was selling Stella Artois out of a box. I took his last few bottles at a price, but it was worth it.

It was nearly three hours back to Kyle, along the east coast road, so there was very little time to do much beyond eat. The caterers had put on a full Sunday roast dinner, which went down very well. It felt strange for the usually buzzing tent to be so empty. I went over to the chill-out tent afterwards, where some serious drinking was getting started, but I was wiped and, since we had to be up for a 7am departure on the bus, I bailed and went to the tent. It was good that I was very tired as the camp staff and perhaps some of the riders were partying very heavily, including Karaokee, until the small hours. I slept through most of it.

Elevation and Distance