Wednesday, May 30, 2012

SFR 400K

As noted in my previous post, I knew I was looking at a ride time of 20+ hours for this event, probably in the 22+ hour range. Since my longest ride since the layoff was only 75 miles, this was going to be a big jump. Only the fact that I had done it and longer rides before, and so felt comfortable mentally, made it possible to consider doing it. There was going to be pain and suffering though, no question.

Late April, but the weather forecast was for a hot weekend, with temperatures climbing into the 90s in the area we were riding into. Not auspicious as I don't handle heat very well, having grown up in the temperate, mostly cool climate of England. One bonus however, was the glorious start crossing the Golden Gate bridge, normally a cold and foggy place, but this day clear and warm with great views of the sun starting to ride over Angel Island and the East Bay.

I'm quickly dropped by the fast riders and settle into my new role of being in the slow group. It's quite cold as usual in the Nicasio Valley but warms up as we head towards the first control at Bodega, a mere 63 miles away. I'm happy I have the CamelBak. The views heading out into the Marin countryside are absolutely wonderful and it just a great day to be on the bike. Somewhat to my surprise I actually catch up with one of my cycling buddies, Alex Plumb, and he takes my picture for Facebook! I know this area pretty well and the road through Chileno Valley is one of my favorites, especially in Spring. I firmly believe that Marin and Sonoma counties have the best variety of riding in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have the money to maintain the roads.

There are still a few people at the store in Bodega including famous female randonneur Kitty Goursolle who is sporting her Paris-Brest-Paris jersey. I still haven't worn mine yet and realize, as Kitty points out, that this would have been a good debut as it mostly white and so good in the heat that is yet to come. The store has some great "home made" pastries, one of which I indulge in along with a chocolate milk. One of the great things about endurance riding is that you can eat almost anything

Next up is a very steep climb up Joy ("joyless") road. Half way up I have an "equipment" problem in that my saddle bag has somehow slipped in its mount on my saddle. It turns out that the bracket has bent but I manage to get it tight enough to hold up for the rest of the ride. No doubt the bumpy roads have something to do with this. I had no problems on PBP with more weight, but the French roads were much better. I count myself lucky it could have come loose in a worst situation.

After the next control at the Safeway in the Russian River town of Guerneville, it starts to heat up noticeably. One nice thing is that Westside Road has been resurfaced, apart from one short but still awful section. I'm wondering of this has anything to do with the Tour of California coming to these parts in May. By the time I get to the turn off for Dutcher Creek en route to Cloverdale I've been hydrating so well I've actually drained my Camelbak and my one Perpetuem bottle is almost empty (and warm). Of course, there are no stores when you need one, just lots of wineries. I finally decide to visit one to cadge some water As I cross the road another rider comes in the other direction and I mention my situation and he offers me his half full water bottle as he is just about to finish. Ordinarily I wouldn't do that for health reasons that but I'm desperate so I gratefully accept. Cloverdale is one more climb over the ridge, where I fall into the air conditioned Starbucks for some much needed refreshment.

Now comes the hard part. The climb on 128 over the ridge to get to the Mountain House Road that will take us to the turn around at Hopland. The temperature is well into the 90's by now. Fortunately there is some shade on the climb at this point in the afternoon and this time of year. The climb has two false summits, the last of which is, thankfully, after the Mountain House turnoff. There is a gravel section early on Mountain House to watch out for. There are several similar too this on the Terrible Two route and I'm puzzled why they are not paved - they don't look anything special, just like they forgot to pave them. If they were really unstable I would expect the gravel surface to be a lot, well, less flat. It is after this that I get one of my bad moments on the bike because my mental memory of the road does not match reality. I though this was a straight descent to Hopland whereas in fact it descends to a valley and then climbs again before descending. It's hellish hot with no shade and I have to keep stopping. It's beautiful country, I just wish it wasn't so hot! Eventually the real descent begins and close to the bottom, on an short uphill stretch, I come across an SFR rider who is walking his bike. Turns out he has stomach issues and can't keep anything down. He seems ok to walk/cruise it into Hopland and sure enough he arrives not long after me and phones his wife to arrange a pick up. She has a long way to come from San Jose!

Several other randos, notable Alex Plumb and Roland Bevan are already in the gas station market, which actually has seating, but are getting ready to leave. I take a decent rest and even indulge in a slice of Pepperoni Pizza. I sort of remember the way out of Hopland, but it's been two years and the road I am pretty sure I should take does not have the same name as that on the cue sheet. So I call the day of event contact to check. My intuition was right but not before I had explored the other alternative for a mile or so. The route back basically links up with Hwy 101 and there is an eight mile section of it to negotiate. It's mostly downhill, and with a wide shoulder separated by a rumble strip from the speeding cars. The trick is not to lose focus and drift into the rumble strip as that can be a real shock to the system. Eventually 101 becomes a freeway again and we branch off onto another side road and head back into Cloverdale. I wasn't planning to stop, but it's a long way to Santa Rosa, and still in the 80's at 7:30pm, so I visit the gas station market again and load up my Camelbak with more water. I know the first section to Geyserville really well and it's mostly flat with just a few rollers around Asti. There's an Uck! moment as the light fails and I get covered with small insects. Important to ride with the mouth firmly closed for a while! At Geyserville we turn off the direct route to Santa Rosa and head towards the hills and then track the edge of the valley heading south. It's dark now, so I'm on the dynamo and helmet headlight. I can't help remembering that two years ago I made it all the way to Santa Rosa in daylight. Unlike the direct route, this variant climbs Chalk Hill before dropping back into Windsor. The route actually bypasses Santa Rosa center to the West by taking Fulton off the Old Redwood Highway. Much to my surprise the temperature is dropping like a rock, down into the 50s from the 80s at Cloverdale, and I actually have to stop to put on the arm and leg warmers and the jacket.

It's a long, mostly flat, run into Petaluma, but I'm getting very tired and all the usual suspects, neck, shoulders, hands and butt are getting sore. Several times I tell myself I am never again going to ride more than 200K in a day. Finally I arrive at the Safeway in Petaluma, where I run into the same group who were at Cloverdale, including the guy who was planning to quit. It turned out that he started to feel a lot better and since his wife was going to take a long time to get there, he decided to keep riding and, once the temperature cooled off, felt much better. I'm not sure how he got past me, though. It's in the upper 40's now and I am so glad I made the decision to stay a few hours in the hotel which, conveniently, is right across the street from Safeway. The idea of another 3-4 hours into San Francisco, which faces the other riders, does not appeal at all.

The hotel shower is incredibly rejuvenating and I try to eat some food before settling down for what will only be about 4 hours rest as I figure I need to leave at 5am to be sure of making the finish by the cutoff at 9am. It's, of course, event slightly colder at 5am, but I don't feel it as much thanks to the rest. There are three climbs out of Petaluma before the turnoff to Nicasio. It stays dark pretty much until descend the second hill into Hicks Valley. There is something special about the early morning light, and today there is patchy low-lying fog to add to the mystique. I'm making good time and, knowing this section so well, figure an 8:30 arrival. It's a pleasant ride all the way to Sausalito where, suddenly, I enter that special place where the wind blows hard and the fog is thick, quite unlike the calm of yesterday morning. It's truly a battle to fight the wind up to the Golden Gate and the bridge crossing is super windy. Fortunately the bridge is missing its usual plethora of tourists on foot and on bike. The diehard volunteers at the finish control, including my friend Brian Kilgore are, I'm sure pleased to see me so that they can wrap up and go home. I am most definitely the last finisher.

I'm nowhere near as tired as I would be had I not slept, but I'm evidently not at my best. I manage to get distracted talking to a rider who pulls into the parking lot next to me and forget that I haven't put my front wheel in the car, and then proceed to drive over it. Fortunately it's not completely trashed, particularly the dynamo hub, but it's definitely well bent. So a bittersweet end to what has been a pretty successful adventure.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Layoff

When I got back from PBP I was truly exhausted and the urge to ride my bike had been pushed into a small corner of my mind. However, after a few days I thought I should at least get back on the trainer before the legs completely seized up. The first spin went fine but subsequently I started getting a pain on the inside of my right knee. Now, I had partial meniscotomies on both knees a few years back from years of soccer and running, but never had any trouble at all on the bike. Browsing the web I discovered that delayed onset pain is not an uncommon consequence of a ride like PBP. It didn't go away in a hurry, and mindful of the time and care that it took to get over my bout of peroneal tendinitis, I decided to cancel my upcoming rides, in particular the Knoxville double, and work on recovery. Well, it took longer than I expected and I ended up cancelling all my organized ride plans in the fall.

I also had some unfinished business with my right elbow. I had been diagnosed with a slight tear in a tendon on the outside of the elbow caused by improper lifting back in the spring and had delayed dealing with it because it didn't affect riding (in fact it actually recovered on a bike ride) and I was advised that the typical rehab time was 3 months, during which time riding would be off limits. So I decided to schedule the surgery for early November, hoping to be ready for the 2012 season. Since I'd had some less critical but chronic issues with the inside of the elbow, I decided to have that taken care of as well. This involved moving the ulnar nerve from its usual position under the bone to relieve stress. The surgery was on Nov 10th and evidently went well. I had a cast for 10 days and then had to wear a wrist brace for 6 weeks.

Knowing that I wouldn't be able to ride a regular bike for a while even on a trainer I borrowed an unloved Baccehtta recumbent from a friend and was able to ride that pretty much from the outset. This helped keep my leg strength and aerobic fitness up. I got to like the relaxed position on the recumbent, which was definitely easy on the upper back, which is one of my pain points on a standard road bike, essentially due to a disk bulge in my C7 vertebrae.

It was hard to tell quite how the rehab was going until after I could take the brace off in early January, as I wasn't allowed to do anything that could stress it. However, it's impossible to not use your arm unless you are in a cast, so I got some feedback and, honestly, it wasn't very encouraging. When I went back to see the surgeon on January 2nd I was off the brace but the elbow still felt pretty sore especially the side with the nerve transposition. I also seemed to have picked up wrist pain (that I didn't have before) likely due to stiffness from the brace - which was really a wrist brace to prevent me stretching the muscles leading to the repaired elbow tendons. He said it would take six months before I was really back to business and the nerve might take a year or more to fully settle down. Now I'm wondering why didn't I ask more question before the surgery! I schedule the next visit for six weeks out. The next two weeks are really bad. I'm having physical therapy, doing some light stretching, no resistance work allowed yet, but I have a lot of pain, even when doing nothing, which I never had before the brace came off. Lots of heat and cold help to get me through it but not before I schedule an early return to the surgeon because I'm really concerned that it's not right. Just making the appointment does the trick as there is significant improvement in the few days before the I see him. So there's not a lot to say other than to be patient and time will heal.

Trouble is it's been three months and the riding season is starting up. I cancel the 200K I had scheduled in January, then the one in February, feeling gloomy. However, progress is steady but slow. When I go back to the surgeon on the last day of February, my wrist pain has mostly gone and the outside of the elbow seems recovered, although the muscle will spontaneously hurt in an low key way for no apparent reason. But the inside of the elbow is still very painful. I can tell the surgeon is a bit concerned about this but, again, time is the healer he says. I ask a lot more questions this time - better late than never perhaps.

I pulled out of the SFR 300K in March as I was still not ready. That ride has memories since it was my first ankle-pain-free ride in 2011 after I got my orthotics. Fortunately, by the end of the month I'm ready to start some riding and do a 40 mile flat spin on the Portola Valley loop on April 1st. The following weekend I went on a Western Wheelers club ride that involved climbing Kings Mountain Road and Alpine Rd, two fairly tough climbs. I was the lantern rouge on the descent of Tunitas Creek, feeling decidedly dodgy on the very technical descent. A nice lunch in the neat coastal town of Pescadero where I met several old friends also out on rides, which was great. Then the climb back over Haskins Ridge and up Alpine Road. I suffer on this climb, not in the aerobic sense, but my legs and glutes are toast by the end. A long descent on Page Mill and back home for a 60 mile ride and just shy of 7000' of climbing. A bit too much of an increment really.

Continuing that theme, the next ride in the Brevet series is the SFR 400K on April 21! I did this ride at the top of my game in 2010 in 18:15 thanks in part to a fast paceline on one flat 40 mile section. In 2011 I took 20:00 to do the much easier (less hilly) SCR 400K. So, I know I'm looking at no better than that and likely worse. I decide to crash for a few hours in Petaluma in a hotel and then ride in the next morning, taking almost all the allowed 27 hours for the ride. That will still have me riding 205 miles on day 1 however.